Chapter 14: Sun’s Fury
Leothir went silent again. He followed his brother, trying to set his expression to serious instead of worried, but it was difficult as his attention drifted to what his night elven lover would think.
A small cart was being loaded down the path, causing the brothers to share a look. Leothir took the lead, this time.
“Gentlemen. Gentleladies.” He made a sweeping bow. “I believe I might be of assistance. Is this the newest load heading up to one of the northern camps?”
The sargeant, a portly little goblin with a tattered ear grinned with relief at him. “Sure is! An’ please tell me you’re here to make it a felluva lot easier t’get these up there.” He paused and leaned an elbow against the wagon, looking like he was ready to settle in for a long, quality chat.
“Y’ever tried wheeling anythin’ through a forest like this, elfy? Either o’ ya?” There was no pause for them to answer, and Leo got the distinct impression that he’d barely have heard them if they’d tried. “Well, lemme tell you it’s just about th’worst in this wild forest as anywhere else I’ve tried. An’ I’ve tried haulin’ things in lotsa places! Warsong Gulch, the Ghostlands, Loch Drydam…”
The mage grimaced and glanced back at his brother as the goblin snorted and guffawed at his own joke. “Y’get it? Cuz the dam went all dry after the Cataclysm an’ all?!”
The pair of blood elves forced chuckles while the rest of his crew of porters just rolled their eyes. Apparently they were well used to the guy’s humor.
When they’d done their duty to mirth, Relare stepped forward and clapped the repulsive little fellow on the shoulder. “You’re a laugh riot, Sergeant…?”
“Ahhhh… yeah, right. I always forget intra’ductions.” The salute that he gave was the sloppiest the paladin had ever seen, and it grated on the former soldier’s nerves. “Voxrig Worfwobble, Sergeant of the 654th supply unit, at’cher service.”
“Lieutenant Relare and Transport Specialist Leothir of the Duskfall family. They requested that we provide assistance. You can call us Rel and Leo though.” Relare smiled and suppressed a grimace as he gave a casual salute.
The mage forced a smile and gestured to the cart. “Shall we begin making your life that much easier? I just need to know which camp so I can portal there safely.”
Voxrig scratched his chin. “Duskfall, huh? That’s one of those old blood elven family names, ain’t it? Sounds kinda familiar. Which unit did they put you with?”
Leothir blinked. “The… uh… third.”
The goblin made an odd face, his eyes scrunching and his nose wrinkling as he tilted his head at an angle. “Th’third… unit? Ain’t never heard of a unit three.”
Relare stepped forward and clapped a “shut up” hand on his brother’s shoulder, smirking as he said, “For all that he’s a genius with arcane symbols, he’s hopeless with numbers. He means the 303. Third-aught-three Forward Infantry, to be precise. Leo gets as far as ‘third’ and generally gives up.”
They all laughed at that, Voxrig’s big belly jiggling as he guffawed. For his part, the mage tried to share a good-natured grin instead of glaring at his younger brother. He may not be the accomplished manipulator that Relare was, but he wasn’t overly fond of how he always ended up on the butt of a joke when the paladin covered for him.
Still, anything that got them closer to their goal…
Smiling as they finally calmed, he waved a hand, affecting a foppish tone. “Well, I don’t need pesky numbers to get us where we’re going. Just the arcane coordinates or at least a decent map. Now, let’s get along, shall we? Rel and I have three more transports to take care of once we get to the forward camp. Who’s holding the transport orders, then?”
Voxrig reached into his vest and waved it in front of him. “Gots it right here.” He held it out for Relare. “Ain’t knowing it gots what you need since we were goin’ on foot.”
The mage waved a hand dismissively. “I’m sure it’s fine. Most of the orders are written with more than enough information.” He moved to read over his brother’s shoulder. “Let’s see…”
Leothir’s lips moved as he read and glanced up, making calculations from their current position. “Yes… Yes, this should work fine. I shouldn’t have any problems getting us there.” He grinned and stepped back with a swagger. “Now, is everything packed? I’d hate for us to miss something.”
“Locked an’ loaded. Right, lads?” The goblin glanced around at the pair of scrawny trolls standing beside the wagon before he turned back to Leo. Another sloppy salute marked his final answer.
With an answering grin of anticipation, the blood elven mage shoved the ungainly polearm he carried at his brother and spread his freed hands out to his sides, magic gathering around them in a crackling, dancing display.
“Then it’s time to move.”
