Book 5 – Chapter Twenty-Three

Anarchaia strides over to the other two boredly sitting on boulders. “We have our destination. Ready for adventure?”

Kel’ori sighs. “No.” She stands and dusts off her rear anyway.

Koltira stands to join Anarchaia’s side. “Where are we going?”

Anarchaia frowns at Kel’ori and resists a sad sigh. “Destiny Point,” she says, her voice giving nothing away. “Sounds epic, right?” She drags the two down the path with her. “Not sure how long it’ll take.” She conjures a map and hands it to Koltira. “You seem to be good at that.”

Grimory nods and takes up the rear of the queue beside Alisbeth. Maybe some demon slaughter will make me feel better…

Koltira smirks and hands the map back. “South. Just under a day, depending on interruptions.”

Kel’ori stiffens at the demon hunter behind her and grabs tightly to Koltira’s arm. The death knight jerks but doesn’t break free. Taveth pries his sister from the elf and grimaces as she locks her hands around his bicep.

“Heh. You all right?”

Kel’ori purses her lips. “He’s right behind me.”

Taveth rolls his eyes skyward.

The corners of Grimory’s mouth tighten as his ears pick up on the conversation only feet in front of him and he slows to put even more distance between himself and the others. He stares at the ground before him as he walks.

Anarchaia pretends not to notice but pity floods her heart for both the other mage and the Illidari. She forces a smile. “Hey, that’s not too bad. The less time we’re here the better, right?” she chuckles awkwardly.

Koltira sighs, but nods. “It’ll go faster if everyone can get along.”

Anarchaia frowns up at him. <<Well they refuse to talk to one another, so I don’t see that happening anytime soon.>> She scowls. “He said he would…”

Alisbeth pushes the marsuul into the demon hunter’s arms. “Give him a snuggle. It helps.” She smiles encouragingly.

Grimory blinks down at the animal in his arms and furrows his brow. “No, that’s not happening.” He places it on his shoulder and it curls around the back of his neck and chews at his earlobe. He hisses and pokes it in the nose. “Quit it.”

Alisbeth giggles and scratches under the critter’s chin. “Does Grim taste yummy?”

The marsuul chirps and bats at Alisbeth’s finger.

Koltira shakes his head. “Yeah, told me, too.” He looks back at the others, frustration building inside him.

Taveth pulls on Kel’ori’s hand. “Stop squeezing so hard.”

Anarchaia sighs. <<It’s a good thing this is business and not pleasure. Because this is a terrible vacation.>>

~ * ~

The day wears on and the group finds themselves traveling through a narrow ravine. The lack of food and sleep begin to weigh heavily on the demon hunter and he lags farther and farther behind. Every so often he finds himself nodding off and the critter on his shoulder nips at his ear and he jerks back awake.

Alisbeth’s face slowly turns into an endless scowl as Grimory’s awareness declines. She wraps an arm around his waist, allowing him to lean on her when his feet waver. “How much farther?” she finally asks. “Grim needs to rest.”

Kel’ori scoffs quietly. “Who cares if that mons—”

“Okay, shut up,” Taveth growls. “You know what? I’m sick of your attitude, Kel.” He rips her hand from his arm and shakes it out, trying to regain some feeling in his fingers. “If I can promise that as long as you and Grimory stay by me, will you shut your bratty mouth about him?”

Kel’ori steps back, her eyes wide and a palm on her chest. “Excuse me? He’s the one that—”

“No, he’s not!” Alisbeth screams and kicks a rock in the mage’s direction. It tumbles to a stop just in front of her robes.

“All right, that’s enough!” Anarchaia hisses, keeping her voice to a manageable volume lest shouting attract unwanted attention. “This is ridiculous. We’re all required to be here, so don’t you think it best to just make amends over this? Don’t you want to finish this assignment in peace?”

Grimory looks up for the briefest of moments before returning his eyes to the dirt. He gently pushes himself off Alisbeth’s shoulder and folds his arms, but ultimately says nothing.

“Why should I—” Kel’ori begins.

