Anarchaia gives a shudder and steps back toward the archway. “Well, I can teleport us back to Valdisdall. We’ll have to hoof it from there, though.” She pulls out her map. “We’re actually well ahead of schedule.” She grins. Master will be happy to hear.
Grimory groans and stretches. “More walking? Can’t you just not be such a coward so we can ride? Or fly, even?” He scrunches his face when she shoots him a look from beneath her mask. “Fine.…”
Alisbeth leaps onto Grimory’s back and wraps her limbs around him. “I’m gonna ride. Mush, Glamdring, mush!”
Koltira pulls at her waist. “Ali, could you please get off him and show a little decorum?”
Alisbeth just giggles and doesn’t budge.
“She’s not hurting anyone,” Grimory says with a grin, following Anarchaia with Alisbeth on his back.
Back outside, Anarchaia steels herself as she prepares the portal back to Valdisdall. The air around her robes circulates, kicking up dust and foliage. The air crackles and spins until a small light grows into a swirling oval. “Go on ahead,” she calls, gesturing with her chin. “I’ll be right behind.”
Koltira waits for the other two to go through, then stands to stare at Anarchaia for a long moment. He opens his mouth to speak, but decides against it. The mage’s lips twitch to a sympathetic frown. but she hides it. Instead, she shows no signs of noticing. Eyes on the ground, he passes through the portal to Valdisdall. She sighs and steps through after them.
“I say we get a head start and get on the road ASAP,” Grimory says, turning to the other two. “We still have daylight. Best not to waste it, yeah?”
“Who needs daylight?” Alisbeth chirps. “Three of us don’t sleep, one glows in the dark, and one can light everything on fire and just make it really bright for us! Oh! And you saw how the Redblade reacts when I’m pissed off. Give me the sword and get me angry.” She grins and laughs evilly.
“You’re not taking Byfrost,” Koltira says sharply. He shakes off his thoughts, attempting to appear nonplussed by his wife clinging to Grimory in every way one can cling. With a deep breath he turns to Anarchaia. “I have to agree with Grimory. Getting started sooner will see us at the end of our journey in no time.”
Anarchaia shrugs and coughs into the back of a hand. “I’ve no qualms with that,” she chokes out. “It’s just northeast of here. Shouldn’t take too long. Tomorrow morning at the latest.”
Grimory takes off running down the northeastern path. “Let’s go, then!”
The mage growls, letting him go. “I’ll stick to—” she coughs again “—walking.” She follows, rolling her eyes at their behavior. “If only they were as mature as they are strong…”
Koltira takes up his new usual spot beside Anarchaia. He remains quiet for a long time, just listening to their footsteps. “Let me know if you have the sudden desire to cling to me like a monkey.”
Anarchaia cocks her head up at him to gauge if he’s serious or not, then can’t help chuckling. “Did you want me to? I can if your back is feeling chilly,” she laughs.
Koltira shakes his head and eyes the two ahead. “You should know by now I don’t feel the cold. I’m just making sure that isn’t your type of fun.”
Alisbeth slips and digs her fingernails into Grimory’s shoulders to hold on. Grimory winces, but makes no comment. She boosts herself higher and rests her chin on his shoulder.
“How much stuff do you think there is to kill?”
Grimory slows to a walk. “Hopefully lots. This trip has been so boring up until now.”
Alisbeth furrows her brow at him. “What about the first night? And the night in the tent—wait, that was only fun for me. Unless you really like sleeping. And then there was the cabbages and the Worgen and the Night Elves.” She grins and lowers her voice, though no one is close enough to hear. “And the human…” She bites her bottom lip and pokes his cheek. “I’ve been having loads of fun.”
Grimory flushes but smiles. “I suppose you’re right. I’ve been having fun, too. I just miss the action of a good fight.” He stops briefly to readjust her weight on his back, his hands under her thighs to keep her up. “I want more of that kind of fun.”
