Presence breathed a heavy sigh, a first use of her lungs in several months. Since the Lich King’s defeat she had kept busy with the Horde. Her tactical prowess would be needed, she knew, and the wracking agony she experienced when she went without inflicting pain was unbearable. Arthas’ final damned curse on her kind. If not for it, she would resolve to stay in Acherus, perhaps training those still out in the world, musing with Darion and keeping the skeletal gryphons in top… skeletal form. Instead, she coldly tries to create an alchemical cure. Or at least a painkiller. But how do you dull the nerves of the dead? She has made little progress so far.
The wind against her sickly pale skin was just a dull ache now. Surely moving that quickly would shear the living to the bone. But Foul’s speed didn’t hinder them in the slightest. He skeletal gryphon would have her in Quel’thalas by daybreak.
Oh fair Quel’thalas. She remembered the verdant magical forests of her childhood. The yellow and crimson leaves adorning the trees. The dragonhawk hatchlings her father took delicate care of. He taught them, Presence and her little sister, how fragile their eggs were. How fragile the hatchlings were. How just a simple draft could snuff out their very lives. How a gentle touch could bring them such comfort in the absence of their mother. She had one. Ran’oril. She watched him hatch. It took him longer than his siblings. But she didn’t interfere. This one had determination, spunk. He broke through the egg’s fragile casing, and crawled, almost like the proto-drake whelps of Northrend, onto the wooden table she had placed the eggs on. And though the other dragonhawks of this litter were already vying for her attention, this one stared up at her with the most inquisitive look she had ever seen. As if to say, while proudly showing his deep crimson plumage, “This cannot surely be my mother.”
“Look Lighte,” her father exclaimed, nodding his head to the hatchling she had enthralled. “That one’s yours. It’s taken to you.”
“Ann’da, how can you even tell? They’re all looking at me.”
“Trust me, little one, this one’s yours.”
“I’m not so little anymore Ann’da,” she reminded him, pointing to the Silver Hand tabard she proudly wore.
He simply kissed her on the head, with a bunch of hatchlings gently falling asleep in his arms, “You’ll always be my little girl,” and walked out of the room, leaving Lighte and her hatchling alone.
The dragonhawk was still eyeing her with the same inquisitive expression. She reached out to stroke his neck and he readily took to the gesture. In less than a minute, the hatchling had fallen asleep on her hand.
Ran’oril. She thought. The lazy river. A perfect name for the purring hatchling snoozing in her arms. Cautiously, as not to wake her new companion, Lighte left the room to show Faythe her new pet. In a few autumns, Ran’oril would be her mount. But dragonhawk hatchlings are notoriously mischievous, she’d have to keep him out of trouble and train it until then.
“No!” Presence shrieked into the night. The wind assaulting her deadened flesh quickly disposed of the horrid sound she had emitted. I’m not here to mourn the death of something long buried, she thought to herself. I was tasked to aid the Darkspear with the Amani uprising. Nothing more.
She resolved to close her eyes and rest for the remainder of her journey to her once-homeland. She instructed Foul to rouse her when they were at its borders. Of course, the dead don’t sleep, especially Death Knights, perhaps another curse, but they can lie dormant and rest as if truly dead.
Presence reclaimed her awareness with a tortured squawk from Foul beneath her. Golden beams of sunlight peeked out from behind the horizon, staining the night sky with its rays of light. Though the beams that struck the earth beneath them seemed to dull and fade. Presence likened it to a sword. It dulls the more resistance it meets. The blighted land was more than enough to dim even the brightest of lights. This was it. They had passed into Southern Quel’thalas at last. Passed into the Ghostlands. She had not seen her homeland since her death, and if her heart had not long ago festered and rotted away, it would’ve wept for what she saw. But even death couldn’t keep her soul from shuddering at the sight, if only slightly.
It was a clear morning, if one could even consider the dull gloom that filtered into the Ghostlands as dawn. Presence could make out the fields where she played with the other children and her sister, the estate where she would’ve been made a mage if the Light hadn’t called to her so early in her life… the spot where she had died. A great stillness washed over her. This is what had become of her life. She could make out the landmarks, but the corpse haze of the blighted forest tore through her memory, replacing the crimson leaves and long grasses.
Solemnly she descended towards the entrance to Zul’Aman. From her altitude, she could see some of the city’s outskirts. The primitive roads and even more primitive huts were ablaze with activity. The Amani were a threat once again.
Memories flooded her mind of her days as a scout during her twentieth autumn in Amani lands. But those memories were quickly shoved aside as Foul landed in a powerful clatter of bones and the icy chill of death.
She strode up to Halduron Brightwing, a Farstrider. He was arguing with two other elves. A courier, whose apparel revealed him to be from the Sunstrider Court. Or, Presence supposed, the Regent-Lord now leading the Sin’dorei. Of greater intrigue was the female, clearly annoyed and insulted by this messenger, with fingers caressing the powerful bow in her hand.
