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Human Testing
(Turned out a little long, and could probably use more editing, but I thought I'd just get this out of the way.)               

                Ce always drinks too much water. It’s healthy to drink plenty of water, but you can only carry so much of it on your person. On his way back to Hearthglen, he noticed a small detour from the dirt. This detour was a thin path covered in weeds and leaves and almost too dark to see due to a thick amount of trees surrounding it, and although the trunks and branches were twisted and the leaves were brown there was enough to prevent light from reaching this path. Were the trees clinging to life and dying or clinging to death and trying to recover? Such thoughts didn’t enter Ce’s mind; his canteen was empty and all he wanted at that moment was something to drink.
               There was a broken mailbox on the side of this detour, with the body broken and half and the head lying on its side. Ce knelt down and opened it up, finding a letter inside. He didn’t remove it, shut the door, and decided to take a detour. Halfway down the path he found a small well that was in a workable condition. This wasn’t exactly the place to find safe drinking water from underground runoff, but he had a burner with him and figured he’d just boil it. As he was lowering the bucket down into the well, it made a clinking sound, as if it were hitting the bricks inside. 
                “Amazing… It’s amazing that you’ve managed to survive on this world for a few years when you’d just grab water from some strange-”
                That sound was actually coming from an old man’s boot running into his own cane. Ce’s shoulders jumped a little and he was quick to interrupt and reply, “I always boil my water is why.”
                That old man, was he truly elderly? Ce questioned it. From what light there was he could see that his hair was thin, the color a faded brown, with missing patches rather than a bald spot. To add more confusion, his frame and posture was straight but he looked emaciated and he was holding his cane crooked to the point where the end nearly touched his boots. Ce looked him over for half a minute before quickly and forcibly turning his attention to a distant house. Looking over the man’s shoulder, he could barely see it: it was large enough for a decently sized family, covered in vines, had windows that were covered in a green-black mold, and a small farm beside it with most of it covered in weeds and small trees and a little section of it with living but poorly grown vegetables. Ce didn’t want to stare at it for too long either, and his eyes jolted around before they settled back down on the well. He quickly tried to pull the bucket back to the surface.
                The man’s arm shivered when he lifted his cane to tap the bricks with it, “Hey. Hey! You’re bout as ugly as I am.”
                Ce was still leaned over the well but turned his head to the side.
                The man continued once Ce looked up at him, “But you’re an ugly light worshipper so we’re not so different. I don’t know where you’re gettin’ the impression that you’re not welcome enough to even look at me for too long, even to knock on my door for permission to use my well.
                “I’m not assu-” Ce silenced himself in the middle of the response. He straightened up his posture and let go of the rope, causing the bucket to make a distant splash down in the water.
                The man let out a chuckle and about fell over as he raised his cane in the air and leaned his head to the side, “Come on.”
                Ce looked the man in the eyes for a moment before he turned and began to walk away and filled the bucket with water again before deciding to follow.

