Taveth coughs into the dust on the floor, his head throbbing. A clicking echoes over him. He spins to see a spider flicking its mandibles at him. He doesn’t hesitate, reaching into his bag. His fingers curl around the dagger and Thal’kiel pops into the air beside Keeshokin.
<<What the fel was that about, you little rat! Touching Atiesh like that. You are mine, no inferior weapons will touch your hands. Do you hear me?>>
While Thal’kiel goes on his tangent, Keeshokin takes out the spider over the elf. <<Get the dogs, there’s more.>>
Taveth sits up and cringes at two spiders skittering their way.
The last spider falls to the floor, body ablaze in felfire. Thal’kiel returns to Taveth and gets in his face. <<Now, do we have an understanding?>>
The elf nods. <<I won’t touch it again, I swear.>> He flinches as the felguard lifts its axe threateningly.
Anarchaia’s bare toes scrape through the carpet of spiderwebs as she slows to a stop outside the archway to the lower floors. She stops as she hears voices and glances out from behind yet another broken beam. She grits her teeth. Demons? They…don’t seem to be hurting him. I wonder if I can… She hums in thought, then grins as she waves her hands about herself. In a flurry of violet smoke, her form grows into that of Grimory’s. She clears her throat and steps out from behind the beam. She opens her mouth to speak, then jumps and runs forward when she sees the felguard ready to strike. She grabs the demon by the arm and growls. “Don’t.”
The felguard smiles down at the image of Grimory. <<Can Spinewing come out to play? Still owes me.>>
“Grim! What are you doing here? How did you get here so fast?” He clambers to his feet in time for a hound to bite his ankle. “Ow! Bad! Go home, now. Go on.” The hound whines and turns around, then lopes off before vanishing into purple smoke, the other not far behind.
Spinewing? Grim’s demon has a name? Anarchaia flinches and releases the felguard’s arm. “I…was upstairs. I heard the commotion. Heh.” Her slit pupils slide to Taveth’s as she turns. She gives a grin and sets a hand on a hip. “Wanted to make sure you were unharmed.”
“You know better than anyone I can take care of myself,” Taveth says, chuckling.
<<Oh, retched—augh!>> Thal’kiel sniffs harder. <<Do you smell that?>>
Keeshokin sniffs, then covers his face with a huge hand. <<What in the fel?>>
“What?” the elf asks, sniffing and smelling nothing.
<<It’s almost as foul as you!>> Thal’kiel growls. <<The bitter stench of something pathetic, but with the added putrescence of good magic.>>
Uh oh. Anarchaia inhales as well, then makes a show of coughing. “Smells like spider guts and dust to me. That old man is upstairs, though. He definitely fits that description.”
The demons turn to stare at Anarchaia, then at each other. Keeshokin grabs the image of Grimory by the throat and lifts her up off the floor. <<Since when do spider guts smell bad?>>
Thal’kiel zips over to her. <<Oh, it is you. Who are you, besides some goody two shoes mage? Oh, your smell is revolting. Ugh, master please put me away. Put me away! It smells so foul!>>
Taveth blinks. “Did you just call me master?”
<<Well, after Spinewing, you’re not as useless as we thought. Now put me away before I break your skull open!>> He slams against Taveth’s forehead.
The elf throws the dagger into the bag and dismisses Keeshokin. He turns to Anarchaia, then stares at his feet. “Ana…”
Anarchaia clears her throat as she’s released, then tenses at the sound of her name but does not let down the illusion or turn around to face him. “I’m sorry,” she says after a long moment of silence.
Taveth folds his arms over his chest. “Why? Why put on some illusion? Were you trying to trick me?”
Anarchaia chews on her lower lip and continues to refuse to turn around. “I…don’t know. I guess I just…” She sighs and turns, still using Grimory’s voice. “Wanted to know what you knew about him that I don’t.”
Taveth shakes his head. “Why does it matter to you? Trust me, it’s…horrible. You’ll probably rest easier not knowing.”
