Grimory awakens in the darkness of Alisbeth’s room, time and place a momentary mystery to him. He sits up and glances at the clock, though he cannot see it in the dim light of the street lights outside. “What time is it?” he groans and throws his feet over the edge of the bed.
Alisbeth wraps herself around his back and hugs him. “It’s dark. That’s not a time, but it’s all I know.”
The demon hunter rubs his thumb and forefinger over his eyes and sets a hand on her arm. He sighs. “I won’t leave you again…but…I don’t think anyone is safe around me at this point.”
The death knight frowns and curls tighter around him as though to stop him if he should try to leave. “Then I guess you and I are staying here. Alone. Away from everyone.”
He groans again. “I…don’t think I can do that.”
Alisbeth frowns. “Away from everyone else…or just here with me?”
“I have to go back to Argus. Soon. They’re forcing me.” He rubs his palms over his face. “It’s also kind of my job…”
“Oh.” Alisbeth draws a finger along his tattoos. “Well, if you can’t not go back, but you don’t want to be around others, but there are people everywhere… You know no one hates you, right?
Grimory’s brow furrows. “Yes, they do, Ali. You heard what she said to me.” He frowns. “You’re not safe, either, you know…”
Alisbeth smiles softly and closes her eyes as she presses her cheek to his thigh. “Kel? She’s a bitch. Her opinion doesn’t count.” She sighs and reaches up to touch his horn. “What if I don’t care if I’m safe or not? I was safe once before, you know. Then I died. Maybe safe isn’t a good place to be?”
He reaches up to grab her hand and bring it down to press against his chest. “No. It is.” He sighs. “I…” He shakes his head and stands. “I need to go do something real quick. I promise I’ll come right back after, yeah?”
Alisbeth frowns, though turns to hide it in the dark. “As long as you return.”
He forces a smile and leans down to press a kiss to her cold forehead. “I will. I promise. If not, you can personally come find and kill me yourself, okay?”
“I don’t want to. But okay.”
Grimory chuckles and pushes her hair behind her ear. “See you when I get back.” His smile immediately falters when he turns away and leaves through the balcony doors. After closing them behind him, he sighs and leans against them for a moment before hopping down into the dark streets of Dalaran. The mage guards atop the stairs leading to the Violet Citadel regard him with familiar nod.
“Good evening,” the demon hunter greets, suddenly aware of his disheveled appearance in the presence of someone other than Alisbeth. “I’m looking for Ana. Is she here?”
The man seems to cast a glance at the other across the span of the top step. “Just left, we’re told. On personal leave.”
Grimory furrows his brow slightly. “To where? I need to speak with her.”
“Duskwood,” the man at Grimory’s left says casually and the second guard tilts his head.
“How in gods’ names would you know that?” the first guard says.
“I know things,” the second responds with a shrug.
The first mage sneers in the shadows of his helm. “Duskwood. I guess.”
Grimory closes his eyes to keep himself from rolling them. “Would you mind if I grabbed a teleport there? I’ll pay if that’s import—”
The first guard jumps as the demon hunter disappears in a swirl of light, then casts an incredulous look to his partner.
“He was annoying me,” the second man says and rubs a thumb at a spot on his staff.
“He barely spoke one paragraph!”
The man shrugs. “I like teleporting people.”
The first guard scowls and folds his arms. “Why they let apprentices onto guard duty is well beyond my range of understanding.”
Grimory stumbles as he appears, disoriented, in the middle of a gloomy dirt road. He purses his lips and looks about, then turns around to see a quaint but impressive two-story home with nothing much around it but trees and planted flowers and shrubbery. He takes a step forward to inspect the mailbox and finds a familiar surname painted on the side in elegant scripture. The corner of his lip raises at the implication of the mage guard knowing the exact address he’d wanted to go, but he offers it no further thought and steps up the short stone-lined path to the front door. He hesitates, second guessing himself, then lifts a fist to gently tap at the freshly polished wooden door with his knuckles.
Anarchaia perks, looking up from her work scrubbing clean a dirty, weathered vase with a soft bristled brush in the firelight of the new fireplace. She furrows her brow at Koltira. “I…have no idea who that could be.” She pauses, lowering her work. “Should I answer…?”
Koltira shrugs from his position not far from her, where he’s restoring a wooden rocking chair. “Um…unless you want me to?” He half reaches for Byfrost.
