After hours of reading, wandering, and dry heaving into bins, Anarchaia is finally ushered up the stairs and back out into the fresh air. She groans and makes for the dock as quickly as she can with her dwindling sea legs. “If only I’d been here before,” she laments, leaning on a dock post for balance.
Taveth snaps his book closed and rushes to the mage. “Are you okay?”
“She’ll survive. Let’s go.” Alisbeth says as she sweeps past.
Koltira sets a tentative hand on Anarchaia’s back. “Are you okay?”
Anarchaia closes her eyes and straightens. She clears her throat. “W-what she said.” She averts her gaze from the water between the planks below and on either side of her and makes for the end of the pier. “So, what are we here for?”
“Prophet Velen is sending us to the Vindicaar, which is hovering just above Azeroth. From there we’ll space jump to Argus. It’s simple, really.” Taveth smiles and hooks his arm through Anarchaia’s, partially to keep her distracted and moving.
The mage nearly stumbles. “S-space jump? Like in a ship?” She looks up into the sky between her current location and the looming planet above. “I never once in my life thought…”
Taveth’s smile widens as uncontained excitement fills his eyes. “I know!” he practically shouts.
Alisbeth’s mouth twists up at one corner, though she does her best to appear unfazed by the information.
They party enters at the archway into the broken Draenei ship. They make their way down a long corridor with a cracked and poorly-mended ramp into a massive room where a crowd has gathered around Velen.
“Ah. The next group of brave volunteers,” the Prophet muses through his long, flowing beard. “Any particular business that brings you?”
Taveth smiles up at the Prophet and holds out his scroll.
Velen’s eyebrows raise. “You…?” He stares at Taveth for a minute. “Come, the Beacon is ready. Right this way.” He guides them to a circular golden pad in the floor. “I will be right behind you, I just need to collect the last of the volunteers.”
Koltira narrows his eyes at the high elf as Velen walks to the next group. “That was suspicious. What are your orders?”
Taveth shrugs. “Study. Take notes. Report. The usual. Ready?” He motions at the beacon.
Anarchaia hesitates as she looks over the platform and the glowing white light that it seems to emit. “Report to whom?” she says instead of commenting on the apprehension in her chest.
“Who cares?” Alisbeth says before Taveth can. She takes the mage by the elbow and steers her closer.
Koltira takes the mage’s hand and Alisbeth releases her. He smiles down at the undead woman. “Count of three?”
Her jaw tightens and she again stalls. After careful consideration, she nods. “Y-yeah.” She takes in a shaky breath. This isn’t going to be pleasant. “One…two…three.” Even upon the utterance of the word, she pauses. Gathering herself a final time, she pulls Koltira onto the platform. Even before the light envelopes them, pain seeps through her boots and up her legs. When they disappear in a flash of holy light, the agony tears through her body as though she’s been thrown into searing magma. She screams but hears nothing over the rush in her ears. What only is a couple seconds feels like minutes. When they finally reappear she releases the death knight’s hand to quickly leap from the platform and onto the cool interior of the ship. She falls to her hands and knees and shakes, heavy breaths puffing from her throat. “N-never again…”
“Harmless enough,” Taveth says. He takes Alisbeth’s had and pulls her through.
On instinct, she tries to escape, but is too slow as the beacon sends them upward. The journey seems to take a lifetime, all of it flashing before Alisbeth’s eyes. Her hands clench at her sides. Her mouth opens into a silent scream. On the other side she is deposited onto the floor in a fetal position, clutching the sides of her head as she screams and screams.
Anarchaia musters the strength within her arms and legs to push herself to her feet, but before she can even plant both boots on the floor, she’s wrenched upward by an arm. She cries out in surprise and mild pain but quickly quiets and holds her breath when she’s met with her teacher’s eyes—blue and simmering with fury.
“What are you doing here?” he hisses at her through Alisbeth’s screaming. “I told you to stay. I said—”
“I know!” she cries. “I’m sorry! I-I just—”
“Go back. Or I’ll send you back.” His hands glow purple around her upper arms.
“No! Just give me a chance! I want to help!”
“I’m serious, Anarchaia. This is no place for you. You’ve already had a firsthand taste of what can happen to you here,” Khadgar explains, anger still etched in his features.
“You have five seconds.”
The smaller mage deflates some and frowns as tears well in her good eye. “Okay.”
Koltira strides forward, gritting his teeth as though he hadn’t experienced bone-shattering agony moments before. “I asked her here. Ple—”
Taveth stands and rushes to Khadgar. “Please. I asked her here. You see, I’m in need of protecting and I could think of no one more capable.” He holds out his scroll for Khadgar. “We can speak in private if my need requires clarification?”
The Archmage gingerly takes the scroll after releasing Anarchaia from his grasp. He unfurls it and gives it a quick scan. His lips purse at the handwriting and he rerolls it for handing back. “Yes, fine,” he snaps, and motions for the high elf to follow him down the steps, but not before pointing a finger at his student. “You stay where you are until this is sorted. Are we clear?”
