catulla: (Default)
Lilian watched helplessly as drops of blood traced a path from the corner of Gebler's mouth, falling onto the damp cobbles of the Monastery's inquisition chamber. Pain coated  the boy's eyes in a dull glaze as he collapsed to the ground, cutting her to the quick.

“Again,” her father demanded. Benedictus Voss was a mountain of implacable will wrapped in crimson robes and would not be moved.

“I can’t. No more. Please.” The words were all she could manage as she crumpled to her knees in bewildered exhaustion. “I’m so sorry, Gebler,” she whispered. “I'm so sorry.”  She buried her face in her hands, letting her sobs deepen into empty, anguished retching.

"I said again, Lilian."

One of the onlooking Scarlets stepped forward into the chamber's ruddy torchlight. “She’s barely more than a child,” he said, placing a hand on her father's massive shoulder. “Surely, we can hold off on this gruesome target practice until she’s older. Let them spar with wooden swords a little while longer.”

Voss squared his jaw, pointing at the grated iron window that allowed smears of sickly green light to pool on the tables and walls. "The Scourge lurk throughout Tirisfal at all times, Melrache, waiting to prey on us. Weakness is an infection, and Lilian must learn that lesson, now."

Melrache gaped. “For the Light's sake, Benedictus—she's your daughter.

“Question my judgement if you like, though blasphemy does not become you, Captain.” The elder man's eyes widened as he spoke, hinting at a deeper degree of fury that was roiling beneath his stony expression.

“Mercy is not the same as weakness.”

“Shall I ask Isillien to clarify the difference for you?”

The captain shrunk into the shadows at the mention of the Grand Inquisitor's name. “No, sir.”

Her father knelt, cupping Lilian's face forcefully in his hands. “Look at me,” he commanded. She blinked back salty blurs of tears, trying to will the world into focus. “Do you know why I make you do this?”

Lilian shook her head, too weak to answer any further.

“Our enemies seek to break us in any way they can, even by corrupting the bodies of those dearest to us.” He threw a disinterested glance at the boy shaking in misery on the floor.

She sniffled. “Gebler isn’t tainted.”

“No, my daughter, he isn’t, but you must learn to defend yourself against that possibility. Should you hesitate when it arises, the Scourge will be on you in an instant. Strive for perfection in all things, lest the Light abandon you.”

I have no choice but to do as he asks, Lilian thought. The Scourge has taken even that from me. She bit her lip, torn between fear and loyalty. "You'll heal him?" Her mind could not escape the gruesome sight of her friend's battered flesh, or forget how every purpling bruise was a cruel testament to what she had done.

"He could not be under better care than my own.”

"Promise me,” she said. The veneer of pride in her father’s smile blunted the comfort he was trying to offer.

"It will be as if this never happened,” he replied, stroking her hair. “Cleanse your mind from these earthly attachments.”

Then what do I have left? Lilian didn't dare ask her father that question. She kneaded her rage and injustice together to form shining orbs of holy fire in the palms of her hands. I hate the Scourge, she thought, letting the spell's heat blaze through her body. I hate this.

Soon, the entire chamber was awash in blinding golden rays, and the Monastery's halls echoed once more with the sounds of tortured screaming.

***

Exertion and moldering sinew bulged in High Executor Derrington's temples, as he reached for a part of his jaw that had long since rotted away. The unanswered reflex tormented him, but it didn't matter; this was Lordaeron. There would always be a weapon to hone, a skirmish to fight. His death had not changed that fact. He pressed the steel of his axe against the whirling granite whetstone, filling the air with a harsh, brittle screech. Satisfied with his work, he tested his palm against the axe's sharpened edge. Hairs of coagulated blood oozed forth across his palm where the metal had bitten into his flesh, and his eyes crinkled briefly in satisfaction.

A rankling horn blast swept down from the watchtower above him, heralding the imminent arrival of a Deathguard scouting party. They, along with a dozen others, would be vying for his attention in a matter of moments. He sighed, and dredged up an oily piece of cloth from his tunic to scrub the bleeding gash on his fingers. Pointless habit, he grunted to himself. These cuts no longer heal, yet I still wipe them clean. He carefully folded the stained square of fabric, tucking it away. So little of what I managed to snatch back from the grave turned out to be useful rather than a nuisance.

"High Executor!" One of the returning scouts loped towards him, offering him welcome escape from the din of unwanted and cloying thoughts in his head.

"Deathguard. Report." Derrington folded his arms, impatient.

"Sir.” Withered ligaments cracked audibly beneath blue-black armor as the man lifted his hand to Derrington in salute. “The Scarlet Palisade has been completely obliterated. The entire building has been razed in violet flame."

He paused, studying the scout’s expression. “Any survivors?”

The scout shook his head vigorously. "Unlikely, sir. The place is in ruin. Our forces at Brill hoped you might be able to tell us more before we made our report to the Dark Lady on the situation."

"Indeed. Bring me a horse.” And next time, try to find some better intelligence before you decide to beg an officer to do your job for you.

Derrington’s mind groped for an explanation as the scout darted towards the stables. Scourge activity had been on the decline across all of Lordaeron for months, and the numbers needed to wreak that much havoc would not have passed into Tirisfal unseen even if their old enemy were still capable of mustering them.

Later, when he had ridden past the Bulwark's rows of catapults and siege engines full of luminescent plague, he turned around to view the mutated hulk that the outpost had become. Its new, immense fortifications heaved eastward, giving the impression of a vast stronghold to would-be invaders approaching from the Plaguelands. In truth, those walls protected little more than huddled scraps of tents; the whole place was a glamour wrought in stone, and he knew it. Briefly, he allowed himself to wonder if it were only the Forsaken themselves who had been fooled.
The questions that idea awoke within him were too much for him to bear. He dug rusted iron spurs into his mount's decaying flanks, letting its deafening cry cauterize all thoughts of a time when there were no walls between the capital and Andorhal.

***

Scents of carrion and shadow magic filled Lilian’s nostrils as fire gnawed at the night around her; for weeks she had waited in this cage atop the Palisade's stone parapet, hoping for redemption. None arrived, only a death warrant from her father excising her from his life and the Crusade with a few clinical strokes of vermilion ink on parchment.
I'm tainted, she thought. I’m the enemy. She sat herself next to the smoldering corpse that lay sprawled near the cage's open door, hugging her knees to her chest. The inferno of pain that had rent her heart earlier had since cooled into numbed confusion, leaving her with nothing but emptiness and the company of the dead. She tried to weep, but the only sound that came forth was a rattling hiss, thin and dry and sharp. "Did you think I actually wanted any of this?” she whispered. “Gebler, you gave me no choice. None of this has ever been my choice.” The depths of her heart ached as the body's blackened eyes stared back at her in silent accusation. I’m sorry, she thought, but the words would not come.

Her reflection stared back at her in Gebler's burnished shield, and she winced at the way it bore harsh witness to how misguided any future attempt at vanity would be: dirty hair clung to her cheeks like wet straw, partially obscuring the gaping wounds that yawned in her decaying flesh. She stroked the sutures of coarse black thread running haphazardly across her face from cheekbone to jawline, and choked back another rasping echo of a sob.
Unable to bear the sight of herself any longer, she looked out over the parapet, and into the darkened pines of Tirisfal. A line of red torches winked fiercely against the velvet black, leaking westward from the glowing windows of the Scarlet Monastery looming in the hills.