                  The inside of the man’s home the floor was covered in dust, the paint was flaking off the walls, and it was sparsely furnished. A nearly empty room gives space and attention to what remains. The hall had a coat rack and shoe brusher where the welcoming mat should be. The den had two sofas covered in dust, a clean red chair, and a fireplace with a small fire living inside. He led Ce through the house to the kitchen, which had more in it than any other room. That being said, there still wasn’t much: an old stove, a butcher table with more vegetable bits covering it than blood of flesh, an ice box giving support to a few sacks of grain leaning against it, and a table with one chair. The man signaled for Ce to set the full bucket of water down on the table after he took the only seat.
                “Fill your canteen with water, have a few sips, fill it again. Make yourself something to eat. Rest in one of the old rooms. Take a bat-.”
                “Alright,” Ce raises his hands in reply, “Alright, I get it. I’m welcome.”
                The man smiled before finishing a glass of water that was on the table when they entered, “I wasn’t sure you understood.”
                Ce dipped the canteen in the bucket of water and filled it, taking a few gulps before twisting the cap tight, “Thank you, but I’ll be on my way.”
                “You don’t get to have that water for free you know. I’m feeling a little tired, but I’m hungry. Boil me some rice, will you?” He set down the empty glass after making the demand.
                “I thought I was welcomed.” Ce chuckled as he began to fulfill the request by heating the stove.
                “And you’ll be on your way afterwards,” he assumed.
                “Mm. I will, sir,” answered Ce.
                “Are you in a rush?”
                “Well I need to get to Hearthglen soon.”
                “Horse shit, you have time.”
                Ce stood up from his kneeling position, smiling behind a dropped jaw, “How would you even know that?”
                “Because if you were serious about your schedule you would have left after you filled your canteen, but here you are, cooking a meal for me,” states the man.
                Ce turns his head and looks back at the man as he unscrews his canteen and pours the water into a pot to be boiled. They look each other in the eyes for a moment before returning their attention to what they were doing. Ce resumes boiling the water by positioning the pot over the heat, and the man looks down at his empty glass with a slight smile.
                “What is your name?” Asks the man.
                The room remains completely silent for a moment, aside from the crackle of the stove’s fire. A reply is given in a very quiet tone, “Ce.”
                The man’s adam’s apple moves as he swallows, and he says lowly to himself, “Now the hearing is effected…” He has a distressed expression on his face, “What was that? I couldn’t hear your name?”
                A louder and clearer reply is given, “Ce.”
                “Say what?”
                “A two letter name. A ‘c’ and an ‘e’.”
                The man lets out a relieved sigh, and when he breathes back in, his expression turns confused, “What’s that even mean?”
                The pot in front of Ce begins to sizzle, “What, does your name mean something.”
                The man gives a humble nod, “Yes it does actually. Albert. Means two things I’m not: noble, bright. It was also my grandfather’s name.” There is a pause, “So what does your name mean?”
                “It doesn’t mean anything.”
                “Nothing,” Ce shakes his head, “it’s unfinished. And I’m tired of explaining why. Just take it as is.”
                “That’s fine.” The man clears his throat and reaches for the bucket across the table with all of his arm’s length. When he gets a hold of the edge and drags it towards himself, the water begins to slosh over the rim due to his shivering, “Put the rest of this in the pot.”
                Ce turns around and rushes over to grab the bucket of water, “It might take two pots…”
                The man grabs Ce’s wooden backpack as he walks away from the table and this jerks him back, causing a stream of water to hit the floor. The man knocks on the rectangular structure and tilts his ear towards it, “What is this? Whatever it is take it off, you’re not going to leave anytime soon.”
                Ce grabs his weak hands and nearly breaks the fingers pulling them off, “I can leave whenever I want.”
                He walks away from Albert and proceeds to take the backpack off, setting it on the floor after he places the bucket near the stove. He then looks back to him with a sorrowful expression as he focuses on the fingers he just yanked.
                Albert, rubbing his hand, laughs at Ce.

