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“Something’s different about you.” Liadrin’s voice is seeped with suspicion, golden eyes narrowing as she fixates Sylvanas with a stern yet searching gaze. 

 

“Funny time to start interrogating me while I’m on my back.” Sylvanas grumbles in return, willing herself to relax as the priest places one searing hand at the base of her ankle and the other just above her knee, slowly easing her leg upwards before pushing forward to the point she feels resistance. Sylvanas half expects the mildly pleasant ache of muscles with the stretch, yet it never comes and her skin crawls at the unfamiliar contact. Still, she lets out a long exhale of breath to ease herself into the position as she would have done when she was alive. 

 

“Flexibility is still normal.” Liadrin notes to herself, easing her grip on Sylvanas’s knee, gently bringing her leg back down before her sharp gaze returns to her patient’s face. “Sorry, but it’s true. You do seem different, less… willing to bite my head off.” 

 

“Jury’s still out on that one.” Sylvanas mutters before huffing an errant strand of hair out of her face as she winces at the too-bright arcane lamps that throw Liadrin’s surgery into a harsh clinical light. “So how’s work been lately, busy time for you still?” 

 

“Sylvanas Windrunner,” Liadrin raises her eyebrows in surprise, at the same time her ears prick forward in avid interest. “Are you attempting small talk?” 

 

Sylvanas’s ears, in turn, immediately swivel back, and she fixes her healer with a stern glare. “Make it weird and I won’t say anything at all.” 

 

“You’re right, you’re right.” Liadrin hurriedly admits. “And it’s best we do have you talking, when you greeted me it was as though you’d forgotten how to speak. I suppose it’s been a while since you’ve had a proper conversation, living alone as you seem intent on doing.” 

 

Well, been a while since I’ve had a conversation in Thalassian. Sylvanas amends internally but all she can offer Liadrin is a one shouldered shrug. 

 

Liadrin sighs at that and absently pulls at the hem of the clinical gloves on her wrists before gently nudging Sylvanas’s knees to the side, testing the flexibility of her hips. “Remarkable,” she murmurs to herself. “You seem to have kept your full range of motion, it’s unlike any other… patient I’ve treated.” 

 

“You mean the other undead?” Sylvanas bluntly questions and Liadrin tersely nods in response. “Well,” she again shrugs, the paper covering the gurney crinkling from the movement, “guess the rigor mortis hasn’t quite set in yet.” 

 

“Sylvanas.” Liadrin scolds but can’t quite help a hint of a smile touch the corner of her mouth as she helps her patient sit upright, swinging her legs over the side of the bench and placing her hands either side to fix Sylvanas with an imploring look. “Well it looks like you’ve got your sense of humor back too, morbid as it is,” her voice then softens and Sylvanas has to avert her gaze, hating the spark of hidden hope shining in the priest’s eyes. “You really are feeling better aren’t you.” 

 

“Well… I’m not feeling worse, let’s leave it at that.” Sylvanas offers and Liadrin hums in agreement, stepping back to give her some space as she busies herself with gathering up her notes and clipboard. 

 

“In answer to your earlier question, work has been busy but I’m coping. Thankfully I have patients that are a lot less difficult than you in order to carry out my research.” She points her pen threateningly at Sylvanas who merely quirks a brow in response before the healer’s expression becomes faraway and sickeningly fond. “Your mother has also been wonderful in providing me the resources to study as much as I can.” 

 

“I’m sure she has.” Sylvanas mutters, having to actively refrain herself from rolling her eyes. 

 

There’s a sharp tearing of paper and the click of a pen as Liadrin perches on the corner of her desk, still scribbling down her notes as she asks Sylvanas without looking up: “So when are you going to let her see your new place?” 

 

Oh and there it is. Sylvanas snorts at the predictability of it all but she has to credit Liadrin for lasting this long. 

 

“When I’m ready to.” Sylvanas tenses, already bristling at the way Liadrin’s ears dip in disappointment. But she cannot let her mother find out about Jaina, not yet, not ever. Unable to keep up the pretence for long, Liadrin sets aside her clipboard with a heavy sigh and looks up. 

 

“She barely sleeps you know, and when she does she tosses and murmurs your name. She won’t say it but she’s hurting Sylvanas, and scared. The promise of you seeing me today is the only thing that’s keeping her from marching over and banging on your door and Belore knows I’m not getting any sleep tonight either, it will be an interrogation as soon as I get home.” Liadrin’s voice is calm but Sylvanas can sense the searing passion behind the controlled mask, the accusatory glint in her golden eyes. Pain lances through Sylvanas’s chest. 

 

She blames you, they all do.

 

But for the first time, instead of turning that hurt inwards, all Sylvanas can think of is how unfair it is to be spoken to this way. “Thank you,” She sneers as her red eyes flare, “for further heightening the guilt I already feel, and if it makes you both feel better, let her know I wish I could sleep too.”

 

Liadrin stops short at that, her usually tan face pale as her hands unclench from the fists she’d formed unconsciously. “By the Light Sylvanas, I’m sorry.” The healer’s shoulders slump as her ears droop in misery, any previous anger evaporating in one appalled breath of realization. “That was completely out of place and unwarranted for me to say. I’m attacking you having only seen half of the picture and as a healer I’m supposed to be making you better, not have you walking away feeling worse.” Impossibly her ears seem to sink even lower and her mouth twists into a bitter grimace. “That was heinously unprofessional of me.” 

 

“You care about my mother.” Sylvanas simply states, still tense but somewhat understanding of Liadrin’s position. 

 

“I love your mother.” Liadrin replies with enough heat that Sylvanas can’t help but forgive her for her earlier outburst even if she inwardly winces at that passionate declaration. Their newfound relationship is still something she’s reeling from, but she’s glad, glad that Lireesa has someone to fall back on, someone to help her grieve- even if her mother staunchly defends that’s not what she’s doing. “But what I said earlier Sylvanas, I’m so sorry- you have no reason to feel guilt over anything and I hate myself for even insinuating that.” 

 

Sylvanas merely waves away her apology with an airy gesture of her hand, indicating all is forgiven before she sighs at the way Liadrin steps towards her, features smoothing back into detached and clinical as she quickly slips back into her role. 

 

“So, now that little spat is out the way, how long until you’re done with your poking and prodding?” Sylvanas tiredly remarks, already on edge that she’s left Jaina alone for so long. 

 

“Almost, just a few more tests I need to do,” The healer’s expression then turns to one of trepidation, “namely one that involves you sitting up and removing your shirt.” 

 

“Ah Liadrin I-”

 

“I’m sorry to do this to you Sylvanas,” Liadrin’s ears fold back as she steps away to gather her notes, golden eyes swimming with compassion. “But I would really appreciate having a look at it again, just to answer some questions. It’s only you and I here in this room and you know that I’ve seen it before.” 

