(( The title of this story is "Have You Seen This Druid?" it appears without punctuation due to technical limitations. The setting is during patch 3.0, "Echoes of Doom," about one month before the launch of Wrath of the Lich King and the excursion to Northrend; during the zombie plague event and Scourge invasion. ))

Part OneEdit

Posted by DawnforgeEdit

Below her, Shattrath was in ruins. Arienne could only stare as she pulled on her gauntlets, a foul wind blowing up from the Lower City. She had to go down there; she couldn't just stay holed up in her safe little stronghold. She'd been part of an army once, and no matter whose tabard she wore, the Scourge were always her enemy.
Something felt different, this time. This wasn't the Cult of the Damned's plague, not the first one; this one was much too efficient and the hours she'd spent sorting through the earliest reports only saw the situation worsen to the point that she almost felt hopeless. She took a mental inventory: Zaniya had taken her little sister Tafari and fled to some remote island. Nexic was strong enough to fight it off, as was Damien — not that the younger Duskwhisper would have appreciated her concern. Ishbaneer had conviction and fortitude enough that the paladin wasn't worried about him. Valendar was waiting to see what she would do; Alarius and Rethloris were paladins and therefore a non-concern.

Which left her with one name she kept coming back to, a grainy, rumpled picture in her hands. It was of a tall Tauren with a golden nose ring and a braided mane, carrying a distinctly elven staff.

On Zuriaku's wings she descended into the miasma, the swarms of infected overrunning the living. She prayed for those she could, trying to drive the disease itself from their systems, but it was draining. They beat back the rush of Scourge, and for a few minutes, there was peace. She patched wounds and cleansed bodies, feeling her strength slowly being sapped.

To every survivor she asked the same question, showing around the picture and reciting his lineage and his shapeshifted appearances. "Have you seen this druid?" All she met were blank stares, sadly shaken heads, a chorus of "no." Arienne walked south, picture in one hand and mace in the other, through the desolate husk of a city.

There was a wall full of missing faces; an orcish child, a troll that could have been Zaniya's brother, a rather plump looking blood elf with tanned skin, dark hair, gaudy earrings. Her own face didn't stare back at her. Carefully rearranging the postings, she added another face to the sad, terrible collection. Reward for information; please send your fastest courier or report to Scryers' Tier. Ask for Lieutenant Dawnforge.

"Nuhwoti," the blood knight murmured to herself, "where are you?"

Posted by NuhwotiEdit

"Go to Fray Island, Nuhwoti, it is safe."
"Leave Silvermoon City, Nuhwoti, it is dangerous."
"You need to find shelter. Stay at Moonglade."
"What? Druids cannot fight diseases?"

Everywhere he turned, he was being told to go and hide, go and be safe, go and find shelter. But how could he? Had all his hard years of studying and training been for nothing? Most certainly not! Not only was he a skillful doctor and a decent druid to boot, but Nuhwoti knew this plague better than most.

After much convincing, Gulmorgron Siegefist, or Guhlmoron as Nuhwoti mispronounced, finally sent the druid on patrol. "Go to Orgrimmar, and report anything out of hand!"

Finally! Some action! With pride, Nuhwoti hits the big city, fighting off spotted infections along the way. As he explored Orgrimmar, he found no outbreaks or problems. People, for the most part, seemed to be leaving the crates and the bugs alone. That was good.

But wait. What was that? Was that a strange odor coming from one of the Orgrimmar grunts? Nuhwoti converted to cat form and inconspicuously followed the guard. Sure enough, he was infected, and he was headed for one building in particular. … The orphanage!

The druid raced ahead of him to check it out. The kids were all inside, obviously instructed to stay put. But strangely, none of the matrons were present. The kids were in danger and Nuhwoti feared for them. And his fears were well founded, for as soon as the guard reached the doorway, he turned, his now slack-jaw face drooling for a fleshly treat!

Before the children could notice the presence, Nuhwoti quickly pounced from the shadows, tumbling with the zombie out the door and down the street. Claw for claw, jaw for jaw, the two fought for dear life, one to live, and the other to take life. But soon, Nuhwoti was the victor, breathing heavily and leaning painfully. He was not infected by the battle! That was good!

As the guards finally arrived to clean up the mess, Nuhwoti quickly patched himself up before returning to the Orphanage.

"Mister Mister!" they cried, crowding around him.

"What is it?" he asked in concern.

"Mister! We cannot go out! We cannot go trick or treating!"

