“Roads to Normal” is the sequel to Lordaeron’s Lost and largely picks up Quin’lisse Adama’s history from that point onward, which flashes forward in time here and there to various points in time in the first twelve months after ships began sailing from Stormwind to Northrend.
Roads to Normal
Six months after ships began sailing to Northrend from Stormwind
She held the letter in a trembling hand, tears welling in blind eyes. She was careful not to let them fall on the parchment, even though she couldn’t read the words herself. These pages were the last she’d ever hear from him, and though the feeling of inevitability made the loss easier to bear, it wasn’t that much easier, in the end.
When you went north without me, without the Retribution, I knew that last good-bye was probably forever. Quin swallowed hard, wiping at her tears with the heel of her hand. The bracelet he’d given her, the enchanted one, shifted against her skin. The catch was loose—the catch had been loose for weeks, and she’d been intending to have it fixed, but she hadn’t yet.
She set down the letter slowly, then reached for the bracelet, fingers trembling. The catch came free easily and not for once she thanked the goddess and the Light that she hadn’t lost it somewhere in the Plaguelands, in the midst of having her revenge, meting out some small measure of justice of her own against the Scourge.
She closed her eyes and brought the bracelet to her lips, cradling it in her palm. “I have loved you, Pysan,” she murmured softly, kissing it gently. “Remember me fondly.”
Quinlis Adama carefully folded her lover’s last letter back up again, thumb brushing lightly against the wax of the seal, then slid it into the lacquered box that had been a birthday gift so long ago. She laid the bracelet on top of it and closed the box slowly.
Then she turned and walked out the door.
Four months before ships began sailing to Northrend from Stormwind
Sam Auroran held her until her tears dried up, comforting her as if she was still the child she had been, the girl that had left Lordaeron for Northrend nearly six years before. She struggled to breathe, taking slow, deep breaths as she tried to calm herself.
He finally let go, held her at arms’ length. She bowed her head, rocking back against her heel, toward where she thought Xaq should have been. His fingers wrapped around her forearm and she relaxed a hair more, taking one more deep, slow breath. Quin tilted her head slightly toward Xaq. “We should go see Mariaeh.”
“Quin,” Sam’s voice trailed slowly away as Quin took another step back, letting the old soldier’s fingers fall from her shoulders. She shook her head slowly at him, not daring to lift her face again.
“I’m not the little girl you knew, Sam.”
He shook his head slowly and put his arm around her shoulders even as Xaq took her hand. “That doesn’t matter, girl. You’re home, now, and safe. You’ve come back to us.”
The girl I was died in Northrend, Sam. The Quinlis Adama you knew is gone. The last part of her died with Andry on the zeppelin coming here. She licked her chapped lips but said nothing, not right away. Xaq squeezed her hand. She could almost imagine his brave smile.
She closed her eyes. I don’t have anything left anymore. Nothing more to give.
Sam kissed her on the top of her head, like he had when she was a girl. She almost broke down again, even though she had no tears left. She shook her head again. “Sam, please…”
“We’ve…we’ve been through a lot, Lord Auroran. Can…can we have a little time to adjust?”
The old soldier paused, then nodded slowly. “All right. Come on, let’s go inside. It looks like rain.” His arm stayed locked around Quin’s shoulders. She gave in, gave up, leaning into her second father’s protective embrace as he led them inside, upstairs. He kept his arm locked around her shoulders as the refugees were guided into the empty wing of the barracks there in Theramore, though he didn’t say much—and she wasn’t trying to figure out if he kept stealing glances at her or not. She was silently grateful that he didn’t ask her what had happened, or how they’d come back. The questions would come later, she was almost certain of it, but for the moment, there was only quiet, except for when Sam would let go for a few moments, stop to help one of the other refugees, to give orders to a soldier there to help, or something along those lines. Xaq stayed within arm’s reach, his presence reassuring her.
Stayed within arm’s reach, at least, until Sam cleared his throat quietly as the refugees were getting settled.
“Someone needs to have a look at you, Xaqriel. You look like hell.”
Quin winced a little, chin dropping to her chest. Don’t want Xaq too far… “I’ll come with you, Xaq.”
Sam showed no sign of letting go, not this time. “It won’t take long.”
Ungh. He wants to talk. I don’t want to…
Xaq squeezed her arm gently. “Can you promise me it won’t, sir?”
Sam shrugged. “Isn’t for me to say. Depends on what our medics see when they look you over. Go on, get checked out. We won’t be hard to find.”
Quin turned toward Xaq, biting down on her lip hard. He squeezed her arm again. “I won’t let them keep me long, Quin. Save some spiced wine for me.”
Spiced wine. As if that’ll make this easier. She exhaled slowly, nodding a little. “Promise, Xaq?”
He nodded slightly. “Promise.” He hugged her briefly and a nearby soldier led him away, leaving her alone with Sam. The old soldier gave her shoulders a squeeze.
“What are you so afraid of, Quin?”
“Everything,” she whispered, closing her eyes. “Everything.”
The room was small, adjoining to the barrack where the other refugees were. She could only assume that it had been meant as the sleeping quarters for the officer in charge of whatever unit should have been housed in the barrack. I’m not sure why I rate this much privacy. I’m just like the rest of them.
Quin perched precariously on the edge of the wood-framed bed, hands curled into fists on her knees, curled so tight that she prayed that Sam wouldn’t see the tremors, wouldn’t see them and ask too many questions she didn’t want to answer. Sam settled a chair from the desk in front of her, keeping his back to the door, though someone could have slipped inside if they wanted to, as long as they weren’t very bulky—any one of her fellow refugees could have come and gone as they pleased.
Sam touched her knuckles gently. She bit her lip.
“What’s wrong, Quin? You tried to hide. Why didn’t you want me to see you?”
Not exactly the question I expected. She bowed her head, chin almost touching her breastbone. “I’m not the person I was when I left, Sam.”
“You’ve said that before.”
She shook her head slowly. “And it’s the truth.” She chewed her lip, tasting blood as they cracked. She sighed, pressing the knuckle of her index finger against the crack. “You can’t tell Mina, Sam, or any of them. I…I won’t put them through losing me a second time.”
He shifted the chair nearer and ripped a piece of cloth from somewhere, gently taking her wrist and pulling her hand away from her face. “Quin.” His voice was quiet as he gently pressed the scrap of linen against her bleeding lip. “If that’s what you want, I won’t say a word. But I can’t understand why you’d want it that way.”