 

Well. Fuck. It wasn’t as if she hadn’t been dreading this moment, a small part of her had hoped maybe otherwise; but as usual, no such luck.

 

Sylvanas has to stop herself from ripping the paper covering she’s perched on to shreds as her fingers curl over the edge of the gurney in a white knuckled grip, shoulders tense and her head bowed. Liadrin steps forward once, only to dutifully pause when Sylvanas raises her left hand to stop her movements, the fingers on her right stiffly working at the buttons of her shirt in a slow, agonized process. The shirt slips from her bony shoulders, dropping away to expose skin that’s deathly pale and numerous in scars, before the fabric pools around her jutting hip bones. Her fingers then turn to the bandages wrapped tightly around her torso, reluctantly working on those as well. 

 

“Help me with these.” Sylvanas requests in a whisper-soft voice and Liadrin is quick to obey, keeping her touch as infrequent and light as she can, before unravelling them to reveal the scar in all its horrendous glory. 

 

Nothing about it has healed. If anything it looks worse, Liadrin’s mind having softened the memory of it, soothed the raw and ragged edges, of the blackened webbing of veins reaching out, as though the wound was perpetually spreading its foul corruption like an infection. It’s so deep, so painful-looking, that Liadrin’s palms flare with light, a reflex to lay her hands on the chest of a dying patient and cast her most powerful spell yet, but the way Sylvanas shrinks back quickly reminds her that the Light will only burn. 

 

She feels useless. 

 

“So what’s the verdict doc? Think I can just walk this one off?” Sylvanas lets out a strained chuckle that quickly falls flat when Liadrin’s lips remain pursed, her expression a mask even as her eyes dim in horror that she’s not quick enough to disguise. 

 

Liadrin doesn’t say anything and Sylvanas can’t help the violent flinch as warm fingers press at the blemished skin that marks the outline of it. 

 

“Please. Don’t.” Sylvanas hates how rough and weak her voice sounds, trembling under the foreign touch as Liadrin feels around the edges of the broken skin, jaw set in a determination that tells Sylvanas she won’t be stopping until her job is done. 

 

“I won’t be long.” Liadrin simply responds, fingers resting against her sternum where the top of the scar ends, hiding the grimace as her eyes take in the burnt-looking scar-tissue, similar to the same ones that mar her face with the tears of her final stand. “Does it still hurt?” She asks and Sylvanas nods, then shakes her head… then frowns as she tries to piece together an explanation. 

 

“Some days are worse than others, more so when I’m thinking about it.” 

 

“Like now?”

 

Sylvanas’s nods shakily. “Like now.” 

 

Liadrin offers her a sad smile, before she stands back with a final sigh, pen clicking as she scribbles something down, her lips pulled downward in a troubled frown. “Since nothing seems to have changed, my instructions stay the same, pack it daily with the gauze. then bind it tightly-” Liadrin then waves her hand dismissively, “you already know the drill. I’ll just here to refresh you with more supplies.” She turns toward the cabinet, before fixing Sylvanas with a coy smile and holding up the lollipop like a prize. “And now for the best part, will you accept?” 

 

Sylvanas opens her mouth to say no before she lets out an amused huff and raises her brows in challenge. “You know what? Yes, give it here.” 

 

Sylvanas has never felt more tired as she trudges home, not physically but emotionally- the visit to Liadrin taking more out of her than she’d ever expected. Her ears are lax and her feet are dragging as she pushes through the door with a weary sigh of relief from her hollow lungs at the familiar sight of the hallway and kitchen that greet her. But it’s not the warm flickering embers of the hearth, or the rhythmic ticking of the clock underneath the impressive rack of antlers on the mantelpiece that has her feeling comforted- it’s the small human moving the kettle onto the stove, already in anticipation when she’d heard her footsteps on the gravel pathway outside. It’s the bright smile she gets in greeting as she spins around before her expression dims somewhat at the state Sylvanas knows she must look. 

 

“How was it?”

 

“Less than ideal.” Every day Sylvanas is surprised at how easy it is to be honest with her.

 

A sympathetic hum. “Well it’s over, now you can relax and endure me talking your ear off, it’s been so quiet without you today.” Jaina sighs dramatically before her eyes zero in on Sylvanas right hand. “Wait, what’s that you’ve got there?” 

 

“Oh.” Sylvanas realises what Jaina’s referring to and she walks over to Jaina with a slightly embarrassed laugh, handing the lollipop over. “Was given this for being such a brave girl, thought I’d bring it back for you. Not sure if humans share this silly gesture when taking a trip to the healer, it’s meant for the children but Liadrin’s always given one to me because she’s an insufferable little-” 

 

“No!” Jaina butts in, answering the question with her exclamation. “I couldn’t possibly accept that! That’s a badge of honor right there. I would not be worthy!” She dramatically thrusts it back at Sylvanas, who rolls her eyes, and casually steps around the counter, nudging the human’s shoulder affectionately as she moves to take the kettle off the heat. 

 

“So what tea were you thinking?” 

 

“Uhh blackberry and currant?” Jaina tilts her head at Sylvanas’s grimace. “No? Okay fine, what about dreamfoil?”

 

“Pass.”

 

“Mint?” 

 

“I suppose that will suffice.” Sylvanas makes a show of inspecting her nails with an aloof expression as Jaina scowls and jerks the handle of the kettle away from Sylvanas’s grip, slamming two cups down on the counter with far more force than necessary. Sylvanas can’t help the slow smirk that spreads across her face at the human’s antics only further serving to annoy Jaina even more. 

 

“Why even ask if you’re just going to veto my suggestions until I get it right?” 

 

“Because it’s fun that way.” 

 

Jaina grumbles to herself, straining the hot water through the leaves. “I’m going to let that slide because you’ve had a tough day but know your insufferable actions will not be tolerated further down the line.” 

 

Sylvanas bristles at that remark, narrowing her eyes. “I have not had a tough day , all I did was go see Liadrin, hardly a feat of strength.” 

 

“It can’t have been easy all the same,” Jaina softly replies. “I’m proud of you.” 

 

Sylvanas’s stomach twists, good mood starting to fade as a lick of self consciousness starts to creep in its place. “Proud of me? Have I really set the bar so low?” 

 

Realizing she’s treading dangerous waters all of a sudden, Jaina shakes her head. “Of course not! I just know it was something you’d been putting off, I knew it wasn’t something you felt happy about doing, yet you did it anyway. I was proud of you for making that decision.” 

 

“Well it wasn’t hard, so stop treating it like I did some kind of act of noble bravery.” Sylvanas snaps and Jaina’s lips purse as she folds her arms defensively, tea forgotten as her attentions are turned on what is rapidly becoming a situation about to escalate out of her control, not if she doesn’t get a handle on it soon.

