The Shadowed and the Lost

“The Shadowed and the Lost” is a piece of fiction based in the World of Warcraft universe.  It is currently being posted to the Sentinels realm forums as well as the Retribution of Arathor forums and WoWfiction.net.  Its main characters are Roiya Shadowpaw (the main character of “To Walk a Shadowed Path” and “Ties that Bind”) and Keydyn Silverstag.  The story itself is set during the assault on Icecrown Citadel.

 

The Shadowed and the Lost

 

            They lay together in a clearing, his head pillowed on her belly, staring at a sky filled with stars.  The heavy, damp warmth of a summer night cocooned them, relieving them of the need for a fire.  Fireflies drifted amongst the branches of ancient trees, owls called softly to each other, crickets sang.  She stroked his hair, playing with the soft strands of midnight blue, the hair that she always marveled at for its softness, its luster, so unlike her own.  Her own head was pillowed against the flank of the great cat that had been his guardian, his companion almost since they’d met.  It was a quiet, perfect, shining moment, the evening drifting lazily, time slowed to a crawl.

            And then the screams began, a cacophony of sound, sharp, discordant and terrifyingly familiar.

            The cat didn’t move.  Neither did he.  She found that try as she might, she could not.  She sucked in a breath.  The screams were growing closer.  Couldn’t they hear them?

            Crashing sounds rose from the nearby woods.  She could see the shadows, the glow of fel-green eyes, of golden-red eyes alight with hellfire.  And still, her companions did not move, did not stir.

            Could they not hear?  Could they not see?

            The demons came crashing through the ancient trees surrounding them.  The cat lifted its head and yawned.  She tried to scream as the demons circled, then struck.

            No sound came out.  She couldn’t move.  The demons tore them apart.

*        *        *

            Roiya Shadowpaw, Grace of Elune, priestess, assassin, pitched awake in her cold blankets, gasping out a sob.  She looked around the campaign tent, the one she shared with her niece, Aekatrine.  The druid wasn’t there, either she was on duty or away from the front.  Roiya buried her face in her hands.  The night terrors were growing worse, growing in frequency.  She touched the dragonscale pendant around her neck.  It was cool to her touch.  No, these dreams came not at all from the machinations of the Emerald Nightmare.

            She took a deep breath.  She had watched him torn apart this time, though she had yet to relive his true death.  It was a relief, in a way.  If she dreamed of that, it would break her.  That couldn’t happen.  Wouldn’t happen.

            She lay down again on her side, stared at the tightly secured flap of the campaign tent, ears closed to the sounds of battle, death, and the howling wind outside.  She had been here for so long now, she heard them no more, not at all.

            Still, it was hours before sleep claimed the priestess again.

*        *        *

             The hours were trudging on toward morning as the form of a slender kaldorei male slipped into the silent Temple of Elune at Suramar.  His footsteps were silent on stone floors, passage unnoticed as he made his way toward a certain chamber of a certain novice priestess, one who’d told him of the night’s ritual, told him that he should be able to meet her in her cell without being noticed.  He was almost there when he heard the voices.

            “Her talent is incredible.  We’ll need a new creature.  She obliterated it.”

            “Surely not, Nessiana!  She knew nothing of the shadowed path until we began to teach her tonight.”

            “It is naught but a smear on the wall, Sister.  I speak truly.”

            He knew the voices.  The high priestess and one of the elder priestesses—the guardian of his novice.  He pressed himself into the shadows of an alcove, to wait until they passed.

            “Untrained?  She did that?”

            “She did.  Her power is terrifying.  I fear we waited too long to begin her training.”

            “Elune grant that we have not, Nessiana.  I pray She would not grant us such an incredible gift only to take away our ability to make use of it.”

            What are they talking about?  He didn’t dare follow them to indulge his curiosity.  He stole down the corridor and a flight of steps.  He tried the door to her cell and found it unlocked.  He eased the heavy, seamless oak of the portal open and then closed it again behind him.

            She was sprawled on the bed, unclad, grass-green hair damp, staring sightlessly at the ceiling.  He silently crept to her side, touching her face gently with fingers roughened by bowstrings.  She startled, life returning to her eyes.  She sucked in a deep breath and exhaled it slowly.

            “It’s dangerous for you to be here tonight,” she said, voice broken.

            “You asked me to come.”

            “That was before…” her voice trailed away and her eyes focused distantly.  He frowned.

            “What’s wrong?”

            “Elune spoke to me tonight,” she whispered.

            He stroked her hair.  She swallowed hard.

            “She wants me to kill for her.”

            He had leaned down to kiss her gently but now he drew up short.  “What?”