"Yes little ones. You must stay safe."

The children pointed. "You go for us! Go get us candy!"


The children started to dance and play. "Yay yay! Get us candy! From Orgrimmar and Thunder Bwuff, and Undercity, and Sen'jin! Candy! Candy! Yay!"

Nuhwoti wanted to protest, knowing some of those areas to be highly infected. But it would have hurt him more to break these little hearts. Finally, he knelt before them and smiled warmly. "Trust in Nuhwoti. Nuhwoti will bring you candy."

With that, the druid walked off, preparing to brave the scourge infected areas so that little children might enjoy what was left of their ruined holiday.

Posted by DawnforgeEdit

The courier arrived, out of breath, clutching a letter to her breast. She openly bore the insignia of the Silver Hand, but the human girl was wearing a dust mask as well. "Lieutenant Dawnforge?" she breathed, kneeling before the elder paladin. Arienne whirled, snatching the letter from her grip.
News! About Nuhwoti? She hadn't expected a response so quickly, nor had she anticipated the lurch in her heart that came with it. Turning back away from the girl, she turned the letter open in her hands, one finger already slid into the fold of the envelope to tear it open.

She was greeted by a black waxen seal, pressed into the image of a shining sun in silver with golden rays.
The Argent Dawn. The noise that escaped her throat was halfway between a sob and a scream.

"What do I do, Valendar?"
"You know exactly what to do," the spellbreaker said evenly, his green eyes on the letter open on Arienne's table, his sister sitting on its far side and looking perturbed. "You go to Light's Hope Chapel and you beat them back."
"I can't!"
"You have."
"Haven't I done enough?"
"Look outside, Ari, tell me if you've done enough." The blood knight scowled across the table, leaning forward to snatch up the summons. "How long are you going to insist upon staying here?"
"How many homes should I abandon to the Scourge, then?"
"None of them! Arienne Kestrel Songblade Duskwhisper—"
"It's 'Dawnforge!'"
"Not if you abandon them," he said, his voice barely a whisper. "You know the druid isn't here. You know exactly what your duties are, and you know what will happen if you shirk them."
"Then what are you going to do, Valendar?"
"What we've always done: endure. Besides … maybe your druid got the same letter."
She wanted to believe it, but whether it was true or not, she had to head to Light's Hope no matter what.

Posted by NuhwotiEdit

The pain was great, but bearable. He was able to walk and talk as though nothing was wrong, but the gash across his side throbbed none-the-less. The plague had mutated, and Nuhwoti had been infected, quite painfully, in one of his battles. But he had made a promise, and he was going to keep it no matter what. Fortunately, with constant care and medicines, he halted the plague's progress within him. So he would not turn anytime soon. But he could not get rid of it either. Even the Argent Healers were at a loss.

But with a tug of his tunic to hide the injury, and with a smile, he entered the orphanage. There were squeals and jumping as he passed out the candy to everybody. He had not only gathered enough for each of them, but there was enough left over for them to enjoy later.

"Yay! Yay! Nuh brought candy! We like Nuh! We like candy!" The kids danced and ate. Nuhwoti couldn't help but chuckle to himself. After all, the matron was going to have a heck of a time getting them all to bed! But he didn't care. Their little smiling faces were enough to make him forget his pain. "Bye Nuh! Come visit soon!" they all waved as he walked out. He waved back and continued his journey through the streets. Finally, as he was out of sight, he knelt down and clutched his side wincing. Though it was not worsening, it sure felt like it. After a few moments of healing energies, he was able to get up and continue.

"Come help the Argent Dawn!" came a crier from the street. "Come and help us fight the scourge!"

Nuhwoti perked up his ears and walked forth, straightening himself as to not look conspicuous. "I'd like to join up please." he started to the recruiter.

"Name please?"

"Nuhwoti Mistr—"

"No no no!" came a healer rushing over. "No sir. You are already injured. You must stay where it is safe."

"But I can fight!"

But the healer nodded her head. "I am sorry. Unless you deal with that wound, my decision is final."

Saddened and dejected, the druid sauntered off, wondering what to do and where to go. "Nobody wants me." he muttered. "Nobody needs me. … So what now?"

He pondered.

