Anarchaia turns and, with a pout, swats their fingers down. She purses her lips at her teacher before squaring her shoulders toward the giant, stomping mechanism. Inhaling long and slowly, she furrows her brow and lifts a hand—skeletal fingers bent as though cradling an object in her palm. The air around her bare feet swirls. The hem of her dress flutters.
The Custodian stops in its tracks and turns, eyes bright with alarm and warning. It stomps forward. “The Menagerie is for—EXTERMINATE!” it screeches in a mechanical stutter. Anarchaia’s shoulders go rigid and her eyes wide as it nears and the floor rumbles. Her terror drowns out the encouragement of Khadgar beside her and she gives a whimper before turning away and clenching her fist with as much purpose as she can muster.
The Custodian slows to a stop, jerking and twitching as smoke billows out from between its pieces. The eyes dim and extinguish. Anarchaia waits for a moment before turning to look. She lowers her hand with awe in her face. “Oh.”
Khadgar sets a hand on her shoulder and gives her a small shake. “I told you.” He ventures between the construct’s legs and down the hallway.
Taveth doesn’t hesitate, following behind the human—giving the construct a wide berth as though at any moment it will topple over onto him.
Koltira takes Anarchaia by the hand and pulls her along to follow the others. “I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t actually sure you could do it.” He gives her a charming smirk, hoping to blunt the words.
The Archmage stops as he notices the massive portal taking up the entirety of the archway. He hums in anticipation but continues forward. Something’s definitely amiss. He motions for Taveth and the others to go through first. “Not much further to the library.”
Anarchaia’s lips twitch into a smile. “I didn’t, either. Heh.” She looks up into the golem’s eyes as she passes. Something within the helm sparks and she jumps. Running forward to pull Koltira instead, she pushes the others forward as well. “Okay! Time is of the essence! We’re not getting any younger!”
Koltira allows Anarchaia to drag him to the portal. On their way through, he grabs Taveth and yanks him along as well. On the other side, the high elf trips over the death knight and tumbles into the mage.
Anarchaia’s foot tangles in Taveth’s and she falls forward with a quiet oof! She turns and attempts to sit up while simultaneously adjusting her skirts, then laughs at the mishap. “I suppose this has been a nice trip so far.”
Khadgar turns at a whirring noise when the others are safely through the portal. He furrows his brow and shakes his head before following them through with a sigh.
Koltira picks Taveth up by the scruff of his shirt and sets him on his feet. “How many left feet do you have?” he asks, chuckling as he holds out his other hand for the mage.
“One, like everyone else. Why do you ask?” Taveth brushes himself off and rights his spectacles.
Koltira gives Anarchaia a look. “Never mind.”
Anarchaia bites her lip to stifle a chuckle and takes the help getting up. She straightens her dress and inhales to speak to her teacher as he joins them, but her smile falls at the look of horror in his eyes. She follows Khadgar’s gaze to look out the upside-down doorway into the next room. Demons swarm the skies and the space around the upturned pathways seems to have no end. Darkness swirls around the void below and imps throwing balls of green fire fill the space above.
“The Legion? Here?”
“The power of this place has always drawn them. I…didn’t expect it to be like this.” Khadgar runs a palm over his mouth and steps forward into the doorway. “The definition of ‘not good’.”
“Welp, all hands on deck, as it were.” Koltira withdraws his sword and readies for whatever may come.
Taveth scuffs the toe of his boot on the carpet. Face turned down, he eyes Anarchaia through his eyelashes. After a moment he looks away and clears his throat. “I suppose this hand should stay behind…” He busies himself with sketching the upside-down room; he scrawls quick descriptions of the scene on the adjacent page.
“Not if you want to see the library,” the undead says quietly with a grin. She jumps over the threshold. Anarchaia throws a bolt of fire at one of the demons above and it flies off screaming. She freezes another and it falls into the swirling void below.
An Inquisitor floats forward on the platform ahead and a beam of violet energy slices past her to obliterate the being.
