Taveth’s brow furrows at the book in his hand. He snaps it closed and approaches Instructor Nidriel. “I was wondering if I might speak to the Headmistress.”
She smiles, pulling her lower lip into her teeth to suck on as she thinks. “I don’t think Headmistress Azuremoon is too terribly busy, at the moment. Go on in.”
Taveth bows his thanks and walks through the doorway, eager to speak with someone who might be able to answer questions the book brought up.
“How can I help you?”
The high elf paused in her commanding presence. “I-I have a question about something I’ve stumbled across in a few texts, including this one.”
“What can you tell me of the Tidestone?”
The Headmistress’s smile turns to a frown, then a scowl. “I thought I made it clear that students are NOT to ask about the Tidestone!”
Right before his eyes, the Headmistress turns into a banshee and advances on him. Taveth runs for the exit, but a barrier rises up to block his escape. He scrambles along the wall, searching for another way out, but finds none. He grips his satchel to his chest and cringes as she nears.
“Don’t make me,” he whimpers.
Taveth reaches into his bag. “I’m sorry.” His hand wraps around the handle of a dagger and he closes his eyes.
<<So, then I say—Wait, what? Where am I?>>
The floating skull whips around. <<Oh. It’s you.>>
<<You know, if I could frown, I’d be frowning. You know that, don’t you?>> Thal’kiel growls.
Taveth presses further into the corner as the Headmistress nears. “Th-Thal’kiel, please!”
<<Oh, gods, I hate that word. Please. Awful, cute little word.>>
The headmistress stops to stare at the floating skull, then rakes her clawed fingers across the dull copper bone. Thal’kiel spins around.
<<You took me away from a nice conversation about domination over the Light with Keeshokin for this?>>
The headmistress bats Thal’kiel out of her way. She scratches across Taveth’s bicep, then grabs him and throws him across the room.
<<Alright, alright! I suppose it’s better to help than let you die and be banished again. Get the party started, you pathetic little scrap of—>>
“Okay, I get it. Can we focus?” Taveth shouts. He stands and scrambles sideways to avoid the banshee’s claws.
A felguard pops into the room and looks around. <<Who dares summon—oh. Why are you still alive, whelp?>>
“Heh, you…you jokers. Heh.” Taveth dives under a nearby table. The headmistress slams her fist through the table and grabs at the squirming elf.
<<He won’t be alive for long,>> Thal’kiel says.
<<Oh, did he summon us to watch?>> He looks around and snorts. <<Didn’t even bring snacks.>>
<<If we don’t help him, then we stay in the Nether forever.>>
Keeshokin grunts. <<Fine.>>
He stomps forward and smacks the side of his axe against the back of the headmistress’s head. She drops Taveth and turns to shriek at him. In return, Thal’kiel teleports to her and shrieks loudly beside her head. She hisses at him and shies away.
<<Call the dogs,>> Thal’kiel says.
“Who’s the master, here?”
<<Ugh. Don’t remind me.>> He races over to Taveth and knocks against his forehead. The rough texture of the bone scratches through the skin and draws a red line down the elf’s forehead. <<Summon the dogs, master.>>
Taveth holds out the spine-dagger, focusing on the banshee. He begins to mutter in demonic. Smoke swirls around him, materializing into two felhounds with imps on their backs. The hounds growl, one twitching to the left to bite Taveth’s ankle. The imps cackle and kick the sides of the hounds to urge them forward. The high elf continues to mutter, helping his minions to grow more powerful.
Headmistress Azuremoon lets out one final shriek, then dissolves into dust and light. The hounds and imps disappear into a puff of smoke.
<<As for you,>> Keeshokin says. He lifts his axe and advances on Taveth.
“You’re dismissed!” Taveth shouts quickly.
The demon vanishes and the elf lets out a heavy sigh of relief. Thal’kiel immediately knocks against Taveth’s forehead again, cutting the gash deeper.
