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  1. Julilee stepped out of the portal and looked around. It promised to be a beautiful evening, the late afternoon sun imbuing the normally twilit-hued Suramarian landscape with a warmer tone. The Valmont Estate where she had arrived was built on the outskirts of Suramar City to allow for a sizable building footprint and easy access to hunting grounds, and it was plain to see that no expense was spared for the Valmont family home. At the end of a wooded path stood a gilded gate, flanked by guards in ornate regalia, and beyond that rose the manor, several stories tall. Lights blazed from all around the grounds and music could be faintly heard playing. Other guests were arriving via portals, mounts, or other forms of transportation, all of them dressed as formally as Julilee and her companions. Aaren stepped through the portal moments after she did, also pausing to take in the sight. “Thank you, Mardalius,” Julilee said. She tried to keep a scowl off her face as she smoothed down her dress. The fabric was so thin and she felt distinctly uncomfortable without her armor or weapons. It seemed every time she put on a dress, someone tried to stab her, and with what she knew about tonight’s agenda, it seemed almost guaranteed. The one practical thing she’d been able to get away with was calf-high boots with sensible, sturdy heels. Her dress was purple satin, with a textured and an off-the-shoulder top, and slit to mid-thigh on the left side of the skirt. It was a simple but highly tasteful style, far less ostentatious than some Sin’dorei get-ups, for certain, but she had never cared for all of that. And of everything she had to worry about this evening, her appearance was very low in priority besides. “So these are the idiots we’re saving from their own idiocy?” Aaren remarked. The other Sin’dorei female’s gown was one Julilee hadn’t seen her wear before. Long and flowing, it was a very deep blue. The sleeves were made of, and bottom third of the skirts were decorated with, lace of the same color. A gold sash was tied around her waist, and a matching gold scarf wrapped around her head, tied in an elegant knot at the side of her neck. Mardalius, the third member of their party, closed the portal and took a moment to fix his hair, ensuring his auburn ponytail was perfectly centered and that the twin locks on either side were exactly where they were supposed to be. The half-Thalassian, half-human had forsaken his robes in exchange for something far more elegant this evening: A silver silk coat and form-fitting pants, both trimmed with deep blue accents and bound with a dyed blue leather belt. The sigil of House Anterius was embroidered in purple on the left of his breast, a shield bearing a stylized “A”. His boots, also dyed deep blue, came to the middle of his calf. Julilee spotted Shokkra waiting up by the gate. Clad in a fitted black military-style suit with red accents, the orc smoked a cigar while she waited for the rest of the guests from Sanctuary to arrive. The emaciated warrior still maintained her height advantage over many of the partygoers, a fact she likely took no small amount of joy in. Even if she was deprived of every inch of muscle in her once-perfect physique, she still had her height. Her ashen hair had been cut and styled cleanly, and the light of the cigar limned the savage scar that ran up the side of her face. She waved when she saw them. “Let’s head in. We can split up and mingle inside,” Julilee said. When they got to the gate, a night elf who had reached it just before them – appearing out of a blue mist – was apparently arguing with the guards about being allowed to take in her staff, which had appeared with her. Julilee caught snippets of the conversation as she passed her invitation over to the other guard, who inspected it and her companions, holding a wand over them to detect threats. Shokkra joined them, puffing on her cigar. “You want a mage to conjure this much catering without a tool to amplify their magic? Honest question. I can do it, but it will be far more dangerous to the people around me. Banning a staff from the event does nothing to prevent myself from using magic to harm people if I wished to harm people,” the night elf was arguing. She wore an elaborate gown in gradients of blue and purple, accented with cerulean gemstones which matched her long hair. “The hall has been warded to disable the use of magic,” the guard said dismissively. “Staff.” He held out his hand. “No weapons inside.” “Kitchen workers are expendable anyway,” snickered the guard who was inspecting the Sanctuary party. Satisfied that none of them were carrying weapons, he handed the invitation back over and allowed them to pass through. Mardalius’ eyes had widened at hearing the hall was warded. They’d anticipated it, but hoped not; now their hopes were dashed. “Julilee,” he muttered, “I’ve never been without my magic and my sword.” Julilee put her hand on his arm as they moved past, murmuring back to him. “It’s not exactly ideal, but hopefully we won’t miss either of them.” She was thinking about what their guard had said. The words were concerning, but Julilee had heard nobility express worse sentiments about lower classes, and wasn’t surprised to hear more of the same in Suramar. Briefly, she was distracted by the fact that Mardalius smelled like cinnamon. Who wore food-scented cologne? They entered an