Gardens of Thought [my IC Stories]

Wyrmrest Accord
The Future

She woke in his arms to find him still sleeping. He had been wrestling with the blankets again, and they were tangled up on his side of the bed. His arm was still around her, and he'd pulled her close.

For a while, she simply watched him--chest rising and then falling while he dreamt.

He had promised her that they would be together; come Midsummer, nothing would keep them apart.

And she believed him.

He was a man of his word--Hadrian Locke--always trying to do the right thing.

And she loved him with every part of herself.

And yet, the darkness was still there--taunting her as she knew it taunted him. Their promises were the desperate need to defy their own fears of what lay before them.

And she had believed him when he told her that he was over them--Lesetoilles and Aaron--that they would always be a part of him, but that he had room in his heart for her, as well. But then, she had wanted to believe him when he said that. And more, she needed to believe it was true.

And I'll find the right things to say to him when his heart is troubled, and he remembers that they are dead. I'll hold him close--just like this, and I'll listen to his sorrows until he finds peace from them.

..and I will love him, as no one has ever loved him before.

A snide voice whispered in the back of her mind, And keep secrets from him as you are doing--searching into matters that were his brother's concern. What do you think he will do when he finds out what you're doing? How do you think he'll feel when he learns that your secret endeavors delve into the darkness that your past lover kept?

He'll understand.

Will he? that dark voice continued. Will he believe, then, that your love for him is true? -Especially- now that you've told him about Alexandyr's drunken words and your own desires when you see him?

He knows me better than that.

A heavy sigh left her lips.

I'll tell him. When the time is right, I'll tell him.

Just not right now. He's got enough to worry about, and so do I.

With that, she dismissed the voice from her mind and leaned forward, pressing a kiss to cheek before she slipped from his grasp, grabbing her boots from beside the bed.

Five hundred gold pieces weren't going to find themselves, and although she had enough for a fifth of the payment now, the four- fifths that remained weren't going to earn themselves. And she couldn't ask for the money, either. Hadrian would want to know what it was for, and Alexandyr would attatch strings to the whole affair--strings that frightened her more than she cared to admit.

No. She'd find a way to earn the money herself. She knew a few shops that bought herbs, and before they headed out, she could probably collect a few--and undoubtedly a few more while they were on patrol in Redridge. She also knew that Netanel might have a use for her copying abilities--something she could do at night before bed and have the documents delivered back to him.

And then there was Aderyn. There were few secrets she could keep from him, linked as they were. Perhaps she could persuade him to lend her a bit of coin; after all, he'd always know where she was.

With a soft laugh and one last look back to her beloeved Hadrian, she smiled and headed out to begin the day. There would be the trip to Stormwind to leave the money for Kazio, though that would be after she spent some time picking herbs in the forest for a while. And then she'd have to try and get a meeting with Netanel. That one might have to wait until the campaign was done, but she'd at least leave a message for him at the Cathedral.

And Aderyn she'd try to catch during her sojourn in the wood. And tonight, she'd settle down with Raley and go over the accounts one last time. She was leaving him in charge of it all while she was out on the field, and it was through him, she'd be requisitioning whatever purchases the Vanguard would need while on campaign--a thought that ought to trouble her more, she supposed. But she could think on that tomorrow as they headed out toward their new home for the next several weeks.
Heart of Darkness

As Lena trudged wearily up toward the Command tent, several people stopped her, but when they looked at her eyes, they drew back, their requests falling to silence. Whatever had happened--whatever horrors they had seen, she had seen something ten times worse.

When she made it to the tent, she found it empty. Sighing, she gently lay the Libram on the table with the maps, then turned and headed back out. She wasn't sure how long it had been since she'd last seen Arlen, but the sky was beginning to grow lighter.

Calling to one of the lieutenants still up, she headed down to meet with him.

"I need you to find the Commander. He hasn't returned to his tent."

The man nodded to her. "We'll find him, m'lady."

He gave her a military salute, and she gave him back the salute of a knight--hand over her heart. The words came dully from her lips as she said them: "Always Forward", and she didn't hear what he said in reply as she turned back for Hadrian's tent.

Slumping down on a chest, she began mechanically removing her armor, tossing it to the ground like a shedded skin she no longer desired.

For a while she just sat there, staring at the pile of metal--feeling as empty and hollow out of it as she had within it.

I couldn't save him. I did all the wrong things. How am I supposed to call myself a knight when I can't even save the ones I love?

She had been useless--utterly useless, and the betrayal she had committed when her lips touched Cayd's--he had been right to toss her away like some rotted sack of potatoes.

How many times will you turn away from him? her thoughts mocked her. How many times will you hurt Hadrian so that you can save someone else he loves and needs?

The ordeal with Stryker had been worse; she'd happily have gone with his shade, thinking that he'd leave them all alone if she could just get him to see only her. But that, too, had been a lie--all a lie.

How can you call yourself a paladin of the Light? the voice continued to mock her. You claim to have faith in it, but when the darkness falls all around you, you listen to your heart instead.

You're pathetic. Worse than even Cayd. He at least had the decency to run away. But look at you--still here--still pretending that you have some reason to stay. You couldn't save him. And in the end, ... you'll hurt them all.

She wanted to counter that they needed her--that as long as she held the line, they'd be all right until Hadrian returned. But the thought of seeing him again--of seeing Cayd again--she couldn't bear it. Even the thought of seeing them was killing her from the inside out.

She'd been useless; she was always useless--putting other people in danger for her sake. And this time had been no different.

When the campaign was over, she'd leave--renounce her knighthood and get as far away from all of them as she could. Ti'retrin would stay with Hadrian; he'd know better than she had what to do with it; for, the Light no longer favored her. In her greatest hour of need, it had deserted her.

And as she drifted off to sleep upon that chest, the last thought that tore through her thoughts and made her ache more than all the other wounds she had suffered combined was only this:

I couldn't save him.
Another Day, Another Night

Lena sighed as she pushed herself up off the ground, steadying herself on the crate as she plucked up the empty bottle and the two mugs from the ground. Cayd's was finished, but hers was still more than half full.

She was tired--more tired than she cared to admit to herself as she headed into the command tent.