“They're coming,” she said, instinctively reaching for Gebler’s ashen hand. They’ve come to take me home.
The touch of his deadened fingers shattered her denial with a barrage of memories: the first sight of her rotting skin, the revulsion in her comrades' eyes, and worst of all, the loathing in the words of her closest friend, moments before he forced her to tear his life from him--We had hoped you would be a powerful weapon, Lilian . . . we will enjoy killing you.

Her anger curdled sourly as the parade of flames in the night illuminated the brutal truth of those words. "I see," she said, clenching the cage's iron bars. For a moment she considered hurling herself from the parapet, letting her body break against the ground. Rage burned in her limbs as she realized just how much the Crusade would appreciate the irony of that.  "No," she hissed, "I gave you my life. I will not let you have my death."  

She raced down the tower, feeling the exposed bones in her feet scrabble helplessly for purchase against stony footholds she'd once had memorized, making every step a mockery. The ground here is holy, she thought, and it no longer welcomes me. Light help me, I'm so tired. She grit her teeth, frustrated at how her mind had retreated into such an obviously pointless invocation.

Snuffling bounced through the emptiness of the courtyard as she burst out into the open. Then the jangling of metal, and then silence. An unliving horse, she thought, seeing the eldritch sheen of its hooves in the gloom. She froze, suddenly aware of how there was no air scraping in her lungs, no throb in her chest yelping an incessant plea to slow down. Her body was alien to her.

The ghastly creature’s rider stepped forward, his figure a hunched silhouette against the purple light still bleeding from the Palisade.  He appeared to be searching for something; for what, she wasn't sure. She feared him, though not for any physical threat that he might have posed to her. Not one of the undead had made an attempt on her life, and that was precisely the problem--they insisted on attaching themselves to her like clinging shadows wherever she went, dragging her into a strange inversion of everything she’d ever known. Whatever this stranger came to tell her had been said before, and her heart held no quarter for it.

No more running, she thought. Gebler cornered me, and I destroyed him. An animal is at its most dangerous when afraid. I have to do this.  She strode towards him, armoring herself in a mantle of constructed menace. Sallow eyes glowed beneath the man’s rusted helm, studying her as she approached.

"I suppose you've come to shove a mirror in my face or rescue me, like the rest.” A few moments' reflection made her consider how absurd she must have sounded.

To her surprise, the stranger shook his head. "Too many folk in Deathknell these days have forgotten what it feels like to wake from the grave and find half their face once belonged to somebody else." The sound of his voice was gravel in her ears.

"Don't bother preaching at me with the farce that seems to pass for mercy among Scourge,” she snarled. “Your brethren have been more than keen to give it."

"You won't find Scourge or charity in Tirisfal," he spat back. His fingers tightened their iron grip on the handle of his axe, almost imperceptibly. "Best you learn that quickly." The man's words were masked in cold arrogance, but the cracks of wounded resentment in his tone gave her pause. Her implication had struck a nerve.

This one is different. "Who are you?"  she asked.

He removed his helm, revealing the horror of his appearance in all its glory. Shreds of gore hung from his throat in putrid ribbons, and the pieces of skin that still stretched taut over his skull were a patchwork of open sores. Lilian covered her mouth in nauseated disgust, feeling the unwelcome stitches that had been woven into her own cheeks press up against her fingers. Her hands fell to her side like lead as she realized her own hypocrisy, and she wondered if she would ever be able to touch her own face again without recoiling.

"High Executor Derrington,” he said briskly. “Servant to the Banshee Queen of the free undead.” He spoke his name and rank with a reflexive, punctuated tone that suggested his years as a soldier stretched back further than his years among the plagued. “Are you afraid of me?” he asked. His question had teeth, Lilian noticed, but they weren't biting quite yet.

“Fear is just another word for survival." She snapped her fingers, and a host of violet sparks broke off the smoldering eaves, swirling on the wind between them like snow. “I could kill you,” she added. “If I wanted.”

The echo of a smile appeared in the corners of Derrington's eyes. "Spoken like a true daughter of Lordaeron."

Daughter. Lilian winced at his remark. "The old kingdom is dead."

"So are we, yet you and I still find ourselves picking through what's left of it like the orphans we are.” Anger knotted at his brows as he spoke.

He is as lost as I am. Her mind found a small anchor of comfort in the bleak solidarity that thought offered her, and bereft of any other solace, she clung to it. "I'm Lilian," she offered to him at last. She would keep her claws sheathed, for now.

"Scarlet?”

She nodded.

“Thought so.” He knelt down to examine a piece of charred timber lying on the ground  and laughed as it disintegrated into blackened sand between his fingers at his touch. "Most of you who fall victim to the plague tend to end up dead by your own hands, but this--" He waved his axe in front of him in a wide arc, gesturing at the carnage. "--this is incredible. How?” Another laugh spasmed from his mouth, and his upper lip began to twitch, revealing grimy teeth beneath in short, broken flashes.

“Piety,” she answered, stony-faced. “Fear. My entire life's worth, spent on learning how to destroy what the Light apparently saw fit for me to become.”

“Ah. The Light.” The word dripped from his mouth like venom. “I don’t trust in anything that sees fit to punish those who died on its behalf.”

“I sacrificed my life to the Light long before I died, Derrington. For this,” she said, staring at the weeping, infected scars that covered her hands. “For nothing. I have nothing left.”

“You have your will. Be grateful for it. Anyone able to temper the confusion of nascent undeath into something as productive as what you've done here is far more likely to endure this curse with their sanity intact."

"I feel nothing close to intact." She dwelt on the notion for a moment, and wondered if she ever truly had.

“Get used to the sensation.”

"How did you manage it?” she asked. “At first, I mean.”

Derrington gave her a withering look. "My circumstances were . . . different from yours."

Lilian was about to probe him further, but in that moment a streak of yellow-white light whirred past their heads, agitating the air around it to a droning thrum. An ache bruised in her heart as she realized the energy that had once been an inextricable part of her soul now felt entirely alien. Rage followed as she remembered all that it had taken from her.

The sound of expectant shouting and hoofbeats rumbled in the distance. "Crusade.” Her voice hung in the air with determined finality. “They’ve come for me.”

Derrington eyes shone with a maddened gleam as he brandished his axe. "They always do, trying to chase us out like vermin."

“I don't run, Derrington.” She readied herself for the impending onslaught.

The Scarlets began to circle, surrounding them. “Neither do I.”


***

A paladin mounted on an armored stallion burst towards them, carrying a pennant of sparkling white silk with the ancient sigil of King Terenas’ fallen house worked on it in vibrant crimson embroidery. Derrington let out a wordless roar of fury at the sight of it as his scarred pride seethed within him.That flag’s true color flies over Undercity. Over Lordaeron City.

He braced himself for the crusader’s charge, trying to ignore the brazen shade of red that rammed at his brain like a maddened gadfly. You’ve dipped our flag in blood, he thought, just like this wretched piece of land. I gave my own blood up for this ruined kingdom, and yet you call me monster.

