Chapter 7: Effort
Relare Duskfall sat with his back to the wall, his head laid tiredly against the packed dirt and rock, an exposed root tickling his smooshed ear. “Leo, you’re going to exhaust yourself. It’s time to give up.”
Across the small space, separated from his younger brother by a breath of cool underground air and about five link-lengths of the runed chains that bound them to opposite walls, Leothir growled and sweated, straining to drag in mana faster than the enchanted shackles siphoned it away.
“I only need a little bit, Rel,” he grit out, golden lengths of hair sticking to his moist cheek, his glowing green eyes tinged slightly blue with the raw magic he attempted to wield. “Just a little… blink… to get me through…”
The paladin sighed, quietly crossing his fingers though he held little hope that his sibling mage could manage the spell. Their cuffs were designed to prevent exactly what he was trying, made with mages just like Leothir in mind. Thus, he wasn’t too terribly disappointed or surprised when Leo finally deflated with a gasp, staggering back against the wall. The golden-haired blood elf made a choked sound and covered his eyes as he gulped in air, sliding down the dirty rock to his seat.
“Leo…” Relare’s quiet, sad use of his name echoed in the hidden cell, met with a determined shake of the other elf’s head.
“I’ll… I-I’ll try again, soon.” His brother’s normally light tone was heavy and breathy and worn, desperation weighing him down. “Just… Just be quiet a bit, w-won’t you?”
The young brother quietly agreed, “Of course. Gather your strength.” He turned his mind and face to the cell door. It’d been hours since anyone had come by. They’d missed their mid-day meal if the look at the sky had been any indication. He wasn’t sure if that wasn’t the plan. They’d refused to cooperate, so lock them up, throw out the key, and forget about them.
He wondered vaguely how the Silverwings were doing. They’d planned to attend the wedding discreetly, but now he wasn’t even sure they’d been able to have the wedding.
Relare looked back at the scrawnier blood elf, slumped and exhausted against the opposing wall. His head already drooped onto his chest. It wouldn’t be long before he fell asleep. The paladin laid his head back, wondering if he should do the same.
“Uh. He is not sick, I hope?” At the voice, accented and soft-edged and sonorous, Relare raised his eyes, searching through the shadows in the small, rough, dank root cellar outside of their cell. So much for being forgotten.
Leo’s just tired,” he muttered, watching the form resolve.
The Tauren woman who stepped into the low candle light frowned at Leothir, her bovine mouth curving down. “You aren’t meant to be harmed, here, so much as … occupied. That was my brother’s instruction.”
She sighed and crouched by the rough, rock bars, shoving a bowl of something surprisingly aromatic through the gap between them and setting it on the floor at the edge of Relare’s reach. He watched her as she did, noting her brown and white fur and the way it gave her a nondescript, mousey look. White covered her forehead and brow on the left side, venturing down to her cheek, while the rest of her face and her other eye were brown. Though she certainly didn’t smile, there was something inherently softer, gentler about the way she moved, the look in her eyes.
Relare started, suddenly, realizing why that felt like such an odd contrast.
“You’re Nataro’s kin, aren’t you?” It was barely a question, so strong was the resemblance. “So he’s really behind this? Where is that stubborn bull and when is he letting us out of here? He can’t keep the Lord of House Duskfall prisoner forever. People must have already noticed by now.”
“No, not much longer. They’re almost to their goal. My brother asked me to release you once it was done.” The tauren woman answered his question subtly. “It’s good that he isn’t ill. He should rest more.”
The paladin sighed. “Until they take over Darnassus. Why did you agree to his plans? Do you really believe that this is the right thing to do? I know what it feels like to have my city invaded. None of this feels right to me.”
She examined him carefully before answering, “It is not a matter of what I believe. I must trust that my brother and the others fighting know the way of this. War is not-”
A voice called from behind her and she turned to the younger Tauren hurrying down the stairs. “Raness!”
The young male skidded to a stop at the bottom, his hooves slipping in the dirt, and caught himself against the rough-hewn dirt wall, chuckling. “There you are. I brought the bread.”
