To Walk a Shadowed Path

Another tale of Roiya Shadowpaw, “To Walk a Shadowed Path” in its early chapters takes place roughly concurrently with some of the events of “Ties that Bind” but with a decidedly different theme–that is, Roiya’s calling as a priestess of Elune and all that her calling entailed.

To Walk a Shadowed Path

Goddess guard my steps while I walk in places where your light shines but dimly,
Goddess guide my steps as I move through the shadows you provide to guard my passage,
Goddess protect me as you have chosen for me to protect my people,
Through your Gift, Elune, I am become shadow,
Your hand in dark places and guardian of my people in the darkest of hours.
Goddess, light and love incarnate, forgive me for the actions I shall take in your name.
Let your light cleanse me and lift me, remove from my shoulders the weights,
May your mercy be the balm that soothes my soul, your power burn the blood from my hands,
Elune, grant me grace and peace in the shadow of your light.

 

– The Cant of the New Moon

            Innocence is never lost in a single moment.  Some may try to say that it is, but they’re wrong.  Deluding themselves.  The loss of innocence is always a process, a progression.  Sometimes, the progression can be stopped.  Other times, it is inevitable.
            I used to try to believe that my loss of innocence was inevitable, but ten thousand years have told me a different tale.  I made a choice on a summer day that set me on the road I walked my whole life, the road that brought me to Mount Hyjal on that dark day when we faced the Legion in force once again.  In many ways, it is the only path I’ve ever known.
            My innocence has long ago faded, but my faith remains strong.
            This is my story.

            Rain.  It was raining in Suramar as the sun was going down.  Thunder growled in the distance.
            Lovely night for an outdoor ritual.  Simply fantastic.
            They were dark times, dark hours.  Something foul was stirring at the Queen’s palace.  Some of us could feel it, something hateful tugging on the trailing threads of our consciousness.  If I closed my eyes and reached out, I could almost…
            “Roiya.”
            I opened my eyes, bowing reverently to the elder priestess.  “Did you have need of me, Sister?”
            Nessiana was as old as Elune’s shadows were deep, I was certain of that.  No one could remember when she had been a novice—not even the head priestess here in Suramar.  She was a harsher, harder mistress than most, and of course my mother had chosen her for my guardian here.  Of course.
            Her nod came slowly.  “You will not be attending tonight’s ritual.”
            I blinked, wondering briefly if it had been cancelled.  No.  If it had been cancelled, she would have told me it was cancelled.  Not told me that I would not be in attendance.  I nodded slowly.  “What am I to attend tonight, then Priestess?”
            She smiled a brief, rare smile that for the barest moment reached her eyes.  “The most important event of your young life, child.  Come.  It’s time to learn the other legacy of that ink on your flesh.”
            I rubbed at the pawprint tattooed on my wrist, staring in confusion as my pulse quickened.  I hurried to follow in her traceless footsteps.  I thought I knew the legacy of my blood.
            I was wrong.

            I had never before seen the room that Nessiana brought me to was one I’d never seen before, though it wouldn’t be the last time I entered the chamber—not by any stretch of the imagination would it be my last time walking into that place.
            The only light in the room was a dull orb in the ceiling, one designed to catch and intensify moonlight.  It glowed but dimly that night; with the storm there was little light to catch.  We were alone in the chamber, and plunged into gloom as Nessiana shut the heavy door firmly behind us.
            My eyes adjusted slowly.  “Priestess?”
            She took my arm firmly and guided me down the shallow steps into the bowl-like center section of the room, below the orb, where a round, dark pool stood, the surface like a mirror, reflecting the dim light from above.  “Listen, now, and speak only when I command it.”  She pressed me against the rim of the pool.  “Your hands.  Flat against the stone, splay your fingers out.”
            I did as I was told, taking a shallow breath.  The light from above traced along the edges of my hands—I could just barely see them against the stone.  Something stirred in the water and I stiffened.  What’s down there?
            “A healer you’re certainly not, Roiya, that is for certain.”  Nessiana was moving, making a slow circuit of the bowl.  I could hear her near-silent footsteps on the stone, hear the hem of her robe whispering against the floor.  “You know that.  I know that.  We all are more than adequately aware of that fact.  Did you ever wonder why your talents in that regard are so meager?”  She paused, watching me.
            I nodded slowly.  I had always wondered why I could not seem to draw healing energies like so many of my sister-novices could.  I accepted that Elune must have had other duties in mind for me beyond healing, though I could never figure out quite what those duties might have been.  I was a priestess.  Priestesses were supposed to heal the sick and guide our people along the path laid out for us.  How could I function properly without the ability to do the first?
            Nessiana smiled another rare smile.  “Elune chooses some for other purposes.  Some when they come to the priesthood.  You, child…your purpose was defined at birth.”  She vanished.
            Then her voice was in my ear and I was pressed tighter against the rim of the pool.  “You walk the shadowed path.”  She pushed down against me, hard, shoving my head and shoulders down, toward the pool, where all I could see were teeth and a flash of a silver-red eye in the depths.
            Something screamed.

