A gentle tapping causes Alisbeth to stir from her corpse-like stillness. She listens to Grimory’s heart beat a few times, happy and sad at the same time that her own doesn’t pound in her ears to interrupt it. The tapping comes again and she untangles herself from Grimory, making sure to not rouse him. She opens the door and purses her lips at Taveth.
“I changed my mind,” she says before he can get a word in.
He sighs at her and shoves into the room, running his fingers through his long, fair hair. “I’m not saying I thought you would, but I didn’t send her away yet. I wanted t-… I’m sorry, was I disturbing something?” He eyes the demon hunter on the bed.
“Hmm? Oh, no. He drank too much. I was pretending to sleep.”
Taveth cocks his eyebrow at her. “That’s kind of weird.”
Grimory groans and sits up. “What’s going on?” he grumbles, head still swimming.
“Taveth is here,” Alisbeth says.
“I think he can see that.” The elf sighs and scratches the back of his head. “I went to talk to father. Told him about you being alive—he’s irate, by the way, and as soon as he’s able he’s coming to Dalaran to give you what for.”
Alisbeth nods emphatically. “I like what for. That’s good.”
Taveth pauses, his eyes narrowed at her. He mouths What? at the demon hunter.
Grimory catches Taveth’s eye and gives a genuine shrug. He turns and pushes himself off the bed, swaying when he stands. “So you’re not taking her?” he says, asking the first thing in his mind.
Taveth purses his lips. “I—”
“Are you?” Alisbeth demands.
“Would you let me talk?”
Taveth folds his arms over his chest and scowls at the death knight until she makes a zipping motion over her lips. “I was thinking about it. I spent all this time wondering about her parentage, and I felt like I needed proof. We can prove beyond a doubt that she’s a Redblade. But you,” he motions at Grimory, “had a minor point. Given, it was also based on stupid and wrong assumptions,” he adds when Alisbeth sneers, looking like she’s about to start screaming. “So, I asked my father and he gave me these.” He opens his satchel and withdraws three letters—two with broken seals and one with the circular gob of wax still intact.
Alisbeth takes the sealed one and runs her fingers along the wax, smiling. “My letter to Diori.”
Grimory folds his arms and grunts. “We worked it out. I said I was sorry.” He glances at the letter in extreme curiosity, shoulders untensing. “What does it say?”
Taveth holds one up. “This is the one Ali wrote to my father. I read it and it doesn’t give your identity. This one, though…” He opens the other letter and scowls. “It’s from Tirion. He said that he didn’t have solid proof, but was positive of the identity of Diori’s father. I guess he did some detective work of his own.”
Alisbeth snatches the paper. She reads quickly and scowls. “That’s horrible.”
“So it was he who turned me away at Southshore,” Grimory hisses, fists clenching against his biceps. “Self-righteous prick.”
“That’s not the only thing he did,” Taveth says, frowning. “You said your name was Grimory…” he consults the page over Alisbeth’s shoulder, “Silversong?”
Alisbeth huffs angrily as she reads the letter again.
Grimory nods. “Yeah. It is.” The anger in him rises but he swallows it. “So in reality it isn’t Alisbeth’s fault. It’s his.”
Taveth opens his mouth to reply but Alisbeth growls at the letter. “In my personal opinion, neither Alisbeth, nor Mr. Silversong would make fitting guardians as they are young and obviously reckless. I advise against trying to make contact with Mr. Silversong, as I’m sure he’ll deny the child as his own. The best course of action is to raise her as your own, which is what Alisbeth wants.” Hands shaking, Alisbeth balls up the letter and throws it to the floor. “He lied to me.”
Grimory’s eyes ignite at the word deny and he kicks the letter. Breathing heavily in rage, he growls “if he weren’t already dead, I swear to gods…”
Taveth purses his lips and sets a hand on her shoulder. “I’m sorry.”
Alisbeth clenches the sealed letter to her chest as though Grimory might go after that one next. “This letter isn’t supposed to be opened for another sixty. It’s for Diori when she turns of age.” She looks between the two men, chewing nervously on her bottom lip. “Should we let her read it now?”
Grimory thinks this over for a moment as he struggles to calm himself. “Is it something she’d understand at her current age? I’d hate for it to be important and her not knowing what it means.”
Alisbeth traces the wax seal again. “It’s an explanation of why. And an apology. And a wish that she could forgive me.” She holds the letter out to Grimory. “It’s your choice.”
Grimory takes the letter hesitantly. He stares down at it and sighs. “It’s pointless asking what she wants, since she’s fifty and will undoubtedly open it.” He furrows his brow. “But I’ll give it to her nonetheless. She deserves it.”