<<One day, weakling.>>
<<Don’t you put that dagger back!>> the skull screams. <<I swear on the heart of Jagganoth, I will—>>
Taveth slips the dagger into his bag. The moment it leaves his hand, the skull vanishes and the elf is left in the silence following. He struggles to catch his breath. He sets his fingers to his forehead and frowns at the blood which comes away. On his way out of the room, his foot kicks against something that clatters along the stone floor. He stoops and grabs up the key, pockets it, and rushes from the chamber.
“Taveth!” Alisbeth runs to him. “You’re hurt.”
“W-we have to go.”
“But we just got here.”
“I said now!” He grabs her by the arm and shoves her toward the entrance.
Grimory opens his mouth to address the elf’s wounds, but Alisbeth is faster. He gives a sigh of relief at the aspect of leaving and tears the unsightly hat from his head. “Thank gods,” he mumbles, while he struggles to pull the robes over his head as they walk at a quick pace. “So, what happened? I heard screeching.” He pauses as he tosses the robes at the nearest student. “And my demon senses were tingling.”
Alisbeth giggles as she lets Taveth drag her. “That’s a stupid phrase. What is it, like a superpower?”
Taveth double checks the buckles on his bag. “Heh. Ali’s right. S-silly thing to say.”
Grimory gives Taveth a wary sideways glance. You reek of them. “So where to next, O captain, my captain?” He grins. “Get the info you were after?”
“No,” Taveth says, doing his best to wipe away the blood on his forehead with a sleeve as he tries to shake Alisbeth away from the wound on his arm. In the stairwell he stops and gazes both ways, then lowers his voice to a near whisper. “I’ve found mention of something called the Tidestone. I went into the headmistress’s office to ask about it.”
“Got any bandages in there? Your arm is pretty bad.” Alisbeth grabs his satchel.
Taveth rips the bag out of her grasp and grips it tight. “No. I haven’t got any. I’m fine, anyway.”
Grimory lifts his eyebrows at the mention of the relic. “Someone at the Fel Hammer mentioned that before. I don’t recall what they said about it but apparently it’s super important. Did she tell you anything?” He pauses. “Though from the looks of you I’m gonna guess she didn’t.”
Taveth purses his lips. “No, but… She dropped this.” He reaches into his pocket and withdraws the key. “There was another door opposite this one,” he points up the stairs at the door they all know is around the corner. “I bet this key unlocks it.”
Grimory glances up the path and shrugs. “Sounds like a pretty specific hunch, but we’ve got nothing to lose by checking.” He extends am arm. “Y’all first.”
Taveth takes the lead, smiling and muttering some excuse as they pass the mages in the hall. The key works, sending the door sliding down into the floor.
Alisbeth gasps. “Are we being naughty?” She hops over the threshold and giggles. “I’m breaking the rules!” She takes off running down the stairs. “SCHOOL SUCKS! POWER TO THE PUPILS! BURN THE BOOKS!”
Taveth sighs loudly. “A leash. Yes. That’s what we need.”
“She’d gnaw her own arm off,” Grimory responds as he follows down the steps two at a time.
Taveth double checks the buckles on his satchel, then presses his palm to his injured arm and follows the other two down.
Grimory turns to observe Taveth as he trudges down the steps. “You gonna be okay? Need some medical attention?” He grins. “Headmistress really went hard on you, yeah?”
The high elf shrugs. “She wasn’t too happy, no.” He keeps walking, doing his best to ignore the other man’s stare.
Grimory narrows an eye at his suspicious behavior but otherwise shrugs it off, continuing down the stairs to look for Alisbeth. He stops at the bottom, looking around at the large pillars and crumbling stone floor. Banshees roam the area and he steps behind one of the pillars. “Ali?”
Alisbeth’s smiling face pokes around the next pillar. “Aren’t they beautiful?”
Taveth blinks at her. “The…the banshees?”
Alisbeth merely nods.
Grimory scrunches his face in obvious disapproval. “No. They’re creepy. And ugly. Where are their legs? They make no sense.” He picks up a piece of rubble and tosses it in the air repeatedly. “That it over there, Tav?” he gestures to the far end of the circular room where an alcove with a dais can be seen.