                The bowls that were used to eat the rice were quite different. They were from the same set of fine china, but the one that Albert was using had a more faded design and cracks and scratches on its surface. Ce was given chopsticks to eat with but there wasn’t much to hold onto, and Albert just used his fingers. Ce managed to clear his bowl while Albert only ate a few pinches. Ce didn’t stand up to get more, and instead resigned to watching the man eat.
                Albert stopped eating for a moment and stared back at him, “You’re a big guy, would you like seconds?”
                “I’ve never said no to that question,” Ce replied.
                “Well too bad, it takes a lot of energy for me to make food,” he retorted.
                Ce looked down at his empty bowl, “I apologize. We have the habit of making sure everything has been eaten right after it’s cooked.”
                “My peop-…no,” he stopped to think, “I’m beginning to break that habit.”
                A long pause occurred between the two. Albert’s chewing became slower with each bite, and he’d pinch up less and less out of the bowl.  As Albert was eating Ce positioned the empty bowl directly in front of himself and aligned the chopsticks parallel to it. After that, he watched the sickly man struggle to eat. During this struggle, Albert looked at and away from Ce constantly and he shifted in his seat. He eventually stopped, leaving half a bowl of rice uneaten.
                Alberts eyes drifted away from his bowl and over to Ce’s backpack, “What do you do, Ce?”
                “I am an officer in the Crusade.”
                “I’ve never seen any of the crusaders carrying something like that.”
                Ce’s eyes settled on said backpack, “Ah. It’s because I carry delicate equipment.”
                “Delicate?” Albert tilted his head a little.
                “A microscope, and other fragile items,” Ce explained.
                Albert dug a finger into the rice and weakly pulled out a few more grains to pop into his mouth. As he chewed, he huffed out a long sigh and stared Ce in the eyes.
                Ce looked Albert in the eyes on and off, unable to keep his own locked for more than a few seconds, “I research the plague.”
                Then it was Albert’s eyes that darted around restlessly, “H-how do you research the plague? What all is in there?”
Ce picked up the seat and placed it awkwardly beside Albert’s as he dragged the backpack across the table. The chair Ce seated himself in was taken from the den and its frame was so large that it pushed against Albert’s and caused his chair to lean to the side a few inches until Ce noticed and pulled it away, causing the legs to crash against the floor loudly. Albert remained steady throughout the awkward adjustment and his body rocked back and forth like a lifeless doll as a result of it.
                “A microscope, plague samples, my attempts at a cure, potions, anti-venoms,” Ce listed them as he showed each item in the box to Albert.
                Albert’s eyes couldn’t be drawn away from the plague samples, “And there it is. Such a small thing…”
                “I’m sorry, did you lose somebody to it?”
                Albert looked Ce in the eyes and then turned his head back towards the rest of his house. Ce looked in front of himself and avoided the intense gaze after seeing it once from the corner of his eyes. He quickly closed the box back up and said abruptly, “I’m sorry.”
                Albert grabbed Ce’s wrist to stop him, and then tapped it a few times, “Don’t be.”
                Ce paused and quit putting everything away. The plague samples were the first of the things that he tried to put back, but Albert grabbed a hold of his wrist again and insisted, “Take it back out. I want to see it. I want some quality time with it.”
                Ce did as he was asked, and after setting it back on the table he rubbed Albert’s shoulder and pat it a few times, staring at the sample along with him but occasionally studying the features of the kitchen – or more precisely the lack thereof. After Albert began to shiver violently, he grabbed one of the little black vials only for his hand to be trapped by one of Ce’s, “I can’t have you ta-”
                Albert’s arm muscles, whatever was left of them, tensed up as he pushed down with his hand. Both felt something collapse underneath their palms and Ce immediately pulled the hand off, “Stop.”
                Lifting up their pale hands, Ce let out a huff when the vial of plague remained intact, albeit cracked on the surface. Albert’s face turned red, his eyes became inflamed, and he grinded his teeth visibly; Ce could see one of the teeth push up to the side out of his lips, ready to pop out of the skull at any moment. He pulled everything out of reach and scrambled to get everything back into the box. Albert breathed in deeply, relaxed his shoulders, and stopped grinding his teeth. They chattered for a minute instead.
The moment Ce noticed the turn in expression, he sped up the process of trying to get up and out. Unfortunately Ce wanted to put everything away for the man – the empty bowls of rice, the rest of the boiled water, the chair he took from the den. Albert got up and followed Ce around the kitchen slowly and deliriously, constantly and weakly raising an arm towards him as he paced around.
                “I- could you pl-“ Albert couldn’t finish his thoughts.
                “Look, I’ve made dinner for you. Out of the goodness of my heart,” Ce responded looking back at him while rushing to get out.
                Just as Ce made it to the front door Albert caught up to him and grabbed a hold of his wrist. Ce pulled away and caused Albert to fall face first onto his doormat. Ce was taken aback by the man’s fall. Albert was out cold, limbs splayed, his body halfway out of the house. Ce stopped himself and let out a shivering sigh.


                Albert used his arms to push himself up out of resting position and sit up in his bed. As he positioned his back against the board, he looked across the room to find the Draenei seated in the corner, resting his body and head against the wall, faint snores coming from within. The plated sections of his armor jutted off the floor and shifted awkwardly off his limbs while the cloth of the outfit sagged and scrunched up in places.
“Ce, are you awake?” Asked Albert.
                Ce opened his eyes, which caused his face to glow in the darkness of the room – this light exposed circles under his eyes and a beard that was fluffing out a little due to being pressed against the wall.
                “I have spare rooms you can rest in,” he said.
                Ce stared in his direction.
                “It doesn’t matter. I have something I want to ask of you.”
                Ce’s eyelids opened a little more and his eyebrows raised, but he continued to stare quietly.
                “I don’t remember if I told you or not Ce, but I lost my entire family to the plague. While I survived, I fell ill to something else. Something the doctors that visited couldn’t figure out or help me with. It is long term, spreading throughout my body for over a year, and soon it will kill me. If I am to die I would prefer to meet the same fate my wife and daughters did. I want you to infect me with the plague so that you might test your latest ‘cure’. Lastly, whether or not your cure works I would like for you to dig my grave, for I am too weak to do it myself. Can you do this for me.”
                Ce gave him no answer. He stared at Albert for an entire minute before gently closing his eyes and falling asleep.
                Albert looked away from Ce. He positioned his face diagonally to look at the floor, and in this muse his expression became one of warmth, “’S fine. Rest well, my friend.”

