[Fanfic] Stropovitch, the Demon's Pilgrimage

Dear readers,

English is not my native language. However, I’ve always wanted to share the Pilgrimage with you. My journey as a writer began long ago, during the Burning Crusade era : between 2007 and 2009, I wrote this fanfiction on French forums and it reached 65,000 views and was very popular among readers. The Pilgrimage was even selected once on March 2008 in the “News of the Community” appearing on WoW France homepage. You have to use the WayBackMachine to check those facts, but giving a direct link here is difficult because of forums rules. I’ll try my best if you ask for evidence.

I don’t want to brag actually, I just want you to give me a chance ! I’m afraid that my vocabulary mistakes (and other ones) make you flee away. I said to myself : “If I tell them that this novel has already been successful in another country, they will maybe be patient and even correct my mistakes !”

So I hope you will enjoy this english version. If you can help me with the language, I’ll gladly accept. If you prefer a version with images on a site dedicated to novels, you can also find me on Wattpad and Webnovel under the name JFVivicorsi, and on FanFiction under the name jean-francois.vivicorsi. I will publish, hopefully, one chapter every 2-3 days. The novel is, of course, complete, I only need to translate it now (I will regret this “only” lol).

I wish you a good read and thank you in advance for your comments and criticism.

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Synopsis (short version):

The epic of a mute warrior with a nightmarish past who pursues two revenges for which he will have to explore the frontiers of suffering and madness. Progressively joined by six companions as different as they are unforgettable, he will realize that every adventurer is a pilgrim: we set off on a predefined route, but the stakes always go beyond anything we could have imagined, and we end up kneeling before infinity.

Synopsis (long version):

Stropovitch is a draenei – meaning, for the people of Azeroth, an alien. Arrived with his people on board a huge magical ship whose landing was catastrophic for reasons still unknown, he behaves like an outcast, having fled far from his relatives to become a mercenary in human lands. But his past will catch up with him: following a mission during which he must save a little girl held hostage by pirates, a mission that goes wrong into critical proportions, he momentarily loses control of the Stranger, a mysterious demonic entity which has inhabited him since childhood and seeks to take possession of his body. In view of the colossal damage generated by this loss of control, he no longer has a choice: he must return to his relatives to consult the Prophet Velen, the guide of his people. This is the beginning of a long epic where, on the one hand, his whole past will be revealed, and on the other, he will try to carry out two revenges, one against the warlock who implanted the Stranger in him, the other against a fellow draenei who during their adolescence committed the unspeakable. This epic will make him return to his native planet, now reduced to a piece of a devastated continent, and meet exceptional comrades, who will accompany him but also make him question his feelings and his intentions. After all, every adventurer is a pilgrim: we set off to take revenge, but always the stakes ultimately exceed anything we could have foreseen.

Book I : Echoes

Chapter 1

Running, again.

Why did they do that? Why were the orcs chasing us like that? What was driving them? Why were they spreading fear and death with this sudden demonic power? Why that green skin, those bloodshot eyes?

But this was no time for questions.

“Stropo, take my hand.”


“How much further to Shattrath?” I asked.

With her face covered in mud and her teeth clenched, she looked to my father for the answer.

Then she turned to me.

“I don’t know.”

Her tone of voice was authoritative, but her bright eyes expressed terror.

Dozens of us had fled Sha’naar, west of the Tanaan jungle. I didn’t know the world beyond, nor did my parents. Sha’naar had always been our home, our calm and blessed universe. All I remember is that one day there were flames, screams and blood. In the chaos, we fled in scattered groups far from the roads; more often we had to crawl than to walk, in humus teeming with insects, through dense, suffocating, sometimes poisonous vegetation, scratching ourselves, weeping, thrown without explanation into a misfortune as profound as it was absurd.

We knew that Shattrath would be a refuge, but, now lost in the byways and clammy darkness of the Zangarra swamp, we had also lost all notion of space and time.

What we were sure of was that we were being hunted by those vile dimensional trackers trained by orc hunters, beasts capable of rendering themselves invisible, with acute hearing and sense of smell.

The attack was by night. Drenched in blood I woke up because of the horrific screams of my neighbor. I caught a vague glimpse of one of these beasts chewing on… a piece of the neighbor, I guess. In any case, it was dripping and mixed with cloth. I felt my father’s arm lift me off the ground. He and my mother ran, their eyes widening in panic, until they came to a steep slope where they threw themselves down together. We rolled for a moment before coming to rest in a bed of big, sticky, awful-smelling mushrooms. It was their caps and their stench that saved us. Our companions probably all perished.

But for some reason, the orcs sensed that some of their prey was still missing: us.

Running, again.

"How much further to Shattrath? I asked.

Stop it, Stropo!" replied my mother furiously. Fear was making her aggressive.


My father pointed at something. In the distance, between the giant mushrooms, we could make out in the mist the vague outlines of wooden buildings built on the cap of a mushroom that was slightly taller than its neighbors.

“It must be a refuge,” he said seriously. He didn’t want to rejoice too quickly and continued to watch for any sign of our pursuers.

A road passed in front of the refuge. It seemed deserted in both directions. Still, my father was afraid of making a mistake. He made us hide behind a shrub covered in blue moss. My mother was frightened, but he signaled that he would go anyway. Using his mage powers – which, unfortunately, were very modest – he teleported to the other side of the road, already on the slope of an embankment. We saw him reach the foot of the mushroom and attract the attention of a refugee, who left to alert others.

A moment later, a platform magically descended from the top of the refuge to take us in. My father finally smiled and began to walk back towards the shrub to lead us to safety.

Then I heard my mother exclaim as she stood up, then a strange sound, that of a sharp knock against a door. Knock! I turned towards her and saw her chest pierced by an arrow. Without time to understand or react, I was suddenly blinded by a curtain of fire.

My body was covered in flames.

Through the fiery veil covering my face, a few meters behind my mother, I saw a hooded orc in a long robe staring at me intently. I was suffocating; the pain was so powerful it prevented me from breathing or thinking. As I tried to flee, or at least move, haggard, shocked and confused, he mumbled a formula in his language, the hoarse accents of which still echo in my memorythough I can’t transcribe any word he pronounced.

I felt a volcano erupt in my body. My heart pumped magma through my veins. My head vibrated as blood and flames spurted from the corners of my eyes, my nostrils, my mouth, the inside of which I could feel drying and splitting like a barren wasteland. But above all, under my skin, every nerve tensed and screamed. I learned pain and madness. I learned the song of the abyss. I learned the cry of the soul. The cry I uttered then, the last cry of my existence, the last echo of my childhood.

“What are you writing?”

Stropovitch briskly closed his notebook and glared at the individual who had just apostrophized him.

“Oh, don’t be offended, I can’t read your handwriting, I can’t make any sense of it.”

Stropovitch’s gaze didn’t soften in the slightest.

“All right, my apologies, ah! Let me introduce myself, Jack, well, it’s just to give a name, eh heh heh.”

The individual named “Jack” held out his hand to his interlocutor, who ignored it and continued to stare.

Jack swallowed. From this mercenary known as Stropovitch emanated a dark, disquieting aura, a heavy sadness and at the same time a latent brutality. His impressive build and the two long swords he wore at his sides didn’t reassure the valet either.

But in fact the draenei – if that was indeed the name of these large blue aliens with a tail and hooves – was a reference in his profession, and there was none more prized than him from the Wetlands to Darkshire. Firstly, he was a draenei, so he had no personal connection with the problems of the various regions of Azeroth. Secondly, he always fulfilled his contracts quickly and neatly. Finally, he was a mute, so if he got caught, nothing would transpire from him.

The meeting place the draenei had set was rather unusual. It was a dilapidated, crumbling and isolated inn: on Sentinel Hill, in the Westfall. The old, dirty, crazy and deaf innkeeper, who had never left this place despite having no customers, looked on, chewing her thumb, with a blissful air, at the man dressed as a casual city-dweller, with beret and shirt spilling over his pants, and the colossal draenei who hadn’t lightened himself of the slightest piece of armor.

Jack sighed.

“I’ll come to the point. Nothing complicated for you. Basically, the daughter of the man who sent me was kidnapped, you see. The kidnappers are asking for a ransom the old man doesn’t want to pay, like… even your services are three times cheaper.”

The draenei raised an eyebrow half a millimeter.

“Yeah, you heard me right, a huge ransom. Not like a normal ransom, since it’s not just the girl’s life that’s threatened, you see.” He put on an air of finesse. “Yeah, the old man’s got things to hide, and things that really can’t be told, heavy stuff, that the kidnappers, a little group of scoundrels who call themselves the Violet Clan, are threatening to divulge.”

Stropovitch’s gaze became thoughtful, which disconcerted Jack a little, who dropped his sarcastic air and said, as if suddenly irritated: “Basically, your job is to find out where the guys are and shut them up. Bring the girl here. I’ll see you in three days. Okay?”

Stropovitch thought. Jack watched him curiously. The draenei held up two fingers.

“Two days? Is that enough time to locate them?”

The other didn’t respond in the slightest.

“Okay, okay, okay in two days,” said Jack, who was starting to get really exasperated. “By the way,” he added, rising to his feet, “you don’t seem to mind that I’m not giving you any clues as to how to find her. Your employer told me you’d manage, and I find that hard to believe. It’s just that any clue he might give you could reveal who he is, and he doesn’t want to do that, you see. So, basically, you don’t know anything. No problem?”

Then Stropovitch, much to Jack’s surprise, drew a sword, took out a small stone from one of his leather bags and began to sharpen the blade, impassive. Jack turned away with a trembling rage he couldn’t understand himself.

Stropovitch thought again. This Jack was clearly only a servant, a valet at most, to a nobleman. The latter hadn’t wanted to show himself to the mercenary, but in fact, the one who knew the least at the moment was Jack. Through him, the nobleman had revealed what he really wanted, since giving no clues encouraged Stropovitch to keep only the most likely explanations. The fact that the “kidnappers” were aware of what the nobleman wanted to hide certainly meant that he had become involved in a plot, then disassociated himself from it – and now the plotters were holding his daughter hostage to ensure his silence. But the nobleman didn’t want to reveal the plot publicly, which might also reveal that he’d been involved. No, he wanted Stropovitch to discreetly clean up the mess and put an end to it.

The draenei sighed. The fish was big. Violet Clan – how could the valet not have realized that this absurd name hid his real target, Van Cleef, the former architect betrayed by the nobility of Stormwind, now master of the Defias brotherhood, and whose death many wished. Stropovitch didn’t need any special instructions. Jack’s master knew that Van Cleef had under his command men of all origins, some of whom worked as mercenaries when they had the time between pirate campaigns or farm raids. In short, they came from the same background as Stropovitch. This nobleman was sure that the draenei had contacts within the brotherhood. And that he’d have no trouble using them to get to their hideout.

