Chapter 1 - Passion for a Proposal

"It is simply out of the question," said the blood elf man, noticeably with more force than when he rejected the idea two minutes earlier.

Delarea almost put her hand over her mouth to stop herself from interrupting him. Staring blankly at the man's face, she attempted to regain her composure and calm her excitement down, as her father often tried to get her to do.

Yet again, the methods did not work.

"Examiner Doranir, I implore you to reconsider," Delarea pleaded.

The Examiner waved her away with a hand as he turned to return to his cushioned seat on the floor of the dimly lit room. The building was not large. The white stone floor was mostly concealed by beautiful red and gold rugs and pillows that dotted the ground. The light from Silvermoon City's Royal Exchange illuminated a sliver of the room. Delarea's shadow blocked out much of the slice of light as Doranir sat in what seemed the darkest portion of the office.

"I cannot, Delarea," he said firmly. "Your project proposal would not only be a waste of resources, but cannot justifiably fit within the very tenets of our organization."

Delarea stepped towards Doranir. "But Examiner," she blurted out, but stopped, realizing her hair had fallen in front of her face. She pulled her auburn hair back behind her ear and continued. "The Reliquary stands for the pursuit of knowledge—knowledge that will benefit the sin'dorei."

The man did not look up from a portable writing desk as he scribbled notes on a piece of parchment. No fictitious assignment will get you out of this, Doranir, she thought.

"I seek to honor the legacy of our people with this book, a book that will finally collect, record, and recount our full and complete history." She noticed her voice getting louder as she spoke. She did not mind.

"The Complete Histories of the Peoples of Quel'Thalas will give our people the most noble honor. It will embrace the reality about who we genuinely are and where our ideals come from. It will give us truth."

Delarea's eyes had wandered to the ceiling during her lecture. Snapping out of her daze, she brought her eyes from the pale white walls down to where Doranir sat.

He continued to ignore her.

She took the next step towards Doranir to stand over his seated form. She kept her eyes on the top of his dark hair. "I, again, request the Reliquary's approval for the funding necessary to research and travel in order to complete this work."

Doranir set down his quill. A silence hung over the room. Delarea did not take her eyes off of the Examiner.

The man finally sighed and stood up from his cushioned seat. At full height, he seemed to tower over Delarea. As much as her body tried to shirk away, she kept her eyes fixed on his and her shoulders held high.

"You want to record the history of the sin'dorei?" Doranir asked. Delarea opened her mouth to affirm, but Doranir had not finished. It seemed the question was rhetorical.

"History? Culture?" Doranir scoffed. "Such is the realm of scholars and scribes. We of the Reliquary concern ourselves with the immediate . . . the future. We discover, acquire, and amass lost artifacts, wealth, and lore so that it cannot be used against us." He put his hand on Delarea's shoulder and his face turned somber. "Your proposal to collect the past of our people does not aid this goal."

"But, what about my presentation tomorrow? I need to be approved by you and Examiner Aelnara or else…"

"You must wait another year for your Examiner trials," he interrupted and finished for her. "Yes, I know."

"This is the topic I have prepared to present to you and Aelnara, I cannot simply start over and create a viable presentation in less than a day."

Doranir stepped back and sat, returning to his seat on the floor. "We have denied proposals before, Delarea, and if we must, we will do so again tomorrow."

Delarea could feel anger and heat pouring from her face. She no longer tried to hide it. Seeing her frustration, Doranir said, "But we have also had applicants create wonderful presentations in short time frames and enter the Reliquary with no problems whatsoever."

Delarea, eyes and mouth twisted in irritation and confusion, bowed slowly. "As you wish, Examiner Doranir." She turned on her heel and walked briskly out of the open entryway of the Reliquary.

"Shorel'aran, Delarea," the Examiner offered as she left, without looking up from his parchment.

She did not return the parting.

Delarea walked quickly out of the Royal Exchange and into the Walk of Elders in Silvermoon City. Normally, she would take the time to go over to the various natural spaces throughout the city, sit on the lovely benches, enjoy the shade of the perpetually autumn-colored trees, and watch the capital's denizens go about their day while reading or writing.

