“Okay, okay, but in a fight between me and him, unarmed, who do you think would win?” Asheeda, clad in his usual loin cloth, with purple tattoos, asked as he followed Crorinu into the Legerdemain Lounge.
“He would,” the rogue replied absently.
“No, but, in a fight, like, if we were both—”
The demon hunter pursed his lips down at her. “He can’t win every fight.” He batted at the little black feather stuck into her narrow, red highwayman hat.
Crorinu didn’t respond, just took up a seat at the bar and gave her friend a telling look. The demon hunter growled and dropped himself onto a stool beside her. After they’d received their drinks and Asheeda was about to open his mouth to rehash the argument, a streak of red and white breezed past them and dropped onto the stool beside the rogue. The death knight—dressed in a skimpy, red Winter Veil costume—waved manically at the bartender and he soon set a drink in front of her. She dropped a candy cane into the glass and sipped away at it.
Asheeda leaned forward, an eye narrowed. “Hey, aren’t you that one death knight…?”
“I am!” she squealed. “Wait, which death knight?”
Crorinu rolled her eyes. “Sh— He means the one that knows Anarchaia. His ‘missed connection.’”
“I…think?” she said. “I’m Alisbeth. Did you know it’s almost Winter Veil? Did you?!” She bounced excitedly in her seat. “I’m making my friends do a secret Greatfather. Because secret Greatfathers are fun!”
Asheeda smiled. “I love secret Greatfathers, they really are the best.”
Alisbeth squealed louder. “I’ll put you guys in! What are your names?” She took off her red hat with white trim and grabbed a pen and paper from behind the bar.
“Ali,” the bartender warned.
The death knight wrote their names down, tore the papers, and dropped them into the cap. She shook it around then held it out to them. They each took one. Asheeda’s lower right eyelid twitched as he looked at the name. The rogue snorted.
“I think I got you. Aztec.” She laughed and showed him the paper.
“You’re not supposed to tell anyone!” Alisbeth snatched the paper from Crorinu and dropped it back in the hat to repeat the name drawing.
Crorinu’s entire left eye began to twitch at the paper in her hand. “Fun. I’ll…figure out who the hell this is later.”
“So much fun!” Alisbeth squealed. She shoved her hat onto her head and downed her drink in one swift go, as though not even stopping to swallow. “I’m going to go find my friends.” She raced from the tavern.
Asheeda looked at his paper again. “‘Nu…I don’t think she actually knows people’s names…”
“Yeah, I think I got that.”
At the base of the steps leading up to the Violet Citadel, a trio sat conversing.
“We expect the turnout to be even more this year so the kitchens are doing all they can to gather what they need,” the Archmage said with a helpless shrug. “It’s nothing new. We deal with this every year.”
“Yes, though I don’t think an, uh…” Gildwynn squinted at the parchment in his gloved hands. “Automated cupcake assembler is within my expertise.”
Anarchaia chuckled and leaned down to give the goblin a smile; snow from the small, conjured cloud above her head silently drifted onto his nose. “C’mon, Gil. I’m sure you can do it. It’s just a machine.”
The goblin huffed and wiped the snow from his face. “I already have a list of five other devices you’ve commissioned me for.”
“This one is important,” Khadgar added with a grin.
“More important than a siege engine power surging device,” Gildwynn droned with a narrowed cyan eye.
“Of course,” the two mages responded in unison.
The goblin groaned and stowed the parchment into his pack.
“Afroman!” Alisbeth ran at Anarchaia, the bells on her shoes tinkling merrily up each step. Her snowstorm eyes swirled in excitement as she saw the snow falling down upon the mage. “Oh my gods, that’s amazing!” She dove under the cloud, wrapped her arms around the mage, and stuck her tongue out to catch the snowflakes.
Anarchaia flinched at the bastardization of her name as it struck through the warm coastal air and into her skull. She stiffened as she was tackled, then stumbled but was able to catch her footing. “Alisbeth,” she said with a chuckle. “Yeah. I miss the snow. So I made some. Heh. What’s up?”
“Seeecreet Greeaatfaatheer!” She ripped her hat off, stumbling to catch the papers that flew out. She stopped and grinned like a Cheshire at the other two. “Want in?”
The human and goblin glanced at one another, then back to Alisbeth with a shrug each. “Sure,” Khadgar said and folded his arms. “Though I’m participating in a number of them. I’ll do my best to remember.”
“I ain’t got nothing better to do,” Gildwynn said. “There a price limit?”
Anarchaia managed to grasp one of the fluttering papers and unfold it. She knit her brow. “Who’s Aztec?”
“No, no price l— Keep the names secret! You’ll ruin the fun!” Alisbeth snatched the paper and put it in the hat. “The crocolisk demon hunter and his friend joined. I need your names,” she said to the others. “And a paper and pen.”
Anarchaia perked. “Oh. Asheeda and Crorinu?” she conjured a parchment and pen, then pulled them out of Alisbeth’s grasp when the woman reached for them. “I’ll write the entrants, Ali.” She scribbled each of the six names in a neat column; boxes burned around each name and the slips released from the sheet. She hesitated. “I assume Koltira is also participating?”
The death knight grinned. “You think I’d let him humbug his way out of this one? Not a chance!” She glanced at the mage’s list with a pout. “What was wrong with my names? Were the papers too uneven? I did worry about that. Makes it less random. Don’t forget Garyoldman. I’m making him do it too! When I see him, that is. And we have to be fast. The first present has to be delivered in three days.” She chewed at her bottom lip. “Do you know where the other two are?”
Anarchaia gave a small laugh and added both Koltira and Grimory the list. Their names also fluttered from the page and into her hand. “Afraid not. I was just on my way to find Grim, actually.”
“What for?” came a gruff voice from behind them. The Illidari, clad in his usual garb with the addition of an oversized scarf, came strolling up beside the girls, thumbs in his belt loops. “We planning something?”
“We are going to give gifts to the orphans in Suramar,” Anarchaia responded as her writing utensils dissipated in a puff of smoke.
The mage nodded. “We are. But first, Ali wants us to draw names. Have you seen Kolt?”
The demon hunter shook his head. “‘Fraid not.”
Alisbeth shook the old papers from her hat, ignoring as they fluttered to the ground. Once the hat was empty, she held it out for the new papers. “Don’t say who you got! Deliver the gifts on every Monday before the Winter Veil Celebration. Just small ones are okay. Then we’re going to have a party! and we’re going to guess who we got! And we’re going to open more presents! And it’s every Monday because the Celebration is on a Monday—I looked!” She hopped up and down beside Grimory as she spoke. When she was done, she opened the hat to Anarchaia first. “Hurry with your names! I have to make sure those two are still in the tavern!”
The four did as they were bade. Both mages crinkled their noses at the name on their slip, but pocketed the papers all the same. Grimory, however, gave a laugh.
