by Anne Shard (alias Odeena Skywalker)
Epilogue: The leave-taking
Although striken with grief at the death of their beloved leader, the Night Elf Sentinels resumed their fight with renewed strength and fierceness. Under the twin leadership of Maiev Shadowsong and Illidan Stormrage, they gradually reclaimed the forests of Ashenvale, until, eventually, the day came that, with one final victory, the last remainders of the Burning Legion were either slain or driven away, never to return again.
This victory, as well as the birth of the first child since the destruction of the World Tree, brought forth a new hope for the Night Elven race.
Soon after this final triumph, the time came for Illidan Stormrage and his warriors to take their leave and return to their own home realm...
The night was cold, and a steady wind blew through the branches of the ancient trees. Dark clouds chased in the sky above, sometimes obscuring the light of both the unusually brilliant half-moon and that of the stars.
Maiev shivered, wrapping her robes tighter around her. Then, she leaned against a tree trunk, and looked at the sky. It had been so long since she had actually taken her time to look at the stars, it dawned upon her. Once, she had used to spend hours at a time watching them. But that time seemed no more than the vague, shadowy memory of a dream now, she realized, and a small sigh escaped her slightly parted lips.
The snapping of a tree branch in a nearby bush caught her attention, and she straightened up, ready to face up the unseen agressor. However, after a brief moment she relaxed. She knew, even before she heard his voice, who was the one to seek her.
It was Illidan Stormrage. The warden straightened up and smoothed down her robes with a rather hasty gesture. "Illidan."
Silence then fell between the two. Eventually, it was Maiev who broke it, "It will rain soon."
Illidan nodded, "Indeed."
Silence descended once again. Again, Maiev spoke, this time not without a slight hesitation in her voice.
"Illidan... you have done so much for our people. I... do not believe that we could ever repay this. Despite everything that has happened in the past, you came to our aid still, and now..." Her voice trailed off, and once again she gazed dreamily at the stars. Tonight, it seemed, despite the clouds, they shone brighter than ever.
'She seems so small', Illidan thought. 'So... fragile.'
Maiev was not wearing any armor, but just the simple clothing of the Night Elven women. Her long, dark hair, for once unbraided, fell on her shoulders in thick strands, waving slightly with the wind. Of course, Illidan could not see all this. Nonetheless, he felt the change, and, much to his surprise, it fascinated him.
He hesitated for a moment, uncertain of what he would say next.
It was not hard to tell that the demon felt, for once, prey to a strange and new kind of emotion. Maiev felt it as well; taking a deep breath, she laid her hand upon his gently, and spoke.
"Illidan..." Her voice betrayed her inner tension, but she cared of it no more. "I ask you to forgive me if by my words I will offend you." She took an unsteady breath, and then followed, "I had never thought that I would say this but - I - have come to care for you, Illidan. And I... love you."
Several moments passed without any reaction from Illidan's part. Maiev felt tears welling up in her eyes despite herself, and she struggled to keep herself in check. "I understand", she whispered, her voice now sounding broken. At the same time, she motioned to release his hand - and yet, unexpectedly, he retained it in his firm, yet gentle grip, and pulled her into a tender embrace, wrapping his wings around them both.
For a long time, none of them spoke. At last, Illidan was the one to break the silence.
"Come with me, Maiev", he said in a silent whisper. "Leave Ashenvale, and come to Draenor. Together, we can rule. I can offer you the gift of immortality."
Maiev seemed to ponder this for a few moments. Finally, she shook her head. "I cannot, Illidan. I belong here. With my people."
He bowed his head silently, understanding. "Then", he said, "the time has come for us to say goodbye."
And suddenly, seemingly with no warning, their lips met in a single, bittersweet kiss.
One by one, the Naga and Blood Elven warriors stepped through the glimmering portal that would take them to their home realm. Illidan Stormrage, last of all, lingered a moment longer, seemingly searching for a particular presence among the crowd of Night Elves that had gathered to bid them farewell. At last, he found her, and, to her alone, he smiled - a small, serene smile, which made tears come to her eyes once more. Finally, he turned around, and stepped swiftly through open the portal.
Maiev felt a sudden knot in her throat. She took a deep breath, and let it out slowly, unable to restrain the tears that now flowed freely down her face.
The portal grew smaller and smaller, until at last it came to be not larger than a simple moonstone, like those that she had used to wear so long ago, and then it disappeared altogether. As Maiev watched it, the recollection of the final moments of their last encounter came to her mind once again...
Maiev looked up, tears glimmering in the moonlight as they hung onto her long lashes for a moment before they fell. "Tell me..." she asked softly. "Will I ever see you again...?".
The demon seemed to ponder this, until at last he gave a small, wistful sigh. "I... do not know, Maiev", he whispered, moving one hand to gently wipe the tears from her face. "And I believe that time, alone, will tell... "
Author's Note: All righty... where should I start? This (final) chapter was written mostly during the (very boring) 22 hours car trip to Belgium... okay, before you ask, at the invitation of some very good friends of my parents, I got to spend two absolutely wonderful weeks in Belgium - which is why I have been inactive on for so long. Anyway, I know that this epilogue is somewhat unexpected, but... that's that. Like I promised in one of my review responses, the ending was a happy one. So, did you like it? I hope you did! So please review! :) And thanks to those who did so already go as follows:
drizztranger: Thank you for (both) your reviews. Yup, as you already read, Maiev and Illidan are in love... although it's more like a love-hate relationship :) And about the review for chapter seventeen... well, I do admit that Furion's death was an unexpected occurence. It was a last-minute inspiration, but you have to admit that it made sense...
darth: sing-song voice ...Aaand you couldn't tell me that earlier? cough Anyway, from what I could gather, the World Tree was blown up by the wisps when they destroyed Archimonde. And if I'm wrong, remember that this is AU, so technically there's no problem about my being wrong. Right...? :)
Destro 1990: Okie-dokie then, I'll start working on the parody as soon as I have time to. Because, even though this is supposedly the summer holiday, I have loads of stuff to do :( And about your story - well, my suggestion would be not to start with such an elaborate plot. Start, for instance, with describing an average day. I know it sounds boring, but if you add a hint of humor there, a sprinkle of romance here and so on, you'll be amazed at the result... :)
Hell-Flame-Narf: Well, here's more! Sorry for the sudden ending... :)
reviewer: rhetorically I've heard about anonymous reviewers, but this is ridiculous... grin Anyway, thank you! :)
HuntressWarden: I think you've quite surprised the essence of my idea when I wrote the previous chapter ;) And don't worry about that particular review - we all make mistakes, you know :)
One last note - a word for my reviewers :) Thank you for taking your time to read and review my story, and thank you for your continued support. I hope I'll get around to starting a parody on this fanfic soon, like I told Destro I would wink After all, writing parodies is one thing I have experience in doing :) Also, I might consider starting on a sequel fanfic - just as soon as I find a suitable plot. So, until then - bye bye! :)
PS: I want to see if I can reach 100 reviews in the end, after all. So pretty please review...? :)