The morning sun was peeking over the edge of the city in the sky. Taveth was finally healing from his altercation with Spinewing. He and Diori were taking their breakfast in the Legerdemain Lounge, knowing at any moment Grimory and Alisbeth would come down—Grimory having stayed up late and Alisbeth of the disposition to remain in her room with him until he woke.
A fair-skinned, fair-haired elf enters the tavern, spotting the two quickly. She forces the books onto the table as though they weighed a ton, and smiles. “Here’s your books, nerd.”
“I thought Khadgar would be bringing them?” Taveth looks around his sister as though the tall Archmage might be behind her.
Kel’ori lifts a blonde eyebrow over her blue eyes. “Eager to see him?” She laughs. “You and your heroes. No, he’s preparing to take off with that apprentice of his, Anarchaia. Karazhan, I think they said.”
“K-Karazhan? I-I have to go, I have to ask if I can come. The research I could do! Can you watch Diori? I’ll be right back.”
She grabs his arm and pushes him back into the chair. “You stay here, and I’ll go ask. They’re in the Hall, you can’t exactly just waltz in there.” She ruffles Diori’s hair and smiles. “How’s my favorite baby sister, anyway?”
The small elf giggles tiredly as her hair is messed and she chews her oatmeal. “Good! I’m excited for lessons today.”
Grimory yawns tiredly as he steps down the sturdy wooden steps. He rubs at an eye and gives Kel’ori a wave. “Oh. Hi, again.” He pulls up a chair to sit in it backwards and combs a hand through his mane.
Kel’ori smiles and kisses Diori’s cheek. “Right. You eat all that up, help you think.” She leaves in a spark of light.
Taveth blinks the dots from his eyes, then gives the girl a devilish smile. “We don’t have to tell sissy if we skip lessons, do we? Bet you’d rather go on an adventure! Learn some real things. I’ll need more books.” He leafs through his books, smiling at the restored pages, though the color from the run still smears across the pages.
Diori’s eyes light up. “An adventure?”
Grimory narrows his eyes. “What kind of adventure? The dangerous kind?”
“Those are the best kind,” Alisbeth says, wrapping her arms around Grimory from behind.
“No, no. Should be safe. Just Karazhan.” Taveth smiles at the two.
Grimory scowls. “There’s a reason Karazhan is closed to the general public.” He sets a hand on Alisbeth’s arm.
In a flash of light and a loud crack, Kel’ori returns to the inn. “He said yes. I guess you earned points with him with the books and the stone thingy.”
Taveth stands, smoothing his leather vest absently. “Oh! Well, I-I… I need books and pens. My satchel. This will be amazing!”
“You’re getting flustered. Go pack.”
“Heh.” He smiles at the others. “N-no time to lose!”
Kel’ori rolls her eyes after him, then smiles at Grimory. “I forgot to say hi back.”
Grimory gives a tired smile and leans his head back. “I’m used to it.” He gives Alisbeth an apprehensive glance. “You think it’s a good idea? I mean…I suppose my opinion doesn’t mean much but Karazhan? I don’t know…”
Diori looks up at Alisbeth from behind Grimory’s back, eyes wide and pleading and cheeks full of oats.
“I think that—”
“Fucking balls, it’s true! You really are alive.” Kel’ori goes to lift Alisbeth’s hair and inspect it.
Alisbeth slaps her away. “I think it’ll be fine…if we go. Tav is too scared to— Stop it!” She slaps her cousin’s hand harder.
The Illidari groans. “I’m kind of done going out of the city for a while. You can go…if the old man even permits it.”
Alisbeth pouts and whines through puckered lips. “But I don’t want to go if you don’t go.”
Kel’ori makes a face. “Gods, you’re worse than when you were alive. How’s the Light treating you these days, oh pious one?”
“Suck a cock, Kel.” Alisbeth raises her middle finger as emphasis.
“Don’t blame me for your downfall.”
Alisbeth frowns and hides her face in Grimory’s back. “Don’t listen to her, Diori. She’s what we call a snatch. And she says lies about me.”
