Dashrien, Part Two

((This is a series of posts introducing Dashrien.  The story takes place as Burning Crusade is drawing to a close and the forces of Azeroth are turning their eyes to Northrend.))

Voices, explosions in the darkness.  “Xyln arka tuc?”

I couldn’t move, even to blink my eyes.  A hand on my shoulder, a cacaphony of protests from my aching muscles.  It shook me.  “Xyln arka tuc?”

A groan of pain.  Mine.  It didn’t sound right- but it was my voice, it had to be right.  Couldn’t put my finger on it.  Maybe it was just as dead as the rest of me felt.

More chatter.  Fingers on my eyelid, prying it open.  Light stabbed into my skull.  I shoved the hand away and gradually tried again, finally getting a look at my surroundings.  A ceiling hung high- hundreds of feet- overhead, and everything seemed strangely blue.  Didn’t feel right, but couldn’t put my finger on it.

More questions in that strange language.  I coughed, croaked through a throat as dry as Tanaris.  “Water.”

My eyes resolved two blue-skinned draenei kneeling over me with expressions of concern, turning to confusion at my words.  Finally one, snapped an order at the other, who ran off.  In heavily accented common, she told me, “I sent her to fetch a drink.  Lie still.  You were badly wounded in the battle and nobody thought to look in these halls until now.  We’ve sent for a healer.”

I lay back; it seemed an excellent idea, seeing how the world was spinning gently.  Something was making an uncomfortable lump under my thigh.  My tail, I thought absently, reaching down to dislodge it, and once again was struck by that faint sensation of wrongness, but I was too exhausted and hurt to pursue it.

“Keep talking,” she encouraged me, stroking my hand.  “What is your name?”

“Dashrien Sunseeker.”  That came to mind instantly, especially considering how sluggish my thoughts were otherwise.   I wasn’t sure why I gave it in full; nobody ever called me Dashrien.

“How unusual,” she said.  “Did you take it after we found Draenor?  It seems very modern.”

“I…I don’t know.”  I couldn’t remember and it suddenly seemed paramount.  Where had I gotten my name?  Did my mother give it to me?  Did I choose it myself?  How could I not know something so simple?

“Dashrien, stay with me,” she said, a note of warning in her tone.  I must be badly beat up.  “Can you tell me where you live?”

“I don’t know.”  Why couldn’t I remember?  I met her eyes, panic rising.  “I don’t know!”

“Shhh.”  She pressed me back gently.  Her hand felt the back of my head, behind my ear, and came back crumbling dried blood.  “One of those horrible blood children banged you on the head, that’s all.  We’ll fix you right up, soon as the healer gets here.”

Though she tried her best to keep me awake, I slid back into the dark.

Sufficiency

((This is an old story I finally got around to finishing.  It belongs to Sarunaveine Darkail, mother to Athorius and aunt of Lunauviel, the woman who raised them both.  The setting is shortly before the launch of Wrath of the Lich King, during what came to be known as the zombie invasion.  On Feathermoon server, Auberdine was invaded and decimated during these attacks, and those events inspired this story.))

Sarunaveine sat on her balcony in northern Darkshore with a whetstone in her hand and her three-bladed sword braced against a small table, watching the clouds weep into a gray-green sea, far off-shore, as she sharpened the weapon.  The waves scuttled nervously, frothing, darting up the sand.  There would be rain tonight- the wind was already here.  It played with white strands of hair escaped from her braid, whipping across her eyes and catching in her mouth, defying her work.

There was a note in the wind, an unsettled tang in the late afternoon air that made the tattoos splayed across her face itch.  Sarunaveine could still remember those thousands of years before when her mother had taken her to the artist for this rite of passage, how she’d resented it, how the woman had laughed at her defiance and remarked her stubbornness would do her great hardship.  The stylized marking, like abstract hands about her eyes, were a reminder- to hold her eyes open to joy, the woman had said.  Sarunaveine snorted at the thought.  All they’d ever done was itch like mad when trouble was coming.

They’d itched the morning of the mission outside Nordrassil that took her right arm and got her posted to this spit of a town.  Hal’anaar, but over centuries of service, she’d come to simply think of it as the village.  Like most of the communities dotting the darkshore it was populated by fishermen.  Aside from the priestess and the storekeep who brought goods from Auberdine, Sarunaveine was the only one who did not sail.  Officially she was assigned to the sprawling communications net that allowed the Sentinels to protect the lengthy and remote expanse of kaldorei lands.  Mainly what she did was write reports, polish her gear, and watch the sea.  Even the wars of seven years ago had scarcely touched this little hamlet.  After so long the anger of being put away was faded into bitterness and resignation.  Life was what it was.

Tonight though…she frowned, her brow furrowing.  Something was coming, carried on the wind and the rain and the darkened water.  She could feel it in her bones.  She wanted to be ready.  The stone rasped along the metal.  Once, a villager passed by her house and looked up waving, but Sarunaveine offered no response.  She was what she was, too.

The sky faded into night slowly, the sun veiled by the thick cloudbank.  Eventually she set her work aside, waiting.  The boats came in at dusk, a brief upwind cacophony of neighbors greeting each other and inquiring about the day’s catch.  There weren’t many houses in this spit of a town, Hal’anaar; about half of their scant number lived on their boats.  One snatch of conversation caught her ear.

“-blasted thing, can’t ever tie it up properly, wish-“, Seffani said, before her voice was lost.

A shadow of contempt flickered across Sarunaveine’s face.  Her son had used his talent to wake the wood of her boat, making a ship of living timber that could sense the waves and breeze and sailed truer than any in the village’s docks.  It was a gift to mend what was by then past reconciliation, but Seffani had always hated it.  Though, Sarunaveine knew, it was really her son Seffani resented, and in that she could not fault her.  So like his father in so many ways.

Twilight became true night, and still she waited, restless, uneasy.  The rain came in drumming.

A light flickered against the horizon.

At first she thought it lightening, but dismissed that notion quickly.  This was not a terribly violent storm.  She leaned against the rail, straining her eyes, and after a moment she was rewarded.  A lantern- a ship’s lantern- out in the dark on uncertain waters.  She sped down to the beach.

Several people were already there, dressed in heavy leather boots and long woolen covers over their ears, prepared to go after the vessel if it foundered.  Sarunaveine glanced at one of the oldest fishermen, Jethorne, a question on her face.

He shook his head, replying with the slurring Darkshore accent that still offended her prim Hyjal grammar after centuries of being washed in it.  “All ours are accounted for.  It must be from down current.  They’re in a bad way.”

The group watched the ship silently, occasionally stamping feet or rubbing forearms to keep warm.  There was an unspoken atmosphere of mixed hope and resignation.  The elves of the village had been less affected by the destruction of Nordrassil and their racial immortality; they courted death every day when they put themselves at the mercy of the ocean.  Funerals were not so unheard of here.

But even if it was acknowledged, it was not invited, and they all held their breath as they watched the tiny image dance fitfully with the storm.  They spoke quietly amongst themselves, some debating the vessel’s odds, others offering whispers of prayer.  Steadily their numbers grew until it seemed half the town stood upon the shoreline.

Among the last were her daughter-in-law, accompanied by a young man who looked only vaguely familiar to Sarunaveine.  Frowning, she strode towards the pair, stopping about three feet back, her arm folded over her stomach.  “Seffani.”

The woman returned her harsh gaze evenly, unabashed, and lifted her chin.  “Sarunaveine.  To what do I owe this honor?”

Of the hundreds of possible replies, most biting, she chose directness.  “Where’s Kaelis?”

“Asleep.”  Seffani’s expression hardened.  “On Flotsam.  Like most children her age at this hour.”

“I see.”  Her silvered eyes drifted between the two elves.  “How nice that her schedule allows mother and child both to get their playtime.”

The girl had the grace to look away.  Sarunaveine stared at them a few beats longer, then turned her back, returning her attention to the plight upon the sea.  The couple shifted uneasily behind her.  Good.

Gradually, the boat grew larger.

Jethorne cursed in astonishment under his breath, then barked orders.  “Mirlandil, Danua, take the Dreamer and see how close you can get.  Don’t risk yourselves.  Take whoever you need but don’t overload the vessel.  Their ship is lost, but they may be enough out of the storm to save their lives.  Go.”

The elf was an authority among the fishers.  Those he named motioned several others and they set out for the docks immediately.  The rest of the group remained on the beach, watching, waiting.

Sarunaveine was aware of a quiet presence at her side.  She looked over at the ever-serene Uravin, her pale hair loose and her arms folded into the sleeves of her flowing white robes.  Uravin was all grace and movement, her ribbons seemingly never still, but in a way that was so natural to her that she never appeared restless.

The priestess smiled slightly at Sarunaveine’s attention.  “Elune light your path, Sentinel.”

“And yours,” she replied, automatically.  “I am surprised to see you out of your house for this.”

She shook her head, her earrings chiming softly with the movement.  A shadow seemed to cross her porcelain face as she watched the boat.

Sarunaveine always felt dimished in Uravin’s presence.  Beautiful even by the ethereal standards of the kaldorei, and ancient enough to have called Aszhara her queen, she seemed a deep and still pool that made a mockery of Sarunaveine’s fitful plights.  Nobody knew her age exactly, or how long she had dwelled on these shores.  She had been here when the first boats arrived, and she had never explained her affections for the sudden company after so much solitude.  Uravin was appreciated by the villagers, providing healing and teaching alike to the people of the town, but she had no close companions and none claimed to understand her fully.

Least of all the village sentinel.  Sarunaveine was justly surprised when the priestess spoke, barely above a whisper, as if for her ears alone.  “That vessel carries not fish but fear.  Mindless panic, out of Auberdine.  Desperation.  Trouble.”

“Pirates?” Sarunaveine asked, her thoughts going to her newly sharpened triune.

“No!  Not criminals.  But dangerous.”  Her brow furrowed faintly, a darker crease in her lavender skin.  “They are too frightened to be coherent in their thoughts.  I cannot tell the source.  We must be wary.”

Fishing boats, moving away from the docks, came into view as they sailed for the doomed craft.  By mutual unspoken agreement the gathering on the beach shifted towards the docks. Village’s docks were of gray salt-weathered wood, replaced every hundred years or so, to the limits of their materials.  Nearly every adult in Village had a trawler of some kind.  This was their staple and their livelihood.  Some of the catch was smoked, dried, or otherwise preserved for shipment to Auberdine and beyond, trade for the parcels of goods they could not make for themselves, but mostly it remained here.  The flesh fed them, and they produced oil from the fish, mortar for their foundations from their bones.  Uravin made a kind of ritual paint from the scales that she traded further for their welfare.  And of course, in addition to being fishers, they possessed a myriad of other skills, hunting, woodworking, weaving.  In a town of this size by necessity every member was of multiple capabilities.

They stood on the old boards as they had on the beach, stomping restlessly, faces blank and prepared for the worst.  By gradual, backwards steps, the troubled ship and its helper staggered towards shore.  When the limping vessels finally docked there was a sudden rush of activity, everyone surging forward with open hands and blankets, ready to receive friends and strangers alike.  Sarunaveine hung back, her hand going to a nonexistent weapon in reflex against the unknown.  Danua was the first to disembark, her arms wound around a female elf dressed in ragged finery, silver eyes dimmed in exhaustion.

“Auberdine,” Danua stated curtly, turning to help the next passenger.  “Pleasure ship.  Not meant for this kind of journey.  Haven’t been able to get more sense out of them yet.”

“We shall hear it at the temple,” Uravin declared.  Though she was assisting the salty, soaked, and bedraggled lot, her robes remained immaculate, her serenity scarcely dampened.  Sarunaveine glanced down at herself, already soaked from a careless passenger, and scowled faintly.

Jethorne nodded his agreement, and the collection headed towards the hollow that was Uravin’s strange home, sheltered marginally by tree limbs and shrubs, and consecrated to Elune.  It was also the only dwelling of any kind large enough to comfortably host the gathering.  Immediately, the elf priestess went to her hearth and retrieved bowls of rice, which she distributed before commencing preparations for a more substantial meal.  The strangers tore into it as though they had never seen food before.

Sarunaveine could not resist studying them.  The cut and weave of their clothing, modern and bright, indicated wealth, as did the golden ornaments clasped at their wrists, throats, and ears.  There were six women and five men dressed in this fashion, all with elaborately styled hair that was sadly mussed by their adventures.  A young girl clung to one of the men, making twelve in all.  They were frightened witless, showing in their shaking hands and overflowing, almost inappropriately deep, gratitude.  The sea could do that to the inexperienced.  Still, there was something haunted in their faces that unsettled Sarunaveine, and made her think that this was more than an afternoon’s yachting gone awry.

Finally, as one of the women reached the end of her rice bowl, she lifted her head and spoke in a quavering voice.  Sarunaveine recognized her as the first one Danua had helped by the purple of her dress.

