“But for how long?” Kaelsig chewed on the side of his thumb and lazily stirred his hot cocoa—now ice cold from his touch.
“Only a day or two,” Alisbeth cooed with a smile and smoothed his hair back to give him a peck on the forehead. “Cousin Taveth needs to do some things in Northrend and Grim and I are gonna make sure he doesn’t die while—”
“Yeah, he gets it, Ali.” Grimory stuck a well honed dagger into the pack at his hip. “Don’t you want to go see your half siblings again?”
“Kind of,” the boy mumbled and sipped his drink. “Is Diori coming, too?”
“Diori has classes and Kel’ori is watching her at night.” Alisbeth sneered at the name as it passed her lips then placed her axe across her shoulder blades.
Kaelsig huffed and scratched at his forearm. “Okay.”
“You ain’t got much of a choice, sport, but it’s good to know you’ll go willingly.” Grimory ruffled the boy’s hair and gave a chuckle.
Kaelsig swatted his hand away and stuck out his lower lip, avoiding eye contact. You’re not my father.
It didn’t take long for Kaelsig to pack a few of his belongings he figured he’d need—a couple outfits, toothbrush, a well-worn copy of The Girl with the Red Flower, and his new mechanical manawyrm. He took his mother’s hand and remained quiet as he was lead out into the streets of Dalaran.
~ * ~
Anarchaia wiped her flour-laden hands on her apron as she approached the door. “Good afternoon, guys,” she said with tired eyes and a smile. She bent slightly at the waist to regard Kaelsig. “Faltora and Aralisse are upstairs playing a board game.”
The shy boy nodded and took a step forward, but was immediately pulled back into his mother’s arms. He clenched his glowing eyes shut as his face was accosted by kisses. He frowned as Alisbeth’s wide eyes met his.
“If anything happens, I’ll be back faster than you can say Mama I’m scared and I wish you were here to save me. Okay?” she said, a panic in her frosty eyes that betrayed the wide smile on her face.
Kaelsig merely nodded, his ears pulled back in concern.
“I assure you he’ll be fine.” Anarchaia rested a hip on the door frame and watched the little boy scurry up the turn in the staircase. She turned, her smile gone. “Would you two like to at least stay for—” She grunted as the back of her head struck the outside wall, causing the lantern above her head to creak and swing. Her hands quickly grabbed at the one around her throat.
“Ali!” Grimory rushed forward to pry Alisbeth away, but the death knight resisted well.
“If anything happens to that boy, I’ll have your disgusting head on a pike.”
Unable to respond with her windpipe crushed, Anarchaia simply nodded.
Alisbeth released her and a smile popped onto her face once again. She patted the mage on the cheek. “Okay, we’ll be back soon!”
Grimory gave an apologetic glance and sighed. “Would you mind…?”
Anarchaia nodded and, without a word, waved the two back to Dalaran in swirls of light. She glanced at the second story window where she knew the children to be and grumbled as she trudged back inside.
~ * ~
Faltora grinned as Kaelsig entered the study. “Sig!”
Aralisse leapt to her feet so quickly that she nearly tripped on her flowy violet dress. She threw her arms around Kaelsig’s neck and bounced, squealing. “Mama said you’re staying over night?!”
Kaelsig gave a sheepish grin and nodded which earned his ears another assault of squeals.
“We’re playing Wizards and Warlords. What color do you want to be?” Faltora took the small velvet satchel from the box and dug around inside. “There’s white, red, and yellow left.”
Aralisse dragged the dark haired boy to the board and forced him to sit. “I’m blue. Isn’t it pretty?” She held up the intricately chiseled, sparkling piece.
Kaelsig smiled and nodded. “I suppose red, then.”
The trio played a fresh game for a short while before Anarchaia’s voice chimed from the hallway signaling dinner. Kaelsig nearly stumbled as he was pulled down the staircase by his half-sister while Faltora trotted patiently behind.
The children took up their seats, pulling the chairs closer together around the circular table. Three steaming, wooden bowls were set before each of them. Kaelsig’s mouth watered at the smell of boiled meat and potatoes. He eagerly scooped some into his mouth, then hissed at the heat.
“Wait for it to cool,” the woman across from them warned as she hung her apron from a hook near the kitchen doorway. She took a seat on the opposite side of the table. Before them appeared three polished wooden cups, and when Kaelsig reached for one he found it full of milk. He drank to cool his tongue, the cup chilling at his touch.
“Papa always gets the best rabbits,” Aralisse chirped through stuffed cheeks.