            “Ungh…”  My throat was raw and my flesh tingled.  I drew a tremulous breath, rolling onto my belly, to try to push myself up to my knees.  My limbs felt like jelly.  I was soaking wet.
            Soaked to the bone by blood and tears, knives in the darkness cloaked in the shadows of Elune’s light…
            I shook my head, hard.  The world spun, slowly, almost lazily.  I paused, laying my head back down on the cold marble of the floor.
            “You are…stronger than anticipated,” Nessiana observed carefully.  She was nearby.  I took another deep breath.  “We’ve waited far too long to being your training, I fear.”  She paused a moment.  “Aren’t you going to get up?”
            “When the room stops spinning,” I managed, trying to regulate my breathing.  I tried to get up again, slowly, pushing up on my hands and knees.  The room stayed in place this time.  “Something’s whispering in my ear.”
            “You’ve heard the goddess whisper before.”
            I squeezed my eyes shut.  What was she saying?  That didn’t make any sense.  I slowly got to my feet.  The cloth of my robe clung to my body, stuck there by the—by Elune, that had better have been water—that I was drenched with.  I braced my feet, steadying myself slowly.  “What was that thing in the water?”
            “A monster.  Out of the south.”  Nessiana glanced to the side.  All that remained of whatever creature had struck out at me from the pool was a pile of steaming goo against one wall.  “You did well.”
            “What did I do?”  I leaned heavily against the rim of the fountain, scorched black—I could tell that, even in the dim.  My sight was sharper, now, in this darkness, and I didn’t know why.
            “Unlocked the greater part of your goddess-granted talents, Roiya.”  She reached out and stroked my hair.  I almost jerked back.
            What is she…?  I stared at her in shock.  She never showed kindness.  Never showed any hint of anything beyond a heavy hand, a stern countenance.  And yet…  “Priestess?”
            A smile flickered across her face.  “You will be one of the great ones, child,” she murmured.  “Your mother was right to send you here, to send you to me.  It is time.”
            “…time for what?”  She was already moving.  I turned, tracking her with my gaze, leaving one hand on the rim of the pool to steady myself.  “Time for what, Priestess?”
            She threw the doors open and stepped out, beckoning for me to follow.  The corridors were dark, as if full night had come on, without Elune’s light to illuminate anything.
            It was then that I noticed the glow.  I spread a shaking hand, staring down at it, at the coruscating purple-silver-black.  My eyes widened.  “Priestess,” I whispered, “what’s become of me?”
            She turned slowly back toward me.  “You are one of Elune’s shadows, Roiya.  Come.  There is much to be done.”
            I stared at my hand, then let it drop.  All I could do was follow her, and hope that all would become clear with time.

