This is a WarCraft III fanfic, so there are moderate spoilers inside.
This work by no means pretends to be part of the canon.
All rights on the names in the text belong to Blizzard Entertainment.
Sylvannas Windrunner stood on a hill and stared west waiting for the messenger the High Mage Antonidas spoke about. It wasn't as if she wanted to but diplomatic relationships were highest priority even during the war. And no one cared about the fact that this madman Arthas' attacks became more frequent each day, Elven reinforcements delayed and the closer the Death Knight came to Quel'Thalas, the colder and thinner the air around it became… Sylvannas shrugged off the annoying thoughts and peered west again, just like a hundred times before.
And just as if the Holy Light heard her thoughts, something stirred in the wilderness of the forest. She didn't see anything, but her ears quickly caught up a sound she has almost started considering natural in the last weeks - the sound of battle. With a frustrated sigh, Sylvannas pulled her bow from the back and recalled the map of the area. It looked like the messenger was going to need some assistance…
But suddenly, the sounds stopped. For the first time, Sylvannas though of the messenger with something other than annoyance - to take out an entire undead patrol, that was admirable. And she was sure of this now, since the ghouls had a lovely habit of devouring the dead bodies of the slain enemies, loudly crushing bones and muscular tissues with their rotten teeth… But right now, there was silence.
She picked up light footsteps of the messenger when he was a few hundred steps away. A dozen steps closer, she recognized that he was ought to be an Elf. Or a human woman. A woman single-handedly eliminating a ghoul squad? Not like Sylvannas couldn't pull it off herself, but to think that someone else could be just as good and that this someone is another woman was disturbing, to say the least. And in a few minutes, the messenger appeared out of the trees encircling the hill and the last doubt was gone.
The woman was tall (although not tall enough to give men around an inferiority complex, Sylvannas though with a little jealousy) and slender, moving with that special kind of grace that only the professional dancers and warriors possess. She wore plain men's clothes, which were miraculously white considering the trouble with the ghouls she got into just a couple of minutes ago, and an amethyst cloak covered with arcane symbols with a hood obscuring her face. But even before the woman down the hill lowered it, Sylvannas knew who was in front of her.
“Miss Jaina Proudmoore, I presume?”
“Yes,” Jaina's voice was deep and soft, as if she was performing in the Royal Opera for years. But a mage's voice is ought to be like this, considering all the spells and incantations they have to learn, guessed Sylvannas, fighting back an unexpected surge of jealousy. Jaina lowered the hood and revealed a pretty face and a strange testing gaze of her blue eyes with something unidentifiable flickering deep behind them… “A pleasure to meet you, Lady Sylvannas Windrunner.”
“The pleasure is all mine,” Sylvannas replied, wondering how Jaina knew her name. Either Antonidas told her who composed the welcome committee or…
“No-no, my powers of far-seeing are moderate, at best,” Jaina noticed the puzzled expression on her face and smiled. “I just figured out that only one woman in Quel'Thalas can walk the forests nowadays alone and armed with a mere bow…”
“I see. But I guess, now there are two of us… I mean the undead that attacked you down in the clearing.”
“Oh, that…” Jaina's expression suddenly hardened, but Sylvannas noticed that behind the disgust in her eyes, there was something else, some secret, tormenting pain… “Those pathetic creatures weren't a lot to care about. I wonder why Arthas put such here in the first place.”
“This path is considered safe,” Sylvannas pointed out coldly. “Was considered safe, at least, until you showed up.”
“I apologize, Lady Sylvannas, I didn't intend on putting your intelligence work in question.”
“Apology accepted. Wouldn't it be nicer for us to continue our dialogue elsewhere?”
“As you wish, General. As of now, I'm temporarily under your command.”
As the two of them walked back to the Elven base, hidden so deep in the woods that even Arthas' spies apparently knew nothing of it, Sylvannas couldn't stop thinking what Jaina's last words meant. Has Antonidas assigned her to Sylvannas base as a kind of reinforcement? Then why has he called her “a messenger”? What was her message? Somehow, Sylvannas hesitated to ask the sorceress about it. And Jaina walked in silence, too.
