Seeking a Purpose, Discovering a Way

Ord’taeril Ketiron stepped from the deck of the Relentless as it arrived in Boralus Harbor. It had been some time since he had set foot in Kul Tiras, and felt the bracing air of both the sea and the mountains. It was invigorating, he had to admit.

He had left the afternoon after that meeting in Stormwind; he could have just gone through the portal room in the Mage Tower, but where was the fun in that?

As he stepped onto the dock, he looked up to see a man in robes approaching. “Lorewalker Ketiron?” He pronounced it “Ketteron”, emphasizing the first syllable, rather than the second as Ord’taeril preferred.

Nonetheless, he nodded. “I am he.”

“Calum Granden. The captain is expecting you.” His eyebrows perked as they walked towards the Pearl Queen, down along the harbor. “Couldn’t have come through yourself?” Ord’taeril had sent a messenger through the portal room, requesting the meeting.

“Decided to take advantage of the fresh sea air,” he replied. “Too long in the land of the dead, you learn to miss it.”

The Tidesage couldn’t help but smile at that. “Fair enough.”

As they approached the boarding ramp, leaning against the door to the mess was the captain. There were more lines around her eyes and a hint of silver at her temples compared to when Ord’taeril last saw her. Without a word of greeting or small talk, she got straight to the point: “What’s this about a new deckhand?”

“A pleasure to see you as well, Captain Pellerin.” Ord’taeril held up a bottle of Gilnean brandy. “I remembered you’d developed a taste for this stuff.”

“So you’re trying to put someone on my crew, and you’re trying to bribe me.” Elizabeth Pellerin grinned. “I think you’re wearing the wrong outfit. Your getup says ‘mystic scholar’, your attitude screams ‘scheming cutthroat’. Sure I shouldn’t hang you by your nads from the bowsprit?”

“Much as I’m willing to accomodate you, Captain… no, thank you.”

Elizabeth laughed. “Eh, can’t blame me for trying to relieve things a bit.” She jerked her head upwards, towards her cabin. Ord’taeril followed, waiting for her to seat herself, then gesture to him to sit across from her. While she was not one for constant displays of decorum - she was nobleborn, but you wouldn’t know it just talking to her - he knew best to respect a captain aboard ship. “Now then, Ord’taeril… you volunteering?”

“Gods, no. With the monk training making how I move around so quickly, your crew would think I want all their jobs.” Ord’taeril chuckled. “Comes from having to juggle a lot of jobs already. But no, I have someone else in mind. You remember Sir Eran Heskin, right?”

“That old wolf? Literally, now that I think on it. Aye, I met him during the Second War. Decent man, good family. Son was a bit of a buzzkill, though. Didn’t he go all Mawsworn?”

“And was torn apart for his troubles, too.”

“Eh. Couldn’t happen to a bigger bastard.” Elizabeth snapped her fingers. “That kid that follows Eran around. What’s his name. Donny?”

“Donal, yes. Growing like a weed now… and Sir Eran is starting to rethink whether the knight’s path is a good idea for him.”

“Well, not everyone’s cut out for sword-swinging and armor plating.” Elizabeth’s eyes narrowed slightly. “And so he wants to foist the kid off on me?”

“That… was my idea,” Ord’taeril admitted. “You know what some kids are like, Elizabeth. Shuttered by their overprotective families until the world kicks their door off the hinges. Then they haven’t the damnedest idea of what to do with their lives, because someone else has always done it for them.”

“Happens to the kind of people I come from a whole hell of a lot,” Elizabeth agreed, as she poured out two glasses from the bottle, sliding one over to him. “The kind of people we come from, thinking on it. You turned out okay, though, the tentacles in your hair aside. Not that I’d want to try it out…”

Ord’taeril smiled grimly. “I wouldn’t recommend it, no.”

Elizabeth was silent for a moment, quickly coming to the Lorewalker’s line of thought. “You’re trying to unchain him from the old man.”

“At the very least, have him be part of something that does not involve a member of his family. All he has seen and done so far has been with his grandfather. Were it not for Lucia Zherron’s last act, he wouldn’t even have that now. And he would be…”

“Hawking for loose change on the streets like the urchins here.”

Ord’taeril nodded. “Or worse. I’ve been on ships a number of times over the years, including yours. It’s a rough-and-tumble life, but there’s a sense of belonging too - of family. Given how you’ve mentioned your mother’s been a frequent visitor…”

“She’s the High Exalted God-Admiral to these guys whenever she comes aboard,” Elizabeth grumbled, though Ord’taeril could hear the humor in it. “Nevermind the captain’s orders, what does the Lady Eugenie want?”

“Could be worse. They could be neverminding the captain’s orders when she’s not onboard. Mutiny would be a lot worse than playing hostess.”

“Eh, true enough.” Elizabeth sat back for a moment. “I’ll sound him out, see if he’s up for it.” She raised a warning finger. “But keep in mind, my good man. This is a warship of House Proudmoore and the Alliance, not a pleasure craft. If he’s gonna be a member of my crew, I’m gonna treat him like a member of my crew. No babying.”

Ord’taeril nodded in agreement. “I told Eran you would not tolerate nonsense. We’ll see how much the lad gives you.”

“Nothing that can’t be fixed with a paddlin’.” She chuckled. “Plus, I figure we haven’t been to Stormwind in a while. Care for another trip? I heard what you told Calum about the fresh air… still trying to shake off the gloom’n’doom from Revendreth?” They had both worked for the venthyr during the Shadowlands war.

“Among other things. Being home again, I’m starting to appreciate it a lot more.”

“A-bloody-men to that.” They both raised their glasses then. “To home. May we never need another one.”

“Hear, hear,” Ord’taeril agreed, as they both polished off their drinks in one go.

As she thumped the glass down on the table, the captain raised her voice. “Mr. McDonnell!”

“Aye, Cap’n?” came the voice of the first mate, poking his head into the cabin.

“Get those layabouts working. We’re shipping out.”

“Whereabouts, ma’am?”

“To the land of lions, my friend. It seems we’re taking a cub aboard.”

Elizabeth Pellerin felt a mixture of anger, amusement, and sadness as she watched the shadow of a soul that had once been a man… more so because it was the father she had never known. Normally, he would have some semi-coherent insult to throw at her, but now, it was like he didn’t even know she was there. For some reason, she found that worse than the insults.

He had died when she was very young, because he had refused to be attended by a female healer… and the male quack who had been called in suggested bed rest. He had been killed by an easily treatable small injury that had turned into an infection, and caused his body to fill up with polluted blood and pus. He had died in agony, and as far as she was concerned (and her mother, Eugenie, and most observers agreed), he had deserved it.

Being in Revendreth for the past forty-plus years had not improved his attitude. The gibbering wreck that had been known in life as Lord Francis Pellerin had recognized her almost immediately. “Disappointment, failure, disgrace to the line,” he had babbled on seeing her for the first time. “Stupid girl playing dress-up, trying to do man’s work…” In return, she had taunted him about how her mother had buried his body at sea, given his paranoid fear of water.

Lately, his moments of lucidity grew less and less. Even so, she realized that nothing she did would ever change him. He would never love her, or respect her… because she was a woman. She was not a son to carry on the family name. Even if she had a brother to inherit, he would expect her to find a man and give him sons, rather than be the battle-hardened captain she was now. No doubt he would have hated the idea of having to answer to either Katherine or Jaina as Lord Admiral…

“He is like this most of the time now. You can thank our late unlamented Master for that.” Elizabeth’s train of thought halted as she heard the speaker, recognizing the familiar visage of Inquisitor Drastiya. The regal-looking venthyr sorceress was one of the Accuser’s judges, and had interacted a great deal with mortals who had encountered souls from their families here in Revendreth. Among them had been Ord’taeril Ketiron, whose father Taeril’hane had been rescued from the halls of Torghast. At least the Crimson King had been salvable… and perhaps had a chance here.

