Chapter 12: The Worst, Best Path
**Araatris:** Later in the next night, Leothir watches from beneath his mask as Rhoelyn and Nysse and the wolves gather yet more spirits, mists blanketing them.
**Rhoelyn:** Relare murmurs, “It’s interesting to watch them work close up. I never thought that Nysse’s connection to Korran would allow her to help.”
**Araatris:** The mage stares out at them, quietly answering, “In retrospect, it makes perfect sense. It was her spirit energy that allowed them to bond.”
**Rhoelyn:** The paladin nods. “You’re right, of course.” He glances around the little secluded area. “I’m feeling uneasy. I think I’ll patrol around them.”
**Araatris:** Nodding, Leo watches him step off into the shadows before he turns his attention back. Rhoelyn sings softly, her hands nervous at her belt.
**Rhoelyn:** The latest group of wisps swirl around the priestess almost in a type of bizarre dance. Nysse and Korran take their places at the circle’s edge.
**Araatris:** The healer reaches back and pulls her staff into her hands, clenching it tightly through a shaky breath. Her fingers tremble when she reaches out.
**Rhoelyn:** “I cannot return what you have lost, but I will try to ease your pain. I am so sorry.” A wisp glides over to rest in Rhoelyn’s palm.
**Araatris:** She smiles at the spirit, her skin gilded and her gold-ringed eyes suddenly tearful. “I know, sister. You understand. I must ask your aid.”
**Rhoelyn:** Nysse looks over her shoulder when something cracks behind her. After a moment, Korran leaves the circle to scout the area around the sound.
**Araatris:** While he does, the priestess nods and draws the spirit closer to her, whispering, “Thank you, Daedra. I will lend you power to help the others.”
**Rhoelyn:** The huntress closes her eyes as her sister’s golden glow surrounds the once priestess now wisp. Daedra carries the glow to the other spirits.
**Araatris:** Rhoelyn nods and takes a few steps back, shuddering. She suddenly reaches out, weaving a Shield around Nysse just as an arrow flies out of the dark.
**Rhoelyn:** The arrow bounces off the magical barrier and the huntress stands and spins, drawing her own bow. Relare shouts from another side of the clearing.
**Araatris:** Leothir bursts into motion, appearing beside Rhoelyn with an arcane pop. “Get to cover!” he orders before he runs toward his brother’s voice.
**Rhoelyn:** Nysse places herself between Rhoelyn and their enemies as her sister ducks toward their cave. The huntress fires arrows into the darkness.
**Araatris:** Tsume snarls and waits with barely-controlled tension at Nysse’s side until the first Forsaken soldier rushes out of the night, blade raised.
**Rhoelyn:** A sharp hand gesture cutting towards their enemy sends Tsume lunging forward. Nysse quickly draws another arrow and backs up slowly.
**Araatris:** Behind all the frantic motion and slightly above it, most of the gathered wisps float up and fade away. One darts to Nysse’s shoulder, lingering.
**Rhoelyn:** Murmuring, the huntress urges, “Go on. You’ve done all you need. We’ll handle this.” Three soldiers appear from the trees, Korran hounding them.
**Araatris:** The first rips her arrow out of his gut as he fends off Tsume with his sword. From somewhere beyond there is a blue flash and a gurgling cry.
**Rhoelyn:** Nysse backs up to Rhoelyn and fires another arrow. “Sister, you need to get Leothir and run. I’ll grab Relare. They can’t follow both of us.”
**Araatris:** The stubborn wisp bobs around them as her sister whispers a thick Barrier around them. Another quick pair of shots hit it and fall. She only nods.
**Rhoelyn:** “Go! I’ll cover you. We’ll see you soon.” She smiles reassuringly. The wolves yank several more shots off kilter and Nysse’s next shot hits skull.
**Araatris:** Again, the priestess nods, but she reaches for the wisp and whispers golden light around it before she goes. The man’s form resolves beside Nysse.
