Book 3 – Chapter Twenty-Six

Anarchaia glances at the clock as she finishes her last stop of the day. She crosses the item off her list and accepts the box of baked goods, then smiles up at Koltira. “Thank you for your help. The last thing to do is bring these back to Master and let him know I’ll finish the list tomorrow.” She tilts her head. “Still want to accompany me further? Heh.”

“Eh…” Koltira pretends to consider it for a moment. “Well, after the last time I visited the Hall of the Guardian, I think it best I stay behind.”

Anarchaia chuckles and reaches a finger up to poke his cheek. “That’s fine. Meet me at the entrance to the Enclave in fifteen minutes?”

Koltira smiles. “Will do. And don’t worry, I won’t bring Bloodmist. Not yet, anyway.”

Anarchaia gives a nervous smile. “Just…warn me beforehand, if you’d be so kind.” She checks beneath the cloth of the basket to make sure she has the correct order, then leans up to kiss his cheek where she’d poked him. “See you soon!” Light encases her form and she disappears, the baker shouting in her wake.

Having nothing better to do, Koltira heads straight for the toy shop across from the entrance to Greyfang Enclave and sits on the steps to wait.

Minutes pass until Anarchaia exits the Enclave, Diori’s small hand in her own as they walk. “You know Koltira?” she says down at the young elf as though they hadn’t all just been together a day before.

Diori nods and waves as they near, excitement and curiosity in her bright blue eyes. “Good afternoon!” she sings.

Koltira allows himself a smile at the little girl. “Good morning, Diori. How were your lessons?”

Diori’s smile widens. “Good! I’m learning to summon shadow beasts!” She makes a growling noise.

Anarchaia chuckles. “Are you finding it easy?”

“No,” she admits, deflating. “It’s hard, but I can do it!”

Koltira laughs. “It just takes practice. By the time I was fifty I was getting pretty good with the bow. My arrows, on the other hand, were terrible. None of them could fly straight. But I just kept making them and learning from the mistakes.” He smiles up at Anarchaia. “She didn’t become a great mage overnight, either.”

Anarchaia flushes and chuckles with a wave of her hand. “Great is gratuitous.”

Diori smiles at the death knight’s encouraging words. “Ali and Grim tried to teach me to shoot a bow. They weren’t very good, though. How long did it take you to get it right?”

Koltira thinks about it. “Oh, it’s been so long… Um, I think I was able to consistently at least hit the target within a year of practicing every day. It took a little longer to always hit the bullseye, and finally, to hit a moving target. But I’m sure a shadow fiend won’t take that long.”

Diori’s eyes go wide with wonder and disappointment. “Every day?” she groans.

Anarchaia smiles and tugs on her hand. “You’re in class nearly every day. That’s similar, isn’t it?”

Diori scrunches her face. “I suppose. But so far I can only do this.” She holds up her little hand and purple smoke swirls from the cobblestone. A shadow beast—lethargic and a fraction the size of a proper one—manifests and gives a whine as it looks about, then hisses and bites at Diori’s ankle. The girl frowns down at it, obviously in no pain. “And it won’t listen.”

“Then you run down a list to make sure it’s not something else distracting you.” He stands and absently takes her hand to guide her to the Legerdemain Lounge. “I happen to know that your mother could never concentrate if she was hungry. Are you hungry, Diori?”

The shadow beast disappears in a cloud of thick purple smoke.

Diori thinks about it for a long moment. “I had lunch, but it’s almost snack time. Are you guys hungry too?”

Anarchaia gives a quiet laugh from Diori’s other side. “We’re fine. That’s kind of you to inquire, however.”

“I don’t eat,” Koltira says. “Ana…is shy. So why don’t you just let us know when you’re hungry, okay?” He purses his lips when he realizes neither he nor Anarchaia had planned anything to occupy the girl for the rest of the day.

“Okay!” Diori tugs on Anarchaia’s robes as they walk. “You shouldn’t be shy. You’ll miss out on stuff. Is that why you wear that mask?”

