The chime of the alarm is an obnoxious jarring sound, one that causes Sylvanas’s ears to flatten harshly against her skull. To think she had thought it once to be melodious, something she greeted with a long sigh and the satisfying crack of limbs as she stretched out over the sheets, acknowledging the day with a tired yawn and a half smile. Now it's a functionless, mocking clang of metal supposedly signalling the start of the day.
Not that it matters, she hasn’t yet been asleep.
The thin morning light filters in, glinting off the dewy lace of a spider web, constructed overnight in the gap of the partially opened window. Sylvanas allows herself to sit upright, to admire the little spinner’s work while she still can, before the muted tones of dawn give away to true sunrise and the light would once more become a touch too harsh upon her new sensitive eyes.
Eyes she still cannot bear to look at in the mirror... along with the rest of her.
She sucks in an unsteady breath and loathes the way it rattles uselessly in her chest, how her functionless lungs ache for the relief of oxygen as though she were suffocating, yet she knows she no longer has need for it. Her ears flick to the distant chirp of the morning lark, the throaty warble punctuated by an indignant screech and the fluff of feathers as it vyes with a competitor for a perch in a distant tree.
To think they once scrapped and squawked on the ledge outside her window, a commotion that had brought a living ranger to the verge of exhausted tears as she’d pulled the pillow over her head in a groan of exasperation. But now, like all things, they keep their wary distance. Spooked by her undeath, her unnaturalness, her misplacement amongst the ebb and flow of life in the Eversong forest. At least the spider stays, dutiful little fly catcher, unafraid. Carrion creatures, the ones that thrive off rot and decay. Rodents and bats, spiders and roaches, beings that Sylvanas avoided in life. Now she appreciates them for their place in the world, the ones that build their homes where others fear to tread.
With a grimace she notices the stirrings of movement in the rooms below. Another reason why she hates the chime, it means the sanctuary of nighttime is finished and yet again she has to face her living, waking family. A family that she can hardly bear to be with.
But where else does she have to go?
She wonders just how long she can get away with lying here, silent as the grave, pretending she doesn’t exist. The shift of chairs, the scrape of cutlery, the low murmur of voices followed by the commotion of books being packed, of flustered queries for the whereabouts of training leathers and boot polish. Normal, living family things, of elves going about their daily business while she remains up here, frozen and alone. She is relieved though, glad that it appears to be a busy day for the Windrunner family. She idly wonders if Lirath has any exams coming up, or if Vereesa’s envoy to the human kingdoms went well -
-humans, curse the lot of them-
-or if Alleria is once again marching around and barking out orders as the stand in Ranger General she now is.
It’s a little too late now to return to your duties, don’t you agree big sister?
And this is why Sylvanas wonders rather than asks, for one it would only feel stilted and forced as each member in turn would hide the wince at her voice even as their ears perked in hope for any attempt at interaction she manages, and the other reason being that she’s a tissue-thin layer of patience away from snapping out the truly hurtful things her poisonous mind retaliates with each question about them.
And it’s always the same wounded small voice that whimpers at the back of her mind even though each one has a rational answer to it.
Where *were* you all?
She logically knows that Lirath was in Dalaran, stranded and unable to get home as the portal network was seized and shut down. She knows Vereesa was in the same situation, sitting hunched over the kitchen table with Rhonin, sobbing as she was yet again denied passage from the flightmaster at Krasus landing.
She knows that her mother, crippled and unfit for war, still managed to limp in and subdue the traitor-mage Drathir to get Ban’dinoriel’s defenses activated and thus saving Quel’Thalas from certain destruction.
She knows that Alleria was on another world, beyond a portal that she would not return through a couple years after disaster struck.
Still, none of it seems to soothe the feeling of loss and betrayal and the utter injustice of it all that she was the sole Windrunner to stand against him that fateful day.
If only I’d truly died. She thinks, staring daggers at the hairline crack in the tall, curved ceiling of her quarters. They would have grieved, they would have gathered in this very room and held one another while they cried... but they would have moved on. And it was true, her being here in this...state of between. It did nothing for them in finding closure, for how could one mourn their once joyful, living sister and daughter when the resentful ghost of her still darkened the hallways of Windrunner spire.
The commotion of the morning routine finally dies down, Sylvanas allows herself a hollow breath of relief that nobody attempts to knock on her door to say goodbye like so many of the times before. She imagines that they’ve given up on obtaining no response or simply earning a quiet growl at their persistence.
