Chapter 13: Broken, Dark Shore
Quaed’s black leather boots splashed through the shallows as he tugged the little dinghy onto the shore, his rotting face stern with irritation. He grumbled under his breath, cursing everything from the unconscious priestess who curled in the belly of the boat to the golden mage who’d begged him to save her to the unreliable felbat that was supposed to have been waiting in well-trained obedience on the outskirts of the village at the base of Teldrassil. The bat got the worst of his latest tirade as he rallied his tired and aching arms into yanking the vessel on to the sand.
“Fel-rotting moronic ill-trained rat with wings! Would’ve flown over this whole damn warfront hours ago if that poor excuse for a meatsack hadn’t buggered off. Now, we walk right through the teeth of it.” The rogue growled, his rheumy gaze sweeping the dark sand of the long, exposed beach nervously.
He sighed and finally freed the dinghy from the surf, pausing to peer in at his cargo. Rhoelyn, soot-streaked and ragged, curled around the baby he’d laid against her when he’d dumped her at his feet, her arms wrapped around him and his vibrant purple hair a stark contrast to her once-white gown. Quaed wasn’t sure when she’d stirred enough to think to grab the boy, and he rather hoped it was a sign that she was close to rousing. He couldn’t carry her through the hostile warzone as he had through the burning tree.
“Hey,” he rasped, nudging her shoulder to test the theory. “Time to wake up, girl.”
The silver-haired priestess didn’t stir, her breath a ragged, unsteady thing.
Quaed grimaced and tried again, shaking her harder. “Get up, Rhoelyn. We need to move.”
When she failed to respond once more, he cursed roundly before he called out, “Tali.”
The ghost’s attention on the insensate priestess was tangible to him, her concern clear before she shared her thoughts in her young, high voice, soundless in truth but filled with both of their memories of how she sounded in life.
“I dunno, papa. She’s so tired. If I make her move, now, she’ll need to rest extra much, later. Ya know it was so tirin’ last time I tried movin’ someone.”
The rogue frowned and looked around them. “Being well-rested ain’t gonna do her any good with a dark ranger’s arrow through her heart, Tali. We’re sitting ducks on this sand, and there’s an army around us that’ll kill her and that baby as soon as look at’em.”
Tali was silent for a moment before she said, “An ya can’t keep carryin’ them if you gotta be ready to fight.”
It took another moment of consideration before he felt her assent, and he sagged a bit with relief. It was better this way. Better chances for success and better for not making this whole misguided mission an even bigger pain in his decrepit behind.
Kitalia didn’t bother with words before she took action, her presence looming outward from the locket around his neck and flowing over the night elf’s still body and into it, filling an already-full vessel in uncomfortable ways. Possession was always uncomfortable.
The priestess’ fingers twitched, the only sign of what seemed to be an exceptionally peaceful transaction before her luminous blue-silver eyes popped open. The edges of that kal’dorei light were tinged with green, and Quaed actually grinned to notice it. Tali’s favorite color.
“Oh,” the little night elf said at a rasping whisper, her brow furrowing. She flexed her hands experimentally, and her eyes filled with sudden tears. “Oh, no. She’s so sad. Drowning in sad, papa. She didn’t even bother t’fight me ‘long as I promised t’take care of the baby.”
The timbre and tone of the voice was Rhoelyn’s, but the words and sound were all Kitalia, her childish inflection and country Lordaeron accent. All formed by lips and tongue more accustomed to the soft, rolling sounds of Darnassian. It made for a strange combination, his daughter and not his daughter at the same time, the healer and not the healer at the same time. Quaed grimaced and shook his head. It was uncomfortable. Not that it mattered. A means to an end, and the end was getting them out of the open. His nerves were vibrating harder and harder by the moment.
Rhoelyn sat up gingerly, her gaze falling with Quaed’s on the little boy sleeping against her as she drew him into her arms. Despite the tear that dripped down her cheek, she smiled slightly and ran one fine-boned finger through his purple curls and along the graceful lines of his small, pointed ear before she looked over at the rogue.
“Isn’t he pretty, papa?”
“Yeah, yeah,” he grumbled, fingering the hilt of one of his daggers while he turned away and scanned the shore for the tenth time. “Let’s move, Tali.”
She did as he asked even as she kept talking, levering the priestess’ unsteady legs under herself and holding the blanket-wrapped baby tight while she took the undead rogue’s hand and climbed out of the boat.
“It’s nice to feel him. He’s really soft. His name’s Alensyr. Alen! It’s the funniest thing, papa! Y’should really hear all th’strange things in her head ‘bout him. When he’s older, he was pl-”
“Tali, girl.” Quaed caught her as the night elf stumbled with her first step onto land, his boots shuffing in the sand. “Talk less; focus more before you fall on her face.”
