Alisbeth moans and stretches her arms over her head. “I had the weirdest dream.” She smiles up at Koltira. “And you were there.” She points at Grimory and Anarchaia. “And you were there and you were there!” She laughs and snuggles against the other death knight’s chest.
“You have awoken!” Ashildir steps out from behind the tree she’d settled under, body still shimmering with light. “That is good. For a while I thought you would not return.”
Alisbeth leaps to her feet. “And you were there! Hi!” She waves excitedly at Ashildir.
Grimory stands and stretches his back, once he feels the stress of waiting ebb away. “I think we thought the same.”
Anarchaia gives Koltira one last glance before getting to her feet as well, rubbing at her good eye. “We didn’t accomplish what we set out to do, though.”
Koltira casts an apologetic gaze at Anarchaia. “I overreacted. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t worry about it,” the mage says in a tone more sad than angry. “We’re all sorry.” She returns her attention to Ashildir. “I’m sorry we couldn’t repair your soul. I’m sure as long as Faljar remains upright you’ll remain this way.”
Ashildir gives a solemn smile. “It is all right, little mage. You tried your best, and for that, I am grateful.”
“Can’t we just go kill him now?” Grimory grumbles.
“And risk going back to Helheim?” Anarchaia shoots him a disgusted look.
“Wait…” Alisbeth furrows her brow. “You guys had the same dream, too?”
Koltira chuckles and shakes his head. “It wasn’t a dream, Ali.”
“So…I really did save all of you from certain doom?” she asks.
Koltira purses his lips and nods.
Koltira looks up at the shieldmaiden. “If there is anything we can do for you, please let us know. It’s the least we can do.”
Ashildir taps the end of her spear to the ground beside her. “I would say you have done all you can,” she responds sadly. “I will be here if you develop any new ideas.” She looks out over the ocean. “For now, I fear, a terrible storm is headed this way. Best you four find shelter.”
Anarchaia gives a nod. “You’re right. Take care of yourself, Ashildir.” She gives a curt wave and turns toward the nearby path back to Valdisdall.
Grimory gives the shieldmaiden a nod of respect and follows his companion.
Alisbeth runs over to take the shieldmaiden’s hand and smile up at her. “Bye Aslan! I’m so glad we got to dream that together. It was really fun!”
Ashildir cocks an eyebrow at her. “You are a brave little death knight. Go with your friends, now.”
“Okay!” Alisbeth runs back to Koltira, who bends slightly at the waist in respect to Ashildir, before following the other two.
Anarchaia pulls out her map. “If we’re where I think we are, Valdisdall should be nearby.” She gives a glance at the oncoming clouds again. “But I don’t think we’ll make it in time.”
“We have tents,” Grimory says casually. “Pretty sturdy ones.”
“No, I’m going to teleport us back,” Anarchaia responds, stowing the map again. “But I’m kinda low on mana after…all that. The illness doesn’t help either.” She chuckles dryly. “I may go back just to rid myself of this cold.”
Alisbeth purses her lips and rubs her nose. “Please don’t,” she says quietly.
“If getting us out of the rain is going to send you back into sleeping for a day, I’d rather you didn’t. There has to be another solution,” Koltira says.
“We have tents,” Grimory repeats louder. “Pretty sturdy ones.”
Anarchaia sighs and looks around for a decent, safe spot to set up said tents. “I guess we have to. This may not be the safest place but there are plenty of trees around.” She glances at the death knights. “And you two are walking lighting rods.” She lifts her hands and their hide tent appears, bundled in a roll. “Grim, hold out your arms.”
The demon hunter does so and they’re filled with a larger, heavier bundle. He fumbles to hold it, not expecting the weight.
The two only take minutes erecting the tents, repetition causing swiftness.
Alisbeth doesn’t wait, immediately shoving her way into the smaller tent and curling into a little ball in the middle.
“I’m gonna get firewood,” Anarchaia says. “Even in the rain I should be able to keep one going.”
Koltira cocks an eyebrow. “Do we really need a fire?”
“I enjoy being warm and dry,” Grimory says, digging a shallow hole with his boot. “I know dead people don’t particularly mind, but…”
Koltira shrugs. “I’ll give you the dry part. Don’t care either way on the warm.”
Grimory gives a shiver at the mild wind filtering through the trees. “It seems we’ve reached an impasse,” he says, using his claws to slash down a small tree. He sits on it like a makeshift bench. “Maybe there’s nothing more we can do.” He glances at Alisbeth in the tent, recalling how she’d been. “If we couldn’t convince Helya…”
Koltira nods absently, then shrugs. “Maybe Odyn will have another plan. We should go back to him tomorrow.”
