“Honestly, I don’t know why I’m even doing this,” Wrathion said, frowning at the board between them. “You do realize that this is a completely ridiculous concept for a game, don’t you?”
“What’s so ridiculous about it?” Anduin replied mildly, pushing a piece to another square.
“Because,” Wrathion said, doing the same, “The point of a game is that one person wins and the other person loses.”
He spoke as though explaining basic facts to a toddler, which Anduin found bemusing, given Wrathion’s age.
Anduin had spent about a week in the Tavern of the Mists by this point, convalescing from his extensive injuries. He could walk, but not long or well, and he had very little strength overall. The lack of mobility gave him time to consider, to observe. He was in this tavern because it was secure, neutral ground—maintained both by Madame Goya and the omnipresent underlings of Prince Wrathion. The Blacktalon didn’t make Anduin nervous, exactly, but there was something disconcerting about them and their constant mutterings to one another, something unpleasant in their guarded, just shy of hostile stares and their unwavering obedience to the young black dragon sitting across from him.
Wrathion, too, was a disquieting presence.
“You know,” Anduin said. “I once read somewhere that you can learn a lot about someone through playing games with them.”
“Did you,” Wrathion said. He paused, one gloved, clawed hand hovering over another token. “And what are you learning?”
Anduin snatched the token, grinning as Wrathion’s face contorted in dismay. “That you need to be more open-minded.”
“First of all, that’s mine,” Wrathion said, swiping across the table at Anduin. Holding up his hands innocently, Anduin let the token drop back onto the board.
“Technically, it belongs to the Tavern—”
“—and secondly, I’m incredibly open-minded. I’m just not naïve.”
He made his move, and the irritation of a moment ago slipped back into calm self-confidence. “This is nothing more than a meaningless way to pass the time.”
“We’re certainly never going to finish it if you keep making decisions like that,” Anduin said. “Cooperation between two people is the point here. If we don’t work towards the same goal, we’ll both lose.”
He tapped both his and Wrathion’s pieces as he spoke, frowning. Wrathion was free of the Old Gods’ corruption, but Anduin wasn’t sure that he had escaped the other unfortunate predilections of his race. Like arrogance, or a disdain for mortal life, or an appetite for power and wanton destruction.
“Foolish,” Wrathion proclaimed.
“Why?” Anduin said. “I really don’t understand your problem with this.”
“Perhaps it’s because I can tell what you’re thinking. The world doesn’t work this way, Prince Anduin,” Wrathion said. “No matter how much you want it to. ‘Cooperation’ isn’t going to solve the problems we’re facing now. Only swift, decisive actions will do that.”
“Brutality, you mean,” Anduin said. He could feel his temper rising, as it always did whenever they turned to this topic.
“Necessary force,” Wrathion said. He made another move, flicking one of Anduin’s pieces aside in the process.
“Hey—you can’t—” Anduin said, and Wrathion shrugged, smiling. “That’s against the rules.”
“If I don’t like the game I’m playing, I change the rules,” he replied. “Because I’m open-minded.” He flicked another piece of Anduin’s off of the board. “Are you going to stop me?”
Anduin sighed as he bent to retrieve the tokens. “You’re really acting your age right now, you know?”
Pain shot through his muscles as he straightened up, the still-mending tissue and bone reacting badly to even this minor exertion. Anduin winced, exhaling hard.
Wrathion’s bright red eyes watched this display silently, betraying no emotion—neither amusement nor concern. After a moment, he said, “I’m trying to tell you something. Though if having your entire body crushed by that bell didn’t teach you the lesson, I suppose I don’t know what chance I have.”
That remark brought a full-on scowl to Anduin’s face. “What do you mean?”
“We live in a harsh world, Anduin. Chaotic. Violent. You can preach diplomacy and hand-holding all you like, but in the end, it’s just going to get you … “ Wrathion leaned back in his chair and made a sweeping gesture with his hand to indicate Anduin’s frail state. “Well. You know.”
Light, he was smug. Anduin set the pieces back on the table and grumbled. “Let’s just keep playing.”
Wrathion leaned forward again to make his next move, grinning wide and sharp. “I never stopped.”