Visions of a life that could have been flow through Anarchaia’s mind like a flipbook. Her smile subsides and she turns her head to look at the setting sun beyond the floating islets. “I wonder if my house is still standing.”
“Would you like to go see?” he asks.
Anarchaia furrows her brow, having expected him to ask, but not having an answer prepared. “I…I don’t know. I haven’t been there in a long time.”
“Are you afraid of what you might find?”
Anarchaia pauses then nods. “I used to go every year, but stopped after around eight. I just…see no good reason anymore.”
Koltira purses his lips. “I haven’t been to Silvermoon since I died. I’ve thought about going. Seeing the place where I died.” He absently runs his fingers up and down the glove of her hand, pushing up her sleeve to her elbow to feel along her arm.
“I’ve never been to Silvermoon.” She says, closing her eyes at his caresses. “Would you like to go? I’ll accompany you.”
He shrugs. “Perhaps.”
A frown creeps across her lips and she swallows. “Never mind, then. Dumb idea. Heh.”
“About as dumb as wanting to see your family home.” He pokes her in the side, hoping she catches the hint.
Anarchaia flinches at the finger, then purses her lips at him. “Fair point.” She sighs, then smiles. “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours? We can make a vacation of it. A macabre one, but a vacation nonetheless.”
“Hey, any vacation is a good vacation.” He wraps one arm around her in a reassuring hug.
Anarchaia smiles and sits up, turning back to look at him. “Wanna go now? Not like we need supplies or anything.”
He smiles at her enthusiasm. “Yeah, why not? How close can you get us?”
“It’s across the ocean, so it’ll be a bit draining for me to teleport us. But I can take us to my back yard as I’m sure that hasn’t changed. Then Lordaeron…”
“We could hire another mage to send us all the way to Silvermoon,” he suggests.
“I’m sure Master wouldn’t mind doing so.”
Koltira stands and holds out a hand to help her up. “I suppose that’ll do.” He gives her a wry smile.
Anarchaia takes the assistance and stands. The blanket disappears beneath them, as well as the wine and cups. She leads him from the area, then gasps. “I forgot that there’re portals near the center of town. I think there’s one to Silvermoon.”
“You know, I think you’re right,” Koltira says. “So, where to first?”
Anarchaia smiles over at him. “I made the last choice.”
Koltira reaches in his belt and pulls out a coin. “Heads: Silvermoon. Tails: Duskwood.” He flips the coin and catches it, then sets it on the back of his palm. “Tails.”
Anarchaia deflates some, having hoped to not go first. “I can take us to Medivh’s Tower. It’s still a conduit for arcane energy. It’d be easier than teleporting to Duskwood and is just a day’s walk.”
“Oh, you mean I have to spend more time with you? Such a shame.” He gives her a charming smile.
Anarchaia laughs and holds out her hands. “Honestly I don’t know how you stand my presence at all.”
Koltira shakes his head. “Stop, Ana. You know already that I enjoy your company. So, you’re stuck with me.”
Anarchaia shrugs. “Or the other way around. Don’t let go.” The two disappear in a flash of light. When they reappear, they stand beneath the sky-piercing once-ivory tower of Karazhan, the clouds thick with rain and a chill in the air.
Koltira smiles. “This is beautiful. I’ve never actually been here before. Karazhan, right?”
Anarchaia nods. “The site of Medivh’s fall. Has since stood as a monument to the event.” She trots on down the path, not looking up at the spires.
Koltira follows, his eyes taking in the sight, scanning every inch.
A wind blows through the towers above, making a sound that bids the mage to walk faster. “I hate this place,” she mutters, pulling her hood up. A rumble of thunder sounds in the distance.
Koltira trots to her side and wraps an arm around her shoulders. “Then let’s get out of here sooner, rather than later.”
Anarchaia nods and brings her arms up to hug herself. “The weather here is always like this, now. It’s like it feels the same way I do.” The two continue down the road lined with decrepit trees and spiderweb-laden grass.
Koltira shrugs. “It’s like Acherus, but more cheerful. Rather scenic, too.”
Anarchaia gives a halfhearted grin. “I guess I’m forced to agree.” She chuckles. “Anyplace without Mograine seems better by comparison.”
He chuckles and nods. “He’s a real ballbuster sometimes.”
