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The story relates to Kestrel, and was written to flesh out the character to myself. The events are not available as IC knowledge under any circumstances. Copyrighted to Auburn (lyrics to their original authors), plagiarists will be keelhauled and fed to rabid weasels.



Part One Edit

'It's easier not to be free
and measure these things by your eyes
~
Live: I Alone


The cliff rises through the dark, a craggy path through thinning trees to where earth and sky meet. The wolf trots out ahead of her, a gaunt black shape with his nose to the wind, wary for trouble or a trail. He's almost done growing now, shaggy shoulders level to her hip, but somehow he's never shaken that gangly, halfgrown puppy look. Feral or no, that makes him easy to underestimate, makes him have to prove himself where a bulkier animal could simply snap and avoid trouble. She wonders how he'll do without her to look after him. She tells herself she doesn't care. Strong wolves live, weak ones don't, simple as that. She's never put up with weak things, things that will falter if there is trouble.

Trouble -- she catches herself checking her gear reflexively, at even the thought. Armour strapped and secure, gun slung over her back loosely enough to be ready in seconds, an axe and dagger on her hip -- a miscellany of gear worn smooth and bare by hard use, much the same way that she has been worn by wearing it. Not many seams in armour that don't leave calluses, if you sleep in it long enough, and she's done so since she was a youngling. But no more. Not after tonight.

Only so long you can hold someone on a debt. The Cenarion Circle knows this, and they know she's given them more than their due. A life for a life, service for a service, favour for a favour. Honour has been satisfied. She is free.

She is finished.

The trail ends. The trees drop away abruptly, just before the ground does. The wind catches the wolf as he comes into the clear, making him slink down to keep from being shoved by it. She follows him to the precipice, heedless of the whistling air trying to pull her off the edge to the drop below. It seems like she can see all the world from here, and yet nothing that she recognises. If she tries, she can almost pretend all is as it was; that the world is still new, she is still a Huntress, and time never happened.

But it did, and she isn’t, and she has run out of ways to hide it. When she sleeps, the dream is always the same.

The green place, long ago, and the precipice above it. Wolfsteps, an animal breathing behind her. "Go away," she snarls, without looking away from the fall. "Go back and forget. I’m going now."

In her dream, the pale wolf drops to his haunches, sheds his skin like water, and fixes her with bottomless, golden eyes. Challenging eyes. "Go ahead," he says, the first Darnassian words spoken in her presence since the world ended. "If you must. I won’t stop you. It’s a good fall. Do you think it’s long enough?"

There used to be more to it, the dream – but that’s gone now, lost since the world ended for a second time. Now she wakes up to that, the question, and if her face is wet and cold when she does, she has stopped caring because only the wolf ever sees.

She isn't dreaming now. She stands on the precipice, leaning into the wind. This time the cliff is just a cliff: this time, the wolf is only a wolf. It doesn’t matter. The drop is the same, the one she once turned away from but once again dreams of, every night since Nordrassil was lost. All that time, all come to nothing. All her time since, just waiting to be free to revisit that step she never took.

Time passes.

When she and the wolf leave the precipice stays, with its whistling, whispering wind. She knows it's only a matter of time. For the first time in years, she does not know what to do about it.



Part Two Edit

In this place it seems like such a shame
Though it all looks different now, I know it's still the same
Everywhere I look you're all I see
Just a fading fucking reminder of who I used to be
~
Nine Inch Nails: Something I Can Never Have


Weeks. Months. The precipice waits patiently, greeting her with winds whistling of peace when she returns to revisit it. She wonders why she keeps turning away from the invitation. This is what she has waited for, planned, since she died with Nordrassil.

The wolf grows annoyed with her, and tells her they should go, that there is nothing to hunt and he is hungry and bored. She snarls, tells him to go if he wishes, and they glower and snap a while - but he never leaves. Or if he does, he only goes far enough to chase down some snake or skinny vermin to keep them both alive. He doesn't understand why she doesn't eat. He becomes wary of her, skittish as if of a sick thing.

And she is, of course. Sick from time she can’t make herself forget, and in the end there is only one way to deal with things that will not heal. You put them down, before they infect or turn on the rest of the pack. So one night, so late it is early, she decides she has waited long enough. She slinks off, silent enough that even the wolf misses her moving; she walks up to the precipice, strips her arms and armour, and looks up to the cold, deep sky. She asks the moon to be kind on her way home, to take word that she is coming – she leans forward, further and further into the wind – and she feels the wind falter under her weight.

Gravity takes her. The fall takes her –

– and the instant it begins, her traitor animal body realises what she has done to it, and takes over. Limbs and vertebrae jack-knife at impossible angles, a sound halfway between a whimper and a snarl chokes from her lungs, her torso twists midair to make a grab for life. Her skinny body contorts through a pirouette-turned-flip as improbable as it is ungainly, and then exhausts the momentum slamming into the cliffside, hard enough to knock the air from her. Something in her side cracks, maybe breaks, but on sheer stubborn instinct, her scrabbling fingers find purchase. When she finally stops slipping, for a while she just hangs there, panting and keening with the effort to hold on.

From somewhere far below, gravity beckons, slow and sure and silent.

Worn to sinew and muscle she hardly has weight at all, but it's still almost more she can do to drag herself up, back to the precipice. When she is done her fingertips are all but ground away, she has torn muscle and skin and ripped out three nails. What's left is a shaking and exhausted wreck laid out under the cold sky. Breath catches, sound pools in her throat until she cannot tolerate it anymore, and finally she just howls, wordless – because she has failed even at this, and there is no message she can bring herself to speak to the moon anymore.

She isn't much better when the wolf finishes his dash up to the precipice, alerted by her howl, snarling and snapping about for whatever has hurt his packmate. He doesn't believe her when she says there is nothing to bite, and he doesn’t like that his nose insists she is right and has been hurt by nothing but herself. He pads around the precipice testily, uneasy and growling. He licks her bloody fingers and noses her discarded armour and weapons, telling her to put her skin and claws back on, before something hungry sees her being weak and thinks she is food.

It's a fact, not an insult, but it stings hearing it from the pup. Weakness she has never tolerated, and for a few lost moments, she can't tell if it's worse to know she's fallen to it, or to be told so in that blunt, unaccusing tone by a creature that has seen fewer seasons than she has millennia.

She can't decide, so she pulls her armour back on, and tells the wolf they are going. He doesn't ask where, he never does. He just falls in step with her, satisfied that she is finally making sense, acting like a wolf again. And he is right.

So much she has lost to time spent waiting: so much wolves have taken from this skinny kal'dorei body of hers, filling the holes with scents and hunts and now. For years, that carried her, until her gold-eyed guide returned to fight one last time – and now old memories have finally become too loud sleep with, and too faint to let her just fall and sleep forever. She is nothing, now; just a wayward wolf with a woman's soul, undone and made a fool of by all the time she has seen.

But there are things stronger than time. That is what she tells herself as she limps beside the wolf, leaning on his tall shoulders. There is time ... and above time, there are dragons. All she has to do is convince them to do this for her: then she can have her life back.

One more favour, this time one she will offer rather then owe. If she dies trying, it'll be no great loss, for then she will finally sleep.

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