Rhoelyn grinned at him and straightened away from his grip on wobbly knees, her expression sheepish through a sheen of tears as she murmured, “Yes, papa. Sorry. Toldja she was tired. Walking is hard, right now.”
The rogue frowned. “But you can do it, right? And carry the boy?”
“Uh-huh,” the priestess said, bobbing her head like an enthusiastic child. He was again struck by how odd the gesture was for the night elf. “I won’t let ya down. Jus’ lead the way.” To demonstrate, she tucked the purple-haired little boy into his sling, tugging a corner of his smokey blanket back over his shoulder, and swiped away the tears in her eyes, offering the undead man one of Rhoelyn’s little smiles.
Nolin Quaed sighed and rested a gloved hand on her slender shoulder, knocking soot away from her stained and ripped white gown. The fond gesture said more than his mouth, and it was all either of them needed.
He turned and stepped away from his daughter’s spirit in the healer’s body and her small burden, his gravelly voice harsh as always. “Stay close, Tali. We’ll find a place to hide and rest soon as we can.”
“Course, papa,” came the cheery, if hoarse, answer, backed up by the crunch of night elven slippers on sand. The Horde rogue nodded quietly to himself, wondering if maybe – just maybe – this disaster of a mission had a chance of succeeding.
Leothir looked down at the camp skeptically. “Are you sure that this will work, Rel? What if they told someone else?”
His brother sighed and pinched his nose. “We’ve already been over this, Leo. If there was anything official to this then they wouldn’t have been hiding us in the basement of Nataro’s family. All we have to do is convince them. You can do that, can’t you?”
There was a soft snort. “Of course I can. I have style.” He flipped his hair and grinned wickedly.
Relare opened his mouth to comment that it didn’t mean that he could lie or bluff, but decided against it in the end. There wasn’t time to argue over skills. He’d just have to hope that his brother could handle the pressure. “Good. Then let’s go.”
The mage nodded and fell into step behind his sibling, tugging at his grey vest to straighten it. He watched the bustle and swarm in the war camp at the bottom of the rough, rocky cliff with unhappy interest, familiar with the look of a soldiery celebrating victory. There was smoke in the air, too, and it choked him for more than its smell. His brow furrowed as he looked off toward the horizon, where an ominous pink glow could just be seen through the trees. Lor’danil, he feared, burning.
Leo sighed and rubbed at his head, telling himself for the nineteenth time that she would be fine. Rhoelyn was alive, somewhere, and well. She had to be. Light grant it, else he wasn’t sure what he’d do. Who he’d char first.
The paladin ahead of him paused and glanced back, carefully keeping his own worry from his expression. Worry for the priestess as well as for his brother, who tried and failed to pretend he wasn’t nearly out of control with anxiety. Watching the golden mage’s emerald gaze travel along the horizon, Relare reflected on the subtle changes his own once-ago death had brought in the brother he knew. He had trouble imagining the lordling from their other life, the light-hearted, pampered scion of a regal and overly entitled mother, wearing the dark expression that shadowed the brow of the elf beside him.
Leothir took a deep breath and forced himself to focus on the issue at hand. He couldn’t be of any help if he couldn’t make it past the checkpoints. He nodded at his brother. “Let’s go, brother. We have work to do.”
Without another word, they walked up to the gate below. Relare took the lead and stepped up to the guard. “We’re reporting in. My brother is a mage, and we’re supposed to assist in transporting supplies north.”
The Forsaken looked him up and down, scowling. “And you got stuck protecting the pansy, did you?”
Relare grinned and slapped his brother on the shoulder, staggering him. “Oh, he might surprise you. But he sure has a thing against armor.”
Raising one scruffy, half-rotted eyebrow, the guard eyed the paladin himself, noting his simple-lined, padded tunic and leather breeches as well as the spots of blood dotting his collar. “He doesn’t seem like the only one with a thing against armor. What gives?”
This one missed very little, clearly, and the blood elf felt the need to clear his throat and affect a sheepish grin, scratching at his short, ruddy hair. “Ah, well. That is a story that involves a back-alley brawl and a really, really strong Tauren. Suffice to say that I’m going to be visiting the Quartermaster for a few necessities before we go back out, but … ah… I really didn’t want to admit that I lost the challenge to my commander back home.”
Leaning closer conspiratorially, Relare muttered to the undead guard, “I’m already formulating my strategy for our rematch. I need to win my armor back, after all. And that hammer was a family heirloom!”
The guard stared at him with that too-still way of the undead before calling out for the gate to open. “Go see the Quartermaster. You’re useless as you are.”
Relare and Leothir both sketched quick bows and murmured their thanks as they entered. Behind them, there was a distinct, but quiet growl of “Idiots.”
Leothir kept his expression serious, trying hard not to think of his love. “Off to the Quartermaster and then work near the front lines, then? I hope they have the shipment ready.”