Anarchaia smiles. “Though, I think I’d rather deal with Mograine than Meryl. At least Mograine seems a reasonable man…mostly.”
“Meryl is a sadist. You should’ve seen him. He was terrorizing Ali the whole time you were asleep. She didn’t relax for even a second with him in the room. One minute she was screaming and trying to kill him, the next she was hiding under the bed, terrified.” He sighs through his nose and kicks a stone. “At least Mograine had the decency to keep her where she couldn’t see forsaken. I mean, he could have lit the room, sure. But he didn’t torture her.”
Anarchaia shrugs. “I yelled at him when I arrived. I’m sure it made no difference, though. He likes to have control. It’s the warlock in him, I’m sure.” She crinkles her nose. “He’s a good teacher, though.”
“It’s unfortunate that the good teachers are usually assholes.”
“I must have gotten lucky, then,” she responds with a smile.
Koltira returns the smile and absently weaves his fingers through hers, squeezing ever so slightly. The two wander until the dark ashen trail begins to stutter with weeds and grass. Birds begin to dully chirp as oppose to falcons crying. The fog and canopy above thicken.
Koltira’s eyes sweep through the gloom across the trees and the hanging moss. “This area sure is…cheery.” He does his best not to make a face.
Anarchaia chuckles. “Isn’t it? I attribute the weather here to how often my parents argued. It was also convenient for my…condition.”
Koltira raises an eyebrow. “Oh, no. No, no, Miss Starling. You elaborate right now before I punish you swiftly and severely.” He grabs her around the waist, dragging her to his side as he narrows his eyes down at her.
Anarchaia shrinks into his arm but smiles and chortles. “About my parents or about my albinism?” she laughs. “No, the sun is—was—bad for my skin. Gave me nasty burns. I had to work at night, despite it always being rather dreary here. Which is why I chose the tavern.”
Koltira blinks. “I don’t think you ever told me you were an albino…I just thought it had to do with your current condition.”
Anarchaia blinks in return. “Oh. I thought it was obvious. Apparently not. Heh. Yeah, my one eye is the same one I had when I was alive.” She points at it beneath her mask. “My skin was obviously whiter, though.”
Koltira shrugs and smiles down at her. “I never really thought about it. Just thought it was something else to make you beautiful. Now I really wish I’d known you in life. I’ve never actually seen an albino, you know. Always wanted to, but they’re so rare.” He pulls her even closer as though somehow she’s become more precious.
“There’s actually one born in every twenty-five thousand or so,” the mage responds with a smile, threading her arm beneath his to wrap around his waist. “I’m told my prowess in the school of fire is because of it. I don’t hold superstitions though.”
“Neither do I. Why attribute skill to something outside of your control? It’s completely demeaning to your abilities. I think jealousy fueled those rumors.” He leans over to kiss the top of her hood.
Anarchaia laughs lightly. “I agree. Superstition is the poor man’s religion.”
“I’m glad you agree,” he says with a chuckle.
She hums in contentment. A weary old man and equally weary mule with a wagon and a lantern saunter by, nodding as they pass.
“I gotta say, I don’t miss this place, though.”
Koltira looks around. “I would’ve left as soon as I was able. It’s too…dreary.”
Anarchaia laughs again. “You really get used to it. It’s better than sunburns and blindness. Heh.”
Koltira quirks his mouth to one side. “It can be dark without being gloomy. This is…choking. Maybe after Silvermoon, I’ll show you where I spent the better part of two decades, hmm? Though, without flying there it’ll take the whole week to get to.”
Anarchaia nods and leans her cheek onto his shoulder. “I’d like that. The walk doesn’t bother me. The more time with you, the better.”
Koltira makes a face. “Long walks have never been something I liked. Running short distances, climbing trees… Those, I could do all day. But just walking? Sure, in Stormheim we had a purpose, but it didn’t make it any easier.”
Anarchaia gives an apologetic smile. “Sorry. I’m not a good travel partner. What with refusing to ride…”
“Hush you.” Koltira pulls at her in spurts to wiggle her against his side. “So, how far into Duskwood did you live?”
“About the heart of it,” the mage responds. “We’re about a half a day’s walk. Heh.”
Koltira makes another face. “I suppose I can suffer through that, since you’re willing to suffer through longer.”
She shrugs. “You’re the only one suffering here, then. Perhaps I’ll make it up to you.”
