A series of sharp knocks rattled the door. Gently, slowly, Toriah eased herself from the chair. It would have been easier to just shout, of course. There would be no need for the crutches and painful hobbling. Just sitting back and letting things come to her— as they had been for the past several months. No, she decided; she had been sitting far too long. She felt restless today. Something indiscernible, just beneath the shimmering surface of the summer heat, made her skin prickle and caused the tips of her ears to itch.
As Toriah made her laborious approach to the door, she reflected on the events that landed her here behind a desk. The initial assault against the Legion on the Broken Shore had been brutal. So many lives lost, and countless others irrevocably changed. She had heard the call to retreat. Looking down at the beleaguered Alliance forces, however, she made the decision to stay. And she would have remained on the battlefield as a corpse had it not been for Krodan Bloodbane, her former jailer-and-keeper-turned-friend. He knew she’d linger; he watched her hold her ground as he fought the tide of retreating soldiers to get to her precarious vigil at the cliff’s edge.
Just one more shot… They were so close. Everything they had fought for, a potential for peace between Horde and Alliance, the end of the Burning Legion… Fatigue nagged at her, narrowing her vision and senses.
Pain ripped through her right thigh, then her left knee. Claws tore into her back and arms. Toriah would have toppled headlong into the boiling melee between Alliance soldiers and demons had it not been for Krodan. He felled the group of demons that had ambushed the tired elf and snatched her back from the precipice. Seeing the blood pouring from her wounds, the orc tore off his cloak in strips and tied the thick fabric tight around each of her legs before picking her up to run after the Horde army.
By the time Toriah came to, nearly two weeks later, the battle across the Broken Isles was already well underway. Nearly everything else had also changed. Vol’jin was dead, as was the human king Varian Wrynn. The feud between Horde and Alliance burned hotter than ever. Sylvanas Windrunner, former Ranger-General of Silvermoon and current Banshee Queen of the Forsaken, now headed the Horde; Toriah still wasn’t quite sure what to make of that. Young Anduin Wrynn sat on the throne in Stormwind; Toriah was cautiously optimistic about that.
And her injuries… The head healer of the infirmary at Silvermoon City had always been a pale woman, but her face was downright ashen when describing Toriah’s arrival into the intensive care ward. We nearly lost you, you know. Several times. All that blood you lost. And the damage to your nerves and muscles! It’s a miracle you’re still here.
“It’s a miracle any of us are still here,” Toriah muttered between breaths as she finally reached the door. It rattled again, the knocking more insistent this time. “Hold on to your blistering breeches! I’M COMING.”
The elf grabbed the handle and opened the door much harder than she’d intended. Halduron Brightwing was on the other side, looking astonished and even more amused.
“Shall I continue holding onto my blistering breeches, or can I come in?”
“Forgive me if I don’t salute you,” Toriah said wryly. “It’s difficult to do with these damnable crutches, and I’d really hate to smack you with one. On accident, of course.”
“Of course,” Halduron said, unable to suppress his smile any longer. He carefully scooted into the tidy office, steering Toriah toward a well-loved armchair as he did. “You better not be overexerting yourself. The medics at the infirmary overseeing your rehabilitation are… worried… about how hard you’re pushing yourself.”
“Is that why you’re here?” Toriah said with a snort, tossing her crutches aside as she gratefully sank into the chair. “To scold me like the naughty rebel I am?”
Halduron pulled a face at her then sat down on the other side of the small table. “Like you would listen if I did.”
“I stayed behind at your behest, didn’t I? I didn’t ask for more. In fact, I was glad to be ‘participating’ in whatever way I could, even if it meant being behind a desk while everyone else in the world brought down the Legion. Even you were closer to the frontlines than me! And I did it because it was better than doing nothing!” Toriah paused, catching her breath. “Because I didn’t want to be broken and useless.”
Minutes went by. She had hated having to sit out. Hated that it was brought about by her own carelessness. Hated that the peoples of Azeroth were becoming more divided than ever. Right now, there were reports of a massive demigod’s sword driven into the very heart of the world and she desperately wanted to do something, anything, about it. She was getting stronger and recovering her agility every day; but, according to the healers, she still wasn’t ready yet. There was no one to blame but herself, and she hated that most of all.
“Toriah.” Halduron’s quiet voice broke through her thoughts. “Look at me.”