            She burst into tears.  He felt his heart crack in half.  He took the blanket from the end of her bed and wrapped it around her reverently, gathering her against his chest while she cried.

            “It doesn’t change anything,” he whispered fiercely.  “It changes nothing.  You still have my heart.  No matter what.”

            She buried her face in his neck and sobbed out her tears against his skin.  He crushed her slender form against his chest, helpless in the face of her tears.

            “No matter what,” he murmured into her hair, “I love you.  Not even death will change that.”

*        *        *

            There was a cold nose in his armpit.  Keydyn Silverstag growled, pushing impotently at the great cat’s bulk.  “‘s not time yet, Rounce.  Let me sleep.”  But the cat persisted, so he rolled onto his side and got to his knees, squinting up at a sky where the stars were slowly starting to fade.  He dug into one of his leather pouches and filled a handful of dried fish at the nightsaber.  She pounced on the food, settling down on her belly and starting to pull apart the fish with her teeth and paws.  Keydyn shook his head slightly, sitting back against his heels.

            “Did you know which dream you were interrupting, Rounce?  Did you know that I was dreaming of her?”  A love ten thousand years lost.  He held out no hope that she would have him again.  He had been dead, dead in her arms, both she and their best friend impotent to prevent his loss.  Why would she have been alone all these years, centuries—and even if she was, why would she risk that sort of pain again, for he knew that it must have been agony.  There was no question in his mind of that.

            He filled his kettle with water, woke the fire.  Beyond him to the one side lay the beach, littered with ruins of a city now lost.  He wasn’t sure which one it had been.  The ocean sparkled in the waning moonlight.  He looked up into the face of mother moon, finding little comfort there.  A loving goddess, but a hard one, as all things were.  Death and rebirth were teaching him that lesson, perhaps more readily than any other.  Rounce settled against his hip as he waited for the kettle to boil.  She made a sound that was half comfort, half question.  He reached down and rubbed her ears.

            “I just miss having someone to go back to, Rounce.  That’s all.  But I know…I know if I let her know I’m out here, it’s only going to disrupt her life.”  He sighed softly.  “I won’t destroy her world a second time, or goddess forbid a third.”

            Rounce made a mournful sound and licked the back of his hand with a rough tongue.  Keydyn managed to smile.

            “Women are like cats, my furry friend,” he murmured.  “They choose you and love you on their own terms, not yours.”  He shifted, leaning against the nightsaber’s flank, stretching booted feet toward the fire.

            She rumbled at him.  “I know I need to work on that.  But I need the leather if I’m going to get that together, which is why we’re here.”  He was short on the thickness he needed for a breastplate that he was making for one of the Sentinels that walked the patrol from Shadowglen to Darnassus.  The woman had told him not to rush.  He needed more arrows, needed to repair some of the less serviceable ones she’d salvaged from kills.

            The taint was less noticeable here than it was on the Tree.  But it was still here as well and he could feel it down to his marrow.  The curse of being born to a family attuned to the living world.  Ne brother a druid, the other a warrior deeply in touch with his most feral side.  And him, who spoke to the animals as if they were people.

            He rocked back to his knees as his kettle started to boil.  He moved it off the flame, poured some of the water over a bowl of dry grain and berries, then made himself a mug of tea, stretching.  He cradled the mug between rough palms, inhaling deeply.  The scent took him back about ten thousand years.

            He froze.  He knew this tea, mint and silverthorn and mana berries—it was a tea that wasn’t even mixed anymore; mana berries couldn’t be found on Azeroth anymore, he’d been told, because he’d asked someone, back during the months he spent watching Death Knights, watching to make sure they didn’t threaten the units they purported to serve—and some of them had been a treat, but by no means all.  He’d been told then about the mana berries, that they’d died out slowly after the War of the Ancients, unable to be sustained without the Well of Eternity’s waters.

            But if this was the tea…

            Where had he gotten the tea?  He thought for a long moment.

            Of course.  The Sentinel.  She had tucked it into one of the packs hanging from Rounce’s harness.  She’d smiled and said that everyone deserved a taste of home when they were traveling, as if she’d known something.  As if one who seemed so, so young would know something of it.

            He picked up the pouch, opened it.  There was a folded scrap of parchment pressed into the inner skin of the bag.  He drew it out carefully.  The script was a neat, no-nonsense hand, the signature the only thing with any sort of flourish.

There are few in Darnassus that remember—and favor—a blend of mint and mana berry over alternatives.  A little bird told me that you may be as those.  The berries come from beyond the Dark Portal, now, and are dear.  One garden here grows them with the help of two druids.  Enjoy the fruits of their labor.

