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A Place for Everything
Lena waited until it was her turn to speak, listening and watching the other people around her. Her talk with Xandyr had shown her that there were still dark places in her heart and mind--places she hadn't been able to find since Adrian had left her behind to go searching for something in those woods.
He had made her a better person--made her question the reality that so many others so easily condemned. And beneath all the shadows, there had been a light burning inside of him--a hope that there was something better.
And she had wanted that something better for him. But just as he kept her at a distance, she had kept him at arm's length, too. Ever since she'd been a little girl, she'd known she'd lose people. It was the harsh reality her parents' deaths had taught her. That's why it was so easy for her to let go--to push people away so that she wouldn't be hurt in the end.
But she had been hurt, and the pain was her own fault. She'd let him in. And just like Fenham, he'd pulled away from her.
"I know more than a few of you are trying to understand where this leaves you--what purpose your lives have. You're wondering if there are still dreams to be had--the ones you were just beginning to build taken from you."
"I'm not going to lie to you and tell you it's going to be easy; it isn't. Your hearts are going to ache, and your souls are going to long for what you never had."
She swallowed before continuing. "But when you're ready, there is still a place for you here. There will always be a place for you here."
She lowered her gaze, taking in a long, deep breath before looking back out at those eyes that looked back at her. "I've spoken with friends of ours that have ties to the Church and to the Mage's Academy in Dalaran. Ha--Lord Arlen..." She paused, that name more difficult for her to say than she'd have thought it would be. She suppressed the reasoning for another time, continuing on. "...has agreed to help any of you wishing to take up either of these pursuits--young or old. He understands that not all of you are soldiers--that some of you never wanted the lives you have. And so, he has asked me to speak with each of you who have an interest in this--to write up a request for him to see--to begin building a new dream and a new future for yourselves."
She swallowed again, studying those faces and those eyes. "It is our hope that when your time with them is done that you will return to us...and find a place with us again. But the only thing we truly want is for all of you to be able to start again--without having to be afraid that everything you've built and dreamt will be lost."
She paused, then continued. "I can't promise you that every dream you have is going to work out, or that taking advantage of these opportunities is somehow going to safeguard your dreams. What I can promise you is that you'll have a chance to find out, and a place to come home to if it all falls apart."
She swallowed again, then glanced at Hadrian and the others there with her before taking her seat once more.
She knew better than anyone how much that last meant. It had been something she'd never had until she'd met Arlen--a home--a place to belong.
Wiping at her eyes, she vowed to herself that she'd find a place for everyone that wanted to stay. She'd help them find a purpose and a place to be. She'd help them find a home and a dream to call their own.
We'll light their way, Hadrian, and make sure they never have to walk in darkness again.
Demons of the Heart
Lena had been busy out at Ridgepoint and Westpoint towers the past few days, and when she arrived back in Redridge, one of the guards stopped her.
"Might want to be careful, Dame Harper."
She paused, looking back at the guard. "Careful...why?"
"Big fight over by the inn. Things aren't right with them Crusaders being here, m'lady. Just...be careful, yeah?"
Lena sighed and nodded to him. "I'll do my best. Thank you for the warning. Carter, was it?"
He smiled to her and dipped his head. "Yes, ma'am."
"Give your wife and son my regards."
The guard nodded his head once more, still smiling. "I will, m'lady."
Lena saluted him then headed toward the inn.
It was late when she walked in, and most of the people were all ready asleep. She made her way up to her room, then paused, glancing at Arlen's door for a moment.
With a long sigh, she moved toward his door knocking upon it lightly.
A groan from behind the door told her that he was still awake.
"'rian, it's me," she called through the door.
He sounded almost resigned as he called out, "Come in."
When she opened the door, she saw him lying in the bed. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to wake--"
He waved her off. "You didn't. I was just..." He tried to sit up, a groan issuing forth from his lips. Still, he pushed through his weariness, sitting up.
Lena moved over toward him quickly, closing the door behind her with a sigh. "Carter told me there was trouble. You were right in the middle of it; weren't you?" There was recrimination in her tone.
"I couldn't just stand back and watch, Lena."
She grimaced at him, moving to check him for wounds and found one badly stitched at his shoulder. She shot him an accusing look before helping him pull off his shirt with a long sigh.
Softly, she called forth the Light, the air humming with the familiar healing ring that always seemed to join her prayers. After a time, she sighed and the prayers were done. He'd have another scar to join all the others, but at least he'd be better in the morning; and there would be no pain.
She lifted her head to stare at him, studying his closed eyes.
His hand reached out for hers, his fingers closing around it. "It could have been worse," he offered, an eye opening to gauge her reaction.
She smiled a little, wryly. "I should have been here."
He smiled a little at that. "You've been busy."
She sighed, the smile slipping away from her features. "So what happened?"
She listened while he told her about what had occurred, a frown catching at her lips as she heard about the Legion and the possibility that the man that had attacked Arlen had been tainted and corrupted by the orcs.
"They've never,..." she trailed off.
She shook her head as he finished for her, "..been that powerful? No. But left unchecked as they have been, something might have changed."
"Something the Bravo Company hasn't seen fit to deal with?" She shook her head, still frowning as she looked off.
Grimacing after a moment, she stood up, pulling away from him, though he kept hold of her hand. That caused her to turn back around, looking down at him.
"I had to intervene," he reiterated, squeezing her hand.
She nodded, studying him thoughtfully. "You don't have a demon to help you any more, though, 'rian. You're not invincible."
A faint, sad smile caught at her lips.
He was looking her in the eye, his features touched with an apology. "It's who I am, Lena."
Her lips quirked upward a little more. "I know," she replied a long sigh leaving her lips as the smile faded. "Just try to be more careful. There are people who are counting on you to lead them." She moved in, leaning down to kiss him on top of his head, squeezing his hand gently in return. "And I couldn't bear to lose you," she said softly.
She turned then, pulling her hand free as she moved toward the door. "Get some sleep," she said, not looking back at him.
She didn't want him to see the tears in her eyes.
"I love you, Lena," he called out softly to her from the bed.
Her hand paused on the knob at the door. "I know," she said softly, then stepped out, closing the door behind her.
