The day again wears on—or so appears to—and the weight of travel rests heavy upon the living among the group. Grimory attempts to replenish his waning energy with rations of meat and bread, but the small portions do little. He groans as his feet throb within his boots. “All right, I need a break,” he admits, hair having long since sagged in the humid heat and action of numerous battles along the way.
Anarchaia nods. “Even I didn’t miss all this walking, if I’m being honest.”
Kel’ori moves to the side of the path and drops down into the warm dirt. “Oh, thank gods. I’ve never walked so much in my life. How do you do it? Oh, what I wouldn’t give to have brought my carpet. Why do you people walk everywhere, anyway?” She conjures a blob of water and drops it on herself, ignoring for a moment, her usual groomed state.
Taveth chuckles and sits a ways away, opening his journal to update his notes. “I find that the walking is useful for my notes. I’m closer to a curiosity on the ground, should I have a desire to inspect it. I can stop if I need more time sketching a landmark.”
Alisbeth drops into the mud to grab a wad of it and lob it at Anarchaia. “I don’t like the walking, but it doesn’t make me tired. But this place is hot and it hurts my skin.”
“We’d be easily spotted in the air,” Grimory grumbles and pulls off his boots to rub his thumbs into the sore arches of his feet. “As for back home, we had to walk everywhere because someone can’t be within ten yards of a large animal.”
Anarchaia scoffs and opens her mouth to retort, but is pelted in the face with a glob of mud. She lifts her mask some to spit out the wet soot. With a glowing hand, she pulls the substance from the fabric of her hood and robes and hurls it back at the death knight. “I feel attacked. If not literally.”
Alisbeth dives out of the way of the mud. It lands on Kel’ori’s stomach and splatters against her breasts. She closes her eyes and sighs in exasperation. “At least it’s not blood. Right?” she says through grit teeth, convincing herself to keep her cool.
Grimory snerks at the literal mud slinging.
Koltira drops to the ground, wrapping his hands around Anarchaia’s narrow waist and dragging her with him to sit on his lap. “To be fair, though, it has given us a lot of time to get to know one another.”
Anarchaia gives a small noise of surprise, then ’smiles and leans her head on his shoulder. “That’s true…so much probably wouldn’t have happened otherwise.”
The other mage cocks an eyebrow at him. “How did you all meet, anyway?”
The demon hunter looks over at Kel’ori while sliding his boots back on. “Ana and I had orders to go to Stormheim and help Odyn, but we required more help, so we posted an ad. Guess who showed up.”
Koltira smirks on the memory of their first meeting. “I’d promised Ali an adventure to get her out of her room. I’m not sure she’d ever been so happy in her un-life.”
Kel’ori purses her lips between all of them. “So, Ana used to date Grim and Koltira knew Ali from…whatever it’s called. The scourge thing.”
Alisbeth purses her lips at her cousin. “I was never part of the scourge. That’s awful. I hunted them, looking for the one who killed Koltira so I could avenge him.” She seethes for a moment, then smiles. “And now Thass is our bestest friend!”
The mage uses magic to clean her robe and deposit the blob on Alisbeth’s head. “But you were with Grim… This is confusing.”
“We weren’t dating,” the undead girl and Illidari say in unison.
Grimory pulls his ears back and a hint of color tints his cheeks. “Ali and Kolt were a thing when we’d all met. But Ali and I knew one another a long time ago…”
Anarchaia, however, remains silent and picks at the seam in her glove.
“We were married!” Alisbeth chirps, flinging mud everywhere. “But Grim is nicer.”
Koltira’s ears pull back. “I’m right here.”
Alisbeth sticks out her tongue. “You’re a pushy bossy-pants.”
Anarchaia purses her lips. “He’s pushy because he cares. How often do you think you’d have been in trouble if he hadn’t forced you out of a tough situation?”
Grimory rolls his eyes and removes the pack at his hip to use as a makeshift pillow, then lies in the dirt.
Kel’ori wrinkles one nostril in thought as she looks between the two men. Why’s she get all the hot guys?
Alisbeth stares pointedly at the mage in Koltira’s lap. “So, you’re saying I should have stayed with him so he could keep me in line while fucking you in secret.” She stands, combing mud from her hair. “Sometimes I wish I’d killed both of you. Not just tried to kill him.” She turns away and trudges around a corner, out of sight.
