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Tirien

Just ain't the same

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Tirien    19

(( This thread revolves around Tirien as I toss him into the "Eclipse" storyline that's starting up. I plan to put more of his personal stuff here and his story-involved stuff in the main Eclipse thread. Enjoy! ))

Another day means another take. Tirien finds his haven in a back alley of Old Town. The space is cramped but the detritus is enough for most folk passing the alley to ignore and the smell enough to keep the rest from entering. Besides, only at noon does the sun illuminate the space and even then for half an hour at best. He rests against a grime stained wall and slides down onto a small, rotting crate. Losing his wind on the sprint here was something he doesn’t recall having trouble with in the past. Then again the last handful of months are nothing but a blur drowning in a sea of whatever booze he could get his hands on.

Luck seems to be with him today. His target, a moderately dressed Night Elf, hadn’t noticed a thing. Serves him right for risking a short cut to wherever he was going. He picks through the coin purse and meticulously tosses out buttons, lint, anything that can’t get him what he wants. Foreign memories creep to the forefront of his mind and he fights to keep focused. They aren’t his and never were. This unfamiliar knowledge he never cared to pursue. This troubling connection to fiends and demons and Fel fire he never wanted in the first place. They aren’t his, but he knows where they came from.

Tirien eases up with the paltry amount of coin squirreled away in a pocket and drags along the wall to the back exit of the Old Town alley. The cool mist of the morning begins to fade as he rounds the corner on a route he could walk blind. Living like this in Old Town, at least, has proven useful in navigating the city. The bustling center of the Alliance is more interconnected than most know.

Bang, bang, bang!

Fists pound against a thick wooden door, startling someone just behind it. When no one answers, Tirien’s patience shatters and he tries to force the handle. A powerful swing of the door knocks him off balance before any more damage is done.

“The Fel is wrong with y - ?” A portly woman in her mid-thirties stares down Tirien’s ragged, dirt ridden form as the broken man regains his footing. She notes the unkempt leather armor and, particularly, a rusting blade on Tirien’s hip.

“You again.” She spits to a sewer grate. “We ain’t got any handouts for you anymore.”

“Shut up, I can pay.” Tirien stands. His moth-eaten cloak manages to conceal him from any curious eyes. He produces a fist full of coins. It’s enough. He knows it.

The woman takes it, counts it, and pockets it. “That’ll be ten more silver.” Her cocky grin sends Tirien’s blood boiling.

“WHAT?!” He barks.

“You heard me bud.” She folds her arms, “Ten silver or no go.”

She sidesteps Tirien’s speed fed fist, using her steel-toed boot to trip him into a solid wall in a back room of her establishment.

“Don’t make me call the guards.” The threat paralyzes him as he recovers. They are the last people he wants to tangle with.

He looks around, careful not to give away the movement under his cowl. He’s inside now and it’s an advantage he plans to exploit. A glance to his right reveals the hallway to the main office and from there, the storefront. To his left, a quick look reveals their liquor stock just a short distance away. His eyes go wide upon seeing the door cracked open the barest amount. Lock picking just isn’t in his blood so he’s thankful. Worn gloves pat around in the dusty low light until they grab hold of a brush handle. He launches it back to the woman. It’s his chance and he sprints for the store room, a string of curses follows a loud thud against the ground outside. With a large sack open he grabs what he can and makes for the exit.

“Guards! Guar – “ Tirien’s boot connects with her lower ribs, cutting off her alarm. Behind him echo footsteps quickly maneuvering from inside in reply. He wastes no more time and barrels down the alley and out of sight.

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Tirien    19

No good. He heard their armor before rounding the corner to his haven. A quick peek confirms four guardsmen picking through his rubble and trash. They would find nothing, for Tirien’s treasure is safe in the sack across his back. His second hide-away then, he reasons, is necessary. He chooses to linger a moment to study the guards’ features. Their heights, weights, appearances, postures, body languages, and voices he scrutinizes down to the most minor of detail. Once they depart, and his treasure secured, he would plan to summon an observer to shadow the men to their homes, see their families, and report back to him for the next step. Would a Fel Guard do, or would it need to be more subtle? They are, after all, most likely to live in the city proper. He wonders if –

Tirien swings back around the alley, out of sight of the officers and clutches, with a trembling hand, one side of his face. These aren’t his thoughts, but his territory was breached. That spot was his and he hurt no one for it. Stumbling down the alley toward the Stormwind Harbor, he grasps at a bottle from the bag and bites out the cork. The burn comes first and an odd clarity follows after a chug. The sensation is akin to itching at a scratch left to fester for a week. He sighs, sagging against the brick of some building as he travels through the narrow streets. The alcohol won’t kick in immediately, it never does, but the quick drink is enough to put him back to his senses.

The Cathedral District is always just a bit harder to navigate without bumping into children or a patrolling officer. More than once Tirien was caught and had to use whatever soup kitchen or temporary shelter he could think of as an excuse to divert their suspicion. At least this District has that, plenty of excuses. As he winds his way, out of sight of the main streets, he fails to notice the panic over whatever is spreading throughout the area. The guardsmen manage to maintain the brunt of it which leaves the alleys all to him, until he bumps into someone, of course.

The High Elf looks sickly at best. The bump loosens her hood and reveals matted, once blonde hair and a set of grey eyes locked onto his. They both freeze, unsure who will make the first move. His senses spike as if in the heat of battle. Everything becomes crystal clear and time seems to slow to a crawl. She reacts much in the same way and he notices the subtle shift in her wiry frame. It’s not difficult to know when you’re standing in front of a predator and Light knows Tirien has had his fair share of avoiding one for years. Though this sensation he hasn’t felt in months and he spreads a slow grin at the thought of a new challenge. A resolve manifests in his gut, mingling with the adrenaline and suppressing the fear. He will give this predator a chase she would never forget.

The moment passes. The threat this unassuming High Elf possesses dwindles, though her crystal gaze narrows, as if wanting to question what she sees. Tirien motions a foot back and lowers his stance, shifting his center of gravity. His defenses are sharp, though the reaction serves only one end, labeling him as her prey. She smirks and in the barest instant vanishes down the alley. Tirien catches the movement and his dull gold eyes follow her route as if he were right behind her. It seems someone else knows these back alleys as well. A foreign numbness settles over him and he looks to the shattered bottle held in his hand like a dagger. When did he smash it against the wall? The booze must finally be kicking in.

It didn’t matter. He sets off toward the harbor and lets the buzz build as he opens another bottle and takes a swig.

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Tirien    19

Twilight sets upon the Stormwind Harbor. Gulls cry for scraps as dockworkers haul the last bits of cargo before the night shift begins. A great crimson bathes the sky and paints the tops of the fortified walls and clock tower whose bells toll the hour. Guardsmen check shipping manifests and patrol for those seeking an escape from the slow growing plague throughout the city. As the citizens go about their business, Tirien rests upon the water’s edge near the debris and rubble left after Deathwing’s assault on Stormwind's park. Overhead is a tower’s wall arched over a stream trickling into a larger pool leading to where the beautiful District had been. If there’s one thing the city gets right, it’s the sturdiness and fortitude of its construction. Dwarves rely upon the mountains and solid walls of the deep places of Azeroth while Gnomes utilize efficient methods to balance weight and stress and while their structures are amazing, along with the naturally flowing works of the Night Elves, nothing can deny the speed and durability of Human craftsmanship. The tower section’s arc stands testament to this and Tirien is thankful for it as he rests beneath it, shaded somewhat from the setting sun.

A small, empty bottle of whiskey shatters on one of the flooded stones. Tirien snickers at his good aim despite his intoxication. He shifts around in the nook between dirt and stone and watches the sun’s reflection on the water as it continues its descent. Sailing is one thing he hasn’t learned and one he doesn’t plan to. Instead, he settles for a sense of naïve admiration.

“Hey Tirien, mind company?” A cheer filled youth dressed in rags sits next to him without invitation. Tirien smiles and crosses his boots.

“Manage to scrounge up some food, Michael?” Tirien asks, still enjoying the mild stupor.

The youth laughs, “Yeah. I met that mage kid again. Here.” He crosses his legs and opens a sack of apples. “They’re conjured but you know how good he is at making them.” Handing one to Tirien he looks out to the sea. It reminds him of home, in Westfall, where he and Michael grew up.

A crisp bite echoes around the small, shielded cove as the brothers enjoy the rare moment. Michael leans back on his hands as a sea breeze rustles his loose fitting, tattered clothing. The sunlight catches his golden hair, adding shimmer and life to the scrawny boy just past the cusp of becoming a man. Tirien wishes things could be different for Michael, so much so that an old pain begins to surface under the cool shade of the stone arc. Tirien reaches to his side, still admiring the carefree nature of his younger brother, and picks up another bottle of liquor. As the liquid meets his lips he stops. He looks to the bottle and catches a glimpse of Michael’s reflection on the side, still gazing out to the horizon.

“You look thin Tirien, and Light, you need a bath.” Michael threads the comment with his light-hearted laugh.

“Mm.” Tirien smiles, the bottle’s lettering becoming fuzzy and hard to read. With hope and longing in his watery eyes he looks past the shady nook and for a brief moment catches a glimpse of Michael’s warm smile before realizing he was never there to begin with.

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Tirien    19

They say the drunkard sleeps as the dead do or so one would think considering how nothing, not even armored footfalls and rustling plate-mail, can rouse Tirien from a booze fueled slumber. The duo of plated men, each color coded to better venerate (and give away) their reverence for The Holy Light, approach him as he shifts to his side to better keep hold of the sack of pilfered liquor. They close in, barely a yard away, with a sense of caution as if expecting Tirien to act like a cornered animal. The older man, Paladin in all but the mud staining his boots, raises his voice and calls out to him, mocking his choice of bed. It’s enough. Tirien is just coming out of a familiar dream anyway. He wakes, startled, and presses his back to the collapsed tower’s stonework, afraid he’s looking at a member of the City Guard but quickly realizes his true affiliation.

“What the Fel do you want, huh?” Tirien hollers.

“I am Stepanos Delacroix, Lord High Commander of the Righteous – “ His introduction is cut short. The moment freezes. He and the man with him are as statues. Even the waves upon the Park’s debris are motionless. This isn’t right and Tirien knows it.

From behind Stepanos strolls a man, robed in dark purple silks embroidered with gold. He looks old. Older than any Human should be, older than most could actually live let alone believe. Sunken eyes, withered frame, and thinned hair contrast an air of energy about him as well as the spry demeanor his posture carries. Mud, grime, dirt, not even the salty air seems to affect him. It’s as if he is an illusion, a shade, yet to Tirien he is as real as the growing rage and contempt roiling in his chest. The old man smiles and folds his arms behind him.

“Tirien. My, my.” A grin, a grin he knows Tirien hates spreads form his smile as he sizes up the haggard man so recently roused from a pleasant dream. His condescension weighs his words as he takes a step out of Stepanos’s shadow.

“Hunter.” Tirien replies as if speaking to a demon. “You have five seconds before I force you back down.” He is serious and Hunter knows it. Tirien has a power over him, a force of will earned after evading his grasp for nearly a decade. His machinations all thwarted, all rent asunder thanks to the pitiful husk of the drunk slowly staggering to his feet before him.

