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Kethrenorean

End of the Dream

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It took days to get her back.

Keth was frightened. He had understood the effects of fever, causing a mind to wander and lose focus. He understood that pain had a way of temporarily driving a creature to the brink of insanity. What he had not comprehended was that it was all still there. All of it. Not until that moment did he really understand all the rambling about encroaching darkness, what she had tried to describe once as a hollowing, as of being eaten slowly from the inside. She was indeed lost in the Deepness, as she called it, Kerala was just really, really good at coping without the light.

How dare that elf woman question? How dare she demand proof? Where was the evidence? She had claimed to trust in Kerala's instinct, and then put the lie to those words with her very next breath. 

Against his advice, Kerala had done her best to explain. It would have been fine. They had been through this before, he and she. He knew the story. Her summary was short and clipped and just detached enough to be safe. It was hard, but Kerala did it.

And then THAT woman. Keth hated her. He tried to think if he had ever been so dense in his life. When it came to matters of such importance, had he dared to question where and how help had come? No, he'd merely accepted it. Even from a wrinkled old smelly savage centaur covered in bones and flies, he'd been grateful for anything to help. 

Maybe the elf didn't love her missing man enough?

Kerala did, he realized. And he was mightily jealous, if he bothered to examine it too closely. For the love of her friend, she tried ever harder to explain. It was too much. 

As she became overwrought, Keth coached her, reminding her of the words to say to distract from the experiencing. There was nothing else to do. He did his best to keep it impersonal, to guide her away from remembering the trauma related to the events she was sharing, but he could see from the way she acted it was only partially working. It was when she pressed so hard against the ache in her chest that Keth realized who, exactly, she was talking to. 

If he were able to manifest himself, he'd have rampaged through Julilee Liene's office, destroying all the carefully recorded notes he could see lining the shelves. Where would all her evidence be then!? He wanted to wreck it, and too take that damned sword and pitch it out the window and hopefully clear the city's edge with it. He'd watch the thing reach terminal velocity, flashing in the falling and until it disappeared into unknowable ocean depths far down below. The urge toward physical violence was there, and powerful too. He hated the Sanctuary commander. 

His anger tempered and died as suddenly as it flared, faced with the distraught mess of his soulmate. Her fury matched his. She wasn't apt to merely express herself with the destruction of things. Kerala was much more direct, and her goal would be the source of hurt. Julilee. To see such irrational emotion in her eyes, most faithful mirror, was sobering indeed. He'd spoken quickly, then. He stepped against her back and wrapped her in an embrace to remind her, before she did something far more destructive than he'd been wont to just a moment ago. He brought her back, for the moment. He whispered in her ear, and she listened. Then she fled.


For three days, she was lost to him. She ran so fast and so far that he was left trailing after her along the tether with only the faintest of tugs to draw his essence. If she went far enough, the link would break completely, and he'd be adrift forever. He liked to think that's what brought her back. Did she care enough for him to recall herself? He couldn't be certain. It didn't matter, anyway. He'd made his choices based on his feelings, not hers.

He met up with her as she came back along the link searching for him. Her pretty eyes were wet and still leaking, but clear. He stopped, unsure what to expect, and certain if his sympathy would be welcome. He wanted desperately to pull her close and hold her and banish those tears. Kerala didn't hesitate. She crashed into his arms and sobbed over his shoulder. He hugged her fiercely, his fingers soothing up and down the bumps of her spine. 

Some time later, and he wasn't quite sure how, they ended up spread on the ground. A tree propped up his back and his stomach served her for a pillow as she curled beneath his arm.

"What if we fail?" she murmured. The movement of her chin in his middle tickled. He tried not to squirm.

"We won't fail. We'll find your friend." he told her. "Rest, my dove. We can start the search up again when you wake." He was well aware that her question had nothing to do with the missing monk.

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"I don't want you carrying him further." Keth ordered.

Kerala peeped an emerald eye back open. Her head tilted slightly to regard her companion from the ground, but it was a telling indication of her fatigue when her mouth didn't issue any retort. Keth sighed and raked his hand back into his hair. It was a habit he'd picked up from her, a tiny gesture, but it made the stern line of his mouth twitch up briefly to realize that he did it.

"I'm close, I think I can get through. Almost." he told her. She smiled one of her small smiles. "You know, it's easier to practice when you're out there. I feel like I can follow you, I just need some time."

"Time, I have given you," she reminded him. Kerala held out a hand to him, and Keth, recognizing the gesture, immediately knelt beside her and took it up in both of his. She craved touch, and he was happy to provide it. "I just need to rest." she reassured him about the taxing activities of the waking world. She switched back to the topic of Keth's own abilities. "It's easy enough to manifest, but it takes... effort to stay. Concentration?" She looked thoughtful, not happy with either of those descriptors, but not bothering to search overlong for better. She suggested "You should try without me. You could tell me when the priestess comes back."

