Chapter Twenty-Eight

The darkness of the night presses in on the group. Alisbeth clings to Anarchaia, keeping her eyes on the flame in the mage’s palm, afraid that if it goes out she’ll be back in her room to find the entire adventure had been all in her mind.

The trees rustle to the left, Koltira withdraws Byfrost and keeps his eyes peeled in that direction.

The flame in her hand swells to illuminate the entire area and Anarchaia glances in that direction as well. “Grim, stop,” she says, his footsteps making it harder to hear.

The demon hunter obliges and turns, then glances around cautiously when he notices everyone’s apprehensive gazes. “Why? What is it?”

Alisbeth unsheathes her axe and peers into the darkness. “It looks like…rocks?” she whispers. She laughs. “You’re afraid of a few ro-AHH!

Elementals burst through the bushes, converging on the small party. Koltira and Alisbeth act on instinct and drop red rings of decay under their feet.

Grimory also gives a laugh and places a hand on the dirt. A golden circle crawls its way around all figures. “Not demons or bandits, but they’ll do.” A sigil appears in the center. From it spring chains of a similar color and glow, pulling the elementals to the center of the group.

Anarchaia rolls out of the way of the rocky monsters as they’re pulled in her direction. She lifts a hand as she turns and the elemental nearest her begins to freeze, its parts slowly becoming encased in frost. Grimory takes the opportunity to shatter the monster with his claws. Frozen rock and ice crumble to the ground.

Alisbeth catches one of the creatures on her axe, then begins hacking at it until it’s rubble on the ground. She continues long after as Koltira holds off more, taking two down in a single stroke.

“Grim!” Anarchaia calls.

The demon hunter nods. He bends slightly at the waist and, using his hands as a foothold, hurls the mage into the air. Anarchaia thrusts her palms out before her, blasting a wave of fire to the remaining elementals—one runs off into the trees as it burns. She lands clumsily, however, and in her blunder is met with the stiff fist of one of her victims, sending her flying into the bushes.

Grimory launches himself into the back of her attacker and, with shaking muscles and a bestial growl, tears its head from its body in a shower of water and rock.

Koltira frowns at Alisbeth, who is still beating the same elemental. “Ali, it’s dead.”

“How can you tell if there’s no blood?” she demands.

“It’s not moving.”

“It could get back up!” She blows her hair out of her face and looks up at him, then jumps and smashes the rocks again.

Koltira smirks at the other two. “Nice moves.”

“We’ve had some practice,” the demon hunter says as he hurries to the roadside. “Ana! Are you hurt?”

“Only my pride,” the mage says as she takes his hand and stands. She chuckles and brushes the foliage from her robes. “Man, it is not my week…”

Koltira sighs. “If everyone is in one piece, I suggest we keep moving. There could be more.” He grabs Alisbeth’s axe to stop her pounding at the rocks. “It’s dead.” She pouts but follows him anyway.

“Agreed,” Anarchaia says. She winces and rubs her spine with a palm, then pushes Grimory along to follow the other two.

With a great deal of caution and backward glances, the party finally reaches the dusty archway of Haustvald. The air grows thick and beyond the large stone pillars rests a dense fog.

“Hm. Inviting,” Anarchaia muses, a flame once again crackling in her palm.

“Ooo, pretty!” Alisbeth skips the first steps into the misty area. She smiles up at the sheer cliffs on either side of her. “I like this place!”

Koltira eyes the others, then shrugs and follows.

Anarchaia grits her teeth. “Ali, we should probably keep our voices down. We don’t know what or who is hiding in these…crypts?” She glances down at a skull near her feet and shudders. “We should use caution. The dead have always been known to be restless.”

Grimory scoffs and pushes past the mage and into the mists. “We should use caution. You always say that and we always turn out fine.”

“Grim, I’m serious. Not only is it nighttime, but this fog is quite dense. Please stick close.”

Alisbeth stops and turns to smile at the others’ silhouettes in the fog. “Don’t worry, Armani, it’s f—”

Koltira furrows his brow at the spot where Alisbeth’s figure disappeared from. “Ali?”

Anarchaia sighs loudly in frustration. “Honestly, why do I even speak?”

Grimory scowls. “Hey, I’m still here. I listened.”

“Okay, great. Thank you.” The flame in Anarchaia’s palm expands again to illuminate the surrounding area, but the light merely bounces off the fog. “Ugh. Alisbeth?”

Koltira withdraws Byfrost and holds it with both hands. His jaw clenched, he moves forward into the fog, eyes wide as he scans the area for signs of the other death knight.

Anarchaia follows closely behind so as not to lose any more group members. “Ali?” she calls quietly, concern overshadowing the irritation in her voice.

The hairs on the back of Koltira’s neck raise up. “This isn’t regular fog.”

“You’re right,” the mage responds, straining her eyes behind her mask. “This is…advanced fog.”

“That was the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,” Grimory whispers through the silence.

Koltira stops. “Shh, do you hear that?”