“Thank you,” she said, again, “You have no idea what a nightmare this has been.”

She pushed the empty bowl away from her, reaching to the side and twinning her fingers with one of the men’s, composing herself.  “There is an evil behind us.  One which I have never so much as dreamt in my seven thousand years, but which is not without certain commonalities in certain areas.”

She stopped here, swallowing, and her companion drew her closer, securing his arm around her, and took up the narrative.  “It came on one of the human ships, a merchant vessel.  Grain, they said, some bound for Darnassus, some on its way to Desolace.  It had an evil smell to it.  My sister is- was- harbormaster.  She saw the bags.  It is her responsibility to see that damaged goods do not continue through our port.  The merchants became angry when she refused the transfer of the grain, and one of them, declaring that his cargo was- some idiom, I do not know it, but nevertheless, he took up some of the grain from his sacks and ate it, to prove its worth.”

“He became sick,” the woman took over, somehow finding Sarunaveine’s eyes and staring into them, emptily.  “They took him back to one of the inns near the dock.  It was after dark when the screaming began.”

“The screaming?” she asked, confused.  “For what?”

“The grain…changed them.”  Her voice was haunted.  “Apparitions, monsters, no word is sufficient.”

“Dark things.  Hungry things.”  The woman once again spoke.  “They overran the inn before anyone else noticed something was awry.  And by then there were so many…”  She trailed off.  “Nothing left up by the docks but corpses.”

“Corpses?”  Uravin’s interest sharpened. “Undead?”

“I- I suppose that’s what they were.”  The woman looked up, her face wet with soundless tears.  “Do you know of such, priestess?”

She pursed her lips.  Sarunaveine thought she detected a note of cold anger.  “Unfortunately I do.”

“How much of the city survived?”  The sentinel grimaced at her own tone, so matter-of-fact in the face of their grief, but her duty was too ingrained.

“We don’t know.”  He shook his head wearily.  “We barely got away ourselves.  It was a fight just to get to the boats.  We’re not sure how many others made it.  Then the storm blew us off course.”

She forced patience upon herself.  They weren’t expecting another courier for a week, and they would have their hands full down south.  There was no call beyond her own curiosity to distract them.  Any answers to be had would be theirs in good time.

Uravin rose gracefully, her hands of pale lavender spread wide in invitation.  “You have experienced an ordeal this night.  Further questions can wait.  For now, please, eat and rest, in this, the house of Elune.”

She bowed once, to which the refugees responded with grateful nods and tired, vacant courtesies.  The villagers knew a dismissal when they saw one, and gradually they trickled out, returning to homes and boats, still gossiping quietly over the evening’s events.

The sentinel was among the last to slip away.  She was taken aback when the priestess followed in her wake, catching her arm before she could turn onto the path that would take her back to her own house.  Sarunaveine arched a curious brow, waiting for her to speak.

“I like this not.”  Uravin shook her head, her jewelry tinkling like a wind chime with the motion.  “I have heard, and indeed seen, the ghosts of our kin in the old places of the Darkshore, spirits both malicious and benign, and all of them confused, out of their time.  I have never heard of such as this.”

“Does it matter?  I hate to be so cold, priestess, but this evil is not here, and there is naught we can do to aid such a city as Auberdine.”  Sarunaveine uncharacteristically and impulsively put her hand on the woman’s shoulder, a Sentinel reassuring her charge.  “We should concentrate on the survivors…I am sure we will learn more in the week to come.”

Though she nodded, Uravin did not look content, some secret half-formed concern lurking in the depths of her silver eyes.  But she only said, mildly, “Elune light your path, Sarunaveine.”

“And yours.”  With that, Sarunaveine began the somewhat perilous walk down the rocky ledge, now slick with the rain that had begun to fall gently on the shore, most of its energy spent at sea.  Her bed would be warm, and her bones were tired.  There had been enough excitement for now.

Indeed, Sarunaveine was deeply in dreams much later that night, in the small hours of the morning when midnight is only a memory and dawn still a fantasy, when it seems like the whole world stands cold and empty.  Her dwelling stood apart from the rest, not unlike its owner, but still within the village proper, and the wind blew the sounds of their life into her ears.  At this hour there should be nothing but silence.

Instead, what she heard was…a yell?

Her triune was not far from her hand, not on this night, and her fingers closed about the grip before Sarunaveine was even fully awake.  More yells, coming from the bulk of the town, with no words that she could make out.  The visitor’s tale drifted back to her.  It was after dark when the screaming began…

She hauled herself out of bed and began to strap on her armor, clumsily, as always, cursing her disability with language strong enough to peel paint.  They were right to send her away from Hyjal.  What use was a one-armed warrior to anyone?  She must look a fool to them, an old woman with washed-up notions of grandeur.

Still, she got the last of the straps tightened and once again seized her weapon.  Sarunaveine was the only Sentinel Hal’anaar had, so she’d have to do.

The fact that the noise got louder as she neared the temple didn’t worry her.  It was the way it was cut off suddenly, as sharply as a blade.  She hurried up the path, anxiety making the tricksome stones fly under her feet like the smoothest of boulevards.

Uravin stood before the gateway enveloped in golden light, her face as stern and merciless as a highborne statue.  It gave Sarunaveine pause; she’d never seen the woman in such a state of frigid rage.  But it wasn’t meant for her, but for whatever Uravin’s keen eyes saw out in the blackness they hunted with such malice.

The priestess barely paused to acknowledge her as she grew near.  “Sentinel.”

“What’s happening?” Sarunaveine inquired, rather lamely, feeling every inch a toy soldier amid the full force of Uravin’s priestly might.  “I heard shouting…”

“They carried the evil with them,” she stated plainly, in a tone that promised all manner of vengeance on her enemies, one that made Sarunaveine shrink from her.  “The house of Elune will NOT bear it.”

She turned towards Sarunaveine then, and she saw a swift hint of fear skitter across the priestess’ face.  “I must hold this place.  The things ran off into the night- I know not where.  You must warn the town.  If you see the evil, do not let it rip your flesh!  It seems to spread this… vileness.”

Sarunaveine opened her mouth for the first of several questions, when a scream tore the air and caused both their heads to turn.  Uravin recovered first.  “Go, sentinel, quickly!”

The command turned her feet, sent her down the path to the village, at a dead run through the rain and the brambles.  Few lights were lit, and the clouds hid the moonlight from her eyes.  She thought of Jethorne’s house, the best person to help her organize a defense against the unknown, but when she arrived the sight that met her was beyond horror.

There were two bodies sprawled in the entry, which she recognized as his two sons despite their mangled state, but that was not the worst of it.  She’d seen bodies before.  Their mother crouched before them, her long fingers lengthened further into something almost resembling claws, levering gobbets of their steaming flesh into her hungry mouth, too intent on her task to notice Sarunaveine’s sudden gagging, her eyes empty as the sea.  Of Jethorne himself there was no sign.

There was no thought in her mind but to stop this unnatural madness and she lunged at the woman with a yell, her triune finding easy purchase on the body.  But what should have been a debilitating wound hardly slowed her down; instead the woman whirled with an eerie cry, throwing loose the weapon and flinging Sarunaveine into a wall, before focusing on the sentinel and charging, those claws outstretched and her bloodied mouth gaping.  Half her face was gone, torn away by what looked like some kind of animal from the shape of the wound, and only the battle-laced blood hammering through Sarunaveine’s veins saved her as she slid to one side.

Thankfully, Jethorne’s mate, or whatever she had become, was still wary of the whirling blades of the triune, allowing Sarunaveine to establish some ground.  The woman was no better a fighter than she had been in life, and if anything was more clumsy and slow, poorly coordinated.  The sentinel followed a gut instinct and delivered a solid kick to the woman’s sternum, knocking her over, and followed it up with a swipe of the triune to her throat that took her head from her body.  The corpse twitched, and was still.

Sarunaveine sagged against the wall.  What manner of evil was this?  Uravin, it seemed, was justly angered, and justly frightened.  Now, so near the heart of the town, she could hear more shouts rising, along with distended screams and other sounds of battle, and it was clear what tragedy occurred in Jethorne’s home was not unique.  The village was lighting up as well, as the noise rousted people from their beds, in a steady progression towards the docks-

The sentinel felt her hot blood turn to ice in an instant.  Kaelis.  Asleep aboard Flotsam, Seffani had said, and that girl was Elune-knew-where now- her boyfriend undoubtedly had his own boat.  The village was a safe place.  There were no doors to lock and nobody worried about leaving a child above the toddler years unattended for a spell.  What could happen, after all?

She passed many small knots of fighting as she ran, the villagers banding together against the threat, and she shouted encouragement or instructions where she could, but her feet didn’t slow.  Among the enemy combatants she recognized some of those taken off the Auberdine ship, and some of her neighbors.  All exhibited bite wounds.  It appeared Uravin was correct on that score.  There weren’t many of them, but they each fought as viciously as Jethorne’s mate, and the villagers had less experience with combat than she.  It wouldn’t take much to lose the town.

But Sarunaveine didn’t spare much thought for that.  Those worries could come after she found her granddaughter.  She hardly knew what she’d tell her son if- she hardly knew what she’d tell herself.  She was only a little girl.

The sentinel came in sight of the docks only just in time.  A group of the shambling undead apparently went around the bulk of the houses, by accident or intent, and were converging on the boardwalk.  There were few lights in any of the craft.  She counted four of the creatures.  Four was a lot to take on even against standard opponents, too many.  Sarunaveine had to raise the odds.

The creatures had yet to see her.  She looked at the nearest boat, in easy swimming range for someone with two arms and no baggage, and cursed again.  If she could get ahead of them somehow, get to one of the boats, roust its occupants, then she might have a chance.

Her eyes fell on the ladder dangling from the dock fifty feet from shore, still wading territory, and hardly far enough up the dock to evade the undead.  They’d see her for sure.  But if she ran, maybe she could find help in time.  Maybe.

The creatures were moving up the dock.  She was out of options.  Without any further thought she raced into the ocean.

The water was cold and thick, slapping at her calves and then her thighs as she went deeper.  She sloshed through it as best she could.  Her triune was a dead weight in her hand, something for the swells and wavelets to grab, and her armor might as well have been lead.  It seemed half an age before she finally reached the little ladder, and another year after that for her to awkwardly bunny-hop her way up the rungs and flop onto the dock.

But she’d beat the shambling mass of bodies.  She could hear the wood of the dock creaking under their weight, nearly invisible in the dark.  Closing in.

Sarunaveine hauled herself to her feet and sprinted towards the first boat.  Nobody locked their doors in Hal’anaar.  She barged into the cabin, startling its sleepy occupants.  The sentinel didn’t pause for their questions.  “The village is under attack!  Arm yourselves or leave!”

The force of her words, laced as they were centuries of experience and all the authority of a sentinel protecting her charges, pressed them into action.  The elves swiftly began preparations, one of them flying out to the deck to try to cast off, the others gathering what implements they had that might pass as weapons.  Sarunaveine couldn’t wait, but left as swiftly as she came, repeating the exercise several times as she made her way up the dock towards Flotsam.  The ghouls had caught on by now, their howls standing up the hairs of her neck, and propelling her forward.

Flotsam was dark in the water when she pounded onto her deck.  The boat’s cabin was two-roomed, the front serving as a kitchen and common area, and the back as sleeping quarters.  She found Kaelis curled up on the bed, her small hands folded under her head, and Sarunaveine was flooded with relief.  She crossed the room in two strides and picked up the little girl, blanket and all.

The girl shifted, confused and tired.  “Anuri?”

Sarunaveine was somewhat amazed the girl had managed to stay asleep this long.  “Shh.  It’s alright.  We need to get out of here.”

Screams rang out from the dock, muted only a little by Flotsam’s walls.  Kaelis flinched away from them.  “What’s happening?”

“Shh.”  She pulled back the curtain and peered through the bedroom’s small window.  Shadowed figures fought in the darkness just outside the relative safety of the boat.  She pursed her lips and tried not to look as worried as she suddenly felt.  That was their only way out.

Kaelis started to cry, huddled against her chest.  She patted the girl’s back and tried to think.  The ocean.  It’s the only way.

As quietly as she could, she walked back out of the cabin, pausing in the door to set the child down.  “Kaelis, this is very important.  I need you to sit here and be very still and very quiet for a little while.  Do you think you can do that for me?”

Big silver eyes stared up at her from a little face soaked with tears.  “Anuri, I’m scared.”

“I know.  It’s going to be alright.  I promise.”  She smoothed back her hair.  “But right now I need you to do as I say.  Do you think you can be a big girl for me?”

Kaelis shuddered, but managed to quiet her sobbing.  Sarunaveine brushed her hand over her hair again, and then stole out onto the deck.

