Chapter Twenty

Koltira’s nose wrinkles as his mouth drops open.

Grimory’s expression morphs into one of disgusted confusion. “What the fuck, Ali…”

She brings her face up, a wide smile spreads across her lips as she chews. She swallows and sighs. “Tastes like nothing, but that crunch is wonderful.” She takes another bite, then tosses it at Koltira. “Try some!”

Koltira puts his hands up to deflect whatever horror she has in the bag. It hits the table and out rolls a cabbage. “A—… Y—…” He purses his lips and composes himself. “Ali…you have a cabbage in your head sack.”

She smiles. “Well, it’s a head, isn’t it?”

Grimory gives a hearty laugh and plucks a leaf from the head. “You’re not wrong. Here I thought you were cannibalizing some poor bastard.” He tosses the leaf into his mouth and crunches it.

Koltira’s disgusted sneer doesn’t go away. “You don’t want to know what she keeps in the bag normally.”

“Surprise! Forsaken heads. Don’t worry, I washed it. I think.” Her eyes bug with paranoia and she grabs up the cabbage. “If a big guy comes in here, you didn’t see me, and you don’t know anything about a cabbage.”

Grimory swallows. “I’ve eaten worse, my friend.” He gives Alisbeth a salute of agreement and takes a sip of gin. “Don’t steal anymore though. Just in case.”

“Where are you going?” Koltira calls after Alisbeth.

She stops at the door. “Ana has a room, right?” She smiles wide and takes off.

“Ali, don’t—! Dammit…”

“She’s asleep,” Grimory calls after her, his legs dropping from the table as if to follow but he decides against it. “Eh, screw it.”

Koltira sighs into the bottle, then takes a drink. “I’m sure that even sick Ana can handle…whatever that was. If not then she can light Ali on fire.”

Grimory waves a hand as he swallows a mouthful of alcohol. “I’ve not seen Ana light one person on fire the entire time we’ve been together. Let alone someone she likes.”

Koltira chuckles. “That’s a shame. Ali would love that. You have no idea how much she loves fire.” He pauses to think. “I don’t think she would if Thassarian told her everything.” He shrugs and turns to prop his feet up.

Grimory cocks his head. “Oh? Don’t tell me something like that and not expect me to ask for the story.”

Koltira takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. “Not a word to Alisbeth.”

“On my honor.” He brings the bottle to his heart and holds up his free hand.

“He wasn’t there when she died, but he found her after. He’d sneaked back into Andorhal, heard a noise. They took off when he neared and left her right next to where the Forsaken were burning the Alliance and Twilight Cultist bodies. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the rest.” He stares at the bottle in his hand and runs a thumb along the glass.

Grimory furrows his brow and shakes his head. “At least she wasn’t burned as well. She wouldn’t be here otherwise.” He scoffs into his bottle. “You know who it was?”

He shakes his head. “I wasn’t there, either. Ali has only told me it was two Forsaken. A priest and a warlock. Sometimes she’ll give better details, but most of the time every Forsaken is guilty in her eyes. She only barely stands ghouls.” He rubs his palms over his face.

Grimory scoffs again. “Go figure. Never heard of a Forsaken doing anything good to anyone. I honestly don’t blame her.”

“So, what was it like spending ten years as an emerald pendant?”

He drinks a large mouthful and hisses as he swallows. “Boring. Maddening. Spent a lot of time sleeping. Thinking. I wouldn’t recommend it. No room service.”

Koltira laughs. “Those bastards! How dare they not provide you with filet mignon every day.”

“Right?!” He laughs.

The death knight takes a thoughtful drink. “I’ve lived with the Forsaken, and yes, they can be…well… But I’ve never heard of them attacking another member of the Horde just to experiment on her and… It’s a level of depravity I can’t forgive.”

“Evil comes in all shapes and sizes, my friend. Often the same ones.” He drinks and eyes the remainder of his alcohol. “Never met a Forsaken I liked, and don’t believe I ever will. But whatever. I’ve really no reason to be salty like Ali.”

