Anarchaia hugs herself as she walks slowly through the forest, her eyes trained on the path ahead. I don’t need them, anyway. I’m more than capable of carrying this out myself. A noise causes her to stop and she turns. When she sees nothing suspicious, she purses her lips and turns back. A shock jolts through her when she immediately bumps into a tall figure that was not previously there.
“O-oh. Excuse—” She pauses at the bright cyan eyes of a kaldorei man looking down at her. “—me.” The air around the two grows thick and color seems to drain from the surrounding trees and foliage. All sounds from the birds and bugs cease entirely.
He smiles gently, arms folded at the small of his back. His robes are dark with gold trim and trinkets dangle from a sash about his waist. “No, excuse me, Ana. May I call you Ana?” He gives the faintest chuckle when her eyes widen. “I’ve come bearing—come now, there’s no need for that.”
Flames crackle around her fists as she takes a step back. “You’re the dragon…we’ve been looking for.”
“Observant of you, but rest assured I’m not here to fight.” He lifts a hand and the flames in her hands sputter out.
She gasps. I can’t move! Her eyes fill with apprehension as he steps closer.
“Now, as I was saying, I’ve come bearing a proposition, as it were.” He smiles again and runs a finger gently through a lock of her hair. “I’ll put it bluntly—assist me in killing my brother instead, and I’ll assure you a spot in any future you choose.”
Her frightened eyes flick between his. “Even one where you don’t assist Sargeras in taking over Azeroth?”
He nods, smile unwavering. “Any life you please—there is a timeline in which it happens. I will send you there, free of consequence.”
A menagerie of possibilities race through her mind. She falls abruptly to her knees when his magical grip on her releases. “I… I don’t know.”
“And as a bonus, I’ll let you keep that little shard you carry. You can keep your youth for as long as it holds energy.” He shrugs a shoulder. “Though it is technically mine—stolen from me by a crafty wizard over twenty-five years ago. Well, a couple years ago, here. I’m sure you know of him.”
She absently places a hand over her stomach, eyes still trained ahead as she continues to think. “Master Kel’thuzad.”
“The very same.” He kneels to look her in the face. “But betray me and I’ll rip it out of you regardless of what happens after,” he threatens calmly, still smiling. He extends a well decorated hand. “So. What do you say?”
Her gaze moves from his rings to his face. After much deliberation, her face slowly sets into one of determination. She grabs his hand with her own and nods.
He hums a laugh, eyes flickering with delight. “Marvelous.”
~ * ~
The sun is reaching high noon when a large figure grunts up to the front door of the barracks. After the brown hand tries the handle, it comes up to knock a heavy fist against the door. Koltira pauses in his reading and blinks. He stands and grabs Byrfost from the corner, lifts the plank barring the door, then opens it a crack. He narrows his frosty eyes at the tall orc standing outside in tattered, dusty clothing.
“Can I help you?” he asks slowly.
The orc narrows his orange eyes and purses his scarred lips. “I’ve been traveling for a long time and could use water.” He continues to scrutinize the elf, his body ridged and wary. “What are you?”
The death knight thinks on it for a minute. “An elf,” he says simply. “One that will not tolerate any hostilities against anyone within this building. But we have water and shade from the sun.”
“I am not an enemy,” he replies.
“Have you any weapons?”
The orc withdraws a simple bow and quiver from his back and hands it over. “Stay outside, Dammit.”
Koltira blinks rapidly. “What?”
The orc jerks a thumb at a purple warp stalker sitting patiently by the wall. “Thinks his name is Dammit. I’m Vultog, by the way.”
“Koltira. Come in.”
Inside, the others sit still nursing hangovers, save the mage. She looks up and furrows her brow as she lifts Bel’theas into her arms and covers his head.
“What is this?” she demands.
“He just needs some shade and some water,” Koltira says.
She conjures a pitcher of water and some glasses on the table, her scrutinizing gaze never straying from the orc.
Grimory narrows his eyes with as much suspicion. “And you let him in?”
“He’s pretty outnumbered,” Jorick mumbles, not looking up from wiping down one of his blades.
Baemalen, however, stands and goes to the man, hand outstretched in greeting. “Welcome to our circus,” he says with a wide grin. “Please, help yourself to anything that will help you recover.”
Taveth eyes the orc, who sits across the table from him and pours himself a glass of water. “Long way from home,” the elf says.
“Very,” the orcgrunts. “I’ve been wandering for weeks, trying to find a place to call home that isn’t among my people.”
“We had a…disagreement. I am in exile.”
Koltira sits adjacent and sets his sword on the table, not releasing the handle as he stays on guard. “As long as no trouble follows you.”
