Chapter 15: Tears of the Moon
Rhoelyn woke when the sun was setting, jerking away from the roaring orc in her nightmare with a strangled cry. She pushed onto her arms in the little thicket, her luminous blue eyes going wide as she whipped her head around, her heart pounding in her sore, irritated throat.
“T-tali? Kitalia?!” the little priestess cried out the name like a plea, reaching out toward nothing at all.
“That’s enough of that,” the rasping undead voice came from behind her, and she turned suddenly, knowing exactly who she’d see. The rogue sat on a boulder, holding the son she’d pulled from the fire in his rotting arms and carefully dribbling some water between the sleeping child’s dry lips. “Can’t hide behind my daughter’s ghost forever, priestess,” he growled, his dark eyes hard. “Time t’drive yourself.”
The night elf drooped, pressing her fist against her aching heart.
“Quaed.” She whispered his name and nothing else with her ravaged voice, and then she curled forward and closed her eyes, resting her forehead back against the bed of dried leaves she’d slept on. It was a few more ragged breaths before she managed, “Please. Just-”
“No.” The word was razor sharp, giving nothing at all. “No more hiding. It’s been the better part of a day you’ve been lettin’ Tali bear your load. You’re stronger than this, girl. I should know.”
Rhoelyn opened her eyes at that, straightening and fixing him with a tearful glare. “How should you know, precisely?” she whispered, “We are not friends, Quaed.”
He snorted, matching her anger with his own curt regard. “Sure as fel not. But you might be surprised how much I know. How long ya been carrying on with Leothir, despite everything and everyone? Convinced your sister and your brother both, huh? And Relare? I’m bettin’ that’s a fascinating story. How many lives ya saved in the past two days, healer? I’d wager good pay that you didn’t sit up in that tree of yours that whole time. Believe your own stories, do ya? That you’re weak an’ helpless?”
She said nothing, turning her face away from him. Stories? Nothing about her felt strong at that moment, not her will or spirit or her broken heart. All that played through her thoughts were the horrors of the recent past, and they made her want to curl up and hide away from her own mind. From cruel reality.
Rhoelyn crouched there, lost in her own pain until he rasped with almost idle disinterest, “Ain’t breathing so great, your foundling.”
That got the priestess’ attention, and she looked over. “Alen?”
“Who else? Wheezing. And he coughs in his sleep.”
She hurriedly shoved to her feet, brow furrowing. The motion pulled the burns on the back of her right shoulder, reminding her of the wound, but she ignored it, stepping to the undead rogue’s side and kneeling there.
The night elf didn’t take Alen, but let Quaed hold the child as she pressed a glowing hand against his chest, her eyes tinting golden with power. When the magic let her see the scorched damage in his little lungs, her brow furrowed even more deeply, and she whispered a prayer, the Light shimmering around them all.
The undead flinched out of habit, but the warm power didn’t harm him in the slightest, soft and loving and focused on the boy alone.
“Elune,” the priestess whispered, “astha’ess haf ethoriil. Vho ferune halass’ah.”
He didn’t know what the Darnassian words meant, but he could have made an educated guess by the way her lips tightened into a displeased line and the Light of her spellwork brightened.
Seconds passed and then minutes, the labor in Alen’s breathing long gone. But the little healer fought on for reasons that Quaed found mystifying, at first. And then the child coughed once more, and he suddenly understood: the stubborn woman was trying to prevail against his young body’s progress toward healing itself. Trying to heal what had already started to scar.
When the rogue finally dared to reach out and clasp her wrist, she jumped, looking up at him with wide, surprised eyes.
“Can’t fix everything, priestess,” he asserted, his gravelly voice curt. “He’s breathin’ much better, now. It’s enough.”
Rhoelyn let the magic fade with obvious reluctance. It was clear that she wanted to argue, maybe to claim that she could erase every sign of the fire, but it would not change reality. And they both knew Alen’s reality was that it would take years for his lungs to outgrow the smoke damage and scarring. All anyone could do, now, was to ease the symptoms when his lungs became irritated, as they undoubtedly would do for quite a while.
She didn’t appreciate it when the undead man told her as much, and the healer twisted her wrist lightly in Quaed’s grip until he released her, lowering her eyes.
There were tears there, again. So much that hurt, not the least of which was knowing she could not make Alensyr truly well again. Beneath the rogue’s rheumy, unsympathetic gaze, Rhoelyn leaned forward and smoothed the little boy’s curling hair back from his forehead tenderly, following the touch of her fingers with the touch of her lips. She gave him a brief kiss before she straightened and stood, looking down at the pair of them.
“He’ll sleep for some time, yet,” she whispered roughly, glancing at the former human. “You must give him more water before you lay him down.”
As he blinked, his brows drawing down, she simply turned and strode from the small thicket, swiping her sleeve across her eyes. Quaed called, “Hey!” but it was all the farther he got before the brush closed down behind the healer, cutting her off from view.
For a moment, he just stared after her, trying to decide whether he was more irritated or impressed by her cheek. She expected him to care for her pup? He grumbled about it while he dripped a bit more water from his canteen into the child’s mouth, his own pressed into a tight line.
“Toldja she was drownin’ in sad, papa.” Tali’s young voice in his ear was filled with sympathy, and he grimaced and just shook his head. His daughter was a bleeding heart for bad causes, and he was quickly becoming convinced that he was smack in the middle of one of the worst.
A while later, the rogue shoved his way out of the thicket’s cover, one hand hovering near the biggest dagger he carried, the one sheathed on his belt. He paused warily, as sedate as stone, a stillness reserved for the unliving, as his senses roamed. The forest behind him was thick and dark, a relatively narrow but concentrated strip of trees between the long, unrelenting beach to the west and the tall, unforgiving mountains of the east. Moss grew on trunks and vines twined through its ancient boughs.