“Tirien, come now,” he weasels, “I’m only here to talk. You used to be so…eager to listen to me before.” Hunter takes another step.

“What changed? Do I still not have your best interests at heart? Do I still not value you above all that I own?”

“You never cared for me, or Michael.” This isn’t the first time Tirien spoke with Hunter this way. The old man’s personality surfaces every now and then and it’s largely the booze that keeps him suppressed.

“All I am to you is the next vessel for yer twisted soul, an’ you only saw Michael as a mistake.” His anger permeates the air. It’s a familiar feeling, one he’s learned to hone to suit his needs.

“Ya failed. Now git.” A surge of will fails to send Hunter back into the recesses of his mind.

Hunter’s grin spreads, “Now Tirien, that’s no way to speak to your father. You were both my offspring and in a way, I succeeded, didn’t I?”

The contrast between moonlight and darkness intensifies as Hunter’s presence shadows Tirien's paltry anger as a hawk’s does a field mouse. Hunter’s soul constantly fights to win dominance since his ritual and something is giving him an edge, something Tirien isn’t sure liquor can help against much longer. He stands his ground.

“What? Don’t you enjoy being reunited with your brother again?” A dark chuckle echoes off the broken tower walls.

That bites deep, deeper than Tirien was expecting. Michael didn’t deserve to lose his life just to complete his father’s twisted schemes. Since then, he holds onto a part of him, some optimistic hope that there’s enough of his personality left to salvage. Though what good would that do?

“Yes, what good would it do?” Hunter repeats the question to Tirien's glare.

“Mm, to sacrifice another just to give your brother a new life? My. That sounds just. Like. Me?” His mock excitement continues, “But no, you don’t want that, do you? You’re content to let him fade away, as if he never lived to begin with.”

Tirien hurls a stone, only for it to pass through him. It freezes in place just before impacting the water and Tirien makes a grab for his rusted dagger resting on a stone.

“If I could say anything that result also sounds just a bit like me as well, don’t you think?” Hunter goads, his words gouging Tirien and spiking his anger.

Dagger in hand, Tirien turns to charge. The old man approaches at a lax pace, fire brimming from his feet to travel up his legs, burning away his old form to reveal a new one. Within arm’s reach, Tirien faces himself.

“You should stop resisting, you know. It’s only a matter of time.” Hunter smiles with demonic fangs, blackened veins running throughout his body. Pockets of pure void reside where Tirien’s dull-gold eyes once belonged. A phantom chorus of laughter resounds, bouncing off the time-frozen debris as Tirien’s vision goes red. He tackles Hunter and tumbles to the water’s edge and plunges his father’s head into the tide as the waves resume their repetitious dance. He still sees his father’s grin, still sees his eyes, and still hears his laughter as the bubbles begin to dwindle until they finally stop.

Tirien finds himself on his knees in the mud along Stormwind Cemetery’s lake, elbow deep in the muck clouded waters. He snarls at his reflection and comes to realize where he is. Calming, he stares at his reflection as the ripples dwindle to subtle shimmers reflecting the pale light of the gas lamps near the main cemetery path. He begins to recall the night’s events.

He had been sleeping just south of the harbor before two men had woken him. They were members of the Church, followers of the Holy Light. They had asked about the plague and put him through a trial by fire to get whatever information out of him they could. A suffusion of the Light set his insides to flame. It felt as if molten Fel would spew from him at any second, but he held fast. He protested flashes of memory from his encounter with the High Elf that morning days ago.

The recollection remains so pure, so undiluted. Even trying to change the memories with force fails. He feels…something. A presence, a pressure in some specific direction, though he is unsure why. It reminds him of the High Elf, though vaguely, as if she is just a mirror for a larger beast behind her. He focuses on the memory, on the feeling until the dark shape fixates all of its attention to him. Terror stricken, he looks back to the water at his reflection, breaking his concentration. He did not remember that happening back then, so what does it mean?

His connection to his father’s power is stronger, that much he is aware of and can understand, but just how much more of it will continue to awaken? Tirien looks toward the harbor and steadies himself before heading back. He has a bottle to drain.

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Tirien    19

Nothing is working. Tirien vomits into the salty water where the Park District once stood. Something isn’t allowing the alcohol to stay in him. He falls to his side, clutching in a numbed hand the empty bottle. Vison, clouded from exhaustion, dilutes his surroundings to vague blurs of color and form until darkness encompasses all. As he floats in some ethereal twilight, Tirien again remembers the trial of Light which forced the latent Fel within him to erupt and expand. His thoughts drift to how much more it will take until he changes, permanently.

Tirien tries to open his eyes and finds them as lead. Moving his arms is a similar trial, one he relinquishes. Oddly, so are his legs yet he knows he is walking now and…and gripping something familiar. What is he holding? The leathery feel, the weight centered near the lower section of his palm, he is holding his dagger. He drifts in this endless sea, unaware of what is happening, unaware of the rush of blood splattering over his form, unaware of the parental figure at his back, compelling him to continue, unaware of his own resistance, unaware of his victim’s muffled cries and protests for him to remember who he is. The familiar, muffled pleas seem panicked, sad, lonely, frightened, hopeful, then finally a maddening quiet.

Beneath Tirien floats Michael in his dusty rages, his back to his older brother’s. Tirien slumbers while Michael looks on. The memories of the ritual, his sacrifice, his cries for Tirien to snap out of it are all his. In the memory’s brief moment when the dagger plunged into his heart he wondered if his words got through to him. He wondered what it would be like to have his soul fused with his. He wonders still if he continues to live on or if he is a construct of the mind. This doubt, he feels, is what fuels Tirien’s drive to hold onto him, to not let him go. As if he is some anchor for his older brother’s guilt or some dark inspiration for a determination to not let something like this happen again. This he wonders and ponders, even as the man who orchestrated these events continues to exist in here as well.

Michael shivers, knowing his father is here, with them. The man remains stubborn; refusing to acknowledge the failure in a ritual he’s performed a countless number of times. He can hear him, repeating the formulae again and again. He’s learned so much from just listening to his father’s thoughts and ramblings, drowned in booze as they were. A memory flashes before Michael’s eyes of a similar occurrence well in the past. He watches Hunter, in someone else’s skin, plunge the same dagger Tirien keeps on his hip into a woman. The perspective changes as she looks upon the century old corpse lying on top of her and immediately a dark laugh echoes throughout the memory as it fades away. How many victim has he witnessed Hunter possess by this point? Just how old is he, how powerful? He watches on so the brother he loves doesn’t have to. In the end he knows Tirien is what Hunter wants and that’s something he’ll never let him get.

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Tirien    19

Dawn breaks over the clear ocean sky. Ship bells ring, sails are cast, and cargo is moved throughout the bustling harbor. A dense mist keeps to the inland flowing pools just south of the brightening docks, dense enough to hide Tirien as he wakes from a short night of dreams and half-memories. The lack of nourishment labors his efforts to stand, forcing him to crawl up the stony beach until his feet find purchase upon the remains of the collapsed watchtower. It’s not far to his home away from home, but the journey is one he would rather not face in his state. The golden lights, yells, sharp clang of bells, and the cries of gulls wreaks havoc on his senses, stunning him further as he moves up and over a large boulder. Tumbling down he manages to direct his fall toward his hide-away and into the welcoming shade.

Tirien lays on the cool ground, thankful this little cove is shielded from most of the sights and sounds of the rest of the world. Only the ocean’s gentle laps wearing away the barnacle ridden stone fill and calm him. A weak arm reaches for a pack and rummages around for moldy bread. It’s not enough. He wants more, he wants to eat his fill, and he wants to not feel like death and wants to feel clean again.

Clean. Something he hasn’t felt in months. He could clean his armor, weapon, and himself, but inside he felt the fire, the Fel, and the dark energies of his father’s power coursing evermore through his body. It feels correct and in some twisted sense it always shall. It is his power by all rights, just as his father intends. Tirien smiles, knowing full well his father wants to be the one in control of it, and yet isn’t. His rest continues. A few gulls perch atop the stone arc and cry out to the sea. A tired arm tosses the nibbled bread to the water’s edge. It’s been awhile since his smile was so genuine. The small flock of gulls devours the offering and goes off on their business, leaving Tirien lonely in a void of noise.

He wonders how the High Elf feels. What is her name? Vionora. That’s it. They exchanged names.

She seemed calm, at an odd yet eerie peace with the night around her. Where was she? Right. He felt her on the path just a ways away from the ramp down to the Harbor. The fear in his gut forced him away yet a macabre curiosity kept moving him forward, the sensation of sensing her presence drove him to find out why. What about her stirred a craving deep in his soul? What part of him would even want such a thing? As he stepped through the shadows to be at her back it dawned on him. She was cursed with Fel. It wasn't as much as he held, but enough for Hunter to want it, to lust for it. He tensed, ready to dart at a moment’s notice and she remained calm, collected, every watchful of his actions and stance. Her gaze drifted past his to look through him, inside him and he found her fists clenched in what felt like sympathy. She never showed an outward ounce of it.

The meeting had been brief. She made a grab for his arm after pointless questions and was stopped. A demon’s arm ripped through reality and gripped her wrist with bone crushing force. He didn’t hear her words; he only felt the wind at his back as he made his escape down to the docks and away from the predator, away from the demon, away from any answers he may have gained to end up back where he started.

Tirien looks up to the worn stonework with a growing resolve. It is time he stopped running from this new predator and well beyond time to stop running from his father.

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Tirien    19

“You have two options.” He pauses. The space is dark, empty, formless and featureless save the two men standing face to face. Nothing separates the two, no mirror, no glass, just a foot or two in this void of the mind. This will not be the last time Tirien ventures here.

“One, you stay at your fire and cook your fish and hope the woman comes back.” The stark clarity to Hunter’s logic rings.

“Or two, you help her, your friend, your – “ Hunter grins, not wanting to risk the diplomatic ground he’s gained over the past ten minutes. His wayward son is stubborn, willful, and annoying, but so is he and he knows exactly how to get past Tirien’s defenses.

“Help save her. That’s what you really want to do, isn’t it?” His grin, his narrowed, cocky expression, the self-assured confidence of his tone, all of it ignites Tirien’s anger.

“Look,” his cool toned voice continues, “I get it. You see in her a lot that you see in yourself. So why don’t you go and help her?”

Tirien boils over, knuckles popping at his hatred for this man before him. He wants to do something. He wants to help. He wants –

“You want to inspire her, to validate her...No…you want her to validate herself.” It is as if a hammer shatters ice. Tirien’s fury wanes and Hunter continues, having put to words Tirien’s most inner thoughts.

“My, what a noble goal. You can’t directly interfere or it will backfire, but you can’t just sit back either...” His grin breaks into a frown. “It’s disgusting.” Souring further he spats to the void. “You are not a child of the Light. Boy.”

“Accept my offer, or not.” A wave pulses throughout the space. Ever since meeting Vionora, Tirien has felt a connection to what he assumes is the Fel within her. It weakens considerably for the second time and pries Tirien’s attention from his father as he gazes in her direction.