She squeezed her eyes shut against the tears that suddenly threatened, touching the old soldier’s wrist gently, fingers trembling. “The Scourge took everything save my life, Sam. Everything that I ever was, every dream I ever had. My hands…will never stop shaking. I can never trust them the way I would need to, for…” her voice faltered. “For spellcasting. I can’t trust them to go through the motions.” She pushed his hand away from her mouth gently, licking her lips, tasting the drying blood. It was a sadly familiar taste. “And I can’t see, so it’d be hard to learn another way to cast spells without being able to read, or to watch, Sam.”
“Acch,” he cradled her cheek in his hand. “We don’t care about any of that, girl. We never did, never could. You’re like a daughter. We’ll take care of you.”
No. I don’t want that. I don’t want…I don’t want you to have to take care of me, Sam! I can make it on my own. I can do it. I have to. I won’t let you hurt more. “I can’t let you do that, Sam. I can’t…I won’t be a burden on you. I won’t. I can’t.” She wrapped her hands around his wrist, gently, holding on loosely. “I hurt all of you so much when I made the choice to go. I can’t imagine how much…how much my not being here, how much the not knowing hurt. But I won’t make you hurt anymore. I don’t want you to have to carry me.” If I let you carry me…I’ll never be able to forgive myself. I’m stronger than that. She swallowed hard, leaning into the hand that still cradled her cheek. The little girl you watched grow up as part of your household is gone, Sam. I wish she was still here.
His thumb wiped away the tears that had begun to trickle down her cheeks. “You were never a burden, Quin’lisse. You never could be.” She could sense the weak smile in his voice, and it made her ache more. “And you won’t be.” He leaned in and kissed her forehead gently.
For the second time in as many hours, she pressed her face into his shoulder and cried.
She startled awake, almost coming fully out of bed before it registered that it was Xaq’s voice, and Xaq’s hand on her shoulder. She exhaled and fell back against the mattress, groaning. “What’s wrong, Xaq?”
“Couldn’t sleep.” He sank down on the edge of the bed next to her. “Still really strange. Realizing we’ve finally made it back.”
She reached up and rubbed his spine gently. He flinched a little, as if the touch was unexpected, then sagged backwards, almost laying across her midsection. “Are you nervous?”
He laughed a little. “Nervous? About what?”
“Seeing Mal again.” Quin threw her arm across her eyes, sagging against the soft mattress. I never want to get up again. “Did Sam’s medics make you look pretty for her?”
Now he did lean back, stretched out across her belly like they used to lay when they were teenagers on the shores of Lordamere, with Mallory and Joshua and Tanith. “Who knows how long it’s going to take to find her.”
“Did Sam say anything?”
He shook his head. “Not after you fell asleep. He realized he was late to some sort of family…thing…he didn’t say what.”
Quin shook her head slightly. That was Sam all over. One thing before another. She closed her eyes and stretched, feeling, almost hearing, joints pop, resettle. “I hope he doesn’t slip.”
Xaq shook his head again. “He only slips on purpose. He gave you his word, didn’t he? That he wouldn’t say anything?”
“I didn’t ask for it,” she murmured, then sighed. I should have. But then he’d break his word. I can’t expect him to carry the secret forever. I know he won’t. Xaq’s right. Sam only slips on purpose, and I know that, and Sam knows I know that. She ruffled Xaq’s hair. “So are you nervous?”
He shook his head slightly after a brief hesitation. “No. If you’re right, then she’s waited for me, then I don’t have anything to worry about. She loved me then and I still love her now. It’ll work out.”
Quin nodded slightly, closing her eyes. “I’ll be glad for you both when it does. I hope you’ll understand if I don’t make the wedding.”
“Even if he’s not going to be there?”
She exhaled, forcing herself to relax. “I can’t, Xaq. There’d be too many…even if he’s not there, Mina would be. Or Jude. Or Lyyn. Someone. Someone would be there, and recognize me, and I can’t…” She sighed. “I can’t take the risk, Xaq. Not if I’m going to stay hidden.” At least until I figure something else out. She blew out a breath slowly. “You understand, don’t you?”“I understand.” His tone was unhappy. She sighed again.
He shook his head a little. “It’s okay, Quin. I understand, and I’ll…abide by your wishes. Not like there’s much else I can do, right?” He reached up and ruffled her hair. “I should let you sleep.” He started to sit up slowly, hissing softly in discomfort as he did.
She tugged his sleeve gently. “You can stay, Xaq. It’s all right.” She smiled a little as he started to lay back down. “Been so long since any of us slept outside of arms’ reach of the others. Can’t blame you for not being able to sleep.”
“Yeah,” he murmured, settling in. He squeezed her hand. “G’night, Quin.”
She ruffled his hair gently. “Sweet dreams, Xaq. G’night.” She exhaled slowly, trying to relax. Tomorrow was another day, full of terrifying possibilities. She was almost afraid to think of what the morning would bring.
So she didn’t. She closed her eyes and listened to her friend’s breathing as he slowly drifted off to sleep. She joined him soon after, struggling against the nightmares she feared would come to haunt her sleep once more.
Six and a half months after ships began sailing to Northrend from Stormwind
She woke slowly in her chair near the dying fire, blanket-wrapped, and cursed herself silently. She was slipping since coming home. If the orphan had been an assassin—or Scourge—she would have been done for before she could grasp the blade hanging from the arm of her chair. “Umph. Good morning, Julian.” She paused. “It is still morning, isn’t it?”
“Yes, Miss Quin.” The boy closed the door behind him, setting the latch carefully, as he always did. “I picked up your correspondences, and the parchment and herbs you asked for.”
“Thank you.” She rubbed at her blind eyes, slowly standing and throwing the blanket across the back of her chair. “Have you had breakfast yet, Julian?”
“Yes’m,” he answered, sitting down in the smaller of the two chairs she kept near her desk. “It’s past the second Cathedral bell.”
She grunted, putting a kettle of water over the fire. I overslept. I was supposed to meet…
“There’s a response to the letter you sent Lady Castelon, Miss Quin. Do you want me to read it?”
Quin shook her head. “Not right now.” She took down two mugs from the shelf near the hearth, for the tea. “Did you get the mint leaf? The spices?”
“Master Pestle said that he didn’t have all that you wanted, but he sent some of his special blend as apology.”
