The Knight Shift
Distant fires dotted the coastline as the dull rumble and thud of the sea giants pounded out a droning that made it difficult to stay awake. The naga on the far side of the island rarely ventured forth in daylight, let alone the dusky twilight of the early evening in Feathermoon Stronghold. Activity in the region was unusual of late, but this night's oddities stood out from the rest. The sails that marred the otherwise pristine sunset on the horizon were alien to the Feathermoon Sentinels. Shandris Feathermoon had ordered a second group of Sentinels to watch for any signs of incursion, though the night air was still, aside from the droning of the giants.
"The naga seem unusually quiet. I'm not sure if we should be relieved or worried," the junior of the two Sentinels remarked, a note of worry in her tone. Kari'sere Moonshade was prone to over-reacting to changes in the evening's events, though her fellow Sentinels had long realized she was simply more sensitive to the flow of energies of Feralas than most of the others.
"I'm sure it's rather both than either one, Kari," her partner responded, coming to a full stop in mid step. Shaedre'lynn could hardly remember a day she'd not served Shandris Feathermoon after the huntress had saved her life as a youth. She had many years ago secured a position as a lead guardian in service to Feathermoon Stronghold in her dedication to proving Shandris' actions so long ago had not been for nothing.
"I don't sense anything from those ships, Shaedre," she said at last, shifting her attention back to the south where the naga resided.
"Then I suppose we have nothing to worry about for now, do we?" Shaedre snickered as she resumed her casual pace. "I think the fact that the gnolls have begun to abandon their camps inland for ones so dangerously close to the sea giants is of more concern, anyway."
"I'm not so much worried about that as I am about travelers looking for respite here. They'll be hard pressed to get here without being assaulted," Kari responded, an audible tremor in her voice.
"Well, I think anyone traveling these parts should be aware of the dangers of the world long before they ever reach Feralas, don't you think?" Chuckling, Shaedre lightly poked Kari in the ribs, trying to elicit even the smallest of smiles.
Kari feigned injury, quickly grasping her side where Shaedre poked her and mouthing the word 'ow!'.
"I suppose you're right about that. But still..." Kari let the thought trail off as she stopped and turned to Shaedre, gazing into her eyes. A mischievous smile slowly crossed her face.
Shaedre looked back at her, a look of pained resignation slowly crossing her face. After a long pause, she sighed and looked over Kari's shoulder to the coastline across the bay.
"I just know that I'm somehow going to regret this," she relented at last.
The two women slowly paced to the small bunkhouse nestled behind the lodge. Shaedre opened the door cautiously, taking care not to disturb those sentinels who were fortunate enough to be getting some long needed rest. The doubled patrols had long ago turned into extended patrols, exhausting the women as time slowly plodded on for one of the most remote of kaldorei outposts still in operation. Shandris' calls to Darnassus City for reinforcements had gone largely unanswered with the exception of the occasional single sentinel fresh out of training. Kari'sere had been a shining exception to the standard green troops that trickled into the stronghold's guard.
"What are you doing?" Kari whispered, puzzled.
"I want to get my field armor, just in case," shot back at her in as low a voice as she could manage.
"You mean you're hoping to run into one of those cute Shen'dralar elf mages," Kari retorted, a hint of anger in her voice. She had sensed Shaedre becoming distant with her since their first contact with the Shen'dralar recently. There had been a parade of emissaries back and forth between the old city of Eldre'Thalas and Feathermoon Stronghold since the forest wisp spirits first began to behave erratically.
"There's no need to be jealous, Kari," Shaedre tried to soothe her partner, sensing something deeper was actually bothering her.
Shaedre quietly removed her Sentinel uniform, taking care to not let the plates clatter together, and laid it on the foot of her bed as Kari closed the door to their chamber in the bunkhouse. She gazed out the window at the dark and still woods just outside the village's border, letting the chill night air lap at her skin a moment as she threw her head back and closed her eyes. The moonlight beat down on her as she took a moment to bask in its energies.
A gleam sparked in her eyes as she slowly opened them and turned to look at the footlocker at the end of her bunk. She slowly padded over to it and opened the lid, taking care not to let the chain stays rattle. In the top tray was her massive red iron greatsword. She preferred its heft and power to the lighter, one-handed glaives normally employed by sentinels. Next to the sword lay the harness and stay for it, crafted of some of the most rare elements found in the Outlands. The rare metals gave the clasps and stay their eerie maroon and silver glow, as well as made them very light compared to a conventional scabbard.
