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Originally written June 26, 2013.

A pulsing beat, warmed by a flame. With each pulse, the flame renewed its steady embrace. Blood flowed where it shouldn’t, spilling where holes shouldn’t have been. But with each pulse, a vein healed, a hole closed. Blood still flowed, but tiny cages of flesh slowly rebuilt themselves around it.

 

All the while, memories returned.

 

 

The chain mail shrouded her like a chill blanket. She felt it lie heavily on her shoulders and how it spread across her chest and pooled at her feet. It was different from what she thought it’d be, but her breath caught in her throat in excitement all the same.

 

“Hardly have a thing that fits you,” the old blacksmith grumbled, working the leather straps with  gnarled hands. “Lucky the hauberk fit at all. Used to be my son’s.”

 

They stood together in a smithy filled with soot: piled in the corners, dusting the floor, looming in the hearth, and with every kick of the foot, floating through the air. Tugging apart a cracked leather strap, the blacksmith cupped another plate piece over Arialynn’s forearm and fastened it into place.

 

“How old was he?” she asked. She tried to keep her arm steady as he worked.

 

“Just about your age. Now, does your father know you’re here?”

 

—-

 

“Get out.”

 

Her father rarely raised his voice, and his new-found timber caught her off guard. He was always a silent, intense man, his dark eyes with unwavering intent, his voice a low baritone, steady in pitch. He was the rock that split the water and wind, the mountain that did not bow. Both of them stubborn and headstrong to a fault, the air between them always crackled with tension – with unsettled arguments, differences in opinion. But now it boiled, seethed – him the mountain, her the hill that urged the ground to move beneath her, to rise, her youth eager to stare at one of her elders at the same level.

 

“There is a difference between heroics and a hero. One is stupid, the other knows better. It is time to know better, Arialynn. You have your orders, tend to your duty. Go.”

 

“I can fight.”

 

“You can. You will not win.”

 

“The soldiers who stay are not enough. They will be overrun. The defenses will fall and the city will be taken. This is foolish – what way of running a battle is this?”

 

He spoke quietly once more. “The ones that stay are volunteers.”

 

“I volunteer,” she said firmly.

 

“I forbid it,” he snapped, anger quick to return. The air crackled between them till he again softened; his low, steady finally returning: “Now, go. Go south and don’t look back. This is no place for the young to die.”

 

Something in his words slowly dawned on her, slipping through the temper that threatened to tug out another outburst. Like noting a stranger, she saw the work of age on her father’s face. Her mind’s eye too often saw him as he was years ago, indomitable and impenetrable, with stark dark hair and eyes. His face bore more wrinkles and his hair was more grey than she allowed herself to see before. She was struck – she felt as if her father had taken a sudden leap through time and somehow left her behind. He was a taller mountain than previously thought.

 

“You’ll understand someday,” he told her. “You burn for battle, but you burn too much. There’s a time for it: a time for battle and for peace. For you, for my daughter, I choose life – I choose peace. Take it and fight another battle some day.”

 

“The decision is mine, not yours,” she told him quietly.

 

“It is mine, one last time. The rest are yours.”

 

Neither sought to close the gap between them. There was no embrace, no clasp of hands. Wordless, her goodbye to him was a turn on her heel and one final look to the spires of Lordaeron.

 

He called out to her as she left. “War creates victims. Never forget that. There will be victims today, see to them. The pain lasts a lifetime.”

 

His last words in her ears.

 

—-

 

Northrend confused the senses. Her eyes took in the green grass, but the ground was hard and near-frozen beneath her feet. Tundra. The breeze bit her cheeks in the shade but warmed them in the sun. The deathly chill of ice and crisp pine mixed in her nostrils. The skies above looked like evening, yet she knew the time to be midday.

 

“Sucks, doesn’t it?” said her companion, coming up beside her.

 

They stood together on a rocky outcropping, overlooking the Fjord, with the simple tabard of an Argent Crusade knight adorning both of them. They were low-level, forgettable. Simple soldiers. Their mission ahead of them equally simple: survive.

 

“Beautiful, in a way,” Arialynn replied. “But unlike anything I have ever seen.”

 

“Beats Outland,” her companion, Koryander, replied. “It always looked like we’d be tossed off into space. That kind of sky keeps you awake at night.”

 

“We are awake here for a different reason,” Arialynn pointed to the gorge below, where the tiny figures of animated corpses crawled and writhed. The corpses were so familiar: they were same grotesque shapes that took Lordaeron. She felt an old fire kindle with her, but she was quick to temper it as one would to steel. “The living rest, but death never sleeps.”