She nodded. “Let’s have some of that, then. What else, beyond Lady Castelon’s letter?”
There was an audible clink of coins against each other as Julian sifted through the rest of her correspondences. “Payment for services rendered. Lady Jude writes to thank you for the glyph you created for her. She says once she can figure out how to make them stay penguins, she’ll send one to you.” The boy looked up at her. “Is she joking?”
Quin laughed weakly. “Knowing her? Likely not.” She reached down and tousled his hair. She’d never asked him what color it is. Perhaps she’d ask the orphan matron instead. “Anything else?”
“There’s something else here with the House Auroran seal.”
She nodded slightly. “Open it. It’s probably from Sam.”
Parchment rustled against itself. There was a pause as Julian read the letter. “It’s not from Lord Auroran,” Julian said, a hint of confusion in his voice. “It’s from someone called Tanitharil. Who’s that, Miss Quin?”
Quin closed her eyes and exhaled slowly, feeling her stomach turn over. “Never mind, Julian. Let’s have that letter from Lady Castelon, shall we?”
“Of course.” He sifted through the letters and found the right one, then read aloud to her, “ ‘Miss Adama, I’d be pleased to meet with you, soon. Perhaps within the next few days. I fear currently I have my hands a bit full. The Veil may be, just what you are looking for.’ ” He set down the letter, peering up toward her. “Why would you go to them, Miss Quin? Wouldn’t you be happier elsewhere?”
Quin turned away as the kettle began to scream, shaking her head slowly. “My world is a very lonely one, Julian, by my own design. And I’m sick of it.” She swung the kettle off the fire. “Get those mugs ready for the tea, and then take a letter.”
“Yes’m,” he murmured. “To whom?”
“To Priest-Confessor Xaquriel McCullouch. Apologies for the missive coming so close to his nuptials, but I need to see him.”
“Yes’m,” Julian murmured again. He began to mix the tea. Quin paced to the window, pressed her forehead against the cool glass. The sun was warm on her face.
Forgive me, Xaq, for not listening to you in the first place.
Four months before ships started sailing to Northrend from Stormwind
Someone—no, several someones—were singing a bawdy tune in the other room. Quin rolled onto her belly, mumbling to herself and wondering half-asleep what time it was. As the song ended in laughter, she concluded that she wasn’t going to be able to get back to sleep, so it really didn’t matter what time it was. She stumbled up from the bunk—Xaq was absent, which emant it was more than past a decent hour to be getting out of bed—and made her way to the door, rubbing at her eyes as she pulled it open.
“Quin!” It was Tyrin’s voice that rang out over the laughter. “My squad! They’re here. They’re not dead!”
The laughter tapered off abruptly, a hard stop coming within seconds. She felt sick. His squad… She managed to smile.
“By the Light,” uttered a quiet, almost reverent voice. “Quinlis Adama! Sir Tanith’s going to shit something when he sees you.”
Sir Tanith. Not “Lord Tanith.” It had always been Lord Tanith before, before she left. “That’s exactly why he can’t know, Petyr.” She felt a hint of relief within the haze of dread. At least he wasn’t in the room. “I’m not going to disrupt whatever he’s built without me. As far as Lord Tanitharil is concerned…I’m still dead.” She smelled coffee. Someone filled her hands with a mug of it as she sat down on the edge of an unoccupied bunk. Silence dragged for a few moments before one of the members of Tyrin’s former unit, from before Lordaeron fell, before he volunteered for Lord Ardente’s mission, found his voice.
“It’s just ‘Sir Tanith’ now, Quin,” one of them said softly. Was that Benj? She couldn’t tell, and she didn’t dare tap any of the eddies and currents of magic she could sense to get a better idea. It didn’t matter anyway. Her concentration shattered with the words that followed. “Lord Auroran named the Rose as heir apparent almost three years ago.”
Why would he name Jude as heir to the House? She belongs to Dalaran and the Kirin-Tor. Her brow furrowed. A tremor sent hot coffee splashing across her hand and thigh. She uttered a curse and shook her head. “I don’t understand.”
Silence stretched for another few long moments and she imagined that the members of the squad were exchanging
glances. Her frown deepened.
“You…you may not want to understand, Quin,” Tyrin said gently. “From what they told me while you were sleeping, it’s kind of messy.”
She felt even sicker. “Tell me.” Goddess, is he all right? He must be! Sam would have…would have said something if he wasn’t…
There was another pause, then Benj began talking. “It was after your expedition left. There was a battle at a place called Mount Hyjal. Sir Tanith…left us and volunteered to travel to northern Kalimdor. To help.”
Another silence came, this one seeming to take forever. Quin nearly threw her mug on the floor in frustration. “Damn you, Benj! Just tell me.” She hated the note of desperation in her voice, hated herself even more for the feelings stirring inside. “Please…”
“He was hurt,” Benj said. “Badly. Took yars for him to recover.” He paused, then continued. “ ‘bout halfway through, rumor has it he told Lord Auroran he didn’t want the House. I’m not sure it’s a true rumor, but that’s what I heard.”
“He’s got House Merovingiae to worry about now, anyhow,” Petyr muttered.
Why would he have to worry about House Merovingiae? “Shouldn’t that be Joshua’s concern?”
Sickening silence dragged again. Her mouth dried out as she came to the realization of what that silence meant. “What happened to Joshua?”
“He’s dead, Quin,” Benj said quietly. “Died near Nethergarde. Lady Judeann herself penned the letter to tell us, and to tell Lady Xaral.”
Oh Jude. I’m so sorry. Quin licked her lips and pressed them together in a tight line. “When?”
“A few years ago, now. She’s…recovered from the loss.” Benj seemed like he was choosing his words carefully, seeming hesitant. “She married last year. A northman.”
Tyrin sounded curious. “That the scary red-haired man I saw on the wall yesterday?”
“If he was wearing a burgundy tabard with a blade on it, yes, that’d be him.”
Quin found herself momentarily lost, mind reeling. If Joshua’s dead and Jude married some stranger…then why is House Merovingiae Tanith’s problem? Unless… Her stomach turned. “Tanith married Xaral?”
Benj must have nodded hesitantly. “Y-yes, Quin. Last year. They…they have a son.”
