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The Lighthouse

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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?

That’s ridiculous.

“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—”

“Kinndy.”

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—”

“Kinndy, hush.”

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.

Chapter Text

“Welcome to the spire.”

Jaina’s head spun as she took in that simple sentence. Her new employer said it so casually while holding open the door of her jeep. Several other car doors slammed, and the chatter of conversation in both Common and Thalassian washed around her as most of the work crew—minus the few that had stayed behind to tidy up—passed her heading to the main tower.

The main tower, because the spire was actually three towers, all reaching impossibly high to the sky in typical elegant Quel’dorei architecture. Delicate looking walkways connected the three, and the two smaller towers were easily twice the width of the lighthouse. The central tower was, well, far bigger.

“You weren’t actually kidding about having plenty of room, were you?”

Sylvanas gave a wry smile as she finally stepped away from her jeep and helpfully shut the door behind her. “I really was not. There are quite a few outbuildings as well, but there are more than enough empty rooms in the spire to house one displaced and early lighthouse keeper.”

She waited patiently while Jaina dug her worn old sea bag out of the back before directing them both to the heavy front doors. “How many of your family live here? There must be quite a few of you…”

There was a look Jaina couldn’t interpret. “No, not so many as that. My sisters live with their partners. Minn’da is rarely here, much to her annoyance. She and Ann’da are in Silvermoon right now, though I’m not certain for how long. They come and go, Minn’da most of all. My brother Lirath is the only one who’s here right now.”

Jaina nodded somewhat distractedly. It didn’t sound much different from her own family, though it had been so long since she’d been home, that could have changed…

She shook the thought off and followed Sylvanas inside. She was here now, for however long that happened to be. Here, where she was surrounded by more than a dozen elves, most of whom had done little more than glance at her before ignoring her presence. Which was exactly what she wanted. To be unnoticed and left alone.

“Don’t tell me you’ve brought home another stray, dear sister.”

“No stray, Little Spark. Jaina is the lighthouse keeper I hired. Jaina, my annoyance of a younger brother, Lirath.”

The elf in question had the same silvery-blonde hair, grey-blue eyes, and tall, slim build as Sylvanas, though without the muscular broadness of the shoulders. He was also shorter by a few inches, and seemed overall far less serious, if the sly grin on his face was anything to go by. Again, Jaina was struck by a sense of familiarity, and again she brushed it off.

The past could kindly stay in the past. That was, after all, why she was here.

Lirath, however, instantly proved he wasn’t going to be as uncurious as his sister, even as he bowed over Jaina’s hand. “Oh, you brought me a mage. How delightful!”

“I didn’t bring you anything, brother. Your apprentice already made a fool of herself, don’t repeat the scene, please.”

“Apprentice?”

“Kinndy gets easily excited, it’s not her fault—wait, Jaina, you say?”

Jaina drew back sharply, just as Sylvanas dragged a hand down her face, muttering in Thalassian.

Dor shar'adore da shando. Lirath is a magister. Kinndy is his apprentice, which is why she was helping with the crystal—since someone refused to deal with it.” She leaned on the last bit with a glare at her brother.

Lirath’s face immediately closed off as he crossed his arms in obvious annoyance. “I told you that thing was cursed, and I’m not going near that Belore-damned haunted lighthouse. And now it seems you’ve got yourself a mage, and you don’t need help from me or my apprentice—an archmage, at that, if I’m not mistaken, and don’t think you’re going to distract me from that.” His eyes lit back up as he turned away from his sister and back to Jaina. “You are Jaina Proudmoore, correct? Of Kul Tiras and Ther—”

“Lirath.”

The force in Sylvanas’ voice was enough to make Jaina startle, but Lirath only flattened his ears and glared at her again. “Really, Sylvanas, you’re being so rude.”

Jaina glanced between the siblings and sighed. Sylvanas was being strangely kind about defending her, but she didn’t want them fighting over it. Lirath seemed the tenacious type, anyway, and it was better to just get it over with. She reached out instinctively to place a placating hand on her new employer’s tense forearm. “It’s alright.”

The reaction was immediate. Reactions, rather. Sylvanas, thankfully, backed down with nothing more than a tense nod. But Lirath noticed. His eyebrow rose and his ears twitched, and even though Jaina was far from fluent in the subtleties of elven ear-speak (or whatever that very specific body language they’d developed was called, she certainly didn’t know), the meaning was obvious.

Tides, this whole thing had been a monumentally bad idea. Jaina sighed. “Yes, I’m that Jaina Proudmoore. I would really prefer not to talk about it.”

Lirath looked back at her impassively for a long moment before acknowledging with a small incline of his head. “Fair enough. I imagine not, if you took a job at such a backwater place as a lowly lighthouse keeper. Still, should you ever want to discuss arcane theory, I would love a chance to pick your brain. No history, just shop talk,” he added with a wink.

Jaina sighed and offered him a small smile. “Thank you. I might take you up on that.”

“Excellent. I’ll let my sister get you settled. Supper will be at least an hour, so no rush. You might even show her the bathing pools, Sylvanas. Moving to a new place is so stressful, after all, and I’m sure the repeated introductions haven’t helped. Might be just the thing.”

Jaina watched Sylvanas with curiosity as her eyes narrowed, but the idea definitely had merit. “That sounds lovely, Lirath. Thank you.”

Sylvanas’ ear twitched. “What is the plan for supper, Little Spark?”

“Relax, Lady Moon. Alina and Kalira were kind enough to go hunting earlier. I’ve already got the venison roasting, and I was about to send a few of the girls out to raid the vegetable garden for me. It’s all in hand. Go play the good hostess.”

More ear twitching and narrowed eyes passed between them, an entire silent conversation that ended with a sigh on Sylvanas’ part, and a sly grin on Lirath’s, before the former turned back to Jaina, her expression returning to passive indifference.

Jaina adjusted the strap of her sea bag on her shoulder and followed her in the direction she indicated, letting her mind wander as they began to climb a nearby set of stairs. There was something incredibly familiar about too many little things today, none of which she could put her finger on. Part of her, the part that refused to ever leave a mystery unsolved, a topic unresearched, or a book unread, wanted to dig through her memories and figure out why exactly that was.

The part of her that had made a spur-of-the-moment decision to leave everything in her life behind and become the keeper of a backwater lighthouse in a foreign country firmly refused to examine it. She’d already been confronted with her past too many times today.

Really, she just wanted to be left alone.

And at least her new employer seemed to understand that desire, even if no one else did. Indeed, Sylvanas barely spoke as she pointed out the (perfectly solitary) small room she would be sleeping in until the residential floors of the lighthouse were inhabitable. She offered no banal chatter as she pointed things out—the washroom, the quickest way back downstairs, the cleverly hidden closet—and waited patiently while Jaina dug out a fresh change of clothes and her toiletries before leading her up a floor to the bathing pools. She suspected most people would find Sylvanas’ quiet detachment off-putting, but Jaina found it oddly comforting.

She had nearly convinced herself so many times today that this impromptu decision was a horrible idea. If not for the elf’s quiet nonchalance, Jaina knew she probably would’ve already left.
Sylvanas made her think that maybe, just maybe, this wasn’t a horrible mistake.

 

***

 

Sylvanas realized her mistake as soon as she walked back into the bathing area. Lirath had, of course, not warned her that the clean towels were out, and she’d been forced to go searching for more. It had taken longer than she wanted, and by the time she returned, Jaina had settled into her bath. Which would not have been a problem, if she were an elf. But Jaina was not an elf, a fact that all but slapped Sylvanas in the face when she opened her mouth to apologize for taking so long, and the human had made a desperate scramble to cover herself.

She sighed internally and turned away to set the stack of towels to the side. It wasn’t like she’d seen much except the woman’s back, though the glimpse she’d gotten had been enough to note the curious patterning on it. “My apologies. I forgot that human customs aren’t as relaxed as ours when it comes to nudity.”

A soft ripple of moving water was followed by a depreciating snort. “I grew up on ships where privacy was basically non-existent. It doesn’t—that wasn’t—you surprised me. That's all.”

Sylvanas’ ears tilted in silent question, even as she turned slowly back to face her. True to her words, Jaina hadn’t actually made an effort to cover herself—at least, not in the expected way. No, she’d turned to put her back out of view, angling her left side away so the patterning Sylvanas belatedly recognized as scarring was as obscured as possible.

She blinked slowly in understanding. “Ah. I see.”

Three words, but they were enough to make the other woman pull her knees to her chest and turn her head to the side. Sylvanas sighed, loudly this time, and pulled at her own shirt, lifting the fabric until her torso—and the ugly scar that ran through it—were exposed. Jaina said nothing, but her eyes widened, and her body slowly relaxed.

She let the fabric fall back down and carefully lowered herself onto a nearby bench, wincing as she settled. The wound was bothering her more lately. It was probably past time to visit Liadrin again. But sitting felt good, and even though Jaina hadn’t asked, somehow Sylvanas found herself talking about the one thing she never wanted to talk about.

“You remember the coup in Lordaeron a few years back?”

More soft splashes, and the faint perfume of soap. “I do. We were only just getting the University off its feet, but everyone heard about it. My parents were suddenly very grateful I was on another continent.”

Sylvanas nodded. “Considering Kul Tiras’ proximity, I’m not surprised. Especially once it turned from coup to invasion.” It had been a horrible time. Quel’Thalas hadn’t seen war in decades, not once they’d finally settled things with the Amani to the south, but Lordaeron’s coup had threatened everything. “I was a Ranger-Captain, tasked with preventing their advance on Silvermoon. Our perimeter defenses had been sabotaged by a traitor in the government. Had the Ranger-General’s forces not found him in time to reset the wards that guard the city, we would likely not be having this conversation.”

Sighing into the memory, Sylvanas leaned back against the wall and stretched her long legs out in front her. “We stopped the usurper and his advance forces outside the city gates, hoping the wards would come up in time. That we could hold him long enough. The rumors he was using necromancy to supplement his forces were true, as was the rumor he was carrying a cursed artifact. All of our arrows just…missed. Rangers don’t miss. And we were losing. So, I did the only thing I could think of. I let him get close enough to kill me.”

Jaina breathed in sharply, and Sylvanas gave a depreciating smile without looking up at her.

“Why?”

She leaned her head back against the wall, resigned to the memory of the utter cold stabbing through her. The pain, the shock. “It was the only way to get close enough to kill him.” Sylvanas let out a ragged breath. “I shattered his sword while it was caught in my torso and opened the bastard’s neck wider than a portal. I counted it worth the cost of my own death. The last thing I remember seeing was the ward shield activating, and I thought, if I had to die to stop him, at least it was me, and not someone else.”

“Except you didn’t die.”

Sylvanas let out a bitter laugh that became half wince and a grunt. “Well. Not permanently. Anya told me they had to practically drag me back from the gates, at least according to the healers. So, I might have died a little. Sometimes…”

Sometimes, she wished she had died. That was the ugly truth she never spoke of, and glancing at the mage now lounging casually in her bath, even without saying the words, she saw understanding in Jaina’s sharp blue eyes. They shared a mutual silence, at the end of which Sylvanas drew in another ragged breath.

“Technically I’m still a Ranger-Captain. But the wound refuses to heal fully, and I’ve been on indefinite leave since. Most of the crew are my ranger company, plus a few others like Pained, that just kind of found their way to us.” The ridiculousness of it made her smile a little, despite herself. “Technically they’re supposed to be keeping an eye on me for the Ranger-General.”

“I’m glad you have them.”

There was a warm kindness in her words, but it was impossibly suffused with sadness, and Sylvanas found herself wondering if Jaina had anyone. It didn’t seem like she did—not even her Little Moon, strangely—and the idea bothered her more than it should have.

Before she could examine that thought, could wonder the whys, Jaina stood, slowly turning, and Sylvanas forgot everything else.

From a purely aesthetic viewpoint, Jaina Proudmoore was stunning. Broad, strong shoulders that Sylvanas suspected were deceptively muscled, hips wide enough for grasping, skin that would mark beautifully. Full breasts that, given different circumstances, would have been perfect for burying herself in, as amply demonstrated by the glinting silver anchor currently residing there. But she also had the look of someone who had lost weight due to prolonged illness or exhaustion, which sparked a protective instinct Sylvanas hadn’t felt for someone new in a long while. And as Jaina made no attempt to cover herself as she moved to the cooling-off pool, she gave Sylvanas a clear view of her back—and the scarring she’d initially sought to hide.

Scarring that made Sylvanas lose her breath.

Fractal branches and lines that spiderwebbed and stretched across her back from a central point high on her shoulder, like arcane lightning strikes that pulsed and breathed, angry with power. They looked, in fact, just like the scars a lightning strike would leave behind, though clearly touched by arcane. They covered most of Jaina’s back, wrapping around her left shoulder and side, twisting over her spine and down past the dimples of her hip. Sylvanas watched every small movement as the mage settled herself in the new pool, the tense set of her shoulders slowly settling, the way she carefully pulled her braid over the scars that crept up that side of her neck.

In that moment, Sylvanas knew that Jaina absolutely understood.

“I was in the middle of a meeting of the board of governors when it happened.”

Jaina mostly had her back to her still when she spoke, though her head was turned just far enough that she could likely see her out of the corner of her eye. Sylvanas leaned forward to rest her elbows on her knees, and listened.

“A small group of apprentices had been given permission to use a focusing iris for their dissertation project. The senior mage who was supervising them was running late, and I suppose they decided to go ahead and start without him.” She paused, leaning down to rub cool water on her face. “I’m still not sure why they had access to it without him there, because they shouldn’t have.”

“But they did?”

Jaina’s head dipped. “They did. Disastrously. The other governors were arguing when I felt it, seconds before the alarms went off. I didn’t make a conscious decision to throw myself at it, unlike you,” she added with enough turn of her head that Sylvanas could see the attempt at a teasing look. “I just acted. Not fast enough to keep it from becoming a mana bomb, but enough to throw up a containment shield over the blast.” She sighed, pulling her knees up to rest her chin on them. “Perhaps if I had thought it through, I would have gotten the calculations right. But my imperfect shield ended up becoming a feedback siphon. The power of the blast bled through me and back into the shield. I’ve been told that I never would have been able to contain it otherwise, and that it was a brilliant maneuver to turn the power of the blast in on itself.”

Sylvanas felt frozen in place as Jaina slowly shook her head and leaned it forward on her knees, turned so the deep blue pools of her eyes were clear, though Sylvanas doubted she saw anything but the memories she recounted.

“The pain was… I don’t think there are words to describe it. I remember just trying to hold on. That’s the only thing I could think, just hold on, hold the barrier, because I knew if I didn’t, everyone I knew, everyone I cared about… My best friends, people I’d known and worked with for years, people I didn’t know… But it hurt, so much. All I wanted to do was let go. And then I was caught in the feedback, and I couldn’t have let go even if I’d tried.”

Sylvanas nodded. She knew. She’d felt the same way when the usurper’s cursed sword had cut through her colder than the deepest ice.