Part TwoEdit

Posted by DawnforgeEdit

The Lower City was starting to smell suspiciously like the plaguelands, Arienne decided, inhaling deeply the scent of grave moss and rotting flesh. It felt like it had been such a long time since she'd last walked this land, and things were worse than ever — or at least worse than she remembered.
She shouldn't have been away this long. Whatever else happened, she shouldn't have shirked her responsibilities; Valendar had been right, as he always was.
"Captain Dawnforge!"
She knew that voice.
"You don't have to call me 'Captain' anymore, Rethloris. You aren't under my command now." She managed a small smile. "It's good to see you well."
"You were worried?" He smirked.
"Not per se. You're a paladin and I had other people to worry about, but I didn't want to see your face on the Wailing Wall in Shattrath."
"Ever the pragmatist, aren't you? I'm glad you're alright, too."
"Lieutenant!" One of the Dawn's men cut in.
"You'll be working with a strike team of five. Gather your forces; you head to Orgrimmar to requisition supplies and from there make your way to Azshara. There are reports of necropoleis along the coastline."
"Why Azshara?" Rethloris wondered aloud.
"It's close to Orgrimmar, perhaps. You know how hard that city got hit." Arienne could only shrug. "You wouldn't be interested in placing yourself under my command again, would you?"
"Oh, I see. You won't ask me to elope to Brill anymore," he teased," but Azshara is fair game."
"It's not like it's a date, Rethloris." She punched the other paladin in the arm.

Posted by DawnforgeEdit

"Do you have a plan, Captain Dawnforge?" Rethloris asked her along the way.
"Things are bad enough that plans are pointless. Staying alive is as good as it gets." The other paladin just gave her a look, glancing over his shoulder at the rest of their team.
"Do you really want to do this?"
"No choice."

It was late enough upon their arrival to Orgrimmar that the Lieutenant elected to delay their departure for Azshara until the morning. Rethloris opted to requisition some supplies along with the other three members of their haggard team, leaving Arienne the dubious honour of speaking with the commanders within the city. Luckily, the field general at Orgrimmar was an Orc and made do with her brief, tired words, confirming her intentions after a brief few moments' conversation, after which Arienne happily left the tent and paused by one of the orcs' watch fires.
Out of the corner of one eye, she caught the glint of firelight off of an elven staff. Her heart made the same lurch as it had in Shattrath, but she wouldn't allow herself to make the same mistake twice. Not every tall Tauren silhouette was Nuhwoti, not every rustle of leaves signaled the druid's arrival.
She managed a tired sigh, turning toward the reflection's source.
And for a moment, everything was still. She forgot about the way Shattrath had looked, litter blown through its empty streets by a plague wind. She forgot about the looming necropolis she'd seen outside of the ruins of Lordaeron, of the swarms of Scourge that threatened them all, about "as good as it gets."
The druid raised a hand to wave weakly, the smile on his face reading as almost sheepish."Miss Dawnforge!" The paladin didn't hesitate in throwing her arms around the tauren, who winced unseen above her.
"Where have you been?" she asked, speaking frantically. "I've been looking everywhere for you, I thought you were …"
"I was what?"
You know … "Dead. Or infected."
"Well, I mean, I was, but never mind that, what are you doing here?"
She was just going to ignore that first part and deal with it later. Lots of people caught the plague, after all; not all of them fell to it. "Gathering supplies. We head north in the morning, to Azshara. There are reports of Scourge strike forces there. Will you come with me?"
"I would, but the Argent Dawn won't let me," the druid said quietly.
"Why not?" the paladin asked, canting her head to one side. Nuhwoti shifted his weight, and this time she was able to see how much it pained him to do so.
"I'm infected," he muttered, and the paladin immediately moved to try to purge the disease from him. "But I've been making medicine to fight it off."
"… Druids can't cure diseases?" she asked, bewildered.
"Not on our own. But I've been studying it!" He looked proud of this fact.
"Great! What did you learn?"
"If one is slain by the Light and then returned to life by its grace, they'll be cured of their infection."
"You've been working with paladins, then? But you just said the Argent Dawn wouldn't let you —"
"Not exactly."
"What did you do, Nuhwoti?" She was trying as hard as she could to keep her tone even, to keep her thoughts straight.
"I infected myself."

Time stops.

