Prophecy's Child: Endless Horizons
- - by Gospel Lightfaith
Author's Note: This is the current story arc in progress. Stay tuned for more updates! If you missed the previous books in this series, please see: Prophecy's Child: Dawn of Salvation and Prophecy's Child: Faith of the Fallen.
You'll notice a large time gap between this book of the story and the last. A lot went on in Gospel's life that wasn't really part and parcel of the Storyline itself. Gospel eventually ended up leaving Darthal Mann, convinced that his love for her was only a means to save him from his own Darkness, that no love for her existed truly in his heart. She took up briefly with the Crimson Hound, Wendall Harken, but just as their relationship had begun to blossom, trouble arose in the return of Gospel's former flame, Immortis.
Well, you can imagine the drama that ensued. Gospel, in a moment of weakness, tried to choose between them and give Wendall his freedom as she sought to reclaim the love she'd once had with Immortis. However, it was a love sought in vain, for Immortis himself was in love with another, although he confessed to loving Gospel as well. Unable to, again, be second-best to anyone, Gospel fled from Immortis, her heart breaking as she thought of having broken Wendall's heart for a man who couldn't even decide for his own. Gospel fled into herself, closing herself off from friend and foe alike, allowing none to come near the fragile shards of her splintered soul.
Only one braved the Darkness. Thienal Moonshadow, a long-time friend of the paladin, came to her in a dream, luring her out from her self-imposed spiritual exile. It was through his wisdom and through the power and devotion of her friends: Finnel, Wendall, and Purloin, that she was able to return to herself and trust others again. However, even as she and Wendall tried again at love for one another, she couldn't bring herself to hurt him again.
Like a coward, she fled, erasing all trace of her presence in his life and home; taking with her everything and anything that might remind him of her. She'd gotten news of where the Second Prophecy could be found, and she meant to find it alone. Or is she as alone as she supposes?
Prologue: "The Journey Begins"
Gospel walked along the road between the Eastvale Logging Camp and Goldshire, Spirit's reins held tightly in her hand as she led the warsteed along. Strange, how all of one's worldly possessions could fit on the back of one horse. Did that tell of a life well-lived; one so carefree that one could pack up and leave on a moment's notice? Or did it speak of a life well-emptied; one so devoid of attachments that there was nothing to lose by leaving? She wasn't entirely sure anymore. Once, she might have believed that her life was full and filled with all the joys that were meant to be part of life. Once, she might have even believed that it was devoid of anything worth living for beyond duty. Neither were exactly true, but nor were they precisely false. In truth, perhaps her life was a strange commingling of both.
The paladin heaved a weary sigh, scuffing her boots in the dust of the road. She'd chosen her path now, and she would have to live by it. In a way, she was glad, there would be no evidence of her life out here, nothing to tamper with...him...moving on. By all rights and rumors, he already had, and for some reason, that comforted her. Her journey could very well be a long one, and he deserved someone who could give him their utmost attention. He was incredibly naieve and innocent, entirely unsuited to the rigors her journey would force her to endure. Better he stay here, safe and secure, enveloped in warmth, welcome, and friendship. Would she miss him? Perhaps. Some small part. But the rest of her knew this was for the best; for her, and for him. In some small way, she had wanted to say good-bye, but that would have only made it harder on the both of them. Yes, it was better this way.
"Every journey begins with but a single step." Isn't that how the stories always went? Gospel could only suppose this was that first step. Yet, the farther she walked away from that house, which was now devoid of any reminder of her presence, she couldn't help but feel her heart lighten. As she raised her head, looking down the dusty road toward the silhouette of Goldshire beyond, she had hope. Even if she died in this attempt, at least he could live on in peace and happiness. Wasn't that what her oath of service was about? Serving others so that they might live better lives? Someday, he might thank her, or then he might not, there was no real telling. However, she couldn't help but feel in her heart that this was right.
She looked back over her shoulder in the general direction of the Logging Camp, "Good-bye," she murmured softly, "May the Light bring thee happiness all of thy days..."
Chapter One: "Preparations"
The dull rush of the sea thundered in the distance, the waves wasting their fury against the protective jetties that surrounded the safe harbor. Beyond the stone promontory, the undulating expanse of the sea went on as far as the eye could see; eyes the same soft jade as that sea. Gospel sighed softly as she leaned on the railing near the prow of the "Confident Wanderer"; the ship and its crew had been costly to obtain, but thankfully she'd been somewhat frugal with her earnings up until this point. As she looked out over the sea, she couldn't help but feel somewhat guilty at her leave-taking. Only three even knew of it; one a man who, even now, replaced her in his heart; the other, a man one who seemed to be little more than a friend; the last, her dear Elven friend, Alir. She couldn't tell Finnel and Crimsonlock; they were so happy right now, and it would've been unfair to press her troubles upon them. They would figure it out for themselves, once she was gone long enough. Other than that, there were fewer still with whom she would share the news of this journey.
She sighed again, closing her eyes as a sea-borne zephyr curled over the ship, tousling her silver hair. She held her right hand with her left, absently rubbing at the palm with her thumb. It would be hard to go on this journey alone, but somehow she knew it would be better this way. She couldn't ask anyone to risk themselves on this fool's errand, and none seemed to understand exactly why she had to go. Her life had not yet come full-circle, there was still more of it to be lived...but what was its purpose? She knew the answer, no matter how many times she tried to think otherwise.
When the first chapter of the Prophecy had been completed, she had hoped that she would have been able to move on to a more normal life; to, perhaps, even be as other women. Her chest seemed to tighten slightly as she brought her hands to her face, rubbing absently at her eyes and temples in disquiet. She had made her choice the day she was Reborn; no matter how much she wished it, she could never be as other women. She was forever geas-bound to serve the Light until it no longer had need of her, and there were few who seemed to want to understand such devotion. Now, she was on a mission to find the next chapter of that same Prophecy; nightly it tormented her in her dreams. Images of a sunken ship, an elaborately carved chest, and the scroll inside were all she was given the right to see in these dreams, but it was enough.