They have a son. Something died inside of her. Her hands trembled and she set aside the mug, standing slowly. She hadn’t thought it would hurt so much, knowing that he’d moved on, knowing that he’d found love and happiness with someone else. They have a son. This couldn’t have been politics, not with the city gone, not with her brother dead. No. No, he chose her. Good. I’m glad. I’m glad he’s happy. I’m glad he’s happy! He deserves to be happy.
“Quin?” Tyrin touched her shoulder and she leaned into the touch, squeezing her eyes shut and sighing. “You all right?”
“Yes,” she managed to say in a bare whisper. “Yes, I’m fine. I’m fine.” I am fine. I will be fine. I will. I’m glad he’s happy. I’m glad he’s alive. Goddess, a son! I wonder what he looks like… She felt a sudden pang at the realization that she’d never know what the boy looked like, not really. Of all the things the Scourge took from me, of all the things they could have taken…they took my sight. Goddess, they took my sight. Why? Her lips parted to ask the question and she pulled away from Tyrin, moving back toward her small room. She closed the door tight behind her.
His voice followed her, even as she thumped the door shut. “Quin?”
“Just let me sleep, Tyrin. I’m all right.”
He hesitated, then finally called quietly, “Tell me if you need something.”
She nodded, even though he couldn’t see it. “I will, Tyrin. Thank you.” She sank down on the edge of the bed, squeezing her eyes shut. Thank you.
Quin nursed a mug of tea, alone in the barrack, for once. If she held the mug just so, her hands didn’t shake, her fingers didn’t twitch. So nice to be finally warm again. She closed her eyes, letting the steam from her mug wreath her face.
He has a son, she thought again, and managed to smile. The gnawing ache of knowing she’d never see the child’s face abated a little as she imagined what he must look like, with his father’s hair and Xaral’s big blue eyes. Maybe there would be hints of Joshua in him, too. Poor Joshua. Poor Jude…
So much had gone so terribly, terribly awry.
There were footsteps, voices in the hall. She didn’t care. She took a long, slow swallow of tea, letting the heat trickle down her throat, soothing old aches from screams now only a memory. Never want to go back there. Never want to go back. Never will.
“If we’re going to house troops and supplies here while we’re preparing to ship to Northrend, I need to know the full layout, Lieutenant.”
“It’s just like the other side where I showed you, ma’am. Storage layout’s only slightly different, and this area hasn’t seen use since it was built.”
“It’s certainly clean.”
“Well, yes, ma’am. Cleaning details have to clean here, too, just the same. His lordship wouldn’t stand for just doing half the job, you know?”
The footsteps were growing closer, but the voices were unfamiliar. More refugees from Lordaeron who’d found a new life here in Theramore? Probably. Her fingers tightened around the mug as a tremor ran through her left hand. Mounting a new expedition to Northrend? Goddess safekeep them. I hope they realize the hell they’ll be facing there.
“There’s a lamp lit in one of those rooms. I thought you said it was empty up here.”
“Except for that room, ma’am. Off-limits to unauthorized personnel, by order of Lord Samuel Auroran.”
“I’m on the Council, Lieutenant. I think I’m authorized personnel.”
Quin took another sip of tea, lifting her face as the door opened.
The first voice, a woman’s, swore in elven.
“You get Lord Samuel up here now, Lieutenant,” the woman spat. “He has a lot of explaining to do.”
Quin could feel the magic in the room stirring, swirling around the woman. Her stomach turned over. She set down her mug, mind reeling. Oh no. Her voice came out small, frightened. “Mina?” No, no, I didn’t want you to know, I didn’t want you to know!
Footsteps crossed the floor—heavier than Mina’s tread, even the boots sounded heavier. Hands took hers and squeezed.
Not Mina, Quin realized, squeezing her eyes shut against sudden tears. Not Mina. She hugged the other woman, tightly.
“We thought you were dead,” the other woman breathed. “They told us that you all must be dead.”
“Only mostly dead,” Quin whispered, clinging to the woman who had been like a sister to her. “Now we’re here and having to learn how to live again.”
The other woman laughed, joy and pain mixed in the sound. Quin’s shoulders shook in a mixture of laughter and tears.
Home. I’m home.
“How long have you been here?”
Quin shook her head a little, picking her mug up again, cradling it in both hands. “A week, maybe two? I lost track. Have you seen Xaq?”
Jude Auroran, the girl who had been the sister she’d never had, shook her head slightly. “I thought I had, but then I thought to myself ‘that’s impossible, they’re all dead in Northrend.’ How did you get back here?”
“The zepplins your father keeps sending north. I’m guessing that Faren and Triv have already left again?”
Jude hesitated. “…I didn’t think to ask why, but yes. Usually they stay a week or two before they go back north, to scout…where were you all this time?”
Quin squeezed her eyes shut, taking a long, slow, deep breath. “Rather not talk about it.”
“But Quin, I—” Jude stopped herself, going quiet. “Never mind. I understand. Some of our people have had…well. Piss-poor experiences in the north, too.”
There was something in the way she said ‘our people’ that rang strangely in Quin’s ears. She’s not talking about survivors from Lordaeron, or from Dalaran. There’s something different there. What could she be talking about? “You were talking to someone about using this as a staging point. Staging point for what? For who?”
“You heard that?” Jude sighed, sitting down on the floor and resting her temple against her old friend’s knee. “I got recruited about eight months ago into an organization that’s making the Scourge—and the Forsaken—pay for what they’ve done to the world. We’ve been throwing ourselves against the Burning Legion lately—kind of shutting the barn door after the horses have run away—but we’re gearing up to head north. Something’s stirring and we can all feel it. Intelligence says the Scourge are massing…”
Quin shuddered, hands tightening on her mug. Her friend fell quiet.
“I’m sorry,” Jude murmured. “Are you all right?”
“I’ll be fine,” Quin murmured, then laughed. “For some reason, I thought I’d come back south and be safe again. Stupid, huh?”
Jude turned squeezing one of her hands. “I don’t think it’s stupid, Quin. Everyone’s got a right to dream.” She smiled wryly. “Just that sometimes we have to fight to make dreams come true.”
Quin laughed bitterly. I’m not sure how much fight I have left in me, seler’ai. Not that much at all, I’m afraid.
A tentative voice came from the doorway. “Magister? Lord Samuel is waiting for you downstairs.”
“Tell him I’ll be along in a moment.” Jude turned back to Quin, squeezing her hand again. “I’ll be back.”