The mage gives another, more nervous laugh. “Perhaps you two should go to the stables. See the horses?”

Koltira purses his lips even tighter. “Bloodmist is in Acherus. She doesn’t get along with other horses. I can go get her now, if you like?” he asks Diori.

Diori’s eyes light up as she jerks her head to look up at Koltira. She jumps up and down in excitement while pulling on his hand. “Yes!

Koltira chuckles. “Okay, you stay with Ana. I’ll be right back.” He sets a hand on Anarchaia’s shoulder. “I’ll be at the archways before Krasus Landing. You can stay across the street. I’m sure Diori can make it that far on her own safely.” He opens a death gate, then pauses to give the mage a reassuring glance.

Anarchaia gives a meek nod. “Sure. We’ll be there.”

Diori scrunches her face up at the mage. “You don’t like horses?” She follows willingly when her hand is taken, then scrunches her face and squeezes Anarchaia’s fingers. “Your fingers are really bony. If you weren’t so shy you’d eat more, right?”

Anarchaia titters and furrows her brow. “You ask a lot of questions…”

Koltira returns shortly, Bloodmist’s reigns in his hand.

Anarchaia points up the stairs toward Krasus’ Landing. “Just through that door.”

“Okay, let’s go!” Diori pulls Anarchaia up the stairs with no regard for the mage’s malcontent. She waves excitedly to Koltira when she sees him again, then gasps at the sight of the horse and bounds forward. “So cool!

Koltira releases Bloodmist’s reins and rushes to grab Anarchaia and drag her away from the horse. Bloodmist makes to follow, but stops and stares down at the little girl, snorting once in curiosity.

“You okay?” he asks as he sets her on her feet at what he hopes is a good distance.

Anarchaia smiles with equal parts gratitude and terror. “Y-yeah, I’m fine. You didn’t have to…” She swallows, her heart threatening to pound from her chest.

Diori stares in wonderment up at the horse’s armor-clad head and glowing eyes. She reaches up to pat the mare on its fuzzy nose, too distracted and amused to reprimand the mage’s cowardice.

The deathcharger snuffles the girl’s hair, then pushes her nose into Diori’s palm, urging more pets.

Koltira smirks down at the forsaken girl and chuckles. “No reason to try being brave. You stay here, okay?” He kisses her forehead and goes to crouch beside Diori. “Here, feed her this.” He holds out an apple, wrinkling and covered in brown spots.

Anarchaia flushes at the kiss but sticks out her lower lip. She taps the tips of her index fingers together. “Okay.”

Diori takes the apple and scrunches her face. “Sticky.” She sticks out her tongue before raising the apple to the horse’s mouth. “Tasty!” she sings up to the creature.

Bloodmist takes the apple gingerly into her teeth, then snuffles the girl’s palm for more as she chews.

“Don’t be greedy, Bloodmist.”

She snorts at Koltira, then noses the girl in the chest.

Diori wraps her arms around the horse’s muzzle and giggles as she squeezes it in a hug. “I only had one!” She looks over her shoulder at the mage. “Maybe mask lady has one!”

Anarchaia perks and waves her hands. “N-no! No apples here! Heh.”

Bloodmist lifts her head slowly, then swings the little girl side-to-side.

Koltira smiles wide at the sight. “She likes you. I have another apple, if you’d like to feed her more?”

Diori laughs in delight as she’s swung, kicking her legs. “Yes, please!” She lets go to hold out her hands eagerly and bounces on her feet.

Anarchaia folds her arms and shifts her weight to a hip. Her nervous grin softens to one of endearment.

Koltira fishes another apple from the small burlap sack at his belt and holds it out to Diori. “She likes her nose being stroked while you feed her the apples.” He turns to smile at Anarchaia.

Bloodmist tilts her head, slowly going for the apple in his hand.

“Don’t even think about it, Bloodmist,” Koltira says without looking at the mare.

The horse snaps back to her former position and waits patiently.

Diori takes the apple and makes to hold it out then purses her lips and turns around to Anarchaia. “You do one!”

