Author's Note: This short-story is part of a series detailing the background of Yulenia Deathsong and her life prior to becoming- and as- one of the Scourge. These stories are arranged chronologically within Yulenia's biography. This story is also a joint-authorship with Trinea Schatten, and reflects her and Yulenia's first meeting before the Third War.
The forest-nation of the High Elves bore no subtlety to its greatness beyond the thick array of tall pines and birch trees which provided little shelter to the massive, monolithic gateway that led into the interior of the domain of the elves. To either side of the archway stood a large stone tower upon the apex of which sat the spinning surge of arcane magic, which in turn kept watch over the grounds before the elf-gate. Encampments of Farstriders- the zealous and argent ranger defenders of Quel'Thalas- were scattered around in the clearing to either side of the lengthy dirt road that went north towards Silvermoon City and south towards the Eastern Kingdoms and ultimately the human nation of Lordaeron. The grounds had seen more than their fair share of war and conflict, as the Amani forest trolls to the south often vied to contest the elves' dominance of these lands. For the present moment, however, the forests were calm in the broad daylight of the afternoon.
"I never thought I'd say it, but sometimes I wish we were still at war with the Horde. At least then there was some blasted travel," remarked a female elf standing adjacent to the gate. She wore a tanned yellow suit of leather and gloves, flanked with a cape of blue fringed with gold, and her short brown hair did little more than to accentuate her battle-hardened yet beautiful face. For all the grace the woman likely had, she did little to show it as she leaned lazily on her longbow as though it were a hiking staff made to support her weight on some weary journey.
Opposite of her on the other side of the gate was an elf man in a similar uniform, though his face was smooth and neat and devoid of much prior battlefield experience. He laughed softly at the woman's remark, shaking his head slowly. "You're always carrying on about how lucky some of us are to have missed out on that, Yulenia."
"You are, Saeth," Yulenia replied, giving him a stern look. She turned her face away from the man then, peering up the road towards the north with an embittered expression.
Liannah Fairgrove was in continuing high spirits on what was the third full day of their journey south. Naturally, the weather was warm and fair, though it always was in Quel'thalas. The birds singing in the trees and the sound of cicadas chirping in the calm air put a spring into her step. A few paces behind her, Lia's cousin Safier trudged along, his expression bleak and nothing short of absolutely glum. It might have been due to the fact that he was virtually a pack mule, although it was far more likely that he was still sore at her over their night time escape from the Fairgrove Estate. Every now and again the young priestess risked a glance back at the older, black haired elf, doing her best to not frown in response to his mood. Such things tended to pull her down in quick order, and he knew that. Why couldn't he at least make a little bit of effort and learn to enjoy this newest adventure?
The girl didn't really know where she was going now that they were away, but there wasn't much that couldn't be called completely intuitive by this point. She wanted to head south, into Lordaeron, and the one main road headed north and south through the middle of the country. Following it was the quickest solution, and being fast to her mind was the most important part. Undoubtedly, her papa was already in a right panic after having found the two missing those few days ago, and who knew how long it would be before he sent out search parties looking for the wayward youths.
After a while, Lia began to notice the subtle rise of the land along the cobbled road, and before them the ridge of mountains grew upward. The girl couldn't help but be amazed by the sight; it having been only a handful of times that she'd ever managed to get herself this far away from home. Growing up sickly had it's disadvantages, and one of them was not being allowed to travel. She didn't understand why she couldn't just see things sometimes. The air was warm but dry, and her lungs didn't have that wet, sticky quality that proceeded any kind of illness. As far as the young priestess was concerned, the trip was doing her more good than sitting around the estate for days, weeks, years on end had.
The view of the mountains gave her even more energy, it seemed, because Liannah's stride lengthened even more, the long, thick tail of her braid swinging behind her. Only a few more hours in the same manner- eating a light lunch of bread and cheese while walking, no less- finally brought them within sight of the elfgates bordering the human nation of Lordearon. Rather than the gates themselves, the first thing that came into view as the forest around them thinned were the towers jutting up into the sky, swirling around with the palpable feel of magic. The sensation made her skin crawl, as it had the few times she'd been allowed to travel. It was an uncomfortable feeling, but Lia recalled well enough that a mile or so past the gates that the odd feeling would fade.
