Wicked Eyes and Wicked Hearts: The Suramar Wedding

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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.



Edited by Julilee

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Hervor approached the gates with some trepidation. She felt rather out of place here. Her bright fel green glowing markings and tall horns made her an easy pick even from a distance, drawing exactly the kind of attention she didn’t want. No few stared at her as she handed her invitation to the guards. Lips pursed, she half expected to be turned away despite the document.

Indeed, the guards began frowning at her excessively, and she started thinking she never should have listened to Bel and Vali… but then they stepped aside to allow her in. Silently, she bowed her head and walked past.

That would doubtlessly only be the first of it. With an effort, she kept a scowl from her face. The night was young, and she wanted to see the child again, just to reaffirm in her head that she was safe and well. She glanced back once, then looked around the courtyard at all the fine, attractively dressed people. There was a surprising mix of races, no more than two-thirds present Nightborne. The rest were blood elves, humans, and night elves, and she saw at least one draenei and one orc as well.

She had tried to make herself presentable for the occasion. The night elven demon hunter wore a long, very dark purple dress with small, silver accents along the top. Her long, platinum white hair was braided into a bun, with a small remainder hanging like a ponytail. She even had a new blindfold to match the dress, with a half-veil hanging over the right side of her face to help hide her horrible, fel-pocked scars. Her replacement eye piece was newly crafted as well, gilded with some small bejeweling and a more elegant look to it.

 “You made quite the entry, even if you didn’t mean to,” a deep elven voice spoke from behind Hervor. It proved to belong to a tall blood elf with a portly size to match. His face was uncommonly homely for one of his race, almost pig-like.

“…Yes, well… I couldn’t really help it.” Her fangs flashed as she spoke. “These markings don’t exactly turn off.” Feeling like she ought to be polite, she decided to introduce herself. “…I’m Hervor. Hervor Ironfang.” She held out a hand to shake his.

The blood elf extended his heavy hand to clasp hers, shifting his leg forward awkwardly as he did so. Said leg lay in a metal brace overtop his tight and expensive clothing. “Reuvan,” he said. His voice matched his size and features. His head was bald with a five o’clock shadow where a beard could have been, his pig-like face oddly compelling with steely eyes. “What got you invited?”

Hervor’s gaze drifted down to the brace for a moment before she looked back up. “When the children were being rounded up, I freed a great many of them. Apparently one was a member of this family.” She paused, before speaking again. “Does that brace cause you a great deal of trouble?”

“Makes combat near impossible, and makes fucking a great deal more painful. Other than that it’s a damn good conversation starter.” Reuvan grinned, holding his hands by his sides.

Hervor actually cracked a smirk at that, some tension evaporating. Speaking so frankly had that effect. “I only ask because, well… I’m a bit of a tinkerer. I couldn’t help but wonder if, with the right tools, I could make it into something more manageable. …Of course, it might not be the best idea at such a fancy affair…” She sighed, glancing around again before looking back to him.

“Saving family members is a good way to get invited to parties, especially if you’re someone like you in a place like Suramar. I took a more traditional route.”

“Traditional, you say? Are you a member of one of the families?” she asked.

“I’m a friend of the bride. Made sure her family and this estate was kept safe during the rebellion,” he replied.

“You may not be able to fight, but you’re a noble warrior in my mind if that’s the case.” Just then, the crier made his announcement, and people started moving toward the rear of the estate. “Oh… Sounds like things are starting… We’d best get going,” she said.

Reuvan nodded. “Indeed.” He offered his arm. “Join me?”

Hervor paused a moment. “You might get the same nasty looks I do.”

“With my looks, I’ll get them anyway.” His grin had a hint of a sneer in it, this time.

“Well enough.” She took the man’s arm.

Walking slowly enough to be easy on his leg, they rounded the manor and came to the ceremony area in its open backyard, ringed by trees. The main stage was a dais with a large bower, with flowers elaborately arranged in profusion around it. Rows of chairs filled the area, and ushers were guiding people to either the bride or groom’s side according to cryptic reasoning. A older Nightborne fellow in robes with fluffy facial hair stood at a podium on the dais, clearing his throat to himself and inspecting his notes. He looked a little worse for wear – a recently reversed Nightfallen, no doubt.

Hervor and Reuvan were both shown to the bride’s side, so they were able to sit together. Due to their reduced speed, they wound up seated more toward the back, but that was plenty fine with the demon hunter. The last thing she needed was someone muttering behind her about how distracting her marks were, or that her horns were getting in their way. Crossing her legs, she leaned back into her chair a bit and tried to ignore the stares she was getting anyway. Reuvan had gotten a gaggle of looks as well, as predicted.

Reuvan grunted and shifted his leg into a more comfortable position as the last few guests got seated. “Think someone’ll die?” he said.

Hervor’s brow furrowed, a confused but amused look on her face. “I certainly hope not. It’s a wedding. Why would you ask?”

“Because if Sanctuary thought the threat wasn’t genuine, they wouldn’t have taken me up on my invitation. But they did. Which means tonight’s going to be a lot more exciting than you bargained for.” A serious and dour look on was on his face.

All amusement vanished. “…Sanctuary? You’re being serious?”

At that moment, soft music started playing from an indeterminate location. The man at the podium cleared his throat, this time louder and distinctly, and began speaking. “Marriage. Marriage is what brings us together today. Marriage, that blessed arrangement...”

Reuvan held a finger up to his lips, then pointed forward. Hervor turned back toward the front, but now all her senses were on high alert, and she was tense. Her clawed fingers clutched at her dress. Sanctuary was here, and expecting serious trouble? The children…

The officiator droned on. “That dream within a dream, and love, true love, forever and ever. So treasure your love…”

Hervor debated with herself as the ceremony continued. She wanted to press Reuvan for information, but until she saw the girl coming up the aisle with the rest of the wedding party, she hesitated. But seeing that child, her face screwed up in concentration as she carefully deposited the flower petals exactly where she was supposed to, firmed Hervor’s resolve, even if she didn’t know exactly what to do. She leaned into Reuvan, speaking in a lower tone. “If you know something… If those kids are in danger… We have to warn someone…”

Reuvan shook his head. “You’ll have more luck finding the would-be assassins. Find someone more able to help you do that, I’ll provide what information I can,” he whispered carefully.