Keth blinked at her stupidly. She made it sound so easy! It was not, and he chafed at his own failings. The night elf had objections, requests for further advice that he knew she could not teach and other words he wanted to say, but his love simply lay back in the lush grasses of the terrocone forest and slipped her eyes closed again. 

He sighed quietly and lay down beside her. She adjusted automatically, fitting herself back against him and letting him wrap his elbow around her horn to provide a pillow. He was painfully aware that this was the very same position they lay in within the holy caverns of Maraudon. Keth closed his eyes, feeling Kerala's curly fur tickle where it touched him, feeling her warmth. He willed himself into the waking world.

It could not have come as more of a surprise to him to realize he'd succeeded when the pinecones and moths around them were replaced by the drab walls of a dwelling. He was briefly alarmed that he might now be trapped, unable to return, but even as the thought occurred to him he realized that the imagery was fading as he failed to keep solid will exerted to be. He focused on staying, on observing.

There was an unfortunate-looking elf on the floor, his daylight hues faded and his form sunken with the beginning stages of starvation. He lay piled on a blanket in the middle of the floor where, undoubtedly, Kerala had unloaded him. Keth tried to move closer. It was then that he realized he had no body. Like before, his essence was singularly gathered into a swirling ball. He was nothing but a wisp. If he'd had a face he'd have scowled. He had not the knack for these things! Once he had thought of persuing the study of druidism. Not for the first time, he dearly wished he had. Such skills would have served the two of them so much better than these hurdles he must constantly keep surmounting.

The room was otherwise empty, so Keth practiced his motion, moving first one direction, then another. It was not so hard, he thought. It was just like in the Dream, actually, except here he felt the draw of there. He did not belong here.

Keth lingered in the doorway. Two elves eventually headed straight in his direction. The wisp winked out as he gave in the the pull to the Dream. He breathed in the earthy scent of her. Hating himself, he gently shook Kerala. "They return."

She looked at him and smiled. The weight in her eyes was already lessened. He wondered how long she thought she'd been sleeping. Keth still could not quite grasp the flowing nature of things here. His mind was rigid and insisted on believing in a structured progression of time. It was false. Meaningless. She could have gotten a few seconds of rest, or a week. It eased his worry to see how rejuvenated she looked.

When she vanished to return to her friends, Keth followed her.

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"No! You have to dissolve that one first. Pour all of it it into the rest of the water you held back in the pitcher, and stir it until you can't see any more sediment."

"Now you can add that to the pot. How are you going to get that into him? He's unconscious."

Kethrenorean hovered, much like his teachers had once hovered over his own shoulder, instructing Kerala on the steps required to brew a medicine he'd never met before. He was making very educated guesses as to the proper preparation, but it was the best he could do. Several times he drifted his essence down into the pot itself to sense the vapors. It was like smelling, but he found that in this form he had much better sensory perception. He knew, for example, that the tea leaves had been dried very young, and in such a way that their essential oils had been preserved. It was a foreign ingredient, as several in this medicine were, but they were enough alike to familiar plants he did know that he was relatively confident in instructing his love how to handle them. He could certainly mangle the job far less than any in the next room, he supposed, and he doubted he would really mess it up at all.

"You saw him. Do you think he can handle solid foods? I can't just pour water down his throat, I'll drown him. He's not so bad, right?" Kerala asked. "I can get some..." She glanced around the unfamiliar kitchen and pantry, lost. Keth drifted toward a paper-wrapped package that he knew contained a long thin roll of bread. "Yes! Thank you. I can't make him sick. It takes so very much energy to purge, he needs all his strength."

"Yes, he's not 'so bad'." Keth agreed. He was remembering vividly the condition in which he had met the skinny tauren. Bone-thin and sick, she'd literally been a breath away from death. He'd recognized his soul mate even then. By comparison, she was a glowing model of health now. She was beautiful. "It's dissolved. Add it slowly to the rest. Don't let the colder water drop the boil. Perfect. Was that all the packets, then?"

"That was everything."

"Let it bubble a few more minutes. The bread needs to be broken down. Tear off a hunk and... you now, mush it up a bit."

Kerala grinned and did as told. She caught a hoof on the floor and banged into a counter, smacked a horn on a cupboard, created a ruckus but finally recovered and snatched the baguette from it's storage. She didn't bother locating another vessel after that, but dumped a few lumps of bread into the water pitcher. She used the handle of her wooden spoon to viciously mangle it, stabbing again and again to crumble the stale crust-like bits away. Eying her handiwork, she judged it good enough.

"The tea leaves, my dove," Keth reminded.

"Right." she agreed. Then she hollered "Aaren! Do you have a..." there was a pause as she searched for the word, and before Keth could supply it she shrugged and continued "... one of those things that takes all the leaves out of tea?"

