(Auth. Note:  This is a bit of navelgazing, and for that I apologize.  When I set out to write this thing, I had other ideas – flashes of a different kind of action, different moments – but these seemed more appropriate, and the tone drifted quite a bit.  That said? It sort of had to be written.  Many thanks to Nereia and Blackwald, who, while not directly mentioned, laid the arpee seeds for this to pop out.)

A Simple Cup of Tea

 

Aunne sat on the hills overlooking the Pandaren encampment at the edge of Stormwind proper, a small tent set up nearby for propriety�s sake, a small banner of the Ebon Blade dangling alongside the white-and-gold of the Templars near the canvas construction.  Her armor was piled untidly near, her arming jacket the only thing hung carefully from the tent-pole.   She wore a simple shift, blousy and loose � something that would be a nightdress in more civilized surroundings, but was simply odd on the side of a windswept hill.

Around her, slowly growing, a blanket of frost radiated out along the grass, geometric patterns growing with cold perfection against the green and warmth of summer.

In her lap, she held a cup of tea � hands cradling it with a gentleness and caution that would not have been out of place for truly delicate artwork or a fragile bit of glass.  The cup, one of simple, heavy, shipboard porcelain, was certainly in no danger � but the tea steamed. 

The steam persisted, despite the ice on the cup�s edge, despite the chill air around the Draenei, and despite the slowly growing frost.

For the Knight, the steam was mesmerizing, glowing blue eyes fixed on the curl and twist of it, the dance of it above the surface of the liquid within.  Her expression vacillated between fascination and awe, even as she oh-so-carefully lifted the cup, and took the tiniest, barest of sips.

Warmth coursed down her throat and within her � and she closed her eyes with the joy of it.  Oh, it did not last long � that part of her that devoured magic, that devoured warmth and light did not allow it to persist, but she felt it, nonetheless.  Warmth that flowed into her chest, warmth that for the briefest of moments touched something inside before it was swallowed again by the insistent cold.

————————————–

 

The Scarlet Enclave � Havenshire


The city burned, with only a few buildings spared from the Scourge�s advance.  In one of them, the still untouched smithy, a trio of Knights gathered to watch a fourth.


�Interesting technique,�  the thin form of a blood elf noted, hollow and dispassionate.


�It serves.  Pain is a motivator, don�t you think, old friend?�  The bulky human grinned, teeth cracked and green beneath the obscuring helm of Saronite.  �I thought you�d appreciate the artistry.�


The smallest of the three � a gnome � grunted, her voice unamused. �There is killing to be done.  Why do we remain here?  We shall miss all of the fighting, and for what � so you two can admire another set of broken bones?  She knows her work, and you two are as useless in death as you were in life.  Come. � 


She swept out, and the other two followed.  


The Draenei remained, her helm set aside � her smile fixed and wide and hungry, the bleeding, broken human at her feet whimpering.   She purred, her voice empty, yet somehow � seductive.  �It is a shame that your arms break so easily.   Shall we try your legs now?�  Her gauntleted hand selected an iron set to heat in the nearby forge. �Or perhaps an eye?  You �will- speak, crusader.  You will hurt, and you will break, and you will speak, and then you will die � but not until then.� 


She raised the smoking metal, glowing nearly white hot � and advanced on the cringing form. �I promise.  You won�t die.  Isn�t that nice to know?  Surely, if you endure, someone will save you.  You should cling to that hope � it makes it all the sweeter when you break.�

 

—————————————

 

Next to the tea she�d arranged a wreath of flowers � two orchids, goldclover, there a selection of Stormwind roses, stolen from the back of the Cathedral.   They were frozen now, glistening and fragile under a coating of sparkling frost.

She sipped again, the tiniest of tastes, and � for one brief moment � she wished she could still cry.  The warmth washed through her.

 

——————————————–

 

The Scarlet Enclave � Light�s Point

 

The group of paladins had hoped to flank the scourge advance, to strike into the heart of its command and steal the orders that must be there and escape, all before the Knights of Acherus took notice.  There were two grave errors made in the plan, though they had no way of knowing.


