A draenei and a human.
These two paladins stood before Captain Fareeya, both adorned in dressings of gold and blue. They had come as part of the envoy to formalize their acceptance of the Army of the Light into the Grand Alliance of Azeroth. It was an unnecessary gesture, as Fareeya had considered such an arrangement concluded long ago when the Vindicaar had saved them from utter destruction on Argus.
Still, all of those aboard had listened to the final invitation and had, of course, accepted without hesitation. There had been a small celebration that followed, but then most of the Alliance members had returned home.
Except for these two. They had lingered aboard the vessel, and eventually Iliera had asked to speak with her once more, about a different topic. Fareeya had worked with Iliera and Fÿnn before. They had both served the Army of the Light with great success during the Argus campaign, and they had been almost inseparable during the whole ordeal. If she recalled correctly, they had been in some kind of organization, one that had directly contributed an attack force to the assault on Antorus.
These were no small fries in the grand scheme of things. So, she had granted them both an audience right away.
“I admit I am curious,” she started, when they had arrived in her quarters. “What is it you two could possibly wish to discuss?”
“It’s a personal request,” Iliera said calmly. “I considered approaching the topic more delicately, but in this moment, I have decided being direct is the best course of action. Captain, I want to become Lightforged.”
The human behind her audibly gasped.
“It is an honor that you seek to become Lightforged,” Fareeya replied. “Unfortunately, this is not merely a gift I can bestow on you. You must perform a ritual, one that will force you to look inside yourself for the truth of who you are. Without having had a chance to know you for any length of time, I cannot say by any measure if I believe you are ready for such a task. I would not feel comfortable blessing you to go forward with the ritual until I knew for sure.”
Iliera stood a little straighter. “I understand your concern, but I would like to attempt this ritual.”
“Attempt?” Fareeya repeated. “There is no attempting such a feat. When you perform this ritual you will open doors to the deepest recesses of your inner-self. If you are unable to control what you find… then it can do lasting damage.”
“I understand the risks,” Iliera said. “I still want to do this.”
The human shifted nervously. “Uh, Iliera are—”
“I am sure,” she said, interrupting him.
“If I allow it, will the human serve as your second?”
Iliera nodded. “He will.”
“Why do you seek the gift of becoming Lightforged?”
“I seek to protect. This is my charge. I have always called upon the Light to help me and now I want to be able to share an even closer bond with the power I wield.”
Captain Fareeya smiled. “Commander, if this is what you wish, I will allow it, but please understand that this is not something to take lightly. This experience will challenge you. There will be a moment when you want to stop. You cannot stop. You must push through. Do you understand?”
Iliera nodded firmly. “I’ve given this a lot of thought. I am ready.”
“Very well,” Fareeya said. “I will have a priest come to aid you.”
The two stepped out of Fareeya’s office and Iliera let out a long breath. She felt like she hadn’t breathed since she’d first stepped inside to see the Captain.
“Iliera,” Fÿnn said, his voice low. “This is a bad idea.”
“It’s the right call, Fÿnn.”
“Look, I know you want to protect us. I know you are thinking about that big old sword in Silithus right now and I know you are thinking you have to stop it. You need power for that. I get it, but Iliera, are you sure you want to risk this? We don’t even know what being Lightforged means!”
“Iliera,” a voice said before she could respond. She turned to see a young draenei priest approaching. “If you will come with me, I will take you to the ritual room.”
The two followed the priest in silence, but Iliera could still sense Fÿnn’s energy. He walked slowly, but his mind was bouncing around the room, full of questions, doubt, and concern. Iliera wished she could put him at ease, explain that she knew this was the right choice, but he would not understand, not until after the ritual was complete.
They reached a small room with two beds and an open area in the middle. The priest guided them to the center and stood between them, offering a gentle smile as she stood them side by side and then closed her eyes.
“The ritual will begin,” the priest said. “Close your eyes, and breathe.”
