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It felt good to have something to do again.

Cearalaith grinned to herself as she paused to wipe the sweat from her brow, golden strands of hair sticking to her forehead and cheeks as she surveyed the practice dummy and evaluated her own performance. The little paladin was pleased; she was not too much out of practice, but she could tell she had some work ahead of her.

It felt good to have purpose again, to have direction. She understood why she had been put on leave following Corael’s death, and she did not question it, but as the days and weeks of doing nothing rolled into months she found herself wishing she had something to do – something to fight, something to protect, something to destroy, anything. By the morning of that disastrous meeting at the bistro, Cear was practically itching for a fight… and when the opportunity presented itself, it had taken every ounce of her willpower to walk away from it. If she’d had any weapon on her more effective than tea, she might not have walked away.

Only one concern had nagged at her afterwards: Kuvasei. Cearalaith knew well her own heart on the matter but was uncertain what to expect from her niece – if Kuvasei would be angry with her, or would try to convince her to forgive Astoreth. She should have known better. Kuvasei would never betray her mother, of course, but she never once expressed anything but sympathy for her aunt. And when Kuvasei asked for Cearalaith’s help with her current situation, Cearalaith jumped at the chance. She really wasn’t any good at sitting home alone, she’d decided – but killing demons? That she was good at.

Even if the demons in question were some Kuvasei had invited in. Cearalaith could sense Kuvie’s concern before she asked the question, and so she was certain not to let too much of her displeasure show. She’d worried all along that Kuvasei might try to follow in her mother’s footsteps… but Cearalaith was determined not to make the same mistakes with her niece that she had with her sister. Despite their disparate backgrounds Kuvasei and Astoreth were cut from similar cloth, and self-righteous scolding accomplished little with their kind. Better to wait it out a bit, prove herself loyal and trustworthy, be there to catch Kuvasei when she fell, and act as a light to guide her out of the darkness when the opportunity presented itself. And of course, in Kuvie’s case, keep her alive long enough to make the right choice.

Cearalaith believed the girl when she insisted that this fight was not of her own choosing, and she respected her for seeing it through regardless. Still, it was a dangerous path, and Cearalaith thought it wise of Kuvasei to recognize that she might need a bit of protection from the creatures she was being forced to deal with. And possibly from herself. Protection, Cearalaith could do – and so far, the gig had been easy. The big challenges had been getting Kuvaei to eat and sleep and occasionally get some fresh air on a reasonable schedule; no sign of demon trouble so far. But, one could not be too careful, and thus Cearalaith made sure to keep her skills sharp.

Anyway it gave Cearalaith something to do.

Speaking of fresh air – as she left the rooftop courtyard to return to their shared Dalaran apartment, Cearalaith realized that it was nearly time for lunch to be delivered, and after to pick up her bridesmaid’s dress from the alterations shop. It had been made to old measurements, and Kuvasei hadn’t wanted her mother to know how much weight she’d lost, so Cearalaith had looked up a local seamstress for her. She could pick it up on her own, Cearalaith mused as she jogged down the stairs, but Kuvasei did need to get out. And perhaps while they –

Her thoughts were interrupted by a sharp scream. Cearalaith blinked, and raced down the rest of the stairs. “Kuvasei!” she shouted, and when she rounded the corner she saw some kind of black smoke seeping under the door. She didn’t even try the knob, instead bashing through the door with her shoulder. Pay for it later. “Kuvie!”

“Aunt Cear!” The door to Kuvasei’s makeshift sanctum was off its hinges, and the little rogue-turned-warlock had grabbed a chair and was beating at – something – with it. Tentacles snaked into the two rooms through some kind of portal to somewhere else, and Cearalaith could see Kuvasei’s carefully-drawn binding circle blurred and broken. Half of a tentacle lay severed and twitching on the floor, and another convulsed as it tried to shake off a pair of daggers buried hilt-deep in its flesh. Cearalaith observed all this in the briefest of instants as she dashed across the room, as Kuvasei’s chair was ripped out of her hands and dashed against the wall. “Aunt Cear!” the girl shrieked again as one of the tentacles whipped around her ankle and pulled her down. “Aunt Cear help me!