The green glow behind her blindfold and within that mechanical eye flared brighter. “Sanctuary, you said? They’re here to prevent it? Where are they?”

A guest seated nearby ahemmed distinctly and glared at them. Reuvan did not respond. Hervor looked forward, noticing someone looking back her way. It was a blood elf with short dark hair near the front of the groom’s section. She wouldn’t have been more noticeable than anyone else present if she hadn’t then looked around at the rest of the crowd with just as much wariness as she had at Hervor. Sanctuary? Or one of the would-be assassins?

Hervor would have to find out.

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This was a mistake, the monk thought as he tugged uncomfortably at the tight sleeves and collar of his dinner jacket. He hadn’t worn it in years, and when last he’d donned the formal attire, he’d been a much smaller man. Sanjay looked around at the ceremonial area and the ornate chairs set along the sides of the fancily-laced carpet and wondered where the person who had invited him was. I should have just run away. There’s no telling what she’ll make me do this time. The monk’s shaved, darkly-toned head barely reached up to the chins of most of the elven guests at this event. He’d have a hard time finding her in the crowd.

Without warning, Sanjay was pulled to a seat in the middling section. An elven woman smiled at him knowingly, her pale blue skin lacking any wrinkle or hint of what she was thinking upon its surface. Her brilliant eyes regarded him with recognition and a distinct impression of humor. “Hello, my Redjay,” she said sweetly. “It is good to see you again.”

Sanjay’s heart skipped a beat without his permission. “Nyomi,” he muttered, “I got your invitation. I don’t know what compelled me to come.”

“I do,” she replied. He felt an itch of discomfort as he took his seat beside her.

Nyomi put a hand on Sanjay’s leg. He tensed and tugged at his black, unkempt beard in annoyance, but felt powerless to stop her. His voice was hushed and strained. “Why did you invite me here? Just to torment me?”

She laughed quietly. “You know me. I never go anywhere without a strong man to protect me.” Sanjay wished he had one to protect him. Or a woman. I wonder if her charms work on them as well?

The wedding party entered. There were no less than ten couples who came down the aisle, with several flower girls and boys sprinkled in between. Once that was done, the music swelled to a crescendo, and a Nightborne man, presumably the groom, announced as Gaspard du Chalons, emerged alone. His wedding suit was as much a statement as he himself was, a mix of armor and military dress with the fur of a Llothien Prowler draped across his shoulder. His hair was cut short in a military style and his face clean shaven. Sanjay had seen a thousand men just like him. A thousand men, and one, he thought bitterly. He tried to drown the unwelcome memories as they flooded back, but only succeeded in annoying himself further. Gaspard swaggered his way down the aisle and took his position at the center of the dais, turning to await the last arrival.

The music fell very, very, softly, then swelled even more dramatically, and the bride, Celene Valmont, made her appearance. Her wedding dress was beyond over the top, a shocking construction of arcane material and white lace that somehow managed to leave most of her legs bare. She sashayed down the aisle with a sly, shy smile, very aware of her status as the center of attention. The groom smiled broadly at her.

“Do you think the bride is beautiful, my dear Jay?” Nyomi asked the monk, her grip tightening around his thigh.

Yes, far more than you, he wanted to say. “Would my answer even matter, Nyomi?” he replied instead. “Either way, you’ll get the answer you want to hear. How can you know if it’s the truth?”

“Who cares about truth when you can get exactly what you want?” She smiled at him again, looking as content as could be. Sanjay started to wonder which was worse – thoughts of his past, or of the woman whose clutches he had fallen into.

Gaspard took Celene’s hand as she reached the dais. Celene tittered nervously. They turned to the man from the podium, who had emerged to stand before them, holding a great tome. Only, he proved not to be holding it as it kept itself suspended in midair as he flipped through the pages, slowly and deliberately, looking for the right passage to read from.

Sanjay noticed many within the crowd shifting about nervously. The monk could have felt the tension hanging in the air even if he had not been sensitive to the spiritual energy around him. Some in the crowd – most of them suspiciously non-Nightbourne – seemed to be about ready to leap out of their seats as if at any minute the bride and groom would exchange knives in the heart instead of vows, rings, and a kiss. The minutes crawled by, and Sanjay’s increasing anxiety – a combination of the crowd around him, the memories plaguing him, and the woman clawing at his inner thigh with a sense of indecent ownership – ascended to as high a crescendo as the music had moments ago.

Minutes passed to hours, or so it seemed to the monk. So many amongst the crowd awaited something to happen, and yet, as time crawled by.... nothing did. At long, long last, the bride and groom leaned in, about to kiss. Sanjay thought his heart would stop. If only it were the romance that was getting to me. And then it was over. The crowd burst into applause and strange flashes filled the hall as some contraption that seemed goblin in origin was displayed a few feet from the dais. Sanjay thought he remembered mention of “photographs” being taken as he had entered the area earlier. It was far from something he understood, however.

The wedding party began filing out, the bride and groom first, followed by the ten couples, children, and officiator. They took an even longer time exiting than they had entering. Nyomi spoke in Sanjay’s ear as the din in the hall grew less and less reverently hushed. “A sterling ceremony, wouldn’t you agree? I told you when you saved me from those Legion interrogators that your valiant service would be rewarded. If this is unsatisfactory to you, I am more than happy to bring you to more such events.” The monk could feel her burning smile in his back as he shuffled out into the aisle awkwardly, flanked on all sides by tall bluish people.

If I had known what sort of reward I would get for saving you, would I have still done it? he wondered to himself in sullen silence. He didn’t bother replying to her question. It was much too loud for him to want to try, and he knew he wouldn’t have a choice in the matter anyway. If she wanted him to go somewhere, all it would take was one puff of her dust.

