Flux

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Fells
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Flux

Postby Fells » Fri Apr 01, 2011 12:11 am

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The tiniest of fires danced in the ash-laden hearth, its flames subdued by lack of fuel or possibly just the understood need to be small. Small, insignificant, and completely unworthy of the attention of anyone or anything passing. Tattered rag curtains had been drawn across the lead pane windows to hoard its light. The faint smear of smoke trailing from the chimney, she could do nothing about. Hopefully the world outside would take no notice.

Fells leaned against the far wall of the abandoned little cottage, sprawled out on the floor like a puppet wired too tightly to properly collapse once her strings had been cut. The fire was a risk and she knew it, only chancing it because of the rain that needled the cottage's roof and still dripped off of her soaked leather. "So," she murmured. "This might'a been a bad idea." Angry, worried voices on her buzzbox shored the verdict up, though she could barely hear them for the speaker being all but muted. They were much fainter than the howl that split the air somewhere in the distance. That was probably distant. She could hope it was distant. The chair she'd propped into place against the already-barred door was doublechecked yet again. She did her best to ignore the clawmarks that rent the bar itself. It'd probably hold.

The cottage was comfortably small, littered with signs of its previous owner and, less than comforting, of his fate. Fells lit a candle that rested deep in a green bottle, filling the small space around her with safer, dimmer light. The tinted glow illuminated a pair of worn boots still set at the foot of a bed, as though ready for the next day's work. The mattress itself was torn and ruined, goose down spilling out where it'd been raked open. She did her best not to focus on it, resting her eyes on the barred door instead.

Shoulda brought Shad, the little voice of reason whispered in the back of her mind. It'd be safer, y'know they's jest home worryin'. An' y'ain't practiced 'nough fer this. Y'need sommat else here. Yer no good 'lone, an' -- As was so often the case, Fells shut Reason down, along with her box a moment later. The hearth's risky fire was company enough.

In the crackling silence it was a different voice, brusque and demanding, that invaded her thoughts as it was so prone to doing as of late. They'll see who's a damn Earner! Fells snorted and shook her head, willing it into silence. She wouldn't call for help out here. She'd do the job, she'd get what Botch needed, and she'd get the Nether back to Shad and Era and her children. "Surelike, darlin'," she murmured into the empty space, settling in to face the door with her back to the wall and her blades at hand. Wet leather creaked. "We'll show 'em."



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The Job.

Rain beat off of the gryphon's wings as they cautiously made their way through what scant tree cover there was, not daring to fly any higher. Not with siege engines full of festering plague lining the nearby road. It was slow going, and Deposit yearned to bank and tear up into the sky proper. The Wall loomed high above the trees, seeming to grow as they approached it, a cold and unfeeling sentinel to guard against the uniformed rows of Forsaken that patrolled the woods.

Fells scowled and urged her bird to the ground instead. They'd make a less obvious target, though Deposit seemed none too happy with the decision. "Jest stay quiet," she hissed, heels digging into his disobedient flank. She was one to talk, her hypocritical buzzbox alight with channels that demanded answers. For a second Fells thought that she was seeing things; another channel's light appeared to burn insistently through the trees in the distance, though her box was currently shoved deep into her pack. Fells reached behind her, verifying the familiar lump of its bulk beneath the leather.

Still that glow beckoned, tiny and orange-red in the distance against the wall. "Huh."

Deposit didn't want to be turned, so she forced him with reins dragged almost wholly to the left, craning his head nearly to his shoulder. "Bastid bird, c'mon," she groused through clenched teeth as he reluctantly fell into step in the direction she intended. That buzzbox glow brightened through the trees as they picked their way carefully towards the great wall. Eventually it bloomed into a campfire, its orange aura battling for existence against the miasma. Fells slipped out of the saddle and sent Deposit into the air. The little campsite was tucked against the far corner of the Wall and she hadn't seen a patrol, but she'd be safer approaching on foot than on a gryphon who probably wouldn't mind seeing her get et.

The scent of a cookfire's meal met her first, faint and lean. Fells made herself thin against a tree's straight trunk, leaning just far enough to see what might be waiting for the meal. It couldn't be Forsaken. They didn't wait to cook their meat, not from what she'd seen of the fallen.