They were fortunate it was so dark a night.  The sentinel had never been much of a scout, but the darkness was a great aid in allowing her to approach the dock unseen, and uncoil Flotsam’s mooring in hopes of getting the craft into open water.  She doubted very much the ghouls were good swimmers.  The living wood of the ship was more than capable of looking after itself; she could anchor it off-shore and swim back to offer what help she could.  Kaelis would be safe enough on board.  Flotsam herself seemed to sense Sarunaveine’s intentions, trimming her sails in preparation.

Unfortunately, it was not quite dark enough to hide so large a motion as an entire ship pushing away from the dock.  One of the ghouls let out an unholy scream and launched itself at the figure standing on the deck.  Sarunaveine dodged to one side, slashing at it with her triune, but the damage was only superficial, and the motion forced her back towards the bow.  Two more of the creatures landed heavily in answer to their comrade’s call.

She frowned, took a breath.  They were between her and her granddaughter.  Sarunaveine could just make her out, huddled in the doorway, balled up with her head hidden in her knees and her hands clamped tight over her ears.  She was shaking.

The sentinel’s eyes snapped back to the ghouls with a surge of cold anger.  Her hand tightened on the triune, her feet testing her balance on the springy wood.

The ghouls were beyond any ability to read the fury in the woman’s face, but they understood the sudden ferocity of the attack that followed well enough.  Sarunaveine sprang forward, the edge of one blade opening a deep gash along the abdomen of the nearest ghoul, which howled in agony as its putrefied organs spilled over the deck.  She smiled fiercely.  That was one.

As it fell, one of its companions tried to flank her, rushing her side with its mouth gaping open and those claw-like fingers extended, intent on snatching her.  She whirled out of reach and delivered a solid kick to the side of its knee, and felt something crack under her sabaton.  The creature’s leg collapsed under it and sent it tumbling to the floor.  Sarunaveine swiped at its back, but she was too intent on her victim, and gave the third ghoul an opening.

It bounded over its fallen brethren, knocking her to her back and sending the triune flying.  She only just got her feet between herself and the creature as it bent desperately over her, snapping its jaws wildly.  Sarunaveine turned her head instinctively to shield her face and pain blossomed in her ear.  Her good arm delivered a punch to the ghoul’s face that seemed to momentarily stun it.  She took the opportunity to kick it off her, with so much force that it rolled to where the gangplank and been and dropped overboard between the boat and the dock.

The injured ghoul had recovered.  It crawled forward and sunk its grimy nails into a joint in her leg armor.  She shoved her over foot into its shoulder, snapping its collarbone, and it loosened its grip just enough for her to get loose.  Her hand swept up the fallen triune and she planted it in the creature’s back.  It screamed.  The sound seemed to go on forever, filling her stomach with bile and trying to pry her fingers loose with primal fear.  But the sentinel held tight, and gave the blade a twist.  The ghoul jerked, and lay still.

Sarunaveine leaned heavily over it a moment, breathing deeply, before yanking the triune free and scrambling across the deck towards Kaelis.  The child was sobbing continuously now, the sound low and pitiful, but there was little she could do for her at the moment but take her away from this scene.  She picked her up and turned towards the dock.

The boats that could leave had done so, but the noise had attracted too much attention.  She could see more figures, too many, shambling towards Flotsam, and her heart sank.  They’d never get the boat far enough away in time.

Then she turned the other way, towards the open water, and a grim smile touched her face.

It was the work of a few moments to sit down and undo the armor that had taken her so long to get into.  It helped that she was slicing through the leather straps where she could, rather than fumbling one-handed with the buckles, and soon it lay in a heap on the deck.  Kaelis crowded against her, frightened, and as she worked she explained her next idea.  “The dock’s a bit crowded, darling.  We’re going to have to swim.”

And with the girl in hand, she jumped over the side.

Sarunaveine kept a hand clenched on Kaelis’ shirt as they hit the icy water.  Kaelis was a true daughter of Hal’anaar and had been swimming since before she could walk.  The sentinel was more concerned about losing her in the dark than keeping her afloat.  She had some concerns for herself in that area- kicking alone didn’t lead to strong swimming- but the ocean was calm tonight and the current this close to shore led directly to land.

Her feet kicked against the boat, putting distance between them and whatever might come aboard, before turning towards the shoreline.  She could feel Kaelis kicking alongside her, though she didn’t loosen her grip until she could feel sand under her toes.   Kaelis shivered on the beach.

Sarunaveine found her hand and said, more gently than she thought she could, “Come on.  We need to find you a blanket.”

The little girl and her grandmother slowly made their way up the hill, to the larger building that served as a town center of sorts.  She found that the surviving villagers had barricaded themselves inside, and the several ghoulish corpses lying out front testified to its effectiveness.  Sarunaveine noted their identities, dispassionately, but kept herself between them and the child.  There was no need for her to see any more of this.

Uravin was there, as well as Jethorne.  Sarunaveine prepared herself to give him the bad news, but when he glanced at her, expressionlessly, she saw it would be unnecessary.  The priestess  came forward immediately, wrapping the girl in her own cloak, and looked up at Sarunaveine.  “Seffani?”

“Elune knows.”  The words came out coldly, and she was glad of it, something in her very pleased to see her son’s treacherous mate shame herself in such a fashion, even as she was aware it was petty and thoughtless.

Uravin just shook her head, at the situation and satisfaction both, and gently led Kaelis away, back into the building.  Sarunaveine let them go.  Hal’anaar was miniscule, and there were not many children.  They deserved the full protection of the village’s defenses, such as they were, and should be hidden behind them.

Her place, however, was here.  She demanded and received what passed for a weapon, and set about organizing the remaining defenses.  They obeyed her instinctively, even though she wondered a little at it.  It would seem that no matter how indifferent her treatment of them, or her own disability, she was still their sentinel, and they trusted her with their lives.  Even though the circumstances were horrific, it was a… good feeling.  She could almost imagine herself back in Hyjal, before her arm was taken, when she still had value.

The night was long, but when the sun rose, they had prevailed.  The infected were dead.  The village was a disaster, and there was little cheer to be had, as they began the long process of planning for the dead and the living alike, but it would recover, in time.

The sentinel had little expertise to offer here.  It was not the first time she had seen comrades die, but she knew well enough there were no words or actions to make it easier.  She retrieved her granddaughter and went home.

Her house, on the outskirts as it was, had been little affected.  She was glad of it.  It was a place Kaelis knew, untainted by the recent horrors, and she felt vaguely that it would help her to be there.  Now that the crisis was passed she found she still wasn’t quite sure what to do with this child, her kin, just like she’d never known what to do with her father or his cousin left in her care, but that was alright.  She knew enough.

Dawn passed into mid-morning, and brought them a visitor.

Sarunaveine heard him before she saw him, and uneven staccato of clawed feet on her entryway, accompanied by breathless panting.  She rounded the corner in time to see the dark saber resolve itself into the figure of a man on all fours, his forehead against her floor and his green hair soaked through with sweat.  She tilted her head at him.  “Your timing, as always, is impeccable.”

Her son raised his head and eyed her from the floor, an expression of mixed exhaustion and incredulity.

Her eyes flicked to his hands, which had left small smears of blood on the wood trailed by similarly inked paw prints, and widened in surprise.  “You ran here from-“

“Auberdine.”  He coughed.  “There was a terrible- disease.  My mount- foundered- I needed to warn-“

“You’re too late,” she said tersely, remembrances of the evening past flickering in her mind.

Athorius paled.  “Kaelis-“

She had intended to make him sweat, just a little bit, chiding him for his own irresponsibility which at times could be the match of his erstwhile mate’s, but his daughter had apparently inherited his knack for showing up at precisely the wrong moment, because she chose that instant to run into the room and fling herself at her father.  “An’da!”

He managed to catch her, wrapping his arms around her and rolling over on the floor so she lay on his chest, his hand leaving sticky blood in her hair and his eyes closed in an echo of the relief Sarunaveine herself had felt, when she saw the girl sleeping on her mother’s bed.  It irritated her, inscrutably.

But then, after a long moment, he looked back up at her, and said quietly, but fervently, “Thank you, ana’sha.”

She could only nod.  They both looked so vulnerable, lying there.  It was an odd thought.  His neck was stretched by his position, laying bare his throat, and she found she couldn’t stop staring at it.  Her ear twitched and brought with it a fresh wave of pain that snapped her back into reality.

Athorius was staring at her.

“What?” she asked, crossly.

“Your ear… what happened to your ear?”

Her fingers reached up, probing, delicate, and she found suddenly that they could only trace up an inch or two before her right ear ended in a bloody stump.  The memory came back in a rush.  The deck hard under her back, the ghoul snapping at her- biting at her…

Her gaze returned to him, a mask of dread, and her blood suddenly felt like ice.  She forced composure.  She would not give into this fear.  She wouldn’t let him see it.  Briskly, she replied, “It was bitten during the attack.”

She looked away then.  She didn’t have the strength to watch what the declaration did to him.  “Just a small bite,” she mumbled, as if chastising herself over some small slip of courtesy.  “Takes longer I guess.”

“What’s wrong?” asked Kaelis into the stillness, discomfited by their unexpected grimness.

Athorius said something or other to comfort her; Sarunaveine didn’t hear it.  She watched through a fog as he took the child into the house.  She heard them shifting around, as he settled his daughter, doing what she’d tried to do last night, insulate her from the horror of what was happening.  She was going to need a lot more than a security blanket and some soothing words, after this.

By the time he returned she had made a decision, cool action replacing her terror and allowing her to conduct herself properly.  “Do you have sorrowmoss on you?”

He stared.  “No.”  His tone was flat, rejecting the question outright.  It wasn’t an answer.

She repeated herself, her voice laced with frigid calm.  “Do you have any sorrowmoss?”

“We’re not even going to talk about that.”  He looked disgusted.  “We’re going to take you straight to Uravin-“

“She doesn’t know how to fix it.”  The words came out in a hiss, and she caught his arm in an iron grip.  “I will NOT do what has been done here yesterday to my own, I will not.  For the final time, do you have sorrowmoss, or must I make some less comfortable arrangement?”

“I…” Athorius swallowed, looked away, but she could see his resolve crumbling in the face of both the truth and her authority.  He cleared his throat.  “I’ll… Go lay down, I’ll bring it to you.”

She held onto his arm a moment longer, then nodded, not trusting herself to speak.  She turned and went upstairs into her bedroom.  What was there to say, anyway?  As if anyone could fix a lifetime of animosity in a farewell.  She snorted to herself.  The very thought was ridiculous.  She lay down and waited.

It wasn’t very long before she heard footsteps approaching, and she peeled open one eye to see her son standing over her with a cup of steaming tea clutched in one hand.  He held it well away from his body, treating it like the poison it was.  His face was unreadable.

Sarunaveine sat up a bit.  “Give it here.”

He held onto it.  “Ana’sha-“

She rolled her eyes and something in her winced, painfully, as he flinched at the casual cruelty of the gesture, but she didn’t let it show.  “What, you want some tearful mockery of a goodbye, pretending things we don’t even feel?”  Her voice softened somewhat, as he stared at the floor, even if it didn’t lose an ounce of its gruffness.  “We already know all there is to say.”

She watched him swallow, master his own anger and grief, not wanting to give her the satisfaction either, and thought she ought to feel proud, to have taught him so well.  All she really felt was empty.  When he did look up, he was calm- except for his eyes, which she could not meet for more than a second.  He thrust the cup at her.  “Fine, then.  Have it your own way.  You always do.”

The cup hovered between them a moment.  Then Sarunaveine reached up and took it, and took a sip, as if this were a simple cold, and the mug full of peppermint and honey.  Somewhat to her surprise, he sat on the edge of the bed, against her legs, and folded his hands in his lap.

“You want to watch?” she almost spat over the rim.

“No.”  He shook his head slowly.  “You shouldn’t need to do this alone.  I’m sorry I’m all you have, but it will have to do.”

She made to tell him to go, to unleash the cold words necessary to damn well make him leave, to not put him through this, but they died on her tongue.  She took a second sip, and then down the rest in one long gulp, scalding her throat, not that it mattered.

He held her hand.  She stared at the ceiling.  The silence stretched, waiting, almost predatory.  Her eyelids were getting heavy, but she fought it, life instinctually struggling against the long night, no matter what she willed.

He squeezed her hand.  She couldn’t see him very well, but she heard him say, almost too soft to really make out, “You did well, ana’sha.  You saved her, and them.  It’s ok now.”

She sighed.  It wasn’t much, but it would do.

——————-

Athorius sat on her balcony, in the house where he grew up, and watched the sea.  His daughter was a ball on his lap, asleep at last, and he touched her every so often, compulsively smoothing her hair or rubbing her shoulder, as if to reassure himself she was still there.  The ocean was calm today and its salty breeze against his face was appreciated.

It snatched up sounds from the village, hammering, the occasional weeping, bits and pieces of voices trying to make sense of the senseless.  He sat and rocked his daughter, not ready to go to them and do his own duty as a druid, in lending them peace and healing.  He had, at the moment, none to offer.

