Talonrest comes into view hours later, just as the sun crests the tree line. Grimory saunters along behind the death knights, his wear and lack of sleep obvious in his demeanor and speed. Multiple times he readjusts Anarchaia within his arms—despite usually having little trouble carrying things many times her weight. He groans when he sees the small camp consisting of a single tent and one shelter. “Is that Talonrest? Please tell me it’s not. Someone grab the map from Ana’s bag.”
Koltira searches through Anarchaia’s rucksack. He traces their path with a finger and frowns. “That’s Talonrest.”
Grimory’s head tilts dramatically to the side and he sighs again. “Ugh. Do you think whoever lives in that tent will let us sit a while? I really need to sit…horizontally…with my eyes closed.” He glances down at Anarchaia and frowns. “And I’d rather not wake her just so she can conjure the tent. I’ll sleep on a jagged rock at this point. I really will.”
“Only one way to find out,” Koltira says.
As the party approaches the tent, a Tauren woman greets them warmly and looks up from her morning chores. “Good morning, travelers,” she says, her beaded braids swaying as she stands. “You look weary.” She regards Grimory in particular.
“Very,” the demon hunter says in return. “We have a sick friend. You wouldn’t happen to have room for us for a short while? We can pay.”
The woman chuckles, her chocolate eyes bright. “Our camp is fairly humble, but we always have room for those in need. Come, sit by the fire. Lie your tired or sick in my tent and I’ll see to them.”
Koltira hands his pack to Alisbeth.
She drops down by the fire and smiles at him.
He holds out his arms to Grimory. “You go rest, I’ll take over with Ana.”
“Yeah.” Grimory hands over the sleeping mage without a second thought or word, his tired brain thinking of nothing but rest. He lets the cheery Tauren woman guide him to a clean mat made of tanned hide, thanks her profusely, and lies down.
The Tauren chuckles to herself and steps back outside to resume her chores. “It appears tea is in order. Do any of you have a preference?”
“Do you have anything minty or spicy?” Alisbeth asks.
Koltira shakes his head. “I’m fine. But thank you for your hospitality. Right in here okay?” he asks, indicating setting Anarchaia on the second mat.
“I can make something that’s both if you like,” she responds with a grin, then nods to Koltira. “Yes. Please, make yourselves comfortable. I’ll be in in a moment—have to get the water boiling.”
After cautiously checking to ensure Grimory is asleep, Koltira lays Anarchaia on the mat. He purses his lips, wanting to check under her mask to make sure she’s okay. Instead he sighs and decides to respect her privacy.
“I like your camp,” Alisbeth says with a big grin. “It’s cozy.”
“It does us good, yes. We don’t require much out here,” the woman muses, placing a pot of water over the fire and preparing a few mugs. She gives Alisbeth an endearing grin as if to say she’ll return and ducks into her tent. “So, what seems to be the problem?” she asks Koltira in a hushed voice, three-fingered hands rubbing together.
“She fell ill yesterday and…seems to be asleep or unconscious. Which concerns me since she’s…” He clears his throat and double checks that Alisbeth isn’t listening and the demon hunter is unconscious. “She has a, um, preexisting condition?”
The Tauren chuckles again. “That information would be somewhat useful.” She kneels beside the mage and gives her a once over. “No sweating. No shaking.”
He clears his throat again and says on a barely audible whisper, “She’s Forsaken. She doesn’t sleep. The fact that she’s asleep is what has me worried.”
“Oh. Well, that is a problem,” the woman says, frowning. “Herbal remedies don’t really seem to work on the undead. She could just be resting because it’s all she can do.” She gives Koltira a sad smile. “Sadly I’m not skilled in any sort of healing. All I have are wholistic remedies.”
“Thank you all the same,” Koltira says. “Hopefully she only needs rest.” He stands and goes out to sit beside Alisbeth.
She smiles. “You and Grim got pretty drunk last night.”
Koltira only nods and leans back as the weariness catches up with him.
The woman steps back out into the circle around the fire, pouring hot water into a mug filled with peppers and mint leaves for Alisbeth and one with chamomile for herself. “I’m Kewauna, by the way,” she says, handing Alisbeth her tea. “Excuse my lack of manners.”
“Oh!” Alisbeth bounces on her rear and takes the tea eagerly. “We’ve all been rude. I’m Alisbeth, this is Koltira. Rude-head in there is Gojira and sleeping beauty is Aslan.” She sips her tea and smiles as her lips burn and buzz at the same time.
Koltira laughs. “They’re actually Grimory and Anarchaia. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Kewauna.”
The horned woman sits and continues to peel her potatoes. “So, what brings a mage, a demon hunter, and two death knights out this far?” she hums. “Surely it can’t be the weather.”
“We’re on an adventure!” Alisbeth cries in excitement.
Kewauna chuckles at the girl’s enthusiasm. “Every day is an adventure, child. Surely you have greater goals if one of you is ill and yet you press on.” She shrugs. “But it’s none of my business.”
Koltira chuckles. “Orders from the mage’s master in Dalaran.”