“I don’t care about a good fight, I just want to watch things die! And especially be the one doing the killing!” Alisbeth giggles.
Grimory gives a laugh. “That must be why we get along so well.”
Anarchaia opens her mouth to reply, following Koltira’s gaze. She closes it again and sets a gentle hand on the back of his arm. “You…” She sighs and retracts her hand, smiling again. “That’s not my idea of fun, but you wouldn’t like mine much, either. What’s yours?”
He smirks darkly. “For the past four years my hobby was planning out my escape and eventually just daydreaming about the life I’d have once I got out. Now I don’t really know what to do with myself. When I’m not busy with Alisbeth, I read or just sit and think. Sometimes I’ll spar with Thassarian or help train some initiates.”
The mage nods as she listens. “You and I aren’t so different after all, then.” She glances down at the dirt as she walks, clasping her hands behind her back. “Was it that bad? In Undercity, I mean.”
“I was in a cage…most of the time,” he says. The death knight gives a shrill whistle directed at the two ahead.
“That’s awful,” Anarchaia mumbles beneath her breath, then glances up at the sound.
Alisbeth glances back and pats Grimory on the shoulder. “Slow down. We’re getting too far away.”
Grimory rolls his eyes and slows to a stop to wait for the other two. “Maybe if they weren’t so slow.” He scrunches the side of his face in irritation. “He’s just jealous,” he says up to her in a low tone.
Alisbeth tsks and rolls her eyes. “Koltira doesn’t get jealous. He just worries when he can’t see me. If he can’t see me, I could get lost, I could kill someone I shouldn’t, or I could die…again! And I think that would make him sad. I know I’d be sad if I saw him die again. The first time was awful. I didn’t even have time to mourn.” She swings her feet back and forth in the air and smiles at the two making their way up the path.
“If you say so,” the demon hunter says with a shrug. “Not saying he isn’t justified, anyway.” He turns again to walk when the other two are within earshot.
Anarchaia stretches her arms and conjures her parchment and quill to idly take notes as they trek. “It’s not a race, Grim.”
Koltira peeks over at Anarchaia’s parchment, curiosity leading him to snoop.
“No, but I’ll be glad when this is all over, to be honest. I’m really more of an instant gratification man.” He smiles at the thought of the commendations he’ll get when his superiors catch wind of his accomplishments.
Alisbeth squirms to get down from Grimory’s back. The Illidari releases Alisbeth from his grasp, wincing at the still healing wound in his ribs. He turns his head at the sound of fluttering feathers, then pauses to look as a large, black bird lands itself upon Anarchaia’s shoulder. He furrows his brow.
“Uh, where did that crow…?”
The mage grins widely as she takes the bird by its small talons, then giggles, her mood brightening. “Grim, this is a raven.”
“Same difference,” he scoffs, rolling his eyes.
“Uh, no,” Anarchaia responds. “Ravens have beards.” She runs a finger under the bird’s chin as though giving some sort of demonstration. “They also have diamond-shaped tails and are larger in size. Oh! They also say rawk-rawk as opposed to a crow’s caw-caw.” She smiles at the bird in her hand, but frowns after a moment of silence. “I said, they say rawk-rawk—ow!” She flinches away from the animal’s beak as it makes contact with her forehead.
“I’ve been looking everywhere for you!” the raven squawks, feathers ruffling in irritation. “I haven’t heard a word from you in nearly three days. I told you, when—” The dark eye on the side of its head shifts from Alisbeth back to Anarchaia. “When on this particular journey, you give me frequent updates.”
Alisbeth hunches down and moves her back feet like a cat ready to pounce. All at once she leaps forward, her hands grabbing at the bird as she screams, “Don’t you hurt my friend!”
Gasping, Anarchaia whirls away from Alisbeth, then stumbles to the dirt when she becomes tangled with the woman. “Ali, no!” She hugs the bird tightly to her chest as she turns, feathers fluttering to the ground. “This is my teacher!”