“The effects of our as-yet unconverted souls being drained of anima by Denathrius’ tithe collectors varies from soul to soul,” Drastiya went on. “Some of them simply dissipate like dust in the wind. Others are left like this, mad as the seared wretches living in the Ember Ward. None have the chance for redemption… their use to themselves, to Revendreth, and to the Shadowlands lost forever.”

Despite having nothing but contempt for the man, who seemed to be stubbornly misogynistic and narrow-minded even in death, Elizabeth could not help but pity him. What he had done in life was his fault, but this was not. “Can anything be done for him?”

“I am afraid not, Captain. He does little but curse me for how I appear to him, saying how he will not be judged by some ‘mincing tart’, and babble about how glad he is that there are no oceans in Revendreth. That if he sees me at all.” Drastiya shook her head. “I fear there is nothing we can do for this one now. Your father is lost. There is no way forward, or back.” The inquisitor gazed at her evenly, her eyes showing the pain she felt that it had come to this. “Now that souls are never to be sent to the Maw again, there is only one option left to us.”

Scattered to oblivion, she means, Elizabeth thought. It was almost worse than being sent to the Maw, and certainly not a fate she wished for anyone. Not even this hateful fool who had sired her. But experience had taught her the grim necessity of mercy killing, and this… certainly qualified. She bowed her head. “Do what you have to.”

Drastiya nodded, and raised her hands along the sides of the cage containing Francis’ ragged soul remnant. With a wave of her hands, and a last mad cackle from the man himself, he was gone. Her task done, the inquisitor looked over the captain curiously. “You have the mind of one who is not afraid to do what must be done,” she said. “There may be a place for you here, when your time comes.”

“Perhaps,” Elizabeth replied quietly. “But for now… I have my living duties to perform.” She sighed. “And a lot to think about.”

Elizabeth awoke in her cabin, the ship en route to Stormwind. She had been reliving that moment every night in her dreams since she had returned from the Shadowlands. She had no doubt she would be haunted by it for the rest of her life… and chances are, when she got to Revendreth, too. That is, if that was where she would end up.

She shook her head, trying to dismiss that thought. But it was a hard thing to forget.

Pulling on her captain’s longcoat, she stepped outside her cabin. Alexander McDonnell, the first mate, had the night watch. Ord’taeril was seated up against the mainmast, legs crossed, eyes closed in meditation. He had not moved from that spot since she had hit the sack. She heard footsteps coming up from the lower deck, and saw the ship’s cook coming up with a steaming mug of coffee. “You’re up early, Skipper.”

“You’re one to talk. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you sleep.” She accepted the cup gratefully. “Do you ever sleep?”

The old cook snorted. “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”

Don’t count on it, Elizabeth thought, repressing a shudder as she sipped from her cup.

Death is like a winter chill
No door can keep it from us
And summer yet may bloom again
Though ice be all upon us…

An old song echoed in Sir Eran Heskin’s head as he stood alone at Lion’s Rest, eyes gazing out as he watched the Pearl Queen arrive in Stormwind Harbor. Donal was back at the house with his grandmother, assisting her as needed. Rebellious teen though he be now, he has a good heart, he thought. That is reassuring, at least. But… left with a rough-and-tumble sea crew? He had elected to wait until the offer was made formally, and now that time was approaching. As the ship docked, two figures strode down the boarding ramp, and he recognized them instantly. One was the captain, the other Ord’taeril.

He walked down to the harbor gate, just as they reached the top of the steps. Before he could say a word, Elizabeth got straight to business. “Where is the lad?”

“Back at the house.” He escorted them from the harbor gate to Cathedral Square, and up the ramp to the hole-in-the-wall home he maintained here.

Eran’s wife Katerina was seated at the table, looking up in some surprise at seeing the visitors. “Captain Pellerin, Lorewalker Ketiron, welcome! This is an unexpected pleasure.”

“Lady Heskin, the pleasure is ours.” Both shot a glance - Elizabeth one of amusement, Ord’taeril one of disbelief - at Eran, who had the decency to look embarassed. He hadn’t told his wife, apparently. “Might we have a word with your grandson, please?”

Katerina looked from Elizabeth to Eran, who could not meet her gaze, then back to Elizabeth. “What’s going on? Is he in trouble?”

“Far from it, though I can’t always promise that,” the captain replied, a hint of a roguish grin on her face.

“Perhaps it would be best to explain with him present, given that it is he we are here to discuss?” Ord’taeril suggested calmly.

Katerina stared hard at Eran now, a what-the-hell-did-you-do stare, before calling upstairs. “Donal!”

“Yeah, Granna, I’m fixing up the --” There was a crash, followed by the sound of feet stomping on the floor. “–curtain rods! Or at least I was… think we need a new lamp by your bed, though… and your rug’s a bit burnt!”

“Leave it, and come down here, please.”

A hint of grumbling. “Tell me it’s important, then make me --” Donal stopped dead when he saw there were several people in the room. “Oh.”

“Mm-hmm… ‘oh’ is right.” Katerina now looked at Eran. “Start talking, or I’ll slap you so hard you’ll shift forms.” He was in his human ‘mask’ at that moment.

Eran sighed, sitting down heavily. “Last couple of years has made me think, Kat. For all that he’s followed me around for years now, learned from me, seen his share of war… it’s occurred to me that I am the only example he has about his future.”

“Small wonder, given how you’ve filled his head with tales. He wants to be more like you.”

“And I don’t want to turn him into a copy of me. What I did with Taran… that was bad enough.” Eran now looked to his grandson - who was taller than he was at that age. He was only a little boy yesterday, I swear, he thought. “Donal… forgive me.”

Donal looked absolutely baffled. “For what, Grandda?”

“For not allowing you to see more than what I was showing you. I was so distant from your father, I never saw what it was doing to him… and look what became of him. Because of that, I’ve been holding you too tight to me, and that will create its own resentment - that I am trying to hinder you by keeping you at my side all the time, or hide you away when I judge it to be too dangerous.”

Donal was shaking his head. “I don’t feel like that, Grandda. You’ve always been there for me.”

Eran smiled sadly. “Which is exactly the problem, my boy. You’ve grown to depend on me too much. But I will not be here forever. Indeed, were it not for Lucia’s last act, I would not be here now. And if you’ve grown to depend on me so much that you can’t think of life without me… where will you be after I die?”

Donal stared at his grandfather, confused and upset, unsure what to make of what he’s saying. “Is something wrong? Are you sick?”

“Nothing so horrible, lad. In fact, I’ve probably felt better than I have in almost thirty years.” Eran took a deep breath. “But… I have asked Captain Pellerin, an old friend, to accept you as a deckhand on her ship, so you can learn more skills beyond what you can with me.”

Donal was looking more and more upset and confused. For all that he had grown physically, he now looked again like a scared child. “You’re trying to send me away! Why? Have I done something wrong? Why do you want to send me away?”

Elizabeth glanced at Ord’taeril, who looked as worried as she did. They would have their work cut out for them, it would seem. “You have not done anything wrong, lad,” she said gently. “It’s just a matter of letting you be Donal, and not be Sir Eran’s grandson, if you know what I mean. To be your own man, earn your own merits with your own work, rather than be forever in your grandfather’s shadow.”