This nobleman was definitely intelligent.

Stropovitch was still reluctant to accept. He might have to kill acquaintances – even though he hadn’t made any special friends. But the sum of money promised was staggering. It was a golden plan, one of those plans that allow the mercenary to be sure of spending the winter in the warm – something Stropovitch felt he needed after long months of uneasy, even arduous, low-paying missions.

What’s more, some of his opponents would be no pushovers. A great opportunity to train for his true purpose, the purpose that alone had kept him alive for the past two years: to carry out his two acts of vengeance, to make his two enemies suffer the worst, to cut them up, to peel them, to consume them, even if it meant consuming himself with them by staring into their eyes, right down to the bottom of their souls.

Chapter 2

I had a single dream for an indeterminate, cyclical length of time; as soon as it was over, the same dream began again, and with each iteration the same fatigue weighed on my shoulders, the same terror gripped my chest, but the same injunction yet kept me on my feet: not to trust this mysterious being who had come to me. During my dream, he took on a thousand formsmy father, my mother, an animal, a demon, a monsterbut I felt it was always him, because his aura and his gaze were always the ones of the Stranger. He tried to deceive me, sometimes to reassure me, sometimes to frighten me, sometimes to amuse me, but only fear and mistrust ruled my heart; I cowered, I lowered my head between my knees, I refused to look at him and answer him, and his anger, his frustration finally unleashed on me, I took blows, thousands of blows, insults, but I gritted my teeth, I held on. The first few times I was afraid I was going to die, so I screamed and called my parents until my throat was ripped open; then, after several attempts, I realized that for some reason he couldn’t kill me. I just had to hold on, and wait for my parents who couldn’t leave me alone indefinitely; I was certain of it, I was even filled with this certainty, it inhabited me, my parents were going to arrive, they always ended up arriving, taking me in their arms, consoling me, always, maybe they were even already there…

“No need for pleasantries, Londan, I’ve come for a quick update.”

I’d never heard such a benevolent voice. It had chased the Stranger away with the first intonation. That voice was a miracle.

"Has he been restless this week?

Yes, constant nightmares it seems. He’s tried to scream but the sounds are stuck in his throat, I don’t know why.

Any other violence?

When we try to hold him, yes. And he still shows the same physical strength."

Were they talking about me? Or about this Stranger who was tormenting me?

"I see. Has the glow returned?

Yes, in his acute seizures. All the related symptoms appear in concert. It’s frightening. If you, O great Prophet, could not cleanse him of this evil, what are we to do with him?"

The glow? Related symptoms? What to do with me? My heart froze. Why did my eyes refuse to open? I felt so weak…

Silence. A solemn one.

“We’re going to raise him into the Light. We’ll have to preserve him, take care of him. When his body is in communion with the Light, then we’ll be able to definitely purify him and no longer fear that glow that awakens when pain or anger are unbearable for him. Hmmmmmm.” Silence. “He’s waking up. About his family, tell the truth straight out. Take care of yourself, then. My entire guard and I remain behind the door, ready to intervene.”

My eyes wouldn’t open. My body wouldn’t move.

The Prophet’s presence disappeared. At least that was the name Londan had given him.

He was busying himself around me, touching me, obviously preparing for my awakening.

A huge sigh finally came from me, the sigh of a whole body waking up after a very long sleep. My eyes opened and my chest straightened.

I saw him. The poor thing.

The doctor was prostrate by the half-open door, clad all over in heavy armor. The door was massive, a good meter thick; he was ready to leap out and close the door on me; the whole room, or rather cell, was nothing but armored steel walls.

He made a huge effort on himself and spouted at full speed: “Your parents are dead and so are most of our people, we had to flee Draenor, we’re in the Exodar a ship in search of another planet, but don’t worry life is very well organized inside, we’ll take care of you.”

He watched for my reaction, eyes wide open.

I mentally repeated the information one after the other. I think I fainted, anyway the nightmare began again, and this time I knew it was a nightmare, which made the blows less stinging and my enemy’s rage less terrifying; but it was still worse, much worse. I knew now that my parents weren’t coming. I cried and cried and cried, and the sobs that shook my body caused me far more pain than the Stranger’s violence.

At last I woke up again, remained dazed for a few moments, unable to utter the slightest coherent thought. Then, in painful bursts, past and recent memories returned. I hiccupped in panic, calmed down, criedfor a long time. I was closed to any attempt at communication from my visitors. I was inhabited by a new feeling, a feeling of despair, but also of emptiness, of boredom, of total lack of interest in things and people, a feeling I didn’t know how to define at the time, and which today I can name: the desire to let myself die.

Londan had tamed his fear and cared for me with tenderness and respect, surrounding me with magic crystals and healing prayers; I do believe that his smiles and gentle, cautious gestures resulted in my consenting to feed myself; and that after several days, I can’t say how many, a timid impulse of life found its way into my darkness, and I felt like communicating. The doctor placed in my hands a notebook and pen which, in fact, had been lying on my bedside table all along. I straightened up, and got stunned - this simple gesture involved putting back into function many parts of my mind and body that had begun to wither away.

Then he deciphered my clumsy handwriting, and answered my question. "Well, that draenei you heard is called Velen, he’s the Master of us all, the guide of our people. And yes, you’ll certainly see him again.

He seemed nice, I commented stupidly on my paper.

Follow me, Stropovitch," said Londan, smiling. We’ll take care of you.

I stood up, and got another dizzy spell.

I realize it now: without my parents I didn’t want to live; because of the draenei who took over, because of their love, I went on. When I think of them, I feel gratitudeand remorse. As a matter of fact, years after saving me, Londan died because of me. He’s dead, and wherever his soul is now, I imagine he doesn’t blame me, and is proud to have been a good doctor. I’m haunted by my victims. You gave me back my life, Londan, but my life means death for those who love me.

I was sent to school, in a group of children my age, under the guidance of Master Annïa, a venerable draenei with a beautiful gaze filled with Light.

Annïa had obviously been told a few words about this “peculiarity” of mineof which I ultimately knew nothing. She spoke to me with the utmost gentleness and regularly came to talk to me after classeven though she had to wait for a painstakingly written answer to every question. What saddened me was that I felt this affection was forced. There is a form of gentle torture, which consists in surrounding you with care and gentleness, when in truth you are feared, suspected, watched, and above all, completely alone.

I was never physically alone. Ondraïev, my “tutor”, affably accompanied me everywhere, put me to bed, got me up, brought me my meals, told me everything and anything, sometimes snippets of the history of my people, sometimes amusing adventures from his own life, sometimes grandiloquent personal opinions on questions of social organization, sometimes meaningless nonsense. He gesticulated a lot, with his fake smile plastered endlessly on his face. But I was lonely all the same, especially as I was separated from the other children who, at least the orphans, slept together.

This special status also aroused fear and jealousy among my classmates (I wondered what they envied me for). They sometimes whispered to each other as they watched me from afar, rarely or never approached me, and for various apostrophes that had no follow-upthey didn’t have the patience or even the ability to follow a written conversation. I was often asked why I was silent. I lowered my head without answering. Something inside me refused to relive the memory of the warlock and the horrible scream that had torn me apart from the inside. So the children invented their own answers. Eventually, they all agreed that I’d been corrupted in some way by evil magicand imagined that I’d rot from the inside, suddenly turn into a demon one day and devour them all.

A hypothesis that didn’t encourage anyone to get very close to me.

However, this rumor didn’t seem unfounded at all, and my isolation wasn’t the only cause of my sadness: anguish gave me no rest.

One evening, sweet Annïa noticed my melancholy and approached me with a worried expression.

"What’s the matter, Stropovitch?

Tell me," I wrote, “am I going to turn into a demon?”

The question petrified her. She hesitated.

“No, of course, who told you those stories,” she replied in the least convincing tone in the world.

My heart sank. I knew.

I would drag myself down here alone, feared, mute and unhappy to an end worse than death, dispossessed of myself, disowned by my own people, even slaughtered by them.

"The Light… whispered Annïa. The Light always conquers, Stropovitch. It will guide you.

The Light…", I repeated inwardly, like an echo.

Master Annïa glanced into the room where Chief Physician Londan and his team were working among thirty or so patients lying in diapers. An explosion in an alchemy laboratory had left many of them injured.

She stepped towards him. “Excuse me…”

She said a few words. He shook his head, pointing to the wounded; she insisted. He turned to me, who had remained at the entrance, and approached doubtfully. “Come,” he said as he passed me. I turned and followed him into his office. He closed the door, sat down and sighed, “What is it, Stropovitch?”

I handed him a notebook page where I’d written:

“What are these symptoms you were talking about with Prophet Velen and to which I’ll see that I’m turning into a demon?”

He fidgeted. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, and I don’t have time today.”

He stood up. I stared at him, handing him another sheet, which he grabbed, sighing again. “I knew you’d say that, but I want to know.” I hadn’t written in front of him: he understood that I really had written that second sheet in advance.

“Wait for me here”, he dropped under his breath as he left the room. One of his assistants came to keep me company. Wondering, I waited for long minutes. Today, I think he had gone to consult Velen not far away. After all, the Prophet had probably been preoccupied with that rumored alchemical explosion.

When the doctor returned, he was less hesitant, though still troubled. He forced himself to smile, sat back down and said in an unsure voice:

“Stropovitch… It’s been a year now and you’ve shown nothing. Maybe we shouldn’t try to hide things from you anymore. Perhaps there’s no longer any risk. But as a precaution, we must continue to protect you from negative emotions. And you know, it’s really hard for adults to know how to protect you from them. Up until now, we’ve kept everything from you, but apparently that doesn’t work any more, because you ask yourself too many questions, and that creates fear, misunderstanding… everything we need to avoid. So I’ve got to tell you the truth, but it’ll probably scare you too. I’ll tell you the truth, okay? Then I’ll reassure you, okay too?”

I already had tears in my eyes, but he was so kind, I nodded with a sad smile. Londan made himself comfortable, settling back in his seat. He was gathering his thoughts.

“Know that you have been marked in your flesh by the fire of a warlock. It’s a form of corruption we don’t master; Velen himself is capable of purifying from the grip of Darkness a being anyone would deem irredeemably doomed; but this isn’t Shadow. Fire usually burns, consumes and disappears when there’s no more material. But you, by some incomprehensible prodigy, maintain this Fire in your heart.”

I lowered my head in disbelief.

“You were completely burned when you were brought to me, in Zangarra. Your body was nothing but an ugly, raw, horrible wound. I didn’t think for a second that you could be saved. We laid you down, we wept for you, that’s all.”

I felt the shock.