Ever since these dreams started, she felt driven to seek out this sunken ship and find its contents. The more she tried to stop herself from leaving, the more intense the drive became. In the end, she submitted to whatever force governed her life through that Prophecy; it could no more be denied than she could stop breathing the air. It was part of her, it is what gave her life purpose, direction, intent.
But does it bring you joy? came the unbidden question of her rebellious conscience, almost echoing the question Rheyl had asked of her some nights ago. And now, as she had then, she had to admit there was something missing in her life. She had joy in the form of friends: Finnel, Crimsonlock, Alir, Alkan, Dominik, Thienal...even Kypros, when he was in the mood to be nice, and there were more friends beyond just those. Yet, there was still some part of her that felt isolate, filled with an echoing emptiness that had yet to be filled. She had tried to fill it with a series of relationships that had all been more bitter than sweet; loves that had flared quickly and bright, only to smolder and die in the next heartbeat. In all of them, something had been missing, some integral part that she had wanted so desperately to find, and had failed three times to do so.
Gospel exhaled slowly, lowering her hands to the gunwale of the ship. The moon hung low over the distant horizon of the sea, is reflection dancing along the ripples in myriad, shimmering fragments. None of this would be solved tonight, perhaps not even anytime soon. However, those were worries for another day. Gospel walked across the deck of the ship, hopping down to the pier below and walking into Menethil proper. She had a ship. Now she needed a Captain, and a crew.
Captain Merissey hadn't ever turned down a job in his lifetime, but he was sorely tempted to turn this silver-haired lunatic down flat. He looked up at her again from the remnants of the hefty meal she'd purchased for him, idlly picking his teeth with a bone shard, "Lady, you've got to be crazy, stupid, brave, or a combination of the three," he commented, but after eyeing her a bit longer he added, "I'm inclined t'say the latter, 'cause y'don't look too much of any of 'em separate. I mean, hey, you're a paladin an' all. Y'can't be too much of a loony."
"I meant what I told thee, Captain," she said, in that strange, old-style dialect of hers, "I will see thee rewarded for thy service, shouldst thou choose to accept." She sat across the table from him, nursing nothing worse than a mug of cold apple cider... so that kind of threw out the being drunk idea. Merissey just couldn't believe she was serious! Yet, as she looked at him with those soft green eyes, there was something in them that told him, quite coldly, that she meant every word. In some ways, that cool detachment scared him more than her proposed destination.
The Captain scratched absently at the back of his head, then lowered his hand to rub at the stress tension already developing in his neck and shoulders. Constance wouldn't like this at all, not one bit, but he had to admit the money this barmy paladin was offering would definitely be good for business. He huffed slightly, and grumbled, making all the proper show that he was good and ready to turn her down (more often than not, this sometimes brought in an increase in his pay), but this paladin was made of sterner stuff. She simply looked into her cider mug, swirling the contents almost absently as she awaited his decision. Merissey had to admire her cunning, she was nobody's fool...no matter how blasted crazy she was otherwise, "Okay," he said finally, "I'll do it, but you'll be hard-pressed to find a crew that will do the same."
The silver-haired woman nodded, although she seemed to let his pronouncement slide off her like water off a duck's back, "I will make do with what I find, Captain. However, thou hast made one part of my undertaking much easier with thy acceptance." She waved an elegant, fine-boned hand toward the serving wench; such hands didn't belong on a fighter, a musician or artist perhaps, but not this battle-seasoned warrioress of the Light. Her lips curved into an almost shy smile as she nodded to the serving girl, "Please, ensure that the Captain's needs are all met this evening. Innkeeper Barlowe shalt know which tab to put it on."
With that, she rose as if she intended to leave, but Merissey wasn't quite done yet, "Wait!" he barked hoarsely, but when other patrons around him glared in his direction, he lowered his voice, "Wait a minute... You're really serious about this though?" he asked, lowering his voice again as if not wanting to really be overheard listening to this loony bin, "You honestly think to sail to the Maelstrom and survive?"
"I will," she responded simply, "I have to," she took a few steps away, looking back over her shoulder at him, a curl of that silver hair brushing against her ivory cheek, "Prophecy wills it so."
Merissey didn't bother to stop her that time as she left, when the serving wench came by to clear the dishes of his meal away he grabbed her wrist, "Do y'know who that woman was? The one who just left?" he asked. The mousey girl looked in the direction the paladin had departed, "Oh, her? That's the Lady Gospel, she's a paladin straight outta Stormwind. From the stories I've heard lately, she's as good and kind a heart as you could ever wanna find." The Captain nodded and shrugged, releasing the girl back to her duties with nothing more than a request for some whiskey. The question still remained: what did so good and kind a woman want so badly that she'd risk death in the Maelstrom just to find it?
Unfortunately, he figured he'd be finding out all too soon if the Light had its way, "Bugger all," he muttered taking a long pull from the whiskey when the girl finally brought it.
Chapter Two: "Requisitions & Shadows"
"Cripes, this shit is heavy," muttered one of the crewmen, lugging the laden chest up the gangplank. As she stood on the pier, shielding her eyes from the sun as she supervised the loading of her personal effects, Gospel couldn't help but laugh softly. Little did he know, that poor sailor, that in that chest was her full set of plate armor; what precious pieces of Lightforge she'd managed to scrimp together, and the other hodge-podge pieces. With a shake of her head, her silver hair drawn back in a single tail in a topknot, she walked up the gangplank to take one end of the chest, nodding to the crewman. He looked down at her a moment, frowning slightly, "I don't think that's wise, milady..." he muttered, but one look from those too-wise jade eyes made him shrug indifferently, "Suit y'self, I don't think y'can..." Gospel had to supress her amusement as she picked up her end of the crate with ease, arching a brow at him expectantly; he boggled at her and quickly stooped to lift his end as well, "Well, if'n that don't beat all..." he muttered again as they both carried the heavy chest down into Gospel's personal quarters.
