Kel’ori is the first to sit up, grumbling as she conjures a coffee for herself. She silently pouts over the fact that it isn’t a Booty Bay coffee, but drinks it anyway, conjuring a frosting-covered manabun in her other hand.
Taveth opens one eye at the mage’s delicate sips. “Didn’t you hear anything I said about the sugar? And now coffee?”
Kel’ori takes a huge bite of the pastry, positioning herself dramatically so he can watch her bite and chew. “Oh, I heard you. I just choose to think you’re wrong.”
“I’m never wrong.”
She shrugs and turns her back to him.
Grimory sits up soon after, hair molded in the shape of his pack where he’d been sleeping on it. He runs his hand over the spot and sneers. “Gods fuckin’… Either mage? Some water? In a—” A glob of conjured water hits him in the face and he scowls. “…basin. Preferably.” He gets to work styling it.
The book in Anarchaia’s hands disappears in a puff of violet smoke and she stretches. “Night was relatively quiet.” An image of the green lava only inches from her face flashes through her mind. “…relatively.”
“May I have a glass of water?” Taveth asks Anarchaia. “Where’s Ali? And Koltira?”
The undead girl nods and conjures a chilled glass of water to hand to Taveth.
Kel’ori purses her lips. “Is today going to be superawkward?”
She shakes her head. “We dealt with it while you slept. They took perimeter lookout while I watched over you guys.”
Grimory snorts. “Dealt with, hm? With words?”
Anarchaia purses her lips. “Yes.”
“Ali!” Taveth calls. He sips his water, his ears perking as her footsteps round the corner.
“Oh! Everyone’s awake! Time to get going.” She leans to kiss the demon hunter’s forehead, then sets the pad of her finger on his nose. “Boop.” she whispers, smiling.
Kel’ori grumbles all the way to her feet and sends her bedroll away. “My feet already hurt. I’ve got a blister forming, I know it.” She conjures a mirror and uses magic to fix her hair and makeup, slicking glittery gloss over her rouge lipstick.
“You can get that healed back on the Vindicar, then,” Anarchaia says with a smile and stands. “I’ll get Kolt and we’ll get going.” She turns to wander down the path to his lookout spot.
Grimory smiles at the death knight, then immediately frowns. “What happened to your face? Were you attacked?”
Alisbeth touches the crusted blood over the gashes on her face and runs her fingertips long the streaks left from her unable to wash it. She smiles nervously and forces an unconvincing laugh. “It’s nothing. I just hurt myself.”
Taveth stands and scrutinizes the injury through his spectacles. “It looks like a scratch from several claws? Close together.”
She bats him away. “Yes. I hurt myself on claws. Close together ones. Let’s go! So much adventure ahead of us!”
Kel’ori rolls her eyes at the others.
Grimory scowls and stands to tentatively buckle his pack at his hip. “That’s the story you’re going with, yeah?”
Anarchaia returns to the camp shortly after with Koltira at her side, only to slow in her steps when she sees the two men inspecting Alisbeth’s face.
Alisbeth glances up at Koltira’s stern expression. “Y-yes. I hurt myself on claws. Tightly clawing…” She smiles reassuringly up at him and takes his hand. “Ready for walking?”
Taveth gives the demon hunter a look of disbelief from behind Alisbeth’s back and shakes his head. He turns away to check the contents of his pack, making sure that somehow nothing crawled away.
Koltira clears his throat. “It’s clear for a good way north. I suggest we get moving before anything moves into the path.”
Grimory’s eyes flick to the glaring face of the Maw of the Damned across Alisbeth’s shoulders as the woman pulls him down the path, taking note of the blood on the small teeth. His scowl deepens but he remains silent and stares ahead.
Anarchaia fidgets beside Koltira, feeling the tension through the space between herself and the couple at the head of the party.
Koltira takes Anarchaia by the hand, stopping her fingers from twisting around one another. He leans in close. “What’s got you so knotted up?”
“He’s going to find out that you attacked her,” Anarchaia mumbles just loud enough for him to hear. “He’ll be angry…”
He stares down at the mage, undisturbed by her words. “She attacked you. Iwas angry.”