“Answer my question,” Taveth growls. “If I can guarantee everyone’s safety as long as Grim stays near me, will you shut up?”

She scoffs. “And how are you—”

Taveth withdraws the Spine of Thal’kiel and the mage squeaks and leaps back, her hands out as though to stop him from coming at her. The flame-engulfed skull shimmers into existence over Taveth’s shoulder.

<<Oh, aren’t we a cheery bunch? Did someone die? Was it wonderful?>>

“No one died,” Taveth grumbles.

Whatthehellisthat?” Kel’ori hisses.

The skull swirls around the mage, sniffing her with interest. <<Oh, yes, interesting. It’s like you with breasts.>> He chuckles at his own joke. <<Does this one speak Eredun? Or is she as incompetent as the really smelly one?>>

“Now, that’s just uncalled for,” Taveth complains.

Kel’ori cringes. “Did it just say I look like my brother?”

<<Siblings! How quaint. Didn’t know this was a family affair.>> He zips over to examine Grimory. <<Well, this one isn’t doing so great, is he? Looks more pathetic than usual.>>

<<Fuck off,>> Grimory spits at the skull as irritatedly as he can through the haze of weariness.

“Okay,” Taveth hisses. “Can we please stop insulting everyone for just a minute.”

“Taveth, what the hell is that thing?” Kel’ori demands again.

Taveth stares at his feet as he floods with sudden shame. “Thal’kiel. I was doing some research on warlocks for a compilation and…accidentally found the spine dagger. I’m…a warlock.”

Alisbeth’s face contorts to one of horror as she shrinks away from the skull and hides herself behind the demon hunter.

Anarchaia bristles and squares her shoulders. “Smelly? Surely you don’t mean me.”

Thal’kiel flies close to the mage, then ricochets from nothing just in front of her. He makes a gagging noise. <<Yes, you. The stench is so overwhelming. It’s a travesty that things like you exist. Ugh! Mages.>>

Koltira watches the scene with mild interest, somewhat glad to be getting more answers. “So, how does this help?”

Taveth takes a deep breath as all eyes turn to him. “When we were fighting that water elemental on that island, Eye of Azshara, Grim pushed himself too far after Ana and Edrah fell unconscious and Ali was disarmed and…very distracted. Spinewing was able to break free, then, too. He was going to kill us all.”

<<Oh, yes! That was such a fine day. Though, I really did want to see all of you dismembered.>> Thal’kiel says, slowly circling Koltira.

“Can you just…not. For five minutes?”

The skull chuckles. <<No, no I can’t. This one is practically a demon himself. What do you call this one? He’s like that other, the one that grabbed me.>>

Taveth’s brow lowers in annoyance. “Koltira. He’s a death knight. Don’t ask, I’ll tell you later—if you let me finish.” He waits for a minute and when he gets no reply, he sighs with relief. “Long story short, just before Spinewing was able to choke the life out of me, I…enslaved him.”

Kel’ori sneers at the demon hunter. “You choked my brother?”

“It was Spinewing!” Taveth shouts, putting himself between them. “It’s a separate consciousness from Grim’s. I don’t understand why you don’t get that!”

Koltira clears his throat. “So, uh… Again, relevance?”

Grimory looks at Kel’ori for only a second before looking away again at literally anything else.

“Taveth can dismiss Spinewing whenever he’s broken free,” Anarchaia explains quietly, sneering at the floating skull. “…amongst other things.”

“What kind of ‘other things’ can you do?” Kel’ori demands. “What do you mean dismiss him?”

Taveth sighs. “I send him back so Grimory can regain control of his body.”

“And the other things?”

The elf purses his lips and looks to Anarchaia. “Oh, heh, it’s n-nothing, really.”

“Tabbef?” Alisbeth squeaks from behind Grimory. “You’re a warlock? But…warlocks are evil. I don’t want you to be evil, Tav.”

