art history is not art

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The Art of Conflict

The defeated seldom receive second chances.

Too proud to use a cane, General Shandris Feathermoon limped down to the moonwell in the frail dawn, the constellations waning in the sky. She watched the first wave of Sentinels, still cobwebbed by sleep, practice their archery, as another division blearily hammered planks in the morning mist. On such a similar day, too recent for comfort, the naga destroyed Feathermoon Stronghold and left Shandris for dead.

Several elven structures rose from the lush coastland; the moonwell, blessed by Tyrande Whisperwind, graced the center of the courtyard. The stronghold rang out with the sounds of tools and bright female voices; the air smelled of freshly-cut wood masking a sweat-drenched fear. The Sentinels knew their beloved leader would have died without Tyrande’s intervention. The Kaldorei no longer had the luxury of immortality and recent campaigns had not been physically kind to Shandris.

Out of a chaotic encampment of makeshift tents and newly-constructed buildings, Shandris was determined to rebuild the military center of the Sentinels, surpassing its former glory. She needed to intimidate the restless Horde, but more importantly, to soothe the broken Kaldorei, who were grasping for familiar traditions after the Shattering blotted out the treasures of the past. Her breath was labored on most days, but the stronghold was taking root, humming with a new life.

Tyrande had planned to visit in the afternoon; Shandris hoped to show her best friend how well the new stronghold was flourishing. She pictured herself standing by her elite divisions in the rebuilt courtyard. Dressed in full regalia that transformed her girlish enthusiasm into a calculated determination, she’d give a rousing speech and swiftly lead her troops into battle.

Her mind haltingly remembered her last such speech—in the rain, to a cluster of weakened Sentinels huddled together on a rooftop. The wind had carried her words away from the Sentinels, instead towards the naga.

“Lady Shandris,” a timid voice called, interrupting her reverie, “do you need any help? You look tired, for such an hour.”

Shandris turned and looked down at Silvia, a Worgen recruit fresh from the tragedy at Gilneas. Silvia moved awkwardly, ashamed of her body. Her uniform fit poorly. But the reverential vulnerability in her eyes arrested Shandris—Silvia had lost her home, her identity, her traditions. And long ago, so had Shandris.

Some quarters opposed the Worgen presence at Feathermoon Stronghold, citing Kaldorei tradition, but Shandris would not turn away any pair of willing hands, her blind reverence for the past long ago transformed into practical flint on the battlefield. The Worgen were desperate for approval, for reassurance that they weren’t cursed monsters. Shandris could give them what they needed, sharpening their devotion into fierce loyalty and determination.

"I am fine. You may update me on your division’s progress in Feralas, now that you are here,” Shandris briskly stated, returning to the present.

Silvia, remembering her position, curtsied and straightened her shoulders in front of her weary general.

“Ogres in Eastern Feralas: minor constant disturbances. The Tower of Estulan: no disturbances since the assault in Dire Maul, but the arcane inhabitants of the tower may be dissenters. Horde forces: we intercepted a grunt and are working to decode his letters.”

Shandris smiled at the earnestness in Silvia’s voice, as she reported on mundane annoyances with the utmost gravity.

“An old adage that’s served me well: dissent is not a one-way path. The more you provoke the arcane masters, the more they will react. As for the ogres and paltry foot-soldiers of the Horde, I’d frankly be more suspicious if their never-ending skirmishes stopped.

“Thank you for your patience in handling these constant matters and for your concise report.” She smiled at Silvia, yet her eyes crinkled in pain.

“But, Lady,” Silvia faltered. “Are you sure you do not need assistance—a branch for a staff, or perhaps a stool to rest your feet?”

“Silvia,” Shandris sternly replied. “You are a recruit and I do not panic about your novice performance as an archer. It is expected that the clumsiness of youth will pass over time. Likewise, I am your general, and one that is recovering from severe physical trauma. You do not, and I repeat, not, express alarm about a natural situation.”

She dismissed Silvia and headed to the training grounds, preparing for her own practice. As she steadied her bow, a new pain shot through her right shoulder.

Her arrows did not miss. But she ended her practice early, her joints protesting against such extended exercise. She hobbled over to oversee the construction of the meetinghouse, its sturdy planks rising from an arched stone foundation.

When Shandris stumbled, none dared offer assistance. When they saw her sharply inhale after moving too quickly, they continued talking in a low voice. Leaders do not need to be reminded of their mortality. 

