Chapter 10: Fools Rush In
Nysse appeared on the steps of the temple of Elune. She took a breath and found herself coughing as her lungs and eyes burned in the heat. The fire had already reached the city.
The druid pressed a damp cloth into Nysse’s hand, then tied a second one around his face. “This should help.” His voice was muffled as he grimly looked at their burning home.
She tied it on with a nod, taking a few more moments to ease her lungs as much as she could. “This is horrible. They’re trying to evacuate. I know we need to find Rhoe, but…” Nysse shuddered. “We need to help them, Rhese.”
Her mate grit his teeth as his keen druidic senses overloaded with the horror of the city on fire. Panicked screams. Acrid smells. Wood smoke and burning flesh. Fathers crying their children’s names. Desperate, shouted prayers to the Goddess. The Life around them shriveling and dying in so many ways that he was instantly sick with it all.
Grief choked him for a moment, and he couldn’t answer her in any way except to nod and grab her hand. For one breath, just one, he needed his love’s strength. Teldrassil was dying in his head and in his heart, and somewhere in the midst of it, his sister might be doing the same. He couldn’t think about it. And he couldn’t not think about it.
Rhese drew a deep, unsteady breath, and nodded a second time. He said nothing, just released her hand and let his body flow into a stag’s broad, strong, swift form.
Nysse pointed at the nearest building. It was as good as any to start. She glanced down at her wolf worriedly, but Tsume just snorted and crouched lower to the ground. When Rhese turned his head toward her expectantly, she frowned but swung up on his back. She’d never been able to run as fast as him.
She called out when they reached the building. “Hey! Is anyone in here?”
Someone touched her leg. “That’s the Dreamsong home. I think their grown son might still be inside! I heard him asking about him in the temple.” The man coughed. “I’ve… I’ve got to get to the temple. I’ve been out here too long.”
Nysse swung down with a nod. “Go. We’ll get him.” Rhese shifted beside her, not bothering with a form that could speak, from stag to cat to silver streak into the burning house, Tsume on his tail.
“Wait!” The huntress called, but only one of the four-legged creatures paused to look back at her.
Whistling, the second also stopped with an annoyed look. “Don’t just run in. We won’t have time in there. Let’s split up. You stay on the first floor with Tsume, and I’ll run up to the second. Tsume, follow Rhese!”
The huntress darted in and headed straight for the stairs, pressing the damp fabric to her face. She squinted and flinched at the flames, kicking things out of the way as she explored the rooms.
Smoke billowed everywhere, turning the cozy home into a hazed nightmare where shadows grew out of the gloom and crashed at her feet. Flames, unseen at times but always felt and heard, flickered and flashed, advancing and retreating like an indecisive army.
Nysse coughed as she pushed upstairs, where the air was dirtier and her head swam harder. “Hello?” she shouted, “Call out if you can hear me!”
The tiny sound that reached her sensitive ears was barely a croak, but she swiveled, sprinting to the room on the right.
Nysse nearly tripped over the man sprawled just inside the door, and she leapt, catching herself against the bed. The pillow by her hand was already smoldering, one corner alight, when she shoved herself upright, hacking and sputtering.
“I’m here,” the huntress gasped, throwing herself to her knees at the stranger’s side. Her piercing whistle rang through the din, and a wolf howled in answer. Nysse sagged with relief and started to wrap her hands under the man’s shoulders, tugging and grunting, “We’ll get you out.”
She half lifted him as she dragged him toward the stairway, lamenting that he was a little too heavy to carry. About halfway there, a hand brushed her shoulder. She glanced at Rhese and nodded, moving to allow him to lift the young man.
Coughing, she led the way down the stairs to a waiting Tsume, kicking and pushing debris out of the way. She winced as more than once the heat pressed through her gloves and bared fingers, but continued to the doorway even as a crash from falling timber sounded behind them.
Outside, she found herself gasping for breath and watched the others worriedly.
“Rhese,” she coughed again, “change into a stag. I’ll help him on your back, but we need to get to the temple.”
The druid nodded and settled a verdant-glowing hand against her arm, a quick little bit of healing that started with her and spread quickly to Tsume and himself and the stranger, tingling along burns and easing the ache in their lungs.
“The Temple is close,” he rumbled after another cough. “We can leave him and look for others once we ask about Rhoelyn.”
At his mate’s nod, Rhese wasted no time, kneeling and shifting to the stag’s form in that position, as low as he could get to help Nysse drag the heavy young man across his strong back. He scrambled to his hooves as soon as he could, but even as they started to turn toward the Temple, a piercing scream rang out from two houses down.
The stag’s amber gaze met Nysse’s with a silent question.
The huntress grimaced, but nodded. She turned and bolted toward the cry, unable to ignore it. Tsume ranged beside her, but she knew Rhese would be slower to follow with his burden. “Who’s there? Do you need help?”
She narrowed her eyes through the smoke, looking for any sign of the person. This was the building she thought it’d come from, but there seemed to be too much fire for anyone to still be in the building. Nysse glanced back at her mate to see how far behind her he was.
The stag caught up after a few seconds, careful of his burden. When Nysse hesitated at the fire- choked entry to the house, he nudged her with his muzzle. Not toward the awful conflagration, but toward the side of the house. Snorting at her, he pranced forward, and Tsume barked.
Another brief cry, one of pained frustration and fear, rang out more clearly from behind the house.
Nodding, Nysse hurried around the corner of the house, frowning worriedly at the collapsed timber. “I’m here! Just keep calling out.” She climbed carefully over the smoldering timber, looking about. Finally, she caught sight of a hand. “I see you!”