"Arienne …"
"What is it, Logan?" She rolled over in bed to smile at the rogue, the pair of them nestled together in her bed. His white-blond hair was unbound, tickling her cheek as he leaned in to kiss her forehead.
"I've been thinking." He paused, the blood knight nodding encouragingly as he took her hand, lifting it to his lips to kiss the crux of her palm. Her ring glinted in the morning's light and she couldn't help but stare at it, the delicate creation entirely the doing of the man beside her. By the Light, she loved him, title or none. "More specifically, I've been thinking about Damien," he elaborated. "His condition is …"
"Mmm," she agreed, propping herself up and mentally shaking her mind clear of the cobwebs of sleep. "It's unfortunate. I feel that way about all of the Forsaken."
"As you know, Lord Voren'thal hasn't assigned me to any strike team, and in the break between competitive seasons, I'm left with a lot of free time."
"Go on," she prompted, the rogue gently kissing her shoulder. She couldn't fight back the feeling that he was trying to curry favor with her — her husband was affectionate, just not
this affectionate.
"I'd like to study the Plague. I know the Earthen Ring have already been doing so, and I want to help."
"… I see." Didn't he know how dangerous that was? "The Argent Dawn have, of course, been conducting their own studies out at their base of operations near Light's Hope Chapel. If you'd like to work with them, I can write a letter of recommendation. You can stay at my family's home in Silvermoon; gods know nobody else has been." Even if she tried to discourage him, she knew it would be to no avail. If it had been anyone but Damien …

— No.
No, don't even go down that road,
she told herself, shaking her head as if to clear her mind. Comparing him to Logan. There's no comparison. Regarding the druid, she became keenly aware of how heavy everything felt on her shoulders. Loss. Unable to cope with the weight of that feeling, she replaced it with anger: "How could you!" And lifted her hand as if to strike the druid. "How could you do such a thing?!" She managed to restrain herself enough to bring her hand back down to her side, but it took most of her willpower to do so.
"I didn't know it would upset you like this!" the druid said defensively, taking a step back from the much smaller elf. "I had to do something, and it was the best thing I could think of doing!"
"It's dangerous! Not to mention foolish — you could have died! As a matter of fact, you did, but what if you'd been wrong?" She couldn't help but wonder if it was the fact that his life belonged to another which drove him to such recklessness.
"Miss Dawnforge, I didn't mean any harm by my actions, I just wanted to help everyone."
No good, she couldn't stay angry enough to drive away her despair, the weight of everything bringing her to her knees on the parched ground. She was aware of how much a scene she was making, but it was far to late to start caring now. "I know, I know you did, and so did Logan."
"Who's Logan? You've mentioned him before."
A long, heavy silence. "He was my …" Companion? Protector? Retainer? Lover? Well, yes. Best to go with the most obvious truth. "Husband."
"I didn't know you were married," the druid said, his voice quiet — maybe a little hurt.
"I used to be." She managed a small, weak smile.
"I see." The druid knelt before her, taking her hands in his and giving them what was meant to be a comforting squeeze. "Why don't you ever talk about him?"
She was quiet a long moment, mulling it over. I didn't think anyone cared to listen. Zaniya had, and Zuriel would have, but that was about it. "Because I …" she pursed her lips. "I don't have it so bad, comparatively. If you spend too long in Silvermoon you'll hear the drunks complaining about how their life is a shambles, when they're actually living quite comfortably. And I've known people who've had it worse who don't say word one. You can imagine who people tend to respect more." I can't appear weak. With that thought, she pushed herself to her feet. "You said you were treating yourself with medicine?" she asked, clearly cutting off any further conversation about Logan Duskwhisper.
"Yes, there's a potion I can make that has been helping, but I only have a few left," he admitted, "and the Argent Healers couldn't do anything for me."
"Then what can I do for you?" she asked, looking doubtful. "Certainly they've tried everything I would."
"I know you can help me," the druid said resolutely. "I have faith in you."

Her first prayer was that his trust wasn't misplaced, although she dared not speak it aloud as she led the druid toward the lake in the Valley of Honor toward the building where her team was quartered for the evening. Once they were situated, the tauren gingerly lifted his tabard to reveal the open wound he'd been trying to hide away from the rest of the world, the edges ragged and almost necrotic. If the whole city hadn't stank of disease, Arienne was sure she could never have missed the smell of it. The druid could only look on as she prayed, as Thalassian was the most natural language for her hopes to to take form in, calling her most powerful healing spell firstly. The tauren grit his teeth and fought back a spasm of pain, the wound still open but no longer dead. It took several incantations of her purifying ritual to rid the disease, and another healing spell to close it, leaving the paladin quite drained of her energies.
"I'm sorry," Nuhwoti finally offered. "I won't do anything like that again, not without discussing it with you first."
"It's fine," she sighed. "Moreover, it's not as if you could have known it would upset me, given how little I talk about that sort of thing."
The druid sat up. "Why don't you start?"
"Why don't you?" she countered, looking vaguely discomforted by the thought of opening herself up.
"You already know a little bit about my tribe … It's their tradition to give each tauren both a first name and another name later that's related to their abilities. My name is Nuhwoti Hawkeyes Mistrunner."
"Hawkeyes?" the paladin smiled faintly.
"Best eyes in the tribe." He smiled proudly. "Some thought I should become a hunter."
"We have something in common," Arienne admitted.
"Were you going to become a hunter?"
"No, but I have a bird name, too. My full name is Arienne Kestrel Songblade Duskwhisper. 'Dawnforge' is an assumed name."
Nuhwoti stumbled over the string of elven names once, as if committing them to memory. "I'll practice," he promised, stifling a yawn.
"Get some bed rest," she ordered the druid gently. "I'll take the first watch."
As the druid fell asleep, she could swear she heard him mumbling something about guardian angels.