"You could just use the spoon at the edge of the pot to hold them back?" 

"Nevermind!" she called. Kerala did just that, bracing the wooden spoon alongside the pot handle to align them, then carefully sloshing the boiling medicine over it. One leaf escaped this maneuver, but most of the other sediment stayed behind to be returned to the heat. It would need to mix further and reduce to reach an effective concentration, but the monk needed these herbs in him NOW.

Kerala picked out the offending leaf and then proceeded to use the spoon and pitcher for something neither were designed for. Make-shift mortar and pestle were effective enough, and she transferred the resulting bland concoction to a polished wooden salad bowl.

"Tiny amounts, don't give him more until you are certain his mouth is clear and he didn't aspirate it."

Kerala sighed, but nodded. She glanced at the disaster of a kitchen, with knocked over utensils and storage containers. A deep new gouge decorated the side of a cupboard. Paper herb packet shrapnel littered every surface wherever she'd happened to be standing when she emptied it in her haste. She sniffed at the vapors filling the room from the bubbling pot, satisfied at how closely the scent matched her memory of the jugs of proper medicine. "This part, I know all too well," she murmured to the wisp of Keth. So did he.

His love sighed. She solidified her form to retrieve the bowl. She exited the kitchen to go and feed her malnourished friend.

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Kethrenorean Forestwhisper gaped in awe. "You made this?"

They stood in a holy place. He felt it must be, down to his very bones; they practically thrummed with the sure knowledge of it. Kerala and he were surrounded by the dark shadows of trees. He had passed them, and yet now they stood only as muted shadows in his vision. It reminded him of nothing so much as the vaulted architecture of temples to Elune. Glowing flowers scattered everywhere, suspended in those shadowy trees so that they floated like stars. They nestled in fluffy groundcover plants like hidden glinting jewels. The ground itself was a gem hue of deep and bottomless blue. He felt a bit like a trespasser to traipse about on it, as if to dare disturb such natural beauty must be a sin.

Kerala had no such reservations, visiting blooms to inhale deeply of their fragrance or reaching to touch the velvety fronds. Her caresses were familiar and intimate. Keth's jealous streak slightly twitched. Her hooves left deep divots in the soil as she threw back her head toward winking crimson constellations and spun in her joy. To see her dancing, Keth's reservations vanished.  How could he be envious of a druid's pure love of nature?

She finished a laughing twirl in his direction, her eyes alight and her lips still smiling. She reached a hand to beckon him from the edge of the grove where he'd still lingered. Keth didn't hesitate any more. He padded across the soft warmth of sapphire dirt to her side where he belonged.

"I gave it a home. This home." She took so long to answer, that Keth had almost forgotten the question. "Keth, I would like you to meet the Dreamseed."

That the centerpiece of the grove would have such a title seemed obvious now that he'd heard it. Dreamseed. The tree certainly seemed miraculous enough to grant the promises of one's most hopeful aspirations. Willowlike, it stood with great sprawling roots and tall gracefully reaching limbs. Those arc were feathered in great trailing tendrils of glassy transcluscent leaves. Whether they were clear reflecting the blue of the ground they trailed toward or if the leaves were actually tinted, he could not quite tell. The effect was striking and almost glittery when a breeze softly set the tree the swaying. The leaves flashed individually with reflected light and tinkled with a barely heard music. 

Kerala grins at the look of wonder on his face as she gently leads them beneath the tree's umbrella canopy. He has trouble lowering his gaze from the boughs, even as his bare toes meet rolling exposed roots. It's simply incredible, and he can't see enough at once. They reach the trunk of the tree and Kerala's hands slide to the back of his own, pressing his palm flat against the bark.

"This tree grew from a cutting that was saved from an underground vault in Pandaria. The Vulture tried to steal it. I saved it. I couldn't save the whole tree, but I think maybe it knew that. It's certainly flourished here, hasn't it?" Keth could only nod mutely. "See this branch here? This used to be tiny. It was that bracelet I told you about."

Kerala left him to approach a particularly robust twist of wood branching off from the trunk. The branch arced like many others, but it drooped sooner, sweeping low to the ground to offer a natural seat or lounging space aloft from the soil. Kerala lifted a hip and easily slid onto the branch to sit facing him. One knee hiked up along the upward slope and the other was left to swing comfortably freed of her slim weight.

"Most of what I know about the Dream was learned through experience. I didn't even know I was Dreaming, at first, the transitions would happen so seamlessly. I thought maybe I was hallucinating." Kerala began. "It helped me. It's not just some stupid tree. I planted it here and it seems happy. Maybe it can help you too?"

Keth fingers paused in their exploration of the patterns of texture scattered over the tree trunk. "You mean you think it can teach me? How to wake and hibernate on my own? Like a real druid?"