Oh my- Presence recognized this ranger. Vereesa Windrunner. She had heard rumors that Vereesa was alive and well in Dalaran with her human husband. But Presence rarely visited Dalaran during the Northrend campaign, preferring to stay closer to Arthas after the taking of the Shadow Vault.
Presence’s unit would often report to Vereesa who would then relay the information to the ranger-general, her sister. Perhaps she would remember her?
“Quel'Thalas is as much my home as it is yours and I would not see it fall to our ancient enemy. Now, you tell your cowardly regent –“
“Vereesa please!” Halduron interjected. “She is here at my invitation, courier. Most of my Farstriders are away and cannot be recalled easily. Vereesa's rangers know the land and are experienced combatants.”
“Lord Lor'themar does not concur with your reasoning, ranger-general. You have no authority to invite this –”
“I am the commander of Silvermoon’s defenses and I will seek assistance as I deem necessary!” He dismissed the courier with a wave of his hand and turned to a troll that Presence didn’t recognize. “Now, Chieftain Vol’jin, before we were so rudely interrupted, you were telling us of the Zandalari’s plans.”
Presence listened intently, to make sure she did not interrupt, more out of respect for who were once her people than anything else. When they had finished, she subtly bowed to Vereesa in a typical military sign of respect and turned to Halduron.
“I am Presence, ranger-general,” she started, pulling her orders out of a small satchel attached to her hip. “My orders are to assist you in the planning and execution of the Amani mission.”
In the corner of her vision, Presence could see Vereesa eyeing her up and down. Was there a glint of recognition in her gaze? Or the mournful sadness at seeing another like her sister, cruelly torn from the afterlife to serve?
“Ah, the Death Knight general. Your reputation precedes you. You were present at Andorhol correct?” Halduron was clearly not comfortable with having a Death Knight of high rank around. Not comfortable with one who could call the shots. She had heard that he may have had a falling out with the Banshee Queen, but nothing more. Could this be the source of the rift he carved between them?
“Yes, ranger-general. Though if I were more than an advisor, it would’ve been taken days earlier.”
“So, you are responsible for the countless humans raised into undeath in the wake of the destruction?” The sting of thinly-veiled disgust was not something Presence was unaccustomed to, but it seemed to hit harder when a part of her past life wielded it against her.
“No,” Presence replied, turning to the High Elf. “Lady Sylvanas took over the operation during the final days of fighting. It was she who summoned the Val’kyr and ordered their use.”
This seemed to hit Vereesa hard, though the shock left her face as quickly as it arrived. “Very well. Come, Halduron, Chieftan Vol’jin, and I would like to speak to you regarding our battle plan.”
The four of them entered a tent where maps and plans and reports were strewn across a table and hanging on the walls. Presence listened with a tactical ear as the three leaders debated over where best to strike, what lines to cut off, how best to deal with the new Amani chieftain, adding in her own points when she deemed it necessary.
She was only assigned this position because of her loyalty to the Banshee Queen at Andorhol. Sylvanas still held love for her homeland, and knew that Presence had been in Zul’Aman in life. She had been sent as an advisor in her stead. She could not face her sister now.
They had decided. The four of them would each lead a team into Zul’Aman and take out the mighty voodoo priests and shaman channeling the power of their Loa. A smaller force, they decided, with the Darkspear scouts running interference and confusing Amani forces, could do a surgical strike at their leadership and then signal the larger force to move in while their commanders were in disarray. They would then regroup to launch an all out assault on Daakara. Presence was assigned to the Dragonhawk Avatar, Jan’alai.
The scouts would be informed, the troops rallied, the teams chosen, and before dawn on the next day, they would strike.
Presence left the command center and strode towards the tent that was designated as hers. She passed countless Sin’dorei recruits. She thought it curious that she was given a tent in the Blood Elven section. Technically, she never drank in demon magic. She had never felt the loss of the Sunwell at all. She was as much a High Elf as Vereesa.
The recruits were anxious and yellow. It seemed to be true that Halduron couldn’t call back all the Farstriders in time for the assault. She stopped in front of her tent. It looked to be woven of the fine Silvermoon silk she had loved so much as a child. And, despite the blighted lands it stood on, it seemed to exude a familiar warmth. Presence’s temper flared. She could not get distracted now. Bitterly, she removed a gauntlet and gripped the silk with her pale hand. A taint, a terrible unnatural taint, spread down her fingertips and into the fabric, sending a wave of blighted magic through each thread. The silk lost its fine texture, its quality sheen, and decayed, as if for it a thousand hard years had passed. The tent was now a dull, tattered gray. The familiar warmth of Quel’thalas snuffed out with a blighted touch.
She replaced the gauntlet and stepped into her new abode. At least they had considered her “unique” circumstances. There was no place reserved for sleeping, but, to her delight, they had supplied her with a weapon rack, stacks of parchment and quills, and basic alchemical supplies, along with maps and what looked to be intelligence. Perfect. The decay she cast had even spread to the table within, which was probably once the strongest oak from Eversong.
