Morning comes, and with it more rain, though the worst of the storm has passed. Koltira eyes the small area of the tent and sighs, deciding maybe he should search for Alisbeth after all. He grabs his sword and exits the tent, then stops to stare at the other death knight lying face down in the mud by the fire. The back of her shirt is torn and she’s covered in mud and foliage, as though having rolled around on the forest floor.
Book in hand, Anarchaia glances out of the tent. She sits forward, away from Grimory’s sleeping figure, furrowing her brow. “Ali? What happened?” she calls from the safety of her shelter.
Koltira shrugs at the mage, then kneels beside Alisbeth when she doesn’t respond. He slides one of her eyes open, confirming the frosty quality remains. She otherwise doesn’t move. He turns her over to clean the mud from her face and discovers scratches all down her front. Wedged behind her collar bone is a stick that’s impaling her.
“Have any bandages?” He asks the mage.
Anarchaia nods and comes out of her tent to settle beside them. A roll of gauze appears and she hands it over. Concern on her face, she looks down over Alisbeth and pulls her hood up. “Is she…asleep? Unconscious?”
Koltira pulls the twig from her skin and binds the wound. “I…don’t know. She left last night. This is the first time I’ve seen her since.” He purses his lips, realizing how irresponsible he’d been.
“She’s never been like this before?” The mage uses her magic to gently lift Alisbeth from the mud and place her inside her respective tent. “That’s worrisome.”
Koltira gives Anarchaia an incredulous look. “Unfortunately I wouldn’t know. And I doubt anyone in Acherus would know, either.” He hands the gauze back to the mage. “Thanks.”
She sends the gauze away and fidgets, the rain dampening her mask. “If only I could go home. I’m sure we have a book about this somewhere.” She sighs. “Perhaps she just needs rest.”
He shrugs. “Maybe. Though I’ve never known a death knight to just sleep like that.” He looks over at Anarchaia as if noticing for the first time that she was there. “You’re sick, what are you doing? Get back in your tent.”
“I’m getting better. I’ll be fine.” She ducks into their tent and kneels beside Alisbeth, making short work of fixing the tears in her shirt. “Perhaps it’s an enchantment. Or maybe she ate something.” She taps her chin thoughtfully as she studies the girl’s sleeping body. “Or maybe a curse?”
Koltira leans in, trying not to overcrowd the area. “Any way you can figure out what? A spell or…something?”
Anarchaia frowns and sits back on her heels. “Not with a subject who shows no signs of life other than a heartbeat and breathing.” She unbuttons her glove and slides it off, placing her palm on Alisbeth’s forehead in hopes it may give some clues, but grunts in slight irritation when it’s cold. “Only a book about death knights would help me.”
Koltira’s brow lowers in aggravation. “You’re going to make me go to Acherus, aren’t you?”
Anarchaia’s eyes light up and she looks up at him while buttoning her glove again. “That’s a great idea! Oh! If you guys have any books there could you bring them back?”
He sneers at the idea. “We have loads of books, but I’m not sure how they’d feel about me bringing all of them.”
Anarchaia pouts and thinks for a long moment before again bouncing excitedly. “Oh! Oh! Are other people unable to go through your death gates or are they just not permitted to?”
“I don’t think anyone has ever tried, but I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t be allowed in Acherus, whether you could get through my gate or not.” He sits back and rubs at his face. “I’ll go. Just tell me what to look for.”
The mage places both hands on Alisbeth’s stomach. They are engulfed in purple light and, in a flash of sparkles, Anarchaia takes on Alisbeth’s visage, blue eyes sparkling as she smiles up at Koltira. “How ‘bout now?” she sings in Alisbeth’s voice. “Please?”
Koltira narrows his eyes and leans back. “I’m having very confusing emotions right now.” He shakes his head to clear the thoughts away. “I’m not sure you can trick the gate, but…” He backs out of the tent and sets his palm to the ground, then rises; a black gateway rises from the ground at his hand. “Oh, um, small hitch… You might get thrown in her room if you’re caught without me there. It might be best if I go, too. Just try to be quick before someone asks me to do something.”
Anarchaia claps her hands excitedly and bounds over to him, nearly stumbling over herself. “Oh my gods this is too exciting. Everyone at the hall would be so jealous! Don’t worry, I won’t leave your side!” Without waiting for his reply, she leaps into the portal and disappears.
Koltira rolls his eyes to the sky and follows, stumbling to stop himself from colliding into Anarchaia’s back. “Try not to look like you’ve never seen the place,” he hisses, then nudges her to walk.