“No no,” Anarchaia stops him with a lifted hand and a chuckle. “I’ll see who it is. Heh.” She makes her way to the door after gently setting her work aside. “Oh…Grim.” She leans out to glance down the path. “How did you…?”
“Some mousy guard teleported me here. Not sure if you should be worried about his knowledge of where you live…” Grimory pushes his messy hair back and straightens, feeling as though he’s in different company when not having to speak to her mask.
The mage’s face falls into an unimpressed scowl. “Mousy, you say. Hm. Fairly certain I know who you’re talking about. He knows where everyone lives. The archivist’s apprentice.”
The demon hunter makes a face of mild discomfort. “That’s…allowed?”
“No. It’s not.”
Grimory hums, then clears his throat and shakes his head. “Uh, I was wondering if I could…speak with you.”
She gives a faint smile. “Of course. Come in. We’re just—”
“Alone. If that’s okay.”
“Oh…uhm. I don’t see why not.” She steps outside and closes the door quietly behind her. “You look awful.”
“I feel awful,” he adds quietly and scratches at the stubble on his cheek. He sighs and folds his arms around himself. “I wanted some advice. And…I can’t trust Ali. She doesn’t want to hurt my feelings badly enough to tell me I’m a monster.”
Anarchaia lifts her eyebrows. “And I do?”
He purses his lips. “I didn’t mean it that way.”
“I assume you’re wondering what to do. After…y’know.” She takes a similar posture and taps the toe of her boot in the dirt.
“I guess.” His slit pupils avoid her face.
Anarchaia inhales deeply, then sighs. “I think…getting some closure with Kel’ori would really—” She stops at the sound of his quiet groan.
“I can’t. I couldn’t.” He reaches a hand up to cover his face with his weathered palm.
She furrows her brow at the dirt beneath his fingernails. “I think if you explain to her about what you went through, as well, she’ll understand.”
“I don’t…” He sighs into the heel of his hand.
She frowns. “What have you been doing all this time?”
“Sitting in my quarters.” He swallows, unable to say the second part, and lowers his hand to look at her. “I haven’t slept until this morning. When I came back to Dalaran to see Ali.”
Her face softens at the glistening of his vibrant green eyes. “Your superiors just allowed you to do that?”
“No, they’re pretty pissed.” He forces a smile. “Shipping me back in the morning. I just…” He looks down. “I wanted to say that you guys probably aren’t all that safe around me and maybe we should go our separate ways from here on out, yeah?”
“Absolutely not.” The mage scowls. “Grim, we’re your friends. We know who you are and what you are—and aren’t—capable of.” Her scowl fades to a soft frown. “We aren’t abandoning you. Especially when you need us most.” She sets a hand on his arm. “Like right now.”
He flinches at her touch and refuses to look up. “I don’t deserve it.”
“Yes, you do.”
“I can’t stop seeing it. When I close my eyes. Her face—” He covers his face with a hand again and turns away.
“Hey, no, don’t. It’s…” Anarchaia pulls his hand away from his face and stops, eyes widening, when the sparkle of a tear rolls down his cheek. “Oh, Grim…”
He turns his head away more to hide the rest of the tears welling in his eyes. He grits his teeth when her arms wrap around his torso. His throat tightens and he swallows. A quiet moment passes and he rubs at his nose with the back of a wrist then sniffles quietly. “You’re right. I should…say something to her…”
Anarchaia pushes her cheek into his back and nods. “I’ll go with you, if you’d like. Try to get her to see reason…”
He shakes his head. “No. It’s…fine.” With a heavy sigh he collects himself. “I should get back.”
The mage steps away and frowns, brow furrowed upward. “Are you sure? You could come in…”
“No. Really. You two have your little renovation or whatever, yeah?”
“Nonsense,” she says with a gentle smile and grabs him by the wrist. “We have running water. It’s not warm because the heater in the cellar needs fixing, but I can heat it for you. And drinks, of course.”
Grimory cringes as he’s pulled inside, then swallows a sigh at the sight of Koltira in the living room. He clears his throat and shifts to a more casual position, then lifts a hand. “Uh. Hey. Heh.”
Anarchaia holds up a hand to conjure a glass that’s then filled with whiskey. She pushes it into his hand. “I’ll get a bath going for you, okay? You just wait right here.” She turns and disappears up the staircase.
