Writing Contest 2011 Entry

Darnassus was still, as it ever seemed to be. The capital of the Night Elves was far removed from the rest of the world, not touching any continent and closer to clouds than the earth. Despite the turmoil that covered most of Azeroth, the home of so many Night Elves was still a safe haven.

It seemed to Malfurion nearly ironic. Turmoil of this second sundering had touch each of their allies in some way—the dwarves had lost their beloved king in his attempts to calm the quaking world, and part of the Human's capital city had been torn away—but though his people probably deserved the suffering the most it had touched their capital least. Yes, many of their settlements had suffered and he would not do the injustice of belittling those lives lost and yet he couldn't help feeling that it hadn't been enough. Save the Draenei, all had suffered losses much closer to home. They were not equal.

The easiest place to see this was here, in the Temple of Elune. The things the Night Elves treasured most had remained unchanged by the upheaval of the world. Even the peace of the place had remained intact, drawing to it the Worgen, Draenei, and other races of the Alliance who longed for a place of healing unmatched anywhere in the world.

However, it was a bit unusual to see a dwarf in among the other races flitting among the grasses and soft light of the fountain. Yet there she was, stout little body moving with as much reverence as a dwarf could muster toward the ramp that led to the priestesses. Her brilliantly red hair stood out like a battle standard among the cooler colors of the temple, making the young dwarf seem even more out of place than her body language did.

"There is a messenger here for you, Shan'do Stormrage." He did not know the priestess that addressed him by name, but the hesitancy in her tone caused the archdruid to wince slightly. Never had he striven to lead his people by fear, but it seemed his legend could not be prevented from inspiring awe in the generation of Night Elves born during his long periods of slumber.

The new heroes of Azeroth.

"Shall I tell her to come at a better time?" The priestess's gown swished as she bounced in place, seeming unsure whether to stay herself.

Malfurion turned toward her. She was very young, with wide silver eyes and long dusk colored hair caught in two braids that tucked behind her head in the new fashion. She reminded him a bit of a mouse that had found itself in the sights of an owl, and he tried to soften his tone appropriately. "No, now is fine. Show her up."

A graceful bow from the priestess who all but fled from his presence. Perhaps he should not let his musings become so dark. Tyrande always seemed at ease among their people, and though they held her in reverence she was always accessible to them. Ready to assist in their problems, and while they respected they did not fear. How had he crossed that line so far without realizing it?

As he'd guessed, the messenger was the dwarf female. Her curled red hair was tied in a long braid down her back, loose strands framing a freckled face with large eyes the color of freshly dug earth. It was evident she had come far; she had obviously attempted to tidy herself as the traveling clothes she wore were clean but patched, worn through in places, and stained with the cares of this war torn world. Under one arm she had a wrapped parcel, the rough paper covering tied with twine to completely conceal its contents.

"Nice place ye got here." She said brightly, and Malfurion couldn't stop a small smile. The dwarf had adapted, in the way only her race seemed capable of.

"You are welcome here as long as you like," he was unsure what to call her, and he didn't wish to ask her name. Ultimately, they both knew that the only thing that mattered was who had sent her and what he or she wanted. He sincerely hoped she was not from the Council of Three Hammers; Malfurion wished to remain outside of the conflicts of the other races and would not assist any one of the three heads that asked him singularly.

"Thank ye kindly, but Brann will be expectin' me back once I give ye this." She held out her parcel with both hands to him, holding it about level with the top of her head. "He sends his greetings to ye, as well."

Malfurion took the object from her. It was surprisingly heavy for a small rectangular object only just larger than his palm. With his left hand he started to work free the knot while the dwarf continued to speak.

"We was diggin' around down in Kalimdor—one of those new places the earthquakes brought up—when our expedition found this. Brann translated it, an' he thought you'd like it back. It's a bit worn, mind, but it's been buried; well, ye know how long, not I. Still plays though. Lovely melody, too."

The parcel paper fell off as the twine came loose, revealing a tarnished silver box. It had a lid, and though it was worn smooth in places he could still make out a scene that had been etched in of trees with vines that spilled over the edge, a lake, and Elune shining above it all. Carefully, Malfurion lifted the lid and instantly he was coated with magic that left a tingling on his skin as an echoing flute melody washed over him from years ago. That style of music had been popular in Queen Azshara's court, and though it had not been heard for thousands of years the box still played it as if the musicians were standing in the room.

What caught his attention, though, were the runes carved beautifully along the top, decorated in ivy along the letters. Though it was nearly smoothed out, a good portion of the message was still readable.

"For Tyrande, with all my love," Malfurion whispered, slightly awed. The last word was not visible, but he knew it. Knew it from the hours spent finding this present for his wife, all those years ago. The money and the magic that been expended for the perfect gift, and none of it his.

The last word was the key that the dwarves could not have known, and they would have left it buried if they had. They had assumed that Malfurion had been the one give it to her, but he was not.

It had once read "with all my love, Illidan".

