"I write now from distant Lordaeron to the south and west of our homeland; Doomhammer's Horde threatens us all and so the disparate nations of Arathor have joined together here in the King's halls, forming pacts and strengthening alliances. King Anasterian sent our small band to their aid as a mere token gesture, but I confess that in the presence of the Lightbringer and his kin I feel a calling, as if some force of the Light works upon my very soul to draw me to it. Mehlar feels this call as well, and though we are now lowly troops in our King's army, we shall soon seek permission of the Alliance and Uther Lightbringer to study the ways of his Order. A mere green soldier cannot marry a princess of a Noble House, my love - but perhaps a Paladin of the Light, baptized in war, can. Should I survive this campaign and see my ambition realized, I shall return home to ask for your hand in marriage. Wait for me."
- Alaric Dawnblade, in a letter to his beloved, Gwynn Sunborn, written shortly before the opening skirmishes of the Second War. Excerpted from The Sunborn Correspondences.
The ancestral home of House Sunborn lay in utter ruin, and the futher Annat probed into the wreckage, the more apparent the extent of the destruction became. The foyer beyond the heavy ghostwood door was only the merest taste of what lay beyond. Tables and other furniture had been overturned. Tapstries and other wall-hangings were ripped from their moorings, slashed as though with wicked claws or in various states of disarray. An ancient painting of the founder of the bloodline, Prince Kaian Sunborn, had been torn from its place on the wall and thrown into a messy heap of canvas in one corner. No flame lit the wall-sconces and even the glowballs, the dim faerie-lights that hovered placidly on every street and in every home had gone out, their essences snuffed, or perhaps drunk dry. Even the floor beneath her feet was cracked and uneven, as though the House's very foundations had suffered an upheaval of the earth.
The grand entryway was a similar exercise in destructive disrepair; once it had been truly grand as the name implied, a wide curved staircase serving as the focal point of the area leading up to a landing on the second floor, all formerly done in scarlet carpet and golden trim. It had been a hub of activity once, the nexus through which one accessed the areas of the House, but no more. After Gwynn had become one of the damned, the area had been decimated, wrecked. The carpet was blackened in places, gone in others, dark ruddy red in any case; the landing appeared host to a barricade of debris, the first-floor doorways to the other areas of the home darkened, damaged, and promising more horrors beyond. Even the decaying chandelier looked as though it had not been tended in years, even though Annat knew it could not have been more than a span of days.
The aura of a Wretched's home, she thought dismally, scanning the wreckage of her childhood. There she had fallen once and sprained her wrist as a child; there she had played hopscotch in the patterns cast by the setting sun... Their descent into madness and decay affects their very belongings.
She had hoped it would never come to this, but in truth, it was only a matter of time when concerned with the elder members of the Sindorei. Annat had taken her father's death hard, but Gwynn in Silvermoon had taken it hardest of all; the daughter was then hardly surprised when the mother became somewhat unhinged in the wake of his passing, and the only surprise was how the Lady Scion had managed to remain stable enough for so long.
Still, the duty should have been Val's to execute. Her jaw hardened at the thought, for truly, that was the essence of the Scion's Sacred Duty; it was more tactfully called a rectification by the high court, a word which implied something wrong that needed mending, but left the imagination to fill in the gaps beyond. Whatever one named it, however, the result would be the same. A Scion entered a quarantined estate, either to slay their Wretched predecessor and assume the seat of power within the Noble House, or never to return. Entire bloodlines had been lost when the heirs apparent had been unable to overcome their parent.
The system was inherently flawed, but very demonstrative of the Sindorei state of mind. Pride first in all things, even in the murder of their forebears.
There came noise then, a soft whuffling sound, and movement from the upper level. Annat was drawn from her thoughts then and ascended the stair, three steps at a time with the Warblade in a two-handed grip, only the afternoon light trickling in from high, half-barred windows to illuminate her way. The debris as she drew closer revealed itself to be the half-destroyed hulks of furniture from elsewhere in the house, haphazardly thrown together to form a barricade that blocked off the central hallway of the landing, which was lit with a flickering fel light. That one led to the inner family suites; the other two, one to each side, lay darkened. Rastylin and Kevyn claimed to have gotten everyone out of the estate when Gwynn had gone mad - simple logic, then, to determine where Gwynn now lay in wait.
