Chapter Nine

The sun reaches the tree line after a long day’s journey. The crickets awaken and the birds retire. A comfy spot is chosen among the evergreens and ferns. Anarchaia uses her magic to assemble a hide tent while Grimory goes off to collect kindling for a fire.

Alisbeth chews on her bottom lip as she watches Anarchaia build a tent. She takes note as Grimory leaves. Torn on what to do and how to help she instead changes back into her linen trousers and shirt, lovingly rolling up her dress to pack it away again.

“If there’s any sort of clothing you’d like washed please hand it over now,” the mage says, pulling Alisbeth’s soiled clothes from her bag. “I’ll wash them for you.”

“I’ve nothing that needs washing, yet,” Koltira says, “except myself. But if you would like help, I’d gladly accompany you. I’m sure Alisbeth has watching over the camp under control.” Alisbeth grins in response.

“O-Oh. Uh, I don’t need any help, what with this and all.” She wiggles her fingers much like Koltira had when assisting her with the door to her room. “But if you’re looking for something to do I won’t deny you.” Anarchaia lifts the laundry into the air and makes in the direction of the nearest water according to the map. “I suppose the company would be nice, too.”

“Are you going to be all right?” he asks with a hand on Alisbeth’s waist.

She nods emphatically. “Oh, yes. Guard duty. I got this.” She grins wide and gives two thumbs up.

Koltira laughs and kisses her forehead. “Keep it safe.” He jogs to catch up to Anarchaia.

Alisbeth walks the camp’s perimeter, humming to herself. As an afterthought, she takes her axe and slings it over her shoulder.

Grimory returns to the camp with an armful of twigs and broken branches. He glances around upon finding only Alisbeth. “Where’re the other two?” he grumbles, tossing the wood to the ground in a pile and watching the death knight as she paces.

Alisbeth squares her jaw and narrows her eyes as she marches up to Grimory. She sets the point of her axe up to his jaw. “What business have you in this camp, sir?”

Grimory lifts an eyebrow at her, unflinching. He grins. “Just looking for some things to pilfer. See anything that looks valuable lying around?”

The glow of the red mist from her axe casts a light under his face. She smirks, thinking just how much more demonic he looks. “The mage keeps her things in the air, not lying around. The death knights keep their belongings on the horse, but, Bloodmist will fight back. So…no. Nothing valuable here.” She retracts her axe and drops it on one shoulder, then spins the handle so it twirls behind her head.

Grimory spits a small cinder into the heart of the pile and the twigs slowly become engulfed in green fire. “Hm. Shame.” He sits against a tree trunk and kicks off his boots. “Seriously though, where did they go?”

Alisbeth casts her gaze around, spinning in a slow circle. She stops and points. “That way. I think.” She turns a few more inches and stops. “No, that way.” She spins completely around and squints. “That way?”

Grimory furrows his brow in mild frustration. “You know what? Nevermind. Don’t hurt yourself.”

“It doesn’t hurt,” Alisbeth says. “You know what does hurt?” Without waiting for a response she swings her axe around to embed one of the spikes in the front of her thigh. She clenches her jaw and gives Grimory a half grimace, half grin. “Oh! They went to wash clothes!” She spins, her axe still in her leg as she holds the handle. “That way. For sure that way. See? Footprints.”

Grimory flinches and leans away, one eye narrowed at the sight before him. “It doesn’t bother you?”

Alisbeth stares at her leg. “Oh, it bothers me a little, mostly because it’s stuck. I think I hit bone.” She drops to her back to tug on the axe, grabbing the skull in the middle and pulling until the fangs cut into her fingers and palms.

Grimory cringes and stands, doing his best to not act disgusted. “Here, let me help.” He reaches for the handle. “Honestly, woman. You amaze me sometimes.”

“Amaze you how?” Alisbeth asks, allowing him to help her. “Like a good kind or a bad kind?”

Grimory gives the axe a good tug, wrenching it free and shielding himself from the spray. “In the middle?”

Alisbeth slaps her hand over the wound and sits up, taking her axe and propping it in the fire to heat one of the spikes. “I’m not sure if I should be okay with that or offended.”

“In the middle?” Grimory repeats, looking around for Anarchaia’s bag. “Uhm… there should be some bandages around here somewhere.”

