That night after the Shattering, Rhianon stood for the first time at the farthest border of the spirit world, the sliver of space between this world and the Beyond. She had always imagined the veil separating her world from the next to be similar to the finely-woven vine shades the people of Telredor hung in their windows to keep out the marsh bugs – and beyond that veil, figures and voices of those who had passed on before. This world would end – and the Beyond, however inaccessible, would begin.
Yet, when she came to this final border, she found that old familiar light-spangled spirit woods faded into a sandy beaches and beyond that, a glassy sea stretching into a golden horizon. Apparitions, shadows of the spirits passing through this spirit realm, gathered at the shores, foamy waves kissing their ephemeral feet. Among them, she could see other shaman walking – Tauren, Trolls, Orcs, Krokul and other Draenei. Some were speaking to the shades, soothing tones barely audible to her ears, and others were helping them onto waiting boats. As she approached, a white-pelted tauren turned towards her and called out, “Spirit-Walker Rhianon! Welcome!”
The tauren, apart from his white coat, appeared unusually common: weather-beaten horns, an ill-polished ring through the nostrils – and yet, when she drew closer to him, Rhianon realized that he was anything but ordinary. Looking upon his face was like looking upon the faces of a thousand ancestors, a thousand beloved who had passed into the Beyond and his eyes, though warm, could not hold to one color. They were constantly shifting – hazel, sky-blue, red. She sucked in a breath. She had seen one being like this before, the spirit guide who led her through the Dream-Ways on her vision quest. “You are – “
“I am not a spirit guide, if that is what you are thinking,” the tauren said, chuckling. “Not yet, at least. My name is Elder Maskah of the Plains and I am much like yourself.” Seeing Rhianon’s quizzical expression, he laughed again. “Still drawing breath. Walking among the living.” He added softly, almost as an afterthought, “A Spirit-Walker.”
Rhianon frowned, gazing out over the rippling ocean. “I’m not entirely sure what you mean, Elder. I’m just here to help the Earthen Ring out. I’m just a shaman – barely, even. I only finished my training two years ago.”
“Your teacher never spoke to you about this?” The tauren snorted, surveying the slight Draenei before him. After a moment, he sighed and reached out, brushing a stray lock of silver hair from Rhianon’s cheek. She flinched at his touch. “You are so young. Pretty. The whole world must be open to you.” He straightened up, groaning. “I can see why your mentor held it back. He must have hoped…hoped that you would have a chance to lead a normal life.”
Elder Maskah gestured to the shoreline and then held out his other hand for Rhianon. “Please. Let us walk.”
They walked, Maskah’s hand pressed up against the small of Rhianon’s back, sand churning under their hooves. It was an odd sight from a distance – the slender draenei and the lumbering tauren – but on-lookers would have found it even stranger still to approach and hear the conversation that passed between the two.
“You must have noticed that you were different than other shaman,” the tauren said, eyes focused on the path before them. “When a Spirit-Walker comes into power, it is hard to ignore. I can’t believe Nastah did not prepare – “
“I – I stopped talking to him about it,” Rhianon interrupted. “Whenever I spoke of our ancestors or the pull I felt to the spirit world, he…he became frightened. And no one else understood. None of my friends…” She sighed. “After awhile, I just gave up speaking to anyone. They just became concerned – and worried.”
Maskah smiled, drawing the young shaman closer to him. “It is hard for mortals to understand those who straddle the worlds of the living and the dead. Mortals fear death, even as they hold fast to faith in the Beyond and everlasting life. You do not fear death for you are constantly in its grip.” He chuckled. “As you come into power, you will find the living understand you less and less. It is a strange thing to look upon the face of a dear friend and hear the voices of all their ancestors whispering in your ears.”
Rhianon grinned. “Particularly when the ancestors are reminding you how silly your friend looked in diapers!”
The tauren guffawed but then fell silent. He placed a hand on Rhianon’s shoulder and turned her towards him, moon-colored eyes searching the draenei girl’s face. “Rhianon, the path before you is not one any parent or teacher would chose for their child. You are learning now that you will only ever live partially in the mortal realm. And now, you must prove to the spirits themselves that you can bear their weight. Can you live under the burden of thousands of souls?”
Rhianon glanced towards the water and the golden horizon. “And if I can’t?”
“You will be lost to them.”
A silence floated between the two of them then, broken only by the crashing of the waves on the shore. Rhianon was the first to speak again, her voice a whisper over the water. “I have too many people depending on me to fail.”
Elder Maskah tilted her chin up towards him. “You will not fail. I see hundreds of ancestors behind you, bolstering you up.” Rhianon blinked, and for a moment, she saw them too, the crowds of Draenei men, women and children whose bones paved the Path of Glory. She felt the pieces of the broken totem from the Black Temple buried in the hot Hellfire sand and she remembered her promise to her people.
“Spirits of my people…
The earth and the sky, the sea and the flame,
they hear your cries.
They have a place for you
amongst the stars
amongst the fish in the sea
amongst the birds in flight.
You will soar like a sparrowhawk and race like a talbuk.
You will burn like the fire that forges a blade.
You will dance like the spray of a waterfall.
Your bodies have been destroyed,
but you will not be forgotten.
Until the day when each of us who are now living
joins with you again in the Beyond,
we will remember you
and you will guide our steps.”
The words echoed in her head and she murmured them, casting them out over the ocean water like pebbles in a lake. After she finished, Elder Maskah pulled her to himself and she felt the pounding of his heart. “I am proud,” he said, “to have such an ally at my side in the coming days. We will walk strong together, Spirit-Walker Rhianon.”
He then released her and pointed towards the group behind them, still milling around on the beach. “Come now, Rhianon. There is much work to be done before we return to our living bodies.”
Rhianon nodded and the two shaman headed back towards the gathering, hand in hand. An errant wind scurried across the ground behind them, sending grains of sand flying into the air. When the wind died down and the clouds of sand returned to the earth, a rune-scarred totem stood where the two shaman had once been talking, buried several inches deep in the beach. It was the very same totem that the priest Vasily had unearthed from Teron Gorefiend’s cache and it was the same totem that Rhianon had thought lost in the sands of Hellfire.
The totem stood unwavering in the sand for several moments until a large wave gushed across it – and it was gone.