The letters were right where Hadrian had said they would be, and her armor was on the ground still waiting for her, too.

She sighed, glancing over toward his bed roll; Hadrian was all ready asleep. Another soft sigh left her lips, then. Cayd had said Hadrian had seemed closed when they'd talked earlier. And she'd said something dumb--as usual.

But when she saw him in battle, as she had today, she really did wonder if he missed Dro'Arlen. On the field, he had seemed alive. This evening, back at camp, ...had been another matter.

He's just tired, she told herself. And so are you.

She eyed the mug of wine, grimacing as she carefully poured it back into the bottle. Victory they might have had, but their distraction had not stopped the Blackrock orcs from hatching whatever had been in that cocoon at the Altar of Storms.

Frowning, she hid the bottle among her things, moving to take up the death letters.

Death letters, she thought with a bit of a sad, wry smile. She did not envy the person who would deliver them along with their bodies to those who were waiting back home for their safe return.

She headed quietly out of the tent and back down to where the last of the boxes were just now being closed over the last seven bodies--seven more soldiers who had died that day and were making their final trip home.

One of the Vanguard soldiers was overseeing this last, and it was to her that Lena gave over the letters, each carefully addressed, and marked, and signed by Commander Hadrian Locke. Or did he use the name Arlen Ironison? Lena wondered. Who does he see himself as these days?

As she departed, she eyed Sindorel's tent which had been turned into a makeshift sick ward for wounded soldiers to recover in. They'd begin moving the patients in the morning, but for now, it was still the Archmage's tent.


Lena wasn't certain what to make of him; she wondered if he knew what to make of himself. The tale he'd spun her was full of holes and gaps that left her wondering just what he'd been leaving out. It also left her wondering about all the things Arlen wasn't telling her--about Deanisiia, and Izraena, and the rest of House Elnor.

But she was too tired to reflect on it for too long. The thought that Fenham would play a crucial role in Incubus' demise, however, worried her. He had enough to worry about--especially if what he'd said today was the truth.

Elias--the ruthless leader of his family's dark legacy--the man who had once controlled Fenham, had appeared in a pool of blood. Or at least one of his servants had. Lena hadn't had a chance to check on him, but she thought she'd seen that serpent sink its fangs into his hand. And looking around the camp, she had no idea where he might be or even where to begin looking.

Another long sigh left her lips at that, her footsteps returning to the tent at the top of the hill. Her armor could wait until the morning, as could her note of thanks to Xandyr for the wine.

But try as she might, as she lay on her own sleeping roll that night, she found she couldn't sleep.

Another soft sigh left her lips as she glanced over at Arlen. She thought, too, of the unspoken invitation in Cayd's parting words. This was not how she'd intended for things to be.

Had telling Hadrian that Cayd loved her ruined their friendship? Was he troubled by something he wasn't telling her about?

Frowning, she pushed aside her own blankets and moved over to settle down next to Hadrian.

She leaned forward, brushing her lips to his forhead, before curling up beside him, wrapping herself in his arms as she carefully moved them about herself.

Alexandyr's Knight. Cayd's Angel.

And what was she to Hadrian, she wondered as she closed her eyes.

But whatever it might have been was lost as sleep easily came and claimed her as she lay in his arms.
A Letter "Home"

To Alexandyr, Lord of House Locke:

My Lord:

I hope this letter finds you well. The battles here have taken their toll, as you well know; and therefor, I must thank you for the extra libations you sent to us with our supplies. I happen to have a bit of a bottle left, though I confess since you told me it was one of Adrian's favorites, I always think of him when I take a drink. And I find, as always, that I miss him still.

We sent home forty soldiers today--forty more out of the nearly hundred we've lost since coming here. And a part of me finds my heart is aching.

Cayd is always teasing me that I am not truly a soldier. Hadrian has mentioned it more than once now. But if I am not a soldier, then what exactly am I?

I keep asking myself that question, wondering if this is where I belong.

We have a boy with us, Clorvay. He shouldn't even be out on the field. And yet, ...seeing him on the battlefield, he seems there. Maybe they're right. Maybe I don't belong here. But if that's true, can I even begin to remain with Hadrian? He says he needs me, but then I see him out on the battlefield, and he's as reckless as ever he was. And nothing I can do is going to change that. He says he needs me, but what does he really need me for?

He needs Cayd more than he will ever need me.

I just manage the details... And sometimes I wonder if I get too caught up in them.

That and I think too much.

In either case, I'm here now, and that's as it must be. I simply wanted to thank you for the bottles of wine. They were ...greatly appreaciated.

I hope all is well.

In Service, I remain,

Dame Ardelena Harper
To Forge the Light Anew

Lena spent the day in restless anticipation. Tomorrow morning they would be gone--gryphons carrying them Nethergarde Keep, and from there, they would ride to the portal. She knew that Darrick would want to see as much as he could on their way there; so, they would take a more scenic route than she'd have liked. From Stormwind, they'd travel west and south to Westfall, and from there, their journey would take them straight to the east, through Duskwood and Deadwind Pass until they ended up in the Blasted Lands and Nethergarde.

Lena was just as excited to be going on this trip, but there were thoughts that nagged at her, as well. Alexandyr continued to apologize for his actions, in spite of her continued assurances that there was nothing to forgive; guilt clouded his thoughts, and Lena decided that it would be best to find him someone else to fixate upon before he started to dwell upon it too much. This she would mention to 'rian.

Too, there was the situation between herself and Cayd. That night--he had called it a dream--but she couldn't shake the guilt that continued to plague her own thoughts over it. Yes, Hadrian had needed him, but her own actions had spoken of a darkness that had been growing within her since the day Hadrian had left her to retake his command of the 87th Vanguard.

Her thoughts that night had not solely been of Cayd; there was Adrian and Alexandyr, ...and Hadrian. And yet, she had been no better than any beast of the field that night--succombing to desires she wished she had not.

Even the thought of it made her heart ache, and it did worse things.

Fenham had been her confidante that night she'd broken--before the battle two days later. She'd shown him just how deep that darkness had delved within her. And then, just as easily she'd buried it--seeing the fear of her words shaking him even as he did his best to find words to comfort her.

