It wasn’t the screaming, exactly, that roused her. Screams were nothing new to her, awake or resting. They were always there, in the back of her mind. So no, it wasn’t the screaming that brought her out of her meditative state. It was the fact that they were different screams. New.
At least, new to her.
Blinding purple and blue and white arcane, so much power it burns, it burns, Tides it burns. Rhonin, No!
Sylvanas cracked ember-red eyes with a soft growl. The night was still dark, dawn still hours off, but the room glowed with a subtle blue-white light. The air thrummed with arcane. It buzzed beneath her skin in a way that rather uncomfortably reminded her of being alive.
Growling again, somewhat louder this time, she turned in the massive bed to stare at the current source of her frustrations. Current. She stopped short of audibly snorting at the thought, considering that Jaina Proudmoore, Archmage of the Kirin Tor, Lord Admiral of Kul Tiras, and—as of less than a day—her wife, had been a source of ongoing frustration for years.
This, though. This was new. New as the visions and screams that had invaded her sleep—or what passed for it, for her. The fall of Theramore was recognizable enough to the Banshee Queen, but she’d never been subjected to such an intimate view. Still, it wasn’t entirely surprising, considering who she was sharing a bed with. That was the first surprising thing, really, the fact that she was sharing a bed with Proudmoore. And at the mage’s own insistence. She’d not expected that of her new wife, but here she was, and there her new wife was. Only a few feet away. Apparently in the throes of a nightmare. Bleeding arcane all over the room.
And all over her skin. Quite literally.
Sylvanas had never taken Jaina Proudmoore for the tattoo type, but even she could admit to the striking beauty of the glowing arcane symbols swirling across her new wife’s skin, shining through the simple chemise she wore. How had she never seen these? The patterns moved and shifted, hypnotizing, and Sylvanas found herself…not unable, no, but unwilling to look away. It was mesmerizing.
So very, very intriguing.
Sylvanas didn’t realize she’d reached out to touch the bluish-white patterns until Jaina startled with another scream. The banshee reacted instinctively, her form dissolving to smoke in an act of self-protection. Jaina’s eyes few open, white with arcane, the lines on her skin flaring brighter as she twisted on the bed.
Sylvanas shrank back—there was not much she feared in her undeath, but Jaina Proudmoore was a force to be reckoned with, and if anyone was capable of killing her for good, it was the mage. Which was the whole reason they’d been married. Proudmoore was as much guard as partner.
And Sylvanas had no desire to waste one of her last Valkyr on her wedding night.
But Jaina didn’t seem to be lashing out. On the contrary, she seemed to be…thrashing. Muscles contracting, body tensing in a way that didn’t seem controlled. It seemed…painful. Short of the brief shout when Sylvanas had touched her, she hadn’t made a sound since.
She didn’t actually seem to be breathing, really. Which was a problem.
Sylvanas let her banshee form bleed back into her. “Proudmoore.”
Jaina gasped. “D-don’t.”
Red eyes narrowed. “Don’t what?”
“T-t-touch.” The stammered word was followed by a whimper as the mage’s body convulsed again.
Well. This wasn’t good. The whole point of this sham of a marriage (even if Jaina had insisted on making it as real as possible—“If our marriage is fake, the treaty will be too. It’s all or nothing here.”) would be null and void if her new wife met her end before they’d even been married a day. And to be honest, as much as a source of frustration as the mage had always been, Sylvanas respected her. “How can I help, then?”
Sylvanas frowned, trying to remember where the mage had left it. Ah, yes. The wardrobe, when she’d changed. And then Sylvanas frowned further, remembering that there had been no arcane tattoos on her new wife’s skin when they’d retired to bed. But Jaina gasped in pain again, and the banshee pushed that question to the back of her mind. Staff first, questions later.
The staff in question was resting inside the large wardrobe, right where she’d remembered. Sylvanas reached out for it carefully, not trusting that there wouldn’t be safeguards, but apparently there weren’t. Nothing happened when she gripped it, and she quickly carried it back to the bed where Jaina lay. Unfortunately, the mage seemed incapable of grasping it, her hands locked tight in fists contracted at uncomfortable angles.
