Ace’s eyebrow rose as he walked into the field commander’s office. Commander Wexler paced behind his desk, rubbing a hand across his forehead as if it ached. “Commander.”
Wexler wheeled around and saluted quickly. “Grand Marshal Walkinson.”
Ace returned the salute and began removing his gauntlets. “There’s some trouble with my student, commander?”
Scowling, Wexler waved to a seat. “Yes and no, grand marshal.” He took a seat behind his desk and clasped his hands together, placing them on his desk. “Of all of the young paladins under my command that I’ve helped to train, one of yours is one of the last I would’ve expected to be insubordinate or disobey direct orders.”
Both eyebrows shot up to his hairline. “Really,” he answered in a no-nonsense tone.
Wexler sighed and sat back in his chair, his hand returning to rub his forehead. “I’ve given her orders several times to sleep. She keeps refusing and continuing to work on the injured and dying. Quite frankly, I don’t know what to do with her at this point. I can’t afford to lose her and her healing skills but I can’t have insubordination, especially here.”
Nodding in agreement, Ace sat back as well. “I’ll have a talk with her. If she straightens out then we’ll have no more problems with her.”
Wexler pulled out a piece of parchment. “I was about to put a note in her file about this. Should I?”
Ace leaned forward and took the parchment from his hands. “No need, commander. I’ll take care of it.”
“Thank you, Grand Marshal.” Relief was evident on the commander’s face. “I need her and I’d hate to have to mar the record of a remarkable young woman. On top of that,” he smiled wryly, “having to reprimand a Grand Marshal’s neophyte doesn’t have much appeal.”
Returning the grin, Ace stood. “It doesn’t do much for me either, commander. I appreciate the heads up.”
Wexler stood as well and held out his hand. “Straighten her out for me, sir, and you’ll have my gratitude.”
Ace took his hand and shook it then turned and strode out of the office. His expression darkened as soon as he closed the door and his strides almost struck sparks on the stone of the hallway.
The noises coming from the infirmary weren’t ones he was expecting. Soft, murmuring voices, yes, but singing, no. Easing the door open he peered in and stopped. Seella was at the far end with her back turned to him, singing. She knelt by the bed of a soldier who he could tell, even from this distance, was too far gone to live. Worse, the man obviously was succumbing to the plague that inflicted so many that fought the undead, the plague that would cause the body to rise again to become one of the Scourge. Light poured from her as she sang, enveloping both her and the dying man. Looking up at Seella, the man smiled briefly before his last breath escaped from him. The Light surrounding the two of them coalesced into a shining globe, hovering briefly over the dead man. It entered his body causing it to shine from within. Rising from the body, it took the form of a man that floated gently above them before disappearing in a flaring brilliance. The remaining body crumbled quickly, becoming nothing more than dust within seconds. Ace stood frozen in the doorway unable to take his eyes from the sight. After a moment he regained his composure and straightened, clearing his throat to catch her attention.
Seella’s head turned around and her eyes widened at seeing Ace standing there. “Sir? Are you injured?” She rose quickly and started to walk towards him but stopped when he held up his hand.
“When you’re finished with work here, I’d like to see you. I’ll be in the commander’s office.” Without waiting for her acknowledgement, he turned and left.
Seella knocked on the doorframe. “Sir, I am taking a break for a while. You wanted to see me?”
“Enter, Neophyte.” Ace stood in front of the commander’s desk, arms and legs crossed, a stern expression on his face. “Don’t bother saluting. Have a seat.”
Wary and worried, Seella walked in and sat down. “You are angry with me, sir?”
Ace rubbed his face and lets out a short laugh. “Heh.” Recrossing his arms, he eyed her directly. “Would you mind explaining what in the Light’s name you were doing to that soldier, Neophyte?”
Blinking, Seella looked at him, confused. “I was just sending his soul to the Light, sir.” Her expression saddened. “He could not be saved. He was like too many others that are injured here.”
