Taveth narrows his eyes across to the cave as he opens the last of the cages. “Grim sure has been gone a long time. You think he’s okay?”
A chill runs up Koltira’s spine. “If I’m being honest…no.” He drags Taveth down as the last cage opens, then takes him by the elbow to practically drag him to the cave.
Taveth shakes free. “I may be weak, but I know how to run.” He breaks into a sprint. “Are you sure that’s the cave?”
Koltira growls. “No.”
“Right. I’ll check.”
Taveth stops Koltira at the mouth of the cave and sets his fingers together, then spins his hands around to summon an eye of Gul’dan that drops to his feet.
Koltira shies back. “You’re a warlock?”
Without opening his eyes, he nods. “It was an accident, really. Please don’t tell Ali.” He concentrates on seeing through the eye as it zips unseen through the tunnels. Finally he comes upon a chamber with two locked cages containing Alisbeth and Anarchaia, the third torn open. Then he sees him, stomping his way to the cage containing Alisbeth, who has pressed herself so far back, she’s begun climbing up the bars as she glares at him. Then Taveth sees his sister, naked and covered in blood, crying and alone in the dirt, and he nearly loses his concentration.
“This is it,” he forces himself to whisper. “Two lefts and a right. Run!”
But the high elf is already a pile of ash on the ground. Koltira shrugs and runs in.
Taveth appears in the room and rips the dagger from his satchel. He points it at Spinewing as the demon’s claws wrap around the cage door. “You’re dismissed!” he screams, holding himself back from attacking the demon, knowing he would only be hurting Grimory.
Spinewing jerks his head at the voice, then cries out as his muscles contract and shrink. <<No!!>> he bellows. The horns on his shoulders and thighs retract into the flesh and his claws and wings melt back into his form until only an unconscious Grimory lies face-down in the dirt.
Anarchaia, sitting at the back of her cage with her face in her hands, peeks through her fingers while she trembles. “T-Taveth…”
The elf drops to his knees over Kel’ori, almost afraid to touch her. She keeps her face turned away and buried in the sand in shame.
<<Oh, what have we here?>> Thal’kiel asks with mild interest. <<Ah, the smell of sulfer and blood. Demonic mating grounds? Interesting place to—>>
“Shut up!” Taveth screams. He hurls the dagger at the skull, but Thal’kiel disappears before it reaches him. The dagger lands in the dirt just shy of Koltira’s boot.
“Okay, woah, throwing th— Oh, gods. What happened? Ana? Are you okay?” He strides to her cage.
Alisbeth presses her tear-streaked face to the bars and grabs at the air. “Let me out! Grim! Grim!”
Anarchaia stands despite her slowly waxing strength and throws her arms around Koltira through the bars. She sniffles, holding back sobs. “Kolt, the keys,” she whispers beneath Alisbeth’s screaming, pointing to the body of the mangled inquisitor near the doorway.
He hesitantly pulls away and grabs the keys, freeing Alisbeth first, knowing once Anarchaia is out of the cage he won’t let her go.
The death knight explodes from the cage and throws herself onto Grimory, turning him over as she sobs. “Grim? Wake up!”
Once the second cage is open, Koltira doesn’t wait. He grabs the mage into his arms and holds tight, pulling her across the threshold as though somehow she could get shut in again, should she linger. “Ana, oh gods. Are you okay?”
Kel’ori sniffles. “She’s fine. Everyone is fine!” She curls slightly, hissing in pain as she tries to hide her nudity from the others. “I’m not okay,” she whispers to Taveth. “Okay? I’m not okay.”
Taveth grabs her shredded robes and wraps them over his sister’s front. He bites hard on the inside of his lip until he can taste blood, just to keep himself composed for her. “You’re safe now, Kel.” He pulls her close and she grips him, then screams cries into his vest.
Anarchaia grips the elf tightly in her arms, shoulders shuddering as she continues to hold back her weeping. The sounds and images she’d gotten glimpses of through her fingers replay fresh in her mind, followed by the look on Spinewing’s smoking, smirking face as he made his way toward Alisbeth and herself. Her grip tightens and a sob escapes her, but Kel’ori’s screaming jolts through her. She slowly releases Koltira and rubs at her running nose while stepping around him. She slides her robes off her head and cautiously comes to kneel beside the battered elf. “Here,” she says through her sadness. “They’re probably too small and will dampen your fire magic, but…” She shrugs and forces a smile.