Presence got to work quickly. She would need to devise some way to dispel Amani hexes and curses, and Zul’jin had left her his scout’s observations on their magic. Hopefully what she concocted would be effective. She could inscribe runescrolls to offer other forms of warding magic as well. Even in death, she hadn’t lost her natural talent for magic.
“Andor, look at this!” From under thick brush, Lighte grabbed her companion’s arm and forced him to face forward. “What are they doing?”
Andor’s bright blue eyes were clouded in confusion. “I have no idea, Dri? You know?”
Driana just shrugged in reply. The Amani Hex Lord was performing some kind of rite on four other trolls. The magic was unfamiliar to the scouts, but their innate elven sense could discern the darkness of the act. The Hex Lord was channeling dark spirits into the four other Trolls.
“We have to inform the ranger-general at on-” Lighte stopped dead in her tracks as the four trolls fell to the ground, writhing in agony. They morphed until their forms were almost feral. Like they had become half-troll, and half-animal.
“Be sealed, my friends, with de power of da Loa!” The Hex Lord shouted. The trolls rose. Lighte could make out the Loa that now possessed them. Akil’zon, their eagle god. Nalorakk, their bear god. Jan’alai, their dragonhawk god. And Halazzi, their lynx god. But that was the one she was most worried about. As soon as Halazzi’s essence was bound within its host, it turned to face them.
“It knows we’re here!” Andor exclaimed just as the Loa pointed toward the scout’s hiding spot.
Driana leapt from the brush and threw enough smoke bombs to choke a demon around her comrades and toward the newly summoned Loa.
“Dey are escaping! Get dem!” One of the Loa shouted.
The elves deftly fled through the brush surrounding the city. If they could make it back to the eastern shore, they would be able to escape. But they were deep in Amani territory, and the Loa themselves were bearing down on them. Lighte prayed silently as she ran, confident that the Light could protect them against the Loa’s evil magic. But instead of divine warmth, she could only feel the troll’s dark voodoo surrounding them.
The forest was rough and untamed, not like the magically cultivated woodlands of Quel’thalas. Pine needles silenced their footfalls, but did nothing to quell the enraged thump of the first Amani arrows piercing the trees and the earth. One tore through the air, almost taking one of Driana’s ears with it, before violently eating into the bark of a pine. The Amani scouts were already stationed in the forest, and they had been mobilized.
Their odds of escape had just become much slimmer. Andor led them into a thick pocket of trees where they were sure to be protected from Amani archers. Panting, they stopped.
“We can’t outrun them,” he said defeated. “We can’t lose them. It’s only a matter of time.”
“Listen,” Driana commanded, and the battered elves fell silent. At first it sounded like a faint rustling of leaves as the wind slithered through them. But Lighte’s heart dropped as the rustling grew to a crescendo and she realized that pine needles can’t make that sound.
“It sounds like-”
“Flapping,” Andor finished. Just then, a dozen eagles screamed through the trees to attack them, ripping at armor with their talons and tearing at extremities with their sharp beaks.
“Anar’alah belore!” Lighte let out, creating a shield of light around herself and reaching out to pull her allies into it. The eagles, with all their natural strength, could not penetrate this divine barrier.
Andor clutched his face and cried out in agony. He had lost an eye to the assault. Lighte focused and dulled the pain with holy magic, but could not restore his eye without what the eagles had taken.
“I can’t hold this up forever!” Lighte yelled as the frustrated eagles viciously attacked the barrier.
Andor reached for his bow, but Driana gently put her hands on his to stop him. “No condition,” she said bluntly. With a final look to each of her friends, she shadowstepped to a distant tree and whistled toward the eagles. Eager for a kill, they surged toward her, leaving Lighte and Andor unoccupied. With a smoke bomb to disorient them for a crucial few seconds, Driana ran back toward the city.
“Dri!” Andor yelled as he realized her sacrifice.
“No time!” Lighte pulled him to his feet, dismissed the barrier, and sprinted toward safety. If they could get to the shore, they could take the small boat they came in on and be back to the Farstrider Enclave in a few hours.
“Damnit!” Presence muttered under her breath. She became so preoccupied that she let her concoction sit on the heater too long. It bubbled over, and ate through the wooden table like water through thin parchment. But the blighted ground beneath it wouldn’t accept the mixture, and it lay in a puddle beneath the damaged oak.
“Problems, mon?” She heard from just outside her tent. Presence rose from her seat to let her visitor in. A Troll shaman dressed in ritual garb stepped inside and made herself comfortable. Presence could see that she had led a long, hard life in her eyes and her face. Even the warpaint couldn’t mask the years. “I been assigned ta ya group ta heal ya. Dey were gonna give ya one o’ dem Paladins. Can you believe dat, mon? Dey didn’t tink enough to keep da Light away from you!”
“Is there something you need shaman?”
“No,” she replied, stealing an amused glance at the table and the now ruined potion that adorned it, “but dere’s sometin’ you be needin’ mon.”
“I appreciate the gesture,” with gritted teeth and a condescending tone, “but I’m a capable alchemist.”