Today, she was in no such mood.

Delarea could not understand. She understood perfectly why Doranir seemed inclined to deny her project proposal: it was, indeed, somewhat off course for a Reliquary venture.

But, why was she so upset about it? Delarea prided herself on keeping a calm mind. She always held her tongue, hid her anger, if only even a slight flare up, and never let anything depress her positive and inquisitorial mood. Why did this hurt so much?

As she exited the city's grand new primary entrance since the Scourge attack, she could not help but look back up to the tall likeness of the blood elves' former Prince, Kael'thas Sunstrider. The man sought to save his people, and in the process, condemned them. What Delarea would not give to speak to him. To ask him: "Why?"

She turned back towards the open Eversong Woods and began walking the stone pathway towards the west. Even as the sun was nearing the horizon in front of her, Instructor Antheol still demanded the attention of several young students at the small lecture theater surrounding the shore of Stillwhisper Pond. Delarea did not really know the Instructor, as she was not a student of the arcane arts, but she had heard enough of his punishment methods to feel a connection to him. All sin'dorei must embrace their chosen actions and decisions and suffer the consequences of them.

Delarea walked past the pond towards the Dead Scar. While the taint on her people's land had always intrigued her, she never ventured across its span alone. Even she was not that ignorant, and the thought of a skeleton shrieking at her and attempting to tear her limbs from her body did, indeed, frighten her. The remnants of the defeated Scourge still walked the Scar's dark earth, mindlessly waiting for something to kill to enter their vision. She waited for a passing pair of Silvermoon Guardians to catch up to her and slowly made the walk across the Dead Scar with the armored soldiers ahead of her.

She found herself taking the remainder of the walk to Fairbreeze Village as slowly as she reasonably could. Delarea, despite spending most of her time in Silvermoon at the Reliquary, still lived her with her father just outside the small town.

What are you afraid of? she thought. Anger still swirled inside of her as she quickly waved and bowed her head to the few faces finishing up their business in the village as the sun's light began to disappear. Why in the world was she angry, and who with? Herself? Doranir?

You must be honest with him, she thought. He will understand that you might need another year.

Delarea tried to gather herself as she climbed the few white stone stairs to her father's home. The small, circular structure had seen better days. Halthin, her father, had recently retired from his life's work with the Farstriders. Spending more time at home had made him less likely to keep the outside of the home shiny and in repair.

As she approached the violet curtain covering the entryway, she heard several hushed voices from inside. Panic quickly swelled inside her, and she could feel heat rush to her cheeks. The tones quickly turned from sinister whispers to boisterous laughter.

Oh no, she thought. Is that today?

She groaned as she pulled the curtain aside and entered the home. Inside, her father sat at the head of a long table, facing the door. On her left, two young blood elf men sat at the table and a blood elf woman sat across from them. A large feast laid out on the table between them. All four pairs of eyes widened, and each of their mouths turned into a different sized smile.

Delarea looked first to her father. His green eyes seemed to light up as she entered and his smile was, by far, the widest. Halthin quickly wiped his mouth and gray-haired chin with a napkin and stood from his chair.

"Delarea, oh dearest, it is wonderful to see you," he said loudly. He walked around the table and greeted her with a hug.

"Oh, wait, that's right, we have another sister, don't we?" joked the man seated closest to the door. His dark hair was short and messy. He searched for laughs from the other two, nudging the other man with his shoulder.

Delarea let out a sarcastic laugh while still in her father's arms. "Very funny, Ze'theas. I'm surprised you can still speak Thalassian after spending so much time out in the wild with the Farstriders."

"Whoa there," said the other man, whose long brown hair swayed as he held up his arms in protest. "Don't insult the Farstriders in this household. You're in the presence of three members of their ranks. Well, one former, one current, and one who is trying his best." The brown-haired blood elf smirked at the woman across the table and quickly received a shove from Ze'theas.