Koltira purses his lips, doing his best to hide his smile at the irony. He instead decides to go for tact. “I’ve met a few that are truly wonderful people. Really. You can’t always blanket everyone in the same expectations. I hated Thassarian for the night I still lived after meeting him. Turns out he’s the only real friend I have within Acherus. Maybe one day you’ll find yourself fighting alongside a Forsaken and realize you’d found a true friend.”

Grimory shrugs. “Not likely. But you never know, I guess.” He savors a drink of gin and swallows. “So, what’s it like being a dead? Cold, I’d imagine.”

Koltira gives a short chuckle, then takes a drink. “Actually, no. I don’t feel the cold. I prefer cold weather, like the snows of Northrend. Heat is another story. The average human body temperature can be…uncomfortable in certain areas.” He fights back a naughty smirk at a memory, then allows himself to laugh anyway. He takes a drink and levels his sights on Grimory. “What about you? Are you easily cold or is it just your eyes that are fiery?”

“I’m of average body heat,” the Illidari responds, sloshing around the remaining alcohol in his bottle. “No clue about the eyes, to be honest. Just a perk of being a mutant, I guess.” He drinks. “And uncomfortable you say? You really wouldn’t like being with Ana, then.” He chuckles then lifts a hand. “I’m not being crass. Just stating a fact. I promise. No disrespect.”

Koltira sighs at the gin. “Between us, it wouldn’t happen.” He clears his throat in discomfort. “You were right. I was only saying that to get to you. Mostly to figure out what the hell you two mean to each other. You both say nothing, but your actions scream jealousy.”

“I had a hunch.” Grimory yawns into a fist. “You seem like too much of a nice guy anyway.” He takes a swig and glances at Koltira, holding the liquid in his cheek before swallowing. “And maybe I am jealous. Maybe I do like her.” He nibbles at his own bottom lip with sharp teeth. “Maybe.”

Koltira grimaces. “I’m really not a nice guy, but it’s…more complicated than that.” He gulps the gin and swishes it around in the bottle. “Ana is…an easy person to like.”

Grimory hums in agreement as he drinks. “She is. She’s very…accommodating.” He casts a glance down the hall. “Very smart. Very…” He sighs and downs the last of his gin, closing his eyes to feel the buzz. “As I’ve said. She’s a good friend.”

Koltira also finishes his bottle and sets it on the table. He takes the opening in his fingertips and spins it along the tabletop. It falls from the edge and he catches it. He sighs. “The worst part of all this is the boredom during our camps. No offense, but, we’d save a lot of time if you didn’t have to sleep.”

The demon hunter raises his eyebrows and gives the man an unenthusiastic stare. “Well excuse me for being alive,” he says sarcastically. “You realize that most people need sleep. It’s why inns exist at all.”

Koltira shrugs. “I did say, ‘no offense.’ I’m used to patrols and training recruits and… Not waiting around.” He slides the bottle away and scrutinizes the demon hunter. “Why was Ali in your tent last night?”

“She wanted to touch my tattoos and watch me sleep.” He slides his own bottle toward Koltira’s, hoping to tap the other bottle hard enough to tip it over but not knock it off the table completely. “Weird, but whatever. She wasn’t hurting anyone.”

Koltira nods. “You glow and you sleep. That can entertain her for days.” He stretches and rubs his face, wanting to get another round but knowing that neither of them should be drinking any more than they already have. “So, how does an Illidari, such as yourself, wind up traveling the world with the most reclusive mage I’ve ever met?”

Grimory leans back to put his feet up, but decides it best to lie down lengthwise on the bench when the alcohol makes the room swirl. “It was the second assignment I’ve ever been given. I was basically told ‘Go to Dalaran and ask if you can help’. So I did. Spoke with the Main Man runnin’ the place. He wanted me to go to Suramar to see if I could get the people there on our side against the Burning Legion—why it would take months of convincing just to get someone against the Legion is beyond me—and asked if I would bring his apprentice along for the sake of ‘research’.” He shrugs, then puts his hands behind his head. “As much as I wanted to say no, Sunfury told me to agree to anything the old mage said. So I did.”