**Rhoelyn:** The younger woman blinks at the man for only a moment. “I… Oh.” A gunshot has her ducking for cover before she leans back out to fire again.
**Araatris:** The stranger says only, “I will protect you when the time comes, little one.” The wolves harass the trio of Forsaken slowly closing in on her.
**Rhoelyn:** “When the time comes? Do you know what’s going to happen?” The huntress backs toward where she last heard Rel, knowing the wolves will follow.
**Araatris:** The ghost says nothing, only staying at her side. Another pair of figures lurk in the dark, red eyes glowing as they raise their bows. “Nyserra!”
**Rhoelyn:** She dives toward the voice, rolling across the ground as arrows land where she just was. “I’m moving!” She whistles. “Are you ready to go?”
**Araatris:** “Extremely ready!” Relare calls back, pulling his sword from the dusty heart of another undead near him. “We need to disappear before th-”
**Rhoelyn:** An arrow flies by his face at the forsaken behind him. It sinks satisfyingly into her neck as Nysse passes him. “Then let’s go!” The wolves retreat.
**Araatris:** The pair of them dart through the eclipsed night, two wolves and a softly luminous figure shadowing them with, farther back, a cadre of enemies.
**Rhoelyn:** Nysse stumbles when something hits her back. She curses and reaches back, expecting to feel an arrow and blood, but pulls back a feathered dart.
**Araatris:** Her vision starts swimming even as she makes a puzzled face, and Relare steadies her as she stumbles. Korran falters as well, shaking his head.
**Rhoelyn:** “I… W-what is this?” The huntress stammers. The paladin snarls, looking up between their enemies and the woman, and his hands glow golden.
**Araatris:** As the spell is forming, an arrow whistles from one of their pursuers, catching him in the seam between his breastplate and pauldron. He grunts.
**Rhoelyn:** His night elven bondsister slumps in his arms, dragging him down to the ground. Korran vanishes, leaving only Tsume growling protectively.
**Araatris:** Even as he struggles to disentangle himself from her limp form, the Forsaken ring them, weapons brandished. “Light save us,” Rel whispers.
**Rhoelyn:** They don’t ask him to surrender as another dart is used on Tsume. Then there’s a blow to the back of his head. All he can think is “not again”.
**Araatris:** As the Forsaken step forward to gather their fallen forms, the night elven spirit kneels down and fades into Nysse’s chest, much like Korran.
**Rhoelyn:** The huntress awakens groggily. She attempts to open her eyes, but quickly closes them again when her vision swims. Ropes dig into her wrists.
**Araatris:** “What do you mean you haven’t found them?” A raspy, harsh voice reaches her from somewhere farther away. “Double the teams, fool! I want them.”
**Rhoelyn:** Another voice comments in a hoarse whisper, “She’s waking.” “Finally! What are you still doing here? Go find them!” Footsteps come closer to her.
**Araatris:** Nysse’s shoulders ache suddenly as a hand grips her chin and lifts her head, shifting the way the ropes pull on her. “Come, elf. Your rest is over.”
**Rhoelyn:** Blinking, a blurry figure leans down in front of her. The smell of rot confirms her suspicions. “I have nothing to say to you, corpse.”
**Araatris:** The Forsaken makes a small growling rasp at the back of his throat. “‘Corpse’ is it? My name is Lektor Carling. You may call me Executor Carling.”
**Rhoelyn:** Her heart skips at his title, but she keeps an even look as he comes into focus. Her voice stays steady, “I prefer my title. What do you want?”
**Araatris:** His answer is instant. “The priestess. I want to know where she and the other traitor have run off to.” He wears a cloth hood that shadows his face.
**Rhoelyn:** “I can’t help you. I don’t know where they are.” She replies simply. The forsaken growls again and his grip on her chin tightens painfully.
**Araatris:** “You must have a way to track her. My scout said you guard her.” His yellowed eyes narrow above his half-rotted nose. “You will help me find her.”
**Rhoelyn:** Nysse pulls back, glaring. “If you’re looking for something magical… I don’t have it. But I’d never help you regardless. I’m guarding her.”
