Koltira stays gone for hours, anger burning in his chest. But not anger at Grimory; anger for his own shortcomings. Faults in himself and his marriage that are so obvious even the demon hunter had sniffed them out with barely a glance into their lives. When the sun started to rise, Koltira still sat, thinking and worrying, until he forced himself back to the camp in the grey morning to find the two girls still sitting by the fire, Alisbeth holding a stick inside the flames, then pulling it out to stare at the burning wood. She smiles brightly when she sees him. He smiles a weary smile back, then kneels beside her and wraps his arms around to hold her.
“I wouldn’t change anything about you. Not now, not ever,” he whispers.
Anarchaia remains motionless beneath the tree she’d settled under a few yards away, hands clasped around a knee while the other rests on the ground. In the hours they’d been alone, she had finished her wine around the same time they’d run out of things to talk about. Her face again completely covered by her mask, she tilts her head away as if to signify that she’s not eavesdropping. She stifles a yawn with the back of a hand and does her best to appear uninterested.
Koltira smiles at Anarchaia. “How was your night, Ana? Get any rest?”
The mage turns to smile as if she hadn’t been listening. “Quiet. It was nice.” She chuckles and stretches. “And yes. I slept for hours.” The dirt crunches beneath her boots as she pushes herself to her feet. “Ready for another day of walking?”
Alisbeth slumps. “Yay…walking.”
Koltira chuckles. “I can carry you. Though I don’t have any handles for you to hold.”
She cocks an eyebrow at him, confusion twisting her expression. Then it slowly spreads into a smile and she falls against him, laughing hysterically.
Anarchaia rummages through her rucksack and removes her clean robes before throwing them over herself. While buttoning her hood at her throat, she ducks into the tent and gives Grimory a gentle shake. “Hey, Grim. S’time to get up.”
“Yeah, I heard,” the man groans, his brow furrowing blearily.
The corners of the mage’s lips pull into a slight frown and she leans forward, rubbing her thumb against the dried blood on his face. “You should bathe before we leave.”
Grimory swats her hand away and forces himself to a sit. “I know.” He rubs his large palms over his face, then grinds a knuckle into his eye to rid it of sleep. “Suppose I should have done so last night. Oh well.”
Koltira stands, leaving Alisbeth poking at the fire. He wraps his hands around the now copper handle of the sword in the tree; blue replaces the copper color like dye spreading through water. It takes a few tugs, but he gets it free. Grimory’s blood has dried on the blade, reminding him to look at himself—he finds a torn shirt and blood spattered everywhere. He sighs at his own rash actions and senseless anger. He grabs his toiletries and a skein of polishing oil for the sword, kisses Alisbeth’s forehead, and makes his way to the lake.
Not having seen Koltira leave, Grimory steps out of the tent and stretches with a hand on his lower back. He grabs the soap as Anarchaia extends it to him and, scratching at the dried blood on his chest, makes his way toward the lake as well. Upon reaching the lakeside, he stops and narrows his eyes at Koltira, then cautiously continues to the water a ways down the shore. He kneels and scoops up a bit of water in a palm before throwing it against his chest and scrubbing.
Koltira eyes Grimory warily before the other goes down the shore. He purses his lips and decides to be quick about his business. He finishes rinsing Byfrost, then dries and oils the blade. Afterward he removes his shirt, discarding the shredded fabric. He cleans sparingly, aiming only for the blood spatters on his skin. For extra measure, he flips his long white hair into the water, rubbing soap into the crusted red blotches clumping it together.
The demon hunter continues to pretend he is alone, bringing more palms full of water to his face and unfastening his belt to clean it was well. The discomfort makes him part his lips as words spring to them, but he soon swallows them again. He does his best to not let water drip down, lest it cause ripples and obscure his reflection as he does his best to comb out the stains in his beard. He inspects his face for a possible scar.
Koltira grits his teeth as Grimory opens his mouth. Don’t, he thinks. He tosses his head back, his hair fanning out as water splashes everywhere. After the ripples settle he checks his reflection for anything, then decides he’s finished. He collects his things—including the torn shirt, half hoping Anarchaia can fix it—slings Byfrost over his shoulder, and heads back toward the camp, clenching his jaw and avoiding looking in Grimory’s general direction.
