Lunks of wood piled around the trunk of a dead tree.
Continuing to build as they were in place by and quickly split evenly by the massive end of an axe. The wielder being one Rhovin Thorne, standing as his broad frame was shirtless. A small build of sweat and a slight shade of red plagued his shoulders indicated a good period of his time was spent splitting wood behind his cabin.
It was warm, but the sun just above him was relentless. Still, he stood and was seemingly undaunted by the strong rays, continuing the series of placing chunks of wood on the trunk and raising his axe high to bring it down with swift ease, cleaving them to his desire.
Midway, however, he found himself holding his axe above his head for more than just a moment. The air grew thick, the heat rose, and slowly his arms came down to his sides. His right ear twitched, perking up as he looked over his shoulder to see… nothing. But the aura, the flames of it, he felt was there, and it felt all too familiar.
He turned back to his work, raising the axe once more, quickly bringing it down to chop. “How did you find me?” His voice deep and gritty, the warrior couldn’t help the tingle in his stomach, and much more couldn’t help the mixed emotions that came with it.
Light and air seemed to roll away like silk and reveal the mortal form they wrapped around. The corner of the sorceress’ mouth pulled up in her characteristic lopsided way, her smile and smoldering green eyes were gentle.
“Not Nevard this time,” said Aranya, with some small tinge of levity. “Well, partly Nevard,” she amended, as she slowly began taking unhurried steps towards Rhovin. “One of his plumes that he shed, and a dried petal from one of the black roses you gave me. They were enough to ignite in my hand and have the flames show me… you. Sleeping.” She gestured around. “Here.”
The corner of Aranya’s mouth pulled up a little more strongly. “I… wasn’t quite sure… Y'know, how to approach you,” she confessed. “Like this. It’s… It’s funny, we’ve been on better terms again, yet only seen each other, what? Twice now? Three times?”
Rhovin’s axe brought down, this time with a more brutal force as the series of memories began to flash before his very eyes.
“My ship. My bed, I sat. Your hands, your…” He stopped, sighing quietly as he refused to go into further details that she was already aware of. His back straightened as the heavy blade remained firmly in place at the center of the trunk.
Then, he turned.
Standing with fists clenched and heavy breaths, he was different from what she would remember. Far different. His hair an ashen white, the bag of his eyes darkened - almost as if seared - likely from lack of proper sleep through the years of endless war, and while he still held the muscular tone she was well versed with from their past, now heavily scarred with tattoos that were barely visible from their prime days, time has clearly not been too kind.
His face was there, under the dark gray beard his kept, but the over exposure to fel and stress from his struggle to survive have taken a toll.
Aranya took it all in. He had changed so much since she last saw him, since they… She inhaled a deep breath and released it as her eyes swept him like lights on the sweeping surface of a river, flowing from his face that had lost that smirk that first made her breath stop, to the once artfully inked arms that she had often admired, to his hair, now white and devoid of the coal black that once matched her own.
Her boot made the softest sound on some stray wood chips as her foot seemed to move towards him of its own want. Her hand bent at the wrist upways, then her fingers flexed and curled, subtly, but not unnoticeably, as if she wanted to reach out to touch him, but hesitated, hovering, too unsure and full of trepidation about what just touching him would do. Would he be angry and snap out? Would he welcome it? Which was worse, if Aranya was being honest with herself?
“How has time touched you like this already, so soon?” The phoenix mage asked softly, as if she looked upon a wolf she had remembered as being magnificent and now had only gray on his muzzle.
Her touch, even of just her hand, Rhovin wanted nothing to do with, and he turned on his heel to step forward and keep distance, if only to avoid feeling what he had lost so long ago.
“Time has nothing to do with it. These constant wars, the exposure from Argus…” He shook his head at the thought. “Refusal to control my addiction finally shows its consequence.” Calmly, he moved his axe aside and sat on the trunk, his back to her. He was quiet, unsure of what to do with the situation.
His immediate action would’ve been to take her in his arms, kiss her as she would remember and finish the day with endless love making, but even now he wasn’t sure he even had that privilege anymore. If she would even give it to him.
“You shouldn’t have come. There isn’t anything for you here,” he said.
“So, look me in the face and tell me that you want me gone,” she goaded, but there was no spite in Aranya’s tone. Her voice was soft, gentle, and almost like she was trying to talk sense to a petulant boy. “Say you want to see me turn around and walk away. Say you want to see me disappear in a flash of magic.” She stepped around in front of him. “Or say you want to close your eyes and open them again to nothing but the empty space, with no trace of me left behind to sense,” she continued. “IF that’s what you want.”