Gildwynn pursed his lips and tilted his head. “I don’t know who this is.”
Anarchaia covertly glanced over his shoulder at the slip, then smiled at the name. “I’ll help you later,” she whispered and nudged him in the shoulder.
The goblin shrugged and flushed some. “Thanks.” He gave a curt wave and turned to return to his shop.
Alisbeth made a face. “You’re not supposed to share.” She shoved the hat onto her head and stomped away to find the other two. “Oh, good! You’re still here!” She held out her hat to them.
“Alohamora wrote new names and we added more people. Because more people is more fun!” She bounced up and down excitedly.
They drew their new names. Asheeda cleared his throat and hid his smile. “Oh.”
Crorinu looked at her paper and pinched the bridge of her nose. “Fuck me sideways.”
“Only because you asked,” Asheeda said, poking at her waist.
She slapped his hand away. “Don’t touch me!”
“Okay, well, bye!” Alisbeth took off running, leaving them behind in a flash of jingling bells.
“Wait! What are the…rules…” Asheeda sighed. “I guess we’ll have to ask someone else.”
Alisbeth found Koltira and he pulled the last two papers out of the hat and gave one to her. Koltira made a face and pocketed his paper. Alisbeth looked at hers and grinned.
Anarchaia and Grimory came walking into the Legerdemain Lounge abreast and chatting. They both ordered a hot chocolate with bourbon before the mage noticed the two at the other end. She trotted over. “Oh, hey, this is the tavern Ali meant. How are you two? Participating, I see?”
Asheeda grinned up at the mage. “We sure are. Though, your friend—Alisbeth?—she didn’t tell us the rules.”
Crorinu shot Grimory a dirty look, then returned to her drink. “Participating, yes. Didn’t really have a choice in the matter.”
Asheeda elbowed the rogue hard enough to nearly topple the stool.
Anarchaia returned the smile and lifted her mask to have a sip of cocoa. “I guess everyone gets a gift on every Monday leading up to the Festival. Then, on the day of, everyone gets their final gift and we have a get-together to guess who got whom?”
Asheeda smiled wider. “Oh, yes, I love this kind of secret Greatfather. Where is the party?”
The mage hesitated. “Uh…I suppose I can reserve a room in City Hall. We shouldn’t need too much space…”
The rogue narrowed an eye. “Why reserve a place when there’s a perfectly good bar right here?”
Asheeda elbowed her again. “I’m sure that would be nice, Ana. Just make sure your friend knows.”
Crorinu rolled her eyes. “And remind her every day.” She stood and finished her drink, then made a rude gesture at Grimory before leaving the tavern.
~ * ~
Days later, Anarchaia and Grimory arrived at City Hall. The mailbox under the mage’s name was stuffed with gifts, each addressed to the eight people participating in their exchange. She hummed and pulled them all out to place neatly in separate spaces upon an ornately decorated table. She took her own and handed Grimory his, then gave hers a shake. “Huh. Almost as though it’s filled with air.”
Grimory did similar with his. “Mine’s much heavier. Didn’t you tell everyone to meet us here?”
“I did, so don’t open it yet,” Anarchaia replied and slapped at his hand when he picked at the wrapping.
Crorinu stepped around the corner and stopped. Her eyes narrowed to slits and she approached slowly. Without a word, she reached out and grabbed her gift in one hand and Asheeda’s gift in the other, never taking her eyes from the demon hunter. She gave the mage the slightest of nods, spun on her heel, and strode from the building with her nose in the air. Once outside, she let out a relieved breath and closed her eyes against the sun. She whistled and leapt on her black crow to ride it to the island which housed the portal to the Fel Hammer.
“Who all was there? What did they say? Was Ana sad I couldn’t make it?” Asheeda jogged to her.
The rogue crinkled her nose and stuck out her tongue as she held out his gift. “It was just those two. I left before anyone could say anything to me. Your precious mage looks as mask-faced as ever.”
The paper around Asheeda’s gift was already on the ground. He popped open the box and cried out. “Yes! I’ve been meaning to get this, but—”
“But you’ve been spending your gold on that small zoo you call ‘pets.’” Crorinu finished unwrapping her gift and lifted the lid on the box. Nestled into a bed of packing hay were twenty delicate, spherical vials. “Huh. Can never have too many of these, I guess.” She let Asheeda peer into the box. “Vials, for poison bombs. What’s that crap you’re squealing like a pig over?”
“Herb preserving powder! You put it on your herb, and it—”
“Yeah, don’t care.” She hopped onto her crow, waved to the demon hunter, and took off for the bank.
Grimory and Anarchaia casted one another a look before shrugging and neatly unwrapping each of their gifts. “I suppose we don’t need to wait, then, if no one else is willing to,” Anarchaia said on a light chuckle, then gasped and pulled the object from the box. She held up the brilliant hippogryph tail feather quill, the eyespot on the end of it still burning quietly with peaceful fire. “It’s beautiful,” she crooned, turning it to examine it further.
Grimory pulled a finely polished utility knife from the smaller box and scrutinized it with raised eyebrows. “This is gnomish,” he muttered and flicked it open to admire the blade. “Very nice. Very…expensive.” He gave the mage a sideways glance.
Anarchaia snorted a laugh and took up her teacher’s box. “You know it’s not from me, then.”
Crorinu danced in a quick circle, lifting her box in the air as a jingling red and white blur came tearing out of the vaults and passed her. “Hey! Uh…Al-Alisbeth!”
The death knight skidded to a halt and went back to the rogue. “Oh! Hi again, Cornyu. How are you?”
Alisbeth blinked at her. “Shroomoo.”
“No, it’s… Shro—”
“Crorinu. It’s not that hard.”
Alisbeth blinked at her and smiled. “Scoobydoo! Easy! Oh, what’s in the box?”
Crorinu pursed her lips and fingered her dagger before sighing and just letting it go. “Empty vials for poison bombs. The mage is waiting for you at City Hall, by the way.”
Alisbeth jolted as though she’d been shocked. “Koltira was supposed to remind me! But he’s doing something for the Deathlord. He helps them a lot. But I don’t get to go and it really makes me sad sometimes and—”
“Okay, that’s nice.” Crorinu backed slowly toward the vaults to put distance between them. “City Hall. I’m sure you can make it. Off you go.”
“Thanks Shamoo!” Alisbeth ran all the way to the designated spot and slid to a halt in front of the other two. “Shampoo told me I had to meet you here. Koltira was supposed to remind me but he’s off with the Deathlord and he helps them a lot and it really makes me sad—”
“I-it’s okay, Ali,” Anarchaia interjected with a raised hand. “We didn’t wait. You can bring Koltira his gift.” She pulled both death knights’ gifts from the table and held them out for Alisbeth to take. “Or at least hold onto his until he’s back.”