As the crewman retreated, eyeing her with slightly more respect, Gospel sat on the chest looking around the small private cabin located in the ship's belly. Not much longer now. It had taken weeks of preparation, but soon her journey would be underway. Indeed, just thinking about it, she felt a weighty burden lift from her shoulders and a certain relaxing of her subconscious; yes, this was what she was supposed to do. She hoped this trip wouldn't be overlong, already she had made promises she intended to keep; Finnel and Crimsonlock, as well as Dasri and Zylvia...they wanted to be married at her hands, and the didn't want to fail them. She had to come back. She had to.
Thienal's reaction to hearing the news of her departure weighed heavily on her heart. Part of her felt badly at having stirred up something to cause such dismay in the normally placid druid. However, his words had proven useful, and she now had a bit more information, going forward, as to what she might face once she reached the Maelstrom. Azshara, and her naga.
The Library in Darnassus had yielded little fruit on the cursed queen, but Gospel had a solution for that: the Shen'dralar in Dire Maul. The only concern would be for the Gordok ogres that seemed to infest the ruin, but Immortis had shown her the trick of getting around them. She paused a moment in her thoughts, carefully exploring the memory of Immortis like someone inspecting a wound half-healed. There was no pain, no remorse, no regret. Nothing. She couldn't begin to know whether he would have wanted to know about her journey, but she supposed it best that, like so many others, what he did not know, could never hurt him. They had both suffered enough at each others' hands, she could only hope that he found what most made him happy, whatever and wherever it was. That was all she really wanted for most of those she knew, for them to live happy lives, regardless of the state of turmoil in the world.
But what about your happiness, Gospel? her conscience twinged again. She shook her head, resolute, her silver ponytail shifting back and forth across the nape of her neck, "I have happiness," she answered aloud, though more to herself than any listening, "I have Finnel, and all the others... good and loyal friends who bring me insurmountable joy."
Do they really? Or are they just pawns in the Prophecy's game? She winced slightly at the thought, her lips compressing into a thin line of contemplation. It was fortunate that, with her death, the Other had been destroyed; elsewise, she might have been tempted to think these rebellious thoughts were Hers. However, this was no more than her own conscience, voicing thoughts that had plagued her ever since she discovered her life was ruled, not by Fate, or by her own will, but by a Prophecy written millenia before she was ever born. She continued to sit on the chest containing her armor, suddenly feeling the poignant pressure of the Prophecy all around her. She sighed, hugging her knees to her chest as her thoughts continued to wander.
Of all the people she had told, perhaps Alir and Rheyl had taken the news best. However, none of her friends seemed to think it was a wise decision. Indeed, perhaps they were right, in some respects. One does not simply waltz into the reach of the Maelstrom and expect to come out of it unscathed. She supposed that some of them might, even now, think her crazy, but none presumed to stop her. In fact, most of them offered to come with her, but she couldn't let them. Just as she had told Javanna, the young paladin she'd met the other night: she could not ask anyone to risk their lives for her own. It would simply be contradictory to everything Gospel herself stood for. She rested her chin on her upraised knees, her thoughts continuing to run in similar circles. However, when some manner of commotion broke out, and she could hear a loud thudding and the hoarse cries of the men, she reminded herself that there was still much to be done.
Stormwind City, The Park at The Laughing Jester
The long list of "to-do's" was slowly being whittled down to just a few remaining items of business; Gospel sipped at her mug of cold cider, glancing up occasionally as if expecting someone. Drawing a small stick of coal from her pocket, she scribbled another notation onto the parchment as she heard footsteps from behind the bar. She raised her silvered head to look up at the boyishly charming proprietor of the Jester, "Good morrow, Master Daleus," she said with a warm smile.
Domink came up from the kitchen below, a small kegger of ale balanced precariously on his shoulder, "Why, good afternoon, Lady Gospel," he set the keg on an empty stand lining the back of the bar, looking over his shoulder at her. His long, blond ponytail swung like an impish cat's tail as he flashed her a debonaire grin, "I wasn't really expecting anyone so early..." he said as he turned to lean on the bar, regarding the lady paladin with a welcome gaze.
Gospel gestured somewhat helplessly to her list, "Well, I've...something of a favor to ask of thee, Master Daleus." She looked at his dashing features, batting her eyes coquettishly, "I fear thou art the only one who might help me."
He chuckled softly in response, his grin widening as he arched a brow. He stepped back from the bar, bowing in a low, courtly fashion, "If it is within my power to provide, Lady Gospel, I shall do my utmost to provide..."
The silver-haired paladin couldn't help but laugh and roll her eyes at that point, this subtle game between them always managing to break through her demeanor, "To business, Master Daleus, I am taking a trip of sorts, and am in need of supplies in bulk. I was wondering if thou might be able to provision such a need?"
Dominik smiled, walking along the bar as he came around it, "Well, I provision for many needs, Lady Gospel, and while I'm not exactly in the business of catering goods, I can certainly make the arrangements for you." He came around even with her as she sat at the foremost table, leaning back so his lithe hips rested against the bar. Gospel continued to smile at him as she tore off the bottom portion of her list, handing it to the tavernkeep. His eyes briefly perused the list, a golden brow arching only slightly, "Not exactly going on a short trip are we, Lady Gospel?"
She regarded him with those jade eyes, nodding slightly, which caused a lock of her silver hair to fall and caress her cheek, "Indeed, Master Daleus; hence, the quantity of the supplies needed," she said, nodding toward the list in his light-fingered hands. Carefully, Dominik folded the list, gifting the paladin with another of those winning bows, "I shall endeavour to see your needs fulfilled, my lady."