Piping up at last in her somewhat high, girlish voice, Liannah cast another glance back at her cousin. "Come on, Safi! We're almost there!" The look on her face belied her excitement, and she felt something akin to a full-body buzzing along her slender frame. Only for a moment, she caught the despondent look Safier gave her, but even that wasn't enough to keep her down at this point. Real adventure, right beyond those gates! Who could ever have imagined it?
"It's not too late to turn back, you know," came Safi's voice from behind her, the light tenor sounding hopeful to her ears.
Shaking her head against the thought, Liannah picked up her pace still more, until she was quickly approaching a ground-covering trot. "This is helping people, Safi. I thought we decided."
"No, you decided..." he mumbled sourly and fell silent.
That was the last word she caught from him as the pair arrived under the shadow of the massive archway separating the elven nation with that of the human one.
"Hey, there's--" came the sudden sound of an young male elf's voice off to the side of the shadow, cut short by the interruption of an older elf woman's voice who had just stepped out to block the direct path Liannah was moments away from passing through to freedom.
Yulenia's expression was somewhat stern and tired at the same time, eying the pair of travelers for a long moment before she gave a slow shake of her head. "What's your business?" she inquired, her eyes focusing on the girl in front of her.
Liannah halted in midstep, peering up at the ranger before her and backing up just a pace. She dipped one of those fancy curtseys her tutors had taught her and put on her best and brightest smile, while inwardly her mind raced to formulate a reply. Having not been paying a lick of attention otherwise, Safier ran into her from behind, mucking up her greeting and causing the younger girl to stumble forward again. "Oh!" she yelped faintly, the smile turning into a look of surprise before she managed to recover. "Er...sorry about that, ma'am. Just passing through."
Feeling Safi's hand on her forearm steadying her, Lia composed herself, smoothing down the front of her periwinkle blue dress. She redirected her attention back to the ranger lady again, doing her best to keep her face open and honest-looking. So far she hadn't lied, and...well, that made things just a little bit easier. Liannah had always had trouble with telling falsehoods; she was really hoping that she wouldn't have to in this case either.
Saeth ran up beside Yulenia and halted himself beside her as he peered at the traveling pair curiously and then back over at Yulenia, who was busy emitting a small sigh as she gave the two of them another once-over of appraisal. "Just passing through? There are trolls who prey on travelers beyond this line here, and neither of you look like an armed escort to me," she stated flatly as her head slowly cocked to the side and her lips melted into a soft frown. She seemed to suspect something unusual about this pair, not to mention that the girl looked a bit young.
"Either of you have identification?" Saeth asked, a hint of helpfulness in his voice as he seemed to grasp for straws in order to abate the growing irritability of his companion.
The girl frowned slightly and tugged the thick braid over her shoulder, pulling at it as though it was one of those nervous habits people couldn't help but do under certain circumstances. She looked back at her cousin, blue eyes wide and pleading for him to just go along with what she was about to say. Liannah smoothed her expression again and turned back, producing the necklace she wore on a delicate gold chain. From the necklace dangled an intricate stylization of the symbol of the Light, the making primarily gold, with threads of silver and several tiny gemstones set around it at key points. Pulling in a quick breath, the girl hastened with her falsified explanation.
"Oh! Right. My brother here- his name's Leonar- is escorting me to Stratholme, where I'm to be taken in the nunnery there. We don't have much, so travelling quickly isn't going to be a problem." She looked back at Safier again, noting the almost imperceptible widening of his own eyes, and her tone firmed up. "We're not worried about trolls. The Light provides. Right, Leo?"
Blinking faintly, the much taller boy gave a quick nod after a longer pause than Liannah had hoped for. "Uh, that's right. The Light does provide."
"The Light provides, huh?" Yulenia muttered under her breath as she let out another sigh, eying the pair compulsively once more, her eyes focusing on the expensive piece of jewelry in Liannah's hand. "Do either of you have any idea what Amani trolls are capable of if they catch a couple of travelers hurrying along through the woods without ample protection? Lordaeron frankly does a poor job of keeping their roads safe too. The world beyond this gate can be a dangerous place- especially if you don't want your skull to end up as some kind of troll fetish."
Saeth let out a small laugh abruptly as his companion started to sound like an old woman again. Yulenia shot him a look that could have probably dropped a swallow at a hundred yards through dense foliage, and sure enough, the laugh was quickly brought under control. She brought her hands up onto her hips, looking expectantly at Liannah for a response, seeming to take careful consideration of the younger girl's expressions.