“Uh. No. I’m quite—”

“She’s a really nice horse! She won’t hurt you!” She pouts in indignance. “You’ll never get over your fear if you avoid doing stuff to help.”

The mage flinches at the small girl’s sudden bluntness. She taps her fingers one last time before striding over and taking the apple out of Diori’s hand. She cringes as the sticky rot gets on her clean gloves, then holds it out for Bloodmist, hand shaking. “Please don’t bite me,” she mumbles, her lips a thin line of determination.

Sensing the mage’s fear, Bloodmist takes a tentative step and sniffs at the apple. She looks at the mage, then the apple, then the mage again. She pinches the apple in her teeth, then pulls it quickly away to eat it.

Koltira raises an eyebrow. “You’re scaring her,” he says to Anarchaia.

Anarchaia retracts her hand the second the apple is lifted from it, recoiling with shoulders raised. “She’s scaring me!

Diori pats the horse on the shoulder in an attempt to calm her. “It’s okay,” she coos. She turns to Anarchaia with a smile. “See? She’s nice!”

The mage furrows her brow, still apprehensive. “Animals can’t be nice…”

“Saying animals can’t be nice is like saying people can’t be nice.” Koltira takes Anarchaia’s hand. “And she’s only scared because you are. Relax. She won’t hurt you.”

Anarchaia tenses and purses her lips. “People are far more intelligent and capable of empathy and compassion. Animals…”

Diori puts her hands on her hips and scowls. “You’re hurting her feelings!” She gestures to the otherwise unoffended horse. “Give her another apple!”

Anarchaia flinches and smiles down at Diori. “I don’t think she likes me much. Heh.”

Koltira pats Bloodmist’s flank and the horse bumps her head against him. “Horses are more intelligent than you give them credit. They’re capable of loyalty, affection—”

Bloodmist pushes against him to get to the bag of apples.

Gluttony. No, Bloodmist.”

She stops nosing at him and straightens, waiting for one of them to give her a treat.

“And they follow commands. They can be trained for battle, as she was, and even be trained to dance.” He gives Anarchaia an encouraging smile as he holds out another, less sticky apple. “Give it another try. Don’t be so scared, she can sense it.”

Diori titters and watches as she rubs her palms over the horse’s armor. “You really like those apples, hm?” She drums on Bloodmist’s flank with both hands.

Anarchaia swallows and takes the apple with reluctance. Unable to keep her fingers from trembling, she again holds it out to the animal and decides to reserve her words. Her lips purse and she tries to steady herself.

Bloodmist steps forward and sniffs the mage’s chest before turning her head to gently nip the apple from the woman’s hand with her lips. She presses her nose into the open palm as she chews on the treat.

Koltira smiles. “That’s not so bad, is it?”

Anarchaia can’t help but whimper, turning her head away and clenching her eyes shut. “I-I suppose not.”

Diori pulls on the horse’s saddle and bounces, whispering “Give her a kiss!”

The deathcharger turns her head to Diori as her saddle is tugged. She snorts at the child and gives a soft whinny.

Diori laughs at the horse and plants a kiss on her nose. “I’ll kiss you instead!”

“You don’t have to stick around. You did good.” Koltira sets a palm to the mage’s cheek.

Anarchaia nods and backs away, wringing her hands in the throes of her anxiety. “Thanks. Perhaps I’ll leave you two to it…”

Guilt hits Koltira as she retreats. “I’m sorry. I’ll take Bloodmist back and we can do something else.”

Anarchaia shakes her head. “No, no! Don’t be sorry. If I didn’t want to do it I wouldn’t have. Heh.” She swallows and frowns. “Though, I’d prefer to do something we all can enjoy. I hear the Darkmoon Faire is back…”

Diori gasps loudly and abandons the horse to bounce on her heels. “The Darkmoon Faire is back?! Can we go?! Pleeeeease?”

Koltira shrugs. “I’m willing to go to the Faire. Let me just take Bloodmist back and we can go.” He calls up a death gate and takes the mare through.