 

“I already know what you’re capable of Sylvanas, you don’t have to prove it.” Jaina sighs softly, stepping forward. “You sacrificed everything to protect your home, you saved so many lives, faced odds I could never have imagined. Sylvanas, the first time I experienced true conflict I…” Jaina’s expression becomes troubled as though wanting to say more, before she sighs miserably, shame etched across her face. “I ran... but you- you don’t run from your problems do you, this was just another example. You did what needed to be done, even though it pained you to do so. So let me be proud of you, because… well…” Jaina takes another step forward until she’s standing to face to face, blue eyes meeting crimson in an unrelenting glare. “Because you’re the bravest person I know.” 

 

And suddenly Sylvanas feels like her feet have dropped away from her because the human has wrapped her arms around her, holding her in the tightest, warmest hug. The first proper hug she’s had in years. 

 

She’s as stiff as a board, ears bolt upright in alarm, but she doesn’t push Jaina away and the human isn’t deterred in the slightest, if anything she tightens her hold and presses her face into the crook of her neck. Impossibly, Sylvanas’s eyes widen and she lifts her hands to gently push the human away, but her body betrays her in wrapping her own arms around Jaina’s shoulders. It’s tentative and slow, stiff and not a natural gesture in the slightest, but she realizes in shock that she’s hugging Jaina back. 

 

Belore she’s hugging back. 

 

Jaina burns like a furnace in her arms, her hair smells nice and her breath tickles against the sensitive skin of Sylvanas’s neck. Her heart beats like a war drum, echoing against her own empty chest and the thrum of arcane is a heady feeling a Sylvanas’s spine tingles with the contact. Fuck, it’s too much.

 

It’s not enough. 

 

And just like that’s it’s over, Jaina’s disentangling herself, smoothly stepping back even as her face burns crimson in the firelight. “Did I overstep?” She whispers, wiping her hands on her breeches as though finding them clammy. 

 

“No… no you-” Sylvanas has to pause to inhale, realizing she’s not been breathing since Jaina first moved into her personal space. “I-” 

 

Belore, she thinks, I truly have forgotten how to speak. 

 

She settles for a shake of her head and Jaina’s face lights up with a smile. “Thank you Sylvanas.” But when she turns back toward the now cooling tea, Sylvanas finds herself reaching out again, placing an arm on the mage’s elbow to stop her. 

 

Jaina’s smile fades and she looks up at the elf worriedly before Sylvanas gently tugs her back toward her with a beseeching look. “I didn’t do it properly.” She whispers and Jaina tilts her head, confused. 

 

“Do what?” 

 

“I can… I can do better than that, can we try again?” Sylvanas feels too embarrassed to wait for Jaina’s response, so she simply pulls her back into another embrace instead and the human is all too eager to follow suit, stepping into her arms as if she now belongs. 

 

“Are we okay?” Jaina finally speaks after a while, breaking the momentary silence. Her voice is so gentle that Sylvanas closes her eyes and nods, ears laid low in submission as she seeks for the warmth and acceptance this human so freely offers. 

 

“Yeah,” She eventually breathes, “We’re okay.” 

 


 

The last thing Sylvanas ever expected to find so deep within the forest was a horse. 

 

Seeing a large shape moving through the thicket, she’d been about to nock her arrow before quickly realizing that it was far too large to be any buck and its footsteps too loud to be that of a wolf or bear. She’d then crept closer to see a flash of white from its coat and heard the distinctive equine snort as the animal rooted around for something to eat. 

 

What in Belore’s name? 

 

Against her better judgement Sylvanas stands upright, unmasking her steps and heading toward the horse, still in disbelief. Hearing the click of her tongue, the horse’s head shoots upright, ears pricked and alert and Sylvanas, in turn, cocks her head, frowning. 

 

“What’s a horse like you doing out here?” She murmurs, stepping around the tree to come into view. The horse snorts again in answer and eagerly begins to walk purposefully in her direction, clearly tame and lost and seeking solace in the humanoid shape amongst the trees. Getting a better look, Sylvanas admits she’d never seen an animal quite like it, far larger and stockier than any of the chargers bred in Quel’Thalas, with impressive feathered feet that stepped high in an unusual gait. Perhaps an import, she wouldn’t put it past a nobleman to procure a more exotic collection for his stable, but this far out in the forest? Something doesn’t quite add up. 

 

And when something doesn’t add up, Sylvanas’s thoughts immediately jump to Jaina. 

 

Did she have a horse when she’d first arrived here? No, surely not, she would have told her about it, right? Sylvanas doesn’t know why the thought of Jaina potentially keeping a secret like this bothers her so, it’s not like the human is exactly an open book, only really providing information if Sylvanas directly asks. And Sylvanas hasn’t really been one to pry, already respecting that everyone has a past they might not be so ready to bring up, she certainly can agree with that. But what reason would Jaina have to lie about bringing a horse, well perhaps not lie but certainly withhold the truth.

 

Of course it doesn’t take long for said horse to sense something off about her aura when he immediately freezes, nostrils flared wide before wheeling off in the opposite direction in a high stepping trot. 

 

Sylvanas utters a colorful Thalassian curse. 

 

“Ungrateful brute” she snaps out after him. “You’re half starved in these woods, it’s a small miracle you aren’t a carcass, picked clean by the dragonhawks and you think to refuse me?” 

Even after all this time she should be used to animals rejecting her but… it still hurts. Fastening her bow behind her back, Sylvanas lets out a long sigh before turning on her own heel and heading back toward the cabin. 

 

Jaina is raking leaves from the pathway when Sylvanas passes the last of the trees into the clearing, looking up with a worried frown when she notices how soon Sylvanas has returned, and empty handed to boot. She leans the tool against the wall before making her way toward the hunter, eyes questioning. 

 

“I found a horse in the forest.” Sylvanas announces, scrutinizing the human’s face for any hint of recognition yet none is found when Jaina appears equally puzzled. 

 

“That’s unusual.” She eventually remarks when Sylvanas offers no further information, “alone I imagine?” 

 

“Yes, tackless but very tame, he came right up to me before realizing I was undead.” Sylvanas hates that her voice still carries a hint of bitterness, even as she tries so hard to hide it.

 

“Perhaps escaped? What’s the closest stable to the location you found him?” 

 

“Not one for miles, but the weirdest part,” Sylvanas continues to study Jaina’s face with an intensity that makes the human frown. “He was definitely not a Thalassian-bred horse.” 

 

“I mean, my fam-” Jaina clears her throat “-many human kingdoms used to export their stock to Quel’Thalas. Especially the horses bred to stand steady on a ship.” 