It might sound like she’s being cruel but she cannot stand the way Lirath tries to joke with her the way he used to, as though pretending nothing has happened. Neither can she tolerate the way Vereesa stares at her with glassy, mournful blue eyes whenever she thinks she isn’t looking. At least Alleria seems to be doing her usual tactic of avoiding her at all cost which Sylvanas is grateful for, though Alleria too seems to have come back changed. Even more serious than she once was, terse, jumpy as though she doesn’t trust anyone around her… or herself.
And that leaves her mother.
Lireesa Windrunner doesn’t offer her much more privacy than a cursory knock before entering into her room, drawing the curtains shut so that the harsh sunlight doesn’t hurt her eyes and gently requesting her aid; be it chores or someone to bounce ideas off when pouring over a military map of Quel’Thalas in setting up her new defensives. Sylvanas at first was reluctant to help out, mostly because many of the questions forced her to relive her trauma to some extent when offering her thoughts on where the new wards placement and defensive field coverage. But now it’s the one thing she somewhat looks forward to, if only because it gives her a small semblance of purpose. Defending the nation from another attack is the utmost importance, nobody should ever have to go through what she and her squad went through. No one. Never again.
At the same time though she resents her mother for making her do this. She knows why; Lireesa wants her to have a routine, to go through the motions of leaving her bed, changing clothes, accompanying her to the market so that she gets some interaction outside of the home, but Sylvanas cannot stand it. The pitying looks of the Silvermoon population are one of the most painful, people who once rushed forward and vyed for her attention now look on despondently in muted silence. The children who followed at her heels whispering tales of the brave General now huddle behind their parents, staring at her with wide, fearful eyes. She’s never outwardly reviled, or turned away from any stall, people are respectful, polite- still bowing to her status and fame.
But they are so damn scared of her, and the worst part is she cannot blame them.
And as for this routine? She wonders whether she’s doing it more for herself, or for her family’s comfort. She highly suspects it’s the latter. Sylvanas no longer sweats but she still religiously showers twice a day as if terrified that the reek of undeath clings to her skin and so she wishes to banish it with soap and scented oils. She does her laundry alone, worried that her family might feel uncomfortable about putting their clothes with that of fabric that’s touched dead skin. She’s a stranger in her own home, a cowed mutt that’s forbidden on furniture lest she taint it with her foul corruption. Not by her family’s doing, never by them, but at her own repulsion at herself, at the wretched existence she now endures.
The house is now almost silent, save for one set of footsteps slowly and carefully making their way upstairs. The uneven, limping gait of her mother, made worse since her final stand against Drathir before she shot the spineless coward between his eyes. She freezes at the gentle knock at her door, her tongue like lead in her mouth before she closes her eyes and utters a single word.
She hates talking, she tries to do it little as possible to spare anyone and herself the discomfort of hearing her ethereal two-toned voice.
The door creaks open, brushing over carpet. Lireesa steps inside with a gentle smile on her face.
“Morning, my Lady Moon.” Lireesa places a steaming mug of tea next to her bed and Sylvanas resists the urge to roll her eyes. Cursed, perceptive woman. It was one time you caught me drinking tea, one time! And now you feel the need to bring me a new mug every day as though it were my lifeblood.
She will accept it though, while equally as bland and flavorless as any drink that now passes her lips, she does appreciate curling her frigid fingers around the porcelain and basking in the small warmth it offers. Sylvanas grunts a semblance of a greeting in response and shifts aside to allow her mother to sit next to her because Lireesa now no longer waits to be invited.
“How are you feeling?” Lireesa’s hand twitches, a mother’s reflex response to place a hand against the forehead of a sick child, checking for a temperature, but it remains in her lap for all she will find should she place her hand there is the chill of a corpse.
Feeling? I feel like death, literally and figuratively. I want to curl up in this bed and cease to exist. Were it not to upset you I may well have thrown myself on my own funeral pyre just to end feeling as empty and alone as this!
“The same.” Sylvanas mumbles, keeping her voice barely above a whisper as though it will sound more natural that way. She inspects her hands, lips curled back from wickedly long fangs in a snarl of disgust. Yep. Still as dead as ever, as though somehow a small part of her still futilely wishes it to be a dream, that one day some spell will break and she will stir in her bed, pulse hammering and color back in her cheeks. Alas her skin is still ashen in color, bluish veins webbing across her palms. Her nails are cracked and dry, as brittle as her hair that falls limply over bony shoulders that hunch inward as though she wishes to make herself as small as possible.
