Alisbeth cocks her eyebrow as everyone leaves. “Why do I get the feeling nobody actually likes me?”
“That’s just Ana,” Grimory says in a nonchalant tone. “Neurotic when she drinks. Don’t mind her.”
Alisbeth frowns. “I’d hoped one day people would actually like me, but I can tell they like me even less. Why do I stay?”
Grimory’s smile finally fades. “We do like you. Why do you think we’d try to get you to come down if we didn’t want to spend time with you?”
Alisbeth purses her lips and runs her finger along the lip of the glass she has yet to drink from. “Actually… Koltira threatened to stay in my room and sing his favorite drinking songs until I came down. He got one line out. Don’t let Koltira sing.”
The corner of Grimory’s lips twitches. “He and I aren’t exactly buddies so I don’t think that’ll be a problem. Perhaps you should warn Ana, though. Those two are virtually connected at the hip.”
Alisbeth frowns. “Why not? You seem like you’d have so much in common.” She takes a sip of the wine and purses her lips at it, then sets it on the table as she’d done the moonberry juice.
Grimory sneers. “What makes you say that?” He watches her face. “Would you like something else?”
Alisbeth shrugs and plays with her fingertips. “I can’t really taste it. Just…vinegar and dirt with a hint of berries.”
Grimory knits his brow, seemingly befuddled by his own inability to remember such a minute detail. “Oh yeah,” he says, hailing the maid again. “You used to order this drink whenever we were out.” He places the order and the waitress returns moments later with a dark bottle of whiskey and a glass with rolls of fresh cinnamon sticking over the top.
Alisbeth looks at the items and raises an eyebrow as far up as it will go. “I don’t understand.” Her hands stretch forward anyway, taking the cinnamon sticks and pressing them until they shatter into long twigs which slip easily into the narrow bottle opening. She stops and stares at it for a moment. “Wait, why did I do that?”
Grimory chuckles. “Muscle memory maybe? Now put the cork back in and give it a shake.” He points at her practically full glass of wine. “Do you plan to finish that?”
Alisbeth does as she’s told and makes a face. “Why would I drink something if it tastes heinous?” She purses her lips at the bottle after a few good shakes. “How long do I shake this?”
Grimory shrugs and takes the wine. “Never stopped me any.” He drinks it and sets the glass aside. “That should be good. Just drink it out of the bottle, though.”
Alisbeth takes a sip through pinched lips to keep the sticks at bay. She smacks her lips and furrows her brow. “This is good. You want some?”
Grimory gives a small smirk and shrugs a shoulder. “Sure, why not.” He takes a shot’s worth into his mouth and hands the bottle back, then furrows his brow as he swallows. “That’s some harsh whiskey,” he coughs.
Alisbeth frowns and looks down at her hands. “If I ask you something…will you tell me the absolute truth, no matter what?”
The demon hunter swallows and looks at her face for a moment, then nods. “Yeah, sure. Anything.”
She chews on the inside of her lip and looks into his eyes. “Am… Am I dead?”
Grimory’s face falls into one of pain and turmoil. He sighs. “Technically, yes.”
Alisbeth’s frown deepens. “I’m what Koltira is? How did I die?”
Grimory sighs again and puts his palms over his face. “Yes. You were murdered by some forsaken.”
Alisbeth tilts her head to the side, her eyes searching the air for an answer to the question she’s about to ask. “What’s a forsaken?”
Grimory lets his hands fall back into his lap. “Undead people. Skeletal fingers and missing jaws and such. Risen soldiers of the Lich King.”
“Um… Who?” Alisbeth asks. She takes another, longer pull from the bottle.
Grimory laughs quietly. “That’s not really important. A man—or thing, rather—worth forgetting.” He raises his eyebrows as she downs the whiskey like water. “Anything else I can help with?”
Alisbeth shrugs. “I don’t know. Maybe something will come along that I’m unsure about.”
Grimory nods and glances at the door as he finishes the wine. “Do you remember your horse at all?”
Alisbeth smiles. “Bloodmane? She’s in the stables— Oh.” She deflates and takes a drink. “I don’t know how long ago it was, but I know she is gone by now. If only horses could live forever.”
Grimory smiles at the memory. “Yeah. She was a beautiful horse. She was…kind of how we met. Fifty years ago. She’s actually still around. Just…also undead.”
