Chapter Fourteen

Alisbeth opens her eyes from her pretend sleep, realizing how quiet the world suddenly is. “It’s stopped raining,” she says.

Koltira nods.

She crawls to the front of the tent and peeks out at the soggy world beyond. The clouds begin to clear away, revealing the stars in the black night sky.

Anarchaia rests with her back against Grimory’s sleeping figure as a child does the family dog while she skims through the pages of a book from her room. She tilts her head slightly when she hears voices in the next tent. She turns to see if her own tent mate is conscious, then returns to her book upon noticing his quiet, sleeping face. A small sigh escapes her—one of contentment and ease—then she slowly closes the pages within the cover.

“I suppose I can make a fire now,” she says to her sleeping friend and crawls into the cool, damp field outside.

Alisbeth purses her lips at the mage, wanting to go talk to her, but torn because she knows Koltira will listen to make sure she stayed on track. I just want some girl talk, she thinks.

The Forsaken stands and stretches, sending the book in her hand to whence it came. She glances around and hums in thought, then perks when she notices Alisbeth in the door of her tent.

“Oh, Ali!” She takes a step over and bends at the waist to meet her gaze, palms on her thighs. “Want to go firewood hunting with me? Everything around here is too wet.”

Alisbeth bites her lip and looks back at Koltira. She meets Anarchaia’s gaze, then looks at Koltira again. “I…um…I…”

“Just behave yourself.” Koltira sits up and smiles at the two women. He plucks Alisbeth’s boots from their pile of armor and hands them over. Then he holds out Alisbeth’s axe. “Don’t kill anyone that isn’t trying to kill you, and don’t use it to chop down trees.”

Alisbeth squeals and lands on him with a hug before running out of the tent to meet the mage. “I’m ready. I have my axe. I get to bring my axe.” She holds it up in excitement as though Anarchaia hasn’t seen it before.

Anarchaia smiles as she’s shown the weapon. “And a fine axe it is. I definitely feel safer with it in your possession.” She turns and leads her into the trees where she believes some dryer sticks and foliage may lie. “Did you have a good rest?” she asks. She plucks off a low-hanging, dead branch and gently places it in the air behind her to float obediently.

“I pretended to sleep while Koltira kept watch. I miss sleeping. Did you sleep well? Did you dream?” She reaches up to poke the floating stick and lets out an airy giggle.

“I…” She clears her throat as quietly as she can. “Yes. I did, thank you.” Anarchaia bends and throws some dry pine needles up to float alongside the branch. “I don’t remember my dreams,” she lies. “They’re always gone when I wake.” She turns to look at her. “I’ve heard of spells that make you sleep. Potions, too. Have you tried them?”

Alisbeth’s eyes widen. “No! No! I can’t. I’m not allowed to sleep. I just like to pretend, you see? I just pretend I’m sleeping. But I can’t sleep. See?” She nods emphatically then runs over to yank a dead branch from a tree and toss it at Anarchaia’s floating collection.

Anarchaia swallows as she watches Alisbeth, jerking out of the way of the flying branch. “You don’t want to sleep. I understand.” She plucks a few twigs from a dying bush. “Are you enjoying your adventure so far, at least?”

“No,” she gets in Anarchaia’s face, “I can’t sleep.” She nods, making sure the mage understands. Then she adds on a paranoid whisper, “They don’t let us.” After a quick glance around she smiles wide and turns to find more dry wood. “I like having friends.” Her face falls to a frown. “I’m really sorry I made things bad earlier. I don’t often throw things at Kolty but he just made me so mad and I just…” she scratches her scalp and looks around, calling up whatever she was trying to say. “I just get so lonely. That’s why I went with Gimli. I wanted Kolty, not your horny friend.” Her face scrunches like she’s desperately lost as she rubs a palm across her forehead.

The mage nods in partial understanding and takes a step back. She busies herself below a tree, gathering more needles. “It’s okay.” She throws them into the growing mass. “And you don’t need to explain yourself to me. What you and Grim do is none of my business. Together or otherwise.” She holds in a sigh, suddenly thinking about all the relationships she’d made after her death. A jealousy for Alisbeth rises and she swallows it. “And your husband understands, so there’s no one really for you to apologize to to begin with.”

