Chapter Thirty-Four

Koltira makes his way back to the inn, mind still clouded with alcohol, with Anarchaia beside him. He feels he should say something, so he opens his mouth, then changes his mind. He tries to put his hands in pockets, then realizes he has none. He folds his arms over his chest and clears his throat to speak, then loses what to say. Again, his hands search for pockets, but find none, as before. Just fucking say something! He thinks, pursing his lips at himself. But what do I say? ‘Thanks’? ‘I’m sorry’? ‘Let’s do this again sometime’? He decides the last is the worst of them and glances down at the mage, trying to read her past her damned mask. Scenes fresh in his mind play and heat crawls up his neck to warm his ears to the tips, so he looks away from her and refolds his arms.

Anarchaia walks silently beside the death knight, arms wrapped neatly under her breasts. Her fingers fidget at either side and she swallows, her intoxication still causing her to sway every few steps. Oh gods, what have you done? You can never be friends now. Never! What is wrong with you? Stupid, stupid, stupid! She gives him a sideways glance as he clears his throat, then turns her covered face away in embarrassment. She digs her fingers into her sides and bites her lip. Stupid.

Koltira opens the inn door and holds it. “After you,” he says so quiet it’s almost a whisper.

“Thanks,” the mage mumbles, rubbing her arm nervously.

“Where have you two been?” Grimory calls across the tavern.

“A walk. Heh.” Anarchaia slides into the spot across from him. “It’s nice out.”

Koltira sits at the far end of Grimory’s bench, keeping his eyes ahead of him on the wall. The barmaid sweeps by and sets another scotch in front of him, as though she had memorized his drink just in case.

“Yeah,” he mumbles, “real nice out.” He takes a drink. Realizing the mage’s scent is still on his hand, he coughs in shock as more memories flood his mind, causing him to choke on his drink. Clearing his throat, he sets it down, and picks it up with the other hand.

Anarchaia stands abruptly at the sound of Koltira’s cough as though the noise had reminded her of something important. “I’m going to take a shower,” she blurts and rushes from the room and down the dark hallway.

Grimory narrows his eyes and watches her leave from behind his drink. He glances down the table at the other man and sets his cup down gingerly. “All right, what the hell is going on? What happened?”

Koltira can’t help the smirk that crawls to the corner of his lips as the awkwardness diminishes outside her presence. “Oh, that.” He clears his throat and does his best to fake a chuckle. “I challenged her to an archery match to make up for the darts fiasco. Loser had to put a toad down their shirt. She might be sore with me for a while.”

The muscles in Grimory’s jaw flex. He takes another drink and laughs as well. “She’s skin and bone. I’m surprised she can even draw a bow. Hope you weren’t too hard on her.”

Koltira chokes on his drink again, then clears his throat. “Only as hard as she deserved.”

Grimory furrows his brow at the man’s reaction, his reply only furthering his suspicion. “Well whatever. She deserves to lose every once in a while.”

I’d like to think we were both winners, Koltira thinks, but doesn’t say. His secret excitement over their activities falls as his mind finds the next logical topic to distract the demon hunter. “Have you checked on Alisbeth at all?” Oh, fuck. Ali, I’m so sorry. He stares at the amber liquid in his glass.

“Yeah,” Grimory responds, stretching, “after being forced into three games of darts. She’s still asleep. I locked the door when I left.” He sighs and glances back down the hall, the pitter-patter of the showers being easily heard through the nearly empty tavern.

“Just the one shower?” Koltira asks, having never checked the first time they’d stopped there.

“There’s three,” the Illidari responds. Memories of their previous stay—his shower with Alisbeth—resurface and he smiles somewhat. “Quite roomy, though.”

Koltira narrows his eyes, but doesn’t feel after recent events he has any right flinging accusations. “Unless you dance in the shower, I don’t think much room is necessary. I only need room for me.” He stands and finishes his drink, then heads for the showers, hoping the fact that he can’t walk a straight line doesn’t affect showering.

Grimory shrugs and finishes his ale. “Different strokes.” He looks over his shoulder as Koltira reaches the doorway. “Have fun.

Koltira stops and turns, his face pinched in annoyance. “You locked the door. I need into the room.” He holds his hand out for the key. “Why would I have fun in the shower?”

“Why wouldn’t you?” Grimory laughs, tossing him the key. “It was a joke. Don’t dwell on it too much.”

Koltira slaps his chest to catch the key as it hits him. “You’re a good man, Grimory. Off to take a fun shower.” He spins and heads down the hall, then shouts “Fun!

Anarchaia steps out of the shower room just in time to catch Koltira. She flushes beneath her mask and quickly turns to hurry back into the tavern.

Koltira grabs his shower bag, then stands over Alisbeth. He reaches out to stoke her cheek, then stops. You don’t deserve to touch her. He backs out of the room and finds a free shower.

Once back with Grimory, Anarchaia looks around the table. “Have you seen my robes?”

