Aralisse stared at the invitation for a long time. Her family was smiling at the prospect of attending a gala in Dalaran, hosted by the mages. It was the first time in history that the doors to the Hall of the Guardian were being opened to others that weren’t mages. Aralisse, though, took a bit longer to find a small smile to give them.
“I’ll get a new gown?” she asked.
“Of course!” Anarchaia chirped.
Aralisse smiled wider and set the invitation on the table. “I’m going to go patrol.”
“But it’s raining,” Anarchaia objected.
But her daughter was already out the door, sweeping her cloak over her shoulders. Anderbjorn turned his head to look at her from his spot where he sat and guarded their home. He fell into step with her as she walked away from the house and into the forest, then she began running. She ran until her lungs burned and she was wet all the way through her clothes. Then she dropped down on her knees into the mud and let the warm tears roll from her eyes to mix with the rain.
Ten years. It had been ten years. This was the first time she would be allowed to go anywhere that wasn’t local—anywhere she might run into her half brother. It’d been so long, and she’d never forgotten him, her heart still broke over the whole ordeal. She’d had a few short relationships, sure, but in her mind they’d never measured up to him. And now she ran a very real risk of seeing him again because of an event her family was permitting her to attend.
A figure dropped from the trees behind her and squashed into a muddy puddle. His frosty eyes fixed on her crouched figure.
“Hi, Daddy,” she said, doing her best to disguise her crying with heavy breathing.
“Push yourself too hard?”
She forced a giggle. “Yeah. Just catching my breath.”
Koltira stood over her and held out his hand. “What say we head back before you get sick?”
She took his hand and let him pull her to her feet. “A hot bath is probably in order.”
They stayed silent for a long time, both drenched and picking their way to avoid falling into the mud.
“What I said stands,” Koltira said suddenly. “If you go to him—”
“It’s been ten years, you really think that’s even on my mind?”
“Maybe. I don’t know what’s on your mind. You don’t talk to me anymore.”
“I wonder why that is?”
“Don’t take an attitude with me, young lady.”
Aralisse stopped and glared at him. “You murdered a horse and chopped off all my hair with the same sword. I wouldn’t tell you if I was seeing anyone. I could be screwing Thassarian, for all you know.”
“First of all, I know that you’re not because he loves his wife. Second, don’t even hint at that. It’s disgusting.” His features softened. “I am sorry about your hair.”
“As you’ve said.”
“I could’ve done so much worse for you bringing such dishonor on the family.”
Aralisse squared her jaw. “As you’ve said.” She stomped past him toward the softly glowing lights of their home.
~ * ~
Aralisse stood in front of the mirror, her mother behind her, curling her hair with magic and putting it up in an elegant fashion. She scrutinized herself in her purple dress. Though she looked beautiful, she felt wrong.
Once Anarchaia was finished with her daughter’s hair, she smiled and gripped the young woman’s shoulders. “You’re a vision. All the young men will be so eager to dance with you!”
Aralisse didn’t roll her eyes, like she wanted to. She remained stony-faced as she blinked at her mother. “Oh,” she said simply.
Anarchaia pursed her lips. “Just remember the one you can’t—”
“I know,” Aralisse snapped, tired of having been reminded every day since the invitation had arrived. “I’ll dishonor the family. Keep reminding me, lest I forget.”
Anarchaia sighed sadly and brushed her boney knuckles over the girl’s cheek. She paused, then decided not to say anything and just left the room instead.
Aralisse stared at herself a little longer. I’ll only ever be a dishonor to them. She squared her shoulders, deciding to remind them in such a way that they would never forget that she doesn’t need to be reminded what a disgrace she was.
~ * ~
“Ara! We’re going to be late!” Faltora shouted up the stairs.
The girl descended the steps slowly in her heeled boots. When she reached the bottom of the steps, she was met with pursed lips and angrily flaring eyes, her mother’s hand over her mouth in shock. The girl’s shining white locks had been cut to a dramatic pixie style, and she’d set a small headdress of several chains holding a white jewel on her forehead.
“I made a few last minute changes. Do you like it?” She brushed the hair clippings from her shoulders.
Anarchaia swallowed her shock and anger and all other emotions enough to use her magic to clean the hairs from her daughter and quickly even the cut with a pair of scissors.