“While you were unconscious, your burns mysteriously healed without a trace. And when you had nightmares, you… you showed abnormal strength. You threw me around like a bundle of straw, repeatedly.”

I shuddered. I dreaded what would happen next.

"In those moments, your eyes burned. The stronger the crisis, the bigger the flames that came out. In the strongest seizures observed, your body temperature would rise to 50-60 ℃which is supposed to be lethalyour veins would appear all over your skin, black, bubbling…"

Every word imprinted itself on my brain. The surprise and fear were intense.

“Your breath inflamed your sheets without exhaling fire. As for your strength… follow me.”

I followed his lead.

“Do you remember the room you woke up in? We transferred you there after that.”

We walked down a few corridors, then Londan opened a door. I peered fearfully inside.

One of the metal walls had taken on the shape of a crater, a half-sphere. In the center, at the point of impact, the wall had receded by about two meters, twisting the whole partition and tilting the ceiling.

“Admittedly, the wall here was not very thick. But you can easily guess the abnormal strength it takes to do that.”

A shiver ran down my spine and shook my upper body. Londan crouched down in front of me and put his hands on my shoulders.

“Now Stropovitch, listen. You don’t look like you’re going to show those symptoms again. For a year now, nothing has happened. Nothing, not even a little glimmer, nothing at all. What’s more, Velen will teach you the way of the Light in due course, and it will purify you. Have faith.” He smiles at me. “Come on, I’ve got to take care of my alchemists. Have a good day, and above all, don’t brood. Even if it’s writing, talk, don’t hide anything, give us all your questions, we’ll answer them. We want you to be happy, Stropovitch.”

My happiness, he said… With this threat hanging over me…

I stood before the crater, bewildered. In the center, the imprint of my little child’s fist was clearly visible.

Chapter 3

“Hey hey hey it’s dangerous in your profession to keep written stuff on yourself buddy.”

Stropovitch sighed. It was definitely a mania with these humans, to be snide. He closed the notebook and straightened up with a crunch of armor.

“It’s like the letters you send. Note you can’t do otherwise, huh huh huh.”

Stropovitch didn’t even give his colleague the honor of a scowl. All that mattered was the girl he had to rescue from the Defias. If to infiltrate their ranks he had to put up with a few idiots, he’d do it.

“Van Cleef knew you’d join us in the end. You’re pretty well known in the business, but you’ve been stubbornly sticking to jobs that only buy you a crust of bread on the way home. Don’t worry, buddy, you made the right choice. Gold is the only thing in Van Cleef’s wake! On the other hand, don’t blame me, but just for appearances’ sake, we’ll have to put you to the test.”

Stropovitch raised an eyebrow half a millimeter.

“Yeah, test your ‘morality’, you know. If the boss is happy, you’re in. What I meant by ‘don’t blame me’ is that, until you’re in, you mustn’t know where the Den is.”

His eyebrow lowered.

“You’re terrible, nobody can know what you’re thinking, you’ve got a face like a statue… Come to the boat at the beach, I’ll blindfold you and plug your ears.”

The warrior estimated the time spent on the sea at one hour, listening to the oars strike the water without haste and the wind ripple the small sail and creak the ropes. Where they disembarked, a westerly wind brought the smell of wet, slimy death. Stropovitch knew the smell. It was that of the old haunted lighthouse west of the Dagger Hills. He could guess where the hideout was.

They climbed a fairly steep slope, then the ground changed under Stropovitch’s hooves – gravel crunched – and the atmosphere grew colder. No open door, no passageway, nothing: the entrance to the lair was to be found in one of the abandoned mines to the west of the hills. A place that had been searched a thousand times by the Stormwind authorities. Supposedly…

A rope was wrapped around his waist and he was hoisted up a few meters. A little flat… a gentle descent… a wooden deck… gangways, platforms, stairs… the cheerful hubbub of a bunch of curious lads… his blindfold was removed.

In front of him, on the upper deck of a huge ship, Van Cleef and some twenty human and goblin pirates stood looking at him with delighted eyes, exchanging comments.

Stropovitch was surprised by the captain’s appearance. Van Cleef was a tall, impressively built man, but older than he thought. Above the red scarf that covered the lower part of his face, his eyes were riddled with wrinkles, and his hair was graying. Van Cleef was a man in his fifties. He was dressed all in black leather and carried two well-crafted swords – another adept at two-weapon combat.

The captain approached the draenei and extended his hand. Stropovitch hesitated – it was not his habit to shake hands. Just as he was about to resign himself and make a gesture, Van Cleef crossed his arms and said provocatively: “That’s good, because I don’t trust anyone either.”

Amidst the laughter, one of Stropovitch’s eyebrows furrowed half a millimeter.

“I like cautious people. But I also like people who are efficient and kill in cold blood.”

Stropovitch deduced that the test would check both abilities.

Van Cleef was staring straight at him, and you could tell from his voice that he was smiling.

“The Brotherhood is based on these two principles: efficiency and cold blood. Here, for your first test, is a little victim of our latest maritime campaign.”

The crowd parted to let through a bound and gagged man who had been left his uniform as captain of the Menethil-based Stormwind fleet.

“We’ve put him in a chilly jail, but he’s still vigorous, and having faced him personally I can tell you he’s good – which is why I captured him! Sir Venders, the blue creature you see before you has come from Outland to join our ranks. If you kill him, I swear on my honor to set you free. As for you, Stropovitch, I order you to kill him.”

Stropovitch didn’t believe for a second that all the candidates had to meet such challenges. Van Cleef was taking advantage of the draenei’s reputation to put on a show for his men, who were as hysterical as children at the Darkmoon Fair. The warrior shuddered, but reflexively restrained it. He’d never gotten used to killing. And yet, for the past two years, it had been all he did. Sometimes criminals, often innocents, in all cases living beings like himself who clung tooth and nail to their existence, as mediocre as it was, and who died with this atrocious horror in their eyes.

At least this time, there was a little girl to save. He could still tell himself that it was worth executing a poor human who had fought for his country. At worst, if that pretext wasn’t enough, the warrior would swallow his remorse and bitterness. As he always did.

Venders was stripped of his bonds and gag, and his weapon was thrown to him. The draenei and the human were surrounded by a growing crowd of pirates. Van Cleef, also standing back, crossed his arms and stared at the two men.

Venders didn’t utter a word once his gag had been removed. He grabbed his rapier, stood up with clenched jaw, and instantly assumed a proud, upright stance.

Stropovitch had already faced the rapier. He disliked this type of fencing, based on light wrist movements and a whole arsenal of feints. If Venders fought calmly and with all his physical and psychological resources, the fight would be tough.

Venders assumed the waiting posture, knees bent and flexible, rapier pointed at the draenei – if the latter ran straight at him, he’d be dodged, feinted and pierced.

Stropovitch sighed. He usually waited for an attack, but now the other was waiting for him and wouldn’t give in.

I’ve got to get him out of his routine.

To everyone’s surprise, the draenei removed his left glove and threw it to the ground. Without drawing his weapons, he slowly advanced towards the swordsman. The latter expressed astonishment. Stropovitch stopped very close to the tip, at a distance where he wouldn’t have time to dodge if the other attacked. The human was unsettled, hesitant – he’d only just realized that he didn’t really know what these aliens were capable of. Stropovitch suddenly lowered his right hand to the weapon dangling from his left flank, in one swift movement. Venders was forced into an instant counter-attack. With lightning speed, the tip of the rapier sliced through the air to pierce the draenei’s chest.

The assembly held its breath in disbelief. At the same time as his right hand was lowered, Stropovitch had raised his unsheathed left hand towards his chest, palm pointing towards the tip of the rapier, which had pierced it and been deflected in the palm’s movement towards the sky.

With diabolical precision, the draenei had plucked the tip of the sword from the air and deflected it! And all at the cost of a minor injury.

The eyes of the audience were fixed on the draenei’s pierced palm and hadn’t even realized what had happened the next half-second: Stropovitch had nonetheless seized his weapon with his other hand and with one clean, swift and silent stroke had severed the captain’s head, which hadn’t even fallen from his neck yet. When the body collapsed limply and the head rolled off, the pirates opened their hallucinated eyes. Stropovitch, on the other hand, felt nothing but disgust, as he did every time he murdered someone.

Van Cleef applauded calmly, without immediate comment.

“Good! Executioner’s efficiency. You outclassed him when men of this captain’s caliber aren’t to be found on every street corner.”

I hope you as**oles enjoyed the show.

“Now for the test of cold blood!”

The crowd parted again to make way for another bound and gagged person… in this case a little blonde girl with a watery face.

“Here’s a child we were holding hostage to ensure a traitor’s silence – but he doesn’t have to know she’s dead, does he? Kill her in cold blood and you’re one of us.”

Fu** it.

The draenei had two seconds to think. Around him, encircling him, were sixty pirates. He was on the deck of a ship, in the middle of a gigantic cave. Thanks to his stature, Stropovitch could see over the crowd that there were two piers, one on each side of the ship. Since he hadn’t spent much time blindfolded from the mine entrance, one of the two piers led to the exit, the other further into the Den. No way to tell.

He sighed – or rather, he exhaled sharply through his nostrils. If he ran, he’d have no chance of survival. But he shouldn’t kill the girl either.

Something was wrong. The nobleman who’d hired him was very clever, as his strategy with Jack had proved. Not the type to ask for no guarantees. But Van Cleef had a gold mine at his disposal with this girl. He could use her to demand regular ransoms, which the nobleman would pay him via an agent whose job it would be to first make sure the girl was alive.

Moreover, Stropovitch was not yet a member of the Brotherhood. It was strange that Van Cleef should reveal to him why he was keeping the girl – was he just passing on information to strangers? Or perhaps…

Stropovitch grabbed a sword. A forward step hammered on the ground, simultaneously a horizontal thrust so fast that the pirates saw only the air ripple.

The wig fell to the ground, the severed hair scattering in the air before settling slowly.

An exclamation ran through the audience. Beneath the fake girl’s wig was a bald, green skull, made up from the forehead down to imitate human skin, with two pointed ears on either side.

The goblin straightened up, a cold sweat beading on his temples. He tore off his gag and groaned: “Damn, it’s a good thing he passed the test, I was planning to avoid his attack if he fell for it, but I couldn’t have, he’s staggering boss, I didn’t see it coming.” He turned back to Stropovitch. “Hi guy, I’m Sneed, the chief handyman here, hey hey. You didn’t spare my heart, phew, when will I calm down? I was afraid of inventing such a challenge just for this guy. You see, you guessed it, Van Cleef wasn’t the type to sacrifice bags of cash like that. Hey boss, he’s clever, he spotted the scam, didn’t he! Boss?”

Stropovitch, Sneed and the pirates looked up at Van Cleef. With his scarf off, he was staring at the draenei with an extremely serious expression.

