Twenty-Three

Grimory glances up at the sky and sighs. He eyes a couple of goblins as they pass going the opposite direction, their golden eyes and studded leather armor glinting in the setting sunlight. He gives them no second thought and trudges on.

“Your armor is shiny!” Alisbeth exclaims and strokes a goblin’s pauldron. “I like it!”

Without a word he slaps her hand away, glares up at her, and continues down the road.

Alisbeth frowns and stomps to her companions. “That was rude. I really want to kill them. Can I kill them?”

“Please don’t kill anyone else, Ali,” Grimory groans. If you hadn’t the first time we’d still be at the cozy inn with hot water, booze, and beds. “We don’t need any more trouble. Remember what I told you?”

Alisbeth frowns and stares at the ground, her brow furrowed in concentration.

“Grimory is right,” Koltira says. “Let’s keep going. Hopefully Ana will wake up soon…probably to yell at us for going the wrong way or something.”

“Who’s going the wrong way…?” Anarchaia mumbles, lifting her head from Grimory’s shoulder and sniffling.

The Illidari stops and looks down at her in surprise. “You’re awake! Are you okay? You had us worried sick.” He sets her on her feet when she pushes away from him.

“I’m fine, I just…fell asleep. Sorry.” The mage glances around in confusion. “Where are we?”

“You’re not dead!” Alisbeth leaps to Anarchaia and picks her up in a huge hug.

“We just left Talonrest,” Koltira replies.

Anarchaia whimpers as her insides are crushed. “Why?” she manages to squeak, attempting to break free from Alisbeth’s arms.

“We just…figured you didn’t want to waste time. So, we continued on, since you didn’t seem to be waking up anytime soon.” Grimory folds his arms over his chest and kicks at the dirt as if uninterested.

Alisbeth releases her and nods emphatically. “That’s one hundred percent the only reason we left. Yep. Thought you’d want for us to press on in your memory.”

Koltira purses his lips. “Are you okay? You had me worried. You…you slept like the dead.” He gives her a significant look, hoping she catches onto his meaning.

Anarchaia eyes the three suspiciously, then regards Koltira. “I don’t sleep…often. So when I do it’s usually for a long time. Sometimes a week or more.” Sniffling again, she motions for Grimory to give her her bag. “Sorry to worry you. I’m okay.” She clears her throat and pulls out the map. “Most certainly not dead.”

“So, how much farther do we have?” Koltira asks, looking at the map over her shoulder.

Anarchaia traces a finger over their path for him. “Once we hit Valdisdall, it’s a straight shot to the Halls of Valor where Odyn resides…supposedly.” She rolls the map back up and stows it away, then coughs into a fist. “From there it’s wherever he wants us to go.”

Koltira shrugs. “Well, that seems fun. Let’s get going, shall we?”

Anarchaia agrees and pulls her robes from her bag, throwing them over her head as she walks. “So, uh…what did I miss?”

“Nothing much. Met a nice Tauren couple at Talonrest,” Grimory responds, fingers locked together behind his head. “Very hospitable.”

“I ate a cabbage and got yelled at by a farmer and those two got stupid drunk,” Alisbeth says. She skips along beside the group, taking in the scenery.

The mage chuckles. “Oh, did you?” She then turns to the two men and raises her eyebrows beneath her mask. “Oh, did they?” She pulls her mask up and resists a sneeze. “So, no scars this time, I pray?”

Koltira glances sideways at Grimory. “None that you can see.” His lips turn up in a sly smile.

Grimory responds with a brief laugh but otherwise admits to nothing.

“Good, because I have no means of healing you. Well, Grim, anyway. Clearly you two can handle yourselves.” Anarchaia gestures to Alisbeth and Koltira before breaking into a fit of coughing. She inhales shakily after recovering. “So, frankly, I’m happy you’ve decided to get along.”

Alisbeth runs ahead of the group to the covered wooden bridge. She leans over the side and shouts, “ECHO!” Her voice bounces from the cliffs surrounding the river and she giggles, then makes more noises to hear them bounce back at her.

