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The Lost Guide
#1
The cold air of Dalaran didn’t bother Ashyr. Exposed skin of her arms and torso gave her no discomfort. She barely felt anything--not the stone wall behind her, cool as she knew it was, and not the sweat in her palms. The streets had quieted down long ago, but even before, the sound on her ears had gone largely ignored. She could hardly bring herself to open her eyes.

The open street would not have served as the first choice for most people attempting to seek solitude, but Ashyr found a comforting dissonance in it. Nestled in her corner against the wall, no one noticed her, and so she was alone, but at once, there were people all around her. She never thought of it as strange, especially not then. She hardly thought about anything at all then but one solitary, circular path in her mind.


Saanto was dead.


Ashyr couldn’t accept that Saanto would have let her guard down enough to let herself be killed. Why hadn’t she fled? Why hadn’t she teleported away, if she knew she might be weak and susceptible? She did it enough just to get around. Ashyr had seen her pop out and come back barely minutes later, with that smile of hers still gently clinging to her lips. She could have left, easily. She could have been safe. Ashyr could have seen her again, but this vague figure in her mind had broken Saanto.

Therai Nightglade. It was a strange name, but it sounded elven to Ashyr. Even so, she couldn’t put a picture to it, only a figure shrouded in shadows. Why had she attacked Saanto? There was no reason. Saanto’s friends had no answer to that. All they wanted was justice. The lapse in logic brought pause to Ashyr time and time again, because why would anyone attack Saanto? There was no reason. Saanto was the kindest person she had ever met.

Regardless of reasoning, Therai was going to be brought to justice, whatever that meant. The thought brought out conflict in Ashyr all over again. She was upset, she was frustrated. Therai had taken her most important person away from her, but...she couldn’t find it in her to feel rage, nor vengeance. There was no fire. People were calling for Therai’s death, and all Ashyr could think was that she didn’t want there to be any more death. It hardly mattered whose, anymore...she just wanted everyone to forget.

How long had Saanto been dead? Ashyr hadn’t seen her in years before she finally learned. Had she been dead all that time, or had there been some sort of gap in it where she was simply hidden?

Ashyr drove that thought to the back of her mind, and somewhere in her consciousness, she felt the loose, smooth fabric of her skirt against her face. Saanto was dead.

A deep voice disturbed her from her introspection. “Well met, Ashyr.” Mention of her name jolted her back into reality, and she sprang upright, sitting up against the stone wall in her corner on the side of the street. It was one of Saanto’s friends. Ashyr had forgotten his name...or had he even given it to begin with?

“Hello, lord,” she mumbled as she looked up at the draenei. She focused her gaze on his collar, her reflex when speaking to anyone. Even if she wasn’t looking directly at his face, she found it simple enough to pay attention to expressions from that view. The draenei man furrowed his brow, quiet for a moment. He had given his name, she remembered now, but she hadn’t caught it...or, had she?

"I am glad I found you here. I have a question...it is related to Saanto." He had mentioned that Ashyr could come to him if she needed support, but the thought of it turned her stomach. If she could just stay strong, then, maybe…

“Yes, lord?” she found herself saying, unfocused and distant. Even Saanto’s name barely brought her attention.



“Would you like to come with me to Shattrath City, to visit Saanto at her grave and pay your respects?”



She noticed the goosebumps on her skin suddenly, popping out in her senses. Reality seemed even more real now than usual. “Mistress Saanto has a grave…?”

The draenei nodded. Maybe she could just remember what his name began with...a V? “After we found her, we attempted to perform rites of resurrection. She would not return for us, so we laid her to rest.”

Hope and despair rose in Ashyr’s chest almost instantly, one after the other. She hadn’t conceived that resurrection was even an option, but he made it sound like it was already a lost cause. She hugged her knees close to her chest and hid a shiver, looking away from the draenei. “Why would she not come back, lord?”

He didn’t speak for an agonizing moment, then she heard him sigh. “The priests said she lived a long, full life, and is at peace.



“She no longer wishes to be disturbed.”



It dug into her chest like a dagger. She buried her face in her knees, and dragged her fingernails through her hair and over her scalp, though her gloves prevented any pain. She needed a distraction, anything, just…

“She is buried outside of the City of Light. I am going to the city now, and I will bring you with me, if that is what you want.” His words severed her thoughts again.

“I do not understand why she would not come back, lord…” Why?

“When we had her body, she had the choice between coming back to us and going to the Light. It is difficult to blame her for choosing the Naaru over us.”

“You...you must have done something wrong, lord…” She carried herself to her feet, bracing against the wall behind her for support. She didn’t feel comfortable standing unaided. Her gaze remained on the cobblestones before her. She couldn’t bear to look at him. "She would not...she wouldn't..."

“Nothing was wrong.” Every word constricted Ashyr’s chest. “The priests have been helping souls find rest for thousands of years. Saanto is unfortunately...no different.”

“They...did not try hard enough, lord.” She felt herself shaking, then heard him take a breath.

“You doubt our efforts? We did everything possible to bring Saanto back. In the end, we could only save her soul.”