But there was no comfort. Not for her. And so she had lied to him at the end. She would be fine, she told him. She was just saying things--things she didn't mean.

And for a little while, when she was with Hadrian, she was free of the pain. But then he'd say something, or they'd be talking about the Vanguard or Cayd, and it took everything within her to hold the tide of buried emotions back.

You made a mistake.

And yet, she knew how easily a mistake could cost you everything.

And the thought of losing Hadrian made her soul grow cold, her heart writhing in agony. But if she told him--if he ever found out what had happened, she knew that it would be over between them.

There was a level of trust that would be forever broken--never to be mended.

And not just between the two of them.

That was why she had to go away. That was why she had to find a way to bury what had happened that night. For all of them.

And the sooner the better, she thought with a sigh.
Letters to Hadrian (Day 1)

My dearest Hadrian,

It is late as I write this, and I am beyond tired. But I did promise to write to you; so, here is my first letter.

My heart feels lighter for the things we spoke of before I left, but I can only imagine they must weigh upon you--knowing as we both do that you'll eventually have to speak with Cayd. I almost wish I could be there, but I have a feeling it will be better if I'm not.

Today's journey was a long one--far longer than I've taken in some time. I'm not sure if Darrick was surprised or even noticed the land we were flying over; I didn't get a chance to ask him.

We spoke this evening of the woman he loved. Her name was Lily, and she was the daughter of Lord Oulton--a man he served before joining House Snowstorm. We talked, too, of Alexandyr and Adrian. Did you know that Adrian and Annabelle were to be betrothed? Darrick told me that he was likely going to have to raise him.

Adrian always saw things no one else saw, though; he knew secrets, but he seemed to know more than that, too. It was like he could look into the heart of a person and know exactly who they were. But with that knowledge came alienation. He had closed himself away from people for a long, long time. And I admit, it hurts to think of how much of himself he kept hidden. Behind all those shadows, your brother was an amazing man. And truth be told, I miss him terribly.

I tell myself that we really didn't have much time together. You and I, for instance, have barely known one another for a year. And yet, ... sometimes it felt like years. That I am learning of the man he was only now, after he's gone, leaves an ache in my heart that I find hard to dispel.

It must be much harder for Xandyr. I get the feeling that they were part of a whole, sometimes--Xandyr the light side, and Adrian the dark. Darrick said that Xandyr always tended to get most of the attention; but then, isn't that what Xandyr always seems to want? I have a feeling he did it in order to shield Adrian, though--to allow him to feel like he belonged--to put people at ease around his brother. If they spent more time looking at him, then perhaps they wouldn't notice the quiet boy who always seemed to know things.

I am left to wonder, too, if Adrian was ever jealous of his brother. Perhaps Xandyr has jealousies of his own. As I write this, I wonder if perhaps I am one of them, but that is a little conceited; isn't it?

We spoke, too, of the secrets that people keep--my fears, and my love for you. I'm not certain what Darrick thinks of us; I am not certain I know what he thinks of you, either. He says you are a good man, but I wonder, sometimes, if he feels that you did House Locke a disservice by stepping down as its lord. Or, perhaps, it is simply that he doesn't know you well.

I suppose Darrick Dallas has secrets of his own.

I...didn't tell him about Cayd. I don't think I could ever tell another soul, in truth. 'rian, are the only person from whom I cannot keep a secret. I've tried, but even when I was just your knight, your soldier--even then I couldn't keep a secret from you.

I love you far too much to do that.

Still, Darrick says that the secrets that we keep from one another can often destroy us, and Light knows what I would do without you. So, I need to tell you something--something that shames me just as much as what I've done.

I ...never cared for your wife, and I envied her your son. I was angry with you for always leaving them behind, but I was more angry with her for not understanding why you did. I imagine that I am wrong for holding much of that anger. Did she understand, 'rian? Was she as troubled as you were? Did it break your heart to leave them behind--even when you knew she wanted to be with you?

For as much as I saw her with us, I never felt as though she were one of us--as if her heart belonged to you, but that she despised the rest of us. Or perhaps she was simply jealous. I can relate to that at times. You try so hard to be there for your people, and sometimes, I imagine it must be difficult when you'd rather be somewhere else--with someone else.

I am sorry that I cannot love her as you did. I wish, sometimes, that I could, because I know how much she means to you--and how much you surely loved your son. But I never saw you like that--as a father and a husband. I only saw you as my commander--and someone I could never have. And I suppose, in truth, I resented that. You never let the men and women working with you see that other side of you, and I wish you had, now. Just so that I could have seen that side of you--so that I could know that man, too.

You shouldn't have to hide, 'rian. Not your love. Maybe it is a weakness, but it is also one of the greatest strengths I know. It may make us foolish and prone to doing stupid things, but it is also the best part of us--that which makes us brave and strong and hopeful.

I love you. And I don't ever want to have to hide that--from anyone. And I promise that I'll try not to hide myself away from the people with whom you surround yourself. Mostly because I want them to see you and know you as I do--a man who loves his people more than life itself.

But promise me, every once in a while, that you will save a little bit of that love for me and me alone.

Otherwise, I am like to do something foolish.

Write back when you can. Tell me how everything is going.

I haven't really had a chance to reconnect with the Light, yet. But hopefully we'll find some time together--it and I. For now, though, our journey will continue on to Honor Hold tomorrow, and from there we'll travel to Telredor.

I wonder what Darrick will think of it all, and I wonder, too, if he will ever find happiness again. He does not think that Lily is still alive; he fears she was taken with the Plague. It makes me sad to think of their love parted like that--by war and circumstance. It has the makings of a lovely song, I should think--albeit a sad one.

Anyway...enough musing from me. I love you, and I miss you. Stay safe for me, and look after everyone while I'm gone.

Love always,

Letters to Hadrian (Day 3)

My beloved Hadrian,

I received your letter early this morning, just before we left for Telredor. It gave me something to read and re-read on the gryphon trip to Telredor, and now that I am here, I am writing you back.

It made me so happy to have your words, though there are a few things I must say with regard to what you've written before I tell you all of what I have been doing since we came to the Portal.

