[Story] Reunion III

By the time their bedraggled hippogryphs touched down, the biting wind had already made its way into Vassanta’s bones. The handler effortlessly slipped the leather traces over their heads, and led the creatures away to the paddock to rest from the long flight. They were so exotic and fanciful, so unlike the practical gryphons, that Vassanta felt a little reluctant to let them go. Maybe it was the horns that endeared them to her.

She looked to Caelris, who appeared as grim as ever. “Come along,” he said, nodding east toward the cliffs. “We haven’t any time to waste.”

Vassanta wanted to ask about the ruins, about this place; she knew enough of elven history to know that it was important, but she didn’t dare ask him about it any further. Along the way, he’d given her withering looks anytime she brought it up, until she was resorting to commenting on the weather, and eventually, nothing at all. More than likely, that’s what he preferred, as he hardly made a sound as they crossed the expanse of wind-swept brush. Caelris had mentioned that the ruins probably were guarded, by spirits or possibly naga — those serpentine creatures that once had been elves. That was another sore spot with the night elves, she had learned, but one she could relate to. After all, the draenei also had cousins they would rather forget about.

But once they reached the ruins, Vassanta saw no naga, nor did she sense any spirits. The druid set to work, gingerly brushing the dust from the stones and squinting at whatever was engraved there. Vassanta felt it best that she stay out of his way — he still did not seem inclined to casual conversation — and kept a diligent patrol of the perimeter. Beyond the cliffs, she could see the bright blue of the ocean, stretching toward the horizon. She had seen lakes, and the bay down in the jungle, but never an ocean as big as this one. Surely Caelris wouldn’t notice if she went down for a better look, he appeared fully absorbed in his work.

She hadn’t expected such gravity from him, the way he spoke of the sword, it was going to kill both herself and Vajarra if they kept it. That must be why he’d wanted to take it away, but if it was so dangerous, why would he want to risk handling it? Vassanta suspected there was more to it than he was letting on, and it probably had to do with his lingering feelings for Vajarra. She knew he tried to hide it, but it wasn’t a convincing attempt. Most males — and most people, really — could be easily read within a few moments of meeting them, and Vassanta had made much use of this skill in the past. Most — but not all — she thought wryly, picking up a jagged stone from the earth and sending it tumbling over the cliffside. It seemed a very long time before she heard it splash into the ocean below.

The golden grasses rustling in the cold wind reminded her of a trip to Farahlon she had taken with her father, when the place called Farahlon still existed. In those times, before the orcs and elves and demons, it was a lush prairie, farms nestled behind every hill. Her uncle Jovaar — her mother’s little brother — was betrothed, and Vassanta was riding with her father to deliver their gift. She couldn’t remember exactly why Vajarra stayed behind. Perhaps her studies wouldn’t allow it, perhaps their mother needed help with her sewing, but Vassanta liked to believe that it was by choice, that her father might spend some time with her and her alone. That was the part of being a twin she didn’t like — having to share with Vajarra all the time. Her father let her sit at the front of the saddle, atop the creaky old elekk that at the time seemed incredibly imposing. But her father showed her how the beast would sniff delicately with its trunk, its touch gentle as a butterfly. They talked all the way, pointing out landmarks and animals, and she was so pleased at how he listened — really listened — to the things she said. Vassanta had always admired him, as all girls admire their fathers, but looking back, that was when she decided she wanted to grow up to be a Vindicator just as he was. She remembered little of their actual visit; Uncle Jovaar was friendly and jovial as ever, and his betrothed was beautiful, she made appropriate cooing sounds over the clefthoof-hide rug that Father had brought. But Vassanta had never forgotten the trip itself, and she fervently hoped that she never would.

She was startled to realize that the sky had lit with the fire of sunset, and even more startled to see the druid standing silently nearby.

“H-how long have you been there?” she asked, feeling vaguely embarrassed, as if he could somehow see her thoughts.

Caelris shook his head once. “Not long,” he replied, gesturing back toward the ruins. “We are losing the light. Normally not a problem, but it is much more dangerous after dark here.”