“In the end, I passed out well before the barrier spell ground itself out, having exhausted the power of the blast, and most all of my mana stores as well. I woke up screaming a week later, nearly all my hair white from mana shock, and my body burning from mana fever.”

Sylvanas took a deep breath. Between Lirath and Ann’da, she knew enough to understand the near-impossibility of doing what Jaina described, let alone surviving it. Yes, she had wicked scars, but she was alive. Vereesa hadn’t told her most of those details. Hadn’t told her just how close she and Rhonin had come to annihilation. The shock of it held her speechless.

“Seventy-three people.”

Sylvanas’ brows pulled together.

“Seventy-three people died. Swallowed by the mana bomb, before I got a shield in place. If I’d just been faster…”

Ah. She didn't bother to tell her than if she'd been any slower, maybe none of them would have survived. No doubt Jaina knew. “We lost a hundred and fifty-six Rangers and Farstriders defending the gates of Silvermoon, before I got myself impaled to stop him.”

The silence sat heavy between them for a long while, persisting as Jaina stood once more, water cascading in trails down her skin, and Sylvanas handed her a towel from the stack beside her.

“Do you ever…” Jaina didn’t look at her as she asked, her voice low. “Does it ever stop? Do you ever stop thinking if you’d just…”

“No.” Sylvanas stood, staring at her hands. “Minn’da keeps telling me I can’t dwell. We can’t change the past. And truly, I know that. But…no. I don’t think you do ever stop thinking that, if you’d just been faster, or stronger, or smarter… No matter how much worse it would have been had you not acted, somehow it’s near impossible to stop thinking you could have done more.”

Jaina nodded slowly, tucking the towel around herself.

Sylvanas sighed softly and turned to the door. “I’ll see you downstairs. I’d better make sure Lirath and Kinndy haven’t burned anything down.”

She was almost out the door, hand on the wood, when Jaina’s softly whispered, “Thank you,” caught up to her. Sylvanas nodded sharply and left, closing the door gently behind her before leaning on it for a moment.

What in the world had possessed her to share all of that with a woman she'd only just met, she didn’t know. But maybe that was it, because she didn’t know her, didn’t have that emotional expectation. Except now she’d bound them by something else, a mutual understanding that was decidedly unexpected.

Though…not necessarily unwelcome.

She shook her head. Only time would tell. In the meantime, she would give both of them space by going downstairs like she’d said she would. Not to check on Lirath, though. She wasn’t ready for the interrogation that would bring.

Belore-damned busybody.

She loved her brother, but he was such a stereotypical elf when it came to gossip. She supposed it was self-defense, having grown up with three older sisters, but there were times she was ready to string him up by his ears for it.

It wasn’t Lirath, however, that accosted her once she reached the bottom of the stairs and wandered into the main hall.

“Sylvanas, there you are! No one seemed to know where you’d wandered off to.”

“Little Moon?” She tried not to wince as Vereesa wrapped her in a hug. “What are you doing here?”

Vereesa laughed and stepped back, though not enough to let her go. “I needed a break and thought I’d come visit. Is Minn’da here, or is she stuck in Silvermoon?”

Sylvanas offered a lopsided grin. “Silvermoon, I’m afraid, and Ann’da has gone with her this time. You look good, not like you need a break. Where’s the rest of you?”

“Rhonin and the boys are coming tomorrow. I was hoping I’d get a chance to talk to Minn’da before, but I suppose you and Lirath will do.”

Sylvanas looked her sister up and down. “Anar’alah Belore, you’re not…”

Vereesa laughed again and nodded. “Pregnant again. The boys are old enough—”

“They’re still babies!”

Her sister rolled her eyes. “They’re half human, which means they grow up much faster.”

Shaking her head, Sylvanas felt suffused with warmth. Happy, that’s what this was. It had been so long since she felt anything much past numb that it took a moment to recognize it. “Little Moon…”

“Vereesa?”

Sylvanas froze. Watched her sister’s eyes widen in shock. Heard the breathy, “Jaina,” that fell from her lips. And then suddenly her Little Moon was across the room, arms engulfing the human as though she’d come back from the dead.

Which, knowing what she did now, Sylvanas supposed she might just have.

Chapter Text

“Jaina.”

Vereesa’s arms tightened around her with such force that she couldn’t help but return the embrace, while her head spun with the surrealness of the situation, and all the pieces fell into place. Vereesa was here. Sylvanas, who looked at them with apologetic worry, was her sister.

She felt an utter fool.

The signs had all been there. The vague familiarity she’d noticed in Sylvanas and Lirath. Kinndy’s comment about saving Sylvanas’ sister. Sylvanas herself had even said, her sister and husband. So many little things she should have seen, but she was too focused on herself and her apparently ineffective attempt at hiding. At least, until she’d walked in and seen her best friend standing there.

Tides, she was a complete and utter fool.

“Belore, Jaina, I have missed you! You’re so thin, I feel like I’m going to break you. You stopped writing and just disappeared, and now I find you here of all places? What are you doing here?”

It all tumbled from Vereesa in a torrent of hugs and touches and words that left Jaina speechless and full of guilt and simply overwhelmed.

And once again, Sylvanas came to her rescue.

“She’s working with me on the lighthouse. Going to be the new keeper.”

“And you didn’t tell me?” Vereesa leveled a glare at her sister, which had Jaina feeling even more guilty, before whirling back on her. “And that’s ridiculous, why in the world would you be a lighthouse keeper, especially here in the middle of nowhere?”

“Little Moon…”

Vereesa ignored her sister, but her face fell. “Jaina…what happened to you? What is going on?”

Jaina sighed, trying not to let it turn into a sob, and sank back into her best friend’s arms. “I’m sorry, Ree. I didn’t mean to shut you out. I just…didn’t know how to talk to you. After.”

In truth, she hadn’t known how to talk to anyone. Not Vereesa, not her mother, not Modera, or Antonidas, or Rhonin. Sylvanas was the first person she’d spoken about it to, and that…that had been a shock. She still wasn’t sure why, except that the elf had shared something that it felt like she hadn’t talked about either, and Jaina had felt instinctually that maybe…maybe she would understand.

Vereesa let out a sharp puff of air. “I was worried about you. Why didn’t you at least tell me you were working with my sister?”

The laugh Jaina let out was fully self-depreciating. “Probably because I didn’t know she was your sister until just now.”

Behind them, she saw Sylvanas’ eyebrows lift.

Jaina sighed and stepped back. “I just needed… I don’t know. To get away. To not be Jaina Proudmoore, savior of Theramore, or Jaina Proudmoore, Archmage or even Jaina Proudmoore, Scion of the Fleet, Heir of Kul Tiras for a while. I thought…maybe I could just be Jaina, lighthouse keeper in a little-known corner of Quel’Thalas.”

Vereesa reached up and wiped at her eyes, sniffling. “Well, at least I know where to find you now. And you have my family now to look after you—Sylvanas, did you know?”

The corner of Sylvanas’ mouth twitched. “Not when I hired her. She was the only applicant, and I was busy with other things. I figured it out when she arrived today, but she came down before I could tell you.”

Vereesa glanced between them with a hum and a lopsided smile. “I suppose I’ll forgive you, then. I’m sure Lirath figured it out the moment you introduced them—you did introduce them, didn’t you?”

Sylvanas gave an exaggerated roll of her eyes, which Jaina couldn’t help but laugh at. “Yes, unfortunately, she’s been subjected to Lirath the busybody. Speaking of, you know if you tell him, everyone will know.”

“Yes, well. You know if I don’t tell him, I’ll never hear the end of it. Better to just resign myself to the knowledge that Minn’da and Alleria will find out from him. They’ll understand I didn’t really have a choice.”

Jaina gasped and stared at Sylvanas, more pieces falling into place. “Oh, Tides. Your mother is the Ranger-General.”

Sylvanas responded with a quirk of her brows that silently said well, yes, but Vereesa’s pulled together, her eyes narrowing. “You’ve known that for years, Jaina.”

“I know, but…” She looked between her friend and Sylvanas. “I just… I hadn’t… We were talking before, about…”

Vereesa whipped back around to stare at her sister, her look almost accusing. “Wait, you talked to her? About—”

“Vereesa—”

“You won’t talk to anyone about it, not even Minn’da!”

“Little Moon—”

Vereesa released an exasperated breath. “Fine. At least you talked to someone, finally.”

The two glared at each other until Jaina couldn’t stand the tension anymore. She reached out tentatively, touching her friend’s arm. “I’m sorry, Ree.”

Vereesa pinched the bridge of her nose, a maneuver that had Jaina berating herself again for not realizing the two were sisters. “It’s fine. I’m actually glad—both that she talked to you, and that you’re here. I’ve wanted to introduce you two for years, honestly. I’m just…” She waved her arms and gave Jaina a half grin. “I’m pregnant, that was the news I came home to tell. My hormones are all over the place, and then I find my best friend, who I’ve been missing terribly, hiding out with my recluse of a sister, and of course, of course, you’d talk to each other, it makes sense, with everything, I just—”

Jaina pulled her into a hug. It was probably the first hug she’d initiated in years, she realized, and bless the Tides she’d missed this, missed her friend. “I missed you, too.” She laughed, and there was definitely at least half a choked sob in the sound. “And congratulations.”

Vereesa sniffled and pulled back with a laugh. “I really wanted to tell you, too. Oh! Rhonin will be so happy. And the boys. They’re supposed to come tomorrow, but now I’m wondering if I should wait until Minn’da is back. I know she’ll want to see them.” She narrowed her eyes, still smiling. “You’re not going to disappear on me again, are you? Now that you’re here?”

Jaina glanced at Sylvanas. She wasn’t sure why. She hadn’t said anything, content to let them catch up unless directly addressed. But for some reason Jaina felt the need to reassure her as much as Vereesa. “No. I think…” She turned back to Vereesa, whose expression had turned curious. “I think I’ll be sticking around for a bit.”

 

***

 

Sylvanas was surprised to discover Vereesa leaving for Silvermoon the next morning. When asked if she wouldn’t rather stay and catch up with the friend she had professed to miss so much, her little sister surprised her further by acknowledging that Jaina might be overwhelmed too easily, and that while she would definitely tell Rhonin, maybe it would be best if they let her settle first.

It was a valid (and oddly insightful, for Vereesa) point, Sylvanas thought. So Little Moon had instead gone in search of Minn’da, in the hopes Lirath (who was of course quite excited about the prospect of being an uncle again) hadn’t already spilled everything, leaving Sylvanas with a very specific look. One that said you’d better take care of her.

It was, altogether, rather confusing. Vereesa had always been a bit of a whirlwind, leaving chaos in her wake for older sisters to tidy up, but this seemed different somehow. More perceptive, for one, and she wasn’t thrilled about the implications those looks had made.

Implications that seemed happy to take up residence in the back of her mind.

Especially after a dinner in which every single one of her rangers had noticed how Vereesa practically hung off Jaina. They’d had the minimal courtesy not to say anything out loud, but their ears and fingers had hardly stopped talking all night. Noting every touch offered by Vereesa, every small rebuff when Jaina only barely reciprocated. There had been speculation that maybe it was just because she was human, and didn’t understand, but then the all-too observant rangers had realized that every time Vereesa offered a touch, Jaina’s eyes would find Sylvanas.

Eventually, when glaring and curt signs of her own didn’t curb the speculation, she’d been forced to retire. The last thing she needed—the last thing either of them needed—was her rangers deciding it was time to play matchmaker.

And then Little Moon had made her implications. Simply because they'd talked.

For about the twelfth time that morning, Sylvanas found herself growling at nothing but her thoughts. She’d avoided Jaina all day, leaving her to the top of the lighthouse where she and Kinndy worked on retuning the crystal. There was plenty for her to supervise on the other levels, particularly if it meant making sure the residential floors were done as quickly as possible.

Which was how she found herself staring at the small corner Anya had inadvertently uncovered the day before.

There wasn’t much to it. Just a few feet of space that had been walled off, turning a corner into a rounded edge. All that it contained was a small writing desk and an old footlocker.

Both of which had been carefully preserved.

It was curious. Very curious.

The sea chest, on cursory inspection, sported a hefty lock. That would have to wait, then. But the desk and chair seemed perfectly sturdy, thanks to the preservation spells. Sylvanas took the chance, and carefully sat in the chair. She inhaled sharply as the movement pulled again at the scar in her torso.

She really needed to visit Liadrin again.

The chair held. Sylvanas brushed away thoughts about her scar and healers, and reached for the desk. It was a very old style, the kind where the desktop could be lifted to reveal a storage area. She’d always found it to be an irritating design, as nothing could be stored on top, but perhaps there were times that was a necessary feature. Glancing back at the footlocker, the wayward thought struck her that perhaps this might have been something better suited to a ship’s cabin, than a lighthouse.

Which made her all the more curious as to why it was here.

And, as there seemed to be no lock on the desk, Sylvanas felt justified in prying to find out. She pushed the lid up, only mildly surprised to find the hinges moved as if well-oiled. There wasn’t much space inside. It was only a few inches deep, and the desk itself was not very wide. At first glance, it held the usual odds one would expect to find. Quills, some sharp, some not. An inkwell, and supplies for grinding and mixing more (which definitely spoke to the age, as no one had mixed their own ink in forever). Parchment for writing. And a few leather-bound books. Journals, it seemed, on closer inspection.

Journals with the Windrunner crest stamped firmly on their covers.

Written in very old Thalassian.

Anar’alah. Her people were long-lived, and to them, old was relative. Their entire world was old. But it was rare to stumble across something small and personal like this, that could easily be as old as Silvermoon itself. Not outside of family collections, anyway.

Gently lifting the top journal, Sylvanas read a few lines.

Ann’da has relegated me to the solitude of this new watchtower. Our new allies call it a ‘lighthouse,’ but a watchtower it clearly is, for all that it overlooks the sea.

I cannot blame him. I cannot shoot anymore, not with one arm. I will never hold Thas’dorah now, or inherit his new title. He needs every able-bodied elf, between the Amani threat to the south, and the attacks of She Who Betrayed, Queen of the Deep—

Sylvanas nearly dropped the book.

Belore. Old as Silvermoon, she was sure of it. And that name. She Who Betrayed. Queen of the Deep. A reference even older, one Sylvanas had only seen mentioned in a few places.

“Sylvanas! Anar’alah, fuck this fucking pile of rubble—”

Her ears flattened sharply. With a frustrated sigh, Sylvanas set the journal down gently and replaced the desktop. Another shout from Anya had her growling again, even as she was already turning away.

The words pulled at her, but they had waited in the dark for thousands of years. They could wait a little longer—especially if it meant making sure the damned lighthouse didn’t come crashing down on all their heads.

Chapter Text

Despite the shock of her first day (she still wasn’t over seeing Vereesa again), Jaina found it surprisingly easy to settle into a rhythm. Wake up with the sun (Sylvanas was a stickler for early rising, she learned), fuel herself with enough coffee to power a battalion (Sylvanas also believed in very strong, very good coffee, thank the Tides), and then spend the day wrestling with the lighthouse’s crystal.

The crystal that was proving to be far more trouble than she’d anticipated.