 

“Seems you know quite a lot about it.” Sylvanas dryly remarks only to jolt when Jaina lays a hand on her arm, eyes searching. 

 

“Hey, what’s this about. Are you asking if I brought it here?” 

 

“Yes, I suppose I am.” Sylvanas snips back, wondering why she’s feeling so wound up. So what if Jaina omitted the information of smuggling in a horse, it wasn’t like she’d asked. And it hadn’t been until recently they they’d even started to trust one another, it could have been something the human was working up to say or-

 

“Sylvanas, no way did I portal a horse to Quel’Thalas. I would have told you otherwise and besides do you know how impractical that would be? How would I have hoped to conceal myself leading around a gigantic beast!” 

 

“Well, you didn’t exactly do a good job even without.” Sylvanas hisses back before relaxing the tension in her shoulders and sighing. “But you’re right, you’d have no reason to. So why is it here?” 

 

“I mean, was he shod? Did he have a brand on him to suggest where he came from?” Jaina absently scratches the side of her face, frowning as though deep in thought. 

 

“I don’t know, wouldn’t let me near enough to figure it out but it has me on edge to think that maybe someone else has managed to get through and this is the steed they’ve left behind.” 

 

“What did he look like?” Jaina suddenly asks, and Sylvanas finds it’s her turn to look confused. 

 

“Big, white, feathered feet and looking like he could tow a galleon if he felt so inclined.” 

 

“Oh no…” Jaina’s fingers twist in her hair as the blood drains from her face. “Oh no, this isn’t good.” 

 

“What, who does it belong to? Is this a cause for concern?” Sylvanas steps closer, eyes a torrent of red as her thoughts become frantic with figuring out Jaina’s trail of thought. 

 

“Tides,” Jaina exclaims, hands still in her scalp. “I portaled a horse to Quel’Thalas!” 

 

“I thought you just said you didn’t!” Sylvanas exclaims, ears pinned with a narrowed gaze. 

 

“Well… not on purpose.” Jaina swears again and whips around as though searching for a solution to pluck out of the thin air before leaning closer to Sylvanas as if admitting a secret. “When I broke my way through the wards to Quel’Thalas, it was a teleportation spell, not a portal.”

 

“Okay, and?” 

 

“Teleportation isn’t always the best form of moving oneself around great distances with magic, a portal is finite, a fixed tear in space that you can control, but very easy to detect. Teleportation on the other hand, well, sometimes you end up taking unwanted things with you.” 

 

“Like an entire horse?” 

 

“Yes, like an entire horse...don’t look at me like that Sylvanas, these things happen and yes I made a mistake, we all do! Antonidas once told me he teleported part of the building with him when he first tried to-” 

 

“Jaina! Focus.” 

 

“Right, sorry.” Jaina pinches the bridge of her nose, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath. “The night I chose to break into your nation, I was sitting on the stable door, spellbook perched on my lap. Ghost was there, I was stroking his neck because I was scared and I needed something to ground me before I took the leap... and well, I always found his presence calming when I was young.” Jaina sighs and looks down at her feet, “I even joked that I wished that he could come with me and… and I felt the resistance, as though I were wading through syrup when the world warped around me. I thought it was because I was fighting through the wards that made the journey so hard, but it wasn’t that- it was because, oh Tides, it was because I was dragging a thousand pounds of horse along with me as well.” 

 

Sylvanas’s ears pin back in shock. 

 

“We have to go find him.” Jaina steps past her motionless form, already headed for the trees. She manages a few steps before Sylvanas jolts back to the present and rushes to catch up with her, clapping a hand on the mage’s shoulder to get her to come to a stop.

 

“Jaina, I can’t let you just wander off in there, and besides, there’s no way that horse is letting me anywhere near him.” 

 

“But he might come to me! Sylvanas, it was my foolish mistake that brought him here in the first place, he’s been wandering alone out there for weeks! Hungry, afraid and in a territory he’s never experienced before- this is my fault if anything happens to him, I have to know that he’s okay, please!” 

 

“Fuck.” Sylvanas holds up a hand to stop Jaina’s incessant pleading before dragging a hand through her own hair, letting her hood fall back, slipping from her ears as they remain pinned. “Fuck, okay we will try and find him...again.” 

 

“Thank you,” Jaina whimpers, wrapping her warm fingers around the bare skin of Sylvanas’s wrist as her eyes swim with gratitude. “Thank you Sylvanas.” 

 

“This woman is going to be the cause of my true death.” She grumbles bitterly to herself, fixing her hood with a scowl as she follows the frantic human back down the path. To think this was supposed to be her moment of relaxation and respite and instead Jaina has her marching back out into the trees in order to track a lost horse she’d accidentally portaled with her, all the while brute forcing her way through the protective enchantments of Quel’Thalas as though it were a mere arcane puzzle one completed with their coffee on a quiet Sunday afternoon. 

 

She will admit though, she wouldn’t have it any other way. 

 


 

Nothing’s ever easy, plans never truly work as expected, and sometimes you have to cast aside your pride and admit defeat, lest you break your fangs biting off more than you can chew. Sylvanas was the first to drum that into any initiate’s head should they have had the misfortune of being placed in her squad.

 

Jaina has definitely not yet learned this, she still has that brash optimism that comes hand in hand with someone who’s not let lived past one hundred. And yet, despite all her jaded wisdom, Sylvanas finds herself getting caught up in the same foolishness, chasing a frightened horse through the forest all the while dragging a less than agile human who seems to have the survival instincts of a baby bird. 

 

Several hours later and she’s forced to watch Jaina attempt to win a tug of war with an animal that’s capable of hauling a ship into a drydock without breaking a sweat. 

 

“Pull it from an angle.” Sylvanas hisses, “it will throw him off balance and have him step forward.” 

 

“I’m trying.” Comes the heated response through gritted teeth. “But he’s making it mighty difficult with the way he keeps tossing his head. Ghost, c’mon...:” she turns to Sylvanas, sheepish and flustered, “he’s not usually like this.” 

 

“He’s afraid in my proximity, perhaps if I maintain a further distance, he will calm down enough to follow.”

 

“But I don’t want you to leave me alone.” Jaina shouts back, digging her heels into the ground but still tugging to no avail. 

 

Sylvanas lets out a groan of exasperation. “At this rate it will be nightfall by the time we get him back to the stable.” She pleads, “lets just let him go and be done with it.” 

 

“No! Do you see how skinny he is? Another month out here and he will starve. Besides, do you really want anyone else to find him out here?”

 

Again she has another infuriating point. If any one of the patrols found him out here it would cause all sorts of riots back at home, squads would be quickly scrambled to sweep the area and Belore help them if Alleria were to catch wind of any of this. Her sister could sniff out discrepancies with a tenacity that rivalled her own, there would be no throwing her off the trail should she or any of her squad come across this. 