***

The fog had cleared by the time Tyrande alighted at the stronghold from on her serene gryphon, but the pain had not. After standing for the whole morning, Shandris secretly wished to rest, but would not allow herself to disappoint Tyrande. She threw her shoulders back and clenched her jaw, reviewing battle tactics in her head to distract from the constant aching.

She pointed out the locations of future towers and barracks on the way to the moonwell, Tyrande’s favorite part of the stronghold. The Sentinels on duty bowed in reverence, expressing sincere admiration for both women before turning back to their work.

At the moonwell, Tyrande grew pensive, musing on her reflection in the pool. 

"Jarod has expressed an interest in the situation in Hyjal."

"Oh, he has?" Shandris replied, ears perking up at the mention of her reclusive friend. "What are your thoughts?" Her voice remained calm as she sorted through her murky feelings of friendship.

"I am very happy to hear it. The Kaldorei will welcome his presence, after being shaken by Fandral’s betrayal,” Tyrande replied.

"I will never forget serving under you and him during the War of the Ancients, all those years ago.” Shandris’s face clouded, and she remembered their reunion in Darnassus, how she surprised herself by letting go of the past so easily. “I am sorry he has returned during a time of turmoil and personal sadness with the death of his wife.”

“You truly do not feel any regret?” Tyrande questioned, remembering how Jarod had rejected Shandris’s early affections millennia back.

“This is no time for me to dwell on those feelings,” Shandris curtly replied. “And that is precisely why such an arrangement would never have worked, with our different priorities and personalities. He’s reflective, I’m pragmatic.”

She meant to say more, but gasped suddenly, leaning against a column for support.

“You are still in pain,” Tyrande frowned, taking Shandris’s arm firmly. “I will have you rest.”

“Oh no, Lady, I am sorry. I want to show you the rest of the new stronghold—the glaive storage, the weapon armory, the temporary barracks. I have done so much work you will be pleased with! It is but a little pain, I am used to more,” Shandris protested.

A shadow fell across Tyrande’s face. “I do not want to see you suffer in such pain again. You sacrificed so much because I was not there to protect you sooner from the attacks of the naga. We are old, you and I, and we do not mend as we used to. Your injuries have worsened since Ashenvale.” 

Letting Shandris lean on her shoulder for support, Tyrande carefully guided her back to her quarters.

***

Weeks later, Tyrande called for a meeting, her simple notice conveying an understated urgency. Unlike the earlier summit in Darnassus for all leaders of the Alliance, this was an intimate gathering for the leaders of the Kaldorei. 

Jarod Shadowsong, voluntarily absent from centuries of politics, said little. Eschewing formal dress, he wore the simple garb of a common Kaldorei, his grave face watching Malfurion Stormrage with the utmost importance.

Shandris, still mending, still in pain, also said little. It was not her place to make speeches at such a meeting, but rather to pay reverence to her superiors. She felt a dark foreboding about Hyjal, but could not find the words to explain why. Her head and her bad knee ached.

Leyara was absent. As the daughter-in-law of Fandral Staghelm, one of Darnassus’s former leaders, an invitation had been extended to her out of tradition.

In past years, Fandral had been present at such meetings. Under guard of the Shadow Wardens, he now lay in a coma.

Tyrande and Malfurion sat side-by-side, their radiance visible from their glowing faces. Kept for millennia in the Emerald Dream by Fandral’s poison, Malfurion’s absence had not broken their strong bond. He prepared the opening remarks, relishing his restored position as a public leader.

Shandris was surprised at Tyrande’s reticence; usually her friend prepared the opening remarks at such meetings. Yet Tyrande remained silent, listening to Malfurion dominate the conversation as he spoke with pride about her recent successes in Ashenvale.

He outlined the current situation in Hyjal: Fandral, still unconscious, had been transported to Moonglade for security reasons. The elementals from Firelands were now a larger threat after the reappearance of Ragnaros, while the Twilight Hammer to the east was stronger than expected. Conflict simmered on the horizon, possibly a false threat, but possibly devastating.

Shandris, a twisting fear in her heart, could not focus on all the details. Her leg, shattered in the naga attacks, once again ached and her headache worsened. She closed her eyes against the harsh sunlight, hoping for temporary relief from the pain. This is unlike me, she thought. At least when I travel to Hyjal, I will observe the situation first-hand.

"And so, we have decided that Jarod and myself will return to Hyjal and manage the existing conflict,” Malfurion concluded, his piercing eyes coming to rest on Shandris. “We shall call upon the Druids of the Talon and Shadow Wardens to assist us in case the conflict escalates. We agree it is best, with all our people have lost, for Tyrande to remain at Darnassus and Shandris at Feathermoon Stronghold."

