Koltira steps to the doorway and purses his lips at the demon hunter. “Well, well. Small world. What brings you to my city?”
Grimory blinks and straightens, smirking playfully. “I thought I smelled mediocrity.” He laughs quietly. “I’m willing to bet Ana’s back there, too. Pretty grim place to be taking a walk, yeah?”
Anarchaia steps out and folds her arms as she slumps over some, but says nothing.
Diori nods at Alisbeth, then turns around at the sound of a new voice. “It’s Koltira. And the scary lady. How did they get in here, too?”
Alisbeth shakes her head. “I don’t know. Would you like to go ask or look for the eye?”
Diori mulls over her thoughts and turns back around. “Eye.”
“Eye it is. Do you think it’s buried? Maybe we should dig where we found the doll.”
Koltira narrows his eyes but chooses to ignore the mediocrity jab. “We’re just touring locations from our pasts. Who doesn’t love a nice visit to the place where they died?”
Taveth yanks his notebook and pen out of his satchel. “You died here? Where were you resurrected? And you,” he points at Anarchaia with the end of his pen, “did you die here, too?” He begins writing down everything that has happened so far.
Anarchaia stiffens, then gives an uncomfortable laugh. “Oh. I-I’m not dead. Heh.”
Grimory shifts his weight to a hip and chews on the inside of his cheek. “Pretty dangerous place to be sightseeing. I know that I’m not too keen on visiting all the places I’ve died…”
Taveth frowns. “O-oh! I’m so sorry, Miss—Ma’am—Missus? I-I didn’t know, I just assumed because of the um—” He motions up and down his own face. “Heh. Forgive me, please.” He returns to scribbling in his notebook as though she’d already forgiven him.
Koltira leans against the crumbling wall and cocks an eyebrow at the man still huddling behind Grimory as though he or Anarchaia might prove to be hostile. His eyes then narrow and shift between Taveth and Anarchaia. He starts to laugh. “Interesting companions you keep picking up, there, Grim.”
Grimory tilts his head. “Not my fault smart people seem to enjoy my company. Perhaps they just prefer someone that makes them feel safe.”
“Miss,” Anarchaia corrects Taveth, then bristles at Grimory’s words. “I’m definitely safe with Koltira,” she says, then regrets the cattiness in her voice. “…as much as I was with you.”
Koltira rolls his eyes at Grimory. “Plus, she’s plenty capable of taking care of herself.”
Taveth jumps suddenly, his pen scratching across the paper to leave an ugly, black line. “All the places?” He stares wide-eyed at Grimory. “Fascinating!” He starts writing again. “How many times have you died? Where were the locations?” He gasps and shakes with sudden excitement. “Would you show me the places you’ve died?” He squints back at his paper, then reaches into his satchel and retrieves a pair of over-sized round spectacles. Once they’re curled behind his ears, his eyes take on a disproportionately large quality. “We can do that later, of course, we’re both busy men. You, though,” he points at Koltira, “where did you die? What can you tell me about the battle? Wh- I- Diori! History lesson!” He shouts down the ruins. “She loves this stuff. Anything to do with cousin Ali and her grand adventures.” His attention falls right back to his book with his furious scribbling.
Grimory opens his mouth to respond but is immediately cut off. His gaze shifts from Taveth to Koltira, confusion apparent on his face.
Anarchaia blinks, then brings her fingertips to her lips as she giggles. Cute.
Taveth does a double take on Grimory and stops writing. “I’m sorry, did you say how many times? I must’ve missed it.”
Koltira’s gaze meets Grimory’s in an equally confused expression, then his eyes shift from Taveth to the mage giggling beside him.
“Eight,” Grimory says, giving a lower number than actuality. “Most in Mardum. Very painful. Don’t recommend.”
Diori nods and saunters off in the opposite direction of the other adults. “Maybe we can give her jewel ones if we can’t find it,” she hums.
“Maybe we can find sapphires so she looks like you!” Alisbeth taps the blue button eye. “Your eyes shine like gems. Much more beautiful than buttons.”
Diori blushes and giggles, then cranes her head at the sound of her name. “You can give me a history lesson yourself, right?” She says to Alisbeth. “Taveth takes forever to explain things.”
Alisbeth laughs. “He can, can’t he?” She cranes her neck to the others. “Though, this time, I don’t think he’s the one giving the history lesson. He doesn’t know what happened here, I don’t think.” She smiles down at her daughter. “But yes, I can talk about it. Come on.” She holds out her hand to take Diori back to the others.
Diori gladly follows, holding the tattered doll to her chest with her free arm.
When they arrive at the others, Alisbeth rests on a hip, still holding Diori’s hand. “History lesson, huh? Would you like me to give it?”