Aranya sat down on the ground, seeming to not care if a little dirt or wood dust got on her reinforced leggings. “Or if it’s not, then you can just say nothing, because you ought to know better by now, that the words ‘you shouldn’t’ only provoke me.” Her smile just then was full of the wicked impishness that so often filled her whenever anyone thought they could tell her what’s best or what to do or what was possible and what wasn’t.
Her expression softened as she explained, “Lutero encouraged me to see you. I ran into him in Stormwind while handling affairs on the other side, and of course he knew it was me even through my ren'dorei disguise.” She huffed a soft laugh, “He thought it would wound me to know you have a daughter, but it didn’t. You never begrudged me Valéria, I wouldn’t begrudge you yours.” The sorceress looked over the more haggardly features of her erstwhile lover, her eyes filling with a kind of sadness. “The Legion cost us both too much,” she murmured.
The mention of his brother, the what felt like… exposure of just how different his life lead to be and what he now held dear made Rhovin’s ear twitch, and his shoulders rise as a breath of air was taken deep. The anger was quick to build, but with a quiet sigh, his shoulders fell as his elbows met his knees, moving slightly closer to where she sat.
“Lutero talks too much.”
Then his arm extended. Wearing his gauntlets still, straps over his hand, he reached to cup her cheek. His palm, rough and calloused from decades of battle lay gently against the soft line of her jawline. His thumb smoothing over his cheek bone, just below her eye.
“It’s difficult seeing you. We’re not what we once were. This only serves as a painful reminder, but…” He closed his eyes, taking in her scent. “I missed you.”
“I miss you, too,” she whispered in reply, as Aranya closed her smoldering green eyes and let herself lean into his touch, familiar yet utterly changed. There was no past-tense in what she spoke, she did miss him. Some spot in her heart belonged to him and felt empty whenever he left her life and wouldn’t fill it. It didn’t matter to her as what anymore - friend, lover, captain, father figure to her daughter, he had been all that - he just meant too much to her, and she was aware of it.
“Will I get to meet Valéria’s 'sister’ before I go, or is it too soon?” Aranya half-joked, her lips pulling into a smile, but the smile melted away as she opened her eyes again and took his hand away from her cheek, holding it in both of hers. “There’s something I never got to tell you,” she said, seriously. “Something you deserve to know.”
Rhovin would’ve attempted to smile at her joke, at least, and note of his daughter currently out hunting. But that soon turned what felt sour when her tone changed.
She wanted to tell him something. And there was no delivery of excitement, no forward nudge and grin. Whatever she had to tell him, he definitely wouldn’t like it.
The warrior blinked with a slight head tilt, eyes would widen a bit as his brows curiously knitted.
There was silence.
No words to say, no attempt at any flirtatious jokes.
The woman’s thumb and fingers slid over and in between the joints of the warrior’s hand, as if the slow motion was meant to reassure, but which of the two of them she was trying to reassure seemed not quite clear. “Before our fight…” she began, and then silence robbed her of words awhile.
This all sounded better in her head. Unspoken. Giving it sound and shape with words was unpleasant, it felt ugly.
“I never got to tell you before our fight,” she continued bravely, her melodic voice a murmur. “It was too early.” Aranya looked up to watch the faintest touch of perplexedness on his face, so subtle that anyone who didn’t know him or how to read him would miss it in his stoic manner. A deep breath and the sorceress summoned more courage. “Alexstrasza herself was the one to tell me, you see. She knew with her natural senses and powers that I was going to have a baby.”
There. She had said it.
But Aranya didn’t stop to watch Rhovin’s face change as he took in the news, there was more to say.
“The Lifebinder discerned that I was going to have a son - your son - as early as that,” she said. “Her ways as an Aspect, her senses as a dragon, so attuned to life itself, still so powerful even after being diminished.” She looked him straight in the eyes then. “I was less than a handful of weeks along, just beginning to feel ill when we had our fight,” she confessed. “I had still been figuring out how to tell you, your father, but then-” a bitter, sad, lopsided smile that wasn’t a smile -“well, it seemed there was nothing for it after that.”
The phoenix-mage averted her eyes and got up from the ground now. “Then the Legion came, invaded in force,” she went on. “I took Valéria back to Shattrath where she could be safe, and I defended our world.” Her tone was harder now, the voice of a fighter, a woman of determination. Her arms crossed in front of her body, closing off as she turned away. “He didn’t survive the invasions… I lost him. Our baby.”
The silence hung thick for either several minutes or a mere moment.