“I put them in our room.” Grimory leans forward and folds his arms on the table. He smirks. “So. What did you two do on your walk?”

“We…” The mage hesitates. Recent memories cause her throat to tighten and she picks at her gloves, her cheeks flushing more. “We walked through the evergreens and talked about nothing in particular.”

“So why are you acting so strange?” Grimory lifts his eyebrows as he waits for a response.

Anarchaia looks up at him. “S-strange? I’m not acting strange. And it’s strangely, not strange.” She swallows. “What have you been doing?”

The Illidari rolls his eyes when he’s corrected. “Losing at darts.”

Anarchaia forces a chuckle. “That must be why everyone’s left.”

“Everyone’s left because it’s nearly midnight and they enjoy sleeping.” Grimory looks into his empty mug.

“So why aren’t you doing the same?”

Grimory shrugs. “Was about to, but realized I only got one room. Don’t want to crawl into bed with Ali. Our friend might not appreciate it.”

“No. He wouldn’t.” Anarchaia sighs and wedges her hands between her thighs. “I hope she wakes up soon. We need to get going.”

Grimory shrugs again. “We’re in no rush. Calm down. You’re always so high strung.”

Anarchaia sighs again and shifts uncomfortably when the area between her legs aches and throbs. “I guess you’re right.”

Koltira returns to the tavern, his wet hair draped over one shoulder, and drops down into his previous seat. He slides the key across the table back to the demon hunter. “Thank you.” He rubs his face, the cold shower having sobered him some. “Why is it so quiet in here? Where did everyone go?”

“Bed,” Grimory responds, pocketing the key in the pouch at his hip. “Weren’t impressed with my dart game, according to Ana.”

Anarchaia gives a crooked smile. “Maybe don’t be so bad.”

“I’m made for lifting heavy things and chasing down enemies. I’m not a precision person.” Grimory twirls the empty mug around his finger idly as he speaks. “Not all of us can be drunken masters.” He sticks out his tongue.

The death knight cocks an eyebrow. “Why aren’t you asleep, too?”

Grimory rolls his head and groans. “I only got one bedroom,” he says in a dramatically exhausted tone. “Ali has the bed.” The thought of sleeping makes him yawn. “Though I could take the floor, I guess.”

Koltira props his cheek on his fist, giving Grimory a look of annoyance. “First of all, the bed is big enough so you don’t have to go cuddling her. Second, after what you’ve done? Sleeping beside her bothers you?” He scoffs a laugh. “Get ready to pay for my drinks. No way are you winning with that attitude.”

Grimory narrows his eyes and leans his head away. “So…to win…I need to sleep with her?” He grins a haughty grin. “Well, why didn’t you say so?”

“That’s not what he meant,” Anarchaia interjects, annoyed by his missing the point. Please don’t leave. “Wait, win? Win what?”

Grimory stands. “Too late. Hint taken. I’m going to bed, then. Wake me when we can actually fuckin’ go anywhere.”

Noooo! Anarchaia purses her lips. “Ugh. Fine.”

Koltira realizes he’s inadvertently sent the only person keeping things from being too painfully awkward away. He digs his thumb nail into the wood of the table. “Ana, I…” He sighs, not knowing what to say.

When Grimory is safely out of earshot, the mage sighs and lets her forehead fall onto the table, the impact causing the cups to rattle. “I’m sorry,” she mumbles, her thighs squeezing her hands tightly. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

“No, it— I—” Koltira growls. He slides down the bench to speak in hushed tones. “Ana, thank you. Seeing even an illusion…” He traces his fingertips across the back of her head.

Anarchaia sniffles but doesn’t look up. She grits her teeth and shakes her head. “Still. I shouldn’t have…manipulated you like that. I had so many chances to stop you…to stop me.” The shame and embarrassment cause tears to well in her eye. “S-so for that I’m sorry.”

Oh, Gods, is she crying? Koltira retracts his hand and threads his fingers together beneath the table. “It’s not your fault. Please stop apologizing.” He purses his lips and looks away. “Looks like I’ve become the one who’s just a regret.”

Anarchaia’s eyes widen and she quickly raises her head. “No no no! It— I don’t regret—” She tsks and rubs at her face with both palms. “It was a dumb idea that turned into a big, pleasant mistake.” The speed of her talking increases as the discomfort does. “I-I really liked it and I’m just so scared that you regret it because my illusion failed and I’m scared you’re mad that I tricked you and now our relationship will never be the same and I’ll never be able to look at you without thinking about it and I just haven’t felt that way for so long and couldn’t stop myself because it just felt so nice and…and…”

He reaches across the table to shoosh her with a fingertip to her lips. “Stop.” He sighs and stares down at his hands. “My only reservation over what happened is that someone will get hurt. And it’s not either of us.” He looks pointedly at her. “And if I’d truly been mad when your illusion failed, then explain what happened after.”