She grins over her shoulder at her teacher, then motions for Koltira to follow. “You can have the next one.”
Koltira chuckles as he steps out. “I’ll just stay back here and guard our resident book worm.” He taps the tip of Taveth’s ear to catch his attention.
The high elf smiles shyly. “Heh. I suppose I do need the protection.”
She shrugs. “Have it your way.”
An imp above lobs a ball of corrosive flames and ooze at the group and she freezes it with a wave of her hand; it crashes against the bridge and the pieces fall into the space below. With the demons dispatched, Anarchaia makes her way to the edge of the only available bridge and peers down.
“Is it always like this?” She pushes against an upside-down chandelier and it swings back and forth.
“No,” Khadgar says, ushering the other men onward. “Stay in front of me until you’re on the other side.”
“Come on.” Koltira pushes Taveth between Anarchaia and himself.
Taveth whines. “I don’t need to be man-handled, you know.”
<<Don’t you enjoy it though?>> Anarchaia says over her shoulder in her broken Demonic.
She hops up onto the ledge the leads down onto the ceiling of another room and wobbles before gaining her balance again. A felguard sits on the other side, examining his blade as the tiles below him burst with flames in alternating patterns.
“Tav, how do you say Oi cunt! in Eredun?”
Khadgar scowls from the back of the group. “Language.”
“Sorry. Heh.” She lowers her voice. “But seriously.”
Taveth adjusts his spectacles and fidgets. “They don’t really have that word in their own tongue. But, I mean, if you really want to insult him, try Cas oD balkagan.”
Anarchaia jumps down from the ledge and onto the floor. Hands cupped around her lips, she calls to the felguard the words she’d been given. The demon perks and scowls before yelling back something she cannot understand. He brings his axe down and a torrent of fire shoots across the floor with great speed. The mage blinks out of its path and runs forward with handfuls of flames. She flinches, however, when Khadgar calls a single word from begind her.
With a growl she sidesteps a pillar of fire from the tiles below and holds out a hand to push the demon violently into the far wall with magic. The felguard recovers quickly and dashes forward. He swings his axe around and she blinks away, but he anticipates this and turns around to slash at her there. She leans away but the blade slices across her chest in a nearly perfect horizontal line. Ichor splashes forth but the cut is not deep enough to stagger her. The felguard swings at her again and she manages to stop his arm with more arcane energy. He grunts and drops his weapon, then is met with purple magic to the face. Blinded, he stumbles backward toward the doorway.
Koltira jumps down beside the felguard and slashes across his large torso; guts tumble from the demon’s stomach, splashing blood across the death knight’s boots. It falls to its knees, swinging out in a dying attempt to injure Koltira, but it misses and crashes forward, the pool of blood beneath it spreading across the tile floor.
Taveth hops down; to his embarrassment, Koltira catches him and sets him on his feet away from the corpse. “Thanks,” he mumbles. He smirks at Anarchaia. “Aren’t you glad she softened him up for you?”
The girl flushes and turns away with an embarrassed titter. “Honestly, you should stop flattering me. Heh.” She wipes ichor from her chest with her palm and bites the inside of her lip at the pain.
Khadgar lands gently on his feet beside the corpse and skirts around the growing pool of blood. He sets a hand on Anarchaia’s shoulder as he passes and gives a brief smile before continuing toward the doorway across from them. “You did well.”
Her blush deepens and she looks at her feet. “What did I just say?”
As Koltira follows Khadgar, Taveth turns his back on the others. He whispers into his palms, conjuring a yellow stone. He turns and slips it into Anarchaia’s hands. “You crush it and breathe in the dust,” he says. “It’ll last a couple more uses before the crystals are gone, though.” He gives her a kind smile and pats her shoulder.
Anarchaia hesitates as she looks at the object. “That sounds…demonic. Heh. I-I’ll pass. Thank you, though.”
Taveth frowns and takes the object back. “I was…just trying to help.” He motions at her chest, then stares at his feet. With a sigh, he drops the stone to the floor and follows behind the other men.