Anarchaia shrugs and gives a nervous grin with Grimory’s fangs. “I’m a nosy asshole?” She frowns. “I’ve witnessed the worst kind of atrocities this world has to offer. I’m sure it’s tolerable.”
“Not a word to anyone.” Taveth rubs his face and breathes out through his teeth. “He lost control. And when he did, he tried to kill me. Well, not him, Spinewing. He threw Ali around like a ragdoll and…I’m afraid he would have killed us all if I hadn’t… When he was himself again, I could see the fear in his eyes. Made me remember why I had strange dreams about him.” He hooks his arm into the fake Grimory’s arm and urges her to lead him out. His ears heat and his cheeks flush and he finds that he cannot look at even an image of the demon hunter.
Anarchaia’s frown deepens and she leads him back up the ramp to the banquet room. “I’ve…seen it before. I just didn’t know he had a name. He nearly killed me back in Suramar. If it hadn’t been for Oculeth and Thalyssra I’d have surely been a goner. Heh.” She gives him a sideways glance and smiles at his bashfulness. Cute.
Taveth suddenly slips his arm away from Anarchaia’s. “Just…don’t let him lose control. Least, not without me around. A-and, can I ask you to…change back? Y-you’re making it difficult to talk to you.” The redness creeps up his neck. “Heh.”
“I’ll do my best. He doesn’t listen too much to me. Not anymore, anyway.” Anarchaia blinks. “Oh! Of course!” Her form ripples and shrinks as she returns to herself. “Sorry. I was enjoying being tall.” She leads him back up the ramp towards the door that leads to the balcony. “So, a warlock. Your minions are rather rude, from what I could understand.”
Taveth frowns. “I’m not really a warlock, I just kind of…found the skull. The demons don’t like me.” He gives the mage a smile. “Sorry I ruined your fun. I just…I can’t seem to look Grim in the eye anymore. Do you ever get that feeling? Like…someone knows what you’re thinking if you look into their eyes.”
The undead girl gives a nervous smile. “N-no. It wasn’t fun. It was rude. I’m sorry.” She sobers and turns away as the cool air outside washes over them. “I know exactly what you mean.” She places a hand on his shoulder. “If you ever need any sort of support, I’m here.” Her smile widens. “And maybe I could ask Meryl to teach you to command your demons better?”
The elf shakes his head. “No. I don’t want that. I don’t need help commanding them, they can’t disobey me anyway.”
“I know. I figured they’d harass you less if they respected you. Or you’d even like to learn new spells. But that’s obviously up to you.” She starts up the stairs and waves to the men at the top. “Safe and sound! Heh.”
Khadgar gives a weary smile and ushers them down a wide hallway. “No major injuries, even? That was quite a fall…”
Taveth shrugs. “I think spiderwebs broke my fall.”
“Oh, is that what that is in your hair?” Koltira asks, wiggling a finger at the other man.
Taveth flinches and flails, brushing at his hair as Koltira laughs.
Anarchaia punches Koltira on the arm and purses her lips. <<Don’t be mean.>>
Khadgar holds out his staff to stop the group as they approach another short staircase. Two large mechanical golems bookend the steps; their eyes light as the four approach. “Hm. That’s odd.”
“Odd?” Koltira echoes.
“These golems. They’re meant to keep intruders out.” A whirring noise sounds as the machines step forward. “Which they apparently see us as.” He glances over his shoulder at the mage and death knight. “I don’t think I could bring myself to destroy such beautiful work. Would you mind?”
Anarchaia sighs and steps forward, palms filling with fire. “I’d rather not, either, but yes. Okay.”
Koltira shrugs and withdraws Byfrost. “I don’t care one way or the other, so long as it’s not impervious to physical damage.” He gives Taveth a look.
The high elf shrinks behind his journal, where he’s furiously sketching out a golem. “I don’t know! I’m sorry about the banshees, okay?”
Anarchaia hurls a beam of flame at the golems nearest her, then frowns and hesitates when the fire merely licks the metal and the machine continues to advance. She instead tries ice, but the spears simply shatter. She groans and dodges as the golem brings down a fist like a hammer. The stone floor shudders at the impact.
