Anarchaia takes up her spot at the rear. She gives a curt wave to the night elf and stuffs the map in her belt. “At this rate we’ll be finished in no time. Heh.”
Koltira nods his approval. “Good.”
“Is it?” Alisbeth asks. “‘Cause your eyes say you’re worried about something.”
“Don’t.” She punches his shoulder.
Koltira reaches an arm back to Anarchaia. “Lead the way, navigator!” I just might survive with these two, yet.
Anarchaia tilts her head back to look up at the sky between the fluttering leaves. “We’ll need to scale some hills. It’ll probably take just a tad longer than from Lorlathil to the thicket.” She points, something within her wanting to stay further back. “West.”
Koltira shrugs and cuts off the path into calf-height grass of lush green. He eyes a nearby field full of harpies. “Let’s run before we catch any unwanted attention.” He pulls Alisbeth by the hand and they take off at a sprint, skirting wide around the nearest of the feathered women.
Anarchaia hikes up her robes and ties them into a knot at her hip, them casts a spell of invisibility over herself before following the two across the fields and up the slopes. She grimaces. “Hate harpies.” One of the hags glances over at the sound of Anarchaia’s voice but turns back when she sees no one there.
Koltira drags Alisbeth up a steep embankment, then holds his hand out for Anarchaia to take. “Don’t we all?”
Alisbeth squints down at the creatures. “I think they’re pretty, but then they open their mouths and I remember that I want them to die.”
Anarchaia smiles and takes his hand, allowing him to pull her up. She chuckles at Alisbeth. “Good thing that’s probably what we’ll be doing. They’re everywhere.”
Alisbeth sneers as her lips turn down at the corners. “What I wouldn’t do to go deaf for this.” She jumps down from the hill as it ends abruptly.
An abandoned Kaldorei style home stands before them, a small path leading out to a road where not far away a tall autumnal ancient shifts, his bark groaning as he does so.
Koltira jumps down behind Alisbeth, then holds his hand out to help the mage down. “I’m guessing this is where we need to be.”
Though not particularly needing his help, Anarchaia takes Koltira’s hand anyway to allow him to assist her down. “That’s subjective,” she says with a smile, letting go of his hand despite not wanting to. “I can put a deafening spell on you if you’d like,” she laughs.
Alisbeth narrows her eyes in thought. “If you do that I’ll do something for you. Whatever you want.”
“I’m serious! I don’t want to listen to them. They make me go crazy.” She smiles at the mage and nods her encouragement to accept the agreement.
Anarchaia nods and motions Alisbeth to come near. “I don’t need anything in return.” She places her hands over Alisbeth’s ears and they’re both encased in brief purple light. She pulls away and tilts her head. “If you can hear me, lift your right hand over your head.”
Alisbeth squints at the mages lips. “WHAT?”
Koltira flinches and covers his ears. He taps Alisbeth’s shoulder and laughs. “We can hear you just fine, there’s no need to shout,” he says, indicating with hand signals that she should lower her voice.
The lower lids of Alisbeth’s eyes raise up as she thinks. “I’M TALKING TOO LOUD?”
Koltira nods and puts a finger to his lips, shushing her. He turns to Anarchaia, laughing. “Let’s go fast. I’m not sure how long I can deal with her screaming at us.”
Anarchaia recoils at the loudness and winces. “Yes, let’s.” She grabs Alisbeth by the shoulders and points down the road to the ancient and their destination, then quickly presses a palm to the other’s lips before she can speak again.
Alisbeth smiles under the other’s hand and gives a thumbs up.
Koltira leads them to the ancient, whose dangling vines blow in the breeze. “Hello, we’ve been sent to help you.”
“Ahh! Good.” The ancient takes a deep breath that creaks in his chest. “Harpies,” he growls. “They’ve petrified the other elders. Can you please free my brothers from this curse? And kill as many of those vile, screeching creatures as you can. They lay eggs in nests to the west, crush their eggs, too. And kill their leader, Melisande. That witch and her kin must be stopped!” He creaks again in thought. “If you find any others petrified, please free them.”
