Chapter 10: Elegy of the Lost
Ryni sat at the center of her bed, legs folded up and one hand clenched in her cropped pink hair as she rocked back and forth. Her sharp, pearly teeth nibbled compulsively on the tip of her thumb, and every once in a while, her wild, wide-eyed gaze fell on the windowsill and the bloodied piece of blue glass laying there, glistening in the midday sun.
“Goddess help me,” she ranted aloud to herself, her voice a hushed whine punctuated by whimpers and gasps. “Elune save her, save us all. I’m not strong enough. There are so many, and she’s so deep in the net.” The painfully-young woman grasped her knees, pulling them tighter against her dry cheeks. “How? How to help? I have to get her out, cut her out, and Elune will protect her. She’ll be safe at the goddess’ breast. She has t-”
A knock at the door interrupted her, and Ryni leaped from the bed to her feet. She didn’t wipe at her eyes or sniffle past tears, she merely replaced her maddened, horrific expression and wild eyes with a perfect mask of normalcy, one practiced over and over again and instantly-donned just as much as it was instantly-removed. Her reddened thumb she hid against her thigh as she answered the bedroom door, smiling up at Faeroh.
The ancient druid grinned in response, his smile lopsided and ever-so-slightly dry. “Hello, berry girl,” he said cheerily, resting his hand on the wood of the door. “Whaaaaat might you be up to?”
Ryni smirked, resting a hand on her hip. “I’m not doing much, geezer. As usual. You’re looking like you have something for me, though.”
“That I do! You’re a perceptive little Nagrand cherry, mini elf.” Faeroh grinned and shoved his way past her into her room, yawning and stretching his arms up over his head as his gaze drifted over the grounds stretching outside her window.
Scoffing, Ryni turned to follow him, folding her arms across her chest. “How often are you going to make me tell you that I’m not a mini elf? I’m just short.”
“Ah, but you’re shorter even than Rhoelyn,” he pointed out with a finger in the air, as if the little priestess was some sort of standard by which all small things should be measured.
“Yes, yes,” the young woman sighed, rolling her eyes as she trailed his aimless meander around her room. “Rhoe small. Ryni smaller. Faeroh not-small. We get it, you old coot. Do we need to discuss why Alen is even smaller still?”
“Not necessary,” he pronounced with a small grin, rapping his knuckles across the chest at the food of her bed as he passed. He always seemed to like that semi-hollow wooden sound. “He’s half-sprite.”
Ryni smirked and shook her head. She didn’t tend to worry about it, his casual habit of inviting himself into her space and wandering through it while his wild mind ran in circles around itself. He was as harmless as a garden slug and twice as oblivious, never paying attention to anything much that wasn’t behind his mysterious eyes. His attention was more focused on the trees and the grass, the wild things in the woods beyond the eastern pasture, the clouds dotting the sky. Ryni often imagined that up there among the fluffy white water vapor was where his thoughts really lived.
Still, when they passed the window, she used a lifelong thief’s gift to palm the glass shard and make it disappear into one of her many pockets. Just in case.
“So, what are we doing….?” she prompted when he stood once more just outside her door, his gaze having wandered away down the hall. “Faeroh?”
“Oh? Hm?” He turned back to her with a blank look, blinking his golden eyes.
Ryni sighed and reminded herself that patience was a virtue in Elune’s eyes. “What are we doing? You came here to ask me to do something.”
Faeroh smiled brightly, as if the blank moment of just a breath ago had never happened. “Ah, yes. My dearest mini-Ryni, will you please accompany a pair of forlorn gentlemen into town for an afternoon? Leothir has required that we go with him to fetch Alen’s newest wardrobe items and our beloved priestess’ repaired gown. I believe there was something about slippers in there, too.”
“In town?!” The scarred woman’s brows shot up at that, her lips lifting into a bright smile. “Oh, can I wear that new cowl Rhoe got me?”
The ancient druid nodded, taking a precisely-timed step back as she leaped straight up with an excited screech. He saved his toes from a mashing, chuckling at her exuberance. “Right, I’m going to take that as a yes. Get yourself ready, berry girl. I’ll take care of our littlest little night elf and meet you at the carriage.”
Something golden that almost felt a little bit like happiness, forgotten and forsaken as that was, lit Ryni and warmed her as she barely listened to whatever he said next, rushing into her wardrobe for the beautiful, scar-concealing gift.
That’s why she entirely missed how Faeroh Moonreign’s vapid gaze sharpened to a razor point on her in the brief instant before he turned away, and she didn’t get to see the mixture of grief and stern resolve on his face as he walked off down the hallway.
