Alisbeth runs over to Anarchaia and throws an arm over her shoulder. “Hey, so, are you able to at least fix the burned cloth? Because I want my skirt back. The outfit just isn’t the same without it.” Her lips curve down into a frowning pout.
“I can’t repair anything that’s missing parts,” Anarchaia explains. “But like I said, I know someone who can repair it for you. I actually sent it there for him to look at.”
Juliember pats Koltira on the back. “It was a good fight. Your woman knows her way around weapons.”
He gives a tight lipped smile. “She is skilled, yes, but mostly she likes when things die.”
The death knight frowns. “I look bad, don’t I?”
Anarchaia sets a hand on Alisbeth’s shoulder and smiles. “Not bad. Just…vulnerable.”
Alisbeth grumbles. “It doesn’t match! I should have looked harder for the pants, I just wanted to be back in time. Sometimes I think the vault I have is too big. I mean, I have to keep the gold on one side and then all of my old clothes and weapons on the other side and then of course the fun things I’ve found in the world and just couldn’t bring myself to throw out—those are in crates at the back.” She sighs. “I should get rid of the gold to make room for more clothes. I mean there’s just so much of it. What do I even do with all that?” As she talks she unwraps a candy cane and lifts her mask to pop it into her mouth. “Want one?” She holds out another one for Anarchaia.
The mage waves her hand to politely decline. “You could buy a mount.” She sobers. “…Oor a house in the woods.”
“You said you needed a rest?” Grimory asks as he comes up behind Juliember. “We can take a brief break if you need.”
The druid smiles down at Grimory. “You can’t be saying you’re not hungry looking at that feast?” she says in her broken Thalassian. She winks at him and races ahead as a tiger, then takes a seat and digs into an abandoned meal.
Grimory sets his hands on his hips and turns to wait. “Sloppy seconds don’t appetize me.” A beat passes and he purses his lips. Not entirely anyway.
The druid turns, her face covered in food. “If the first be as sloppy as the second, I be seeing no difference!” She rips a drumstick from a bird in the center and hocks it at him. “Here, no one has been chewing on that one.”
Grimory turns back just in time to catch the food with little grace. “Since you insist.” He bites the leg in half and chews, bone and all. “What about you, Ana? You need a break?”
Anarchaia tilts her head in his direction. “Uh…no. I’m fine. Thanks, though.”
Juliember shoves the last of a berry pie in her mouth and nabs the candy cane from Alisbeth’s hand. “Peppermint be the perfect ending to a good meal.” She belches, finishes a mead, then tosses the mug to the floor and wipes her mouth. “Oh, look, that door be open.”
Koltira moves to the door and eyes the golden pathway. “I suppose we’ve passed the tests?” He steps a toe onto the translucent path and is suddenly transformed into a shimmering ball of light that zips up the path to a huge spire with a tall door.
“Kolty!” Alisbeth screams, reaching after him, but she stops on the edge of the platform and eyes the golden path.
Anarchaia’s eyes widen and she also stops at the edge of the bridge. “Fascinating.” She reaches out a hand to touch it, but, before she can, Grimory rushes past her and into the energy. He flies off as a similar orb of light to the other end.
Anarchaia straightens and fidgets with her hands. “This looks…unorthodox.”
“Woo-hoo!” The druid runs between the two and leaps into the golden energy. Her orb zips side to side on the bridge.
Koltira comes out on the other end, eyes wide as he regains his bearings, nerves screaming from the pain.
Alisbeth backs up and smiles at Anarchaia. “So, this has been really fun. Thank you for the adventure. Don’t die and I’ll see you at the end of all this!” She presses herself to the wall.
Grimory pops back up and stretches. “That was pretty cool, I guess.”
Anarchaia turns to Alisbeth. “Oh, no no no. I’m not going until you do.” She pauses, then holds out her hand. “Or we could go together.”
Juliember pops up with the other two. “That was fun.”
Alisbeth shrinks away and whispers, “I don’t want to be nothing.”
“Light isn’t technically nothing,” the mage explains, hand still outstretched. “And look, they’re all back on the other side.”
She purses her lips and stares at the mage’s hand. “Don’t let go of me, okay?”
“I would never.”