“Okay,” the mage said airily, “I think we’re ready.”
They all took each other’s hands and were gone in a flash of glittering light.
When the arrived at the gala, Aralisse noted that her mother was right, all the young men were staring—then again, so was everyone else. Her hair was shorter than anyone’s by inches upon inches, and none had to guess why hers might be so incredibly short. With her head held high, she strode in to sit in a chair at their designated table, determined to stay there all night.
After the dinner, while others mingled and danced, Aralisse sat at the table, uninterested and wishing she had a good book to read. Then she saw him. His dark tone that could mistake him for a short kaldorei—except for his ears, which were long and narrow. He turned to look right at her as a man beside him pointed their direction. She held her breath, her heart thudding in her ears. Her skin flushed and she turned away as though preoccupied by the weave of the tablecloth. Her mother stiffened beside her as she looked over Aralisse’s head at the advancing man. Faltora pursed his lips, his hands fists on the table.
Then he was standing over them. Aralisse dared not look up. Dared not look at him. None of them could say a single word. When she did finally look, he was smiling over her head at her mother.
“I’m sorry to bother you. I, um, I have a bet with my friend. He says you’re the Anarchaia, but I told him it was impossible because she’s been gone for over a century.” He cringed lightly, but stayed in place.
“E-excuse me?” Anarchaia said, taken aback.
Faltora stood. “This isn’t funny, Sig. You know you’re—”
“I’m…sorry…?” he interrupted. “Do you know me?” His brow was furrowed in genuine confusion.
A blond high elf swept in beside the half death knight. “Hello,” he said, drawing out the greeting.
“Taveth?” Anarchaia questioned.
“Yes. Hi. Um, you’ll have to excuse my cousin. He’s a curious one. Kaelsig, can you go find my sister?”
Kaelsig’s eyebrows raised. “She’s probably by the—”
The young man gave the others an apologetic stare. “Excuse me, please.” He strode away in search of Kel’ori.
Aralisse focused on controlling her breathing as she watched her half brother retreat without so much as looking back.
Anarchaia stood. “Tav, explain.”
Taveth sighed. “I don’t know what happened ten years ago, okay? I never asked, because he refused to talk about it. All I did was help him with the spell.”
“The memory spell. He erased…all of you. Even Koltira. Can you tell me what happened?”
Anarchaia straightened. “If he doesn’t remember, then I suppose it’s irrelevant. Just keep him away from my family, okay?”
A young, white haired blood elf in an olive dress rushed up to Taveth. “Hey, Tav! Seen Sig around?” She noticed the others and smiled, holding out her hand to each. “Hi! I’ve never see you around before. I’m Annalise.”
Aralisse scrutinized the calluses on the girl’s hand. “You…know your way around a bow?”
“I do. I can see you do, too. If you’re in Dalaran a bit longer maybe we can shoot a few rounds around back of the citadel?”
Aralisse forced herself to nod. “How do you know Sig?”
“We’re betrothed!” the woman said, barely containing her excitement. “He just asked and I still get chills. How do you know him?”
Aralisse sat in dumb shock for a long minute before she gasped a small, “Oh.” She stood and strode from the table.
Faltora eyed his mother, who eyed him in return as both caught the undeniable similarities between Aralisse and Annalise.
Annalise turned back to the others, her eyes wide. “What did I say?”
Taveth set a hand on her shoulder. “It wasn’t you. I’ll go talk to her.” He found Aralisse crying on the steps and sat beside her. He waited a moment before sliding the extra few inches and wrapping his arm behind her shoulders. “Ara, I’m—”
“We loved each other,” she whispered suddenly. “H-he was my first…And I was his…”
Taveth’s eyes widened for the briefest of moments. “Oh.”
“Father killed Sig’s horse and disowned him. Then he cut my hair off for dishonoring him.”
Taveth rubbed his palm up and down her bicep. “Sadly, not all families are open to that sort of thing.”
She looked at him, shocked. “What?”
“Hmm? Oh, it was not too uncommon in Silvermoon for some families to inbreed for purity reasons. I’m sure it still is. Your mother, however, isn’t an elf, and Koltira has never struck me as one of that opinion, anyway. Honor first.” He gave her a tentative smile and she pursed her lips.
