Chapter 1: Golden Bloom
The priestess screamed, struggling desperately against the grip that held her arms pinned behind her back. Five short steps in front of her, her companion of the past few months, a draenic warrior with dark grey hair and a clever sense of humor, stared in blank shock at the blade protruding from her chest. Blood dripped from her pale, blue lips, and the woman pitched backward, falling with a dull thud.
“No! Mishkaala!” Rhoelyn shrieked her name, tears choking her as she begged and pulled. “No! Let me heal her! Please. Please! I will do anyth-”
“Shut it.” The murderous human whose sword still impaled her friend cuffed the little priestess across the cheek with a plate gauntlet, whipping her head to the side. She tasted blood and saw spots. “The last thing we need is your stalwart guardian trailing us to Lion’s Landing.”
“D-don’t…” the night elf managed feebly, “… don’t let her die. I b-beg-”
The next cuff was harder, and for a brief moment, her head rang too loudly to see or hear or think. The next thing Rhoelyn was aware of was a hand on her chin, lifting her aching head, and the soft pressure of a cloth wiping the blood that trickled from the corner of her mouth.
“-ryn? We don’t have to be cruel.” The voice was smooth and tenor, dripping with the round accent of Thalassian. She forced her eyes to crack open and found herself staring up at the handsome, golden blood elf, the mage whose portal had dragged them far from their Pandaren escort. He had smooth, pink skin and luminous green eyes, soft hands and high, chiseled cheekbones, and he didn’t even notice her perusal, releasing her chin gently as he addressed his teammate.
Somewhere off to the side, the human who had just slain her friend spoke. “It’s not like I really hurt the savage, Leothir. Give it a rest. We need to hurry back to port.”
“In that, we agree.” The man called Leothir looked down at Rhoelyn, then, noticing her gaze. “Ah! Our prize is awake. Good.” He offered her a dazzling smile that she didn’t appreciate in the slightest, especially when she felt her heart flop over the charm in it. “I’m glad our foul-tempered friend didn’t hurt you, ambassador.”
Rhoelyn looked up at him with tears in her eyes. She wanted to appear defiant, but her cheek ached and her head stabbed and she couldn’t seem to stop trembling in the iron grip of the stocky dwarf who kept her firmly pressed to her knees, her arms twisted behind her back. She narrowed her sky-blue eyes at the sin’dorei through her tears, summoning an air of quiet command. “Release me. I must heal my friend.”
Leothir shook his head. “Your friend is dead. You may look as ethereal as the Spirit of Redemption, little silver lowborn, but I doubt you have her power to reclaim the draenei from the Light.”
Rhoelyn looked over at her friend’s corpse and gasped, her face crumpling. She let her head fall forward so that her hair could hide the worst of her grief from her captors.
“I… I do not,” she admitted softly, squeezing her eyes shut. The blessing she whispered under her breath was barely audible.
More gently, he added, “I am sorry it was necessary. I wish she hadn’t made it through the portal.”
The priestess glanced up at that, giving him a glimpse of her tear-wet lashes and pained expression. It felt like she should say something witty, something bitter or defiant, but all she could manage was a quiet, “I share your wish, blood elf,” before she lowered her head once more, choking back tears.
Rhoelyn knew she must find her way free of her captors, be strong and clever and brave. But for the moment, she could only manage to be terrified and heart-broken, sorely tempted to latch onto his tiny kindness. She closed her eyes and clenched her fists against the feeling, giving him nothing more in return for his useless sympathy.
Thus, she didn’t see the pitying look he gave her before he looked up.
“Mm.” She heard the rustle as Leothir straightened. “Alright, Dethedrus. Get her hands tied, would you? I know she’s only a healer, but I would rather not end up with an unexpected light ball to the eye.”
The dwarf chuckled at his humor. “Aye, lad. Ye wouldna want ta be flash-blinded. Ah’m on it.”
The little priestess summoned the will to struggle when the russet-bearded dwarf tried to bind her. And again when he dragged her over and shoved her in the wagon. But all she did was exhaust herself, and in very short order, she curled on her side as they rumbled down the rough road. Alone and a captive of the hated Alliance, she could do nothing save mourn and pray and, finally, sleep.
“I’ve brought you something.” Rhoelyn looked up from her half-eaten meal at the smooth, rolling tenor, watching as Leothir stepped up and knelt on the grass by her knee.
She set her bowl to the side, glad for the excuse to put it down and focus her attention somewhere other than her churning stomach and racing thoughts. The food tasted like ash in her mouth, but she could practically hear a voice reminding her that she didn’t dare take a meal for granted when she would need her strength. To run. To escape. When the moment was right. So she forced herself to eat and felt relief at the excuse to stop.