— Siryn Greenwood

            He stared at the page for a few long moments, then smiled.  The mug was warm against his hand, the scent bringing back memories of a time and friends now long lost to him.  He folded the note and tucked it safely away, leaning back against Rounce again.  His breakfast would be done by the time the sun rose.  Then they could be about their business out here on the edges of Ashenvale Forest—such as the business was.

*        *        *

             Frigid wind howled through the pathways of the Alliance camp at the foot of Icecrown Citadel, sending snow and ash swirling past figures bundled against its icy power.  Roiya drew a deep breath as she emerged from her tent to cross toward one of the slightly larger pavilions.  All trace of the footsteps that carried her were obliterated by that wind, in some ways as much their ally as their enemy.

            She threw back her hood as she entered the pavilion, blinking in surprise to see a figure other than who she expected at the campaigner’s desk that dominated the front half of the pavilion.  “Katy.  What are you doing here?”

            The young druid smiled briefly.  “Sealing the Chancellor’s correspondences, as I said I would.”  She eased a stick of wax into a candle’s flame, one that hat shivered and almost died when Roiya had slipped inside.

            “Where is she?”

            Aekatrine Dawnstar gestured vaguely to the back half of the pavilion, cordoned off from the forward, working section by a series of heavy tapestries.  “Asleep, thanks be to Elune and the Aspects.  She was having a shouting match with someone over the stones again.  Didn’t you hear it?”

            Roiya shook her head.  “I turned it off.  Was asleep.”  She frowned.  “Slept later than I intended to, as well.”

            “Nightmares again?”

            She sighed, slumping into one of the folding camp chairs that littered the open space in front of the tapestries.  “How many horrible ways can my imagination come up with for him to die, Katy?”

            The druid’s nose wrinkled slightly.  “I don’t understand why it’s suddenly bothering you so much, Auntie.  You never had nightmares like this before.”

            Roiya licked her lips, exhaling slowly.  “Perhaps I’m just feeling old and lonely.”

            “What about Ascalon?”

            Ascalon.  Ascalon Silverstag, though he’d been called Lunargent for nearly as long as she’d known him.  They had met when she came to tell his family of the death of their youngest scion—of Keydyn’s death—though she’d only come to know him later, when foolishness and grief had driven him to the very brink of losing himself, of selling his soul—for a good cause, but selling his soul nonetheless.

            She shook her head slowly.  “The spirits of the forest have him, now.  He hunts demons in Ashenvale, as he had when we were younger—when the world was younger.  After the wars.  Like he always has.”  Roiya smiled faintly.  “I can’t help him anymore, Katy.  Sometimes…sometimes he’s with me, but most of the time he’s not.”

            The girl’s face fell.  “I’m sorry, Auntie.”

            Roiya laughed softly.  “I was a poor second to you anyhow!”

            “Auntie!”  Color washed into Aekatrine’s cheeks.  “That’s not true!”

            “Oh,” Roiya said softly, “it’s true.  He thought quite a bit of you.”

            She shook her head.  “So did your brother, Auntie.  It never meant anything.  We were all friends.”  Aekatrine set down the last scroll, sealed with the Chancellor’s seal.  “That’s a long time ago, now.”

            “For you, maybe.”  Roiya smiled faintly.  “Did the Chancellor have something for me to be doing with myself this morning?”

            “Mmm.”  Aekatrine started checking scrolls and tucking them into a courier’s satchel.  “Do you want to go to the Grounds first, or to Dalaran first?”

            Courier duty.  Thrilling.  “You’re staying here?”

            Aekatrine nodded.  “Her orders.  Double shift for me.  They’re expecting wounded to make it here inside of an hour.  The more we can heal, the fewer she burns.  I told her to sleep.  She needs it, and badly.”

            Roiya shook her head.  “She always needs it.  Her husband’s not here to make her sleep.  This campaign is sucking her dry.  I doubt whatever comes next will be any kinder.”

            “At least she feels.  You can see it in her face.  Commander Steelweaver wasn’t like that.”

            The priestess shook her head.  “Different women, same burdens.  Give me the bags.”  She sighed.  “The Tournament first, I think.  Then Dalaran.”

            Aekatrine held the bag out to her.  “Safe journey, Auntie.”

            “Elune-adore, Katy.”  Roiya shouldered the bag and tugged her hood up.  She cloaked herself in shadow and slipped out into the chill and howling wind.

*        *        *

            He stood upon the shore and watched in silence as the stormclouds gathered.  The crossing to be made this evening would be an unpleasant one.  Rounce whined and pressed against his thigh.  Keydyn sighed.  “Don’t be such a big baby,” he murmured to the cat, reaching down to rub her ears.  She rumbled unhappily.