Anarchaia joins her at the railing with a chuckle and takes in the view. “They say the number of times your voice echoes determines your future.” She smiles over at Alisbeth. “And how long it takes to answer determines how long you’ll live.”

“Sounds like a bunch of bullshit,” Grimory muses behind them, looking out over the cliffs and into the thick mist in the distance.

“Is that in seconds or minutes? Because I don’t think any of us follow that superstition.” Koltira stands in the middle of the bridge, avoiding looking over the side.

Alisbeth furrows her brow and cocks her head. “So, I shouldn’t have an echo? ‘Cause I’m not exactly alive. How does the number determine my future? Number of people I’m going to kill today? Number of friends I’ll have? Number of chil-…family members?” She frowns. “My family is all dead. I don’t like this game anymore.” She backs away from the railing and glares at it as though it had betrayed her.

Anarchaia smiles blankly over the railing, slowly getting used to the fact that everything she’ll ever say will be taken seriously. “Yes,” she eventually blurts with no real conviction, sniffling and turning back toward the opposite end of the bridge. She resumes walking. “Let’s…just go.”

Grimory chuckles worriedly down at Alisbeth. “She wasn’t being serious, Ali. No use in fretting over it.”

The death knight shifts in discomfort. “But I want to know what it means.”

Koltira takes her hand and pulls her along. “I’m sure it just means you’ll get to spend a long undead life with me.”

Her lips twitch as she tries not to smile. “Okay…I guess…”

Anarchaia’s quill and parchment materialize beside her as she walks, glowing with purple light in the shadows of the bridge’s covering. She sneezes into the crook of her elbow. “This bridge feels a lot longer than it appears on the map.”

Grimory laughs beside her. “Is it too much? Do you need me to carry you again?”

The mage folds her arms and gives him a look. “Why? Did you want to?”

The demon hunter shrugs and grins. “I mean, you weigh almost nothing. It’d really make no differen—” He nearly stumbles completely to the planks below as the girl’s foot kicks at his ankle. He laughs again. “You can’t even trip me properly. You’re clearly very sick.”

The chords in Anarchaia’s neck protrude. “You’re testing my—” Another sneeze. “—patience.”

Alisbeth growls. “Clearly she doesn’t want to be manhandled.” Without a second thought, she scoops Anarchaia up to sit her on one shoulder like a child. “Nothing wrong with a little woman-handling, though!”

Anarchaia gives a brief noise of surprise a she’s lifted, then can’t help but chortle. “This really isn’t necessary, Ali. Heh.”

A trio of men wait at the end of the bridge, arms folded as they lean against a support beam. One twirls a dagger around a finger.

“Bridge toll,” a tall Night Elf man grunts, stepping out to cut them off.

Anarchaia blinks from atop Alisbeth’s shoulder. “Toll? For whom?”

“The land,” responds the human twirling his dagger. “Two hundred gold.”

Grimory gives a laugh. “How about zero gold and we be on our merry way?”

The second Night Elf man moves away from his place against the post. “Or how about two hundred and we let you live?”

“We have you outnumbered,” Grimory says with a confused grin. “You can’t be serious.”

“Two men, a lady, and whatever that is on her shoulder? I’d think not,” replies the human, the dagger stopping within his palm.

Alisbeth smiles. “Are you guys joking? You’re joking.” She giggles and leans her head on Anarchaia’s thigh. “Gallop is right. I have you out-numbered. Even if I didn’t activate my shoulder cannon.” She pats Anarchaia’s leg.

The trio laughs at her. “Step aside, little girl. The men are talking.”

Koltira clears his throat to disguise his laugh. “Things to not say to her.”

Alisbeth’s smile drops and she glowers at the men. “Take it back.”

“Take it back, eh?” the taller Night Elf man muses with a grin, stepping to loom over Alisbeth. “What are you gonna do about it, lassie?”

