The coffee house was quiet in the early evening. It seemed to Sellynna that much of the business was earlier in the day, making this the ideal time to come in and have a quiet conversation. She made her way to the counter and ordered herself a cup of white tea and looked around at the various tables. She spotted him sitting at one nestled in the corner, amongst a few bookshelves teeming with scrolls and tomes. He was idly flipping the pages, and to her mind he seemed frustrated, distracted. None of your business, girl, just get your drink and report in.
She thanked the woman behind the counter and handed her some coin. She started to walk away before turning back to the counter and ordering a scone with chocolate chips in it. Once she had that in hand, she made her way to the table. Holding the refreshments level, she bowed low. “Hierarch,” she said reverently.
Borænin looked up and nodded to her. “Ah, there you are,” he responded, indicating the chair next to him. “Have a seat.” Sellynna lowered herself into the chair with a nod. “You may dispense with titles when we are alone, Sellynna.”
Her fingers found the edge of her scarf, tugging it down to reveal her face. “As you wish.” Borænin smiled thinly. “Forgive my lateness. I was summoned,” she offered by way of explanation. “By the Lord Protector’s Captain.”
“Ah, you’ve met the lovely Sulime,” his smooth tenor replied. Somehow I suspect that wasn’t your thoughts on her.
“She seemed very concerned that I was properly terrified of failing.”
The Hierarch chuckled. “I am sure she had your best interests at heart, my dear.”
Sellynna leaned in, placing both arms on the table. “Both of the Lord Protector, and with you.”
“Am I so very terrifying?”
“I believe she said something to the effect of He will cast you aside at a moment’s notice, to please the Lord Protector.”
Borænin heaved a heavy sigh. “And what do you think?”
“I think you have gotten your hands dirty more than a few times. Else you would not be in the position you are.” With that, she slid the scone across the table to him without comment. She’d noted a number of occasions back home of him eating one. Hopefully this helps improve his opinion of me.
“Well,” he appeared visibly impressed. “Despite your lack of experience, you are not devoid of wisdom, my dear.” He looked her over, smiling as he appraised her again.
“I thank you..”
He held up a finger, cutting her off. “That being said, the Lord Protector’s good graces are the air we breathe. Do not stifle mine, and I will grant you the same courtesy.” He broke off a corner of the pastry, placing it in his mouth with an intense look in his eyes.
Her long ears drooped. “How does one get there? Because everyone seems to indicate that I will not be surviving this mission.”
“Hmm… I do not find your chances so dire.” He steepled his fingers in front of his face. “Be wary of placing too much weight on Sulime’s assessment. Remember that she has her own agenda.” He paused, an odd expression passing over his features for the briefest of moments before returning to his usual placid expression. “As do we all, of course.”
She tipped her head forward in acknowledgment. “Of course. What would her’s be?”
“Why, to protect her own position, though it chafes her to no end.”
A long, thin eyebrow raised on the woman’s face. “Why would she volunteer to become what she is if she is so very miserable?” She sipped her tea, finding it to be rather soothing to her nerves.
Amused, he offered, “One can volunteer for something without knowing what it will mean. What do you know of the Void Rangers, Sellynna?”
She furrowed her brow. “They were a different attempt to create a powerful wielder of Void power.”
“An earlier attempt. A prototype, one might say.” Sellynna nodded as he continued. “The process of their creation was adapted from ancient methods used by the long-gone sorcerer, Illidan, to create his demon hunters. The effort was successful, but… inelegant.”
“I have only seen a couple of them. Scarred, scaled, all manner of odd disfigurements.”
“Precisely. The Lord Protector places a – some might say – outsized value on aesthetic concerns.” He leaned back in his chair. “However, their potency cannot be denied, so he makes use of them. And he never lets them forget what is wrong with them.”
“She told me that he scarred her face simply because he could. But,” she hesitated. “That doesn’t match with what you are saying. If he cares so much about the aesthetics, why would he do such a thing?”
Borænin arched an eyebrow at her. “Just a moment,” he replied. “She told you he scarred her face? As if he did it with his own hands?”
“That is how it seemed to me, yes. She even told me I should hide my face from him. For my own safety.”
