**NOTE: The following journal contains spoilers for a level 91 quest in Shadowmoon Valley. This quest becomes available relatively early. This quest chain hit me in the feels so I wanted to write something about it.**
Doradrassil drew in a deep breath and pulled a small stone from her pack. She never got tired of the scent of the air here. Teldrassil had been grown artificially and swiftly since the ending of the Third War, and just felt…different. It never felt quite right. And no part of Ashenvale was ever far from the oily smells of the Horde.
Perched in a high branch of a tree, she leaned back against the trunk and drew in another breath, and closing her eyes, she could imagine for just a moment that she was home in some idyllic time of peace. She knew it was a lie, of course. They were here to deal with a very serious threat, and the Templars' little outpost was not far from a fel-tainted area of the woods, but for a little while she could savor the sweet aroma of the flowers that were often used in the making of perfumes.
The sky glittered with stars, each one vying for her attention as if competing with each other to shine the brightest and draw the elf's eye. Even during the day, the sun was gentle enough that the stars could still be seen. The nights were long and pleasant, and almost made Doradrassil feel as though she were in some kind of night elf heaven.
It was this that made her frown and take a careful look around. The place was idyllic, perfect, and absolutely breathtaking and beautiful in every way. To her warden instincts, Shadowmoon Valley felt like a trap, easing her into complacency. While she had never been to Shadowmoon Valley in Outland, she had heard tales. The sickened, barren land, utterly saturated and oozing with fel. It had become that way for a reason, and she now began to suspect that a false sense of security in the peaceful valley had had much to do with it.
Turning over the stone in her hand, she smiled. During one of her patrols, she had made her way to the massive chunk of moon that had fallen from the sky in a lake nearby and dislodged a couple of pieces small enough to carry with her. It felt like Elune had blessed this place, encouraging Doradrassil — and other night elves — to protect it. No night elf could behold Shadowmoon Valley and not be overwhelmed by its beauty. Others were similarly moved, certainly, but to a night elf's eyes, it meant something different…something more. She was sure Aertemis would understand, when she saw it. She was also quite certain that Mallory would be jealous of the opportunity to see this place when the beauty of it was relayed to her.
Which was why she had gotten more than one moon rock.
A shadow moved in the outpost below. Turning her head, Doradrassil saw Emma stumble blearily out of the barracks, dressed in a simple gown, making for the outhouse. Turning her attention elsewhere, she made sure to clutch the stone a little tighter, as if to remind her.
When Emma was on her way back to the barracks, Doradrassil leapt from the tree and landed softly nearby, startling the young paladin.
"Good morning, Emma," she said.
"Geez, you scared me," Emma answered when she recovered. "What are you so cheery about?"
Doradrassil furrowed her eyebrows in confusion. "Why wouldn't I be cheery?"
Emma yawned. "It's night… It seems to always be night here. I never know what time it is."
Doradrassil chuckled. "Well… I suppose that could be confusing for a diurnal people like yours. It's morning. Not quite sunrise. But as to my happiness… Well, I like it here. And I have something for you to give to Mallory, when you see her next."
Rubbing her eyes and blinking as Doradrassil held out the moon rock, Emma asked, "Is that from that piece of moon you freaked out about when we got here?"
Doradrassil frowned, but nodded. "I did not 'freak out.' But yes. It's from the moon. Give it to Mallory sometime. And tell her not to let that goblin see it… He'd stop at nothing to find that rock and sell off pieces of it."
Emma chuckled, reaching out to take it from the Warden's hands. "I'm sure he would. Thanks, Dora. Yeah, Mallory will like this."
Doradrassil inwardly cringed at the use of her shortened name. She would never understand why people insisted on calling her that…
Her ear twitched. Something far away. Her head turned toward the sound without thinking, and her breathing froze. Emma, apparently seeing Doradrassil's tension, was on alert too. The Warden knew she had heard something…
There it was again. An animal crying out in pain. It was… What was that…
"A mule," Doradrassil whispered.
Emma looked toward the sound, but shook her head. "I don't hear it."
"But?" Emma protested. "The only mules around here are…"
"Ours," Doradrassil finished. "I'm going to check it out. Don't follow."
She was off. She was sure Emma wouldn't follow… By the time the paladin had suited up, Doradrassil's trail would be cold.
Outside the outpost's walls, she heard it more clearly now. A mule being attacked, likely trying in vain to get away. The cries got weaker. Umbra crescent in her hands, she sped through the field, making only as much noise as the wind as it brushed the grass.
She was on it almost faster than she realized. The mule lay with one leg still twitching at the side of a dirt path, but that motion soon stopped as well. No immediate sign of the attacker, but a trail of gear the mule would have carried led towards a thicket not far from the coast.
