The candle flared, a hissing orange spark in the dark and quiet surrounding it. Keelath considered it for a moment, then raised it in the air. The flame flickered, growing wilder and wilder in Orgrimmar’s wind, before snuffing out entirely.
Much like the man for which Keelath named it. “Istaniel,” he whispered.
He looked in the direction the wind blew, the way the tiny flame had gone, stolen away, just as the man’s life had been. Keelath had barely known him, or to what and for what reason he had died, and the private moment of respect was more professional courtesy than grief. He had shared his comrades’ horror at the way Istaniel had crumbled away, like a leaf crisped into dust, but not their loss.
“Pull yourself together,” he had told Ondolemar, shortly after it had happened. His words had meant to be bracing rather than harsh, but the ambassador had flashed a glare at him, and he had felt a similar withering from behind the Warcaller’s helmet at his back.
But Keelath’s mind had already been racing by that point, fitting together the clues, performing triage on the situation. Were the rest of them in danger from the same fate? No, the room was secure. Would Ondolemar break down into incoherency, when he might have vital information? He responded he knew nothing to Keelath’s pressing, so that was a no. What about Harlan, the other healer in the room? The Commander…?
Then Imara’el had entered. The shock and pain on his face twisted something in Keelath; he recognized it as the same fears that he had for his own brother. He went over to Imara’el to support him, but the sin’dorei was already pushing back against his grief, snarling, eyes wild, stubborn as an orc.
So Keelath stepped back again. Good. Imara’el would make it through this day, this fight. If he were to collapse later…they’d cross that bridge when they came to it.
When Imara’el stormed off again, swearing vengeance, Keelath made to follow, concerned the young buck would charge recklessly into danger without taking any kind of backup with him–until Keelath remembered the glares of the officers on him. Oh, yes. This wasn’t his own platoon where he held command. Gritting his teeth, he turned back to Lithliana and pointed out the danger he foresaw. She responded: give Imara’el space. Keelath wasn’t sure it was wise, having seen soldiers of his old commands destroy themselves when left to their own devices right after such a big shock and loss, but…it wasn’t up to him, was it? He’d just have to trust Lithliana knew how Imara’el might react better than he did.
A message Warcaller Fenryth repeated later on the stairs, warning Keelath not to overstep his bounds again in terse tones. Keelath seethed under the discipline, but he knew the rules, and it was the Warcaller’s right to put him in his place, no matter if the Warcaller was a thousand years younger than Keelath–or a thousand years older. It was impossible to tell with death knights. Nothing would be gained by arguing like a petulant child anyway, so Keelath accepted the warning without anything more than a “Yes, sir.”
He had waited a moment for further orders, but they didn’t come. Putting together an expedition to hunt Istaniel’s killer would take a few days. So, Keelath had come up here, to the cliff overlooking the barracks, to give the departed his own send-off, and to think…
“Keelath?” His wife’s voice surprised him, until he remembered she had helped get Tyrric out to Orgimmar to enroll him in the Wickham Expeditions’ employ earlier in the week. She had chosen to stay with him for a few days, rather than return immediately to her stables at the manor. It would be a good test for the stablehands she had hired, she said. Keelath knew the other reason: she was still frightened by his long absences.
Keelath turned around and opened his arms, and she folded herself into him, a dance they had played over centuries, as she fit against him like hand in glove.
And as always, she knew how to read him. “Are you worried about something?”
“No more than usual. There was an attack at the meeting. We lost one of the Doomguard.”
Mirium stared up at him, frightened. “I didn’t hear anything–who was it? What happened?”
“I don’t know yet,” said Keelath. “It was some kind of remotely discharged spell. I’m sure the officers will fill me in with whatever knowledge that they see fit.”
Mirium calmed herself, though she still ran a hand up and down his shoulder as if reassuring herself he was still there. “That bothers you,” she remarked.
Keelath blinked. How did she do that? The minds and emotions of others were frequently a black box to him, but Mirium always seemed to know what he was thinking–sometimes before even he did.
“It’s to be expected,” he answered. “It’s not long ago I was a war criminal, and these are my superiors. They will tell me what I need to know and to do, when I need to know and do it, not before.”
Mirium leaned her head against his tabard. “I don’t think that’s something I could get used to, if it were me. I suppose to you, though, having a unit like this must be a little like a homecoming.”