Alisbeth bounced in excitement. “Can I open mine now?” She didn’t wait for a reply and tore into the meticulously wrapped paper. She let the shreds fall to the floor. She jumped up and down excitedly when she saw the beautifully arranged candy canes. “I love it! I hope all of mine are just like this!” Without a pause, she ripped one from the bunch and stuck it in her mouth. Her eyes rounded. “Oh my gods! Taste this!” She took the cane out of her mouth and forced it into Grimory’s.
The demon hunter recoiled for a moment, then paused and pulled the candy from his mouth. He smacked his lips a few times and sneered. “Dalapeño. Gross.” He thrusted the stick back into Alisbeth’s mouth.
Anarchaia placed her ornate quill back in its box and neatly closed it. “I’m going to bring Master his. You two…have fun. Heh.” With that, she disappeared in a swirl of light. When she reappeared, she knocked on the large wooden door before her and stepped inside when the voice on the other side gave permission. “Your present!” she chirped with a smile and set the carefully wrapped package on his desk.
Khadgar looked over the gift and set his quill down. He picked it up and tore an opening in the end of the paper, then pulled out the box. His eyebrows raised when he lifted the stack of parchment from within.
“What is it?” Anarchaia pushed in beside him to look over the paper as well. “Oh, hey! Looks like you don’t need someone to go compile those Broken Isles herb notes you’ve been talking about. How handy.”
“It certainly is,” the Archmage hummed as he flipped through each sheet. “Now I’m curious who got my name.” He furrowed his brow as he read. “And how they got this.”
Anarchaia shrugged. “Perhaps it was chance. Good luck, eh?”
Alisbeth grinned at Grimory. “Nice knife. Isn’t that one of those ones that mines and is a hammer and a skinning knife and can electrocute people? Nice!” She grabbed Koltira’s gift and set her candy canes on it. “Happy Winter Veil!” She left before he could reply, taking an archway to Acherus.
Koltira heard Alisbeth before he saw her walk around the corner with a triumphant grin on her face. “I take it you had fun at the little exchange?”
She set the gift in his hands. “Actually, nobody showed up. Just Arfie and Gigolo. Look what I got! They’re dalapeño!”
Koltira chuckled and opened his gift, ignoring Alisbeth’s impatient whining as he took care to not tear the paper, then folded it neatly and set it to the side. He pulled the box open and smiled lightly. “Someone knows I like to drink.” He held out a hand-blown scotch glass for Alisbeth to admire.
She laughed. “Everyone knows you like to drink.”
Long after the others had left, Gildwynn made his way into the reserved room in City Hall. “Sorry I’m…” his ears drooped when he found no one there and only a single gift left with his name scrawled onto the paper, “…late.” He sighed and reached onto the table to grab the gift. Once carelessly unwrapped, he furrowed his blond brow and smirked as though restraining a laugh. He pulled the four candy canes from the box and stuck one in his mouth with a shrug, then tossed the wrapping into a nearby receptacle on his way out.
~ * ~
Alisbeth had sat herself beside the table with the gifts on it, humming to herself as she traced a finger over the floor.
“How long have you been waiting?” Crorinu asked.
“I don’t know. Hi Smarmy!”
Asheeda narrowed an eye. “Her name is—”
The rogue held out her hand. “Don’t. Don’t bother.” She took a chair and turned it so the back was facing the table and straddled it. “So…first ones here?”
Anarchaia and her usual Illidari companion strode into the room minutes later. She blinked at the number of people present, then bounced once with a clap of her hands. “Oh, good. We can open together this time.” She frowned and made her way to the stacked gifts on the table. “All besides Master, Gil, and Koltira, anyway.”
Grimory narrowed an eye at Alisbeth as he noticed her. “Do you have anything else to wear? You’ve worn the same outfit for weeks…” He took his gift as it was handed to him.
Alisbeth stared down at her skimpy holiday outfit, then made a face at him. “Excuse me, but I have ten of these. You’re supposed to have more than one, you know.”
“I don’t even have one,” Ash said, laughing.
“I’ll get you one!”
“No, no thanks. Give it to ‘Nu.” He jerked his thumb to indicate the rogue, then accepted his own gift, smiling brightly at Anarchaia.
Crorinu’s nose crinkled. “Please don’t.”
“You’re getting one.” Alisbeth bounced excitedly on the floor as she received her own gift.
“Get one for Ana, too,” Grimory said with a snerk and pulled the paper off his box. He lifted a brow at the small toy golem in the box. “A…personal world destroyer?” He bent down and placed the robot on the floor. It immediately sprung to life and stomped about, walking over to the mage and tugging on her robes as though she was an obstacle it must vanquish. “Heh. It’s actually pretty cool,” the Illidari laughed as Anarchaia did her best to shake off the toy without damaging it.
When she’d finally shaken it off, Anarchaia pursed her lips at Grimory and sat in a chair with her own gift. She set the wrapping aside and opened the small box inside to reveal a bottle of sparkling blue liquid. She smiled at the label. “Scented ink, hm?” Let’s hope I can smell it. She uncorked the bottle and lifted her mask to take in the scent. “Oh. Blueberries. And…lilac? Heh. I love it.”
Asheeda bit his lips together to keep from smiling and ducked his head to give his gift attention. “Oh! Heh.” He pulled out a pile of what looked like bent up metal.
“Did you really break it already?” Crorinu asked with a bored tone, her eyes glued to the little destroyer stomping around the room and bringing the other demon hunter joy.
“It’s collapsible, you uncultured swine.” He unfolded the item, revealing a pair of sheers. “For my herbs! You see, you need to use sheers so that—”
Crorinu rustled the paper of her present in his face. “I’m sorry, I can’t hear you over me unwrapping this. You’ll have to not tell me ever because that’s boring.”
Asheeda grabbed the paper and wadded it up, then lobbed it at the rogue.
She ducked and laughed. When she got her present open, she smirked, a twinkle of mischief in her eyes. “It’s almost like someone wants to get stabbed in the spine.” She flinched as something crashed across the room.
Alisbeth hopped on the balls of her feet, her knuckles jammed excitedly into her grinning mouth. She inhaled and exhaled excitedly.
“Smash me,” Crorinu read from a note on the floor. “I don’t—” Across the room was an intact vase.
Alisbeth ran to the vase, picked it up, and lobbed it at Grimory.
He leaned out of the vase’s path but still flinched as it shattered against the wall behind him. When all the pieces were settled, they fluttered back together and the vase stood whole on the floor again. “Huh.”
Anarchaia yelped as the small world destroyer stomped over to her and began smashing its tiny fists against her boot. She growled and lifted the foot away but the robot merely set its sights on her other. “Grim!”
The rogue’s smile widened the smallest bit at the pet, before she forced it away and stood. “I have to go…polish some daggers, I guess.” She scoffed at herself, then narrowed her eyes at Grimory.
Asheeda jumped to his feet. “I’ll see you next week, Ana!” He waved at her as he ran out the door, chasing down the rogue.
