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Chance Encounter

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“Hullo, Miz F’Sharri,” the Argent flight handler smiled, taking the reins of Aerie’s grand gryphon. “Haven’t seen you in a while.”

Aerie stretched, working out the kinks from the long flight. “It’s that time of year again,” she said. The sun was shining, but there was a chill in the air and clouds piled on the horizon, bringing with them the scent of an incoming autumn rain.

The handler nodded. “I guess you know the way. I’ll take care of this gal in the meanwhile.”

Aerie turned away from the flight point as a bat swooped down, looking for its own roost. The hunter stepped onto the path that led around the Light’s Hope Chapel, to the cemetery.

~~~
“One of you better start explaining!” Aerie said, a hand on each of her brothers’ chests. She barely came up to each man’s chin—when the hell had little Devlin gotten so tall and broad, to compete with Bryce’s size and strength?

Devlin only glowered, his hands balled into fists, every muscle tense. Bryce spoke up first. “Nothing for you to worry about, Aerie.”

“My brothers are brawling behind the bakery when Mother’s expecting us all home for the festival feasts. I’d say it’s a worry. Your uniform’s torn, Bryce.”

He looked down and swore. The colors of the king’s royal guard were covered in dust, and the sleeve would need serious care. It was not the impression he wanted to make on his first leave home since gaining his position.

Aerie turned to look at Devlin. There was a trembling in his clenched jaw, and his eyes shone. “Got your schoolbooks, hun?” Aerie asked gently. He blinked rapidly, bewildered, and then shook his head.

“He doesn’t have them cuz he was too busy making out with that Ogilvy boy—“

“Bryce Magrall! Get your uniform in order and get home!” She pointed her finger in his face, the way their mother did when giving an order. Bryce shut up and backpedaled. “And don’t you say a word—“

“Why would I?” Bryce gave Devlin one last look before turning away. Their parents still didn’t know about Devlin’s romantic leanings. Aerie and Bryce both kept quiet, until Devlin was ready.

Aerie let out a breath, brushing her curly brown hair from her face. “He must still hold a grudge from his training if he’s pissy about you seein’ Ogilvy’s brother. He give you the ‘he’ll break your heart’ speech? Think he did that for every guy I even looked at, ‘til Commer proposed. Hell, he still gives Commer a hard time…”

“It wasn’t that,” Devlin said. “Well, not entirely that, anyway.” He rubbed his scraped knuckles. “I’m the heartbreaker this time; that was a goodbye kiss.” Devlin sighed.

“What do you mean?” Aerie asked.

“I’m going south, too.” Devlin sat on the low stone fence that separated the baker’s yard from Brill’s cemetery. “Maybe I’ll even be able to visit you and Commer, when you move down there with him.”

Aerie sat next to him. “Dev, what are you talking about?”

“I’m going to Stormwind, too—but I’m going with the Silver Hand. That’s why Bryce is mad.”

“You’re going to be a paladin?” On the one hand, she’d have her baby brother near her. On the other, he’d be training hard for something potentially dangerous.

“Going to try. The Brothers here think I have a chance, I’ve been studying the Light with them forever, and…I want this. More than anything else I’ve wanted.”

They sat in silence for several minutes. “He’s not really mad at you, you know,” she finally said.

“Yeah. I know. He’s just…”

“Scared.”

“Scared?” Devlin looked surprised. “When is Bryce scared of anything?”

“Oh, hun; Bryce takes his big brother role seriously. But he can’t watch out for us when we’re half a world away.” Aerie let a mischievous smile spread across her face. “That, and we’re leaving him here with Mother.”

Devlin failed to hold back his snort of laughter. The siblings giggled for several minutes before Aerie stood, urging Devlin to follow. She helped him dust off and straighten his clothes.

Bryce was waiting for them on the corner near their father’s shop. He was cleaner, and he had tried to hide the tear on his sleeve, though his eye was bruising already. He let out a long sigh and threw an arm around Devlin’s shoulder for a quick hug before shoving the youngest Magrall away again.

The trio walked home together, but Bryce seemed to lag a little behind, hands shoved in his pockets, watching Devlin tease Aerie about her fiancé.

