Book 2 – Chapter Seventeen

After a few hours of walking and idle chatting, the three come upon a large archway made of planks and adorned in brightly colored cloth.

Anarchaia pulls out her map and hums a note. “Seems we’ve arrived.”

The area is sectioned off with a well-crafted fence. Outside sits a night elf woman tending to a wounded brown bear clad in leather and linen armor.

The night elf sighs at the druid. “This wouldn’t have happened if your backside weren’t so…ahem…generous.”

Koltira blinks, trying not to smile at the comment. “Excuse me, we were asked to help out here. Could you…tell us where to go?”

She stands and holds out her hand. “Rylissa Bearsong. You can start by clearing out some of these rabid furbolgs running around. Try talking to Sookh as well, he may have some duties for you.” She points down the road to a white furbolg.

Alisbeth takes off running. “Sushi! SUDOKU!

Koltira smiles. “Thank you for your help.”

Anarchaia gently shakes the woman’s hand and nods. “Good luck with…whatever this is.” She gestures to the bear, then turns to follow Alisbeth down the path.

“Soup wants us to free his friend!” Alisbeth skips back to them. “This should be easy.”

Koltira nods, thinking as he walks to the direction of the furbolg’s friend. “It’s never this easy. Don’t be surprised if there’s more.”

Anarchaia gives a wary nod of agreement and follows near the back. “Most of the time the prisoner has already been killed. Keep that in mind, as well.”

Alisbeth takes Koltira by the hand as they walk. She gasps and climbs up his shoulders to keel, lifting her goggles to see better. “There he is! LITTLEFOOT!” she calls, waving at a small furbolg tied to two stone pillars and surrounded by angry furbolgs.

Koltira smiles. “And sometimes we get lucky. Let’s hurry.”

Alisbeth jumps from his back and withdraws her axe, the mist being sucked into the skull now a shade of dark lavender, the glowing designs purple. Koltira withdraws Byfrost and pauses.

“When did your axe turn purple?”

Alisbeth eyes it. “Huh… My axe is purple.” She checks her eyes to make sure the goggles aren’t over them. “Guess it just wanted to match?” She lowers her goggles and runs into the middle of the gathered creatures. “For Littleboots!

“For Littlefur,” Anarchaia echoes with only a fraction of the enthusiasm. She follows, a hand ready and full of flames. She throws the fire in the face of the first furbolg to attack her and it falls, holding its burning eyes and crying in agony.

Koltira joins in the fighting, saying nothing as he cuts down each enemy.

Alisbeth hacks the ropes holding Littlefur in place and takes his hand. “Come with me if you want to live.”

“Wait! It’s the totem!” Littlefur says. “These furbolg are under a spell. Destroy the totem. Chieftain Graw guards it.” He looks around to see the way is clear, then runs away back to Sookh.

Alisbeth purses her lips and thinks. “You guys heard that, right?”

“Destroy the totem?” The mage says, clapping her hands together in a job well done as another furbolg falls victim to her flames.

Alisbeth cries out. “Stop killing them!”

Koltira pauses. “Did you just ask us to stop killing something?”

She frowns. “They’re so cute.”

The death knight smacks his lips in irritation. “Fine. Let’s go destroy the totem. Did he tell you where it is?”

Alisbeth shrugs. “Nope.”

Anarchaia cocks her head, resisting a sigh. Helpful. “Perhaps we should just continue along the path then. Bound to find something.”

“We’re doing that. Ali, if they attack us we’re fighting back. Either help or stay out of the way.” Koltira trudges off without waiting for a response.

Alisbeth frowns and whimpers, but follows him anyway. She glances at the mage as she passes. She doesn’t like you. The death knight stares at the ground. Nobody likes you… He did… But he’s gone forever. She sniffs and keeps going, her head ducked in melancholy.

Anarchaia gives a gentle frown at Alisbeth’s being reprimanded, but follows regardless. Another rabid furbolg attempts to cut her off from the others, but she swiftly dispatches it as its fur is highly flammable.

Koltira stops on the path, striking down a furbolg as it runs after him. He points at a nook in the cliff with a small pond and a huge totem being guarded by a giant white furbolg.