Leo started awake at the clamour, his golden head raising as he blinked with bleary eyes at their bovine hosts. It was obvious when he woke up properly, because he scrambled immediately to his feet, pulling as close to the bars as the chain would let him.
“Release us!” he demanded, as haughty as the lordling he no longer was and oblivious to the dirt in his hair.
Relare sighed and stood as well, albeit at a much more controlled pace. He wandered over to retrieve the bowl she’d left for him as he watched her slip Leo’s through much more warily. “I did ask, brother, but it seems we’re Nataro’s guests until the offensive is over.”
“No.” The mage paled, reaching out with the jangle of chains but unable to touch the rock bars of the cell. “No, I’m not st-… What if Quaed doesn’t- ”
“Leo,” the paladin interrupted, his voice soft and soothing, a tone he tended to use on skittish hawkstriders. “I know. Take a breath and eat your dinner. You need strength, right? And we’re chatting with our hosts.”
He leveled a charming, if forced, grin on the two Tauren as he leaned against the wall, food in hand. “This smells delicious, thank you. Raness, was it? And what’s your name?”
The woman watched him, somewhere between suspicious and fascinated. “I am called Neelie.”
Relare gave a partial bow to avoid spilling the bowl. “It’s a pleasure to meet you both despite the circumstances.”
Leo tossed him a skeptical look, but gathered his bowl and began eating. “Brother, really?”
The paladin commented evenly, look at the Tauren still. “They are our hosts, and they are making us as comfortable as they can. There are much worse hosts we could have.”
He continued to their captors, “So, how will you know that we can be released, Neelie?” He gathered a spoonful of stew while he waited.
The female considered him for a moment, her dark eyes thoughtful until she finally gestured at the younger boy. Raness smiled with enthusiasm and puffed his still-thin chest out proudly. “I can hear the whispers of the wind, like my brother. I’ll know when he has word for us. Or if… i-if…”
Neelie rested a three-fingered hand on his arm, the hard, keratinous tips of each digit soothing his fur. “Of course there is no if.” She speared Relare with her attention. “You will not be harmed, save as becomes necessary to keep you here. So do not resist. You need only wait a while.”
Leo growled under his breath, pausing in his distracted effort to eat the stew she’d brought.
Watching him, his brother sighed and offered a little worried grin that was only half feigned. “You’ll have to excuse my brother his surliness. The woman he loves is in Darnassus, and she is no soldier. He’s quite desperate to get to her. To… remove her from the city.”
He failed to mention their larger family, the night elves they’d shared meals and holidays and too many dear moments with over the years to count as anything less than kin. The ones who had fought to give him his very life back. He watched her reaction, instead, hoping she was as kind-hearted as she seemed.
Neelie glanced between the pair of blood elves, expression revealing nothing while her little brother crowded up to the rock bars, his muzzle wrinkling at Leothir. “Ew! A night elf?”
Leo glared. “You do realize that all the elven races are related, don’t you? Oh no, you obvious-“
“Leo, please don’t insult them. It won’t help things.” His brother answered Raness. “Yes, she’s a night elf. Quite a pleasant and kind woman.”
Neelie stared at them a moment longer. “The diplomat in Pandaria. I see now. He’d suspected.” She looked at their bowls. “I’ll send Raness back for the bowls, but we have work to do.” She turned on her hoof.
The golden-haired mage yanked on his chains with a clatter. “If you understand, then let us out! You have t-!”
The Tauren woman ignored him, stepping lightly back up the rough stairs. Her brother watched Leothir as he cut himself off, gritting his teeth.
“If she is Alliance and you are Horde, you knew it would never work in the end, right? The Alliance only wants to destroy us. They will never let us live beside them, and we will never be content with the scraps that leaves us.”
The mage shook his head, equal parts angry and sad. “Rhetoric. Lies. Old hatreds and grudges. When you’re old enough, maybe you will be wise enough to go find out for yourself where the truth lies.”