Koltira nods. “Of course. Is there anything else we should know?”
“Don’t let them poison you, or you will join the statues forever.”
Anarchaia fidgets at the thought of becoming stone. She nods in thanks and gently presses Alisbeth to continue on down the path. “This actually sounds more dangerous than the last. Perhaps deafening her was a poor decision.”
Koltira nods. “Maybe so.” He taps Alisbeth on the shoulder and makes motions near his ears, indicating if she would agree to hearing again.
Alisbeth furrows her brow and shakes her head. “I’LL CUT MY OWN HEAD OFF—”
Koltira flinches and covers his ears.
“—if I have to listen to them,” she finishes a few octaves lower.
After another wince, Anarchaia steps forward and takes Alisbeth’s face in her hands to stare into her eyes. The harpies will turn you to stone if you let them poison you. Be careful of that, okay? she says within her mind, her own thoughts entangling with the death knight’s. Now go cause some damage.
Alisbeth narrows her eyes and opens her mouth to speak. That wasn’t us. She closes her mouth and her eyes narrow further at the mage. She can hear us! Run! The death knight takes off down the path leading to the wide river filled with stone people and pacing harpies.
Koltira purses his lips. “Shit. Let’s go get her…”
Anarchaia gives a sigh as she watches her go. “I don’t know what I expected.” She follows, suddenly grateful that she’d had the idea of tying her robes up. “I’m sure she can handle herself, but I’d rather she didn’t stray too far.”
“We’ll have to stick close as best we can.” He picks up his pace as his vision of her is obscured by the leaves of the trees lower down the path.
When the mage catches up, she throws fire in the face of an encroaching harpy behind Alisbeth. She grits her teeth with her anxiety. “She was speaking in the third person. There’s more than one in there.”
Koltira’s eyes go wide, then he blinks. “You’re saying she hears voices?”
Alisbeth tackles a harpy, beating its face in with her axe, reveling in the silence. Not so screechy now, are we?
Anarchaia nods and dodges a slashing talon glistening with poison. “It definitely sounded like it. She was scared that my voice wasn’t one of hers.” She freezes a harpy solid and sends a bolt of arcane energy through its core to shatter it to pieces, a chunk of gore frozen within each shard.
Koltira’s eyes widen. “That…explains so much.” He cuts down two harpies, then taps Anarchaia’s shoulder, motioning at a petrified ancient. “Maybe that’s why she goes from hot to cold so fast.” He glances at Alisbeth as though double checking she can’t hear them. “Following someone else’s orders?”
Alisbeth glances out the corner of her eye to see the other two retreating. Who’s got your back now? She backs herself up to a tree to stand her ground. I’ve got my back.
Anarchaia turns and nods, making her way to the stone-bound elemental. “It does make a lot of sense. Sadly I’ve never heard of a cure for multiple voices.” She gives him a sad smile. “I’m sorry.” She glances back at Alisbeth as well, then frowns to see her backed against a trunk in the distance. “Truly sorry.”
“I don’t think that’s the only thing that could fix her,” he says. He creates a path of ice for them to walk to the ancient beneath the waterfall.
“You’re probably right.” Anarchaia follows, still glancing behind her to ensure Alisbeth is safe. “So, um. How do we help these guys?” she says once they reach the ancient. “Just kinda…shake them? Or…?”
Koltira withdraws a potion the ancient at the top of the hill had slipped him. “Uh…splash them?” He holds the vial of clear water out to the mage. “You want to do the honors?”
She gives an airy laugh and waves a hand as though it truly were an honor. “Why, don’t mind if I do.” She takes the tincture and splashes a small amount on the ancient.
Its petrified bark creaks as it regains vitality. He gives a groan and stretches his limbs, revitalized leaves falling about. “I cannot thank you enough, little ones,” he breathes through wooden lips.
“No need!” Anarchaia smiles and gives a dismissive wave, recorking the vial.
Koltira nods to the elder. “We’re told two more of your kin are in need of rescue. I was wondering if you might know where to find them.”
The ancient sighs on his slow thoughts. “One is straight over that way, atop the next waterfall. The other you’ll find down the hill to the left, trapped in the harpies’ den.”
