Chapter Sixteen

As noted, the mage reappears an hour or so later—not by means of coming back through the trees but in a spiral of white light. “So, I couldn’t find any water,” she says with a smile. “Had to run home instead. Bad news if you guys want a bath, though.” She hugs herself and sighs dreamily. “Hot water without the use of magic is something I’ll never take for granted.”

Koltira cocks an eyebrow and chuckles. “Well I’m glad someone can enjoy the comforts of home while the rest of us go without. I kept the fire going,” he announces, then looks at the small flames within the pit of ash and embers. “Mostly.”

She shrugs and smiles apologetically. “Sorry. Mages only.” Her attention falls to the dying fire. “Oh! I’m sorry! I should have gotten more tinder before I’d left.” The fire doubles in size, feeding off what little fuel it has left. “I’ll get more. Enough until morning, at least.” Anarchaia glances over her shoulder at Koltira. “Would you like to assist, or were you enjoying your time without me?” She chuckles.

He shrugs. “I’m fine either way. Ali seems perfectly content in there,” he jerks his thumb at the smaller tent, “and I’ve nothing else to do but sit. So if you’d like the company, I can assist you.”

She pouts. “I asked you first, Mr. Indecisive. But if you’d like the compliment, I wouldn’t mind having you around. It’s been fun thus far.” Not waiting for a response, Anarchaia ducks into the shadows of the pine trees.

Koltira chuckles and scrambles to his feet to trot after the mage. “Fun, huh? Fun compared to what?” He grimaces and pulls foliage and mud from his white hair.

“Compared to my normal company.” Anarchaia reaches up to grab a dead branch, then gives up shortly after realizing she cannot reach, deeming it not worth the mana. “I’m sure you figured that out already…by the way you get along with my normal company.”

Koltira reaches up to easily grab the branch, then holds it out for the mage. “Being strung up by my thumbs for a month sounds more fun than your normal company. Really, I don’t know how you handle it.” Koltira sighs at himself. “I will admit, I haven’t given him a fair chance, since he and Ali…and apparently you…” He clears his throat and reaches over her head for another branch he knows she can’t reach.

Anarchaia accepts the branch and decides simply to carry it rather than use magic. She flushes and busies herself with a bush, her back to him. “He’s really a nice guy,” she insists, flustered. “He acts differently when we’re alone.” More twigs and foliage join the branch in her arms. “…What has he told you?” She swallows, afraid of the answer. “S-So I know how angry to be. Heh.”

He stares at his feet, then trudges past Anarchaia to grab more branches she can’t reach. “You don’t want to know the things he said.” He clenches his jaw and avoids looking at her, instead focusing on finding items that will burn.

Her head jerks to face him, brow furrowed in disbelief. She blinks a few times and shakes her head. “What did he say?” she asks in a hushed tone, clutching the debris tightly in her arms. “Was it bad?” Her eyes widen and she turns to face Koltira’s back. “This is what you were fighting about.”

“I just wanted him to stop. I wasn’t trying to kill him.” Koltira hangs his head, then stoops for a few twigs.

Anarchaia watches for a moment, thinking, then turns away again. Humiliation fills her face and chest and she hugs the twigs to her breast. “So it was bad.” She scoffs, tears stinging her good eye. “That jerk. And to think I trusted him.” Her jaw tightens. “I’m such a fool.”

Guilt fills Koltira and he goes to her, setting a hand on her shoulder. “I wasn’t without dishonor, myself. I nearly revealed your secret just trying to…get a reaction? I really have no idea… Make him jealous that you’d shared that with me? I’m sorry for my own actions. If it helps at all he didn’t say anything bad about you, per se. It was just… He was vile about it.”

A hurt scowl creeps across her lips and she looks at him. She uses the fabric of her mask to wipe the wetness from her left eye. “Thanks,” she mumbles after a long moment. “For not saying anything. And I can’t condone your actions but at least your intentions were…better…than his.” She sniffles and inhales, taking any kindling from him and bunching it with the rest.

Koltira flinches. “I don’t think they were better. I should’ve been better than that.” He holds out his arms. “Please, let me carry that for you.”

Anarchaia hugs the bundle to her chest again. “I can carry them.” The seething in her heart boils over and she turns away again, running through all the inappropriate things Grimory could have possibly said about her to a man they’d just met. “Thank you for being honest,” she mutters and takes a step back toward camp.