She shouldn't have been surprised to see Gilneans so close to the Wall. Or at least, she assumed they were. The few that weren't sporting tattered longcoats and well-kept hats were clad in fur coats of a distinctly different nature. They milled around the few tents with an air that eerily reminded her of Precosia after being scolded; a dark air of frustration stained with anger clung to each of them like a sheen of sweat. The men scowled, the women kept their eyes on the ground. The wolves among them bristled and snapped at nothing. One of them sniffed the air. His eyes narrowed and his head jerked around to where she hid, fangs bared and growling. Her heart stopped. He couldn't see her. Probably. Right?

It wasn't until the others took notice that she began to think that she might have picked a better place to nose around. The malevolent maws of three tattered Gilnean wolves snuffled in her direction, and the men yet to shift were eyeing them warily and reaching for muskets. She had to get better at this.

Clearing her throat, Fells slipped out of the shadows with hands raised. "Hey, m'folk. I ain't dead," she declared loudly. As an afterthought, she tugged away the mask that hid her features. "See? M'livin'!" That didn't keep two of the worgen from bounding to her, snorting hot breath into her face as they tried to sniff out the telltale signs of decay. They had to be looking for something newly turned, a fresh one that could be sent as a spy. Fells dared let her gaze fall past the pair to the campsite beyond, silently wondering what would possibly be worth spying on.

"She's clean," one groused, gravelly and growling as he stood back. They towered over her when they stood upright, but she didn't flinch away, instead flicking a gaze over their tattered shreds of clothing and dull coats. Both stood aside for the weary man who pushed past them. His gaze was no less judgmental than her own, and for a moment she was acutely aware of every scratch and stain on her leather. "What do you want," he intoned quietly, gaze boring through her.

Military. He had to be. Or noble? Maybe both. Fells stood all the straighter, not that it did much good. He had at least three inches on her and was somehow more intimidating than the looming figures that slunk back towards the campsite. "Jest scoutin', ser. What're...?" She nodded past him at the figures slowly settling back into the slow pace of their routine. "Yer awful close t'the fight, don' y'know there's Forsook out there?"

He snorted derision and shook his head, finally stepping aside and waving her past. Her ignorance must have earned her passage in. "There's worse than that, poppet," he grumbled without a sliver of affection. "An' we've fought it all, in case our state didn't show it. Here, we've got tea. Oi, Tess!" Tea. Out here. True to his word, the older woman whose head popped up at his call appeared to be tending to a kettle over the flames. Fells shook her head in disbelief. Gilneans. "There's a good miss, see that this, err..."

"Fells Dr...Clemens." She edged past the apparent commander, unintentionally following his direction: sit, drink tea, and then be on her merry.

He eyed her, but shrugged. "Right then, Miss Dr'clemens." He nodded smartly and briskly offered forth a gloved hand. "Maximilian Lew, Gilneas Liberation Front, at your service." Which was an odd thing to say, considering that he brushed her off onto the woman safeguarding the tea pretty much immediately. "See that Fells has a nice sit-down and then help her with directions if she needs."

He turned on his heel without waiting for a reply, and Fells didn't dare call a thanks after him. Not in such close proximity to the battlefront. "Charmin' fella, yer Max."

"'e does wot needs doin'," the woman replied, though her attention was wholly fixed on Fells's face. The examination was keen enough to make her want to pull her mask back into place. "You're 'ealthy?" she whispered, eyes wide and sallow skin licked by the light of the campfire.

Fells tugged up one of the stools that rested nearby. "Umn, last I checked, yes'm." Other than just being old, Tess seemed normal enough; maybe the wrinkles at the corners of her mouth were pinched with more strain than age, and maybe she was paler than she ought to be, but she was living yards away from a warzone. "Y'ain't?"

Her answer came in the form of a jet of steam from the kettle's spout. They'd wisely removed the whistle. "'ere, luv." Mismatched mugs were offered. Fells held them both as tea was poured. "Yew shouldn't be out 'ere. Nothin' stays 'ealthy out 'ere for long. Are yew..." Shaking hands set the kettle down and then waved for her mug. Tess sipped before asking. "Are yew goin' in there?"

"So you're goin' to Gilneas alone."
"Didn' I jest say I ain't."
"Yeah, an' I think you're fuckin' lyin'. 'Cause I can tell you don't want us with you. So just don't get cursed."


Fells lifted her chin. "Ayeh, am. Right after, y'know." She lifted her mug before sipping. "Tea." It scalded the roof of her mouth and she pretended not to notice.

She expected the old woman to tut and shake her head and warn her against it, maybe murmur disapprovingly about folly and ignorance. Instead Tess's eyes lit up and she pulled at a golden chain that adorned her neck. A plain, numberless key dangled from the end. "Luv, could yew do a favor for me."