Quin managed a smile. “No rush. You’ve got an entire life to worry about, not just me. I’ll be here when you’re done taking care of business.” I’ve got no business to worry about. She flexed one hand idly. Not anymore. I did what I set out to do—we made it back. That’s all I wanted.
“I’ll be back,” Jude said again, more firmly, but with a smile in her voice. She stood slowly and withdrew, shutting the door behind her.
Quin smiled down into her cup of tea, almost wistfully. Don’t be too hard on him, Jude. After all, he was only doing what I asked. You’ll yell and rant and he’ll just listen and watch, and then he’ll tell you, and you’ll be all fire and ice at me for it. It’ll be just like old times. Except it’s not old times. No turns in the salle. No spellduels. She closed her eyes for a moment. Everything’s different now. Where do I go from here? Where am I meant to go, meant to be?
When am I going to figure out what my new path is?
Twilight was gathering, and the coming night found Quin up on the roof of the barracks, leaning back into the rushes that were laid over a section of the rooftop that was under repair. She closed her eyes, letting the chill salt wind off the harbor whisper across her face and body. She sighed, trying to relax.
“Aren’t you cold?”
Quin winced at the voice. Just when I thought she wouldn’t think to look up here for me…goddess, but I should’ve known. “I don’t think I’ll ever really be warm again, so I guess cold is immaterial.” She was quiet for a moment, then asked, “Are you angry at me?”
There was a pause as the other woman settled down amongst the thatching with her. “I don’t know. I was, for a long time—angry at you for leaving.” The corner of Jude’s mouth curled in a slight, wry smile. “Of course, I was angry because I wouldn’t have been allowed to go with you if you’d told me you were leaving.” She paused a beat, then asked softly, “Why didn’t you say goodbye?”
“You were already gone,” Quin murmured. “You and your master were already bound for Nethergarde.. She closed her eyes and sighed. “It was bad enough saying good-bye to Tanith, Jude. He didn’t make me tell Lyyn.”
“Mina took it hard. I took it hard.” She hesitated again. “If Tanith hadn’t…well. It’s good that he slept as much as he did, after that.”
Quin’s stomach twisted. “Is he well? Now? Benj told me…”
Jude’s laugh was bitter. “Well enough to go for my husband’s throat the first time they met. Maybe a little more bitter than he used to be. Did Benj tell you about Xaral and the baby?”
Quin nodded. Goddess, but I want to hold that baby. I do. But I don’t want Tanith to know… “He sort of slipped. I…is he happy, Jude?”
The silence that followed was all the answer she needed.
“Let me tell Mother you’re still alive, Quin’lisse, please?”
Quin blinked, brow furrowing. They’d lapsed into silence, lying there on the thatched roof. She licked her lips and shook her head. “I didn’t even want you or Sam to know, Jude. Why would I want your mother to know, too?” That’s as good as Tanith finding out. I won’t visit more hell upon him than what he’s already living with. I won’t reopen that old wound, not for either of us.
“She blames herself, Quin,” Jude said after another long silence. “She hasn’t taken another student since you left. She won’t. And she’s told the Kirin-Tor that she has no intention of taking on another apprentice ever again.”
You can’t be serious. Quin shook her head slowly, not bothering to sit up. “It’s not about me, Jude. There’s got to be another reason for it.”
“If there’s another reason for it, Quin, then I honestly don’t know what it is. I wish I did.” The younger woman sighed, rolling over onto her belly. “She needs to know she didn’t fail you.”
Quin’s fingers twitched and she winced a little. It’s not fair. “The only person who failed me is me, Jude. It has nothing to do with what she taught me, or failed to teach me.” She held up her hands to catch the moonlight peeking through the clouds. “We fought like hell and ran like hell to not get captured. Then Xaq fell, broke his leg. We weren’t going to abandon him, Jude, not Tyrin and I, and the others weren’t going to leave us. We were completely overrun. They broke my hands and Tyrin’s fingers when they took us, so I couldn’t cast and he couldn’t draw a bow even if he got his hands on one.” She closed her eyes and shook her head slightly. “Nothing Mina taught me—nothing any mage could have taught me—could have helped us, save patience and sheer strength of will.”
“Mm.” Jude’s hands closed around Quin’s fingers, the younger woman pressing them between her palms. Quin exhaled, squeezing her eyes shut as warmth washed into her chilled appendages. “What’re the rest of them supposed to say to her?”
Quin frowned, blind eyes coming open. “What do you mean?”
“When my mother asks Tyrin or Xaq what’s become of you. How you died. What are they supposed to tell her?”
Quin felt all the blood drain from her face. Oh goddess. Of course she’d ask. Tyrin will make up some awful story about how I died, and Xaq will tell a completely different story about how I didn’t feel any pain when I did go. She exhaled a shaky breath, sitting up and shaking her head. “You can’t let her ask them, Jude.”
“You’re the one that’s dead-set on keeping my mother in the dark about your survival, Quin. I’m tired of watching her hurt because of a failure that wasn’t.”
She shook her head. “If you won’t let me tell her that you’re alive, then I’m just going to keep my mouth shut. About all of it. I won’t lie to her and tell her you’re dead. There’s a lot of things I’d do for you, Quin’lisse, but that’s not one of them.”
Quin winced and turned away, hugging her knees against her chest. “Sam promised he wouldn’t tell her.”
“My father never promised he would lie about it, either, Quin.” Jude’s arms closed around her shoulders and Quin leaned back into her friend’s chest, squeezing her eyes shut. “I’m sure she hasn’t seen Tyrin yet, but I don’t know about Xaq. It wouldn’t surprise me if he’d been all over town by now.” Jude swallowed. “And Mallory will be here in two days.”
“Then she lived?”
“Oh yes,” Jude murmured. “She lives in Stormwind, works for the Cathedral, teaching.” She paused and shook her head slightly. “She never stopped waiting for Xaq to come home to her.”
“Good. I’m glad.” She rested her temple against Jude’s cheek. “I’d have hated to be wrong about that, you know?”
Jude laughed and gave her a squeeze before releasing her. “Your intuition in that, at least, is as it always was.” She started to crawl toward the edge of the roof.
Quin twisted, following the sound. “Where are you going?”
“To bed,” Jude said simply. “A gryphon just landed and I’m willing to lay odds it was carrying my husband. I don’t see him nearly often enough to turn down an opportunity for it.” She grinned. “He’ll just be finishing kissing our daughter good-night by the time I get back.”