The skull flies at the death knight and she dives behind a boulder. <<He’s not evil. It’s repulsive. Hey, I’m talking to you!>> He chases her down and she scrabbles away. <<He is the worst thing to ever happen to warlocks.>>

“What is it saying?” she shrieks.

Taveth’s shoulders sag. “That I’m the worst thing to ever happen to warlocks and I disgust him and all sorts of insulting nonsense. I’m not evil, Ali. It was an accident, I promise.”

Grimory grabs the skull by the back of its cranium and plucks it out of the air pulling it away from Alisbeth. His strong fingers hold even as Thal’kiel does his best to wiggle free and screeches Eredun obscenities.

Anarchaia looks between Taveth and Kel’ori and fidgets. She swallows. “He…can control him.”

Koltira’s eyes light, but his face remains set. “Prove it.”

Taveth squirms but says nothing.

Kel’ori folds her arms under her chest. “Show us and I’ll shut up.”

The elf flinches and turns to Grimory. “I’m so sorry. Grim, come over here and hold Koltira’s hand.”

The Illidari immediately saunters to Koltira and releases Thal’kiel to take the death knight’s hand in his own. He flushes and scowls, avoiding eye contact. “Sorry,” he murmurs.

Anarchaia grins and brings her fingertips to her lips.

Koltira immediately jerks his hand away. “Very funny. How do we know Grim isn’t in on it?”

Grimory gives him a bemused glare and grabs Koltira’s hand before it gets too far. “You think I want to hold your hand? Get over yourself.”

Koltira makes a face and pulls his hand away again. “Could you stop?”

Taveth chuckles and waves a hand. “Okay, Grim. Come sit on this boulder and set your palm on your scalp.”

“No. I can’t.” Grimory scowls and tiredly does as he’s commanded, sitting upon the large rock and running his fingers through his hair to rest his hand on his head. “How much more of this?” he grunts.

Alisbeth sits up from behind the rock and wraps her arms around the demon hunter. “Let him go, Tav. That’s mean!”

“You can stop,” he says. He purses his lips. “It is mean, that’s why I only did it once as a test. Kel, Grim is my friend and I know he would never harm a single one of us. But just in case, I’ll make sure Spinewing never makes it out again.”

Thal’kiel chuckles evilly. <<Spinewing wound shred all of you into smelly little strips without stopping to so much as see you’re all elves…and a…whatever you are.>> He hovers in front of Anarchaia for a minute to inspect her.

Taveth purses his lips. “I think you’ve overstayed your non-welcome.” He shoves the dagger into his pack. “Does that satisfy everyone? Can we go?”

Kel’ori eyes the demon hunter. “You…stay where Tav can see you. Got it?”

Grimory lowers his hand back to his side and stands. For the first time he looks Kel’ori in the eyes, brow knit. He nods.

Anarchaia sighs. “Perhaps we should take a break, though.” She conjures a chilled cup of water and lifts her mask to drink. “Only a short one. Grim obviously needs rest.”

“I’m fine,” the demon hunter mutters and folds his arms.

“We’re nearly there,” Koltira says. “Then all you living folk can have a picnic or something.”

Kel’ori whimpers. “I second that. I’d love food.”

Anarchaia shrugs, irritated by the demon hunter’s adamance. “Fine, then. Let’s keep at it.” She turns and heads back up the path.

Grimory waits for the rest to follow before following himself. The animal on his shoulder gives a long, apprehensive squeak and sets its head down.

“What’s wrong, Snarky?” Alisbeth scratches under its chin, her own apprehensive gaze bouncing between the creature and the demon hunter.

Taveth slows to walk beside Grimory. “I’m sorry about that. I really am. I feel so terrible for making you do those things. And just now I…I just wanted Kel’ori to let go of my arm and…feel safe.”

Alisbeth purses her lips and stares at the ground. “You’re a warlock,” she says.

He skirts behind the demon hunter to set a hand on her shoulder. “I’m not—”

“Don’t touch me.” She jerks away from him and runs ahead to walk with the others.

