Chapter Thirty-Five

“Have you been sitting there all night?” Grimory asks, scratching at his healing wounds as he sits across from Anarchaia. He yawns and hails the now familiar tavern maid.

“So what if I have?” The mage responds into the table. “Is Alisbeth awake yet?”

The Illidari puts in his order—bacon and ale—and leans forward to push Anarchaia’s head up. “I can’t hear you like that.”

“Is Alisbeth awake yet?” she repeats.

“Oh, no.” He releases her head and the girl’s face smacks back down onto the table. “Must have been one hell of a potion.”

Anarchaia groans. “I just want to get moving again.”

Koltira rubs at his face and stands. He heads back into the inn, hoping Grimory is awake and has left the room. Upon entering the tavern and seeing the demon hunter, he sighs and hold out his hand for the key. “Gonna go check on Ali.”

Grimory looks up, bacon hanging from the corner of his mouth, and slowly hands over the key. “Was just in there, but okay.”

“And?” the death knight prods.

Grimory swallows his food. “She’s fine?” he replies in a similar tone.

Koltira’s brow drops in annoyance. “Thank you for that insight. Excuse me.” His eyes flick momentarily to Anarchaia, then he clears his throat and leaves the room, making it a point to not look behind him.

“It would seem my advice has done little,” Grimory muses as he chews. “Or he’s forgotten everything I told him yesterday.”

Anarchaia refuses to lift her head. “He just wants to get a move on, too, I’m sure. I think we’re all tired of these…hindrances.”

“Could be worse.” The demon hunter shrugs. “We could all still be in Helheim.”

“I think I’d rather be,” she mutters under her breath.

~ * ~

The death knight looks down at Alisbeth and sighs. He drops the key to the table and pulls out his toiletries, retrieving some oils. He methodically works one through her hair, brushing it smooth afterward. Another, thicker oil he uses on her skin, stripping her down and working it all the way to her toes. With care, he turns her over and oils her back. Once finished he redresses her in clean clothes and pulls the blanket back over her. He puts everything away and groans, then heads back to the tavern to find something else to occupy his time.

“You can’t do that, Grim,” Anarchaia says tiredly from behind the black pieces of a chess board. “A knight can only move in these directions.” She traces a line through the squares with her finger.

“But it’s a knight. Shouldn’t he be able to just chop his way through a bunch of pawns?” Grimory pushes the horse piece through her line of pawns.

The mage grunts and swats his hand away, resetting the pieces. “Perhaps in reality, but this is chess. There are rules.”

“I don’t like rules.”

“Clearly,” she hisses, rolling her eyes.

Koltira sets himself sideways on the bench beside Grimory, one boot flat on the seat. He props up his elbow and leans his cheek against his fist. After staring at the board for some time he says, “Ana has checkmate in seven moves. Six if you’re smart about it.”

“Implying I wouldn’t be smart about it?” Anarchaia responds with raised eyebrows.

“I merely meant if you make sure he doesn’t anticipate a certain move. I’m sure you already know which one.”

“I was just messing with you,” the mage says timidly.

Grimory narrows his eyes down at the board. “I think I’m more of a checkers guy. Less…stuff to know.” He moves out a pawn and scowls when it’s taken. “And playing with a mage really isn’t fair to begin with.”

“Koltira knows what he’s doing.” Anarchaia lowers her chin to the table to look over the board at its level. “He’s not a mage.”

Koltira gazes around the tavern. “What time is it?”

She conjures her pocket watch and flicks it open. “Eleven thirty-six.” It disappears in a puff of violet smoke. “Why? Got a date? Heh.” She takes another of Grimory’s pawns.

Koltira raises an eyebrow, but doesn’t look at her. “Wouldn’t you like to know.” He purses his lips. “No, I’m just…counting.”

“Every potion has an effective duration of around eight hours, so she’ll likely be asleep for some multiple of eight. No, Grim. The bishop can only move diagonally—here.” She moves his piece to take hers.

“This isn’t the bishop?” He points.

“No, that’s your king.”

“But it’s got a cross on top of it.”

It’s your king.

The demon hunter scowls. “This game is silly.”

“But how long was she out before I found her?” the death knight muses, completely ignoring their chess game.

“That’s a fair point,” Anarchaia responds with a nod. “I suppose we won’t know until she wakes.” Growing bored herself, she flicks one of her pawns at Grimory’s broad chest.