The basic retuning had gone easily enough. She’d even walked Kinndy through it as she worked, which had excited the gnome to no end. But the flaw at the core remained stubbornly present, and stubbornly immune to her efforts. She wasn’t even sure it was a flaw, but then, what else could it be? Poking at it was like working a puzzle in four dimensions, with the fifth watching over her shoulder.

And that was without the…distractions.

Like Velonara taking much longer than Jaina was sure it should have to hang the door to the stairwell. It wasn’t that Jaina knew much about hanging doors, to be able to say it took way too long. It was the fact that Vel (as she insisted on being called, because she “liked the way it rolled off her tongue”—Jaina may not have eyebrows the length of her hand, but she was still a master of raising them, and that was definitely her reaction) spent more time leaning in the doorway chatting, or wandering the large circle of the room, or blatantly flirting (Jaina was damaged, not dead, she could definitely still recognize flirting when it was so patently obvious), than actually working on the door.

Then there was Anya, who Jaina was now convinced would have been perfectly at home aboard a Kul Tiran frigate, between the cursing and the lewd remarks as she, too, felt the need for the periodic constitutional around the lamp room. At least she didn’t pretend she was there to actually do work, something Jaina gave her reluctant points for. But her flirting was even more blatant and atrocious than Vel’s.

Kalira wandered up under the pretense of asking if Jaina had any thoughts on food in general (she did not, aside from having a sweet tooth) and hunting in specific, as she was reportedly heading out to hunt for Lirath again. Jaina made the mistake of mentioning youthful hunting trips with Derek in the Stormsong Valley—a mistake, because it gave Kalira ample excuse to talk her ear off more than once, for more than an hour each time.

On the upside, she frequently found not only Kalira, but several other elves randomly dropping in with new Quel’dorei sweets for her to try. Jaina found herself not quite so annoyed by those interruptions.

And it was the same for all of them. Clea and Cyndia had supposedly come to check the louvres on the glass walls. Lyana ‘needed’ to ask about specifications for Jaina’s bedroom (no, she did not need a canopy on her bed, really, just a normal bed was fine). Zanra had questions about what color she wanted her (stone) walls (natural was fine, she didn’t need them painted, really). Alina made some excuse about checking the outer rails of the walkway that wound around the lamp room—an excuse, Jaina knew, because she’d watched out of the corner of her eye as Pained had painstakingly spent two days replacing every inch.

And on, and on, and on.

In fact, the night elf seemed to be the only one not attempting to engage her in frivolous, flirtatious conversation. Pained left her alone, though more than once she caught the night elf glaring at her erstwhile interrupters. The only time she interacted with Jaina was when she would bring her noonday meal, a fact for which Jaina was grateful in and of itself, as she hadn’t lost her habit of forgetting to eat otherwise.

Even Kinndy, on the occasional day she spent at the lighthouse instead of the spire, spent more time trying to pick Jaina’s mind than not. Though, at least, as an apprentice mage, she had good excuse.
And then there was Sylvanas.

Despite the startlingly intimate conversation they had shared that first night in the baths at the spire, they’d hardly spoken. Perhaps because of the unexpected intimacy. Or perhaps because they recognized the mutual desire to be left alone (and also the apparent impossibility of actually being left alone, it seemed). There was also the awkwardness of Vereesa to take into account (despite the fact that she’d left the next morning, which, going on a week later, Jaina still felt equal parts guilty and relieved about). Or perhaps they were simply of like mind, that work was there to be done. Whatever the reason, Jaina rarely saw her during the time they spent at the lighthouse, and only saw her slightly more at the spire because of communal meals.

And yet, despite the growing complexity of the lighthouse crystal, the constant interruption by flirtatious rangers, and the fact that she seemed to have gained part ownership of a very curious apprentice (she was beginning to think she might need to have words with Lirath about that), whatever free moments Jaina found left seemed inevitably to drift to Sylvanas.

And inevitably, she would brush those thoughts aside, and return to the task at hand.

Namely, the damned crystal. Or rather, the…abnormality within it.

It was just so strange. The longer she stared at it, through the veil of arcane sight, the less it felt like a flaw, and more like…something else. It tugged at the back of her mind, dredging up memories of her time studying with Modera and Antonidas.

Memories, memories…

Memories.

Could it…?

It wouldn’t be impossible.

Below her, in the distance beyond her arcane haze, she could hear the rangers picking up another song, one she recognized. She didn’t realize she’d started humming along until something within the crystal…shifted.

Jaina froze. Waited. Started up humming another few bars. Watched it happen again.

Fascinating.

The song ended, bled into another, but this one held no clues, caused no reactions. Jaina’s mind spun. She started cycling through all the elven songs she knew, first humming, then singing softly.
It happened only once more, and only for a moment. But the song wasn’t Quel’dorei.

It was Kul Tiran.

 

***

 

It was the humming that drew her up the stairs to the top of the lighthouse. Her rangers sang often while they worked, usually bawdy drinking songs or trail songs with a steady beat to march to. But this was different. Softer, plaintive. Haunting. And despite the steady sounds of the ongoing renovation work, and the ever-present backdrop of the ocean crashing at the rocks, Sylvanas couldn’t seem to escape it. The melody burrowed under her skin, refusing to be ignored, until the only recourse she had was to follow it to its source.

The wayward human mage, high in her tower.

Sylvanas snorted at the thought. It was ridiculous, really. But there was something about the woman, and she couldn’t deny, as she drew closer and realized the humming occasionally lapsed into singing, that Jaina had a rather lovely voice.

Much like the rest of her.

Stop that.

Sylvanas shook her head, wincing as her side twinged. Both of them were damaged, and a long way from healing. Lovely or not, Jaina didn’t deserve to deal with the baggage she carried, and Sylvanas was ill-equipped to help shoulder the mage’s. Lusting after her would do neither of them any good.

Even if the sight of Jaina, haloed by the late afternoon sun and glowing with a steady hum of arcane was enough to take her breath away.

“Ahoy, ahoy, sweet daughter of the sea
Ahoy this child be mine.
The Admiral’s girl, his whole entire world,
For as long as stars do shine…”

The words faded from the air along with the glow or arcane, and Sylvanas, leaning tiredly (she was always tired these days, something that frustrated her no end) in the doorway of the lantern room, watched her new lighthouse keeper take a deep breath before turning to look at her. Neither of them spoke for a long moment, and it was Sylvanas who finally broke the pregnant silence.

“I don’t think I’ve heard that one before.”

The ghost of a smile flickered across Jaina’s face. She wrapped her arms around herself and looked out at the ocean. “It’s an old Kul Tiran lullaby. My father used to sing it to me.”

Sylvanas’ ears lowered slightly. There was that something again in Jaina’s tone she recognized. Loss. “It’s very pretty.”

That ghostly smile again, just for a heartbeat, but there was also a slight shine to the human’s eyes that had nothing to do with the arcane she’d been channeling moments ago. She swallowed hard, her chin dipping down. “We lost… He died at sea. Not long after I’d started at Theramore. There was a hurricane, and his ship went down.”

Sylvanas blinked slowly. “I’m sorry.”

“He was coming to see me. I hadn’t been home in years, and he was coming to visit me.”

Her eyebrows rose of their own accord. “It’s not your fault, you know. No one can control the weather.”

Jaina barked out a bitter laugh. “Ironically, that’s untrue. Our tidesages have been doing it for generations. It was a bad storm, obviously too much for the ship’s sage, but I could have handled it if I’d been there.”

Flicking her ears, Sylvanas tilted her head. “Even you can’t be in multiple places at once. Does your family blame you?”

The mage sighed and finally looked at her. “No. At least, they say they don’t. In fact, my older brother used that same argument on me, last time I was home.”

“How long ago was that?”

Another sigh, and Jaina drew a hand down her face. “Too long. Not since before…”

Before. Sylvanas nodded understanding.

“Long enough that they’ve stopped trying to convince me to come back.”

They both let the silence sit a bit, before Sylvanas broke it again. “Why not? You sound as though you miss it.” Not that it was any of her business. Not that she had any right to ask, or there was any reason to tell her. But the answer came anyway.

Jaina stared at the water, and the shadows that were beginning to lengthen. “I don’t know how to face them.”

Sylvanas’ ears pressed against her skull. She knew that feeling, knew it all too well. And she knew the answer, knew the words, just as she knew she was a hypocrite for using them even as they forced themselves out of her mouth. “You can’t save everyone, Jaina. And that doesn’t mean you’re a failure. It doesn’t make you inadequate. It just makes you…mortal. Fallible. Like the rest of us.”

Jaina’s blue eyes softened as they turned back to her. “Sounds like something you’ve been told a time or two.”

Sylvanas huffed and looked aside. “Yes. Sound advice from Minn’da.”

“The Ranger-General herself.”

“…yes.”

“I imagine you find it as hard to accept as I do.”

“Mmm.” This woman was far too adept at seeing her, and Sylvanas wasn’t sure what to do with that. “How’s the focusing crystal? Still struggling with the flaw?”

The change of topic seemed to be the right move. Jaina’s brows drew together, but some of the sadness left her expression. “It’s strange. I’m beginning to think it’s not so much a flaw, as…”

Sylvanas’ ears tipped forward with curiosity. “As?”

“This is going to sound ridiculous…” Jaina’s cheeks flushed a pretty pink. “It feels like a…a memory. I think… I think something happened here. Something that left a strong impression.”

“Can that happen?”

She watched as Jaina’s eyes lit up. “Oh, yes. Extreme emotion can always affect arcane artifacts, even if the people involved aren’t mages. It’s one of the things that makes really old artifacts—heirloom weapons, for instance—so powerful. You said yourself, everyone talks about this crystal as if it’s cursed. Didn’t your brother mention some huge tragedy that supposedly happened here? I’d wager that’s really what they’re talking about, a deep tragedy being absorbed by the arcane energies of the focus crystal. It’s rare for it to happen to something like this, but everything is possible, and it’s certainly what this feels like—Tides, I’m sorry, I—”

Sylvanas found herself laughing softly. “Once a professor, always a professor?”

Jaina was definitely blushing now. “Sorry.”

“Nothing to apologize for.”

The mage ducked her head again and glanced at the crystal. “I haven’t figured out what to do about it yet. It would help if I knew what had actually happened.”

“Ah, you want the ghost story.” Sylvanas pushed off from where she had been leaning against the wall and took a seat on one of the long benches that lined parts of the room, settling back against the thick glass. Her side was definitely becoming a problem again, and if she was going to take a turn as storyteller, she wanted—needed—to sit down.

“Is there actually a ghost story?”

Sylvanas shrugged, regretting it immediately as she tried not to wince. “Story, yes. Ghost? That I don’t know. It’s an old story, old as the lighthouse itself, and most of the details are long gone. More rumor than story now, I suppose. The first keeper and their lover. Some people say the lover was human, but it’s been so long, who knows. But the lover died, shipwrecked while the keeper watched helpless, and the keeper ran out the window there and off the edge, into the surf below, in a tragic act of suicide rather than go on living without their soulmate. It’s all terribly dramatic, but we are elves, after all.”

Jaina laughed softly. “There’s a song in Kul Tiras that’s similar. About a lighthouse keeper and his fiancée. Her ship sinks, and she washes up on shore the next day. So he buries her and then throws himself off—”

“She.”

A questioning look came her way, and Sylvanas repeated herself.

She buries her. The first keeper here was a woman, that much I know for fact. It’s in the records. And the story says her lover was as well.” She didn’t mention the journals she’d found. Not yet. She hadn’t had time to do more than glance at them, despite her best efforts. And there was something about them that made her want to keep them to herself for now.

Jaina hummed thoughtfully in response. “Perhaps her lover was human, then, if the song is anything to go by.”

“Might explain why the records are so scarce, as well. Not just a tragedy, but a possibly forbidden love affair with a human. Quel’Thalas wasn’t exactly very friendly with other races back then. The fact that the human kingdoms had helped them survive to even settle Quel’Thalas was honestly a source of embarrassment. Allies or not, I’m sure it would’ve been a scandal.”

Jaina hummed, a thoughtful look on her face. “You would think there would be records of something like that in Kul Tiras, though.”

Sylvanas shrugged, a move she regretted instantly, even as she froze a sharp inhale.

“…Sylvanas?”

“I’m fine.”

She bit the words out quickly, more habit than anything. She didn’t look, didn’t trust herself to move yet. But she could feel the weight of Jaina’s gaze regardless.

“That expression is not one that says fine.” A hesitation, a breath, really. “Can… Can I help?”

She wanted to laugh. Cry, maybe. “It’s possible I waited too long to see Li…the healer again.” Liadrin would yell at her, definitely. She should have gone days ago, when it began noticeably bothering her again. She knew that.

“Your scar?”

Sylvanas nodded carefully.

“You said it wouldn’t heal fully. I didn’t realize that meant it actively required additional healing.”

She sighed—more a hiss through her teeth, really. “Yes. It doesn’t like to stay healed, I suppose is more correct.” Sylvanas shifted, holding herself with one hand and preparing to push up off the bench.

“Wait, don’t—”

Everything happened very quickly. Sylvanas forced herself to her feet. Pain shot through her, cold and sharp. The floor rushed up to meet her.

Warm hands caught her.

Jaina Proudmoore smelled like…like lightning and ice, like a hurricane and a blizzard. She should have been cold, with a scent that sharp, but she wasn’t. She was warm, soft enough to fall into, even if her underpinnings were steel and ice. Her mind buzzed with the warmth of being cradled in those deceptively strong arms, and Sylvanas reveled in the feeling for a long, slow moment.

Until the pain caught up to her.

“…vanas! Velonara! Anya! Hang on, just hold on…”

Sylvanas sucked in a breath. “Tell them to get Liadrin.”

She felt Jaina nod. “I will. What can I do?”

“Help me downstairs.” She could regret the words later. When the pain wasn’t making her dizzy. Or was that the woman holding her? “Unless you know any healing magic…”

Jaina hesitated. “A little. It’s never been my best discipline, but we’re all taught basics…”

“That doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence.”

The mage laughed, sharp and self-depreciating. “Yes, well…”

“Do it. Or don’t, and just help me downstairs.”

A long moment passed. Another began, broken by a long inhale. “Here goes, then.”

Warmth infused her. It cut the sharp cold of her wound, cocooned it enough to let her breathe. But it was gone all too soon.

“Sylvanas…”

She made some kind of acknowledging noise, hoping it didn’t sound too much like a whimper. Belore she wanted more of that warmth…

“You said you broke the sword while it was still in you?”

Gear up, ranger. “I did.” She started to push up, already regretting leaving the cradle of Jaina’s arms, but the mage moved with her.

“I think… I think there are still shards inside you. It was a cursed artifact, you said. That would explain why it refuses to heal.”

The idea made sense, to a degree. “Would the healers not have noticed, if that were the case?”

Jaina grimaced, trying to support her taller frame. It was…not easy, but they somehow made it work. “Not necessarily. Healers would notice large bits, definitely. I’m a mage, my focus is a little different, and I’m only getting the slightest feel. Slivers, tiny shards, most likely. Even the best healer might not have noticed.”