After they arrived at the base, Sylvannas entrusted her guest (she decided thus after a long consideration) to the servants and moved straight to the command post.
“Report,” she ordered quietly to the lieutenant on duty. There was no need to shout here.
“No news, General. The undead are stills searching the woods for the last Runestone, but we have it secured for the time. Prince Arthas hasn't left the base since the last attack so we don't know what he's up to. The far-seers reported some activity on the west path half an hour ago, but they cannot say anything for sure. I sent a squad for clean up, just in case. Do you want them to pull back?”
“No, lieutenant, let them do their job and keep the observation up,” Sylvannas leaned back on a chair and closed her eyes. Somehow, she felt tired. It was the fourth base she had to set up after that Arthas came ravaging the woods… And probably, the last, as well. Next stop would be Silvermoon. She wondered how many fights Jaina has been through, how many homes she had to abandon. But again, she hesitated to go and ask…
In the meanwhile, Jaina was exploring the camp. It was a standard Elven ranger base, quickly erected and quick abandoned; easy come, easy go. She even felt sorry for the Elves, having to abandon what they have just built and build up again only to abandon it in a few days. It was a vicious circle Arthas put them in, Jaina thought and clenched her teeth. “Do not think of Arthas, Jaina. Don't. Arthas is dead. Killed along with poor Muradin on the icy Northernd…” That helped but she knew it was only for a while.
“Do you need something, M'lady?” her guide asked, breaking the silence.
“Yes, please…” Jaina wondered what she was supposed to ask. Then she noticed the sun already setting down behind the trees. “I will have to stay here for the night. Is there a place for me to sleep?”
“I think so, M'lady, but I will have to check first.”
“Of course, do it right away, please.”
The servant strode off and then Jaina was alone again. As she wondered the camp aimlessly, she couldn't help it but to admire the courage and resilience of Sylvannas and her Elves. Despite constantly being driven back, her small hunter squads were dealing the monstrous undead army more damage than all forces of Lordaeron combined. And even more astoundingly, Sylvannas managed to evade death in dozens of deadly traps the undead set for her. Jaina tried to imagine herself leading an army or even a small band of rangers into battle, and shivered at the thought of it. No, she wasn't a General. She was neither a good warrior, nor a good leader. Andorhal and Stratholme made it pretty clear. She shivered again, fighting back unwanted tears.
“M'lady?” The guide waited silently for a minute for her to notice him before interrupting Jaina's thoughts.
“Yes, sorry… What have you found out?”
“I am really sorry, M'lady, but there is no place to rest in the camp… Due to space deficit, we've been having all kinds of uncomfortabilities… The smaller the camp, the easier it is to keep it hidden… But if M'lady wishes, I could arrange some soldiers or servants to sleep outside…”
“Don't worry,” Jaina gave the servant a reassuring smile. “I'm used to sleeping in the woods now. And you people should have all your strength in case Arthas attacks.”
“But it is absolutely unacceptable, M'lady!” protested the servant. “It is too dangerous! There is another possibility, however…”
“Such as?” Jaina raised her brow.
“The General's marquee has enough place for two people, however, it is Lady Sylvannas' right to share it with no one…”
“I guess I'll have to go and ask, then. Thank you.”
“You are welcome, Lady Jaina.”
Jaina dismissed the servant and approached the command post. Somehow, she felt more than timid about disturbing her host during an important strategy discussion or tactical planning with an unashamed request to share Sylvannas' private tent with her… The closer she came to the post, the slower her pace became and it took almost an effort to enter it. Jaina looked around the room, noticing a lieutenant on duty and two other rangers peering at the map of the region. She searched for Sylvannas and found her in the far corner with her eyes closed and muscles relaxed.
“Great. Now I have to wake her up, on top of things”. Her natural shyness, this curse of hers she was born with, made her stand there stupidly looking at the green-clad figure of Sylvannas and not daring to move in her direction. She didn't have a slightest doubt, that even if the camp were to be invaded by the undead, Sylvannas would be the first to react. And probably the first to bring down a couple of ghouls before others, including Jaina, manage to grab the weapons.
“How long are you going to stare at me, miss Proudmoore?” suddenly asked Sylvannas, eyes still closed, and Jaina blushed as the officers turned to her, noticing she was there for the first time. “Did you need something?”
