Book 5 – Chapter Seven

Grimory follows with little hesitation. “Ali, wait!”

Alisbeth stops and spins around to grab Grimory by the horn and yank on it. “Why don’t you like me?” she demands, her expression a mixture of anger and sadness.

Grimory grits his teeth at the pain. “What?! Ali, I do like you! When have I said I haven’t?!”

Alisbeth frowns as tears come to her eyes. “Why do you want Appalachian? You said, ‘who would be there to pick up the pieces?’ And that means you. And that means you want her and not me.” She releases his horn to wipe her eyes as though angry that tears are there.

Grimory’s eyes widen some and he grabs for her arms. “No no, don’t cry. Please.” He hisses, then sighs, running a hand over his hair. “Ali, I wasn’t talking about me. I don’t want her. I meant that old man she’s always around.”

Alisbeth drops her hands and gives a sigh of defeat. “Why didn’t you just say that?” She wraps her arms around him and kisses where his horn connects. “Sorry I hurt you.”

He smiles at the kiss. “It’s okay.” He grabs her hand and kisses her cheek, then smirks after a second. “You wanna go back and play cards? Or…?”

“You were having fun with cards. Go. I’m going to change and I’ll be right back, okay?” Alisbeth backs away and waves him to go inside.

Grimory blinks. “Oh. Uh. Okay, then. Be safe, yeah?” He pushes her hair out of her face and turns back toward the tavern.

~ * ~

Koltira cringes. <<He implied that when I fuck up you’ll run to him for comfort.>>

Anarchaia scoffs and makes a face. <<Him? As if.>> She takes a drink, then pauses. <<Wait, when?>> She tsks and gives him a reassuring smile. <<Any hardships we’ve crossed have been my fault thus far. If anyone should be running, it’d be you.>>

Koltira chuckles and hugs the mage to his side. <<You really think you can deal with my moping and general grumpiness forever?>> He looks around at the cards and smiles. “Hey, look at that. The round is yours.” He slides the gold at the center of the table toward her.

Thassarian grunts and gathers the cards up and shuffles, then begins dealing around the table, even to those not present. “So, how about ano—”

“One per day, you know the rule,” Taveth says, eyeing his cards.

The death knight hrumphs and sets down the deck, then lays out three cards on the table.

Anarchaia stacks her gold pieces in neat towers. “Only if you can deal with my insecurity and bouts of depression that stem from it.” She pauses, realizing she’d spoken in Common, then goes back to her towers when she sees the others not paying attention. She clears her throat. <<I have a plan.>>

Koltira smirks and takes her hand. <<Is your plan to be self deprecating together for the rest of our undead lives? If so, I’m in.>>

Taveth blinks at them. “That is so weirdly romantic, I’m not sure if I should be disturbed or comforted by it.”

“Hmm? What? What’ve I missed?” Thassarian asks, looking up from his cards and setting ten gold on the table for his buy-in.

<<I guess our negative energies cancel each other out.>> She smiles, then flushes at Taveth’s words. “Nothing,” she says to Thassarian and tosses ten gold into the pile as well. “I’ll be right back. Play for me, okay?” The mage places a kiss on the side of Koltira’s head as she stands and weaves her way through patrons and into the adjoining lounge.

Taveth cocks an eyebrow as he and Koltira buy into the game. “Where’s she going?”

Koltira hides a smirk. “I’m not sure. Didn’t stop to ask.”

Anarchaia finds a druid woman hiding with a group in a corner. “Excuse me. You’re a druid, yes? I’m looking for a friend of mine. Juliember. Would you mind letting her know my friends and I are waiting for her at a table near the front?” She smiles when the tauren stands and nods. “Thanks so much!” The mage trots back to her seat and sits, then takes a long drink. “What’s the bet up to?” She takes her cards back.

Koltira looks at the pile. “We all just bought in, no raises. Just waiting on if we should fold those other two.” He leans closer to the mage. <<Everything settled?>>

Grimory takes up his seat and his cards. “Oh, you didn’t forget about me.” He chuckles and tosses in the ante. “Thanks.” He takes Alisbeth’s cards and throws them in the burn pile.

Anarchaia nods and bites her lip in a failed attempt to hide her smile.

