Silence in the Sanctum of Shadow was as heavy and tangible as a woolen blanket. Despite Netherlight Temple’s high ceilings and the number of priests coming and going throughout the day, the whole place maintained an atmosphere of hushed reverence. This was doubly true in the Sanctum of Shadow. Across the temple, in the Sanctum of Light, the naaru Saa’ra held audience with her own devotees. Her voice rang like wind chimes in the vaulted halls, but it did not permeate the cocoon of quiet here. Around the edges of the Sanctum of Shadow, thousands of tiny candles flickered. Their soft light formed a halo beyond which all that could be seen was the deep purple emptiness of the void.
Paraieta knelt at the edge of that halo of light, tucking the heavy skirts of her embroidered robe beneath her legs. Settling in for her meditations, she gazed out into the darkness.
It did not call so much as whisper to her, like an old friend. She closed her eyes to look inward, searching for the part of her that welcomed the Shadow’s embrace. Her whole body felt diffuse, immaterial. With a deep, contented sigh, she separated her consciousness from its physical vessel and let her mind drift.
A hand on her shoulder broke the soulpriest from her meditations. She opened her eyes and felt the void recede from her, leaving her firmly grounded in the dubious safety of the halo of candles. The man who had interrupted her was squatting next to her, peering with some concern at her face. He, too, was a draenei, and a very familiar one. When her eyes met his, he smiled.
“You should not scare your father so!” Devaj said by way of greeting. His voice seemed to echo strangely in the sanctum. Perhaps it was only the atmosphere of this place that made her think he sounded far away.
Paraieta smiled at him. “I have been scaring you for thousands of years,” she replied. “Why stop now?”
He laughed jovially and clapped her shoulder with one heavy hand. It was only then that Paraieta had the presence of mind to wonder how he had arrived at the Temple.
“Papa,” she said, a note of reprimand sneaking into her tone. “How did you get here? It is forbidden for those not inducted into the Conclave.”
He flapped a hand dismissively. “Forbidden, yes, but not if you get permission from one of the High Priests. Ishanah owed me a favor from… I forget how long ago. She let me come to find you, but I had to promise to behave myself.”
Paraieta shook her head. “I should not be surprised, I suppose. You always did have a way with the priestesses.”
Devaj looked as though he might dispute her remark, but he thought better of it and shrugged. “It is a gift.”
“Indeed. Don’t tell me what the favor was for. I don’t want to know.” Paraieta got slowly to her feet, giving her eyesight and balance time to re-orient to the physical plane. Devaj watched her with no small amount of concern, then rose from his crouch. He stood almost a full head shorter than his only daughter, and so had to look up to give her the look of fatherly disapproval he currently wore. It somewhat ruined the effect.
“I had hoped to find you in communion with the Naaru,” he said.
“I rather thought that was what this visit was about.”
Devaj scowled at her. “When Khaalos told me that you had been dabbling in void magics, I did not want to believe him. And then I do not hear from you for nearly a year, and when I come looking for you I find you wreathed in darkness like some kind of…deathspeaker.” Paraieta crossed her arms over her chest and set her jaw stubbornly, preparing herself for yet another battle with her father.
“Mother was a soulpriest,” she pointed out, emphasizing the less insulting term for Auchenai priests. “Is it such a bad thing, to care for the souls of our dead and lost?”
“No, it is not such a strange thing, but that is not the life I wanted for you, my sha’tor. It is a grim calling. You should be standing in the light, not… this.” He gestured to indicate the deep, velvety shadows of the Sanctum and the tiny comfort offered by the candles.
“I have spent a lifetime in the Light, learning from the Naaru. I still have faith. Papa, I am not turning my back on them. I am embracing them for all that they are.”
“If it is not your faith that has changed, what is it? For five thousand years you were an anchorite. Your voice filled the crystal halls of our sacred temples and I could not have been prouder. Well…” he added as an afterthought. “Perhaps if you had given me grandchildren…”
Paraieta rolled her eyes and ignored his ribbing. It was an old argument, and not one she ever hoped to win. So she addressed his real concern, the worries that had brought him begging entry to Netherlight Temple on the slim chance that his grown daughter needed him.
“It is only that I have come to realize that the Light is not the only force at work in the universe. The naaru themselves, who taught us about the Light so many eons ago, also have shadow within them. Doesn’t it ever make you wonder?” She swept her hand to indicate the void beyond the candlelight. The motion disturbed the air in the room and set some of the tiny lights flickering madly. A few winked out.
“Wonder what, sha’tor? The Light is our guidance, our shield, and our glory. We are vessels for its radiance.”
Para shook her head. “Spoken like an Exarch. Do not take this so personally. I am not a rebellious child. I am doing what I believe is necessary to defeat our greatest enemies.”
“And what is more necessary than the Light?”
“The Light is only one of many forces in the cosmos. Why study only the Light? What is Light without Shadow?”
“The Shadow is nothing, daughter. Even our soulpriests are not immune to its maddening effect. It is a dangerous blade, and one that cuts both ways.”
“Please trust me. I am in no danger of surrendering to madness. I can be a follower of the Light and still wish to understand why the Naaru phase into shadow.” She looked down at her father, and though he still looked as ageless as ever, he also looked tired. Weary. Defeated. Paraieta reached out and put a hand on his arm. “You will not lose me to the darkness, Papa.”
He caught her gaze for a long moment, and his shoulders sagged minutely. But almost as soon as she realized she had won, he straightened up and tousled her mess of dreadlocks. “Well. I just wanted to be sure. Now, when is my first grandchild due?”
She shoved him, giving an exasperated groan. “Papa, you have dozens of grandchildren. Tilos has ten all by himself! Ten! And Ahmet, he’s got what, six?”
“Exactly! And you have none! Such a shame, my beautiful daughter would surely give me many beautiful grandchildren.”
“That would require someone to father them, Papa, and I am not having this conversation with you.”
“Ah-HAH! But I can introduce you to a wonderful young man, very strong and good-looking.”
“I think I’ve met every eligible young man three times already, Papa.”
“Not this one! He came back with us from Draenor. He would be a good father.”
Paraieta turned her back on her father and strode toward the Hall of Balance. “If you get caught in here without an escort, you’re likely to be thrown out. I’ll walk you to the portal.”
“Child…” She heard his hoofsteps hurrying to catch up with her longer stride, and a moment later he appeared in her peripheral vision, looking mildly disgruntled. Paraieta smothered a smile. If he was arguing about her lack of offspring again, he couldn’t be as worried as he had originally seemed. She slowed as they approached the portal back to Dalaran.
“Thank you for checking on me, Papa. I’ll be fine.”
“I know, sha’tor. Forgive an old man his worries. That’s the one downfall to parenthood,” he added, leaning in as though sharing a secret of great import. “We never stop worrying about our children, no matter how capable they become.”
Paraieta smiled, then pulled her father into a snug embrace. It wasn’t the most comfortable hug, since he was still wearing his armor, but it got the point across.
“Perhaps I should come see you once in awhile,” she said as she pulled back. “If you can see that I’m not losing my soul to the void, would that help you worry less?”
The satisfied grin that spread across his face told Para that she had played right into her father’s hand. No doubt he would use these visits as an excuse to make more attempts at matchmaking. Still… it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. And she hated to think that she was causing her father more worry than usual.
“That would be lovely, sha’tor.”
She leaned over and kissed Devaj on the cheek. “Very well, Papa. I’ll see you again soon.”
“If I don’t hear from you in a sennight I’ll be back here to have more words with Ishanah.”
“Go!” She shoved him toward the portal, laughing. “And don’t bother the high priestess with your worries. I’ll come find you in a few days.”