A noise straying from the usual crickets and frog croaks rustles through the brush but the mage pays it no mind.
Koltira hums low in his throat. “Elaborate on this ‘making it up to me’ thing.”
Anarchaia hums, bringing a finger to just below her lower lip in thought. “I could…bake you a cake. Carve you a decorative candle.” She grins wide beneath her mask. “Polish your blade.”
“Hmm. Cake could work, but I wouldn’t really taste it unless you made it really strong.” He smirks. “Tell me more about polishing my blade, though.”
Anarchaia shrugs a shoulder. “Well I fancy myself a skilled sword polisher. I don’t charge much, either. Nothing at all, in fact.” She laughs dryly. “That came out wrong.”
Koltira deflates. “I really was hoping that was a euphemism.” He winks down at her.
Anarchaia tilts her head in defeat, laughing embarrassedly. “It was, but then I made myself sound like a harlot.”
He laughs. “And in that dress… You’re the Scarlet Harlot, aren’t you? Here to play tricks on me with your seductive wiles.” He leans down, lifting her mask so he can kiss her.
Anarchaia hums a laugh against his lips. “It seems you’ve caught on to my devious plot. Guess you’ll have none of me anymore now that you know.”
“That’s right, vile temptress. Relinquish your hold on me!” Koltira laughs.
Anarchaia wraps her arms about his neck, standing on her toes. “Oh, but it won’t be that easy.”
Another rustle runs through the foliage, but its sound is lost on the breeze.
He smiles and kisses her again. “I always liked a challenge.”
Anarchaia runs her tongue along her lower lip and leans up for another kiss.
“Well,” a growling voice rumbles through the fog. A large worgen man steps out on the path accompanied by two others and a masked figure in tight leather armor. “Normally people find an inn for that business,” the silver-furred half-beast muses.
“We don’t,” the tawny one snorts, fangs poking through his lips.
Koltira pulls Anarchaia away to protect her, one hand reaching over his shoulder before he realizes that he is weaponless. Instead, he decides to go for tact. “Gentlemen, I’m sure there is no reason to detain us. We’ll mind our behavior on the road from now on, and you can go about your business.”
The lead worgen chuckles and shakes his head. “Oh, we aren’t concerned with what you two do when you think others aren’t looking.” He unsheathes a short sword from his belt.
“We want what’s in that belt of yours,” comes a shaky, hissing voice behind them—an undead with glowing gold eyes.
Anarchaia recoils, scowling. “How did you…?”
“We come across many forms and means of carrying gold,” says the masked figure, making clear she’s a woman.
Koltira straightens his shoulders. “No. Now leave before we make you regret stopping us.”
Anarchaia furrows her brow at Koltira’s words. Oh gods, he wants me to fight. Quick! Just give them the gold. “Uh, actually!” she stammers, reaching into her belt. “I personally don’t want any trouble…”
“Ana,” Koltira hisses.
Anarchaia tilts her head toward him. <<You’re unarmed and I don’t want to kill people. Do you suggest something better?>> she whispers in Thalassian.
<<Fine.>> Koltira hisses.
“The small one says the death knight is unarmed and that she doesn’t want to hurt us,” the woman says in a matter-of-fact tone and the group laughs.
Anarchaia stops then retracts her hand from her belt and curses as the five close in on them.
“Well she’s right about one thing,” the forsaken says, pulling out two daggers. “She won’t hurt us.”
“Ana,” Koltira says, a hand on her waist, “I won’t think any less of you if you do that thing you did to Fenrir.” He backs away from the group—pulling Anarchaia with him—as he mentally prepares for a fight, which he knows he won’t win unless he takes one of their weapons.
Anarchaia fidgets. “I don’t like what I did to Fenrir.” She swallows as the moonlight glints across the short sword in front of her, then pushes up her sleeves. Fire ignites in her palms and she straightens. “I’ll give you a chance to walk away,” she says in a commanding tone.
The group chuckles again. “A little fire doesn’t scare—”
The forsaken man behind the two bursts into flames. Over his cries of pain, the others glance at one another before lunging forward to avenge their fallen comrade.
Koltira intercepts the worgen, trying to tackle him but failing due to the man’s size. The death knight grabs the beast’s hand gripping the short sword, trying to wrestle it from him.