Sylvanas frowned again. “I hope this doesn’t end up frying us both, little mage.” Cautiously, she lowered the staff’s focusing crystal onto Jaina’s chest.
The world went white.
“Jaina, there’s no time!” Arcane pulsed in the air as Rhonin brute-forced a portal. He kissed Vereesa quickly and shoved her through. Her protest was cut off before it even started. The other Kirin Tor followed, rushed through as he grabbed Jaina.
“No, Rhonin, I won’t leave them!”
“You don’t have a choice!” He pushed her to the portal, but she struggled against him as it pulled at her. “Go!”
“Rhonin! No!” She fought the portal, fought Rhonin as he shoved her again. Fought as the other Kirin Tor tried to pull at her from the other side.
The arcane in the air grew thicker. Rhonin stretched out his arms, a containment spell already forming, but Jaina knew it wouldn’t be enough. If only he’d listened, if only they’d all worked together, if she could just get back through the portal—
The world erupted in blue and purple that bled white.
So much power.
Tides, it burned.
Her skin felt flayed, her body consumed.
Pain. So much pain. Everywhere and everything.
Then finally, darkness.
Sylvanas came back to herself with a start, stumbling backwards and falling to her knees. Her hand instinctively fell to the long scar that marred her torso. The mark of Frostmourne’s curse burned with the arcane remnants of Jaina’s memory. A growl rumbled deep in her chest. The banshee had long suspected that she and the mage had far more in common than they should have. Reliving Theramore’s last moments only confirmed it.
In many ways, Garrosh was to Proudmoore what Arthas was to Sylvanas. Which was an…uncomfortable…comparison. Jaina had tried and failed to stop Arthas. Sylvanas had tried and failed to stop Garrosh. Both had gone on to commit atrocities that had tortured and irrevocably changed their respective victims.
Sylvanas wrinkled her nose at that thought. Her growl deepened as she pushed to her feet, hand still clutching her scar.
“You saw, didn’t you.”
Jaina lay on the bed looking frailer than the banshee could ever remember seeing her. Her skin still glowed with arcane light, but it was subdued like the mage’s eyes. One hand gripped her staff like her life depended on it, but the rest of her was limp, sprawled as though she’d collapsed. Sylvanas cocked her head slightly, then moved to sit on the very corner of the bed, careful not to get close enough to touch the mage. “I did not realize how much of the mana bomb you absorbed. Nor how much it still marked you.”
Proudmoore sighed heavily. “Everyone thinks it just turned my hair white.” She snorted softly, then hissed. “As if something so powerful would do so little, when it destroyed an entire city.”
Sylvanas frowned. “The arcane marks on your skin…”
“I hide them. They’re always there, burning.”
Something clicked into place in Sylvanas’ mind. All the times she’d seen Jaina in the recent years, the subtle ways she’d flinched away from touch. It hadn’t occurred to her, as the banshee had the same tendencies. The human mage, when Sylvanas had known her in life, had been generous with her physical affection. Always touching, always hugging. But not since she’d returned from her self-imposed exile. Even Anduin and Vereesa, who Jaina had always been close with, and the layers of heavy clothing…
“It burns you still. I felt it, in your memory.”
Jaina nodded weakly. “I always feel it. Some days it’s bearable. Some…”
“Some, the pain burns into hate, and it’s everything you can do not to slaughter everyone around you.”
Eyes that burned white still met ones that burned red as embers, and Jaina hummed softly. “I should have realized that if anyone could understand, it would be you.”
Still gripping her staff, the mage pushed herself up to sit against the pillows. Her movements were rough, clearly still painful, but Sylvanas made no move to help. “And the dreams? Are they a frequent occurrence?”
“Only on my bad days.” Jaina finally settled, and spent several minutes simply watching the former Warchief. “I suppose, since you’re my wife, you’d better know.” She laughed a little at that. “I can honestly say I never expected that to happen.”
