Chapter Eleven

Anarchaia’s eyes widen. “Ali!” Still holding Grimory firmly against the tree, she runs to the death knight and drops to her knees by her side. “Ali! Are you all right?!”

Grimory struggles once more. “Ana, put me down.”

Alisbeth doesn’t move for a minute, then coughs. “That’ll take the air out of you.”

Koltira flinches and holds his wounds. “Ali…I…”

Anarchaia’s head jerks in Koltira’s direction when he speaks. She releases Grimory—who falls to his hands and knees beside Alisbeth—before she stands. “What has gotten into you?” she hisses at him.

Koltira flinches and stares down at Anarchaia. “You’ll hate me more if I explain.” He leans to sigh down at Alisbeth. “Thank you for…stopping that. It was stupid of me to throw the sword.”

Alisbeth pushes her hands between her breasts. “I’m the only one allowed to throw the sword, got it?”

He nods solemnly.

After seeing Alisbeth is generally unharmed Anarchaia crawls over, ushering Grimory up on his haunches. “Are you all right?” She cringes at the sight of the gash in his face. “Does it hurt?” She brings a finger up to test the depth of the wound but he grabs her by the wrist.

“I’ll be fine.” He rubs the blood from his cheek and hisses when doing so pulls at the flesh of his cut.

“No.” The mage sighs and conjures the last of the potions she was given. “These didn’t even last a week,” she grumbles, popping one open.

Alisbeth jumps to her feet with a glare. She kicks Byfrost into her hand, the illumination from the blade casts light on the handle as it shimmers from blue to red. The green edges flare to fiery life. “You told me not to talk about things, Kolty. And you’re talking about them. And you’re fighting our friend. Over what?”  She slashes at him, the sword ripping through the air in a flaming arc.

“Alisbeth, calm down.” Koltira jumps backward out of her reach.

“No! I let you keep the redblade to bring honor to it. Not to turn it on our allies…our friends!” She swipes at him again.

Anarchaia gives a growl of frustration and grabs Alisbeth by the ankle. “Ali, stop!” She shoves a potion into Grimory’s hand and pushes herself to her feet, rushing to stand between the two. “That’s enough!” she shouts, her back to Koltira and eyes on Alisbeth. She holds out her hands, the second potion still tucked between her palm and a thumb. “Just calm down, okay? Everything’s gonna be fine. Everyone just needs to take a breath.” Her own heart pounding within her, she does her best to act collected despite inwardly screaming from the stress. “They’re men. They fight. It’s okay.”

“Koltira doesn’t fight like some petty fool!” Alisbeth shouts. “He doesn’t do this! Not with my father’s sword, Kolty!”

Koltira backs up again. “Ana, Ali, I’m sorry, I… We were just…venting. It got a little out of control. ’That’s all. Forgive me.”

Eyes still on Alisbeth, Anarchaia turns at the waist to hold out the second healing tincture. “It’s fine,” she says pointedly, her fingers shaking. “Just set the sword down, Ali. No one else needs to be hurt tonight.” She bites her lip. Please. Don’t make me subdue you.

Grimory downs the disgusting concoction and grimaces as his wounds heal. He coughs into the back of a wrist.

Alisbeth growls. “Only because you asked and you are nice and smell good.” She reaches out to pat Anarchaia on the head, then throws the sword. The blade goes dark before embedding itself in the trunk of a nearby tree. She points a finger at Koltira. “I’m angry at you.”

He sinks to his knees with a sigh. “I noticed.”

Feeling safe enough to turn away from the death knight, Anarchaia does so and steps to Koltira before kneeling. “Are you going to accept my help this time?” she inquires, her lips pursed thin beneath her mask as she holds out the potion.

Koltira purses his lips, then nods. “Fine.”

Alisbeth drops to the dirt and pulls her rumpled blanket around herself as she watches the two.

Grimory groans and stands, rubbing at his cheek. He throws the empty vial into the dead fire pit with enough force to shatter it.

Anarchaia stands and runs her hands over her head as if smoothing her hair back. She inhales loudly and holds it. “I don’t know what this was about,” she begins, her voice barely audible, “but it’s not going to happen again.” She turns to Grimory, an exasperated and somewhat crazed smile on her face. “Okay?” she chirps.

Grimory flicks his scowl between her and Koltira. He looks away and nods before ducking into the tent.

Koltira nods. “I promise.” But he doesn’t look at Anarchaia—his gaze remains on Alisbeth’s back.

The mage releases the air she’d sucked in and turns back toward the lake. She rests a comforting hand on Alisbeth’s shoulder as she passes, leaning down to speak quietly into her ear. “It’ll be okay. Don’t be upset. I’ll be back in a bit, okay?” She straightens and disappears into the bushes, a cinder forming within her palm to light the path.

Koltira doesn’t move. “Ali—”

“Don’t.”

