Mallory’s eyes took a moment to adjust to the dim light of the tea room she had just stepped into. Peering around to find the darkest corner of the establishment, the young priestess found Aertemis seated alone at a table, tapping her fingers on a leatherbound book in front of her and grasping a cup of tea with her other hand. Near the book sat a small, flat, black box with a simple bow on it.
“Sorry I didn’t come sooner,” Mallory said, pulling out the chair across from Aertemis and taking a seat. “Vanguard is away. The Dark Portal went out pretty quick. They succeeded in that much at least.”
“That’s excellent news,” Aertemis said with a wry smile. “Let’s hope the rest goes well.”
“Yeah,” Mallory said, shifting uncomfortably as a knot tightened in her stomach. She looked down, unable to find words for her anxiety regarding Emma.
Aertemis patted the book with one hand. “I wanted to show you this.”
“Can I get you anything?” a waitress interrupted, approaching the table and smiling at Mallory.
“Um, just some chai tea please,” Mallory answered. “Thanks.” As the waitress sped off, the priestess returned her attention to her friend, eyeing the book. “So what is it?”
“My sketchbook,” Aertemis replied, pushing it toward Mallory. “Some of the drawings I make a habit of sketching in my down time. Some of them are from before…”
“Yes. Soldiers are permitted vanishingly few personal belongings with them. Probably the only reason I was allowed this was that I could say it was for drawing up tactical plans in advance of a battle.”
Mallory carefully opened the book. It was remarkably silent as it opened, with only a single quiet cracking sound from its excessive age. The first sketch to greet her eyes was, predictably enough, a forest, from above. Ashenvale, perhaps, glimpsed from the lower slopes of Mount Hyjal, looking toward a sunset. She turned to random pages, and the book naturally fell to one page that had apparently been frequented of late. A gap in the binding showed Mallory that some pages had been removed, and that helped the book fall upon this particular sketch.
“That’s what I wanted to show you,” Aertemis said, leaning back in her chair. “What do you think?”
The sketch was of a suit of armor adorning a generic, undetailed night elf female. Heavy plate detailed with sharp yet smooth angles, ornately adorned with myriad intricate details. The armor’s shape reminded Mallory of both swords and umbra crescents, the signature weapon of the Wardens. She had seen Doradrassil wear something not unlike this before.
“Is this Warden ceremonial armor?” she asked as her tea was set on the table.
“Something akin to it,” Aertemis replied. “With some inspiration taken from older stylings as well.”
Mallory smiled, sipping from her tea. “I have got to get you to make me something like this one day.”
Aertemis quirked an eyebrow at her. “I’m not sure you’d be able to deal with how restrictive that could…”
“No, silly!” Mallory protested. “I mean, designing something awesome but…something very Mallory! You know?”
The death knight chuckled as Mallory gingerly closed the book and gave it back. “I’ll see what I can do. Now then…” She pushed the small box toward her. “I also want you to have this.”
Mallory eyed the box curiously. What on earth? Aertemis wasn’t the gift-giving sort. “Aert, are you okay?” she asked, her finger teasing the bow.
Aertemis was silent for a moment. “I’m fine. Open that later, not around me. Okay?”
Mallory sighed. “Fine… Are you sure you’re all right? This sounds like you’re afraid you won’t be coming back, and that’s…”
“If we don’t come back, Mal, it won’t be because we perished,” Aertemis reassured her. “We’ll get the job done, and there are more than enough capable names on that roster. Honestly, I’ve been thinking about staying behind anyway.”
Mallory blinked. “Aertemis, you can’t!”
“There are more than enough…”
“But you heard Doradrassil!” she protested. “If something happened to Koryander, you’d be leading Triumph. You can’t just flake out. Why would you want to anyway?”
Aertemis fell silent for a long moment. “You’re…probably right,” she admitted. “I don’t know. Just… promise me you won’t do anything stupid like join the Black Watch while I’m gone, all right?”
Mallory chuckled, secretly hoping Aertemis couldn’t read her. “Oh, I’m…sure they wouldn’t take me anyway,” she teased. The reminder that she had recently been accepted into their elite ranks made it easier to smile and laugh about… Hopefully it was enough.