She lifted her gaze toward her companion across the table. Bright afternoon sun caught the glimmering tears that slowly slid down the other elf’s narrow features. His face was drawn tight with sorrow, care, and worry. Toriah, for once, was at a loss for words.
“We are no strangers to losing friends and comrades, not with everything we’ve been through,” he said softly, “but that night Bloodbane rode through our city gates with you barely alive, I admit I nearly lost it. I wasn’t prepared for the thought of you dying, and I realize now I never will be. You were grievously hurt and I was helpless. All those years of watching you leave home— leaving me behind— to fight some new powerful thing threatening the world just came crashing down on me in that moment.”
He took a breath, wiping his face with his hands as he did. “That’s why I had to do something— something on my own, like you, instead of at someone else’s command. While you recovered, I took up my place with the Unseen Path to help fight the Legion. Every minute, I thought to myself that you should have been there, too. It’s where you belonged: on the frontlines, with other skilled hunters and archers from all over Azeroth. And while you fought to regain your life and faculties, I knew it was the least I could do to battle the demons and creatures of the Legion in your stead. Even if you hadn’t been coordinating the war from here, I would never see you as ‘broken.’ You are more to me than your mere ‘usefulness.’ I lo—”
Halduron’s voice broke off abruptly. He coughed, rushing to finish his sentence. “Um, what I mean to say is, I value you for more than just your mere ‘use’ as a Farstrider.”
Toriah took a moment to metaphorically pick her brain and jaw back up from the floor. Her reservoir of self-pity had evaporated as Halduron spoke. And did he just…? She hurried her thoughts along before that one could take root; she cleared her throat awkwardly. “I’m sorry, Halduron. It’s difficult not to get bogged down in negative thoughts when you’re stuck battling towers of paperwork.”
“Now you know how I felt on most days while you were gone,” he said with a half-smile. “In any case, this emotional catharsis wasn’t the motive for my visit. I received a missive from Thunder Bluff with your name on it.”
He produced a tightly bound scroll from his belt and handed it over. Its smooth leather casing was branded with the crest of the Bloodhoof Tribe. Toriah arched a long, dark eyebrow as she took out the parchment and scanned the neat script. Her expression quickly turned from curiosity to dismay and concern. She rolled the letter back up, tucking it into its sheath and stored both in her tunic pocket.
“Who delivered the message?” Toriah said.
Halduron took a moment to think, not expecting the question. “The tauren messenger didn’t give a name. But he said the phrase, ‘It’s a lengthy path, so get walking,’ before he left. Mean anything to you?”
The other elf smiled in spite of herself. “Plenty.”
“Care to explain?”
“You could say it’s a running joke between the tauren Longwalkers and me. They used to give me a good-natured ribbing about my ‘tiny’ stature until I pointed out that ‘Farstrider’ meant the same thing as ‘Longwalker.’ I learned a lot from them and enjoyed my time in their ranks. That this was delivered by one of them means a lot.”
Toriah reached for her crutches, then thought better of it. She pushed herself from the chair and stood for the first time without assistance. When she wobbled, Halduron’s hand shot out to steady her, but she gently pushed him aside. It took a minute for her to get to the window, but she made it. Sticking her head out, she let out a sharp, piercing whistle that echoed off the towering spires of Silvermoon City and the surrounding hills.
Turning away, she felt her muscles loosening and remembering with each step. She was far from battle ready, but she was determined to get there sooner rather than later. Chieftain Baine Bloodhoof’s words had galvanized her. The Horde needed her. The Horde she knew and loved needed her.
Her slow, shuffling steps turned now toward a tall wardrobe beside the desk. Once or twice, she leaned against the desk for support, her labored breathing barely audible above the birdsong and rustling of leaves outside. Almost there… She stretched out a hand for the wardrobe’s handle, impatience and pain etched on her face as her fingertips brushed the cool metal.
Toriah’s fingers had succeeded in reaching the latch, but it wasn’t enough. The momentum sent her crashing down hard onto the old wooden floor. Halduron rushed to her aid. Barely missing their heads, the wardrobe’s door swung back and forth wildly on its hinge. As he pulled Toriah into his arms, he realized why the wardrobe had been so important: her usual hunting armor and weapons hung ready inside. Fading sunlight gleamed on the worn but well-kept mail and leather. A full quiver leaned against the famed Golden Bow of Quel’thalas. All were waiting for their mistress who was too broken and brokenhearted to use them.
A thick silence settled on the two elves, punctuated by Toriah’s sobs of dismay.