Katerina gently brought her grandson down into a chair, hands on his arms. She was starting to see what they were doing. She glanced up at Ord’taeril, who knelt in front of the young man. “You’ve chased your grandfather’s tales of hero knights and such your whole life,” the Lorewalker said, “but you’ve started to wonder, haven’t you? ‘Is that really the life I want? Is there nothing else?’ You’ve taken your first steps to becoming your own man - you’ve begun to question what you know… and wonder if there is more to learn.”

“But… I’m a squire, aren’t I? Don’t I have to keep on to knighthood?”

“Not at all. Sometimes, life gives us the opportunity to break the mold our fathers and ancestors have made for us. Take me, for instance. Were it not for the tragedy that took my family, I might have grown up to be a priest… come to think of it, were it not for that, I would not be ‘grown-up’ at all. At least, not to where I am now. I was actually born after you were.”

Donal blinked at that. “You’re joshing.”

Ord’taeril smiled and shook his head. “How I wish I were. You know how Alleria and Turalyon spent a thousand years fighting with the Army of the Light, even though they’d only been gone from Azeroth for about thirty years? It was the same for me when I escaped from the other Draenor, except I grew up in the Army for about a hundred years. And that led to Argus… and to what you see now.” He put his hands on Donal’s shoulders. “Our destinies are not absolute, Donal. Oh, there will be shamans and seers and truthsayers and what not who will tell you otherwise, but ultimately, who you are is less what life makes of you, and more of what you make of life. The only certainty is that you will be something - what that is, that’s entirely up to you.”

Donal was quiet, clearly thinking it over. “I… did think I couldn’t be a knight,” he finally admitted quietly. “I see all he’s given up… all he’s giving… and I don’t know if I can do that.”

“It takes courage to admit something like that, my young friend. And sometimes, it’s best to have the option to choose where you’re going, rather than have it chosen for you. This work with Captain Pellerin is just one possible example. I had thought of taking you to the Wandering Isle to train with me, but you’ve… expressed something of a distaste for the formality.” Donal made a face at that, and Ord’taeril laughed. “But as I said, better that you try this by your own choice, then have it foisted on you. Because when life forces you to take a fork in the road, you can either stop and be run over by those who come behind you… or press forward, no matter where it goes. And you won’t always like where you end up. Trust me on that.”

“You liked the sea well enough once you got past the first bits of seasickness,” Eran added. “The Kul Tiran fleet is the best in the Alliance - hell, the best in the world. And the captain is one of the best of the best.”

“Flattery will get you nowhere, Eran,” Elizabeth grumbled.

Donal was quiet for a long moment. A sailor, instead of a soldier? Which wasn’t to say that it was any less dangerous than the life his grandfather - or the Lorewalker, come to think of it - led. In fact, it was probably more so, as the fleet had more to deal with than just fighting enemies like the Horde and what not - there were also pirates, whirlpools, sea creatures… even the weather would be out to get them. And he would be doing this alone, with no one to hide behind. Maybe that wasn’t so bad, thinking about it. He knew instinctively - having seen Eran nearly get killed on a number of occasions - that his grandfather’s luck would eventually run out, and he dreaded the idea of having to live without him… because he didn’t know how.

In his mind, he began to think this might be a good idea. But still, he felt compelled to ask, as he looked up at the captain. “Are you sure you’d want to take me?”

Elizabeth hid a smile, putting on her “captain” face. “I said I would,” she replied, “and no captain worth their salt would go back on their word. But I’ll warn you now, lad, just like I told Ord’taeril here, and he’s told your grandfather… if you want to be a member of my crew, you’ll get treated like a member of my crew. Which means that of course, I will protect my crew to the death… but I will hold nothing back, either. When I give you an order, the first words out of your mouth had better be ‘aye, Captain’, and if you’re gonna ask questions, they had better be about how and when I want the job done, and not why you’re doing it. If that’s not to your liking, then I’ll head home now, and you can figure out what to do with yourself. And if you do come with me, but suddenly get second thoughts and want to go home, I’ll send you home… from the end of my boot. Am I clear, Mr. Heskin?”

Donal looked first to his grandparents, then to Ord’taeril, then to Elizabeth… and finally, he nodded. “Aye, Captain.”

Now Elizabeth did smile. “Then pack a bag, but pack lightly. A landlubber’s treasures are weights to carry a sailor to Neptulon’s locker. And don’t take too long. The wind is waiting.” With a slight bow, she departed to return to the ship.

After the captain left, Donal went quickly upstairs. Katerina’s eyes were like ice as she stared at her husband. “And when exactly did you plan to tell me?” she said with a calmness she certainly did not feel.

Ord’taeril took that opportunity to quietly follow the captain out…

She stepped from the back of her steed as she reached the front of the house. A house that appeared to be in the throes of a screaming match. Light have mercy, she thought, what’s happened now?

She could hear Katerina’s voice clearly: “And what will happen when he gets scurvy, or some kind of pox, or the ship gets sunk in a gale? How will you justify that, sir?”

“He was in just as much danger at my side, and I didn’t hear you protesting then,” Eran firmly - but relatively calmly - responded.

“That’s different, and you know it!”

Now Eran’s voice did raise… and also dropped in pitch. Oh Light, he’s shifted, she thought, listening outside the door. “Why? Because I was there with him? They’re right, Kat! He is never going to be able to handle himself if he can’t get away from me! You saw how he reacted at the very idea of sending him off without me - it was like he was ten years old again! He is nearly a man now, and he needs to learn what that means - and he is not going to get that from me anymore.”

“Lothar’s ghost, why not? Who better than his blood? You think he’ll ever forgive you for sending him off with some ragtag bunch of near-pirates?”

The eyebrow over her blind eye rose at that. Pirates? Sending Donal off? What the hell is going on here? Steeling herself, she knocked on the door.

“Oh, for Light’s sake. It’s probably the Watch here to say someone’s made a…” Katerina opened the door, and her jaw dropped when she saw it was not one of Orwyn’s officers. “Erm… noise complaint,” she finished meekly.

Eran looked surprised - and the appearance of a wolf-man looking surprised was one that was hard to forget. “Catherine?”

Dame Catherine Hildreth grinned and nodded. “Even with half my eyes working, I can see I’ve arrived at a rather interesting time.” She had lost the eye to the “kiss” of a felstalker’s claws in the Broken Shore, back when she’d been a priest. It had been her unpreparedness for the beast that led her to become an initiate in the Silver Hand, being ordained as a full paladin just before the campaign on Argus. She’d served in Arathi as a combat medic for the 7th Legion during the Fourth War, and earned a knighthood from the King for it. The armor she wore was not too dissimilar from that worn by Eran during that conflict, right down to the lions engraved on the spaulders and belt.

“What on earth brings you here? Not that we’re not glad to see you.” Katerina carefully embraced the armored younger woman; Catherine’s parents had been friends of the Heskins, and had named their only daughter after Katerina.

“I figured I’d check in on you now that we’re not in imminent danger of annihilation, and back home to stay for the foreseeable future… in a place that’s not so damned bright, too. And this is the paladin talking here.” Like Eran, Catherine had allied with Bastion during the recent conflict. “Trouble with the grandson?”

Eran looked at his wife for a moment. “Not exactly,” he said carefully.

“I hear a ‘but’ coming. Let me guess - he’s running away to sea? I heard the ‘near-pirates’ bit.”

“Worse!” Katerina said, glaring at her husband. “He’s being sent to sea!”