Alisbeth leans down to stroke the fur of the dead furbolg and coos. “It’s okay. I’m sure he’s very sorry. It wasn’t your fault.”

“Is it okay to kill that one?” Koltira motions at the red-eyed furbolg in the pond.

She turns her head from the other death knight, then withdraws her axe and runs forward, splashing into the water with her weapon swinging.

Anarchaia gives a snort of a laugh and follows. “A ‘yes’, I presume.” She stops at a reasonable distance to throw fire at the beast, being sure to not burn Alisbeth in the process.

The death knights tear into the flesh of Graw’s legs and lower body, unable to reach too much higher.

“Ana, go for the face!” Koltira shouts.

With a nod of understanding, the mage summons a shard of ice and hurls it at the furbolg’s face. It explodes against his cheek and he releases a roar of irritation as blood trickles into his fur. She summons another and does the same, aiming for his eye but continually missing. “C’mon,” she hisses to herself.

“Ana, come on!” Koltira shouts in frustration.

Alisbeth purses her lips and hits him with the end of her axe. “She’s doing her best!”

“I’m a mage, not a marksman!” Anarchaia calls back apologetically, then hurls another, larger shard, thinking more mass will cover more area—but it might deal less damage.

The spear pierces the furbolg’s eyeball and blood and liquid spray forth. Enraged, Graw releases a bestial cry and swings his claws around blindly.

The furbolg’s hand slashes out, knocking Koltira into the totem behind.

Alisbeth giggles at him, dodging the massive fist of Graw. “Try moving your feet!” She jumps to plant her axe into the spine of the furbolg, holding on as tight as she can while it flails in an attempt to shake her off.

Anarchaia grits her teeth. “Are you okay?” She holds out her hands as if reaching for something. Violet energies encase the furbolg’s ankle and she closes her fists. Her feet immediately skid along the soil as she struggles to pull his foot out from under him. “Even just…grabbing the water inside…he’s too heavy,” she grunts.

Koltira jumps forward and shoves up on the bottoms of Alisbeth’s boots, helping boost her up Graw’s back.

She sits on his shoulders, gripping his fur in one hand and her axe in the other. “Hit him!” she calls to Anarchaia as she holds his head steady. “Right here!” She holds on, motioning at the open socket of the furbolg’s eye.

Anarchaia nods and takes a moment to line up her shot before throwing one last spear of ice at the beast’s eye, then sighs in relief when it hits its target and not Alisbeth. The sharp end pierces the thin barrier at the back of the socket and shards of bone and ice tear through the brain tissue inside.

Alisbeth rolls away from the creature as it falls to the ground, dead. “Nice shot! Do it again?” She motions at the huge, white totem at the back of the pond. She busies herself burying her axe into the back of Graw’s neck over and over until his spine severs and she knows he’s dead.

“Thank you,” Anarchaia says with a smile, happy to have her effort recognized. “How about we just do this?” She lifts a hand and the entire totem bursts into flames, black smoke billowing forth into the sky.

Alisbeth nods, not even looking at the burning totem as she cuts at the hid of the furbolg.

“What are you doing?” Koltira asks.

“It’d make a beautiful coat!” She smiles in excitement.

Koltira grabs at her hands to stop her, but she bats him away.

Anarchaia recoils in disgust and turns away, making her way back up the path. “And she didn’t want us, to kill them.” She shudders at the noise of squelching flesh and tearing tissue.

Koltira decides to reserve his words and instead picks up Alisbeth by her waist and carts her away from the carcass. “No, Alisbeth. Just no.”

When they return to Rylissa, she frowns. “The corruption is worse. We need you to wake the druids trapped in the Dream.” She points at a doorway that leads into a hill and underground. “Their lives are in danger. I would do it myself, but I’m busy with the wounded up here.”

Alisbeth purses her lips and sits in the dirt. “I’m bored. I’m not going.”

Anarchaia looks down at Alisbeth with an incredulous stare. “You aren’t going to help these poor people because you’re bored?”

