Chapter 3: Betrayals
36 hours later
Rhese blinked in shock at the hearthstone in his hand, watching numbly as the magic traced through the blue swirl rune etched on its white surface. “No. No, why would they do that? We’ve been working side by side for years. In peace. And look what we accomplished!”
The voice on the other end was higher pitched and sharp edged, Kaerryn’s barely-controlled anger evident in the clipped tone of her words. “Because, partner. They’re rotting, no-good, honorless Hordies led by an undead abomination. And they found something they think gives them an edge. Now they’re greedy. Fel. It doesn’t slagging matter why. It’s happening. The kal’dorei fleet is rushing back to Darkshore as fast as they can sail, but we need more there to hold them off until the army is back.”
“Cenarius’ Beard,” he cursed, brushing a shaking hand through his hair. “War.” The druid glanced back through the doorway behind him, watching Nysse’s face in profile as she slept for a moment before his gaze landed on the bundled young elves in their matching cribs.
“War,” he repeated, bleak.
“Yeah.” The warrior on the other end of the stone spit out a particularly vile Valarjar curse word, and he could practically see her scowl through the connection. “Morthis didn’t want to tell you. He wants you two to stay out of it. Damned if I don’t, too, but… I knew you’d want to know, fuzzbutt. I knew you’d hurt if something went awful, and you never got a chance to try to fight.”
The night elf sighed, bowing his head and his shoulders as a world of fear and worry pressed down on him. “You’re right, partner. Thank you for blinking me.”
Kaerryn’s sigh was almost as weary and weighted as his own. “Yeah.” Again, the Valarjar curse slipped out, this time more quietly. After, there was a long moment of silence.
“Look, Rhese… I land in Lor’danel in roughly three hours. If you come, you damn well find me right away. You hear me?” Her voice took a hard, stern edge that was rare for the cavalier, chestnut-haired human. “I’m not having your bear butt there without me to watch your back. And I’ll be slagged rotting three times over before I’m gonna have any part in leaving those babies without their daddy. So don’t you rotting get killed!”
Rhese managed a little smirk and smacked the stone as proxy for his young friend. “I’m not planning on it, Kaer. You just leave me some Horde to mop up. If I fly all that way for nothing, I’m going to be growly.”
She snorted. “I hope you fly all this way for nothing, fuzzbutt. Now get off my stone. I have work to do.”
The warrior’s surly, tough facade dragged a smile through the awful news of the Horde army marching on the new world tree and his people’s capital city, but Rhese sobered quickly and spoke serious words into the hearthstone before it went dark.
“Be careful, Kaerryn. Be truly careful out there.”
“Don’t you dare slam that d-” The rough-hewn wood slammed loudly right in Relare Duskfall’s face as the paladin shouted, a meaty green hand disappearing from view behind it along with the rest of Gulkar Spineblade’s stout form. Growling, the blood elf pounded a fist on the portal, plate shielding his hand from the splinters.
“You can’t keep me from my brother! I don’t care of you’re the commander of the Puckered Buttholes or the Veiled Eyes. I’ll find out what you’ve done and bring the hammer of my house down on your head!”
The threat made at least a slight impression. From the other side, the orc growled, “If I knew where to find yer coward brother, I’d have already killed him, twig lordling. He’s two days late, and my troops are slogging through hostile forest instead of his convenient portals! Now bugger off. I’ve orders to deliver before I get to go back to the field.”
Relare’s brow furrowed, and he brushed a frustrated hand through his short, auburn hair. “You really mean that, don’t you? You don’t know where Leo is?”
The Eyes’ commander just snapped a rude word at him from across the room and slammed something onto a table to make a point.
