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Kiraleen
Kiraleen
Posts: 123
Joined: March 23rd, 2014, 5:52 pm
Kiraleen

[4th War] Family You're Born With

Postby Kiraleen » May 21st, 2014, 10:45 pm

((NB: This story takes place during the Midsummer Festival, a few days after the Outriders return to Thunder Bluff in the 4th War thread Temporary Heroes))

I knew something was wrong when Domme’s Midsummer care package never arrived.

Midsummer is the closest thing to a religious holiday for sin’dorei. No, scratch that – it is a religious holiday for sin’dorei. We ask the Sun’s blessing, call on it, swear by it, curse by it. We may not have a religion per se based on it – no prayers, no priests, no temples -- but it’s the one sacred thing recognized by us all, even before the Light in many cases. (Blood knights, I’m looking at you.)

So Midsummer is rather a big deal. Oh, of course, there’s the celebrations common among Horde and Alliance alike. But we sin’dorei have other customs. Well dressings, dances, meditations at dawn and noon, bonfires at dusk, troll-stalking war parties, Scourge-hunting forays, nobles’ masquerades and less bloodthirsty parties that take up whole neighborhoods. Commoners and nobles alike go all out, and the merchant shops and stalls are overflowing with costumes, toys, spangles, candies, baked goods, decorations, minor magical doodads and whatnots in honor of Midsummer. I haven’t been home for a full Midsummer in years, and somewhere along the way Domme fell into the habit of sending me the best of the doodads, eatables and whatnot in a single, gold-and-ruby-papered package. A running joke, one appreciated by me. Those boxes found their way to Kalimdor, Outland and Northend without fail.

This year, nothing.

She’s busy, I thought. Noting to worry about. That lasted only a few days. until Naunet returned from her little – um – extended visit with the city’s guards. The story of the riot that filled the cells to overflowing and inadvertently led to our good captain’s release pushed me from puzzled to worried. Granted, our family’s shop wasn’t in the Bazaar, but riots, like so many things, don’t recognize boundaries. So I approached Kiraleen about taking a brief leave of absence.

I had my arguments lined up. Concern about my family, of course. Picking up any rumors about her putative dalliance with the Regent Lord. Checking up on her own staff, too. But the Field Marshal, perhaps preoccupied with settling in our guest, merely nodded and offered the service of a portal.

I accepted gladly, and within minutes I was in Silvermoon.

I always feel a sense of rightness when returning to Silvermoon. I was born and raised here, and no matter how bad things got -- and at times they were very bad indeed, even before Arthas and the Scourge -- I always felt more alive, more connected to the world inside its walls. I've heard some claim Dalaran or Shattrath or even Orgrimmar as 'their' city. Silvermoon was my city. Regardless of where I lived, it was my home.

No aftermath of the riot marred the Court of the Sun’s festivity, or the Exchange’s hustle and bustle. Perhaps it hadn’t been as bad as Naunet had heard. Or perhaps the magisters had gone above and beyond to tidy it up. I made my way to our family’s shop without incident.

Domme was at the counter, waiting on a customer when I walked in. She looked up as the bells over the door chimed. I smiled in relief to see at least one family member alive and well. She didn’t smile back. This must have been the last in a long string of customers, I decided.

I hung off to one side, watching Domme measure and weigh a half-dozen different candies. She had hairsticks with tiny, faintly glowing suns holding her dark brown hair in a bun; she’d let it grow out. The store itself was decorated for the holiday: more glowing suns, garlands of summer flowers along the street display and upper walls, free samples in fancy bowls set on the counter. Next to them was a tray with pastries. Freshly made, because I could smell them. Apple and almond tarts dusted with powdered sugar , our mother’s own recipe. Serve them with ice cream and they’re to kill for. She didn’t make them often.

One of my favorite weaknesses. Domme knew that. Why hadn’t she sent me a few?

“Complimentary of Heartjoy’s,” she said, handing the customer one along with her purchases . The woman left, munching happily.