"I love you, too," she mouthed to herself as she moved to her room, opening and closing the door behind her before wiping away the tears that caught at the edges of her eyes.
Seeds of Light
She had talked to them, but she still hadn't found her answer. Kel'tan had done unspeakable things to those who had hurt his people--harming his own soul in return. There was a darkness within him that no light would ever reach. He, like Alistair, could never return fully to the fold of the Light.
And Alistair--he, too, carried the sins of his past upon his heart. He had killed his own father for revenge; his actions were the product of a son who loved too well and felt too much of his mother's pain. His father was not without blame, but the act of killing him had shattered any hope for redemption--for any of them. Alistair had told her that even though he had joined the Order, he knew that he could never make up for what he'd done.
"For me, the Order is a reminder of the depths of depravity to which a soul can sink when emotions control your actions. I strive every day to rise above them, knowing that I can never return to the life I once led. I still struggle with my father's death--still struggle to supress the anger I feel in my heart.
"Do I regret that others were hurt? Of course. Would I sacrifice them again to see him dead?
"I'd like to think I wouldn't, Syrenity. But that is my daily struggle. And that is why my life is forfeit. I can't escape what I've done. And neither can anyone else that comes to us.
"Perhaps that's why we stay."
But what had she done?
Things I can't remember, she thought to herself in dismay.
The only thing she truly remembered was going to see Aderyn. Everything that happened after that night was a haze. She had turned herself in--for her own good and for the good of the people she loved. She was sent to a prison buried beneath the ground--a tomb for all intents and purposes.
And that should have been the end of it.
Each day she had been there she worked to strengthen her mind and her thoughts--to draw ever closer to the Light. And yet, just the other night, she had reached to the shadow to ease the suffering of someone's headache.
She had told the man that it had been worth it, and it had. But now, as she sat in the darkness of her own room, she wondered if that was simply who she was. A part of her still drew upon the shadows of the world. But would that return to haunt her? Would that which had taken control of her mind be used against her again if she strayed too far beyond the Light?
And then there was the Order and Carad. All of them had given up their lives; they were living and breathing in the here and now, but what they had done had made them ghosts in the world--a reminder that some acts could never be forgiven. They had given their lives to Carad and the Church, and the Church would use them to wage their wars--the living who were all ready dead--the penitent blade that would never be washed clean.
Was she one of them?
Kel'tan had looked at her with kind sympathy when she had asked that of him. "Child," he said, "what you seek is justice for that which was done to you and those who suffered by your hand at another's will. Were you to take those crimes upon yourself, then yes. Perhaps you would belong here with us. But you can barely remember what you did, and in your heart--although there is fear, there is also a need to ensure that what was done to you cannot be done to others.
"Your destiny is out there in the world, Seede. And whatever path you follow, I am certain that your love will inspire the hearts and minds of others.
"Now go and pray on this, child. Perhaps the Light will help you to find your path."
It had always been lined with shadows; her parents' deaths to try and save her life, Flame's sacrifice to save her from having to kill, the acolyte who had saved her and who had probably died in doing so....
And then there was the Society. There were few people who still remained from those days--Carad and Belzac among them.
But they had both moved forward with their lives.
And there was Rose, too--Rose who held the darkness and shadows of her heart. Had she moved on, as well?
A long, sad, sigh left her lips, the inspiration for tears pulling at her thoughts.
They were gone. Everything she had known from before had changed. But she was still stuck in the past.
Another long sigh left her lips as she rose to her feet and lit the lamp in her room.
Taking up a bit of parchment and a pen, she wrote a brief note to Carad letting him know that she would be out of the city for a while and that she'd return as soon as she could. She was heading to Northshire.
Perhaps if she went back to the beginning she could figure out where she was supposed to be. Maybe she would finally be able to put her past behind her and move forward. And perhaps the new seed would find a place to take root.
The Assassin's League
Rose paced in the room where they kept her waiting.
There had been silent watchers following her for weeks on end--picking up her trail in the Arathi Highlands. They'd even followed her in Stormwind, and she knew there had been others keeping watch over her in Duskwood, as well.
Eventually she had cornered one of them in the city, annoyance finally giving way to frustration. She was tired of the silent shadows--tired of the way they made themselves so easy to be seen.
It had been then that she'd received the message.
Return to the League. Your Lord is waiting.
She hadn't needed to ask; she knew. Once you joined the League, you were a member for life. The only way out was death. And they had undoubtedly assumed she was dead--until she had shown up again.
And so she had returned; and so they kept her waiting.
Tired of pacing, she moved to sit in the only chair in the room.
Time passed, and eventually the door opened. The golden-haired, leonine Fahrad stepped inside, closing the door behind him.
"It's been a while," he said as he strode toward her, Rose coming to her feet as he did.
"So it has," she agreed.
"Our Lord wonders where it is you've been," Fahrad replied.
"I wish I had an answer to give you."
Fahrad waved her to settle back in the chair, moving to pace the room on silent feet as she watched him.
"I rather wish you had an answer, as well, Rose. He is inclined to kill you."
"Then why ask me to return here?" she asked. She wasn't afraid; if they'd meant to kill her, she'd be dead.
Fahrad turned and looked back at her, a bit of a smile catching at his lips. For a moment, he didn't say anything, then asked again, "So where have you been, little rose?"
She shook her head. "As I told you, I don't remember. I woke up a few months ago in Arathi, and the last thing I remember is being in Stormwind--keeping an eye on the Church and their minions as I'd been asked to do."
Fahrad watched her for a moment, his head bowing. "Well, it seems someone wanted to be rid of you; it makes sense, considering what the Archbishop was doing. Though I must confess some surprise at your return."
He looked up at her, then, those amber eyes of his studying her thoughtfully. She merely waited, knowing that he was debating what was to be done with her.
"We'll have work for you soon, I think. Don't disappear again, though. Lord Ravenholdt is not a terribly forgiving man, and I doubt he'd be inclined to be lenient again."
Rose nodded as she stood once more, her blue-green eyes meeting Fahrad's. "Shadows hide you," she intoned, and Fahrad grinned.
"Until we meet again, sweet Rose."
He turned then, moving to the door and holding it open for her as she passed through.
They were going to let her live--for now.