Alisbeth continues to stretch for the raven. “I don’t care who he is! He’s dinner if he thinks he can smack you in the face for no reason.” Koltira drags Alisbeth off the mage and holds her back as she flails with all of her limbs.
The raven struggles in Anarchaia’s arms, then stops and furrows his tiny brow as he listens to the air flowing through the inside of her torso. “And you’re ill as well? What else have I not been informed about?”
“Nothing!” Anarchaia responds, pulling the creature away from herself. “We’re fine! All is going well. I was…actually going to contact you later.”
“No one smacks faces but me! Do you hear me? Stupid rave—Oh…” She stops and straightens, then casts a devious grin at the other girl. “A raven, huh?”
Koltira keeps his hands around the other death knight’s waist to keep her from another outburst. “It’s a pleasure to meet you,” he says to the raven from behind her shoulder.
The raven flitters from Anarchaia’s hand and onto the dirt. He hops a few paces away before, in a flash of blue-white light, coming to stand up as a tall, aging man clad in metal scales and leather. Khadgar brushes his tousled hair back and adjusts his collar. “And I you, Koltira Deathweaver.” He extends a gloved hand to help his apprentice back to her feet.
Grimory folds his arms and watches the scene before him, clearly amused. “We just got back from talking with Odyn, actually.”
“Have you?” he addresses Grimory, thick eyebrows raised in interest. “What did he say?”
Anarchaia eyes Alisbeth as she stands, the woman’s tone change causing her to become suspicious. “He said he wants us to seek out Helya in Helheim.” She clears her throat.
Alisbeth slips from Koltira’s grasp and goes to Anarchaia to jab her in the side with her elbow. “Who’s your gentleman friend?” She gives him a manic yet charming smile, then widens her eyes. “Oh! Oh! The bird is on his stick!” She jumps over to Khadgar and grabs at his staff to see the bird at the top.
“Master Archmage Khadgar,” Anarchaia responds, then gasps sharply again as Alisbeth makes to grab the staff. “Ali!” she hisses.
Koltira rushes forward and drags her back, her limbs flail in his grasp again.
“Hi Kitkat! Can I see your staff?” Alisbeth pleads, her arms outstretched.
Archmage Khadgar pulls Atiesh out of Alisbeth’s range, furrowing his brow in confused concern when the death knight is again subdued. He glances at Anarchaia. <<How have you lasted this long?>> he asks in Dwarvish, then shakes his head when the Forsaken girl shrugs in response. “Helheim, you say?” he continues. “If that’s the realm I know it to be, I’m honestly concerned for you all. I didn’t expect Odyn to task you with something so…dangerous.”
Koltira furrows his brow at Khadgar, though his grip remains strong on Alisbeth. “Dangerous how?” His eyes flicker to his wife as a small fear of losing her nags at his mind.
The man clears his throat, turning slightly away from the two so that he stands between Alisbeth and Atiesh. “Those who linger too long in the mists of Helheim have been known to lose their minds, and the ones who do wander forever in its depths. Only your soul will be allowed entrance.” He again gives his student a glance as if to say something more but turns back to the rest instead. “If you do not succeed you surely won’t return.”
Alisbeth stops and frowns. “Is… Is it like having your life drained out of you? Because I’m not sure I want to do that again. It hurt. And I stayed alive for hours and—”
“Shh.” Koltira takes her into his embrace as she breaks down crying, still telling her story to his breastplate, though her grief jumbles her speech. Koltira turns to Khadgar. “I’m sure we can handle it. Some minds are harder to break than others.”
Khadgar shifts uncomfortably at the woman’s over-sharing, then nods. His blue eyes flick to Grimory for a brief moment as if expecting him to respond as well, but he turns to Anarchaia before the demon hunter can do so. “I don’t doubt that you will succeed. However—”
“We will succeed,” Anarchaia says quickly, then covers her mouth as she swallows a coughing fit.