The army, especially now that the kal’dorei forces were broken, should have been nowhere near there, but the rogue was painfully aware that for all that the forest offered cover, it also made it easier for someone to sneak up on him. So he paused and watched and listened, wary, seeking the slightest warning sign.
And luckily finding none. When Quaed was thoroughly convinced that there were no threats in the area, he allowed his attention to shift to finding the silver-haired priestess.
It didn’t have to shift far, just up the slight rise and brief clearing to the hillside in front of him.
Rhoelyn sat on a stump at its crest with her knees drawn to her chest, tears turning the soot on her cheeks into black streaks as she stared across the water at the flame-engulfed world tree. The cut edge of the bottom of her gown barely reached to her shins, its lines haggard and uneven just like the rest of her. Her moonlight-hued hair straggled around her face, strands broken and pulled partly free from a single long braid that hung down over her shoulder to brush the rock by her hip.
Quaed watched her as he made his quiet way closer, her lips moving soundlessly. In prayer, no doubt. In plea. The priestess seeking comfort from the moon that wasn’t visible through the dense clouds of smoke. He wondered if she found any until she finally spoke.
“Why did you take me from that place?” she asked him at little more than a whisper, keeping her attention on the tree. “Burning would hurt less than this.”
No comfort from the absent moon, then.
Quaed shook his head, his dry, brown hair swinging by his temple.
“Hurt you less, maybe,” he rasped. “But you’re not the only one in this. Got a sister who was willing to die for your sake. An idiot blood elf who thinks you can share a life. A brother. And how much more family, besides? Their pain if you were up there adds up to more than yours down here, girl.”
Her brow furrowed sadly, and she turned to finally look at him, more tears slipping free. The rogue could see that she considered saying more, but in the end, the little night elf stayed silent, merely leaning her cheek against her knees and closing her eyes. Her throat moved as she swallowed against the emotions choking her.
While she did, Quaed sighed and settled himself on the ground beside her stump, leaning back on his deteriorating arms. He looked out at the burning tree she’d just been contemplating, but he said nothing about his thoughts until he finally just rasped, “Got some rations and fresh clothes on the way here.”
Rhoelyn sighed softly, neither moving nor opening her eyes, and muttered, “Stolen from an empty home, you mean. I was aware.”
He shrugged, unbothered by her moral qualms. “Eat and get changed. We need to move.”
“Move where, precisely?” the night elf asked hoarsely, finally opening her teary eyes to spear him with her stare. “I… am grateful that you’ve saved me and Alensyr, but I do not understand why you have. You are with our enemies in this. What is your purpose, and where are you taking us?”
Quaed snorted, turning his rotting head to look up at her. That only lasted a moment before he glanced away and grumbled, “Damned if I know, girl. It’s… complicated. But I’m gettin’ you both out of here, now. Drop ya with the first safe people we find and high-tail it back to my unit before they start reporting me KIA.”
She considered that in silence for a while before she turned the way her head leaned on her knees to peer in forlorn grief back out at the burning world tree. Rhoelyn’s voice was soft when she asked, “Are you with our enemies in this, Nolin?”
The rogue didn’t hesitate. “I’m for the Horde, girl. But maybe there’s a difference in being with your enemies an’ being your enemy. Sure ain’t your enemy right now.”
Her eggshell blue eyes caught the light of the fire-reddened sky as the night elf considered that. “I believe that you mean me no harm. And now our debt is turned inside out. But… that is only this moment and could change at the fall of the first leaf. I fail to see how you can be with my enemies without being my enemy. That… that is not possible. For any of you.”
Watching her expression, the rogue knew precisely who else she thought of when she made the comment, and he pressed his lips together, displeased. It was as bad as he thought: Leothir and Rhoelyn hoped for a love together, a life together. Mutual and mutually destructive within this new world of factions at war. The rosy days of unity against the Burning Legion were over, as were the times when a night elf and a blood elf could afford such golden dreams.
As her temporary protector considered his pragmatic thoughts and what to do with them, the priestess wiped at the tears on her cheeks with her stained sleeve, only blackening the fabric further and smearing more soot on her dusky skin. She sighed softly and pushed to her feet, graceful despite her sore, fatigued muscles and many aches.
“I will go and wash and change,” she rasped out, damaged voice gravelly. But when she was about to turn away, she hesitated, biting her lip and looking down the hill at the forest around them. Her expression made it clear that she was afraid to ask the question she held on her tongue, so Quaed watched her quietly, letting her decide.
When her fists clenched, he wasn’t terribly surprised. She always acted stronger than she believed herself to be, in his experience.
“Quaed?” The question was soft, and something was brittle in the way she held herself.
“Do you… do you know where Leothir is?” Rhoelyn looked down at him, keeping her face and voice carefully neutral.
When he didn’t give her anything more, her brow furrowed, her mask broken. Her voice came out even softer when she asked, “Is he… ‘for the Horde’ as well?”
The Forsaken gazed back at her, hard and harsh on purpose. “‘Course he is. Fel, girl. It’s the only place for him, now ain’t it?”
To her credit, the little healer didn’t falter under the battering force of that thought, and he had no doubt it was because she’d already entertained it a dozen times all on her own in the past few days. But the wound of it that she managed to keep from her expression still dulled her luminous eyes and paled her skin, made the slender column of her throat convulse as she swallowed a lump there.
There was silence between them for a long moment until finally Rhoelyn just finished turning back toward the thicket and said in a deadened voice, “Alen and I will be ready to move, soon.”