Kel’ori nods, unable to smile at the kindness. Taveth helps her into the robes as she hisses at the wound in her shoulder from the demon’s fangs. She sucks in a breath and frowns. “I’m sorry.” Purple magic flies to the seams and pops them along the sides to fit her much larger bust. “I’ll fix them. I promise,” she says through small hiccups. Then she looks at her feet. “My shoes don’t match!” She throws herself on Taveth to resume sobbing.
Anarchaia cringes as the seams of her treasured robes burst. Ugh, why can’t I have breasts that big? She shakes her head and wipes the tears from her eye. “Don’t worry about it. I can have them fixed whenever. You…you relax.”
Alisbeth sucks in a breath. “Grim won’t wake up and you’re worried about fashion?”
Kel’ori sneers. “After what that monster did to me, you still care about him? Leave him here to rot with the other demons.”
Taveth frowns. “Kel, that wasn’t Grim.”
Koltira looks around at the others. “I’m missing a huge detail.”
Grimory suddenly sits up and reflexively runs a hand over his hair. The events of only moments ago rush into him and he gives a fleeting glance to Kel’ori, then down at his shaking fingers.
Alisbeth wraps herself around the demon hunter and cries. “Grim! I was so worried! Are you okay?”
“He’s fucking fine!” Kel’ori screams. “You’re a monster. I hate you!”
Taveth grips Kel’ori tighter. “It wasn’t Grim.”
Koltira purses his lips. “I’d better be getting an explanation later. Who can walk?” He stares at the two mages. Pursing his lips at the blood staining the ground around the blond one.
The demon hunter flinches and looks down and away as he’s yelled at, eyes closed. He gently untangles himself from Alisbeth and stands, then makes his way wordlessly toward the exit.
Anarchaia watches him go and frowns. “Grim, wait! I can…” Her voice trails off as he disappears around the corner. She sighs and lifts a still trembling hand. “I think I have it in me for a portal…” The space before her distorts as it warps into a swirling door if light, a picture of the Vindicaar’s lower decks inside it.
Alisbeth runs after the demon hunter. “Grim, wait! Please!”
Grimory ignores Alisbeth as she follows him to the cave entrance. Once there, he spreads his wings and takes to the skies, leaving the group behind.
Alisbeth falls to the ground as he shakes her off. She screams out for him, but doesn’t move, because she cannot follow.
Taveth helps Kel’ori to her feet, but she cries out and collapses. Koltira catches her before she falls.
“Okay so, that’s one. Ana, how about you?” Koltira lifts his brow at her.
Taveth holds out his hands. “I can help.”
Anarchaia shakes her head and straightens. “I’m fine,” she says, hiding her dizziness and repressed fear. “Please, go on. Don’t worry about me…”
“Let’s get you to the medical—”
“No!” Kel’ori shouts, cutting Koltira off. “I don’t want them all…looking at me. Those pious draenei would call me…” She frowns and leans her head on Koltira’s shoulder.
Taveth sighs. “I’ll go get Ali.” When he goes outside and sees only Alisbeth, he furrows his brow. “Grim?”
“He left me,” Alisbeth half whispers.
“I’m sure he’ll be back. Come on, let’s get out of here.” He coaxes her back inside and through the portal.
Anarchaia sighs. “You don’t have to go to the infirmary here. We’ll take you back to Dalaran once we’re back aboard the ship, okay?” She rests a hand on the woman’s shoulder.
Kel’ori flinches at the contact. “Thank you.”
Taveth retrieves his dagger and the skull appears once more.
<<Excuse me, I was talking to y—>>
The elf slips the dagger into his bag and follows Alisbeth, then waits for the others. Koltira appears through the portal a moment later.
Anarchaia follows and inhales slowly as the portal behind her closes. She ushers the group toward the central chamber where she knows the portal to Dalaran to be. “If I thought I wanted to drink myself silly before…”
Koltira nods. “Agreed. Drinks on me.”
“Ana?” Kel’ori whimpers. “Don’t let the other apprentices see me, please.”