Hillex would be there as well. Time was wasting.
After a breath, she took a single step towards the barricade, and was promptly dealt a nasty surprise in the form of a hulking blue-black shadow, lunging for her much like the Scourge will yaw for living flesh. The dim light winked off of its armored gold bracers, but before the brain could intervene the body was reacting with the kind of speed and violent efficiency that was ground into one's bones through service in the Plaguelands. The slash cleft one of the bracers in half on the first mighty swing, scattering green gems and pieces of hammered gold across the landing, and the Voidwalker reeled back from the blow, making the kind of whining sound one might hear from a kitten the size of the Royal Palace. It seemed to look at her as thought hurt and insulted by the gesture, holding its shadowstuff arm to itself, and as she watched the limb reformed before her very eyes. The pieces of the shattered bracer vanished into dust, but did not reform upon the wrist.
Adrenaline still sang through her frame, but she relaxed her mental choke a notch. ":Mezz'thu. You startled me.:" Hillex Sunborn was considered something of a child prodigy among the warlocks, like his mother had been among the magisters; he had practiced unknowingly the trade of demonology long before he had been old enough to pronounce its proper name. His first imp servant had been beckoned to hand before he had reached his third birthday, and the Voidwalker had been called into existence at seven. There were pacts and bindings in place, of course, things that forbid the harm of the members of House Sunborn that thus rendered Mezz harmless to her, but its unintentionally looming presence at the landing was alarming all the same.
":Ssssisssterr, :" it hissed, and the white blobs that marked what she assumed were the demon's eyes bobbed in recognition. Good. Annat had always thought that demons, even lesser fiends like Obsidian and warlock familiars, were supposed to be highly intelligent, and while she could not deny that Mezz'thu was a thinking being, she had always wondered quietly if perhaps it had been able to be bound by such a young warlock simply because it was rather slow in the head, even for a Voidwalker.
It nodded said head ponderously, as if agreeing with itself, then pointed a naked arm towards the ominous stretch of uneasily-lit corridor. ":Masssterr, :" said Mezz, helpfully. ":I... go.:" And that was all the warning she was given before the beast gracefully ascended the makeshift barricade. It was gliding beyond into the storm-lit corridor well before she herself could tackle the barrier, clearly intent upon leading the paladin to its master.
She had to pry one hand free of the Warblade's hilt before she could climb across, and with a will she set to the crossing, eyes raptly tracking Mezz in between finding places for her hands and feet. A climb was a mild way of putting it, however; it was less that than an awkward hybrid of wading and high-stepping through the wrecked chairs, the remnants of tables and couches, and she more fell than landed when she had at last pulled herself free of its haphazard mass. Mezz was well-down the corridor, and though she would have hurried after to catch up with the demon, the Light bloomed warmly in her chest and made her pause -
The thought shot across her mind like lightning that the blood-pact that prevented Mezz from harming her would also have rendered the Voidwalker unable to so much as raise a finger against Gwynn Sunborn, if the Scion had truly gone mad. It had been loitering hopefully in the landing, vigilant for the spectre of aid, because it could do nothing to defend Hillex against the Wretched being within.
Ahead of her in the corridor lit by what Annat would have called the undead shades of glowballs, feral, diseased-looking spectres of green demonlight that hovered shakily at ankle and eye level, Mezz'thu passed the open doorway of what would have been her parents' suite. In the demon's wake a bright blue frostbolt shot forth without warning, clipped the jamb and deflected to graze mistreated Mezz along its unarmored limb. There was a moment where it stood dumb and looked blankly a moment down at the frost-rimed arm, much like a man would upon being shot, before it shrugged off the blow and plodded out of the line of fire. Its great head was weaving back and forth in a manner that much reminded Annat of a hawkstrider bereft of its mate, absent only the agitated, anxious keening.
":Sending demons after me now, Rommath?!:"
The voice was sharper, somewhat cracked at the end, distorted, but unmistakable; even swiftly followed by maniacal female laughter and a hail of ice from the doorway to plaster the opposing wall in sparkling blue, it bounced its harmonic across every bone in Annat's body like a bard caressing harpstrings. There are some hidden switches that only a mother can tap. The assault on the innocent wall continued after a pause for breath, adding further pockmarks to what was already a battered patch of stone. It hadn't been the first such volley.