So, first, let me say only that I am no longer angry or jealous--merely ashamed for those things which once I felt. I should have understood that nothing was as simple as I wanted it to be. I should have learned by then that not everything is black or white, but I suppose that in my ignorance, and in my own selfish pride, that's what I wanted--for the world and all the people in it to be one thing or another.

I've learned so much since then, and I am not certain I am happy for the learning of them.

I suppose it makes sense that Les knew of my feelings, though I rather wish she had talked to me instead of trying to shut me out. That was as futile as anything else, I suppose. And for my part, when I did try to talk with her, I suppose I only made her angrier and more resentful. How I should have liked to get to know Aaron, but because of the things I said--she kept me away from both of you.

I wonder, sometimes, what it would be like if she were still alive--if I would still be here. If you would be returned to the Vanguard. I think, though, that she'd have retired you--turned you into a father instead of a soldier. And eventually, she'd find a way to make me leave, or else do her best to ensure that I was miserable in staying.

I like to think that I'd have stayed--loyal to the end. I was content, in truth, to simply be there for you. I could have found another to love, and in time, I've no doubt I would have. Perhaps Adrian's madness would have taken a different turn. Perhaps you'd still be bridled with the burden you relinquished here near Shattrath.

So many things would be different if they had lived. I know you've accepted what's come to pass; we both have. But it doesn't stop the pain from finding us, and it doesn't stop the sadness at their loss.

Hadrian, ...when you are burdened with your pain and sadness, please don't shut me away; don't hold back because it might sadden me.

I love you, and I want to be a part of everything in your life--including the memories of Lesetoilles and Aaron. We cannot change what has passed, but perhaps sharing those little things that remind us of who they were will make us stronger.

But if, as I suspect you might feel, you decide to hold back those things from me and to honor your dead wife's dislike of me, ...just know that it is a sadness to me that I never got to know them better and that I know that I was, in part, at fault for it. And it will always haunt me, I think.

But now for the rest of my thoughts, and know that I am not burdened with sadness as I write to you. In truth, these letters are almost as good as talking to you and having you here with me. I try to think of all the things you'd want to know, and then I write them.

Danath Trollbane still commands at Honor Hold, and Marshal Isildur still trains and leads sorties against the Horde and demons of Hellfire. But there is a mix of men now among the Sons of Lothar. There are Stormwind infantry and soldiers from Nethergard, as well. But even so, the place seems dismal--as hellish as its name. And I think the soldiers there are weary of their seemingly endless battle. But if the Legion were ever to make it through again--if they found a way past the Portal into Azeroth--all would be lost.

Darrick and I passed through the portal near midday, and he got to see first-hand the fighting that still contiues at the bottom of the stairs. It is not as fierce as it once was, but that probably just means they are building up their forces for a greater attack eventually. We took gryphons from there to Honor Hold, though I took him on a more thurough ride over the peninsula before we landed.

I can tell he is troubled by what he has seen, and I expect he'll have more he wants to say to you--or perhaps to me--at some point.

Although he keeps close watch on me, he gave me some time to myself while we were within the Keep, and last night, I let him have a bit of time with the soldiers below to drink and talk of their experiences. But before that, I visited their graveyard and spoke with its caretaker, Dilandrus. He has yet to return to Azeroth, and I fear that he many never do so. He is free enough with his tale--that he has never seen our world--that his parents raised him on the broken world of Draenor, but I do not think he will ever leave his parents even though they rest in that graveyard of heroes.

I spent some time among the graves myself, Nakamaru's libram in hand. And I was struck by how many such places there are--of lives and secrets and promises long forgotten by the world. And it saddened me. What were their hopes and dreams? What did they like to eat? Who did they love? What did they live for, and how was it they died? I imagine there are few people left who remember those things, and fewer still who care. I imagined that in time there would be little left of us, as well--only memories and perhaps our children.

I prayed for a while in that graveyard, too--for all the soldiers that never made it home--hoping for a day when the portal would open again, and we would find them. I thought, too, of the people we left behind in Dal Cartref--those who died in order that we might live. And that left me with thoughts of Nakamaru.

I knew him but little, Hadrian; and yet, again, I feel as if I had known him for half my life. The things he could do--the people and the lives he saved--they must be as many as the stars in the sky. He told me once that he had loved someone, though he rarely spoke of her. And I think he has forgotten more than we will ever know or remember of him.

Holding his book there, in the graveyard, I almost felt as though he were with me for a while; for, in spite of my sadness, I felt some peace from the graves around me. They died believing that there was a better future for all of us, and they died trying to create that future. And I like to think that perhaps, in some way, they would be happy to see what we have accomplished.

And yet, as I left to wander the ramparts of the keep of Honor Hold, I thought how much of a burden it is to carry the dead with us wherever we go. And so I let them go to return to their graves. The dead of Honor Hold left me easily, but Nakamaru remains. Even here. Even now in Telredor.

Part of the reason I came here was for him. This was his world, and for a time, he lived and loved and hoped among these temples and rocks and waters.

I carry a part of him with me--Ti'retrin, and I wonder sometimes if I am worthy still to carry it. My heart grows heavy sometimes when I think of what I've become, and I miss, greatly, his calm and reassurance.

I have been hoping to find it here. And yet, still my heart is restless.

It is raining here in the Marsh--not surprising. And there is little to see from up here save mushrooms. We'll take one of their manta rays to Shattrath tomorrow, but Darrick and I will spend a bit of time flying over the Marsh so he has a better look at it--rain and all.

I am sitting up top under the inn's canopy, though the top room here has no walls. Nakamaru's libram sits beside me, and I think I will simply spend some time here in prayer--or perhaps just reflecting upon the Light. This darkness that haunts me--I need to let it go.

And yet, like Cayd's storm, I feel as though something is following me--some greater darkness still.

I wonder, sometimes, if Adrian's shade followed us. I wonder, too, about Nys'rad. I was thinking just last night of your old family estate, as well--the one below the ground. I was remembering Lesetoille and her spider, Xandyr...all the people that wandered within there. I stayed behind because I didn't think I belonged there. It was a feeling--like the place had rejected me--a hatred and resentment like that held by Les. I was an outsider there, and the shades of your family misliked me.

