Koltira stares into his whiskey glass, the empty bottle beside him. He downs the liquid and hails Ervaen for another bottle. As when he’d first walked in, he avoids making eye contact in the hopes of avoiding answering questions about their travels and especially about the man’s siblings.
Ervaen sets the bottle before the death knight and takes up the glass he’d been polishing. He watches the man make efforts to avoid his own stoic gaze while mindlessly running the cloth over the cup. “Is everything all right?” he finally says as though he’s said it a thousand times before to a thousand different people.
Koltira says nothing for a long while. As he starts in on his third glass of drink, he lets out a long breath. “I liked him. Even after everything that happened… And the fucked up part is I can’t tell him. And even more fucked up is that…even if I could bring him back, I don’t think I actually would.” He gives a sardonic chuckle. “Pretty sure that makes me a special kind of piece of shit.”
Ervaen furrows his brow in the faintest of ways, his polishing slowing. “You lose a friend of yours?” he asks cautiously, studying the man’s pale, sullen face.
Koltira chews on his lower lip. “On Argus. Yeah.” He shakes his head and downs another tall glass of drink. “And your sister… I could hit that woman, but I won’t. Probably still hates him, even though it wasn’t his fault. Ana’s right about her.” He swirls the amber liquid at the bottom of his glass. “Sorry. Shouldn’t talk about your family like that.”
Ervaen knits his brow further. “I understand how Kel can be. I’ve been her brother for a few centuries.” He sets the glass upside down alongside the others, then inhales slowly as though thinking. “Someone I know?”
Koltira purses his lips for a long time, then closes his eyes. “A little. Grimory, the demon hunter we were traveling with.”
Ervaen pauses. “Diori’s father?”
Koltira puts his head in his hands. “Yes.” He thinks about the little girl’s sweet face; about how jealous he was that she was not his. The death knight growls and chugs straight from the bottle.
Ervaen furrows his brow upward in a rare show of empathy. He leans across the bar and eases the elf’s arm down along with the bottle. “It’s on me, okay? But don’t go downing it all like it’s water.” He sighs. “Perhaps it’s a good thing they did not know one another long.”
Koltira sighs. “You really think she won’t be just as devastated? She loves—…loved him.”
“I think she loved him as much as she would a distant relative,” Ervaen responds, resting his elbow on the bar. He sighs and runs his hand over his hair. “A shame. He seemed like a good guy.”
Koltira shrugs. “That’s all right, I suppose. Maybe she won’t even care. It’s only been a few months. Tav really liked him…a lot, actually.”
The high elf nods. “He did. Talked about him a lot after that excursion to Silvermoon.” He sighs as well. “I can only imagine how Alisbeth is faring.”
“Oh, yes, Alisbeth.” He gives a humorless laugh. “She hasn’t moved or shown any signs of life, except when someone put a sheet over him.”
Ervaen brings his lips in briefly to wet them with the tip of his tongue. He picks at a worn spot on the wooden bar top. “I’m sorry for your guys’ loss,” he says carefully. “But, if I’d be so bold, perhaps you all should be together right now. Instead of…” He motions to the bottle.
Koltira stares at the bottle as though it had just appeared. “Ana wanted to stay with him, but I just couldn’t. Taveth took Kel…who knows where. I think right here is where I want to be.” He swigs from the bottle to emphasize his point.
~ * ~
Taveth stares at the door of his family home for a long time, trying to build the courage to go inside. He sets his hand on the knob and quietly enters, his eyes immediately finding his bedroom across the living room, before scanning to make sure the coast is clear. He closes the front door as silently as possible, then makes a swift move to reach his room. Once inside, he presses his forehead to the wood and allows his tears to roll silently from his eyes.
A knock sounds on Taveth’s door after a few moments. “Tav…? Are you back?” Diori calls quietly from the other side.
He frowns and wipes his face. “Y-yeah. I’m…” She needs to know. He opens his door just enough for the small elf to fit. “Come in…”
Dori’s inquisitive gaze turns to one of concern upon seeing her cousin’s flushed, blotchy face and glistening eyes. “Are…you okay?”
