Chapter Eighteen

Grimory jerks upright at Alisbeth’s scream, glancing around in confusion. Upon seeing the ghoul, he inhales and breathes a massive torrent of emerald fire in the monster’s direction without a moment’s thought.

Anarchaia jumps as the end of the tent explodes in green flames. “Uh.”

Alisbeth gets up on all fours, though still belly-up, and kicks the ghoul in the chest while avoiding the fel fire. The ghoul stumbles from the tent, green flame clinging to the mats of clumped hair on its head and the scraps of clothing on its body.

ERR!” It runs away from the two, straight to Koltira and Anarchaia.

Thinking as quick as he can, the death knight throws a blast of cold sleet at his minion, putting out most of the fire on its head. He scuttles back through the muddy grass as the flames get closer, an arm over the small mage to protect her. He reaches his hand out to throw more sleet at the creature.

Grimory scrambles from the tent to follow the ghoul, then jumps out to his feet. “Is that yours?!” he growls to Koltira, claws ready.

“W-Wait!” Anarchaia grabs Koltira’s arm with both hands. “Don’t harm it! It’s probably hurt and confused!”

Koltira throws another blast of sleet to douse the rest of the flames. “He was just trying to wake you!” he shouts.

Well I’m awake.” Grimory barks, his fingers morphing back to their usual thickness.

Alisbeth emerges from the larger tent, sneering in disgust, her axe in her fists. “That thing shouldn’t be here!”

Koltira slips between Alisbeth and the ghoul, clambering to his knees and trying to gain his footing. “Ali, it’s not the same. It’s just a ghoul. They’re our friends.”

Alisbeth shouts in anger and lobs her axe over Koltira’s head.

“What the hell did you think was going to—Ali, wait!” Grimory makes to stop her, despite only moments before trying to kill the creature himself.

The axe lodges into the ghouls back. “ERRRRRR!” The ghoul takes off running toward the trees.

Anarchaia flinches at the sound of the axe rending through undead flesh. “No!” Sobering completely, she struggles to her feet and follows the poor ghoul. “Wait! Let me help you!” she cries, not actually having a plan to aid.

You did this?” Alisbeth demands. She kicks Koltira in the chest and he lands on his back. “Are you drunk or just stupid?”

“No need for name calling. Drunk. Very kind of drunk.” He clambers to his feet, his mind sobering, though he still feels the alcohol. “It was a funny idea when I had it, okay?”

Alisbeth purses her lips at him, then runs around him to join Anarchaia in the pursuit.

Grimory sighs and smooths back his hair as he watches the women run off. “One day. That’s all I ask. One day where I’m not messed with.” He rubs a hand over his face, then inspects the damage done to his tent.

Anarchaia throws branches and foliage out of her way as she chases the creature, still calling for him to slow.

“No one said you had to blow up your tent, we were merely looking for an alternative to getting up to wake you.” He glares at Grimory and puts his teeth to his lip. A shrill whistle echoes across the field. The ghoul stops and spins around to run back to Koltira.

Alisbeth stops and grabs the handle of her axe to yank it from the ghoul’s back. It drags her along on her feet for a few feet before the axe pops free and Alisbeth falls on her rear from the sudden loss of resistance.

Grimory scowls. “You couldn’t just, like, yell? It had to be some sort of prank?” He ducks into the tent, not waiting for an answer, and begins folding up the sleeping furs.

Anarchaia halts when she sees the ghoul running back toward her then sidesteps out of his way. She furrows her brow in confusion and pushes past Alisbeth wordlessly, still intent on helping and somewhat irked by the girl’s reckless actions.

The death knight scoffs and ignores Grimory, then sends his summoned minion away.

Alisbeth leaps on him, her weight dragging him to the ground. “Hi,” she says cheerily. “Ashpea and I almost caught it. She’s pretty fast, huh?”

Grimory ties the furs together with twine and sets Anarchaia’s robes aside. “Why I put up with any of this is beyond me,” he grumbles.

Anarchaia gives Alisbeth a silent scowl from beneath her mask and lifts the smaller tent and furs off the ground once Grimory is outside. They disappear in a flurry of sparks and she turns to the heavier tent and sighs. After a small struggle the larger tent meets with the same fate as the first, leaving whatever was inside lying in the grass. She throws her robes back over her head and buttons her hood at her throat.

Koltira sighs. And there goes the good night we were having. He stands and begins dressing in his armor as Alisbeth stands humming beside him, doing the same. “How far to our next stop?” he asks.

The mage produces the map from her pack and looks it over. “Not very. We can reach Talonrest by nightfall if we continue on uninterrupted.”