 

“So you’re saying we have to become death?” Koryander frowned, looking out over the expanse. “That’s grim. Grimmer than I’d like to admit.”

 

The warrior woman fidgeted, hefting her axe over her shoulders. The weapon was red-tinged and nearly her own height, yet she lifted it without strain.

 

Arialynn leaned on the hilt of her own weapon, its bulky head propped against the rock. The two-hander was her constant companion, a relic from the Third War carefully cared for. Armor to her was a second skin, her mace an extension of her reach. The two Argent knights were alike and opposite: one fiery and passionate, the other cool metal. Plate armor and a fondness for great weapons was shared between them.

 

“Knowing when to deal in death is wise,” Arialynn said, looking at the reanimated death far below. “Dealt too much and it has no meaning. Dealt not at all, and you are a leaf in a storm.”

 

“You believe that?”

 

“It was taught to me long ago.”

 

—-

 

“Did you forget?”

 

Arialynn looked up from the crinkled pages of her book. An aged bishop smiled at her from the doorway and indicated the book in her hand.

 

“Your father always hoped you’d be your mother, but I never thought the cloth suited you,” he said, his eyes deep with memory. “You were too wild. And I never thought I’d see that book in your hand. Having regrets?”

 

Marking her place, the lady knight gently closed the tome and set it aside. The Northshire library was a familiar hovel to her, one she enjoyed in her childhood travels, but she lurked in a section that she hadn’t looked on in years.

 

“My order, the Rose, needs a healer. The war in Northrend has enough paladins eager for retribution. There needs to be a balance.”

 

The bishop nodded. Old and grey, he seemed to listen to more than just the words spoken aloud. “Balance is wise. But a pendulum is dangerous when it swings too far – in either direction. Have a seat, Miss Maewood. Tell me what you think balance is.”

 

—-

 

She tripped, her heel catching the swell of the cobblestone beneath her feet.

 

Theramore always smelled of salt. It reminded her of Gilneas, except the peninsula also smelled of damp dirt. It always rained. Theramore had its own share of storms, but its must was from the nearby swamps, not arable hills with roving sheep.

 

She rose from the ground, a fresh bruise quickly forming on her arm, a wooden sword in hand.

 

“Lost my footing,” she said. “Circling around a training dummy for an hour is not the same.” She added: “And swords are not like maces.”

 

“I haven’t seen you with a mace for a long time,” Taldrus studied her for a long moment, his eyes ever piercing. He stepped forward to help her with her arm, but his eyes still kept on hers.

 

“Ari, you wait for me to strike before returning the blow. You can’t win that way,” he told her.

 

“I do not want to hurt you, dear,” Arialynn replied. She gently clasped his helping hand and guided it away, her own a hand healed the swelling bruise alone.

 

Taldrus shook his head. “That’s not it. You do it all the time, with everything. Kory tells me it wasn’t always like this. Why the change?”

 

—-

 

“Do you miss it?”

 

Arialynn looked up from her desk, mountains of papers surrounding her. “Pardon?”

 

“Northrend, Outland. Those wars. I feel like we dot i’s and t’s more these days than anything else,” Koryander said, clearly midway through a long-standing gripe. She aimed a wrinkled paper plane in her hand and let it take flight. “I’m actually starting to miss that Vrykul. He was one hell of a greeting party.”

 

“The pen is a necessary part of war. A war does not run without gold, supplies, contracts,” Arialynn replied. Despite her words, she still smiled quietly in memory.

 

“Fighting,” Koryander said dryly. “Is a necessary part of war, do you think we’re cut out for this stuff? That we’re where we’re supposed to be?”

 

“We are where we need to be,” Arialynn resumed her paperwork, her pen steady.

 

“I’m about two seconds from one of your speeches about duty,” Koryander grumbled, retrieving her errant paper plane from the floor.

 

“Yes. Yes, you are.”

 

—-

 

The taste of arcane on her tongue was bitter and lingered for weeks. The sight of Theramore was so different from Lordaeron. Lordaeron became a husk, webs cast like shrouds, its buildings dilapidated from neglect. To Arialynn, it always looked as if the very presence of undeath in Lordaeron is what urged the buildings to crumble. For Theramore, it was ripped asunder, its buildings half-ash, half-rubble.

 

“We should’ve done something.”

 

“We did all we could,” Arialynn consoled a soldier, his tabard white with stripes of gold, its emblem smudged with the mud of the marsh. They stood huddled in a crumbling watch tower, the lady knight tending to his gangrene and wounds. The soldier appeared half-starved, his ranting near-delirious. To Arialynn, it was difficult to tell.

 

“Did we? Did we really? They say Lady Proudmoore tried to rip Orgrimmar apart. After all this time! It was her, she did it! She of all people! What is right, now? Why did the world go to hell? We didn’t want this, we didn’t work for this!”