Henods and pulls his pack onto his lap. “I haven’t much, but I would like to give you something in exchange for your hospitality.” He withdraws a rolled bundle of small furs. “They aren’t large, but perhaps you can craft something for the child?” When Kel’ori says nothing and leans away, he sets them on the table. “So. Eh… I’m Vultog,” he says to the others.
“Grimory,” the blond Illidari says curtly.
“Baemalen!” the other chirps with a smile as he takes the gift into the next room.
The human, however, remains silent in his place.
Grimory sighs. “You wouldn’t happen to know anything about a bronze dragon causing chaos, would you? Or maybe a rogue blood knight with a spear and a pension for escape?”
Vultog scratches at his rough chin, then shakes his head. “I’m sorry. I can’t say that I’ve seen any such things. But, ha! A dragon? That’d be a sight, wouldn’t it?”
The others ease some, except for the mother nervously hiding her child on the carpet.
“Shame,” Koltira muses. “We could have really used the information.”
After a long pause the orc clears his throat. “He’s a stubborn idiot, but Dammit is pretty good at tracking. If you’ve got something that has their scent.”
Alisbeth comes into the room drying her hair. She stops and scrutinizes the brown orc. “Am I gonna be killing you later?”
Jorick gestures to the death knight woman with a thumb. “Ain’t she the same gal as the blood knight? Can’t we use her scent to find the other? It’d probably lead us to dragon boy.”
“No, Ali,” Grimory says slowly.
The orc gives an uneven laugh. “I, uh, don’t see why you’d want to kill me…”
“Because I like killing things!” She bounds over to get in his face, investigating his strange eyes. “Who are you? Who do you work for? Where did you come from? Why are you here?” She pulls on his long tusks.
He leans back in his seat, blinking rapidly at the woman. “Uh…”
“It’s easier to just answer the questions,” Koltira says.
“My name is Vultog. I don’t work for anyone. I came from Nagrand. I’m here for water and a reprieve from the sun.”
“Lies! You’re here to kill us!” Alisbeth shouts.
“Honestly? I thought this place was abandoned.” He relaxes some as Alisbeth backs away, though she keeps her narrowed eyes on him. “As for what the human said, maybe? If there is a trail to follow, Dammit might be able to sniff something out. But if she’s the same one, he might just circle around the house like an idiot.”
Grimory pulls Alisbeth to sit beside him in the chair.
Jorick scratches at his cheek in thought. “It’s kind of the only idea we have, so…”
Baemalen gives an uneasy chuckle. “Too bad you’ve already given us a gift or we could say your assistance would be payment.”
“We shouldn’t get him tangled up in this with us,” Grimory says.
Vultog sets his drink slowly onto the table, eyeing each of them. “And, uh, what is ‘this’?”
“The less you know, the better. We just…misplaced the blood knight we seek,” Koltira says.
“I’ve nothing better to do, anyway,” the orc replies. “I’ll help you. Any details you choose to divulge is up to you.”
Baemalen glances back at Grimory, who purses his lips. The redhead turns back around. “I guess there’s a bronze dragon here causing some serious mischief. Wants to help the Legion. So they’re here to stop him.”
“He’s got a little pet blood knight that keeps fucking with us,” Jorick grumbles. “Every time we catch her she seems to slither away before we can get any info.”
“She’s me,” Alisbeth says dejectedly.
He blinks at them. “If she’s you then how is she missing?”
“Not me me, but…another me! Who exists in place of me.”
“But, then…how do you exist if she exists in place of you?”
The death knight shrugs.
“None of this sounds…real. But I’ll let you have your story, and I’ll let you use that idiot out there to track the knight. When did you want to get started?”
Taveth holds out a hand, palm up. “We’ve got time for you to rest. No worries.”
“You didn’t happen to see a mage on your way here, either, did you? White hair, black and burgundy robes?” Jorick asks, looking up from his work.
The orc scratches his chin and grunts in thought. “I did not. I’m sorry. How did you lose these people?”
“The blood knight released us from the dungeon and then went to fix everything,” Alisbeth says.
“Our mage left because she’s a brat,” Kel’ori mutters from the corner.
Jorick sighs and resumes his work, doing his best not to look distressed.
Grimory gives Alisbeth a look. “She’s still going to try that bullshit?” He scoffs, anger rising. “Now we have to find her. If she fucks everything up, I’ll tear her head off with my own two hands.”
“What’s she doing?” Alisbeth asks, frowning at the demon hunter.
Kel’ori carefully stands, keeping the infant covered, and goes into the other room.
Koltira’s jaw clenches. “Is it too much to ask that people stay in one place?”