“Is there an inn?” the demon hunter asks tiredly.

“No idea. My guess is no.”

Grimory grunts and stretches. “Oh well. Let’s just go.”

The other two finish getting ready and wait for the others to lead the way.

Still somewhat intoxicated, Anarchaia saunters back across the field to the road with Grimory in tow. She slouches and nearly stumbles as she walks while not fully paying attention.

Grimory eyes her and narrows his eyes, coming to walk beside her. “Are you drunk?” he asks suspiciously.

“Maybe,” she mumbles. “It’s not important.”

Alisbeth purses her lips so tight they turn white. Finally, she glares at Koltira. “Summon another one and I won’t stop myself from bashing its filthy head in.”

Koltira closes his eyes and sighs, trying to clear his head and not say something rude. “Ali…I want you to…” He rubs his palms over his face. “I won’t summon another.”

Anarchaia cocks her head slightly and scowls at Alisbeth’s words. “If you weren’t so crabby you could have joined us.”

“Well I’m sorry but some of us actually need to sleep.” Grimory watches her, worried she may fall. “Besides, it sounds like you two had enough fun for everyone. Woke me up multiple times.”

“Sorry,” Anarchaia responds with genuine sympathy. “We were kind of loud…”

Koltira glares ahead. “I’m not sorry in the least.”

Alisbeth clenches her jaw. “Crabby? Excuse me? You and me, bitch, right n—”

Koltira grabs her by the arm. “Stop. Just stop.”

“I wasn’t talking to you, but if the shoe fits…” Anarchaia clenches her jaw and continues onto the dirt road.

Grimory shoots a glare over his shoulder at Koltira. “Don’t recall asking for your opinion, pretty boy.”

Koltira returns the demon hunter’s glare. “Pretty boy… Rich coming from a man I can smell a mile away and has so much crap in his hair that it doesn’t even look washed. And I will give my opinion if and when I please and no pansy-ass princess is going to stop me.”

Grimory turns completely and growls, eyes aflame. “I’d sooner be all of those things than some skin-and-bone, pasty-faced cu—” He stops when he feels a firm hand on his bicep. His jaw clenches as he feels Anarchaia’s warning stare. After giving Koltira one last sneer, he turns back around and spits. “Asshole,” he grumbles beneath his breath.

“Aww, how cute. Puppy knows how to heel. You trained your bitch good, Ana.” Koltira’s smile turns evil beneath his glare.

This time Anarchaia turns before Grimory can react. “Koltira, I’m not in the mood to break up another fight. I understand you two don’t care for one another but let’s keep the jeering to a minimum, okay?” She looks up at Grimory who scoffs. “Okay?” she repeats.

“Sure, whatever.”

Koltira scoffs and crosses his arms over his chest, deciding to spend the rest of the day in silence.

Alisbeth smiles up at the grey morning and sighs. “What a beautiful morning to be with friends.”

A few hours pass filled with nothing but the sound of morning bird songs and palpable silence. The sun beats down, but the breeze remains cool. Anarchaia and Grimory nod solemn hellos to passersby on the trail but otherwise remain quiet. Anarchaia produces a small flask of water and drinks in an attempt to ward off a hangover. She sighs, wanting to break the awkward silence but having nothing to say.

Alisbeth spends the day following the other two, waving excitedly at other travelers, and talking in quick whispers to Koltira about the things she sees on the side of the road. He, however, says nothing and ignores everyone, determined to remain in his sour mood.

By the time the sun had fallen past noon, Anarchaia had begun to lag behind the others, drinking her water and remaining silent.

Grimory lifts a hand over his eyes to see further down the path, a dried meat ration hanging from his teeth. “How much further, Ana? I’m getting tired of walking.”

“Then fly,” she groans. “And if I hear that godsdamned question one more time I’m going to go insane. Just walk until it gets dark. That’s all you have to do, Grim. That’s it.”

“Ugh, but—”

Quit acting like a child and walk.

Alisbeth stops walking and waits until the mage catches up to her, then matches pace. “You okay?” She smiles with careful concern in her eyes.

“I’m fine, Ali. Just…kinda tired if I’m being honest.” Anarchaia drinks another sip of water. “I mean I’m always tired, but this is worse.” The sound of Alisbeth’s axe slicing through flesh echoes in her mind and she shakes her head. “I’m okay.”

Alisbeth purses her lips, worry crossing her brow. “Do you use a fertility ward? I can ask that, right? Since we’re friends?”

Anarchaia jerks her head to look up at Alisbeth, the question catching her by surprise. “I-I’m sorry? Why?”

