It’s intended that you can’t tell what really killed Croatius’ mother, just as you can’t tell what really killed his father.Author’s Note
He looked up at the manor front. It seemed smaller now than when he had been a child, as if he had grown or, perhaps, it had shrunk. The gates were twisted as if someone had rammed them with a siege engine, but they had ultimately stood against the Scourge’s assault. Croatius put a hand to them, and they instantly sprung open, still responding to his blood even though he hadn’t been to this place in centuries.
The garden had been replaced by a cold stone courtyard and elegant benches for entertaining. Croatius wasn’t surprised; the garden had always been his mother’s love. It was probably for the better: the stone hadn’t burned when the manor had been attacked.
He pushed through the front door, listening for the chiming far down the hallway that announced his entrance. The sound had a bittersweetness to him, memories of homecomings both warm and… less than warm, after the accident.
“Have I really been away so long?” he asked the dusty air. Then, pitching his voice louder, he called, “I, Croatius Runefire, return!”
No servants came flocking to him. He waited. A bird took flight from a corner, dodging around him to flee out the opened door, and Croatius wondered how it had gotten inside. He had a moment of unease: had anyone here survived the Lich King? Or was the place abandoned?
Someone must have survived. The Blood Knights would have told him otherwise. He walked down the hall, his soft shoes making no sound on the rug. Even though he was certain the place was still inhabited, he saw echoes of decay: dust beginning to heap in the corners, tapestries fading in the light of unclosed curtains, chips in the stonework and rents in the rug going unrepaired. And a smell — it stood out to him as being very different from the death and rot outside the manor’s high walls, instead something like a perfume to cover a distasteful scent and failing. Croatius lifted the sleeve of his robes to his mouth.
He pushed open the door to his father’s study at the end of the hall. The hinges creaked: another sign of neglect. He blinked a few times in the unexpected gloom; before, his father had always lit the place as brightly as if he were a Royal Guard doing an inspection of his troops. He liked to say that, as a magister, he had to keep his workplace clean so as not to interfere with his spellcraft.
Now, the place was far from clean. A couple of dirty dishes stood on the desk, along with a book only half filled with scribbling; crumpled papers were all over the floor. Instead of sitting behind his desk, working diligently, the magister sat at his window. A blanket was over his lap. Not a single book or scroll was near him. He held an amulet in one hand.
“Father, I return,” said Croatius.
The older Runefire turned to look at him. His eyes were gray now, both due the draining of his mana from the Sunwell’s destruction as well as from cataracts. The haze smoothed over the dire spark that once lay in their depths. Croatius felt his insides twist with anger and disbelief, then, abruptly, the old emotions fell silent, and he felt nothing.
In time, his father turned back to the window. Croatius noticed it was missing most of its glass. Hence the blanket, he supposed.
“The last of the Farstriders are retreating into the Court of the Sun. Though the bulk of the Scourge has moved on, they’ve left their presents all up and down the Dead Scar. You should go now, or you’ll likely be killed.”
His father said nothing.
Croatius paused to wonder whether he cared. Let his father sit here in his own filth; the Scourge would take him, and Croatius would be rid of him once and for all. And yet…
He looked up at a flicker of movement in his father’s hands. He held a locket, gifted to from Croatius’ mother, before everything had gone so wrong. The face of it was set with a blue gem, a soulgem one could use to store a memory, though his father often stored extra spells in it instead. Croatius didn’t know if his father had ever used it since… the accident.
He saw a little ray of blue arcane energy pass over his father’s hands, and the gem abruptly went dead and white. The old magister sighed as he pulled the last of the amulet’s magic into himself, soothing against the sin’dorei addiction.
Croatius felt a sudden, hot rage explode inside him. “That was the last memory you had of Mother!”
“She is lucky to not have witnessed this,” his father answered.
“Lucky?” Croatius growled. “Lucky to not witness the Scourge, you mean, or you turning into a dotard?”
His father slowly turned to meet him, but his eyes remained flat and dark.
“Look at you,” Croatius snapped. “Look at what you’ve become. No… what you’ve always been, hidden under your polish and your politics. You’re disgusting! A weakling! A wretch…”
The word fell from his mouth before its meaning caught up to him. The Wretched was what the other magisters had taken to calling those elves who submitted to their addiction to mana. He shivered at the thought, but his anger didn’t abate.
His father was breathing heavily now, like one might while hiding sobs or willing oneself to take a plunge into a deep lake. His speech was labored. “Croatius… my son…”
“Don’t call me that.”
“But son you are. Ever you were such a bother to me. I couldn’t imagine you would become as powerful in the Light as you are now.” The elf smiled.
“Are you… complimenting me?” Croatius said in equal parts derision and surprise.
“Our magic was broken when they took the Sunwell. All I worked to build — this manor’s wards, my experiments. My Light. Tell me, does the Light… still work for you, my son?”
Croatius didn’t reply.
“I would like to go into the Light, I think, when I die.” His father stroked the deadened locket in his hand. “Her Light remained strong until the end, you know.”
“Don’t speak of her. You haven’t the right!”
“…I sent you away because I couldn’t manage it. I couldn’t manage to look at the result of what I had done.”
“You murdered her,” Croatius snarled. “You deserve every ounce of guilt I can give you!”
His father said nothing for a span, looking out the window with a squint as his head bobbed. “You still believe that?”
Croatius couldn’t force anymore words past the rage bubbling in his throat. He looked down at his hands, the golden glow surrounding them.
He looked up and into his father’s eyes. No sparks, not even the ash he had seen after his mother’s death. Just a mirror. He saw the broken shards of a broken faith in them, glass covered over with spiderweb cracks, now melting at the edges from the heat of an unbearable emotion.
“Don’t give in, Croatius,” his father whispered. “Don’t repeat those mistakes. You could’ve been ever so much more.”
“I could have… if not for you.”
His father’s eyes widened at the vehemence in Croatius’ voice, then the frail elf leaned back, lids slipping shut. Something cracked in Croatius, and he raised his hands to complete the spell on the tip of his tongue, to make the whole room shake and boom with righteousness just like this foul old man had once made the dining room shake and boom with cruelty around his mother.
The locket slipped from the old elf’s fingers then, dropping to the floor with the weight of a stone twice its size.
Croatius let the rage escape him, escape from him, the Light’s glow about his fingers turning into an inferno of unholy flame, but he felt no relief.
The old magister died.