It never rained in Stormwind; that's what people said, anyway. But then, people said a lot of things--most of them as false as a pirate's teeth. Night after night, day after day, Brier wandereed the city like some lost bit of parchment rolling along the streets. There was little here to remind her of home.
Few were the clouds that darkened the night sky, and there were no sweet, swelling breezes that bent the tall grasses telling of a storm to come. The air was thick with scents of food, and sweat, and worse things--like the tannery in Old Town, or the choking, clogging smoke of the Dwarven District.
But she knew all of these things, just as she had known the count of the rings on the heart tree in her village and who to buy strawberries from when the last vestiges of spring were calling the herders to their flocks. She knew of the quiet places of Stormwind, too--the waterfall that dropped behind the palace walls where no one hardly ever went and the view of martial buildings in Old Town. There were quiet passes in the lonely nountains that drew all the way to Northshire if one knew the ways, and there were less-wandered paths along the harbor where new construction went unfinished; and one could look out toward the lighthouse and wonder how it had survived the trembling of the earth that day when Deathwing was said to have soared the skies raining down fire and destruction on all within his path.
She'd wandered in the shadows on leonine paws, and drifted through the sunlight on silent, uncovered feet. She was greeted by some as urchin, and by others as healer, and she could feel the pulse of life that threaded its way through Stormwind's streets.
But it wasn't home.
Home was the place where Nana used to sing her songs while teaching her to bundle bandages--where the village came alive at the darkening of the moon and candles drew the people to the heart tree. Home was the song they sang in an ancient tongue--the tongue of the first men and of Arathor--and the way the air hummed with life as the world shivered in the wind's whispering reply. Home was the harper and the Ancient One who told the stories as he traveled from town to town. He had just taken an apprentice only a year before--a precocious, young man who was as handsome as he was charming. Brier had been quite taken with him, but he was always surrounded by girls and women vying for his attentions. Home was the quiet, rocky paths on which her feet would wander when she despaired of ever knowing love, and home was in the words and the tears she would share with those silent cliffs.
But here she was a stranger amidst strangers--another leaf passing down the street to end up caught in the corners and crags of buildings as she took her meager coin and had a meager supper.
There were days when she wondered if anyone would truly care if she simply disappeared. On those days, she would wander the lonely graveyard where few people walked, wondering if anyone honestly remembered the people that had been buried there. Other times, she'd find her secret spot within what used to the be the park. It had held a moonwell, and the people who had survived that day told stories of the terrible destruction as Deathwing's wrath came pouring down. Fire had burned, and earth had crumbled; even the seas had seathed and foamed with his rage until the park was shattered--its peace destroyed, and the waters of life that had once drawn the Legion to Azeroth gone.
Brier had heard many stories, and she kept them in her heart; sometimes she found herself sharing them with others, but more often, she listened.
She listened to breaking hearts and loneliness. She listened to pain and boredom. She even listened to cruelty and kindness. But her heart listened most to the land beneath her bare feet, and her soul felt uneasy. There were dark things that lived beneath the earth--terrible things that longed to eat away at everything that gave the world life. And she could sense them eating away at the people, too--little by little, so that they hardly even noticed it at all.
She'd heard some of the Order had gone away to a place called Silithis--an ancient breeding ground of the Q'iraj. It was said their ancient cities once covered the world, just as their ancient masters had once ruled it. The Old Gods--the Nameless Ones--the Children of the Lightless Void; it was said that there had been a war nearly five years ago, and heroes of every race had descended into the Sanctum and the Temple of the newly wakened Q'iraji. There they had found one of those dark gods--a creature whose servants had called it C'thun. And two years later, another had woken--called to life by the depravities of the Lich King. Yogg'Saron the Scourge had named him. And there was another tale from ancient days of a dead god who still lies sleeping at the heart of the Darkshore--N'Zoth the night elves named him--though where they'd heard the name, Brier couldn't say.
The old god's mouths reached up through the earth, and their Faceless Ones commanded armies of cultists--fools who believed that their dark gods would give them power. Rumors floated throughout Stormwind's streets that its most holy of holies had joined them. And that dark stain had left its mark upon the Church.
If one could not trust even the greatest of men who professed to follow the Light--who, then, was to be trusted?
It left shadows in people's hearts--a shadow that echoed through the world; and there were so few voices left to sing the ancient songs--to sooth the aching hearts and dreading souls of life. And though she tried, ... Brier felt her own emptiness and her own loneliness--each act of healing touched with a hollow reminder of lost cliffs and candlelit villages--of songs that had once had many voices but which she now carried alone in her heart.
She could share them--but with whom? Who would care? Who would understand and lament the things that she alone had lost?
Better to hold them close--to keep them safe. Better to sing them in silence in her soul as she healed the trees and plants and people of the world.
The world was an ancient place, and it would remember them. It would not mock them or belittle them. It would not use them for its own gain, nor would hypocrisy stain its memories of them.
And in that, there was some peace.
Even if home was lost.
He never once removed his helm--that haunting and somehow familiar voice hollowly assuring her that he was not yet hungry and that she should eat.
She wasn't sure how he could have known that she'd forgotten dinner the night before, too caught up in her own thoughts, and too distracted to return to the Abbey that night by his visitation. And so per his wishes, she ate what he cooked her.
She couldn't help but smile, though, the memory of the night she and Vileric had dined there catching in her thoughts and shared with her helmed guardian.
"I think he wasn't sure what to do, really," she told the stranger with her, laughing softly as she met his gaze for a moment. "But I assure you, I am grateful for this, and I -will- find a way to repay you."
She had wolfed down her food, then, as lady-like as she could considering she was starving. And the food had tasted like heaven. For a moment, she was able to forget the rest of the world--something she hadn't done since that night she'd run away with Vileric, sleeping pressed against his side--more happy than she had ever been.
She pulled away from the thoughts that always came after that--the weight of gravity crushing her soul as she confessed her crime to a man to whom she'd devoted her life. But he had always been in love with his work--until the night he'd met her.
There was still pain there--knowing how easily he'd given her his lips--knowing that he had loved her in a way he would never love her.
She had often wondered during those long, dark nights in her prison cell if she had been a fool to love them both--Vileric with his eloquent perfection and Kendrick with his dark and brooding nature.
Vileric had been her compass, and Kendrick had been her guide. And losing them both had nearly destroyed her.
