Chapter 2: Burdened Steps
**Araatris:** The healer sleeps fitfully and wakes early the next day, surging up with a gasp to sit huddled in her bedroll. She lays her head on her knees.
**Rhoelyn:** Nyssera stirs sleepily, her eyes blinking open. “Sister? Is something wrong?” The wolves glance their direction then return to their lookout.
**Araatris:** “Merely a bad dream,” Rhoelyn says softly, reaching out to rest a hand on her back. “Everything is fine. You should sleep, sister.”
**Rhoelyn:** The groggy huntress rolls onto her back, half-open eyes on Rhoelyn. “Would Tsume help you rest? You’ve had so much to think about recently.”
**Araatris:** “I…” The smaller night elf hesitates before she manages a little smile and lays back down. “No, she is busy keeping watch. I shall rest more.”
**Rhoelyn:** Tossing an arm over Rhoelyn, Nysse turns toward her. “Then you’ll have to make do with me. I’m not as fuzzy as Tsume.” She smiles sleepily.
**Araatris:** The priestess’ grin is much more warm as she clasps her sister’s hand and snuggles in. “I suppose I can endure,” she murmurs, closing her eyes.
**Rhoelyn:** It’s an hour later when a wet nose wakes Nysse up. A soft branch cracking alerts her and she rolls away to rest her hand on her bow.
**Araatris:** Rhoe sleeps on as the huntress straightens to a crouch in their small cave shelter, her senses peeled. Korran’s awareness pushes at hers.
**Rhoelyn:** His vision overlays hers and she sees the Horde creeping in on them. There is at least a troll and blood elf. She crawls to the entrance.
**Araatris:** Through the spirit wolf’s senses, she watches the troll examine the ground at her feet and then make gestures to the elf and another on her left.
**Rhoelyn:** Nysse hurries back to her sister and rests a gentle hand on her shoulder. She whispers, “Time to wake, Rhoelyn. We have unfriendly company.”
**Araatris:** The little healer stirs and then sits up, Nysse’s words sinking in. She grabs her crescent moon staff from beside her, clenching it tight.
**Rhoelyn:** The huntress holds up three fingers. “Troll, blood elf, and another I couldn’t see. Stay back here. I hope we can use the cave for cover.”
**Araatris:** Rhoelyn nods, her eyes wide as she gets to her feet and crouches beside Nysse. She pulls her brown hood up over her bright hair and edges back.
**Rhoelyn:** Pulling up her own hood, Nysse shifts to get a good view of the opening. She blends her vision with Korran once more to see the Horde.
**Araatris:** The blood elf stalks in the direction told, drawing a dagger and retrieving a vial from his belt. He drips the viscous contents onto the blade.
**Rhoelyn:** Tsume hangs back with Rhoelyn as Nysse draws an arrow silently in her bow. It wouldn’t be lo-startled cries interrupt her concentration.
**Araatris:** A Forsaken suddenly staggers backward into view, clutching at a severed shoulder missing the arm. A shadow follows as blue energy circles his torso.
**Rhoelyn:** Nysse frowns, unwilling to draw attention to them if they were distracted. She watches as the energy flares and the forsaken falls.
**Araatris:** There is a flicker of black fabric from the woods beyond the falling form and then another gurgling cry from the other side of the treeline.
**Rhoelyn:** Korran shows Nysse the fallen troll, a long slash along her torso. The huntress scans her area for the elf. She couldn’t assume they were safe.
**Araatris:** Deathly silent, a figure swings down from the top of the cave mouth, kicking at Nysse with the force of his momentum. Rhoe screams, shying back.
**Rhoelyn:** The huntress has just enough time to turn, allowing him to hit her shoulder as she rolls away and back to her feet. She releases her arrow.
**Araatris:** The arrow sinks deep into the blood elf’s chest, but with a last-second twist, it falls short of piercing his heart. Deadly, but slower. He lunges.
**Rhoelyn:** Nysse drops her bow to catch her opponent’s wrists as they fall, breaking the arrow in his wound. They grapple as she reaches for her knife.
**Araatris:** “Nysse!” Rhoelyn cries, surging forward without even drawing her knife. Tsume shoulders her out of the way, snapping her jaw on his shoulder.
**Rhoelyn:** He desperately stabs at her with the poisoned dagger in his left hand, but Nysse rolls them, pinning him under her. Tsume’s teeth dig deeper.