By the time the couple reached the ballroom, many guests were already filing about, talking to one another about gossip, politics, and other ceremonies they had been involved with. “The du Monticlaria wedding had a much better officiary,” one guest said off to Sanjay’s right. Another mentioned a better ballroom at another wedding entirely. Sanjay tried to drown out the voices the way he had been taught in meditation. That didn’t last long.

Nyomi turned him to face her, and she drew that infernal dust to blow in his face. A short bout of coughing later, and Sanjay’s mind was altered entirely. Thoughts of his soiled past, odd marriage customs, and goblin technology faded away until all that was left in his mind’s eye was her – Nyomi. His love. “I would love to dance the night away,” she said. And it was all he wanted, as well. “Would you accompany me, my Jay?”

“Anything for you, my lady."

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Niala was directed to enter the manor and take the stairs down to the servants’ level as the rest of the guests began heading toward the ceremony. She had a lot of work to do before it ended, but she didn’t intend to miss it.

The kitchens proved to be hustling and bustling as the main courses were being prepared, timed to be done as the ceremony ended. There was shouting and a couple of fires at this point. Niala surveyed it all and peered around, trying to find the head chef.

Just then, a burly Nightborne in a stained chef’s apron with short-style hair threw a dirty pot at a scurrying servant and shouted, “WHERE’S THE LAMB SAUCE?!” It seemed to signify some sort of authority, so Niala approached hastily.

“Pardon. I’m supplying the arcwine and the cake. Are there any powerful foci I can use? If not, I need about a twelve-foot square area for preparation. Please keep staff away from it. The guards refused to let me bring my staff in to focus my magic, so unless we have a powerful focus, it will be dangerous. Hurry or they won’t have their cake by the end of the ceremony!”

The burly elf looked Niala up and down. “You’re the cake and arcwine provider? Take that rat bastard’s spot, whose meat was so rare, I COULD’VE USED IT AS A PILLAR OF CREATION!” He pointed to the station in the corner which had been quickly vacated by the pot-struck elf.

Niala took her spot at the station without further ado and set to work. With a muttered word of power, a light blue wall of energy formed around the area. The arcane protective field would ensure that she could call upon massive amounts of energy without it splashing onto anyone else. Next, she formed energy into a needle-like spire, and thrust it downward. From it, mana began to well, drawn up from the leylines that ran underneath the estate. When she had gathered enough and it thoroughly permeated the space inside the field, she spun it into use.

Instantly, she became a blur of motion, such that there appeared to be no less than three of her within the field, making an assembly line of wine. One was busy conjuring, the other was filling up bottles, and the last was popping out of the barrier to place them on a long empty table by the doorway leading up to the ballroom. In this fashion she conjured several dozens of bottles of arcwine in just a few, though very long-seeming, minutes.

Throughout, the kitchen staff moved around Niala’s production line, swiveling and limboing underneath the bottles with platters of food destined for upstairs. The head chef continued shouting obscenities at the servants and cooking up a storm of entrees and appetizers the world had never seen nor would see ever again. And nearby, a blood elf that was handling the regular wines paused to study her movements and magic interestedly.

Once she was done with the arcwine, Niala shifted tacks to start working on the cake. She’d already had the perfect image in her mind from as soon as she’d been invited to contribute to the catering, and now it was time to call it into existence. Mana was conjured into the base of the cake, the softest, purest-white, cloud-like matter, which she built up into several narrowing stacks. Though every layer was made with care and exacting precision, she continued to move at lightning speed so that in all but moments she was moving onto the next step.

Silk-like layers of frosting began to wrap themselves around the cake, ribbons of smooth white, followed by additional layers of the same with added patterns and textures. Next came innumerable sparkling crystals of edible mana that arranged themselves in elaborate and meticulous patterns as Niala’s form blurred around all sides of the cake. This part took the longest, as each crystal had to be placed individually.

As this went on, one of Niala’s forms stepped outside the barrier, and spoke almost confusedly. “I… uhm… Sorry… Doing… a lot at once… Uh… I’ll be… spacing out in the corner. Let me know if you…” She paused for a short moment to collect her thoughts. “…want help with anything else… from that me. In there.”

The blood elf who’d been watching her looked to the head chef, who simply nodded and wiped his brow with a cloth before turning back to his staff to bellow instructions. Niala continued working on the cake until at last the glimmering confection was done. The welling of mana within the barrier was dispelled back into the leylines below, carefully, the spire removed, and finally the barrier came down, to reveal an exhausted but pleased looking mage. “Uuuugh… That took ages.” She slumped with a slight groan, then got up and started looking around for the head chef. Oddly, the second her remained outside the barrier, though it stared absently at nothing.

Finding the head chef again, the active Niala said, “Do we have some people to carry the cake up? We’ll need at least six to lift it.”

The head chef waved a hand and no less than six staff rushed over to pick up the cake by the crystal platter it rested upon and start bringing it upstairs. “By Elune’s neckbeard that was a damned farce of a cook,” the head chef commented, still occupied with the lamb sauce incident though it had been hours ago for Niala. “Luckily, of course, they had me.” He flipped the towel over his shoulder. “Shouldn’t need you again, at least until the ceremonial wine later if you’d like to help with that.”

The blood elf glanced toward them again before moving on to attend to his duties. The other Niala sat down slowly in the corner.

The active Niala nodded once to the head chef and smiled. “Sounds good. I’ll be amongst the crowd, yeah? Shouldn’t be too hard to spot me with clothes like these.”

With that, she made her way out of the kitchen and headed upstairs, leaving the other her downstairs. There was a ceremony to catch… but she wanted to keep an eye on things down here, too.

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It had been a lovely ceremony, but Jaelantia was quite ready for it to be over by the time the last of the wedding party had finally retreated back down the aisle. The party was apparently headed to another part of the grounds to partake in the newest wedding fad – goblin photography – while the rest of the guests would be shepherded into the ballroom. She clapped politely and endured until she could finally stand up and join the throng headed inside. The draenei paladin was more suited to the field than the social scene, though she could comport herself well enough, and itched to get on with things.