Eventually he saw a figure come running up the road, its purple hair steaming in that same breeze, pounding into the house.  He didn’t move from his seat.  Footsteps crept along the halls and through the rooms, cautiously, and then up the winding ramp where they ended with a strangled gasp.  The bedroom, certainly.  He left his mother there, looking more peaceful than she ever had in life, until he had the strength to deal with the necessary rites.

He felt it when she came up behind him and stopped a few steps shy.  “Oh my goddess, Kaelis, Ath-“

Her ragged breathing convulsed into a strangled sob, grief and relief in one breath, but he didn’t so much as turn his head.  “Seffani.  How happy I am that you made it through the attack alive.”

The flatness of his tone gave her pause.  He heard the wariness creep back into her voice, that same tone she always used when she lied to him, again and again, whenever he visited home.  “Elune, Ath, your mother- I’m so sorry.”

She tried to put her hand on his shoulder, but he flinched away, and she snatched it back as though burned.  “She was infected.  There was nothing to be done.”

Seffani swallowed.  “When I came back from my walk and found Flotsam empty, I thought the worst.”

“Don’t.”  There wasn’t even anger anymore.  Just certainty and fatigue.  “Please, don’t, Sef, you’re embarrassing yourself.”

“I don’t understand.”  She sounded almost forlorn.  He could have laughed if it wouldn’t have hurt so much.

“Did you really think I didn’t know?”  Athorius did turn to face her then, continuing in that same flat, calm tone.  “Goddess and ancients both, but who didn’t, Sef?  Maybe I was wrong.  Maybe I should have confronted you when I returned from Moonglade and saw you both there, in my home, but I confess I didn’t know what to say, and part of me was curious about how long it would take for you to come clean.  I never thought you would take it this far.  I thought I could trust you with her at least.”

“Moonglade.”  She swallowed.  “That was years ago.”

“Yes.”  He turned back to the ocean.

There was a long silence, then Seffani reached for the girl.  “I need to take her home-“

Athorius shifted in his seat, carrying the child out of reach.  “She needs rest.  It took ages for her to fall asleep.”

Her eyes flashed with anger.  “You’d dare keep her from me.”

“Be sensible, Seffani.  She’s going to need her mother when she wakes up.  It would be nice if you could pull yourself together enough by then to act the part.”  He held his daughter tighter.  “Go cry yourself out on your boyfriend’s shoulder.  I’m sure he’ll be glad to be of use.”

Seffani flushed white, and then deep purple.

He stared at the ocean.  “I’d like you to leave now, please.”

And miracle upon miracles, for once, she did.

Athorius ignored the departure, looking down at the girl, tracing her cheek with his finger.  Soon, she’d wake.  Soon, he’d have to deal with the corpse in the other room.  Soon, he’d have to go down to the village, prod buildings back into shape and see to injuries, mouth words about how nature would restore the balance of their lives, for whatever use that ever was to shattered people, and generally attempt to live up to the responsibilities of his order.

But for now, he could sit in his mother’s chair, in the sunlight, and be a cradle and a comfort to his child, and for now, it was enough.

Dashrien, Part One

((This is a series of posts introducing Dashrien.  The story takes place as Burning Crusade is drawing to a close and the forces of Azeroth are turning their eyes to Northrend.))

The attack on the Exodar was a suicide mission to begin with, the last desperate gasp of a commander who couldn’t agree with his superiors, and couldn’t let it go, the very definition of a fanatic.  Nobody expected to make it this far.  And yet, somehow, I found myself blade-in-hand near some kind of draenei water temple.  The quarter was silent.  Everything that hadn’t fled had died.  Corpses of goat defenders lay mingled with my own brethren in tangled heaps across the floor, stained with unspeakable fluid.

Battlefields are never pretty, but they are even less so when there is no earth to soak it up, no sky to diminish the carnage with its vastness.

I hefted my shield further up my arm, adjusting my grip, and stalked forward, my footsteps loud in the chamber.  The only other sounds were a gentle trickle of water and my own rasping breath.  Exit was foremost on my mind, though I couldn’t have said where it might be.

In this silence I happened upon a small bridge before a shrine of sorts, and one of the stooped goat men knelt before it, his back to me.  At first I thought he’d died like that, so still he was, and so I was less cautious in my approach than was wise, curious about this strange vision.

He rose to his feet and whirled towards me when I was not two paces from him.  I say “whirled” because he moved almost faster than I could see it, but there was no sense of the urgent or graceless about the motion.  In his hands he clutched a staff of polished wood, imbued with runes of metal and stone, and capped with feathers.  I don’t claim to know much of shaman lore, but the symbolism was clear- I faced a master of the four elements, earth, air, fire, and water.  My people have little respect for such things.  I felt myself sneering at this lone disciple and his barbarian stick, my gauntleted hand tightening on my sword.

I made to strike, but his calm, flat white eyes regarded me so calmly, so lacking in emotion or concern, that I hesitated.  I’d feasted on battle rage and chaos for the past several hours, and though I was tiring, I was not so far out of it that his utter fearlessness, done so coldly, failed to give me pause.

We regarded each other for a moment, before he spoke, his low words dropping like a stone into water.  “Why have you come here?”

What was that supposed to mean?  Maybe what I’d read as courage was really foolishness.  “I was ordered to.”

“I see.”  That flat gaze pierced me through.  “Were those orders sound?”

I shrugged, chuckled, with both exhaustion and amusement.  Of course they weren’t sound orders, but the life expectancy of your career is pretty easily measured in disobedience, and I had something of a record already.  I didn’t lower my blade from the level of his midsection.  “Orders are just orders.  A blood knight of Silvermoon doesn’t refuse them if there’s no profit in it.”

To my surprise, he returned the laugh, though there was nothing of humor in it.  “Honest.  That is something.  You say no profit.  This city is washed in pink flesh and red blood this night.  Say you there was profit in sparing such unnecessary carnage?”

The old man was good and crazy.  “I don’t see what the hell that has to do with me.”

“Total abrogation of personal responsibility,” he replied sadly, shaking his head.  “Allow me to ask you more plainly.  If the decision were put to you, would you have fought here now?”

Oh for fuck’s sake…

“Sure thing,” I drawled, facetiously, tiring of his philosophical queries.  The goat was insane, and I’d probably have to kill him.  “I just love the way you ungulates flail before you die.”

He’d been passionless before.  As my words reached his ears, his whole body convulsed and his eyes blazed.  I couldn’t have stopped myself for all the wine in Silvermoon.  “And the way the light fades from your eyes, why, it’s almost as pretty as a sunset.”

The old goat slammed his staff on the ground with real fury, and the raw power of it slapped me back three steps.  “You killed because you are an unthinking fool.  Profaning their deaths proves you are more than foolish; you are a scourge and a malice.  I will not suffer your idiocy further.”

The top of the staff blazed with green light, which flowed into his outstretched hand.  It began to dawn on me that I might have made a serious miscalculation.  I retreated another step, warily, testing my balance and debating whether to stand or flee.

Just when I’d made up my mind to run for it, I found I no longer possessed command of my legs.  The light began to wrap around me in small tendrils.

“I’ve found that experience is the best teacher,” he said, and his fist suddenly closed.  A jet of emerald shot towards me, and I couldn’t even cry out as I experienced a small eternity of pain, like every bone in my body had shattered at once.

Then, blissfully, blackness drew over my eyes.

There was a sensation of being dragged across the floor, roughly, and a crushing blow landed behind my left ear.  My mind faded like my vision.

At home with Nimaruil

Nimaruil Nightwind vaulted off the rented hippogryph and tossed a coin to its mistress in Astranaar, body cold and patience frayed after the long flight from her posted garrison.  As an outrunner she was scarcely a stranger to such rides, but they never got less tiring, and Astranaar still wasn’t home, for all that her mother had successfully reestablished her smithy after being driven west by the orc incursions.

The hippogryph mistress caught her scowl along with the tip, and frowned.  They knew each other as colleagues, Nim’s duties taking her all over this part of Kalimdor, though “friends” would be a stretch.  “Is everything alright?”

She shook her head and flashed a smile, imbuing her voice with as much cheer as she could muster around her bad mood.  “Nothing a bit of leave won’t fix.”

Nim hauled her bag over her shoulder and set off towards the far end of town.  The civilian leathers felt a bit out of place, and her awkward in them, though the pants and jerkin fit her with the comfortable ease of very old clothing.  There hadn’t been a day off since Xaxas hit Darkshore and the volcano in Ashenvale appeared, and damn few before that, since the orcs arrived.  Everyone was overworked.

Her combat boots left little mark in the dry dirt of the road.  They must be praying for some rain around these parts.  She didn’t make for a very intimidating figure with her coating of dust and ruffled cap of teal hair, her eyes a little overlarge and spaced a little too wide, combining with an upturned nose and scattered freckles to make her seem younger than her 2400 years.  The dagger stuck through her belt was worn and almost laughable against the axes and magic of their enemies, but Nim mostly kept safe by not getting into fights in the first place, at least not the serious kind.

She banged into the smithy, squinting against the sudden heat, and pushed through a rack of hanging chain.  “Ma?”

A sturdy woman with her green hair bound back in a bun straightened from her work and turned, raising the protective goggles to her forehead.  Her smile was broad, if a touch hesitant.  She glanced at the apprentice crouching over the latest set of links alongside her.  “You got this for the moment, Terril?”

The lad nodded, and Mia peeled off her gloves, raising an eyebrow at her offspring.  “You’re late,” she remarked, lightly.

“Yeah.”  Nim coughed.  “I got tied up in some last-minute business back at the garrison.  No time to write ahead.”

“That’s fine.  It’s just going to be more difficult to explain, now.”  She pushed through a side door that led to the house proper.

“Explain what…?”  Puzzled, she followed her mother.

The smithy led directly to the kitchen, an obvious choice, as a good number of dishes could be cooked merely by proximity heat from the forge that shared a back wall with the space.  A man was seated at the cramped table, twiddling his thumbs.  He was pretty much as Nim remembered, his long teal hair braided back and his leather robes immaculate with their embroidered decoration and feathers, and the angled planes of his face that were so different from the rounder contours of Nim and her mother’s.

“What the hell is he doing here?” she snapped, turning to Mia.  The man’s expression soured.

Her mother yanked her ear, just hard enough to be a proper warning.  “Manners.”

To the man, she asked, “Can I get you some tea?”

Nim’s mouth dropped open.  He nodded, and Mia calmly fetched and filled the kettle.  “Since when do you get along?”

Her parents shared for a moment exactly the kind of understanding smile that ran nails down the chalkboard of her soul.  She snapped her mouth shut.  “I don’t have time for this shit.”

“Nimaruil,” the man exhaled, patience clearly wearing thin.  “For once in your life, do try to act your age.”

She began to retort, but her mother interjected smoothly, “I couldn’t agree more.”

Nim crossed her arms and scowled.  Mia continued, in that same calm tone, “Your father is here because he has something of importance to tell you.”  Then she did glance at him, unreadably, and added, “Not that I agree, but you’re hardly a child I can protect from his indiscretions anymore.”

Her father rolled his eyes.  “It’s always drama with you.”

“Is THAT what you call leaving once the outpost was grown?  Pointless drama?”  Nim set her hands on her hips and scowled.

He looked at her mother and said, dismissively, “There’s no talking to her.”

“You were the one who wanted this meeting.”  Mia’s tone was mild, but razor-edged.  She stripped off her heavy gloves and added loose tea to several mugs.  “You had best find a way, no?”

The comment was met with a momentary frown, providing Nim a bit of victory, before he turned back to her.  “I am sorry that it has caused you such distress that more than two millennia past you’re still going on about it,” he said, testily, “But your mother wasn’t surprised.  I told her it would be like that from the start.  My duties-“

“Elune take your duty,” Nim replied crossly, but she forced herself to sit down across from him.  “What was so important, anyway?”

Her father cleared his throat.  “After all that has happened recently, your sister was forced to flee her village.  She’s gone to Teldrassil to train and she hasn’t the sense a bird is born with, and I’m worried about her.”

It took a few seconds for Nim to collect herself sufficiently to reply.  “My sister.”

“Yes.”  A twitch in his ear betrayed his unease, or his guilt.  “Her name is Arisaema.  Arisaema Amberstar.”

“Dear goddess.”  She sat back and folded her arms, her expression all disbelief.  “You’re a real bastard, aren’t you?”

“Nim.”  Mia’s tone was warning, but there wasn’t much heart behind it.

She suddenly remembered what her mother had said earlier, about being too old to shield, and she whirled to face her.  “You knew!”

“Of course I knew.”  The words were almost spat, with more venom than Nim expected or thought Mia capable, given her calm throughout the whole conversation.  “How could I not know?  You were gone, of course, but it was all the whole damn outpost could talk about for weeks-“

She silenced herself abruptly and turned back to the process of making tea.  Nim thought she saw her shake, once, and her mouth in profile was a thin line of anger.