Alisbeth furrows her brow, but smiles. “She is? That’s…terrible, but also makes me happy. Fifty years… We’ve been together—no, we’re not together. We’ve been…friends for fifty years?” She laughs lightly and takes a drink. “Your first impression was awful, but…if this is how you normally are, I could see being friends.”
~ * ~
The mage scowls, suddenly wishing she’d not let him take her drink. “That’s not possible. I have to supervise her. I’m responsible. She could revert at any second.” She clenches her fists. “And now I’m responsible for everyone’s bad time and Master’s disappointment in me and your disappointment in me and this city’s hatred for me and…and…” She grits her teeth and pulls her mask down to hide her face.
Koltira yanks her mask up to cover her lips with his fingertips. “Ana, stop. I’m not disappointed in you and you’re not responsible for anyone having a bad time.”
Taveth nods and scoots closer. “He’s right. I wasn’t having a bad time, I was just wondering how I could best disappear and never be seen again. This works. Thank you, Ana. I’m going to go kill myself now.” He smiles with all the panicked distress in the world, and turns to leave.
“I-I know I’m not—…” Anarchaia swallows and parts her lips to say more then turns as Taveth turns. “We can make him forget.” She pauses. “O-or you. If that’s better.”
Taveth pauses. “You can do that? Please do that. Both. Both is good. Like it never happened, heh.” He tugs on the sleeve of her robes. “Please. I just…I’ll never be able to face him otherwise.”
Koltira gives a sly smirk. “What if Grim enjoyed it? Shouldn’t go taking away memories he’s good with having. Ask him, first.”
Taveth frowns. “I guess,” he growls. “I’ll be in the—”
“Nope.” Koltira grabs onto the back of the elf’s shirt collar and holds on. “Gotta face your problems sometime.”
Anarchaia can’t help but smile some at Taveth’s expense. She wipes at her eye and chortles. “Milhouse made a potion that erases memories—though I’m sure that’s not what he intended to brew. Sadly, it requires the imbiber to be thinking of the memory they want to erase while drinking…and the materials are expensive. Heh.”
Taveth groans dramatically. “Of course it’s expensive. You think research pays? My father won’t help, I promise you that.” He flails momentarily, trying to escape the death knight’s grasp. After a moment, he gives up and deflates.
Koltira raises his eyebrow. “What is with you two and your woeful dispositions after drinking?” He gives Anarchaia a smile and a kiss on the cheek. “Come on, let’s go face our demons.”
“I can pull some strings for you. Maybe. Manastorm is pretty illusive.” She flinches at the kiss but smiles all the same. “Heh. Demons.” She looks back at Taveth. “I think you two should just talk. Clear the air.”
Taveth flails again. “Nope. Can’t face him. Can’t do that. No clearing the air. Just avoiding for the rest of my life.” He slaps at the Koltira’s hand; the death knight only chuckles, his fist holding fast.
Anarchaia chortles again and swats at Koltira’s hand. “Let the poor man go. Oh! I know. We could do some roleplaying. I’ll be Grim and you can confess your feelings for me.” She laughs.
Koltira gives Taveth a small shake as he laughs. “Come on, confess to the woma—Illidari…in a robe…” His eyes go wide. “Wait, Ana, do that thing. Be Grim.”
Taveth squirms until he’s free from the death knight’s hand. “You, sir, are a bully.”
“I’m not a bully, Tav. I just… Don’t take the memory charm, okay?”
His eyes slide left and right, then he narrows them. “Why?” he asks slowly.
“What if you think of the wrong memory and you lose Diori or Ali? What if you lose you, Taveth?” Koltira sets a gentle hand on the man’s shoulder and holds his gaze for a long time.
Anarchaia lifts her brows and nods in an understanding manner. She lifts a hand and her form is shrouded in a cloud of smoke and sparkles. When it dissipates, a perfect image of Grimory stands in her place, cheeks pink with intoxication, tattoos glowing, and arms folded over her broad chest. She gives Taveth a curious and expectant look.
Taveth squirms and looks away from Anarchaia. He mumbles something.
Koltira laughs again. “I think we should go somewhere more private.”
Anarchaia gives another nod and grabs Taveth by his upper arm. She pulls the man down an alley and into an empty clearing behind the taverns and shops. The street lamp above flickers. “Better?”
“No,” Taveth whines at the ground.
“How do you even function in society?” Koltira asks.
Taveth shrugs. “I don’t. I spend all of my time at the library.”
