“So, what is this for again, and why do I need to be here for it?” Grimory asks, taking the parchment from Anarchaia’s hands and glossing it over with radiant emerald eyes.
The mage snatches the paper back from him and scowls beneath her mask. “Master Khadgar says we should get a head start on gaining favor with the Valarjar. I figured consulting Odyn himself would be a good start. But we’re going to need help.”
Grimory scoffs and folds his arms, tapping the toe of his boot on the log bench outside the dirt circle they’d made – a makeshift arena. “I don’t see why. We’ve handled Suramar pretty well so far.”
Anarchaia rolls her eyes secretly. “Suramar doesn’t have Gods to appease.” She looks over the list in her hands. “Looks like only a few people signed up. We’ll have to see if they’ll be deadweight or not before bringing them along. The first couple of applicants should be here shortly…”
Coins clink behind Grimory before a small “Thanks,” is whispered. A brush moves separately from the wind, then all goes still again.
“Give it back.”
A female blood elf steps into the arena, jaw clenched and cool eyes settled on Grimory. “Sorry.” She drops the pilfered coin in the dirt at his feet. She settles on one hip and purses her lips as she inspects the two, then sighs, clearly unimpressed with what she sees. “Okay, look, I only signed up because Asheeda wanted to do this and she’s not all that great at…being good. Or sociable. As for me, just stay out of my way.” She inspects her fingernails, bored with the situation. “Or don’t. Easier to stab things in the back when they’re distracted by idiots with the stealth of a Tauren in a minefield.”
“Pass,” Grimory immediately says through a fang-filled scowl, not bothering to pick up his own money.
Anarchaia ignores him and glances around the trees above, searching for the second figure. “It’s going to take a little more than an interview for us to come to a decision.” She stands and pushes her hood back over her shoulders. “If you want a position on our team—and your pay—you’ll have to prove you can hold your own in a fight.” Her eyes continue scanning the leaves. “Both of you.”
“Come on out, Asheeda. I told you, she’s shy.”
A male blood elf steps from the trees. His hair is ivory with a pearlescent sheen, cropped short and well-groomed between the two curling horns on his head. His skin is a dark red and cracked in an almost scaled effect. His face is clean shaven, but small spikes have broken through the skin at his jaw, cheeks, and forehead. Aside from his black blindfold the only thing he wears is charcoal black mini-shorts. “He,” he says to the rogue.
She rolls her eyes. “Yes, he. Sorry.” She leans to whisper to the other two. “Just got the procedure. I’m still not used to it.”
He flashes a charming grin at the others. “Call me Ash, please.” He takes Anarchaia’s hand and pulls it up to kiss the top. “And you are?” His eyes don’t move from her mask.
Grimory’s scowl deepens and he spits on the soil, his arms tightening around his chest.
Anarchaia blinks and flushes beneath her covering, too taken aback by the elf’s boldness to pull her hand away. “Uh…Anarchaia,” she responds, clearly flustered. She clears her throat. “A pleasure.”
Asheeda smiles wider. “Beautiful name.”
The rogue scoffs. “It was weird when you flirted with girls before. I thought it would be less weird now, but it’s not.” She turns to Grimory “Look, I have a raid to get to. You know, saving Azeroth and all that while you guys are out here…” She looks around and sneers. “Playing in the dirt? So, can we make this snappy?”
Grimory pulls his ears back as a cat would and narrows his eyes. He glances from the Illidari to the woman, not bothering to hide his irritation as much as she hasn’t. “If you don’t have time for this then perhaps you should go prepare for that.”
Anarchaia gently pulls her hand away and gives an awkward chuckle. “You’re too kind.” Her attention flicks to the woman as well. “And despite how rude my friend is, he does have a point. This endeavor could take weeks, even months. Are you sure you’re committed to that kind of timeframe?”
The rogue folds her arms over her chest, narrowing her eyes at Grimory. “Maybe I will.”
Asheeda frowns. “But, ‘Nu, you promised!”
She sneers. “I did. You’re right. I’m sure Liv will understand.”
“Bros before hoes!” Asheeda pulls the rogue into a tight hug.
“Oh. Oh gods, no, I’m not your bro. Stop it. This is not okay.” She slips an arm free to grab one of the jawbone daggers on her back and hook it into Asheeda’s horn. The demon hunter releases her and she swings around, using his horn as a grapple, then lands behind him and kicks him in the rear. “Don’t hug me.” She points at the other two. “Got it?”
“Shouldn’t be a problem,” Grimory grumbles.
Anarchaia rolls up the parchment and sends it away in a billowing cloud of purple smoke. “Look, guys, we have other people lined up for this job who’ll be here soon, so if you’re still interested…”
“I am!” Asheeda shouts. He tucks the rogue under his arm to keep her from objecting. “She is, too. Just ignore her. I’m sure it’s just too much time in the sewers. Please, I really want to see the land and meet the people. Take notes and samples. I hear there’s a rare weed in the wilds and I’d love to be able to study its properties…see its usefulness.”