Alisbeth stands and gets in Anarchaia’s face. “You know what? I’ve had about enough of you, little miss perfect. You get so mad when I want to have fun, then you get mad when I don’t want to hurt innocent creatures, then you get mad when I want to make a beautiful coat out of the one furbolg out there that’s actually bad!” She shoves Anarchaia backward. “I’m not actually bored, I’m just sick and tired of you scoffing at literally everything I do! You’re just as bad as everyone in Acherus!” She walks to a bench and plants herself there. “Go be self-important and I’ll just sit here proving you wrong about me.”

Alisbeth,” Koltira snaps when he can get a word in. “Ali, stop. Let’s just go.”

Anarchaia’s eyes widen and she bristles as she’s pushed. She waits patiently for Alisbeth to stop raving, then straightens her back. “They weren’t innocent. Gore makes me squeamish. I haven’t been scoffing at everything you do. You sitting here would prove me right about you. And— Ugh!” She throws her hands in the air in whirls around to trudge off toward the doorway. “Guess I’ll just be rational elsewhere.”

Alisbeth throws a rock at Anarchaia’s back. “Brainwashed does not equate to guilty!” she shouts.

Anarchaia stops and turns back. “And not innocent doesn’t equate to guilty, either!” She clenches her fists.

Koltira puts himself between them. If I had a beating heart, it’d be pounding right now. “Both of you stop this right now. Ana, you have to admit they are innocent. Look at them! Harmless without the totem. Ali, we’re not making fur coats out of our kills. No more skinning or going overboard. Kill and be done.”

Alisbeth frowns and tries to hide her chin quivering as she flicks a tear from her cheek. She looks away from him. “They didn’t have a choice.”

“I know,” he says, taking her into his arms. “Please come and help us wake the druids. They need your help as much as the furbolgs did.”

She stares at her feet and shoulders her axe. “Only if you think I can really help.”

“And all right. Sure. Fine. The next time something innocent comes at me with ill intent, I’ll just let it kill me. Is that well and fair?” Anarchaia turns back around and heads down the slope, fuming.

Alisbeth stomps after the mage. Once away from Koltira’s reach, she lays into her more. “You’re a pretentious little brat! It’s all about you! There is no middle ground, is there? Either it’s good or it’s bad. Either it’s going to kill you, or you have to kill it. Well guess what—”

Koltira wraps his palm over Alisbeth’s mouth to quiet her. She continues to shout behind his hand. He carries her nearer to the mage and sets her down, holding tight. “I think you two need to have a civil conversation. This can’t continue.”

Anarchaia stops, folds her arms, and sets her weight on a heel. “A civil—?” She grits her teeth and tilts her head as if struggling to hold herself back. “Look,” she says in a less irritated tone, “what you’re presenting me with is a false dilemma. Nothing is black or white. There are gray areas. Your logic is flawed and therefor invalid, all right? I wasn’t hurting anything that wasn’t trying to hurt me first. You know me. I wouldn’t do that.”

“I don’t know you!” Alisbeth says.

Koltira sighs. “Anarchaia is right. You can’t just let something come and kill you. You have to fight back.”

Alisbeth frowns. “But I didn’t kill you.”

“And you barely escaped with your life, you know that. And that’s not even the same. You had no idea I would ever be the same again. You just wouldn’t kill me.” He tucks her hair behind her ear.

“Couldn’t.” She rips free from his grasp and stomps toward the cave, slamming an angry shoulder into the mage as she goes.

Anarchaia braces herself against the wall, then rights herself and places her hands over her face, trying not to scream. “Okay. Continuing. Everything’s all right.” She follows down at a distance.

Koltira follows at the back, fists clenched so tight the leather groans against his knuckles. Gods help me. This was easier when I wasn’t the only one occupying both of them.

Alisbeth wipes at her eyes, wishing she had a full mask over her face to hide her tears of weakness. “I want to go home,” she whispers. It echoes back to her and her frown deepens to hear the sadness in the voice. She comes to a fork in the tunnel, where it branches in three directions, and becomes more upset as she feels lost. She waits, twitching in anticipation, for the other two to catch up.

Anarchaia steps up beside Alisbeth and glances about, weighing their options. She opens her mouth to voice her opinion, then closes it again. They can go without my advice, then. She folds her arms and turns to look at Koltira as he approaches.

