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Perched high above the Jade Forest, Tian Monastery was a refuge. Up high yet hidden, it was shrouded by cherry blossom trees and a cloud of morning and evening mist. Night reached this hilltop last, the vanishing sunset slipped from its peaks and darkness scaled the summit, nestling in its courtyards, ponds, and winding stone paths. The Shado-Pan ever patrolled these roads, some by torchlight and others only guided by sharp ears and noses. 

Tucked away on this peak, Arialynn Dawnfield waited. Rarely left untended, she begun the habit of keeping an empty tea cup ready for unexpected visits. Sitting restless by the open window of her quarters, she watched the lilting lights of nocturnal creatures float between lilies of a nearby pond. Clothed in silk robes, she was partially obscured by the cloak that wrapped about her and fastened at the nape of her neck. Her attire was the color of mourning. Only her hands were visible, clasping porcelain cup in her lap. It bore no handle and was rimmed with steaming tea. On its surface, an intricate scene of two dueling serpents told a tale. One slithered from a cave while the other curled itself on an overhead tea bough. Their jaws were locked tightly, their eyes wide and wild with the rush of battle. Though there were many cups to choose, the Justicar favored this one, especially when company came to call.

Two bassinets waited in her quarter’s corner. Thatched in a more human tradition, they stuck out among the intricate Pandaren decor. Empty at present, they will bore soft bedding and warm blankets, waiting to receive their newborn treasures. Arialynn glanced to them briefly, pausing from her nocturnal watching. It was then when she spied the shadow moving above them. She did not move. Betraying no shock, no surprise, she looked to the deep corner where the shadow grew in size. It grew like a shadow would when its owner rose from sitting to standing, and the bearer of this shadow loomed tall. Though no wind stirred to stifle, the flames that lit her room dimmed. It was as if the very presence of the shadow quieted them.

“It took long for you to come,” she told the Shadow, breaking the breathless hush that seized the room.

“You tucked yourself far away, Lightbearer,” it spoke with no hisses, no garbled tongue to its voice. Deep and almost sonorous, the Shadow spoke in perfect Common. Eyes blinked from the corner, narrowed and cunning. “But the Legion sees all.”

“I see,” the paladin replied, lifting her cup to sip her tea. Her eyes did not stray from the Shadow. “And what does the Legion say to me?”

The Shadow moved, turning its back toward Arialynn as it gazed down at the bassinets. A clawed hand toyed with the colorful ribbons that dangled from one of their thatched rims. “You mourn. Is this how humans mourn? Alone, eyes watching the lonely night?”

“Some,” she replied, still watching it.

“What are you to do once these little ones are born? Leave them to be raised by strangers? Never to know the mother that birthed them, for she’s bound by duty to battle. Fatherless, never to know the other half of their birthright?” The Shadow did not taunt. Its tone was wondering, almost curious as it wound a ribbon around its claw.

Arialynn did not answer.

“What tide could one paladin turn in battle, after months of bearing not one, but two children? What battle could you fight? Ah, yes. The Light is with you. It could carry you a while. But it was with so many others…” The Shadow slowly shook its head, almost sympathetic. It turned from the bassinets to face her. The edges of its form were solidifying, yielding to curved horns, charred lips that split apart as it spoke with fanged teeth.

Arialynn did not answer. The Shadow went on.

“It is a small dream, isn’t it? To raise a family one one simple world. Such a strange dream for a fighter like you, one who has sown so much death. How many souls have you killed to get you here? How many died under your orders? So much death in the short life of one human. This… life, this family, it’s a little penance, is it? To make up for the life lost, you populate it with your own… You are not too unlike us after all.”

The Shadow chuckled. Its form rippled a moment, nearly losing its shape. When it reformed as its words resumed.

“But not here. Even when the Legion’s eye is turned away, this world wars with itself. There is no time. There is no rest. This world is determined to lose to itself. You know it. You’ve fought against its lesser, its baser, instincts for years. You see it. You know it. There could yet be a place for you.”

