Until the Shadows Disappear

She found him stumbling between the gnarled trees in the center of the forest, head down, withered hands gripping onto the trunks for stability. His voice was barely louder than the rattle of windswept branches above them, but she heard it.

“Dark…dark why is it so dark…why can’t I see the road?”

Rhianon tilted her head, listening for the Broken’s words and the way they rose on the forest’s lilting breeze. When death had finally come for Sage Nastah, true death and not the paused-life of a spirit shaman, he had also spoken of darkness, of how the shadows grew when his back was turned, and of the voices that came with them, mocking, calling, begging. Her teacher’s Krokul heart, cheered in life by the voices of the elements, had once again awoken to the loss of Light as he faced unending darkness.

“It is too dark. Night came too fast.” The voice faltered, broken with momentary panic. “I’ve lost track of the road!”

She crossed the mossy forest floor to him. “Gortuul, you’re not lost.”

As she stood near him, even her slight form towering over the crumpled Krokul, he looked up, blank eyes searching her face. “Not lost?” He shook his head. “No, no, no, no, no.” A sigh escaped his lips and he began stumbling between the tree trunks again. “Don’t just stand there. Light a candle. I need to find the road. ”

“I know the road, Gortuul,” Rhianon said, touching his arm. She extended her other hand to him, palm open. “I can show you the way.”

He stared at her hand. “How can you know the roads better than me?

“Oh, I’ve been down these paths many times,” she explained, still offering her hand to him. “And I don’t think you’ve been down these particular roads before, so it’s understandable that even one as knowledgeable as you might get lost.”

Gortuul frowned. “If it wasn’t so dark, I could find my way.”  He then reached out and gripped her hand, adding almost apologetically, “I just didn’t realize night would come so fast.”

The shaman smiled at him, squeezing his hand. “I think night comes faster than anyone expects. Now, are you ready to go?”

He nodded. “If you can just get me out of these shadows, I’m sure I’ll recognize the road and then I can go ahead on my own.”

Rhianon shrugged. She linked her arm in his, leading him through the spindly masses of trees and the groaning mouths of darkness clustered around them on either side. Their hooves sunk into the soggy ground as they walked, as if the splintered shadows were grabbing at them from out of the very earth. Gortuul shuddered at this and leaned closer to his shamanic companion. “How can you bear this darkness?” He said, voice gruff. “It’s not enough to blind me; it seems to want to swallow me up.”

“Oh, I just try to think about brighter things,” she replied, putting her arm around him. “And it won’t be dark for very long; can’t you see the light up ahead?”  Rhianon pointed in front of her to where the thorn-fingered trees began to part, revealing a gleaming horizon.

“Brighter things…” Gortuul mumbled, following her gesture. His voice trailed off as his gaze fell upon the distant brightness, and she heard him draw in a sharp breath. He stopped mid-stride, reaching out to grab a tree trunk.  “I thought it was lost to me,” the Broken finally said after several moments of silence, his voice shaking. “I’ve been in the dark for so long.”

Rhianon looked up to the horizon, its brilliance almost blinding. “The light? I’m pretty sure it’s always been right there. Maybe you just were looking in the wrong direction.”

Gortuul wasn’t paying attention to her, instead focused on steadying himself on the tree trunk. He then turned his face directly to the horizon and his eyes widened. “I can hear their voices! Nyora! And Amaryn! It’s been so long since I’ve heard them!”  He dropped her hand, releasing the tree trunk, and broke into a run towards the horizon, shouting greetings to the distant voices.

Rhianon laughed, dashing after him, the sweet forest wind whistling past her. Even with the aid of the winds, she could hardly keep pace with him. Gortuul ran as if he was no longer a crippled Broken, no longer a man lost in darkness, but a much younger Draenei, drunk on life and happiness.

The run stopped as quickly as it started, however, as they broke through the tree line and faced the Edge of All Things, the seemingly endless ocean that cast its arms out towards the brilliant horizon. Silky sands clung to their hooves, sea breezes peppered their faces. Gortuul turned back to Rhianon, his jaw gaping. “The road ends here?”

She shook her head. “Not exactly.”

He frowned and casting his gaze out over the ocean. “I’m supposed to go over there. They’re all calling to me now.”

“I know.”  She walked up to his side, breathing in the salt air. “I can hear them too.” When Rhianon gazed down at the Broken’s face, she saw that it was streaked with tears and salt. She rested a hand on his arm. “Are you scared?” the shaman whispered.

He shook his head and wiped roughly at his eyes. “I just…I never wanted to bring my girls tears. My Sasha will be fine. She is strong…but my little Daevra…” He rubbed at his face again. “She will hurt over me. She is so much like her mother.”

Rhianon wrapped her arm around Gortuul. “I think Daevra is stronger than you realize. She sent me to you.”

The Broken glanced up at her. “She did?”

She nodded. “She wanted to make sure that you were safe. She was worried that you wouldn’t be able to find the light on your own. She loves you so much.”

Gortuul chuckled. “I know that. She never lets me forget it, silly girl.”  He sucked in a deep breath, taking one long, slow step towards the water, and then paused to look back at Rhianon. “Can you do one thing for me?”

“Of course. Do you want me to tell her that you love her too?”

He laughed and shook his head. “She already knows that. Just tell her, ‘then he smiled and swam out to join his ancestors.’”

And as Rhianon watched, Gortuul did just that.

*******

The weeping song of the Swamp reverberated in the air around her when she opened her eyes. She was sitting on a damp bank, hooves just inches from the murky water. Across the waving grasses and dark swamp waters, she could see the shining lanterns of the Harborage.  Rhianon stretched her legs out, her eyes searching for one specific pinprick of light amid the dozens, one that brightened a tent once home to a sorrow-faced Broken.

The moment she found the light, a single bobbing lantern nestled in a shadowed corner of the harborage, it winked out. Through the darkness, she thought she could make out figures slipping out of the tent, an extinguished lantern clutched between their hands – and over the low groaning of the swamp, she thought she heard muffled voices.

The shaman’s heart sunk in her chest and she bowed her head. Tears fought at the corners of her eyes; tears shed not for a fallen Krokul, but for the painful loss his absence would leave in its wake. As quickly as the sorrow swelled up in her chest, however, an old lesson came to her, a lesson she had already repeated once this evening.

“How can you bear this darkness?”

“I always think on brighter things, my student. The shadows only have the power we give them.”

The shaman stood up, dusting off her clothes. She would return to Stormwind where roaring fires, a warm meal, and her life awaited her. Death held enough sway already; she wasn’t about to give it any more.

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