The day crawls on and dark clouds roll in. Anarchaia pours over the map and frets about how far they’ll travel before either nightfall or rain impedes them. “Talonrest is where we’ll pass through next, but we won’t make it there until tomorrow at the very earliest.”
Grimory glances at the sky and holds back a shiver as a cool wind blows by.
Alisbeth makes a face at the new location. “What happened to the other place? You said we were going to a place and I liked the name. Weren’t we going to kill things?” She folds her arms over her chest and pouts. “I wanted to kill things.”
“We passed the Weeping Bluffs this morning since we didn’t quite make it there yesterday. Sorry if you wanted to stop and sightsee,” Anarchaia says to Alisbeth She rolls the map back up.
Alisbeth deflates She kicks a stone and mutters about missing the bluffs—though it’s clear she doesn’t understand that it’s a name, not a quality of the land.
Koltira chuckles and wraps an arm around Alisbeth, but turns his apologetic smile on Anarchaia. “I do have to wonder what our end destination is, rather than places along the way.”
“Our final destination is the Halls of Valor. And I’m told that the further into the heart of Stormheim we go, the more dangerous it will be. You’ll get to do plenty of killing, Ali.” She cringes at the thought.
She perks up at the promise of killing. “Lots and lots of killing?” Alisbeth asks excitedly.
“Uh…sure.” She glances up at Grimory who merely shakes his head.
“Just make sure you save your axe for enemies, okay?” the demon hunter hisses.
Alisbeth waves a dismissive hand. “I didn’t even hit you with it.”
Koltira clears his throat. “You know, I think we all could do with a reminder to keep our weapons to ourselves.”
Anarchaia lifts her hands defensively. “What? What have I done?”
“Weren’t you the mage threatening me not too long ago?” Koltira cranes his neck around to wink at her.
Grimory gives a bit of a smirk and shoves the mage gently. “Oh, you’re the worst of all of us,” he says, feigning seriousness. “We can’t take you anywhere. Brush fires and sheep everywhere.”
Alisbeth spins a wild smile to Anarchaia. “Is that true? You light fires everywhere?” She doesn’t wait for an answer, but bounds over to the mage. “We are going to have so much fun together!”
“I was joking!” she cries with a pout. Anarchaia turns to Alisbeth and folds her arms across her chest. “And no, I don’t! I don’t like to hurt people…”
“You seemed to have no problem slamming me against that tree last night,” Grimory mumbles out of the corner of his mouth.
“You want me to do it again?!” the mage growls, fists clenched and smoldering with violet energy.
“We’re just messing with you, Ana.” Grimory pats her gently on the head with a smile and chuckles at her reaction.
“Don’t be condescending to me!”
Alisbeth’s eyes light up and she grins like a harpy. “Oh, no, Gataca, please, keep doing what you’re doing.” She prods at Anarchaia’s shoulder. “Come on Anacar, he’s pissing you off, right? You wanna hurl him, don’t you? Don’t you?” She leans close, the most manic wide-eyed expression on her face, and whispers. “Let’s be wild.”
Anarchaia recoils from the girl. “I… No, thank you.” She pokes her fingers together nervously. “I’m not really a wild person.”
“Oh c’mon, Ana. Have some fun for once,” Grimory hums, gently poking her other arm. “Don’t you wanna use your infinite powers to throw me across this field?” His grin widens, knowing she doesn’t actually have the desire to do such a thing.
“Guys, stop,” the mage groans, hugging herself tightly.
Alisbeth circles around Anarchaia like a cat, still grinning. She slowly wraps her arms over the mage’s shoulders and weaves her fingers together in front. She presses her cheek to Anarchaia’s. “Let loose. It’s okay to not have every ruffle of your little dress in place. It’s okay to have fun with your friends.” She squishes a kiss hard into Anarchaia’s cheek.
Anarchaia reluctantly accepts the harassment and frowns. “Causing pain and chaos is not my idea of fun.” She tries to wriggle free from Alisbeth’s grasp.
Grimory laughs at her discomfort. “Listen to her, Ana. Turn us to sheep. Light our hair on fire. Freeze our eyeballs to their sockets.” He pulls a lower eyelid down with a finger to antagonize her more.
Alisbeth jumps a little in excitement. “The sheep thing doesn’t cause pain! Turn Grover into a sheep ‘cause he’s been a ba-a-ad boy.” She winks up at him.
Koltira blinks at them, looks up the path, then sighs back at the rest of the party. “We should probably keep moving, right Ana?”