Lireesa hums and idly tucks a strand of that same lank hair behind an ear that flicks away at her touch.
“So there is some sensation still?” Lireesa had asked the first time Sylvanas tensed and shuddered uncomfortably under her tentative touch and Sylvanas had idly nodded yet still gently pushed her mother’s hands away, pointedly ignoring the flash of heartbreak and hurt in Lireesa’s eyes, both at her daughter’s suffering and her inability to soothe it.
Touch is a strange thing for Sylvanas, well, yet another oddity in the whole twisted mess that is her body, but it’s something she's actively trying to make sense of.
Most times it’s muted, as though she’s experiencing everything through a thick cloth, but on occasion, such as the brush of fingers against the torn ridge of her ear, or the once comforting scratch of nails on her scalp feels all too strong, bordering on painful. Necromancy, the magic that now animates her, is powerful yet deeply flawed. It’s as though it were a strange twisted mirror of life, forever trying to imitate it but never getting it quite right. Touch is either too little or too much, taste could be flavorless and dull but all of a sudden jarringly sharp and sour on the tongue. It fits in quite nicely with her wild swings in mood as well, ranging from detached to wildly upset and irrational. She feels as though she’s forever teetering from one extreme to another, never finding balance, never finding peace.
“Must you insist on touching me minn’da?” Sylvanas mutters dryly but makes no attempt to shrug her off, she’s done enough of that already and she’s in no mood to see Lireesa fight back tears this early in the morning. Mercifully the fingers that absently moved to gently stroking her hair quickly pull away as Lireesa tucks her hand under her leg as though physically pinning it down.
“Forgive me, I’m but a fool bound by motherly instincts sometimes.” Lireesa lets out a trembling laugh, one so unlike her for all her stern no-nonsense attitude. Sylvanas finds her ears even wilting a little at hearing that broken sound from someone as strong as her mother. Yet Lireesa has already turned her attentions to fussing over the crumpled mess that is her bed sheets, torn and half draped off the mattress following yet another failed night of Sylvanas tossing and turning, attempting to sleep. She hasn’t managed it yet, even though Liadrin has repeatedly insisted she should be capable.
As if a priestess of the Light had any clue about undeath . That’s harsh, other than her mother, Liadrin has done more research into Sylvanas’s condition than anyone, delving into forgotten realms of distant libraries to glean any idea of how to approach a small yet steadily growing list of not-so-alive patients that have come to her practice begging for help.
Though it’s definitely not common. The undead population of Silvermoon is but a handful, some human, some elf, but most as despondent and rudderless as she. Nobody really knows how they came to have their freedom other than one day his voice no longer echoed in her mind. Those of the strongest will seemed to have broken free in his absence they said, Sylvanas doesn’t remember being strong.
All she remembered wanting was to go home.
“I ran you a bath.” Lireesa gestures toward the doorway, all the while smoothing the bedsheet down and tucking it back underneath the mattress with a careful, practiced motion. “Of course it’s not an order, just a suggestion.”
Sylvanas grunts in response. That’s all she does these days. Still she makes a show of hopping down off the bed, glancing at her mother expectantly. When Lireesa makes no indication of moving or offering her any cue to work off, Sylvanas finds her ears flattening in discomfort.
“Towel?” She spits out the word almost like an accusation, as though angry at her mother for forcing her to speak- though in hindsight that’s perhaps what Lireesa wants her to do.
“Where they always have been for the last two hundred years.” Lireesa responds offhandedly, straightening the pillows and giving them a hefty whack so as to fluff them back up. Pleased that her offer has been accepted and her daughter’s bed is no longer in disarray she strides back over to the door, still so graceful and sure of herself despite the limp. “I want you downstairs when you’re finished, you and I need to head over to waystation four ideally before the afternoon.”
Waystation four? Sylvanas’s ears perk with interest. She thought four had been decommissioned since the end of the second war. Quaint little place, really set in the heart of the forest; nestled on the banks of a hidden lake, one that nobody but very lost wanderers and farstriders have ever set eyes upon. But what a sight it was to behold, sparkling waves that rippled in the gentle breeze, crystal clear water that let you see to the bottom, almost turquoise against the chalky white pebbles and sand that made up the lakebed. Waystation four itself was an old lodge, ancient even, a remnant of Highborne architecture with its sweeping roof and the scaled pattern of its tiling. Still, it had held up in storms and wethered the brief moments of wintery climate Quel’thalas rarely experienced where other, more modern buildings did not.
