As much as Astoreth enjoyed the rainy climate of the Jade Forest, her two little girls did not. All morning Laurelia and Anais had sat with noses pressed against the living room window, occasionally sighing forlornly and asking again if they could please please pretty please go outside even for a minute, before flopping back with dramatic moans when the answer once again turned out to be no. Just before eleven the drizzle finally stopped, and the girls’ hopes brightened like the sun as it began filtering through the leaves, only to be dashed again by their mother’s insistence that they eat lunch before venturing outside.
With lunch finished at a record pace, Astoreth finally relented and sent the girls to go put on their boots while she dressed Kieran and Atheran for their first venture outside the home. She was really itching for a trip to the Shrine, but Anetho’s warning about the recent incursion of Kor’kron there still rang in her ears, so a brief sojourn in the late morning sun and rain-fresh air would have to do for now. Although Astoreth doubted they could legally do anything to her in Pandaria, she was not at all confident that they’d let a little thing like legality stop them, and she had zero interest in finding out.
“Can I carry one of the babies?” Anais asked. She’d already held each of them a dozen times – with her parents’ help, of course – and was quite enamored of her new brothers.
Astoreth shook her head as she finished tying off Atheran’s tiny hat and placed him in his carrier next to his brother. “Not today, love. I need you to hold Laurelia’s hand.”
The path to the little brook near their house was mostly dry by the time mother and children set out, Laurelia and Anais running excitedly ahead, Astoreth moving more slowly lest she slip on a still-damp cobble with her precious cargo. Transporting two infants at once even for short distances presented something of a logistical quandary, but as Westel was currently away arranging the family’s move back to Quel’thalas she was on her own. By the time she caught up to the girls they were already perched on one of their favorite rocks overlooking a small pool, giggling and pointing at the carp swimming around in the clear water. “Careful, darlings!” Astoreth called. “I don’t want to have to fish you two out of there.”
Astoreth spread out a blanket on the grass, then took her twins out of their little carrier and laid them down on it. Both boys looked around in silent baby wonder. “Welcome to the forest, little ones,” Astoreth cooed at them, brushing her fingers over Kieran’s shock of impossibly fine black hair. “It’s your father’s favorite place, so trust me, you’ll be seeing a lot of it.”
“Mom, me an’ Lala are gonna go pick some flowers!” Anais called.
“Okay, dear,” Astoreth yawned back, stretching out on the blanket by the boys. Gods, that sun felt good. “Don’t go too far.”
“We won’t!” both girls chimed back.
This is bliss, Astoreth thought idly. If Westel were here, this would be perfect. Despite all the war and turmoil elsewhere in the world… here it’s just us. A peaceful glade, a warm afternoon, my children’s laughter – my own little sanctuary. Perfect. She curled up around the boys, cradling them gently, and idly wondered if they might let her catch a quick nap.
A sharp crack of thunder rent the sky, and Astoreth’s eyes snapped open. Immediately she looked to where she had last seen the little girls going – there they both stood, eyes wide and staring at the western horizon. She turned to follow their gaze… but instead of the darkening sky she expected to herald the return of the morning’s rain, Astoreth saw a pillar of pitch black and blinding white something rising from behind the distant mountains to the sky. Both boys abruptly let out wails of surprise and unhappiness, and with a sudden horror Astoreth realized she had seen that type of energy before – and now it seemed to be spreading in a canopy over where she knew the Vale of Eternal Blossoms to be. Where Hellscream was supposed to be.
We waited too long.
“Mom?” Anais asked in a small voice, and Laurelia started to cry as well. “Mommy Ast? What’s that?”
“I don’t know,” Astoreth lied, scooping up the babies in both arms. “Take Lala’s hand. We need to get out of here.”