Diori grabs onto Anarchaia’s robes and continues to bounce excitedly. “I want to ride all the rides! And play all the games! You think Mister Koltira could win me a giant stuffed zhevra?”

The mage can’t help but chortle. She bends down and grins to the girl. “I bet he could win you twenty. We can do whatever you’d like.” She brushes Diori’s hair from her face and tucks it behind her ear, her smile turning somber. “You’re a very pretty girl. You know that?”

Diori smiles and blushes, reaching over to poke Anarchaia in the nose. “I bet you are, too!”

Koltira returns and smiles at the two. “Okay, what say we first wash our hands, then we head to the Darkmoon Faire?”

Anarchaia looks down at her glove and nods. “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” She extends an unsoiled hand to Diori and pushes up her mask to smile. “Have you seen the fountain here?”

Diori takes the mage’s hand and holds out her other for Koltira to take. “Uh-huh. But not up close.”

After minutes of preparation, the three finally arrive outside the gates of the Darkmoon Faire. Figures wobble on springs and the great eye on the archway sparkles in the never ending moonlight. Anarchaia gives a sigh from the effort of again teleporting three people at once. “I don’t understand how Master does it,” she murmurs, glancing around for a food stand.

“Carousel!” Diori sings, pulling the two in the direction of the ride.

“We need tickets, first,” Anarchaia explains and gently pulls her back. “You two go wait in line and I’ll procure some, okay?”

“Sounds like a plan,” Koltira says. He takes Diori’s hand and takes her to the carousel line.

Diori smiles up at Koltira. “Are you gonna ride with me?” she asks in a sweet tone, eyes wide and pleading.

Koltira gives a pained smile, but finds he has no willpower against her pleading face. “Of course, I will.”

Diori’s grin widens and she tugs on his hand as she again bounces on her feet.

“Here.” Anarchaia bends down to hand the girl a ticket, grinning. “I’ve gotten some tokens as well, should you want to play any games—”

The little elf again pokes Anarchaia in the center of her face. “You come, too!” Diori grabs the ticket and runs forward as the line shortens, dragging Koltira with her.

Koltira makes a noise as he’s yanked along. “Yes, Ana, come with us.” He gives her a pleading look.

The mage grins at his expression. “Ugh,” she sighs dramatically. “You know I can’t say no to you.” She hands over the tickets as the trio nears the front of the line. When on board, she chooses a rather angry looking dragon and sits side-saddle on its back.

Diori hops on a murloc and kicks her legs excitedly as she waits for the mechanism to spin. “Go! Go! Go!” she chants while others are still getting on.

Koltira finds a wyvern and leans against it, crossing his ankles and folding his arms. He keeps a steady eye on Diori as others crowd into the area.

Anarchaia kicks her feet idly as the carousel spins and music plays over the speakers. She chuckles at Koltira’s demeanor. “Having fun?”

“Yes!” Diori yells excitedly as though the question was intended for her, blond hair swirling in the gentle breeze.

Koltira directs a smile to the mage. “Oodles.”

Anarchaia laughs. Once back and weaving through the masses, she points out a tent to the death knight while grasping Diori’s hand with the other. “There’s an ale tent. Perhaps that’s more your kind of ride?”

“I want ale!” Diori chirps. “I bet it’s tasty. It has to be good if grownups are drinking it all the time, right?”

Koltira sighs longingly at the ale tent, then jolts at Diori’s request. “I don’t think ale falls under the approved beverages for you.”

Diori pouts. “Why not?” She blinks and her tiny ears prick. “Because it makes grownups act stupid?”

Anarchaia laughs and pats Diori atop her head. “That’s exactly right. It’s poison for your brain.” She pokes the girl on the forehead.

“Then why do you guys drink so much?”

“Well we’re already de—” She pauses and retracts her hand. “We just can.” She turns her attention to Koltira again and fidgets. “You getting one?” Because I could definitely use one, too.