“Let’s go right,” Koltira says as he approaches the women. “And let’s just…make this fast.”

He leads the way, Alisbeth following close behind as Anarchaia follows at the back despite being the most vulnerable of the three, until they find a room with a sleeping druid. He rouses her and she yawns, her huge bear teeth shining in her open mouth.

“Just give me a moment to wake up,” she says lazily. “There is a demon here. He has draped us all in the nightmare. Please, slay him so my kin and I may be free.”

When the ursine woman comes to, the mage bends down to conjure a receptacle of water and sets it beside her. “We’ll do all we can,” she responds with a smile and straightens again to trot off further into the caverns. Her quill and parchment appear and she takes notes on the situation, jotting down what the druids had said and the risk involved. “Hopefully this is the extent of the Nightmare’s reach,” she mumbles, her quill sketching out a gnarled root riddled with red growths and emitting a black aura.

Koltira shakes his head. “Something tells me all the places marked on your map will be like this.” He stops at a doorway crowded with red vines and peers into the mist of it. The path curves down, preventing him from seeing very far. “This looks very…demonic. Wouldn’t you agree?”

Anarchaia frowns in concern, her quill and scroll disappearing. “Very.”

Alisbeth shoves past him with a scowl. “Might as well check.”

She ducks beneath the vines and follows Alisbeth, a palm filling with flame to light their way. She turns her head at the sound of small footsteps, possibly four-legged, then positions herself closer to her companions.

Alisbeth smiles in excitement. “Oh! A drya-AAAH” She leaps back to the other two when she sees the usually cheery forest sister covered in red, a woeful grimace on her face. Alisbeth frowns. “That’s not fair.”

“Can we kill this one?” Koltira whispers.

Anarchaia sobers at the sight, hesitating. “Perhaps we needn’t. Maybe if we kill the demon we were told of…” She steps back apprehensively.

The dryad bounds to them, then lashes red vines around Alisbeth’s throat.

“Kill her,” Alisbeth says through the throttling.

Koltira leaps to the dryad, freezing her mind so she breaks her concentration on Alisbeth and instead focuses on him. “I’m so sorry,” he says.

“Are you all right?” the mage asks.

Alisbeth frowns at the mage. “What do you care?”

“Not now!” Koltira says, swinging one last blow to sever the dryad’s head from her body, which crumples to the ground as her head rolls down the path.

Anarchaia scrunches her face at the death knight woman, then immediately turns away at the sight of the dryad being decapitated, her stomach turning. She turns back to the corridor and swallows her disgust. “Let’s keep moving.”

Koltira eyes Anarchaia’s back. “It was a quick death. The only mercy I could give her.”

“I just don’t like to see—” She clenches her jaw as Alisbeth interrupts her, then closes her eyes to battle with her own patience.

Alisbeth growls to her feet. “Stop being such a baby, Abba. You want to kill the things, you have to deal with them bleeding.”

“Ali!” Koltira barks. “What is your problem, huh?”

Alisbeth turns her head away from him.

“Stop with the attitude or Ana will lock you up like in Acherus.”

She says nothing, but pouts with her face to the wall. Yes, drive him away. Then you won’t have anyone left who cares for you. You deserve to be alone. She blinks away the tears caused by the voice’s truths.

Anarchaia opens her eyes again at Koltira’s threat, lifting her hands. “N-no no. I wouldn’t!” She turns to Alisbeth nervously, a hand over her heart. “I honestly wouldn’t do that to you.” As much as I’d like to sometimes.

Alisbeth ignores both of them as she trudges deeper into the cavern. The mist along the floor thickens to a low fog. The room is a tangle of corrupted roots, twisting around and soaking up the red water on the floor. At the center stands a demon satyr, guarding the spring of cursed water.

Alisbeth turns to glare at Anarchaia. “I’m cutting its head off, in case you want to turn around now.”

Anarchaia bristles but again bites her tongue. She holds out her hand, gesturing to the demon and smiles a painful smile. “Cut away,” she says through grit teeth.