Posted by DawnforgeEdit

Arienne took Nuhwoti with her the next morning, storming the beaches of Azshara and beating back the Scourge. She'd swear in the chaos she had seen the Shepherd, or maybe it was her imagination, but for the most part their efforts were met with great success, and after a day or two the Dawn had begun to anticipate where and when the Scourge would send their forces and dispatch their troops accordingly. As such, her strike force was pulled back, and it was en-route to Light's Hope Chapel that one of the Forsaken stopped her, placing a clawed hand on her shoulder.
"Lieutenant," he rasped, and she stopped, turning to face the man, expecting yet another courier or war veteran. Instead, she found nothing much special about the Forsaken standing before her — no sign of station, his clothes neither tattered nor opulent, just a common man.
"What can I do for you?" she asked, trying her best to be patient.
"Take this message back to your commanders at Light's Hope: the answer to infection is here." He paused, and Arienne just stared at him skeptically. "There are others, other survivors. In Shattrath, the Horde and the Alliance have banded together to find the cure. You must go to them! Find Grand Apothecary Putress. His location is on the Terrace of Light." Now she was just gaping at him incredulously, then running toward the flight master. As her bat flapped its wings and took off, she glanced back to hear the man shout, "Salvation is here!"

"Commander Helleran," she greeted him, lifting one hand in a hurried salute. "I must speak with you, sir."
The gruff-looking human man furrowed his brow at the blood elf, then returned her salute and ushered her into his tent. "What is it, Lieutenant?"
"I know you called me back here for reassignment, sir, but there is something you must know." She paused, the older knight nodding once. "They say they've found a cure, sir."
"A cure?"
"Yes sir, to the plague that's ravaged our cities. If it's true, you'll be able to recall your healers and refocus your efforts against the necropoleis."
"That's preposterous, Lieutenant. Nobody has found a cure for the original Plague in almost seven years, and you expect me to believe they've figured this one out in the past week?"
"I am not asking you to believe, sir. I'm only asking your permission to return to Shattrath and assess the situation there. The man who spoke to me said that I could find Grand Apothecary Putress there. The name is known to me, if not the man himself."
"Who is he, then?" The commander still looked skeptical.
"As the title suggests, he's the head of the Royal Apothecary Society among the Forsaken. He answers directly to the Banshee Queen herself, and has been responsible for many of the alchemical discoveries in the past five years. It is rumoured that before he died, he was Nikopol Martheran, the renowned alchemist of Lordaeron. I don't know how much truth there is in those rumours, sir."
"Nor in these."
"There's only one way to be sure, isn't there?" she asked, smiling winningly. "I'll report back before sundown with the answers, sir. Even sooner, if I could find a mage to open me a portal."
"Very well, but your team stays with me." She considered this, then nodded, the pair of them exiting the tent.
"My team stays. My companion goes with me," she clarified as the commander waved one of the mages over toward them.
Arienne beckoned Nuhwoti over, and the pair of them stepped through the portal and onto the Terrace of Light.

The city was still a ghost town, but despite the carnage, the Naaru shone on, inspiring hope in her once again after so many bleak days. She paused, feeling the welcoming presence of A'dal, but frowned at the mostly-unchanged chamber. Certainly if the answer to infection were anywhere, it would be patently obvious. She turned toward one of the Shattered Sun defenders, offering him a salute by way of greeting, which he returned.
"Could you tell me where to find Grand Apothecary Putress, soldier?" she asked, and his tired face broke into a faint grin.
"I thought the apothecary camp was rather obvious; they've been setting up for the last several days. It's on the outer ring, to the north, not far from the Aldor Rise." She nodded gratefully and started toward the camp, druid in tow.