Borænin chuckled darkly. Don’t want the competition, do you, dear Sulime? He kept that to himself for now, though he suspected it wouldn’t last long. “Did she tell you he did it, or did she let you come to that conclusion on your own.” Sellynna looked at him, hopelessly lost. Borænin sat back, a mystified smile on his face. “Sulime’s scars are the result of her creation, like many of her kind.”
The young woman rubbed her face with her palm. “Why then would she warn me to keep my pretty face hidden from him. It’s such an odd warning.”
He tilted his head to one side, grinning at her. “You’ve looked in a mirror before, have you not?”
She shrugged. “Only to make sure I’m presentable, why?”
“You are refreshing, my dear, that much is certain.” He chuckled a moment. “Not to put too fine a point on it, but you are young and very pretty.” Again her shoulders came up, dismissing it, though the blood rushed to her cheeks. “And Sulime no doubt has no desire to see someone overshadow her service to the Lord Protector.”
Her pale violet eyes flew open wide, darkening a touch. “I am not trying to have the Lord Protector that focused on me. I just want to do my job and survive!”
Stifling a laugh, “I will say it again, you are not devoid of wisdom. To put it simply, the Lord Protector goes on many expeditions to new Realms. Sulime is nearly always at his side. It is possible, and I must emphasize that I have no idea if this is the case, that he makes… ah… use of her during their travels.” He cleared his throat. “She may simply not want competition for his attention.” Sellynna listened and very slowly nodded her understanding. “All neither here nor there. I am not versed in the Lord Protector’s preferences. And doubtless most of Sulime’s advice was sound.”
“She did tell me to have something elegant to wear, should I be summoned by him. That he would not appreciate me wearing… well,” she gestured to her makeshift attire. “This.”
“In that, she is very much correct.”
The girl let out a heavy sigh. “I have no idea what constitutes elegant,” came her quiet admission. The only dress I have ever owned was the one I was put in when they sold me to you.
Borænin raised a perfectly groomed eyebrow. “Surely you are familiar with court dress?”
“The gaudy things that those prissy one’s wear,” she blurted out.
He looked down at his own attire with its vibrant purples and golds, grinning wide. “Yes, just like that.”
Shit, that was stupid. Sellynna winced, hard, and looked up at him sheepishly. He laughed, his eyes giving the vaguest hint of true mirth. “I’m sorry,” she muttered.
“No offense taken,” he lifted his glass, taking a small sip. “I am not quite the ogre others may have made me out to be.”
She indicated his clothing with a wave of her left hand. “So something flashy?”
“Shit,” she grumbled, looking over her own. “They didn’t give me a uniform before sending me through, or I could wear that.”
Borænin shook his head in disbelief. “One almost begins to wonder what the Warrant Officer is up to. Foolish man.” As he spoke, she reached down into her bag and retrieved a small file. She placed it on the table in front of him. “In any case, we shall procure the services of a tailor in this city and have something made for you.”
“He said that you were needing a scouting specialist.”
“He was correct.”
She tapped the file with a long finger. “Each alliance major city. Strong points, a few weak points as well. I apologize for not having more done as yet.”
He opened the file, peering at it for a moment. “My dear, you’ve only been here three days.”
“That is why the file is incomplete.” Borænin laughed aloud, his eyes shining. All she could do is blink at his reaction. Have I said something out of line? She pondered it a moment before she realized he was speaking again.
“…and a master of understatement. Your chances of survival are going up, my dear.”
She furrowed her brow. “I am confused. Is this not the expectation?”
“Indeed it is.”
“Once I have completed this, I will need a nap.”
Chuckling, “You can have that nap now. Well, when we are done here, of course.”
She scratched her cheek. “I haven’t created a proper listing of potential safe houses yet.”
He held up a hand, stopping her. “I am sure you will provide what is needed. I need results, my dear, but I also need you well rested and able to function. An assignment such as this is a marathon, not a sprint.”
“Yes, sir,” she murmured. See? Overdoing it again. You aren’t going to get anywhere with him, her Shade hissed in her head. Her eyes flared for a moment and it silenced.
Borænin watched her, noting the occurrence, saying nothing. He grinned at her before taking a little jab. “Now, do you have any questions beyond the likelihood of your own death?”
She winced a little. “W-what are we doing here?”
