Khadgar stares daggers in Anarchaia’s direction, a cheek on his knuckles and the fingers of the other hand drumming against the desk as though he’s been waiting for her. His tomes and parchments float idly behind him as though an audience for her chastising. “What in gods’ names has gotten into you,” he asks, quiet and calm, as though to himself.
“I-if you’d just let me explain—”
“First you disobey a direct order from me, then you take an unauthorized vacation, and now you’re shamelessly disrespecting your superiors.”
“Master, I hadn’t meant any offense. I was simply trying to—”
“I don’t know what to do with you anymore,” he states in his cool demeanor, blue eyes shimmering with a rage contained just below the surface. “You don’t do your work, you disappear for days—and now weeks, you disobey orders, and now this. What else can I expect from you?”
“I’ll do better,” she whispers, visibly afraid. “I promise. I-…I know I haven’t been the ideal student—”
“You’ve been the worst student. It’s a wonder I haven’t expelled you, do you know that? The amount of ingratitude and disrespect you’ve displayed in just these last six months alone are second to none in this building. I’m tired, Ana. I honestly am.”
Anarchaia swallows and hesitates, afraid to say anything else lest he again interject. She musters the courage to, anyway. “I’m sorry.”
The simmering anger in his eyes ebbs away some and he leans back in his chair. His texts and papers stack atop each other neatly before him and he stands. “But,” he continues, making his way around to the front of his desk and leaning against it with arms folded, “knowing you, I’m sure there’s a reason for why you felt the need to become argumentative with one of the Council.”
She fidgets. “I…was hoping he’d give Kel’ori a passing grade on her homework up until this point. I-I didn’t know that she’d been docked points because of me. I just wanted it to be fair…”
Khadgar’s face softens and he sighs quietly. “The way you went about it was unnecessary.”
“I’m not sure what the lot of you have endured up there that would make you so hard set on seeing that Miss Nightheart stay here, but if it’s not important enough to speak of, then perhaps you should just allow Kalec to handle his student as he sees fit.”
“I…” She bites her lip, wanting so dearly to tell him the truth, but also knowing how he’ll react. “I just don’t think it’s safe for her there.” She pauses. “Wait, he didn’t tell you that he was reassigning her?”
“No, he did. Claimed you were…” He picks up the parchment and scans the brief amount of words. “Unfit? Honestly I’d thought you were better than this….”
The words cause her heart to ache and she furrows her brow upward, the fingers of her gloves practically tangling with one another. “I-’it’s not about that…”
“He says he’s going to assign her to a first-year student with less experience than you but more than Kel’ori herself. They’ll be departing for Argus in the morning,” he continues, no longer even reading from the paper and instead looking at her from behind its edge.
Anarchaia gives a groan and pulls on her hood. “No,” she whines, “no, don’t do that.” She sighs and lets her arms drop to dangle at her sides, defeated. “Please— Just— Ugh. Please let Archmage Kalec know that she’ll be accompanying us tomorrow, instead.”
“Perhaps you yourself should let him know. And apologize for the insolence you displayed.”
“I didn’t even say anything bad!”
Khadgar resists a chuckle and keeps his stoic demeanor. “A million words are said in the inflection of one, Ana. Now go.”
Anarchaia huffs and turns for the door, then flinches at his next words.
“Without the mask. Show him your sincerity. None of your scowl with your face, smile with your words nonsense.”
“Yessir,” she grumbles and steps out into the hallway. “Why did I even come back here?” she mutters beneath her breath, ignoring the curious expressions of passersby. “I try to do one—no two nice things for someone—at the expense of myself, even!—and this is what I deal with in return.” Her ramblings continue all the way back to the familiar carved door on the floor just below the one she’d come from. She knocks after a long minute of hesitation.
The door swings open to reveal the sound of gentle scratching of metal on stone. “You waited out there long enough,” he says. Kalecgos doesn’t pull his eyes from his work, though a new scroll from Khadgar rests beside the stone prison keeping in the bones. “Did you have something to say to me?”
His words spur a spark of anger within her, but she swallows it and steps inside. “I—” She inhales, then remembers Khadgar’s words and purses her lips. With hesitant fingers she pulls her mask from her head, then pushes her thick white tresses back and out of her face. She frowns and avoids looking up at him. “I apologize. What I’d said and the way I acted was inappropriate. I hope you can find it within you to forgive me.”
Kalecgos turns his head to carefully scrutinize her for such a long time the mage grows uncomfortable. He sets his tools down and stands, wiping his dusty hands on a towel. “I don’t. Forgiveness is for real mistakes. All you did was refuse to take no for an answer. If I say no again, will you agree to respect my decision?”