The Troll laughed, “Oh, not dat Death Knight. De Loa of worry be sittin’ in dat head of yours. De Loa of de past. I could see it da second you been steppin’ off dat sad old gryphon. It is your old life, yes mon?”
“Look, I don’t believe in your silly voodoo or your inane gods-”
“Ah, but you believe in da Light. Believed dat it would save you and your friends. Or you did.”
Shock crossed Presence’s face, but it was quickly replaced with rage. With the shriek of cold death she commanded, “Get out!”
“My name be Zoa’fi. I’m wit’ de other Darkspears.”
“Get out!” She yelled again, frost quickly washed over the tent. The decayed silk no longer waved with the wind, but unnaturally stiffened against it. The parchment became brittle and cracked like glass, and the inkwells froze and shattered.
Zoa’fi was unaffected. She simply rose from her place, struggling briefly to loosen the frozen flaps of the entrance, before departing.
Presence waited a good minute before regaining her composure. She stormed out of the tent to see a small crowd of onlookers staring in surprise. They must have heard the shriek.
“As you were soldiers!” She ordered coldly. She summoned Whisper, her undead horse, expertly leapt atop him, and rode out of the camp at an unimaginable speed; each footfall Whisper took seemed to kill whatever grass may lie beneath it.
Streams of golden light danced into the window of Lighte’s temporary bedroom as she donned her Silver Hand armor and tabard. Almost reverently, she sheathed the blade her uncle had forged for her. Her golden hair flowed elegantly like the Elrendar River bisecting Quel’thalas, and fell in perfect waves until its curled tips touched the small of her back. She put on her plated boots, carefully fastening the buckles and bounced gracefully off her bed to admire herself in the mirror.
The Paladin armor glimmered beautifully in the golden beams reflected off it. The plate perfectly complemented her figure, being feminine but powerfully strong. And her eyes, she mused, had never shone brighter. Her smile, never so pristine. She was the only Paladin in the Sunshaper family. Her entire family had gathered at the Sunshaper Enclave in Fairbreeze Village to celebrate her initiation into the Knights of the Silver Hand. Not many elves could boast such a feat.
“Anar’alah belore! Lighte, let me in already!” Faythe, her sister, younger by four autumns, tapped eagerly at the door. “Ran’oril can’t wait to see you either!”
Lighte laughed warmly as she unlocked the door and strode back in front of the mirror. Faythe rushed in, the dragonhawk hatchling, only a few days old, perched on her head, but stopped when she finally saw her sister donned in the silver plate.
“Oh Lighte,” she almost whispered. “It’s beautiful.”
“Thanks,” the paladin replied with mock offense. “I’m sure the armor appreciates the compliment.” Lighte smiled at the little one, who merely shoved her sister softly. “Is everyone ready downstairs?”
“Yeah, they’re all ready and waiting.”
Lighte shook her head, “Faythe, we’re nobles. You should speak as such.”
“…Yes sister.” Lighte scooped Ran’oril off her sister’s head and put her free hand softly on her shoulder. “Inform everyone that I’ll be down shortly.”
Faythe nodded eagerly and rushed out of the room.
“Well, Ran’oril. Today we celebrate my initiation, tomorrow we leave for Stratholme to be deployed Light knows where.” Ran’oril simply chirped in acknowledgement.
With one last look at the mirror, Lighte breathed a heavy sigh and left for the festivities downstairs.
The party was incredible. Lighte beamed as her family gawked and clapped when she came down the stairs. How beautiful, how grand, how glorious, they muttered amongst themselves. They feasted outside, for all the days are perfect in the magically cultivated woodlands of Quel’thalas. She received gifts and advice and hugs and compliments. It was probably the second greatest day of her life. Second from her initiation that is. The only problem was that Andor could not attend. The Farstriders called him south apparently, near the border to Lordaeron. There were whispers of some sort of calamity that befell the human lands, but she was in Stratholme just months before, and nothing seemed amiss. Still, she took the time to pray to the Light to protect Andor, just in case. Had she not left the Elven military after her last scouting mission in Zul’Aman, she might too have been sent south. She prayed again, this time for Driana.
Her incredible party was cut short, however. Lighte noticed that Andor had in fact arrived. She was elated until she recognized how battered and disheveled he looked. The lithe elf was sweating, ragged, and bloody and on his face sat a terrible, horrified expression. The light breeze shifted direction as she excused herself and ran to him, for he didn’t venture close.
“Andor! What happened to you?” Lighte lifted her hands and tried to heal and calm him, but the Light could do neither. A dark force had shaken him, and, sensing the Light’s withdrawal, it shook her too.
“The ranger-general… Sylvanas… We have to flee… Take nothing… They’re coming!” The ranger managed to let out in gasping breaths.
“Andor, what –” and then it hit her. The shift in the winds had carried with it a stench that went far beyond putrid. Lighte staggered backwards a few steps and gagged unceremoniously.
Andor’s remaining eye went wide, and he was stricken with panic. “They’ve crossed the river! The undead and the human prince! Tell your family to flee to Silvermoon at once! Sylvanas has ordered all able-bodied Quel’dorei to assist in stalling them.” And off he ran, towards Fairbreeze’s square. She could see the other estates around the road opening their doors as battered rangers ordered their evacuation, all leaving as swiftly as they arrived. All in the same shaken terror.