“I know this must be shocking,” her father said into the silence, “But her own family is in no position to help her and she would find my assistance as unappreciated as you.  It is an imposition, I know, but I would ask you to find her and make sure she doesn’t encounter something unfortunate.”

Nim leaned back in her chair, heavily, arms crossed.  “My sister.”

“Yes.”  His tone had the sort of patience one used when talking to small children, or the very slow.

“And she’s on Teldrassil right this very moment, while we’re speaking here.”

“Yes.”

Nimaruil glared at him crossly a long moment, then rolled her eyes and tossed her head.  “Oh, hell.  How do I find her?”

Winterspring

It was hours later when Luna woke, still tired, but no longer tired enough not to notice the fire had gone out, and the stone bench was flat, hard, and cold.  She tried to swing her feet to the floor, only to find them stuck- Arisaema’s giant bird was still curled up on them.

By dint of a little wiggling she managed to free herself without being pecked.  Most of the other Shan’re present were also lost in dreams, though she exchanged sleepy nods with those who were not.  Luna wrapped the blanket around herself and went to the door.  It was snowing lightly, just enough to give a little softness to the frigid night, and it was so quiet just outside the lodge that she could hear each flake as it brushed the older snow.

Her breath made little clouds of its own and she drew the blanket tighter, wishing she had not left her ear socks inside.  Almost, Luna had not even bothered to pack winter clothing, the heavy robe, boots, and gloves she currently wore, primarily because she took her recent need for shoes to protect her feet as a sign that she was spending far too much time in Darnassus, but sense had prevailed.  Maybe she was growing up more than she thought.

Luna stuck out her tongue and drank in a few snowflakes.  It had snowed, sometimes, in Hal’adaar, but it was rare.  The ocean moderated the climate and reduced everything to rain.  When it had snowed though, that spate of flurries they called snow at which any child of Winterspring would have scoffed, it was always a source of wonder for the younger girl, a hint of the world beyond this sleepy village stinking of fish and fatalism.

She was glad Keida- Greenie- was unharmed.  Truly.  Even if it had been a ridiculously foolish decision to head out into the storm, even if Var had needed to stay out in this wasteland hours longer looking for her-

It’s nothing he wouldn’t have done for any of us.  That was both the problem a large part of the reason she liked him so much.  I wanted to stay with him, keep him safe, for once be some kind of HELP to him instead of another worry- but I wouldn’t have said it like that, no, I’d have coated it in acid and launched it on a blade, because I am that contrary and that frustrated.

I’m so sick of fighting.

A few minutes outside was about the limit of her willingness to endure cold at the moment, so she went back in, shutting the door firmly behind her.  This lodge.  She tried not to think about it.  What was she even doing here, really?  She and Naelaedra could have constructed a portal home, even inside all that noise from the cave’s latent energies, and maybe it would have been wiser for them.  But the Shan’re would have waited altogether too long to hear that they were safe, as their message or their bodies traveled overland to reach their companions.  It wasn’t acceptable.  And neither of them would have been there when the group reached Hyjal.

He was asleep as well, slumped against a wall.  Probably as tired as I am.

Luna sat down gingerly an arm’s length away from Var, trying to ignore how much she wanted to cuddle up against him and pretend everything was fine, pulled the blanket over herself, and drifted back to sleep.

All through the night

He stood there and watched me while I cried.

I sat by the shore of Lake Elune’ara, my knees curled up to my chest, well after the hour I should have been sleeping, trying to work through the situation with some degree of rationality and empathy.  But it was difficult when my mind kept circling back that single thought.  I was frightened and sobbing, and he just stood there and watched, without so little kindness as a bare word in comfort.  Because I’d said goodbye in a letter instead of waking him up.  Because I hadn’t done things the way he would do them- because what in hell does a fisherman-turned-fighter understand of how impossibly hard it is to earn even a modicum of trust as a mage?  That this incident- this weakness- could have ruined that forever?  He stood there and judged me on semantics while I couldn’t see straight for the tears.

He wanted me to trust him with my problems.  “I want to know when you’re hurt.”  But why should I when I couldn’t expect the same trust in return, this man who’d flinched away from every effort I’d ever made to be a comfort?  Why should I risk that when at any given moment there was no guarantee I’d be speaking with Orravar, this man who wanted me, who theoretically loved me, rather than the terse and indifferent Commander Duskstrider, to whom I was just another needy Shan’re taking up his precious time?  was supposed to be there for him, fulfill his needs, while the Commander hid behind his duties and couldn’t offer me even the most basic of courtesies?

After the satyr attack, I was so worried he might have been hurt, but even holding his hand, just for a second, had felt like a complete imposition.  Hell, even Velaira noticed, when we set out from Ashenvale- but she’s braver than I am, and called him on it.  Not so much as a hug, she said.  She was right.

When had he ever shared anything with me that was really important?

He STOOD THERE and WATCHED me while I cried.

I would have given anything in that moment for him to hold me, or touch me, or do anything to indicate that he comprehended what I was feeling, but he stood there like a statue clinging to some stupid slight- he’d ASKED me to leave a letter, but apparently it was some kind of trap, some kind of test, and simply doing what he asked wasn’t sufficient to pass.  He needed validation, but I should “just know he loved me”?  Really?

I didn’t know whether to scream or sob.  Dammit.  Vela was right.

“I’ve thought about what might be when this is over, if we survive.”  I wanted to ask him about it, but he’d sidetracked me and I wasn’t ungrateful for it.  If he meant what I thought he meant… My stomach churned.  The next thought came with a bitter laugh.  So he’ll stick me in a house off the coast somewhere, and what, hide me in a closet any time someone important comes to visit?  “This is my, uh, Keeper Darkail.  No, I am completely focused on my responsibilities and have no personal relationships whatsoever!  Why would you think that?”  Elune.  It would have been funny in other circumstances.

I’m three hundred eight years old, and in the middle of a strange journey that began less than ten years ago in Stormwind, and I don’t know when it’s going to end. It didn’t mean I couldn’t see someone coming along with me, but I couldn’t see stopping, either.  I’d thought he understood…

I buried my face in my dress and tried not to cry.  My eyes were sore and my throat hurt enough already.

I said I wanted to keep trying, and I did love him.  At the moment, though, I had no idea why either of those facts would be true.  Nearly everything in me was telling me to run.  Maybe it was simply that I didn’t want to admit defeat, any more than I had the first time Aurora locked me on the ledge outside her window and waited-

I closed my eyes and shuddered.  The memory slid away unwillingly, dragging its claws, evoking the chill of the wind against my face and the way my skin tore on the wood of the window sash as I tried to hold on, the absolute terror when I inevitably fell and the intense, intoxicating rush of relief and exhilaration as the magic burst out of me and set me down as gently as a feather.  Aurora never bested me, no matter how many sadistic lessons, or scathing lectures, or bitter admonitions offered.  I’d learned more in a few short years than I would have ever thought possible, and I’d won.  If the price was bad memories that imposed upon me without warning or apology then so be it.

I’d lived through that, and now I was really going to allow a little coldness to undo me?  She’d laugh her head off.  I took a shaky breath.  Get a hold of yourself, Luna.  You pride yourself on your self-reliance.  Use it.

I just wished I knew what to do.

I just wish we could stop fighting.

I just wish…

The March, Day 2

Lunauviel Darkail rose from her bed in the deep night, when the whole world was still and even the most recalcitrant of her semi-nocturnal kind had surrendered to sleep.  Whisperwind Grove was silent save for the occasional cough or muttering as the wayfarers dreamed.

The Shan’re slept around her, in this building and others, and the thought of it brought a trace of a smile to her lips, though it bore nothing of companionship or good humor.  Her hand found her pocket and her wand was suddenly slender in her hand.  The length of wood thrummed with expectant power, the same that pulsed in her veins, calling to each other with such sweet music that she could have listened half the night.

But there was no time for such things when greater pleasures waited.  Her keen ears differentiated their breathing as she stepped, silent as a ghost, through the grove- Naelaedra fallen asleep over a book, quick and anxious as ever she was in waking, the insufferable highborne with her nitpicking and her worrying, endless.  Lorandrys, too, was near, and oh but her haughty demeanor begged for rebalancing, as if the weight of her years and heritage afforded her some degree of wisdom unavailable to mere mortals like students- the wand twitched in her hand, eager, but Luna was not yet ready, and bestilled it.  Tularius as well waited, too proud to take the good water she could offer, to hidebound and too ignorant, a relic of an era justly passed, surely it would be a kindness to relegate such relics to the same.

Her steps stopped and her heart sped with anticipation as she detected the steady shallow sounds of Orravar’s breath.  Yes.  Screw her and leave her, would he, same as the others for all his fancy words and pretended understanding, so cold that even a vapid tart like Vela could see it for what it was, so embarrassed was he by her craft and demeanor that there could be no risk of as little as a friendly hug in public- oh yes, she had found her quarry, and the wand knew it, leading her forward up the winding ramp-

She was happy that he knew it when she took his essence, the fel green light of her instrument flaring brightly and calling him into wakefulness just long enough to let her look upon the fear, the disbelief and the hurt, the life fading from his eyes.  It wasn’t fast.  Luna reveled in the energy traveling to her, sweet and delicate, a pastry of magic, really, decadent.  It was right that she claim it.  It was all she was, a culmination of her mastery of the art so many tried to deny her, too long and too wrongly, using her help and treating her like some dirty criminal after!  Let them see this.

Lunauviel extended her hand, touched the corpse, and spilled fire into it- easily, joyfully- until nothing but a smear of ash and a smell of burnt meat remained. 

In the darkness of the inn, I woke up, rolled over, and heaved the contents of my last meal onto the living wood of the floor.  I lay there a moment after, breathing hard, my hair veiling my face, waiting to see if I’d woken anyone else.  My arm was killing me.  I could feel the five half-healed scabs of the satyr’s nails like knives in my flesh, each one its own corona of brilliant pain.

When no disruption was forthcoming, no well-meaning and concerned Shan’re come to me for a little show about how it was nothing, just something I ate, go back to bed, I shuffled unsteadily to my feet and staggered down the ramp, steps unsteady in my tiredness and in the aftermath of the nightmare- no, don’t think about it, don’t remember, oh Elune, the STENCH in my nose-

I at least managed to make it outside this time.  There wasn’t a whole lot left to come up.

I found the moonwell and stuck my arm in to the elbow, scrubbing at it with my hand until it was past raw, desperately, only half aware of the tears pouring silently down my face.  Fear drove me mindless.  My thoughts ran in tight little circles.  It was just a bad dream, a horrible catastrophe of a nightmare, they prayed to Elune and cleansed the lot of you, you’re just tired and this place is ten kinds of creepy-

I clutched my arm and kept washing.

“Luna, what are you doing?”

I’d been so focused I hadn’t heard him come up behind me.  I whirled.

Athorius stood there, looking even more tired than I’d felt a few hours before, Kaelis asleep against his shoulder and carrying a bag that clinked softly as he shifted, samples, probably.  His brow knitted.  “What are you doing here?”

“The Shan’re is walking to Nordrassil,” I explained, simply and honestly enough.  In all the excitement of the previous day I’d quite forgotten he was working out of Whisperwind these past few months, researching the corruption in the Felwood.  I rubbed my eye, and tried to act like I hadn’t been trying to scrub off my own skin a minute ago.  “Why aren’t you asleep like everyone else?”

“I took a trip to Darkshore to visit my old mentor.  I wanted his opinion of some of my findings.  I only just got back.”  His gaze traveled to my arm and I could tell he hadn’t been fooled.  “Trouble on the road?”

Haltingly, I explained about the satyr attack, the pace of my words growing until they were tripping over each other to get out of my mouth, but as I got to the nightmare I found them dying on my tongue.  Filling my head with such terrible things, I would never think, would never do, Elune, I’m going to throw up again-

“You were cut by one?” he prompted after a moment.

I swallowed, nodded.  “They prayed over it, but… I had the most horrible dream, just now.  I could feel it…”

I found myself choking back a sob, and I turned away, face violet, humiliated.  I felt Ath settle next to me, resting Kaelis on the edge of the pool, and take my arm with gentle dignity to examine the wound.  “A simple ritual would work on most such minor tainting, but you’re not most people.  Channeling large amounts of arcane energy on a regular basis makes you more susceptible.”  He clucked his tongue, as if chiding my less than present healers for sloppiness.  He murmured something, and I felt an itching spread through my forearm, and I realized he was examining it with the same tools he would use on a patch of corrupted dirt.

I watched his progress with some interest despite my fear.  I knew of course that this was part of his specialty, the identification of corruption, but I’d rarely had the opportunity to watch him work.  After a few minutes he looked up.  “I do not know enough about the cleansing of elves to deal with this, but I think you’re in no real danger if you see to it soon.  I know a woman in Moonglade who is talented at such things.  I will write you an introduction.”