It hadn’t been given purpose in decades; too close to Farstrider retreat to serve as a base for any operation and too small to house more than a few meant that it had lost its function since modern day ranger squads had far more support personnel than they used to. It had mostly been abandoned save for some cursory maintenance to stop it from outright collapsing. What use could it possibly be having now?
Sylvanas catches herself, feeling the unrelenting gaze of Lireesa on the side of her face. It’s too late, she has a knowing look in her eyes, a tinge of smugness that Sylvanas can almost read her jubilant thoughts. Got you curious now, haven’t I?
Sylvanas doesn’t allow her the satisfaction of asking questions, deciding that whatever plans Lireesa has for it will be revealed in due time when they go visit. If her time imprisoned taught her anything, it's how to be patient. She nods curtly, silently affirming that she will be down soon before she pauses, unease swirling in the pit of her stomach.
She doesn’t remember where the towels are kept. Two hundred years and she can’t remember where the thrice damned towels are kept. She freezes, her jaw clenches and nails dig into her palms to the point that even she can feel the sting. It’s only Lireesa’s steady hand on her shoulder, directing her, that snaps her out of that horrible moment of realization.
“Second cabinet on the left.” Lireesa murmures the words into her left ear like it’s a secret and reluctantly drops her arm, hobbling away all the while muttering curses about the stiffness in her knee.
Second cabinet. Right, of course. Her memory is...not as it once was.
Sylvanas snatches up one towel before pausing, sighing and reaching for a second. They smell of jasmine and for a moment a wave of longing washes over her. She remembers this scent and feels unsure of indulging in it; she’s not certain if her sense of smell is truly hers anymore and she’s utterly terrified of ruining her memory of what once was with the false idea of what it is now.
As if it matters, it’s high time she starts getting used to the fact that this is the way of things, no use in lamenting for something she can no longer have. It doesn’t stop her from swallowing anxiously as she enters the bathroom, already warm and humid from the steaming hot bath Lireesa ran earlier. The smooth granite tub is full to the brim with water that shimmers with some pleasant-smelling lavender concoction and towering islands of sparkling bubbles drift languidly in the current. Sylvanas is too proud to admit it out loud, but it does look wonderfully inviting. Slowly, tersely, she peels away the dark leggings and the long sleeved fleece she’s practically lived in for the past few months until she’s completely and vulnerably naked. Her ears are pressed low as she methodically folds up her clothing and carefully places it aside.
She turns toward the bath before a flash of her reflection catches her eye, causing her to let out a huff of frustration at herself for not remembering earlier. She rocks on the balls of her bare feet, pausing for a moment, then another, before sighing in resignation and quickly striding forward, draping the second towel to cover the mirror.
By the time Sylvanas trudges downstairs, clad in what was once her simple training leathers and cloak, Lireesa is already outside speaking with another elf who is nodding eagerly in agreement as she and her mother gloss over a crisp, folded map in the Windrunner Matriarch's gloved hand. Her other hand rests on the pommel of a smart looking cane, index finger tapping idly against the brass as though it were a mere accessory rather than a means of support. How does she do it? Sylvanas wonders, how does she keep so calm, so regal even after the spear took the function from her leg and a skinning knife took her eye. Lireesa fought her last true battle and came back physically half the woman she had been when she left, pale from blood loss and crippled- no longer fit for active service.
But she didn’t lie down in defeat, no, not when she still had four children to order around. The Ranger General in her didn’t die that day, not like it had with Sylvanas. Lireesa still always stands to attention as though addressing a squad, the black leather eyepatch looking smart against her tanned skin as she raises her sharp chin proudly, enrapturing anyone in her presence.
“Ah and here she is!” Lireesa greets Sylvanas as she reluctantly slinks to her side, ducking her head to avert her gaze, knowing the burning crimson of her eyes is quite startling at first to someone who has not yet seen her in the flesh. “Sylvanas, this is Magister Esendre Cinderguard, she’s agreed to portal us out there for today.”