"Favor." Fells leaned in and squinted at the key. "What kinda favor?"

Tess cast a glance about the camp and lowered her voice to a haggard whisper. "There's a bank in Southglen, I meant to get my safebox out before Geoff and I..." She sucked in an uneven breath, then ground the threat of tears from her eyes with the heel of her palm. "If yew can get into the vault, and get my safebox, luv..." Arthritic fingers fumbled over the necklace's clasp, and she let them fall to the side when Fells reached to help. The iron key fell into her gloved palm, and Tess closed her fingers over it insistently before sitting back and cupping her mug. "...I swear on my name I won't tell a soul wot yew do with anythin' else inside."

Unspoken implications rang clear as a bell. "M'goin' in t'find the tree," she answered hesitantly. "Tal'doren. Fer a...friend. Needs it fer his longear ritual. Issit close t'there?"

"South. Just south, through the Blackwald. Please, I don't want to leave it to those rotten, blighted -- "

Ceramic cracked. Fells glanced at her hand; Tess's knuckles were white where they clenched around the mug, and tea leaked out around fingernails that had lengthened into claws. Tess kept her eyes narrowed and fixed on the ground. What wrinkles had previously been there seemed to smooth away under the force of flesh that craved transformation. "So," Fells murmured quietly, palming the key and tucking it deep into a pocket. "Been t'Darnassus yet?"



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The Elf.

"I'm sorry I don't measure up to the little happy fantasy world in your head. I'm sorry that havin' two men gettin' along ain't enough for you."

Fells's jaw clenched so hard that it hurt. Her nostrils flared, and it was a lucky thing she was too short to meet most Darnassus foot traffic eye to eye; the last thing she needed was to get arrested for glaring some random stranger to death.

Of course Era was mad again. Of course he was! It was only, what, the fifth misunderstanding that one or more of the three men in her life had blown obscenely out of proportion? Wasn't "single" supposed to translate to "simple"? Wasn't it enough that she had to deal with three actual children, without a second set of overgrown ones fighting over her like a favored toy?

"Why'm I askin' s'damn many stupid questions," she growled under her breath.

Her pulse pounded behind her eyes as she veered away from the peaceful marble temple. She didn't want to take this mood out on Zeve, and she doubted she'd be able to avoid it if she went to see him right then. Despite being, in some twisted way, the most to blame for the latest fountain of rage, he hadn't really done anything to deserve her wrath. On the contrary: Zeve was a help. Dear, sweet Zeve, who lit up every time he saw her, who knew who he was and who he wanted to be for her, was everything she could have asked for at the moment. He was happy to be with her, and just as happy to let her do the things she needed to do.

That made him the precise opposite of Era, who didn't know what he was about and seemed to want nothing more than to tie her down worse than she'd ever been bound before. And Shad? Shad was a lot of pretty words, a lot of promises and urgings to go and be free as she wanted, but the minute she showed signs of doing something he didn't agree with?

"I can go 'lone."
"No, you cannot."


She didn't know precisely when she decided to go. It was somewhere between slipping into armor and heading towards the city's glowing portal tree. Aboard the ferry, she had the presence of mind to actually let someone know why she wouldn't be found when he went looking. Or if he did. "M'gonna git started onna way. Won' go in 'thout ya."

"WHAT?" Era exploded over the thoughtstone. "NO! GET YOUR ASS BACK HERE!"

Again with getting to make her own choices. Shad and Era both needed to decide what they wanted to be. Druid, friend, lover, babysitter, what? "Oh hush," she groused, whistling for her stolen gryphon before the ferry even landed. "I ain't goin' in."

The panther's thoughts needled at her, every bit as acute as the wind whipping her hair into knots as she and Deposit streaked towards the broken country. "Thought you wanted to see him before you left."

Sure. Now he cared. Or maybe he just wanted to flop back again, get Shad encouraging her to go out and be her own woman and make her own choices. Until it came at odds with their plans. What kind of freedom was that? Her reply was forcefully clipped. "Ayeh welp, changed m'mind."

"Why."

The shoddy dam that held back her temper cracked. "'Cause I don' wanna deal withit! Him or you! I wanna go an' scout an' do sommat simple!"

"So you're goin' to Gilneas alone," he sneered

Fells breathed, deep and even. Era was bad enough, and where was Shad? Silent. Of course. "Didn' I jest say I ain't."

"Yeah, an' I think you're fuckin' lyin'. 'Cause I can tell you don't want us with you. So just don't get cursed."

