Doradrassil cautiously strafed about Maiev, silently cursing that cloak she wore. It wasn’t without its practical uses… It hid Maiev’s arms, hands, and much of her posture that Doradrassil might otherwise use to anticipate her enemy’s next move.

 

But what did she want anyway?

 

“Despite your obvious need for instruction,” Maiev started, “you do have potential.”

 

That sounded about right from what Doradrassil had heard of the veteran Warden before: short, to the point, and condescending. But she knew what the Warden had done. After her mission into Outland virtually wiped out the Watchers, and after much torture at the hands of Illidan Stormrage’s servants, something had snapped in her. Upon her return to Darnassus, she had murdered numerous Highborne and made a nearly successful attempt on the life of Malfurion Stormrage. Now a fugitive from the nation she once fanatically served, Maiev had been forced to find other ways to serve her personal vision of the night elves’ future. Her brother, Jarod, now ran the Watchers. Doradrassil had found him to be to her liking…not an extremist like Maiev. 

 

“Potential for what?” Doradrassil asked, barely above a murmur. 

 

“Restoring our glory.”

 

So there it was, a join-or-die ultimatum. With a hypertraditionalist like Maiev, it always came back to restoring the night elves’ immortality and their narrow intolerance of all others. “By what? Murdering mages?” Doradrassil shot back. 

 

“Eliminating traitors.”

 

“‘Suffer not traitors,'” Doradrassil quoted, recalling a message found on a Highborne victim Maiev had murdered. “Is that how you rationalize it?”

 

“There’s nothing to rationalize. Sooner or later, their actions will summon the Legion all over again. Our people’s irresponsible leadership–“

 

“–aren’t as irresponsible as you make them out to be,” Doradrassil cut in. 

 

Maiev shrugged. “Pity. You’d have made a passable Warden.”

 

Doradrassil sneered, readying her crescent. “I am a Warden.”

 

Maiev raised her crescent as well. “Oh no… Not even close.”

 

A dark flash. She was gone. Doradrassil leapt to her left, her ear narrowly missing a dagger flung through the air. She spun about, looking for her enemy. The cloak barely caught the edge of her vision, escaping as fast as she could turn her head. Maiev was astonishingly quick, far more than Doradrassil had expected. She ducked, more out of instinct than seeing an attack. The heavy whoosh of the crescent above her gave her the satisfaction of at least one more breath. 

 

She dove forward, the crescent’s sound telling her Maiev was behind her. She spun around. Too late. A rustling in the trees nearby. Doradrassil hurled her umbra crescent at the direction the rustling was headed. She heard nothing, but the crescent came sailing back with a swath of green fabric stuck to one blade. But as Doradrassil stretched out her hand to catch the crescent, a knife screamed through the air toward her hand. She saw it in time and had to duck both it and her own weapon. 

 

Clever witch.

 

“Been awhile since you used that?” came Maiev’s taunting voice. 

 

If she only knew, Doradrassil thought sadly. Actually…she probably does.

 

The crescent stuck in a tree behind her. Doradrassil leaped to dodge another attack, then tried to retrieve it. It wouldn’t budge at first pull, so she rolled away again. Having the crescent stuck there gave her a predictable place to be…which gave Maiev something to aim at, only having to time out when Doradrassil would be there. Another advantage for the veteran. 

 

I need another weapon, Doradrassil thought, frantically searching about. In the ice nearby, she saw another umbra crescent, perhaps from the fall of Aertemis or one of her party. She dove for it and ripped it from its place in the ice, each hand grasping a different part of it. She happened to glimpse the name on the hand grip. It had not belonged to Aertemis.

 

What I could really use right now, she thought, is a sw–

 

The crescent split in her hands as she stood. She tore her eyes from it just fast enough to dodge an attack. The ruined pieces fell to the ground, leaving her with a pair of thin, crescent-shaped swords in her hands. 