                The den glowed with sunlight now that Ce cleaned the windows, along with most of the house, but Albert scooted his chair very close to the fireplace as if it were providing him with enough light to read the text of a book he was reading. He sat like this for over an hour, often looking at the belongings Ce set by the fireplace, before Ce entered with dirt covering his entire wardrobe. Albert closed his book and set it on his lap, looking behind himself, “You look exhausted. Come. I made tea.”
                Ce slogged his hooves across the floor and nearly collapsed on the floor in front of the fireplace. He reached up and received a cup of tea, and then looked down into it. It was almost clear as water, “This is tea?”
                Albert rocked his head back and forth, “Yes. I’m sorry, have I been reusing that sack too often? I like to preserve.”
                “Do you have more pouches of herbs you could use?”
                “I do.”
                “Then why not use them? You don’t have much time.”
                Albert paused and gazed into the fire, “So the grave is ready?”
                The tea was cold, but Ce downed it in seconds, “Yes.”
                 “Are you?”
                Ce scooted back and grabbed the tea pot to refill his cup. He drank, and then refilled. It wasn’t until after his third cup was empty that turned his attention to the box resting near the fireplace as he answered the question, “I’m not going to test on you. It’s not guaranteed to work and it would just make dying worse if you aren’t cured. Didn’t you say you worshiped the light?”
                “The light had its purpose until you arrived – now I am ready.”
                “But it is an unsanitary death, and I would rather not be responsible for your death.”
                “Then what is the point of you having dug that grave?” Albert looks Ce up and down, “Finish what you started.”
                “I will check back and bury your body should I find you dead.”
                Albert set his cup of tea down on the table and let out a huff. When he stared back into the fire it was as if it were draining his life, leaving only a flicker behind in his eyes. He stood up, and began to gather Ce’s belongings for him, setting them in front of him.
                “Thank you, you don’t have to,” Ce said as he stood up.
                Albert moved everything but Ce’s sword. When he picked it up, it remained in his hand. He raised it above himself and looked at his own warped reflection in the blade. Ce put on his backpack and reattached his canteen of water to his belt, and when he reached over to try and take the sword out of Albert’s hands, Albert lowered the blade and backed up into his seat, setting it in his lap for a moment. Ce looked him up and down a few times. Albert looked up into Ce’s eyes, and then lifted the blade to his chest. Ce immediately fell to the chair and grabbed the handle, meeting an impressive resistance from Albert.
                Ce was unable to pull it away from the sickly man, and his voice was winded, “Wha-what are you doi-”
                “Let me end my life,” Albert calmly interrupted.
                “I’m taking my sword,” Ce demanded.
                When Ce tried to yank the sword out of Albert’s grip with all of his strength, it only dragged the man’s body across the floor. Ce let out a sigh, stopped, and knelt on the floor beside him. He kept one hand on the handle and gently caressed Albert’s shoulder, “Look, I –”
                “I don’t want to die alone!” Albert shouted desperately, his hands shivering as he pushed the blade through his shirt and slightly into the skin, but no further.
                Ce’s mouth was agape, but all he could do was shake his head in an answer.
                “Please, Ce I wan-,” swallows interrupted his wails, “Ce I can’t. I canno-.”
                Ce shook his head faster, “No.”
                Albert’s eyes welled with tears and terror. His feet dragged on the floor as he tried to push the blade further into his chest, but only getting half an inch in before he began to make guttural noises that eventually evolved into a primal scream that tried but failed to form a coherent sentence.
                Ce’s jaw began to shiver, “I want to stay here until – not like this.”
                Albert’s breathing became heavy, and his screams calmed into a meek plea, “I can’t do it Ce.”
                Ce ran his fingers through what hair remained on Albert’s head. He gazed into his eyes as he plunged the blade into the chest. Albert reached up to grab the collar of Ce’s shirt to tug on it because of the pain, but his arm eventually fell limp. As Albert’s life ceased to be, Ce lifted his head into the depression of his neck, unable to watch the eyes lose their remaining light. He covered his mouth with Albert’s head and stared into the fire with widened eyes, shedding tears he hadn’t shed in thousands of years.


               Ce's entire shirt, and most of his pants, were soaked in blood. However, he cleaned everything else and gave Albert a dignified burial. Ce left with most of his belongings, but while he was digging the man's grave, Albert snuck one of the plague samples out of his backpack and hid it under a pillow. Unaware, Ce didn't look back until he noticed the mailbox that was on the ground. He finally opened the mail inside of it that was gathering the dust, and read what it had to say:

Dear Father,

We haven't spoken in some time, but I want to ask for your forgiveness and reestablish our relationship before it is too late. It was selfish of me to leave you alone after the others died, but I was physically unable to stay in that house for another day. But listen to this: I was accepted into the Argent Crusade! I'm learning to be a medic. I'm coming home in a few weeks. I know that you are not living, truly. But I intend on having you do so.


             Ce held the stationary to his stomach and lost his composure for a moment. When he regained it, he quickly placed the letter back into the mailbox and shut its door on his finger. He rubbed the fresh wound on the side of his pants and moved on.
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