Disclaimer: Azeroth, and the denizens there of, belong to Blizzard Entertainment. While Alyna and a few others are of my own creation, pretty much everything else has been shamelessly pillaged, coerced, and/or re-imagined for your entertainment.
A/N - This is the first story of the Dark Ranger series. While I am generally very picky about lore, I also believe that the addition of major characters can change how things turn out, or how they arrive at key points within the story of Warcraft. This is basically me pre-empting "But that's not how it happened!". If you think that, you'd most likely be right - but that's how it will happen in my world :) If you can't accept that, or a consenting sexual relationship between two women, this is not for you. Otherwise, please enjoy! Constructive criticism welcome.
Fires of Rebirth
Alyna Salonar growled through her gritted teeth as she focused what was left of her magical energy through her outstretched hands. The object of her focus was hovering ethereally above the centre of high elf civilisation, the sacred Sunwell, the source of their power. Sweat ran down her delicate elven features, and she silently cursed the strand of deep burgundy hair that had fallen across her face to irritate her cheek.
By the time she realised she had overdone it, it was too late to prevent the inevitable. The stream of arcane energy coursing from her hands dimmed for moment before exploding in a blinding flash. She cried out in pain as the backlash slammed into her body, hurling her backwards through the air. The ground was not merciful as she landed, and she felt the world going dark.
Feet came running towards her and she could feel strong hands sitting her up. A cool hand gently tapped her cheek to keep her conscious. She fought the wave of nausea that coursed through her before finally opening her glowing deep blue eyes to take in the concerned features of her mentor, Magister Falcar Silverflame.
She made a move to stand, but he held her still. "Let's make sure you're okay first before we try anything drastic like standing."
Knowing better than to argue, she automatically scanned around the edges of the Sunwell until she found what she was looking for. Falcar's eyes followed hers and she heard him sigh. The magical runeblade Felo'alann, "Flameheart" in Thalassian, lay off to the side, steam rising from its length. Hesitantly, she held out her hand. The blade answered by gliding across the floor, its hilt nestling into her palm.
"Hmm! Well, at least it still responds to you." The relief in his voice mirrored her own feelings.
Runeblades were rare and powerful magical artefacts that her people, the quel'dorei, passed down through each generation. Whilst not sentient, they had unique personalities and generally decided on their own whether a wielder was worthy of possessing it. Falcar had no children, and had decided to pass Felo'alann to his latest apprentice, Alyna. She could not fathom why he had chosen her for such an immense honour, and it would appear the runeblade itself was not sure of her either.
She was dimly aware of a priestess examining her as she gazed at the graceful lines and curves of her latest failure. The runeblade was inert as it lay across her lap, the only sign of its singularity being the ornate dragon hilt she still held. Where the red beast's mouth opened, the blade emerged, the metal forged to simulate waves of flame. When her mentor wielded the blade, an intricate foreign script would appear etched into the length of the silvery metal. The runes would shimmer as if on fire.
Falcar had not left her side, and she felt comforted by his presence. She had reluctantly become his student thirty years prior, and she had been angry. Not at him, but because she felt she had been torn away from her true calling of being a ranger. She had begun training with the elite Farstriders at the tender age of twenty-five, and had excelled. It was a life she adored, and she had risen rapidly through the ranks to become a Ranger Captain. She had also fallen in love with another ranger. Her life had been simple. She had been happy.
After over a century of living her body had shown no talent for magic outside of the natural powers she manipulated as a Farstrider. Then, long after anyone thought it would, her innate arcane abilities began to manifest. It was almost unheard of. Magical talent usually revealed itself during adolescence, or very early adulthood, particularly within bloodlines that had as many magisters as Alyna's. She had not understood what was happening at first, and kept her condition hidden for a few years. In the end, she lost control. No one was hurt, but her magister father had immediately decided that she had to leave the Farstriders for good and be formally trained so as not to be a danger to others.
She had thought that the worst day of her life. But it wasn't. Her lover had stuck with her for the next decade as Alyna began to learn to control her power, but the strain on their long distance relationship had been too much. In her heart, she knew there was another reason why Sylvanas had walked away from her that day after nearly one hundred years of being together, but she had been too scared to ask. She still was.