**Araatris:** The Executor’s smile is one of cruel determination, and he says, “Your answer doesn’t surprise me in the slightest.” He releases her chin.
**Rhoelyn:** Free to turn her head, Nysse looks around the camp. Other forsaken stride about purposefully, but there’s no sign of Relare in her limited view.
**Araatris:** “Welles,” he calls to another figure hovering nearby. The man steps forward and salutes. “Executor.” “Chain her near the apothecary’s workshop.”
**Rhoelyn:** Lektor Carling warns her, “If you fight, then we’ll kill the traitor.” Welles steps forward and unlocks her chains, yanking her to her feet.
**Araatris:** “Where is he?” she demands as she’s jostled. The undead’s grip is painfully tight on her arm. Carling says, “Save your worry for yourself, elf.”
**Rhoelyn:** The other forsaken pulls her over towards a small makeshift hut. There’s more posts with chains awaiting her as she stumbles closer.
**Araatris:** He snaps a runed manacle around her wrist, the loop of chain between them behind her back. It’s tethered by another short segment to the post.
**Rhoelyn:** Welles grabs her other wrist and locks the other shackle. Nyssera shudders, not daring to look at the apothecary. He smirks at her. “Exciting.”
**Araatris:** She grimaces, testing her cuffs with the clink of chain. “What’s so exciting?” Nysse asks. “You’ve probably had plenty of my kind in these chains.”
**Rhoelyn:** “I enjoy watching the fight. You’ll break. They all do eventually.” He steps back and turns to the workshop. “Apothecary! You have a new one!”
**Araatris:** A woman soon opens the tent flap and steps out. Her scraggled hair is black and pulled back from her face, and she wears a magnifying monocle.
**Rhoelyn:** She hisses at him. “How many times have I told you not to yell? It disrupts my experiments.” Welles bows slightly. “My apologies, apothecary.”
**Araatris:** Placated, she nods and approaches Nysse. The hand she reaches out with is rotten flesh and half-exposed bone as she brushes the elf’s green hair.
**Rhoelyn:** The huntress recoils, turning her face away. Her heart thunders in her ears, fearing what plans the woman had in mind. “D-don’t touch me.”
**Araatris:** With a surprisingly gentle tone, the undead rasps, “You have lovely hair, elf. What is your name?” She watches Nysse with yellowed eyes.
**Rhoelyn:** Turning back to stare incredulously at the undead in front of her, her name slips from her lips unintentionally. “N-Nyssera.” She grimaces.
**Araatris:** The woman’s smile is small and tight, but not cruel. “Nyssera. I do… appreciate night elven names. They roll nicely. I am Apothecary Kimmel.”
**Rhoelyn:** “K-kimmel?” Nysse repeats anxiously. “I don’t understand… you’re their apothecary? W-Why would you want to hurt us?” She searches the woman’s face.
**Araatris:** “To what do you refer?” She takes off her monocle and cleans it on her coat. “Why do we hurt the night elves or why are we going to hurt you?”
**Rhoelyn:** The young woman ducks her head. “Either? Both? What’s the point in all of this?” Apothecary Kimmel replies simply, “The Dark Lady requests it.”
**Araatris:** At Nysse’s expression, the woman leans forward once more and rasps out, “How much would you do simply because your High Priestess told you to?”
**Rhoelyn:** “I don’t follow her blindly. Those I love come first, but… I suppose that’s difficult for you to understand.” Nysse’s thoughts wander to Quaed.
**Araatris:** That angers the apothecary, and she reaches out to snag her fingers in that hair she complimented, yanking Nysse’s head. “We all knew love, Nyssera.”
**Rhoelyn:** The night elf gasps. “But can you feel it now? How long ago since you felt it last? Someone once told me that was the struggle of undeath.”
**Araatris:** Kimmel’s gaze narrows. “Undeath is the struggle of undeath. Did we feel love, it would only be a torment, adding to the horror of what we are.”