Alisbeth grips Anarchaia’s hand and squeezes as tight as she can, then screams as they step onto the pathway. When they pop back up, she’s still screaming, this time in pain. She stops and glares. “No!” She points at the path. “No. No. No! Never again!” She stomps past the others and into the tower, hoping for an exit, but only finds a single room with four men below a throne where Odyn sits.
Anarchaia stares at her shaking hands, then cranes her neck to look at the rest of herself as if worried she’s missing pieces. The pain in her core and limbs fades quickly enough for her curiosity to take over. “Fascinating,” she repeats, patting her face with her palms.
Grimory shakes his head. “You two are so easily spooked. Live a little.”
Anarchaia narrows an eye. “You live enough for the lot of us.”
Alisbeth waits until Grimory is near enough, then punches him in the shoulder. “I live plenty! I just don’t want to become nothing, okay? I’ve already done that. Not that you care.” She pouts and strides to stand across the room from him.
The demon hunter finches—more in surprise than in pain—and furrows his brow at her. Oh, I don’t care, huh?
Koltira smirks, pretending it’s not for the reason it is. “Nice choice in words.” He pats Grimory’s shoulder.
He turns an unamused glance at Koltira as he passes. “I didn’t mean it like that, obviously.”
Anarchaia trots ahead and opens her mouth to speak up at Odyn, then closes it again upon seeing four well-armored vrykul men in the shadows of the arena walls. She gives a quiet groan of tired irritation. “This certainly is a trial.”
Together, the five make quick work of the four champions, Juliember growing bored as none of her charges get any sort of injured; Koltira determined to finish fast; Anarchaia flinching at every frost bolt or fireball she sends at the vrykul; Grimory trying his best not to look at Alisbeth’s bare legs as he focuses on getting through this final challenge; Alisbeth beats the vrykul in a more violent way than necessary, imagining the faces of people who have aggravated her at one point or another: Thassarian, Mograine, that weird guy pacing the halls of Acherus that just rubs her the wrong way, and finally Grimory. But she doesn’t hit that one quite as hard, more to hurt him than kill him as she realizes the demon hunter has at least gained the right to live through any anger he causes her.
When finished, Alisbeth drops to her rear and cleans her blade with her index finger, using the blood to doodle on the shining gold and bronze floor.
“Well done, champions!” Odyn says as he stands. “As promised, here is your prize.” A glimmering shield of silver materializes before them. “The Aegis of Aggramar serves as a keystone to the Broken Isles. Surely it can serve of some use—”
Anarchaia leans her head back and lifts her hands. “Gods’ sakes, what now?!”
“I am God-King Skovald! I deserve the rights to the Aegis! Not these…puny mortals.” A massive vrykul man stomps his way to the center of the arena, leather and fur adorning his body and fel crackling in his eyes.
“These adventurers have earned their right to it, Skovald. It is theirs.”
The death knight on the floor furrows her brow up at the vrykul. “You’re joking, right? You are joking…right?”
Skovald ignores her and continues to address Odyn. “If they do not surrender it in life, then they’ll surrender it in death.”
Alisbeth jumps to her feet. “Oh, thems fightin’ words! Come at me, bitch!” She leaps at him, digging her hook into his shoulder. He grabs her and throws her to the side. The plate of her armor shrieks against the polished floor.
Grimory growls as Alisbeth is hurled across the floor. He lunges forward, digging his claws into the man’s leg—protected only by boiled leather. Skovald kicks him away, pulling his gargantuan sword from his back.
Anarchaia bites her lip and rushes forward to grab the Aegis, intertwining her magic with that of the object to lift it with ease. “I’ll keep this safe!”
Alisbeth skitters back to her feet and rushes the huge man, leaping to his back once more. She jams her hook into his arm as he reaches for the mage, then rips to sever the muscles.
Koltira slashes upward to cut across the vrykul’s belly. “Grim, go for the throat!”
Skovald gives a roar of pain and defiance, kicking Koltira away and again making for Anarchaia and the Aegis. He nearly tramples Grimory in doing so, but the demon hunter leaps to the side, scrambling up the vrykul’s cape to get to his neck.
“The Aegis belongs to me!” Skovald shouts through his agony.
Anarchaia shrinks back, then turns to dash away, blinking once then casting a spell of invisibility over herself and the relic. Koltira growls and chases after the rampaging vrykul.
Alisbeth works her hook into his chest. “We didn’t go through all this just to have your stupid face ruin it, you…stupid face!”
