WTT:RP, Too Many Annas and Lorecrafted are pleased to present the second place winner in our Midsummer Night’s RP contest. Congratulations to Athorius of Feathermoon server for her entry You Can’t Go Home. It was one of our most solemn pieces, for certain, and though all of our entries were well written, the poignancy of this one really struck a chord with our judges.
And without further ado:
You Can’t Go Home
“I’m sorry I’m late.” It was scary how easily those familiar words rolled off his tongue, Athorius thought, as he swung off his elekk onto the Auberdine road.
Seffani apparently thought so too, because she frowned and shifted Kaelis on her hip. The girl was at that awkward stage where she was really too big to carry, but it was still inconvenient to have her walk. However, any comment she might have made was forestalled when Kaelis let out a shriek and held out her arms to him for a hug. He rubbed his nose against hers, making her giggle, and he was painfully aware of how much he had missed that sound, even the sticky feel of her fingers clinging to his neck. There were decorative twists of gold, and orange ribbon tied into her hair, festival finery, and he cringed at how badly they clashed with her green hair.
“I made you something!” she announced proudly, and plopped a snaggled chain of fire blossoms on his head. He couldn’t help but laugh; now he clashed as badly as she did, and he hugged her again.
After a few moments he set her on the ground, keeping hold of her tiny hands, and looked up at Seffani. “I’m sorry.”
“You always are,” she said, tartly, but accurately. “What was it this time? Urgent Circle business in some godforsaken human land?”
When last he’d been home he’d still had good standing in the druidic order, but that visit had changed everything, but she had no reason to believe it. Instead, he said, evenly, “My ship from Northrend was delayed and I was forced to take the moonpath to Kalimdor. I don’t need to tell you how much caution that requires in these days.”
He did not mention the Nightmare by name, not in front of Kaelis, but Seffani understood his meaning and simply sighed. The Midsummer Fire Festival festivities swirled around them, a scent of woodsmoke and dumplings.
Then Kaelis looked up and informed him, with happy innocence, “Mommy was late too.”
Seffani flushed. Kaelis continued, “The wind was bad. Flotsam had to work against it.” The daughter of a fishing village to the north, Kaelis was familiar with the sea and the workings of the boat of living wood Athorius had woken as a gift to her mother, long ago.
“That’s alright. We’re all here now, and that’s all that matters,” he elected to reply, a peace offering, smiling down at his daughter and then at her mother. Seffani, too, was dressed in bright summer colors, but she could make anything look good. A few strands of that hair had fallen over one of her eyes, like always, and he had to stop himself reaching up and tucking it behind her ear.
He wasn’t sure why he found himself longing for some kind of connection so badly on this particular day. The only thing remaining between them was this little girl whose warm, candy-coated hands were tucked into his own. He wanted to reach out to her, to tell her my mother is dead, my father is gone, please understand this is all I have left. But he didn’t. They had loved each other, and they had been utterly unable to live with each other, and it was awful. There was nothing left to say.
Then she said those words he had been expecting but shrinking from, a blow he saw coming. “You and Kaelis should have some time together, and I was hoping to meet Sadaron, so…”
“Of course,” he heard himself say.
He felt his mouth stretch into a smile. He did not ask if she was with him that night the dead came north up the shore, if that was why Seffani had not been with her daughter. He never had. She never said. But it flickered for an instant between them, a dark shadow subject that would always linger but never be broached.
Instead, he added, “Have a good time.”
A smile lit her face briefly, sad and sweet. Almost as if she was feeling the same mix of bittersweet and angry nostalgia, she swiftly kissed his cheek, and then she disappeared into the crowd. He watched after her for a long moment, then a tug on his arm redirected his attention.
“Can we go watch the fireworks?” Kaelis asked, hopefully.
He felt a genuine grin on his face at last. “Of course. Do you want to walk or take Mou?”
“Mou!” she decided instantly. He swung them both up onto the elekk’s broad back and they rode slowly down to the dock, meandering slowly through the throngs. As they approached the beach, Athorius swerved off to the side, drawing a complaint from Kaelis.
He climbed off Mou and then set her down. “We need to honor the flames first, then we’ll go see the fireworks.”
“Why?” she asked plaintively.
He handed her a handful of blossoms to throw into the large bonfire. “The solstice marks the turning of the year, as spring reaches its height and the world moves again towards winter. That’s why we burn the flowers. Their time is almost over for this year- we mourn them, and we look forward to the harvest in the fall.”
She frowned a moment, thinking about it. “Are there flowers in North-end?”
“Northrend. And yes, there are- very beautiful ones in some parts.”
Kaelis tilted her head back, her big eyes full of worry. “Is Arthas going to burn them up too?”
That night, when the scourge invaded Auberdine, when he learned a boat got away and sailed north, Athorius rode Mou into the ground, only to find nearly all his fears confirmed. Somehow, the fishermen had managed to contain and repel the attack. Kaelis had seen things no child should ever see. Trying to explain it, he had told her that a bad man was using magic to create a deadly disease- but he had also stressed that lots of good people were working very hard to stop him.
She still had nightmares.
Not knowing what else to do, Athorius knelt down and held her tight. “No. We would never let him do that.” He was aware it wasn’t enough. He wasn’t sure anything would be.
Kaelis was still for a long moment, but at last she did toss her flowers into the flames, and then asked, hopefully, “Fireworks?”
They walked down to the beach and sat down, Athorius trying not to wince as his for-once clean leather clothes settled on the wet sand. They waited in the dark for the show.
He looked at the little girl sitting on his lap, and felt uneasy. Athorius meant what he said. The scourge army must be stopped; he had realized the importance immediately. He defied direct orders from his superiors in the Cenarion Circle to travel to Northrend and lend what aid he could. One day, Arthas and his armies would fall.
But what if that day lay ten, twenty, fifty years from now? What if the taste of putrid flesh, the feel of it in his fangs, never left his mouth? What if the screams in the halls of Naxxramas never left his ears? What if after every battle he fought he lost a little more of what made him different from them?
What if the village was attacked again, and he was not there?
Kaelis cried out suddenly, startling him out of his thoughts, and she laughed as the bright colors of the fireworks washed over them.
He held his daughter a little tighter and wondered, not for the first time, if he was fighting for a better world to live in, or merely one worth leaving behind.
Congratulations Athorius, you have looted a chest containing Arthas: Rise of the Lich King, The Sunwell Trilogy, The War of the Ancients Trilogy, and a WoW TCG Loot Card. Please email the loot master at midsummerwriting at gmail dot com with your regular mailing address to claim your prize!
Remember to check back tomorrow to read the winning entry in our writing contest!!
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