As usual, Annalea is up in Davie Langston’s face. As usual, he’s flustered and sputtering. And, as usual, it’s exactly how she wants him to be.
But today, the why of it is not even a little bit usual.
She’s close, close enough to kiss, close enough that, were this a scene from one of L’ree Lovelace’s smut-filled tomes, this would all end with him having her right there on the bar. But he’s never wanted her like that, never in all the years she’s been coming around. All the scorching looks she’s thrown him, all the ganders down her front, none of them have ever made him desire her. She knows it and he knows it, and much as he wishes sometimes she’d stop, it’s become a bit of a game for them both: she pretends to tease him; he pretends to be scandalized. Everyone laughs.
But no one’s laughing now.
It’s not her breasts in his face this time; she’s on her toes, one finger jabbing into his chest, and the only place for his eyes to look are into hers, fury-filled and storm-grey.. The only thing the least bit suggestive about her speech is her assertion that he’s an Elune-blinded idiot who might want to consider a new career orally servicing livestock.
“What the fuck. What the fuck were you thinking?”
She smells of sawdust. A stray wood shaving sticks in her hair, pale against her blonde curls. She was across town at the Bells’ shop when he buzzed her. One of them came with her, the quieter twin, the one without all the ink.
The Mathers girl showed up, too. She’s downstairs feeding another batch of spiders into Stephen Ryback’s commandeered fire, and he doesn’t know if she was with them at the carpenters’ or ran into the two on the way here.
Will Bell is on his hands and knees behind the bar, helping Reese sweep little skittering bodies into the dustpans. Every now and then, Lyresse comes upstairs, freezes the contents of the dustpan, and carries them down to the stove, where the water hisses as it turns to steam and tiny arachnid bodies go pop as they burn.
Davie realizes Anna is actually waiting for an answer. “I just... I... I guess I wasn’t thinking at all.”
“No. No, you fucking well weren’t. You know better. Unplanned shipments get refused. Ever since those apples, and Squealer.”
Now her anger makes sense. He’d thought it was for Threnn. As soon as he’d said “spider infestation” on the box, she’d cursed and told him to keep her sister the fuck out of the bar. But it’s more than that, and Davie could kick himself for not seeing it. Four years gone, a cartload of poisoned fruit had nearly killed Beltar’s boar. Had the food made it into the kitchen, it might have killed patrons.
The Riders have been paranoid about unscheduled deliveries ever since.
“They said it was for Miss Tymara. I thought maybe it had something to do with the summit.”
Lore, the Miss Tymara in question, unfolds herself from the spot beneath the stairs where a couple hundred spiders have already started spinning their webs. To Davie’s eyes, she straightens up... and up... and up. She saunters over, dusting gossamer strands from her dusky fingers. A few stubborn bugs abseil to the floor, but their escape is short-lived. Lore crushes them under her boots before they can skitter away and hide.
As she steps closer to loom over Anna’s shoulder, Davie feels a sudden kinship with the spiders. He gets about the same kind of glower from her as they did.
“I ever have anything delivered to me here before?”
She doesn’t even need the boots to stomp him flat. “Well, no.”
“No. Two Quel’dorei you’ve never seen before come in here, drop off crates, don’t ask you to sign for them or anything, and you don’t question it at all?”
“You were out of touch.” He leans in a little, annoyed now. There’s grim satisfaction in driving Annalea back a step, into Lore. Both women play it cool, though, as though they meant to be that close. Lore puts one hand on Anna’s shoulder to steady her. Were the usual lunch crowd here, the catcalls would have started.
But the Pig is empty, due to the Light-forsaken spiders, and that’s a reminder of why they’re both glaring at him.
Davie sighs and cedes his ground. Mercifully, Anna doesn’t press back in. “I did try buzzing, when they first left. But Lorelli had gone silent already. Then when everyone started pouring in after, I forgot they were even here. You get a dozen customers in -- ten of whom have blood on them, some of it even their own -- deliveries are the last thing on your mind.”
Anna twists around to look at Lore. “All right. Do you have any idea who sent them?”
The kaldorei woman must be conjuring a murder in her mind, judging from the dangerous flash of teeth. “I might.”
“Is there more to come here?”
“Not when I’m done with them.”
“The thing about escalating,” Anna says slowly, “is with our kind it usually ends in blood.”
Davie knows she’s thinking of Ginger Dan, and all the shit that went down from her own tangles with his gang. But those weren’t pranks. They didn’t start funny -- with Dan’s men following Davie’s sister Jenn through Old Town, saying what they’d like to do to her -- and they sure didn’t end funny. So a few crates of spiders don’t seem so bad, in comparison.
Still, what if Lore’s mysterious nemesis had sent the poisonous kind instead of a jumble of fly-eaters?
The two women seem to hold an entire conversation with only their eyes. It’s done within the space of five or six breaths, and when Lore says, “I’ll take care of it,” it seems to satisfy Annalea.
Then they turn their attention back to him. Davie waits to see if it’s his day to go for a final swim up the canals.
Anna pinches the bridge of her nose, and for a heartbeat, he can see the faint lines of crows’ feet at the corners of her eyes. The movement knocks the curl of wood out of her hair. It lands beside a spider that has unwisely decided to ford the distance between the base of the bar and the rear wall. “Get a broom, then,” she says, and mutters a word that makes Davie’s guts twist.
The spider’s affected, too. It stops dead -- literally -- in the middle of its escape. Its legs don’t even get one last twitch.
Davie Langston makes a silent vow never to break protocol again.
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