Upon arrival, she was greeted by a somewhat-familiar face. Arienne was surprised to see that it was an almost-welcome one, even given the fact that she'd first met the little rat when the girl stole some gems from her (and right out in front of the city guards, no less). But she'd proved herself in Naxxramas, so Arienne had to give at least some credit where credit was doing. She lifted a hand to wave, and the Forsaken woman responded in kind, looking up from her alchemical work.
"Hello, Celeania. How's the thieving going?" she asked with a teasing smile. He really was here. Everything was going to be alright.
"Shut up!" Cel hissed, making a throat-slitting motion with her free hand.
"Oh, I see, we're trying to appear respectable to this crowd, are we?"
"Not s'much respectable as, y'know … Wellokayyeah." Ari had to stifle a small, relieved laugh. "The Grand Apothecary's just right over there."
"I'll try to put in a good word," she teased, heading toward the main tents as Nuhwoti paused to marvel at their alchemical equipment. "Grand Apothecary? I'm Lieutenant Dawnforge, here on behalf of Regent Lord Theron and the Argent Dawn," she said tentatively.
"Yes, yes, another blood elf," a voice came from within. "Do come in, we have such need for fresh blood of late." Something about him unnerved her, and yet she stepped into the tent, offering the masked apothecary a salute.
"I was told you had found —"
"The answer to infection, yes. It is here. This zombie plague was quite the blessing in disguise; in our study of it, we've unlocked so many of the Lich King's secrets. Our research has given us so many weapons. Weapons, and tools …"
"I have little knowledge of the alchemical arts, myself, but is there anything I can do to aid the cause?"
"I don't suppose you'd be interested in becoming a test subject?" She could feel him smiling behind that mask of his, and after a long moment, he laughed — apparently her expression betrayed her shock more than she might have liked. "No? Then please take this to my apprentice in Silvermoon City. She attends your Regent Lord presently." He set a heavy box into her hands, and she peered curiously at it, moving as if to lift the lid when then apothecary made a tutting noise at her that caused her to draw back. "Curiosity killed the cat, my dear girl. Among others. But I'll indulge yours. Inside the box you carry is the head of a man who had been infected with the zombie plague, and later reinfected with another disease, acting as the carrier to an inhibitor. The two battle within, and that brain is the key to our cure. You now hold the answer to infection. Make haste!" With that, he turned her about bodily and gave her a gentle nudge toward the outside world, and the blood knight stumbled out into the light.
"Jus' take that to Tepesh and ignore anything it might tell you," Celeania instructed absently.
Anything it might tell me? the knight wondered to herself, waving her friend over. "Nuhwoti," she said, "I don't like this."
"Don't like what?"
She glanced back over her shoulder. "I'll tell you more when we get away from his followers —"
Please, a man's voice pleaded. Please, Arienne, destroy me! She froze in place, causing the druid to shoot her a curious look.
"Is there something wrong, Miss Dawn?"
"Nothing. It's nothing," she said, heading back toward the beacon of light at the center of the city. I have done such vile things, the voice whimpered. I've killed my loved ones … eaten them. Please! Grant me peace. If Nuhwoti was trying to speak to her, she couldn't hear him, all she could hear was the man in the box, and she tried to turn her thoughts from him and toward A'dal, toward the great mystery of the Light, but he had an answer for that, too. Cling to your hope, mortal, the voice rasped, in a voice soft like fresh-turned soil. In a voice that sounded like she could trust it — he sounded like Nexic, she realized with a shock. Hope sweetens the soul, and yours will make a fine dessert for the Lich King.
But there was no way it could be so. Nexic was alive — well, Forsaken — and he wouldn't have fallen or returned to the Scourge on his own. She hated Arthas in that moment; hated the Scourge for trying to seduce he with a voice she could trust, and she rushed toward the portal for Silvermoon. Just ignore everything it tells you and give it to Tepesh.
She arrived, portal-sick, in Silvermoon, and paused to sit and catch her breath. It was not Nexic. It was not her ally. it was not even alive. It was a tool, and she was bringing it to those who could use it best. She was not afraid of a blacksmith's hammer or an enchanter's rods. She would not be afraid of a plague-ridden brain sealed tight in an iron-clad box. It was unbecoming in a Blood Knight, and in a Paladin of the Holy Light.
Nuhwoti stepped through the portal after her, shifting the cat-form to rub against her legs reassuringly.
"What's wrong, Miss Dawnforge?" he asked, looking up at her pale face and seeing how her knuckles whitened as she clutched at the box.
"It's nothing. Portals always make me a little dizzy. The Regent Lord is just in the next room, and I just have to give this box to Apothecary Tepesh, and everything will be alright.

