The letter came by goblin messenger:
I hope this does not find you well. In fact, if I could have had one wish, it is that you would have died along with the rest of the Theramore scum, but alas, I know you did not. My sources inform me you lived, and have been seen wearing black, as if in mourning. Laughable, wench. But with the scrapings of respect I can muster for the likes of you, I must humble myself and share a request. If I am not transparent in my motives, and forthright in my honor, then I shall be no better than you. Understand I do not hold John’s memory to the fire in the same manner I would put you to the crucible’s pestle. He was a hero. You are a hero’s doom.
Your affair with my brother-in-law is common gossip for the sniggering fools who serve my family. It is the fodder that the servants chew on when our backs are turned. Thank the stars there were no children from that union. The shame you have brought to the Aden family is devastating.
It is this: my sister has not recovered from the loss of John, as you seem to have. You have left a wake of destruction larger and wider than Garrosh’s mess in the Barrens. It is my request that you never show your vile, freakish Draenei face in Kalimdor, or so help me I shall have you assassinated on sight.
You are a whore Ash-Witch.
An angry scrawl of a signature blemished the edge, but Ceniza knew whose hand it was, that of John’s sister-in-law, Victoria. She wondered if John’s wife knew of its contents. Knew? Velen’s britches, she probably dictated it to Victoria! Susannah Aden was not a fool. She would not get her hands sullied in unveiled murder plots; however her sister would have no qualms.
Death by dishonor. There were moments after the destruction of Theramore that Ceniza thought of Victoria’s threat, and it rang like a promise, clear and sweet, like church bells on a spring morning. All she had to do was take the ship to Ratchet, and walk the gangplank to the docks. If the threats were genuine, Victoria would keep goblin mercenaries on the payroll who’d slit Ceniza’s throat. She could be dead by nightfall, and away from the pain. An added benefit, as opposed to taking her own life, would be that Victoria and Susannah would be captured and tried for this scheme, and swing from the gallows’ poles.
Ridiculous fantasy. A lieutenant’s wife hanged for killing his slut mistress?
No one ever means to fall in love with someone they can’t have. There was never a justification, a rationale that would soothe all parties. A promise is a promise. And a broken promise is a broken heart.
On a mage research jaunt, seeking out Jaina Proudmoore’s tutelage, Ceniza, a wall-blinker, got lost in the little circular naval port. There was one strong figure that stood watch on the western point, never flagging in his duty. He saw the mage wandering around the second time, smirked when he saw her blink into a wall, chuckling about the sort of company Lady Proudmoore kept in that tower of hers. He was sworn to protect the Lady, and his men and women who served the wobbly King Varian. These were dangerous times, and unease in static routines and the smell of treacherous whispers.
Ceniza never cared for human males. They were small, bristly, and ludicrously serious. At least with a Dwarf or Gnome you could have a friendly drink, and some laughter.
Aimless, and lost. Ceniza surrendered to help. Lt. Aden was the north star of Theramore, the pivotal point, a landmark made of man. She stood almost facing him though he on his horse, and her on her own two hooves. Ceniza spoke fluent common language, without a trace of an accent. This caught him off-guard, her voice. A voice like a kiss, a hug around his soul.
He loved and respected his wife, but did neither of them well. The love was dry and overcooked, and the respect a reheated obligation. If the navy rewarded lieutenants for tolerating crumbling responsibilities, he would have received the highest distinction. This was no excuse for his broken vows. His wife knew, of course. She had no proof but the falsely reluctant tattling of envious confidants. She was in Darnassus, however, and busy with the Worgen refugees and other charitable causes. She met the gossip of friends with mild disinterest, denial, and dismay over their callous beliefs. As long as her social standing in court was safe, he could do as he pleased, she supposed. But he had better do it more discreetly. She never nagged him, scolded or belittled him. Susannah Aden displayed perfection as a military officer’s wife. She was sweet, charitable, and giving. People forget love does not play favorites. It makes no matter that John was loyal or Susannah kind and dull, with deafening good intentions. Love is no advocate for the good-natured. If it were, John Aden never would have given that Draenei mage a second look.
Does anyone need to hear the whole story? How they kissed? When they would meet, and how? The burden of guilt and shame, or the understanding it would never end happily? Stolen, all of it. Fenced goods at a high price. They were beginning to pull away from one another so at least it would end amicably. Every meeting began to feel more sordid and cliché. Privately, anyway, that’s what they tried to convince themselves of, that fate had no other course.
Before the end, they met in Ratchet, and in the course of their afternoon, at very inopportune moments, the sound of buzz saws ripped the warm air. Neither found fulfillment in each other’s arms that day, and that was the last time she saw him. They just laughed at the intrusive noises, making plans to meet again soon. She almost told him about a coin she tossed in the Dalaran fountain, but reconsidered. It felt ill advised.
Not long after that last meeting, the terrible day. The bombs fell from the grossly cheerful zeppelins, and death rained in blue. After Theramore’s Fall, she went to view the destruction. This was not wise. Her portal worked, but thrust her so far from where the tower had once stood; she would fall through unkind air to a bloody injury. The sharp rocks cut her knees, and the purple-blue residual ooze from the mana bomb smelled of burnt arcane power and death. She did not return again for a long, long time.
Her weeks were spent in hiding. She had wishes stored up, and wanted to know what others longed for too. Her own wishes had been so wrong and ugly. Months prior, she had tossed a gold coin in the Dalaran fountain and wished for John Aden to leave his wife. She had not wished that he would leave her, too. But the fountain granted all wishes, the intended and otherwise.
She fished in the pond for other coins, other wishes.
King Varian’s silver coin wished: “I wish the uprising back home would settle itself soon. I wouldn’t want anyone to be hurt.’
How could she have been so foolish? Magic, even white magic, will birth its counterpart. She learned this on this first day of the academy. Magic has rules; magic has lusts.
Sick irony left her without emotions, all but numb.
The gnome who lit her way was a ghost. The phantoms spawned around the world more frequently now. Once, she whispered to one, “John, is that you?” The phantom lingered longer than she expected, and vanished in morning smoke.
Even now, she’s not sure what made her join the fight. One bruised afternoon in Dalaran, a Troll started gesturing crazily at her, but it wasn’t mimicking or mocking. He genuinely seemed like he was trying to tell her something, motioning to run, move, or get out. She did. It saved her life. Jaina’s armies invaded that day, laying waste to every potential enemy. Ceniza’s association with the Scryers may have cost her her life. Fleeing to Booty Bay, it was only a ship ride’s breath to Ratchet. She took her chances, tired of hiding from the phantoms, and decided John would want her to control her own future. She would not allow Garrosh to kill him twice: one mortal life, and one life of love. As for Victoria’s letter, Ceniza balled it up, tossed it in the air, and scorched it to cinders.
One more port to Theramore before returning to Kalimdore. Ceniza remembered her shaman cousin kept healing rain tears in a amphora around her neck, healing rain that did not reach its target, but fell to the wash, and almost down the drain and gutters. Rain that did not perform its magic. Ceniza was the Ash Witch, and from the powdered remains of Theramore, she kept safe in her own vial, next to her heart. Ashes to ashes, rain falls on rain, and fire to cleanse it all away.