She could look back on it now with bitter-sweet remorse, but the pain of it all had touched her more deeply than she'd realized. She and the stranger's talk last night had shown her that.
It had been that pain that allowed her mind and her body to be used by someone else; her love for them had turned her into a killer--and it was that last that had made it so easy to let go--to accept her fate within the bowels of the earth in that dark prison to which she'd been confined.
But now, with the sun rising overhead and a fresh breeze blowing through her hair, with the scent of eggs and rabbit meat hanging in the air, she could almost believe it hadn't happened; those years were just a dream, and now she was finally awake.
She knew, as she sat there eating, that it wasn't true, but this stranger had reminded her of the beauty she had forgotten in life. Chivalry still existed, and there were still people in the world as lost as she was--trying to remember the dreams that youth had taught them and time had stolen.
He reminded her of him--her Vileric.
Whenever the world was darkest, he always seemed to know how to make her smile.
"I suppose it was all right?" the figure in the helm asked her, his tone touched with amusement.
"It was the best meal I've had in a long time," she told him, smiling with warmth. And it was true. He had broken the dam inside of her--and with the pain had come the pleasure of finding hope again.
She wanted to stay with him--to wander the mountains and hills and valleys--to help him remember who he was. But she knew that there was something more she still needed to do here. And following him would only prolong that inevitable end.
"Thank you," she offered after a moment, that smile receding from her lips, but not lost on her face and in her eyes.
"It was my pleasure, milady."
Her gaze lowered then, that sweet moment of heaven--of losing herself in a moment that she wished would transcend time--coming to a close.
"I'm afraid I have to go." She looked up at him, an apology in her eyes.
"Then I am certain we will meet again."
Ren found herself smiling at him, the apology fading in an instant. "I'm staying in the city at an inn near the Park District. If ...you're ever in town, I'd love to spend some time with you."
He nodded. "I will find you," he replied, the words feeling strangely like a promise to her.
For a moment, she just sat there smiling, amused at her own ridiculous happiness. "The name's..." she paused then, realizing she couldn't tell him the truth--though a part of her fervently wished she could.
"Seede," she finished. "The Blackened Oak is the name of the inn."
"Then we shall meet again, m'lady Seede," he replied formally, holding out a hand to help her to her feet.
Her tiny hand slipped into his, and he drew her easily upward. And for a moment she found herself standing there, staring up at him--a remembered feeling she'd thought long forgotten causing her breath to catch, her body going still despite the dizzying swirl of butterfiles in her stomach.
He drew her hand up to his helm as his head bent forward toward it before gently letting it go.
"Until we meet again."
His words lingered in her ears for a moment, as she numbly nodded her head. "Farewell..."
It was in this moment that she realized she didn't even know his name, embarressment at her own foolishness reddening her cheeks.
"I don't even know your name," she said, embarressed hints of laughter catching at the words.
He went still, staring at her for an uncomfortably silent moment.
"Vesper," he replied, the name sounding strangely cold and haunting behind the dark metal of his helm.
"Then farewell, Vesper," she replied, smiling and inclining her head to him. "I look forward to seeing you again."
And then she had turned and headed back down toward the Abbey, picking her way carefully and testing the ground with her staff at each step. She swore she could feel his eyes following her down the hills, and she felt a foolish thrill of pleasure at the notion.
And all throughout the rest of her day, as she took her leave from Northshire and headed back to the city, she found that she couldn't stop thinking about the stranger she'd met in the hills at the grave of her dear Vileric.
Perhaps the Light was guiding her after all.
45 Worgen Rogue
The world was being swallowed by darkness, and the darkness was chasing her.
And so she ran--ran on four paws with the wind singing through her fur and her tongue loose as she struggled to breathe over the pounding of her heart.
She was alone.
She could hear the others behind her, screaming at her, howling at her, zombie-like whispers urging her to join them--to stop and let the darkness take her.
But up ahead, burning in the sky, she saw the moon.
And it was calling to her, urging her onward.
In the distance, she heard the darkness as it swallowed the oceans, rocks crumbling and falling and disappearing in that empty maw that never seemed to be sated.
If she didn't hurry, it would take her, too. She would become nothing. The world would be lost.
On and on, through grasses high as her head and through forests as old as time, she ran. But she could never catch the moon, and with each passing breath, she was falling farther and farther behind.
At last, too exhausted to go on, she collapsed, her eyes staring off toward that fleeting light in the distance as the darkness advanced.
The voices were closer now.
"You killed us. You murdered us. You ate our eyes and then our hearts. So now we'll eat you! We'll take from you everything you love, and you will die...die with us."
"Die with us."
And it was true. She had killed them, and killed them gladly. She had tasted their blood, and she had revelled in it.
But she would not go down without a fight. Not like this.
Slowly she stood and turned to face the darkness--the empty maw that consumed the world.
But there was nothing to grasp--nothing to sink her fangs into--no blood to taste, no scent to smell.
But still, she would not simply give in.
Gathering herself up, she took one last running leap forward, hurtling herself into that darkness, a defiant howl caught on the last of the wind and trailing away toward the moon.
Buried in the Heart
Day again. Dewy cobblestones and a fresh wind from the forest that promised there would be rain soon. As her bare feet carried her through the city streets, she had time to reflect on the night's passage, and as she made her morning rounds--delivering potions and poltices (some her own, and some the alchemy shop's), she found herself reflecting on her conversation with the lordling from Alterac.
As always, she had been nothing more than a distraction--a way for him to return to a world that held neither Old Gods or strange armies of bugs. And yet, the conversation had taken him away from the alcohol she had seen him drinking earlier.
He never said much about what he was really thinking--always leaving those deeper thoughts locked away in the recesses of his heart. It was easier that way; it was always easier that way.
And yet, to hear him say he felt like an outsider among the Order--and that he was not the only one, made her smile a little as a shaft of sunlight crept through the overhanging eaves of the buildings between which she was walking.
He was from Alterac--one of the nobles who had agreed to let the orcs travel through their lands. His was the burden of a traitor--a man who watched as his own people, as well as his nation, paid the price for treachery. And Brier had to wonder what it would be like to carry that with her--to know that not only had she been wrong, but that others had paid the price for her actions.