Taveth nods and slips the other two letters into his bag, leaving the one as a crumpled ball. “Diori may have finished her studies by now, I think. I can go get her?”
Grimory gives a slow nod, head still spinning. “Oh, ah…thank you,” he says after a moment. “And sorry for…threatening you. It wasn’t very respectable. Won’t happen again.”
Taveth blinks. “Is that a yes?”
Alisbeth fidgets. “I’m sober now… I don’t know about Grim.”
Grimory sits back on the bed and sets the letter beside him. He rubs a hand over his eyes and nods. “I’m fine. Coherent. I promise.”
“All right. Be right back.” Taveth leaves the two alone.
Alisbeth sits on the bed beside Grimory and sets her sad eyes on him. “This wasn’t fair. I’m sorry.”
Grimory shakes his head. “Nothing is fair. I just…” Thoughts flood his mind of how different his life would have been had he had Diori with him. He clenches his jaw. “I’ll be fine.”
Alisbeth wraps her arms around him and squeezes. “Hey. For what it’s worth…you weren’t unfit. I was… Am…”
Grimory brings a hand up to her shoulder. “I don’t think you are, Ali.”
Alisbeth sets her palm on Grimory’s cheek and turns him to face her. “At least one person thinks so.” She presses her lips to his and squeezes him tigher with her other arm.
Grimory sighs through his nose and closes his eyes, wrapping an arm about her waist and pressing into the kiss.
~ * ~
Taveth stops on the way up the stairs. “Oh, hello. Still drunk, I see,” he says to Koltira.
Koltira laughs. “Only a little.”
Taveth scrutinizes the party and looks down at Diori. “We’re not even going to ask what you’re up to.”
Anarchaia smiles and hides the wine behind her back. “Just having a joke on a friend.”
Juliember smiles and bends to look at Diori. “Hello, little elf.” She holds out her fist and as it opens a flower blooms in her palm. She slips it into Diori’s hair. “So cute.”
Having never encountered a troll before, Diori pushes tightly against Taveth, but does not move as the flower is placed in her tresses. She smiles and blushes a light pink. “Thank you,” she says, reaching a hand up to feel the petals.
Taveth cocks an eyebrow at them. “Please tell me it’s Thassarian? You know he hates, uh…” He clears his throat as he looks at Juliember.
Juliember smiles. “Why do you think they sent for me?”
Koltira chuckles. “We’ll tell you about it later. Please, after you.” He motions up the stairs.
Taveth laughs. “Every detail, you hear? Every detail.” He heads up the stairs, his hand around Diori’s.
Anarchaia stares longingly after the little girl, then drowns the emotions with the rest of her wine. She follows, leading the other two across the hall and into Thassarian’s room to find him yet still as a corpse. “Like a stone, this one.”
“All right,” Juliember rubs her hands together and looks around the room. She sets a few framed pictures askew, lays her staff on the floor, and shoves the dresser a little over with a corner sticking out. “Trolls like it rough,” she says with a wink. “Right, help me undress him.”
Koltira makes a face but steps forward to help, anyway.
Anarchaia sets to work unclasping the human’s armor, giggling mischievously. “This is gonna be hilarious,” she chortles. “You have to tell us what he says.”
“I will give you every detail,” Juliember laughs, yanking off his boots.
Koltira lifts him to sitting so the others can get his cuirass and shirt off. He pulls the comforter and top sheet down, then lifts his legs to get it out from under him.
Juliember drags her dress over her head, effectively rendering herself completely naked. “I am going to be taking a nice nap, I think.”
Anarchaia quickly turns away, holding up her hands to shield her eyes. “Yes, enjoy!” she says quickly, bustling from the room.
Juliember yanks the death knight’s pants off, then scatters their clothes around the room. She winks at Koltira and climbs under the blanket with Thassarian. “Good night, Deathweaver.”
Koltira chuckles. “Sweet dreams.” He sets the key to the room on the dresser and leaves the room, closing the door quietly behind him. He smiles at Anarchaia. “And now we wait.”
Anarchaia returns the grin. “For how long do you think?”
Koltira shrugs. “I have no idea. Do you want to wait here or go find something else to spend our time on?”
The mage hums a laugh. “What do you suggest? What time is it?”
He shrugs again. “I have no idea.”
Anarchaia shrugs and grabs his hand. “Doesn’t matter. Don’t let go.” The two disappear in a flash of sparkling light. When they reappear, they’re standing atop one of the rings floating near the top of the tallest spire of the Violet Citadel. She holds tightly onto his hand as the wind blows past.