Anarchaia nods. “I won’t. I promise.”
Koltira purses his lips. “If you’re too scared to let any healers—”
“Just not the ones that know me!”
Koltira lowers his brow. “Which ones don’t know you?”
The mage says nothing.
Taveth sighs over at her. “I suppose we could get a room and find a healer?”
Once the party passes into Dalaran, Anarchaia quickly opens another portal, this one leading to Alisbeth’s room, and urges them through that as well. “We know of a couple trustworthy healers…if you’re okay with that.” She says once everyone’s safely on the other side.
Koltira sets the high elf gently on the bed; she curls up, covering her face.
“Do it,” Taveth says.
“What if Grim doesn’t come back?” Alisbeth asks.
“Good,” Kel’ori growls.
Koltira grabs Alisbeth by the arm and drags her from the room, after a quick look to make sure Anarchaia is okay. Once in the hall, he spins on her. “Why are you defending him when he clearly did—”
“It wasn’t him!” she shrieks. “It was Spinewing!”
“Who the fuck is Spinewing?”
“His demon. Last time he got out he almost killed all of us in Ashnaz.”
“Yes,” she hisses. “It’s not Grim, okay? He would never do that or this. And you people made him leave me!” She launches at him, her fists raised and pounding at his chest.
Anarchaia sighs and sits on the edge of the bed. “Look, Kel’ori. You’ve got to believe us. That wasn’t Grimory. He wouldn’t do something like that.” She rests a hesitant hand on her shoulder, then retracts it and stands again. “I’ll go find Juliember,” she says quietly and opens the door, then stops just short of the two on the other side. With magic she pulls Alisbeth away and stands between them. “Woah, what’s going on here?” she hisses.
“He thinks it was Grim!” Alisbeth shrieks.
“All I’m saying is if it walks like a dick and talks like a dick—”
Alisbeth throws herself at him again. “Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!”
Anarchaia throws up a weak shield of violet in front of Alisbeth and scowls. “Okay, that’s enough. Violence isn’t necessary here.” She looks over her shoulder at Koltira and motions for the stairwell. “Come with me and I’ll explain.” She turns back to Alisbeth. “You stay with your cousins and see to it that Kel’ori has everything she needs.”
“You tell him, Azkaban. You tell him it wasn’t Grim. He didn’t do it.”
Taveth ignores the noise on the other side of the door and gently strokes Kel’ori’s hair, careful not to let his fingers tangle in the dried blood.
“How can you all say it wasn’t him?” she asks.
“Every demon hunter has a demon’s soul within them. Sometimes they get out.”
“It was Grim! You weren’t there.”
Taveth sighs. “I’ll try to explain when you’re feeling better.”
He stands to leave, but she reaches her hand out to pull on him.
“Please don’t leave me alone! Please.”
He sits back down and resumes stroking her hair. “Just…no more talking about Grimory.”
Alisbeth opens the door. “Kel, do you n—”
“Go away!” Kel’ori shouts.
“Fine.” Alisbeth slams the door, then spins and leans back against it to seethe.
~ * ~
Koltira follows the mage, his jaw clenched. “I feel like Kel’ori and I are the only ones putting blame where it clearly belongs.”
The mage sighs and rubs her palms over her face as they exit the lounge. “Demon hunters feed on the soul of a demon as initiation. It’s what causes them to mutate and gives them their demonic powers. Most—if not all—of the ones that don’t die from this are able to harness the soul within them and command them with little trouble. Grim can’t. It’s why only his arms are ever fully morphed during combat…”
Koltira purses his lips. “I had no idea Grimory was a bad demon hunter.” His voice bears a heaviness and understanding.
Anarchaia knits her brow slightly. “He’s not a bad demon hunter,” she corrects lightly. “The demon inside him is incredibly powerful. The fact that he can restrain him at all is an amazing feat in itself.” She turns into the nearest tavern and scans the crowd for a druid.
Koltira furrows his brow upward. “Wait, what? That’s not what I… Ali said to me years ago that I was a bad death knight because the Lich King never fully held sway over me. I was able to stop myself killing her. My will was too strong for the Lich King to fully contain.” He shrugs. “Though, she could be wrong. There.” He points across the tavern at a familiar sort of staff. “Juliember had one like that, right?”