“You know you cannot help her as you are. Do it. Let me in.”

Her presence dwindles further and Tirien relents.

“Alright.”

The change is quick, the sensation akin to jumping in a pool of ice and water. A fisherman on the shore screams in terror as the man sitting next to him erupts in Fel spikes and Shadow smoke. Bones pop, ligaments tear, muscles reknit and the light for yards around dim and vanish. Tirien’s monstrous form leaps from the muck, easily clearing the lake, to bound through the cemetery and back to the battle his friend is losing.

The Paladin, Stepanos, has his sword speared clean through Vionora’s gut, the brute Hegran brings down his twin great swords, the Priest Anton channels the Light into holy bolts, and Tirien sees it all slow to a crawl. Heartbeats measure the seconds he has to act. His charge ends in a drop kick to Stepanos’s plated chest, sending the man flying with his sword several yards away. Everything speeds up, putting Tirien back in the moment and for an instant he becomes aware of himself, of what he is, and of the choice he made. His knees buckle and he feels a familiar hand on his shoulder and a familiar sensation as Vionora shifts them into the Twilight Realm.

Faded colors, nebulous forms, and darting shadows flicker until they land in the husk of an old tower overlooking the Harbor. The spell had been instantaneous, offering the attackers no chance to follow. Tirien buckles forward and wretches a black ichor to the rotting wood floor. From above, gulls cry and take flight leaving Vionora and Tirien alone with the wind in the decaying, burnt out barracks.

He fights, struggling against his father’s corruptive influence as it seeps and spreads. A minor burst of power was all he thought to get, but the old man thought otherwise. The full brunt of his Fel power throws itself at Tirien, battering and eroding bit by bit his individuality. A war of the souls rages as the body barely manages to contain it.

Outside of the struggle, Michael watches and waits patiently. It is his presence which stopped Hunter in the past, but now is different. He cannot do anything, chained as he is. Tirien’s choice, his conscious choice, undermined his efforts. All he can do is watch as his brother suffers.

Vionora does what she can and channels a thread of Light out of a desire to do something, anything to subvert the changes to the one person who hasn’t faced her with sword in one hand and hidden desire in the other. Her pain is real, real enough to merit her attempt and call upon a stronger channel of Holy energy. The Fel aspects lessen. Bones crack and pop with each muffled scream of pain out of Tirien’s inhumanely split mouth. Hunter seethes as his influence lessens. He forces Tirien to focus on Vionora, to her Elder God and then to her own pit of Fel. Soon it will be his and by his hand the Old God will be silenced.

The threat is Hunter’s final act, now forced back into the recesses of Tirien’s mind and soul. Tirien is exhausted, numb. He fails to recall exactly when they slipped into the Twilight Realm again, but a feeling of trust overcomes him. Michael took control and spoke about an old hide away in Northern Stranglethorn Vale and Vionora opened the way there.

The space is basic. Stone walls and floor of some ruin of human origin, lined with vines and ingrown trees offer seclusion where most other places do not. On the trunk of a thick tree hangs a set of manacles and just under them are some left over supplies from the last time Tirien made use of this place.

With Tirien as exhausted as he is, Michael has difficulty keeping the body awake. Vionora offers to watch over them as they recover. Setting up a small fire and bedroll took the last of his strength and he collapses to it, falling asleep on the way down.

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Tirien    19

“Something’s changed.”

Tirien runs through fields of shifting gold and wind, his younger brother Michael beside him as they bound towards a boulder in one of the back corners of the field next to a large, leafy tree. Cicadas fill the summer hills and take flight as the boys run past row after row of wheat near to harvest. The shift to fall took its time this year, letting the humid heat of coastal Westfall linger far longer than it should. It is a good heat though, a lively heat. One that fills you with energy and saps it as soon as you rest, one you cannot avoid even under the densest tree, and one perfect for children to exhaust their limitless energy in to save their parents from their shenanigans later in the day.

It is a race and Michael takes the lead. Tirien makes a futile grab for his shirt but the wheat stalks in his brother’s wake get in the way; he can barely see past the dust, gold shimmers, and bugs as it is. They laugh the kind of laugh common among youth with no concerns beyond what’s before them. Michael springs up and latches to one side of the sun baked boulder, wincing as his skin comes alive at the burn. He clambers up, kicking at Tirien’s attempts to pass him.

A pair of red shoes meets Michael and his tentative victory. A cicada buzzes off from behind a shoe and startles him. He loses his grip and falls back, though Tirien catches his arm and hoists him up and accepts his loss to his younger brother. The two stand there atop the boulder, acres from their farmhouse with a friend who always drops in whenever one of their father’s friends comes to visit. For what they don’t know, only that the old man is their tutor and they don’t really care to know further.

Elise is here to play and the two of them couldn’t be happier. Her whimsical humor and love of games and bugs and all things other girls hated made the three of them fast friends. Her bright red hair tied in a haphazard pony tail dances in the humid breeze as her emerald eyes light up, full of bursting energy. Tirien pulls out some candies he swiped from the kitchen and soon the trio lay atop the boulder catching up and pointing buzzards as they fly by. As the small clouds roll, the sun beings its descent and casts amber, orange, and red waves through the sky. This is the last day the two brothers can spare before their lessons begin and they spend it talking with Elise on the boulder, their boulder.

Elise giggles as the sun dips below the horizon. “Tiiiirien! When are you going to come see me, huh?”

Tirien laughs too, “I dunno. Maybe when I get my own horse.”

“Awh, but if you wait that long, I’ll be dead.”

Tirien rolls over at the odd comment. The scene shifts, changing to a cold stone room draped with black-out curtains to keep out the sun. Candles give just enough light to avoid the single bed, small table and chair, and water basin with a rag soaking over its edge. He stands over the bed, looking down on a woman of slight, lithe features with raven black hair cascading about unevenly along a simple pillow. Every so often she twitches and grimaces yet stays asleep, unaware of her surroundings, unaware of him. Pain wells in his chest, more deeply than the bruises from the guards lying unconscious outside of the room.

“I’ll be dead if you wait longer, Tirien. I’ll be dead and it’s all because of you.” Elise’s bittersweet voice echoes in the chamber as the floor drops off and the room dissolves. Tirien makes a grab for the woman only to have her slip through his fingers. Always she slips through his fingers.

Tirien jolts forward in his bedroll, clothes soaking in sweat. The oppressive, humid air of Stranglethorn clings to him as he gets his bearings as the remains of his fire spindles out a line of smoke. He coughs and bats a hand as he rises, sore from the events of yesterday. Making way to his small cache of supplies he rubs his eyes, finding them wet. The dream unnerves him. The memories and his guilt unnerve him further. Vionora’s faint presence sends him over the edge and spikes panic through his nerves. Something has changed, and he reasons it may be time for him to visit her for a change. Pulling out a map, he marks a route back to Stormwind and plans to prepare for a journey.

He won’t lose someone close to him again.

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Tirien    19

The trip to Moonglade was as expected, uneventful and quick. Tirien pulled a favor from a local Mage in Stormwind for a portal to Darnassus and from there a cheap gryphon to the glade nestled at the base of Mt. Hyjal. The Mage, too happy-go-lucky for his own good, supplied him with a sack of delicious red apples. Conjured of course, but the kid had a talent for it. They tasted real, spot on even. Said apples were the reason the flight was tolerable too. Tirien hates gryphons and they hate him.

“Easy, easy…” Tirien pleads as the gryphon lands. He slides off the saddle and unlatches his pack and offers the beast another apple. The gryphon snaps at it and Tirien tosses up the fruit to avoid the beak he’s sure the feathery terror meant to take a finger with.

“She likes you.” The Night Elf handler states as a matter of fact. No doubt he’s just waiting to unleash a tirade about his thousands of years of animal handling as a reason why Tirien’s gut instinct against gryphons is wrong in some way.

Tirien tosses the sack of apples at the gryphon’s talons and heads off into Nighthaven. The Gryphon pecks away at the fruits while her handler tries to stop her. He smiles, hearing the scuffle and curses behind him and looks around to get a good sense of this strange place the Night Elves call home.

The color green is everywhere and permeates everything. Tirien examines his dark leather armor and finds it leaning toward the primary color as well. It’s as if Nature wants you to know it’s there like an annoying, spoiled noble’s child. Around him he sees Druids tending bushes, trees, local fauna, and watches as one grows a bench from nothing. A bench. His assessment it seems isn’t too far off the mark. This is something he can work with though. The overarching tint to everything will make blending in to the environment that much easier, if he has to. He looks off toward Vionora’s distant presence out in the dense woods. Setting down his pack near a vine entangled lamp post, he adjusts his armor.

It’s been months since he last wore the entire set. He keeps active enough, so the fit is still comfortable and hinders nothing, but the wide silver inlay he liked most about it is now minty green. Even the flat red stone in his belt shines with a muddy color. All of his efforts to scrape away the dust, grime, and dirt barely show except for the subtle sheen of the oil he pilfered from an armorer back in Stormwind. It’ll do.

“I would advise against venturing forth into the woods, stranger.” This isn’t an Elf. Tirien turns to stare up to a Tauren easily a foot and a half taller than he. For a Human, Tirien boasts a height and a broad frame that almost makes him feel on par with his race’s Elven allies, but the Tauren’s presence humbles him. It also makes him feel like he needs to prove something.

“An’ why th’ hell not? What if I came here specifically TO go in th’ woods?” Tirien fires back.

The Tauren laughs and the ground shakes a little, Tirien thinks. The Tauren is obviously a Druid from the bird motif in his purple feathered regalia. It helps soften his intimidation. “I would still not advise it, stranger.”

“Yeah? Noted. Thanks, bud.” Tirien squares his shoulders and walks past the mountain of feather and fur. The Tauren continues a chuckle, his tail bumping against Tirien’s thigh as he watches the curious Human leave.

As he winds his way through Nighthaven, Tirien focuses on Vionora’s presence. It’s stronger here, if only slightly, and he follows it to the main road and out of the settlement. Again the Elven guards warn Tirien of dangers in the forest and again he ignores them. He can handle a few mangy wolves in a scrap, but really he’ll just avoid them all together, or run.

Tirien settles in the large, overhanging nook of an ancient tree after slipping into the underbrush once out of sight of the Elves. It’s quiet at first, but as he waits in the cool shade the forest comes to life. Animals resume foraging under the maze-like network of roots and underbrush as birds of all types sing songs of normality once his presence fades away. Haunting howls echo in the distance, though Tirien knows it’s not one meant for a hunt; a territorial call perhaps or maybe an exchange of introductions between whatever packs he’s been warned about. A bobcat pounces on a snake from the large root above him. The graceful creature freezes after securing the kill, regarding Tirien with caution. It slinks off into a small root tunnel. He drops his smile and begins moving in time with the sounds around him.

