Book 5 – Chapter Four

The group finds themselves in a small hovel with a stone circle of burned firewood and other small signs of civilization. Velen stands ready, his eyes sweeping the area.

“We are surrounded!” His eyes take in the area, furiously searching; the others do the same. “Show yourselves!”

Broken fade in from the shadows wielding rough spears trained on the party. One steps closer than the others, no weapon drawn but a scowl across his face.

“Velen, at long last you return to the home you abandoned.” He spits the words from his lips and sneers at the prophet.

“Hatuun? How did you survive this hell for so long?”

Taveth immediately turns the page and begins taking notes on a clean sheet.

“We changed,” he growls, “just as Argus did. We endured. What choice did we have?”

Velen sighs and closes his eyes as he nods. “I do not wish to fight you, Hatuun. But I cannot allow your bitterness to impede our war against the Legion.”

Hatuun slowly shakes his head. “You turned your back on your people, Prophet. Your world. Such betrayal should be answered with death.” He sighs as well, his hostile stance softening. “But…your allies saved many of us from the Legion’s grasp. Perhaps you have changed.”

“Enough!” a man’s voice booms from a nearby alcove in the cliffside. He steps forward, blond haired, scarred, and covered in glowing golden armor.

Taveth gasps and drops his journal and pen, then scrambles to pick them back up to write furiously across the first page he turns to. “Turalyon,” he mumbles to himself. “I can’t believe it!”

Anarchaia pauses upon the realization. A small scroll and quill appear beside her and, eyes still on the High Exarch, she scribbles a brief message before rolling up the parchment and sending it off with a puff of smoke.

Turalyon sets a gloved hand on Hatuun’s shoulder. “We’re all among friends. Violence is unnecessary and counter-productive.” He nods to the group before him. “Well met. You have my thanks, as well, for freeing our enslaved. They are among the many problems we yet have here.”

“Is Alleria here as well?” Anarchaia blurts.

Turalyon chuckles. “Somewhere.”

Taveth smiles at the man. “Is there anything we can do for you, Turalyon? We’re here to help.”

“Indeed, there is,” he says. “There are three pit lords to the north, they’ve been taking prisoner other Krokuul. And they stand as a barrier in the way of us eliminating the leader of their operation, Aggonar.”

“North?” Koltira says, unsheathing his weapon.

“Yes, in the Annihilation Pits.”

Velen grunts and nods in thought. “Yes, it is as good a starting place as any. I will call down a Lightforged Beacon to—”

“No!” Alisbeth and Koltira shout in unison.

Anarchaia reflexively grabs onto Koltira’s arm and gives an exaggerated whine at the word Lightforged. “Th-that won’t be necessary. Heh. I can handle transportation…”

Taveth raises his hand, “I have no objection to this action, Prophet.”

Grimory shrugs. “I’ll take the beacon.” He nods to Turalyon. “We’ll not let you down.” With a curt and shallow bow, he turns and makes his way back for the path leading north.

“I have the highest of faith,” Turalyon replies, hands on his hips.

The group heads out of the hovel, Taveth casting glances behind at the human among the broken. They get to a path where a giant mech patrols up and down the main road.

“I’ve seen something like that before,” Alisbeth says. “It tried to squish me.”

Koltira purses his lips. “We should probably run, before it comes back.”

Taveth looks up from his journal to see the others running across the way. He tries to chase after them, but the ground rumbling beneath his feet sends him ducking behind a boulder to watch the huge reaver stomp past.

“Pit lords are no joke,” Grimory grumbles as they near another clearing—this one half filled with emerald lava and patrolling sorceresses. “So please try to be careful,” he says toward Alisbeth in a lower tone.

Anarchaia blinks forward up the path. She stops and bobs a finger at each massive demon, back and forth, until landing on the far right of the three paths. “Any objections with killing this one first? Perhaps we could split into groups and do two at once—”

“No,” Grimory snaps. “Don’t be foolish. Each will take more than two people to take down.”

“This way, then?” Alisbeth asks, then skips down the trail to collect eredari and vile fiends, snaking purple tendrils out to grab them and yank them to her.

Koltira shrugs and urges Anarchaia forward, before running into the fray himself.

Irritated with being reprimanded, Anarchaia follows. She freezes an approaching fel hound, lights it on fire, and throws it back into the cliffside where an abundance of rocks fall atop it. She then follows the others after they’ve made short work of the group of demons.

The pit lord glowers at the lot as they approach. Without hesitation, he swings at them with his massive sword as warning.