Not a moment later, a familiar blue figure steps up to the table, a green braid slung over her shoulder and tusks jutting from her lips. She sets a hand on Anarchaia’s shoulder. <<Finally decide to accept my offer, small mage?>> she says in Orcish with the faintest of smiles.

Koltira smiles up at the troll. “Hey, Jules—iember. Hi Juliember.”

She punches his arm. <<That’s one.>>

Taveth eyes Thassarian as he gives all of his concentration to his cards and the stein in front of him.

Juliember’s eyes light mischievously. <<Oh! The human.>> She sits in Alisbeth’s seat and leans an elbow on the table. <<Does he say nice things of me?>> She laughs.

Anarchaia chuckles into her fingers and ups the bet five gold. <<Afraid not. I think he’s forgotten what a good time you both had.>>

Thassarian furrows his brow and purses his lips behind his beard. “What is it? What are they saying?” he grumbles to the high elf beside him, knowing Taveth to be a neutral party.

Juliember laughs low into her fingertips, her eyes on the death knight. <<Oh, yes. Lots of yelling.>>

Taveth cocks an eyebrow. “Eh-heh. Ana is speaking of a good time you had together and Juliember says there was lots of yelling?” He laughs, remembering. “Oh, the prank?”

Koltira’s eyes widen and he waves his hand at Taveth, hinting to keep quiet about it being a prank.

Anarchaia gives a laugh. <<Yelling? Is that all?>>

Thassarian narrows his eyes and stirs a bit in his seat. “Tell her she’s lucky that’s all there was.”

Grimory drinks the last drops from his and Alisbeth’s reassembled bottle of whiskey and flips over the first card on the board.

“Grim, that probably has particles of glass in it, still,” Anarchaia warns with concern in her voice.

The demon hunter shrugs after a second. “If I die, I’ll be back.”

She narrows her eyes, then shakes her head.

Taveth translates the message to the troll and she laughs, the faintest blush flickering into her cheeks, then leaving just as fast. <<He wishes it was more. He couldn’t handle me, I would break his bones, then mend them only to break them again. Brittle little human.>> She winks at Thassarian. <<Tell him what I said, little elf.>>

Taveth blushes. “Um, I-I—”

<<As easy as I could snap him, I’d crush you twice as hard.>>

Taveth turns bright red, his eyes wide. “Uh. Excuse me. I have to left my get— Excuse me.” He heads to the bar to beg a drink from his brother.

Grimory waves his bottle after him. “Another, if you’d be so kind.”

Anarchaia turns to the human. “She says the two of you had quite the night and would love a second opportunity.”

Thassarian’s already lavender cheeks darken and he bristles. “Well tell her she’s full of shit and it’d never happen.” He brings his drink to his lips and mumbles “It wasn’t the entire night.”

Anarchaia’s grin widens and she looks at Juliember. <<He said he’d love the chance.>>

Juliember laughs outright and sets a hand on Anarchaia’s shoulder. <<I know that was a lie. It’s okay, though. Doesn’t hurt my feelings if a weak little man can’t handle a real woman.>> She grins at Thassarian and urges his stein from him to drink from it.

Alisbeth returns to the tavern, wearing a clean set of clothes and armor. She squeals and runs at the table, then dives into Juliember’s lap. “Juniper!” She hugs her tight, one arm waving to get Grimory’s attention. “Look! Look! It’s Jiridamudor! Think she’ll let me ride her again?”

Koltira remains quiet, listening to the banter lost in translation, a humorous smile teasing his lips.

Thassarian narrows his eyes and reaches forward to grab his cup, but their fingers brush against each other and he releases it as though bitten. He scoffs and raises the ante, folding his arms.

Anarchaia shrugs and leans back to sit with Koltira. “I tried.”

“She’s hard to miss,” Grimory says with a halfhearted chuckle. “And I’m sure if anyone asks nicely she’ll let them ride her.”

Juliember purses her lips at the demon hunter. <<Wrong.>>

Koltira calls and leans back, eyeing his friend. “Bug up your ass, Thass?”

Taveth sits back down at the table and slides a bottle across to Grimory, then sips on his own drink as he calls the raise. “Oh, we’re not talking about breaking my bones anymore. That’s nice. That’s very nice.”