 

“I’ll stand a way off, upwind so he cannot catch my scent.” 

 

“I don’t think it’s your-” Jaina breaks away with a grunt when Ghost suddenly steps forward, throwing her balance off, “-scent that’s the issue. It’s your aura.”

 

“Aura?” Sylvanas folds her arms defensively, glaring at Jaina suspiciously. 

 

“The magic that surrounds you, necromancy… death magic. It’s what- tides he’s strong-” Jaina fights with the rope, pushing back the errant strands of hair that have escaped her braid before trying again, “-it’s what causes that uneasy feeling, what makes animals such as him so frightened.”

 

Sylvanas’s heart sinks. 

 

“Do you feel it then?” She struggles to keep her voice steady, “some form of unease when you’re around me?” 

 

Jaina shakes her head vehemently. “No, not at all. I mean I can sense the magic but it doesn’t feel nefarious, if anything I feel… safe, around you I mean-” Jaina trails off, a flush to her cheeks that’s not just from the exertion of wrestling with a horse. “And it’s most definitely not your scent, you smell quite... nice in fact...fresh, earthy, like the forest after the rain-” Jaina then winces and promptly shuts her mouth, suddenly finding her boots and the earth incredibly interesting as she gives another futile tug on the horse’s lead rope. 

 

Sylvanas feels her spirit soar, for a brief moment she swears that the perpetual itch from the scar in her sternum fades, leaving her light and free. It’s hilarious really, how vain she is; underneath that mask of uncaring boredom that she wears, she’s still so desperately insecure. She sees herself as a disgusting corpse, unwanted, unwelcome, something the reeks of death and wrongness, something that should be kept out of sight and mind. But sometimes, with the way Jaina looks at her, the way she so casually brushes an arm or places a warm hand on her shoulder, absentminded, as though she welcomes having Sylvanas close- it feels as though she can be so much more. 

 

Here I am, scraping by from the validation of others as I always did, even in life... but fuck she gave me a compliment and I’m floundering here like an idiot, I should say something back, like how how lovely her eyes are or the fact that she smells amazing too-

 

Jaina awkwardly clears her throat and the moment is gone.

 

“If you follow behind, just out of sight but close enough for him to sense you, it might encourage him to let me lead him back to the cabin if he thinks he’s moving away from the danger.” 

 

“Ah yes.” Sylvanas remarks. “Flush the prey into the den of the predator.” 

 

Jaina scoffs at her dry tone. “Hardly, you’re no threat to him, he just doesn’t know that yet.” 

 

“And he never will, I am something wrong and unnatural, something that causes his very instincts to flee. We won’t be able to keep him long you know, sooner or later you’re going to have to figure out how to relocate him lest we have a perpetually terrified beast on our hands.” 

 

Jaina frowns, then slings the rope over Ghost’s neck, allowing the stubborn horse a moment of truce before turning to face Sylvanas fully. 

 

“You portal train your steeds, right?” 

 

“Of course, from the moment they are able, it’s the first thing we do.” 

 

“Well a portal isn’t natural.” Jaina points out, absently scratching at the horse’s wither. “A horse doesn’t simply allow himself to be led through an ominous rip in space-time without training nor climatization. In Kul Tiras we feed our horses aboard the ships to have them associate being led onto a vessel as something of a positive experience, it’s what allows them to stand so calmly even as the deck lurches beneath their hooves.” Jaina sighs and in her left palm a blue ball of power coalesces, icy mist drifting between her fingers. The horse doesn’t flinch, though he bumps at her arm with his muzzle, intrigued by the tingle of magic. “Arcane isn’t natural, this isn’t natural but it doesn’t make it bad.” 

 

“But how can you get a living animal to accept you when everything about his nature rejects it.” Sylvanas grounds out, through gritted fangs.  

 

“By proving him wrong.” Jaina lets out a soft laugh, “Allow me this, a moment to keep him, and if we can’t figure out a way to get him to tolerate you then I promise, I’ll find a way to deliver the horse safely out of Quel’Thalas.” 

 

“I don’t know why you’re even asking me, I can tell from the tone in your voice that you’re set on this little experiment of yours whether I agree to it or not.” Sylvanas meant it in jest but the way Jaina shakes her head with a serious frown causes her to tilt her head in a very elven trademark to express her confusion. 

 

“You mean force you? No, never, say the word and I’ll do everything I can to get him back where he belongs.” 

 

The words strike a chord and Sylvanas lets out a long sigh, wondering what happened to reason and surmises that she probably lost it the moment she let Jaina within the protection of her new home. She waves a dismissive hand, ears pulled back as shoots the mage a tired, exasperated look. “So be it.” 

 


 

Standing outside the stable in the middle of the night, with Jaina’s breath steaming in the air, Sylvanas finds herself at loss of what to do. There’s no way they can keep such an animal, especially not one such as Ghost, a supposed Kul Tiran charger as Jaina had described. 

 

Which only brought up further questions. If Jaina was telling the truth, that she was raised on the island nation, brought to Dalaran to study, then why on Azeroth had she not simply returned home? Kul Tiras was safe, surely? Isolated and out the way, and providing far more trouble that it was worth should one attempt to lay siege to its shores. 

 

Another uneasy thought then hits her, if Jaina was trained in Dalaran then did she know of her brother? Would she recognize Vereesa? Or perhaps studied alongside her husband…

 

Sylvanas had convinced herself uncaring of who Jaina really was, outside of her magical prowess, that she was simply someone she had to cooperate with for the moment. Someone who she felt she had no desire to get to know, but with every passing day she finds herself asking more and more questions, wishing to get an insight into this strange human’s past. It doesn’t help that Jaina seems intent on parting with as little information as possible, never outwardly lying but definitely determined to keep who she really is shrouded in mystery. 

 

For a wild moment she considers perhaps confiding in Vereesa, wondering if she could delve into Dalaran’s records, glean some idea of who exactly is the person now living in her cabin. But no, it would be foolish, Vereesa would absolutely overreact, panic and potentially put Jaina in danger.

 

Oh come now, she’s not some priceless pearl that you keep hidden under your mattress, Jaina’s a living breathing human, sooner or later the truth will come out, no matter how hard you feel inclined to keep her a secret. 

 

“So you’ve got to be the one to feed him,” Jaina explains, and Sylvanas blinks, stirred from her tumultuous thoughts. “That way he will start to associate you with something to look forward to. While you might seem unfamiliar and scary, he will realize soon enough that you are the hand that feeds him and then perhaps with plenty of time and patience, he will even anticipate and look forward to your arrival.”

 

“Doubtful, but I’m willing to try. Unless this is your way of shirking duties unto me,” Sylvanas narrows her eyes in accusation but can’t help the smirk that Jaina brazenly returns. 