Leothir held Alensyr against his shoulder, his pale hand cupped around the little boy’s amethyst head as he wandered down the boulevard, peering in shop windows and eyeing shelves through the open doors. The sleeping child’s breath was warm and steady against his neck, and it made the blood elf feel very tender, mildly ticklish, and sweetly at ease.
As a bonus, the cuddle took the edge of frustration off his fruitless search as they neared the end of the row of shops for the third time. The blood elven lord sighed before he turned back.
“Is something amiss, young buck?” Faeroh asked as he walked beside him, the druid standing straight and proud and nearly a head and a half taller than his master.
“Faeroh, you must call me ‘master’. Especially in public,” Leo scolded softly, careful not to wake his charge. “Really, how many times must I remind you?”
The night elf grinned, unrepentant, and rumbled, “Well, at least one more, I think.” He conveniently left off any form of address. “But as I very seriously consider your words, how would you like to tell me what you’re looking for so fruitlessly and furiously?”
“I bet it’s a present,” Ryni chimed in from his other side, stretching her arms over her head as she bounced up on her toes, antsy and almost as brash as the druid under the teal and silver cowl she pulled high around her scarred face. “He likes to bring things for Rhoe from the city.”
The blood elf grudgingly admitted, “Well, yes. I … I was hoping to bring her something. Perhaps something more… well, something more kal’dorei and less sin’dorei.” He chuckled self-consciously and released his hand from Alen’s head to scratch as his hair, feeling like a fool and trying to ignore the heat he could feel rising in his cheeks. “I suppose that is more than futile in Silvermoon City, however. Quite hopeless. Let’s just get to the shop and see if they’ve finished the tailoring on this little plum’s last tunic.”
“As you wish, Master Leothir.”
Something strange rang in Ryni’s voice as she said the words and turned quietly away, preceding them down the street, but the mage couldn’t identify it. He shot a glance at Faeroh to see if he’d noticed, but the druid just strolled at his shoulder, looking thoughtful and distant and distracted.
Leothir sighed. No help, there.
“That simply won’t do,” the night elf blurted as they turned the corner and walked through a curtained passthrough into the next street over.
His master blinked, shielding Alen from the spitting spray of a statuesque fountain they passed. “What simply won’t do, Faeroh?”
The ancient night elf frowned and waggled a blatantly flippant hand at him. “Shush, lordling. I’m looking for something for you.”
“For… for me? What are… ?” Leothir looked confused for a long moment, and then his brows drew down. “Faeroh! You were going to properly address me as ‘Master Leothir’, remember?”
Leo sighed at the druid’s distracted non-answer, watching him stare off into space even as they continued to stroll down the avenue, his awareness somewhere distant and – judging from the frown between his white-grey brows – troubling. He had no idea what the man might be doing, but it was certainly within character for him to go suddenly distracted. Faeroh was as flighty as the bird form he could take.
At least this time he didn’t drop the basket of their purchases in his fugue. The blood elf could only sigh a second time at the memory of his mother’s muddied slippers from last trip. In fact…
“Ryni,” he grumbled, shifting Alen slightly, “take the basket from him before he drops it. Faeroh…. Really, you are the worst slave. What are you on about?”
But he got no answer from the druid, just a snort from somewhere under Ryni’s cowl and abject neglect from both the people who were supposed to be with him to see to his every need.
Leothir sulked and settled in on a bench at the edge of a sprawling green space, nuzzling Alensyr with his cheek and muttering, “I really have gotten too soft with these two, my little plum. They’re unruly.” He glanced up with a dry look to find Ryni staring at him, her little lips twisted in a satisfied grin. Leo grunted and again spoke to the sleeping child. “I rest my case.”
The young woman plopped down beside him without invitation, her lovely cowl and cape billowing out around her until it settled at a much more sedate pace than the night elf. “He loves you,” she announced, her attention seemingly on Faeroh as he stood still, a million miles away.
Leo blinked and grimaced. “Ah… F-faeroh? My girl, I do b-”
Her uproarious laughter interrupted him, and she slipped straight off the edge of the bench to land on her butt on the cobbled street, holding her stomach. It was a full, frustrating minute before the girl could speak, and her master shielded Alen from the noise with his hands over his pointed little ears and fought back an embarrassed blush while he waited.
“Not Faeroh! Goddess, no! Alensyr, Master Leothir. Alensyr loves you.”