“Do you resent it?” Koltira asks, leaning forward to cross his arms on the table and lean his chin on them.

“Resent what? Doing what I was told? Meeting her?” Grimory sniffs loudly and looks up at the ceiling. “I guess not. She’s gotten us out of some tight situations. And…to be honest, the Suramar thing probably would have taken longer without her.”

“I can see how that would make things much easier. It does make me wonder what the motivations are for her to be out in the world when she’d clearly rather do her research behind books and away from people.” A few tavern patrons exit; Koltira watches them go, lazily taking in their weaknesses as though they are opponents.

“Her motivations are the same as mine. She’d walk through a lumber miller for that old man if he told her to,” Grimory says, a tone of sourness in his voice. He pushes his boots off onto the floor.

Koltira smirks. “Is that a hint of jealousy in your voice?” He chuckles and eyes the demon hunter.

Grimory tilts his head to give Koltira another unenthused glance. “I have no right to be jealous,” he says, skirting around the question.

“Jealousy isn’t a right one earns. You can be jealous of another man’s ability to capture the attention of someone you care for, whether you’re in a relationship of any kind or not.”

“If you’re looking for some kind of confession, you’re barking up the wrong tree, friend.” He turns his gaze back to the ceiling. “She can make her own decisions.” He scrunches up his face. “No matter how wrong.”

Koltira shrugs and mumbles, “Not looking for confessions. You wanna be jealous, be jealous. I’m jealous about things. I bet that ugly-ass mutt in the corner is jealous about something.” His gaze slides to mangy Worgen hiding his muzzle behind a stein of mead.

Grimory cranes his head as inconspicuously as possible, then snerks and lies back down. “So that’s what that smell is,” he says with a smirk.

Koltira holds back a chuckle at the Worgen’s expense. He snorts, then breaks down laughing. He tries to contain himself, but the effort only makes him laugh harder.

Grimory joins in the laughter before sitting up. “I wonder what Ali’s up to. Hopefully not stealing more cabbages.” He stretches and watches the elderly innkeeper saunter off down the hallway to retire for the night. “Or worse. She seems like a troublemaker.”

Koltira puts his hands over his face. “I’m supposed to be keeping an eye on her. If Mograine ever finds out she’s been running around like she has…ugh.”

“Your superior, I take it? What’s he got against her? I mean sure, she’s pretty wild, but…”

He chews on his lip and lays down on his own bench, glancing at Grimory under the table. “She’s out of control. While I was gone, no one could keep her in line. Then when they found the trunk in Bloodmist’s stable stall… Thassarian saved her life, again.”

The demon hunter lifts his eyebrows. “There’re…so many questions I could ask from that.”

Koltira laughs. “That’s not one of her hot-button subjects, so it’s safe to ask. Just be ready for an ear-full. And repeated ‘They overreacted, I did nothing wrong!’” He raises his voice an octave to sound more feminine at the end, then laughs again.

“Couldn’t I just ask you? I feel like her answers would be, well, all over the place.” Grimory taps his blunt fingers on the wood of the table. “Your answers would probably be more informative—minus the Alisbeth impression.” He laughs dryly.

Koltira sighs. “Okay. Not as exciting as when she tells it, but… She’d been sneaking out of Acherus seeking to avenge…” He clears his throat. “I guess someone smelled something in the stables, they went to look and she went absolutely rabid. They restrained her and found dozens of rotting Forsaken heads. Her ‘collection’. Mograine ordered her execution, Thassarian came up with an alternative.” He sighs and presses his palm to his forehead, and closes his eyes. “She was only distraught before. What you see now is a product of being locked in a room for four years, unable to sate the bloodlust our kind feels.”

Grimory gives a solemn nod. “I can understand her rage. It’s a shame she feels the need for revenge to begin with.” He pokes a tooth out of the corner of his mouth to scratch at his lower lip. “What were you gone for? Military leave?”

“Reprogramming,” he says, using his fingers to make air quotes. “Wasn’t my choice.”

The demon hunter furrows his brow, his eyes widening slightly. “Did you get caught?”