 

“Two birds, one arrow.” Jaina simply shrugs and Sylvanas feels strangely proud that she’s starting to pick up some of her phrasing, even if it’s translated into woeful Common. 

 

“I still can’t believe we stole from that outpost though.” Jaina whispers, still looking down forlornly at the bucket of oats at her feet. Sylvanas allows a strained chuckle at how disturbed the human looks at the thought of committing such a harmless crime. 

 

“I wouldn’t say stolen, merely distributed. We took just enough to feed him for the moment, and the ranger’s horses won’t be any worse off for it. If anything I highly doubt the missing supplies will even be noted.” Sylvanas then chuckles darkly, “and if they are it will be an irritating little mystery for my sister to try and solve. She will be furious to be called away from duty for matters as petty as this.” 

 

“You have a sister?” Jaina questions, tone soft as blue eyes, swimming with curiosity, lift to her own.  

 

“Two in fact,” Sylvanas answers, frowning as she peers over the stable door to find Ghost pressed against the back wall, ears pinned and the whites of his eyes showing, “and a brother.”

 

“Oh!” Jaina seems pleasantly surprised before a ripple of unease crosses her delicate features, “and are they…” she trails off but Sylvanas spares her the discomfort.

 

“No, all very much alive and well… not in my condition.” 

 

“That’s… good, I guess.” Jaina’s arms hang awkwardly at her sides as she shuffles on her feet, looking at loss. She then winces and sucks in a sharp breath, “I’m sorry, I’m not saying that…”

 

“-I wouldn’t wish my fate on anyone.” Sylvanas declares, sparing Jaina her empty condolences. “It is a good thing that they are free of such suffering.” 

 

“You are suffering?” Jaina’s voice is small, her expression forlorn at that thought, and Sylvanas finds herself stepping closer, resting her hand on the human’s warm shoulder.

 

“Not all the time, it’s getting better,” she then pauses and offers a hesitant smile, “with you, it’s always getting better.” 

 


 

The days continue to fly by, the cabin is almost returned to its former glory, save for the fact that it smells just a little bit too new for Sylvanas’s tastes. It needs a few more weeks of being lived in for the scent of sawdust and fresh paint to fade and she lights a few scented candles now in the evening to help, deciding that she prefers how the place looks in the warm, soft flicker of the flames rather than under the harsher light of the arcane lamps Jaina helped install. 

 

The days are getting hotter now too as Quel’Thalas moves into the end of spring, though the weather is still far more volatile than she’s used to, a bitter reminder that her nation is still greatly hurting. Sylvanas hunts like a woman possessed, bringing what she can back to the market and is received with grateful smiles from pinched, hungry faces. It sickens her to think that after all this time, Quel’Thalas is still as scarred as she is, a former shadow of itself, carved up by his cruel, relentless march.

 

The itch has started again, starting at the puckered skin of her sternum and spreading outwards, like a poison. It had been something she’d first ignored in her grief, then in her distraction of the waystation and Jaina, but it had never truly gone, festering within her like a caged animal, pacing. 

 

The desire for revenge. 

 

Stop it. Sylvanas seethes to herself. You have a job and duty to remain here, not entertain the foolish notion of sending yourself on a suicide mission. Oh but in the depths of night, with no ceaseless chatter to redirect her thoughts, she turns to her dark fantasies, of standing in front of his prone form as he begs for her mercy yet finding none, or hauling his broken body to the masses, gleeful mirth in her red eyes as they champ and snarl for retribution. Sometimes, she even imagines Jaina beside her, eyes aglow with her formidable arcane and an icelance through his throat as he garbles and chokes on his own foul ichor, pleading for his mockery of a life. 

 

It’s times like these Sylvanas has to ground herself, to focus on the gentle breaths of the sleeping human upstairs just to calm her frantic, disturbing thoughts until morning arrives and she finds herself once more lost in work, her mind filled with easy distractions that mercifully stem her dark desires. She rises early today, the gray morning mist fading with the first rays of sunlight as she heads out into the forest, leaving fresh tracks in the dewy grass. 

 

Despite the early start, her hunt is less than successful. A couple of birds hardly worth their trouble in meat and a skinny rabbit that dangles from her belt as she picks a careful path through the underbrush, noticing how little evidence there is of life within the forests. 

 

The land is still sick, and it doesn’t seem to be getting better. 

 

The initial stag she caught is starting to feel more and more like a fluke. Sylvanas purses her lips, red eyes narrowed as she glares at the pale light filtering through the densely packed trees, before her ears shift and she wills herself out of her dangerous thoughts once more. Declaring her hunt concluded, she turns back in the direction of the cabin, knowing she needs to hear Jaina’s voice again, something light and soothing to distract her from her rage. 

 

Strangely enough Jaina isn’t there to greet her as she usually does when she arrives home, but Sylvanas isn’t concerned- she’s probably at her desk, or running the hundredth cold bath as she perpetually grumbles about the hot weather. 

 

For the first time when Sylvanas arrives at Ghost’s stable, he nickers at her in greeting and she can hardly believe her ears. He still won’t come close of course, and will only let Jaina lead him outside to graze in the forest, but Sylvanas admits it’s most definitely progress, one even someone as sceptical as she cannot deny.

 

“Well hello to you too,” she murmurs softly, unlatching the door and dropping the bucket inside. “Don’t suppose you’ve seen a wayward human around? She seems intent on avoiding me today. Though I suppose you would know all about that.” Sylvanas chuckles and pulls the door gently shut once more, careful not to let it slam. “Don’t you worry, I’m a lot less scary than I look, but let that be a secret between us.”  

 

Sylvanas leaves Ghost to his lunch and ambles toward the lake, arms behind her back and eyes searching, as though she were once again the Ranger General, surveying her surroundings with a shrewd eye. The place is as it should be, nothing amiss except perhaps the lack of Jaina anywhere where she would expect, be it gardening or studying or even fishing on the jetty. Until a splash clues her in of the mage’s whereabouts and Sylvanas curses her lack of perception.  

 

Jaina surfaces from the lake, blond hair darkened from the water and slicked back from her face, her smile is wide as she ducks under, surfacing close to the jetty as she clings to the boards, peeking over the side with a happy grin as Sylvanas approaches her with a perplexed expression. 

 

“The weather is absolutely heinous, couldn’t stand another minute of it so I thought I’d cool off with a dip, I hope that’s okay.” 

 

Sylvanas shrugs, unbothered. So long as she’s still figuring out those wards, Jaina can do what she wants. 

 

“Care to join me?” The mage asks, pushing off the side kicking lazily backwards, the water ripples, clear and inviting, but Sylvanas is already shaking her head. 

 

“No, thank you.” Her words come out stiff and she fiddles with her belt, feeling awkward standing in her ranger’s leathers under the relentless midday sun. 

