Chapter Twenty-Six

Alisbeth saunters up to the inn and smiles at Anarchaia, who is waiting outside. She looks up at the grey morning sky, then sets a small bag in the mage’s hand. “I tripled your earnings.” She doesn’t wait for a reply and heads inside.

Anarchaia looks down at the bag in her hand for a long moment and sniffles. She shakes her head as Alisbeth passes. “I’m…not even going to ask.”

With the same calm, she walks to Grimory’s room and kicks the door open, breaking the lock. “Good morning!” she calls as she runs across the room to leap on him.

Grimory shoots to a sitting position when the door to his room is broken open and flinches as a rogue splinter hits him. He cries out as he’s tackled, then laughs tiredly. “Morning, Ali. What’s up?”

She smiles and yanks the splinter from his arm. “It’s morning. We’re going. I think. Oh, also…seen Koltira?”

Grimory feigns a wince as the shard of wood is removed then shakes his head. “No. Not since I was awake anyway.” He winces for real as he shifts and looks down to inspect the healing wounds on his shoulder and ribs—they’re raised and red. “Have you seen Ana?”

“She’s outside. I gave her money.” Alisbeth pats the top of his head. “I’m gonna go find Kolty.” She leaves the room at a skip. After a short search outside, she finds Koltira sitting at the edge of a cliff overlooking a misty bay. “Time to go.”

Koltira nods and looks up at her, then stands and allows her to lead him back to Anarchaia. “Morning, Ana.”

“It certainly is,” she responds with a small smile to the two, though it’s hidden beneath her mask. “All set? Not forgetting anything?”

Grimory appears moments later, his luggage slung over a shoulder, and yawns.

“I think we’re good,” Koltira says, still visibly off in his own world.

Alisbeth smiles. “Lead the way mage-face!”

“It’s not much further,” Anarchaia mumbles, clearing her throat and sniffling again. “We can probably get there in a day and a half or so.” She stops as something catches her eye. “What is that?” An arm on his shoulder, the mage pushes Grimory to face her.

Grimory hesitates and pulls away to hide his wounds. “It’s from the fight yesterday. It’s fine.”

Koltira narrows his eyes at the demon hunter, his mind replaying the fight and coming up blank on that particular wound. He shoots Anarchaia a look, but decides to keep his mouth shut.

“I got this one. Are you concerned about me, too?” Alisbeth says, weaving her way to the mage with a finger pointing to the slice in her jaw. “Someone should be concerned. It’s right on my face.”

Anarchaia avoids Koltira’s gaze and instead looks at Alisbeth’s cut. “I…am generally afraid to ask where you get your wounds, Ali.” She sighs. “If either of those get infected, I’m going to be very irritated. Please keep them clean.” She glares over at Grimory from behind her mask.

“I will,” he hisses like a scolded child. “Stop being so bossy. We’re all adults.”

Anarchaia scoffs and turns away. “Barely.”

Alisbeth’s eyes sparkle as she remembers the fight. “He tried to slit my throat but I moved because I’m fast and a better fighter and that’s why he’s dead and I have a second mouth.” She puts her fingers at the top and bottom of the cut and moves top make it open and close. “Hello, Adderall, we sure had fun defending your honor!” she says in a tiny voice. The wound opens and she flinches as she shakes the blood from her fingers. She smiles innocently at Anarchaia. “We’ll be fine.”

Anarchaia winces in disgust and looks away, her stomach turning. “You didn’t have to do that. You know I’d prefer you didn’t.”

Alisbeth frowns. “I’m sorry.” She moves away from the mage to stand by Koltira, who hands her a small cloth to put over the wound.

Anarchaia purses her lips, not having wanted to sound so cold. “No, I’m sorry,” she says gently. “I didn’t mean to be rude…” she trails off when she realizes her apology means very little.

Grimory grunts from the back. “If we could use that horse, this trip would be much quicker.”

“We could go get her!” Alibeth offers.

Koltira shakes his head. “No, it would take too long to go all the way to Acherus and come back. Besides, I think we’re nearly there.”

The day presses on and the group talks of this and that, here and there. Passersby on their way to Valdisdall seem bemused by the bickering and banter when they are within earshot, then glance back over their shoulders at the strange quartet when safely out of earshot. A hawk screeches above when the sun touches the mountains to the west. Mist blows over the land.