":You'll have to do better than that to conquer me, you old fool!:" cackled the insane voice of Gwynn Sunborn, raining icy destruction through the doorway in a veritable hailstorm. ":I am power incarnate! I am the arcane! How dare you challenge me, I who hold the very reins of all creation!!:"
More pelting of the beaten stone, at somewhat more random and crazed angles. Deep within her mind, in a place where neither the infectious warmth of the Light nor the deep-seated chill of her fear could reach, a cynical piece of Annat found voice and thought, Oh, Mother. You always did have a flair for the dramatic.
She resumed the double-hand grip upon the Warblade and began a cautious, balanced walk down the hall, Warblade leading, ready either to sprint into the fray or bolt for the safety of the barricade - even she wasn't quite sure which. ":It isn't Grand Magister Rommath, Mother!:" she called ahead of her, willing her voice to preternatural evenness. ":It's Annat!:"
The volley ceased; the spectres of hope seized Annat's heart as she made careful way down the corridor, but Gwynn ground them under her maddened heel. ":Very clever of you!": answered the magistrix, almost manic in her cheerfulness. ":Attempting to fool me with illusions of my children! The first try with your false Hillex failed, Rommath! Do you think me so foolish as to believe such tripe with the voice of my daughter instead?:"
Annat's blood turned to slush in her veins as her forward movement ground to a halt, and though it was a foolish thing to say, she could not prevent the trembling words from escaping. ":What have you done with Hillex, Mother?:"
":Besides, :" continued Gwynn blithely on, as though the paladin had not spoken, ":my Annie is only a little girl, not a grown woman. You'd think that part you'd have correct, at least, Rommath.:"
The distinct, woodsy scent of burning wood and the accompanying crackle of flame reached her senses then as the archmage abruptly changed tack. Cursing, Annat dove forward as the blastwave demolished a section of wall immediately flanking where she had been standing only heartbeats before, certain she had been singed if not outright set ablaze. She landed in an awkward sprawl an arm's length from the suite doorway, her grip on the Warblade lost, sending it skittering and scraping to rest gently against the gently-smoking column that formed the base of Mezz'thu's great cobalt trunk.
Annat had time to push herself up, muscles resisting the combined torture of gravity and plate armor, and put her back to the stone wall before there was a rain of arcane missles to either side of her, through both the suite door and the new entryway that Gwynn's pyroblast had so recently renovated. These made visible pockmarks in the opposing wall, and arms up to shield her head, Annat felt M'uru's Light thunder in her chest in time with her heartbeat, a pounding she could taste in the back of her throat, and the naaru's siphoned power swelled so strong in her in that moment that everything in her vision left tracers of white and gold -
The missles stopped; there came a dreadful silence from the suite. Then: ":Perhaps you aren't Rommath, :" allowed the mad Lady Gwynn, ":but whoever you are, you have a taste of power about you... more power than this brat, at any rate!:"
There were strident footsepts and a sickening thud, and then a whimper, a high-pitched sound of pain as though a puppy had been kicked.
A puppy, or a young boy -
Annat quashed the terror that threatened to hold her immobile, glanced to the right, to Mezz'thu. The Voidwalker was almost tamely brushing frost from its arm, the Warblade's intrusion into its space only mildly insulting and for the most part, ignored. It lay glittering beyond the gap of the doorway, however, and may as well have been a mile; she would get only one chance for it, and if she was unlucky or Gwynn accurate, Matthaias would soon be the last Sunborn in Quel'danas.
The Light shuddered in the back of her mind, almost a precognizant warning, and hard upon its heels came another abrupt change in the atmosphere. There was a palpable shiver, the greenish faerie-lights shaded blue, and the cold sweat on the back of her neck froze to meet open air; when the first ice lances fell from (and in places through) the ceiling, she hauled herself to her feet through sheer force of will and threw herself across the open doorway, narrowly avoiding impalement on a chill spear, the implement instead shattering upon the floor. Ice shards and water flew everywhere, misted the hallway and her immediate vision, slicked her palms and the pommel of the Warblade so that it was a small miracle that the two found each other and held fast.
Mezz endured the impromptu shower with astounding dignity and grace, where Annat was merely soaked to the skin and chilled to the bone. Teeth chattering, she stared at the Voidwalker in astonishment, then shook her, head, focused again upon the goal.
