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“I’m not unsympathetic…”
“I didn’t ask for your sympathy.”

Astoreth stalked through the gates of Bloodgulch to stand outside them, momentarily directionless.  All she’d known a moment ago was that she needed to get out and now that she had accomplished this, she was embarrassed and furious to realize that her next steps were unclear.  Her only saving grace at this point was that Anetho had already turned and walked away.  Showing him more emotion would have only added fuel to his fires and evidence for his conviction that she shouldn’t be doing what she was determined to do.

“Who will love her, if you are gone?”

She hadn’t been home – to her home – in days.  Laurelia was staying at the Luminiars’, blissfully ignorant of anything but milk and giggles and Kuvasei’s funny faces and her own very fascinating toes… and on the few occasions Astoreth had slept in Eversong this last week it had been easier to stay there with her; curl up with her angel child on a cot in the nursery and stroke her hair until she fell into a restless sleep.  So much easier than to go back to her own fine, vast home and walk through empty halls to a vacant bedroom to lie awake with a tangible void beside her.

“We were looking for answers.  What we found was an Eredar Lord.  Bareris and I had faced one before… in Northrend, when the fiend was still weak from the summoning, and we stood with twenty-three of the finest combatants the Horde had to offer.  This time we were the ones battered and broken even before he arrived… and we were on his turf….

“It was over, and we both knew it.  I told him I loved him… and he smiled at me.  That… that smile….”

Was it only last week Kuvasei had asked what had drawn her to Bareris?  The first thing she’d thought of was his smile.  The way his eyes sparkled; the way his lips parted in laughter.  It had charmed her at their first meeting… and at their second, months later, when a broken heart had stolen that smile and left a cold, perfunctory and imperfect replica in its place, it had seemed to Astoreth the most tragic loss she’d witnessed in years.  Possibly ever.  The change that came over the weeks and months following was slow, but steady, until one day she realized the old smile was back… and it was hers.  She fell in love with him all over again that day, as she’d been doing every day since.  That smile had its own language, she found, and what it said most was ‘I love you’.  But in that moment, as they stood together in the demon lord’s domain and prepared to face the inevitable, it was saying something else, and it took Astoreth a half-second too long to realize that the something else was ‘goodbye’….

“He spun on his heel, bellowed a challenge to the beast, and charged.  I screamed his name… but it was already too late.  The fiend hadn’t seen me yet, but it zeroed in on Bareris as he struck…  I heard Bare’s voice in my ear, saying ‘Run, Astoreth. Laurelia needs a good mother, and you’re the best.’ I refused – I told him I wouldn’t leave him, and he yelled at me. ‘Go! Don’t let this be for nothing!’  I saw the beast’s arm come down…”

She’d known the exact moment it happened.  Just as the portal opened for her escape, the pendant nestled next to her heart turned ice-cold.  Just as he told her it would do if he ever….

“I know some of the most powerful warlocks in Azeroth–“
“I AM one of the most powerful warlocks in Azeroth!”

Astoreth’s hand found its way to the coin through her robe, still cold against her skin.  She closed her eyes, feeling the strange winds of the Twilight Highlands whip her skirts around her… cool due to the altitude, but with occasional bursts of heat carried from dragons’ maws and lairs.  Kreelum tilted his head at her and whined; although impervious to weather, he sensed his mistress’ discomfort, and was anxious to move on to something distracting and hopefully wantonly destructive.  Astoreth’s mouth twitched into a half-smile as she reached a hand down to stroke the quills atop Kreelum’s sightless head.

“I should have been able to stop it,” she said again, softly.  “Now there’s only one thing left to do.”

“Astoreth.  You would brave the gates of hell for just one person?”