“Don’t speak with your mouth full, Ara.” Koltira spun his chair around and straddled it with his forearms on the backrest. He gave Kaelsig the faintest of smiles. “Hey, kiddo. How’ve you been?” An ornate, blown glass tumbler appeared before him and filled with a strong-smelling amber liquid and he took a long drink.
Kaelsig returned his father’s grin. “Good! Dalaran is really pretty. I’ve been working on my frost powers, too. Look!” He placed his spoon into his stew, then pulled it back up. The contents of the bowl came with, frozen solid. He set the iced soup back in the bowl and frowned. “But I can’t thaw it, yet.”
Anarchaia hummed a laugh and lifted a hand. The contents of his bowl rolled to a boil once more. “Keep at it. You’ll learn.”
Koltira chuckled quietly into his glass. “And how is your mother? I’d just missed them from the sounds of it.”
“As murderous as always,” Anarchaia muttered beside him and conjured a mug of warm tea for herself.
“Good!” Kaelsig responded again and took another bite despite the heat. “She yells sometimes—not like angry yelling but just loud—and buys me lots of things.”
Koltira gave a knowing nod and smile. “Sounds like Ali.”
Kaelsig swallowed, suddenly realizing. “Do you guys not eat, either? Like mother?”
The mage and death knight both nodded. “I can, but don’t prefer to. Ana tends to vomit anything she eats.”
“Dinnertable,” the woman beside him hissed embarrassedly and he shrugged.
“Well it’s true. Except when you were carrying the twins. Then I could barely keep up with my hunts.” He laughed at her blush and scowl.
“So why are you at the table then?” Kaelsig blurted after savoring and swallowing potato and peas.
Koltira shrugged again and emptied his glass. “Tradition. Family time.”
Kaelsig thoughtfully chewed, suddenly wishing that both of his families could eat together every night. An image of his forsaken parents flicked through his mind and he swallowed. Koltira’s voice snapped him back and he found his spoon still between his lips.
“So has your mother been teaching you to handle a sword? If I know her, I’m sure it was the first thing on the itinerary.” Koltira cocked his head as Anarchaia stood from her seat and gave a faint smile.
“Dishes. Heh.” The mage disappeared into the kitchen.
“A couple times. It’s hard.” Kaelsig brought the bowl to his lips to drink up the rest of the broth.
“Papa won’t let us touch Byfrost,” Faltora mumbled and pushed around a piece of meat in his bowl.
“I told you I’d get you a sword when you’re old enough.” Koltira crunched on an ice cube and wished Anarchaia hadn’t left without refilling his whiskey.
“Sig gets to play with swords and he’s younger than we,” Faltora continued, not looking up.
“He’s technically older than you,” Koltira said with restraint. “And I won’t hear anymore of it. Understood?”
Faltora nodded and pushed his unfinished bowl away.
After the dishes had been collected, the three hopped from their seats. “C’mon!” Aralisse grabbed her half-brother’s hand and made for the door. “We can shoot arrows!”
Faltora made to follow but his heels skid backward before he could reach the door. With folded arms, his body was pulled around the corner and into the kitchen. He pursed his lips up at his mother as his back gently bumped into her stomach.
“It’s summer. The sun will be out until nearly ten.” She held out a hand and it was filled with a small cloak which she clasped around his shoulders. She bent to her haunches and smooshed a kiss into his cheek before pulling up the hood and unrolling his sleeves. “Okay, go.”
Faltora furrowed his brow and bustled off into the backyard, then immediately ducked as a blunted arrow sailed past his ear, making his hood flutter.
“C’mon, Fala!” Aralisse nocked another into her small, neatly carved shortbow.
“The target isn’t even that direction,” Faltora said on a chuckle as he bent to pick up the one that had nearly hit him. He held it out to Kaelsig, then tucked his hands beneath his arms again.
Kaelsig lowered a brow at his attire. “Is it going to rain?”
The other boy shook his head. His red pupils seemed to shine from the shadows of his cowl. “I…have sensitive skin. Heh.” He rubbed at his cheek with a wrist as though the world could see where his mother had kissed him.
Aralisse picked up a small clay pot from the nearby rack and removed the lid. She dipped the end of her arrow into the receptacle and the blunt end came out with a powdery blue coating. “Here!” She handed Kaelsig the bow.
He chewed on his lip. “Mother and Grim tried to teach me how to loose, but they aren’t very good…”
“Oh!” Aralisse chirped and moved to stand behind him. “I’ll show you like papa showed me. Here!” She stuck her tongue over her upper lip in concentration as she bent and lifted his arms up. Like a poseable doll, she moved his shoulders, hips, and even bent down to move his heels. “Okay! There’s no wind today so you can just let go.”
