Koltira stares up at the ceiling. He pulls a blood-soaked hand away from his chest. Well, this wasn’t even on the list of ways I thought I’d die.
Anarchaia, alerted by the sound of a fight, bursts into the room, hair poking out from the bottom of her mask as though she’d dressed in a hurry. She glances about frantically until her eyes reach a growing pool of blood on the blind side of the bed. “Koltira!!” she rushes to his side and slides to her knees. “Oh my gods, I—no!” She covers her mouth, struggling not to cry. “What happened?!”
Koltira groans and forces his eyes open. “She found out… I said some…awful things.
“That doesn’t matter. What did she do to you?” Anarchaia releases a sob and pats at the wound as though assessing the damage, then places her bloody hands on his face.
“I never thought she wou—” his words fade out as he loses consciousness.
“No! No no no! Koltira, don’t close your eyes!” Sobbing and hysterical, she takes him into her arms as best she can and the two disappear in a flash of light.
A table covered in medical supplies and potions screeches across the floor as the two burst into being. Multiple cots line the walls, many empty. An orc woman runs back into the room, anger in her features and a mace in one hand.
“Anarchaia!” she barks, hurrying to them. “Who is this—a death knight? You know they aren’t—”
“I don’t care right now!” Anarchaia cries, mask heavy with tears. “Please just heal him! I’ll deal with the consequences later!”
The woman gives her a wary look, but bends down regardless. She sets a hand over Koltira’s open chest and restorative waters manifest over the wound. The flesh closes and steams as it heals. “I’m sure you know the Archmage—”
“I don’t care,” the mage hisses again. “…And thank you, Grellah.” She sniffles and bites back another sob. “Thank you…”
Anarchaia sits there on the Hall’s infirmary floor for a long while, crying quietly in the dim candlelight. She brushes his blood-tinged hair from Koltira’s face and pulls her mask off to observe him.
“Please be okay. Please don’t die. Ugh, I wish you would breathe.”
The mage sighs, sniffles, and grabs a pillow from the nearest cot. She tucks it under Koltira’s head and lies down beside him on the cold stone floor, ready to wait as long as she needs.
She closes her eyes against his shoulder as she hugs his arm close to her chest. “Please don’t go. I don’t know what I’d do without you.” She sniffles again. “That month without you was the worst. I…” She lowers her voice and buries her face in his arm. “I love you.”
Koltira’s ear twitches and his brow furrows. “Careful,” he mumbles just above a whisper, “those are dangerous words you’re saying.”
Anarchaia shoots up to look down into his face. Fresh tears fall from her good eye and her features contort before she buries her face in his exposed chest. “I thought I was too late,” she sobs. “Oh gods, I was so scared.”
Koltira presses his palm to his forehead as he wraps his other arm around the mage. “Well, the bad news is I’ve got a splitting headache. The good news is I didn’t make myself look like an ass by telling you I loved you first.” He gives the ceiling a wry smile. “Where are we?” He closes his eyes against the light of the room.
Anarchaia lifts her head again to smile down at him. “The infirmary at the Hall of the Guardian. And I’m glad I spared you the suffering of looking like an ass by becoming one myself.” She stands and goes to the shelves across the room, grabbing a bag of briarthorn tea and dumping it into a mug before filling it with heated water. She returns to his side and offers the cup. “I’m so, so, so, so, SO sorry, Koltira…”
He sits up and groans, taking the cup of tea. “Why are you sorry?” He sips the tea and purses his lips. “She was already mad and I just…kept pushing. It was stupid of me.”
“Because all of this is my fault. If I’d have never deceived you into lying with me, none of this would ever have happened.” Her lips purse as she fights back more tears. She rubs at her good eye with the back of a finger. “Anything you did or said is just a vicarious act in a chain of events set in motion by me.”
Koltira sets the tea aside and grabs Anarchaia into his arms. “Stop blaming yourself. You act like I had no part in this. I’m the one that should have shown more restraint, okay?” He sighs into her hair. “Thank you for saving me.”