**Rhoelyn:** “I cannot believe that all would add to the horror. Yet, you add to it yourselves. Why not let us return to our family?” Nysse’s voice is soft.
**Araatris:** The Forsaken releases her prisoner’s hair, stepping back. “That is easier. The Banshee Queen wants your kind dead. And I want the priestess.”
**Rhoelyn:** Nysse frowns. “Why do you need her? She’s just a normal priestess. We were wandering here granting release to the souls of Darkshore.”
**Araatris:** “Oh, I know why you were here, Nyssera.” The apothecary paces a few steps. “Your guardians did not quite eliminate every scout we sent.”
**Rhoelyn:** The huntress stares in confusion at the woman. “I don’t understand. If you know that, our goal wasn’t unusual. There’s no reason to need her.”
**Araatris:** “Unusual?” Kimmel stops and stares at her, folding her arms. “Perhaps your mission was not, albeit an irritation for some of my colleagues.”
**Rhoelyn:** Frowning, the young huntress shakes her head. “Not just our mission. We aren’t unusual, a huntress and a priestess completing our duties.”
**Araatris:** Snorting, the apothecary turns and walks back into her tent, leaving Nysse confused until she emerges a moment later, carrying something.
**Rhoelyn:** “What’s that?” Nysse’s chains rattle as she leans to see clearly, but it doesn’t help. After a long look, Kimmel reveals what she was hiding.
**Araatris:** The contraption, a shaped metal apparatus with dials and bulbs and coils of wire, is half-burnt, an indicator jammed all the way to the right.
**Rhoelyn:** “This, Nyssera, was a device we were using to record the strength of magic in an area. At least until your priestess burned it out.”
**Araatris:** The huntress’ brow furrows, and she tries to make the expression look more like confusion than worry. “Why would you think it was her?”
**Rhoelyn:** Kimmel snorts again. “She’s the only priestess in the area. The scouts already confirmed… and there was no way to mistake Holy magic.”
**Araatris:** Nysse’s chains rattle as she shifts, trying not to show how her heart hammers with dread. “You’re wrong. She didn’t do that.” The undead turns away.
**Rhoelyn:** “When we find her, we’ll confirm. We already checked the traitor.” She makes a disgusted sound and sets the device on a table. “He was useless.”
**Araatris:** The huntress decides to try again with this apothecary, her dark gaze scanning the camp once more to no avail. “His name is Relare. Where is he?”
**Rhoelyn:** “He was sent to interrogation. He may have a way to track his brother, after all. However, let’s talk about you and your abilities.” Kimmel smiles.
**Araatris:** Again, the night elf tries her line. “Abilities? I told you already that I’m nothing special.” The Forsaken frowns. “I wish you’d stop lying to me.”
**Rhoelyn:** She turns back to the huntress and rests a hand on top of her head. “You’re such a lovely elf, I’d much prefer if you cooperated, Nyssera.”
**Araatris:** Nysse shudders and tries to turn her head away from the woman’s touch. “And I’d like to leave. We don’t always get what we want, u-undead.”
**Rhoelyn:** “I’ll send you away when you tell me about that ghostly wolf.” She lowers her hand to tap Nysse’s breastbone. “They say he retreated within you.”
**Araatris:** “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” the huntress lies. “Maybe one of your soldiers saw wisps and got confused.” Kimmel rasps out a growl.
**Rhoelyn:** “Stop lying, elf.” She pulls her hand away. Nysse shudders. “I’m n-not lying. I only raised and trained a white wolf. Was she brought here?”
**Araatris:** The apothecary shakes her head, going over to her table of implements. “The wolf staggered off when you fell. So much for canine loyalty, hm?”
**Rhoelyn:** Nysse droops to hide her relief. “I… I can’t believe it.” She rattles her chains again, but Welles’ watchful gaze prevents her from doing more.
**Araatris:** Kimmel’s yellowed gaze flicks from the huntress to the table and back before she selects a metal cylinder with crazed glass rings around its tip.