Kaelsig did, and the projectile thwump!ed into the target and bounced off, revealing a dark blue mark just outside the bullseye. He smiled, thrilled, while Aralisse hopped and clapped beside him.
She dipped another in the powder coating and handed it over. “Again! But do it yourself this time, okay?”
Kaelsig nodded and aimed down the shaft with a blue eye closed. He loosed and the arrow bounced off the edge of the target.
“You hit it, at least,” Faltora mused with a shrug. “I can barely do that with papa’s help.”
“Well you’ve got magic so you don’t need to be good with arrows, too,” Aralisse sneered. “That wouldn’t be fair.”
“Well life isn’t fair.” The other stuck a pale tongue out to his sister.
“Maybe not, but that’d be extra unfair…”
His half-siblings’ voices seemed to fade out as Kaelsig turned to grab another arrow. Through the kitchen window he could see the couple inside having a heated conversation and, in his gut, he knew it was about him. Anarchaia covered her face with her skeletal fingers—still wet with suds from dishes—and Koltira spoke with gentle yet purposeful hand motions, a knit brow, and tight shoulders. He slowly nocked his arrow in his stupor.
“Right Sig? …Sig?” Aralisse leaned over his shoulder. “…Oh. They’ve been fighting a lot lately.” She patted him on his back reassuringly as though she knew what he was thinking or perhaps as though the thought of them getting along would comfort him. “They’ll make up quickly, though. Mother will cry and apologize and papa will kiss her.” As if on cue, the undead woman in the window lowered her hands to reveal a sparkling eye, and Koltira pushed them away to hug her and kiss her forehead, then her lips. “And she’ll smile like nothing happened.” Anarchaia slowly smiled and wiped at her cheek, then lifted her other hand to place soap bubbles onto the other’s nose while saying words they could not hear. “See? All better!” She pushed Kaelsig around to point him at the target again.
He forced a smile and held in a sigh. He aimed again and the arrow clanged against the metal of the display holder the target was mounted on. The sigh eked its way out of his nose.
“Aw, don’t worry. You just need some practice.” Aralisse beamed into his face and he couldn’t help smiling back.
As the sun sank below the trees, the trio laughed at one another’s failed attempts and applauded their successes. Soon it was dark enough for Faltora to push back his hood and he watched as his sister wiped the target clean. He replaced the lid to the powder pot and replaced the arrows on the rack, then hesitated and nocked one with a grin.
Aralisse yelped as an arrow struck her behind. She whirled and scowled. “You can’t hit the target but you can hit my butt?!”
Faltora snickered as she dusted the blue from her dress. “It’s much easier to hit a bigger target.”
Aralisse gasped and stomped over to wrench the bow from him, then struck him on the forehead with it. Her brother chuckled and winced.
Kaelsig joined in their laughter. He gestured to a large glass enclosure on the other side of the yard. “What’s in there?”
“Nanna,” Aralisse said with a smile.
“No,” Faltora corrected. “Just a tree over her grave.”
“She’s there, too, though!”
“She’s been dead for a really long time, Ara.” Faltora nudged Kaelsig and smiled. “Wanna see? We can feed the fish.”
He nodded. “I like fish. We had some in Undercity, but they didn’t look much like the ones the elves sold.”
“We’re not allowed in there, Fala. You know that.”
Faltora shrugged and glanced at the dimly lit windows of his house. “It’ll be quick. C’mon.” He led them across the yard and grabbed the heavy padlock on the door. Purple light encased the object and the bar sprung free of the lock. “Don’t tell mother,” he hissed at his sister.
Aralisse hesitated before following the other two in and closing the door behind her.
Kaelsig stopped as Faltora easily lit the few torches at each corner of the glass house. The air was thick and the gentle sound of trickling water echoed. A large tree, covered in pink flowers, stretched its branches toward the roof. Around it sat two patches of neatly lined rows of vegetables and a small thicket of flowers circumventing a tiny pond.
Aralisse reached into a sack next to the door and urged him to hold out his hands. She filled them with a dry mix of foul smelling flakes and crumbs. They stepped through a shallow stream—careful of the minnows—and settled near the edge.
Kaelsig tossed a bit of the mix in his fist into the pond. The surface fluttered as a small mass of golden and white fish came up to feed on it.
“No, like this,” Aralisse said with a smile and lowered her entire palm into the water. The fish immediately came to suck up the food from her hand and she giggled.
Kaelsig did the same and laughed at the tickles of their twitching lips. “Do you eat them?”
