A flame flit across the cold air, illluming the subterranean hollow and crowning a smiling face in a shimmer of light. “You are awake,” a tired, feminine voice rumbled through the cave and left the child in her arms puzzled at her wonderfully maternal sound. “Hush, don’t speak. You will be safe, but not with me,” and the babe had to hold back its urge to cry; it did not understand. Would she be leaving him behind? Why would such a voice leave him to silence?
She laid him on the rocky floor and shushed his fretful behaviour. Her features were shaded and he could only make out the great, protective body that stooped over him. Her breathing became haggard, and he noticed her mumbling; it filled the cave and set the air to vibrating, moist and moss clung together on the harsh rock like frightened children on a stormy prairie.
Through the incanting of the figure above him, the child could discern a distant drone that steadily closed in on the pair of them and he could feel the heartbeat close by quicken. Even from afar, the murmur unnerved both of them. What or who could frighten this large and benign being? All his thoughts were focussed on her and the movement of her arms, lips and entire body, losing himself in her mesmerising motion.
“We will meet again, my child!” and before the awareness of absence sunk in, he was travelling along a beam of compressed desires, away from his presumptive mother, and further away from whom he was.
In imitation of the sun, a golden coach rode past in a gleaming blaze. It stopped in front of a set of marbled stairs adorned with beautiful, elfin-faced statues that led up to an impressive palace. Reaching the upper landing that stretched out into a terrace, the three shining, regal individuals that had issued forth from the carriage, turned and faced the cheering crowds. They were welcomed back to Silvermoon with green, red and golden banners gliding on the breeze accompanied by varicoloured confetti.
The fountains that stood watch to each side of the immense front gate glittered and glowed in the midday sun. They beckoned the royals inside with intricately impossible spurts of water that flowed from the colonnaded statuettes, which stood at the fountains’ centres. The first to reach the tempered brass gate, in which was engraved the Sun Sigil, was young and bold, and disdainful of the crowds. A small magical token – from his father – held him back, so instead he swivelled and urged his parents before retreating into the shadows of the gold-lined walls of the Sun Palace, with at its magnificent centre Sunstrider Spire.
The aged king had an arm wrapped around the woman’s neck whilst hers curled around his waist. They spiralled around one last time at the top of the gold-veined marble stairs and waved at the undulating mob of bright faces and well-willing words. Both glanced at each other and, with a nod, threw their arms outwards to encompass the brilliant sky with its gold-rimmed clouds; a sparkling rain of happiness and hope descended onto the crowds, catching the light in a thousand-angled wall of mirrors breaking overhead. Instead of cowering, the crowd welcomed the soft particles their king and queen had dispersed and gave a final cheer; they called it the Sun’s Unction.
Withdrawing from the blessed crowds, the king and queen made for the great doors. Home at last – they had visited old friends in Dalaran and their bodies felt packed together like clotted hair from the arduous carriage ride. A step removed from the entrance, the queen rocked back and forth, dazed on her feet, squeezing her eyes shut from a burning sensation that wanted to wrest her heart from her chest. At once she looked back and saw a novelty: a small cradle from which a silent sobbing flowed like a mountain spring. It basked in the sunlight atop the stairs and demanded her attention.
“Anasterian,” she nudged her husband who had held her upright, and the two of them made for the small crib. “Oh look, how adorable a face it has,” she swooned in front of a child that taxed her, compared her to a face he had already forgotten.
A small flash erupted from the king’s hands and he shrugged. An incomprehensible quality of the arcane rushed about the child in the king’s expert sight and then evaporated like water dripping upwards. “How did it come here?” he murmured to the queen, who was reduced to making funny faces in front of the giggling infant.
“Does it matter, Anasté? It was guided to us. My heart can feel that this child is right in every meaning of the word. We need to take it in or…” The woman’s eyes gleamed a vigorous blue.
“Aleisia, we don’t. I choose not to embroil myself with a mystery arrival embedded in unknown magic,” He was too tired to be upset, but sufficiently confused to feel dispassionately indignant.
His lips formed a pencil streak across his face, the first of many the child would see. Next, an invisible hand quenched the king’s heart and opened his eyes to the brilliance that enveloped the child; it wrote in the sky in illegible but understandable marks that there would come only joy should they feed, house and care for the child. An undisputing mood forced itself on the king and his eyes mellowed as the queen placed the basket in her arms and showed him the radiant golden eyes that beamed of wisdom and perfection beyond age or doubt. “Those eyes: not in hundreds of years…”
“I know of your doubts.” She shook her head, “He’s not a threat. If anything his eyes betray a heritage we cannot forsake lightly. We cannot turn our backs on this scion of alien origin. Besides,” an unspoken thought hung between the royal couple and his face wielded a staunch and weary smile of piety and consideration while she moved in to kiss the child on the forehead.
The child would be theirs: Kala’duin Sunstrider, the ‘Angelic Apparition’, a second son to Anasterian Sunstrider and Aleisia Cloudbreaker, King and Queen of Quel’Thalas and the High Elves. The crowd had seemed muted and distant while the royal couple deliberated. A heavy decision was made in a moment, only to be cheered by the crowds who were still in a state of pure bliss.