The sixth sense for magic used to be unwieldy though since the confrontation at the Stormwind Harbor with Stepanos, Tirien has grown accustomed to it. He found her and she found him beneath the boughs of a tree so adorned with talismans, ropes, baubles, and glyphs it leaves Tirien wondering where they got enough supplies to encircle the massive trunk with it all. Their meeting is short lived as pleasantries and catching up fall to Tirien’s father making another bid for control. Each time since the Fel in him awakened the difficulty in keeping Hunter at bay multiplies. The first time took a draining effort of will, the next took a generous amount of intoxication, from there only increasing levels of pain would snap him to his senses and give Tirien enough of a boost to prevent the takeover without Michael’s help.

Breaking another bone this time won’t work. His willful struggle succeeds in regaining the control of an arm and with it he plunges his dagger into his gut. The poison activates and paralyzes him, making way to his spine and numbing his legs. It spreads in rapid succession from tissue to organs and finally from heart to brain. In his last few moments of life one of his antidotes fights back the toxins and, in tandem with the Light, he escapes death. Vionora succeeded and Tirien makes a mental note to pay her back at some point. He is indeed stubborn and it’s something Hunter now hates, though he gladly steps back into the shadows. What is greater than the brink of death to deter him? Nothing. The next time Tirien falls, he wins, and they both know it.

Rest and food is what Tirien needs. It’s been a long time since he’s suffered his own poison, but he’s glad it’s still as effective as ever. The Druids and Elves allow Vionora a bed for Tirien and likewise do not bother to take her away. She is no longer a threat to them and is merely a half-breed tainted with a foul magic. The two are left alone and for the first time in a long time she falls asleep watching over him as she always has.

As the night comes and goes, Tirien recovers as the antitoxin does its job. He isn’t sure the exact moment morning came, but it felt like it. The lighting was a little less green. He strains his neck to raise his head just enough to see Vionora sleeping soundly, arms folded beneath her head as they rest atop his chest, rising and falling gently. He’s never seen her like this but he’s glad for it. Peaceful barely touches the sight of her lovely features and he falls back into a shallow slumber, not wanting to disturb her.

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Tirien    19

Watching Vionora leave is something Tirien feels unprepared for. While he doesn’t intend his visit to Moonglade becoming anything more than that, a few more days or perhaps a week more without the looming threat of a second potential Cataclysm is preferable. His fondness for her has grown into something more and the terror of that stays his hand from keeping her here, with him. At least, he reconciles, they made plans to try and meet in Stormwind before Accalia ruins everyone’s fun.

The gryphon, carrying the person he’s grown close to, soars off into the distance to some unknown location. He watches her with a fond look and the Night Elf gryphon handler clears his throat to dispel the moment and get on with his business.

“I presume you will be departing as well?” He doesn’t bother actually turning in Tirien’s direction and instead secures the saddle of the next gryphon. Tirien doesn’t care and finds a small enjoyment in annoying the Elf to cap off his day.

“Stranger, I think the Handler wants your attention.” The same Tauren from earlier approaches; his purple and blue feathered garments rustle to a gentle breeze. It’s Tirien’s turn to be annoyed. All he wants to do is watch Vionora until he’s sure her transportation doesn’t suddenly die, come under attack, lose its way, or just hit a tree. He smiles at that last thought and really wants to see a gryphon fly into a tree.

“Oh yeah? What’s he sayin’?” Tirien’s sarcastic question irks the Elf, but the handler calms down with a breath and dons his best smile.

“Where would you like to fly to, sir?” He will do this, stoop to this level, if only to get this Human out of Moonglade before he rips into him. Forcing this smile proves to be the hardest thing he’s done in about half a century.

Tirien replies with a simper. “Rutheran Village.” He doesn’t bother to pronounce it correctly and hands over the coppers for the trip.

The Tauren watches, amusement dancing beneath a slight upturn at the corner of his snout. He wonders who this Human is and where he came from. Not many visit the glade and those who do are reverent or respectful at least of the Elves and Druids. Tirien and the Elf continue their back-and-forth, dagger hidden, banter veiled under pleasantries to avoid the attention of the Sentinels.

“Thanks fer th’ hospitality,” Tirien saddles up and takes the reigns. The gryphon wiggles its rear as it aims toward the cliff edge before sprinting for the take off. “Ass.” He’s certain the Elf heard him as he clears the tree tops.

A large bird pierces through the dense foliage and takes flight above Tirien who is too busy laughing to notice. The animal follows the interesting Human all the way to the port village. As Tirien boards the ship bound for Stormwind, the Tauren wonders if he should go too. Shapeshifting offers many opportunities to travel and the Human capital is one place he’s never been. Besides, he may learn more about this Human.

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Tirien    19

Tirien looks off to the horizon atop the burned out barracks bordering the old Park District. The sun’s light cuts a line across the ocean as it sinks below the waves. She should be here, but for now he closes his eyes and takes in the salty air of the sea. Maybe it’s the sound of lapping waves or crying gulls but he always feels an ease whenever near the sea. A gull perches atop a broken pillar. It's beady black eyes watch Tirien, perhaps out of curiosity. He doesn't care. It's just a bird.

Vionora stands at the end of a large wooden beam jutting from the rock and debris. Flirting with danger she spins, relishing the onset of the cool twilight breeze. Tirien approaches, more aware of the plummet past his feet as he inches toward her. The surface is wide enough, but the breeze could kick up at any time. He’s seen it before; people who come here when the rocks below appeal more than the dangers of Azeroth or the stress of bearing the burden of war after war.

The wood creaks and bends with their weight. Tirien, within arm’s reach of her, is pulled down and off the decaying cliff to plunge alongside Vionora. Their descent slows considerably as she works her magic and they drift safely to the interior of the main tower which once protected the South end of the harbor. The dingy, wet place hasn’t seen visitors in years and Tirien sets about gathering what dry wood he can find, all the while enjoying the fading rush of adrenaline and spending it with her.

Fire crackles as the two settle against one of the back walls, away from the pools of ocean seeping in from the cobblestones. A long moment of comfortable silence ends when she reminds him of the Eclipse and her doubt of her role in it with Accalia’s power stolen from her. He holds her tighter against him and draws a ragged cloak around them both. Stubborn, if reassuring, words comforts her to a degree, though Tirien suspects just being here with him succeeds in that. They share in each other’s warmth, the small fire doing what it can to stave off the murky cold settling upon the tower.

“She will emerge in Hyjal, Tirien. Near the infant Well at its peak.” She whispers.

Knowing the location makes the threat more real and an old pang darts through Tirien’s gut. True fear is something he hasn’t felt in a long time and the cemented knowledge that his actions could save her replaces old weights, long since lifted, on his shoulders.

“Alright. I’ll be there.”

Vionora curls closer to his chest, clutching at the edges. Tirien mistakes it for nervousness and shifts slightly so they both can fall comfortably asleep in each other’s arms; the worry, doubt, fear, and anticipation temporarily dispelled as two budding lovers enjoy their last night together.

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Tirien    19

Tirien can’t shake the feeling he’s been given the run around and stares into the hall of the Elven hunting lodge beneath the World Tree at Hyjal’s summit. Portals are an amazing way to travel.

“Elves.” He whispers as two pass him with weird glances. “Nothing but Elves and Tauren.”

He peers up past the trees to where a slight indent slowly progresses across the sun, signifying the solar eclipse. “She said it was here, yet…” He spies a particularly tall and broad Night Elven female with what appears to be horns and no pants. Smiling, he begins walking toward the Elf who has his undivided attention. Before Tirien takes two steps to the end of the lodge, three large, hulking Tauren stop him.

“No one is to disturb Ysera while she meditates.” One coal black bull states. The butt of his spear thuds as if making the decree final. Tirien tries squeeze on by anyway.

“Human.” The bull grabs the back straps on Tirien’s armor and hoists him up to stare directly in his eyes. “You are not allowed here. Leave.”

Tirien struggles and grips around the Tauren’s forearm, “I get ya, I get ya! Now lemme down.”

The Tauren nods and obliges without a word and Tirien sizes the bull up. With a huff he waves a hand and leaves. Whoever that Elf is probably isn’t that important anyway.

Wind sweeps through the dense forest, kicking up leaves and seeds as Tirien walks off the path and into the thicket. There are no warnings of wolves, no gloom and doom presence, and no Vionora. In fact, her presence barely registers. A worrying sense begins to crawl up his spine.

“She said Hyjal.” A stubborn branch bends out of his way, leaving sap on his hands. “Well, I’m here. Where th’ Fel are they?”

A trail of squirrels runs underfoot and Tirien trips to avoid stepping on one. Muddy ground slips beneath him and leads down a small slope to a thicket of dense grass and underbrush. The thorns scratch his hands and face and the bugs, oh the bugs his tumble unleashes. A grasshopper, several beetles, dragonflies, horseflies, you name it, Tirien’s stumbling sends all of them fluttering about. Thick branches dangle from impressive roots and offer a way of escape. They groan under his weight, but hold. Tirien sits atop one of the roots and lays back, looking up into the slow darkening sky and thinks.

“Stranger, you seem to be lost.” A familiar voice echoes from above. Tirien sits upright, hand gripping his dagger as he scans around. A large cat descends in front of him and shifts to the form of the Tauren Druid from Moonglade.

“You followin’ me or somethin’?” He keeps his weapon drawn and remains cautious. While the guards from earlier were large, this Druid is larger.

“Yes.” He confirms. Tirien nearly drops his dagger.

“Uh, okay.” Tirien glances to the trees and bushes and makes sure no one else is following him as well. “Why?”

“You’re interesting.” The Tauren’s blunt answers do a number on Tirien’s expectations.

“Why…Am I? You got a problem with me ‘er somethin’?” The need for a weapon isn’t necessary now, so he sheathes his dagger.

The Tauren chuckles, “No problem, but I think you are lost.”

Tirien gives up. He can read Humans and Elves, maybe Dwarves and Gnomes, but this Tauren and his honesty is strange. “Can you stop following me?” His attempt to keep the topic on stalking fails when the Tauren turns into a bird and hovers just above him. It shakes its head and soars off somewhere. In the distance some large animal bellows in annoyance and soon after a medium sized tree crashes to the ground. The occurrences can’t be a coincidence and Tirien waits, wondering what the Druid is up to.

A thick skinned fruit falls into Tirien’s lap. The top of the weird shaped edible is cut in a circle, the stem as a handle. Tirien looks up and sees the Druid as a cat again, this time with a content purr filling the air. His claws are bloody and stained with something else Tirien really doesn’t want to know about. The fruit in his lap sloshes with a juice inside, a mixture by his guess. With another glance upward he figures if the Druid wanted him dead he would’ve ambushed him already. Sneaky bastard.

Tirien sighs, “You only live once…” He heard some stupid kid say that in Stormwind before jumping off a building into the canal. The kid hit a tree branch on the way down and belly flopped and floated there for a good while before his friends stopped laughing enough to help him. From that he understands the gist of the statement, but really he thinks it’s stupid.

He drinks the slurry anyway and tries not to spit it up before the visions, and eventual cold sweats, set in.