“No. Mama says they keep the bugs from breeding. Just like these!” Faltora shoved a rather fat frog into the other boy’s face and Kaelsig jumped and fell to his rear. They all laughed and sat together at the water’s edge.
A quiet fell over them filled by nothing but the occasional cricket and the bubbling of the creek.
“Do you like it here better than Undercity?” Aralisse said over her braid.
Kaelsig shrugged and repeatedly stabbed a stick into the grass. “I guess. My parents really did love me, though. …even though mother says otherwise.” He tossed the stick into the pond where a few curious fish came up to peck at it. “But I really like Dalaran. It’s pretty and there’s a lot to do.”
“What about here?”
Kaelsig sobered. “I…I don’t know. I wouldn’t want to leave sister all by herself.” He brought his knees to his chest. “At least you guys have each other…and parents who love one another.”
The twins looked at one another behind his back. Before either could respond, however, the torches all snuffed out simultaneously.
The trio flinched and craned to look at the door where angry red eyes glared back. The twins scrambled to stand, pulling the boy with them.
“I thought you two knew better than this,” Anarchaia hissed and stepped aside to point into the yard. “Now.”
The three sullenly trudged back into the cooler air outside and flinched when the door closed behind them.
“Did you light those?” The woman regarded her son. “What if you’d burned down my plants? What about the tree? Your greatmother’s tree.”
Faltora avoided looking behind him as she herded the trio into the house. “I’m sorry.”
Anarchaia tsked and closed the back door behind them as well. “Honestly,” she sighed. “Why don’t you lot play inside where I and your father can see you?”
The children looked at one another, then silently decided to go back upstairs and into the study.
“Keep the door open so I can hear you!” Anarchaia called behind them.
Aralisse sighed and kicked at a crumpled piece of paper as they entered. Faltora threw his cloak onto the large beanbag chair and flopped onto the floor before the fireplace. Kaelsig fidgeted awkwardly and glanced around the shelves in an attempt to avoid eye contact with his siblings. After a moment, he pulled some papers sticking out from a nook, then held up the black and white pictures questioningly.
“You want to color?” Faltora said with a smile, then raised a hand. A lockbox lifted itself from a higher shelf and settled in his grasp. The three lay on the floor in a pinwheel pattern and he opened it to reveal a wide array of well worn crayons.
After an hour or so, they looked to the door at the sound of approaching footsteps. Koltira appeared in the doorway, a tray in his hand and a tired smile on his cold lips. He knelt and set it between the two nearest him, revealing the plate of brownies and three warm cups of cider.
“They aren’t poisoned, are they?” Faltora mumbled, still scribbling.
Koltira gave a chuckle. “Accept your mother’s apology with some grace.” He looked over their work as each took a treat and cup.
“It was my fault,” Kaelsig said, wiping chocolate from the corner of his mouth. “I should have said no.”
Koltira rolled his eyes, still grinning. “I’m disinclined to believe that.” He eyed Faltora with raised eyebrows, almost expectantly.
“It was my fault,” the paler boy groaned in defeat.
The death knight sighed and ruffled Kaelsig’s hair. “It’s not a big deal.” He lowered his voice. “She worked hard on that garden and is needlessly protective of it. Don’t let it get to you.” The children smiled up as he stood. “Bed time in an hour, kiddos. Make the most of your time.”
~ * ~
Anarchaia sighed as she trudged up the stairs with Koltira in tow. “Am I doing a bad job?” she whispered before they could reach the bend.
“Ana, shut up.” He pressed a knuckle into the small of her back to usher her forward, but she remained blocking his path.
“He hates me. He probably thinks I’m a raging bitch.” She sighed and resumed up the stairs when he pushed again.
“He’s a child. You’re just another adult to him if anything.”
The mage groaned and stepped to the open doorway. “Okay, children, bed…” She stopped, then smiled at all three sleeping figures on the rug. “…time.” She chuckled and crossed the room. She knelt to pick up her daughter then handed her to Koltira. “I’ll put the boys in Fala’s room.”
The elf nodded and walked quietly into the neighboring bedroom to set Aralisse in her veiled, four poster bed. He pulled off her socks and brought the quilt to her chin, then brushed her hair aside to kiss her forehead.
When he crossed the hallway to see how Anarchaia was faring, she was doing the same, her lips pressed gently to Faltora’s cheek.
She sighed and left them there, back-to-back, on the bed large enough for two.
“Are you going to survive?” Koltira said with a smirk, earning him a purse of her lips.
“I suppose I’ve dealt with worse.” She rubbed at the stitches on her arm. “Barely.”
She took his hand and led him back toward the stairs, the lantern fluttering out in their wake.