The two quiet at Koltira’s command. Anarchaia looks away from the bright light his blade is emitting. As though from far away, chanting echoes from the cliffs to surround them, muffled to a whisper by the thickness of the fog. He raises Byfrost; the green glow of the blade illuminates into the whiteness. Koltira narrows one eye at the mage, then returns his attention to the chanting. A small rock sails through the mist toward Grimory’s head. The demon hunter cries out sharply in pain and surprise.

What the hell?!” he hisses, blood trickling down the side of his face as he glares in the direction he suspects it came. “Ali, I swear if that was you…”

Another rock sails into view, just a little to the left of the first. Koltira dives out of the way, landing across a stone cut at a right angle. He grits his teeth and looks up to find himself face to face with a skull. A larger rock sails into their light.

“Ana!” Koltira cries out as warning.

Anarchaia blinks in no particular direction to avoid the hail of stones, irritation returning. “Who’s there?! Show yourself!” she lifts the fire above her head and it grows to a significantly larger size.

Two stones shoot through the air at the same time. One lands on the back of Koltira’s head, gravity making it heavier, as the other sails to hit the demon hunter again. The death knight growls as pain splits through his skull. Grimory flinches and whirls around, eyes aflame as he barks more expletives.

Thoroughly annoyed, Anarchaia pulls the two men to her position using her magic. She throws up a protective shell of arcane energy to effectively shield them from any further assault. “I’m not going to ask again!”

Koltira eyes two stones that fly over their heads. “That way.” He points and nudges the other two into walking.

Two voices become apparent, growing louder as they move forward. One voice is low with a harsh accent, the other is high and familiar.

“Alisbeth! Gods dammit!”

“Over here!” Alisbeth shouts.

Her friends come into view and she smiles brightly and waves with one hand. Beside her is an ethereal being. They sit, smiling, on a low cliff’s ledge, holding hands.

The ethereal being drops the rock in her hand. “Hello, little ones. I am glad you found us.”

Alisbeth grins. “She didn’t want me to get lost again and you guys couldn’t hear us screaming. Could you? It was my idea to throw the rocks. Did you see them?”

The mage and demon hunter both glare, annoyed at the situation but unable to form any valid arguments.

“We saw,” Anarchaia finally says, the shield dissipating. “Who is this?”

“This is Ashy-tear. I told her that we’re going into Helheim and she said that she could help us.” Alisbeth hops down from the ledge, her excitement growing.

The being raises an eyebrow at Alisbeth and blinks. “I… My name is Ashildir. I am Queen of the Valkyra. I hope your size is not reflecting of your prowess as warriors, for I have need of the skills Miss Alisbeth has told me of.”

Alisbeth bounces on the balls of her feet. “I told her we’re awesome.”

Grimory sets his palms on his hips and grins as though he wasn’t just afflicted with a head injury. “Well, she wasn’t wrong.”

“What do you need done?” the mage replies, her parchment and quill already at the ready.

“There is a runeseer, Faljar, who has been working to banish me to Helheim permanently. He uses dark magics, forbidden magics, to do his rituals. I fear he may succeed. I require your assistance getting rid of him before my spirit is damned. Then I will help you in any way that I can, little ones.”

Alisbeth squeals. “I already said yes. We get to kill someone. Intentionally. And we’re getting help with that thing we’re actually supposed to be doing here.” She runs over to shake Grimory by the shoulders, throwing her own body weight around to do so. “Isn’t it so exciting?

Grimory takes Alisbeth by the upper arms and pries her off him. “Yes. Very exciting. Please stop.”

Ashildir purses her lips down at Alisbeth. “Is the little death knight always so…excitable?”

“Yes, I’m afraid,” Anarchaia says with a nod, her quill scribbling. “And where is this…Faljar?”

Ashildir frowns. “Deeper into the fog, I’m afraid. His followers and their skeletal warriors stand in our way. He has been chanting for days to complete the spell. How fortunate you should arrive when you did.”

“More killing!” Alisbeth jumps up and down.

“We can’t see more than a few feet in this fog. How do you expect us to get through it?”

Ashildir smiles and raises her spear high. A bright light shines through the area, clearing the fog just enough to see nearby runeseers chanting at their stones, their guardians of raised Vrykul remains pace back and forth and up and down the paths.

Anarchaia frowns as she looks down over the men and remains, her parchment and quill disappearing in a puff of smoke. “Are…you just going to sit there and light the way for us? Because that’s awful kind of you…”

Ashildir chuckles. “I can stop, if you’d rather do things in a more difficult fashion. Though, I am kind of running out of time.”

Alisbeth elbows Anarchaia in the ribs. “Shut up,” she hisses, “or she’ll take away her magic light!”

“O-Oh. Right. Sorry,” Anarchaia says with an awkward grin, turning toward the now illuminated crypts. “After you,” she says, motioning for the others to go first.

“With pleasure!” Grimory leaps down to the stone steps and dismantles a skeletal warrior that rushes him. He picks up the monster’s sword and flips it in a hand, then turns on the now angry runeseer.