Koltira lifts his own glass as salute to the demon hunter. “You here to help or just to make the house look better by comparison?”
The Illidari runs his free palm over his mouth, his weathered fingers scratching against his five o’clock shadow. “More of the latter, I imagine.” He looks around, desperate to make conversation and take attention away from himself. “You guys are doing a bang-up job. I assume. I don’t know what this place looked like beforehand.”
“Like a minor apocalypse had happened. Here.” He slides a kitchen chair beside him and drops sandpaper beside it. “Just until Ana is ready for you.”
A small smile crosses Grimory’s lips and he sets himself on the floor. He sets the whiskey aside, unable to stomach it at the moment, and sets to work sanding the aged, worn finish off a leg of the chair. “Then yeah, it looks great. Nearly habitable.”
Koltira chuckles. “Nearly.” He says nothing for a minute, then takes a contemplative breath. “I like to keep my hands busy. It helps me…cope. I know it’s not the same thing, but…I often find myself dwelling on things my body did against my wishes.” He avoids looking at the man as though doing so will spook him.
Grimory’s ears pull back and a faint panic fills his eyes but he otherwise makes no indication that the words faze him. “I…imagine that’s good advice. Heh.” The lump in his throat jerks as he swallows and turns the chair to get a better angle. “I’ve heard stories about the death knights. And their…plights.”
“I hope you’ll forgive Ana for telling me of yours. My opinion was not a good one, but I understand, now. A warrior I once knew would say you’re just bad at being a demon hunter…because you’re too strong an elf.” He runs his thumb along a rough edge on the curve of the rocker.
Grimory’s features soften and he inhales quietly. “I can’t say I believe that. To be honest that just sounds like some bullshit to make someone feel better.” His eyes flick to the other man for a brief moment. “No offense.”
“She sure believed it. Still does. Hell, I went through four years of torture because of it. But maybe you’re right and it’s bullshit. Which leaves me as probably the worst death knight in history, and you as some fool who can’t wrangle his own demon—literally.” He swallows a drink and glances sideways at the man. “Personally, I prefer the former explanation.”
Grimory says nothing for a long while and gets to work on the second leg. “I guess.” A thump and a quiet expletive from the ceiling cause his ears to perk then relax. “I figure the logical thing to do would be to train. To get better.” He pauses. “Or end it so no one has to deal with the world’s worst demon hunter ever again.”
Koltira purses his lips. “But then they win. End it and the shadows are victorious—in your case demons. I don’t know about you, but I’m too competitive to let those bastards best me.” He smirks at the demon hunter, then returns to smoothing the rough edges of the chair.
“How do you deal with them in the mean time?” the demon hunter asks casually, not looking up from his work.
Koltira shrugs. “Distractions. Keeping busy. Ali helped…a lot. Now, though, Ana is much better for me. I warn you, though, you will never not see the faces of those you’ve hurt. Just hope your number stays low. I lost count.” He closes his eyes and lets out a breath. “You’re lucky you can try making amends with this one. I recommend it.”
Grimory nods after a few seconds. “Yeah. Ana convinced me that it’s what I should do.” He sighs and starts on the third leg. “Sorry you’re so experienced with this.”
The death knight shrugs. “It’s life now. If you need someone to talk to…I can try to help. Don’t push your friends away, you’ll only make it worse.”
Grimory’s brow furrows slightly and he says nothing. When he’s halfway through the last leg of the chair, Anarchaia’s light footsteps come down the stairs. “Okay, all set for you. Had to put a heat retainment charm on the basin. Heh.”
“Is that what was taking so long?” the demon hunter says with a small smile.
“Well that and I was eavesdropping. Heh.” She takes the sandpaper from him and gently pushes him toward the stairs when he stands. “Towels in the cabinet along with soap and oils.”
“I get it. I’m dirty. Thank you.”
She chuckles as he disappears up the steps, then sighs and drops into his spot on the floor to continue his work. “Well that was depressing,” she says quietly, frowning. “That poor man.”
Koltira nods and sighs. “He seems resistant to being helped. Not that I blame him. I suppose the comparison was weak to begin with, hmm? He raped a girl. All I did was help murder my kin and countless humans.”
Anarchaia purses her lips up at him. “At least their suffering ended there. And they weren’t necessarily your friends whom you’ll probably see time and time again afterward.” The sandpaper makes easy work of the rest of the chair on its own. “But you’re right. At least he has the opportunity to…make amends, I guess. At least he agreed to that.”
