Book 4 – Chapter Two

Khadgar hesitates with his staff as he scans the faces before him. After a long moment of apprehensive staring, a chair skids across the floor as a few of the guests stand. The skeletal butlers screech angrily. The Archmage quickly slams the bottom of Atiesh on the stone floor and a blinding light fills the entire banquet hall. The specters all shriek as their forms disintegrate into smoke and sparkles. Khadgar turns with a nervous grin. “I guess we weren’t invited.”

Koltira releases the handle of Byfrost and breathes out. “Well, that was easy.”

“Fascinating!” Taveth says, taking a step toward Khadgar. “Is the power all in Atiesh or you? I know the staff itself is quite powerful, but does most of—”

“Taveth,” Koltira warns.

Khadgar blinks before a hint of color fills his cheeks and he chuckles. “It’s all right. I am a teacher, after all. I studied for many years before I acquired my Master’s staff. That particular spell was taught to me by an old friend, however.” He chews on a thought. “Would you like to hold it?”

Anarchaia takes a step away from the two and leans over to Koltira with a mischievous smile. “This is as boring as I’d expected.”

Taveth smiles nervously. “I-I— May I?”

Koltira chuckles and pulls her under his arm, turning his head to press his nose into her mask. “Maybe for us. Dare I say our little friend has a crush?”

Anarchaia gives an awkward sort of chortle and wraps her own arms about his waist. “Better him than Grim, no?”

Koltira shakes his head. “Maybe he should stick to his own kind, though. Reaching too high.”

Anarchaia snorts and gives a huff up at him. “What’s wrong with reaching up? I don’t mind it.”

“Just…don’t break it.” Khadgar holds out Atiesh with an encouraging smile.

Taveth puts his book away with one hand and reaches for the staff with his other. Once his fingers wrap around the wood, thoughts hiss into his mind, quickly growing to a scream. Something grows hotter and hotter until it’s burning the back of his hand. He squeezes his eyes shut and grunts, then backs away. “That’s um…something best admired from afar, I guess.” He lifts his hand out of his bag and finds a narrow red mark across the back.

Khadgar quickly retracts the staff as he notices the discomfort in the elf’s face. “Strange. You wouldn’t happen to be a warlock?” He notices the mark and summons a roll of gauze. “Are you all right? Please, allow me. My apologies.”

“A w-warlock? I-is there something special about that?” He wraps his hand, quickly, trying to hide it from the Archmage.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Koltira asks, cocking an eye at the other two.

“Oh, are we not talking physically?” she laughs as she eyes the other two. “Though metaphorically I’d still be considered to be reaching out of my league.”

Khadgar sends the gauze away, pretending not to notice his desperate attempt to hide his hand. “Meryl won’t touch it. He’s said that arcane magic and the fel are two sides of the same coin, but there’s a reason the faces of a coin are of opposite sides.”

Koltira shakes his head. “Yes, you are miles above the league of a bottom-feeder like me.” He furrows his brow. “Tav, you okay?”

“M-m fine, heh.” He reaches into his bag for his book. “So, Meryl. I thought he was a mage?” A reflection catches his glasses and he stops, pulling them from his nose. “Oh, heh. W-we have m-more company.”

Anarchaia huffs again and opens her mouth to retort to Koltira’s self-loathing but stops at the sound of footsteps. An incredibly aged man accompanied by four others step down from the dais. “I don’t recall your names. On the roster, I mean,” he growls, his arms folded neatly at the small of his crooked back.

Khadgar narrows his eyes. “Moroes. I…didn’t expect to find any familiar faces here.” He pauses. “Or any for that matter. I’m…sorry. I seem to have, ehm, murdered your dinner guests.”

The man pauses. “The Guardian’s apprentice.” He scoffs. “If it were literally anyone else I’d be wont to slaughter you all.” He glares at the other three for a long while, then rumbles with low, dry laughter. “What brings you? Here, that is.”

“Showing my apprentice around,” Khadgar replies. He cranes his neck around for Anarchaia when Moroes lifts an eyebrow in Taveth’s direction. “That one.”