The corner of Grimory’s mouth twitches as he grimaces, struggling to do all he can to not say anything. Instead, he allows Koltira to leave well before him, as to avoid coming upon him on the way back.
Anarchaia pulls her hood over her head to keep out the cold morning chill after deconjuring the tent and sleeping furs. “Do we need to keep the horse around?” she asks Alisbeth, eyeing the beast.
Alisbeth goes over to pat Bloodmist. “She has our packs and is trained in battle. Good horse to have.” She eyes Anarchaia. “Why?”
The mage taps her fingertips together. “No reason,” she mumbles and clears her throat before throwing her own bag over a shoulder.
When satisfied with his work and the distance between himself and Koltira, Grimory straightens and makes his way back to camp, tossing the soap idly as he walks.
Koltira slips in beside Alisbeth at the horse to put his things away. Alisbeth gives him a look. “What?”
“I don’t think Alibaba is okay with Bloodmist,” she says low.
Koltira sighs and secures Byfrost in a strap. “I’ll be right back.” He goes to stand at Anarchaia’s shoulder. “Everything okay?” He speaks quietly, so only she can hear.
Anarchaia glances up to the death knight and furrows her brow in confusion. “Of course it is. Why wouldn’t it be?” she responds dismissively.
Grimory steps back into the clearing. He tosses his soap back into his bag and secures it about his waist without a word.
Koltira narrows his eyes and turns so his back is to Grimory. “Ali suggested you’re not okay with the horse?”
Anarchaia pauses. She lowers her head and inhales as though to answer.
“She’s afraid of horses.” Grimory picks at his teeth with a single morphed claw while leaning against a tree on the far side of their campsite. “Are we going, or…?”
Koltira glares over his shoulder at Grimory. “I think Ana can answer for herself.” He sets a gentle palm between her shoulder blades and whispers softer. “It’s okay. Just be honest with me.” He smiles down at her.
Grimory scoffs again and rolls his eyes.
She stiffens at the touch. “I had some trauma involving one as a child,” the mage admits, still tapping the tips of her index fingers. “I’ve just…never really gotten over it. Heh. But it’s fine. I won’t make you get rid of it or anything.” She nervously adjusts her hood. “I’d just prefer it stay at a considerable distance.”
Koltira lets out a long, heavy breath. He spins and shoots Grimory a glare as he goes back to Bloodmist. “Put on your armor and collect your pack,” he instructs Alisbeth.
“But…why?” she asks as she obeys.
“If you do it without asking you can carry your Maw.” Alisbeth brightens and is dressed in almost no time with her pack on her back, her hands eagerly twitching for the axe. Koltira also dresses, sighing at the torn shirt as he pulls it on, then covers it with his armor. Once he is ready he takes Bloodmist by the reins. “Hey. Go home.”
The horse grunts in disapproval.
“Hey. Now you listen here, Bloodmist. You go home”
Alisbeth wraps her arms around the horse’s neck. “If you go home I’ll bring you rotten apples!”
The horse nudges her, then turns and gallops away.
Alisbeth laughs. “Sometimes I think she loves me more than you!”
The mage perks and waves her hands erratically. “Nonono I said you didn’t…have…to…” Anarchaia sighs in guilt-ridden defeat, her hands falling back to her sides. She glances at Grimory—who gives an apathetic shrug—and rubs a palm against her cheek. “All right. Well…I guess we’re off.”
Koltira hands the Maw to Alisbeth and she gives it a loving hug. He then goes to Anarchaia and slings an arm over her shoulder as they walk. “Naw. It’s okay. I’d rather you feel safe than force Bloodmist to be nothing more than a pack animal.” He glances at Alisbeth, who is still fawning over getting to carry her weapon. He leans to whisper in the mage’s ear. “Speaking of which—do you feel safe?”
The mage buckles momentarily under the weight of Koltira’s metal-clad arm. “Uhhh…” she drones as she recovers. She also shoots a glance back toward Alisbeth then up to the man beside her before her eyes finally come to rest on the path ahead. “Yes?”
“Don’t lie,” Koltira insists. “I really am enjoying…most of this endeavor we’ve only just begun. I want you to feel safe.” He removes his arm from her shoulder and pokes her nose.
Grimory watches the two carefully from the back of the group. Koltira’s words from the night before ring through his ears and he does his best to contain his jealousy.