It didn’t help that folks had seemed strangely tense before and during the ceremony. She had seen the short-haired blood elf haul the night elf off to the side in the courtyard for some sort of urgent conversation. Then, there had been several people seemingly looking around warily during the ceremony itself. Those same two elves, plus a demon hunter in the back, and another two blood elves and an orc too. All of them non-Nightborne, but their actions seemed more than just a discomfort born from a possible feeling of being out of place. Yet they made such a strange combination of individuals. Jaelantia couldn’t figure out what it meant, if anything, and it bothered her.

The tension made her arm act up, a cramp running through her shoulder. She winced and rubbed it absently. Unfortunately, her very attentive date noticed.

“Are you injured?” he asked with concern.

Haronne du Wistelin was a Nightborne fellow of that middling elven age, neither old nor young. He had long hair tied back in a ponytail and wore small spectacles on his nose, giving him a scholarly appearance. His fine dark vest and pants with bowtie over a white shirt complemented Jaelantia’s own attire, which was an elaborate white dress with gold and blue trim. Her lower legs and hooves were wrapped in fine ribbon, and long white gloves covered both arms up to the shoulder, where the dress covered the remainder. Her hair was drawn up, bunched behind her head, and then allowed to cascade the rest of the way over her shoulders. Even her horns had been polished. It had been a lot of effort, and she wasn’t sure it was going to be worth it at this rate.

“No, no, I am fine,” she said. “It is… simply a war wound which has been left slightly tender. Sometimes it flares up when the atmospheric pressure changes.” Or a host of other reasons, she thought to herself, but she left it at that. “It is no concern. Just a mild cramp.”

“Ah, my aunt has a marvelous tincture for aches, or so she claims,” Haronne said. “I’ll have to send you some.”

“That would be most appreciated,” she lied, turning her attention to the fore of the gathering. They were about to enter the ballroom/banquet hall. “Would you be willing to fetch us both a drink when we get inside?” she asked. “I would like to find a mirror and ensure my hair is the way I left it when we arrived.”

“Absolutely,” Haronne said. She let go of his arm as they stepped inside.

Immediately through the doors at the rear of the manor was the grand ballroom, extravagant to the extreme. Furnished with only the most expensive of materials, the room had been colored in shades of blue and hints of gold, rich drapes ensconcing the windows that showcased Suramar’s nobility in stained glass. A grand staircase landed on both ends of the ballroom floor that moved up to a lofted upper level where the guests could gossip and comment on the intrigue delivered to them. Guards were at all the doors, carrying traditional dress blades, while not another weapon was in sight. The lower floor appeared reserved for dancing, while the upper lofted area held room for socializing, as well as tables full of exotic and delectable food. Servants circulated, offering guests sparkling drinks. As they entered, a herald by the door holding a long scroll announced their names. “Archivist Haronne du Wistelin and escort Jaelantia!”

More ready than ever to escape, Jaelantia looked around and spied a doorway to one side that looked promising. However, as she moved away, she noticed someone nearby. It was the demon hunter she’d seen looking around warily during the ceremony. Instinct made Jaelantia act. She approached and gently touched the demon hunter’s shoulder. “Excuse me,” she pardoned herself. “It was a lovely ceremony, was it not?” She smiled warmly, trying to keep worry from her eyes.

Unfortunately, she had not quite lost Haronne. The man had started to move away, only to pause when Jaelantia stopped to strike up a conversation. He hovered nearby politely, not wanting to rudely leave as small talk was being exchanged. However, he leaned back ever so slightly from the demon hunter, despite his efforts to be polite. It was only to be expected, considering his people’s recent trauma at the hands of the Legion, Jaelantia supposed.

However, she didn’t have much opportunity to reflect on such things, as the demon hunter all but jumped at her touch and whipped around to face her. “Yes it… It was…” The demon hunter let out a breath. “I apologize for being short, but was there something you needed?”

Jaelantia frowned and shook her head. “No, I am sorry to bother you. I thought perhaps I recognized you,” she lied again. She couldn’t keep the concern entirely off her face. “I simply wanted to remark on what a lovely ceremony it was… that everything seemed to go well? And nothing was out of place?” She forced a smile again.

“…Y…Yes, I supp—”

Just then, the crier announced another name. “Julilee Liene, Commander of Sanctuary!” It was the short-haired blood elf who had hauled the night elf off for a hurried conversation earlier who had entered. The demon hunter’s attention snapped that way.

“They rehearsed it for weeks, or so I understand,” Haronne chuckled, oblivious.

“Hervor!” said a night elf who approached in pretty purple and cerulean regalia right at that moment. “You’ve changed… when did you get the uh… fel stuff?”

The demon hunter, Hervor’s, attention was forced back to the immediate vicinity. “…Ah! Niala! I’m glad to see another member of the Empire… Listen, I’ll tell you all about it, but first I need to find some members of Sanctuary…” She stepped closer to the other night elf and whispered something to her.

Jaelantia started. “Another member of the – ah, of course! We haven’t met after all, but I’ve heard your name. I am Jaelantia, also of the… Empire…” Her expression sank again as the more private exchange carried on. Something really was going on.

Haronne looked back and forth between the two whispering and Jaelantia. He cleared his throat slightly. “Associates of yours?” he asked.

Jaelantia smiled apologetically at Haronne. “Oh, forgive me, Haronne. We seem to be comrades under the same banner… I did not expect to find any here.”

Hervor’s ears perked up as she looked back toward Jaelantia. “Seems I have more allies here than I thought. Come with me…”  She grabbed both Jaelantia and Niala by the wrist and began walking off to the side with them.

“Err, I’ll go fetch our drinks,” Haronne offered as he was left behind.

“J-Just girl talk,” Jaelantia explained as was pulled away. “I will rejoin you shortly!”

Once they had moved away from the entrance and the bulk of the crowd, Niala said, “I knew something was wrong the moment the guards wouldn’t even let me have my staff to help conjure all the arcwine and the cake. No one bans magic in a city of mages unless they’re trying to kill the mage. I might just be paranoid, but from the moment I entered, it felt off.”

“Is something truly amiss, then?” Jaelantia whispered.

