Chapter Three : Fruits of Shal'Aran
"I still think we need to chain her down, you know, just in case!" a female voice spoke urgently. A distant sound of footsteps moving back and forth echoed through the room.
"Absolutely not, the girl barely has any strength left. What do you imagine she would do, cough at you?" Vanthir protested.
"Just you wait until Thalyssra gets back here!" the first voice retorted. There were more footsteps, fading away in an unknown direction.
"You haven't spoken the whole ride over here. What's on your mind?" Vanthir wondered out loud, in a calmer tone than before. There was the sound of someone shuffling on their feet. "Sit, girl, sit." The sound of bed springs creaking was what followed. A new voice, which sounded closer than any of the others had before it, spoke next.
"I can't help but think to myself that none of this would've happened if I hadn't given her the Arcwine that day," her voice was sultry and calm.
"If you hadn't given her that Arcwine that day, she would have most likely met the same fate. The only difference you meeting her has made is that it may have sped up that process!"
"Well gee, that makes me feel so much better!" the woman groaned. "When is she supposed to wake up from this anyway?" she wondered.
"Give her time, she-"
"What if she doesn't have that time?"
"Thalyssra will know what to do," Vanthir said.
"You had better be right about that, Vanthir."
First there was the taste of dust in her mouth. A stinging sensation in the back of her throat nearly made her gag on her own saliva or lack thereof as Briar coughed and heaved. She jolted upright from the bed she had been lying on. Her eyes were still adjusting to her surroundings when two figures came rushing towards her.
"Calm down child," one of them, who was clearly Vanthir, said.
"It's going to be alright," the second one spoke. This voice was one she had not heard before but she could hear from its sound and cadence, that this had to be someone of great importance.
"Where am I?" Briar wondered, her vision still a blur, streaks of blue passing in and out of it. "Where's aunt Deannah? Where's Voltas?"
"They are safe. We checked on them. The Arcwine didn't affect them as badly as it did you," Vanthir said in an attempt to soothe the girl.
"The Arcwine?" Briar stammered. "What are you talking about?" That's when Briar remembered. Leaving the tavern. The man that had spoken of the poisoned Arcwine. The stinging pain in her chest. There had been guards rushing up to them. But Vanthir and the Nightborne woman had protected her. The woman wielded a mace. Briar remembered a pool of shadows, the shrieking of the demon guards and then the galloping of a horse that had run as fast as its legs could carry them.
"Can you stand?" the unfamiliar voice inclined. Briar wasn't sure of this, and tried to locate her feet. She dangled them over the side of the bed and gently touched the ground below. Slowly but steadily, she shifted her weight onto her feet and took two steps before losing her balance. Both Vanthir and the stranger were quick to rush to either side of Briar to catch her fall. "I suppose that answers that question. How is your vision?" the stranger demanded, as they sat her back down on the bed.
After blinking feverishly for about five seconds, Briar established that she could now make out basic shapes. She recognised the glisten of Vanthir's bald head and noted that the other person had pretty long white hair. "My name is First Arcanist Thalyssra. Vanthir here has brought you to Shal'Aran, to me because it would appear you have been dealt with a most terrible affliction. You, my child, are withering, but I think I can help you."
"First what now?" was all Briar could muster up before all of this new information sent her head spinning. Gasping for air, she could feel a coughing spree coming up. She barely even noticed the footsteps closing in on them.
"Ah, she's awake. Careful, she might aim for your boots!" a familiar, sultry voice warned them.
The minutes that passed by had felt like hours. No one was talking. It was just Briar and her coughing for what seemed to last forever. The young girl was intent on keeping her gaze locked on her feet which were touching solid ground below her. Deannah and Voltas were safe, she was also safe. She was someplace dark and damp. Her eyesight was slowly coming back to her now. The coughing subsided, but Briar dared not look up and be the first to break the silence.
"You think that was the last of it?" Thalyssra inquired, she sounded like she genuinely wanted an answer to that question. Briar merely shrugged in response.
"I don't know," she breathed. Vanthir shifted his weight from one foot to the other, folding his arms as he looked at the girl with a worried expression.
"Much paler than this and she'll become see through," he spoke. This resulted in a few snickers and one intent clearing of one's throat. It was Thalyssra.