Juliember’s eyes go wide as he stumbles her way. She dashes away and runs around to stand behind him.
Skovald grabs Alisbeth from his chest and pries her away, tossing her to the floor and swinging his sword wildly around. “Show yourself, you faceless coward!”
He makes a lucky strike, the tip of his blade slashing across Anarchaia’s shoulder blades and knocking her from her invisibility. She cries out and slides across the floor stomach-down, the Aegis skidding ahead of her. She makes to reach for it but the pain of lifting her arms is too great and she crumples back to the floor. I’m so bad at this. I’m so sorry.
Finally reaching Skovald’s neck, Grimory plunges his claws into the exposed flesh between his helm and gorget. His nails explode out the other side in a rain of blood. Skovald gives a gurgle and claws at his gorget, ripping it off and tossing it aside. He tries to growl but blood oozes from his lips instead. He crashes to the floor, a hand on his neck and the other still reaching for the Aegis.
Alisbeth stays laid out flat, glaring at the ceiling as Koltira rushes to Anarchaia’s side, mostly providing a blockade from the others’ views. “You’re bleeding,” he mumbles.
“We’ve all bled,” the druid says over his shoulder as she heals the wound.
Koltira jumps, then looks back. “Discreetness would be preferable.” He catches himself, remembering her outburst earlier. “If, of course, Ana wants it.”
Anarchaia rises to her feet, exhaling slowly at the pain as her wounds heal. She rolls a shoulder and looks up at the death knight, frowning slightly at his wit. “If the attitude is caused by what I said earlier, I’m so—”
“Well done…again!” Odyn booms with a wide smile. “I must say the halls will be much quieter without Skovald’s demands for recognition.” He chuckles.
Grimory pants quietly and gives the god a thumbs up, then steps off Skovald’s bleeding corpse over to Alisbeth. He kneels and offers a hand. “You all right, Ali? You look salty.”
Koltira ignores Odyn for a second to purse his lips at Anarchaia. “Wasn’t an attitude.” He strides away from her, rather than offering to help clean the green blood from her back as he’d planned. Good. It’s better she hate me.
Alisbeth throws her helmet to the side and pinches her face in anger, then shouts, “If I have to fight one more thing to prove my worth, I’m going to go crazy!” She grumbles and takes Grimory’s hand.
Juliember nods at the screaming death knight. “I be agreeing with her. Please tell me we’re done.”
Anarchaia sobers, hurt spreading through her chest as the pain in her back subsides. Ugh. He’s never going to forgive me… Not that I deserve it. She pulls off her ichor-stained robes and folds them in such a way that the soiled parts are hidden, then lifts the Aegis again and approaches Odyn. “So we have your favor?”
The god nods. “Absolutely! Not only that, but your triumph here will ring in these halls for eternity.”
Grimory pulls her to her feet and chuckles. “Sounds like we’re good.”
“Not too battered?” Koltira asks as he subtly slips in to pull her away from Grimory and into his arms for a hug.
Alisbeth grips him. “I’m good! Jeeves had my back the whole time.”
Juliember chuckles. “I assume you mean me? I had all your backs.”
Anarchaia sighs and turns to her party. “Well. I guess congratulations are in order? Heh.”
Grimory lifts an eyebrow at Koltira’s behavior, but his ears perk at Anarchaia’s words. “Party?”
The mage blinks. “Well…I mean, sure? I was talking about the rewards, though.”
“There’s rewards?” Alisbeth asks. “Like…what kind?”
“I offered pay in my ad,” Anarchaia responds. “Though that was a month or so ago. Perhaps you don’t recall.”
Alisbeth frowns. “This is the end? But, I was having fun.” She pulls up her hood and turns to face the door to hide her tears.
Koltira holds up his hand. “I don’t feel right taking gold from either of you. Give our cut to Juliember.”
The druid perks at this. “I be saving to buy me one of those spiders I keep seeing around Dalaran.”
Anarchaia clenches her jaw at his coldness. “I… All right.”
“It doesn’t have to be the end,” Grimory says with a comforting smile and a hand on Alisbeth’s shoulder. “Unless you want it to be, that is.”
Koltira clenches his jaw at Grimory. “We came on for one mission.” Ana would rather we be gone anyway.
Alisbeth frowns deeper at the other death knight. “But what if they have another?”
He gives a tight-lipped smile, but says nothing.