“Alisbeth, please.”

“Why were you fighting about us?” Alisbeth asks.

He hangs his head in shame and inches closer to whisper in her ear. “I was just trying to get a rise out of him. He said some of the most vile things—”

“Koltira,” she growls.

“What he said…it’s all true. And I just…lost it. I should never have—”

She sets a finger to his lips and looks at him, but through him. “Stop apologizing. I’m sick of hearing it.” She tucks her arm back into the blanket. “I’m waiting for Addie before I’ll talk to you.”

When at the lakeside, Anarchaia falls to her hands and knees. She inhales again, thrusts her head into the water, and screams her frustration, stress, and anger to the silt and fish. When the bubbles finally cease, she remains with her head submerged for a few minutes. Finally, she stands, brushes the dirt and grass from her knees, and, still dripping wet, makes her way back to camp.

Alisbeth keeps watch, her eyes to toward the lake. “When she gets back, you are both in deep hog shit. Both of you are gonna get it. Yep. And I know you can hear me, Gary. She’s coming back for you. She’s gonna light you on fire. Yep.”

“I’m not lighting anybody on fire,” Anarchaia sighs as she steps back into the clearing, her wet mask clinging to her face. “I’m not going to yell. I’m not going to reprimand. I’m just going to…to…” An orb of fire encircles her head, drying the cloth instantly. “To sit.” She does so beside the empty fire pit, which sparks back to life with a quiet roar. She looks up to Koltira, noticing the full vial still in his hand, and points at him. “And you drink that fucking potion,” she hisses, more out of exasperation than anger.

Alisbeth points at him as well. “You heard her!”

Koltira obediently drinks, then gags, almost spiting the potion all over the girls. He forces it down with a grimace. “What the hell is this?”

“Healing potion.” Anarchaia brings her knees to her chest, her voice tired but recovering. “The demon hunter we met at the auditions gifted them to us. Charming fellow.” She sets her chin within the valley between her knees and closes her eyes.

“The one I wanted the chunk from? Oh! Nice. His skin was like a red crocolisk. I wanted to pet him, but Koltira wouldn’t let me.” Alisbeth scoots closer to Anarchaia.

Koltira scratches at his tongue. “It’s like swallowing fire embers and bad whiskey.”

The mage turns away from the two and conjures a metal flask. She takes a drink from it as covertly as possible before screwing the cap on and sending it back whence it came. “Yes, that one.” She looks up and jumps upon finding Alisbeth closer to her but does not move away. “Would you rather it taste bad or have your shoulder shredded to bits?”

Koltira begins to grumble about taking care of his own shoulder.

“Shut up, Deathweaver,” Alisbeth growls, then smiles at Anarchaia. “Well. Tonight sucked. And we’re not even near a tavern to make it better.” She shrugs. “Costs a lot for me and Kolty to drink anyway. Though I don’t think he deserves any.”

Anarchaia swallows and glances from side to side. “Well…” she mumbles, then stops. No. I’m already in trouble for stealing the one bottle. She cringes inwardly and taps her foot in thought. I could really use a drink, though. And not just the secret ones… Her brow furrows and she clears her throat. “Yes or no?” she says, being cryptic as if doing so will relinquish her of any responsibility in the decision.

Alisbeth chews on her lower lip. “Yeeees?”

The mage holds out her hand and, in similar fashion as before, conjures two smaller bottles of wine, the necks between her thin fingers. “If anyone asks you didn’t see anything,” she mumbles, the corks popping free.

“But I saw you pull bottles from the air!” Alisbeth squeals. “That was so cool! Do it again! Get more! Oh! Get whiskey.” She claps in excitement.

Anarchaia claps her free hand over Alisbeth’s mouth. “Shh. No, this is it…for now. Theeeeey aren’t exactly mine.” Her voice trails off. She leans forward to glance at Koltira and wiggles the bottles. “Are you done being crabby enough to come have a sip?”

Alisbeth pushes her finger to the mage’s lips. “Koltira doesn’t get any.”

“Ali,” he growls.

“I misbehave, I get none. You misbehaved, you get none!” She leans to Anarchaia and grabs one of the bottles. “He gets none.”

Water for the delinquent, then.” She conjures a copper cup and fills it with a clear liquid. It settles itself near Koltira’s boot and she smiles tiredly beneath her mask. “Sorry for what Grim did to you. He can get kind of hot-headed.” She pushes her mask back above her lips as though she hadn’t just done the same thing moments before and takes a drink. She leans her shoulder into Alisbeth’s, enjoying the warmth of the fire and within her stomach.

Koltira scowls at the cup, but takes a mouthful of the offered liquid anyway. He suppresses a cough, realizing she’d given him straight vodka. He clears his throat and takes a much smaller sip. “You don’t need to apologize for him. And I…gave my fair share. It was ungainly of me.”

