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Shadows in the Valley, Part 1

Lirriel's picture

Moons and planets glowed overhead, making the smooth road as brightly lit as any day. Rhiswyn lounged in the back of the trader’s wagon, enjoying the ride as she watched the sky. She had been wanting to see the Draakorium and its fey drakes for weeks now, and this time while her darling was off in Auchindoun seemed perfect for such distractions.

The wagon pulled up short, the talbuks suddenly snorting and pawing as the old trader tried to calm them. Rhiswyn sat up and looked at the road ahead. A barricade and guard in leather armor stood in the way, an apologetic look on his broad blue face. “Sorry, friends. I cannot allow you into the Draakorium. There is a sickness here.”

As the old trader grumbled, Rhiswyn hopped out of the wagon. “A sickness? I am a healer, I might be able to lend some aid.”

The guard hesitated. “I would not wish to expose our new allies. It strikes the young; many hatchlings, and now several children, are ill.”

“I’ve never had issues with exposure,” Rhiswyn said, grinning.

The guard blinked. The trader smirked; he’d had two days to get used to the half-elf’s phrasing.

“The Light protects after all, dear,” Rhiswyn continued without pause. “You said it’s mostly affecting the hatchlings and children?” She grabbed her bags from the wagon bed.

The guard nodded.

“I see. Well, I assure you, dear, that I am all grown up. Perhaps I’ll even show you later, hrm?” She winked as she sauntered past the barricade, leaving the guard blushing a lovely shade of purple.

******

Her nose wrinkled reflexively as it found the familiar odor of sickness in the apothecary’s clinic. Half a dozen children lay in a bright, airy room. Gently pulsing warming crystals lined their bedframes. Their tiny, hacking coughs made her wince. The usually vibrant skin tones of the draenei were dulled, their hair limp around nubby horns and half-formed headcrests, their eye light dim. They shivered as they sweat, one little girl sobbing from the aches.

“Any idea as to the causes? This isn’t all of the children; others I saw seem perfectly healthy.” Rhiswyn asked the anchorite tending to the patients. She was a tall, dark-haired, pale-skinned beauty named D’lina. The anchorite shook her head.

“We haven’t determined how it’s communicated.” She watched Rhiswyn run glowing fingers over a little girl’s brow. “It seems resistant to the Light. I don’t know how that can be.”

Rhiswyn eyed the woman. There was something she could think of that resisted the Light, and it was surprising a draenei wouldn’t. D’lina seemed rather young, though.

“Well, then I shall try alchemy as well, and see if the combination doesn’t have an effect. Shall we, dear?” Rhiswyn rolled up her sleeves and went to work.

******

Two days later, Rhiswyn was no closer to finding a way to fight the illness in either the children or the hatchlings. The little dragons were being kept in a stable separate from the others, though it distressed their parents. The hatchlings’ scales were faded and dull, the shifting colors turning monochrome. Their symptoms were as mysteriously gained as the children’s.

Another three draenei children joined the sick room. The oldest boy, Ruukhan, curled into a ball as Rhiswyn tried to clean his face.

“My tummy hurts.”

“I know, dear. Just lie still; I’ll get you something—“

“The berries tasted funny,” he said. “Juala said so, but I didn’t notice at first. Maybe the sick makes food taste weird. I’m not hungry now.”

“Berries?” Rhiswyn looked across the room, where D’lina was trying to feed Juala. The girl had been one of the first to fall ill. She turned back to Ruukhan. “Dear, where are the berries?”

The boy hesitated, groaning. “We’re not s’posed to, but the hatchies really like ‘em…”

Rhiswyn leaned closer, lowering her voice. “You can tell me, dear, I’m not going to get anyone in trouble; I know hatchies need to keep their secrets.” She smiled, and he grinned back, but still wasn’t sure. “It may help everyone get better,” she added.

Juala coughed, tipping over the soup bowl, her thin body wracked for several moments while everyone watched. When it was over, and D’lina was cleaning the child, Ruukhan looked up at Rhiswyn. “By the river. They grow near the cliffs, in the shadowy bits where the dew collects in the mornings.”

