Alisbeth fidgets before rushing forward to pry the sword from Diori’s hands. “Shouldn’t have— Shouldn’t have…” She stands in the corner, muttering to herself.
Taveth and Koltira stand stunned, with mirroring expressions—their eyes wide and their mouths agape.
Koltira takes a breath. “How old did you say she was?”
Diori blinks, staring at the blade in Alisbeth’s hands for a long moment before mumbling “I’m fifty…”
Koltira rubs his palms down his face. “You’re the last of the Redblade line, Alisbeth. That’s what you told me.”
Taveth purses his lips. “She was…” His brow furrows as he looks down at Diori. “I’m sorry.”
Alisbeth shrinks into the corner, cradling the sword in her arms. “What? Huh? What? Stop looking at me like that. Just stop.”
Diori’s eyes well with tears for reasons she cannot comprehend; she’s unable to look away from Alisbeth and the sword. Finally, she looks up at her brother, sapphire eyes wide. “What are you saying?”
He sets a gentle hand on her shoulder. “I’m not your brother, Diori.”
“You’re not,” Alisbeth snaps. “But does that change anything?”
“Ali, you told me—” Koltira begins.
“I know what I told you.” She frowns and drops the sword to cover her face. “I was so young…”
Diori shakes her head, the tears breaking free and streaming down her cheeks. She turns on Alisbeth, hands balled in fists. “You’re my mother?” she whispers, scowling.
Alisbeth steps forward, her entire demeanor pleading with Diori. “Yes. But, you see, I was too young and Uncle Falren was a better choice.”
Koltira clenches his jaw. “You…abandoned her?”
Alisbeth shakes her head. “No. Didn’t— Didn’t abandon. Tirion took you to Falren. To keep you safe.” Tears threaten to fall from her eyes as she realizes everything she’d missed out on.
Anarchaia takes a step back as the tensions in the room rise, wanting to leave, but too fascinated by the situation to do so.
Diori sniffles, fists shaking. “So if father isn’t really my father, who is?” She points at Koltira without turning to look at him. “Is it him?! Who is it?!”
Koltira folds his arms over his chest. “Yes, please tell us. Who was it that you didn’t think to tell me about any of this.”
Taveth gives her a pained smile. “Ali, please. There’s no point keeping it secret anymore.”
Alisbeth frowns as a tear rolls down her cheek. “I can’t remember. It was so long ago. My memories are so jumbled…I…I was mad. Mad at Tirion. So I took Bloodmane for a ride. She slipped a shoe and, um…” She pulls at her hair as she thinks. “There was a, um…farm boy. He helped me. And…” She slaps her hands over her face and sinks into the corner. “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.”
Koltira’s ears pull back as something about the story sounds so familiar to him. Without a word, he storms from the room. Just before leaving the tavern, he spots Grimory. With clenched fists, he walks over to stand above the demon hunter. “Are you fucking serious?”
“You don’t even know?!” Diori inhales a shaky breath, then, unable to hold back any further, bursts into sobs and runs from the room, hands covering her face and honey hair flowing behind her.
Anarchaia merely gives Alisbeth a look of sadness and disapproval behind her mask before following the girl down the stairs. When she reaches the lounge, however, Diori is already gone and out of sight. She instead overhears the men in the corner and turns to listen.
Grimory does not lift his face buried in his folded arms on the table. “What? You want to hit me?” He raises his head to glower up at him. “I’m just as upset as you are, you know.” He breathes a laugh through his nose without smiling as he watches the girl run into the streets and resists the urge to chase after her. “She’s fifty, isn’t she?”
Koltira clenches his jaw. “Yes. And according to Ali, her father is some farm boy she met when her horse slipped a shoe.” He reigns in his anger as best he can. “How long have you known it was Ali?”
“About, oh, ten minutes?” Grimory hisses up at the death knight.
Taveth crouches down to pull Alisbeth into a hug. “I’m sure you thought it was a good idea at the time.”
“But… I wrote her a letter! I sent it with her. Falren was supposed to give it to her when she was old enough to understand.” She pushes a fist into her eye to wipe at the tears.
“I’ll ask father about it.” He smooths a palm over her hair. “I have to go get Diori. She’s so much like you… Knows how to get lost in a big city.”
“I’m sorry,” she squeaks.
He nods and runs after the girl.
“You’re her father?” Anarchaia asks the demon hunter as she approaches the table. She bristles when he nods. “You need to go tell her!”