~~~
The smell of burnt ozone and Aerie’s hair standing on end announced Trark’s presence. The lightning worg paced at the gate to the Light’s Hope cemetery, whining. Aerie gave his head a rub, wondering why and how he’d followed her; she had left all of her companions back in Elwynn. Her spirit beasts seemed to do what they wanted, though, and she could still sense the other two faintly in the back of her mind, alongside the closer connection to the lightning worg. Aerie didn’t mind the company as she entered the cemetery.

Unlike the rest of the Eastern Plaguelands, the grounds around the blessed chapel were healthy, consecrated by the Light in a way few other places ever were or could be. The grass was green, birds chirped, and evidence of flowers from the warmer months dotted the lawn. Now, leaves turned and fell as normal over the holy ground.

Aerie walked along the rows of marble. On her right, Trark stiffened and growled; more of an alert than warning. Aerie put a hand on the worg’s head as she looked around to see what had caught the beast’s attention. The only thing in sight was a stooped, cloaked figure stepping off the path into another row of graves.

“It’s all right, Trark. Just another visitor. We ain’t starting a fight on Argent property,” Aerie warned. She tugged on his ear as she resumed walking. The spirit beast gave the cloaked figure a long look before following, sparks snapping and hackles still raised, an uneasy feeling pinging in the back of Aerie’s mind.

~~~
“I want to ask Mother to move to Elwynn with me and Lirri,” Aerie said. She had to raise her voice; the bar was crowded, noisy, and far too cheerful to her mind. ‘We buried our father today!’ she imagined shouting to the room. ‘Can’t you keep it down?’

Bryce’s thick brows drew into a downward arrow as he set down his half-empty mug. “That’s a long way, and far from anything she’d find familiar. We don’t see you girls enough as it is; why don’t you move back home instead?”

“Mother’s visited plenty of times; she even has friends in Goldshire. Our home is in Elwynn—“

“Home is here, Aerie,” her older brother insisted. “Commer’s dead, Lormar’s jailed, and their old uncle’s passed on. You want to help Mother, return to Brill. You know it’s a good place to raise a little girl, especially with you on your own now.”

“It isn’t that simple,” Aerie said.

“Why the hell not?”

Devlin leaned forward. “Bryce, we discussed this.”

Aerie looked between her brothers. “Discussed what?”

Bryce grumbled and drained his mug. “Ask her if you want then,” he said, dropping enough coins to cover the tab, and then some. “I’m going outside. Need some air.”

Aerie turned to Devlin once Bryce wove between the patrons and out of sight. “Care to fill me in?”

“Bryce is being Bryce,” Devlin said. “He was going on about it, the days before Pop’s funeral. He worries about you and Lirri, so far away. He can’t take care of you there, and now he’s worried about Mother.”

“We don’t need protecting, and he sends us more money and gifts than he probably should—“

“It’s not the same,” Devlin said. “I have more freedom to travel than a royal guard does, but my duties…lead me away from Elwynn, more often than not.”

Aerie nodded. It didn’t seem like paladins got much time off to visit. “Lirri has a talent for the Light too, you know,” Aerie said. “The abbey there…I think she can learn much.”

“The heart of the Church remains here in Lordaeron, but the Silver Hand trains new members in the south,” Devlin mused. “I’ve talked to Lirri a little. Despite being so young, she does have a strong connection to the Light. If she wants to test as a paladin—when she’s old enough—then she should. We’ll see; I was entirely honest with her.”

“I hope you didn’t scare her, Dev.”

“I rather hope I did.” He gave Aerie a strange smile that she couldn’t quite read; that never used to happen. She used to always know what Devlin was thinking.

Devlin took a small sip from his cup. “You should find Bryce, make sure he can still stand—and call him a fool while hugging him for being such an older brother.”

Aerie laughed as she stood, making certain she was steady herself before seeking Bryce to do just what Devlin suggested.

~~~
Aerie finally reached her destination, one more stone among rows of others. She could swear from the way he cocked his head that Trark was reading the inscription on the headstone. It wouldn’t surprise her, anyway.

Trark whined a little and rubbed against her legs, static jolts jumping through Aerie. She swore and shoved the worg away. His tongue lolled out in amusement, and he trotted down the grave row, leaving her alone in the empty graveyard. She could sense he was on a mission, but she couldn’t tell what. So long as he stayed out of trouble.