The worgen growls a laugh at the elf’s attempt at disarming him but struggles against him all the same. A force separates the two with enough push to hurl both men to the dirt.
Anarchaia takes the opportunity to throw up a barrier of arcane energy around herself and Koltira. “Come any closer and you’ll get what he got.” She jerks her chin in the direction of the slowly dying forsaken.
The two worgen not on the ground make an effort to beat at the shield with daggers.
The mage grits her teeth. “Fine, then.”
Koltira scrambles to stand behind Anarchaia. “Whatever you’re going to do, do it.” He purses his lips, hating how useless he feels without his sword.
Anarchaia furrows her brow in turmoil and bites her lip. She takes in a deep breath. The shield around them becomes shrouded in flames that burst outward, encasing their assailants. The group howls and claws at their burning flesh, dropping their weapons and scrambling away.
“I’m sorry,” the mage whispers, closing her eyes as she maintains the shell in case one remains strong enough to attack.
Koltira reaches for Anarchaia’s hand to comfort her, but stops, unsure if he can reach through the shields. “Ana, it’s okay.”
The barrier dissipates after a moment and Anarchaia grabs Koltira by his outstretched hand. She pulls him down the path at a quick pace, saying nothing.
Koltira squeezes her hand as a temporary sort of hug. He looks over at her as they flee the scene, wishing he could see her expression. “Are you okay?” he finally asks.
“I’ll be fine,” the mage murmurs then purses her lips as though not having meant to respond. She says nothing until the light of the fires behind them have disappeared into the distance.
Koltira stays quiet, just holding her hand as they speed through the woods. When the silence and gloom presses back in on them he pulls her to a stop and wraps her in his comforting embrace. “It’s okay.”
Anarchaia stops. After a moment she pushes her forehead into his cuirass, arms at her sides, shoulders shaking as she holds back her sobs. “I hate it,” she chokes. “I hate killing. I hate the sounds. I hate that there are people who make me do it.”
Koltira frowns, unsure what he can say to make her feel better—if he even can. Finally, he says, “It doesn’t make you any less of a good person.”
Anarchaia nods, still holding back tears. She pulls her head away and sighs, reaching for his hand. “At least you think so.” She swallows and pulls him back toward the direction of her home.
Koltira follows where she leads, making sure to keep her hand firmly in his. Thousands of things he wants to say zip through his mind, but he says none of them, knowing Anarchaia will still think she’s a bad person. After a long while the two come to a labeled fork in the road. The mage pulls him toward the left and glances around at the familiar shrubbery and houses of her distant neighbors.
“Not much farther,” she mumbles.
Koltira sighs and squeezes her hand. “Ana, talk to me. How can I help?”
Anarchaia shakes her head, their pace slowing some. “Don’t worry about me. I’ll be okay. I’m…just a big baby.”
“Stop holding it in. Vent a little. React. Do something besides letting it eat at you.” He pulls her to a stop, turning her to look at him. “Don’t hold it in. It just makes it worse.”
Anarchaia shakes her head and purses her lips. “Master says complaining about things out of your control is like yelling at a mountain for existing. Useless and gets nothing done. Best just to let the mountain be.”
“And I say that if you need to scream, you should scream.”
Anarchaia smiles faintly and sighs. “Screaming won’t rid the world of horrid people…or make it easier to roast them alive.” She glances down at their hands. “But thanks.”
He shrugs. “No, but it can help to lift the weight off your own heart.”
Anarchaia sighs and tilts her head again as though the weight of it is too much. “I’m not a screamer. Never have been. Sorry.”
He smirks like a devil. “Not in my experience.”
She purses her lips at him. “Kolt,” she warns.
He sighs. “Okay. Can’t say I didn’t try.”
The mage turns to give a reassuring smile then leans up to kiss his cold cheek. “You’re sweet. C’mon. We’re almost there.”
“Alright. Let’s see this place.” He takes her hand and lets her guide him.
The two travel for a few more long, cricket-filled hours—stopping every now and again to view an abandoned barn or particularly gnarled tree—until finally coming upon a two-story home surrounded by a worn wooden fence. The greenery has taken over the outside walls, creeping up the boards and into the windows. The yard is overgrown and filled with wildflowers and glowflies.
“I guess no one wanted it. The location isn’t great. Heh.”