Hamuul stamped one large hoof, grinding into the earth a layer of ash and with it the precious seeds of the plants the fires had destroyed. Those seeds were hardy, and would break the earth for the more fragile saplings and plant life to follow. Some things could be helped along with druidic magic, but many more required time, nurturing, and care. 'Much,' Malfurion thought with an ironic turn of his lips, 'as our friend the Tauren Archdruid did. We will restore this land from death just as we did him.'

"This land," Hamuul said stated, kneeling to hold up a hand full of dirt and ash, "is beginning to heal already; though I fear it will never be the same."

"It has changed many times before, and will continue to do so for ages to come." Just as it had changed when the orcs and demons had come. As it had when Illidan had attempted to restore the well.

Illidan…it seemed his brother was on his mind often lately. Ever since the the dwarf had brought him that box, Malfurion had been unable to shake his twin from his mind. It seemed more and more often lately that he was looking over his shoulder for a glimpse of that cocky smile and mischievous amber eyes that hadn't been there for over a millennia. For the comfort of the other part of his soul.

Even when he had had Illidan imprisoned, no matter how much he hurt and raged, there had been the knowledge that if he needed him Illidan would still be there. If he needed his advice or someone who could understand without asking, or even a sarcastic remark to remind him that he was far from the demigod most of their people seemed to believe, Illidan would be there. And, when he slipped through the dark portal and Malfurion had opted to leave him there, it had always seemed in the back of his mind that he could seek his brother if the need arose and Illidan would be there.

Now, no matter how far he looked Illidan would never be there again.

Hamuul seemed not to have noticed that his companion was lost in thought, or else chose not to acknowledge it. "So much death and destruction, caused by our very own. And for what purpose? They could gain nothing from so much pain."

"Fandral did not…could not…let go of his son's death. I imagine he wanted all the world to know the anguish of his loss." And know it he did. Though he had never had a child of his own, how could that loss compare to knowing betrayal from the one who was meant to understand? That you had shared breath with from before birth?

The tall night elf glanced around, dark eyebrows furrowing as he surveyed the decaying remains of a once beautiful forest. All caused by those he had trained in the druidic arts. By his own people, once so much like himself. Maybe, they were still, when it counted, too much alike.

All of them, so sarcastically calling him shan'do. Did they realize, then, that he and Fandral were not so different after all? One, unable to release the memory of a child cruelly ripped from this world; the other clinging desperately to phantoms of a brother long gone, searching for the answer as to which of them really betrayed the other.

That was the part that was nagging at Malfurion now. All the choices he had made then…he had been so certain they were the right ones. They had seen how much damage arcane magic could do, and he had been so certain that his people had to protected from that power. That they could learn to overcome that addiction and be stronger for it.

In some ways, he had been right. They had been granted immortality, and they had survived for many millennia with the guidance of Elune and Cenarius.

Malfurion glanced over to where a young night elf mage seemed to be struggling to put out a fire as her highborn instructor watched. The water elemental she had summoned was spurting forth a steady stream of water, but as the fire was still crackling merrily away and the mage herself was soaked, things did not seem to be going well for her.

The kal'dorei had survived, certainly, but could he really say that his people had flourished? From age to age, when he had awoken, there had been a comfort in the familiarity of his surroundings. Nothing had changed in all the ages of the world.

Now, faced with one betrayal after another from Fandral, Leyara, Maiev, and so many that had followed them, Malfurion wondered how much of his actions had been wisdom and how much fear of what he could not understand. Their way of life had been preserved for so long that it had decayed, and when new life had been introduced the old had resisted.

If he had allowed Illidan to try his way, offered mercy to those who had not been directly involved in Azshara's plot and had their way of life stolen from them, would things have been different? The high elves had proven that a culture could grow and evolve without corruption as long as their leaders remained true. What if he had trusted Illidan and allowed them to try?

United, perhaps, they could have faced so many threats without so much loss.

"You are brooding," Hamuul was looking down his long snout, dark eyes soft with an understanding Malfurion was unsure he deserved. "Perhaps a rest from this work would do you some good."

"Perhaps." Malfurion surveyed the desolate landscape around him, unsure how to feel. Always, he had been so convinced he was right. Had struggled to hate his brother in a way that felt required, and push the memories of what they had once been from his mind; but even now he mourned for him. What would Illidan say if he could see their world now? Could see the young mage struggling so hard to help, and the destruction caused by the very earth itself?

Hamuul stood, placing a large hand on Malfurion's shoulder. "Time is what is needed here, for us as well as the mountain. It brings healing to all things."

Time. A concept still foreign to the night elves, for whom it had meant so little for so long; even he knew, however, that no amount of time could return Illidan or bring him the answers he craved. The past would always remain there, unless…"You are right. I think I will take my leave for the moment."

It seemed that Hamuul understood what was not being said, as with a swish of his tail the large Tauren stepped back and simply nodded. He did not seem surprised and asked no questions when the night elf transformed into a hawk and started a long flight south.

Unlikely though it was that Hamuul had intended that he fly all the way to Tanaris as his break from the work at Hyjal, but as the world zipped below him in shade of green and red, eventually giving way to white sands, Malfurion could not force himself to care. The druids and their allies had things handled well at Hyjal, and he was of no use to them until he had some answers.