**Rhoelyn:** “What are you planning to do?” Nysse cringes as the apothecary turns back to regard her. She taps the cylinder against her palm thoughtfully.
**Araatris:** “I am going to continue to chat with you, Nyssera,” the woman answers, stepping closer. “The Executor and I have many, many questions…”
**Rhoelyn:** Further away, Leo presses his back against a stone cliff, water rushing below them in the cracks made by the Cataclysm. “Do you hear them?”
**Araatris:** Rhoelyn doesn’t answer his question, her gaze distant and gold-ringed. Her brow furrows as she looks down at the swirling pool. “My dawn…”
**Rhoelyn:** “What is it, my princess?” He glances at her, then follows her gaze to the waters. “Please tell you’re not thinking what I think you are…”
**Araatris:** She looks over at him, her little smile nervous. “I think… not precisely. Only one of us jumps.” His mate leans over to kiss him briefly.
**Rhoelyn:** Confused, it takes him longer to react than he cares to admit, but then he frantically reaches out to pull his beloved into his arms. “What?!”
**Araatris:** Rhoe curls into his embrace, taking a shaky breath. “Leothir, you are the key. If you step, everything shifts on this part of the path around you.”
**Rhoelyn:** “Meaning what? That I have to jump or we’re both going to fall? Or that I’m lost as soon as I take a step…” He closes his eyes tightly.
**Araatris:** She smiles softly, amused at his misunderstanding. “Meaning that your choice… decides this outcome, my dawn. I must ask you to do something.”
**Rhoelyn:** He opens his eyes and stares at her, drinking in her features. “What would you have me do? I swore I’d do anything I could to keep you safe.”
**Araatris:** Rhoelyn frees a hand to cup his cheek. “I need you to leave me, Leothir.” His arms around her tighten in a shocked spasm. “What?!” he repeats.
**Rhoelyn:** “Rhoelyn! How am I supposed to protect you if I leave? You have to be kidding. Why in the Light would I leave you?!” Leo gives her a tiny shake.
**Araatris:** “Because you must, my dawn. My love.” She caresses his cheek. “You must find Rhese and lead him to us.” Her silver bracelet winks in the moonlight.
**Rhoelyn:** Leothir leans down to kiss her. “How will I know where to go… and keep him from killing me? I’m not sure they’ll understand if I abandon you…”
**Araatris:** Rhoelyn clings to him, resting her cheek against his shoulder. “Go toward Bashal’Aran. You will find him. Or he, you.” She shivers against him.
**Rhoelyn:** “And you? If they find you…” He can’t finish his sentence, but hugs her tighter. “My princess, I couldn’t bear if something happened to you.”
**Araatris:** His mate leans up to kiss him softly. “I know. I am asking so much of you, Leothir. But all the paths end in tragedy if you do not leave me here.”
**Rhoelyn:** Gritting his teeth, Leothir nods and finally releases her. “I… I love you, Rhoelyn. I swear it on my family honor that we will come for you.”
**Araatris:** The priestess steps back with a nod, folding her hands. “I will endure, ilais’surfal, and wait for you. My love and Elune’s light are with you.”
**Rhoelyn:** The mage clenches his hands into fists before turning and dashing off. There was nothing he could say that would make it feel any better.
**Araatris:** Rhoelyn watches with a mixture of pride and fear as he leaps from the little ledge, diving gracefully into the swirling water far below.
**Rhoelyn:** Nysse whimpers despite her best efforts not to. She closes her eyes as Apothecary Kimmel approaches her again. “Please. Please stop this.”
**Araatris:** The Forsaken’s gentle voice is at extreme odds with the sparking apparatus in her hand. “You can stop it with only a few key words, Nyssera.”
**Rhoelyn:** Unable to speak, Nysse shakes her head and steels herself for another barrage. The item is lowered once again until it touches the huntress.
**Araatris:** Ravaging electricity rips through her, and the elf arches back with a shriek, straining. Kimmel waits, impassive, and then finally pulls away.
