Family Ties: Rhese
(The Founders: Chapter 1)
The forest was dimmer than it should have been, drawn into darkness despite the shining late afternoon sun by the soul-sick spellwork that permeated the tall, old trees and sickened the wildlife with an energy full of rage and death and decay. As the silver saber stalked warily through it, his ears flattened against his round head, stirring the beads threaded into his mane. The land was sick, and it made him sick to feel it, to know that here, again, forces of evil and darkness sought to poison Azeroth. To destroy yet another home.
Rhese Silverwing sighed silently in his own mind, berating himself for his maudlin thoughts. His flat, pale nose brought him scents like a second sight, and instead of moping yet again, he forced his attention on the cat, on the instincts and impressions that filled its awareness and silenced his fearful and anxious heart. He smelled… spiders. And rot. That acrid-vomit scent that seemed to ride all of the vile Coven’s foul magics and wafted in sickening intensity from yet another totem he could see at the top of the gently rolling hill. Squirrels. Crows. Something that was dirt and silver water and the sharp ozone of Arcane on top of another, sicker, older emanation.
At that, he paused, his glowing amber gaze swinging with his head up toward the north, where the snowy peaks of the mountains showed through the canopy. Smells and sounds from that direction were hard to pin down at this distance, but… something was odd up there. With a little snort, he noted his location and tucked it away as yet another place to investigate later, taking a moment to rub his forepaw across his whiskers.
Ah… and there, the sweet, familiar scent of his mate, his wife. The druid flicked his tail happily and turned to refine his bearing before he broke into a light jog, his broad paws still utterly silent against the yellow-brown grass.
“I love you, too, my darling boy. Make sure you behave and help an’nui. I’ll be home soon, and I’ll tell you all about our travels.”
Rhese heard Nysse’s smooth tones well before he saw her, her voice warm with tenderness as it always was when she spoke to their family. To her credit, the huntress pitched her voice extra low from where she hid while she waited for him, wary and wise and only betrayed by the saber’s sensitive ears. As he padded onward, he listened to the other indistinct tones, hollow with that odd ring of a hearthstone’s magic.
Yami. And there was Rhoelyn. He could recognize the musical cadence of their voices, if not their words, and with an eager flick of his tail, the druid turned his jog into a sprint to see if he could be lucky enough to catch them.
“…-ve dinner ready when you all get back,” his sister was saying as he paused outside of a small cavern cut into the hillside, poking his nose through the tangle of roots and vines that quite effectively hid it from view. Tsume snorted at him in greeting, the wolf’s pale ears flicking, and Nysse looked up, wary for only a moment before her bright smile welcomed her mate back.
She didn’t look away, watching the saber’s lithe grace as he stalked into the cave while she leaned her mouth toward the hearthstone glowing lightly in her hands. “Actually, I need to go anyway. Rhese just got here.”
The druid’s form shifted, the sleek cat expanding into a silver-haired night elf who walked on two booted feet with that same lithe gait. He couldn’t help but grin at that look his love got as she drank in the sight of him. Just as he couldn’t help but give his beautiful green-haired wife one back.
Nysse blushed slightly and fidgeted with the stone in her hand. “Oh wait. Surfal, do you want to say hello to Rhoe before we go?”
“Of course,” he answered with a rumbling chuckle, leaning over to press a warm kiss against her cheek. He took the little white trinket from her hand while she raised up on her toes to steal another from his lips, and then Nysse wandered away to gather up her gear and hide the signs of her little temporary camp.
“How is the home front, sis?” Rhese asked, wandering over toward the mouth of the little dirt cave.
“It is just how I like it at the moment: quiet save for the dearly missed voices on my hearth stone.” His serene little twin’s voice was a special kind of music to his ears, and he smiled just to hear it as the soft tok-tok of a knife against a cutting board picked up in the background. “Will you two be on your mission for much longer, Rhese?”
“A few more days, I think,” he answered gently, reading the hint of wistful longing in her tone. He shoved through the roots and out into fresher air, concealing himself by the hidden hollow. “We’ll be home before you know it. Listen, we need to move, Rhoe, but we’ll reach out to you tomorrow. Okay?”
“Of course, my brother. Be clever and careful and safe.”
“Always,” he answered, a cocky smirk twisting his lips.
Rhese started to lower the hearthstone as it dimmed, but suddenly the swirling rune flared to near-blinding brightness. He shielded his eyes as his sister’s alarmed voice cried from it, “When you hear it, make certain she isn’t still in the cavern!”
“Rhoe? Hear what? Rhoelyn?!”
The druid blinked and looked at the stone, as suddenly dead in his hand as it had just been blindingly, brilliantly awakened. His brows drew down as he flipped it over, pondering what she’d said. “… hear it? What does she think I’m g-”
So far from home. So isolated and alone. Rhese gasped and raised his head at the voice suddenly filling it, foreign and vile and yet somehow… familiar. Enticing. Let the messengers come to bring you back.
He was sprinting back into the hollow before he’d even really thought about moving, before the awful whipcrack of thunder sliced through the cloudless afternoon sky. The cave shook with the sound, the world shook with the sound, and the dirt above them groaned.
Tsume was already on her paws, ears perked and hackles raised, and Nysse was blinking in worried wonder, looking around with her pack held loosely in her hands.
Rhese grabbed his wife around the waist and tossed her over his shoulder, ignoring her startled lupine yelp of shock as he swung around and sprinted, clumps of sod dropping at them from above. He only caught a glimpse of her pale wolf’s tail as the obedient pup scrambled for open air, and then they were bursting through the tangle of brush as well, the unmistakable rumble and crash from behind them heralding the demise of the little hideaway.
Dust and leaves polluted the air around them as the druid settled Nysse back on her feet, his heart thundering in his chest. She stared at him with wide silver eyes, gulping, and then looked back at the cave-in that she probably should have been buried under.
“Wh-what h-…. H-h-how did y-you…” The huntress couldn’t force the words out, trembling as she clung to him. Tsume nosed against her leg, whining softly.
Rhese wasn’t ready to answer, so he simply shook his head and wrapped his arms tighter around her, trying to get his reaction in check.
He was getting close to succeeding, calming breath by breath, when a movement at the base of the tree behind her caught his eye. The silver-purple worm wriggling there was just small and alone, apparently as harmless as they came as it nosed along the trampled grass… but the silver-haired night elf shuddered as he watched it squirm and decided he wasn’t quite ready to let Nysse go, after all.