Shandris’s eyes fluttered open.

“I won’t stay behind anywhere,” she blurted out. “After my involvement—the networks of spies for you, the attacks on our ancestral homeland, the recent conflict in Ashenvale, my experience as the General of the Sentinel Army—I do not see why I should be cut off.”

Tyrande reached over to reassuringly squeeze her hand. “You won’t be alone. I won’t be present at Hyjal either. Our people need visible leaders in their daily life. I am capable and experienced in ruling our subjects in Darnassus, and the rebuilding of Feathermoon Stronghold into a strong military symbol is critical for morale and success. So much has been lost. Our people need something familiar to cling to.

I see them in the Temple of the Moon, weary from days of traveling. But then their eyes light up as they find peace in the unspoiled city. Now is not the time to desert our people.”

Shandris felt a strange pang in her heart. “My Lady, I thank you for the great compliment,” she replied. “But you have seen how much I have done already for the stronghold, and surely others could complete it, following my detailed instructions! Few others have the depth of experience in battle as I do.”

“Even the wisest of us all can fall victim to the impulses of loyalty and friendship,” Tyrande gravely noted. “I slaughtered guards to free Illidan from his prison. Fandral was tricked into corrupting Malfurion because he thought such an act would restore his beloved son. In Hyjal, I fear we would be prisoners to our memories.”

She looked at Shandris, tenderly yet firmly. “I cannot risk one of us being a target for the Twilight Hammer, or worse, the dangers in the Firelands. They will desperately try to toy with our emotions, leading to sure defeat.”

“I have successfully fought in numerous battles and organized countless Sentinel missions. Please let me go.” Shandris knew she was pleading, yet pressed on. “I specialize in organizing these sorts of missions, eradicating threats before they stop.” Her voice wavered. “I have the utmost trust in Jarod and Malfuion, but they lack years of experience interacting with the Kaldorei, which I have. I am in good health, and of sound mind. I will not have my emotions used against me.” 

A sudden fit of coughing racked her body, betraying her shrewd words.

“Shandris,” Tyrande said. “We must do what is best for Elune, not what is always personally satisfying. You are still physically weak and would be an easy target in Hyjal. You are a skilled general—it takes a rare sort of leader to rebuild our ranks. It is a testament to your skills how enthusiastic and proud they already are, from my last trip.”

Shandris opened her mouth to agree out of principle; shocked, she realized she disagreed. Discouraged, she looked around the table for replies. Tyrande’s praise, always a balm, was now hollow.

"I can attest to your skills on the battlefield," Jarod said. "But you are in a weakened state and none of us can rebuild the stronghold like you can. I am confident that I can manage the conflict in Hyjal before it escalates further. I will do what it takes to prove myself to you." 

Shandris wondered if she saw him smirk or if the sun played tricks on her aching eyes. She decided not to think about it further.

"And I am with Jarod," Malfurion added. "The Shadow Wardens are now led by Saynna Stormrunner—you must remember her as a capable Sentinel in your elite Shadowleaves division from years past. They are precisely suited to such a mission and it would be foolish to spurn their aid. You are a woman of many skills, Shandris, both on and off the battlefield. And right now, your skills are needed away from the Molten Front. And once I have made up my mind, there is no use discussing the conclusion.”

Such is your weakness, Shandris thought. 

A flutter of erratic wings disrupted the tense silence; surprised cries from the Sentinels guarding the building soon followed. Seconds later, an angry hawk flew into the room, transforming into Leyara, the widowed mate of Fandral’s son. Dressed in rustic finery, she carried herself with a harsh air to hide her deep-rooted insecurities.

“Pardon my tardiness,” Leyara said icily. “Much has changed since I received my courtesy invitation, as the next-of-kin to Fandral Staghelm.”

Malfurion rose. “Leyara, thank you for joining us and making the long trip. We appreciate your gesture, especially during a time of Horde unrest in Ashenvale, although the manner of your arrival was quite unexpected.” He waved his hand to dismiss the cluster of Sentinel guards that had gathered at the doorway in worry.

"I am not sure why I was invited.” Leyara turned to point at Tyrande and Shandris.” Perhaps I am meant to be like those two and nod quietly as no doubt they have always done."

Malfurion sighed. “Leyara, you were invited out of tradition. If you wish to disrespect such an occasion, the Sentinels would be more than happy to escort you out.”

