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You Can't Go Home Again
#1
Under nightfall, Tarana roamed her old hunting grounds--the woods of Ashenvale. Alive with life, the insects sounded their chorus while owls let their soft hoos loose here and there. Moonlight dappled through the leaves. The broad, cool leaves of the underbrush stroked her thighs as she passed through them.

Ashenvale was eternal, in a way. The forest was more than just trees, but it was also a monument. An unshakable pillar of the world that had stood for...how long? Thousands, tens of thousands of years? Certainly far longer than Tarana had been alive, longer than anyone she knew. It predated the Sundering. It predated even the Kaldorei Empire itself. And yet...untouched.

Or largely untouched, she found herself thinking. This was no place where the trees had been felled, but there were hints here and there. Scars upon the earth where the Warsong Clan had left their mark. Fallen trees…

No.

She took a grip of a passing branch, and curled her fingers around it. The bristly leaves poked into her palm, bringing forth discomfort and pain. Something grounding. Something to remind her where she was, something to make her feel alive. She examined her palm once she released the plant. Purple dots on her hand showed the points where the plant had defended itself against her.

She couldn’t help but find that comforting in a way. Perhaps it was just the number of times she had done this same thing before--the number of times where she had needed a reminder, and the sensations of the world had provided, no matter if they were somewhat unpleasant. The direct bite of a thorn was certainly preferable to the lingering malaise of an uncomfortable memory, or the distance accompanying withdrawal from the world.

Glancing about, she recentered herself, putting herself on the right track again, following a familiar path through the woods. This path had changed innumerable times throughout her life, sometimes immeasurably over the course of many visits, and sometimes all at once in the time of her absence. This was one such occasion in which she found new mysteries as she walked: berries along the path, small flowers in open bloom, a stag trail...these things constantly shifted, they constantly evolved.

There was so much life in these woods.

Then there was its end...one landmark that never shifted. The massive tree, branches high up in the canopy, but a clever climber could make her way up if she so wished. Borrowing shortcuts from other trees, she could sling herself up, high enough to find knots in the thick bark that served as handholds, and then before she knew it, she would find herself at the tree’s crown, a nest where the branches curled out.

And, in these branches, Tarana would always have her perch. A perfect limb that she could nestle into, and from there, she could look out over the tops of all the trees.

And then Ashenvale was hers.

She glanced across the crown, eyes focusing on another such spot, one that felt uneasily empty. She let out a soft sigh, then stood up to her feet again, balanced carefully on the branches. She lifted a vial from her belt, and unclasped the stopper, before holding it at arm’s reach ahead of her. The water inside shimmered with comforting blue light.

Then, she swung it out, the water dispersing into fine mist, cascading upon the leaves. And she took a seat, collecting a flask from her bag.

“Therinan, to you,” she murmured, taking a sip from it. The sweet moonberry juice passed easily past her lips and down her throat. “Happy birthday.”

It would never be quite the same without him.
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