"There are three kinds of secrets…

The second is a harder kind of secret:

one you keep from yourself."

—The Dream Thieves, Maggie Stiefvater

Ghosts

I

Oiaan had not seen Dehviraha ko Bruhmae in years—not since those first hard months after the Exodar's crash onto Azeroth, when she had abandoned the draenei settlement of Azure Watch to look for her family—and so he had not thought about her in quite some time. But the sight of her in the morning light, standing on his front step, brought the secret he knew about her bubbling to the surface of his mind. It gripped him in such a way that he thought she must see it in his eyes—this burden that he bore for her.

She smiled when he opened the door at the sound of the ringing door chimes. "Oiaan."

Nothing in her expression hinted at her madness, or any madness. He recognized this particular kind, though—warm and comforting, attempting to put him at ease... fake. She wore a diplomat's mask. Because she had been gone for so long? Or did she want something from him?

In pondering the possible reasons for her unlikely visit, he had waited too long to respond. She said, "Don't you remember me?"

Oiaan thought that maybe his face had been betraying the turmoil of his thoughts and rearranged it into something more pleasant. "Dehvi," he said, or sighed.

Her smile brightened into something more real, that of a friend he had missed, and who had missed him. "It's been ages," she said.

What an odd thing for a draenei—creatures who barely noticed the passage of time—to say. But she had been very young when they first met—born on Draenor, the last planet their people had inhabited before arriving on Azeroth. Oiaan had himself been one of those to escape Argus in the very beginning of the draenei exile. He noted that her accent had been influenced by this planet's common language.

Perhaps she was still very young.

"Oiaan," said Dehvi, like she was trying to wake him up. She waved her fingers gently in front of his face.

Oiaan focused. He had wandered into his thoughts again. "Apologies," he said, inclining his head. "You know how I am." As he straightened, he pushed a pair of spectacles back up onto the bridge of his nose.

She smiled wider, but uncertainty lurked at the corners. "Yes," she said in a relieved breath. "Yes, I do."

"Where are my manners?" Oiaan opened the door the rest of the way and stepped back. "Will you come in?"

Oiaan stirred a splash of milk into his herbal brew as Dehvi dumped several spoonfuls of sugar into hers. He only kept the sugar on hand for guests and had never had to replenish his stock before, but he might have to consider doing so soon at this rate.

Once they had settled into sipping their drinks, Oiaan broke the silence. "I am curious as to why you are here. You have never returned to Azure Watch before, and, as you said, it has been—" he flicked his eyes toward her over the rim of his cup, "—ages."

Under normal circumstances, he tended to be much more blunt. He thought that this time, he had managed as much tact as he could.

Dehvi lowered her own cup, her face neutral, seeming to take her time with her answer. Her bright eyes wandered around the sunlit room for a moment, snagging on his scrolls and books, hastily cleared away to make room for them at the small round table next to the unlit fireplace. She returned her gaze to him. "As I've searched for my family, I've never revisited anyone before," she admitted. "So I thought maybe I should… start at the beginning, with the first friend I met on this planet."

Oiaan and Dehvi had both suffered injuries from the Exodar'scrash and had recovered in the same sick ward. They had never met before that day, but over the next few weeks, they became friends, when so few of their kind could make such connections with others of their race anymore. Yet the feverish need to find her family had driven Dehvi to incessantly seek out new individuals who may have seen one of them. Once she had recovered and asked every draenei in the area for their whereabouts, she had left Azure Watch without even saying goodbye, still searching for them.

But this hint of loneliness, this slackening drive…perhaps she had realized the truth, the utter futility of that search.

"You left." The words slipped out of his mouth unintended, tainted with the hurt he still felt at her disappearance. At the beginning, he had often wondered if she had just wandered off, in the absent-minded manner of the Broken, and been killed by wild animals or an errant cliff's edge.

After that, he had tried not to think about her at all.

Dehvi stared at the dark surface of her herbal brew, her grip tightening around her cup. "You know I had to find my family."

"How is that coming along, by the way?" Oiaan asked, probing. If she had given up at long last, that could explain her return.