Hervor let go of their wrists. “I don’t know if they’re aiming to kill any mages, Niala. It sounds more like the newlyweds. Why else choose a wedding? That’s just speculation, but I’ve been given a disturbing tip that something dangerous may indeed be going down here.” The demon hunter folded her arms, one black claw scratching a bit at her skin. “Apparently it’s the reason a group called Sanctuary is here. I think we should find them, hook up with them, and help solve this little issue before anyone gets hurt.”

Jaelantia sighed. “So there is a danger here, possibly blended into the rest of the guests, or the wedding party itself – but they are waiting until after the ceremony? Perhaps it is somebody already within the manor itself. Whatever the case… we must combine our efforts, as you said.”

Niala nodded once to Hervor, speaking for clarification. “I meant any of the guests. Most of them are mages. That’s all I meant. I’ll keep an eye out. Just...” A second copy of Niala walked up to the group, smiling at the two. “Don’t get worried when you see two of me. They are both me. I’ll look about the party. Long story. Magic involving my soul. Doesn’t seem to be blocked here.”

Hervor nodded, seemingly accepting this without question. “Sanctuary may know more about what’s going on. I heard the commander’s name, Julilee. I’m going to go search for her… I caught a glance just before she went out of sight. I suppose of the three of us, I’ll be the easiest to pick out of a crowd… Come to me if you find out anything, okay?”

“You may be the first to draw attention from our possible assassin, I hate to say,” Jaelantia said. “I will keep my eyes peeled and let you know the moment I find something. They did not make me surrender my guildstone, after all.”

“I’d rather they come after me. I’m quite a bit hardier than I used to be.” Hervor cracked her knuckles, the light of her eyes flaring up, then looked to one of the Nialas. “I’ll be in the ballroom. Perhaps each of you should take another area... I’ll let you figure it out. For now, I need to get back right away… Good luck.” With that, she turned, and moved quite speedily back toward the entrance where Julilee had been.

Jaelantia turned to the Nialas. “Well… I will see if I can enter the upper level of the manor. The two… or however many… of you, perhaps keep an eye in other areas as well.” With that, she turned toward the doorway which looked like it led to the upper levels. The two Nialas walked off in separate directions, wading into the crowd a ways before one of her copies veered back off to the kitchen. The other exited the room headed toward what looked like the foyer at the front of the manor.

Unfortunately, Jaelantia was denied entry to the upper levels. “Wedding party only, ma’am,” the guards said. “Guests may refresh themselves in the designated area by the banquet.”

Not having any other particular ideas, Jaelantia went up to the banquet area as directed. Of course, who should be encounter there but…

“Ah, there she is! Jaelantia!” came Haronne’s voice. Jaelantia stifled a sigh and turned toward her date, only to find him standing with the short-haired blood elf – Julilee.

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Sitting through the ceremony while trying to keep Mardalius and Sorel focused on the Karthok threat and not each other had not been fun. Once the ceremony was over, the three of them had decided to split up. Julilee would go up to the banquet area, Sorel would stay down in the ballroom area, and Mardalius would go out to the gardens which was another designated milling area for guests during the reception. Julilee wasn’t sure where Shokkra and Aaren had disappeared to in the crowd, but was sure they’d be keeping their eyes open as well.

Julilee took a glass of sparkling drink that one of the attendants pressed on her, but didn’t drink from it. She wanted to keep her senses completely sharp. She glanced at the impressive spread of food with the gorgeous cake centerpiece, but didn’t help herself to that either. She didn’t have much of an appetite, and kept her gaze roaming over the other guests.

A Nightborne man with a drink in either hand happened to be nearby. He had small spectacles on his nose and seemed to be at a bit of a loss. As they noticed each other, it became required to acknowledge each other. “Good evening, m’lady,” he said generously. “Did I hear from the herald that you were a Commander? There seem to be a few in attendance tonight.”

“Yes, of Sanctuary, a guild of the Horde,” Julilee responded. She fiddled with her drink. “Julilee Liene.”

“Haronne du Wistelin. It is a pleasure. I have heard the tale of Sanctuary’s saving of Shal’Aran. Is it true one of yours rode a beast into the sky to allow a mana bomb to explode harmlessly?”

 That made Juli smile, with pride. “Yes, Arahe is her name. She barely survived, and her wyvern too.”

“Very noble, as matches what I have heard of Sanctuary,” he said. “My date is a member of another noble guild, Twilight Empire…”

That got her attention. Hearing that was more than welcome news. “Who are they? Where are they?” she asked immediately.

“Errr…” he said, taken aback. “Her name is Jaelantia. You are familiar with Twilight Empire, then? Hopefully not in an adverse capacity? They are of that Alliance faction…”

“Not adverse at all,” Julilee assured him. “Sanctuary and Twilight are fast allies. I’d like to introduce myself to her… I assume she’ll be along shortly?” She noted the two drinks he was carrying.

“One can hope,” he said with a weak chuckle, casting his gaze over the crowd.

There was a dark-skinned human man standing nearby who seemed to be waiting for something, but who appeared to have taken an interest in their dialogue. Having obviously noticed him in return, Julilee felt obligated to include him in the conversation. “Hello,” she said at a diplomatic minimum.

He grunted with vague discomfort. “Evening. Uh, fine dress you have there.”

The clumsy compliment amused Julilee a little. A certain lack of eloquence was refreshing in situations like these. “Thank you.”

“I heard you mention the Twilight Empire. As it happened, I’m a member myself. Fairly new. But, still a member.” His words were awkward, a bit stumbling, but sharpened her interest considerably nonetheless.

“Oh, are you?” Julilee said. “What brings you here?” If there was more than one Twilight Empire person here, perhaps they’d been warned of a threat, as well. Reuvan would have been wise to not count on Sanctuary coming. They almost hadn’t, after all.

“Invitation,” the man grunted, then sought to clarify in embarrassment. “I mean, I was invited. By a friend of… one of the families.”

“Ah, I see,” Julilee said.

She was about to introduce herself, but Haronne perked up then. He had spotted a set of polished horns above the crowd. “Ah, there she is! Jaelantia!”