Grimory furrowed his brow at the rogue, then chuckled at the mage’s plight. He picked up the toy and flipped the tiny switch beneath its chassis.
Anarchaia huffed at him and gave a curt wave to Asheeda as he left. She sent her own gift away and scooped up the box addressed to Khadgar.
Alisbeth threw the vase again, then went to the other two. “Want a crack at this bad boy?” She waggled the vase in front of the mage.
“No thanks, Ali. It’s all yours.”
Alisbeth grabbed up Koltira’s gift and ran out the door. She pressed her fingers to her mouth and giggled as she opened an arch and went through to Acherus to wait.
When Koltira returned, he first dropped a sack of candy canes in Alisbeth’s lap, then took his gift. “How many candy canes can you even eat in a day?”
“I don’t know. How many do you think I can eat in a minute?” She grinned and held up two fistfuls of the treats.
“Doing it.” She shoved the canes at her mouth all at once, crunching them into tiny pieces.
“Why are you like this? Every year.”
“What?” He finished folding the paper and set it on top of the first gift’s paper.
“It’s Winter Veil day!”
“Liar.” He pulled a bottle of eighteen-year-old scotch from the box and mouthed thank you. “Gods know I need a drink right now.”
“Eight and a half canes in a minute!”
Gildwynn grabbed his gift from the table, causing the demon hunter beside it to jump in surprise. “Yeah, I know. I’m late,” he said on a sigh, and unceremoniously unwrapped his gift. “More candy canes,” he said after a second of counting. “Whoever got my name is lucky I’m a patient man.” He snapped an end of one off in his tiny, sharp teeth. “And grateful all the same.”
Anarchaia sighed at the two and straightened her robes. “Better late than never,” she said with a smile and set a hand atop Gildwynn’s head. “And better grateful than not. I’ll see you two later.” She waved and disappeared in a whirl of sparkles. Once back within the Hall, she made her way down into the library and searched the shelves for her teacher. His familiar staff caught her eye and she bounded over. “Week two!” she sang and held out the package, then deflated with a nervous smile when he set a finger to his lips.
Khadgar gave her a tired smile and took the package carefully. He unwrapped it in his characteristic fashion and again flipped through the pages. A hum escaped his throat and a smirk pulled at his lips. “There appears to be a theme already.”
Anarchaia pushed in beside him to read the text. “Broken Isles ore notes? Sounds useful as well. Do you already have these?”
He shook his head. “I have a few, but they’re very incomplete.” He poured over them as he turned to leave. “I’ll add these to the others. Come, let’s check on the kitchens.”
~ * ~
Koltira tapped his foot in annoyance as he waited at for others to arrive. He was about to leave when Asheeda rounded the corner.
“Oh! Not leaving are you?” The demon hunter eyed the two presents in Koltira’s hands.
“I was, um… Yes. I was. But I’ll stay. Until no one else shows up. Don’t want to leave Ali alone too long.” He sat back in his seat and laced his fingers together, then rested his hands on his lap.
“Where is she, anyway?”
Koltira pursed his lips. “She got in trouble.”
Asheeda blinked, having no idea what that even meant for the other death knight.
“Who got in trouble?” Anarchaia chimed in right as she entered with Grimory in tow.
“Ali,” Koltira said simply.
“I presume the others are also a no-show?” Asheeda said, grabbing his gift from the table.
“Oh,” Anarchaia responded with dismay in her voice. “Is it serious?” She picked up the gifts she needed and handed Grimory his. “And Master said he’ll be at the last one. He’s very busy with the party next week.”
Grimory took his gift gingerly and gave it a light shake. “Should we be concerned?” he asked Koltira, hiding the worry in his voice.
Koltira shrugged. “She tackled a gnome trying to take his candy canes when he told her she couldn’t have them. I’ll make sure she’s out soon.” He gave Anarchaia a reassuring smile.
Asheeda’s eyes widened as he picked at the corner of his gift. “They sent her to jail for tackling someone? Seriously?”
“Eh-heh. No. Her room.”
“She’s a bit of a loose canon,” the mage said with a chuckle and leaned against the table. She pulled at the string tying her paper together and pushed the paper down the cylindrical shape beneath, then grinned wide at the perfectly untouched parchment. She pushed the group of scrolls to her mask to inhale what little she could of the aroma. “Nothing better,” she sighed with a dreamy smile.
Grimory chuckled at the story and pulled the paper off his gift as well, then tilted his head and lowered a brow. Blingtron’s Circuit Design Tutorial Game shone in golden ink across the box. “I’ve…never thought of engineering but I suppose it’s always a good time to start.”
Asheeda’s mouth dropped open. “Are you kidding? I’ve been wanting that but I can’t seem to keep enough gold to buy one. Those are not cheap. It’s so cool, though. I’ve watched ‘Nu play it before. You untangle the circuits until none of the wires cross. The higher the levels go, the harder it gets. Difficult, but fun.” He shook his head and tore the paper from his own gift. “Somebody either doesn’t know the value, or they like you. Oh, sweet!” He held his new book up under the Mage’s nose. “This is the newest edition! Supposed to have some crazy recipes in here.”
Grimory shrugged and flipped open the box to read over the rules. “Could always do with more stuff to do back on the Hammer.”
“And more problem solving skills,” the mage chuckled in return.
Koltira chuckled at the other demon hunter and opened his own gift. His eyebrow rose. “I…don’t even play.”
Anarchaia pulled the tome closer to her face as it was shoved toward her and smiled. “I wasn’t aware the new ones were out. I’ll have to go get one.” She blinked at Koltira’s perplexed voice and turned, her smile widening. “Oh, here.” With a thumb and forefinger, she leaned over and plucked one of the strings. Using the note as lead-in, the lute began playing a sweet, calming tune on its own.
Koltira gave a small smile. “Oh. That’s interesting. Though, I’m beginning to think someone doesn’t want me at the tavern anymore.”
Anarchaia gave a sort of chuckle. “Why do you say that? What were your other gifts?”
Asheeda laughed and reached for the gift marked for Crorinu. “Oh, ‘Nu asked me to tell you,” he pointed at the mage, “that she was sorry she couldn’t make it. And this is for you.” He gave Grimory an exaggerated glare. “It’s not from her, but I thought you might have been sad to not get one this time.” He gave a toothy grin.
Grimory’s eyelids lowered and the corner of his mouth tightened. “How kind of you to relay the message. Tell her she wasn’t missed.” He flinched when the backs of fingers struck his arm.
“Don’t be that way,” Anarchaia hissed and grabbed her teacher’s gift from the table.
Gildwynn cleared his throat as he wove his way through the forest of legs toward the table. “I’m just going to take my candy canes and go,” he muttered, taking the package marked to him from the table when Anarchaia pushed it closer to the edge for him.
Koltira blinked at the short figure. “Candy canes? Are you sure that’s what you got?”