Anarchaia flinches and the apples of her cheeks flush as her nose is prodded. Her brow furrows in genuine confusion. “Is there something I should know about?” she inquires quietly.
Koltira purses his lips and prays for patience as he hears Grimory, assuming the demon hunter was doing his best to piss him off. He clears his throat and stares down at Anarchaia. “Your master told you. I know he did.”
“Oh.” Anarchaia brings the side of a finger horizontally to her lips. “I think I’ll be okay. She seems to like me, right? Heh.” She shrugs and grins uneasily. “Should be safe.”
Koltira shrugs. “She does. I’m sure that’s enough. If nothing else, you’ve got me in your corner.” He winks down at the mage.
The mage blinks up at him, taken aback. “You’d fight her if she attacked me?” she whispers in disbelief, thinking to herself that she must have misunderstood.
Koltira cringes. “I… wouldn’t fight her. But I would do everything in my power to stop her.” He tries to smooth it over with a charming smile.
Anarchaia purses her lips, suspicious. “Well that’s very kind of you, Mr. Koltira.” She pats him gingerly on his pauldron. “It shouldn’t come to that, however. I have means of avoiding conflict.”
Koltira shrugs. “I tried. Say, while I’ve got you… My shirt is torn. I was wondering if you have any way of fixing that?” He stares at his feet, embarrassed to be asking. “I really should get more shirts.”
Her lips curl into a triumphant grin. “I recall telling you that very thing,” she responds playfully and chuckles. “I can probably do that under the condition it isn’t missing any pieces. Though even then I could just sew it as opposed to using magic.”
Koltira sighs in relief. “Thank you. I owe you.”
Anarchaia waves a hand and chuckles again. “It’s really nothing. Keep your favors, noble death knight.”
Koltira laughs. “Nope. Already said it. Can’t take it back now.”
Anarchaia narrows her eyes, her smile widening. “You better not do me any favors.” She pokes Koltira weakly in the chest as they walk. “Then I’ll owe you a favor Then you’ll owe me another.”
Koltira shrugs at the mage. “What are you going to do to stop me?”
Anarchaia places her hands on her hips and straightens her back. “Don’t ask questions you don’t want to know the answer to.”
“Oh, don’t I?” Koltira challenges.
“Not sure how much you’d fancy being forcibly turned into a farm animal.” Anarchaia holds her nose up and gives him a sideways smirk. “My guess is ‘not very much’.”
Koltira’s eyes narrow. “You wouldn’t dare.”
The mage bends slightly at the waist and wiggles her fingers in a menacing fashion. “Oh, wouldn’t I?”
“No, I don’t think you would. You’re too nice and you like me too much.” He smiles, hoping his charm is enough.
Anarchaia lets her arms fall to her sides and gives a dramatic sigh. “You’re right,” she groans. “Maybe if you were more of a jerk…”
Koltira shrugs and laughs. “Guess I’ll have to try harder?”
“Or I could get over my aversion to polymorphing charming death knights.” She gives him a sly grin and wiggles her fingers again.
“You know many charming death knights?” Koltira laughs.
“Just you and a friend of mine.” She instead stretches her arms over her head. “Don’t know many other death knights at all, to be honest with you.”
“So, you now know two charming death knights, and yet you still keep company with meathead back there,” Koltira says.
Anarchaia gives a dry laugh. “I didn’t choose to adventure with him. It was just sort of arranged.” She sobers. “To be honest I’d rather be back in my room.”
Koltira grimaces. “Well it’s not too late for that.” He chuckles absently. “Though, then we’d all be going home, wouldn’t we?”
“No,” she responds with a shrug. “Then you’d be the ones stuck with meathead. Besides, I’m glad I’ve met you two. While I miss my room, it does get lonely.”
Koltira drags Anarchaia to his side to give her head a friendly one armed hug against his chest. “I’m glad I met you. Can’t quite say the same for…”
Anarchaia giggles embarrassedly and, unsure of how to react, pats Koltira on the forearm. “O-Oh, you’re too kind. And he’ll grow on you. Just give it time.”
Koltira releases Anarchaia. “After last night I’d rather just keep to myself.”
The mage readjusts her hood. “What was that about, anyway? And more importantly, can I trust that it won’t happen again?”