“It’s fine,” Grimory grumbles, too tired to say much else. He grits his teeth and watches Alisbeth as she skitters away. A heavy sigh escapes him. “She’ll get over it, Tav. I’ll speak with her…alone.” The marsuul on his shoulder lifts its head to sniff at Taveth when his arm gets close enough, neck stretched to where it has to scramble to stay atop.

Taveth holds out a hand for the critter to sniff. “This is why I don’t tell anyone. I wish I’d never found this confounded dagger. Just be regular Taveth, the weak little scholar.”

“You’re not much different,” Grimory responds tiredly. “Still a weak, little scholar.”

Snuffles cautiously takes hold of Taveth’s fingers, then pushes itself from Grimory’s shoulder and up the high elf’s arm where it chews at the collar of Taveth’s shirt.

Taveth flails, then freezes as the critter’s claws clamp onto his shoulder to hold on. “Don’t! Don’t eat that!” He gently pushes at its nose with the backs of his fingers. “Could you. No. Stop. That’s not food! Grim, feed it something!”

Grimory can’t help smiling. “Oh, I dunno. You were pretty mean to me. Making me hold Kolt’s hand and all…”

Taveth walks close enough for his shoulder to touch Grimory’s arm and proceeds to try urging the marsuul back up onto the demon hunter. “This is hardly fair, I didn’t—stop chewing on my shirt!—destroy anything. It was harmless hand-holding.”

Grimory lifts a brow. “Nothing but my pride.” He grins again as the creature abandons Taveth’s shirt to chew on a tress of his hair instead. “Maybe you just taste good.”

“G-get—ow!” Taveth shouts and squirms as the creature pulls on his hair. “Grim, I demand you take your pet back!”

Grimory immediately grabs the marsuul from Taveth’s shoulder, then lowers his eyelids and purses his lips. Snuffles cries out in protest and flails its short, clawed feet.

Anarchaia frowns as Alisbeth approaches. “Ali, he’s still your cousin. Doesn’t that matter?”

“Seriously,” Kel’ori says, “I mean, it’s just Tav. He’s harmless even as a warlock. Why do you suddenly hate him?”

“I don’t hate him,” Alisbeth says quietly.

Koltira purses his lips and very casually veers sideways to push Kel’ori away from the others to speak in tones low enough only for the two of them. “Alisbeth was murdered by a forsaken priest and warlock, who tortured her for an entire day before she died.”

“So…she’s afraid of him?” Kel’ori whispers, her eyes wide.

Koltira nods and steers her back to the group, then he wraps an arm around Anarchaia’s shoulders. “One problem solved and another in its place. Yes. This is good…”

The heel of Anarchaia’s boot catches in the soft soil and she stumbles, grabbing onto Koltira as not to fall. She straightens with an embarrassed chuckle. “Yeah. Good. At least no one’s getting hurt, right? Heh.” She sobers though continues to smile. “Heh…”

Koltira chuckles. “Are you wearing heels? I… Are you going to break your neck? Should I just carry you?”

Alisbeth looks back, biting her lip as she fights a laugh over the rodent situation, determined to stay upset at her cousin.

Anarchaia straightens and folds her arms. She pouts. “No. I can walk just fine in heels. I do it all the time, in fact. Just not when I’m—” She yelps as she stumbles again, this time catching herself on the jutting spike of his pauldron. She frowns. “…adventuring.”

Koltira laughs and sweeps the mage into his arms. “You’ve given me no choice. I’m sorry, but I can’t allow a pair of shoes to be your downfall.”

Kel’ori cringes. “Sorry. I thought they’d be fine… I mean, your robe isn’t dragging, right? Ugh, I’m so hungry. Should’ve finished my breakfast.”

Anarchaia gives another bright chirp of surprise, then huffs and folds her arms, pouting again. “This isn’t necessary. And no, the robes are still clean. I’ve been doing my best to keep them as such.” She frowns. “Nobody wanted to stop for a break. We’re almost there, however. Can you wait a couple hours or so?”