Koltira looks from Diori to Anarchaia and back again. His sense of duty overrides his desire to join the mage for a pint. “I think I’ll have what Diori is having. You can have one if you’d like.” He reaches out to squeeze her hand.

Anarchaia smiles, somewhat disappointed at his refusal to be irresponsible, but simultaneously grateful. She looks down at Diori. “And what are you having?”

Diori pulls her in the direction of a snack stand. “Look! Cake on a stick! And fizzy juice! That’s what I want!”

The mage obliges, exchanging coin for the items and handing them over. She turns her grin back on Koltira. “Stick cake for you as well?” she chuckles.

Koltira makes a face, then smiles. “I’ll pass. Just fizzy juice, I guess.”

Diori eats her cake in as few bites as possible and hands the stick back as Anarchaiais handing Koltira a wooden cup. “Zoo!” she yips and releases the mage’s hand to run off toward the attraction.

Anarchaia jumps at the pitter-patter of her feet fading away, then follows in a rush. “Diori! Hon! Hold on, don’t stray too far, please!”

Koltira rolls his eyes and hands the cup and some gold to the concessions handler. He runs after them, turning a pale blue to walk as a wraith to catch up. When near enough, he throws out a purple tendril to grab the girl and pull her to him. Diori cries out as she’s jerked backward. She pouts as she comes face-to-face with Koltira.

“Don’t go running off on your own, girlie. I’d hate to have to tell your parents that the Darkmoon Rabbit gnawed your head right off!”

Her eyes widen at his words. “Darkmoon Rabbit?” she whispers in a terrified hush.

Anarchaia turns on her heel as Diori sails past. “Kolt, don’t scare her,” she hisses.

Koltira ignores Anarchaia and gives a frightening grin as he sets the girl down and kneels to be face to face with her. “Oh, yes. The Darkmoon Rabbit. They say he’s got eyes like a devil and big pointy teeth, and his fur is perpetually stained red from feasting on Faire attendants who get lost. But he’s not even the worst. Every day the Den Mother howls in the woods.” He pauses as a howl echoes in the woods behind the Faire. “Best stay with us, right?”

Diori’s brows furrow upward and her eyes glisten with tears and terror. She throws her arms around Koltira and hugs him as tight as her little arms allow. “No!” she cries. “I don’t wanna be eaten!”

Anarchaia scoffs and presses her palms into her hips. “Koltira,” she snaps in disapproval. “Fear is not the proper way to convince someone of something—especially a child.”

Koltira laughs and hugs Diori. “You won’t be eaten if you don’t run away. I promise. Tell you what, how about you hold onto the Redblade. It’ll keep you safe.” He reaches back and takes the sword, then holds it where she can grab it.

Diori’s wet eyes grow wide as she looks at the handle. “Really? I can?” She grasps the weapon and the handle changes colors.

A nearby guard shifts uncomfortably at the sight.

“Just be careful,” Anarchaia says quietly, still irritated. “We don’t want to be ejected from the grounds.”

“It’ll be fine, right Diori? She’s not going to swing the sword or poke anyone with it. But I’ll have to take it back for the petting zoo. You don’t want to scare the animals, right?” He laughs and taps her nose.

Diori thrusts the blade into the air with a cry, but is only able to hold it there for a moment before its weight overwhelms her and it drops to the dirt. “I wanna watch the races, then!”

Anarchaia gives a sigh of relief. “Races it is, then.” She assists Diori in placing the blade across her shoulders and leads her toward the shore.

Koltira gives the guard a look and follows the girls at a short distance.

The race is short and sweet with a gnome girl—head crowned with blue hair—holding up the trophy at the finish line.

Diori pouts. “I wanted the pretty human lady to win.”

Anarchaia titters. “Most times the ones you want to win don’t, sweetie. The odds are poor. Always.”

Diori glances over at the people inside the gambling tent. “So why do people place bets?”

“Because they’re stupid,” the mage mutters. “Better they throw their coin to the fishes.”