Kerala laughed. It was such a wonderful noise to his ears. "Well I'm certainly doing a poor job of it! I know you had hoped to be out there researching before now. You've humored me and helped me find my friend despite your own feelings on the matter. I do think the time alone has helped you learn in your own way... but maybe it can teach you better. Faster. Maybe it will give you a gift? I do not know."

Keth left the core of the tree and went to her. He hoisted himself onto the branch behind her and reached a hand toward her her middle, silently requesting permission. She gave it with the intertwining of her thick fingers into the space between his own, and he hugged her back to him, his chin propped over her shoulder. The more he offered his affections, the more she seemed to need, and he was grateful. He's spent so long without her!

"Thank you," he told her.

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“Come with me,” she whispered.

Always, he thought, before the fog of sleep had cleared. A moment later it occurred to him to wonder what he had agreed to. Kerala hauled him upright and led him away from the grove, through the Dream to an area he was becoming more and more familiar with. Hand in hand, she did that terrifying thing where they flew high in the air, and then she vanished, abandoning him. Now wide awake and becoming heavy with his heart clogging his throat, Keth followed her instantly rather than fall. The two dreamers projected into the silent floating city of Dalaran. It was still night.

“What are we doing?” he hissed at her, unwilling to raise his volume enough to break the cloak of nighttime stillness enveloping them.

Kerala merely grinned at him, and held out her hand. He took it, of course. What else? He found that he could not remain irritated with her for the early hour. Fatigue gave in to curiosity and the elf let himself be led. They ended up in a small city park off the trading district, perched upon a bench there. A bricked walking path spiraled inward toward the center past artistic arrangements of flowers and shrubs and the scattered forms of sculpture or monument. Their shapes were strange in the pre-dawn gloom, colorless and vague like the half-formed ideas of monsters stalking a nightmare. It was odd to him how not knowing what they were made the shapes automatically represent potential danger. “Why are we here?” he asked again.

“I think we should celebrate small victories. We’ve helped reunite a husband and wife.  You’ve found your projected form. Springtime is closer every day, and soon there will be flowers. Do you agree?”

He nodded. “These are all good things. What did you have in mind, my dove?”

“I didn’t know… this island continent is new to me. Maybe we could explore? We could go see the ocean, or... Would you like to meet my friends? Officially I mean. We could do that before we leave. Lilliana and Tahzani are often in the city, and Sanctuary has grounds here nearby. But first, I thought I’d share with you one of my very favorite things. I bet you’re not often awake to see the sun rise, are you?”

He wasn’t. Keth tended toward owlish hours, preferring to work late and sleep through mornings. He was rarely doing nothing to be able to just pause and witness celestial bodies crossing the horizon. So he sat with her, and he watched.

Their bench was on the west side of the little park, backed against the city’s outer wall so that the view to the East looked out over some of the lower roofs and towers of Dalaran. Perhaps this was by design. Very few people were conscious to witness the transition from night to day, and those that were were working indoors to prepare their shops for business several hours from now. It seemed like the world belonged to he and Kerala alone. 
It quickly became apparent to him why she enjoyed dawn so much. The night had been chilly. It didn’t bother him, being insubstantial as he was, but he could see the frosted dew that meant it was cold. The arrival of light brought a warmth that reached inside somehow to lift the spirits. Kerala was right. Spring was inexorably banishing winter little by little, and the proof of it was in the daylight that painted the sky in glory before fading into a soft and confident blue. Colors leeched into being unnoticed. The garden turned from black to some muddied confused hues of gray before turning green. The quiet of the city seemed to break all at once, as if it had merely been waiting for the cue. They waited for the magic of dawn to fade entirely before continuing the conversation of the day’s potentials. Keth annoyed her with his agreeability. Whatever she wanted to do, he’d like to do. It was one of those optimistic days that promised to become unseasonably warm and enjoyable, and he didn’t care where they spent it so long as it was with each other’s company. He was glad to be awake.

Two others joined them, a slender sin’dorei elf and an abused-looking orc clutching a steaming cup like his last lifeline to the world of the conscious. After their arrival, all enjoyed a companionable silence. The orc sipped at his cup, undoubtedly scalding himself, but not badly enough to make him wait longer. The elf, a priestess by her white robes trimmed in gold and shades of blue, quietly admonished him. 

The orc grumbled as he lifted the cup. Another sip, another burn yet he did not look interested in stopping " Too early to exist" he muttered. Keth heard them exchange names. Gunheya was the orc, the elf was Dyiana. He glanced to Kerala but knew before he opened his mouth that she would not want to bother with sharing her own name. She never did. “So what brings people out at this unholy hour?" Gunheya prompted.

