A loud chorus of cheers from within the inn makes Grimory pause before opening the door. He furrows his brow to see a group of vrykul men and women gathered around a dart board in the back.
Anarchaia, sitting on the shoulder of one of the gigantic men, hastily downs a horn of liquor and, already swaying from intoxication, tosses a dart at the bullseye. It hits—seemingly unaided—near the center. Another round of cheering erupts. The mage holds out her hand with a haughty grin and is handed multiple gold pieces from the patrons.
The demon hunter makes his way to her. “Ana, what are you doing?”
“Darts,” she says pointedly. “And winning.” A hand from the crowd hands her another horn of liquor. “And g-…-etting free drinks.”
Koltira resists the urge to see what all the shouting within the tavern is about, but soon gives in. He makes his way to the other two, an eyebrow raised in curiosity.
“We were out there for ten minutes,” Grimory calls up at her. “How did all this happen in ten minutes?”
The mage shrugs and hurls another dart after her opponent—a surly looking Orc with a beard—knocks her previous dart off the board. “Koltira! Finally ready to have fun?” she slurs.
The crowd around her roars with laughter when her dart lodges itself in the man standing near the target. He looks down at his chest and laughs as well.
The lower lid of Koltira’s right eye raises as he looks at her. “Is this…usual?” He asks Grimory in a hushed tone.
“She’s had a lot,” Grimory responds. “Usually she’s challenging me to games. I wouldn’t do it. She cheats.” As soon as the word leaves his mouth, a dart collides with his ear. He growls and rips it out as the crowd roars with laughter.
“I so do not,” the mage corrects, scowling down at him. “You’re just—hic!—shitty at games.”
The demon hunter hurls the dart back at her and it sails past her head and into the wall behind her. “I’ve won plenty.”
Koltira acquires a new drink and a set of darts and smirks at the demon hunter. “Actually, this sounds like fun.” He lines up his shot and takes it. The dart sails through the air and into the bullseye. “Your move, apprentice.”
Anarchaia’s head jerks to gaze at Koltira with false sobriety. “Set me down, Olvar.”
The large, muscle-bound man bends slightly at the waist so she can jump down. She stumbles in her intoxication but recovers with little grace. She swipes a dart from the table beside her and tosses it. It lands near Koltira’s, but only barely missing the dividing line.
Grimory takes a seat behind them. He hails a maid for more mead and pinches his bleeding ear.
Koltira lines up his next shot, but as he throws it, Olvar kicks his shin and the dart sticks into an outer ring. The death knight spins to glare up at the man. “I will lay you out if you touch me again.” He shakes his head and turns back to Anarchaia. “Go ahead.”
The mage titters and turns to rest a hand on the vrykul’s forearm. “It’s okay,” she says gently as though some sort of royalty. “I need not your help, though the effort will not go unnoticed.”
Olvar gives a grunt and folds his huge arms over his chest. Anarchaia picks up another dart and aims; the piece lands firmly within the twenty-five point ring and she curtsies in the death knight’s direction. “The nice guy’s turn.”
Koltira smirks and raises his dart. He lines up his shot and turns his head to drink, tossing the dart without looking. It slides smoothly in beside Anarchaia’s. He gives her a cocky smile and gestures for her to take her turn.
The mage narrows her eyes and pulls off her robes, tossing them at Olvar who gladly throws them over his shoulder. She sways in place for a moment, recovering from the rush of having her head jostled by disrobing, and picks up another dart. She attempts to steady herself and makes her toss. The dart sticks itself between the other five within the bullseye. She smiles and takes a long drink of wine from a horn handed to her.
Koltira lines up his shot, his confidence still high despite her oddly good luck. Good luck my ass. Quick fingers, more like it. The barmaid taps his shoulder. “Oh, thank you.” He smiles as she hands him a new drink and takes away his dirty glass.
Anarchaia takes the opportunity throw her piece while Koltira is distracted. It lodges itself firmly in the triple-score section of the sixteen-point slice. She clears her throat into her hand. “Ssso sorry,” she slurs, “my hand slipped.”