Anarchaia squirms inside as she feels his eyes on her for longer than she’d anticipated. She then blinks at his words before relaxing some and nods. “Yes. I…” She sighs. “Kel’ori will be coming with us in the morning. And I’ll turn in all of my past work within the week if that allotment of time is acceptable.”
He raises a slow shoulder. “Your timing is Khadgar’s matter, not mine.” He lifts Kel’ori’s lengthy essay from his desk and holds it out for the mage. “Return this to my apprentice and inform her that she stays with your party on Argus.” He pauses and smirks. “I feel obligated to say that if any harm befalls her, you, of course, will be held accountable.” A sly smile curls on his lips. “Though, who needs cliché half-threats, anyway?”
No one when in the position you are. The corners of her lips twitch as she resists scowling and she gingerly takes the parchment. “I understand. Thank you.” The thought of Kel’ori’s face when she tells her the news suddenly fills her head and she furrows her brow with sadness in her heart. “I’ll…return it to her right now.” She turns for the door, mask held tightly in a fist. “Thank you again, Archmage.”
“No, Miss Starling, thank you. Be well.” The door opens once more behind her and he smiles his patient, charming smile.
Anarchaia stops as the door closes behind her, then leans against the far wall to push her hands into her face. She sighs, holding back tears of frustration, throws her mask back on, then collects herself and returns to Kel’ori’s room a few floors down. With a heavy hand she knocks and waits.
Kel’ori opens the door with a forced smile, her eyes tired and troubled. “Sorry. Come in. I, um…” She looks around the room at the projects that had fallen to the floor from where they’d been hovering. “What’s that?” She motions at the paper. “Is that mine?”
“Oh, uh…” Anarchaia bites her lip. “Yeah. Archmage Kalec said it was very good and definitely passing work.” She frowns. “If it weren’t for me…” She looks between the floor covered in bolts of fabric and the woman before her and realizes she can’t say the rest of what she’d intended to. “I’ll do my work, though…”
Kel’ori rips the parchment from the mage’s hand, her lips pressed into a thin line. She stares at the unrolled page for a long time, tears coming to her eyes. “What did you say to him?”
“I-I…” Anarchaia swallows. “He…said no. I’m sorry, Kel. I really tried. I-I almost got expelled trying, in fact.” She gives a nervous titter that leads into a cringe. “I’m so sorry…”
Kel’ori stares incredulously at her. “But…” She hands over the paper. On it is scrawled a neat note beneath an A+. It goes back down if Miss Starling doesn’t keep her word.
Anarchaia’s eyes widen slightly and she’s filled with relief that she was bought a few more minutes before giving the truly terrible news. “Oh. Heh.” Her face softens. “I guess he’s not such a bad guy…heh.”
Kel’ori grabs Anarchaia in a hug. “Of course he’s not! He’s the best. He really is.”
“I-I wouldn’t say that just yet…” Anarchaia pats her on the back.
The elf frowns. “Why? Is there more?”
“I…couldn’t convince him to let you remain here.” She frowns. “I’m sorry.”
Kel’ori frowns and turns away. “Oh.” She spins back around and waves for an item to unbury itself. “I finished this. Would you like to try it on again? Or maybe we can go get it enchanted, like you said?” She sets the folded article in the woman’s hands.
Anarchaia thinks for a long moment. “Kel’ori, I know it isn’t pleasant, but…We have to deal with this. We leave in the morning.”
“But. The robes. You looked so pretty in them. Did you change your mind?” Her eyes go wide.
Anarchaia furrows her brow upward, intent on getting her message through. “Kel, if you don’t come with us, you’ll fail.”
Kel’ori nods. “Mm-hmm. Okay. So, no time to lose. Got it. We should hurry.” Everything in the room folds neatly, the needles stab into the fabric for safe keeping. She grabs Anarchaia by the elbow and teleports them to a small, grey house shoved awkwardly between two buildings, which were built up over the top as though to spite the little single-story hut hiding in the dark alleyway. “Her house is… Well, it’s Docra. She was so adamant about not moving I guess the builders finally just gave up. She tells it better. Come on!” The mage goes to the door and rings a little black bell. A black cat curls it’s way out a pet door and mrows up at them. “Hello, Ivory.” She stoops and scratches under the cat’s chin.