As the paladin watched the arcane glow tint his brother’s emerald eyes, his thoughts turned to what they’d find on the other end of the portal, and he seriously hoped that it would be the trail of a certain sweet night elven sister of his.
The portal opened with a snap, magic ripping a hole in the air in front of them. The breeze that rushed through was extra thick with smoke, and both brothers frowned worriedly as they followed Voxrig and his wagon through the breach.
Leo choked as soon as he stepped through. The air was thick with ash and heat. His brother grabbed his arm to steady him.
The goblin glanced back. “Ah right. Guess we shoulda warned ya if ya hadn’t been out this way yet. The burning tree makes it down right miserable.”
Coughing a bit himself, Relare willed his eyes to stop burning. “Tree? They set the forest on fire?”
“Kinda. They set everything on fire includin’ that big elf tree over there. G’wan and take a gander. It’s a sight!” The goblin gestured toward the shore.
While Relare rubbed at his eyes, wincing and trying to blink the blurring irritation out of them, he felt his brother brush by him, his soft boots crunching through the grass. His first inkling of just how serious it was was Leo’s strained voice choking out, “By the Light… no. What have we done?!”
The paladin hurried forward, his borrowed plate clanging, and skidded to a stop beside his brother just outside the tree line, where a short cliff dropped to a beach of slate grey sand, the region’s namesake. The Darkshore, eerily lit by flickering red that reflected in the wet sand and the corpse-strewn surf.
Shuddering, Relare raised his gaze to follow the line of Leo’s wide eyes, and his heart stuttered at what he saw. Teldrassil, the massive world tree a few leagues off the coast, burned on the horizon, an awful, raging, murderous conflagration from roots to crown. Its flames were reflected in the black water of the channel between them, and the air they choked on was billowing with the smoke and ash of all that had once nestled in its boughs… including the kal’dorei capital of Darnassus. Where Rhoelyn was supposed to be.
Leothir was silent with horror, stunned and utterly still, but Rel managed to tear his eyes away long enough to glance back at the goblin and ask, “When? H-how did this happen?”
Voxrig shrugged a bit. “The boss-lady ordered it herself’s the rumor. As t’when? Huh. The tree’s been burnin’ on about… What d’ya think, Lod? Fourteen hours or so?”
One of the trolls back by the wagon shrugged in answer. It was all the goblin got, and it was good enough for him. He nodded curtly and re-affirmed, “Fourteen hours, give or take. Way I heard it, the refugees an’ bodies washing up stopped after ‘bout four.”
Leo swayed, and Rel reached out to grab him around the shoulders, steadying him.
“Where… where are they keeping the refugees prisoner?” the mage managed through clenched teeth, lifting a hand to grip his brother’s arm with bruising intensity.
Voxrig gave him a bit of an odd look, but he shrugged, belly jiggling. “Well, they ain’t, far as I’ve seen. Standin’ orders is t’kill any survivors if y-”
The golden mage’s roar of rage and grief startled all of them, and he yanked away from his brother, spinning back toward the sergeant and the two trolls by the laden wagon. Magic snapped around him so suddenly that the air crackled with localized thunder, and before anyone could do anything more than gasp, he whipped up a clawed hand. Flames leapt out of nowhere, white-hot and vicious, incinerating the porters and the supplies in seconds.
Relare grit his teeth and grabbed his brother’s shoulder. “Let’s let him talk. He may have more information.” He reached forward and grabbed the goblin’s shirt. “You’re going to answer our questions or I’m going to hand you over to the mage. As you can see… he’s not feeling very… nice.”
“Whoa whoa whoa! What’s all this about? Why are you-” Voxrig snapped his mouth shut at the low murderous growl from the other blood elf.
The paladin gave him a humourless smile. “For many reasons, the first of which is that we have friends in that tree. The second of which that this wasn’t the original plan. Third of which that this is the one of the most disturbing things that I’ve seen the Horde do. There’s no honor in razing a city or in murdering civilians.”
Leothir snarled, “Don’t waste your time explaining to a sniveling goblin, brother. Let me just burn him so we can get on with things. Every moment we wait could-”
“N-N-no! Wait!” The sergeant squirmed in Relare’s grip, holding out his hands in supplication. “I’m sure I can help, somehow! I’ll tell ya anything ya wanna know! Anything I can!”
Relare glared at the disgusting little creature, sickened and saddened and feeling much of the same rage as his brother. “I thought this world’s Horde was supposed to be honorable,” he murmured, his free hand clenching and unclenching on his borrowed hammer’s pitted handle.