They made camp atop a rocky outcropping, not exactly the most comfortable of camps, but it afforded a view of any danger that might be approaching. But it also left them exposed to the relentless wind, made all the more biting by the darkness. Caelris lit a small fire, and roasted some rabbits — those he had caught when he had slipped off into the shadows as an enormous cat — and Vassanta could almost imagine she was back at the outpost among her comrades. Except, among the Vindicators, there was always plenty of friendly conversation. Vassanta couldn’t remember the last thing the druid had said, probably an hour ago. She had tried gamely to strike up a conversation, asking about his studies and his family, anything she could think of, but he never offered more than a handful of words. Did he still resent her so much? It was possible, and Vassanta could hardly blame him for that. Yet at other times he seemed brighter, almost friendly, and she wasn’t sure what to think of that. He certainly wasn’t telling.

When the fire died down and Vassanta huddled beneath her cloak for its meager warmth, he surprised her again. He could turn into a bear, he explained, and his fur would keep her warm. She wanted to laugh at the idea, it struck her as so absurd, but he seemed so earnest that she didn’t dare.

“But what if you wake up hungry in the middle of the night?” she asked, rather sensibly she thought. Vassanta believed that druids retained their minds while in animal form, but it never hurt to be safe.

Caelris did laugh at that, a sound that sounded strange to her ears. “I won’t eat you, if that is what you are worried about. I promise.”

And that is how Vassanta found herself pressed close to a bear for warmth. She had to admit that his fur was very warm, far more comfortable than a fur cloak, and he didn’t smell nearly as awful as she’d imagined. She couldn’t wait to tell Vajarra about it — she just hoped they would find something about the blade soon.

[Art] Plush Mabari Hounds

Two plush Mabari hounds, “Bear” (named after Raleth’s Mabari) and “Ghost” (named for Farrah’s).

Bear Plush

Bear Plush


Bear's Kaddis

Bear's Kaddis


Ghost Plush

Ghost Plush


Ghost's Kaddis

Ghost's Kaddis


Ready to Hunt

Ready to Hunt

[Story] Reunion II

Vassanta regarded the sword hilt with apprehension. Though she had no magical talent at all, it gave her an uneasy feeling to look at it. No wonder Vajarra had been so eager to hand it over. She folded the cloth over it, tucking the bundle safely in the bottom of her pack.

The researchers over at the Scryer’s library would likely know something of the blade’s origin, but Vassanta considered them a last resort. Surely someone else could help her — someone back in Kalimdor. Vassanta had not returned there in close to a year, and she was certain the time away had been good for her. It was so much easier to imagine things were as they were before their exodus, when they had no knowledge of the trials that awaited them. There, on the black soil of Shadowmoon Valley, she could be all that she was intended to be: a highly trained demon killing machine. No troublesome feelings or elves — well, aside from the ever-present Scryers, but they kept to themselves. Vassanta did keep one reminder though, the delicate silver pendant. She no longer kept it around her neck, but inside a tiny carved crystal trinket box, the sort a child might keep her treasures in. Her father had brought them back once, when they were very small, and he was still fighting. At the time, she had thought it useless and silly, but now it was perhaps the most precious thing she owned, a tangible memory of him. That little box also went into her pack, tightly laced in one of the inside pockets.

Reluctantly, she rose to her hooves, making her way down the terrace toward the portals. She would ask the scholars in Darnassus, one of them should be able to tell her something about the blade. As much as she disliked the idea, at least she wouldn’t have to go to Stormwind, that would have been much worse. It was much like the pain in her left leg, completely forgotten most of the time, but every once in a while it would give her a reminder that it was still there.

Darnassus was a drastic change from Draenor, especially Shadowmoon. The air was clean and cool, and smelled of trees and flowers. Beneath her hooves, the ground was plush and soft, strewn with rich green moss. And everywhere, the water lay still and clear, rippled only by the stray breeze that rustled overhead. It really was beautiful, and some of Vassanta’s apprehension faded. Maybe she would eat at one of the inns after her business was finished, she’d always liked the food they had here. Hooves clicking softly on the stone, she made her way toward the east side of the city, where most of the shops and buildings stood. She wasn’t exactly sure what she was looking for, but they had to have a library or lorekeeper of some sort.

“Fancy meeting you here,” someone said, across the walkway. It took Vassanta a moment to realize who it was. Caelris, that druid from last year’s Brewfest, the cringing one. It wasn’t exactly who she had in mind, but he might do. He was giving her a suspicious eye, no doubt wondering why she had come.