Keelath smirked despite himself. “It is true most of the order is made up of elves. If we weren’t in Orgrimmar, I could almost convince myself we were mustered for some skirmish against the Amani, like the old days.”
“You did used to love those battles.”
“I loved the people I met and protected,” Keelath corrected, “but I loved coming home to you more.”
They went silent then, simply holding each other. Keelath let some of his icy aura die away and tucked Mirium against him out of the wind; she reached up and began to massage his cheeks, some of the only pleasurable sensations left to his undead skin.
“So you’ll be riding off to punish the attacker or the attacker’s leaders soon, I suppose,” said Mirium softly.
Mirium looked up. “If I wasn’t expecting, I’d come with you.”
Keelath said nothing; there was nothing to say to the truth. She had changed, strengthening in some ways, yet weakening in others. Never before had she been so worried by his duties on the battlefield. Ironic, considering he was probably harder to kill now than ever before.
Then again, the true danger to him now was not death, but losing himself in inflicting it.
“I want to give you something,” murmured Mirium. She pushed away from him and fished a red, oval stone, like a polished piece of hardened Ogrimmar mud, from her pocket. Faint lines depicting a bird’s head and one wing were carved into it. “It’s a charm,” she explained, as she pressed it into his hand. “Warm it, and it’ll summon a tiny Phoenix to protect you.”
“Warm it,” Keelath repeated dryly, pointing out the irony. He could still feel the heat of her fingers on the stone, so much warmer than his cold dead flesh was.
“I assume you know how to use flint and tinder?” Mirium said archly, and they grinned at each other. She pressed it at him more firmly. “The charm isn’t very strong, and I don’t guess you’ll need it much, but it’s the thought that counts.”
“A promise,” said Keelath, finishing her thought for her.
Mirium nodded. “Come back to me, Keelath. Always come back.”
Keelath took the stone and laid it against her neck. In response to her body warmth, it flared with light, and suddenly a tiny Phoenix no bigger than Keelath’s head perched on his wrist. It’s fiery feathers had only the heat Mirium’s skin had given it, and holding it, Keelath could almost imagine Mirium was holding his hand instead of the bird.
“Promise,” he said again, naming the bird, and swearing his oath to her.
Mirium’s smile, crinkling faint wrinkles around her eyes, captured all of the evening’s glow within it. Keelath dismissed the bird by closing his cold fingers around the charm, and kissed Mirium’s cheek.
“I should probably return before someone tells me I shouldn’t be up here,” Keelath remarked drolly.
“You’ll just have to tell them that I am your real superior, and I’ll fire you if you don’t obey,” Mirium answered him, with a grin.
“Death knights don’t much like fire,” Keelath agreed. He leaned in to nuzzle her. “Still, I have work to do below. … come with me?” he added when her face began to fall. “Now that you know something about battle, you can help me.”
“How romantic.” Mirium sighed. “Of course I will, dear.” She bent her head, tucking back one side of her hair as it fell upfront of her downcast face.
She looked up.
“…I know these years have been hard for you, but you are stronger than you know.” Keelath paused, hesitating. He didn’t like admitting it, but… “And you think to depend on me, but in truth, I depend on you just as much.”
Mirium looked confused. “How?”
“Not all strength is in conflicts,” said Keelath. “That kind of strength is more a rude brandishment of ego more than anything else, really.”
Mirium’s look turned quizzical, worried. “I’ve never heard you talk this way.”
Keelath shrugged. “We’ve both been to felfire and back, dalah’surfal, if by different roads. I know all about the callousness of war. But in this war, in healing Tyrric, I realize I know nothing about what comes after it. I’ve been afraid of that possibility for so long.” He paused again. “I still am. But you…you give me warmth. And you keep me alive, more than just the bloodshed would.”
She looked at him, eyes a sea of emotions.
“So of course I’ll come back,” he ended, suddenly feeling awkward. He tapped her nose. “But I’d like to let you into my world, too, when you are ready again. You’ve earned a place there. Not that you’ve ever been the kind of woman to tuck away at home, even before you learned the sword–“
“It’s honestly not my thing,” said Mirium after a moment’s pause. “The fighting in Uldum showed me that.” She slipped a hand in his. “But for you, and to remain next to you, I will.”
Keelath smiled, closing his hand around hers. “I would like that.”