Chapter Forty-One

Koltira takes the stairs down to the tavern to find the druid waiting patiently with a mug of strong-brewed coffee and a sugary pastry. “Morning, Juliember.”

She grunts. “It is.” The troll takes a drink and returns to staring at the wall.

“Not a morning person?”

“Astute.” She doesn’t look at him.

He takes a seat and leans on the table to wait for the others to show up.

Grimory makes his way down the stairs from the loft, scratching at one of his sideburns and ordering his own coffee at the bar. He doesn’t look at the two and instead watches as his drink is poured.

A swirling flash of light tears through the tavern and when it clears, Anarchaia stands in its place, stretching. She pushes her hood back. “Good morning, friends.”

Grimory grunts in response, sipping his piping hot coffee.

Koltira’s jaw tenses as he holds off saying anything to Grimory. Then he stands to get closer. “Where’s Alisbeth?”

The demon hunter points to the shower room upstairs, but says nothing.

Swallowing his angry pride, Koltira clears his throat. “I want to apologize for last night. I…really overdid the inferno punch. I just want you to know that Ana and I are only friends. I love Alisbeth too much to hurt her.” Which is why she can never know. “I’d rather you and I stayed friends as well.”

Grimory’s eyes finally shift to Koltira’s and he gives a shrug. “Sure.” You’re a liar, but sure.

Koltira heads upstairs to find Alisbeth. He’s not buying it.

Anarchaia takes up a spot near Juliember. “Ready for today?”

Juliember makes a face. “If you are always this…chipper in the mornings then I’d rather you didn’t talk until I’ve finished my coffee.”

Anarchaia tilts her head at the woman and titters. “Mornings are meaningless when you don’t sleep.”

Juliember turns a tired scowl on the mage. “I do sleep.”

Anarchaia blinks and sits upright. “O-Oh! I’m being inconsiderate. I’ll…go away. Sorry.” She glances across the room to Grimory at the bar and cringes. “On second thought, I’ll just stay here and be quiet.”

The druid grumbles and takes a huge drink of her coffee.

The shower door opens and Alisbeth steps out to find Koltira standing by the door. She glares at him. “Call it off.”

“What?”

“The bet. Gary says I’m not something to be bet on. Either he wins or you call off the bet.” She goes to their room to find clean clothes.

Koltira growls. “You slept with him last night, didn’t you?”

She furrows her brow. “He slept. I watched.” She smiles. “His tattoos still glow when he’s asleep!”

“But he told you about the bet.”

You should have told me about the bet. But you didn’t!” She hits his chest with her bundle of clothes, then drops her towel and begins dressing. “We’re all supposed to be friends, right? So do what I say or I…I won’t be your friend anymore.”

The bottom lids of Koltira’s eyes raise up. “You can’t just unfriend your husband. That’s not how this works.”

“That sounds like a challenge.”

“It’s not a challenge.”

“It sounds like a challenge.”

“Alisbeth you can’t—”

Stop telling me what I can’t do!” She shrieks loud enough for the whole inn to hear.

Grimory smiles to himself as he sips his drink

Anarchaia, however, cringes at the shriek and immediately resorts to more finger fidgeting. Not good.

“Last night I played with all the toys in the toy shop and no one stopped me or told me I was too old for them or that I couldn’t have them. The shopkeep even stayed open late for me. And I didn’t get in trouble! Then I came right back here because Gerard asked me to, nicely.” She shoves past Koltira to go downstairs. “WEE!” Alisbeth rides the banister down into the tavern.

Grimory tilts his head toward the stairs. “Hi again,” he says casually to Alisbeth.

“Hi!” She smiles. She turns her smile on Anarchaia. “Hi!” Then sobers at Juliember. “Hi,” she whispers.

The druid furrows her brow, then shrugs, accepting the quiet greeting.

“Bye!” she calls, waving one hand to Grimory and one to Anarchaia. She then runs out the door.

Grimory lifts his eyebrows but does not follow. “Well,” he grunts and downs the rest of his coffee. He turns to Anarchaia. “Guess we aren’t leaving just yet.”

The mage continues to toy with her fingers and sighs. “I guess not. Good thing I’m a patient person.”

Koltira goes down to the tavern with Alisbeth’s pack and his own. He searches the room, then narrows his eyes. “Where’d she go?”

“Out the door,” Grimory responds, leaning back against the bar with both elbows.

The death knight’s jaw clenches. “Why are you doing this?”

The demon hunter smiles cattily. “Didn’t we have this conversation last night?” His smile grows suspicious. “You’re not going to follow her? What if she gets in trouble?”