Koltira nods. “Thank you, and good luck.” He turns, his face falling immediately when he can’t see Alisbeth.
Anarchaia follows his gaze and tenses. “I’ll find her,” she says and quickly makes her way back down the path before Koltira can respond. Please be okay.
Koltira runs after Anarchaia, his eyes shooting frantically in all directions. “Ali—” She can’t hear you, jackass.
Grimory grabs Alisbeth gently by the shoulders and lifts her up, ensuring she’s fine and wholly flesh instead of stone. “Are you all right?”
Anarchaia stops on the path and looks around, spinning in place to do so. “Ugh, I have no idea where she went. Maybe we should split up.”
“Right.” Koltira sighs. “You go left and I’ll take right, I guess.” He doesn’t wait for agreement, just takes off running, peering behind trees as he passes and cutting down harpies that get in his way.
The mage nods and runs in the opposite direction, dodging bolts of poison as she freezes and shatters multiple harpies in her path, finding that to be the most effective way to dispose of them.
Koltira’s eyes widen on the mage’s back as he hears a piercing scream, then realizes it’s not coming from Anarchaia. He takes off in the direction of the sound as fast as his feet can carry him.
~ * ~
Alisbeth leaps to another patch of land in the wide river. She tackles a harpy to the ground, beating its face in the with skull of her axe, her attention focused only on the harpy.
Alisbeth runs farther, not paying attention to her surroundings as she chases harpies down and kills them in the most unnecessarily violent ways possible.
A rather spry harpy kicks Alisbeth’s axe from her hands and pounces on her. After a short struggle, the death knight rolls atop the harpy and they wrestle in the wet grass. Two more harpies fly to their sister’s aid as Alisbeth gets her hands around the first’s neck and throttles her until she stops moving. A bolt of poison hits Alisbeth in the spine and she gasps, her torso hardening to rock faster than she can scream out for help. Oh, gods.
A rush of emerald fire pours over the harpies and they shriek in pain and surprise, feathers flying. The screeching they produce is quickly silenced by gnarled, slicing claws. The figure stomps on the last hag’s face with a dirtied boot until nothing remains but a bloody pulp. He turns. “Are you—?” Grimory’s eyes widen at the petrified girl. “Ali!” He bends down, pulling the vial of liquid he’d been given out of his pack and splashing some on her as quickly as he can.
Alisbeth throws herself forward to the ground, breathing deep breaths just to prove that she can. Dead? Am I dead? I died, didn’t I?
Alisbeth squints through her goggles at the shadow over her, the sun directly behind and blinding her. She frowns and kicks the figure away, turning to skitter for her axe.
Grimory stumbles back but recovers. He blinks and, seeing her reach for her axe, lunges for her ankle to pull her away from it. “Ali, it’s me! I know you’re pissed at me, but let’s not be rash, yeah?”
As arms wrap around Alisbeth’s, pinning her in place, she panics. She screams out as loud and shrill as she can, feeling it in her throat, though she can’t hear a thing. Her feet flail, kicking at anything as she continues to scream.
Anarchaia skids to a stop and runs toward the screaming. She gives a sigh of relief when she recognizes the man restraining Alisbeth. She winces as the woman screams again and avoids her kicking legs. “Ali, stop! It’s okay!” she says, holding out her hands as though wrangling a horse.
Grimory grits his teeth but holds fast. “Why is she like this? What happened?”
“Let her go!” Koltira shouts, running over to pull on her arm. He, too, dodges her kicking legs, growling in frustration.
“I’ve deafened her,” Anarchaia explains coolly. “She didn’t want to hear the harpies.”
“Oh.” Grimory releases Alisbeth and takes a quick step back.
Alisbeth leaps into Koltira’s arms and grips him tight. “WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?”
He covers his ears and flinches, then spins her around to show her Grimory. Alisbeth squares her jaw and purses her lips, then turns away to find her axe.
Koltira lifts a curious eyebrow at her reaction. “So…what are you doing here?”
