Chapter 6: Advance
The impact of the arrow shoved her back a few steps and probably would have knocked her over if not for the tree at her back, the one that she caught herself against as she gasped in shocked pain. Rhoelyn looked down, her eyes filling with tears that she ignored as the wound blossomed into red agony that stained her gown in yet another place. Between her first and second ribs, off to the side, the shaft and a fletching of black feathers protruded from her flesh.
She didn’t need the golden glow blanketing her vision to tell her it was nonlethal. A lung narrowly missed. Veins and arteries intact. She could focus past the pain for the moment, and so it was distinctly unimportant.
Not like the spleen-crushing blow Selandrin Morrowstar had just taken.
With the trunk supporting her, the priestess raised a glowing hand at the sentinel and watched with magic-rich senses as the organ repaired itself, felt the blood in the warrior’s chest find its way back to the veins as they stitched themselves whole. Done. Her gaze shifted to the next, and the next, and for a moment she allowed her attention to slip outward, taking a holistic view of the field of battle around her. It gave her the information she needed to choose the next spell and the two after that.
They all bore wounds; she only needed to see whose were most pressing, most grave. Triage. Whatever it took to keep them fighting, moving. Nothing more, and nothing less.
Once, that had been a hard lesson for an optimistic young healer to grasp.
Heal the wounds, sister, Rhoelyn could hear her old teacher’s admonition, not the scars. Lives are what you save with that extra energy. Things far more precious than appearances.
Today, it was easy. There were no prayers on her lips. Her voice had long since gone hoarse, and there was no time for sound, anyway. The healing came at the speed of thought, as fast as she could drag magic from the air and pull it into damaged bodies. For a day, now, it had been thus. Saving who she could. Walking away from too many who had fallen. Rhoelyn was numb with it, holding grief in her heart until there were no lives that would end if she indulged in it, staving off exhaustion with determination.
Huddled against the tree, hurting and bleeding herself, she could not do less, could not bear to let her weaknesses cost others their lives.
Light coalesced into a Shield around little Piki Nobwhistle as a troll tried to interrupt the gnomish mage’s casting. A quiet Renewal of the spirit and body rested on Oraalu to fortify him as he charged into another trio of orcs. A wide, glorious Prayer of Healing focused on Mattiu Fairchild that would catch his dagger-wielding sisters, Sera and Loren, as well. Saelis Silverleaf called for a barrier, and Rhoelyn obliged the night elven mage to enable her the time to finish casting a massive work that rained a wall of fire down over their enemies, sending them scurrying back.
It bought them a breath, and for one moment, there was a reprieve as the Horde unit paused to regroup.
The young priestess whimpered softly as pain pulsed like electric fire through her side, looking down at the arrow there and dreading its removal. The barb hadn’t pierced through, so she would have to shove it farther in and out the back before she could snap the tip off and remove it. A tear slipped free and slithered a slow streak down her blood-splattered cheek as she rested a shaking hand on the shaft.
“Rhoelyn.” A big hand covered hers around the arrow, and she looked up into Baelin Moonsong’s silver eyes. He was dour and bloody, older and wiser than he had been decades ago, when they’d been young, idle lovers. Handsome as always, with his bright, silver eyes and midnight blue hair, he still favored a small beard. But he was also aged by life as by battle and hardship, she thought, wondering if she looked the same way to him.
“I’ll help you. Hold on to me.”
The silver-haired priestess nodded, sniffling, and wrapped one arm around him, leaning her forehead on his leather chest armor. Her voice was nearly gone, a whisper and little more that he had to bend close to hear. “D-do it swiftly, Baelin. They will not hold for long…”
Nodding, he took over her grip on the arrow shaft and leaned in to her, pressing her back against the tree behind her. “Brace yourself, priestess,” he whispered, his brow furrowing before he shoved it through her back in a spurt of burgundy blood.
Rhoelyn’s brief scream echoed through the forest, but it was one among so many that it got immediately lost. The sound of her pain never reached the people listening for her.
Nysse bird whistled as they circled through the woods, staring at their enemy through the foliage. The wolf at her side crouched tensely. At a sharp motion Tsume leapt out at the undead archer.
She stepped out and drew her bow, sending an arrow shrieking towards their target even as a cat leapt from the brush across the way. A shout from behind her sent Nysse racing towards Rhese and Tsume.
The huntress dove forward and rolled as a Tauren swung her mace at where Nysse’s head used to be. Her frustrated bellow was cut short as the night elf came back to her feet with a sideways twist that let her put two rapid arrows into her attacker’s chest.
“R-Rhese!” Two more arrows flew at the other three enemies that rushed in behind their fallen comrade, but they were met with a shield and a burst of fire that turned one to ash. Nysse scrambled to her feet and turned to run, blowing a shrill whistle.
A streak in silver and blue plate dashed into their midst as they gave chase, disrupting them with a darkling laugh.
“Pick on someone half your size, Hordies! I’m rotting volunteering.”
Kaerryn was soon joined by a silver-furred cat that peeled off one and harried a fourth, a blood elf who tried to get around their side.
Nysse followed up with another arrow to the blood elf, catching him in the leg. Even as he fell to his knees, the mage managed to complete his spell, arcane missiles shrieking towards Rhese.
The druid skidded backwards with a yelp as they hit and Tsume leapt upon their target’s back with a snarl. Nysse pressed her lips into a thin line as the wolf mauled him and turned towards Kaerryn’s foe, raising her bow again.