Taveth stares at the girl and only sees her father. His face pinches as he finally loses himself to the sobs. He sinks to the floor and pulls her to him, hugging her tight as though she, too, might be lost.
Diori blinks, then slowly brings her arms up to return the embrace. The intensity of his sorrow brings frightened tears to her eyes. “T-Taveth…what’s wrong? What happened?” she says with a sniffle, gripping his shirt.
Taveth forces himself to calm down but doesn’t look at her. “I have…very bad news and…I don’t know if I should tell you just yet or…”
Diori swallows and loosens her grip. “What happened? Where’s Kel?” She wipes her cheek on his collar.
“She’s with a friend. I, um… I have some bad news about G-Grim.” He clears his throat.
Diori goes silent for a long moment. “What happened to Father?” she whispers, pulling away to look at him with a wet, sticky face.
Taveth licks his lips and takes a breath. He looks Diori in the eyes, trying hard not to break down again. “We were fighting a rather dangerous demon and it went after Kel. She had nowhere to go. Before any of us could do anything, Grim got between her and the demon.” He swallows and purses his lips. “H-he saved Kel’ori’s life, but…”
Diori’s eyes widen again and fresh tears slowly well within them. “Grim-…Grim’s…?” Her lips purse and quiver as though if she were to utter the word she’d share the same fate. She throws her hands over her face and gives a loud sob. “He can’t be!” she cries, launching herself at Taveth to bury her face in his chest.
Taveth squeezes the girl tight. “I’m so sorry. Would you…like to see him?” I hope they cleaned him up.
Diori shakes with silent sobs, then nods into his chest. “Yeah…please,” she hiccups.
“We’ll, um, have to find out where he is right now. I’m not sure if he’s still on Argus or…” He wipes his eyes and lifts her into his arms, grunting at her weight. “Would you like to wait with Ervaen while I find out? He’s in Dalaran, now.”
Diori sniffles more and nods, hugging his neck tighter. “Won’t he be mad?” she says, voice raspy and dry. She hiccups a few more times. “No kids in the tavern…”
Anarchaia steps into the quiet tavern and silently takes up a seat beside Koltira.
Ervaen lifts his eyebrows at the hunched over figure. “I heard. Can I get you anything? On the house.”
The mage silently shakes her head.
Koltira wraps an arm around Anarchaia and pulls her closer. “How’s Ali?”
Anarchaia slowly inhales through her nose. “N-…Not good. She’s completely lost it. I was scared so I left.” She puts her face in her hands, elbows on the bar. “I think I can trust her with him.”
Taveth carries Diori as far as he can, then has her walk beside him, holding hands, until they reach the mage quarter. In Dalaran he takes her into the tavern, quickly spotting his older brother talking to the death knight and the mage.
Koltira shakes his head. “Lost it, how?”
Anarchaia swallows. “Sh-she—”
Taveth approaches cautiously, then clears his throat. “I suppose this is one less stop I have to make. Diori wanted to see Grimory, if that’s…possible?” He looks first to Koltira, then to Anarchaia for an answer.
She turns at the sound of Taveth’s voice, then brings a hand to her mouth at the sight of the distraught Diori. “Oh. Sweetie. Uhm…” She looks at Koltira then back to the small elf. “Yes. But we should be there…I think.” For your safety.
Taveth nods. “Of course. Do you want me to go with you?” he asks Diori.
Diori immediately nods with little thought. “Yeah…”
Koltira takes Anarchaia’s hand and leads the way. “Ana, what sort of Ali should we be expecting?” he hisses low enough for only the two to hear.
She fidgets, her shoulders slumping as though uncomfortable. “She was…singing. Bouncing around the room. Climbing things. Climbing me.” She takes in a shaky breath, calming herself. “Now I’m worried about having left him with her.”
Diori rubs her nose with her wrist and follows, tears still welling in her eyes. “He said he’s died before. He’ll be back again, right?”
Taveth shakes his head. “I really don’t know.”
Koltira holds his breath at the door. “Only one way to find out.”
He opens the door to find Alisbeth in her underwear, a dagger in one fist as she stands almost crouched in front of the bed. Her head tilts sideways and up to look at him.
