Chapter Six: The Guardian
Tanith and Jaina walked in unison through the trees. As they did, Jaina felt Tanith's presence as a sort of extension of her own. She kept waiting for Tanith to do something she could not directly observe. But nothing happened.
As they walked, they saw smoke rising in the distance. Tanith smiled as she looked out at it.
"Wait, look up there. A house is just beyond those trees," said Jaina. "I'll cloak us in invisibility, and we'll see what we can find."
"Why bother?" asked Tanith. "Nobody powerful or important is going to be spending time in a hut, and they probably saw what was happening.
"We might scare them off if we aren't invisible," said Jaina.
"Whatever you say," said Tanith.
This was absurd.
One minute Tanith was proclaiming her intention to destroy everything Jaina valued. Then all of a sudden, Tanith was working for her. All Jaina'd had to do was assert herself and Tanith fell into line. Yes, her snide commentary continued but-
What was going on here?
Jaina decided to solve the problem later and cloaked both of them. The two made their way through the trees and came to the house. Then, an old woman came out and noticed her. "Pull down that damn invisibility spell; I was creating greater ones when I was an apprentice."
Jaina blinked, unused to being addressed with such disrespect by anyone except Tanith. A surge of resentment went through her, but Jaina cut the invisibility and calmed herself. Anger never solved anything. "You saw me?"
"You are speaking to a Princess and the Lady of Theramore, old women," said Tanith to one side. "You will speak with proper respect."
"I've got neither the time nor patience to coddle spoiled children. You think yourself more important than-" began the old woman.
And then she wasn't talking because Tanith drew her swords. Jaina froze as she saw murder in Tanith's eyes. She couldn't kill an old woman just for disrespect. It was strange, but Tanith halted her blades by the throat of the old women instead.
As if obeying Jaina's thoughts.
"You were saying?" asked Tanith.
"Put the swords down, Tanith," said Jaina.
"She's right, girl; you have no idea who you're dealing with," said the old woman.
Who was this woman to make such blatant proclamations? How many demons had Jaina killed? The entire world had been saved because of her. Yet no one treated her with even the smallest degree of respect.
"I don't care either, you hideous old hag!" snapped Tanith, inexplicably angry. "If you were anyone important, you wouldn't be hiding here. So I'm going to make this simple, you tell me what's going on here and where Zmodler is, and your head doesn't end up at your feet."
"Zmodler?" asked the old woman. "You know of him?"
"Yes, we're looking to kill him," said Jaina, and thought she sounded a bit like Tanith there.
"Well, you're too late to do anything about that," said Aegywynn, looking at Jaina now. Was Jaina a lot closer than she'd been before? "He's already done what he came here to do and set wards to keep me contained."
Jaina was closer; somehow, she'd ended up nearly as close as Tanith. She must have walked without realizing it. "Tanith, take the swords away from her throat." Tanith obeyed, spun both her swords, and sheathed them. "Why would he be trying to keep you contained? With no disrespect intended."
"I imagine he thought I was still in the business of opposing him," said Aegywynn. "Perhaps also to settle the score.
"You are a very eccentric young woman, aren't you?"
"Wonderful, Lady Jaina, this woman is of no use to us, and I suggest we focus on finding a way out of here," said Tanith flatly.
"No use?" asked Aegywynn, still looking at Jaina.
"Yes, useless, devoid of function," said Tanith. "A broken tool whose best fate is being melted down so someone else can use the metal."
"Tanith, stop! I sense immense power from her!" said Jaina, and only realized she was sensing it now. She backed a few paces away.
Aegywynn kept looking at Jaina oddly. "Well, it seems your twin sister is more perceptive than you."
"I take offense to that," said Tanith.
"I am Aegywynn," said the women simply. "And I was the Guardian of Tirisfal before either of you were born."
"...Is that supposed to mean something to me?" asked Tanith.
But Jaina remembered hearing stories by the fireside before she'd had to kill her Father. Of all the adventures and escapes of Aegywynn. "Aegywynn? You... you're really Aegywynn! Light above, you were my inspiration for wanting to become a sorceress in the first place! You were like my idol!"
"Well, it seems you change your tune remarkably fast once you know who I am," said Aegywynn. "I wonder how you would have treated an actual old woman."
"An actual old hag wouldn't have been stupid enough to snark off to royalty," noted Tanith.
Why did Tanith care? And why was Jaina getting the blame here? "Where have you been all this time! We could have used your help in the Third War! It would have been so amazing to have two guardians fighting alongside us-"
"I am retired and have long since left all that nonsense behind me," said Aegywynn.
"Well, you heard her milady," said Tanith. "Can we get out of here? I'm sure there are more productive things to do with our time."
"You are wasting your time," said Aegywynn. "Zmodler's seals hold even now and will keep you from leaving this place."
"How nice of you to warn us," said Tanith. "I've dealt with seals before."
"You have?" asked Jaina.
"Yes, I had to get through to defile some sacred altars," said Tanith. "Not to mention the priestess beyond. She worshipped an enemy god."
Aegywynn glared at her.
"...What?" said Jaina.
"You're literally responsible for every problem this world has right now. And you're giving us looks?" asked Tanith, who had no good reason to know that much. "Besides, you did exactly the same thing with Nihlus Aran, and he wasn't even an enemy."