 

“Praise Elune,” she breathed. “I hope these hold up…” 

 

Slowly, the tides turned. Doradrassil spent less energy deflecting and dodging, and more on pursuing. She briefly felt a small tinge of pride for having lasted even this long against Maiev, but it soon turned to suspicion. Was she really this good? Or was Maiev getting rusty? That wasn’t to say that Maiev came across as inept…far from it. She had the impression that “rusty” for Maiev was failing to kill an enemy within three seconds. Maybe mortality and age was finally taking its toll on the veteran Warden? 

 

Or maybe it wasn’t Maiev at all… 

 

While the enemy was efficient, knowledgeable and very lethal, she made mistakes. And if Doradrassil noticed them, she knew quite well that Maiev would have worked those mistakes and weaknesses out of her battle style long ago. Whoever this was…she was good. But Doradrassil gradually grew confident that she could be better. 

 

The pace intensified. Doradrassil barely dodged another attack, feeling more comfortable with these narrow misses. Each close dodge meant she expended only as much energy as the situation demanded, leaving greater reserves for her offense. Meanwhile, her enemy seemed to move so excessively that she was sure to tire eventually. Doradrassil leapt after her, swords at the ready. The enemy zipped around a tree trunk, Doradrassil hot on her heels. Vanished. Doradrassil looked up and leaned back in time to avoid the umbra crescent. She grabbed its inside as it came by, both lifting her up and pulling her foe down. As they tangled awkwardly in the middle of that struggle, Doradrassil managed to rip her opponent’s cloak free. When they hit the snow, a sharp pain ripped through Doradrassil’s left arm. One of the cloak’s knives had pierced her there in the fall. She clenched her teeth and tore herself free before her enemy could capitalize on the situation. 

 

She got to her feet, recovering her blades and whirling to face her enemy, but the other night elf was already upon her with her umbra crescent. Doradrassil parried strike after strike. After a few, instead of parrying against her enemy’s swings, she parried upwards. The sudden shift sent the enemy’s arms up high, struggling against the weapon’s weight. Doradrassil lunged forward and to her left with her swords as the enemy dodged the other way, bringing the crescent down at her. Dora thought she saw a blade draw blood, if only a little, from her enemy’s torso as she dove…but a stinging in her right leg a moment later told her the crescent had done the same to her. 

 

She felt herself tiring. Losing blood from her left arm certainly wasn’t helping, and even if she came out victorious, she knew she would still need the energy to make the trek back to shelter. Surely the other one had to be tiring too…but if she was, she showed no signs of it.

 

A desperate plan came to her mind as she dodged another blow. It would end the fight quickly…one way or the other…and the young Warden could only hope it would be in her favor. First, she needed to put some distance between herself and the enemy. To lighten her weight, she let her improvised swords fall to the snow, and dashed as hard as she could for her umbra crescent, still stuck in the tree. She placed her hands on it and lightly gave a fake tug, her eyes watching the closing foe. Her heart leapt into her throat. Her timing would have to be perfect… If this didn’t work, she was already dead.

 

The other Warden threw her umbra crescent. 

 

Doradrassil leapt straight for it, hands outstretched and eyes focused on it coming at her. Time seemed to slow as it flew right into her palms…and her fingers closed firmly around its soft grip.

 

The other Warden’s eyes grew wide in her helmet. No time to react, even for a Warden. Doradrassil shot at her like a missile, deadly blade in hands, and tore almost completely through.

 

The pair of pale blue eyes eked out one final glimmer before fading.

 

Doradrassil panted hard, shaking her head. She had just killed another woman… She had known it would likely be part of the job when she had signed up years ago, but until now she had never had to take a life. She had always prepared herself for taking the life of an orc, or a troll… In recent years one particular Mag’har orc had been the subject of those imaginings…but she had never thought it would be another night elf whose life she would have to end. She realized the cold air was taking its toll on her throat as she tried to catch her breath, assess her wounds and get the blood off of her. She examined her left arm… The wound was deep and would leave that arm weak for awhile, but she would survive. She could recover, and that was the important thing. Her enemy…was another story. 