**Araatris:** The hooded sin’dorei finally cries out in pain and frustration, struggling to shove his dagger against the huntress’ weight as his strength wanes.
**Rhoelyn:** The huntress finally grabs her own dagger. “I’m sorry, I’ll try to make it quick this time,” she murmurs as she swings it towards his heart.
**Araatris:** It sinks home as he whispers in strained Thallasian, and his eyes widen before they close. Rhoe clutches her staff, white-knuckled and pale.
**Rhoelyn:** Nysse mutters to Tsume. “Off, girl.” She stands, staggering back. “I… I need to make sure the others are down. Don’t touch his dagger.”
**Araatris:** The priestess nods silently, but after Nysse starts to make her way to the front of the cave, she hurries after her sister. Tsume gruffs at her.
**Rhoelyn:** “Rhoelyn.” The young night pauses at the entrance. “What are you doing? You should stay here.” She clicks for Tsume. “Tsume, guard Rhoe.”
**Araatris:** The wolf places herself squarely in the little healer’s way, earning a gasp. “W-we must stay together, Nysse! I will not let you f… fall.”
**Rhoelyn:** The huntress smiles. “I won’t fall, sister. I’m going to check the bodies.” She retrieves her bow and quiver. “I won’t be alone either.”
**Araatris:** Rhoelyn relents, wringing the smooth, dark wood of her staff even as she steps back. “Of… course. I shall pack up our gear, then. Don’t be long.”
**Rhoelyn:** Nyssera nods. “I won’t. I’ll stay close.” She steps outside and asks Korran under her breath, knowing he’ll hear her. “Are they all down?”
**Araatris:** Yes, little one. The spirit wolf’s voice is clear in her head. Your shadows have turned benefactors. But still they evade even my sight.
**Rhoelyn:** She frowns while heading to the troll. “While I appreciate it, it makes me nervous. Keep an eye out.” She kneels and checks on the troll.
**Araatris:** Korran’s acknowledgement is wordless but no less clear for it. The enemy bears a slash wound across her chest, and a thin blade pierced her heart.
**Rhoelyn:** “Precise…” She leaves the troll and checks on the forsaken. Nysse grimaces at the dismembered and singed sight. “That’s… disturbing.”
**Araatris:** Though she looks, his missing arm is nowhere to be found. In the dim light, she nearly misses the paper-thin cut that separates his torso in two.
**Rhoelyn:** Raising her head, she looks about one more time, pondering their mysterious guardians. Finally, she stands and returns to the cave.
**Araatris:** Rhoe waits with Tsume at her side, her pack on her back and Nysse’s at her feet. Already, she reaches for a wisp as a few more bob around her.
**Rhoelyn:** “Thank you for gathering everything, sister. They’re all down, so we should be able to leave safely. Where to next?” Nysse walks up to her.
**Araatris:** The healer smiles at her sister, not yet answering. “Korran is such a wonder. I am grateful that I have you to protect me and you have him.”
**Rhoelyn:** Nysse turns a tender gaze to the stoic spirit wolf at her side. “I am glad that he chooses to stay. Just as I’m grateful for all my family.”
**Araatris:** At Tsume’s huff, Rhoe kneels down to hug her. “Of course you, too, darling girl. You are a wonder as well. You both are for protecting us.”
**Rhoelyn:** The huntress laughs. “She is quite the darling, isn’t she? Especially when it gets her cuddles.” Reaching over, Nysse rubs Tsume’s ears.
**Araatris:** Rhoelyn nods and stills, burying her face against Tsume’s shoulder for a long breath before she surges back to her feet and offers Nysse her pack.
**Rhoelyn:** Blinking in surprise, Nysse takes her bag and hugs her sister with one arm. She apologizes meekly, “I’m sorry if I worried you, Rhoelyn.”
**Araatris:** The priestess returns her hug, clinging for a moment. She mutters, “I will always worry, no matter how strong and well protected you are.”
**Rhoelyn:** “I know. I think Rhese has rubbed off on me. Next time, we stay together.” The younger elf kisses her sister’s temple. “Shall we head out?”
**Araatris:** Looking relieved, Rhoelyn nods and gives her a squeeze before releasing her. “Our rest got interrupted, but… I wish to resume our work.”
**Rhoelyn:** Nysse sighs. “It wouldn’t be good to stay here. They’ll find the bodies.” She slings her pack over both shoulders and settles her quiver.
**Araatris:** As if it’s a decision made, Rhoe nods and leads the way back into the woods, using her staff as a walking stick. They all blend into the trees.