He leads her down the steps and to the right to a small alcove scattered with bones. Three tubes of green liquid stand at the back, staining the area with the sickly color—one contains a skeleton, one a ghoul, and one is empty. Tables and shelves are lined with books, vials, and other ghastly experiments.
The mage looks around with wide eyes, then snaps to attention as she’s commanded to. She sticks close to Koltira’s side, doing her best to look inconspicuous.
“Marogh,” Koltira addresses the man working to attach ghoul limbs to a torso.
The ghoul snaps its head to look at Anarchaia. “Err!”
Koltira angles to stand between the ghoul and the mage as the balding human looks up from his work.
He gives an exasperated sigh. “Yes? Speak your peace.”
She smiles and gives an excited wave to Marogh, trying to act as Alisbeth would.
“I need to look through your collection of texts,” Koltira says.
Marogh waves and impatient hand as he sneers and turns back to the ghoul.
Koltira shoves Anarchaia to a book shelf. “Work quickly. If you don’t find anything here we’ll ask Bane and Fester upstairs.”
She grunts as she’s pushed. “You don’t need to be so pushy,” she whines. Anarchaia quickly scans over the books with a finger and taps her foot anxiously. “There’s…nothing here on medicine. Just ghoul anatomy and the Art of Creation.” She crinkles her nose. “Seems redundant.”
Marogh scoffs over his shoulder. “What’s our resident loon need with a medical tome?”
Koltira glares at the death knight. “Don’t start anything. And it’s none of your business.”
Anarchaia stiffens and whirls around, plastering a wide grin on her face. “Our bestest friend is sick. We’re gonna make her better!” she calls over Koltira’s shoulder; yelling, though the three are not far from one another. She frowns suddenly and sticks her lower lip out. “She fell asleep and won’t wake up. We need a book about that.”
Koltira makes a face. “Don’t do that,” he hisses.
Marogh stares at her, a bored expression on his face. “Why would we have any of those here?” He turns back to his work, then comments absently, “Mograine is looking for you, Deathweaver.”
“What should I do?” she whispers as she turns. “Say nothing?”
Koltira takes her by the arm and shoves her back toward the entrance. “Don’t tell anyone what you’re actually doing. She doesn’t like anyone here because they call her crazy.” He shoves her into the magenta light of the displacement pad.
“Deathweaver, just the man I’m looking for.”
Koltira flinches and turns around. “Mograine. How fairs…things?”
Anarchaia stumbles from the platform and gives a glance around. She swallows as panic sets in when Koltira does not immediately follow. Biting her lip and tapping her fingers together nervously, she looks around for someone to ask about the two people Koltira had mentioned earlier. Oh, gods. This isn’t good. “Y-You, there!” she hisses at a passing death knight, doing her best to sound malicious, then cringes. Definitely not good.
“What’s this I hear about you and Redblade off with the Archmage’s apprentice?” Mograine demands.
Koltira’s gaze flicks back to the platform. “You heard about that, huh? I just…thought Ali could use the time away from Acherus.”
The death knight stops to stare at Anarchaia, then lifts his helmet to reveal he is Forsaken, and spits on her. “Come at me, psycho. I’ll see Mograine takes your head. Make the world a better place.”
Anarchaia grits her teeth and clenches her fists at her sides. She stomps up to the man and gets in his face. “Listen here, friend,” she hisses through her teeth, panic overriding her act. “I’m in no mood for games, so how about you point me in the direction of Bane and/or Fester and this altercation doesn’t happen? Or perhaps I, myself, can tell Mograine how you antagonized me?”
The death knight steps backward. “They’re over there, where they always are!” He jerks a thumb to the left, past a towering abomination and into a corner with a tent beside a table and shelves of books behind a ghoul and a Forsaken. “Psycho,” he mumbles and stomps away from her.
Mograine eyes Koltira. “What’s got you so nervous?”
He lets out a breath. “Alisbeth is alone upstairs,” Koltira blurts, then rushes for the platform.
Anarchaia gives the man a rude gesture as he walks away, then turns around and sighs, a hand on her pounding heart. “I suppose I could have just looked around,” she says to herself before making her way for the table. Another Forsaken, though. Ugh.
“And you are?” The Forsaken shouts.
At the same time, the ghoul grabs her arm with his blood-soaked hands, soiled bandages dangling from the flesh of his forearms, and hisses in a rough and unsure voice, “Me like…shiiiiiny.”