Grimory narrows his eyes slightly at Alisbeth’s reaction, then straightens, hands on his hips. “My job. Helping folks to get into the temple.” He gestures to Alisbeth with a thumb. “She was stone when I found her. You just let her run off alone in a place like this?”
Anarchaia frowns. “She’s normally able to handle herself. Even so, we have the elixir, should any of us need it.”
“We didn’t let her run off alone. She was at our backs one second, then gone the next. You should know by now that’s how she works.” Koltira folds his arms over his chest, eyeing Alisbeth for a moment. “While she can’t hear anything… What happened? I thought you two were friends.”
Grimory tilts his head away suspiciously to give the man a sideways look. He steels himself, debating on if he wants to divulge. “I have no idea. One second we were dancing, the next she’s asking me to take her back and throwing things at me, screaming that she never wants to see me again.” He shrugs. “Hasn’t even acknowledged my existence since.”
“You had to have done something…”
Alisbeth takes off running after more harpies, jumping to a new little island in the river.
Anarchaia watches Alisbeth as a mother would, arms folded and fingers tapping.
“Not that I’m aware of. We were having fun. If I did do something, she won’t talk to me to say what it is, so…” He gives another shrug as if to say he couldn’t care less. “If you really want to know, ask her. She’ll talk to you.”
The death knight purses his lips. “Actually, when your name is mentioned, she acts like she’s never heard it before.” He shakes his head. “But I think that’s something for us to figure out later, in a less…hostile environment.” He chases Alisbeth across the water to take her hand, then heads for the petrified ancient.
Anarchaia gives the demon hunter a smile. “Decide to come with, then?” The two follow the death knights.
“No, just happened to be in the same place at the same time,” Grimory responds as they jog. “Pretty obvious I’m not wanted, anyway.”
“I want you with us,” the mage says with a frown. “You’re our friend.”
“I’m your friend, Ana.”
Koltira glances over his shoulder. “I wouldn’t mind a little more testosterone around.” Someone to help manage these two wouldn’t hurt.
Grimory can’t help but smirk. “I guess I’m good for something, then.” He tackles an invading harpy to the dirt and slashes at her throat with his claws. The hag croaks and flops, then goes silent.
Anarchaia snerks. “We may have too much, now.”
Koltira takes Alisbeth right up at the ancient on the bank and motions at him with the water, seeing if she wants to free him. She smiles and takes the vial, then splashes it on the stone face. He straightens with creaking wood and takes a gluttonous breath.
“Ahh, that’s better. Thank you so much.”
“You’re most welcome,” Koltira says, corking the bottle. “We’d stick around to chat, but we’ve more of your brothers to free.”
“Yes…I believe they would be gracious, as well. Leave me here, I’ll be fine. I just need to…catch my bearings.” The ancient runs woody fingernails over his bark chest, scratching absently as he glances around.
Grimory gives a curt nod to the ancient as they pass. “I’ve freed a few down the creek already. Just haven’t seen many eggs to destroy as of yet.” His boots skid down a step slope, leaves kicking up in his wake.
“I haven’t seen any nests, come to think of it,” Anarchaia muses, nearly tripping on an exposed root as she follows. She gives an embarrassed laugh. “Perhaps up higher.”
Alisbeth runs up a hill, making an obvious wide berth around Grimory, then looks down into a valley. “DO YOU THINK WE—”
Koltira covers his ears.
“—Need to go down there?” She points at the dark forest, illuminated only by torches. Harpies stand guard and pace the area. Eggs set in groups sit quivering together. An ancient stands among the trees, frozen in a skin of stone.
Koltira’s eyes widen. “There must be hundreds of those eggs…” He nods to Alisbeth.
Anarchaia smiles wide. “I could summon another meteor.” She frowns. “Though, I wouldn’t be able to promise the safety of the ancient.”
With a smile, Alisbeth starts running down the muddy slope. She loses her footing and makes the rest of the journey rolling through the filth into the creek at the bottom.
Grimory grimaces as Alisbeth rolls in the muck. “Let’s just…make some omelets instead.” He leaps down the hill with a grace that betrays his size, wings fluttering to break his fall. He gets quickly to work, upturning a nest and stepping on the bottom to crush the eggs beneath. A harpy shrieks, alerting the others and the hags converge on the group.