The paladin exited the tavern, absently crossing another item off her list. As she reached the bottom of the incline leading to the door, she let out a shrill whistle and her warsteed, Spirit, came cantering from nearby where he had been contentedly grazing. She easily vaulted onto the warsteed's back, patting his proudly arched neck, "Let's call it a night, shall we?" she murmured companionably, nudging him with a knee to direct him toward the Park's exit. As Gospel departed the Jester, riding slowly along the grass-lined parkway, a swift, silent shadow slipped out from behind the dormant moonwell, following the paladin at a safe, destreet distance.
Chapter Three: "Of Harmony & Discord"
Stormwind City, The Cathedral District, The Cathedral of Light
"Hear me, Oh Master..." the deep contralto echoed in the candlelit semi-dark of the small prayer room. The golden light illuminated only a small four square foot area, but it was captured and held in the sleek, silver sheet of hair that graced the head of the woman knelt in reverence. Her head was bowed as the soft words fell from her lips, "I come before Thee, always as Thy servant. I heed Thy words and obey Thy will. I ask only, my Master, that Thou doth stay with me during my trial ahead. Protect, shelter, and guide me as I proceed into this, the unknown fragment of my life..."
"Gospel..." The silver-haired paladin looked up at the man that spoke her name, her soft jade eyes regarding the Archbishop with a revered gentleness. Benedictus motioned to her with a hand, "Come, walk with me." Gospel bowed her head one last time before rising from her knees to go to the Archbishop's side. He watched her in quietude as she did so, neither of them speaking as they mounted the steps leading out of the small prayer room, "We've not seen much of you, as of late, Lady Lightfaith," he said conversationally as they walked.
She smiled faintly, "The Archbishop doth honor me with the use of honorifics as if I were his equal, however, I feel it needful to remind him that he doth still exist as my superior." Gospel clasped her hands behind her back, looking up at Benedictus' cowled head, "As for my recent negligence in visiting the Cathedral, I must sincerely give thee my regrets, Archbishop. I fear there is much going on in my Life that I do not yet understand, but hopefully, the journey I shall soon make will shed light upon these issues."
The older clergyman looked down at her, smiling with an almost paternal air, "Gospel... when will you put aside all this Prophecy nonsense and do what really needs doing?" He reached out, placing a hand on her shoulder, "I think, you let this business consume you too much."
She sighed. Of course, not even he would understand... However, she looked up at him with that congenial smile, "Again, thy esteem doth humble me, Holiness, but I must regretfully beg to differ. This Prophecy hath delinated my Life up until this point; it hath given it direction, and shown me my purpose. To ignore it would be tantamount to sacrilege, I would think. For such a Prophecy would not exist had it not been Light-willed."
The Archbishop walked with her through the halls of the Cathedral, the stained-glass windows casting a hodge-podge of colors upon the floor. As they passed, lower members of the clergy knelt or bowed in deference to the Archbishop and his rank, their eyes mostly sliding over Gospel without really noticing her. Unfortunately, Gospel's view of the Light was widely known in the spiritual community here in the Cathedral; views that, by and large, many did not agree with. Hence, the spiritual community mostly deigned it worthwhile to simply ignore her. Except for Benedictus. To what end, or what motive the Archbishop had to do so was beyond Gospel's understanding, but perhaps there was no motive at all and he was simply acting as a true spiritual leader would. Even if it meant embracing that which was different.
Chapter Four: "A Change in Plan"
I know your upcoming pilgrimmage is important to you, but the safety of our people is in peril. The Scourge are on the move. Already they have been spotted in various places, and their taint spreads like a foul disease. I know you've already been through a lot, but I'm asking you, as one of the best paladins I've known, please...come fight with us.
If not for us, then for our people.
General Marcus Jonathan Stormwind City
She sighed heavily as she sat on the pier that stretched out into Menethil Harbor and for a moment she spared a glance toward the "Confident Wanderer" as the ship lay at berth beside the dock. If there was one who knew her best, and what one thing could call her home, even against the will of the Prophecy, it was General Marcus. For our people... It was all Gospel lived for these days; to serve, and to help, and to guide the people under her jurisdiction. She carefully folded the letter, hopping off the pylon and walking up the gangplank of the ship.
Again, she paused, looking out to sea with a resigned sigh as everything within her clamored to set sail and find that which Called. However, she shook her head resolutely, descending below decks to begin the laborious process of strapping on her armor. Home needed her, and that need would always call greater and stronger than any Prophecy.
Gospel pressed her back against the burnt-out husk of what once seemed a merry little cottage. Her shield-arm ached from the strain of holding it, and her weapon-hand ached from the hours of combat; it all seemed endless. Her breath came in tight, ragged gasps as she steadied herself for yet another push against the Scourge. She set her jaw tightly, pushing off the building with her back as she leaned over to peer around the corner of the building. Off in the distance, she could hear the continual sounds of combat as other members of the Alliance tried to stay the onslaught of undead.
A Scourge patrol made its way down the street, the hollow eye-sockets of the leader seeming to bore holes in the very fabric of the air to find his enemies. Gospel could feel the nervous twitch of her muscles, and the dull tracing of a droplet of sweat down the back of her neck; she was pushing herself at the very limit of her endurance, but the Scourge numbers hadn't seemed to dwindle yet. The silver-haired paladin lunged out of hiding, making a daring run toward the leader of the small pack. She could hear their gutteral, slavering groans as they charged toward her, but she flung up her hand crying out a brief incantation of Exorcism, which sent a flare of light and a thundering boom resounding into the leader's face. It groaned and clutched at its ruined features, but only seemed daunted for a moment. However, Gospel was seasoned in combat with the undead, and quickly unleashed a lash of Holy Shock with a single word of command. Yet, her enemy continued to be unphased.