Catherine’s brow furrowed slightly. “And this is worse… how?” Shifting back into his “mask” and throwing the odd guilty look to his wife, Eran explained the discussion he’d had with Ord’taeril, and the arrangement made with the Pearl Queen and her captain. When the elder knight had finished, the paladin let out a low whistle. “No wonder you’re up in arms.”

“Then you agree this is a bad idea?” Katerina asked hopefully.

“Actually, I think this is a great idea. Gives him some experience. And at least he’s got people in his corner.” Catherine now glanced at Eran, eyes narrowed. “My problem is how you sprung it on them all. I mean, come on, Eran, you should know better than that! You’ve never kept secrets before. Why now?”

Eran opened his mouth to answer… then just laughed humorlessly. “I panicked?” he said weakly.

“I can see why! All those battlefields you’ve nearly gotten killed on are a picnic compared to your wife’s wrath.” Catherine removed the great heraldic shield from her back and set it up against the wall near the door, with the “L” sigil of Lordaeron facing out; it had belonged to her mentor, Saavedro of Stratholme… who had died about a decade earlier without realizing it, and that creature who’d worn his flesh before meeting his end in Nazjatar was an abomination. She carefully adjusted the sword at her side - engraved with lion sigils on the hilt and blade, a gift from Eran - and sat down.

“He’s too young,” Katerina said.

“He wasn’t too young to come to Draenor, the Broken Isles, or Kul Tiras,” Catherine pointed out reasonably. “Now he’s at about the same age I was when I got my start in the ‘wide world’. We’re a lot alike in that regard, I think; except for you two, I had no one else. And I turned out okay, didn’t I? He’ll be fine.” The grin was back. “Probably good that Captain Pellerin and her crew are already gone. Calling them ‘near-pirates’ would probably have caused a brawl.”

Katerina threw up her hands. “Oh, I know, I know! But… after what happened with Taran and Madeline…”

Catherine gently took her namesake’s hands. “Of course you’re worried. But we all reach this point in our lives, do we not? It’s up to us what we do when the time comes. After the Second War, Taran thought he could block out the world, and when he realized he couldn’t, he wanted to burn it. I spent most of my life surrounded by death, but I chose to preserve life, so fewer people would have to be surrounded by death. Donal knows all about honor from you - both of you - but with the captain and her crew, maybe he’ll learn what to do with it.”

Katerina was looking down, digesting this. “You think so?”

“Oh, I know so. Take a look at me, Katerina.” When Katerina looked up, Catherine smiled. “Did you think, remembering me at that age, I would look like this more than a decade later? You probably thought I would be cloistered in the Cathedral doing confessionals. Hell, I certainly did. But circumstance made me choose differently… along with a little prophecy, if you believe in that sort of thing. I’ve certainly had a more open mind about it.”

Eran was quiet, knowing what she was talking about, but also remembering Ord’taeril’s admonition to Donal about destiny not being set in stone. “You think I did right?”

“Light, no. You completely screwed it up. How that will affect what is to come is anyone’s guess. But I choose to be optimistic. Maybe some good will still come from your… panic.” Catherine snorted. “If this is what you panicking looks like, I’d hate to see what you come up with when you’re actually sensible.”

Katerina couldn’t help but laugh.

The ship made its way back to Boralus, as Elizabeth sat in her cabin, writing in her log. Donal had arrived wearing Kul Tiran-style leather, and looked rather good in it, she had to admit - but also wore a tabard of Stormwind, wearing the lion proudly on his chest, as he had done as Eran’s squire. She understood pride for the homeland quite well, and so had allowed it.

The crew understood it as well, but per her instructions to give him the “proper welcome”, they had taken to a bit of hazing. They jeered that he strutted around with his Stormwind colors to remind them he was “better” than them; she had even heard one of them refer to the young man as being the “dog’s pet” rather than the other way around, a reference to Eran’s worgen curse. She knew they didn’t mean it - they knew Eran fairly well, too - but she had wondered how Donal would take it. She’d found out after the boatswain approached her after the first night, reporting that Donal had cried himself to sleep, though he had tried like hell not to be heard by the rest of the crew.

“I’m wonderin’ just 'ow far is too far, Skipper,” he had said. “We all went through the gauntlet when we was young’uns, but we’re Kul Tirans, we were born for it. Young Donal’s a lubber, and a Stormwinder at that. We don’t wanna give the lad the wrong idea, if 'e’s gonna be part of the crew.”

“I hear you,” Elizabeth had replied. “But I think he knows it’s a test. Whether he passes… that will be up to him. He does his work?”

“He’s quick t’pick things up, aye. Maybe we’ll put some muscle on 'is scrawny hide, too.” The boatswain had shaken his head. “Damn, now I’m doin’ it.”

Elizabeth had chuckled. “As well you should. You’re the boss of that deck. Make 'em work it.”

“Your lips to the Tidemum’s ears, Skipper.”

The days went on, and the work continued - as did the horrible jests from the crew. Donal bore it all stoically, confirming Elizabeth’s hunch that he knew it was all a test. He was determined not to shame himself, or his grandfather, by repeating that panicked tantrum about being “sent away”. Ord’taeril had the right of it, she thought. Hiding behind Eran’s armored backside made him too… skittish. Maybe we can make a Kul Tiran out of him, at least in some small way…

She looked up at the sound of footsteps, followed by the appearance of her first mate. “Lookout’s spotted Proudmoore Keep’s spire, Captain.”

“Thank you, Mr. McDonnell.” She closed her logbook and rose, following him onto the deck. Donal was on the deck with the crew as they prepared to dock. She smiled. “Opinion, Alec?”

“He’ll be a good lad once he grows up a bit.” McDonnell chuckled. “But you knew that, didn’t you?”

“Just wanted to see if my rule remained absolute and everyone was still dancing to my tune,” she quipped, grinning. “Anyone have any problems with him?”

“Calum doesn’t seem to like him.”

“Calum doesn’t like anybody, Alec - or at least that’s the impression he likes to give. He often talks about how he could probably run the entire ship by himself.”

“We’ll never know if I never get the chance to try.” McDonnell jumped slightly as Calum Granden came up from behind him, having gone up the steps from the lower deck.

The first mate glared at him. “How the bloody hell do you keep doing that?”

“The Tidemother is generous with her gifts,” the tidesage replied with a straight face.

Elizabeth snorted. “Maybe share the wealth a bit, Calum.”

“Ah, but you have gifts a-plenty, Captain. You can’t be the only one who can move quietly around here.”

“Away with you,” Elizabeth retorted, shooing him away with her hands, and trying not to laugh. “Go give someone else a headache.”

“Or a heart attack,” McDonnell muttered.

Granden smiled and gave a mocking bow of his head. “As the captain commands. Oh, and by the way, Mr. McDonnell, the boy is just fine… but there are certain reputations to be upheld, hmm?”

“Bah, I always knew you were a softy, you old grump.” Elizabeth chuckled. “Off with you. I’m sure you’ve got blessings to oversee once we’re in port.”

“I do at that.” He inclined his head, more seriously this time. “Captain.”

McDonnell watched the tidesage return to the deck, and shook his head. “That man scares me sometimes.”

“Good. That means his reputation is intact.” Elizabeth clapped her first mate on the shoulder. “We’ll have some work ahead of us, Alec, now that we’re coming back to our old routines. Are you ready?”

“Ready as I’ll… oh, gods, is that Henny coming up the dock?”

Elizabeth followed where McDonnell was glancing. Sure enough, it was Henrietta, one of her mother’s attendants, someone who looked like she had been weaned on a pickle. But she was coming ahead of… “Not just her this time, thank the Light.” She stepped onto the lower deck as the ship entered its berth, and leapt nimbly onto the quay. “Morning, Mum.”