Anarchaia wrenches her arm away and steels herself for several moments. She narrows her eyes and conjures a gold piece behind her back, then holds it in front of the ghoul’s face. “This shiny? You want?”
The ghoul grunts enthusiastically at her.
Using a thumb, she flicks the coin into his face. I’m so sorry! The mage turns on the Forsaken man and thinks for a moment, before just passing him without a word to glance through his bookshelves as though nothing can stop her. This being mean thing is so hard…
The ghoul creeps up behind her. “Yooou liiike?” He holds out a handful of bright baubles.
Koltira sprints over to Anarchaia. “Oh, good, you found them.”
“Deathweaver!” Mograine stomps their way from the portal. “I’m not finished with you!”
Anarchaia gives the baubles a sideways glance but otherwise does not look up from her searching. Her heart aches as she does her best not to take the shiny objects and faun over them with the monster. She pulls out a text titled What Ails You: Death Knights and tucks it under her arm before standing upright and whirling around in time to see Mograine thundering toward them.
“Not now, Fester,” Koltira says.
The ghoul holds the baubles higher. “Me buy and…trade.”
Koltira raises an eyebrow. “Did you give him gold?”
Mograine lowers unamused eyebrows at Anarchaia. “Not the usual company you keep, Redblade.” He eyes Fester and Bane.
“Maybe,” she mumbles through the side of her mouth. Her jaw clenches as she’s addressed by the intimidating man but she says nothing, holding the book close and pushing herself further behind Koltira’s shoulder. Oh gods, please stop talking to me. Please.
“You have to buy something from him,” Koltira hisses, motioning at Fester.
The ghoul sets the baubles aside and picks a stack of parchment from the table. “Yeeesss?”
Mograine remains silent as Fester tries to make his sale.
Anarchaia looks at the parchment and resists a smile. I could actually use that, she thinks before swiping the parchment and bundling it with her book. She turns back to Mograine and gives an innocent yet nervous smile.
Fester shuffles back to his table to rearrange his goods.
Mograine stares her down. “What’s that you’ve got there?”
“Nothing,” Koltira interjects. “Just some light reading. Lots of walking. Anyway, we’re off. Just going to stop by and give Bloodmist a few rotten apples before we get back to the others.”
Mograine cocks an eyebrow. “Bloodmist? She’s not with you?”
“Arsenic doesn’t like her,” Anarchaia mumbles, her grin unwavering.
“Anarchaia,” Koltira corrects. At least she’s got that part down.
Mograine purses his lips. “Well she hasn’t come back here. Would you like me to send some men out to find her?”
Koltira’s eyebrows raise. “Oh, no, I’m sure she’s fine. Come on Alisbeth, time to go.”
“Thassarian is looking for you.”
Koltira rolls his eyes to the ceiling and begs for patience. “He can keep looking or come find me. I have to go.” With that he kneels and summons a new death gate.
“Suffer well,” Mograine says.
Anarchaia throws herself into the portal before anyone else can speak or sell something to her. She stumbles back into the clearing and exhales loudly, her visage shattering into sparkles.
Grimory looks on incredulously from the shadows of Alisbeth’s tent. “Uh…have a nice trip?”
Anarchaia jumps and turns to him. “Oh! Good morning, Grim. Heh. Went to get a book.”
Koltira appears behind the mage and bumps into her this time. “You have to move after you go through that.” He jerks his chin in greeting of the demon hunter. “Hey Grim.”
Anarchaia gives an embarrassed chuckle and takes a large step away. “Sorry.”
Grimory chews on the inside of his cheek and returns the nod, still processing. “So…Ali’s sick?”
The mage sets herself down inside the same tent and cracks open the book she’d swiped. “Perhaps. We’re not sure.”
Koltira ticks the list off on his fingers. “Not breathing, not moving, not responding, asleep… Yeah, might be sick. Though I’ve never seen a death knight get sick.” He scrutinizes the ground near where he found Alisbeth that morning. The rain had all but washed away the evidence of her having been dragged into the clearing. “Ah-ha!”
Anarchaia looks up and follows Koltira’s gaze. “Oh, lookit that. Perhaps you’ll find our answer at the end of that.” She furrows her brow. “Though that would make our trip kinda pointless.” Her eyes scan back over the book; her parchment and quill appear. “Or perhaps not.”
“I’ll see how far it goes, but the rain washed most of it away. But you’ll never guess what else I found.” He stoops to examine a spot just inside the clearing.
Grim gets up and comes to investigate what Koltira’s discovered. “Something important?”