Anarchaia laughs Grimory’s hearty, low laugh and folds her arms again. “C’mon, Tav. I won’t bite.” She grins. “Unless that’s what you’re into.”
Taveth jumps and practically hides behind Koltira. “I’m not ‘into’ anything. I don’t like this! Let me go.”
Koltira shakes his head. “Nope. Face your demons.”
Taveth straightens and pokes a finger at him. “My demons would flatten you.”
Anarchaia sighs. “It’s all right. I know exactly what he’d say in any situation. Just try, yeah?” She gives an encouraging, fangy smile.
Taveth pouts and folds his arms over his chest as Koltira moves him to stare at Anarchaia. “It was… I was…completing the dare. That’s all.”
Anarchaia tilts her head and pulls her ears back. “I…suppose that’s admirable. Why alone, though?”
“I was…scared,” Taveth says, never looking at her as he fidgets.
“Scared of what? People making fun of you? That’s kind of how the game works.”
The high elf deflates. “I can’t say it, Ana.”
Anarchaia sighs and sets a hand on Taveth’s shoulder. “I suppose that’s understandable,” she says in her own voice and morphs again into herself. “It took Koltira being murdered for me to say it to him. Heh. I don’t blame you.”
Koltira wraps his arm over Anarchaia’s shoulders. “I don’t think he exactly wants to profess his love to Grim.”
Taveth jumps in shock and shakes his head. “Nonononono, not that, no.”
Anarchaia gives a sort of shrug. “Attraction, love, lust. All horses in the same corral, no?”
“I guess,” Taveth says.
“Ready to confront the real deal?” Koltira smiles encouragingly.
Taveth merely whines.
Anarchaia leads the men back down the alley. “Besides, what’s the worst that could possibly happen? He won’t get mad. He won’t hate you. He won’t kill you,” she explains as they walk.
Koltira chuckles. “If he kills you, I’ll bring you back, okay?”
Taveth grumbles under his breath.
Anarchaia stops at the entrance to the lounge. “Would you like me to fetch him? Or would you like to?”
Taveth’s eyes widen and he turns around to walk swiftly in the other direction. Koltira lurches forward and grabs him by the back of the shirt. He drags him back to Anarchaia.
“I think he needs some liquid courage.”
Anarchaia laughs. “I thought he’d had enough but perhaps more is in order.” She grabs Taveth by the wrist and pulls him back into the lounge.
Grimory acknowledges the trio with a glance as they enter and smiles back at Alisbeth. “Actually, we knew one another for a, uh, few hours back then. Then I became this and was imprisoned in a crystal for ten years. We happened upon each other again a few months ago.” He clears his throat. “I looked for you, though.”
Taveth stands paralyzed, his feet moving only when he is dragged by the two trying to get him to sit down.
“I’ll get us another round,” Koltira says. He looks down at Grimory, an amused smile flicks across his face, though he tries to fight it back down. “Get you anything? Whiskey? Gin? Hemlock?”
“You’d like that, I’m sure,” the demon hunter responds with a sarcastic smile. “No, I think I’m good for now. Thanks anyway.”
Anarchaia sets Taveth down beside her on the adjacent couch and pulls up her mask to smile at him. <<What if he liked it?>> she titters in Gutterspeak.
Taveth thinks for a moment, a small smile pulling at the corner of his lips. He looks over at how comfortable Alisbeth and Grimory look, sitting together, as usual. <<Doesn’t matter, does it?>>
Koltira shrugs. “It’s not about what I like,” he says after picking up on the Gutterspeak conversation behind him. “It’s about what you like.”
Alisbeth gives him a long look. “Why would he like hemlock?”
Koltira shrugs and heads to the bar.
Grimory narrows an eye. “Why is what I want suddenly so important?”
Alisbeth turns her attention on the other two. “I’m so sorry if I did something wrong that made you leave, I didn’t do it on purpose, I’m just not likeable. That’s what my instructors always said, is that I’m just not a likable person. So, I’m sorry.” She gives a nervous smile.
Anarchaia’s smile toward Taveth grows sad. She opens her mouth to respond but is interrupted by Alisbeth. “O-oh. No worries, heh. I’m just…rude. It’s not you.” She grits her teeth and smiles wider. “Definitely not you.”
Koltira sits on the other side of Alisbeth after ordering the drinks. He eyes the bottle in her hand. “Oh, he talked you into really drinking.”