Alisbeth takes a twig and snaps it in frustration. “But I don’t…” She hurls the two halves at the mass then stomps off ahead of Anarchaia to find more dry items to burn.

Anarchaia stands still, watching Alisbeth as she trudges off. She releases the sigh she’d been holding and scratches at the skin below her eye. Finally, she shakes her head and follows. “Don’t wander too far,” she mumbles, pulling off twigs and dry leaves as she walks. “I didn’t bring the map and Grim isn’t here to fly us out.”

Alisbeth pops up beside Anarchaia, having made a circle of the area. Her arms filled with dry materials. “Hey! So, what do you think of me? Really. Like, tell me what you think of me as though you’re talking to someone else.” She bites her lower lip, trying to hold in her excitement.

Anarchaia gives a small cry of surprise and terror, nearly stumbling and dropping all their tinder as she scrambles away. “Uh,” she stammers, “I’d have to say you’re…energetic. Fun-loving. You have a good heart.” She straightens and makes sure the buttons holding her gloves are secure. “I think you’re…” She sobers. “I think you’re sad. Inside.” Anarchaia avoids looking into the girl’s face, scared of what she may have sparked.

Alisbeth frowns and shifts the bundle in her arms. “I’m going to be honest now, okay?” She screws up her face in thought. “I think you’re too quiet and you don’t say what you mean but you feel deeply, so you get hurt a lot because you hide yourself. I am sad on the inside. I lost everything worth living for, and my life, all on the same day. But you… You’re sad on the outside. But you love on the inside.” Alisbeth purses her lips. “I think you’ll be sad on the inside one day if you stay quiet. Secrets are bad.”

Anarchaia’s eyes widen, not having expected to be in the spotlight. She clenches her jaw and thinks in length about her response. “You still have Koltira.” She turns away and the bundle in Alisbeth’s arms pulls free from her grasp. “Sometimes secrets are better than truths,” she continues after a moment. “Sometimes telling people how you feel about them will make you sad throughout. Not just on the outside.” A beat passes through the space between them. The mage begins the walk back. “We’ve got enough wood.”

Alisbeth rushes to catch up. “Abigail, wait!” She skids on the mud and comes to a stop in front of Anarchaia. She stares at the mage for a long beat, then steps forward and wraps her in a comforting embrace. “Well, I want to tell you how I feel, okay? I think you’re the most wonderful Night Elf I’ve ever met. I’m glad you let me come with. It’s nice being out and having friends.” She places a kiss on Anarchaia’s forehead.

Anarchaia allows the girl to hug her and, for once, doesn’t return the sentiment. The words Night Elf stand out more than the others and she closes her eyes, the one stinging with the threat of tears. “I…I’m glad you came with us, too, Ali.” She brings a hand up to pat Alisbeth on the back. “Thank you.” After one last gentle, one-armed squeeze, she continues on the path back to camp and motions for the girl to follow.

Alisbeth frowns after the mage. She hates you. She runs all the way back to camp. “She hates me,” she announces to Koltira. “She can be your friend. I know she likes you.”

Koltira cocks an eyebrow. “I… Let me go talk to her, okay?”

Alisbeth shrugs and sits down as he leaves the tent.

Anarchaia makes herself busy by neatly arranging the twigs and foliage in layers between the two tents. She glances around for rocks to contain the fire should she get lazy with controlling it. She also takes note that Alisbeth had gotten back and was safe in her tent, but turns away when she sees Koltira exit, knowing almost instantly what he wants. “I’m sorry. I upset her.”

Koltira chuckles lightly. “It’s an easy thing to do. She says you hate her, which I know can’t be true. What happened?”

She kicks a stone into the circle, still avoiding looking up. “She…said some things about me—some true things.” She rolls another to join the rest. “I didn’t react the way she thought I would.” The mage crouches down beside the pile and sets it ablaze. “She thinks I’m angry…but I’m not.”

He nods, smiling like he’s figured it out. “She did that thing, didn’t she? She asks your opinion of her so she can have an excuse to tell you what she thinks of you? And of course what she says isn’t filtered by any sort of conscience and concern for how you might take it.” He kicks a few rocks to join hers.