“It’s what I’ve gotten for the past two weeks,” Gildwynn responded dully and pulled the candies out of the wrapping as though to prove his point.
Koltira’s smile widened. “Ha!” He turned to Anarchaia, holding back a laugh. “I got scotch glasses the first week and a bottle of scotch the next.”
The goblin narrowed his eyes at the death knight and turned to return to his shop. “See you, Ana. I’ll give you an update on that machine tomorrow.”
The mage gave him a wave. “We need it by Friday.”
She turned back to Koltira. “Ooh, fancy. Must be someone who knows you well.”
Grimory snorted and put his box between his arm and ribs. “I’ll see y’all later, yeah?”
The mage waved after him as well. “Remember we’re going to Orgrimmar tomorrow!”
The demon hunter gave the smallest of waves before disappearing out of sight.
Koltira smiled at the mage in the following silence, disturbed only by the gentle notes of the still-playing lute. He wrapped his hand around the strings to silence it, and stood. “I should get this to Alisbeth. She’s really upset she didn’t get to come.” He picked up Alisbeth’s gift and tucked it safely under his arm.
Anarchaia cleared her throat and nodded, doing similarly with Khadgar’s gift. “R-Right. Heh. Tell her I said hi. Have a good evening.” Without giving him a chance to respond, she disappeared in a flash of light.
Khadgar flinched as a knock sounded through the silence in the study. The door opened and his tired eyes slid to meet his student as she approached. “Oh, that’s right. It’s Monday again.” He gently set down the tome he’d been reading and held out a hand for his gift.
“Relatively,” Anarchaia replied with a smile and relinquished the package.
He hummed a single laugh through his nose and untied the twine holding the paper together. He shuffled through the stack of papers within, stopping momentarily on certain ones. “Whomever had my name is saving me a lot of time.”
The smaller mage pulled a sheet from his hands and looked it over. “Notes on…the Vrykul of Stormheim?”
“On all the native people of the isles.” He snatched the paper back and returned it to its proper place within the others. “Useful.” He handed them over. “Place them with the others in the third drawer on the right.”
Anarchaia smiled and nodded. “Right away.”
Koltira rapped his knuckles on the black metal door and slid the eye slot open. The darkness was immediately replaced by frosty eyes and pale blue skin framed by messy white hair. Bells jingled within and Alisbeth’s eyes widened.
“Is it Monday? You didn’t tell me it was Monday!”
“I didn’t want to upset you,” he said. He slid the slot closed, then knelt to open the large slot at the bottom. He pushed a large candle, a match, and her present inside.
“I’m out of spicy candy canes. I want more.” The match struck and the flame from the candle made the light dance through the slot.
“I’m going to talk to Mograine about letting you out sooner than he said.”
“Good. I need time for the last gift. So much to do!”
“I’ll get you more candy canes.” They were silent as paper tore within the room, echoing from the empty metal walls. “What did you get?”
Alisbeth didn’t respond. Instead, music began to play, picking out one note at a time. It was a gentle lullaby, the same section looping on repeat and echoing from the walls and through the door. “It’s Tirion,” she finally said.
Koltira didn’t reply as he reached down to wrap his hand around the delicate fingers that slid under the door to find him. He heard her sniff away tears through the door, but said nothing. Just squeezed her hand tighter and listened to the music with her.
~ * ~
Koltira stood beside the tree, examining the gifts beneath—and the huge one that was a perfect cube and stood to his thigh. He checked the tag: Gildwynn.
Alisbeth jingled up to him and slapped his hand. “We’re not opening presents yet! How does it look?” She stretched her arms wide and went up on her toes to encompass the whole room, where she’d worked at decorating since the day before.
“You’re still not done?”
She scoffed at him. “I’m getting there! I mean, look at these!” She grabbed up a streamer and threw it at a bannister, then caught the little roll. “Ha! How fun is that?”
“But you got the food out. Did you make sure it’s edible for our living friends?” Koltira bent over the table to examine the dishes.
“I didn’t make most of them so it’s not on me if anyone dies.” She ran across the room to throw more streamers, even though there was hardly any room for more.
Multiple footfalls sounded outside the room’s cracked door; when it swung open, Khadgar and Grimory were pushed into the room wearing their holiday garb—the Archmage in his scarlet and white doublet with gold fasteners and the demon hunter in an oversized scarf as well as baubles and bows hanging from his horns. Anarchaia grunted as she gave the two another push further into the room, nearly tripping over her own emerald and crimson robes.
“I know you two don’t want to be here, but you promised,” she said with a scowl hidden behind her red-and-white striped mask.
Grimory sighed and folded his arms. “Yeah, yeah. We didn’t have to come right on time.”
“You have to be fashionable to be fashionably late, Grim.” She flicked one of the ornaments on his horn.
“You made me wear these.”
“Actually, this is best for me,” Khadgar said while conjuring a pocket watch to observe the time. “I’m on a bit of a schedule.”
Anarchaia folded her arms as well and stuck out a hip. “You said ninety minutes.”
The older man sighed. “Indeed, I did.” He blinked over at the death knights as though noticing them for the first time. “Oh. Happy Winter Veil, you two.”
“Happy Winter Veil!” Alisbeth screamed, tossing a dozen streamers into the air as she threw up her hands in excitement.
It was several minutes before the next attendees arrived, silently arguing in the hall as they approached. Asheeda was first to enter, his tattoos red and on his legs he wore a pair of improvised red shorts with white trim. As usual, he wore nothing else. He walked up to the Archmage and immediately struck up a conversation as though there was nothing wrong with his attire.
Crorinu, however, stood doe-eyed in the doorway, her skimpy green outfit leaving little to the imagination. Her eyes found the mage and a frown curved her lips down in horror. She slipped to Alisbeth, hoping to go unnoticed, then grabbed the death knight and spun her as a sort of shield so she could yell at her, but also hide herself from sight.
“You said you bought one for her, too!”
Alisbeth looked over her shoulder. “I did. I guess she didn’t like it. Hey, you look fantastic! Nice scars.” She raked her fingers across what appeared to be claw marks from a huge feline, a set on either side of the rogue’s abdomen.
Crorinu slapped her hand. “Stop it. I’m changing.”
Alisbeth’s eyes welled up. “But…I got it for you.”
“Fucking fine,” she hissed. “Just don’t cry, dammit.” She went to find a place to hide while also being in the same room.
The lower lid of Khadgar’s right eye threatened to raise and he gave Asheeda a painful smile. He turned to Anarchaia over his shoulder. “I understand that it’s warmer here than in Northrend but am I mistaken in thinking that modesty still exists?”
The shorter mage merely chuckled and shrugged. “I don’t control anything they do…sadly.” She made her way to the tree and pushed up her mask to regard Alisbeth with a grin. “This looks great, Ali. You did well.”
Gildwynn, breathless, stumbled through the door. “I tried to be on time this time, really I did,” he lamented while wiping a bead of sweat from his brow.