Kel’ori rubs her stomach as it aches and growls. “I feel like my stomach is going to eat itself. Ugh! I would kill for that bacon right now.” She whines and pouts through her nose. “How much farther? I’m absolutely starving. I could eat a whole…” she looks around, “goat thing? D’you think a large enough pyroblast would cook a whole goat-thing and then we can just…” She purses her lips and goes quiet as Alisbeth and Koltira both stare at her with an eyebrow raised.

Anarchaia’s fingers twitch against her arms. “All right, we can stop.” She hops from Koltira’s grasp and lifts a hand to conjure a table of pastries and iced water. “We don’t need to kill the local wildlife. Gods’ know what they even taste like, anyway. Or if they’re endangered and this is their only habitat.”

Alisbeth turns and tuts at the little critter. “Now, now, Sergei, there’s no need for that.” She scratches behind its ear. “I think he’s hungry, too.”

Taveth inspects his collar while moving away from the demon hunter. “I’m sorry, Grim. I really am, but I don’t have a billion shirts lying around, okay? I’m a scholar, I can’t afford to—Kel, that cake is only going to make it—”

“Shut your face!” Kel’ori shouts at him, grabbing a handful of little cakes. She shoves one as far into her mouth as she can and bites down. After a few chews she stops and looks at it. A look of distress crosses her face as she debates how undignified and rude it would be to turn around and spit out the cake. She forces herself to chew it and swallows as though it’s the most difficult thing she’s ever done. The mage coughs and sets the other cakes back on the table, tossing the bitten one behind her. She grins at anyone watching, as though what she’d just done was nothing to look at.

Grimory grunts in response and sets the animal back on his own shoulder. He waits for Kel’ori to take what she wants and grabs a pastry and cup of water for himself, then goes to sit as far away from the group as possible while still remaining in eyesight.

Anarchaia furrows her brow and tilts her head at the other mage. “Is there something wrong with the cakes?” She takes one and lifts her mask to lick at the sugary cream on the top. “Tastes fine…” As far as I know.

Kel’ori makes a face of disgust as the other mage licks the cream. “I…think they’re a little…wrong? Eh-heh. Old maybe?” She brushes her hands off as though any lingering bit of cake will jump into her mouth. “Guess I’m waiting. Heh. Ha ha.” She groans after her forced laugh and drops into the dirt to set her chin in her hands and pout. The goat just yards away bleets and she glares at it.

Anarchaia fidgets as she looks for a comfortable spot to sit that won’t get her new robes dirty. She lifts a palm to an empty space and in a flash of sparkles her worn beanbag chair appears. She sets herself in it and continues licking idly at the frosting on her cake. “I could get you something else. Toast? Pancakes? I know where the kitchens keep their produce…”

Kel’ori’s eyes sparkle with interest. “Oh! Um… I don’t want to impose, but… Just something light, maybe? A snack?”

Taveth takes a glass of ice water and sits himself casually on a small edge of the beanbag chair. “I told you the cakes were a bad idea. Drink some water, it’ll help.”

Kel’ori leans over and takes a water from the tray, but shoots her brother a dirty look all the same.

Alisbeth sits beside Grimory and leans a head on his shoulder. “Hey.”

“Tastes fine to me,” Grimory adds quietly as though he cannot help adding his opinion but is sure no one cares. He smiles at the woman on his shoulder when she rests against him. “Hey.”

Snuffles takes the opportunity to turn and skitter into Alisbeth’s head where it makes iself comfortable amongst her locks.

Alisbeth giggles and reaches up to tickle along the marsuul’s side. “You silly thing!”

The animal chitters in alarm and claws at Alisbeth’s invading fingers.

Grimory holds out the remaining bite of his cake to Alisbeth. “Want some?” he says, half joking, then jerks and purses his lips when the marsuul snatches it up and makes short work of it, leaving crumbs in Alisbeth’s hair.

Alisbeth laughs as crumbs rain into her face. She pinches her eyes closed and pets Snuffles. “Who’s my little cake snatcher? Do you want more cakes?”