“No… I mean, yes, I do… In fact…”
“You - dismissed, I'll keep the watch,” Sylvannas commanded to the officers who obeyed immediately. Her green eyes were now mustering Jaina. “So, what was it?”
“You see, I have to stay here overnight, but there is no place here and the servants won't allow me to sleep outside, although I don't want to cause any trouble to your corps…”
“So you would like to ask me to share my tent with you,” this wasn't even a question.
“Be my guest, then.”
“Really?” Jaina stared at Sylvannas in disbelief who gave her a faint smile.
“Really. Like I care… I'm stuck here until midnight now, anyway…”
“Just beat it, will you… You don't mind me calling you Jaina, would you?”
“No, of course, not.”
“Nice. It's Sylvannas and Jaina, then.”
“Thank you.” It was the only thing to say that Jaina could think about. The familiarity of Sylvannas was unexpected, but somehow, she really didn't mind. This Sylvannas was much more likable than the icy lady she met out in the forest… “Thank you very much.”
Sylvannas grimaced and turned around to peer at the maps. She heard Jaina leave, just as she heard her come, and then she leaned back on her chair again. She wondered, why was it that this woman - no, this girl - has so quickly softened her heart. Was it something in her behavior? In her appearance? The idea of Jaina being a spy assigned to her was absurd for Arthas was never known to ascend to such methods of warfare and what could possibly lure the most powerful sorceress ever born to the side of the undead? These questions seemed endless, but in the end, she concluded that in the first place, it was Jaina's voice that charmed her.
Ever since her childhood, Sylvannas dreamed of singing. To perform for the Royal Operas of Quel'Thalas, Dalaran, Lordaeron… To travel from the northern Lordaeron to the southern Azeroth… To receive love letters and poems written by romantic boys of all ages in a hope to draw her attention… Childhood's dreams, as she realized now, typical for any adolescent girl, be she of human or Elven origin. Now she saw that her place was here, using her talents to protect what she loved - her homeland, her city and her people. Just like Alleria did. Sylvannas forced herself not to think about it, fighting the tears back. But one passion remained, she thought. The passion to have a voice good enough to earn the applause of all peoples of Azeroth. Just like Jaina's one. This was her little private secret that no one ever knew about.
When Sylvannas returned to her tent past midnight, Jaina was already sleeping. She looked at her peaceful face and started undressing. Jaina may look cute and helpless now, but even her limited magic abilities were enough to sense the titanic aura of power around her. This power was wild and untamed now, Sylvannas wasn't even sure that the sorceress was even aware of it, but once she learns to use it… She doubted that even the demons of the ancient legends would stand a chance then!
Jaina muttered something in the sleep, turning to the wall. Sylvannas slipped under her blanket, thinking about the servants who have probably managed to discover her decision to allow Jaina to sleep in her tent and to organize a sleeping place for her in the short time while the sorceress walked here from the command post. Or have they known what her decision is going to be from the beginning? One never knows…
She turned away from Jaina, facing the other wall of the tent, and thought that magic was yet another thing that the human girl bested her in. Jaina was the most capable sorceress alive and she, Sylvannas of the ancient clan of Windrunners, wasn't even capable of summoning an Air Elemental! One good thing was that Jaina never summoned the Power of the Air. She heard that her strength lied with the element of Water - probably, because her father was an admiral. Magic is a family thing, after all…
“Sylvannas, are you sleeping?” Jaina's voice was an almost inaudible whisper.
“Not yet. What is it, Jaina?”
“For how long have you fought these wars?..”
“What is it, a bedtime talk? Long enough, first the Orcs, now the Undead…”
“Ever since I was born,” Sylvannas smiled grimly. “And believe me, you don't want to know how long ago that was…”
“I'm sorry… I was just wondering, why do you do that…”
“Do what? Fighting? Because I have nothing else I can do. None of my family can.”
