The war in Uldum was like nothing she had ever seen before. Eshai had known, because the Templars had said, that the war was significant, that the battle was terrifying, that everything going on was like nothing they’d imagined, and all of those were words she listened to, but had no way of understanding. Not really. Not until she saw it herself.

Until she saw the people who came in screaming, with impossible wounds that they thought were more than they actually were, until she started seeing the great worms in the sky and the squid-faced cultists that chanted in a language that somehow reached in and made her brain feel slithery and uncertain. She found herself more and more staying near Syrin, who fought with a grim and single-minded purpose – and she reached deep into memory for the calling Grandmother had taught her for the spirits of water. Thankfully, this desert was not as hot or as harsh as the Sand, and she began to prove more valuable in showing her Illidari companions the secrets to moving and fighting in it.

She reached deep into the earth and the water in the air, and found they both came easily – and so the battle raged unceasingly.

For three days they fought, until the Illidari called a retreat – and that is when she and Syrin took a different path home, going to the great goblin city to the west first, Gadgetzan, and buying passage farther north with some of Eshai’s hard-won coins to the mountain called Hyjal, where Syrin spoke of a great firestorm that raged next to a forest bathed in the spirit-energies of the growing mountain.

She felt it before she saw it. A presence, at the edge of her mind – the rage of fire and the warmth of the land beneath. Hyjal both called to her and hated her, and it was into this that the pair came.

Syrin spoke to the elves there, and though they distrusted both the Illidari and the Vulpera, they were nonetheless given passage to the edge of the firestorm, where the great portal to the Firelands still stood open. Eshai could feel the heat of it next to her heart – it found her rage and settled there, almost purring. Calling to her.

“Syrin,” she asked, as they made camp, “If I asked, would you wait here?”

“Of course not,” came his reply. “I’m here to keep you safe, remember? That’s hard to do if you’re going off by yourself.”

“The fire calls me. I don’t know that it cares for you – but it wants to show me something, and I’m not sure it will care enough about you not to hurt you if you come with me.”

“Nothing here can hurt me, Eshai.”

“You’re wrong. I know how strong you are, but it doesn’t matter. Some things are bigger than any one of us. The fire here neither likes nor hates you, but won’t keep you safe – and I don’t think I’m strong enough to make it ignore you.”

He didn’t listen, of course. So Eshai told him they’d talk about it in the morning, and they went to sleep under the light of the burning to the east. She half-expected the dream when it came – when she dreamed of fire, and she danced with it – swirling in and around the flame, laughing as it caressed her. There was a great roaring music to it, a great animal howling its creation and destruction to the sky, and she howled with it, letting it lift her, breathing it in, letting it know her.

Your heart burns she heard it say – Already you know my gift.

“You know what I will ask.”

You know what must be given.

She nodded. And danced still with the flame – and she drew it in, inhaling the fire, feeling it in her lungs, along her arms, watching, as the flames speared through her heart, and she accepted it all as she thought it must feel to accept a lover for the first time, the sudden pain and the warmth within that grew and grew and grew until she thought she could not bear it anymore.

The storm and I are brothers, the fire told her. Where one goes, the other follows. Look – there, do you see?

She did, too – it showed her the tree, burning under a storm, lightning caught in its branches. “Take me there?” And it did, coming out of the ground and wrapping itself in molten rock, lifting her in its arms and moving along the earth. It went to the edge of the fire fields and there it placed her on the grass – it charred underneath her paws, and she noted curiously that her fur had changed. It had become deeper red, sleeker – touched by the flame – and she laughed, looking up at the creature that had carried her.

It was all so easy – she reached up, took a piece of it, whispered –  the magma turning in her hands to black obsidian, the face of a laughing fox picked out in flickers of fire. She kissed it, and then opened her arms to the flame one last time, caressing it even as it claimed the year of her life she gave it in return. Her heart drummed, stopped… and then started again.

It all faded away, leaving her standing at the edge of the firestorm – looking up at the lightning in the tree. It cracked and sparked and the tree groaned with its weight. Vengeance. Pain. Agony. I bring you these. You know what must be given.

And she nodded – and showed her hands – the claws burned away, “I know.”

You are far from home. The lands are rich and green – there is more than this path.

“Not for me.”

You are frail, and small – once begun, it cannot be undone.

“It is not more than I can bear.”

And it came to her then, lancing from the tree through her body, and it filled her – the agony was complete. All of her was nothing but pain, as the sky filled her, and there was no more to think. She breathed pain. Her heart spoke pain. Her ear was filled with pain and lightning arced from her paws and her hands and her teeth and she cried and howled until her throat gave way and still there was nothing but pain.

She thought she would go mad. She thought her heart would stop. But she didn’t. It didn’t. Moment by moment, she counted heartbeats – she forced herself to breathe, she opened her eyes, and muscle-by-muscle she forced her body to unlock, took the storm in. The price was pain, all the pain she wished to visit on others – and she paid it. Gladly, until all that was left was an empty tree and a piece of blackened wood at her feet in the shape of a snarling fox.

Syrin found her then – when she knew she was no longer dreaming. She half-heard him berating her, half-felt him lifting her – and she grabbed his ears and kissed his cheek and told him he worried too much, and he told her she was reckless… and she smiled as it all turned within.

They made their way back the next day – and she stayed quiet as they found the lodge, and quiet as a mage there took her coin to send them back to the gateways in Uldum. She came back to the camp with new eyes and listened to the great storm within, the lashing rain, the lightning, the burning ground, the strength of the earth beneath. The price had been paid, and she was content.

Author Aunne
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