The walls trembled. Dust clogged her nose and mouth when she opened it to scream and all that emerged was a strangled, choking gurgle. Soot stung in her eyes and a falling chunk of debris nearly knocked her to the ground. She was searching for something. Searching, but for what?
The sound of footsteps and hoarse cries rose above the groaning of the stones and the crash of the temple as it crumbled around her. Through the dust ahead of her, a dark figure staggered. It solidified into Mihayael, one of the younger anchorites serving at Auchindoun. The front of Mihayael’s vestment was stained a deep purple, nearly black in the firelight. She reached out to catch the young draenei and lower her carefully to the ground. Mihayael blinked up through the darkness, her eyes already glazing over with the film of death.
The naaru… she choked, blood bubbling at her lips. Her mouth worked in vain several times before she had enough air to finish her dying words.
…have forsaken us…
Paraieta sat bolt upright in her temporary quarters in Shattrath City. Sweat burned in her eyes as she blinked furiously to clear them. The dream felt so real, so vivid, but she had not been to Auchindoun in years. The Auchenai were a zealous faction, and if not for her mother, she’d have no contact with the death-priests.
Her mother. A cold knot of fear tightened in the priestess’ belly and she rose from her bed without stopping to rationalize her night terrors. Belting a thin robe around her waist, she strode purposefully from the sleeping quarters, long legs eating up the distance to the main hall in a mere handful of strides.
The cavernous hall was empty. Paraieta frowned. There should have been a night watchman, at least. There was always a night watchman – or several – these days.
A cool draft drew her attention to the eastern terrace. The doors stood ajar, and the air that breezed through the narrow opening carried an unfamiliar scent. Dreading what she would find, Paraieta nudged the opening wider and stepped out into the night.
A faint haze hung amid the dense pines of Terrokar Forest, reflecting and diffusing the light from Shattrath so that the whole area glowed an eerie shade of green. The night watchman stood at the edge of the terrace, staring at a fixed point off to the south. A low, reverberating sound pulsed through the stones beneath her feet, and Paraieta shivered.
She moved toward the watchman’s post, looking for whatever had drawn his attention. The unearthly gloom was denser, the diffuse light a shade that was somehow both violet and green. Paraieta blinked a few times, wondering if sleep still muddled her vision. The strange quality of the light remained.
Far below them, riding hard for the walls of the Lower City, a lone rider approached. The draenei rode haphazardly, clinging to his talbuk’s saddle with one arm. The other hung limp at his side, and the animal was out of control, reins streaming from its bridle as it charged toward the city. From the height of the terrace, Paraieta recognized the man’s loose, floppy posture. Exhaustion. He had ridden hard, and it cost both him and his mount dearly. The animal moved with a choppy, staccato gait unlike the smooth movements for which they were bred.
Something was very, very wrong.
Realization dawned slowly, and she snapped her gaze back to the gloom and the trees. South. Auchindoun. Her dream, and the rider’s frantic approach. First they had lost Karabor, and now… A soft, muffled sound escaped her lips and she smothered it with her hand. The night watchman turned, his eyes wide and staring in the night.
She whirled, racing toward the elevator. The watchman called after her, but his words were lost in the hazy night.
Impossible, Paraieta thought to herself as she stood, mouth agape, staring at a woman who had been dead for years.
The other draenei woman blinked, her mess of silvery curls falling over one eye just as Paraieta remembered. Her expression contained curiosity and guarded friendliness, but there was no recognition in her ethereal blue gaze.
“You must be one of the visitors from Azeroth,” the woman said, standing. She was as tall as Paraieta, which was unusual even among draenei. “We were told of your arrival, but I admit… I wasn’t certain what to expect. Is this what you wear on your world, in your time? Are you an anchorite?”
A smile curled across the stranger’s lips as she studied Paraieta’s unusual attire. The expression was so familiar that it cut into Paraieta’s heart like a dull knife. It was so ludicrous, this strange-yet-heartbreakingly-familiar woman fussing over her clothes, just as she had done thousands of years ago. Paraieta burst into laughter. The anchorite looked momentarily startled. Then she shrugged, shooed the other anchorites from the room, and put a hand on Paraieta’s shoulder. The laughter gave way to hysterical sobbing almost as soon as the two were alone.
“There, now, I didn’t mean to say something hurtful. Surely you can return home, yes? Already your mages have been working to stabilize the portal. It won’t be long.”
Paraieta reached up to dash a few tears from her eyes. “Oh, that’s not it. It’s just… when they warned us about this place, I thought I would be prepared for anything. But… not this. Not you.”
The other draenei frowned, confused. “I don’t know what you mean.”
Paraieta fumbled in her knapsack for a moment before producing a packet of aged, tattered pages. She handed them to the anchorite and motioned for her to read them.
“You are Illurya, yes? Of the Auchenai?”
The anchorite nodded, but her frown deepened as she read the neat, careful notes sprawled across the tissue-thin parchment. She looked up at Paraieta, eyes narrowing in confusion. “This is my handwriting, but not my work.”
“These-” Para gestured to the packet Illurya was holding. “These were written by my mother shortly before Auchindoun was overrun by orcs. Shortly before she died.”
“My mother. Illurya of the Auchenai.”
The anchorite dropped the papers abruptly, scattering them across the floor of the hall. “That’s – oh, no, that’s preposterous! I don’t have any children. You…” She studied Paraieta for a moment. “What is your name?”
