Faith Betrayed

A young Night Elf priestess comes face-to-face with the most difficult decision of her life, endangering the lives of all she holds dear.

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1. The Ceremony

“Priestess Siralen…are you ready?”

 

The young Night Elf shut her eyes one final time, taking a deep breath. She let the air out slowly, trying to maintain perfect calm and refrain from letting her nerves overwhelm her. She stood tall and erect, her hands folded together gracefully. The attendants finished smoothing out her white and purple velvet robes, and fixed her long, dark hair so that it cascaded evenly down her bare violet back. Her eyes snapped open and she looked straight ahead of her with steadfast determination.

 

“I am ready.”

 

“Then let us go together, sister.”

 

Smiling, the other priestess took Siralen by the arm and slowly led her out from the priestesses’ chambers and into a long, open-air corridor. It was one of several corridors that connected the various houses and chambers of the Temple of Quel’Dormir to the massive Chamber of Assembly, where all the faithful gathered to honor their beloved goddess, Elune. The corridors also offered an amazing view of the royal city of Vashj’ir, in which the temple had been built.

 

As she walked, Siralen gazed out over the city and took in the beautiful sight of the tranquil gardens and majestic houses that dotted the landscape. Although the city was generally bustling with activity at this time of night, it was now entirely empty, for all had come to the sacred temple to partake in an event that Siralen herself had only witnessed once in her lifetime: the appointment of a new High Priestess of Elune. The excitement and thrill washed over her once more when she came to that sudden realization again: she had been chosen to become the new High Priestess!

 

Of course, she would not be the high priestess, since the position already belonged to the Mother Moon’s most beloved, High Priestess Dejahna. The sudden thought of her superior put Siralen ill at ease, and she did everything she could to suppress the bitter feelings that were gnawing at her stomach. Though this occasion was surely to be momentous, the fact that Dejahna had only reluctantly acquiesced to Siralen’s appointment had truly upset her.

 

***

 

“The Light of Lights will not be pleased with a rejection of her demands, High Priestess.” The Highborne would almost have appeared perfectly stoical had the look of blatant disdain for the other woman not crossed her face.

 

“I would not dare desire to fall under the displeasure of our great Queen, Lady Benel’derath. I merely question her motives in wishing to have Siralen appointed to this divine office.”

 

“The Daughter of the Moon is as much in tune with the Mother Moon’s will as you are, venerable High Priestess.” Dejahna started at this, but resolutely maintained her calm demeanor. “She desires that a high priestess personally lead her in worship. Siralen has come into favor with our Queen…and she will have it no other way.”

 

“If our beauteous Queen desires the High Priestess to lead her in worship, then surely she will have no objection in coming directly to me.”

 

For the first time in their meeting, Lady Benel’derath smiled, but the look in her shining silver eyes would have burned Dejahna to ash had it been possible. “Our Beloved desires to worship in the privacy of her own palace. Now, surely you will have no objection in consenting to the will of your Queen!”

 

Dejahna stared long and hard at the Highborne emissary, whose growing arrogance was trying her patience. Heaving a sigh, she spoke at last. “If the Queen is resolved in this matter, then I have no choice but to acquiesce to this appointment. However, you can be assured that it does not have my blessing!”

 

“Your acquiescence is all we require, not your ‘blessing.’” Lady Benel’derath offered a final condescending smile, then turned and swiftly glided out of Dejahna’s chambers.

 

“Pompous, as all the Highborne are!”

 

“Peace, Tyrande!” Dejahna sat down, sighing again. She looked intently at the young priestess who had patiently stood by during the meeting. “Elune’s love is no less extended to them, no matter how insufferable the Highborne can be. Never forget this!”

 

The young Tyrande Whisperwind blushed with embarrassment at this scolding, and lowered her head. “Forgive me.”

 

The high priestess’s brief smile faded quickly as she again turned her mind to the matter at hand. “Oh, I feel ill indeed for what I have done!” She looked down, and shook her head slowly, her face creased with lines of worry. “I do not like where this will lead. Azshara has become too proud and willful. Before you know it…”

 

Dejahna trailed off. Her jaw tightened as she clenched her teeth. “No, I will not dare even think it, let alone say it. I will go and attend the ceremony in Vashj’ir, and shall make known my feelings before the priestesses and all those assembled. Lead the people in worship in my stead, Tyrande…let them not forget to whom we are all truly indebted!”

