The young Anarchaia deflates as the death knight and mage disappear, then shrugs and sighs as she turns back to the table. “S-sorry. We don’t get many of them around here.” She regains her composure and smiles down at Taveth expectantly.
“Get him a gin,” Kel’ori says.
Taveth glances at his sister, then does a double take to the girl standing over them. “Eh. Um. No. Red wine, if you’ve got it?”
The waitress smiles and nods. She lingers for a second while his order is written, then retreats to the back room with her notebook in tow.
“Gods, she’s like a different person,” Grimory says.
“Not sure what you mean. She’s still like that,” Jorick responds on a chuckle.
Kel’ori rolls her eyes. “Oh, yes, Anarchaia is so different. So special. Let’s definitely keep talking about her.”
Baemalen gives Kel’ori a sideways smirk. “You want us to talk about you instead?”
“I should ask her about her work here,” Taveth says absently as he finishes with the tavern and turns the page to start drawing Anarchaia as she was in that time as a barmaid. “What about you?” He points at Jorick without looking up. “You lived here, right? What can you tell me?”
Jorick blinks up at the warlock, then shrugs and grins. “I didn’t work here, but I came here often enough to see her—usually to walk her home after her shift at four in the morning. But this place is as basic as inns get.”
“I heard that!” the goblin woman barks from the other side of the room.
The human chuckles, then quiets as Anarchaia returns with their drinks. “Your food will be out shortly,” she says to Kel’ori, then aww s as she notices the swaddled baby. “How old, if you don’t mind my asking?”
The mage smiles, too eager to talk about her son to worry about her irritation at Anarchaia. “About a month. Haven’t had a calendar around, so I’m not real positive.”
She blinks, then double takes at the baby. “Wuh—… one month? ”
Her eyes narrow. “Do you have a problem with m—”
“I think she’s just shocked,” Taveth says, seeing the anger growing in the mage’s eyes. “He’s a very good size, Kel. Don’t worry about it.”
Anarchaia stiffens and gives a nervous titter. “Y-yes! I didn’t mean anything by it! J-just amazed is all. By…his size…and…” She clears her throat. “I’m going to go check on your food. Heh.” She hurries off into the back, ducking beneath the curtain.
Grimory gives Kel’ori a look of mild amusement with hints of sympathy. “Gods, go easy on the poor girl, yeah?”
Kel’ori purses her lips at the demon hunter and makes sure Bel’theas’s head is covered. “You weren’t in Shattrath. One minute the people were peaceful and the next they were trying to kill Bel. I don’t care if it’s Ana or that drunk in the corner. Questions lead to answers people don’t want.” She softly takes Baemalen’s hand under the table to calm her nerves.
Taveth sets his pen down and sips at his wine. “I’m sure she didn’t mean to offend you. I do agree you shouldn’t let her see him or anything, lest it change the future.” He quirks his lips to the side as he thinks. “Why do you think Koltira wanted to come here, of all places? Knowing Ana worked here and, according to Jorick, lived close by. It’s almost as risky as us going to our tavern in Stormwind.”
Baemalen flushes some and gives her a small smile. “I think the people in Shattrath are a little more sensitive to demons than these backwater folk.”
“Either way,” she says. “I don’t want anything like that to happen again.”
Jorick shrugs at Taveth and takes a drink. “Maybe he plans on doing something. Something he’s not supposed to.”
Taveth’s brow lowers at the human. “You mean something similar to what he just got done locking my cousin up for?”
Jorick lifts his brows in response. “Eyyup.”
“No one’s ever accused Ol’ Kolt of not being a hypocrite,” Grimory mumbles as he swallows a large shot.
“I mean, didn’t he freak out at Ali for cheating and then turned around and cheated?” Kel’ori asks.
Grimory nods and Baemalen gasps with a hand to his mouth. “Scandalous,” the latter says with a grin.
“Not surprised,” Jorick adds, swirling his bottle. “Girl is a master manipulator.”