Koltira’s eyes widen. “Oh, my gods…”
Anarchaia laughs over the rushing wind then gestures to the view—the ocean sparkling in the setting sun, the glamourous harbor of Suramar, the snowy peaks of Highmountain. “Isn’t it beautiful?”
Koltira tries to smile but it ends up as more of a grimace. “Y-yeah. It’s…something else. Um. Ana, we’re drunk and there’s no railing.”
Anarchaia turns to him and tilts her head with a crooked smile. “Are you afraid? I won’t let you fall.”
“It’s not the fall you have to be afraid of. It’s the landing.” He tries to ignore the height and looks out at the view. “Yes, Ana, the view is amazing.”
“Well, I won’t let you land, either. Not hard, anyway.” Anarchaia’s smile fades as she studies his face. “Are you afraid of heights?” She straightens. “Oh gods, Koltira, I’m so sorry!”
Koltira shrugs. “Oh, it’s fine. Really.” He purses his lips. “It’s just that most other things that can kill me, I can defend myself against…but not falling. Oh, no…not falling.” He gives a nervous chuckle.
Anarchaia frowns and reaches for his other hand. “Don’t let go,” she says with a hint of regret in her voice and the two teleport back to the center of Dalaran. She readjusts her windswept hood and bites her lip. “I’m sorry. I-I had no idea.”
Koltira blinks as he adjusts to the new scenery. “Ana, it’s fine. And I really thought you’d guessed it at the waterfall.” He takes a deep breath. “I’m fine with cliffs, which is what you said we would go to. But that spire…” He turns to look up at it and shudders. “There’s…nothing to it. Just…nothing!”
Anarchaia gives another crooked smile beneath her mask. “I wouldn’t let anything happen to you.” Her smile widens at his flustered state. “No spires, then. Got it. I’ll change my request then.”
Koltira purses his lips and gives a small growl. “Don’t change on account of me. I’m just a big baby, I can get over it.”
Anarchaia shakes her head and takes his hand. “Having a rational fear doesn’t make you a baby.” She kisses his cheek through her mask. “It makes you intelligent. Come, we’ll sit under the sky behind the citadel.”
Koltira gives her hand a squeeze. “At least it’s solid ground.”
The mage leads him to the bush-lined back wall of the Violet Citadel. She holds out a finger, then conjures a thin outdoor blanket that flutters to the grass, and a bottle of red wine. “This is technically a high up place.”
Koltira helps the mage to sitting, holding her hand, though he knows she doesn’t need the help. “This, I’m fine with.” He sits beside her and looks out at the world. “It’s the illusion of solid ground. Makes it easier.”
Anarchaia uncorks the bottle and the stopper flies over the edge of city limits. “Did you get any accolades for finishing your mission?”
“Mograine said, ‘Good job.’ Does that count?”
Anarchaia whistles and nods. “Wow. Quite the achievement.” She pulls up her mask and conjures two cups to pour the wine into.
“Not all of us have superiors who adore us.” He lies back and looks up at the green clouds covering the sky.
Anarchaia gives a small laugh. “Master doesn’t adore me, if that’s what you’re implying. Though if we’re comparing the two, then yes.”
Koltira scoffs. “He adores you. And I’m pretty sure if he knew exactly how close we are… Well, I’d never see you again, that’s for sure.”
Anarchaia blinks and straightens. “You think he’s jealous?” She chortles. “Koltira, please.”
Koltira shakes his head. “I don’t think it’s jealousy… There’s something else.” He looks over at the mage and lifts a shoulder in a shrug.
Anarchaia furrows her brow in confusion and curiosity. “Something like…?”
“General concern over you getting ‘so close’ to one of us—not just me.” Koltira sets his hand on her thigh. “I’m sure it’s just something boring. Maybe it is jealousy.”
Anarchaia sets a hand over his reflexively. “I’ll confront him about it.” She pours the wine into one of the ivory cups and offers it. She lowers her voice to nearly a whisper and smiles. “I bet Juliember is doing more than just taking a nap.”
Koltira laughs. “With him completely out?” He takes the cup and drinks. “Maybe to herself…to thoughts of you.” He grins evilly.
Anarchaia gives another flustered titter and flushes. “Only because she doesn’t know what I look like.”
Koltira shrugs. “I have thoughts of you and I know what you look like.” He winks up at her.
The mage pours herself wine and sloshes it about in the glass mindlessly. “Well I suppose you’re special then. Less judgmental than the rest.” She sips. “Or blind.”
“Madam, madam, I am absolutely injured that you would suggest I’m blind. My vision is perfect.” He moves to set his leg on her thigh and look up at her. “And right now I see a giant nitwit.”
Anarchaia smiles and opens her mouth, looking around then back at him. “Surely you don’t mean me.” She laughs, free hand on her chest. “I don’t take too kindly to insults, sir. I suggest you retract.”