From what she had seen, ...he had walled it away somewhere deep inside of him. He had only made the concession of telling her that truth to ease her own feelings of being an outcast--even here--even though most of these people were from Gilneas, as well.
She wondered, then, how many other members of the Order must have felt the same; did they, too, hold secrets that kept them apart from others? Had the war left scars within them as deep as those that their own world was still trying to heal?
Still, he had drawn her to them--a moth to a flame. She hadn't dared to hope for anything--and so she had not been disappointed when nothing seemed to change for her. She laughed it off, saying that she hadn't really tried to reach out either. But that implied that she would try.
And she wasn't certain she wanted to.
Everything could be lost.
Like him, she bore that knowledge. And yet, for her, it was not so easily locked away.
And yet,...for him,...she would try.
And why not fer yerself? she heard her nana's voice in her thoughts.
I dinna need them, she replied silently, the dew drawn away from the stones as the sun began to warm them.
Oh, child, she heard her nana's sad reply as she had all those years ago. Even the heart tree needs th'sun an' the rain.
That's like sayin' a'need t'eat an'sleep, Nana, she'd replied, always defiant.
An' what if th'roots had n'earth? Or the branches n'wind, girl?
She hadn't replied to her then, but even then she'd thought the same as she was now. Without a place to belong, eventually she would wither up and die. And without another soul to share her thoughts, they would die inside of her, too.
Still, it was easier to do it for him--to pretend that he had more need of her being there than she did. She would be saving him--giving him a place to finally belong.
And so she carefully buried her own hopes once more with her easy smile, her quick laguther, and her never-prying ways.
And in her heart, she ached alone.
The Threats of Idle Hands
Lena watched through the window as he headed off, sighing as she moved to fall back onto his bed. Her arms curled up behind the back of her head, her eyes staring unseeing up at the ceilling.
He kept saying it wasn't as far off as it seemed; and yet, each day that it grew closer meant another day closer to an end to all of this--the lazy days spent in the company of a man with whom she'd fallen in love, and the nights she spent curled up in his arms.
That hard exterior had fallen away from her--that rigid separation between them that duty and honor and the Stormwind Army had taught her. But knotted up in the pit of her stomach, she felt the tension building. Would he still be as effective on the field with her there? Would people begin to resent her if his decisions had consequences for others and seemingly none for her? Or would she end up resenting him when he left her behind, trying to keep her safe?
He won't do that, she replied in defiance to her last worrying thought.
One of the many voices that inhabited her thoughts shot back, "And what if Lesetoilles thought the same thing?"
He's learned from his mistakes, she replied calmly.
But even still, the knot in the pit of her stomach remained.
Then why didn't he take you with him today?
Sighing in exasperation, she pushed herself from the bed. If she wasn't going to get any rest, she might as well put the time to better use than worrying about what if's.
Pulling on her boots, she headed out to collect some water from the nearby lake. Once she'd managed to fill the tub with it, she heated a few rocks in the fire and began to add them to the water until it was far too warm for most anyone's liking save her own.
Then, she pulled off all her clothes and submerged herself, letting the water pull away tension from her muscles before she began scrubbing away the dirt with a cloth and washing her hair.
There had been no visits from Xandyr, and Aderyn and Netanel had been strangely silent, as well. Even though they'd sent more than a few candidates to each, she'd hoped they'd have sent word back about them.
And then there was Fenham.
No matter where she went or what she was doing, she always thought of him. He was there, in the back of her mind--the man she had promised she would help the first night they'd met.
Even after every hurt, every pain, ...that first promise still stuck with her. Even if he wouldn't admit it, she knew they were bound somehow. He could sleep with a thousand other women; he could even fall in love and marry. But she would always carry that promise she'd made to him with her.
Perhaps that's why it hurt not hearing from him.
She supposed he hated being around her--knowing it still hurt her. Or perhaps he was afraid he would hurt her again.
She wondered if he knew about Stryker--or if he even cared.
It was the last that hurt most of all--imagining that he didn't care at all--that those words they'd shared all that time ago meant nothing to him.
Sighing, she pulled herself from the tub and dried off, brushing out her hair with the ivory comb she'd found in her room one morning after Stryker had disappeared into the woods.
He was always doing that--leaving little things for her to find, as if somehow they made up for him being gone for days and weeks at a time.
It had been a long time since she and Galafrey had gone riding, but she knew she couldn't go alone. So instead, she settled for training.
The only meeting she had waiting for her was with a ship's captain from Stormwind, and someone would send for her at the inn if Delacroix arrived--which so far hadn't happened.
And so she went out a ways from the town, still in sight of the lake, and started her day with a prayer.
These were the times when she missed Makamaru the most--and she would sometimes pretend he was there with her, his soothing voice and calm presence making her smile ruefully at herself for all the troubles her mind tried to create for her.
"Don't fight battles that do not exist, child" he would say to her today. "Open your mind and your heart to the Light, and find peace in this moment. The rest will come in time."
And then she was crying--missing him, but they were good tears--cleansing tears. And afterward, she felt a center of peace within her.
She would then spar with her phantom image of Stryker, letting his memory remind her of how quick and agile her opponents could be. And somehow she was always smiling--remembering how he'd told her he'd train her once and the way he'd so easily out-manuevered her since she chose not to call upon the Light.
"Learn to fight without your full strength, and you'll be stronger for it."
Another adage from one of those age-old voices in her head.
And when she grew tired, her ghostly lover finally besting her, she settled on the ground and let the breeze catch at the sweat and whisk it away--feeling the good, tired ache of her muscles.
It was then her thoughts wandered--the collected memories of thousands of years showing her battles, or telling her stories, or revealing secrets to her.
It was still difficult to understand it all--and sometimes the stories and the battles and the secrets would become jumbled together. But she tried each day to learn one new thing from them. Today she was unsuccessful, but most days were like that.
It was then, and only then, that she let her thoughts wander to Hadrian.
The magistrate and then his spy network. Lena had never known he'd even have one, though it didn't surprise her. She wondered if Stryker had managed that for him all these years, or if he'd just been good at keeping secrets from her.
She laughed a little at the last, rising once more to her feet as she let the flow of a practice routine draw her blade through the air.