I have seen you in Shattrath, Arienne. My King has seen you. He wishes to speak with you …
"No!" she cried vehemently, as if she'd been struck, hurling the heavy box across the room. It hit the far wall, and the magisters looked up from their books, staring her down disapprovingly. She whimpered, and the cat druid hopped up in her lap, allowing the paladin to hug him close, tears welling up in her eyes. "I should destroy it, rid the world of it; it can do no good."
"What's in the box?" the druid asked calmly.
"A brain half-mad with the plague, and half-consumed by a counter-plague," she murmured. "It spoke to me. It spoke to me in my commander's voice and it told me that Arthas wanted to see me."
"Don't be afraid," Nuhwoti reassured her.
"Light help me if I ever fall far enough to take its invitation," she whispered, the cat-druid nuzzling her affectionately. "What if I give it to Tepesh and something terrible happens?"
"What if you give it to her and they cure the plague?" the druid countered.
"I don't trust Putress' methods," Arienne admitted, voice still quiet, "but if they produce results …" She sighed, setting the druid back onto the ornately tiled floor as she stood up. "You carry it."
Nuhwoti obediently crossed the room, retrieving the box and following after the knight as she entered into Theron's hall and approached a Forsaken woman in black-and-silver robes. "From Shattrath?" Tepesh asked.
"From Putress directly. I wish you the best of luck in your research," Arienne replied, putting forward her bravest face as Nuhwoti set the box at the woman's feet.
"Very good. The diseases this rotted head carries are deadly, but we must not shy from danger or from what we find distasteful. Some day, Blood Knight, you will learn that damnation is the path to salvation …"
Arienne only nodded once, turning to exit the Spire and make her way south toward the Plaguelands.

Posted by DawnforgeEdit

"Report back to Winterspring. There may be hope for the cities, but those necropoleis are still spewing forth Scourge like a lanced boil." And like that, they were off again, though she'd traded in most of her strike team for different faces, and fewer of them: it was herself, Nuhwoti, and Bellira who swept over Winterspring like the undying winter winds, battling back the Scourge alongside other teams, returning each night with a handful of the necromantically-charged stones the Scourge had carried, and a few rumpled letters that Arienne just didn't feel right reading. They retired to Everlook each night, crowding around the hearth at the inn, trading stories and singing songs.
At one point Nuhwoti passed her a silvery locket, but when she opened it, the picture within had faded almost completely, leaving only the ghostly contour of a woman's face. Arienne tucked it away, assured that the Dawn would help it to find its rightful owner, and didn't notice as she did so that her tattered picture of Nuhwoti fell from her bag. She turned back toward the fire, removing her gauntlets and stretching her hands out toward its warmth before the druid tapped her on the shoulder.
"You dropped this."
She turned back toward him, snatching the paper quickly from his hands, unable to judge by his expression if he'd looked at the picture or not. "Before you ask, there's a very good reason why I've got an image-capture of you in my pack," she managed, voice low so as not to wake the sleeping soldiers. Arienne tucked the picture away carefully in the waterproof pouch that held her map, glancing back up at the druid.
"What is it, then?"
"You were missing for a few days, and it's easier to ask people if they've seen you with picture in hand than try to describe you to them." She shrugged noncommittally, something in the back of her mind remembering that the only other print she'd made of that shot was stuck up on a wall in Shattrath. She should have stayed long enough to take it down.
"I see. I don't remember even having my picture taken!"
Dawnforge's cheeks flushed slightly: she hadn't really meant for him to ever uncover that fact. "Yes, well … I built the camera myself," she said instead, hoping to change the subject.
"You did? That's very impressive! I didn't know you were an engineer."
"Yes, I tinker a bit in my spare time," she nodded, glad that her ploy had worked.
"Well, since you have a picture of me, I would like a picture of you, Miss Dawn."
In the darkness, her cheeks colored again. "I'll ask Valendar to take one when next I'm in Shattrath," she promised, unrolling her bedroll by the warmth of the fire. "Good night, Nuhwoti."
"Good night, Miss Dawnforge."