Anarchaia hesitates and spins the Aegis around slowly above her palm. “I mean…that’s kind of up to Master Khadgar. I’m sure he’ll have more for us to do. Whether or not you guys wish to come along is really of your volition.”
Grimory shoots Koltira a look. “So your only criteria for friends is based on if you’re on an assignment or not?”
The death knight flinches inwardly, but does his best to remain impassive. “I never said we weren’t friends. I just wonder how welcome we are in present company.” He stares at Anarachia for a long moment until it becomes uncomfortable.
The druid purses her lips. “Since I am not a part of this…whatever odd thing you four have, may I please take my payment and go? There’s a night elf waiting to try moonkin with me.” She gives a sly wink.
Alisbeth scoffs and grabs her helm from the floor, then stomps away from all of them.
The mage flinches outwardly as she catches on to Koltira’s meaning, nearly dropping the relic. “M-Me?!” She places her free hand over her chest. “Why would you think that? Of course you’re welcome. I—” She pauses. “You’re my friends. I’d…be sad to see you leave.”
Grimory opens his mouth to contribute, then sees Alisbeth stomp off. “Wait, Ali! There’s no exit that way!” He follows.
Alisbeth hears Grimory, but ignores him, stomping right out to the Light bridge before she’s paralyzed in her tracks, unable to set foot on it again.
The demon hunter nearly runs into her, but catches himself. “Ali, what’s the matter?” He places a hand on her shoulder.
Alisbeth deflates and reaches up to push his hand from her shoulder, but instead she grasps it. She sniffles. “I just want to keep going. I want to stay with my friends.” She takes a shaking breath. “Don’t let him take me back to Acherus. Please.”
A soft frown falls over Grimory’s face and he pulls her into a tight embrace. “I promise he won’t.” He sighs. “Not sure what happened to you there, but I won’t let it happen again.”
Alisbeth leans into him and cries, for some reason feeling safe to do so. “I didn’t get to see sunlight or rain or thunderstorms. I laid in the dark and became stardust. And I was so alone. And I was nothing. I became nothing.” She wipes her glove under her nose. “Am I still nothing? Am I here? Or am I there? What are you? A dream?” She drops to the ground and hides her face in her palms.
Grimory furrows his brow upward, genuine sadness and pity flooding him. He kneels down and pulls a hand away from her face. “This is real. All of it. All of us. What can I do to prove it to you?”
Alisbeth frowns at him. “You can’t prove it. That’s what happened with my other friends. They were just gone and I was still in my room and they wouldn’t let me out.” She wipes her face. “I don’t want to go back.”
Grimory gives her a smile. “So, to prove I’m real I just have to stick around forever and protect you? Sounds like something I can do.” He also wipes a tear away with the pad of his thumb.
Alisbeth smiles. “That could work.”
“Settled, then?” He grasps her hands in his to help her back up.
Alisbeth lets Grimory help her up, then throws her arms around him. “We’re gonna have so many adventures and kill so many things and it’s going to be the best time ever and you’re the best friend I ever had and we’re going to kill those forsaken!” She squeezes him as tight as she can. “Do you live forever? Because I don’t want you to die.”
Grimory gives a genuine laugh—airy but happy. “Technically I won’t die, no.” He chokes against the tightness of her hug. “So I’ll always be there.”
Alisbeth smiles. “Yay!”
~ * ~
Koltira eyes the waiting druid. “I’m sure she would like payment and maybe a portal.” He doesn’t move, but fixes his gaze on the mage. Just one minute to talk in private, he thinks.
Anarchaia deflates, the palm at her chest coming to her side and filling with a hefty bag of gold. Without a word, she outstretches the same arm to her side, a large, swirling portal materializing at the end of her fingers. “Your assistance was greatly appreciated,” she mumbles to the druid. “May we meet again someday.”
Juliember takes the reward and smiles. “Anytime you be needing a heal, just send word to the Dreamgrove. Save you from having to hire a drunken monk.” She pats Anarchaia on the shoulder. “Plus you four be…fun.” She waves to Koltira and hops through the portal.
Once the troll is gone, the death knight glances behind to make sure the others are out of hearing range, but he whispers anyway. “Do you want me gone? Is that what this is?”
Anarchaia’s eyes widen and, taken aback, she scrambles for words. “Of course not!” she responds in a hushed yell, then lowers her voice as well. “Why would you think that?”