“You and I, specifically, are seeking the Lord Protector’s counterpart in this Realm. As well as possible remnants of the bloodline.”
She nodded. “All right, but why here? Why the Alliance cities? Surely his counterpart would be among the Quel’dorei or Sin’dorei.”
“Ah, good question!” He seemed oddly excited to be answering her. “It seems that in this Realm, the Ren’dorei were created through the actions of the madman Umbric, and we have reasons to believe the Other is among them. And as you can see, in this Realm, the Ren’dorei serve the old Alliance.”
“Umbric is involved? Forgive me but..” she hesitated, worried she was being too bold. She chewed on her lip, trying do decide if she should address it.
Borænin narrowed his eyes on her, “Out with it, girl.”
“Don’t you hate him,” she asked nervously. “I heard a rumor that you go after him at every opportunity”
He laughed darkly and grinned. “That I do. And I will. When the Lord Protector gives me leave to do so.” He looked her in the eye and she could swear his already wide grin expanded. “Or when the Lord Protector is not looking.”
Her eyes went round as plates. “You would do so without permission?” Internally, she continued. Isn’t that asking for death? Surely he would execute you.
“If I thought I could get away with it, certainly.”
“H-have you done this in other Realms?”
He lifted his glass, smirking behind it as he answered her. “Now I’d be a fool if I confessed such a thing to you, wouldn’t I?”
She turned from his gaze and nodded, completely embarrassed. “Yes, of course. Forget I asked.” He chuckled, fully enjoying giving her a time of it. Sellynna motioned to a passing waitress and ordered herself a glass of milk. She placed a coin in the woman’s hand and looked back to see Borænin looking at her with a slightly bemused expression. “I like milk,” she answered with a shrug.
Borænin chuckled softly to himself. “How old are you, my dear?”
“A bit over two hundred.”
“I see. And from where do you hail?”
“The southern region of Quel’thalas.”
“Ahhh, a country girl.”
Sellynna wrinkled up her nose, a little embarrassed. “Is it that obvious?” She tried to keep her tone light, but her Shade taunted her. Too simple for his taste, don’t you think? Why would he bother with one like you when he could have the daughter of a Lord or Prince… Stop wishing for things you will never have.
“It is, but don’t take that as a criticism.” There is, in fact, something very alluring about you, he thought quietly. A shame nothing can come of it.
She nodded, willing the whispers within to quietude again. “My parents sold me to the Order several years ago. ‘Too many girls’ they said. ‘Maybe this will earn us a better place in things. Some regard. But at the very least we will get some gold,’ said my father. To be honest, I think he dreamed of a son, but didn’t ever get it.”
Borænin sighed. “An unfortunate practice, but,” he shook his head. “Here we are.”
Sellynna offered him a sweet smile and shrugged. “It’s fine. I didn’t have to help muck out stalls anymore. And I didn’t have a bunch of sisters trying to steal my food.”
Chuckling, “You have an amazing outlook my dear.”
“Do I?” She lifted the glass and took a sip.
“Indeed. You look ahead. You see things very clearly. A rare gift, my dear.” She bowed her head to him in gratitude, though the slight twitch of her tendrils indicated her uncertainty at the compliment. He smiled thinly. “Now, what other questions so you have for me?”
“You said that the Other may be among the Ren’dorei. And the others of the bloodline? How many are we searching for and do we know who?”
“As far as we are aware, there are only two survivors of the bloodline in this Realm. According to the official census records at least. The counterpart of the Lord Protector, and that of Lady Niquisse.” He picked at an errant thread on his sleeve. Tossing it aside, he looked back at her.
“Lady Isse? Well, if she is anything like ours, I would think looking among the faithful a good start,” she offered. Shadows below, I hope that’s something. I am in way over my head with this.
“Sadly, we have no intelligence beyond her name.”
She took another sip, sitting back in her chair, thoughtful. “Do the counterparts look like ours?”
Borænin laughed lightly. “The only answer to that is yes, and no. Sometimes our counterparts are very similar,” he explained. “And sometimes, well… not.” Sellynna rubbed her face with her palm a few times. “In a Realm we explored a few years back, the Lord Protector’s counterpart was, in fact, a woman. Her name was Gilræa.”