Aerie took her offerings out of her pack; the Argents kept the graves neat. Clouds rolled in from the sea and the wind picked up as she began her prayers.

~~~
The Scourge had destroyed Lordaeron quickly; Stormwind had no time to react. Gossip and rumor spread like wild fires in high summer. The refugees’ tales were incoherent—once they were allowed near civilization, proven clean of the Plague.

Aerie left the crowds packed in the Lion’s Pride Inn. There was nothing but gossip, rumor, conjecture—few solid facts, and no specifics to hear.

King Terenas was dead—by the prince’s own hand! If the king was dead, then so were his guards. There was no other option. Bryce would not survive his king’s death. Her older brother was always a protector, always a fighter…always there…

She was tearing open, a chasm forming in her chest at the thought of Bryce dead at the prince’s feet, his soul consumed by the terrible blade the survivors said Arthas now carried. The other option—

No. Absolutely not. Bryce would never let such a thing happen. He either survived, or he died—and stayed that way. Aerie continued to push toward home.

There was an unfamiliar horse in her front yard, covered in the blue and silver barding of the Silver Hand. Heart pounding, Aerie rushed into the house. “Devlin?!”

A dirty, weary man she’d never seen before looked up at her from the table, eating soup Lirriel had placed in front of him. The adolescent girl looked at her mother, her already pale face white as snow. Aerie followed her gaze to the fireplace.

Moirina Magrall was curled in her rocking chair, clutching a gold-chased libram to her chest, staring into nothing as silent tears slid down her sunken cheeks. Aerie turned back to the knight.

The man cleared his throat and stood up, leaning a little on the table. “I’m Sir Brandyn. I..fought with your brother Devlin, under Lord Tyrosus. We were charged with moving the bodies of Lordaeron’s heroes to a new resting place, so the Scourge could not…”

He took a breath. “Devlin Magrall fell, protecting our lord. He’s been interred with the rest of the fallen, at a little chapel in the far eastern reaches of the kingdom. They’re calling it Light’s Hope,” Sir Brandyn said, bitterly at the end.

“What about the king’s guard?” Aerie asked through the thickness in her throat. “Did any of them…”

Moirina made a strange sound; Aerie could not recall hearing her mother sob before. Lirri went to her grandmother, who seemed to see the girl for once. Aerie stayed in the doorway, staring at the knight.

“I’m sorry,” Sir Brandyn said, looking away. “So far as I know, they were killed to a man. The capital’s in ruins. We never really had the chance to search.”

“Thank you,” Aerie said. “You should stay the night…”

“There’s space at the abbey,” he said quickly. He gave her a weary smile. “Thank you, though…I’m sorry, again.”

Aerie nodded stiffly, and went to her mother’s side. ‘It was Mother’s first good day in so long after the apothecary said there’s nothing to do but keep her comfortable this is going to take the fight out of her…’

The illness eating away at Moirina’s mind and body ended a few months later while she was giving Aerie instructions on how to make things ready for Papa and the boys to come home, believing herself back at the old shop in Brill. She never comprehended that place was gone.

~~~
Aerie prayed before Devlin Magrall’s tombstone. Every year, she made this pilgrimage to commemorate the day Sir Brandyn had come to her door. He had promised to let her know if he learned anything at all about Bryce, but the knight had vanished after their singular meeting. Her own investigations had turned up nothing except near run-ins with Tirisfal’s undead guards; her tribute at Devlin’s grave would have to serve for both brothers.

Aerie pushed herself to her feet, wincing at her aching knees and the knot in her back. She whistled for Trark, mentally calling out to him at the same time.

He was with the robed figure from earlier, backing whoever it was against a mausoleum wall. The worg was trying to be friendly. Not that whoever the robed person was could know that, when set upon by a rather large, lightning-crackling creature.

“Trark! Leave ‘em alone!” Aerie called as she strode forward. The robed figure cringed away from her; she caught a glimpse of witchlight eyes and a desiccated hand. “We ain’t fighting the Forsaken here today. Back off! Now!” She clapped her hands once, the sound loud in the quiet cemetery.

Trark whined, sitting directly in front of the Forsaken, looking between it and Aerie. The Forsaken growled. In Aerie’s mind came the impression of a ‘right’ scent coming off the undead man, confusing the spirit creature. It made no sense to her either.

“Sorry…he’s normally better behaved,” Aerie said. The man might be a walking corpse, but he might also be an Argent Crusader for all she knew. The tentative truce between the Horde and the Alliance during the war with Hellscream accorded some respect—and the Light’s Hope Chapel was neutral ground regardless. “I guess he’s curious.”