“Oh,” Quin licked her lips. So she has a family now, too. “…will you let me hold her, someday?”
“Maybe when you decide to join the realm of the living again, Quin’lisse.”
Quin lay back down amongst the rushes after Jude had gone, taking a long, slow, deep breath of the salt air. Rejoining the realm of the living, eh, seler’ai? I wish it wasn’t easier said than done. She closed her eyes, rolling onto her side. I’ll go back inside in a few minutes. So cold up here. Though it’s nothing compared to…
Sleep claimed her before she finished the thought.
Her teeth were chattering and her hair was wet, her shoulder throbbing with a bone-deep pain that pulsed out of rhythm with her heartbeat. She groaned weakly and then coughed, shivering as someone bound blankets tighter around her.
“W-what?” She mumbled through chattering teeth, though it came out more slurred and less clear than she’d intended.
“Shh.” It was Jude’s voice. “You fell off the bloody roof. You’re lucky you didn’t land on your head!”
“And wet. Only you and my brother could ever fall asleep on an unfinished roof and get caught in the mother of all storms. Now lay here a few minutes while I see if the tub’s ready for you.”
She exhaled, burrowing deeper underneath the pile of quilts that shrouded her. It felt safe and warm—she felt safe and warm, and it was a feeling that she was coming to enjoy again after so long going without it. And then the thought of hot water…
“Quin? Can you stand?”
She nodded a little and started to slowly work her way free of the blankets. Jude reached down to help untangle her and helped her up. Quin shivered, suddenly chilled again, feeling the draft from a window that was somewhere beyond her ability to sense. Jude shook her head, muttering something under her breath as they passed from one room into another, this one warmer, more snug.
“Nothing, Quin. Just marveling at how alike you two can be, that’s all.” Jude sighed, leading her friend over to the rim of a long stone tub. “Think you can manage not to drown?”
Quin laughed weakly. “I think so. Is there soap?”
“To the left. I’ll be back.”
She listened to the mage’s receding footsteps before easing into the tub, sinking into the hot water with a sigh. Aching muscles loosened, though her shoulder only ached deeper as she relaxed into the hot, lightly scented water.
Roses. Where did they get roses in a swamp? She pushed the thought aside, sinking to her chin in the water, letting it force the numbness from her fingers and toes, sending an almost delightful tingle through her skin.
Slumped in the tub, luxuriating in the warmth, she forgot all about the soap and drifted off again.
The door creaked open, waking her. Drowsily, she mumbled something unpleasant under her breath about falling asleep in a self-heating tub—one of those small luxuries that she’d miss when she left a household where two of the women were mages, she was certain. “How long were you gone, Jude?”
Something metal clattered to the floor and Quin startled slightly, grasping the sides of the tub and pushing herself partway up and out of the still-hot water, brow furrowed deeply. “Who’s there?”
Silence hung heavy before a man’s whisper answered her. “…but you’re dead.”
She splashed back into the tub, suddenly cold and blushing all at once. Tanith… All she wanted was to sink under the water and never come back up again. She slipped underwater to just below her nostrils. If you’re going to get back, Jude, now would be the time for it.
Footsteps crossed the floor and a quiet clank heralded the paladin going to his knees. “Quin.”
She actually winced at the pain in his voice. Oh, Tanith…I’m…I’m so… Quin squeezed her eyes shut. Her stomach twisted in on itself. …so hopeless.
“Quin,” he repeated, voice pained, urgent, hopeful all at once. Chilled hands cupped her face. He drew her lips toward his.
Somewhere between the touch and her lips meeting his, she stopped resisting, stopped thinking. All of her thoughts swirled away, scattered like ashes in the wind. He even smelled the same. The hands were maybe a touch rougher, but that didn’t matter. What mattered was the sound of his voice whispering her name and the taste of their tears as the mixed on faces, on lips.
She struggled to breathe as his arms crushed her against his breastplate and the rim of the tub. Her arms went around his neck and she clung there, fingers lacing through hair like spun silvered steel. He breathed her name again against her mouth, eyes squeezed shut. After an eternity, Tanitharil reared back, gasping for air and holding her face in both of his hands. His voice shook.
“Tell me this isn’t a dream.”
Quin trembled, her fingers slowly untangling from his hair, closing her eyes against her own tears. She shook her head slowly, whispering, “No. No, it’s real.”
“They told me you were dead.”
She swallowed hard. “We might as well have been, for all the hope we had of escaping.” Her fingertips dug into the side of his face, feeling new scars there, fading now with time and exposure. “I’m sorry.”
He pressed his forehead against hers, exhaling a pained sigh, shaking his head slowly. “Oh, Quin. Don’t be sorry. Please.”
He kissed her again, then, lacing his fingers in her short hair.
She whimpered, resisting for a moment, then her fingers found the catches on his armor and the old motions came back, the old habits. Shaking hands and trembling fingers fumbled with the straps and fasteners, freeing him clumsily at first, then with more speed as she remembered the motions. His armor, at least, hadn’t changed much. He came up for air long enough to let his breastplate clatter to the floor and then he hoisted her up and out of the tub, clinging to her tightly, fingers digging into the flesh of her lower back. Her hands went for his belt as she kissed him hungrily again.
“By the Light,” he managed to mumble against her lips. “By the Light, I missed you, Quin. I missed you…”
“I missed you, too.” Her voice was a bare whisper as she clung to him, hands falling away from his belt now that it was unfastened. Tanith held her up with one arm as he unstrapped the catches holding his leggings on in the back, then stepped clear of them. She wrapped one leg around his, burying her face in his neck so he wouldn’t watch her cry. There would be too many painful questions. They would still come, but later.
He ran his fingers gently through her hair in the early hours of the morning, tangled in blankets and each other, her head on his chest. Her eyes were closed as she listened to his heartbeat, fingers splayed and hand pressed against his belly beneath the covers. Comfortable as it was, familiar as it was, her heart was heavy.
This can never happen again. She sighed softly.
“This can’t ever happen again, Tanith.”
He tensed, fingers stilling against her scalp. His voice came not quite hoarse as he asked, “Why not?”
“Why not?” Quin pushed herself upright, raking hair back from her face as she shook her head. “You’re married, that’s why not.”
There was a long silence and she shook her head again.
“That’s the way it is, Tanith. I won’t be your mistress.”
“But I love you.” He reached for her, fingers trailing down her arm as she started to get out of bed. “Quin.”