She threads her arms beneath his and hugs him tightly. “The fire never starts if there’s no spark, Koltira.” She sighs and buries her face into his shoulder. “And you don’t have to thank me for that. I’ll always do it. May as well save your thank yous.”
Koltira says nothing, just closes his eyes and holds her tighter.
Anarchaia inhales slowly and pulls away. “We should get out of here before I’m in serious trouble.” She pauses. “Though I’m certain I already am. How is your head? Your chest?”
Koltira nods. “My chest is fine, thank you. My head will recover. I’m not used to rapid blood loss, as you can imagine.” He takes her by the hand and kisses the top. “I’ll talk to Khadgar, if it will help your case.”
Anarchaia shakes her head as she smiles and stands. “I’ll be okay. He’ll…actually probably be pretty angry which is uncommon, but I know how to deal with him.” She holds out her hands to help him up. “Can you stand?”
The death knight stands slowly and nods. “Looks like. Let’s get going, then.”
Anarchaia nods and wraps her arms around his torso and the two teleport back to his room in Lorlathil. She sighs and looks away from the blood pool. “You think they’re still here?” she asks quietly.
Koltira furrows his brow. “They? You really think she stopped to remember Grimory exists?” He growls as he collects his things. “She took Byfrost. Which she has every right to, but now I’m without a weapon.”
“I heard voices in his room when I passed.” Anarchaia swallows and fidgets. “I can keep us safe. You just need to play lookout.” She sighs and sits on the bed. “So, what now?”
Koltira’s brow furrows further. “But why go to him? Why not take off running like she usually would?” He opens his pack to find fresh clothes and his soaps. “Please tell me they have a shower.”
Anarchaia shrugs. “She probably likes him more than she lets on.” She nods and points to the door. “Down the hall and to the right.” She sighs, her heart pounding. “At least we don’t have to stay in secret anymore. Heh.” Her laugh leads into a groan of sadness.
Koltira purses his lips. “Just have to figure out where to go from here…” He sighs and strides to the door. “Why don’t you see if you can discreetly get Grim to the door, if they’re still here, while I shower. I’d like to see if we can reconcile…anything at all before it carries on too long.”
Anarchaia nods. “Yes. Of course.” She stands and follows him into the hallway. She follows a trail of blood droplets to Grimory’s room and taps on the door with her bony knuckles. She does so again when no one answers. The second time no one comes to the door, she steps inside. “Of course,” she sighs, avoiding the blood splatter on the floor.
Koltira showers quickly and returns to his room to begin packing. “Well?” he asks the mage.
“Gone,” Anarchaia says, closing the door and taking up her space on the bed again. “No clue where. The blood stops at the stairs.”
Koltira rolls his eyes skyward. “Of course.” He sits beside Anarchaia and wraps an arm over her shoulders. “I know it sounds stupid…but I have to continue with the mission. It has to be done and we don’t have time to go chasing those two around the forest. Are you okay with accompanying me, still?”
Anarchaia shakes her head. “That’s not stupid at all. I understand the importance of an assignment.” She smiles and wraps her arms about his waist. “You know I’ll come with.”
Koltira nods. “All right, well, first things first, I need a new weapon. I’ll have to run to Acherus. It shouldn’t take long.”
Anarchaia nods, not really wanting to be left alone, but understanding. “I’ll be here,” she says, releasing him from her embrace and tucking her hair into her mask.
“Five minutes,” he says and opens a death gate. He gives her a reassuring kiss and goes through to Acherus.
Anarchaia gives a nod and a smile, leaning back to lie on the bed as she waits. “Ugh, this is terrible,” she whispers to the ceiling, threading her fingers over her stomach.
Koltira returns swiftly, sweeping into the room with a satchel and a new sword, the fresh runes still glimmering across the silver blade. “Okay. So, I was thinking, and this actually works to our advantage. We can go through the nights without having to stop and pretend you need sleep. No Grimory actually needing sleep. No random side adventures to distract us from the task at hand.” He finishes pulling on his armor and smiles down at her. “This could be great! Just the two of us!”