 

“Then come sit on the jetty with me, I’ve missed you- you’ve been out a long time.” 

 

Sylvanas curbs a scoff but finds herself obeying, cautiously stepping forward before folding her legs under her, and tilting her head to fix Jaina with a curious stare as the human returns to the side, hauling herself up so she can perch next to the hunter. She smells of fresh lakewater and a hint of lavender from any residue soap that’s yet to wash off, stripped to her leggings and a sodden undershirt shirt that clings to her breasts, which Sylvanas finds strange. 

 

Why get clothes wet for no reason other than silly human sensibilities? 

 

She can somewhat understand now, in life she had never been insecure about baring her body but it’s a whole different beast in the harsh reality of the present. Though Jaina herself has little reason to share such a feeling.

 

“How was your hunt?” Jaina asks, breaking the silence as Sylvanas watches two dragonflies whip around the reeds in a stilted, unpredictable dance. 

 

“Unsuccessful, though to be expected,” she grumbles, shifting so that her leg is tucked under her, chin resting on the sun-warmed leather of her knee. Jaina flicks the water off her hand before placing it tentatively on Sylvanas’s back. 

 

“I’m sorry.” 

 

She nods, but declines to further comment, knowing that she's already toeing a delicate line that will lead her to thinking dangerously. It’s best to change the subject, to keep herself on a more stable path emotionally. 

 

“Ghost greeted me today.” The words sound so silly blurting from her mouth, like a child would chatter to their parents about the meaningless happenings of the day when they picked them up from school, but Jaina’s pleased smile makes Sylvanas regret saying it just a little bit less. 

 

“That’s good!” I mean, he’s starting to anticipate you, I can’t imagine it will be long before he even lets you approach. He’s a dumb horse but that does go to show that he’s learning. 

 

“Better a dumb horse than a smart yet stubborn hawkstrider.” Sylvanas laughs, “I don’t think I’d have any hope gaining the trust of one of those.” 

 

“Ugh striders.” Jaina winces and Sylvnas shoots her a searching look. 

 

“You’ve ridden one before?”

 

Jaina shakes her head appalled, “tides no, I wouldn’t allow myself at the mercy of one of those evil birds if someone promised all the gold in Azeroth.”

 

“Evil birds?” Sylvanas splutters, affonted, yet the corners of her mouth pull up in amusement at Jaina’s serious nod. 

 

“Pure evil, or at least the one that Kael’Thas showed me in the Dalaran stables, it even hisses! -Like a goose but far more deadly and...and it had murder in its eyes,” Jaina’s voice rises in passion as Sylvanas continues to fight back a laugh at her theatrics, “I swear it- convinced it would have either pecked or stomped me to death were it not for the gate in place!” 

 

Sylvanas fights back more laughter, “then you’ll be disturbed to know they are actually trained to stomp the enemy to the...wait…” she sobers as her red eyes widen. “Did you say Kael’Thas? You know him?” 

 

Jaina then blushes which has Sylvanas’s ears pricked avidly forward in curiosity. 

 

“Unfortunately yes, he propositioned a courtship at the Winter’s Veil ball back in… well, many years ago.” Jaina’s voice dims a little but offers an uncertain smile, wondering if it’s in poor taste to speak of the Prince in such a way. “I declined his offer-”

 

“As you should.” Sylvanas responds quickly, officiously, “any lady with respectable taste is well within their right to snub that insufferable, peacocking little-” 

 

“Not a fan?” Jaina gently ribs and Sylvanas laughs, before looking down and sighing. 

 

“No, I merely jest at his poor attempt to court any pretty thing that dares make the mistake of glancing in his direction. Otherwise he’s not a bad person, it was he after all that vouched for my right to remain here, that and I imagine my mother would have dueled him on the spot had he said otherwise, but he was key in making sure I was to be welcomed back into Quel’Thalas as a citizen once more.” 

 

“There were people even in Quel’thalas that wished to deny you of that?” Jaina gasped, appalled. 

 

“There were people who didn’t trust me, we were, after all, considered no different from the enemy for a long time. My own mother drew her bow on me when I returned home, even as she sobbed and begged for me to say something, anything, to let her know I was of my own mind once more. I can’t remember what I responded with, it might have even been a terrible joke, but all I remember was her throwing her weapon aside and taking me into her arms.” Sylvanas sighs, swallowing back a sudden wave of longing to see her mother right now, a small part of her wondering what she would think of Jaina. She imagines under different circumstances, in a world far more kind, that she would have liked her, and Sylvanas would have been proud to have introduced her strange yet witty human friend. 

 

“Of course,” she continues, “not everyone was as easy to trust as she, and I cannot really fault them, but my original point being is that for all his spoiled attitude, Kael has good intentions underneath it all, he’s proud and easily lead to rash decisions, but he does care for his people, and he did care for me, even at my worst.” She then shakes her head, embarrassed. “I’m sorry not sure why I said all that, we were here for a harmless chat.” 

 

“No,” Jaina shuffled closer. “It was a good talk, thank you… and you know that right? That I’m always here to listen, should you ever feel inclined to.” 

 

Sylvanas lets out a shaky breath and offers Jaina a nod, not trusting herself to speak before her ears perk up and she shakes the somber feeling off like a mutt after rolling in a puddle. 

 

“Ah but I am in no mood for self pitying chatter, you enjoy your swim and maybe I’ll think about fixing you some lunch?” Sylvanas twists her neck in a satisfying crack that Jaina wrinkles her nose at, before she moves to get up. “How does that sound?”

 

“I’d rather you joined me.” Jaina’s smile is coy as he shuffles over the ledge, ready to jump back in. “The water feels lovely, you should really give it a try.” 

 

Sylvanas is tempted, but her ears pull back in uncertainty. “I'm still in my leathers.” She mumbles, suddenly unable to meet Jaina’s eyes. 

 

“Then take them off? I won’t look!” Jaina calls out, already making a point of leaping off the side and swimming away, eyes dutifully trained on the horizon. “But it’s okay if you’re too scared!” Her voice drops into something far more playful and teasing as she aims a splash in the general direction of the jetty. It doesn’t come close to reaching Sylvanas, but the intention is clear. 

 

So she wants war, so be it. 

 

Bar Liadrin, she’s never been so exposed in the proximity of another, but Jaina’s making good on her promise of willfully looking away as Sylvanas shirks armguards, gloves and breeches, casting off her cloak as it puddles to the ground with a muted thud. Feeling adequately lighter, she makes quick work of diving off the edge, realizing that despite her muted senses she still tenses and lets out a sharp breath as she impacts the cold water. 