“Like the new hairstyle, sis,” I said lightly, stepping forward. I set my elbow on the steadiest part of the counter and propped my chin on my hand. “Happy Midsummer.”

Domme looked at me, opened the display case and began refilling the freebie bowls.

Well. Someone was in a mood. No sense in avoiding the troll.

“I heard about the riot,” I said. “Are the folks all right? No one was injured, nothing damaged?”

Domme peered at me mid-pour of the spiced sunjelies, then started on the next bowl.

“I’ll take that as a ‘yes’. How are things otherwise?”

Domme topped off the wrapped chocolate nut clusters, pivoted on her heel and started for the back of the shop.

Something was very wrong. I did the unthinkable in our family and vaulted over the counter. “Domme, wait.”

She quickened her pace. I have longer legs, and I’m faster. I caught up with her in three rushing strides and grabbed her arm. “Domme! “

She shrugged out of my hold. This close, I could read the tension in her posture even more clearly. “Talk to me. What’s going on?”

My sister stared at me for what seemed a very long moment indeed. “Meia, why are you here?”

Her voice was controlled. Too controlled. “I heard about the riot,” I repeated. “I wanted to make sure everything was all right.

“We’re fine.”

“ And you didn’t send my Midsummer package,” I added lamely, wincing at the petulance even I could hear.
Domme snorted. “I’m sorry,” she said in her stiffest customer-is-always-right-even-if-they’re-stupid tone. “Help yourself. Good day.” She turned to leave. I grabbed her arm again.

“Damn it, Domme, what’s going on? Is there some kind of trouble –“

She slapped me.

I didn’t see it coming. Stunned, shocked, I could only stare. We’d fought as children do, but we’d never struck each other since our last adolescent row over some utterly forgettable male.

“How dare you?” Domme hissed. She was trembling. “How dare you come here, after you’ve lied to us – to me—for years?”

My face hurt. My ears were actually ringing. “Lie…?”

“You told us you’d joined a group that worked to better the Horde. But you joined them,” she spat. “The Outriders.”

“We are working for the betterment of the Horde,” I shot back. “You think constant war is a good thing? You think –“

“You’re working with [the Alliance!” Domme’s eyes blazed emerald fire. “You’ve made friends with the people who betrayed us and turned their backs on us when we needed them! You have parties together. You think people don’t talk?”

There’s a reason I’d been deliberately vague about my membership in the Outriders, and Domme’s attitude was it. “You’d rather we marched lockstep with Garrosh like everyone else? There are problems out there that can’t be solved by starting pointless wars! Deathwing, for one. The Legion’s still out there, and Light knows what else. ” Furious and hurt, I didn’t care to temper my words. ”There’s a bigger picture than stupid grudges and self-pity!”

“Garrosh can go fuck himself, and Thrall, too, “ Domme snarled. “If it wasn’t for the Alliance being two-faced backstabbers, we wouldn’t be lumped in with a bunch of two-legged animals who mock us and only want what magic we can give them. You might saunter around the world with your head up your ass about your bigger picture but the rest of us poor slobs have to deal with what’s here and what’s now.”

She folded her arms and glared at me. “You asked if there was trouble? Oh, just a bit! Magisters popping in to ‘pick up a few things’ who’ve never graced us with their presence before. More guards patrolling past the shop in the last week than we’ve had in years. The Light- damned Arm of Kalimdor sniffing around since that dent-skulled Captain of yours got tossed in jail. So, dear sister, thank you for dropping in personally. I’m sure that cow stuffing her face won’t waste any time rushing off to tell someone in charge somewhere she saw you. “

Oh, Sun.

“Domme, there must be –“

“Stop it, Meia.” Suddenly my sister looked exhausted, as if she hadn’t slept in days. “I don’t want to hear anymore from you. I don’t want to see you. You’ve done enough. Just go.”

She turned and strode off into the kitchen.

I stood there,numb. After what seemed an eternity I opened the latched half-gate to the front of the shop, in time to see my mother emerge from the office.