Grimory scowls at the language and presses his palms over Diori’s ears. “Snitch. She means snitch,” he says down to her, despite deafening her.
Diori blinks her large eyes and nods slowly, though she didn’t hear.
“Wow, you are such a bad mother,” Kel’ori says, then leans in to whisper, “No wonder you abandoned her.”
Alisbeth grabs the top of the elf’s head, threading her finger through her hair, and slams her forehead into the table. “Don’t you ever talk to me like that!”
Grimory instinctively scoops Diori into his arms as the table quakes and stands. He gives Alisbeth a nervous look. “Not in front of her.”
The innkeeper runs over, her eyes wide as she holds her hands out for them to stop. “What is going on over here? Alisbeth, you know better.”
The death knight fidgets, then quickly whispers in the human woman’s ear what was said. The elf purses her lips at the mage.
“I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
“What? Why me? She got violent!”
She nods. “Yes, but when you provoke Anarchaia’s guest on purpose, I have to intervene before something gets broken.”
Anarchaia steps into the lounge with her teacher in tow. She has a large satchel over her shoulder and her hood up to stave off the bright morning sun. The two stop at the scene. “Uhm,” she chirps. “Good morning?”
Alisbeth gives a gentle smile to Diori. “Sorry, sweetie. I didn’t mean to frighten you. But, she’s mean. And mean people need to be taught lessons, right? You don’t say mean things, do you?” She strokes the girl’s hair gently
Diori shrinks into Grimory’s pectoral, a cheek still full of oats. She shakes her head. “Mm-mm.”
Kel’ori’s lips curve into a devilish smirk, before she feigns excitement. “You’re Anarchaia. Oh, my gods. Hi! I’ve heard so much about you and that you’re so smart and you’ve learned more than students my age. Can I take a S.E.L.F.I.E. with you?” A camera poofs into her hand.
Anarchaia blinks and hesitates, not familiar with the feeling of being fondly recognized. “U-Uh. Sure, I suppose. Heh.” She gives a painful smile beneath her mask as the photo is snapped, then clears her throat. “I’d love to sit and chat about…learning but we were hoping Taveth would be here. We’re close to running late. Heh. Sorry.”
“He left to pack,” Grimory says as he gently sets Diori back in her spot to finish her breakfast.
“We’ll only be there a day,” Khadgar says in a low voice as though speaking more to himself than anyone else.
“You still need to get out,” the innkeeper says to Kel’ori.
The elf glares at her and then at Alisbeth. “This isn’t over, Miss Perfect.” She kisses Diori on the top of the head, then ports out in a flash.
“No teleporting in my building!” the woman calls angrily.
Taveth runs through the doorway, checking his bag. He bumps into the back of Khadgar and falls to the floor. The elf stares up at the man, his face creeping to crimson. “I-I am sosososo sorry. I-I should look…where I’m going.” He swallows and wishes for a moment that he were invisible.
Diori smiles and waves at Taveth.
Khadgar turns and gives a quiet chuckle, then offers a hand to assist him back to his feet. “Quite all right. Collected everything, have you?”
Taveth’s blush remains, though it dulls some as he avoids looking directly into Khadgar’s eyes. “Y-yes. I have, uh, three new journals and three pens and a well of spare ink, plus some sample bottles—i-if you don’t mind me taking samples, that is!” He shifts the bag and checks to make sure his dagger is still secured in the outer pocket. He eyes Grimory as he feels the item, then casts his gaze back to the two in front of him. “Oh! Anarchaia, so nice to see you again.”
Alisbeth frowns and folds her arms. “Mean girls are the worst. Tav says I was his childhood bully, but he doesn’t realize that her use of ‘nerd’ is not a term of endearment. How does she treat you?” she asks Diori. “Do I need to rough her up for you?”
Diori shakes her head and smiles. “Sissy is always so nice. She’s never hurt me.” Her smile fades. “Please don’t hurt her again…”
Alisbeth forces a pained smile. “I can’t promise that I won’t, but I can try.”