Grimory looks over his shoulder at Alisbeth. “Ali, you think you can get on his back? Hack at his spine ‘til he can’t move?”

Alisbeth giggles. “Of course I can! Just keep him steady.” She skirts around the area and watches his tail, preparing the climb.

<<Oi, dickface!>> Grimory calls up to the pit lord as it turns its head to follow Alisbeth. The demon instead sneers and swipes at Grimory with his sword, but the demon hunter leaps over the slash.

<<I’ll see to it that your bones are ground to dust!>> the pit lord growls and summons a ball of green flames toward the three in front of him.

Anarchaia narrowly blinks from its path, then pats out the flames on her robes. In a futile attempt to help, she throws shards of ice at the demon’s cheek and forehead, but he pays little mind and again tries to slash at the demon hunter before him.

“Useful,” she mutters.

Alisbeth runs up the tail, waving her arms wildly to stay balanced. She jumps forward and lands straddling the pit lord’s back like a steed. Immediately, the death knight sets to slashing and hacking at the flesh beneath its shoulder blades.

Koltira runs to the demon’s side, slashing at his middle and the soft flesh of his belly.

The demon groans in pain as Koltira’s blade pierces his muscles beneath and Alisbeth’s tears at his back. He reaches back to grab at her but recoils instead as a large cloud of orange and green flames wash over his front. After a minute of agony and writhing against the fire, the pit lord’s legs suddenly fall numb and he falls to the burnt ground beneath him.

Koltira dodges out of the way as Alisbeth jumps from the back of the demon before it can fall on them. Once he settles, the two return to slashing lines at him.

Grimory leaps forward, wings spread, and rakes his claws in a ring around the demon’s throat. Blood pours down; the demon grasps at his throat, but the blood loss from the rest of his wounds proves too much and the sword falls from his clawed hand.

The demon hunter leaps back to the ground and huffs a breath, wiping at his brow. “Right. Good job.”

Anarchaia furrows her brow. “Grim, your chest.”

Grimory glances down at his wound from earlier, now freshly bleeding from the strain. He wipes the blood away. “I’m fine. Let’s keep going.” He makes his way back up the path.

The death knights fall into step with the other two.

~ * ~

Taveth pops his head up and realizes the coast is clear. He runs to the opening of the Pits and stops, unsure where to go.

<<Burn!>> A sorceress runs at Taveth, fel fire swirling around her fists.

The elf turns and runs left, away from the woman. After checking over his shoulder to see her growl and retreat, he looks forward into the belly of a pit lord. His body bounces from the huge demon and he falls to the ground. The pit lord laughs, slow and menacing, as he bends to look at the little creature between his front feet.

<<What have we here? A little hero, come to die like the rest?>>

Taveth swallows. <<Um, hi? Any chance we can…talk this out and come to a peaceful resolution?>>

Taveth skitters backward, but the pit lord stomps on his legs, pinning him in place. The elf cries out and finds a rock to throw; it distracts the demon only so much that Taveth is able to crawl away and reach into his satchel. Magraloth growls and stomps forward to grab the man, pulling him up by a foot. Taveth scrabbles in the air as his satchel slips over his shoulder, the strap knocking the spine dagger from his grasp before even Thal’kiel can appear.

“Keeshokin!” he shouts. “Help!”

The felguard runs forward, appearing as though through a cloud of purple smoke. He gives a grumpy sigh as he beholds his master, dangling helplessly in the air. He mutters obscenities and curses at Taveth as he runs forward to beat at the pit lord.

Magraloth sneers and swipes at the little demon with his huge sword, then hits him with Taveth. The spikes on the felguard’s back slice into various parts of the elf’s body, one stabbing straight into his shoulder. Taveth screams out, then is ripped back into the air.

The felguard throws his axe at the pit lord’s head, dazing him. His arms fall limp and Taveth falls onto his back, the air knocked out of him. He coughs and takes in desperate breathes to recover, then rolls onto his stomach to crawl toward the dagger.

Magraloth roars in anger as he comes to. He swipes at Keeshokin, knocking him away into a pool of fel lava, then turns his sights on the elf.

<<Hey, fatty!>> Keeshokin yells, shaking the lava from himself.

Magraloth spins around to glare at him; his tail swipes across the dirt and flings the scrawny man several yards and into a jagged cliff’s edge. It cuts through his shirt and across his back leaving angry red lineswhich sprout blood. The elf grits his teeth and glares over at the dagger, but cannot find the strength to pull himself over. Instead, he whistles for a felhound. It pads into the area and stares at him as though confused.

“The dagger,” he hisses.