Taveth snatches the stone out of the air before it hits the demon hunter’s palm again. After a quick inspection he gasps. “This is it! These stones on the floor, when put together… are the Tidestone. That sphere is the center. We have to get the pieces.”
Alisbeth peeks around the room, considering the banshees and the pieces. “So, you’re saying kill the banshees.”
“If you have to.”
Alisbeth jumps up. “Yay! Just what I wanted. They’re so beautiful…just makes you want to smash them to bits!” As she finishes she leaps out at a banshee and swings at its face with the side of her axe. She spins in a full circle, then sticks out her lower lip in a pout.
Grimory looks around. “Well, gather what you can. If there’s any piece you can’t lift just say the word.” He steps forward to exhale a cloud of verdant flames over the banshee before it can turn and counter Alisbeth’s ineffective attack. “Magic, Ali,” he reminds in his best tone of patience, then turns and gives the same treatment to another attempting to flank him.
Alisbeth puts her hands on her hips and bends forward. She contorts her face into a sneer, then says in a mocking tone, “Magic, Ali.”
Taveth squeezes the strap of his bag, resisting getting his dagger to end things faster than the other two could. Instead he turns away and picks up the nearest piece of the Tidestone.
Grimory whirls around and narrows his eyes at Alisbeth. He mimics her posture and sneers as well. “Don’t make me come over there.” He stomps his boot and a green sigil forms on the ground below another banshee roused by the commotion. Flames explode from the symbol and she shrieks in pain.
Alisbeth drains the life from the banshee, then leans forward again in the same posture, scrunching up her face and puckering her lips. “Doon’t mooke moo coome oover thoore.”
Taveth rolls his eyes and stoops for a piece. He comes up face to face with a banshee. His fingers tighten around his satchel until his knuckles turn white. They’d make this so much easier. Taveth turns and sprints to the others. “Help!”
Grimory opens his mouth to respond in an equally childish manner. His ears perk, however, when he hears Taveth’s cry for help. He sticks his tongue out at Alisbeth and turns to run in his direction, blowing more fire over the high elf’s attacker.
Taveth skids behind the pillar beside Alisbeth and gives her a sheepish look.
She rolls her eyes. “You know, if you’d learn how to defend yourself, this wouldn’t be an issue.”
“I don’t like to fight.”
“Because you’re a wuss.” She reaches over his shoulder and drags a banshee practically on top of him. “Better learn how to keep her from killing you!” She kisses his cheek and runs over to pick up a piece of stone, absently throwing out magic attacks as she scrutinizes the stone.
Taveth cringes up at the banshee. “I don’t want to fight you.”
The banshee inhales and screams at Taveth in response, slashing claws down on him without care or aim.
Grimory cringes at the sound and looks over his shoulder through the pain. “You left him there?” he calls to Alisbeth as another ghost descends upon the demon hunter and is quickly dispatched with more fire.
Claws wrap around Taveth’s neck and lift his feet from the ground. Gasping for breath, he undoes the clasps of his satchel. The banshee shrieks and swipes her claws across the high elf’s chest, cutting through the strap of his bag and leaving ugly, red gashes across his torso. The bag drops to the ground, the flap flops open, and the black-bladed dagger rolls out onto the stone floor. Taveth pulls at the hand at his throat, gasping and kicking, one hand reaching for the dagger as though by some miracle it could fly into his palm.
Alisbeth purses her lips. “You’re supposed to be fighting her!” Alisbeth rushes forward, but a banshee glides to her and grabs her by the hair. “No one touches my hair!”
Grimory grits his teeth, looking quickly between Alisbeth and the far-more-injured Taveth. He growls and throws another sigil on the ground. Chains burst forth, wrapping around the banshee holding the other man and pulling them both to him. He wrenches Taveth from the ghost’s claw and tosses him to the side by the ruff of his shirt. The banshee slashes at the Illidari instead and Grimory retaliates with yet more fire.
Taveth scrambles away, coughing and gasping in deep breaths. He scrambles to his bag. After a moment of hesitation, he wraps his hand around the vertebrae of the dagger’s handle.