Though Malfurion had never visited the caverns of time himself, he had heard of several night elves that had been inside, and it was not difficult to find. The large dragon guarding the entrance was a dead giveaway.

This one was not an aspect, and though he had dealt with Ysera for centuries Malfurion decided to approach carefully. Dragons were never creatures to be taken lightly. Which is why it surprised him to see a small gnome sitting calmly at the large bronze drake's feet.

"I was beginning to think that I'd picked the wrong time stream," the female gnome said brightly, getting to her tiny feet as he landed and dropped his bird guise. "After a while it all gets very confusing. My name is Chronormu, but you can call me Chromie. You should be flattered, Malfurion, that Norzdomu takes your request so seriously as to send me for you."

Unsure of what to say to all of this, Malfurion could only blink. Of course, when one could see all ends, he would be expected, and why wouldn't they already know the answer to a request he hadn't yet made? It was just…difficult to wrap his mind around. "Will you assist me, then?"

"It isn't really that simple." Chromie crossed the sand to him, looking up at his face from about his knees. "There are of course time lines that are not the same as this one. I could bring Illidan over from one of them, but what would it affect? How would he be different?"

The druid took a deep breath, reminding himself that the small form in front of him was only an illusion. Underneath was a powerful dragon that he really did not wish to fight. "Those are the questions I came to ask you."

"Every choice we make changes the direction of our lives, for good or ill. If you had chosen not to bury Illidan in the earth," and she put an odd emphasis on that last word like he should remember it, "then perhaps things would be different. But perhaps not. Perhaps that wasn't the choice that doomed him, or maybe it was the choice that saved the world."

"You aren't going to give me any answers at all." Tyrande had told him in the past that his habit of trying to lead others to their own answers could grate on ones nerves. He could now see exactly what she meant.

"The fact is, Malfurion, that we are tasked with preserving the correct timeline. Any events, no matter how noble or longed for, that would corrupt it must be avoided. Whether or not we can return your brother to you remains to be seen." The gnome frowned at him, bangs falling down into her large eyes. "The time line is always in flux. When one of the timelines ends in a way that feels wrong, we know it must be avoided."

That was difficult to wrap his mind around, to be certain. Far more so than knowing the feel of nature coming to his aid, or sensing the difference between dream and vision. "How do you know what the correct option is? That Illidan's death was what was best for this world? That we will never need his help again?"

"I don't, at this moment." This didn't seem to bother her nearly as much as it did Malfurion. "Time is always in motion, and we may yet find that he is needed and intended to return. To be saved from his fate, somewhere. And we may find that his death at the Black Temple is exactly what it had to be. What I can tell you is it will not be now."

"So, I came all this way for no answers and no direction." His patience, usually only a thought away, was swiftly evaporating. He needed answers. He could not keep hanging onto these questions, or they would destroy him as surely as such grief had Fandral.

"Not so." And the severe little face softened, seeming more like the few gnomes Malfurion had encountered. "I can't tell you much, but I can promise that it will not always ache. You have forgotten over the long years of sleep and isolation that you can forgive yourself as well as others, and the pain will fade."

"It did not for so many."

"That was no fault of time's. When you keep slicing into a wound, it cannot heal no matter how much we try." The tiny creature sighed, looking back with a smile at the dragon now watching them with a neutral expression from the entrance. "You have made many mistakes, Malfurion, and you will make many more. You must believe, however, that the good you do will outweigh them in the end. That is what the difference is and always will be between those who carry on and those that surrender."

"The good I have done is hard to see sometimes." When the world was crashing around them, one disaster after another, tearing families and peoples apart, destroying some and raising others—how could he see that anything he did was any good to anyone?

"The world is still following you. Horde and Alliance, Night Elf and Worgen…they all look to you as their example and leader. As long as most of them are still willing to follow you, then your path is the right one. Take comfort in that."

It was shallow comfort, at best, and that must have read on his face as Chromie reached up and patted his thigh gently.

"You have learned from your past, Malfurion. You banished them before, but welcome them now. Like time, you are willing to change. You learn without letting it destroy you. That shows strength of your own, and though you might miss your brother you have stood on your own and will continue to do so. There is no room for doubt in the challenges you must face moving forward."

He thought of the box the dwarf had brought, now tucked safely away in the room he shared with Tyrande, but hidden from sight. Yes, that had been Illidan's present to her, and his love for her had been what had always saved his brother when it counted the most. Perhaps he could remind himself, for now, of the good that his brother had once been. Of the quick humor and easy confidence that his brother had once been. Illidan had taught him how to think differently, when to be serious and when he needed to laugh, and to see his own weaknesses.

Though the pain was far from gone, he'd found that Chromie's simple words had taken the edge off his own knife. The wound, though still raw and bleeding, could not be cut deeper. Not that way.

Malfurion bowed as low as he could manage. "I thank you for your wisdom."

She simply waved with a quirky half smile. "Until we meet again, Malfurion, good luck."