 

She hasn’t thought to swim once since coming home and the lack of any need for oxygen is slightly disconcerting as she kicks toward the surface, but she can’t help but admire its beauty, of the rays of sunlight refracting off the surface of the water, of the deep and soothing blue of the lake depths. Her heart may not beat but she can still hear a roar in her ears, the thrum of her own undeath as her body pulses with the closest semblance of life that she’s felt in years. 

 

As her head breaks the surface she lets out a gasp on reflex, wiping the droplets from her face as she treads water, orienting herself. Jaina’s not far away, and she responds with a delighted grin when she catches Sylvanas’s slightly lost gaze. 

 

“It’s not so bad is it?” Jaina asks, as she slowly moves backward in a lazy stroke. “Or have you forgotten how to swim?” 

 

Jaina is baiting her, Sylvanas knows this, but it doesn’t stop her from ducking under again with determination, moving toward the human in a few powerful strokes. The mage can’t stifle the surprised yelp as Sylvanas pops up next to her, shaking her head, beads of water sparkling in the sunlight. 

 

“No, I think I can still remember.” 

 

“Of course you’re good at this too, don’t know why I would even have suspected otherwise.” 

 

“Were you doubting me?” Sylvanas teases, enjoying the way the human scowls at the mist of droplets hitting her face when the elf flicks her hair again. 

 

“Maybe, you elves are normally such land creatures… can you stop that?” Jaina grumbles, kicking backward to get some distance in and fixing Sylvanas with a disgruntled scowl. 

 

“You pestered me to get in and now you’re bothered by a little splashing.” Sylvanas smirkes, for once not bothering to hide her fangs. “I didn’t think Kul Tiran’s were so afraid to get wet.” 

 

Jaina flushes and her response is simply a larger splash, hitting Sylvanas with a scarily accurate precision. It’s tense for a beat, before Sylvanas ducks under again, mischief in her eyes that has Jaina squeaking and furiously kicking away. 

 

The battle is relentless, though Sylvanas is careful, keeping her distance even as she assaults her foe, not wanting Jaina to accidentally brush against her under the water and ultimately see the wince or shudder that might come from that. But when Jaina turns away, her pace faltering as she coughs up some water she’d unintentionally inhaled, Sylvanas finds herself swimming over without thinking, supporting Jaina by the waist as she takes over treading the water for the both of them. 

 

“You okay?” She murmurs, crimson eyes wide with concern and Jaina hastily nods, turning away to cough some more. 

 

“Yeah..” her voice comes out a strained wheeze as she waves away Sylvanas concerns. “Rookie mistake, at least it’s not seawater...” she clears her throat a final time and looks up sheepishly with a smile. “Guess maybe I just got a little too caught up, it’s been a while since I’ve had fun like that.” 

 

“Maybe,” Sylvanas shrugs, wondering why she hasn’t yet let go, “but it was enjoyable all the same.” 

 

“Yeah…” The droplets cling to Jaina’s freckled skin and hair like diamonds, blue eyes shimmer the same color of the lake, and as if in a trance Sylvanas finds her hands curling further around the warm skin of her waist, her grip tightening as Jaina unconsciously draws closer. 

 

“Thank you Sylvanas,” Jaina murmures and the elf finds herself humming questioningly, even as she leans closer, enthralled. “For finding me, for letting me stay here, I know the circumstances of why I am here are pretty dire, but I’m glad to have met you all the same.” 

 

Sylvanas swallows heavily, knowing her eyes must be burning a torrent of red in her emotion. “Me too.” 

 

They then close and her ears wilt as Jaina rests her forehead against hers, gentle warm breaths tickling the damp skin of her face. A sudden thought strikes her that it would be so easy to tilt her chin upward, to press her lips against the human’s own warm, inviting ones, to taste the earthy lakewater and drink in the essence of fresh snow and arcane… to drown in it. She feels something ripple through her body, a flash of burning heat despite the chill of the water, writhing and twisting like a living thing before settling within the pit of her stomach and lower, a subtle ache between her legs. 

 

Desire. 

 

Sylvanas feels like someone’s plunged her into a bucket of ice. 

 

No, no this isn’t what was supposed to happen. She’s a dead thing, and such feelings should have died with her... and yet here she is, intoxicated, revelling in how small Jaina feels in her arms, her body suddenly alive in ways she never thought possible. Her hands drop from the mage as though the skin she’s found so warm and inviting before has turned to molten lava under her touch. Jaina pulls back too, a questioning frown on her face as Sylvanas draws away. The sun is still burning high in a blue and cloudless sky, yet it feels as though the world is suddenly cast in shadow. 

 

Quickly, deflect, distract, normalize the situation. 

 

Sylvanas splashes her again, smirking even as her ears refuse to cooperate, still pinned as she wrestles with confusion and shame, she just hopes Jaina’s human enough not to truly understand why. “Some Kul Tiran you are, floundering like it’s your first time without armbands, perhaps you can regain some of your honor and race me back to the shoreline?”

 

Jaina doesn’t even dignify her with an answer, already setting off in a powerful front crawl that quickly reminds Sylvanas that she’s most definitely a child of the sea. The ranger lets out a hollow sigh of relief and sluggishly moves to follow. 

 

What was she thinking? Holding Jaina like a lover, caught up in the excitement of it all, it had been fun, she’d been enjoying herself, forgetting her place and her unfortunate lot in this life. And now she’s found herself wanting, desiring something that absolutely will never be hers. She feels disgusted at herself for slipping like this and entertains the notion of staying behind, perhaps letting herself sink to the bottom of the lake where Jaina can’t reach her in one breath, and have herself sit there in the depths, contemplating her own very foolish actions.

 

Only that idea is cut short when the water around her displaces as the very world around her warps and shifts, the vertigo of swimming horizontal to suddenly standing vertically on the ground causing her to stumble, the water sloughing off her body, sloshing to the grass in an undignified slap. Glancing to the left with a wild expression, she can see the human equally trying to find her footing, even as her hands lift in a defensive casting stance. 

 

Jaina teleported them, but why?

 

Even as she asks that question, she senses that the human’s arcane signature isn’t the only one here, there’s another that carries a scent less of fresh snow and more of the raw, metallic odor of pure arcane, yet it’s equally familiar in its essence. A signature she knows all too well. 

 

The energy flares, forming a blast that impacts with the icy shield Jaina barely manages to throw up in time, causing thin shards to shatter under its power. The human braces against its impact, teeth gritted as her feet skid in the mud of the riverbank. 

 

Dread settles within Sylvanas’s stomach as she finds herself lurching forward, ignoring Jaina’s protests to get back, arms outstretched as she turns to the source of the attacks, expression pleading.

 

“Lirath, no!” 

 

Too late, the second explosion shatters through Jaina’s shield and she collapses in the mud, still clutching her chest even as her body crumples and her eyes roll back into her head.