The superstitious farmers of Elwynn and Redridge had taken to calling the valley Deadwind Pass. Something about endless years of war had given the common people a real sense of poetic gloom.
“It’s not so bad, really,” said Khadgar over Lothar’s shoulder, peering down past a gryphon wing.
If Lothar could have turned around to give Khadgar a scathing look, he would have, but between the mage’s death grip on his waist and the faintly glowing trunk lashed across poor Stormfeather’s haunches, he had to content himself with a speaking silence.
“I mean,” said Khadgar, “at least it’s all just dead. Very grey and scraggly and creepy, but better than pools of fel everywhere, infesting squirrels with evil magic.”
“Squirrels,” Lothar said.
“Squirrels, boars, bears, murlocs, harpies, dragons,” said Khadgar. “I was doing more research and I found this bestiary, very old, incredibly fragile. The original copy must date all the way back to Suramar! Beautifully illuminated. Lots of, uh, bulging green veins and glowing drool.”
Khadgar continued rambling, presumably elaborating on the properties of fel harpies or boars or dragons, but the wind snatched the words from his mouth as Stormfeather banked into a steep descent. At the base of the cracked-open tower, the tiny hooded figure resolved itself into Medivh, nearly as gaunt as he had been the last time Lothar had seen him, shortly before he had ballooned into a virulent, horned demon.
“You’re late,” he said, as Lothar and Khadgar disentangled themselves from the gryphon.
Lothar pointed at Khadgar. “This one,” he said, “panicked about whether he had brought the correct edition of some tome or another—”
“The Waking World and the Well of Eternity,” said Khadgar. “It’s very relevant to our current predicament!”
“—and insisted on unpacking and repacking the entirety of his trunk to make sure.” With a grunt, Lothar heaved said trunk onto the dusty ground.
“A seminal work,” said Medivh, “though as you are now my apprentice you might consider that you now have permission to go snooping through my bookshelves, which do, I assure you, contain the entirety of Historian Llore’s oeuvre.”
“Really?” said Khadgar.
“Just mind the chessboard,” said Medivh. “And stay clear of the stables. And the opera hall. And don’t go pushing on books looking for secret passageways, because you’ll find one, and you won’t like where it leads.”
“Yes, Guardian, sir,” said Khadgar, already vanished into the depths of the tower.
“And move your own trunk,” Medivh snapped.
“Yes, sir!” floated down the steps. Tendrils of blue light wreathed the trunk, which rocketed unevenly forward, bounced off the doorframe, and zipped up the steps after its owner.
Lothar considered the imprint left behind in the dirt, and his own sore shoulders. Then he looked up. Medivh was looking back.
“As Moroes is no longer corporeal, it falls to me to offer refreshments,” said Medivh.
“I’ve no time to dally,” said Lothar. “With the loss of the King, and the orc horde still at large, Stormwind teeters on the brink of chaos daily.”
“Anduin,” said Medivh. His long hair hung around his face, the red rims around his eyes making the irises only more intensely blue. “I was in no state to make it to the funeral. At least join me in pouring out a drink to the King.”
Lothar expected endless stairs again, but instead Medivh lead him through a series of narrow passageways containing nothing but cobwebs and bat guano, past a suite of motheaten servant’s quarters, and into a kitchen that looked like it had last contained edible food sometime in the realm of King Thoradin. Medivh rummaged around the cabinets, coating his voluminous sleeves in filth. “I’ve a case of Suntouched Special Reserve around here somewhere.”
Lothar gingerly pulled out a wooden chair, which squealed tremendously but held his weight. “You know I’m not particular.”
“You have no standards, you mean,” said Medivh. “But you can hardly drink to the King’s memory with your usual swill.”
“Can’t I?” said Lothar. “He liked his ale well enough. And a strong dwarven stout served Callen’s memory well enough too.”
Medivh turned around. “Was that a hint that you want an apology?”
“An apology!” Lothar choked out, fists creaking against the pitted table. “Do you remember what you said to me?”
“In fact, not at all,” said Medivh.
“And that makes you innocent of your crimes?”
“Of course not,” said Medivh. “But it’s not very productive to feel guilty over things I couldn’t control and can’t remember when it turns out I still, in fact, have a job to do.”