 

“‘Not a Warden’ indeed,” she muttered as she turned her attention to the grisly sight in the snow, curious to see just whom she had beaten. Had she really bested the infamous Maiev Shadowsong? She reached forward and grasped the hair-like tail of the helmet, and removed it. 

 

No. Not Maiev. This one was too young. Too few scars. She was old, still, and had the marks of a some past battles, but not old enough to be the Watchers’ founder. She must have been a follower, likely one who worked for Maiev. If so, this meant two things: Maiev must still be out there, actively plotting to “restore” the glory of the night elves, and whoever this woman was, she must have been one of Maiev’s better students if she was allowed to wear a replica of the armor of the first Watcher herself. 

 

Doradrassil looked to the sky. The sun would be going down in just over an hour, and she didn’t want to be stuck out here in the brutal cold of night. But there was still much to do… Traitor or no, the night elf deserved a proper burial. And if her demise was discovered by Maiev or her other followers, returning here the next day could prove fatal.

 

She would have to hurry then. She climbed to her feet and began piling up snow high around her enemy, burying her within it, but setting her helmet aside. Eventually, Maiev’s followers would find this scene, and she didn’t want them to think their comrade had fallen to an unfortunate attack by a magnataur or a roving band of Horde troops… not that either would have bothered to bury the Warden anyway. She wanted to send a message, a warning. 

 

“Suffer not traitors,” she scrawled across the last page of her book on Arthas, and ripped it out of the book. Its meaning would be unmistakable to Maiev, if she saw it. She covered the grave mound with the Warden’s cloak and placed the warning in the helmet, finally placing the helmet atop the cloak.

 

That done, she returned her attention to her original purpose here. The adrenaline of the battle had left her, and she was now feeling more and more exhausted, but she may not have this chance again for a long time. She had to get it done. 

 

The huge man — clearly Arthas — had pursued the Warden eastward while the Scourge forces had pursued the other Watchers west. The Warden fled south, away from the road, and east from where the Stars’ Rest camp would later settle. A frozen stream hid the tracks briefly, though some could be seen on both sides of it. They fought, though from the erratic and frantic patterns of the Warden’s tracks and the firm, deliberate path of Arthas’, it was clear he had the upper hand the whole time and was unconcerned by her. Few of his footsteps were ever side-by-side… His stride was continuous, ever advancing. They fought their way upstream towards a still, frozen waterfall that had perhaps not moved in centuries. 

 

That was where she saw it…

 

An indentation in the tracks, night elf-sized. Only the lower half of the body…the rest, she surmised, would have been slumped against the rocks next to the waterfall. Around it, half buried in the snow, were five large, sundered pieces of green and dark grey metal. 

 

Aertemis’ umbra crescent. 

 

Doradrassil looked at the sky again. She had time, but not much. She dug the handle out of the ice to examine it. Sure enough, the name of Aertemis Hopesong had been engraved near the grip. She placed it carefully on the ice and dug up the next piece, making sure not to lose any shards in the snow and dirt it had been buried in. The next piece, and the next, reverently avoiding the site of Aertemis’ demise as if she still rested there in some way. The umbra crescent began to take shape again on the stream behind her as she worked. Satisfied that she had completed it all, she gathered up the pieces into a cloth and wrapped them up, tying it shut and carrying it with her. 

 

Finally, she retrieved her own umbra crescent from the tree, nearly sapping what strength she had left, and took her fallen enemy’s crescent as well. She wouldn’t give the weapon back to Maiev and her followers. At last, she started back towards the tuskarr village. She cursed under her breath at the setting sun, her wounded arm, and the three heavy weapons weighing her down. Not to mention the weight on her mind of taking a life. But despite all the weight, her spirit felt pleased. It had been a good day’s work, and soon she would be able to repay her mentor for all that she had taught her. 

Author Rann
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