"Yes," Rephaia sighed. "I am aware that the Soulthorn's wards make things difficult. I am the one who warned you about them, architect. Just do the best you can."
"Confessor," the large draenei replied, exasperation lining his voice more so than any other emotion, "many of my workers have been injured already. The path near the tower has claimed blood from at least four of my own. I have left one there to look for other triggers, but we cannot keep working under these conditions. Those wards need to be taken down!"
The Lightforged paladin shook her head with a deep frown. "No. We have received word that the Horde is moving on Ashenvale, and they may already be here. We cannot afford to take down any of the defensive wards."
The architect's shoulders slumped, his defiance not strong enough to stand against Rephaia's own. "Then we will need healing, if we are to continue. Give us at least that, please."
Rephaia had only encountered this man, Nemos, occasionally. The draenei did not often cross into the Netherbane's site of lessons, but Rephaia had been tasked with seeing to the defense of the ruins while Fethas Soulthorn was recovering, and they were the best option available to her. She understood the troubles the man and his team faced. Fethas's newest wards were both sensitive and highly creative, and she had not excluded any of the draenei.
The paladin nodded her head in response. "Of course. I will be sure to provide that. Send any injured to me."
Nemos nodded as well, then turned away from Rephaia and walked back to his work table, where a half-dozen rolled-up plans detailed the construction happening around the Forest Song ruins.
Another figure stepped up from behind to stand next to Rephaia, hooves moving silently in the grass. A chill wafted through the air at her movement. Were it any other, the chill would have been ominous. Rephaia, however, already knew who it was.
"I think they do not like me, sister," Saaira said with a frown upon her face. "They are discomforted by undead."
"You would think years living in a camp that bordered a small army of demon hunters would soften their tolerances, yes?" Rephaia smirked as she turned to face her sister. Their eyes did not quite meet.
The two were identical twins. Or, rather, they had been. The physical features they had once shared had been changed by Saaira's death and Rephaia's lightforging. There were still enough similarities between them, but they no longer looked exactly alike. Both of those events could be considered rebirths in their own right. Did that change the nature of their relationship?
Neither of them knew.
Saaira's lip twitched, but it did not quite achieve a full smile. "You would think, yes."
"Come," Rephaia quickly followed-up. "Let us check on the artificer left at the tower. I am sure he would appreciate our assistance." The paladin strode past her sister and towards the tall, stone tower on the edge of the ruins.
Saaira nodded and followed without a word.
* * *
Garikhan Fireblade crept through the thick foliage of Ashenvale Forest, making his way to Forest Song. He knew he was taking a risk with what he was about to do, but it did not stop him. They would understand. And if they did not? Well, his blade could explain it far better than he.
A series of violent rustling noises from the bushes ahead broke him from his worries. A grunt followed quickly by a wet cutting noise, as if a sharp blade were slicing through moist fruit. Then there was a thud, and the noises stopped.
It had been a draenei. The scouts had reported as much. Just one. No others. No sentinels nor vindicators, either. He had been unarmored, and did not look like a soldier. Garikhan straightened himself. This was war. There would be casualties. There were always casualties.
Tharion Greyseer's stone tower loomed above, barely visible through the thick canopy. He could feel the Greyseer's eyeless gaze upon him from up there, disapproving. Even if the elder demon hunter was not present today, his fel-empowered gaze could still be felt.
At this point, Garikhan would not have blamed him for judging and finding the old blademaster wanting. There was nothing that could be done about that now, though. It had begun, and there was no turning back.
* * *
"I see no one here," Saaira said. Her voice had not changed from when she was alive, except for the lack of emotion that accompanied most of her words these days. Whatever blood magic had been used by their mother to reattach her soul was strong enough to maintain a lot of her old traits--even her body was reasonably well-preserved--but it had not salvaged the joy and passion the young draenei once held.
Rephaia drew her crystalline hammer and shield, both of which sung with an ethereal chime. "Take no chances, sister."
Saaira drew her own weapon, a large maul topped with a deep blue crystal head. Two horns, forged from steel, wreathed the hammer. It was a much darker variation on the hammers traditionally carried by draenei vindicators, and it fit Rephaia's sister much better. It sung no songs.
A gutteral roar burst from the trees around them as five massive orcs charged from the edges of the clearing. Rephaia moved instinctively, bashing her shield against the closest and deflecting his axe. She followed up with an overhead blow with her hammer, and she felt the thick bone of the orc's skull crack under the impact. He went down.
Saaira was less prepared, her reflexes slower than her sister's. A crude club glanced off her shoulder armor before she was able to get her heavy weapon aloft. It did not take her long to recover, however, and her maul smashed into the ribs of her first assailant, knocking him backwards a few paces. He coughed and spit blood, but did not back down.
The other two joined in, obviously trying to overwhelm the sisters. Unlike the first, these bided their time and struck only when the opportunity availed itself. They were being far more cautious after realizing that their prey had much larger teeth than anticipated.