Kel’ori stares wide-eyed at the atmosphere. “What the hell did I just start?”
Grimory laces his fingers behind his head and closes his eyes. “Don’t worry too much about it,” he grumbles, too tired to care about the drama.
Anarchaia narrows her eyes in Alisbeth’s wake and swallows her ire. “No,” she mumbles when she’s too far to hear. “I’m saying he’d have stayed if you’d appreciated it.”
Koltira clenches his jaw. He lifts the mage gently and deposits her on the ground, then stands and goes the opposite direction from the other death knight and seats himself where he can keep lookout away from the others.
’Anarchaia blinks’, then watches curiously as he walks away. A frown pulls at her lips and she brings up her knees to set her chin on them.
Grimory can’t resist a chuckle. “I honestly can’t believe this is still an issue. How old are the lot of you again? Sixteen? Seventeen?”
Anarchaia scowls over at him through her mask. “Not helpful.”
“Not trying to be.” The demon hunter turns away to show her his back. “Wake me when there’s more important things at hand.”
Kel’ori summons a small bedroll and lays down. She looks to her brother. “Kick me if I start to ask questions again.”
Taveth nods and sets his own pack beneath his head.
~ * ~
Hours later, under the same dark atmosphere, the three living sleep as deeply as they can in the heat of the area. Alisbeth skips around the corner, helm missing and a smile on her lips. She stops when she sees Anarchaia sitting alone. Her smile grows wider as she approaches. “Agamemnon! I didn’t think anyone was awake but Koltira. C’mere. I wanna show you something.”
Anarchaia’s eyes narrow some, but she stands all the same. She steps over Grimory’s sleeping figure. “What is it?” she says tiredly.
“It’s…hard to explain. You have to see it.” Alisbeth beckons the mage to follow, smiling eagerly at each step the other woman takes.
Her nerves screaming suspicion, Anarchaia reservedly follows.
Once both are around the corner, Alisbeth stands on the edge of a lake of fel lava and points across the distance. “Do you see it? Way over there.”
The mage stands beside her and squints into the distance. “I-I don’t…?”
Alisbeth grabs the back of the mage’s neck and forces her to her knees, holding Anarchaia’s face right over the glowing green heat. “Do you see it now? Hmm? Do you see it? Huh? Or do you need a closer look?” She pushes just the smallest bit.
Before the heat can burn at her mask, Anarchaia blinks from Alisbeth’s grasp to atop a large boulder several yards away. “Look,” she says, her tone betraying her racing heart and quivering fingers. “Clearly there’s bad blood still about this and, while an adult would have handled it at the time of its happening, I’m still willing to settle this–”
Alisbeth runs after the mage to yank her foot out from under her and drag her back to the ground. “I have no idea what bad blood you’re talking about.” She clambers over the top of the mage to pin her down. “Speaking of blood, if I slit your throat, what color would come out?” She unsheathes her axe and holds it to the mage’s neck, while her other palm presses down on Anarchaia’s windpipe.
Anarchaia cringes as her head hits the rock and eventually the ground. Her eyes then widen on the axe. She makes to respond, but is unable to through being choked and brings a hand up to wrap around Alisbeth’s wrist instead.
“I want to be wrong, Akama. I really do.” She pushes her axe a little closer, ignoring the mage’s resistance on her wrist. “Am I wrong? Do you bleed the same as me?”
Too wracked with fear to concentrate on escape, Anarchaia clenches her eyes shut and nods. “Yes,” she rasps quietly over the bubbling of lava.
Suddenly, Alisbeth flies backward off the mage, her face locked in an expression of shock. Anarchaia’s eyes widen again. She scrambles back, a hand over her neck and breathing heavily.
Alisbeth lands in front of Koltira, who glares down at her. He wrenches the Maw from her grasp and steps back to hit her across the side of the head. She spins from the impact and falls to the ground. He drops the axe on her and she flinches.
“Don’t you lay a fucking hand on Ana. Got it?”
Alisbeth nods quickly, a palm over her cheek where the fangs of the skull tore open the flesh.
Koltira goes to the mage and purses his lips, holding out a hand. “Let’s get back to camp.”
She swallows and takes his hand when it’s offered. “Y-…yeah.”