Anarchaia gives him a faint smirk breath her mask. “I’d say that’s a beneficial bad, then.” She also notices the staff and nods before weaving through the crowd.
<<Ah, masked mage,>> Juliember regards in Orcish with the faintest of smiles. She lowers her stein. <<And pretty boy death knight. What ya be needin’?>>
Anarchaia hesitates. <<We…have a friend who’s been hurt. She wants it kept discreet. Could you…? We’ll make it worth your time. Heh.>>
The troll smirks and eyes the girl before her. <<Oh?>>
<<Monetary.>> Anarchaia purses her lips.
Juliember gives a faint laugh and stands. She tosses a few coins on the table and nods to her friends. <<Good enough for me. Where we be headin’?>>
The mage leads them back into the streets. <<Thanks again.>>
The trio step back into Alisbeth’s room after a quiet knock. Anarchaia locks the door behind them. “S-so, this is Juliember. She’s a druid…obviously. Very skilled. Promised discretion. Heh.”
Taveth looks up at the others and nods. “That was fast.” <<Well met, Juliember.>>
Kel’ori frowns. “Is this the only healer you know?”
Koltira purses his lips. “Yes. Trust us, she’s good at what she does.”
Anarchaia chuckles nervously. “The only other one I know by name is a drunkard.” She pauses and taps at her chin. “And an engineer, come to think of it.”
Juliember pushes the mage out of the way and steps forward. <<What ails you?>>
Anarchaia perks and grabs Juliember by the arm. “U-uh, perhaps we should give her some privacy, first…”
Kel’ori shrinks back and grips Taveth’s hand. “What is she saying? What is she doing? Don’t leave me alone with this savage!”
“She was just asking what’s wrong. Do you want me to stay?” Taveth grips her hand back.
“Would you be mad if I asked for Ana instead?”
He shakes his head. “I understand.” He stands and opens the door for Koltira to exit. “We’ll be right outside.”
Anarchaia watches the men go and gives a fleeting wave, then pulls up a chair to sit beside the bed. She offers a hand and lifts her mask to smile.
Taveth glances up and down the hallway. “Was Ali out here when you got here?”
Koltira leans against the wall, his arms crossed. “Nope.”
Juliember rolls her eyes as the door closes then turns and cracks her knuckles. <<Well?>>
Anarchaia frowns. <<She was…raped. Can you undo the damage?>>
Juliember cocks a brow. <<How badly?>>
Anarchaia furrows her brow. <<Does it matter?>>
<<I be needin’ to know what to heal and how much energy to devote.>>
Anarchaia hesitates and looks at Kel’ori. “U-uhm. What hurts and how badly? Heh.”
Kel’ori takes the mage’s offered hand. “Wh-what are you saying? What’s…” She frowns and starts to cry. “Everything hurts. Do I need to take off your— She won’t hurt me? You promise?”
Anarchaia smiles and nods. “Yeah, it would help. And I promise. She’s just here to help.”
Juliember folds her arms and purses her lips between her tusks. <<Today, maybe?>>
Kel’ori nods and struggles to sit up, crying out as her weight puts pressure on her injuries. Instead she tries to grip the robe from the bottom, hissing at the pain in her shoulder and hips until she can bear it no longer. She falls onto her back, crying. “It hurts too much. It’s stuck to the blood. What do I do?”
Anarchaia furrows her brow and sets a comforting hand on Kel’ori’s, then grabs her torn robes with the other; they shimmer with violet sparkles as they pull away from the elf’s body, then fade back to solid in her fingers. She sets them aside. “Did that hurt?” A damp cloth appears in her open palm and Juliember snatches it away before the undead girl can use it.
The troll gets to work cleaning the blood from Kel’ori’s neck and shoulder as well as any other substances dried on her skin. <<Besides the bruises, scratches, and bite, the damage looks internal.>>
Anarchaia nods. <<Y-yes. Uhm…both.>>
Juliember lifts her eyebrows. <<Both.>>
Anarchaia nods again.
The troll blinks a couple times, then gets to work healing the superficial gashes and punctures.