“I apologize, Haronne, I… ah, who is this?” the draenei said as she arrived. She looked at Julilee, then the human man.

“Julilee Liene, Commander of Sanctuary,” Julilee introduced herself. “I understand you’re a member of Twilight Empire as well?”

Jaelantia seemed to follow what Julilee meant by the ‘as well’, glancing toward the human man with a smile and a hint of recognition. “Sanctuary,” she repeated. “Ah, yes, I am! I am Jaelantia of the Twilight Empire… Good, Sanjay, there are a few of us here tonight, it seems.”

“I wasn’t expecting to see a draenei tonight. I wasn’t sure if your kind celebrated marriages, what with the lack of surnames and all,” the human man, Sanjay, said. He looked like he regretted his words immediately.

Jaelantia didn’t seem offended; in fact, she might have stifled a laugh. Haronne offered her one of the drinks and she took it. “Ah, thank you so much, Haronne.” She put the wine to her lips and drank politely before turning back to Juli. “Coincidentally – I needed to speak with you, a moment, Julilee. There is a demon hunter here who is also of our order. She urgently would like to make your acquaintance.” She frowned as she said this, seemingly signifying the seriousness of this urgent need.

“I would love to,” Julilee said firmly.

Haronne looked back and forth between the two females, obviously figuring out that something was going on, and beginning to look a little put out.

Jaelantia drank deeply of the wine, then leaned in to Haronne and spoke in a quiet, reassuring tone, her words not quite audible to the others. Then she gently pressed her lips to his cheek and smiled.

Haronne flushed. “Of course,” he murmured back. “Just let me know how I may be of assistance…”

“You have done me a world of favors by bringing me here in the first place, Haronne. I promise I will be back soon.” Jaelantia set the empty glass on the refreshment table, and turned back to Julilee. “I think she is here, in the ballroom as well. We should join with her as soon as we can. Would you like to accompany us?” she asked Sanjay.

Sanjay looked almost torn. “I am waiting on my dance partner. She’s speaking with some friends, but she’s expecting me to stay where I am. I’d rather not force her to search for me.” He turned to Julilee and said, “My name is Sanjay, by the way. It was… good to meet you, Julilee.”

“I suppose I’ll head to the gardens, then,” Haronne said, with almost-concealed disappointment. He hesitated a bare moment longer, then departed.

“This is important,” Julilee said to Sanjay. She lowered her voice. “There is a threat to this wedding.”

Sanjay frowned. “What sort of threat?” he said distractedly.

It wasn’t the level of cooperation Julilee was hoping for from a member of Twilight Empire. She glanced at Jaelantia, who was frowning. “A threat on someone’s life,” Jaelantia said. “We have a duty to act.”

It seemed Twilight Empire did know something of the threat, although Julilee didn’t know the circuitous route that information had followed. She was about to say something herself when Sorel arrived with a demon hunter, or more accurately, the demon hunter did with him in tow. “Liene, Hervor here was looking for you,” he said by way of introduction.

Julilee had noticed the demon hunter during the ceremony, looking around suspiciously, and seated next to Reuvan. It made sense, now. She looked up at the demon hunter, Hervor, who was considerably taller than she, and nodded. “Is this everyone from Twilight Empire who’s here?” she asked. “We should speak.”

“No, we have one more,” Hervor said. “Niala, an arcanist and beast master… Though I don’t believe she brought any of her animal friends tonight. I heard Sanctuary is here to stop an assassination plot. We’re ready to give our full cooperation.”

Julilee glanced around. It was a risk speaking to them like this. She had to act casual, and the best way to do that at the moment seemed to be to take a sip of her drink. It was stronger than she expected and she grimaced in regret before speaking quietly. “Yes. Sanctuary is tracking a nefarious criminal named Karthok, and sources indicated he had taken an interest in disrupting this event. Unfortunately, no specifics were discovered. I tried alerting them…” She sighed. “They refused to believe he was a significant enough threat to warrant canceling, or even much worry.” She was quiet for a moment, looking down into her drink as she considered what else to say, then spoke even more quietly. “Karthok has killed two Sanctuary members and is meddling with the Legion, and a mad Ancient bent on destroying all life on Azeroth.”

Jaelantia’s frown deepened. “So there is a possible agent of the Burning Legion who seeks to disrupt the harmony this union represents.”

“Liene reached out to my order to aid them in dealing with this madman, but so far he has not extended his wrath our way,” Sorel said.

“Well, it’s a good thing we all found each other then,” Hervor said. She took a drink from an attendant who came by and waited until he had departed before continuing. “If he’s meddled with fel power, my Sight may prove useful. Any idea why this event would interest him? Is there someone of note here?”

“He sows chaos, dissent, and despair wherever he can,” Julilee said. “He simply enjoys it, and it makes everyone and everything easier for him to work with. Stirring up unrest in Suramar of any kind with the Legion right over our heads would be right up his alley.”

Hervor’s brow twitched. “So everyone here is at risk…” The idea seemed to bother her immensely. “It’s certainly harder if there’s no clear motive. We’ll have to spread our net as wide as we can.”

“Exactly,” Julilee said. “We shouldn’t speak long. I’m doubtlessly being watched, as are the three I brought with me.”

“I’ve been watching for traps and illusions all night already,” Sorel said with simmering frustration. “So far I’ve not picked up on anything.”

Sanjay seemed tense, but distracted. He drifted back from the group. “I am sorry, but I’m afraid I cannot be of much help. I cannot disappoint my companion.”

Abruptly, a night elf in purple and sky-blue robes appeared. She grabbed Hervor’s hand, beckoning her. “You need to come check this out, it’s hilarious,” she exclaimed. “Jaelantia, you too.”

Hervor gave the newcomer a sour look. “I’m not quite in the mood for comedy, Niala…”

Jaelantia was looking toward Sanjay, whose date, a Nightborne female, had arrived and was giggling at him. “If you see anything, please try and let one of us know as soon as possible,” she said to him. Sanjay didn’t respond as he and his date walked off.