Anarchaia gives a timid wave and the man grunts.

“Well. Be on your guard. The upper levels are…unstable.”

“That can be expected after more than twenty-five years of decay. Enjoy the rest of your dinner.”

Taveth waves nervously at the decayed specter. “H-hello. Heh.”

Koltira blinks curiously. “Well, isn’t this…pleasant.”

Moroes scowls. “You’ve killed the butlers—”

“Right!” Khadgar continues as though he’s an enthralled tour guide, directing his own party toward the hallway at the opposite end of the ballroom. “There’s guest chambers upstairs. Perhaps those have maintained their quality over the years.”

Anarchaia pulls Koltira along by a hand and motions for Taveth to follow. “Doubtful. Fabric is the worst for decay.”

Taveth gives Moroes one final smile, then catches up to walk close to Anarchaia. “Too much to hope all encounters end so cordially?”

Koltira chuckles at the other man and squeezes on the mage’s hand. “I’m afraid it is, my friend.”

Taveth stops. “I’m your friend?”

“It’s just— It’s— … Yeah, sure.”

Anarchaia nudges Koltira with her knuckles and chuckles quietly. “You’re all of our friend. Come on. I bet there’s books upstairs. Perhaps Master will take us to the library later.”

Khadgar runs his glove up the banister again as he ascends the stairs, thoughts running through his head as he listens to the trio behind him. “I don’t see why not,” he mumbles quietly.

Taveth stops in his tracks again. “Th-the Karazhan library? Really? Could we? That—That would be… I can’t—”

Koltira grabs him by the front of his shirt and drags him up the stairs. “Don’t wet yourself, kid.”

“As long as you’re supervised and don’t take anything,” the Archmage adds as he pushes in a displaced chair at a table overlooking the ballroom. “The guest quarters are down this hallway. You may find something of interest there.” He steps out of the way as Anarchaia quickly pushes past him with both other men in tow.

“Old timey clothes?!” she barks excitedly. “Kolt, dress up with me!”

“You don’t have to tell me twice,” Taveth says, matching pace eagerly with the mage. “Like being a part of history.”

Koltira grumbles. “I was already part of history…”

“You’re dressing up. Two against one.”

Khadgar chews on his lower lip as he resists the urge to roll his eyes. “You all have fun with that. I’ll just see to tidying up this hallway.” He uprights an overturned cocktail table with magic as though to demonstrate his meaning.

Anarchaia scoffs at him before stepping into a barren bedroom. “He’s no fun anymore. Ten years ago he’d not even give it a second thought.” She throws open a wardrobe and starts rummaging. “Formal or casual, Koltira?”

Koltira hesitates in the doorway. “You know, Khadgar looked like he could use some help out there.” He backs slowly away.

Taveth opens the wardrobe adjacent and rummages through the clothing. He coughs as a cloud of dust hits him in the face.

She leans to look at him from behind the open wardrobe door, then speaks in a hushed yet loud whisper in Gutterspeak. <<Do this for me and I’ll wear whatever you want me to later.>> She gasps and pulls out a leather jerkin along with a pair of green linen trousers, cowl, and matching leather boots. “Tav! Archer garb!”

Koltira narrows his eyes. <<Even nothing?>>

Taveth turns to look, then stops and turns back, his ears darkening in embarrassment as their private words echo back to him. “Heh. I-I’m no a-archer. Heh. N-no tights for me.”

<<Especially.>> Tossing the outfit aside, she pulls out an ornate set of robes accented with rubies and gold trim. “Ooh. What about this?” She holds it up for Taveth to see. “It comes with a hood.”

He chuckles. “I think that’s more your style.”

Koltira flicks through the clothes. “I think I’d rather you go hoodless, while we’re playing dress-up. You are among friends, after all.” He pulls out a dress with a deep back and a hole at the belly. Koltira cocks an eyebrow at Anarchaia and bites his lower lip.

