She could have been asleep. The night elf's features were perfectly relaxed except for her mouth, which frowned slightly as though her dreams were not pleasant ones. Her body was intact and largely unharmed, unlike many of the others they had seen in recent days. Tyrande Whisperwind knelt by the corpse to take a closer look. There was bloody kelp in the dead woman's hair and she reeked of the sea and slow rot. Dead several days. She had probably been one of the first victims of the Cataclysm, swept away by the flood. No priestess of Elune could bring her back now.
"Tyrande!" The high priestess's head snapped up as the voice of one of her closest confidants, Merende, rang through the air. Searching the shores along Rut'theran Village, she saw Merende comforting a younger priestess who sobbed into her white robes. Walking over, Tyrande began to understand why. The tangled body of a young night elf girl lay before them.
Her sister, Merende mouthed silently, indicating the grief-stricken priestess. Tyrande nodded and motioned for them to move away. When the area was clear, she turned her gaze to the corpse. She knew right away that there was no hope—the limbs were twisted at sickening angles and the wounds had been drained bloodless—but the night elves did not abandon their dead. The body would be cleansed, the injuries hidden, and the broken joints set right, before being committed back to the earth.
Tyrande crouched down and wiped the mud from the girl's face, whispering soft prayers for the moon goddess to guide her spirit and comfort her sister's grief. The grit slid away, revealing light violet skin and waves of dark blue hair. The almond-shaped eyes were still open, staring up into the clouded sky. It was a face much like one she had first seen many thousands of years ago. Tyrande shut her eyes against the oncoming tears.
Shandris… if only I could hear from you….
"How far were you able to travel, Morthis?" Malfurion Stormrage asked, handing the scout a mug of steaming hot cider. The other night elf gulped it down gratefully and suppressed a shiver. He was soaked to the skin after returning from his patrol, but comfort could wait until his findings were shared. The two druids took shelter in the uppermost room of the Cenarion Enclave.
"The winds were terrible. I could only reach Maestra's Post, but they had received some reports from Astranaar and Feralas." The scout settled himself on one of the wooden benches in the chamber, watching nervously as the branches of Darnassus's trees swayed outside.
"Astranaar still stands?" Malfurion's voice swelled with relief. He had been coordinating scouting patrols for days, but half of the druids couldn't even reach the mainland despite their best efforts. They were starved for news, and many had feared the worst.
"Yes, it was spared along with Nijel's Point, but the settlements along the coast have been less fortunate."
"What do you mean?"
Download high-resolution "Darkshore is unapproachable. None of the druids who have been sent there have returned," the scout's voice broke with sorrow. Some of his friends were among the missing. "I had to fly all the way around to avoid getting caught in the gale winds."
"What of Feathermoon Stronghold?" Malfurion asked. Just as he had spoken, Tyrande's slim frame appeared in the doorway of the room.
"Feathermoon?" Morthis glanced at the archdruid as if uncertain whether or not he should continue. "The scouts were unable to make contact with anyone there. From a distance, they saw churning seas and… naga." His voice sunk to a whisper as he noticed Tyrande approaching them. "… Hundreds of naga." The monstrous, serpent-like creatures had mounted attacks against Feathermoon Stronghold in the past, but a full-scale assault was unheard of.
"Did they see anyone on the isle? Any survivors?" the high priestess asked sharply.
The scout shook his head. "No one." Tyrande's expression was crushing, and he felt, more than guessed at, her heartache. "But the skies were dark and it was raining heavily. I doubt the general is—" He paused, rethinking his words. "I mean, the Sentinels at Feathermoon Stronghold are most capable, High Priestess."
Tyrande sighed and placed her hand on his shoulder reassuringly. "Your courage and steadfastness have brought us this news, Morthis. Thank you for that. This is the first we have heard from the mainland since this tragedy struck. We will ask no more of you now. Please, rest."
The scout nodded and walked out in slow, tired strides.
Malfurion turned to his wife. Her beautiful, nearly ageless face was stricken with worry, fear, and a trace of the immovable determination he had come to recognize over their long courtship.
"There were five victims at Rut'theran," she said. "None whom I could save."
"Tyrande..." Malfurion enclosed her hands in his comfortingly.
"I have to go to her, Mal. Shandris is like a daughter to me." She paused. "Perhaps the only daughter I will ever have."
Her words stung. There had been a time when the future was limitless for the night elves, but sacrificing the World Tree Nordrassil's blessings had meant the end of that dream as well. The consequences of the night elves' new mortality were still unclear, but many felt a silent dread resting upon their shoulders. The children of the stars were no longer as ageless as their name implied.
"I understand, but why now? How do you know that the stronghold's fate is not already decided?" he asked, his brow furrowing in concern.
"Shandris has been in my thoughts since this all began. I cannot tell you how I know, only that I am certain of it."
"You have had a vision, then?" Malfurion knew that the moon goddess, Elune, had granted Tyrande such insights in the past.
"No, not this time. Elune has been veiled of late. My feelings come from within.... A mother knows when her child is in peril." She paused as he looked at her skeptically. "Not all bonds are in blood, Mal."
"But ever since this tragedy struck, we have been telling our people to stay in Teldrassil—not to search for their relatives on the mainland lest they find nothing but their deaths."
"Do you believe that I go to my death, then?" Her eyes glinted like ice.
"No," he admitted. There was no denying that the high priestess was one of Elune's favored and also a formidable warrior in her own right. "But I would not leave Darnassus during such dire times. I know that I have been absent too often before—it troubles me. I wish I had been there when Teldrassil was formed, when my brother met his end in Outland...." He sighed. "Yet I cannot change the past. I can only be here now." And I would have you here by my side, he would have added, but her expression silenced him.
"Illidan's fate was unfortunate, Mal. We were all helpless against it. His madness overwhelmed him until there was nothing left." She could still remember how strange he had seemed, almost alien, when Sargeras had burned out his eyes thousands of years ago. "We must spend our efforts on those who can be saved… or else we shall regret our choices time and time again."
She turned and walked out, her ivory robes swirling about her like a fast-rising storm.