“A hoof print,” he says, loud enough for Anarchaia to hear.
The mage doesn’t look up from her text. The quill at her side scribbles furiously as she reads. “How large?”
Koltira shoots Grimory an incredulous stare as the mage doesn’t immediately catch on. “Large,” he says dramatically. “This thing was massive. I can sit inside the print. It’s a wonder the giant didn’t disturb us.” He rolls his eyes and heads into the forest.
Anarchaia looks up from her book and tilts her head. “Oh, pardon me for remembering that we live in a world with many hooved animals and people,” she calls after him as he walks away.
Grimory laughs and looks back into the tent. “Horse.”
Anarchaia scowls. “Was that so hard?”
Koltira searches for a few minutes, then returns with a scowl. “Trail got washed away.” He drops down by the fire pit and stares in at the mage.
“If it was so giant you should still be able to see it over the tree line,” Anarchaia sneers at him jokingly. She stops at a chapter and blinks down at the words. She reads for a moment and straightens. “I think she’s taken some sort of potion. She’s not showing signs of being cursed or enchanted. Did you find any empty vials?”
Koltira furrows his grow. “No. What kind of potion?”
She looks up at him and waits for a long beat. “The liquid kind.”
Grimory snorts and sits himself back inside the tent to avoid the residual rain droplets.
Koltira smacks his lips at the mage and blinks lazily. “Clever.”
“A sleeping potion,” Anarchaia continues. “So she should be awake in around eight hours as that’s how long they usually last.” She sets the book aside and sighs, placing a hand on her forehead. “She’ll be fine.”
“I don’t even know how long she’s been out.” Koltira scans the trees, looking among them while also deciding if he should go back to search for any vials, just to be sure. “Hey Ana, remember what Mograine said about Bloodmist? I think I know where she is.”
“You think she brought Alisbeth back?”
“It would appear to be the case.”
Grimory takes the tome in his own hands and flips through it. “You need to stop using magic. Put your stuff away for once in your life.”
Anarchaia holds out her palm and it fills with a large slice of sweetbread. She pulls her mask up and nibbles on it cautiously. “I’m fine, dad. Thank you.”
Grimory holds the book sideways to examine some detailed illustrations of herbs. “We could just carry her. We carried you.” He pokes Anarchaia in the ribs.
The mage inhales sharply at the jab and, coughing violently, chokes on her bread. “If you’re both that eager to get a move on,” she wheezes.
“Sitting around doing nothing was never my forte,” Koltira says. “It’d be nice to know where we’re going next—if anywhere.”
Anarchaia’s face softens. “I suppose Valdisdall for now. We can make our way back to the Halls of Valor after Alisbeth recovers.”
Koltira nods. “Fair enough. With any luck she’ll be awake in a few hours and we can skip Valdisdall altogether.” He pushes into the tent and retrieves his armor to dress. He looks at Alisbeth’s. “I don’t want to ask you to use magic, but dressing an unconscious person in plate is…never a fun endeavor.”
Anarchaia shoves the sweetbread in her mouth. “Can’t she dress when she wakes?” she says with a full mouth. “I’ll send her armor to my bedroom for the time being, if that’s okay.” She dusts her hands off on one another. “I’m sure she’s easier to carry without the armor.”
He purses his lips. “Just remember that you volunteered. I was trying not to ask.”
Anarchaia tilts her head and sends the armor away in a flash. “You should know me by now.” She sends the book away, as well as the parchment and quill, and steps outside.
“It’s weird seeing you eat,” Grimory grunts as he hands her the sleeping furs and dismantled tent to deconjure.
The mage furrows her brow. “Thank you?”
Koltira finishes dressing and stands. He shoulders his and Alisbeth’s packs, then lifts her into his arms and waits for the others. Anarchaia struggles with the bigger tent before sending that away as well. She gives a huff and trots off in the direction of Valdisdall.
Grimory follows after snuffing the fire out with a boot. “How close are we, Ana?”
“Not far.” She points up at the plateau ahead in the distance. “Couple hours even. Easier when it’s not so dark out, eh?”
Koltira strides to walk beside Anarchaia. “Just out of curiosity, was there anything about a faster solution in the book?”
“Nope!” she responds with a smile. Her hands then fill with flames. “I could light her on fire if you’d like. That may do the trick.”
Koltira gives Anarchaia a look that is both shock and disgust. “Why in the hell would I want you to do that?”