"Unholy?" Kerala glanced to the two newcomers. "Only because you missed the actual spectacle of the sun rising. Of course you would be surly, to be awake at this hour when there is no reward for it"

"It was quite beautiful." Dyiana agreed with the tauren and her companion, studying them over a bit. How must they appear? Keth wore the plain sleeping robes of Circle druids in their barrow dens. They were constructed to be comfortable and well as durable and easy to maneuver into or out of. His feet were bare. Kerala’s gown was elaborate by comparison. The Bone Collector centaur had made a gift of it. Green magram leathers had been pieced together and beaten into softness, then embellished with cloth and feathers of blue, her favorite color. Driftwood panels were to help appease the ghostly keeper whose tomb they would share. Wood in Desolace was extremely rare and valuable, Keth understood. He still wasn’t sure about the strings of bird bones and talons, though. Kerala loved flying, but he felt there must be more to it than that. Centaur communication was crude, and the concepts of their religious superstitions were too complex for a stranger to grasp from such limited vocabulary. 

“Druids?” Gunheya guessed. Keth shook his head even as Kerala nodded her answer. THen she bluntly told him the truth of his terrible appearance. He took the observation good-naturedly. “A pleasure to meet you too.”

It was then that Kerala remembered one critical flaw in the plans discussed earlier. Niether of them had any money at all, so how were they to pay for a gift at all? Their debate over what type of gift was best suddenly meant nothing at all. Not that that stopped Kerala from wanting to win it anyway. She posed the matter for the other two to weigh in on.

"If you had a sick friend recovering, what would you send them, cut flowers from a shop that will wither and die and be pathetic, or would you gift them something nice to eat, like healthy fruits or maybe pastries to make them feel better? "

" What?" The orc blinked at the seemingly random comment

Dyiana blinked at the question, but then quietly mused: "I think I would give them something they could use, but it depends on the person?"

Kerala turned triumphantly to Keth. "Ha! See? Thank you miss."

He couldn’t help the smirk that crept to his lips from amusement. "Or you could find an artist to make a bouquet of fruit shapes that looks like flowers." He suggested, combining their ideas. Her mouth formed a perfect little ‘o’ of flat-footed surprise at that. He wouldn’t concede the point to her that cleanly. Where would be the fun in that?

" Well the whole point of it is for some scenery in the recovery room. Guess a painting works." Gunheya added.

Keth laughed. "You could get him a painting of food and be a torment."

Less amused by the exercise without the ability to act on it, Kerala ended the game. "Or I could not. I'm sure he'd rather not have more fussing over him, what with the priestess there and catching up to do with his guild. Besides. It's springtime. The flowers in the garden will sprout soon enough." The tauren looked to the others sharing the little city park with them. "Have you ever been to the very top of that mountain, there?" She points at the peak of Highmountain.


"I have, yes." Dyiana nodded, "It's very windy, but you can see everything from it."

Kerala grinned. "THAT's where I want to go," she announced. Keth was unsurprised, given that description.

" Dress warm. Heard it got so cold up there the water in your eyes freeze." Keth shot the orc a rather horrified glance at that. Was such a thing even possible? He peered at the man, trying to sense whether or not the guy was actually serious, or if, maybe, hopefully, it was some kind of joke. The orc was more interested in his coffee at that moment. He continued “But the Highmountain have conquered it so who knows. Heard they had some special smithing camp near the peak."


Kerala turned a wide smile to her companion. "We should go. I want to go look. We can see everything? Let's go see it!" She stood and, practically bouncing like an excited child, she held out a hand for Keth. "It's a beautiful day. Come on."


" Come on pal, look at that face how can you say no?" Gunheya turned an evil grin on the elf. 

"Truly, I cannot." Keth replied. Still, he sat there a moment. He grinned at Kerala. He knew that she knoew he’d go with her anywhere, but he took his time making her wait. He scratched at the whiskers covering his jaw, and made a show of weighing the dangers of freezing to twin icicles on the top of a big rock against the purported views from said rock's summit. When he did slip his fingers into Kerala’s, she practically hauled him off the bench.

" Have fun!" Gunheya wished for them. He gave a two finger salute.


"Thanks, we will!" The fluffy druid tugged relentlessly in the direction of the flight master's platform. "Nice to meet you!" She called goodbyes over the pointy ears of her man-in-tow.


" ...I hope she lets that guy buy some shoes." Keth heard from behind him. He had to laugh.

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Hand in hand, Kethrenorean walked with the love of his life through the streets of Dalaran. For all the rush she’d been in to get him off the bench, once he was moving she seemed in no hurry to get to the flight master. He was content to merely stroll beside her. She started pointing out interesting vendors. Invariably they were sellers of foodstuffs, and often of the frivolous variety. A dark-haired elf selling cakes displayed beneath clear glass domes. She also pointed out the more obviously manipulated artistry of sculpted bushes and other resting nooks. He in turn filled the silences occasionally with the long and musical names by which he could identify plants. He explained to Kerala why that fern had been chosen so it’s pleasant aroma could help repel biting insects from a doorway. He traced the bumbling flight of a striped bee drone with his finger to the buds of a shrub tree. That species served as a core food source for hives, and lended itself toward ensuring efficient cross-pollination of other more delicate plants. These were things that he knew.