Her voice was soft when she answered him. Polite. Distant. “Yes? What have you found?”
The golden mage smiled and held up a plant freshly pulled from the dirt. It had delicate, oval leaves and a variegated purple and silver color. “I noticed you were looking at these as we rode. I thought you might like the chance to see one,” he said, laying it in her outstretched hands.
Rhoelyn blinked at the herb, already going limp and partially crushed by his rough handling. It was an attempt to be kind, but it had turned into something rather cruel. That tiny, rough life that lay dying in her hands. Should she be grateful? Could she, when his kindness was so heavy-handed? The little priestess struggled, caught between appreciative and disappointed while a tug of war was raging in her heart.
“What am I to think?” she whispered, her brow furrowing at the gift.
“No… Come now, that isn’t the expression I was hoping for, Rhoelyn,” Leothir said it on a sigh, reaching toward her.
The priestess flinched away from his touch, but she managed a threadbare smile. “Thank you for your thoughtfulness, Leothir. I did admire it; you are quite correct. I… I wonder, would you let me teach you something?”
He retrieved his hand, but nodded at her, curious. “What would you have me learn, beautiful?”
The priestess shifted and pushed to her feet, looking around for the right combination of light and soil. When she spied it, she tilted her head at him, a beckoning, and walked over to kneel by a sapling tree growing on a small hillock.
“Here,” she said softly as he stood, watching her lay the plant gently on the grass by her knee.
When she used her bare hand to start ripping up the sod and scooping away dirt, the sin’dorei gasped, a startled and scandalized sound. “What are you doing? You’re going to get dirty.”
Rhoelyn glanced up at him with a little smile. “I assure you that I wash perfectly well, Leothir. There is nothing wrong with soil on your skin or dirt beneath your nails.”
Her lifted lips, a rare and wondrous sight, stopped his protests as surely as a gag would, and he couldn’t help but grin in return. “Well. I suppose that’s true enough, but I prefer to stay clean in the first place.”
Rhoelyn had no response to that, focusing her attention on loosening the dirt and making a tidy little hole for the poor herb. When the work was complete, she lifted the plant in her hands, whispering a tiny bit of Light into its leaves, and settled its hungry roots into Azeroth’s embrace, pushing rich soil over them in a small, packed mound.
Leothir laughed. “Priestess, did you just heal a plant?”
“No,” she said with a soft grin, distracted by straightening the plant’s stalks as best she could. “Plants do not heal in the same way you or I might. But they do benefit from the Light, from the life energy it carries within it. I hope it will be enough to allow the herb to recover from your r-” The little night elf stopped herself, wary of upsetting him.
But he continued for her. “… from my rough handling?”
The mage knelt at her side, brushing his golden hair back from his face before he reached out and lightly touched one of the leaves. “You don’t have to fear me, beautiful. I’m not Kaerryn.”
Rhoelyn sobered, staring at the herb without seeing it. “No. But you are the enemy.”
The softer edge of the moment was lost with those hard words, and he frowned. “I don’t like to hear you say that.”
“I fear that the truth is unaffected by what you or I might like, Leothir.” The night elf’s words were so quiet that he strained to hear her, but there was a pain in her expression that spoke at volume, a soundless shout. His frown only deepened.
When the little night elf moved once more, the serene mask of detachment was firm upon her face.
“Here. Your lesson is twofold,” she said, gesturing to the plant. “First, if you wish to harvest it without killing it, you must cut the leaves at their base, by the stem.” Rhoelyn drew a few lines with her long, slender finger, glancing up to see his grudging nod.
“And second…” The priestess shifted and turned to him, taking his hands in hers. He raised his golden brows in surprise. “This herb is a very aggressive skin irritant.” With a tiny smirk, she turned over his hands and hers to reveal the angry red welts just starting to form on their palms.
“Ah!” Leothir started, tugging his hands back on instinct. With a little laugh she recaptured them and brought them near her lips. Her breath was warm and moist as she whispered a short prayer. The Light that wrapped around their fledgling embrace, soothing their skin, also served to gild the smiles they leveled at each other.
It had taken four days to reach the enemy port. Four long days of travel in which Rhoelyn had played a resigned role, the model prisoner, and watched the trio’s vigilance relax. She’d held herself polite and aloof and not at all unaware of the quiet appreciation that grew between herself and the blood elf. But it hadn’t become enough to change anything. She had to get free.