Grimory shrugged down at him. “We actually just got here. You’re good.”
The goblin sighed and closed the door behind him. “Oh, thank gods.”
Asheeda gave Khadgar a pinched smile as he realized the older man’s discomfort. “Excuse me, sir.” He found Crorinu hiding behind the tree, playing with a crimson bow. “If I’m not hiding, you’re not hiding.”
“You always dress in your panties. I look ridiculous.”
Asheeda smirked and folded his arms over his chest. “Yeah, and if you keep hiding, everyone here will know you’re a giant wuss.” He spun and strode away from her to help Alisbeth throw streamers around.
Crorinu made faces at him, then dropped her head and sighed. She stood and plastered her usual cool, uncaring expression over her face, then found a seat on one of the couches that had been set up by the tree.
Koltira grinned at the rogue as he passed. “She didn’t even make you wear the stupid hat.” He flicked the poof at the end of the hat on his head.
She rolled her eyes. “Yeah. Nice sweater.”
Koltira bristled. “No choice, okay? No choice!”
Grimory strode over to the table of pastries and iced cookies and decided on pouring a glass of champagne instead. The cork flew into the wall and ricocheted off the other demon hunter’s head. He chuckled. “Sorry.”
Asheeda flinched and threw the cork back, missing Grimory entirely and hitting the wall. He shrugged and returned to throwing streamers as Alisbeth loaded his arms with more of the curled paper.
Khadgar joined Grimory at the table and held out a glass for filling. “I think you’ve got the right idea,” he mumbled and the two shared a quiet laugh.
Gildwynn made his way to the others beside the tree and couldn’t help but notice the large box with his name scrawled across the tag. He took up a vacant loveseat and rested his cheek against a fist atop the arm.
Crorinu eyed the goblin, then glanced around the room when she decided not to speak to him. She spotted the drinks on the table and stood to get one for herself. She peered over the selection as though the two men nearby didn’t exist.
Alisbeth leaned in, startling the rogue, though the woman didn’t show it. “Try the eggnog. Made it myself.”
Crorinu’s nose crinkled, but she accepted the cup forced into her hands. She sniffed it. “How much alcohol is in this?”
“Hm…” Alisbeth pursed her lips. “A bit of this and that in decent quantities? I think? I can’t remember.”
“So you’re saying it’ll make me stupid drunk. Got it.” She chugged the first glass and coughed at the potency.
Grimory, having overheard, downed his glass of champagne with haste and held out the empty cup for nog.
Khadgar shook his head at the Illidari beside him, eyes to the ceiling, and decided to set himself beside the only other guest he knew; Gildwynn gave a tired nod. The Archmage placed an ankle on a knee and gratefully took his gift with a smile and a sip of his drink.
Asheeda sat himself on the couch and folded his arms, taking in the happy faces, the soon to be smashed rogue, and the goblin he’d never officially met before. He gave a small smile, in case his staring came across as rude.
Gildwynn gave the demon hunter across from him an unimpressed glance before flinching as his large gift was pushed toward him with a boot.
Crorinu eyed the cup like it was poisonous. “I’m not a fucking barmaid.” She refilled her cup one last time and walked away.
Alisbeth giggled. “Here, I’ve got it.” She filled his cup until it nearly overflowed. “Come on, looks like Arctic is doing presents now!” She took his hand and practically dragged him to sit beside her on the couch, just a cushion away from the other demon hunter. She smiled brightly at him. “I really like your shorts! They look like mine!”
He chuckled and nodded. “They didn’t have any in my size, so I made my own.”
“Aaand the shirt?”
“I’m not actually very good at sewing. Cutting the legs off a pair of pants is as far as it goes.”
Crorinu dropped onto the couch beside him, nearly spilling her drink on her lap. “Plus, if he covered his chest, how could he show off that he finally can show it off?”
“No more charges of indecent exposure for me!” He laughed as the rogue rolled her eyes.
Koltira’s expression softened as he smiled at Anarchaia. “Your costume is…noticeable.”
Anarchaia stooped to pick up a gift to hand out, then stopped as she was addressed. “It is?” She straightened with a small box in her hands and hesitated. “I-Is that good?”
He smiled at her. “Well, I found you, didn’t I? It’s lovely, really. I especially like the way the green brings out the color of your stripes.” He laughed and held out his hands. “Need some help?”
Anarchaia grinned and waved a hand. “Oh that’s really too kind. And I won’t deny you the pleasure of assisting. This one is for Grim.” She handed him a small, neatly wrapped and heavy box.
Koltira plopped the box on Grimory’s lap, then found the tiny box for Crorinu. It was light as air and he shook it to make sure it wasn’t actually empty, but heard nothing and shrugged. The rogue took it with a rushed smile as she pulled the glass away from her lips to do so.
Grimory gave Koltira a thankful nod and glanced past Alisbeth at the other demon hunter. “You’re wearing less than me.”
“You’re wearing less than I,” Anarchaia corrected as she pushed Alisbeth’s large box to her.
“I think everyone is always wearing less than you,” Grimory responded, earning him a frustrated grunt from the mage who merely spun to hand out more gifts.
She gave Koltira Asheeda’s to deliver and handed her teacher his, then grabbed her own and held out Koltira’s when he returned. “Everyone have one?”
Alisbeth bounced on her rear. “Yes! Do we do it youngest to oldest? Oldest to youngest? Alphabetical? All at once?”
Anarchaia chuckled quietly and shrugged. “Alphabetically, backwards? Then after, we can each guess who had who. I have prizes for those who guess correctly.” She thought for a second. “Koltira. You, first.”
Koltira’s brow lowered at being singled out to go first. Alisbeth gave him an encouraging smile and he sighed, then unwrapped the gift as meticulously as always. He stopped once the box was open, and stared down at the figure of what is unmistakably him riding Bloodmist.
“What is it?” Alisbeth squealed.
He snapped back into the moment and held it up for the others to see. “Heh. Bloodmist and me.” He gave a shy smile, then went back to inspecting it.
Alisbeth thought, biting into her bottom lip. “I think Geko is next?”
The others looked amongst themselves, shifting and refusing to correct her or ask for more of an indicator on who she was talking about.
“I’m next, actually,” Khadgar said with a gentle smile. He pulled the wrapper off his gift and handed the paper to Anarchaia when she reached for it. A smile pulled at his lips as he turned the book over in his hands; The Broken Isles was scrawled across the middle in bright gold ink. He flipped through the pages to find them blank. “I imagine this is what those notes were meant for,” he chuckled. “I’ll get right to it. Thank you, whomever.”
Grimory perked when he was gestured to and set his nog aside to tear the paper off his gift. He crumpled it up and threw it at Anarchaia; it made a paff! as it bounced off her face. His eyebrows raised as he pulled out the ornately carved figure—a rose, the brimstone it was crafted from still smoking and glowing. He turned it to admire the glittering gems in each petal. “Wow, someone must really like me. How romantic,” he mused with a smirk. “Thanks. I love it. It’ll go on the shelf beside my cot.”