It was in that meandering fashion that they passed from the consumer districts to residential areas. Inns and restaurants began to outnumber specialty shops, and then even those, too, gave way to homes. Stone walls rose up to guard larger estates and common grounds, and it wasn’t long before they came to the familiar purple banners of Sanctuary emblazoned with golden phoenixes. Kerala cast her eyes into the entranceway as they walked and greeted the guards there with a smile and nod to each. It seemed amusing to her that neither one knew what to make of her friendly overtures. A troll sporting a bright orange shock of hair stared openly, and even Keth had to chuckle at that expression. 

They had almost reached the boundaries of Sanctuary’s estate when Keth’s grip was suddenly emptied. It was the only warning he had before Kerala’s next step faltered and she fell hard to the cobblestones. 

Keth followed her. He would always follow her.

*

“When I asked you to stay with me, this is NOT what I meant!” Kerala had screamed at him. She’d been angry for days, at what she considered a dirty trick. 

She did not remember, of course, the moments of doubt and confusion when her mind skipped and wandered, and she clutched to him in a terror of not knowing. Those moments were fleeting, for her, but they cut him to his core. The woman he knew had clung to life at the edge of survival for so long, she’d once told him death was an old friend of hers. He had brought her back once himself. She had never been afraid, before. Now that she had really lived, had explored and experienced and learned, she was. Kerala was terrified to die.

“Why are you so angry with me? Is it because you think it’s not fair that you were not consulted? This is my choice, not yours. You keep trying to pick a fight, my dove, but I’m still just happy to be here with you.”

“I didn’t ask for this. I don’t want this.”

She did ask. Please don’t leave me alone. Even if she didn’t, Keth could not be moved from this. He had made two great mistakes in his long life. The first was when he let her walk away without him six years ago. The second was arrogantly believing that when she came back, he had any control at all of the situation. How stupid he was. But not in this.

“You promised, Kerala. All I asked for was time. This is how I get it.”

She ranted at him. It was a tirade that lasted hours, he felt, though of course there was no way of knowing for sure in this place. How had he known it would work, what if it hadn’t? Did he realize that he was now stuck here forever? He was no druid, so how did he expect to get back out now? What if they got too close to the Nightmare? What if they were found?

Keth calmly explained for the seventh or eighth time. He’d lost count by now. He told her again how calculated the risk had been. It wasn’t as if he was just mixing up random herbs and praying for the elixir to function. He told her how he’d made the draught to get him Dreaming, the same one he’d made countless times before he’d ever met her. Did she remember he was a Circle botanist?

He told her how she’d gone in troll form and nearly gotten herself blown in half at the wrong end of a shotgun. He explained being summoned by the Bone Collector, the wise old centaur who had gone into exile from the Magram clan. He was the one who had tended her until the sand storm ended. He was the only one who would. The Shaking Doom was a deeply ingrained part of their superstitious religion. Anyone who trembled was as dead to them already. The younger centaur, Soquili, would niether look at or speak to Kerala. Anything that touched her he would not touch, and the Bone Collector had to cleanse with fire. The smoke was fearfully avoided at all costs. 

It had been the Bone Collector’s idea to breach the holy caverns, the mythic tomb of Zaetar himself of their legends. Perhaps he would see fit to grant forgiveness to one of the Earth Mother’s favored Children. Most likely not, but the centaur did not think the Father would mind company, if they could make it past the Mauradine. So it had been that he instructed Kethrenorean of the ways to trick his own people, to race naked and screeching like a ghost already through the spear walls and straight into the inner sanctum of the holiest place known their kind. It had worked.

Keth told Kerala again how he had washed the bone dust away and laid them down well-hidden. He described the beauty of the caverns around them and invited her to see for herself. He could not yet project into the physical world, but he would. He told her he would learn. She could teach him. Until then, he was content merely to be with her.

She just could not understand. She still refused to believe in his love. She did not comprehend the depth of devotion, or believe that she could be worth it. So when she raged at him and asked if he knew what he had done, Keth simply let her yell and he told her yes.

He knew exactly what he had done. 

He could not live without her. He didn’t want to. She was hibernating, a sleep she had learned to perfect and place not only on herself, but others. He’d drunk the herbs and taken advantage of her weak suggestible condition to convince her to take him Dreaming. She was furious, but she had no options to change it. If she broke the link, he would die. If she died before he learned to navigate in and out on his own, he’d be lost, and die. He did not know if the slumber he was under would remain or not. Would he return to ordinary sleep and die quickly of dehydration in days? Or, would he wander alone until the same thing happened, maybe months or a year later? He didn’t know, but he didn’t care. If she died, he didn’t want to live. 