My nod was restrained considering my sudden relief.  He must have sensed it anyway because he squeezed my hand, sympathetically.  He hadn’t been my only family for years for nothing.  “You should leave tonight, if you can.”

I nodded again, with a little more confidence.  “I can summon my rug as soon as I’m ready.”

“Good.”  He stood up, dusting off his hands, and picked Kaelis up again.  “Perhaps while you are there, you could do something for me?”

“Sure.”  Now it was my turn to be confused.

“This woman to whom I am sending you- I’ve heard she acquired several discarded dragon scales while recently in Northrend, from the emerald dragonshrine.  If you would be kind enough to ask her what it would take to part her from one, I would be grateful.”

“Of course.”  I was intrigued enough to ask what in Azeroth he’d want with one, but something in his too-lighthearted tone warned me off.  “Just as soon as I get there.”

“Thank you.”  He shifted Kaelis and retrieved his sample bag with a small sigh.  “Now I need to get this one to a proper bed.  Excuse me.”

I walked back to my rented bed, and cleaned up as best I could without waking anyone.  Before I departed, I drew out some paper and a quill.  He’d asked me to write the next time I had to disappear.  It wasn’t an unfair request; I just wasn’t certain what to say.  I took a moment to gather my thoughts.

Var,

The wound from yesterday is troubling me a bit.

My hand shook.  It left a little jagged trail on the paper before I managed to life and still it.

On good advice, I’m seeking a more thorough treatment in Moonglade.  No need to worry.  I’ll catch up with you all when you pass through the tunnel, or in Winterspring if I miss you there. 

I left you a little surprise in the map but I guess you haven’t found it yet.

Have fun herding cats while I’m gone- just remember, when in doubt, wave some catnip or cream under their noses, and run in the other direction.

-Luna

She folded it up and stuck it under the mailbox flap after writing his name, where it would be easily found, and soon her carpet was flying high over the treetops, headed north.

Gone

((Luna has been out-of-game for some time.  This is my IC explanation for her absence, and for the slowness of her reinstatement in in-game activities.))

Tanaris consist of little but sand and hot sun, and a little ocean water just to even things out.  I brought a wide-brimmed hat, but it didn’t stop the tips of my ears from burning to an angry red, or the tattoos on my face from itching horribly as my skin dried and stretched in the arid wind.

There was Reliquary, too, and that was the entire reason I was here.  The loreseekers are small to begin with and nobody seemed to take their threat seriously, as focused as we were on more immediate needs.  I travelled south to see for myself their handiwork in Kalimdor.  Tanaris is damned close to Cenarion outposts in Silithus, and I’ve heard they’ve sent representatives to Azshara, as well, though to date I’d been unable to confirm this.  They wanted magical artifacts for reasons not unlike those of their highborne ancestors.  I was as uneasy with this reality as when Talein crushed that first vase before me and fed it to his working stone.  It was something Aurora- my original mentor, in the Stormwind days- would have done.  She felt the withdrawal as keenly as any of her race, I knew, though she never fell so far as to consume demonic magic to slake her thirst.

If the Reliquary were truly coming north, it would be disastrous.  They did not belong in our homeland or the benefits of secrets they forsook long ago.  So here I was, trudging across the dunes in my long robes and straw hat, observing their activities.  Scrying had proven ineffective, as they were sin’dorei through and through, and guarded against such magical interference.

Truth be told, I didn’t know why I was really here. I could name valid excuses, but it hid some deeper longing to be away from Darnassus and the Shan’re and… I didn’t want any part in the evolving mess.  This was something concrete I could accomplish, and it was important, no matter how many trees died in Ashenvale, and there was no reason for me to be home, anyway.  Athorius had taken Kaelis off somewhere on an extended trip, and the Shan’re could do quite well without me.  I couldn’t even conjure a sweet without raising the ire of the half of it.  It was maddening, that these skills I had fought so hard to earn went so often to waste due to ancient distrust that was irrelevant in the modern age.

Run again, Luna.  That always fixes things, doesn’t it?  Never get too close, never let them see you’re just a silly girl in a dress playing at being a real mage and never amounting to anything much.  The remembered words wound through my mind like a faint perfume, pervasive and difficult to ignore.

I shook my head to regain my focus, lying flat on my belly with a spyglass fixed to my eye, peering over the edge of the dune.  Aurora’s scathing parting thoughts were scarcely welcome here.  Our shrunken cousins had established a base among the troll ruins, and were busy excavating the site in search of anything with even a hint of magical energy.  Occasionally I could hear their distant calls as they made some new discovery.

I started to discern patterns.  Most of the elves were clearly grunts.  However, there were several supervisors, and one man with his long blonde hair raked into a sweaty tail who seemed in charge of the entire digsite.  He wore light robes, suitable for the climate.  They had a tendancy of billowing around him and hampering his movements, with which I could sympathize.  The diggers in contrast dressed in workmanlike pants and shirts and gloves, sometimes with helmets, I supposed to protect them from falling debris in the holes.  None looked very happy.

Over the course of the next week or two, I watched the expedition progress.  Some of the more promising sites expanded greatly, while others were abandoned.  I propped myself up on the dunes and made notes between rounds of peering through my spyglass.  The perimeter of the site was secured by rifle-toting guards, mostly trolls, so I was guessing they were local hires.  They didn’t stray very far from the ruins.

Their leader, the blonde elf in a hat as massive and impractical as my own, his ungainly upward-pointed ear tips squashed beneath it, stalked around the place like a particularly restless cat.  The work was not going well.  The work was behind.  The laborers were useless.  His boss would be angry.  I did not have to be near enough to interpret the Thalassian to know what he must be saying.  I could have done it, though; Aurora insisted on speaking to me in her native tongue, ostensibly because so many books of magic were written by the high elves, but it certainly made her life easier as well.  She spoke common with such disdain that it was nearly an accent, and of course there was no question of her learning Darnassian.

He’d been circling a particular hole all afternoon.  More workers were called over, and as the hours passed it widened considerably.  I couldn’t make out what was happening or what they might be seeking through the throng of elves and shovels.  I scooted up on the dune, adjusting my spyglass, creeping as high as I dared, trying to get a better look.

When the crest of the dune collapsed it was entirely without warning.  The glass flew from my hand and I turned end over end down its face, the sand dragging on my robes and tangling them into knots around my legs.  My shoulder struck a protruding rock with jarring force and I worried I might have broken it.  There was no question of stopping.  So much as opening my mouth to try an incantation filled it with sand.

When I finally stopped, I was a scant ten paces from the cluster of elves.  They were intent on their work and my descent had been rather quiet, so for half a moment I dared to hope I hadn’t been noticed.  I lay frozen on the ground and tried to not even breathe as my eyes scanned for an escape route.

But it was a vain hope.  One of the workers caught sight of me, turning and pointing with a shout, drawing the attention of the rest.  There was nothing left to salvage here.  The operation was a complete clusterfuck.  My hands were moving and a crystalline-solid image of Stormwind appeared in my mind, before I even really knew what I was doing, pulling for home, away from here, out of reach.

It was still too slow.  Hands pulled at my arms, ruining my casting, and in the ensuing struggle someone managed to land a blow to my head.  Pain blossomed at my temple and everything went dark.

When I woke up, I was lying face down in the dirt, Tanaris dirt, the kind that’s so dry and lifeless you can feel it sucking the water out of you like a leech.  One of my braids was torn loose and coiled beside me half-unraveled.  They’d stripped me down to my underthings before stashing me in this cavelike cell, though the fact that they’d left me any clothing at all indicated it was not to humiliate or intimidate me, but to separate me from any tools I might have brought.

Something small and round was underneath me, a lump pressing into my sternum.  I sat up in my dark jail, pushing the hair off my face, and held up Talein’s amulet, the one he placed in my care before he left.  Last I recalled it had resided in the pocket of my robes.  It must be even stranger than I thought, as the sin’dorei were apparently unable to keep it from returning to me.

I dropped it, scowling.  Much good it did me.  I still had no idea whatsoever how to use the thing.  The cell was recessed into a wall with spearlike bars forming a door.  It wasn’t large, two paces deep and one across, but it was clearly built for trolls as I could stand at my full height with no difficulty, though it was a near thing.  The gear was a total loss.  That was unfortunate; it was expensive and not easily replaced.  But better that than dead.  They left the cell unguarded, so I hastily made to attempt my plan a second time.  I didn’t question why it was Stormwind and not Darnassus that appeared so easily in my mind the first time.  I’d only returned to Darnassus five months ago.  It wasn’t really home yet.

I cast it perfectly.  I know I did.  But the second the casting was concluded, instead of popping from one space to the next as easily as walking to the next room, excruciating pain filled my body, like I was being ripped into a thousand pieces, as the teleport tried to carry me forward, but was unable to find its terminus.  I think I tried to scream, but at that point I had no mouth.

And then it was over, as quickly as it started, finding me sweat-soaked and panting on the floor of my same prison.

Laughter, from the doorway.  I lifted my head.  The dig supervisor, the blonde elf I’d noted before, stood with his arms crossed and  a superior little smile planted on his broad mouth.

“Having some difficulty?” he asked, in common, with the lilting accent particular to the elves of the Eastern Kingdoms.  The words were crisp, well-formed, and it was clear that this second language posed little obstacle for him.

I may have snarled at him.  Inelegant, sure, but it conveyed my sentiments well enough.  His smile widened.  “It’s good to see that your outdated highborne magic truly is no match for sin’dorei practice.  You’ll find the wards to be quite thorough, I assure you.  In fact, I invite you to test them!  It will be an amusing exercise to witness.”

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry to see him make the same error as everyone else, but I kept the truth to myself.  He was using high elven magic, and that was the first training I’d received.  In some ways I understood it better than highborne magic.  It was possible that I could find some point of weakness.

Yeah, right.  I could almost hear Aurora’s laughter at the very notion.  I gritted my teeth.  She’d rarely had even the smallest modicum of respect for my efforts, which I suppose made sense for a mage of several hundred years’ experience counseling the greenest of apprentices, but remained infuriating.  On the other hand, when I could win her praise… those were very good days indeed, because I knew it was far from empty.

“I can see you’re already working things out,” he said, watching me, sounding pleased.  “Don’t worry.  I have no intention of harming you.  We’ve not had an opportunity to observe highborne since we left ourselves, much less a highborne spy… you’re going straight to Silvermoon along with the rest of our findings, as soon as we’re finished here.  The accommodations may be trying but I encourage you to make the best of it.”  Again the condescending smile.  “After all, it’s only for a short while.”

He nodded off to his left, and a troll ambled forward, taking up station beside the entrance.  She had a gun slung across her back and a spear gripped in one hand, both festooned with various bright fetishes, matching the swirls of paint on her body.  Her look was sullen and bored.  At least one of the hired hands, it seemed, was as eager to for the sin’dorei to depart as they were themselves.

The cell offered little in the way of entertainment though it was at least out of the hot gaze of the sun.  I took apart the shambles of my hair and retied it in a single long braid.  I prodded the wards with my arcane senses, the lightest of possible touches as I had no desire to provoke them again, and when that failed I turned to trying to decipher the dragon amulet.  It was as unresponsive as all the times I’d tried before.  I put it aside with a barely-suppressed sigh and instead focused my attention on what I could see of the camp through the bars.

Now that I was in the middle of it, I could make out what the elves were saying, and I thanked Elune for every last damned word of Thalassian Aurora ever obliged me to learn.  They found some kind of massive troll artifact under the ruins, and after a week of effort they had almost pried it loose.  It was enough of a prize to let them return home successful, which was what their masters required.  Some of the things they hinted at were too disturbing to consider, so I filed them away for analysis at a more opportune time.  If this was true, our sites were even more at risk than I’d thought.

I thought it might also account for the observed unhappiness of the trolls.  After all, it was their culture being looted while they stood by and took some minimal payment for allowing it.

Soon after sunset, a tired-looking elf with red hair and the green eyes of all her kind brought me a piece of hard flatbread, common to this part of the world, and a stone cup of water.  She pushed them through the bars with so much disdain that I nearly didn’t eat it, but I wagered her fear of her boss probably outweighed any desire to poison me, and his stated intentions had a ring of truth about them.

Several days passed in this manner.  The wards never weakened, the dragon or whatever the hell was in there didn’t wake, and the food didn’t improve.  Sometimes my guard would change but there seemed no proper shifts as such- just convenience.  They seemed not to care if I kept the cups, which were forming a small stack at the back of the cell.  I briefly nursed some hope of being rescued, but of course that was foolish.  Run off without telling anyone, didn’t you.  Not Ath, not Commander Summerleaf, not Var, not anyone.  Because people would worry, and you can’t stand it, the suggestion that you’re not invincible or as independent as you want to be.  That you might actually need someone else.

A plan was slowly forming in my mind.  It was risky, but not as much as waiting for them to move me, which I figured would be under considerably tighter security and possibly while I was not conscious.  And once they’d ported me to Silvermoon I would have no chance at all.

