Prepare for the return of the Ancient Ones.
Scarabyss’ claw shook as it hovered over that line in his tome – a piece of a transcript of the words of Prophet Skeram, former religious leader of the Qiraji people. Those words in particular resounded with Scarabyss for many years, and he heeded them well. He spent practically his entire life preparing for their return, and no matter how many times things began to seem bleak, he still felt that time was near in spite of appearances.
But now that familiar lethargy was seeping into his soul, and suddenly he knew. He knew that once again, one of his gods had been defeated – their emergence stopped short at the height of his euphoria. Never before had the new dawn of the Black Empire felt so near, and yet it was snuffed out just before it could be realized.
His heart sank, and with his faith shaken by this most recent failure, he felt a discomforting lucidity – pulled from the comfort of the voices that reassured him from beyond the veil.
Day after day, even in his pseudo-captivity with the mantid ambersmith and his qiraji battleguard apprentice, he fantasized of the moment that the Black Empire’s reality that lay beyond mortal senses merged with the tangible world. It would be an abrupt thing, and within moments, all of the wrongs that the Aqir peoples had faced would be righted, as they would once again become the rightful inheritors of the world that their makers reshaped for them.
Scarabyss’ own suffering would also become a thing of the past, and he would go to take his place as one of the most faithful of prophets who sang the praises of the Ancient Ones, basking in the glory of his unwavering loyalty finally being rewarded as promised.
This mortal world was a torturous thing in his mind, for numerous reasons. Aside from the fact that he felt the world had been stolen from the Aqir species by the children of the Titan usurpers, on a personal level, he felt divinely cursed since the day he was born. For what reason, he had yet to learn, but he knew there must be some meaning behind why he, among many other Qiraji, were afflicted with a disfigurement that stunted their physical growth, leaving them incapable of growing any larger than a meter in height. Some were even smaller than that.
There was a great stigma surrounding this occurrence that happened among several clutches of eggs over the years. It started to happen around the time of his birth – around the beginning of the first War of the Shifting Sands, and became more rampant from then on out, even when it was ensured that none afflicted were reproducing. Many were even slain, just to be sure.
He, however, took to what was perhaps his only option. He joined the cult of the Prophet Skeram, became a eunuch, and took a vow to spend the rest of his days in solitude, studying and preaching the gospel of the Old Gods. It never fully relieved him of the scorn he faced for his affliction, but he was shown a modicum of respect for his holy post and many came to him for his counsel. His life, which he felt would otherwise be worthless, now had purpose. Even still, he dreamed of the day that his gods would return, and for his service, heal him and take him to a better place – their realm of Ny’alotha.
But now… He was left without his daydream-like visions of the Sleeping City, and he could only see the world for what it truly was: A world in which the children of the Titans ruled, while the Aqir races were fading away, soon to be forgotten by time. And all he could do was clutch his obsidian prayer beads, and pray that some Old God, any Old God, out there would at the very least restore his trance to lessen his feelings of helplessness.
Meanwhile, staring out the windowsill as she often did throughout the day, the battleguard Pepi came to an epiphany of her own. It was quiet, but in a good way, she noticed. No more did she feel even the faintest of whispers tickling at the back of her brain. But unlike Scarabyss, it did not make her feel sapped of energy. Instead, she felt quite the opposite, like a weight was lifted off of her shoulders.
“It’s over, isn’t it?” she asked, turning to the Prophet Scarabyss, certain that he of all people would know.
“N’Zoth has...fallen,” he confirmed reluctantly with a heavy sigh. “Does it not agonize you as it does me, Ms. Pepi?”
She slowly fluttered away from the window with her tiny wings. “No,” she answered while heading for the door, turning the knob gently with her claws. “I feel free.”
The prophet’s tired eyes went wide in bafflement at her unexpected answer, but before he could respond, she had already left the room.
Flying as fast as she could, she searched Stormwind University’s campus grounds in an attempt to find her mentor, and give him the good news. When she found him, he was in the middle of sharpening his scythes on a grindstone specially made for working with kyparite and similar materials.
Nazgo’rak was pedaling the simple machinery that caused the grindstone to spin at a steady pace with his lower set of arms, while his upper arms carefully maneuvered the weapon he held. Hearing a faint buzzing noise coming closer, he paused in what he was doing, and quickly inspected the sharpened edges to make sure that he had not overheated them with friction. Perfect – no fracturing, no melting, nor burn marks.
He set the scythe back on the rack, and turned his head to face the direction of the buzzing noise, which was now very close to his antenna. “Pepi?” he blurted out with some surprise. “What are you doing out here? Go back inside right away! I do not want N’Zoth to-”
With a faint giggle, the qiraji draped her arms around the mantid’s neck, pulling him into a hug. “He’s gone, Nazgo! He’s finally gone!”
It took a moment for what she’d said to fully sink in. A part of him didn’t actually expect the day to come anytime soon, considering how long they had both endured these conditions so far.
Nazgo’rak opened his mouth with a sharp inhale, planning to find something to say, but words couldn’t describe how he felt. All that came out was a trembling, “O-Oh Pepi...” as he reached up to hold the small qiraji close to the side of his face.
He was just happy. They both were.
“I’m going to go try on one of those new dresses your friend made for me,” Pepi suggested, finally breaking the hug. “And then I want you to show me the botanical gardens you’ve been telling me about. I-If you have the time, of course…”
It was hard for her not to be so eager, now that she was no longer secluded to their small room on campus, but surprisingly, Nazgo’rak hardly seemed bothered.
“I would like that a lot, Pepi. I needed a break, anyway.” The ancient mantid had a withered smile tug at his mouth. “Besides, who would want to miss out on enjoying such a pleasant and sunny day?”
Pepi nodded appreciatively, and took a moment to glance up at the sky in observance. Maybe it was just her imagination, but it had been a long time since she’d seen it so bright and beautiful out.
It felt like a new dawn, but for what age, she did not know. But instead of instilling despair or fear in her heart, it gave her hope.
Hope for the future that her mentor dreamed of: A future in which insectoid-kind… No, a future in which all would be free of the shackles of the Old Gods. Forever.