He narrows his eyes at her. “And here I was defending you about lying. Look what we have here, Grim, a big cheater.” He pokes her in the sternum and takes his next shot. The dart finds the narrowest part of the twenty point slice.
The girl flinches and swats his hand away, covering her chest defensively with an arm. “Preparing to manhandle me again? Have you no mercy?” She straightens and takes up another dart. “And skipping turns isn’t cheating. We both have a finite amount of—hic!—darts.” She lines up her move and pulls her hand back to throw.
Grimory lifts his eyebrows at Koltira and stretches, his boot pushing against Anarchaia’s, causing her to stumble. The dart sails past the board completely, landing in some poor Dwarf’s drink.
Anarchaia catches her footing and turns to glare at the demon hunter. “Grim!”
The Illidari shrugs. “My bad.”
Laughing, Koltira takes his next shot. It embeds in the red of the bullseye. He turns to Anarchaia, the tips of his ears growing hot from drink. “This,” he pokes her chest again, “isn’t ‘manhandling’. Neither was it in Acherus. Do you want me to show you what manhandling really is?”
Anarchaia turns away and pouts at the second poke, then lifts her eyebrows and chuckles. “Oh?” she laughs drunkenly. “Are you threatening me or seducing me?” A smirk graces her lips and she tosses her third-to-last dart. It lands firmly in the double-point ring of the twenty wedge and she pouts again. “Aw.”
The death knight’s eyebrows raise. “If you find that being manhandled is seductive, that’s your business.” He takes a gluttonous drink and readies his next dart. It plants itself into the sixteen point mark. “Still show you how it’s done, either way.”
Anarchaia gives an annoyed huff and picks up her next dart. “Unlikely.” She throws it and it hits his previous one dead on, knocking it off the board and onto the floor. She turns to him with a triumphant grin. “I’m sure being shown, eh boys?” The vrykul men around her give a hearty laugh and she drains another horn of its contents.
“I’m sure I’d be winning, too…” he tosses his dart into the green ring around the bullseye, “If I was cheating with magic.” He swallows the last of his scotch and shoots her a look of daring.
The crowd around them goes silent. Grimory stifles a quiet laugh. Anarchaia pauses and scowls. Crossing the small distance between them, she glares up into his face. “So you think I’m cheating?” she hisses in a low voice, breath laden with alcohol.
Koltira leans down to her level, his nose an inch from hers. “I’m sorry, cheating is a harsh word. How about…swaying the game in your favor using invisible elements you’ve trained through the years.”
Anarchaia’s fists clench as she resists the urge to strike him. “I’ll be nice,” she slurs, leaning away. “I’ll do anything you ask to prove I’m not playing dirty. Say the w-…word and it’s done. Anything.” She folds her arms.
Koltira sets his palms to her cheeks and holds her face delicately in his hands. After a moment he walks around to stand behind her, his hands poised just behind her skull. “All right, throw your dart.”
Anarchaia flinches as her cheeks are touched. She narrows her eyes over her shoulder at him and lines up her shot, leaning on one foot. As the mage goes to make her shot, Koltira’s fingertips turn a dark blue as an icy torrent surrounds her head. If the mage was using any magic, it would have been interrupted and she’d be unable to use any more for a few seconds while her mind thaws.
Anarchaia focuses hard on the target ahead of her. Despite the cold that creeps through her skull, the dart drills through the air. After a moment it nestles securely into the triple-point section of the eighteen-point wedge. She places her hands on her hips and gives the man behind her a cocky grin. “Happy?”
Koltira shrugs. “Fine, then. So you’re not… This time.” He scoops up his newly replaced drink and raises it as cheers to her, then swerves away, unable to walk a straight line.
Anarchaia gives a chuckle and falls back into Grimory’s lap as she takes up someone else’s drink and downs it. “You have two left,” she giggles and watches on, winking coyly despite his not being able to see. “See? I’m not a cheater.”