The hound runs over, sniffs Taveth’s satchel, and drags it back to him by the strap. He growls in his throat and drops his head into the dirt. Taveth’s eyes flutter closed as the hound lopes off. It returns with the spine dagger and noses it into its master’s hand, but the elf doesn’t respond.

Thal’kiel materializes over the two and tuts. <<All the time I’ve waited for this moment. For your eyes to close and never open again. And now here we are, and you’re having that slow, painful death I’d wished I could inflict upon—… You’re not even conscious, are you? You’re missing my grand speech. Rude.>> He twirls around the area. <<Where’s that oaf?>>

<<Me?>> Keeshokin asks, popping his head around the pit lord.

<<If the shoe fits… No, the meathead Spinewing is stuck inside.>> He raises higher and spins to get his bearings. <<Ahh, a blond bimbo heads our way.>> He zips over to Grimory. <<Hellooo…weak Spinewing.>>

Grimory scowls at the hovering skull. “Surely you aren’t speaking of me,” he spits. “What do you want?”

Anarchaia urges him forward. “Come on, we’ve got two more.”

<<If I had eyes, they’d be rolling.>> He turns to face the mage. <<If I’d a stomach, I’d be vomiting. Go away.>>

“I’d rather smell of good energy than smelly fel,” Anarchaia mumbles, arms folded.

Alisbeth leaps forward and grabs the floating skull. She wraps her arms around it. “Can I keep it?”

Koltira readies his sword. “It’s a trap. Hold it still.”

Thal’kiel gasps. <<My pathetic weakling of a master is dying! And before I can do my victory speech, too. I…command you to free me from this halfwit’s grasp and save my—our—master.>>

Grimory’s ears pull back and he furrows his brow. “Dying?! Where?” He grabs Thal’kiel from Alisbeth’s grasp to hold him up to his own face. “Tell me!”

<<Easy with the yanking!>> Thal’kiel shouts. <<Follow me.>>

Alisbeth crouches, then springs forward to grab the skull. He jerks away from her and zips quickly over the jagged rocks to hover over Taveth.

<<I can’t hold it much longer,>> Keeshokin grunts.

Grimory spreads his wings and follows with little hesitation. He lands and kneels at Taveth’s side, then pushes him over onto his back. “Oh gods, Tav. What happened? Hey, can you hear me?” He waits for a brief pause, then hisses when he gets no response. He scoops the elf up into his arms and throws the satchel over his shoulder, including the dagger. “I’m taking him back,” the Illidari calls to the other’s as they approach. “Take care of the pit lords without me.” He leaps into the air and over the cliffs. “And don’t die!”

Anarchaia watches him go, then cringes at the hefty amount of blood in the dirt. She frowns. “We should have kept an eye on him…”

Alisbeth hugs herself as tears spread along her lower lids. “What if he died and I wasn’t there? We should bring him back, huh, Kolty? We can do that?”

Koltira shrugs. “We could…” He stares at the skull floating in front of him, saying words he can’t understand.

<<He’s not dead, you idiots!>> Thal’kiel says again. <<Come on, Kee, time to go.>> As though by a cord on the back of his skull, Thal’kiel swivels and is dragged after the flying pair. <<Always wondered if my spine had a range. Now I know.>>

Keeshokin runs after the skull, dragging the pit lord over the other three. He pats Anarchaia hard on the shoulder. <<Tag, you’re it.>> The felguard disappears in a swirl of purple smoke.

Anarchaia jerks at the strong hand. “It…?”

Magraloth leers down at the mage. <<More of you? Bah!>> He raises his spear to swing at them.

She turns at the booming voice above her. “Oh. I don’t want to be it.” She runs forward in an attempt to get beneath the demon, but is too slow.

The staff of the spear crashes hard against her waist and sends her into the cliffside. She hits the jagged rocks below and struggles to stand again. Before she can get to her hands and knees, debris shaken free from the impact lands atop her; a quiet snap soundsand she cries out in pain.

Magraloth sneers down at the other two. <<Who’s next?>>

Alisbeth freezes. “He is.” She points at Koltira and takes off running around the outside of the area.

Ali!

The pit lord narrows an eye at Koltira, then looks at Alisbeth. <<I think not.>> He spins around to catch Alisbeth. She kicks at the air as he lifts her up to his eye-level and laughs.

Alisbeth swings her sword, but it misses him entirely as her arms cannot reach that far.

Koltira drops beside Anarchaia. “Hey, you okay?”