Anarchaia can’t help but smile at his enthusiasm. “Definitely less drama. Heh.” She stands and adjusts her robes. “Could be nice, actually. We’ll have this completed in no time.”
Koltira takes a moment to kiss Anarchaia, holding her close before they embark. “We’re a good team, of course we will.”
The mage returns the kiss and sighs. “Let’s get this done. With any luck they’ve gone off into the woods. Perhaps we’ll encounter them along the way and we can make amends, then.”
“Yes, amends…from a distance…with no weapons…” He takes her hand and leads her out the door, stopping only to pay for the rooms and drinks.
Anarchaia fidgets with her free hand. “I…don’t trust that will be enough to save us.” She clears her throat as she follows. “But it’s best to try.”
Koltira smiles down at her, but doesn’t stop walking. “Ana, you already saved me once with your quick thinking. I trust you to do it again. I know, running away from a battle is… I’m not a coward, I just couldn’t hurt her. All the awful things I said, and she hit me and kicked me…but I couldn’t hurt her back. I suppose holding it all in this whole time was a bad idea.”
Anarchaia squeezes his hand with hers. “Because you have a kind heart. The things we say aren’t always correlated with the things we do. Especially in anger.”
He purses his lips. “I called her a psychopath. That’s when she knocked me down and planted her axe into my chest. I’m not saying I deserved that…but I deserved…something.”
Anarchaia frowns and says nothing for a long time. “A situation like this never ends well, even when both parties are reasonable.” She scowls. “But it won’t happen again. The axe I mean. I won’t let it.”
“And I won’t let anything happen to you.” He stops beside an illuminated basin at the side of the road. “Right, how close do you think we are to that third location?”
Anarchaia pulls out her map, then crinkles her nose as the blood that had soaked into her gloves smudges on the paper. “Bradensbrook is next if we’re following the pattern. But we need to cross through the temple yards if we follow the path. Otherwise we can cut through, but the terrain looks…unforgiving.”
Koltira makes a face. “I have no problems with unforgiving terrain, but you’re not exactly the physical type. Not like I can’t carry you, or something.”
Anarchaia bristles some, a hand on her hip. “I can walk over some mountains,” she says with a pout.
He eyes the smudges. “Did you want to wash up first?”
She deflates at the mention of a bath. “Yes. I should have taken a shower while you were away, but…there was too much on my mind.” She glances around, listening for the sound of running water. “I don’t hear anyplace nearby, however.”
Koltira purses his lips. “I’m sorry.” He glances around. “If we walk in the trees you can just take off your gloves…or I could just hold the map for you, I suppose.”
“Oh, no, I can just wash them wherever.” She hands him the map and pulls her robes up over her head, then unbuttons her gloves to throw them into a floating heap before herself. She pulls water from the surrounding air and rolls her clothes through it until the mass of liquid becomes red with blood. She tosses the large globe of water into the thicket and dries her clothes with fire, then sets to putting them back on. “Good as new. But seriously, feel free to navigate.”
Koltira shrugs. “I think we’re more than capable of navigating together without quarrel. Let’s get to the temple and just…go from there? Who knows, they may hold audience with Khadgar’s apprentice.”
Anarchaia frowns as she pulls her robes taught over her shoulders. “Ugh, let’s not talk about Master right now. He’s probably looking for me.” She sighs. “Let’s hope he’s not successful.” She situates her fingers within her gloves. “The temple it is, then. Excelsior.”
~ * ~
Grimory blinks at Alisbeth and shakes his head. “No no no. We’re fine here. We’re fine. No one will come for us…but her.” He winces. “I’ll protect you from her.”
“Was I supposed to kill her? I…I didn’t know where her room was. And I didn’t want that. I wanted…”
“No!” The Illidari holds up a hand. “No. You did good. That means Khadgar won’t come after your head. That’s good. Very good.” He sighs. “Though Koltira has that friend…”
Alisbeth presses her palm into her forehead. “Why are you helping me, Grim? Your life would be so much better if you just turned me in and went back to your duties.”