Koltira furrows his brow, then remembers. “Oh, right…ten years in a crystal. Short version, I made a treaty to gain control of Andorhal in the Western Plaguelands. Sylvanas didn’t like how I handled the situation and took me to Undercity, saying I’d gone soft. Alisbeth in her worst mood is a vacation compared to that.”

Grimory lifts his eyebrows again. “Sylvanas Windrunner? The Warchief?” He grins impishly. “I wouldn’t mind being reprogrammed by her, if you catch my drift. But seriously, that sounds like no fun.”

The death knight sneers. “First of all, gross. Second, she has her human boy toy. Third…gross.” He sniffs indignantly.

Grimory shrugs. “Hey man, she’s hot. Don’t judge. Plus, she’s not really undead. Well she is, but, like…more ghostly than rotting.” He shudders. “Otherwise I’d say no thank you.”

Koltira raises incredulous eyebrows at the demon hunter. “She’s a banshee possessing her own corpse. She’s more undead than I am. She was dead longer than I was.” He shakes his head. “But if that’s your taste in women…” he bites the inside of his cheek to keep from accidentally bringing Anarchaia into the conversation.

“I recall saying not to judge me,” Grimory replies, holding his hands up defensively. “I’ve decided not to judge you and your strangely open marriage. Grant me the same respect.” He laughs.

Koltira chuckles awkwardly. “I suppose that’s true. I mean, who am I to judge anyone having relations with a corpse?”

“One would dare to call you a hypocrite,” Grimory grins.

He purses his lips and nods, deciding to say nothing. Maybe one day you’ll find out…

Grimory stretches and groans. “Ugh, that’s right. Ana took the last room. Guess I’m not sleeping tonight.” He glances around for the handmaid. “May as well get drunker, then.”

Koltira laughs. “Could just shove her over and pass out.”

“That room is a bio-hazard.” Grimory orders himself another bottle of gin from the tired maid. “I’d rather just drink so much that I don’t care where I pass out.”

“Whiskey, please. Whole bottle,” Koltira calls after the maid, giving her as charming a smile as he can. He turns his attention on the demon hunter and shrugs. “Fair enough. But if you end up cuddling me we’re going to have words.”

“I dunno,” Grimory says with a grin and another shrug. “From behind one could easily mistake you for a maiden. Such long hair and slim shoulders. Would hardly be my fault.”

Koltira laughs. “You’re just mad that you couldn’t pull it off to have hair this long. It’d probably get tangled in your horns, anyway.”

“I’ll have you know I had an impressive ponytail in my youth.” Grimory shoots a thankful grin at the barmaid as she drops off the men’s bottles. “But you’re right. I had to cut it all off after, well, this.” He draws a circle in the air around the crown of his head. “Was a sad day.”

Koltira nods in agreement and pops the cork from his drink. “I gotta ask something…”

The demon hunter lifts a brow while doing the same. “Sounds important.”

He takes a drink and leans across the table as though what he has to say is a secret. “Are you as bored of all this as I am? Aside from the girls, this has really been…well, boring.”

Grimory nearly chokes on his drink as he laughs. “Are you kidding? I’ve been bored of this since I met Ana. The whole Suramar thing was a big drag. No fighting. Lots of talking, running errands for strangers.” He sighs and glances back out the window. “I’d rather be on the frontlines somewhere.” He takes another drink and examines the outside of the bottle. “Or fishing.”

Koltira narrows his eyes, ignoring the last comment for a moment. “Well, there was that one time when we tried to kill each other. That wasn’t boring. Truth-or-Dare with Ana was fun. But I have to agree, I’d like to be killing things. So would Ali.” He clears his throat. “Speaking of which, I apologize in advance.”

The corners of Grimory’s lips tighten at the mention of Truth-or-Dare, but he says nothing. “For what?” he asks suspiciously.

“She gets excited when she gets to kill things.” Koltira shrugs.

“Nothing wrong with that.”

He takes a drink and furrows his brow. “So…fishing…”

He narrows an eye. “What’s wrong with fishing?”

“You like to fish? Like…when you’re awake? Intentionally?”