Grimory pulls his ears back at the unfamiliar word but grins at her all the same. He turns to Taveth. “Is that what she was saying?” He flips another card on the board and tosses his own into the fold pile. “Sounds like you have an admirer.”

“Hard to play over the smell,” Thassarian sneers.

Taveth shoots Thassarian a look. “Well, I know what she said was uncalled for, but that is still rude.” He frowns at Grimory, then glances at the troll. He ducks his head when she flicks interested eyebrows at him. “I’d rather have none than have that sort of admirer.”

Alisbeth giggles and sticks a tongue out at her cousin. “You don’t think she’s pretty?”

“It’s not a question of looks, it’s a question of intent. Does she mean to snap me like a twig? Yes. Therefore, I am utterly uninterested.”

Juliember makes a face. <<Why do I feel you are speaking about me?>>

Alisbeth grins at the troll. “Because we are.” She kisses the warm, blue skin of the troll’s cheek. “All bad things, of course.”

<Mmm,>> Juliember hums and smiles. <<Why would I be interested in a human when I have you ladies, hmm?>> She drags Anarchaia closer and wraps an arm around her waist, then pulls the two tighter to her.

Anarchaia stiffens, flushes, and turns pleading eyes to Koltira. <<Help me,>> she whines in Gutterspeak.

“Good,” Thassarian grunts and pushes his empty stein toward Taveth expectantly.

Taveth glares at the container. “Thass, I’m not on the clock.” He pushes the stein back.

Juliember grins at the mage, but her eyes flit to find Thassarian’s across the table.

Alisbeth’s lower right eyelid twitches just once. “Interesting language, Antorian. What is it?” She grips the mage with her free arm so she and the troll have her locked in place.

Koltira reaches for Anarchaia’s hand to pull at her. “Let her go before you break her.”

Alisbeth’s grin deepens. “Oh, but we’re not squeezing the air out of her, are we? No, right Jury?”

Thassarian catches the glance and turns to Taveth as though he hadn’t seen. “I’ll make it worth your time. Scholars don’t get paid much, eh?”

“I speak most languages, Ali.” Anarchaia curls her fingers around Koltira’s. “Actually, it is getting a bit hard to breathe…heh.” She struggles against their grasps. “Rather painful, actually.”

Taveth purses his lips, his brow lowered. “You’d be surprised,” he mutters, then stands. He throws a careless bid onto the table and heads to the bar, stein in hand.

Koltira pulls harder and Juliember relinquishes her hold. <<Party pooper.>>

Anarchaia presses herself against the death knight, putting a foot between herself and the troll. <<Consent is a thing, you know.>>

Grimory takes a long drink and flips the last card on the board. “Can we return to a language everyone understands please? Starting to feel like a fourth wheel.”

Thassarian shifts uncomfortably and raises the bet after looking at the last card. He scratches at his cheek and avoids looking directly at the women across the table. “You’d think this was a brothel.”

Koltira doesn’t look up from his cards, just drops gold onto the table as he addresses Grimory. “Juliember doesn’t speak Common. Thassarian doesn’t speak any of the languages of the Horde people. So, sadly, no, we cannot stick to one language.”

Taveth sets a fresh stein in front of Thassarian. “I really don’t mind translating. Most of what was said was something akin to Thassarian not being man enough for her? She’d break his bones trying…” He trails off and sips at his drink, assuming no one is actually interested.

Thassarian scoffs. “She’d be in more danger than I should we be left alone together…again.”

Juliember purses her lips and looks at the mage. <<What are those boys talking about?>>

“So, she doesn’t speak Thalassian?” the demon hunter says with a lowered eyebrow.

<<He’s reiterating what you said earlier. Thass says you’d be the one with broken bones.>> Anarchaia takes a drink of her wine. <<Do you speak Thalassian?>>

Juliember cocks an eyebrow. <<No. Does he?>> She jerks her chin at the human.

<<Nope,>> Koltira answers her. <<How many languages do you speak?>>

An expression of embarrassment crosses the troll’s face. <<Two and a half. The half being Taur-ahe. But I was the top of my class, so I hope to learn more soon!>>

Alisbeth swipes the bottle from in front of Grimory and takes a drink. “Oh, you hear that? Of course you don’t. She’s top of her class and plans to learn more languages. Does that make you ambitious to do the same?” She pokes at his bare chest.