“Oh, pleasant,” a monotone voice says from the doorway, “unannounced visitors.” She casts her bored expression on Anarchaia. Then on Kel’ori. “And you brought a friend.” She sighs dramatically and turns, disappearing into the dark house, the door left open as the only sign of them being welcome inside.
“She…doesn’t appear to want us here,” Anarchaia murmurs while fidgeting with the robes in her hands. “Perhaps we should come back.”
Kel’ori snorts. “She wants us here, trust me. She works from home.” She pulls the woman into the house and closes the door. “Besides, I’m her friend.”
“Correction,” her voice drones from the black of the room, “I am your friend. I never said you were mine.” A match strikes and explodes a small bit of light to cast her face in eerie shadow from above. “What do you want? I just woke up.”
Kel’ori turns to hiss, “She sleeps during the day.” The mage smiles at the woman drifting around the room as though floating over the floor, lighting black and indigo wax candles.
Docra motions at her black furniture for the two to sit. She sweeps past a wall where a long pipe has been set up at the ceiling and below it are a series of shorter pipes of various sizes and types pointing outward from the wall. Water drips from the one at the top onto the others to play an earie tune without any sort of melody to it. “What’s the enchantment?”
Anarchaia sits and resists a shudder. “U-uhm…fire dampening.” Her eyes scan the room around her and eventually settles on the titles on the bookshelf on the far wall.“Kel’ori says you’re really skilled. Heh.”
Docra pulls a box from a series of shelves and sets it on the coffee table. “Kel’ori likes to flatter. Which is pointless. I know the spell and I’ve never had a dissatisfied client. Anything past that is useless chatter.”
Kel’ori giggles and waves a hand. “You’re far to humble.”
The woman stares at Kel’ori until the mage squirms. “Want to hear a joke?”
“Is this like…all your others?” Her expression tentatively sours.
“No. Knock, knock.”
“Oh, gods… Who’s there?”
“Reality. Why are you hiding from me?”
Kel’ori blinks and stares across at the other mage for help.
“Eh…” Anarchaia gives a nervous titter. She holds up the robes she’d been given. “How much? Typically, I mean…heh.”
Docra holds up a finger to Anarchaia. “How much coffee have you had?”
Kel’ori cringes. “Today? Or…”
The woman hums. She stands and pours a small cup of dark liquid. “Drink.”
The blue-eyed elf cringes. “What is it?”
“Not coffee.” She presses it to Kel’ori’s lips until the woman open her mouth to drink it. “You might want to lie down.” She returns the cup to the counter, then sits beside Anarchaia. “It’s a rare enchantment. There is no typical price.”
Across from them, Kel’ori falls sideways on the couch, her hair over her face.
“Told you to lie down.”
Anarchaia jumps as the other mage’s head hits the cushioned armrest at the far end. She turns back to Docra with a chuckle. “A sleeping potion in a tea? Heh.” She hands over the robes. “I’ll pay whatever you see fit. And it’s a good thing you knocked her out. I didn’t want her to end up paying.”
Docra eyes the robes and the mages. “I like to sleep deeply. She needs it. There’s…a hole in her soul. A darkness. It’s beautiful, but I think she doesn’t love it like I do.” Her fingers twitch and weave over the dress as she swirls dust along it in sigils. Her eyes stay on the blond mage the whole time. “Nightmares. Lucky for her I gave her the dream inhibitor.” Finally her bored expression settles on Anarchaia. “How did you meet Kel’ori?”
Anarchaia nods at the woman’s musings but does not confirm nor deny them. She perks at the question. “Oh. We’ve been students together for a bit, now, but haven’t really talked until recently. How do you know her?”
“She got lost and followed my cat here. She just never stopped coming back.” Docra’s eyes dim as she moves to the nonsense tune on the pipes. “A demon’s heart.”
The mage’s brow knits and her eyes widen slightly. “I-I beg your pardon?”
“I want the heart of a great demon from Argus. Intact. Preserved in a jar.” Her green eyes settle on the mage again. “It’s for my collection.”
Anarchaia inwardly sighs. “I…can see what I can do. We’ll be going there tomorrow, as it happens.” She watches the priest’s hands move across the fabric and grazes at the inside of her lip with the tips of her teeth. “How—uhm…how many enchantments do you know?”
Docra blinks. “All of them. A craftsman is useless without full knowledge.”
The undead girl picks at her fingers and pulls her eyes elsewhere. “So…you know fertility enchantments, then?”
“There’s one for every race. I can weave it into your robes right now, if you want. Price will go up, though. And there’s a potency sigil, but that’s another payment on top of the original charm.” She pauses in her enchanting. “What race do you need?”
