Chapter 8: Awareness
The manor was silent and still in the quiet few hours in the middle of that night when Fayrial crept through Leothir’s suite, her bare feet silent and sure in the darkness. She slid the key into the bedroom door lock with practiced ease and opened the door only far enough for her and the mug of broth she carried to slip through before clicking it closed again.
Within the young master’s room, the scene was brighter: the tall windows that lined the walls let in the soft light of the slivered moon, and its rays angled in a grey swath across the large four-poster bed and the figure that curled there, naked and dwarfed by the voluminous sheets.
“Rhoelyn,” Faye whispered the other woman’s name, laying the mug on the table by the bed before she approached. “Priestess, I have brought you some s-”
The little night elf awoke with a choked gasp, lurching upright amidst a tangle of Leothir’s soft bedding, her hands fisting desperately in the fabric. Her back arched as power, unchecked and raw, flared through her in a visible wave, her wide eyes glowing golden. Faye gasped and shied back as Rhoelyn strained, unseeing, and began to mutter in Darnassian.
“See it all… flames and blood and death, a village in a wild, old forest that was lost to war. A dragon of shadow that cackles with glee as he is skewered on the end of a human soldier’s polearm. The man with Alensyr’s wavy amethyst hair. A wolf that didn’t want to be a mother cries over an empty den, howling her pain to the moon’s mournful face. S… sister…”
Tears slipped down the priestess’ cheeks as Faye gaped, watching Elune’s Light shine in her sightless eyes.
“Brother… Brother, f-forge the first link even if you can’t find why. You know! You… you…” She sucked in a shaky breath, reaching out a hand toward nothing with a little sob. “The rage that burns within her breast at nothing, at everything, looking for a target to destroy with its flames. The tangle, dead and alive and nowhere and everywhere, who can be the bridge. The whisperer, s-seeing so far beyond the horizon that she can find the ghost of the friend she never had.”
“Hkk-!” She convulsed, the words coming faster and less coherently while her nails clawed at the sheets. “The daughter who got the father she didn’t deserve. Earned him. Pack and screams and rage. Angry and dark, the light smothered by the grey cloud. Temple to the past, d-dead harnessed like beasts of burden to a cause that’s wrong. It’s wrong! He finds them by the stream, and-… Choking the life from her. He’s so hurt when she goes – despite him, without him. The l-lost child… on the beach…”
Rhoelyn paused to suck in a breath, sobbing as she curled forward. Faye reached out, but she was afraid to touch the little priestess, watching glowing power surge and writhe through her skin as she cried, “They throw the collars in the sea t-to follow… the angry blue demon.” The former sentinel’s eyes widened, but the other woman pressed on. “T-take the broken girl and angel child with you! Agh! So many threads! C-Cori, I can’t…”
“I am sorry.” At the voice, deep and not unkind, from a dark corner of the room, Fayrial jumped and spun, her weaponless hand fisted and ready to fight. An elf stepped into the shaft of moonlight, hair and skin fair, ears high, his eyes glowing the same gold as the afflicted night elf’s, his expression every bit as distant. A quel’dorei, by all appearances, and yet… Faye shuddered, feeling as if something larger hid within his thin frame.
He flicked a glance to the former sentinel, but nothing more, his focus on the woman shuddering on the bed. “I need a bit more, Rhoe. I can’t see it, yet. You can do this.”
“Who are you? What are you d-”
“Shush, Faye,” he snapped, silencing her with his easy use of her nickname as the other night elf rambled on in a strained voice.
“Emeria’s slipper. The spirit fields… weapon. Trap! K-korran and the wolf a-are-” As he stood beside the bed, the priestess shifted, straining as if reaching for something. “… pull… across everything, between everyone… ties exist, stretched to breaking. … can’t not be.”
The man growled, an animal sound. “I know all that. I can see the web, but what’s the nexus? What cements it?”