Koltira grits his teeth. “Ehh.” He scratches under his chin then runs his fingers through his hair. “It’s…not really something worth mentioning. Childish nonsense. Really. And I…should have been the bigger man. But I wasn’t.” He clears his throat awkwardly.
Anarchaia narrows an eye but ultimately shrugs. “All right. Just do your best to get along? I really don’t like having to break up altercations.”
“Speaking of altercations,” Koltira says, glancing back at the other two.
Anarchaia follows his gaze, then turns back and shakes her head.
~ * ~
Grimory turns his attention to Alisbeth. “That’s some nice steel you got there, girlie.”
Alisbeth smiles. “This is my special demon terror. You should see them run when they figure out what it is! And then I just pull them right back to me and—” She swings the axe around so hard she does a complete three-hundred-and-sixty-degree turn, coming out of it laughing.
Grimory echoes her laugh, a hand over his stomach. “Great form! Gul’dan better keep an eye out for you.” He gives the woman a playful nudge with his fist. “You’ll have the Burning Legion screaming with their tails between their legs.”
Alisbeth holds the blade up to Grimory’s jaw, a spike poking at the soft flesh beneath. “Does it scare your inner demon?”
Grimory grins down at her and turns his head so that the point scrapes against the cut hairs there. “The only thing that bastard fears is me.”
Alisbeth purses her lips. Air releases slowly to make a rude sound as she tries not to laugh. Finally, she gives in, pulling away her axe to bend over and laugh. “Do you even hear yourself? I mean, it’s like you have no filter on what you say! That was so bad!” She pokes a finger into his bicep. “So, so bad, Gigapet. So bad.”
Grimory chuckles again and beams down at her. He feigns a wince as she pokes him. “Too dramatic? I can be worse if you’d like.” “You’ve never indulged in some melodrama? I highly recommend it. Good for the ego.” He gives her back a hearty pat.
Alisbeth oofs and stumbles forward with the pat. She flails her arms for a moment then straightens. “Like that?”
Grimory lifts his eyebrows, grin unwavering. “You’re a pro.”
Alisbeth smiles shyly at Grimory and waves a hand in the air. “Oh, stop.”
The demon hunter grasps her hand and leads Alisbeth into a twirl. “I’m sure I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he hums, minding the axe as it passes by.
Alisbeth laughs through the spin. When she stops her smile falls and she steps to the side, creating a large space between them. “Stop it. Stop acting like this.” She hugs her axe again, a thumb plucking sideways across the blade.
Grimory blinks and lowers a brow, hand still outstretched. He retracts it as a mixture of offense and confusion overtake him. “Stop acting how? Nice? If you insist…”
Alisbeth squares her jaw. “You don’t like me. Not the way you’re acting like you like me. It’s hurting my feelings.”
Grimory’s eyes widen slightly and he glances away. He frowns. “I’m just treating you like I would any friend. But if it’s hurting your feelings, I’ll stop.”
Alisbeth shakes her head insistently. “If you were treating me like a friend you’d be moody and uncaring. That’s how you treat Abby, and she’s your friend.” She slips the handle of her axe between her armor and backpack. “You lied about being my friend because you’re just like everyone else, huh? You think I’m not all there? That’s what Thassarian says. He thinks it sounds better than calling me crazy.” She folds her arms over her chest and stares at the ground to kick rocks as she comes to them. “I’m not crazy,” she mumbles.
Grimory sobers and mimics her posture without realizing. “I don’t normally treat Ana this way,” he murmurs. “And I do consider you a friend. You’re pretty…hyper but that doesn’t bother me any.” He looks away and scowls. “And I may be a lot of things, but I’m no liar.”
Alisbeth grits her teeth, saying nothing for a long beat. “Why do you treat her differently now? Don’t you think that hurts her feelings?”
Grimory clears his throat. “She started treating me differently first. But it’s not important.” He rubs at a shoulder.
Alisbeth frowns. “Treating her this way because she is treating you this way only makes it worse.” She straightens, anger flashing past her face. “And you’re welcome, by the way.”
He sighs. She’s right. Grimory casts the girl a suspicious sideways glance. “I’m welcome for what?”
Alisbeth narrows her eyes at Grimory. “I jumped in front of a sword for you, and you didn’t even ask if I was okay! And what the hell were you two fighting about, anyway?”
