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It always started with fear. Days or weeks would pass in a tranquil blur as the Kaldorei wandered the wilds, full yet uneventful, giving her time to look inward. Then, the fear. A noise perhaps, or a sight, or a foreign scent caught on the wind… that would be enough to set her heart racing, adrenaline coursing through her veins. It was that rush that was the ignition, causing her nerves to burn, her breath to quicken and her mouth to dry completely. Eyes wide and searching, fear forgotten, the hiss and snap of sinew and bone, muscles dissolving and reforming into something more powerful as the woman faded and panther formed. Oily-black coat, the perfect camouflage as she sprinted through the undergrowth, all feline senses locked on her prey… The urge to hunt and to kill was all she saw and felt as trees and bushes blurred at her pace, four paws beating a tattoo on the forest floor until stopping.

A change.

Something.

There!

She was off again, the scent stronger now, drawing her ever closer to her prize. Crouching, melding within the mystical shadows of the forest the panther watched, stalking her prey.

Bear. Injured. Last season’s cub, flank cut and bleeding. The rich, copper scent filled the panther’s nostrils and yes, yes, this was what she wanted. She stalked around the cub, keeping distance, ears primed and alert for any sign of the mother.

Nothing.

Her heart raced once again, in the moments before the kill. Feline senses on fire, paws aching to race, to make that final lunge towards the cub.

She crouched, head down, flanks up.

The cub saw nothing. The cub felt nothing.

The Kaldorei-panther felt it all; from the sensation of air rushing through her fur as she pounced from the undergrowth to the thud of paws on prey, claws out… and Goddess the relief! Claws finally sinking into flesh, teeth tearing, jaw soaked and smeared with the blood of her prey…

…The guilt would come later. Always later, in the lonely hours before dawn, when the sky glowed a pale lilac and the stars blinked out, one by one.

She found herself in the midst of those regret-ridden hours, a mere eighteen moon cycles before the formation of the Dead of Winter. Nhaera would be at her zenith then, watching as friends and family united under one banner, the air thick with possibility, hope and a Kaldorei pride and rage that had been so alien to her before. Curled up on her side in a hollow, mud-soaked and exposed, the crater carved in an Ashenvale hillside, this moment would be remembered as her nadir.

She wept, and the weeping turned to a rage-filled agony. She cried and screamed until her voice was hoarse, uncaring who or what would hear her. Her fists pounded the leaf-litter and mud that she lay in then tore through her hair, slapping herself, punishing herself.

She gave in. She knew better. She never gave in.

Her rage was fueled by knowing that her efforts had all been for naught. Finally, the words of the village elder's made perfect sense. It was her calling, destiny, something she would never escape. She could run - Goddess, she had run! - but it would be with her always.

Now, she knew.

Later, two years or more, when her Shan'do asked her what she had felt at that point, she had no answer. There were no words to describe her pain. The walk through Ashenvale to Auberdine had taken her days, so slow was her pace. As the harbour village emerged from the veiled horizon her heart caught in her throat and she went to turn on her heels and run but - there, the fear. The same fear that brought her from Winterspring to Ashenvale, from Ashenvale to Darkshore, from Kaldorei to cat and everything in between. It was there, and it would never leave her, and she knew she had to continue.

It followed her across the ocean. It followed her through the fishing village nestled within the roots of the great Teldrassil. It followed her through the portal and paths that led her to the crown of the Great Tree, to Darnassus. She carried it all the way to the gates of the Cenarion Enclave where, weeping, she finally accepted her fate.

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