“C… crow with an orb… in his talons and h-her spine in his leg… Ffffforwards first, then backwards.” Rhoelyn sagged, clutching at the coverlet, and Faye surged forward, brave enough catch her as she tottered sideways and wrap her arms and the blanket around her. The little night elf’s skin was ice-cold except her forehead, where fever raged. Her eyelids drooped over eyes that glowed still with power.
“Stop it,” Fayrial snapped, interrupting the strange man and clutching the other slave against her. “Whatever you are doing, you will stop it. She can’t take any more. Goddess, she was already weak and hurt enough from today!”
Cori blinked at her, the power clearing from his gaze and from Rhoelyn’s. “Oh, have we reached one of those physical limitations?” Faye’s answer was a determined glare, and he winced. “Well, isn’t it good that you’re here, then? I’m not always the best with those…. mortal concerns. And I know quite a few people that would be very vexed with me if I killed her. Purely by accident, mind! I’ve been really rather fond of her, especially after this.”
Faye growled beneath her breath, looking down to watch the priestess’ eyes drift close, her weight settling fully against the other woman’s shoulder and chest. Breathing a sigh of relief, Rhoelyn slid into a state between unconscious and asleep, exhausted and feverish.
“I don’t know what is going on here, but you’ve made her ill,” the former sentinel said, displeasure dripping from her tone. “Rhoelyn is trapped alone in this room with no food and water until Master Leothir returns, and you have made her ill atop it. Who are you? Why are you here?”
The quel’dorei blinked at her, his eyes still golden, even without the glow of magic in them. He looked offended. “You don’t remember me? That’s really not ver- Oh, wait. No, we’re not at the right place for that.” He sighed, his shoulders rounding. “You’re so hard to work with, you linear types. No, you’re not supposed to know my name, yet. So… well, I’m sorry about that, but… I can tell you why I’m here. Not that you’ll fully understand.”
Faye sighed, shifting to cradle Rhoelyn against her more comfortably and trying to rub some warmth back into her limbs. “Try me.”
The man nodded and settled a hip on the edge of the bed, sitting. He waved a hand toward Rhoelyn, “Well, she managed to dip a finger deeply enough into the Light to start to reach its boundary with time, today. A funny coincidence, since all she was really trying to do was to hurt herself.”
“Hurt herself?” Faye blinked down at the priestess, her brow furrowing. “Why would she-?”
“Because she’s a really bad liar.”
“W… what?” The slave sighed, rubbing her forehead. “That doesn’t ma-”
The man interrupted again, raising a hand. “Not the point, Faye. Stay with me, here. She touched a piece of the flow of time, and I needed to find something. Something important. Something that is hidden from my kind. It’s a very complex c-.”
“You needed a mortal to filter your perception through.” It was Faye’s turn to interrupt, her eyes narrowing on his sharp-angled face. “You are a bronze dragon, aren’t you?”
He blinked, taken aback. “Um… that is … surprisingly accurate, yes. And as for my nature, I can neither confirm or deny. Please stop being so perceptive. It’s eerie.”
The night elf smirked despite her irritation. “You realize that’s a confirmation in itself, don’t you?”
“What?! N-…” The man sighed, his shoulders rounding once more. He managed a defeated mutter. “You can’t prove anything.”
Faye just grinned, a sly and self-satisfied expression that faded slowly as she looked back down at the woman in her arms. “All of what you were doing to her was in service of finding this… ‘something hidden’?”
He nodded, reaching out a hand to brush a lock of hair back from Rhoelyn’s temple. His golden gaze as he considered her was surprisingly warm.
“And did you find it?”
The high elf frowned. “I… think so, but I must reflect on this a bit more.”
Faye nodded. “If you need her help again, pick a time farther from this one, dragon. You can’t do this to her too often, or you will kill her.”
“That’s certainly not a goal,” he said softly, straightening from the bed. “I’ll keep your instructions in mind if I can’t suss out the rest by myself. Thank you, Faye.”
The former sentinel nodded, her teal braid slipping farther over her shoulder. “You’re welcome. I am presuming we’ll meet again.”