She looked up at Falcar and smiled gently at the man who was a better father to her than her own. Magister Athanos Salonar was an important man within their society and he had other, more successful, children to nurture than to waste his time on his rebellious middle child. He had passed her around amongst his arcanists for training, each less interested than the last, before Falcar had volunteered to tutor her.
He held his hand out to her now, the priestess having given her a clean bill of health and strict orders to rest. She took it, and he pulled her up from the floor. She sheathed the stubborn runeblade at her side and let him pull her into a fatherly hug.
"We just tried too soon, Alyna."
Her words were muffled against his chest. "I still don't know why you think it's ever going to accept me, my Lord."
She felt his amusement. "Why? Because you're not of my blood?" He pulled away to cup her cheek softly. "Family is more than just what runs through your veins, my student. It's what burns through your heart, and radiates from your soul. We can make connections through these that run deeper than the thickest blood." His smile was gentle. "Besides, Felo'alann has already accepted you or you wouldn't even be able to touch it. It just won't allow you access to its core powers until it deems you ready."
He tilted his head to gauge her carefully. "Tell me, do you want to wield it?"
She knew her reply should have been instant, but her 'yes' died in her throat.
He nodded, expecting as much. "Your soul still yearns for our forests." He paused, before adding, "or someone in them."
She looked away, feeling the flush rise through her cheeks. He began guiding her away from the plateau that was home to the Sunwell, their allotted time now over.
"Do you know how long it was before the blade accepted my mastery over it?"
She shook her head, "No, my Lord."
"Four hundred, and thirty-two years." His teeth flashed in a mischievous grin that made him look much younger than his two thousand years. "And seven months." The shock on her face must have been evident because he laughed before continuing his story. "I was a magister before it finally deemed me ready." She was about to interrupt but he held up his hand to forestall her. "So, why am I asking you, an apprentice who has barely come into her powers, to unlock the blade? Why do you think?"
Alyna's eyes unfocused as she thought on this, trusting him to guide her through the wide walkways that connected the various villages on the island of Quel'Danas with the Sunwell Plateau and Magister's Terrace. They both knew she had the answer, but the point of the exercise was to get her to reflect on it, so she humoured him.
Her impatience had been the one thing that had truly been an obstacle to her training, and she knew it stemmed from her unease at her situation. Most of the other apprentices were a century younger, barely having reached physical maturity. She felt the constant need to catch up to her peers and not be left behind. It was not as if she lacked patience, far from it in fact. Rangers were known for possessing deep reserves of stamina and patience, cultivated through their daily work. She was just choosing not to redirect those talents as an act of silent rebellion to her father. She knew it saddened Falcar greatly, as the only person she was ultimately hurting was herself.
She just couldn't help it.
She now knew the possible dangers of trying to connect to her blade using the traditional conduit of the Sunwell. He had been there to protect her, but it had all been to bring home the simple fact that she was not to try this herself, no matter how impatient she got.
She nodded to him, not needing to put a voice to her answer, and he knew she understood.
"Alyna! How did it go?" She turned in time to see a young elf with long flame-orange hair run up the path behind them. Alyna smiled at Thal'ena, unable not to. Her friend had that effect on everyone around her. They shared apprentice lodgings in Dawnstar Village with two others, and had sat though many nights talking about anything and everything, except magic.
A colder voice mimicked the question, "Yes, how did it go?"
Alyna looked past her friend to see Magister Lana'thel join their growing group. Thal'ena's mother was intimidating in her posture and attire, her flamboyant robes and ornate staff glinting in the noon sun. She was a powerful arcane mage, and ruthless in her ambition. She made it clear to all who would listen that she intended to become Grand Magister one day, a position currently occupied by Alyna's own grandfather.
Alyna hesitated slightly before admitting to her friend, "I wasn't able to bond to it yet."
Lana'thel snorted in disgust, "Of course you couldn't. It was arrogance to even try at your insignificant level of training."
Thal'ena bowed her head to hide her embarrassment and shame, unwilling to risk her mother's considerable wrath by defending her friend.
Falcar had no compunction. "Alyna attempted at my suggestion as part of her instruction. I was there. She was safe. And while the blade remains bonded to me, the objective of the lesson was achieved."