“Of course I’m going after her, since you clearly don’t have a responsible bone in your body. The bet is off.” He storms from the tavern, leaving their bags on the floor by the table.

“Oh it is, is it?” Grimory chuckles after him.

“Grim, I don’t know what this is all about but you’re being rather…unkind.” Anarchaia scowls at him from beneath her mask. “I’d appreciate it if you’d try harder to get along with everyone.”

“And by everyone you mean Koltira,” he responds, his smile fading.

“Yes,” she admits. “You and I have talked about this. You said you would try.”

Grimory purses his lips. “I did.” He sighs through his nose. “Fine. I’m sorry.” I’ll be nice to your boyfriend.

Going based on what she’d been doing last night, Koltira goes to the toy shop. Alisbeth is sitting on the floor tossing a zeppelin back and forth with the pink-haired gnome. Koltira kneels down beside her. “Hey, we have to get going to the Halls.”

Alisbeth frowns at the zeppelin in her hands, then tosses it to glide to the gnome again. “Okay.” She stands and dusts off her rear.

“Wait!” the gnome calls after her. She stops in the doorway and he glides the zeppelin to her. “Hold onto this for me!”

Alisbeth smiles excitedly and runs to pick the gnome up in a hug. “Thank you!”

The gnome grunts. “Please don’t pick me up.”

Alisbeth runs back to the inn ahead of Koltira and finds Grimory. “Goliath! Catch!” She sails the zeppelin to him.

The Illidari holds up a hand lazily and pulls the toy out of the air. He admires the craftsmanship and gives a hum of approval. “You buy this?” He sails it back.

She snatches the zeppelin, excitement sparkling in her eyes. “No! The gnome gave it to me! Achievable, catch!”

The zeppelin sails over the mage and hits the druid in the forehead. Alisbeth purses her lips. Juliember glares at the toy, then at Alisbeth. She picks it up and Alisbeth holds her breath. The troll chuckles and tosses it back.

“That will be a fun toy to have around,” Juliember says.

Grimory barks a laugh. “Maybe we can use it in the trial. Looks pretty deadly.” He stands and stretches. “Could honestly just leave our weapons here.”

Anarchaia gives a small chuckle and stands as well. “You and I don’t even use weapons.”

“It was a joke,” the demon hunter whispers loudly past a hand.

“I need to go to the bank,” Alisbeth announces. “They have some stuff I want to bring.”

“Stuff?” Koltira questions. “What stuff?”

“Thassarian didn’t just take me to get the Maw,” she says as though it’s obvious. She shoulders the axe and smiles. “That okay with you?”

The mage and demon hunter exchange glances. “Can you be back in twenty minutes?” Anarchaia says hesitantly. “I mean, we’re not necessarily in a hurry, but… it’s nice to be prompt.”

She thinks. “Two copper says I’m back in ten!” She shoves the toy at Anarchaia, grabs her pack, and runs out the door, not waiting for anyone to take her bet.

Koltira blinks after her. “She…has a bank account?”

Grimory laughs. “Don’t you share one? Being married‘n all?”

Koltira’s eyes search the room for prying ears. “Shh!” He strides to the demon hunter to whisper. “She keeps her name because it’s a secret. They broke me out of the prison in Undercity, the Banshee Queen hasn’t sought to take me again, but nothing would stop her from taking—or killing—Alisbeth. Please, I am begging you, keep your voice down.” His eyes beg Grimory to oblige this one request.

Grimory lifts his eyebrows, taken aback by Koltira’s tone. He grits his teeth, holding back words that Anarchaia warned him about. “I’m…sorry. I’ll do my best.”

Anarchaia gives a small smile beneath her mask and sits again. Thanks, Grim.

“I know you don’t care about her past combat and your one night, but you trying means a lot. I would rather not find her in pieces.” Koltira holds out his hand to the demon hunter. “I liked it more when we weren’t arguing. Truce?”

You’re wrong. I do. He sobers and takes the death knight’s hand, giving a firm shake. “Truce.” He glances over Koltira’s shoulder at Anarchaia. You’d better appreciate this. It’s hard.

Koltira crosses the room to sit with the other two. “Morning, Juliember. Sorry for the chaos.”

The troll chuckles. “It’s like watching a play. Half drama half comedy.”

Koltira raises an eyebrow. “I’m…sorry?”

“Don’t be. I haven’t gotten this much action since I learned how to fuck as a bat.”

Koltira coughs. “Y-you what?”

Grimory gives another laugh. “I like this woman.”

Anarchaia’s eyes widen and she turns to the troll, parchment and paper ready in an instant. “You can do that?!