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Tirien    19

The Tauren Druid peers up toward the shrouded branches of the massive, tangled network of roots and leaves as the sky darkens beneath the eclipse as the wild of Hyjal stirs. The Great Spirit, Aessina, whispers on the breeze to those who make their home in the crucible of Nature. The Druid stills and listens. Her voice is what calls him to Hyjal and its surrounding forests and tonight that call is wrought with warning, caution, and a bitter sadness. This eclipse, the Druid gathers, is causing unrest in the foundations of the very roots of the infant World Tree him and this slumbering Human rest upon.

Stable ground, perhaps, would have been better for this Human. He could have fallen after drinking the dream-vision elixir but hindsight and this Druid are fast friends. Studying the man, the Druid removes his feathery headpiece and pauldrons, hanging them on a stubby branch. Aessina has more to convey and he must listen for what this Eclipse may bring. Hunching his frame the Druid enters his own slumber, connecting with the Emerald Dream and the wilds around him.

“Lohd…” A voice whispers. The Druid, Lohd, remains silent. “Why does this Human dance upon the fringes of the Dream?” It asks with only curiosity.

Voices are crude, troublesome. It’s rare for any Spirit to use, even for one whose presence is so saturated into the land. Lohd bows his head further, humbled that the Great Spirit chose to communicate in such a manner, but he can’t help but wonder why and responds not with words, but something easier for the Spirit to understand.

Nurturing is too strong of a feeling. Aid? Assistance? Born from curiosity borderline fatal, like a Hawk drawn to observe a bobcat. A want to help, a wave of concern rolling out its tide to bring a stranded creature home, and a desire to smother and dowse the fires of worry and trouble is the language Lohd answers the Spirit with. In return, Aessina’s breeze swirls and invigorates him. An understanding washes past and into the wilds leaving a lingering weight of caution as the air becomes oppressive and humid. Lohd nods as his world returns to Hyjal and the Human.

Lohd eats a handful of bitter berries from a pouch. A yawn escapes as the food fights an oncoming want to sleep. Communicating with Spirits is taxing and he ponders the depth of Shamans and their fortitude for it. The Great Spirit is one of Nature and he is in her domain, but still the idea to lie beside this Human and rest seems better by the second. As he watches over the Human he wonders on Aessina’s warning and of the caution her departure leaves behind.

Is this Human to be feared or seen as a threat? He doesn’t think so. As much of a fascination with their race he has, Lohd’s exposure to them is limited. Watching this one though, he has learned much.

The air pressure spikes. Lohd, now a Great Cat balancing on the roots above, fixes his gaze on the cause. The Human’s aura darkens, plummeting into an endless void. It’s blinding in its intensity and Lohd suppresses his mind’s eye and looks upon an abomination. To call the thing Human is wrong. Its existence feels wrong. His fur stands on end and the urge to escape surges.

Its body draws in on itself. Beneath the leather armor ripples of flesh test the material’s strength. It turns onto its back and grips the root, claws digging into the bark as its frame broadens, thins, warps in a chaotic mass of spikes, teeth, flesh, and bone never settling and always moving, writhing, as if an amalgamation of demons all fight for a solid form to possess.

It settles and relaxes, showing no signs of the horrid mutations which took place. A grin spreads across its face as its shredded boots find purchase on the splintered and blackened bark. Rolling a shoulder, popping its neck, and letting out a relieved sigh Hunter looks out to the deep wilds surrounding him before turning to look into the feline eyes frozen in the branches above. He smiles.

“Thank you, Druid.” Hunter turns to face the trunk of a large tree wrapped in the World Tree’s roots. He places his hand on the bark and concentrates.

Lohd buckles and loses his balance. Taking on the form of a red-tailed hawk, he flaps to a thick branch farther away from the abomination. Even at this distance he feels the strain on the fabric of this world. The trees groan and sway as a violent wind whips their ancient branches as it would a sapling. A convergence of power struggles and contests as Nature and Fel clash in an unseen battle. Aessina hurts and he weeps for the desecration this abomination wrecks upon this sacred land.

The turbulent force surges and reality shatters in a space no larger than a simple door before Hunter, shards of bark and the perspective of landscape beyond are sucked into the endless void of the Twisting Nether. Disembodied claws grip the edges and force the opening wider, eliciting a screech from the wind as it channels up and through the branches. Lohd cannot maintain his shapeshifted form and reverts back to his normal self. He clutches his chest as he feels his connection to Nature and the land strain, sapping him of any ability to right the wrongs before him.

Hunter’s attention snaps toward the Hunting Lodge at the base of the World Tree and a devilish smile spreads further. “Remember that there are other things out there scarier than a de-powered Dragon Aspect, Druid.” Stepping through the portal Hunter offers a nod to the Tauren.

It vanishes and the shards of reality fall back into place. An ugly, knotted scar mars the tree as another permanent reminder of the magic which ruptured Hyjal so long ago. With its closing, the weight lifts from Lohd’s shoulders and he falls off the branch, losing consciousness. Before hitting the ground, vines grow and catch him as the Protectors of Hyjal converge on the area.

Within the Twisting Nether Hunter feels at home, at ease. He walks a veiled path forged of his will and ignores the denizens of this plane as they scatter to the darkest pockets of the void. Proceeding with singular focus he strides toward the last known location of Vionora, the moment before something snuffed out her light.

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Tirien    19

“The blasted beast staggered about, knocked senseless.” Anders, ragged and weathered from his experiences in the Lordaeron wilds, gestures about in a drunken manner while retelling a conquest from earlier in the week. “It tried to recover against a tree, grunting and growling in their gibberish tongue, while I nocked another arrow, ready to spear its skull.” The four other men, all chosen to venture out into the forests for game this month, draw in closer toward the fire and their story-spinning companion. “The bastard charged and I – “

“Whimpered there while I pulled the tripwire you were supposed to lure the Troll into beforehand.” Hunter pushes off of a thick tree, tired of the stories, and stands opposite his friend. The fire dances toward the Captain while the shadow of a hefty log, slowly burning to cinders, saves Hunter’s night vision.

The Captain clicks his tongue, “Damnit Hunter, really?” The other members of the party laugh and polish off their rations while the two trade glares.

“Yes. Really. While you gallivant around the Trolls could be tracking our fire.” Glancing out toward the tree line, Hunter scans for movement. The air draws tight and the crackling flames fill the supposed haven for a time until Anders sobers from his story.

“Right. We’ll celebrate when we’re home.” Anders smothers the fire, careful to use the mud prepared earlier to stifle any smoke. It will be obvious they were here, but a day between them and the village seems worth the risk.

“And while you lot celebrate, I’ll mourn for – “A sharp leer from Anders silences Hunter. The group is not without casualties this month. Lilly, a rival to any inhuman beast, paid the ultimate price to see the group to safety after a botched attempt to slay the Trolls pursuing them throughout the month. Once out, the fire leaves no smoke and the hunting party returns to their village, though Hunter can’t stomach the revelry.

Outside of the village, near the northern coast of the continent yet to be called the Eastern Kingdoms, lies a mass of old ruins long since silent and longer since recycled to nature. The twisted columns dig into the earth while fallen pillars of a foreign material hold up nothing but the open sky. Nowhere is this ruin’s duplicate, nowhere is stonework like what he’s seen here. This spot is often where Hunter spends his time. The ocean waves, the sea breeze, the roiling storms far out to the horizon all call to him and he yearns to venture back to the fabled homeland of his fore-fathers. The ruins, he assumes, are theirs and takes to exploring them whenever he can. It’s an activity he can stomach over hearing the tales of Tyr for the thousandth time.

A fool is Hunter’s opinion of the legendary figure. A fool who was too weak to best the mighty terror of the North on his own, a fool who had the power to regain his own hand yet chose not to. Glory through sacrifice? No. Glory through strength, cunning, and tenacity are the tenets Hunter lives with.

He catapults across a void split chasm, the light on his torch briefly going out from the rush of wind. This section of the ruins he’s explored time and again and could walk it blind, but tonight he plans to go deeper. A collapsed hallway, lined with reliefs and carvings of Trolls and wolves he fails to understand, used to block his path and through his own strength has he moved boulder after boulder to secure passage.

Squeezing through, Hunter trips. The passage gives way to a gaping maw of darkness filled only with his echoing grunt and falling rocks. Catching the ledge nearly cost him his torch and waving it reveals nothing, only an empty space of an impossibly large cavern. Below he hears a faint rush of water, likely inflow from the ocean, and the thought to give himself to the black crosses his mind. This is not the first time such thoughts press his senses and is something unique to this place the further he goes.

Hunter regains his wits after a surge of willpower. These thoughts are not his and he hoists back up to the ledge. He studies the wall at his side and spies a path. Lifting his torch overhead he shimmies along at a careful speed, only looking forward, always moving forward, until his front foot drops off. Keeping his balance he tests the depth and finds purchase on a step. A staircase, it seems, guides his descent into this chasm.

After three flights Hunter reaches a platform carved much in the same way as the exterior. Surveying the area he concludes this is the end, though nothing waits to reward him. Annoyed, he yells. The empty dark taunts him, yelling back his frustrations until they fade.

“There has to be something here. A barren platform makes no sense. There’s no function to it!” Hunter snarls, scanning the area once more for anything not rock.

His exploration finds an inset in the cavern wall reminiscent of a brazier. Dipping his torch into the inset bowl, it ignites. From there more holes illuminate the stairs and the path he crossed earlier and continues on as more dots of light begins to speckle the vast darkness. Hunter stands in awe as the image of a Human of titanic proportions clashes with a three headed wolf of a size unmatched takes shape in a pattern of faux stars. A rumbling takes his footing and he trips on the platform, torch rolling off the ledge.

“YOU WHO HAVE TRESPASSED HERE, WHAT IS IT YOU SEEK? WHAT IS IT YOU DESIRE TO FIND?” A voice, lupine and feral, sends a terrific chill down Hunter’s spine and fills him with the urge to flee, to run, and to escape the maw of this beast before it closes on him.

Panic gives way to a passionate resolve to face this fear, to conquer it, and prove to this power he is not some prey to flee. Hunter stands and draws his dagger, the blade shaking slightly in his hands.

“Who are you?” Hunter yells.

“I AM SHE WHO HUNTS IN THE VEIL, WHO STALKS IN THE DARK PLACES IN MORTAL’S HEARTS. SPEAK YOUR INTENT OR YOUR FLESH IS FORFEIT.” The cavern rumbles again as if something strains the very foundations of the rock. Hunter stands his ground.

“Your threats are meaningless. I’ve ‘trespassed’ these ruins for years, slept in these very halls, and nothing has harmed me.” In truth, Hunter has no clue what he speaks to and hopes he has called this predator’s bluff.

“DO NOT TEST ME, MORTAL.”

“I will test a caged beast as much as I please.” An ease loosens his grip on his dagger and he sheathes it. “Give me a name.”

At his request a shadowed figure coalesces before him. The ambiguous figure, now cloaked in a veil of smoke and darkness, studies the man before giving an impossible smile of jagged teeth. “Tell me, Mortal, what is it you seek in this wolf’s den?” Its wispy voice, still feral in nature, grins and awaits his answer.

“Power,” Hunter states. This question is simple. One who has power has control, one who has control survives. The shadowed figure approaches and trails a hand up his torso and across his collar as it glides past to the platform’s center.