We looked at each other. We’re much alike in terms of looks, my mother and I, with the same white hair and green eyes. Temperamentally, Domme is more like her. I braced myself for another tirade.

Instead, my mother came over and hugged me.

“It’s good to see you, snowflower.”

I burst into tears at her childhood pet-name for me. “I’m sorry – I didn’t know – didn’t stop to think –“
My mother stroked my hair. “It’s all right, Meia,” she said at last. We’ll manage. This isn’t the first time we’ve been in a political pickle-barrel. Your father and that nobleman, now, that was bad. But I think it may be best if you don’t visit for a time."

I met her eyes in disbelief. In hers I saw love, yes, but also wariness and fear. Fear I’d see through her brave words? Or fear of me, the further danger I could bring ? I wanted to ask. I wasn’t brave enough to hear the answer.

“Not even for the Hallow’s End rush?”

I tried to make the question a joke. I don’t think I succeeded. My mother’s expression momentarily grew more guarded. “We’ll see. We may not need you this year.”

I nodded, feeling as if the world had just plummeted away from beneath me, leaving me dangling midair, ungrounded.

“Goodbye, Mother.”

“Take care of yourself, Meia.”

I left Heartjoy’s Confections. In a secluded and empty alcove between the Exchange and Farstrider’s Square, amid the flags and magical fires of Midsummer, I took out my guildstone. I studied it, turning it over.

Then I used it, to return to a city built by some of those Domme had disgraced by calling them two-legged animals, a people that had been most gracious in accepting a ragtag handful of misfits, political and otherwise.

A city –and a ragtag handful -- that would now have to be my home.

Domme
Domme
Posts: 7
Joined: May 19th, 2014, 5:05 pm
Domme

Re: [4th War] Family You're Born With

Postby Domme » May 21st, 2014, 10:48 pm

He was back again.

Her parents weren’t at Heartjoy’s; they’d taken a rare holiday to Fairbreeze Village. The counter girl and the concher were both at lunch. No one left to deal with him. Domme gave the display case’s sliding door a last pass with the polishing cloth and stood up straight. She put on her best smile.

“Welcome to Heartjoy’s. May I help you with something?”

A non-committal grunt. “Lookin’. Just lookin’.”

“Let me know if you change your mind.” The words were automatic, an ingrained response to window-shoppers and indecisive customers. He was none of those, including a customer.

The Arm of Kalimdor did not shop.

Domme had met goblins before. Goblin mages, goblin warlocks, goblin warriors, goblin priests, goblin shamans. Goblin death knights. Not many of the latter, but a few. None of them had been as outright insane as this one. Madness burned like a fever in his eyes. Madness and power. Unlike the other goblin death knights she’d met, he didn’t seem to have even the remnant of concern with wealth and position. He didn’t seem to care about anything, including himself. If Heartjoy’s exploded in a bonfire he’d laugh and piss on it, and laugh harder as the flames arced up to incinerate him.

Domme hated him. She also feared him, and that made her hate him even more.

He made a promenade around the store, green armor clanking and clicking. Saronite, Domme had heard that peculiar metal called. The Lich King’s elite forces had favored it. This one still seemed to. A thought struck her as she watched him, poking this tower of boxed chocolates and dangling that bag of rock candy on his glove – could he infect their stock? Would he?

The goblin stopped at a side table, peering at one of the glass platters. “What’s this shit?”

“Coconut haystacks.”

“I fucking hated coconut.” He scooped out three and shoved them in his mouth. “Still fucking hate it.”

Then don’t fucking eat it. Domme wished she dared to say it.

He grabbed a bowl shaped like a fishing boat. “What’s this? Candy fish?” The boat-bowl chimed as he grabbed a handful of the multicolored fish. “Better than the fuckin’ haystacks,” he said through a full mouth. His mad gaze fixed n her.

“Hey, I gave you a damned compliment. Ain’t ya gonna thank me for it?”