Koltira throws both darts, one right after the other, not caring where they go. The first lands in the triple point zone of twenty point slice, the second wedges its way into the bullseye. “Done.”
A vrykul man takes it upon himself to tally up their points. After a moment he turns and lifts a hand in Anarchaia’s direction. “Ana!” he cries in his thick accent.
The crowd cheers and Olvar tears the small woman from Grimory’s lap, placing her on his shoulder again.
“Well played, Farstrider,” she says with a playful grin. “Perhaps you’d like a rematch?”
The demon hunter grits his teeth and shoots Koltira a sympathetic glance.
He rolls his eyes to the demon hunter and glances at Anarchaia before dropping to a bench. “I think I’ve had enough of your ‘fun’. Go ahead and stick holes in these men a few more times.”
Anarchaia frowns and motions to be set down again. She stumbles to stand before Koltira and bends down to look at him. “Sssorry,” she says with genuine sadness. “I don’t like seeing my…my friends unhappy.” A wide smile crosses her lips. “What can I do to make it up to you?”
Koltira smiles mischievously and thinks up something he knows she can’t do. “Wake Alisbeth up.” He takes a drink, maintaining eye contact with the mage.
The undead girl furrows her brow. “I’m not an alchemist.” Her eyes light up beneath her mask. “Oh! I know what will cheer you up!” She pauses and places a hand on her chin, turning away and swaying drunkenly. “Though, maybe I shouldn’t…”
The crowd decides that Grimory is the next candidate in their darts tournament and pulls him to the board despite his protests. “W-Wait! I’m no good at darts!”
“I want my damn game!” the Orc from earlier barks, fists clenched.
Koltira narrows his eyes. “Shouldn’t what?”
The mage waves a hand in a futile effort to make him forget and sways again. “N-No. Pick something else.”
The men in the tavern shout as a dart flies.
Koltira flinches and stands. “Excuse me.”
Anarchaia blinks and takes a step back. “O-Oh. All right. Sorry again.” She smiles and rubs at the back of her neck. “Tell Ali I say hi i-if she’s—hic!—awake.” Another dart sails between the two and she backs up again to avoid it. “This isn’t even the direction of the board!” she growls at the group.
“You’re fine, Ana. It’s just getting a bit too loud in here.” He pats her head. “Still curious what you shouldn’t do.” He chuckles and waves as he heads for the exit, deciding on fresh air instead of sitting with Alisbeth again.
The mage hesitates for a moment. She glances back at the occupied demon hunter before deciding she could also go for some fresh air. She bounds off after Koltira faster than she should and trips over the corner of a bench, then bursts out the entrance, into the dirt. Scrambling back to her feet, she saunters after him again.
Koltira holds back his laughter. “I’ll pretend I didn’t see that.” Instead of heading for the cliffs around back, Koltira strolls to a small cluster of trees, keeping his balance through sheer luck.
Anarchaia manages to follow, brushing herself off. “Th-Thanks. Guess I owe you twice now. Heh.” She shakes her head, trying to sober herself up. Hiccupping into a palm, she skips ahead into the trees and leaps to grab onto a branch. “So you want your reward for losing?” she says with a giggle, kicking her dangling legs.
“Losers don’t get rewards,” he laughs. Koltira props himself comfortably against a tree trunk, his ears warm and his nose a darker blue.
“They do when they’re my friends.” She drops back to the dirt below, stumbling to her hands and knees with the elegance of a wounded zhevra. Instead of standing, she acts as though it was intended and crawls over to him. “And if I feel badly enough,” she says with a crooked grin. “So you want it or not?”
Koltira rolls his eyes skyward. “Fine”
Anarchaia sits back on her heels pulls off her mask. She puts her hands over her face and, after a moment, she pushes her palms over her head. Her hair falls back long and black, and her face that of Alisbeth’s—skin flushed and a peachy pink. Her glowing green eyes smile giddily, already expecting a smile from the man. “Guess who.”