Koltira doesn’t move for a moment as he scrutinizes the wood under his fingertips and thinks. “It doesn’t matter what was done, though. Losing your own will…watching helplessly from a cage in the back of your mind…it’s not something one can just come back from. It haunts you because you can’t turn off feeling it happen. Honestly, I think even him in this state is a facade, hiding just how broken he feels right now.” He chews on his lower lip and turns to look into Anarchaia’s eye. “Watch him closely. I lost some good comrades once our will was restored—and it wasn’t war which took them.”
The mage sighs and stands to stride over and sit beside him while he speaks. She picks up the vase she’d been working on and frowns, then turns to him with wide eyes and a furrowed brow at his last words. “You…you think he’s at risk of killing himself?”
Koltira shrugs. “I don’t know him well enough, I don’t think, to guess if he would. But it wouldn’t surprise me.”
Her frown deepens. “I…” She sighs and looks down at the vase in her hands, staring into her own reflection. She hesitates. “I’m worried, now. He…” She pauses, unsure if she should divulge, then lowers her voice. “I’ve never seen him cry before, Kolt. We should keep an eye on him. He can’t permanently kill himself anywhere but the Twisting Nether, so if he’s always with us…”
The death knight abandons his project to slide closer to her and wrap an arm around her shoulders. “I know he means a lot to you, so I’ll…do my best to keep an eye on him. I know you’re sensitive about it, but, having Alisbeth in on this—without telling her why, of course—would be wise. He’d never spend another moment alone.” He half chuckles.
She purses her lips, but her face remains somber as she looks up at him. “For me? You don’t consider him a friend? His death would mean nothing to you?” She sighs and brings her hand up to his before he can react. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that. This is all just so stressful. And I agree that Ali would be a useful asset…”
“It would affect me, just not nearly as much as you. He and I… I wanted to be his friend, but it seems we always end up going for the throat.” He sets a gentle kiss on her temple. “So, yes, I’ll do this for you.”
“Well, thank you.” She smiles but avoids looking up at him. “I’ll see if I can’t secretly explain to Alisbeth that she needs to not leave him alone.” She perks at the sound of footfalls coming down the stairs and directs her smile to Grimory.
“Thanks,” he says tiredly as he styles his newly washed hair. “This all wasn’t really necessary…”
Anarchaia stands and goes to him. “What are friends for? Heh.” She lifts her hands to the short hairs still on his cheeks and fire explodes between her palms and his skin. He jerks and stumbles away quickly, hands on his face as the faint smell of burning hair wafts up. “Sorry,” she chuckles. “I should have warned you first.”
He rubs at the warm, smooth skin of his jawline and chuckles. “No. That’s…convenient.”
“Can we get you anything else?” she continues, fiddling with her fingers.
“No. I…think I should get going back, actually. I’m sure Ali’s worried.”
“Oh! You’ve been to her already. Good! Uh… I’ll send you to Undercity and you can get to Dalaran from there if that’s acceptable.”
He nods and gives Koltira a quick glance. “Thanks again. Both of you.” Anarchaia sighs as he disappears in a swirl of light.
Koltira blinks after the demon hunter. “I assume this means we have to go back, now?”
The mage looks at the clock near the fireplace, then smiles. “We have a few hours before sunrise…”
Koltira hums. “How much refurbishing do you think we can get done in a few hours?”
She takes up her spot beside him again and picks up the vase and rag. “Oh, I don’t know. Some. Unless you have a less productive idea.”
One corner of his mouth jerks up to smile. “I might…”
~ * ~
Grimory lands lightly on the balcony of the Legerdemain Lounge, then pushes inside quietly. “Hey. I’m back.” He narrows his eyes in the darkness and closes the door. “You…are still here, yeah?”
Alisbeth’s little blizzards of her eyes pop up over the blanket’s edge. “Of course, I’m still here. If I left, then you couldn’t find me. If you can’t find me, how can you not leave me?”
He smiles and sits on the edge of his unofficial side of the bed. “Sound logic.” He sighs and stares into the blue lights of her eyes glowing in the darkness. “Thank you, by the way. For being there for me, I mean.” His smile fades some and turns somber. “I’m sorry I left.”