The banner had done its job, and the crusader had seen his opening. A moment later, Derrington found himself struggling to regain his footing as he parried blow after blow from the man above him. Focus, you fool, he told himself. Battles were easier to manage when your mind held no room for distractions. In the haze of pain and confusion, a desperate part of him perversely yearned for the sensation of the Lich King's iron will bolted onto his own, constantly offering him cold guidance through the fray of combat.

He grunted loudly in revulsion, driving the full force of his disgust into his axe as he slammed it into the horse's massive chest. The beast let out a horrific shriek as it thudded to the ground in a spatter of entrails. Derrington wiped the gore from his brow, pleased to see that the pathetic creature had crushed its rider. The Scarlet’s fingers still reached for the banner’s ashen handle, which lay coated in dirt and blood near the horse's convulsing head. As it should be, he thought.

"How many are left?" Lilian’s voice was brisk but untaxed, and Derrington found himself relieved that his near-miss with the paladin hadn’t turned the tide of the skirmish away from their favor.

"Eight," he shouted back. "Maybe a dozen at most."

Lilian leapt from foe to foe with a fearsome grace, never lingering long enough for any of them to return her strikes. She’s toying with them, Derrington realized.

"Good, I can handle that--get down!" A legion of shining bolts began to rain down on them from the hands of the Scarlet priests in droves, turning the whole of the courtyard daylight-bright. Lilian had already crouched behind a fallen piece of masonry to shield herself from the onslaught, and kept shrieking at him to do the same.

Derrington whirled around, shoving his axe into the torso of an attacker who had tried to rush him from behind. He had inflicted a mortal wound, and yet the crusader’s eyes still bore into him with vengeance, even mirth.

The man mouthed a single word as he fell to the ground, grinning. Filth.

An instant later, Derrington felt the searing burn of golden light lancing into the fetid muscle that still clung to his shoulder blade and collapsed in agony as waves of excruciating pain crashed through him. The clattering of steel filled his ears, and he knew immediately that it was over. His injury alone might not kill him, but the Scarlets slavering over his injured body certainly would.

So this is how I end. Again. Outnumbered. Again. For half a moment he was back on the fields of Darrowshire, waiting for the chittering hordes of nerubians to mow him down. Why does it always have to be this way?

He forced his eyes open in defiance of his fate, only to be gripped in awe of what he saw unfolding before him. Small tongues of darkened flame had begun to flicker at Lilian’s fingertips, darting feverishly around her hands like a million shadowy insects.

"You said I was a weapon. I couldn't understand, not at first.” Her voice had assumed a terrible, uncanny reverberation that gave even Derrington pause. The swarm of sparks crept inexorably over her body as she spoke, engulfing her in a halo of seething amethyst fire. She lifted a raging torch of a hand, and slowly clenched her fingers together. The remaining Scarlets dropped their weapons, clawing at their necks as they gasped for air.

The firey storm of hatred around her blazed. “But then you decided to hunt me down and slaughter me.”
The only response was the sputter of misshapen light from the hands of a priest who had foolishly attempted to defend himself. Lilian turned her head towards him, hissing, and her victim gagged as his eyes rolled back into his head. An instant later, his body was no more than a pile of limp rags and limbs.

She turned her attention back to the remainder of the Scarlets she held in thrall, smirking. "Strive for perfection in all things, lest the Light abandon you!”  Her voice rang with the sing-song timbre of an angry child, mocking and resentful and rote. “Tell me, when did I fail? Or was dying for you my failure?”

Derrington could only watch. The only useful weapon is a honed one, and they believe the plague has dulled her beyond repair. How wrong they are. Lilian's body had become a scythe of living shadow, sharper than any weapon forged by human hands. In a matter of minutes, all that remained of her exquisite, elegant massacre was the silhouette of her figure as she emerged unscathed from the swirling clouds of smoke and bone.

She scrutinized the trail of pus oozing from the hole in his shoulder. "How bad is it?"

"I'll live.” The pain in his shoulder had shifted to an intense but bearable panging.

Lilian smiled wryly.

She treats this like target practice. He staggered to his feet, leaning on the handle of his axe for balance. "This was impressive.  You have my respect.”

"Respect." She parsed the syllables slowly, as if the word itself was foreign to her. "It seems I never earned the Crusade’s--or my father’s. I let them use me, Derrington. I don’t know what’s worse, the fact that it took my death for me to finally break free of that, or the fact that it was ever the case in the first place.” Where fierceness had once defined her features there was now only vulnerability, and it suddenly struck him how incredibly young she must have been when the val’kyr had gleaned her body from the ranks of Tirisfal’s fallen.

“It seems Arthas robbed the Scarlets of their will as much as he did the Scourge.”

Lilian nodded, without a hint of guile behind her eyes.

The blunt honesty of her gesture sent Derrington reeling. To find this accursed existence more freeing than life . . . His thoughts ground to a halt as he tried to form a response. For the first time since Frostmourne had ripped into his soul, he felt the husk of something that might once have been pity. Another pointless habit, he wanted to tell himself, but its presence would not be silenced or denied.

“Why did you save me?”, he asked. The question felt more like a confession. “What did---”

“--I want from you?”

He blinked, dumbfounded by how she had anticipated the conversation.

You have yet to demand anything of me. That’s more than I can say of anyone back at the Monastery, even before they started baying for what’s left of my blood. That’s why I saved you. Call it gratitude.” The edges of the sky had begun to pale, and she sighed, lifting her head towards the horizon. “I’m so tired of duty. Of this.”

So am I, he had wanted to say, yet I have no choice, but Lilian’s figure had already melted into the forest. Derrington could only put a hand to his ruined mouth in stunned horror as he realized how much he had given up in service to the Dark Lady. When did the price of Lordaeron’s conquest become so steep?

***

Wind clawed its way across Derrington’s table, threatening to demolish the spread of maps and military communiques that he had arrayed so carefully before him. He cracked his knuckles, looking up in irritated acknowledgement at the Deathguard standing near the entrance to his tent.

Close the damned flap,” he barked.

The soldier ignored him. “High Executor, the Dark Lady's emissary has arrived. She wishes to speak with you before traveling onwards to the front at Andorhal.”

Derrington drummed his fingers on the table in annoyance. “Ravensun's given herself that title as well?” He had little use for her, largely because she had risen to favor among the Dark Lady’s court without once showing her face at the Bulwark. Every Forsaken passed beneath his command very early in their training, and those who did not were usually either inept or cowards. This woman appeared to be neither, which only served to further sully his opinion of her.

“Bring her in,” he demanded. “I want to know why the vaunted Lindsay Ravensun can at last be bothered to grace us with her presence.”

The woman returning with the Deathguard carried herself with an inexplicable solemnity that bordered on condescension, and Derrington immediately found it tedious. Her unremarkable appearance made her demeanor appear even more out of place--sunken eyes, cracked lips, a mop of brittle hair that hinted at the cornsilk it had once been in life.  

“At last, we meet. Victory for Sylvanas,” he said as he saluted her lazily from his chair. “Such a pity that you have been unable to visit us until now.” Possibly because your only skill lies in making the right friends.