“Tradition?” Leyara laughed. “Look at what your tradition has led you to. Lost lands, Horde attacks, ruined monuments. Snobbery and phobia. Say whatever you like about Staghelm, the lands of the Kaldorei were never in such disarray while he governed!”

"If such a meeting is upsetting to you, your daughter can attend in your place in the future. We recognize Fandral’s contributions and honor him by inviting his relations,” Malfurion countered.

“I am the last surviving relation,” she stated, in a mocking voice. “My daughter, Istaria, was murdered by the Horde. I would have thought the leader of the Kaldorei would have been briefed on the details, but another part of me knows that to be untrue. You are slow to react, and even slower to act. You have never experienced true loss.

“If Staghelm lived, he wouldn’t have let this happen. Not just because he loved us dearly and would protect my family at any cost, but because he lived among the people and knew their fears, unlike you. He hated the Horde.”

“Enough!” Malfurion roared. “He was responsible for my absence. I will not stand for such blasphemy.”

"I am leaving,” Leyara said, her voice muffled as she transformed back into a hawk, wings poised to fly. “I have a roof, my memories, some health, and many ashes to attend to. But who was responsible for my husband’s death? And Illidan’s freedom? This life for us imprisoned here is not enjoyable, save for knowledge. Elune watch over you. You will need it.”

“A disruption, but paltry nonsense,” Malfurion murmured, white knuckles grasping the table’s edge, as she flew away with a screech.

An oppressive silence descended upon the room as they all watched Leyara in the sky, soaring on the horizon. Shandris envied her sharp tongue and freedom, even in the face of misery. She could live in the skirmish of daily life, the battle and retreat. She could revel in her own successes or destroy her own fate.

Such thoughts remained unsaid. She was a leader, and her life was in her army’s hands. She buoyed them to victories and shielded them from defeat. She waged wars, not battles. She rebuilt homes. 

Shandris cleared her throat, her voice shakier than expected. “I think there is nothing further that can be said. I propose this meeting adjourned.”

Tyrande looked concerned. “This must have been trying with your health. You should rest a while. You do not look well.”

“I am sure she will, after she attends to her duties,” Jarod interjected. “I regret not spending more time with you Shandris, but the upcoming months will not be kind.”

Shandris sighed, appreciating their implicit truce. “You are right, on both accounts.”

"You will stay and help rebuild the stronghold then?" Tyrande anxiously asked.

"Of course, my Lady. It is as you wish."

I have no idea what I’m going to do next, Shandris thought.

***

Chewing on her quill, Shandris squinted at the finished letter, her eyes aching in the dim light. 

Sentinels,

Once again we are called upon to protect our ancestral home, ever vigilant, ever ready. Commander Jarod Shadowsong, one of our most venerated leaders, oversees Mount Hyjal with the support of Malfurion and Hamuul Runetotem. The Twilight Hammer, long bent on apocalypse, has been subdued after unexpected attacks, but the threat of the Firelands is ever present. In this period of tumult, remember that it is but a blink in eternity. We have spent many dark days grasping for shards of our traditions in the wreckage. I believe that under such capable leadership the conflict in Mount Hyjal will dissipate and political rest, long missed in Fandral’s reign, will soon return.

Captain Saynna Stormrunner, a former member of the Shadowleaves who fought alongside Cenarius, continues to monitor the imprisoned Staghelm with the help of her skilled Shadow Wardens and Ysera’s loyal drake, Alysra. I have received word some time ago that Staghelm, imprisoned in the barrow dens, was moved to Moonglade in the hopes of a speedier and safer recovery. Should they require our assistance, I will make appropriate arrangements among the divisions.

I am rebuilding the legacy of Feathermoon Stronghold, ensuring the power of the Sentinels remains for upcoming generations of promising Kaldorei to come. The glory of the Sentinels once again flourishes on Kalimdor as the stronghold stands ready once again to welcome both new recruits and veterans. My army needs my guidance, and so I remain with them, ever watching, ever resolute in my determination to serve my people.

May Elune continue to watch over you.

-General Shandris Feathermoon

Idly staring at the newly-built barracks framing the courtyard, she began to bend the corners of the missive, relishing the sharp crackle of the parchment.

With a frustrated sigh, she called for Silvia to transcribe the letter, the first step in its dissemination to the Sentinels across far-reaching outposts. She didn’t trust her own skeptical hands to keep the letter intact for a second longer.