You do not speak of Arlen much, by the way. We both know what became of him, and I confess it is daunting to know what I keep with me at times. I think, eventually, he will find his way back into the world again, and I wonder who those people will be that will have to fight him. And I hope they are strong--like you and Les. And I hope whoever it is has someone that loves them as much as I love you.

One last thing, I'm re-reading your letter. Les was never the thing "in my way". She was someone who hurt you sometimes, and that was where my anger was directed. My jealousy is more of the time and memories she has with you--which is a foolish thing to be jealous about, I know. But don't begrudge her them. And I certainly don't believe that I know everything that occurred between you both. But I know, sometimes, that she hurt you. I imagine sometimes you hurt her, too. But at the time, I misliked that she hurt you. Another foolish girl's misguided anger, Hadrian. I wanted to protect you, and seeing you hurt in a way that I could not heal--that no one could heal--was difficult--especially when I knew what you were up against. Though I know, now, that she knew as well as I did (perhaps moreso) what you were up against. And it is for that reason that I am ashamed. I could have helped her--if she'd let me. Instead I blamed her.

I wish, sometimes, that I had it to do over. I wish I had many things I could do over again differently. But done is done. I just...I needed you to know. I don't need your forgiveness; I do need your understanding, though. I want you to know me--all of me--the good and the bad. And if I had to keep all of these thoughts to myself about Les and Aaron, I think one day they might have come back to hurt us both.

And that, I don't want.

As for your own fears--that I will resent your time with the Vanguard and your people, or that I will grow angry with you....

I love them as much as I love you; and if I can't do that, then I could never love you. They are as much a part of you as your love for me is, and if I tried to take you away from that, you would pull away all the more. My only troubled thought is that you never tell me what you think of them; you never tell me what you see, what they tell you.... I cannot help you with them if you keep me shut out of those things. If they are your people and your problems alone, then, yes. I will be angry, and I will be jealous. And in time, I will resent them. And you.

I spend time with them because I care about them, but I also know that there are things that you must know about them, too. You must know when they feel left out. You must know when they are facing challenges they are too afraid to share with someone else. And so I watch, and I listen, and I do what I can for them. And then I tell you--as I have always told you. Because they are a part of you, and I love that so much about you.

These people are your family, and they will be my family, too. In truth, they all ready are.

I lost my mother and father when I was a child. These people are the only people I have. Perhaps that's why I grow so angry with them sometimes. And perhaps that's why I want to protect them so fiercely.

I suppose, what I'm trying to say is that as long as you tell me things--share with me your troubles, even your memories of them--your hopes and your dreams for them, and your fears--I will not ever be able to resent you or them. This is our family, and I am looking forward to the day when we have children. Because then the Vanguard will become their family, too. And they will grow up with so many true and loving people around them.

It makes me smile to think of it, even as it rains.

Blonde haired little babies....

I want to have a life with you, Hadrian. Just thinking of it makes me happier than I have ever been. I know it's ...a lot to take in, maybe. But that's what I want. And I hope...that's what you want, too.

I'm glad everything is all right there. And I am laughing as I think about what training will be like for all those new recruits. I hope it goes well. I'm sure Darrick would like to be there to help with that, and if I know Cayd, he'll be both loving and hating it. I do not envy him for having to be cold and cruel with them. That is one thing I was never good at.

Is it strange, do you think, that I should love Cayd most of all for that coldness and cruelty of his--knowing why he does it? Knowing that he keeps us safe?

I do love him for that, Hadrian. And I confess, even when he frightened me the most, I knew that I was safe with him.

Except...for that night in the Burning Steppes--when you'd fallen, and nothing I did seemed to affect him. I felt as if the Light had abandoned me that night. And...I truly thought he might kill me.

I would have let him, too, believing that if he saw me dead, he might return to himself again. It was a foolish thing to believe, but seeing him like that killed me more than you will ever know. It drove a knife right through my heart. There was no hope for redemption in my heart--not like how I felt with Adrian. He truly meant to destroy me--and that hate and that loathing is something I have never known before.

I was powerless against it.

And then you came back.... But it wasn't to save me. It was to save him. And a part of me died then, too. You and Cayd both thought I was trying to kill him, but in truth, I only meant to knock him out--to stop the madness before we all descended into it.

It hurt to think that you both thought I was capable of killing him--that -that- was my intention. But even in the darkest darkness of my heart, I couldn't give up on him. I was so blinded by pain and sorrow that I couldn't even see what you'd done--what you were doing. I just wanted to stop the pain--to stop him from doing something foolish.

I wanted to save him.

But in the end, ...I couldn't, and it was you who did.

It is that last that has me sitting here in Telredor, listening to the rain--wondering why the Light abandoned me.

Did I not care enough? Had I done something wrong in not talking with Cayd earlier when we had the chance? Was there something I should have said? Something I could have done? Had the Light forsaken me because I had not listened to it before?

He never let me close. You were the only one he would talk to, and even then, you never knew. I knew, and I thought you must have known. I thought that's why you kept us apart--or at least tried to. But even when we did talk--even then--he hid his pain and the ache in his heart from me. Trying to spare me, I suppose.

And then that night, ...when he and I were standing there all alone, that pain and hate and anger in his eyes--Hadrian, I wanted to die; I wanted to end his pain, and I knew that was the only way I could end it. But I...had hope that he could find a different way--the way I found with you all that time when I knew we could never be together.

And he hated me for that, too. For hoping he would change.

Watch him carefully, love. Training the new recruits will bring back all those pains and memories, but if you're there--if someone is there to save him--maybe we can stop him and save him from the worst of himself this time.

He is as much a part of the Vanguard as the rest of us, but the Vanguard without him? No. There is no Vanguard without him. He is ... the best part of us--that noble part of us that struggles against the darkness in spite of the pain, and the fear, and the sadness. And I could not bear to lose him again.

So keep him safe. I think, perhaps, you are the only one who can right now.

I love you. Always.