Ravensun sighed in annoyance, indicating the extent to which she viewed this meeting as an inconvenience. “I understand you have spoken at length with the young woman we have to thank for eradicating the Scarlet camps to the west. Tell me, Derrington, why did she not return with you?” Her tone had a brazen, scolding edge to it that Derrington disliked.  

There is more to this than she is choosing to reveal. “I offered her a post here at the Bulwark,” he lied. “She may yet choose to take it up.”

"Perhaps you should have tried harder to convince her. Her talents would be of great use to Lady Sylvanas."

"Do you actually think that idea hadn't occurred to me?" Derrington snapped, a little too quickly. “Regardless, I see no urgency in the matter. She has already decimated the Scarlets of her own accord."

“Merely further proof that this Lilian Voss is powerful, but volatile,” Ravensun replied. “War is simply a matter of resources, and even the most valuable ones must be handled accordingly. I hadn’t expected to waste my breath on explaining that to an officer of your status."

"Resources." Derrington threw the word back at her in disdain, wrapping it in equal parts accusation and insult.

"Yes, Derrington, resources. Sylvanas Windrunner has always managed hers exceptionally well. You’d do well to remember that ranger-generals of Silvermoon are chosen for their ability to strategize, not their compassion.”

He sensed the veiled threat immediately. Anything I say now is bound to make its way back to the Dark Lady, possibly with a few unwanted embellishments.“I wasn't disputing our queen's military prowess.”

Ravensun's lip curled smugly. “Of course you weren't.”

“Lilian deserved a choice,” he declared, slamming his fist on the table. “That has always been our way.”

“Indeed. I am disappointed in your failure to ensure she made the right one.”

“I didn't realize that was my responsibility.” He stood up, lifting the tent's flap of heavy indigo canvas open. “Get out. I have more important things to attend to than debate with some grasping slip of a girl who dares to suggest I ought to share more in common with the Scourge.”

The air seemed to darken as Ravensun glared at him, indignation searing in her eyes. "That was disrespectful, High Executor."

"Go win a few more skirmishes for Lady Sylvanas before you ask me for my respect.”

His guest narrowed her eyes as she tugged a tattered maroon cowl over her head and made ready to leave. The queen in miniature, Derrington thought. How quaint.

“Sylvanas will hear of your insolence towards me,” she said. “Remember, the Dark Lady watches over you.”
“Then let her judge me.”

“I assure you, she will.”

For half a moment, he thought the threat almost sounded convincing.

The moment Ravensun was out of sight, Derrington rode hard towards Scarlet Point Tower, his mind focused on one thing.

I have to find Lilian before that power-hungry harridan does.

***

Lilian grinned, relishing the sight of the man who was quickly crumbling towards death in her hands. “I’ve cleansed myself of my earthly attachments, Father,” she said. She pressed her face to his, forcing him to acknowledge her words. “I’ve become what you wanted. Take that thought with you into the Nether.”

The craggy cheeks of Benedictus Voss glistened with the beginning of tears as his daughter lashed at him with the cruelty of his own words. For them both, it was too little, too late. Labored breath rattled thickly in his throat, and at last then the eyes that had for so long tormented his daughter with their judgment saw nothing. His lifeless body ignited in flame, and the floor of Scarlet Point Tower shone wetly with a color more befitting of its namesake.

Satiated at last of her need for vengeance, Lilian felt herself gripped by terror as it was replaced by a void demanding answers she could not give. Who am I now, without someone to kill?

The old hatreds toward her father prickled reflexively beneath her skin as she blamed him for bringing her to this, but that debt had already been paid. She considered tracking down Derrington and offering herself to his Banshee Queen, but the thought of willingly subjecting herself to the servitude that undeath had finally freed her from was abhorrent. Even the path of suicide was closed to her; any temptation to end her life lost its dark comfort the day she understood that was precisely what her father had hoped for.

It may be an empty existence, she thought, but it’s mine, at last. She turned to leave the tower, vowing to endure for her own sake and no other.

A broken scrap of a man clapped his hands with exaggerated slowness as she approached the stony arch of the doorway. “Spectacular to watch,” he said. “As always.”

“What do you want, Derrington?” The weariness in her voice had instantly wiped all traces of amusement from his face.

“It’ll be best if I’m direct,” he said. His hands were fidgeting.

“Yes, it would.”

Derrington took a deep breath, and Lilian watched him tread silently over some unspoken implication.“The Dark Lady has always allowed her people to declare their allegiance rather than coerce them to her rule. There are some among us who prefer to view that as lip service.” His voice teemed with disgust. “Without it, we are no better than Scourge.”

Lilian laughed bitterly. “Every kingdom has its extremists. We both know that.”

“These happen to have powerful friends. You saved my life, Lilian, and I don’t mean for yours to be squandered a second time. I came to warn you.”  He sniffed in disbelief. “Hmph. Apparently I’m still capable of gratitude.”

He had laced his comment in glib sarcasm, but Lilian saw the earnest truth of it laid bare in his haggard, mangled face.

“You have to run this time,” Derrington said. “Stay one step ahead. Of us, of the Scourge, of everything. I’ll lie for you if I must, but the rest is up to you.”

The rest is up to me. She placed a hand on the torn remnants of rotted skin hanging from his arm. “Thank you,” she whispered. The blankness she had felt moments earlier was suddenly no longer a terrifying hole, but a canvas. She would run. She would fight.

She would live.
catulla: (Default)

“Exile was merciful,” Mordent thought ruefully. “Now I go to Darnassus expecting absolution as well.”

He leaned back against the clammy marble wall in exhaustion; the shock of its cold ran through the worn runecloth of his robe, making his stomach turn. He wrote it off as another symptom of his heightened nerves, and scanned the contents of the Athenaeum’s bookshelves absently, searching for a distraction. The titles imprinted on the aged leather volumes blurred together, forming nonsense. It was pointless—his mind was already irrevocably elsewhere, furiously gnawing over the task that had been set before him.

Defeated, but lacking any other viable option to occupy himself with, Mordent chose a book at random. His selection was particularly squat and thick, one of a series. The name had been hand-tooled into the wine colored calfskin cover in gold: A Topical Concordance to the Meitre Scrolls, vol. 28. He opened it, flipping through the yellowed leaves full of cross-references and footnotes that had been collated during Eldre’Thalas’s earlier years to aid its apprentice magi in their studies. Good, he thought, this will serve well enough. Mordent had long since memorized its contents, but as the ages passed he had come to find a meditative calm in mentally reciting the tables and charts to himself as he read them.

“Evenshade?” The tensed muscles in Mordent’s shoulders reflexively jerked, despite his familiarity with the voice that called for him from the doorway.

Not yet, Daros, Mordent pled inwardly. Not now. He closed his eyes, realizing with resignation that the eons spent together in close quarters meant the Shen’dralar were getting to be quite predictable to one another in their idiosyncrasies, including erratic behavior when unable to sleep. Daros drew closer, his footsteps punctuated by the clacking sound of his staff against the floor. Mordent’s teeth clenched with each insistent strike of wood on stone.