Delarea smiled as well. She walked around the table, hugging her two brothers as they stood. She seated herself next to her sister and gave her a sideways hug, resting her head on her shoulder for a moment.

"Did the Reliquary keep you long?" asked Halthin. "We tried to wait for you, but the lynx steaks simply smelled too good to wait any longer."

"Yes, my presentation is tomorrow and I had some last minute questions." Delarea replied.

"And are you prepared? Are you confident?" asked her brown-haired brother, Althadan.

Delarea did not reply immediately. Not at all, she thought to herself.

"Yes," she stated plainly. She was relieved no further inquiries came.

The other three siblings quickly turned their conversation to more interesting topics, like the latest news from Silvermoon and what Althadan and Ze'theas had seen on their most recent Farstriders outings. Delarea quickly folded into the background of the conversation, hiding behind the plates of food she amassed in front of her.

She should have remembered this. Every year, on her mother's birthday, the four children, no matter where they were in the world, would find a way back to Fairbreeze Village to spend time with their family and honor her. Delarea's mother, Lysazia, too was a Farstrider. She died in the Scourge invasion of Quel'thalas.

It was not that Delarea did not want to honor and remember her mother. She loved her mother. She sometimes cried, out of nowhere, remembering small pieces of her life when her mother was still alive.

But, Delarea felt insecure when around her three siblings. To Delarea, this event, meant to mark another year of life for Lysazia's four children, also seemed to challenge each sibling to be able to announce new life achievements at each meal.

Faelnia, her sister and the oldest, was a Blood Knight, valiantly serving the Sunwell and Silvermoon under the guidance of Lady Liadrin. Althadan was a Farstrider captain and an expert marksman. Ze'theas, while somewhat of a buffoon, was becoming an incredibly successful scout in the Farstrider ranks.

And Delarea was…what? Going to need another year to get into the Reliquary?

Delarea had not even noticed the conversation die down as she sipped her wine. She felt Faelnia shove her arm. Looking up, Delarea saw that all her family's gazes were fixed on her.

"What?" she quickly blurted.

"Were you paying attention?" asked Althadan.

Delarea stared at him blankly.

Althadan rolled his eyes and went to speak, but Halthin's soft tone sounded first.

"What do you miss the most about your mother, dearest?"

Delarea put her wine down and rubbed her thumbs against each other.

"I miss mother's assurance. Her embrace was not always the warmest and her voice did not soothe me to sleep. But, I knew that I could speak to her about anything, and she would reassure me that I had made the right choice or was considering options in the right way."

Delarea found her gaze lifting to the ceiling above all of them.

"She always understood. She knew the right words and when to say them."

A brief silence filled the room, but she swore Althadan scoffed.

Before she could bring her eyes to his, Halthin asked, "And you, Ze'theas?"

"I miss her tickling," the youngest child replied. Faelnia burst into laughter and the others soon followed, even Delarea.

"I'm serious! It hurt like hellfire, but she always knew the best spots to tickle you to get the most laughter." Ze'theas could not keep a straight face forever and eventually let out a smile and chuckle.

The remainder of the evening was mostly filled with the voices of Althadan and Ze'theas, but it was pleasant enough. Delarea nursed another cup of wine and munched on bat bites, which she had never tried before, although they'd been on the table at this exact party every year prior.

When most of the food and wine were gone, Althadan rose from the table and said that it was time that he and Ze'theas returned to Farstrider Retreat. Halthin nodded and rose from the table to give his sons an embrace. Delarea admired that in her father. He was never shy of hugging those he cared about.

"Father, is it alright if I stay the evening?" asked Faelnia.

"Of course, little light, anything you need," he said.

Delarea rose to say goodbye to her brothers. Ze'theas gave her a big hug and tousled her hair. She expected a simple nod from Althadan, but he too embraced her.

"Good luck tomorrow," he said. "I love you, sister."

Delarea smiled and, at a loss for words, only nodded.

The two brothers donned their cloaks and hoods and walked off into the night.