The Illidari flinches. “I’m not an expert but I don’t think that’s a valid move.” He flinches again when another hits him between the eyes.

The mage giggles quietly. “Checkmate.”

Koltira rubs bored palms across his face. “Can we just carry her to Odyn? Please? Pretty please? I need to get out of this inn. I need to do something. We should go. Let’s go.” He stands abruptly.

The duo glance up at him, then one another. “Uh…okay. Sure.” Grimory stands and stretches. “So all these hours count toward the bet right?” He says with a smirk.

Anarchaia says nothing and uses her magic to replace the pieces within the wooden board; she closes it and places it back on the bookshelf.

“Nope. Your job doesn’t start until she’s awake.” Koltira heads for their room, waiting for the demon hunter to catch up and unlock it.

Grimory follows and shoulders the door open after slipping the key in. “Need help this time?”

Koltira shrugs as he dons his armor. “If you desperately want to, fine. Have at it.” Once in his gear he shoulders the two death knights’ bags, and slips their weapons crisscross behind his shoulders.

“I was only joking,” Grimory grumbles with a raised eyebrow. “You carry her.” He grabs Anarchaia’s bag and robes. “I’m sure all that walking last night’s prepared you enough.”

He shrugs again. “Whatever.” Koltira lifts Alisbeth from the bed, this time more prepared for her limp state. He cradles her in his arms, then exits the room.

Grimory rolls his eyes and follows, locking the door behind him. When back downstairs, he hands Anarchaia her clothing and she happily accepts.

“I almost forgot I had them,” she chuckles, throwing them over her head. “Ready?” She avoids looking at the unconscious girl in Koltira’s arms. “Shouldn’t take but a few hours.”

“Good. Rather be out walking than just sitting around waiting.” Koltira clenches his jaw as he glances at Anarchaia walking in front of him. More scenes replay in his mind and he scowls, doing his best to fight off the urge to act on the thoughts his memories are creating.

The mage pulls her hood up as they step back out into the fresh air outside. “Same, actually.” She furrows her brow, feeling Koltira’s gaze at her back; she pushes down the unease. Just act normal, Ana. The more you do that the quicker things will go back to the way they were.

Grimory rests an elbow on Anarchaia’s shoulder as they walk, his other hand at his hip. “So we get to kick more demon ass, right? Hope Ali doesn’t miss it. She’ll be disappointed.”

The death knight smirks. “Yes. I’m sure she’d enjoy that. Just…everyone watch out for rampaging brutes.”

“We probably shouldn’t even go that far until she’s awake,” Anarchaia mumbles. “She’d be a liability and could get hurt.”

Grimory laughs, ignoring the small voice beside him. “That was priceless. Nearly trampled Ana.” He pats her on the head. “Stay on your feet this time.”

The mage scowls. “I’m on my feet more often than you.”

The demon hunter shrugs and grins. “Can’t argue.”

Koltira raises an eyebrow. “How far can you levitate a person?”

Anarchaia turns her head to look at him out the corner of her eye. “A queer question. Why?”

“Well, we have a couple of options here. I fight one-handed with her over my shoulder or you ‘carry’ her through, or you levitate her over the whole mess and into the temple.” He gives her the faintest of smiles, though he’s trying to remain passive.

“I’d be extremely vulnerable, then. You’d have to protect me.” She turns to look ahead, swallowing. “But I could. It isn’t a terrible idea.”

Koltira smiles this time. “I would never let anything happen to you.” A shock of panic runs through him as he realizes how it sounded. “After all, if you go down, so does Ali.” Fixed!

Anarchaia clenches her jaw and flushes at his tone. “We can try,” she responds casually as though her heart didn’t just flutter within her ribs.

“Anything wanting to get to you has to get through me, first,” Grimory says with an air of confidence. “And you haven’t been hurt yet, hm?”

The mage gives a hollow chuckle and pats his arm. “I suppose not. You’ve always been a good bodyguard. Heh.”

When they do finally reach the bridge leading to the swarming demons in front of the Halls of Valor, Koltira holds Alisbeth out. “If you get too tired to hold her up any longer, let me know. We should rush, spend as little time getting through as possible.” He looks pointedly at the demon hunter. “We don’t want to wear Ana out.”