The young priestess affected an aire of great sadness, going so far as to dredge up a bit of tearing in her eyes as she looked up at who she assumed was the seniormost of the two rangers. "W-we haven't much choice, frankly," she replied, a slight waver in her voice. "It's just he and I and no one else left. Stratholme is much closer than Silvermoon from where we used to live, and the humans like to employ Quel'dorei down there. At least, that's what the peddlers on the road always said." She glanced back at her 'brother' again, and took note of his despondent expression. Inwardly Liannah smiled, thinking that he was finally beginning to play along, and redirected her attention to the older woman again with far more confidence than earlier.
"You see, we really don't have any other option," Safier added glumly, muttering something unintelligibly thereafter. The tall, lanky youth shrugged the pack from his shoulders and let it drop to the ground, certain that they were about to be detained. He shoved his hands deep into his trouser pockets and heaved a quiet sigh, doing his best to avoid staring daggers at the back of his impressionable cousin's head.
Yulenia rolled her eyes at the overly dramatic display, giving a final sigh as she picked up her bow from beside her and slung it over her back to rest it against her fully loaded quiver. "Alright, fine. The two of you can go on, but there's no way I'm letting you both brave the south forest without a properly armed escort." The ranger looked a bit more eager than she should have been at that point, the boredom evident on her expression suddenly evaporating.
"Hey, you can't leave me here to guard the gate alone!" Saeth suddenly blurted out, pouting profusely at his elder.
"The hell not? Tell the commander you pissed me off and I ran off into the woods again like last time," Yulenia grunted at the other ranger. Something about the tone of her voice seemed to more than indicate this probably wasn't going to be too far from the truth if Saeth kept it up.
Saeth sighed faintly and then nodded softly, his pout still taped to his face. "Fine, fine..."
Liannah watched the exchange with no little surprise, trying in vain to interject throughout it somewhere, though all that she managed was a stuttering, "B-b-but..." Sighing, she let them finish, chewing the inside of her cheek until a break made her able to finally speak up. "I, um...t-that really isn't necessary, ma'am. We wouldn't want anybody to get in trouble." She cleared her throat, adding in more loudly, "Would we, Leo?"
The black haired youth gave a rather ungentlemanly snort and shook his head. "Oh no. No, we certainly wouldn't want trouble, Aure." Leaning forward, he poked a long, slender finger between Lia's shoulder blades, smirking faintly as she stumbled again and caught herself just before faceplanting completely in the dusty road. The girl scowled and shot a glare back at Safier before turning back, the gears in her head whirring furiously.
They'd have to keep up this charade all the way until the escort reached Stratholme, then. While the idea of Amani out there in the woods gave Lia a chill of cold terror (after all, hadn't every elven child been told frightening bedtime stories about trolls coming to eat them if they didn't behave?), having to pretend at this ruse and keep it all straight seemed rather difficult too. She let her hands drop to her sides, waiting on the word of stay or go.
Yulenia almost smiled faintly at the behavior of the two of them before catching herself just in time. "Nobody is going to get into any trouble. Except me if I have to stay here much longer, I'll probably go insane," she remarked offhandedly with a shrug. "I'll see you both to the fork where the road splits off and goes to either Corin's Crossing or Stratholme. You can make the rest of the trip from there. Unless you'd rather deal with any errant trolls on your own?" she smirked faintly, almost as if trying to force them into a point of rational consideration for their own safety.
Saeth was, by this point, grumbling faintly to himself but he made no notion to interrupt his companion. Instead, he merely shook his head and started off to resume his post in the shadow of the archway, continuing to watch the exchange from a distance where Yulenia likely couldn't hurt him as easily.
The two so-called 'siblings' exchanged a look, then the girl gave a shrug. For whatever reason, despite her clearly being around twenty years the junior of the duo, it was obvious enough that she was the one calling the shots in this arrangement, which if Liannah had stopped to think about would have provided enough of a red flag to have them detained in the first place. Alas, naivete won out and she continued on as though there was nothing wrong with the nature of their relationship whatsoever. "I suppose it wouldn't be all that bad," she said finally, offering a genuine- if somewhat plain- smile to the woman. "Can't ever be too safe, right?"
From behind, the taller boy piped up bitterly, "No, actually you can't, can you?"