She found a robe and pulled it on, belting it tightly at the waist. “Tanith. Listen to me.”
“No, Quin, you listen.” The pain in his voice stilled her tongue. He eased to the edge of the bed and perched there for a moment, then sighed. “Someone had to take care of Xaral before she was irredeemable. There wasn’t anyone else. I don’t love her. I don’t think I ever did. But someone had to…to do something. To take care of her. If I had known you were still alive…” His voice trailed away. Quin turned her back, pressing her lips tightly together, determined not to let him see her cry again.
If he’d known I was still alive, he never would have married her. He would have waited for me. Maybe forever. She squeezed her eyes shut. “I can’t be your mistress, Tanith. I just…I can’t.”
His voice was small, almost like a child’s. “But I love you. And you love me.”
“I’m a different woman, Tanith. I’m not the girl you fell in love with. We’re both in love with memories that aren’t what exist now in reality.” She heard herself saying the words, felt cold growing inside of her. She took a deep breath. What’s happening to me? “Please go.”
There was a hesitation, then she heard him get up and go to retrieve his armor. She drifted toward the window, pulled tightly shut against the storm that howled outside.
The quiet clink of armor told her he’d returned. He cleared his throat quietly. “She doesn’t need to know.”
“No,” Quin agreed quietly. “So long as it’s just this once…she never needs to know. And I think if she ever learned, because it was just this once, the way it…it happened…she’d forgive you, and maybe me, too. But not if it happened again, Tanith. She’d make your life hell, and what sort of existence would that be for your son?”
“…I’d set her aside if I could.”
“Not for me, Tanith. She’s lost enough. I won’t take you away from her, too. Please go.”
He lingered a moment, then moved toward the door, pausing before he opened it. “I’ll always love you, Quin.” Then he opened the door and was gone.
Quin leaned against the casement, the glass cool against her face, even as hot tears began to flow down her cheeks. She leaned there, in the window, until her tears were spent and the first few rays of dawn touched the walls at Theramore.
“Sam, I can’t stay.”
She was standing near the window, feeling the warmth of the sun against her face, though it didn’t warm the ice coiling in her guts, in her heart. Her hands were curled into tight fists, nails digging into the fleshy part of her palms. At least they weren’t shaking. Not yet, anyway.
Samuel Auroran was pouring tea at the table nearby, though he paused, tilting his head to watch her for a moment. He set the kettle down, bringing one of the heavy ceramic mugs to her, setting it carefully down on the windowsill before speaking. “Why not, Quin’lisse? You’re safe here.”
She thought of the pain in Tanith’s voice and swallowed against the lump that rose in her throat. Quin shook her head slowly. “No, Sam. I’m not.” Her hand wrapped around the mug and she took a long swallow of the tea, letting it warm her, if only slightly. “I need to go away. Far away.”
“He knows, doesn’t he?”
She flinched. “How did you know?”
Sam rested a hand on her shoulder. “He took an early breakfast in the kitchens and then asked to be sent on a scouting circle. He won’t be back for a week, and he’ll leave with Faren and Triv almost as soon as he comes back from that. It doesn’t take a genius to figure him out sometimes, Quin’lisse. What happened?”
“I’d rather not talk about it, Sam.” She took another swallow of tea. The old soldier squeezed her shoulder.
“Are you leaving for him, or for yourself?”
She hesitated only for a moment. “A little of both, Sam. I can’t…I’m not the same person I was. And I can’t be what he wants me to be, and he can’t change what’s already done. So…” She let her voice trail away. Sam’s arms slid around her slowly, comfortingly.
“So you’ll leave so he can mourn you anew?”
She winced. “That’s not what I want, Sam. But I can’t be his mistress, and he can’t abandon Xaral, or his son.”
“I know,” he said softly, then kissed her forehead, brushed hair back out of her face. “But that doesn’t change what will happen. Are you sure you want to leave?”
Quin nodded, biting her lip. “I’m sure, Sam. I don’t want to be cloistered away here for the rest of my life anyway. There has to be a reason I’m still alive. I need to figure out what it is.”
The old soldier nodded slowly, then smiled, kissing her forehead again. “Eat your breakfast. Meet me in the salle in an hour.”
The salle? For what? Quin blinked a little, brow furrowing. “What for?”
“You’ll see, Quin’lisse,” Sam smiled. “Might want to wear something you can move in. Like pants.” He gave her a last squeeze and left, abandoning his mug of tea untouched on the sideboard.
She turned her face back toward the window, brow furrowed as she took another long swallow of tea. What sort of game is he playing at? The salle? In an hour? She sighed softly. Breakfast first. I’ll know what game he’s playing at in an hour.
It was three hours past dawn when Quin came down to the salle, the open practice area along the wall that bounded the land held by Samuel Auroran and his family. It had taken a little work finding it, given the unfamiliar surroundings, but she found it in roughly the same place it had been in House Auroran’s old holdings, in Lordaeron before the fall.
Following Sam’s advice, she’d found a pair of breeches and a tunic to wear rather than a gown or a robe and despite herself found them more comfortable. There had been new boots under her bed, of soft leather. They would take some getting used to, being new, but they were a vast improvement over her old boots, which had been falling apart after years of privation. It was a warm morning, despite the frigid rain of the night before. She could almost imagine the sun shining off dew on the tree she knew must stand at the far end of the salle, next to the shed where Sam would store extra weapons and armor and the practice blades.
She and Jude leaned against the split rail fence that bounded the salle, watching Sam and Tanith square off. It was years before the war began. Tanith had been home from the abbey for barely a month, looking nervous and proud every time he picked up the hand and a half sword he favored. He would be knighted come Hallow’s End, in a few short weeks. That didn’t stop his father from running him in circles in the salle.
Sam leaned forward, tapping his son’s instep.
“Shoulder-width, Tanith. Set yourself.”
Sam nodded. “Good. En garde.”
Jude leaned into her ear. “He’s going to try to impress you, you know.”
Quin winced and blushed. “You’re awful,” she hissed at the younger girl. “He is not!”
“Watch.” The other girl smirked knowingly.
She squeezed her eyes shut for a moment, as if that would stop the memory from continuing. Quin sighed quietly.
She stumbled backwards, cursing and groping for the finger-thick wooden practice wand. Her head throbbed where the flat of it had caught her, clearly lofted in her direction by Sam, who stood near the fence bounding the salle.