Koltira’s gaze snaps down. For a moment he forgets himself, kneeling down to run a hand over her features and tangle his fingers through her hair.
Anarchaia blinks, her smile fading somewhat as she receives a reaction she hadn’t anticipated. She bites her lower lip and glances away, wanting to stop him but at the same time not wanting to interrupt.
Mind muddled by drink, the death knight pulls the mage into his arms, not stopping to remind himself that it’s only an illusion. He kisses her, deep and passionate, then suddenly stops and pushes her back a little. “I’m so sorry…”
Now certain she’s made a mistake, the mage’s eyes widen. Anarchaia places her hand over her mouth when she’s pushed away, the entirety of her face filled with color. “N-No! That was completely my fault! I shouldn’t have… Y-You…” She puts her hands over her face again and turns away. “I’m so sorry! I just wanted you to be happy!”
His fingertips find her chin and turn her to look at him again, studying her face. “I am happy. I just… I’m sorry.” He resists holding her again, half knowing it’s an illusion and half not caring.
Anarchaia scans his face quickly. She swallows, his words from earlier now running through her mind. …Not very good at being her. The alcohol invigorates her spirit of competition—among other things—and she clenches her jaw, bringing a hand up to his arm. “It’s all right,” she responds with a gentle smile. “Don’t be sorry.”
He returns to exploring the illusion with his fingertips, running them across her cheeks, her lips, through her hair. He opens his mouth several times to repeat that he’s sorry, but then closes it and says nothing. After a long time staring at her, the alcohol once again lets his mind believe he looks on the face of the living Alisbeth. He pulls her to him again to hold her close, burying his face in the crook of her neck.
Anarchaia closes her eyes and her smile falters. This poor man. Poor Ali. She returns the embrace and brings a hand up to stroke the back of his head and down the length of his hair. Ugh. This is bad. I shouldn’t be doing this. She opens her drunken eyes to look up at the stars through the leaves above. But it feels so nice to be hugged…even if I don’t deserve it.
The lingering embrace in his drunken state drives his mind to forget the illusion entirely. He takes her by the hips, bringing them forward to straddle his own. Koltira pulls her back into passionate kissing, his hands exploring the details of her face and the soft length of her hair.
Anarchaia’s thoughts race through her head in a jumbled mess. Hesitant hands run up his back and come to rest on his shoulder blades. She closes her eyes and reciprocates the kiss despite her mind’s constant shouts of protest. Her intoxication pushes her logic to the backburner and she finds herself pulling at the hem of his shirt, slow and cautious as not to snap him back to what is really going on and who she actually is.
His hands slowly trace down her arms, coming to rest on her hands and urging them to pull his shirt up. Getting the permission she was seeking, the mage pulls his shirt from his body, breaking the seal of their kiss in doing so. Her eyes immediately flick to the scar as she sets the article aside. Breathing quietly, she reaches a tentative hand out to touch it just as she’d done the first time she’d seen it, her eyes looking up into his face for a second permission.
Koltira stares into the green eyes and nods his approval. He doesn’t tear his eyes away from hers as he runs one palm from her knee and up her thigh, the other nestles into the crook of her waist to hold onto the top of her hip.
Anarchaia pops open the button of her glove and slides it off. Knowing she’ll still feel nothing with her fingers, she rests her palm over the scar and gazes at it in fascination, admiring the smooth tissue. In a moment of clarity she pulls her hand away and bites her lip. “I… Sh-…” A look of turmoil crosses her features before she gives a quiet growl of frustration and pulls him into another kiss, pushing her chest against his.
Koltira runs his hands down to pull her forward by her rear. He discovers his own arousal with a shock up his spin as she presses into it. He breathes a sigh against her lips, then pulls her to him again, kissing her deeper still as one hand traces to her front, then slips into the top of her trousers.
Anarchaia’s breath hitches in her throat and she pulls away. She looks into his. This is your last chance, Ana. Stop this insanity. She instead closes the space between their lips again before deftly untying the strings to her pants, her free hand digging into his shoulder. Fuck it. I don’t care.