“Yes,” Vassanta replied, shifting her pack on her back. “Same to you. I do actually have business here.” For a moment, she wondered if he could be trusted. She barely knew him after all, and they weren’t exactly friendly.

The druid raised a brow. “Oh? What sort of business?”

She glanced toward the pair of Sentinels standing nearby. It wasn’t the sort of thing she wanted everyone to know about just yet. Vassanta gestured toward the gate. “Let’s go over there, I’ll show you.”

Wordlessly, Caelris agreed, following behind her like a shadow. They passed one of the enormous protectors, massive living trees that stood watch at the gates. It took no notice of them, at least that Vassanta could tell, its branches shuffling overhead.

“Have you and Vajarra made up?” Caelris asked quietly.

Vassanta had forgotten about the druid’s misguided fascination with the anchorite. But, she thought grimly, at least she could sort of relate. “Yes, I’d say so,” she answered, climbing the steps of the building that arched over the pathway.

He was still watching her, his arms crossed. “How has she been?”

Vassanta wasn’t sure how to answer that. She didn’t want to hurt him intentionally, or worse, make him angry. “The same, I suppose. She was in Northrend for a while –”

Caelris appeared started at that. “N-northrend? But she’s all right, isn’t she?”

Vassanta nodded, unlacing her pack and digging around for the parcel. “Yep,” she said, placing the bundle on the wooden railing and uncovering the hilt within. “That’s where she found this actually. The writing is elven, I’m sure of it, but I can’t tell what–”

He approached to look it over, then flattened his ears and stepped back from it. “It’s cursed,” he said flatly. “You need to destroy it.”

She cocked her head at him. “It’s already broken, and I can’t destroy it. It’s not mine. She asked me to find out where it came from.”

“Perhaps you can’t, but I can. And I will, if you refuse.”

Vassanta looked at him in disbelief. Maybe he had grown a spine since they had last spoken, after all. But she still wasn’t going to let him take something that didn’t belong to him — particularly something that could be as valuable as Vassanta guessed it might be. He had picked it up and was turning it over gingerly in his hands.

“Give that back!” Vassanta scowled.

“No.”

“Give it back,” she growled, “or I’ll come get it myself.” Sure, he didn’t look tough now, but Vassanta knew that druids could turn into animals, and who knows what sort he could turn into.

“No,” he said again, glaring back at her.

“Last chance,” Vassanta said. She didn’t really want to hurt him, but she thought she could at least wrestle the sword back from him.

The druid seemed unruffled by her threats, which puzzled her. “Let’s compromise,” he said at last. “Let me look into this, and I will return it to you afterward.”

“If you think I’m letting it out of my sight–”

Caelris shook his head. “No, of course not. You may come if you wish, certainly.”

It seemed like a trick, and Vassanta was not easily fooled. Still, being an elf, he had a better idea where to find out more about the blade and its origins. And it must be important if he was willing to drop everything on a moment’s notice. She didn’t seem to have much choice, short of knocking him over and taking it back by force, and she doubted very much that the Sentinels would approve.

“Very well,” Vassanta sighed. “Where to first?”

The druid folded the hilt neatly back into its cloth, tucking it inside his robe. “Azshara.”

[Art] Begging Bear

“Bear” wants a treat!

Begging Bear

Begging Bear

[Art] Plush Witherfang

Witherfang, the mysterious wolf of the woods.

Witherfang

Witherfang

[Story] Reunion

“Come in, sister.”

Vajarra coaxed the heavy stone door open, uncertain what she would see inside. It had been a great deal of time — too long — since she and her sister had last spoken, and though Vajarra believed things between them had been mended, when dealing with Vassanta one could never really be certain. The little house was dark inside, and sparse of any decoration save for the furnishings. She could see the glint of metal from a weapon rack, and a large closet beside it that must contain her armor. Vassanta herself reclined in one of the simple hewn chairs, her expression unreadable.

It felt very much like entering the lair of some dangerous creature, and it took Vajarra a moment to decide what kind. A dragon, though she had not encountered many; coiled strength combined with a cool assurance that things would inevitably go in its favor. The anchorite settled into the other chair, which lacked any sort of cushion, and regarded her sister. “How have you been?” It wasn’t simply small-talk. Vajarra had been away for so long, following A’dal’s urging to assist Saltion in the frigid north. She quietly believed that her place was in Shattrath, but above that, her place was to serve the naaru’s will, and if they saw fit to help the humans with their foolish war, so be it. How strange then, that Vassanta was the one who had remained behind in their old world, fighting their ancestors’ fight.