Sellynna stared at him, blinking rapidly. “How in the fel does one even begin?”
“Well, in this Realm, the names are the same. We know as well that both the Greythorn and Silverthorn bloodlines survived.” Sellynna nodded. She listened, looking a little overwhelmed, but managed to do a reasonably good job disguising it. “I believe we can assume that their complexions will not be the golden tones we are accustomed to.”
Sellynna picked up her glass of milk and sipped it slowly, without speaking. She set it back down on the table and turned it between her fingers a number of times. “I think it would be fair to say that even as Ren’dorei, they will not look like our own.”
“Very astute,” he praised. Sellynna turned a deeper shade, moving her gaze from him to hide it. What is it with her and the blushing? Must be my imagination. He shook it off and continued. “As one can see from looking at you and I, the effect of the Void on members of the bloodline is unpredictable.” Again he picked at something that had clung to his uniform, though this time it seemed to her it was more a form of distracting himself. “Are you familiar with the Silverthorns, my dear?”
“Nothing more than it is the name of a House that we usually exterminate.” She sat there, still reeling slightly from having received a true compliment. It was something she had longed for, but never thought to be given.
Borænin took a deep breath, seemingly steeling himself. His voice lowered to a more hushed tone. “What I am about to tell you is heresy. It is also completely true. You are never to breathe a word of it to anyone. Anyone, do you understand?”
She inclined her head slowly, leaning in to listen. As if I could ever betray you like that. “I understand, Hierarch.”
He gave her a curt nod. “The Silverthorn was a Kal’dorei bloodline, with ancient roots, going back to the dawn of all elves. Most importantly, the Silverthorns are the line from which the Greythorns sprang.” Sellynna raised a long eyebrow, but listened closely. “An ancient sorcerer by the name of Kalithil Silverthorn is the original ancestor, at least, the first one we know of. The Lord Protector is, in fact, his son.”
She blinked, pulling her head back in surprise. “But the Lord Protector looks nothing like a Kal’dorei.”
“It was Kalithil who first cast the enchantment that established the bloodline, gave the line its unique coloration and so forth.” He explained further, “The Lord Protector has changed his appearance over the centuries. He was born Kal’dorei, and within, Kal’dorei he remains.”
The young woman held up a hand, stopping him, in her confusion. “Wait, so what was the unique coloration? Because I have never encountered a golden Kal’dorei.”
He chuckled at her. “The Silverthorns all took after their progenitor, and as such, are silver of hair and bear the skin of the palest blue-violet.”
“Then the Lord Protector changed his as he changed his form?”
Borænin nodded. “In a time long past, the Lord Protector was in conflict with his father. He killed him, and took the family as his own. He altered the enchantment and changed us to the golden people you know.”
“I see.” She took a moment, quietly filing the information away. “If you will forgive me, why is this heresy?”
“I will come back to the heresy thing in a moment. You mentioned earlier that you are aware of my own quest to rid all Realms of the stain of Umbric?” She gestured for him to continue. “The reason I bring up Umbric, is that the Lord Protector has the same feelings about his father.”
“So if this Kalithil lives in this Realm…”
“He does. Or so we believe. In our Realm, the Greythorn line supplanted the Silverthorn. The Silverthorn died out, or were exterminated by the Lord Protector. No one knows for sure. Here, the Silverthorn survive.”
“I expect we are to report on them if we locate them?”
“Indeed, again, very astute.” He found himself growing amused at how she flushed when he praised her.
“Are we to attempt to befriend any of either family?” She tried to hide her blush behind her glass.
“Find them first, then we will discuss further strategies. It will depend on what we find.”
Borænin nodded. “As for the heresy…” Sellynna listened closely, finishing off her drink and setting the glass to the side. “Are we not all taught that the Lord Protector is the progenitor of our holy bloodline?”
“Ahhh, yes. Of course.” She laughed brightly. “I always assumed he had parents though.”
“He does not want anyone to know the truth. I am sure he would prefer everyone believe he erupted full-grown from the Sunwell.” He smiled wryly.
Sellynna laughed again, finally relaxing a bit. “Would that be fully clothed in his finery?” She couldn’t help but giggle at her own boldness.