In the midst of picking up twigs and dried leaves, Anarchaia pulls the communication crystal from the pack behind her hip. She holds out her palm and the shard hovers above it. “Hey. Are you busy?”
“Always,” comes Khadgar’s weathered voice through the glowing stone. “I see you’ve finally decided to get in contact with me.”
“Finally? It’s been a day. I said I would try.”
“It’s been a week, Ana.”
“Oh. Oh gods. Time must not… I-In Helheim…”
A tired sigh emanated through the crystal. “Right. I’ll take your word for it. Despite leaving me to, once again, think you were dead, I’m curious: how was Helheim, then?”
“It was an…experience. Heh.”
“I imagine. I’m glad you’re intact, at least. Did you accomplish what you’d been sent to?” he responds.
“Not exactly.” Anarchaia gives a nervous chuckle.
“Hm. Well. Perhaps speak with Odyn again. If he decides there’s nothing more you can do, then there’s nothing more you can do.”
“I suppose.” She sighs, wanting to say more but her tongue failing. She fidgets. “Well. I’ll keep you posted. Enjoy…whatever it is you’re doing. Have a good night.”
“You as, well, Ana. Stay safe.”
Stowing the crystal and picking up her pile of foliage, she makes her way back to the others.
“That’s an idea,” Grimory says with a nod. “Hey, Ana,” he calls out to her when she returns with a bundle of sticks. “Koltira says we should talk with Odyn again.”
Anarchaia nods and tosses the twigs into the hole Grimory had made. They ignite into a quiet crackle. “Master said similar. That sounds like a good idea.” She frowns. “As long as he keeps his hands to himself.”
“Someone else could speak to him instead,” the death knight suggests. “Maybe Grim can fly up and do the talking.”
“I’m not much of a talker,” Grimory says with a grin. “And I do like seeing Ana freak out. Why would I pass that up?”
The mage shoots Grimory an exasperated look from behind her mask. “Oh, you’re too kind.” She sighs and holds her hands out to the fire. When it doesn’t warm her fingers, she frowns and lowers them again. “I’m sorry for how I acted. It was…really inappropriate. And embarrassing.”
“We all went a little mad,” Koltira says, clearing his throat. “Khadgar did warn us that we would. I personally didn’t expect it to happen so fast. Nor did I expect my own…actions.”
Grimory admits to nothing and warms his hands against the flames. The image of Anarchaia’s dying body resurfaces and he shakes it away. “No use dwelling on it now. What’s done is done. We know that wasn’t the true you…or you.” His stomach gives a groan and he rummages through his pack for a ration before shoving the end in his mouth.
Anarchaia nods and gives Koltira a sideways glance. “So…Ali. Was that how she used to be?”
Koltira says nothing for a long time, then sighs at the fire. “She was a very disciplined leader. Too young to be a captain, but skilled enough for it. When something needed done, her head was on that task alone. And she cared about us—her troops—and made sure everyone was taken care of.” He smirks as humor twinkles in his eye. “And then there were her pranks…”
Anarchaia raises her eyebrows and tilts her head, glad to see a friend smile after their ordeal. “Oh?”
“She was shameless. Nothing was off limits. She even used her dead parents to trick me. And you’d never know she’d done it unless you caught her laughing over it. Always harmless pranks, though, to liven the troops.” He stretches out on his back to stare up at the cloudy sky. “And it worked. As long as you didn’t let your pride get in the way, it was always worth the laugh.”
Anarchaia purses her lips but allows her voice to betray her concern over the morbidity of dead loved ones and jokes pertaining to them. “Sounds fun. Though it seems that aspect of her hasn’t changed much.”
Grimory furrows his brow. “How…What? Dead parents? For a joke?”
Koltira widens his eyes at the demon hunter’s outburst. “It was innocent enough. She was…trying to get me into one of those…” he sneers, “Winter Veil sweaters. She told me how she and her parents would spend the day wearing them in Ironforge. The sweater was the only part of that tale which was a lie.” He glares at the memory.
“Winter Veil sweaters?” The mage’s eyes light up and she looks at Grimory, mouth open in excitement.
“No,” he growls when he notices. “You know my head doesn’t fit.”
Alisbeth leans out of the tent, realizing they’re talking about her. She grabs a pebble and throws it at Grimory’s head. “They were my parents. I can do what I want with their memory. It’s what they would’ve wanted!”
Grimory flinches as the small rock bounces off his horn with a thunk!. He narrows his eyes at her. “Still. That’s awfully macabre.”
Alisbeth removes one of her shoulder pads and lobs that at him. “It was not!” She crawls back into the tent muttering about how they were her parents and that horn-heads don’t get a say.
Grimory leans far to one side to dodge the thrown armor.
Koltira chuckles after her and shakes his head. “They died when she was young, I don’t think it bothers her as much as it would others. She was taken in by the paladins until she reached adulthood.”