<<What do you want, dammit!>> The orange flames licking around the copper skull near Taveth’s face. <<More banshees? You know, you really need to—No! Don’t do that! I’m warning—>>
Taveth shoves the dagger into the bag and clasps it as fast as he can, his fingers shaking violently.
Alisbeth finishes off the banshee and turns to find Taveth on the floor and Grim dealing with the banshee. “Grim! You’re supposed to make him do it!”
Grimory hisses at Alisbeth, too distracted by the banshee to notice Taveth’s scrambling. “He’s not as strong as us, Ali!”
The specter lays its charred claws across Grimory’s horn and he growls before finishing it off and inspecting the damage.
Alisbeth huffs and puts a hand on her hip after the banshee behind her falls into light and ash. “Well, he needs to learn. That’s how you learn. You give the kid a sword and throw him into the fray.”
Taveth ignores the two as he examines his chest. I could heal this so easi— No. No, I can’t. I won’t. He frantically stuffs the pieces of the Tidestone into his satchel, ignoring the loud clanking of the pieces against Thal’kiel’s spine. Taveth goes behind a pillar to find another piece of the relic, then stops. He closes his eyes and sighs in defeat. Moments later a yellow crystal formation takes shape in his palm. He squeezes until a few of the crystals shatter into a powder, then inhales it as it floats around his hand. His wounds heal over and he purses his lips, then shoves the stone into his satchel.
Grimory rubs a hand over his shallow wound and half-scowls at her. “That’s not how you train someone. You give them scenarios that hold no immediate danger and work your way up. Especially someone who has no combat experience.”
Before Alisbeth can retort, Taveth steps back around the pillar, struggling under the weight of the stones in the bag clutched in his arms. “That’s enough squabbling. I think we have all the pieces.”
“What about that one?” Alisbeth motions at the sphere in the small corner. She sticks her tongue out at Grimory and goes over to stare at the little ball.
Grimory returns the gesture as Alisbeth, then turns to follow. He narrows his eyes down at the small orb and its radiating energies. “I’m…not touching that thing. Looks like all sorts of trouble.”
Hands shaking, Taveth adjusts his pack into one arm; the stones shift and scrape against each other. “I swear, if my pen breaks…” He reaches out his free hand to grab the orb. Ice immediately encases him.
Fog sublimates off the frost immobilizing the group. The sound of scales against dusty stone echoes from the stone walls and a trio of Naga gaze upon their prize. “Our gratitudess for leading uss to the Tidesstone, foolss,” the witch in the middle hisses. “You, take the prisonerss—they’ll do nicely in the sslave penss. I’ll deal with the sstone.”
The duo of guards stab the three blocks of ice with harpoons and make easy work of dragging the group back up the stairs.
~ * ~
Taveth wakes, chained to the floor of a cave. He bolts upright and scrabbles around, his face growing paler.
Alisbeth jolts to her feet, weapon drawn and ready to fight, but finds guards standing too far away to hit. “Heeeeere fishy, fishy.”
The guard on the left furrows his scaly brow at his companion and the two exchange words in their fish-like tongue.
Grimory slowly sits up as well, his arms wrapped tightly about himself. He shudders. “I said I’d never let myself be put in a crystal again. Is ice a crystal?” He glances up at Alisbeth, then at the Naga. “Oh, yeah,” he murmurs and gets to his feet. A hand on his head, he stirs. “Was it worth it, Tav?”
“No, no, NO!” Taveth launches at the guards and shouts in Naga. His chain stops him and he drops to the ground just in front of the two.
One hisses a laugh and pokes him with his trident. The high elf bats the weapon away.
“Now where the hell was that fire when the banshee had you, hmm?” Alisbeth joins the Naga in poking him with her weapon.
Grimory attempts to spit embers at their captors but finds his fel powers dampened. He instead throws a rock at the offending one. “Ali, stop stoking the flames.”
The guard flinches and growls. “She never said we had to keep all of them alive. The woman and small one will prove useful but that one…” He lifts his trident, ready to strike the demon hunter. The two however roar out in surprise and pain as they’re engulfed in violet energy. Their bodies crumple atop one another, smoldering.