Anarchaia groans in pain and attempts to stand. She cries out sharply and grabs her wounded appendage. “My leg. It’s broken.” She groans again, then looks past Koltira. Pushing aside the pain for a moment, she hurls a spike of ice at the pit lord’s wrist. It growls at drops Alisbeth in surprise. Anarchaia throws a spell of slow falling on her as she falls. “Don’t worry about me,” she says back up to Koltira. “Finish the mission.”

Koltira grits his teeth and lifts the mage out of the rubble; she covers her mouth at the pain of being moved as a stabbing and grinding within her leg forces a whimper from her throat. He finds a boulder and sets her down gently. She sighs in relief and breathes quietly to ease the pain.

“You shout if you need anything, okay?”

Anarchaia nods.

He kisses her and runs toward Magraloth. “Ali, you good?”

“I want to go for a ride,” she says pointedly.

“Hey! Ugly!” Koltira shouts, urging the pit lord to focus on him instead.

Alisbeth sprints up the tail and onto his back. They work together as they had with Xeth’tal. The three of them manage to eventually down the pit lord; the mage hurling shards of ice when her strength allows, though, ultimately her contribution is negligible. Once the pit lord hits the dirt, she gives a pained smile and claps gently as though the curtain had just fallen. Alisbeth groans and wipes at the blood over her armor. Koltira finds a bone in the soil and goes to Anarchaia.

“Do you mind if I splint it?”

Anarchaia’s smile falls. “U-uhm. I…imagine that would be the best course of action.”

After securing the mage’s leg, Koltira lifts her into his arms and follows Alisbeth up the hill. The woman kills everything in their path as the approach Kar’aaz.

Anarchaia swallows a groan from the pain of being jostled. She grits her teeth and scrutinizes the pit lord as they near.

Kar’aaz sizes the trio up and laughs, low and gravelly. <<More fodder for the fel.>> He stabs at the ground with his spear and grins. <<Come, then.>>

Koltira finds an outcropping and sets the mage down again. “Aim for the eyes.” He winks and runs at the pit lord, grabbing his attention so the women can attack the demon.

Alisbeth climbs up the tail, then starts in on his spine.

Anarchaia can’t help smiling in his wake. She lifts a hand and conjures a large spike of ice that hovers diligently while its master takes the time to aim. Her arm lurches forward—not without a cry of agony—and with it the spear. The ice shard pierces Kar’aaz’s eye and he grunts in pain, irritation, and anger. Liquid pours to the ground and he glares at the mage from across the arena.

The pit lord takes a step forward, but something in his spine pops. His knees buckle and he falls forward with a crash. He slashes at the death knights with claws and spear. <<Vermin!>>

Alisbeth rams the Redblade upward into the base of Kar’aaz’s head. He roars in anger and agony, arms flailing to scrape the elf from his back. His strength ebbs, then fails as he collapses on the ground.

Koltira runs back to Anarchaia to cut off the head of a hound approaching, then smiles as he cleans his blade. “Ready to go? A-Ali! Stop!”

Alisbeth runs up a hill and around a corner glowing with light. She rushes back into sight, smiling. “Guys! Up here!”

Anarchaia cautiously gets to her feet, but doubles over before she can straighten. She groans, arms folded over her stomach. “This may be worse than I thought.” She looks up at Koltira and forces a smile. “You guys go on without me.”

Koltira scoops the mage into his arms and smiles charmingly at her. “And leave you here alone to fend for yourself? Never.” He follows Alisbeth up the hill, where Turalyon is fighting off a pack of vile fiends.

He finishes them with a holy sweep of his sword, then turns to smile at the others. “Ah, hello. Weren’t there more of you?”

Alisbeth frowns. “Taveth got hurt, Grim took him to the Ventilator.”

“Vindicaar,” Koltira corrects.

Turalyon looks them over and sighs at the mage. “You are badly injured. Let me help.”

Anarchaia’s eyes widen as the human approaches her with hands glowing with golden magic. She cries out as they near and, despite the pain of moving, swats them away in a panic. She pauses, breathing heavily, and glances between Alisbeth and the man above her. “U-uhm. Sorry. I just… I don’t know what came over me. Heh.”

Turalyon knits his brow. “If you’d prefer to remain battered—”

“No!” Anarchaia looks up at Koltira and steels herself. “No. Go ahead.”

The paladin reaches a gloved hand to rest above the mage’s core. Sparkling golden light covers her being and she claws at Koltira’s cuirass, her fingers desperately trying to get a grip. She gnaws on her finger as her bones settle into place and mend. A scream escapes her and she flails, pushing his hand away a second time.