"Y'know what? Fine." As if on cue, Silverpine's border approached, and she sent Deposit diving down into the trees. If Era was fishing for reassurance, she was simply too frustrated to provide. He didn't get to shut her out, blame her, and then hope that her tattered nerves could pick him back up. Maybe he'd learn to be more careful what he wished for. "Right the now, I don' want no one with me."



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The Curse.

Zevedron Bosch twitched, and Fells knew to stay at arm's length. It was the worst of his symptoms, an outward sign of inner urges that they were not discussing. It persisted through potions and -- his most recent attempt at coping -- running himself to exhaustion. His efforts left him too worn out to move, but still he twitched, and the days that followed only saw a marked increase in the lengths it took to earn him a moment's peace.

All of them knew that they should have taken him to Darnassus sooner. They just didn't know that their hesitation had consequences beyond Zeve's growing mental and physical exhaustion.

Side by side, they both peered up at the druid who loomed over them like a displeased parent. "It doesn't matter how you contracted the curse." His voice was water flowing over smooth riverbed stones and expressed not a whit of distress. It reminded her distinctly of Shad when he was at his most wroth, and it was how Fells knew that they were indeed in trouble. "Now we have to resort to more severe measures. You've gone too long with it in your blood."

Fells and Zeve exchanged a brief glance, containing "I told you so" and "I know, I know" in unspoken seconds. "Right, well I'm here now, mate," Zevedron said, shifting his attention back to the druid. "Figure there's like to be somethin' we can do what'll make things right?" His voice held all the strain that was easily visible in clenched fists and dark eyes sunken with exhaustion. His first rest for a week had come in the form of a dreamless sleep potion on the voyage over, and it wasn't enough by half.

"What kinda measures're we talkin' 'bout here?" Fells added, though it appeared as though the elf ignored her completely. His whole focus was fixed singularly on Zeve, as though weighing options based solely on the signals he could divine from the way the man spoke and moved. He was likely testing him with senses Fells couldn't perceive; Shad could have an especially keen sense of smell when he needed to.

Zeve shifted his weight under the scrutiny, and eventually tightly crossed his arms. All the better to hide hands that kept twitching every time a breeze stirred. Fells should have really stood downwind. "Right." Whether he meant to snap or not, Fells couldn't say, but the druid's countenance darkened just a hair. "Are you goin' to answer the miss or not, mate? If you can' help -- "

"Allonel Stonewaker," he interrupted, holding a hand up for their silence. "We will help you, Zevedron Bosch. I simply worry that we won't have time to gather what we need. The Howling Oak, I fear, won't be enough to aid you in your transition. Tal'doren could be required."

Zeve quirked a brow. "How do you figure on movin' a big feckin' tree then? Or are we goin' home?"

"We'll retrieve a branch when we're next able."

Something in his tone gave Fells pause. "When yer 'next able'." His nod was noncommittal. "In the habit'a sendin' yer folk inta Gilneas t'fetch twigs?" No nod answered, though he leveled a cool gaze at her. Fells grinned broadly. It really was the perfect excuse, wasn't it? And here they'd been trying to talk her out of it altogether. "An' y'need this t'help him."

"We do."

"Miss..."

"No, no truly now." Her grin grew, broad and self-assured. "I'll do it." She and Shad could fetch his branch and the pictures she wanted for him, all in one tidy little bundle. And what was he going to do, say no when his humanity hung in the balance? "I'll go inta Gilneas."

Worse than being caught in it, he knew he couldn't refuse her help. Zeve sighed and shook his head, crossed arms falling limp at his sides. "At least promise me yer gonna take Ears 'long with."

"Pfft, 'course. Why wouldn' I?"
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Shad
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Re: Flux

Postby Shad » Sun Apr 03, 2011 11:48 pm

In the deepest jungles of Haemon Shadowind's mind, the cycle began anew.

"I HATE HIM!" It always did begin with rage. Rage was natural, or as Zeve would say, Right. It was the guardian emotion of the upright beast who prowled the hidden paths in the form of Bethekk's avatar, exacting a toll of wrath on every vine that dared cross his path. No stray thought could assuage his fury; rather than calming him, his conscience's every argument only fed his indignance, fueling the counter-strike that tore it down.

Really, he should have been more reasonable. Yes, he and Zeve had started off on the wrong foot, or possibly wrong feet, but it was just a series of misunderstandings. Era had been...well, an obnoxious cat, and Zeve had taken the feline's wicked edge as a hint that he was a brute-force personality. But they'd worked that out, right? So what if it had been almost immediately followed by the panther spilling what should have been a secret? Fells needed to know that the worgen was struggling, that he needed help. Now, had she really needed to know about the sweet kitty dreams she was crushing every time she smiled adoringly at THAT BASTARD DOG?