enclosed courtyard where some of the guests had stopped to talk amongst themselves. A grand fountain sat in the middle of it before a massive set of stairs leading up to the manor doors, with a smaller staircase on either side moving to a balcony. A lit path carved around the side of the manor to the rear, where it seemed the ceremony would be taking place. Guests continued to arrive. Without comment, Aaren split off to go mingle the guests, which from Juli’s observation appeared to mean walking up to them and inspecting them intently, but she didn’t question Aaren’s methods. Shokkra eyed the crowds derisively and moved off to the side to continue enjoying her cigar. Julilee and Mardalius lingered in the open area, observing what they could. “It seems overzealous, if you ask me. They have their reasons though,” came a voice from behind them, by the gate. Someone was talking to the night elf who had grudgingly dissipated her staff to be allowed to enter. Both Julilee and Mardalius reacted to the voice, Mardalius blanching, and Julilee spinning around. “Sorel Crescentsong. You are?” the second, male, night elf continued. Sorel wore ceremonial Kal’dorei garb, a rich, light blue haori tucked into dark blue hakama, tied with a white himo, with tabi over his feet, and zori sandals slipped into them. The night elf to whom he spoke sighed and looked him over before launching into a long-winded rant. “Niala Moonthorn. They call it overzealous. I call it having no clue what a mage can do to harm partygoers without stepping foot in that hall, let alone what a Sentinel can do barehanded. Half the people at this party are capable of killing countless people with their bare hands. They let me in and the moment I get to the kitchen, I can just... teleport it right back to my side. It’s like those guards are somehow the only two Nightborne in Suramar with no concept of what magic is and does. Now I have to conjure arcwine and this massive cake without a focus. Their kitchen is going to get trashed during the arcwine process.” Sorel, bemused, turned as he saw Julilee’s approach during the latter half of this. “My apologies for your situation,” he said to Niala. “It could be a lot worse, though. Speaking of…” He bowed to Julilee. “Hello, Liene.” Looking past her, he saw Mardalius and his expression changed to a glare. Julilee had no interest in either Niala’s peeve or the drama between Sorel and Mardalius right then. She took Sorel by the arm, and, without the slightest pause for explanation, hauled him off to the side of the courtyard with her. He just blinked and didn’t resist. Once they were there, positioned by the wall where they could speak privately, she let go and said to him, “Thank the Light you’re here.” “Why are you so excited that I’m here?” he asked blankly, completely thrown by the display. “Karthok,” Julilee hissed. “He’s planning something for this. I tried to tell them, but they insisted their protections were good enough and they wouldn’t cancel it. They wouldn’t even let me station more guards here, or bring in weapons! I don’t know what Karthok is planning, exactly, but we need to figure it out in time to stop it.” Sorel visibly tensed. “I have my radio still, but most of my men are still on Argus, and Mardalius’ father and adoptive mother are in Stormwind getting married.” “They wouldn’t let anyone else in anyway, without an invitation,” Julilee said. She swiped her hair back in frustration. Being so short, it wasn’t really styled anyway, though she had at least put on some makeup. Her appearance remained one of furthest things from her mind at the moment, however. “Just keep your eyes open, all right? Anything weird at all... Anyone acting suspiciously.... Don’t start a scene, you won’t be any help if you get thrown out or attract any attention, but if you can figure out what’s going on, so we can get evidence to show the guards, then we can foil whatever Karthok has planned.” Niala had moved forward to where Mardalius was standing. “What’s with them?” she asked curiously, looking toward Sorel and Julilee. Mardalius had been looking toward Sorel with shame plain on his face, but he started when Niala approached him. “I’m not sure,” he said cautiously. “There is a formal treaty between Sanctuary and the Night Vanguard, which Sorel heads. Might be something concerning that.” Back over at the wall, Sorel nodded at Julilee. “Right. I’ll be sure to keep my eyes open. Sentinels are good at that.” “Everyone!” a crier announced above the mingling. “The wedding will be beginning soon! Please make your way to the seating area at the back of the manor!” He pointed to the lit path leading around the side of the building to the rear. Julilee started to step away, then paused. Everyone in the courtyard seemed to be pairing up for the entrance into the wedding ceremony area. Shokkra had found Aaren, who had taken the orc’s arm and was proceeding with her head held high. There was a draenei and a Nightborne couple nearby, gliding onward elegantly. And a tall demon hunter was being escorted by a blood elf with a leg brace. Reflexively, Julilee looked back at Sorel, not because she wanted him to offer an arm, but because he might. He seemed to observe the same thing, running a hand over his face and groaning quietly, then offered his arm. She was of noble enough lineage to handle this gracefully. Without comment, she took his arm and let him lead her to the ceremony. *****