Reaching the end of her rope, Anarchaia ducks from Alisbeth’s grasp, runs ahead a few paces, and a turns. A scowl on her face, she stomps her boot into the gravel and with a loud poof! both the girl and demon hunter are turned to fluffy, black-faced sheep. She turns and trudges away, leaving them in her wake.
Grimory blinks around in confusion. He notices Alisbeth and, not having the capability to laugh, bleats loudly.
Alisbeth turns at the sound of bleating. She sees Grimory and tries to laugh at him, but only bleats as well.
Koltira smiles at Anarchaia as she nears him. “Two at once. Very nice. Can they stay that way until we need them? I’m sure we’d have less trouble with a couple of sheep.”
“They’re much quieter this way as well,” she grumbles, pulling her hood back over her head. “Sadly, people become rather resistant to it the more you do it to them.”
Grimory nudges Alisbeth with the tip of his muzzle and gestures at the two ahead, ears flopping. He stomps at the ground and lowers his head, then looks at her again.
Alisbeth hunches down, her eyes on Koltira’s rear. She glances at Grimory and snorts to indicate she’s ready.
Koltira sighs. “Such a shame.”
Grimory mimics, planting his small hooves firmly in the dirt before bursting forward with a speed only a four-legged animal can muster.
“We can always just—” Anarchaia cries out in surprise as her legs are knocked out from beneath her. She grunts as her hind end hits the ground hard, her hood falling forward into her eyes.
Koltira turns as Anarchaia is upended, then the world turns on its side as he too is knocked over.
Grimory’s bleating melts into a booming laugh as his shifts back to his normal form, sitting on the dirt path with both hands over his abdomen.
The little black lamb skids along the dirt, coming to a stop as Alisbeth, who curls into a ball of hysterical laughter at Grimory’s side. She tries to speak several times, but only laughs harder as her words come out as a slurred mess.
Koltira groans. “I take it back. Sheep is just as bad.”
Anarchaia inhales, loud and slow through her nostrils, fists trembling in the dirt. She pushes herself to her feet and, for once, doesn’t brush the sediment from her robes. Saying nothing, she continues on down the path, storming between the two.
Grimory stands as well, nearly breathless from laughter. “That…That was too good. Oh gods. Ana! Ana, wait! Polymorph us again!”
“K-Kolty, help me up.” Alisbeth reaches her arms up as he stands. He purses his lips down at her, then walks around so she can’t grab onto him. “Kolty!”
He doesn’t turn around as he tries to catch up to Anarchaia. “You okay?” He asks her once he’s near enough.
“‘m fine,” she responds with a sigh. “He used to be the one to complain about babysitting me.” She scowls. “Looks like the tables have turned.”
He sighs and pats Anarchaia’s shoulder. “Maybe Ali is just rubbing off on him.”
Grimory lifts his eyebrows in Koltira’s wake, the hints of a smile still on his features. He instead holds his own hand out to help Alisbeth up. “Someone can’t take a joke.”
Alisbeth accepts Grimory’s hand up, her eyes still trained on Koltira. She stoops and grabs a stone the size of her fist. She rears back and throws it at the back of Koltira’s head, then sets about dusting herself off as though she hadn’t just done that. He lurches forward from the impact and grabs the back of his head, then spins to glare at the two. Alisbeth looks up, eyes wide, and jerks a thumb at Grimory. Koltira stomps forward to get in Grimory’s face.
“You got something you want to say to me?”
Anarchaia stops and whirls around at the noise, eyes widening at the impending conflict.
Grimory frantically glances between Alisbeth and Koltira, his smile gone. He debates internally on what to say and ultimately decides he needs no more trouble with the man. “It wasn’t me,” he responds with a serious calm.
Koltira clenches his jaw, resisting the urge to yell at him anyway. He then grips Alisbeth by the arm and drags her from the road and behind a tree to speak to her in private.
Anarchaia looks up at Grimory as he walks to her. “Was it really her?” she whispers despite being far enough away for the other two not to hear.
“Yes. She’s trying to cause trouble.” He scoffs. “But it looks like he believed me. I’m actually kind of surprised.”
After a long few minutes Alisbeth shuffles out onto the road, her face cast down at her feet. Koltira steps out behind her.
“Let’s go,” he urges, and Alisbeth begins walking, he several steps behind and strapping her axe to his pack.