“Yeah. The thing.” Anarchaia stares at the rock he’d kicked in, and smiles nervously.

“Need help with anything specific?”

“Why do I get the feeling you aren’t talking about the fire?”

He laughs. “I am talking about the fire. But if there’s something else…”

“No,” the mage responds. She lifts the hem of her mask to show him a reassuring smile, leaning back to sit in the wet grass. “Thanks, though. I don’t hate her. I don’t hate you, Ali!” she calls, tilting her head toward the tent.

Alisbeth pokes her head out of the tent and casts a suspicious gaze at Anarchaia. “You don’t?” She steps out a little farther. “Can-can I help with the fire?”

“There’s not much left to assist with but you’re welcome to come sit.” Anarchaia pats the ground beside her. “Grass is a little wet, however. Hope that doesn’t bother you.”

Alisbeth shuffles out as Koltira waves her forward. “I was just trying to make you feel good,” she says. “I think you’re so nice and I want you to know that.” She twitches nervously. “I don’t want you to be sad outside.”

Anarchaia’s eyes flick between Alisbeth and Koltira and she gives a painful, nervous laugh. “I-I’m not sad, Ali. I’m fine. Thank you for caring about me so much, but worrying isn’t necessary. Just…come sit by the fire.” She swallows and gives a wide, pleading grin. “Please?”

Alisbeth drops down near Anarchaia. “Okay.” She smiles wide.

Koltira joins her on the other side.

The mage tilts her head to look up at the stars and the smoke billowing up toward them. She leans back, supporting herself with locked elbows, and closes her eyes. “Do you guys miss being alive?” she blurts in a casual tone, thinking perhaps asking a deeply personal question about them would take any focus off her.

Alisbeth smiles shyly. “I miss food and tasting all the treats of the holidays. And I miss sleep. And…I miss feeling winded after a well fought battle. Getting my heart racing and knowing, whether I won or lost, that I pushed myself to my limit and kept going anyway.”

Koltira doesn’t smile as he keeps his gaze in the fire. “I don’t much miss being alive anymore, it’s been so long. But I do miss Faltora. Every day, I miss him.”

Anarchaia smiles at Alisbeth’s words. “Those are good things to miss. As far as battles go, being…the way you are now…shouldn’t hinder your tenacity. You should always feel like you’ve given all you could.” Her smile fades, however, as she turns her attention to Koltira. She hesitates, debating on whether or not the topic is too taboo. “A family member of yours…?”

Koltira smiles softly. “My younger brother. He died the night before me.” His brow furrows at the memory. “It all happened so fast. There was nothing I could do.”

Anarchaia returns her eyes to the fire. “I’m sorry. It’s hard losing a family member.” She frowns. “He wasn’t…raised, was he?”

Koltira flinches slightly. “No… He… They…”

“He got cut in half,” Alisbeth says quickly. She takes Koltira’s hand. “Sorry.”

He gives her a gentle smile. “What about you, Ana?” He widens his eyes for a second at the slip. “What do you think you’d miss most about being alive?”

She turns her head slowly to look at him across Alisbeth’s back, brow furrowed beneath her mask. She clenches her jaw. “Can’t say I’d know,” she responds coldly and cocks her head, a cautionary grin crossing her lips.

“Pretend!” Alisbeth chirps. “Like, I never thought I’d miss chocolate as much as I do. Never crossed my mind. But I thought I’d miss… Being warm or tanning my skin.”

Koltira clears his throat. “I don’t think this is a conversation most would join in. It’s frightening to imagine your own death. And you never know who might be chosen as a death knight.”

Anarchaia leans forward and places her elbows on her knees, folding her forearms over one another. “I couldn— can’t tan anyway. I’m not supposed to be in the sun much.” She thinks about it for a long moment, deciding to humor them with an answer that won’t give her away. “Can’t say I’d make a very good death knight…but if I died I think I’d miss…” Feeling loved. Being accepted. Being proud of who I am. “Being warm, I suppose.” She chuckles and wiggles her fingers. “And if I were Forsaken, I’d really miss being able to scratch my back.”