She shook her head. "I haven't found them yet. But they're out there. I just have to keep looking," she said, in a sort of habitual rush.

"Sure," Oiaan muttered. "They are just as alive as my mother."

When he had returned to Draenor… Outland… through the Dark Portal with the Alliance expedition, he had gone in search of his mother, who had been trapped without him in Shattrath City when the orcs razed it. There, he had found refugees who pointed him to the graves they had dug for the bodies found in the city when they arrived. None remembered whether they had seen his mother among them. It bothered him, knowing she must be dead without ever having buried her body himself. It bothered him, knowing the fate of Dehvi's family when she herself did not, would not.

Oiaan sighed and took another sip. If he had known how this conversation would go, he would have opted for something more mind numbing. On the other side of the sip, he said, "You know everyone we ever loved is dead."

II

The delicious drink turned to vinegar in Dehvi's mouth. She lowered the cup from her lips and narrowed her eyes at Oiaan. In her travels, many had doubted her quest, yet their skepticism had never moved her. She came from a line of unflappable, unshakable diplomats, and she had learned ultimate self-control from them.

But when she spoke, she heard anger in her tone. "What did you say?

Oiaan stirred his drink in silence, not even allowing the spoon to clack against the porcelain sides. Not looking at her.

"You can't say that." She had never thought that Oiaan, her friend, would be one to question her. Despite her efforts, Dehvi's voice rose. "You can't just say that. You haven't seen their corpses!"

"But you have."

Immediately, Oiaan looked like he hadn't meant to say that. Or maybe that he had, just not right then. But he had said it. With a clink of finality, he set the cup he thus far had been hiding behind onto the smooth surface of the stone table. Then he raised his eyes to hers for the first time. "You have seen their corpses, Dehvi. You told me that you did."

There was a beat.

Dehvi's eyebrows lowered, his words not quite sinking in yet. "How could you…" she started, voice shaking. no. liar! but— She felt a pressure behind her eyes, rising. Pent up rage—something she never indulged in—or something else. Oiaan was before her, filling her vision. She started to tell him to back off, but a shadow shifted in her mind, distracting her. It revealed a…something.

A memory

or

a dream.

Dehvi's eyes widened. "Oiaan?"

It rushed in all at once, a mess of sounds and emotions, the scent of blood and the sight of her husband's staring, dead eyes. Gapped images jerked before her vision in stop-motion; now her brother's headless corpse, now fire licking at the skin of what remained of her mother, now her own fingers held up before her, slicked with the blue blood of her family. All of them dead, surrounded by the bodies of more draenei, and more. Standing in the middle of the camp where they had lived since fleeing Karabor and the orcs. All around, acres of blue and white and silver, broken weapons and broken hopes.

Oiaan had her by the shoulders, crouched on the floor before her chair, watching her face. She didn't know how he had gotten there, with her chair pushed back from its former position at the table.

"You remember," he whispered.

"What?" Dehvi breathed. "What is this? I…"

Her eyes were too dry and she blinked. In the time it took for her lids to close and then open, the dream vanished, leaving only the ghost of a memory and a twisted snarl in her stomach. Now she remembered what she had been about to say.

"They were there. When we stole the Exodar." She had said it a thousand times to a thousand people and the words tasted natural in her mouth. "I saw them," she insisted at his skeptical expression.

Oiaan's features tightened and he rested his forehead against the knuckles of one closed fist. "Dehvi," he sighed around his hand. "You did not see them. You only imagined you saw them board the Exodar. You told me so yourself."

Dehvi brushed off his hand that still rested on her shoulder. "I told you no such thing," she hissed.

He backed up as she stood in one motion. The scent of blood lingered in her nostrils.

"You are living in denial," Oiaan said, his voice heavy as he rose to his feet.

Maybe—

Dehvi missed them so much. The pain of longing fisted under her collarbone. "They're not dead." As she moved toward the door, she continued, "I will find them."

Oiaan let her pass, but said to her back, "You will spend the rest of your life chasing ghosts." It sounded like a threat or possibly a promise.

Dehvi did not hesitate as she stepped outside. "If they are nothing but ghosts," she said on her way out, "then so am I."