“You’re cranky and tired and, I dunno… Are you going to puke?” She ducks her head to whisper to Anarchaia and puts her arm around the other’s shoulders to hug her. “You can tell me. It’s okay. I know what it’s like. When I found out that mine had fallen off it was kind of scary.” She smiles endearingly.

Anarchaia blinks then gives an airy, uncomfortable laugh. “I-I’m not pregnant, Ali. Heh. Just kind of hungover. I appreciate your concern, though.” She gives the girl’s hand an awkward pat. Her smile turns sad at what Alisbeth is implying, but she keeps any questions she has to herself, thinking it rude to pry.

Alisbeth frowns just a little. “Oh, okay. Just making sure. Cause I can help. I know things.” She stares at the back of Grimory’s head. “You have to wonder, though, if it would have horns or not.” She snerks into her palm and releases the mage.

Anarchaia bristles. “What makes you think it’d be his?!” she hisses in a hushed tone.

Alisbeth stops, taken aback. “I-I just thought… I didn’t know… I’m sorry.” She stares at the ground and picks up her pace until she’s beside Koltira again. She clenches her jaw and concentrates on counting her steps.

The group eventually comes upon a small, single story building on the side of the road. Grimory’s eyes light up upon seeing the sign reading vacancy. He turns around to speak to Anarchaia then appears surprised to find her further back. “Ana, an inn!”

“It’s not even sundown,” she calls back, sniffling quietly. “And we’re close to our checkpoint.”

“Don’t care. Hot food and a bed.” He sprints down the road before the mage can protest.

Anarchaia groans from the back, muttering her irritation to herself. “I guess we’re stopping.”

Alisbeth looks up just enough to reveal her interest. “It does sound pleasant.”

Anarchaia pays for the only vacant room, and assures the older woman running the inn that it will be adequate. She makes her way down the hall to throw their belongings into their room while Grimory takes up a seat in the small dining foyer and immediately hails the lone handmaid to request something to eat.

Alisbeth takes a seat with Grimory and leans her head on a fist. Koltira purses his lips and points at her. “Stay out of trouble.” He then goes to find a shower room to wash the dirt from his hair.

Anarchaia steps out of the room just in time to catch Koltira in the hallway. She bites her lip and pushes her hood back. “H-Hey, I’m sorry…about earlier.”

Koltira shrugs. “It was my fault. I’m sorry.”

“No, no. I was rude. I let the stress get to me and it was inappropriate.” Anarchaia taps the tips of her pointer fingers together and sniffles.

“First of all, stop saying you’re sorry,” Koltira says. “Second… Are you crying?”

Anarchaia blinks up at him. “No. My nose is just a bit stuffy. And I don’t think I’ll ever stop apologizing…so, sorry.”

Koltira nods absently. “Fair enough. I’m off for a shower, or bath…whatever they have here. As long as it gets me clean.” He turns to seek out the bath room.

“Uhh the door on the left at the end, I believe she said,” she says as she makes her way back to the dining room.

Grimory smirks down at Alisbeth when her husband leaves. “Staying out of trouble?” he asks as if it’d been hours already. He scoops up the mug of weak ale he’d requested and takes a drink.

Alisbeth purses her lips. “For now. I heard Agira take the last room. You two should be quite cozy in there.” She winks at him.

Grimory lifts an eyebrow. “Oh, Ana. Yeah, no. I thought we’d patched things up but she’s been colder than ever,” he grumbles, glancing over at the unlit fireplace.

“She’s probably mad at what I said earlier. I mean, it was a logical assumption, but I guess she took it wrong when I brought you into it…” Alisbeth chews on her bottom lip. “Yeah, it’s you. She’s pissed at you.”

Grimory sighs and thanks the maid as she sets down his boar ribs. “I know she is. I just don’t know why.”

Alisbeth shrugs emphatically. “Maybe she’s sick of your face.”

The mage saunters into the dining hall. When there she takes up a spot across from the two with a sigh.

Grimory chews idly on his meal, doing his best not to make eye contact with Anarchaia. “Definitely worth the stop.”

Alisbeth puffs out her cheeks and stares at the table. She sighs dramatically. “If you guys need to talk it out I can be scarce. I really can.”

“There’s nothing to talk out,” Anarchaia says pointedly, drumming her fingers on the table. “I’d rather you stay, anyway, Ali. You’re better company.”

Grimory rolls his eyes and finishes his ale, remaining silent lest he make a matter he knows nothing about worse.

“Oh.” Alisbeth shifts, her hands fidgeting under the table. “So…uh… H-How are you feeling? No, um, you know…bleeeeeh.” She sticks her tongue out to indicate vomiting.