Alisbeth nods her head at the mage, gritting her own teeth and not believing a word she’s saying. She turns to Koltira, subconsciously moving slightly closer to Grimory and away from the death knight. She purses her lips. “He said no one would patronize me.”
Koltira puts his hands up in surrender and slides all the way to the end of the couch. “Just making conversation.”
Taveth gently elbows the undead in the ribs. “Don’t say that.” He throws his arm around behind her back to squeeze her arms to her sides and gives her an odd hug. “You’re one of the nicest people I know, Ana. And that’s why I know that you’re not going to force me to do anything that compromises my own personal comfort, right, friend Ana?”
Anarchaia bites back a laugh at the tickling elbow to her ribs, then stiffens within the hug. She resists a sigh and leans over. <<If you don’t, I will.>>
Taveth’s smile drops. <<You wouldn’t.>>
Grimory gives a soft laugh and grabs the glass of water beside him. “I don’t think he was patronizing you. Just surprised.”
Alisbeth relaxes some and purses her lips at Koltira. “Well then, I’m sorry.”
The barmaid sets their drinks on the table and gives Koltira a long, sweet look. She winks before walking away. Koltira watches her go, one eye squinted nearly shut in confusion. Well, that hasn’t happened in a decade.
Anarchaia catches the gesture from the waitress but says nothing, instead regarding Taveth. <<You don’t think you’d feel better getting it off your chest? Knowing how he feels about it? Getting it over with?>>
Taveth scowls. <<No. No, I would not. I would rather pretend it never happened.>>
<<Drink,>> Koltira urges from the other couch. He pushes Taveth’s drink toward him.
Anarchaia sips her wine straight from the bottle. <<If you want, I can pretend to be you and tell him.>> She takes a moment to think of the situation and chortles into the back of a hand.
Taveth’s eyes widen. <<You’d do that? You’d actually—>>
Koltira clears his throat loudly across from the two. <<No. Face your demons.>>
Taveth points at him. <<You’re not the boss of me.>>
Anarchaia grins at the conflict between the two and urges Taveth to drink. <<Perhaps if you do something for me I’ll consider it.>>
The Illidari laughs again. “Sorry for what? Being surprising?”
“For making assumptions,” she clarifies.
“For being normal, then.” Grimory chuckles and sets a boot on the table. “You should be sorry. So, so sorry.”
Alisbeth narrows her eyes at the demon hunter. “Right.”
Grimory lifts his brows and smiles. “Not a fan of playful sarcasm? Okay, I’ll keep it to a minimum.”
Alisbeth purses her lips. “I didn’t realize you were being sarcastic. Maybe you should try harder next time.”
Grimory tilts his head. “You honestly think I think you should apologize for being normal? Hm. Perhaps I should try harder.”
Alisbeth gives him a wry smile. “Don’t hurt yourself.”
The Illidari chews on the ice from his water and shrugs. “I’m really good at that, though.”
Taveth swallows a few mouthfuls of wine then pretends to be occupied staring at something across the tavern. <<What would I have to do for you?>> he asks in Dwarvish.
Anarchaia looks from Koltira and Taveth and frowns. <<I just feel so badly for him. Can you blame me?>> She gives Taveth a crooked smile to signify that she heard but doesn’t answer.
Koltira purses his lips. <<No.>> He sighs and swirls his whiskey. <<You have to take three shots of this and do what Ana says.>>
Anarchaia bites her lip while simultaneously grinning at Taveth. “Hn?”
Taveth stares at Koltira, unamused. <<Fine, I’ll drink your pure acid.>>
The death knight laughs and pours three shots worth into his glass, then holds it out. Taveth swallows the liquid in small mouthfuls, shuddering after each swallow.
Anarchaia lifts her brows, genuinely impressed. “Wow,” she says, “I didn’t think you’d actually do it.” She gives him a hard pat on the back.
Alisbeth unintentionally ignores Grimory as she watches the high elf drink. “Should you really be drinking so much so fast?”
Grimory watches and swallows hard while shifting uncomfortably. This can only end well.
Taveth sets the glass on the table, already looking ill. He grabs at the mage. “You don’t understand. I had to.”
Koltira flinches inwardly, feeling guilty for how the other man will be feeling soon.
Anarchaia instinctively grabs his hand as he reaches for her, a cautious grin on her face. “O-okay. You’ve earned it, I think.” She lowers her voice. <<I’ll follow when he leaves, okay?>>
Grimory pulls his ears back as they speak a language he can’t decipher. “Earned what?” he asks suspiciously.