"By the Light," Gospel hissed, glancing around herself at the advancing members of the patrol. She murmured another brief prayer, "Reach out with Thy hand of anger, and unleash Thy Holy Wrath!" Torrents of light extended from her like fingers of vengeance, lashing out at the surrounding undead. They yowled their agony, retreating from the holy touch...all save the leader.
The Scourge leapt at her, its taloned hands screeching discorantly against the metal of her shoulderguards, sending sparks flying dangerously near her face. Her legs trembled as she fought to bear the full weight of the hideous fiend as it attempted to topple her by sheer force alone. Gospel grimaced, trying ineffectively to push the undead off her; it was so close she could feel its hot, fetid breath on her cheek. Around her, she could sense the undead recovering from her Holy Wrath and beginning to advance upon her yet again. A shivering tendril of fear threaded down her spine.
The ghoul wrapped its terrible hands around her neck, its taloned thumbs cutting into her throat. Gospel gasped for breath as she felt the warm trickle of blood slip down her skin. She stared, unblinking, at the horrifying visage mere inches from her own as the ghoul leered at her in horrendous glee. The outer rims of her vision began to haze over with black as the cadaverous monster tightened its grip around her neck.
Light and sound seemed to clash together around her as she heard the words of the Exorcism spell fading in the distance; the ghoul leapt from her body, shrieking its dreadful rage. For a moment, in her asphixiation, all Gospel could make out with her blurred vision was a splotch of red, black, and gold against the landscape. The paladin shook her head, looking once again to that splotch, finally able to make out the new arrival as another paladin: his face obscured by a Judgement crown, and his weapon the Untamed Blade. There was no mistaking who this was.
"Rheyl..." she managed to breathe, shaking her head as she struggled back to her senses. She readied herself again to re-enter combat just as Rheyl engaged the leader-ghoul. His two-handed blade swung with deadly accuracy, biting into the ghoul's side with a sickening thud. He swore bitterly as the blade hung, lodged in the bone of the horrifying creature's frame. One of the other Scourge from the patrol leapt at Rheyl in this moment of distraction, "Rheyl!" Gospel cried out, flinging forward a hand to wordlessly throw an Exorcism into their enemy. The undead scout fell to the ground, twitching and moaning in anguish a few feet away.
The hooded cowl with its glowing eyes looked at her, nodding imperceptibly as Rheyl beckoned her over. Together, the two paladin's stood back-to-back, to face the regrouping enemy. It was flawless, the bloody combat almost beautiful in its precision; the two of them alternating offensive spells with defense and healing. The air around them was like a thunderstorm as one Exorcism after another fell upon the undead. The ground beneath them glowed like a morning sunrise, imbued with the power of their dual Consecration. In the end, however, Gospel's exhaustion won out. Thankfully, the undead had been routed by the onslaught of the two paladins, so there was a welcome respite in the battle.
The silver-haired paladin fell to her knees, panting with the effort of their exertions, looking up to Rheyl gratefully, "T'would seem I am indebted to thee, Rheyl..." she said, reaching up to pull her own Lightforge helm from her head, shaking out the sweat-dampened hair.
Rheyl pushed back the cowl from his head, running a hand through his own damp, golden locks, "There is nothing to owe, Gospel," he said mildly, "You would have done the same for me," he extended a gauntleted hand to her, which she took as he helped her to her feet. He let out a series of odd whistles, and his golden-armored charger came rounding the nearby buildings, "You're exhausted; let's get you out of here." And without so much as a "May I" Rheyl lifted her, armor and all into the saddle on his charger. He paused for a moment, making sure she could balance there by herself, before climbing up onto the saddle behind her.
Gospel was so bone-tired, she didn't bother to argue. In fact, so weary was she, that she eventually slept, her head gradually leaning onto the breastplate of Rheyl's armor. He looked down at her as she slept, unable to keep himself from admiring the soft gentleness of her face in slumber; she seemed so at peace. When awake, she always seemed fraught with worry, mostly for those around her, never for herself. A stray strand of that silver hair fell into her face, and almost absently Rheyl swept it away, lightly caressing her cheek. He couldn't help but smile slightly as she stirred at his touch, only to lean closer into him.
"Poor thing," he murmured, "You've just worn yourself to a frazzle, haven't you?" He ran a hand back over her hair once more, spending the rest of the ride back to the base camp in silence.
Chapter Five: "Friends & Honor"
Scourge Invasion: Argent Dawn Basecamp, Light's Hope Chapel, Eastern Plaguelands
Gospel grimaced, raising a fine-boned hand to the front of her throat, which ached. However, as her jade eyes slowly fluttered open, her hand was gently batted away, "It won't heal right if you keep prodding at it, Lady Paladin, and I won't beg your pardon for saying so," she was admonished. As Gospel looked at the slightly matronly woman that hovered over her, dressed in the habit of a Sister of Light, the paladin couldn't help but grin slightly, "You're lucky that you and the man that brought you carry as much rank as you do, elsewise we would have just healed it up and sent you off," the Sister continued to berate her casually, reaching to Gospel's throat to slowly undo the bandages, "But you wouldn't have it. 'Save your magic for those in need more than I,' you said, and then that man with you wouldn't let us do anything more for you because of it!"
The man that brought me...? Gospel stared at the white cloth roof of the tent that served as the field infirmary for the war against the Scourge, searching through her exhaustion-hazed memories... Of course. Rheyl. The Sister continued to prattle over her, but she paid the woman little heed, wincing only once as the nurse gently pried the bandages loose from her throat. Foggy, fragmented memories came to her: the ghoul scraping its claws on her pauldrons as the sounds of battle echoed around her; the feel of those claws cutting into her flesh, the coppery scent of her own blood... then for a moment the world was nothing but a brilliant flare of light, and she could feel an aura drape over her like a protective blanket. She could vaguely recall fighting, but there had been a strong, protective presence at her back, ensuring that no foe came in under her guard. Then, nothingness... whereupon she awoke here, only moments ago.