Julilee looked back at the group as Niala let out a light chuckle and looked Hervor dead in the fireorbs. “Seriously. You’ll love it. I know it. Come on. Come take a look. You’ll love it, I’m sure.”

Jaelantia, who had been frowning, opened her eyes wide in sudden comprehension. “Go see whatever it is. Tell me about it. I love a good laugh.”

Juli would have stayed to figure out what was going on, but just then Aaren arrived. They couldn’t all afford to be seen talking together. “Nice meeting you,” Julilee said loudly, and moved away, bringing Aaren with her. “They’re all allies,” she said to the priestess once they were in a different part of the banquet area. It had grown much noisier as more of the guests partook of food and drink, and easier for them to talk. “Twilight Empire. They’ve been alerted. One from Night Vanguard, too, another ally.” Sorel, seemingly abandoned, had petulantly moved off somewhere.

Aaren took a deep breath. “I can try pressing the director for information, or do we have another plan?”

Julilee considered. “The director should know everyone here. Especially the bride and groom. It’s their wedding; they must be significant. So that’s a good idea. Can you find out what you can about them?” Then, something else occurred to her, along with a wave of foreboding. “…Have you seen Shokkra lately?”

Aaren nodded and turned. “She said she would chat up the crowd, pointed the director out to me.” She gestured in a direction. “Do you want me to find her first?”

“No, I will. Let me know if you find out anything that seems important.”

They two parted ways, Aaren scooping up two glasses of wine as she went. An attendant stopped Juli. “Refill, m’lady?” he asked. Juli realized she had drained her glass at some point, and reluctantly allowed it to be replaced. Need to pay more attention… she thought. There were going to be a great many things to pay attention to, and she couldn’t afford to miss any.

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The wedding director, whom Shokkra had somehow identified, appeared to be fawning over a bard at the edge of the dance floor, an area where some additional mingling was happening. At least Aaren guessed the person the director was fawning over was a bard because of the heavy instrument case slung over her shoulder. Both were Nightborne, and exceptionally good-looking ones. If you liked that type.

Aaren watched for awhile, until the two parted ways, and the director turned to look over the dance floor. The bride and the groom were taking their turn in a carefully choreographed piece with artfully romantic string music played by a host of other bards who were set up on the stage at the back of the room. The stage was almost unnoticeable, a small raised area about half-height to and directly across from the lofted banquet area, above the doorway everyone had come in through from the ceremony, but Aaren paid attention to such things.

The director’s name was Laerye, or so Shokkra had told her. She had long hair arranged in three braids, looped elaborately. And she watched the bridal couple. Since Aaren was observing closely, she noticed that when the dance ended, the bride shot the director a strange glance before announcing she was going to go freshen up and departing for upstairs. It could mean anything, but it could also mean one thing.

Aaren approached the director after that and offered one of the glasses of sparkling wine. “You’ve certainly outdone yourself. A beautiful union and ceremony. You are the director, yes? I am looking to begin planning my own wedding.”

Laerye, the director, chuckled as she let her gaze drift lazily over the priestess. She took the offered glass and drank. “Shame to see one like you settling down,” she said.

“Oh, I never settle, down or otherwise,” Aaren replied. “But there are reasons to get married besides that, no? I’m sure this bride and groom are similar in that way.”

Laerye’s mouth twisted. “Of course,” she said. “Nobility.” She tossed back the rest of the glass then looked Aaren up and down again, this time with a more jaded, if still shameless, kind of eye, as she put her glass down on a nearby surface. “Would you care for a dance? The floor seems to have cleared up for a few more couples.”

Aaren took a last sip of her glass and set it aside. She offered her hand with a smile. “That would be lovely, dear.”

Laerye effortlessly took the lead as they stepped out onto the floor, joined by several others as the music began again. A waltz was a waltz in any culture and Aaren moved nimbly enough to more than keep up. Laerye’s lips curved in approval. “It’s good to see our distant cousins still know how to dance,” she says.

“I’d go so far as to say we’d perfected it,” Aaren said, with disguising blandness meant to be seen right through, which Laerye did. The director grinned in approval.

“So do you want help with your wedding? Or something before that?” Laerye said.

Several minutes later, Laerye had gotten them past the guards and into a room on the upper level. Aaren paused inside the doorway as Laerye moved over to the mantle for a glass decanter. “Now what would Celene think of this?” Aaren said daringly.

Laerye snorted. “You’ve heard of how she dumped me to marry Gaspard, then? She’d be in a tizzy if she heard about me sneaking up here with a blood elf in the middle of her wedding.” She smirked as she poured them two glasses. Aaren stepped inside, letting the door close behind her. “But what she doesn’t know won’t hurt her,” Laerye concluded, holding one of the glasses out.

Aaren moved forward to take the glass, cupping it in both hands. It smelled of peat, like the stuff Juli drank. “What else doesn’t she know?” Aaren inquired.

Laerye stepped up to Aaren, touching her glass to the other woman’s with a soft clink. “A lot of things,” she said, and drank. Aaren followed suit. The stuff was bitter, but she was used to it.

“Since I’m just going to be a one-night stand, you should tell me, and I’ll tell you a secret,” Aaren said.

Laerye looked at her speculatively. “Is there something I should tell you?” she says. “Or are you better off not knowing, too?”

“I’m sure I could handle anything you’re capable of doing,” Aaren said, drinking some more from the glass.

Laerye’s lips parted in a grin. “I wouldn’t be so sure.”

The booze was starting to hit Aaren, and it was hitting hard. Too hard, actually. “Shit,” she muttered.

“I like your style, beautiful, so I’ll leave you alive. But you can’t be allowed to interfere with tonight.” The glass dropped out of Aaren’s hand, hitting the carpet with a thunk, and she almost followed suit except that Laerye caught her. As darkness swallowed her, she heard Laerye say, “Such a shame, you seemed like such fun…”

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Mardalius strolled out into the gardens. They were beautifully manicured, and glowing lampposts illuminated the area very well, growing brighter as the sun finished setting. The warm later afternoon was turning into a sultry evening that continued to be pleasant for outdoor socialization. Right outside the side exit from the ballroom was an open area where tables had been set up with food and drink, where most of the guests who were outside were milling, and several paths wound off through taller hedges and statuary arrangements. To one side there appeared to be a cleared space that, if Mardalius wasn’t mistaken, appeared to be reserved for duels, judging by the two attendants with cases standing nearby.