“I thought I might find you in here,” Daros said, exasperated. “Have you honestly been able to read in this dank, awful half-light?” He flicked his wrist, ushering several more of the Athenaeum’s ivory candle stubs back to life. Mordent himself had only lit a spartan few, which made the Shen’dralar’s library look more like a mausoleum than a center of learning. In fairness, both would have accurately described the purpose it had served the order in recent years.

Ishnu’alah, Moonlance,” Mordent mumbled, closing the book with an exaggerated thud to highlight his irritation. “I suppose it is time for us to run off and play at ambassador?”

“We cannot wait any longer.” Daros’s flaxen eyes gleamed brightly with anticipation.

Mordent gingerly sat down, wincing as the ironwood chair beneath him creaked from centuries’ worth of dry rot. “I would wager that it is you who cannot wait any longer, Daros.” He rubbed his face in his palms. “Not all of us are so keen.”

“Honestly, Mordent, I thought you would have shared in the order’s relief over an opportunity to right past wrongs,” Daros replied, sniffing disapprovingly at his colleague’s apparent lack of enthusiasm.

“Of course I do, don’t be a fool. That’s not what I meant.”

“Then please, enlighten me as to what you did mean.” Daros craned his neck to examine a corner of the Athenaeum’s ceiling where the frescoed plaster had become saturated with mold and moisture. It was starting to fall off in crumbled chunks, exposing the splintering wooden beams beneath. “Because I for one am ready to be free from this hell of frayed tapestries and cracking mortar.” His nostrils flared in impatience. “Perhaps you would prefer that Tortheldrin were still alive, so he could continue picking us off one by one?” he added sarcastically, throwing a threadbare linen knapsack on the damp flagstone near Mordent’s feet. “Everything you should need is in there. I took the liberty of packing for you; I see now that was a wise decision on my part.”

Mordent rose up and turned to face the bookshelf, taking his time to craft a response. His eyes searched the claret spines: Twenty-five, twenty-six, twenty-seven—there, a gap. “It has been a long time since I understood the order of things outside Eldre’Thalas, Daros,” he said bitterly, wedging number twenty-eight back in its place. “I am not eager to go where everything I encounter reminds me of that fact.”

“We have always been scholars, Mordent. Consider it a learning experience.”

“Don’t patronize me, or turn this into some sort of intellectual word game.” Mordent nudged the knapsack with his foot. The fabric had already begun to swell and stain from the stagnant water on the floor. He cringed.

“I go to learn from races in Dalaran who didn’t even exist when we cloistered ourselves away in these halls,” Daros replied. His lips formed something between a smirk and a maddened grin, unable to settle on either excitement or annoyance. “If your concern is about ‘the order of things’, then I suspect you have the easier job. You go to speak with our own people.”

Mordent clucked his tongue. “I will be entirely unsurprised if Darnassus is less liberal in its definition of what constitutes ‘our own people’, Daros.  Besides,” he said as he picked his sodden bag up off the floor, “there was a time when you would have been equally firm in your distinction between kaldorei and Highborne.” Hopefully they will not share in your stubborn ability to miss the point entirely as well, he added to himself.

Daros recoiled at the accusation. “That is no longer who we are, Evenshade.” The defensive indignance in his voice hissed at Mordent’s ears. “Azeroth’s survival may well hinge on our success in proving that to the kaldorei and their allies.”

Mordent knew Daros was right, though he envied his fellow archmage’s ability to put aside unpleasant memories as if they were an overcoat he had suddenly found to be too heavy and oppressive. He supposed that was what gave Daros a better chance at successfully carving out a place for the Shen’dralar over a glass of wine and artfully constructed conversation with the Kirin Tor.

He thought of his own task, of how he was expected to negotiate terms of an accord with the very people who had sent him into exile. Daros may have insisted on glossing over any mention of his past, but what use would that be in Darnassus? No, Mordent realized, the key to approaching the kaldorei—if there was to be one—would lie in showing them that the Highborne still remembered the War of the Ancients, and still grieved just as deeply.

Daros cleared his throat, slamming the end of his staff against the floor with a resonant bang. “Shall we depart, or would you prefer to stand there philosophizing for a bit longer?”

Mordent let out a huff of aggravation. “’Til we meet again then, Daros,” he said. The customary farewell sprang more from habit than actual sentiment.

Ande’thoras-ethil, Mordent. May Elune light your path.” Daros’s attempt at mustering polite Highborne formality was equally rote.

May the White Lady forgive us both, Mordent thought solemnly.

Several weeks and a change of season had passed by the time Mordent found himself shivering in pelting Darnassian rain beneath the Temple of the Moon’s massive marble portico. The soaring columns that surrounded him were identical to those that had once stood at Suramar, right down to the intricate pattern of lunar sigils that had been delicately chiselled atop their capitals. However, the way they had been grafted on to Teldrassil’s alien boughs unnerved him. He felt as if he had just woken up from a dream—moments ago, everything would have made sense, but now all that remained was a disjointed series of evocative memories. Try as he might, he could not piece them together, and that terrified him.

A chilled autumn gale howled, and Mordent drew in his breath as it scraped and bit at his fingertips. He glanced at his hands, little more than twigs of bone wrapped in rice-paper skin, and curled them into the coarse brown refuge of his woollen cloak. The tang of silverleaf incense emanated from the Temple’s door, beckoning him inside. He didn’t resist. To an old man, the prospect of warmth overrules misgivings about politics.

He crossed the Temple’s threshold tentatively, unsure of what to expect. He could hear Elune’s acolytes chanting the old hymns of ages past from the clerestory above, though in an accented elven he strained to understand. Beneath their lyric harmonies hummed the subtle, constant din of a crowd speaking in hushed tones; a quick survey of the Temple’s vast expanse revealed visitors hailing from all the kaldorei’s allied nations beneath its roof. He studied their varying attempts at muted reverence, trying to determine whether they had come there out of curiosity or on matters of faith. As he passed beneath the inlaid quartz of the Temple’s western apse, he overheard a dwarven priest engaged in friendly theological debate with one of the Sisters. Mordent bit his lip, wondering if his words would be heard with the same degree of tolerance.

Under the Temple’s largest dome stood the statue of Haidene, her immense figure towering over the indoor grove surrounding the moonwell. The well’s translucent, glimmering water cascaded in shining rivulets from the statue’s offering bowl, which had been highly polished so that the water’s luminescent sheen would reflect off of it in a dazzling play of light. Mordent felt his blood thrumming in his veins; he had dreaded this wordless encounter as much as he had longed for it. He approached the moonwell, awestruck, able to do little more than weep as the ambivalence in Haidene’s carved features tore at the aged scars on his heart. Respect what is here or you may destroy yourself once and for all, he said to himself silently, attempting to maintain his composure. It is not yours to possess. It never was.

An acrid tingle rose in his nerves; in his grief, he had misjudged a step on the grove’s uneven earthen floor. He fell to the ground, sensing an ember of pain beginning to glow in his cheek as his head struck a small rock. He swore under his breath, feeling a sharp stinging as the salt from his tears began to mix with granules of dirt in the fresh wound.