Letters to Hadrian (Day 4)


We have made it here to Shattrath at last, and I think Darrick is as restless as I am--though he longs for more exploration than I do. He is as restless as you are, and I fear that he is wasted as the head of the House Guard and Xandyr. You should speak to your brother about finding a replacement for him, I think. He won't like it, but if Sir Dallas has to spend his days couped up at Westpoint, I think Xandyr will like it even less.

I'd offer myself in replacement, but the thought of not being with you--of being left to mind your brother and his drinking--I do not think it would end well.

That said, have you spoken with him of late? Is he all right?

We'll have to find someone to replace Darrick, though. Perhaps you know of someone better suited?

Darrick seems as interested in seeing more of Draenor as I am of trying to find what I seeking out here. He has the lust for adventure in him, and I admit that I find it rather charming. His love for life--his enthusiasm in spite of all that has gone before is refreshing. But I wonder sometimes, too, if he isn't searching for something as much as I am.

Last night we spoke of what passed in the Burning Steppes that night when the demons attacked. He assures me that none of what passed between us will find its way to other ears, but if I had doubts of him, I'd have never told him anyway. I do not think he understands it all, really--though I think he tries. He seemed somewhat bitter, though--and I confess I probably didn't have the right words last night to say to him. He cannot touch the Light, and so he cannot fully understand what it means to be without it--to know what it is like when it has fled you--or worse failed to heed you when you call.

Perhaps, in that, you two have a bit more in common than I.

I'll be heading out shortly to spend some time in the place where Nakamaru freed you from your burden. I find, more and more, that what I am hoping to find here is something of our dear Nick. He would have known what lay within my heart, and he would have somehow understood. He'd know the right things to say, and he'd know what it was I needed to do.

Instead, I'm left searching for a way to free myself from the darkness of my own heart, and it is not so easy a thing to find.

I look back at everything that's happened, and I see all the ways that I have failed.

You told me once that I wasn't really a soldier, and sometimes, I think you're more right than you know. I don't know how to raise a blade against a friend. I don't know how to give up hope when faced with adversity--however foolish it might be. I'm a girl drunk on stories of heroes--longing to be one, but finding that I am woefully unable to do the things that must be done.

I want to believe that in every heart there is some goodness--however deeply buried. That in the very heart of darkness, there lies some memory of the innocence that was once shed for greed, or power, or vengeance.

And I confess that I am surprised that I am not dead.

Does the Light have a purpose for me still, Hadrian? Is this moment of weakness meant as a lesson? And if so, what is it I am supposed to be learning?

I am at war with myself--the rational part of me telling me that I ought to give up on such foolish, naiive ideals as those I've written to you above. But there is that other part of me that would rather die than see those things vanish.

Am I a fool for wanting to save people from themselves? Am I stupid to beleive that in their hearts all people want to return to that moment where they made the wrong choice and somehow right it?

I remember Damien Snowstorm--that anger and hatred that burned within him. I saw how he treated his daughter--unbelieving that such cruelty could exist. And when he died, I thought it mete that it was by your hand. But I...I couldn't kill him.

Light knows that after what he did to Annabelle, I wanted to. But instead, was you who finally sentenced him. Just as it was you who sentenced Adrian.

I know that it was the right thing, but I wonder to myself often enough: am I a coward?

Even in battle I find myself protecting from afar instead of killing. And when you left me to kill that demon on my own that night in the Burning Steppes, ...I felt fear in my own mortality. I could have died, and you left me there to do so.

I think back on the other battles, and in each one, I can recall that when it was done, I wanted to cry, and often I did. So many good people lost their lives; so, why was it that I was still alive? Westfall, Stone Watch, the marshes near Theramore, Gilneas, Dal Cartref, and the Burning Steppes...I feel like I've been with you a lifetime, Hadrian, and yet, I wonder what it is we've truly accomplished.

Is Westfall any more safe now than it was when we left it? Are the Burning Steppes? The war wages on in the Barrens, and Theramore's defenses increase. We've been fighting the orcs since the day they came here, and the demons were faught by the night elves before us. There are the trolls, and now the Horde. Even the high elves deserted us and are now broken--the blood elves' loyalty to the Horde likely as sharp a knife among those who did not join them. Meanwhile the Old Gods that lay sleeping awaken, and their cultists shatter and destroy an all ready broken world.

I look at Draenor and I wonder if Azeroth is any better, really. We may not have shattered our planet to pieces, but we as a people are surely fractured and broken as these rocks that mark the death of a way of life and its people.

And yet, I look at Darrick, and I see him so full of life--so curious and fierce. I know yesterday I wrote to you of building a life together, and it must sound like today I am despairing of it. It's just that I wonder what use I am to you--to any of you. I wonder if my notions are that of a foolish girl who grew up believing that justice could bring an end to the grief she felt when her parents were murdered. But will finding their killer bring about the justice I seek? Will fighting these battles as we do make for a better world in the end?

Or am I, as logic wishes to dictate to my fool's heart, simply fooling myself?

And the truth is, Hadrian, I don't have an answer. I won't know until I get there--until it's past.

And so I have to believe--that this darkness within me has a reason for its being and that I will find the answer to its end. I must believe that what we do has a purpose and that my inability to kill and instead seek to save someone is right--even when faced with the darkest of hearts. We were meant to save one another, Hadrian. And these battles that we fight--they are simply the battles that war within our hearts made manifest.

And day...we'll find peace.

Maybe all the fighting will end.

But until then, I will carve out what peace I can with you and with the Vanguard, with House Locke, and the Alliance. And we'll find what happiness we can together.

At least, ..that's what I want to believe.

Know that you are in my thoughts often, love. Be safe, and write to me when you can.

I miss you.

Love always,

Away from the Shadows

The letter had arrived just as they were leaving that morning. Their stay in Telaar, albeit brief, had given Darrick a chance to see the way of life of the draenei--or at least as much of it as they could keep out in Nagrand. She had shown him as much of the surrounding area as she could on hippogryph, and it was those hippogryphs that would now carry them to the Blade's Edge mountains. They'd trade out mounts in Sylvanaar and continue on their way to Stormspire that night.