**Rhoelyn:** Falling back into a silent pattern, the wolves range around them. Nysse tries to keep her tired mind focused as they travel, gathering wisps.
**Araatris:** The soft, comforting song that her sister sings as they walk doesn’t help the huntress avoid being drowsy, but after an hour or so, she pauses.
**Rhoelyn:** “Hmmm? Did you see something?” The huntress scans the area, not feeling any alarm from Korran. She rests a light hand on Rhoe’s arm.
**Araatris:** The priestess’ stomach growls loudly, and she wraps a hand over it, shooting Nysse a sheepish look. “I am sorry, sister. I rushed us off.”
**Rhoelyn:** Nysse giggles softly. “Let’s find somewhere to finish our rest and get yo-” At the priestess’ severe look, she corrects herself. “-us food.”
**Araatris:** Rhoelyn nods and claims Nysse’s hand, then beckons to the wisps gathered around them. “While you cook, I shall minister to these last.”
**Rhoelyn:** “Yes, of course. I think I saw a cave near the cliffs that should be more secure if we go through the water.” Nysse tugs Rhoelyn with her.
**Araatris:** The pair of them make their way silently through the shadowed trees, wolves ranging warily around them and softly glowing orbs trailing along.
**Rhoelyn:** They make their way down a rocky bank and through the shallow water. Nysse points at a trail up the opposite bank, leading to a high cave.
**Araatris:** By the time they poke their noses into the hollow in the cliff, Rhoelyn leans on her staff tiredly. “Goodness. No one will surprise us up here.”
**Rhoelyn:** Nysse smiles sheepishly, her eyes drooping. “A fire shouldn’t be as noticeable either if we want a hot meal. Go rest, sister. I’ll cook.”
**Araatris:** The priestess smiles gently and leans over to kiss Nysse’s cheek. “I will sit and see to our brothers and sisters. Is it safe to stay outside?”
**Rhoelyn:** “Yes, it should be. Korran can keep you company. They like him.” The huntress pats his back before setting down her bag and digging into it.
**Araatris:** After she leaves her pack and staff in the cave, Rhoelyn brushes the spirit wolf’s ear and settles down with her feet dangling off the cliff.
**Rhoelyn:** Korran follows and lies next to the priestess, huffing as one of the wisps lands on him. His large wolfish gaze turns to her expectantly.
**Araatris:** The priestess smiles at him before the golden power of the Light wraps around her, and she reaches out to scoop the wisp from his shoulder.
**Rhoelyn:** The wolf watches as she talks softly to the wisp, easing its pain. The other wisps spread across his fur as they wait, causing him to sigh.
**Araatris:** Rhoe giggles and rubs his ear as the spirit drifts up into the sky, its once-burdened form dissolving. “You soothe them, familiar and reachable.”
**Rhoelyn:** He snorts, seeming amused, and twists to nose one of the wisps toward her. He wuffs softly when it seems to cling, and it floats to her.
**Araatris:** “Dear sister,” the little healer whispers with a tender smile, her fingers brushing the spirit gently. That smile dims. “Do not mourn…”
**Rhoelyn:** The spirit flash scenes of a younger kaldorei; a sister. She sways back and forth anxiously. Korran wuffs at her, and she seems to pause.
**Araatris:** Rhoe looks out over the forest for a long moment, her magic-gilded gaze searching with more than sight. Her brow furrows as she glances at the wolf.
**Rhoelyn:** He turns to look out over the forest, his glowing eyes settling on a far hill. After a long moment he looks back at Nysse and wuffs again.
**Rhoelyn:** The huntress walks to the entrance of the cave. “Korran says her sister is alive, and he knows where. He suggests we go check on her next.”
**Araatris:** The priestess gapes at the wolf and then smiles brightly and hugs him. “Truly? I cannot find the living. Korran! You are a wonder.”
**Rhoelyn:** Nysse glances over her shoulder, grinning. “After we rest. I don’t want the food I’m working on to go to waste and I’d like some sleep.”
**Araatris:** Nodding, her sister turns a pleased look on the wisp and whispers, “Rest assured, Eleiri, we will find her.” She alights back on his shoulder.
**Rhoelyn:** The huntress turns and heads back into the cave, working on food and bedding. One eye is always on Rhoelyn as she speaks with the spirits.
**Araatris:** The small collection of spirits hovering in luminous motion outside their cave decreases slowly, and the healer sometimes consults Korran softly.