"I think it's best if everyone cleared this room for now. Give us a moment, please." The woman's voice was kind but had a clear undertone of urgency. And without objection, they all complied. Silently, everyone shuffled out of sight, leaving Briar and the First Arcanist behind in the corner of the room. While every inch of Briar's body still felt tense, this brought a strange sensation of relief. She looked up at Thalyssra and felt taken aback by the elegance this woman radiated. Her white hair framed her face perfectly, her skin glistening as if it were entirely made up of tiny crystals that bounced off light in every direction. For a moment Briar could've sworn she felt completely at ease. A tickle in the back of her throat thought otherwise.
"Am I going to turn into a Withered?" Briar croaked, the fear trembling in her voice. Thalyssra placed her hand on Briar's and smiled a gentle smile.
"Don't worry child. I was in far worse shape than you when Lady Highfeather found me here," she spoke. Her voice was soothing.
"What happened to you?" Briar asked. And who was Lady Highfeather, she thought. Thalyssra closed her eyes for a moment.
"A story for later perhaps. What matters now is that you know that you are going to be absolutely fine. It will take some time before you are back to your old self, but we can stop the Withering process right now. Do you think you can stand, girl?" Thalyssra reached out a hand and waited patiently for Briar to grab a hold of it.
Briar sucked in a deep breath of air. She then reached for Thalyssra's hand and latched onto it. Mentally counting to three, suppressing another coughing fit, she pulled herself upright. As she stood there, Briar felt her knees buckle once, but she managed to catch herself, with the help of the Arcanist who kept hold of her hand.
"Thank you," Briar breathed. "What am I supposed to do?" she quickly added. Thalyssra let out an amused chuckle.
"Well for one, you're going to take a few steps right towards the center of the room. The others are waiting for us. Farodin and Highfeather have been working hard on making the tree grow. It's finally bearing fruit," Thalyssra mused. Briar frowned at this. Not even realising she was already walking, being guided by the Arcanist as she tried to figure out what kind of tree would even grow underground.
"A tree? But aren't we in some kind of cave? What kind of tree would-" Briar paused mid sentence as she couldn't help but gasp for breath at what she saw next.
A perfectly symmetrical tree stood in the dead center of the room they were in. Its branches had grown entwined, forming intricate shapes and patterns. The tree's bark was a snowy white and there was a blue light glowing from its very core. Strings of leaves hung like a canopy of icy blue and pale turquoise on the branches that seemed to reach until the very edges of the room. Every other string of leaves seemed to be growing some kind of fruit that was emitting the same glow as the center of its core did.
It seemed that Briar hadn't noticed her jaw had dropped. As she was gazing at the natural structure, taking in its presence, she also didn't seem to have noticed the fact that Thalyssra had let go of her hand. "That kind of tree," Briar whispered. The Nightborne girl was now standing right in front of it. The others were all scattered around the girl and the tree. Vanthir looked nervous. A Night Elf with purple skin, long green hair and a beard was watching Briar's every move. Thalyssra came to a halt next to him and nodded to him with a smile.
"She's going to be just fine, isn't she, Farodin?" she said. The green haired man named Farodin nodded.
"She most certainly is. And if we can save her, we can do the same for everyone else!" Thalyssra nodded in agreement.
"Briar, this is what we call an Arcan'dor. It balances nature and arcane magic in perfect harmony. It's what will set you free," the First Arcanist explained.
Briar was still staring at the tree, she simply couldn't pull her glance away. She felt tears well up in her eyes. It was beautiful. A tap on her shoulder broke the spell. Startled, Briar whirled around, and gazed right into a set of golden, glowing eyes.
"Hey," came the familiar sultry voice. She was at least one head shorter than her. Her pale skin and blonde hair looked just the way she'd remembered it from that night by the canal. She was holding one of the fruits from the tree in her hands, its glow reflecting on her face, giving it the same blue glow. "I'm Araline Highfeather," she said, reaching out the piece of fruit towards Briar. "I've been told you're supposed to eat this thing. I must be honest, I'm a little hesitant to give you anything, considering the last time I did so I kind of ended up poisoning you. But really, eat up. It's supposed to save your life," Araline continued, pushing the piece of fruit in Briar's hands. Briar seemed almost entranced by the sound of Araline's voice. She barely even heard what the woman was saying. She took the fruit and took a bite. And then another. It tasted a bit tart, but it felt like it was satisfying a hunger inside of her she hadn't even realised was there to begin with. Araline took a step backwards and tossed a glance over her shoulder. "As long as it's clear that this is the last time I'm feeding anyone anything," she deadpanned. She looked back at Briar and frowned. "Feel any different yet?"