Anarchaia frowns and avoids his gaze. “I don’t like when you guys fight. It’s scary, to be honest.” The night before plays in her mind again. “I don’t know why I froze the way I did…if I hadn’t, you wouldn’t have had to…”
Koltira sets his cool gaze on her. “And then you’d be in his sights if you’d left a mark. Honestly, he can just fuck off. I wouldn’t take it back, Ana.”
Anarchaia gives a quiet sigh. “He wouldn’t attack me like he would you, but…” She shrugs. “Whatever. What’s done is done.”
Koltira’s eyelids lower. “Oh, we’re at ‘whatever.’” He sighs and rubs his palms down his face. “Can we please, for the love of the gods, stop with what is turning into petty arguments? Can we go back to you drunkenly proclaiming that I’m perfect and we always agree?”
Anarchaia flushes and furrows her brow and wraps her arms about herself as she looks ahead. “Y-yeah. Sorry.”
Koltira grabs the mage under one arm as they walk and leans down to kiss the top of her head.
Kel’ori sends her things away and falls into step beside her brother. “So, they said we’d get to Illidan today, right? And then what?”
Taveth shrugs. “I’m guessing we do whatever he tells us to?”
Grimory looks over his shoulder at the siblings. “Right. I’m sure he’ll have plenty for us to do. I know up north needs a boost in defense. That’s why he sent for us, I’m sure.”
Kel’ori nods absently. “Okay. How close are we, do you think?”
“Not far,” the Illidari responds and turns back ahead. “Probably a few hours. And if Kolt isn’t lying, we should be relatively undisturbed.”
Kel’ori blinks ahead to walk beside Alisbeth. A clean, wet cloth pops into her hand. “To clean up some of the blood.”
Alisbeth grins and takes it. “Oh! Thanks, Kel. Not so useless after all.”
Kel’ori stops in her tracks and purses her lips. She clenches her fists, then just decides to let it go.
Grimory gives Alisbeth a sideways glance and pulls on her hand gently. “Be nice, yeah?”
Alisbeth stares at him with wide, innocent eyes. “I was being nice! I thought that was a very nice comment. I’d like for someone to tell me I’m not useless, otherwise how would I know?” She scrubs at her face, missing some crusted blood while smearing a lot of it around.
Grimory chuckles at her. “Here.” He takes the rag from her and gets to work doing a better job of cleaning her cheek. He lowers his voice. “You sure that’s what happened?”
She cocks an eyebrow as he cleans up her face. “Why do you keep asking? It’s just a scratch! I’m fine.” She puffs out her cheek so he can clean better.
“Because I don’t believe you,” the demon hunter says pointedly and rubs this thumb along the edge of the deepest gouge. “But fine. I won’t press it.”
Kel’ori whines quietly. “How much f—”
“Don’t,” Taveth warns.
The mage pouts.
Grimory leans back to hand the rag back to Kel’ori. “Thank you.”
Anarchaia groans at the almost question. “That vacation can’t come soon enough.”
Kel’ori cringes at the blood-soaked cloth and lifts it with her magic. She gives a small giggle before dumping it into a nearby lava pool.
Alisbeth hooks her arm through Grimory’s and goes up on her toes to kiss his cheek. “It’s just a scratch. A mean one. That kind of hurt. But I deserved.” She pauses, her eyes narrowed. “Claws. It was claws.”
Koltira laughs. “What? I thought you missed the incessant questions of how much farther and are we almost there and how much longer.” He wiggles her side to side in his grasp as he laughs. A land formation catches his eye. “That was on the map. We’re nearly there. However…” He points up the hill they’re headed for, where an infernal stomps idly around and two fel hunters snap at each other over bones they’ve already picked clean.
Grimory sighs at the girl beside him and eyes the infernal as well. “Whatever you say, Ali.” His arms mutate as they near the crest of the hill.
Anarchaia looks uninterestedly at the demons on the hill. “I’m just saying if I have to hear those words in any succession of one another ever again I may just impale myself.”
The brimstone demon notices the party and slowly turns to lumber toward them, the felhounds perking and running forward as well.
Koltira chuckles for a moment as he withdraws Byfrost. “Any ideas what you might want to impale yourself on? I could help. I’m kind of an expert.”
Kel’ori charges a barrage in her palms, then sets two glowing spheres undulating toward the dogs. The balls hit them and the demons’ running slows to a near walk.
“Oh, nice,” Taveth says. “When did you learn that one?”