Khadgar sighs and runs a palm over his hair again, still doing his best to ignore Alisbeth’s sobbing. “Please understand when it’s appropriate to retreat?”
“And when it’s not,” Grimory grunts.
Anarchaia scowls in the demon hunter’s direction. “I do. We’ll be fine.”
The Archmage chews on the inside of his cheek for a long moment before placing the same palm on Anarchaia’s head and nodding to Koltira and his wife. “Again, a pleasure.” His gaze then flicks to Grimory and his eyes narrow. “Take care, Grimory.” Before the blond Blood Elf can respond, the man turns and becomes airborne in the form of a raven.
Anarchaia smiles sadly as she watches her teacher go.
Alisbeth spins around, eyes wide and no hint of her sobbing. “Wait! I didn’t get to say goodbye!”
Koltira cocks an eyebrow at Grimory, his eyes flicking between the demon hunter and the raven.Grimory catches Koltira’s eye and his scowl deepens before he turns away.
Alisbeth goes behind the mage and wraps her arms around the smaller girl’s shoulders and chest. She presses her cheek into the other’s. “I hope it doesn’t hurt. I don’t want you to feel what it’s like to die. It’s not fun. I’ll protect you, okay?” She pets the side of the cloth mask and hums a soft tune.
Anarchaia stiffens in Alisbeth’s arms, her lips pursing and the prompted memories flooding her mind. “I-…” She swallows hard and sets a palm on Alisbeth’s forearm. “Thanks, Ali. I really appreciate that. You’re very sweet.”
Alisbeth lifts the mage onto her shoulder again and squeezes the girl’s thighs in a sort of hug with her head and arm. “You’re going to be my shoulder cannon. You’re going to light everything on fire. Okay?” She makes her way to the men.
Koltira nonchalantly takes a place just behind Grimory’s shoulder. He waits a long while before saying, “Something tells me he isn’t the founder of your fan club.”
“Observant, aren’t we?” Grimory says casually, continuing on down the path. “He’s not fond of me, no.”
“What did you do? Fuck the woman he loves?” Koltira laughs and holds up his hands before the demon hunter can respond. “Kidding, of course. I already told you it was okay. One-time pass. Only because you’re an okay guy…mostly.”
Grimory cocks his head at the first part of Koltira’s response and merely stares into the man’s face as they walk, hoping the other will catch his meaning.
Koltira raises his eyebrows and clears his throat in the awkwardness. “So, um…is it a habit of yours or…?”
Anarchaia gives a nervous chuckle, placing a hand on Alisbeth’s crown to steady herself. “Hopefully there won’t be any fire-lighting that’ll be needed,” she says sheepishly, clearing her throat. “But if you insist…”
Alisbeth grins up at Anarchaia. “I insist very much.”
The mage chuckles. “Unlike you, I’m not really fond of hurting people. Heh. I’ll make us campfires and stuff, though.” Her quill and parchment continue behind them, scribbling away.
“And you’ll burn the evidence,” Alisbeth whispers up to the mage. She gasps and jumps. “We forgot to burn the evidence!” Alisbeth shouts, staring pointedly at Grimory, though her eyes shift to Koltira as well.
“I—” Grimory’s eyes widen at the voice calling out behind him, but he doesn’t turn around.
Koltira furrows his brow at Grimory. “I thought you took care of the worgen?”
He thinks quickly. “Th-the Night Elves,” he says. “We left their bodies at the bridge.”
“Goliath! Did you hear me?” Alisbeth calls.
Koltira turns to look at her. “Ali, it’s fine. A pair of bandits isn’t something anyone will miss.”
Grimory turns his head to give Alisbeth a painful smile over the shoulder opposite the side Koltira is walking.
Alisbeth stares between the two men, her brow furrowed. She raises her eyebrows and casts Grimory an apologetic smile.
Anarchaia frowns at the mention of the bandits. “You guys really didn’t have to kill them to begin with…” she grumbles, glancing back at the setting sun behind her. “Most problems can be solved without violence.”