Aertemis shook her head. “You’re more capable than you think. But no one comes out of an elite team like that without scars, stories, and troubled sleep.”
“Well if I’m more capable than you think, maybe I should come with you,” Mallory said. “You sound like you could use the company, and I’d get to see my sister sooner. Or…again.”
Aertemis looked at her carefully, as if studying her. “Are you sure?”
* * *
Mallory exhaled deeply as she closed her pack and hefted it. Looking at herself in the mirror, she realized how different she looked from just a few hours ago. She hadn’t been trying for a new look, but she liked it. Arriving home in Darnassus, she had started packing supplies to join Team Triumph, only to realize how impractical her robes would be if she became embroiled in a real combat situation. She had slipped into something that would allow greater freedom of movement and put her hair up, and was shocked at the transformation. The woman in the mirror now wore a veritable catsuit, largely black with fine silver thread interwoven throughout. She hoped she was half as agile as she now appeared, because the woman in the mirror looked like she could move with the speed, stealth and grace of a Warden.
How odd it was that she volunteered to join Aertemis on Team Triumph at the drop of a hat… She had gone from protesting Emma’s own decision to go to joining the Black Watch and the invasion herself…and why? Because others believed in her. Mallory allowed herself a brief moment of satisfaction. Her chest swelled for a moment as she looked herself over, her staff resting on the ground, in her hand. Resident of a beautiful home in Darnassus, a priestess of E’lune, successful entrepreneur, friend of powerful mages and Wardens, and now, member of an elite force that would save the world. Not bad for a homeless orphan from Westfall.
Mallory calmed herself, letting out that breath of air she hadn’t realized she’d been holding, not standing so puffed-up in the mirror now. She needed to remain humble…one of the lessons the sha had unwittingly taught the pandaren, and a constant theme in the doctrines of E’lune and the Light. After all, Mallory knew she couldn’t possibly be good at everything…and depressing as the thought might be, the simple, cold truth was that sooner or later, some shortcoming was probably going to get her killed. People rarely died of old age in this vicious world…but people died as a result of their own pride more often than they should. The world could be cold, but the Light, and E’lune, were warmth. As long as she focused on that, radiated that, the rest would happen as it would.
She would tell Aertemis about the Black Watch later, she decided. After they had joined Team Vanguard and the crisis with the Iron Horde had abated. For now, Aertemis would need to focus, and the young priestess knew that she must have been what had made the death knight doubt herself enough to consider staying behind. The fewer distractions on Aertemis’ mind, the safer they all would be.
She set her staff aside and reached for the small box Aertemis had given her. Brushing some hair back behind her ears, she untied the bow and lifted the lid. Inside were a number of sketches from the very book Mallory had looked at earlier. As she looked more closely at the first, her hand went to her mouth and she stifled a cry.
The first sketch was a young woman in simple clothes befitting of beggars, by a lake, weeping. The day she and Aertemis had met.
Next was Mallory looking up in awe at a shining naaru, drawn with stunning detail. Her sabbatical from Darnassus…when she had traveled to Shattrath to study under the naaru.
Her graduation into the Sisters of Elune, her bright smile captured with special attention to detail.
Mallory in the kaldorei robes she was so often seen in, saluting Justicar Dawnfield on the day she had joined the Templars. She hadn’t known Aertemis had dropped in on that one.
Mallory frowned at the next one… She looked horrible! It took her a moment of studying the sketch to realize she had been drawn that way intentionally. A slack-jawed Mallory adorned the page, her posture slouched and her eyes sunken and weary, her robes covered in ashes and her hair a wretched mess. She clutched in her arms her critically wounded sister. Aertemis behind her on one side, Shadowsage on the other, each with a hand on Mallory’s shoulder.
Finally, Mallory and Aertemis seated together by a lake in Teldrassil… The day she saw the Warden cry. In the bottom right corner of this last sketch was written, in small letters, “Thank you.”
She was saying goodbye… But now, Mallory realized as she tried to control her tears, she wouldn’t have to.