Stalling them… Those would not have been the ranger-general’s orders if she believed she could defeat these invaders. But the Farstriders were powerful! And Sylvanas, a tactical genius! The orders must’ve been confused. No force could come so far into Quel’thalas and not be defeated. …No force had ever made it into Quel’thalas.
“The elfgates have fallen…” Lighte whispered in horror.
She ran to her family, who now caught whiff of the repulsive odor being carried on the winds.
“Everyone!” She yelled, quieting the disgusted clan of Sunshapers. “Sylvanas has ordered we evacuate to Silvermoon immediately! An invasion force has broken through the elfgates. Take nothing, there’s no time!” Her family looked at each other in confusion and shock. “Now!”
She pulled her cousin and aunt aside. Her aunt had just retired from the Farstriders after more than 70 years of service, while her cousin Linaara, a powerful priestess her age, was a formidable wielder of the Light. “We have been ordered to assist the Farstriders in stalling this invasion force. To buy time for the others to escape.” Her family was already starting for the main road that would take them north to safety. They trusted Lighte.
Linaara and her mother nodded solemnly. They too realized what “stalling” would mean. Lighte turned to leave, and nearly toppled into her sister, waiting for her.
“Lighte, you’re coming with us right?” Faythe looked up desperately, with Ran’oril in her cupped hands.
Lighte merely bent down and embraced Faythe, hiding the few tears she allowed escape from her eyes. “Of course I am sister. The Farstriders just need my help to take out some renegades in our realm. Take care of Ran’oril in the meantime okay? I’ll be right behind you when we all return to Silvermoon as heroes!” She looked up to see her parents standing behind Faythe. She embraced them as well, and then gave them the Light’s blessing.
“Go, we’ll hold them off.”
That was the last she saw of her family.
When the three Sunshapers made it to Fairbreeze square, the wounded were already being carted off. Lighte had no time to survey the devastated troops, for Sylvanas stood atop a balcony to issue her orders.
“We will cut off their offensive at the spire between the Elrendar and Silvermoon. It is a defensible position, and we will be able to do a great deal of damage before we are-” The ranger-general stopped short, as if in disbelief at her own words. “We have to buy time for the civilians to escape and the mages on Quel’Danas to prepare.” She leapt from the low balcony, and led her broken force of horrified rangers and civilian volunteers to the spire that would be their last defense.
They were almost too late. Even as they marched onto the spire, the air became even thicker with the scent of decay. Even the golden rays of the sun seemed to dull and dim in its wake, casting a gloom over Quel’thalas that Lighte had never seen before. She had been stationed, along with Linaara, near the top of the spire. They would heal and bolster the rangers and warriors, buying them precious extra seconds.
“The undead have been sighted,” Sylvanas told her troops after signaling her scout. They nodded. “Positions. Hurry.”
A deadly silence spread over the spire. The only thing to be heard was the chanting of Lighte and Linaara as they blessed and calmed the spirits of the rag-tag group of soldiers, but even that was cut short by the sound of meat-wagons ramming the trees nearby. With a sickening, thunderous crack, the trees snapped and were devoured under the vile machines. And then, she saw them. Lighte gazed in horror at the hideous undead monstrosities lumbering towards them. Rotting corpses, followed by skeletons and terrible abominations of stitched together flesh at least three times her height. Bat-like stone creatures shrieked and howled a battle song, flying not too high above the horde of walking dead. All led by a human on a skeletal stead. But, the unnatural army seemed to blight the land as they walked, leaving a scar of death on the once beautiful lands of Quel’thalas. Lighte could’ve wept had her terror not risen above all else.
“Attack!” Sylvanas shrieked. “For Quel’thalas!”
Lighte lost herself in her sacred duty. It was as if her consciousness had taken a back seat while she automatically, almost mechanically wielded the Light. Sweat drenched her furrowed brow as spell after spell burst out of her. Desperately pleading to the Light to sustain her for one more heal, one more lance of holy magic to smite the monstrous unending horde of terror leaping at her people. Just one more. One more. Next to her, one of the bat-like stone creatures swooped down and dug its talons into Linaara’s shoulders. Lighte swung at it with her already drawn sword, but it was too late. The monster flew up high above the spire, and released its victim. Lighte turned away, but could not ignore the sickening thud and solemn crack, the last she’d know of her cousin.
They were failing. The human mages were weaving a terrible magic around the spire, and even arrows and swords could not keep them down for long. Lighte had studied a magic like this, when she had trained as a mage before the Light called to her. Necromancy. They were raising the fallen to serve. Elves and beaten corpses alike would again stand and attack the defenders. It was endless.
Suddenly, eerily, the surge stopped. Lighte could only count a handful of her people still standing. Among them, at the base of the spire, was Sylvanas. The horde of undead parted to let the human prince stride toward her on his skeletal stead. Loud enough for all to hear, but to Sylvanas especially, he spoke. “I salute your bravery, elf, but the chase is over.”