<<I can give you lessons,>> Anarchaia says excitedly. She looks at Thassarian. “You as well.”

Thassarian eyes the mage. “Me as well, what?”

“I’ll teach you Orcish.”

“I’ve hardly the time for school.” The human hiccups into a fist.

Anarchaia deflates. “Ah. Understandable.” She downs the rest of her bottle.

Grimory rubs at his chest and purses his lips at her. “Being imprisoned in a crystal for ten years doesn’t earn me a pass?”

The druid smiles. <<I would like that. Perhaps start with Common so I can hear what assholes like your friend there are saying about me in the streets.>> Her eyes fix on the death knight again.

Taveth directs a small smile to Grimory. “But you’re out now. I happen to have plenty of free time—usually. I could help Ana teach all of you some helpful languages.”

Alisbeth scoffs. “I know Orcish and Trollish, I’m good.”

Grimory ponders the proposal for a moment then nods. “Yeah, sure.”

Anarchaia relays what Juliember has said to Thassarian, then turns to the troll. <<He says that whether you can understand him or not will not make his words any kinder.>>

<<Mmh,>> the troll hums as though taking joy out of the words, <<I love a man who knows how to speak dirty.>> She looks at the clock over Taveth’s head. <<Oh, look at the time. I’m sorry, I’m late for a prior engagement.>> She lifts Alisbeth, slides out from under her, then drops the death knight back down. She looks pointedly at Thassarian, then back at the clock. <<It was a pleasure seeing all of you again. Please, call on me again, when I have more time?>>

Alisbeth frowns. <<You’re leaving?>> she whines.

<<It was very nice meeting you,>> Taveth says, standing to shake her hand across the table.

She grins at him. <<Careful with that pretty face of yours.>> She leans down to hug Koltira and Anarchaia, one wrapped in each arm.

Anarchaia gives a quiet, nervous titter and pats the troll’s arm. <<Don’t be a stranger. Heh.>>

<<Perhaps I can stop into Dalaran more often.>> She kisses them each on the cheek, then leaves.

Anarchaia flushes a deeper hue and attempts to drink from her empty bottle.

Thassarian shifts uncomfortably in his seat again and drinks from his stein. “Finally.” He shoves the pot toward Koltira and gathers the cards for shuffling.

Taveth finally smiles at Thassarian. “So, you’re not as traumatized by the troll than I expected. I personally wouldn’t be able to be in the same room with a tauren if I’d woken up in bed with one.”

Koltira raises a lower lid at the high elf. “You not a tauren fan?”

“They’re…hairy,” he says, cringing. “And when I see them all I can think of are the cattle in Westfall.”

Grimory hits his hand on the table and gestures to Taveth. “Thank you! Everyone calls me a bigot for not being into them.”

Thassarian shrugs. “I personally think trolls are worse. At least tauren bathe.”

Taveth sneers. “That only makes them smell worse. Moldy. And I think their troll friend does bathe… Didn’t smell a thing.”

Koltira’s expression fixes on Thassarian through the conversation, trying to get a read on him. <<His poker face says he’s lying about something, I’m not sure exactly what he’s hiding, though.>>

“Your nose must be broken,” Thassarian says with a chuckle and raises the ante fifty gold when he sees his hand.

<<They definitely fucked,>> Anarchaia whispers, the alcohol making her carefree enough to use words she normally wouldn’t. <<You expect him to admit it? Even to you?>>

Koltira shakes his head. <<I don’t expect him to admit it to anyone, even himself.>>

Taveth eyes the two across the table. <<No… He wouldn’t! Would he? He hates trolls. All of them.>>

Alisbeth leans over to Grimory as she drops gold she didn’t count onto the table. “Hey, is it just me or do they sound like gurgling toilets when they talk like that?”

Anarchaia eyes Taveth. <<Eavesdropping isn’t very polite, sir.>> She sticks her tongue out at him.

Grimory chuckles. “I think you’re just biased against forsaken. But no, their language is not very pretty.” He folds his cards, then flips the board card.

Thassarian bounces a knee below the table and takes another rushed drink of his stein. “Your turn, mage girl.”

Anarchaia blinks. “Oh. Sorry. Heh.” She tosses her cards in the burn pile. “I fold.”