“You MUST not have done everything, lord!” she pleaded, stepping forward, close to him. She looked up to his chest, at that intricate robe of his. Why did he keep saying these things? “She wouldn't leave, lord! I know she wouldn't!”

“I am sorry, but that is the way it is. There is no use for regret now, we must simply honor her memory and find justice for her murder.”

Justice, again. That word stung Ashyr. Could he truly back down so swiftly? He claimed Saanto had been one of his close friends, but he had already given up on her. He had failed. He was a coward. He was weak. She tightened her fingers, balling them into fists, too familiar. She knew the techniques. She knew where to strike. She looked up to his face, and his eyes.



It would take only a moment. It would be…so easy.



Panic gripped her, and she gasped. Her hands loosened, and she replaced them on her arms, clinging to herself. Don’t look at him, don’t let him see. “Forgive me, lord,” she whispered.

She heard him let out a sigh. “There is nothing to forgive. Though it is Saanto's choice, and we must respect it, I too was not happy with the decision.”

She nodded slowly to his words. The rush was dying down. “I…” She swallowed silently. “I do want to see her grave, lord…”

“This way, then.” Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him move, and she followed after him.
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#2
As they stepped through the portal into Shattrath City, Ashyr finally remembered the name of this man. Vorhunir. He and his sister had both offered their comfort to Ashyr, but she had found difficulty accepting it then. Comfort wasn’t something that she accepted. Comfort was her duty to give.

Guidance, protection, comfort and support. The four words meant so much to her. It was how she quantified the sacred vows she had sworn. She directed all these things outward to those around her, and by doing so, she also provided for herself. But...no one had ever understood the significance of it. No one had seen how much she needed to do this. No one except Saanto. She had never drawn question to it, and had never asked her to do anything otherwise.

Shattrath City was foreign to Ashyr already. The architecture curved into gentle domes, simple but beautiful. Adornment would only have detracted from it, and so the city made do with braziers and the occasional hanging cloth. It was so unlike Silvermoon...but, Ashyr hadn’t made her home in Silvermoon in years. She hadn’t even considered it home in longer. All other thoughts fled from her mind, however, when she laid her eyes upon the light before her.

Through the golden glow, Ashyr could make out the intricate geometric patterns composing the naaru. It looked to her like a person, but surrounded in abstract patterns that she couldn’t put a name to. She had heard of the naaru before, but the stories had never captured what it was like to stand in one’s presence. The light enveloped her entirely in a warm embrace, flowing through her entire being. Gentle calm descended upon her, and her chest loosened. Breath came easily to her again.

“Have you felt the presence of a naaru before, Ashyr?” Vorhunir’s voice seemed distant to her. “I could stand here for a week...but, we have a purpose.”

“I have not, lord,” she spoke softly. “I have never seen anything like it, lord.”

“The Light’s majesty is infinite.” It had never struck Ashyr with such clarity as it did now. The Light had always felt distant and frustratingly powerless to her. She remembered the sermons that were held in Silvermoon when she was younger, and the difficulty she’d had grasping it. She had wanted to, more than anything, just to please her family, but it had always slipped through her fingers. Now, though, it felt more present than anything else she had ever felt.

Somewhere in her mind, she wondered if the naaru could feel the Shadow within her, but the thought left as swiftly as it came. Doubt couldn’t exist in this moment.

“We may stand here a while longer, if you wish.”

Ashyr slowly nodded. “If it does not trouble you, lord, I would like to do so.”

“I have spent many hours doing just this,” Vorhunir said. She could hear the smile in his voice. “It does not trouble me.”

“I was not aware of the potency of the Light, lord,” she whispered.

“The Naaru are beings of the Light. We do not refer to them separately. Thus, it is the Light that saved us from becoming demons on Argus. It is the Light that has given us hope time and time again.”

Hope. She hadn’t been able to put a word to what she felt, but now, she couldn’t imagine what else it might be. Just standing in the presence of the naaru allowed her to consider that everything would be alright. Her gaze remained on the strange being for a while, utterly transfixed.

Longing creeped back into her thoughts over time. The image of a tombstone intruded upon the soft warmth in her mind, the word Saanto etched into the stone. Light flooded her sight, but every time she closed her eyes, she saw only darkness.

“I am ready to depart now, lord,” she mumbled, and glanced to Vorhunir. She couldn’t bear to wait any longer. Vorhunir perked up, startled for a moment, but it faded swiftly. He looked to her, and she let her gaze fall to his collar. She still saw his nod.

“Okay. She is just outside the city. Come with me.” He turned away from the creature of light, and began to walk. She followed close in his footsteps.
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#3
The graveyard lay in the forest, with Shattrath only a distant memory. A faint pillar of light in the sky remained visible, but Ashyr had counted the minutes, keeping rhythm with her steps, and she knew it had been at least an hour since they had left the city. The trek there had been silent. Ashyr hadn’t known what to say to Vorhunir, and she assumed much the same of him. She had instead let her focus drift onto the tall trees all around her, and the strange crystals within their leaves. They had shone stark rays of silver light upon the ground.