Koltira takes in the sight. “I bet it was beautiful in its prime.”
Anarchaia gives a somber smile and steps through the unkempt grass to the door. “I can’t say. It was just home, you know?” She pushes open the door and ignites a palm of fire to light the foyer. A thick layer of dust covers the paintings lining the walls and banister. A mouse runs by. “Definitely worse than last I left it, though. Shouldn’t have stopped coming.”
“A little elbow grease, right?” He gives a soft chuckle that seems to be swallowed by the dust and the aged wood of the house.
“I don’t think it’d be worth it,” Anarchaia laughs in return. She steps from the foyer into the large living space complete with a piano, a couple book shelves, and a sofa. She picks up a now-hard, unfolded quilt. “This was mother’s. She’d lay under it every night while she knit.” She releases it from her hand and the impact of it landing kicks up a cloud of dust. “Sorry. Heh.”
Koltira smirks. “Not like I’ll breathe it in.” He takes in everything, trying to imagine what it was like when it wasn’t abandoned. He smiles softly, realizing that maybe this is the house Anarchaia had meant when she told him what she wanted if she was still alive. “It’s peaceful here. I’m sure it was a wonderful place to live.”
Anarchaia shrugs and pulls a book off the shelf. “Save for the wandering packs of bandits.” She replaces the book and kicks at a piece of grass growing through the floorboards. She makes her way to the stairs. “Wanna see my room?”
“Is it as grand as your room in the Hall?” Koltira chuckles.
“Grander,” Anarchaia says with a smile, taking herself and the small fire in her hand up the stairs. She pushes the first door on the left and it swings open with a slow creeeaak. Nothing sits inside but a bookshelf, a four-poster bed with no canopy, a nightstand, a writing desk with books, a sewing machine, and a window covered by a thick quilt. “My favorite place,” she says, voice thick with sarcasm.
“Oh, yes, I especially like the…um…” Koltira looks around the room for something, “books, I suppose.”
Anarchaia hums a laugh and steps over to the desk. A half-sewn sweater is hanging from the pedal-powered machine. Her smile fades some as she remembers the night before her death, sitting at this very desk. She sighs and presses the pedal with her foot. The needle does not move. “Must be rusted.”
Koltira gives a faint chuckle. “Damned rust. Though, if it weren’t for a rusted door, I’m not sure we’d have spoken that night…would we have?”
Anarchaia glances up at him, touched by the fact that he held onto that memory while simultaneously flooded with nostalgia. She nods and smiles again. “That’s right. An act of nature brought us together.” She crosses the room back to the door, grabbing his hand gently. “Let’s see if the garden’s survived, hmm?”
“I doubt anything edible grows there, without tending. But sure.” He smiles down at her. “You’re fond of gardens, aren’t you?”
“Why do you say that? And we don—didn’t grow vegetables.” She lingers for a moment, his hand in hers, then pulls him back toward the stairs.
Koltira’s eyebrows raise with interest. “A flower garden? You did have roses, right?”
Anarchaia nods. “Of course. But mostly—” She pauses as they near the back door, her smile wavering. “But mostly magnolias.”
Koltira cocks an eyebrow at the stumble of her words. “Something wrong with magnolias?”
Anarchaia stops at the door and turns to him, forcing a smile. “Mother is under the magnolias.” The door swings open without her touch. “As I’ve said, you’d think I’d be over it…heh.”
Koltira pauses before following her outside. He frowns, unable to look at the garden as his gaze fixes on the mage. “No one said you had to be over it. I don’t mind.”
Anarchaia shakes her head. “I want to be over it. I—” She stops at the edge of the garden. Flowers bloom all around, but most are weeds. “They’ve died,” she says poignantly, staring into the heart of the thicket. Her fingers curl into her palms. “I shouldn’t have stopped coming.”
Koltira sets a tentative hand between her shoulder blades. “I’ll…help you replant them…if you like?”
She looks up at him, then smiles at the thought of him on his hands and knees in the dirt, gardening gloves and boots. She shakes her head. “No. It’s okay. I can do it myself.” The garden bursts into flames. “I’ll come back and plant more.”
He purses his lips. “You don’t want me to help? I mean… I know a thing or two…”
The weeds and foliage quickly diminish to a bed of dark ash. “Oh? A thing—or two??” She grins playfully. “Like what, mister death knight?”