The undead flushes and gives a nervous titter as she glances at the doorway, Taveth, then back to Koltira. “I-I dunno.” She pulls out a red party mask and pushes it over her mask. “That’s too pretty for me. I think I’d ruin anything I’d wear without my mask. Heh.”

Taveth eyes the mage. “Are you going to throw something at her, or shall I?” He pulls an elegant sky-blue gown from the dresser. Silver chains inlaid with dark sapphires and onyx wrap around the waist. “I think I’d like to see our lady in this.”

Koltira chuckles. “Oh, but where’s the mask?”

“Isn’t one. Such a shame.” He holds the gown over her front and shrugs. “Looks like your size, too.”

Her eyes flick between them before she bristles and snatches the dress from Taveth’s grasp. “Ffffine,” she hisses, “but know that I hate it.” She disappears behind a folding privacy wall. “When I’m done you both better be wearing something else.” Her mask and robes appear over the top of the wall.

Koltira sorts through the clothes, not looking at them as he tries to maybe get a peek at the mage’s silhouette through the paper panels of the divider.

Taveth makes several noises of thought as he goes through the other wardrobe, taking his time to thoroughly assess each article.

Anarchaia pulls off the rest of her clothing and gently slips into the dress. She tsks when she can’t reach the ties in back, then steps out with her arms folded tightly around her torso to hold it up. “I need help,” she mumbles, eyes cast to the floor.

Koltira fumbles and drops several garments to the floor as he blatantly gawks at Anarchaia.

Taveth peeks around the door and waits a beat as the death knight becomes seemingly catatonic. He rolls his eyes and goes to step behind the mage. “Wow, got enough strings back here?”

Anarchaia turns a bright shade of scarlet as she catches Koltira’s eye and turns her head away, making certain her hair hides her face. “You picked it out,” she grumbles to Taveth. “And why aren’t you dressed up?”

“Heh. Haven’t found anything just right.” He leans close to whisper, “I think you broke him.”

The mage bites her lip. “He’s just trying to flatter me.” She purses her lips. “It’s working.”

“Turning to stone isn’t flattery, it’s shock.” He finishes tying her gown and nudges her forward. “Go wake him up.”

Anarchaia hesitates and steps toward the death knight with eyes still firmly locked on the rug. “I-is it nice? Heh. The blue doesn’t clash with my skin or anything…?” She rubs at the stitches in her arm nervously.

Koltira finally blinks. He sets his fingers under her chin and tilts her face up to look at him. “It’s like it was made for you. You look like a princess.”

“Mm-hmm!” Taveth agrees as he rejects more clothing.

She quickly turns away and covers her face. “Stop complimenting me!” she whines, clearly flustered. “And put something on, damnit!”

Koltira turns the mage back around and moves her hair out of her face. “I’ll never stop complimenting you.” He sets a delicate kiss on her lips. “And I have my armor on, that’s something.”

Taveth snickers from across the room.

Anarchaia narrows her eyes and slides her hands up his chest and onto his shoulders, her bones scraping against the metal. She smiles with grit teeth. “We can do this the easy way or we can do this the hard way, Deathweaver.”

He gives her a mischievous grin. “We already know you like the hard way, but perhaps I’ll go easy on you this time.” He pulls off a gauntlet and lets it clatter to the floor.

Bristling again, she flushes and sets her hands on his waist. The armor and trousers he wears shimmer as they become ethereal for only a moment before falling to the floor in a mass at his feet. Smirking, she turns to go rummage for an outfit for him.

Koltira chuckles and pulls off his shirt over his head. “As long as you don’t make me a knave, I suppose. Or put me in a dress.”

“Robes.” Taveth corrects. He turns to give Koltira a look, then does a double take. “That…has got to be the most unpleasant scar I’ve ever seen.” He reaches into his bag and grabs his journal to start sketching the death knight, noting the tattoos and the scar. “Those tattoos, are they like Grimory’s? Or something else? What caused them? What was—”

“Woah, woah. Calm down. They’re not like Grim’s, no. I’ll fill you in another— Are you drawing me?”

