Taveth wretches as the scent of charred flesh wafts to him. When he stands, he realizes that lightning didn’t strike him when he stepped forward. Not even thinking to call to the others or wait, he clambers down the ship’s hull and runs across the beach. He skids to a stop near a witch, whose concentration is still set on the huge monstrosity they’re conjuring.
Alisbeth slips from the skrog’s limp hand and grimaces. She grips the head of her axe and whines as she pulls to remove it from her side, where the fist had pushed the spikes deep into her ribs. She drops the axe to the ground and hugs her side.
Edrah crawls across the mud, looking for her staff through foggy eyes from being kicked in the face by a giant foot.
Anarchaia breathes tiredly as she looks at her party. She shakes her head. “Such a mess.” She turns to speak to Taveth only to realize he’s nowhere to be found. She sighs and goes to pick up Edrah’s staff and hand it to her. “Are you all right?” She grimaces at Alisbeth. “Are you all right?”
Grimory gets to his feet and growls at the pain of his fractured bones. He limps to the skrog’s corpse and places a hand on it. A glowing green shard breaks free from its form and shatters, the dust entering his lungs and healing his minor wounds. “That was harder than the Halls.”
Edrah recovers from the daze and nods. “I’m fine. Thank you. Holy balls!” She runs over to Alisbeth. “What happened?” She wraps Alisbeth in enough green mist to obscure the death knight from view.
“My axe,” Alisbeth replies. “Got pinned against me.”
Edrah growls as the mist dissipates, yet the wounds continue to spout blood. “Take off your armor. It’s holding your flesh open like a tap.”
Alisbeth struggles to undo the buckles with Edrah’s help. When the monk goes to help with the breastplate, Alisbeth screams out and punches the other elf hard enough to make her go rolling across the ground. “Don’t touch me!” She backs away like a wounded animal, hugging her side tighter.
Grimory’s ears perk at the sound of Alisbeth’s cries and he scrambles around to the other side of the corpse, still holding his broken bones. “Ali! What’s wrong? What’s happened?”
“There was an incident with her axe,” Anarchaia explains, tapping her fingers together nervously. “She needs to take off her armor.”
“Let me help,” the Illidari says, reaching for Alisbeth to come to him.
“No,” Alisbeth whines. “It hurts.”
When all goes silent after his cousin’s scream of agony, Taveth runs back and scrambles up the ship hull. He jumps and smacks against the wall, scrabbling to grab something. The ground gives no such help and he slips to the water below.
Edrah shakes her head as she stands. “Oh, that’ll getcha. You got an arm on you, little lass.” She swirls more healing vapor around the death knight to keep her from bleeding out until the armor is removed.
“It’ll hurt more if you don’t take it off,” Grimory explains. “Edrah has to heal you or you’ll continue to bleed until you pass out. You don’t want that, do you?”
“JUST LET HIM HELP YOU AND GET DOWN HERE!” Taveth shouts from the top of the debris.
Edrah blinks. “What the— Where is that little wanker?”
The mage perks at the sound of Taveth’s voice and follows it to the ledge. “Oh, there you are. You shouldn’t wander.”
Alisbeth lets out a long whine as she inches toward Grimory. “Do it fast.”
Grimory nods and steps forward to grab her chest piece. He peels off the half that is unaffected and tosses it to the sand. “Edrah, heal while I do this.” He looks at Alisbeth. “This is gonna hurt a lot for a brief moment, okay? Hold onto me.”
Alisbeth nods and grips his forearm. Edrah gives a little salute and begins a steady stream of mist flowing over the death knight.
Taveth sighs indignantly. “Not like I could do anything to help, anyway. I thought I could reach my things but…it’s over there, past those Naga. I can feel it. It’s right there but I can’t reach it! Do you know how frustrating that is? It’s like going to the library and forgetting your restricted access pass. It’s right there, but you can’t touch it! It’s maddening!” His eyes bug behind his spectacles and his voice grows more frantic the longer he talks. By the end, he looks like a madman as he fixes his frustrated gaze on the mage.
Grimory gives Alisbeth a solemn nod. He inhales and grips the plate firmly on either side. He pulls the piece directly out of the wound as swiftly as he can and grimaces at the sound.
Anarchaia merely stares down at him, lips in a thin line behind her mask. “Are you all right, Taveth? Is there something we should know?”
Taveth narrows his eyes. “Know? No. I’m perfectly fine. Why would you ask—”
Alisbeth’s scream shatters the air. Her nails dig into Grimory’s forearm, then release as the pain subsides and the wounds begin to close. She frowns up at the demon hunter, then punches him in the chest with all of her strength. “That hurt!”
Sucking in air from the pain of having a shockwave rush through his bruised ribs, Grimory reels but catches his footing. He pauses and empties his lungs slowly. “I warned you it would,” he groans.
Anarchaia shudders at the sound. “She had an accident with her axe. They’re fixing it.”
Edrah wraps him in mist. “Warning doesn’t mean she’s prepared. Come on, the other two went this way.”