“Thank you!” She pants. “Thank you. Heh.”

Alisbeth’s eyes narrow and her lips purse at the mage’s behavior. Hmm. Odd, she thinks. Almost seems to hurt her, like it did us, comes the response. “Suspicious,” she mutters, then turns to sneer at a glowing pit of fel lava. “Is that the guy we need to flay?”

Turalyon makes a face. “We’re not…flaying him. Did you mean slay?”

“Nope.” She skips forward, sword on her shoulder as she whistles a gentle tune.

“Right,” the High Exarch says, “we should probably go help. This one won’t be so easy as the others.”

Koltira hugs Anarchaia tight and purses his lips. “You did good,” he whispers. “I can only imagine… Are you okay?”

Anarchaia groans and straightens. “His Light… It was worse than the beacon. He’s so powerful. Ugh.” Her stomach turns and she sighs. “Let’s help.” She gabs his hand and smiles. “The sooner we finish the sooner we take a break…”

The demon swipes at Alisbeth as she nears. <<Disgusting creatures,>> it hisses and hurls a ball of swirling fel energy at the human as well.

Turalyon slices the orb in two and the energies dissipate. “I’ll keep its attention,” he calls loudly enough for the three to hear. “Mind the lava and take him out.”

The heroes fight the pit lord, slicing, slashing, and casting.

<<Bah!>> the pit lord growls. <<Die weaklings!>>

The four are flung back and stunned in place by fel eruptions under their feet. A swarm of hounds leaps from the lava and they crawl toward the incapacitated group. Before they can reach the party, a portal opens and arrows rain from within to blanket the area. An elf leaps out and frees them from their bonds.

“Alleria,” Turalyon beams, “perfect timing, as always.”

Alleria smirks and sends an arrow sailing into the pit lord’s brow. “An elf arrives precisely when she means to.” She smiles at her husband and steps aside as the three rush past. “Didn’t leave you waiting too long, I imagine.”

Anarchaia gathers her strength and blasts the demon’s face with the coldest winds she can conjure. He howls as his eyes freeze into hard orbs and punches at the ground blindly.

“You never do,” Turalyon responds and quickly rushes forward to slice off the gigantic hand at the wrist.

Alisbeth lifts her palm to one of the frozen eyes. A trail of swirling blood leaves it and goes into her hand, pulling and pulling until the eye suddenly shatters. She giggles excitedly. Blood seeps from the wound as the pit lord screams out and bats wildly with his severed wrist.

Koltira swings his sword up to pop the other eye, but fails and ends up with the blade stuck inside. He lets go before the demon rears up and falls back into the lava. “My…sword… Dammit.”

Anarchaia chuckles and sets a hand on Koltira’s shoulder. “We’ll get you another.”

A beam of light pierces the dense clouds. From it appears a Lightforged Beacon, its panels clicking as they unfold.

“Wait, Turalyon,” Alleria says as the man nears the pad. “I’ve heard…Arator.”

“Yes. I’ve heard as well. I think we’re ready to face him. After all this time.” Turalyon scratches at the back of his neck and sighs. “Surely he’ll understand.”

“Arator is a reasonable man,” Anarchaia interjects with a smile. “At least he seemed as such from the two times I’ve met him. Heh.”

Alisbeth scoots up to Anarchaia and goes to throw her arm over the mage’s shoulders. She pauses, then forces herself to grin. “Care to join me on the Beacon?” she asks sweetly, steering the mage to the golden platform.

Anarchaia glances at Alisbeth as a beat of panic flickers within herself. “I-I can open a portal back to the ship.” She steps away and lifts a hand to do so, but the area just fizzles with light that quickly fades away. “O-oh. I guess getting hurt that badly affected me more than I anticipated.” She laughs nervously. “I must have wasted it all on that last fight.”

Alisbeth waves a hand dismissively. “Pfft. Why waste energy on portals, anyway? These Beacons don’t require anything. Just hop right on and to the other side. Riight?” She grins at the mage and gives her shoulders a squeeze. “Come on, then.”

Anarchaia fidgets at the girl’s suspicious behavior. “I suppose that’s a valid point. Heh.” She turns to walk for the portal but suddenly finds she can’t move her feet. She swallows. “Yep. Really…really valid.”

“Yay!” Alisbeth weaves her fingers through Anarchaia’s and urges her onto the pad. “Together!”

Koltira grabs Alisbeth’s shoulder. “Why don’t I—”

“Come with us, too? Yes!” She grabs him with her other hand and drags them up. She grits her teeth as her form is surrounded by light.

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