What was in her favour? Gwynn would try to clip or injure her, not outright destroy her - a dead Sindorei had no innate arcane energy to tap, no magic to drain, and Annat was a direct line to the source of power for every Blood Knight in Azeroth. The magistrix had well and truly cracked, and was hopefully unable to plot anything beyond satisfying her immediate hunger. And even archmages were, as Bettina had once put it, squishy.
Not much advantage on any court, especially if Gwynn blasted her to Kalimdor before Annat could close with her and put an end to the confrontation. But, she thought as she watched and waited for her opening, either her crazed mother would whittle her down one spell at a time until a mistake was made that could not be recovered from, or she pushed her luck now and did something drastic, before the last few grains of sand in her brother's figurative hourglass ran out.
Alaric's daughter chose the latter, and when the ice lances saw the briefest of lulls in their crashing down to earth, she seized upon the chance, drawing on the captive naaru as much as she dared to wreathe herself in wisps of golden energy. Through the open doorway she dove - she caught a confused glimpse of the suite in utter disarray, in as shabby and disheveled a state as the rest of the home - and then she had Gwynn in her sights, the magistrix's arms upraised, fingers twisted like the upper reaches of a gnarled tree, caught in the throes of the magic as much as in the casting of the spell itself. She was haggard, grey-fleshed, green crystals rising like boils from her skin to freckle her face and arms; her cheeks were hollow, limbs gaunt, the voluminous sapphire robes of her former office that had once made her look elegant and windswept now tattered, filthy rags that enhanced the appearance of unnatural gawky thinness. The Sunborn scarlet hair remained, true, but it was lank and bore an oily sheen, a cloud of crimson tangles framing eyes gone huge and pupilless, as if the viridian colour had wholly consumed the whites. Slowly her gaze descended from the heavens to lock upon Annat, the paladin stopped dead in her charge of the magistrix.
And oh, how those eyes burned in Gwynn Sunborn's face, burned as though Kil'jaeden himself had set fel bonfires ablaze in the sockets. There was very little that could be considered Sindorei left in those poisonous green irises, and a moment after she saw the ecstasy and raw, bleeding hunger Annat was rudely introduced to it, felt it as if Gwynn had slammed into her bodily. The ghost of the racial addiction stirred from its careful slumber and lifted its great head, hearing the call, rumbling with a hunger that no mortal power could ever satisfy -
No! There would be no reenactments of her nightmares this day. She drew upon the Light without thought or permission, smothered the rapacious and insatiable part of her soul in the holy energy of the naaru's being, stamped out its gluttonous passion before it could truly waken unto itself. It left a dull aching in its wake, once again locked away, and if M'uru felt insulted that Annat had taken by force what was necessary to shackle the hunger once again, he gave no sign of it, then or ever.
But precious seconds had been lost as Annat struggled with herself, and Gwynn had her now in her sights, the ice lances losing her attention, left to soak and rime the hallway and the powerless Voidwalker cowering in it. The magistrix tilted her head, smiled a crooked, manic smile, her eyes mismatched in size. ":Power, :" she purred, and she pressed her palms together under her chin, fingers interwoven, as though smitten with adoration... or lust of a very specific, very Sindorei kind. ":I... want it!:"
Purple curls of energy began to float like smoke from her joined fingers, and Annat, shaking free of her momentary paralysis, bolted forward. The Warblade led the charge, and with a cry she hauled the greatsword round, meaning to cleave Gwynn in half if she could -
But Gwynn smiled an almost happy grin, and disappeared -
Bleeding Blink spells! snarled Annat inside her own mind, but she could not cease the momentum, spun on her toes a half circle before the Warblade could be brought to a halt, now facing the way she had come. Her mother was in the doorway now, giggling almost hysterically as fire bloomed beneath the paladin's feet, the flamestrike spitting molten embers into the air and sizzling with steam where the water from the lances met the red-hot marble floor.
Annat threw herself out of the upward rain of fire, one boot leaving a footprint in the heat-softened stone where Gwynn's spell warped it, and when she found herself having skidded some distance to the side in a stable kneel, Warblade in hand, she assumed the ragged pile of purple fabric to her right to be curtains torn from the walls - at least, until it moved feebly and mewled like an injured kitten.
