Suspicious: Part 1
(The Founders Arc – Chapter 2)
With a smile and a little bow, the priestess backed out of the shop, her arm threaded through the handle of her basket. “Yes, of course. I understand, Missus Crawlen. Thank you for finding what you could. Ishnu dal dieb. That is, I wish you fortune to your family.”
The blonde-haired human behind the counter just winced a bit and nodded with what was obviously a forced smile. “An’ a right good day t’ya, ah… dearie.”
With one last little waggle of her fingers, the night elf pulled the door closed behind her.
It wasn’t until she’d rounded the corner of the wooden-sided little shop that she sighed and rested her body and head back against the slats, looking up at the piece of sky visible between the greedy, dirty roofs. The pale stone of the Boralus seawall dominated a full half of what she could see everywhere else, and she shivered in its shadow, suddenly chilled by the lack of sun. Its looming weight combined with the odd, ill-defined gloom that seemed to permeate the Ashvane dockside around her made it feel like sinister evening even though it was only late afternoon.
Rhoelyn sighed a second time before she straightened and brushed a few specks of dirt from her gown, a habit that was calming in the face of the thin layer of fear that she felt. Being a kal’dorei among humans? She was used to that by now from the months that her displaced family had lived in the city. But down here in the shadows, she felt the Kul’Tirans’ stares as dirty, hungry things. Suspicious. Malicious. Frightening.
The priestess shuddered once more and reminded herself of her ridiculousness and of her mission, poking a finger through her basket. Its meager contents were the product of a long day of walking and talking. charming and cajoling and telling the story of the poor, misplaced victims of the attack on Brennadam. They were hardly inspired: an old, musty-smelling blanket with a few moth holes chewed in it, a handful of limp, orange carrots, and trio of flasks of some goat milk fresh from the morning’s delivery, but the shops here were… less successful than those at the top of the wall. They had less and thus less to spare, and as she turned to wander back into the street, she reminded herself that it only made their charity all the more precious.
With her hands clasped together and her arms folded across her waist, the silver-haired little healer walked onward through the docks, passing a nervous young father and his squalling child, a pair of shoppers leaving a milliner’s, an elderly couple on a stroll that looked more purposeful and less leisurely, a trio of ragged-garbed workers that eyed her with that mistrust and hunger she so disliked, and so many more. The streets were busy with people, and Rhoelyn noted them all with a cleric’s insight, watching them without watching them and keeping her glances light and friendly despite the way her hands clenched and unclenched nervously.
She had just come in sight of the turn that would take her back toward the steps to the top of the wall when she felt it, and she gasped. Not quite instantaneous, this time, but too fast and too heavy and too hard. Her trembling hand was just reaching for the pouch at her waist when she doubled over with a strangled cry that had everyone staring at her.
Not that she noticed. Elune’s priestess was under siege once more, and suddenly, the power was everywhere. Light like fire and blinding sun. Light like everything living at once in her head. Light that surged outward from her heart and filled her with awareness. Too much awareness.
One heartbeat of a head full of everything: that little girl’s name and favorite treat; the old man’s life as a fisherman and the day he nearly drowned in a storm; the father’s weeping grief to come; the milliner’s guilt over his inflated prices; the Ashvane Company’s thugs’ deeds, both past and future, both good and ill.
A second heartbeat: the purple-silver worms hiding in the seams of … everywhere, waiting to devour; the consumed, suffering silently as their bodies moved without their wills, heralds dripping from the holes in their ruined flesh; the weeping masses, screaming for their lost and finding no answer; the hate and grief in the eyes that speared her.
A shuddering, whimpering third heartbeat as tears shone in Rhoelyn’s eyes, and her mouth moved without sound…
And then the thunder split the empty sky above them, closer and more horrible than ever, shaking the buildings and the lines full of drying clothes. Her stunned audience watched the purple-skinned mainlander arch back with a cry, blinding Light bursting from her gilded form and washing over them, over everything, flowing away in all directions like a tidal wave set free over the heart of the earthquake.
Maybe in that first moment, some of them noticed how well they suddenly felt, how energized and healthy and whole. But in the second, they looked around and found the piles of clothes where their friends and loved ones used to be, and the screams began. The cries she’d already heard in her fugue. The grief that was already behind the tears in her eyes.
The priestess collapsed to her hip and her elbows in the dirty street, gasping for breath and barely aware of what went on around her, her head swimming and her vision blurred as the fading overload thrummed pain through her. Voices drifted into the edges of her senses, incomplete pieces penetrating here and there.
“Ricket?! M’mate wuz…”
“… was that?!”
“… th’mainlander… sum’fin t’em!”
“… what’s done it… can undone it!”
A hard, bruising grip on her upper arm tugged her from her slouch and forced her to try to lift her face until she stared up into a mustachioed man’s desperate sneer while he yelled something at her. She only blinked slowly at him with luminous blue-silver eyes, tears on her cheeks, unable to parse what he said around her swimming head and aching bones, even when he shook her roughly and more crowded in over his shoulder.
“F-fathal Elun’es’theros… hath’aerom f-finel belore m-”
Rhoelyn tried to reassure them with a few muttered words, but the meaty human who gripped her clamped his hand over her mouth, his eyes widening as he shouted more unintelligible words. His sudden captive lifted her hands to pull at his, muddled and confused, and wanting nothing more than to escape as instinctive fear bloomed like ice in her chest.
Weakly, lethargically, she began to struggle, pulling away from his iron grip and the new sets of hands that reached for her.