Grimory jerks his attention back to Alisbeth. “Oh, gods, you’re right. I didn’t thank you.” He clears his throat again, flushing. “Thanks, Ali.” He chews on the inside of his lower lip and hesitates. “Why did you do that, anyway?” he asks, avoiding her question.
Alisbeth narrows her eyes at Grimory. “To keep it from hitting you, of course. It would’ve killed you! Especially with how hard he threw it. I checked my boobs this morning and I’ve got a bruise between them now.” She chews on her bottom lip. “So…what was the fight about?”
“I would’ve been okay,” Grimory grumbles. “And…it was nothing. Just a disagreement.” He inspects his nails. “He insulted me. That’s all.”
“My boobs are bruised. Do I need to show you? And besides, when friends disagree, they talk it out. They don’t try to kill each other!” Alisbeth scratches her scalp. “At least, I think that’s how it works.”
“Men do,” Grimory responds curtly with a small grin. “And I’m…sorry you got hurt. I didn’t mean for any of that to happen.”
Alisbeth snorts. “If it happens again with another weapon, you’re on your own to be cut in half, buddy. And, dammit! What in all of Azeroth were you two idiots fighting about?” She slaps her palms to her thighs in frustration.
“I told you it’s not important,” Grimory grumbles from the back of his throat. “We were just sizing each other up. It’s no big deal.”
Alisbeth crosses her arms. “I don’t believe you. I really, really don’t believe you. But since you’re not gonna tell me, I guess I’m just going to have to pout.” She sticks out her lower lip at him and makes her eyes as sad as possible. Her gaze remains locked on him as she walks.
Grimory stares blankly at Alisbeth, lips in a slight frown. “That don’t work on me, girlie.”
Alisbeth turns her lips down at the corners, increasing the frown. She whimpers and a tear gleams at the corner of one eye.
Grimory narrows his eyes, intent on winning the staring match. “I’ve already told you.”
Alisbeth glares at Grimory and wipes the tear from her eye. “Fine!” She leaps on him with a shout, reaching to wrap her hands around his horns. “I heard my name and you can’t tell me it’s none of my business because I heard my name and I heard Artichoke’s name and I know you’re keeping something from us that would make Koltira seem like he was hitting you with a twig and when I figure it out you’re going to get it, mister, you’re abso-tively going to get it.”
Grimory grits his fangs and tries to relieve himself of Alisbeth’s iron-like grip. “We were just mentioning you two in passing! The fight wasn’t aboutyou!” If either of them ever find out, I deserve whatever I get. But until then…
Alisbeth clambers up Grimory’s side and kneels on his shoulders. She sends the flat of her palm into his scalp. “You said you don’t lie! That’s a lie! Lie! Lie! Lie!”
The demon hunter flinches and hisses as he’s struck on the head. He reaches up to grab Alisbeth and pulls her from his shoulders. He holds her at arms’ length by the pits of her arms as he would an animal. “Look. He just…told me I needed to treat Ana better. But he was a dick about it. I didn’t like it so I started the fight. Okay?”
Alisbeth glares at Grimory, deflating like a wet kitten. “What about me?”
“I told him the same about you,” he grumbles, setting the death knight back on her feet.
Alisbeth squares her jaw and sticks her nose up in defiance. “Koltira treats me just fine. You don’t even know him.”
“You know what? You’re right. You win. Can we just continue on, now?” Grimory pushes past her, folding his arms over his chest and scoffing in irritation.
Alisbeth purses her lips and glares at the back of Grimory’s head. She pulls her axe from behind her and rushes to catch up to him. As she reaches the demon hunter, she spins, aiming the fang-toothed skull in the center right at his mouth.
Upon hearing the familiar sound of a weapon being drawn Grimory turns. He leans out of the way of the broad side of Alisbeth’s axe just in time—the breeze from the swing blows through his hair. He stumbles backward, his breath still held in his chest. “Wh-…What the hell?!”
Alisbeth says nothing, just glares at Grimory before turning and running to catch up with the others. She passes them and stops to face Koltira. Once he’s close enough she goes up on her tip toes to give him a deep kiss. She smiles at Anarchaia then falls into step with them, clasping a hand through her husband’s.
Anarchaia returns the smile hesitantly and falls back to ask her companion if he’s all right. He gives a small nod, despite being shaken.