Alisbeth slinks away, back to where she’d been hiding.
Once away from the other death knight, Koltira sighs and purses his lips. “Ana, I chose you. And if you think I’m only with you because I’m not with her, then…” He stops and looks across the landscape as he thinks. “If you don’t really love me, then just tell me. Don’t throw me into hypothetical reconciliations with a woman who tried to kill me.”
Anarchaia furrows her brow upward, eyes still widened up at him. “Wh-what? Reconciliation? Koltira, that’s not what I was trying to do! She said something rude and I was defending you!” She scowls beneath her mask. “You don’t think I’d actually prefer if the two of you never talked again? Just looking at her fills me with rage over what she did to you and it’s all I can do to be civil every time she speaks to me.” She turns her scowl on him. “I love you. And anything I do now is because of that.”
“Then why—” Koltira looks over his shoulder and lowers his voice as one of the sleeping elves stirs “—why make the comment that I would still be with her? You think her being out of line is why I left? Like it had nothing to do with her being a completely different person, and I didn’t love her anymore? I don’t need you putting those ideas in her head.” He heads toward his watch perch but stops. “For the record, as valiant as it was, I don’t need to be defended over being called a…‘bossy-pants’.” He does his best to keep a straight face repeating the insult.
She follows, also lowering her voice. “I know you don’t, but if you don’t like being defended then you’ve chosen the wrong partner.” She pushes her hood back. “And it wasn’t to put ideas in her head, I just…” She sighs and stops to let him go on. “I’ll go keep watch at camp…”
Koltira growls and spins on her. “Ana, you—” He grabs her, lifting her mask to press a firm kiss on her lips. “You’re infuriating sometimes. And I love you. But gods, please, don’t go poking that bear.” He hesitates. “She’s been acting suspiciously and I’m afraid all this Light has her putting together some pieces I’d rather she not have picked up.”
She makes a sound of surprise against his lips, then blinks as he speaks before finally sobering. “I’ve noticed,” she whispers, frowning. A sigh shudders through her chest. “I hesitated, but I shouldn’t have.” Her lips again purse into a scowl. “But given the opportunity, I don’t think it’d be much of a fight. Trust me, if it weren’t for you, and Grim, and Taveth, and that fffffucking child…” Her fists clench against his shoulders.
Koltira sets a thumb to the mage’s lips. “No, you wouldn’t. You’re better than that. And I love you for it, so don’t even tempt those ideas.” He scowls over the land, then stares at his feet. “It was foolish to think we could all travel together like before. Maybe we should leave.”
Anarchaia’s face softens from her scowl and she lifts a hand to grasp at his. “Like a vacation?” She smiles. “You wouldn’t get in trouble for abandoning an assignment?”
He cringes. “I’d be in huge trouble, so, it’d be less ‘vacation’ and more ‘permanently in hiding for going AWOL.’”
She chuckles and squeezes his hand. “Then I say we grin and bear it for a bit. At least until we’ve done all we can.” She crooks her lips in sudden thought. “I still have to ask Taveth about those books, anyway…”
“I’m not nearly as uncomfortable with her traveling with us as you think. But you… Just bite your tongue. Okay?” He takes her hand and hesitates on his way to the lookout spot.
Anarchaia nods, feeling like a scolded child. “I’ve been amicable so far I’d think…” She notes the slight falter in his step. “Is everything okay?”
“Maybe I’m afraid of letting you out of my sight again,” he says. “But…we do need someone in camp to keep watch.” He smirks slyly. “Shame, really. I found the most vaguely private spot…”
The mage furrows her brow and purses her lips. “Are you trying to torture me? What did I do to deserve this?”
He laughs and hold up his hands in innocence. “I was just commenting on how you’d be hard pressed to see anyone in this hiding spot. I mean, anything could be happening back there! A game of darts, perhaps. A round of poker. Anything.” He winks and turns up the path. “But it really would be completely irresponsible to leave these three unattended.” He smirks over his shoulder at her. “Good night, Ana.”
Anarchaia folds her arms and drums her fingers on them as she huffs and looks between the camp behind her and Koltira’s back. With a noise of frustration, she turns for the camp. “The second we’re alone again, you’re gonna get it…” she hisses beneath her breath and again takes up her spot near the sleeping elves.