Koltira picks Diori up onto his shoulder so she can see into the betting tent. “It’s not stupidity,” he gives Anarchaia a look. “For some people the race itself isn’t exciting enough, so they compensate by wagering money and hoping they don’t lose. The trick is to know when to stop.” He grabs the mage by the hand and drags her closer, wrapping his free arm around her. “Right, Ana?”

Anarchaia purses her lips and glances away but leans her shoulder into him all the same. “That’s not untrue,” she mumbles in defeat.

Diori scrunches her face in thought. “Can we place bets? Ooh! Then we can buy one of every prize in the park—without even having to play games, I bet!” She kicks her legs gently and readjusts the sword on her shoulders.

Koltira cringes. “I’m not fond of placing bets. It can be very bad if you lose. How about we place bets with each other?”

Diori blinks down and grasps one of Koltira’s ears to steady herself. She mulls this over, then bounces. “Yes! What’s the prize?”

“One thing of the winner’s choosing depending on the person. Does that sound fair?” the mage says.

Diori narrows her blue eyes then nods. “Yes.” She again kicks her feet idly.

Koltira smirks at Anarchaia. “That sounds very fair. I bet you each a kiss on the cheek that the Gnome wins the next round.”

Diori sets a hand on her hip and puffs out her chest. “I still want the human lady to win.”

Anarchaia sighs, defeated. “I’ll just bet on the goblin, then.” She waves a hand. “Though I suppose I can’t lose any money on this, so that’s a plus.” She pauses. “Just some dignity.”

Koltira chuckles. “You never know.”

After another few minutes of sweets on sticks, juice, and waiting for the next race, the three return to their spots on the sidelines. The weight of the Redblade has burdened Diori’s shoulder so she switches arms. In her effort, however, she drops the blade and it lands directly on an orc man’s toes. The man growls and turns quickly on Anarchaia, who by happenstance is directly beside him.

“You got a fuckin’ problem, kid?” he grunts angrily.

The mage jumps and glances down at the blade then back up. She raises her hands defensively. “I-I didn’t—!” She pauses, glancing at Diori—the small girl wringing her hands in apprehension. “I’m sorry,” Anarchaia continues. “I wasn’t watching where—”

The man’s fist collides hard with Anarchaia’s sternum and she’s knocked into the patrons behind her. “You’ll watch next time, now, won’t you?” he laughs, pushing up his sleeves.

Ice flows around the orc’s ankles, preventing him from moving. He grunts in anger, his glare deepening on Anarchaia.

Koltira lifts the sword and clears his throat. “Excuse me, but you owe the lady an apology.”

The orc sneers, glancing down at his feet then the blade. “That’s what passes for a lady these days? My armor has bigger tits.” He and a couple of his red-skinned friends laugh.

The crowd has circled around the bunch. A Draenei woman assists Anarchaia to her feet with sympathy in her glowing eyes.

“It’s fine,” she says quietly to Koltira, a hand over her chest. “Let’s just go.”

Koltira clenches his teeth. “No. He had no reason to hit you. You deserve an apology.” He sets his glare on the orc. “Or else.”

The orc laughs down at him and cracks his knuckles. “Or else what?  You’ll cut me with your teeny sword? All you elves think you’re hot shit, but you’re all just women disguised as men.”

Anarchaia hesitates. “We’ll be ejected if we start anything.”

Koltira presses his tongue into his cheek. “I’m not starting anything, he is. I’m just going to finish it.”

The orc men laugh together. “Good luck, punk,” the front-most orc grunts and sends a fist toward Koltira’s face. Before he can make contact, however, his torso twists to punch his friend instead. His fanged face falls in confusion and he turns on Anarchaia, who lowers her free hand and scowls.

“Stop this foolishness,” she hisses.

But the man has already broken free of his icy bonds and is lunging toward her with fury in his eyes.

Koltira plucks the man back and freezes his feet once more. “Look, normally I’d have thrown you and all of your friends to the dirt by now, but I’d really hate to get thrown out. You see I promised this little girl—” He glances as he motions, then stops. “Diori? Ana, where’s Diori?”

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