Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The End of the Beginning

The silence was deafening.

It struck Jezriyah suddenly just how cold it was.  Granted, they were on top of the Citadel itself on a platform made of ice -- the chill was no surprise.  But her vision had been so tunneled since the fall of Sindragosa that now, at the end of the long final battle, it seemed that she was standing at the foot of the Frozen Throne for the first time.

The shock was beginning to break, now, and the ten of them began to grasp the gravity of what had just occurred.  Qoholeth, head bowed in thankful prayer; Alessandrae crumbled on the floor, head in her hands, Ygdrasill on one knee and holding her tight to his chest.  Peccator quietly healing the last of the group’s wounds.  And Udiyvli, ever the leader, shaking snow and sweat from her mane as she walked towards the fallen Prince’s prone body, opening the small cache he had possessed.

“Jezi!”  She gestured briefly, and the hunter walked over, to be presented with one of the stranger crossbows she’d ever seen.  “I think you’re the only one of us who could make use of this.”

Jezriyah took the weapon gingerly, turning it over in her hands.  It was a Scourge weapon at first glance, with all the skulls and spikes and deathly trappings they’d been so fond of.  But its lath was awfully long, and made of a completely different wood than the other pieces of the weapon.  She squinted, and turned it on its side.  “Huh.  Looki’ this, Udi.  S’jes’ a longbow attached to a secon’han’ stock.”

“So it is,” the warrior murmured, brow furrowing.  “And look at the detailing on the front.  That’s not even Scourge, it’s--”

“--elvish,” Jezriyah finished.  Their eyes met for half a second, the same idea flitting across both their eyes.  She bit her lip.  “Linny may know... Tayllia would fa’ certain.”

“Know what?”  Ailinea drew closer, pulling her hood back over her head and tucking her shivering ears underneath it.

Jezriyah reached over and brushed the snow from her friend’s shoulders affectionately.  “Th’ origin a’this weapon.”  She held the bow out with her other hand.

The mage’s breath caught in her throat -- Jezi was certain that was her answer, but she waited for confirmation.  Ailinea ran her fingers over the lath, seeming to feel a remnant of arcane power in it.  “It’s definitely quel’dorei in provenance,” she said slowly.  “And... I can’t speak for certain of who it would belong to, but... it’s much more ornate than anything a lay ranger would have carried in battle.  It must have belonged to a Farstrider of significant rank.”

The three of them exchanged quiet glances.  “Actually askin’ be th’only way ah kin think t’be sure,” Jezriyah murmured.  She looked to Ailinea.  “Would -- would you be willin’ ta come wit’ me?  Ah always feel so out-a-place down there...”

“Of course.”

They approached Qoholeth after he’d finished his prayers and helped Peccator and Bosorn with the last of the immediately-necessary healing.  “Q, dear--”  Ailinea rested a hand on his elbow.  “Do you think you could get us in touch with the right people to obtain an audience with the Dark Lady?  We... need her advice on a subject of some import.”

The priest blinked slowly, before offering a soft smile.  “I find it hard to imagine you’d be able to avoid addressing her, considering what just happened here.”

“A valid point.”  Ailinea glanced between her two comrades.  “We’ll all need some time to rest... and it’s much later than it feels now.  The day after tomorrow, perhaps?”

“Ay, tha’ soun’ good.  Poor Miga’s got ’is leg nearly tore open.”

“Oh, goodness, I didn’t even see that.  Let me go have a look...”


Jezriyah did notice a few odd looks as she headed towards the Royal Quarter, but not nearly so many as there would have been were she not accompanied by a blood elf mage and Forsaken priest.  She was grateful for their presence as they stepped into the imposing confines of the Banshee Queen’s throne room.

“Your Majesty,” intoned one of the officials, reading from a scroll.  “Priest Qoholeth of the Undercity, Dame Ailinea Phoenixborn of Silvermoon, and...”  A momentary pause, as usually came from the eastern races.  “Jez... rye-ay, of the Darkspear Tribe.”  It was wrong, but not as badly wrong as it had been said before, so she let it be.  “Veterans of the battle at Icecrown Citadel.”

It was at this last statement that Sylvanas’ gaze turned sharp, her jaw setting as she looked at them appraisingly.  “Thank you, herald.”  She looked around the room briefly.  “You are all dismissed; we require privacy.  You may return after our visitors have left.”

The circled Deathguards bristled.  “My Lady, as your bodyguards--”

“These soldiers are known to me; they pose no risk.”  Jezriyah’s spine straightened uncomfortably at that revelation.  “You will be told when you may return.”

