[Writer’s Note: And now for something completely different! I spent all of my free time writing this and couldn’t focus on fleshing out my usual topic-oriented posts because, well, I wanted to work on this instead. So, I hope you enjoy it! Feel free to leave comments, criticisms, and suggestions, too! Thanks!]
Toriah stared at the glass of brandy before her. The amber liquid made her distorted reflection ripple and dance whenever she shifted the drinking vessel between her gloved hands. Two years ago, Toriah would never have gone near a tavern; if she did, usually at the behest of her closest friends, she would only sip beakers of honeymint tea.
The Cataclysm had changed all of that.
She thought a successful campaign against the Lich King would earn Azeroth and its citizens some respite. She was even willing to believe Garrosh Hellscream could lead the Horde in Thrall’s absence without leading them to ruin, despite seeing his actions in Northrend. So much faith and hope, dashed away in a matter of mere seconds. A part of her wondered whether Thrall could have handled the Cataclysm and elemental invasion any better, and if she was just being uncharitable toward the son of Grom. But speculating on the past was futile. In addition to the return of Deathwing the Destroyer, the Horde and Alliance were locked in a bloody all-out conflict all over Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms. If Deathwing didn’t destroy Azeroth, the two warring factions would finish what he started.
The elf looked up and out the window to Eversong Woods beyond. Even golden sunlight on the soaring spires of Silvermoon City failed to cheer her. The Lord Regent’s disappointment in her— however justified— had seen to that. Lor’themar Theron and his advisors were less than ecstatic when Sergeant Krodan Bloodbane brought Toriah before them like some common criminal. Their displeasure only grew as the orc rattled off a litany of her “actions against the Horde.”
“Let us speak with our ranger alone, Sergeant Bloodbane,” Lor’themar said.
“Warchief Hellscream strictly commanded—” the orc began before the former ranger general cut him off with a polite wave of his hand.
“I assure you Toriah will not escape, nor will she attempt any such thing. The honor guard would be happy to show you the city and attend to your needs in the meantime.”
As two soldiers escorted the grumbling orc out, Toriah prepared to face the indignant wrath of her superiors. Words began spilling out before she could think.
“Lor’themar, I’m sorry you had to find out this way, but you need to listen to me! That pi—”
“Enough,” the Lord Regent barked, his smooth face rigid with anger.
Toriah lapsed into chastised silence. She hung her head, looking at the rich textiles between her boots. Lor’themar sighed as if it were his last breath. Toriah lifted her eyes from the floor to glance at him. He suddenly looked old and tired, the proud posture in his broad shoulders gone. There were fine lines of weariness etched on his face. The elf’s single functioning eye was as blank and empty as his scarred one. His cheeks seemed hollow. Shadows hung over him like a shroud.
“Relations with the Horde were tenuous, at best, from the very beginning,” he began, his voice low as if weighed down by the anxiety he carried. “It was only with Sylvanas’s help that we were able to get to where we are today. And, now, the things she’s doing in Silverpine Forest would make Arthas shiver.” The elf shuddered involuntarily. “That complicity already endangers us and our standing with the Horde, even though we aren’t mixing the plague ourselves. This— what you’ve done— is just…”
He sighed again, unwilling— or unable— to keep talking. The woman looked down again. The other two elves of the triumvirate did not even glance at her. She had expected as much from Grand Magister Rommath; Halduron Brightwing’s coolness, however, was surprising. The Ranger-General, the former Farstrider, and the master hunter had fought alongside one another, were comrades in arms. That made it all the more painful. I’m just one elf, she wanted to say. How could I imperil our people’s reputation? She was not the first, last, nor only blood elf serving the Horde, and she certainly did not consider herself an individual of any great importance.
But she was probably the only one arrogant enough to commit blatant insubordination in front of the Warchief, of all people.
Eyes still downcast, she kept her voice even and neutral. “I’m sorry, my Lord Regent. I will not disappoint you, or our people, again.”
“I’m going to hold you to that, Tori,” Lor’themar said.
His use of her nickname was the only acknowledgement of their past service together, but it brought little warmth.
A curt nudge brought the elf out of her thoughts. She turned her head slightly, recognizing the burly orc out of the corner of her luminous green eye. Ah yes, her noble warden: loyal to no one and nothing except their illustrious and mighty warchief. It takes a steadfast man like Krodan Bloodbane to watch over the potentially insurgent. Toriah snorted, finished the remaining brandy in one gulp, then rose slowly from her seat. As much as she disliked her constant shadow, it was still unwise to keep him waiting.
The warchief had been gracious enough to grant her one day in Silvermoon City, though it was mostly so he could make an example of her to the Lord Regent and the blood elves. Regardless, she was going to make the most of this day in her homeland— orc babysitter notwithstanding.
She let out a sharp whistle as she left the inn, making her companion wince with irritation. When nothing happened, she whistled again, which earned her an annoyed glare from Bloodbane.
“What in Hellscream’s name are you whistling for, elf?” he said.
“I’m calling for my pet,” Toriah said. Against her better judgment, she added, “You know, the other one with fangs and not assigned to me by the warchief.”
Sergeant Bloodbane bristled. “I oughta snap you in two!”