But not for long, if Annat fell prey to Gwynn's magic. Hope surged within her and gave her the strength to stand again, and when the first arcane missile flew to seek its target she was braced for the impact. The magic shuddered through her frame, as much pain as pleasure, but the salvo did not stop her, and forward strode she, eyes narrowed. She freed a hand, reached out towards Gwynn, twitched a muscle in the back of her brain that defied explanation to those not of the Sindorei, and there was an audible hissing snap sound as a measure from the innate well of magic in Gwynn's soul was drawn and met open air. The flavour of the arcane was indescribable, but much like how the paladin imagined soda water spiked with stars.
Gwynn shrieked and bared her teeth in indignant, evil rage at the paladin's brazenness. ":You dare!:" she howled, her features even more drawn and feral-seeming than before. ":You insolent wench! I'll drain you dry!!:" And she curled her hands into claws and her teeth became fangs, wisps of smoke rising from her fingers now; Annat intended not to allow her the time to think, much less finish the spell, even with her Wretched-imbued speed and shattering of the laws of safe arcane practice. Forward she rushed, into the maw of the dragon, and just as she thought she might feel its breath or the bite of its icy fangs she expelled the foreign mana forcefully from that place in the back of her mind. The torrent of energy broke like a pale wave between her and Gwynn, a tide that heralded a vacuum - and blessed, eerie silence. The smoke vanished, the crackling ceased, and to Gwynn's utter incomprehension, the spell failed.
Annat pressed the advantage, and it was only the speed of her transformation into shunned Sindorei monster that saved Gwynn then; one mighty swing, a second, and Gwynn evaded the fatal blows, weaving and giving up ground into the ruined hallway. Then sound returned, and with it fury, strong and strident. The breath of the dragon found the paladin then, heat scorching and blackening her armor, searing her face and setting her sense of direction on its ear. The hall spun wildly in her vision as she struggled to make sense of the sudden carousel of her surroundings, and only the sharp pain in her chest that heralded a turning of her tactics upon herself anchored her to a world based upon the rules of physics.
Back in her place in the room, Gwynn was laughing shrilly, a sound like a file rasping away pieces of one's sanity just to hear it, and there was a distinct undercurrent of joyful destructive malice even in the supposedly-innocent sound of molten lava rising to the archmage's call. No more playing games - no more aiming to incapacitate. Gwynn's already mercurial motives had shifted to intent to kill, and Annat was rooted in place, unable to react in time. She saw almost in slow motion the great ball of flame as it was called into being and laboriously formed.
The pyroblast was easily the size of a small pony when it was finally launched. Annat screwed her eyes shut, the Warblade rising like the bladed prow of a ship more out of knee-jerk reaction than any usefulness, and she spat a Word that sang with Light and fire and etched golden words across the insides of her eyelids. The blast impacted harmlessly at the outer wall of her divine shield, much to Gwynn's incoherent fury, and when the paladin dared open her eyes again, the magistrix was readying a counterspell to sever Annat briefly from the bottomless well of M'uru's power. That, they both knew, would end Annat's irritating presence here as well as her ability to defend herself - the power did not have to be suppressed long for it to be suppressed long enough.
Annat scrambled to think, staring her own doom in the face. But then, something unexpected happened; a single black bolt of energy, drifting almost aimlessly through the air, found a mark in the center of Gwynn's back as she was casting, and the magistrix shrieked, reacted without thinking. The Blink sent her into the fiery wake of her disippated pyroblast and inside the reach of Annat's sword, for a split second vulnerable, disoriented. Annat struck without thought, before preemptive grief could halt her blade.
The Warblade took her in the gut, and Gwynn's already wide eyes grew huge in her face. She choked, and Annat, bile rising in her throat, pushed forward and up, twisting the blade, causing horrid and irrevocable damage; the archmage gurgled and stared at her as though such a fate were inconceivable, and that surprised look remained on her face even after she had collapsed on the floor, breathed a ragged sigh, and life fled from her.
It would have been easier if she had bled simple scarlet lifeblood. Annat could have handled that - she had seen many of her comrades die in the Plaguelands, the fate of her father, Haiduc and the Dayhearts nonwithstanding. But the fluids of Gwynn Sunborn's body had, in the transformation into one of the Wretched, metamorphed into blue liquid mana; this was what now soaked the body and saturated her robes, pooling in the flame-warped marble and leaking from her mouth.