“I didn’t have time to grieve,” said Aranya, the pain creeping into her voice. “I didn’t have time to grieve anything, not you, not our son. All I could do was pour out everything onto the demons, and I don’t even know what I became in those blind moments when I went numb to everything and just…” she took a deep breath, trying to re-calm herself. “Just blood and fire and cutting through demon flesh, on and on.”
There was a sudden shudder at Rhovin’s spine. A deep sense of nausea at the pit of his stomach, his racing heart caught at his throat.
She spoke, he heard every word, but they were muffled. He could feel the pain in her tone, the fear of revealing what he didn’t know for so long, the tragedy of now knowing a life that could’ve been was gone. The life of his son, their son.
Rhovin stood to his feet as she did, turning to make distance, each step heavier than the last. His eyes searched the ground for something that wasn’t there. His mouth gaped as the air grew thick around him. He fought to breathe, each gasp harder than the last as his body was betraying him.
Willpower alone kept him on his own two feet, resisting the urge to fall to his knees as they trembled. Then, he rose each hand to look at them. At each palm, each finger. And slowly, they clamped into fists. A silent whimper soon followed, his eyes filled with tears as he begged himself to stop them from falling… until they closed.
And he broke.
The sobs were silent. Rhovin’s head hung low, his body hunched to hide the anguish with his white locks. As much as he wanted to turn to her, take her in his arms, hold her close against him, tell her it was okay, that it wasn’t her fault… he couldn’t. He only mourned to himself in that moment.
“Why…?” His voice broke, soft and defeated. Then he turned to look over his shoulder. His hair faintly obscuring his face, but it was obvious that under the pain and regret, there was also a sheer force of anger building up within. “Why tell me this now? Why wait so long?”
“Was there a time to tell you before, Rhovin?” Aranya sardonically posed the question. “Before our fight it seemed like I had all the time in the world before my morning ills would start, or my belly would show, and I had time to think. But after?” She turned to look at him now. “You gave me every word and every sign that you didn’t want me, Rhovin-” she tried so hard not to choke as she said those words “-was there any reaching you or speaking to you that I could have done?” She shook her head, some of the old hurt from the night of their too-brief reunion in Suramar back on her lovely face as if dragged up from the dead. “Not like that.”
“And then after I lost him, there seemed no point,” said the sorceress. “Not in the space between our reconciliation, not after meeting or parting again. He was dead, and there was no changing it, and I-” Here she stopped. Hurt, and perhaps bewilderment at even herself seemed to war on her face.
Why had now been the time to tell him? Truly, why never before?
“Would you rather have never heard it from me, and have me grieve my unborn, unnamed son alone all our lives in secret like he never happened?” Aranya found herself asking. Answering his one question with yet more questions that it seemed had wanted answers for a long time, yet she’d refused to let herself think about before coming to this time and space. “Or would you rather have found out some other way, some other day? From someone or something that never loved him - or you - never cared, and wouldn’t understand… what it’s like.” A deep steadying breath came next. “If nothing else, Lutero made me realize what you deserved to know. From me, not from anyone or anything else,” admitted Aranya.
“There was a time, Aranya. A time!” Rhovin turned on his heel. A dazed look mixed with grief and all too familiar fury that was pushed back down and held in its place as he took the steps forward to her once more. “You could have told me when you knew. You could have told me that very day!” That ire was in his tone, but he kept it in low whispers. At least in an attempt not to crowd her or to press what was already a shattering moment for her. “Nothing ever stopped you from finding me regardless of where I was, what stopped you then?!”
He stopped. Heavy boots pressed the soil underneath, twisting the armored sole of one deep in the grass, as if to keep himself in place. His fists clenched as his sides, his arms flexed the muscles that have only grown over the years of restless wars, to use as some form of distraction from destroying anything within his grasp.
“This… this would have changed everything. If only to deepen our bond, even if we were at odds at that time, I would have made any and every attempt at restoring such a broken piece to ensure that child would come safely into this world. Our child!”
His voice was no longer a whisper. Now it held a mix of bitterness and resentment. He was losing his own mental war of holding back.
“And now… now you stand there, after finding another man to spend your time with, gloating of your happiness and joys while I sunk in the shadows and it is NOW THAT YOU FEEL IT RIGHT TO TELL ME THIS?! BECAUSE MY BROTHER SUGGESTED IT?!”
Rhovin was at a sudden stance of a warrior, slightly hunched with elbows bent and fists forward, legs evenly apart from the shoulders. “Maybe I didn’t know you as well as I thought I did… maybe we were so blind in this so-called love that reality has changed every perception we once had… or maybe just yours!”