She was so very close to being lost forever. This was the only way he could have more time. More time to spend with her when she was close again to being herself as he’d known her. More time to try and cure her. 

Keth had followed her into the Dream. He would always follow her.

*

He knew what was happening when she fell, but he didn’t want to believe. Not now! Not yet. “Nonononono,” tumbled from his lips. He had to pull hard to turn her over. Both of her hands clutched to her chest and she hyperventilated in panic. The branded stripes of her face were suddenly very pale. Keth gathered her close, capturing one of her hands and trying to rein her attention by calling her name. For several long seconds runaway fear overruled her reason, and his voice went completely unheard. Kerala’s eyes rolled and she crushed his knuckles to her breastbone.

 

"Uh.." Someone cleared her throat. "It looks like she could use some help." 

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Keth looked up to see a half-naked orc female. Purple hung from her belt, serving as more loincloth than tabard, and only flimsy gauze pretended at modesty over her breasts. From the marks on her bare skin it looked as if she must have learned that knives were sharp the hard way. A flash of orange down the wall betrayed the guard who must have summoned her, watching curiously. Kerala, having finally focused on Keth’s voice, followed his gaze to also notice the scarred orc standing there. 

She fixated. "Jullll... MERCY!" 

The witness arched a brow at that. "If you want mercy, you've come to the right place," she said to the two, confused. "Is she alright?"

The woman’s innocent question drove the truth home to Keth’s heart. He took a deep breath, painfully aware of the contrast to Kerala’s own fast shallow pants. She couldn’t get enough oxygen. She felt as if she were suffocating, because her real body had just shut down. There was no heartbeat beneath his knuckles. How long had she said it took, after the final thump? He couldn’t remember. He focused on her, on the job of soothing her fear. He didn’t want some stranger watching this happen!

 "No," he told the woman. "She's not." He said it calmly enough, but couldn’t keep the strain out of his tone. "We'll be gone in a moment. Thanks for your concern." He turned his attention back down, talking quietly to Kerala. He coached her, issuing and repeating short and clear commands trying to get her to focus enough to slow her breaths and stall the panic. 

"Uh… Are you sure? We could get her a healer or something. "

Kethrenorean was surprised to find the orc’s well-meaning ignorance so entirely infuriating. He didn’t have to time to waste explaining things to someone who he knew could not help. His priority was the love of his life dying in his arms, could she not see that and leave them be? His voice was serving to calm her down somewhat, but every time she caught sight of the orc’s purple cloth, her grip twitched and tightened and she tensed up again. Keth glared at their witness. Instead of telling her to go to hell, he managed to spit "Yeah, go find someone." through his teeth.

She held up her hands against the fury in his tone. "Ok..ay.." she said.

But she didn’t go. The orcess whistled instead. The shock of orange hair trotted over immediately, received an order and a friendly pat, then left to do as he was bid. A second troll appeared. Wearing white feathers and robes, Keth was reminded of the elf woman they’d met that morning in similar robes. This one’s skin was lavender and her hair a shade of purple tending more toward red. Magenta, he thought. The color was magenta. Kerala panted, and laid still in his arms, watching the feathers sway closer. Her fingers twitched, periodically tightening on his as he kept up a circular rubbing of his thumb.

"Wats goin' on 'ere?"

Giving up the idea that they’d be left in peace, it occurred to Keth that the reason might be genuine concern for a friend. "Do you know her? " He asked quietly. Kerala certainly seemed more focused.

Vilmah nodded at the troll. "This is Vhakti, a priestess. She can help if you want."


His question hadn’t been understood, but he realized then that these two really were strangers. He shook his head. "No, you obviously don't know Kerala. Thank you, but you cannot help here." At the sound of her name the tauren mumbled more about mercy. Keth bowed his head over her, blocking her sightline with his face. Now he knew why she said that. It was the name of the Commander’s weapon. Her chest must ache. "There is no sword, my dove, it's not real. I know it hurts. Just lie still now. Please."


Vhakti frowned, her tusks creating deep grooves in her face. "Ah kno' a t'ing o' two 'bout doves, chile. Ya wan' 'elp, o' ya wan' ha ta lie der'?"

Keth laughed into Kerala's mane, a bitter sound. "You cannot. I told you. You won't believe me until you try, so hurry at it, and we'll not bother you further. In a minute we'll be gone and you'll never see us again."


Vhakti and the orcess exchanged looks. The original onlooker took a deep breath. "Alright, look. Let's get this out of the way. Your friend here just collapsed on my stairs. You're pissed off and probably scared. Taking it out on us isn't going to help you. What's wrong with her, and why can't we help? Because I'm not just gonna let someone brain themselves on our stairs without an explanation."