She shoves out from his arm. “Flower-picking tree-hugger.” She punches his arm. “Whatever. Fine. I’m in. When do we start?”
“Grim,” Anarchaia mentions pointedly, motioning him into the ring with a finger and without a glance.
Grimory bristles, his shoulders raising. “What? Why me?”
“I’m a lover, not a fighter,” Anarchaia quips with a grin that no one can see.
“Ain’t that the truth,” he mutters, then sighs when her head quickly jerks to look in his direction. “I’m going,” he grumbles and steps into the arena. “You gotta beat me, I guess.” His hands and forearms mutate into large, clawed appendages so black they seem to suck in all light. The nails at the tips of his fingers glow yellow and leave streaks of light in their wake when he moves. “So, who’s first?”
The rogue steps back. “Uhh… I think this one is yours, Ash.” She pats him on the back.
Asheeda stumbles backward, shoving the rogue forward. “No, no, I think he’s all yours, Crorinu.”
“You’re the one with the demon blood in you!”
“You’ve got the Kingslayers!” They argue for a minute before Asheeda finds himself in the ring, standing on the outer edge looking sheepish with a nervous grin. “Hi, uh, Grim? She said your name was? Hi. See, I didn’t think this was going to be something with a lot of fighting and I really just wanted to do research in Stormheim, so…”
“Shut up!” Crorinu hisses and pushes him forward with her boot. “Just demon out or something.”
“Demon out?” he growls.
“Yeah do the thing with the claws like that guy.”
“I can’t do that. I didn’t train for that.”
“Well where are your glaives?” she demands. He looks into the bushes. “You are the worst, Asheeda. The absolute worst.” She stomps into the trees to retrieve the weapons.
Asheeda purses his lips and rocks awkwardly. “I’m really not a fighter.”
Grimory lets his arms fall to his sides and groans inwardly. “You don’t say,” he grunts, his eyes half-lidded and unamused.
Anarchaia sets herself down upon the log and props her chin in a palm. “That’ll have to change if you want to come where we’re going. You can at least defend yourself properly, no?”
Crorinu shoves the glaives into Asheeda’s fists. He twirls them over his head and in front of him in a show of dexterity. “Yeah, sure. I can do that.” Asheeda stands at the ready, his face set, though his eyes betray his fear.
Grimory scoffs and lunges forward with a speed unfit for his size. He swipes at his fellow demon hunter with his massive claws, aiming for the man’s face.
“Don’t actually hurt them!” Anarchaia calls from the back.
Asheeda crosses his glaives over his face and ducks, using Grimory’s own momentum to launch him over and behind. Asheeda spins and readies again, hoping luck remains on his side.
Stopping so abruptly he nearly stumbles, Grimory growls loudly and turns, sweeping low in hopes of at least disabling the more agile man.
Asheeda flinches, expecting to be tackled. Instead he screams out as the flesh at his right shin is torn open in three long gashes. He leaps backward, quickly inspecting the damage and determining he can continue.
“I’ll get your pack,” the rogue says, then sprints into the bushes once more.
Asheeda purses his lips and re-crosses the glaives in front of him. “That all you got?”
Grimory straightens and gives a kind of snort, flicking the blood off his nails and onto the soil. “No, but I was told not to hurt you.” He ignores the distant call of ‘a little late for that!’ from the sidelines. “You ever gonna attack or just bob and weave?” He clenches a huge fist and drills a blow toward the center of the crossed blades.
“I was told I only had to—” he leaps backward away from Grimory, “defend myself.” He flinches as the demon fist makes contact with his glaives, but only just a bump since he’d jumped out of reach.
Crorinu zips back out of the trees and tosses a healing salve high in the air toward Asheeda. He catches it and holds it in his fist, waiting for an opportune moment to use it on his injury.
Grimory recovers with an attempted—albeit weaker—blow with the opposite fist. “Real enemies aren’t going to have the patience for a defensive opponent, you know. If they’re stronger they’ll overpower you as quickly as possible.”
Anarchaia watches intently from the sidelines, bobbing her foot beneath her robes.
Grimory’s fist bumps against Asheeda’s shoulder. “Ha!” he says, “That kinda tickled.”
“Would you quit being a pussy and do something?” Crorinu growls.
As fast as he can move, Asheeda smears the salve over his shin. His bleeding stops as the wound begins to heal. Emboldened by his friend, he lunges forward to attack Grimory head on.
Grimory winces as the blade buries itself into the forearm he’d used to defend himself, then grins devilishly. Blood dribbles from the wound and joins the rest in the dirt. “You’ll have to do better than that.” He shoots a quick glance at Anarchaia before bringing his free hand up in a slicing motion, attempting to disarm the man. His eyes smolder with excitement.
Asheeda attempts to leap backward, but he’s too slow. Grimory’s hand knocks the glaive from his right fist as the other’s claws tear deep gashes into Asheeda’s forearm. Flesh tears away to expose bone beneath. The injured demon hunter cries out in pain, dropping his other glaive to the ground to grip his arm.