Anarchaia chuckles weakly and places her chin in her hands. “Not feeling pukey. Just…stuffy and tired.”

Alisbeth chews on her lip. “That’s good then. Just stuffy.” She nods more to her own thoughts than to anyone.

“I told you not to stand in the rain,” Grimory grumbles through the meat in his mouth.

“Oh well thank gods you did. Your hindsight has magically cured me. You should be a priest.”

Alisbeth leans to Grimory. “Don’t be a priest. They’re actually not good people. They don’t follow the Light like a paladin. They stretch the rules to…” she sneers and balls her hands into fists, “to make it seem like they’re trying to help.” She punches the table. “Don’t be a priest.”

The Illidari and mage look at one another for a moment. “Uhhh okay, Ali. I won’t,” Grimory responds, then tosses the clean rib bone into his mouth to crunch it up.

“What makes you say that?” Anarchaia asks before taking another long drink of water. “Most priests I’ve met have been rather pious.”

“He said he’d keep us alive,” she hisses through clenched teeth. “He lied. He watched us die!” Alisbeth looks sick for a moment then straightens, her face giving away nothing. “Are you sure chewing up bones is good for you?” She laughs, poking Grimory on the lips.

Anarchaia inhales to speak but ultimately decides to close her mouth. She folds her arms on the table and lowers her head onto them.

“As far as nutrition goes, they’re pretty good for you.” He swallows and runs his tongue along his sharp teeth before pretending to snap at her finger. “And the marrow is tasty.”

Alisbeth narrows her eyes skeptically at him. “If you say so…” She reaches across the table to set a hand on Anarchaia’s elbow. “Did Kolty keep you up all night? He did that to me before… But we weren’t talking.” She laughs. “I slept almost all of the next day.”

“What did I do?” Koltira asks, fiddling with his wet hair, trying to keep it behind his shoulders. He sits beside Anarchaia and cocks an eyebrow at her.

“You can’t keep the living up all night like you did to me!” Alisbeth reaches over to punch his forearm.

Anarchaia shifts her head so that her forehead rests on her forearms and sniffles. Her lips pull into an uncomfortable line at her openness. “It’s not his fault,” she groans into her arms. “I don’t sleep much anyway.”

Grimory picks the bone shards from his gums with his pinky finger. “Try ever.”

Koltira points a finger at Alisbeth. “There were no objections, not my fault. It was extenuating circumstances anyway.”

Alisbeth snorts a laugh. “Big words change nothing.” She reaches out to Anarchaia again. “Are you sure you’re okay? Is it the boys? I mean, they can be nauseating sometimes.”

Anarchaia wiggles in her seat in frustration. “I’m not nauseoussss…”

“Maybe you should go lie down for a bit. You’ve probably just got a cold,” Grimory says as he tosses another bone into his mouth. “You could be contagious.”

“I don’t have a fever. I’m probably not contagious.”

“How do you know you don’t? We don’t have medical supplies.”

“I suppose I don’t, then. Thermometers don’t work on me anyway.” She places her forehead on a wrist, then frowns at the stupidity of doing so. “I’ll be fine.”

Alisbeth snorts. “Thermometers work on everyone, even me! They just go the other way.”

“They work per se. They just explode.”

“Maybe you should lie down,” Koltira suggests.

Anarchaia sighs and gets back to her feet. “I guess I should listen to the masses. I’ll go rest, then.” She makes for the hallway.

“If you need anything, just say,” Grimory calls halfheartedly, pushing his empty plate aside.

Knowing he’s not looking, Anarchaia makes a rude gesture in Grimory’s direction before disappearing down the corridor.

Koltira smirks after Anarchaia, catching the gesture she’d made behind the others’ backs. A moment later he groans and calls the barmaid and orders a large, stiff drink.

Alisbeth smiles at him across the table. “Getting drunk again?”

“Nope.” He smiles and accepts his drink a moment later. “Just doing my best to bear through present company.”

“I’d need to be drunk constantly if I were you, too,” Grimory mumbles, ordering himself another ale.

Koltira smiles, unfazed. “Well, you do get drunk a deal more than I do. Maybe we’re drinking for the same reason.”

Grimory scoffs. “At least you admit it.” He takes a long drink of his ale.

“I take pride in admitting that you’re unbearable.” He takes several swallows of his liquor.

Alisbeth frowns. “Hey, you guys are being mean. Why are you being mean? I thought we were friends.”

Grimory scowls. “I’d use the term friends very, very loosely.” He narrows his eyes and takes down the rest of his ale in a single swallow. “And I’d rather be unbearable than a pushover.”