“Ladies—”

Alisbeth glowers at him and he purses his lips closed. She runs forward and buries her axe into the satyr over and over as deep and hard as she can, as though it were the sole cause of all the things that had ever gone wrong in her life.

Anarchaia lifts her brows and watches. After a moment she steps forward and throws forth a jet of flames that drills against the back of the enemy’s head. The satyr growls and curses them in Eredun, hair smoking and wounds weeping. He slashes at Alisbeth in hopes of gaining some relief from her onslaught.

Alisbeth shrieks out as the armor over her bicep is clawed away and streaks of red cut to the bone. She goes flying across the room and hits the wall.

Koltira becomes momentarily distracted and the satyr takes advantage, slashing long streaks into the side of his face, then swats him away as well. With an evil laugh the satyr stomps toward Anarchaia, his arms outstretched as a burgundy vortex swirls around him. Moments later, red and black corrupted visages of the three pop up and all converge on the mage.

“No!” Anarchaia grits her teeth as her companions are momentarily bested. She takes a step back when she’s turned on, then clenches her fists. “I can do that, too.” She lifts a hand and three replicas of herself materialize, all with hands of fire at the ready. The multiple mages release a slew of fiery blasts upon their respective opponents.

Alisbeth and Koltira run back to the demon, throwing their own red rings under the feet of the images and holding their attention so the mage can focus her attacks without worry. Alisbeth focuses on her own replica and sneers.

“There can only be one.” She drains the life from the image, which disappears in a puff of black. The wound in her arm heals over and she takes her axe in both hands again.

Koltira dispatches his own image in much the same manner, healing the wounds on his face. When he turns on the image of Anarchaia, he freezes, unable to strike it down, even knowing it isn’t actually her.

Alisbeth narrows her eyes at him, then buries her axe in the image’s back. She says nothing, just returns to where the demon stands in the water, and hacks at him in a haphazard fashion.

Anarchaia winces as the visage of herself is hacked at. Her own conjured images fade away into flurries of cinders. She turns back to the demon and crouches to place her palms on the wet stone floor. A stream of ice crawls across the floor, wrapping itself about the demon’s hooves as it reaches him. The satyr growls in frustration, sweeping with his claws as he struggles to free himself.

The death knights dodge the flailing limbs as Koltira slices a tendon in the demon’s leg. The satyr falls forward and Alisbeth sneers down at him.

“I promised to take your head.” With a quick slash, she decapitates the satyr and kicks his head across the room, deciding it is not something she wants to hang onto.

Anarchaia does her best not to look and instead walks to each bundle of roots and burns them away. She sighs and straightens when the last one is ash. “We make a good team,” she says with a smile, wiping her hands on her robes. Good faith. Make amends.

Alisbeth nods as she wipes her blade down. “We do. I like you.” She pats the mage’s head, then gives her a gentle hug.

Koltira blinks at them, but remains mostly unfazed, deciding to accept it. “Right,” he says, “let’s get back to Rylissa. Hopefully this was all they needed. Then we can head…Ana, choose our next destination.” He leads them from the cavern at a swift pace.

Anarchaia gives an inward sigh of relief and pats Alisbeth on the back. “I like you, too.” She hurries to follow Koltira and perks at the sound of her name. “I thought we’d agreed I wasn’t a good leader.” She pulls out the map and summons a flame to see it more clearly. “Um…Thas’talah?”

“You’re a fine leader,” Koltira says as he makes his way past the friendly furbolgs that wave as they pass.

Alisbeth grins and grabs one of the creatures in a huge hug. “Aren’t they so cute? Can I keep one?”

The furbolg groans in slight irritation but does not struggle or move to break free.

Anarchaia chuckles at her as they pass. “I don’t think they’d like that very much. The forest is their home.”

Alisbeth scratches under the furbolg’s ears and makes kissy faces at it. It gives a small grunt of approval, then shakes its head and shuffles away. The death knight runs to catch up to the other two, catching the tail end of Rylissa’s thanks to them. Koltira takes her hand and leads her down the trail as she waves excitedly at everyone they’re leaving behind.

“All right,” he says, “off to Thas’talah.”

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