The informality, naturally, shocked Henrietta. “Lady Elizabeth, how many times --”

“Oh, do be quiet, Henny,” Lady Eugenie, head of House Pellerin, said impatiently, waving her hand. The lady-in-waiting was quivering with rage at being so disrespectfully addressed, but given who was doing it, kept her tongue. “I hear you’ve taken on a special passenger, Beth.”

“Aye… but he won’t be a passenger when I’m done with him.”

“That doesn’t sound ominous at all.” Eugenie looked amused as she peered over at the deck. “And where… ah. You let him show off his colors, I see.”

“Small concession.” Elizabeth turned. “Mr. Heskin, if you would join me?” she said in a louder voice, getting his attention. He rose from the deck, and leapt not quite as nimbly from the deck, catching his foot on one of the ropes. He twisted, rolled, and collapsed in a heap on the dockside, to the laughter of the crew. Donal looked up, from his captain to the noble lady in front of her, and went beet red with embarassment.

The Pellerin matriarch’s eyebrows rose. “I see you have your work cut out for you, young man.”

Donal picked himself up, dusted himself off, and gave a slight bow. “I’ll manage, milady,” he replied, only the hint of a quiver in his voice.

“Of that, I have no doubt.” Eugenie looked fondly up at her daughter, smiling. “We all had to at that age.”

Ord’taeril awoke at his boarding house in Stormwind to find a letter waiting for him in the post. He prepared a cup of tea of a blend from the Wandering Isle - he’d developed a taste for the stuff during his training - as he opened the envelope and removed the folded message. The header made his eyebrow raise:

He grinned as he then recognized the spidery hand that followed.

Ord’taeril was laughing quietly at the end of it. So far, so good. He went over to his writing desk - he had arranged to have one set up when he began boarding here - and wrote a reply.

He stepped onto the deck, pulling a small cart with a chest of provisions. The first mate was standing near the ramp. “More goodies for the officers’ mess?”

“Aye, Mr. McDonnell,” he replied with a smile. “Compliments of the Lady Eugenie. And one in the eye for that old witch hovering around her.” He snorted. “I don’t think she likes me.”

McDonnell chuckled. “Henny doesn’t like anyone, lad. I don’t think she even likes Lady Eugenie, but she’s too prissy to say so. Protocol and all that. Bring the stuff on deck and let it be for now. Captain wants to see you. Said to send you aft once you returned.”

The young man’s eyebrows rose. “Am I in trouble?”

“You will be if you don’t hop to it, Mr. Heskin.” McDonnell smiled slyly. “Off with you.”

Donal Heskin looked apprehensive as he hauled the cart up the boarding ramp, handing it off to the first mate before heading back into the stateroom. She was seated at her chart table. “You wanted to see me, Captain?”

“I do.” Elizabeth looked up. “I know we’ve kept you from the homefront for a while, but it was for a good cause, y’know?”

Donal did know, in fact. “Trying to break the ties a bit?”

“Not break, but loosen up a bit, aye. Let you be Donal, instead of Sir Eran’s boy. I admit Mum and I weren’t sure you’d take to it, and we’d have brought you back to let you find your way somewhere else if need be, no harm done. But you seem to have settled in.”

Donal was somewhat confused. “Is something wrong?”

“Oh, no no. Nothing bad, don’t worry. But… it’s been how long now, two years? Only hearing from the folks from letters and what not…”

He caught on quickly, and also had the sense not to speak loud enough for the whole ship to hear. “We’re going back to Stormwind.”

Elizabeth nodded, pleased at his quickness. “First light tomorrow. I got a letter from one of the Deathsworn, gnome mage from Dalaran.” She referred to a small order calling itself the “Lordaeron Deathsworn”, founded years back during the war in Northrend by those seeking to avenge the fall of Lordaeron to the Scourge, and to uphold the memory and beliefs of King Terenas and the fallen heroes who had tried to protect it. “It makes for a hell of a read.” She handed Donal the letter, and his eyes widened.

“Dalaran seems to have a lot of dragon mages,” he said after he finished. “And what the archmage doesn’t say speaks a lot.”

Elizabeth smiled. “Or what his mentor didn’t tell him. Dragons are sneaky buggers, Donal, with their hiding in plain view, and what not. But I took the oath, and to tell the truth, it’s been long enough since the Shadowlands, we could use some excitement. So yes, we’re going back to Stormwind. From there, who knows? Maybe we’ll see how your combat training holds up in the real world.”

“You mean pirates aren’t real, Captain?”

“Not when compared to anything involving dragons, me bucko. Besides, pirates are a lot like flies.”

Donal’s eyebrows rose. “Numerous and attracted to piles of crap?”

The captain chuckled. “I see you’ve also heard a few pearls of wisdom from old Calum.”

“I… might have picked up a few things from Tidesage Granden, Captain, yes.”

“Just so long as you don’t pick up all of his bad habits. Your grandda would probably flay me with his claws if I let you turn out like that.”

Donal couldn’t help but grin. “Light forbid.”

“Aye. Now sod off, wouldja? You’ve got work to do before we ship out in the morning. Mum gave you the goods for the mess, right?”

“Mr. McDonnell took 'em over when I came aboard, Captain, since he said you wanted to see me.”

Elizabeth’s expression was one of mock horror. “Left with Alec? Oh, Light. You’d best get to it, or there will be a lot of missing bottles from that chest. He’d better not touch that bottle of 50-year-old Pupellyverbos I asked for…”

Eran paced nervously in the living room of his home in Cathedral Square, his stomach in knots. Finally, the door to the upstairs bedroom opened. Like him, Catherine was in simple garb - armor, sword and shield set aside, to reflect the time of peace. She took a look at her godfather and shook her head.

It was like someone had stabbed him in the heart. “Is she…?”

“No. But…” Catherine sighed, looking tired. “This is not something I can pray away, Eran. And there’s no magic potion.”

Eran was shaking his head. He refused to believe it. “But she’s… not that old, she’s only a year or two younger than me.”

“And like you, has lived a lifetime,” Catherine pointed out reasonably. “And if you’re thinking of doing what Lucia did to you, I wouldn’t recommend it. The curse of the worgen is unpredictable. Lucia was a druid, she knew how it worked… somewhat. You might turn her into a monster - or worse, make her suffer. Is that what you want?”

Eran sat down heavily, head in his hands. “This is my fault… just like --”

“No, Eran,” Catherine interrupted, her tone sharp enough to make him look up. “This is not like Taran. Not one damn bit. He was a bitter, hateful soul before Zovaal made his outside match his inside. She would never do that. You know that.”

The old knight just stared at her. “I just can’t help but feel… you got Caedus’ summons. Is this fate, so I can charge into whatever damn war his dragon mage master has in store for us, damn the consequences?”

“You still have Donal, Eran. And he will need you as well. For a start… you will need to tell him.”

With a shaky sigh, he nodded. “How long?” he whispered.

Catherine bowed her head. “Maybe a day.”

He rose, put a hand on her shoulder, and went upstairs.

Over the past year, she had started to become so frail. She kept herself going, though; ever since Donal left, every morning at sunrise, she rose and went out, walking a lap around the square. Then she walked down to Varian’s tomb, always stopping to look out at the harbor, just in case she could spot the Pearl Queen. That had only happened once, a couple of months after Donal left, when the Queen was in port; Captain Pellerin had gone to Booty Bay, to Thelaera’s tavern.

She had not been able to walk for the past week, and that pained her more than being sick did. She enjoyed being outside. But now…


She looked up and smiled as she heard that voice, as she had heard it for more than forty years. “Eran,” she whispered. He sat next to her, gripping her hand in his - though gently, as she had become so frail. “She told you.”