Anarchaia swallows. “I’m not going to tell anyone. A-and…” She gives a curt shrug. “I just assumed it was a runaway effect. That…you felt you were already in deep and may as well follow through.” She turns to put her head on the table again. “I know you wouldn’t have actually wanted to do that with me, so I see no other logical reason.”

He glances at her and resist jumping up to shake some sense into her. “No. None of that is right.”

She turns her head toward him so that her temple rests against the table instead and glowers up with an unenthusiastic stare. “Come on, Koltira. I’m not fishing for compliments here so the least you can do is be honest. You can’t tell me anything I haven’t already heard.”

“You’re right,” he says. “I’ve already told you that you’re beautiful.” He smirks. “And I’m sure you’ve already been complimented on your skill and enthusiasm.”

The mage flinches, not actually having expected him to say something nice. She lifts her head and stares down at her hands for a long moment. Compliment him back, you idiot. “That was…the best I’ve had in a long, long time.” She blushes and looks away, fiddling with the hem of her shirt. “Your stamina is impressive.”

Koltira purses his lips and shifts his eyes away, discomfort rising in him over the compliment. He clears his throat. “So, probably off to see Odyn tomorrow, then?”

If the awkwardness doesn’t kill us first. “Sadly,” she mutters. “If Ali is awake by then, that is…” Oh gods. Ali can never find out. She’ll cut my head off—undead or not.

Koltira shoves his face into his palms at the mention of his wife. She can never, ever find out. I’m the worst person in the world. “I’m sure she’ll wake up soon,” he mutters into the heels of his hands.

“I’m sure she will,” Anarchaia repeats. She suddenly groans and holds her head. “Grim knows.”

“How do you know? Did you tell him?” The elf’s eyes widen. “Will he tell her?

“No, of course I didn’t. He just… I don’t know. I can tell,” she replies. “And…he may. He has no proof, however. Not sure if that matters to her.” The mage groans again and folds her arms over the table, placing her face into them. “This is all my fault. I’m so sorry.”

“Oh my gods,” Koltira growls. “If you say you’re sorry one more time I’m going to push you through the death gate without a disguise and with no way to get back.”

She shifts her head to look up at him but remains hunched over. “Well you may as well just do so. Perhaps they’ll kill me so Alisbeth doesn’t have to.”

“I have a better idea. Let’s go back to Odyn now, just us, and ask him to squish us under his feet. Because you know she’s going to kill me, too. We’re both dead.” He narrows his eyes, then chuckles at his own words.

Anarchaia gives a small smile. “She wouldn’t kill you. She loves you too much.” She sighs. “Me, however…” A shudder goes up her spine and she wraps her arms around herself. “All right, enough talking about this. It’s over. It won’t happen again. No one will find out.”

Koltira chews on his bottom lip. “I told Grim I challenged you to archery, loser put a toad down their shirt. I implied you lost. I…don’t know if he believed it.” He stretches. “You’re right. From now on, not another word about this. From either of us.” He drums his fingertips on the tabletop and looks away from her, trying to forget how she looked in the moonlight and trying to think of a new conversational topic. He clears his throat. “Nice weather we had today…”

Nooo, Anarchaia thinks, dismay filling her once again. I told him something else! Ugh. He did that on purpose. Grim, you asshole. She nods and looks away as well as though reading his thoughts. “Y-Yeah. The sky was pretty clear. I like the stars.” She buries her face in her arms again and crosses her legs beneath the table. “But I prefer the rain.”

The awkwardness presses in on Koltira and he stands so abruptly that the bench falls over. He rights it, then gives her an apologetic smile. “I’m just going for some fresh air. I’ll be around back…if you need anything.”

Anarchaia flinches at the noise, her head shooting up. She calms after a second of realization and places a hand on her forehead. “Y-Yeah. Okay. Sure. Have fun.” She cringes at herself beneath her mask and is happy he can’t see.

He gives an awkward wave and a smile that is half cringing, then leaves the tavern and rushes to his spot overlooking the cliff. He sits, dangling his legs over the side, and takes deep, useless breaths in an attempt to calm himself down. His hands shake as he presses the heels of his palms to his eyes. Why don’t I regret it? he thinks. I shouldn’t want it to happen again…but I do. What the fuck is wrong with me? He growls into the fog creeping up from the bay and begins throwing rocks into the white mass. He stays that way until dawn comes and burns away the mist. Still, he throws every rock he can find.

Anarchaia sits at her spot at the table for a long while, only looking up when a familiar vrykul patron from earlier comes down to use the showers. She smiles and waves before burying her face again, shifting again as the soreness between her legs returns. Stop thinking about it. It didn’t mean anything. He’s only saying you’re beautiful because he doesn’t want to hurt your feelings. It’s the same reason he didn’t stop when the illusion broke. He’s too nice to tell you the truth. He only did it because you looked like someone else. He’d never do it again unless you used another illusion. She pauses and clenches her jaw. You don’t want it to happen again, though. …do you? Her teeth graze at her lower lip and she groans helplessly, stretching her arms across the table. “I do, though.”

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