Kel’ori shakes her head. “No, it didn—” She hisses as the troll scrubs over the wounds. “This is so embarrassing. Did you tell her…about… I said it wouldn’t fit. Why didn’t he listen to me? Why did he do this?” She presses her forehead to the mage’s hand, gripping it as she sobs.
Anarchaia frowns and resists the urge to cry as well just from the sound alone. “Kel’ori, what you saw wasn’t Grimory. The real Grim has the soul of a powerful Doomlord inside him and…and when he gets out…” The thought of how Grimory must be feeling at the moment crosses her mind and she cringes, resisting tears. “Spinewing is an atrocity. Even by demonic standards.”
Juliember sets a hand atop Kel’ori’s abdomen, then grits her teeth. <<There’s a lot of damage inside. This will be a moment. Was it a horse?>>
Anarchaia sneers at the troll. <<A demon.>>
“It was Grim’s body, Ana! It was him!” She shudders the smallest bit at the troll’s touch. “I just want to wake up from this nightmare.”
Anarchaia’s jaw tightens as she chooses her words carefully. “No. He…he was in there, but none of those actions were his own.” She sobers again. “I-in fact, he…probably was just as—”
<<Does she have a talisman?>> Juliember blurts as she works.
Anarchaia furrows her brow up at the druid. <<Is that even possible?>>
<<Does she be wantin’ to find out the hard way?>>
Anarchaia chews on her cheek and looks back to Kel’ori. “Were… Are you wearing a contraceptive talisman?”
Kel’ori’s eyes round. “Is that even— Could that— Yes! I have one. I have one.” She gives a few triumphant laughs, then frowns and sobs harder. “He’s a monster. Why me?”
Anarchaia sighs and pats her hand. “Evil uses no discrimination, Kel’ori. It could have been anyone.”
Juliember scowls. <<So?>>
<<O-oh! Right. Yes. She has one.>>
The troll rolls her eyes and remains quiet for a long while whilst she works. When finished, she straightens. <<It is done. She just be needin’ rest. Lots of it.>> She smirks. <<And whoever this was, you wouldn’t happen to know how to contact them?>>
Anarchaia scowls up at her. <<You’re lucky she can’t understand you.>>
Juliember chuckles. <<Oh, she can’t? Shame. I’m sure she’d know.>>
Anarchaia conjures a small coin purse filled with gold pieces and hands it over. <<Thank you. Really.>>
The troll pockets the small bag and turns to leave while Anarchaia pulls the blankets over Kel’ori. “I’ll go to the Hall and get you some clothes, okay?”
The blonde mage sniffles and nods, but says nothing as they leave.
Koltira cocks an eyebrow at the door as it opens. “I assume she’s still alive?” He slips a sly wink to the druid.
“As ever,” the troll responds in her slow Thalassian. She gives the quartet a wave and makes down the stairs. <<A pleasure doing business as always.>>
Anarchaia closes the door behind her and sighs. “I-I think she’s going to be fine. Physically. Jules says she needs lots of rest.” She leans against the door and takes a second to collect herself. “I’m running to the Hall quick to grab her some clothes. You guys should just…stay with her.”
Taveth pushes inside immediately to see his sister.
Koltira takes Anarchaia’s hand. “And how are you? I know it’s not the same, but, you’ve been through hell, too.”
Anarchaia furrows her brow and ponders for a while on her words. “I’ll…be fine.” She squeezes his hand and smiles, then leans up to kiss him. “After I get her some new robes, I’ll take you up on those drinks, okay?”
“I’ll meet you in the tavern. This one or the Nightheart tavern?” he chuckles.
Anarchaia ponders. “The Nighthearts’.” She chuckles as well and pats him on the shoulder. “Maybe your buddy will be there.” With a wave, she disappears in a swirl of light. Once at the Hall, she stops the nearest student and gives a nervous titter. “Uh…Kel’ori Nightheart’s room?”
The apprentice sneers. “Third floor. Room seventeen.” She turns away and makes for the stairs before Anarchaia can thank her.
The undead girl calls her gratitude anyway and goes to the directed room. She glances up and down the corridor before using magic to free the lock and step inside. She quickly rummages through Kel’ori’s expansive wardrobe and chooses a pastel lilac dress with matching sandals and cloak. She grabs a clean brassiere and panties and locks the door from the inside before disappearing.