“Trespassers! What business have you? I will not stand for the cruel things you’ll do.” She holds the dagger at the ready, though her manic smile never wavers.
Diori pushes herself tightly to Taveth’s side. “A-Ali…?”
Anarchaia holds up her hands at the sight of the dagger. “Where did you get that? Ali, give it to me… Please.” She extends shaky fingers. “Diori wants to see Grim.”
Alisbeth’s eyes train on the mage. “Knock, knock. Come right in. Now the fun can begin. Ali’s gone, I told it so.” She leaps to her dresser again and crouches, her head sideways and angled down at Diori. “These are creatures we don’t know.”
Taveth grips the girl tighter as Koltira slides between Alisbeth and the others.
“Give me the knife,” he demands.
She sneers at him. “Look at you, big and strong. All you ever do is wrong.”
He blinks, set off kilter by her words.
Diori gives the faintest of whimpers. “Make her stop,” she pleads to her cousin.
Anarchaia, swallowing her fear, scoffs and steps forward again, hands glowing a smoky violet. “Ali. Hand over your weapon.” A swirl of rage rises in her chest and she clenches her fists. “I’m in no mood for games.”
Alisbeth grabs Anarchaia by the front of her robes. “I told it there’s no Ali here. Tell the others. Stop their fear.” She shoves the blade of the dagger into the wall, then leaps across the distance to grab the poles running along the top of the bed, where the canopy should be. She hooks a knee over the wood, then falls back to dangle from it. She stares at them as she reaches down to take Grimory’s now-cold hand. “All the love has gone away. You traitors leave,” she swings her free arm wide to motion at them, then points at Diori. “The girl can stay.”
Taveth clenches his jaw. “I’m not leaving her alone with you.”
Alisbeth snarls at him, but otherwise doesn’t move.
Diori buries her wet, frightened face into Taveth’s vest.
Anarchaia huffs and lifts a hand. Purple energies lift and pull at Alisbeth’s feet, attempting to pry her from the bed post. “If you’ll just comply, I won’t have to polymorph you!” she hisses. “Or call Meryl.”
Alisbeth claws at the bed post and wraps herself tighter around it. “What’s a Meryl? Why so mad? Can’t you see the girl is sad?”
A purple swirl appears in the middle of the room and Tryxora dashes through, her whip raised and ready to strike. “Master? Are you okay?”
He breathes an odd sigh. “Tryx, charm Alisbeth, please. Get her to come out into the hall.”
“Anything for you, Tavy-wavy.” She shoves Anarchaia aside and looks into Alisbeth’s eyes. After a moment she furrows her brow and leans closer as though trying harder.Diori looks up at the sound of the otherworldly voice. Her brow furrows at the sight. “W-what is that?” she squeaks, tightening her hold.
Taveth kneels. “Don’t worry, that’s Tryxora. She’s going to charm Ali to get her to calm down.”
<<No, I’m not.>> She goes to the high elves, directing a small grin down at Diori.
“Why?” Koltira demands, already tired of the nonsense.
Tryxora giggles. <<I can’t charm things that don’t have eyes, silly. Didn’t anyone ever tell you, the eyes are the windows to the soul?>>
Taveth sneers. “She says Ali doesn’t have…eyes…”
Alisbeth’s wide eyes jump from person to person, before settling on Diori. She grins and lowers from the bed as the others speak. She reaches into the drawers of the dresser until she finds the one she’s looking for. Slowly, she stretches a candy cane out to the high elf. “We found a cane—a little treat. Something nice for something sweet?”
Diori shrinks away from the demon, then again from the death knight. She sobs and releases Taveth to flee the room, hands over her eyes.For the first time, the wide grin on Alisbeth’s face wavers. She holds the candy up for Taveth, but he turns away and runs after Diori; Tryxora follows.
Koltira purses his lips. “Happy now?” he scoffs down at the death knight gently humming by the dresser as she cradles the candy cane.
The mage sighs heavily, face in a hand. “M-maybe we ought to…restrain her. Put her somewhere she won’t hurt anyone.” She swallows. “Or herself.”
