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Mallory plodded along the road towards Nighthaven in Moonglade, cursing under her breath as she went. At the sound of one particularly crude utterance, a nearby nightsaber flattened its ears and groaned at her. She looked and realized it was one of the druid guardians of the valley, trying to find respite from life's stresses in the boughs of the vale. 

"Sorry," she said. 

The nightsaber turned away wordlessly and continued about its business. Mallory continued up the road in silence, though her mood was no less gloomy. Intending to meet up with her hippogryph and fly to Darnassus for supplies before heading out on her next trip, Mallory was a bit surprised to see a blood elf up ahead, shaking hands with a night elf. She was slighter in height than the night elf whose hand she grasped, but even with her back to Mallory, her clothing made her fairly unmistakable. 

Shadowsage. 

"What?" Mallory asked aloud, surprised at seeing her friend in another unlikely location. 

She hadn't realized she'd said it aloud until Shadowsage turned around. "Oh! Hello, Mallory!"

"What?" Mallory repeated. 

Sage chuckled softly upon seeing the look on Mallory's face, and waved her over.  "Glad you're here. Tock, my bronze friend, wouldn't let me camp out with Moonglade this close."

"…what?!" She shook her head comically as if shaking away the shock at seeing a blood elf carrying on a cordial conversation with the Cenarion Circle druids. "Sage?"

"You seem shocked to see me here.  Is it that odd?"  the blood elf woman tilted her head, her strange silver eyes glimmering in the soft light.

"I…guess not?"

"I became friends with the Cennarion Circle a long time ago — back when Ahn'Qiraj was a threat.  Some of the friends I've made survived the ensuing wars, so we still talk."

"Oh… I see."

Sage smiled softly.  "I'm a lot older than I look… on a number of levels, though I lack the scars for it. How's your sister?"

Mallory looked down. "Worse than we thought. The creature…a druid of the flame…got a fire seed into her. It'll kill her before long if we can't figure out how to stop it."

Sage winced at the mention of the seed. "Those… are nasty.  I remember stories when i worked in the firelands, while we were establishing a base there. They turned those they did not kill into fire druids themselves, or at least their thralls. I hope you find the solution you seek."

At the mention of Emma being turned into a fire creature, Mallory shot Sage a look that was a mixture of both fear and anger, as if forbidding her to bring up that possibility.

"I…hope so too. Several Templars and I were…trying to speak to the creature just now. It wasn't acting of its own accord, we did learn that much. It's a fire elemental, shaped into a creature, and enslaved by an archdruid of the flame. But…well, let's just say the Warden seemed more concerned with keeping 'visiting hours' to a minimum than with saving lives."

Sage smiled calmly again, reassuringly.  "I'm sure the Warden was doing her job — keeping everyone involved safe. There are more times than I care to count that I have been called a cold-hearted bitch, to put it kindly, when lives have been under my care. It can be very difficult to compartmentalize personal feelings when you cannot afford to let them interfere."

"Yeah, well she seemed to be an expert at it… I don't know if that's what she was doing, or if she really IS a cold-hearted bitch." Mallory felt like it was almost therapeutic, as if saying that word helped her vent a little. "But I've never been so angry in my life, to be honest. She…threw me out of the cell, and I just wanted to…well… MELT her for it."

Sage nodded.  "I can imagine how difficult it has to be given one of the victims is your sister, especially as relatively young as you are to your field. It was a long time before I faced something similar the first time myself, but I can't say I handled it very well, either.  I still don't, sometimes."

Mallory sighed. "Maybe you can suggest how to handle it better then… I'm not self-centered enough to think that the Warden was just trying to stop me from saving my sister out of spite, but it's hard not to see it like that." She looked down in shame. "I was just so angry… I must have even slipped into shadow form, if the look on Telpeka's face was any indication. She looked shocked. Maybe even horrified."

Sage nodded, and though she didn't laugh, there was one in her expression as she held an elegant hand up, inspecting her nails as she said, "Anger is a very easy trigger for shadow form, indeed.  What can be interesting is learning to walk the shadows of your own volition." On the heels of that, Sage herself snapped into shadow form — a ghostly, transparent shape of utter darkness. "It was learning to walk in the Light again that I became a discipline healer. It required a great deal of it to stabilize myself."  As she mentioned discipline healing, the shadows faded, and she became corporeal again, hands folded neatly in her lap.

Mallory looked on in shock. "That's… shadow form? I've never seen it in person before. So that's what I would have looked like…" She visibly shudders.

"It can have its uses, but it is exceedingly rare for a healer to be familiar with it beyond a passing familiarity.  Maintaining it — and not letting the shadows consume you — can be tough depending on what you use to trigger them.  It has been years since I used it in combat, but I do know how wicked it can be.  I find the nature of healing suits me better, most times." Sage looked at Mallory thoughtfully.  "May I ask what you were thnking when you believe you used it by accident?"

Mallory avoided Sage's eyes. "I…wanted to fight her. Destroy her, even. My sister is dying and she was in the way." Then she looked at Sage again. "That's not like me. I know it isn't. The seeds are affecting all of us. I even slapped another Templar earlier…because he was being a jerk…because of the seeds. It's…a lot of pressure to all of us."