 

“Rest,” she told him calmly, pushing him down into the mat. “Rest, too, is a weapon. Rest your mind, it is weary.”

 

His wide eyes rolled up at her. “You were there, weren’t you? Why aren’t you angry? Why are you so calm? Do you like it? Did you like it?!”

 

“No, of course not,” she replied quietly. She healed him a few moments longer, then departed through the flap of the door. Other soldiers paced restlessly around the camp, themselves half-starved – soldiers that were left behind, cut off after the destruction of Theramore.

 

Seeking a patch of marshy earth to be on her own, the lady knight placed a hand over her swelling stomach. “Of course not,” she repeated quietly, to no one. Her touch felt like an anchor, keeping her in place through a storm.

 

—-

 

Stormwind was also a city on the sea, but it lacked the marsh of Theramore and must of Gilneas. It was temperate, with the noise of civilization always echoing off its stone walls. Within one home, voices echoed in frustration and anger.

 

“You can’t pretend like it’ll go away! It won’t! They sought you, took you out of hiding. They threatened you and your child. Do you think the world is what you want it to be? You accept this?” The older man was livid. He threw up his hands and pounded the table. Himself a relic, his dress and weapons of choice betrayed his profession: rogue, but a derelict one. One of the past, with decades behind him.

 

“Odin, stop. This is unlike you,” Arialynn said. “And you will wake Taran.”

 

This is unlike you! When did the daughter of Thawn decide to throw away everything and become a mother? A useless idealist? Did you think the war is over? Did you think it all would stop?”

 

“No,” she said quietly, her calm stark in contrast to his anger. She sat unmoving, sitting.

 

“No? Then what? What makes you move?”

 

—-

 

“I will not give in,” Arialynn said firmly.

 

“It scared the hell out of me,” Koryander admitted, pointing to the hills. Kun-Lai Summit was a rolling expanse, the hills crisp with brown grass, but its horizon framed with picturesque snowy peaks. “When we got anywhere close to it, we all just went mad. And I don’t mean crazy mad – well, maybe I do. But it’s like everything that ever pissed you off hits you at once. I’m not sure if we’re up for this Sha of Anger guy.”

 

“You think we have been through too much? That Theramore is too fresh?”

 

“No, I think we’re just too human. We’re supposed to make mistakes, right?” Koryander sounded uneasy, but her voice was earnest.

 

“We can retreat till we are ready, then return.”

 

Koryander gave Arialynn a long, hard stare, “They called last year the cataclysm. I don’t think it was, I think that was a warm up. This, this war, this is the cataclysm.”

 

The warrior flexed her fingers, the plated gloves creaking. “I don’t think we’ll ever be ready. Maybe we shouldn’t, maybe we should just let loose. Maybe it’s time. We’ve been through enough, and Light knows the world went to hell. It’s like it doesn’t care.”

 

“No, the world will right itself. I am sure of it.”

 

“Yeah, but when? Ari, are you alright?” Koryander peered at her, her eyes filled with the concern of a friend. “You’ve been acting weird this last year.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“Nevermind. No, I’m just being silly. Forget I mentioned it. Let’s do what you said and see what happens.”

 

—-

 

The fire pulsed along with her heartbeat, keeping time like a fluttering pendulum. The beat came faster as the memories passed through. Each memory stirred the flame, stoked its coals and gave it air to breathe. It was a healing flame, a building flame. One that would not be abated.

 

Her eyes opened. Her vision was blurred, but she took in what she could of her surroundings. Ashenvale. The elves hurried around her, raising defenses, tending to the wounded. She became aware that hands now tended to her, hands with long, delicate fingers that worked at a swift, but assured pace. The sensation of druidic magic was familiar, and joined the flame within her to heal her wounds.

 

“This one began healing herself,” the druid said. Arialynn could not see who the druid spoke to.

 

That’s right, she was attacked. Her wounds were great. Ever the healer, she survived. Again. As her mind awoke and memories faded away, it raced: her attackers were Darkspear. Another betrayal? Another dagger in the back from the Horde?

 

Another betrayal, a new dagger. The Horde could not be trusted. Again.

 

Like the snap of a twig within a fire, she felt something break. A pop like a crackling ember, one that only she could hear, and she let the flame within her breathe and take shape. Like tempered steel left too long in the hearth, its metal warped, the fire bent and took new shape. The pendulum swung.

 

“Her heart is steady – no, racing. She will spill more blood if it does not stop. Get another healer,” the druid ordered.

 

Stop? Arialynn thought. No.

 

Time for more.

Author Ari
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