Her thoughts were drawn to a memory--a night in Gilneas when she had joined Arlen and Arctorious by the fire. He had mistaken her for Arlen's wife.
And then she grew still.
Would there be another girl one day--just like her? And would she fall in love with him, too? And when he went away to meetings as he had today, would someone else mistake her for Ardelena?
He loves you, you idiot, she berated herself, sighing as she drew back into the form and continued her dance.
Yes. But he loved her, too.
What will be will be, she countered, Nakamaru's calm returning to her as she watched the fire of Ti'retrin clear a path in the air. I cannot change what is to come; I can only take each moment as it comes and do the best I can.
And if he does find someone else?
If he is happy, ...that's all that matters.
And then, it hit her.
For the past few weeks, as much as he tried, she knew he wasn't happy. He'd confessed to being restless, and this morning as he'd left her, she'd seen that look in his eyes--that hint of excitment as he began forming a plan.
With a sigh, she stopped, sliding her blade into its sheath. He'd tell her when he'd figured it out. But for now, he needed for her to let him think.
Taking up the towel she'd brought with her, she turned and headed for the inn, wiping away the sweat and grime her morning exercise had wrought. She had paperwork to see to--food to buy, requests for armor repairs, wood, or stone, or metal to dsitribute between the communities that had grown up around the two towers in Elwynn...-all the minutiea that came with running a House and an army.
She'd make a note to check on Aderyn and Netanel soon, as well.
As she headed up to her room, a sardonic smile caught at her lips. One of these days, I'm going to pay you back for leaving Raley and I to deal with all of this, 'rian.
Always there were choices. Always there were regrets. That night, as the Order gathered, she had made a choice.
The boy was not even ten--the beating and bruise marks upon him giving rise to a dark rage within her, but there was no one upon whom she could vent her rage--no enemy that stood before her. And she might have simply left him there--left him to die, save that he called out to her.
"Help me. Please."
The words were barely a whisper; had it been anyone else, they might not even have heard. But Brier heard, and anger had given way to sadness.
Carefully, she carried the boy from the alley, trying to decide where to take him. Eventually, she settled upon the small house just off the dwarven district, down near the pond.
Celeste was there, tending to her home and hearth.
"You should take him to the Cathedral," she'd said when she saw the boy. "He's probably one of the orphans led astray during Children's Week."
"He asked for my help," she'd replied, her green eyes staring at the other woman.
"Why not take him where you are staying then?"
"I do not have a home." This time Brier didn't wait for the other woman's reply, moving to lay the boy down near the fire.
Fever had set in, and the wounds all over his body and the breaks in his ribs and bones were the least of his troubles. There was something worse festering in the boy--a curse of some sort that seemed to eat away at him little by little.
"Well, we can't keep him here," Celeste had told her. "If someone is looking for him and they find him here, there will be questions. And you and I both know how well these southerners listen to the answers we Gilneans have to give."
"One night," Brier told her, her attention all ready lost in mending the broken bones of his body while trying to understand the curse that had been laid upon his spirit.
"One night, then," the other woman had agreed.
She worked tirelessly throughout the night, sweat beading from her own forhead as well as the boy's own.
The curse was strong--draining his life-force and sending it into the nether. Brier had never seen or felt anything so foul in all her days. It took her until morning to find the key to unlocking the spell, and she had had to pour all of her energy into the breaking point. And still, it had almost not been enough.
When Celeste woke her, the boy was gone, and dawn was creeping through the windows.
"Where?" she asked, her voice rasping with thirst as Celeste handed her a mug of water.
"I left him in the care of a priestess at the Cathedral. I told her I found him lying in the street. She didn't ask questions, as he was still with fever and in need of healing."
She drank greedily as she listened, then nodded as she tried to sit up. Her whole body felt weak--tired--like she'd been running for days on end.
"Will he be...?" She looked to her fellow druidess with concern.
She nodded. "Yes. But it was a very foolish thing you did. Foolish and dangerous."
Brier looked away. "He asked for my help."
"Helping him nearly cost you your life." The other woman's words were stern.
More's the pity I lived, then, she thought almost angrily in reply. But instead of saying that, she buried her anger at the other woman's rebuke and asked, "How long have I slept?"
"Two days," Celeste replied.
Brier sighed and slowly rose to her feet, the dizziness passing after several moments.
"Whoever did this to that boy needs to be found and stopped."
"Whoever did that to him is far stronger than you are, Brier Rose, and you'd be a fool to try and find and confront them now." Always the woman had harsh words and harsh lessons, but as far as Brier knew, she had never spoken falsely.
She was right.
If helping the boy had nearly cost her her life, there was no way she was yet ready to confront whoever had tried to take his.
She turned and headed toward the door, unhappy acceptance dragged out with every step.
Celeste lay a hand to her shoulder before she had gotten too far. "Did you make the right choice?" she asked softly.
And Brier looked back at her, studying her face. "The boy lives. But whatever was done to him?" She shakes her head. "He may have fared better in death. There were scars I couldn't heal--the memories he will carry with him for as long as he lives."
"Perhaps he won't remember," Celeste replied trying to ease the turmoil she knew Brier carried within her because of the actions she had taken. She then turned, her arm leaving Brier's shoulder, heading back to her work within the house.
I wish I knew which would be better for him, she thought, knowing or forgetting. She moved her body down onto all fours as she left the house, the shape of a lion becoming her own.
"Every choice has a consequence," her nana had told her once. "You may never see it or know what that consequence is, but eventually it will come back to you. So be sure you make the right choice."
Have I made the right choice, Nana? she wondered as she moved off toward the mountains to hunt and then rest again. But what choice had there been? He had asked for her help.
And what if he'd wanted you to help him die? a soft voice whispered in the back of ther thoughts.
Her head shook slightly from side to side as she moved. No, she decided. Had he wanted to die, I'd never have been able to help him.
And with that, the doubts vanished. For good or ill, she had spared him from death. But only time would tell if she had helped or harmed the world with her actions.
She would have to send her apologies to the Order for having missed their meeting. And that would have a consequence, too.
With an annoyed growl, she quickened her pace and bounded off toward the mountain passes and the timid deer that lived there. She must eat and rest. There would be time enough to deal with the consequences later.