Alisbeth waves a dismissive hand at him. “I can just cauterize it. No need to waste bandages.” She tests her axe with a few quick taps, purses her lips at it, and returns to waiting.

Grimory waits for a beat as well. “Uh…when, exactly?”

Alisbeth taps at the spike again and furrows her brow. “Uhh…”

Grimory hesitates. “Uh…I’m not really good at the whole cauterizing thing just yet, but…?” He gestures to her bleeding leg.

Alisbeth shoots Grimory a wry smile. “You’re just trying to get your hands on me again, aren’t you, Grimsby?”

Grimory bristles at the questioning of his character. “Or maybe I just don’t want you to bleed out.”

Alisbeth’s smile intensifies. “Whatever you have to tell yourself… Okay, manhandle me Goldrinn.” She leans back, keeping her palm to her thigh as she raises it up for him.

He swats her hand away to replace it with his own. “It’s Grimory.” Emerald fire glows in a puff between his palm and her thigh and he can feel the heat on his face.

Alisbeth clenches her teeth, then screams out as the burn of her flesh becomes too much to bear.

Grimory flinches at the shriek and pulls his hand away. “I’m sorry! Are you all right?!”

“Did you finish?” Alisbeth demands.

~ * ~

The mage trudges through the foliage until she comes upon the expected lake in a clearing surrounded by tall trees. The surface is like glass and all is calm as the pinholes of stars reflect within it. The Forsaken woman shrugs and pulls off her robes and hood. “Never expected the map to be so accurate,” she laughs back when he catches up.

Koltira nods. “That’s always nice.” He scratches behind his ear, suddenly forgetting why he’d been so eager to get the mage alone again. He smiles and finds a place to sit on the bank of the lake.

The clothes—under Anarchaia’s command—flutter into a single mass. She throws her own robes into the bunch as well as a bar of scented soap. The water of the lake rushes up to encase the laundry. “You sure you don’t want anything cleaned?” she asks with a smile. “It’s really no trouble.”

“I’ve only got what I’m wearing,” Koltira laughs. “I don’t know that stripping down is appropriate.”

“You make a fair argument,” she chuckles. The inside of the watery orb becomes cloudy with bubbles. “We’ll have to see into getting you some new threads, then.”

Once deemed clean enough, the clothes are freed from their wet prison and instead encased in one of flames, drying each article instantly. They fold themselves into a neat stack and Anarchaia directs them back into her bag. She gives it a light pat. “See? Easy.”

Nodding, Koltira stands. “I suppose you were right. Us non magic-users don’t know how rough we have it, do we?”

Anarchaia sets the bag on the ground and gives a shrug. “It has its limitations.” She unfastens the buttons holding her gloves to her collar and slides them off, exposing her bone fingers and the stitches holding her left arm together. “If I ever use too much of my mana I become incapacitated and useless.”

Koltira stares at the mage’s arms and fingers in astonishment, a voice at the back of his head telling him he’s being rude, but yet he’s unable to take his eyes away.

Anarchaia takes a long moment to realize what the uncomfortable silence is for. She places a hand over her arm and gives an awkward laugh. “O-Oh, that’s right. I…didn’t show you those. Sssssssorry…” She picks the glove back up.

Koltira’s eyes widen in embarrassment. “Oh! I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to stare. I can turn around or go back to camp and come back once you’re finished…?”

Anarchaia gives an embarrassed chuckle. “I was actually just going to sit and enjoy the peace and view.” She slides the other glove off. “I don’t bathe unless I’m sure no one will see me…or when I’m sure Grim’s asleep. I thought I’d get you to part with your clothes…for cleaning, obviously. But if you’d like to go back you’re more than welcome to.”

Koltira sighs. “Well if you really insist…I did bring this.” He holds up a little leather bag containing soaps and oils for his hair and skin, to help keep his skin from becoming necrotic. “If you promise not to look at me, then you may wash my clothes.”

Anarchaia laughs and pulls of her mask. She closes her eyes and points to them. “You have my word.”

Koltira strips, tossing his clothing where the mage can see it, then wades waste deep into the lake. “It’s safe for you to open your eyes,” he calls over his shoulder, his back to her.

Anarchaia gives his articles the same treatment as the others, dutifully averting her gaze. “Is the water nice?” she jokes.