“Then I’ll make my stand here, butcher. Anar’alah belore.”
“As you will, ranger-general.”
In horror, Lighte watched as the human charged toward her, not even bothering to dismount, and ran his runeblade through her torso. She watched as her beloved ranger-general fell to the ground in a heap and tasted death.
But the butcher wouldn’t allow it. With a wave of his gauntleted hand, a spirit rose from Sylvanas’ body. She recognized Sylvanas’ pale beauty, even twisted into a soul ripped from its rest. The ranger-general was his.
Lighte cried out in pain as a set of stone talons dug into her shoulders. But instead of lifting her high into the air, she was dragged downward, until she was released, along with the other survivors, in front of the human prince.
“Your rangers serve as well,” he told Sylvanas’ tortured soul, floating beside him.
Lighte, laid in a pile of the other survivors, sobbing in anger, grief, and pain, unable to move. A necromancer stepped in front of the heap of survivors. A cold tendril touched her face. The magic of death. And then it left her, just like everything else. The agony, the exhaustion, the horror, the overwhelming stench of death, everything. It was so soft and warm and comforting. She felt as if she was being welcomed into this peaceful darkness, and she allowed herself to embrace it. The Light never abandons its champions.
Agony shot through the darkness to snatch her. Its claws closed tightly around her, agony that she could never have known existed. She knew that no physical pain could’ve matched the claw’s torment, for it twisted and corrupted her soul, menacingly tugging and ripping her from this sanctuary, this paradise of peace. Trapping her spirit.
Lighte rose from where she lay, surrounded by banshees. But she had a form. It was her body, though her skin was now as pale as death. She looked up at Arthas, and smiled.
Dusk had fallen over Quel’thalas when Presence finally stopped her Deathcharger and dismounted. She dismissed Whisper, sending him back to Acherus, and strode solemnly into the abode that had been hers in what seemed like an eternity ago. Vermin scurried from her heavy plate boots as they trudged over cracked, grimy floor tiles and carpets that were decayed and unraveling.
She didn’t know why she was here. When she had stormed out of the camp, she wasn’t going anywhere in particular. And yet, she found herself here, in her dilapidated home on the outskirts of Tranquillien. No, in the home that belonged to a young elf in another life.
Presence led herself up the spiral stairs, reinforcing them with frost so the rotted wood could support her. The balcony between her room and Faythe’s had collapsed from the house, leaving an open scar and exposing the upstairs to the blighted air of the Ghostlands.
Presence entered her room. She should’ve expected what she saw. She should’ve known it would’ve been in the same condition as everything else. But she didn’t. A crushing terrible sorrow settled inside her.
Everything had rotted. Ugly gashes adorned the walls where the stone couldn’t hold up against the unnatural decay. Her mirror, shattered on the floor. Even the pieces could reflect no light, instead covered in dirt and grime.
As Presence was ready to fall to her knees, she spotted something that hadn’t decayed. But it wasn’t hers. She walked up to the strange gem set on her old dresser. It was a perfect inferno ruby. She was no expert in jewelcrafting, but she could appreciate the care and attention this gem was given. An inscription was carved into her dresser top as well.
“Talah’dorei. Anar’endal alah, al diel shala.”
Children of death. By the breath of the light, safe travels. Faythe’s name was carved beneath the inscription. Had Faythe herself etched it?
Presence staggered backward. She had heard her sister had died from magical withdrawal after the Sunwell was destroyed. It was part of the reason she hadn’t returned to Quel’thalas. Could she still be alive?
Presence took the gem and placed it reverently in the satchel strapped to her side. She knew the Amani mission would start in mere hours. They would surely return to Silvermoon afterwards. That would be her chance to scour the records and see if any Sunshapers had survived. She ran back into the hallway, and called for Foul, who cawed and flew through the gap in the wall. He never strayed far from his master. She leapt atop him, and they sped back toward Zul’Aman.
“So you’re leaving,” Andor confirmed, looking down. It was a bright morning, and the two Hawkstriders were loaded with supplies and ready to go. Faythe was inside saying a final goodbye to their parents. She was ecstatic when Lighte asked her to come to her initiation with her. Faythe had never left Quel’thalas before, and frankly, this was only Lighte’s second time. They would journey to a city in Eastern Lordaeron where she would be inducted into the Knights of the Silver Hand.
“I’ll be back in a month or so, the human lands aren’t dangerous or terrible. We’ll be fine.”
Andor looked back up, putting a palm against his eyepatch and pressing lightly on it. Lighte had noticed Andor doing that while he was thinking, or overwhelmed.
“Dri would’ve missed you,” he finally said, though his lips remained parted, as if he wanted to continue.
Lighte looked down nervously, they were silent for a second, though it felt like an eternity. Finally, mercifully, Lighte looked up, blushing, and asked, “And you?”
Andor gently reached out and took her in his arms. They were so close now, she could feel his heart beating against her. She looked up at him, and he kissed her. She didn’t want that moment to ever end. She didn’t want to go to Stratholme anymore. She wanted to stay here, with him, forever.