“Thank you.” She’d spent weeks on those fish. Designing the molds to resemble their real-life inspirations, dickering with their preferred ironmonger for a deal on the molds, experimenting with flavorings and colorings.

All that work shoveled down the gullet of someone who couldn’t even taste it.

“Whudja do to the store?” A metal-covered arm swept out, narrowly missing another display. “Lookin’ pretty damn dull right now.”

Heat burn her cheeks. Noblegarden was over, its multicolored eggs and pastel rabbits in storage; Midsummer and its ubiquitous sun motif a few weeks away. In a fit of whimsy she’d begged her parents to decorate and redid all the banners, display cloths and draperies in silver and white, with a scattered handful of ceramic cats here and there. “We’re aiming for a minimalist look,” Domme deadpanned. “A cleansing of the artistic palate.”

He looked at her. Then he emptied half the bowl into one of the wallets slung on his belt and trooped up to the front of the store.

“So,” he said, resting his elbows on the counter. Domme felt the resulting vibration in her feet. If he cracked the glass, she’d kill him. Somehow. “How’s your disloyal bitch of a sister?”

Embarrasment turned to frost. “I beg your pardon?”

The Arm of Kalimdor grinned. “I said,” he began in a too-sweet voice, tipping the sample bowl of wrapped nut chews in with the colored fish, “how’s your dis – what’re those?”

He jabbed a finger above and behind her. Domme craned her neck, even though she was certain what had attracted his attention. “Catnip mice.” Made from grey and white and brown heavy felt, they hung from the overhead on colored twine. The goblin tilted his head back.

“Niiiice.” His axe snaked out and clipped a string; he caught it as it fell. “My girls will love these.”

“So. As I was sayin’ –“

“I haven’t seen her.” Domme watched him roll up the mice and tuck them inside his cloak. Show him nothing. Don’t let him get to you. But he already had.

“Bullshit. Don’t fucking lie to me.”

“I’m not lying,” Domme snapped. She stared at him squarely. “She hasn’t been here in nearly a year. Since last Midsummer. She doesn’t write to us. We don’t write to her.” Her mother did, Domme was certain, but she wasn’t about to tell him that. “I don’t care if I never see her again.”

Hard, painful truth, one her parents could never say. He wouldn’t believe her. He had to believe her. Believe her and never come back, let them try to get on with their lives in some semblance of normalcy.

“That so? I can arrange it, if ya want.”

Domme felt a tightness in her chest, and the floor seemed to ripple beneath her feet. She parsed his words for meanings. Kill her sister? Or…she’d heard things about this death knight and an unbelievably cruel sense of humor.

There were worse things than dying.

“I don’t think she’s worth your time,” Domme heard herself say.

Spike-covered shoulders hitched in a shrug. “Maybe not, but I gotta consider all my options. Which’ll be easier to do if you STOP ---“

His axe lashed out and swept the sample bowls from the counter. They shattered in overloud, discordant chiming.

“—FUCKING –“

He pivoted, brought the axe down on the table behind him. It broke in two, bowls and boxes and their contents spilling to the floor.

“—LYING!”

He swung full-force on the counter, cleaving it nearly to the floor.

Domme froze in place, unable even to dodge fragments of glass and metal. Her blood pounded in her ears. Everything seemed at once dreamlike and uncannily clear.

He’d gone insane. He would kill her and there was nothing she could do to stop him. Nothing anyone could or would do afterward, either.

“Not another fuckin’ word,” said the death knight, “unless it’s about your sister –“

The doorbell jangled merrily. Domme’s gaze darted past the goblin to the newcomer.

A sin’dorei man in the red and gold armor of a blood knight made his way to the front of the store. His eyes swept over the broken furniture, the shattered counter.

“Is there a problem?”

Domme’s hand flew to her mouth, the better to stifle the hysterical laughter bubbling up within her. Him. Of course it would be him.