Kerala shuddered. Keth tightened his arms around her, refusing to look at the two strangers standing over them. They were not worth his precious remaining time. 

"It doesn- it doesn't... hurt," she told him softly. She spoke with difficulty, pulling in the useless air and then fighting too to articulate. His love was close now to being a true echo of her physical self. She had trouble holding onto a thought, and possessed a fleeting command of her own body. The Kerala he had dressed in the funeral gown could no longer walk or properly swallow. Her gaze slid sideways to the two sanctuary members seen beyond the curtain of Keth’s hair. "Sss s-sor sorry." She apologized for dying on their stairs.

Vhakti knelt down beside the tauren, her expression softening as she looked her over. "Nuttin' ta worry 'bout.” she murmured. Of course, her scanning could not locate any wrong. There was no wound to have caused the druid to fall, nor any from the collision with the ground. She was very skinny, hanging in the elf’s arms and trembling consistently. Maybe she was in some kind of shock. The green-eyed expression was vague in the way of someone confused. Her thick fingers kept a white-knuckled grip on his, and her other hand laid forgotten on her chest.  “'Ow ya feelin'? Anytin' ah can do ta make ya feel betta?"

"Pl-ple-please don't make. Don't m-make me go."

Keth brought Kerala's hand up to his face to kiss it. "You don't have to leave, " he soothed. "Stay with me. You promised. I need more time. I love you, I don't want you to go. Stay."

The orc frowned down at them. "Go where? What is she talking about?"


The elf’s gaze flickered helplessly to Vilmah. He heard her question, but did not or was not able to answer. His throat worked, swallowing back huge lumps of emotion to say what little he had to the tauren.


Vhatki and her guildmate exchanged looks. "I don't.... want. T-to. Don't ma-make don't make me go?" Kerala stared imploring at the orc. That expression and that tone clearly indicated that she thought she was talking to someone she knew.

Keth lost it. He began openly crying. "Please," he begged quietly. He had no right to ask this of a stranger, but if that woman could say something, anything to give her peace, he beseeched the lie to be given. If she wanted to help, that was how she could do it.

She failed him. The stranger held up her hands, at a loss. "I didn't say she had to go anywhere?”

Kethrenorean choked back a sob at the broken expression that clouded Kerala’s pretty eyes. She didn’t understand. He reached for her cheek and turned her face away, toward him. He had to blink hard to squeeze the flood from his eyes. When he did he found her staring at him. 

"Fly, my dove. Don't be afraid. Where you go, I follow." Her face fuzzed and cleared again as tears welled up and were blinked away. He couldn’t stop them. He didn’t know if she would understand. She was scared to go, but did she see? She didn’t have to be. He’d be right there with her. She would not go alone. Did she know that? 

Then she smiled. She knew, he thought. He smiled back at her. Keth pulled gently, gathering her close. He embraced her tight, acutely aware that the quick rise and fall of her chest had ceased. She was holding her breath. With his face buried in the curls of her mane, he heard when she let go the air she’d saved. She whispered, and he heard. 

He was still hugging her when the shivers stopped. His chest constricted when hers relaxed. Exactly four minutes after she fell, the druid Kerala Windchaser died.
 

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Somewhere in the Emerald Dream, there was a tranquil little grove with a willow-like tree. Colors were striking there. The ever-present greens gave way to other hues. Blueish soil, a sky with stars that wink crimson. The tree itself had boughs draped in translucent leaves that when viewed together had a light blue effect, reflecting the ground. There was a sudden and cacophonous crash that reverberated throughout the Dream. Every single leaf sloughed from the Dreamseed at once. They fell and scattered, clinking against each other like the pieces of a shattered window. The sudden quiet afterward was eerie. The breezes that drifted through the grove no longer made a tinkling music. The Dreamseed stood in the silence like the forlorn skeleton of an umbrella.

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She vanished like a day dream.

Kethrenorean Forestwhisper was left there sprawled in the middle of the huge city of Dalaran feeling entirely alone. He could feel the absence of the link he had shared. His anchor was gone, ripped from him, and it hurt so very, very much. 

The elf looked up from where he sat. His face was a mask of unconsolable grief. Emotions welled up in him with tidal force, uncontainable. He buried his face in both hands but couldn’t and didn’t try to smother the expression of his soul-rending sorrow.

The purple night elf, too, disappeared, pulled back into the Emerald Dream. As promised, both of them are gone only moments after they had stopped there. The sun is still just as warm as before. It shines down on the place where two shadows have vanished.

There is nothing left but the ringing echo of a lamenting cry.

 


"End Of The Dream" - Evanesence

I found a bird Closing her eyes One last time
And I wonder if she dreamed like me

As much as it hurts, Ain’t it wonderful to feel?

Even without wings Follow your heart
'Til it bleeds


And we’ve gone to the end of the dream
 

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