Koltira follows behind the mage feeling helpless. I shouldn’t have said anything. He opens his mouth and closes it several times to apologize more and make sure she’s truly okay. But in the end he says nothing and just follows her back to the camp.

When back, Anarchaia tosses the tinder into the fire and the flames burst forth anew. She stops to glare at the tent across from her, pondering all the things she can do while her fists tremble at her sides. She eventually sobers, realizing her own fault in the matter, and sits by the fire again. Rubbing at her damp cheek with the back of a wrist, she sighs. “He’s lucky I don’t burn it down.”

Koltira drops down beside her. After a moment’s hesitation, he wraps a comforting arm around her shoulder and gives a gentle squeeze. “I think he only said it because…well, he likes you. And I think he’s being…territorial.” He drops his arm and shifts awkwardly, putting his hands to the fire, though the cold doesn’t bother him.

“Any affection he has for me is ill-founded,” she snaps, scowling into the fire. “If he knew what I really look like he’d change his mind.” Anarchaia clenches her fists in her lap. She inhales sharply to say something else, something spiteful. Instead, at the peak of her anger, she conjures an unmarked bottle in the space beside her while simultaneously pushing up her mask. “You know what? Fuck him. There. I said it.” She snatches it from the air, presses the opening to her lips, and tilts the bottom to the stars.

Koltira reaches to set his hand on hers, intending to urge the bottle back down. But he stops and retracts his hand before touching her. “Ana, I…” He sighs, realizing he has nothing he can say to make it better or at least take away the sting. So instead he turns to tossing pine needles into the fire one at a time.

When she takes the bottle from her lips she hisses at the burn. “You don’t need to make me feel better, Koltira.” She gives him a grin while wiping at her lips. She then offers the half-empty bottle as a sign of gratitude. “But you’re sweet for trying.”

He takes the bottle and purses his lips. “One of these days I’m going to do something that isn’t so kind and you’ll be eating those words you keep flinging at me.”

“Yeah, right. That’ll be the day I become the next Guardian.”

He tips the bottle back, drinking half of what’s left before stopping to cough and hand it back to her. “What is that? Did you conjure pure acid?”

She laughs and takes the bottle back. “It’s the unlabeled bottle. It changes whenever it’s emptied.” The mage downs another sip and cringes, chuckling through the pain. “This, however, tastes like pure grain. Heh.” A smirk crosses her lips. “Too much for you?”

Koltira laughs. “It’s just been a long time since something has actually burned going down.” He holds out his hand, accepting the challenge she probably wasn’t issuing.

Anarchaia sizes him up out the corner of her eye and takes another sip before handing it back. Her smile widens. “Drink the rest, then.”

He sneers at the bottle. “If I die, burn my body.” He gives her a wink and tilts the rest down his throat. He hands the empty bottle back, his laugh bordering on a cough. “Smooth as necrotic slime.”

The mage cringes again as she watches him drink the rest. “Okay, wow. I’m impressed.” She sends the empty away and conjures another bottle, this time labeled. The cork pops and flies directly into the fire. Anarchaia laughs. “This isn’t as—” she stifles a hiccup, “—strong.” She takes a drink and glances at the tent again as though looking for another reason to down half the bottle again. “What did he tell you?” she asks after swallowing, offering the bottle as if it were payment for the information.

“I’m…really not sure I want to repeat it.” His skin flushes hot from the drink, or Grimory’s descriptions of her, or both. “It really was the crudest compliment he could have given you.” He keeps his eyes trained on the fire, feeling ashamed, even though they weren’t his words.

Anarchaia hesitates and shrugs as if she no longer cares. “At least it was a compliment…I guess.” She hides the still burning rage inside her with a wide smile. “All right. No more sads. Fun and forgets, now.” She pushes the bottle against his hand. “Fun and forgeeets,” she chants not unlike a cultist.

Koltira chuckles and takes the bottle, taking a few long pulls before holding it out for her. “Alright. Fine by me. Let’s have some fun. What would you like to do for fun?”

Anarchaia takes the bottle back and thinks while drinking. She tries to speak at the tail end of her swallowing and chokes. “Truth or dare.” She coughs, a hand between her breasts as though that will help.

Koltira smirks. “Alright, mage. I’ll play.”

“I’ll go first, then.” She holds out the bottle. “And I’ll play it safe. Truth.”

