“Bro!” Aurelius shouted down the hall. “You ready yet?”
“No,” Adra growled, sticking his head out of his doorway and gesturing to his bare arms. “We never actually bought a tuxedo for me, remember?”
“Dude.” Aurelius strode down to this brother’s room and pushed the smaller boy aside, gunning directly for Adra’s pathetic excuse for a closet. “Don’t you have anything that a normal person would wear?”
He started tossing worn T-shirts and ragged jeans onto Adra’s unmade bed, creating a colorful pile of ironic statements, anti-war slogans and general non-conformist sentiment. Aurelius held up a gray shirt with the words “I don’t need to polymorph someone who’s already a sheep” and groaned.
“You are the most useless person,” he said, dropping the shirt as though it emanated toxic fumes.
“I should say that about you,” Adra hissed, gathering up his clothing and clutching it protectively to his chest. “You brought me to your sordid drug lair and then abandoned me at the bar the other night!”
“Yeah, I guess I did get a little side-tracked,” Aurelius shrugged. “It’s whatever, though. You don’t need a tux tonight, you just need something that doesn’t let everyone know you’re totally annoying.”
In half an hour, a town C.A.R. would arrive to bring them to the Dawnblade estate, where they were expected for a formal dinner with Avali and Lysta’s parents. The though of sitting among such glittering, sumptuous decadence excited Aurelius; Adrasteius, however, felt bile churning in his stomach from the moment Avali told him about the mandatory invitation. If he refused to attend, Lord Cerillus Dawnblade would not allow him to escort Lysta, and if he did not escort Lysta, she would likely cut off his genitals and wear them as a trendy necklace. Adrasteius, once again on behalf of his most treasured organ, finally agreed.
“You really haven’t got anything,” Aurelius said.
“Just give me something of yours, then! That C.AR. will be here any minute,” Adra said. Aure laughed.
“No offense, bro, but I’m not sure we’re the same size. Or even within spitting distance.”
“I know that, idiot,” Adra said. “I’ll just enchant them.”
Aure looked apprehensive. “Not sure how I feel about your finger-waving and such all over my fine threads.”
“I can put them back,” Adra said, then muttered, “Probably,” as Aure led him back to a legitimate closet full of things that would not shame their family if worn in public.
Adra hung back while his twin riffled through the extensive collection. He sat on his brother’s crisp, perfectly arranged down comforter and steeled himself. He had faced worse situations than this. The whole week preceding today was proof enough of that. All he had to do was persevere through prom. The frenzy would dissipate, Lysta would lock eyes with someone more appropriate to her caste and sanity level, and his life would resume its normal course. So he prayed fervently to the Light, anyway.
“Here,” Aurelius said. He reverently folded and stacked a set of dark gray slacks, a white silk shirt and a gray blazer with gold buttons in his broher’s arms, along with a red silk tie imprinted with Silvermoon’s phoenix emblem. “Put these on with those shoes.” He gestured to a pair of black, freshly polished dress shoes nestled in the cubby hanging from the closet door. “You got ten minutes, dude.”
Aure was already fully presentable and had been since early that morning. His finely brushed hair gleamed in its ponytail, his bangs hung artfully over his dark, narrow eyes. He wore a black suit with silver trim and cufflinks, a dark blue silk shirt, and a solid silver tie. The suit fitted his strong arms and slender legs perfectly; he stood with all the power and ease of someone twice his age.
Adrasteius, meanwhile, stood with all the grace of a one-legged hawkstrider; though his enchantment was perfect and the suit had agreeably adjusted itself to fit his measurements, he felt trapped in a luxurious prison. The silk was too light against his skin, the jacket too firm, and the tie choked him. He was nervously adjusting the thing, trying to lessen its deadly and largely psychological hold, when the front doorbell rang. He heard Aurelius exchange a few words with a soft-spoken visitor and then his twin’s voice boomed down the hall.
“Let’s go, skinny!”
“I’m not ready!”
Another inaudible exchange and then Aurelius was suddenly stomping up behind him, grabbing his arm.
“You look decent. As much as can be expected for you, anyway. Let’s go.” The laissez-faire attitude Aure projected only lasted as long as his demands were met, his comforts assured. Because he was rarely denied, the general opinion of him was a stark contrast to the reality Adrasteius knew. Aure all but dragged his brother out to the C.A.R., and any resistance was met with a swift kick to the back of the knees.
The driver—a blood elf this time—offered no comment either via word or expression; he had the inscrutable face of someone who was paid to see a lot and say nothing.
“You’re an asshole,” Adra declared once they were both in the backseat and the C.A.R. was on the move.
“Maybe so, but I’m an asshole who knows how to navigate a social situation, so why don’t you just follow my goddamn lead for once?” Aure snarled. He leaned over and clamped a strong hand on Adra’s neck. “Could you maybe do that for me, dear brother?”
Adra shut his eyes and nodded, the dread rising like a mountain in his stomach.
Luceat Embersong was also having a few issues with dread.
She sat at a long table in the library’s basement, surrounded by a fortress of books. She kept her eyes down, her shoulders hunched, and her arms at her sides, doing her best to exude a closed-off, minding-my-own business aura. Her efforts were rewarded—students flowed around her as though passing a ghost.
Blank sheets of paper were spread out before her, but the books titles were at least related: each of them had something to do with the history of the Third War, a conflict that took place eons ago. That war was a known favorite of the night elf history teacher, probably because the man had lived through it and everything else that had ever happened to Azeroth. If anyone asked, she was researching her final paper early. But no one asked. No one even looked at her.
The hours passed, though there were no windows this deep in the building and so Luceat did not see the transition from sunset to night. She felt it, instead, and her muscles tensed. The library was almost empty now; the information desk closed. The doors weren’t locked until midnight, but diligent students were allowed to have keys, and in any case the staff was lazy about security. People who spent every waking moment in the library weren’t usually out to cause trouble.