Taveth lowers his notebook gravely. “H-he, uh…” He points at Koltira.
The death knight in the doorway purses his lips. “How about we both tell it like we remember? She can go first.”
“O-oh.” Alisbeth fails hiding her shock at him asking her to go first. “Are you sure?”
Grimory sets a hand on Alisbeth’s shoulder. “Unless you don’t want to, obviously.”
Anarchaia does her best to inconspicuously conjure her own parchment and quill, but the sudden displacement of air and matter causes a small crack behind her and she smiles. “Sorry.”
Koltira gives her a reassuring smile.
Taveth pushes his spectacles down to the pointed tip of his nose and tilts his head down to look first at Anarchaia, giving her a knowing smile, then he turns to his cousin. “He’s right, you don’t have to. I mean, I’d rather you did, but that’s just me. And her, of course.” He points at Anarchaia with the end of his fountain pen.
Alisbeth smiles and crouches to Diori’s level. “I bet you want to hear it, don’t you? Like one of my letters!” She picks Diori up by the waist and spins her around, then sets her on Grimory’s shoulder. “So, the Scourge army was marching up through Quel’Thalas.” She points through the destroyed gate and frowns. “Seems they killed the soil.”
“Killed the soil, interesting,” Taveth says, writing it down.
Alisbeth clears her throat. “I will have Alibooboo send you back to Dalaran.”
“Heh. Sorry.” He clears his throat and shoves his spectacles back up his nose with a finger, then flips to another page, adjusting the leather book in his hand.
“Okay. We were evacuating civilians. My Leutenant had woken me at dawn, when the alarms sounded.” Her eyes flit to Koltira for a brief moment. “I and a few officers were positioned just…here.” She stands a few yards forward of the courtyard door. “The farstriders were lined up along the wall as our first line of defense. They were ordered to retreat as the gate crumbled beneath them. Foot soldiers engaged the Scourge as they broke through. Many died immediately. We didn’t know how strong they were.” She walks along the path, studying her surroundings. She motions at a sunken area. “It was here that Bloodmane fell. She took several ghouls with her, though. She bucked me from her and there was nothing I could do but retreat.” Alisbeth stoops and begins digging through the dirt. She finds remnants of dead Scourge, but nothing of her horse. She purses her lips and sighs. “I never asked, but I think she was burned with the rest of the bodies.”
Koltira shakes his head. “They didn’t.”
Alisbeth nods. “Then…I don’t know. I don’t know where she is.” She stands and wipes her hands on her trousers. “Koltira spotted Thassarian entering the gate. I begged him to let it go, but… ‘Honor,’ right? He fought well. He really did. But Thassarian was stronger. I was here when he was run through. I was too far away to do anything.” Her eyes focus on nothing as she relives the moment, a tear rolling down her cheek.
Taveth steps to her and holds out a handkerchief. “That’s why you never wrote to us about the battle. It was too painful.” His calm drops as she takes the handkerchief, his nose presses back to his book. “Then what happened?”
Alisbeth rolls her eyes at Taveth. “I was fighting my way to him. If I got there in time, maybe I could’ve healed him. My abilities as a healer weren’t great, but I thought I could…do something. I was struck in the back of the head. When I woke, I was buried under a pile of dead scourge.” She shrugs. “I don’t know what happened for the rest of the battle.”
“Fascinating,” Anarchaia breathes, her quill doing its best to catch up as she wraps an arm about herself and rests the opposite elbow on it, chewing on her thumb.
Diori’s eyes fill with tears. “They didn’t bury the horsey?”
Grimory chuckles beneath her and shakes her leg in a comforting manner.
Taveth makes some final notations then glances to Koltira. “Right, so, what about you? Anything you can add?”
Alisbeth climbs to sit on a piece of fallen wall and hugs her knees to her chest. She smiles up at Diori. “It’s okay. I’m sure Bloodmane was honored in some way.”
Koltira twitches and looks over at Anarchaia. “Guess this is as good of time as any to come clean,” he mumbles. He steps forward to stand near Taveth. “I was on the wall with the other farstriders. I’d come to the city in the middle of the night, after An’owyn fell. I was the only survivor of the attack on the temple. The Scourge force was…a massive line cutting through the land straight for us. There weren’t enough arrows in all of Silvermoon to have stopped them before the gate. We called a retreat as the wall started to crumble. Many of my companions went down with it. We tried to pull them up, but the geists…they leap higher than we’d known at the time.”
“Geist, which one is that?” Taveth interrupts.
“Oh, the crouching one with the hood.”
“Like this,” the mage says, crouching down. Her form becomes encased in smoke and when it clears a geist stands in her place, noose dangling against the dirt.