With a smile, the man bowed and cheerily intoned, “Yep! Until that time…” Before she could say more, his form dissolved into a fine golden sand that swirled for just a second before it disappeared into the air, leaving Faye and Rhoelyn alone in the silent room.
The slave looked down at her burden for a moment before she adjusted her grip on the little priestess, laying her back against the pillows. Her hands freed, she pulled the covers over her chilled body and tucked them high about her neck in an attempt to warm her.
“Rhoelyn,” Faye spoke softly, brushing silver hair back from the other woman’s face and nudging her. “Rhoelyn, come. I need you to wake. I brought broth. I dare not leave it here when I go. Someone will know, and one or both of us will suffer for it.”
She got no response and frowned, grumbling to herself. “Must I must force you awake and nurse you back to health, again?” Her nose wrinkled, frustration sharpening her tone. “This is what your foolish love earns you, priestess, the cost of letting one of them into your heart.”
She tried to scowl down at the woman, but as her eyes traversed the other’s slack face, her expression softened. Even pale and sick, with high, flushed spots on her cheeks from the fever and drying tears against the side of her pert nose, the little priestess held a sort of quiet strength around her, an aura of benevolent power that promised to bend but never break.
It wasn’t a physical power, but a spiritual one – the strength of will to suffer in silence through a long, horrible caning. The inspiring fortitude to force her small frame back to her feet every time she fell, weak-kneed from the pain. Already, the rumors of Elune’s priestess staying silent through over thirty lashes were running rampant through the manse, reminding the downtrodden and debased kal’dorei throughout the household of the quiet strength they all held in their hearts and in their “inferior” blood.
Faye considered the cleric for a moment, her frustration forgotten. She closed her eyes and leaned down to press her forehead to Rhoelyn’s.
“Maybe it is also a kind of strength that lets you love him, despite all that stands against happiness for you both.” Faye sighed, their breath mingling. “How can I blame you? You had no more choice in your path than I did in mine.” The once-proud sentinel grimaced, eyes still closed.
“Ah, Elune asks so much of us, little sister. Too much. So we must be strong; we must help each other. Now please… Please wake and take some nourishment.”
Faye nudged her again as she straightened, shaking one thin shoulder and repeating, “Rhoelyn. You must wake.”
Her persistence was rewarded with a small sound and a wrinkled brow. “Fayrial?” Rhoelyn whispered, her eyes still closed.
The other woman smiled gently, brushing her hair back again. “Yes. Yes, I am here.” She reached for the priestess’ hand, quietly relieved when Rhoelyn squeezed her fingers. “We must be quiet and quick. I’m not allowed to be here.”
Nodding, the little priestess cracked her eyes open before closing them again with a groan. “Emeria… will kill you for defying her.”
“Yes. So drink quickly so that I may go!” Faye shuddered and tugged on her shoulders, helping her sit up. When the priestess glanced down as the sheets fell and scrambled to clutch them back up over her nakedness, blushing, her companion rolled her eyes wordlessly. She turned and padded to the table, returning with the mug of lukewarm broth and shoving it into Rhoelyn’s unsteady free hand.
“Drink,” she ordered, biting her lip. “I have been here too long already.”
A little wide-eyed, Rhoelyn nodded and put the mug to her lips, taking big sips. Faye watched her thoughtfully as she did, finally daring to ask, “You said something about throwing away our collars. Throwing them into the sea to follow the angry blue demon. What did you mean?”
The healer blinked, her brow furrowing as she paused and lowered the mug. “I… I said what? Faye, I only just awoke.”
“Before. When the dragon was here.” Frowning, the woman leaned forward, pressing her hands into the soft bed.
“A… dragon?” Rhoelyn looked around the dark room at that, wide-eyed. “I admit that I know little about dragons, but would one even fit in here? What are you talking about?”
Fayrial made a frustrated sound, brushing a hand through her teal hair. “Well, he was in the form of an elf, of course. The one who gave you all those visions…?” She paused when the other woman just stared at her in a mixture of confusion and worry.