Alisbeth keeps her entire body submerged in the shallow stream. When Koltira catches up to her, he crouches and pulls a clump of dead grass from her hair.
“Are you okay?” he asks, slow and deliberate.
She purses her lips, then nods and leans her head back to rinse her hair.
Koltira helps her up and together they run into the forest to track down egg clusters and burn nests.
Anarchaia throws a flurry of fire at one of the harpies poised to spray Grimory with a dose of poison. The witch cries out and flops to the ground as she burns. “Watching your back as usual,” she says as she passes, setting fire to nests in her wake.
“Enjoy the view, then,” the Illidari calls back, slicing in a large arc to fell the remaining winged women. He follows the mage, wincing as the harpies release a dying screech.
Alisbeth narrows her eyes at a cave deeper into the woods, where an eerie pale blue light shines from within. She takes off running for it as Koltira splashes the ancient to wake him.
“You’re welcome. Sorry. No time to talk. You might want to get out of here fast, though.” He turns and runs after Alisbeth, dragging a pursuing harpy away and cutting her down.
The ancient rumbles in agreement and turns, forcing his legs into motion to reach the sunlight beyond the dark.
Once each of the nests has been properly disposed of, Grimory and Anarchaia make for the cave as well, giving brief waves to the ancient as they pass. Anarchaia grits her teeth as she sees Alisbeth running ahead by herself and blinks forward a few times to catch up. “Eggs done!” she chirps to Koltira as she passes.
“Good.” He drags another harpy away from the other death knight’s back. Inside the cave a harpy sits, admiring shining amulets in a box.
Alisbeth doesn’t wait as she leaps at the harpy, who is bigger than all the others.
Anarchaia skids to a halt to blow fire at Magula, keeping a safe distance as usual. Grimory follows in soon after assisting with the harpies outside.
Magula screeches, sending shockwaves that bounce from the walls of the cave.
Both Anarchaia and Grimory reel back, hands over their ears and wincing in pain.
Alisbeth gives the others a strange look as they cover their ears. She turns her attention on the harpy’s open mouth and bats at it with the skull on her axe, beating the harpy’s face back and forth until it’s battered and bloody.
Koltira releases his ears and jumps back into the fight, cutting one of the harpy’s wings to cripple her flight.
Magula cries out in gurgling pain, slashing at Alisbeth with her talons in a desperate attempt to stop her assault.
Grimory rushes forward to run a claw up the harpy mother’s back and she finally falls to kneel before the group, cursing them all in a squawking tongue.
As one final act, Alisbeth drives her axe into the harpy’s sternum, twisting it side to side to shred the witchmother’s heart.
“Okay, let’s get going.” Koltira takes Alisbeth by the elbow and guides her from the cave.
Grimory extends a hand to usher Anarchaia out of the cave, hands covered in gore and dripping with blood. The mage cringes but smiles, trotting after the other two and already pulling out the map.
“Let’s let Elothir know we’ve taken care of everything, then…” Koltira looks up at the darkening sky beyond the shadows of the forest. “Well, we can find a place to make camp or return to Lorlathil and get rooms?”
“Tired?” Anarchaia jokes, punching Koltira gently on the back of the arm.
Grimory sighs and folds his arms. “Another reason I didn’t really want to go with. Felt like a burden last time.” He pauses. “But I’d obviously prefer the inn.”
Koltira shrugs. “You want to continue through the dark night in corrupted woods, be my guest, Ana. But I wouldn’t mind kicking off my shoes and having a nice night not wearing twenty pounds of gear.” He winks over his shoulder at her.
The mage chuckles. “Wouldn’t we all. Lorlathil, then?” She turns to the group, hands readied to open a portal at their command.
“Please,” Grimory says, flicking his hands to clean them as best he can.
“Coming up.” Anarchaia manifests a familiar swirling doorway of light and gestures for them to cross the threshold.
Koltira strides after Alisbeth and takes her arm to show her the portal. She runs through it with a smile.