Champion Bachi, one of the most renowned and respected blood knights in the city. Who had only to crook his finger and have any noblewoman he chose. Who had been for the last month paying discrete, unobtrusive court to her – her, the youngest child of a merchant family, not ugly but not stunningly beautiful, middling-pretty at best. Whose inquiries about the activities and whereabouts of the Heartjoy’s oldest child were not nearly as subtle as he thought.

The death knight slew around. “Arm of Kalimdor business.”

Elegant blond brows arched. “You’re not in Kalimdor, friend.”

“I’m the fucking Arm of Kalimdor,” the goblin spat, “and I ain’t your fuckin’ friend.”

“You have no official presence in the Eastern Kingdom,” the paladin went on, as if the goblin hadn’t spoken. “You’re out of your jurisdiction with its… prerogatives.”

“My jurisdiction is wherever I damn well please.”

The blood knight folded his arms. “Is it, now? I think the Regent-Lord would beg to differ. Care to bring it up to him?”

The death knight stared at him for a long moment, that slammed his axe back into its sheath. “Fuck you, pal,” he spat and stormed out.

The blood knight watched him leave, then turned back to Domme. “Are you all right?” he asked gently.

“I’m fine.”

He studied her. “I am glad to hear it. Perhaps you should close shop for the rest of the day.”

Domme shook her head. “No. I need to stay and clean up.”

“Such the dutiful daughter.” He smiled. “May I suggest you file a complaint with the Regent-Lord for compensation? Such brutish behavior might be the norm in Orgrimmar, but not here.”

Go away. “That’s not my decision to make.”

“Naturally. I would hope you’d bring it to your parents’ attention…where are they, by the way?”

As if he didn’t know. “Fairbreeze.”

He frowned. “And you alone with that … person… around. I would be happy to escort you home.”

“Champion Bachi,” Domme said, forcing her best smile onto her lips, “that’s very generous, but I’ll be fine. Really.”

“As you insist,” he replied, returning her smile. “Though it goes against my better judgment. Don’t hesitate to ask for assistance if you need it. Miss Heartjoy.”

He sketched her a bow and left. Domme watched until he passed completely out of sight, then sank to the floor. “Damn you. Damn you, damn you, damn you.”

She wasn’t sure who she meant. She wasn’t sure it mattered.

Domme
Domme
Posts: 7
Joined: May 19th, 2014, 5:05 pm
Domme

Re: [4th War] Family You're Born With

Postby Domme » May 21st, 2014, 10:49 pm

Domme cleaned.

She carried the halves of the broken display table into the back of the shop. She swept up broken glass and torn boxes and forlorn candies, dumping them all into the sacking Heartjoy's used to dispose of its trash. The doorbell didn't chime, even though the OPEN sign was still up. No one knocked. No one peered in through the store window.

She didn't expect them to.

She found extra sample bowls in the storage closet and washed them, carefully; handblown glass, they were old and very fragile. While she was drying them, the concher and the counter girl came back from lunch.

The latter spun in place. "What..."

"Later," Domme said. "Nevral, start on the usuals -- solid chocolates, nuts, the fruit creams. We'll need them for tomorrow. Torina, I need you to help me clean out the counter and restock it."

Nevral simply nodded, his expression grim, and strode past her and Torina into the kitchen area. The little redhead twisted her hands. "We're not closing?"

"No. We're not."

Torina's eyes took up half her face and welled with tears, but she did as Domme asked. Then she marked where Domme should cut the leftover decorating fabric; the resulting half-circle would cover the jagged crack in the counter.

"It looks good," she ventured timidly when they stepped away to examine their handiwork. Domme merely shrugged. It reminded her of a bandage slapped over a gaping wound.

"Bring out the hard candies," she said, "and fill these bowls."

The doorbell jingled.

Both women looked up. At first Domme thought Bachi had returned and her throat tightened. Then the prospective customer took a step out of the sun's glare and into a patch of shadow.

"By the Nether. Was someone irate you didn't have his favorite flavor of licorice?"

Domme made a sound that might have been laughter or a snort. "Something like that. What can we do for you, Lord Felwraithe?"