“My father was a Grand Admiral of Lordaeron, but that doesn't mean that…”
“And yet you, a sorceress of Dalaran and the best student of Antonidas, have been there in Brill, Andorhal and Stratholme, fighting, killing…”
That was a step too far. Sylvannas cursed under her breath as she heard a silent sob from the other side of the tent. Then another one. And before she knew it, Jaina was weeping like a child. Sylvannas has never learned how to act in such situation for she has never been in one. So she turned towards Jaina and said the first thing what came across her mind in that second:
“Tell me about him. Tell me about Arthas.”
And for some reason, that was the right thing to say. Jaina was too astounded to keep crying and for the time, it was all that mattered.
“You want me to tell you about… But don't you hate him?”
“I don't know. Though he hates me for sure,” Sylvannas gave her another grim smile, as Jaina turned her face to her. “The intelligence reports him swearing by the name of the Lich King to kill me personally and exact some kind of terrible revenge… That was just after the breach of the first Gate. Huh, like I care… But you definitely need to share your memories with someone, Jaina. You can't carry that burden all in yourself, trust me.”
Sylvannas was surprised herself hearing herself saying such things, even more so Jaina. What, in the name of Twisting Nether, was wrong with her? Where has she picked up this motherly tone, these soothing intonations? She could but wonder. But Jaina was staring at her with such admiration, her blue eyes shining so brightly… And then she started telling.
It was a strange but Sylvannas didn't mind hearing the story. It was even funny to compare what she saw of the black-clad cold-hearted Death Knight with the accursed sword of his and the person Jaina knew from her childhood. What force could have made such thing to a living being? He was gentle, Jaina told her, skipping words and rushing sentences, he was kind to everyone, even to Kael, another childhood friend, who competed for her heart, as well. These two spent entire nights writing poems and serenades to express their admiration for her… And the other nights when they performed those serenades under her windows, taking turns until the Palace Guard chased them off.
In the end, she chose Arthas because he was… Jaina stopped for a moment. He was gentler, she simply said at last. Kael was often smarter and stronger, but Arthas had something in him that made him different, different from other people. But in the end, it didn't really matter whom she chose, after all. When an invitation from Dalaran came, she didn't hesitate long. That's when Arthas joined the Paladins. Jaina often wondered, whether he hadn't end up this way if she had stayed with him back then? If they got married and had kids? Would that have prevented that terrible night at Stratholme?..
Jaina was still sobbing uncontrollably, as she finished her tale. Sylvannas lay silently, looking into Jaina's eyes. She somehow failed to notice when the two of them drew nearer to each other, their faces now being only a few inches apart. But that didn't matter.
- Listen, Jaina, and listen carefully. Your Arthas, the boy you remember, is dead. Now there is nothing to be done about it. The man out there is not your Arthas - he is a namesake, nothing more. And one more thing - everyone chooses his own mistakes. I don't know about fate or whatever, but the mistakes we make are ours by right. And no one may blame oneself for the mistakes Arthas made. Not even you.
- Thank you, Sylvannas, thank you so much… I'm sorry you had to hear all this…
- Don't worry, - Sylvannas smiled. For some reason, she was happy, for the first time in many days. - That's the duty of a good leader to keep the spirits up.
And as Jaina stared at her with those shining eyes of hers, a crazy thought crossed Sylvannas' mind. She drew even closer to her and kissed her smiling lips.
It wasn't like anything she experienced before. Sylvannas had a plenty of lovers in her life, shy youths and experienced ladies' men, but none of them answered her kiss with such passion, such tenderness. She suddenly thought that her entire war knowledge is worth nothing compared with this one kiss… And as Jaina didn't pull away, Sylvannas stretched her arms and embraced the sorceress. Later, she vaguely remembered the satisfaction she felt, as if all Jaina's talents she was so jealous of were rightfully hers as long as she held her…
For a moment, when Sylvannas kissed her, Jaina thought of Arthas, their first kiss, how young and inexperienced they were back then… But then it was long ago, she thought, and for the first time she remembered Arthas without guilt. The memories stopped torturing her after Sylvannas' words. And so a moment later she answered the kissed with all the passion, all the gratitude she had and when the Elfine embraced her, Jaina answered her caresses.