Taveth slaps his book to his chest, his eyes wide. “Heh. I, um, I… Research?”

“Oh, you’re wearing whatever I pull out of that dresser,” the undead hisses as she disappears behind the wardrobe door again. She returns moments later with a formal tunic and undershirt with several silver buttons and ties, a matching cloak and silk pants. She stops to look at Taveth’s drawing before he moves it out of the way. “You should make me a copy of that,” she whispers as she throws the clothes at Koltira.

Koltira eyes the clothing. “Not as bad as I expected.” He removes his trousers and stands in his knickers as he takes the clothes off the hangers.

Taveth returns to finishing his sketch, nodding absently as reply to the mage.

Anarchaia folds her arms and rests on a hip as she watches. “Be happy I chose something I’d like instead of something you wouldn’t like.”

Koltira finishes getting on the trousers, then glances at Taveth. “Hey, what about him?”

Taveth jumps and adjusts his glasses. “I’m still looking.”

“Looks like you’re drawing. Ana, get him.” He pulls the shirt over his head as he laughs mischievously.

Anarchaia grabs Taveth by the front of his shirt and gives the garment the same treatment as Koltira’s armor; the fabric glitters as it pulls free from his torso and solidifies again in her hand once completely off. “If you don’t put something on, I’ll see to it that you won’t have anything to wear.”

The high elf reaches in blindly and grabs an article to cover himself.

Koltira cocks his eyebrow. “Interesting choice.”

Anarchaia gasps and rips the hat out of Taveth’s hands. “Yes,” she simply says and throws it atop his head, the plume in it dancing briefly in the breeze. “Go get the rest.”

Koltira laughs at the elf in the plumed hat and underwear. “Better do what she says before she manhandles you into something.”

Taveth blinks and glances at the closet, then grabs what he assumes is the rest on a hanger. “I suppose it’ll do.”

“Good,” Anarchaia grunts and rummages through the drawers of a dresser. Something lacy and soft catches her hand and she glances over her shoulder before grabbing the garment and sending it away in a flurry of sparkles. She opens another drawer and finds a silk handkerchief that she ties around her upper arm to hide her seam. “Ooh!” She grabs a sparkling brooch and skips over to Koltira to pin it to his tunic. “Dashing.”

“So, what now?” Taveth asks, securing the final buttons on the coat.

Anarchaia grins and holds out a palm. With a click a bulky camera lands gently within it.

Koltira stares at the device for a long time. “So, I bet Khadgar really needs that help now.” He turns for the door.

“I bet he does.” Taveth makes to follow.

The mage lifts a hand and grabs both men by their beings, then pulls them back to stand behind her. “Oh no you don’t!” She turns and leans up into their faces. “You’re both going to take a picture with me and you’re going to smile and look like you’re having fun. Okay?”

Taveth goes stiff. “You’re terrifying when you’re being bossy.”

“No, I’m terrifying when I’m not wearing m— H-hey!”

Koltira takes the camera and hides it behind his back. “Why don’t we actually have fun, instead of just looking like we are? Then maybe we can take a picture.”

She reaches around his torso, desperately grasping for the camera. “Give it back!”

“Nope! Fun first, then pictures of fun. Otherwise I just might frown in any you try to take.”

“Same,” Taveth says, pouting. “I can’t smile without some fun.”

Anarchaia scoffs and leans back. She folds her arms tightly to her chest and scowls. “Fine. Fun. What do you both suggest we do, then, O Masters of Merriment?”

Taveth and Koltira stare at each other, then back at her. The former purses his lips. “Why don’t we ask Khadgar? It is his place, after all.”

Anarchaia flushes and lifts her shoulders. “Are you implying we spend the rest of this trip in these clothes?”

“Me? No. But I will pay you to stay in that dress the whole time,” Koltira says, slipping his arm around her waist. “Let’s just play a little game. Got any drinks readily available?”

Taveth narrows his eyes. “We’re not getting drunk. This is a learning visitation, not a party!”