Knees shaking and unfit to hold her, Annat released her locked muscles, dropped the Warblade to let it clatter to the marble, and retched on all fours there next to the fresh corpse of Gwynn Sunborn. The remainder of Kalarin's breakfast had vacated her stomach when a shadow passed across her prone form, and looking up, Annat saw Mezz'thu lumbering across the suite, hurried as much as the great blue beast could be. She followed the track of its beeline and saw, much to her great relief, Hillex on his side on the floor, panting heavily with one arm thrown out across the stone, one eye swollen shut and the other blazing viridian under a sheaf of sun-blonde hair. His warlock trainee's robes were a mess, and Annat did not want to contemplate what sort of injuries lay beneath the cloth, but he lived.
":You saved me, :" said Annat, wiping her lips with a hand. She could rinse her mouth of the taste of vomit soon enough. Hillex tried to shrug in classic preteen disinterest from his slump on the floor, putting up a front far braver than any twelve year old boy had a right to - he flinched anyway and curled in on himself a few degrees, a cascade of pain responses set off by the simple gesture. Mezz'thu hovered over him in agitation, desiring to help its master, but unable to divine how to do so; demons were not exactly caring or tender beings.
":I saved us both, :" panted Hillex through the spasms, as Annat knee-walked her way over to her brother. She touched his hair gently, a sisterly gesture; he made a face at her but did not wince away from it, if only by virtue of the fact that to do so would inflict more pain upon himself.
":That was a very brave thing you did, facing Mother:" said she, smiling the smile of those who are determined to see the silver lining. ":Very foolish, :" she added, ":but very brave.:"
":I didn't think... that you were ever coming back.:" The sentence was segmented, each packet of words forced out between ragged breaths, and he glanced away from her, unable to meet her jade gaze. She stroked his hair away from his face, partially to soothe him and partially to reassure herself with the knowledge that he truly had survived.
":One can hardly blame you.:" A pause, a breath. ":Lady Firedark is beside herself with worry.:"
":Lady Firedark thinks -:" His words cut short with a sharp intake of breath as Annat bent to lift him in her arms, the fabric pooling about her hands and blood pooling in the young warlock's shadow. Her stomach lurched again, but Annat staunchly ignored it and the Warblade laying still on the half-melted stone. Hillex spoke again once he had regained his breath, when his sister had come to her feet with him in a princess-carry, and there was an indignant, pouty undertone to his voice. ":Lady Firedark thinks I'm merely a child.:"
Ah, thought Annat. ":A child is one primarily by virtue of acting like one.:" The first few wobbling steps were uncertain, but growing steadily assured as she adjusted to Hillex's weight. The boy was far lighter than he should have been, the fabric of his robes sticky in places, and she dared not think on it in detail until he was seen by a healer.
He eyed her as shrewdly as one could with one eye swollen closed under an angry bruise already shading towards black. ":And what does that that mean?:" But Annat's smile was serene; she forced it so, clambering over the furniture barricade as gracefully as possible. Hillex flinched and squelched a whimper when her foot slid across a turned wooden chair leg, a hairsbreadth from sending both Sunborns tumbling over the barrier, but Annat recovered her balance with an effort and marched onward.
":It means precisely as I said, and nothing more.:" He huffed at the delicately evasive answer, but chose not to argue with her phrasing. Down the wide, curving stair, Mezz'thu a cobalt shadow in the paladin's wake; upstairs the fel light fueled by Gwynn's madness was slowly dying, like embers left to snuff themselves under their own weight, and the journey was thus made only by thin streamers of afternoon light still leaking in from high above. They picked their way across the floor and under the decaying chandelier, but when Annat drew close to the massive ghostwood door, Hillex twined his fingers in his own robes, prompting her pause. ":Yes?:"
":You're... you're the Scion now, right, Annie?:" He would not meet her gaze, instead tipping his head forward to hide it among the thatch of sun-blonde hair, but the voice was of a little boy lost and not the adult he so desperately pretended to be. He trembled and strove to hide it, shock or fear or both setting in, and the smile that curved his sister's mouth was tinged with sadness. He had not called her by her pet-name since he was old enough to resent being patronized by his elders, and she would not begrudge him of it now, nor tease him on it later.