Juliember smiles behind her tusks. “I have seven forms, it would be silly to not have fun in all of them. So, yes, I can do that. And so much more.”

A woman enters the tavern, clothed head to toe in purple robes covered by ornate white plate pieces over the chest, arms, hands and shoulders, and fanning out in white blades down the skirt, some dangling from chains. She walks straight to their table and slams a purple, spiked hook into the wood. She drops a huge, heavy bag into Anarchaia’s lap.

“For all the trouble I’ve caused.”

Koltira’s eyes widen. “Alisbeth?”

The mage jumps in surprise and blinks down at the bag. Her eyes slide up to the hood. The parchment and paper disappear and she gives a nervous smile. “Uh…that’s not necessary, Ali. Heh.” I honestly don’t deserve anything from you. “You needn’t worry about it. Really. Truly.”

Alisbeth waves a dismissive hand. “It’s only five hundred, not like I gave you a fortune. Pocket change. Wait, should I have given you more? I can run back to the bank!”

Koltira grabs her hand before she can leave. “Where did you get all this money?”

She throws her hood back and unbuckles the white and purple helm covering her face. “It’s mine. I’ve always had it. I moved it from Silvermoon to Dalaran when you were at Agmar’s Hammer. You said this is the same Dalaran. You were right! They still have all my stuff! Plus four years’ interest on my gold! Not that I needed the extra.”

Anarchaia gently places the bag on the table. “Really, though. I have no use for money. It’s very kind of you regardless.”

His mouth drops open. “How much gold do you have? What about this?” He motions at her new equipment.

“It’s mine. What? Did you think I got rid of my things when I abandoned the Light? As if! And I didn’t count the gold. I had to be back in ten minutes. And I was! Two copper for me!” She holds out her hand expectantly.

“Nice threads!” Grimory says, coming over to inspect. “They suit you. Purple is a good color.”

“Thanks!” Alisbeth grabs the bag of gold and plops it into Grimory’s hands. “Ashildir doesn’t want this. You can have it.”

Juliember stands to tower over the death knight. She smirks. “Purple is my favorite color,” she says in broken Thalassian and drops two copper into Alisbeth’s hand as the giant insect wings on her back flutter. “What say we get this side show on the road?”

Alisbeth bounces with glee at the copper and puts it in her new purple satchel she’s replaced her backpack with. She leans forward in excitement. “Someone else bet me to do something! I’ll do anything. And then I’ll be rich off your copper!”

“I bet you to say absolutely nothing for any entire five minutes,” Grimory says with a sly grin, then covers the side of his mouth, whispering to the others. “There’s no way she’ll do it.”

Alisbeth narrows her eyes at Grimory and walks into the kitchen with her helm tucked under an arm. When she returns, she’s buckling the helm back on. She lifts her hood up, slipping her ears through small holes on the sides. With a tug, she pulls the spikes of her hook from the wood and shoulders the weapon, then waits for the others.

Koltira raises his eyebrows. “You ready to go, Ali?”

She nods.

Juliember drops a palm on Grimory’s shoulder. “It’s okay. We’re all wrong from time to time.” She approaches Alisbeth and the death knight hooks an arm through hers, then beckons the others with a tilt of her head.

Grimory’s smirk remains. “It’s been thirty seconds.” He dumps the bag of gold into Anarchaia’s arms again and follows.

The mage sends the bag away with a sparkle of purple despite not wanting it, then stands and folds her arms, her weight on a hip. “So. You’re all just gonna walk?”

Koltira slings his pack and sword over his shoulders, then holds his hands out to display Anarchaia like a game show prize. “Guys, our chariot awaits.”

“I’m used to running,” the druid says, “or flying.”

Alisbeth drags the troll back to Anarchaia and waits, popping up on the balls of her feet, then back down.

The mage lifts her hands and energy rotates around her.

No portals in my tavern!” an orc woman calls from the loft.

Anarchaia cocks her head in the direction of the voice, then opens the portal anyway.

Grimory gives a hearty laugh and steps through first.

Alisbeth gives Anarchaia a thumbs up as she hops through the portal. The troll follows with a laugh. Again, Koltira finds himself as the awkward last. This time he gives her a kind smile before stepping into the portal.

Anarchaia returns the smile, but realizes too late that it’s hidden behind her mask. Ugh, damn it. She shoots the angry inn owner a glare and steps through as well.

Grimory instantly makes for the portal at the far end of the hall. “Let’s get this party started.”

Alisbeth runs after him, raising her hook in the air as a silent war cry. Juliember waits by the portal exit for the other two to emerge.

Anarchaia steps out and the portal closes behind her. She readjusts her robes and looks up, then jumps as she sees the other two ruining off. “W-wait!” She follows.