Silvia sauntered away, ecstatic to be chosen for such a task, but Shandris felt no relief as she reflected on the military abyss. She hoped Tyrande would approve of the letter. She’d be lost otherwise.

Had she written the truth? All stories are fabricated, even those with the best intentions.

***

Silvia nervously stood in the far corner of Shandris’s quarters, shoulders slumped. Her mood crashed when she saw Shandris frown.

"Is it bad news, my Lady?" 

She fiddled with an invisible speck of mud on her gloves as Shandris sharply looked up from her tactical diagrams to address her.

"Hastily-written letters delivered to the stronghold by gryphon are never anything else. But I cannot reveal the contents to you under protocol."

Silvia swallowed hard, tears forming against her best efforts. “I am so sorry, my lady. I did not want to bring you bad news. You do nothing but good and you don’t deserve this. You have been so kind to me and given me a home when I thought I had nothing left.”

Shandris tried to soften her voice, yet it retained a metallic edge. “Do not blame yourself at all. You did your duty and now I must do mine. Your presence, along with that of your Worgen compatriots, has been an inspiration as I’ve rebuilt the face of the Sentinels.”

"Th…thank you, my lady. If there’s nothing else, I’m needed at the scaffolds to raise the south tower’s walls," Silvia replied, tears subsiding as she wiped her eyes on her sleeve.

"Then I release you to attend to your duties and collect your feelings. But Silvia, while customs vary from kingdom to kingdom, my proper title here is General. Not Lady."

"Oh, I am so sorry, La—General! It is not a Gilnean term, by any means. I have overheard you refer to Tyrande as Lady several times and thought it was also proper. May Elune forgive my lack of respect."

A tense few seconds followed. When Shandris called out “Dismissed,” her voice was both tender and strained.

After Silvia left, Shandris sat down abruptly, gritting her teeth as she re-read the curt note. Her leg, now almost fully healed, ached in response.

Alysra betrayed us. Staghelm a servant of Ragnaros. New invasion in Firelands.

I have failed you.

Saynna

“Should I have gone to Hyjal? Should I have pushed?” she wondered aloud.

She paced back and forth, her shadow limping along the wall and her boots clacking on the wooden floor in time with her sharp breathing. She reviewed military strategies and the list of tasks for the following morning, but the details scattered in her spinning head.

Delicately, she leaned down to pick up the note, rereading it with a furrowed brow.

She crumpled it up and smashed her fist into the wall, wincing at the fresh pain and splinters. When her hand grew sore, she unsheathed a small dagger from her belt and rent savage patterns into the wood. One gash for her frailty, another for her failures. One gash for her doubts, another for her devotion. 

When her blade dulled, she awkwardly sat down and blinked back tears, roughly wiping her face.

She remembered Tyrande’s earlier words, chastised by their echo. I slaughtered guards to free Illidan. She filled in the unsaid words that lurked in the silence, that Tyrande never dared speak in front of Malfurion. The bonds of family were too strong. With the best intentions, I betrayed my people. Blood is on my hands. I will not repeat this again.

She pictured Tyrande serenely cutting through the Warden’s defenses, blessing them as she silently ended their lives. She imagined Tyrande’s joyful reunion with Illidan in the cold prison, feelings of elation crumbling to crushing disappointment when she sensed his innate corruption and addiction to power.

Would you do this again, Lady? Shandris had asked in simpler days. And she remembered the shock of Tyrande’s grave reply: I do not know. He always treated me with kindness. I cannot believe he is evil. Do not share this.

She tried to remember her last battle, fought in the old Feathermoon Stronghold, but could not. All she could remember were waves of naga overpowering her army and sharp pain spilling into darkness. And then Tyrande, appearing unbidden through the haze, waking her up with prayers and tears.

She remembered a clear crisp morning, uneasily quiet, millennia ago during the War of the Ancients. The young girl remained alone at the camp, ordered to stay behind. The specifics were hidden from her to discourage her from following, as she’d been caught fighting on the frontlines in mismatched armor many times before. It did not calm her nerves to look about the empty camp, a grim foreshadowing of her lonely future if her only remaining friend died in the war. She grew up brassy, shocked by the reticence of others. Lost family, lost home, lost childhood, she thought. All I have left is my hope and my will, and the longer I remained imprisoned here, the faster they die.

She grabbed her faithful bow and oversized armor and rushed down the well-trod paths in the forest, twigs snapping in protest. Like the trajectory of her unerring arrows, the later events of that day were a precise memory among chaos. I found Tyrande, my best friend, nearly dead at the hands of the dreadlord Xavius. I shot an arrow. I wounded Xavius’ shoulder and by the grace of Elune, Tyrande was rescued. And I fought by her side ever since.