"...you'd be surprised how often he's been in here to check on you," the nurse was saying as she wrapped fresh Mageweave bandaged around Gospel's wound, "I think we can let you go back to the field some time tomorrow. There will be a bit of scarring, since you wouldn't let us outright heal it, but I think you can live with that." With that, the nurse gathered her things and moved onward to her next patient a few feet away. The silver-haired paladin relaxed her head against the pillow with a sigh as she allowed herself to drift off in a half-slumber. In the next moment, a gentle hand caressed the crown of her head, smoothing her hair back behind her ear, which caused her to open her eyes. Her soft jade gaze fell upon the battle-worn, haggard features of Rheyl as he blinked at her in surprise.
"Oh, you're awake," he said with a mild cough, abruptly withdrawing the hand that had brushed back her hair. Gospel smiled, nodding weakly, as she did not yet trust her voice. Rheyl eyed the fresh bandage on her neck critically, but after a moment's inspection he seemed satsified. He looked to the nurse who was tending the patient on the next bed over, "She's going to be all right, isn't she?"
The nurse seemed to roll her eyes impatiently, "Like I've told you the other dozen and a half times you've asked me: yes, she'll be fine. I'll be releasing her tomorrow." With that, the nurse gathered her things yet again, and moved down another bed. However, Rheyl was satisfied by that answer, reaching down to take Gospel's hand in his own, "You just get better," he said, patting her hand, "There's still a lot of undead that need divine retribution." Gospel supressed a chuckle, inclining her chin a bit to show her willingness to continue the fight once she was released.
Rheyl released her hand at that point, pulling on his Judgement crown as he left the tent. Indeed, there was much fighting to be done; yet, here he was taking a moment to visit her. Gospel absently flexed the hand he had released. He had saved her life; she would have to find a way to repay him. It was simply a matter of honor.
Scourge Invasion: Alliance Basecamp, Everlook, Winterspring
Plate armor made the bitter cold around Winterspring even worse. The thick snow drifts crunched beneath Spirit's hooves as the warsteed steadily plodded his way northward. News was spreading like wildfire that the Scourge invasions were now inflitrating several different lands, and fighting against both the Horde and the Alliance; Gospel had been dispatched to help deal with the strike against Winterspring. She drew her cloak more tightly about her, trying to shield herself as much as possible from the wind-driven snow. Her jade eyes cautiously scanned her surroundings, looking for any sign of these crystalline monoliths that indicated a Scourge drop-zone. As she and Spirit rounded a bend, she caught sight of one of the sickly glowing crystals, three of the four cultists already working to repair it. The fourth lay face-down, dead in the snow, but the Shadow of Doom it released maliciously laying into a lone paladin some distance from the circle.
Gospel slid easily from the saddle, sending Spirit cantering off to return when called. She strapped her shield to her arm, and unslung her axe from its holster. Slipping down the snow dune, she landed on a ledge just above where the combatants were locked in their struggle. The great two-handed blade of the other paladin swung with a practiced ease, cutting into the Shadow with vicious strikes, but these monsters were difficult to handle alone. Why would anyone be so foolish? Gospel knelt on the ledge, murmuring a swift prayer and gesturing in the direction of the other paladin. The shimmering light that was an indicator of her healing spell surrounded the fighter, who was too preoccupied to bother searching for the unlooked-for aid.
That done, Gospel leapt down from the ledge, extending a hand to throw the full force of her Exorcism spell into the Shadow's midsection. It squalled in anguish, raking its black talons in her direction as it turned the force of its fury upon her. However, Gospel was rested and recovered now, so she raised her shield against it, the wicked nails of the shadow-creature shrieking against the metal. Once she stepped into the fray, time seemed to lose all meaning; minutes became hours, hours became days. Together, she and the other paladin fought against the Shadow of Doom; the two of them working together like a well-oiled machine. Around them, Gospel was vaguely aware of more Alliance reinforcements surging toward the circle of cultists, but she paid them no heed. All that mattered was this fight, this enemy, and her ally.
Gospel alternated her combat spells with prayers of blessing and healing, giving no quarter to their terrible, ghostly foe. For all that it seemed to take days, it was only a matter of minutes before she and the other paladin rendered their enemy to a defeated smudge of pale black upon the ground. It seemed odd as the Alliance around them raised their voices in cheer, clearing the battle-haze from Gospel's mind. Apparently, this ground was won. She smiled and waved to what fighters she knew as the Alliance began to call their mounts in preparation of moving to the next drop-zone, but she looked to the paladin she'd rescued, nodding slightly, "Thou shouldst be more careful," she said gently, "These Shadows are powerful and not to be trifled with alone."
"I had a feeling help was on the way," replied a familiar voice. Gospel shook her head as the other paladin pushed back the cowl from his head; she couldn't help but smiling at him, "T'was still a foolish endeavour, Rheyl." He shrugged in response, hefting his Untamed Blade onto his shoulder as he let out that odd series of whistles that summoned his charger. Gospel, in turn, let out a shrill whistle and Spirit came at a canter through the snow, as he trotted past without stopping, she pulled herself easily into the saddle, in spite of her plate armor. Rheyl scoffed mildly in her direction, "Show off," as they rode down the path cutting a swath through the snow.
Gospel eyed the horizon, the black plumes of smoke indicating where the next incursion was taking place, "T'would seem there are yet more Undead with which to contend," she said with a nod toward the smoke. Rheyl simply looked over his shoulder at her as he rode, "Well, shall we show them what for, Gospel?" For some reason, she couldn't supress another smile as she nodded again, leaning low over her steed's neck as they raced toward the next zone. Side-by-side the two paladins rode, bringing Holy Doom unto any Undead that were foolish enough to cross their path.