Lana'thel looked at Falcar, her long tapered eyebrows raised in surprise. She clearly had not expected the bonding attempt to have his consent, let alone having been his idea in the first place.
Before anything more could be said, a polite cough caused them all to turn. A male page waited patiently, seemingly irritated at having waited unnoticed for too long. He wore a red tabard bearing the national crest of the high elf nation. Thick gold etching further indicated he was not any normal page, but one sent by the ruling council of Quel'Thalas, the Council of Silvermoon.
As the ranking mage amongst them, Lana'thel stepped forward, having assumed he was there for her. He bowed politely to her before shaking his head, "I beg your pardon, Lady Magister, but I have a message for Lady Alyna Salonar."
Alyna winced at the title. The Council comprised of the heads of the seven greatest families in Quel'Thalas. As a member of the House of Salonar, she was treated with a deference she had never felt comfortable with and had happily escaped whilst a ranger. She nodded for the page to continue.
"The Lord Grand Magister has requested you attend to him without delay."
She blinked. Her grandfather was formally summoning her in his official capacity, and she had no idea what it could be about. She turned to look at Falcar, and he gave her a reassuring nod; his permission for her to leave his side until she was able to return. She could not refuse her grandfather, but it was polite to ask.
She gave Thal'ena a brief hug, shaking her head at the other woman's bursting energy at the summons. She wished she shared her friend's enthusiasm. She hoped she was not about to get into trouble for attempting the binding at the Sunwell.
Dutifully, she followed the page to her fate.
Ranger General Sylvanas Windrunner was not happy.
"No." Her normally pleasant voice was as stern as it was commanding. She was clad in the dark greens and browns of her ranger profession, her leather armour only slightly more tooled and ornate than those who followed her command. Her vibrant golden hair was pulled back in a functional plait that disappeared under her deep green cloak to just above her slender waist. Her feet were planted, and arms crossed. Her formidable will was palpable to everyone in the room.
"This is not a request, General. It's an order."
Eyes that were closer to grey than blue flared angrily at the willowy grand magister before glancing around at the rest of the gathered Council. As ranger general, she was frequently asked to go to the Council sessions, and she just as frequently tended her regrets at being unable to attend. She had been given no such choice this time, having been summarily summoned from her patrol along the southern part of Quel'Thalas.
Her tone was not disrespectful, but characteristically blunt. "Integrating a mage into one of my units could take weeks of training. Anything less would put the unit and the mage at risk of ambush, or worse. I cannot agree to this."
Grand Magister Belo'vir Salonar was not going to back down from the fierce ranger. "The fires that have been sporadically appearing in our southern lands are not natural, you have said so yourself in your reports. We need someone qualified to examine them up close to see if we can determine the source. Unless you've been holding out on us, General, that is not you."
A new male voice added itself to the fray. "You command the military might of our people, Sylvanas, and everyone here greatly respects your skills in that regard. But this appears to be more magical in nature, and we need to look into it further."
Sylvanas whirled on the speaker, one of the more elderly members of the Council – her own grandfather, Magister Ra'thanar Windrunner. "I travelled two days with no rest for this meeting as I was told it was of utmost importance that I attend, only to be assigned to act as an escort?" While she kept her outrage in check, her exhaustion and exasperation had begun to creep into her voice. She had truly ridden here as swiftly as possible with her entourage, only stopping to swap for fresh horses and water. While she had taken a portal from Silvermoon to Quel'Danas, she had left her people at the stables in Silvermoon where she was certain they were fast asleep. She threw her hands up in frustration. "You could have just sent him out to me!"
Her grandfather had never been intimidated by her, and the slow knowing smile that appeared unnerved her slightly.
"Had we just sent her to you, you would have found some way to send her back, no doubt with as creative an excuse as you use to avoid these meetings." He raised a long white eyebrow in a silent challenge that she declined to accept, so he continued. "This way, we know you will accede to our order."
Something he said made Sylvanas blink. "Her?" She had assumed it would be one of the seasoned battle mages who would be assigned to her, who so happened to be overwhelmingly male. She felt a knot start to form in the pit of her stomach. She warily looked over to the grand magister just as a knock sounded at the door.