Anarchaia nods and takes Alisbeth into her possession, holding the girl high above her head before gravity pushes back and she can push her no further. For extra measure, she throws a productive shell of energy around herself. “All set.”

Grimory grins and takes off down the bridge like a horse from the gates, claws ready and already slashing everything in his path to shreds.

The mage blinks and jogs after him. “W-wait! I can’t run very quickly like this!”

Koltira keeps pace with the mage as best he can, catching stragglers which the demon hunter had angered, but not slain. “Don’t worry,” he says to the mage, “I’m right by your side.”

“I trust you,” Anarchaia chuckles, stepping over a dismembered arm. Her arms tremble some as a blast of fel fire washes over her barrier. “Ugh, Grim! Watch out!”

“Sorry!” the Illidari calls with a grin, already spattered with glowing green ooze. “Figured you’d be okay!”

“Ana, faster!” Koltira shouts as a moarg brute comes stomping up behind them. He turns, slashing at its legs and lower belly. Byfrost slices deep; the brute’s intestines spill out on the ground, but it keeps swinging its arms, trying to smash its club onto Koltira.

The mage stumbles out of the way of the wave of viscera, leaping over some unidentifiable organ before picking up the pace. “Oh gods, gross!” she cries, weaving through the path Grimory made toward the gigantic staircase ahead. Ugh, losing strength… She grits her teeth.

Grimory stops at the stairs and turns to gaze upon his handiwork, smoldering hands at his hips. “All clear!” He says with a grin as he watches Koltira clean up the stragglers.

The death knight finishes off a final imp and stands with the others. He brushes some entrails from himself, then positions to stand under Alisbeth, arms out to catch her.

Anarchaia gingerly sets the girl back into her husband’s arms before collapsing to her knees and puffing tiredly. After a second her eyes widen and she groans. The noise leads into laughter. “I—heh—could have teleported us here.”

Grimory looks down at her and shrugs. “But then I wouldn’t have gotten to kill more demons.” He holds out his hand. “You need to work out more.”

The mage accepts the help, her legs screaming as she stands. “It wouldn’t do much.” After a second to recover, she sighs and makes her way up the steps.

Koltira walks behind as a sort of barricade, should the mage stumble backward. “Anything we can do to help you?”

<<The soreness doesn’t help,>> she mutters in Gutterspeak. “I’ll be okay,” she responds with a breathless smile. “Just not used to running that much all at once.”

Grimory stretches as the party enters the massive hall once again, looking around. “So… Do we just, like, call him? Or…? He just kinda showed up last time.”

Koltira lifts an eyebrow as the mage complains about being sore. <<Did you hurt yourself?>> he asks in Gutterspeak in return.

Anarchaia flinches. <<Uh…Y-Yes! I was sitting in an uncomfortable position all night. Heh. My back hurts.>>

The demon hunter eyes the two suspiciously. “Wh—”

“You’ve returned!” Odyn’s familiar voice booms through the hall as his visage appears before them. “So tell me, were you successful?”

As Odyn’s voice echoes through the hall, Alisbeth snaps awake and flails in terror. Koltira holds her tighter and tries to calm her down. Her face sours to a glare and she slaps him across the face.

“What the hell was that for?” he demands.

“Like you don’t know!” She pushes away from him and stands on the other side of Anarchaia, arms folded with her scowl deepened to a pout.

The mage and Illidari turn to look at the scene and then one another. Snapping back to the situation at hand, Anarchaia elbows Grimory. “Fly up and tell him we…didn’t succeed.” She hesitates. “And ask if there’s any other way to gain his favor.”

The demon hunter sighs and spreads his wings, lifting off the ground to do as he’s told.

Anarchaia shoots an apprehensive glance at Koltira before turning to Alisbeth. “Ali! Are you all right? What happened? We were so worried.”

Alisbeth smiles up at Odyn. “Hi!” she shouts. She turns her smile to Anarchaia. “I found a traveler taking a nap. He smelled like gin, so I searched his bags for a bottle and found five! I drank them all. So, how did I get here?”

The mage furrows her brow. “Ali, those were sleeping po—”

“Hm. That is troublesome,” Odyn booms, stroking his beard of lava. “Normally I’d ask you to return and truly prove your strength, but I happen to have another trial for you.”

Grimory folds his arms. “Oh? Like what?”