**Rhoelyn:** “You… you can do that as many times as you want. I’m not going to tell you about the wolf!” Nysse strains against her chains and bares her teeth.
**Araatris:** The apothecary narrows her dead eyes angrily on her prisoner before she says, “A change of topic, then. The priestess. How do you track her?”
**Rhoelyn:** “I’m a hunter. I track her like any other hunter. There’s nothing special to it.” Nysse offers up freely, knowing that the information won’t help.
**Araatris:** Kimmel shakes her head, again gentle. “I don’t believe you. We found a hearthstone in your pack. It’s carefully warded and coded to you.”
**Rhoelyn:** The huntress nods, choosing her words carefully. “Yes, it is, but it wouldn’t help. It doesn’t allow for tracking. Just hearthing and speaking.”
**Araatris:** Her tormentor smirks, her lips pulling tight. “You’ll have to excuse me if I don’t take your word for it. Welles.” He steps forward with her hearth.
**Rhoelyn:** Nysse watches as the apothecary takes it and moves toward her. “You will release the wards and allow us to use it. I will not ask twice, Nyssera.”
**Araatris:** The huntress hunches, defeated and bracing herself for the consequences as she shakes her head. “Never. It doesn’t matter how much you hurt me.”
**Rhoelyn:** “Very well.” Kimmel lowers the sparking device once again and holds it there. The apothecary watches the hearthstone for any changes.
**Araatris:** Nysse’s pained scream echoing through the camp doesn’t even warrant a second glance from most of the Forsaken. Welles wears a slight grin.
**Rhoelyn:** The apothecary sighs. “Not a single change. It seems to be more than voice coded.” The night elven woman pants heavily, slack in her chains.
**Araatris:** “You have another chance, here, to do as I ask.” Kimmel crouches down by her, holding out the stone. “Save yourself from this pain. It’s easy.”
**Rhoelyn:** The huntress sniffles, tears burning her eyes. “N-no, I won’t help you, undead. I’m her guardian. Why would I ever help you find her?”
**Araatris:** “To save yourself, of course,” the apothecary rasps, shoving the device against her side once more. Barely recovered, Nysse screeches, tensing.
**Rhoelyn:** As soon as the shock is removed, Nysse sobs. Kimmel hands the device to Welles and gently caresses Nysse’s head and speaks soothingly.
**Rhoelyn:** “That’s it. Catch your breath, Nyssera. All you need to do is unlock this stone, and it’ll all be over.” The young woman shakes her head.
**Araatris:** As the device presses against her body once more, the huntress hears a shouted, “Stop!” The pain fades, and she lifts her swimming head, (c)
**Araatris:** (c) wondering if it was her own voice. Her vision blurs at the ephemeral figure who steps out of the shadow of the tent, dark eyes and moonlight hair.
**Rhoelyn:** “W-who…” Suddenly, recognition of the voice sets in. “R-rhoelyn! Run! You can’t be here!” Nysse lunges against her chains, panicked.
**Araatris:** The healer appears calm despite how she trembles. Welles rushes over, grabbing her as she stares at Kimmel. “You will not hurt my sister any more.”
**Rhoelyn:** The huntress shakes her head attempting to summon Korran, sending him all the energy she can spare. “Rhoe! You need to run for it!”
**Araatris:** “I cannot.” With a sudden twist and a little flash of Light, she slips free of the startled undead holding her and lunges forward to hug her sister.
**Rhoelyn:** Nysse sobs and continues trying to call Korran, the shackles sparking with each attempt. “Sister… please don’t do this. You’re not safe here…”
**Araatris:** The apothecary watches them, fascinated, as Rhoe whispers a healing spell before she murmurs, “I know. But this is the only way to save us both.”
**Rhoelyn:** The huntress lays her head on her sister’s shoulder and mumbles, “I don’t understand. Now you’re lost with us. I don’t even know if Rel is alive…”
**Araatris:** Her sister sniffs and cups the back of her head, whispering, “Endure, my sister. As Relare does and I will. I would suffer anything to save you.”