Grimory scowls. “Because I care about you. If you left again I’d be even more lonely.”
“Grim, I—” Alisbeth bites her lips together and widens her eyes. “I appreciate your friendship.”
Grimory furrows his brow in a sort of confused understanding. “I appreciate yours, too, Ali,” he says in a cautious tone, knowing she has inner turmoil but not wanting to press her. “A lot, actually.”
Alisbeth frowns and nods in a determined way as though forcing her thoughts into an order. With a heavy sigh, her face softens and she smiles at him. “I guess I owe you.” She goes to the pond and dips the spikes of her Maw into the water to wash away the blood. She sniffs and ignores the tears that roll down her cheeks. Maybe you shouldn’t have killed him, huh?
“Not sure what you mean,” he calls after her, “but you don’t owe me a thing.” He leans back on his elbows and stretches his legs, watching her. He looks up at the moon through the trees. “Why do you say that?”
“Because I do,” Alisbeth mutters. Her fingers work frantically over the spikes of her Maw, even though it’s already clean.
Grimory sighs and leans back to lie down. Impossible. “If you say so.” He takes a moment to look at the stars. “What are you so busy with? Come sit. Calm down.”
She purses her lips and ignores him for a long while. “Tell me another story.”
Grimory furrows his brow. “All my other stories are about war…or exes. I’d rather not, if I’m being honest.” He shoos a lightning bug—seemingly attracted to his glowing tattoos—from his chest. “Besides, it’s your turn.”
Alisbeth titters nervously. “I can’t think of any right now. Unless you give me a subject? I’m, um… My memory isn’t so great sometimes.” She growls and throws her axe into the pond, then covers her face. “I’m sorry. I should be better. I should remember. I’m sorry.”
Grimory sits up at the sound of splashing water, then goes to her, crouching to put a hand on her back. “Okay, Ali. What’s up? There’s clearly something wrong and normally I don’t press but I hate seeing you this way.”
She wipes her tears and tries to steady herself with deep breaths. “I didn’t mean to kill him. I just wanted him to stop calling me names. And I should’ve just left and not bothered you. And I want to tell you things, but I can’t—I can’t—but it’s just there like a big bubble and I don’t know why I’m even thinking about it because I don’t think about it and now I can’t stop. But I can’t tell you, okay, Grim? So don’t ask me. But I want to tell you.” She turns away from him and sulks. “This isn’t a very fun adventure, is it?”
Grimory blinks as he takes it all in. “I— Okay. I never said you needed to tell me whatever it is you don’t want to tell me. That’s fine. As for Kol—” He pauses and sobers. “As for Koltira…I don’t know. Maybe we should just keep moving so you can forget.”
Without warning, Alisbeth spins and lunges at him. She pins him down and stares at him for a long time, her lips pursed in thought. “Do you want to kiss me?”
Grimory grunts in surprise but allows her on top of him. He gazes up into her face, then, without missing a beat, smiles and says, “All the time.”
“Why?” she demands.
Grimory’s smile turns into a smirk and he lowers his eyelids. “Oh ho. I see what you’re getting at.” He chuckles. “I like you.”
“I like you, too. And I want to kiss you sometimes. But I don’t know why.” I think you do. She ignores the voice. “Like with the worgen… I don’t know why I kissed you.” She rubs the last of her tears away and smiles as she straightens and stares down at him. “I won’t hit you if you do it again, okay?”
He follows her as she sits up, again propping himself in his elbows. She likes you, too. Maybe that’s why she ran off. She’s confused. “You promise?”
“I swear on the Redblade name.”
“Good.” Grimory leans up and plants a kiss on her lips. After a moment he pulls away and hums. “It’s not the same without you hitting me.”
Alisbeth smiles at the kiss. She narrows her eyes as he pulls away. “But you just made me promise.”
“Shame I did.” He leans back to lie in the grass again. “So what next, Ms. Redblade?”
She chews on the inside of her lower lip. “I thought we were on an adventure. Don’t you have a thing? We can do that.”