Crumpled against the earth as he was, Mordent could hear the muffled thumping of feet loping towards him. A woman’s voice called out to him, but his thoughts were too muddled by the shock of the fall to make out her words. He opened his eyes slowly, looking up to see a young kaldorei bent down on one knee, offering her hand to him in assistance. She wore the armor of the Sentinels, and judging by how its purple enamel was free of scrapes and scuffs, Mordent guessed she was a fairly new recruit.  He remembered that he now wore the simple, practical garb of a traveller rather than opulent Highborne finery, and likely appeared to be little more than an elder with an ailing sense of balance to onlookers. Unable to get up on his own and not wanting to question help where it was given, he grasped her forearm for leverage.

The Sentinel carefully put her other arm around Mordent’s back, helping him to steady himself as he rose to his feet. Gently pressing her fingers to his cheek, she examined the severity of his wound. “This can be taken care of easily,” she said dotingly. “Quite wise of you to injure yourself in a gathering place for healers.”

Mordent’s vision was still swimming. “Thank you, Sentinel. Please, do not trouble anyone with it,” he managed to reply politely.

The Sentinel stiffened, pulling away from him abruptly as if he were diseased. “Highborne,” she hissed.

Mordent’s heart sank immediately as he realized the sound of his archaic Eldre’Thalassian inflection had betrayed him. He dusted the dirt and loose blades of grass off the sleeves of his robe, feeling this exchange with the Sentinel had been fairly representative of his experience in Darnassus thus far. He tentatively bowed, hoping to pacify her somewhat. “I come here in good faith, I assure you,” he said. He spoke the words with deliberate caution, scouting her features for a reaction.

The Sentinel narrowed her eyes until their glowing quicksilver was as thin as knives’ edges. “Don’t insult me with some veneer of respect, traitor,” she said frostily.

Mordent braced himself, opting to be direct. “I come to speak with High Priestess Whisperwind,” he said, folding his hands. “There are matters at hand which are far more pressing than the ancient grievances between you and me.”

A breathless laugh of amused disbelief escaped the Sentinel’s mouth. “I doubt Lady Tyrande will have much interest in speaking with the likes of you,” she replied coolly.

“With all due respect, I would prefer to wait here and find out the truth of that for myself,” Mordent replied, taking a seat on one of the large, flat boulders dotting the moonwell’s grove. He began to rifle through his bag, attempting to verify the items within had survived his earlier fall intact.

The Sentinel strode over to him, shoving her face in his. “Excuse me, but you’re still here.”

Mordent paused, glaring at her. “Have I done anything to befoul the sacred waters of your  moonwell?”

“No, but that is not enough to assure me that you won’t attempt to,” she sneered.

“Am I correct in assuming there is probably little I can do that is?” Mordent admitted to himself that from her perspective, his proximity to the moonwell when he had fallen wasn’t particularly flattering evidence.

“I don’t have time for obvious questions.” she snapped. “Either leave on your own, or I will help you get out of here far less gently than how I helped you get up.”

Mordent stretched, cracking the muscles in his back. Her posturing was beginning to grate, and he was too old and too tired to humor an upstart Sentinel itching for an excuse to prove herself to her friends in the ranks. “I would wager that you are hardly eager to become the first kaldorei to murder on Temple grounds without just provocation.” His eyes darted towards the moonwell. “So unless I overstep my bounds—and I assure you, I have already learned the consequences of doing so from forces far more powerful than you—then I am afraid you are at a bit of an impasse.”

“That may be.” She furrowed her brow as she conceded defeat. “However, we both know you can only keep up this deceit for so long, Highborne. Your kind is false, and warped.”

Mordent spread his arms wide, grinning. “On the contrary, what you see before you is all that I am.” He patted the tips of his fingers on his scalp methodically, as if he were searching for something. “And as far as I can tell, Sentinel, it would seem that I have not unexpectedly sprouted horns or fins,” he added dryly.

“It’s Stillbough,” she said, turning around to resume her patrol. “I want you to know the name of the kaldorei who will slay you whenever you do decide to give up this ridiculous farce.”

“Mordent Evenshade, Archmage and Lorekeeper of the Shen’dralar,” Mordent answered casually, resuming the search in his bag for broken odds and ends.

Stillbough smacked her lips. “I didn’t ask who you were.”

“I thought you might like to know.”

“Your kind are all the same to me.”

Mordent’s sarcasm melted into implacable fury, his eyes blazing an angry brass. “Careful, Sentinel.” he said coldly. “I uttered those same words once.”

The two of them remained locked in this antagonistic waltz for months. Exile in Eldre’Thalas had made Mordent exceedingly skilled in biding idle time and hurling caustic ripostes at people he saw too much of. However, he began to grow anxious when the brisk autumn wind that had greeted him upon his arrival in Darnassus eventually returned. A seemingly perpetual stream of Alliance ambassadors had kept the high priestess’s attentions focused on affairs in Northrend throughout the circling of the seasons, and between that and the Sentinels’ constant rebuffs of his efforts at diplomatic protocol, he had been entirely prevented from making any real progress of his own.

One particularly frigid morning found him pacing beneath the shade of the Temple grove’s denser trees to gather his thoughts, away from Stillbough’s patrol and the cold drafts that blew nearer to the entrance.  From there he could see the figure of the high priestess herself in the Temple’s clerestory, speaking with her advisors in the Sisterhood and two human emissaries.

He sighed in frustration, picking at the fraying, brittle needlework of his robe as he wondered if Daros’s efforts in Dalaran had been any more fruitful. That question was about to be answered by what Mordent would later describe as what felt like a friendly bundle of lunar festival firecrackers barrelling into his legs.

“I’m terribly sorry, sir! I didn’t see you!” the bundle yelped apologetically.

Mordent could hear the echoing caw of Stillbough cackling in the distance, clearly amused by what she had just seen. Looking down, he saw a freckled gnome dusting herself off at his feet, undaunted by her unexpected introduction to his shins. At that particular moment, Mordent felt distinctly like an inconveniently placed piece of furniture. The gnome looked back up at him inquisitively. “Say,” she exclaimed, “you remind me of that night elf I just spoke with up in Dalaran!”

He raised a sparse, tufted eyebrow as he knelt down to speak with the gnome. “This kaldorei you mention wouldn’t happen to be a red-robed individual named Moonlance, by any chance?”

The gnome’s eyes lit up as she clapped her hands. “Oh good! You must be the person he meant for me to give this to,” she chirped, thrusting what appeared to be an old, battered journal into Mordent’s hands. Its cover bore the undulating, golden emblem of the Shen’dralar. “Thought I was going to have to ask around here a bit more, and I’m already running so late as it is, so much to do today—it’s Eveningshade, right?”

Mordent grimaced. “Close enough. Thank you.”

“You’re very welcome sir, your friend paid me quite handsomely, and I promised him I’d get it to you quick as I could! Never let it be said a Frostweaver isn’t as good as her word.” Offering him a polite but harried smile, she began to rhythmically move her fingers, as if she were trying to mold the air before her into something. “Must be going, though, I’m afraid.”

Mordent blinked at her gestures, recognizing them immediately. “It is comforting to me to see at least the allies of the kaldorei appreciate the utility of the arcane,” he said warmly.