“She told me.” He felt more pain now than any wound he had ever suffered. “Kat, I --”

She raised her other hand to his lips. “I know what you’re going to say. You’re wrong.” She gave a little laugh. “I knew… right from the start, I knew what I was getting into, marrying a knight of the realm. I had to share you.”

“My body, perhaps. My heart and soul… never.” Tears ran down his face. “Remember you asked me if I thought it would ever be over?”

“On the dock, in Southshore… and many times since.”

“I… never knew what ‘it’ was, to be honest. And if this is ‘it’… then I don’t want it to be.”

Katerina grasped his hand with both of hers. “You’ve never believed in fate, Eran. You believed in duty, loyalty, honor, friendship, love… but fate? You always believed we made it, that it was not made for us. This is just… reminding you that some fates, we can’t make.” She closed her eyes. “There is one thing we can do. I want to look again… one last time.”

He knew exactly what she meant. Tucking the blanket gently around her, he lifted her into his arms - she seemed to weigh only as much as a child now - and held her close to his chest, walking carefully down the stairs. In the living room, Catherine looked up, and immediately stood, opened the door for him, and watched as they went out.

Katerina died in her husband’s arms, watching the sea, two days later.

A day and a half after that, the Pearl Queen arrived in Stormwind Harbor.

Elizabeth immediately knew something was wrong when they were greeted not by Eran, but by Dame Catherine, his goddaughter. She told them everything. To his credit, Donal maintained a steady composure, but she could see his lip quiver. The captain nodded slightly to herself, then looked back to Catherine. “Is there to be a burying?”

The one-eyed paladin shook her head. “No. After the whole brouhaha from the Shadowlands, she and Eran both agreed to cremation and scattering. No chance of them being brought back that way.” She looked with her good eye at Donal. “I understand that was a concern of yours as well.”

Donal bowed his head, remembering how he had confronted Nyssha Swiftblade after his parents’ deaths, what seemed like a lifetime ago now. Nyssha was gone too, having become Maldraxxi.

“Where is he?”

“He left for Westfall just before you pulled in.”

Elizabeth turned to the two men standing behind her. “Mr. McDonnell, see to the crew as we discussed.”

The first mate nodded. “Aye, Captain.”

“Mr. Heskin…” She put a hand on his shoulder. “Head on over. I’m sure you know where he’s going.” With a pat, she sent him off to the gryphon landing. Once both men were gone, she gestured for Catherine to walk with her. “Have you been brought up to speed?”

Catherine nodded. “I spoke with Archmage Netherfist just after he arrived.”

“What do you make of it?”

“Well, if you had asked me fifteen years ago, I would have been inclined to hunt dragons rather than help them, but how things have changed since then.”

Elizabeth gave a light snort. “Truer words never spoken. I think I’ve only met this archmage once, so not enough to get an impression… is he prone to being overly excitable?”

Catherine chuckled. “He’s a gnome, Captain. Most of them are. But if you’re asking if he’s making this up to keep us on our toes, the answer is no.”

“Not a whole lot to work with here.”

“I’ve never actually met anyone that’s a dragon in disguise - that I know of - but what I’ve heard of them is that they’re very secretive. Getting a straight answer out of them is like getting a murloc to clear its throat. Even if this Eregesh guy is his mentor, he’s not likely to reveal his hand just yet. That’ll take time.”

Elizabeth rubbed the bridge of her nose. “That’s the thing, I get this strange feeling like we’re not about to have a whole hell of a lot of that.”

Donal landed just outside Sentinel Hill and walked briskly the last couple of miles to the family homestead, which had been left to rot after his parents’ deaths. He still remembered that day vividly, even after nearly five years. The gunshot that his mother, Madeline, had taken instead of his grandmother… the feeling of plunging his small but functional blade into his father’s ribcage… the cold, almost sadistic smile on Taran’s face when he died. That smile continued to haunt him.

A pyre had been built in a cleared, dusty circle in front of the abandoned house. He looked inside the rotting doorframe, and saw the floor was still stained with the blood of the dead, before looking back at the pyre. His grandmother’s body lay on it, a wreath of autumn leaves around her head. He was horrified at how she looked almost skeletal, how she had deteriorated so fast since he left.

His grandfather stood before the pyre, in his full armor and cursed visage, the white fur rippling slightly in the light breeze. Without looking, he handed his grandson an unlit torch, and gestured to the nearby campfire. It was as if Eran had waited for him to arrive, knowing that he would. Donal felt a shiver go down his spine, but lowered his torch into the flame, lighting it. Eran took his place at the head of the pyre, gently putting a clawed hand on his wife’s forehead for the last time… and then he stepped back slightly, running his torch along the bottom of it. Donal, at the foot, did likewise, rotating around as the flames caught around the dried wood, consuming the frail flesh that had once been a vital person in their lives. Both men then stepped back, setting the torches on top of the pyre, before Donal took his place at his grandfather’s side.

“Catherine had said she would not survive a day,” the old knight said. “She lived for two… with the hope the winds would bring you home first.” He sighed. “I’m glad you did not have to watch her die. Seeing her like this… is painful enough. Seeing how she got this way was much worse.”

“Was it because I left, Grandda?”

Eran turned, his ice-blue eyes reflecting the flames. Donal, even after everything, still took a cautious step back. “No, my boy. She has endured more than most would in our lifetimes. As I watched her decline, I blamed all the events of our years - long decades of service to a rotating crown, all these constant wars. I blamed your father and his petty hatred. And first and foremost, as I did after your parents died… I blamed myself. But never you. Although… she did express the hope she could see you again, see what kind of man you’ve become.” He looked his grandson over; Donal was almost as tall as he was in his worgen form, and probably taller than his human visage. His blonde hair was tied back in a ponytail, as Eran’s usually had been. “I wish she had… but part of me thinks she will see you well enough. Now that things have been brought back to what they should be.”

“Will she go to Bastion, d’you reckon?”

Eran nodded, amused at hearing hints of a Kul Tiran accent in his grandson’s voice. “I think so. She was always a selfless giver, your grandmother. She placed everyone before herself.” He couldn’t help but laugh a little. “That’s why she stayed with me for more than forty years. I never… truly appreciated that about her. Not until now, now that she is gone.” He looked to the pyre, then looked back at his grandson. “Do you know what that means?”

Donal was silent, not sure how to answer. After a moment, he shook his head.

“It means we are the last, my boy,” the old knight replied. “And after I die, whenever that will be, you will be the last. We’re no noble house, Donal, with branches hither and yon. No cousins or other distant relations. I was an only child. So were your grandmother, and your mother, and your father. So were my father and my mother. And so are you. But with… one exception, we all found ways to serve, to give to others besides ourselves. My father was a blacksmith. So was my father-in-law, your grandmother’s father; they worked together. We actually met, your grandmother and I, in their shop, in what is now Darkshire. Grand Hamlet, as it was back then. Your grandmother was a healer of sorts; she worked in the garden with her mother, making medicines and such. She tended the wounded and sick when we fled to Southshore after the First War, and had to tend to me when I was wounded in the Second. Your grandparents on your mother’s side were priests, and your mother had wanted to be one too.”

Donal never knew that. Still, he remembered how devout she had been. “I think she would have been a good priest.”

Eran nodded in agreement. “I think so as well.”

“What happened?”