Chapter Six: "Time Well-Spent"
Stormwind City, Cathedral District, The Cathedral of Light
Gospel watched as a handful of the many pages scurrying to and fro carried off the great load that was her armor. After the many days spent wearing it almost non-stop, she felt oddly vulnerable. She crossed her arms over her chest, rubbing at her arms as she walked; she'd been sent home to repair and rest after her tour of duty against the Scourge. Three days of rest and relaxation, she'd been ordered, and not to show her face around any of the invasion zones until that time ran out. She grimaced as she walked out, and so absorbed was she in trying to figure out what to do that she ran headlong into someone coming in the opposite direction.
"We really need to stop meeting like this," came an amused voice as warm hands settled on her shoulders, holding her steady as she stumbled back. She blinked dazedly, looking up to see the handsome, golden-haired Rheyl smiling down at her. She couldn't help but smile back as she replied, "Indeed, at least it is on more amiable terms instead of rescue, Rheyl."
He laughed: a deep, mellow sound that bespoke of a gentle cheer beneath that stalwart exterior, "Indeed, Gospel, indeed," he glanced around the mayhem that the Cathedral had become, "Although, this place looks as much a warzone as any, with all the flurry," he whispered conspiratorially. Gospel looked over her shoulder, watching priests calling orders over the din, directing people to and from various stations; pages ran hither and yon carrying documents, armor, or medical supplies; soldiers of various factions came and went in various states of injury. This was a whole different side of the war. Something must have passed over Gospel's face at that thought, because Rheyl reached out to touch her chin with oddly gentle fingers, "We're doing all we can, Gospel..." he said, turning her face away from the mayhem and upward to look at his congenial face.
A sigh escaped her as she moved away from the activity, "I suppose, although, sometimes I feel like I'm not..." She stepped out into the Cathedral's main hall, heading toward the door. Unexpectedly, Rheyl was right on her heels. He walked behind her, silent and dauntless, his presence, while unexpected, bringing a strange comfort to the silver-haired paladin. She exited the Cathedral into the weak sunlight, straining to touch Stormwind through the miasma of smoke and dust caused by the incursions of the Scourge. Out of habit, her steps turned toward the Park, but Rheyl reached out with a hand to latch onto her left elbow, "Come on," he said simply. Gospel blinked in stupefaction, but followed wordlessly.
Rheyl led her to the Old City, to a care-worn tavern called the "Pig & Whistle". It wasn't the sort of place Gospel would have chosen on her own, always being rather preferential to "The Laughing Jester" where she knew many of the people that frequented it. However, the P&W was patroned by a whole different breed of people; common folk: farmers, peddlers, the nondescript entities that were often overlooked in average society. She glances up at Rheyl as they walked in; he smiled amiably nodding to a few of the farmers, even bespeaking some of them by name. She found her admiration for this other paladin increasing with each passing moment. He put a hand on her shoulder, gesturing to an older man, a farmer by trade out of Lakeshire, "This is Gospel Lightfaith, Hugh," Rheyl introduced her.
Hugh looked at her with wide eyes, bowing his head slightly, "Oy! G'day t'ye, Lady Pal'din!" the man simpered, "Tis a great honor t'meet ye. Ah've heard a minstr'l or twain sing songs o'ye." Gospel flashed another quick look to Rheyl, who merely smiled and nodded toward the man. Taking from his cue, Gospel merely smiled amiably, shaking her head at the farmer, "Oh, tis no greater honor than to be here among thee, Master Hugh. For it is thee, the peoples of Azeroth, that I serve, and to be accepted as one among thee is a greater accord than a seat at the King's own table."
At those words, it seemed like the air of tension in the room seemed to break. The common-folk crowded around the two paladins, impressing upon them food and drink, begging the two of them to regale them with stories from their adventures. Time seemed to pass slowly, leaving the memory imprints as a lasting, burning blaze in the silver-haired paladin's thoughts. Even with all the people around them, and the ceaseless flow of conversation, Gospel couldn't help but notice how Rheyl occasionally looked her direction, oftentimes giving her a warm, sincere smile. His eyes would meet hers during those smiles, and she couldn't supress the delicate curve of her lips that responded.
They ate, they drank, and they stayed there among the common people until late into the night. Gospel was surprised how at-ease she felt here among these simple farmers and laborfolk. In all her time of service, she rarely spent any time among the people that she served, not like this. It was an experience like no other: she laughed at their jokes; she shed tears over their heart-aches; she comforted them of their losses, and relished their triumphs. Yet, the entire time, she was poignantly aware of Rheyl's gentle blue eyes regarding her on the off-occasion.
She sat back, replete from the meal, nursing a mug of chilled cider as the common-folk lay circled around Rheyl as he entertained them with a story from their exploits during the Scourge. Around her, the people listened intently as Rheyl brandished a fork like a sword, and waved his ale mug like a shield enthralling them with a tale of daring-do. Unexpectedly, however, he set down his mug, reaching out to place his hand over hers, "But you should have seen her," he said, his voice filled with an odd note of pride, "she was like a Light-sent avenging angel leaping down from the ledge to cry out to the Light, slamming an powerful spell of exorcism into the Shadow of Doom's face...!"
Gospel could feel the slight blush on her cheeks beneath his praise, so she raised her cider mug to her lips in an effort to hide it. He gave her another of those kindly smiles, before rising to his feet, "Alas, friends, the hour is late. Gospel and I have only just returned from the front, I'm sure we'd both like some well-earned rest." The farmers and laborfolk heartily agreed, many of them clapping Rheyl on the shoulder, others coming to Gospel to help her to her feet. They were such kind people, so welcome and open. She found herself reaching out to touch them in return, placing her hand on various heads, murmuring blessings for each.
