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Above Laenaris’ head, an impossible skyscape arched above her. Moons danced among streaks of brilliant auroral color, dark spaces interspersed with stars like salt on a black tablecloth. The Twisting Nether never failed to disappoint, and the sky was always better to look at than the bleak desolation of Hellfire Peninsula.
Outland had a way of making you hate it and every environment it possessed. Hellfire Peninsula had made her hate deserts, and Zangarmarsh had made her had swamps even more after the loss of her loyal lynx, Nyla. Terokkar forest had almost made her hate forests, too. Maybe coming from a forest had something to do with her reluctance to swear against them. At least here, where even the breeze felt dry and hot against one’s skin, the only real danger was dehydration – if you didn’t count the servants of the Burning Legion, of course.
“Oy, elfy!” The voice of Rakkari, troll warrior and consummate fighter, brought her eyes back down to the ugly, rocky badlands that was her current habitat. “Are ya ready, mon?” Why he couldn’t remember her name, Laenaris couldn’t say. She stood up from where she’d sat with Raelin, her warp stalker, and danced her way down the rocky shelf ahead of her allies.
“Least kills pays for dinner!” she called out.
“I won’t lose again because you started early, Blood Elf!” Korok Blackblade roared after her angrily. With any luck, he’d work out his anger on the Felblood. Laenaris had seen him in fistfights before; she had no desire to be on the receiving end of an assault by the brutish orc.
Laenaris only felt the tiniest twinge of sadness as she loosed a bolt into the shoulder of the nearest Felblood elf. Once, they’d been Blood Elves like her, desperately trying to find a cure for their arcane addiction. But after making a deal with the Burning Legion, they’d become like demons themselves, drunk on fel energy. Some had strangely-colored skin, others had horns and what looked like wings, all possessed cracks in their skin from which fel energy exuded. And each and every one was a fanatical follower of former King Kael’thas Sunstrider.
The Felblood warlock screeched as Raelin brought her down, digging his massive black claws and dragonlike jaws into her legs. The cackling imp at her side hurled a bolt of green fire at Laenaris. She just barely dodged, feeling the brush of heat across her chest. That was the last firebolt the imp would ever throw, as it turned out. Raelin always got a little feral when other beings attacked his mistress. An arrow to the head put the warlock out of her misery.
They counted aloud as they picked off demon and minion alike. Luminous green blood spattered the emerald-tinted rocks beneath their feet as they worked their way towards the building known as the Throne of Kil’jaeden. Other raiding parties were making their own way from points around the rocky cliffs, the cries of their victims echoing off the outcrops of rock and metal.
“Seven . . . Raelin, kill! Eight . . .” Laenaris muttered, eyes narrowed in concentration.
Korok’s maniacal laughter rose above the shouts and snarls along with the bloodlust in his veins. Rakkari whirled like a multi-colored dervish, his rapiers doing almost as much damage as Korok’s orcish greatsword. She caught a glimpse of the troll’s blades relieving an eyeless felhound of its feeler tentacles before a bolt of magic hit her right in the chest. She stumbled, her eyes seeking her opponent even as the tabard over her armor seared. She was mildly surprised to see the felsteel building looming above her. Had they really come so far so quickly? The constant forays against the Felblood must be wearing down their numbers.
“So this is the best that the Shattered Sun Offensive can afford to send!” a blue-skinned mage remarked. He laughed, and raised his hands to the sky as green fire gathered around him. “I’m just amazed that you lower yourself enough to fight alongside them, sister!”
“If you fight for Kil’jaeden, you’re no brother of mine,” Laenaris replied. She notched two more arrows and let them fly at the mage’s outstretched hands. He vanished in a burst of smoke and light, reappearing in their midst. The arrows flew overhead, lost in the sky.
“Da Felblood can’t be ya bruddah, elfy!” Rakkari exclaimed in his accented Orcish as he turned his attention to the newcomer. “’E’s too ugly!”
Laenaris couldn’t help but smile. Some days she wondered if Rakkari was sweet on her, the things that troll said. Raelin released a low growl, teeth dripping with anticipation towards the foolish stranger in their midst. He turned his flattened lizard head to Laenaris, his bright blue eyes practically begging her to give the command.
“I’ve killed eleven Felblood so far, mage!” Korok snarled, bloodlust rendering his eyes red. “You’ll be the twelfth!” He took a step forward – and a sudden flash of light knocked Laenaris on her back. Her ears and head rung painfully. Her mind screamed to get up, but her muscles refused to move.
Stun spell, she thought. It wore off almost immediately. Laenaris sat up just in time to watch her friends fall to the ground, skin burned from bone by the sheer heat of felfire. The mage stood over their corpses, green fire flickering at his fingertips.
Oh no, no, no. Fear wrapped its icy claws around her heart and squeezed tight as she scrambled to her feet, picking up an arrow as she stood. She drew and aimed at the Felblood’s heart, she’d figure out why she was still alive later.