“Your father, mainly. He told her he didn’t want to lose her to the ‘corrupt influence’ of the city. After we returned from Lordaeron, when we won the Second War, Taran never had a kind word about anything pertaining to the kingdom. He cursed them all regularly. Mainly cursed me, of course, but also the city, the army, the Church… even the King. If they hadn’t been there, he said, the Horde would never have run us out of our homes.” Eran sighed. “I think Madeline stayed here with him because she wanted to try to save him from himself. And look what that got her, the poor soul.”

Curiosity led Donal to ask, “If he hated you so much, why did he let me go with you all those years back? Why didn’t he keep me here?”

“I’ve wondered about that myself,” Eran admitted. “I think he was convinced you would take one look at the world I lived in and come running back here. He never liked that I told you stories about when I was Aurelius’ squire, serving in the wars against the Horde, all the tales about our great heroes. Though your grandmother seemed to think you were more interested in hearing about me, just another soldier in the ranks, than you were about the Lion of Azeroth or the Lightbringer.”

“Not every hero gets a statue, Grandda. And to hear Lady Eugenie tell it, there are some people who shouldn’t get one. She thinks the one to Daelin Proudmoore in Boralus is a monument to how most heroes tend to get themselves killed by their own stupidity.”

“Ah, you’ve been getting a few life tips from the grande dame of House Pellerin, eh?”

Donal grinned slightly. “Her lady-in-waiting looks at her like she committed treason whenever she talks like that, but doesn’t say a word. The captain doesn’t like her. None of the crew does. I don’t think Lady Eugenie does, either. ‘The unfortunate baggage of my station,’ she’s put it.”

Eran chuckled. “She’s probably being polite about it. Eugenie has never cared for the ‘flubdubs’. Neither has Elizabeth, which is why she joined the fleet.” He gazed back at the flames, which had completely consumed the pyre and the body upon it. He pulled a small totem from a belt pouch. He ran a claw on the symbol carved on it, before tossing it onto the pyre. Then he gestured for Donal to stand back.

As the young man watched, a whirlwind materialized around the pyre, snuffing out the flame like a light breath blows out a candle, before the winds scattered the ashes to the four winds. When the air subsided, only a blackened circle remained where the pyre had been. Donal stared, wide-eyed. “Wha… how…”

“One of our Deathsworn - Marrim Snowmane, from Ironforge - is a shaman… she gave it to Catherine not long after she arrived at Caedus’ summons. Catherine knew it would come to this… and wanted to be prepared, not to have a fire burn all of Westfall to the ground. This place has suffered enough.” Eran looked up into the sky, watching the ashes dance in the breeze, before finally dissipating. She was gone from this world forever, but he was reassured that she would no doubt await him when his time came.

Donal’s eyes followed it too. “The captain showed me the letter the archmage sent. What does it all mean? Is there a new war coming?”

“I hope not,” Eran replied. “But if one does come, we will be prepared for it.”

Ord’taeril stood at the base of the mage tower in Stormwind, watching as the venerable old lady descended the ramp. “Lady Eugenie, welcome. I see you’ve given the hovering old witch the slip?”

“And she’ll not be happy about it… she’ll probably start tearing her hair out and searching every room in the house. But I’ve long since stopped giving a damn. I hope she works herself to death, the lump of baggage.” Eugenie chuckled, as she accepted his outstretched hand. As they walked from the Mage Quarter to the canals, however, her expression was solemn. “How is he?”

“It will take time, and there are a number of people - like Elizabeth - who think we might not have it. Events are in motion.”

“Hmph. That’s not vague at all.”

Ord’taeril gave a light snort. “Vague is all we have, milady. The dragon who issued the summons is keeping his cards close to his scales. Something we mere mortals have to wait on their pleasure for, nevermind that mere mortals have been pulling their bacon out of the fire for the past thirty years.”

“Too right. I don’t see their Titan friends coming to help. There’s also the fact that mortals, former or otherwise, have killed three of their leaders… Aspects, yes?” At Ord’taeril’s nod, she went on, “Yes, three Aspects, in the past fifteen or so years. Hm. You weren’t even born for most of this, were you? I recall Beth mentioning something.”

“Aye, I was born just before the Cataclysm. When I was about three, I ended up getting lost in the Nether as a child - a hundred years for me, a few months here. Taking an emergency portal from the other Draenor to Thunder Bluff turned into ending up in a war zone in the Beyond.”

“You’ve turned out well, all things considered.”

“I had a lot of help.” He smiled thinly. “Much like the young lad I sent out your way… two, three years ago now?”

“A fine boy, starting to get a handle on things. But he still has much to learn.” She patted the arm she was gripping as they walked into Cathedral Square. “My mother told me once that growing is a process that doesn’t end until we die. And even then, sometimes our corpses end up feeding the crabs, or the trees, and they grow from us.”

The void elf Lorewalker chuckled. “You’ve certainly been an influence on the boy, milady. Whether that’s a good thing remains to be seen.”

Eugenie smiled faintly, but sobered quickly. “I do wonder about him, though. Whether he has become… insensitive to all this loss around him. His father was a hate-spitting lunatic, his mother died saving his grandmother, and then his grandmother wastes away into nothing after he leaves. Plus nearly losing the old man. It’s enough to drive even the strongest men mad.” They sat on a bench in the shadow of the Lightbringer. “And now this new conflict coming. His first true taste of battle, possibly, like what Beth, and you, and Eran, and so many others have done for all these years. Will he endure, or will he break?”

“It’s a question we’ve all asked, especially those of us orphaned by tragedy. We must have faith in the future, but be mindful of the present. Or to put it simply… one day at a time.”

Eran stood behind the monument of Lion’s Rest, looking out across Stormwind Harbor and the Great Sea beyond. He had been visited that morning by Archmage Netherfist, who had told him simply that “my master wishes to speak with you” and asking him to wait there. He had been there most of the day. He had not slept since Katerina died, and he doubted he ever would sleep soundly again, the guilt continuing to gnaw at his soul. Remembering what the gnome archmage had told him before, asking for the others to be brought here, he was looking out to sea, as the sun began to set, to see if there was… some sign.

“You won’t see them. At least, not yet.”

Eran turned to see a slender-looking elf standing behind him, his blue-gray hair running nearly to his waist, his beard neatly trimmed. His glowing blue eyes showed he was more than just another high elf. “Lord Esheregos, I presume.”

“If we’re going with titles, ‘Archmage’ is the only one I’ve earned in my life… and as for names, Eregesh is fine.” Esheregos, alias Eregesh Silvergale, bowed his head. “My condolences on your recent bereavement, Sir Eran. I hesitate to ask anything of you in this time, but I would not if I did not feel it necessary.”

“How considerate of you,” Eran replied sarcastically. “Still getting used to this ‘Age of Mortals’ business, having to rely on us to save your backsides again? I will not be played with like some novice, dragon-mage.”

Eregesh took a cautious step back, his face remaining neutral and yet his eyes showing sadness at the ingrained hostility most mortals showed towards dragonkind. “I am not your enemy, sir.”

“And you’re damn sure not my friend, either. I don’t care what Caedus says. Dragons always seek to play us for puppets, like Deathwing and Onyxia… and you blues are no better. That’s why you and your Aspect hide among the Kirin Tor, trying to get them to play to your tune. Well, I’m not having it. Speak your piece and begone.”

Eregesh bowed his head again. “Very well. An ancient threat has arisen, one even the most elder among us - of which I am certainly not - had forgotten. The Dragonqueen called upon all dragonkind to journey beyond the sea, to the ancestral homelands granted us by the Titans. I have only now just returned.”

That got Eran’s attention, as Eregesh had suspected it would. But his eyes narrowed. “Let me guess: Something’s gone wrong, and you’re wanting us to come help clean up the mess?”