A stony silence immediately followed.

Stropovitch’s blood froze. Van Cleef had suspected everything all along. He had sensed that the draenei’s request for integration was suspicious. He wondered if it had something to do with the girl. Or worse! There had been leaks and Van Cleef knew he’d been contacted by Jack. Yes! Van Cleef surely hadn’t just kept the girl hostage! One or more spies were surely watching the nobleman. Or the inn.

For whatever reason, Van Cleef was suspicious. And he’d tested him and unmasked him. He’d seen through the draenei’s closed face when the girl was thrown at his feet, seen and understood the look on his face at the piers, read his final decision.

And now he was still looking at Stropovitch, and understood that he had understood. So he merely sighed and said phlegmatically:

“Kill him.”

The pirates were stunned. Van Cleef insisted: “What? Kill him, come on. That’s an order.”

The pirates turned to Stropovitch and drew their weapons. “Sorry, mate,” Sneed said.

Keep it under control. Velen, O great Prophet, I couldn’t make your teachings my own, except for this principle. If I don’t want to be dispossessed by the Stranger. If I don’t want to lose consciousness and reason. Stay calm. I can survive only by making a massacre. Only by calmly making a massacre.

(Hello, I’m using DeepL now, hope you’ll enjoy the difference =) have a nice day)

Chapter 4

Everything happened at breakneck speed. Stropovitch’s facial muscles tensed fiercely. Half a second later, five pirates were lying on the ground, variously gutted and dismembered. Stropovitch had made a hole in the circle and jumped off the deck. The pirates drew bows, crossbows and rifles and leaned over the edge. No trace of the draenei.

“He hid, Van Cleef said. Med and Kiros, watch the west pier, Levis and Nico, the east one. Watch the water too. The others, I divide you into three groups and you search the galleon.”

One group for every second: Gilnid the Foundry Overseer, Greenskin the former ship’s captain, a tall, sadistic halberd-loving goblin, and Mister Smite, a tauren as powerful and heavy as a siege engine.

I caught myself at a hatch very close to water level after having jumped, there shouldn’t be a lower level; to find the girl I have to search methodically starting from the bottom. They are stirring up there, I hear them.

I slip inside. Corridor. Bottom, left door. Pumps in case of water intake. Right door. Cage, empty. I come back, stairs, upper level. Footsteps above me. The bottom. Left door, pantry, provisions. Right door, ammunition. I take a rifle, load it, seize a cartridge pouch, stuff it with powder. They go down the stairs; they opens doors; they come to mine; I pick up my momentum and smash the door with my shoulder. It sends the guy and a colleague behind to the bottom of the provisions. I shoot in the hallway. Screams, blood. I come back into the room, put the strap of the rifle on my shoulder to let it loose, break the hatch, draw my swords, get out, climb the side of the ship, planting my blades in it, break the hatch above and enter. It’s getting hot down there, they are screaming. There is a large room full of hammocks. I reload the rifle. Sneed enters. Since I didn’t hear him, he must be alone, no reason to spoil the powder, I grab him and wring his neck. He just squeals. Presentiment. I jump back as a huge mass crashes down on me and smashes the floor.

Keeping calm.

In the movement I slice the handle of the weapon before he raises it then fire. The tauren bellows. He’s in the doorway, there are people behind him, but he takes up the entire width of the hallway. I throw down the rifle, drive my swords into the tauren’s chest, hold him upright. He’s heavy. I hear myself screaming under the effort. I let him sag a little on my shoulder so I can lift him, and move forward, and run, and push the others to the other side who exclaim bewildered. Won’t give them time to push their side back. One of them loses his balance and falls. I hear his bones crack under my hooves as I walk. Finally sounds of falling. I stop and throw the tauren down the stairs with the others. The tauren’s body crushes a goblin below. The others that I pushed and who fell are in bad shape or petrified with terror. The corridor, the doors, these must be the seconds’ bedrooms. One. Two. Three. Four. Empty. They move again downstairs. And upstairs. Another mass destroys the ceiling with superhuman force and an ogre descends in the hallway with a terrible crash.

Keeping calm.

“Rhakh’Zor angr…” His guts litter the ground as he stupidly opens his eyes and mouth and a trickle of drool joins the pool of blood at his feet. I hear men coming up the steps and loading guns. I jump and grab the edges of the hole the ogre made, and pull myself up. The deck. Men are stationed there left and right, staring at me in fear, cocking their bows with trembling hands. Fast. Two bodies fall into the water, their blood also in bright red arcs. I turn. An arrow scratches my ear. And four halves of men overboard. Many men running below. I take a cannon out of its place – damn it’s heavy – it rolls – every second counts – I put it with its mouth down in the axis of the stairs. The powder keg is there. I charge and light the fuse. They finished searching downstairs and must have heard the cannon rolling. They’re going up. The first to see the metal mouth open his eyes in disbelief. Fire – my eardrums scream, I cough, choke – too much powder – my eyes water. The cannonball went through the boat. No time to waste. Deafened, my ears ringing, I go back to the ogre’s hole. A goblin greets me downstairs with a gun pointed at me.

Keeping calm.

The index finger of his right hand loosens the trigger, now that it is no longer connected to his arm. His eyes and mouth are closing, now that they are separated from the rest of his head. I see others behind who were still watching the results of the ball and who are just beginning to turn around. One two three four. They still scream but they are out of action, no time to finish them. A door, near the stairs. Luxurious bedroom, desk, map, compass, gold purses. The captain’s. Who is not there. Closet. The girl. I’ll be back. I close the closet. I return to the room with the hammocks, take the gun again, reload it, enlarge the tauren’s hole with my hoof and jump. Waist-deep in water – the ball has broken the keel, a gaping hole is sinking the boat. Goblins panic while trying to install the pump. No resistance. Their shredded bodies float. I bend down just as a halberd was about to sever my neck. A tall goblin with a big sadistic smile, on the stairs. He swings his halberd around him, I see nothing, the air hisses. He wants to destabilize me.

Keeping calm.

Weapon longer than mine: I shoot. He reacted sharply, the tip of the halberd was in the way but it jumped off. He wants to fight with what’s left – a stick. His teeth clench. He has no more teeth. The punch rang him. I drop the rifle, draw a sword and finish him. I go back upstairs, go get the girl bound and gagged, who doesn’t say nor do anything, poor thing, she’s terrified. I go back down, untie the girl – I let the gag – throw her in the water through the hatch through which I had entered, follow her, fish her out, hoist myself onto the pier. Where Van Cleef awaits me.

His mask was on.

His arms, crossed, his gaze sharp.

“Are all people of your race like you? I doubt.”

Stropovitch, panting, put the girl down and came forward. Dripping with water and blood.

Behind him, the eerie groans and creaks of a sinking ship.

Van Cleef drew his two swords. Stropovitch noticed the stickiness of their edge. Poison. If he scratches me, I’m dead.

“That’s fine mail with reinforced leather armor underneath you have there. Will you allow me to aim directly at the head?”

Stropovitch frowned half a millimeter. Why talk and let me catch my breath? This is not pirate behavior, this concern for honor and propriety.

“Whatever price you’re being paid, it was madness to do all this for that girl. You were looking for something other than money.”

Stropovitch frowned. His heartbeat was gradually returning to normal.

“Given your strength, I understand you were drawn to such a challenge – you must have been bored. You are therefore not a real mercenary, who favors caution and safe plans.”

So what ?

“You wanted a good fight to the death? I accept. If it’s me who dies, you will finally erase forever a page of Stormwind history that the ruling caste has wanted to turn for a long time.”

I don’t care about your political stories, Van Cleef. But I made an oath. And if I want to keep my commitments, I have to train. Against the best. Against the worst. As much as it takes.

“Never mind, huh! You will excuse me for letting you catch your breath, it’s because I have old habits of good society that I care about. Certainly there are no witnesses, but it is a duel. An honorable fight. Man to man.”

Behind the draenei the water swirled in huge eddies as the ship – the cavern echoing with this seething – completed its sinking. Then a thud: the wooden carcass had hit the bottom. Many bleeding bodies emerged one after another, surrounded by halos of blood that grew in slow arabesques.

In the foreground of this macabre scene, Van Cleef saw Stropovitch straighten up proudly, then bow respectfully.

“I take it you’re ready?”

Stropovitch nodded.

Van Cleef’s gaze became that of a bird of prey, eyes wide open, pupils narrowed. He positioned himself loosely, a sword held in front of him, a sword concealed behind his back. The intensity of his gaze! He was trying to hypnotize him, or scare him, presumably both at the same time.

Keeping calm.

Van Cleef attacked, closing the distance between the two of them with several quick, flexible cat-like steps. He attacked with the visible weapon, which was an obvious feint: Stropovitch parried with his left sword and plucked the blade the captain had pulled from his back with his right. Wrists twirled, blades slid, in counter and counter-counter movements, searching for openings. The draenei sensed in one second that he would lose at that game; he dropped his weapons, grabbed Van Cleef’s wrists in the process and twisted them fiercely, then slammed his forehead into his opponent’s.

The latter dodged it by throwing himself on the ground on his back, putting his feet on the bent draenei’s chest and tossing him on top of him.

Keep grabbing.

Stropovitch did not let go of Van Cleef’s wrists; each turned on their stomachs and rose, their hands still tied; the draenei attempted a headbutt again but the other yanked him to the side, his leg in the way of his; Stropovitch stumbled but did not lose his balance; he proceeded to crush the pirate’s wrists again, but the pirate retaliated with a soft kick in the direction of the draenei’s chin; which he dodged by bending the knees and leaning back and a bit to the side just enough to let the foot pass, then straightened up abruptly to pick the leg. The movement had been a marvel of speed and precision. Van Cleef was stuck with his ankle on his opponent’s shoulder. He had a microsecond of hesitation, which Stropovitch exploited: he jerked the captain’s wrists upwards and finally headbutted him hard.

The little girl, still gagged, watched them, motionless.

Van Cleef dropped his swords and collapsed to the ground.

Stropovitch took them well in hand and leaned down to neatly slit the human’s throat.

The weapon swung across the pier. The pirate had a concealed third blade and had used it to parry the finishing blow and disarm the draenei’s right hand.

Van Cleef got up in a flash. It was Stropovitch’s turn to have a split second of hesitation; a powerful kick to his left hand caused him to drop the second weapon, which rose whirling through the air; then a second kick to the face knocked him backwards; Van Cleef picked up the second sword on the fly when it fell.

Stropovitch did not wait for the coup de grace; as soon as he hit the ground he rolled back and straightened up, picking up the weapons he had dropped at the start of the confrontation. In vain: by the time he looked up, Van Cleef’s two swords had severed the mail and dug deep into either side of his broad chest.