Iliera did as she said, but not before she watched the priest place her thumb and forefinger on her face with one hand, and the same to Fÿnn with her other.
“Are you ready?” the priest asked.
“I suppose so,” Fÿnn answered.
Iliera smiled. “Yes.”
There was silence, then the priest whispered, “Dioniss Aca.”
A wave of energy hit her like a brick to the face and then darkness swept over her.
There was an emptiness in Iliera’s mind. When she fell asleep or was knocked unconscious, time seemed to have no meaning. She would close her eyes and then open them again when she woke, but this was not the same. She could feel and understand the passage of time.
At least, she thought she could.
Small white dots began to appear all around her, glowing stars in the night sky. They whirled and whipped past her faster than she could follow. Was she traveling? Was she in space?
She remained this way for what felt like an hour.
Then, the small dots grew blindingly bright, gathering together one at a time and becoming so overwhelming that Iliera had to close her eyes once more. The brightness had a weight to it, and Iliera was forced to the ground, then onto her back, as though it was pushing her flat.
She became panicked that it might crush her. That she had already failed the ritual, but then, it suddenly stopped.
The light faded, and she was back in darkness. Except now she heard sounds. Wind blowing, leaves rustling, and when she opened her eyes she was that she was looking up at a night sky. A very familiar night sky.
She reached out and took hold of the grass that was currently cradling her and squeezed it between her fingers. Yes, she knew this place well.
“We’re in a field,” Fÿnn said flatly, bending over here and offering her his hand. “I was starting to think you weren’t going to join me on this part of your journey.”
“Did you experience all that too?”
“You mean flying in space and getting floored?” he asked. “Yeah, good times.”
“I can’t believe it, Fÿnn. Are we really here?”
Fÿnn took another look around. “Where are we? I just see a clearing and some trees.”
“That’s the Violet Forest,” Iliera answered. “This is my home.”
“Your home? Draenor?”
“Well, it’s peaceful,” he said. “Love the ambient light.”
“It’s such a magical place,” she said proudly. “I wonder why—”
Iliera stopped short. In the distance she saw a yellow glow, with smoke rising into the sky. She knew this sight well. She had seen it before, almost three years ago.
Embaari Village, her village, was under attack.
“Come on!” she shouted. “Hurry!”
Fÿnn didn’t hesitate. He was right behind her. The two of them ran as fast as they could across the fields and toward the burning village, ignoring the beauty of the night.
When they finally reached the village border, the smoke was so thick that Fÿnn could barely keep Iliera in his sight as she charged ahead.
“Iliera,” he shouted. “Wait up. The ritual… I’m your second.”
He called upon the power of the Light and generated a blast of energy that forced the smoke away and pulling in clean air around them. Iliera slowed at his request, but her eyes were darting around the village, looking for the attackers.
They pressed forward, charging right into the chaos, but it didn’t take long for Fÿnn to realize that something was amiss. The village burned, but there were no wounded, no soldiers… no one at all.
Iliera slowed near the village center, spinning around to see if there was any signs of life. “We are too late,” she said. “They already took them all.”
“I don’t think that’s what is happening here,” Fÿnn replied. “There are no bodies. No signs of conflict outside of the burning buildings. Surely there should be… something?”
Iliera had yet to lower her shield and when it began to glow she took a battle stance and turned to Fÿnn. “Something is here.”
He saw the shield and nodded. It was go time. He gripped his sword and turned so that his back was to Iliera. He didn’t see anything out there. There was no movement, not even in the trees. In fact, the longer he looked, the more he realized that almost all of this felt very unreal.
The village felt real, of course, but even now he realized that he did not feel the immense heat that should be all around him from the fires, and the buildings, despite having burned for some time now, appeared to be no worse than they were when they had arrived.
This place wasn’t normal.