“I’ve never even met my parents and I still wouldn’t joke about them being dead or anything similar,” the demon hunter replies.
Anarchaia merely listens, her fingers clenching against her knees as she stares into the fire.
“Well, I suppose it’s different for everyone.” Koltira shrugs and returns his gaze to the black clouds overhead.
Grimory chews on his ration and turns his gaze to Anarchaia. After a moment of studying her rigid posture, he grits his fangs. “Oh, that’s right. Sorry, Ana.”
“It’s all right,” she waves a hand. “That was twenty years ago. Heh. Totally…” She clears her throat. “Totally over it.”
The demon hunter sets his eyes to the skies above, quickly looking for a change of topic in the clouds. “Do you think Odyn is going to have us go back down there?”
The death knight says nothing, his mind refusing to even humor such a scenario.
“My intuition is saying probably,” Anarchaia responds, frowning. “But we’ll need to be more prepared next time.” She coughs into a fist. “If he does, that is.”
Grimory remains silent for several moments before shaking his head. “I’m not going back there. No matter what he says. That was insanity.”
“None of us should go back,” Koltira says. “If there is no other way for you to complete your task, then I’m sorry, but I’m not going back.”
Quiet as she can, Alisbeth peels off her armor and lays it out on the ground as though she were in it one moment, then melted out of it the next. She observes her handiwork, then slips silently out the back of the tent and into the dark woods beyond.
Anarchaia hesitates. “But…the Valarjar—”
“Oh come off it, Ana,” Grimory barks. “We’ll find another way. We’re not going back. And I’m sure as hell not letting you go back, yeah?”
She sighs and pulls out her flask of water. “I suppose you’re right,” she says quietly before taking a drink. “Ugh, this is so unforeseen. I hate unforeseen.”
“It’s life.” Koltira blinks as a small drop of water smacks him in the forehead. “Here we go,” he mutters.
Both the mage and demon hunter duck into their tent as they’re struck by drops of water as well. “I know we’re sheltered, but you may want to take that armor off,” Anarchaia says to Koltira from inside her tent. “Just in case.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Koltira waves absently as he goes to join Alisbeth inside the tent. He stops and stares at her empty armor, then purses his lips. He opens his mouth to call to the other two, but sighs and takes a seat instead, fighting with the buckles of his armor to remove it.
The two sit in silence for a moment as the wind picks up speed. Finally, Grimory clears his throat. “I’m sorry for…for what I did. To you. I-I would never…” He glances over at her when he feels a gentle pat on his knee.
Anarchaia simply gives a knowing smile and shakes her head. “We’re moving on. No more talk of that place.”
Grimory sighs and rubs at the bridge of his nose. “This whole trip has kind of been a mess.”
“Work isn’t meant to be fun, Grim,” Anarchaia says, conjuring four mugs and filling them with streaming water. “Plus it’s only been the two of us for months, now. You just aren’t used to the company.” Leaves of chamomile and lavender petals flutter into each of the cups as they appear. Two of the mugs lift and exit the tent on their own, settling themselves at the entrance to the tent next door.
Grimory looks into the swirling tea in his mug as it’s handed to him. “No, I think it’s just the chaos. It gets exhausting.”
Koltira sneers at the mugs. “Got anything a little stiffer?”
A short bottle of liquor joins the two cups before Koltira.
“If he gets some, I want some too,” Grimory says jokingly and holds out a hand. He blinks as his palm is filled with a similar bottle, which he nearly drops. “Oh. Thanks.” The two jump at a clap of thunder in the distance.
“Hope you weren’t planning on sleeping,” Anarchaia says loudly so both men can hear.
Koltira chooses not to respond as he shoves the two sets of armor to the side, it clatters all the way as protest. He lies back and takes a drink from the bottle. “Thanks, Ana.”
“I could sleep through a hurricane,” Grimory says, opening his gift and taking a long drink. “This is nothing.”
“Trust me, I know.” Anarchaia conjures their sleeping furs and stirs as the use of mana makes her lightheaded. “All right. No more magic for now.”
“No one’s asking you to do all this,” Grimory laughs, shrugging one of the furs around himself. “Take a break for gods’ sakes.”
~ * ~
Alisbeth stares into the still water at the face she’s stuck with. She stops, her eyes flicking to the side. Her lips pull up into a sly smile. “I know you’re there.” She looks behind her into the trees. “It’s okay. Our little secret.” She presses her finger to her lips, then returns to staring into the liquid as her reflection becomes distorted by the ripples sent through the water by the falling rain. A figure, tall and dark, stands behind her and breathes out, ruffling her messy white hair with their frigid breath. She giggles and turns around. “I could go for a drink. Come on.”