The girl otherwise known as Aure pursed her lips slightly, a muscle along her jaw clenching. A surprising burst of anger flowed up in her as she spun on her 'brother', pointing an accusatory finger at him. "Look, you. If you didn't want to come, you should've just stayed home! I could have gone all this way on my own, and never mind your dark looks and snide remarks." She gestured toward the road behind them, eyes narrowed. "If you don't like it, just go. Go on crawling home. Forget about the fact that there's nothing left there."
Safier's pale gray eyes shot open from the very same dark look he was accused of giving her, blanching. "...h-hey. Hey now. I said I'd go, didn't I?"
Liannah's head jerked up and down in a quick nod. "You did, and you could at least pretend to like it."
Yulenia blinked a few times at the exchange between the pair of 'siblings' before she chuckled faintly. "Probably the only things I've heard either of you say during this entire exchange that I'd actually put a few coppers on believing." The ranger folded her arms in front of herself after a moment and then held a hand in a dismissive motion, the faint hint of a smile drawing the edges of her lips up. "But that's okay. If you weren't going to let me come along I would have turned you the other way anyhow. Now then, I'll see you to the crossroads whenever the two of you are done arguing."
Liannah halted all movement mid-sentence, her shoulders stiffening briefly then slowly drooping. She tilted her head a little, the anger dissipating from her as quickly as it had risen, replaced with chagrin in the next instant. "I'm sorry..." she murmured as the Quel'dorei ranger's words sunk in, and it would seem to be directed toward both her and the object of her ire at once. Rubbing her cheek against the embarrassed sting, the girl shook her head slowly, mouthing, "Just...trust me. Okay?" and then turned southward again. She readjusted the pack slung over her shoulders- far smaller than the ones the elder boy carried- and heard Safier shuffle for a moment behind her.
The scrape of leather against the dusty cobbles came to her, followed by a faint grunt as he picked up his own considerable burden. "Okay," mumbled Safi by way of reply, letting out a quiet nasal sigh. "I'm sorry too. Let's just...do this." Settling his pack over his shoulder, the boy blinked faintly then gave a grimace. "Ack, my hair!" he squeaked, voice breaking in the way only adolescents could as his lower back-length hair caught in one of the metal clasps and pulled.
The ranger gave a wince at the sound and sighed softly once more before she gingerly walked past Liannah to Safi and grabbed a hold of the brim of the pack. She promptly lifted it gently enough to ease up on his hair. "This is why we cut our hair short most of the time in the Farstriders," she remarked. "Come on, get your hair loose... I'll hold the pack for you for a moment. Windrunner's legs, this must be the first time either of you have ever been on the open road, huh?" She looked up and over to the far side of the archway and gave a short wave of farewell towards Saeth with her free hand, trying to ease the laughter echoing over from that direction at the display.
"Oh. Uh, thanks." Safier quickly pulled the thick length of black hair from beneath the pack and over his shoulder, giving an embarrassed shrug once it was settled properly again. "Eh, used to be with carriages and things. We don't have that luxury now." He frowned slightly, shaking his head and rubbing at the place on the back of his skull that had gotten pulled the most. "Besides, I'm a neophyte, not a Farstrider." Safi's gray eyes narrowed again, if only for a moment before he gave another long, weary sigh. "At least, used to be. Who knows what now."
Digging the toe of her soft leather boots into a crack in the road, Liannah echoed the sigh. "We'll know more once we get to Stratholme."
With the release of her hand from the pack, Yulenia nodded faintly as she started off down the road, giving a beckon over her shoulder with her left hand as she strode onward. Her step was a bit eager, likely a reflection of just how boring guard duty day-after-day could be. "Neophyte...go insane spending your life inside some closed off cloister. Bad enough trying to learn how to be a magister, for that matter," the ranger remarked, not bothering to look back at the pair. For a moment she seemed stuck in her own world, conjuring up some old memory as she spoke the words- but it passed quickly enough.
Liannah exchanged another look with her elder cousin, lips raising into a somewhat nervous smile. She nodded her head toward the direction the ranger had begun walking, and the two started off with synchronized strides for the first time since they'd begun their own little journey. The boy, far more determined and purposeful than he was at the beginning, while she herself felt a vague sense of unease as they rushed to catch up. Lia paused for only a moment, casting one last longing glance over her shoulder into the deep woods of Quel'thalas, not knowing that for the two youth it would be their final view of their home untouched, nor anything of what was about to lay before them all.