“You’ll die for this,” Laenaris swore through teeth gritted against tears.
“Now, is that any way to say hello to your brother, Laenaris?” the mage asked. He spoke almost casually, as if they were discussing the (nonexistent) weather instead of standing here with an arrow aimed at his throat. Chills climbed up and down Laenaris’ spine like a ladder.
“Y-you can’t be him,” Laenaris stammered. Her arrow faltered along with her voice. She refocused, drawing on her anger to steady her aim. Her thoughts were not as obedient. With pale skin instead of blue . . . and how else would he know her name?
“But I am,” her adversary replied. “You know I don’t like having things pointed at me, could you lower that?” Upon refusal, a wave of a hand. Green cracks appeared on Laenaris’ recurve just before it exploded in her hand.
“Aaaah!” Laenaris gasped, clutching her burnt hand. Raelin erupted from her side in a flurry of black and white-striped scales and reptilian fury. Thrown by an unseen force, he flew against the wall to his left, crashing to the rock beneath like a thrown marionette.
“NO!” Tears burned in Laenaris’ eyes at her helplessness. Memories of the Battle of Silvermoon crept to the forefront of her mind, ghosts of the past whispering in her ears. “Damn you!” she shouted at Voridan as he advanced to where she knelt.
“Upset about the beast?” Voridan asked dismissively. “Don’t worry, there are plenty of stronger beasts than that, I’ll make sure you get one later. What kind of brother would I be if I didn’t?”
Laenaris lunged at her brother, an animal cry tearing from her throat. A force field of green lifted her into the air. She wailed as her clawing fingers were lifted out of reach, burnt skin barely noticed in her rage. Laenaris desperately wished looks had the power to kill, she could have avenged all of her friends and her companion in a single instant.
“I was going to offer you the opportunity to join us, sister.” Voridan practically spat the words, glaring back at her with equal fury. “I suppose I’ll have to apologize to you later.”
Fel energy rose from the very ground, tentacles waving, reaching. They wrapped themselves around her legs, her arms, her waist. With this much energy nearby, the arcane hunger reared its ugly head, impossible to ignore. She opened her mouth to deliver a stinging retort, but all that came out was a scream as the fel energy burrowed beneath her skin.
Voridan did not smile as his sister’s body bowed inside the force field. Maybe a small part of him was still mortal enough to care. He gave a mental shrug and pushed the matter out of his mind for now. He’d recognized his sister the moment he watched her fight her way through warlocks and warriors and demons, insisted on going to perform this very task: to bring her to Kael’thas’ side. All she had to do was stop resisting, and accept the energy now flooding into her veins. Not that he couldn’t relate to the initial fear, he’d felt the same way at first. It would be painful, but pain was good. It purified.
Suddenly, pain sliced through his back. A long, cold steel blade jutted through his stomach, green blood coating it’s protruding tip. How did I not hear . . .? A voice cut into his thought, laden with the whispery undertones of the risen dead.
“I’ve already lost one sibling today. I won’t let you take another.” Voridan grunted in pain as the blade was removed. His legs refused to support him, and he fell to his knees, staring at the black-cloaked figures moving towards his sister. That voice . . . so familiar, yet strange.
Voridan never did figure out who killed him.
Laenaris slowly opened her eyes. Her body felt like she’d been run over by a stampeding herd of native clefthoof. The first thing she saw was the dark wooden roof above her head. The symbol of the Horde hung on the wall, painted onto the skin of an indeterminate animal. She knew this place – the inn at Thrallmar, the Horde’s outpost in Hellfire Citadel. How did I get here?
She glanced around the room. A set of mail armor hung on a stand, freshly polished and cleaned. A crimson Silvermoon tabard lay folded neatly nearby. What had happened to her old mail? Abruptly, her memory came rushing back. If Voridan could damage my body, he must have damaged my mail, too, she thought. For a long time, she played and replayed the encounter in her head. My brother is alive! My brother is a monster. Why couldn’t he have died, why?
“Ah, you are awake.” A female Tauren’s mellow voice cut into her thoughts. The owner of the voice ducked as she entered, her bovine horns almost touching the roof. A shaman from her garb, and a healer from her totems. She held a small meal on a tray in her hands. “My name is Thuruda Dawnseeker. You are Laenaris, yes?”
“Yes,” Laenaris replied warily. How many more people knew her name without her telling them? “How did I get here?” Laenaris asked.
“A group of Death Knights brought you here,” the healer replied.
“Death Knights saved me?” Laenaris clarified, unable to keep her distaste from surfacing. Death Knights were former servants of the Lich King, the same being who had destroyed Quel’Thalas and killed her parents. Laenaris, like most Blood Elves, possessed an automatic distrust of any and all undead, despite the attempts of the so-called Forsaken to prove that they were on their side.