Alisbeth’s mouth drops open as his words hurt her. She glares and shoves him as hard as she can, then stands. Koltira goes to follow her from the room, but she spins on him. “No. No. I’m going to go spar alone. Since I don’t have any friends.” She glares at Grimory.

Grimory flinches as he’s shoved, then turns as Alisbeth leaves. “I didn’t mean y-… You know what? Forget it.” He hails the maid again to order another ale. “Women. I swear to gods.”

Koltira blinks at him. “You really think Ana and Ali are anywhere in the same realm of difficulty? Or do you just prefer to look at all of them as walking pleasure holes?”

Grimory purses his lips. Don’t say it, Grim. “You’re right. Ana is much more difficult.”

Koltira takes a long drink. “Oh? How so? Because she can see that you’re not really worth the effort she puts into you?”

Grimory scratches at one of his sideburns. He brings his mug to his lips and says, “Because it took more than a few hours to get her to sleep with me.”

Koltira clears his throat. “The Alisbeth I married would never have looked twice at you. Now, she’s like a child who sees a toy she likes, plays with it once, then decides it’s not good enough to pick up again. That makes you either a toy or a pedophile, in my mind.” He swallows the last of his drink, his eyes narrowed at the demon hunter.

“Not the way she made it sound while we were bathing together.” Grimory scoops up his mug as soon as it’s put in front of him. “Calling her a child is also quite disrespectful. At this point I’d say I treat her better than you do.”

Koltira orders another tall whiskey. “She’s not a child, but her mind is just as delicate. But you never take the time to get to know her. And I don’t care how she makes it sound in one instant, because her mind will change the next. In the end, you’ll be nothing to her, and you’ll be nothing to Ana.”

Grimory scowls. “You may as well stop using Ana to try and get to me. I’ve given up on that endeavor.” He drinks the foam of his drink and watches the handmaid as she lights the fire. “And it’s just that fact about Ali that makes her fun.”

Koltira shakes his head. “I’m not using Ana. It’s good that she doesn’t get to you. She prefers intelligent conversation, anyway—you never stood a chance.” He points at Grimory, pausing to thank the barmaid for his new drink, then turns a glare on him. “Now, you stop talking about Alisbeth like you know her. You have no idea what she’s like, what she’s been through. Nothing.”

He glares straight into Koltira’s face as though he doesn’t have a finger pointed at his own. “And you stop talking about Ana like you’re trying to win her over. You’re obviously way too loyal to your wife to mess around with other women. You think I think you’re a threat but you’re really just a pushover.” Grimory drinks his ale, still maintaining eye contact.

“Then I suppose I’ll just go into her room, ask to see those beautiful sapphire eyes again, and give her the kiss she asked for last night.” He finishes his drink in a long swallow. “Maybe I’ll go get Ali, she’s always wanted a woman, Ana is open to it.” Koltira stands and tosses some gold onto the tabletop. “Don’t wait up.”

Grimory growls, his fingers tightening around his cup. He’s lying to get to you. Don’t start a fight. “She’s only got one eye, you twit.” He finishes his beverage and does his best not to slam the empty receptacle back on the table. “And there’s no way she’d kiss you. She has morals—unlike you and your wife. But have fun trying.”

Koltira shrugs. “I know she only has one. And I know why. But you probably do, too.” Koltira stomps from the Tavern, trying to appear less angry than he is.

Grimory grunts and hails the maid for one last ale. “Sure you do.”

Koltira ignores going for Alisbeth, and instead heads to the room to tap his knuckles gently against the wood.

“It’s unlocked,” Anarchaia groans from beneath the pillow over her face, hoping whoever’s on the other side can hear.

Koltira opens the door and stops, realizing he has no good reason to disturb her when she’s ill. He clears his throat. “Ana? I was wondering…”

The mage lifts the pillow from her head to peer down at him from the shadows beneath it. “Yes, Mr. Deathweaver?” she says in a nasally tone, sniffling.

Koltira cringes. “Would you like some tea? Soup? I’ll get you anything you want. On me.”

She smiles beneath her mask. “No but you’re kind to ask. Thank you.” Anarchaia releases the pillow and it falls back onto her face with a pomf! “I just need some rest. Please don’t fight with Grim.”

He chews on the cuticle of his thumb. “I can’t lie, that’s why I came in here. An excuse to…not be out there. Get your rest. I’ll go for a walk or something.”

“You could always try getting to know one another,” she mumbles before shoving the pillow into her face to smother a cough.

He grumbles silently. “I think I’ve learned all I want to know about him.” He sighs. “Feel better, Ana. And if you need anything…” He slips out the door.

The mage sighs through multiple layers of fabric and feathers. “This is going to be a long journey.”

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