Outstretching a hand, the figure calls forth a void touched energy, summoning tendrils of smoke from the image of two overlapping circle carved in the platform. A book, a simple black tome fades into being and the figure steps aside, gesturing for him to approach.

“This tome is my knowledge and this cavern my cage. Take it, mortal, and know power beyond your makers.”

Hunter approaches. The tome opens. He eyes the figure and its grin. “What’s it doing?” He asks.

“It knows your deepest thoughts. Go on. Read it. See the path to conquering that fear.”

The pages of pitch swirls and bleed until an inky black array of text and symbols fill the papers. A sentience within the tome draws upon the mortal’s fears and desires until it finds what drives him. Hunter draws breath as he reads, comprehension dawning upon him. The tome tells of a ritual, one to prolong one’s life, his life. Glancing to the figure he attempts to study it, to look for a sign of treachery. A single eye, diagonal above the grin, begs him to take it. Reaching out, Hunter’s hands settle beneath the black bound tome.

He closes it and steps back, facing the monster. “I stride forward with my own power, demon. I don’t need the last vestiges of some pitiful beast.” His strides to the staircase echo throughout the chamber as an unnatural silence stifles all else. The figure evaporates into the darkness as the dots of light blip out one by one as Hunter again squeezes through the passageway, safely leaving the cavern.

Emerging from the ruins, Hunter looks upon a twilight sky enveloped in reds and oranges as the sun dips off somewhere on the horizon. A renewed resolve fills him as he moves with a bolstered confidence. Nothing was sacrificed, nothing was lost. He faced a terror and won under his own power, sacrificing nothing to his own arrogant eyes, and so too shall he overcome the trials he’s sure to face in his life.

Trials of strife, warfare, famine, and death fail to sunder him as he lives out this life in the northern forests of the Eastern Kingdoms. These trials forge him into a leader of men, a glimmer of hope for this generation of those abandoned on unfamiliar lands and they carve out a foothold. This life, full of triumph, of love, of pitfalls, and toil flashes before him on his deathbed. Surrounded by sons and daughters and their young, he is comforted. They will carry on his memory and through them he shall live.

As the last vestiges of life fade from him he feels a sense of loss so deep it breaks through to his very core. He opens his dying eyes to view his entourage. Shadow and smoke veil their forms and freeze their frames, leaving only white silhouettes of their expressions to contrast the darkness enveloping them. Phantom memories of a life fulfilled, of fears conquered, of paths taken and foes defeated are pushed back as Hunter remembers who he is and the choice he made.

The real choice he made.

In this darkened room he remembers not a full life, but a broken one. A life where a ritual, learned from a black book, rules his existence. A ritual to prolong the life of his soul, with the sacrifice of another, shackles him to preserving that cycle. Thousands have fallen to this ritual and millennia has passed as he makes no progress other than to keep living, always molding his next vessel, and always choosing the best route to keep his rituals going.

Sure, he gained power, enough power to rival the strongest of Azeroth’s immortal protectors at their best, but at what cost? His life is empty, meaningless, and his fear rules him still to this day. In darkness he sinks as memories of the life he gave up disappear and with each one they chip away at the reservoir of his soul until there is nothing but a thin wisp remaining; the memory of his choice to take the Black Book.

A grinning darkness closes in, devouring the pitiful soul of a Human terrified of its own morality.

Accalia laughs as another prey falls before her. Though while Hunter is consumed, Tirien’s body still floats in a void, trapped in nightmares.

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Tirien    19

In a way, Michael misses his father. He never looked up to the man as Tirien did when they were children, nor did he follow him as blindly. Hunter always seemed distant, and that distance always seemed cold, like how a sculptor views an idyllic statue. The lack of any meaningful relationship there, of having Hunter as a mentor or just someone to idolize, or even like, is what drives this want to go back and change something. What if I had found out sooner? What if I stopped the ritual?

In another way, he’s glad to be rid of him. He never liked the man to begin with and he has a feeling that it was mutual. Hunter always viewed him as a mistake, one that would be corrected in time. It almost worked, but Tirien had snapped out of the years of brainwashing the old man wove. Maybe stabbing your own brother through the heart wasn’t as appealing as Hunter made it out to be after all? The deed was done though and Michael’s soul was consumed. Was that really the end of it? Where did I go?

The way which pecks at him the most, however, is the stunning silence surrounding him. Ever since Hunter ripped into the Twisting Nether, he watched and waited for an opening to help Tirien regain control. Hunter had put up a truly astounding fight against Accalia’s essence in this plane between Light’s ebb and Void’s flow, and efforts to stop the Ancient beast in the mortal realm affected the battle. Fighting on two fronts wasn’t something Accalia was expecting, and once the mortals succeeded on Azeroth, she unleashed her trump card and sent all involved into nightmares. Is he truly gone? Why won’t Tirien wake up?

All except for Michael, who remains in Tirien’s darkened mind somewhere in the Nether. There are no windows, no matches, no sparks or light bulbs, nothing to distract him from his thoughts as his memories surface like fireflies in the shapeless space. Each one is a glimpse to his childhood, each one a reminder of what he lost. Silently they float and flicker, eventually dotting an infinite night sky, mocking the stars he and Tirien told stories under in Westfall. He is lost in them as pains of regret pierce him, eating away bit by tiny bit. A vague darkness settles over him.

Am I real?

“Shut up!” Michael is desperate to fill the speckled void with something, anything to keep away the stillness from his ears and the stabbing memory from his heart. Trembling hands clamp around them and he draws in on himself.

Did I ever live?

“Tirien…” Michael squeaks out between sobs, “Tirien wake up.”

Who will miss me?

The existential questions snuff out his pleas for an end. One thought underscores the rest, barely audible as it subtlety weaves through to the boy’s terrified soul: Meaningless, pointless.

Hollow.

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Tirien    19

“Tirien!” Something keeps hitting his chest.

“Wake up! Tirien!” A voice gains clarity, filling his mind and pulling him out of a haze.

“Tirien.” Michael smiles and blinks tears from his eyes as his older brother sits up.

“Mike…?” Tirien falls back as his brother tackles him into a hug, confusion tinting his tone. Grass cushions him and a rock presses into his lower back. The sky looms clouded as veiled lightning dances throughout. Haunting howls of wind thread through the barren and dead limbs of an unfamiliar forest. In the distance, cheery sounds of laughter and machinery contrast the dreariness. Tirien hugs Michael back, fighting the urge to cry as well. This is real, he knows it.

“How’re you here?” Tirien manages, voice cracking as he tightens his embrace.

“I don’t know!” Michael bubbles out, similarly choking on sobs of joy.

Someone clears their throat nearby. An Undead with a veil over his face, dressed in ornate robes and mantle, sighs and looks over the two of them. Tirien consoles his brother and casts a wary glance to the Warlock, Malhavik.

“Where are we?” Tirien asks in a tone demanding an answer.

“Darkmoon Isle. Have you never been to the faire?”

Tirien feels a searching gaze from beneath the veil. Patting Michael’s back, Tirien whispers for him to get off and go find a place to hide. Around the two brothers are Tauren, Orcs, Undead, every race of the Horde represented. Malhavik stands the closest and it seems he was the one chosen to speak with them.

“There’s uh, no place to go Tirien.” Michael stands closer to his brother.

“Yeah I see that now.” Tirien drawls. “What do you want, Warlock?”

Malhavik remains silent and deathly still as Tirien feels the build of the crowd's hostile intent. He pulls Michael behind him. “Stay close, alright?” He mutters.

“He’s gone then?” Malhavik asks. Tirien knows who he’s referring to.

“Yeah.” Tirien nods. “Gone.”

It’s true. Tirien no longer feels the oppressive presence of his father’s consciousness, nor does he feel the weight of his brother’s soul. He feel lighter, younger, more free than he’s ever felt in his life and he’s not about to let that slip through his fingers. Behind the veil, Malhavik smirks.

“Where’s Vionora?” Tirien asks, again demanding an answer.

“Dead.”

The air draws tight. Michael grips a strap on Tirien’s armor. The ruffled, leathery sound of sword draws, daggers unsheathing, maces unlatching, and staves unfastening dot the tense silence. His next action needs to be chosen carefully. Focused on Malhavik, Tirien listens to muttered questions about a ‘mandate’ of some sorts.

“How?” He needs to buy time.

“She let her carelessness be the end of her.” Tirien picks up a twinge of annoyance in the Warlock’s answer.

“And Accalia?” He hopes this question gleams a minute or two for him to think.

Malhavik gestures a hand toward the corpse of a large three-headed wolf and remains silent.

No time gained. “Shit.” Tirien draws a dagger and something from his side pouch, “Mike, hop on!”

Jumping on Tirien’s back, Michael grips tight as Tirien tosses down a smoke bomb. An Orc and Tauren charge into the odd purple haze and swipe at nothing. Two more bombs go off, one near Malhavik and another in the new opening where the two Warriors had been. A Troll Hunter fires off a flare into the tree tops, and as the combatants scan the branches Tirien tosses up a flash bang, blinding them all.

A line of smoke spikes out past Malhavik who struggles to call his demons. The dense smoke saps away the magic of Shadow, Fel, and Void. A Shaman calls a vicious gale and clears the area as a surge of Holy Light cleanses the poisonous mist’s effects. The leader of the group, a massive Tauren Paladin, orders a search and the combatants fan out into the woods with brutal efficiency.

On a hill near the faire grounds, Tirien vaults over the underbrush and makes way past an angry ticket salesman. His ploy succeeds and replacing the expensive bombs is the last thing on his mind. He spots someone behind a booth near a cannon who looks to be a grounds keeper.

“There a way outa’ here bud?” Tirien asks. Michael waves at the Goblin.

“Yeah pal.” She points at the docks, “That’ll be fift – HEY!” She stomps her heel as Tirien bolts off.

“Thank you!” Michael turns and yells as Tirien keeps his speed.

With the portal in sight and no Horde at their back the two dart through and appear outside the faire ground portal in Elwynn Forest. Tirien slows and stops and Michael hops off. It’s well into the night and the air is cool and dry. Michael, dressed in rags, shivers and Tirien takes him under his arm.

“Lets get ya back in th’ city.”

“Y-Yeah.” Michael clatters.

Passing through the gates, walking down the Trade District, avoiding the Mage Quarter, and climbing down the old Park ruins, Tirien and Michael arrive at the familiar broken tower south of the harbor without incident. Tirien gathers what supplies he can and drapes a dirty cloak around his brother before moving on. He knows of another place in the city, one he hasn’t been to in years. Nestled on the outer rim of Cathedral Square is one of his father’s homes.

Scouring the building, they find several hidden rooms and passages, though none are occupied save cloth draped furniture. They make use of the uninhabited space, careful to not appear as squatters to the small team of cleaners assigned to upkeep the place. Tirien resembles his father enough to pass and manages to get up to speed on some of his family’s history. From the books in one of the studies, he and Michael make a list of names from their findings.