Instead of asking if everyone is okay as she normally would, Anarchaia glances back up to the sky. “We should focus on finding another spot for camp, or we’ll be at the mercy of the weather.” She clears her throat. “And I’d rather not fall ill if I’d have my way.”
Grimory gives a nod. “Same. Hopefully our friends have a tent.”
“I can always grab another from the supply barracks back home, if they don’t.”
Alisbeth walks straight up to Anarchaia and waits patiently for the two to finish talking. “I’m sorry I…” She wipes her eyes and nose, which are both running. Tears quickly replace what she’d wiped away. “I’m sorry for my actions…” She stares anywhere but at them, wringing her hands nervously. “I’ll try to be on my best behavior from here on out.”
Koltira says nothing as he remains several feet behind her.
Anarchaia frowns. After a moment, she places a gentle hand on Alisbeth’s shoulder and wipes a tear from her cheek. “It’s okay. I forgive you.” She smiles. “Let’s just do our best to keep the chaos to a minimum, okay?”
Grimory rubs at his face as a drop of water lands there. He grumbles. “We got more important things to worry about.”
Alisbeth turns and starts walking, giving no indication that she even heard Anarchaia’s words.
Koltira stops, watching Alisbeth continue ahead of him. “What do you recommend?”
“Do you have a tent?” Anarchaia inquires, looking back at Koltira.
Grimory surveys the fields on either side of the path. “We could just take shelter beneath some trees until the rain passes. There’s plenty of pine around here.”
“I’d prefer some actual shelter. I don’t really like getting wet,” Anarchaia insists.
“We don’t have a tent, but a tree is fine for us. Ali!” he calls as she gets too far ahead.
She slows her walking but otherwise doesn’t respond.
“Just let me know if you change your mind.” Anarchaia says before turning and calling for Alisbeth to return to them. “We’re going to walk to the tree line and set up camp, Ali! Come back!” She readjusts her pack on her shoulder.
Alisbeth stops and returns.
Koltira motions at Anarchaia. “Lead the way.”
“I take it you were rather stern with her,” Anarchaia asks quietly as they make their way through the field, the tall grass becoming damp with the sprinkling of rain. “She seems upset. And calm.”
Grimory takes it upon himself to make sure Alisbeth is back with the group before following the others.
Alisbeth stops several feet in front of Grimory and stares at him for a long beat. She then turns and heads after the other two.
Grimory gives the girl an equally long stare before she turns and continues. He rolls his eyes and follows, still bitter about her attempt at breaking his jaw with her axe.
Koltira speaks low to the mage. “Not really. First, I reminded her what happens if I have to take her back to Acherus. When I calmed her down after that, I took her axe. That’s when she stopped talking. She only started crying when I showed her this.” He holds out his hand and pulls off his gauntlet. Blood is smeared in his palm with no injury to his hand. “Then I asked her to apologize to you. Almost thought she wouldn’t.” He replaces his gauntlet and shrugs.
Anarchaia’s hand reaches to his gauntlet as he makes to put it back on. “Hold on a moment. What is that? Are you okay? Is that from your head?”
Koltira nods. “She’s got an arm on her, I’ll give her that. That’s the only reason I thought Grim might’ve done it.”
“Wh-…Show me!” She cranes her neck to see the back of his head, looking for stains in his mass of white hair. “Head injuries are very serious, Koltira. Do you feel faint? Nauseas? Anything?”
He steps back, eyes wide. “Ana, I’m fine. I’ve honestly had worse.” He shifts to keep her from poking around in his hair.
Her lips thin to a line and the mage stops fussing. “Fine, but if you feel anything…” She points a finger in his face. “I don’t want any tough-guy business. You tell me.”
Koltira holds up his hands. “Ana, I am fine. If it gets bad I’ll just go hunting. You don’t need to worry over me, okay?” He sighs, then smirks. “Though it is kind of adorable.”
Anarchaia pauses then looks away to hide her embarrassment. “Didn’t realize caring about my friends was adorable.”
Hearing all of this from the back, Grimory scowls and trudges forward. He pulls Anarchaia’s bag from her shoulder before she can react. “I’ll set up the tent this time.”
She blinks her eyes after him as he presses forward into the trees. “But it’s easier if…I…” She furrows her brow in confusion, then flinches when a particularly large raindrop hits her on the nose.
Koltira stares between the two, then shakes his head. He reaches Alisbeth and uses an arm over her shoulders to guide her to a tree with thick, wide branches. “This one should be good, yeah?”
Alisbeth nods and allows him to take her pack. She removes her armor and drapes a blanket over it, then sits with her back against the tree trunk.