“You do not remember any of it.” It wasn’t a question, but the little priestess shook her head in answer. Faye sighed and closed her eyes. “Of course not. Elune knows, a bit of foresight would be far too helpful to her children who suffer.”
“I… I am sorry, Fayrial.”
When she looked up to see the shame in the healer’s lowered eyes, irritation spiked through her, and the former sentinel snapped, “Your apologies are not useful, priestess. Drink your broth so that I may leave.”
Rhoelyn shoved her nose in the mug automatically, hiding her small, wounded look in the quickly-drained drink. Very shortly, she handed the cup back to Faye with a furrowed brow and a soft, “Thank you. Hurry away and be safe, Fayrial.”
But despite her stated desire to hurry, the former sentinel didn’t move, clenching her teeth as she examined the healer. Faye sighed, once more unable to hold onto her irritation in the face of the sweet priestess’ obvious upset. She leaned forward, lifting a hand to rest it against Rhoelyn’s overwarm forehead.
“You are still feverish,” Faye pointed out, her tone more gentle than before. In the silver shaft of moonlight, she could see the dark circles under the other woman’s eyes. “There is no water, here, for a compress, so you must simply rest. Sleep, Rhoelyn, until Master Leothir returns. If you aren’t well by then, you will have to explain everything to him.”
The priestess nodded, expression mournful. “I would not want to give him reason to think ill of his mother. I will do my best to rest and heal.”
As the former sentinel pushed herself off the bed and slipped back to her feet, Rhoelyn reached out and rested her fingers on her hand. “Thank you, Fayrial. You are a brave and true woman. I am proud to have a sister such as you.”
Faye snorted, but she couldn’t help the little smile that twisted the corner of her lips up. “We are kal’dorei, priestess. We must all do what we can to endure together. Tor ilisar’thera’nal…”
Smiling gently, the healer’s silver hair gleamed with her luminous blue eyes in the darkness as she said, “Yes. ‘Let our enemies beware.’ We are the children of the stars, and we will not be cowed. Elune adore, falore.”
“Elune adore, Rhoelyn.” Fayrial said softly before she took the mug and slipped silently from the room. The scrape of the lock echoed loudly in the silence, lingering long after the warmth of her presence was gone.
Late the next afternoon, footfalls approached the bedroom door, and the scrape of the key in the lock drew Rhoelyn out of her reverie, her fingers resting on the glass of the floor-to-ceiling windows and her gaze on the field where a pair of ivory-feathered hawkstriders were being put through their paces. She turned her head toward the door, clasping the sheet she wrapped around herself tighter over her chest, but no one entered or knocked. The footfalls simply hurried away again, leaving her erstwhile prison unlocked.
Through a haze of aches and pains and muzzy thoughts, it took her a moment to put together the details of why that might make sense. The little priestess’ still-feverish brow furrowed as she dragged the reluctant realization out of the tangle of her idle wonderings. If Emeria had ordered the door to be unlocked, it could be for only one reason: to hide Rhoelyn’s punishment from her son. And that meant…
“Leothir has returned,” she whispered aloud to herself, her throat dry and her voice raspy. The night elf smiled and rested her forehead on the cool glass of the window, tired, relief and illness conspiring together to make her momentarily weak. She pressed her hand flatter against the view out into the world to steady herself, sniffling back the pressure of unwanted tears. The ordeal was nearly over. She just needed to play a small role with her lover to keep him in his happy place of ignorance about the quiet war his mother waged against her.
The little woman sighed, her warm breath fogging the glass as she thought about her sin’dorei mate and his mother, the highborn lady of the house. Considering the web of lies Emeria spun around her life, a web that seemed to trap Leothir like a fly, made her heart heavy with sadness for the miserable, awful woman and the son that adored her. It was… surprisingly ugly and beautiful at once, venomous but also filled with a blackened, possessive love. Leothir and Relare both cared greatly for their mother, and she them, but there was a darkness behind it all that Rhoelyn didn’t know how to process. Emeria certainly wasn’t the loving bondmother she’d once expected to have. In fact, she was the opposite of everything the night elf had ever believed about what a mother should be.