Right, portals, because no horse or ‘strider would let her within a mile of it. Her mother’s ability to pre-plan everything is sickening sometimes; Sylvanas used to think she’d inherited that trait as well… until everything fell apart. Esendre offers her a wave but not her arm, clearly baulking at the thought of grasping an undead’s wrist. Sylvanas saves her the unpleasantry by folding her arms and nodding once in greeting, glad that it's deemed normal for rangers to have their hoods up at all times so she can keep her face mostly in shadow.
Esendre grunts and puffs with the exertion of weaving and anchoring her portal. Sylvanas knows it's an incredibly tricky spell, extremely mana taxing and one slip up or lapse in concentration can cause disastrous results. Portals, even in Silvermoon, a city that seeps itself in the arcane, are quite the rare occurrence. The main network to Dalaran is maintained in shifts, and by highly trained mages armed with a focusing iris. The rumor that elves port around Quel’thalas freely as they please is simply that, a rumor. Most travel across Quel’thalas is carried out by the flightmasters’ network or by horse. A portal ferrying service, especially one such as this must cost a hefty sum of gold.
It’s probably one of the very few times her mother has ever wished to throw around her wealth and status and into something as simple as travelling around Eversong. Sylvanas feels her gut twist with guilt.
“It’s ready.” Esendre announced in a strained voice, but Sylvanas is already aware of this from the sucking displacement of the air as the portal stabilizes and a flash of turquoise water greets her from beyond. “Lady Windrunner, be sure to take this…for your ride home.” The mage drops something small into her mother’s palm as they turn to step through and the elder Windrunner nods in affirmation, clasping it tightly to her chest as she picks up her cane and stiffly steps through. The young mage turns to Sylvanas with a slight bow. “And it’s an honor to finally meet you too, Ranger General.”
Too tired to bother correcting her on the slip-up in title and not wanting to keep the mage waiting, Sylvanas follows on her mother's heels, fighting back a wince as the portal snaps behind her, just a little too close for comfort.
“The magister’s guild really should stop doing us the disrespect of sending amateurs.” Lireesa grumbles, but is already hobbling in the direction of the cabin, ears perked higher than Sylvanas has seen them in a while. No thanks to her.
“Waystation four!” Lireesa announces brightly and Sylvanas freezes for a moment, struck by the beauty of the place that her hazy memory hasn’t done any justice.
The lake shimmers in the early afternoon sun, gentle lapping waves kissing the jetty in a rhythmic lulling sound that even Sylvanas appreciates as soothing. The wind hisses through the reeds, and shakes the shimmering sun-touched leaves of the oak and ash trees lining the riverbanks. She’s struck by nostalgia, of the time before Farstrider’s lodge was constructed where it was one of the last stops rangers made on patrol before hitting the big city.
She remembers a young version of herself standing poised on the jetty, naked from the waist up so that the afternoon sun beat down upon her bare shoulders, fishing spear in hand and her eyes dutifully trained on the slow moving shapes below the shimmering ripples of the water’s surface. She remembers trying to focus even as Velonara teased and taunted her previous misses, suggesting she should stick to tracking game on land if they had any hope for dinner that evening. The alluring flash of fin, the blurred outline of the carp rising to the surface where the flies kissed the skin of the water for a daring drink. She remembers her ears quivering with anticipation, tongue running over the edge of a fang in concentration as her muscles coiled in preparation to strike, only for Velonara’s untimely yell of her name to throw her balance off as the spear struck empty water.
Sylvanas recalls the howling laughter that followed, and the clattering of metal dropping onto the timber boards when she’d cast the spear aside in favor of stalking in the direction of her squadmate, playful murder dancing in her eyes. She’d grabbed Velonara by the scruff of her shirt and promptly shoved the still cackling elf into the lake. They’d had to resort to ration bars and dry oats that night but nobody had really minded, exhausted from their impromptu swim in the lake following Velonara’s brutal induction to it.
Oh they’d been so young then. Young and foolish, whiling the days they spent here focusing on what they were going to get up to once they hit Silvermoon, taking this beautiful place and the solace it provided for granted. Young ranger Sylvanas had only cared then about what mayhem she was going to cause in the capital, what pretty thing she was going to whisk away for the night, awakening the next morning hungover and tangled in unfamiliar sheets but doing it all again the next day. Waystation four had only been a means to an end, the final stop before their wild few weeks of leave, of lazy days in spas and evenings spent in bars before duty called all over again and they cut off their flings and packed their bags, repeating the cycle once more.
The ache of loneliness twists in the empty cavern that is her chest.