“Enter the Halls of Valor and defeat the trials that are laid before you. If you succeed in that, I’ll grant you my favor and aid in this endeavor of yours.”

Anarchaia blinks up at the god. “So…no Helheim? I think we can manage.” She cups her hands around her mouth. “THANK YOU!

Odyn gives a curt nod. “Good luck, champions.”

“Thank you!” Alisbeth shouts as she sprints over and hugs the god’s ankle. She runs back to Anarchaia’s side and hooks her elbow through the mage’s. “What were you saying?”

Koltira blinks at the other death knight. “Ali—”

She purses her lips at him and sticks her nose in the air. “Do you hear something, Agave?”

Anarchaia gives Koltira a sympathetic shrug and returns to speaking with Alisbeth. “You drank sleeping potions, Ali. You’ve been asleep for nearly two days.”

Grimory lands gently beside them. “You missed the second round of demon slaughtering.”

Alisbeth narrows her eyes. “So everything that happened…didn’t?” She turns a cheerful smile on Koltira. “Okay, I’m not mad at you.” She skips to him and presses her lips to his.

A pang of guilt hits Koltira in the gut, but he smiles anyway. “Well, good. Because I’m glad you’re awake.”

Anarchaia’s stomach tightens and she can’t stop herself from looking away. Are you jealous? What is wrong with you? Get ahold of yourself! She glances over at the doorway of swirling light to their left. “Not sure if we need supplies for this…”

Koltira’s eyes flit to Anarchaia before he forces them to look away. “What’s the plan?”

As though remembering Grimory existed at all Alisbeth gasps and leaps at him, wrapping her arms over his shoulders so she can pull on his horns. “You killed things without me? How could you!

Grimory chuckles and winces. “Not my fault you were out cold. Maybe don’t drink mysterious liquids?”

Alisbeth frowns at Grimory. “It was supposed to be gin. You woulda drank it, too.” She reaches up and gives his nipple a quick twist, then goes back to link arms with Anarchaia. “What is the plan?”

“Yeah, probably—agh!” Grimory hisses in pain and swats her hand away. He glances over at Anarchaia. “So…Halls of Valor. Isn’t that where we are?”

The mage nods. “Yes, but there appears to be more to this place than this. There’s a portal just over there but…I’m not sure if the four of us are adequate. None of us can heal wounds.”

“I can heal my own wounds!” Alisbeth jumps excitedly beside the mage.

“That doesn’t help Grim and me.” Anarchaia sighs and runs a palm over her head.

Koltira purses his lips. “She means someone more adept at it.”

“Speak for yourself. I can eat souls to heal myself.” The demon hunter places a hand over his chest to emphasize his point. “The only glass cannon here is you.” He pokes her in the sternum.

“Well none of you can heal me, then. Regardless, we need to find someone. We’ll return to Dalaran and I’ll post an ad around the city.”

“All of us?” Koltira asks.

Alisbeth fidgets and smiles awkwardly. “Okay, but I’m not allowed to go many places unless someone is there to make sure I’m not getting into trouble because apparently I have a problem with not getting along with idiots in taverns…”

“That’s right. She needs a babysitter.” He stares pointedly at the demon hunter.

Grimory blinks then smiles. “Oh yeah! This is a good opportunity to prove you wrong.” He turns to poke Koltira in the chest. “Until this time tomorrow, that is.”

Anarchaia concentrates before opening a portal before her, the gateway humming as it swirls about. “You don’t have to come with, if you don’t want,” she says more to Koltira than anyone. “I figured you would prefer the change of scenery. But what do I know?” You probably want to be as far away from me as possible.

“Oh, oh no. I’m coming,” Koltira says. “I want to see this idiot fail miserably. Liquor tastes so much better when someone else pays for it.”

“Okay, what are we waiting for?” Alisbeth dives head-first into the portal.

“Better get after her before she starts harassing people and starting fights.” Koltira gestures for Grimory to go through.

The demon hunter rolls his eyes. “It’s not a victory if you’re telling me how to win.” He steps through without waiting for a response.

Anarchaia swallows and hesitates when the two are left alone. She holds up an arm. “After you. Heh.”

Koltira fidgets, running his fingers through his hair. His tongue falters on so many things he wants to say. So instead he smiles and steps through the portal.

Anarchaia cringes and gives another sigh before following as well; the portal closes behind her.

 

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