During the split second that Van Cleef ensured the penetration of his weapons he was vulnerable; the draenei straightening, hammered a step forward and ripped open the pirate with its crossed blades.

The girl two meters away was sprinkled with blood but did not move, like hallucinating.

The captain fell to his knees, his face grimacing, clutching his stomach as a pool of blood spilled out from under him. Opposite the mercenary did the same, pulling the two swords from his chest with expressions of great pain.

“The poisons from my blades will kill you. Usually the effect is instant, that’s why I let myself be surprised, I was… stupid.”

Van Cleef was livid. The bleeding was impressive.

The draenei felt his heart ache. Beating was suddenly terribly difficult. Each pulse made the mercenary grimace in sharp pain. He leaned over, writhing and letting out gasps, under the fixed gaze of the captain.

Behind the latter dozens of Defias quarrymen were arriving with a bewildered look from inside the mine. They advanced to the edge of the pier, but none approached. They watched the death of the two fighters, incredulous, silent.

I made it, the fatal mistake, the hesitation I shouldn’t have. I will die.

Heartbeat, pain.

My heart is burning so hard… It’s a blood thinner. I didn’t think it would produce such heat…

Heartbeat, tears.

Velen, Holy Light, inspire me with a solution, quickly…

Heartbeat, panic.

This fire is spreading all over my body, my heart is clenching so hard, so hard! It’s… everything is burning, damn it, it’s the demon who wants to… survive too!

Heartbeat, agony.

If I release him, he will regenerate me… But I must… remain… the MASTER!

Heartbeat, rage.

Van Cleef and the miners’ eyes widened, and they gleamed in the glare of the flames.

Stropovitch sat up, his eyes blazing, and a resounding growl rose from the depths of his being and echoed through the cavern. With a grimace he stood up.

The girl was still watching, fascinated beyond terror.

The draenei’s body turned red. His chest vibrated visibly. His heart peeked out, black, through the skin, and the black veins came out in turn, quivering.

His face was contorted with a fierce inner struggle. He was overwhelmed by untold suffering but faced it like a rock in a hurricane.

The miners screamed, a few fled, but most had their legs broken in fear.

An overpowering roar detonated in the cave. The air around the draenei rippled with the infernal heat he radiated.

So he spoke! Stropovitch opened his mouth and with a voice from beyond the grave and that was not his own said:


Van Cleef’s body ignited at these words. He screamed, living torch.

You won’t win, demon. You are infinitely stronger, but I WILL RESIST!

Panicked miners crawled squealing toward the exit.

Stropovitch, his teeth digging into his gums from the clenching, saw the little girl. This sight shook him so powerfully that it helped him to stay on the threshold of the abyss. If he stayed near her, she would burn to death. He had to get away from her. But if he left her there, alone, he had to first…

Annihilate anyone who might harm her.

“Regarding discretion, you failed, man.”

Jack dutifully picked his teeth. He held the girl by the hand. She was hiding behind him, petrified.

“You are asked to release a girl and what you do? So if I understood the story correctly, you kill the whole crew, you burn Van Cleef, you sink the ship, you eradicate all the miners, you destroy the Brotherhood’s hidden forge, you go out, you burn half of Moonbrook to ashes, and to do the job at your best, all Defias encampments in the area.”

Stropovitch looked thoughtfully away. The crazy old innkeeper was, for some reason, hilarious.

“Not to mention the girl who told me earlier that you had turned into a monster and that you came back to look for her only the next day. I’m not saying that I believe in the details of the monster, but as for what is that you are mad, that’s okay, there’s no doubt, you need to get treatment, man. Leaving the girl behind to go and massacre the whole neighborhood, it’s not professional work, you agree, don’t you?”

She had remained alone for hours in the middle of a dark desolation, breathing an air saturated with ashes where the smell of burnt wood mingled with that of charred flesh. She would be haunted by that memory all her life. The draenei was silent. Jack was jubilant to have reversed the roles since their first meeting.

“My employer isn’t going to claim it, but considering how you were playing it when we saw each other the other day, I’m not going to bother to quietly ruin your reputation. Sorry, huh!”

Stropovitch did not react. His decision was already made.

“Well here’s your wages, Jack said, throwing a huge purse on the table. And enjoy it! You won’t get many more.”

He stood for a moment, expecting the mercenary to check the contents, but since the mercenary didn’t move, Jack shrugged and disappeared with the girl, without saying goodbye.

Stropovitch sat for a long time, looking thoughtful. First of all, he had to go find Velen at the Exodar and dare to ask his advice…

…though he knows that I have caused the death of so many of our people…

Chapter 5

“If we’ve taught you to read, it’s for a very simple reason, this one!”

The austere draenei, dressed in a long golden robe, pointed to the loaded shelves of the library as the young assembly sat on the floor.

“From now on, we’ll work together to bring you into the Light. It’s an arduous path. For a very simple reason.” Twice already, I noted. To Master Kalten, everything seemed simple.

“Light is a power, like fire, frost and the arcane, from which a specific school of magic is derived. But it is much more than that. Like Shadow, Light is not a morally neutral power. It’s on another level, the spiritual level, that of the struggle between good and evil.”

Some of the children were wide-eyed, fascinated by the idea of taking part in this great universal struggle. This first course, reserved for young teenagers, was like a rite of passage to adulthood. The age when you stop playing the hero and become a real one.

“If I want to appropriate another magical power, I have to connect to the plane from which it originates, and draw from it as much as my own strength allows. But to manipulate Light and Shadow, you need an additional attunement. And how do you do that? Very simply!”

He was already distressing me with his simplicity.

“First you have to infuse yourself with these principles,” he said, brandishing a huge book with a luxurious jewel-studded cover. “Once you’ve made all this moral teaching your own, you’ll know no more doubt or torment. The temptation to sin? Gone. A decision to make? You’ll make the right one, and no one will turn you away. You’ll be able to distinguish between the cowards and the braves in your entourage. You’ll have the stuff of which heroes are made.”

A stunned silence fell over the audience. Some of the children could already see their names in the legends.

“This teaching will also guide your introspection. You’ll need to review all your past actions, examine them and draw the most wholesome lessons from them. Why, you may ask? For a very simple reason: peace. To fully receive Grace, you must make peace and tranquillity in your soul and conscience.”

He smiled paternally at the children.

“Isn’t that wonderful? I offer you purity. The purer you are, the better you’ll communicate with the Light plane.”

There were no objections, of course.

“For this first step, there will be no test, we’ll rely entirely on you. Why so much confidence? Very simply, because if you fail, you’ll fail the practical training too. You won’t get the Grace of being able to make Light work in this plane through your will. This is an inevitable consequence. If you read these books of wisdom casually, don’t learn them, don’t assimilate and apply these principles, don’t confess your faults, lie to others and to yourselves, then you will be neither priests nor paladins, and will have to turn to other Masters than me and become mages, shamans, or even, he added with a sneer, for those impervious to all forms of magic, warriors.”

A year later, here I was, on my feet for half an hour, gazing into the inscrutable faces of the Shields of Velen, the Prophet’s close guard. Kalten had asked me to wait.

Finally, a sentry received a message from another and came to fetch me.

I was ushered into a corridor lined with guards, then into a vast, bright room whose circular wall was covered with shelves crammed with huge books.

In the center, a table. Three seats. Kalten on the right, Velen on the left - staring at me impassively - and, back to me, the seat intended for me.

I swallowed and stepped forward. Slowly, slowly. Eyes to the floor. And sat down at last. My eyes on the table - staring at the golden quill, the sheet of parchment and the khorium inkwell laid out there. I could feel Velen’s aura beside me - the aura of benevolence made flesh. Velen, are you a god…

The deepest voice in the Universe, echoing like in a cave.

“My child…”

Prophet, you the Good, you the Father, you whom I revere and love, I know, I have disappointed you… Tears rolled down my cheeks.

“Kalten tells me you’re impervious to the Light… Explain to me, Stropovitch…”

I raised my teary face to him. He was sincerely and deeply saddened… I wanted to die at that moment.

With trembling hands I grabbed the pen and began to write very quickly and very badly, unable to see anything through my eyes drowned in despair.

Finally, I leaned back against my seat and stopped breathing. It was written.

Kalten pulled a pair of gold-rimmed glasses from a shirt pocket and put them on with an elegant gesture. Then he took hold of the tear-wet sheet, pinching a corner with two fingers. With the air of deciphering a cryptic message, he read aloud to the Prophet, whose compassionate gaze regarded the cowering, sobbing child, a sad little ball of woe.

“O great Prophet, I have read all the books of wisdom in the library, I have understood everything, learned everything and wanted to make my own all those demands of virtue, of seeking justice in one’s heart and in the world, of strength, of will, of sacrifice, of love. I loved this very teaching and found it beautiful.”

Yes, beautiful. So beautiful. Like you, Prophet. If this teaching had a face, it would be yours.

“But my soul doesn’t want to find peace. I can’t empty myself to welcome the Light. I know I haven’t sinned in any way in my past, but this thing in my heart won’t let me find the rest of my conscience. Ever since I woke up that day, fear has never left me.”

Anguish thuds inside me every second, I hear it, like another heart in my heart, always a beat ahead.

“It’s like a fault I’ve committed while remaining innocent. I became impure before I even knew the meaning of the word. I cannot receive the teachings of the Light. I am unworthy of your attention, Prophet.”

Kalten, embarrassed, considered this text, unexpected from a child, for a few moments.

And then something extraordinary happened.

Velen’s thousand-year-old eyes became misty. I was stunned, not knowing what to think, wanting to disappear. His hand gently grasped my arm and he drew me to him. He took me in his arms.

His aura washed over me. My skin quivered, then rippled with a soft warmth. My heart soothed, my fears, my despair, my remorse, all dissipated like an unravelling mist. The only time I felt serenity. A moment I treasure.

“My child…” he murmured in his cavernous voice, in which I heard the echo of a sadness that was also thousands of years old, the sadness that the loss of friends, parents and thousands of his brothers through the ages had left in his memory as deep as eternity.

“For some mysterious reason, we were unable to purify you or give you the means to purify yourself. Your only chance of survival now is to strengthen yourself. To control your body, your thoughts, your feelings. To forge a will of steel that will not yield to any force. We’ll see to that.”

I drowned in his tenderness, snuggled into it and, without realizing it, slipped into a sleep the likes of which I hadn’t known since my immolation.

Kalten came to see me the day after the meeting with Velen, very early in the morning. Ondraiev thought I was still asleep, so they talked in hushed tones. But I wasn’t. I’d spent the night weeping with rage and helplessness, cursing my fate and the warlock who’d sealed it.

“The Prophet thinks that outside the Light, schools of magic are dangerous for him,” said Kalten. On top of this demonic fire, he mustn’t be subjected to the temptations of the arcane.