The mage chuckles and pats him on the shoulder with an extinguished hand. “Oh, honestly Koltira,” she laughs and trots farther ahead.
Grimory stares on after her, unenthused. “She seems to be doing better.”
Koltira purses his lips at the demon hunter. “If she takes on Alisbeth’s image again, make her stop. I think trying to act like Ali loosened a few screws.”
Grimory blinks. “Oh, that’s right. How did that go? Didn’t think anyone but death knights were allowed in those gates.” He chuckles at the thought of Anarchaia pretending to be Alisbeth. “Was it a disaster?”
“I guess her illusion is that good. She slipped right in.” He thinks back on the events. “She’s not very good at being Alisbeth, thankfully. She tried, but she’s too nice. She gave Fester a gold coin. Poor thing had no idea what to do and just kept handing her items to buy.”
Grimory snorts out another laugh. “What a nerd. She’s too awkward to mimic anyone properly. She tried to be me once, did I tell you?” He folds his arms and scowls. “My commander is now under the impression that I have secret feelings for him.” His tongue pokes out from between his teeth as he scoffs in disgust.
“You…didn’t tell me. No. We were too busy trying to kill each other.” He purses his lips. “I am so sorry if he actually feels that way about you. Trust me, I know what that’s like. Sort of.”
Grimory chuckles again at the mention of them fighting one another. “Yeah.” He then cocks his head at the death knight, eyes bright with interest. “Oh? You have a boyfriend?”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake!” He kicks out at the demon hunter’s leg. “No! Everyone just thinks we are and I can’t even begin to understand why.”
Grimory nearly trips but regains his footing, laughing the whole time. “This is why men can’t have best friends. We’re either trying to fuck the woman or are perceived as gay. It’s a double standard.”
“Thank you!” Koltira shouts, over-enthused. “Call someone your brother, who isn’t actually your brother, and suddenly you’re lovers. You know, these two were holding hands that first day. Bet no one thought they were lovers,” he grumbles, motioning between the two women.
“All women are homosexual,” Grimory responds casually, bringing his hands up and behind his head. “I’ve yet to meet one that wouldn’t kiss another with a little persuasion. Again, double standards.” He laughs. “Are you jealous that we can’t hold hands?”
“No, but I’m pretty sure you are. I can practically feel it from here. I’m flattered, really, but my hands are quite full.” He adjust Alisbeth’s completely limp body, trying to keep her head from lolling back too far. Her arm falls from her lap and dangles in the air. He sighs in exasperation.
“Don’t flatter yourself,” Grimory says with a grin. He watches, amused, as the other tries desperately to hold his wife. “Need some help, there? Perhaps…bigger arms?”
Koltira shoots him an unamused stare. “Our arms are the same size. What I need is for her to not be a corpse. At least sleeping people have some sort of rigidity to them.” Koltira kneels as she slips from his arms. “It’s like trying to hold cooked spaghetti.” He lays her out, re-crossing her arms and resisting the temptation to just fling her over his shoulder.
The Illidari gives a shrug. “If you say so.” He stops and turns, resting on a hip and folding his arms while he watches. His eyebrows lift in amusement. “I can get Ana to help if you’d like someone stronger…”
Kotira stops and finds a nearby stone to throw at Grimory. With a little trouble he gets Alisbeth into his arms again. “It’s good that you admit to your weakness,” Koltira shoots as he passes.
Grimory allows the rock to bounce off his chest. “Someone’s got to,” he retorts, following again. “Ana, slow down. We have an unconscious comrade, remember?”
The mage stops and whirls around to wait. “And even so, she’d still be faster than you two.”
The demon hunter rolls his eyes. “We could just fly, ride, or teleport, but someone has to be difficult.”
“I really don’t mind,” the death knight says. “I just,” he purses his lips not wanting to admit that he can barely keep her from slipping from his arms. As he thinks it, she slips down and he has to catch her. He sighs in defeat. “My armor is too smooth. She’s just going to keep falling.” He lifts her by the waist and lets her flop over his shoulder. “This should work.”
Grimory shakes his head. “My offer will be here when your pride isn’t.” He turns to Anarchaia as she falls in step with them. “Feeling better?”
Koltira pinches his face in annoyance. It’s not pride, he thinks, but remains silent.
The mage nods and smiles. “Still a sniffle, but no more coughing.”
He returns the smile and sets a palm on her head. “Nothing a long nap couldn’t fix?”
Anarchaia swats his hand away. “Don’t treat me like a child,” she huffs.
“Compared to me—to us—you are a child,” he chuckles.