They reached the stairs slowly. Sylvanas wasn’t sure how they’d get down them (maybe Jaina could do…whatever she’d done, again, until she felt capable), but the speculation became unnecessary as Velonara came racing up, Anya and Alina hot on her heels.

“Felomin ashal.” Anya shook her head and turned, already halfway back down the stairs. “Fuck. I’ll get Liadrin.”

Sylvanas sighed and winced again.

Chapter Text

Liadrin turned out to be…well, nothing like the healer Jaina expected. Red haired and practically bleeding Light, this was a warrior, everything about her shouted, from her broad shoulders to her scars.

Paladin.

Her whole bearing screamed it.

Jaina had met a few, but never one like this. Perhaps because most paladins seemed far too caught up in proving just how right they and their versions of good were. Liadrin seemed nothing like that. Oh, she was all business, storming into the lighthouse with an unmistakable single-mindedness, but there was no judgment (well, maybe a little judgment, but that seemed reserved for Sylvanas).

“I knew I should have tracked you down earlier this week.”

Sylvanas grimaced as they set her down. “Yes, I know. You don’t have to lecture me—”

Liadrin’s face twisted. “Oh, but I do. You’re not on the front line anymore, Sylvanas. And even then, that stay strong for your troops bullshit was just that—bullshit. Stop being so damnably stubborn.”

“But then you’d have nothing to yell at me about, would you.”

The redheaded paladin snorted. “I’m sure I could find something. Come on then, let’s get you patched up.”

“Wait.” Jaina found herself wanting to take a step back as Liadrin turned the full force of her gaze on her. The Light flickered dangerously for a moment while the paladin assessed her, then settled back almost physically.

“Well, mage?”

I always forget how easy it is for an elf to tell. Jaina took a slow breath. “I know why her wound won’t stay healed.”

One red eyebrow rose.

Jaina rushed on, ignoring the sudden shift in the room. “The sword. I think there are still slivers or small shards of the sword in her. Something, anyway, because I can feel it in the wound. The latent energy.”

This time both of Liadrin’s eyebrows rose. She glanced at Sylvanas in silent communication that seemed part ears, part hand signs, and all irritatingly over Jaina’s head. But when the paladin turned back, she wore a look of respect. “Can you remove them?”

She hesitated. That was the real question, wasn’t it? “I’m not a healer. Medicinal magics aren’t anywhere near my specialty. I think I can draw them out, but it won’t be pretty.”

Again, the silent communication, but this time it ended with a hiss from Sylvanas.

“Do it, Jaina. I’m tired of this.”

“It will hurt. I don’t know yet where they might have migrated. They could do some serious damage when I pull them out.”

Sylvanas’ ears flattened. “Let Liadrin worry about that.”

“Sylvanas, I don’t think you understand—” Jaina broke off as Liadrin’s hand came to rest on her shoulder.

“Lady Proudmoore. Please.”

Jaina let out a heavy sigh. “Alright. Just…”

“I promise she’ll be fine.”

With a stiff nod, Jaina called up her power. It was a simple thing, really. Zeroing in on the latent signature of the cursed sword. It felt ugly, burning with cold and death, nothing like her own ice magic. Calling to it, drawing them out, caused a wave of revulsion to wash through her. Worse, it seemed like the pieces became aware of her. It was enough to make her instinctively throw up a barrier between herself and Sylvanas—something she was almost instantly glad of, as the first shard shot out directly at her.

It surprised Jaina, just how much effort and concentration it took. That too, though, was something she was quickly glad of, as more slivers ripped out of Sylvanas. It made it easier to put the sounds out of her mind.

By the last—and there had been far more than Jaina had initially suspected—Sylvanas had given up on her stoic silence, and Jaina was actively sweating from effort. She could feel the Light channeling through Liadrin, as the paladin worked to heal the wounds left by what Jaina pulled out of her. But this last piece, it seemed to fight her, to cling to Sylvanas in a way that made Jaina want to vomit with disgust. The sword, whatever it had been, whoever had cursed it, was truly evil.

With one final, angry pull, the last shard tore out of Sylvanas, leaving the elf screaming. Jaina knew that later, she would feel horrible about it, but in the moment it was all she could do to contain the pieces themselves, which seemed to writhe with the remnants of whatever power imbued them. She pulled at them viciously, wrapping them together tightly in layers of ice and containment wards, compressing and constricting them until they were nothing but a bright glowing ball of ice and arcane.

And when the arcane faded, from her eyes and skin and the air around her, Jaina breathed out a long sigh, gave a grim nod, and turned to find all eyes on her.

 

***

 

Sylvanas stared at Jaina in awe.

She knew she was a mess. Blood staining her shirt, still wet and full of small holes. The iron tang of blood in her mouth and staining her lips. Her whole body ached from the ordeal—the assault, honestly—between Jaina’s magic and Liadrin’s. Every piece that had been pulled from her felt like being stabbed again. She’d lost count how many times that cycle had repeated, the shredding of her torso as another sliver was torn free, followed by the rush of healing as Liadrin moved to counteract the damage just done.

She felt as though she’d fought an entire war in a handful of minutes. Like she’d refought the battle outside the gates of Silvermoon, over and again. She was a wreck, in pain despite being healed, completely overwhelmed by the experience.

And all of that paled at the sight of Jaina Proudmoore, wreathed in arcane, her eyes alight and hair a-fly, escaping the braid it was perpetually bound in.

A blizzard and a hurricane, more charged than lightning in a bottle.

And likely more dangerous.

Sylvanas wasn’t sure she breathed until the arcane glow faded and Jaina turned from goddess back to human, a tired and determined mage holding a small glowing ball of ice. Took a deep breath and blinked ocean-blue eyes that no longer glowed with all the power in Azeroth. She seemed almost to shrink before Sylvanas’ eyes, no longer larger than life, suddenly self-conscious as she noticed that every eye in the room was on her.

She watched as Jaina squeezed her eyes shut, breathed with her as she sucked in another breath. Then her eyes opened, flickering first to Liadrin before meeting her own stare.

“Is…is she alright?”

Sylvanas wasn’t actually sure of the answer herself—part of her thought she would never be alright again, not after that, not after bearing witness to and being subject to the weight of the sheer raw power and glory that was Jaina Proudmoore.

How could anything compare?

But that was a foolish thought, a silly idea. Though, no sillier than the idea that she would surely be fine, how could she otherwise be, when Jaina had willed it…

Or maybe she was drunk on the experience, on the pain and the arcane.

Liadrin likely would think so, as her response was a snort. “She’s fine. At least, she will be after a few days of bed rest,” she added with a glare at Sylvanas. "Three, at the very least."

The words took a little to process before the obligatory protest bubbled to the surface. “Three days—”

“Three.” Liadrin crossed her arms and glared harder. “No arguments. I’m already tempted to make it five.”

Sylvanas grumbled. Truthfully, she was finding it hard to stay awake. Three days. She knew herself well enough to know she’d be chaffing by day two. But…the journals. She caught Anya’s eye. A few quick hand signals later, and the small elf vanished. Sylvanas nodded, closed her eyes, and took a long breath, still marveling at the freedom, the lack of pull or pain. She’d gotten so used to cautious movements, cautious breaths…

“You can’t portal into Windrunner Spire. It’s bound so tightly in wards, you’d kill yourself trying.”

Sylvanas’ ears twitched at the sound of Jaina’s amused snort, and she realized she’d missed an entire conversation. And then the room was suddenly ablaze with arcane energy once more, with a smug looking Jaina standing next to a crackling portal.

“Can’t I?” Her eyes flicked from Liadrin to Sylvanas, to whom she offered a wink, before moving on. “Pained, would you mind?”

The kaldorei’s soft voice came from behind her, and then Pained was picking her up, and all Sylvanas could do is lift an eyebrow back at the mage.

Cheeky. That wasn’t something she’d expected from the human. And oh, Lirath was going to throw an absolute fit.

Undignified as it was being bridal-carried through a portal into her home, it was a small relief not to have to deal with the drive back. Liadrin stepped through first, with Pained on her heels, and the rest of her rangers marching amusedly behind them.

Greeted, of course, by Lirath’s alarmed wailing as Jaina stepped through last.

Liadrin pulled them away quickly, her ears going flat, and if the exhaustion hadn’t been steadily creeping through her, Sylvanas might have protested. Watching Jaina take on Lirath was bound to be amusing, especially after she’d just breached wards that were several thousand years old like it was nothing.

Sylvanas snickered as Lirath’s voice went up half an octave behind them.

Anar’alah belore. Lirath, what is—Sylvanas?

Eyes she hadn’t realized had drifted closed, flew open. “Minn’da?”

Lireesa Windrunner, black hair greying at the temples and eyes wide, still wearing half her armor, stood staring at her before rushing forward. “What’s wrong? Is it your wound? Liadrin—”

The paladin caught her arm, stopping her short. “She’s fine, Lireesa. Actually, she’s better than fine, or will be.”

Lireesa glanced between them, the panic fading from her eyes as she released a breath. Her hand reached up to cover Liadrin’s. “What exactly is going on?” Lirath screeched again, and they all cringed. “And what in Belore’s name is Lirath in such a fit about?”

Liadrin chuckled and indicated the stairs. “Let’s get your daughter settled, and I’ll explain. As for Lirath, the Proudmoore girl portalled us in from the lighthouse.”

“Proudmoore girl? Not Jaina Proudmoore? And wait, through the wards?” Lireesa looked back at Sylvanas, who only shrugged in Pained’s arms and gave her mother a tired grin. Lireesa pinched the bridge of her nose. “Come on then. I have a feeling I’m going to need a stiff drink before this explanation is done.”

Soon, Sylvanas found herself settled on her bed and abandoned by Pained, while Liadrin explained the whole thing to her mother. How she’d come expecting the usual patch job, how Jaina had seen what she had not. Her minn’da frowned as she helped clean her up and get her into unbloodied clothes, but between Liadrin’s calming presence and the evidence that Sylvanas was, in fact, not only intact but healing better than she had since the day it happened, by the end of the tale she’d regained the steady bearing that Sylvanas had always associated with the formidable Ranger-General.

“Well. I can’t say I expected to return from Silvermoon to find my daughter finally healing, but I am definitely glad for it. Even if you did nearly give me a heart attack, coming in all bloodied like that, mindori.” Lireesa sat on the edge of Sylvanas’ bed, gently finger combing her hair as she’d done when they were children. “Now, how did Katherine’s daughter end up here? Not that I’m complaining, if this is the result, but last I heard, she was still teaching in Dalaran.”

Sylvanas blinked slowly. It was, honestly, getting very hard to stay awake. “I hired her.”

“Mmm. Rest, mindori. Heal. We’ll talk more later.”

She heard, more than saw, her mother and Liadrin leave the room. A few moments (or maybe more, she wasn’t really sure), the door quietly clicked open again, and Anya slipped in. She tucked the old leather journals from the lighthouse in beside her pillows, lightly touched Sylvanas’ shoulder, and slipped back out again with only a quietly murmured, “Fucking idiot.”

Sylvanas took a deep breath, smiled, and finally let the bone deep exhaustion take over.

Chapter Text

Jaina pinched the bridge of her nose as Lirath’s voice went up half an octave.

“—those wards are older than your entire nation, do you have any idea—”

She released the portal with a wave of her hand and delicately rewove the wards he was shrieking about while doing her best not to roll her eyes. “Actually, I’m fairly certain Kul Tiras is older than Quel’Thalas, so it would be impossible for these wards to predate them. And if you’ll stop shrieking at me long enough—”

“I do not shriek!”

Jaina winced as he climbed another half an octave. “—stop screeching long enough to notice, your wards are fine.”

Lirath, who had already turned a startling shade of red, looked like a plugged kettle ready to burst. Fortunately for him, he actually took a breath and looked as she suggested, which had the rather immediate effect of deflating him like a balloon. He stared, eyes glowing, and mouth gaping.

Jaina’s lips quirked. “I’m not a first-year novice, and I’m not rude enough to actually break your family wards.”

“But, how—”

“I just…unstitched them, enough to push a portal through. I would never have even done that much if your sister had been in any condition to travel by non-magical means.”

Lirath deflated further, still staring. Then the rest of her words caught up with him, and his brows pulled together. “Wait, Sylvanas? What do you mean? What’s wrong with her?”

Jaina gave him her best teacher eyebrow, and was gratified when it had the intended effect. Namely, one elf looking quite chagrined. “I believe Liadrin and Pained took her upstairs.”

“Oh. Liadrin’s with her. That’s good.” His ears sank further. “What happened?”

Jaina gave him the short version. “She collapsed. Anya fetched Liadrin. And then I told Liadrin about the sword remnants.”

Lirath blanched. “Sword remnants? Belore, no wonder the damned thing wouldn’t heal. Wait, how did you—”

She raised the warded ball of ice and magic that held the shards, and Lirath’s eyes grew wide.

“Oh, that is… How elegant. I almost can’t even feel what’s inside—”

“Good, because they’re nasty little pieces of work—”

“Oh, I believe that, I’ve seen the rest of it. Liadrin and the rest of the Zoram’dinalah have it under wraps—”

“Oh good, I can give this to her then, I wasn’t sure what I would do with—”

“I’m sure she’ll insist, though you may end up being asked to bind the rest as well—”

“That’s fine—”

“Wait, how did you actually get these out of her?”

Jaina swallowed, the full force of what she’d done to Sylvanas suddenly hitting her. The blood drained from her face “I…” The sound of each shard, softer than an arrow or a thrown knife, but no less destructive, no less bloody

“She pulled them out. Stop pestering her, Lirath.”

It took her a moment to shake off the memory, and the ringing in her ears that accompanied it. When she did, she found not just Liadrin, but another elf joining them as well. One who bore a great deal of resemblance to the other Windrunners, except for the raven black hair that was starting to turn silver at the temples. The armor she wore was recognizable too, despite the fact that the older elf only wore part of it. All of which added up to one inevitable conclusion, even before Lirath opened his mouth and called her minn’da.

Lireesa Windrunner, Ranger-General of Silvermoon, whose grey-blue eyes were identical to her daughter’s, looked at Jaina with a tired smile before turning back to her son. “Have you finished raking her over the coals for daring to disturb the wards?”

Lirath rolled his eyes. “Yes. She’s fine, they’re fine, I overreacted. How is she?”

Liadrin pulled the warded ice ball from his hands. “Resting. But healing, finally.” She turned to Jaina. “I’d like to take care this, if you don’t mind.”

Jaina nodded. “Please do. I wasn’t actually sure what to do with it, beyond not wanting those things lying around.”

“If you’re so inclined, I wouldn’t mind having you look at the rest. I’d like to get your take on it, see if there’s something we’ve overlooked.”

“Of course.” Jaina didn’t actually want to, really. She’d come here for a break, to stop being the archmage all the time, but it would be incredibly rude to turn the paladin down. Especially after her help today.

Liadrin nodded her thanks, tucking the ice ball into a small bag. “I’ll be in touch, then.” The paladin reached a hand out to Lireesa, who caught it gently before raising it to press her lips to Liadrin’s palm.