"I'm not sure," Briar replied. There was an eerie moment of silence within the halls of Shal'aran. Just as Briar was about to make another comment, the patterns on her arms and cheeks began to light up. It was a short flicker. The moment it faded away again, it seemed to create some kind of ripple effect. Life flushed back into the colour of Briar's skin. The girl gasped for air and felt that there was no more soreness in the back of her throat. She spread out her arms and stared at them, as if it was the first time she'd seen her own arms and hands. Relief washed over her and a sigh escaped her lips.
"Now that's blue," Araline mused. The others were making their respective sounds and remarks of relief. The Night Elf with the green hair was the first to walk up to Briar. Without so much as a word between them, he grabbed a hold of the girl's hands and looked at her intently.
"Thank you," he breathed.
"Uhm, you're welcome?" Briar stammered. She frowned, and then shook her head. "No, I really should be thanking you!" she quickly retorted, making an awkward shaking motion with her hands as if trying to shake the man's hand. Farodin smiled a meek smile.
"But of course," he spoke. He let go of the girl's hands and scratched behind his ear. "It's just nice to see hard work pay off, you see. The trouble we went through to make sure the Arcan'dor would make it to this point, bearing fruit that could heal hundreds if not thousands. You are but the first of many, and for that I thank you." Having said this, the man turned around as if to prevent the girl from defying his gratitude a second time. Briar merely smiled and then dared to glance in the direction of the person who had handed her the fruit in the first place. Araline had since moved a few steps back but was still looking at the young Nightborne.
Shuffling awkwardly on her feet, Briar let out a chuckle.
"Guess you didn't poison me this time," she let out, almost sounding smug about it, but catching herself and reeling it in just a tad. Araline returned the chuckle, pressing both hands on her hips almost defiantly.
"Took me a day the last time, just you wait," she replied. Briar could feel her cheeks flush. She quickly averted her gaze, and noticed that Thalyssra and Vanthir had wandered off, away from the rest of them. They were deep in conversation, their expressions serious. This made Briar frown. She turned to Araline again. "What's going on?" Araline shrugged.
"They're discussing strategies on getting back into the city. Vanthir will probably want to get back to the Waning Crescent. It's a crucial position within the city's infrastructure. I'm sorry, why am I telling you this. I didn't mean to bore you with the specifics. It's nothing, don't worry. You should probably get some rest. You may feel fine now, but Thalyssra wasn't wrong when she said the process takes a while," Araline went on, smiling a kind smile as she spoke. Briar shook her head.
"But I feel-"
"Fine? Yes, like I said. Trust me. Remember the bed you woke up in? Consider it yours, get to it and get some rest. You're going to need it," Araline interjected. Despite being served with that same, kind smile, Briar felt a little taken aback by the sudden seriousness in the tone of Araline's voice. A great urge to protest the Blood Elf's commands welled up inside of Briar, but she ignored this. Instead she walked back over to the edge of the room, where she found the beds all lined up against the cave walls. The one with the jumbled covers dangling over the side of the end of the bed was hers. In the corner of her eye she could see Thalyssra and Vanthir were still talking to one another. She was a little bit closer to them on this side of the room, but still couldn't make out the words they were saying.
She was eager to find out just how Vanthir and she were going to get back into the city without being noticed by the Suramar City guard. Maybe they would use a cart. Or perhaps Thalyssra had some fancy disguises lying around that they could wear. Pondering the endless possibilities, Briar crawled underneath the covers and curled up in a ball. It wasn't her tried and trusted pile of pillows, but it would do the trick for now.
Sleep did not come instantly. The events of the day flashed before her eyes every time she'd close them. The sounds of Shal'Aran were also very new to her, and every footfall and whisper seemed keen on keeping her awake. At one point she was certain she could hear Vanthir and Thalyssra. Their footsteps were closing in on her, as if they were making their rounds, checking if everyone was in their beds. They were still discussing strategy, by the sounds of it.
If Briar had any hope left of a good night's rest, that hope faded the moment she heard Vanthir speak the next words.
"It just isn't safe. The girl has to stay here in Shal'Aran."