Voxrig shuddered. “We were! I-I-I mean, we are! Jus’… jus’…” He glanced over at the tree, wincing. “W-w-well th-”
“I don’t rotting care,” Leo growled, fire crackling across his hands. “The answer is here, in this atrocity.” He gestured back toward the tree, but he couldn’t bring himself to look, again. Relare got the distinct impression that if his brother did, he would lose whatever tenuous control had him talking instead of screaming.
He sneered at the little sergeant in his grip, snapping, “I want everything you have about troop placement in this area, Voxrig. Give me every map, missive and set of orders you’re carrying.”
“And don’t lie to me. I know you’ve got a satchel hidden under your jacket, you little worm.”
The goblin cringed, but he reached for the clasp across his chest, cleverly disguised as a weapon harness. The satchel of papers dropped to the ground at Relare’s booted feet. “See? See? I’m cooperatin’. Just… j-j-j-just let me scoot off. No one has ta know!”
Leo watched him, cold and silent, and though Relare glanced at his brother, he couldn’t read the expression on his face. Neither permission nor refusal. But they both knew.
Scoffing, the paladin opened his fist and dumped the fat goblin on his butt in the grass, leaving him scrabbling backwards, kicking his feet and shuffling his hands to put distance between them. Rel casually leaned down and claimed the satchel before he turned his back and walked the few steps back to his sibling’s side. Dismissive. And a bit unwilling to watch what had to happen, next.
The sound of the goblin’s scramble to his feet and the regular patter of his boots on the grass went on just long enough that he started to wonder, but then there was a sudden, hungry whoosh and a screech cut off in milliseconds. He glanced over at Leo just as the magic faded from his eyes and his fists.
“Light. It’s just like before,” the mage murmured, staggering. He plopped down heavily right where he stood and rested his face in his hands, shoulders rounding. Though his voice became muffled, his words were still clear. And troubling. “It’s just like Garrosh… and I didn’t do enough until it was too late then, either. Light forgive me. Light forgive all of us for being a part of this.”
Relare rested a hand on his brother’s shoulder and sat down next to him. “You didn’t just sit and do nothing, Leo. We freed ourselves as soon as we could. Their plans were further in motion that we could have ever expected. Right now, we need to focus on finding her. Do you have what you need?”
The elder blood elven brother silently reached into his tunic and pulled out the small silver medallion on its bent pin. “Of course I do. I’m just terrified to use it. What if she’s…”
The paladin grimaced and shook his head. “Don’t say it, Leo. Don’t think it either. The second we start second-guessing ourselves then we’re as good as dead. If anyone realizes that we were the ones to port that supply cart… We have to keep moving.”
After a deep, shaky breath in and back out, Leothir nodded. “Yes. Yes, let’s keep moving. Rhoelyn does hate it when I’m late. She always worries…”
He tried to give his brother a smile, but it came out too weak, ruined by the furrow in his brow and the tension lining his eyes. Still, he shoved to his feet and offered Rel a hand up. Another deep breath helped to steady him as his companion stood, but when the other elf made to pull away, Leo tightened his hold on his hand.
Rel blinked. “Leo?”
The mage looked his younger brother up and down, nodding to himself. Reminding himself. He took a deep, calming breath once more before finally releasing him.
Leothir stepped back, palming the bent pin on its chain. The blood elf traced one finger over the near-invisible etched moon there and nodded a second time before wrapping his fist around it tightly.
“We made it right, before, Rel,” he said, his eyes taking on a tinge of arcane blue as he concentrated on the spell in the medallion. “We got you back. After everything we went through – despite all that I’ve done wrong through two realities, our night elven family helped me get you back. As I see it, if that’s possible, then everything is. And I’m sure as fel not about to let them down as repayment for you being here, standing beside me.”
Relare grinned at his older brother, pleased to see determination back in his posture. “That’s sounding a little more like you, brother.”
The mage smirked and opened his other hand, a brilliant blue arcane display lighting between his splayed fingers with an arrow pointing north and west. Away from Teldrassil. He breathed a quiet sigh of relief and managed a tone that was light with hope once more. “Yes, yes. No sentiment, all attitude. And an arcane arrow to point the way to my lady. I’ve quite recovered, now.”
Leothir turned until the spell set their heading, his expression growing serious when his back faced his brother. “Let’s go. We have a princess to rescue.”