“Ah.” Somehow, that only made the urge to blush even worse, and he coughed, cradling the child to him. “Well. Well, I suppose he has … he has lost his family, so it would be only natural for him to latch onto a new one. It’s understandable if he is a bit confused by my place… ah… above it.”
He definitely didn’t imagine her glare as it sliced her laughter short. But after barely a heartbeat, her expression cleared, and she smirked once more. “As you say, Master Leothir. I d-”
“Ah, there you are!” Faeroh’s sudden exclamation had them both jumping, and Ryni leapt to her feet warily only to find her wrist grabbed by the other night elf’s hand. Leo was similarly captured, and his protest was trampled as he was tugged up from the bench. “Come, come, you two. This isn’t the time to dawdle, or we’ll miss him.”
“Him?” Ryni asked, bouncing along after him. Her hood slipped down around her shoulders for just a moment before she yanked it back up, glancing around self-consciously to find more than a couple of fel-green eyes staring their way after their companion’s outburst. Leothir caught her dark scowl before the shadows concealed her expression, and surprise at the venom in it had him blinking even as he stumbled after his slaves and tried not to jostle Alen.
Faeroh mumbled, “Yes, yes. Just come on, and you’ll find the method to my madness, you pair of impatient saplings.”
The mage sighed. “Impatient… saplings? That doesn’t even make sense, Faeroh. Trees are not, by definiti–… Oh, never mind. And call me master!” Feeling extremely put-out, he shook his wrist free of the bigger man’s grip and snuggled Alen closer, bouncing him a bit as the toddler stirred. “Where are we going?” he grumbled, but more quietly.
“We’re going this way, of course,” the other man replied, infuriatingly vague and smugly cheerful. Leothir cursed at him in Thalassian, glowering. But still, he followed, his curiosity piqued.
They walked for a while, through the avenue and across the greens where the magically-levitated potted plants were carefully chosen to accentuate the eldritch magelights undulating at the top of the tall light posts and the neatly-trimmed bushes on either side of the path. The flowers in the beds were a mix of local natives and magical amalgams, called heartblossom, painstakingly grafted together in some gardener’s arcane laboratory and maintained through careful vigilance. Their five petals stretched wide, scarlet and velvety and veined with pulsing blue light that bloomed at their juncture and dissipated to their tips.
Leothir admired the flowers as they hurried by. He had once thought to bring some of the softly-luminescent and lovely plants home for Rhoelyn’s garden, but he’d learned that they could not survive without constant care and arcane infusions that he feared he would not always be around to ensure. And somehow… they seemed wrong for her earthy little garden, anyway. Too… well, too contrived.
His thoughts were brought back to the moment when Faeroh pulled up short in the middle of a grassy verge, his beard framing his wide, bright smile. He seemed to be staring at a bush as he said, “Ah, perfect. There we are, lordling-”
“Master,” Leo interrupted.
“… master lordling,” the druid capitulated with a nod, gesturing at… the bush. “Your gift for your lady. She’ll be over Elune about this one.”
Even Ryni was unconvinced, her wrinkled nose catching the light from a nearby lamp as she stepped up beside the mage. “Um. The boxbush? Old coot, I think you may be a few acorns sh-”
The pair of them blinked in surprise at the mewl that interrupted her, while the night elven male just grinned a cheshire grin.
Ryni looked at Leo, her eyes as wide as his, and he jerked his head toward the bush. “Go and see what it is,” he ordered.
The young woman made an incredulous face. “Well, isn’t that part obvious? It’s a cat, of course!”
“Fine. Then go and fetch it.” The sin’dorei freed one hand from Alen’s head long enough to make a shooing motion at her before he replaced it.
Faeroh chuckled and pronounced with an ominous lilt to his voice, “Oh, dear me, no. Cats are so … mundane.”
“What?” Leothir took a step back from the meowing bush, pressing Alen tighter against him and shooting the other man a worried look. “And just what is it, then?”
Faeroh just grinned and stared at the bush as if he hadn’t heard the question.
The shadows under the edge of the foliage suddenly lit with a soft, rose-golden glow that surged and fell once, like a miniature dawn cutting through the night before faltering. Leo took another step back, placing himself and his precious cargo a half-step behind Ryni. The little night elf shot him an exasperated look before she focused back on the creature, crouching.
“Come out, come out, whatever you are,” she crooned softly in Darnassian, the teal fabric of her cloak pooling around her ankles. “We won’t hurt you. Are you alone?”
The druid beside her folded his arms around the basket he carried, looking pleased with himself … and with her. “He’s afraid. Perhaps you should sing for him, berry girl.”
