I tried my hand at writing Warcraft fics again, and decided to take a more somber route with this one. I listened to Michael Nyman's "Out of the Ruins" a few weeks back, and given the mood of the work, I was inspired to write this. I may have torn Aleem's heart out in a few places, but I felt that this would be sufficient.
On the first of November, many in Azeroth gathered at the graves of the deceased to celebrate their lives. Known as the Day of the Dead, many cleaned their loved ones's graves before placing flowers and small trinkets to show what the deceased had done in life. Given the planet's numerous conflicts over the past three decades, the Day of the Dead offered respite and comfort for those who had been directly affected. It offered families a chance to connect with their loved ones, to reflect on what had happened to them and what would happen in the future. With the blessings of Priests and Shamans, some could even commune with the dead.
On the Azuremyst Isles, the Day of the Dead had an entirely different meaning. The Draenei had adjusted many of their religious holidays to correlate with many of the Azerothian ones, but the Day of the Dead was turned into a day of grieving instead of a day of celebration. There was the occasional rumor that Shattrath City had fallen on the first of November, and it was difficult to disprove it. Almost all who called the Isles home lost friends and family in that battle, and many even became orphaned, Broken, or worse. In the center of Azure Watch, a piece of wreckage from the Exodar was converted to a memorial to those who fell that day.
While the memorial usually had a few wreaths placed, it was choked out by flowers, crystals, and relics on the Day of the Dead. The outpouring of grief was mostly indescribable, and all who attended the memorial service were encouraged to place something down in remembrance. While there was no shame in not placing a relic at the base of the memorial, it was highly encouraged. After all, the elders said, each person lost someone they knew in Shattrath...
On this particular Day of the Dead, it was awfully quiet. Many of the isles' residents were present at the memorial service earlier that morning, but had now gone home or celebrated the lives of loved ones. Meanwhile, Aleem walked on the main road that led to the remains of the Exodar. Quietly placing a pouch in his robes, he motioned a larger Draenei accompanying him to stop moving. "I think this is as far as you can go, Marzaan. I'd happily take you along inside to meet the Prophet, but I think the guards will stop you if you walk in uninvited." Aleem directed, turning to face Marzaan.
Marzaan nodded and gently pressed his cracked crest against Aleem's in a show of comfort. Running a milky white finger near one of Aleem's black braids, he whispered a few words of encouragement in Draenic before asking, "Will you be alright? You said it would be your second time meeting the Prophet in person."
"I'll be fine Mar." Aleem nodded, and kissed Marzaan's crest before setting out into the confines of the Exodar. "I'll see you in a few hours. Now try not to get yourself killed, okay?" A thumbs up from Marzaan eased Aleem's nerves, and he stepped inside the entrance to the Exodar.
The Vault of Lights was awfully empty as he quietly stepped through the walkway towards the main staircase. The holographic images of demons flickered off and on, seemingly providing companionship for the nervous Draenei. He reflected on the memorial service, on how he had placed flowers down at the base. He stopped walking when he reflected on how he was about to place something down, and in front of the Prophet, shyly pulled away and hurried back to the crowd. The object in his pocket was weighing him down then, and even now, it still bothered him. Then there was the matter of the Prophet. While Aleem was unsure why the Prophet requested that he speak to him, he was nervous. The only time he met him was when he had left his previous relationship, and even then, he felt that the man only provided riddles instead of answers. As Aleem placed the first hoof on the stair, he felt Velen's presence warm the lonely vault, and with anticipation trotted up the staircase.
"Mind your step Aleem." Velen said, hearing the younger Draenei nearly lose his footing on one of the cracked stairs. "I knew I had blessed you to become a force of good," He chuckled as he motioned Aleem to come to him, "But I admit I am surprised with the shenanigans you get yourself into."
"You…" Damn it! Aleem was speaking to the Prophet Velen, and he was already unable to process his thoughts. However, the feelings of nervousness were understandable. Forcing a smile, he quickly asked, "You requested my presence Prophet?"
Velen gave a small nod. "I noticed you were about to place a relic at the memorial, but forced yourself to pull away and retreat. The elders would have spat on you were it not for my intervention." He answered, turning to face the holograms on the ground floor. "Did something trouble your mind, young Draenei?"
Aleem's heart sank, and he started to feel weak. Had he done something serious that drew the Prophet's ire? Was he supposed to place the Naaru-forsaken relic down at the memorial along with the others? He knew that the elders glared at him, but the Prophet looked like he was not bothered at all. He couldn't fib his way out of this, this was the Prophet he was speaking to! With a small gulp, he spat, "It's a crystal Prophet! I've had it in my house for years, and I can't help but feel angry each time I see it glow. All it does is collect dust and shine brightly when it feels like it!"
A crystal? From his previous encounter with Aleem, Velen knew that he was very hesitant to answer questions when it came to serious matters. While Aleem had the will to press on and live, there was one vice that made him so unreachable at times. "Have you not learned from your blindness?" He inquired, shaking his head in disappointment. "Your trivial methods of coping have led you down dark paths in the past."