Koltira looks ahead to a massive tower and stops on the edge of an immaculately designed bridge. “I’d say a god lives here.”

“I’d say you’re right,” the mage hums, lifting a hand to shade her eyes as she peers off into the distance. “A god isn’t the only thing, I’m afraid. I see sconces holding green flames.”

“Demons? Here? Well, I suppose it’s not too crazy an idea.” Grimory rubs his hands together excitedly. “It’s been weeks since I’ve gotten to do my job. This’ll be fun.”

“Just control yourself this time, if it isn’t too much to ask,” Anarchaia grumbles beneath her breath.

The Maw hungers,” Alisbeth says in a gutteral growl as she withdraws her axe.

Koltira cocks his eyebrow at Anarchaia. “Control killing demons? Which side are you on, anyway?” He gives a friendly wink and begins the trek across the bridge.

“That’s not what I meant,” Anarchaia says in a low tone, following closely behind. “He can get…out of hand.”

I’d say I’ve gotten better since the last incident,” Grimory says, a hand on his chest in a haughty manner. “No need to worry.” He elbows Alisbeth. “Ready for more bloodshed?”

Alisbeth tosses her bag at Koltira and hops onto Grimory’s back, her axe in hand and an excited grin on her face. “Bet I can kill more than you!”

Koltira frowns ever so slightly. “She acts as if I won’t join.” He slings her bag on his shoulder and purses his lips at Anarchaia. “We’re never going to get them to stop, are we?”

“Yeah, not a chance,” Grimory laughs and takes off running down the bridge as quickly as he can.

Anarchaia nearly stumbles as she’s shoved past. After regaining her footing, she gives Koltira a solemn frown behind her mask. She looks on after the other two, but doesn’t follow. “I-I don’t know what you mean,” she says, rolling her thumbs over one another. “Stop acting like children? No, probably not.”

“Stop acting like children. Stop killing demons in the near future… Other things. I don’t know how you handle him on your own. Ali is easy—she’s short and I can carry her away.” Koltira smiles down at the mage.

Alisbeth leaps from Grimory’s back as they near the first demon. “Mine! Called it! That one’s mine!” She races to pass him and reach the demon first.

“I don’t, in all honesty.” The mage dodges a flying ball of fel fire as they near the group of Felguards keeping watch over the gates. “He does what he wants and I deal with the fallout.” She freezes two hungry-looking Felhounds in solid slabs of ice, then turns to sneeze. “Ugh. What an inopportune time to be ill.”

Grimory slices his way through some low ranking imps, then laughs at Alisbeth. “Are we going by number or size?” He narrowly steps out of the way of a beam of emerald energy. His arms grow in size as they mutate further; spines poke through the flesh. He turns to a tall, looming Inquisitor cursing them in Eredun.

Alisbeth runs into a horde of demons, drops a red ring of decay on the ground, and raises her weapon high. Dozens of tendrils reach out from her axe to pull that many demons to her. Once surrounded, she shouts and the air around her mutates in a black and red mirage of sudden heat. Lesser demons die instantly, stronger ones stay to batter the death knight; she returns the blows, conjuring a swirling ring of bone around her torso. She sucks the life of one through a swirling red torrent into herself. Then her aura turns crimson as she drains the lives of the surrounding demons. She screams a laugh as it invigorates her. One demon flees, realizing what weapon she holds, but she pulls him back and slices him in two. She turns to smile at Grimory. “Number. By my count you’ve got some catching up to do.” She spins around and runs screaming into another group of demons.

Grimory scoffs and smiles. “Easily amended!” He takes flight and turns, exhaling a cloud of crackling fire over the masses. Not stopping to assess his work, he crashes back to the weathered stone below. Eyes aflame with adrenaline, he runs through the masses with his claws out, raking them through legs and armored bellies. His grin widens as warm, green blood splashes his face. He makes his way after Alisbeth, toward the staircase at the end of the courtyard.

Koltira dispatches a few demons, smirking as he gets to sate his own blood lust. He doesn’t stray far from Anarchaia’s side. “Know of anything that could cure you or at least make the sneezing go away?”