Khadgar hoists himself up into the upside-down doorway. He brushes himself off and leans down a hand for Koltira. “Unless the actual layout of the rooms has changed as well, it isn’t much further.” He gives the elves a sympathetic smile. “Promise.”
Koltira chuckles. “I’ve been holed up in a floating ziggurat for a week. I’m fine with a little adventure.” He turns, looking past the sullen high elf, to gesture for Anarchaia to hurry up.
Anarchaia inhales quickly. “Nono! I didn’t mean—!” She grits her teeth and scoops up the item again. “I just…don’t dabble with that kind of stuff. It’s dangerous and you’re brave for doing so.” She sends the stone away in a whirl of sparkles and smiles. “But I’d like to keep it nonetheless.” She catches Koltira’s eye and gives Taveth’s shoulder a squeeze before disappearing and reappearing upon the ledge. She holds out a hand for Taveth.
Taveth hesitantly accepts the help up, averting his gaze to hide his emotions.
Khadgar runs his palm over the brick wall as he walks. The hallway twists the further he progresses; the sconces and paintings seemingly unaffected by the laws of physics. When he reaches the end, the doorway is in the correct position and he steps inside the circular room surrounded by bookshelves, opalescent torches, and a dais bookended by two white banisters.
Anarchaia inwardly cringes at the silence and jogs to meet her teacher as inconspicuously as possible. “Is this the library?” she asks, gently pressing a shoulder to Koltira’s as her voice echoes in the high ceiling above.
“No,” Khadgar sighs. “This is—was—Medivh’s solar.” He waves a hand and the torches light with cyan flames. He purses his lips and scans the books with his eyes, then turns and makes his way to the door on the adjacent wall without another word.
Anarchaia frowns and follows quickly. She grabs his cloak and tugs until he gives her a sideways glance.
“I’ll be fine,” he says quietly but does not smile. He turns to Taveth. “I’d appreciate it if these tomes were left untouched. The library is in the next room, however.”
Taveth jumps and withdraws his hand from the tome he was about to pick up. He shoves his hands in his pockets and kicks nervously at the dust on the floor. “Heh. Right. No problem. T-to the library, then.”
Khadgar regards Taveth with grateful smile and pushes open the twin doors to the next corridor. Upon stepping in, however, he stops. Instead of a hallway as he’d remembered, another circular room awaits them. Instead of a floor is a working vortex that seems to fall for eons. Chairs, books, and candles float in the swirling funnel as though frozen in time.
“This gets more worrisome by the minute,” he mutters and sighs, then steps down into the vortex.
“Master!” Anarchaia jumps and reaches for him but does not follow, afraid of the consequences.
Koltira grips the mage urgently, as though she herself was about to jump into the vortex. “Wh-what is this?”
Taveth leans over just a little to peer down. “It looks like…a drain filled with items from Karazhan? I’ve never seen anything like this before. Fascinating.” He leans closer for a better look, then teeters dangerously toward the pull of the swirls.
After a moment of thought, Anarchaia pulls free from Koltira’s grasp. “I have to follow,” she simply says and steps over the threshold without looking back.
She immediately pushes her dress down as it flutters up. The swirling vortex around her fades in and out and her hair swirls as though caught in a tide instead of a rush of upward-gusting wind. The area beyond the cyclone melts from brick wall to stars and galaxies to more brick and then a giant window—clouds and birds visible beyond. She finally comes to a gentle land on a surface seemingly made of leather and ink. Upon further inspection she sees it’s a book cover.
“Queer,” she whispers, then looks up and nearly stumbles. Pillars the size of titans and bookshelves spanning miles line the walls. “I-is this the library?!”
“Ana!” Koltira shouts, scrambling to grab her. “Dammit! Come on.” He grabs Taveth by the neck of his shirt and drags him into the vortex with him.