“Well, the other Alisbeth was a prisoner, so…” Taveth purses his lips and turns his attention to his hands as Koltira gives him a look.
“She’s trying to change the past so she and I—or you and I—could be together. With Diori,” Grimory explains. “But that would mess up a lot of other things, yeah?”
“Supposedly,” Jorick mumbles just audibly, then shrugs when he receives a scowl. “We assume.”
Alisbeth frowns. That doesn’t sound bad at all. She shrugs and says nothing, deciding to head outside, instead. After a while she crests the hill, humming as she gets farther and farther from the barracks.
Taveth thinks on it. “Well, there’s a possibility that either we continue on this path and a new reality is formed, or that everything we know will crumble and be reformed in the new reality. Of course, we likely wouldn’t know what had happened as I imagine our memories would be overwritten.”
Koltira purses his lips tightly. “I’d rather not find out which is which.”
“Oh?” Grimory says in Koltira’s direction. “So you’ve changed your mind?”
Koltira sneers. “Get off it.”
Taveth perks. “Changed his mind about what?”
“Nothing,” the demon hunter and mercenary say in unison, then look at one another; the latter chuckles but Grimory simply rolls his eyes.
“Where are you headed to?” Grimory asks. “One of us could help you get there.”
The orc shrugs. “Just looking for a place to call home, really. I’m, uh, open to suggestions.”
Jorick chuckles a second time. “Vagabond lifestyle not appealing to you?”
“We won’t be here forever,” Grimory adds. “When we leave you can have this outpost if you want, yeah?”
“Just nice to have a place to go back to,” Vultog says.
“Can’t disagree, there,” Koltira says.
~ * ~
Baemalen steps into the next room to check on Kel’ori. “Everything okay?”
The mage releases a long, tense sigh as she lowers Bel’theas into his crib. “Just… We don’t know that guy. I can’t keep Bel covered constantly, but I’ll be damned if I ever let Shattrath happen again.”
Baemalen gives a sympathetic grin. “Not everyone is as judgmental as the draenei. And I’m sure that even if the people of Shattrath knew the full story, they’d be more sympathetic.”
Kel’ori shakes her head and turns to the Illidari. “I don’t know. I want to protect him, but how do I do that without keeping him hidden his whole life?”
Baemalen chews on the inside of his cheek as she speaks. He shrugs a shoulder. “Eventually he’ll be old enough to fend off criticism for himself, no?” He smiles. “Can’t keep him under your wing forever.”
Kel’ori purses her lips and shrugs at him. “Maybe. But for now, is it so wrong that I do what I can? I mean, it’s an orc, for gods’ sakes.”
He gives another smile in place of a sigh and again shrugs. “I can’t tell you what to do—it’s your child. I just hate seeing people so worked up.”
She laughs and shakes her head. “I’m not worked up, I just left the room. Is that a crime? Besides, it’s his nap time.”
Baemalen moves his smile to the side, then chuckles and shakes his head. “You’re not on trial.” He turns back for the door. “Call if you need anything.”
“You’re leaving me alone? And I thought you liked me.” She gives him a sly wink, then glances at Bel’theas in the crib. “I suppose I can join you. Don’t need to watch him sleep…I hope.”
“Not leaving him alone in the building this time,” he says with a nervous chuckle, then returns to the others. “So what’s your story?” he directs toward the orc. “Friends? Family? Enemies?”
Kel’ori leans against the doorway to the hall as though standing in the way of the orc going back to where her child is sleeping. “Yes, tell us more about yourself. I’m sure it’s nothing bad, right?”
Vultog nods as he looks them over. “I understand your hesitation, what with a baby and all. I mean none of you any harm, I can promise you that. I left my clan behind due to…differences in moral choices. I don’t agree with the way our chieftain was leading us.”
“Not like you’d stand a chance against all of us anyway,” Grimory says, his eyes flicking to Kel’ori as though the words are meant to comfort her.
“Sorry about your boss,” Jorick responds, sliding the dagger back into its holster then pulling out the next. “Glad to hear you did the right thing. We’re to assume they won’t be coming for you, then?”
Vultog shakes his head. “No. I know how to avoid leaving a trail.”
“That’s good,” Taveth says from his journal. “We’ve had enough trouble around here.”
Koltira shrugs. “I mean, not lately. Been kinda dull.”
“Oh, besides the drama last night?” Grimory says, eyelids low.
“We’re low on bacon,” Kel’ori says. “You could go kill some pigs for us.”
He pauses, then shrugs. “I guess it’s better than nothing. Anyone else in?”
Jorick stands. “I’ll go with you. Nothing I can’t handle I suppose. And it’s better than sitting around here.”