Chapter One: An Expected Visit
“Mother, Father!” the youth bounded for the round marble table, framed by the colonnaded porch in dying sunlight.
“My apologies, your highnesses, I couldn’t contain–“
“Let him,” a strange smile settled on Anasterian’s face. He was glad for an intrusive sunbeam to cleave his thoughts. The king drew a chair from the table and sat himself down, waving away a circle of wizened elves who tutted their way to a nearby foyer. The queen strode in from an adjacent room and extended her arms to her son.
Kala’duin had been in the Lithien Zaram before, and often at that – his eternal curiosity had made him invisible to its round-the-clock guards –, but he was always just as amazed to see the lay-out of Quel’Thalas crafted in perfect colouring and proportion onto the central table of the room.
“Apple of my eye, what is it?” her kind smile blinded Kala to her sideward peek. Anasterian was sitting hunched in his chair with a distant look in his eyes. Both of them knew what was to come.
“Kael is coming, Kael’thas is coming; I can feel it!” he glowed with pride and as swiftly as he’d come, he swept past the guards and made for the front gate where he had first entered the castle over forty years ago in the queen’s arms. He would hide in one of the hundred shadowed niches in the golden wall and jump out at a suspecting Kael’thas, who would brush the impish brother off and make for his parents.
They had tried everything. On Kala’duin’s twenty-fifth birthday, they presented him to his first tutor, Magister Athaniar Nighwell the lead researcher at the Royal Institute for Arcane Advance, at the time. But his work performance suffered under the inability to teach Kala anything other than parlour tricks.
Next, Kala received the teachings of Driana Melissira, former Archon of Applied Arcana. Fortune dealt her a bad hand; she threatened to polymorph Kala when he could not cast a spray of water upon examination. She now lives out a calm and verdant life in the Quel’thalassi highlands, on royal pastures.
By the time Kala’duin was thirty-six, he had read every book on the matter of the arcane, but had so far been unable to cast that spray of water. As a last-ditch effort the Royal Vizier Arridiel Nath’Remar proposed to the king and queen to educate their son but promised nothing; they understood. Kala’duin knew the advisor well and the two had a friendly relationship, but to the king and queen’s dismay, not even one such as he could push their son into weaving anything other than fizzled out magic. It was at this point that they gave up on initiating Kala’duin into the magical arts and encouraged his blossoming swords-manship instead. After over twenty years of concealment, the king and queen had managed to reconcile their bitter disappointment with reality and turned displeasure to love.
“I see my little brother’s astute sense of the arcane hasn’t dimmed, Your Majesties” Kael’thas quipped once he met the king and queen in the first of many atriums. His mother neglected to hug him dearly, and Kael’thas feigned insouciance.
“Instead of pestering your brother –“
“Hah!” Kael’thas shot back whilst matching his father in height, “Your Royal Highness, you wound me.”
“You flared your energy. You know that Kala’duin…”
“Is arcanely lame and to be handled like a crystalline alembic. Yes, I know, Father. My Lord.” The rebellious young Elf squared his jaw and stared his father in the eye. He flinched. His gaze wandered to his mother’s grim expression. He scowled. Turning round the room, he saw that no guards were present and felt that his words had missed their effect. He glowered.
“I’d rather have you tell me what news comes from the south?” Anasterian’s stern voice rang in Kael’thas’s ears, who heard a shadow of age pass over words once uttered in untarnished resolve.
“Heightened Amani activity, but you don’t need me to tell you that.” He got a cold reply and continued his report on the organisation of the Trolls in the most business-like of terms. The two of them moved back into the Zaram, and sat themselves down diametrically opposed at the map table.
Aleisia left them to it. She needed to see her other son, and while thinking she was betraying Kael’thas by the thought of it, her comportment never matched her doubt.
Kala’duin milled about and made his favourite trek through the palace gardens – putting terror into the tender hearts of the gardeners and green-keepers – fencing with the magnolias and pretending entrapment by the wisteria that abounded the various pavilions and overarched benches. He wanted to hear the news from the Blackened Woods, but there’d be no gain from rushing in to the Zaram again. At the back of the palace he let the last sunshine cast its soothing rays on him – its lazy pink and orange streaked the calm sea in front of him.
Distracted, he backed down from the waterfront and took the quickest route to his chambers. Turning a bend in the shrubbery, the Queen was awaiting him on a bench encroached by the cattails and high grasses nurtured by a passing brook.
“Mother? What a surprise, I was just getting back inside. I didn’t do anything! The gardeners didn’t mind. It was an old flower pot! Well, only two centuries old, really…” he froze and looked around for an exit as his battle master had trained him to do.
“Don’t worry, my dear Kala, it’ll be our secret,” she winked with a smile of pure motherly warmth and let him pace about in the cramped space. “Come, we must talk – come sit – it’s important –, come, next to me,” she coaxed.
The boy tried to manoeuver out of the way, but was entangled by his mother’s loving grasp – he’d like to see his battle master evade that move.
