Chapter Fifteen

Koltira turns his attention to Anarchaia. “So, what’s it like traveling with him? Usually. When two strangers don’t come along and stir the pot.” He laughs.

The mage gives one last glance around the camp, curious as to where Alisbeth may have gone and worrying over her ability to get back. She turns back to Koltira. “I guess it’s like…having a big dog with you all the time.” A smile crosses her dark teal lips. “He barks a lot and whines when he’s hungry but people really don’t mess with you when he’s around.”

“Is he just as intelligent?” he asks with a sly smirk.

She chuckles, covering her mouth with her fingertips to lessen the noise. “In some ways. A dog is a genius when it comes to chasing sticks, taking naps, hunting… He may be mostly muscle but he’s not necessarily an idiot.”

Koltira stares over at her. “Did you just say that dogs are geniuses at chasing sticks while comparing the two? Are you saying he’s good at playing fetch?”

She meets his gaze, her smile widening. “Mm-hmm. Runs on all fours and everything.” A beat passes before her shoulders shake and she bursts out in laughter, again covering her mouth.

Koltira’s laughter rumbles through his chest. “I honestly can’t imagine why he treats you the way he has been. You’re very good company.” He pats her shoulder.

Anarchaia flushes and sobers, but her smile remains. She gives a small chuckle. “He thinks I’m a nerd.” Her fingers pick idly at the seams of her gloves. “And that’s really too kind. You’re good company, too.”

Koltira cringes a little. “I’m only good company because I can fake being good company, at least. Ali doesn’t like it when I—what was the word—oh, mope.”

Anarchaia uses her fingers to quote. “‘Moping’ is a legitimate coping mechanism. Besides,” she gives Koltira a weak punch to the upper arm, “I think you’re pretty fun.”

He feigns a flinch. “Oh, violence, now? Are you looking to start something I’ll have to finish?” He gives a joking grin.

Anarchaia recoils and wraps her arms around herself in a defensive manner. “Violence?” she responds in an aristocratic tone, putting her nose in the air. “I’m but a fragile lady, good sir. It’d hardly be a fair fight.”

“You’re entirely right,” Koltira says. “I wouldn’t stand a chance.”

“Oh please,” she scoffs. “You could easily take me in a fight. I’m what? Seven stone? Maybe eight?”

He eyes her figure. “Maybe, but how much fire do you hide inside that tiny body?”

Anarchaia laughs. “I was only talking about a fair fight. No magic.” She smiles daringly. “But if you think you can take the heat…”

Koltira laughs. “Well, I can’t really handle too much heat, I’ll admit that. But I don’t feel right about trapping you in a physical-only fight.”

“I don’t think I’d have the audacity to fight you anyway,” the mage titters, grasping each knee in each palm and leaning back. She lowers her voice. “What with the undead controlling and all.”

Koltira raises his eyebrows. “Anything reanimated, yes. We—some of us—raise corpses. Ghouls, really. I prefer not to.”

“Oh! Phew. Well, then.” She wipes away a fake bead of sweat from her forehead. “Still, though.” The mage gives a wide grin. “I don’t fight nice guys.”

Koltira scoffs. “There you go again with that nice guy nonsense. I really don’t know where you’re getting it.”

Anarchaia leans forward to put an elbow on a knee and squishes her cheek into her knuckles. “Because you’re a nice guy,” she whispers in an attempt to get a rise out of him.

“Now look here, missy,” Koltira goes to jab her sternum, pauses, and instead pokes her shoulder, “I may seem nice, but that’s only to you. And Ali.”

“Mmhm. Okay. Whatever you say,” she says tauntingly, rubbing her shoulder where he’d poked her. “I bet you pet kittens when no one’s looking.”

Koltira glares at her. “What kind of a monster doesn’t pet a kitten when they see it?”

The image of Koltira, pale skin, bound in steel plate, bending down to pet a small, fuzzy kitten passes through her mind and Anarchaia puts her fingers over her lips to hide her grin. “Awww.” She chuckles. “Fair point, Mr. Death Knight.”

Koltira narrows his eyes at her. “And I suppose you would walk right past a kitten without petting it? What do you have against kittens?”

“Oh, trust me, I have nothing against kittens. Petting one wouldn’t do much for me anymore, however.” Anarchaia gives a reassuring grin at his expression. “I’m just teasing you, Kolt.”

Koltira tries to remain composed. “Have you tried…rubbing your cheeks on one?”

The mage’s smile turns sad and she looks away. “Animals…don’t really like me.” She clears her throat. “Anymore.”