It didn't matter. It didn't matter why Zeve had told her. It didn't matter why he challenged, or why they both got riled just about every time he and Era matched wits. What mattered was that Zevedron Bosch was an invader. He was a rival, edging in on the panther's rightful territory, and hadn't he already taken enough?

"I HATE HIM!" As the tall feline figure reared back to roar his venom to the skies, another roar echoed behind him. Fury, lust, all the base instincts he tried so hard to shore away in the name of his half-complete metamorphosis from animal to man surged dangerously at the banks of their river, smashing into rocks of stubbornness and whipping themselves into frothing rapids. Here and there the water reached into the sky like flecks of foamy spittle that spattered on the storm-weakened sandbars that guided rather than contained the flow.

Claws set into the trunk of the tree that Shad had forced upon him. Nurture it, he'd said, and it will be beautiful: four people, three bodies, one family. But every time he tried, the sick, triune love grew gnarled and twisted, blackened and weak. "I didn't WANT THIS!" he snarled, ripping away bark and rotting affections. "I don't wanna share her! I SHOULDN'T HAVE TO!" When tearing proved unsatisfactory, he took to beating at his work, first with paws, but ultimately thrashing his whole form against it. "I was THERE for her! I worked, I PUT IN MY FUCKING TIME! SHE SHOULD BE MINE NOW!" His shoulder, imaginary though it was, began to ache from the battering, and still he kept at it, his voice cracking as he expended every ounce of frustration he'd amassed. "That bastard never had to deal with LAZ'S SHIT! WHY can he just WALK IN and TAKE HER THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME? SHE! SHOULD! BE! MINE! MINE! MINE!"

At last, the tree gave way. Groaning, creaking, it tilted in a slow arc toward the ground. It should have been satisfying, a victory: a choice to either get what he wanted or flip double birds and leave. But the tree's dying sighs brought him to his knees. You sound just like Laurus, it whispered.

The feather-light touch of the fallen canopy was all that was needed to break him. It effortlessly smashed the banks of the river, spilling out an ever-widening torrent of emotion. The water's momentum didn't abate as it approached; like an avalanche, it hurled itself ever faster through the jungle, tearing up trees by their roots and carrying them along. Era slumped, resigned, and in the eternity of an eye's blink, the wall of fury swept over him without a single effort expended on escape.

In the deluge's wake, nothing but a tiny, drenched, black housecat remained, alone in the barren wreckage of his home.

"..Look, Fells, I...I'll try harder," he whimpered over the box. "Just....like elf said. Do what you want." To her and to Zeve, apologies dribbled out. "I'm sorry if...if I been...an asshole. I...we can try. Again."

"I'm afraid if you send him off 'cause'a me you'll end up resentin' me. I...I wanna bend for you."

"I just can't keep makin' missteps like this."


Nothing is more pathetic than a drenched housecat.
I don't know if you know this, but baby bears are precious and soft. --Mylune

Zve
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Re: Flux

Postby Zve » Fri Apr 15, 2011 12:42 am

"Ishnu-alah, Zevedron Bosch." Zeve opened his eyes to find the frowning visage of Allonel Stonewalker peering down at him. "It is time." He turned to leave without waiting for Zeve to push himself up off of the mossy ground. The druid's stride was broader; Zeve had to hurry to catch up to him as they strode out from beneath the Howling Oak.

The morning light of the elven capital left him squinting and shielding his eyes. Of course, Stonewaker seemed to have no troubles with it. Nothing seemed to shake the ageless people here. While the kal'dorei did not seem to like humans as a general rule, they seemed to particularly dislike the Gilneans, Zeve had found. Some of the elves may have pitied the cursed humans, but not openly and not to the point of kindness—least of all, it seemed, the druid who was supposed to help them.

Stonewaker strode silently to the couple huddled together at the path's end: Maynard and Millie Wheelwright, Zeve’s fellow afflicted and partners in the ritual to come. They'd spoken little to Zeve, aside from cursory introductions. Small talk. How are you, who are you, are you cursed too? Gilnean small talk, these days, took on a darker bent than in years prior.

Seeing them leaning on each other, eyes dark and faces drawn, Zeve wondered how long they had been trying to resist the curse without the help of the druids or potions or his preferred method of running himself to collapse.