Anarchaia returns with Kel’ori’s ste aming plate of food and sets it before the elf. “Careful. Plate’s hot. Anything else I can grab for you guys?” she says sweetly, pink eyes fixed o n Taveth and his sketch of her. “Oh, how flattering,” she adds, color in her cheeks.
The elf quietly closes his journal with an awkward smile. “I’m sorry. I…chronicle my travels. I hope you don’t mind.”
Kel’ori clears her throat “Can I get a water?” she says louder than necessary to the barmaid.
A glass filled with chilled water finds its way to the table from the back and sets itself before Kel’ori. She gives Taveth a half-lidded grin before turning. “Not at all,” she responds before retreating into the kitchen.
Jorick gives a huff through his nose.
Kel’ori snerks into her fingertips as Taveth cocks an eyebrow at Jorick.
“Something wrong?” he asks the human.
“You’re pretty oblivious, ain’t ya, kid?” he replies before a drink.
Taveth shrugs. “I don’t understand. Speaking of not understanding, why did we get rooms? How long are we staying here?”
“I don’t know about you, but some of us are pretty tired,” Grimory says into his bottle.
“What’s the matter? Don’t want to share a room with us?” Baemalen says with a coy grin.
Taveth purses his lips. “I… That’s not what I meant.”
“What’s the room assignment, though? Who’s going where?” Kel’ori asks, blowing on a carrot on her fork. “Not like the other two need a bed.”
“Because they’ve already found one, I’m sure,” Grimory grumbles, causing the human beside him to roll his eyes.
“Guess it’s a free for all,” Baemalen adds, taking a carrot when it’s offered to him
Taveth shrugs. “I’m sure it won’t be too difficult to figure out who is sleeping where.”
“I’m not sharing a bed with you,” she says, jabbing her fork in the air at him.
“Oh, no, that hurts,” Taveth says deadpan. He opens his journal and goes to a new page. “I never traveled to Duskwood in this time. Was it hostile or generally peaceful?”
“Depends on who you are,” Jorick says with a shrug. “And how much money you have on you. Otherwise the people here are pretty peaceful.”
“Sounds like a great place to grow up,” Grimory drones.
“I’ve seen worse?” Baemalen says with a shrug.
Taveth shrugs. “Sounds all right.”
Kel’ori leans close to the Illidari beside her, offering another bite of food. “Want to see Stormwind tomorrow?” she whispers in his ear.
“ All right is a well enough term,” the human responds, then looks up as their barmaid returns.
“How is everything?” she asks Kel’ori just before Baemalen can respond.
The mage gives her a pinched smile. “It’s fine. Thank you. Why don’t you go bother another table? We don’t need you here.”
“You make me want a stiffer drink, Kel,” Taveth says to the page he’s writing on.
Anarchaia’s fingers tighten around the hem of her apron, but she doesn’t falter. Instead she chuckles. “Right. Sorry. It’s my job to be annoying. Glad you’re enjoying it.” She turns to Taveth. “We have them if you’d like?”
Jorick gives Kel’ori a disapproving look. She returns it
Taveth nods. “Uh, sure. Why not? Surprise me.”
As though already forgotten of Kel’ori’s slight, Anarchaia smiles and nods. She returns to the backroom.
“Do you treat all wait staff like that?” the human says in a flat tone. “I hope you at least tip well.”
Baemalen gives a nervous laugh. “Let’s keep it civil. Heh.”
Kel’ori makes a face. “Nope. I only treat them how they deserve.”
Taveth purses his lips tightly at his sister. “What did our Ana do that you’re taking it out on some innocent barmaid who isn’t that person yet?”
“Why don’t you mind your own business?”
“She’s my friend, and last I checked, she was yours, too.”
Kel’ori scoffs. “She is nobody’s friend. She is so absorbed in being super perfect at everything that she looks down on anyone who doesn’t meet her standards.”
“Yeah, well, she is better than you, Kel.”
The mage grits her teeth and sneers. “Take it back.”
“No. She’s a good person with a good heart and you’re just a spoiled, malicious brat.”