“Ever since we walked into this place you have rebuffed my attempts to help you. To…protect you. What should I think of that?” He releases an airy sigh of frustration. “I…don’t want to leave your company. But if you want me to go…”
“I don’t want you to go.” The words fall from her mouth before Anarchaia has a chance to rethink them. She swallows. “I…thought you were just protecting me because you thought I was incompetent. It’s why I snapped at you. I-I’m sorry…”
“You’re not incompetent.” He scratches behind his ear and growls. “Okay, I get pushy, I know. But it’s only because I…”
“No,” Anarchaia groans, not allowing him to finish. “I’m definitely more immature than you are pushy. It’s something I’m told constantly, but still struggle with.” She sighs. “I’m sorry.”
Koltira clenches his teeth and stares at the floor. “Let me protect you one last time. This… Us—all of us… We need to go our separate ways. Ali can’t know about you and she can’t know about us. I think it’s for the best.”
Tears sting Anarchaia’s good eye and she bites her lip. She fights them back, having expected this. She opens her mouth to protest, but reason takes over her tongue and she closes it again. She nods solemnly. “…Okay.”
Koltira holds back saying ‘Never mind, I’d rather stay in your company,’ because he knows it’s the best course of action. He holds out his hand. “Friends, though, right?”
Anarchaia swallows and gives his hand a halfhearted shake. “Friends,” she responds with a smile in her voice but a frown on her face. It’s for the best…but it hurts. You don’t belong with him. Stop crying. If he sees you crying he’ll know… Not being able to hold back, she retracts her hand. “I-I’ve got to get this to Master.” She swallows a sob.
“Right.” Koltira turns away from her to see Alisbeth gripping Grimory like she means to snap him in half. “Ali!” he calls, his voice echoing from the vaulted ceiling.
She peers around Grimory to smile at Koltira. “Let’s see what adventure we’re going on next!” She takes his hand to drag him back into the room.
Grimory allows himself to be dragged. “Hopefully something with lots of violence,” he muses.
Anarchaia merely stands, maintaining the portal for when the others require it and doing her best to remain stoic.
“Where are we going now?” Alisbeth asked excitedly.
Koltira remains impassive. “Home.” He opens a death gate and holds his hand out to her.
She hides behind Grimory. “No!”
The demon hunter bristles. “She doesn’t want to go back to your creepy, floating ziggurat.”
Koltira purses his lips. “This doesn’t concern you, Grimory. Alisbeth has been away for a long time and she needs to go back.” He beckons her over. “Ali, before Mograine comes for us.”
She frowns. “Did he say something?”
Koltira decides to lie. “Yes. He said if you go back and behave, you can leave for more adventures.”
Grimory narrows his eyes. “Whether or not it concerns me, Alisbeth still has a will of her own and can make her own decisions.”
Anarchaia fidgets. “Grim, we have to go.”
The Illidari scowls. “Hold on a minute. I’m not letting anyone push Ali around anymore. She deserves a say.”
Alisbeth steps around him. “I’m sorry. I have to go.” She raises onto her tiptoes to hug him. “Bye, Grim.” She runs through the gate before anyone can see her crying.
Grimory stares after Alisbeth for a long time. She remembered my name.
Koltira’s jaw tenses. “I’m not pushing her around. It was nice to get to know you two.”
Anarchaia turns her head away in response, but says nothing.
Grimory balls his fists in annoyance when Koltira’s voice snaps him back, then folds his arms. “Yeah. You, too.”
“Ana…” Rather than finishing his sentence, he steps through the gate and it disappears in his wake.
~ * ~
“He gave you a keystone?” Khadgar asks incredulously as his apprentice hands over their prize. He studies the blue runes etched over the relic, then glances down at Anarchaia. “I… Wow. Color me impressed.”
The undead girl gives a small smile up at him. “I guess we did a good job?” she replies, wear and somberness apparent in her voice.
“You did a great job.” He places a hand atop her head. “This can go in the vault below the city, with the other keystones that have been recovered.” Khadgar’s eyes twinkle with excitement. “Soon we’ll have the power to stop the Burning Legion—and then some.” He looks down at her and smiles. “I’ll be certain to put in a good word for your friends, too.”
Anarchaia cocks her head and gives a sarcastic grin. “Even Grim?”