Stonewaker nodded curtly at the couple, then began walking toward the forest, away from the path and the rest of the city. Zeve and the Wheelwrights followed uncertainly. Millie looked warily between her husband and the departing druid. "Where are we going?" Her voice didn't tremble, but was clearly being kept under tight control.

The druid didn't respond at first, reaching the thick treeline before looking over his shoulder. "A place where we will be alone." The three humans stared back at him expectantly. Seeing that his followers would not be satisfied with a partial answer, Stonewaker turned back to the treeline, sliding effortlessly into the underbrush without causing more than a slight disturbance in the foliage. His voice called out to the Gilneans, "There is a grove several miles north. We will begin there."

Maynard urged his wife forward, and Zeve nodded with as much encouragement as he could muster as they followed the druid into the forest. Stonewaker delayed just long enough to leave a luminous handprint on the south-facing bark of one of the great trees, then forged ahead without further comment. Maynard frowned at the glowing mark, then looked back to his wife. Her facade was slipping already, anxious exhaustion pinching her features. "Can't we just fly?"

Zeve shrugged. "Figure not. Best try an' catch up." He took the lead, pressing through the dense brush. The Wheelwrights held fast to each other, and Zeve ground his teeth in frustration. Their closeness wasn't the easiest thing to bear, not when he was trying so hard to keep his own thoughts in check.

Fells had gone alone to Gilneas. Knowing that there were Forsaken, feral worgen, and whatever else might have decided to crawl out of the Nether to ruin his home, she had gone alone. She wanted to go alone so that she could prove she didn't need help. Feck-all on needing help, I just want to help. Stubborn... He shook his head and looked back, offering what he hoped was a reassuring smile. "Been through worse'n this, eh?" Neither responded.

Whatever trick of nature allowed Stonewaker to pass through the woods unmarred, he wasn't passing its benefits to his wards. But if the druids wouldn't or couldn't help without requiring hiking, scratches, and possible rashes, Zeve wasn't about to balk now. Still, it seemed they followed glowing handprints for hours before they caught up to Stonewaker.

It wasn't clear if the druid had chosen the clearing at random, divined by some sense the others couldn't see, or if they'd been headed here all along. It was wide and clear, the floor dense and plush with moss that was dotted with smooth stone. Shallow springs marked its corners, holding back the towering trees that stretched and bent to blot out the sun overhead. Zeve caught his breath, subconsciously unwilling to disturb the still air of the living cathedral.

Stonewaker sat cross-legged on a large, flat stone set more or less in the center of the place, his eyes closed. "We will perform the ritual here." Without opening his eyes, he pointed to each of the springs. "Drink."

Zeve and the Wheelwrights obeyed, greedily cupping handfuls of the clear water. It was cool and refreshing, and without thinking Zeve splashed some of it over his face. Right, doing a fine job of being proper and respectful. Water dripped off of his chin, and Stonewalker eyed him impassively. "Come. Sit."

As the Gilneans settled to the grass in front of him he went about what little he had in the way of preparations, methodically unwrapping small linen-bound bundles. He produced three gnarled sticks, the wood dark and not at all resembling the trees which surrounded them. With casual, practiced precision, the druid set one branch between himself and Millie and another between himself and Maynard. "Many of your people were found before they left your home, shortly after they had been afflicted. Because the rage of Goldrinn had been with them only a brief time, and with the aid of Tal'Doren, the druids of my order were able to guide them quickly to control over their curse."

The druid placed a third branch, tied with a scrap of red leather, between himself and Zeve. "It is no longer safe to perform the ritual beneath Tal'Doren thanks to the Forsaken who ravage the land with their plague and your feral brethren." Zeve winced at that last. He could still clearly remember the night Fells had inadvertently led him into Duskwood. He had been able to hear the worgen there, smell them, and call to them. He had nearly...he shuddered, shaking the thought off and returning his attention to Stonewaker. The druid couldn't read minds, but his glowing eyes seemed to see Zeve's thoughts. "You have managed the curse longer than most of your people, but at a high cost. Our ritual will require more of you than it did of the others."

Zeve nodded, giving Stonewaker a grim smile. "Comfortin', thanks." To his surprise, the druid smiled back. The expression was cold and pitying.

"What do we have to do?" Maynard asked. "We're ready." The farmer's jaw was set, his arm around his wife.