Alisbeth leans her forehead to Anarchaia’s cheek and takes several gluttonous swigs of the wine. “You were an absolute twat, Kolty. It was childish and immature. You should be ashamed.”

Anarchaia frowns at Koltira. “Someone’s got to. And it probably won’t be him.” The mage pats Alisbeth curtly on the knee and inhales. “I’m sure it wasn’t all his fault, Alisbeth.” She sighs, the bottle at her lips. “In fact I’m sure it wasn’t all his fault.”

“I don’t need an apology, Ana. But thank you all the same,” Koltira says.

Alisbeth swigs the wine too fast, then smiles. She lowers herself to lay her head on Anarchaia’s thigh. She flattens to her back and stares up at the mage. “Oh, hey, I found your boobs.”

Anarchaia flushes and glances down at Alisbeth, the bottle still in her mouth. She arches her back some so that the fabric of her shirt folds and hides her breasts. She swallows and sets the bottle by her side. “I told you I wasn’t a boy,” she chuckles.

The bottle leaves Alisbeth’s lips with a hollow phoong. She smiles, then reaches up to poke one of the now hidden breasts. “Yeah, but…” She giggles and rolls to face the fire. “Now I know… Mostly. I’d know better if you showed me, though.” She giggles again.

“Ali…” Koltira warns.

Her flush deepening, Anarchaia flinches and covers herself with her arms. Another nervous chuckle escapes her. “I wouldn’t count on that. Heh.” She reaches again for the bottle, her desire for more growing with the levels of discomfort. “We’ve only known each other for a short time, after all.”

The tips of Alisbeth’s ears warm as she chugs more down. “This wine hits hard!” She turns her head to smile at the mage. “And that’s okay. I’ve known people for less time before—”

“Ali, not now,” Koltira sighs in exasperation. “Please. Just…not now.”

Anarchaia gives her characteristic wide, crooked smile and pokes Alisbeth on the tip of her nose. “Well, unlike my friend in the tent, I have some standards to whom I let see me naked.” She takes a long drink and again sets the bottle aside. “Not that there’s anything wrong with doing the opposite.” She hiccups into the tendons in the back of her hand, waving the other towards Koltira dismissively. “It’s quite all right. She’s not hurting anyone.”

Koltira growls in his throat. “Not. Now.” His jaw worries under his skin. “Please.”

Alisbeth stays quiet for a minute, then sighs. “He said we were friends. Are we friends?”

The mage blinks down at the girl in her lap. “Hm? Who said who were friends?”

“Galvin said we were friends when I was on his head,” Ali says, swirling her finger in the dirt.

Anarchaia lifts her eyebrows. “Did he? That was awful nice of him.” She gives a sideways glance to the tent behind her. “And uncharacteristic.”

Alisbeth finishes her wine and smacks her lips in satisfaction. “He’s nice. I like him. Sometimes. Why is there a star on his ass?”

Anarchaia’s head slides back on her shoulders and she furrows her brow in surprise. “I…didn’t know there was.”

Koltira stands abruptly, finishes his drink, and holds the cup out for Anarchaia to take. “Thank you, Ana. You’re a good friend. I…need some fresh air.”

Her head cocks up to look at Koltira. She gingerly takes the cup. “Oh, uh…you’re welcome. It was nothing. Are you not feeling well? I can get some tea instead…”

“I just need silence,” Koltira hisses. He frowns down at Alisbeth, then turns away and stomps off, unsure where he’s actually going.

“Bye Kolty.” Alisbeth gives a happy sigh. “I love you.” She smiles at the fire. “He makes me happy. Does Gordo make you happy?”

Anarchaia sighs in the man’s wake and turns back to Alisbeth with another tired smile. “I’m glad he makes you happy.” She sobers at the question. “I suppose he does…in a different kind of way. But don’t worry about me. I have someone I can always talk to if I need to.”

“The voice in the crystal,” Alisbeth says. “What do they look like?”

She nods and brings a finger to her cheek as she thinks. “Well, he’s old.” She chuckles. “Silver hair, hazel stubble on his face.” The mage pokes her own cheeks with two index fingers and grins. “High cheek bones. Blue eyes. Very tall.”

“I like white hair,” Alisbeth sighs. “Silver counts as white, doesn’t it? ‘Cause I like Koltira’s hair.”

“I suppose it does.” She begins to regret leaving the feather at the inn. “Especially since hair can’t truly be silver.” Anarchaia runs her fingers through Alisbeth’s locks as if to emphasize her point.

“My hair used to be black.” She smiles at the fire. “The more they took from me…the whiter my hair turned. I don’t like my hair. What color is yours?”

“I like your hair,” the mage says with an endearing smile, not wanting to press the subject. “And mine’s white, too.”

Alisbeth smiles and stares into the fire.

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