“You’re going to have to pay more attention, Quin’lisse, if you’re going to learn how to do this blind. What have I always told you about situational awareness?”
She uttered a curse, getting her hands around the hilt of the practice sword. “You could have warned me, Sam.”
“Just like some Forsaken is going to warn you when he’s coming at you with a crowbar?”
Quin shook her head to clear it, straightening slowly. “Point taken.” She slowly made her way into the salle, rolling her neck slowly and wincing as she heard it crack. “What’s this about, Sam?” She held the practice sword in one hand, point to the packed dirt beneath her feet.
“I’m not going to send you south until I’m confident that you can fight without your eyes.” He set himself. “Set yourself, Quin’lisse, and lay on. There’ll be another partner here in an hour or so. I’m just the warm-up.”
Fight without my eyes? Blade to blade? She blinked. “…Sam…where are you planning to send me?”
“Northshire,” he said simply, as if that explained everything. “Set.”
She snapped to, setting her stance. He was on her in a heartbeat. It took her another moment to grasp her other senses enough to prevent herself from being forced to the ground. She danced away from a blow that glanced off her thigh, cursing under her breath. “Northshire? What’s at Northshire?”
The next blow was coming toward the side of her head. She ducked, risking a tentative slash at his shin. Thock. Sam cursed. “What’s at Northshire? What do you think is at Northshire, Quin’lisse?”
He was moving forward again. She rolled clear and to her feet, barely avoiding a blow that would have caught her across her trailing shoulder had she not moved. “I don’t know, Sam!” She ducked away again, a swipe sailing over her head.
“Goddess, are you trying to kill me?”
“I’m not going to kill you, you dodge too quickly for that.” He laughed, then oofed as she managed to catch him across the ribs. He poked her in the knee with his practice sword. She backpedaled, running up against the rail and trying to catch her breath. He didn’t follow, straightening slowly. “Northshire is your future, Quin’lisse,” he said finally. “They’ll train you to fight with your faith and a sword bigger than you are.”
“I don’t have any faith left, Sam. Least of all in the Light.”
“You trust in the Goddess, no?”
She canted her head to one side. “What does that have to do with anything?”
“That’s faith, Quin’lisse.” He moved toward her slowly and touched her face, cradling her cheek and jaw in one rough hand. “The Silver Hand wanted you twenty years ago. It’s time they have their chance now.” He smiled. “I think Grayson is up for the challenge. You’re tempered steel, Quin’lisse. You’ve bent, but not broken. It’s time for you to find your use in this world.”
She bowed her head, leaning into his hand. “Sam…I don’t…I just don’t know.”
“Trust me,” he said, smiling again. He kissed her forehead, then stepped back. “Come on, now. Hit me. Garmir will be here inside of an hour, and he won’t be happy if you’re only dodging his blows.”
Quin straightened, trying not to laugh. “Is he that fearsome? I’ve only heard whispers.”
“That and more, Quin’lisse, but he’s family.” Sam tapped her instep with the tip of his blade. “Shoulder-width, Quin’lisse.”
She nodded, setting her stance and smiling. “Yes, Sam.”
“Good. En garde.”
She had never been more sore in her entire life by the time Sam bundled her onto a ship headed to Menethil Harbor with papers for her to be transported to Northshire Abbey and as much gear as she could carry—and then some. Most, he’d admitted, would be delivered to an apartment he was arranging for in Stormwind, one that would be hers so long as she decided to keep it. Quin could not appreciate the gesture more—or so she thought, until he confided that he wouldn’t tell his son where she’d gone.
“You’re right,” he’d said. “It’s better this way.”
Jude was aboard ship with her, overseeing the transport of some cargo from Theramore to Menethil and then on to Stormwind. They would part company in Menethil, they both assumed. Quin would take a gryphon to Stormwind and then be taken by coach to Northshire. Jude would need to stay behind for a while in Menethil.
They were sharing a cabin on the ship, one of the heavier-hulled vessels that made the journey from one continent to the other. Jude had taken the higher bunk, leaving Quin the easier time of laying back, which she was, wishing there was a part of her body that didn’t ache from welts and bruises.
“Your husband hits hard, Jude.”
She laughed, perched precariously on the stool that stood next to the desk that was bolted to the deck, papers scattered across the surface. “Did you expect him not to? He thinks most of us down here are puny weaklings. He was shocked that you got him as well as you did.”
Quin wrinkled her nose, shifting and trying to get comfortable on the straw mattress. “I just hit him square. That’s why it felt like I actually hit him hard.” Sparring hadn’t done her as much good as she might have hoped it would have, but Sam had been satisfied after nearly a week of work. There wasn’t any more that he could teach, anyway, nothing that the trainers at Northshire couldn’t teach her just as well. Having his son-in-law put her through her paces—that had made her learn to dodge even more quickly and to be even more acutely aware of her surroundings.
Grasping at the flows of magic to “see” was starting to slowly get easier, and the headaches it caused were slowly becoming less severe. Was that a good sign? She wasn’t sure.
Jude shook her head slightly, grasping for papers as the ship lurched. The flame-haired mage uttered a growl. “Of course there’d be a storm on the voyage. Of bloody course.”
Quin smiled faintly. “Goddess forbids you from working on anything on the trip, I guess.” She rolled gingerly onto her side, pillowing her head on one arm. “What’s it like?”
“What’s what like?”
“The Alliance. Now. What’s it like? The night elves and the…what did you say they were called? The goat-people.”
“Those. What are they like, Jude? What’s it like, serving now?”
Her friend was silent for a few long moments before she shook her head slowly. “I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything in the world, Quin. But it’s not an easy life. It’s probably not one you want, after everything.”
Quin exhaled. I was afraid you’d say that. She shook her head a little. “What else do I have, Jude? No family, ‘cept for yours. No home, except for what your father’s giving me. I’m not going to be trapped in the Cathedral at Stormwind for the rest of my life, and I’m sure as hell not going to stay at Northshire for the rest of my life. So what else is there for me? Service to the Alliance.”
Jude shook her head again, tucking away the papers and starting to climb up onto the upper bunk. “There’s got to be something else, Quin.”
“I don’t know. Something.”
Quin wrinkled her nose. “I can’t think of anything.”
“I can’t think of anything either, not yet. But I’ll come up with something.”
Quin tried not to laugh. “Something, huh?”
Jude swatted her with a pillow from above. “Stop!”
This time, Quin did laugh.