Vassanta smiled, a small smile, but a genuine one, and rose to the cabinet across the room. She brought out two rolled parchments, and unrolled them carefully on the low table. “This one’s a map of the valley,” Vassanta explained. “Those areas are where we’ve pushed the Legion back. You can see there are still a few pockets of them left, but it’s only a matter of time. Then we’ll get the shamans to go and survey it, see what can be repaired.” Vassanta moved the map aside, revealing the other parchment, an intricate charcoal drawing of the temple of Karabor. She flashed a grin to Vajarra. “I thought you’d like this one. I’ve been meaning to hang it up on the wall but…” she shrugged. “They’re making a lot of progress, it looks really good now. You should go and see it.”

Her memories of Karabor were vague, the only time their father had brought them, the twins had been far too young to appreciate it or truly understand. Vajarra did remember that Vassanta had got in trouble for trying to swim in one of the fountains. It could never truly be as it was in those days, but it could be close enough to stir those memories. “I will,” Vajarra promised. “I don’t think we will be in the north much longer. Saltion says that they’ve breached the walls of the fortress.”

Vassanta grinned again, shaking her head. “Sounds a lot more exciting, to be honest. If you’d told me my delicate little sister would be marching off to war, I’d never have believed it.”

“Well I’m not really,” Vajarra protested. “I mean, it isn’t any different from when the Vindicators would come back wounded. Well…” she paused. “I mean, I have been to the gates.”

“See?” Vassanta leaned back into her chair, propping her hooves on the table. “We’ll make a real fighter out of you yet.”

Maybe things really were better between them. Vajarra still felt awkward and anxious, but her sister seemed more like the daring girl of her youth than she had in years. “You didn’t say how you were, though,” Vajarra asked carefully, folding her hands in her lap.

“What’s to say?” Vassanta gestured toward the window, to the valley beyond. “This is what I do. It’s what I wanted to do all my life. I can’t complain.”

Ah, there was the Vassanta she knew better, dancing around the question. But Vajarra knew better than to pry, it wasn’t difficult to guess what had sent her back to Draenor — not just a sense of duty, but to hide from her troubles. “Well,” Vajarra sighed, picking up the satchel beside her chair. “I suppose I should show you…”

“Yes, let’s see this sword,” Vassanta said, leaning forward. Vajarra knew her sister would be intrigued by this strange weapon, and she’d hoped she could identify it. She laid the bundle on the table, unfolding the fabric that wrapped the sword. Well, not exactly a sword — the blade had been snapped off just past the hilt, but it must once have been beautiful. The metal was unlike any that Vajarra had seen, carved with intricate patterns that swirled up the hilt, and she had known — somehow — that it was not merely trash that lay there in the litter when she had come across it.

“And look here, on the flat part,” Vajarra murmured, pointing to the flat guard that once protected its wielder’s hand. “It’s writing, I’m pretty sure it’s elvish but I’m not sure what kind… I only know a few words, I’m afraid.” She scratched her horn, frowning faintly. “Maybe you could… I mean, someone must know what it says.”

Vassanta gave her a cold look, her eyes flashing. “No, absolutely not. What makes you think he’d even consider helping us? Either of us?”

She was right, of course, and Vajarra felt a fool for even suggesting it. She hadn’t meant to poke at old wounds, but she had done it anyway, and clearly it was far from healed. “I’m sorry, Vass,” she murmured. She wanted to say more, but nothing sounded right. Vajarra looked at the sword glumly, hoping an answer might come to her.

No answer came, though it lay there between them for some time, glinting in the dim light. Was it strange that it seemed alive?

“D’you think I could keep it for a while?” Vassanta asked at last, startling Vajarra from her thoughts. “Maybe I could find somebody who knows something or, you know, test it.”

In truth, Vajarra had hoped her sister might take it. While it was pretty, and certainly valuable, what was an anchorite going to do with a broken old sword? And she couldn’t shake the feeling that it was listening somehow, a hard cold creature slumbering. “That’s a wonderful idea,” Vajarra agreed. “You will tell me if you find anything, of course?”

“Of course,” Vassanta said, smiling in return, but her eyes couldn’t conceal the lie. Very well, let her have her secrets for now, they would reveal themselves in time. They always did.