Alisbeth scowls, her face darkening.

Koltira clears his throat more emphatically. “Yes, I suppose being warm is a good one.”

The mage takes note of Alisbeth’s reaction and turns back to the fire. She rubs the back of her head and runs a pale tongue over her lips. “But I think I’d miss sleeping the most. I like to dream.”

Alisbeth smiles again. “I liked the waking up part. Knowing it was a new day and anything could happen. And the times I would wake up next to Koltira.” She nods and sets her head on his shoulder.

The mage smiles and turns to the two, squishing her cheek against her arms. Her lips part as though to say something else but she instead turns and places her chin on her arms instead. She bites her lip, thinking of something else to speak of, but the thought of more small talk makes her inwardly cringe. Instead, she remains silent and enjoys the sound of the fire and the few crickets that had only just learned of the rain’s passing.

Alisbeth fidgets, her thin fingers rolling a clump of hair back and forth. Koltira wraps an arm behind her and directs a quick apologetic smile at Anarchaia before casting his eyes to the fire.

“Too bad for the rain,” Anarchaia says quietly over the fire while ripping up grass and throwing blades into it—though most flutter about, never actually reaching the flames. “We would have made it to Talonrest, otherwise.” She gives a light breath of a laugh. “Perhaps Odyn doesn’t want us to continue.”

Alisbeth gives a small Ha! and without looking away from the fire says, “You really think some guy can control the weather like that?”

Anarchaia blinks and turns to Alisbeth, still throwing wet grass into the pit. “You’ve never met a Shaman? Well, a really powerful one, at least?”

She frowns at the mage. “I may have met a few, but never stopped to talk.”

“Really developed Shamans can create rainstorms for miles. There are so few of those these days, though. Just like there’s only a handful of Archmages. Do death knights have a hierarchy?” As soon as she finishes her question, her trusty quill and parchment are by her side, waiting as eagerly as she is.

Alisbeth’s eyes go wide. “I-I don’t know! We…serve the Lich King and… Well I don’t know I didn’t study them when I was alive, then when they found the heads I got locked up, so…” She throws a fistful of grass at the fire, as Anarchaia had, but her eyes flicker about, trying to watch every blade at once.

“Hm.” Her smile falters over not getting the answer she’s looking for. The quill scratches away regardless. “So…” She suddenly recalls an unanswered question from the first night she’d met them. “I hear tell of some death knights being able to control the undead.” The quill stops. “Is that true?”

“Yes,” Koltira answers before Alisbeth can. “Thassarian had a faithful minion for years. Lurid, I believe he called him. I hear they found his corpse in the aftermath of Andorhal.”

The mage furrows her brow at the word minion and the quill instantly resumes writing, this time with added fervor.

Alisbeth’s eyes narrow. “Nothing good happened there. Should’ve just burned Andorhal to the ground and left while we could.” She wipes a tear from her eye and stands. “Excuse me.” She walks past the tents and to a tree, which she proceeds to kick with her boot.

She follows Alisbeth with her eyes before turning them back to the fire.

Koltira moves closer to Anarchaia. “Andorhal is where she died, too,” he says low.

“Sorry I brought it up,” she says in an equally low tone, knowing full well she hadn’t but feeling the need to apologize anyway. “The name sounds familiar. What happened there?”

Koltira sighs. “I was dispatched as commander over the Forsaken forces trying to claim the city. Thassarian, for reasons I’ve yet to ask, was sent to lead the Alliance in taking the city. Both our armies—if you can call them that—were mainly trying to keep the Twilight Council from taking the area.” He rubs his palms over his face and groans. “I could’ve ended the whole thing a lot sooner, but…Thassarian is…my brother, in a way. He and I came to a peaceful agreement that the humans didn’t like, and so they attacked. After Andorhal was finally won, Ali and I were going to find somewhere quiet, away from judging eyes—I mean, the living and the dead having relations? Especially a death knight. So we kept it secret.

“The Banshee Queen determined I was too soft, and so took me to Undercity to be…reminded of how a death knight should act. Alisbeth was left behind, of course. Outnumbered and barely in good fighting condition…” He clears his throat as his eyes shimmer with moisture in the firelight. “Things would be so different right now.”