It takes time, but Tirien gets a handle on his family’s state of affairs and relies on relatives to solidify their identity and help reestablish their citizenship and status in higher society. He and Michael find their family’s main house in the Mage Quarter, bordering the same space as the Slaughtered Lamb. News of their father’s death smooths over and full control of their house slides easily to Tirien. The Forewell family is well under way to becoming a prominent name around Stormwind again with Tirien as its head.

Years of social gatherings, minor business ventures, short-lived flings and vacations fills both of their lives and eventually a rift begins to form between the two brothers. Tirien continues to plot Michael’s every move and is met with increasing resistance. He concludes the boy needs to be guided in a world he never came to know and thus micromanages every facet of it.

As Michael enters the prime of his life, Tirien feels his waning. The rift becomes a chasm and their house stands divided. Michael seizes every opportunity to circumvent Tirien’s moves in favor of his own and slowly begins to rise above his older brother in standing. It is Michael who supports the Alliance, Michael who sires suitable heirs, and Michael who appeals to their supporters and friends. All of this Tirien looks upon and considers as he plots and paces in the study of his house in the Mage Quarter.

Tirien looks out through an open window. Fall is in the air and children play about the well down below with their wickerman toys. He stares out beyond the foolish youth to the Slaughtered Lamb. In that veiled window sill he contemplates a visit. It will not be the first time he has gone to the Warlocks there for political gain and it certainly won’t be the last. Their magic and machinations have eliminated his fiercest rivals and now he ponders to use them against Michael, his own flesh and blood.

Wind kicks up, sending leaves of orange and red into his study. Drawing the drapes he turns and paces toward the exit, past a grotesque full body mirror nestled between two floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. The oddly rimmed mirror clashes with the orderly space with its swirl covered, eye ridden, teeth lined edging. He spies a glimpse in the mirror and pauses, looking at his reflection. The surface is pitch black, despite the candle light from his desk. From time to time paranormal instances plague him and with each time something different is shown within. The idle ticking on the cuckoo clock slow down to a crawl as his reflection fades away to that of a rag covered cowering boy just on the verge of adulthood floating in an endless void.

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Tirien    19

His money is well spent. The usual drab and dreary air about the Slaughtered Lamb is well hidden beneath the hefty ‘donations’ of the Forewell family. Tirien nods to the bartender as he makes his way down to the basement. There the façade ends. Cobwebs and critters litter the dank halls of the hidden undercroft. A foul undercurrent of a putrid, sulfuric stench permeates the space and Tirien fights back his light lunch. He removes his hood and nods to one of the Warlocks dressed in silks laden with webs and bones, the central fire pit illuminating her gaunt form.

“Is Master DeRenne in?” Tirien asks. The Warlock bows deeply, black silken hair falling from her hood as she gestures to a lone Elf woman near the end of an alchemy table.

“No, but her apprentice is. Will she suffice?” Her tone is that of a farmer appraising livestock, ready to cull the weak and harvest the strong.

Tirien meets the Apprentice’s gray-glowing gaze and for a moment he feels a twinge, a stirring in the back of his mind readily severed. Whether or not this tall, strange-eyed Elf will suit his needs is all that matters. Her neutral expression turns to recognition, and she moves forward with a slow grace that fully captures his attention. Tirien finds his gaze wandering over her figure and he again pushes back the pervasive thoughts to focus on the task at hand.

“You. What is your name?” Tirien asks.

“I thought we had met before.” She replies to Tirien’s scrutiny with an almost cavalier choice of words.

“Don’t get fresh with me, girl. I’ve not met you and I truly hope your Master forgives me for not striking you down.” Who is she to him? Nothing and the audacity of her claim appalls him. The other Warlocks promptly return to their tasks and end their eavesdropping, but the Apprentice’s gaze holds and a fire builds in Tirien’s chest. Just before he can strike her she bows her head in submission and curtsies.

“Lord Forewell, I am Vionora Minara,” she murmurs meekly. Deception masks her intent. Whether forced or not, Tirien distrusts the Elf on instinct.

He eyes her with caution though maintains his confident demeanor. “Now then. I have a task to which you will assist.”

“As you command.”

“Excellent. Follow, lest I divulge all my secrets to these scoundrels.”

Tirien leads Vionora down into the catacombs, farther than most dare to tread. Only the Masters are allowed to these depths and it is here where black rituals shape the destiny of many. The final room is large, grand in its macabre new purpose for consorting with demons and the void. An emblazoned Fel-touched rune mars the stone floor, seething with tainted energies and tendrils of corrupt magic. Candles dot the open tombs and cast a conflicting dance of Light and Shadow as the ambient energies swirl about. Vionora shivers as Tirien scans the room with Fel-empowered sight.

“Excellent.” Tirien grins knowing they are alone. Vionora waits obediently behind him. “I’ve never known DeRenne to take on an apprentice, let alone an Elf, so my expectations of your abilities are high.” He turns with a threatening glare. “Do not disappoint me.”

“I would never disappoint you,” she responds oddly, once again holding his gaze and once again causing a stir in the back of his mind.

Tirien ignores it and flourishes his hand to produce a folder, Fel fire fading from the edges. In the silence, he hands it over. Only when she accepts it does she break the unreadable stare to glance through its pages. Within holds a photograph of Michael with accompanying documents detailing his life, habits, homes, and loved ones dating all the way back to when the two brothers reclaimed their House. Recognizing the name, she skims over his biography. She’s never seen Michael before and she finds his resemblance to Tirien unnerving.

“Bring the boy here. I do not care how, so long as he is bound and alive.” His orders are final.

“How long since you took to the Fel?” She interrupts, then addressing him as an afterthought. “Lord Forewell.”

The silence thins and the entropic energies burden the room. Her question knocks him off of his guard. “Long enough to put a mouthy apprentice in her place should the need arise, but I applaud your boldness.” What is this Apprentice up to, he wonders.

“Your father was a master of the Fel, was he not?”

Tirien perceives admiration in her tone and the candles return to their former soft glow. “Indeed. DeRenne, your Master, was one of his best students.” Measuring her, he smirks. The Fel is strong within the Elf. “And now she chose you to carry on her legacy. It seems her choice shows promise.”

She is watching him closely. “I met Hunter on a few occasions.”

Caution replaces a mounting impatience with the girl and the small talk. It has been many years since touching upon the subject of his father. This girl seems to know him by name as well, which captures some of his interest. “Indeed? Then it is no wonder DeRenne chose you.”

“I don’t remember you speaking so fondly of him…” She insinuates.

“I was young and foolish, blind to the real power my father spent his life building.” The quick clarification is rash and sudden, surprising him as soon as he said it.

“The power he used to nearly destroy you and Michael both.” She continues, despite an oppressive force building behind her. “What are you planning to do to Michael?”

Demonic claws seize Vionora’s arms and thighs, locking her in place as they pierce her skin. An acrid smoke rises from their touch and an acidic sizzle hisses as Tirien rests his hand and approaches. More claws begin to form around her neck. She holds herself still other than a gasp recognizing his danger to her and endures the pain with admirable discipline.

“Tread carefully with that tongue of yours. I am not your friend, nor will I be dragged into any more meaningless questions.” The claws burn through her dress and skin and sink slowly into her flesh. “You will retrieve Michael and only then you will see my plans for him.”

Vionora lowers her head in assent before Tirien releases his grasp. Catching herself on the cold stone floor, she averts her gaze as he leaves.

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Vionora    10

It was Tirien. Knowing him even with the age upon his features and the dark robes cloaking his figure, Vionora’s heart had sunk to see him, though she couldn’t pull her eyes away. She didn’t know at first where she was supposed to be or what was ostensibly going on, but she knew what this was, and to see him here meant she hadn’t sent him far enough away. It meant that there hadn’t been anywhere far enough to keep him safe.

But she was here too. Something had breathed life into her again; something had pulled the scattered fragments of thought and lost wishes together. Or maybe she was just an echo, Tirien’s memory of what she was, and not so much the person she had actually been. Vionora didn’t care. She had a chance to save him.

The webs and windings of the nightmare surrounded her, visible to her and only her as lines of feral twilight spinning through every structure and person and flickering flame. The things Tirien did not focus on were shadows and suggestions, no more, the world itself beyond Stormwind disappearing into utter void. Even when she looked down at herself, it was the same as it had been with Malhavik: although he didn’t even recognize her now, she only appeared as Tirien, on some level, had seen her.

One way or another, Vionora was no more real than this nightmare world.

In this world, Tirien was a warlock. He was everything his father had been. Of course that was his nightmare. She didn’t dare just try to talk sense into him; Accalia’s influence had twisted and blinded him. He would react like a sleepwalker suddenly confronted and lash out, as she had discovered. No, if she wanted to help him, all she could do was play along, and try to remind him of who he really was. Some part of him had to remember. Because, she knew on a level deeper than instinct, why else would she be here?

And yet for him to treat her so cruelly… The pain he had inflicted simply to teach her a lesson burned brightly in her memories, though the marks had faded the moment he’d left. It was more agonizing than it had been when Hunter had worn Tirien’s face and hurt her in the past. She had known that wasn’t really Tirien. And while this wasn’t either, it was a Tirien who could have been, that some buried part of him understood his potential to become.

And cruelty from the one who had refused to ever hurt her had cut deeper than her dreamed-up flesh, sinking to the deepest part of what her soul had once been. It was only the knowledge that she had to save him that kept it from overtaking her, that kept her from submitting to, to welcoming, the sublimity of suffering once more.

But maybe, she thought, that she even felt that desire meant she really was herself…

Or was that a part of her Tirien had understood?

Distantly, Vionora thought she could hear a howl.

She waited in the tavern above the catacombs. Her surroundings responded grudgingly without Tirien present, but she exerted her will and the twilight drew on Tirien’s knowledge and expectations accordingly. It was like lucid dreaming with someone else’s mind. She had to tread carefully, lest the dream be pushed too far and be caused to snap back to its original shape – without her. But Tirien expected her to find Michael, and so she did.

He ducked inside, out of the heavy rain. The resemblance he shared with Tirien was uncanny to her, made all the more so by the realization that she recognized the way he moved from the times she had seen him in control. It was like seeing an impostor Michael, and perhaps he was, because looking at him, Vionora could only see more lines and threads of twilight. In contrast, Tirien had shone like the sun, albeit buried beneath the muffling, suffocating layers of twilight. It was evidence that Tirien was the only thing here that was real.

Michael looked around and saw her. She held his gaze until he was sure she was his contact. He walked over to the table, and she rose to curtsey.

“Lord Forewell,” she said.

“Just Michael, please,” he responded. Those words and his open expression, though showing a little concern, made Vionora smile. The nightmare hadn’t tarnished Tirien’s image of his brother in the slightest. Then he asked, “I understand you have something for me regarding my brother?”, and her smile faded as she came to grasp the implications of that fact.

He waved her to a seat, and they sat across from one another. Vionora arranged her skirts and considered where to begin. It would probably be best to start with the conflict that she saw; the pattern of the web enfolding them. “How long have you and your brother been at odds?” she asked.