Just as she was about to retort with a Thalassian insult, her sharp ears heard the familiar whisper of fur and large paws on paving stones. Toriah turned to receive her pet but found the red-gold cat padding up the path next to Halduron Brightwing. Well, that just figures, doesn’t it? she thought dourly. Even my cat has given up on me. She stood at attention and saluted the Ranger-General— something she hadn’t done since she was a newly trained Farstrider. It never hurt to be too careful. She hadn’t forgotten the bite in the Lord Regent’s voice.
Halduron, however, just shook his head. He nodded briefly to the orc, then strode up to his fellow elf. “Toriah,” he said, not unkindly. He pushed her saluting arm back down to her side. “Tori, you can’t take this so personally.”
“Oh?” Her long, dark eyebrows shot up her forehead, formality and protocol momentarily forgotten. “And just what part in all this am I not supposed to take ‘personally,’ Ranger-General?”
“The Lord Regent isn’t the same man who fought at our side in days past,” he said with a weary sigh. “Assuming the mantle of leadership has taken much out of him, turning him into a… a politician. Being subjected to Rommath’s scheming and machinations on a daily basis doesn’t help matters, either.”
“What about you? You’re as much a part of the council as they are.”
“My hands are full enough with the defense of Quel’thalas— or whatever’s left of it, anyway— without grasping for power and acclaim. When I’m not allocating what few troops I have to bolstering our hold on the Ghostlands, I’m stuck mediating between those two. Honestly, there’s three of us in that chamber but I’ve never felt more alone in my duties.”
“Ranger-General, if there’s something you wish to say—”
“Please, Tori,” he said, his long fingers pinching the bridge of his nose, “skip the formalities. It’s not necessary here.”
Toriah’s eyes blazed bright green as she stared hard at her former commander. “Yet it was necessary to act like I was some common thug who had committed an unspeakable atrocity and hang me out to dry to appease that, that—” She paused as Bloodbane shot her a warning look. “The warchief,” she finished pathetically.
“You know, I haven’t been a fan of Lor’themar’s choices as of late, but he knows he’s being watched.” The Ranger-General’s voice was strained with frustration. “Kael didn’t do much to dispel the ‘all blood elves are crazy’ idea. Every action Lor’themar makes, he knows some critic somewhere is waiting to dive in and tear him to pieces. So when something like this happens, it’s him who takes it personally because he is Lord Regent.”
Halduron sighed and softened his voice again. “Tori, these are all the things you miss while you’ve been away adventuring.”
“If by ‘adventuring’ you mean ‘risking my neck to save the world from utter annihilation,’ rather than ‘running away and abandoning my homeland.'”
“You know none of us actually see you that way, right?” When the other elf didn’t reply, he continued. “You’ve talked to dragon aspects and worked alongside powers we couldn’t even begin to comprehend. You were there for the fall of Arthas and the reinstatement of the Sunwell. When we sent you as an envoy to the Horde, we knew what we were doing. It’s just that things have changed around here, especially after Kael’s betrayal. Though, I’m glad to see you haven’t changed that much.” Halduron smiled thinly. “Isn’t it great to be home?”
“Are things really that bad? I remember the dispute you had with Lor’themar’s courier when I came back with Vol’jin to quell the Zandalari uprising in Zul’Aman. It’s not like you two to argue so openly.”
“The meeting at Quel’lithien Lodge didn’t go as well as Lor’themar had hoped. It’s not surprising he’s still bitter at our high elf brethren after they refused him. I just knew we wouldn’t get anywhere if we held onto old grudges— or, at least didn’t let them go for a moment.”
“One of the best friends I’ve made on my journeys is a troll. How’s that for letting go of grudges?”
“If you can do that, then will you at least forgive me? Place some faith back in the leadership of Silvermoon?”
Toriah blinked at him. Even Bloodbane stared at the Ranger-General with a sort of awed surprise. “Halduron, I… What I said was never meant to imply I didn’t believe in you or Lor’themar, or even Rommath, anymore.”
“I know, Tori. But I didn’t want you leaving home again thinking we lost faith in you. Despite what was said in the Spire, we’re still behind you.”
“Thank you, Halduron.” She smiled at him, then realized her cat was still at the man’s side. “What about you, Orion? Are you still with me?”
“Oh, he never doubted you,” the other elf said with a laugh. “The stablemasters tell me he was a hellion the entire time we were in audience, trying to get to you. He’s only following me around because I gave him some treats.”
The creature butted her thigh in greeting, placing his massive head under her hand. She scratched the fur between his ears fondly, then nodded to Bloodbane. “We’d better get going if we’re to make it back to Kalimdor before nightfall, and you know how strict those goblins can be when it comes to their precious timetables. I’ll be back soon, Halduron.”
“Don’t be away too long this time,” the Ranger-General said. “And stay safe out there. I need you back in one piece.”
Politics had never been her strength. She could be diplomatic, of course, but spouting niceties to those who didn’t deserve her time or energy just wasn’t in her skill set. It hadn’t occurred to her that, behind the blood elves’ journey to a new life after Kael’thas, people like Lor’themar and Halduron were sacrificing time and energy on a different battlefield. Being right wasn’t always the point. Perhaps it was time for her to learn a new thing or two, for the sake of her people. And her friends.