“Isn’t it nice that you sleep so well at night,” said Lothar. “You live only because Khadgar argued so strenuously in your defense.”
“And I shouldn’t test your patience now?”
“My mercy, you mean,” said Lothar.
Medivh stamped on the ground, summoning a swirl of arcane power. Lothar reached for his sword on reflex, but before he could draw it, Medivh shouted an incantation and a bottle of wine and a pair of dented golden goblets blasted through the door of a cupboard on the far side of the room into his hands with a shower of woodchips. He tossed a goblet at Lothar, who relinquished his grip on his weapon to snatch it out of the air. A puff of dust rose where it made contact.
“I’m supposed to drink out of this?”
A spout of conjured water doused the cup, and Lothar’s gauntlet with it. It was followed by an arc of wine. Lothar sniffed suspiciously, but the wine seemed potable enough.
“To Llane Wrynn, our oldest friend,” said Medivh, raising his own goblet.
“Fine,” said Lothar. “To Llane.” He drained the cup dry. Then he marched across the room to snatch the bottle from Medivh and top it off again.
“You ‘member that time with the trolls,” said Lothar, head on the table. “He told Taria it was all my idea, the bastard. She left crabs in my bed for weeks.”
“Wasn’t it your idea?” said Medivh. He was lying on the ground, which was disgusting, but possibly still the better option overall. Lothar was so old he had raised a son to adulthood and watched him die. His back felt like it had a hump the size of Kalimdor.
“No!” he said. “Was yours. Though I s’pose I was the one who talked him into it after you talked me into it.”
“I can’t believe you still remember that,” said Medivh.
“Well, afterwards my mother told me my inf—infa—my infatuation with you was embarassing to watch, so you can see why it stuck with me all these years.”
“Oh,” said Medivh. He propped himself up on his elbows and peered up at Lothar through his lashes. It looked better than it had any right to on a middle-aged man, especially one recently near-deceased. “You never told me.”
“What was I supposed to say,” said Lothar. “I was gonna get betrothed. And you were always off doing your own thing by then, anyhow.”
“Yes,” said Medivh, looking off past Lothar into the dining room, where an arcane elemental slowly patrolled. “He had begun whispering to me. But I thought he was only part of me, or perhaps the spirit of the Guardian.
“Sargeras,” said Medivh.
“Who?” said Lothar.
“The Lord of the Burning Legion,” said Medivh. “The orcs are only his pawns. He seeks to destroy all life in the cosmos.”
“Oh, right,” said Lothar.
Medivh fixed his eyes back on Lothar, lit with an alcohol-soaked fervor. “I’m sorry about Callen,” he said. “I could see only lightning. I could hear only him.”
Lothar saw his boy, his poor brave son, crumpled at his feet. He stumbled off the chair and knelt at Medivh’s side, placing a gauntlet on a feathery shoulder.
“And Llane too, all the loyal knights of Stormwind, dead because I opened the portal,” murmured Medivh to himself. “Is the weakness endemic? Will I always crave such power?”
“I bloody hope not,” said Lothar, sprawling on the ground next to Medivh, “‘specially since we’re counting on Khadgar of all people to keep you in line.”
“Not only Khadgar,” said Medivh. He turned onto his side, placed a cold, bony hand on Lothar’s face, and kissed him.
Lothar kissed back, first on instinct, and then because a memory of a teenage, gangly, freckled Medivh floated up from somewhere in his hindbrain and superimposed itself on the robed one getting jabbed by his armor, and then it was too late to stop and neither he nor Medivh had closed their eyes and the eye contact had turned itself into a sort of dare, as if Taria had bet a week’s worth of dessert that neither of them would jump off Thunder Falls, not that he wanted to be thinking of his sister at this particular juncture.
Medivh pulled back. The hand drifted over his cheekbone, up his temple, carded through his hair.
“I don’t see how this is gonna help a thing,” said Lothar, the flush of the alcohol and the flush of the kiss and the cold flood of an extremely bad idea prickling all over his body.
“It won’t,” said Medivh, and pulled him in for another kiss. Lothar closed his eyes, this time. He had no idea if Medivh had done the same, but he could feel Medivh’s other hand scrabbling at the fastenings of his armor, worming through the gaps to stroke at the gambeson beneath.