Anarchaia wraps her arms about herself and nods. “Crystal.”
“I-I’m so sorry, s-sir,” Taveth says, eyes wide and apologetic on Anarchaia as he follows Khadgar. “I would’ve asked, but, heh, we r-really had n-no way of reaching you. Heh.”
“So, when you want to borrow something from someone, but they’re nowhere to be found, you just take it?” Khadgar grumbles as they turn into a relatively secluded alcove near the bottom. “You could have taken anyone else. Any of the Archmages.” He narrows his eyes. “And what is your relation to the High King of Stormwind?”
Taveth bristles at the first comment. “I beg your pardon, Archmage, but Anarchaia is not a thing. When I want to borrow things I… Well, I usually just get my own. And no, no other mage would work. I…only know my sister. And she’s… I’m not taking her on a mission this important. Are you implying that your apprentice isn’t good enough to accompany me?”
“I didn’t say she was.” Khadgar sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose. “While you have the King’s orders, it’s not particularly your place to override my orders to my student.” He looks down at the man before him, the ire in his eyes fading some. “I’m sure you wouldn’t want someone close to you venturing to a Legion-riddled planet in the middle of space where return isn’t guaranteed?”
Taveth sighs and stares at the floor, his ears drooping some. “I didn’t know you cared that much for her. I…brought one of my two favorite people in the world, though. Because I believe in her abilities. And Ana’s. Your apprentice is…the closest thing I have to a best friend. I won’t get us into any situations that would cost any of us our lives. I promise. Plus, she really deserves this sort of exploration assignment, wouldn’t you agree? We could compare notes and share samples.” By the end, his eyes are shining with excitement over the new world.
Khadgar’s brow knits and he doesn’t smile. “I’m not here for research. I’m here to see to it that Sargeras can no longer torment our world with his twisted armada.” He chews on the inside of his lip and sighs again, folding his arms. “I didn’t want her to be here if something should happen to me. Nor did I want anything to happen to her. She’s my best friend, as well. And important.” He lowers his voice. “If anything happens to her–if you somehow inadvertently expose her to fel magic with that dagger of yours…”
Taveth flinches, his whole body curling as he wraps his hands over his satchel. “C-course not. Not even a little. If there is anything you need in the fight against Sargaeras, just ask. Koltira has orders here, too. He’s here to fight for Azeroth. I am merely…eyes for one who cannot come himself.”
The Archmage nods. “Right, then. I’d prefer she be back home sooner than later, so soak in all the information your requested eyes can handle and get her back.” He turns away to stride down the hall. “Keep yourself safe as well, Mr. Nightheart.”
~ * ~
Koltira sets his palm on the mage’s arm. “Are you all right?”
“Yeah,” Anarchaia says with a quiet sniffle. “He hasn’t yelled at me like that since…” She shakes her head and kneels to set a hand on Alisbeth’s shoulder. “Hey. You all right, Ali?”
Alisbeth stares at the mage through her fingers over her face. “Hooow’d I get here?” she asks.
Anarchaia furrows her brow at the change in the other girl’s voice. “The teleporter. Don’t you remember?”
Alisbeth pushes to her feet and rubs her head. “I fell in the shower. Then I think I went through a meat grinder… And now I’m here! Where is here?”
Koltira purses his lips and gives the mage a look.
A wave of disappointment washes over Anarchaia and she sobers and straightens. “We’re on a mission with Taveth. To kill demons, save people, and take notes. Doesn’t that sound like fun?”
The death knight claps in excitement. “I love killing things! And those other things you said. When do we start? Where’s Grim? OH MY GODS ARE WE IN SPACE?” Alisbeth races down the stairs to press her face against the glass where on the other side is a view of Azeroth among the stars.
Anarchaia sighs and shrugs to the man beside her. “I knew it was too good to be true. Heh.”
Taveth slinks back to the others like a dog whose nose was just struck. “I’m sorry, Ana. I…should’ve come alone.” He shifts his bag and turn to the window. “They’re about to make the jump to Argus, if you’d like front row seats. I see Ali has claimed hers.”
“It’s fine.” Anarchaia sighs and shrugs. “If I’m being honest, you aren’t the one who convinced me. Heh.” She steps toward the window and Alisbeth. Before she can make it, however, something deep within the bowels of the ship whirs to life and it lurches forward. She stumbles but regains her footing, then watches with awe at the speed at which they approach the shattered planet. “Amazing.”
Taveth sits on the top step and opens his fresh journal to draw the main chamber of the Vindicaar.
Koltira stands beside the mage and shifts in discomfort. “Now I feel badly. He took the fall for me being a selfish asshole.”