How had she not seen it then? Those final days like the perfect calm before the storm, the last moments she and her squad truly spent together as a team before the distractions of city life and fresh blood often had them wondering their separate ways. How had she not savored the evenings under the night sky, of the chirp of crickets and the soft snores of several exhausted elves, worn out from months of marching and sleeping rough, dreaming of the next day, triumphant and peacocking in their regalia as they waved to the excited masses that gathered, welcoming them home. How had she not relished in those quiet moments prior, snuggling in close, sipping at honeyed tea and listening to stories that had been told a hundred times over yet still never lost their value. No, she’d perched at the perimeter, always on watch even as protected as they were within the borders of their nation. Alert and businesslike, taking herself so damn seriously.
She’d been chasing the footsteps of Alleria then- what a foolish notion. She half wished to tear through the fabric of time itself, to drag her younger self in the dirt and scream in her face to do away with such pathetic delusions of her own adequacy. Stop worrying about the future, silly child and live! Live in that beautiful, wonderful moment. Because you don’t know how good you had it, because you don’t know how it feels to die.
I’d thought I’d understood the brutality of war then, that the most heinous acts of war had come from the forest trolls we skirmished at the border. If I’d known the true meaning of cruelty, the depravity of his mind that no mortal could compreh-
All at once the fog of her mind is lifted and Sylvanas jolts at the firm hand at her elbow, grounding her in the present.
“Sylvanas.” Lireesa’s ears are pressed low with worry but her voice is calm and unwavering, as if issuing a command that her daughter’s military-moulded mind will unconsciously recognize, even trapped in the depths of a nightmare. “Ranger, stay with me.”
She realizes that her fingertips are pressed against her sternum, right where the jagged scar itches, and she snatches her hand away as if burned. Stay in the present, right. She has a mission here to do even if her mother is being oddly coy about it.
No longer trapped in woeful reminiscing, she now notices the dismal state of the building. While it remains sturdy and upright, powerful enchants as old as Quel’Thalas itself keeping it standing, nature has been aggressive in its reclamation. Vines snake up the wall, moss and lichen seep through the cracks in the wood and the pathway to the entrance is infested with weeds. The windows have long since cracked and blown out, leaving empty frames where a ragged sheet of a curtain haphazardly flaps in the wind.
“Minn’da.” Sylvanas grounds out, the tips of her fangs flashing as she pulls back her lips in a snarl of frustration. “Don’t tell me you’ve dragged me out here for a restoration project.”
Lireesa lets out a huff of laughter and waves away her daughter’s protest with an airy gesture of her hand. “Someone has to do it, and who better than the captain of the last ranger corps that lodged here.” Sylvanas feels all the more lost as Lireesa starts down the path, cane tapping rhythmically against the flagstones. Then that feeling of confusion quickly turns to anger as she stalks behind her mother, the leather of her gloves creaking as her hands ball into fists at her side.
“Why are you doing this? Paying Belore knows what for a portal out here, keeping silent over the fact that I’m to be out here picking weeds.” She pauses for a moment, trying to reign in her temper but already her emotions have swung into full force as she whips past her mother to stand in front, blocking Lireesa’s path to the doorway. "Is this it?” Sylvanas demands, glaring at her mother who holds her gaze with an infuriatingly cool and unflustered expression. “That’s my task? Lodge renovation, to hammer boards and replace windows like some…”
“Some what?” Lireesa interrupts, stubborn chin tilted up. “Some ranger?” She even dares to take a step closer, as Sylvanas’s crimson eyes seethe like embers in a face that’s considerably darkened as shadows flicker around her clenched fists. “Are you here to tell me that waystation maintenance is beneath your station? General Windrunner?”
“I’m not a General anymore. I promptly discarded that farce of a title the first chance I got.” Sylvanas all but spits the last word out, ears pinned to the point of discomfort.
“Then all the more reason to carry this out.” Lireesa calmly reasons.