Alisbeth sets her hand in Grimory’s. “I’m sorry I hit you so hard. It hurt a lot. Thank you.” She pulls gently to take him with her to follow the monk.
Grimory gives a sigh of relief at the soothing vapors seeping into his being and healing him from within. “It’s fine,” he grunts and follows as he’s pulled. He pulls his ears back at the sight before him. “That thing looks bigger than before.”
“Yeah. So, let’s go?” Taveth hops from the hull down into a pool of water.
Edrah purses her lips and leans to Anarchaia. “You’re positive he’s not normally like this? Because he sure looks comfortable being an ass.”
Alisbeth nudges the monk. “He’s not. Something is wrong.”
“Would you get down here, you lazy cows!”
“Very wrong. He doesn’t name-call.” Alisbeth looks between Anarchaia and Grimory, then sighs and jumps down to catch up to the high elf.
The mage rolls her eyes, too exhausted to care. She leaps down, using magic to slow her fall and land gently on her feet.
Grimory follows and makes note of the four sea witches channeling energy into the swirling vortex above. “I think it’s safe to say we need to stop these bitches from doing… Whatever it is they’re doing.”
Edrah nods and eyes the mage. “I think the fire is fizzling in this one. Let’s make it quick.”
“Yes. Let’s,” Taveth barks impatiently.
Alisbeth punches him in the arm as she passes. “Not another word.” She hits him again then runs to hack at the first witch, making quick work of her. “They’re pathetic, come on!” She runs to the next one.
Grimory flies to the other side of the pool, hacking through one of the channelers there while Anarchaia freezes the last to the water she stands in, then shatters her to pieces with another strong blast of fire. The monstrosity in the pool cries out in anger, throwing its hands up. The air begins to swirl into a vortex, kicking up wet sand and swirling the rain about at high speeds.
The mage shudders. “Let’s make this fast…”
Taveth races to the creature, but realizes his belongings aren’t there. He turns and scans the beach, then spots it by the water. “No…”
“Tav!” A gust of wind catches Alisbeth off guard. She drops her axe into a tornado that speeds past her, tangling her hair around her face.
The Maw spins past Edrah, who tries to dodge, but is caught on the temple by the heavy, club-shaped bottom of the handle. The monk falls to the ground, completely unconscious.
Grimory growls as he watches the events unfold before him. He rushes forward to slash at the gargantuan hand of water as it comes down toward Taveth.
Anarchaia runs to Edrah and attempts to rouse her through shaking. When she’s unsuccessful, she straightens and fidgets in panic. Not good. She gathers her strength and throws up an arcane shell around the two men before the tidal monster can crush them.
Taveth turns to see the tidal wave. He leaps out of the way, the water thoroughly sogging his feet. With a dismissive grunt, he gets back up and runs to his bag. If it’s clasped, all is fine… He turns it over to see the buckles undone. He drops to his knees as desperation claws at his chest. “Please, no…”
Alisbeth growls, clawing at her head to straighten her hair, but it continues to billow around, wrapping back over her face as she runs after the twister. “That’s mine!” she shrieks, trying to catch up to the twirling axe.
Grimory cranes his head to see what his allies are doing just in time to witness Taveth run off and Anarchaia give a few halfhearted flame bursts before collapsing in the sand. He growls again in frustration and dodges another swipe from the elemental. Shit! This is impossible with just me. I’ll need more. The muscles in his arms undulate beneath the skin and spikes raise through the flesh. He catches the next swing of the monster’s hand in both arms and grunts as he braces himself in the sand. “More…”
Taveth opens the bag and reaches inside to find his book floating in a pool of water. His breathing becomes heavy as he opens the pages, only to find most of the ink washed away and smudged. His eyes glow dark purple as his face turns a dark shade of angry red. “So much research…study…travel…” He growls out an angry shout and reaches into the satchel. The dagger floats eagerly into his hand.
<<Master. My name is Thal’kiel. I… Wait, it’s you? But the presence I felt was so angry. It’s delicious.>> The skull leans in close to sniff Taveth. <<Wonderful.>>
Taveth shoves the skull away and turns back to the elemental. “That was EVERYTHING I HAD!”
Grimory lifts his ears at the drowned-out sound of Taveth’s yelling. He turns his head to look but is immediately overpowered at the first sign of distraction. After he regains his footing—and dodges Alisbeth’s flying axe—he gathers himself and squares his shoulders toward the monster. His wings unfold and his torso doubles in size, the muscles stretching across his bones. The horns on his head curl outward and more sprout from his forehead. He inhales and grins with fangs that overlap his lips.
“Finally,” he growls in an ethereal voice and flies forward to bellow a cloud of fire comparable to the beast itself.
<<You’ve made some delightful friends, I see. Let’s show him ours.>> Thal’kiel swirls around Taveth as though excited, his teeth chattering together.
The elf holds the dagger before him and glares at the watery creature. He slowly walks forward as he shouts over the storm in Demonic, calling his minions forth by name.