“Ew!” Lighte pushed away quickly, turned toward her sister who looked at them as if disgusted. “Shouldn’t we be going Lighte?”
Both she and Andor flushed, looking back at each other embarrassedly.
“Al diel shala.” He said, stepping away awkwardly and starting down the road.
“Faythe! You ruin everything!” She exclaimed, mounting her hawkstrider and steering it south.
“I just don’t think he’s the right guy for you,” she curtly replied, doing the same.
“And who meets my dearest sister’s standards?”
“Prince Kael’thas of course!”
Lighte nearly fell off her mount. “Let’s just go,” she said, after a chuckle, stealing a glance back toward Andor.
A celebration was had in Silvermoon commemorating the campaign against the Amani. It was an incredible victory, hard fought, but still incredible. The Amani were allowed to flee with the Zandalari, but the city is under Sin’dorei control now.
But Presence wasn’t at the feast, nor was she present for the meeting with Regent Theron. They were to discuss with various Horde diplomats just what to do with Zul’Aman now that it was theirs. Instead, she sat in the census building in the Court of the Sun. The official was a frail old elf, as dusty as the records he kept, and probably as disorganized. All it took was a cold look to get him to let her into the storage room. She had been there for hours, trying to track down anything about the deaths after the Sunwell’s loss. The good news was that she hadn’t found Faythe on any of the lists she managed to locate. The bad news, the records from that time period were incomplete, and the old elf had no discernable system for organizing the files. As far as she could tell, the information about the Sunshaper line itself had either been removed or never existed. The census kept the lineage of all the noble families in Quel’thalas. She found many of her old neighbors, but not her family’s.
Frustrated, she stormed out of the building. She briefly considered cutting the old elf in half, but knew that that was her addiction talking. She hadn’t inflicted pain upon anything since the victory in Zul’Aman.
The truth was, Presence had found a new purpose since the night she returned home. Since Arthas’ death, she had no drive. The cataclysm didn’t concern her. Other heroes would dispatch the Earthwarder, just as they had killed Cho’gall and banished Kil’jaeden beforehand. But now, she may have a chance at reclaiming some of what she had lost. Few of the Lich King’s former elite could claim as much.
She made her way toward Murder Row, when she spotted a troll woman eyeing her from a bench nearby.
“Lookin’ for someting my friend?”
“Zoa’fi,” Presence acknowledged flatly. She may have been a capable healer during the campaign, but there was no one she’d rather not encounter than this presumptuous old shaman.
“Old Zoa’fi can help ya, mon!” She said rising to meet her in the street.
“I’m sure you can ask your Loa to find what I seek for me?” The death knight replied with thinly veiled disdain.
“Oh no, no. Of course not. Dat be bad manners.”
Presence let out a single laugh at the irony, “You? Bad mannered? I would’ve never thought.”
“Hey, mon. You owe Zoa’fi your life!”
“As do you owe me.”
“Fair enough. I’m sure de information I be havin’ for ya from de Argent Crusade be useless ta ya then. De one about dat fair haired sister of yours.”
Presence’s eyes widened. “She’s alive?”
“Perhaps she be alive, maybe her death be what I have ta report?”
“Tell me, troll.”
“I be needin’ someting from you first, mon.”
“A reagent,” she pulled a shrunken skull from her pouch. “Infuse dis with some o’ dat necromancy, and I give you what you seek, mon.”
Presence looked down at the skull the shaman’s three fingered hands clutched desperately, then back up to the troll. “What do you need it for?”
“Dat be none of your concern, mon. Do dis, and you never hear from me again.”
“You’re not Darkspear at all are you?”
The troll smiled, “No.”
Presence shook her head, then reached out for the skull, letting the taint of the scourge fill it. Instead of rotting like it should have, it seemed to contain and focus the necromantic energies. Its eye sockets had begun to glow a faint blue when she finally pulled back her hand.
“Yes, mon,” the Troll was practically bouncing up and down with excitement. “Now, dat sister o’ yours be alive and well mon! She was dismissed from de Argent Crusade before dat Deathwing shattered Azeroth. Livin’ on dat stuffy Sunwell Isle. Dawnstar Village be de name. You find her dere.”
Presence looked slyly from the skull to Zoa’fi, “Thank you, enjoy your… skull.” She called for Foul, and made her way to Quel’Danas without hesitation.
The only light that could be found was from the torches adorning the Farstrider Enclave, for night had befallen Quel’thalas. Lighte and Andor stood dressed in full formal attire as the memorial ended. They prayed to the Light to guide and welcome Driana into the afterlife, to have given her strength during her final hours. They honored her bravery, and her sacrifice. All of the Farstriders were there, as was customary, along with her family and friends. Because they didn’t have her body, they couldn’t return her to the earth properly. Instead, her commendations were handed to her family, and the Farstrider tabard was placed at her would-be resting place.
Afterwards, Lighte stood alone on the balcony overlooking Lake Elrendar, stricken with guilt. How could we have left Dri there? She thought to herself. Not we, it was my decision.