As she and Rheyl stepped out into the cool, deepening night, he draped his still-warm cloak over her shoulders, "These summer evenings get a bit chilly," he said quietly. His hands lingered on her shoulders as she turned her head to nod gratefully, the silver-haired paladin keenly aware of his presence at her back. His hands did not yet leave her shoulders, and she could feel his thumbs caress against the lines of her shoulderblades. The air seemed poignant, waiting for either of them to say something.
They spoke almost in unison, both falling silent at hearing the other. Gospel bit her lower lip in uncertainty, but Rheyl's voice broke the evening stillness, "It was good to see you relax in there," he said his subtle baritone echoing around her in the quietude as he reached forward with his left hand to sweep her silver hair back behind her ear, "I don't think I've ever heard you laugh like that..."
Gospel half-turned as his fingers combed through her hair, her jade gaze moving to his night-shadowed face touched only by the light of the moon. If I don't let them in...they can't hurt me... Almost absently, her hand crept up to the scar that marred her chest, that paid silent testimony to just how deeply her trust in others had endangered her and harmed her. She turned her face away, half-closing her eyes as she looked to the ground. Rheyl's hands on her shoulders were gentle as they turned her, and even moreso as he touched her chin, "Gospel..." he said tenuously. His fingers lifted her chin with a tender insistence, her green eyes meeting his blue as he spoke again, "I promised you. Never again."
With that, Rheyl wasted no further words, and by that soft touch on her chin, drew her lips to his. A thread of fear arced through Gospel's spine, and she blinked at him in shock; yet, in the next moment the fear vanished, replaced with something else; it was ardent and pure, almost liquid, filling her veins with a deep warmth that filled all the empty, shattered places in her soul. Don't! Don't! her subconscious screamed, He can hurt you. He *will* hurt you, just like all the others!
As Rheyl's lips parted from hers, and she looked up at him. She saw him for more than just a man standing before her in the darkness; he was the one who stood by her against all-odds; the one who saved her in more ways than he realized; and the one who brought her back to her humanity. He won't. He is Rheyl. And I trust him.
Chapter Seven: "Sail Away"
Midnight in Menethil Harbor
"Clearing the jetties now, Cap'n!" one of the sailors called as he clung to the hemp ladder leading up to the crow's nest of the ship. All around, other sailors scurried to and fro, bearing ropes, barrels, and other various tools of their trade. On the upper deck of the ship,leaning against the railing, Gospel watched it all with curious jade eyes; after all, she knew nothing of ships or nautical matters, so it was all a new experience for her. She turned around, leaning her arms against the rail as her gaze swept the harbor stretched out beyond the prow of the ship. Wind from the vessel's passing playfully tousled her silver hair, ruffling it around her shoulders and sending it slipping and curling about her neck to tease against her cheeks. Her soft jade eyes looked out over the sea for many long moments before she finally dared a backward glance at the retreating lights of Menethil Harbor against the horizon. Her journey was underway, and she'd managed to leave alone.
She sighed in some small disappointment, resting her forearms against the rail as she once more turned her face back toward the open sea, "I suppose tis only right I make this journey alone," she said softly to herself, her mild contralto barely carrying over the swirling rush of the sea at the breakers of the ship's bow, "After all, it doth only concern my life and its future, I would want for none to risk themselves for that."
"Even if there are those of us who would?" replied a deep, gentle voice just beyond her right shoulder. Gospel froze a moment, blinking in startlement before looking back over her shoulder toward the man that stood there. Her green eyes seemed to drink in the fact that he stood there, her storm-grey brows furrowing with her confusion.
The older paladin stepped forward, his lean frame moving with all the grace and agility of a man younger than himself. His sun-gold hair was tossed by the errant wind, much as her own had been, but he merely swept it back with an absent hand, "You'll have to pardon me, I took the liberty of coming along." His voice was tinged with genuine apology, but Gospel could only look at him in confusion.
"How didst thou come to be here?" she murmured, stepping away from the rail, the moonlight shimmering in her silver tresses, "I thought thou wouldst still be at the reception along with everyone else..." Rheyl stepped up the stairs to the deck she was standing on, reaching out to run his fingers through those molten locks. His blue eyes regarded her with a gentle concern, "I couldn't be anywhere that you weren't, Gospel. I saw you leave, and I knew where you had to be going..." he explained.
Gospel looked up at him, her jade eyes reflecting his worry, "I didn't want to endanger anyone," she replied, "I wanted thee to be safe."
Rheyl cupped her chin in his hand, tilting her face upward so that it was made pale by the moonlight, "And what about you? Do you not think I wouldn't worry for your safety? That I could just let you sneak out in the dark of night, going to face Light knows what?" His thumb caressed her cheek as he shook his blond head, "After you were injured by the Scourge, I swore to myself that I'd never see you come to harm again, Gospel. I mean that." He leaned forward, pressing his warm, velvet soft lips to her forehead. Gospel blushed, but did not turn away.
"The way shall not be easy, Rheyl," she said quietly as her hair whipped around her head in the sea-borne breezes that began to pick up, billowing in the mainsail above them, "I am not even entirely certain how I plan to get down to the ship that holds the Prophecy, much less how to get back home with it safely." Gospel bit her lower lip gently, drooping her head at the sheer magnitude of the undertaking she was attempting.
Rheyl reached out with his free arm, his hand drifting along her waist. He seemed to consider her words, but that gentle hand on her chin pulled her face up to look into his eyes yet again, "It will be all right," he replied, placing the palm of his hand to her cheek, "We are both strong in our faith with the Light, and we are together now. If it finds a way for any, it will find a way for us."
"Rheyl..." she whispered again, stepping into his embrace as she pressed her forehead to his chest. His strong arms wrapped around her, his hands rubbing her back in comfort; he wrapped her in a cocoon of warmth and protection as the ship sailed onward into the night.