Here was no different. The graveyard was small, and only a few structures lay within it. It had been built in a small clearing in the forest, though the trees still stretched their canopies overhead. Vorhunir approached one of the structures, and bowed his head, stepping aside for Ashyr. “This is it.”

Ashyr approached the structure...a round, shell-like construction. She doubted it was big enough to stand inside, but as she peered at it, she supposed that she might be able to crawl inside, if there were some sort of entrance. She had expected a grave, not a tomb. “This, lord?” she asked as she examined it.

“Yes,” Vorhunir replied. “Her body lies within the capsule.”

The stone surface of the tomb was perfectly smooth in most places, but some inscriptions with glyphs that Ashyr could not recognize had been engraved in it, wrapping around it in bands. She had a difficult time imagining that Saanto was inside it...particularly because she could hardly picture how to get inside in the first place. “Do you not bury your bodies, lord?”

“Normally, we have great crypts like Auchindoun. We have not had time to build on Azeroth yet.” It made sense to her, vaguely. She thought of Saanto lying upon a stone bed within the tomb, hands folded over her chest, and her eyes closed. She still wore her favorite clothes in that image--her green and blue tunic--and her ivory hair draped over her shoulders. She was perfect, perhaps only sleeping.

A swell of frustrated sadness broke Ashyr’s concentration. Saanto wasn’t sleeping. Saanto was dead. To keep her hopes up like this would just serve to drive her insane. She furrowed her brow and closed her eyes, taking a deep breath. There was no reason to be mad at herself. The soothing voice of rationality reminded her that it was normal...but, it didn’t calm her fully. Sorrow and anger continued to brew in her heart.

She closed the distance from her to the tomb, and extended her hands before her, sliding her gloved palms across the stone. She let her fingers catch in grooves and marks, unfamiliar. Nothing seemed to hint at an opening or an entrance of any kind. “This grave baffles me, lord,” she muttered.

“Baffles?” Vorhunir’s voice rose on a questioning note.

“Is it like a crypt, lord? Can you go inside?” She would have done anything to see Saanto, even if she was dead. She longed for just one short glimpse of her, one last chance for closure.

“It has already been sealed. We cannot open it now.”

A frown clung to Ashyr’s face, and her gaze fell to her feet. “I see, lord…” There was no way in. No way to look at her one last time.

The last time she had seen Saanto alive had been in Nagrand. They had stood by the lake shore together, and Saanto had spoken of how she wanted to explore the worlds beyond Azeroth and Draenor. Ashyr’s hand tingled as she recalled how Saanto had held it in hers through the entire walk, and the conversation after. The mere notion of holding another woman’s hand had terrified her, but her gloves had provided a safeguard against directly touching Saanto. To wear them, she had thought in near absurdity, might mean that they weren’t actually holding hands, and free her of the stigma of doing so. Over the course of the day, though, she had grown to relax, and holding onto Saanto had become less mortifying and more pleasant. In her heart, she knew it was what she had really wanted.

She slid her finger under the hem of the glove, hooking it in and gently pulling the fabric off her elbow and down her arm. She had removed them for Saanto later that day as well, despite the terror, and held her hands in hers...the only time she had ever done it before. She didn’t want to hide from Saanto in this last moment of parting. Within a moment, she had removed both gloves. She reached over to the tomb again, and placed her hands on the cool, smooth stone. Leaning in close, she set her ear against the stone. “I am here, Mistress Saanto...can you feel me?”

Ashyr hadn’t truly expected a response, but even so, the silence that greeted her brought a pang of melancholy that descended through her. She closed her eyes. Her fingers dug into the grooves in the tomb, desperate to cling to something. “I wish you would come back, mistress. I miss you, more than anything…” Her voice sounded so weak. She took an uneasy breath. “We did not have long together, but...”

Her breath caught in her throat as she tried to speak, and a sob escaped her. She was only vaguely conscious of how she fell to her knees. “You treated me best,” she choked out, “better than anyone I have ever known. Y-you don’t have to go, Mistress Saanto, you can still come b-back, if you want…I w-would wait forever if it m-meant I would see you again…”

She drove her nails into her palms in a subconscious effort to ground herself, but even pain couldn’t break through. She leaned her forehead on the tomb, and clenched her eyes shut. “I-I am r-right here, Mistress S-saanto,” she repeated, as though it might get through if she just said it again. “C-can you f-feel me...? C-can you…?”

“Saanto’s remains are here, but she is with the naaru now.” Vorhunir’s deep voice rose above all else in her mind. Ashyr shook her head fervently.

“Th-the naaru can give her back,” she mumbled, but her words felt false even on her own ears. She slid down to sit on the ground, leaning against the tomb, and she held her head in her hands. Tears trickled down her wrists, but she barely noticed. It was the third time she had cried since she found out, only a few hours ago.

She felt Vorhunir place his hand on her shoulder, warm and heavy. It was the first true gesture of comfort he had tried to give her, and now, she knew she truly needed it. She wanted to hide, more than anything...but, even though Vorhunir was there to hear her tears, it no longer troubled her.




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