Not that she knew about these things…
The priestess’ dristy, wandering thoughts shifted around to the vague things she could recall about her own mother, a woman who had birthed a pair of balanced twins, a tiny girl and boy, alone somewhere in the cold of Winterspring and stumbled, bleeding and ill and cradling her newborn infants, into Starfall village. That kind of mother had made her children feel safe and loved and warm, and they had enjoyed her adoration even though it was atop a kind of quiet, desperate sadness that was always present. She had been a creature half-complete, always missing something, and the pair of them had known, from the youngest age, that she would not stay – or perhaps she had warned them in subtle ways that they had long-since forgotten.
One day, she’d disappeared back into the snow when her twins were barely older than Alensyr, leaving them behind with only with a vague memory of her face and her love and a family name of uncertain origins and authenticity: Silverwing.
The priestess grimaced at the usual pang she got when she thought about her mother, pushing away from the window and forcing her thoughts back around to Leothir and Relare and Emeria as she meandered unsteadily toward the bed. Family. Light and love and stability, all the things she barely remembered from her earliest days and all the things she and Rhese had worked to build together in the century since the mysterious woman had left. She didn’t understand the family that was shadows and manipulation, but a mother was still a precious thing, and Rhoelyn could not let herself be a wedge between Leo and his own. She couldn’t expose the woman’s lies, though Emeria hurt her and hated her. Rhoelyn wouldn’t dream of passing on her pain to Leothir, neither out of spite nor to protect herself. She was devoted to letting him and Relare remain happily ignorant of the darker parts of their mother.
With a click, the large oaken door to the room swung open, dragging her from her thoughts, and Rhoelyn half-turned as Leothir strode in, the stocky dwarf who’d once helped him steal her from the island of Pandaria at his side.
“Och, ye dinna think they’d go an’ defend th’old drafty temple, do ye?” Dethedrus rolled in his near-incomprehensible brogue, stroking his ruddy beard. “There isna ennethin’ there save mouldy bones an’ th’artifact.”
“I don’t know about that, my muscled friend. They say there’s more than enough spirit energ-” Leothir paused, blinking as he looked up to see the figure standing by the end of the bed. His eyes widened, and he clamped a hand over his friend’s face, drawing a startled, “Oy!” from the captain. The blood elf grabbed his beefy pauldrons by their golden sigils and turned the dwarf back toward the door, ungentle and rushed.
“We’ll speak later, Deth. Later.” Leo spit out, shoving the sputtering fellow out the door and slamming it on his armored rear end.
Muffled through the wood, the dwarf slammed a fist against the door, bellowing, “Are ye mad, ye r-”
“Later, Dethedrus! Come back later. One – no, two hours! Come back in two hours.” Leo stayed by the door, his hands pressed against the wood, until he could hear his grumbling friend stomp away, and then he breathed a relieved sigh, his shoulders rounding. He glanced back over his shoulder. “… definitely two hours,” he mumbled.
“My goodness, ilais’surfal, but that was dramatic.” Rhoelyn’s voice, extra quiet and husky, reminded him of the cause of all that drama, and he straightened, turning toward her as his gaze drank in the sight he didn’t want his friend to so much as glimpse: his lover stood at the end of his bed, one dainty hand resting against the mussed coverlet, the other grasping the edges of his sheet in a wad at the center of her chest, the rest wrapped in a loose drape around her clearly-naked body. The thin fabric covering her breasts left little to the imagination, and the way she stood, half-turned and with the silk pulling behind her, tugged the edges apart in a tantalizing split that started well above the healer’s hip and barely managed to keep her decent on its way down her right leg.
From the top of her loose hair to the bare toes peeking out of the ivory silk, she was stunning and sensual and a temptation of infinite proportions to the man who had missed her for the past pair of days. Leo smiled and drank in the sight of her for a long minute before he dared to break the moment with words or movement.