Anarchaia knocks before stepping back into Alisbeth’s room. She gives a small smile and sets the neatly folded clothes at the foot of the bed and goes to pick up her own robes. “Feeling better, yet?” she says on a quiet laugh.
Kel’ori smiles at the outfit on her bed. “Thank you. I, um, think I’m just going to sleep for a while.” She avoids saying anything else about Grimory and closes her eyes, hoping it’s not all she sees behind the lids.
Taveth sighs. “Want me to go, too?”
He casts Anarchaia an apologetic look. “Enjoy your drinks.”
Anarchaia smiles and tilts her head. I don’t think I could rightfully enjoy anything right now. “Thanks. Get well soon, Kel’ori.” She closes the door gingerly and heads for the tavern. Once there she hops to look over the surprisingly large crowd until she finds a set of tall ears and long white hair by the bar. She takes up a seat beside Koltira and gives a tired smile. “All done. Heh.”
Koltira drags the mage into his side and holds her with one arm circling her waist. “Oh good. I hope you don’t mind, I started without you. And got you something.” He sets a large glass of wine in front of her. “Let’s stay off the stronger stuff tonight, right?”
Anarchaia leans against him and eyes the cup placed before. Her smile slowly fades. She turns her head to press her face into his cuirass and wraps her arms around his torso. “I love you so much.”
He pulls her tighter and sets his nose to the top of her head to smell her perfume. “I love you to the ends of Azeroth. And Argus.” He closes his eyes and breathes deeply. “I don’t know what I would have done had he harmed you… I’d… I might have killed Grim on the spot.”
Anarchaia smiles against the metal of his breastplate. “He’d be back, so no harm done, really…?” She gives a faint laugh that fades into a frown. “Jokes aside, he wouldn’t deserve that. It wasn’t his fault.” She sighs, refusing to let go. “He had to suffer through that, too.”
He sighs and swallows his whiskey in one gulp. “Trust me, I understand how he must feel.” He gently swirls the glass on the tabletop with his free hand. “Okay. Let’s try and not talk about this all night. Choose a subject.”
She furrows her brow, curious but wanting to obey his desire for a new topic. Arms still around him and forehead on the side of his chest, she talks into his armor. “If you found a genie’s lamp in the deserts of Uldum, and he gave you three wishes, what would you wish for?”
Koltira smirks. “Easy. Be left alone, just the two of us. Children. And…undo what happened to Kel’ori. What about you?”
Anarchaia sobers but her smile remains. “I’d…wish to be alive again. And be alone with you in the woods with our children. And…” She pauses. “And for our friends to be happy.” She reaches over and takes a sip from her cup.
Koltira smiles down at her. “Well, I know who gets the lamp.”
She grins back but rolls her eyes. “No one because they don’t exist.” A hum of a laugh rings into her cup and she sets it back down. “Okay,” she says, now desperate to talk of other things. “Would you rather…be the strongest person on the planet or the most attractive?” She shoots him a crooked grin. “If you didn’t hold both titles already.”
He chuckles. “Strongest. What about you? Would you rather be the most powerful caster in all the world, or the most beautiful—which you’ll disagree, but I think you already are the latter.”
“Definitely the most powerful. What good has being beautiful ever done Azeroth?” She sighs dreamily. “I don’t think I’d want to be something like Guardian, though. So much responsibility. I’d just disappoint everyone.” She presses her cheek against him. “And you’re right. I do disagree.”
Koltira sighs and stares at the crowded tavern, at the blond Nightheart head behind the counter, at his empty glass. He looks down at Anarchaia and pulls her closer to speak so only she may hear. “What say we head to that house of yours, get trashed on stolen liquor like the good old days, and see if we manage to clean it or burn it down?”
The mage also glances down at the Nightheart sibling—oblivious of his sister’s condition—and frowns. She turns to look up at him and smiles again. “Yes.” Her grin widens and she pushes her face beneath his chin to gently nuzzle against his neck. “And forget to let anyone know where we went.” She finishes her wine and slides from her seat, then extends a hand.
“Mmm, alone for who knows how long…” He takes her hand and stands, drops some gold on the counter, and practically drags the mage from the tavern.