 

***

 

Siralen and her escort finally reached a small, ovular antechamber leading into the Great Chamber. She stared at the ornate wooden doors that separated her from the large crowds that waited beyond. As thick as the doors and the smoothly carved stone of the temple were, nothing could drown out the noise of the thousands of jubilant Night Elves who eagerly anticipated her arrival. Siralen’s stomach was in knots, but she closed her eyes and once more began to pray, her mouth moving as she worded her prayer in silence.

 

“Sister.” The soft voice of her companion stirred her from her prayer. The priestess took and embraced Siralen, smiling at her reassuringly. “Do not fret. You will be glorious! Celebrate this moment, and whisper only thanks to the Mother Moon for this wondrous occasion. Elune’adore.”

 

Siralen could say nothing, but only smiled in return. They turned to face the doors just as they swung open. The crowds erupted into thunderous cheers as Siralen entered the chamber, and instruments began playing in celebration of the new high priestess.

 

Siralen surveyed the great chamber. Near the large fountain in the center, she spotted the platform where she would stand and receive Elune’s blessing in undertaking her new role. Very close to this platform was a dais, draped in finely woven cloths dyed in gold, scarlet and purple. Atop it were set three chairs: in the middle and largest chair sat Queen Azshara, looking as glorious and regal as Siralen had ever recalled seeing her. The bejeweled queen smiled at her as she approached. Flanking Azshara were the Ladies Vashj, mother and daughter. Lestharia Vashj, the city’s matron, sat at Azshara’s right hand, while her daughter, whom Azshara had recently selected to be one of her handmaidens, sat at her left. She was dressed almost to mimic perfectly her queen, though everything about her was far less. The elder Lady Vashj smiled warmly at Siralen, but the younger seemed entirely disinterested in the whole affair, being more focused on Azshara’s every movement and action, trying her best to act in like manner.

 

Above the main entrance to the Chamber of Assembly was an unadorned balcony, set with several plain chairs. Seated and surrounded by other senior priestesses of Elune was High Priestess Dejahna, who was dressed only in simple white woolen robes. It seemed to Siralen that the older woman was glaring down at her and, for a moment, her smile faded from her lips and her brow furrowed, her joy briefly robbed.

 

Queen Azshara noted this reaction immediately. She rose from her plush seat, gathering up her champagne-colored silk gown. Noting this, the young Lady Vashj swiftly arose from her chair and held the long train behind the queen. Azshara floated more than walked down the steps of the dais, gracefully making her way past the group of Highborne that surrounded it until she stood directly before Siralen.

 

“Light of a Thousand Moons.” Siralen spoke the words almost breathlessly, and bowed before the queen.

 

“My darling Siralen,” Azshara began, her voice filled with ecstatic delight. “You have earned my favor...the favor of Azshara!” She paused briefly, just enough so she could savor those words. “Are you prepared to enter into the service of your Queen?”

 

“I can think of no greater joy or honor, Majesty,” she said, keeping her eyes upon the red carpet that had been lain over the stonework.

 

Azshara smiled. She held up a long, elegant hand, and the assembly quickly grew quiet.

 

“My beloved subjects!” she cried, “Let the ceremony of investiture begin!”

 

The crowds burst into cheers once more as Priestess Siralen stepped up onto the dais built specifically for the performance of the rite. Out of the corner of her eye she beheld her old mentor and best friend, Prelate Ceylana, walking around from the side of the fountain where she had been waiting. Both women smiled at each other, for they shared a profound joy, each taking solace in the company of the other. Ceylana had taught Siralen not only how to pray to Elune, but what it meant to pray to Elune.

 

As Ceylana stepped up onto the platform, she embraced her former student. “Looking just the part, Siri,” she said, and both women shared a laugh.