“Dramatic, yes, but also quite necessary,” he chuckled, pulling off his tooled leather gloves and tossing them on the table by the door. He still didn’t approach her, but his eyes followed her as he spoke, “My flower? Should I ask why you are waiting for me in my bedroom, naked save my very own bedcovers?”
The priestess smiled softly, though she stood still, relaxed and slightly unsteady, watching him with glassy, loving eyes. The hand on the bed shifted and toyed with the fabric on her thigh, rubbing it against her skin. His gaze followed the motion, and he felt the friction heat his blood more than her flesh.
“My handsome dawn,” she whispered after a moment. “My beloved Leothir. Can I not surprise you? Perhaps I thought to show you just how glad I am that you’ve returned.” It wasn’t a lie. It wasn’t all of the truth, but it was enough that she could be convincing and also satisfy him.
He smiled warmly at her until Rhoelyn’s look turned serious and intense, and she padded toward him on bare feet, fabric drawing behind her like the train of the finest robe. Her gaze smoldered with more than just fever, and he gulped, eyes widening as the tantalizing gap over her hip only gaped farther. She was so regal, his flower, beautiful and graceful enough to be a princess even when playfully coy like a courtesan.
To his credit, Leo managed to look past the sway of her hips to notice that her color was high and her eyes overbright, but then Rhoelyn released her hold on the sheet and let it drop away from her magnificent flesh. Her mate was thoroughly and instantly distracted as the little priestess muttered, her voice husky and hoarse, “Do you not like my welcome, ilais’surfal?”
“I like it very much, my beautiful flower,” he answered softly, letting her reach for him before he lifted his hands and set them around her ribs, caressing. “I have missed you, Rhoelyn.”
The priestess smiled warmly and pressed against him, lifting her face to his kiss with a whispered, “Welcome home, Leothir.”
When they parted a moment later, he whispered back, his gaze searching her face, “Thank you, my darling.” The mage tried to ignore her nimble hands as they started working on the ties of his padded cloth armor and her soft skin so near to his, her breath against his neck as she worked, instead lifting a wrist to her forehead. He frowned. “As I thought. Rhoelyn, you are feverish. Have you been ill? You are still recovering from being wounded…”
She didn’t look up, shaking her head and catching her lip between her teeth as she worked free another silken tie. “It is nothing, my dawn. All is well now that you are back. I want-”
“Rhoelyn,” he interrupted, stern. When she looked up at him, her lip still caught by her teeth, Leo groaned at her unconsciously tantalizing expression, gritting his teeth to stay focused as he caught her hands in his own, capturing them away from her work. It was impossible to miss the fine tremor in her fingers. “I’m not the most observant elf, I know, but you are hoarse and unsteady. You’re clearly not well. What happened while I was away?”
Sighing, the night elf relented, resting her head against his chest. “I have been somewhat ill since yesterday, but truly… I am not so afflicted. Only tired and hungry. Perhaps a bit thirsty. You could order us food and drink and then amuse me until it arrives…” The look she gave him through her lashes was wanton and needy, and her tongue darted out to moisten her lips. He groaned once more, shifting to drag her tighter against him.
“You know just how best to tempt me, my flower” the blood elf said softly, torn between worry and desire. Still, he held himself under control, assessing her. “You’re quite sure that you’re not too ill to be…” he smirked playfully, “…’amused’?”
Rhoelyn nodded and nuzzled against his neck, “I am quite sure. Leoth-oh!”
She started when he reached down to hook an arm under her knees and sweep her into his arms, then settled against his chest as he chuckled. “I’m not strong enough to resist you, then. You will await me on my bed, beautiful priestess, while I see to food and drink.”
“And then?” she asked, wrapping her arms around his neck and peering up at him. His smooth gait carried her across the room.
“And then… Well, I suppose I will just have to find some way to amuse you, my flower,” her mate said with gentle and constrained hunger, leaning down to capture her lips as he cradled her against him. It was an extra minute or two before he settled her in the bed and turned away to call for a meal.