Emma cringed as Mallory slammed the door behind them. Her sister had said she wanted to talk privately, but the paladin had a feeling that everyone aboard the Juuli's Hope would hear. She stared at Mallory for a long moment. Mallory did not meet her gaze, but looked down at the floor. She finally looked up, then immediately off to one side, shaking her head.
"I can't believe you're doing this," Mallory said.
Emma knew Mallory was worried about losing the only family she had left, but why this? "Mal, risking our lives is nothing new to us," she urged.
"No," Mallory answered. "It's not. Being a city guard in Stormwind? That can be risking your life. A dozen of us against one fire druid? That's risking your life. You're going to walk through a portal to a…" She choked back tears. "A damned firing squad, Emma! This is just throwing it away!"
"You think we're gonna lose?" Emma asked. "Mallory, have you SEEN the roster? The Templar roster alone is enough to make anyone think twice about going up against us! Mal, Archmage Khadgar is coming! He's the most powerful mage on the planet, apprentice to Medivh, and he's done this bef–"
"I know who he is!" Mallory shouted. "That doesn't mean he can keep everyone alive!"
Emma bit her lip. Best to hold her tongue and listen.
"Do you have any idea how scared I was when you got hurt before?" Mallory folded one arm in front of her. Her other hand hovered near her cheek, brushing away stray hair and ready to wipe away tears.
Emma looked down. Whenever she had awoken, she was always hearing about what Mallory was trying next to find a way to heal her, but she had been awake rarely during that time. She had heard Mallory was reaching out to people, and had gone to Zen's place to experiment on the creature…
"I pulled every string I had, Em," Mallory answered her own question. "And some that I didn't have. I contacted everyone. Everyone. My naaru tutors in Shattrath were praying for you. I wrote letters to the castle. Prince Anduin wrote me back saying he was praying for you and that was the best he could do at the time. I wrote to Tyrande Whisperwind too. She…actually did stop by to pray for you briefly. And when I suspected that the magic might even be shamanic, I even got Rann to use her station with the Kirin Tor to reach out to Thrall, but he couldn't come either." She finally met Emma's eyes, her gaze fierce. "I tore apart this world to find a way."
Emma was aghast. Her sister had moved heaven and earth to heal her. She knew Mallory had done a lot, but she had no idea she had gone this far…
"And what do you do?" Mallory asked, her jaw trembling. "You sign up for a suicide mission."
A long, awkward pause. "I…didn't know you did all that," Emma finally said quietly.
"I did." Mallory looked away now.
"They said you were doing a lot. I just had no idea…"
Mallory scoffed. "You know why I did so much? Because I couldn't sleep. I didn't sleep for several days. People noticed, but every time I'd lie down and try to get some shut-eye, my mind just…wouldn't stop. Wouldn't stop worrying, thinking, theorizing, coming up with solutions. I couldn't clear my mind no matter what I did. So every night I had hours to think of ideas to try, people to reach out to."
"I… Mom and Dad would be proud of you, you know."
Mallory closed her eyes. "I know," she said softly, a tear rolling down her cheek. She made no move to stop it. "They'd be proud of you too. It's been six years this month… Look how far we've come."
"How far you've come, you mean," Emma corrected. "A failed guard who nearly got squished by Deathwing, gets put on death's door by a fire druid, then signs up for a suicide mission? Right."
Mallory shook her head. "Are you just trying to get me to say they'd be proud of you for signing up for this?"
"Well," Emma hesitated, "I think they would."
Mallory nodded sadly. "Yeah. Joining the Defias? They knew the odds were against them from the start. They'd identify with you." She fixed her gaze on Emma and had to say no more. Emma knew that stern look from her twin, as if saying "Your story better not end like theirs."
"Why are you really doing this?" Mallory asked. "Is it about proving yourself?"
Emma sighed and sat on a chair, exasperated at hearing this again. "You know, Arialynn said the same thing. I don't know what I did to make people think that. It could just be because everyone knows I'm inferior next to you."
Mallory blinked. "What?"
"Come on, Mal," Emma groaned. "Do I really have to spell it out? You're the golden girl who's risen to fame through your hardship. You do the right thing for Rann and it sets off this cosmic chain of events that by the end is probably gonna see you rise to godhood or something. Me? I try to do the right thing, and nearly get turned into toejam, then I get burned alive. The Titans really like you or something."
"That's absurd," Mallory said with a shake of her head.
"Yeah, it is," Emma agreed. "Which is why the other theory sounds more sensible."
"That you're the better one."
Another long silence. Mallory looked confused, letting it process.
"I think," Emma finally said, "the more people ask if this is about proving myself, the more that's what it becomes. Like it's just so obvious to everyone around us that I have something to prove, because I'm the sister of the great priestess Mallory Everley, and all I've done is get hurt and screw up."
"You brought us both to the Templars," Mallory pointed out. "There's gotta be some credit due there."
Emma shrugged. "So?"