Sylvannas woke up early in the morning, smiling to herself. Jaina still slept. She looked at her body, her soft skin, pale because of countless hours spent in the library… Jaina was a natural princess, and princesses shouldn't be allowed to risk their lives in war. But what should a princess do after her prince is gone? That's why she, Sylvannas, is going to be her prince now. She smiled again at the stupidity of her own thoughts. Something has definitely changed in her this night but right now she had to go check the posts. She got dressed quickly and left the tent.
“Report,” she ordered quietly to the officer on duty. She didn't feel like speaking loudly to anyone.
“Disturbing news, General. The undead are on the move, however, we cannot figure out what they a planning to do. We've picked first signs of activity in their camp an hour ago but they've only made a move now. But the sight of it they are going to assault the Gate.”
“Pointless,” cut him Sylvannas. “The Gates won't open whatever monsters they bring with them. Where is Arthas?”
“Still no sight of him, General.”
“That proves it. It's a decoy attack and he'll certainly lead the main one. We wait.”
“And order additional patrols on all the ways leading here and to the Runestone.”
“And, of course, all the perimeters go on red alert.”
The officer strode off, as others poured in the room longing for the orders. As she told them the details on their positions and formations, she couldn't stop thinking of Jaina still sleeping in her tent and not knowing about the danger. In the end, she dismissed the officers wishing them good luck and sprinted to the marquee. Jaina was already awake.
“What's going on, Syl?”
“The undead are on the move. I'm afraid that they've rooted us out and are coming this way.”
In a moment's notice, Jaina was on her feet dressed and ready for battle.
“Requesting a permission to enter the battle on your side, General.”
Jaina stared at her in disbelief.
“You stay here, Jaina, and if things get nasty, you get away and inform Silvermoon that the undead breached through. And that they should request reinforcements from Dalaran. That's an order.”
“But I can't,” Jaina said breathlessly.
“Look, Jaina,” Sylvannas embraced her, pressing cheek to cheek, “whatever happened between us, whatever you and I are feeling, there is absolutely no point for you to die out here. And don't worry about me, I've managed so far.”
“But the message…” Jaina looked very pale. “The message I was supposed to deliver to Silvermoon from Dalaran… It said that Quel'Thalas must hold at least another week for the Mages to pull all their powers together. If Silvermoon falls, the undead will have a clear road to Dalaran. Except for the Orc reservations, maybe…”
“Well, I guess we'll have to hold this ground for a little bit longer.”
“But you said…”
“I only said, that we are operating at the last and the most powerful layer of defense. And that if something happens I want you to escape safely. I'll find you afterwards.”
“Do you promise?”
“I will, if you promise to follow my order.
“I promise,” said Jaina after a pause.
“So do I,” smiled Sylvannas. “And now go, find yourself a nice spot.”
She followed Jaina outside and then they split up.
“General, intelligence reports that Prince Arthas has left the undead camp, but they have no idea when and in which direction. The camp looks deserted.”
“That's bad. They are preparing for a head on assault. Have you got any reports from the Runestone?”
“Yes, the path is clear, no threat detected.”
“I know where the attack will commence. Prepare all you men to leave.”
As they left the camp, Sylvannas saw Jaina.
“I have,” Sylvannas nodded. As she disappeared in the forest, she felt Jaina's warm gaze on her back.
Jaina wasn't good at far seeing. But this time something told her that it is going to work. The Runestone was half an hour of walk away. When Sylvannas appeared out of the forest, the troops greeted her like a goddess of victory. She was beautiful, moving like a hawk among the rangers, boosting their morale with jokes, reassurances and simply kind words. And then the onslaught came.
The problem was that it came perfectly simultaneous on the Runestone, the Gate and the ranger camp. Jaina thought to have caught a glimpse of Arthas before the waves of ghouls and other abominations stormed the defenses. There were simply too many of them. The Elves were putting a good deal of a fight but in a long run even a dozen of Jaina's Elementals wouldn't have stopped the enemies. Somehow, she still maintained contact with Sylvannas, at least, she heard her ordering to retread to the base. The next thing she remembered was Sylvannas, her face covered with blood from a wound on the forehead, emerging out of the forest with a handful of troops.
“Everyone, fall back to the Gate!” Sylvannas shouted. And then she saw Jaina: “Jaina, I don't care what happens next, I want you out of here, now. Do you copy?”