“Iliera, I’m starting to think—”
Before he could finish, he was suddenly thrown into the air. Iliera saw the ground erupt all around her friend, but she didn’t have time to reach for him before the explosion him sailing. He must have made it twenty feet before he came crashing down with a loud clap.
“Fÿnn!” she shouted.
He didn’t respond.
She started to move to him, but before she could reach him, a large figure lifted itself from the hole in the ground. Iliera recognized the fel-tainted energy of the eredar right away, a long corrupted ancestor that had chosen the Legion over their own people.
The eredar, a woman from the looks of it, stood to her full height and Iliera saw that the fel energy had mutated her size. She stood at least twenty feet and her glowing green eyes burned with vengeance.
Iliera smashed her hammer to her shield in a show of aggression and took her best defensive stance. If she couldn’t get to Fÿnn, she could at least keep this eredar from paying any attention to the defenseless human. Besides, she had fought the Legion long enough and brought down foes far more intimidating than this.
“Precious Iliera,” the eredar said. “How unfortunate you arrived too late.”
“Where are they?” Iliera demanded. “Where are the villagers?”
“Dead, of course,” the eredar replied. “Slain while they called for help, so confident that you would come to them.”
“You’re lying,” Iliera said. “I see through you.”
“Do you now?” the eredar asked.
“I won’t ask again, demon,” Iliera said, lifting her hammer. “Where is my family?”
The eredar laughed. She laughed hard.
Iliera’s heart sank. She’d heard that laugh before.
“Come now, sister,” the eredar said, leaning closer and showing her face. “Surely you recognized me?”
Iliera’s heart stopped.
This eredar. It was… Vaeliera!
For a brief moment, Iliera thought she might collapse, but she held her resolve.
“This is not my sister,” she said loudly. “You died. The Shadowclan orcs… they killed you.”
“They tried,” Vaeliera said. “The Legion saw greater potential for me.”
“You are not my sister.”
“You’re right. I am greater than your sister. I am reborn!”
This monster with the face of Vaeliera, this Feliera, took her first swing.
Iliera had her spell ready, she could have easily brought down her hammer, but there, no matter how much she resisted, she could see her sister’s eyes staring at her. She was forced to roll out of the attack and the enemy caught her shield, spinning her around as she fell back.
“You let me die!” Feliera said angrily. “The Legion saved me!”
“I did not know where you were!” Iliera shouted. “I tried to find you!”
“I asked you if you would go with me that night,” Feliera shouted. “You refused!”
Iliera paused. The demon was right. She could have been with her sister that night. She could have saved her from that terrible fate.
The demon caught Iliera with another attack and she sent rolling into the village courtyard before she was able to jump back to her feet. She shook her head and tried to clear her thoughts. This was… this was the ritual.
“Now your home burns,” Feliera added, slowly stepping toward her. “Your mother and father all alone, while you save the universe, leaving them to die at my hands.”
“No!” Iliera shouted. “I won’t let you. I was there, demon. I saw the Legion defeated.”
“You can’t defeat us,” Feliera said proudly. “We will always persist. We will always return. Your efforts on Argus were like a pebble tossed into the ocean. A ripple soon lost to the waves.”
“Then I will become stronger,” Iliera said. “I will fight you.”
“You will die.”
Iliera rushed forward now, finally ready to go on the offensive. Even if this creature was her dead sister, then she knew that she must bare the burden of putting her to rest. She pulled back her mace and let it fly, but Feliera knocked it away with ease. Then, the demon caught her with a left hook, a fist almost as big as Iliera’s head, and she went straight to the floor.
“You are weak!” Feliera’s voice shouted, crackling as though her mouth was full of burning embers. “I have power. Look at what I have become. Join me, sister.”
Iliera shook her head. “Never.”
She expected Feliera to cut her down right there, but both the eredar and Iliera were caught off guard when a bright flash of pure Light energy ripped through the courtyard.
Fÿnn’s sword came to a stop deep within Feliera’s back, the tip of the blade protruding from her abdomen. She looked down at it for a moment, then she began to laugh.