Koltira takes the bottle, sloshing some into his mouth and swirling it with his tongue as he thinks. “I suppose I’ll start with questions that won’t get me punched.” He laughs. “Do you ever wish you…” he cranes his neck to the tent, then whispers in Anarchaia’s ear, “Do you ever wish you were still living?” The moment he finishes the question, he feels stupid for asking. Of course she would rather have not died! He swallows a few large mouthfuls and holds the bottle out for her to take.

Anarchaia’s grin subsides some but remains steady. “You know… There isn’t a day that goes by where it doesn’t cross my mind.” She takes the bottle and drinks without letting the liquor touch her tongue. “But ultimately…no.” She perks, tilting her head and chuckling. “Your turn!”

“Arh.” He growls. “I guess I’ll play it safe, too. Truth. Hit me.”

Anarchaia taps her chin and hands the booze back. “Hm…” She thinks for a long moment. “If you could be a woman for one day, what would you do?”

Koltira laughs outright. “Oh, gods. Oh.” He takes a heavy swig. “I’d have a lesbian rendezvous with Alisbeth. It’s on her bucket list.” His tongue loose with drink, he continues. “Most men will follow a beautiful woman into a room no questions asked. But women… They tend to be a little more wary, especially… Well, you know.” He takes a final drink and holds it out for her.

“Scandalous.” She takes the bottle back, listening intently. Her head tilts away and her smile grows curious. “I’m sure I don’t. Pray tell what you mean.” Anarchaia brings the lip of the bottle to her own but doesn’t drink, awaiting his explanation.

“Ah, ah. I believe you’ll have to wait until my turn comes up again.” He chews on his bottom lip. “Pick your poison, doll.”

The mage scowls. “Dirty trick, Mr. Nice Guy.” She drinks and takes a moment to swallow. “Truth again, then.”

“Darkest fantasy,” he says after a pause.

Anarchaia lifts her eyebrows and surrenders the bottle once more. “You didn’t say what kind.” She smiles. “Don’t tell Master…but I’ve always wanted to torture my murderers if they were still alive. Slowly. Make them swallow cinders. Pull off their nails.” Her smile disappears. “Make them eat their own eyeballs.”

Koltira raises his eyebrows and takes a huge drink. “Okay. Well. Um… Seems you have more in common with Ali than I’d have ever thought. But she’ll act on it when she finds them.” He takes another drink. “I suppose I’ll go truth again.” He smirks and hands her the bottle.

Her smile returns and she rolls the bottle in her palms. “If you could take up the helm of the Lich King, and rule as you please, would you do it?” She drinks and watches his reaction.

He doesn’t hesitate. “Not for all the wealth in Azeroth. Your turn.”

The mage gives a hum of surprise and hands over the small amount of alcohol left. “Oh, I forgot to asssssk,” she hisses and curses, pointing a finger in his face. “Next truth. Don’t distract me. Anyway—dare.”

Koltira thinks hard, not prepared for a dare. He finishes the bottle. “I dare you to make a giant Khadgar in the fire.”

Anarchaia scoffs and the fire in the pit explodes upwards, swirling and crackling until finally coming to settle as a one-story-tall replica of her teacher. After a moment the flames subside back into the quiet campfire it had been before. “Done. Go.”

Koltira shakes his head. “Impressive. I…should have gone bigger.” He eyes her, thinking what to choose. “I’ll go with…”

She leans forward. “Hmmmmm?” She holds out her hand for the empty bottle.

“Dare.” He gives her a wicked smile and hands the bottle over.

Anarchaia returns his devilish grin. “Oh. Oh.” The empty bottle is replaced by a full one of similar grade. “Walk around the fire.” The cork shoots into the dark of the forest. “On your hands.”

Koltira purses his lips. “You feed me drinks and then you ask me to do hand stands.” He shakes his head. After a moment he pulls his hair back and knots the mass around itself. “Are you ready for this shit?” He laughs. He stands and bends to his hands, his shirt falling to his chin. He makes his round, flipping back to his feet in front of Anarchaia. He gives a theatrical bow and unties his hair. “Does it please the lady?”

Anarchaia chuckles and applauds after sticking the bottle between her legs. She conjures a single rose, and tosses it as his torso. “It does! Bravo! Color me impressed.” She takes a swig and holds out the bottle like a reward. “Dare as well. Not something boring this time, please.”