Koltira jumps in front of Anarchaia like a shield. He swings Byfrost around a severs the fist on the ground from the arm it’s attached to.
The golem straightens and glares down at the death knight. Its hand floats up and reconnects to the arm, the glowing light between them re-illuminating.
“That’s worrisome,” Anarchaia mumbles and grabs Koltira’s hand to pull him away and around when the mechanism brings down another fist. She chews on the inside of her lips for a moment. “Do you think it’s electricity?” She bends down to freeze the golem’s feet to the floor but it breaks free with ease as it slowly turns.
Taveth pauses in his thoughts, the end of his pen tapping against his lower lip. “I think it might be magnetism, possibly some electricity magic as well.”
“Is that a long version of a yes?” Koltira growls.
“Heh. Yes.” He clears his throat and looks between the mages. “I’ve never studied electro-magic before. I’m really of no use, now.”
Khadgar gives Taveth a sideways glance, silver eyebrows raised. “You’re actually very close despite your lack of research,” he says with a grin.
Anarchaia dodges another swing of a giant fist; the rush of the blow causes her hair to swirl as she ducks. “Well what is it, then?” she hisses at her teacher from between the golem’s legs.
“This would be far less impressive if I told you.”
The smaller mage scoffs and fires ice shards into the spaces between its pieces while she mutters.
Taveth smiles shyly. “Oh.” He jumps backward as the golem swings at them again. “Ali would’ve climbed up that thing and cut its head off by now.”
Koltira scowls. “Oh, I’m sorry I’m not an adequate substitute.”
“Th-that’s not what I—”
Koltira runs around the side of one golem, using a table to boost himself, then springs from the wall. He spins in the air and brings the top edge of Byfrost down on the area between the golem’s shoulders and head.
The golem makes a whirring sound as its head pops off and lands on the floor with a clank!. It stirs for a moment before blindly whipping its arms around in a frenzy, beeping loudly and calling warning signals.
Anarchaia can’t help but chuckle at the absurdity, but is immediately humbled when an arm flies over her head. She looks up as she ducks and notices a large, pulsating orb within the unit’s chest plate. With a raised hand, she casts a burst of flame at the vulnerable spot but the golem’s erratic movement causes her to miss.
“There’s a core!” she shouts.
Koltira, still clinging to the armor, jams his sword down through the neck. The core sparks and flickers, but remains lit.
Taveth shrinks back a few steps and whispers quickly, sending a curse toward the core. Sensing the fight, an imp pops into existence beside the elf and throws a fireball. He grabs it and shoves it into his bag, where it hisses and spits vile insults before giving up and vanishing.
The blackened core’s light dims, then dies and the golem leans back—dropping Koltira from atop it—and deactivates.
Anarchaia readies another attack, then stops and straightens when the golem creaks to a halt. She runs to throw her arms around Koltira’s neck. “That was awesome!”
Khadgar turns his head ever so slightly at the commotion behind him but otherwise strides forward. “Yes, well done. Let’s stay out of range of the second, though, shall we?” He makes his way up the stairs on the opposite side of the other machine.
Koltira cocks an eye at the golem, then at Anarchaia. “I didn’t kill it.”
“Nice job!” Taveth pats the death knight on the shoulder.
“But…I didn’t kill it. I weakened it, but—”
“So it just took a second to die, who cares? Come on. Best not to fall behind.” He jogs up the steps after Khadgar, chewing nervously at his bottom lip.
Anarchaia blinks but refuses to let go. She inhales as the other two men ascend the steps, then shrugs and bounces. “That was awesome!”
Koltira presses a needy kiss to her lips, relishing in the feeling he’d missed for a week. “We make a good team. Thanks for the help.”
Anarchaia half swoons and gives a drunken smile, finding herself suddenly not wanting to let go. “I didn’t do anything,” she says as she hangs from his neck.
Khadgar stops at the far end of a circular room with a large statue in the center. Light filters in from more stained glass above and eyes glow in the doorway opposite of him. He grumbles and turns to Taveth as he nears. “You want to take care of this one?” he asks with a coy grin.