“But I don—” Taveth gasps and hurriedly sketches small pictures across two pages of the many things he sees on his slow decent. He finishes the lines of the vortex at the center of his sketches as his feet land on the book. He blinks and breathes in. “This is most definitely a library. I’d know the smell any—” He looks up, his jaw drops and his mouth gapes wide at the sheer size of the books. “A-… Are we small, or are these books huge?”
“We are, indeed, small,” comes Khadgar’s voice from the floor. He’s circled by the corpses of giant spiders and rats. “Be careful on your way down. The floor seems to be less forgiving than the books. Heh.” He tenses his leg to check the damage while at the same time keeping the pain concealed. “Ana, help everyone down.”
The undead girl nods and throws a slow fall spell on the men, then quickly steps off the stack of books before they can—again pushing her dress down in a hurry before it can flutter up, though her cheeks turn a faint pink anyway. “Inconvenient.”
Koltira shoves the hesitating high elf off the book. Taveth flails as he falls, then closes his eyes and curls into himself, crouching as though it will help with the fear. Koltira, on the other hand, backs away from the edge and eyes the adjacent stacks of books. He strides across the sloping book ramp, then hops down from the stack onto a chair, then lowers himself to another stack of books and finally to the floor. He dusts himself off, then gives Taveth a sly smile as the latter glares angrily at the death knight.
“So,” Koltira says as he reaches the others, “where to?”
Khadgar scratches at his cheek and gives a glance around. “I’m…not sure, actually. I wasn’t expecting this.” He shrugs and grins. “Though I suppose one doesn’t have many expectations when jumping into a random wormhole, no?”
Anarchaia looks around as well, then motions to a rather large mana wyrm in the distance. Beams of violet electricity pulse from its shimmering body every so often. “He looks important.”
Taveth slips his book into his bag and notes the heat on the back of his hand from the dagger in the next pocket. He silently slips behind a stack of books and pulls the blade out, giving an involuntary shudder as his fingers brush the vertebrae along the top of the handle.
“What?” he hisses on a breath.
<<There is a powerful energy nearby. You should collect it and we can use it to twist the world to our—>>
Taveth slips the dagger into the pocket and rolls his eyes. “Let’s not,” he mumbles. He steps back into the spot where he’d previously been. “We should probably kill that thing.”
Koltira lifts an eyebrow at the other man. “We?”
“Right. Heh. B-but it needs to die. Probably.”
Anarchaia steps forward, hands engulfed in flame as per her norm, but she stops and turns at a hand on her shoulder. She gives Khadgar a quizzical head tilt.
“Frost this time, if you’d humor me.” He smiles as though knowing the reaction he’ll receive.
The flames extinguish and she growls, fists clenched. “Frost? I can’t do much beyond blizzards and spears of ice, you now that. And I certainly can’t freeze it to the ground—it floats!”
The Archmage’s smile dims some and he lifts his eyebrows.
She scoffs and turns to trudge off. “Fine,” she spits, hands now emitting vapors instead of cinders.
Koltira withdraws Byfrost and follows close behind the mage. Taveth shuffles along after, keeping his head down.
“I’m sure these two won’t let anything happen to you if you fail, heh.” He ducks his head as Koltira shoots him a look.
The mana wyrm turns as the three approach, then lets out a shrill shriek. It swims forward and releases bolts of purple electricity at them.
Anarchaia shuffles out of the way as quickly as possible and throws up a barrier of reflective ice around herself. She throws some small shards of frost at it but it does little besides anger the monster and cause it to turn its attention on her. It lunges forward, jaws open.
Koltira steps in front of the creature to protect Anarchaia, his sword raised. “Hey, ugly, over here!” Once he has the attention of the mana wyrm, he moves to the side to keep it from hitting any of the others.
Taveth presses sideways against a pole to the railing. He angles himself, trying to hide as much of his body from any danger.
The beast shrieks again and snaps at Koltira, but a spike of ice grows between its open jaws and blood sprays as it attempts to close them. It senses the origin of the magic and hurls more lightning at the mage, but her barrier of frost protects her. It turns and slashes at the group with its tail.