- I agree that he shouldn’t become a mage, but shamanism seems a good choice. The Long-Sighted is all about balance and harmony.

- Nobundo? The Prophet certainly trusts this Broken, but he believes that manipulating sometimes uncooperative powers can also endanger the child’s mental solidity. Elemental entities are not our friends.

- Are you really going to entrust him to Arkhan? We hardly let him do gymnastics with the kids anymore…"

An awkward silence.

“The Prophet knows Arkhan better than anyone. We all have mixed feelings about Arkhan, all of us - except Velen. As always, let’s put our trust in his judgment.”

A second silence, then footsteps, and my door opened. Ondraiev’s silhouette.

“Stropovitch, get ready, quickly. The Prophet has chosen a new Master for you. Kalten will take you to him.”

I complied as quickly as I could and approached the venerable draenei, wiping my face with the back of my hand.

“The man I’m leading you to is going to call you a crybaby,” said Kalten with a forced chuckle that barely concealed his embarrassment. “Dry your tears on the way.”

I did my best as we made our way to the Hall of Resources - the one that would become the Hall of Trade once the ship was crushed. No money yet, everyone came here for food and equipment within the limits set by rationing.

The light diffused generously by the crystals dazzled me. I concentrated on Kalten’s footsteps to move forward.

So it was with blinking eyes and a face marked by dark circles and traces of friction that I stopped, Kalten’s hand resting on my shoulder.

“Stropovitch, this is Arkhan, this ship’s Armsmaster.”

I bowed, relying on the orientation of Kalten’s body, still too dazzled to clearly distinguish my surroundings. I felt a harsh gaze upon me. Kalten continued.

“Your comrades won’t see him until next year, to strengthen their bodies and learn how to handle weapons. Whatever their path, they’ll all go through Arkhan. You may be too young, but your build should enable you to train with your elders. And since no form of magic suits you, he’ll be your full-time Master. You’ll be his only true disciple.”

Silence. I could still feel that gaze on me. My eyesight was finally coming out of the haze, but I didn’t dare raise my head. I sensed that Kalten was embarrassed by the situation. So it was he who spoke again, in an uncomfortable tone.

“Allow me to take my leave, Master Arkhan. My class awaits.”

Silence. Kalten hesitated, then left, perplexed.

I was still staring at the floor, my stomach in knots. It was that look that petrified me.


The scream echoed throughout the Hall, alerting the vendors who were setting up their stalls.

My legs buckled beneath me. Piteously seated on the floor, I finally considered my future Master.

He was the tallest, most massive draenei imaginable. His skin was a silvery blue, his forehead broad and bumpy, his hair long and wild. But the strangest thing was that, unlike all the other draenei blessed by the Light of Naarus, his eyes didn’t shine! In fact, they were jet-black! Arms folded, he had planted those fascinating eyes in mine.

He spoke again, but not in a really soothed voice. He was obviously used to speaking very loudly.

“My name may be Arkhan, but magic and I are two different things. When that lunatic Kalten told me last night that there was a youngster like me, for whom the Light is like poetry for an ogre, I was so damned happy. I even asked him to bring you in first thing this morning. And what do I see? A fu**ing weakling!”

He sighed. I lowered my head, holding myself back from crying with rage - so great was my shame.

“But don’t dream, kid. Unlike the others, you’re going to be with me all day every day.”

He gave me a big sadistic smile.

“And you can trust me to optimize the schedule.”

I was scared.

My training began immediately.

“Rollalaaaa, what a nostalgic look! You seem to be writing something that moves you, Mister Mountain of muscle.”

For once, Stropovitch wasn’t upset by the gnome’s flutey voice. He closed his notebook and sat back in the hammock. They were the only two passengers on this boat to the Exodar - more precisely, to the island of Azuremyst on which the Draenei ship had crashed two years earlier. The little creature had adorable, large, hazel-colored almond eyes, and chestnut-red hair styled in two coiled braids on either side of her head. She looked curious and joyful.

Stropovitch surprised himself by smiling at her, something he didn’t often do - it made the corners of his mouth twitch. He scribbled on a sheet of paper, tore it up and handed it to the gnome.

“Oooooooh are you mute? Gosh, you must have learned everyone’s handwriting after you landed, you are patient.”

Another sheet.

She laughed. The sweetest little gnome laugh in the world.

“Oh well me you’ll laugh, if I’m on this boat for the Exodar it’s out of puuuuuuure curiosity.”

The amused draenei raised an eyebrow.

She pulled herself into the adjacent hammock and sat cross-legged in the middle.

“Since I’m tired of being the best and it’s boring in the long run, I’m taking a vacation and thought: hey, I’ve never been to the Exodar, I heard the guys from your place really go out of their way to build a spaceship, it’s so big and all.”

Another sheet.

“What I was doing?” She laughed again - much to the draenei’s delight. “I’m part of the best gladiator team in the world, ya mister.”

Stropovitch gasped. He was looking at an arena fighter, one of those people who fight behind closed doors in explosions of magic and whirlwinds of blades to place themselves among the best in a permanent world championship.

The terror of the arena chewed his index finger thoughtfully.

“I’d love to have you as my guide, but a mute guide…” she chuckled, “Well, let’s give it a try, shall we, dear wardrobe-with-hooves ?”

Stropovitch nodded.

Another sheet.

“Funny name. I’m Thiwwina”, she said with a childish accent and a big, bright smile.

The draenei was charmed. He almost forgot the anxiety that was gradually building up inside him as the ship made its way towards the island.

Chapter 6

Valaar’s mooring was quiet; the quay was empty, and the sun over there was drowning in the sea, casting its last fires through heavy rain clouds, forming a melancholic picture. The crew were chatting in a separate spot, without a glance at the travelers.

“Is it normal for it to be deserted?” asked Thiwwina. I mean, are there still people in the Exodar?"

Stropovitch nodded and took the path that led into the island. The gnome followed him, casting curious glances around her, on the lookout for the slightest unfamiliar, exotic element of scenery. The draenei was so overcome with shame at daring to reappear among his own people that, had the gnome’s presence not forced him to contain his feelings, he would surely have turned back.

At last, above the trees, she spotted a point of light.


It was clearly the top of a gigantic building. In the twilight gloom she couldn’t see clearly, but the walls of the spaceship seemed encrusted with huge crystals emitting a diffuse pink light.

“I don’t believe it, it’s all magic, this thing. I can feel it, it’s just a big mass impregnated with magic, the biggest condensation I’ve ever seen! I wonder where you got those crystals. Is there really no machina in there?” Stropovitch expressed ignorance. Thiwwina’s eyes sparkled with curiosity. “I’ll have to go back to Outland, I must have missed something, towards Netherstorm, I found the region ugly so I didn’t really explore, but it smelled of magic, I’m sure I’ll find some info there.”

Stropovitch stopped dead in his tracks. Had this gnome been to Draenor? He continued on his way, pensive. Fate had decided that he should reconnect with his past sooner rather than later.

“What’s the matter, Stropo?” she chirped, bouncing up and down beside him.

He scribbled a few words, handed her the sheet.

She squinted, trying to read despite the darkness. And laughed.

“Well, as they say, exchange of courtesies, my dear blue friend, I’ll be happy to guide you to Outland after our visit here!”

Stropovitch, forcing himself a little, gave her a grateful smile.

“Ah yes, it’s quite impressive actually.”

The emerged part of the ship rose to a point some thirty meters high, all glittering metal and pink mineral fragments that sang a little crystalline tune.

“It’s pretty, I think, and it’s big, so there’s room for a few folks in there, but it’s not much for a whole people, so there mustn’t be many survivors.”

The gleam in Stropovitch’s eyes faded. He beckoned her in.

The guards nodded and stepped aside. Stropovitch nodded with dignity in response, relieved not to be recognized; followed by a thunderous “Good evening, burly gentlemen!” The guards, having recovered from their astonishment, burst out laughing. As for the warrior, it was the first time he had taken the measure of the crash damage - he fought furiously against the tears welling up in his eyes.

The tourist and her guide entered the bowels of the ship through a long corridor lined with metal debris and crystals - which illuminated it. " Oh, my goodness, it’s so much bigger than it looks from the outside! That was quite a fall you took to get that deep into the ground!" The draenei gritted his teeth.

They could hear the confused hubbub of ship life growing louder. Two draenei accompanied by two heavily-laden elekks passed them, casting an astonished glance at the gnome.

“I guess they’ve never seen a gnome here before! Mind you, the first time I saw those tentacles you use as beards, I nearly threw up - don’t take that personally, eh?”

They emerged into the ship’s hall.

The hall was a vastness for which Thiwwina was unprepared: speechless and with eyes like saucers, she looked for once without speaking.

From floor to vault, it was at least fifty meters. The room was also a good sixty meters in diameter. In the center, springing from a wide shaft lined with enormous crystals, was a column of pink light with a crystalline song. The violet walls reflected this light while diffusing their own. The whole hall was bathed in a haze of magnificent light, blurring all contours and all the life that animated it.

For below, around the well, Thiwwina could see dozens of draenei conversing, trading, strolling, bustling, young, old, men, women, idle or hurried, serene or worried. All around the arches, entrances to other parts of the ship - whose dimensions she couldn’t make out, but which seemed just as vast.

A piece of paper fluttered in front of her.

She blinked, as if emerging from a dream, and thoughtfully read the note. “I’ll let you visit, and you can ask me all the questions you want afterwards. Just be respectful. I have to go and see our Prophet, so you can’t come with me. We’ll meet at the big inn opposite you.”

She looked up at Stropovitch - she was knee-high to him - smiled and nodded enthusiastically. Suddenly, she disappeared. Stropovitch sighed. A mage, of course. There’s nothing like teleporting around for snooping.

He took a deep breath and walked down the ramp to the hall. The draenei watched him as he made his way through the crowd, trying to appear relaxed. Some nodded politely, others stared impassively. A few stared at him suspiciously, even moving away as he passed.

A thick metal-gloved hand suddenly came down on his shoulder - which didn’t even flinch.

“Look who’s here! Back home?”


Extreme anger swept over the draenei, and his first impulse was to leap at his enemy’s throat. But he held back, his eyes glowing with the embers of hatred.

I MUST contain myself. Absolutely. In respect of Velen. So as not to stain the light of the Naarus with blood. And it’s too soon. I’m not ready.

At last he turned, with a terrible look in his eyes - the look you’d give to the being who’d murdered your child - towards a draenei clad in magnificent, ornate golden armor, armed with a huge, glittering mace at his back, all intricately carved and set with gems of flawless brilliance. The whole outfit weighed heavy enough to tire an elekk, but the paladin wore it with ease.