Saaira grunted as a sharpened tusk from some Barrens beast or another pierced her armor through the abdomen. She fell to her knees with the force of the blow, but her face showed more anger than pain.
Anger. It was, at least, a passionate emotion. That was progress, right?
The orc that wielded the axe upon which the tusk was mounted grinned, thinking he had just dealt a mortal blow to the defender. Rephaia knew that he was a fool. He had not been paying attention.
Rephaia swung her hammer into the face of her second opponent, who had been approaching her flank. He let out a grotesque gurgle before crumpling to the ground. There were three left now. Two of them were injured, but the third... Where was the third?
Rephaia stepped forward and swung her shield. A disc of radiant Light burst forth from it, colliding with the two orcs flanking her sister. One of them collapsed as the energy struck him in the back of his head, and other was able to deflect part of the strike with his crudely hewn axe. He turned to the paladin and roared.
That was when Saaira's hammer smashed into the bottom of his chin, sending the orc flying upwards through the air only to land in an unmoving heap a few feet away. The death knight had stood while the orc had been distracted, the wound in her belly having sealed itself. Now she stepped over to the prone warrior and brought her hammer down upon his head without ceremony or hesitation. Neither she nor Rephaia flinched.
"Where is the other?" Rephaia called out as she looked around, searching the dense foliage for the last assailant.
"I am here, Rephaia," came an old orc's voice from atop a nearby ridge.
Both Saaira and Rephaia spun towards the sound, their weapons at the ready. Rephaia immediately held up a restraining hand towards her sister, however, when she realized that she recognized the orc kneeling a short distance away from them.
"Garikhan?" Rephaia said with incredulity. "You? You are behind this?"
The old orc sighed. His massive blade, the weapon for which he had named himself, was lying on the grass in front of him. While usually burning with the flammable oils that Burning Blade orcs used, this one was currently unlit. "I have done what I had to do, paladin. I acted in the only way I knew how."
"By leading the Horde to us?" Rephaia's words were laced with disbelief. Her breathing was heavy, and it was obvious that the lust from battle was still pumping through her blood.
Garikhan shook his head. "I lead them, yes. But they already knew the way. The Warsong have known about you for many years, draenei. They have not only skirmished with your people, but with the Netherbane as well. This place...it is no secret."
"That does not explain why you led an attack against us." Saaira's words were still passionless.
"Because, had I not," Garikhan started, "someone else would have. And he would not have brought warning. This task force was five times this strength when it was formed. But I convinced them that I could do it with a fraction of the number. I chose the weakest of them. Yes, I brought them here to fight, but, more importantly, I brought them here to die. I will face consequences for my choices today."
Rephaia frowned and lowered her hammer and slung her shield to her back once again. "I do not understand."
The orc stood slowly, maintaining a posture of non-aggression. He gestured outwards, into the woods, with a sweeping motion of his hands. "Right now, multiple Alliance outposts are being attacked. Some are being neutralized silently; others by a show of force. The Horde marches through this forest towards their ultimate destination. Today, you are but one of many on the list. I could not stand aside and let it happen unchallenged. I could not stand by without giving warning. So I did what I felt was honorable, I chose to lead one of the assaults."
"You betrayed your people, then," Rephaia said, crossing her arms. Her brow was furrowed.
The old blademaster nodded his head. "I fought for the right to lead this specific attack. It was the only way I could warn any of you in time. It will be seen as a failure by Horde leadership, but it was necessary. I...regret...that it lead to these deaths. These orcs. One of your draenei." Garikhan gestured to a specific patch of thick overgrowth.
"Death comes for us all," Saaria's words seemed even colder than usual. "Do not lament."
Rephaia frowned at her sister, but did not turn to look over her shoulder at her. Her eyes darted to where Garikhan had pointed, and she frowned deeper. After a moment, she turned back to the blademaster. "What will you do now?"
This time, Garikhan was the one to frown. "We are on a path of war once again, our two sides. After all that was sacrificed against the Legion, I do not understand the need for violence so soon. It does not sit well with me."
"Then leave and join us. The Greyseer would not object."
Garikhan shook his head. "This is not something that will be fixed by me running away. I can seek death in battle, or I can seek life in honor. I choose the latter."
Rephaia nodded briefly. "So be it, blademaster. Return to your superiors and claim your failure. Just beware that we do not end up on the different sides of the same battleline, yes?"
The blademaster nodded, then grinned. "Warn your people, Rephaia. All of them. Let the Greyseer know that the Banshee Queen intends to march on Teldrassil. If lives are saved because of my actions, then I can consider this an honorable victory, regardless of what my superiors claim."
Rephaia said nothing in return, but the furrow in her brow deepened at the news. She nodded once more before the old orc picked up his weapon and vanished into the forest.