Koltira thinks as he drinks and observes the mage. Suddenly he leans over and puts his elbow on his thigh, his hand up and palm open. “I dare you to arm wrestle me.”

Anarchaia looks from his hand to his face a few times, silent. “Pffffthahaha! You’re kidding, right?” she slurs. “You’d snap my arm off.”

He shrugs. “You said not boring. Is getting your arm snapped off boring? I mean, if you’re scared, you can back out and… What’s the penalty?”

She eyes him warily and turns to face him, elbow also on her knee. “I’m going to lose with utmost certainty, so making me chose the penalty is a pretty…charming thing to do.”

He smiles charmingly. “Why do I feel you’re using that word facetiously?” He takes her hand with his left and gently presses it into his right palm.

“Because I’m definitely not.”

“Ready? Go.” He releases her hand and waits.

She digs her gloved fingers into the back of his hand and narrows her eyes. She flinches at the word go but stops, her slowed reflexes causing her to catch on. She smiles and hiccups into the back of her free hand. “You have to try, at least! Otherwise I’ll just assume you just wanted to hold my hand.” She sniggers.

He shrugs his innocence. “Nothing wrong with holding a pretty lady’s hand. But, no, that’s not the reason.” He presses her hand against his with his left. “I’ll try when you start trying. Come on, little miss, impress me.” He takes a swig from the bottle then sets it on the ground in front of her.

Anarchaia purses her lips. “Fine,” she chirps and pushes against his palm with all her might, glaring up into his eyes with cold, drunken determination.

Koltira narrows his eyes. “Are you trying yet?”

Anarchaia gives a short noise, offended. She pushes harder—or as much harder as she possibly can—and growls with the effort. When that doesn’t work, she clasps her free hand around his right and pulls, whimpering comically.

“Oh!” Koltira grabs her other hand and pries it away. “That’s cheating. Naughty, naughty.” He reaches across to tap her nose.

The mage flinches and pouts. “But I can’t do iiiiit,” she whines, instead waving both their hands back and forth instead of trying.

The death knight laughs. “Watching you is painful. Let me spare you.” With no effort he pushes her arm down and releases her hand. He takes a drink from the bottle, then sets it back down. “I choose truth.”

The mage rubs at her wrist dramatically and rolls it, causing the aging bones inside to pop. She inhales, scooping up the bottle, then jumps in realization. “Oh, oh! The thing earlier. About women being cautious or some shit. Especially…blank.” She drinks and swallows quickly so she can keep talking. “What did you mean?”

Koltira shrugs it off. “Come on, Ana, you can’t say after just a few drinks you’d follow her anywhere. Women are more sensible. It’s just a fact. Pretty girl goes to a man in a bar…doesn’t matter what sort of baggage she carries, a man will follow the promise of a little action.” Koltira reaches up to set his cold fingers on his ears, realizing how quickly the liquor had caught up with him.

Anarchaia ohs and nods. “I get you. I worked in a tavern for three years before I died. Saw that sort of thing all the time.” She clears her throat and closes her eyes, swaying in place for a moment. “Men, though. Am I right? Heh.” She hesitates before taking another drink and relinquishing the bottle. “All right truth, then. Sssssince you don’t play nice with dares.”

“You wanted a challenge.” He chuckles. “Okay, okay. If you were a man for a day, what would you do?”

The mage brings her thumb to her lower lip and rests it there. “Fuck everything.” She waits for a long moment, staring humorlessly at the man before her. When she can no longer hold back, she grins and laughs loudly, leaning back on her palms. “No, no, in all seriousness, I’d probably not do much—hic!— differently. Perhaps do my best to make Grim and Master as uncomfortable as possible.”

He shrugs. “Honestly, that’s a good idea, though. Experiencing the other side of the intimacy.” He takes a deep breath. “I suppose it’s my turn. What the hell. Dare.”

Anarchaia snorts and shakes her head. She conjures a small bottle filled with red liquid. “You like hot sauce?” she asks with a devious smirk. “I hope so.” She offers the bottle. “One drink.”

“Where’s the challenge?” He takes the bottle and stares at it. “What is this?”

“Just drink it,” she whispers.

Koltira frowns. “Why do I have the feeling I might hate you after this?” He obediently takes a swig.

Anarchaia watches intently, smile unwavering. “Because you will.”

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