Shandris squared her shoulders and began writing with an energized passion. Her prose was edged with the deceptive grace of her arrows; her feet tapped an impatient beat on the wooden floor.

Outside, the Sentinels continued to diligently construct the new watchtower, working under the light of a waxing moon.

***

Jarod,

I write to you, not as a confidante, but as the General of the Sentinel Army. You are a natural leader for the Molten Front. But you’ve also spent many years away from politics, lost years that could cloud your judgment. Since you retired, the Kaldorei have faced unthinkable sorrows and seeded the roots of cultural change. They are hesitant, yet more humble.

From what I’ve observed, I deem it necessary to order my thoughts and advise you before it’s too late.

You will need not only to raise morale among the Kaldorei, once again uneasy after Fandral’s transformation, but also to convince multiple factions to bond together for a common goal, including the Horde. Without motivation, such support will be fickle and easily be misinterpreted. Do not forget Leyara’s presence—reports claim she has joined with Fandral’s new cult of flame druids. You must find a way to recruit before the enemy does. You must be brilliant from the start, instead of sluggishly beginning to hide disorganization.

I know how you reject help in your fits of confidence, so I’m enclosing improvements and questions on your tactical plans without asking. I have written to Captain Saynna on her future involvement at the Molten Front; I trust the Guardians of Hyjal and Druids of the Talon will be supportive as ever.

I am happy you have returned to the Kaldorei in spite of our recent hardships. I am glad I was able to talk to you, however briefly, in Darnassus.

Elune’s Blessing,

Shandris

In the scolding squeak of the quill her voice soared, tentatively at first, and then tumbling out as it was rarely allowed to do in public society. She remembered a time when they discussed strategies in person, but a time of war was not a time for such thoughts. Reprimanding herself, she returned to the tactical plans, dissecting them with ruthless precision.

In a war, everyone thinks of the battles, Shandris mused. But much of the war is fought elsewhere. Blotted-out letters. Fresh wooden planks. Mending bones. Silent voices.

*** 

"May Elune be with you," Shandris murmured by way of a greeting to Captain Saynna, who stood stiffly in the center of the room. Wearing her full formal cape and plumed helmet, she was more a menacing vision than a friend.

"And also with you," Saynna mechanically responded, refusing to meet Shandris’s gaze. She pointedly stared at the ceiling eaves softly lit in the spring light.

Even though the upcoming duel would be with words, Shandris was glad that she too had worn her full military regalia for this meeting. “I trust you have reviewed my most recent letter with instructions on how to counteract Alysra’s treachery and to support Jarod at the Molten Front.”

"I did." Saynna offered no further discussion. She spoke like she fought, parrying attacks until bursting into a brilliant flash of steel. Shandris braced herself, used to it from years past—a lull, and then a sudden gash.

Shandris pressed on, mentally circling Saynna. “So I trust, then, that the Shadow Wardens will return to Hyjal and update me on their progress in the Molten Front? Jarod is decisive yet inexperienced with recent politics after so many years out of the public eye, not to mention his personal grief. He will need all the help he can get for this multi-pronged assault to succeed.”

"The Shadow Wardens will remain removed from Hyjal." Saynna dully intoned. "We have failed our mission there and the air is poisoned. We will fail again. We are unused to failure."

"Saynna," Shandris replied, her voice remaining even, "I am the General of the Sentinel Army. While I am not in Hyjal, I advise Jarod on the campaign, and we have decided this course of action is best. I have ordered you to bring your forces back into Mount Hyjal to prepare for the Molten Front Offensive. This conversation does not require a debate, but simply a confirmation."

Saynna offered no reply.

"Saynna, look at me," Shandris ordered.

Slowly, she met Shandris’ stern gaze. The plumes bobbed on Saynna’s helm, as her cloaked body shook.

"You humiliate me, one of your most loyal former Sentinels, by ordering me to the scene of a failed mission,” Saynna hissed. “You simply hide behind guarded walls, giving commands from afar. You force me to swallow my pride and revisit a doomed mission again. You could have prevented our first error, if only you were there like you should have been."

"I was told not to journey to Hyjal. And so I obey. It was impossible to predict Alysra’s duplicity after her many years of loyalty."

"You removed yourself from the conflict. It is easy to give orders from the security of the stronghold. Is this what Tyrande had in mind, a cowardly figurehead?" Saynna’s voice changed as she spoke, the last few words barely more than a choked hoarse whisper. 