Belo'vir raised his own eyebrow, evidently amused. "That will be her now."
The knot became a solid lump as Alyna Salonar was escorted into the room. She immediately bowed before those present before locking eyes with Sylvanas. The lack of shock in her deep blue eyes told her she had already been briefed and had been expecting to see her. The slight quiver in her hand as she smoothed the front of her simple blue apprentice robes was the only outward sign of what she was feeling. Sylvanas wondered if the nerves were due to seeing her again, or from being before the Council.
Alyna looked paler than she remembered, no longer living outdoors as she had as a ranger. Her robes hung loosely from her slender frame and it took everything Sylvanas had not to wince at how thin she had become. The dark burgundy hair she was used to seeing flow freely around strong shoulders, or pulled back into a pony tail, was drawn up into a severe bun on her head. She smothered a sad grin at the few strands that rebelled at the treatment to drape about a face she was used to seeing an easy smile upon. Now, the kind features were all too serious and she felt a sense of loss at the knowledge of what life as a mage had done to the younger woman. Not life as a mage; life without you. She ignored the small voice.
Sylvanas moved her gaze back to the grand magister. Whatever further argument she had prepared was now meaningless, and they all knew it. Everyone knew of Alyna's pedigree as a former protégé of the ranger general. Who better to accompany her than someone she herself had trained and taken pride in?
She also knew the Council had been entirely correct about how she would have reacted if they had just sent Alyna out to her. She would have refused to accept her and sent her home. As private a person as Sylvanas was, her prior relationship with Alyna had been common knowledge amongst the Council due to the standing both of their family's had. The complication this added for Sylvanas was immense, and she could only imagine what Alyna was feeling about the situation. Their last meeting had not been pleasant.
Belo'vir hardened his eyes slightly as he asked, "Do you have any further questions, General?"
She shook her head briefly. "No, Grand Magister."
His nod was equally fleeting. "Good. We realise time is of the essence so we will no longer keep you from your sacred duty."
Sylvanas realised she had just been dismissed. She inclined her head respectfully at those assembled and exited the room, Alyna not far behind.
They walked down the corridor outside the council chamber in silence before Sylvanas came to such an abrupt halt that Alyna almost collided with her back. She waited patiently for the younger woman to collect herself.
"Did you ask for this?"
Alyna blinked at her, slightly taken aback. Sylvanas winced. She had not intended to sound harsh but her frustration at having been so handily manipulated by the Council had got the better of her.
She was about to apologise when Alyna cut her off, her voice full of barely restrained emotion. "No, I did not. How in the Sunwell would I have even known about this mission to even request it?"
She had a point.
Alyna was shaking. Sylvanas started to instinctively reach out for her but she pulled away, taking a step back. The look Alyna gave her was indecipherable and the normally stoic general felt something she was greatly unaccustomed to – shame. The lump in her stomach had dissolved and was infusing every part of her being with the emotion. She scowled and shook her head to clear it. She was used to being in control of her life, and the last few minutes had decidedly run amok.
A faint intake of breath was followed by pain-laden words, "I'll meet you at the stables." Too late, Sylvanas realised her unconscious gesture had been taken the wrong way by Alyna, who had turned on her heel and practically run down the rest of the corridor.
She sighed and was about to follow when a familiar voice stopped her.
"Remember our agreement, Sylvanas."
She gave the words a feral snarl in response, not turning to see who spoke them. She knew perfectly well who it was and had no desire to see his face again so soon. She started to walk away when he made her pause again, his tone brooking no argument.
"Do not interfere with Alyna anymore than you have already, or you know what the consequences will be."
She grit her teeth, never more certain of the hatred that coursed through her veins for the powerful man behind her. She focused on controlling it before she acted on it irrationally. As much as she wanted to, it would certainly result in her death, either at his hand or via a court martial.
"You know I have stayed away from her!" She closed her eyes against the pain of the last two decades. It was dangerous to ask, but she had to know. "Did you assign her to me on purpose?" She had balled her fists without realising it, a prick of pain as a nail cut through her palm her first realisation of it. "Is this some twisted game of yours?"
He paused. "No. The circumstances were … regrettably … unavoidable."
She snorted her disgust at him before walking away again. This time, he did not stop her.