Anarchaia frowns up at him. She reaches for his hand. “It’s not your fault. I could have refused.” She gives a reassuring smile he cannot see. “If you’re still feeling sore about it later, we can make it up to him somehow.” Her smile turns wry. “After all, I’m mostly to blam—” She stumbles into him as the ship rapidly slows to a cruising speed. “Sorry. Heh.”
“What are you guys doing here?” Grimory ascends the stairs with fists at his side. “You guys know the main method of travel here is holy light magic, right?”
Koltira purses his lips at the demon hunter. “We figured that out. I was not warned. And it seems Taveth’s mysterious orders-that-go-above-everyone’s-heads didn’t say it, either. I think. I haven’t seen them.”
“Well whatever,” Grimory says with a wave of his hand. “We’ve already got orders to scout the surface and assist the barricades that’ve been set up. You guys will have a grand ol’ time getting around.”
Anarchaia fidgets with her hands. “I-I don’t really want to go through that again…”
“Again, I’m sorry,” Taveth says behind them. “I’ll understand if you want to go back to Azeroth. I hear they’ve set up a non-Light portal downstairs, but I haven’t checked.” He glances at the demon hunter. “Hi, Grim.” He doesn’t wait for a response, but walks up the platform to speak to Prophet Velen.
Grimory’s lower eyelids twitch at the curt greeting and he nods in return.
Koltira eyes the high elf. “Khadgar have a history of…whatever is going on with Tav?”
Anarchaia, for only a second, considers taking the portal downstairs, then remembers Koltira’s pleading and shoves the thought away. “How do you mean?”
Koltira purses his lips. “Remember how excited he was to be going? And now he’s just…here. And he didn’t even actually acknowledge Grim. His face isn’t pressed to the window beside Alisbeth… It’s like he doesn’t care anymore.”
Anarchaia sobers. “O-oh. Master…has a way with words. Heh. When he’s angry, he doesn’t assault you with anger but cold disappointment.” She frowns. “This is my fault. I shouldn’t have given in so easily.”
Koltira grabs the mage in a hug. “You actually didn’t. I practically had to flash you the puppy eyes. I was seriously about to just accept that I was coming here alone.” He sets his hand at her cheek. “I’m so glad that wasn’t the case.”
Anarchaia slowly smiles as she looks up into his face. She covers his hand with hers. “I was worried you were angry with me and seeing that you weren’t made it hard to decline.” She chuckles quietly. “I guess I just can’t say no to you.”
~ * ~
After glancing to see the usual pairs thoroughly distracted, Taveth asks Romuul to take him to the surface. Once there, he gasps, breathing in the brimstone air as the heat of it presses in on his skin. He finds a comfortable boulder and sits to sketch out the land as seen from high above on the winding path. He pauses and reaches into his satchel to run is fingertips across the rough vertebrae along he handle of the dagger; the gentle touch is enough for the skull to appear beside him, flaming and smooth. They remain in silence, staring out over the land.
<<Ah, home,>> Thal’kiel says gently, <<…I almost missed it.>> When he receives no response, he turns to stare at the elf. <<I can’t believe I’m saying anything…but you seem down.>>
“I feel as though since finding this dagger, anyone I mention it to or whomever finds out suddenly looks at me as though I’m a monster, rather than myself anymore.”
The skull gives a sort of wobble in the air as a nod. <<Ah, yes. Such a price comes with ambition. It’s a much lower cost than the rest of it.>>
“I’m not ambitious, though!”
<<Yet,>> Thal’kiel insists. <<Just don’t let anyone catch on, lest they take your disgustingly attractive head off.>>
Taveth smirks. “Did you just call me attractive?”
<<What? No! I was talking about myself! I was once quite the looker.>>
Taveth chuckles and returns to his sketch of the broken land. Thal’kiel floats closer to look over his shoulder.
<<Look at the land. See how the Legion has drained it of every useful bit of magic. Not even a soul of a worm remains. Such efficiency must be praised.>>
Taveth cocks an eyebrow back at him. “If everything dies, what is left to conquer?”
<<Good, you’re learning. It’d bring a tear to my eye if I had flesh.>> He pauses and looks over the land. <<Would you like to see what it once was?>>
“You can do that?”
<<‘Oh, you can’…>> he makes a few mocking noises, <<Of course I can do that!>> He hits himself against Taveth’s forehead, just once.
When the elf’s eyes open, he sees the land as it was—beautiful and green. Flourishing. “It’s… I have no words!”
<<Yes, well, doodle it, then. It’ll last longer.>> The skull spins away to explore the area, hiding himself in a cozy alcove to admire the destroyed world. <<Can’t believe I’m helping a simpering weakling.>>
“I enslaved a doomlord,” Taveth says casually.
<<Yeeesss, that’s right. You’re almost worthy of actually being called my apprentice.>>
Thal’kiel grumbles and goes silent, but stays in his little hiding spot.