Loose Thread in the Weave
The days had passed by in quick succession, her time spent between hope and prayer. But as day turned into night and then day again, she began to wonder if she would ever see the knight of Northshire again.
More troubling was her inability to see Carad. He had been busy on a mission for the Cathedral, and several members of his order had left to acompany him.
Waiting began to wear on her, and prayer did little to ease her thoughts. She couldn't change the past. She couldn't even be certain she'd ever find out what had happened to her, and delving too deeply into that past was bound to have people asking questions sooner or later--especially if she was the one doing the asking.
She'd not seen the man with the headache again, but that wasn't so uncommon. She supposed if that were the case, seeing the knight she'd met in Northshire was just as improbable.
And so her days were spent in exploring the changes that had come to the world while she had been locked away from it.
The death of the Lich King, ancient Titan cities and artifacts, the rise of Deathwing, the return of Malfurian, the mortality of the dragonflights with Deathwing's destruction, the rise of the Twilight's Hammer and its various cults, the battle for Gnomeregan, the renewed Horde conflict in Ashenvale and Kalimdor, the road built in Theramore, and the battles being fought in Stonetalon and the Barrens, the return of Gilneas into the Alliance, and so, so, so much more. Her days were not without new discoveries, but she found them hard to take in--like all of them were a dream, and she'd wake up and the present would just be a possible future her dreams had fashioned.
But she knew that wasn't the case.
Everything she had known was lost, and finding a new direction was ...daunting.
She couldn't join Carad and his Order. She knew and understood that now. But she also couldn't go back to the Church. There would be too many questions, and if the right answers were found, she'd be taken away from the world once more. Which left her with only a few options--hide (which she wasn't wont to do), or find a new calling.
But where did she belong?
Belzac seemed caught up in his own affairs, as did Carad.
But perhaps, when she got a chance to see them again, they'd see something she hadn't. And perhaps she could help them help her begin the search for those who had stolen her life away from her those many years ago.
Seeking an Escape
She could have sought out more information about him. She could have decided to show an interest--as he had shown in her. But she'd decided that it wasn't important--at least not for now.
She spied her alter ego from time to time, wending her way through the streets, and she often wondered to what ends those trips were made. In the back of her mind, there was always a small voice that urged her to kill the slight woman of the wheat-blonde hair and leaf-green eyes. She was weak and pathetic, undeserving of the life she'd regained.
She was the reason Kendrick had vanished and Vileric had died.
She was the reason Rose was now alone.
But each time she thought to raise the blade, something stopped her.
Perhaps it was the nagging thought that they were joined somehow--that if she ended Syrenity's life, her own life would be forfeit. Or maybe it was simply the disgust that crawled over her at the thought of killing someone who deserved to suffer. And Syrenity did deserve to suffer.
Years had passed in which Rose had few memories; and yet, every regret and pain and hate and desire that -that- women had felt and thought--Rose knew them all.
She hadn't bothered asking about the intervening span--not of Ravenholdt, and certainly not from Shaw. Shaw had his prices, and Rose vowed never to play his games again. Belzac seemed intent on other matters, and Kazio wasn't to be trusted.
All of which left her feeling bitter and resentful. The worst part was waiting for that summons of the League--knowing that in time they'd call her in to pay her debts or else she'd be hunted and tracked for the rest of of her days until her death served some purpose for their ends.
But no summons had come.
But no. Kazio couldn't be a part of all of that. He was too flamboyant--too conceited. He was just a fool playing at fool's games for his own ends. And she wanted nothing to do with them.
Restless and feeling the city's walls closing in around her--anxious with the thought that Kazio would find her again, she'd booked passage on an ice-breaker to Northrend.
The League would know, but at least she could be free from the ghosts that seemed to taunt her at every street corner and back alley.
And maybe the cold winds and the bright snows would help her to clear away the cobwebs that clung to her memories. And maybe she could uncover what had happened to her--while Syrenity lay sleeping.
Lena woke to find him gone from the bed and day all ready beginning to creep its way through the windows. And so she'd risen and put on some ratty, old clothes and gone to do the laundry. It wasn't the most exciting of chores, but it was something she'd grown accustomed to doing since she'd joined the army.
She had considered taking a few of Arlen's things with her, but she thought that might be a bit telling, and so she spent her morning down by the lake, and her afternoon waiting beneath a low-limbed tree for her clothes to dry.
The soap she'd used was lavender scented--and it brought a smile to her face as she watched her clothes sway in the lakeshore breezes of Redridge.
Her mother used to hang their clothes outside on a cloth's line, but she had always preferred to let the forest scent their clothes--which was all fine and dandy unless it was raining. Then she'd bring them inside and hang them before the fire. And there they'd be scented by whatever flowers her mother was working with at the time--mageroyal, silversage, Winter's Bite, peacebloom, or silverleaf. Her mother always had flowers at the house.
But Lena's favorite time of year came in autumn and spring when the lavender and the jasmine came into bloom. They were the two scents she remembered most from their home in the forest, and she'd taken to wearing them ever since both her parents had died.
As she watched her clothes sway in the breeze, she thought about her conversation with Xandyr, the ride back to Redridge in the rain, and then having to tell Arlen the news.
He hadn't taken it well.
And he hadn't talked with her about it--not really.
It was the last that troubled her the most, however. He had been able to trust her with his life and his greatest secret, but this--this was a part of his life he hadn't shared with her.
Perhaps he had told Les. Maybe he'd shared it with Cayd. But Arlen as a Lord was a mystery to her.
He had been her CO in the Army, and he'd been her Lord since the time she'd stopped serving the Alliance and given over her life to him. It was only recently that they'd allowed themselves the luxury of being something more to one another, and Lena often found herself wondering if it was still difficult for him--to trust her with these things.
She also had to wonder if he'd shut Les away from him like this, as well. It was something, she decided, that all of the brothers did well--keeping their secrets.
Still, ...those secrets had cost them--all of them. Lena would have to remind him of that and hope that he would confide in her.
And if he doesn't? she asked herself.
Then I guess I'll have to start looking into things on my own.