Returning inside, Halthin and Faelnia had already cleaned off the table.

"I think it is time I get to sleep," said Halthin. "Faelnia you will be alright in your old room?"

"Of course, father," she replied.

Halthin nodded. "Goodnight, my loves." He walked through the curtain at the back of the room and into the back chambers.

When he was gone, Faelnia said "Well, another year down," and sat down in a padded chair in the corner of the room. Delarea said nothing, but sat with her on the chair, curling herself to fit in her arms.

"How are you, sister?" asked Faelnia.

"I really am fine." Delarea said.

"Come now, I have watched you grow up for the last 100 years, I know when something is upsetting you."

Delarea stared at the ground for a moment. "The Reliquary hates my idea. They will not accept it tomorrow."

"What? Why? Why did you not say anything?"

"Because I did not want to spend the entire evening talking about my upcoming failure."

Faelnia sighed and grabbed her sister's head, forcing it down on to her shoulder so that she would rest. Delarea stared out across the room, her sideways head warping her vision of the tidy common room.

After a moment, Faelnia said quietly, "This is not a failure."

Delarea removed herself from her sister's shoulder and stood up from the chair. "How is it not? Tomorrow, I will go to the Reliquary and present an idea that will inevitably be rejected. An idea that I have so much passion for that no one else sees."

Faelnia was silent. Delarea assumed that her sister did not know what to say or how to comfort her.

"You are lucky, sister," said Delarea. "Your passion was a passion of many other sin'dorei before you. While I have no place, there was already a place for you."

Faelnia fidgeted in the chair uncomfortably. Delarea could see that her retort might have hurt her sister. "Faelnia, I… I did not mean it like that. I just…"

Delarea could not think of how to finish her thought. Only a wall of sadness stood at the end of her thought process. Tears began to form in her eyes. She could not hold them in.

Faelnia jumped to her feet quickly and embraced her sister. Delarea dug her face into her sister's shoulder.

"Why do others not believe in my work? In my passion?" Delarea asked through tears.

Faelnia's arms tightened around Delarea. "You will face opposition your entire life, sister." The paladin moved back from the young blood elf and smiled, staring deeply into her eyes. She wiped the tears from Delarea's cheek. Then, leaning in to ensure her sister was listening, Faelnia said, "At times, your love may be all you have. It might be your last weapon. You must ensure they respect it."

Tears fell from Delarea's eyes again. Her sister pulled her in tight, and Delarea wept.

In the morning, Delarea awoke to the sunrise. Halthin and Faelnia must have awoken earlier, as neither were in the house. She quickly gathered her bag, scrolls, quills, and ink and made her way to Silvermoon City.

Let's get this over with, she thought.

When Delarea arrived at the Reliquary's office in the city, Doranir and Aelnara, another Examiner, were waiting for her. Doranir's tall frame and dark hair were contrasted by Aelnara's small stature and bright white hair. Although, their dark red robes matched perfectly and both of their sets of green blood elven eyes pierced into Delarea.

The room had been rearranged for the occasion. Doranir and Aelnara sat on two cushioned pillows facing the doorway and a podium stood between Delarea and the two Examiners. Delarea quietly walked to the podium, retrieved her notes from her bag, and placed them on the podium's surface. After gathering herself, she cleared her throat and looked to the pair of sin'dorei.

"Proceed when ready, Delarea Daygazer," said Aelnara.

"Examiners, for consideration to join the ranks of the Reliquary, I will be proposing a project to be entitled The Complete Histories of the Peoples of Quel'Thalas."

Aelnara immediately looked to Doranir who sighed, shrugged, rubbed his forehead, and shook his head.

Delarea continued.

"For thousands of years, the quel'dorei were the beacon of civilization. The shining example of what a society could achieve. Many tales have been written about our people's heroes, achievements, and tenacity.

"However, these accounts often proceed primarily from the view of high elves and blood elves. We do not benefit from recollections of the quel'dorei and sin'dorei from those who opposed, befriended, or simply observed our great people. Whether we have not pursued this calling because of fear, anger, or regret, there is a dire need for a better understanding of the history of our existence in this world.