“Look, gentlemen,” Anarchaia says in her calmest voice. “There’s an impasse here that you three clearly haven’t noticed. No one needs to be hurt if you simply let us go.”

“Or how about the ladies stay and you gents can leave,” the human laughs.

Grimory bristles and glares. “Or how about you just step aside and we don’t smash your skulls in?”

Alisbeth giggles again. “I’ll stay! All three of my friends can go if I stay, right?”

Koltira laughs quietly. “Now, I know you’re not asking them to allow a mere woman to stay behind all by herself,” he says to her.

She scrunches her face into an evil smile. “I want to have some fun.”

“Eh…I’d rather we didn’t hurt anybody,” Anarchaia mumbles, clearing her throat and hopping down from Alisbeth’s shoulder.

“Oh, come on, Ana,” Grimory says, cracking his knuckles. “Let’s keep these guys from scamming other people. That’s a good cause, isn’t it?”

“Scamming?” The tall Night Elf laughs. “We’re running a business, here.”

Anarchaia groans. “I’m honestly tempted to just pay them…”

“Who said anything about hurting,” Alisbeth says. She pulls her axe from her back and smiles at the skull on it. “We can make this as painless or painful as they force us to. Isn’t that right my little Maw. Yeeees, such a good Maw. You’re a hungry baby, aren’t you?”

Koltira raises an eyebrow at the men, who have taken a step back from the blithering death knight. “Are you sure you gents don’t have better things to do?”

The trio of bandits throw apprehensive glances among themselves. “I suppose we can let you off easy this time,” the human says through his auburn facial hair, eyeing Alisbeth and her crazed grin.

“Oh please, Geryld, don’t be a pussy,” the tall Night Elf growls, pulling a short sword from his belt and tossing it between his hands. “We’ve taken four at once before.”

Anarchaia shrinks back, her lips tightening into a nervous frown.

“Yeah, Geryld, don’t be a pussy,” Grimory echoes, claws morphing and at the ready. “Looks like it’ll just be three-on-three anyway. Afraid of a fair fight?”

“You know,” Koltira says, “I’m a little tired. I think I’ll sit this one out. Make the fight a little more fair for you three.” He signals for Anarchaia to stand behind him as he withdraws Byfrost, just to be ready.

Alisbeth laughs long and low, a manic smile spreading across her lips. She extends her tongue and licks one of the spikes of her axe. Blood trails down the blade. She pulls away, her lips and chin red with the blood from her tongue. Her hand stretches out and she points at the tall Night Elf. “You. I want to play with you. And when I’m done I’m gonna put your head in my box with the others. Because you have a pretty head.” She takes slow steps toward him, speaking like they’re best friends. “And sometimes I’ll pull you out and I’ll braid your hair and we’ll have so much fun!” She swings her axe around to slash at his belly.

The Night Elf man, having been distracted by Alisbeth’s ramblings, cries out in pain and leaps back lest she strike again. Blood seeps into the dense quilted tunic he wears. Cringing, he lunges forward, slashing at the girl’s throat.

Grimory lunges as well, huge claws sweeping wildly at the midsection of the second elf while he simultaneously avoids the human.

Anarchaia fidgets behind Koltira, chewing on her lower lip and avoiding looking at the tussle altogether. “You don’t have to protect me. I just…don’t want to be involved.” She clears her irritated throat.

Koltira smirks as he watches Alisbeth dodge easily away from the elf before spinning around him to flip his hair up. “Oh, am I protecting you? I thought I was just getting in line for anyone who decides they want to try for an easy target.”

Alisbeth leaps back in front of the elf, jabbing with her axe to poke him in the pectoral with the topmost spike.

The Night Elf grits his teeth as the spike tears through his flesh. He pushes himself away from the axe, blood trailing through the air from his injury. Considerably wounded, he makes another attempt at Alisbeth’s throat, hoping to leave some sort of lasting damage.