Cearalaith dashed straight past her to the portal and thrust her sword into a darkness filled with – air. Meeting nothing she swept hard to the right and drove her blade into the sinuous vine holding her niece. The thing shuddered and that arm dropped Kuvasei – only for another to slip around and grab her by the waist. The tentacle Cearalaith had stabbed drew up and jerked, ripping her sword from her hand and dislodging it to the ground in a few short shakes as another limb lashed out and knocked the paladin back. She was on her feet again in an instant, but the creature was already dragging the fighting Kuvasei back towards the portal. “Hang on, Peach!” Cearalaith screamed, and as her foot hit the ground she willed a surge of Light into it that infused the wood and plaster with holy magic – even if Kuvasei was hurt by it, Cearalaith could fix her, if she could just get the monster to drop her…!

The plan backfired. The beast indeed recoiled, but it tightened its grip on its prey, and Kuvasei lost her grip on the floorboards. With a shriek both monster and girl vanished into the portal.

Cearalaith swore, and dashed across the room to retrieve her sword. The portal was already closing by the time she turned back to it, so she barreled forward and thrust her shield-arm into the opening.

Once in her early days of training Cearalaith had been late to catch the Undercity elevator, and thought to stall it by putting her hand in the door. This felt much like that unfortunate incident, except instead of the humiliation of a creaky Forsaken warrior laughing at her until his jaw fell off, there was a burning through her arm to accompany the breathtaking pressure. But both arm and shield held, and with a grunt and a great push Cearalaith was able to use her shield as a lever to pry the portal back open…. a little bit. With a bit of hopping, she brought up her left leg and planted her boot against the other ‘wall’, and pried it open a little more. She looked in, and saw only darkness, and for a second her hope faltered… but then she heard a faint, far-away scream. “I’m coming, Peach!” she screamed into the darkness, and put her back into it again. “Soon as I… figure out… how to hold this open, so we can get back…”

Her pondering on this matter was cut short by another scream – more mature than Kuvasei’s, and much closer. Cearalaith whipped her head up to see a plump pink-haired gnomish woman in an apron standing in the doorway, holding a tray of what was supposed to be the girls’ lunch. Damn. Keeping the portal open was not going to be an option, she realized – too good a chance that someone innocent could get pulled in – or something else could come out.

Cearalaith locked eyes with the delivery woman. “You! There!” She pointed with her sword to a notepad on the floor, with a pen nearby. “I need you to take a message,” she panted.

“W-what?”

Are you deaf, woman?” Cearalaith barked. “Take a message now!” The little gnome jumped, dropping her tray and scrambling for the notepad, and Cearalaith allowed herself a small feeling of self-satisfaction. Balor would be proud. “Are you ready?” she asked, and the woman nodded. “Good. This is for…”

Cearalaith faltered. Kuvasei’s mother was the obvious choice, but her tongue burned on the name Astoreth. “Ranger-Captain Westel Firewing,” she said. “Farstrider Retreat. Quel’Thalas.”

“West…ell… how do you spell it?”

“Eff, eye –“ The portal throbbed, trying to close. “Oh bloody hell, woman, fire, wing. Just like it sounds!”

“Oh-okay!” The woman scribbled. “Um. What do you want me to say?”

Cearalaith caught her breath, thinking. “…Westel. One of Kuvasei’s spells has failed, and she’s been sucked into some kind of nether portal. I’m going after her. I swear on the Light I will bring her back – hopefully before the wedding. Don’t worry.” She took a deep breath. “Read it back to me.”

The woman stammered as she read off her pad. “Um. Westel. Come and see spells failed. She’s been taken to another portal. Going to wear light black for the wedding. Worry.”

Cearalaith rolled her eyes and sighed. “Good enough.” She grunted and shoved her foot hard against the edge of the opening, trying to make enough room to get her other leg through. She looked down the other side, and still saw only blackness.

“Uh – uh – miss?” stammered the delivery woman. Cearalaith looked back at her. “I – I don’t think you should go in there. Not a smart thing to do.”

Cearalaith blinked. She laughed. Of course it wasn’t the smart thing to do. It was the only thing to do.

And it felt good.

The paladin grinned at the gnomish deliverywoman, who still stood there wringing her hands. “I’ll be fine,” Cearalaith said. “You get on with that message. I’ve got something to do.”

Cearalaith pushed off, and the portal closed behind her.

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