Koltira frowns. “I haven’t even tried since…But I suppose they’d likely hate me, too.” He cracks a silly smile. “Let’s go find one and see how long it takes for it to scratch my face off.”

Anarchaia returns to chortling. “Your face is fine as-is. No need to go marring it.” She rests her temple against her knees, face turned toward him, and gestures to the tent with a thumb. “Plus, we already know how well you get along with dogs.”

Koltira keeps his composure for a moment before bursting forth with laughter. “Oh, Gods, Ana. ”

She watches him as he laughs, then inhales to say something. She bites her lip instead and turns her head to the fire, opting for something else to say. “What was your wedding like, if you don’t mind my asking?”

Koltira catches the hesitation. “Are you sure that’s what you actually wanted to ask?”

The mage looks in his direction from the corner of her eye. “It wasn’t a question. Just a thought I’d deemed appropriate to keep to myself.”

Koltira presses his tongue into his cheek. “I answer your question and you have to tell me. Deal?”

A hesitant smile passes over her lips. “It won’t be very interesting to you, but if the curiosity is too much to bear I suppose I can’t bring myself to let you suffer. So, sure. Deal.”

Koltira rolls his eyes. “Oh, no, no. If you don’t want to tell me that’s completely fine by me. I just thought we were having a nice conversation out here.”

She lifts her head and squishes her cheeks with her palms, elbows on her knees. With puffed out lips, Anarchaia responds “I wasn’t implying that I don’t want to tell you. I was just saying that it wasn’t interesting to anyone but myself. My question was much more interesting and conversation-worthy. ”

“Fine. Alisbeth convinced Tirion to set aside a tent at the Argent Crusade. I got a few hours’ relief from duty aboard Orgrim’s Hammer to go meet her there. Tirion married us in secret. The only other person there was Thassarian. That old dress she’s so fond of, the silk one…she wore that. I didn’t have time to change.” He laughs at the memory. “It was nice. Quiet.” He sighs and stares at Anarchaia. “Okay, your turn.”

She smiles, resting her face in a palm. “That’s still really romantic—secret or not. It’s very cute that she holds onto the dress. It’s clear in her eyes how much she cherishes it.” Anarchaia turns back to the fire, extending both arms toward it and fiddling with her fingers. “And I was just thinking about how the only other person who laughs at my jokes is Master… Then I realized that the reason for that is I don’t leave the Hall much. Then that made me realize how much everyone there hates me.” She sighs but continues to smile.

“They only hate you out of jealousy. Or they don’t hate you, they just don’t know you. I really can’t imagine someone hating you for any reasons other than those.” Koltira smiles kindly.

“They think I’m still a child.” Her smile fades. “I know some of them are jealous—about a position I was offered and didn’t want to begin with—but my superiors…” Anarchaia shakes her head. “It’s not important, much less fun to talk about. Thanks for your kindness.” She returns the endearing grin.

Koltira furrows his brow. “And how old are you?”

Anarchaia blinks and looks over to him. “As in now? I’m forty.”

He furrows his brow. “Then I don’t understand why they treat you like a child. You’re plenty seasoned enough to be counted as a strong woman.” He shrugs.

“Well I was nineteen when I…” She clears her throat. “So I guess I never grew up. How old are you, by the way? You seem fairly young.”

“Barely a young woman. I’m sorry.” He regards her with a smile. “I was two-hundred and forty when I died. I haven’t bothered to count the years since.”

“Evil has no agenda,” Anarchaia chuckles. “And you were fairly young. I’m sorry as well.” She gives him a questioning grin. “You don’t still celebrate your birthday?”

Koltira shakes his head. “I’ve spent most of my time since death without the option to. Before you ask, no, I don’t miss celebrating.”

The mage purses her lips and chews on the inside of her cheek. “If I ever find out when it is, I’m throwing you a party.”

Koltira’s ears pull back. “Please don’t. I’m not a party person. Ali is, but I am not.”

Anarchaia gives him a pout. “Aw, why not? Do you not like being the center of attention?”

“It’s not about being the center of attention, it’s about parties in general. I just…don’t like them.” He shrugs and avoids looking at her pout.

“What a shame. By the way you handle your liquor I figured you’d be fun at parties.” She inspects the toe of a boot and flicks a bit of wet grass from it. “Though I wouldn’t know. You could be a mean drunk.” She laughs.

He joins in her laughter. “It’s been a while since I’ve had enough to get drunk. Faltora and I were…fun, I suppose. He liked to pull stupid pranks and, damn if I didn’t let him drag me along. What about you? What sort of drunk is our reserved little mage?”

Her grin grows wide and hesitant. “Well…let’s just say I’m not allowed in the Hall tavern anymore. Heh.”

