Part I Edit
Nikajah unfolded the parchment again, feeling the weight of it between her fingertips. It was strange to think about how a simple, tri-folded page could carry so much weight within it. It was a letter of summons, calling her to duty at the Western Front in the Northrend campaign. She tucked it away for the third time that day, folding it back into the important-looking envelope that bore it, wax seal with the impression of the Alliance insignia pressed upon it unbroken. She had sliced her letter-opener neatly through the top.
Only a week before, her mate and Nazumai had been called to the Eastern front with a similar letter bearing the same seal. She recalled the lengthy good-byes at the Menethil docks, Lynissa weeping silently against Mai's shoulder, Ceridith grabbing her in rough arms and lifting her to her toes in one of his all-consuming bear hugs. Katanya stood with Nikajah's own toddling daughters on each hip, and Aceriel solemn-faced beside her, swept up in the farewell pandemonium. They were far from alone in their weepy hugs and words of love; the dock had been crowded nearly shoulder-to-shoulder with families and departing soldiers. She and Lynissa had watched the ship fade from view across the ocean's horizon, bearing its precious cargo.
And now here was her own summons. She remembered how Aceriel had bristled at being left behind. She wanted so much to make her father proud. Nikajah would have to explain that she was the Silverleaf defense, and how important it was that she remain in charge of the protection of their household and the company office. Nikajah did not remember getting up, but her office door was locked and the keys in her hand.
Shore-leave to return to the cities was not infrequent. She would return regularly to oversee current investigations and to visit her family. Somehow it was not much comfort, but at the very same time, a thrill was rising within her. A new adventure, a new frontier... she could feel something inside herself, something wild and free, writhing in excitement.
How could Mother allow these abominations into the company? Aceriel thought angrily to herself, stabbing at the training dummy, blindly following her forms. They would provide valuable information about Scourge tactics and campaigns, she had promised, so conveniently. Aceriel had serious doubts, most of her time being spent in the company of the Argent Dawn, attempting to rid the diseased Scourge from the face of Azeroth. One did not simply forsake the Lich King. And besides that, they were perversions of the worst kind, created solely to ravage and plague. It seemed hardly possible that they could just wrench free to rise above that purpose.
No matter Mother's decree, I will not just accept them quietly, no. I will watch for any signs of treachery, and at the first mistake... she swung her blade in an arc, neatly slicing the stitching at the dummy's neck. It's head rolled around in the straw, spilling stuffing as it went. PERVERSION! her mind screamed, thinking of the things crawling about over their frequency, fulfilling contracts. She did not want them in her city, on her continent, let alone in her company. How could Father allow this? her mind screeched, and she neatly dismembered the dummy. Its legs flopped to the ground.
Part II Edit
Her room in A Hero's Welcome provided ample enough furnishings. Mai was seated behind an elegant writing desk, legs folded beneath her on the chair, back erect and face serene. She sipped at her honeymint tea, the herbal aroma soothing her mind. Her eyes were passively studying the Kaldorei draped over her neatly-made bed, the flickering light from a sprinkling of tallow candles in the room bouncing off her lenses. Nikajah was restless, lying on her stomach facing Mai, her ankles crossed and knees bent. She idly played with the stormcrow feathers in her hair, setting her beads to clicking softly.
"I think Sylvanas is a traitor." The statement hung, bitter, on the air. Nikajah scowled.
Mai simply tilted her head, giving consideration to the thought. She continued to imbibe the scented tea with absolute serenity.
"She had to have at least suspected the RAS. She could not have been daft enough to allow them to create a weapon of utter genocide beneath her very nose. With the forces of the Scourge, Alliance, and Horde weakened, all she would need to do is set us all against each other, and then watch it play out. But Wrynn was wrong. Thrall didn't know. I... I keep playing the scene over and over again in my mind."
Mai nodded sympathetically. She had been there. She had seen it, too.
"Malygos insane and bent on eradicating us all. Nozdormu being blamed for the Infinites. Y'sera falling to the Nightmare. Who knows where the Black Flight is? An Old God buried beneath the ice, wreaking further havoc on already fragile minds. The Scourge spreading their influence. The RAS. It's so much."
"It is," Mai agreed quietly in her musical, lilting soprano.