Koltira rolls his eyes and shakes his head. “I suppose. Didn’t get to kill anything, though.”
“Not for lack of trying, heh,” Taveth says. “I’ll pass on the excursion.”
“Also pass,” Kel’ori says.
Vultog sets down his glass. “I suppose I can help. Never hurts to have a bow, eh?”
Koltira stands and sets his blade across his back. “Let’s get going, then. So you all can have pig for dinner.”
“I’ll stay back. Gotta leave some muscle behind to protect these guys,” Grimory says, gesturing to the rest.
Baemalen bristles for a brief second, then grins with an incredulous chuckle. “You, protect me? Aw, Grimmy.”
“Don’t call me that.”
Jorick is already out the door, hands in his pockets.
Kel’ori straightens. “I really think we have it covered,” she snaps, motioning between herself and her brother.
Taveth purses his lips at her. “I’d rather not right now.”
Koltira cringes and stands. “Yeah, have fun figuring it out. Bye.”
Grimory and Baemalen shoot one another a glance. The former folds his arms and looks away. “Sure.”
Vultog clears his throat awkwardly and stands, then silently follows the others out. Dammit uncoils and waddles to the orc’s side.
“Ugh, damn it.”
The warp stalker warbles in excitement.
“Insufferable.” His eyebrows raise at Koltira admiring his spare bow within the pack he’d left by the door. “You shoot?”
The death knight chuckles. “A little, yeah. Do you mind?”
“Go ahead. Better to kill the squealers before they can gore ya, right?” He snorts his laugh out and bumps the human with an elbow.
Jorick sways, eyelids lowering. “Almost certain I’d not mind at this point.” His green eyes slide warily to the creature accompanying them.
Vultog cocks an eyebrow at the human. “Have I offended you?”
Jorick forces a smile back onto his face. “No. Sorry. Just really worried about our friend is all. You honestly don’t have any worried about you?”
The orc grunts and shakes his head. “I sure hope not.”
“Not the friend type, eh? Don’t blame you.”
Koltira purses his lips tightly. “If she doesn’t return soon I may go looking for her.”
The human’s eyes shift past the orc to the elf. “I’m surprised you didn’t go looking right away.”
Koltira growls and shakes his head. “I was too angry. I just…” He glances over the land and jerks his chin. “Let’s go that way.”
~ * ~
Taveth fidgets for a moment. “So, eh, where do you suppose Ana and Ali ran off to?
“I’m sure Ali is just somewhere close by. Killing things,” Grimory says idly, folding his arms over his chest. “Ana can take care of herself.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure. These lands are pretty treacherous,” Baemalen adds with a shrug.
“In a pinch I’m sure Ana will just teleport away and hide, as usual. Can’t get hurt if they don’t find you.” Kel’ori snorts. “As for Ali, just listen for a scream or something.”
“Gods forbid you care about anyone else,” Taveth mumbles.
“Ali somehow always finds her way home. Sometimes roughed up and dishevelled, but always safe…ish. Ana melts giants’ faces off with meteors. I’m sure she’ll be fine.” Grimory frowns slightly. “Though I’d be lying if I said she wasn’t a huge asset to all this.”
Taveth nods. “I hope they come back soon. I really need to apologize to Ana. I have no idea what came over me and…I’m afraid it ruined our friendship. I don’t want to lose my best friend.” He frowns at the book in his hands.
Kel’ori purses her lips and leaves the room as the guilt gnaws at her.
Vendormu suddenly appears in the doorway, arms folded and leaning on the frame. “Sooner rather than later, preferably. She was a key factor in the recruitment for this assignment. I pray she’s not the type to turn out of spite.”
Grimory shakes his head. “Can’t see that happening.” Visions of Helheim return to him and he purses his lips. “Though, come to think of it…”
“The crazy death knight woman also seemed useful,” Vendormu continues, uneasy.
“Even when she spawned a murderous version of herself?” Taveth blurts, then purses his lips at his own bluntness.
Grimory gives him an annoyed glance.
“Rest assured she’ll be taken care of,” Vendormu says casually.
~ * ~
“Lookie what we have here. A lonely, little, dead…me.”
Alisbeth looks up from the insect hill she’d been watching to find the alternate version of herself standing nearby. She lurches to her feet and squares her jaw. “Bold words for a blip in time.”
“You’re the one who created me, aren’t you?”
“Maybe I should undo that mistake,” Alisbeth growls.
“And risk blowing a whole in space and time? Or at the very least, erasing yourself from existence?”
“I guess that’s a risk I’m willing to take,” Alisbeth says. She leaps at the woman in front of her, hands outstretched.