“In short… yes.” The dragon-mage raised a hand to silence the inevitable comeback. “However, the Timeless One and the Black Prince have found those who were lost and forgotten, who seek a new purpose in their lives. I have reached out to both of my students - Caedus here, and Kelty over in Orgrimmar - to seek out their allies, to help these poor souls acclimate to the world in which they enter. There are some who will go to the Horde… and some who will come here.”

Eran simply stared at him. “So you want me to help you insert spies into our midst, is that it?”

Eregesh sighed, his patience beginning to wear thin. “Sir Eran, if you were so concerned about ‘dragon spies’ in your midst, you would have put Caedus’ head on a pike the moment he told you about me. Stop being so damned obstinate.”

“Then stop being so damned vague,” Eran snarled. “What do you want from me?”

Eregesh stepped up to the wall next to him, looking down at where the Pearl Queen was docked in the harbor. “Your grandson is seeking to find his way in life, and so these lost ones will be as well,” he said after a moment. “They are ancient, with powers even we cannot fully understand… and yet they are like children themselves in many ways. They will need guidance. My niece and I have already found one such, who will meet her own guides in time. There is another… and I would like to send him to you.”

Curiosity ultimately won over contempt. “Who are these ‘lost ones’ you speak of?”

“On the morrow, Sir Eran. Meet me here on the morrow, and bring your captains and allies, and I will show you. I think, even with your suspicions, that you will find my new friend and his fellows useful… and they will benefit from your experience. Indeed, your experience, and those of your fellows in the Alliance - and the Horde - will be needed in the time to come.” A flash of power glowed in Eregesh’s eyes as he faced the old knight, and now it was Eran’s turn to take a cautious step back. “There is a storm coming.”

Donal accompanied his captain up from the ship when the summons came to meet with his grandfather and the Deathsworn. “What do you think this is all about, Captain?” he asked as they ascended the ramp from the harbor.

“I don’t know, lad,” Elizabeth admitted, “but something sure has the authorities in a tizzy. You notice?”

He did. “They’re gearing up for something big. But from what the lookout spotted, we might not be going anywhere any time soon.”

“Aye. I’ve seen rough seas before, but not like this. Not since the Cataclysm.” She shook her head. “We’ll find out soon enough.”

Donal saw they were heading for the gazebo set behind the Cathedral, a place where he and his grandfather had once attended Genevra Stoneheardt’s sermons, what felt like an age ago. Genevra herself had disappeared some years back, the big house in Lakeshire closed up, but some of the memories still lingered. There was a good-sized group there.

Eran stood in the gazebo, leaning on his spear. At his right hand stood Dame Catherine, shield resting on her arm, the other hand on her sword hilt. At his left was Archmage Netherfist, carrying the staff given to him by his mentor. In the front row was Captain Englebert Blunderwitz from Gnomeregan’s special forces, joined by his friend from Mechagon, Jenit Ratchetrouter. Two Dark Iron Light-wielders - Senator Aongus Doomlight and his daughter Embervina - sat across the aisle from them, along with Marrim Snowmane, a shaman from Ironforge. Behind the dwarves were Huntmaster Tergahn and Vindicator Taelinkayn, two Lightforged who had left the Army of the Light in disgust during the Fourth War; next to them was Peacekeeper Tasaera, a former guardian of Shattrath. Archdruid Tekolin Wintershade and Inquisitor Gabriel Underwood sat behind the gnomes; behind them, Lorewalker Ketiron sat with Araen Warpwalker, one of Alleria’s rangers who had spent twenty years in Outland. Standing in the back were Zhaoren Deathtide, the pandaren death knight and armorer, and Lord Eldred Valmy, the Gilnean warlock-engineer, his spectacles perched on his lupine snout.

“Quite the crowd,” Elizabeth remarked as she and Donal sat across from the two void elves.

Eran gave a slight smile and nod to his grandson before glancing at the gnome next to him. Before he could give voice to what was on his mind (an impatient demand for answers, Donal knew), every head turned as a lone figure approached, even the non-magically inclined feeling the power emanating from him. It was Eregesh, wearing a simple robe and carrying a staff crafted of a white tree branch. “I promised you answers, Sir Eran,” he said as he stepped to the front. “You have seen the increase in activity here in Stormwind of late, and heard rumors. I will now confirm those rumors. I told you of a new friend I encountered in my travels. It is time you met him.” He raised a hand, and another figure approached.

Donal’s jaw dropped on seeing the stranger. He stood nearly as tall as a tauren, and was sturdily built. He wore green scalemail with a forest green breastplate trimmed with silver, adorned with swirling patterns; his hood, sash, and breechcloth were similarly patterned. His warm violet eyes were glowing, almost reflective. And his flesh… was covered in silver-gray scales, with dark patches in a number of places. His curving horns, talons, and wings were similar, and the snout of an ancient wyrm stuck out from under the hood.

“Dragon-men?” Donal felt his cheeks flush when he realized the question had come from his own lips, and everyone was now looking at him - including the dragon-man.

“Aye, young seeker, the blood of the dragon does run in their veins,” Eregesh confirmed. “The Timeless One told us of them when they were discovered on the Dragon Isles. They are called dracthyr, created long ago by the Earth-Warder for a long-forgotten war… one that may well have begun anew.”

“The Earth-Warder?!” That was Eran now - and he was angry. “You mean to say you’ve made some kind of pact with the spawn of Deathwing, and you want us to take them in? You want to put one in with my friends and comrades?” He laughed incredulously. “You’re just as mad as he was if you think I will accept this, you two-faced schemer.”

“As for the dracthyr themselves, you have no option on the matter,” Eregesh replied, a hint of icy steel in his tone. “Lord Regent Turalyon has allowed them into the city, under the strict observation of SI:7 - and very likely the Watch as well. No doubt Commander Orwyn will be most interested in the increased activity in his city.” He now turned to the dracthyr next to him. “As for Serys here, well… that will be up to you.”

“Absolutely no–”

“Wait!” Donal stood up. Eran’s expression was frozen in shock. So was Elizabeth’s, as she sat next to him. “Give him a chance! Give them a chance!”

The assembly sat in stunned silence, looking from Donal, to Eran, then back to Donal. Finally, up front, Catherine stepped forward from her place next to Eran. “Donal is right,” she said. “While it’s true that dragons have caused their fair share of murder and mayhem for the past thirty years, these dracthyr had nothing to do with that. We cannot judge them for what they are, or who created them, or why they were created. They are here, now.” She nodded to Eregesh and his companion. “Let this one prove to us what he and his kind are capable of.”

Eran was staring at his grandson for a long moment, as if he was trying to recognize him. Donal met his gaze without flinching, before looking at Serys. “What can you do, sir? What sort of powers do you have?”

“We were created with the powers of all flights in our blood,” the dracthyr replied, in a slightly gravelly but also gentle voice. “I think the power of the greens flows strongest in my veins, for I favor the healing arts… and am also learning to walk within the Emerald Dream itself.” That got the attention of Tekolin, a member of the Cenarion Circle, which shared a special communion with the green dragonflight. Gabriel, who’d worked with Cenarion druids himself, also took interest.

Donal looked back to his grandfather. “A healer, Grandda. Light knows we could use more of those.”

Eran took a deep breath, trying to relieve his agitation. Finally, grudgingly, he nodded. “Very well. We will take in your friend, dragon-mage.” His gaze fixed on Donal, and the younger man wondered if the next thing his grandfather said was meant more for him than Eregesh. “But do not make me live to regret this.”