Anarchaia shrinks more. “I don’t…” Can’t drink while Master’s around. “Not sure we should.” She scrunches her face. “I’ll keep it on if you both keep yours on.” She huffs and turns her head. “I want a mask, though.”

Koltira makes a face. “You’re among friends. Can’t you just let us see your beautiful face?”

Taveth holds up a finger. “Ah. Ah. I know!” He rushes to the other wardrobe and shuffles through until he finds a specific outfit, then he searches the pockets. “Here we are!” He trots back and drops a black eyepatch into Anarchaia’s palm. “Please?”

Anarchaia furrows her brow at the object before slipping it over her empty socket. She turns to the mirror and hums in annoyance. “Either it looks like I don’t have eyebrows…” She slides the eye patch to the other eye. “…or it looks like I don’t have eyes.” She sighs and pushes it back over the missing eye. “But if you insist,” she mumbles grabbing her original garb—as well as the others’—and sending them away.

“No one said you have to wear it,” Taveth says, reaching for it.

The mage leans away and covers it. “It’s better than nothing.” She shoves the other two toward the door. “Come on. Let’s go have fun.”

“What kind of fun?” Koltira asks. “I mean, no booze is kind of a new one for us, isn’t it?”

“We don’t need it!” Taveth insists. “But I do like the idea of a game.”

Anarchaia sucks her teeth in thought. “First person to get Master to swear gets their clothes back.” She pauses for a moment. “And have either of you played Most Likely?” She steps out into the hallway and stops.

The dust has been completely cleared, tables and chairs returned to their upright positions, torn banners repaired, and books neatly stacked and aligned. Khadgar sits in a lounge sofa near the end of the hall, lazily flipping through a tome.

“Finished?” he calls without looking up, a bite of irritation in his voice.

“I haven’t,” Taveth say to Anarchaia. He hesitates at Khadgar’s tone. “Doesn’t your apprentice look absolutely amazing?” He holds out his hands as though she is on display.

The Archmage closes the book in one hand and sets it atop the stack on the table beside him. He gives Anarchaia a quick glance as he stands, but she scoots behind Koltira with her arms about herself. “Lovely,” he says, his cheeks turning the slightest of pinks. “If you’re all done playing dress up, perhaps we can get back to the tour?”

The undead nods and gently pushes the two toward her teacher. “Of course,” she says with a nervous laugh. “Sorry to make you wait so long. Heh.”

“Wouldn’t you say Anarchaia can be quite the pain in the ass?” Koltira asks.

Taveth rolls his eyes and readies his notebook and pen.

Khadgar gives Koltira a sideways glance as they near the theater. “Often times, yes.” He turns to give his apprentice the same glance. “What do you think, Ana?”

Koltira purses his lips as Taveth gives him a thumbs-down. The death knight makes a face back.

The girl shrinks some. “I’m not the easiest student, I know.” She runs her bony fingers on the wall as they walk through the short hallway.

The Archmage gives a huff of a laugh. “This is the theater. Many a performance has been held here, though it’s a bit worse for wear. This would take the longest to restore…”

As casually as he can, Koltira uses Anarchaia’s camera to take a quick snap of her when she’s not looking.

Taveth eyes the camera. “That would be so handy.” He turns his attention to his book and begins sketching the opera hall.

Koltira chuckles and mumbles, “Most likely to get a hand cramp today.” He stretches an arm over Anarchaia’s head to point down at Taveth.

Anarchaia hears the click and turns to Koltira to glare. She points at Taveth as well, while reaching for the camera again. “Stop that,” she grunts.

Khadgar pinches the bridge of his nose and refuses to look back. Light filters through the stained glass above and dust swirls in the beams of sun. “I almost miss being here during the theatre season…”

Taveth looks at the two. “What? What are we doing?”

Koltira smirks mischievously. “Playing Most Likely.”

“I don’t understand.” He walks forward to stand nearer to Khadgar. “It truly is marvelous. Perhaps one day you can open it to the public again.”