Suran. Come back when you’re done for the night?”

Liadrin’s thumb brushed against Lireesa’s lips. “I will.”

The redhead nodded at Jaina, clapped Lirath on the shoulder, and left. In her wake, Lireesa turned her focus back to Jaina. The Ranger-General gave her a long look before finally gesturing to her left. “Come. I’m sure you’re as much in need of a drink as I am.”

Tides, yes. Jaina followed Lireesa into a side room that turned out to be her study. The Ranger-General headed straight for a dark wood liquor cabinet, coming back with two tumblers both bearing a more than generous splash of dark amber liquid. Jaina took a deep draught and relished the familiar burn—and the familiar taste. She glanced at the glass, then at her host.

“Boralus Black Label whiskey? Tides, I haven’t had this since…” She shook her head, pushing away thoughts of home and memories she didn’t want to think about, and took a more moderate sip.

“The ’24.” Lireesa sipped from her own tumbler and then raised it in salute. “Best whiskey in Kul Tiras, or so your mother assured me when she sent me a case. How is the Lord Admiral?”

Jaina sighed and stared at her drink. Of course the Ranger-General of Silvermoon knew the Lord Admiral of Kul Tiras. Of course Lireesa knew who she was, who her family was. “I…it’s been a while.” I don’t know and you’ve probably talked to her more recently than I have hung heavy and unspoken in the air between them.

“Ah.” Lireesa sounded so much like Sylvanas in that moment that Jaina couldn’t help but look back up at her. The Ranger-General regarded her not unkindly, rather with a sad sort of understanding that also reminded her too much of Sylvanas. “You realize one of us will have to let her know you’re here.”

Jaina cringed. She hated the political implications of her existence.

“I’m perfectly fine being the one to tell her, if there’s something going on between you—”

“No.” Jaina shook her head, tossing back the last of her whiskey. “No, I should do it. I’m a grown woman, I shouldn’t put that on you. Thank you, though.”

Lireesa hummed. “Speaking strictly as a mother myself, I’m sure she would appreciate that more. Though, I do have correspondence to send her, so if you’d like me to include your letter with it, I’d be happy to.”

“Thank you.” She fidgeted with her empty glass, wondering again why she was here, what in the world she’d been thinking. Wondering when Lireesa would ask her that. Worse, she kept seeing Sylvanas in her mind’s eye, staring back at her bloodied and pale.

“I should be thanking you, really.” Lireesa stood and walked back to the liquor cabinet, returning with the bottle of Boralus Black Label.

Jaina gratefully accepted a refill, quickly gulping down a burning swallow. “I broke through your wards and brought your daughter home bleeding and barely conscious.”

“You saved my daughter’s life. For that, Jaina Proudmoore, Scion of the Fleet, Daughter of the Sea, Archmage of the Kirin Tor, and apparently Lighthouse Keeper of Zephyr Island, I owe you more than I can ever repay.”

“I didn’t—”

“You did.” Lireesa drained her glass and set it down heavily on the coffee table between them. “She didn’t tell you that part, did she? I’m surprised she told you any of it, but grateful that she trusted you. One day she might even tell me why, but she’ll live to do it, and maybe even live to have the life she wanted again, because of you. Those shards were killing her. None of us could figure out why, what was causing it, but we knew that much. The time between needing healings was getting shorter and shorter, and Liadrin was struggling more every time, for less progress.” She refilled her glass and stared hard at Jaina, grey-blue eyes turned hard as steel. “You may have brought her home bloody, and I can’t imagine the process was pleasant, but she’ll live because you saw what none of the rest of us could. So I will thank you, and I will acknowledge that my house is forever in your debt. You have a place here for as long as you need or want it, without question. It is the very least I can do, not even taking into account that you saved my youngest daughter and her family, as well.”

Jaina stared back at the Ranger-General in silence. The analytical part of her knew that what Lireesa said about the nature of Sylvanas’ wound and the sword remnants was true. She had felt their nature, felt the death that rolled off even such small pieces.

But she had still hurt Sylvanas. Just as she had still let too many die at Theramore, despite saving far more, just as she had not saved her father.

But she will live because of you.

You can’t save everyone, Jaina.

“Has my daughter shared the history of your lighthouse?”

Jaina looked up sharply, startled by the abrupt change of topic. “Only the rumors, the stories. We were actually talking about them today, before…”

Lireesa coughed lightly, or perhaps it was a laugh. “Of course, she did.” She sipped at her whiskey with a small smile. “It’s oddly fitting that you’ve taken it over, really, since its history, our history, is tightly bound to your own.”

Jaina regarded her with open curiosity. “How so?”

“You do know Kul Tiras was our first ally upon settling Quel’Thalas, don’t you?” Jaina nodded, hesitantly (she hadn’t actually known that), and Lireesa smiled before continuing. “Your nation was instrumental in our survival, in even reaching these lands. The lighthouses were built with Kul Tiras’ help, and the war that drove us here would not have been won without your country’s—and your ancestors’—aid. This lighthouse in particular saw the final, devastating battle against a foe every bit as powerful as yourself.”

Jaina wrinkled her brow in confusion. She had never heard any of this, which seemed strange, despite how long ago it all must have been. But then, long in elven memory was far, far longer in human years, and perhaps it was as simple as that. Age had a way of making a mockery of memory, after all. Still… “I’ll have to ask Mother if she knows anything. Something like that ought to be in the archives, even if it has been far too many generations for it to remain a part of the collective memory.”

Lireesa chuckled. “That is a fair point you make. I forget sometimes how short your lives are. But even for us, it’s been a number of generations since Talanis Windrunner pacted with Eoin Proudmoore. I’ll have to mention it to Sylvanas. She should have told you of the connection, but now I wonder if she even knows. Our generations may be long, but we lose things to the years, just as you.” She swirled the remaining whisky in her glass before tossing it back. Then she set the tumbler down and stood, extending a hand to Jaina.

“Come. Lirath should have supper ready, judging by the smell, and you need to eat.”

Jaina chuckled and drained the last from her glass. “I don’t know why your family is always pushing me to eat. First Vereesa, then Sylvanas, now you.”

“Perhaps it should tell you something about your eating habits—or lack thereof, if I deduce correctly.”

Jaina snorted and allowed herself to be escorted out of the room. “Or perhaps you’re all just obsessed with eating. I’ve seen how much your children can put away.”

Lireesa let out a hearty laugh. “We may both be right. I can see why my daughters like you.”

 

***

 

Sylvanas slept through the entirety of her first day of ordered bedrest. The healing spells Liadrin had laid on her in layers thicker than blankets kept her body far too busy to find anything resembling wakefulness until well into the second day. Even then, she had barely eaten half the meal her mother had brought her before sliding back into the thick, dreamless haze of slumber. She rolled in and out of sleep through most of the day, her mind only barely drifting to the journals before her body would once again succumb to healing rest.

The third day, she woke refreshed but still weak around midmorning. Her mother or Lirath or one of the rangers (or perhaps even Jaina, her traitor mind suggested) had left her a light meal, including her favorite tea that was just as good cooled as hot. And, as she didn’t (finally) feel the pull of sleep tugging at her, Sylvanas carefully levered herself into a sitting position. She waited for the inevitable pull in her torso, bracing for the familiar pain, and found…

Nothing.

No pulling wound. No pain, sharp or dull. She hesitantly pulled her shirt aside and found not the red, angry scar she’d grown used to, but softer pale scar tissue that looked the several years old that it truly was. The handful of thin, small white lines surrounding it were new, but unsurprising as she recalled the violence with which Jaina’s magic had torn the slivers of cursed metal from her. She’d felt their resistance, knew there had likely been no other way to remove them.

Just as she knew that it was entirely likely that Jaina Proudmoore had saved her life, just as surely as she’d saved Vereesa’s.

Sylvanas wasn’t sure how she felt about that.

She stretched, carefully, waiting again for the pull, the pain, but finding instead a range of motion she thought she’d never have again. The freedom of movement gave her a sudden burst of hope—hope that the life she had once planned was again in reach, hope that she could finally return to the rangers, take up her family’s mantle once again…

Her hand brushed against the journals where they still lay under her pillows.

The journals. The lighthouse.

Jaina.

Sipping her cold tea, Sylvanas pulled the journals into her lap. She hated to leave a job unfinished. Much as she longed to return to the life of a ranger, to spend nights in the forest surrounded only by her fellow rangers, to hold a bow in her hands and feel the tension of the string, the joy of a target struck, to hunt and range and trail…

Her fingers slid over the crest embossed on the ancient leather, her thought drifting to the story she had yet to discover.

It would take time to build her strength back up. To return to proper ranger condition. It would be irresponsible to leave the lighthouse unfinished. After all, the Ranger-General had assigned her to this task, hadn’t she?

It would be ungrateful to abandon Jaina before it was finished.

Decision made, Sylvanas reached for her cold breakfast, and opened the journal.

The watchtower is finished. All that remains is to tune the focusing crystal which will make it the ‘lighthouse’ our allies call it. Ann’da tells me the emissaries from Kul Tiras will be here before week’s end, and that with them will be an especially skilled mage. I find it hard to believe that a mere human, short lived as they are, could be anywhere near as powerful as our own magisters, but I will freely admit they know more of the ocean, and therefor ocean related magics than we.

The Quel’dorei know many things, things of the sun and the land, of the trees and the wild things, and even the night and the moon, for all we’ve broken from our Kal’dorei cousins. Of the ocean we know far too little—a failing that would have cost us all, if not for the unexpected aid of these strange humans. A decade ago I might not have been able to let go my pride to admit that, though it was pride that led to the divide with our cousins, pride that led us across this dark, deep sea, pride that led us to a war on two fronts, but now…

Now I have no pride. It was lost with my arm, lost to war and to chaos.

So I will be grateful to these humans when they come, and to their mage. Perhaps there is something this Ceylin Proudmoore can teach a crippled elf.

Chapter Text

Writing home should have been easy. There was much to tell, much to ask, so much that all day the words swirled through her mind, and all night they plagued her sleep—or lack of.

And yet, every time Jaina set quill to paper, she couldn’t find the words.

It should have been easy.

Dear Mother, I’ve taken a leave of absence from Dalaran, and a leave of my faculties entirely and run away to Quel’Thalas, where I’m currently staying with the Windrunners. Apparently, you know the Ranger-General well enough to send her some of your precious reserve of favorite whiskey. Not that you ever told me, despite my friendship with Vereesa. Though I suppose I really should have known, had I spent more than two seconds thinking about it, considering they’re some of our oldest allies. So perhaps it’s my fault, like everything else. I did, after all, nearly kill Sylvanas the other day, so things are going about as well as my ill-thought-out ventures all seem to. Also, in I suppose related news, it seems I’m working in a lighthouse that was built with our family’s help, centuries ago. A story that doesn’t seem to be in our histories. Unless it’s hidden somewhere I haven’t explored. Which I suppose is possible, considering how young I was when you sent me away to deal with my unruly magic…

It wasn’t.

Eventually, knowing Lireesa was waiting on her letter, Jaina resigned herself to simple and straightforward. And with as little self-depreciation as she could muster.

Dear Mother.

I’ve taken some time away from teaching, and am staying with the Windrunners in their corner of the Eversong Woods in Quel’Thalas. The Ranger-General didn’t know, so please don’t be cross she didn’t tell you. I didn’t actually realize, either, which is a long story I’ll save for another time. But I’m helping them refurbish the lighthouse here, which is apparently rather appropriate, as Lireesa tells me, because it seems our family helped in the original construction. I don’t remember seeing that in the histories at home, so if there is anything there that could shed some light on it, I’d appreciate you forwarding it on.

My love to you, Tandred, and Derek.

~ Jaina

The Ranger-General, who insisted she call her Lireesa, had given her an approving nod and placed the letter with the rest of her correspondence without comment. Jaina had appreciated that.

Just as she appreciated the fact that absolutely no one had treated her any different since the…thing…with Sylvanas. She’d been wary the first day, ready for the same kind of shocked awe that she’d been subject to after the Theramore incident. Ready to be once again either placed on a pedestal or treated like glass. But nothing had changed. The ranger crew still used any excuse to interrupt her, Pained still gave them annoyed looks when she thought Jaina wasn’t looking, and Kinndy, if anything, was even more excited to pick her brain.

It was…nice.

Until she realized that she was wrong about other things she expected to happen, too. Particularly her expectation that Sylvanas’ absence would slow down the work on the lighthouse.

It had the opposite effect.

Or perhaps it had no effect, and work simply proceeded at pace, even without their erstwhile supervisor.

Either way, Jaina found surprising (and surprisingly somewhat unwelcome) news waiting for her at the end of the second day of Sylvanas’ convalescence.

She’d spent the day taking a break from endlessly staring at the crystal and instead renewing the tower’s warding spells, refreshing the ley line pathways that powered them, and generally strengthening all the long-neglected magics. It was interesting work, as much of the original setup seemed more suited to a watchtower than a lighthouse. But then she’d stumble on something that felt so normal, so Kul Tiran, that she’d be halfway through the renewal before even realizing it.

Which made sense, if Lireesa was correct about her ancestors helping build it.

Dor shar'adore da shando. Don’t fucking drop that! Do you want Proudmoore to string you up from the top of the tower?”

Anya’s brash voice startled Jaina out of the pull of the ley lines, though locating the diminutive elf didn’t help her confusion at all. Especially once she realized they were unloading her trailer, the one that had been sitting outside Windrunner Spire, last she’d seen it. How it had gotten back to the lighthouse, she wasn’t sure. She was suddenly not sure about a lot of things.

A whole flurry of questions swarmed her, but by the time she caught Anya’s eye, the one that came out was a barely coherent, “The fuck?”

Anya’s eyebrow twitched, possibly with approval. “The residential floors are finally fucking finished.” She looked away, her hand coming up to rub the back of her neck in a move Jaina realized was…embarrassment? “We thought it would be nice to give you a hand getting all your shit moved. You really don’t have much, though.”

Jaina blinked. Not only was it strange to hear Anya sound unsure, but the lack of expletives was even stranger. Enough so that it took a further few moments to process the elf’s actual words.

“Wait, you’re moving my things?”

Anya grinned widely, showing off her fangs. “Might want to give those fucking idiots some direction, or they’re liable to leave shit wherever the fuck they feel like. Be a hell of a mess to sort.”

Jaina shook her head, smiling as Anya’s now familiar language crept back to where it should be, and took the stairs two at a time. She was, actually, concerned about where things would be put. Her books, primarily, which made up the bulk of her things. Books, clothing, bedding, a handful of kitchen items… Anya had been right when she said there wasn’t much. Just the basics.

She didn’t need things to remember, not when so much was impossible to forget. Especially when she wished she could forget.

Anar’alah, what’s she got in here, rocks?”

Jaina rolled her eyes. “They’re books, Vel. Far more valuable than rocks, at least to me. You can set all the heavy ones by the bookcase wall, they’re all books.”

Velonara grunted, sticking her tongue out at Kalira, who changed directions with her box of books. “I should’ve known they’d all be books after Sylv had us line this wall with shelves.”