            The summons had borne a note of urgency, a thread of great need.  He frowned.  He still didn’t understand why he was chosen.

            Of course you know why it’s you.  It’s something potentially dangerous or bothersome, it’s in the Eastern Kingdoms, which you know better than you know the new Kalimdor.  You’ll have to interact with the humans, which is also a peculiar skill of yours.  You have no connections to hold you here—Elune’s teat, you begged Tyrande—the High Priestess herself!—to forget that you were even in existence.  Of course she’d ask another boon to settle the account!

            He sighed again.  He didn’t even know who Broll Bearmantle was, but the appellation sounded druidic.  They said check the harbor first.  He’d do that, assuming he wasn’t smothered to death by an oversized kitten in a nightsaber’s skin.  He looked down at Rounce, who shivered, still pressed against his thigh.  Dangerous assumption indeed.

            He stared at the water again.  Emerging from the mists that clung to the shoreline near Auberdine was the boat that would carry them to the Eastern Kingdoms, to Stormwind’s Harbor.  Perhaps they’d be under cover, indoors by the time the storm hit.

            The first fat raindrop of the gathering storm splashed down on his nose.  So much for that.  Rounce keened beside him, trying to tuck herself beneath his cloak.  He just sighed and tugged his hood up.  The wool would grow heavy and wet with the rain, but at least he’d still be warm.  From the shadows of his hood, he smiled sympathetically at the Sentinel walking the harbor watch as she wrestled her oilskin hood into place to at least keep the rain out of her face.  No sooner had she gotten it into place than the heavens opened up, pouring water down on them in sheets.

            “Just in time, eh?”

            The Sentinel grinned.  She was young—very young.  “Aye, seems so.  Stormwind bound?”

            He nodded, glancing toward the ship.  Its approach had slowed as the crew worked to secure the sails against the winds that had begun to pick up, threatening to toss their vessel against Darkshore’s rocks.  “Though I wonder if my trip might not be delayed.”

            “Tcch.  It won’t be.  Cap’n Soluna’s an old hand at this by now.  She’ll be bringing the Bravery in safe, loading the cargo—and you, Brother—then getting out again.  Your passage should take no more than a few hours longer than usual.”  The girl had to shout over the sound of the wind and rain to be heard, though she was grinning despite that.

            Keydyn nodded, watching the rain sheet down for a moment.  Rounce was pressing even tighter against his leg.

            The Sentinel laughed.  “Doesn’t like the rain?”

            He grunted.  “She’s spoiled.”

            Rounce made an offended sound.  The Sentinel laughed again.

            A bell clanged.  He turned to see the ship easing up to its mooring.

            “Brother!”  A voice called from the deck in heavily accented Darnassian, “catch and pull it tight, could you?”

            Keydyn’s head bobbed in a nod and the rain-soaked figure on the deck flung a coil of rope in his direction.  He caught it, stepped clear of his whining cat, and looped the rope around a piling.  He hauled backwards with all his strength, feet set securely on the slick wood of the docks.  The ship slid up against the dock with a scrape and a thump.

            “Hold that there a moment!”

            Someone jumped across from the deck to the dock with another coil of rope.  The woman tied it of and then took hold of the rope Keydyn was hanging onto.  “Go ahead and let go,” she told him in Common.  He nodded and let go after watching to make sure her grip was good.  She tied it off.  “Thanks.”

            Keydyn nodded.  “You’re welcome.”

            The woman tilted her head.  “No accent.”

            He shrugged.  He didn’t feel like repeating the lie and he certainly didn’t feel like telling the truth.

            The sailor shrugged.  “Well, if you’re Master Silverstag, step aboard.  The ‘saber yours?”

            He nodded.

            “Cabin’s below and on the left.  Willing to pitch in on deck?”

            “If needs be.”

            She grinned.  “A man after my own heart.  Step aboard.”

            Keydyn turned back toward the Sentinel and touched the rim of his hood in salute to her.  She nodded back and started talking with the sailor as Keydyn coaxed the reluctant Rounce to board the Bravery.  She meowled piteously and he sighed.

            “You’re getting too big to carry, Rounce.”  He grasped her by the scruff of her neck and pulled her aboard.  She meowled again and he shook his head.  “Stop.”  He nudged her toward the hatchway belowdecks, her claws scraping against the deck of the Bravery.  He sighed again.  “Blasted cat.  Get inside!  You won’t be wet anymore.”

            That seemed to help.  She tentatively padded into the corridor that led below.  Keydyn growled under his breath and shook his head.  “Big baby…”

            It was going to be a long trip.

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