“Too late to run away?”
“Even if the memory charm were reversible, I wouldn’t do it. I wouldn’t take his new life away from him.”
She nodded. “Annalise seems sweet.”
“She really is.”
They stayed quiet for a long time before Aralisse spoke again. “You still prefer men?”
He chuckled. “Yes. And I’m still not single.”
“Shame. I mean, it wouldn’t piss father off nearly as much since we’re not related…but it’d still piss him off.” She wrapped one arm behind his waist and leaned her head on his shoulder. “What about that demon hunter I met a few times?”
“Oh, no. Don’t even think about barking up that tree.” He gave her shoulders a little shake. “Maybe stop looking for something to vex your father, and instead find something that will make you happy.”
“No one compares to him, though.”
“And they shouldn’t! Kaelsig is one man, out of so many more, who have qualities you won’t appreciate until you stop comparing them to him. That demon hunter—Grimory, by the way—…I compared a lot of men to him for a while. Then I let go of that illusion. Been happy ever since.” Taveth winked at her and she gave a small smile.
They both turned to see a nightborne, standing behind them with two drinks in his hands. His eyes kept flicking to Aralisse, then quickly away.
“I thought that you and your guest might like something to drink?”
Taveth smiled. “Morchant, hello.” He stood and eyed the cup offered to him. “Actually, I was just headed inside. Would you mind keeping Aralisse company for a while?”
The nightborne scrutinized her a bit longer and pursed his lips. “Is this a test?”
“It’s a favor. Not everything is about grades. Sit. Drink some punch. Make a pretty girl smile.”
Morchant nodded stiffly, then shifted around as though no place to sit was good enough. He eventually handed Aralisse her drink, then sat several feet away and one step up. Once Taveth was out of earshot, Aralisse sighed.
“You don’t have to sit with me.”
“Mr. Nightheart asked me to.”
She shrugged. “You don’t want to, so don’t.”
His eyes flicked to her hair, then he shrugged. “I’m okay either way.”
Aralisse caught the look. In that moment, she decided to own her haircut and its purpose. “I brought dishonor to my family. My father cut my hair off. I cut it off again to spite him, since he won’t let it go.”
Morchant blinked. “I wasn’t…asking…”
“Figured I’d just put that out there and get the topic of my scandalous haircut out of the way,” she said, then took a drink of the sweet punch.
He smiled and stared at his own drink. “I really wasn’t wondering any of that. I was looking at your pendant. It’s beautiful.”
“It was a gift. From my half brother.”
“He really cares about you.”
Aralisse thought on it and stood. “Actually, he doesn’t.” She took the steps one at a time, leaving her cup behind.
“Wait, where are you going?” Morchant followed, half afraid of docked grades for losing his mentor’s companion. He followed her to the edge of the floating island, where it looked out at an endless ocean. Panic struck him. “We can talk about this, right?”
She said nothing. Just opened her arms wide and let the breeze hit against the bare skin of her arms and tangle in her skirt. She pulled the pendant from her head, gently lifting the chains from her hair. She stared at it for a long time, sparkling in the moonlight. Then, she threw it as hard as her arm could throw. Her heart ached in her bosom and her breathing quickened, and then she laughed. She laughed tentatively at first, then louder and more hysterical, until finally she gave a relieved sigh. She turned her gentle smile on Morchant.
“I’m Aralisse Deathweaver.” She strode to him and held out her hand.
The nightborne took it with a tentative smile. “Morchant Ottano.” When neither said anything, nor released the other’s hand for a minute, Morchant said, “I actually really like your haircut. It suits you.”
“Are you just saying that?” she asked.
He shook his head. “No.”
They stared at each other for a time in the rising moonlight, smiling and trying to think of something to say.
“I really hate small talk,” Aralisse finally blurted.
He laughed. “I don’t trust anyone who likes it.” He extended an elbow for her to wrap her hand through. “Come. Walk with me and tell me how you dishonored your family.”
“Maybe a little judging.” He laughed as she pursed her lips at him. “Please. You overshare and I’ll overshare in return. I promise.”
Aralisse swallowed and took a breath. “It all started when I was a girl. I came home one day and there he was…”