Sylvanas snorted. “Being married? Or specifically being married to me?”
“Both, I suppose. But after Kalec, I kind of gave up on the idea in general.”
Sylvanas’ ears twitched in annoyance at the Blue Aspect’s name. For some reason, hearing about her wife’s former lovers bothered her. “Did he know about…” she waved her hands at the mage “…this?”
Jaina shook her head. “No. Well.” She sighed. “Sort of. He’s the one who found me, after the mana bomb. He saw them then. But he thought they went away when I figured out how to hide them.”
“Well then.” Sylvanas chuckled. “I feel privileged to know.”
Jana made a face in the darkness. “I wasn’t exactly planning on telling you like this. Or this soon. But the cat is sort of out of the bag, so I don’t have much choice.” She took a deep breath and released it slowly. “It hurts, all the time. I feel the arcane burning over my skin, deep within me. The more mana I use, the more tolerable it is, but even on a good day, I can barely stand anyone to touch me. When I don’t use my magic much, don’t burn off enough excess, well. You saw what happens.”
Sylvanas raised one long eyebrow. “The staff?”
“Helps siphon some off. Enough that I can breathe, anyway.” Jaina paused, looking away. “I didn’t realize it would drag you into my memory. I’m sorry about that.”
The banshee rubbed absently at her scar again. “No harm done. That’s not all, though, is it?”
Turning away, Jaina made a face. “No. The more I use, the more manageable it becomes. But it also makes my threshold deeper. Like the mana bomb made me into a vessel, and every time I pour some out, I’m refilled twice as full. I just keep stretching like a balloon, and hoping I don’t turn into a mana bomb myself when I finally pop.”
Caught off guard by the revelation, Sylvanas said nothing. What was there, really, to say? That her guess had been right, that Jaina was as much changed by the mana bomb as Sylvanas had been by Frostmourne? That she, by extension, understood? Jaina’s irrational anger against the Horde, that had driven her self-imposed exile after their defeat at the Broken Shore, seemed so much more understandable?
She could see it all, now.
Proudmoore desperately trying to put Theramore behind her, to act like nothing had happened. They’d pushed her into leading the Kirin Tor, not even giving her a moment to grieve. And self-sacrificing idiot, she’d done it. Angling for peace while fighting pain and rage, covering the physical effects. Probably even letting that damned dragon paw all over her while in excruciating pain. Small wonder the anger won for so long. Small wonder she’d had to get away.
Sylvanas understood all too well. She could still feel the thrum of the arcane bleeding off of her, still feel the power raging just under her wife’s skin despite the distance.
The Banshee Queen shifted, leaning closer. “I might have an idea.”
In the darkness, one white eyebrow rose. “I’m listening.”
“You visited Quel’Thalas as an apprentice, saw the Sunwell. You’re familiar with the elven addiction to the arcane. How we’re…desperate…to absorb as much as we can.” She took an unnecessary breath. “You bleed arcane. It’s small wonder every elf in the Alliance follows you around like a lovesick pup. It’s not warm like the Sunwell, yours is sharper. Like lightening in an ice storm over a raging sea. But I can feel it. It’s what woke me, before.”
Jaina listened silently, and Sylvanas felt the weight of it.
“I could…try to siphon some of it.”
The mage cocked her head. “Can you still?”
Sylvanas gave her a cocky half smile. “I may be undead, but I can still absorb arcane. Among other things.”
Both white eyebrows jerked up at that. “I’m filing that away for another discussion, later. Just so you know.” Jaina regarded her curiously, hesitating. “How—how would it work?”
Sylvanas paused. When she spoke again, it was softly, and a part of her wondered at herself for it. “I would have to touch you.”
Jaina didn’t respond. Sylvanas waited, let her consider. There was no flaring of magic, so she was fairly certain the mage wasn’t angry. Surprisingly, even in the dark, she didn’t appear disgusted by the idea. The mage simply seemed to consider.
Until Sylvanas was sure she’d made a mistake, that she never should have offered. And just as she was opening her mouth to take it all back, Jaina responded.