Jaina stared at the lighthouse and sighed.
It was her own fault, really. She’d accepted the post sight-unseen in a desperate bid for a fresh start. She was tired of academia, tired of the rumors and the backbiting, tired of the reminders, tired of all of it, and when she’d run across the lighthouse keeper job, there had been such a rush of nostalgia and longing for the life she’d grown up in, Jaina had found herself applying before she could think better of it.
And then she'd been offered the position, which she’d immediately accepted.
And now, looking at Zephyr Island Lighthouse, the regret was settling in.
Vaguely, she remembered seeing something about current renovations and plans to introduce long-overdue upgrades. This, though… Served her right for acting on impulse and not doing her usual deep research dive.
Impulsive decisions will get you nowhere good.
She winced at the all-too-physical reminder as her scars flared.
The village was, well, it wasn’t Silvermoon. Silvermoon was about what she had expected. Noisy, hot, full of very old things (which included the reclusive, haughty, high elf residents), but also fascinating and beautiful (something that also applied to the residents, unfortunately). This village (Tides, she’d done this so hastily she couldn’t even remember its name) was quiet and isolated, tucked along the coast deep in the Eversong Forest. Exactly the kind of place she’d hoped for. Cute. Quaint. Quiet. The lighthouse itself though, was, well—an utter bloody shambles, as her father would have said. Construction scaffolds lined at least a third of it, piles of building materials, masonry, tools and who knew what else scattered throughout the area, taking up far too much of the limited space. The island was, after all, only just big enough for the lighthouse, and little else.
And the noise.
Jaina winced at a particularly loud shout that came from inside, and contemplated getting back in her jeep and just driving away.
“Belore! Careful with that, you fools, you’ll blow us all to pieces! Where’s Kinndy?”
Jaina’s eyes widened at the pulse of arcane she suddenly felt. They couldn’t be… That signature, though. Unmistakable. “No, no, no, no…” Forgetting her annoyance in a flash of fear and anger, Jaina ran. She ignored the startled calls of the elven work crew, the construction equipment and debris blocking the way, and simply ran. Through the doorway (currently without a door), up a set of stairs that had definitely seen better days, until her lungs burned from the unexpected exertion.
The door at the top of the lighthouse was also missing, a fact Jaina’s brain catalogued for later. In that moment, she had eyes only for the lighthouse’s focusing crystal, and the idiot night elf mishandling it (another thing catalogued for later—what was a night elf doing in Quel’Thalas?). Jaina’s eyes blazed. “Don’t. Move!” She reached out with her magic, grabbing the crystal and suspending it before anything could happen.
Silence fell in the room.
Jaina took a steadying breath and stepped forward, carefully settling the crystal back into its cradle within the enormous lamp that provided the lighthouse with its function. There was something off about the crystal itself, something mildly upsetting, more so because it felt oddly familiar. Something that…called to her? Perhaps?
“What in Belore’s name—”
Jaina scowled. “That is exactly what I’d like to know.” Making sure the crystal was safely secured in place, she let her magic fade and turned, still talking. “Do you have any idea what could have happened if—”
Glowing blue-grey eyes and a scowling (but still beautiful) high elven face. Pale gold hair that was almost silver. Shoulders for days, and right at eye level. Far too close, all of it, all of her, and the faint scent of steel and tulips.
Jaina swallowed. Shook her head. Opened her mouth as one long, pale eyebrow rose sharply.
Not now, dammit. Focus.
Before she could revisit her derailed indignation, the elf beat her to it. “Who are you? What exactly do you think you’re doing, barging in here and throwing your magic around like some jumped up magister, telling us what to do—”
“Archmage, actually.” Jaina winced, even as she said the words. “And I’m the new lighthouse keeper.” Her anger came roaring back, finally. “And just what in the Tides were you doing with that crystal, anyway? You can’t just toss them around like beer barrels. One wrong step, and you could’ve leveled everything from here to Silvermoon!”
The elf’s ears twitched, and her eyebrow somehow rose higher. “I wasn’t aware I’d hired an archmage as keeper.”
Jaina flushed, both at the realization she had just yelled at her new boss, and at the unspoken implication that the role of lighthouse keeper was a step—perhaps many steps—too low for an archmage. She’s not wrong. “You’re lucky you did, if this is how you go about things. Why were you messing with the focusing crystal?”
The elf sniffed and crossed her arms, a move that drew Jaina’s eyes to well-defined, lean muscles. Very well-defined. Jaina forced her gaze back to her employer’s eyes.
“Removing it. It needs to be replaced.”