"Bolvar is dead and I can't--" her voice broke, "I can't get the screams from Wrathgate out of my mind."
Mai carefully set her chipped porcelain teacup down and stood, smoothing her skirt as she did so. With an effortless grace, she drifted to Nikajah's side and laid gentle, cool, motherly hands on either side of Nikajah's face.
"You must remember so that you can fight for them. We all must remember. You cannot despair, Sister, or all is lost." She brushed away the wild tresses and tilted Nikajah's chin up to look into her eyes.
"All it takes for evil to gain hold is for good men and women to do nothing, Sister."
Nikajah swallowed hard and broke the gaze as her face was released. After a few moments of pregnant silence, she spoke again, her voice firm with the swift change in subject.
"You've been observing Catinan. What have you learned?"
Mai pressed her lips into a firm line, the closest expression to anger Nikajah had seen her make. In a moment it was gone, though, and that statuesque serenity regathered.
"There are heavy influences at play. She still struggles, though, with herself. She has not given completely over to Darkness. But there is... something more..." Nazumai trailed off, looking slightly uncomfortable.
Nikajah immediately sat up. Anything that could make Mai uncomfortable was cause for alarm. "What?"
Mai shook her head slowly and adjusted her glasses. "No. No, I need more time to be certain."
Nikajah steeled her jaw, but knew it was pointless to argue with the Counselor. Once she had made up her mind, she was not to be moved. Gentle as a dove, but immovable as a boulder.
Mai drifted back to her half-empty teacup. She again offered Nikajah a cup of her own, and again Nikajah refused. She knew Mai was concerned about the drinking. Fel, they all were, lately. But it was warm and kept the edge off. And it kept the screams away, the thought came unbidden.
"I don't like surprises, Mai," she said aloud and sprang upwards, ready to take her leave. "Keep an eye on her."
Nazumai nodded slowly, concern in her expression. "Director. Please. Get some rest. I can make you a--"
"No," Nikajah cut her off. Immediately, she felt guilty for speaking so sharply. "I can make it, too, Mai. You need not trouble yourself. I am quite all right."
Mai nodded again, this time absently fingering a braid. "Pleasant dreaming, Sister."
Nikajah barely heard her as she slipped out the door.
Part III Edit
The raven-haired beauty with ghostly-pale features turned first one way, then another, screaming in terror. The shadows were closing in from every side, seemingly stepping out from the darkness that was the surroundings. Nazumai willed the girl to run with her mind, begged her to flee and somehow escape unscathed, but she knew what would happen. The ring of shadows descended, hungry, in an ever-closing ring, feeding. The sound of flesh rent and the scent of blood, faintly metallic to her sharp senses, pricked her mind like a knife opening an old wound. Gut-wrenching screams of agony told her that the girl was not yet dead enough to see herself be ripped apart, and it was just too much. Waves of nausea hit Mai in the stomach, roiling over each other one after another, until she thought she would sick up--
"AHH!--" she choked off the scream. A sheen of sweat stung her eyes that quickly adjusted to the daylight that poured spots of sunlight into her room. Hurried footfalls outside the door resounded before it was thrown back, Lynissa bursting in, her face the picture of fear. It was too like-- But no, Mai would not allow herself to think it. Not now. Not about Lynissa.
"Mai! Are you all right?" The mage cupped her palms around Mai's face, pushing back sweat-slick strands of jade tresses. Soft blue eyes were wide and round with worry.
"I am quite all right, my doveling. It was just a nightmare," Mai responded softly, only now noticing that she trembled like a leaf in the breeze.
Iron nerves steeled her body, and she put her hands to work finding her folded lenses. Lynissa took them from her and channeled briefly, filling the washbasin from a chipped porcelain pitcher and dampening a soft cloth. The cloth seemed to dance on air as it snaked its way toward Lynissa's outstretched free hand. Cool dampened the fire burning Mai's mind, washing away the images in tender care. Mai scrubbed her eyes with her knuckles, allowing Lynissa to bathe her forehead and cheeks for only a moment longer. She reached, again, for her lenses, and this time Lynissa did not intervene.
"Was it the vision?" Concern made Lynissa's soft voice quake, her expression earnest as it was worried.