“That depends on the samples,” Khadgar mumbles nervously.
Anarchaia grins and gives a smile accompanied by a wave. “How are your journals? Did Kalec do a good job?”
Taveth shifts nervously. “Heh, o-of course I’ll ask, first, sir.” He smiles wider at Anarchaia. “He did a fantastic job! The smudged ink is still there, but I don’t care about that. The words have all been restored! Oh! Did you get what you wanted out of them?” He shifts back to addressing Khadgar, staring at his face for a second, before his eyes flit elsewhere.
“I did. I had Ana copy everything into a separate tome for our collection in the library. I…hope you don’t mind.” Khadgar turns, ushering for the two to follow.
“Oh, right. Kolt is waiting for us.” Anarchaia waves at the three in the lounge. “Bye, guys!” She scurries after her mentor, pulling Taveth behind her.
He chuckles nervously. “Oh, that’s quite all right. Anything to help. Oh! Wait!” Taveth pulls free of Anarchaia to give Diori a goodbye hug. “I guess we’ll have to learn another time. Enjoy your lessons.” He kisses the top of her head.
“Okay!” Diori sings and kisses his cheek. “Be careful!”
Alisbeth leans over the table to give his shoulder a weak punch. “Be safe, Tabbef. Or I’ll resurrect you and you’ll be stuck like me.”
“Care to demonstrate your newfound ability to teleport three people, and bring us downstairs?” Khadgar says down to his student with a smile as Taveth nears.
“Can’t you just teleport us all the way there? Or make a portal?” Anarchaia responds with a nervous titter.
“Don’t be lazy.” The Archmage takes her hand in his and holds out the other for Taveth to take.
Anarchaia groans with apprehension.
“Heh.” Taveth swallows and takes the man’s hand. “G-good to practice.” He gives Anarchaia an encouraging, yet shy smile.
Anarchaia mutters something under her breath and grabs Taveth’s other hand. “Don’t let go.” After a brief moment of collecting, she teleports the trio. Once in the tall room just below the Chamber of the Guardian, she exhales and stirs.
Khadgar grasps her by the upper arm to steady her and smiles. “Well done. Only took twenty years,” he laughs and directs the two to a portal near the bottom of the slow sloping stairs. “Second to last.”
Taveth fails hiding the Alisbeth-like grin on his lips as he steps through. The tall spires of Karazhan tower over him, birds circling the top—looking miniscule, though he knows they’re not. He immediately takes out his first blank journal and begins sketching the castle across two adjacent pages to capture its width.
Anarchaia leans over his shoulder as he sketches and hums a note. “So, you do do all your own illustrations. Very nice. You and Grim have something in common.” She chuckles and steps ahead of him. While actively avoiding looking up at the spires and ignoring the ominous feeling in the pit of her being, she smiles as a familiar face comes into view. “Did we keep you waiting long? I hope not…”
Taveth smiles, but doesn’t look away or stop drawing. “Yes, I find that doing my own art for the research is best, as I don’t much like taking a partner along. Too much talking.” He glances at her and grimaces. “N-not that I’m loathe to be here with you and Khadgar, heh.” He shoves his glasses up his nose and puts his face back to the book. “And Koltira. Hi.”
Koltira looks up from his investigation of some destroyed rocks. “Oh, not long. Though, I should have brought a book.” He cocks an eyebrow at Taveth, then gives Anarchaia a look. “Hello, Taveth. And Archmage Khadgar, always a pleasure.” He gives the man a respectful bow.
“Always,” Khadgar responds with the slightest of nods. He strides past the party to the door—barricaded by a portcullis that rises at his approach. He digs around in the satchel at his hip and frowns after a moment. “I… The key.” He perks as Anarchaia’s hand slinks up beside him, a large skeleton key between her fingers. “Oh. Right. Heh.” He unlocks the door before pushing it open gently.
Anarchaia leans her shoulder against Koltira’s arm. “So how have you been? Busy?”
