A/N: As of today, 23/11/15, I've begun to slowly edit Age of Mortals, mostly because rereading the first chapters was painful to my eyes. While I hope that I have improved as a writer in the last 10(!) years, there will be no major changes. I am just trying to correct the most glaring errors. I've left all of my old author's notes, because they are a bit like a fossil record of times long gone.
Disclaimer: Warcraft and all associated characters and environs belong to Blizzard and I'm only gamboling in their universe in order to take over the world (or practice writing, but hush, don't tell anybody).
With a sound like the earth itself split asunder anew, the World Tree exploded, taking with it the unholy existence of Archimonde the Defiler.
From a high ridge, on the edge of the blackened wasteland that had been the summit of Mt. Hyjal, the high Priestess Tyrande Whisperwind watched the glowing remains of Tree and Demon fall like stars upon Ashenvale Forest. With the death of the World Tree, so died the last remnants of a magic from the beginning of the world.
A grief too great for tears haunted her beautiful face, and her violet eyes were pools of pit-deep misery. Yet, her voice betrayed bitterness, as she turned to the archdruid by her side.
"So, this is mortality. And all I feel is pain, for the forest, for our people. Is this anguish of my soul a harbinger of whatever time I now have allotted? Is this how it feels to have death coursing through your veins?"
Malfurion Stormrage lowered the Horn of Cenarius. Already he felt the Horn's magic, so intricately linked with the forest, diminish. In too short a time, it would be a means of making sound, nothing more. The druid turned to look upon the woman he had loved for an eternity, would love for all eternity, however long that might be now. Her plight tore his heart, yet he had to make her understand.
"My love, I feel the pain as well, and it is good one. We are indeed mortals now, and will know the ravage of time, but we must never lose our empathy with the land and with each other, not wrap ourselves in self-pity. If anything, we must live that much fiercer. We have won a great victory today. The price was a grievous one, but Archimonde will never threaten this world again. Mortals we might be, Tyrande, but never put down the gift of life."
The priestess bowed her head.
"I'm sorry, my heart," she breathed heavily. "I guess there is much to reconcile myself with in the coming times."
"There is, for all of the Kaldorei, and together, we will."
Quietly, Malfurion reached out and cradled Tyrande to his broad chest. Indeed, they would. He did not doubt that his people would adapt and flourish once more. Time heals all wounds.
The Arch-druid raised his horned head to survey the destruction of the land he had guarded for millennia, and suddenly, his ancient eyes widened in wonderment.
Tyrande unwound from Malfurion's embrace like a sleepwalker, and slowly turned her face to follow the line described by Malfurion's arm. At first, her brows furrowed, and then her face lit with a shimmering joy.
"Elune be praised!" she exclaimed.
The blackened stump was all that remained of the immense World Tree, but not all was dead. A single root, its vibrant green a glaring contrast to the blasted earth, snaked its way down the mountainside. And where the root came, the ground greened again, and trees sprang back to life.
Awed, Malfurion clasped Tyrande's hands in his.
"Hope is not gone, my love. In time, the forest will heal."
The priestess smiled, true happiness emerging on her face like the sun from behind clouds.
"Truly, it is a miracle."
Then her expression sobered. "Remnants of the Legion still roam the Ashenvale, Malfurion, and that hellish Felwood persists. It is too far from the summit to be healed by this magic anytime soon."
"The battle is not over, Beloved," the archdruid agreed. "But we are still here, and Archimonde is not. Together, we can accomplish the impossible. We will restore Ashenvale together."
"We will –" Tyrande halted in mid speech. She had felt something, radically different from pain and sorrow. A kind of stirring, so deep down in her being it seemed to transcend her very soul. Like a current deep beneath the surface of a placid sea, it spread, yet remained unseen, Not unpleasant, the priestess knew what this alien disturbance of her innermost meant. Even in the most intense heat of battle, there had always been a place in her clear as crystal, and cool as the moon. Now this was gone, never to return.
"So, this is mortality," she repeated so softly it was nearly a thought. A single tear slid down the priestess' pale cheek, drying before it could drip upon the Forest floor. So be it! She absorbed the knowledge with only a sliver of her former bitterness.
"My love, we will fight for our Land as bears for their cubs!" she proclaimed with unexpected heat.
A great smile broke on Malfurion's face.
"Indeed! Now, I will rally our people and try to ease our transition. Though the sacrifice was willingly, the pain remains the same. I will trust you to seek out our allies and parley with them. We are no longer alone in this Land."
"It shall be done, my love. Starlight and sweet winds, till we meet again."
The high priestess spoke softly to her tiger, and a second later they had disappeared between the dense trees.
Malfurion watched her passing with solemn eyes. He, too, had felt the stirring, but as he had walked the Emerald Dream for so many millennia, it was like reuniting with an old acquaintance. The archdruid was intricately familiar with every aspect of the forces that shaped Nature, and he knew the rhythm of the lives of all creatures of Ashenvale, from the tiniest mice to the grandest oak. For all of these creatures, death was the inevitable outcome of life, except for the night elves. No more. The archdruid sighed like wind through autumn-leaves. Whatever would come of it, Malfurion could not feel sad that all of his people, not only the druids, would now feel the pulse of life within them. Once more, the Kaldorei would be under nature's dominion not merely by choice. His thoughts filled with the green of springs to come, Malfurion Stormrage walked down the ridge, the Horn of Cenarius lying spent on the forest floor behind him.