He nodded slowly. “And his body? It’s just ash now. Not a whole lot to bury, eh? Don’t you think his family would’ve like to have the choice of seeing him for the last time rather than burying him in a cup?”
Her eyes flashed in response. “Do you think I would have liked to give them that chance, sir? His body would have risen by tomorrow if I had not done what I did. Do you think his family would have appreciated seeing their son attacking one of them? Do you think they would have appreciated having to have to kill him again?” Her last words came out close to a sob.
“I think that not giving them the choice of what to do with their kin’s body is wrong for whatever reason. We could have contained him if he had risen until they decided. To do less for a fallen soldier would be to disgrace his sacrifice and memory. At least it would bring closure for them. Now I have to write his kin and explain to them why we had to cremate the body instead of giving them the choice of burial.”
Seella ducked her head as the tears fall. “I cannot free their souls without the body turning to ash.” There was a note of despair in her voice. “If they die and I do not free their souls, they are trapped and cannot join the Light. Arthas will have them and make them do … terrible things.” She shuddered as her voice dropped. “We lost several a few weeks ago because I was too weak to do what needed to be done. I tried to save him.” Burying her face in her hands, she begins sobbing. “I could not save him. He rose and killed more before he was stopped.”
He looked up at the ceiling, listening to her sobs. “Neophyte … there are times when you will fail at your task, no matter how hard you try. We have a saying. ‘I’m only human.’ It means that we aren’t perfect and we know it. What I’m trying to say is, because you couldn’t do what needed to be done, for whatever reason, is not cause for you to be so upset about it. Which leads me to my next issue with you, Neophyte Seella.” Ace’s gaze dropped from the ceiling to fix her with a look. “Commander Wexler spoke to me today. Would you like to guess what it was about?”
Drying her eyes, she looked up at Ace. “Is Commander Wexler displeased with my work?”
“No, he’s very pleased with your work. What he is not pleased with is your apparent inability to follow orders. Do you know how it felt to him to have a Grand Marshal’s mentee act like his orders weren’t, in fact, orders? What were they to you?” Seella opened her mouth to speak but snapped it shut and ducked her head when he continued. “Suggestions? Because they aren’t. They’re ‘orders.’ And you ‘will’ follow them as if I’d given them myself, Neophyte. Having a Commander come and talk to me about my mentee not doing what’s she’s told is embarrassing. To him it looks like because you’re the ‘Grand Marshal’s mentee’” he emphasized his words by making quotes with his fingers, “you can do whatever you like. To me, however, it’s like I’m having to babysit. And I don’t do babysitting. So explain to me, really explain to me, why I had to go speak to your commander and find out about your behavior. And you’d better make it convincing.”
Seella’s head snapped up and her eyes flashed again. “If by following his orders you mean his ordering me to sleep when I do not need it then, yes, I did not follow his orders. He chooses to judge my needs by what humans’ needs are despite what I tell him. I do not need as much sleep as a human does. I can work longer than a human does. Do I work myself to exhaustion? Yes, I do.” Standing, she took a deep breath and looked down at him, eyes glowing brightly. “But it is nothing more than the humans that work here do as well including the commander. He just refuses to see that my needs are different, that I am not human and that I can work longer healing and tending these patients than his humans can.”
Ace looked up at her and said in a deadly calm voice, “I did not give you permission to stand yet, Neophyte. Sit down.” After she sat down, he continued. “Now. Did you speak to Wexler about how your endurance and needs are different, and demonstrate that to him?”
Her ramrod-backed posture gave a good indication of her temperament at the moment. “Yes, sir, Grand Marshal, I did. When he put me on a schedule with the humans I explained to him that I can work longer than humans can and need less rest. He insisted I follow his schedule. He insisted I sleep as much and as often as the humans did despite my not needing as much. He still insists and comes to interrupt my work with orders to sleep when I do not need it.” Her teeth remained clenched throughout her reply. “And, technically I have not disobeyed an order. I have merely obeyed at a later time.”