He chuckles and pulls up a cupped hand, attempting to splash across the distance. “Nice and warm.”

Anarchaia smiles at the feeble attempt to get her wet and tilts her head. “Want it warmer?” she inquires. The orb above the lake drips bubbles onto the surface.

Koltira chuckles as he begins washing his long hair. “I wouldn’t really notice. You probably just want to light me on fire, anyway. Or is your ire reserved for Grimory?”

Anarchaia’s grin widens and she narrows her eyes. “It was actually more of a sign of good faith, but if you’d really like me to set you on fire…” She sets the dried, folded clothes with the others. “It can be arranged.”

Koltira leans back to rinse his hair, glancing up far enough to see her upside-down on the river bank. He chuckles an stands. “I’d really prefer you didn’t. So, why do you wait until he’s asleep? Why don’t you take it in good faith that he’s not going to come poking around?”

Anarchaia sobers. “I’m not gonna take that risk.” She sits in the grass, knees to her chest. “You’re much more honorable than he.”

“Honorable in what way?” Koltira asks, combing scented oil through his hair. “Surely he wouldn’t judge you as harshly as you believe. Is he not your friend?”

“Well I don’t know if I’d trust him to keep his word, first of all,” Anarchaia muses, tapping a skeletal finger to her chin. “And…yes, we’re friends. But…” She frowns. “He’s incredibly shallow. Like everyone else.”

Koltira purses his lips at Anarchaia’s confession. “It is a tough call to make, to trust someone cares enough about you to accept what you are, or to live hiding yourself from them for fear of the wrong reaction.” He ducks under the water once more, then hears a shrill shriek. He bursts through the surface, eyes searching the bank and locking on Anarchaia. “Are you alright? What happened?”

Anarchaia hums an agreement but remains somber. She stiffens at the sound of a scream and turns back to the woods, then to Koltira. “That wasn’t me,” she mumbles, getting to her feet.

Koltira rushes onto the bank, grabbing his trousers and pulling them on as he runs. He gets to the camp, pants still undone but his modesty intact, to see Alisbeth on the ground and the demon hunter standing over her. “What did I tell you about touching her?” he shouts.

Grimory glances at Koltira and scowls, gesturing to the new scar on Alisbeth’s leg. “She hurt herself.” He straightens and stands. “I fixed it. Keep your panties on.” He eyes the man’s unfastened pants and swallows his suspicions. “Or what’s left of them, anyway.”

Koltira scowls at Grimory, then down at Alisbeth’s leg. “Is that true?” She nods. “What happened?”

Alisbeth gets to her feet and takes a deep breath to begin. “Okay so, I was on guard duty like you said and he came back and said he was going to steal everything and asked where you were and I couldn’t remember and he said to hurt myself, so I did—” she picks up her axe and begins swinging it around the same way she’d hurt it before, “—and I took my axe to show him what hurting yourself really looks like—” Koltira stops the axe mid-swing and pries it from her fingers, “—and then it got stuck so he had to help—he’s really good at pulling out!—and I was going to cauterize it but my axe was taking too long to heat up, so he flamed me.” She pauses, her eyes rolling up as she thinks what she may have forgotten. “And then I screamed.” She smiles and sighs to finish her story.

Grimory spins to look at her. “No, I said don’t hurt yourself!” he barks.

She points at him, jabbing her finger in the air to emphasize that he’s right. “Now I have a hole in my pants.”

“And you’re covered in blood spatter.” His brow lowers in annoyance, but he closes his eyes to regain some composure. He grits his teeth and looks to Grimory. “Thank you.” Then he turns and jerks Alisbeth out of the camp by her hand.

“Hi!” She smiles and waves at Anarchaia as she’s dragged away.

“You’re welcome,” Grimory grunts after he’s left alone.

“H-Hi…” Anarchaia breathes through her mask that she’d haphazardly put back on. She gives a sigh of relief and sets the bag of clothes beside the tent. “Are you okay?” she asks Grimory, having only caught the tail end of the story.

“I’m fine,” he responds, pushing stones in a circle around the fire with the toe of his boot.

“What happened?” Anarchaia adjusts the seam of her glove and tucks her hair into her mask.

“You have fun with your death knight friend?” Grimory says, not looking up from his work.

The mage pauses, then squares her shoulders when she realizes what he’s implying. “Your hypocrisy is astounding. It really is.”