Alisbeth looks up at the mage. “They deserved it. We were doing the world a favor. And why solve things without violence? It’s fun!”
Anarchaia’s frown turns somber. “You can’t be sure we were doing the world any sort of favor. Maybe those men had children and knew no other way to provide…”
Alisbeth turns her head away from the mage, her ears drooping with sorrow. “Even children are not safe from the evil of this world.” She removes Anarchaia from her shoulder and sets her down, then continues ahead to pass the others and lead the party through the yellow-orange of the autumn forest.
As the sun dips completely below the mountains behind them, the birds around fall silent. Anarchaia sends away her notes and takes a long drink from her flask of water. “We should stop for the night,” she mumbles and yawns. “Roads aren’t safe when it’s dark.”
“Oh please, Ana,” Grimory responds. “Who’s going to attack a group of four?”
“A group of five,” she responds pointedly, furrowing her brow up at him.
Koltira chuckles. “Five? Is that all? That wouldn’t even be a fair fight for them.” He gives Anarchaia a charming smile. “Especially if you stick around to help.”
Grimory gives a half-laugh, half-scoff. “No kidding.”
Anarchaia ignores Grimory and returns the grin reluctantly, then sighs and produces a small flame in a palm. “All right. We’ll travel through the night then.”
Alisbeth slides in between Koltira and Anarchaia, slipping her hand into his. She gives the mage a sinister grin. “Not afraid of the dark, are you?” she asks with a low growl to her voice.
Anarchaia narrows her eyes beneath her mask. “Perhaps at one point. There are more reasonable things to be afraid of, now.” She brings the flame below her chin and it casts dramatic shadows over her face. “Are you?” she asks in an equally low growl.
Alisbeth smiles. “As you said, there are more things to be afraid of now. Like being alone in the dark. You can’t hear anything. You can’t see anything.” She steps behind the mage and presses her hands over Anarchaia’s ears. “It’s just you and your thoughts. All alone. Sometimes I think I’ve stopped existing. Sometimes I think I’m nothing but a thought. I have no body. Just a whisper in endless black.” She releases the mage and goes to curl into Koltira’s arms, having thoroughly frightened herself. “Being nothing is scarier than darkness.”
A shiver goes up Anarchaia’s spine. Like being dead. “Sometimes I think I’d rather be nothing,” she says with a chuckle.
“Oh, stop being so dramatic,” Grimory grunts.
“And I suppose you’re not afraid of anything?” Koltira asks.
Alisbeth shakes her head. “Everyone is afraid of something.”
“I didn’t say that,” Grimory replies. “I’m just not going to tell you.”
Anarchaia scowls, remembering his giving of her personal information. “He doesn’t want to die alone.”
Grimory grits his teeth and gives Anarchaia a look. “Thanks.”
Alisbeth strides to the demon hunter, her eyes wet with tears. She takes his hand in a comforting squeeze. “That’s a good thing to be afraid of. It’s terrifying. And sad.”
Koltira grits his teeth and stares at the road, determined to stay out of the conversation.
“If you say so,” Grimory grumbles and rubs the pad of his thumb over her cheek to wipe away the tear trail. “I’m more afraid of what will happen if we don’t stop the Burning Legion.”
“Same,” Anarchaia admits from the back. “That’s why we’re doing all this. We need all the help we can get.”
Alisbeth bats Grimory’s hand away when he doesn’t listen. She growls and stomps away, unable to bring herself to convince him how terrible it is, her mind unwilling to recount how alone she’d been.
Koltira pulls Alisbeth under his arm and decides to diffuse the tension building between all of them. “So, Grim, what say after all this mess you and I find a good spot and you show me what’s so wonderful about fishing?”
The demon hunter rolls his eyes at Alisbeth’s unpredictable nature and pulls his ears back at the sound of his name. He laughs. “Sounds good to me. I’ll bring the ale.”