Another brief, piercing whistle had the human warrior ducking to the ground, and the huntress’ bow string sang out. An orc fell, her arrow fletching-deep in his eye socket. Another tumbled beside him as Kaerryn sprang to her feet under her guard and thrust her sword through her heart. Rhese’s snarl preceded the fourth foe’s gurgling scream that faded to nothing, and they all looked around in wonder at the brief respite.
The druid shifted, wiping his sleeve across his bloodied mouth and spitting in the grass. “Nysse?”
“I’m fine. It’s going to take us a while to get to Lor’danel at this rate. What about you two?” The huntress rolled her shoulder, stretching it as Tsume padded back to her side. Tsume nosed into her hand, and it earned her a few scratches behind the ears.
Kaerryn snorted. “I’d rather keep going. The more we take down on the way, the less they’ll have to deal with there.” She grinned viciously. “And I’m not in the mood to go easy on them.”
Nysse frowned. “Neither am I. This land has seen enough destruction. What they’re doing is…” She shook her head. “I only caught a glimpse of war, but this is much more brutal that I could ever imagine. If Rhoe is out in this…” She glanced worriedly at Rhese.
The stricken look he gave her was enough to make her regret voicing the thought, and her mate turned away, brushing an unsteady hand through his hair. He stared out through the trees, listening to the sounds of battle around them in moody silence.
Kaerryn sighed softly as she stepped up beside Nysse and rested a hand on her shoulder.
The normally cavalier human was uncharacteristically serious as she muttered, “We’ll find her. But only if we keep moving. Come on.” She patted the night elf before hefting her big blade against her shoulder and stepping forward toward the druid.
“Break time’s over, fuzzbutt,” she said as she passed him, and Rhese nodded, glancing back at Nysse.
He held out a bloody hand toward his love, and rumbled a moody, “She’s right. We have a long way to go.”
Nysse took the comfort of his hand gratefully. “We’ll find her, Rhese. I know we will.” Tsume brushed against the druid’s leg as they began walking again. She leaned in to give him a peck on the corner of his mouth.
“We will,” Rhese confirmed. They turned to follow Kaerryn, retrieving their hands to shift and ready their weapons.
Nysse took a deep breath to steel herself, thinking of the babes that waited for her in Stormwind. Soon, she told herself. Soon, they would all be together again. It was enough to keep her going as they spotted another patrol.
As the huntress hissed softly to her wolf and faded into the brush, her mate shifted, his amber eyes glowing angrily until he slinked into the bushes across from her and disappeared. It was time to kill more Horde.
Kaerryn watched them both go with a smirk, brandishing her sword before she turned back to the approaching troops. A pair of troll, another blood elf, an undead, and two nightborn traitors. When they noticed her standing alone, the undead warrior in the lead chuckled with a rasping sound and pulled out his axe.
The human snorted and beckoned him. “Let’s see what you’ve got, deader.”
A short while later found Rhese on healing duty. “Lovely, was it necessary to stay in the fireball to get a good shot?” He admonished with a sigh. “You’re going to make my hair fall out.”
Nysse grimaced as her reddened, tender skin healed. “It’s not as bad as being stabbed and a few burns were worth it. Even if they are uncomfortable. I am sorry for worrying you, but I knew he was rushing. There was no way it’d be as strong as one of Leo’s.” She paused. “I really hope he’s not caught up in all of this. I can’t imagine he would be, but…”
Kaerryn glanced over her shoulder. “War doesn’t always give you a choice, Nysse. There’s been plenty conscripted, but I doubt these are. They seem more than happy to fight us, and I’ll be sure to give them one.”
Rhese growled, “So will I, Kaer,” setting the last bit of magic against Nysse’s burn. With her arm healed, he pressed a little kiss against the skin with a tenderness at odds with his tone. “If that pasty lordling is anywhere on the other side of this madness…”
Nysse looked over at her mate as he trailed off, shocked at the vehemence in his voice and then more shocked by the rage in his eyes. She rested a hand on his arm, but he quickly pulled away.
“We’ve got to put away the illusions,” the druid snapped. “Leo and Relare were something akin to family, but now they’re just enemies like the rest of them. It’s easy for the Horde to hide behind the excuse of their ‘survival’ to stab us in the back whenever they feel like it. The brothers probably are here, somewhere, and we or someone like us will probably have to kill them before the day ends.”
Kaerryn blinked at him and then at the huntress, her brows drawing down. “Maybe. Maybe not, Rhese. Wondering and worrying doesn’t get us closer to Rhoe, though. And fretting about how hurt she’ll be if he is doesn’t do her any good, either. Pull yourself together, partner.”
She sighed and thumped him on the arm, earning herself a glower.
The young night elven woman commented blandly, “For Rhoe’s sake and my own, I’m going assume they’re not here unless otherwise proven.” She pushed to her feet and shoved past Rhese. “Let’s go. My mistake cost us time.”
With a click of her tongue, Tsume hugged the huntress’ side. “Spread out, but not too far. The river is up ahead. It’ll make it harder to hear.” She motioned and stepped into the trees again, leaving the other two with no other choice but to follow.
Rhese grimaced and glanced at Kaerryn before shifting into a feline and padding as close to Nysse and Tsume as he dared. There were enemies nearby, their scent carried on the ocean breeze. But Rhoelyn’s scent still eluded him.