The camp began to settle down at dinnertime, elves abandoning their work for another day and retreating into small campsites of their own, to share food and company before going to sleep.  Overnight my guard was generally doubled, so I had a narrow window in which few people would notice a distraction, but I still only had one troll to contend with.  The wards were too strong to overcome, but they did have one flaw.  They only responded to magic.  The sin’dorei mage had trusted entirely to the integrity of the cell itself to keep me physically confined.

Honestly, it wasn’t an unreasonable decision on his part.  Wards that offered physical containment were extremely taxing and finicky to establish and I couldn’t try the door while I was being watched.  But my afternoon guard was stupid enough to stand in front of the door, not beside it, and I had one makeshift weapon at my disposal.

For once in my life, I was grateful for being a lanky seven-foot-three freak of nature, because I didn’t have to reach up to whip my braid through the bars and around the neck of the troll.  She reached up reflexively, tearing at it with her fingers, but I already had it too tight to offer my purchase, so she started jabbing the butt of her spear through the bars blindly, catching me once in the gut.  I doubled over but managed to keep my grip, gagging, and pressed against the length of the weapon, snapping it against the bars.

It wasn’t my best idea.  Now, instead of the relatively blunt spear end, she was fighting with a sharp piece of broken wood, conveniently made shorter and less unwieldly.  It scraped against my side with a lightening flash of pain, drawing blood, and I pulled the hair tighter, praying it was almost over.

Abruptly, she slumped forward, all her weight suddenly on my impromptu garrote.  I wasn’t quite stupid enough to let go just yet.  Even if it wasn’t a ruse, she might not be completely out.  Another thirty seconds and I felt more confident about letting her fall to the ground.  She didn’t move.

I checked her pulse, and finding it thready but present, briefly debated putting the sharp end of the spear through her throat, but it seemed beyond requirements.  Instead, I broke the spearhead off, and began sawing away at the wooden latch of the door, ignoring the metal lock entirely.  Once I got about halfway through I started ramming the door with my shoulder, and after three or four tries it broke clear through and the door swung wide, banging against the wall as I shot out, stumbling.  The loudness of it made me cringe and I stayed in a crouch a moment, my breathing heavy with fear, but no one came running.

Logic, indeed sanity, dictated that I should teleport immediately.  But I was angry, furious really, at myself as much as my captors, and I found myself unwilling to leave without at least trying to equalize things.  I grabbed the rifle of the guard’s back, checked it with expert speed, conjured an intangible field of protection around myself, and slunk off in search of the sanctimonious sin’dorei who dared to stand in front of my cell and mock me, as if he were any better.  I was going to shove an arcane blast right up the middle of his snotty little face so hard it’d come out the other end and set his hair on fire.  Highborne indeed.

I rationalized it by telling myself I didn’t have any runes, which was true, but it was also unlikely he had the only stock available in the camp.  I’d seen a few other mages.  But it was his hide I wanted, so I started looking for his tent, his stash.

Stupid girl.  The voice echoed in my head like distant laughter.  I ignored it too.  Anger has a wonderful way of focusing the mind.

I knew from my observations roughly where all the higher-ups made camp.  I clung to the walls as much as I could, relying on the deepening darkness and my innate affinity for hiding to pass unnoticed.  I was forced to circle around the encampment, avoiding its sentinels, as I knew the gun would be quite loud were I forced to use it, and I wanted to avoid attention until there was no other choice.

I caught a lucky break.  The lead surveyor apparently valued his privacy enough to establish his sleeping quarters on the outskirts, well away from the cookfires and other activity.  He did have his own troll guard, and I shot her, cleanly, through the chest.  After so many months of disuse I didn’t trust my aim to guarantee a headshot.  The atrophy of my skill was disgraceful, and I made a note to remedy that situation once I was safely home.

The shot’s report had a predictable effect.  My quarry ran out of the tent, already cupping fire in his hand, with an expression that was as annoyed as it was enraged.  Calmly, I took aim and fired again, the bullet taking him in the thigh and disrupting his spell.  He fell, heavily, pressing his hand over the wound with something like disbelief before looking up at me.

I was aware of how I must look, a sunburnt woman with a raggedy braid wearing nothing but her underwear and pointing a rifle, but oddly enough the thought only pleased me.  Good that I looked

crazy.  I felt crazy.

His lip curled and I could sense him forming another spell.  I raised the gun a hair.  “Don’t.”

I used Thalassian, for the surprise factor, and I noted the shock on his face with vague satisfaction.

“What do you want?” he spat, straightening his shoulders with some dignity and giving me a look of pure hatred.  “Your gear?  I ate it already.  Poor fodder.  Can’t your kin afford any enchantments that aren’t absolutely laughable?  Or are you really that mana-poor after being locked up in your pathetic city for absolute ages?”

“Your teleportation runes.”  I took a step closer.  “Now.”

He watched me a moment, then untied a bag at his waist and tossed it at my feet.  “For all the good it will do you.  You’ll have to put that thing down to cast anything.”

“You’re right,” I said, and quickly closed the last step between us, shoving my hand over his face.

He was fast- damned fast- and if I hadn’t moved with the spell already on my lips his desperate attempt probably would have worked.  As it was I felt his palm sear my leg as he died.  The remains don’t bear describing.  The Reliquary had lost one power-grubbing mage today, and I couldn’t think of any of my teachers or associates who would not be pleased by that.

I retrieved the component pouch almost leisurely, hefting it in my hand before pouring out the contents and sifting out the required rune, and began the ritual to return to Darnassus.  Bare moments had passed from my first shot to the present.  But I’d gotten so absorbed in my own victory that I’d forgotten the volume of the encounter, and it was with a sense of horror I heard shouts and saw another of the trolls come running, barely describable in the faint light.  It raised its rifle.  I finished the cast.  And in the moment between here and there, something slammed into my side with the force of a speeding cart and the heat of a dragon.

I materialized on the floor of the temple, the designated magical entry point to the city, and distantly I heard the human portal mistress scream.  My hand was wet and sticky at the left of my abdomen, and my vision flickered.  Finding breath was terribly difficult.  Priestesses descended on me, as animated and shrill as angry birds, but it was almost like all these things were happening to someone else.

I stared at the high ceiling, one hand pressed into my side and the other in a death grip around its wrist, and it was perhaps not unfitting that it was her voice again accompanying this moment, a last bit of parting wisdom.

Arrogance is the very last thing you’ll lose, she promised.  But you will.  Or you’ll die.

I closed my eyes and waited to see which it would be.

Zul’Aman

Drinn was sorting through Faein’s small bookshelf, eyes skimming over all the incomprehensible magecraft and wondering if any of these would serve well as a focus for a tracing spell, when his bag suddenly burst with red light at the seams and the phoenix appeared with crash of displaced air.

His first thought was, perhaps not oddly, that he needed a more secure container for the broken arrow bearing these magical feathers.  It was the sort of thing that could attract unwanted attention.

Somewhat to his surprised, the phoenix began to speak, in the voice of his new commander, well remembered from the woods of Ashenvale.  It seemed more in his head than the air, but it was hard to tell.  “My apologies, Avarian. I have no time to write a letter for your summoning.  I also have no time to explain how you are hearing me. You will know at a later time. Recently, I have received word that there is suspicious activity happening inside Zul’Aman. Odd lights, soft chanting- A number of things. I sent Captain Arivi Haelinde to investigate earlier this morning. I have not heard word from her until now.”

The flow of words paused a moment.  “You are to meet in Tranquillien. An officer will be waiting on the side to lead you into battle. Go, swiftly.”

With the same loud pop of air, the bird was gone, teleported to its next errand.  Drinn stared after it a moment, because that was not the sort of thing he was accustomed to witnessing every day, but soon shook his head and glanced again at the knapsack.  The red light had faded, and within a few seconds observation died completely.  So, it was in some way linked to the phoenix, perhaps functioning as a means of location, which was not so far off from his original guess.  He had not seen a phoenix when the commander first found him in the woods, but it could have hidden in the dense canopy.

Drinn left the books scattered on the floor, standing and stretching.  He felt like he’d been crouched on the floor for ages.  The silvered moonflight flooding through the window testified that it had been hours.  As he bent over to better relieve his cramped leg muscles, he noticed something under the bed that made his brow furrow, and he reached in to withdraw it.

In his hand he held a child’s toy rabbit, brown and white, the once-soft fur clumped and matted with age.  He recognized it easily, though he was surprised Faein had brought it with her from Silvermoon.  It was true she was the youngest of the four of them, but even ten years ago she’d been an adolescent, not a child young enough to sleep with a comfort object.  He turned it over, frowning.  There was a new stain on the rabbit’s chest, a rusty smear, and when he brought it to his nose he thought he detected the scent of bloodthistle as well.  It must absolutely reek of it, if his barely functional nose was able to parse it out.

Drinn regarded it in a new light.  He recalled only too clearly what he saw when he followed her in secret on one of her solo sojourns into the nearby forest- strange rituals, ones that sought and called, not anything she would have learned with the magisters but something born of the same darkness that watched her schoolmates and teachers butchered by monsters through the thin crack of a closet door.

Shaking off the grim remembrance, he stuffed the toy into his bag with stoic pragmatism.  If she’d used it in a ritual, the connection of it to her would only be that much stronger.

He quickly checked through his things.  Drinn had all of his armor, naturally, and a few other things that might be of use on an expedition into Zul’Aman.  He had never been there himself, but of course the place was infamous.  His memory of the second war was clear enough if limited to the viewpoint of a an adolescent firmly barricaded in Silvermoon City.  It was the sort of tedium that was both anxious and boring, as his favorite teachers went south to assist the war effort leaving him little to do, and city life itself was hushed, spending half the time boasting loudly that the trolls would never make it so far, and the other half terrified that they would.

What he did not have was his Avari’anor tabard, which he had been instructed to wear at all official occasions.  He frowned.  It was laying on top of the heap of clothing back in his house in Orgrimmar, still neatly folded as when he received it.  There was no help for it- no time to go back.  They’d just have to live with him being out of uniform.

When he arrived in Tranquillien, he found a group of Avarians already milling about, a tauren, a troll, a goblin, and a forsaken.  The goblin wasn’t wearing her official tabard either; that was somewhat encouraging.  She and the troll were both dressed in robes, while the forsaken was clad in heavy armor with a substantial shield strapped to his back, and he recognized the axe the tauren bore as a runeweapon, albeit with a different feel than his own sword.  Drinn had observed that although they were all working off the same techniques, pieces of that same individuality the scourge had so mercilessly suppressed and the Ebon Blade had wanted to wish away still came through.  Curious, that.

They were soon approached by the commander’s lion, which Drinn recognized immediately, and the phoenix who had delivered his orders.  His bag glowed quite annoyingly, all the moreso for the dimness of the corrupted forest.

Once again, the bird spoke with Eccaia’s voice.  He had not known she was pregnant, but it seemed of small consequence to him.  She was clearly still able to lead through other means.  She and the forsaken- who turned out to be the General Cincinnatus Torgian had mentioned when he was first recruited- spoke of several matters, mentioning many names unrecognized by Drinn, but it seemed the gist was a number of Avarians were missing, and this was possibly connected to the new activity in Zul’Aman.  The general quickly assigned each of the small squad specific tasks, giving the tauren the job of helping to hold back the enemy, Drinn could only presume based on his rather large size.  The man was like a walking wall.

He checked his armor and prepared for his more supportive role.  It was not his most useful capacity, but he could defend their shaman easily enough.  In truth he was grateful that she would be their healer; avoiding injury was ideal, but if it happened just about anything was better than the light.  His left leg twinged in tandem with that thought, drawing a frown.  He hoped the stitching would hold but truly doubted it.

Their progress towards the gate of Zul’Aman was unexpectedly slowed by the sudden appearance of another forsaken.  Naturally, she was a priestess.  They liked head games nearly as much as his own people.  The general seemed almost attracted to her, in that inconvenienced and delighted way it seemed so many of the undead had adopted, the intense mental stimulation of manipulative play perhaps replacing the loss of more physical sensations.  He wondered if perhaps he might have been subject to the same vice, if he were not sin’dorei and tired of such things long before his death.  Most of the real politicking of the blood knights had occurred comfortably above his pay grade.  As it was, it was simply interference with their mission.

Eiri baited them along the walkway, staying tantalizingly out of reach, in love with her own voice.  He was not overly concerned that she would attack without provocation, though there was no doubt in his mind she meant them ill.  This was the fun part.  She would draw it out as long as possible.  The death knight didn’t listen to the half of what she said, judging it useless, instead dividing his attention between her movements and monitoring the surrounding area, wary of a potential ambush by trolls, Eiri’s colleagues, or both.

Raunuk, the tauren, was increasingly agitated.  At one point, as the general was trying to work out a strategy of apprehending the priestess, he misconstrued an order and rushed the woman.  Her retaliation confirmed Drinn’s suspicions as to both her intentions and strength, cracking the ground with its force and sending the heavy tauren flying backwards a good twenty feet.