Though the floor was now spotless, the noble tread cautiously to the front of the shop; the aura of destruction hung heavy still, evoking fear the remaining intact shelves and displays could explode in a geyser of wood and glass at any moment. “I was hoping to place an order for a pound of the hedgehogs for Mother’s tea two days from now, and see if you had hard-shelled jellied fruit. But if you’re having…difficulties…”

“Not that difficult,” Domme said firmly. “Your mother’s order will be ready by an hour past noon. And Torina was just going to refill the bowls. I’m sure we have what you’re looking for, Lord.” At her nod, Torina made a flawless curtsey and retreated out of sight.

“Thank you. I don’t mean to impose.”

“It’s not an imposition, Lord Felwraithe.” The words were more than courtesy. Verilore Felwraithe, scion of his house, was a regular. His custom had brought Heartjoy’s the occasional patronage of his fashionable, trend-setting peers. He paid promptly and without bickering, and moreover, seemed to honestly enjoy their creations. The hedgehogs – combinations of flavored nougats coated in chocolate and various nuts in the shapes of the little animals – were time-consuming to make, but if Domme had to miss out on sleep, so be it.

He smiled. “Always good to hear.”

Ordinarily Domme would have offered him something from the new samples or a cup of tea if there were other customers and he would have to wait. There weren’t other customers but he would still have to wait, however, and there were no new samples and no tea. She was spared the necessity of dredging up small talk by Felwraithe’s, “How are your studies progressing?”

Another point in his favor: he did her the courtesy of taking her training as a warlock seriously, sometimes more than Domme did herself. Wielding magic bestowed a certain amount of status in Silvermoon. Any boost to status was good in Domme’s eyes, so she’d taken up as a warlock. “Not well,” she said truthfully. “The holidays have kept me busy here.”

“A pity. I hate to see potential go to waste. You are in line for the taming of a succubus, are you not?”

Domme nodded slowly. Her perceived lack of ambition was a joke among the city’s warlocks, and she hated even the appearance of a lecture about it. Any commentary Felwraithe had in mind was aborted by Torina’s return. She offered him a small box wrapped in green and blue paper and a shy smile.

“Here you are, Lord.”

He bowed over her hand. “Thank you, my dear.” He managed to hold his purchase and pay for it without looking clumsy or encumbered. As Domme slid the coins into the register, he looked around the store and shook his head.

“I hope you have no further – excitement – today.”

“Thank you, Lord Felwraithe.” Domme gave him a short, bitter smile. “Same here.”

Domme
Domme
Posts: 7
Joined: May 19th, 2014, 5:05 pm
Domme

Re: [4th War] Family You're Born With

Postby Domme » May 21st, 2014, 10:50 pm

“No indication who it’s from?” Domme’s father asked Domme’s mother as he turned the thick but plain envelope over in his hands before picking up the letter – also of thick but plain paper and subjecting it to the same examination. Domme half-expected him to hold it to the magically-powered lamps hanging above them to search for hidden messages in invisible ink.

This impromptu business meeting of Heartjoy’s was also a family meeting, which was why none of the senior staff were present. Despite its neat roominess., the office felt unusually cluttered, the chairs stationed around the desk paired up like mismatched jigsaw pieces.

Domme’s mother shook her head. “Nothing at all, Dantam.” Domme balled her hands under her chin and waited for her parents to ask her opinion about the letter. They would, of course. The events of the days from the Arm of Kalimdor wrecking the shop to her parents’ return were too serious not to. Domme wasn’t sure whether or not she’d tell them she knew the sender. It was too obviously Champion Bachi. If you can’t woo ‘em, buy ‘em. She snorted without humor.

The morning after Domme had gone to their usual glazier to sound her out about costs for replacing the cases’ windows. Her schedule, she’d said with sympathy, didn’t permit her to take on more work at the moment. So Domme had sought out a second glazier. And a third. A fourth. All had backorders on priority. Or sick apprentices and journeyman. Or lacked the materials. Or something.