"I used charm magic," said Aegywynn.
"Yeah, and used brute strength and primal magnetism to make her appreciate me," said Tanith. "What's the difference?"
"He was a man! All they care about is sex and domination anyway!" said Aegywynn. "I was treating him exactly the same way he was treating me!"
"Yeah, but you know what the difference is between us?" asked Tanith. "I raped a Priestess of the dark god as a well-deserved reward for destroying his strongholds. I furthered my god's crusade. You raped an allied sorcerer in direct defiance of your god's instructions. All so you could live vicariously through your disgusting half-breed of a son.
"My action was a victory for my side.
"Yours led to the destruction of the entire eastern continent."
"I was trying to prevent the rise of the Lich King!" said Aegywynn.
"Then what are you doing here?" asked Jaina, wondering why she was in exile. She'd thought Aegywynn had been killed by Medivh.
"What?" asked Aegywynn.
"Why are you here?" asked Tanith. "You obviously still have some magic left. Why, when your son went berserk, did you just give a warning and run off to Kalimdor? You should have stayed and fought to the bitter end.
"Maybe your magics could have saved some people. Or you could have killed a powerful orc warchief or turned the tide in a critical battle. Stormwind might even still be standing, and we wouldn't be here.
"But we'll never find out, will we?
"Because after your little plan to control the position of guardian failed, you ran off. You stayed and cowered here. Even your worthless son did more than you, and he's been nothing but counterproductive.
"You're worthless, Aegywynn.
"The weakest, most incompetent footman in the entire world is worth more than you as long as he stands his ground. Hell, even Proudmoore, the dimwitted trophy bride without a prince, is worth more than you. Because at least she stood up to be counted when everything was on the line.
"You didn't even do that! When the entire world was burning, and you had the power to help, you stayed here in your hut!"
One minute Tanith was scorning Jaina as lower than dirt; the next, she was defending her honor. What was going on here?
"I was killing demons centuries before you were born, sorceress!" snapped Aegywynn. "I killed an Avatar of Sageras and fought alongside Alexstrasza the Lifebinder herself! Do you think that just because you're capable of a more controlled summoning, you are anything equal to me!
"I was the guardian of this world for centuries, the first female to succeed at magic! You have no right to judge me! None!"
"Why are you here, then?" repeated Tanith.
"Because Zmodler has placed wards that completely trap me here. They prevented me from intervening," said Aegywynn.
"And why were you in one place that he could set them up?" asked Tanith.
Aegywynn paused. "...Because I failed."
"Brilliant deduction," said Tanith. "Let's get out of here; we've got a war to win."
Somehow, Jaina found she agreed. Or at least a darker part of her thoughts agreed. Tanith seemed to say many things she'd observed herself. She'd just been reluctant to say as much.
"Yes, you certainly do," said a familiar voice.
Jaina whirled around and saw a face she had longed to see and also feared. Arthas Menethil stood some way away. Yet he was not as he had been. His golden hair was white as snow now, his face gray. He wore armor inlaid with imagery of death, and Frostmourne rested in his hands.
"Arthas?!" said Jaina, raising her staff. Tanith drew her blades as well, and Jaina prepared to summon a water elemental.
"Alright, Jaina, what are you playing at?" asked Arthas flatly.
Jaina stood still, blinking in surprise. It was not how she'd imagined this conversation going. "What?"
"What is this?" asked Arthas, motioning around him. "A few months ago, you murdered your own father to maintain the truce between Alliance and Horde. If you'd pulled this stunt then, you'd have wiped the orcs off the map in an afternoon. Why the change?"
"It's not my fault! It's hers!" said Jaina, motioning to Tanith.
"Well, that's somewhat low, blaming a seventy-year-old hermit for your actions," said Arthas.
"No, I mean her, Tanith!" said Jaina. "She showed up out of nowhere, took over my military. Then she started destroying the Horde while pretending to work for me!"
"...Fascinating," mused Arthas. "I have to admit, I owe you thanks. If the Alliance and Horde had cooperated with Illidan, I'd have been finished. Instead, you screwed up his plans and played right into my hands. As things stand now, though, you're more or less destroying all my enemies.
"The best part is, I don't have to do anything. I can just sit back on the Frozen Throne, rebuilding my armies, and win. Your little mental breakdown here has more or less won me this war."
"I am not you!" said Jaina. "Besides, we're stuck here as long as those wards are in effect so-"
Arthas raised his hand, and the wards exploded. Violently.
Oh, right, he was the Lich King.
"Consider it a thank you for all you've done," said Arthas. "Keep up the good work. I'll be in touch." And he teleported away.
Aegywynn stared incredulously. "...He didn't even notice me! I was a Guardian, and he pays attention to you?!"
"Yeah, because she's not a failure," said Tanith.
"Tanith, shut up," snapped Jaina, deciding to take charge of her own life. Never meet your heroes, indeed. "Aegywynn, go kill Zmodler or something. Maybe someone will notice you then."
"And where are you going?" asked Aegywynn.
"I'm going to the Caverns of Time," said Jaina. "Somebody let Tanith into this world, and I'm going to find out who!"
With any luck, she could do some time travel and sort this mess out.