Koltira smiles deviously. “Sounds like my brother would have liked you.”

The mage chuckles. “He sounds like a stand-up guy, then. I’m sure he was very charming, just like his brother.”

Koltira laughs outright. “Faltora? No. No, no. He was painfully shy and very quiet. So who do you think got the blame for all those pranks?” He chuckles and rubs his hands together as though fighting off the cold. “I let them think that. Took his punishments for him.”

Shy and quiet doesn’t necessarily mean not charming,” she says with a smile. “And that’s very selfless of you. You must have loved him very much. Never had any siblings myself. Unless you count my cat.”

“Oh, so you would stop to pet kittens.” He smiles.

“This was before…everything. And he’s dead now. He’d probably run away from me if he were still around. Heh.” She throws more grass into the fire. “I wouldn’t blame him.”

“I stand by what I said. And please, stop calling me charming. I’m really not.”

Her pearly teeth poke out from between her lips. “Does it bother you? You don’t like being complimented?”

He shifts uncomfortably. “It’s…weird.”

Anarchaia furrows her brow but continues to smile. “All right, sorry. I’ll stop being so nice.” She leans back to lie in the still-damp grass, hands cradling the back of her head. “The stars are so clear out here. I suppose that’s one upside to being outside the city.”

Koltira laughs. “You can’t stop being nice, Ana, but I appreciate the sentiment.” He tosses a stick at the fire. The moisture inside hisses. He looks up at the stars. “They are nice, aren’t they?”

Anarchaia sniffles quietly and hums in agreement. She reaches up to pull her mask back over her lips and chin. “Ali’s been gone a long time,” she muses. “Do you think she’s okay?”

Koltira straightens and looks around the clearing. He stands to circle in place. “I’m sure she is fine…” He steps to the larger tent and looks inside. “Ali…?” He turns to Anarchaia. “She’s not here.”

Anarchaia watches him search, then sits up. “Where could she have gone?” She stands, brushing the wet grass from the back of her clothes. “I’ll wake Grim. He can fly up and look.”

Koltira nods. “On the bright side, her axe is still here. As is Byfrost. No armor or weapons is good.”

“I suppose that’s a good sign.” The mage steps around the fire to Grimory’s tent and gently pushes the flap away with a back of a hand. “O-Oh,” she mumbles upon seeing Alisbeth curled up beside Grimory’s sleeping form.

Alisbeth turns her head and sits up, placing her finger to her lips. “Shh. The baby is sleeping.”

“Sorry,” she whispers and gives an awkward wave, backing away. “Just…wondering where you were.”

“Is she in there?” Koltira asks. “Are they…? Dammit.” He rubs his palms down his face.

Anarchaia can’t help but titter quietly. “No, they’re not.” She lets the flap fall back into place. “No worries. He’s asleep and she’s…watching him, I guess.”

Koltira cocks an eyebrow. “Watching him? Well…I suppose that’s fine, then.” He sighs up at the night sky. “You’d think I would be better at knowing when the sun will rise.” He shrugs and sits back by the fire, staring into it as thoughts swirl in his eyes.

“Heh. The nights seem interminable the longer you’re awake, don’t they?” Anarchaia lowers to her knees bedside the fire as well, holding her palms out to be warmed. “I know Ali doesn’t…kinda, but do you miss sleep?”

He furrows his brow. “Ali is cryptic, isn’t she? She actually misses sleep a great deal. I don’t. I’m fine remaining awake and alert at all times. Someone has to. What about you?”

“She certainly is. I’ve told her about the spells and tinctures but she seemed opposed to the idea.” Anarchaia smiles beneath her mask. “I sleep every once in a great while—years, usually. Sometimes for days, depending on the reason. I think I’ve come to the consensus that I don’t enjoy it, though.” She fiddles with her fingers in her lap. “The nightmares. Heh.”

Koltira nods in understanding. “I don’t know that I’d want to have the nightmares I know wait for me in sleep.” He furrows his brow. “Alisbeth turned them down because we’re not allowed to sleep. She doesn’t want to get in trouble. It’s one of the few things we kept after separating from the Lich King, the requirement that we do not sleep.” He leans back on his elbows and looks up at the stars, picking out constellations he knows and tracing them with his gaze.

“So, sort of an act of defiance, then? I dig it.”

Koltira shrugs. “Maybe.”

Anarchaia lifts her palms back to the flickering flames and twitches her fingers. The fire dances and swells. She sighs and smiles. “I really miss being alive, though,” she mutters quietly so her voice doesn’t travel to the tent only feet behind her. “Being warm.”

