(written from the perspective of Ekaterinae)
"Is there anything I can take for this headache?" I moaned as I collapsed back into the fireside chair.
"Hey look on the bright side, you don't have to stitch up your robes too much tonight Ekat" replied Cazaldora, who had also taken up a spot by the fireside with cicero.
"I suppose, but I don't know if I will ever shake that atrocious laugh. It shakes you down to the core, drives you insane. And that was with the help of the Keepers. Just how will we manage alone in the darkness?" I questioned.
Cazaldora mused for a moment and took a long sip from her cup of tea. "We gained enough knowledge and experience to deal with less help than we had. We will overcome that demon god with his laughter, as we must to save Azeroth from extinction."
"Yes I know" I agreed. "I just need to recharge and put on a good face when we do take our strike force in there. There's nothing more disheartening than a discouraged leader."
"Well it's almost time to set up the team, so I think I will go to bed and think about my final decisions" Cazaldora stated as she rolled onto her feet.
As Cazaldora strided out of the room, I turned my attention back to the crackling flames in the fire. I found myself lost in the warmth and the flickering light, entrancing me and soothing my mind from the vicious intrusions of Yogg-Saron. Although my eyelids became very heavy, I couldn't help but detect a welcome tingle on the back of my neck that indicated Gaurin had arrived at the fireside.
"So are you ready to prove yourself to the Keepers of Ulduar?" Gaurin asked.
"I think so, although I am not looking forward to rejecting their help in the darkness of the prison of Yogg-Saron" I replied. "How about you?"
Gaurin took a long pause at that point, so I turned to face him. I could see something wrong in his eyes. "Well that's what I came over to talk about."
"What's wrong? I want you by our side, and I need you by my side, as a buoy to life our spirits in the darkness like you did tonight." I pleaded.
"It's not just this task. You will be absolutely fine with Caz, and you certainly do not need me. It's more than that." At this point Gaurin looked down to the scars on his hands. "You know I've been toying with the idea of retirement for a long time, and I just cannot neglect the urge to go make a life and have a family away from the edge of the battle. I do not know what challenges await us in the future, but in the plains of Westfall, I can rest and do those things long neglected."
"You've always been there for me, my closest companion on the front lines, chuga. It will not be the same without you" I opined.
Gaurin smiled "No it will not be, but we survived the loss of Gabranth and you'll survive my loss. After all, I will still be reachable, just not right here on the front with you. You are still young and full of battle ahead of you. In fact, I know you will do great things in Ulduar and then in Icecrown Citadel. Where you go from there is unclear, but I know you will return to a safe Azeroth as a triumphant champion."
I looked in his eyes to see if there was any glimmer of regret, or any hope of changing his mind. It was clear that was not going to happen. "I certainly hope so. Have you told Caz?"
"No, but as one of my closest companions out here, I'm sure she knows already. In fact, she probably knew before I did." Gaurin nodded toward her sleeping quarters and added "you know, she's in there right now and will be up all night thinking and re-thinking tonight's battle and the group you will return to Ulduar with."
I shook my head in affirmation. "Yeah, but that's why she is such a good leader."
Gaurin stood to leave, "I need to go pack my bags, as I've always hated goodbyes."
I let him get two paces away before leaping up and grabbing him in a huge embrace. I couldn't help myself from tearing up as I whispered "Thanks for everything, chuga, and please be safe in your journey back home."
Gaurin paused a moment before returning the embrace. "I'm not the one you should be worried about now. Wish Averlaine my best when you see her again. We may have had our differences, but she deserves to know that I always respected her and I hope she can be helpful to you in this hunt."
At this point, I could feel the hot tears running onto my cheeks as I released Gaurin from a literal bear-hug. "Alright, will do. Goodbye, friend."
As Gaurin retreated from view, I turned back to the fire. I expected to feel a deep emptiness sucking me into a tempestous sea of loss, but somehow getting engaged with the crackling flames again kept me afloat. It may be an ending for another close friend on the front lines, but it is only the beginning of the hunt for Algalon.
to be continued...