Jaina blinked. “Oh. That was…” Kind. It was kind of her. “…observant of her.”

Clea, relocating a box of books she’d set down already, laughed. “Once she realized you were a mage she knew you’d have a ton of them.”

“Aaaaaand she was right.” Cyndia giggled as she came up from the stairs, her own arms heavy with another book box. “I’m not actually sure we built enough shelves.”

Velonara leaned against the full wall of shelves and grinned. “I will personally add in more, if there aren’t enough. There’s an entire wall’s worth!”

Jaina grinned, her mouth opening to reply, but Pained—her arms laden with the two largest boxes, the ones with the odd shaped books that couldn’t fit in anything smaller—beat her to it.

“You might want to start now. There are a dozen more boxes down there, and I’m almost certain they’re all books.”

Jaina laughed at several pairs of widening eyes. “She’s right, Vel. I put all the books on the bottom so they didn’t crush anything else.”

Velonara groaned and then laughed. “So where would you like the additional shelves?”

Jaina looked around and sighed. She didn’t actually want to think about that right now. She didn’t really want to stay in the lighthouse right now, not tonight at least. She didn’t want to be alone.

Ridiculous. Wasn’t that the whole reason she’d moved here? To be alone? To be left alone? Except now that didn’t seem to appeal to her as much as it had. Not as much as the Spire, with all its undemanding life and activity. The meals with the rangers, the quiet camaraderie…

With Sylvanas, something in her whispered.

She brushed it off. One more night at the Spire. She could see how Sylvanas was doing. She’d face unpacking tomorrow. After all, there wasn’t food here. It wasn’t like she’d had time or forewarning to do any shopping.

Excuses, excuses.

She brushed that off, too.

“Stop fucking bothering her, Vel. Here, take this, it weighs a fuckton.”

Vel spluttered as Anya winked, handing over her box. “I was just—”

Felomin ashal, I know what you were just.” Anya swatted at her with a grin. “Belore's tits. We’re not fucking abandoning her here. Sylv’d kill us, and you know it. She’s still coming back to the Spire with us tonight, and until she or Sylvanas decide otherwise. You can discuss extra shelves tomorrow.”

Velonara groaned, but her eyes sparkled. “Fiiiiine. Guess I’m building shelves tomorrow.”

“Damn right you are.”

Jaina watched their back-and-forth fondly. She would definitely miss this. The lighthouse repairs were getting closer to finished, after all. She took a deep breath, looked around, and made up her mind.

One last night at the Spire. Then she’d settle in here.

She’d wanted solitude, after all. It was past time she got to it.

 

***

 

“You’re damned lucky, Sylvanas, that’s all I have to say.” Liadrin shook her head as the Light faded from her eyes. “I think anyone else would’ve been dead ten times over, and somehow you just keep beating it.”

Sylvanas shifted, stretching, marveling at both how good she felt, and at how nothing pulled, nothing hurt. She hadn’t felt this good in…well, too long. “Does this mean I can finally get out of bed?”

Liadrin grunted. “Fine, yes. Thank your girlfriend, because this is a damned miracle. Belore knows I was at a loss as to what to do with you… What?”

Sylvanas stared at her, brows pulled together. “…girlfriend?”

The redheaded paladin cocked one eyebrow. “The Proudmoore girl. I assumed…”

Sylvanas scowled. “No.”

The eyebrow settled as a placid look came over Liadrin’s face. “Ah. I see.”

“What exactly is that supposed to mean?” She didn’t mean to snap, but the words came out sharp as a whip.

Liadrin said nothing for a moment, her gold eyes calm and searching. Then she stood and turned to the door. “I made an assumption. My apologies.”

Sylvanas sighed. “No. I’m sorry. I don’t know why I snapped.”

Liadrin glanced back, an amused tilt to her lips. “Sylvanas Windrunner, apologizing? Maybe I was wrong, you might still have a fever…”

“Very funny.” Sylvanas rolled her eyes and shoved her out of the room.

She could hear Liadrin laughing all the way down the hall.

Ridiculous. The girlfriend comment was absurd. What had Liadrin been thinking? Still, she was right in that she owed Jaina more than she might ever be able to repay. She’d given her a future back, and that was no small thing.

Sylvanas let her mind dwell on that thought as she reached for her clothes, as she dressed in her favorite jeans and a well-worn shirt. There had to be something she could do for Jaina, something to express her deep gratitude. She scratched absentmindedly at the birthmark on her wrist before buckling on the leather cuffs she favored.

Sylvanas frowned. For all the intimate secrets they’d shared, she felt like she barely knew the quiet mage. The journals caught her eye, and her frown deepened.

Jaina would be fascinated by them, she was sure.

But… Sylvanas found she wasn’t ready to part with them. Not yet.

Perhaps there is something this Ceylin Proudmoore can teach a crippled elf.

Sylvanas growled. By all rights, she should let Jaina read them. No doubt this Ceylin Proudmoore was an ancestress. Jaina might even know something about her.

And yet.

She couldn’t bear to part with them. Not when they were proving so fascinating.

Not when they felt so…personal.

And then Sylvanas’ ears lifted.

Of course.

She’d forgotten entirely the other prize she’d found with the journals.

The sea chest.

Sylvanas left her room with a grin. She really hadn’t felt this good in years. She took the stairs down two and three at a time, almost laughing by the time she hit the main floor, her nose full of the smell of breakfast, and eager to share her secret find with Jaina.

Who…wasn’t there.

Sylvanas looked around the large dining room with a frown, even as she shoved her way towards the food.

Anar’alah, it’s the walking dead! Quick, save the food!”

Sylvanas rolled her eyes and elbowed her brother. “Very funny, Little Spark.”

“No, that’s your face.”

“That’s your face,” came the muffled reply as Velonara walked past, overflowing plate in each hand, and a sweet roll stuffed in her mouth.

Sylvanas struggled not to grin. “You know, you probably shouldn’t antagonize the mage who made your food when your hands and mouth are full. I thought you learned the last time, Vel.”

Vel shrugged, and Lirath laughed. “She does like to live dangerously. You look like a new elf.”

She shook her head. “I feel like one. It’s so good not to hurt.”

“I bet.”

Sylvanas looked around the room again, her frown returning. “Is Jaina not up yet? We need to leave soon, and she’s usually on her third cup of coffee by now.”

Pained, silent as ever, handed her a plate and a mug of coffee. “She stayed at the lighthouse last night. The living floors were done, and she insisted.”

Sylvanas stared at her food. That couldn’t be right.

They couldn’t be done.

She wasn’t…

Wasn’t what?

Lirath nudged her. “You should bring her some coffee anyway. I doubt she’s had a chance to get any of the good stuff yet.”

Sylvanas hummed. They imported theirs from Pandaria, connections Sylvanas herself had made. The grind sold in the village wasn’t bad, but… Jaina did have standards. And she’d made a point of how much she liked their coffee.

“Oh, and Minn’da was looking for you. I think she had something for Jaina as well.”

He left her alone, still staring at the plate Pained had given her. Annoyed, she sat and ate, barely tasting the food. Or the coffee. Still, she made sure to pack a large thermos full of coffee, and stop to see what her minn’da wanted before they headed off.

Lireesa, busy as ever and on her own way out the door, smiled to see her and gave her a kiss on the head before handing her a package for Jaina. “Liadrin gave me the good news. You look like you feel so much better.”

Sylvanas smiled. “I do. I can’t remember the last time…” She shook her head. “I feel like…not like it never happened, but like the last few years were some horrible dream that finally ended. I still expect to feel it when I move, but…nothing. Good as new.”

Lireesa’s smile widened. “Good. Maybe I can start planning my retirement, now.”

“Ha, ha. You’d go stir crazy outside of a month.”

Her minn’da gave her a knowing look, then pointed at the box. “The Lord Admiral sent that. Make sure Jaina gets it for me?”

Sylvanas nodded, and then Lireesa was out the door, and she and her rangers were headed to the lighthouse, and Sylvanas spent the entire drive with a death grip on the package and the thermos and this tight feeling in her gut, like a string wound too tight. And then they’d arrived, and Sylvanas didn’t even wait for Vel to turn the truck off before she was up the stairs, two at a time—

And there was Jaina. Sleepy and disgruntled, staring at her empty coffee pot like it had committed a mortal sin against her, and the tight string wound in knots came apart entirely when the human mage looked up and saw her—or rather, the thermos she held out.

“Tides bless you, you don’t even know.”

Sylvanas laughed, deeply enough that Jaina sent her a plaintive look, even as she downed a few scalding gulps. Then she sighed, a sound of pure bliss, and Sylvanas’ heart nearly stopped in her chest.

“How was your first night?”

Jaina’s face wrinkled. “It was…it was fine. It was nice to be so close to the ocean…”

Sylvanas’ brow cocked. “But?”

Jaina knocked back another cup, sighing happily again. “I had strange dreams, that’s all. I can’t even remember them, really, but…they felt…I don’t know.”

Sylvanas frowned, then handed over the package she still held. “Minn’da had this for you. From your mother.”

The other woman hesitated, reaching out warily as though the package might explode any moment. “I didn’t… I only sent a small note. I wasn’t even sure she’d reply.”

Nodding, Sylvanas began to turn. “I’ll leave you to open it in peace—”

“No!”

She stopped, eyebrows and ears both raised. Jaina looked up, blue eyes uncertain.

“Please…stay?”

Sylvanas nodded, just as unsure. She glanced around the apartment. The furniture was familiar, pieces she’d selected that would be sturdy and hopefully comfortable. There wasn’t much of Jaina, though she supposed it had only been a night. Except for the books. There were books, well, everywhere.

Clearly she hadn’t put enough shelves in. It seemed someone had begun to remedy that, at least.

Still, there really didn’t seem to be much that Jaina had brought with her (except the books). Maybe she would send Kalira and Alina to the village. Find some throws, pillows, something to add to the sparse rooms. The lighthouse did get chilly in the winter, the sea had a habit of pushing against the Sunstone’s heat…

Jaina laughed, a bright, shocked sound, pulling her attention back. She held a bag, sniffing its contents with a tear in her eyes, but her smile only widened as Sylvanas looked at her.

“Here, smell this.”

Sylvanas sniffed carefully at the bag, unsure what to expect. Her eyes widened. “Belore!” She reeled back, coughed, then came back for a deeper smell. “Anar’alah, what is that?”

Jaina took another deep smell, then held the bag close. “Barrel aged coffee beans. They soak up the flavor of the whiskey barrels. It’s a Kul Tiran specialty.”

Sylvanas blinked. The idea seemed so…perfect, actually. “You’re going to share that, right?”

Jaina pulled the bag away, hiding it from her. “Absolutely not! Do you know how hard this is to get outside of Kul Tiras?”

“I’ve been feeding you my Pandarian Special Roast, don’t forget. And I brought you some this morning,” she added, pointing to the thermos that Jaina had already drunk half of. “The least you can do is let me try it.”

Jaina narrowed her eyes, but she could see the laughter in them, and it didn’t take long for her to give in. “Oh fine, I suppose you can try some tomorrow.”

“Terribly gracious.”

“You have no idea.”

“But I will when you share it.”

Jaina smiled, her hand reaching out before she seemed to think better of it, and her smile turned almost to worry. “How are you?”

Sylvanas felt the mood shift almost violently, and she realized two things in that moment. First, that Jaina had absolutely no idea what she’d done for her, how much she had given back, a life and a future she’d thought gone forever. And second, that Jaina was worried.

And that almost broke her heart.

She reached out instinctively, completing the motion Jaina had aborted. “Jaina. I’m fine. Better than fine.”

“I hurt you.”

Sylvanas shook her head. “Momentarily, perhaps. But you also saved me. Nothing is without cost—as a mage, you would know that better than most.”

“There should have been a better way—”

“You didn’t exactly have time to conduct a study of the problem. Jaina, I was dying. Let’s not pretend any different.” Even if I’ve spent plenty of time doing just that. She pulled up her shirt to show a scar that was no longer angry and ugly, but was instead now simply old and as faded as it could be, and more importantly, fully healed.

Not gone, but healed.

“You gave me my life back. The future I had given up on, and the family legacy I’d thought taken from me forever. I owe you everything, and if a little pain and blood was the price of it, I’d pay it again a hundred times.”

Jaina smiled softly and turned away, and Sylvanas reluctantly let her hand go. “I’m glad. That you’re alright, I mean.”

Sylvanas stared at her, trying to figure out why that felt so much like rejection, and why she was so bothered by it. The silence thickened around them until it felt suffocating, and was only broken by Anya’s familiar bellow several floors down.

“I should get down there before they give her an aneurism.”

The comment only raised the barest of smiles. “Probably. Thank you for the coffee. I hadn’t remembered to pick any up.”

Sylvanas nodded, reluctant to leave. “How is the crystal?”

Jaina shrugged, finally setting down the bag of coffee beans. “Fine, I suppose. The flaw doesn’t actually seem to be affecting its performance. I’ve written to a friend, one of my old mentors in the Kirin Tor. I can’t make any headway, but Modera might know something.”

“So really, you’re telling me the crystal is fully functional, you’re just annoyed it isn’t doing what you want?”

Jaina finally laughed at that. “Something like that. I’m curious, too. It…there’s something that feels oddly familiar, and I want to know why.”

She said the last with a determined wrinkle in her forehead that Sylvanas found, well, adorable. “Oh, speaking of curiosity…”

Jaina’s eyebrow arched.

Sylvanas grinned. “I don’t know how much poking around you had a chance to do in here, but you remember the secret corner Anya stumbled on the day you arrived?”

Jaina laughed. “The one with the wall that almost fell on her? Yes.”

Sylvanas turned and gestured for her to follow. “I had them leave that corner, once we’d gotten the rubble cleaned up and made sure everything else was structurally sound. I found something in there I’d been intending to show you.”

Jaina had not, it seemed, made her way through enough of the apartment area to examine the quiet corner, something Sylvanas gathered by the fact that it lay still undisturbed, and that she could almost feel the curiosity rolling off her lighthouse keeper. Sylvanas grinned to herself.

The desk caught Jaina’s attention first, something Sylvanas wasn’t surprised at, but she shook her head and pointed to the footlocker. Jaina’s eyes widened as she saw the anchor etched on the hefty lock—an anchor that perfectly matched the one around her neck.

Sylvanas smiled softly. Jaina’s attention was entirely taken up by the chest and its lock. In the distance, Anya bellowed again, and Sylvanas shook her head. With one last glance at Jaina, she left.

After all, she had a job to do. And it wasn’t staring at the human mage that had somehow already taken up too much space in her mind.

Chapter Text

The lighthouse was serviceable, she supposed, for all it looked little like those she’d grown up with in Kul Tiras. In fact, if it weren’t for the glass room at the top, ready for the crystal that would illuminate the surrounding waters, she was fairly certain it would look perfectly at home on some lonely mountain ridge—likely more so than it looked here on this narrow spit of land that wasn’t truly an island. The tower’s pale stone should have seemed out of place, with its bright (yet somehow still subtle) filigreed metal accents. The twining small trees and vines should only have made it more un-lighthouse-like.