Sage nodded, the glow on her headpiece haloing her mahogany hair.  "Perhaps it isn't like you… but perhaps it is, in certain situations. You are under a lot of pressure…  and you are worried about your sister.  I do hope I succeeded in making it easy enough for the healers in Darnassus to remove her armor from her skin. Beyond that…  I have seen nothing change someone's nature quite like a threat to family does."

Mallory shivered, remembering the wrenching sight of Emma's armor being removed and her horribly charred skin being revealed. "It did help. But you're right. I'm actually not sure who's the lucky one…me, for not fighting the Warden…or her, because I didn't pick a fight. I…don't know what I would have done."

Sage smiled. "Very likely the Warden would have handed your tail end to you, but also likely it would not have been easy for her."

"In any case," Mallory continued, "we think we've found a way forward. Since the elemental was enslaved against its will, we think we can make some progress if we entice it to work with us. There are some volcanic minerals in Ashenvale that should make a decent peace offering. So that's where I'm headed, along with a few Templars."

"Good luck, I hope the peace offering works and you can get good information in exchange. Be careful, though.  Elementals are… very much like the nature of their element.  Fire is volatile and often violent." After a pause, she continued. "If you would like, after things settle down some, I could teach you what I know about controlling the shadows.  We can see if you have the ability to walk both paths, if you choose."

Mallory immediately shook her head. "Thanks for the offer, but I never want to do that again. The only interest I have in the shadow form is how to get OUT of it if that ever happens again."

"That solution is easily said, but not always easily done." Sage moved as if to stand, and seemed to think better of it, instead settling forward, leaning her elbows on her knees, crossing her hands at the wrist loosely.  "If rage is your trigger, calm, peace, and serenity are your reversers. I will suggest figuring out what pushes you to that level of anger, and finding ways to diffuse yourself when you feel that level of emotion rising in you."

"Simple enough. Like you said, maybe not so easily done, but at least it's simple."

"Simple is often the hardest, but also usually the most effective when it comes to solutions."  Sage shifted back in the chair she is sitting in, hands folding in her lap delicately.  "I'll be in Moonglade for at least the next four days or so, after Hyjal.  Come find me if you want to talk or want me to help you with anything."  She smiled.  "I can tell, by the way you carry yourself, in spite of recent issues…  you've come a long way since we talked in Shattrath."

Mallory nodded politely. "Thanks, I've gained…a lot of accolades, academic and otherwise, since then. Nothing could have prepared me for this though. But, I can see you're tired. I should let you go. Is there anything I can do to help you rest easier?"

"Oh, no no, I'll be fine. I am safe and among — if not outright friends — friendly acquaintances here."  A pause, and she smiled softly.  "Nothing prepares you for your first serious conflict.  Just remember that you can perservere through some really extraordinary things if you try hard enough."

"Heh… Tell me about it. This isn't my first serious conflict though. Just the first one I could possibly do something about." After a pause, she continues. "Emma and I are orphans… Our parents were killed when we were young. Maybe that's why I'm so protective of Emma." She choked as she realized out loud, "She's all the family I've got." It wasn't a new realization to her, but it was the first time she had ever had to verbalize it, and it hit her harder than she had expected.

"All the blood family, perhaps…"  When Mallory looked at her for that comment, she smiled again and fingered a chain hiding something beneath her robes.  "Only one of my children is mine by blood.  Ties of family can be forged through friendship as well.  Remember she is in good hands while you seek her cure."

"I don't doubt it," Mallory said, noticing someone approaching from the side. "Still, there's no substitute for blood."

She blinked at herself, the hurt of her words hitting her even as they left her mouth, but it was too late. Sage's eyes narrowed in stern disapproval. She opened her mouth, but before she could speak, the person approaching from the side came close, having been momentarily forgotten by Mallory.

"Sage!" said Rann, overly cheerful as Shadowsage stood wearily to greet her. Rann hugged her energetically, and Sage did the same. "It's good to see you again, old friend! I'm sure whatever Mallory was just saying, she didn't mean."

Mallory blushed furiously. "Wh–?"

"Relax, Mallory, I'm just returning the favor," Rann interrupted.

Mallory must have looked even more confused, because Rann began to laugh and Sage gave a small smile. "You saved my life once, right? I'm returning the favor."

Mallory took the meaning. "Oh…" She looked down in shame. "I didn't mean…"

"I know you didn't," Sage said. "But let's not go there again."

"I didn't realize you heard too," Mallory said, looking at Rann.

"I didn't," Rann replied. "I saw the look she was giving you. I've only seen that look leveled at two others before, and neither got away unscathed. Let's just say…one was the owner of a goblin trade cartel, and the other was effectively the leader of the Burning Legion."

Mallory blinked in shock.

Sage smiled. "We fought in the campaign at the Sunwell," she explained.

Rann nodded quietly. "A lot happened that day… I'll never forget it." Then she perked up again. "But anyway! Sage, obviously I got your letter, so I thought I'd stop by and say hello. It's been too long."

"It has," Sage agreed. Mallory began to step away to let the two catch up. While she would have loved to continue talking with them, she had business to attend to, a volcano to dig up, an elemental to free, and lives to save. She was still exhausted, but more busy days lay ahead.

Author Rann
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