“That’s, like, level one. I could teach you sometime.”
Taveth forces a smile. “Eh-heh. Um, no. No thank you.”
Anarchaia blushes and chortles as she lights one of the slowed hounds on fire. It runs in circles yelping in agony. “Oh,” she chuckles. “Perhaps I don’t mind hearing it that badly.”
Grimory sets a sigil of flames beneath the infernal but it merely stomps through it, unfazed. He grits his fangs and dodges a kick from its monstrous foot, then hacks a chunk of its leg off with a claw. “The head is its weakness,” he calls and spreads his wings to fly up and serve as a distraction.
As the infernal ambles closer, Kel’ori helps with the other fel stalker, doing her best to help keep both slow.
Koltira laughs. “That’s not what I meant, but I like the way you think.” He winks at her and runs forward, Byfrost slashing as he reaches the infernal.
Grimory’s eyelids lower as he watches his comrades attack anywhere other than the head as he’d commanded. He dodges a swinging hand and billows fire onto the demon’s face. The infernal groans and covers the area with a humongous hand.
Anarchaia bites her lip as she grins and throws a blast of icy air over the advancing felhounds, effectively freezing them solid.
Taveth prods his sister in the side. “You wanna help Grim out?”
The mage shoots a few arcane missiles up at the demon’s chest.
Alisbeth snaps out of her small trance watching Grimory fight as a huge stone foot comes down to crush her. “Oh! Uh. Fighting.” She throws a few coiling red strands at the demon’s head, then pulls life from it by a long red flow of blood, dripping but never landing on the ground.
Grimory scoffs quietly to himself as he watches the missiles crash against the infernal’s stony torso, then grunts as it swats him from the air and into the dirt. He groans in pain but quickly stands.
Then infernal growls as its head is barraged with fireballs and blood magic. It stomps forward blindly, crushing the frozen hounds underfoot, then lifts a hand. Energy swirls around it before pulsing outward in ripples of felfire.
Anarchaia throws an arcane barrier over herself and braces as the pulses wash over it.
Koltira lifts a barrier of his own, domed over himself in shimmering purple. Alisbeth screams as the flames wash over her. He pulls her inside with a purple tendril. Once there she panics and spins to hit him with her axe.
“Relax, I’m trying to help!” He throws a mind freeze at the infernal and the flames stop.
Alisbeth purses her lips at him, then runs away as the fire clears.
“Everyone else is aiming at the head, Kel,” Taveth says casually.
The mage mocks her brother shortly, then aims for the head, exploding a fully charged barrage at it.
Grimory encases himself in a rippling orb of black and green, reducing the damage done by the flames. When they cease, he flies back up. He inhales, preparing another blast of felfire from his lungs, but before he can exhale, the demon’s head is blasted with numerous arcane missiles. Each does more damage than the, last until its weakened head shatters. Its arms fall to its sides and it crashes forward, causing Anarchaia to scramble out of its path.
The demon hunter swallows the rising fire in his throat and lands gently back on the soil. He smiles at Kel’ori and smoke billows from his mouth and nose as he speaks. “Well done. Everyone.”
Kel’ori flushes and bites her lip as Grimory’s gaze meets hers. She glances at Taveth, who is giving her a bored look. “What? I could still have a shot!”
He shakes his head. “No, no you couldn’t.”
She pouts and stomps after him as he goes to the others.
Alisbeth leans into Grimory’s face and blows on the smoke before it dissipates. “You did the best.”
Grimory chuckles and gives Alisbeth an endearing smile. “I didn’t, but you’rethe best for saying so.” He turns to continue up the path.
“We should go,” Koltira says, motioning toward a downhill slope where felhounds fight over scraps and one chases a small imp, which shrieks as it runs for its life.
They come to a fork in the road with bridges leading toward a couple large buildings and a cave. Below the nearest bridge, however, what looks to be a cave entrance catches Grimory’s eye. “Down here,” he says and waves for them to follow.
The group rushes forward to avoid more demons coming into the area. When they enter the narrow mouth, Alisbeth gapes at the green cages dangling overhead. She sees Illidan and stops, then stomps past into the camp to prod at a fel hunter imprisoned in a swirling vortex. Kel’ori also keeps her distance, practically hiding herself behind Taveth as though his narrow frame will make a difference.