“You son of a bitch!” Crorinu cries. She steps through the shadows to come up instantly behind Grimory, her daggers drawn and ready to slice into his spine.
The earth below is sprayed with blood and Grimory’s cry of agony causes any roosting birds to take flight. He turns to counter his attacker, but the pain in his back makes him tremble and stumble to a knee. His breathing becomes ragged as he struggles to stand. “Two on one… Playing dirty…”
“All right, I’ve seen enough!” Anarchaia jumps to her feet and makes toward the trio. “I told you not to injure them!” she scolds Grimory, her fists clenched at her sides.
Crorinu grips her daggers tight in her fists as she stands over Asheeda, shielding him. “He told you he’s not a fighter!” She points a bloodied dagger at Anarchaia. “Come on, little girl. Why don’t you hop in the ring and I’ll show you the same courtesy.”
Asheeda stands and nudges Crorinu with his shoulder. “Just get my bag. I’ll be fine. I made extra potions.” He turns his grimace on Grimory. “Plenty to share.”
Anarchaia glowers at Crorinu from behind her mask and helps Grimory to his feet. “Thanks so kindly for the invitation but I’ll pass,” she hisses. “And that’s very generous of you, Mr. Asheeda. We appreciat—”
“I don’t need—”
Anarchaia presses her palm over Grimory’s mouth. “Shut up. You got yourself into this, now I’m getting you out.”
Asheeda steps around Crorinu, but she stops him. “I’ll get it.” She shakes the blood from her daggers and sheaths them on her shoulders. When the rogue returns with the pack, Asheeda rips it from her grip and digs inside to produce two vials of healing tonic.
“It tastes like ass and burns going down. But it’ll get him back on his feet in a minute.” He hands one to Anarchaia, then downs his own in a few gulps. He coughs and tosses the bottle back into his pack.
The rogue glares down at Anarchaia. “I don’t know what you think you’re getting yourselves into, but tearing apart your allies will not accomplish the job.”
Anarchaia thanks Asheeda gratefully and uncorks the vial, then shoves it into Grimory’s mouth when he opens it to retort. She shoots the rogue a scowl. “I’m not his mother,” she barks. “Don’t blame me for his recklessness.”
Grimory chokes on the rancid concoction, but grits his teeth when his wounds begin to smoke, the skin crawling back over the flesh.
“We don’t need more reckless people in our group.” Anarchaia releases her friend as he slowly straightens his back. “He’s a handful enough.” She begins digging in the pouch behind her belt, searching for gold to pay for the potion.
Asheeda wraps his hand around Anarchaia’s. “It’s not necessary.”
“But—” Crorinu stares longingly at the mage’s purse.
The demon hunter glares up at his friend. “We’re not here for your gold. I wanted to explore. I guess I need to learn to take the danger with the research. Get my nose out of the books, right?”
Anarchaia retracts her hand slowly, her irritation giving way to sympathy. “I’m sorry, Ash.” She smiles despite knowing no one can see. “Those potions of yours are impressive. Grim’s already better.”
Grimory stretches his back, his hands – now returned to their original state – on his lower back. He scowls.
“Perhaps we can keep in touch. I’d love to buy more of them from you whenever possible.” Anarchaia’s grin widens. “And maybe help you in your research sometime.”
He smiles eagerly, charm overtaking him since the healing of his wounds. “I would greatly enjoy that, so long as I get to see you again.”
“Oh, barf,” Crorinu scoffs. “Let’s beat it, chica. If we hurry we can make Thunder Totem by nightfall. Do something less detrimental to your health.”
Asheeda rolls his eyes. “Yeah, chica.”
“You’re still my girl. Still wearing my shorts, anyway.”
Asheeda bristles. “They’re comfortable.”
Anarchaia flushes and waves a hand. “Don’t be a stranger, friend.”
“Ugh,” Grimory grunts, checking his forearm for scars. “Get a room.”
The mage whirls around and slaps him hard I the chest. “What the hell is wrong with you?! I told you not to hurt him!”
He flinches but feels no pain. “I didn’t mean to,” he grumbles, rubbing at the back of his neck.
Asheeda snorts a laugh and digs into his bag as Crorinu heads into the bushes. “Here. On the house.” He sets five more potions on the ground in front of Anarchaia. “Take care of yourself.” He takes her hand to kiss the top again.
“BARF!” Crorinu yells from atop a restless zhevra, the reins of a curious purple runesaber in her hand.
“I won’t bring her next time,” Asheeda whispers, winking at Anarchaia. He slings his pack over his shoulder and hops onto the runesaber. “Maybe one day I’ll beat you, Grim.”
Anarchaia gives another hearty thanks and places a palm over her cheek. “Take care!” Her roster scroll reappears in her other hand.
“Yeah, don’t count on it.” Grimory saunters over to rest atop the log bench, clearly bitter. “Not without help from your girlfriend again, at least.”