He straightened his coat and looked around, considering where to begin and scrutinizing the area for illusions, only to be accosted immediately.

“You! Boy! Are you an Anterius?!”

It was a human man who called out to him, squinting at the sigil on Mardalius’ coat. Appearing to be an old soldier, the man wore traditional Stormwind military dress attire with his medals pinned to his chest and the rank of General on his collar. His hair was cut clean and short, his beard trimmed for the occasion, though he didn’t look too excited to be there. A younger man who could only be his son stood beside him. With a large beard, the sides and back of his hair shaved to keep a short cut on top, proud leonine features and a muscular build, the younger man embodied the image of the perfect Alliance soldier. It was enough to make the elven-tending Mardalius feel slightly inadequate.

Nonetheless, he approached confidently. “Yes, sir. I’m Mardalius, Margoz Anterius’ son,” he said with a bow. “I take it you know my father?”

“Comrades for as long as it lasts in times like these.” He extended his hand. “Josef Morozov, Son of Lothar.” The younger man stepped forward. “And this is my son, Ivan.”

Mardalius took Josef’s hand firmly, shaking it briefly, then Ivan’s. “A pleasure to meet you both. I can’t help but notice your rank and honors, General. A prestigious career, and your son seems poised to follow in your footsteps.”

“He’s a damn good soldier, sure as hell better than I ever was.” Josef grins, clapping his son on the back.

Ivan just nodded politely and said, with gravitas, “Thank you, I’ve only done what I’ve felt was right for the Alliance.”

“Sometimes, all it takes is the right man, in the right place, at the right time,” Mardalius said with a companionable smile. “Would you gentlemen care to join me for a glass of wine?” He beckoned them along as he started towards the wine table. It seemed to him that getting to know these two better couldn’t hurt.

“Wouldn’t mind a couple. Get the taste of Horde air from my mouth,” Josef grunted.

Mardalius choose one of the impressive wines on display on the table and procured three glasses. Once all three men had their drinks, he raised his glass. “To House Morozov, and House Anterius. May glory and honor shine on both.” The other men concurred, and Mardalius drank, savoring the wine for a moment before deciding where to go with the conversation. “So, what brings two honored Alliance soldiers to a Shal’dorei wedding, especially one attended by so many members of the Horde?”

“I insisted my father come. It’s time he added more temperament to his life than his hate,” Ivan said. He turned to begin strolling, and the other two followed, Josef with a snort.

“They took too much from me to make it up now. Nothing the Horde could do to redeem themselves, especially after getting King Wrynn killed.”

Mardalius smiled agreeably, but stated none of his own opinions. “I see. And what of Argus? The last I heard, that was a joint operation. Some things are too big, too important for Azeroth to be divided on. Surely, General, there is some way the Horde could find redemption.”

As they walked, he let his gaze move around them, ostensibly admiring the scenery, but in reality on the lookout for illusions. However, nothing was not as it seemed, including the two men with whom he conversed. The gardens were innocuous.

“I’ll rely on the Army of the Light and my own soldiers for that, they’re preparing for it as we speak. Trusting the Horde to put their faith in the Light, or the Illidari…” Josef shook his head and took another sip as they continued strolling. “The heathens that created warlocks and death knights are not trustworthy creatures.”

“I think you would find that the Horde today is very different from those of old, the likes that created Gorefiend.” Mardalius sipped his wine before continuing, “And what of the Shal’dorei? Are they trustworthy, General?”

Josef wiped his mouth and turned down a path away from the hedges, into a slightly less maintained area of the gardens. There was a shed up ahead, and the path curved back around to the party area. “They’re dangerous, but Thalryssa and her advisors are good people. So long as she keeps her people in check, they’re fine in my book.”

It didn’t sound like much motivation for disrupting a wedding, but Mardalius kept probing to be sure. “I see. Are you gentlemen acquainted with the groom, to have been invited this evening? He appeared to be a military man.”

“We are,” Ivan said. He tucked the back of his suit down as though he were used to something being there. “We worked with him to quell the loyalist resistance.”

Near the shed there appeared to be an exit from the gardens that looked like it was used by staff rather than guests. Mardalius began to wonder why they had brought him this direction. “A servant’s entrance? I hope this means one of you paid off a man to sneak in some good Lordaeron bourbon.”

Both of them followed his gaze as though they hadn’t realized it was there. “Thought this was the way to the bathrooms…” Josef grunted.

Ivan paused by the entrance, beside the shed. There were several boxes there that looked recently deposited. It was his father, however, who moved over and opened one to see what was inside. The old soldier took out a small bottle and sniffed it, then said, “Shit.”

The scent wafted toward Mardalius from the open box. He smelled something he recognized from his father’s collection – a common kind of poison, one that had a strong scent, but no flavor. It could be put in aromatic food or drink and go undetected. There was another scent, too, he couldn’t quite place. He moved forward to open another box. “A dagger?” he said as he found one that had been left behind. “How did these things get smuggled past the guards?” He began looking around intently, sure something was going on.

“Might’ve gotten paid off, might’ve killed ’em.” Josef said. He took out a rag and sniffed it. “Smells like oil for crossbow strings.”

“We should probably tell security. We could prevent a tragedy, gentlemen.” He no longer believed the men were up to something. They seemed as disturbed by the find as he.

Ivan nodded, lightly pulling his father up from the boxes. “You’re right. I’ll go alert security. Father, you go back to the gardens so it doesn’t look suspicious.” He looked to Mardalius. “You should go tell your friends about this.”

It seemed Sanctuary’s presence here hadn’t gone unnoticed. “Indeed,” Mardalius said. “You gentlemen stay safe; the Legion likely has targets painted on your backs for the work you did digging them out of Suramar.”

He headed back toward the ballroom to find Julilee.

Edited by Julilee

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