Illidan pays the smaller death knight no mind. “Ah, you’ve returned. I’d almost thought you’d all given up.” He scrutinizes Grimory and narrows his glowing eyes behind his blindfold. “Or at last seen to reason.”
The demon hunter folds his arms casually. “What is it you’d have us do?” he says, ignoring the slight.
Illidan scoffs but does not press. “The Legion has taken many slaves and prisoners in this area. They’d be a great asset should they feel they owe us, understand?”
Grimory nods. “Yessir.”
“Good. I’d suggest the six of you split up. Perhaps the men can carve a path through the blockade on the path while the rest see to the cave networks.” He regards the women. “You’re more than capable, I’m sure.”
Anarchaia purses her lips and sets her weight on a hip. “We are.”
Kel’ori nods absently, though apprehensive. “Mages in the caves. Good idea. We can light our own way.”
Taveth goes to stand with Koltira and makes immediate note of the order into his journal. “I don’t like this. We’re stronger together.”
Koltira ruffles the man’s blond hair and gives a reassuring laugh. “Don’t worry, Grim and I’ll keep you safe.”
Anarchaia gives Koltira a longing look then sighs. “I can’t deny that he’s right, though. If we’re only releasing prisoners, we should cover more ground to get as many as possible.”
Koltira gives the mage’s hand a loving squeeze. “Should be fast, right?”
Alisbeth turns to purse her lips at Grimory when she hears the orders. She stomps past Illidan again, setting her angry glare on him the whole way. “It’ll get done so fast your head will spin.”
Grimory turns at an angle where Illidan cannot see his face and gives Alisbeth a sympathetic smile. “I’m sure we will.” He follows her from the alcove.
Alisbeth looks Illidan right in the eye as she goes to Grimory, grabs him by both horns, and pulls him into a passionate kiss. “See you on the other side.”
Grimory’s face immediately turns a shade of magenta and he swallows, eyes wide, as he nods. “Y-yeah.”
Illidan sneers when Alisbeth leaves and rips a bat from the air as it tries to fly above them and into the cave. “It’s no mystery why you’re unable to harness the demon within you,” he grumbles and rips off its head. “You can barely keep a woman in control.”
Grimory turns away. “Yessir,” he mutters and follows the party outside.
Anarchaia sets her hands on her hips and gestures to the caves to the north. “I suppose the girls and I will start there. You guys can make your way up the paths.”
~ * ~
Koltira motions for the men to follow him the other direction. “Let’s make this as short and painless as possible.”
Grimory nods and follows. “Agreed.” He blows fire over an advancing pair of eredari as they get to the crest of the platform and, caught off guard, they both run off the ledge and into the pit of feeding felhounds.
Koltira swipes at more eredari, his brow furrowing. “There are more up here than I anticipated.”
The demon hunter slashes through the demonic cannon with his claws and the metal groans as it slides in half and crumbles to the ground. “Tav, free any prisoners you see, yeah? We’ll protect you.”
Taveth scans ahead. “There, behind that…cage demon.”
Koltira laughs. “I’m sure there’s a better name for it.” He runs forward to catch the soultaker’s attention.
The high elf runs past to the cages. “Go, go!” He ushers the broken to run for the enclave where Illidan and the others wait.
Grimory nods to Taveth as he passes. “Good.” While the soultaker is distracted by Koltira, he runs forward to bury his claws into its muscled back. It growls and whirls around. Not able to free his claws, Grimory yelps in surprise as he’s whirled as well.
Koltira stabs the demon in the belly to stop its spinning. “No time for a spin.” He cuts the demon open and spills its innards on the ground.
Grimory lurches forward as the demon falls. He wrenches his claws from its flesh and chuckles. Good thing Lord Illidan didn’t see that.He gestures up the path where Taveth is already freeing more prisoners as discreetly as possible. “This is pretty efficient, yeah?”
Taveth turns to answer Grimory, but slips to dangle over the small puddle of green lava below the cages. He regains his footing and tries to shake off the panic by smiling at the two on the ground behind him. “Y-yes. Very efficient. Heh.”
Koltira sets up his hand to talk behind it to Grimory. “It’s a wonder he’s still alive.”
Grimory laughs. “Right?That’s what I said.” He slices a lesser demon in half as it notices Taveth; its upper torso slides down onto the dirt before it can pursue the warlock.