Lena found herself troubled at the news in the letter, though not for herself. That restlessness that had haunted her, the darkness that had hounded her had faded after her night in the grove where Nakamaru had freed Dro'Arlen from Hadrian. The Libro Tempestas--the book that now held that demonic essence, rested at her hip as she rode and her thoughts drifted.

She knew she'd have to show the letter to Darrick at Sylvanaar, but they'd make no decisions until they reached the Stormspire that night. It would be easy enough for the ethereals to teleport them back to Shatrath if needed--for a price, of course. But Lena still wanted him to see the crumbling, fading pieces of this dying world--to understand more truly what the Legion did to worlds they conquered and left behind.

That Fenham had been unable to keep her secret troubled her. That he believed Cayd had %@%!d her was even more troubling. Moreso because it had been nothing like that. Had she really given him that impression that night in the Burning Steppes? Could Fenham truly believed that Cayd would do something like that? To her?

Worse yet, did he truly think her that incapable of looking out for herself?

The wind caught at her sigh and pulled it away as the hippogryphs flew onward.

She could only wonder what Cayd must be thinking--of her and of everything. That he had seemed fine troubled her even more. He'd been like that just before he'd left the last time. And she was worried that he, too, would be gone by the time she returned.

Annabelle was just as troubling, and it was because of her that Lena believed they'd be returning shortly after they arrived in Stormspire. Darrick would be just as worried as she was, and the fact that Hadrian had received word from the people Darick had watching her would definitely give him reason.

But was it enough? Had she found everything she was hoping to find here?

The thought occupied her as they traveled toward the end of the world, and she had a feeling there was still something left she had to do before they returned.

If only she could figure out what that something was.
The Light's Own

Even as the fires of midsummer blazed through all of Azeroth, Lena's heart had found only a spark, but it didn't consume her. Adrian had consumed her with his love. And Fenham had been the boy she'd tried to love and then protect. But Fenham had sent her away that night in Theramore--away into the waiting arms of Stryker--Stryker who deserved someone who would truly love him with all their heart.

The pain of her betrayal had driven him mad, and now he was dead.

They're all dead, she reflected as she gazed into the festival fires, the ardor of her heart's spark blowing away on the wind as the fire consumed the wood.

Lena's parents had been murdered during the festival. Adrian had been twisted by the Legion and gone mad; Hadrian, his own brother, had killed him.

Stryker killed me, too, once.

And you nearly killed Hadrian--if Cayd hadn't stopped you.
her thoughts replied to her.

But she had never been able to do the killing. Even killing Hadrian had been more Dro'Arlen than herself. She couldn't kill Cayd, either, that night in the Burning Steppes. The love that she held for them had cost her.

There was a scar at her neck that would never heal, and scars on her palms where she had stopped Cayd's sword with her own hands. There were other scars, too.

Memories were the heart's scars; no one could see them, but she felt them just the same.

She had found a purpose again on Draenor, and she had found love when she'd returned. But the ghosts of what had passed still haunted her.

She was Hadrian's.

But that had not always been the case--even if her heart foolishly wished to believe it.

Fenham. Stryker/Adrian.

Her eyes conjured their faces in the flames for a moment.

Fenham had been a hand in the darkness; she had left behind the rest of the orphans; she had left the Cathedral--against the advice and desires of those who had trained her, and she had joined the army. The Church had never taught of vengeance; it had never had its parents murdered. So how could it teach her of justice and honor? How could it preach compassion, and forget that the world was forged in fire?

There was no compassion in the flames; only passion. And madness.

It was the madness that had driven Adrian; he had seen how dark the rivers of blood could flow, and then he'd found her. And his love for her had changed him. But the change had formed a tempest in his soul; on one side was the man he wanted to be, and on the other was the man he had chosen to become. With her, he could almost forget the choices he'd made; he could believe that he was just and honorable. And with her, he had been. But doubt was a friend to shadows, and even as it had afflicted her; so, it had afflicted him.

He'd made a promise, too, once. But it hadn't been to her.

I loved him with all my heart, she thought.

But love had not prevailed.

Not even with Cayd.

Sighing, she pushed herself to her feet.

And what happens if something should happen to Hadrian? Will love fail me then, too?

As she began to walk through the crowds of people dancing and laughing, she watched them. They were happy, and she ought to be happy, as well. But nagging doubts ate away at her happiness as she passed through the darkness lit by firelight and sky-borne embers.

She knew Hadrian loved her, but like Xandyr, he was still nobility. Even Xandyr had laughed at her when she'd mentioned marriage.

"Who said anything about marrying you?"

The memory sent a shiver through her as she turned away from the fire and headed toward the harbor.

But why should it matter? Shouldn't her love for him transcend the petty rituals and conventions of this world? Shouldn't love be able to stand on its own? What does it matter those vows and those witnesses? Shouldn't what's true in my heart now be true with or without them?

And yet, mattered.

It was a public declaration--a way to tell the world that whatever happened, nothing could come between them. Not time; not space. Not age. Not pain--not even death--could come between their love.

Was there still some lingering shadow of Lesetoilles in his heart? Did he think of her when they made love? Did he long for what he once had with her when he was in her arms?

Or did he fear being untrue to her memory?

Lena couldn't help but compare the two brothers when she was with Hadrian, but then--Adrian had been her first. He had been everything she'd known of love and passion.

And like the fire she was leaving behind, he had consumed her.

But some part of her had given itself to the army--even before she had given herself to Fenham and all the others. And as she stared down at the moon as it rose over the harbor below, she wondered if Adrian had left only ashes in his wake.

What am I doing? she asked herself, listening to the music and the laughter behind her.

She glanced down at the bracelet Hadrian had given to her that first night of midsummer--Tir'shal--the Light's shield.

Was it wrong for her to love Hadrian? She had never aspired to be a noble; she had never dreamed of anything more than avenging her parents' deaths--until that moment he'd placed his trust in her.

And she had been following him ever since.

From the army to the Vanguard--to his House, then to the Circle. She had followed him, and she had believed in him.

And she had loved him.

But Adrian had loved her. Loved her, but never married her.

And when he had disappeared, she had become a shadow--living each day for another man.

And try as she might to rationalize her actions, she knew that even if she went away, she would always come back.

To him.