Diori groans in apprehension and pulls on Grimory’s horns.
“Ana, you’re scaring Diori,” the Illidari hisses.
Anarchaia stands upright again and recovers her own visage, laughing nervously. “Sorry. Heh.”
Taveth groans at his rough sketch. “Can I have you do that again later so I can finish my drawing? I mean, I know all of this is probably in some books I’ve yet to read, but my— I… like to have my own documents on-hand.”
Anarchaia gives another nervous titter and scratches at the back of her head. “Of course!”
“It’s okay,” Alisbeth coos at Diori. “Geists are actually nice. They have a really funny laugh like Mua-hur-hur!” She mimics the laugh in a guttural tone. “They have some in Acherus. Great sense of humor, bad at cards.”
Diori groans again, unconvinced.
Grimory gives another laugh. “They’re honestly harmless. Besides, I’ll always protect you.” He cranes his head up to wink at her.
“Continue, please,” Taveth says to Koltira.
He nods and gets his bearing. “Alisbeth was here, on her charger, surrounded by a pile of dead undead.” He cocks his head as he contemplates his phrasing, then shakes it. “That horse…I watched her lift a hoof and knock a ghoul’s head right off. The two of them made quite a team. After the mare fell, Ali backed up and started a new pile, fueled by her anger at Bloodmane’s death. It really was amazing to watch, actually. I’d never seen a paladin in full battle before, only seen some of what she could do in small sparring sessions. I think she held back.”
“I held back.” She smiles.
He laughs. “I had to meet Thassarian in combat. You see, he was there at An’owyn. He nearly killed my brother, but faltered. I had a hunch and I followed him. Once I’d gotten him alone I tried convincing him to switch sides. He nearly did, I think. But the Lich King’s will is…strong. I didn’t know just how strong it was. Thassarian disarmed me and broke my knee. I knew I’d lost. With the Lich King’s strength, he was the better warrior. Again, he hesitated. But not long enough for help to come to me. I still bear the scar of his sword in my chest.”
Taveth’s eyes widen and, magnified by his spectacles, they bug impossibly large for his face. “Can I see?”
Alisbeth rolls her eyes. “Not now, cousin.”
“Later. Later? Yes, later. Please.”
Koltira makes another face of pure confusion and stares at the demon hunter, since Alisbeth is looking away from him.
Grimory merely rolls his eyes and shrugs a shoulder. “Maybe he likes you.”
Diori can’t help but notice the strange air between the two death knights but finds herself too shy to say anything. “What happened next?”
Koltira falters, his lips twitching as he tries to smile for the child, but can’t because of the subject. “I opened my eyes. I was confused at first, but then Thassarian and Arthas stood over me and I knew then that he’d raised me. Right where I died. His will propelled me forward with the Scourge. I came across a man. He was staring at me in shock.” He unsheathes Byfrost and stares at the blade. “He was holding this. I didn’t get to think about it. My body acted as my mind screamed out. I took the Redblade from him and killed him.” He looks directly at Alisbeth. “I killed So’daras, Ali. I’m sorry.”
She covers her mouth tight with her hand, holding back a cry. Tears drip from her eyes across the back of her hand.
Koltira clears his throat. “I, um, I took the sword because I knew what it was. That much I could understand and control. I thought she had died, so I took the Redblade as a reminder of her. The Lich King gave me a ‘gift’ as well, so I could march with the other death knights. The charger of a paladin. Resurrected, of course.”
“Bloodmist?” Alisbeth squeaks.
“Was Bloodmane, yes.”
Grimory sets his hand on Alisbeth’s shoulder again. “At least she’s still with you.”
“So horsey is fine?” Diori says excitedly, then bounces. “Can I meet her?!”
“That’s why she likes you more than me,” Koltira says. He smiles at Diori. “Of course, you can. I’ll bring her to Dalaran sometime.”
Alisbeth wipes at her face and sniffs. “She’s one of those undead horses.”
Diori’s eyes sparkle. “That’s so cool! I bet she looks even better now. And she can’t die, right?” She kicks her heels idly against Grimory’s chest.
Alisbeth laughs. “I think she was beautiful before, too. She was…white.”
Taveth grunts. “Yes, yes, fascinating. So, what happened next?” He stares at Koltira over the top of his lenses.
He turns to look down the other end of the path. “We marched on the Sunwell, killing everyone in our path. Friends, comrades…I helped kill them all. I couldn’t stop it. I tried to resist every step of the way, but I couldn’t stop it. After that was done, we went to Icecrown Citadel and waited. We trained and waited for Arthas to come out of his block of ice and give us new orders.”
“I’m so sorry,” the mage says quietly from her alcove, bending down to hug her knees as she listens, quill still scribbling.