“Somewhere in the middle,” Relare continued with a nod for his brother. “We’ve seen monsters who are supposed to be Horde ‘brothers and sisters’. And we’ve seen Alliance ‘enemies’ who treat us like family. They’re all people.”
Raness stared at them, a little wide-eyed, until his sister called down from above. “Ness! We have work to do!”
With a little bit of a bow, the young Tauren turned and scampered up the stairs, leaving them alone.
“Why were you being so pleasant with them? They’re our captors!” Leo growled between bites.
The paladin sighed again, staring at his bowl. “Because we need to start planning on how to find your mate after all this. They have made it prohibitive to get out, and we might be able to get more information on where things are if we stay here.”
The mage grimaced and set his spoon in the bowl to rub his face. “And Quaed?”
Relare frowned and glanced away at the staircase. “We can only hope. We did what we could. The rest is up to him. He did seem more agreeable to her than Nataro, even trying to watch out for them, but I never did find out what their story was. Did you?”
Yawning, Leothir wandered back over to the wall and settled down against the dirt. He picked up his spoon, but before he took a bite of food, he said, “A few months after we reconnected, I managed to charm the story out of my princess.”
His brother snorted. “Charm? Or did you badger her until she relented?”
“Charmed! I’ll have you know that she wasn’t reluctant to share.” The golden-haired blood elf stabbed at his food.
“Oh, so it didn’t take much charm? Lucky for you.”
Leo gave his brother a droll look. “Do you want to hear this story or not?”
Relare smirked, pleased to see something other than worried desperation or anger on his brother’s aristocratic face. “I want to hear the story.”
“Fine. It was years ago, before the Dark Portal was ever reopened. You remember those years when the Scarlet Crusade fanatics were such a threat around Lordaeron?” The pause gave him an opportunity to eat a bit more of his stew. At his brother’s frown, the young mage blinked. “Oh, no. I suppose you wouldn’t, would you?”
Relare shook his head. “It never happened in my timeline. But I’ve read about it. Go on.”
Leo nodded. “Rhoelyn and her brother went to Scarlet Monastery to help cleanse it. I can’t disagree. It was a nasty situation. Anyhow, Rhoelyn came along to purify those they were attempting to raise or something of the sort.” He checked to ensure he still had his brother’s attention.
“Well, they went in, business as usual for their group, and she healed their wounds. They came across a room full of racks and my princess, being the wonderful woman she is, offered to purify them while they went on ahead. They were all locked up, so there was no risk to her.” Leothir waved broadly as if shooing the other players in the story away.
Relare raised an eyebrow. “Really? I’m shocked Rhese didn’t stay with her. That seems unlike him.”
Leothir smirked at his brother. “I said the same thing, Rel. She laughed and told me that they were both younger and cockier in those days.” He chuckled, ”As if I believe that my princess has ever been cocky a day in her life. I’m more willing to bet that he never got outside of screaming range and kept an eye on her without her knowledge.”
The paladin’s laugh was very similar to his sibling’s. “Yes, my money would go with yours, brother. He’s a sneaky bear when he wants to be.”
“That he is,” Leo agreed with a little yawn. “Either way, she felt she was alone as she cleansed the decrepit undead victims left in the wake of the fanatics’ cruelties. Dead… Is it re-dead? Second dead?… corpses once reanimated and now unanimated.” He waved a hand at the troublesome terminology.
“Until she came across one who yet…unlived.”
Relare blinked. “And that would be Nolin Quaed?”
The mage nodded. “Yes. It’s hard to believe, isn’t it? It did explain his reaction in Pandaria though. I believe he feels as if he owes her for what she did next. Instead of yelling for her brother or any of the others, Rhoelyn unchained him and told him which way to escape out.”
Leothir scraped the bottom of his bowl and set it down near the bars. “He left, and she caught up with the others when she was done. The next time she saw him was in Pandaria as far as I know.”
The younger brother raised an eyebrow. “That’s definitely an interesting story. Not what I would have expected at all.”