Anarchaia gives the death knight a grin, holding the Inquisitor that had attacked Grimory in a stasis above the ground. “Death, preferably,” she chuckles and throws the monster off the side of the bridge. Pushing her hood back, she takes off after the other two, leaving sweeping torrents of fire in her wake like a ship cutting through waves. “Slow down! It’s not a race!”

“That’s cheating!” Alisbeth squeals at the demon hunter. She slides to a halt in front of a huge Moarg brute with a club. An evil smile spreads her lips and she rolls between its legs and clambers up its back.

Koltira laughs. “Death is not a cure, remember?” He stops, his eyes wide as the brute stomps across his path, kicking and smashing demons in its way.

Wee!” Alisbeth laughs and twists her axe in the brute’s spine to make it turn and stomp over another pack of helpless imps.

“All’s fair in love and demon slaying,” the Illidari laughs, cutting his way through a small pack of Felguards. He ducks when one swings its gigantic scimitar at his head, then brings a claw up to slice the demon’s arm at the elbow.

Anarchaia stops at the sensation of the earth rumbling beneath her feet. She quickly steps out of the way of the rampaging monster. “We just need to get up the steps, guys!” she calls out regardless if either Grimory or Alisbeth can actually hear her. She rolls her eyes and turns back to the path the demon hunter has cleared. She dodges another slavering Felhound maw and kicks it aside as she goes.

“Up the steps? Okay!” Alisbeth wheels her Moarg brute around. It runs toward the gate, swinging its mace wildly.

Koltira dives out of the way as the brute thunders from behind them. “Ana, look out! Ali, just kill it!” He turns himself ghostly and rushes forward to catch up, then leaps onto Alisbeth’s ride. He swings Byfrost in an arc, slicing at the demon’s spine.

The mage turns at the distant sound of her name. Her eyes widen at the beast now barreling in her direction. She stumbles as she walks backward and curls an arm over her head in defense, but the brute, blinded by pain and rage, steps over her completely. Anarchaia glances back up, thinking herself safe, only to find a Doomguard looming over her instead. She lifts a hand to blast it back with fire, but the flames that wash over its face are green.

Smoke billowing from his lips, Grimory scoops up Anarchaia and turns to follow the other two. “For a powerful mage, you sure aren’t very coordinated.”

She scowls up at him and flails, trying to make him drop her, but to no avail. “I could have handled it myself!”

Alisbeth twists her axe, removes it, then drives it farther into the demon’s skull. With a pained roar it stumbles forward and falls to the steps, dead. “Stairs!” The death knight spreads one arm up and one down as though presenting the stairs to the others as some sort of prize.

Koltira rips Byfrost from the brute’s spine and sighs up at her. “Let’s try to not trample each other in the future. Please.”

Alisbeth scoffs. “Ah-ch-pfft. You guys were fine!”

Grimory sets Anarchaia down near the others on the steps. He places his hands on his hips as though he’s won an award, and grins. “You’re welc—”

He ducks as the mage hurls a massive cyclone of flames past his head, setting the tips of his mane ablaze. The Doomguard—having caught up after having its face burned—howls in agony and flops to the stone below, writhing as it slowly burns.

You’re welcome,” Anarchaia huffs, poking him hard in the chest. She takes a step toward the staircase before turning and tossing a conjured orb of water at his head to douse the flames, then turns back to follow Koltira and Alisbeth.

Alisbeth’s mouth drops open. She leaps down the stairs to stand beside Anarchaia. “Oh my gods! Do that again! Light this on fire!” She motions at the dead Moarg brute. “If you fwoosh it you’re my new best friend for life and I’m gonna keep you safe and happy and…I’ll pat your head a lot and make sure no one ever cuts it off.” She nods excitedly while flailing gestures at the corpse.

Anarchaia flushes and waves a dismissive hand. “Oh,” she laughs. “It wasn’t that impressive. But if it’d please you.” She flicks her wrist and the entirety of the brute’s corpse explodes into roaring flames. “Head pats won’t be necessary.” She pulls up her mask to sneeze in the opposite direction.

Alisbeth grabs the mage’s head and presses a kiss into her forehead then grabs her in an excited hug. With an arm still over Anarchaia’s shoulders, she turns to watch it burn while bouncing on the balls of her feet. “It’s so pretty!”