“I don't care. Get out!”
“But you promised to…”
“And I will. Now, go!”
And before she could answer, Sylvannas strode forth, taking the remaining rangers to the Gate in the last desperate attempt to stop the undead. What should I do, Jaina thought, as she stood in the abandoned camp, risking facing an undead assault any moment. It was a dilemma and she had no time. And then she remembered the last night. She found out why Sylvannas always wore clothes that covered the whole body - she didn't want anyone to see the scars on her tanned skin. Then she asked Jaina whether she thought her ugly because of them. She said no. She said that what's inside matters the most. Sylvannas only smiled at this. Just like she smiled when she gave her the promise.
Jaina chanted the incantation and the next moment she was standing in the center of Silvermoon, with people turning their heads and running towards her.
“You are from the Gate, right?”
“How does it look out there?”
“Is Sylvannas gonna beat them?”
“I have an important message for the authorities,” Jaina tried to get through the crowd to the Town Hall.
“I've already told them all they need to know, Jaina,” a deep, powerful voice reached her ears and in the silence that befell the square, the clacking sound of steel horseshoes that High Mage Antonidas always hacked his steed with was clearly audible. “Come, Jaina, we don't have any time to spare.”
Young sorceress was too amazed to resist his influence. Only after they left the square, she gathered herself and asked:
“Are we going to help Sylvannas?”
“No, we cannot. Even the three of us wouldn't hold back the army that the Fallen Prince gathered.”
“But Sylvannas is alone out there…”
“And that's why she has better chances to escape. These are her woods, Jaina. Even though this city is lost, we still have Dalaran. And there is another plan that only you can fulfill. That's why I can't let you go and die out there!”
And just as if the name has triggered something, the vision of such clarity and detail appeared before her eyes that she lost the touch with her own body. She was there, at the ruins of the Inner Gate of Silvermoon. Sylvannas was standing alone, all her rangers lying dead around her. Clutching a long dagger in her hand (her broken bow lied at a distance), the Elfine wiped the blood off her face as she watched the darkest figure approach from the undead army standing on the other side of the Gate.
“Sylvannas Windrunner, at last, I met you again.”
“I don't believe in your courtesy, Arthas.”
“Ah, I see… You've caused me a lot of trouble, General. And I'm not forgetful. You see, I've thought a lot about you and prepared something special considering your fate…”
And before he finished talking, Arthas dashed forward, drawing Frostmourne and bearing on Sylvannas. Jaina thought she shouted a warning but Sylvannas hasn't heard her. The Elfine managed to parry two strikes but the third one was too much for the old blade she wielded - Frostmourne cut through the steel and bored deep into Sylvannas chest. For a moment, there was silence and then she fell down…
“And now, about your reward…”
But Jaina didn't hear him, screaming, struggling epileptically in the hands of Antonidas.
“Easy, easy, Jaina… I didn't know you have such talent for clairvoyance…”
“He has killed her,” Jaina said with empty voice, staring into the void. “He has killed Syl…”
“Have you become friends?” Antonidas asked gently. “I'm sorry.”
But Jaina didn't listen to him. She got back on her feet staring south, to the Gate and shouted:
“Arthas! I'll never forgive you, Arthas! Do you hear me?! I shall never forgive!”
And then she fell silent, recalling in terror how she heard similar words once before… It was Stratholme, six months ago. She barely did make it in time to hear Arthas shouting in desperate and helpless anger at Mal'Ganis… Where would her words take her to?
“Please, don't cry, girl, I'm an old man, I don't know much about calming down young women,” Antonidas helped her up again and even gave her his handkerchief to wipe off her tears. And as she looked up on him again, he continued: “I have a very important assignment, just for you, no one else can do that. What have you heard of Kalimdor?..”
Jaina answered and listened, but her mind was working in a slightly different direction. She thought of Sylvannas, how she was in life. She wanted to follow her path, to become a great leader like she was. And then, who knows, maybe it'll be just the right way to mourn her memory. At any pace, it was better than repeating Arthas' mistakes and giving into the lust for revenge. “Yes, Jaina, that is right,” she almost heard Sylvannas' voice. And then she smiled.