“Or maybe,” began Aranya in a voice that was starkly quiet compared to the sound of his ire, “I’ve finally found a kind of peace that I haven’t had in too long. An anchor that has me letting the storm pass from my mind when I couldn’t before.” She stepped about arms-distance from him now. Wise? Unlikely. Yet, she did so anyway. “And maybe we don’t really know each other at all anymore,” she continued. “Because whatever remains permanent of who we are, there’s still a hundred or more ways that we’re not who we were.”
She wanted to disappear right then. Say more things, take some things back even as she spoke them. She was putting up her armor again, reaching for her old friend “apparent invulnerability” again. If she said anymore to him like this, she might say something her heart would make her regret, one way or another. What more to do?
“I think I may ignore the paradox that you bring up the man I spend my time with when you’ve voluntarily admitted to having a companion of your own,” she remarked without venom. “I am honestly not in the mood to judge or be judged, but I’m curious to know if she’s connected to your own little one.”
The warrior scoffed at her would-be pursuit to untangle the vines that have kept his core at the very minimum, throwing his hand in a swipe to push away this poor excuse of ill vice that suddenly came.
“An attempt to move on from you, a rebound that lasted mere weeks is your way of trying to crawl under my skin? You should try harder next time.” He paused, standing upright in proper posture this time. “The girl is but the passing years of ten, and her mother is dead. That’s all you need to know.”
Sudden steps were taken, but not towards his former lover. Instead he made his way to the door of his cabin, back turned to her.
“You keep your peace. Your… anchor as you so proudly speak of him, and let me sink back into the shadows with the only girl that matters to me now.” The low-gritted pitch of his voice on this new disinterest would confuse anyone at this point. And as he opened that door and stood at the entrance with no bother to even glance over his shoulders would make one wonder where his mind now stood.
“Now leave. My. Home.”
She was gone as soon as he said it. No goodbyes, no final remarks… no soft words.
Aranya materialized within the tranquil walls of the Suramar estate of her ancestress, Astra, the shal'dorei lady not at home at the moment to greet her, but her creature companions were. Sugarfiend chittered and slithered about its mistress happily. Nevard cocked his head to one side and eyed her down his inky black beak, sensing her tension. Narouka slept on from were she lay on a divan and only purred once the elf woman’s gentle hand was scratching between her ears, changing the little blue feline to a happy golden color.
The arcanist pulled her companions closer, taking their comforts. “He pushes me away. Or pulls himself away. He always does,” she told them. “I won’t think of it. I won’t.” She was determined to keep putting one foot in front of the other, no matter what he wanted or decided he didn’t want.
Especially if that what was ever her.
That door slammed shut. The pace began, the wooden floor creaked under his boot. He was angry. Angry at the world, angry at the hands of fate, angry at her.
But he questioned why.
As much as he despised this sudden news of losing a child, a child from the womb of the only woman he ever truly loved, a child that would have changed their world for the better, his child - their child.
“A boy…” he muttered to himself, closing in on a wall to lean over with a hand pressed against it. “My son…”
The anger was gone. The mourning had returned, and suddenly regret. He shouldn’t have let her leave, not this way. Passion and love would have made the pain easier to handle, but his stubbornness and pride was too good to allow him to fall vulnerable before her.
His head hung, his eyes closed, but he couldn’t feel her within distance. He tried to reach further, tried to send the signals, but there was nothing to grab onto. That is, until he looked at the sword within its glass casing.
Rhovin rushed to reach the sword and aim to call for her, to bring her back, to hold her, kiss her, make love to her, whatever he could do to reconcile what might still be there. His fingertips brushed the stone… and then he stopped.
His body froze. His skin grew pale, his eyes went wide, and suddenly burning cracks of fel appeared on his chest. The warrior clenched where his heart would be and howled in agonizing pain. His skin was charred, the flesh splitting as the demonic power shined a putrid green within his home. The warrior keeled, then fell on his back. He fought to breathe. Short, raspy breaths.
His hand reached for something at his belt. A pouch.
His trembling hands made it achingly long to undo the straps, and when he could finally reach within, he pulled out a small fel shard. With every effort he could muster, he broke the shard in his fist, resulting in multiple cuts in his palm that allowed the power within the shard to be absorbed under his flesh and into his blood and slowly, his body would return as it was before.
The toll had been taken, and with a final gasp, his body was limp.
His eyes fell shut.
The opportunity was stolen.
Would he remember when he would awaken?