Ryni jerked at that, shooting him a wide-eyed, shocked look. She was silent for a long moment before softly saying, “I haven’t sung in a very long time. … g-geezer.” The last was added as a transparent attempt to harden the dreamy edge of her words. It didn’t work.
“Sing for him,” Faeroh repeated, gently encouraging and insistent. “We’ll take him to Rhoelyn as a gift, and she’ll smile. Perhaps cry, that ridiculous little girl. There will undoubtedly be hugs.”
The young woman’s pleased look and flushed cheeks were hidden in her cowl, or so she thought, and she looked back to the bush before she had a chance to notice the cunning in her companion’s gaze.
Leothir, for his part, noticed quite easily, and he watched in fascination as they interacted, juggling Alensyr a bit as the toddler shifted sleepily against his shoulder. He only understood some of what they said in Darnassian, but it was enough.
“I-I… I suppose I could just… just a bit.” The pink-haired little night elf bit her lip as she peered under the bush, looking suddenly nervous. Still, after a short delay, she took a deep breath and closed her eyes and opened her mouth.
Leo’s jaw dropped at the girl’s sweet, clear voice. The song, sung in unfamiliar words, was haunting and beautiful and somehow heart-wrenchingly sad. Watching the druid’s sly gaze on the young woman, he began to understand that somehow the grief in that song was more her than the music, more a bleed from her own heart than inherent to the notes, and that Faeroh had tried to give her this moment as a purge. The other man clearly deserved more credit for cunning than his master had realized. And more, Ryni had deeper scars than he’d realized, ones that went far beyond the marring on her face. Leothir had never imagined such sadness to live inside the quiet night elf, and for a few long moments, he forgot all about the bush and the creature there, considering both his slaves with new eyes.
Until a dark little nose slipped free of the shadows, whiskers twitching, curious and cautious. Faeroh nodded and Ryni, eyes still closed, sang on as the creature inched forward, short muzzle and round paws preceding glowing golden eyes and red-tipped little triangular ears. When the kitten finally stepped into the light, crouched fearfully and mewling, the little boy on Leo’s shoulder stirred and lifted his head, smiling around his thumb while he peered down at the animal.
“An’nu,” he said softly, squirming. “Kitty…!”
Leo nodded, patting his back soothingly as he watched the strange little feline, his senses sifting over the creature. “Yes, little plum,” he muttered, distracted by the odd magic he could feel in the kitten. He glanced over at Faeroh, brow furrowing.
“It’s not just a saber you’ve lead us to,” the mage said to his slave, stepping closer to the larger night elf. “There’s something… off about i-”
Ryni’s laughter cut him off, and the two men glanced over to find her cuddling the kitten to her chest as it licked at her nose with a pale-red sandpaper tongue. “Oh, yes. Our priestess will love you, little cat. You’re gorgeous and soft and warm.”
The blood elf winced. “Ryni, I’m really not sure a-”
Alensyr giggled in his ear, squirming and reaching for Ryni and the kitten, squeaking “Kitty!” on repeat in tempo to his wiggles.
“No, plum. It’s not s-”
“Alen, look!” Ryni hopped up, heedless of her master and dragging the purring kitten with her. When she shoved it at the excited child, Leothir staggered back a few steps, and the boy strained even harder, kicking his little feet into the mage’s rib.
“Oof!” Faeroh’s big hand on his back steadied the smaller mage as he scowled and hugged the child tighter, snapping, “That will be quite enough, Ryni. Kindly keep that creature away from the boy until we can ensure that it’s actually safe!”
The small woman blinked at him, freezing, and for a moment, there was naked fear in her eyes. One hand freed from the kitten to wrap protectively around the chain that linked her collar to her tunic, and the mage imagined that he might know why. Leothir sighed and soothed a hand in her direction, but she only shied away, clutching the feline to her.
“Now, now. Just please step back and take a breath. Really, I am running out of nerves and patience, and we still need to go pick up Alen’s new clothing.” He turned his gaze to Faeroh too soon to see the way her fear morphed into anger on her face before she flipped her cowl up. The ancient druid, however, saw everything.
“Faeroh, please kindly take the kitten from our excitable girl. Ryni, you will keep Alensyr. And I will examine that… thing.”
“Yes, Master Leothir.” The edge was definitely there in her voice that time, hard and clear and chilling. Perhaps this time, after being snapped at, her anger was at least justifiable.