“Nice try, frail human.”
She reached back, plucking Fÿnn from where he was clinging to the blade, and lifting him into the air by his leg.
“Stop!” Iliera shouted. “Stop this now!”
Green fel dripped from her abdomen as she held one hand to the wound. “I will crush his bones,” she said. “And I will incinerate yours!”
The demon turned her hand, her fel-coated hand, and started to charge a blast of energy.
Time slowed for Iliera.
She could see that Feliera was clearly intending to swing Fÿnn full circle and slam his body hard against the ground.
She also saw the demon charging her chaos bolt, a sign of a demonic warlock, which would easily cut through Iliera’s Light-infused armor.
She couldn’t save them both.
The evil Feliera would claim a life, one way or another.
But really, there was no choice here.
There never was a choice.
Iliera would protect him. She would always protect those that needed it.
Even if it meant her own undoing.
She inhaled. She reached into the Light, and she summoned the spell to protect Fÿnn.
Time sped up once more.
She cast the spell just before the human hit the ground. He collided with a devastating slam that kicked up dirt and debris all around him, but she knew that her magic had done its work.
He was safe.
Then, Feliera fired her chaos bolt. The green magic swirled through the air, streaking toward Iliera just as she finished weaving her protection spell. It hit her hard in the chest and the agony was both instant and unbearable.
She screamed, but she held the protection spell in place. Feliera was focused on her now, already charging another chaos bolt to finish her off. Which meant she wasn’t expecting him.
Fÿnn leapt from the ground, as if on cue, and called a beam of devastating holy energy that erupted from the ground around him, forking out like lighting and coiling up over Feliera before she could even react.
“What is this!?” Vaeliera yelled, only understanding the attack when it was too late.
“Judgement,” Fÿnn replied firmly. “The Light has claimed you!”
With that, he twisted his arms and the beams of Light began to constrict around the eredar. At first the demonic being just roared in anger, but as the beams tightened, the anger turned to fear, and then pain.
“Stop this!” she shouted. “Release me!”
Fÿnn did stop tightening the grips. The demon was bound now.
Then, he rushed to Iliera.
She had collapsed to the ground, her plate armor corroded straight through where the chaos bolt had eaten its way inside.
The wound was fatal. Her blood seeped onto the ground in a massive puddle. She had known it would kill her from the moment she felt it pierce her body, but seeing the look of terror on Fÿnn’s face was the final nail in her coffin.
“Iliera,” he said, his eyes already welling with tears. “Hang on. I can help.”
He touched her and the Light pulsed from his hand in a healing wave she had seen him perform time and time again. This time, however, when the Light touched the wound, the glow faded and retreated back to him.
“No,” he said, quickly pulling a tome from his side and flipping through it for another spell.
“Fÿnn,” she said quietly. “It’s okay.”
“No no, we’re not giving up.”
“It’s done, Fÿnn,” she said. “I saved you. I made this choice. I am okay.”
“You can’t go,” he replied, his voice cracking. “Who will protect me?”
“I will… always… protect you,” Iliera assured him, her voice growing quiet. “In the Light, Fÿnn, I will always aid…you.”
The life faded from her eyes and her body went still.
“Iliera?” Fÿnn shouted. “Iliera!”
She was gone.
This ritual had ended her.
A fire erupted in the human paladin’s heart.
“I’m not letting this happen,” he said, standing up. “Not like this!”
He stood and turned to the captured Feliera. “How do I fix this?”
“You cannot,” Feliera replied, her voice low and bitter. “Iliera made her choice. Now, human, you must make yours.”
“Fine,” Fÿnn growled. “I made my choice. You will save her.”
He reached out and the holy beams began to tighten again. As they did, they Light cut into her flesh, but Fÿnn did not hesitate.
“Tell me how to save her!”
“Will you kill me, then?” she pressed. “An unarmed, defenseless being?”