Podlings, cute little plantlike creatures, dotted the thicket. Doradrassil's suspicions turned toward them for a moment, but could they have done this?
She wanted to plant herself for a vigil and watch them for their habits, but that mule wouldn't have been out here by himself…which meant someone from the outpost was here, and very likely in trouble. She focused her shadowmelding, slipping silently through the podlings and following the debris trail. Eventually it stopped…with nothing in sight but more podlings…and a coastal cavern.
She hardly stopped to think about it. She was at the cavern's mouth before she realized it, and hugging the wall to stay unseen. Inside, she heard a cough. Gurgling. Human. Choking on blood. She peered around the corner and saw a large podling, feasting on the man. Another freshly murdered man lay at his side, mutilated beyond recognition.
Doradrassil was behind the podling in a flash. He didn't notice. Bringing her crescent down on it would only further harm the man, so… She reached down with one thoroughly armored hand, her fingers closing around its throat.
The podling kicked off from the man with surprising force, its thorns puncturing Doradrassil's glove and then stomach as the creature thrashed against her. With a pained cry, she flung it against the wall and ran it through with her umbra crescent before it hit the floor.
She turned first toward the man who was still alive. One of the Alliance's larger Vanguard team. As she loosened the plant fiber bonds that held him in place, the profuse bleeding of his torso made it clear he was not long for this world. Nevertheless, with a labored groan, he tried to force himself up.
"No!" Doradrassil said. "You need medical attention! I'm going to-"
"My wife," he managed weakly, his eyes growing hazy. "They took…my wife. Shelly… I've got to…"
He said no more. Doradrassil swallowed hard, now painfully conscious of the very different smells greeting her nostrils: blood and death. Closing his eyes, she made a mental note. Shelly. She regretted that she didn't know the names of either man in this cave, but at least Shelly would be a clue.
Outside the cave, it had begun to rain. Melding into the shadows again, she worked her way back through the podlings, this time noticing their ferocity. How could she have missed their teeth? The puncture marks they had left all over that man must have been on the mule too… How could she have missed those podlings preying on a giant near the shore? She shuddered as they brought it down.
Very well then, Doradrassil thought. You little beasts have just gotten yourselves listed as a threat. Time to neutralize.
She fought from the shadows, working her way through the podlings, leaving dozens of them in her wake, but trying to move quickly. Their whole settlement seemed centered around that rise to the west with a large tree at its peak… She worked her way up to it and eventually to the tree, cursing at herself the whole time for falling to that false sense of security that this place's beauty brought. That same security that made her miss the warning signs from these podlings.
There. Off to the side. Restrictive vines and movement. She headed for the vines, checking to make sure there were no more podlings nearby, and began to pull at them.
A woman's face became visible, her eyes wild with fright. "I'm okay in here! Please, they've got my husband. Jared… I saw them take him to a cave on the coast."
Doradrassil's heart sank. In her scramble to rescue Shelly, she had hardly thought of how she would deliver the news. The pain must have been evident on her face. Before she could even say a word, Shelly asked, "He…he didn't make it, did he?"
Doradrassil closed her eyes and was silent for a moment before finally saying, "No. I'm so sorry." She felt her face contorting in the pain of her news, but as she pulled the vines free, Shelly's face was…blank.
The last vines came loose. The woman was in near perfect condition, but as the rain poured on her, she made no attempt to move. Doradrassil put a hand on Shelly's arm. She couldn't tell what was rainfall on Shelly's face and what were her tears.
"Take all the time you need," Doradrassil finally said. "I'll stay here."
And she did. Kneeling over Shelly, she extended her cape around her, shielding the woman's upper body from the rain for a few minutes as Shelly wept her grief. Seeing approaching podlings, she stood slowly, careful not to cut Shelly with the blades on her cloak's trim, and then lashed out. Dozens fell. She vaguely was aware that Shelly had climbed to her feet as well, but she was too focused on the fight to notice much more than that as she danced around, felling podlings coming at them from all directions.
A tug on her cape. She whirled around with her crescent, but pulled back just in time.
Shelly had pulled two of Doradrassil's cloak blades free. Doradrassil blinked. Shelly lunged headlong into a group of podlings, dispatching them with cruel efficiency. She didn't have a scratch on her that hadn't been there already. The two nodded to each other and fought off another wave, standing back to back.
"I want to be on the front lines," Shelly said as they fought. "Maybe my commander will put me wherever we need killing done. Maybe my pain will lessen with every enemy I face."
That's an awful way to look at things, Doradrassil thought, but rebuking Shelly's recklessness right now might be dangerous — even for a Warden.
"Yeah, maybe," Doradrassil said simply.