Shaking his head, the Lord of House Duskfall turned away from the door to Gulkan’s office and stomped his way out of the Eyes’ headquarters, worry furrowing his brow. His older brother might not be the epitome of reliability in this timeline, but Leothir was still fond of being in the right places at the right times. He liked schedule and predictability, and he was never late… and seldom quiet. Yet Relare hadn’t been able to reach him for two days, and he hadn’t been at any of their planned meeting points. And with what was going on in Ashenvale…
The paladin trusted his gut, and his gut was shouting at him that his brother was in trouble.
Swinging his leg up over his war-trained hawkstrider, the sin’dorei settled into the saddle and peered out over the dusty streets of Orgrimmar, his thoughts racing. War. The signs of what was happening near Teldrassil were everywhere: troops moving through the streets; supplies piled around buildings or in carts, waiting for transport; blacksmiths working overtime to forge weapons and armor; siege tanks heading for the docks. He watched it all with the keen eye of a military commander, a role left behind in another time, his assessment automatic. What was left was only the straggling backup to the main army, Saurfang and his troops already well on their way over the mountains of the felwood. It was a good plan, and the Alliance was falling for it.
Darnassus, he knew with sad certainty, would fall.
Relare sighed softly and looked down at the pouch that held his informant’s report. He’d made sure to put tags on their kal’dorei family the moment he’d heard the first rumors of this campaign. And it was bad. His girl in Everlook had confirmed that the worst was true: Rhoelyn Silverwing was in Darnassus. Rhese and Nysse and the children might be safe in Winterspring, but the priestess, the healer that was his brother’s unacknowledged mate, was in the crosshairs of their own army. Of their own people. And she was no fighter, no soldier to defend herself when the army occupied the tree. Leo wo-
“Milord,” a tentative voice interrupted his thoughts, and the paladin looked down to find a goblin by his bird’s talons, the short green scavenger bobbing his avaricious head and twisting a hat in his hands.
“Yes?” The lordling kept his tone even despite his instinctive distaste for the oily fellow. He had great trouble accepting certain of the races in this timeline’s Horde, and worst among them were the goblins. Still… “What is it?”
“Ah heard ya were lookin’ fer Leothir. Heard ya tellin’ the boss up there.”
When the man stopped, Relare raised a brow. He knew what was coming, but he still had to play the game properly.
The stranger smirked, that convenient hat stilling and flipping open towards him. “An’ time is money, milord. I know where he is, an’ you’ll hear it for a price.”
After a moment spent coldly considering him, Relare reached into a pouch at his belt and pulled out a gold coin. He leaned down as if to drop it into his waiting hat until he was close enough to snake an arm out and grab the little man’s tunic and drag him off his feet. The paladin straightened in the saddle, easily lifting the goblin far off the ground and enjoying his “meep” of surprise a bit too much.
“Who are you?” he snapped.
“M-m-m’name’s Bendric, lord. I’m one of the Eyes.”
“Bendric. So you’re one of Leo’s teammates? Where is my brother?”
Beneath the paladin’s glare there was the way he reached with a Light-wreathed hand for the heavy hammer at his back. The goblin gulped audibly and pointed a shaky finger to the east.
“H-h-he’s at an exclusive t-tavern down on the edge of the Drag. Back the alley beside Morgrik’s Bakery.”
Relare’s eyes narrowed. “You expect me to believe that Leothir has been on a two day bender in a pub instead of doing his job for Gulkan and making his appointments with me?!”
The goblin’s eyes widened, and he glanced away even as he nodded. He was lying. But the blood elf had finally found a trail, and it was far closer than he’d been five minutes ago. He could play the dupe if it got him another lead.
Relare suddenly smirked, dropping the fool on his knobby green backside in the dirt.
“Now why does that sound just like Leo?” The lordling sighed dramatically, flipping the coin with unerring accuracy into the traitor’s dropped hat. “I guess I’ll have to drag him out of his cups by the ear. Again. Thank you for your information, Bendric.”
The goblin gaped at Relare as he clicked to his hawkstrider and hurried off down the road.
“What jes’ happened?” he grumbled to himself, scratching his head.