Kel’ori purses her lips and points a finger at her brother’s heart, sending an invisible charm into him. “You two are simply made for each other, aren’t you? So perfect. Never do anything wrong. We’ll see about that.”
Taveth leans back, eyeing her finger. “What are you doing?”
“Nothing,” she snaps.
Anarchaia returns with a drink inside a chopped bamboo stalk. She sets it before the scholar and smiles. “This is one of my favorites. And it’s quite strong. Tell me if you like it.”
Taveth sips the drink and furrows his brow. “It’s quite good, actually. Do you mind if I ask what’s in it?”
Kel’ori keeps her mouth closed as she eats her food, her attention on her brother and the barmaid.
Her smile widens. “I’m glad you like it! It’s a mix of a few rums distilled from fruit juices. Goes down smooth but you’ll feel it eventually.” She looks up at the table. “And I’m supposed to give you guys last call for kitchen items.”
Grimory shakes his head. “Nothing for me.”
When the rest agree, she gives the scholar one last smile before again disappearing in back.
“We should sell these in the tavern!” Taveth says, holding it out at his sister.
Her face twists into a confused frown. After a moment she sniffs the drink and gives a tentative nod. “It’s like a local Kungaloosh. It’d sell well, I think.”
“Why are you looking at me like that?”
Kel’ori scoffs. “Nothing.”
The night presses on until the group can no longer contain their wear. Grimory yawns as he finishes the last of his bottle, then tosses a couple coins onto the table. “Yeah, I think I’m calling it,” he mutters. “I hope our rooms have two beds, yeah?”
“And if they don’t?” Jorick says, rolling the neck of his own empty bottle between his fingers.
“Who gets the pleasure of sleeping with you?” Baemalen says to the other Illidari, voice heavy with alcohol.
“Don’t sound so eager,” the other replies.
Taveth blinks slowly, his ears and nose red from drink. “I think I’m going to get some fresh air.” He scoops his journal into his satchel. “Save me a spot?”
Kel’ori sighs. “I’ll stay up a little longer for you. Don’t take forever, right?”
“Right.” Taveth shoulders his bag and exits the tavern to sit on a small bench out front. He sighs into the cold night air, enjoying how it cools his warm skin.
Baemalen sways as he twirls the remaining key on a finger. “Don’t get lost,” he sings to Taveth, then blinks when the key is snatched from him.
“Dibs on a bed,” Jorick says tiredly and makes his way to the staircase. He bumps into the barmaid in the hallway as she unties her apron. “Sorry, Ana.”
She turns. “It’s okay,” she says, not addressing the nickname. “Uhm. I’m sorry, do I know you? I swear I’ve seen you before.”
He quickly turns back to the staircase to hide his face. “Not yet,” he mumbles and disappears up the stairs.
She hums in confusion and curiosity, then hangs up her apron and heads for the door. “Good night, Gryxelda. See you tomorrow.”
“No escort tonight? What happened to that boyfriend of yours?”
“We broke up a few months ago. You know that.”
“Whatever. Just be safe or I’m out of a third shift barmaid.”
Anarchaia gives a small laugh and closes the door. A flame sparks to life in her palm and she turns down the road headed east.
Taveth stands abruptly, squinting at the figure. “Oh! Ana!” He gets to his feet, swaying slightly, and goes to her. “You’re up and about, finally. I’m glad.” He matches her pace, staring at their surroundings.
Anarchaia jumps at the voice, then relaxes. She smiles at the odd remark, then chuckles at his gait. “I think you’ve had too much to drink, mister…?”
Taveth snerks. “Mister? You’re mistering me?” He lets out a quiet chuckle. “Where’s the ‘oh, I’m great, Tav’? You missed a rather glorious drink, though I’m sure you know what it tastes like.” He grins at her. “And all this time, I’ve been the one making the drinks. I feel so used.”
Her smile grows wider on one end and she decides to play along. “Oh, right. How could I forget? Though I have a confession to make—Tav, was it?—I’m not the one who made your drink.” She chuckles. “Are you a barkeep?”
