More than Healing
Flames licked across the sky, lighting the magma-wastes below. In the distance, she could see molten spires cutting out sharp outlines against the scorched horizon, their blazing summits glaring down at Malfurion’s encampment. Even the air itself was hostile, heavy with ash and crackling with heat. Each breath she took clawed at her chest.
This was like it was like then, to be consumed by the Flame. She could taste the hunger of the raging element in the air, feel its burning embrace against her skin. And the silence – despite the clatter of arms on the plains below – was deafening to the shaman. No hiss of the wind, no gurgle of water. Not even the steady rumble of the earth behind her hooves.
“If you’re done with it, take the jar of salve back into the encampment!”
The voice startled Rhianon from her thoughts and she turned to see a worgen druidess, arms laden with bandages and cloths, nodding to the jar of salve in her hand. Not sure if the shaman had heard her, the druid repeated, “Please, take the jar back inside. There are still many whose wounds need to be treated.”
Rhianon nodded and the druid hurried off, dropping several bandages in her wake. Sighing, the shaman headed back towards the series of caves appropriated as sanctuaries, flickering torches lighting each entry. The make-shift camp set up inside was simple, a small corner had been converted into an armory, another into the staging area. The section of the cave bordering the farthest wall had likewise been swiftly fashioned into an infirmary, occupied bedrolls spread out along its length.
Rhianon approached a night elf female hovering over a crate littered with vials and bandages, clearing her throat. “I was told to bring this back here,” she explained, offering the jar of salve. The woman took the jar, eyeing the draenei with raised eyebrows, and Rhianon gulped, rubbing at her face and hair in an attempt to brush away some of the fine layer of soot clinging to her.
The night elf shook her head, chuckling at the shaman’s fidgeting. “Thank you. Looks like you’ve seen a bit of the front yourself. You should probably take a breather before going back out.”
Rhianon shrugged, glancing over at the wounded stretched out on the bedrolls. Despite the careful tending from the healers, she could still see the heavy char marks on their bodies, hands and faces scarred by the burning fingers of elemental fire. She recognized some of them. “I helped some of these people out there,” she said. “How are they doing?”
“Well, thanks to you and others, they’ve made it back here,” the woman explained. She took a deep breath before continuing. “Many of them recovered after treatment. Those you see here…well, we are doing what we can for them.”
As she spoke, one of the injured defenders cried out, writhing on his cot. The night elf shook her head, sighing. “I wish there was more we could offer them. I’ve never seen burns like these before; the dressings dry out almost as quickly as you put them on and even a cool compress just sizzles when we apply it to the wounds.”
“The hunger of pure fire is not easily satiated,” Rhianon murmured, recalling her mentor’s teachings.
The night elf dismissed her. “Thank you for the salve. As I said, please go rest. Most of those here cannot be helped and we need your energies focused on the front.”
Rhianon ignored her, instead walking over to the moaning defender’s cot. She knelt down beside him and took his hand. He shuddered, but his fingers gripped her palm with surprising force and his eyes, bloodshot from pain, searched her face. “T-tell the healers–the salve…” He swallowed hard, shaking. “It’s–it’s not working anymore.”
“They know,” the shaman whispered.
He stiffened, gripping the bedclothes with his free hand. “Then…then…what now?”
It was a question that Rhianon had heard countless times before and its unspoken answer hung heavily in the air between them. She smoothed back stray locks of hair from his sweaty forehead, pressing the back of her hand against his cheek. “I’m just going to sit here with you for a bit. What’s your name? Mine is Rhianon, but most people just call me Rhia.”
“Johansen,” he replied, a faint smile curling around his lips. “Your name is pretty.”
She chuckled, adjusting the bedclothes around him so the woolen edges didn’t brush against the dressed burns. A breath of hot air from the battlefield whistled through the caverns, dancing past her head, and for an instant, Rhianon heard the faint murmur of voices whispering the dying defender’s name. “Would you like something, Johansen? A sip of water or maybe an extra blanket?” the shaman asked, ignoring the spirits’ calls. They could wait.
Johansen shook his head, a long, trembling breath escaping his lips. “It won’t…h-help.” The defender groaned and Rhianon squeezed his hand. He coughed, murmuring, “The heat…it reminds me of the summers…back at home…Westfall. Just the sun…the dust…” His voice weakened, trailing off.
“You know, where I grew up, it almost never got hot. Humid sometimes, but never hot. There was water everywhere, pools and pools of it, and everything was covered with dew.”
“Tell me..tell me about it.” Johansen’s voice was faint now and his eyes only half-open. The spirit voices ringing in Rhianon’s ears were growing louder.
She began to tell him about Zangarmarsh, about how giant mushrooms reached towards the foggy sky and mist-spangled Marsh Walkers strode along the wandering fingers of the Marsh. She talked about the way the fireflies came out every year at the same time, skittering across the still waters of the lakes and filling the cool night air with brightness. As she spoke, she watched him lean back against his bedroll, his eyes shutting. His breaths came fewer and further between, shallow and rattling.
His grip on her hand slackened.
Rhianon sighed and released his hand, wiping her eyes. The spirit voices fell silent. He would find his way across the divide; she was certain of that. There would be no need for her to take his hand and guide him to the great sea. “Safe journeys, Johansen,” she murmured, bending over to wrap the blanket tighter around his still form. “Everyone is waiting for you.”
The shaman sat back, closing her eyes. She could hear the clash of blades on the battlefield in the distance, the low growling of the elementals and Druids of the Flame. Many more than Johansen would fall in the coming weeks. The blistered wounded would be dragged back from the front; the healers would struggle to tend to their injuries. Some would survive and some would fall, passing from the mortal realm far from family and friends with no one other than an unknown medic to ease their suffering.
At the very least, she hoped that she had made a difference for Johansen. He might be just one among many, but for her, that was sufficient.
She opened her eyes and glanced over at the night elf who had been hovering over the crate, arranging vials and bandages. The night elf had stopped her frantic organizing and was peering at Rhianon, brow furrowed. Learn from me, Rhianon wanted to call out to the elf. Learn that it’s more than bandages and healing spells, more than stopping physical pain and fixing a mortal body.
Instead, Rhianon stood up and walked over to the night elf, nodding to her. “Johansen has passed.”
The elf looked at her blankly.
“That was his name,” Rhianon explained, gesturing to the fallen defender. “Learn their names, please. I know you’re busy, but it’s important to them.” She began to turn away and then glanced back over her shoulder, adding, “Even if you can’t ease their physical suffering, you and your assistants can do so much for them. Please, be here for them when I can’t be.”
She didn’t wait for response. She walked away, heading back out to the burning fields of the Molten Front where the endless battle waited for her.