The woman hums and nods again. “Orders. Can’t say I’m a fan, but I suppose that’s why I’m here,” she says in her slow, deliberate way. “Not sure if the dead have a need to eat, but can I offer you anything, regardless?”
Both shake their heads. “No thanks,” Alisbeth chirps. “I had a lot of cabbages last night. I like crunchy things.”
“How long have you been out here?” Koltira asks.
Kewauna smiles, throwing the skinned potatoes into a metal basin filled with water. “Oh, I’ve lost track. Perhaps ten years? Didn’t start seeing adventurers like you lot until recently, however. Has something happened?”
“Are you kidding?” Alisbeth squeals. “Demons fell out of the sky!”
The woman raises her eyebrows but continues to peel her vegetables. “Demons, you say? I suppose that would be cause for some alarm. And you four are aiding in the fight against them I take it?”
“We are,” Koltira says. He smiles and gazes around the area, taking note that except for some wildlife it’s a rather quiet area. With a sigh he tries to imagine that this is where they’re stopping and that it’s their own—just Alisbeth and himself. He closes his eyes, envisioning what it would be like—but then snaps them open again at the imagined sound of a child’s laughter.
The Tauren’s ear flutters as she peels and gives a slow nod. “Hm. How noble. It’s good to see good people like you fighting for what is right. A great sacrifice indeed.”
~ * ~
The day drew on. Alisbeth lay on the ground for much of the morning, watching the sun move across the sky as Koltira helped Kewauna in various chores around the camp.
Grimory groans as he steps out of the tent, shielding his eyes from the afternoon sun. He gives a glance around the camp and furrows his brow. “Is Ana still out?” he asks. He yawns and sets himself on the ground beside Alisbeth. “Or did she die? She’s pretty motionless in there.”
Alisbeth widens her eyes. “What if she did die? What would we do? What if—”
“I’ve been checking on her all day,” Koltira says. “She’s still resting.”
“Your friend is fine…in a loose sense of the term,” Keawuna says, pushing a tightly bound bundle of firewood onto the top of the tall pile beneath the shelter. “It appears to be nothing serious.”
“Just looked like a cold to me,” the demon hunter says. “This isn’t the first time she’s slept this long, so I’m sure she’s fine.” He sighs and glances at the sun again, a palm shading his eyes. “We shouldn’t stay much longer, though. The, uh…farther we are from that inn, the better.”
“Pfft.” Alisbeth shakes her head at Grimory. “Much too paranoid for your own good. Sit down. Have some tea. Stop looking like a suspicious character.”
Grimory gives Alisbeth a look. “We are suspicious characters,” he hisses under his breath. “You think they haven’t–” he stops himself, remembering the girl’s teary-eyed face from the previous night and growls, turning away. “Regardless.”
“Looking like one doesn’t help,” she snaps back. “Now shut up and drink this wonderful cow’s tea.”
Koltira chuckles as he helps pull a cleaned hide from the drying rack. “Just do what she says, Grim. I’m sure it’ll help calm you down, anyway.”
Grimory backs down, glancing over at Kewauna. “You wouldn’t happen to have any lemongrass back there, would you?”
The Tauren smiles and prepares another kettle over the fire. “I would happen, yes.”
“More travelers?” A large Tauren man covered in black fur steps into the camp, a woven basket under an arm and a chain of fish slung over the other shoulder. “That’s three times this month alone.” He sets the basket beside the tent and affixes the fish to a hook on the shelter. He claps his hands across one another to brush off the dirt, then holds one out to Koltira. “Rusk. My wife is taking good care of you, I trust?”
Koltira takes the offered hand. “Indeed, she is. Thank you both for your hospitality.”
“Bah!” Rusk releases a booming laugh and claps Koltira on the shoulder. “I’ve only just got here! Don’t thank me, yet. Plenty of time to screw things up.” He turns to the group as a whole, fists on his hips. “So what brings the three of you all this way? Surely not the weather.” He laughs again.
“They’re adventurers,” Kewauna says in her quiet voice, smiling as she pours two cups of tea. She hands one to Grimory and the other to her husband. “Out to defeat the demons that fell from the sky.”
“Demons, eh?” He drinks the steaming tea in one gulp and sets the mug atop the wood pile. “Looks like you’ve already got ‘em on your side.” He grins at Grimory, who doesn’t reciprocate.
“I’m…not…” the demon hunter mutters with great restraint.
“Calm down, son, I’m only playing.” Rusk takes a seat beside the fire and warms his gigantic hands.
Alisbeth giggles and flops sideways to lay back down, resting her head on Grimory’s thigh. “He’s not a demon! But he does eat them! He’s a demon eater.”
Koltira closes his eyes and purses his lips, but ultimately decides to let Grimory handle this one.
Grimory’s lips thin to an unimpressed line and he stares blankly at no one in particular. “Sure. Yes.”
Kewauna titters and sets to cleaning the fish. “They brought a sick friend with them. In the tent.”
Rusk hums. “Is it grave?”
“Not seemingly so.”
“Good!” the Tauren man barks. “You all stay as long as you need—until your friend in there either stands again or dies.” He laughs.