 

Then the ceremony began. Ceylana began to recite the sacred prayer, first recalling Siralen’s initiation and confirmation, and at last beseeching the Mother Moon to receive her now as high priestess. As soon as the prayer was ended, Ceylana dipped cloth into a marble basin filled with water from the sacred moonwell of Vashj’ir, and then placed it upon Siralen’s head. Soon a steady (albeit faint) glow enveloped Siralen, and the ceremony was completed.

 

“Behold, Siralen, High Priestess of –”

 

“Priestess Siralen!” The entire assembly stirred, startled by the sudden loud interruption. All eyes turned upwards to the balcony where High Priestess Dejahna was standing, leaning over the ornately carved railing, her eyes fixed fast upon the glowing Night Elf. The look on her face was both solemn and grave.

 

“A great burden has been placed now upon your shoulders. You can only answer to one Mistress, divine or otherwise!” Dejahna briefly glanced at Azshara coldly then shifted her gaze back to Siralen. “Have a care; exercise good wisdom! For you must choose whom you will serve. One path of service will lead you to blessing, but the other only to a bitter end.”

 

She leaned further over the railing, her silver eyes piercing through Siralen’s. “You may have had my acquiescence to become a High Priestess, but you do not have my blessing!”

Having thus spoken, Dejahna and her retinue stormed out of the temple, leaving in their wake a crowd dazed and confused.

 

Siralen could not hold back her tears; her chin quivered and her jaw tightened as they started streaming down her cheeks, her eyes still fixed upon the now vacant balcony. Ceylana shut her eyes and began to pray, her brow furrowed with angst.

 

In the whole crowd, there was only one person who remained as lively and jubilant as ever. Queen Azshara laughed softly from her throat, and then beckoned to Lady Vashj to bring her a goblet of wine. After taking it, she raised it in the air, and with a commanding voice, shouted, “All hail Siralen, High Priestess of Elune! Let the festivities begin!”

 

Almost immediately the previous scene of confusion had given way to a scene of mirth and merriment. Music played continuously, wine flowed freely, tables were set and the people began feasting in sweet revelry. At one point, the assembly grew quiet and as still as stone when their enchanting Queen Azshara began singing to them. Her voice filled the entire chamber, and began to sound as if the heavens had opened and a chorus, all in the queen’s own voice, had joined in accompaniment. Everyone watched her as she sang, completely spellbound.

 

For Siralen, her tears were soon replaced by an ample supply of laughter, and at every turn there was someone here or a group of people there beseeching her to bless them. As soon as the opportunity had presented itself, Siralen had retreated to the luscious Quel’Dormir Gardens, famed throughout the Kaldorei Empire for their serenity and beauty. She strolled along slowly by the pools, watching the lilies float, moved about by the steady flow of water that streamed into each pool. There was a faint glow that illuminated the place at night, splashing the area in an awesome display of breathtaking colors. Siralen found a bench and sat down, breathing in the sweet scents of the flowers round about her.

 

“I knew I’d find you out here, Siri,” came a sweet, familiar voice.

 

Smiling, Siralen opened her eyes to find Ceylana hovering over her. She stood and embraced her dearest friend.

 

“I don’t think I could have made it through the day without your guidance, Lana,” she said.

 

“Perhaps. You’ve accomplished so much in the many years I’ve gotten to know you…surely Elune has smiled upon you! But there is something I want to say to you.”

 

Siralen’s smile faltered as her friend’s expression of joy changed to one of solemnity. “What is it?”

 

“Well, I think you should –”

 

“Siralen, there you are!”

 

Queen Azshara glided forward to where the two women stood, trailed by a bevy of attendants and servants who would sit or stand, jump or fall, at her very word.

 

Both priestesses bowed before the queen. “Siralen, I need to speak with you alone.”

 

Nodding in acknowledgement, Siralen turned to her friend. “May we continue our conversation tomorrow?”

 

“Of course. Your Majesty,” Ceylana bowed a final time, then excused herself. Azshara carefully watched her as she made her way back into the temple. When all was quiet again, she spoke.

 

“My dear, I require your presence at the palace tonight. You and I need to have a little talk about some things. Bid your sisters farewell, and then Lady Vashj will escort you to the palace, and to my private chambers.”

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