Koltira allows her a minute as he cleans the green blood from his blade. “Can we get going before these steps are swarmed?”

The mage chuckles some and weaves herself out of Alisbeth’s grasp. “He’s right, we should get going.”

Grimory pushes past the three, hair dry and neatly styled once again. “So he’s just inside, then? Watching us do all this I presume?”

Anarchaia shrugs. “I guess we’ll find out.” She presses on up the steps after him. “I hope he’s nice…”

Alisbeth smiles up at Grimory as he passes. “I won.”

The demon hunter chuckles and rolls his eyes. “Only because I had to save Ana.”

“I told you I could have handled it,” Anarchaia growls as they pass beneath the massive archway into the halls. Once inside, she stops and gives a look around, then frowns to find nothing but immaculate pillars and a marble floor so clean she can see herself in it. “This clearly isn’t the throne room,” she says, “but I expected him to be here for some reason.”

“Oh, nobody’s home? Guess we should go kill more demons!” Alisbeth turns around and takes a step for the doorway, but Koltira grabs her by the arm.

“Just wait.”

“I see the exterminators have arrived,” comes a low, booming voice through the halls. A man the size of a building materializes before the group, skin made of metal and a beard of flowing magma. “Sorry. I’m afraid we have a bit of a pest problem, you see.” He laughs at his own joke. “I was told of your coming. I figured you’d be here sooner, however.”

“Uh, I suppose that’s my fault,” Anarchaia says timidly, tapping her index fingers together. “I don’t like to fly, you see, and I can only teleport to places I’ve already been, so…”

“It’s no matter,” Odyn cuts her off. “Better late than never. I have a larger problem than the demons on my doorstep. I was told four valiant heroes were on their way to aid me.” He narrows an eye down at them and runs his fingers through his molten beard. “Valiant may have been a generous word.”

Alisbeth runs to stand between Odyn’s feet and smile up at him. “Your beard looks very hot. Does it burn? Can I touch it?”

Koltira rushes forward and wraps an arm around her waist to drag her back to the group.

Anarchaia grits her teeth at Alisbeth. “Y-yes!” she continues quickly, as if moving on will draw attention away from the death knight. “Anything you ask. It’s what we’re here for, after all.”

The titanic man bends down to grab the mage in a single hand. She skitters away and he immediately tries again—this time successful. “It’s difficult to hear such tiny voices,” he grumbles, ignoring her terrified screams. He straightens and continues when she quiets again. “Helya has been a busy woman. As of late she’s been keeping souls that she has no business keeping. I need some brave warriors to delve into Helheim and remind her of her place.” He glances down at the other three. “Are you brave warriors?”

Alisbeth scrunches her face to think. “You know what, big guy?” she screams at the top of her lungs. “I’ll be whatever you want as long as I get to kill things. I’ll kill Helya!”

Koltira gives Grimory an aggravated look as he sighs at Alisbeth’s words.

Grimory returns the glance, furrowing his brow as he looks up from his nails, clearly not paying attention. “What?”

The god laughs a laugh that rings through the room. “The enthusiasm is much appreciated.” He turns his ethereal gaze back to the mage in his palm. “You’ll have to go to Haustvald. In the depths of the crypts you’ll find a gateway into Helheim. I advise you be careful. Helya will try all she can to keep your souls there for eternity.”

Anarchaia stands shakily. “You can count on us…your…highness?” She winces at herself. “Is there perhaps a quick way to get there?”

Odyn strokes his beard in thought. “Normally I’d call one of Stormheim’s dragons, but none have answered my call in days. I suspect they, too, are dealing with the demon menace.”

Anarchaia waves her hands. “That’s not necessary.” She clears her throat. “We’ll find our way. Thank you.” She mumbles, “Please put me down, now,” out of the corner of her mouth and, though he did not appear to hear, the titan obliges.

“Me next! Me next!” Alisbeth shouts, trying to pull away from Koltira’s grasp. “Lemme go! I want to ride the hand!”

While struggling with her, Koltira looks up at the titan. “Thank you for your time,” he says loud enough for Odyn to hear. He bends his waist enough for a respectful bow.

Odyn gives the faintest of nods. “Good luck, travelers.” His visage fades into nothingness.

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