A fang-filled grin spread across his face, Grimory ducks out of the way of a dagger. He rakes his claws across the throat of the smaller Night Elf. Grimory pulls back as the man grabs his neck and drops to his knees.

“I don’t—” Anarchaia stops short at the sound of gurgling. Tears instantly spring to her functional eye and she turns around, pulling her hood around her head to cover her ears. She bites her lip and closes her eyes tight. “Let me know when it’s over.”

Koltira wraps a comforting arm around Anarchaia. “Describe something to me. Anything.”

Alisbeth leans back then shrieks as the tip of the sword slices a long gash into her jaw. Her eyes wide, she leaps at him, tackling him to the ground. “That wasn’t nice!” she screams. She takes his sword hand and pins it to the ground, swinging her axe around to take off his arm at the elbow.

The other death knight grits his teeth and flexes his fist tighter around Byfrost, but remains with the mage, knowing Alisbeth can more than take care of herself.

“I-I…” Anarchaia cringes as more sounds of slicing and screaming echo down the length of the covered bridge. With them come images of her basement, a cleaver, and her father. “I’ll meet you guys in Valdisdall!” she blurts quickly, disappearing in a flash of sparkles and reappearing on the path ahead, running for the plateau.

Grimory turns on the human, who steps back. He slashes at him, but Geryld nimbly dodges and holds up his hands.

“I yield!” he cries, but is instead met with claws to his forearms instead of mercy.

The Night Elf below Alisbeth makes to push her off him with a blow to her face, but his strike is weakened as her axe tears through his arm. He screams in agony and grabs his sword with the opposite hand, then attempts to aim blows at her face with the handle since the blade is too long.

Alisbeth grips the elf’s other wrist and swings her axe to cut his arm off at the shoulder. He screams out and she presses her hand to his chest, pushing down harder and harder until he’s panting.

“You’re supposed to play nice,” she whispers in his ear. She punctures the skin just above the opening, then runs the spike slowly up his ear to cut it in two. His screams come as whines as she pushes harder again, smiling as his ribs creak under her palm. “Do you like playing with me?”

Koltira stares up the path to make sure Anarchaia makes it through okay, then turns his sights on the others. He approaches slowly, unsure if getting involved is the right course of action.

“I yielded!” the human cries, stepping back again and struggling to hold his bleeding arms.

“I’m not letting you go without some scars,” Grimory sneers. Pain tears through his shoulder as the second Night Elf’s dagger pierces the muscle. He turns and rips it from his back.

The smaller Night Elf gives a bloody smirk from the ground, then chokes as his own dagger is thrust into his chest. He flinches once, then lies motionless in the dirt.

Alisbeth hums a sweet tune as she traces lines down the Kaldorei’s face. She smiles and takes her time with each doodle carved into his skin with the spike of her axe. “You’re going to look so pretty when I’m done!”

Koltira grits his teeth. He brings the human to him with a shadowy purple tendril, then immediately slams his head against the side of the bridge to knock him unconscious.

He purses his lips at Grimory. “He yielded.” He then walks over and yanks Alisbeth up by the back of her armor; she flails in his grasp. He swings Byfrost over his head and brings it down on the elf’s neck, completely severing the head.

Alisbeth kicks at her husband and screams angrily. “I was playing with him, you asshole! We were having fun! Look how pretty I was making him!”

He ignores her attacks and goes to Grimory, pushing against the demon hunter’s back with his fist. “Let’s go.”

“I wasn’t gonna kill ‘im,” Grimory grumbles, rubbing at his wound to assess the damage. He raises his eyebrows at Alisbeth’s handiwork, whistling as he’s pushed. “Nice, Ali,” he chuckles. “Clean cut. That axe must be sharp.”

Koltira lets Alisbeth down and she hugs her bloodied axe to her chest. “It’s very sharp. I love this axe.” She maneuvers to walk behind Grimory. “You’re hurt.” Alisbeth removes her gauntlet and starts drawing on Grimory’s back using his own blood as paint.