Taveth shrinks and grips the strap of his satchel. “I-I don’t know what you’re t-talking about. Heh.” He reaches into his bag. “I’ll j-just do what I’m good at and sketch it.” His eyes bug behind his spectacles as his hand rifles around in the main pocket. He tips the bag on end; a single pen falls to the floor, ink splattering from the top onto the carpet.
Khadgar furrows his brow in confusion. “You seem to have misplaced your materials. Perhaps when you fell?” He glances down the stairs at the other two and clears his throat. “Time is a factor,” he calls.
Anarchaia scowls at the sound of his voice and straightens. “Yeah, yeah. We’re coming.”
“No, no, it was here. It was all right here!” Taveth back tracks, his eyes on the floor. He bumps into Koltira, barely acknowledging the death knight exists.
“Everything all right there, Tav?”
The elf doesn’t respond as he scans the floor.
Anarchaia turns and frowns. “Did you lose something? Do you need help?”
Khadgar bites back a sigh and leans on his staff. “Perhaps we should backtrack. I’d rather he not wander off alone in here.”
Taveth straightens and motions with his hands as though reliving the moments before where he’d been sketching in his book. He points at the golem, then at Koltira, then grips his chin to think. His eyes bug larger and he grips his pack. “Little rat!” His eyes flash dark purple for just a second.
Koltira blinks, then narrows his eyes. He makes to comment, but instead shakes his head, assuming he’d imagined the flick of eye color change. “So, do we need to go back to the basement?”
Anarchaia blinks as well and tilts her head. “A rat took your books?”
Khadgar purses his lips as he resists a laugh. “We could split up to search if you’d like.”
Taveth purses his lips and backs away from the others. “Excuse me. I-I…will be right back.” Taveth turns and rushes away for some privacy.
Once down the hall he grabs his dagger.
<<Gooooo awaaaaaaayy,>> Thal’kiel growls.
“Not until you give my things back.” Taveth points the dagger at the skull.
<<I didn’t take anything! What are you talking about?>> The skull spins around him and shoves him forward. <<You’re getting delirious. Have you been poisoned?>> He gasps excitedly. <<Are you going to die?>>
“I’m not dying—”
“—and you know exactly what I’m talking about.” He puts his fingers into the empty eye sockets and forces the skull to look at him. “Give my things back or I’ll bring the mages in here and never put the dagger away.”
Koltira looks between the other two, an eyebrow cocked as his ear twitches. “And now he’s mumbling to himself. This is good.”
Anarchaia catches the twitchy ear and bites her lip as she grins. “I think he’s just thinking out loud.” She turns to continue their trek but stops at the sight of the third golem. She groans. “Do we have to?”
Khadgar tears himself away from eavesdropping on the one-sided conversation down the hall. He gives his student an exasperated look. “Lift your palm, Ana,” he sighs. “Yes, like that. Good. Now, picture the core inside—it runs on mana, just like you. Imagine it in your hand. Its power, its shape, its energy.”
The girl hesitates as she struggles with the instructions. “Okay…”
“Now destroy it.” He clenches his fist.
Anarchaia mimics the action and the golem jerks and sparks. It whirs as it stomps forward, eyes red and angry and limbs twitching from the damage. Khadgar gives an understanding smile and follows his own instructions, destroying the core inside with a tight fist. The machine stops and slowly falls limp piece-by-piece.
“Close enough for a first try.” He pats her shoulder.
Anarchaia folds her arms and frowns, saying nothing.
Koltira wraps her in a hug from behind. “Hey, you pissed it off. That means you did something to it.”
Anarchaia gives a grunt to signify that she’d heard him but otherwise continues to simply pout.
<<Fine, FINE! Don’t call those things in here. The dog will fetch it.>> Thal’kiel grumps.
Taveth summons a felhound and, as promised, the books are in its mouth; the rest of the items are clutched tightly in the arms of an imp. They drop his items on the floor, bite his leg and throw a fireball at his face, then disappear.
<<Now, if you don’t mind,>> Thal’kiel says.