Never underestimate the draenic altruistic streak. Rhiswyn pursed her lips. “Isn’t that awfully near the Botani territory, dear?”

“Yeah,” Ruukhan coughed, then heaved. Pink-tinged bile landed on Rhiswyn’s lap and dripped down her skirt. “S-sorry…”

She sighed, stroking his head. “It’s all right, dear. I have other dresses. Come on, I’ll need you to help me, all right?”

Rhiswyn cleaned the child—and herself—determined that once her shift in the ward was over, she was going to have to take a walk by the river.

After she changed clothes.

******

The planets and moons had long since sunk behind the hills and forests, leaving thousands of stars the only light for miles around. They were far more visible here than anywhere on Azeroth, Rhiswyn reflected as she strode down the path to the riverside. The priest had traded a long skirt for tight pants and an equally form-fitting long-sleeved top. She wore boots instead of her customary, easily-kicked-off flats. Rhiswyn infused her staff with the Light, holding it before her to watch the path and avoid tripping as she sought the children’s hidden prize.

She finally found them tucked in the shadows of the cliff side, the berries themselves faintly glowing a cheerful, glittery red. Rhiswyn pulled on gloves and took clippers out of her bag, as well as sample jars. She leaned her glowing staff against the rocky hillside.

“Fancy seeing you here,” a deep voice rumbled.

Rhiswyn looked over her shoulder and smiled at the guard from her first day at the Draakorium. “Hello again, dear. Not at the gate tonight?”

“Not my day, no. You are Rhiswyn Linder, yes?”

“Yes, dear. I’m afraid I didn’t catch your name.”

“Yshul,” he said, tramping closer. “The children told you about these berries? Lovely, aren’t’ they?”

“Indeed. Though I thought they were a secret.” She grinned and winked.

Yshul laughed. “A secret shared by every child here in the last two hundred years, perhaps! The guards and drakes watch over the younglings when they sneak down here. Children ought to explore, push limits, no?”

“Light knows I did,” Rhiswyn agreed.  “So these berries have been eaten by generations of draenei and drake alike?”

“Indeed. I often snuck down here with my own friends as a boy, not long after we first arrived on this world.”

Rhiswyn pursed her lips as she took a few soil samples as well. “And they seem healthy enough, no changes?”

“None I have seen.”

Rhiswyn looked across the river. The woods glowed gold, almost summery in their light. She shivered. “You say the guards do keep an eye on this spot, dear?”

“When the younglings are here,” Yshul said. “Or when we see interesting guests heading down the path.” He smiled down at her.

“So if, for example, the botani are affecting the berries, it may not have been noticed?”

 Yshul frowned, his own gaze turning across the water. “They have never done such before…but they are far more aggressive, ever since the Iron Horde began their march.”

“I suppose, then, that someone ought to look into that,” Rhiswyn said, putting her samples in her bag, along with the clippers and her gloves. She picked up her staff.

“My patrol ends at moonrise,” Yshul said. “I cannot leave the Draakorium unprotected—especially since several of my colleagues have sick children.”

Rhiswyn nodded. The Draakorium didn’t have a large community, and the majority of them were dedicated to the fey drakes and their direct supports. “Well. I suppose I cannot avoid it, then.”

“You would go in there? Alone?”

“The children and hatchlings are getting worse. More are falling sick. There doesn’t seem to be much choice, dear.” She looked up at him. “If I’m not back by morning, send word to Sir Dolraan at the Argent Crusade garrison. Tell him to find me—and ensure Standard Measures are taken. He’ll know what that means. And he can tell—oh, nevermind that part. He’ll understand. Just contact him.”

Yshul nodded, his brows knit in consternation. “Are you sure…?”

“No, dear, but that’s never stopped me before. I’m known for impetuosity,” Rhiswyn replied, squaring her shoulders and marching toward the Blademoon Bloom.

Comments

Seler's picture

(( Love it! Can't wait for

(( Love it! Can't wait for part 2. :D))