He shrugs. “Don’t act like a nitwit and you won’t be called one.”
Anarchaia scoffs and hits him weakly in the chest, then folds her arms and upturns her nose. “Keep talking and you’ll get more of the same.”
“Being ignored or light tapping?”
Anarchaia pouts and sets her cup down. “Both.”
Koltira chuckles. “I’m simply terrified. Please don’t. I can’t take much more. The horror.” He reaches a hand up to tap her nose.
Anarchaia opens her lips to bite down on his finger and refuses to let go.
Koltira purses his lips at her. “If you don’t let me go, then I may be forced to do something I’d rather not do.”
The mage gives a toothy grin, his finger still wedged inside. “I thare you.”
Koltira reaches his other hand up, finger curved like claws. He sets the tips on her ribs and narrows his eyes. “Don’t make me.”
A shock of panic sets through the mage but she remains still. She narrows her eyes in return. In a final act of steadfastness, she bites down a little harder.
“Ow,” Koltira growls. He twitches his fingers.
Anarchaia jerks and giggles but refuses to let go. She breathes heavily and grins, knowing what’s to come. “You’ll haff tuh do better than that.”
Koltira angles to kneel face to face with her. Instead of tickling her more, he leans in to kiss her around his finger.
Anarchaia clenches her eyes shut as she braces herself for the imminent tickling, then jumps when she feels his lips against hers. Unable to resist, she releases his finger to more completely press their lips together.
“How’s that for my worst?” he asks. He wraps his arm around her waist to pull her closer.
Anarchaia hums and smiles, running her tongue over her lower lip. “I think you can do worse.”
“I can,” he says, “but do I need to?”
“Hm. I suppose not.” She turns herself to put her head in his lap and smiles up at him. “Romantic terrorism. That’s new.”
“Are you saying you don’t like it?” He strokes her mask as he would her hair.
She giggles, heart fluttering behind her breast. “I’m not saying that, no.”
Koltira smiles out at the world. “How are you enjoying the view?”
Anarchaia folds her hands over her stomach. “Very much so, thank you,” she responds, unmoving.
He sighs in contentment and threads his fingers through hers.
Anarchaia squeezes his fingers with hers. “I’ve honestly never felt quite as happy with anyone as I do you,” she admits. “It’s a shame I had to steal you.”
“Opened my eyes, is more like it. I wasn’t happy anymore. And she… She hates me.”
Anarchaia frowns some. “I don’t think she hates you. She seemed to prefer you alive–or unalive, rather. So…there’s that.”
“Dying changed her. Made her angry and full of hate. I think you would’ve liked her alive.”
Anarchaia frowns. “That’s always interesting, isn’t it? How we can die in similar fashions but come back differently.” She rubs the backs of his fingers with a hard thumb. “And I’m sure I would have. She seemed liked a strong woman.”
“I think you’re a strong woman. I would’ve liked to know you in life, I think.”
Anarchaia shakes her head. “I hold no strong qualities. That being said, I’m not too different than I was. Save for the crushing lack of self-confidence. Heh.”
“I’d still have liked to meet you in life.” He sets his hand on her cheek.
Anarchaia smiles. “I’d have liked to have met you, too.” She sighs contently and looks past him into the sky. “I wonder how different life would be if we had.” She gives a laugh through her nose. “I’d have probably still died.”
Koltira gives her a little shake. “What makes you say that?”
Anarchaia shrugs. “You wouldn’t have wanted anything to do with a kid like me. You’re handsome, funny, intelligent. I was just an exotic barmaid. Events wouldn’t have played out much differently.”
Koltira bristles. “I beg your pardon, but I dated two barmaids and there was a third I was gaining interest in—though she knew nothing of archery or combat or…well, anything. But she made a great mixed drink. That got derailed when Alisbeth arrived. And to be fair, I’ve never dated outside of Quel’dorei. You would’ve been exotic to me.”
Anarchaia readjusts her legs to rest an ankle on a knee. “I was exotic to everyone. And you’re saying you’d have protected me from that band of rogues?”
Koltira purses his lips. “Had I been around to, yes. But I suppose you’re right.”
Anarchaia gives a reassuring smile and reaches up to stroke his ear. “I know you would have if you could. Though, that was a big reason I didn’t have many boyfriends. Not a lot of people in Duskwood. The ones I did have worked at the tavern I did.”
Koltira closes his eyes as she strokes his ear. “I suppose this’ll do. Better dead than never?”
Anarchaia nods and hums a laugh, her hand dropping back onto her stomach. “Perhaps.”
“Perhaps,” Koltira echoes.