“The deceit!” He furrows his brow. “I don’t think I’ll ever be free of the Nightheart taverns. Father will just keep swooping in. ‘Taveth, I need you in Ironforge tonight,’” he mimics. “As though I’m not allowed to have aspirations that don’t involve serving drinks. And it’s only me, too. The others have the excuse of being important members of society.” He looks around, then smiles at her. “Where are we going?”
Fingertips to her lips, another small chuckle escapes her as she observes his dramatic behavio r. “My house? Are you not escorting me home, Mr. Taveth?”
He gives her a funny look. “Is that where you’re going? I’m sorry if you’d wanted to go alone. Just…shouldn’t go wandering alone. Right?” Something stirs within his chest and he looks at her, then away as his cheeks warm further.
She gives him a genuine smile and hums in agreement. “I used to have a nightly escort, but since we’ve broken up I’ve been walking home on my own. It’s a comfort having that security again. Thank you. Are you from around here? You’re a high elf, right? Are you from Stormwind?”
Taveth’s smile wavers. “Oh… Oh, you’re… Eh heh.” He clears his throat and pushes away the awkward, unfamiliar feeling rising in him. “Stormwind, yes. I’m, um, just passing through.”
Her eyes light up the slightest bit. “That’s awesome! I’ve never been there. I hear the water in the harbor there is somehow crystal clear. Is that true?” She catches herself, then turns away and nervously brushes her hair behind her ear. “Heh. Sorry. Guess you think I’m kind of a nerd, now…”
Taveth grins wide. “You’re quite all right. Never apologize for curiosity.” He extends an elbow for her to take. “The water is clear most of the year, yes, but the tides can stir up the sediment to make it a bit murky. Still beautiful, though.”
The albino girl grins coyly and takes his arm. “Are the people there nice? What’s the weather like? Have you ever met the High King?”
Taveth chuckles. “I avoid the people, the weather is typically sunny, and I’ve been friends with the royal family for generations. What about you? How do you like living here? Do you think you’ll ever leave?” He finds he can’t tear his eyes from her face and deep down it bothers him, but he’s unsure why.
She hums in thought, then shrugs. “Yeah, I think I’d like to leave someday. But with my skin condition it’s hard to find places that are dark as often as this place is. It gets depressing, but you get used to it.” She smiles. “Your family owns a tavern in Ironforge? I bet it’s super profitable.” She laughs.
He nods and takes a moment to blink at how her laugh makes him feel. He furrows his brow, concerned, but says nothing of it. “Ironforge, Stormwind, and Dalaran, yes.” The elf brushes a clump of white hair behind her ear. “I’m sure you’ll leave one day. See the world. Go on adventures.”
Her eyes light up even brighter. “Dalaran?!” She grabs his hand. “Do you know Antonidas?! Have you met him?”
Taveth laughs nervously. “Oh. Heh. I-I haven’t been to the Dalaran tavern, yet.” He stumbles over uneven ground, crashing into her side.
She catches him with both arms. When she catches his eye, she flushes and smiles. “Looks like I’m escorting you.”
He straightens in embarrassment and laughs nervously. “Should I lie and say it was the drinks?”
She bites her lip and helps him straighten. “As opposed to…?”
“Being unbearably clumsy,” he admits. He shoves his hands in his pockets and stares at the ground. “Why did you let me walk with you?” he asks suddenly.
Her smile widens. “Maybe I thought you were a good fit… For the job, that is.”
He narrows his eyes suspiciously, while one eyebrow raises. “I could be an axe murderer, you know.”
She giggles. “I’ve never known an axe murderer to be so artistic. Then again, I’ve never known an axe murderer. Why? Do you want to kill me?”
“Quite the opposite,” he says. He yawns wide as his eyelids blink heavily. “What do you do in your spare time?” Taveth asks, hoping conversation will keep him from passing out under the nearest tree.
“Oh,” she says, flushing, “nothing crazy. Reading, sewing, and playing the piano mostly. How about you?”
“You saw it. Heh. I’m not a very interesting person.” He remembers her playing in Karazhan and smiles brightly. “I bet you’re amazing at the piano, hmm?”