“Of course. And with perfect hair as always.” His eyes shone, enjoying something he had not allowed himself for an untold number of years.
“I am going to be laughing about that for at least a week,” she giggled.
Borænin chuckled again. “Just don’t do it in front of him.”
Sellynna’s face fell, immediately losing all mirth. “Do you really think he will summon me,” she asked quietly. “Sulime gave me the impression that he does not have any patience for novices.”
“I cannot be sure, my dear.” He features softened, full knowing this was something that she had been taught to fear. “He is capricious at times. You must prepare yourself for it. I hope for your sake he does not, but assume he will.”
“Do you have any advice on how to speak to him?”
Borænin took a deep, measured breath. He placed his hands down on the table, trying to keep her at ease while being honest with the situation. “Answer all of his questions, give him complete information, do not draw anything out. He has no patience for stories.”
“So all the information, no fluff.”
He nodded. “However, mind your manners, observe the niceties. Court dress, court speech, as far as you are able.” That last part I worry about. Damn the Warrant Officer for sending her this green.
“Would it be better to give him a written report?”
“If he summons you, he will not accept a written report.”
“All right,” she sighed.
“Write them for me, I will read them.”
“I am so screwed,” she whispered.
He bit back on a laugh. “I believe you will do better than you think. Tell me, my dear, do you have any idea why the Warrant Officer chose you?”
“I can only guess, I hope that is sufficient.”
Nodding, he gestured for her to continue. “By all means, speculate.”
“Well, you had requested someone who could gather information quickly and accurately. Who would not hesitate to follow instruction, including taking a life should it be necessary.” She took a quick breath and continued. “Also someone who did not mind being put to the test in any form.” Borænin arched an eyebrow and smirked ever-so-slightly. “I think I am the right person.”
“Well, I hope you won’t take offense, my dear, but I was more wondering if you’d done something to piss the man off.”
That stopped her in her tracks. “I… what do you mean?” She blinked at him in sheer confusion.
Tilting his head to one side, he regarded her. “Serving the Lord Protector directly is a notoriously demanding job.”
She shrugged at that. “Farm girl, remember?”
Again he arched his eyebrow. “I fail to see what that has to do with anything.”
Sellynna laughed brightly. “Every day we were up before the sun. Animals to be fed, sent out to the corrals or fields. Stalls needed to be mucked out, reset. Then it was on to the never ending list of other laborious work. Trust me, I am well acquainted with demanding jobs.”
Borænin looked at her flatly for a moment before breaking into laughter. She tipped her head to the side. “My dear, you certainly are a breath of fresh air! What I am verbally dancing around is that I believe the Warrant Officer may be trying to get you killed.” Sellynna’s eyes went fully round. Her mouth worked for a moment or two, failing to emit and actual words. Borænin sighed. “My apologies for being so blunt. But the question remains.”
“Nasty old goat,” she grumbled. “That’s what I get for helping him completely overhaul his files and reworking his lists so everything was up to date.”
He chuckled. “Hmmm… nasty old goat, eh?” She winced, looking up at him sheepishly. “I may assume, then, that he…?” He looked at her meaningfully. Sellynna held up two fingers, not deigning to look Borænin in the eye. “You shot him down twice? My dear, I like you more with every passing moment.”
Her eyebrows shot up. “Because I wouldn’t?” He nodded at her. “He’s disgusting. He leers at anything with breasts.”
“Well. You may take solace in the fact that your presence here will be the end of his career. And likely his life.”
“Is that so?”
“Good. Can I take him out?” He chuckled, making her realize the answer. She shook her head in disappointment.
He grinned. “You need to rise a little higher before your personal vendettas will be indulged.” He winked at her.
She turned a deep shade of purple. Quietly, she asked, “And how does one rise higher?”
He smiled broadly. “Performing well on this expedition will go a long way.”
“Then I am fully at your disposal,” she murmured. In every way, my Hierarch.
“Good to know,” he said plainly.
Looking away to hide her embarrassment, she tapped the file. “Do you actually like the written reports or would you prefer I use another method?”
“A paper trail is always good, but I will expect oral reports as well,” he answered. Again her color deepened. I am not imagining it. She’s done that far too may times now. He arched an eyebrow, but said nothing.