“Your father and I worry about you, sun of suns,” she pleaded. “You are nearing your fiftieth birthday. You will have to take up a rank in the military like your brother and your father did before you.”
“I’ll make a fine warrior, mother! I promise! I-I’ve been practising my dual falchions all week with Master Uiligún!” he demonstrated by wriggling combatively in his seat – it was quite a chore for a frail Elf mother to hold back a fully grown boy, but she managed.
“Yes, dearest of the dear, we know that you are an unmatched swordfighter, of which we are very proud. But your father and I… We love you too much. We are perfect in all regards but this. We love our sons too much. And in war there are casualties. Would you not rather be someone who heals wounds rather than deal them out?”
“I guess,” he shrugged like any unwilling child would and fiddled with his cloak brooch. Never mind the million battles and duels he’d staged in his mind’s eye every night, doused in the din of spears and blades.
“That’s why we’ve asked a good friend of ours over for a month. I’m sure you’ve heard of him in your history lessons.” The boy looked up, into his mother’s warmer-than-aquamarine eyes and listened. “His name is Uther, the Lightbringer.” The both of them smiled conspiratorially.
The boy returned to his room in a trance and dropped onto a bed that swallowed him in cushions. The wind swept his curtains helter-skelter through the air, casting ripples of a cerulean hue at the hallway-side of the enormous, domed chamber. Before he could register his surprise and awe to be training under such an esteemed visitor, the boy fell prey to sleep.
Like a mouse in the wainscoting, an unseen presence soon dawned upon the supine Prince. He sidled his arm under the bed and took hold of a sabre. The shadow moved in on him like a curtain gone astray. In a flurry of robes and blankets, the Prince jumped up from his bed and, sabre outstretched, held the shadowy presence at sword point. A flick of the finger and magical, blue lights flowed into lanterns set at even points along the walls and columned terrace; they guttered for a devastating second, but they stayed on. They revealed a red-scaled animal flying at eye height with its tiny, leathery wings beating softly.
“Don’t hurt me,” it squeaked at the Prince, and backed away. “I was sent here to fetch you; that’s all! I swear!” The Prince stood confused and let his sabre droop from his wrist.
“What are you?” he demanded in a whisper, suddenly terrorised by the thought of hordes of small, impish creatures appearing from behind closets and pillars. “What are you!” he yelled.
“Ack – Quiet! We must not be heard. Follow me; all will be made clear.” And with that the beast swam through the air into the garden, a dazed and disturbed Prince trudging in his wake. Waking up now would not have seemed unreal, but neither did walking around in the chilly air with cold and clammy reeds and grasses staining his billowing garments. There was a distinct breeze, but he could not quite gauge its direction or even whether it was warm or cold. He simply felt it, lazying past him not unlike the goldfish he kept in his private swimming pool. A smile broke through his worried look.
He was torn between curiosity and dread, but he gave in to the former and ran neck to neck with the tiny creature. “Much farther still?” he said, jogging idly, taking in the subtle motion of the small wings. He felt that he had seen such a creature before. Was it hidden in the endless supply of books available to him? Or on a wall somewhere, telling the story of a thousand miracles and the myriad heroes of Elfkind? His mind, as if on purpose, drew a curious blank. His mind also seemed to make a point of forgetting the scaly creature the moment he averted his eyes; there were hazy moments in which his movements seemed futile and puerile, because he was running in a void and deserted place to Light knows where. And yet, there was this continuous flapping noise at his left ear.
The hissing of wings halted and he suddenly stared out at nothing. The world had fallen away from his view before his eyes and been replaced by a new one: a vista of mountains and rocky crags, of rosy clouds and a bright sun that blinded him, regarded him, and looked down on him; the sun was an eternal spectator with a gaze more piercing than the rocky spine of the mountain ridge below. He wanted to move, but felt rock sliding underneath his feet and instinctively moved back, hanging on to an outcropping on a miles-high ledge. A strange mist washed by; it was a lone cloud. He was pretty high up, scorched by the sun and soothed by a balmy wind.
The feeling of fear crept into his bones again and he started to shiver and yammer as he held on tightly. “What is this? Who did this? Where am I?” he uttered, frozen stiff from dreadful shivering.
“Open your eyes,” a voice more beautiful than his mother’s said and he opened his eyes – they had been open! How could they not have been open? A world of electric movement spun itself out before him, making itself as it saw itself and becoming as it was expected to become. He saw it, and saw it being seen and the thought burst into him that he was still in his own mind, for he was now at the heart of it and he could see where that same thought had shattered his consciousness, and how it reacted to his view of the world. A dark shadow, something that moved through the smallest hole yet encompassed his entire vision, spoke to him and he listened.
“You are not who you think you are; your parents know this and accept you for it. Be loyal to them and forever love them.” A sob pierced the silence that hung in the boy’s mind. “You see me not, for I have been erased from your memory. A most unfortunate handicap was thrust upon you alongside. Tomorrow, you will awaken and possess powers you have always known, more intimately than you know your own mother, but never could remember. Keep them hidden from others! They are precious.”