"Sometimes we must do what is best not for ourselves, but for Elune." Shandris remained confident, even though her thoughts were in turmoil, filled with doubts from the past months. I wanted to be on the frontlines. I should have given better advice sooner. With my presence, the conflict would not have blossomed.

"And it is best for my wardens, not just myself, to cut our losses and help in another capacity away from the Molten Front,” Saynna stubbornly argued, sensing Shandris’s weakness. “You would give such a blemished group a mission? Such a thing has never been done before, and based on that first letter of yours, I question your judgment.”

Shandris took several deep breaths before replying, pacing the length of the table strewn with maps and letters. “Saynna, I will not snap at you. I am familiar with both your prowess in battle and equally sharp tongue from your time with me in the Shadowleaves. I know your Shadow Wardens are extremely proud and unused to defeat. I know this is an unusual situation.”

“Then why don’t you go to the Molten Front? Everyone knows this is an unusual situation, but hardly anyone knows how to handle it. And as someone away from the front, you do not.” Saynna countered.

I do know, Shandris thought angrily. She remembered Tyrande’s orders, back when Hyjal was merely a brewing threat, to remain behind. Have I followed her orders?  I remain behind, but my spirit is at the Molten Front. Is my involvement in this a betrayal of her wishes?

“I know better than anyone how foreign it is to remain away from the front lines. But sowing discord at a time of instability is not what the Kaldorei need. I’ve dealt with failure and destruction, and so can you. It is something we are unused to, and something we must learn.” 

The memory of another order disobeyed, millennia earlier, answered her question, soaring above her initial hesitation. I saved Tyrande then. And now I’ve turned the tide at the Molten Front. I should trust myself.

Saynna’s eyes, slits in her mask, flashed in desperation and twisted courage. “You have dealt with failure? You, in this elaborate fortress, eternally held in high favor by Tyrande? You suffer from the usual weaknesses of those burdened with fortune?”

Shandris paced the room, pounding her fist against the wall for punctuation as she replied.

“This is a military meeting. Now is not the time to elaborate on my parents’ deaths, the ruin of my childhood home, or the moment when the naga rushed me with their spears.

“Every death of a Sentinel is blood on my hands. I have failed often, Saynna, and lost much. In the future, I will fail again. Choose not to define failure as defeat, but your most difficult mission yet.

"I don’t care right now about apologies. I care that you follow your orders to ensure the success of the Molten Front Offensive.”

They stared at each other, two masked silhouettes locked in a verbal duel, for a long moment.

Saynna spoke first, resignation mixed with begrudging respect in her voice. “Well, if Tyrande gave orders and you’ve enforced them, then I must follow.”

"I thank you for your cooperation, but Saynna, these are my own orders. Not Tyrande’s.”

Shandris felt like red steel, cooling from the forge. A weapon that would soon sing in the air.

***

On a lazy summer afternoon, Tyrande returned to the stronghold, finding Shandris idly shooting arrows at a target dummy. Around her, new buildings fenced in the green courtyard. There were hardly any purple tents remaining.

When Shandris finished shooting her round of arrows, they made their way, as in times of old, to the moonwell.

"Your sacred wedding gift continues to beautifully blossom in Darnassus. I can’t thank you enough for how thoughtful it was,” Tyrande said.

Shandris simply nodded, her mind on other things.

"And it has made me reminisce about our early days together—showing you the Temple for the first time, your official enrollment in the Sisters of Elune, celebrating early victories," Tyrande continued hopefully, trying to meet Shandris’s wandering gaze.

"Tyrande, I too remember those days with fondness. But I fear I cannot be at ease until you share the news from the Molten Front that is the reason for your visit.” Shandris braced herself for bad news, focusing on the tallest treetop in the complex instead of on Tyrande’s expectant face.

"Leyara was killed," Tyrande flatly stated. "She’d joined the Druids of the Flame, rose to the top of their ranks. She was responsible for a number of fatal attacks before the Shadow Wardens cornered her. Malfurion was there at her end and harsh words were spoken, but he won’t share further details with me."

In tandem, they murmured a blessing for the dead: Shandris breathing a wistful sigh of relief, Tyrande reciting the words with a furrowed brow.

"She had such talent," Shandris said. "She would have been a brilliant ally, with her fierce determination and critical opinions, if trained properly. But she wasn’t."