Frostweaver stopped her incantation. “Of course, sir. My family have been magi for centuries, you know, some of us even in the Kirin Tor itself . . .“  The gleam in the gnome’s eyes became distant, but she composed herself quickly. “I read a footnote about the Shen’dralar once in some manuscript back when I was an apprentice, but I thought you’d all died out, to be honest. Never been to Dire Maul to find out for myself.” She looked as if she had caught a whiff of something unpleasant. “Too many ogres. I hate ogres.”

Mordent chuckled. “At least you don’t have to live with them.” He had considered correcting Frostweaver about Eldre’Thalas’s proper title, but conceded to himself that given its current state, the new name in Common was probably more apt.

The gnome laughed, tossing Mordent a look of mock pity.  “Well,” she continued, “I couldn’t have passed up the chance to speak to you, as my curiosity always gets the best of me. This, as I’m sure you can guess, is why I am always running so late! I do wish we could chat for longer, but I really have to get back to Dalaran.” She began to resume her spell, hurriedly massaging a bright, swirling portal into the magisters’ city from the air in front of her.  “I promised Zanzo I’d meet him at the Legerdemain in ten minutes, and he will kill me, I repeat, kill me if I’m not there on time.”

Satisfied that the portal was stable enough for use, the gnome turned back around to face Mordent, though her energetic expression had been tempered by a sudden seriousness. “You know,” she said, “your friend Moonlance told me a bit about what you Shen’dralar are trying to do, and I think it’s a good thing. I really do.” She raised her palms to Mordent, almost as if she were pleading. “The Alliance could use all the help it can get right now. Hell, Azeroth could—oops, sorry.” She covered her mouth for a moment, looking up at Haidene’s stony face with embarrassment.

“Don’t trouble yourself. Elune has more pressing concerns than a slip of the tongue,” Mordent replied, attempting to reassure her. He found the gnome’s oblivious insistence at preventing him from getting a word in edgewise to be a bit strange, but he nevertheless appreciated the effort she was obviously trying to make.

Frostweaver breathed a sigh of relief. “Thanks. I know you’ve got your work cut out for you here. Most of my night elf friends tend to be pretty bad when it comes to holding grudges.” She paused, temporarily lost in thought. “I suppose that’s why I don’t have too many of them, oh well. I wish you a lot of luck, Eveningshade,” she said, awkwardly attempting to replicate the kaldorei bow of farewell. “Take care of yourself. Maybe I’ll see you in Dalaran, sometime.”

“Indeed, I should like that.” Mordent bowed in return. “May Elune be with you.”

Frostweaver nodded in appreciation. “Oh, and one more thing. I may have had a peek at your book, but it looked mostly like gibberish to me. Sorry, I couldn’t help myself!” She flushed again as she briskly hopped through the portal, which promptly proceeded to collapse with a hollow snap behind her.

Mordent stood there, feeling bemused but slightly more hopeful than he had earlier that morning. Frostweaver may have been running an errand for Daros, but the fact that she could even be bothered to do so was noteworthy in itself—at least one of them was making progress. He smiled; she was strange, that much was certain. But he knew where he stood with her, and that was more than he could say for anyone else he had encountered in Darnassus.

He examined the journal Frostweaver had given him more closely. Its cover was worn, and the embellishments that had been applied in gold leaf were beginning to flake off. Tracing the emblem with his forefinger, Mordent broke the enchantment Daros would have placed upon it to ensure only the recipient could decipher its contents. He opened it, and proceeded to skim through Daros’s tangled script. The Shen’dralar’s suspicions of unrest were confirmed on every page: discord among the Aspects, a volatile political climate within the Kirin Tor following their victory in the Nexus War, word of strange disruptions in the Ruby Sanctum. Mordent closed the journal quickly, quietly uttered the spell that would once again garble its contents, and stuffed it into his bag. It would prove invaluable in his negotiations with the high priestess, if he could manage to get them off the ground.

“That was quite the interlude,” Stillbough quipped, flashing her teeth in a haughty, patronizing smile as she approached him.

Mordent pursed his lips, silencing a rankled grunt. “You do understand your incessant pecking does nothing to sway me in my efforts here, Sentinel,” he said, suspecting the unnatural sounds made by Frostweaver’s portal must have alerted her attention.

“I realized that soon after you arrived, but it does not mean I find subjecting you to it any less satisfying. You are the one who willfully insists on profaning the Temple with your presence here each day.”  She leaned against one of the pillars that supported the Temple’s clerestory, folding her arms over her chest. “I have long since thought you either ignorant or mad, Highborne, though of late I am not sure which I prefer most.”

Mordent bristled at Stillbough’s attempt to needle him. “Have things changed so much in my absence that the Goddess considers contrition to be madness? There is but one servant of Elune in this Temple fit to pass judgment on me, and it is not you, sapling.”

Stillbough straightened, tightening her grip on the bindings of her opalescent moonglaive.  “I am well aware,” she snarled. “Your throat would have been slit long ago, had it been.”

“For the sake of Azeroth, I am thankful it is not,” Mordent bit back.  “You—”

“I return from battling the Scourge only to hear more hateful talk at home, on what is meant to be holy ground,” another voice interjected. “What has troubled you both so?”

Mordent’s stomach sank. He realized the grim tidings in Daros’s journal had put him on edge, and now he had allowed his bickering with Stillbough to escalate to the point where it had attracted an audience. He turned to get a better view of their onlooker. The voice belonged to a druid, clad in full war regalia constructed of finely-tooled olive leather molded to resemble leaves and vines that sprawled over his body like some sort of primordial plant growth.  His hair was rimed with sweat and dirt; Mordent was surprised at just how fresh he was from the front in Northrend.

That,” Stillbough said petulantly as she snorted at Mordent, “has been a thorn in my side for some time now. A Highborne, here, daring to show his face among us in the Temple.”

The druid’s face twisted violently, if he were about to vomit. “Your audacity repulses me,” he declared, stepping back exaggeratedly. “As does the stench of the arcane that you reek of.”

Mordent remembered how his first meeting with Stillbough had been similarly abrupt in its unpleasant change of tone, and he felt a knot develop between his shoulders as he anticipated its reprise with this newcomer.  “I am here because I await an audience with High Priestess Whisperwind,” he said. “Nothing more.”

“I don’t recall asking you anything,” the druid spat.

Mordent’s already fragile attempt at measured calm shattered. “I don’t recall chanting the spell to create the portal that I suspect brought you here from Icecrown Citadel so quickly. Did the arcane smell quite so bad on your way here, or is it just my scent that offends you?”

His opponent’s lip quivered savagely. “Aberration.”

Undaunted by the insult, Mordent’s eyes shifted to the glowing spell-dagger bound in the druid’s belt. “Interesting,” he said wryly. “You bear the weapon of a magic wielder.”

The druid’s eyes sparked with indignance. “The powers I call upon when I assume the form of the wildkin are blessed by Cenarius and Elune. They do not harm the one who wields them.” He placed a hand on the dagger’s silken scabbard. “Though I doubt you would know much of trustworthy magic, traitor. The arcane deprives all who touch it of their will.”