“I offered to go. You didn’t seem too keen on the idea.” He stands and stretches. “But we should get a move on. I can sleep later.”
Alisbeth’s mouth shifts sideways as she narrows her eyes at him. “You’re confusing. Do you want to sleep or do you want to kiss me or do you want me to hit you or do you want to go on your adventure?”
Grimory laughs and grasps her hand to pull her to her feet and back to the trail they were following. “How does it feel to be the one who’s confused for a change?”
“What do you mean ‘for a change’?” She walks beside him with a bounce in her step, then hops up to walk along stones that line the path—all while holding his hand tight in her own. “What could you possibly be confused about?” She giggles at him, her heart and mind feeling so much lighter.
Grimory smiles over at her. Guess there’s nothing to feel badly about anymore… That was terrible. You’re terrible. “I hope you’re joking. You are the most enigmatic person I’ve ever met. And I’ve met Ana.” He shakes his head. “You’re so hard to read most of the time. It gives me headaches. But I like it.”
Alisbeth scrunches her face at him. “I’m not enigmatic. I say what I mean. Used to get me in trouble a lot, actually.” She laughs and hops to his side. “I was eighty-three. I’d just gotten to Lordaeron and didn’t know anyone but Tirion. And they didn’t know how I was. In Stormwind they were used to it. But in Lordaeron…” She laughs into her fingertips. “A grown woman getting caned in front of the entire academy. They eventually learned how our kind work. But it didn’t stop the canings, just the boys laughing at me.
Grimory shakes his head. “It’s not what you say that’s hard to read, it’s what you don’t.”
“Oh!” She throws excited fingers to her mouth. “I remember a story. Would you like to hear it?”
He smiles down at her. “Of course.”
She purses her lips. “I don’t say things you don’t need to hear. Nothing wrong with that. Better than lying! Okay!” She gives a quick jump. “I had this friend Esmond. When he was young he was an ass, like many men are. And we got into a disagreement. I threw my sword at him and cut his ear clean off. It was so bad they had to rush to heal him. I spent a week in the stocks! I week! I was so hungry by the time I got out that I ate enough food for five people. He watched his tongue around me after that. Told me later he respected me because I didn’t complain once in that week. I mean, I’ve had worse punishments, so it was no big deal. I had a reputation after that for how much I ate.” She kicks a rock along with her toes, then punts it into the trees. “Is that a good story?”
Grimory laughs. “I bet he didn’t! And it is a good story.” He chuckles again. “Do I need to watch my tongue around you, then?”
Alisbeth shrugs. “I haven’t hit you yet, have I?” She sighs in boredom.
“You slapped me. I think that counts.”
“Okay, your turn.”
He thinks as they near a bridge at the end of their path. “Ana and I were once imprisoned in Suramar for a short while. There was this little girl—I’ll never forget her face. These officials had taken her away from her parents as some sort of means to make them compliant. An act of power, I guess. We couldn’t just leave her there. I ended up killing a couple of their guards. They locked us up but the girl got away. Not sure what happened to her.” He shrugs. “They were dumb enough to put us both in the same arcane cell. Ana was able to teleport us out despite the dampening barrier. We had to get new disguises after that.”
Alisbeth stops in her tracks, frowning. “A little girl? They just took her? And you just left and didn’t check up to see if she was okay? You just let her go and didn’t make sure she was safe and happy?” She pulls her hand away from him as she shouts. “She could be lost or scared or sad and you just let her go!”
Grimory frowns and turns back to look at her. “We were arrested, Ali. You don’t think I’d have gone after her if I’d had the opportunity? Besides, I didn’t see any guards running after her. They were too busy subduing us.”
She clenches her fists. “Babies need their mothers. You can’t just send them away.”
Grimory sighs. “I agree with you, okay? If it makes you feel any better, we liberated her quadrant of the city from the corrupted authorities and demons. She’s most likely safe.”
Alisbeth fumes. “No, Grim, you have to check and—OHMYGODSKITTY!” Alisbeth sprints across the bridge to hug the leg of a huge feral druid with magenta fur and indigo stripes.