The Forsaken said nothing, his covered head down, frame stiffly ready for combat. Trark continued to sit less than two feet away, his nose snuffling. Aerie tried to listen for any clues over the mental connection the worg shared with her, but that same confusion and curiosity was all she got. On a good day with any of the spirit beasts it was mostly emotions and impressions anyway; the bear came the closest to actual words, and Trark wasn’t nearly so old or conversant.

A light drizzle began to fall. The silence stretched on. Aerie shifted on her feet. “I’m Aerella F’Sharri,” she finally said. “Used to be Magrall—I was from Brill once, folks had a shop there. Maybe you heard of it?” She might as well be conversational.

The Forsaken nodded once, slowly, still looking away from her. Despite being stooped and covered, he must have been a big man in life, even compared to her own small frame.

“My baby brother was a paladin; he’s buried over there, Light rest him. I just came up to visit. Sorry if we disturbed your own remembrances.”

The man shook his head once, shivering slightly as the rain fell harder. Did Forsaken feel the wet and cold the same as the living did? From under the hood came a raspy, grating sound; he was speaking. Trying to, anyway.

“You…get inside.” He briefly jerked his hand toward the chapel.

“Yeah, I really oughta.” She ran her hand over her greying, curly hair. “You all right out here yourself? I mean, once I get my worg out of your face. Trark, really, come on.”

Trark jumped to his feet, a burst of electricity snapping toward the Forsaken. The undead fell back, startled. His robes fell open, revealing battered Deathguard’s armor. He pulled a short sword part way from his scabbard and hissed at Trark. The beast snarled in response, the curiosity overwhelmed by possible threat.

“Stay!” Aerie barked, vocally and mentally. Trark lurched in place and growl-whined, still staring at the Forsaken. “I told you to back off!” Aerie scolded as she strode forward. She put a hand on her companion’s neck and looked at the Forsaken. “I am so sorry, honest, I dunno—“

His hood had fallen back. He looked down at Aerie, resignation in his glowing eyes. A few scraggly dark hairs clung to his brow while the rest of his head was bare. His lower jaw was mostly replaced with bands of metal, explaining the raspy, halting voice. He wore the Dark Lady’s sigil, but his sword and scabbard were those of a Lordaeron royal guardsman.

Even in death, she knew his face.

“...Bryce?” She whispered. In the back of her mind, Trark realized why the scent seemed ‘right.’ He whined a greeting—he’d been a living puppy the last time he had seen the eldest Magrall.

The Deathguard sighed and pulled his hood back up. “C-old,” he growled, not looking at her. “Get…inside, Aerie.”

Her face crumpled as he said her name. Despite the restrictive metal, despite the rasp, it was Bryce’s voice. They were Bryce’s eyes behind the unnatural glow. “I thought you were…I’d hoped you—why didn’t—how—“ The rain hid her tears, but not her shaking. She raised her hand—was he even real?

He caught her hand in his; his touch was icy, the palm squishy but the fingers bony; she cringed, trying to pull away. His grip had none of his old warmth, but all of his strength—perhaps more. “Go. Home,” he said, pushing her away. His torn upper lip pulled into a sneer, showing sharp teeth. “Stormwind.”

“Stormwind is home. Stormwind kept us safe…I wish you had—“ ‘Had kept us safe, had come with us, had stayed dead…’ “Bryce, don’t go, please!”

“Have to,” he said. His lips curled up again. “Never…needed me…”

“Yes I did,” she whispered. “I do. You’re my brother.”

The Forsaken’s metal jaw squealed as he ground his teeth. He pointed at Aerella. “For the...Alliance,” he snarled. He then stood as straight as he could. His fist thumped the sigil he wore. “Victory…for Sylvanas.”

The internal chasm that she had so carefully covered over the years tore open again. Aerie backed up as he stalked away, out of the cemetery and around the corner of the chapel. A few moments later a bat squawked and flew overhead, winging its way to Undercity.

Aerie found herself at Devlin’s grave again. She dropped against the stone, the rain seeping in through her clothes. Trark whined an apology as she sobbed.

********

((Done messing with this one for now. Revised with help from Echo and Acelynn. Hopefully I fixed some of the previous issues without creating worse ones! The original version can be found here.))