Grimory steps through the light-encased doorway and stops, marveling at the sight around him. Golden clouds accent tall stone pillars and red banners. Dragons made of lightning and Valkyr soar about.

“Much prettier than I was expecting,” he admits.

Mmmh!” Alisbeth bumps into Grimory’s back and falls to her rear.

The demon hunter whirls around and eyes the woman on the ground, pointing at her. “That counts!”

Alisbeth holds up her hands and shakes her head, making strange gestures at him, then to her mouth, then to him again.

Grimory places his hands on his hips and pulls his ears back. “It does so!”

Koltira rolls his eyes to Anarchaia. “You expected anything less from those two?”

Anarchaia gives Koltira a worn grin. “I don’t expect anything from either of them at this point.”

Koltira nods. Juliember smiles. “Are they always like that?”

“Yes,” Koltira grunts.

“And you are okay with it? The closeness?”

Koltira waves his hand, dismissing the subject. “We’d better hurry in there before they get themselves into real trouble.”

Anarchaia nods. Once inside, she calls out to the demon hunter. “Grim! Let’s get g—”

“Ah, you’ve returned!” Odyn’s voice rings through the air around them. “And have jumped in so quickly I’d hardly noticed! Don’t bother speaking—I won’t be able to hear you. The trial is simple enough: make your way through the Halls until you’ve reached the throne room. There you’ll gain your reward and the favor you seek. Good luck, champions!”

The mage narrows her eyes and waits for a long moment, then clears her throat. “Grim!” she repeats, “Let’s get going!”

The demon hunter gestures to his eyes with two fingers, then points them at Alisbeth. He turns and runs down the length of the bridge, claws extended.

Koltira holds out a hand to help Alisbeth up from the ground. “You’re really trying to win this bet, aren’t you?”

She nods, then shoulders her hook and runs after Grimory again; Koltira follows. In a second a tiger with aqua fur and light blue hair streaks past him to catch the others.

Anarchaia takes up the rear at a safe distance, hood flying back to her shoulders.

Grimory launches himself into a group of vrykul men, nails raking through them as they fight back with fierce aggression. One manages to slash open his shoulder while another sends bolts of electricity his way.

Alisbeth hooks her weapon around a vrykul’s shoulder, yanking him away from Grimory and throwing him on the ground. She uses the spikes along the outer curve of the hook to saw his head off. She holds it up in triumph, forgetting that no one can see her smiling behind her helm.

Juliember pops into her original form and throws a few quick healing spells at Grimory; they swirl around him as green mist and intangible leaves. Next, she throws a mushroom to the ground, which emits a sparkling green mist around their feet. “Don’t be starting without me. I will be letting you kiss the floor.”

Koltira laughs at the druid and jumps into the fight.

“Ana told me to go!” The Illidari shouts before exhaling a billowing mass of emerald fire over the group. He breathes a sigh of relief as his wounds close and energy flows through him anew.

“Don’t blame me!” Anarchaia calls back, lifting a hand.

A swirling cloud materializes above the group. Spikes of ice rain down on their heads, shattering before hitting any of her allies, but crashing against the skulls of her foes. Those managing to dodge the hail are chilled to their core, slowing their movements and reactions.

Alisbeth reaches up to grab at the ice shards, stomping her foot when they shatter over her palms.

Grimory stops and turns to the troll when the last man falls, folding his arms and waiting a beat. “You ready? All good?”

She turns into a tiger and roars at him.

Alisbeth jumps up and down, excitedly pointing at the druid and clapping her hands.

“Let’s get a move on,” Koltira says, a bloodlust-induced grin on his face.

Grimory wiggles his fingers. “Ooh, scary.” He turns and runs headlong into the next pack, narrowly avoiding a breath of lightning from a storm drake.

Anarchaia gives a hesitant look of disgust at the decapitated man before following.

Koltira runs into the pack, screaming and sword swinging, realizing how much he’d needed a good fight like this.

Alisbeth, again, finds a creative way to use her hook. She cuts a slit into the man’s back, rams it in and twists, then yanks hard, taking his spine out.

Anarchaia’s stomach gives a turn and she decides to spray a cloud of particularly hot flames over the group, putting any stragglers out of their misery within seconds. “Let’s just do this efficiently, please.”

As the group reaches the end of the bridge, a duo of doors open to reveal a large, armored man between two lines of pillars. “Oh? Challengers?” the man growls, drawing his sword. “Good. I’ll prove to be your first test.” He gestures at the doors behind his back with a thumb. “Defeat me, Hymdall, champion of Odyn, and I’ll allow you passage.”

 

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