Stonewaker opened his arms. "Lay down and close your eyes." Zeve's smile faded and he nodded with weary determination. Wheelwright had the right of it—they needed to be done with this. As the three Gilneans settled on the grass, Zeve looked over to see the Wheelwrights share a brief kiss before closing their eyes. He frowned, closing his own. Time later. Fells would be back from Gilneas and safe, he would be better, and there would be --

"The tree, Tal'Doren, was the home of the Druids of the Scythe, once called the Druids of the Pack." Stonewaker's voice cut into his thoughts. "When those druids lost themselves to the rage of Goldrinn, the Wolf God, Shan'do Stormrage banished them to the Emerald Dream to sleep under the tree Daral'nir."

Although he couldn't see the druid, the voice moved closer. Zeve felt something being placed on his chest. "Just as Daral'nir soothes the cursed druids who gave into the beast and abandoned balance, let Tal'Doren soothe these lost children." The druid repeated the mantra again, and again. The words began to flow together and for a moment the quiet bubbling of the springs grew louder. Water over rocks, wind through the leaves, "Let Tal'Doren soothe these lost children..."
 
His thoughts melted away.



Soft. Warm. Peaceful. Perfect. "Heya, ser."

Light crept through his eyelids, momentarily blinding him. The figure leaning over him came into focus slowly, first a dark splotch against the window and then, slowly, a familiar figure. She smiled as fingers worked through his hair. “Fell ‘sleep on me.”

“Did I?” He held his head as he sat up, shaking away cobwebs.

“It has been nearly an hour.” Shad spoke from the door, his familiar figure stretched too tall against architecture meant for someone shorter. Fells grinned at him, and the smiles of the twins in Shad’s arms echoed her own. “It is a beautiful evening outside. You are going to miss it.”

He didn’t have much choice in the matter when Fells took his hands, laughing as he pulled him to the door. “C’mon. Mayhap we can go fer a walk.” There wasn’t time to judge the strange weight to her words, not when she led him through the doorway and his heart stopped.

Gilneas, whole and unbroken. He could tell as easily as though he were surveying the land from overhead. The Wall was intact, the hills were filled with white and brown dots where livestock grazed far below. He looked back at the house they’d been in: the Bosch manse, built on the southwest cliffs overlooking the ocean. He pulled Fells out of the path of an ornate carriage, the revelers inside laughing raucously, and she stayed close in his arms after. The setting sun’s orange light danced in her eyes as she laid her head on his shoulder, easing into his warmth. “Look, Botch,” she murmured, pointing to the east. Low-hung in the sky, the yellow light of the full moons illuminated the landscape below.

A tightness gripped him. Zeve blinked as his limbs stretched, as bones and muscles cracked and tore and reformed. It came as naturally and unintentionally as breathing. Instead of agony it was as comfortable as donning familiar clothing. Fells slipped her small hand into his and stood on tip-toe to scratch behind his ears. He slumped, smiled, at let his tongue loll out; it was embarrassing, but he didn't care—everything felt good. Warm. Soft.

"Zevedron?" A woman's voice called to him from inside the house. And when she appeared in the doorway he recognized her face. It explained her voice. His heart caught in his throat.

"Mum?"

Cessily Bosch stepped from the porch to meet them, shared a warm smile with Fells, then reached up to scratch behind Zeve's ears. It occurred to him that he should be ashamed to have her see him shifted, but her smile reassured him. She was just as she had been when he left Gilneas almost seven years ago: regal, defined, and proper—kind and right. Her hand rested on the side of his face. "My favorite son...I'm so very glad you're home."

Zeve frowned. "Da?"

She shook her head, patting his cheek. "He's not here, dear. Please, come inside. You and your wife will be warmer. And I do want to see you with my grandchildren." Taking his other hand, she and Fells both led him back toward the manse.

Once inside, they both left him in their wake in favor of heading towards the hearth. A massive silver panther sprawled on his back, half overrun by tiny figures. Fells scooped Junior up when she lowered herself to the rug. He didn’t recognize the dark-haired infant that his mother claimed. From between them the beast pulled its lips back, showing long white fangs in a brutal grin. “Era?”

“Who else, feck-head. Holdin’ down your hearth. You’re welcome.” Zeve approached slowly, eyes fixed on the smallest. His mother cooed at the babe she cradled, offering a finger that was claimed with chubby little hands and greedily brought down to its mouth. His gaze slipped to the other, a tiny girl with dark pigtails that seemed intent on trying to pull out as much silver fur as she could. Her giggling played on the air like music.

“What? I don’...” Fells glanced up at him, then laid Junior -- her youngest, she only has the twins and the baby -- back against Era’s flank before crossing to him, her smile amused and teasing.