Keeshokin fades into existence and growls. <<Who dares summon me?>> He looks down at Taveth and cocks an eyebrow. <<This, I like.>>
“Shut up and get in there,” Taveth growls.
The felguard laughs and leads the charge, the imps leading the dogs right on his heels.
<<Can we expect this to be your regular disposition?>> Thal’kiel asks.
Taveth sneers. “You, too.”
The skull obediently teleports to the others to scream in ear-splitting pitch, as it is all he can do.
The noise raises the attention of the demon possessing Grimory’s body and he has to double take at the group. <<Keeshokin. Thal’kiel. What in the infinite hells would bring you lot here?>> He nimbly dodges another punch from the storm incarnate. The winds pick up further and he’s forced to land.
Thal’kiel stops and stares. He zips over to butt his skull against Grimory’s forehead. <<Spinewing, what a surprise. Finally out of the cage, I see?>>
“Which one? That fucking crystal or this pathetic excuse for a host?” He sends Keeshokin a rude gesture with a claw and hacks off the elemental’s left hand, but the appendage quickly grows back.
<<Hey,>> Keeshokin growls, <<you still owe me a case of inferno punch.>> The felguard returns to slashing at the elemental.
Alisbeth runs past and slaps into one of Grimory’s new wings. She falls on her rear and growls. “Outta my way!” She bats the wing and trudges forward, then stops and observes the demons, then stares long and hard at Grimory. She grins and sidles close to lean into the demonic form. “Hey,” she purrs.
Spinewing stops at the sound of the familiar elf below him. He scoffs and lifts a clawed foot to her forehead. “Get lost.” He kicks her across the banks. “At least until I’m done with this.” He breathes more fire over the monster and it reduces slightly in size, steam billowing outward.
Taveth sneers as his cousin flies through the elemental, only to come out on the other side dazed and useless. “Don’t you touch her!” he screams at the mutated form. He summons another felguard which stops and glares at him.
<<You cannot command me!>>
Taveth points the dagger. “Yes, I can. Get in there.”
The felguard runs forward to stand towering over Keeshokin. <<You tiny, tamed demons are so funny,>> it says, chuckling.
Keeshokin growls, but ignores the other.
Spinewing cocks his head to glare at Taveth from the corner of a glowing eye. “You’re next,” he sneers and stops the elemental’s oncoming punch with a single claw. He spreads his wings again and flies against the air currents to blow more fire into the monster’s head. It cries out and sends multiple waves of water in all directions.
Taveth turns his dagger skyward. A huge purple ball flies from the skies and into the water. It bursts open, spewing a dozen imps out onto the banks. They cackle and hop in excitement, climbing onto the unconscious party members before turning to throw fireballs at the elemental. Another meteor streaks through the sky, its fire green. It hits the sand beside Grimory and shatters into a pile of boulders. Fel eyes blink up at the sky, then the boulders collect themselves. The infernal stands, towering over the demon hunter. It roars in anger, then lays its flaming fists into the watery creature. Together, the demons with their flames weaken the elemental until it sizzles and hisses out of existence.
Spinewing gives a hearty laugh. “The Legion prevails once more.” The waters in the pool swirl and a light filters up through the surface. The Tidestone, whole and unmarred, lifts into the air and stands ready to be collected. The demon turns and cracks his knuckles, stomping through the sand toward Taveth. <<Now, then,>> he hisses in demonic as a wide grin stretches across his face.
Alisbeth scrambles forward, stumbling her way to kneel in front of Taveth. “You’ll have to go through me, asshole.”
Spinewing swiftly curls his claws around Alisbeth’s throat and lifts her feet above the ground. “Easily done. Join the other useless raff in the dirt where you belong.” He throws her to the side and into the dunes near her fallen comrades.
“Ali!” Taveth reaches out as though to grab her. He sets his angry purple eyes on the metamorphosed demon hunter. <<I bind you.>>
Thal’kiel sighs in exasperation. <<You can’t do that, you know.>>
Taveth bats him away and holds up the dagger, backing away as the other advances. <<I BIND YOU!>>
Spinewing narrows his eyes and gives a twisted laugh, lifting his claws on preparation for what he’s about to do. <<Are you truly so arrogant as to think you can enslave me? A Doomlord? Pathetic.>>
Taveth swallows, his throat and tongue gone dry. He takes a step back. At least I tried.
<<Die quickly, so we can get a competent master,>> Thal’kiel scoffs.
Spinewing gives a grunt of a growl as he strikes Taveth hard enough to send him sprawling. <<You know what disgusts me most about you warlocks?>> He sends a kick into his side. <<You’re cocky. Overconfident. You think yourselves above the demons you enslave.>> He bends to lift the high elf by the throat high into the air and squeezes with his claws, the nails threatening to pierce the flesh. <<Now they’ll be free.>>
Taveth’s vision spots as he gasps for air. Then, for what seems no reason at all to the elf, he remembers a page he’d come across before knowing the demonic language. A single word had been written beneath two leering eyes. And so, on what Taveth knew was his final breath, he whispered it, hoping beyond hope that another demon would come to his aid.