“Tell her what?” he yells, standing. “That her mother didn’t want to tell me about her? That she probably didn’t think I’d make a good father? That she was a mistake?”
Anarchaia scowls and squares her shoulders. “You want to know who your father is, don’t you?”
Grimory grits his fangs. “This is different. It’s too late.”
Taveth, overhearing the demon hunter’s words, steps in. “I know her better than anyone. She’d want to know. Besides, apparently my father has a letter for Diori, from Alisbeth… She may have identified you in it?” He shrugs. “But what do I know? I’ve only been her fake brother for half a century.” He doesn’t wait for a reply as he heads out into the streets to find Diori.
Koltira growls. “Setting my pride aside, she needs you. You’re her father.”
Eyes crackling, Grimory mulls this over for a moment, then gives a noise of frustration before following Taveth into the streets.
Anarchaia turns to look up into Koltira’s face and frowns. “Are you all right?” she asks quietly.
Koltira shrugs. “Robbed of being a father…again. Lied to from day one by the woman I’ve loved for twenty years. That man being the father of my wife’s secret child… Oh yeah. Yeah, I’m completely fine.” He stomps to the bar and steals a bottle of whiskey from behind the counter, then walks out the door, taking hefty swigs.
Anarchaia blinks, and throws gold onto the counter, then follows the death knight into the streets. “Koltira, wait!”
“For what?” Koltira demands, “another child to pop up that isn’t mine?”
Anarchaia sobers and places a hand on his arm. “This is terrible, I know, but drinking yourself silly isn’t going to make it go away or hurt any less.”
Koltira shakes his head. “And what will? Please, I’m all ears.”
Anarchaia’s gaze flicks from his long ears back to his face and she purses her lips to hold back a snerk. “Nothing,” she says after a moment. “Nothing will make the hurt go away. Not even an apology. Nothing will make you feel better but you.”
He shakes his head. “Well I choose getting drunk until a better plan presents itself.”
Anarchaia deflates, then sighs. She gives a painful smile. “Is there anything I can do to help? Make sure you don’t pass out somewhere dangerous? Pay for your drinks?”
Koltira frowns, trying to hide how upset he truly is. “Can… Can you just be with me? Take us somewhere?”
Anarchaia smiles and nods, holding out her hand. “Of course. Any place in particular?”
Koltira takes her hand, threading his fingers through hers. “You pick.”
Anarchaia gives a deep sigh. “Don’t let go,” she says and the two disappear in a fashion not unfamiliar to them. When they reappear, they are at the small pond in the forests of Val’sharah, the trees around them shadowing the long grass with leaves that shudder in the faint breeze. “Does this suffice?”
Koltira gives a small smile and drops to the ground, dragging Anarchaia into his lap. “This will do nicely.”
The mage pushes her hood back and leans against his cuirass. She reflects on the events of the week and glances out over the water. “I’m sorry, Koltira. You really don’t deserve any of that.”
He sets his fingertips over her mouth and takes a drink of whiskey, then plants the bottle in the grass. “Let’s not talk about any of that. Let’s play a little game. What would you do if you were still alive? Like…what would your plans for the future look like?” He wraps his arms around her and leans his cheek on her shoulder.
Anarchaia smiles gently to herself, momentarily forgetting the drama they’d left in Dalaran. “I’d have a house with two stories, a piano, and two children: a son and a daughter. We’d have a hound and a cat and a garden that we made meals from and sit by the fire each night reading stories to one another.” With you. “You?”
Koltira leans back, dragging the mage down with him. He chuckles. “That sounds like a wonderful life.” He breathes deep and closes his eyes, imagining himself in that house, with those children, with Anarchaia. But he frowns. “If I’d never died I’d probably still be a farstrider. I’d have a cottage in the forest. Live off the land, hunt for my food, make my own tools. No wife. No children. Not for a few hundred more years, at least.” While the image seems beautiful to him, it makes him sad to realize that she wouldn’t be a part of it.
Anarchaia gazes up at the sky and brings her hands up to his arms. “You’re saying if you had a second chance you wouldn’t have wed her?”
Koltira sucks in a breath and holds it. “I think…I don’t know. She was always wanting in on the action, signing up for duties in dangerous territories. But I never liked the actual war of it. I liked the quiet guarding of the temple. Knowing I was serving a purpose without having to get violent. It was peaceful. I did want to wed her, but I think she would have moved on. More adventures. More chapters in her tome.” Koltira picks at the grass and drops some on Anarchaia, a playful smile on his lips. They burn to cinders and flutter up into the sky before disappearing completely.