Lost in the Details
As she fell back onto her bed in the small home that had been given over to her in Stormwind, Lena stared up at the ceilling. She'd missed so much. Time felt like it was slipping away--day after inexorable day, and there was little she could do about it. Between running errands for Alexandyr and keeping up with the twin towers in Elwynn Forest, not to mention all the people now living near them--Lena found herself drowning in piles of papers.
Certainly she had Raley to help her, but between the two of them, they were barely keeping up with it all, and Lena had the dark circles under her eyes, aching back, and sore hands and wrists to prove it.
Since Arlen had left her that morning in Redridge, everything had changed.
Knight to House Locke, her duties had been given over to Xandyr's well-being shortly following their meeting with the Council. She'd seen about his personal guard, the house guard, and ensuring they had a way to pay them. She'd then had to ensure that the money and supplies sent from the Alliance (which were far too few) were put to good use--and ensuring that she had whatever else Hadrian had needed made ready.
To make matters worse, news had reached many of the families of Lord Saidan's return, and more than a few had left the lives they'd just begun to build to return to the sole heir of House Madoran.
Recruits to the Cathedral and the Mage's Academy in Dalaran had to be checked on, and every day there was some new trouble--some new shipment to which she applied her time and attention.
Closing her eyes, she thought back to that last night in Hadrian's arms--back in Redridge--back when everything had been simpler.
They had all had to make sacrifices.
But just for a moment, ...she wished she could be selfish again.
She'd missed Retalina's wedding. Had she even been invited? If she had, the invitation had gotten lost somewhere in all the paperwork.
Rumor had it that Fenham had been there.
Her brain simply refused to get beyond that thought for the night. She was too tired. There was still so much that needed to be done. And before she could even think of trying to mount a resistance, sleep overtook her.
Yet another night she'd spend sleeping in her clothes again. Yet another night she'd spend alone.
She lay there for a while, staring up at the stony ceilling. She hadn't meant to say so much to him, but he'd asked her to tell him.
Last night had been a dreamless sleep--a welcome reprieve to the countless nights where shadows had haunted her thoughts.
And he had come back, too.
Retalina. Fenham. Cayd.
Will there be others? she wondered.
Hadrian had talked to Cayd, too; he had been a part of the commander's foundation--someone to talk to about the darkness in his heart--the things he kept buried from her.
Xandyr had been right about one thing last night; all the brothers had secrets buried deep within them. And she loved that about them. But she also hated it.
Secrets had kept she and Adrian apart. And now they were tearing away at Hadrian, too. Xandyr was the only one who had talked to her about his; it was the thing that bound them together--more than just a brother and a would-be sister.
Yes; she loved him. But it was always the love of a sister--someone who had shared his pain at his twin's loss--someone who knew what it was like to be without him--he who had been so much, and so little, a part of their lives. It was the regrets that ate at them--night after night.
Maybe Xandyr didn't have as many scars to show for his life on the outside, but on the inside? They had that alike about them.
Last night they had simply been afraid together, and even if he hadn't understood why, she was grateful that he'd let her go. She knew she'd have to see him again, though--that she'd have to tell him the horrible truths she held in her heart. But maybe if she said them, maybe if she told him, he would help her to see the truth of it.
And if he doesn't? her thoughts prodded her. If he seeks to become the thing you desire of him?
For a moment, thoughts of Xandyr pulling her into his arms, pressing his lips to hers the way Adrian so often did--whispering to her in that beautiful language of his, plagued her. It was the same every time she saw him--those torturous thoughts drowning her until she fled from them--from him. But this time, she knew the truth; Cayd had reminded her of it--beautiful, wonderful Cayd.
He can't, she replied. Stryker's dead. I saw it with my own eyes. I buried him with my own hands. He's gone, and that's something we both have to accept.
And move on.
You know he still hasn't been to his brother's grave....
Lena sighed. That was true. If he had, he'd done so without her; but this time, she'd ask him to go with her.
Maybe they could finally put his spirit to rest, even if she knew she'd always look into the shadows, wondering when her Stryker would appear.
Is it the same for Hadrian? she asked herself. Does he wake each morning, brush his fingers through my hair and wonder, with his eyes still closed, if it was all a bad dream? That when he opens his eyes, Les will be looking back at him, and Aaron will rush in and jump on the bed--laughing and crying out about something new he'd learned all ready that day?
She felt the tears at the edges of her eyes, a hand reaching up to brush them away.
How was she supposed to compete with that? How could she even hope to fill the ache in his heart?
He's been running from it, too, she thought glumly. And I've been helping him to do it.
Always Forward. The words had become a mantra for him--a way to tell himself that it was all right to keep running away. But the other night, with ghosts returning from their past, he hadn't been able to set his memories aside so easily.
"Do you want me to leave you alone for a while?" she asked.
"No," he replied, reaching out for her.
She wanted to be there for him; she had always been there for him. But last night, she'd told Cayd the truth of that, too. She couldn't even begin to understand the grief that was eating away at their beloved commander. And a part of her didn't want to understand; a part of her wanted him to forget about Lesetoilles and Aaron and the happiness they'd shared. A part of her hated them for always standing between herself and Hadrian.
And the worst part was, ...they were still there--coming between the two of them even now.
Like she'd known they would.
"It's not so far away."
Hadrian's voice echoed through her thoughts. Midsummer--the day when they were free to be together.
And yet, Lena had a sinking feeling that instead of a celebration of light and life, she would be celebrating the end of Hadrian and herself together. The darkness always came for her when the world was at its brightest. It had taken her parents from her, and soon it would take away her love and her happiness, too.
But this time, she'd be ready for it. She'd accept it, and she'd know all the right things to say. She'd know all the right things to do. She wouldn't let it destroy her, and she'd enjoy every last moment she could until the end came.
And I'll tell him to stop running, she thought as calm settled over her once more. I'll tell him to be honest with himself. I'll tell him to cry for all the love and the pain that he'll never have again. And maybe he can find a way to let go of them, too.
And maybe I can finally stop hating them. And myself for feeling that way.
A faint, wry smile caught at her lips. Bittersweet. Cayd had always been like that. But he'd always said the things no one wanted to hear--and needed to hear.
"Thank you, Cayd," she whispered to the ceilling, then sighed and pushed herself out of bed.
She had a long couple of days ahead of her, and longer ones to follow when they shipped out to Redridge. She just hoped it would be enough time.
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