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“You should be asleep, little springpaw.”

The elven girl, nearly but not quite a woman, looked up through curtains of dark hair at her father smirking in her doorway.  She smirked back, not yet moving to close the book she held open on her knees as she lay propped up in her bed, a lone candle nearly burnt out on the bedside table.  “I couldn’t sleep at all,” she replied.  “And I’m hardly little anymore – you of all people should know that.”

“I know,” Magister Kieran Duskflame replied, moving across the room to sit at his daughter’s side.  “But you will always be my little girl.  Father’s prerogative.”  He glanced over the book in her lap – A History of the Kirin Tor.  “Excited for tomorrow?”

“Frustrated,” she admitted.  “Father, why aren’t you taking me to Dalaran?  You’re well-known, respected – you have friends in the Violet Citadel – mother’s  done nothing, and she knows nothing.  All she knows is how to smile and preen and… and look pretty.  And then there’s Cear – cut from mother’s cloth, and a child to boot – this is my trip, for my education, not my sister’s.”  Too late the girl realized she was ranting, as her voice briefly took on a whiny tone.  “Does she have to go?”

Duskflame chuckled, running his hand over his daughter’s hair.  “Astoreth, I’m needed here.  We’ve heard of difficulties farther south—”

“Oh Father, that won’t bother us here!”

“—that might bother us here, lovely.  And anyway, my influence will only extend us so far.  My reputation will precede you, and your mother’s ability to catch an eye and turn a phrase will do you more good than you know.  Your sister is likewise very charming, and to be honest…”  The magister sighed, eyeing his precocious daughter as she quirked an eyebrow at him.  “To be honest, I’m anxious to get her away from certain… unsavory elements in our midst.  You know of which I speak, I’m certain.”

Astoreth sighed.  “I do,” she conceded.  “But I didn’t think you did.  Now I really don’t know why you keep him around!”

“He’s useful,” came the prompt response.  “More than you can see right now… but you will, one day.  Some day you may even be grateful to have him.  Remember that, Astoreth: not everyone you like will be of use to you, and not everyone who is of use will be especially likeable.”  Duskflame sighed.  “He’s a boy.  She’s out of his sight for three weeks and he’ll be all over someone else, like gold on a dragonhawk.”

“You hope.”

“I know.  I didn’t rise to my current position by not knowing how to read people, Astoreth.  It’s a trait that will serve you well.  Your mother and sister will see you settled in, and then they’ll return home and be out of your hair.”   The girl grumbled, and Duskflame smirked.  “There are alternatives,” he offered.  “You could study here, closer to home—”

“NO!”  Astoreth jumped, and her father laughed.  “No, no no!  I want to go to Dalaran.  The prince is there.  All the newest innovations… and I… I…”   She bit her lip.

Her father smiled.  “You want to spread your wings.  I know, Astoreth.”  He sighed, and ran his hand over her hair again.  “So grown up.  When did this happen?”

Astoreth rolled her eyes again.  “Father.”

“Right, right.”  He grinned, and his serious daughter smirked back at him despite herself.  He leaned over and kissed her affectionately.  “Get some sleep now, lovely,” he chided.  “You’ve got a big day tomorrow.”

“Yes, Father,” she sighed and put her book aside.  Her father blew out the candle and, having given his daughter one more kiss, turned to leave… but was stopped by her voice asking, “Father?”

“Yes, Astoreth?”

“I just wondered… I mean, I’m going to be gone for a while — for years, probably — and, well…”  The girl had to consider her words for a moment… the impulse and the need to know were childish, but ‘childish’ was the last way Astoreth ever wanted to appear.  This was the moment to ask, though — he would be gone to work when she woke in the morning, though, and she would be gone before he came home… and in the end, impulse won out.  “…nothing’s going to change, is it, Father?  I mean… when I come back.”

Magister Kieran Duskflame smiled at his daughter one last time.  “Nothing will change, Astoreth.  When you return, everything will be just as you left it.  I promise it.”

In later years that was how Astoreth would remember her father best: framed in the doorway of her bedroom, soft candlelight from the hallway outside glinting off his hair and smooth skin to make him appear almost ethereal: the ideal father, rather than the flawed mortal being he was, made all the more handsome by the smile on his face as he made the only promise that she could ever remember him failing to keep.

“Goodnight now,” he said softly, and closed the door.