“You hate the sword, rather than he who wields it,” Mordent replied as he began to roll up his sleeve. “You both are so eager to blame the arcane, and leave me out of the equation entirely.”  Exposed to the air was a swathe of warped, seared flesh on Mordent’s forearm where an infernal had once struck at him while defending Eldre’Thalas during the War of the Ancients. He ran his fingers over the knotted skin, feeling his voice begin to rise. “I helped to bring the wrath of the Burning Legion upon Azeroth through my own arrogance. My lack of self restraint. My failure to understand the consequences of my actions.” Each admission drove into his heart like a nail. “I freely say that all here, in the presence of Elune, for it has tormented me ever since, and it tempers any hunger I may have once had to exult in the arcane without restraint.”

“If you insist on lying, at least do it more quietly and pretend to show respect to the Goddess,” Stillbough scolded angrily in a harsh whisper.

The druid clenched his fists.  “All the more reason for you to remove yourself from our presence.  My life’s work has been to stitch together the wounds you have wrought.”

“The fact that you are a steward of the land does not give you sole ownership to its pain,” Mordent retorted. “I felt the anguish of the Sundering as deeply as any kaldorei—possibly more so. It was my hand that helped to bring that travesty about, and if I had not been so blind, I could have done something to prevent it. Everywhere we turn, the Highborne are reminded of what we have done. The very shape of Kalimdor’s hills and coastlines haunts us as a testament to our folly. I assure you both, I grieve.”

“My apologies, Sentinel,” the druid growled, his face tangled into livid fury. “I cannot bear his filth any longer.” A shock of light and heat burst in the air—the druid’s body had shifted to that of a panther, hackles raised and muzzle wrinkling in anger.

Mordent’s eyes widened in rage at what he had just seen. “You call me slave to the chaotic will of the arcane, yet you are the one here who chooses to indulge your own feral wrath at the slightest provocation! Do you both imagine yourselves to be better than I, to be immune from fault, simply by merit of what you are? I would have thought Azeroth bore enough reminders of the dangers which lay in indulging that particular line of thinking again.”  His mind whirled. “Kaldorei, Highborne, I see now that they are no more than words in the end, interchangeable and meaningless! One to rise, another to fall, and so on and so forth until nothing is left of either!” A clawing despair welled up inside him like a stone, making him feel ill.

Stillbough’s body tensed at his implication. “You are on dangerous ground, Highborne.” She flexed her fingers, knuckles cracking as her hand hovered over her moonglaive. “We are nothing like you.”
“Are you so certain?”

“Entirely.” Stillbough’s thumb caressed the strips of black hide that secured her weapon.

“Then your ignorance will be your undoing. To be kaldorei is to know loss—my past is yours. We can either allow that fact to consume both of us whole, or we can draw strength from our shared sorrows, honor them, and hope no others need share our fate in the future. My choice is the latter.”

The druid was clearly restraining himself from lunging.

Mordent began to quake, infuriated. You may refuse to acknowledge me, but you will not silence me. “You have already allied with those quel’dorei who still praise the memory of a man who showed no regret for the razing of Ashenvale. I know all too well that principles become malleable in the crucible of war, but at least grant us the same pardon! The Shen’dralar no longer hold any love for Dath’Remar, I assure you. Can the Silver Covenant say the same? Is that truly who you wish to have shepherding the ley lines of Azeroth unchecked, now that the Spell-weaver has been slain? Archmagi who see nothing wrong with the fact that their forebears threw a tantrum when their favorite toy was taken away, like spoiled children?!”

The Highborne stared into the eyes of the two kaldorei before him, unflinching. “Answer me!!” he cried.

Stillbough stepped forward. “So that’s what this is about. A clever ploy to use us to claw back at the power you once lost, under some thin veil of benevolence and carefully rehearsed speeches of remorse.” Her voice was like flint.

The druid looked expectantly at Stillbough, who nodded. In an instant, Mordent was knocked back by a sleek indigo blur that had pinned his arms. An unmistakable metallic ringing sliced through the air. Stillbough stood over him, pressing her moonglaive’s silvery blade to his neck; he could feel a white-hot line of pain as the edge chafed at his skin, leaving the delicate flesh underneath exposed and raw. “Enough,” she said, seething. “I should have done this a long time ago.”

Mordent’s face was resolute. “Thus it ends. I can do nothing more, and you shall indeed become the very thing you hate.” He clawed his fingernails into the earthen floor, bracing himself for the moonglaive’s elegant fury. “Do it, then!” he barked through gritted teeth.

Stillbough! Lower your blades!” The peals of a woman’s voice, rich and harmonic like a bell, parried the weapon’s lethal resonance from the clerestory above.

Mordent turned his head to see the lithe figure of the high priestess herself running towards them. Her iridescent gown looked as if it had been woven from the moonwell’s waters itself, though its graceful, flowing fabric seemed out of place with the nimble gait she possessed. A Highborne lady would have luxuriated in its finery, he was sure, but to this woman it was merely a stately dress for affairs of state, nothing more. The way she moved made it clear she would have been equally comfortable in the garb of a scout or huntress. Her flowing blue hair was adorned with oak leaves that rustled as she ran towards them; this was not just a priestess of the Moon, but a leader every inch a woman of her people.

“High Priestess Tyrande.” Stillbough knelt, casting her eyes downward. “My lady, I am sorry. I did not trust the Highborne cowering there, or his intents. I—I was merely acting upon my conscience.”

Tyrande smiled. “As is your duty and calling, Sentinel. There is no need to apologize to me for your adherence to either.” She extended a hand towards Stillbough. “Come, on your feet. I am not the mistress here, merely her servant. Remember that.” She then turned her eyes to Mordent, who still lay pinned beneath the druid’s paws. “However,” she said firmly, “I will not have kaldorei blood spilt in Elune’s house, even if it flows through the veins of a Highborne. Release him.”

“Yes, my lady Tyrande.” Stillbough’s voice was nearly inaudible. Bewildered, she and the druid slunk back a few paces, their faces blank as they attempted to process what they had just witnessed. Mordent felt a spark of hope rise up within him; perhaps he would have his audience.

Mordent met Tyrande’s gaze; the silver of her eyes looked upon him with pity rather than hatred. “Your ability to maintain an appropriate speaking volume in the presence of Elune is somewhat lacking, though I suppose I can hardly be one to criticize someone who abandons protocol when necessary.” The mercy he heard in her voice was cautious, but genuine. “What I heard echoing through the Temple just now is enough for me to spare your life, for the moment. Speak, Highborne.”

Mordent decided to seize the opportunity, political formalities be damned. “I believe you may have already heard that which is at the heart of what I have come to say, High Priestess. But if it is at all possible, there are other pressing matters which I would still like to address with you.”

Tyrande nodded gravely. Mordent suspected she already knew half of what Daros’s journal contained. “Come, Highborne,” she said, helping him up. “There is indeed much to discuss.”

Mordent smiled. Perhaps there had been sense in his coming here after all.

NB: It is the author’s sincerest wish that her attempt at creating a piece of compelling, noteworthy prose was not too taxing to the judges’  formidable optic mettle, nor too trying of their unblinking gaze, nor too vexing of their valiant ocular fortitude. May your retinas never dull!

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December 2011

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