Alisbeth giggles after him, her axe on her shoulder. She drives the spikes of it into the calf of the Runseer.

Koltira shrugs. “Timeline, right?” He smiles and runs forward to join the other two and sate his own bloodlust.

The runeseer reaches out his hand to cast a spell on Grimory. The demon hunter lifts an arm defensively. Koltira brings his sword sweeping down to cut the extended arm off at the elbow. Grimory laughs.

The Illidari brings the stolen rusty blade forward in thrusting motion, running it through the runeseer’s heart. The blade, however, breaks in two when he tries to withdraw it. He shrugs and tosses the hilt aside.

Anarchaia takes a step forward, but her path is cut off by a tall, rattling skeleton wearing a horned helmet. “Hi,” she says with a small wave, “we’re friends, right?” She blinks out of the way of the creature’s hammer as it comes down. “Guess not.” A torrent of fire erupts from the stone below and the skeleton explodes into separate pieces.

Alisbeth runs down the path to the next bone warrior. She swings her axe over her head and hacks at its ribs. Koltira runs past her with a smirk and leaps at the next thing he sees. The runeseer yelps in surprise and anger as his ritual is interrupted. Grimory turns at the sound of more clinking bones and exhales a cloud of fel fire over his attacker. Anarchaia makes for the rounded staircase to the arena at the far end of the crypts. She skids to a halt as a bolt of black energy whizzes past her head. She retaliates with a barrage of arcane projectiles, knocking the runeseer off the ledge.

“Wait for me!” Alisbeth shouts, running after the mage. She leaps onto the shoulders of another runeseer, who is coming up behind Anarchaia, and begins driving the spikes of her axe into the top of his skull over and over.

Ashildir gapes at them. “This…This is madness…”

Alisbeth giggles maniacally. “But it’s awesome madness! Are you gonna join or what?”

Ashildir smirks and falls into step beside Koltira as he finishes off his runeseer and makes his way to the girls.

Grimory notices the rest of the group and decides to follow, leaping off the ground to glide closely behind. “There’s a hooded figure up ahead. Appears to be taking power from some sort of…pylon.”

“That is him,” Ashildir calls, hurling a man from the end of her spear. “We must hurry.”

Anarchaia steps out of the way of Alisbeth’s stumbling victim and leaps into the semi-circle platform at the end of the stairs. “So, the big guy? Surrounded by purple energies?”

Faljar grits his teeth as he draws more power from the stone before him, then growls at the intruders, not stopping. “I’m not in a mood for play. Leave this place or be executed.”

Alisbeth leaps from the runeseer’s shoulders as he falls down dead. She rolls and pops up beside Anarchaia. “I’m in a mood to play!”

Ashildir stands in front of the four and glares. “Faljar, you will stop this perversion at once!”

The man smirks and gives a curt laugh. “Or what? You think you and your band of children can stop me?” Faljar hurls a beam of deep violet energy at the group. “Give up, Ashildir. Your time is done.”

Anarchaia produces a large shield of arcane magic to deflect the beam, using obvious effort to hold it up. “He’s…really strong,” she grunts and grits her teeth.

“I’m on it,” Grimory calls, landing before them to attack. He’s instantly blown off his feet by another short burst from Faljar’s opposite hand. The demon hunter curses and quickly recovers to his feet, wincing.

“Stop hurting my friends!” Alisbeth screams. She leans back, then hurls her axe at the Vrykul.

Faljar bats the axe away with a laugh. “Anything else?”

Koltira glances around in desperation. “There! Grim, help me out!” He runs to the smaller pylons on either side of the larger one and hacks at it with his blade.

Grimory nods and joins Koltira in his hacking, driving his claws through the stone.

Alisbeth nose dives across the platform toward her axe. Faljar places a sturdy foot on Alisbeth’s blade and laughs, readying another bolt of energy down at her. Before he can cast, a large shard of ice shatters against his crown. He growls and hurls the bolt at Anarchaia instead, who dodges with ease.

Ashildir runs forward, but in her weakened state is easily lifted off her feet and into the air by suffocating magic. She chokes as her spear clatters to the ground.

Alisbeth grabs her axe and swings. Before the blade makes contact, a purple shield surrounds Faljar and the death knight’s weapon bounces away from him, knocking her away. Koltira leaves Grimory to finish off the pillar. He runs across the platform to the second pillar.

“Ali! Here!” Together they hack at the stone.

Grimory hides behind the pillar as a bolt of magic flies past his head. “Ana, distract him!”

The mage nods and claps her hands together. Her form splits into four copies—each begins hurling balls of orange flame at the man.

Faljar growls and deflects most of them, then returns fire when one sets his robes ablaze.

As the second pillar crumbles, Faljar uses his magic to toss Ashildir onto a pedestal bearing a purple rune. “You have sealed your fate, shieldmaiden. You and these…outsiders. Enjoy an eternity of damnation. Helheim awaits!” With that, their spirits are torn from their bodies and hurled down into a swirling vortex beneath the platform.

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