Drinn stood his ground and readied himself for a fight.  He was certain from the overkill of the gesture that it was meant to intimidate, and he’d had the urge to hand his enemy weapons like fear drilled out of him.  He no longer saw a deadly explosion as awe-inspiring, but as important data for constructing a strategic response and calculating best outcomes.  His instincts told him any serious engagement with the woman was unlikely to be survived, so ideally, if it came to that, one of them might get away to report back, the shaman, probably, with the rest of them for cover.

However, Eiri elected not to escalate their conflict, and the general wisely decided to do the same.  Drinn still didn’t relinquish the whisper of command he sent down the blade, igniting each of the three sets of runes and engaging the symbiosis that granted most of his power.  Spink performed her ministrations on Raunuk while they waited.  He found himself rather enjoying her irreverent commentary, for all that it was out of protocol, and her ability largely ignore the dire overtones of the witch.

Sure enough, the stitches on his arrow wound ripped out at the first encounter, the first real test the wound had experienced since he got it.  He grimaced as he felt the thread tear free, and then walled off the message of pain into a different part of his mind, until he was free to deal with it.  It hurt, and it would probably hurt more, but it simply wasn’t important right now.  The troll blood of their victims was a pressing distraction.  Its tang filled the air and droplets marked his face, stinging and hot, almost burning against his colder cheek.  Every ounce of it was imbued with the life of its maker, and it called to his dead flesh.  Of the three elements death knights used in composing their skills, blood was always the one for which he had the greatest affinity, the strongest reaction.  For a heady second it was all he could think of, the only thing of the world of which he was aware, as it called to him, tempting him to sink into mindless battle.

He mastered himself with the small effort of long practice.  He lost himself a little each time he found the opportunity to fight, and he welcomed it, honestly, freedom from the irrational constraints of a more chaste society, but to lose complete control wasn’t neither as exciting or entertaining as one might initially think.  Discipline had some merit.

They searched the compound thoroughly for the lost woman, who Drinn had neither met nor even heard of prior to this.  Nobody was particularly forthcoming with details, and he was loathe to play the part of ignorance, and so hoped events would explain themselves as they went along, and in the meanwhile enjoyed the slaughter.  As satisfying kills went trolls were high on the list.  The squad discovered many other prisoners, a serious waste of time, and one that seemed to bemuse Eiri.

The witch grew increasingly bold as they advanced deep within the compound.  Raunuk was not handling it well.  At one point, Drinn found himself chastising the tauren for feeding into her plans, giving her exactly the reaction she wanted.  Unsurprisingly, Eiri immediately made sure he knew she had heard despite his low tone, and then, just in case he missed her meaning (he hadn’t), she reiterated it directly into his mind.

Priestesses were one-note bands that way.  They exerted their psychic powers and expected everyone to be suitably frightened and impressed.  Well, Drinn had known some priests, and he’d had far worse than forsaken in his head.  This effort was both sad and predictable. Maybe his replying tone conveyed as much, or maybe his thoughts just weren’t very interesting, because she left him alone thereafter.

By the time they located Captain Haelinde, Drinn was both drained and cross.  The arrow wound was an incessant throb wearing down his nerves.  Listening to Eiri’s inexhaustible, taunting prattle was like dragging a cheesegrater across his eardrums.  They all exchanged some words, more dealings totally incomprehensible without proper context, to which he did not pay more than a courtesy of attention- one of the perks of not being in charge of anything at all.  At one point his mouth ran away from him, a thoughtless comment that earned him several glares, but he couldn’t be convinced to care.  It had been a long day, his leg hurt horribly, and he still had very little idea of what was going on within Avari’anor.

Homecoming Part 2

Drinn went to the plaguelands the long way, booking passage on a zeppelin to Undercity and from there Quel’thalas, and from there home.  After witnessing how poorly his visit to his father had gone, he wanted to get the obligatory trip to his mother over with, quick and hard, like cauterizing a wound.  It was one of the few places in their homeland to survive both wars, this little hollow in the countryside, a hard day’s ride from anywhere, and it was dusk when Drinn finally arrived, coated in the dust of the road.

It was much as he left it- the garden was ramping up to the full bloom of early spring, and the house still tumbled every which way across the gentle hills, its warm lathing inviting in the sunset glow.  The servants’ reactions were of a kind with his father’s, though he knew them less well, which perhaps accounted for the more blatant presence of fear.  Rivara was a difficult mistress.  It was rare for her to keep a servant for more than a decade or two.

He was summarily ushered into a sitting room, almost as though he were expected, which might have been the case.  His parents did talk, now and again, even if the marriage itself had ceased to be anything more than a legality when Drinn was only a small child.

Rivara Sunseeker was seated on a chaise lounge, insouciant as always with her legs curled on the cushions, a long cigarette holder in one hand and one of her beloved silver berries near to the other in its crystal glass.  She wasn’t old, scarcely into her middle years, but a lifetime of semi-functional alcoholism had aged her.  Her skin was sallow and her dark hair lanky, stringy, a far cry from the thick gentle wave of its youth.  She rose as he entered, shaking out her skirts- the latest fashion, naturally, even if it was wasted here in the country- and walked towards him.  “I wondered when you’d find time.  Well, let’s have a look at you.”

And she took the cigarette from her mouth and grasped him by the shoulders at arm’s length, looking up into his face contemplatively for a long minute.  He didn’t cower under her scrutiny; his mother’s abstract insanity was nothing new, nor were critical stares.  Eventually she dropped her arms and turned back towards the couch.  “Hmm.”

“That’s it?”  He was faintly surprised, his eyebrows raising a hair.

“You don’t want my sympathy.”  Rivara was amused, settling herself back onto the couch and gesturing carelessly at a chair across from it.  “You never did.  I remember when you were just a boy, playing somewhere you shouldn’t, you and Dash, and you fell on something.  Made a nice deep gash in your thigh.  But you limped home and plugged it up with kitchen rags and somehow stopped the bleeding, and nearly died of the infection before we determined what was making you ill.  And even then, it was Dash who broke down and told us what happened, not you.”

Her fel green eyes tracked his left leg as he walked to the chair, the slight limp not escaping her attention for a moment.  She blew out smoke.  “I can’t think of what made me recall that story, just now.”

Drinn resisted the urge to massage the site of the arrow wound, which still smarted whenever he moved the leg, and perched, awkwardly, in the armchair.  Everything in the space was done in cool shades and dark, delicately carved wood.  To Drinn this particular room had always felt faintly reminiscent of a dollhouse.  His mother took a sip of her cocktail, at home in the silence and the room.  A chunk of green crystal revolved slowly on its stand in a corner.

“I was sorry to hear about Dashrien,” he volunteered, the same line he used with his father, with more distance and less emotion.

For a moment Rivara appeared pained, but she quickly smoothed her expression, wrinkles vanishing from her brow.  “All his things are still here, you know.  He had a falling out with Tel,” she elaborated, naming their father.  “About you, mostly.”

He did not know what to say to this, so he simply looked down, studying the lines on his hands and the blue carpet some feet below them.  She smiled, shared pain and empathy both evident in the expression.  “I felt like that when my sister died.”

“Your sister?”  His head jerked up, utterly confused.

“Mmm.  Before your time.  None of us liked to talk about Adara much, as if it made it any easier, pretending she did not exist.”  Her tone made it plain that nothing had been easier.  “There was a terrible accident.  Sometimes I think that’s what made me so susceptible to your father… I knew it wasn’t real, any of it, but his attention made me feel better.”  That red mouth curved up at one corner, her eyes a moment distant.

Drinn must have looked as awkward as he felt, being made privy to such private information regarding his parents’ lives, because she continued without waiting for comment.  “Twins run in my family.  It’s the worst kind of pain, like losing an arm.”

“I miss him.”  The words tumbled out before he could check them.

“It must have come as quite a shock for you.”

“I felt relieved,” he said, abruptly, shocking himself with his own honesty, and feeling again the flash of shame.  “Just for an instant.”

Rivara regarded him with customary calm, gray smoke spiraling upwards from her cigarette holder.  “Relieved?”

“I killed Ziari,” he replied, as if that explained everything.

“Ah.”  Strangely, it did seem to enlighten her, though he was at a loss as to how.  She smiled another cheshire cat smile.  “He called her by her first name a few times too often, and while you never did the same, you didn’t correct him, either.  A dangerous game, that, but the sort of thing Dashrien liked.”

Drinn closed his eyes.  Ziari Flamestorm had been the commander of their blood knight unit, both of them, and Dashrien had loved her deeply, if illicitly.  “He was more circumspect in public.”

Her eyebrows lifted.  “He’d have to be.”

“I was captured.  In Acherus,” he explained, though she hadn’t asked, almost as if he needed to hear the excuses aloud for himself.  “In punishment for being so foolish I was assigned a few weeks’ worth of menial tasks, one of which was the execution of prisoners with whom the interrogators had concluded their business.  I don’t know why she was in the plaguelands, but she was there, one of them.  She looked much the same but I hardly recognized her…”

Drinn’s voice trailed off, not knowing how to finish the story.  Was it important that she demanded that he kill her?  He’d have done it anyway.  She knew she had no chance of survival, but even in his current condition, even when his service to the scourge was so obviously no longer fraudulent, she felt he still might make it out.  He did not know any better now what to say to that than he had at the time.

Instead, he leaned far forward- thigh screaming protests- and snagged Rivara’s cocktail off the side table, draining it in one go, though he knew well the alcohol would have no effect.  Whatever happened to food when it entered his corpse, whatever the shadow did with it, it was not metabolized.  The harsh sweetness of the drink, a mix of vodka along with raspberry and orange liqueurs, hit his tongue with the force of memory, a staple of his childhood, never far from his mother’s hand, as much a part of her presence as her perfume.

She watched him set the empty martini glass back in its place, then without comment plucked out the raspberry garnish, popping it into her mouth like a secret shared between them.

At that moment, a servant entered the room, carrying a stack of thick sample books.  She spared Drinn a nervous glance before Rivara delicately cleared her throat and recalled her wandering attention.  “Lady Sunseeker, the florist just arrived.  He wishes to show you a few proposals…”

“Of course.  I’ll be with him shortly.”  Then, as the girl turned and began a hasty retreat, “Don’t flee.  It’s inelegant.”

She slowed her pace by a fraction before disappearing into the hall.  Rivara’s expression was sardonic.  “I imagine you get a rather lot of that these days.”

He shrugged.  It was true.  “You’re planning a party…?”

“A funeral, actually.”  Her smile was broad, and rendered her years younger for its presence.  “I’m rather excited about it, honestly.”

His gaze strayed to the glass and he wondered, as he so often did in his mother’s company, what number it was.  “Oh, really.  Whose?”

“Yours.”  Her eyes sparkled.  She took another drag.

“What?” he asked, genuinely taken aback.

“I’ve been thinking on it.  A welcome home party seemed almost too merry.  Family holidays haven’t really been the same.  Even your birthday’s already passed for the year.  It struck me as the only truly suitable occasion.”

“But I’m not dead.”  Drinn shook his head.  “Not exactly, anyway.”

She laughed, girlishly, as she always did when she was plotting some new amusement.  “Close enough, don’t you think?”

“This is absurd, even for you,” he told her, trying for stern, but his tone lacked conviction.  Nothing could stop Rivara with a project save death itself, so protest was futile in any case, and her warped sense of social obligation was even more resolute.  “But if you’re going to do it, you should invite Sullanis.”

“That is a truly evil thought.”  Her words chastised, but her tone was highly amused.  “You’re right, of course.  I’ll make certain she gets an invitation.”

Rivara stubbed out her smoke in a crystalline ashtray, and rose again.

“I was planning to see if any of Faein’s things were still here,” he ventured.  Drinn wasn’t worried about upsetting her by mentioning his half-sister.  She’d never in his hearing held Tel’anon’s other children accountable for his choices.  His father had brought all four of them here when Silvermoon came under attack- not a run any remembered fondly- and he had some idea of using a bit of spare clothing or a discarded book as a focus for a trace.  He had no idea how that sort of thing work, if she was too changed or the connection too old, but it was worth a shot.

Rivara’s gesture was dismissive, making his permission obvious.  She ruffled his hair lightly as she passed on her way to address the florist.  “I’m supposed to lie about this,” she murmured fondly, “It’s bad form to admit it.  But you always were my favorite.  Too like his father, Dash was.”

She left him patting his hair back into place, both intensely irritated and vaguely pleased, despite knowing full well this was just another move in the elaborate power game that had existed between his parents since he was a toddler.  Drinn ran out of time and patience for their bullshit a long time ago.  Two people so wildly unhappy with each other really should find better uses for their time.

He abandoned the chair and stalked off towards Faein’s old room, left leg dragging ever so slightly.

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