The blood elf sighed and knelt down, settling Alen on his feet and putting his small hand in Ryni’s. He regarded the boy gravely and waved a finger at him. “Stay with Miss Ryni, little plum. I know you’re excited, but you’re not to see the kitty, yet. Perhaps in a few minutes.” At the child’s pout, he added, “Now, none of that, Alen. If you are a very good and patient boy then I’ll buy you a treat before we go home. You understand?”
Alen sniffled and flicked his pale, silver gaze back over to the kitten as Faeroh took it from Ryni and wrapped it in his big hands. “Everr’body gets cakes, an’nu?” he questioned, his Thalassian a little garbled.
Leothir smiled and patted the boy’s head. “You drive a hard bargain, little elf, but yes. We have a deal. Be a good boy, and everyone gets cakes.”
When Alyn smiled and gripped Ryni’s hand, looking up at her, the mage turned away to face Faeroh’s smirk. The white-haired druid petted the kitten idly as he examined his master with thoughtful eyes.
Leo gave him a flat stare in return, muttering, “Hush, you. This trouble is your doing in the first place, I’ll have you know.”
The bigger elf grinned, uncontrite as always, and held out the squirming kitten for his inspection without a word. With one last weary sigh, the young lordling settled in before his slave, focusing.
Leo watched the feline squirm and strain toward him in Faeroh’s grip, its white fur fine and glistening in the lamplight with a sheen akin to a sleek silk. It had a black little nose and long whiskers, ears just a bit too long for a standard house cat and eyes just a bit too intelligent. Its coloring was like nothing in nature, the pristine snow of most of its coat bloodied on all four feet, on the tips of its ears and tail, and in a pair of matching swirling patterns that trailed down both sides of its rounded baby belly by a red that was somewhere between the colors of a warm fire and fresh blood. Too bright for scarlet and too rich to be simply labeled “red”, the closest Leothir could imagine was that it had the coloring of the purest flame, perfect ruddy fire. The marks, too, put him in mind of flames, and he couldn’t decide if they were of extranatural origin or not. The mage certainly couldn’t read or recognize them from any school of magic, but they were oddly mirrored across its small body. Suspiciously perfect.
When the blood elf offered his hand, the creature sniffed at him with brazen curiosity, mewling in the back of its throat. His throat, Leo observed, lifting him out of Faeroh’s grasp and letting him dangle for a moment between his hands. Typical of any kitten, the creature quickly pulled his back paws in and curled his tail around and between his hind legs in false modesty. He blurted out yet another mewl, this one an objection.
“Oh, are you uncomfortable, clever thing?” Leothir muttered, respecting the feline’s wishes and tucking him more securely in his arms. His look of intelligent appreciation was utterly unmistakeable, and the mage flicked a surprised look over to Faeroh. The other man only smiled wider, pleased.
“There’s spellcraft in him, however. He must have been some sort of construct, or perhaps he was born of a construct,” the blood elf commented, his green eyes fixing back on the kitten as he cuddled up in his arms. “Ah, mind the sleeves with those claws, furball! I’m fond of this tunic.”
Merwowl. The sound the saber made as he conscientiously retracted his claws could almost have been an apology.
Leo smirked and tried not to look as impressed as he was as he focused his senses beyond the mundane, watching the flow of mana around and through the little saber. The spellwork wound up in his tiny body was complex and the surface layers that he could sense only held hints of its capabilities. He would require time to study and understand the magic within the little pet in full, but at least he could see enough that the mage was convinced that it was inactive and would likely remain so. Like many magical tools, the little cat likely required an external trigger to activate his inborn spellcraft.
Leothir tried not to get too excited at the idea of figuring out what that was.
Finally, stroking the cat’s whisper-soft fur and scritching behind his ears, the mage caught Faeroh’s eye and nodded, an expression of both permission and thanks that earned him the druid’s respectful bow.
Leothir turned and knelt before Alen, the toddler displaying infinite, cake-motivated patience despite the way he danced from foot to foot with excitement.
“We keeps kitty for min’da, an’nu?” Alensyr asked, his little hands busily grasping his stylish little trousers and releasing them.
Leo smiled and beckoned him over, saying softly, “I think we should, little plum. What do you think?” Though he asked the child, the mage glanced over at Ryni and Faeroh for his answer. The young woman simply shrugged, releasing Alen and folding her empty hands across her chest while Faeroh nodded, the old elf looking suddenly bored.
“Kitty!” Alen’s vote was a high-pitched squeak and a surge toward the saber that got Leothir a trio of claw marks down his arm, and the next few minutes involved a bit of cursing, a lot of calming, and the child’s first lesson in how to handle the feline without anyone getting mauled.