'I learned from my blindness! Why do you think I paired with Marzaan?' Aleem thought, feeling insulted by this question. He ran a hand through the pocket of his robes before feeling the pouch containing that crystal, and he removed it. "Well, it isn't much. I found it at Shattrath that day and kept it by my side since then." He answered, having to restrain himself from raging at Velen. He wasn't there when he found those mangled corpses in the halls of Shattrath! How would he know?
Velen gently took the pouch from Aleem's hand, noticing that there was some weight to it. Based on that alone, it was no crystal similar to the ones found in jewelry. No, this crystal felt like it was originally part of a weapon. Opening the pouch, he watched a purple crystal fall out of the pouch and into his withered palm. It was caked with layers of dust from years of neglect, yet it started to glow. "A crystal from a Hammer..." He was deeply troubled, and gently used the empty pouch to wipe away the dust. "How did you find it?"
All attention was on him now. Aleem had unintentionally dug himself into this hole, and he was woefully unprepared to pull himself out of it. Velen was gentle, yes, but he could be hard depending on the response given. "A little while after I met Bezaleel and Marzaan, I was sent to go to Shattrath to go collect what little supplies before the orcs could steal them and use them for their rituals." He started, the tendrils on his face retracting as he spoke. "I took the two with me as protection, and we all wandered in search of items that were still of use. The city was littered with corpses, but I heard someone call to me."
Velen motioned Aleem to sit down on a nearby bench, and once the Draenei had done so, quietly joined him. Surely this story would hard to listen to, and he hoped that his kindness and understanding would make it easier for Aleem to vent his frustrations. "Were you able to make out who called you?" He inquired. A timid nod came from Aleem, and he grimly added, "Was it someone you loved dearly?"
"To this day, I'm not sure myself." Aleem answered, fidgeting with the tip of his tail. "We headed over to an old hall, and it was filled with Draenei. Babies, adults, the old… all stabbed to death." Tears were already running down his cheeks, and he tightly clutched the tip for comfort. "I noticed my mother's tail ring, and I- I-"
At that moment, Velen pulled Aleem closer, and began to gently rub his free hand along the latter's back. Hearing something incoherent about a father made Velen realize that the Fall of Shattrath had orphaned Aleem. Perhaps that was why he found the crystal and chose to keep (and resent) it. While Velen regretted not doing enough to avert the genocide, he sought to comfort those who had been affected. "You are not at fault for their deaths, young Draenei. They are one with the Light now." He whispered, closing his eyes. While his eyes had started to be filled with tears, he remained calm.
'Do not tell me they sacrificed themselves to appease a demon.' A dark voice hissed in the back of Aleem's mind, and he still looked away from the elder Draenei. "Bezaleel heard voices, and it wasn't just from my parents. Everyone, young and old, all shouted that someone left them to die!" He snapped, angrily swiping the crystal away from Velen's palm. It quickly fell to the floor, and a distinct crack echoed the Vault. "We all felt his courage, we all felt his anger, and then..." He swallowed a lump in his throat before finishing with, "We felt his shame."
Velen's eyes widened with alarm at this behavior. Many good men and women sacrificed themselves at Shattrath to prevent Kil'Jaeden from driving the Draenei to extinction, but he was well aware of the actions of one particular Vindicator. "Shame is perhaps one of the most crushing emotions we experience." He started, getting up to pick up the crystal from the floor. Running a bony finger for any imperfections, he calmly added, "It robs us of our potential, and makes us so hardened that we cannot distinguish between right and wrong."
"Bezaleel did not feel the shame of our people in that hall, Prophet." Aleem refuted, watching with disgust as Velen picked the damned thing up. Sighing, he looked away from Velen once more. "Perhaps it was that shame that led Vindicator Maraad to leave my parents and so many others to die in that hallway. Perhaps it was shame that led you to shutting yourself away while we bled."
The words hit Velen like a gut punch. His peaceful methods of trying to quell the conflict resulted in the deaths of many on both sides, and eventually… the destruction of Draenor. "Aleem…" He sighed, feeling one particular crack that ran along the crystal's facets. "I felt justified in my actions to prevent Grommash from heeding the call to arms, but I have come to realize they were useless." He huffed, gently placing the crystal close to Aleem's lap before sitting back down. "We would have been slaughtered by Kil'Jaeden regardless of what I had done."
No response came from Aleem, and he tried to flick the crystal away with a hand. Velen muttered something in old Eredun before gently taking the crystal away. "As for you and Maraad, you lived very different lives and rarely interacted with one another. Yet, tragedy bound you in unimaginable ways." He explained, fidgeting the crystal. "I look into your eye right now and see something that Maraad willingly snuffed out by the time he left for the Blasted Lands."