“You,” she cleared her throat. “You sound like the instructors. ‘Be prepared to offer all information orally, without needing to review, as requested,’ they taught us.”
“Well, who do you think wrote the instruction manual?”
“I know it was you,” she said quietly. “I will do my best to please, sir.” Especially you, she thought. “And I shall endeavor to keep myself on this side of the dirt.”
He smiled thinly. “Do try. I think I will like having you around.” Let’s see if she…yes, there it is.
Her ears went hot this time. Trying to disguise it, she switched the conversation. “What would you like me to work on first? While keeping my eyes and ears open for the others, of course.”
“Our primary goal must be finding the Other,” he responded.
“Hmmm, I suppose, if they think he is among the Ren’dorei, starting with locating Umbric might help.” She started to open up a map that she’d made notes on in various places. Borænin sat there with an evil grin plastered onto his face. “You, of course, will appreciate that bit of intel.”
He chuckled. “On the other hand, I might already have it.”
Her ears twitched at the shift in his tone. Look at him, she tried to figure out what it could mean. “Oh,” was all she could muster by way of question.
“Telogrus Rift. A world that fell to the Void, in this Realm, as well as our own.”
Her eyes flashed brightly. “So we have a starting point. How do we get there?”
“That is the easy part,” he grinned. “In the north sector of this city is a Royal Embassy, and there you will find a permanent rift leading to Telogrus. Being Void-attuned as we are, we can make use of it.”
“I saw it. It was one of the points I did not have time to investigate before meeting with you. It appeared reasonably stable, as such things go.”
“It is quite stable. Surprisingly so, in fact. The Umbric of this Realm seems to be slightly less of an idiot.”
“High praise,” she joked.
With a chuckle, he responded, “Only slightly. When I spoke with him, the subtext flew right over his head.”
“Y-you spoke with him? Already?”
“Of course,” he grinned. “How could I resist?”
She started to close up her map, folding it neatly. “I am about ten steps behind. Dammit,” she muttered as she made to gather her things.
“If it makes you feel better, I didn’t interrogate him. My visit was…personal.”
“Personal,” she asked. “Please forgive e, but I was led to believe that the only personal visit you paid him ended in his death.”
“And it will,” he shrugged. “Sometimes a cat will play with a mouse, my dear.”
She laughed, understanding. “I see. Well, do let me know if you need any cheese.”
He smiled at her, a small amount of fondness showing. “At any rate, I believe that is a good starting point for you. There are other Ren’dorei at Telogrus. It seems likely someone will remember the Other, if he did travel among them.”
She sat there, thinking a moment. “Is there anything that the Other has had in common across all the Realms?”
“His face,” he responded. “Well, usually.”
“Except when he was a woman instead.”
“Yes,” Borænin confirmed. “Even then, she looked like the Lord Protector… poor thing.”
“If I may ask?”
“How accurate are the portraits of him? I have never been directly in his presence,” she admitted.
“Oh, completely, my dear.” She let out a relieved sigh which caused him to laugh lightly. “He spent a very long time making sure that his face is what is considered ideal. He has no need to force the artist to lie.”
“That makes a lot of sense. Well, that should make this a whole lot easier.”
“One would hope,” he added.
She pushed her chair back and stood slowly. As she gathered her things, “Then I will take my leave and begin immediately. The sooner the first step it completed, the more likely I am permitted to breathe.” She bowed low before him.
“Good luck, Sellynna.”
She nodded. “Thank you. But luck is not what I need. I either have the skill, or I don’t. You will be the judge.”
She bowed again. “Shadows hide your steps, Hierarch.” She turned towards the door.
“Yes, Hierarch?” She faced him once again.
Borænin wagged a finger at her playfully. “No playing with my mouse, understand?”
She grinned wickedly. “Not even a bit off the tip of his tail?”
“Not even that.”
She stuck out her lower lip, pouting at him.
“Off with you,” he chuckled. She nodded and sprinted off towards the other side of the city. Borænin steepled his fingers, tapping them against his lips for a moment. She’s come a long way since arriving at the Order’s doors. Perhaps I will do what I can to keep this one around. He motioned for the server to bring him another drink, finding himself surprised at how intrigued he was with this girl. At least she stimulates…