"What’s done is done," Tyrande hastily replied. "Malfurion admitted, outside of the heat of battle, her words did bear reflecting on. In time, perhaps he will reveal more.” She nervously smoothed her robe with her palms, pressing on.

"I have heard word from Jarod and Saynna that your advice to them has been invaluable, but I confess I am confused." Tyrande continued, words guilty spilling out. "When I ordered you to stay at Feathermoon Stronghold, I wanted to protect you, to let you peacefully heal. I instructed you to remain removed from the conflict in Firelands in every sense—not just physically, but mentally. To hear of your involvement was a pain I have quietly carried, until now.”

They paused by the moonwell: two figures, one a white gown blowing in the breeze, the other an inky stain. In past times, Shandris would have acquiesced, molded herself to fit Tyrande’s words, but now she remained silent, sunlight in her eyes.

When she did reply, her words were measured, a new fire in her voice born from the flickers of frustration. “I will not say what you want to hear. As a general, I am simply doing my part. And I continue to look forward to the time when I can observe the Molten Front first-hand.”

Tyrande hesitated. “Surely there is still work to be done here. And I cannot forget about your health.”

"Tyrande," Shandris replied, "There will always be missions, whether large or small. And work will always need to be done at the stronghold. It made sense to remain behind when the stronghold was in disarray with my poor health. The reconstruction has warmed the hearts of many, just as your presence has in Darnassus. But I cannot remain here forever, living in fear of the unknown.

“The Kaldorei are prone to being trapped by their past. It grows clearer every day as I compare the reactions of my Kaldorei recruits to the Worgen ones. I will not fall victim to that same fear.”

“I nearly lost you once. I cannot afford to risk losing you again,” Tyrande interjected.

Shandris clasped her hand in friendship. “You are my best friend and I treasure our friendship dearly. But remaining behind is not the sole duty of a general. My talents, when possible, are better used elsewhere. You were rightly worried about being swayed by your familial bond to Illidan, but when I was affected by similar feelings of loyalty, I helped save you and Malfurion.

“And you came without orders to Feathermoon Stronghold and saved me,” she added softly, a tense silence engulfing them.

“This…this is true.” Tyrande swallowed hard, the events of that fateful day replaying in her head.

“This is difficult for me,” she finally continued in a shaky voice. “I vowed to always protect you. But I cannot do so at the expense of your free will, and I would not see you so unhappy.” 

They held hands, watching the sun sparkle in the moonwell. Shandris tried to banish the disloyal thoughts from her mind. 

Silvia broke the silence, beaming proudly as she walked across the courtyard.

"General, I come with news that my division is about to break ground on the final building in the stronghold’s complex. As it’s the last building, we would be honored if you could bless the foundation with a few words.”

Shandris faintly smiled. “I would be delighted to.” Turning to Tyrande, she commented, “A bit of luck, for your surprise visit to be today. After the foundation is laid, I will show you the parts of the stronghold we missed on your earlier tour, if you like.”

Shandris waved Silvia on, her thoughts shifting as the Worgen recruit happily walked away.

Looking back to Tyrande, she said, “And after I finish sharing my thoughts on the Molten Front, I need some advice on another topic. You know Jarod’s defensive tendencies to either objectify or discard both people and causes. I would like to mend our friendship from millennia back, but it is a delicate situation. 

"I communicate with him about military tactics and I do consider myself his harshest and best critic. But I thought perhaps, when this offensive is won, I should pick up where things left off. It is imprudent to think about my personal friendships now, but perhaps in the future, it will be the right time."

"I am always happy to advise you, whenever you need it," Tyrande said warmly. "And for all of our sakes, I hope this offensive is won quickly."

"So do I. But we must make the best of whatever situation we are in." Shandris repressed a flicker of jealousy, that even in a casual remark, Tyrande was masterminding the conversation.

Together they made their way across the stronghold towards the remaining foundation, Tyrande coolly gliding down the dirt paths and Shandris briskly walking ahead.

Feathermoon Stronghold was now an intricate patchwork of green and lavender, a testament to Shandris’s efforts. Walking through the stronghold while showing the new developments to Tyrande, Shandris could not help but feel a surge of pride as she reflected on her past year’s journey. Approval is unrelated to merit. Conflict is an opportunity for growth, not something to fear. Sometimes the most satisfying battles are those that fail, if one has the courage afterwards to learn from mistakes.

 But even while looking at those high purple walls, Shandris yearned for a far away place: a place of rust and fire, where danger lurked behind every scorched corner and where her arrows could sail uninterrupted.

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