“Did Khadgar lay into you about me, yet? He seems genuinely concerned with how ‘attached’ you are to me.”
Anarchaia furrows her brow and turns over to look at him. “He said that?”
“Yep. Right before he took you to the Hall, where I couldn’t look after you as you recovered.” He purses his lips and studies her mask. “Don’t tell me I’m in competition with him, too.”
Anarchaia pulls her head back in astonishment, blushing at the implication. “Competition? Koltira, I don’t know what you think my relationship is with my mentor is, but I assure you it’s nothing to worry about. He’s most likely worried about my studies.” She sobers. “And no, he merely said I wasn’t to ever allow anyone not authorized into the Hall ever again or the consequences would be less than favorable.” She then cocks her head at him. “And what do you mean ‘too’?”
“If you’d shown any interest, I’m sure Grimory would be vying for your attention right now. Instead of…sulking over having a child.” He sighs and presses his forehead against hers. “Sorry. I just… I don’t know what to do.”
Anarchaia frowns and looks into his eyes through her mask. “About what? Let me help.”
“It’s like Grim said… I can’t keep both of you…” He averts his gaze, even though he can’t see the reaction on her face.
“O-oh.” Anarchaia lowers her face onto his chest. “I don’t feel I’m qualified to help in that decision. I’m sorry. I’m a biased source.” Her frown deepens. “I just want you to be happy.”
Koltira chuckles. “Well, un-bias yourself for just one minute. If you had no stakes in this mess… Or if you were in my place, even… Could you forgive her for…everything? She had another man’s child and never told me. In fact, she let on that she was still a maiden when we met!”
Anarchaia shrugs a shoulder. “It’s amazing what love will make you forgive. Does the way you feel about her in your heart outweigh the way you feel about her in your head?”
“What if it doesn’t?” he whispers, as though the grass itself will scream his secret. He looks up into her mask, wishing to look into her eyes.
“Then can you ever be truly happy with her?” Anarchaia responds in an equally quiet tone.
Koltira hooks his thumb beneath Anarchaia’s mask and pulls it upward, hoping she’ll let him take it off. “I don’t know, can I?”
Anarchaia allows him to pull up her mask and gives a sad smile. “Perhaps if you’re a masochist.”
He runs his fingers through her hair and takes in her features. “Or perhaps I need a little more convincing.”
Anarchaia can’t help but smile at his charm and leans down to place a gentle kiss on his lips. “I feel…badly influencing you like this.”
“Do you see her trying to ‘influence’ me? Ever? Especially since the Trials…” He leans forward to kiss her.
“Perhaps not, but…I think she still loves you very much. And I…” She pauses, then swallows and looks away as though preparing herself for what she’s about to say. “I feel like what we have is mostly…ph-physical.”
Koltira sits up and stares at the pond. He rubs his palm over his mouth, then stands. “Thank you for clearing that up. I’m s-so…” He clenches his jaw. “I’m so glad you could finally be honest with me.” He doesn’t look at her as he paces, contemplating just walking away now, before he makes a bigger fool of himself.
Anarchaia sits up as well but does not stand, the red light in her empty eye flickering in panic. “N-no! That’s not what I meant! I-I told you I loved you. I just worry that you…that you don’t…”
Koltira stops and purses his lips down at the mage. “Gods dammit, Ana. Just say what you mean. You want me to say it? Is that it? Well, I love you Ana. Everything about you. The silly hiccups you get when you drink too much. The way you stutter when you’re flustered. The sound in your voice when you get excited about a subject of study. I love the way you know so much and yet don’t think you do.” He kneels to take her chin between his thumb and forefinger. “I love when you take off your mask so I can see all of the wonderful things you are when I look into your eyes. Does that satisfy you?”
The mage shrinks away and covers her face with both hands to hide her flushing cheeks. “That’s…I-I wasn’t looking for compliments,” she says quietly, her face warm. “But thank you.”
Koltira sits back on his heels. “And what do you want?”
Anarchaia parts her fingers to look up at him with a glowing red pupil and smiles. “The I love you was enough.”
“What else do you want?” he asks, resting his palm on her cheek, knowing what he wants to hear, no matter how bad it is to admit it.