Jaina frowned at that. “No, it doesn’t.” She glanced back at the crystal in question, which, while old and odd, was perfectly serviceable with a little maintenance. “It needs a good retuning, yes, but it doesn’t need replacing.”
“I’ve been told it does. Unless you think you’re capable of retuning it. As you said, one wrong move—”
Jaina looked back. “Of course, I’m capable. I’d expect any half able magister in Silvermoon could. Aren’t elven magisters supposed to be the best in Azeroth?” Not that they necessarily should be doing it, mind you. She shuddered involuntarily, forcing herself not to reach for her back and shoulder, which suddenly burned again with a flare of memory.
“They won’t touch it. I’ve asked. Hence the decision to replace it.”
That drew Jaina’s attention away from the memories that threatened her. “What? Why not?”
Those burning blue eyes regarded her for a long moment that stretched into many. “According to them, it’s cursed.”
A laugh burst from Jaina. “Cursed? That’s absurd. There’s a flaw in it, yes, which is exactly why it needs to be tuned—that, and its clearly old and unmaintained, which is not a good state for it to be in—but there’s absolutely nothing to it that would suggest a curse.”
The elf’s eyes narrowed, her ears pinned back, but before she could say anything the discussion was interrupted by a small streak of…pink?
“Sylvanas! I’m so sorry I’m late, but I’m here now! Please tell me you’re not trying to move that crystal yet, just because you and Pained are elves doesn’t mean you know anything about arcane artifacts, and you don’t even know what these focusing crystals can do, they’re so dangerous if they’re not handled right—oh! Titans! You’re Jaina Proudmoore!”
Jaina blinked. The very chattery streak of pink turned out to be a gnome with bright pink hair, who stopped just short of a collision and then looked at her like she was star-struck. “I-I’m sorry, I—”
“Sylvanas, do you know who that is??”
The elf, whose name appeared to be Sylvanas, gave the gnome a defeated look and a sigh. “She’s the new lighthouse keeper I hired.”
The gnome’s eyes got even wider, her head swiveling back and forth between them before hissing loudly at the elf. “Sylvanas! You hired Jaina Proudmoore as a lighthouse keeper?”
Sylvanas sighed again, her ears giving a twitch. “You say her name like it should mean something to me, Kinndy.”
Jaina knew what was coming the moment the words fell from the elf’s mouth. For a moment she contemplated throwing herself off the lighthouse’s outer balcony, but then the gnome—Kinndy, Sylvanas had called her—said that name, and all she could so was cringe, and wish she could crawl inside herself.
“Titans, I can’t believe you! That’s Jaina Proudmoore, one of the most powerful archmages the Kirin Tor have ever trained, former head and founder of Theramore University—she single-handedly saved the city, your own sister—I was supposed to be there too, you know, but then I ended up in that exchange program with Pandaria University instead, and then I ended up at Dalaran College—”
Jaina was so grateful to Sylvanas for halting the gnome that she almost missed the important revelation in the middle of Kinndy’s list of her supposed accomplishments. She looked up sharply when the words registered. “Your sister?”
Sylvanas’ ears flicked again, her burning blue-grey eyes far less antagonistic and more thoughtful. “Yes. She and her husband were there.”
Jaina nodded. Sylvanas did look slightly familiar, she supposed, but she didn’t need to know who her sister was. She didn’t want to. At least they’d survived. That was what mattered. She wrapped her arms tighter around herself as her scars burned and memories fought to overwhelm her. She had come here hoping to get away, but it seemed even a mostly isolated lighthouse in a country that was known for its standoffish dislike of strangers wasn’t far enough.
Northrend probably wouldn’t be far enough.
“Here I thought I was hiring someone with a passing familiarity with the ocean and lighthouses. You didn’t mention any of this when you applied for the job.”
Jaina winced, unable to look at the elf whose voice had turned soft and quiet. And once again, Kinndy beat her to the response.
“Oh, she knows the ocean. Her family basically is Kul Tiras. She’s the Proudmoore heir, the Daughter of the Sea—”
Silence dominated the room, softened only by the distant sound of the waves below them. Jaina tried to end it several times, but the words couldn’t find their way past all the memories she’d been running from. It was Sylvanas, in the end, that broke it.
“You said you could retune the lighthouse crystal?”
Finally chancing a look up, Jaina nodded, happy the other woman was looking at the crystal and not her. “I can.”
“Of course she—”
A pale, long-fingered hand covered the gnome’s mouth before she could get going again, and Jaina was grateful. Sylvanas looked at her then, her expression unreadable. “Then we’ll leave it to your capable hands. Pained?”