“That sounds awful,” Anarchaia finally says after a long moment. “War almost never ends without taking all it can beforehand.” She glances over to see the sheen in his eyes and places a hesitant hand on his shoulder as though pleading with him not to cry. “It’s no good dwelling on what might have been,” she continues with a small smile, “it will only drive you mad. You seem to be making the best of your current situation anyway.”

He laughs once—a bitter one without humor. “I’m sorry. I just… I spent four years dreaming of what I would come home to and,” he shrugs, “it wasn’t there.” He sets his hand on hers, accepting the comfort. “You’re right, at least I have her.”

Anarchaia’s smile brightens and she glances at Alisbeth at her mention. “You’ll always have her.” She retracts her hand and clasps it with the other around her knees. “She always talks about you when we’re alone. It’s very sweet. She has nothing but good things to say.” The fire crackles and the quill and paper finally take their leave. “…and often apologies.”

“Well, to be fair, she does have a lot to apologize to you for.” He tosses a small stick into the flames and watches it burn.

“Not to me. To you.”

His brow furrows. “She apologizes to me when she’s with you?”

“Well…she more like says how she regrets everything she does with other men. But that’s all an apology is. An admission of regret.” She leans back again, supporting herself with her arms, and stretches her legs out in front of her.

Koltira clenches his jaw and stares at the ground. “I know. She tells me, too.” He tries to hide his discomfort from the mage.

Anarchaia gives Koltira a sideways glance and grits her teeth, cursing herself for the words she’d said. “S-Sorry… That was kind of personal. I forget myself. Heh.”

“Hmm? Oh. No, you’re fine.” He straightens. “I feel I should apologize for dropping our mess on you all the time. We’ve only just met.”

“Save it.” She waves a hand. “There are more important things in life to apologize for. That’s not one of them.”

Koltira gives a gentle smile. “Fair point.” He glances in at the sleeping figure of Grimory. “So, what about your friend? What’s his deal?”

She blinks and follows his gaze to the tent. “Deal? How do you mean?”

Koltira shrugs. “What do you know about him?”

Anarchaia thinks for a long moment. “I know he grew up on a farm. He was imprisoned in a crystal for ten years by the Wardens. He’s pretty loyal… Kind of a jerk sometimes but I think it’s all a show.”

“He’s very quiet,” Koltira says. “I think he talks to Ali, but I mean… how much is actually said or retained?” He glances back to where Alisbeth had been, but she’s nowhere to be seen. “Did you see where…?”

“I never thought about it before but I suppose he is. Again, I think that’s part of the…act…” Anarchaia trails off as she looks around as well. “No, I didn’t.”

“I’m, uh…sure she’s fine. Right?”

 ~ * ~

Alisbeth inches toward the smaller tent, her eyes trained on the peacefully sleeping figure of Grimory.

Grimory shifts in his sleep, pushing his cheek deeper into his makeshift pillow made of Anarchaia’s robes. He shrugs the furs further over his shoulders.

Alisbeth slides into the tent as quiet as she can. She pulls down the furs and traces a finger along the swirl of the glowing tattoo on his pectoral.

Grimory, semi-conscious, brushes her fingers away, his brow furrowing in his sleep. “Ana, stop.”

Alisbeth balls up her fist and frowns. As she raises her fist, she changes her mind and returns to playing with the glowing green on the demon hunter’s chest.

Grimory inhales sharply through his nostrils as he wakes completely. He lifts his head slightly to look down at his chest, hand ready to swat the other’s away again, then sees Alisbeth and lies back. “Ali… What are you doing?” he groans groggily. “Is something wrong?”

“You glow when you sleep,” Alisbeth hisses. “You glow in the dark. Does it make you tired?”

Grimory glances at the opening to the tent upon hearing laughter but turns his attention back to Alisbeth. “They’re for protection. They dampen magic.” He reaches for the hem of the furs once again. “Is that what you came in here for?”

“Mm-hmm!” Alisbeth nods emphatically. “I wasn’t sure if you were awake or just glowing.” She grins at him. “Don’t mind me, just go back to sleep.” She rests her head on one arm and stares at him.