“So you do have something going on with him.” He gives Anarchaia a sideways glance, his face cold.

“Are you listening to yourself? Even if I was doing something with Koltira—which I wasn’t—it doesn’t have anything to do with you. We aren’ttogether. And he’s married!” She throws her hands up.

“To a mad woman,” he scoffs, taking up a place by the fire.

Anarchaia presses her thumbs to her temples and growls. “That means nothing. And don’t talk about her that way. Alisbeth has enough awareness in her to have feelings. It’s rude.” She folds her arms. “This has got to stop. You’re being ridiculous. If we can’t get along, I’m just going to…to…”

“Go back home to that teacher of yours? I’m surprised you haven’t already, to be honest. You love him so fucking much.”

Anarchaia grits her teeth, fists shaking at her sides. “He has nothing to do with this.”

The two glower at one another for a long while, the green fire leaving shadows across their faces and the surrounding trees.

~ * ~

Koltira drags Alisbeth along behind him. “Kolty, you-you’re hurting me.” She uses her other hand to pry the one free from his grasp. “Kolt—”

“Get yourself cleaned up,” he growls, pointing at the lake. Alisbeth strips down and obeys.

Alisbeth turns to look at Koltira over her shoulder, where he sits on the bank, staring at the ground as though it had wronged him. “Do you hate me?” She asks. He says nothing, so she continues washing herself in silence. Then she feels his hands slowly working the blood out of the tips of her hair and on her temple.

“No,” he says, “I’m just…figuring things out.”

With no other option after her bath, Alisbeth puts on her now dirty clothes and waits for Koltira. She takes his hand and he lets her lead him back to camp.

Anarchaia perks at the sound of rustling leaves and turns away to make her way back to the lake. She says nothing as she pushes past the returning couple, rage churning within her stomach.

Alisbeth perks and smiles at Anarchaia. “H—” Her smile falls flat and she drops her hand as the mage storms past. “She’s not mad at me, is she?” she asks Grimory.

Koltira busies himself putting away her axe and taking a blanket from the saddle of Bloodmist.

Grimory looks up at Alisbeth as she addresses him and does his best to not give away his emotions. “No, Ali. She’s not mad at you.” He gazes into the fire, reflecting on the words they’d exchanged. “Don’t worry about her.”

“But…” Alisbeth’s eyes round, “she’s my friend and she’s upset. I need to make it right.” Without warning she runs back toward the lake to find the mage.

Distracted, Koltira is unable to stop her. After his failed attempt he stares at the ground, begging for patience, then looks sideways at Grimory.

~ * ~

Anarchaia stops at the lakeside, fuming. She makes to grab her mask and pull it off, but quickly pulls it back on at the sound of someone coming out of the woods. “Oh. Ali.” She frowns. “Sorry I ignored you. I just…” A heavy sigh escapes her.

Alisbeth runs right up to Anarchaia and slams into her, pulling her into a frantic hug. “I’m sorry you’re upset, Abathur. I really am. Did I do it? Was it Gerald? Want me to break his legs for you? What can I do? Anything. You name it.”

Anarchaia stumbles with the impact but returns the embrace when she regains her footing. She chuckles sadly. “No, I’m okay. It’s not you.” She pats Alisbeth’s back. “It’s not a big deal.”

Alisbeth frowns. “But it is a big deal if you’re not smiling.”

“But you can’t tell if I’m smiling,” Anarchaia laughs. Her smile fades, however, when the thought of how Alisbeth would act if she knew her true identity crosses her mind.

“Are you smiling?” Alisbeth asks, pressing a cheek to Anarchaia’s cheek. “It doesn’t feel like you are. Hey! Do you want to talk about it? Like…personal stuff?” She pulls back to smile encouragingly at the mage’s mask.

Anarchaia returns the grin reluctantly. “Actually, I was kind of hoping to just take a hot bath. We can talk after, though, if you’d like.”

Alisbeth’s smile falls. “Oh.” She turns and heads back up the path. “Oh. Okay.”

Anarchaia cringes and reaches a hand out to stop Alisbeth, but ultimately decides against it. She sighs and pulls off her mask. “I’m so bad at making friends. It’s getting kind of funny in a surreal sort of way.” She glances at her reflection then scrunches her face. “Who the hell am I talking to?”

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