Shaedre lifted the sword and harness from the tray and laid them across the foot of her bunk, then removed the tray, placing it gently on the floor. Within the base of the chest lay her hand-crafted brigadier uniform. Forged and formed from the same rare metals as the harness and stay, the armor gave off a faint maroon glow highlighted by silvery glints. She pulled first the halter plates from the chest, then the leg plates. The almost gleaming black strips of weather-treated northern leather accented the stylistic plates, holding all the pieces together in a form-fitting manner. At last, she drew the last components of the uniform; the thread-steel briefs, bracers, and finally the infused boots.
Kari continued to watch Shaedre intently as the woman seemed to make a ritual of donning the armor. Shaedre smiled at her slightly and winked at her as she slowly pulled on the deep maroon thread-steel briefs, then sat on the edge of the bed to carefully adjust and strap on the leg plates. After adjusting and tightening the straps once more, she pulled on the infused boots, then hooked the bottom plates of her leggings to the top of the boots.
Shaedre stood slowly and turned to Kari, using her expression as a mirror. Kari licked her lips and looked her up and down. Shaedre, taking it as a sign of approval, slowly pulled on the halter plates, taking care that they were adjusted to her form. Kari sauntered over to her and circled behind to attach the straps to the back plate. She reached around Shaedre and checked the fit, then pulled the the slack out of the straps and tightened them through the buckles on the back plate. She grabbed her by the waist and spun her around, then moved her to arm's length. Satisfied that the gear was fit properly, she moved back and leaned against the wall next to the window. Shaedre sat back down on the bed and carefully pulled on the bracers as she admired their craftsmanship. Her face suddenly grew sullen as she gazed on the family crest she'd had commissioned to be emblazoned on the bracers.
"Hey... One day he will accept you for who you are," Kari tried to comfort her, understanding the look that had suddenly crossed Shaedre's face.
Shaedre took a deep breath and sighed. "I am afraid, from what mother says, that will never happen. It's only been made worse by what happened to Lyssi, you know."
Kari nodded slowly, her eyes lowering to the floor. "It's still no reason to disown you. It's just not right. You're family!" She jumped and covered her mouth with her hand, surprised at how loud her protest had shot out. She lowered her voice and continued, "He must know of all the work you've done for the sentinels and Shandris... He can't be blind to the service you've offered freely, far beyond the time most of us have, or will, give to the protection of the kaldorei."
"I honestly don't think that matters to him," Shaedre responded dejectedly, as she stood up and held the sword harness in her outstretched hands towards Kari. "I'm sure you've heard him prattle on about how important it is to carry on the 'House of Duskwind' and all. He almost sounds like a Highborne, to tell the truth."
Kari approached her once more and took the harness from her. Shaedre turned around slowly and stood at attention. Kari buckled the straps in to the shoulder braces and let the harness dangle. Once she was sure it hung straight, she drew the bottom stay's straps through the buckles on the top of the leg plate waist strap and hooked them together loosely to allow plenty of movement.
"Sometimes," Kari continued at last, "I think you're a little too free with your words, Shae. It's like you say whatever you're thinking without...thinking..." She tapped Shaedre on the shoulder then stood back once more.
Shaedre picked the sword up from the bed and swung it over her shoulder. She reached a hand around to grab the blade and set the tip in the lower stay, then lightly pulled at the hilt until it locked into the upper stay clasp. She rolled her shoulders a bit, fine-tuning the while uniform's fit, then turned to look at Kari.
"That may be, but so far the only thing it seems to have harmed is father's ego," she said flatly as she turned and walked towards the door. The infused boots seemed to make no noise on the hardwood floor as they made their way out of the chamber and the bunkhouse.
Kari quietly closed the door behind them and stepped off the porch. As the two paced far enough away from the bunkhouse and towards the larger boating lodge at the docks, Kari stopped, grabbed Shaedre's arm, and spun her around to face her.
"Look, hon... If anyone can get through to your father, it's your mother. She has a way with him, you know," she tried once again to console her.
"Kari, the man is as stubborn as a stone deep in the earth. Mountains are easier to move and change," she shot back at her, a mote of anger in her voice she did not intend. "I'm sorry, but nothing short of me bringing home a 'strappin' young druid' with a baby in my arms is going to warm the iceberg that man has for a heart." She scowled a moment, then her expression softened as the heartache broke through her feigned visage of stone. "I wish I could change him, Kari... I really do. I love him and miss his company, guidance, and his almost insane humor. It's just not going to happen unless I give him a grandchild." She paused a moment and turned to walk towards the docks once more.
Kari rushed to catch up with her and matched her pace. As they entered the enormous fishing lodge and turned to walk out onto the pier, Kari grabbed Shaedre's hand, holding it tight.
"We can always adopt, you know," Kari shot out at last, half giggling.
"Oh that would just finish me, Kari," Shaedre blurted out, unable to control her laughter.