He silently observes her figure in the dancing firelight. Knowing there is nothing he can say to her that would make any sort of difference, he sighs and sets a palm between her shoulder blades and gives a comforting rub.

The mage goes rigid for a brief moment, not having expected the sudden contact, and the fire regresses to its original size. She smiles when she relaxes and returns to manipulating the fire. Her lips part to thank him, but she, again, decides against speaking and closes them. The flames curl around each other, forming themselves into various shapes: a dragon with wings outstretched, a satyr, an owl with large, feathery horns, a couple in expensive clothing dancing.

Koltira leans back, threading his fingers together behind his head. “Very creative.”

“You wanna try?” she jokes, molding the flames into a ripply orange version of his face and hair, cinders flying from the edges. “It’s easy.”

“The only thing I can do would ruin the fire,” he says, wrinkling his nose at the image of himself.

“Do you make ice sculptures?” She laughs. The fire forms a swan flapping its wings excitedly.

Koltira throws out his hand, sending a blast of freezing air and sleet across the wet ground. It solidifies as a muddy slope filled with leaves and dead grass. “If you can call that a sculpture, sure.”

The quill and parchment make a reappearance. “Fascinating.” Anarchaia turns to him with excitement, clapping her hands together once and bouncing. “What else can you do?”

Koltira narrows one eye. “Not much outside of combat abilities, really. Though this one is useful.” He snaps his fingers and the entire camp becomes trapped within a transparent purple dome. “I’m one of the few who still knows how to use this.” He grins.

Anarchaia glances about the dome, eyes bright with interest. The quill scribbles furiously. “I’ve read about death knight powers but have only seen a few in person.”

“I’m sure this one will entertain you.” Koltira turns a translucent blue and raises a foot off the ground while still lying down. After several seconds he drops back down with a grunt.

She turns to watch Koltira hover and chortles when he falls.

“What about you? Any other party tricks?”

“The only useful party trick I know is conjuring alcohol.” She laughs. “Otherwise this is a favorite of mine.” She stands and waves a hand parallel to the ground. A puddle studded with small shards of ice grows between the blades of grass. Anarchaia turns to Koltira and puts a finger to her lips. A moment later she fades into nothingness with a devious giggle.

A large mass of ice grows from the puddle. A frozen water elemental pulls himself from the ground and shakes off the excess water, which causes the fire to hiss. Its one, icy eye glances around the camp, finally coming to rest on Koltira. “Did you…?” it rumbles in a low, gravelly voice coming from the depths of its torso. It then notices the quill and parchment and appears to grow irritated. “Where is she?”

Koltira blinks at the elemental. “Umm…I don’t know.”

“I’m so sick of—” The elemental flinches as a large shard of ice crashes against the back of his cranium. Growling in frustration, he spins to blast a thick stream of water in the direction it’d come from.

Anarchaia is pummeled in the face by the water. It knocks her off her feet and out of her invisibility. She laughs despite being face-down in the now mud. “You fall for it every time!”

“And you eat dirt every time, Apprentice Anarchaia,” the elemental sneers, gliding over to her on an endless stream of gushing water. It plucks the mage from the wet earth and holds her by her throat. “Stop calling me.”

Anarchaia laughs more despite being throttled. “Oh come on, Flayke. Get a sense of humor,” she rasps.

Stop calling me,” Flayke booms, rapidly reducing to a puddle, which soon after evaporates, dropping Anarchaia on her hind end to chuckle in the mud.

Koltira blinks in confusion. “Y-Your, um, ‘friend’ doesn’t seem to like you.”

Anarchaia stands and looks down at herself, still grinning. “No, he doesn’t.” She claps her hands together and is instantly surrounded in a vortex of flame, drying her clothes and mask. She frowns when she glances down at herself again only to find that, instead of washing away, the dirt has crusted to her pants and shirt. “Well shit,” she mumbles, attempting to brush herself off. “I can do other things, too. None quite as amusing.”

“Are we near any water so you can wash off?” He chuckles at the dirt covering her.

She brushes the dry mud from her eyes then hisses when doing so makes things worse. “I didn’t check, sadly.” The mage blindly trots to the tree line, her back to the camp. When in the safety of the shadows, the pulls off her mask and examines it. “I’m going to have to go find some. What an asshole. I guess I deserve it, though.” She gives an airy chuckle and glances back at him over her shoulder, eyes shrouded in hair. “I assume you’ll be okay on your own?”

Koltira settles himself in a comfortable position. “Unless you need an escort. Otherwise, enjoy your bath.”

She shrugs. “I shouldn’t need one, but if I’m not back in an hour feel free to assume the worst.” Anarchaia gives a curt wave and trudges off into the trees.

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