Anarchaia cringes beneath her mask and turns her head even farther away. “…undead,” she says quietly, afraid to hear the reply but also excited for an answer.
Unfazed, the priest adjusts the robes to continue. “Undead isn’t a race. It’s a state of being.” She sets the quickest of a hand on Anarchaia’s thigh. “Your darkness is beautiful.” She returns to the work in her lap as though the contact hadn’t occurred.
The mage flushes at the touch and words and turns back slightly. “But I’m not Forsaken. Do they count as a race? If so, is there one for them? If not, is there one at all?”
“There is no fertility spell for Forsaken, or death knights. A new loo won’t fix broken pipes.” She stares off at the droplets falling from near the ceiling. “I’m nearly done making one for demon hunters, though. Just have to find someone to test it on. If you know any.”
Anarchaia sighs and visibly deflates. “Yeah,” she drones. “I do. Though I don’t think he’s up for experiments that involve children.” She purses her lips. Especially after that…
“Shame,” she says, as though fading into a dream state. She blinks and stares at the woman. “Necromancy. There’s a book. Rare. Only one exists because all other copies were burned after it was deemed too dangerous.” Her eyes drift over the bookshelf to a short, thick tome. “I accepted it as payment for an enchantment much rarer than yours.” She eyes the mage as though she’d commented on the weather. “By the way, your enchantment is leaking.” She runs a fingertip along the seams Kel’ori had mended. “Unless you can control yourself, I suggest not wearing those. It can become unpredictable.”
She furrows her brow. “As in…how to perform necromancy?” Her eyes glitter with excitement as they also fall upon the unfamiliar tome. She then jerks and chuckles at the touch before collecting herself and clearing her throat. “Oh. Heh. Uh. Perhaps I can wear the ones you’ve got there, and you can fix these ones? Heh. I’ll pay for both, naturally.”
If possible, Docra would have given the mage a blander look. “No. Not performing it. At least not in a sense most are familiar with. I don’t perform necromancy, so I haven’t read through all the spells.” She eyes the robes on the mage. “Two hearts; labeled. One from an eredari, the other from a felguard or one of those other big ones.” She runs dust along the lower seam of the blue robes, then the cuffs and the neck. She folds it back up and whispers a quick word, then snaps her fingers. The dust glows bright red, then disappears. “It won’t wash off.” She hands the robes to Anarchaia.
“Oh. Heh. Thanks.” Anarchaia stands and pulls off the robes she’s wearing to replace them with the new ones. She holds out the former. “I think we can handle that. We do have a demon hunter in our party.” She pauses, still eyeing the tome on the shelf. “Could…I give you something as collateral if I were to…borrow…it?”
“Do you have an item of infinite value that you’d die if you lost?” Docra sweeps to an ornate sink with a clear, deep bowl-basin, and begins filling it. She splashes some powder in and swirls it with her fingertips, then tosses the red robes into the mixture.
Anarchaia instinctively rests a hand over her stomach and for a moment actually considers handing over the chronomatic shard in return for knowledge of how to conceive, then sighs and lets her hand fall to the side again. “No…”
Docra nods as she swirls the robes around; the water slowly begins to glow red. “You may read it here, then. Not during the day, though that seems a nonissue with your current state.” She dries her hand and leaves the robes to soak.
“My current state…?” the mage mumbles as she plucks the book from its spot on the shelf and cracks it open. Her eyes scan the pages fervently in what little time she feels she has before her welcome is worn. “Oh. You mean…Heh. I suppose I wasn’t too inconspicuous about it.”
Docra blinks. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know it wasn’t common knowledge.” She stares a little longer. “You don’t have to do it all at once. Unless you don’t like my house.”
“It’s more that I feel as though you don’t like me in your house.” She flips to the chapter most relevant to her interest, then frowns at the vague wording and text laden with superstition. She sighs and presses through the paragraphs regardless, intent on finding something useful. “Maybe I could just try with a charm meant for humans…”
The priest sits beside Kel’ori and adjusts her to a more comfortable position. “Doesn’t hurt to double down. Or triple. Or just do literally everything, if you’re that desperate.” She stands and stares down at the book from over the mage’s shoulder. “I don’t care one way or the other if you’re in my house. Just don’t steal anything or disrespect my cat.”
Anarchaia looks over her shoulder and chuckles. “I like cats.” She closes the book and pushes it back into its spot, then frowns. She opens a palm and a lacy black slip appears, flowing over the sides and through her fingers. “I’ll be honest. I am that desperate. What do I have to give you to thrice enchant this? And swear not to tell anyone?”