“It sounds like you’re judging me.” Grimory takes a swig of his bottle. “All right, pretty boy, what do you like to do in your free time?”

Koltira thinks hard, nursing the whiskey as he does. “My last year in Quel’Thalas I did a lot of herb gathering. But in my defense, it was because Alisbeth was an apprentice apothecary and it was the least suspicious way for me to spend time with her. After that, I, um…” He furrows his brow. “I’ve not had any time for myself since I died. Before Ali arrived, I did a lot of fletching. I suppose it could be called a hobby.” He shrugs and takes another drink.

Grimory narrows his eyes. “You make fun of me for enjoying fishing…and you pick flowers.”

He smirks. “Are you saying I was wrong to use flower picking as an excuse to spend time with a beautiful maiden? She’s the only part of it I enjoyed.” Koltira picks at a splinter in the table. “I’d go for weeks without seeing her…herbs for the apothecary was the best excuse we found.” He takes a drink and sets his sights on Grimory. “Okay then, what’s so much better about fishing?”

“Peace and quiet.” Grimory chews on his own words for a moment, the alcohol impairing his ability to reason. “And fish. Fish are tasty. You can’t eat flowers.” He pauses and narrows his eyes at his own comment. “Well you can, but…” Bringing the bottle to his lips, he takes a long drink, the contents no longer burning his throat. “I suppose I can’t chastise you for doing something lame for the woman you love.”

“Ha!” Koltira smiles and chuckles into the bottle. “I didn’t love her when I started. I just thought she was beautiful and couldn’t think of any other way to get her to the temple. She, um, didn’t like me much, I don’t think.” He takes a drink and laughs. “She actually punched me for it.”

Grimory raises his eyebrows and laughs. “Does she have a good arm on her?”

“Oh, that’s right, she hasn’t hit you yet. Short answer: yes.”

“I’d say it was all worth it in the end, yet.” He takes another drink. “And here’s to hoping she never does.”

“You’ll get it one day, probably for no reason. Just wait.” He smiles and takes a drink, realizing how hot his face feels.

“So Truth-or-Dare with Ana.” Grimory grasps the edge of the table to steady himself. He glances down the hallway then lowers his voice, leaning forward. “Did you make her show you her face?”

Koltira chews on the inside of his lip. He takes a drink and plans his response, but his plan fails as his drunken mouth instead says, “I’d already seen it. Didn’t need to.” His eyes widen and he stops. “See, that’s not what I meant to say. I meant to say…something else that sounded less absurd.” He takes a drink and sniffs ambivalently.

The demon hunter leans back as if having been physically struck. He fumbles over his words, the bottom of his bottle thunking against the wooden table as he sets it down. “You’re joking. You’ve gotta be,” he slurs. “How could you have?”

Koltira laughs casually. “Well, I mean… You’ve seen one Kaldorei you’ve seen them all, right?” He chugs a few swallows of his whiskey as he stares at Grimory from the corner of his eye.

Grimory scowls. “That’s bullshit. There’s a reason she hides her face all the…time.” He swallows, struggling to keep his sober appearance. He leans forward again and narrows his eyes. “Tell me.”

Koltira smacks his forehead onto the table and grumbles into the wood. He holds up an index finger. “I made a promise and I won’t break it no matter how much I drink. But she hides her face because she’s an idiot.”

Grimory grits his teeth and leans back in an attempt to not appear desperate. “How so?”

Koltira doesn’t lift his head. “Because she’s very pretty,” he says into the wood. “But she thinks she’s ugly.”

The Illidari scrunches his face. “That sounds stupid.” He drinks. “I mean, I get that a lot of women are really insecure but going so far as to not show your face to anyone?” He scoffs. “Well, besides the old man and you, apparently.” His teeth graze at his lower lip, the irritation rising. “There’s gotta be something. She can’t be a boy, that’s for sure. Does she have a scar? Maybe a burn mark?”

The death knight shifts in his discomfort. “No, no. No.” He clears his throat. “No. Nooooo.”

“Wait, you said she was asleep, right?” Grimory stands quickly, his bottle nearly toppling over as well as himself. “I’ll…be right back.”