"Where are the conversations with trolls who either belong to the Amani tribe, or know a great deal about them, who our people fought in countless wars and battles? Who from our civilization has dared to follow the trail of the Prince, Kael'thas, to better understand his actions without immediately condemning him? Who among us has sought to speak, at length, with the Knights of the Ebon Blade, so that we may recount, with absolute detail, those horrible days when the Scourge came?"

Delarea's eyes were fixed on the rising staircase behind the two Examiners. She almost did not see Doranir's raised hand.

"Delarea," said Doranir. "We discussed this. This proposal will not be accepted. Do you have another project to submit?"

"No, Examiner. I am presenting the project I am passionate about. This will be my submitted proposal."

Doranir sighed. Turning from her counterpart to Delarea, Aelnara said, "With no other proposal, we will examine this one on its merits."

"And on its merits," Doranir said, "your proposal is denied. This project is not in the best interest of the Reliquary, the Magisters, or the kingdom of Quel'Thalas."

"Perhaps if I finish my presentation–" interjected Delarea. Doranir raised his hand again and she fell silent.

"Your proposal is denied, Delarea Daygazer, and you will be rescheduled for an application to the Reliquary in one year."

Despite expecting this exact outcome, Delarea could not help but bite her lip in anger. She bowed slowly, gathered her things, and exited the building in silence. Today's walk home to Fairbreeze Village was even longer than yesterday's.

Delarea sat outside the home on the steps leading to the velvet curtain doorway. She gazed out into the crimson and bronze wood. Dusk was falling over the forest, but she could still see the bright red shine of the trees. They were beautiful. And she would miss them.

She almost jumped in shock when her father came to sit with her. He never did things like that. These days, he was always off wandering the woods on his own. Perhaps searching for a life that he used to have, she thought.

"I saw not one, but three dragonhawks today, dearest," he said softly.

"Wow," she mused sarcastically.

Halthin pushed her in the arm and they both chuckled. He, too, stared out into the trees. "They are such beautiful creatures. So majestic. I love our Eversong Woods, but it is a shame that not many besides ourselves and few visitors get to see them."

Delarea looked at his chiseled face. Even at his old age, he would look the pinnacle of youth in some other races. But she could also see the dark wrinkles around his eyes that betrayed his maturity.

She pulled his arm close to her chest and held it tightly. "I love you, father."

"I love you, too, dearest."

That night, Delarea laid awake in her bed until she could hear father's loud snoring. When she was sure that he would not wake, she quietly moved her sheets aside, grabbed the traveling clothes she had laid out, and made her way to the kitchen. She tip-toed around, grabbing some provisions and then placing them in the bag.

After she was satisfied with the food she gathered, she went back into her room and snatched all of the loose coin she could find. Her coin purse jangled loosely as she opened it to examine her pull. A handful of silver and copper pieces were all she could find at this late hour. It will have to do, she thought. Money cannot be that hard to come by, right?

With that, she moved through the common room and past the velvet curtain into the darkened wood. She brought her cloak's hood over her head and made her way back towards Silvermoon City.

While she knew, with certainty, that the Dead Scar had not moved since the day the Scourge came, traveling by night made her feel as if there was a skeleton or nerubian hiding behind every tree. Her head began to ache as she swiveled around so much, constantly checking her surroundings. She traveled the road, and thankfully had not seen anyone else.

When Delarea made it to the Dead Scar, she could not help but stand and wait for a moment, expecting a pair of Silvermoon Guardians to walk by. After several minutes, she shook her head, snapping herself out of the daze.

Alright, I can do this, she thought. The dark earth in front of her on the road somehow seemed even more pitch black than the darkness surrounding her.

As she stood, waiting to walk across the desolate spine of earth, she could not bring herself to move her feet. She closed her eyes and shook her head, unable to shake the fear enveloping her.