“Ali, I’m not mad at you, okay? My head hurts a little, but I’ll be fine.”
Without a word, she pulls her pauldron out and sets it upside down in the field beyond the reach of the tree’s protection. Koltira decides not to ask.
Once enough water has collected, Alisbeth takes her pauldron and uses her fingers to brush the liquid through Koltira’s hair. She takes a small cloth and works the blood free from the ivory strands. She takes time and care to make sure everything is clean, then kisses the wound. Again, completely silent, she stands and takes the cloth and the pauldron out into the field where she dumps the bloodied water and remains motionless as she waits for it to fill again so she can rinse the cloth.
Alisbeth drops her items to the ground, then holds out her hands to feel the rain drops on her skin. She closes her eyes and smiles, then begins to dance to a tune she hums. Koltira remains under the tree, but watches her with a small smile on his lips. Alisbeth stops and smiles wide at Koltira, he returns the smile as she picks up the cloth and pauldron and bounds over to him.
“Come on,” she says, urging him to his feet.
“Where are we going?”
~ * ~
Anarchaia assists Grimory in setting up the tent in a big enough area, ignoring his protests. She sends a shockwave of thin flame over the ground, drying the grass. “Not sure it’s worth making a fire. Unless you’re cold?”
Grimory brushes the wet out of his beard. “No,” he lies, throwing their bags into the tent. He ducks inside and sits with a sigh. “I’m sorry, Ana.”
She blinks and looks at him as she climbs inside and takes a seat. “Sorry? For what?”
“…for how I’ve been treating you.”
“How have you been treating me?” Anarchaia says, wrapping her fingers around the toes of her boots.
“Rudely. Bitterly. I was just reciprocating how you’ve been treating me…but that’s not an excuse.” Grimory scratches at his cheek. “So, I’m sorry.”
The mage smiles to herself. “It’s okay. You can make it up to me by being extra nice from here on out.”
Grimory furrows his brow and looks at her. “For how long?”
“Ever.” She laughs and pokes his nose.
He opens his mouth to retort, but instead smiles and glances out into the rainy woods. “I suppose that’s fair.”
Anarchaia looks him over for a moment. She pulls off her robes, dries them, and ties them around his shoulders. “I suppose we should have planned for cooler weather. Suramar is much warmer.”
“Mmmmaybe a second tent would be a good thing.” He shivers.
Anarchaia glances at him, stunned. “Are you worried about our travel companions?” she asks dramatically.
“Gods forbid I say nice things,” he grunts.
“I…suppose I can go poke my nose around the barracks. Will you be okay by yourself?” Anarchaia stands and steps out into the open, drops from the now pouring rain filtering through the pine needles and onto her exposed shoulders. He nods and she disappears in a flash of white, whirling light.
Sighing, Grimory pulls her robes tighter around his shoulders and takes in the scent of her perfume.
Sometime later, Koltira returns to the field with Alisbeth on his back, smiling as she rests her chin on his shoulder. They return to their tree and stare out at the pouring rain, which pitters onto their shoulders as the tree above fails to catch all of it.
Alisbeth leans her temple on his shoulder and weaves her fingers through his. “I missed the rain.”
He smiles. “So did I.”
Grimory sits in pensive silence for a long while. He jumps at the sound of matter and air being displaced.
Anarchaia puffs as she struggles to hold the heavy tent above her head, even though she’s not actually touching it. She appears to struggle as she assembles the much larger tent, then sighs when she’s fished, rubbing her back. “They only…had this one left.”
“You could have asked for help,” Grimory says, stepping out of the tent only a moment too late. “You seem to forget that often.”
“I can do things myself,” she breathes, straightening her back. “That’s very thoughtful of you, however.”
Alisbeth giggles. “You think she got the other one because he’s already pissed her off?”
Koltira shrugs. “I suspect they just need some alone time.”
“I bet she’s saying ‘You’re stupid and I hate your horns. I’m taking the bigger tent.’“
He chuckles and, against better judgment, decides to join, just to hear Alisbeth laugh again. “‘You’re completely right, Ana. I demand the bigger tent for my fat head.’“
Alisbeth laughs into his collar bone. “You’re good at this. Oh, oh, ‘I demand the bigger tent so I can have some privacy with my talking crystal!’“
Anarchaia pushes Grimory back into the tent, albeit weakly. “Stop getting yourself wet.” She notices the other two across the small distance between them and waves then over, gesturing to the tent.