Anarchaia’s gaze flicks between his eyes as her hands slide from her face to cover his hand. “I want you to be with me,” she says in a hushed tone. “Only me.”
Koltira pulls her into his arms. “Maybe that’s what I want, too.”
The mage gives a content smile and wraps her arms around him, but the uncertainty in his words leave her on edge. “I’ll support you no matter what you do. I meant it when I said I just want you to be happy.” Her smile grows somber. “Even if it means leaving me behind.”
Koltira scoffs. “I have no such intentions.” He brushes her hair behind her ear and stares into her eyes. “You’re too good for me.”
The undead girl leans up place her face in the crook of his neck, enjoying the touch of his skin, in spite of the cold. “I think you’re better for me than I am for you.”
Koltira blinks at the whiskey in the grass as though seeing it there for the first time. “Huh, that’s strange… I didn’t know stupid things could come out of your mouth.” He gives a sly grin, though she can’t see it.
Anarchaia purses her lips and furrows her brow. “I suppose you haven’t spent enough time with me, then.”
He sends his fingertips into her ribs, knowing how ticklish she is. “I guess I’ll have to change that, then.”
“Noo!” Anarchaia laughs and reflexively pushes away to avoid being tickled further. “Not if you’re going to do that!” She breathes while her chuckles trail off.
Koltira laughs and holds her tighter. “No promises. I like hearing you laugh.”
“There are other ways to get me to laugh that don’t involve terrorism,” she responds with a smile.
“Oh, but this one is fun.” He pokes into her ribs again as his arms grip her so she can’t get away.
Anarchaia struggles and heaves with uncontrollable laughter. Panicking, she blinks from his grasp. In her desperation, however, she teleports in the wrong direction and lands herself in the shallow water of the pond a few yards away. Still giggling and breathless, she sits, defeated. “Oops.”
Koltira stands and laughs at her situation. “Need some help?” He holds out his hand to her.
Anarchaia nods and grasps his hand in hers. Once she has him, her smile turns impish and she pulls him forward to fall into the water as well. The death knight remains on his feet for a moment before the ground gives way. He topples onto Anarchaia.
She gasps with laughter when the situation takes a turn she hadn’t anticipated, the weight of his armor crushing her lungs and pushing her into the loose silt. “Sorry!”
Koltira rolls off the mage as he laughs. He looks her over to make sure the horns on his pauldrons didn’t impale her, then sets a hand on her abdomen as he smiles and studies her face. “I choose you.”
Anarchaia smiles in return and sets her hands on his one. Her white hair flows around her head in the shallow water. “I promise not to go insane,” she says quietly.
A pang of guilt hits him and he frowns. “That’s not why I…”
Anarchaia squeezes his hand as though in apology. “I know it isn’t. I didn’t mean it that way.” She wipes a few leaves of duckweed from her cheek and sits up. “I can’t promise you won’t get bored of me, though.”
Koltira shrugs. “I can’t promise you won’t get bored of me.”
“Well. I’m known to have immature tendencies,” she says, taking his reply as a challenge to a contest of self-deprecation.
“Well, I’m just an unpleasant individual who bosses people around,” he retorts.
“I’m so bad at my job I’ve been an apprentice for twenty years.”
“I was so bad at my job that the Lich King got through the Elfgates and defiled the Sunwell…with my help.”
Anarchaia opens her mouth and inhales, pauses, then deflates with a nervous grin. “You win. Heh.”
He gives her a devilish grin. “I remember well my prize for losing…I have to wonder what I get for winning?”
Anarchaia blinks, then responds with a sultry smile. “Name it and it’s yours.”
Koltira chuckles. “No surprises this time? I rather like surprises.”
Anarchaia pulls her robes over her head and tosses the saturated article onto the shore. “I’m not good with surprises unless completely intoxicated.” She wrings out her hair, seemingly unaware that the rest of her clothing is just as soaked.
“Mmm,” Koltira hums as he looks her over, unable to ignore the transparent state of her white shirt. “Loser gets the surprise, then.” He suddenly reaches forward and drags her to straddle his lap. “Excuse me if I’m lacking in creativity, right now.” His hand trails up her side, pushing at the shirt to move it upward.
Anarchaia gasps, but smiles and resists the urge to giggle as his traveling hand brushes against her ribs. She drapes her arms around his neck. “I think I can forgive it.” She presses her forehead to his. “Just this once.”