“It’s been a long time, old brother!” he exclaimed, crushing his shoulder, looking sarcastically cheerful. The whole hall could hear him - and even listened. “What a coincidence, I’d come to report to Velen on the progress of the Light in Outland - and my modest participation in it,” he added fattily. And I find you, my good comrade! We studied together! Well, not for very long, actually," he added with a grating chuckle.

A few people in the audience chuckled.

“Have you come to tell him about your exploits too? Let me guess, you’ve successfully completed your major deratting campaign on the Deeprun Tram?”

He laughed out loud. Many smiled at the paladin’s pique.

“C’mon, c’mon,” he said, tears in his eyes from laughing so hard, “don’t take it the wrong way my brother, a little good-natured teasing, nothing but very affectionate! Let’s go and find Velen together!”

He put an arm around his shoulders and joined his stride, taking care to lean on the warrior. But Stropovitch’s back didn’t sag one iota.

“He’ll be very happy to see us, I’m sure. He loves all his people, whatever they do, whoever they are, hmm? What matchless goodness, isn’t it, to which we can only aspire!”

He leaned in mockingly to catch an expression on Stropovitch’s face, which remained closed, jaws clenched.

One day, I’ll kill you, Darotan. I swore an oath, and on that day, I took the Universe as my witness.

Escorted by half a dozen guards, Velen appeared. This was the moment Stropovitch had dreaded: only Velen could know what he had done. Only Velen could know why the warrior had exiled himself after the crash, without looking back. Only Velen could accuse him in front of all his people, who didn’t like him anyway, and have him executed with general approval.

The two visitors dropped to their knees.

"I salute you, O great Prophet, declaimed Darotan.

– Stropovitch…" replied Velen without a glance at the paladin.

He looked worried. If he could guess why the paladin had come, the warrior’s visit did not augur well.

Stropovitch faltered, but pulled himself together. One could only think that he had bent over with an expression of deep respect.

At last, Velen turned to the paladin, who was stunned to have been invisible for a few seconds.

“And you, Commander Darotan…”

The Prophet nodded in greeting.

"Commander, would you be so kind as to leave me alone with Stropovitch first? I’ll be happy to see you later today.

– Thank you for doing me this honor, O great Prophet," Darotan replied spitefully, rising to his feet and turning to leave.

Velen and Stropovitch, silent, crossed the corridor and sat down in the center of the back room. Just like ten years ago.

A few seconds later, the quill, the inkwell and a blank parchment appeared on the table.

Velen scanned Stropovitch’s face, trying to read him. I’ll never understand this solicitude, Great Prophet. I don’t deserve it. You’re too good - infinitely so. I need your help, but why would you do me the honor of granting it? Can you even help me now that I’ve almost succumbed to the demon? If you couldn’t purify me when I was a child, how can you do it now?

The voice echoed. Stropovitch closed his eyes to hear his body vibrate with every syllable.

“Stropovitch, I’ve been very worried about you… If you’ve come back… it’s because he’s manifested himself…”

The warrior nodded fatalistically.

“I want to know every detail.”

Stropovitch handed him a dozen sheets of paper already written out. Velen read them carefully. Then he placed them on the table and looked into Stropovitch’s eyes.

“Very well, let’s review together.”

There was a brief silence as he gathered his thoughts.

“When we took you in at Zangarra, your parents were dead; and although a sentry saw your father collapse at the moment of the attack, no one could testify to what had happened to you, you were out of sight. From your symptoms you seemed to have become the host of a demon, but using the Light I didn’t detect it. When I used purification formulas, I didn’t dislodge him, as if he had no link with the Shadow - but all demons have a link with the Shadow. So Londan and I talked about “fire” while we waited for new evidence. Once revived and on your feet, you were able to tell us what had happened, and your account lent credence to the theory that it was a demon. But some members of the Council recalled that this was the testimony of a traumatized child who had just come out of a long period of unconsciousness,” he added with a conciliatory look.

Despite the great confusion in his mind, Stropovitch wrote: “I’ve heard warlocks in recent years, I’ve recognized their soul-scratching accents. Even if I can’t transcribe any of the words, I can assure you that on that day my assailant did indeed hurl an incantation in a demonic tongue at me.”

Velen nodded. “Well then. So all along, this demon has wanted to take over your body, it’s been lurking, lurking somewhere, but where? There are many planes of reality outside and inside ourselves. Does he have the ability to change planes at will?”

Please, deliver me.

Velen sighed, “Whatever the solution to the riddle, your enemy is within you, Stropovitch. Perhaps he’s still in gestation; perhaps he’s growing stronger with the years, until he’s born. In any case, if one day it breaks the barrier of your will, it will be the end of you.”

The warrior took his head in his hands. None of this was new, it was always the same dead end; but constantly coming up against this same fatality maintained and aggravated his chronic psychic suffering.

Velen picked up an impressive book with a cover overloaded with gems and gilding. He leafed through it.

“I’ve always thought that this orc, if he existed, wasn’t just any warlock. He was probably looking for a host for a powerful demon. It’s an unusually long and devious process to create a Legion soldier.”

And this demon isn’t just any demon either…

“The Legion may have been experimenting with a new form of demon creation… Since you’re the only case of its kind that I’m aware of, this demon must be the unique fruit of an exceptional experiment. I’m not taking too many risks in imagining that this demon growing inside you is destined to be one of the prides of Sargeras’s army.”

Velen put the book down and looked into Stropovitch’s eyes again.

“Or maybe he’s not destined to be… he was already one of the prides of his army, defeated, and they’re trying to bring him back by giving him a new body. New or old demon lord? And why choose the body of a Draenei child for this? I don’t know, though I’ve thought about it…”

Aaaaaah, that trembling hand, those shameful tears running down the parchment! Stropovitch handed the Prophet an amalgam of badly drawn signs on a sheet crumpled by his feverish movements. The warrior contained his emotions everywhere, except in the presence of the Prophet. It was as if he knew, unconsciously, that the demon would never manifest himself in Velen’s presence.

The wise man read and sat down. He lowered his eyes and remained silent for a few moments.

Answer! Say something! After the crash, after Van Cleef, can I still be left at liberty?

Velen raised his head and looked at Stropovitch with sadness and compassion.

“My child, I’m so sorry… If you’d caused damage as a child, I’d have put my heart and soul into healing you. But between your awakening and… the spaceship crash…”

A mournful silence interrupted this sentence.

“… between those two moments there was no warning. The Council even considered it likely that during your coma, your outburst of power was caused by a temporary spell, an ephemeral curse. To this day, no one knows why you left, Stropovitch, except me. I read your soul that day…”

I remember the way you looked at me, Prophet. Our eyes met, I turned and fled. Fled until today.

“Stropovitch, I had no idea where you were… Yet you’re the only one who can answer a question that’s been nagging at me for two years.”

The warrior finally lifted his tear-streaked face.

“Darotan… did he lie? Does he deserve our trust?”

Stropovitch was stunned by this question. If Velen had asked it, it was because he trusted him, the mute outcast, the exiled murderer, more than the champion of the draenei. So much honor, so much consideration made him dizzy. He wrote, hesitated, crumpled the paper into a ball, started again, crossed out, deliberated, then concluded. The Guide was patient, then received the warrior’s reply with a serious air.

“Great Prophet, Darotan did not lie. He was sure he had done the right thing.”

If I tell him the whole truth, he’ll take it upon himself to put an end to Darotan’s career. He won’t let me. This is MY revenge. I must prevent Velen from getting between me and my prey.

“Revenge is not a noble goal, Stropovitch.”

The warrior gasped and stared at Velen in amazement. The latter stood up and declared solemnly:

“I wanted an answer to my question, and I got it, I thank you; but now I’ll answer yours. Can we leave you at liberty? No, Stropovitch. For you, the road ends here, my child. We can’t take any more risks, after so many mistakes, false hopes and tragedies. Trust me, I who have always cherished and loved you.”

He took the warrior’s hands in his own.

“The fall of the Exodar confirmed that a demon of the first order resided within you, and that he wanted to break his chains. After two years on the run, you’ve finally surrendered to my judgment.”

He closed his eyes for a second to ensure his connection to the Light as he pronounced the sentence.

“This, then, is my judgment: you must die, Stropovitch! To kill the enemy before he’s born.”

To die… The draenei didn’t react, staring into space, as if suddenly detached from things. Even his desire for revenge was suddenly suspended. Had the Prophet cast a spell on him?

“Die on your feet, Stropovitch!” said Velen with divine firmness. “You’re noble, you’re proud, you’re Draenei! What does it matter what your brothers have said so far? Today, prove you’re a hero, become a symbol of your race’s worth! Stand up!”

The warrior stood up slowly, still in shock. To die. To die so as not to risk lands and peoples being swallowed up in the demon’s fire. To die after eleven stolen years, which I would not have been granted if the consequences had been foreseen. After all I’ve lived through, to realize that it would have been better… never to have existed.

Stropovitch’s gaze broke through the mists that enveloped him and met Velen’s.

Both draenei were overcome with emotion. The Prophet placed a hand on Stropovitch’s forehead. They gazed into each other’s eyes during the incantation. The warrior’s face finally expressed a kind of relief as the column of sacred flames fell upon him.

Chapter 7


The blood painfully starting up again, heating the numb flesh in its path. The skin feeling every pore quiver on the crest of the heat wave.


The fingers vibrating. The nerves retuning one by one, picking up the music of sensations where they had left off.

A time of waiting. The heart daring not to believe in this rebirth.


Connections being made in the mind, slowly, one after the other, like still-green vine shoots grasping other shoots already looking for the next link. Consciousness awakens. First you feel your heart, then your fingers trembling. You take a deep breath and it reminds you of something. You remember having breathed before.


And from this one memory all come flooding back, images, sounds, blurred. And again the great picture of the self is painted, with a sure hand that works quickly and well, without retouching. First a big bucket of white sweeps over the black. Then an enormous dark line emerges from below, branching out and adorning itself with the full range of colors, becoming more refined as it divides; then the foliage is chiseled into infinite arabesques; swift arborescence; the wobbly edifice of identity springs up, hesitating, dazed, staggering… but the pillar of will suddenly comes to support it from its unmovable foundation, that first, stubborn, obstinate will, which asks no one’s opinion: the will to live.

Pulsation. The heart sets off again, confident, for the restless race of existence.

And you open your eyes.

That’s resurrection.

Stropovitch sat up slowly, his hand raised before his eyes, dazzled by the light that bathed the place.

His consciousness lulled by a crystalline chant.


Apart from the song, all was silent. Gradually, his vision became clearer.

He had been dressed in an immaculate white robe, and was lying on a slab of the same white, mineral, a few centimetres thick, perfectly rectangular and smooth, and floating a meter above the ground.