            The temple was achingly empty—it was as if Nessiana and I were the only living, breathing souls in the place.  That was impossible, though, and I knew it was impossible.  There were always sisters in the Temple, even when nearly everyone went to the greatest rituals of the sisterhood elsewhere.  There were always a bare handful left behind to tend to those who might come seeking aid.  But as I struggled to keep up with Nessiana, I saw no one—not one priestess or novice in those corridors.
            She stopped abruptly and pulled a tapestry aside, revealing a dark passageway.  I almost ran right into the back of her.  She caught me by the arm and drew me around, orienting me toward the passageway.
            “Walk to the end and wait for me there.”
            I swallowed, nodding.  “Yes, Priestess.”  I eased into the narrow gap.  It was barely wide enough for me to pass through, the ceiling bare inches over my head.  Why so small?  A tapestry covered the other end of the passageway, and it came up abruptly.  I eased it aside and stepped out, peering up toward the massive statue that guarded the section of wall I emerged from.  The statue’s visage of smooth gray marble towered over me, expression stern, moonglaive ready at hand to strike any that dared threaten her.  Goddess as warrior.  There were similar representations I’d seen elsewhere, but never had one seemed so real, so true to life, to reality.
            Be my hand in dark places, my light to burn away the blood that soaks you, my love to cleanse and soothe the pain of service…
            I took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, staring down at my hands, at the shimmering gloom that coated them.  I wiggled my fingers, watching as the dim light was leeched aaway by whatever comprised the gloom, drawing it in and dissipating it.  If anyone were to come through this section of corridors, they wouldn’t see me, not with this gloom about me, standing in the shadows of the statue as I was.  I squirmed, disconcerted.  I squeezed my eyes shut and imagined myself without the gloom.
            “Your skill grows by leaps and bounds in mere hours.”  I jumped, eyes popping open at Nessiana’s voice.  She thrust a clean robe into my hands.  “Strip out of that wet robe and put this on.”
            Hands that were free of the gloom.
            And coated in blood mixed with water.
            I shuddered visibly.
            “Put it on, Roiya,” she repeated.  I nodded almost convulsively, stripping out of the wet robe quickly, cleaning my hands on the hem—it was mostly water that had soaked me, but it was still disconcerting.
            I’m going to soak for days after this, I vowed.  I pulled on the clean robe.
            “The shadows have ever been our ally,” Nessiana told me, taking me by the arm.  “And you will learn to use them, as many of your sisters have.  But better.”
            My voice was shaky.  “Priestess?”
            She looked at me squarely, took me by the shoulders.  “I was afraid when I was initiated into Her shadows as well, Roiya.  You have nothing to fear.  Elune guards you and shelters you.  Always.”  She kissed my forehead and spun away, beginning to walk.
            For the second time in that hour alone, I found myself shocked into silence and stillness.  I blinked a little, shaking my head hard.
            What’s happening to me?  What’s happened to her?
            I exhaled and started to follow once more.
            “We had begun to fear that you weren’t coming,” the high priestess said quietly as we entered still another small, round chamber that I had never seen before.  My heart thudded against my ribs and I struggled not to look at her, pressing my lips tightly together.  What was she doing here?  She was supposed to preside over rituals tonight.  Unless…
            Elune, how long were we in there?  How long was I…?  I pressed my lips even more tightly together, suppressing a shiver.
            Nessiana’s lips quirked in a slight smile.  “I’m afraid the strength of her response was draining for the both of us.  Forgive the delay, Priestess.”
            The high priestess nodded slowly, then.  I pretended to be more interested in my toes than in her, struggling to be meek, struggling vainly to hide my curiosity and confusion.  What was afoot here?  “It is as we suspected, then?  Your mother and his bred truly into her?”
            My head jerked up.  “What?” Her mother and whose?  My father’s?
            Nessiana made a sharp gesture and I rocked back, biting my lip, sudden coldness collecting in my belly.  She never even looked at me as she answered the high priestess.  “Yes, Lady.  They did.  My sister’s choice was sound, as was your judgment.”  She bowed slightly before the venerable priestess.
            The cold in my gut solidified into ice.  What were they saying?  The high priestess came to me, touched my cheek, stroked it with a faintly wrinkled thumb as she cradled my jaw in her hand.
            “You’ve been gifted with a unique Grace, child,” she murmured, voice gentle, but with a cold, razor-sharp edge to it.  “You’re meant for great things.  To be a great asset to and guardian of our people.  And we will make you ready for that destiny.”
            I shivered, starting to shake my head.  “I don’t understand, Lady.”
            “You will,” she whispered, smiling.  “To be Her hand in dark places, to be the reach and weapon of the Sisterhood…that has been your destiny since your birth, child.  When we are done with you, you shall be ready for the task before you.”
            “What task?”  My mind reeled.  What sort of destiny is decided at birth?
            “Our people are losing their way, Roiya,” Nessiana murmured from behind the high priestess.  “The Sisterhood has but few hopes left.  You are among them.”
            I shuddered, suddenly feeling the weight of what was resting now on my shoulders.  “I…I didn’t ask for this, Lady.  Why me?”
            She smiled a little more and stroked my hair before stepping back and turning away.  “Elune chooses us, child, for good or for ill.  Your path lies before you.  Have you the faith to tread it?”
            I swallowed hard.  Despite the ice in my gut, despite the chill of the dampness of my hair and my skin, I felt warm.
            My light shall cleanse and lift you, to raise the weight from your shoulders, for I am here, your guidance, your ally; my mercy is upon your soul, my power will burn the blood and terrible price for defense of the kaldorei.  I shall protect you as you walk my shadowed path toward a greater light.
            I lifted my face and stared at the high priestess, nodding a little.  “Elune is with me.  I can face anything.”
            The high priestess turned toward me and smiled.  Nessiana touched my shoulder.  “Welcome to the shadowed path, my dear girl.  Come.  We have much to teach you before the night has passed to the dawn.”
            I closed my eyes.  Elune grant me the strength to tread the path you have ordained for me.
            I could have sworn I felt the goddess smile.

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