Michael reeled back a bit. “Uh… Hm…” He folded his arms. Something about the gesture reminded Vionora powerfully of Tirien, especially since this Michael was much closer to what Tirien’s age was supposed to be. “More than a decade, I know that,” he said.

“You two used to be so close… or so I understand,” she said with care as the threads vibrated in warning. Her presumptions were barely tolerated.

“We were,” he said with emphasis on the second word.

“When did he… turn to the fel?” It was still so impossible to imagine him doing that, even though she’d seen it with her own eyes. “And why?” she had to add. “He hated it...”

A sad look touched Michael’s expression. “So it’s true, then,” he said. Vionora inclined her head, and he clicked his tongue the way the Forewells all did and kicked at the chair. “I’ve heard rumors, everyone has, that he employs demons to deal with his enemies,” he said.

“There was a time he would have never, ever consorted with demons, or anything fel,” Vionora said.

“Yeah. I thought that part of him still held true which is why I hoped…” His voice trailed off, and he rested his forehead in his fingers.

Vionora looked at him, at this conception of a young boy that Tirien loved with all his heart, grown into a young man Tirien was destined to not understand and see only as a threat. What answers could he give her, plucked from the depths of Tirien’s psyche? “What happened?” she asked after a moment, daring to probe deeper despite the web shifting around them. “How did you get free?”

“I have no idea,” he said. That he grasped of what she spoke so easily, without question, reminded her that this was a dream; that she spoke to a ghost. “It just felt like a miracle of the Light.”

“And Hunter…?” she asked. “Is he… gone?”

Michael nodded. “Of that I am positive,” he said. “He died fighting Accalia in a vain attempt to steal her power. I saw it, Hunter’s nightmare.”

The web shuddered in protest, but it rang with truth like the rest hadn’t. Tirien had seen it. Hunter was truly defeated. Vionora’s hopes rose. Hunter had once said that his and his sons’ souls were fused, never to be separated, but here, even a wisp could be reformed; to unfuse souls was not beyond the realm of the twilight. If she could free Tirien from his nightmare, he would truly, truly be safe, even from the things Vionora could no longer hope to affect.

If she could free him. She thought she heard another howl, closer.

“Accalia consumed him too?” she said distractedly, and Michael nodded – again, she realized, taking the conflicting implications at face value. Yet that made her realize something else. If this was not the true Michael… then where was he? “Did you have a nightmare?” she asked, focusing on him.

“No, I didn’t,” he said, calmly; too calmly. The web didn’t react in any way, almost as though tensed and waiting.

Vionora intuited, then, with a flash of insight, the greater pattern of the web that stretched far beyond the hazy borders of this nightmare, spanning through the twilight realm where others still lay trapped in its snarls. Even though Michael’s soul was not here, his fate still hung in the balance. If Tirien was not saved, he could not save Michael.

She took a soft breath, and dared push as hard as she could. “What about… Tirien?”

Michael thought. He looked troubled. “I’ve asked him about it, but he would never go into detail. I don’t think he remembers it.”

A tendril of the web snapped. Vionora would have flinched if she could have, but she couldn’t. She had gone too far, and now the strands tightened around her in response.

“So, what news do you have of Tirien?” Michael asked. He looked hopeful.

She pressed forward, ignoring the web closing in. “I need your help to turn him back from this path he’s on. It’s the only way to save him. He’s going to… do something he’ll forever regret.” Her hands fisted in her skirts as howls sounded, unheard by anyone else.

Michael leaned forward, earnest and eager to help; vulnerable. “Anything,” he said. “What do you need me to do?”

And Tirien’s nightmare imposed itself on her. There was only one way this meeting was supposed to end, and it wasn’t with Michael coming to her aid to save his brother. “He wants me to kidnap you,” she whispered.

He stared at her. “He wha—”

The howls had closed in. The webs formed the jaws of worgs closing on her wrists and neck, directing her actions. Somehow, Vionora called forth demonic terrors to tear open a portal behind Michael. A dark force yanked him back from his seat. He only had scant seconds to mouth ‘no’ in disbelief before he was gone.

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Tirien    19

“So glad you could join me, Michael.”

Michael is bound in fel chains to the floor. At the words, the young man rouses from unconsciousness and takes in as much of the dark crypt as the flickering candles allow. Chaotic void energy swirls through the tombs in a silent dance with him and Tirien at its center. The fel chains rattle and hiss with acidic burns when Michael tries to pull free. Overcome, he falls back to the stone and the glowing rune emblazoned on its surface.

Tirien speaks to Vionora next, though he remains focused on his brother. “Excellent work. DeRenne will be sure to hear of this.”

She doesn’t respond, but a shift of the light illuminates her frame and her silhouette looms in his vision. A thought, a feeling, demands his attention. Unable to ignore it he peers into her unknowable stare and senses a silent judgment from her.

“Tirien!” Michael’s yell spikes with pain. “Tirien what are you doing?!” He can’t see enough of the rune to identify it and a panic stirs in his chest.

“If only you had been there, Michael, when I poured through our father’s library.” From a flick of Tirien’s wrist appears a dagger, curved and slender and tinted with Fel magic, trailing green fire in its path as if carving the air. “You would have seen, understood, the privilege of being his next vessel, of continuing his work.” A delusional smile touches a corner of his mouth.

Michael resumes his struggle and casts a silent plea toward Vionora for help. Visages of souls and spirits circle and thread up along the edges of the runic circle, obscuring her.

“She won’t help you, boy. No one will.” Tirien’s regard for Vionora shifts. Whatever stubborn thoughts her presence inspires are proving to be a thorn in his side. His grin fades and he moves his gaze away in a weak attempt to purge her from his thoughts. She continues to stand with her silent gaze, ignoring Michael as if she knows the outcome. How can she know? Forlorn, distraught, saddened, Tirien cannot discern what her grey eyes speak.

Tirien throws himself into his work. Once this ends nothing else will matter. His resolve hastens the spirits’ movement as a far-off howl fills the crypt with its ominous tone.

“Imagine my surprise, stumbling upon the very ritual he had us do as children.”

Michael’s eyes widen in realization. “No, Tirien no, you’re not like him!”

With a nod he stalks toward the center of the circle. “You’re right. I’m his son and I’m ready to take on his legacy!” He plunges the dagger towards his brother’s heart as demonic hands holds him still.

“You won’t be Tirien anymore. Hunter will have won. You will be him.”

Vionora’s words ring in his ears and wrack his mind with pain. He falters and the dagger clatters to the ground. With hitched breath, Michael awaits the familiar transfer of his soul, though all he witnesses is Tirien staggering back toward the stairs. Tirien’s vision blurs as he drops to a knee, clutching his head. Through the barren halls a wolf’s howl echoes, filling the chamber with a surge of wind that grows louder with each passing moment.

Vionora doesn’t move. She knows if she tries to intervene, she’ll be removed from the nightmare. Her hand in freeing him has to be subtle and merely her presence invokes his own stubborn individuality to shine through the nightmare’s malaise.

“I know power calls to you... it always has.” Her words are soft on the roaring wind of void and fel energy sweeping through the room, but they are enough.

Tirien roars as his nightmare shatters in a violent torrent of twilight magic and void. Shards of the crypt break away and vanish into the Twisting Nether as Michael panics and tears his flesh trying to break free. Reaching out to his brother, Tirien fights and stumbles toward him and witnesses a diagonal section of the room collapse and bury half of him before disappearing. The final thread tears loose and Accalia’s visage assaults his perceptions in a vain attempt to repair the damage done and reset the weavings.

In the end, where once there was chaos now there is silence. Deafened in its wake, Tirien rests and holds his balance. Vionora approaches and helps him to his feet.

“Tirien,” Vionora takes in the change around them; the washed-out nothingness that is neither bright nor dark. “We’re in the twilight realm.”

Familiar dark leather armor replaces the robes of purple and gold as they fade and fall from Tirien’s form. He is exhausted from the tentative victory. Confusion, caution, longing, and relief bubble to the surface and he takes Vionora into a tight embrace. Right now it’s all he can manage to not make a blubbering fool of himself as he finally remembers who she is.

“I... won’t be much longer.” Hearing her voice soothes him and he pulls away after wiping an eye, not comprehending.

“What do y’ mean?” She only smiles, sadly. “We just gotta find a way out and we win, right?” Tirien goes on. “We beat Accalia.”

Vionora is unable to look away. She relishes these last moments with him and borrows his characteristic stubbornness to stave off the inevitable, even for just a moment as she memorizes his face, his form, his smile, his eyes, his laugh, his tears, everything from the past handful of dizzying months with him. Maybe these memories will stay with her when she is gone.

Tirien remembers his nightmare, “Oh Light. You saved me, from that.”

“You saved yourself.”

"V, please, what d’ya mean you won’t be here for long?” He tries to tighten his embrace, but his arms fold in and pass through her as her body becomes ethereal. Tirien’s breath quickens, “What, what happened?” Distraught, he searches her gaze for an answer. Vionora raises her hand as though to cup his face but her fingers brush nothing.

“Tirien, I will never forget you. Please, don’t miss me too much.”

“I can’t lose you.” Tirien states in desperation. He reaches out but he still can’t hold her. “I can’t lose any more folks I care about.”

“Michael still needs you. He’s got to be in here somewhere.”

With a flash of anger, Tirien scowls. “The Fel with Michael, I need y–” He curls forward, falling to a knee, and presses a knuckle to the side of his head as he pushes back the lingering aspects of his nightmare self.

“You don’t need me, Tirien. I needed you, but you...” Vionora takes a breath, and kneels before him, recapturing his attention. Her gaze holds his as she speaks to him words she needs to say. “I loved Malhavik because of who I was... I loved you because of who you are.”

Tirien recognizes her tone and memories of a life long forgotten surface: a woman, his mother, in his childhood saying her last goodbyes before being swallowed in fire.

“You’re special, Tirien. There’s something amazing inside of you... Something that can chase away the darkest shadows a person’s soul can hold.”

The parallels he draws between Vionora’s sincere words and those of his mother’s are stunning. They are not the same, but she speaks of similar ideas. Seeing another he cares for disappear is more painful than the nightmare which he escaped. A well of loss hangs in his chest.

“You’re a beacon in the darkness. You illuminate the soul of anyone you touch.” She pauses and speaks as if reflecting on her life. “I was so lucky to meet you.”

Tirien looks at her, pain stricken over his face. “Vionora.”

She gives a small, sad smile and leans forward and for a moment, her hand against his face is felt again and she kisses him one last time.

“Don’t ever let that light go out.”

Tirien holds onto this last moment with her, making his own effort to memorize everything. Her face, her touch, her voice, their time, all of it he burns into his soul to never forget.

“Vionora, I – I lo–”

She disappears in his arms, leaving him alone in the endless void of the Nether. He shudders, drawing in on himself. Wracked with the pain of loss and regret he succumbs to a thought kept so deep in his soul even Accalia could not uncover it, a thought held within him since escaping his father for the very first time in his youth, the night he burned his house to the ground.

Why hold onto something when it always slips through your fingers?

Distantly a wolf’s howl echoes in triumph as Tirien’s world fades back to the vibrant reality of Azeroth in the forests of Hyjal.

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