The carpenters and woodworkers she approached for replacing the display tables also suffered from an astonishing amount of commissions already needing to be done yesterday, drunk-and-drying-out apprentices, and a deficit of supplies that rendered them simply unable to accept anymore work, and were unable to say when they could. Follow-up visits found the situation unchanged, even worse, if the tales of disaster were to be believed. Which Domme didn’t, not for an instant.

Neither had her parents, when they heard the story. Social calls on their supplies evoked the same tales of woe and tragedy, confirming what they already knew.

Heartjoy’s was blacklisted.

Not officially, no. But it didn’t need to be official to be effective.

“I don’t like that.” Domme’s father frowned.

“None of us do, dear,” said Domme’s mother, “but what can we do?”

“Nothing,” Domme snapped. “So, are you going to accept or not?”

“There are options –“

“What options? Orgrimmar? Undercity? Even they have what we need, do you have any idea what the shipping would cost?”

“I was thinking the smaller towns,” he said, his frown turning toward her. “Or asking Meia’s friends…”

“No.” Domme’s refusal was a heartbeat ahead of her mother’s. Her father sighed, shoulders sagging. He unfolded and refolded the letter. Domme’s mother straightened her shirt cuffs.

“Whoever this is,” Domme said, “they’re willing to have our repairs arranged for through their own agents, and loan us enough money to cover our loss of income this past week, and the loan’s not due for a year. We can’t turn down a gift like this.”

“Very well.” Resignation made her father sound much older. “I’ll send the reply to Undercity today.”

“Within the hour. I never imagined we were that popular with the Forsaken,” her mother mused. “They must have liked your abominations, Domme.”

Domme smiled wryly. Undercity was a front for their anonymous benefactor. They all knew it, but for some reason, her parents wanted to pretend otherwise. She wouldn’t disillusion them. She didn’t want to think how Champion Bachi would want her gratitude demonstrated.

Within days, the Arm of Kalimdor’s visit might never have happened. New counters and new shelves and a new color scheme were installed by their usual suppliers, who in their cheerful chatter never acknowledged the many difficulties that had prevented their assistance before. Heartjoy’s creditors were paid by the funds that arrived by Forsaken courier. Customers returned. Everything was back to normal.

Almost.

Heartjoy’s benefactor couldn’t erase Domme’s memory, though, and likewise didn’t explain Champion Bachi. The blood knight had been briefly but honestly surprised at the swiftness of the repairs, and just as honestly pleased for them. There’d been no veiled messages – or open ones, for that matter – to her.

So. Mysterious Benefactor was not Bachi.

Then who?

That questioned nagged Domme like an angry ghost. She hated not knowing who had saved her family’s business, and hated owing anyone anything even more. In order to fix that last she needed to know the first.

She was making a list for the upcoming Midsummer Festival when the door bell chimed.

“Ah. I see you’ve done a bit of remodeling.”

Domme looked up. “Good afternoon, Lord Felwraithe. Yes. Just a bit.”

The warlock-scion nodded. “Always a good idea after an unpleasant guest. Clears the air.” He approached the counter, all business. “I’d like to place an order for another edible chess set…you still have the molds, I hope?”

“Of course, Lord.”

“Good, good. And three pounds of the caramel squares, two of the spiced nut rolls, two mixed soft fruit creams and two more of the hard-shelled jellied candy. Just a little ‘do’ with a few friends.”

Domme raised an eyebrow, taking notes. “I see.” She glanced up to ask him if he had any preferences for the hard-shells.

He was turned away from her, taking in the new counters, new shelves, new everything with a look she’d seen before on her own face.

Proprietary.

“I’m sorry, my dear.” He glanced back at her with a smile. “ Wool-gathering. What did you say?”

“I was asking about flavors, my lord…”

“Ah. Whatever you think best. I trust your taste in these matters.”

“Thank you, lord.” He turned to leave. Some impish impulse made her ask, as he opened the door, “Did you want to own a candy store as a boy, Lord Verilore?”

Laughter was his only response.

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