Was this always how it was going to be? she wondered, looking up toward the stars. Was I always meant to be his?

Shivering, she turned back toward the bonfire, and the laughter, and the music.

Even if they were never married, even if he fell in love with someone else--she wsa his.

"What do you want more than anything else?" she had asked him the night before they'd given themselves to one another.

"For you to be happy," he finally replied.

So why aren't I?
she wondered with a long sigh.

He loves me. And I love him. So why aren't I?

She watched as the embers drew upward into the sky, swirling in the wind the flames caused in their adrent devotion to the wood it consumed.

And she was afraid.
On Wings of Light

Lena was engaged.

She sat there for a moment thinking about that and couldn't help but smile. The ring was on her finger--simple, but in its own way elegant. There was no ostentatious diamond to show off, though the embedded diamond in the white gold band was pretty enough. And Lena had had it engraved with the date of their engagement inside the band. On the band itself was engraved a harp on the left side and a sword and shield on the right--Harper and Locke. It was a mixture of the common and the noble, and a reminder to her of who they both were.

Though she had left her music behind long ago.

Today, however, she had gone to purchase a hand harp. It had felt strange at first, remebering the chords and how to place her fingers. But the memories within her had given her access to the thoughts and memories of those who had come before her--most notably her own mother who had played and sung herself.

Her parent's devotion to the Church was not something she shared, but her devotion to the Light had brought her to this moment.

And she felt like she was flying on wings of light.

She'd been staying with Hadrian at his tower in Old Town for the past two days, and although they left each day to attend to their business, she always ended up back at the modest tower.

Even so, she had hid her harp playing from him--and her singing. It had been so long, and she found herself embarressed at the novice quality of her abilities. But one day, she'd show him.

She'd had her things moved from Ridgepoint to the tower in Stormwind, and she had even taken over one of the small rooms below the bedroom to do her work (and practice secretly when Hadrain was out).

Life was perfect.

She knew she'd end up back at Redridge to check on how everything was going, but the tower had become home for her.

She looked forward to the nights that she and Hadrian would share together there, but she hadn't even begun to consider when the wedding would be.

Winter maybe. It would give them time to settle into the idea, though sooner might be better. Even so, she knew she couldn't put everything together before they shipped out on their next mission--much as she might have wanted to do so.

Besides, ...he hadn't even told Xandyr yet--or anyone else that she knew of. Maybe, ...if she planned it right, she could sort everything out so that they'd be married before they left. But there were a lot of things that would need to happen before that did.

Even so, as she danced through the rooms, watching the last rays of the sun shine up into the tower, nothing could diminish her happiness.

She and Hadrian were going to be married.
The Tides of Summer

Lena woke to aching muscles and sweat beading her forehead. A woman was with her--hair the color of wheat stalks. Her skin was pale, and her eyes were the color of summer leaves when spring had just passed.

She tried to speak, and the woman looked up at her, features touched with concern. "You are ill, m'lady. As a favor to the Lord Commander, I have been here with you when he is away."

Lena managed to croak out, "How long?"

"Four days," the woman replied, taking up a glass and filling it with water.

She helped Lena to sit up, and she helped her to drink down the water. She drank all of it, but when the woman poured another glass, she waved it away.

She was too tired to drink more.

The voices in her head were speaking in hushed whispers, but she shut them away, too--her hand moving up to rest at the key on the chain at her neck.

Four days....

Lena closed her eyes and sighed. The woman lay a cool cloth to her head, and Lena drifted off once more in spite of the pain.
To Drive the Cold Winter Away

Lena sat quietly down by Adrian's grave, a hand pressed into the words she'd carved against the tree there, her eyes on the mound of earth that was now overgrown with wildflowers where she had buried him.

She had been poisoned.

She wanted to believe it was an accident--a misunderstanding with the woman who had always sold her the jasmine oil come summer. But why would she keep such a thing in her shop? It didn't seem like her at all.

And then there was Annabelle.

A part of her wanted to believe that she had come back without finishing her task because of the things she had said. But another part of her wondered if Destrian had done something to her when he'd taken her in with his ruse. Was she the loyal, young woman that they had come to know so well in Dal Cartref, or was she a spy--sent to collect information on the Vanguard and its people?

It was a terrible possibility to consider, but she knew she had to do so. It was either that or risk being caught unaware later on.

It also occured to her that Destrian might have been the one to poison the oil somehow--to show Hadrian that he could get to her any time he wanted. Was it a game he was playing? Or had this been the work of someone else?

"I wish you were here," she said softly as she sighed, her hand falling back to her side. "All the people I thought I had working for me have disappeared, it seems. And who can I trust now?"

She sighed and looked off toward the road. They probably don't even remember that I asked them to look into things. Probably don't care.

But she wasn't rich. And she couldn't just throw all her cards out on the table and go soliciting after information gatherers.

Which left her as in the dark now as she had been to begin with.

And cynical, she reminded herself. The fact that she was even considering Annabelle a party to some conspiracy was proof enough of that. She also knew that Cayd was a weakness to both she and Hadrian, and she'd given that information to Annabelle purposefully last night.

What she didn't know was how Cayd would react if Destrian brought him a plan whereby Cayd could be rid of Hadrian and have Lena all to himself. Would he take the bait? Was there enough hatred and pain left in him that he'd consider it?

Sighing, she pushed herself to her feet. "Shadows everywhere," she murmured to herself, dusting off her pants.

She took one last look at Adrian's grave, a sad smile catching in her eyes. It's your fault I'm like this, you know. Second-guessing everything and everyone. The only person I can trust is -him-. It's always been him.

With another long sigh, she turned and headed back toward the tower and the stables. She'd head into Stormwind for a while, see what she could find out from the flower-oil woman, and do her best to enjoy herself.

Don't go alone, Hadrian's voice caught at her thoughts.

"I won't," she muttered with a hint of annoyance.

But Light she hated the fact that she couldn't go alone. And in truth, she rather resented it. She was a knight of House Locke--not a member of the Vanguard.

A knight who was almost poisoned to death, the rational part of her thoughts reminded her.

And so it was that she went up to find the officer on duty and request an escort into Stormwind.
..Oh my god.

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