The flames of the torches glimmered in the lake, making it seem as if another Enclave was having the same funeral beneath its waters. No, she thought, Dri sacrificed herself to save us. There was nothing we could do. But that thought did nothing to stamp out the guilt, nor did it bring her any comfort.
She heard soft footsteps behind her. Andor stood beside her, looking into the lake as well.
“I’m leaving the Farstriders,” she said flatly.
She turned her head to face him, “I’m leaving the Farstriders. I’m no ranger or rogue. I’m a paladin. I don’t belong here.”
“If this is about Dri… Lighte, it wasn’t your fault. She loved us, and she saved us.”
“Of course it’s about Dri!” she nearly shouted, taking a step away from him. “I made the decision not to go back for her. To run. I could’ve sent you off and followed her, but I didn’t. You can’t just-just justify that.”
“And what would that’ve accomplished? Huh? We’d be mourning two of our own now. Dri made an honorable sacrifice for us. We would’ve done the same for her, as would any Farstrider.”
“But we didn’t,” and she left him standing there.
Presence arrived at what she was told was her sister’s home. She seemed to be well loved by the people of this tiny village overlooking the Sunwell. She found herself nervous, a peculiar sensation, one that even death didn’t dull. What would Faythe think of her? Would she be happy? Take pity on her fallen sister?
Only one way to find out.
She knocked on the heavy oak door, becoming painfully aware of how pale and dead her skin was as she lowered her hand. A tall male elf answered the door. He was a little lanky, with dark hair and tanned skin. He must’ve hailed from the Azurebreeze Coast.
He blinked once, surprised at the undead visitor. “Can I help you?”
“Yes, actually, I’m looking for Faythe Sunshaper?”
He raised a long eyebrow at the request, “One moment,” and rudely shut the door in her face.
Presence was taken aback. Surely this was not her sister’s consort. Maybe she was at the wrong house. Maybe the troll had tricked her. No matter, old Zoa’fi got her reward.
The door opened again, this time revealing an elven woman. Presence couldn’t believe her eyes. Her sister, just a mere 16 autumns when last she saw her, now almost a decade older, standing in front of her.
Her eyes widened. “Lighte!” And threw her arms around her long lost sister.
“So?” Andor asked eagerly.
“So what?” she replied smiling and skipping another rock across the pond south of Tranquillien, close to the Sanctum of the Sun.
“You’re not gonna let me see the tabard?”
“You should’ve just asked,” Lighte said, digging into her pack. She produced the Silver Hand tabard she had earned at her initiation.
“Well, it’s certainly… bland.”
Lighte giggled. “Humans don’t seem to have the eye for beauty like we do.”
“I’m proud of you, and I got you something,” Andor pulled a single bloodthistle rose from his pack. Lighte’s eyes lit up. Bloodthistle almost never produces flowers, as they only bud in the summer. Quel’thalas is bathed in eternal autumn.
“Andor, it’s beautiful!”
“I found it the day you returned to Tranquillien. I knew it was meant for you.”
She reverently took the flower, letting her hand linger on his for a few seconds longer than it should.
“I want you to come to my banquet at the Sunshaper Enclave. My family’s celebrating my induction into the Silver Hand.”
“You sure Faythe would approve?”
“She’ll just have to accept that Prince Sunstrider won’t be leaving Dalaran to sweep me off my feet. Not that I would let him.”
They both broke into laughter. She was so happy. Andor could announce his courtship to her family, as was customary. They’d certainly be receptive. He was a Farstrider! Though her father was hoping for a magister. Lighte knew he would understand.
It was a brisk day, something Presence was surprised to learn. Apparently, since the Scourge invasion, the weather wasn’t as stable. Sometimes the eternal autumn would fall into a brief winter before returning to normal. This was one of those days.
She and Faythe had ventured south, flying on Faythe’s dragonhawk, Ran’oril, to a spot between Silvermoon and Fairbreeze Village. Once, nearly a decade ago, a beautiful spire stood here. Presence knelt down at one of the many graves that now took its place. She set a single flower down upon it, a bloodthistle rose, and though she knew it could no longer hear her, she asked the Light to bless this grave. She stepped back, and Faythe said a prayer as well.
Presence knew that Andor was happy now. She had tasted the afterlife once, and knew of its welcoming calm. But that didn’t stop her from missing him.
After a painful few minutes, they departed.
“Dat fool!” The troll shaman cackled maniacally. “She gave me da one ting I need ta resurrect da Hex Lord. De Amani will rise again!”
Zoa’fi stumbled around her dimly lit cave, hidden well beneath Zul’Aman, gathering ingredients and chanting wildly. At last, she pulled the skull from her satchel and cackled once more. “Now ta finish de enchantment!”
As she raised her arms to throw the empowered skull into the cauldron, she was chilled to the bone. The skull’s eyes flashed brightly and it dropped to the ground with a hollow thud. Its wielder, as if a thousand years of decay had enveloped her in an instant, had turned to dust.