Alisbeth turns a forced smile on the demon hunter, an eye twitching. “She speaks the forsaken language quite well, no? Almost like it’s very, very familiar to her. Right?” She laughs softly in a forced manner.

Grimory turns over the last card on the board and grits his teeth at Alisbeth’s tone. He swallows. “Uh…yeah, I suppose so.” He avoids looking at her lest he give himself away. “She speaks most languages pretty fluently, though. It’s not surprising.” He takes a long drink.

Koltira absently tosses gold onto the pile and slouches back in the chair. “Any plans today, Thass? Was thinking the two of us could spar, or something. Like old times.”

Taveth purses his lips at the mage, then turns his attention to his cards, then pushes gold to the pile as well, calling Thassarian’s raise.

Thassarian raises the bet another fifty gold. “Actually, I’ve got an appointment. Soon, as a matter of fact. I just stopped by because I’d heard the Nighthearts recently bought this tavern and I wanted my favorite drink.” He drains his stein, heel still tapping impatiently.

Anarchaia shoots Taveth a look and grins while swallowing a hiccup. “You must have a good hand.”

Taveth furrows his brow at the mage. “Probably not. I don’t know. I’ve never been great with cards.” He shrugs and follows Thassarian’s bet with his own fifty gold.

Alisbeth shoves more gold onto the table, still not having counted it. She grins at Grimory. “I suppose you’re right. Silly me. You’re so smart, Grim.”

Koltira eyes Alisbeth, barely taking in what she’s saying as he counts more than the right amount she’d shoved in. He keeps his mouth closed and turns to Thassarian. “You’ve a terrible poker face.” He slides fifty gold to the pot. “I call your bluff.”

Thassarian sets his two cards down without looking away from Koltira, a smirk on his face. “Royal flush.”

The demon hunter across the table grumbles and folds his arms as Thassarian scoops his earnings into a pouch—picking the excess out and giving back to Alisbeth.

The human sets a hand on Koltira’s shoulder as he stands. “I’ll see you around, old friend. Stay out of trouble.” He regards the rest with a nod and a smile, then heads out into the dimly lit streets.

Anarchaia chuckles. “I suppose a bad poker face is sometimes a good poker face.” She pulls her mask back over her face, then sets a palm on her chest. “Mine is always perfect, however.”

Taveth frowns and sets his hand of aces down, then shoves them at the card pile. “All right, then. I think I’m going to head back to the Vindicaar. I heard something about a Beacon on Krasus Landing.”

Alisbeth pouts. “Oh, but why?”

“I’m no good at cards and I don’t feel like drinking.”

Grimory yawns, then blinks when the action makes him light headed. “Have fun. I think I’m going to call it a night.” He glances at Alisbeth with a grin. “Unless you have something else you wanna do.”

Alisbeth perks. “Killing forsaken scum?”

Anarchaia gives the elf beside her a sideways glance. She bites her lip despite his not being able to see. <<I know there’s something I’ve been meaning to do.>>

Koltira stands and grabs the mage, throwing her over his shoulder like a sack of grain. “You drive a hard bargain. I resisted for as long as I could, but, you’ve caught me.” He strides for the door.

Taveth purses his lips at the couples and slings his bag over his shoulder. “I’m tired, yes, but I’ve some work to do before I can allow myself to sleep.”

Grimory chuckles. “Actually, sure. Maybe we can go to the range and pretend for a bit, yeah?” He looks at Taveth. “Oh yeah? Reading is hardly work. The nurse said you need rest, yet.”

Taveth bristles. “Actually, I need to report in for the day—omitting, of course, that I nearly died. That’s just what I’d need.” He sighs. “Good night.”

Alisbeth frowns. “No. No pretending. I want to kill some. One. In particular.” She grins and shrugs. “Sounds like fun, right?”

“Night, Tav.” Grimory furrows his brow and turns back to Alisbeth. “A particular one? Who? Why?” He pulls his ears back. “Have you found the ones who killed you?”

Alisbeth frowns. “No. I don’t know where they are.” She smiles again. “But I do know one. Lives in the Hall of the Guardian. Wretched little thing.” She wraps her arms around his neck and pulls herself in close. “You wouldn’t make me do this alone, would you?”