The night elf, who stood even taller (and more muscular) than Sylvanas, and until now had regarded the entire episode in silence, stepped forward. “Yes?”
“Since we’re not moving the crystal after all, you and Kinndy can finish fixing the exterior glass. Leave the crystal and anything around it alone. We’ll wait until our new keeper has had a chance to look over it and decide what it needs.” Glancing back at her, she waited with a small lift of one eyebrow for Jaina to nod. Once she had, Sylvanas nodded in return, and gestured to the door—or at least, the frame where the door should be. “In the meantime, let’s get you settled.”
Was that it? No questions, no demands for answers, just a shrug and get back to work? Jaina stared at her new employer, but Sylvanas only waited, implacable and somehow unruffled. It was strange and bizarre, and somehow exactly what Jaina needed.
Maybe this would work, after all.
Mind made up, Jaina gave the barest effort of a smile, and headed to the empty doorway leading to the stairs.
Jaina fucking Proudmoore.
Sylvanas silently berated herself as she followed the small, mostly white-haired woman out of the lightroom. She should have known. She should have recognized the name when she hired her. Vereesa had mentioned her often enough, even before the accident, talked about her almost as incessantly as she’d spoken of Rhonin, to the point where she’d begun wondering if her Little Moon wasn’t also as interested in the woman as she was her now-husband. The days Sylvanas had spent lying in bed recovering from the injuries that had driven her from the Rangers had been full of Jaina this and Jaina that.
She really should have recognized the name.
And now here she was, confronted with the woman herself. Vereesa would be happy, at least. Except that this Jaina Proudmoore bore no resemblance to the woman her sister had told unending stories about.
She was small, diminished, despite the arcane that rolled off her in waves (another thing Sylvanas kicked herself for missing). This was not the larger-than-life archmage her sister had all but obsessed over.
This was a woman trying to run from her past.
Sylvanas recognized the signs well enough. After all, she’d done the same thing. Was still doing it.
It didn’t really matter, though, did it? So, Jaina Proudmoore had run to the same corner of Quel’Thalas she had, searching for the same isolation. She could grant her that. The woman hadn’t asked any questions, and she hadn’t found herself volunteering any answers. They could just both do their jobs and try to forget about the past.
Hope that maybe the past would let them.
Sylvanas shook herself off. Speaking of doing their jobs…
“Oh good, you found her.”
Sylvanas twitched her ears at Velonara, who didn’t even bother to look up from the door she’d just finished hanging. The one that lead to the lighthouse’s living quarters. “Oh, so you did see a rogue human charging through an active construction zone. So glad to know none of you have lost the skills I so painstakingly taught you.”
Velonara threw her a lazy grin. “We figured you could handle one tiny little human.”
“And if she’d been hurt?”
The other elf shrugged. “Her fault for charging into an active construction zone.”
Sylvanas sighed. “And I’d be looking for a new lighthouse keeper.”
Velonara’s eyebrows pulled together. “Wait, I thought you found one. They bail on you already?”
Sylvanas flicked her ears, letting her eyes slide to the woman who stood stiffly by her side. Velonara’s twitched one way, then another as her eyes widened in understanding. “Oh.”
“Vel, meet Jaina Proudmoore. Lighthouse keeper. Velonara is one of my…part of my crew.”
Velonara swallowed, ears flicking in acknowledgment of the words that remained unspoken. Let’s not get her killed please. Or make her quit.
It had been hard enough finding someone in the first place, what with the lighthouse’s history, and the isolation. The village north of her family’s home was not exactly a hotbed of activity, and while she found that to be a prime feature, most others didn’t.
“My sincerest apologies, Miss Prou—”
“Jaina, please.” Sylvanas watched as she tucked a strand of white hair behind her ear, and then tentatively reached out to offer Velonara her hand. “Just Jaina.”
Amusing as it usually was to watch Velonara switch on her charm, Sylvanas found herself mildly annoyed as the other elf smiled and bowed over Jaina’s hand, which she held just under her lips.
“Please accept my apologies, Miss Jaina. And don’t hesitate to ask if there’s anything—”
“Vel.” Syvanas growled the name. “What still needs to be done in the resident floors?”
The other elf cringed, reluctantly letting go of the mage’s hand. “It’s…”
A bellowed shout came from inside the room, and this time Sylvanas winced right alongside Velonara. Both of them scrambled through the doorway, only to find Anya swearing up a storm next to a pile of rubble and crumbling wall.
“Belore fucking damn this fucking lighthouse to the fucking void!”