But she could sense what he wanted, and tipped her head as well, to touch her brow to his. Her words she dropped to a whisper, her lashes she dropped to veil her jade eyes. ":Yes. I am the Scion now. And that means I will take care of you, and Matthaias, and Lady Firedark and the Summerblazes, and all others who serve under the banner of House Sunborn. Mother and Father are gone to whatever fate awaits them, and Val -:" She stumbled, grasped for an appropriate lie, Hillex need not yet know that their eldest brother had eloped with a Kaldorei huntress, ":Val is gone into the wild. You and I and Matthaias are all that's left, and while I swear I will not abandon you, we all must be strong for each other. I trust you to guard my back at court. Can you do that for me, once you've healed?:"
He sniffed surreptitiously and nodded, a fractional movement, and if he ever thought twice of her momentary fumble, he never parted with the knowledge. She smiled a wan, defeated look that was more a grizzly grin than anything else, and pressed a kiss to his forehead through the tangles of his hair. Before her courage or her strength could abandon her, she risked dropping her brother just long enough to throw open the heavy platinum bolt on the ancient door and shoulder it open, to stagger out into the dazzling brightness of the sun.
Things happened altogether quickly after that; there was a cacophony of voices and a swirl of bodies and motion, and questions asked and perhaps answered, and guiding hands and brave offers, but the paladin would not relinquish her brother to the care of any other. Though she bore no memory of such, she must have been helped into the saddle, for at one point Annat was certain she was ahorse with Hillex in her arms with his head tucked under her neck, Obsidian stepping merrily through Silvermoon's city streets. The hellsteed was suspiciously optimistic and well-behaved, the tempting honor guard of the Dayheart siblings and Althiea Firedark well within nipping range but yet unbitten, and Annat was certain as well that there had been mischief afoot whilst she had dueled mad Gwynn Sunborn in their ancestral home; but all concerns faded from her as the procession reached Farstriders' Square, and a much larger, waiting escort.
Word of her arrival, it seemed, had rippled outward both forward and back, the paladin's presence disturbing greatly Silvermoon's natural order; the company awaiting on the Blood Knights' doorstep contained far too many members of disparate circles to have been cohesive for very long. Several healers of the paladin and priest variety were present, eager to work their talents upon Hillex Sunborn, as well as a small cadre of spellbreakers to keep the peace, myriad Blood Knights bearing shields strapped to their backs or great Warblades of their own under the watchful eye of Knight-Lord Bloodvalor, and several magisters and magistrixes, colleagues most likely of Gwynn before her madness.
Annat struggled to sweep her gaze across every face present, to look regal and commanding as a newborn Scion ought, but only those she already knew stood out with any clarity, the visages of others hazing over, fading whitely away into the morass of memory. It helped not that M'uru's light was so loud here, so brightly beating in her chest in time with her calming heart, mere dozens of feet from where the naaru was held captive and all of Annat's mental boundaries lowered of her own will - necessary, in order to survive the battle with Gwynn, but now the paladin wondered, dimly, if survival had been worth the exposure.
She thought the naaru laughed then, if the tarnished-windchime sound she associated with the Light could be considered laughter, and the edges of her vision feathered pale.
Kevyn and Rastylin worked to gently coax her from Obsidian's back - their words seemed muffled and unintelligible, as though Annat had stuffed wax in her ears, and could not make themselves understood beyond a simple impetus to move forward. Bloodvalor spoke once and made grand gestures, and Blood Knights of all talents swirled and eddied about them, a sea of blades and black and scarlet tabards, pressing them onward with the force of their presences as much as of their wills, though none were so brazen as to risk Obsidian's bridle with their breakable fingers. The spellbreakers looked on with impassive, judgmental faces as Lady Firedark blockaded the coterie of archmages from sweeping down upon the procession with their stridence and their questions.
She stumbled once, only once, before Kevyn snatched Hillex from her arms and spirited him away to the company of healers waiting in a group to the side. Rastylin shored her up and would neither let her fall nor let her pursue her brother; her burden taken from her and the end within sight, Annat acquiesced at last to exhaustion, allowed the light trespassing in her vision to whitewash the world. It was done; the battle was over.
The war had just begun, but for now, head bowed to her chest and the Light singing through her soul with a melody both painful and lovely, Annat Sunborn rested.