And yet, none of it did. Somehow, it all fit. Seemed, for lack of a better word, right.

And then there was its keeper. A lone elf, tall and proud, silently watching them. Solemn and still. She wore her pale gold hair long and loose, the ocean wind spilling it over well-worn the leathers evident under her cloak. There was something about her, something…she wasn’t sure. And then the elf moved, and she saw a momentary imbalance, and her eyes widened before she could stop herself. Below the cloak, the left arm was shorn clean, just below the shoulder. A recent injury, judging by the way the elf still favored and overcompensated for its lack.

The elf in question drew her brows together, eyes narrowing slightly as she realized where her attention had fallen. Eyes like blazing stars closed, a deep breath was taken, and then they opened again with a slow bow.

“Lady Proudmoore, I presume.” The elf’s voice was strong and low, slightly smoky in tone. “I am Aurelya Windrunner. Quel’thalas welcomes you.”

Jaina woke with a start, the name on the tip of her tongue.

She had dreamed every night she’d spent in the lighthouse, but this was the first time any of it had stayed with her. Already though, much of it was fading, but the name Aurelya Windrunner burned in her memory.

It had felt so real, all of it. So…familiar.

Almost like a memory, rather than a dream. So much so that she had expected Sylvanas’ name to fall from the elf’s lips.

Jaina shook herself, even as the dream faded further. Even now, moments after waking, she could recall only impressions. Like pieces of a melody she knew but couldn’t identify, and the more she grasped for it, the less she could be certain of.

It was entirely frustrating.

With an annoyed grumble, she threw herself out of bed. Stumbled through the motions of her morning routine until her coffee was ready, the aroma almost chasing the last of her strange dream away and bringing with it the promise of alertness and a functional brain. She was just pouring her first cup, milk and sugar at the ready, when a now-familiar knock sounded at the main door. Jaina hummed and made a motion with her hand, letting the quick spell pull the door open for her while she finished assembling her coffee.

And then Sylvanas stood before her, tall and proud, relaxed in her posture without any hint of the pain she’d carried for so long.

Jaina blinked, her still-uncaffeinated brain grinding to a halt.

Aurelya.

She felt her brow pull together, shook herself slightly. Sylvanas raised her own brow in question.

“Not had your coffee yet, I take it?” An amused hint of a smirk pulled at Sylvanas’ lips, and Jaina found herself distracted anew, staring at that hint, before finally looking down at the large mug in her hand, spoon lazily stirring by itself.

Jaina frowned. She didn’t remember adding cream and sugar, but the light tint of the coffee clearly indicated that she had. Tides, she was tired.

“Jaina?” Gone was the humor in Sylvanas face and voice, now replaced with concern. “Are you alright?”

“Fine,” she mumbled. “Tired. Didn’t sleep well.”

“Is the bed not comfortable? Do you need more pillows? Blankets? I know we’re coming into storm season, which means it isn’t as warm as usual…”

Jaina shook her head, more forcefully this time, setting the mug down and leaning hard against the counter. It should not have been this hard to shake off the dream threads that still tugged at her, more so again since Sylvanas’ arrival. “No, no, it’s fine. You did fine. I have more than enough, really. It gets much colder in Kul Tiras, and in Dalaran.” The mention of storms seemed to pull at other threads. “Everything is fine. I just…had strange dreams. Again. That’s all.”

“Ah.” Sylvanas said nothing else, but when Jaina finally looked back at her, she still wore a look of concern.

“I’m fine, I promise. Or I will be, after I get some coffee in me.” She took a deep breath and forced herself to smile. “Did you need something?”

Sylvanas nodded, but her expression said she didn’t believe her. “I wanted to get your opinion on a few of the last renovations, but that can wait. Also, Lirath wanted you to come for dinner tonight. And a number of things arrived in the post—they’re downstairs.”

Jaina’s brow wrinkled again. Why would things be arriving in the post? With a scowl, she picked up her mug and downed half the coffee in one go, ignoring the way it burned her mouth in her desperation for a clearer head. Really, it was unacceptable. She should have been on her third or fourth cup by now, and it showed.

“Jaina—”

“I’m fine, Sylvanas!” She spun, only to find herself caught in the elf’s grasp. Tides, she hadn’t seen or heard her move, and her head swam with the dissonance, and more.

“You’re not fine.” Jaina made to protest, but Sylvanas cut her off with a shake of her head. “I know you aren’t your best before you’ve had half a gallon’s worth of coffee, but this is different.” Gently, so gently Jaina had to suppress a shudder, Sylvanas brushed the skin beneath her eye, skin she knew was bruised from lack of sleep. “What’s going on?”

Jaina sagged. What was wrong? A few dreams and lack of enough coffee were hardly good reason for the way she was feeling. The irritation, the confusion, the waves of emotion that churned like a stormy sea. It wasn’t like her. Not even after Theramore.

“Rest today.”

Jaina wrinkled her nose. “But the renovations—”

“Will be fine. We’re ahead of schedule, thanks to you. I would’ve had to bring in another mage to do all the ley line work you’ve already finished, and you know I couldn’t find anyone willing. You can rest a day, or even three. Sort your books, take a nap. Take three. I’ll send a few of the girls up with breakfast, since you clearly haven’t had any.”

She took a deep breath, ready to start arguing, but Sylvanas was right. One of the reason’s she’d considered the posting here was that there would be plenty of time for research or reading—or nothing, so long as the lighthouse was taken care of. The renovations really were almost done.

And she was so very tired.

So tired, in fact, that she barely noticed Sylvanas steering her over to the couch and tucking her in.

Afloat in a sea of pillows and blankets.

The sea felt no different here than it did at home. Wild. Strong. Fickle and uncaring. A stark, cruel, but beautiful mistress.

Eyes slowly sinking shut to the steady echo of pounding surf.

And despite the vastly different feel of Quel’dorei magic, tuning a lighthouse crystal was no different, either.

So easy to drift away.

Especially with the steady rhythm of the waves to ground and guide her.

She was even used to having her work watched, though there was nothing familiar about the eyes that watched her now. Eyes that glowed blue with innate power. Eyes that seemed to peer (silently, always silently) into the depths of her soul.

“Lady Windrunner. Does my work meet your high elven standards?”

“Surpasses it, Lady Proudmoore.”

She smiled, surprised, but not yet turning away from her work on the lighthouse’s crystal. “A compliment I had not expected to receive.”

“Nor one I intended to give, I must admit. I did not expect to encounter a mage of your skill and power among humans—especially one so young.”

She snorted. “You and everyone else, human or elf. I am well used to proving myself to those skeptical of my worth, by now.”

“I can well imagine.”

 

***

 

Sylvanas stormed down the stairs with a wrinkled brow and churning thoughts. Jaina wasn’t alright, despite her protests to the contrary, but what was wrong with her she wasn’t sure. The last few days she’d developed deep circles under her eyes, which was concerning in its own right, but she’d seemed so…lost. Confused. Upset.

“Where’s Jaina?”

Velonara’s voice pulled Sylvanas from her thoughts. She grimaced in reply. “I sent her back to bed. Alina! Kalira!”

Vel frowned, her eyebrows pulling down and together. “She alright?”

Sylvanas shook her head, watching the other two rangers as they ran up.

“Yeah, boss?”

“Run into the village and grab some breakfast for Jaina. Something hearty, but get some of those sweet buns she likes.”

Alina’s ears twitched as one brow arched up, but she said nothing.

Velonara waited until they were gone before pressing again. “Sylv, what’s going on?”

Sylvanas sighed. “I don’t know. She said she’s not been sleeping well, but it seems like more than that. She’s only been staying here a few days, but she looks…I don’t know. Maybe she’s sick.”

“You want me to call Liadrin?”

Sylvanas worked a thumb under the cuff on her wrist, absently rubbing at her birthmark again. “…no. Not yet. The packages that came for her, will you and Pained take them up?”

Vel nodded. “Yeah, of course.”

“Just don’t wake her.”

Velonara rolled her eyes. “I do know how to be quiet, Captain.”

Sylvanas tried to smile at the jab, but found it too difficult. Instead, her brows furrowed further, thoughts miles away—or just a few floors above her. When she finally looked up, Velonara was gone. She shook herself, silently cursing the distractedness she now felt.

Maybe Lirath was right. Maybe the lighthouse was haunted.

Jaina had laughed at the idea. But Jaina was also acting strange, and that hadn’t started until she’d begun staying in the lighthouse.

Maybe she should check the journals. It was possible there was information in them that could tell her what was going on. Maybe something had happened that history and the legends had forgotten. Maybe…

It also coincided with her healing you. The thought made her pull herself up sharply. Sylvanas knew Jaina was one of the strongest mages in Azeroth. Even her own brother had been unable to do what she’d done.

What if…what if she’d hurt herself in the process?

“Oi, Sylv, are we doing shit today or—”

Sylvanas spun, startled by Anya’s voice, and the smaller elf gasped.

“Fuck Belore, you’re whiter than your sister’s hair. What’s wrong?”

Forcing herself to breathe, Sylvanas counted heartbeats until she was calmer. “I’m fine. Just had an unpleasant thought.”

Anya’s eyebrow rose sharply. “Sure, boss, and the ocean is Kul Tiran whiskey. Whatever, are we working today or not? Where’s your girl?”

Sylvanas bared her teeth in a grimace. “Anya.”

The other elf rolled her eyes. “Felomin ashal, you’re fucking hopeless.”

“Anya.”

The elf in question simply folded her arms and glared back. Sylvanas pinched the bridge of her nose and sighed loudly. “Jaina is…unwell. Go ahead with the exterior treatments as discussed until I can get her input on the other things. I sent Kalira and Alina to get her some breakfast from the village, but hopefully she’s sleeping again. Vel and Pained are taking those packages that arrived for her up.”

Belore, you’ve got it bad.”

“Fucking void, Anya—”

“Belore’s tits, fine! I’ll actually be working if anyone needs me. Belore vendel’o…

Anya spun and marched away, still muttering under her breath. Sylvanas closed her eyes and took several deep breaths, and then several more, all while wondering how today had gone so wrong so quickly. Belore help her, the sun wasn’t even fully over the trees yet. She needed to focus. She needed to do something. Find something, some way to help…

Indecision spun her in circles, and Sylvanas swore upon realizing she was rubbing at her birthmark. Again.

What is wrong with me today?

“Sylvanas?”

She opened her eyes with a resigned sigh, only to find Kalira and Alina standing in front of her, arms full with parcels of food. Sylvanas grunted. “Here. I’ll take them up.”

The two rangers exchanged a quick look, but handed the food off without comment, which she was grateful for. Nothing today was going the way she’d thought it would. She’d expected to spend the day talking over the remaining renovations—not even necessary things, really—with Jaina. Whether to update the original exterior decorations or just get rid of them. If she had any requests or suggestions for supply room stocks. Keeper protocols and the pros and cons of automation.

It shouldn’t have thrown her so much to have her plans (hardly necessary plans, at that) so upset. Plans rarely survived initial implementation, she’d learned that at an early age. So what was it that was really bothering her?

The answer was obvious, for all that Sylvanas didn’t want to acknowledge it. Even as the cause of her turmoil mumbled restlessly from her nest of blankets and pillows, white and blonde hair spilling loose. She had not thought Jaina to be a sleep-talker, but that seemed to be the case. Not that she could make out what the woman was saying. Sylvanas shook her head and moved to set the parcels she carried down. She’d have to wake Jaina, if only to get her to eat something.

“Alah’dinoriel. Vendel’o.”

Sylvanas nearly dropped the food she’d brought up. Lightkeeper. Help me.

“Aranaldu’ienodan! Aurelya!”

Who was rising? And who is—wait. Sylvanas sucked in a breath. No. She wouldn’t accept the coincidence. Not yet. She’d check the journals first. Instead, she gently rested a hand on the mage’s arm. “Jaina.”

No response beyond a small, worried whine. Not only that, but she seemed to be burning up—not with fever, but with arcane. Sylvanas grimaced and called her name again, a little louder, while rubbing her hand against Jaina’s arm.

Another noise of distress, and then brilliant white eyes slowly blinked open. Jaina looked flushed and disoriented, unaware of the arcane she was broadcasting, so Sylvanas let her take her time, saying nothing, but continuing to rub gentle circles into her shoulder. Eventually, ocean-blue eyes settled on her.

“…Sylvanas?”

“Hey.”

Jaina looked around, her face a puzzle of confusion. “I was…” She trailed off, her gaze settling into the middle distance. The furnace of arcane tapered off to Jaina’s normal levels, but she didn’t even seem to be aware. Maybe, Sylvanas thought, she was always like this when she slept.

It felt like a hollow excuse.

“Jaina?”

“Hm?” She turned back slowly, absently. “Sylvanas? What’s going on?”

“I’m sorry to wake you.” She gestured at the food parcels piled on the table, reaching for the sticky buns she knew Jaina had never yet turned down. “You need to eat something.”

Jaina took the package of sticky buns with a sleepy grin. “I love these.” She took a large bite, humming contentedly before focusing on the stack of takeout containers. “That’s an awful lot of food.”

Sylvanas shrugged, pleased the mage was beginning to sound more like herself. “Blame Alina and Kalira. You don’t have to eat it all, but you definitely need to eat some of it. When was the last time you ate?”

Jaina started to try to speak around the enormous bite of sticky bun she’d just taken, then seemed to think better of it. When she finally swallowed, chasing it with the remains of her now-cold coffee, her brows had pulled together again.

“Maybe you should come back to the Spire. At least until you’re feeling better.” Where I can make sure you’re eating and sleeping right. She didn’t say the last part, but she could tell Jaina picked up on it.

“I’m fine.” The deep yawn that almost cut her off belied the statement, but Jaina didn’t seem to be willing to acknowledge that part. At least, not until she yawned again, while Sylvanas stared at her with one eyebrow cocked. “I am fine. I’m just tired.”

Sylvanas hummed in response, and Jaina huffed, glaring, before shoving the last of the sticky bun in her mouth and chewing defiantly.

Sylvanas had to admit (very privately) she found it rather adorable. “If it doesn’t get better, I’m calling Liadrin and dragging you back whether you like it or not.”

Jaina huffed and yawned again, then reached for more food. “Fine. But you’re helping me eat this. And stop rubbing your wrist. If that cuff is bothering you, just take it off.”

Feeling both mildly relieved by the rebuke, deeply annoyed by realizing she’d been fussing with her birthmark again, she smiled softly. “Yes ma’am.”

Jaina rolled her eyes, and that made her smile for real.

Chapter Text

Jaina blinked at the ancient sea chest in front of her with confusion.

She’d woken not long before with a start, heart racing and an irrational need coursing through her, beating against her mind, to get to the ancient footlocker. Never mind that it was still night, the moon high in the star-cast sky, the ocean beating a relentless rhythm on the rocks below. Never mind the dreams that had pulled at her, dragged her back to restless sleep for days, until she could barely tell waking from sleeping. All that mattered in that moment was the chest.

Except that now she was here, staring at it, and at a complete loss as to why it had been so urgent. While still feeling the odd urgency.