The small elf kicked at the rubble, dusting herself off and continuing to swear, but it was the small laugh from behind her that caught at Sylvanas. Having ascertained that Anya was unhurt, she turned to see an amused look on Jaina’s face.
Blue eyes caught the curious look on her face, and Sylvanas watched as she smiled softly, shaking her head. “Here I thought no one could beat out a Kul Tiran sailor for swearing, but she’s doing an admirable job.”
Strangely, Sylvanas found herself smiling with the human. “You’ve clearly never heard an Elven Ranger company caught in the rain—or worse, the cold.”
The corner of her mouth inched a little higher. “That definitely describes Boralus in the winter. That, and full of cursing sailors also not thrilled with the weather, even if they’re used to it. Is she alright?”
Sylvanas glanced back to where Vel was helping Anya dust herself off, full of concerned and careful looks. “Seems so. Anya, what happened?”
The smaller elf stepped out of the last of the rubble and glared back at the wall. Or rather, what was left of it. “I was testing the fucking truss joint because it didn’t look right, and the whole Belore-damned thing just came down. Turned out it wasn’t fucking right. Some shithead did a piss-poor job walling off this fucking other room none of us knew about, and the whole shitshow nearly came down on my head.”
Sylvanas, used to Anya’s prevalence for swearing, simply raised an eyebrow and stepped over the debris. It did, indeed, seem to be another room—though why it had been walled off, complete with a small assembly of contents that were better preserved than she expected they should be—was beyond her.
She didn’t realize Jaina had followed until the mage spoke up, her voice startlingly close.
“There are remnants of a preservation spell here. Why wall it off, but leave the contents so carefully preserved?”
Sylvanas sighed. Why, indeed? Nothing about the damn lighthouse made sense, it never had, and she had long since begun to regret taking it on as a project. She shook her head and turned back to the door. “Mystery for another day. I apologize for the disarray, Lady Proudmoore—”
“Jaina, please. And it’s not your fault that I showed up several days early.”
“—Jaina.” Sylvanas took a slow breath while her eyes roamed over the mess of the living quarters, before forcing herself to look at the woman. “Regardless, the rooms obviously aren’t fit for occupation right now.”
Jaina tried to wave her off. “It’s fine, I’m sure there’s some place in the village I can stay—”
“No.” Sylvanas was shocked by the vehemence in her voice, and judging by the sudden silence behind her, she wasn’t the only one. “No. There is more than enough room on the estate with the rest of us. There’s no reason not to accommodate you there as well.”
The human’s small white eyebrows pulled together, her mouth open in what Sylvanas assumed would be protest, but Anya’s voice beat her to it.
“What the hell, Sylv? You’re inviting some strange human to crash with us? The fuck?”
She felt her ears flatten as she spun. “Anya.”
The small elf crossed her arms and glared defiantly. “What?”
A growl started in Sylvanas’ chest. Anya’s ears flattened in response before lifting again as Velonara softly took her wrist. “That’s the new keeper Sylv hired.”
The discomfort was plain in Jaina’s voice. “It really is fine, there’s got to be an inn in the village or something—”
Under the combined stares of Sylvanas and Vel, Anya folded. She huffed out a breath and a low “Anar’alah Belore,” before stepping forward and extending her hand. “Sorry. Ignore me. I can be a bit of a bitch when I’m not careful. I’m Anya.”
Sylvanas’ ears twitched with her own discomfort until Jaina raised her own hand, a hesitant smile pulling at the corner of her mouth. Surprisingly, instead of shaking the offered hand as they all expected the human to do, Jaina grasped Anya’s forearm in a proper greeting.
“Jaina. And I understand having a wall almost fall on you can do that.”
Anya’s eyebrows shot up, her grin turning feral before she turned back to Sylvanas. “Changed my mind. I like her. She can stay.”
Sylvanas snorted. “I’m so glad I have your approval to invite the woman I hired to stay at my ancestral family home.”
Anya waved her off and headed for the door. “It’s Lirath’s night to cook, isn’t it? I’m starving.”
Pinching the bridge of her nose, Sylvanas took a deep breath. There was a time Anya’s behavior would have earned her extra duties as punishment. It hadn’t stopped the short elf then, and it certainly wouldn’t now. “I’m sorry about her,” she began, but when she met Jaina’s eyes, the mage had a look of mild amusement on her face.
“It’s fine, really.”
She regarded her for another long moment, before turning away. “Come, then. We’re done enough here for the day, let’s get you settled before it gets much later.”
For what was probably the hundredth time since she’d agreed to take on this project, Sylvanas wondered what she’d gotten herself into.