First?  The Knights had no need of plans � the Voice that Spoke to them issued orders without need of perishable parchment or the imprecision of writing.  Second?  They assumed that their foes weren�t expecting this kind of endeavor.


The rear guard left against such an event was only two � a pair of Draenei females in the heavy armor of the Ebon Blade, laughing with each other in empty tones as the Paladins crashed into the camp to engage them both.


� and then there was nothing.   Their First fell choking, the words of a hymn to the Light dying in his throat as phantom chains tightened, depriving him of  breath.  The initiate � a woman only lately redeemed from the Crusade � died quickly, her hammer deftly parried by the Draenei that radiated cold so intense that to approach her was to advance against a veritable wall of ice and hate.  The female ran her prey through clinically � through mail, arming jacket, and body, her second blade beheading the initiate with unearthly detachment.


The remaining two � a human and a Draenei Vindicator � smashed into the remaining, giggling Knight with mace and shield, driving her back toward the short cliff behind her.  Still, she fought like a demon � until the pair smashed her with the raw force of the Light itself, eliciting a scream of sudden agony and rage.


Neither saw the cold one approach � though the felt her, as she blazed into the midst of them both.  She engaged the human with the kind of clinical fury and hatred that the Knights had become famous for in their genocidal war against the Crusade, hammering at the human again and again with blades that blazed with runes and sucked hungrily at the life, warmth, and light around him.


The Vindicator bashed the screaming one off of the precipice, turning his  attention to this new foe � golden eyes going wide.

�Mother?�


———————————————–

Down below her hill, a pair of Pandaran children played some obscure game with a human girl in priest�s robes, a game that involved a great deal of laughing and dodging around a larger, furry male Pandaran who studiously tried to meditate, with a noticeable lack of success.

The Knight on the hill watched with an absent amusement, cradling that cup close to her.  As the balloon above the little ones pulled hard on its tethering rope, she sipped again, carefully, marshaling the last bit of tea, steam still rising from it.

 

—————————————————–

 

Shattrath City, the Citadel of Light


-Can you not feel it, little one?-


She sat on the hard stone � barely noticing � eyes closed, pushing.  Reaching. 


-You are dead, yes.  But where there is will, death is an inconvenience, not finality.  Life is more than a heartbeat, it is more than some petty godling�s curse.-


She shuddered, every word stinging her mind, blazing there within � her cold could not keep it at bay, and she felt the cinders of its thought eating at her essence.  Her being.  She could not leave, not yet, but she knew to stay would destroy her, and something in her urged her to flee, to run, to hide again in the shadows.


She told that part of her to be quiet, her shattered mind arguing with itself, even as she tried to focus, to bring the remaining shards of her will together. 


She thought of butterflies. 


She thought of flowers.


She thought of swords and pain and glowing steel and �


~Shhh.~ She told that part of herself.  ~Bad.~


And then � she thought of a face.  It was a kind face, with golden eyes; a laughing face.  She was breathless, held close, caught in eyes that glowed with an inner fire �


It erupted within her, pain like she could not remember feeling, setting her chest ablaze, but warmth, oh such warmth, and she screamed and it hurt but it was �warm– �


Above her, the Naaru chimed, softly.  It watched (if such a being can be said to watch anything) as the mark manifested above her brow, searing bright, and somehow it seemed satisfied, even as the Draenei twisted and fled from him.


She would remember.

 

—————————————————-

 

Aunne set aside the empty cup with a deep regret, touching the bits of leaf left behind, sodden and done, and leaned back against the frozen grass of the hill.

The last of the tea�s warmth died within her, and she clung to it as best she could.  She watched the sky, blue and wild and expansive, watched the sun, though it did not warm her. She watched the birds fly, the comings and goings of gryphons on city business – she listened to the sounds of the docks below and the deep chimes of the bells of the Stormwind Cathedral as it noted the hour.

And she smiled, a small, secret, warm smile.

Author Aunne
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