"'So'?" Mallory asked. "So, the Templars saved your life, saved Kage's life, saved Shadowsage's life… The result of all this led to Kage and Sage joining the Templars themselves, and Rann taking in Ida as a student. Without all of that, Ida wouldn't have had anyone to help her against the Woman in Red, and she'd probably be dead by now. So you didn't save somebody's life by swooping into heroic action like in the exciting stories…but you've saved lives without even knowing it, just by being you. Isn't that enough?"
Emma looked down, her elbows rested on her knees and her hands clasped in front of her. "Do you know why I came to the Templars, Mal?"
Emma's heart felt a stab of pain as she readied her words. "Because I wanted to get out from under your shadow. Find my own greatness. Coming to them was about proving myself."
"Who are you trying to prove yourself to, Emma?" Mallory asked, approaching and dropping to her knees to be at eye-level with her sister. "Yourself? Me? The Templars?"
"Myself, I guess," Emma answered.
"I guess I'm just…surprised," Mallory confessed. "Since we were little, all I ever wanted was to be like you. We may be twins, but you've always been the big sister, you know? When there were bullies, I'd have to outsmart them or run to you, or Dad. But you? You could just punch them. And when those bullies got older and became perverts, it was the same thing. You could just punch them. 'Hitting like a girl' meant something different when it came to you. So hearing you talk like you're inferior or something…it just doesn't make sense." Mallory laid her head in her sister's lap. "Sometimes I still need someone to run to," she said quietly.
Emma chuckled, shaking her head and running her fingers through Mallory's hair. "You have lots of people to run to. Aertemis for one, Shadowsage for another. Rann, Doradrassil… Fel, maybe even the Justicar. There are people these days who won't mess with Mallory Everley because of all the names that would be lined up to defend her."
"But…but what do you mean, get out from my shadow?" Mallory asked, lifting her head and looking up at Emma. "It's not like I'm famous."
Emma shrugged. "Well, you don't show any signs of slowing down. Not that I want you to, but I don't want the day to arrive when someone looks at me and says, 'Wow, Emma! Look at how Mallory…saved the world' or something. 'United all the nations and brought peace to Azeroth! What have you done?'"
Mallory giggled at the illustration. "Aren't you getting a little carried away?"
Emma looked down at her sister. "Wouldn't you have said the same thing six years ago, if I said all this back then except with 'became a priestess of Elune in less than two years and moved heaven and earth to heal her sister'? Like I said… You show no signs of slowing down."
"I'm not invincible, Emma," Mallory said.
"Neither am I," Emma confessed. "But I need to do what must be done. I know the odds, and we've both beaten them before. It's what Everleys do."
Mallory drew in a deep breath and finally nodded. "Who else is going?"
"Half the Black Watch. The Justicar. Archmage Khadgar. Doradrassil and some other Wardens. Some other names I didn't recognize."
"Is Rann going? Aertemis?"
"Both on the second wave," Emma nodded. "Along with more Templars and Wardens."
Mallory stood, wiping a couple more tears from her eyes and recomposing herself. "Well, I guess I'd better get moving."
Emma looked at her sister in confusion. "What? What do you mean?"
"If we're invading another world, we'll need a place to pull reinforcements from. Some fortress to gather our strength."
Emma blinked. "'We?'"
"Of course. You can't think I'm gonna leave you to your own devices out there. After all…what if you get hurt?"
"What do you know about building a fortress, Mallory?"
Mallory shrugged. "Not a thing. But I can gather teams and fund the construction."
"Fund it?" Emma asked. "Did you marry Prince Anduin when I wasn't looking?"
"Nope!" Mallory chuckled with a smile, opening the door and leading Emma out onto the deck. "I've been investing."
"Investing what? How?"
"I mentioned to Aertemis that I wanted to invest, you know, just casual conversation. Something I meant to do someday. Well, it turns out she makes good money, but spends next to nothing. So she responded by dumping a windfall on me. So…" She smirked. "I invested."
"No wonder you've been buying dinner lately," Emma mused. "But how come I haven't heard about this?"
"I play my cards close to my chest," Mallory said. "For one thing, I didn't want to make you more jealous. For another, I try not to let my business be seen. By anyone. Some of the goblin cartels out there are pretty vicious, so my anonymity is my greatest defense against them."
"So you're an entrepreneur businesswoman too," Emma mused, shaking her head. Her sister had no end of surprises to her. Emma, for her part, found it difficult to even be surprised at this point.
"You could say that," Mallory answered. "But they know nothing about me. Not my name, race, sex, nothing. No information to leverage against me. I'm a shadow."
"Does anyone else know?" Emma asked.
"A few. Aertemis, of course. She made it possible. Doradrassil was watching her when this happened, so she knows. A worgen courier… And now you. And soon, Arialynn. As far as she knows, I'm still poor. My offer to fund the construction of a garrison may surprise her, and I imagine some explaining will be in order."
Emma nodded. "Yeah, I imagine so. So, you said the goblins and others you do business with…don't even know your name?"
"So what do they call you?"
Mallory smiled. "The Shadow Trader."