The Last Breath and The First

Silea Silverthorn: The Year of the Dark Portal

She pushed her wet hair back out of her face, the silver strands shining in the harsh sun. Beside her, the launch bobbed in the shallow swells of the beach. Reaching out a hand to hold it steady, she called out, “Is everyone alright”? This was met with a chorus of affirmations. She smiled at this, relieved. Then she frowned again, her gaze looking south to find the ship that had left them behind, its sails already beginning to dip at the horizon. “Cursed creatures,” she muttered. She should have known better than to trust those little green skinned thieves. Months at sea, skirting the Maelstrom, enduring boredom and seasickness. And then those damn goblins stop in sight of land and refuse to go further. They said something about “legal entanglements.” At least they had given them enough of launches to reach the beach. After some threats, of course.

As her people began pulling the remaining two launches onto the sand, she took stock of their surroundings. They stood on a narrow sand beach. Before them, rocky bluffs rose suddenly, but not especially high. She could hear the sea wind wail as it struck the bluffs and went whistling over the lands beyond. She could see no trees from here, only dry-looking scrub hanging over the bluffs. The beach continued north and south until it curved away out of sight.

Choosing a course of action, she called out, “Get someone up there, see what lies beyond!”

“Right away, my priestess,” came the reply, right behind her, hot breath on the back of her neck. Jumping, she turned to see Edræth grinning at her.

She flashed him an admonishing look, but behind it was a smile, “Thank you, Edræth.” Looking around to make sure no one was watching, she planted a quick kiss on his cheek, whispering, “Later.”

Rolling his eyes, his formed flowed into that of a graceful blue cat and he raced up the bluffs to carry out her will.

That night, they camped on the beach. One by one the kaldorei laid back and fell asleep, perfectly happy under the stars, and happier still to be on land again. The priestess stayed awake, as did the druid called Edræth. He looked at her, obvious affection and concern in his eyes.

“How do you feel, Silea?”

She sighed wearily, “Nauseous. Tired. So much for solid land making me feel better.”

“You are with child, my priestess. I’m afraid this comes with territory.”

“Damned inconvenient, though” Seeing Edræth’s hurt expression, she continued, “No, no Please don’t be upset. I am happy, my love. I just would have preferred it happen after all this was over.”

Mollified, the druid replied, “I know, Silea, but we will make it work.”

Smiling wearily, she went on, “I don’t think I can hide it any more, Edræth. We have to tell the others.”

Before he could reply, another druid, supposedly asleep on the other side of the fire, sat up and declared incredulously, “A party of two dozen. Made up entirely of women and druids, connected intimately with the life forces of this world. And you think we didn’t already know?” At his exclamation, the entire rest of the party jumped up and started to howl with laughter, embracing the two expectant parents, and congratulating them.

Tears in her eyes, Silea addressed the one that had spoken, “I am sorry for lying, Seburil, I was afraid you would all be angry.”

He shrugged. “The timing isn’t exactly ideal. But I won’t ever react to the coming of a child with anything other than joy. Now what’s the plan?”

A few months later, the group made camp in a deep, shadowy forest, not far from a slow-moving river. Over the previous months, they had crept slowly eastward, scouting this new land. They had observed its inhabitants extensively, and were starting to get some idea of the political situation here. But now they stopped. Silea’s time was approaching, and they needed to be ready for her. After the child came, they might introduce themselves to this land’s people, and secure their aid. But for the birth, they wanted no outsiders present.

It was not to be. Only days after the camp was complete, the peace of one early morning was shattered. Bellowing brutes crashed into the camp, howling with bloodlust and swinging cruel, heavy blades. Their skin was green, their faces bestial; sporting upthrust tusks on blunt heads atop hulking bodies rippling with muscle. They tore through the camp, slaughtering the kaldorei before the could gather their weapons and mount a defense.

Inside her tent, Silea was already in labor when the beasts attacked. She could do nothing as one by one, her attendants rushed out and were murdered in their turn. Finally, only Edræth remained. Looking into her eyes a final time, his mouth formed the words “Be strong for our child,” even as his form rippled and flowed, becoming the avatar of the great Ursoc. He charged through the flaps and planted his huge paws in the ground, determined to be the last barrier between his mate, his child, and their attackers. For how long he held them, Silea could only guess. It seemed to her that she heard the guttural roar of many of his foes turn to strangled screams, but she might have imagined it. It might have been her own screams as she pushed the child from her womb, mixing with the sounds of the battle outside. She would never know. Eventually, the child emerged, though it nearly broke her. As the baby slipped into the world, she gathered it up quickly, expending nearly the last remnant of her energy. It was a boy. They’d been given a boy.

“A boy, my love. Edræth, you have a son,” she cried out, hoping that he would hear before all was lost. Collapsing backwards, she gave the child her breast, hoping to soothe and quiet him before his cries could be heard by the monsters outside. Edræth never replied. She never knew if he heard about his son. Only moments after the child was born, she heard Edræth let forth a pained roar, and then the gurgle of blood. After that, outside was silence, except for the harsh language of their attackers. Right outside the tent, she heard one of them bellow something in their brutish tongue, then suddenly the tent flap was whipped back. Standing at the entrance was one of their tormentors. She was tall, and had muscles over muscles, with wiry veins snaking along every limb. Her face was harsh, etched into a hateful sneer, until she saw what as inside the tent. The green-skinned female’s jaw dropped, her eyes flying wide open. She watched the tableau of the mother and newborn child for a just a moment, then put a hand over her mouth in a warning sign, and closed the flap. As Silea’s conscience fled, she dreamed she heard them leaving.

“Emma, stay back,” called the man to his wife back at the wagon. They’d seen the smoke over the river this morning, and come to see if one of their neighbors needed help. He’d not expected to see anything like this. A ruined campsite, bodies and blood covering everything. It looked like a massacre.

”What is it, James, I cou…” his wife started to ask, then her own screams cut her off.

“Damnit, woman, I said stay back!” Exasperated, he looked around for any sign of life. Seeing nothing moving, he continued, “We need to contact the garrison at Eastvale.”

Eyeing the bodies strewn around, Emma observed, “Those look like elves, kind of, but their color is wrong. But those green things don’t look like anything I’ve ever heard of.”

James nodded grimly, “We need to go. Whatever did this might be back.” Before he could move, the morning was shattered by the unmistakeable sounds of a wailing infant. Emma, heedless and eyes wide, rushed into the broken camp, running towards the sound. She found the crying baby in the second tent, laying atop its dead mother. The dead elf-like woman had pale, near-white, blue-violet skin and silver hair, and the infant matched her.

Looking the mother over, Emma remarked to James, who had caught up to her as she entered the tent, “It looks like she started bleeding after the birth. I don’t see any wounds, but her blood’s all over.”

James touched the body, said, “She’s cold, but not stiff yet. She must have died during the night.” As he said this, Emma had already gathered up the wailing newborn. Tearing a makeshift swaddling cloth from the dead woman’s shift, she wrapped the little boy up and held him tightly against her chest. Gazing at her husband, her look dared him to object. James just sighed. He was a little old to become a father, but it was what Emma had always wanted. How could he say no?