“Are you all right?” The ghostly image of a night elf steps toward the trio, his white robes trailing in the dirt behind him yet leaving no trail.
After being freed from the chain, Alisbeth jumps at the ghost. “My hero!” She falls through him and into the dirt, where she scowls.
Taveth stands and dusts himself off. “No. No, I am not all right. I will not be all right. Thank you. I have to go.” Without waiting for anyone else, he speeds to the entrance of the cave.
After a moment of giving Alisbeth a sympathetic shrug, the man jumps in surprise and turns with an outstretched hand. “Wait! A moment, please? The Tidestone! You’ve seen it!”
Grimory shakes the broken chain from his ankle. “Yeah, we have.”
Taveth stops and purses his lips. “Yes. I had all of the pieces in my bag and that fish-eating, slithery little— She stole it!”
Alisbeth snorts into the dirt and pushes to her hands and knees. “Tempew, tempew, Tabbef.”
The high elf lowers the lids of his eyes at her, clearly not in the mood.
Grimory perks and frantically looks about. “Wait, they took it?”
The night elf man clenches his fists but otherwise remains collected and seemingly unaffected by their attitudes toward one another. “I know where she’s taken it. If you’ll hear me out, that is.”
Taveth’s eyes go wide. “Tell us what you know. Please. My life’s work is in that satchel.”
“You brought all of your life’s work with you in—”
“Shut up, Ali.”
She pouts, but otherwise keeps her mouth closed.
Grimory lifts his eyebrows and assists Alisbeth back to her feet. “He always get like this when his purse is taken?”
“The Naga are summoning a great creature on the island to the south. She plans to use the Tidestone to assist its creation.” The man steps toward Taveth. “I’ve been searching for that stone for years. We must get it back and assure the Naga cannot use it.”
Alisbeth purses her lips. “I haven’t seen him in over fifty years, and before that barely because of the academy. You have to behave to get visitation and outside privileges.”
Taveth nods. “We will help. We have to get my bag back. I just hope they haven’t lost anything…precious.”
The death knight narrows her eyes after her cousin, then turns to Grimory. “Did he just volunteer us without asking?” She gasps excitedly as her eyes fall on a huge sea scrog sitting on one side of the cave. “I thought you were a wall! Hi up there!”
The skrog grunts down at her in its placated state.
The night elf man nods and sighs. “Their ranks are thick there, however. You’ll need more than just the three of you to pierce their defenses. A number of their monsters and high-ranking generals are there. Once you are ready, come find me in the ruins just north of here. I can bring you to the entrance, but be prepared for a fight.”
Grimory folds his arms and tilts his head. “And who are we supposed to ask for?”
“Oh! My apologies. I am known as Prince Farondis. I’m…sure you’ll have no issues being directed to me.”
The Demon Hunter shrugs and makes past him for the entrance. “Will do. Thanks for the rescue.”
The scrog looks down on them as they head for the opening. “You little Elves lucky. You can break chains and just walk right out. Golk? Golk can break chains, but Golk can’t walk out.”
Alisbeth frowns up at him. “Can we do something?” she asks Grimory.
“There’s no time!” Taveth hisses as he stomps out of the cave.
Grimory cringes at the question. “Ana could. Not sure how they even got him in here, to be honest.” He pats Alisbeth on the shoulder. “We’ll come back for him, yeah?” He blinks after Taveth, then jogs to catch up. “Just what is in that bag of yours that’s so godsdamn important?” He pauses. “Besides the relic, that is.”
Taveth smirks and stares at his hands. “Heh. Would you really understand what I was talking about if I told you the subject of my current research?”
“I would!” Alisbeth shouts, raising her hand as she runs up behind them.
Taveth keeps walking as though she’d said nothing.
The Illidari scowls. “That’s a tad condescending.” He turns his head to hold out a hand to Alisbeth. “Let’s leave the nerd with his thoughts until we get back to Dalaran.”
Alisbeth takes his hand and giggles. “Nerd!” She sticks her tongue out at Taveth.