She saw them arrive separately, with long gaps of time in between each arrival, sometimes as much as half an hour. They weren’t furtive in their movements or demeanor; they were a recognized club, and had the right to assemble on school grounds at whatever time was convenient to them. But what kind of club held meetings in the middle of the night? Luceat intended to find out.
She hid behind her wall of dusty war records, feeling out the Society of Antiquity with her sensitive hearing. They walked past her, down the rows of otherwise bare, silent tables, and opened a door at the far southern end of the room. The door led down to the library’s sub-basement, which was actually a series of half-renovated catacombs. The door was normally locked, as construction areas tended to be dangerous, but Luceat heard a key twisting in a lock after each set of footsteps. None of them minded her; they likely assumed she had fallen asleep in her mountain of work. Such exhaustion over a school assignment was Luceat’s least likely reality, but then, this Society didn’t know her. She was starting to think this was a fortunate thing.
When no one came for over an hour, Luceat decided that it was time to move. She left the books where they were and approached the sub-basement door. She tested the lock with an unwound paper clip; it was simple and not warded. She picked it without trouble, pushed the door open, and went down into the darkness.
The Dawnblades didn’t have a house; they had an estate. A neatly ordered, vast complex of buildings and gardens that took up roughly a third of Shattrath’s southern rise. According to history, much of the area was once controlled by the long-dead, learned and powerful sect of elves who had rebelled against a traitor sin’dorei prince. The great libraries once maintained by this sect had been replaced with an ostentatious pleasure palace that was well-known at A’dal High for its raucous weekly parties—events sponsored not by Avali or even Lysta, but by their mother.
“Relax, bro,” Aure said as the driver checked in at the gates. “You’re gonna love Missus D.” He chuckled as though they had shared a private joke.
Adra’s belly threatened to split open with nausea. He had obviously never met the Dawnblade matriarch, given that he was persona non grata at every party, friendly gathering, and class meeting held within the boundaries of Azeroth or Draenor (he often suspected that the Temples of Light only admitted him because it was against their religion to turn anyone away). But he wasn’t deaf to the rumors.
The driver pulled into the dark, smooth semi-circle of pavement just in front of the main building’s tall, mahogany doors. As Adra stepped out, he noted with guilty pleasure the expertly manicured grounds; in particular, the vibrant arrangements of Talandra’s rose and purple lotus that lined the path manor’s entrance, as well as a crystal pond in the center of the lawn surrounded by gently swaying, lacy stalks of Azshara’s veil. He wondered how many of his classmates had vomited into these pristine flower beds.
Aurelius yanked his brother out of the car by his forearm and led him up the walk, muttering in his ear. “Only talk to answer direct questions. Try to reply in twenty words or less. If you start going off on stupid shit, I’m going to put my foot through your ribcage. Understood?”
Adra winced. “Yes.”
A butler wearing a better suit than either of them opened the doors. He looked over the two brothers with bemused disdain.
“This way,” he said, his tone and expression silently adding, “If you must.”
Aure nodded crisply. He let go of Adra’s arm, but not without a lidded, warning glance, and strode ahead, down the long, thin corridor. Adra hustled to keep pace; his shorter legs and inquisitive eye made him lag behind. The lush, crimson carpet absorbed all sound, creating a weird silence that was only worsened by the detailed, dead-eyed gallery of Dawnblade family portraits that lined the hall. Just one section of the gilded frames those portraits sat in would feed the Lower City Orphanage for a week, Adra thought. He glared right back at the paintings, defiance bubbling in him now that Aure’s vice grip wasn’t threatening his shoulder joint.
But then they entered the dining room, and all sense of righteous indignation suffocated in his throat.
Alainysta Dawnblade sat the head of an ornate, black wood table covered in bone china plates beneath silvery cloches. Her dress was made of a sheer, diaphanous fabric that clung lovingly to her body; it was gathered like a congregation beneath her breasts. Diamonds and rubies encircled her throat and dangled from ears, and a circlet with an enormous tear-drop shaped ruby glittered from her forehead. She folded her delicate, sculpted hands one over the other as she watched the Bloodspeaker twins enter, her crimson smile curling up subtly, like smoke.
“Welcome,” she called to them, and made a slight gesture of beckoning.
In moments Aurelius was kneeling by Alainysta’s side, one of her hands in his, pressing kisses all along her knuckles.
Adrasteius felt paralyzed, caught like a talbuk in an iron-jawed trap. Beneath all of her resplendent elegance, Adra could see the sinuous mind of a seasoned predator; it moved behind her eyes with the deadly silence of a hunter, ever-watchful, ever-analyzing, and keen to catch its prey unawares.
“It’s a pleasure to see you again, Aurelius,” Alainysta purred. “But I don’t believe I’ve met your dear little brother.”
“He’s a dedicated scholar, my lady Dawnblade,” Aure replied, keeping his head bowed. “He prefers the stillness of a library to the noise of revels.” Aure cleared his throat. “Though he’s presently displaying uncharacteristic shyness.”
“That’s perfectly fine,” Alainysta said. “I think it quite charming, really.”
Adra’s cheeks flushed as the demon woman fixed her bright, measuring gaze on him. Her nails, he noticed, were even sharper than Lysta’s.
He couldn’t stop himself. He exhaled and the word ‘succubus’ followed his breath.
Aurelius shot a look at his brother that could shatter elementium. In the silence that followed, Adra braced himself for a squad of heavily armed guards to swarm in and brutally dispatch him, but after letting several agonizing minutes pass, Alainysta only laughed.
“Oh,” she said. “You are delightful. Please do sit down. My daughters will be here any second.”