Taveth puts the dagger away and shoves his things into his bag, except the books. He returns to the others as he gasps and whines over the teeth marks and does his best to wipe away the sticky slobber from the covers.
Khadgar turns and lifts a brow. “Find your things?”
Taveth grumbles a quick ‘yes’ to Khadgar. He transfers his books to the other hand and groans as a string of saliva runs from the stack to his palm. “Why me?”
Koltira eyes the books. “Did something…try to eat them?” He offers the end of his cloak to help wipe at the books.
In the throes of her irritation, Anarchaia turns to Taveth and narrows her empty eye. <<Why not just tell them?>> she mumbles in broken Demonic.
Khadgar glances at his student with mild interest. “Where did you learn that?”
“Grim,” she says with a dismissive air.
Taveth physically flinches and shrinks away from the mage.
Koltira raises an eyebrow at her. “Verbally abusing the poor guy?”
“No, just telling him to be more careful with his stuff,” she lies, turning and heading for the doorway.
The party comes to a huge, long room lined with buttresses and moldings. A gigantic golem paces the length of it, its footsteps making the carpeted floor shake.
Anarchaia reverses back into the circular room with the statue. “Big robot.”
Taveth sidles up to Anarchaia. “Sorry. I’m just not… I don’t want them to think less of me.”
Koltira cocks an eyebrow at him. Poor guy. “I won’t think any less of you over who you like, Tav.”
Taveth swerves to the other side of Anarchaia as though he can hide behind her shorter stature. “Wh-what?”
Anarchaia jerks her head to look up at Koltira incredulously, the light in her socket flickering. “H-he means friends.” She quickly turns to look at Taveth again. “Koltira doesn’t like Grim. He thinks you mean he’ll think less of you for being friends with him. Heh.”
Khadgar pushes past the group while ignoring their childish drama. He stops as he watches the giant pace. “The Custodian,” he mumbles under his breath and scratches at a cheek. “I’d almost forgotten. Hm.” He takes a cautious step forward, Atiesh secured in a tight fist.
“Heh. Yeah. R-right.” He stares at his feet. <<I have too many secrets, don’t I?>> he asks in Demonic.
Koltira sighs and meets Khadgar. “You look lonely…and concerned.” He eyes the giant construct. “What’s that?”
Khadgar sighs. “The Menagerie Custodian. Meant to keep things tidy and running smoothly…and to keep intruders at bay.” He hesitates. “It will probably attack us if the behavior of the lesser golems holds any promise.”
Koltira frowns and observes the Custodian, pacing back and forth, the lights glinting from its white shell. “It’s a beautiful creation, I’d hate to have to deactivate it.”
She picks up enough words to piece together the context. <<You’re allowed as many secrets as pleases you,>> she attempts with a smile and a comforting hand on his shoulder. “Sorry I snapped at you. Heh.”
Taveth smiles. “Maybe you’re right, though. I can’t hide Thal’kiel forever. As for Grim…”
Anarchaia shrugs and squeezes his shoulder. “I just don’t know why you’d want to hide something like that. It’s true for anything, really. If people don’t like you for you, then they’re not worth your time.”
“Heh. You’re a lot better at this friends thing than I am.” Taveth gives her a shy half smile.
Khadgar taps his chin and glances into the doorway at the other two. “You won’t have to.”
Koltira follows Khadgar’s gaze. He sets his teeth to his lips and gives a shrill whistle to get the others’ attention.
Anarchaia returns the grin and opens her mouth to respond, but instead flinches at the sound of a whistle. After a quick pat on Taveth’s shoulder, she joins the other men in the hall. “So, what’s the plan? Just sneak past?”
“No. You’re going to deactivate it. Alone.” Khadgar gives her an encouraging smile.
The girl’s face falls. “You’re joking.”
She bristles. “I couldn’t even stop a small one!”
“You only tried once,” the Archmage responds with a lowered brow and a smirk.
Taveth pats Anarchaia’s shoulder. “I believe in you.”
Koltira chuckles. “Most likely to successfully deactivate that giant son of a bitch.” He points at Anarchaia and Taveth follows suit.