“This is not what I’m…”
-Trained for. Sylvanas wants to finish the sentence but knows it to be a lie. Every ranger is tasked with menial jobs like this. Roof maintenance, ditch digging, fence repair… the list goes on with all the assignments her squad carried out, even on patrol toward the border. And why not? A willing group of physically fit elves- ideal to be sent across the nation to ease the workload for the farmers and villagers on the far outreaches of Quel’thalas. No, this never was beneath her station as a ranger, neither was it ever beneath her station as a General. It’s just…
“Remember the time we had an unusual bout of rain.” Lireesa’s voice is insistent, again directing Sylvanas from her current train of thought. “Caught us all by surprise but most of all the farmers with their harvest over at Suncrown. Our squads just so happened to align there, you weren’t so pleased about that fact, avoided me every chance you got.” She snorts quietly and her gaze becomes soft, recalling the century old moment in her mind's eye as though it were yesterday. “And that poor farmer was crying because she hadn’t yet got the bales covered and moved them inside. The rain would dampen the crop, the wheat would fall in quality and she was lamenting her losses even as she tirelessly hauled each one on her back, doggedly marching toward the barn as though she could single handedly complete the task alone. Her sons were in the city, her farm too far from the village to warrant much aid, she was alone. Do you remember?”
“Yes.” Sylvanas mutters softly, distracted from her anger by the sudden memory. “I remember.”
“I knew you would.” Lireesa remarks, the wrinkles at the corner of her remaining eye crinkling as her expression lightens, before she shrugs once, shoulders stiff and businesslike returning to the narrative of her story. “Of course, we did what we could to help but there were fields and fields and we were on a tight schedule to meet the Prince at Sunstrider estate before noon the next day. It was only a matter of time before we had to cut her losses and leave. We had a feast to get to, one you even mentioned you’d been looking forward to following weeks of porridge and ration bars.” Lireesa then offers Sylvanas a gentle, indulgent smile.. “But you stayed. My sources say you stayed and hauled those bales from dusk until dawn, even as the rain lashed at your back and the mud made each step a trial. You didn’t stop until every last bushel was covered and dry.”
Sylvanas shrugs. “It was her livelihood. I had to.”
“Oh of course, duty calls and all that. She was a pretty little thing though wasn’t she.” Lireesa mentions offhandedly even as she allows the hint of a smirk to touch her lips and Sylvanas scowls, affronted.
“I never did it because of that and I’m offended you would even think otherwise! I would have done it had she sported two heads and a...”
“I know, I know.” Lireesa placates, palms outward in a gesture of surrender. “I was mostly teasing, but my point was that surely it helped. ” Lireesa ignores Sylvanas’s scoff and continues. “It’s not a bad thing to want a little motivation in your work, it’s frankly exhausting to be selfless all the time. They have a saying in Lordaeron if I remember correctly; “We’re only human.”
Sylvanas lets out a sharp bark of a laugh at her mother’s heavily accented Common and rolls her eyes. “So typical of humans to point out their flaws yet do nothing about them. As if it absolves them of their sins so long as they know they are bad.”
“Better than our way of acting like everything is perfect, even as the world around us is burning.” Lireesa then stops and lets out a deep weary sigh. One that only highlights her age and all at once Sylvanas notices the smattering of grey at her temples, the fine lines of worry etched in her forehead. Had her mother always had that? Or was this a more recent effect, one that manifested itself with her return. “And it is burning Sylvanas, we can’t ignore that fact even if it is within our nature to do so. What we are doing now isn’t working, we can’t pretend like everything is as it was, that any of it’s okay. It’s not okay, you’re not okay.”
“Good I’m glad that you can finally see the problem my wretched existence brings.”
“I was talking about Windrunner Spire.” Lireesa snaps, grey eyes flashing like cold steel when it catches the light. Did her own eyes once look like that when she was angry? Sylvanas wonders even as she laments their loss. “You feel trapped there, stifled. Can’t say I blame you with one sister who’s heavily pregnant and will remind you daily of that fact and the other who’s acquired manners beyond the portal that would put an Orc to shame.” Lireesa’s attempt at lightening the mood falls on deaf ears as Sylvanas glares at the pathway, never in the mood for a joke anymore. “I thought once or twice about buying you somewhere in the city but if anything you’re more miserable in Silvermoon. It felt like fate when this place came up in conversation, the daughter of the deceased landowner wished to sell it rather promptly and I snatched it up. It’s remote, peaceful and I know you had good memories of the place, I do as well. This place could be yours, my Lady Moon, somewhere you can call your home. Think of it as that woman at the farm all those years ago, think of it as your... motivation.”
“So you’re kicking me out?” Sylvanas whispers, hating that her voice isn’t quite alien enough to hide the tinge of hurt.