Fÿnn felt the Light waver, but he reached out and grabbed onto the power. There was a moment where it all felt wrong. Like he was twisting the Light to do something it didn’t want to do, but he assured himself that this was the right decision.
“An eye for eye,” he said firmly.
He closed his gloved hand and the Holy grips continued to tighten.
The demon didn’t speak. She writhed in agony for a long moment, then her hateful eyes fell upon him. He saw them, the eyes of Iliera’s sister. He hesitated for a moment, and the Light began to fade once more.
“Spare me,” she said.
This was the part Fÿnn knew too well. He would offer her life, but in exchange she would have to turn away from the darkness and come into the Light. He had tried it a thousand times before, and they always turned down the offer.
“Tell me how to save her,” he said.
Feliera shook her head. “You are the one that needs saving, human.”
Fÿnn tightened the beams again. The Light resisted his command and he demanded it answer him. The beams crushed inward in response. Felina’s body should have been sliced into a thousand pieces, but instead the demon cracked, like glass, and when the Light pierced straight through, the shards fell away, and the cracks spread out beyond the demon, covering the entire village, cracking and falling.
The whole facade gave way, falling toward Fÿnn and forcing him to cover his face.
When nothing collided with him, he dared to open his eyes again.
Instead of the remains of a demonic being, or a burning village, Fÿnn was shocked by what he saw.
A white room, occupied by a sole Naaru.
Suddenly, Fÿnn understood. The Naaru did not speak. It didn’t have to speak.
He already knew what it would say.
He had failed the ritual.
As the world around them melted away, Fÿnn felt a hand come to rest on his shoulder. He turned to see Iliera. She smiled at him, and he saw that she had changed.
Her entire body now glowed with the power of the Light, and her eyes were golden and beautiful. Her brown hair had become snow white, though still flowing and full. The power of the Light itself was etched into her arms like powerful tattoos, and most importantly, a rune of power now floated over her forehead as a sure sign of the transformation she had undergone.
“Lightforged,” Iliera said calmly. “Yes, it worked.”
“Iliera, I’m so… sorry.”
She shook her head. “It was not your time,” she said. “Come now, Fÿnn. Let’s go home.”
Just like that, Iliera pulled him close and wrapped him in a warm embrace. He didn’t know for sure how much of his failure he had witnessed, but he knew that she was aware of the outcome.
She was Lightforged.
Fÿnn was not.
He closed his eyes and continued the embrace, her body warm from the glow of the Light, as though she was sending him comforting thoughts with her very being. They stood, united for a moment, and then she released him from her grip and stepped back.
They stood once more in the ritual room of the Vindicaar.
The priest was still there and when Iliera opened her eyes, the draenei quickly pulled her in for her own embrace. “Welcome to the Lightforged, dear Iliera!”
“Thank you,” Iliera said.
“I will inform the Captain right away, I am certain she will want to speak with you.”
“And I with her,” Iliera confirmed. “Could you please also prepare a beacon for us?”
“What? You’ll be leaving?”
Iliera nodded. “I’m afraid I must.”
The priest looked confused, but gave a nod and headed off to find the Captain.
“You don’t want to stick around?” Fÿnn asked.
“No,” she replied flatly. “I think… I was asked to visit someone.”
Iliera shook her head. “I’m sorry, it doesn’t matter. Fÿnn, I need you to go back to Azeroth. I have something else I need to take care of before I can come back.”
“I understand,” he said, clearly saddened.
“Oh Fÿnn, it wasn’t time, not yet,” she added. “You’re young. You have a lot to learn. I promise you this, though, when the time is right, you’ll know.”
The human cracked a smile. “Thank you, Iliera.”
“Now, go back to Azeroth. Find the others. Make sure they haven’t started a war while we’ve been gone, okay?”
“Right,” he said. “I will. Come back to us soon.”
“Always,” she replied. “May the Light be with you.”
TO BE CONTINUED…