They spent the following day like the ones before, out on the march, the air so cold that the snow squeaked underfoot, tracking the movements of each necropolis. Upon beating back several, they retreated to the last summoning circle to find themselves completely alone, save for an arctic bear lumbering by.
Hours passed with no movement from the structure above, pacing in circles just to keep their limbs warm. After some time, she became keenly aware of the sensation that she was being watched, and stopped, turning about in place.
If she hadn't been looking for it, she might not have seen it, barely a whisper of dark smoke against the white snow.
"Now that is odd," Bellira commented.
"Look, Miss Dawnforge," Nuhwoti said comfortingly. "It's the spirit of Logan, come to watch over you!"
She could only stare at the ghost, thinking to herself: Is it true? It wasn't the first time she'd felt like his eyes had been on her since he had died, but this spirit said nothing, did nothing, only lurked disconcertingly on the periphery of her vision. "No it isn't," she said softly, as if not convinced. "It can't be, because it hasn't tried to kill me yet," she said under her breath. After that she refused to say anything more, just squinting expectantly up at the sky.
After about another half-hour, Arienne decided that she couldn't stand waiting anymore; she felt like her fingers were about to fall off. Either the Scourge would appear and be beaten back, or they'd retreat to Everlook. She moved out into the clearing, looking up at the necropolis directly above her. "Arthas!" she shouted upward, voice echoing off the nearby mountains. "You wanted to speak with me? Here I am! Show yourself!" She was frustrated, she just wanted to be done with everything, and her comrades probably thought she was insane now.
"No!" Nuhwoti shouted out at the paladin, rushing out into the clearing. "You can't have her," the druid responded, "she's mine!"
… Since when? Arienne wanted to ask, but as if on cue, the Scourge shock troopers swarmed all around them. The two blood knights sprung to action, then, lips and hands a flurry of movement as they drew the Scourge in, then shocked them through with Holy Light, dispersing the necromantic energies that held them together. More came, and more, in droves, disgorged by the dozens from the necropolis and unmindful of the fact that the two paladins, ever re-energized by the druid with them, would spell their certain destruction. Even when the swarm grew unmanageable, more of the Argent Dawn's forces charged over the hill and helped beat back the Scourge, swarming over the necrotic crystal at the heart of the rune pattern until the necropolis itself withdrew, and the roar of victory resounded through the throng of adventurers, all marching together back to Everlook. There, a courier awaited to let Dawnforge and her team know that they were temporarily relieved of duty and free to do as they saw fit.

On the long zeppelin ride down to Stranglethorn Vale, nestled comfortably under a blanket, Dawnforge slept alone. Nuhwoti had asked permission to return to Mulgore, as apparently his tribe had some urgent news for him; Bellira had wanted to return to her training, and Arienne couldn't wait to sleep in her own bed in Shattrath.
And so, wrapped up in clean sheets, lulled to sleep by the thrum of goblin engines, the paladin dreamed.

She stood on the shores of a tropical beach, surrounded by the ruins of some trollish temple. She could hear the song of birds and the splash of waves, the rustle of wind through the tall grass. Not alone, she and Nexic watched as Zaniya the shaman scooped her white-haired little sister up in a bear hug.
"Do you know what I'm thinking, right now?" Nexic asked her, in that quiet, sure voice. If she had known him when he had been alive, she wondered what might have become of them. But she couldn't say that.
"If we lose this war; if the Scourge wins or if the Legion wins, even if we survive, I'll never hear another piece of original music," she speculated.
"That's what you were thinking," the rogue pointed out.
"No," she admitted, settling in on the sand and letting the sun suffuse her with warmth. "I was thinking I was wrong."
"You are never thinking that," Nexic protested, sitting beside her as the shaman and priestess ran though the ruins, toward the small stream that was their only source of fresh water.
"But I was," the paladin replied, combing her fingers through her long hair. "All the death. The plague, the invasion, it doesn't mean anything to Zaniya, because she's always got Tafari. She's always got her sister, and her sister's always got her."
"So how does that make you wrong?"
"I said once to a friend that staying alive was as good as it gets. If you have someone to care for, and they're with you, they're with you every step of the way? That's as good as it gets."
"We miss you, Dawnforge," Nexic said. "And we need you."
"There's someone else who needs me more, I'm afraid."

Arienne turned over, half-awake. When she got home, she was going to have her brother take a picture of her, and she was going to get out her toolbox and build two talk-afars. The goblins in Winterspring had sold her the schematic; she was sure she could do it. She was never going to lose Nuhwoti again.

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