Here we go, here we go, she repeated to herself. She finally began to move her feet but was unable to open her eyes again. Her feet moved faster and faster, but her eyes simply would not open. Soon, she was in a full-on sprint, blindly running towards the other side of the bleak earth. She let out a yell as the fear rose in her, and then, splat. Her legs flew from underneath her and face jolted forward and slammed into grass. She looked up and saw that she had made it to the other side. She let out a sigh of relief, stood up, and began walking the rest of the way to Silvermoon City.

The city, of course, was open at this time. There were just less people around. Delarea adjusted her hood, pulling it low over her face. She walked briskly to the Royal Exchange and the Reliquary. Once there, she glanced a few times over her shoulder to see if anyone was watching, and then walked through the velvet curtain. Good thing we value aesthetic over security, she thought.

The office was dark and there was no one inside. Delarea moved quickly towards the back wall and opened a crate. Inside were pieces of parchment, quills, ink, an archaeological kit, and a Reliquary badge, attached to a sleek leather necklace. She assumed that these crates were the supplies given to every Reliquary applicant upon entry. She grabbed the box's contents, stuffed them into her bag, and put the badge around her neck.

Her head flicked as she thought she heard something from the stairs. Without thought, she turned and sprinted out of the room and into the street.

After a few paces, she turned around to see if anyone was following. Nothing. She slowed to a walk back to the city's gates.

After exiting Silvermoon, she turned left instead of her normal walk back to Fairbreeze Village. While she had never ridden a hawkstrider, she knew that Thuron's Livery sold them to adventurers or others who needed fast transportation. While she was definitely not the former, she was most certainly the latter.

As she approached the small building, she could see several hawkstriders grazing outside. She did not see any other movement. She peeked inside the building and confirmed that everyone else must have gone home for the evening.

Delarea turned back toward the hawkstriders. Even in the darkness, she could see their bright feathers showing a rainbow of beautiful shades of colors.

She approached the nearest one, holding out her hands as if to keep the bird at bay. The hawkstrider did not seem to notice her until, in a flash, it turned its thin neck and cawed loudly directly in her face.

Delarea skirted around the bird, trying to get further away so that it would stop. She inadvertently stepped further into the circle of hawkstriders. When she turned around, five other birds were staring at her, and, in perfect synchronization, cawed at her presence.

She began backing away from the trumpeting birds. Maybe this was not a good idea, she thought. She turned to leave, but, out of the corner of her eye, saw one bird seated on its haunches away from the group. She nearly sprinted around the circle of other birds, still loudly cawing, but finally stood in front of the lone hawkstrider.

The bird stared blankly at the ground, unmoving. Its feathers were a dark black.

"Are you alright there?" Delarea asked aloud. The hawkstrider did not move.

"Could I come and pet you?" she asked. She slowly walked towards the bird and placed her hand on its crown. She brushed her hand gently over its head, softly rubbing into the dense feathers. At this, the bird pushed against her hand's pressure, trying to get more out of her efforts. She pushed harder on its head, and the bird began to nuzzle around her hand.

"You like that, huh?" She moved around to the hawkstrider's side. "Well, there's more where that came from. But only if you help me out."

With a deep breath, she sat down on the bird's back. The hawkstrider let out a caw and Delarea flinched. Instead of bucking her off, as she expected, the hawkstrider stood up, slowly, and moved its head from side to side.

"You're in? Just like that?" she asked. The hawkstrider was stoic and let out a soft caw.

"Alright then," she muttered. She gripped into the feather's on the bird's back and then pressed into them as if to push the mount along. To her surprise, the hawkstrider began trotting forward. She turned her gripping hands left and right, and the hawkstrider would respond in kind. After a few minutes of practice, Delarea could not help but laugh in joy. She turned to look back at the majestic entrance to Silvermoon City.

Delarea was unsure who she was thinking of in this moment. Herself? Her family? The Reliquary? The sin'dorei? Regardless, she nodded, turned back to the Woods to the south, and pressed into the black hawkstrider's back. She and her steed ran off into the night. The darkness surrounded them, and their shadows rose to meet it.