Grimory lifts an eyebrow tiredly. “And you’re just gonna…watch. While I sleep.” He rubs at one of his cheeks with a palm and readjusts the robes beneath his head.

Alisbeth nods again. “It looks like fun. I bet it’s fun. Hey, what’s this?” She pulls at his makeshift pillow enough to see what it is. “Oh.” Her smile falls. She purses her lips and shoves it back under his head.

Grimory’s head jerks as the article is shoved back beneath it. “Oh? Oh what? You want to use it or something?” He readjusts it again and gives a joking smile through his haze of exhaustion. “Or are you jealous?”

Alisbeth chews on her bottom lip. “Me? I, well, no, I-I, she’s…” Alisbeth deflates. “Everybody likes her and takes her seriously. She starts talking and you guys listen and I start talking and everyone starts patting my head like I’m a child. And you use her robes as a pillow.” She scratches her scalp and sighs, then turns away from him. “Go back to sleep, Gorignak.” She gets on all fours to leave the tent.

Grimory sits up slowly, grasping Alisbeth’s wrist before she can leave. “Hold on, Ali.” He gives her a tired yet sympathetic frown. “Is there…something you’d like to talk about? I’m here, you know. I’m not always a giant jerk.”

Alisbeth’s frown deepens as she looks at his hand on her wrist. “I just want people to like me.”

Grimory keeps his fingers curled around her wrist. “We do like you, Ali. If we didn’t, don’t you think we’d have told you guys to hit the road days ago?”

Alisbeth shakes her head. “It’s not the same. Just…go back to sleep.” She tries to tug her arm free.

Grimory refuses to release her, his expression turning serious. “Come sit with me for a bit.”

Alisbeth looks back toward the fire as she hears their laughter. “If you insist.”

Grimory looks out to the two by the fire and releases her with a quiet sigh. “What is it you truly want? From me? From all of us?” His features soften. “Is knowing that we do, in fact, enjoy your company not enough?”

Alisbeth sits back, legs crossed and elbow on one knee to rest her cheek on her fist. “I don’t know how to explain it. I just feel so alone sometimes.” Her brow furrows. “Hey! You sleep!” She reaches over to press his head down and put her palm over his eyes.

Grimory lets his head get pushed back and his eyes covered, but he remains awake. “What can I do to help?” he says quietly, grasping her hand and pulling it from his face to look up at her.

“I don’t know!” Alisbeth hisses, shoving her other hand over his lips and pressing tightly. “Sleep, damn you!”

Grimory stares, unamused, up at her. With a hand on her chest, he gently pushes her away so he can sit up . “If you didn’t think I could help you, why did you mention it to me?” He rubs at the back of his head to straighten his hair. “You’re a puzzle, Ali.”

Alisbeth pushes at his hand just under her breasts while glaring at him. “I didn’t come here to tell you anything! I came here because you were glowing! And it’s pretty! And I wasn’t sure if you were awake and if you were asleep I just wanted to…” She purses her lips, changing her mind about saying what she was about to.

Grimory lifts his eyebrows and tilts his head to turn his ear more toward her. “Just wanted to…?”

Alisbeth blushes and clears her throat. “I just wanted to…watchyousleepbecausenoonearoundheresleepsbutyou.” She clamps her lips shut. “Okay?”

Grimory blinks at her, doing his best to keep the judgment out of his voice. “Why would you want to watch someone sleep? That sounds so boring.” He lies back down, weaving his fingers together beneath his head. “I mean, feel free, but surely there’s more exciting things to do.”

Alisbeth leans closer. “There are, but I’m not allowed to do them on this trip.” She smiles and begins tucking the furs around Grimory. She hums a child’s lullaby as she tucks him in and smooths back his hair.

Grimory leans his head back and smiles, closing his eyes. Ana never does this for me. “One could get used to this,” he hums, opening an eye slightly to grin up at her.

Alisbeth curls up and stares at the side of Grimory’s face as she finishes humming. “Sleep, now, baby,” she whispers.

Grimory closes his eye again and sighs deeply through his nose. He ignores her motherly cooing and allows silence to fill the tent once more.

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