Mai nodded. "The vision. I must find that poor girl, Lyn." Her voice broke. After a moment, she tried again. "I noticed that after my... episode, I was much more attuned to emotions than natural for me. The Scarlet Raven Inn saturated me. I could feel emotions crashing off each other like errant waves. I was very hasty and quite shaken by the whole experience. I fear I do not remember all that I said."
Lynissa enfolded her in warm, loving arms. Nazumai held the embrace for a long moment, then broke it gently. "I must see the Director. There is something I have to tell her; not only must I fill her in on the vision, but... Catinan is pregnant, and I believe she is in danger. Perhaps not mortal, and not as urgent as--" she stopped, taking a breath to still the images that speaking of the girl would conjure, "But all the same, I was asked to watch her."
"You worry too much for others and not nearly enough for yourself, my love, my light. Please, at least give yourself a moment's rest," Lynissa responded, the slight pout on her lips evident only fractions above the great concern in her expression.
"This afternoon then. Please invite her to tea in my rooms. There is much to be discussed and precious little time to waste." Mai stopped, peering into Lynissa's eyes through her lenses. Her own luminescent gaze tinged a rose pink, deepening in hue the longer she held her lover's eyes. "If I have been given this gift, Elune has blessed me with the ability to help those who cannot help themselves to a deeper extent than many others. If I do nothing, if I sit and nurse myself too long, then it is wasted. Innocent people will die when I might have been able to prevent it."
Lynissa nodded after a moment, begrudgingly. Her fear for her lover took precedence over the lives of strangers, Nazumai knew, but Lyn would understand that Mai could not simply allow people to die. Not that way. Not if she could help it. With a rustle of her skirts and a long look for Mai, Lynissa glided gracefully from the room. She was headed to retrieve the Director, per Mai's request.
Part IV Edit
Nazumai poured hot honey-mint tea from a small floral-painted white kettle into a matching chipped teacup. The rich liquid swirled like the thoughts chasing themselves around Mai's mind. With a slender teaspoon, she added a dollop of thick honey to the tea, listening to the spoon clink against the cup as she stirred.
She had located the woman from her visions; it had been Thanatosa herself all along. The woman seemed more alarmed than relieved by Nazumai's presence, and had all but ushered her out of the Scarlet Raven Inn. It had stung a little, but she could hardly blame people for thinking there was something unnatural about a woman predicting their demise. The honey-mint tea slid down her throat but did little to warm her. Icy fingers rubbed at the bridge of her nose, trying to scour away the thoughts.
And then there had been Catinan. The woman was entirely under the thrall of the warlock, and it was disturbing. If she could somehow remove the warlock from the company... but that had not been what Nikajah wanted. She had wanted to keep the dangerous woman close, so that through her thirst for power, information about the enemies that they would otherwise be unable to recover could be located. It seemed a risky game to play to Mai, but then, Nikajah had trusted most of the agents to keep their wits about them.
She recalled the nightmare that had plagued her several nights before and tonight just now, eating away at her sleep.
The tow-headed youth seemed like any other child, happy and healthy. But Catinan could not see what Nazumai saw when her back was turned. There was a hunger, an other-worldly darkness in those red-tinted blue eyes, a tint that turned them a violent, shaded purplish hue, like twin bruises. He would consume her soul just as easily as if he nursed, and it would only be the beginning. He was a monster; an abomination the warlock had created, playing with things that even she did not understand, just to see what would come of it. The warlock thought she could leash anything, control anything, and there were many things that would just as soon turn on her and rend flesh from bone. She was an ignorant child playing with fire, and Catinan would be the first casualty.
The child sat on his mother's chest while she slept. He leaned down as if to kiss her, and sucked in a deep breath. Tendrils of blue essence escaped her lips and filled his, his purplish eyes radiating deep blood-red with greed. Gluttony took over and he drew more, licking at the corners of his mouth for any stray essence as if it were gravy. Her eyes opened with fear, a scream poised on her frozen, open lips, and his fists in her hair, yanking her back, holding her down, as he drank the life from her, and the shadows laughed and howled and celebrated.
The scream that would have come from Catinan's lips awoke Mai bathed in sweat. And here she was now, spending another sleepless night drinking tea that could not be sweetened with any amount of honey. Bitter snippets of memory tainted the drink that Nazumai loved, and she stared at it numbly. What would it take to make a mother kill her own son?