Illurya shook her head. “I’m sorry. I… they told us that some small things may be different between our two worlds, our times. But for you, this must not be such a small difference.”
“No. It’s… a rather large one.”
Stooping quickly, the anchorite gathered up the notes she had scattered and handed them back to Paraieta. Illurya hesitated, glancing down at the familiar scribble on the top sheet.
“Well. I am not your mother, but… if it’s not too painful to bear my company, I would be very interested in looking at what I am supposed to have written in another time and place. Your… Your mother… She was also a soulpriest?”
“She was. And… I would be honored,” Paraieta said. Her voice wavered slightly, but when Illurya looked at her, she smiled. “Perhaps you can answer some questions I have been puzzling over for some time.”
“I’m not… I mean, I don’t think… It wouldn’t be appropriate.”
“Not that kind of question!” Paraieta added quickly. Her fingers twisted nervously together. “Questions about the void, and the Dark Star.”
Illurya looked stunned. “I- I’ve not even begun to organize my research,” she protested. “How could you know about that?”
“Because you wrote about it here.” She indicated the stack of papers in her arms. “Or you will. It is probably going to be a very confusing conversation, at first.”
Illurya laughed awkwardly. “Yes, I suppose it will be. Would you like to accompany me to the archives? I think that would be the best place to begin.”
By the time the elevator reached the Lower City, silence once more blanketed the streets. Paraieta paused at the steps down to the refugee sector. Where would they take the rider, if not to the priests? She saw no one approaching the Terrace of Light as she descended.
A tavern, or an infirmary.
The Lower City still boasted a few, though there were more infirmaries than taverns these days. Out of necessity, the draenei converted many of the one into the other in the months since the orcs went savage. Paraieta pulled her robe tighter against the night air and stepped purposefully off in the direction of the nearest infirmary.
Much of the Lower City still slept at this hour, wreathed in the same eerie half-light that permeated the trees beyond the city walls. From some of the makeshift camps, muffled sobs echoed. Paraieta thought of her own nightmares, which must pale in comparison to those of the survivors who had fled slaughter in Nagrand and beyond. Karabor’s evacuation must appear leisurely and peaceful by comparison. Here, away from the Terrace of Light and the enclave of the priesthood, despair and terror hung as thickly as the haze that enveloped Shattrath City and its occupants. It wrenched her heart in a way that was still unfamiliar and painful.
A small, silent knot of people stood outside of the infirmary and Paraieta’s heart sank as she drew near. It felt as though she had stepped into a bog, and the ground sucked at her feet so that each step was harder to take. Squaring her shoulders, she approached the door. The quiet observers parted to let her pass, and she wished that she had taken a moment to dress properly.
Inside the infirmary, a draenei woman sat next to a bed. The sheets were stained black with blood, and Paraieta could not suppress a sudden intake of breath. The gasp was a mistake, as it brought the stench of blood and fear slamming into her like a bucket of icewater. The woman by the bed looked up at the sound, and an expression of relief flooded her face.
“Anchorite, you came. Thank the Light. He is not long for this world.” She spoke low and quickly, one strong hand guiding Paraieta by the elbow toward the messenger.
Paraieta blinked in surprise and allowed herself to be ushered to the side of the bed. The man lying beneath the bloody sheets looked impossibly old, his face gray and lined with pain. A dark bruise covered half of his face, and portions of his prominent facial crest had broken. Ichor dripped onto the pillows and saturated the bandages around his shoulder and arm. He moved restlessly, his legs and good arm shifting beneath the bloody bedclothes. The air around him stank of sweat and gore.
Professionalism took over, and Paraieta seized the man’s good hand in a gentle grasp. She reached for the familiar warmth of the Light, letting it spill into him. His eyelids fluttered open and he took a long, shuddering breath. A trickle of blood formed at the corner of his mouth, but he smiled up into Paraieta’s face.
“Am I dying?”
Paraieta was not a trained healer. She looked at the blood soaking the sheets and dripping from his face and could not answer him truthfully. Something deep within her told her that he would pass before sunrise, but she did not want to speculate on such morbid subjects. She pointedly did not meet the gaze of the healer standing just out of her peripheral vision. Not long for this world. The other woman’s words bounced around the inside of Paraieta’s head.
He did not need to know how bad it was. He needed comfort, whether he lived or died. This much, Paraieta knew. She moved her other hand to the man’s chest. Her fingers glowed faintly, the Light moving between the two draenei where they touched.
“You are safe in the Light,” she prayed softly. “It is within us, and around us, and we are a part of it.”
His eyes closed again and he sighed. He was quiet for so long that she thought he might have passed into unconsciousness, but after another rattling breath, he spoke.
“Will you sing for me, when I am gone?”
Paraieta’s throat tightened uncomfortably. A moment passed before she could speak, but when she did her voice was as clear and soothing as she could manage.
“It will be my honor.”
A wracking cough shook the man’s ravaged body, and bloody foam flecked his lips. It splattered onto the front of Paraieta’s dressing gown, but she didn’t pay any attention. She stroked the man’s cheek gently.
“What happened?” she whispered. His eyes, glowing faintly in the dim light, sought her face. Through the pain and bodily exhaustion she recognized something else in his expression. Defeat. Fear gripped her at the prospect of his answer, for she knew it before he spoke again.
“Auchindoun… the temple has fallen.”