**Rhoelyn:** The young woman fights the doze as Tsume snuggles up to her. She watches with half-lidded eyes sometimes seeing people instead of wisps.
**Araatris:** By the time her sister yawns and stretches, shoving her way to her feet with only Eleiri’s wisp remaining, Nysse is all but asleep. Korran snorts.
**Rhoelyn:** The stew is simmering gently not quite in danger of burning. The huntress doesn’t stir as Rhoelyn approaches, but Tsume’s eyes flicker open.
**Araatris:** Leaning down, the priestess grins tenderly and rubs the snowy wolf’s ears. She presses a finger to her lips and settles by the fire to serve food.
**Rhoelyn:** Tsume waits for Rhoelyn before gently nosing Nysse’s hand. “Mm? What is it, girl? Does Rho-” She blinks groggily at the bowl being held out.
**Araatris:** Rhoe waits patiently, though her stomach certainly lets out a loud growl as she does. She blushes and says nothing at all.
**Rhoelyn:** Nysse’s eyes widen and her cheeks darken as well. She takes the bowl, mumbling, “I’m so s-sorry, Rhoe. I didn’t m-mean to fall asleep…”
**Araatris:** The smaller elf giggles and brushes an errant lock of Nysse’s hair back before settling back to get her own bowl. “We are here to rest, sister.”
**Rhoelyn:** “Y-yes, but I planned to stay awake until we both settled for sleep.” She waits until her sister gets her bowl to start nibbling her food.
**Araatris:** Korran wanders up and settles down against Nysse’s back with a huff, and his new wisp companion bobs around them as they eat. Rhoe yawns.
**Rhoelyn:** Finishing her third bowl, Nysse leans back lightly against Korran. “I laid out our bedrolls if you want to head on to sleep.” Korran sighs.
**Araatris:** The priestess yawns yet again and brushes her brown hood back, pulling her hair free of its braid. “Yes, I think I am done in. Will you sleep?”
**Rhoelyn:** Glancing over her shoulder at Korran, she smiles slightly. “I’d better sleep. None of you would listen if I didn’t.” She cleans the dishes.
**Araatris:** With an amused smile, Rhoe sits down on her bedroll and claims her brush from her pack. “We would all three simply sit on you until you relented.”
**Rhoelyn:** “Tsume wouldn’t have to. She’d get as close as possible and sleep. It’s contagious.” She packs the dishes and sits on her bedroll, yawning.
**Araatris:** The priestess giggles as she reaches over and tugs the corner of Nysse’s blanket across her legs, an unsubtle command. She beckons Tsume.
**Rhoelyn:** Blushing, Nysse kicks off her boots and lays back. She rolls over and tugs the blanket around her. “I couldn’t stay awake if I tried.”
**Araatris:** Her sister beside her just quietly smiles and leans forward, her long hair dangling as she unwraps the leather strips around her mostly-bare feet.
**Rhoelyn:** Despite her words, the younger woman watches her sister before quietly asking, “Are you doing alright, Rhoe? I know this isn’t easy for you.”
**Araatris:** The healer pauses for a moment before she wraps the two brown leather strips around her hand and sets them aside, sobering and staring at her toes.
**Araatris:** “It… yes, it is hard to bear all the hurt that burdens them. Worry. Fear. Rage. All their chains…” She sighs. “But who will help them if not us?”
**Rhoelyn:** Nysse reaches out and rests a hand on her sister’s leg. “When the burden becomes too large, there is always someone else to take it.”
**Rhoelyn:** She only pauses a moment before continuing, “I am glad that we’re helping. It’s… therapeutic to feeling like we can make something right.”
**Araatris:** Rhoelyn looks over at her, her smile small but sincere. “If the alternative is to leave their souls burdened and wandering… I can manage this much.”
**Rhoelyn:** Nysse nods and returns her smile. “Then rest well knowing that you’re doing well, sister. I’m honored to be able to help you in this.”
**Araatris:** The healer’s smile widens as she blushes, looking away. “Oh, Nysse. I could not do any of this without you. Thank you for giving me courage.”
**Rhoelyn:** “Of course. Now, let’s both get some rest. We’ll continue our work tomorrow.” She pats Rhoelyn’s leg and draws her hand back under the cover.
**Araatris:** As the pair of them drift off, Korran settles in the mouth of the cave to keep watch and Tsume plops in between them, doubling her cuddle.