The huntress shifted closer and grabbed the hand, looking at the situation. A large flat piece of wood covered the area, making a small cubby they were pinned into. She looked at the edges and opted to try and open the part she was standing on. “Stay here. I’ll try to unbury you.”
The young voice from the darkness whimpered. “Please hurry. I think I’m hurt, my leg feels numb.”
Squeezing their hand, Nysse released it and set to work, shoving and pushing at the pieces too large for her to pick up. Coughing, she continued talking to them. “Don’t worry. We’ll get you out. It looks like everyone’s heading to the Temple, so we’ll get you there.”
She paused to wipe soot and sweat from her forehead as Rhese watched. The huntress knew he was itching to help her, but there wasn’t enough room nor could he leave the man on his back. With a fierce tug, she managed to pull the board back a few feet and reached into the hole. “Grab my arms, and let’s see if we can pull you out.”
The hands grasped hers and despite her pained cries, the trapped young woman held on as Nysse pulled her out. She grimaced at the odd angle of the victim’s injured leg.
“Your leg is broken. I know it hurts, but we need to get you up on your other leg, and I’ll help you to the temple. Do you think you can do that?”
Her reddish-purple hair burnt and straggling around her face, the young elf glanced only briefly at her leg before she looked away, paling. Still, she nodded bravely and bit her lip, attempting to shift. Her whimper of pain was all she allowed herself as Nysse levered under her arm and helped her to stand on her good leg. Tsume shook soot from her fur with a cough before she settled herself on the injured girl’s other side.
Rhese watched them quietly, assessing, and then he sidled closer and very carefully lowered himself back to his haunches and knees, a kneel as low as he could get with an unconscious man draped across his back. He snorfed at the pair of them, impatient, his silver ears flicking as other sounds reached his attention and the fire from the building too near them reflected in the ornaments tied to his pale horns.
Nysse settled her on Rhese’s back as carefully as she could. “I’m sorry, but I think any movement is going to hurt. Hang onto my hand, and we’ll move as fast as we can.”
The girl clung to Nysse as the druid slowly raised under the her. He took a tentative step and looked over his shoulder at his mate. She nodded. “Go on, Rhese. Walk as easily as you can, but we know that there’s not a lot of options.” She coughed and patted her drying facemask with a grimace.
Picking his way carefully, Rhese favored speed over comfort for the girl on his back, and soon the huntress had to jog to keep up with him. The pained but conscious rider held on to the far less conscious one, her arms marked with red, angry burns. Still, she didn’t complain, and soon they were at the large, arching entry to the burning Temple of Elune.
The druid barely waited until the people there had helped Nysse offload his burden before he’d shifted into his native form and sprinted into the temple and past the near-boiling moonwell.
Around the once-serene grotto at the foot of the statue of Haidene, there was chaos. Fire already licked at the timbers above the crowd of frightened and injured kal’dorei families and tradespeople, and priests and priestesses rushed about, administering both first aid and final blessings to the lost.
“Rhoe!” he shouted into the din, turning more than a few heads. “Rhoelyn!”
The druid scanned the milling crowd, from the beds of injured to the funnel of desperate citizens waiting worriedly for their turn to slip through the portals mages held open in a few places around the room. He breathed hard, coughing, his heart thundering in his ears and panic rising.
Nysse hurried over to one of the priests near Rhese and rested a hand on his arm. She asked quietly, “Have you seen Rhoelyn Silverwing? She looks like her brother there with silver hair.”
The priest blinked, thinking for a moment. “Y-yes. I believe so. She was making rounds about the city to bring people here. She went back out a little bit ago, but I haven’t seen her return yet. I’m sure she’ll be back soon.”
She squeezed his arm. “Thank you, brother. We appreciate it.” She joined the frantic Rhese and grabbed her mate’s arm. “Rhese, wait. Wait for a moment. She’s been making rounds to bring people in. She headed back out a little bit ago.”
Taking a shaky breath, the druid nodded at his love and grasped her hand, tugging her after him. He dragged her to the moonwell and quickly took the masks from her face and his, dipping them in the steaming, magic-rich water with a grimace of pain. Grim. Silent. His teeth clenched tight for far more important reasons than the steam burns on his hands. Rhese flipped the two cloths a few times in the air, cooling them, and then handed hers back to her and tied his own in place.
His voice was just the slightest bit muffled and a gravely rumble as he said, “We have to go back out, Nysse.”
Rhese didn’t bother to ask her to stay with the priestesses, with the portals. He knew she wouldn’t. Instead, he grabbed her hand once more, barely giving her a second in which to respond, and ran for the archway back out to the burning city with Tsume following on their heels.
The druid paused on the threshold and hugged Nysse gently, briefly, verdant magic swirling around the contact. Once more, the burden on their lungs eased a bit, and the trio felt some small amount of revitalization. It was less with each moment they spent in the thick and thickening smoke of the burning tree, and he was painfully aware that there were fewer screams, fewer cries for help, fewer sounds outside of the horrible, crackling roar of fire that could reach his heightened senses from the city.
For just one second, Rhese rested his forehead against Nysse’s, shuddering, and then he turned and took two steps away from her, shifting back to the stag even as she grabbed his antler and swug herself onto his back.
“Let’s find our sister, beloved,” Nysse leaned along his neck to say it near his silver-furred ear, patting his tattooed shoulder as he leapt forward off the terrace and into a dying Darnassus.
“Elune guide us,” she added at a whisper.