They broke apart again, panting. “And this is a sign that you’re not possessed?” said Lothar, dizzy. He pulled off his gauntlets and began to shed his own pauldrons and chestplate, if only to keep Medivh from catching his fingers between the plates.
“If you like,” said Medivh.
“I’ve duties to Stormwind,” said Lothar. His codpiece was nudging gently into Medivh’s robes somewhere south of his hip, which was doing him absolutely no good at all.
“You hero,” said Medivh, almost smiling. “Here I am, alone in my head for the first time in my life, and you want to talk about duty.”
“So I’m a convenient body, then.”
Medivh snorted, his frigid fingers sliding between the ties of the gambeson and skidding across Lothar’s ribs. “You’re the very last of my friends.”
And whose fault is that? Lothar thought, but even drunk, that was too cruel to voice without the excuse of demonic possession. Instead he unfastened Medivh’s cloak, pushing off the feathered pauldrons, running his hands over the velvet robe below. Medivh stilled them, interlaced their fingers with one hand and gestured with the other.
They vanished from the flagstones of Karazhan’s kitchens and landed with a flash against an ostentatiously embroidered bedspread, which Medivh summarily tossed to the side to reveal glistening silk sheets beneath. The bedspread was followed by the remnants of Lothar’s armor and Medivh’s robes. Lothar let out a breath as his codpiece thunked against the rug below.
Medivh traced his mouth against Lothar’s neck, swept his hands down Lothar’s back, rubbed his chest against Lothar’s, his long red hair sticking everywhere with sweat, his chest hair prickling against Lothar’s nipples. Long-buried adolescent fantasies surged forward. Lothar reached down, rubbing his palm against the bulge in Medivh’s smalls, and Medivh’s hips jerked gratifyingly. From there it was a messy frot towards completion, Medivh’s eyes finally wrenched closed, Anduin’s name on his lips.
Lothar jerked awake with an ache in his temples only somewhat alleviated by the unstrung lassitude of the rest of his body, and the cold certainty that he had overslept. Medivh’s room, with its windowless stone walls, offered no aid.
“It’s only eleven,” said Medivh, his toes prodding into Lothar's hip, a gilded tome propped against his bare knees.
Lothar relaxed, marginally. Nevertheless he sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed. “The Alliance of Lordaeron meets this afternoon. As a matter of fact, we could dearly use your input, if you’re done holing yourself up in your tower.” He paused, farther from the ground than he had anticipated. “Is your bed on a dais?”
“I didn’t design the bedroom,” said Medivh, without looking up from his book. “I’ll come to your councils, but not today. My new apprentice needs settling.”
“If not today, then when?” Lothar hopped down to the ground, reassembling his armor. “The orcs have taken Redridge and push farther into Elwynn by the day.” He turned in a slow circle. “Is my chestplate still in your kitchens?”
Medivh released the tome, which remained hovering against his shoulder, and waved a hand. A heap of plate, velvet, and feathers deposited itself at Lothar’s feet. “Soon,” he said. “Ultimately, the battles here are meaningless. Sargeras himself seeks passage to our world.”
“Tell that to the farmers locked in cages,” said Lothar, buckling on the last of his armor.
“I know,” said Medivh. “Tomorrow, then. Come here.”
“Why?” said Lothar, already clambering back up the ramp anyways.
Medivh stood up. “Will you forgive me?”
“Does it matter?” said Lothar. “You don’t even remember.”
“But you do.”
He did, all too clearly. He tasted ozone in his dreams. But Medivh was already right there, and it didn’t feel like a contradiction when he leaned over to press a kiss to Lothar's closed mouth. Lothar drew back slowly, evaluating the familiar face. “I imagine your apprentice needs a rescue by now.”
Medivh cocked his head. “So he does. You had better take the back door and call your gryphon from the terrace.”
“Tomorrow, you’ll be there?” said Lothar.
“Yes,” said Medivh.
“You’re quite certain,” Lothar pressed.
“I am,” said Medivh.
“Good,” said Lothar. He slid off the bed and paused in the doorway. “I’ll see you then.”