“No.” Lireesa’s cane scrapes the pathway as she steps closer. “Never.” For a moment she pauses as an offshore gust from the lake whips across the pathway. The trees hiss, the empty timber frames from the old lodge groan in protest as it howls throughout the building in a low eerie moan. It’s going to need a lot of work, Sylvanas summises, starting with fixing those damn windows. She then internally curses herself for falling into the trap of even entertaining the idea. “I’m giving you a choice.” Lireesa stresses the last word, expression open and her body poised as if wishing to take her daughter’s hand but fighting the urge.
A choice. Sylvanas hasn’t been given very many of those lately. A less than ideal choice, but it's nice to hear it just the same.
“The top floor is passably habitable.” Lireesa continues, realizing that her daughter might require some further selling. “It has functioning water, a fireplace and I’ve taken some measures to put in some basic furniture. But of course, as you can see, this is definitely a project. One that I believe only us Windrunners would be brave enough to undertake.” Lireesa shields her eyes from the glare of the sun as she glances up at the Lodge with a pensive expression on her face. “Picture it as a blank canvas, a place you can truly make yours.”
Sylvanas doesn’t think she can ever call anything hers again, not when even her own body is now something she has to actively fight to control, but she sighs anyway, one that fills and exhales from her useless lungs and provides no measure of comfort.
“And I can back out of this choice any time I want?” Sylvanas questions, tone sharp.
“Of course.” Lireesa doesn’t even hesitate. “Say the word and you can come home. There will always be a room for you at the Spire.”
Home. Sylvanas internally snorts. Isn’t this old desiccated building meant to be her new home now? Fitting, she supposes.
“I will need to pack my things.” Sylvanas admits slowly, scowling at the pleased expression Lireesa tries to hide, at the hopeful perk of her ears that her daughter has taken some interest in restoring Waystation four.
Sylvanas doesn’t need a lot of things, in reality she doesn’t need any. When one does not require food or shelter or even the basic necessity of comfort, she could curl up in the freezing rain and be no worse for wear. But her towels, her scented oils, her leathers, the wraps that bind and cover the mess that is her ruined torso. Her bow. A small flicker of… well excitement is perhaps far more than what she would put it as, but hopeful anticipation at the fact that she can now hunt uninterrupted puts her in slightly better spirits. Any meat will be useless but furs, trophy antlers- things of decorative value would make the trip worthwhile.
Okay. She admits, she has come ‘round to the idea. Lireesa seems to sense her shift in mood as well because already she’s straightened to her full height as though the relief of finally doing something right by her daughter has ever so slightly eased the burden from her shoulders.
“That can be arranged, oh, which reminds me.” Lireesa pulls the small stone the mage gave her out of the pouch at her belt. “Your hearthstone, guard this with your...look after it well.” Her mother tactfully amends herself and Sylvanas can’t help but raise her eyebrow in amusement at the almost slip-up.
It’s not her original hearthstone. Hers is long since lost, lying forgotten in a puddle somewhere, stamped in the mud under the tramp of a thousand decaying feet as he marched his armies west. But she accepts the weight of this one in her palm with a reverence, knowing the value of having one made is.
Does she mean for me to attune it here? I’ve only just agreed to this… ‘project’ of hers, this place does not even come close to any semblance of home for me.
Reading her mind, Lireesa speaks up. “Use it when and where you see fit, just thought it would save at least one trip without having to pester someone for a portal. Speaking of which, come on- they should have one for us right about now, wouldn’t want to miss it.” Lireesa turns to walk back down the path from where they came, pausing only to frown and scuff at a particularly rough patch of weeds with the heel of her boot.
Ah. Yes. She’s going to have to figure out how to get around that glaring issue, sooner she’d trek the distance herself than rely on a mage for anything. She glances once at the hearthstone in her hand, then at the run-down lodge, watching as her mother fights back a wince, clearly bothered by her ruined leg as she subtly shifts further to lean on her cane, taking the weight off it.
“Why.” Sylvanas simply asks, ears lowered forlornly. “I’ve been nothing but resentful toward you. Why do all this for me?”
Lireesa pauses, then turns... and the expression on her face is almost one of exasperation, exasperation and heartbreak, raw on her usually stoic face.
“Because Sylvanas, because you are my baby.” Lireesa lets out a trembling laugh, as if it's the most obvious answer in the world and turns back down the path.
If she didn’t know any better, Sylvanas could have sworn in that moment that her dead heart gave a sluggish twitch in her chest.