To be young, but to feel ancient. He was as mobile as he ever was, but his muscles seemed slower now. More taught, like they had been sewn into the bone. His face — a familiar light dusting of stubble covering his cheeks and chin — felt dry. The moon’s glow gave the top of his bald head a faint aura. The moonwell below him offered up his reflection. He didn’t look that different, from years ago.
He wasn’t that different.
But apoptosis says otherwise. Time says otherwise.
Seven years, give or take. Seven years since he’d stood in this spot. Since he’d first visited this place.
It was nothing like it was.
Azshara, then, was a place of eternal autumn. The leaves always seemed to be falling, the land an exhale or two away from giving in to the slumber brought by snow and thick, silencing clouds. But it never came. That beauty that perpetually exists in the twilight, between life and death, between day and night — it always existed here. It never left. The ley lines, the arcing power just beneath the shattered surface — it kept things locked in time.
The Cataclysm came, the world was torn asunder yet again, and the mountains were etched away not by the inevitability of time, but rather the touch of one of the more destructive races carving their literal mark into the mountains and hills. It was polluted now, literally, but also figuratively. It was as if this one extra burden was the excuse the land needed to finally die, to finally rest. And so it did. Royan expected to feel warmth for this place, but there simply wasn’t anything there. He felt hollow.
His blood was here. Hers, too. Maybe, in another time, he could’ve felt the scar of the scale he had ripped from his chest. Now?
The wind picked up, sulfur on the breeze. Once, the acridity of the air was less a mixture of burnt oil and smog and more from the crackling of pine. It made his mouth taste sour, and he had to refrain from giving in to the urge to spit. He turned his back to the breeze instead.
The cliff behind the long-abandoned moonwell caught his eye. He remembered the protective druid, Swiftwind, standing there. Sarucarn, too, the old, crusty bastard. They’d both caused him grief, but he’d missed both of them.
All of them, really.
He sighed. When he left to join Alexstrasza and the others, he knew there was a certain finality to it. He’d denied what he was — what he was destined to be for so long — but he couldn’t deny the call his blood had, or where it wanted to take him. Yet, there was no reunion, no belonging. Soon as he’d returned, he had been alienated again, his own mission seen as nothing but the whims of a foolish drake. He fought, regardless. Maybe that’s what the call he felt really was.
Either way, they’d won. It seemed like seconds after he returned, after he came to try to find some sense of belonging with his flight, they suddenly were no more: Alexstrasza declared it the day of mortals, and all he could feel was bitterness. That was his call, that was his plea, and yet his words had been ignored. After, she told him his words had been heeded. His mission — these were his fruits. His reward.
And so he left, again.
He’d go back — to find the adventurers he’d called his friends, and maybe more. Royan expected to find them, doing what they always had, standing on the edge of the world, a last bastion against whatever evils came forth from the Nether.
When he returned, though, there was nothing. The Scarlet March wasn’t even a whisper. It was as if it had never existed, as if nothing they’d done had ever stuck. No one knew his name, or hers, or any of them. They had become nameless heroes, spoken about in rhyme around campfires, but without any flesh. Just legends.
Perhaps that was comforting, in a way. When he had first sat at that bar, listening in on the thief and the shaman, he’d never meant to get attached, or involved. He wanted to be the whisper, the narrator of the story — never the protagonist. But he soon sat at the head of the March, and…
“I knew I’d find you here,” a voice said from behind him. Royan turned, unable to hold back a goofy smile. A Night Elf stood just a stride away from him, his body covered in dark, dusky leathers, his face hidden behind a shroud.
“How’d you know I’d be here, right now? At this precise moment?”
“You’d be insulted if I didn’t.”
Adolos stepped forward, putting his hand on the human’s shoulder. Royan reached his arms around the elf, hugging him tight. “It has been entirely too long, entirely too long. To even see a familiar face… especially out here,” Royan said.
“Have you kept tabs on the others? Any of them?” Royan stepped away, Adolos’ arms almost immediately curling back into a natural fold across his chest.
“Yes and no.”
Royan chuckled. At least this hadn’t changed. At least he hadn’t changed. “Mind expanding on that?”
“Sarucarn went off to do research, as usual. I don’t know where. I didn’t bother to follow. Felt it was for the best.”
Adolos nodded. “Smaepdii, Lamere, and Digsy went through to Draenor, but I haven’t heard or seen from them since. I’ve heard nothing positive or negative on that front.” He sighed. “Imizael… after the portal re-opened, something happened with her. She vanished. Swiftwind has been missing since before you left, and there’s no change there.”
“And your family?”
Royan was quiet for a minute. Both of them were, neither knowing quite what to say next, even though they both knew where the script had led. Where it had to go. Adolos, ever the patient one, simply waited, half-lidded glowing eyes locked on Royan’s.
“Rumor was that she went through the portal, too, but no one seems to know.”
Adolos slowly inhaled, sucking air through his nostrils. “It was very much like she wanted to disappear. After you left, she did not carry on The March. There were no more meetings. I followed her for a few weeks, and she acted almost as if it never had existed. Then, when the portal opened, she was gone.”
“And that’s it?”
“Far as I know.”
As usual, Royan was playing by his rules. He knew the answers to every question before he asked it, although for once he didn’t really want to be correct. He wanted to hear about how he was mistaken, or how they’d still met, somewhere. But he knew better. He’d found a priestess seven years ago who hadn’t wanted to be found. He’d looked no less hard this time around, but there was nothing. Just the legends. Just the passage of time.
“You must know why I am back, Adolos.”
“And why I was looking for them?”
“Yes. They will all be needed.”
“But it’s just us.”
His blood was a curse, he thought. He had watched the rise and fall of a great order. One he helped save. One he crafted, his fingers turning against the clay, etching out every detail. And yet… it was all gone now. He’d watched a legend form, right in front of his eyes. To be young, but to feel ancient. Nostalgia gripped his stomach, clawing its way to his throat. He’d have to start over. He’d have to do it again.