The high elf gets his feet safely onto solid ground and sighs in relief. “Should we go inside?”
Koltira smirks. “It’d be rude to visit their temple and not say hi.”
Grimory nods. “While I’m not normally one to worry about being rude, I’m inclined to agree.” He grabs Taveth by the arm and gently pushes him ahead of the group. “Stay where we can see you, yeah?”
Taveth stumbles under the Ilidari’s grasp. “I wasn’t going to wander away! Oh, would you look at that.” Taveth veers off toward a strange font at the center of the temple, where green energy swirls upward into another device.
Koltira grabs the high elf by the arm. “You’re wandering.”
“Yes. Quite.” He clears his throat and begins sketching and taking notes of the device.
Grimory rolls his eyes and makes his way to a cage. The mechanism holding the lock is rusty and warm and only takes a quick blow to break. The broken inside praise them in their tongue and run for the exit after receiving directions.
Koltira runs into a small room in a leg of the temple. “Check the supports. There are prisoners inside.”
Grimory nods and makes short work of scouting a neighboring room and freeing the prisoners there as well. He returns to the main chamber and stands guard at the entrance, should they be interrupted.
“We should try upstairs,” Taveth says absently as he catches sight of a cage while drawing the upper chamber.
Koltira nods and finds the stairs. “Tav, either come with me, or stay with Grim.”
“Hmm? Oh! No, I’d very much like to see what’s up there.” He gives Grimory a shy grin, then rushes after the death knight.
Grimory snorts, smirks, and folds his arms as he casts Taveth a sideways glance. “You sureyou’d rather not stay with me?” he mutters as the scholar heads up the staircase.
Taveth’s ears turn a bright red that crawls up the outer edge to the tips. He glances back at the demon hunter and bites into his bottom lip. “Should I stay? With Grim— I mean, down there. Stay out of trouble and all that. Heh.”
Koltira stops and turns to observe the high elf. “What is it about Grim that has everyone wanting to fuck him?”
“I just don’t get it. What’s he got that I don’t?”
Taveth shrinks and follows the death knight into the chamber. “Um, I, uh… M-maybe it’s— Well—”
“Spit it out,” Koltira says, severing the head from a sorceress.
“W-well, h-he’s attractive and well-groomed—”
“Are you saying I smell?”
Taveth takes a step back, his eyes wide. “No! No! You…smell fine. Heh.
“Oh, thank gods. My sense of smell is failing, so I’m really never sure.” He engages a felguard, casually parrying its blows. “Continue.”
“Uh, um. Well… You…don’t look single.”
“Free those prisoners,” Koltira says, pointing behind two more sorceresses as he pulls them together to kill at once. “What do you mean I don’t look single?”
“Heh.” Taveth fidgets after the broken escape. “He just has this…aura?”
Koltira huffs. “I’m not saying I wantto be flirted with, but it’s kind of a kick in the ego.” He leads the scholar down the stairs.
“I-I’m really n-not good with fl—”
“Don’t flirt with me.” They reach Grimory and Koltira nods. “All clear upstairs.”
Grimory lifts an eyebrow, only having overheard the last bit of their conversation. He opens his mouth to respond, then perks and whirls around at the sound of a distant, echoing scream. He regards the other men. “I’ve…got a bad feeling. I’m gonna go check on the girls, yeah?” He gestures to the cave in the distance and spreads his wings as he steps outside. He leaps into the air and heads over the platform connecting the bridges. His boots make a hushed tap as he lands at the mouth of the cave and peers inside. “Ali?” he calls, not worried about being found. “Ana?”
Taveth and Koltira look at each other. The high elf sighs. “Think it’s okay?”
Koltira scoffs and heads for the back of the temple, where more cages contain several broken. “I’m sure he can handle it, with his good hygiene and rippling muscles and that special something aura of his.”
Taveth purses his lips. “Okay, now you’re just being bitter.”
Taveth narrows his eyes as Koltira ushers him to more cages while he distracts a soultaker. “Are you jealous of Grim?”
“What’s there to be jealous of?” Koltira grunts, diving out of the way of a thrown cage.
Koltira shrugs. “Really? That’s it? I mean, I’m fine without it.”
Taveth shrugs. “If you say so.”