Grimory clears his throat, the joke somehow seeming less funny when someone else says it. “Thanks, really. We appreciate the kindness.” He casts a glance down at Alisbeth. “Though, again, we really shouldn’t stay long.”
Alisbeth sticks out her lower lip. “But, do we have to go? I like it here. It’s so peaceful. Don’t you feel it? Like nothing bad could ever happen in this camp.” She smiles and closes her eyes, sighing in contentment.
“We do,” Koltira says. “Once Grimory has recovered we’ll get our things and get out of these nice Tauren’s way.” He smiles at the two in turn.
Grimory lifts his hands and scowls. “I’m all rested. So sorry to inconvenience you with my mortality.”
Kewauna looks up from her work. “Are you sure you should go on, with your friend’s condition?”
Grimory glances down at Alisbeth patiently, gesturing for her to move so he can stand. “It’ll be okay. We can carry her until she wakes. We’re…kind of on a schedule. It’s what she would want.”
Rusk grunts and gives a helpless shrug. “I mean, we’re in no position to stop you from going, but know that we’re more than willing to accommodate you for a night or two if that’s the problem, here.”
Alisbeth folds her arms over her chest and doesn’t move as she puckers her lips in annoyance at Grimory.
“We’ll be fine, I assure you. She has friends in high places. I’m sure we can arrange for any help we may need, should she not recover.” Koltira leans against a shelter support post.
“Have it your way,” the Tauren man grumbles, grabbing a carrot from the basket of freshly peeled vegetables and taking a bite. “You’re welcome back any time.”
“That’s an invitation I’m sure we’re all eager to accept. It really is beautiful out here.”
Grimory stares down at Alisbeth, unamused. “Don’t make me move you.”
Alisbeth sticks out her tongue in a childish manner and folds her arms over her chest.
He grabs her tongue with a thumb and forefinger, still scowling down at her. “Let me up, Ali.”
“Even a short introduction of new friends is an introduction nonetheless,” Kewauna muses in her dreamy tone, nodding and continuing her cleaning. “We look forward to your next visit. And perhaps we can meet your mage friend the next time.”
“Oo coul hath thaith peath,” Alisbeth says.
Grimory releases her tongue and gives a forced grin. “Please?”
She smacks her lips and sits up. “Your fingers taste like dirt.”
Koltira laughs. “Come get ready, Ali.”
Grimory scrunches his face, her words reminding him that he hasn’t bathed in over a day. He stands and retrieves their bags from the tent.. He returns with the girl in his arms He extends a fistful of coins to Rusk. “Thank you again for your hospitality.”
“We’ve no need for money out here, boy,” Rusk responds, gently pushing Grimory’s hand away. “Knowing we’ve done good to help is payment enough.”
“Thank you so much for your help, today,” Kewauna hums to Koltira. “Please, do take care of yourselves.”
“Aww,” Alisbeth pouts, “I could have given you a nice pelt as thanks, but Gator blew it up.” She digs through her pack and finds two candy canes. “Here! Thank you! Happy Winter Veil.”
Koltira sighs and ignores trying, once again, to remind her that it hasn’t been Winter Veil for months. He instead smiles at the Tauren woman. “It was my pleasure. Nice busy work. Thank you again for putting us up for the day.”
The Tauren couple wave as the group makes their way back to the path heading east.
“Our best bet is to maybe find another inn,” Grimory explains. “With a healer.” He chews at the inside of his lower lip. “Or some means to get ahold of…” He shakes his head after a moment, willing the thought away. “Or just wake her, I guess. I mean, she can’t be that sick…”
Koltira raises an eyebrow at the demon hunter. “Oh, yes, just wake her. How do you propose we do that if all this jostling around hasn’t worked yet?”
“Oh! We could shake her more violently. Just take her shoulders and—” she takes Koltira by the shoulders and starts shaking him, thrashing her whole body melodramatically. “Wake up Able! Blaralargarblar!”
Koltira shakes her from him and narrows one eye. “If you could avoid doing that to me, that would be fantastic.” He peeks over at Anarchaia. “Okay, so, get a hold of who? Her master?”
Grimory bites back a laugh at Alisbeth, snorting through his nose. “I dunno, it was just a thought. No need to be so moody.” He shoots Koltira a sideways glance. “And we don’t need his help. I can easily care for her. I’ve done it before.” Granted, she wasn’t ill last time, but still, he thinks to himself, pulling the mage close.
Koltira shoots the Illidari an unamused scowl. “I’m not moody.” Just concerned about a dead person acting more dead than usual. “And please, enlighten the rest of us on how you ‘handled’ it last time besides just letting her lay there for days?”
“I-…” Grimory huffs and looks away. “I made sure she was safe. It was all I could do.”
Alisbeth smiles kindly. “I think it counts. And I bet she was happy to have you watching her sleep like some creep. Except you weren’t being a creep! But it’s still creepy.”
Grimory turns his head to look at Alisbeth with a confused smirk. “Says the girl who was watching me sleep two nights ago.”
“That’s different,” she chirps. “You let me do that.”
“You think Ana wouldn’t ‘let me’ watch over her while she… You know what? Never mind.”