Docra stares at the article and blinks. “Your first-born child.”
Anarchaia purses her lips and pulls the article back to her as though it were her last remaining possession, eyes wide and brow furrowed. “Something else…?”
Docra gingerly takes the slip and urges it from the mage’s hands. “It was a joke. I tell jokes sometimes.”
Anarchaia releases her grasp but holds her posture and narrows her eyes. “Ha ha,” she drones. “But seriously…”
“What is a child worth to you? If it works, you give me something of equal value. If it doesn’t, I’ll accept a lesser payment. Only because you’re a peculiar case. I’ve never had an undead individual asking me about fertility.” She slips the silky negligee onto a hanger, then onto a bar beside other articles waiting for enchantment.
The mage relaxes some. Color fills her cheeks at the nonchalant manner of speaking about such a personal subject. “That’s…very kind of you, actually. Most Forsaken are cold and vengeful, but I’m not one of them. I just want a normal life…” She frowns. “I really appreciate your help. I’ll find something of value to trade.” She looks over Kel’ori’s sleeping figure as possible methods of payment flick through her head. “Though a child, to me would be priceless.”
Docra blinks slowly, then raises a single shoulder in a shrug. “There has to be something of infinite value in your life. It’s been my experience that everyone has their prize. Though, it doesn’t matter in the end. We all die and our possessions no longer belong to us, and eventually they become dust, just as we do.” She runs her fingers along the spines of her books, then plucks one out and begins to idly read from somewhere in the middle.
“My only possession of any—literally—infinite value is inside of me. I can perhaps promise it to you in the event of my death, but I’m not so sure it’s mine to give away.” She goes to the woman on the couch. “How long will she be out? I imagine I’ll be bringing her back.”
The priest shrugs again. “Rarities will do. Something close to the tome you’re so interested in. Or I accept meal vouchers. I’d received a year’s meals at the inn, but it’s expiring. Feed me for a year. If you get a child, you feed me for three. I’ll allow you to choose.” She goes to the mage and runs her fingers through the blonde hair. “Eight hours. She’s welcome to stay here, if you want to leave.”
Anarchaia hesitates, almost feeling guilty. “I feel badly just kind of dumping her on you…but I have a couple months’ work to catch up on.”
“Help me get her into my bed. It’ll be fine.” She pulls the other elf forward. “Your fertility enchant will take a few days to weave, so you know. Your red robes need to soak at least a day, then be cleansed again before I can try to enchant something on them.”
The undead girl nods and lifts a hand to pull Kel’ori into the air. “I can return in a week or so, if that’s acceptable to you. We’ve got some business back on Argus.” Ugh. So much on my plate right now… She glances about for any indication of a bedroom. “Uhm…where…?”
“I hide it from clients.” She pinches what looks to be a length of wall beside the bookshelf; it shimmers at her touch and she raises a sheer, black veil to reveal a doorway. Beyond that is a doorway on the left, which leads to a restroom with black furnishings and a grey stone floor. But Docra leads the mage straight into a bedroom with walls a blue so dark only light tells that there is color. Her bed is a magnificent metal four-poster with black and sparkling blue sheer curtains bundled around the posts. Her bedding is the same two colors, with a plush comforter and silky sheets. She pulls back a corner of the black comforter and signals at the blue sheets below. “Right here is fine. I’ll come in every hour to make sure she doesn’t die.”
Anarchaia follows, eyes flowing over the decor and eyebrows lifted in interest. She sets the unconscious mage under the sheets and rests her head on a pillow. “Uhm…Pretty. I like your choice in color.” She chuckles. “Thanks. It was nice meeting you formally.” She extends a hand.
“I chose the colors of the Void.” She stares at the hand, then slowly takes it. “Want to hear another joke?”
A smile plays at the mage’s lips. “Sure.”
“I’m sorry and I apologize mean the same thing,” she pauses for effect, “unless you’re at a funeral.”
Anarchaia’s smile broadens and she laughs loudly. “That’s good. I like that. Heh.” She gives the priest a last, wide smile and nods. “Thank you again, Docra. Be well. I’ll see you in a week.”
“I’ll see you then, I guess. Unless you die.” She waits for a long beat. “That was another joke.”
Anarchaia gives a more apprehensive chuckle. “You’ll get an invite to my funeral. Heh.” She waves and disappears in a flurry of sparkles and light.
Docra blinks at the empty space. “I look forward to it.”