She’d been full of curiosity when Sylvanas had first shown it to her days before, but the lock had proven an unexpected challenge, and before she’d had the chance to really get into it, she’d been called away. The days since had been lost to the frustration of dream-riddled sleep (dreams she still couldn’t recall more than a fraction of upon waking) and exhausted moments of wakefulness. Jaina had since spared little thought for the puzzling lock, or the secrets it kept. But standing there, shrouded by moonlight and starlight, her body instinctively weaving gently in time with the crash of the waves below, the answer seemed so obvious.

The silver anchor slipped from her neck with unconscious ease, and the soft click of the lock’s release seemed louder than a thunderclap.

Preservation spells hung thick in the air as she lifted the lid, carrying with them scents Jaina instinctively associated with home. Salt and pipeweed, whiskey and gunpowder. Hemp rope, ink, cedar, tar. Smells that spoke of life on a ship, at sea, at port…smells of Kul Tiras. Smells that made her suddenly dizzy with homesickness, despite the ocean outside her window. Homesick, perhaps, for the past, or for dreams she couldn’t recall…

Jaina shook herself and conjured a magelight in a passing moment of clarity. Moonlight would hardly help her see the contents of the chest, even if it was bright tonight. Ambiance was rarely practical, after all.

The topmost item revealed in the trunk was a deep blue cloak, made of heavy, sturdy wool, but trimmed with intricate golden embroidery. For all that she’d never laid eyes on this particular garment before, Jaina recognized it intimately. If her anchor pendant acting as a key hadn’t been a clear sign that a Proudmoore had once owned this chest, this would have been all the proof she needed. She lifted it out carefully, running her fingers over the thick wool. The brass buckles still shined brightly, and the leather straps were soft and pliant with use and care. With them was a single pauldron and gauntlet, in an outdated but still familiar style—that of a Kul Tiran captain’s battle dress.

There was, oddly, no captain’s saber to go with them.

Jaina pushed that thought aside, alongside others, such as why this chest hadn’t been returned to Kul Tiras. They were questions that she couldn’t help but wonder, but they held no immediate urgency. They could wait, for now.

The books she found lit her curiosity far more. Books that by all rights should have been in the library of Proudmoore Keep, or more likely the Tidesage library, or in the keeping of the Thornspeakers. They were old. Old, and incredibly precious, texts on magic she’d never seen before, from Kul Tiras’ early days.

Modera would lose her shit if she saw these.

Jaina reluctantly—and carefully—set them aside. The desire to dive into them immediately was strong, but the unaccountable urgency that had woken her pushed harder. Perhaps in response to her natural inclination to the books, but perhaps because she was getting closer to whatever was pressing her. Further delving uncovered a sextant, glass, and compass (which, she noted to herself, Derek would find fascinating), a few assorted bits of clothing (trousers, shirts, and sundry, all functional and sturdy, of which she approved). Personal items (small knife and sheath, sewing kit, combs, oils, and leather strips for hair), a still-sealed bottle of whiskey, sachets of various herbs and common spell ingredients, a mortar and pestle, several vials and spell bottles…

The list went on and on. Little was remarkable (except the books, of course), beyond the picture they painted of the former owner. The most surprising thing was, in fact, not so much the individual contents, but the whole of them together, and that simply because together they were almost exactly what Jaina herself would have packed.

Not almost, even. There wasn’t a single item in the chest that she wouldn’t have found useful, and didn’t have a match to her own belongings scattered thinly through the tower. And that made her pause again, despite the push that still had not receded. Because the one thing missing was anything identifying the owner. No journal, not even a name on the chest, nothing but the Proudmoore anchor—and even that, Jaina had to admit, was likely something she would’ve done as well. She’d lost track of the people who thought she ought to keep a journal of any sort (one that wasn’t for research, anyway), but she found the whole idea to be too much of an annoyance. Though, she had to admit, in this case it would have been nice to find one.

But there wasn’t one. There wasn’t really anything, once she’d unpacked it all.

Except…

Oh.

The spells were good. As good as she’d seen, and had she not been driven by the insistent push of whatever, she might’ve missed it. Even looking at it, recognizing the enchantments, she had to fight to see the small box tucked deep in one corner. Even once she reached for it, lifting it out in one hand, the arcane threads lingered, trying to pull her focus anywhere else.

It was a very good spell.

Considering what it was concealing, it had to be.

The crystal inside the box was small, far smaller than the power it radiated. Small enough that had it not been carefully set in a cage of forged storm silver on a necklace chain of the same, Jaina might have hesitated to pick it up, for fear of losing it.

So much power, in such a small little thing.

She knew what it was, of course. She’d never seen one, wasn’t sure there were more than a handful of living beings who had. To say they were the stuff of legend wasn’t even an exaggeration. Rare enough that Jaina was deeply hesitant to even touch it, let alone pick it up. Rare enough that her curiosity overruled all caution and hesitance.

Surani’dal.

Xsaril.

Lodestar.

The heart of a fallen star.

It shimmered in her hand as she lifted it, burning brighter as it moved beyond the influence of the concealing spell placed upon the box it had rested in. Entranced, Jaina didn’t notice the answering sting in her shoulder, until it spread, growing in intensity, blazing through the lines of her scar across her back and neck until it tore a scream from her throat strong enough to rival a banshee’s wail. Her muscles seized, the lodestar burning a hole in her hand as she collapsed to the stone floor.

And then there was nothing but blessed black oblivion.

 

***

 

Sylvanas had not slept well. Years of pain-riddled sleep had left her too familiar with troubled slumber, but this had been different. She’d woken again and again through the early morning hours with a deep sense of foreboding. It had followed her through the morning, and trying to blame it on concern for Jaina’s recent behavior had only made it worse. The raised eyebrows and subtle looks exchanged by her rangers and Lirath as she snapped and growled her way through breakfast only compounded her frustration, and she’d ended up storming out to her truck and leaving without anyone else. Except Pained, who had quietly climbed into the cab before she could drive off.

Which turned out to be a good thing.

As was the habit she’d developed of checking on Jaina before starting work, even if today it was also driven by the need to dispel the unease she felt. She didn’t worry when her knocking on the door garnered no response. It was early(ish), and as tired as Jaina had been, she suspected (hoped) the mage was still asleep. Sylvanas hesitated at that thought, not wanting to disturb her if that was the case, but her concern won out. If it was the case, she needn’t wake her.

She just…needed to know Jaina was alright.

Except Jaina was not in her bed. Or the kitchen, the couch, the bath…

With each place Jaina was not, Sylvanas’ panic grew, until she was practically racing through the lighthouse’s living floors. It wasn’t until she’d run back to the main door, ready to check the rest of the levels, that she noticed the spill of white and gold in the corner—the same corner where she’d shown Jaina the sea chest.

Her shoulders sagged with relief for only a moment before her heart nearly ripped itself from her chest.

“No, no, no…”

The tiny hope she harbored that Jaina had simply fallen asleep on the floor was torn away the closer she got. The contents of the chest were scattered across the floor like they’d been knocked over. She tried and failed to convince herself that maybe they had just been sloppily set aside, but one look at the books that lay in complete disarray was enough to destroy that fantasy.

There was no world in which Jaina Proudmoore would carelessly cast aside a book. The only thing Sylvanas could think of that would be a more obvious sign of the mage in distress was clear physical injury.

Such as the dark red pool that stained her white hair and the pale stone beneath it.

Belore vendel’o… Jaina, Jaina… FUCK!”

The mage was tensed and rigid as she touched her, but warm thank Belore—burning, in fact. Sylvanas forced herself to move, despite the lurching of her heart and the panic that threatened to immobilize her. Panic wouldn’t help Jaina.

A quick check showed nothing else that seemed wrong, aside from the unusual stiffness, making it even more likely that Jaina had fallen, hitting her head on the stone floor (head wounds bled a great deal, she rushed to remind herself). But there was nothing good about the fact that she’d fallen, or that she was bleeding, or the terrible rigor that had hold of her. Even the flow of her arcane seemed somehow constrained.

Not at all good.

A maelstrom of panic and worry threatened to engulf her as she carefully lifted Jaina’s rigid body. Behind her, the door slammed open, and she turned as she stood to see Pained’s usually calm face go pale. The night elf’s eyes flickered over Jaina quickly.

“I’ll get Liadrin.”

Sylvanas grunted her agreement. “Wait. Jaina’s keys—” She nodded to the small table by the door, and Pained grabbed them before rushing down the stairs ahead of her. Outside, they made quick work of tucking Jaina into the passenger side of her jeep. “Meet us at the Spire.”

Pained only nodded before racing to Sylvanas’ truck and tearing off down the road. Sylvanas shot a worried look at Jaina before following at a more careful pace.

She winced at every small bump in the road, even as she cursed the extra time it took being cautious. Even though she knew it was only minutes. Even though it would take far longer for Pained to return with Liadrin.

Every second was still too long.

Her rangers stared in confusion and then worry as she pulled up to the main tower, but all it took was the sight of her lifting Jaina out of the vehicle for Anya to mutter a “Fuck me to the void!” and run back inside, bellowing for Lirath and Kinndy.

Sylvanas followed, Jaina unmoving in her arms, the rest of the rangers hot on her heels.

Anar’alah, where’s the fire? Anya, let me go, or I’ll—” Lirath choked on whatever threat he was about to say when he saw Sylvanas, rushing forward to help her set the mage down. “What happened?”

Sylvanas shook her head with a grimace. “I don’t know. I found her collapsed on the floor. I think she hit her head when she fell, but I don’t know why she fell, or why she’s…I don’t know, seized like this.”

“Liadrin?”

“Pained. On her way.”

Someone—Alina, she thought—handed her a bowl of warm water and a cloth. Sylvanas grunted her thanks and began gently mopping at the blood that covered Jaina’s scalp and forehead. Beside her, Lirath muttered under his breath.

“It’s not just her body that’s seized, it’s her arcane, too. Strange.”

Sylvanas forced herself to breathe, to focus, to push the panic away as Lirath muttered back and forth with Kinndy, but all she could hear was the pounding of her own heart. She wanted to rage and scream, to break things and wail, but more than anything she wanted to go back and never have set foot in that Belore-forsaken lighthouse, even if it meant she died from her scars, and she never met Jaina, because that would be better than this, better than seeing Jaina broken and unmoving in her arms, in pain and bleeding—

“Sylvanas!”

She whirled, breathing hard, to find Lirath looking at her with concern. “She’ll be alright.”

Sylvanas took in a shuddering breath and nodded slowly, her eyes burning.

“I was trying to ask if you knew anything about these marks on her shoulder?”

She took in another slow breath, letting it out in a rush. “They’re from Theramore. The incident with the focusing iris.”

“Ah. That was Kinndy’s suspicion.” Lirath nodded. “Are they always like this? Pulsing and angry?”

“No,” Sylvanas growled. The lightning lines burned hot with arcane, like they’d just emerged. She sucked in a breath, carefully moving Jaina’s hair off of them, hesitating as the need to reach out and touch, comfort, anything rushed over her.

Would it hurt Jaina more? Would it soothe her?

“Sylv, wait—”

Lirath’s words came too late to stop the tips of her fingers from gliding carefully over the angry, jagged, glowing marks. Jaina’s skin felt feverish under her touch, but there was no immediate reaction. Grabbing a fresh towel, she wet it and mopped at the exposed skin. She realized, belatedly, that Jaina wore little besides an oversized shirt, whose wide, loose neck had fallen open to reveal her scarring. Sylvanas felt her face heat, but ignored it in favor of caring for the still-immobile mage. It was likely a useless gesture, she knew, but at least it was something.

Wet the towel. Run it gently over flushed skin. Tend the shoulder, neck, back. Gently stroke the face. Don’t panic. Just breathe.

Useless.

Until it wasn’t.

Sylvanas nearly upended the bowl of water when a small noise escaped Jaina. Nothing but the weakest of whines, but it was the first reaction she’d seen from the mage.

“Jaina? Jaina. Can you hear me? It’s alright, you’re safe, you’re—”

Towel discarded, her hand stroked the skin along Jaina’s shoulder to her neck, and Jaina screamed.

“Sylvanas, what the fuck—”

Liadrin’s voice accompanied a heavy hand on her shoulder, forcing her away, but Jaina’s hand grabbed her wrist with a speed that seemed nearly impossible, latching on tightly. Jaw locked, her eyes peeled open to slits that blazed pure white and zeroed in on Sylvanas.

“Stay.”

The word ground out painfully, freezing Sylvanas in place. Carefully, she flipped her hand around in the iron grip, until she held Jaina’s wrist in turn, and settled next to her. “I’m here.”

Anar’alah, Belore vendel’o. Just stay out of the way, Sylvanas. What happened?”

Sylvanas gave her as clinical a rundown as she could manage, mentioning the strange sleeping patterns and dreams as the lead up to finding her this morning. Her eyes never once left Jaina’s, their hands remained joined like a shared lifeline. She felt, more than saw, when Liadrin began to call on the Light, and then as it faltered. But Jaina’s gaze held hers with an unbreakable power, so she held, and waited.

Liadrin’s voice echoed slightly with the power she held. “Does anyone know what she’s got clutched in her other hand?”

Jaina squeezed her wrist tightly at the question, and again, without thinking, reached out.

The world went white.

Her wrist, grasped tight in Jaina’s hand, throbbed and burned.

And for a moment, she was elsewhere. Standing on the top floor of the lighthouse at sunset. A woman that was, and was not Jaina, wrapped in her arms. Her left arm felt strange and unwieldy, but there was such a serenity in the moment, such peace and contentment, that nothing else mattered.

And then it was gone.

“—Belore’s name, Sylvanas!”

Liadrin’s shout brought the world back with a deafening ring, eclipsed only by the gasp that escaped Jaina as she writhed in Sylvanas’ grip. The Light roared through Liadrin beside her, nearly turning the world white again, but she felt Jaina calm under her touch, felt the ringing in her ears subside, and Jaina’s breathing return to normal.

The world settled into silence, broken by a resounding thwack as Liadrin slapped the back of Sylvanas’ head.

“You absolute dumbass.”

Sylvanas shot her a glare, but Jaina’s grip on both hands kept her from doing much else. In one, the one she’d clenched tight, Sylvanas felt a small stone and chain—a necklace? Jaina’s eyes seemed to implore her to take it without making a fuss, so she did, tucking it into her pocket while Liadrin and Lirath peppered the mage with question after question. It was an ineffective tactic, at best, and Sylvanas found herself annoyed and compelled to put a stop to it.

“Why don’t we take this to her room, where she can at least be comfortable while you hold your inquest?”

The look Liadrin gave her was equal parts scathing annoyance and something she wasn’t willing to examine just then. But the paladin nodded, only raising an eyebrow when Sylvanas unceremoniously scooped Jaina up without another word, cradling the human to her.

She didn’t care. All she cared about was the way the mage curled into her, tucking her head into the crook of Sylvanas neck. “I’ve got you,” she whispered. “You’re alright.”

Jaina’s answer was to cling tighter, fist curled into her shirt, followed by the faintest whisper.

“I am now.”