Anarchaia perks and chuckles nervously. “A-a book from Karazhan’s library. Master said we couldn’t take any, but I told Tav I’d steal one if he took three shots. Heh.”
“Tav, how are you feeling?” Koltira asks.
He sets his forehead on Anarchaia’s shoulder as the alcohol rushes in on him. “Not good.”
Patting the top of his head, Anarchaia conjures a mug of ice water and holds it up for Taveth to see. “Here. You’ll probably need this.” She looks over to Grimory after noticing his empty glass. “You aren’t drinking? That’s strange.”
The Illidari furrows his brow in slight annoyance of her obvious lie and change of subject. “I have a meeting tomorrow. I’d rather not be vomiting in front of the entire militia.”
Taveth sips at the water. He hiccups and makes a face. “It feels good, but also…not.”
Anarchaia laughs. “If you drink water you’ll either feel better or you’ll throw up…which will make you feel better.”
“I think I might be nearing the latter,” Taveth groans.
Alisbeth straightens with interest. “Oh! What sort of meeting? What’s it about? What rank are you? Can I come?”
Koltira bites at the smirk forming on his face. There she is. Gods, I still miss her. Shit.
Grimory smiles. “I’m working towards lieutenant. The paperwork still hasn’t gone through for finding those relics…or Khadgar’s commendation. I’m going to bring it up tomorrow.”
Koltira picks Taveth up and wordlessly carries him upstairs.
Alisbeth giggles at her cousin. “Will he be okay?” she asks the mage.
Anarchaia gives a shrug and a grin. “Maybe? I’ve seen smaller people drink more and be okay? Heh.”
“I’ve also seen bigger people drink less and fall into fountains,” Grimory snorts, draping his elbow over the back of the couch.
Alisbeth purses her lips in concern. “I suppose it’s his own fault.”
After a while of idle conversation and a few lighter drinks, Grimory stretches his legs and gets to his feet. “Well. I think I should get some rest in before sunrise. See y’all tomorrow.” He gives a curt bow of his head and shoulders and turns to leave.
Anarchaia quickly downs the rest of her glass and straightens her robe. She gives Alisbeth an awkward smile and follows once he’s completely out of sight. “Excuse me.”
Alisbeth sighs and sits awkwardly on the couch for a minute before deciding that sitting and drinking alone isn’t something she’s interested in. She goes to her room to find something to occupy her time.
After stalking the Illidari down a darkened alleyway, Anarchaia conjures her disguise. She clears her throat to ensure she’s using Taveth’s voice and bounds over to stop Grimory before he can turn into the streets ahead. “G-Grim! A moment…i-if you would.”
Grimory turns, thumbs in his belt loops. “Tav. Uh…” He coughs into a fist and scratches at the nape of his neck. “Hey. What’s up?”
Anarchaia stumbles as she comes to a stop before him but catches her footing. “A-about the…dream. Heh. I…” She pauses and folds her arms in a feeble attempt to act casual. “I…just wanted to complete the dare. I-is all. And…”
Grimory gives the man before him a once over with his eyes before lifting a brow. “Yeah? And?”
“And…” Her cheeks darken. “And I just…wantedtoletyouknowthatIkindofsortofenjoyedit.” She taps the toe of her shoe on the cobblestone while looking down and away. “I’m sorry. I just—”
“Look, Tav,” Grimory interrupts, taking a step closer. “I’m really not concerned with who you love or what you do behind closed doors.” He takes another step closer and the image of Taveth backs away from him. “And really, I’m flattered. I am.”
Anarchaia swallows and brings her hands up to fidget with her fingers. “I-I’m not expecting you to reciprocate. I was just curious if…”
Grimory sets a hand on her shoulder and gives an endearing smile. “I’m not. Thanks, though. Friends, yeah?” He holds out a hand.
Anarchaia takes it and gives it a meek shake. “Yeah. Friends.”
Grimory nods and turns to leave and the mage gives a sigh of relief and places a hand over her racing heart. Why am I so nervous?
“Oh,” the demon hunter says as he turns back. “And another thing.” He backs her against the cold stone wall of the tavern beside them and presses his lips to hers. Her eyes widen and she can do nothing but wait for him to pull away. When he does she holds her breath and stares into his glowing green eyes. He leans down to her ear and she can feel the heat of his breath on her neck. “Good night, Ana.” He again turns and leaves her there in the dim moonlight.