Oh, that campaign. Aleem remembered being enlisted, and reflected on what had transpired. When he set foot in Shadowmoon, he felt he was simply being ordered about. That he felt he was not of worth to that man. "How so? He was angry all the time." He asked, perking up ever so slightly. "I felt he took the credit for establishing relations in Shadowmoon, not us!"
Velen was not bothered by Aleem's reaction, and looked on towards the main terrace of the ship. "The Light shone brightly in you, and it still does." He explained, offering to place the crystal in his hands. "No matter how painful the hardship was, you showed your enemies that you still clung to hope and the holy Light. Even if you feel it's a burden, it still shines for you." Nudging Aleem to face him, he perked up and added, "Something in Maraad changed after the loss of his sister, and he sought to undo the wrongs as I did. The anger and shame from Shattrath never left him though, and they only led him on a path that resulted in his death."
The Prophet's statement hit Aleem like a War Elekk. That would explain why the crystal flickered in intermittent periods. It wasn't because it was defective… no, it was because it could sense the Light within the young Draenei himself. Feeling immense guilt over his actions, he wondered if it sputtered because of some sin he committed. Or if it sputtered because he chose to resent it outright. "Prophet, I am not a perfect man." He said, still processing the information. His eyes were swollen from crying by this point, and the tip of his tail was covered in nail prints. "I slept with the enemy and a Peacekeeper, and tried to-"
"No one is perfect Aleem, but the Light perfects us." Velen interrupted, slapping his tail against Aleem's back to get him to shut up. Handing the crystal back, he added, "Your parents would be proud of you for your accomplishments thus far, and would be ashamed if you threw away what made you special. Let this crystal not collect dust any longer. It should remind you of your willingness to press into the future when so many of us bitterly refused."
Aleem hesitantly took the crystal, and was surprised to see it flicker on. Instead of sputtering off almost immediately, it remained glowing still. Feeling the crack with his fingers, he knew that it could still be shaped and worked into something that he felt was of use. Yes, perhaps that was what he could do with it!
Outside the Exodar, Marzaan had settled down on a patch of weeds near one of the main walkways. After chatting with a Broken miner, he looked up to see Aleem exit the wreck with the crystal in his right hand. And that it was glowing proudly. He motioned as if he was asking if Aleem was alright, and got up on his hooves.
Aleem nodded, motioning to the crystal. "I finally figured out why that crystal kept on glowing for years." He smiled, beckoning the large Draenei to come closer. "It's Light sensitive. It glows because I have the Light in my soul still!"
Marzaan was intrigued, and noticed the crack that ran along the crystal. "I take it he showed you the hard way?" He asked, gently grabbing it with one of his large, white hands.
Aleem huffed, wondering if Marzaan would hand the crystal back or break it. "He did Mar." He answered, sighing heavily as he pointed to the specific crack. "He told me I had the Light, even after its original owner forsook it." An idea came into his head, and he motioned Marzaan to hand it back. "Are you still friends with that jeweler?" He asked, wagging his tail as he spoke.
"Yes." Marzaan answered, placing the crystal back in the basket. He raised a blue eyebrow in confusion and asked the smaller Draenei, "How come?"
"I want to make sure I remind myself of that Light." Aleem answered, a few tears welling up in his eye. Wrapping his tail around Marzaan's thicker one, he inched closer. "And perhaps remind myself that my parents are proud of me for what I did."
Marzaan looked down at Aleem, placing a thick finger on the latter's lips. He knew Aleem could talk for hours and hours, and he absolutely wanted none of that right now. "They'll be proud of you, that's for certain." He simply huffed, glancing at the crystal once more. "But I don't think jewelry will do-"
Aleem silenced Marzaan with a quick peck on the lips. "I'll find a way to make it work. I still have their tail rings, remember?" He smiled, squeezing his tail as if to solicit Marzaan's approval. "I'll come up with something."
A few weeks later, Velen watched as Aleem walked up those imperfect steps towards the second floor. He squinted at something glowing on his ears, and felt that his words had gone heeded. "You made earrings." He said, beckoning Aleem to come close. While he expected much better, he knew Aleem did at least something with the crystal he had neglected for so long.
"We had to shatter the crystal to make it wearable. It'd be too heavy to wear otherwise." Aleem chuckled, gently plucking the pair of earrings. Cupping them in his hand, he ran his finger along the facets where the jeweler made corrections. "It sputtered for a moment, but it flickered on and shone on the way home."
Velen gave a small smile, gently picking up one earring with his bony fingers. It still shone, and he could make out gold accents and even pieces of some otherworldly material. "Even after the damage you put it through, it still shines." He remarked. He handed the earring back to Aleem and said, "That's very much like yourself. Do not forget your lesson young Draenei."
Aleem nodded, and with a polite bow, hurried away. Perhaps he was like the jeweler who had shattered the crystal. Breaking something that appeared to be of little worth, only to refine and perfect it. Either way, he did have a method to remind himself of that. Before reaching the final stair however, he looked up at Velen and said, "Prophet, thank you."