In front of him, in the center of the round room, O’ros the divine Naaru shimmered.

A Naaru is not a tangible living being. It’s like a mystical symbol, a rune from the Book of Truth to which a god has given reality and consciousness. Each member, or rather line, of the symbol follows the others without being materially linked to them, and the whole remains suspended in space, an entity made of inexhaustible magic and age-old wisdom.

Behind the Naaru, in a semicircle and in three rows, stood an assembly of venerable draenei in white robes, looking grave. There were Velen, the Elders and the Council, and all the Masters. Stropovitch recognized only a few of them, for they were all shrouded in the Naaru’s light - an unreal, magical tableau that resembled a sacred ceremony.

Then the Naaru spoke. Or rather, a voice echoed in the minds of all present.

“Stropovitch child of the martyred people, I have searched your entrails I have searched your memory I have searched your very soul. Stropovitch child of the blessed people, unless this evil can escape a Naaru, but no evil can escape me, the demon died with you. Stropovitch child of loneliness and suffering, we beg your forgiveness.”

The warrior opened wide astonished eyes - and was moved to tears.

“Stropovitch child of stolen childhood, the Prophet, the Council and the Masters ask your forgiveness for ten years of mistaken belief that you alone could control your curse. Stropovitch child of the absent Light, I beg your forgiveness for never taking your case personally. Stropovitch child of rejected love, Velen asks your forgiveness for having wanted you to die without knowing that you would be brought back from the dead; he wanted to force the demon to manifest itself in order to exorcise you, but it didn’t happen, it wasn’t necessary. May your heart now rid itself of all resentment towards those who were wrong but only wanted you to be happy, may your spirit now find the path to a new life.”

A blissful tear rolled down Stropovitch’s cheek, reflecting the light like a fleeting diamond.

A new life… The body purified, the past exorcised, his existence finally recognized and considered by the leaders of his people, everything was open, possible, renewed.

Suddenly, clamors could be heard higher up. Thiwwina burst down the staircase into the hall, laughing out loud, the whole of Velen’s elite guard at her heels. She turned with a big smile - she was gloating - and with a slight movement of her hand froze the legs of all her pursuers, welding their feet to the floor. Then she turned to Stropovitch, then to the Naaru, opened her eyes wide, put her hands on her hips and declaimed - while the guards struggled whimpering and the faces of the venerable assembly below showed a picturesque range of expressions of astonishment and indignation:

“Well, I was angry with you for not waiting for me at the inn, but apparently I’d forgotten to visit something really damned exotic!”

For a few days, Stropovitch remained pensive, even blissful. The gnome pulled him by the hand to visit all the nooks and crannies of the islands of Azuremyst and Bloodmyst. Sometimes she’d laugh at his goofy smiles, sometimes she’d grumble at his slow writing and ignorance of the place. And she managed to do all this while remaining so endearing that Stropovitch wanted no other company than her own. As he interacted with her, he gradually came down from that kind of elevation he’d known, and a creeping bitterness resurfaced in his heart: Certainly, to be recognized at last by the leaders of his people, and above all to be freed from the demon, these two events, as wonderful as they were unexpected, truly marked a new stage in his existence, and for the child who had never stopped crying inside him, it was like a second chance to become a more or less fulfilled adult, as much as one can be when one is a war orphan and has known violence and suffering in extreme degrees ; but the past had not been erased, the crimes had not been punished, and two beings were still alive who deserved to be the victims of slow, cold, painful, even sadistic vengeance - the warlock and Darotan.

In fact, his resurrection had given him a kind of peace, but this peace, far from making him renounce his vengeance, would help him to carry it out serenely, methodically, patiently. Far from erasing the grief of having lost loved ones, it would, on the contrary, enable him to stop being distracted from it. His mourning, to be completed, called for blood and screams.

“Well,” Thiwwina dropped sarcastically on the evening of the third day, “our deal isn’t very fair after all: I’ll be a much better guide for Outland than you were for this archipelago!”

The gnome’s sentence had the effect of a revelation for Stropovitch: he had asked her if she would accompany him to Draenor at a time when uncertainty still reigned in his mind; she had just reminded him of this forthcoming journey now that he felt sure of himself and his strength; every chapter of his life paved a predetermined path; Darotan and the warlock, he would kill them on their native soil.

The next morning, after a night shaken by nightmares, Stropovitch decided to announce his departure to Velen.

The warrior felt a certain guilt at not having such noble plans as the Prophet would have wished, even though the latter had always bathed him in his love and wisdom, whenever he’d had the chance.

"Death, whether followed by resurrection or not, has never had the power to erase the past. The rumor of my purification has spread throughout the ship, but the attitude of my fellow citizens towards me has not changed. If anything, it got worse. Previously, no one would have been able to confirm that I was really possessed by a demon, apart from Londan, Ondraïev, the Council and you, who kept the secret. It had remained a diffuse fear, a hypothesis that often served as an excuse not to make the effort to socialize with me - for who has the patience to include a mute in a conversation in which he can only participate by writing on his papers? Now it’s been confirmed that the demon existed; strangely enough, having just been freed from that very demon, this confirmation has horrified many. And superstition, as well as the very history of the Draenei people, can only lead most of the survivors to reject me outright. For a long time, indifference prevailed over hostility; now it’s the other way round, and will remain so. As I walked through Exodar these past few days, smiling in spite of myself under the effect of euphoria, I realized the obvious: my resurrection has only consolidated my status as an outcast, unwanted among my own kind.

As for the oath I swore two years ago to take revenge, nothing can break it. The memories and nightmares have already come flooding back. No, when all is said and done, the demon’s departure doesn’t mean the end of suffering. This death and resurrection, again, only confirmed what I had already sensed before: this suffering is part of me, it’s my constant companion, so deeply rooted that I can identify with it; if it’s taken away, I’ll become someone else. Once lived a loved, happy, fulfilled child; that child is gone forever. Only he would have deserved to be resurrected. I am and will remain, whatever the Naarus or you, Prophet, do, a heart flayed alive, a bruised soul claiming as its only consolation the bloody corpses of its torturers."

Velen was deeply moved as he read these lines. He looked up at the warrior, who this time remained standing, did not lower his head, did not cry. Stropovitch was free of his demon, of his feeling of inferiority, of his permanent shame at still being alive: the warrior was now much stronger than before, but he was going to put this strength to use in the service of death. The Prophet knew well the feeling that assailed him at this moment: that of failure. He sat still for a few seconds, contemplating the long and winding road the Light was taking to establish itself in the Universe. But sooner or later, it would encompass all reality in the sacred blaze of its shimmering flames.

He rose to his feet: “You’ve finally confessed your intentions to me, Stropovitch,” he said with a knowing look. “You’re no longer ashamed of them. I’d have preferred you to be reborn without them, but I’m not withdrawing my affection or my trust. I have faith in your future. I’m certain that one day you’ll put your strength at the service of the Light. Until that day comes, I’m going to support you as best I can. I’ll write you letters of recommendation. I’ll make sure you have the necessary equipment and resources. I wish you a safe journey, my child - one where, as you walk towards your goal, you turn away from it. Like all draenei, you owe your luminous eyes to the blessing of the Naarus. A traveling draenei is always a pilgrim, Stropovitch.”

All draenei… except Arcân. And it was Arcân, even more than you, who forged who I am today.

Traveling with Thiwwina was an unforgettable experience, one you couldn’t get enough of. First, she was always talking, recounting her thousand and one exploits and, above all, her thousand and one pranks. Far from boring him, this incessant babbling enchanted Stropovitch, who was under the spell of her little voice, and couldn’t help smiling at all her incredible adventures. Secondly, she was careful not to relegate her jokes, provocations and other blunders and acrobatics to the past.

At Auberdine, she had declaimed in the middle of an inn - as if only the draenei could hear her: “I say it’s great that the night elves are no longer immortal, they feel less superior to the others all of a sudden, they’re less prideful, it fu**ed up their egos.” Stropovitch had suddenly felt himself surrounded by hostile glances. He had heard the imperceptible screeching of daggers emerging from their scabbards. He had put down his tankard, lifted the gnome by the back of her dress and walked out - to a chorus of protests and shouts from the silly girl. They’d had to continue their journey immediately - never mind a night in a comfortable room.

In Menethil, she had launched into a grand speech on the beneficial effects of plants for the local gryphon master - a human suffering from advanced overweight. Just as she was getting to the point of herbs to combat water retention, fat storage and cellulite, Stropovitch released the poor interlocutor from her ordeal by placing his hand over the gnome’s mouth and handing the master a paper ordering air travel to the dwarves’ capital.

In Ironforge, she had come across a dwarf paladin whose team had lost to hers in the finals of the last arena championship. They had glared at each other, then Thiwwina had said loudly to Stropovitch: “What I find funny when I freeze a dwarf is that when it thaws it makes a yellow puddle on the floor because the beard is soaked in beer and it never washes off.” The dwarf’s complexion had turned peony red and he’d challenged her to a duel to wash away the outrage. Stropovitch must have spent the afternoon watching them fight at the city gates. After a dozen defeats, the paladin, his skin blue with cold, long stalactites hanging from his beard and hair, his hands numb and trembling, had finally given in - not without a final burst of pride, after the two combatants had taken a few moments’ rest: “So,” he had said victoriously, pointing to the small puddle stretching out beneath him, “it’s yellow?”

While they waited in the station for the underground tram that linked Ironforge to Stormwind, she’d summoned her water elemental - a kind of big swirling ball of water from which emerged two arms of water adorned with bracelets that magically contained the whole thing. “Meet Zarkis. He has no legs, he levitates by propelling water on the ground. I wondered if in the Tram he’d be able to stay on a platform!” The elemental had struggled so hard to stay close to the gnome on the catwalk despite the speed of the railtram, that the icy water thrown out at full force splashed and froze all the other passengers. Once they’d arrived in Stormwind, the two companions ran to the gryphon master before the thawed victims got them into trouble.

Finally, Thiwwina wasn’t just talkative and goofy. She was also extremely curious and intelligent. Stropovitch couldn’t get enough of watching her big hazel eyes sparkle as she devoured every element of the environment. She observed everything, asked everyone lots of questions, without embarrassment, and marveled at nothing. When she was thinking, she would bite her lower lip, her gaze lost. When she applied herself to something, she stuck out her tongue with a squint. When she’d just shown great insolence or provoked someone, she’d smile, showing all her teeth, which increased her target’s rage tenfold. In short, she was absolutely adorable.

Occasionally, on certain evenings, when the dim glow of a lantern with blackened glass didn’t prevent Thiwwina from sleeping soundly with the light snoring of a squirrel with a cold, Stropovitch would take out his diary, reread a few pages already written, and pick up the thread of his tale, finding one by one the invisible threads that wove his destiny.

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