Gildwynn nodded as he was next addressed; he pulled off the wrapping of his gift. He grinned and removed the gigantic basket so over-filled with pastries that a few cookies fell back into the box. He laughed and took a bite of a thick brownie. “I’m going to be in a sugar coma for the next month if anyone needs me.” He slapped at Anarchaia’s invading hand.
Crorinu lurched, steadying her drink as Asheeda elbowed her in the ribs. “Dick.” She set her drink between her feet as though to guard it. As delicately as she could, she opened the box and pulled out a fist-sized bag. Her eyes lit and her mouth fell open. “Is this what I think it is?” She shoved her hand inside and kept going until the little bag was up to her shoulder. “Oh my gods, I’m stealing everything now. All of it. Don’t touch!” She batted Asheeda’s hands away as he pulled the fabric from her arm. “It’s your turn, anyway.”
Asheeda smiled and tore into the wrapping paper, leaving shreds everywhere. “Ha!” He paused in his triumph. “It’s, uh…sand…holder?” He poked at the hole in the top, text beside it indicating where sand went in.
Crorinu tugged a card from inside the box and shoved it in his face. “Maybe read the instructions, yeah?”
He took the card and batted her away. “Oh. Oh! This is the best thing ever! It’s a portable vial maker! And I can choose a size by—”
“Yeah, no one cares. It’s the mage’s turn.” Crorinu gestured across the room and grabbed her eggnog.
Anarchaia stuffed all the excess wrapping paper into an empty bin and blinked at the mention of her. “Oh! Right. Heh.” She shoved Gildwynn into the Archmage beside him to squeeze in next to him on the sofa meant for two. She unwrapped the trio of leather-bound books and smiled at the bright orange A meticulously imprinted on each. “I love them!” she chirped and opened one to inhale the aroma of the blank pages. “No more scrolls for me. I’m high class, now.” She pushed one at her teacher’s face as a child would showing off their favorite toy. He smiled and took one to examine.
“Ali,” Koltira said from across the room, as the other death knight just stared at everyone and their gifts, a wide smile plastered on her face. “It’s your turn.”
“Oh! Right.” She giggled and pulled at the paper as though she could care less about what was inside. She took in the smiling goblin, stuffing his face; the demon hunter beside her, who cradled the rose from an admirer; the rogue, who had dived into the tree to get bows and things to hang from her best friend’s horns.
The box in Alisbeth’s lap sprung open and and made a guttural Rrrr sound. Alisbeth flipped backward over the back of the sofa and screamed, then peeked over it at the life-sized inflatable target dummy in the shape of a forsaken, its face stuck in a rotted leer.
Grimory barked a laugh at her reaction, nearly choking on his drink. “Oh, hey. That’s perfect for you, Ali! Have a whack at it.”
She poked the target dummy. It grunted in reply. She hit it harder and it yelled. Alisbeth smiled. “I’m going to kill you so hard when we get home.”
“Hey!” Crorinu called, her rear stuck up in the air as she bent under the tree, reaching for something. “There’s another gift under here.” She sat up. “Oh, it’s for you.” She held it out to Alisbeth.
The death knight’s eyes widened and flicked to each person, trying to assess guilt. “It’s supposed to be just one.” She stared at the gift as though she wanted it, but wasn’t allowed to have it.
Grimory leaned over to pull at the tag and read it. “Who’s Taveth? And why is he hoping this counts as two?”
Alisbeth scrambled over the couch and snatched the gift from the rogue’s hand as she spilled onto the floor. “Tav? He’s— Hey! How’d he know I’d be here?”
Koltira blinked at her. “Ali?”
“What?” She crouched over the present and tore it open. She pulled two hugging bears from the box, quickly realizing they held each other by magnets. “It counts as two,” she said, and hugged them.
“Why did he send you two presents?” Koltira asked.
Alisbeth opened one eye and smiled at Koltira. “No reason. Don’t ask questions! Shh!”
A quiet fell over the room. Anarchaia cleared her throat. “So, Koltira. Who do you think got your name?”
Koltira blinked in confusion, then smiled hesitantly at the mage. “Well, judging by the glasses and the scotch, and the hobby instrument, I’m going to say it’s Grim. If it plays itself, is it still a hobby, though?”
“You seem like you need to relax,” Grimory replied with a helpless shrug and grin. “Yeah, it was me. Did you try the scotch yet? You should.”
Koltira grinned. “I had a few glasses, yes. Fantastic choice.”
Anarchaia conjured a small bag of neatly stacked and iced gingerbread cookies tied at the top with a dainty golden ribbon. She tossed it to Koltira. “I know you probably can’t taste much. Heh. It’s all I could do in the short amount of time I had.”
He caught the cookies, being careful not to let them hit the carved figure, though the chances of damaging it were slim. He chuckled. “It’s the thought that counts.”
Khadgar finished his drink and again set the glass aside. “Sadly I don’t know the bulk of you well enough to make a guess that won’t make me out to be a fool,” he said with a smile. He gestured to Asheeda. “Though you look the most worldly.”
Asheeda gave a soft smile and shook his head. “I’m just a small town girl living in a—”
Crorinu hit him. “Don’t.”
The demon hunter laughed. “No. I’m not sure what you received, but it wasn’t from me.”
“Extensive notes on herbs, ores, and cultures in the Broken Isles.” Khadgar chewed on the inside of his cheek and turned to Koltira instead. “You seem a good second guess.”
Koltira smirked. “You wouldn’t believe what you can compile with short notice when your best friend is high in the ranks. I look forward to reading the book.” He tipped his head respectfully to the Archmage.
“You’ll be the first to receive it.” Khadgar glanced toward Anarchaia with a playful grin. “No cookies for a correct second guess?”
The smaller mage folded her arms. “You get a basketful every year. Don’t be greedy.” She pulled a candy cane from Gildwynn’s gift and stuck it between her teeth and cheek.
Grimory glanced through the faces and scratched at the patch of hair on his chin. He stopped at Crorinu and waited for her to make eye contact before smiling slyly. “You.”
Crorinu raised a fist, her middle finger slowly rising up as she took a drink.
“Oh my gods, was it?” Asheeda demanded. “All engineering things and then the—did you have Xrla help you with that?”
“I had some shit lying around,” she shrugged, but wouldn’t make eye contact with Grimory.
Grimory’s smirk widened and he looked to Anarchaia next. He lifted a hand. “Cookie m—” He flinched as the bag struck him in the face.
Gildwynn chuckled, though attempted to hide it in the back of a hand. “I think it’s pretty obvious who got me.” He gestures at Alisbeth. “Keep your cookies, Ana. I have enough.” He smiled at the mage girl beside him. “I’ll take something else, though.” His ears pulled back and eyes widened, however, when she pulled the cane from her mouth to place a kiss atop his head. Words failing him and face red, the goblin shrunk back into his seat.