Arialynn replied slowly, repeating: “What does the Legion say to me?”

The Shadow smiled, its grin a whitened gap in the dark that rimmed it. “There are countless worlds. I’ve seen them. You’re not limited to this one and its lesser instincts. You could command legions. None could touch you or the kin you’ve brought into this world. You’d be revered, your children eternal. Never again to stoop for lower beings, to wait till they saw reason. Your voice alone could stop them. Stop their childish fighting, their bickerings. It could even stop it now,” the Shadow stepped close. “Say it, and this battle ends for you. For the two children still waiting to be born, for the boy who doesn’t yet know his father’s fate, for whatever Templar you choose, the Legion will uphold and spare.”

The Shadow smiled then recoiled. “Or remain, fight alongside those who’d rather fight each other. Fight for baser wants. Who can’t see the distant victory you fight for for even a moment. Fight with the lessers. You were born in the wrong time, Lightbearer. On any other world, you would be revered as a queen. Your fate is to die a widow, your children cut adrift as you were, raised by others.”

“– Yes,” Arialynn replied, setting aside her tea cup and slowly rising. This response seemed to catch the Shadow almost off guard. It chuckled.

“Yes? You accept my offer?”

Gathering herself up, Arialynn stood. “My children will likely be raised by others. It has already begun. Taran knows me as his mother but even now, he sleeps in another’s quarters. The others no doubt will as well,” Her hands disappeared under the long edges of the cloak she wore. “And I was born in a world torn apart by the Scourge. Yet despite this, my efforts are largely spent keeping two world factions apart.”

The Shadow watched, eyes glittering.

“I tire. I have seen much, fought long, and earned very little rest to show for it. Very little peace. I waited for you, knowing you would come.”

The Shadow grinned, holding out a clawed hand. Arialynn stepped forward, one hand rising from the tucked folds of her cloak and robes. In the moment before their hands met, a crackling Light seared from the paladin’s hand, it raising till it leveled with the Shadow’s surprised face.

“I waited to give you this.”

The exorcism spell burned into the demon’s flesh. It dispelled its shadows and revealed it for what it was: a Nathrezim, writhing and screaming as the Holy magic ripped through it. Kneeling, Arialynn placed a hand on the demon’s chest and halted the progress of the spell. Hissing, it rolled its eyes toward her.

Leaning forward, she spoke low into its ear. “Alone, widowed, or childless, I will fight you. It was you that brought the Scourge into this world and tore my life apart. It was you that set me on this path, that tied me to duty till my death. I will never forget it. Not with a thousand promises — or deaths of loved ones. Nothing will stop me.”

Its voice hoarse from the Holy flame, the demon managed a throaty cackle. Its words registered barely above a whisper. “What mortal burdened with child could hope to fight against the Legion?”

Unfastening the nape of her cloak, the Justicar stood. The silk fell away, revealing a curve no longer bent under the weight of pregnancy. Achained libram to a tightened belt flashed brightly as its bearer resumed her spell. The demon gaped in shock then snarled hoarsely.

“But where — ?”

“Born two days ago, healthy and without mind that the Legion invades their world. Fatherless, but carefree, loved. You think a soldier could be kept from her battle long? That she would weep herself weak and be tempted by the likes of you? That a soldier would desire being a queen? You are wrong, demon. In so many ways!”

With the raising of her hand, a pillar of Light bore down. It struck and set the demon aflame, leaving the delicate wood around it untouched. Its screams cut short, all that was left floated as cinder and ash. They tangled with the Justicar’s graying hair as it alighted then resettled atop her shoulders. Hearing the commotion, Shado-Pan responded to the hut, torches lighting like signals in the night, awaking the monastery.

Bending down to retrieve her cloak, Arialynn drew it about herself as the guards burst into her quarters. Her eyes briefly dwelled to the cinders on the floor before she took up her tea cup again. On its surface were two serpents clashing in battle, one from below, the other above.

“You do not see all,” she spoke into the tea leaves, and finished her drink.

Author Ari
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