“Oh, I don’t know.” Leo settled back against the wall, pulling his knees up and resting his forearms across them. “It’s surprising that she once adventured with Rhese and his friends, but that she would free one of the Forsaken if she found him, bound and hurt and helpless? That sounds quite like her, don’t you think?”
He smiled, his gaze softening… until his thoughts circled around to his fragile, generous love being in Darnassus with an army bearing down on her. An army of his own people.
Relare watched his brother’s momentary distraction pass with sad, sympathetic eyes, commenting quietly, “You’re right, Leo. That part, at least, isn’t much of a surprise at all when you consider it’s her. I doubt many other Priestesses of Elune would have done the same for an undead.”
The mage nodded, burying his face against his arms. His voice was muffled when he said, “What do we do, Rel? I can’t just wait here, hoping that Quaed finds her and protects her. I’m half afraid he’d be more likely to stab her himself, despite the old debt between them. And if… I can’t lose her while I was sitting in a basement, doing nothing!”
Relare grinned roguishly. “Do you remember when we used to play at picking locks? It was part of our childhood treasure hunts. I can’t imagine that you didn’t do it as well in this timeline. It was one of our favorite games.”
The eldest brother blinked for a long moment. “You know, sometimes you have the best ideas, brother! I’m so glad that I’ve rubbed off on you so much.” The blood elven mage smirked and reached for the pin they hadn’t bothered to remove from his shirt.
The paladin leaned back against the wall. “Well, I’ll just take a nap while you practice…,” he teased as he watched the stairway.
“You know,” Leo pointed out as he worked at bending the pin just so, “I do recall that I usually won those games, brother.”
Relare chuckled. “Oh, do you? You always were such an imaginative child.”
The mage snorted and contorted his wrists a bit to snag the pin into the cuff’s keyhole. A zap of arcane energy immediately snapped up it to his fingers, and he jumped and cursed, dropping the pin on the ground, where it skittered away across the room. He shook out his hand, glaring at the cuffs. “Right. I forgot that old trick. Rel, can you reach the pin and pass it back? If I can’t manage the mana necessary to enchant that tiny pin, I’ll eat my shirt.”
“Oh, lovely. So I’ll be stuck in here and forced to look at your scrawny chest,” his brother teased, stretching forward to the dark corner where the pin landed. He snagged it with two fingers and tossed it back to Leo.
“Relare, Relare, Relare…” His older brother leaned down to pick up the pin once more, shaking his head. “I have to wonder what you would ever have to say if it weren’t for quips that barely conceal your jealousy. Try not to get too excited about getting to admire my physique, as I am going to succeed.”
Relare snorted. “Brother, I have seen far too much of your physique in our years. Unless you’re suddenly female…”
Leo gasped and would have clutched both hands over his heart. “You wound me brother. You’d look at your sister in such a way!” He bent back over his work with a smirk.
The younger brother outright laughed. “If you’re my sister then Rhese is going to bear cubs, and I think that’s been proven otherwise.” Not for the first time during their imprisonment, Relare wished his feet could reach across the small room. Alas, this was one time that his height didn’t help him.
“I know that look, Rel. Don’t you think of kicking me while I’m working on this. We could lose all my hard work.” The mage looked smug for a moment as something clicked and then groaned as it slipped. “Not that I need any help losing my work.”
Chuckling, the other blood elf lapsed into silence as he watched his brother work, the mage’s green eyes narrowed and his tongue peeping out from beneath his lips as he concentrated. Even the tiny trickle of mana that the pin required to pierce the cuff’s lock enchant had Leothir winded after a few short minutes because of the torrent of power it required to get past the silencing spell carved into them. Still, he worked with careful patience until the improvised lock pick finally slid home and twisted with a satisfying click. As his cuff dropped free, the golden-haired former prisoner shot his companion a bright, relieved smile.
“Let’s get the fel out of here, Relare,” he said as he made a brief gesture and blinked right out of the second cuff and to his brother’s side. “Our family needs us.”
The paladin smiled and held up his wrists. “Light, Leo. I thought you’d never ask.”