“A block of ice, hmm?” Grimory muses. “Should have stayed there. Would have saved everyone a lot of trouble, from the sounds of it.”
Koltira chuckles. “Well, if he hadn’t come out, then I don’t know that I’d have regained my own will. Excuse me if I’d rather not be a puppet.”
Taveth makes quiet affirmation noises as he writes. “Can you tell me more about An’owyn.”
The death knight takes a breath and holds it, then lets it out as a sigh. “Another day, perhaps.” He catches Diori’s eye and gives a sort of half smile. “Your mother is a real hero.”
“Was,” Alisbeth corrects.
He shakes his head. “Still are. You just get…side tracked.”
Diori smiles down at Alisbeth with understanding in her eyes. “We missed your letters.”
Anarchaia clears her throat and straightens again. “What, then? Just waiting? How long was this before Arthas was vanquished?”
“Nine years,” Alisbeth says. “He was under the Lich King’s control for nearly a decade.”
“The Lich King was defeated three years later,” Koltira says.
Diori looks up at the sky, bored of the grave talk of time. “What if he comes back?”
Grimory gives a chuckle and tugs on her leg. “He’ll get more of the same, I guess. Maybe you’ll be the one to kill him this time.” He bites gently on her ankle and she giggles.
Taveth furrows his brow. “The Lich King can’t come back. He’s dead.”
Alisbeth and Koltira exchange a look and Taveth’s eyes bug out again.
“Don’t write that down,” Alisbeth demands. “It’s best the rest of the world not know. But there has to be a Lich King to keep the Scourge at bay. To keep them in Northrend.” She stands as he starts writing. “Taveth!” She raises a fist.
“Okay!” He scribbles over the last few sentences he wrote. “Doesn’t go beyond us. Right. Heh.” He shrinks away from her, nonchalantly placing Grimory between them.
The demon hunter furrows his brow, then shrugs. “Doesn’t worry me any. If anything happens with this—I assume new—guy, we’ll just take him out. Lord Illidan will help once we’ve recovered his soul.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure of that,” Anarchaia says, her parchment and quill disappearing. “I’m sure he has his own personal business. Once he knows it’s not Arthas…he may not care.”
“Bolvar,” Koltira says quietly.
Alisbeth frowns and looks up at Diori. “Did you want to keep looking for that eye?”
The small elf nods and wiggles to be set down. She reaches for Alisbeth’s hand when her feet touch the earth. “This is getting sad. I don’t like it anymore.”
Alisbeth takes Diori’s hand and lets the girl lead her. “I’m sorry that got so sad. War is sad, though.”
Diori nods. “I know. That’s why I want to be a healer. To help people who are in war.”
Alisbeth smiles. “I’m glad you want to help people. I’d rather you didn’t go to war yourself, though. But no one knows what the future holds.”
Diori blinks up at her. “But, I want to be a strong warrior like you. And Grim. I want to fight and ride a horse and defend the things I love.”
The death knight groans. “If the occasion arises, then I insist on being there to protect you. I also have the desire to defend the things I love.”
Diori pouts and kicks at the ground. “I can be strong, too! I don’t want you to protect me forever.”
“How about we protect each other!” Alisbeth says.
Diori then smiles and nods. “I guess. Oh!” She bends over and picks up a dulled button from the dirt. She sticks out her tongue when it doesn’t match and tosses it back.
Alisbeth stoops as something catches her eye. She unburies it quickly, then gasps, a frown pulling at her lips as she holds the intricately carved bow, which has been broken in half and damaged by time. She looks back toward the others and sighs.
“What is it?” Diori asks quietly, hugging the doll tightly to her chest.
“Koltira’s bow.” She gives the girl a sad smile. “He made it himself.” She traces her fingertips along the carvings, finding the most beautiful of them near the end, where it had gone unfinished.
“Do you like him?” the small elf asks, glancing over her shoulder at the other death knight and mage as they walk away.
Alisbeth laughs. “Of course I like him. That’s why I married him. But we’re different now. So, we’re not married anymore.”
Diori tilts her head. “So, marry Grim, then. I like him better anyway.” She picks up a feather and blows the dust from it.
Alisbeth coughs, her eyes widening. “Um, no. I don’t think so. No. Sorry. He doesn’t want… No. Oh, look! A button!” She stoops and picks up a small button and holds it out for Diori.
Diori frowns but forces herself to smile again when the button is given to her. “This isn’t it, either.” She tosses it and looks around. “Ooh!” She dislodges a still sparkling ring from the dirt and wipes it off. “Pretty!” She tries it on but her smile falls when it’s too big for her small fingers. She holds it out for Alisbeth to take instead.