The varied guards and ambassadors in the room all filed out, most of them looking quizzically or suspiciously at the troll as they left.  The doors were pulled shut, and Jezriyah stood awkwardly before the Banshee Queen of the Forsaken.

“Word of Arthas’ fall reached the Undercity almost instantaneously,” Sylvanas said, her voice perfectly even -- if she had any emotional reaction to this news, she certainly wasn’t showing it.  “You and your comrades have won an incomparable victory for all of Azeroth, and not least the Forsaken, including myself.”  Her voice softened.  “It is not often I find myself in a position to offer my sincere gratitude to anyone, but you have all certainly earned it.”

“It be nothin’ compared ta your own sacrifices fo’ your people, Your Majesty,” Jezriyah said slowly, the words carefully rehearsed -- both for content and to minimize her heavy island accent.  “But tha’ is part of why ah wished ta speak wit’ you today.  We... obtained some items from Icecrown after th’ Lich King’s defeat.  One of them in pa’ticular we think may have belonged to you or one of ya colleagues.  An’ we wished ta return it to you if dat were th’case.”

She unwrapped the bundle of linens wrapped around the weapon and stepped forward to present it to Sylvanas, her head bowed slightly.  “It seems t’be an elven longbow, attached to a crossbow stock...”

The room went silent as Sylvanas took the weapon, examining it closely.  Jezi searched her face for some hint of recognition, but found none, until the Queen spoke.  “This is the Heartseeker,” she said brusquely, “or at least it once was.  It did belong to me, though it wasn’t my preferred weapon.  It must have been taken from the Farstrider base after Silvermoon fell.”

Jezriyah bit her lip, unsure how to react to the matter-of-fact way Sylvanas spoke of such terrible events.  “Then ah’m glad to have returned it to you,” she finally said.

Sylvanas scoffed.  “I appreciate the sentiment, I suppose, but I’ve certainly no need for it now.”  She offered the weapon back to the troll, who took it gingerly.

Jezriyah glanced to Ailinea.  “Ah s’pose we could return it to th’ Farstriders fa’ safekeeping, den.”  Her mage friend nodded her approval.

The Dark Lady’s eyes shifted downward to the stout gray wolf at her visitors’ side.  “Whose companion is this?”

Jezriyah smiled without thinking of it, patting her partner’s shaggy mane.  “This be Mig’atali.  He fought wit’ us at th’ Frozen Throne as well.”

“Indeed.  A hunter of your people, then.”  She looked at the troll for a long moment before speaking again.  “What sort of weapon do you use now?”

“Oh--”  She pulled the bone bow she’d salvaged from Icecrown from its place on her back, holding it out for Sylvanas’ inspection.  “I go’ it from some skeleton archer t’ing up nort’.  It ain’ much for finesse, but it hit like an angry kodo.”

The Queen’s nose wrinkled.  “Standard Scourge craftsmanship.  Strength in numbers.  Ten thousand shambling skeletons firing these and something’s bound to find a target.”  Jezriyah couldn’t stifle a soft laugh -- it was just the comment she’d have made herself, and the reminder of the inviolable Dark Lady as a fellow marksman made her smile.

Sylvanas caught the expression and returned it, though in a distant way that seemed to chill the room.  “Silvermoon and the ranger corps have more than enough left to remind them of the scourging of Quel’Thalas.  As the rightful owner of the Heartseeker, I think it fitting that you wield it.  It would serve Azeroth better in the battlefield than displayed on a wall.”

Jezriyah’s eyes shot open.  “I -- yah Majesty, I couldna possibly --”

“Enough.  You are both devoted to the defense of your people and capable of facing the most dire threats our world has seen.  Consider it your just reward for your contribution to the war effort.”  She let her gaze flick between the three of them.  “Have any of you further business?”

They did not, and after another minute or so of formalities, they were escorted back onto the streets of the Undercity.  A few minutes after that, Ailinea had summoned a portal, and Jezriyah found herself back in Orgrimmar under the pounding heat of a Durotar drought.  She thought of visiting her parents, but instead headed to her own small rented room upstairs from Kaya’s gun shop.

The Heartseeker was wrapped carefully in a thick bundle of linen, tucked under the bed with the rest of her battle gear.  She might get it out in a couple of days on the training dummies, get used to firing with a trigger again -- but for now, the war was over.  Azeroth was safe.  It would be a long time before it was needed again.


Sturgar said...

Oh, Jez, you sued yourself up none. At least, not so much that's it's noticeable. Well done, great story. =)

Cadistra said...

I finally got a chance to read this, and I loved it. You added some really nice personality to yourself, the Banshee Queen, and everyone else. You should, y'know, write more! ;)

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