“Yes, Death Knights,” Thuruda responded, her tone still carefully neutral. A tense silence hung in the air between the two as Thuruda placed the meat and bread on the mattress beside Laenaris.
“How much do I owe for my stay?” Laenaris asked stiffly. She kicked herself for her tone, one should never kill a messenger and all that.
“One of the Knights insisted upon paying for you,” Thuruda replied. “You owe nothing for my services, or that of the inn, although you may owe her your thanks.” Laenaris didn’t miss the pointed message.
“Thank you for the meal, and for healing me,” Laenaris told the healer.
“You need not thank me. I heal my friends, and all who fight the Burning Legion are my friends,” the Tauren woman replied as she left. Laenaris heard her say a few words to someone beyond her vision, but couldn’t make out either speaker’s words.
Laenaris began to wonder if her body was the only thing that would need a few more days to recover.
Upon slipping into her new armor only two days later, she found a note hidden in the folds of the nearby tabard. There were only three words written on the paper, scrawled in impeccable Thalassian, the language of the Blood Elves: The Hideout – Nightingale.
Besides Laenaris and Voridan, only one other person knew the meaning of those words. And if the message was to be believed, Laenaris knew exactly where to find her.
3 Days Later
The feet of the green-feathered hawkstrider pounded hard into the dirt as Laenaris sped towards her destination. Slightly above and beside her, Pyros wove through the air, treating the hawkstrider as his rival in a race. To her left, the burnt husks that made up the Scorched Grove reached into the sky with gnarled fingers, while the trees to her right were garbed in the usual amber of Eversong Woods. Rocky outcrops loomed in front of her, mere boulders compared to the Thalassian Mountains far to the south.
And there, nestled in the rocks, was a small opening, barred by a faded and tattered cloth. It was too small for the armor-clad figure outside of it to fit in. The stranger was a Death Knight, from her black armor and the tabard worn over it, and a Blood Elf from her build. Laenaris reined in the hawkstrider, slipping out of the saddle as Pyros wheeled about to his place at her side.
“You came,” the Death Knight remarked. She stood, turning to face Laenaris. “I wasn’t sure you would.”
Laenaris didn’t say anything, instead moving forward until she was within reach of the Death Knight. She reached up, grasping the knight’s helm with both hands. The knight grasped one of her wrists.
“Don’t try to stop me,” Laenaris said softly, the steel in her voice as hard as that which the Death Knight wore. Removing the helm revealed a face obviously belonging to an undead: skin such a pale shade of grey it was almost white, framed by blue hair. Equally pale blue eyes shone beneath, marking her as touched by the Lich King himself.
“Do I have to prove who I am?” the Death Knight asked, looking slightly bewildered by the huntress’ actions.
“I thought you already did,” Laenaris admitted. “I just wanted to see your face. Why didn’t you contact me before, Cymdoril?” she demanded.
Cymdoril looked away. “I . . . wasn’t sure if you would accept me,” Cymdoril confessed. “I knew how much you hated undead. I was afraid you would see me as an enemy as well.”
Her sister’s words hurt as badly as the memory of her brother’s attack. Emotion after emotion vied to be foremost in Laenaris’ mind: anger that her sister had not tried to find her sooner, joy that at least one member of her family still existed, and a deep shame that her own prejudices had been what kept Cymdoril away.
“I’m so sorry,” Laenaris whispered, struggling to speak the words with a constricted throat. Pyros nuzzled against his mistress, sensing her pain through their bond. Cymdoril hesitated for a moment, as if unsure of what to do, then took the hint from Pyros. For the first time in a long time, Laenaris embraced her sister.
They talked late into the night. Cymdoril described her death and rebirth at the hands of the Scourge, and Laenaris spoke of her journeys in both Azeroth and Outland. As the two laughed and cried and hissed in anger, it was as if the years and physical differences simply fell away, and they were once again two girls purposefully forgoing their beds in favor of tracing constellations in the sky.
“What will you do, now that the war in Outland is over?” Cymdoril asked. While Laenaris had been recovering, she’d heard the news: the Sunwell had been restored, Kael’thas and his demonic overlords killed for good, and the purpose of the Shattered Sun Offensive fulfilled.
“I don’t know,” Laenaris confessed. “I hadn’t given much thought to it, honestly. What about you?”
“I’m a Knight of the Ebon Blade, sister,” Cymdoril replied. “I’ve sworn to destroy the Lich King, and that’s what I will do.” They sat in silence for a moment, the only noises being the crackling campfire and Pyros’ growling snores.
“Say,” Cymdoril said, “my companions from the Ebon Blade were talking of the events in Northrend. They left for the north a few days ago. As you don’t seem to have a goal in mind, would you want to join me?”
Laenaris narrowed her eyes thoughtfully before replying. “I think I’d like that.”