Koltira shakes his head. “I just want some normalcy. But I guess that’s too much to ask for.” He quickly grabs Alisbeth by the arm when she tries to leave the room. “Let’s figure out where to put her? I mean…how badly could she hurt a corpse?”
The cords in Anarchaia’s neck tighten at the word corpse. “I…don’t know. And that’s what scares me.” She fidgets. “We can lock her in a separate room? Heh.”
The death knight shrugs and grunts as the blood elf pulls against his grip. “We could try, yeah. Maybe at least to get Diori back in here.”
Anarchaia nods and lifts a gesturing hand. In a swirl of violet smoke, Alisbeth is transformed into a sauntering tortoise. She kneels to pick it up, avoiding the flailing claws. Tiredly she leaves, sets the tortoise in the neighboring room and places a hand on the door when she closes it. With a few quiet words, the wood shines fuchsia then fades back to its lifeless brown. She stands for a moment, head low and fingers still against the door.
Koltira purses his lips behind her. “I’ll go find the other two.” He walks away before she can say anything, his head low as helplessness weighs on him. For a moment he contemplates just returning to getting drunk. Instead, he heads out into the streets to find the high elves.
Diori weeps quietly against Taveth. She’d run as far as the outskirts of town, ran until the edge stopped her. She’d collapsed and remained there until her cousin, drawn by her cries, discovered her. She hiccups multiple times to try and calm herself. “It’s—not—fair…” she sobs.
Taveth’s heart clenches in his chest as he stares out at the nightborne city below. “Any part in particular or just…all of it?”
Diori shakes her head. “All of it,” she hisses after a moment. “It’s not fair to Ali. Or Grim. Or us.” She sniffles and rubs her nose against her upper arm.
He frowns and strokes her hair. “I don’t think she meant to scare you. I…don’t even know if she knows what she’s doing.”
“Neither do I,” Koltira says behind them. “We locked Ali in another room, if you still want to see Grim.”
Diori starts at the sound of another voice and looks up to see Koltira. She sniffles and nods, tugging on Taveth’s sleeve. “Only if Taveth comes.”
The high elf smiles. “Anything for my favorite sister.” He hugs her tight and stands to follow the death knight back to the inn.
Once there, Koltira stops. “I’m gonna…go back to the tavern. Good luck.” He fixes his gaze on the little girl. “And I’m sorry.”
Diori swallows hard at the death knight’s apology, then forces a teary smile. “Thank you.” Still holding Taveth’s hand tightly, she pushes through the door to find it now quiet save for the quiet sniffles of the mage bent over the edge of the bed.
Anarchaia jerks up at the sound of the two and quickly stands. She smooths out her robes and rubs at her cheeks over her mask. “O-oh! Heh. You’re back.” She swallows and fiddles with her fingers. “I-I put Ali in the next room…”
Diori makes her way to the side of the bed as well. She tentatively reaches for the demon hunter’s now cold fingers. “Will she be okay?” she asks quietly.
The undead woman sighs and rubs at her nose with a sleeve. “I think so. She’s just…very upset.”
Taveth leans back against the door and folds his arms. He purses his lips and turns his head away after a long look at the demon hunter. “I think we all are.”
Anarchaia makes her way to Taveth’s side. “What about you? Are you okay?” She sets a hand on his shoulder.
Diori bends over the bed to rest her head on Grimory’s chest. Her face contorts and she sobs when she hears nothing, feels nothing. Her shoulders tremble and her fists clench. “It’s not fair.”
Taveth frowns. “I’m…” He pushes away from the wall to set a palm to Diori’s back. “I know. I’m so sorry.” He looks to the mage, unsure what could be done or said.
Diori hiccups. “I find out who my real father is and he dies. I find out who my real mother is and she’s crazy.” She sobs harder, then sits up and scowls down at the corpse before her. “You better come back,” she squeaks, then pushes away and angrily, somberly leaves the room.
Anarchaia watches her go, lips slightly parted in surprise and confusion. She blinks. “Tav. Can’t…you bring him back?”
The cords in Taveth’s neck tighten as he purses his lips at the mage. “What you’re suggesting I do is necromancy. I…I can’t. Not even for…” He sighs in resignation. “I’m not skilled enough to cast the spell. I would for him, though.”
