The screams were deafening. Despite the stoic resolve of the Wardens, Praedyth watched – paralyzed by his own horror – as his town burned. The stalwart nature of both he and his kinsmen was shattered, replaced by terror and inaction. Swirling fires engulfed all that there was to see. The cinders danced melodically, almost shuddering by themselves as the shrieks of those trapped inside the buildings pierced the low rumble of embers. The buildings which, to Praedyth’s utter despair, would soon become their tombs.
“We did all that we could, Captain Fels-”
Before the priestess could deliver the extent of the terrible news, the soldier infront of her had already heard what he needed to hear. The tone of her voice left no inclination of doubt, the expression on her face one of certainty. Nessa, his soulmate, had not survived the birth of their firstborn.
His head bowed, Jarod Felsong tried to process this news. He had risen to glory during the fabled War of the Ancients, a battle so long past that Elven parents still hung the threat of its recurrence over their disobedient children’s heads. The threat of a demonic invasion which almost plunged this society of Wood Elves into the annals of history was enough to get them to behave. And yet, despite the grim battles and horrors he had faced, nothing terrified him as much as losing his wife. As sure as the passing of time itself, Nessa had been his companion through all of life’s trespasses.
And now he was frighteningly alone.
He chose not to pay any heed to the priestess as she called after him. Walking down the hall of the temple building, passers by stood to a solemn attention – a reflection of his rank, perhaps, or a solemn show of respect to what they knew to be true. Indeed, Nessa had stood alongside Jarod as a high-ranking captain of the Wardens – an elite sect of guardsmen prided for their unequaled tracking, hunting and martial skills. Serving as jailors and protectors of the realm, these soldiers both guided and guarded the inhabitants of Darnassus with their lives.
And now one of their greatest defenders had fallen to something as simple as childbirth.
Jarod’s tears burned his eyes and thoughts clouded his mind. He left without saying a word.
“Captain! Please wait, I-!”
It was no use. Jarod Felsong was no longer concerned with the affairs of the living, instead utterly consumed by the death of his spouse. As he left the temple, the room stood silent. Several people stood in shock, both at the news they had overheard and at the reaction of one so revered for his strength and courage. Nothing could have prepared anyone for such a sight.
“He needs time, child.”
A soft, manicured hand appeared on the priestess’ shoulder. She knew to whom it belonged, but its presence offered her no comfort. The burden of what she had wrought upon the captain throttled her heart like a bramble; both choking and piercing at once. Indeed, she found it hard to breathe.
The more senior priestess moved to her side. Her aura was majestic, and a faint silver sheen seemed to emanate from her very skin. A silken, pearl-white gown draped from her shoulders to the floor and, for the most part, obscured the lightweight chainmail that clad her body. Azure blue hair flowed past her shoulders, reflecting the luminescence which echoed from her in waves. Her eyes were light incarnate, reflecting a millennia of servitude to the Moon Maiden.
The High Priestess of Selune, Tyrande Whisperwind, stood stoically in the midst of despair, as she had always done, and raised her hands to all who would hear.
“The Captain has suffered greatly this day, but to dwell on it is to fester in its shadow. May The Moon herself bless Captain Jarod Felsong, and eradicate the shadow which seeks to smother his light.”
A murmur of agreement and condolence swept across the room as those who bore witness eased their pain with her words. A collection of priestesses who had joined the High Priestess in tending to the fallen captain had gathered behind her, the parable doing little to assuage their own guilt at not doing more to save her. Indeed, the only reason that Tyrande Whisperwind herself had not been the one to deliver the news was because it fell to her to give Nessa her last rites.
“I- I did not get to tell him, my lady…” spluttered the priestess.
“He need not know now, for he is in no condition to act on it.” said Tyrande, her words as soft as morning mist. “He will be ready, but not now.”
“S-surely, your grace-” the priestess swallowed as she considered her words. “Surely he must be informed of the birth of his son.”
The weight of the burlap sack weighed heavy on young shoulders, but it was a necessity. How else was one as small as he supposed to lumber his dinner back home?
The young elf used the weight of the bag to push open the door to the ramshackle structure that he knew as his home. As the months moved on, the door had required more strength to open as the hinges bent and curled. The wood of its making was a strong material, but life still coursed through it, even despite its separation from its original base. The wood of the door – and indeed the whole shack – bent like clenched fingers as the cold drew in.
“Father!” shouted the elf. No response.
Assuming that his father must be sleeping again, the boy placed the sack down with all of the care he could muster and began to put its contents in their places. Assorted pieces of fruit and vegetable, on the verge of rotting but not having quite succumbed, had been collected from trash heaps and refuse bins behind taverns and houses further up the town. Living in the slums of an Elven town was hard – societal judgment was a crippling force in Elven society – but the boy and his father made do. Indeed, life seemed far easier for his father as he seemed to evade this judgment by simply staying indoors.
A rustling in the next “room” – if it could be called such – assured the young elf that his father was in his usual sleeping spot. Either that, or a thief had made their way in in search of valuables. He quickly dispelled that thought, however, wondering what anyone could possible want from a squat such as this.
The sound of shattering glass produced a more acute reaction from the boy, and he walked into the next room without hesitation. The drab, wooden walls continued through the small passage to reveal an identical room, except this one had the tattered curtains drawn on the solitary window which looked out the back. The bottle which his father had been holding had slipped from his grasp and smashed on the ground, leaving shards of glass strewn across the cold ground around his lone parent.
Worried for the safety of his senior, the young boy grabbed the broom from around the back of the door. He swept the glass into the other room, as he had done on many an occasion over the years, and withdrew to let his father rest. It did not occur to him that his father rested for weeks on end, or that the bitter smelling bottle was ever-refilled and ever-consumed. The smell of it made his eyes water, like the sap of the ancient Oak which stood near the town’s temple, and for a moment he wondered if his father was drinking the very same substance. What was in the bottle was far more fluid than the thickened life-blood of the Oak, however, and it seemed to tire out his father when he drank it. Red-scorched veins spread through his eyes, and purple bags hung underneath them like the night sky. There was no twinkle in that sky, however. Not like before.
The boy picked up the picture that lay arms-length from his father’s softly-snoring back. He recognized – just barely – the domineering figure in the picture. It was his father, in the throes of his youth, posing with a stunningly beautiful Wood Elf. She, like him, was clad in the leather and chain of the elite Warden guards – a pair of deadly umbra crescent blades stowed on her back. There was no contrast in the expressions on their faces; both jubilant in one another’s presence. The female was failing to suppress a smirk at his father, and he had long since figured that she quite liked him. He was even sure that this could be his mother, but he had never asked. The only times he had gotten to see this photo were when his father had succumbed to whatever it was that he fed on from that dirty bottle. It was only then that his father had parted with it – if only fleetingly – in his stupor.
The boy gazed a while longer at it, contemplating whether he would keep it. As his father shuffled restlessly, he chose instead to tuck between his father’s arms, in at his chest. Almost instantly, his father seemed more at ease as he settled down in the fetal position like a child, clutching the faded print as if it was all he had left.