Koltira wraps his arm around the mage for a tight squeeze, then releases, unsure how to act with her around Khadgar. “I’ve been…thinking, mostly. Aiding the Deathlord with…things.” He shrugs. “How have you been? I…” his voice drops to a whisper, “I’ve missed you so much.”
Anarchaia flushes, but frowns slightly at the hush in his voice. “I’ve missed you too. Well, heh, I’ve been asleep, but I still…” She shudders as they cross the threshold into the cold lower chambers. The sconces light themselves as the doors close behind the party.
“Hm,” Khadgar muses as he looks at the shadows on the walls. “Something’s…off.”
Taveth looks up from his drawing and glances around. “Off?” His hand drifts to feel the dagger through the leather, reassuring him.
The hairs on the back of Koltira’s neck stand up and he frowns. “Undead are here.”
Khadgar grins back at them. “You don’t say.” He turns to the stairway leading to the ballroom on the floor above. “But in all seriousness, I believe you’re right, Deathweaver. It’s been years since anyone but myself has been here. I imagine it has a few new residents.” He runs a gloved finger along the banister and notes the thick dust. He looks at Taveth. “You’ll get plenty of sediment samples at least, no?”
“O-oh! Right. Thank you.” Taveth pulls out a small jar and urges a good amount from the banister. He corks it and slips it into his bag. When he turns around he stops, finding Koltira staring at him. “What?”
“Isn’t it just dirt?”
Taveth leans back as though slapped. “The sedimentary composition of the ‘dirt’ can be effected by weather, spiritual movements, location, and the particles can identify the inhabitants—”
“Okay, okay. I really thought the explanation would be short. Keep playing with the dirt.”
Anarchaia gives a quiet titter and shrugs. “Dust is mostly dead skin.” She wiggles her fingers at Taveth. “I wonder what’s in here that has skin, hm?”
Taveth stares at his shoe and mumbles, “I know what dust is made of.”
Khadgar shudders at the thought as they reach the top of the staircase. “Rats, stray cats, bats…” He pauses. “And other things that rhyme, I’m certain.” He notices a small piece of rubble lying on the tattered carpet and picks it up, then finds its correct location within the pillar beside him and pushes it into the empty alcove. The seams around the stone disappear as it’s restored. “What do you think, Ana? There isn’t too much structural damage. We could repair most of the building ourselves.”
The smaller mage hums as she glances around the empty ballroom. She notices the chandeliers on the ceiling and lights them from afar with a wave of a hand. “I suppose. The dust would be difficult. And I’m willing to bet a lot of damaged items are missing their respective pieces.”
A quiet wail sounds from the depths of the spires above. The undead bites her lip and hesitates before glancing past her teacher and into the adjacent room. She narrows her eyes suspiciously and steps over to the massive open archway. Tables line the room—all filled with food.
“Look,” she says in a hushed tone, urging the men forward.
Khadgar pushes past her into the room with a mixture of curiosity and irritation. “Squatters, perhaps? But how could they have possibly prepared all this?” He takes off a glove and sets the pad of a thumb on an unlitcandle in its holder. “It’s warm,” he says, eyes narrowing.
Koltira blinks as he sees people sitting in the chairs. He rubs his thumb and forefinger over his eyes and the vision is gone. “I don’t think they’re your typical sort of squatters.”
Taveth follows Koltira’s gaze and sees nothing. He opens his book and begins sketching he lively banquet hall, making notes about the items being warm and the remarks the others are making.
Nodding at Koltira’s suggestion, Khadgar takes a step away from the table as a chill runs through him. “Ana. Invisibility.”
Anarchaia nods and does as she’s commanded. Her form fades from existence as it melds into the scenery. When she returns only moments later she hugs herself. “Definitely not typical. Skeletons and specters. They…saw me. Heh.”
A hush falls over the room. One-by-one the seats fill with ghastly and angry looking patrons, eyes locked on the intruders in the doorway.
Taveth takes a step back and finds himself backed against a pillar, his book pressed to his chest. “Well, isn’t that a nice turn of events.”
“Stay behind me,” Koltira says, as though Taveth might have the urge to step forward.”