Anarchaia shakes her head and takes a cautious step toward him. “Nono. Just…call to him. Through the nether. That’s how warlocks resurrect their fallen minions, yes?” A desperate smile pulls at her lips.
His brow furrows. “I…suppose I can send Thal’kiel to see if he can find him?”
She clasps her hands before herself and nods. “Could you? Please?”
He sighs and reaches into his satchel.
The skull shimmers into fiery existence and does a quick spin to orient himself. <<Oh, you survived. Color me impressed.>>
“Not right now. I’d like you—”
<<Not in the mood.>>
Taveth glares at the skull. “I order you to go into the Nether and…find Grimory.”
Thal’kiel growls. <<This is the stupidest, most pointless—>>
“Go, now! Before I never bring you out again.”
<<Fiiine.>> Thal’kiel shimmers out of existence before Taveth has time to put away the dagger.
The elf frowns. “I don’t know what you’re expecting.”
Hope runs through the mage like a wave, then dissipates at the elf’s words. Sudden doubt fills her and she visibly sags. “I…d-don’t know. Maybe we can communicate? Or…or…” A sob bursts from her chest and she covers her face with both hands. “Or something, damnit!”
With little else he can do to help, Taveth pulls the mage into a hug, realizing after the fact that maybe he needed it just as much as she.
Anarchaia pauses, suddenly caught in a dilemma of remaining collected or letting go. Unable to resist any longer, she clings tightly to the elf and, shoulders shaking, weeps loudly into his shoulder. After several minutes she suddenly jerks away and straightens, rubbing at her cheeks with shaky fingertips and adjusting her robes.
“I-I’m sorry, Tav. I just…” She sniffles and sighs. “Gotta be strong, right? That’s what…he’d say.” Her eyes fall over the demon hunter and a chuckle weakly falls from her lips.
Taveth frowns and shakes his head. “I think he’d be okay with you being upset. You think Ali’s okay?”
Anarchaia hesitates. “She’s…been quiet. Heh.” She pauses as if to emphasize the silence coming from the next room. “Though there may be a silencing charm on one or both of the rooms.”
Taveth frowns. “Diori’s right, this isn’t fair. And Ali…it’s like she just couldn’t handle it and…left.”
Anarchaia nods. “I think I’m more afraid of her now than when—…” She shakes her head. “I don’t know what to do with her, though. Do I just keep her here until she of sound mind, er sounder mind? Do I let her climb the walls in here and possibly do something to him?” She gestures to the body.
Taveth shrugs. “I don’t know. I’m as lost as you.” He finds another chair and sets it beside the first, then urges Anarchaia into the one closest to the bed, taking a place on the other. “But I’ll stay here with you. Until dinner, of course.” He frowns. “Unless you think I should go find Diori? Again…”
Anarchaia toys with the hem of her sleeve in an attempt to occupy herself. “I…” She looks up at him and swallows. Her gaze wanders toward the bed but she can’t bring herself to look again. “I’d rather not be alone, actually.”
Taveth nods and takes a breath to speak, then stops. He does so again, then stops. Instead of saying anything, he just nods.
~ * ~
Thal’kiel floats at a leisurely pace through the Nether, toward where Taveth’s minions tend to be. He spots Tryxora holding out a spiked paddle encouragingly to Spinewing. He sighs and floats over. “Could you, for once, stop that nonsense?”
Tryxora giggles. “I could but I like it.” She forces the paddle close to the other demon’s face.
Thal’kiel grumbles and turns to Spinewing, choosing to ignore the succubus. “The mortals wanted me to find your fleshy prison. I don’t want to spend a year searching the entire Nether, so… Where is he?”
Spinewing takes the paddle and easily snaps it in twain with one clenched, clawed fist. He snorts at the floating skull, his lips pulling against his overlying fangs as he smirks. “How the fuck should I know?” he laughs, tossing the pieces at the succubus. “Though, I still exist. So…perhaps as does he.”
Thal’kiel groans. “Useless, all of you!” He shakes side to side, then floats away.
“Good luck,” the doomlord drones as Thal’kiel zips away.