A flicker of panic strikes through Grimory but he pushes it down. “Oh? Uh…did he insult you or something?” He pauses, conflicted, and avoids her eye. “Ali, you know we can’t kill anyone in the city…”

“Remember that one? The one who kept me in my room? Him. I wanna kill him. Will you help me? I’ll give you a nice reward.” She winks and bites her lower lip.

Grimory’s eyes widen slightly. “A forsaken kept you in your room?” He scowls. “Who? Did he hurt you? Show me.”

Alisbeth nods emphatically. “He did. Then Agriculture came back and saved me. And to help me feel better she got a bunch of vases and we had a fight!” The excitement fades from her eyes. “I like her. It’s not fair.”

Grimory furrows his brow and frowns some. He sets a hand on her knee upon seeing the happiness dim in her features. “What isn’t fair?”

Don’t tell him. Alisbeth hisses. “Nothing. Nothing is not fair. I’m just saying things. Must be the whiskey.” She presses her palm to the back of his hand, trapping it on her knee. “What were we talking about?”

The urge to press her rises but Grimory pushes it back. He chuckles. “We could go looking for trouble outside the city if you’re feeling…bloodlusty.” He lifts his eyebrows. “Unless you have your heart set on this one forsaken guy.”

Alisbeth finishes the bottle of whiskey and smiles at the demon hunter. “What was it you were wanting to do? Oh, sleep. You want that?”

Grimory pushes his cheek into his knuckles and smiles at her. “Yeah, but you seem pretty amped. I’d hate to bail on you. Tell you what, we go do something you want with this limited time we have off, then after I can sleep. Yeah?”

Alisbeth’s smile twists into an evil grin. “Wanna go somewhere we might get caught?”

Grimory’s eyebrows raise again and he glances around the tavern. He then turns back with a mischievous smirk. “Go and I’ll follow.”

Alisbeth grabs Grimory’s hand and drags him out of the tavern to search for a good place.

Grimory keeps pace, then stops her to gesture at a quiet alcove between the citadel and the tavern beside it. “Dangerous enough?” he says with a fangy grin.

Alisbeth barely lets him take her far before she leaps at him and starts yanking at his belt. “It better be, cause I’m impatient, now.” She pushes him to a wall and jumps on him.

~ * ~

Anarchaia flails and laughs, gently hitting the death knight in the back, then blushes and lowers to a giggle as she catches the eyes of passersby. “This isn’t what I had in mind!” she says in a hushed yell over her shoulder.

Koltira deftly shifts the mage in his arms to cradle her. “Oh, is this better?”

Anarchaia gives another quiet chuckle and wraps her arms around his neck. She smiles up at him from behind her mask. “I have functioning legs, kind sir. All the same, where are you taking me? Plan to throw me off city limits?”

Koltira stops. “To be honest, I only thought as far as whisking you out of the tavern.”

Anarchaia laughs outright and leaps from his arms. “Romantic nonetheless.” She grabs him by the arm and hugs it tightly, then steers him toward the nearest inn. “Such acts shouldn’t go unpunished.”After a moment of walking, the tipsy mage finds she can no longer wait and grabs Koltira by the collar of his cuirass. She pulls him into dark, narrow alley and pushes him against the wall while simultaneously pulling up her mask. A hum escapes her as she stands on her toes to push her lips to his.

Koltira chuckles against her lips and lifts her feet from the ground. “Madam, I do believe you are drunk. Perhaps you need an escort home.”

Anarchaia smiles and presses more hungry kisses into his lips. “It’s been nearly three weeks. Can you really blame me?” she asks in a hushed tone, wrapping her arms around his neck and playing with his tresses. “And whose home?”

Koltira hums. “Well, I don’t have a room and you’re not allowed in my ‘home’.” He runs his free hand down her side, his hand smoothing over the silky robes, then pauses. “Oh, right, I’m not allowed at your place, either. Convenient.”

The mage scoffs in frustration, then bites her lip. She leans down to press her lips to the space just below his jaw. “We could clean up my house.” She kisses his cold skin. “I’ll work on my teleportation. It could be our place.” Another kiss, just below his ear lobe. “For us to go to. Whenever we want.”

Koltira groans and squeezes her tighter. “That sounds like a great idea. It also sounds like you’re asking me to move in with you—but only sometimes.”