“That’s two shots when we get back,” Anarchaia says to Taveth with a smile, holding up two skeletal fingers.

Khadgar smiles down at Taveth. “Perhaps. Though I feel it’s not particularly my place to do so. I’m not the Guardian after all.” He stops at the railing at the far edge of the gap between the stage and the seating area. “Ana, there’s a pit.”

The mage perks and rushes to the edge. She smiles and blinks into the area beneath the front most part of the stage. She bustles over to the piano and opens the lid, then coughs when dust puffs into the air. She chuckles. “Most likely to catch an air borne, lung, bacterial infection?” She raises her hand.

“You can’t nominate yourself,” Koltira says, taking a seat on a bench nearby.

“I can so!” Anarchaia calls from the lower level.

Taveth looks up from his journal. “I still don’t understand.”

The death knight chuckles. “You say something most likely to happen to someone, and everyone else points at who they think it is.”

The elf’s brow furrows. He glances at Khadgar, Anarchaia, the pit, then back to Koltira. “So, you’d be most likely to be teleported back home by Khadgar for annoying him, right?”

Anarchaia pulls up her dress some to sit on the bench before the instrument. Her bare toes click against the pedals and a chord rings through the entire room as she presses the keys and grimaces. “Needs tuning.” She continues playing anyway, compensating notes for different keys to make up for the off tuning.

Khadgar rests a cheek on his knuckles as he leans on the dusty railing. He gives Koltira a tired smile. “You aren’t annoying me.” He chuckles. “Yet. We’ve just gotten here. There’s time.”

Taveth gives Koltira a look. “Yet.”

“Mostly likely to get bitch slapped.” The death knight points at Taveth.

Khadgar’s eyes flit to his student playing downstairs. “Most likely to not learn a single thing while we’re here.” He gives a wave when she looks up, then turns towards the men, resting his elbows on the railing. “So. You’re Kel’ori’s brother? I’m sure she’s said awful things about me.”

Koltira smirks and hides his chuckle as Khadgar joins in their game.

Taveth flips to a new page and feverishly sets to sketching the mage at the p. “I am. And yes, she has. I’m sure you’ve noticed, though, that she doesn’t exactly like getting her hands dirty. You should talk to Kalec about being stricter on his expectations. Also, I second the motion.” He points down at Anarchaia.

Koltira scoffs. “Most likely to be the only one even paying attention to this tour.” He points at Khadgar.

“It’s a shame I’m the guide.” He walks over to watch Taveth draw, hands clasped behind his back. “How Kalec teaches is his own business. I merely grade the papers he has no insight on or time to look at.” He sighs and shakes his head. “She has the will and skill, but lacks the drive and the experience, sadly.” He glances at the girl downstairs and opens his mouth, inhales, then closes it again.

Taveth double takes looking at Khadar. His ears pink at the tips and he holds out the notebook for the Archmage to get a better look. “Most likely to become a very powerful Archmage,” he says low to the man.

Khadgar gives the man a sad smile. “Not at this rate.” He strides back to the railing and lifts a hand. The piano silences and the cords instead make a muted plucking noise. “While I always enjoy your playing, let’s make our way to the library.”

Anarchaia nods and teleports herself back upstairs. “If we come back I can tune it.” She blows some dust from a bench.

Taveth sets his pen in his book to keep his place. “Yes! The Library!”

Khadgar heads to the stairway. “It’ll be up in the higher spires. Just…watch your step.”

“Most likely to never come out,” Koltira says to Anarchaia, jerking a thumb in Taveth’s direction.

Anarchaia quickly places a palm over Koltira’s mouth and half-shushes half-chortles. “He doesn’t know you know,” she whispers. She blinks after a moment of thought. “He likes Master.”

Koltira cocks an eyebrow at the mage and pulls her hand down. “Of the library.” He takes her hand and guides her to follow Taveth, who is following Khadgar. “Honestly, it’s like you think I have no tact.”

Anarchaia gives him a warning glance as she’s dragged behind.

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