“Don’t worry, Leo,” Rel said with a little wave of his hand. “I know the way this works well, and there’s always something that needs rushed forward. All we have to do is show confidence.”
The mage simply nodded at that, his gaze sliding across the many troops and porters and mounts that moved around them over the packed, smashed-grass dirt path that ran through the center of the camp. He didn’t bother to worry about his boots, for once, catching a glimpse of a peon just visible at the treeline chopping away at yet another tree. That was when he noticed how much of the war camp was built around or on the stumps of the fallen forest.
He sighed softly, knowing what their kal’dorei family would have to say about that particular detail. Ahead of him, Relare smiled and waved at a trio of trolls who were wandering by, and Leo forced his own expression to lighten as he nodded in greeting. Show confidence. Not disapproval.
But he couldn’t stop himself from at least leaning forward to mutter quietly to his brother, “Let’s hurry, Rel. I hope the Quartermaster has more than just bone axes and fang daggers.” He sighed again, brushing a hand down his vest and lamenting, “I wish I had my spellblade at hand.”
Relare nodded. “I definitely agree. I’m feeling particularly underdressed.” He focused on the hut they were using for supplies and led the way in. “Hello?”
An orc woman straightened from behind a crate with an annoyed sigh. “Oh great. Two more pansies to equip. What do you need?”
The paladin grinned, refusing to take offense. “Plate armor and a hammer for myself and a spellblade, if you have one, for my brother. We’d, of course, be grateful for anything we can get.”
The Quartermaster looked them both up and down with a sneer curling her lips around her short tusks before she growled and turned to a crate behind her. After shuffling around for a moment, she came out with a dented silver breastplate with some sort of grey-brown fur trim. Relare’s grin became a bit more strained, but he watched patiently while she wandered around the back of the tent, gathering more matching pieces of the dingey plate armor. The “hammer” she yanked from behind a fallen armor stand, its blunt edges made from bone coated in a pitted, half-black iron of some sort.
Leothir actually took a step back when she finally returned and plonked the whole pile disrespectfully on top of the crate she was apparently using as a counter. He wasn’t as successful as his brother at not wrinkling his nose against its smell.
“One suit of armor,” she growled out.
“You have my thanks,” the younger sibling managed, bowing low so that she wouldn’t see his own grimace. “And the spellblade?”
“FEH!” the orc grumbled, snorting. “Y’want one’a them, go pick it off some Alliance corpse. Me, I only got real weapons.”
Beside him, the mage plastered on a friendly enough look to get by, not that she was impressed either way. “Well, my dear, then perhaps you could provide me with a staff? Or a more mundane sword?”
Her beady black eyes narrowed on him before she whipped around and yanked a long, bladed polearm away from the wall, tossing it at him. Leo gasped and stumbled back as he caught the thing, surprised and shying away from the vicious tip.
“Here. Two fer one, pansy.” The quartermaster laughed at her own joke, shooing them away with an unmistakable motion.
Relare grunted as he gathered the hundred or so pounds of metal armor into his arms. He nodded to Leo and stepped out and around the back of the storage tent. Then, despite his brother’s horrified expression, the paladin began putting on the armor.
Leaning forward, Leothir hissed, “Are you sure you want to put that on? It stinks like a too-ripe orc if you know what I mean.”
“Armor is armor. We’ll need it. There’s no telling what we’ll run in to out there.” He held up his arm. “Now help me and tighten this strap.”
Working together, the blood elves put on the rest of the armor except for the helmet. When it came to that, Relare scowled and hooked it on his belt.
“I think I draw the line at sticking my head in that stench until it’s absolutely necessary,” he said, glancing up at Leo. The little grin he was intending to offer died a quick death as he saw his brother’s expression, the worried furrow between his brow and the veiled pain in the way he looked at the younger elf. Something had set him off, again. Rel sighed softly and rested a hand on Leo’s arm.
“You’re making that face, again, brother.”
The statement was all it took for Leothir’s expression to clear, and he smirked, trying to brush off the moment. “If I was making a face, it would be because you’ve encased yourself in armor that can only be called… frightfully aromatic. I hope you don’t expect to use anything resembling stealth, Rel. As it is, I fear that you’ll frighten my princess away when we find her.”
Giving an answering smirk, the paladin answered, “Well, I’ll take smell over an axe in my gut, any day.”
Ah, there it was, again: a flash of pain through the mage’s expression that could only be hidden by theatrics. Relare regretted his choice of words quietly even as Leo sighed with base melodrama, brushing his long ponytail back over his shoulder. “And that, my brother, is why you will never be the most eligible bachelor in the family.”
The paladin snorted and turned away, beckoning the mage after him. “I’m the only bachelor in the family, Leo.”