Koltira launches across the table, his heels toppling the bench. He grabs the demon hunter’s arm and pulls. “Don’t you dare. That’s dishonorable.”

Grimory grunts as he’s pulled, bending at the waist. He catches his fall with a hand on the table. He grits his teeth and wrenches his arm away and straightens. Reluctantly, he sits back down and grumbles. “I guess you’re right,” he mutters. After a moment, he narrows an eye. “You realize your reaction only raises more questions.”

Koltira throws his hair back over one shoulder and straightens indignantly. “What sort of questions?” He bends and rights the bench, nearly misses sitting on it, then takes a seat and clasps his hands on the tabletop in a professional manner.

Grimory struggles not to laugh at the man’s demeanor. “Like why you’re trying so hard.” He takes up his bottle again and narrows an eye. “You’ve not known her for very long. Why bother?”

“I…understand where she’s coming from. She deserves her privacy as much as any of us.” He shrugs and finishes what’s in his bottle. “I haven’t gotten this drunk in a long time, I’ll admit that.”

Grimory gives a nod as though involved in some deep, intellectual conversation, a thumb and forefinger around his beard. “So she is ugly. Well, that’s a shame.” He drinks and slams the bottle back down, feeling a mixture of bitterness and curiosity. “And is that so? Sounds like you need to get out more, friend.”

“I have been free from Undercity for only a few months,” Koltira says with a slight slur. “I’ve been busy with other things, like keeping Alisbeth from doing all the stupid shit that got her locked up in the first place.” He sighs. “Anarchaia’s not ugly. Not to me, anyway. Very cute. I wonder—never mind. No I don’t.” He tips back the whiskey bottle, then growls as it has remained empty.

“Welcome back t’ the real world, then.” Grimory grins and slides his own, half empty bottle across the table before tilting his head. “You wonder what? You can’t juss say shit like that ‘nd not expect me t’ ask.”

“You, Sir Grimory, are trashed.” Koltira accepts the bottle and takes a drink, then puts it back in front of the demon hunter.

He narrows his eyes and purses his lips, nodding again. “Fair point.” He points at Koltira with the neck of the bottle. “Not a good ‘nuff diversion, though.”

Koltira sighs and purses his lips, already hating himself for what he’s about to say out loud, even though it had only been a passing thought he never wanted answered. “You an’ me. Like… If Ali were to chooose who’s better…” He shrugs. “Dumbest thought I’ve had in a long time.”

Grimory furrows his brow. After a moment, he scowls. “Yer damn right iss the dumbest thing you thought.” He goes to take a drink but instead keeps talking. “The hell would you think that? She obviously loves you a lot. Don’t…Don’t be stupid.”

“Hey,” Koltira snaps, “we’re not talkin’ ‘bout love here.” He looks around and smacks his lips together, narrowing his eyes at Grimory. “Isn’t it past your bed time?”

The demon hunter bristles and squares his shoulders. “I was trying to make you feel better,” he slurs. “Y’know. Fer being dumb.”

Koltira points at him. “Don’t make me kick your ass again.”

Grimory stands and leans in close. “I’m sorry, I didn’t quite catch that,” he growls, his breath heavy with gin.

Koltira stands to put his face in Grimory’s. “Don’t. Make. Me. K-Ki-hick…” He chuckles, then composes himself. “Your. S-stupid fel ass… Again.” He purses his lips as he releases an airy laugh through his nose, though he tries to look perfectly composed.

Grimory breathes out a similar chuckle, not bothering to contain himself. “I recall yyyyyyou being on th’ ground la-hahast time,” he laughs, poking a blunt finger into Koltira’s shoulder.

“I let you off easy,” Koltira says, poking the Illidari’s shoulder in return.

Alisbeth comes stomping into the room as though she has two left feet; she spins around as she walks, scanning the room wildly. She bumps into the table with her rear and jumps as though it had snuck up on her. She turns around and stares at the two with wide, panicky eyes. “H-heeeeeey…boooys….” She grips the top of her head sack tighter in her fist.

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