“Think of it as a vacation home,” she says on a breathy laugh. A pang of realization hits her and she pulls away to look at him, cheeks a dark pink. “U-Unless you don’t want to, of course. I’m not…rushing you or anything. Heh.”

Koltira spins to pin the mage against the wall. “I see nothing wrong with rushing a place to escape. Could really use one right now.” He kisses her long and deep.

“Hey! You two! Take that indoors.” A blond high elf holds up a lantern to look at the two, his face set and stern.

Anarchaia closes her eyes, then jumps and pulls away at the voice. She looks back to Koltira and can’t hold in a laugh. “I suppose we better do as he says.” She sighs and sets a hand on his cheek. “Maybe we can deal with an inn for tonight. After our off-world excursion, we can work on our paradise getaway.” She chortles and licks her lower lip.

Koltira grins at the guard as he leads Anarchaia away. “Have a good night, Mr. Nightheart.”

Anarchaia eyes the man as he passes, an embarrassed grin on her face. “They’re everywhere,” she mutters and pulls him into the next inn they pass. She throws gold on the counter and hurriedly grabs the key and pulls him down the hall.

~ * ~

Archmage Khadgar returns to the Hall—cheeks flushed from his two drinks—and sighs. He runs a hand through his hair and makes his way to the tavern downstairs where he knows fresh coffee to be. Once there, a head of azure hair catches his eye and he sets a hand on the man’s shoulder with a smile. “Kalec, my friend. How goes it?”

Kalec jumps as he’s pulled from his thoughts. “Oh, hello Khadgar. It, um…goes, I suppose. You?” He raises his stein of ale and takes a long drink, as though the drink might change his destiny.

Khadgar takes a seat beside him and orders a simple coffee which is set before him within seconds. “Tired. As always.” He drinks the burning hot liquid. “You seem distraught. Anything I can do?”

Kalec sighs and closes his eyes as though defeated. “It’s…my apprentice. She’s a gifted student—nowhere near yours, of course. But…” He puts his face in one hand and groans into the brown leather of his glove.

Khadgar furrows his silver brows. “The…blonde girl?” He chuckles into his coffee. “Say no more. I know your plight.” A sigh escapes him as well. “Let me guess. Distant, less ambition, long absences without notice?”

“The opposite!” Kalec nearly shouts. “She talks of ambitious ventures. Talks. She doesn’t demonstrate to me at her full potential so that I can accurately gauge what scale of a mage we’re dealing with. And she never leaves. She has virtually set herself up at my side as a secretary.” He runs his fingers through his royal blue hair and sighs. “Maybe if I forced her out into the world she’d learn a thing or two. Or die. That’s a fifty-fifty chance of me failing as a teacher.”

Khadgar lifts his eyebrows at the man’s quiet outburst. He purses his lips. “Ana’s been the opposite of that. She has worldly experience—and is gifted—but refuses to sit and study like she used to.” The corner of his mouth tightens. “Ever since Deathweaver—no, Silversong—she’s been slacking. I can’t get her to spend more than an hour on actual lessons. I’ve come dangerously close to relieving her. Just yesterday, in fact.” He sighs again and rubs at his mouth with a palm. “She needs an outlet to hone her skills other than the sparse time she and I are together.”

Kalec raises an eyebrow and motions for a refill, which he receives almost instantly. “What happened yesterday?”

“I told her to stay and take care of my things while I am away on Argus.” He scowls, still as bitter as the drink in his hand. “And she came anyway. Pawned the paperwork off on Modera.”

Kalec sets down his stein, his jaw slack with shock. “Such disobedience! I would—I have absolutely no idea, actually. I’ve never encountered such a thing with my own apprentice. I…almost wish she would wander off on grand adventures. Get herself into trouble and figure out how to get out of it. Builds character—and magical acuity.” He chuckles and takes a long drink, then purses his lips at Khadgar. “What do you think you’re going to do about it?”

“Nothing, probably. I’m too soft on her. I’m thinking Ana needs something to distract her from her…distractions…on her…” He turns blue eyes, glimmering with realization, up to the man before him. “…adventures.”

As though hit in the head, Kalec sits upright and turns his whole body to face Khadgar. “Wait a minute…”

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