Story: A Matter of Time IV

The students gathered in a clearing in Moonglade, just as they had for thousands of years. Now, though, Tathariel was permitted — if still a bit grudgingly — to be among them.

“Night will be upon us soon,” said Denatharion, their teacher. “We have time for one last lesson for the day. You will be practicing your nightsaber form.” Rumbles of interest spread among the students at that, and the older druid raised his hand for silence. “Thus it is all the more important that you focus. The nightsaber is balance, agility, grace and restraint. It is not the simple brute strength of the bear, and is a much more difficult form to master.”

Tathariel was certain of that. Her own earlier attempts had been disastrous. She was just thankful that no one had been there to see the results — unlike now, when a dozen pairs of golden eyes were upon her. But now that she had a teacher, and had dutifully practiced all of his lessons, she hoped she could succeed.

“Begin,” Denatharion said, folding his arms as he observed their efforts.

She concentrated hard on the creature in her mind, willing her body to change. He fingers lengthened into claws, her hands becoming soft paws on the mossy ground, a tail uncoiling from her haunches. Though she couldn’t see herself, she felt like a nightsaber, and looked earnestly to Denatharion.

He stalked among the students, his cloak rustling over the leaves. Tathariel thought that he didn’t look very pleased.

“Arindir — I said a nightsaber, not a housecat. Vaidin — if I saw you in the forest I would put you out of your misery. Ialdor — you forgot your tail. Tathariel –” he stopped before her, looking her over appraisingly. “Well done.”

She did her best to hide her excitement, but she knew the eyes of the others were on her.

“Remember,” Denatharion continued, “you are not to practice this form outside of our lessons. It is much too dangerous for you to be running about as nightsabers while the Sentinels are at hunt. And it is a more likely shape to lose oneself in. Most druids who do so, do so as nightsabers. Continue to practice your other lessons as instructed. Until our next meeting.” He bowed briefly, and went to gather his pack, leaving the students to themselves.

As tempting as it was to remain as a nightsaber, Tathariel knew he was right — as always. Reluctantly she returned to her natural shape, brushing the leaves from her dress. Besides, she wanted to get home quickly, before the others could bother her.

Too late. Vaidin had already swaggered over in that insufferable way of his. Tathariel suspected that there was more than one reason that women were never allowed to study as druids. Besides tradition, the presence of one girl in a gang of boys was enough to make them act like young stags in rut. Even though she was a great deal older than her other students, they strutted and pranced and tossed their heads about whenever they saw the chance. But many of them hated her too, because they were angry she was allowed to be there at all — and because she often did better than they did. Vaidin, and his shadow Arindir, were two of these.

“Maybe next week you’ll be our teacher,” sneered Vaidin. Tathariel had to admit that she might have found him handsome, if not for his eternal sneer.

Arindir snorted as he pulled his boots on. “Must be nice, having an elder druid for your daddy. Some of us have to actually work at it.”

Tathariel bristled, glaring at Arindir. “Please,” Vaidin smirked, the tips of his fangs showing. “You don’t really believe that story, do you? No one’s seen this elder druid, he might not even exist.”

“Maybe he just doesn’t want you,” Arindir hissed, and Tathariel would have leapt at him, but for the hand on her shoulder.

“Leave her alone,” growled Ialdor, standing between them. Something in his look was enough to make Arindir give up, and Vaidin soon followed, noisily making their way toward the hippogryphs.

Tathariel trembled with rage, first at Arindir and now poor Ialdor. “I don’t need you to rescue me,” she snapped at him, and the pained look he gave her made her immediately regret it. “I just mean, I can take care of it by myself,” she murmured, picking up her pack.

Ialdor hesitated. “I know you can. Just… don’t listen to them, all right? They’re just trying to make you angry.”

She brushed past him, just wanting to be away from there, from him, from everyone. The worst of it was, they were right. She didn’t know if her father was alive, and if he was, why he hadn’t returned when the others had woken a few years ago. Tathariel had asked her mother about it until she threw up her hands in exasperation. The answers were always the same: I don’t know where he is, go and look for him if you like, I doubt you’ll find anything. Denatharion would be disappointed, but he would understand, and she could resume her lessons once she returned. But she had to look for herself, and if there were no answers to be found, at least she could say she tried.