Koltira yanks the wyrm’s attention back to himself.
Taveth yelps as a purple twister forms behind him and launches a ball of lightning at him.
“Tav! Run!” Koltira shouts, doing what he can to keep the monster’s attention.
<<Or assist,>> Anarchaia encourages with a smile and also dodges a wandering ball.
She places her hands on the ground; frost creeps along the floor until below the mana wyrm, where a massive spike of ice shoots up and through its tail. It cries out and trashes. Violet orbs surround the group and slowly creep toward the beast.
Taveth drops to his knees as one slams into his back. “I don’t feel so well…” He collapses forward, unconscious.
“Dammit!” Koltra shouts. He shoves his sword up through the roof of the creature’s mouth. It shrieks and thrashes in the air, angered.
Anarchaia jumps in surprise as Taveth hits the floor and makes to run to his side, but the beast’s tail rips free of her spike—shredding it in two—and strikes her hard in the front, sending her skidding back along the tiles.
Khadgar grits his teeth. He lifts a hand and pulls Taveth’s limp body to himself. He grimaces at the pain in his leg caused by the extra weight on his arms.
Koltira slices down the beast’s belly. It screams in ear-piercing pitch. Blood seeps from the wound into a puddle on the floor. “Is he okay?” he shouts to Khadgar.
The Archmage gives the man a once over and smiles some. “He’s breathing. No visible damage.”
Anarchaia scrambles to her feet as blood pools around her. She wrings the liquid from the hem of her dress. “Ech.” The mana wyrm rears up as though to attack once more but instead slowly sinks to the floor and whines before going limp.
The death knight steps to go to Anarchaia, but the world shifts as the four rapidly expand in size. The death knight braces himself against the wall and shakes his head. “Well, that is just…sickening. I’d like to not do that again. Ever.” He realizes that now the mage is less than an arm’s length away. He reaches out and sets a hand on her shoulder.
Khadgar hisses in pain as the muscles in his injured leg stretch. He stumbles to the side and braces his shoulder against a bookshelf; a loose tome shakes free and bounces off his crown. He flinches, purses his lips, and sighs. “I never thought I’d say this, but I’m rather tired of this magic business.”
Anarchaia turns to smile and sets a bloody hand atop Koltira’s. She then glances over at the unconscious Taveth. “How unfortunate that he was most excited for the library, and now that we’re here…heh. Can we do anything for him?”
“I’m honestly not sure,” Khadgar responds. He makes his way down the one step to the center area guarded by a short banister and does his best to ignore the pain. He sets the unconscious elf in a large armchair. “But I’m willing to bet there’s a book here about it.”
Koltira eyes the unconscious elf. “Could slap him… Douse him in cold water…” He slaps Taveth’s cheek hard enough to make his head snap to the side. The high elf remains still. Koltira looks at Anarchaia and shrugs. “Your turn.”
Anarchaia flinches and reflexively grabs Koltira’s arm regardless of whether or not he plans to strike Taveth again. “I-I think he just needs rest! Whatever hit him must have done some damage.” She sighs but doesn’t release him. “Perhaps we should just wait.”
Khadgar mulls it over for a moment, then conjures a globule of water above the elf’s head. It falls over Taveth’s face with a gentle splash.
Anarchaia scoffs and glares at him. “Master!”
Taveth grumbles and curls up. “C-cold! Why does my face hurt? I’m going back to bed.” He rolls onto his side and squints his eyes closed.
“Tav, we’re in the library!” Koltira says, shaking him.
Taveth groans and weakly bats at the air to get the death knight away.
Anarchaia opens her mouth to reprimand Taveth, then lifts her brows in realization. She holds out a palm and the yellow crystal she’d been gifted with fills it. With her hard fingers she crushes it as best she can and kneels to hold the dust beneath his nose.
The dust rises and enters Taveth’s airways as he breaths in. His eyes snap open and he sits upright. “Did you say we’re in the library?”