She chuckled at him and tucked the candy back in her mouth. “I hope it was you, Ali, or I’ve just humiliated him for nothing.”
Alisbeth hopped on her rear and clapped in excitement. “It was me! I hope you like it. I made all of it myself. Well, the baker helped a little. And I didn’t make the candy canes. But, aren’t the cakes and sweets just the best part of Winter Veil?” She gave him a genuine smile.
Crorinu cried out as Asheeda elbowed her. “What? Huh? My turn?” Her ears were red with intoxication as she peered around the room. “Hmm. Vials, polishing kit, cinnamon candy canes, and a black hole. Was it… You, there. Old guy. You seem powerful and uncaring of whether or not I stab someone. Was it you?”
Khadgar perked as he was addressed, eyebrows raised. “I do happen to care, as it were. Most situations can be handled without the use of violence.” He pursed his lips and muttered a quiet “And I’m not old,” beneath his breath.
She pursed her lips and looked around, her eyes flitting to Grimory for the smallest of seconds before moving on to the mage. “You look like you can make black holes. Was is you?”
Anarchaia chuckled and shrugged. “I can’t make black holes…yet. But I can buy them. Yes, ‘twas I. Please don’t use anything I gave you to hurt Grim.”
“That’d be a Winter Veil miracle,” the blond demon hunter mumbled and drank the rest of his nog, then cringed at the alcohol content.
Asheeda grinned. “I can keep her in check, if you like. Uh, my turn.” He turned his head, spluttering as tinsel flew into his face. “Uh, was it you?” He pointed at the goblin, deciding on a wild guess rather than trying to deduce it.
Gildwynn responded with a sheepish grin. “Made the device myself. It’s a prototype though, so swing by my shop if it gives you any problems.”
Asheeda gasped. “You mean I have the only one?” He hugged the device to himself. “I’ll guard it with my life!”
Crorinu reached out to touch the device and Asheeda batted her away.
“No. Guarding with my life.”
Anarchaia hummed and, hands pressed together, set the index fingers over her lips in thought. “Well. I have a fifty-fifty chance at this point—between Master and Asheeda.” She scanned both of their faces for something that may give either of them away, then settled on the demon hunter. “Eh?”
Asheeda stared at the mage for a second, then smiled slowly. “Yeah, it was me.”
Anarchaia grinned in response and conjured three bags of cookies to toss—one to Asheeda and two to Alisbeth. “By process of elimination, Ali doesn’t have much of a mystery.” She casted a smile over Gildwynn to her teacher.
Khadgar returned the look tiredly. <<It may yet be,>> he replied in quiet Dwarvish.
Alisbeth, having not been paying attention anyway, jumped as the cookies smacked into her forehead. “Huh? What? My turn? Uh, was it Cassiopeia?”
Khadgar shifted amused eyes to the befuddled death knight. “Sure.”
She clapped and immediately took a cookie out to shove into her mouth.
Crorinu stood, swaying enough to make Asheeda nervous. He stood to help her. She slapped at him. “Back off, I’m not helpless.”
Koltira went to Alisbeth and helped collect her things, shoving the target dummy back into the box and securing the lid.
Grimory set the rose gingerly in the pack at his hip and stood. “You sure you wouldn’t like me to walk you home?” he said to the rogue with a coy wink, knowing full well the risks of doing so.
The Archmage gave his student an expectant look and Anarchaia gasped and stood. “The tree! That’s right!” She sent her own gift away in a puff of smoke and snatched up Khadgar’s to do the same. “I have the room for another hour,” she said in a rush and grabbed his hand to pull him out of his seat and toward the door. “So enjoy until then if you please!”
Gildwynn jumped at the mention of the tree and groaned. “Shit. Aubyne. I promised I’d meet her. Thanks, Ms. Death Knight! Happy Winter Veil to the rest of you!” he called with a wave and followed the mages out the door, cookies tumbling from his gift basket in his rush.
Asheeda frowned. “I want to go!”
Crorinu pushed on him. “Go, go. I’ll be fine.”
The demon hunter joined the two death knights as they headed for the door, Alisbeth practically dragging Koltira as she squealed in excitement.
The rogue sighed and went for the snacks on the table to shove into her new black hole.
Once certain they were alone, Grimory took the opportunity to step beside Crorinu with a grin. “Hey. For real, though, thanks for the gift. I do really like it… All of them.” He grabbed the bottle of nog before she could get her hands on it.
The rogue shrugged and cast her cool gaze on him. “You act like it was something special. Really, those things weren’t hard to make and I had the spare materials.” She reached for the bottle he’d taken.
He lifted the nog up and away, using his height advantage against her. “They were expensive though. Next year Ana will have to implement a price cap.” He grinned. “My offer stands, you know.”
She growled and stretched for the eggnog. “They weren’t expensive. They’re just things. Stupid, pointless—oof!” She wobbled forward and fell against him.
Instinctively wrapping an arm around her waist to keep her from slipping further, he glanced down into her flushed face and grinned wider. “You definitely need a chauffeur,” he chuckled quietly, then lowered the bottle enough for her to reach.
“Can I tell you a secret?” she asked softly.
His eyebrows lifted and his ears perked. “Does it involve a knee in my groin?”
She laughed. “Oh, please. I’m not a barbarian.” She wrapped a hand behind his back. “But I do know how to conceal a blade in even the most revealing outfit.” She shoved her dagger toward the soft flesh at the small of his back.
His eyes widened slightly and the prick in his back caused him to react, leaning farther into her to avoid the blade. His eyelids lowered in slight bemusement. “Barbarians used daggers.” He offered the bottle as a sort of peace offering.
Crorinu narrowed her eyes at his proximity and accepted the bottle. She moved away, taking a long pull. When she spun around, a dagger flew from her hand toward his belly.
He grunted and stumbled back as the blade pierced his stomach. He braced himself against the table and groaned in pain. “Happy Winter Veil to you, too.”
Crorinu stumbled to him, laughing. She pressed the blade in a little more before pulling it out. “I’d hate for you to get the wrong idea,” she said, her lips brushing his ear lobe as she spoke.
He hissed and grunted again as the blade was removed. “Gods forbid,” he groaned, sweat beading around the cords of his neck. A smile pulled at his lips and he grabbed her weapon hand by the wrist. “Though it may be a bit late for that, yeah?” He pulled her toward him so that their lips met.
The rogue allowed the kiss for a moment, then shoved him away. “Satisfied now?” She backed away toward the exit, a sly smile on her lips. “Happy Winter Veil, I guess.”
Grimory fell against the table and strained to straighten. He lifted his hand away from the wound for only a moment, then pressed on it again when he could see just how much blood there was. He laughed through the pain. “Worth it.”