Anarchaia scoots over a bit to give Taveth more room and upturns a palm; it fills with a small plate stacked with shortbread spread with creamed cheese and a sprinkling of chives. “Oh. This was supposed to be finger sandwiches. It must be near lunch. Oh well.” The plate floats and finds its way to Kel’ori’s lap.

Taveth smiles at the mage and adjusts his narrow frame beside her. “You’re so accomodating,” he says with a laugh.

Kel’ori looks at the plate in her lap with a look of defeat the other mage can’t see. She picks up one of the squares and bite tentatively into the side. Her face pinches. “I’m…not a chive fan,” she says, but eats one anyway.

“Big enough for both of us,” the undead girl says with a smile, then gives Kel’ori a half-lidded stare. “What are you a fan of? Apples? Meat rations? Dried bananas?” She takes one last lick of her cake before sending it floating to the critter on Alisbeth’s head; it happily snatches and makes messy work of it.

“I do like apples and candied bananas,” Kel’ori says. “Meat rations are too tough. I like the bacon they have on the Vindicar.” She takes a shuddering bite of another shortbread and coughs as her throat tries to return the previous one. “I’ll be fine,” she squeaks.

Anarchaia purses her lips, clearly not buying it. She conjures an apple and tosses it to the girl while the tray in her lap disappears. “I’d get you weird Argus bacon but I don’t feel right stealing…without permission.”

Kel’ori looks at her now empty fingers, then catches the apple before it hits her in the face. “Oh. Thank you. Really, you didn’t have to.” She bites intot he apple and forces herself to not cringe as a sandy texture and bland taste swirl into her mouth. She manages to smile. “You really didn’t have to.”

Anarchaia purses her lips and gives up. She folds her arms and brings a cup of water to herself to drink.

Grimory does his best to pull some of the frosting from Alisbeth’s hair, scowling when Snuffles tries to bite him as he does so. “Stop it. I’m not playing.”

Alisbeth giggles and manages to get a gob of frosting on her finger to swipe onto the tip of Grimory’s nose.

Grimory grunts in annoyance, then leans down to squish his nose against hers, grabbing her by the front of her armor so she can’t squirm away.

Alisbeth squeals and jerks her head back, causing the marsuul to scramble frantically and dig its claws into her scalp and forehead. The death knight screams and yanks at the critter with one hand as she pushes Grimory away with the other.

Grimory blinks and pulls away. He grabs the animal from her head and replaces it on his head. He sighs and wipes the frosting from his nose with the back of a hand. “Sorry,” he mumbles then flinches when Snuffles, still hyper with excitement, bites his ear.

Alisbeth frowns deeply at him and shoves herself under his arm. “Don’t be said. Please.”

Grimory can’t restrain a chuckle and drapes an arm over her shoulders. “I’m not sad. Just didn’t mean to hurt you.”

Alisbeth giggles. “You didn’t hurt me, silly! Snarfblat did. I just scared him, is all. Am I bleeding?”

Grimory examines her scalp and shakes his head. “Just a few scratches. I think you’ll live…heh. I mean…you know what I mean.”

“I’ll unlive?” Alisbeth asks, grinning.

Grimory chuckles again and fixes her hair. “Yes you’ll—damnit stop biting me!” He flicks Snuffles in the ear and it squeaks and bites at his knuckles instead.

Alisbeth grabs the marsuul and pulls it to her chest, holding it tightly in her grasp. “You knock that off, you ornery little brat! I will feed you to that goat, you hear me?”

Snuffles squeaks again in defiance and kicks its legs.

Grimory smiles. “Makes me miss Diori,” he says quietly enough for the two of them to hear.

Alisbeth smiles, her eyes lighting up. “I miss her, too. I bet she’d love Shuffles!”

The Illidari nods. “Yeah. She would. I…don’t know if we can bring him back with us, though.”

Alisbeth makes a face. “I’ll hide him in my bag.” She squishes her cheek to Snuggles and rubs her face up and down.

Grimory gives a sad chuckle and shakes his head. “No I mean I don’t think we have the means to take care of him there. Azeroth isn’t his home.”

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