Koltira straightens as though insulted. “You judge my abilities? I’ll have you know, I am a fantastic herb gatherer. I had a rather…rude captain that forced me into it. I deserved worse, but it was about the humiliation, not the punishment.” He thinks a moment. “My family had a small garden. I helped sometimes. If anything else, I’m good at taking orders.”
The mage lifts her eyebrows and chuckles. “I believe you, Kolt. I just don’t have anything handy at the moment. Once I procure some seeds you can come back with me and we’ll make an evening of it.” She gives a fleeting glance at the large rock marking her mother’s resting place and sighs. “All right. That’s enough sightseeing I think.”
Koltira takes Anarchaia into a small hug. “Thank you for sharing this with me.”
The undead nods and returns the embrace. “You don’t have to thank me. You’re returning the favor.” She hums a laugh and glances at the cellar doors behind him. “Silvermoon isn’t…too far. Though I’m sure it’ll be easier to return to Karazhan and return to Dalaran, then use the portal there.”
“Ah, yes, good. I’d like to stop and get Byfrost. Next time, you won’t have to deal with the bandits.” He pauses to think. “Wait, back to Karazhan? You can’t just…get us straight to Dalaran?”
The mage fidgets and laughs nervously. “I could…if you don’t mind waiting a couple days before going to Silvermoon.”
Koltira purses his lips. “I… How out of commission would you be? I’d rather not deal with Khadgar sweeping in because you’re unconscious.”
Anarchaia gives another hesitant chuckle followed by a nasally ehhhh. “I’m not good with long distance teleports yet.”
Koltira lets out a long breath through his nose. “Would hopping to Karazhan, then to Dalaran be too much?” He takes one of her hands in both of his. “I don’t want you to strain yourself. Though…Silvermoon is more beautiful during the day.” A charming smile parts his lips. “I’ll follow your lead.”
Anarchaia narrows her eyes at him, brow furrowed. “Koltira, that’s genius.” She takes either of his hands and smiles, giving one last glace at the cellar doors beside the house. “Don’t let go.” The two teleport back to the base of Karazhan. Anarchaia takes a moment to shiver up at the tower and collect herself before grabbing him again. When the two reappear, they’re standing inside the Violet Citadel’s base floor. “Huh,” she says, “this isn’t where I—”
“Archmage Khadgar gave instructions to intercept you should you teleport back to the city,” the guard beside the stairs drones. “He wishes audience.”
Anarchaia scowls and releases Koltira. “I suppose I’ll return. Not sure how long this will take. Perhaps go grab your things and I’ll come find you?”
With a sigh, Koltira nods. “I guess you don’t have a choice. I’ll meet you at the Legerdemain Lounge, then.” He backs away slowly, keeping his eyes on her a moment longer.
The mage gives a nod and a reassuring smile and disappears in a swirl of light and sparkles.
Koltira ambles to the inn alone, not in any particular rush. He trots up the stairs and throws open the door. Just like when he’d opened the door that morning, he stops in shock, as though splashed with cold water.
“OH FOR GODS’ SAKES!” Grimory quickly rolls off Alisbeth to grab the quilt and cover them both. “Why don’t you knock?!”
Koltira blinks at them. “Maybe if you’d lock the door, I wouldn’t keep walking in on you!”
Alisbeth curls her fingers into her hair and scrunches her eyes closed. “What do you want?”
She growls. “In the corner. Take it and don’t come back.”
“This isn’t your room! You should knock anyway!” the demon hunter barks.
Koltira stomps to the corner, raising an eyebrow at the destroyed furniture and her axe stuck into the end of the bed. He grabs Byfrost and heads for the door again. “Lock it anyway.” He slams the door behind him and stands, fuming for a minute. This is why you separated. Just forget about it.
“Knock!” Grimory yells one last time before the door closes. He turns back to Alisbeth and scoffs. “Rude.”
Koltira trudges down the stairs and orders himself a stiff drink, then takes a seat to wait for Anarchaia.
Alisbeth purses her lips at the demon hunter. “He does have a point about locking it, though.”
Grimory tilts his head back and sighs to the ceiling. “I guess.” He gets up and crosses the room to flip the latch.
Alisbeth laughs and bites her bottom lip as she stares at Grimory. “So…where were we?”