Alisbeth waves at Anarchaia as though in greeting. “She’s so nice.”
“I think she wants us to go over there.”
“No,” Alisbeth scoffs. “She’s saying hi!” She waves at the mage again.
Grimory reluctantly sits back in the tent again and folds his arms. “What about you? You’re getting wet…”
“I’ll be fine, don’t worry about me.” She conjures a few sleeping furs and throws them into each tent, one directly into Grimory’s face.
She turns back to see that the two have yet to come across the field. Anarchaia places her hands on her hips and yells. “Don’t make me come get you!”
Grimory pulls the furs snugly around himself, happy to be warm.
“I’ll be right back.” Koltira stands and trots to Anarchaia. “What are you yelling? And why are you standing out in the pouring rain?”
The mage sticks out her lower lip and squares her shoulders as though not bothered by the rain. “I got you guys this tent. Come get inside.”
Koltira quirks his mouth sideways. “I told you we were fine. You really didn’t have to go to all this trouble. You take it. Get dry. Have some you time away from…” he glances at the smaller tent. “Enjoy it, Ana.”
“Absolutely not.” She closes her eyes and turns up her nose in defiance. “I insist.” She tilts her head and pouts, her shoulders sagging. “You wouldn’t want to hurt my feelings, would you…?”
He purses his lips. “I really doubt it would hurt your feelings that much…but I’ll get Ali and get inside on one condition. You have to be in a shelter as well.”
Anarchaia blinks. “I can share with Grim. It’s what we normally do…”
Grimory glowers at nothing in particular as he listens to the conversation outside. Ugh. Just get in the damn tent and stop pretending like you care about her.
Koltira makes a face. “If you’ll be fine in there, that’s good enough for me.” He taps her nose with his finger and trots back to Alisbeth. “She brought it for us.”
“Oh.” Alisbeth’s eyes widen. “Uh, tell her we don’t want it and she can have it.” She leans around Koltira to smile and wave away the offering.
“I already tried; she’s not hearing it. Gather your things.”
They collect up their items and Alisbeth runs forward to dive into the tent. She sets about checking that nothing inside her pack got wet—specifically her dress.
“Thank you,” Koltira says to Anarchaia, feeling somewhat awkward accepting the kind gesture.
Anarchaia waves a hand and grins. “Grim insisted.”
Grimory reaches a hand out to grab Anarchaia by the arm and pulls her into the tent. “Stop standing in the rain. Wasn’t it you who said you didn’t want to get sick?”
“Yes,” she says reservedly. “I probably won’t. Don’t worry about me. Not sure why I need to keep saying that.”
Koltira shrugs and climbs inside the other tent. “Everything good?” he asks as Alisbeth holds up her dress.
“Yep! Just fine.”
“So why did you have trouble holding up the tent but seemed to have no problem plucking me from my feet?” Grimory throws the other fur around her shoulders.
“Oh!” Anarchaia’s eyes light up beneath her damp mask. “It’s rather simple, actually. So, your body is made of mostly water, yes? I’m actually just able to ‘lift you’ by all the water inside you. I don’t even need to have a hold on all of it, just sort of—”
Grimory sets a hand firmly over where he knows her mouth to be. “Okay, thank you.”
Anarchaia smirks and grips his hand, holding it against her mouth. She breathes into his palm, the air escaping her lungs growing increasingly hotter.
Grimory quickly wrests his hand away before he’s burned, and chuckles. “Would you mind conjuring up something to drink? Kinda parched.”
She obliges, producing a couple mugs with streaming water and tea bags. “Thanks for doing your best to get along with Koltira, by the way. I can tell you’re trying…kinda.”
“Yeah, well,” he takes a sip, “you asked me to. I do most of the things you ask of me, don’t I?”
Anarchaia grins. “I suppose you do. Thanks.”
Alisbeth and Koltira lay on their backs listening to the rain and staring up at the roof of the tent. “Do you like them?” she asks suddenly.
He shrugs. “I like Ana. She’s very intelligent and kind. Grim…”
“I think he’s fun. She’s kind of dull but okay to talk to. And you don’t have to pretend you’re okay with what happened the first night.”
He grabs her in a hug. “It’s just awkward now, that’s all. As long as you come back to me, I can…live with our current arrangement.”
“I’ll always come back to you.” She grits her teeth and groans. “I miss sleep.”
He laughs. “Sometimes I do, too. Close your eyes and pretend. No laughing,” he says as she starts to giggle.