The ships and the water were visible on the horizon when she finally got the opportunity to make her escape. The priestess sprinted through the thin copse of trees, having slipped her bonds and snuck past the mage on sentry duty. Not for the first time in her long life, she wished for her brother’s strength and speed, feeling the seconds before her escape was discovered ticking away. Her heart pounded from more than just exertion.
Rhoelyn glanced back over her shoulder, just breathing a sigh of relief at the lack of pursuers when the metallic ping of a Blink spell and the acrid scent of arcane power assault her senses. She slammed into Leothir’s chest before she could even look around, screaming as his arms wrapped around her.
“That’s enough,” the mage snapped, grabbing her arms despite her attempts to slither free. “Stop!”
“No!” The little priestess fought desperately, watching her first and last chance to escape slip through her fingers. She fed her rising panic into a burst of magic that rose through her heart and exploded outward, projecting terror into his mind.
“Agh!” Leothir released her and threw himself back and away, raising his arms as if to ward off a blow.
Rhoelyn scrambled away, but the spell’s success was cut short when a medallion on his belt reacted with a crackling pulse. The magic dissolved, and he surged after her with a snarl, tackling her to the ground.
She fell hard, her cheek hitting the unyielding sod. His weight on her back made it hard to breathe, but she struggled with everything she had, screeching, “Get off! Let me go!”
“Enough!” the blood elf snapped, grabbing her flailing wrists. He moved his weight off her just long enough to flip her over, and then he pinned her arms above her head and sat on her straining hips. “I don’t want to hurt you, beautiful, but I will if you don’t stop fighting me.”
“Then you must hurt me,” she sobbed breathlessly, only struggling harder, “for I cannot let you d-drag me to Lordaeron to rot in a cell. I must go back home!”
The sin’dorei shook his head, her strength trivial against his own, his golden ponytail flopping down over his shoulder. “No. You’re not going back home. I’m not letting you go.” His expression softened even though his grip did not. “How could I let you leave, alone and far from anyone who’d protect you? It’s a death sentence for a delicate flower like you, Rhoelyn.”
Tears streamed down her face as she stilled, pleading up at him. “I am willing to take the… the risk. Only let me go. Please, Leothir. If any of your feelings are true, then I beg you. Let me go.”
He only considered it for a fleeting moment, his luminous green eyes drinking her in, before he gave his head a shake that cracked something in her heart. “I can’t. Now that I’ve found you, how can I let you risk death? How can I do without you?”
Leothir’s kiss was as gentle as his voice as he leaned down, slanting his lips across hers. She closed her eyes, pained and conflicted and so incredibly confused by how his touch could feel alarming and comforting at the same time. How she could want to kiss him back and want to bite him at the same time.
In the end, she did both.
“Rot!” The mage cursed, yanking his head back after a few heartbeats of a sweet kiss. He gathered both her wrists in one hand and freed the other to press his fingers over the bloody puncture mark in his lip from her long canine, staring down at his silver-haired captive. “Wh-?” She didn’t give him a chance to ask, resuming her struggles with violent vigor.
“Stop it,” he growled, snagging the wrist she squirmed free and slamming it against the ground. His blood smeared her pale, purple skin. When she continued to buck and shove, he repeated, “Stop! Rhoelyn!”
The diminutive priestess used every ounce of strength she had and barely budged him, and then she drew on the only other power she knew. She called Light through herself until she burned with it, forcing him to release one wrist to shield his eyes.
It wasn’t enough to do more than fray the sin’dorei mage’s temper.
When she tried to slap her free hand across his cheek, he caught her wrist once again and snarled, “No, beautiful. You don’t understand. Let me show you how it’s done.”
His eyes flared with arcane power, and Rhoelyn shrieked as fire burned through every nerve ending from her wrists to her toes, her back arching. She reached the end of her breath and forgot how to draw more, her eyes wide and sightless. When he stopped after a few seconds, she sobbed, huffing for air.
Leo’s rage deflated into regret as he watched her. “Don’t fight any more, Rhoelyn. Don’t make me hurt you again,” he said gently. “Please.”
“I… must,” she gasped out the words, forcing them past pain and fear and heartbreak, “go… home.”
The sin’dorei closed his eyes and after a few more seconds, she strained against him. She was weakened, already, and tired, but she dared him with her defiance.
“Rhoelyn…” He sighed sadly, power flaring in his eyes once more as she screamed.
It took two more arcane shocks and thirty-six more seconds before the priestess finally passed out, going limp beneath him. Leothir brushed the tears from her wan cheeks with a tenderness at odds with what he’d just done to her, settling beside her and gathering her into his arms. He smoothed back her long, silver hair and leaned down to kiss her forehead, whispering, “I’m sorry, my beautiful flower, but someday you’ll understand. It’s for your own good.”