She smiles and curls around him like she had before. “Did you get your thing done?”
He frowns, suddenly feeling guilty for not trusting her. “Yeah. I wasn’t gone too long, was I? Heh.”
She grins up at him and presses a cheek to his thigh. “I counted, and it wasn’t that long. You want to go back to sleep?”
He returns the grin. “No, I…” He pauses. I can talk to Kel’ori later… “I’d rather just sit here with you.” He flicks one of her white tresses into her face and over her eyes then chuckles. “At least until I have to go.”
She smiles and wraps her arms around to hug his thigh. She rubs her nose into his trousers as her hair tickles across it. “Where are you going this time?” She whispers, “Is it another secret?”
“Back to Argus,” he responds quietly. “Or I’ll be discharged.”
She giggles again. “It’s cute that you think you’re going without me.” She sits up to wrap her arms under his, her legs around him and her chest to his back. “You can’t get rid of me that easy, horny-boy.”
He sobers a bit and brings a hand up to rest on her knee while he stares into the darkness. “You’re really not afraid? What if…” He swallows, finding he can’t say the words.
Alisbeth sets her fingertip to his lips, even though he’d stopped himself. “But nothing. No, I’m not afraid. You’re not going to hurt me. Or anyone else. I believe in you. Why don’t you?”
“Because I couldn’t stop it last time,” he says into her finger. “I was caught completely off guard, and nothing will stop it from happening again.” I could always just shackle Taveth to myself. “Because I don’t believe in myself,” he finishes quietly.
“Then it’s a good thing your opinion doesn’t count. I’m not afraid of you and I never will be. I’m going to Argus, whether you want me to or not.” She locks her arms around him and squeezes tight.
The demon hunter remains silent for a long time, then gives a single, breathy laugh. “I guess I’m stuck with you, then.” He frowns and knits his blond brow. “I want you to promise me something, though. If I ever lose control again, you need to kill me.”
The death knight’s throat closes and she grits her teeth. “You’re not going to.”
He turns his head to look at the lights of her eyes from the corner of one of his own. “I mean it, Ali. And you don’t have to worry, I won’t stay dead forever, remember?”
She shakes her head against his back and swallows away the knot as best she can. “No.”
He furrows his brow again. “Why not? You’d rather what happened last time happen again? Or worse? The rest of you won’t come back if you’re killed.”
She whimpers between his shoulder blades. “I can’t. I’m not strong enough.”
He squeezes her knee in his fingers and brings the other hand up to grab hers. “Even knowing I’ll be back? That you’ll be protecting your friends and family?”
Alisbeth says nothing, just releases the demon hunter and slips from the bed to crawl underneath. Her tears roll across the bridge of her nose as she curls into a ball, her shoulder nearly pressed to the underside of the bed above her.
Grimory frowns and watches her go but does not follow. He presses his face into his palms, elbows on his knees, then pulls his ears back at the sound of her sniffling. “Ali, please don’t cry. I know it’s hard. I…need you to be strong.”
“But I’m not,” she says, her voice thick as she tries to hold back her crying. “I can’t. Ask someone else. Someone who doesn’t… Ask Koltira.”
He sobers. “Fine. I will,” he responds and scoffs quietly. “I’m sure he’d have no trouble.”
“Okay,” Alisbeth whispers.
“Come back out.” He reaches a hand down to where she can see it. “We’ll lie together until morning, yeah?”
She inches closer, but stops. “Only if you promise not to make me kill you.” She cries harder at the thought and reaches out to take his hand and grip it as though letting go will kill him.
He frowns at the strength she’s using to hold onto him and sighs. With ease he pulls her out from under the bed and lifts her into his lap. “I promise,” he whispers, resting his chin atop her head.
Alisbeth rubs her palm over her eyes and snuggles into him. “I want to go back to having fun. I don’t like when you’re upset.”
“I do, too.” He leans back, pulling her down to lie atop him and sighs. “Everything will be back to normal eventually…” He lifts his arms to lace his fingers beneath his head. I hope.
She stretches to lie beside him and rest her head on his bicep. “Promise?”
The corners of his lips tighten as he stares up at the ceiling. “Do you want me to lie?”
Alisbeth sighs. “No. I just want you to promise. Things will get better.”
“I can’t promise that. I’m…I’m sorry.”
Alisbeth closes her eyes to the darkness and says nothing.