Nodding in understanding, Ace asked, “Have you given thought that perhaps he put that schedule on you to help you fit in better with his unit? Maybe because he is wanting to be careful with you since you’ve become a valued soldier? Or maybe, just maybe, he might know better than you how much a body can take when giving out the healing arts before they collapse or suffer permanent damage to themselves by exhausting themselves beyond reason?”
It was evident she fought the urge to rise again since her hands clenched the arms of her chair so hard her knuckles turned white. Her tight-lipped reply was clipped, further evidence of her anger showing in the heavy accent of her words. “I am over 200 years old and know Draenei physiology better than the commander so I know better than he does what my body can and cannot take, sir. As for fitting in with his unit, if that is his desire, then perhaps he should reprimand his other soldiers for calling me a ‘space goat.’” The last words were spat out, the anger behind them masking the hurt he could see in her eyes. “The injured do not care that I walk on hooves or that I have a tail and horns. They only care that I heal their wounds and sing their souls into the Light if they cannot be healed.” Angry and hurt tears leaked from the corners of her eyes. “They do not judge me because of my race.”
Ace handed her a cloth to wipe her face with. “A ‘space goat,’ huh? Do you know how silly that sounds?” he asked, trying to keep the grin from his face. At the renewed hurt in her eyes from his words, his expression sobered. “For some people, particularly humans, change can be a very scary thing, especially when it can represent a change to their position in the world or to their beliefs. You and your race are a part of that change. Some will accept it and others will fight it tooth and nail. But in the end, when the chips are down and there’s no alternative, they will see different. That we need change. Even me. When I saw what you did back in the medical ward …” He hesitated and shook his head. “I don’t know how to describe it. It took me back to when I knew in my soul that I wanted to be a paladin. I haven’t witnessed that in a very long time.”
“But you are angry with me for turning the body to ash.”
He nodded. “I was, because in human cultures we prefer to be given the choice on how we bury our dead, Neophyte. I don’t know how Draenei handle their dead.”
Her brow furrowed. “You would bury him knowing that he would rise again, having his soul trapped to never reach the Light and his body and soul used by the Lich King?”
Ace blinked at her. “I would not. But there are other ways to secure the body so it doesn’t rise back up, so to speak. What I’m trying to get you to realize is that the choice isn’t yours to make since you aren’t the next of kin, Neophyte. Regardless of the outcome. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
Seella dropped her gaze. “And if the man requested it? If he asked to make sure his body couldn’t be used against his friends?” she asked quietly.
“Then by all means go ahead.”
“They all ask me now. After one that we buried rose and killed more. They all want me to save their souls.” Her eyes lifted to his, begging him to understand. “I sing them all to sleep every night, hoping they don’t die during the few hours I sleep.” The dark circles under her eyes were evidence of the burden she carried. “I cannot let their souls suffer in darkness.”
“A good goal to have, Neophyte Seella. Take care it does not become your singular focus. Now go get some rest. You look exhausted. I’ll speak to Commander Wexler after.”
She shook her head. “I cannot rest yet, sir. There are others who … are close. And it is not time for me to sleep yet.”
“Then consider it an order. A quarter of a day rest. If you won’t do it willingly, I’ll put you under guard.”
Stunned, Seella looked at him. “But, sir, I am needed. The soldiers need me. I cannot rest right now.”
“Don’t argue with me, Neophyte. A quarter day to rest. Then you can return to your regular duties.”
Opening her mouth to respond, she closed it and thought a moment. “Yes, sir,” she replied, a pleasant smile on her face. “May I leave now, sir?”
Ace narrowed his eyes at her quick compliance then nodded. “Dismissed. I expect not to see you in medical for the next quarter day. If I do or hear that you have, then we will have issues, and I will have to reconsider taking you on as a mentee. Is that clear?”
Still smiling pleasantly, she rose and nodded. “A quarter of a day rest and I can’t go to medical during that time. I understand, sir.” The smile stayed on her face and her tail twitched excitedly behind her as she walked out of the office.
He watched her leave and closed the door behind her. Standing for a moment thinking, he chuckled to himself and walked back to sit down at the desk.