“I’m fine,” the demon hunter reassures Alisbeth. “Just a scratch.” He glances around as he walks, scowling. “Where’d Ana go? Don’t tell me she ran off again.” He tsks. “Such a coward.”

“Ana seemed really upset,” the death knight says. “She said she’d meet us ahead. In Val-Vali…Valstad…the place up ahead.”

He sucks his teeth again at Koltira’s words and rolls his emerald eyes. “She always does this. All that power and she doesn’t use any of it. What a waste.”

When they finally reach the busy encampment of Valdisdall, the sun is cutting through the dense fog over the ocean on the horizon. They’re forced to weave their way through the many adventurers and traders doing business outside the single inn.

Grimory opens the door for the death knights and glances around the equally busy tavern. “I don’t— Oh, there she is.” He gestures over to Anarchaia sitting alone in a corner, her map and a chilled copper mug in front of her. “I’m gonna check to see if she got rooms yet.” He pauses. “If there even are any.”

A few blood smeared travelers pass, counting coin from what can only be assumed was earned while killing animals for fur. Koltira sighs as he looks down at the blood-spattered Alisbeth. “At least you won’t draw any attention. You do need a shower, though.”

She smiles. “A shower would be nice. Or a bath with oils and I can just lay there and relax and pretend I’m a corpse.”

He opens his mouth to comment on her strange idea of relaxation, but decides to say nothing instead.

After securing two rooms, Grimory pushes himself through the crowd to settle across from Anarchaia. “Ana, what the hell? Why did you run?”

The mage doesn’t look up from her map. She takes a shaky sip of her drink. “I don’t like to fight,” she responds quietly. “You know that.” She glances at his shoulder and the red, angry wound. “You should go get that cleaned up. I hear this place has running water.”

The demon hunter scowls. “I wouldn’t have it if you’d done something other than run off.”

Koltira drops into the seat beside Grimory. “Lucky you, grabbing the last two rooms.”

“We’re going to spend the night under the stars,” Alisbeth says wistfully. She leans against the wall and stares down at the doodles she’d made on Grimory’s back.

“You both can have one,” Grimory grumbles, abandoning his confrontation with Anarchaia when he gets no response. “My sleep schedule’s all off anyway. I’ll probably be up all night.” He hails a barmaid to order food and drink, sticking to light ale.

“I won’t need one,” Anarchaia mumbles, rolling the map back up and sniffling. “I suppose we didn’t even need them, then. We’re just here for the baths and drink.”

Alisbeth frowns with thought. She nudges Grimory’s thigh with her toe. “Probably a good idea to shower early, before everyone starts crowding in right before bed.”

Koltira keeps his head down to avoid adding fuel to any fires that are starting between Anarchaia and Grimory.

“Yeah, why don’t you do that?” Anarchaia snaps in Grimory’s direction, mouth curved into a serious frown.

Grimory glances from Alisbeth’s foot to Anarchaia’s cold face. He stands, scoffing at her. “Never mind,” he mutters to the barmaid patiently waiting to take his order. He makes his way for the staircase.

Alisbeth smiles at the two still at the table and skips off behind Grimory. “So, showers are fun and all, but…” She glances into the tavern to make sure neither of the other two are looking, then leaps across the doorway as though the floor were a chasm. “I’m gonna have me some real fun.” She winks at the demon hunter and makes her way to the front door.

Grimory blinks down at her, brow furrowed in confusion. He glances at the two back at the table as she had, then follows out of sheer curiosity. “What kind of fun did you have in mind?” he says when he catches up.

Alisbeth pushes outside and shoulders her axe. She grins back at the Illidari. “Well, by my count, there were three guys at the bridge and two of us wanting a crack at them. Only one of us got their satisfaction.”

Grimory stops. The human’s smug face flickers through his mind. A smirk spreads across his lips and he follows. “Right behind you.”

Alisbeth takes Grimory by the hand and pulls him to run. “Let’s go!”

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