Her flush deepens. “I guess I’m pretty good…” She gives a small laugh. “I bet your girlfriend gets beautifully hand drawn pictures of herself.”
Taveth cringes down at her, then redirects his gaze forward. “Is that your not-so-subtle way of asking for the drawing?”
She blinks with a start. “O-oh! No! It was more of a not-so-subtle way of asking if you had a girlfriend.”
He chuckles drunkenly and shakes his head. “I fail to see the relevance, but, if you really must know, no. I don’t have…anyone. But, just because…” He retrieves his journal and carefully tears out the page with the sketch of her. “Here. I can always draw another.”
She blinks down at the paper, then waves a hand. “I-I couldn’t. How could you draw another if I never see you again?”
Taveth also stares at the paper, then at her. “I already tore it out, though. And I’ve a good memory. Please, it’s a gift.” He pushes it closer to her.
She hesitates for a moment, then takes the paper and smiles shyly. “Thanks. Heh.”
He wraps an arm behind her shoulders and gives her a tight hug, pressing his cheek to her temple. “Of course. What are friends for?”
Her cheeks warm and she threads her arm behind him to pull him close as well. “I guess we’re friends now, right? I mean, you drew a picture of me and are walking me home, so…”
He hums, his eyes warm and heavy with drink and sleep. “You’re my best friend, Ana.”
Though confused, she chuckles beneath him. “Not sure I’m okay with letting you walk back alone, Mr. Taveth.”
He chuckles. “Nightheart. But Taveth is fine.” He inhales deeply, catching the faint scent of smoke on the night air. “Well, you have to let me walk back alone, or we just walked all the way to your house for no reason.” He lightly sets his fingertip on her nose.
She titters into fingertips. “But what if you don’t make it back? Also, what if I never see you again?” she says as the faint lights of her home come into view.
Taveth chuckles. “Then you’ve a drawing to remember me by. But, uh…I have a feeling we’ll see each other again. One day. Maybe a year from now, maybe twenty.”
Anarchaia nods as they reach the short pathway leading up to her door. A white cat leaps down from the awning and makes a noise of greeting as it comes to investigate Taveth. “Thanks for walking me home. This was a lovely first date,” the girl says.
Taveth smiles, then gives the girl a strange look. He then laughs and pats her hair. “First date? Is that what you call it when someone follows you home like a puppy?”
“There aren’t many cute, single guys around here,” she says, clasping her hands behind her back. She looks up at him through her snowy lashes. “I take what I can get.”
“Mmm. Poor choice here. You deserve much better than that, you know.” He turns to look at her house and smiles. “Charming. I like it.”
She chuckles outright. “It’s the biggest house in the area. Though I imagine the heir to a tavern chain has a bigger one.” She smiles softly and inches forward. “And I don’t think I do. You seem like a nice enough guy. Maybe you’ll come back to the tavern sometime?”
He turns back to her, his goofy smile still crooked on his face. “Well, I’ll be there tomorrow, heh. Does that count?”
She shrugs a shoulder. “I won’t be in until seven at night. Will you be there?”
Taveth shrugs. “Not sure. May have moved on by then, unless my sister does something stupid. Which she’s prone to do.” He glances at the house again. “I should let you go inside. Have a good night, Ana.”
Anarchaia bites her lip in thought for a second. “W-well. Since this was our first date and I’ll never see you again…” She steps to him and leans up. “Maybe we end it the traditional way?” Her lips inch closer to his.
Taveth stares at her for a minute, his eyes wide. Something tugs at the back of his mind—the odd feeling from before. He takes a nervous breath and leans forward to press his lips onto her waiting ones. His hand reaches up to cup her jaw in his palm as the other pushes her closer at the small of her back. She sighs against his lips and gently urges him against the lamppost. Her hands wander up to grab the front of his vest and pull him closer, then drift downward to his belt buckle. As his fingers thread through the white tresses of the girl, the back of his mind stirs with confusion. However, his sudden desire for her is stronger, so he kisses her passionately.
The human pulls away and smiles, breathless. “Ever done it outside before?”