“S’wrong, darlin’?” she purred, slipping behind him to snake arms around his torso. Even with his height, she was somehow able to whisper directly in his ear. It sent all the wrong shivers down his spine. “Don’ y’know yer babes?” No...I don’ have minis...Can’t, they’d be...

His mother positively beamed from her place on the rug, turning to allow him to see the child she cradled. “You made me a grandmother, Zevedron.” The infant had one canine fang dug deep into her finger, blood trickling out onto its bib. A wave of revulsion roiled in his gut. “I’m so proud.” When his daughter turned to him, her eyes flashed gold in the firelight.

He would have stumbled backwards, but Fells stood firm and held him all the tighter. “Calm down, Zeve,” intoned Shad, his smile placid and fixed as he stepped forward. “Everything is fine. Just as I told you it would be.”

“Yeah,” came the panther’s lazy voice from behind him. “Chill out, come cuddle?”

“Come cuddle with me.” Fells’s invitation fell secretive and quiet on his ear. For a moment, the edges of reality blurred when her fingers slipped low in an obscene caress. “C’mon. Yer frettin’ over nothin’. Come with me.”

Era and Shad began laughing in the same voice. His son whimpered as his daughter began to keen. Zeve almost stumbled as he turned away from the sitting room, heading for the door. All at once his mother was at his arm, her voice sickly sweet in its comfort. "It's alright, dear, everything is fine."

His children—not my children!--began to howl. Panicked, he blindly charged through the door and back out into the night. Ocean air washed over him, though he was met with something altogether different from Gilneas.

A tree. Oceans of green, and a great, dark tree. The massive sentinel was twisted and bent, but seemed to belong in this place. He saw the worgen, then; hundreds or perhaps thousands of them slept beneath the tree and would continue sleeping there forever. A voice spoke from within and around the tree, from the roots and from every full, blood-colored leaf: "Daral'nir."

The sleeping worgen began to sing. He remembered the sound from the night in Duskwood, what he could hear and Fells could not. Zeve's eyes began to burn with the strain of keeping them open. Can't... He felt himself sink to his knees. Can't... A cool breeze blew by, smelling faintly of mint and tea. Zeve was lying on his side, blinking slowly. No... His eyes closed.
 


The diffused purple light of Darnassus greeted him, illuminating the canopies of the great trees. Birds dipped through the intertwined branches. Everything was a tangle of green and purple, life and light. Zeve blinked, realizing he was still lying on his back. "...Right."

Letting his head fall to the side, he saw Stonewaker seated on his stone in the middle of the grove. Glowing eyes caught the slight movement; the druid gestured for Zeve to stand before turning his attention back to the still-sleeping Wheelwrights. Zeve rubbed at his face, rolling into a sitting position. The branch tied with red leather fell to the ground and he picked it up, turning it over slowly in his fingers.

The explanation came reverently. "When the Druids of the Pack lost themselves to Goldrinn's fury, Shan'do Stormrage banished them to Daral'nir. Daral'nir brought tranquility to the druids, but will forever keep them asleep within the Emerald Dream."

"Forever..." Zeve looked up at his guide. "If I'd stayed..." He looked at the Wheelwrights. "If they stay..."

Stonewaker gave a ghost of a smile, still watching the sleeping couple. "Tal'Doren is connected to Daral'nir. If you had chosen to stay, you would have slept as surely as the druids sleep beneath Daral'nir."

Zeve blinked, shaking his head. "Forever."

"Until you were eaten or returned to the earth, yes." The druid was entirely matter-of-fact.
Zeve gazed at the Wheelwrights, still shaking his head. "Why didn' you tell us? What if somethin' happened? Feck, what if somethin' happens?" He pointed at the couple.

"If you had known, you would have tried to prepare. You would, perhaps, have reconsidered. Telling you would have served no purpose but to worry you. And since you had no choice in this ritual--"

"No choice? Feck-all, mate, I came here of my own feckin' free will."

"Did you? Either you would have undergone the ritual, or you would have become feral and have been hunted down—by your own kind or by the Kal'dorei. If not for this ritual, the most you could have hoped for would have been eternal sleep under Daral'nir or death. Knowing your people..."
Maynard Wheelwright stirred, then a moment later Millie's eyes fluttered open. Stonewaker dropped his voice so only Zeve could hear. "Did you really have a choice?" Zeve scowled as the druid pushed a small bag of jerky toward him. "Eat. Drink. We shall begin again in a few hours.


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