Book 5 – Chapter Twenty-Eight

“You bitch!” Alisbeth leaps at the sorceress, bringing her Maw down at the elbow which had hit Grimory in the face.

Kel’ori screams angrily and balls her fists. “I just want to help!” She stomps her foot and a sparking purple shield surrounds her. The color shifts like oil in the rain around her unamused expression.

Koltira sets a gentle kiss on Anarchaia’s forehead. “Stop getting lit on fire. Now, light her on fire.” He runs back to swing Byfrost at another of the woman’s arms.

Anarchaia chortles and gives a curt salute. “Yes, Captain Deathweaver.” She blasts the demoness with flames, then shoots Kel’ori a sympathetic grin. “Maybe try fire?” she calls.

Heretica screeches at Alisbeth, slashing at the death knight with sharp nails.

A glint from Taveth’s glasses catches Grimory’s eye and the demon hunter turns just in time to witness his fall. “Taveth!” He leaps forward, wings spread, but grunts as one is gripped tightly by one of the shivarra’s remaining hands. He gasps as he’s jerked back. Her large fingers squeeze until a creaking sounds out, followed by a sharp snap! The Illidari cries out, then turns to blow fire into her face until he’s dropped hard to the ground. He grimaces and rolls, the damaged muscle and bone of his wing in a hand.

Alisbeth shrieks as though she herself had been physically harmed. She leaps on the woman’s back and drives the spikes of the Maw into the flesh there.

Koltira jumps away from the fight to pull the demon hunter to safety. “You all right?”

Kel’ori’s nose wrinkles and she squeaks, hopping sideways to get away from the demon hunter. Little bursts flicker from her being, each one a different color. It only stops when she feels she has achieved a safe distance.

Grimory hisses as he’s dragged. He nods, fangs grit and in a pain only a broken limb can supply. “Taveth…” he groans, sitting up.

Anarchaia assists Alisbeth in taking down the shivarra; the demon witch gives a raspy croak as she falls limp beneath her burning limbs and the death knight’s axe. She runs over to assess the damage done to the demon hunter. “Is he all right?”

Kel’ori’s eyes widen, but she remains several paces away. “Tav? What about– Where is he? Where did he go?” She backs away, terror apparent on her features. “He’s supposed to stay close to keep you in check!”

Alisbeth shoves her cousin, who teeters, then falls pathetically to her knees. The death knight crouches beside Grimory and runs gentle fingers through his hair. “I killed her for you.”

Koltira purses his lips. “Okay, but…Taveth. What about Taveth?”

Grimory grabs at Alisbeth’s hand and inhales sharply at the pain in his back. “He fell,” he hisses then cranes his head back to look at the cliffside where Taveth had disappeared.

Anarchaia starts and straightens. “He what? Where?” Not awaiting a response, she runs to the rocky edge and peers into the fel-laced fog below.

Alisbeth pulls free and runs after the mage, Kel’ori pushing herself up to follow as well.

~ * ~

Rakkan!” Taveth shouts. Purple boulders smoke into existence, encasing the frail elf in a protective shell. The cluster slams onto the jutting surface of rock at the bottom of the cliff. Shaking, Taveth falls to his knees and scoots away from the edge.

The high elf stares up the sheer edge of the cliff and sighs as the hopelessness keeps him sitting down. A purple spiral forms beside him before a frantic succubus emerges. She throws herself onto her knees and grabs Taveth’s head in a tight hug against her overly-generous, half exposed breasts.

<<Master! Are you okay?>>

Taveth flails, trying to break free from the demoness’s grasp, his eyes wide behind his skewed spectacles. “I’m fine. I’m fine!

She releases him and shoves her fingers between her knees, pressing her chest forward as she puckers her lips to pout at him. <<You had me so worried, Tavy-wavy.>>

He cringes. “Don’t call me that. Ever. What are you doing her, Tryxora? I didn’t summon you!” He inches away from her.

<<I have been working non-stop to return to your side, Master. I love you and I don’t want you to get hurt. Then when I saw you fall, I just…>> She grabs him into her arms again. <<I’m so glad your safe!>>

“Help,” Taveth squeaks at no one.

~ * ~

“Tav?” Anarchaia calls cautiously, swallowing the concern in her voice.

“Taveth!” Alisbeth screams.

Koltira purses his lips at the cliff and the three women, then down at Grimory. “Anything I can do to help?”

Kel’ori falls to the ground, crying into her palms. “My baby brother. No…”

A strange beating echoes from the cliffs. Alisbeth shushes the mage and they all strain to see into the fog. It swirls violently, before huge magenta wings came into view, followed by the pink body of a succubus. Alisbeth readies her axe and growls.

“You monster!”

Grimory shakes his head and assesses the damage done. “I’ll be fine,” he responds, though is altogether uncertain. Still in a great amount of pain, he stands and gnashes his teeth tightly together as the limb retracts into the muscle of his back and shoulders. He turns at the sound of Alisbeth’s cry.

Anarchaia takes a step back as the figure nears, then blinks and cranes her head when the demoness does not attack. “Wait, Ali,” she says cautiously with an outstretched arm.

Koltira runs to the others, Byfrost in hand.

The succubus lands beside the women, then her entire demeanor shifts. Her face pinches like she’s about to cry, and her eyes widen with fear. <<My master fell!>> She says. She reaches out to take the mage by the shoulders. <<You have to help him! My wings aren’t strong enough to carry him. I tried, I really did!>>

Alisbeth lowers her axe and blinks at the demon. “What’s it saying?”

Anarchaia’s eyes widen as she’s shaken and she immediately grasps the demon’s hands with her own in an attempt to stop the jostling. “Uh…m-master? Wings? U-unable…” She gives a sheepish shrug.

“She’s Taveth’s,” Grimory grunts, rubbing at his aching shoulder and ignoring the searing pain still in his back. “She said her wings aren’t enough to lift him.” He pries the succubus from Anarchaia. <<Is he okay?>>

Tryxora grins at the demon hunter. <<Hi there. How are—Wait, no, master fell. He’s okay.>> She sighs wistfully. <<He’s so smart and handsome…>>

Koltira eyes the bruises at the demon hunter’s shoulder blades but chooses to say nothing. “So… Is she flirting or is he okay?”

“She said he’s okay. That’s about all I picked up,” Kel’ori says, boosting from the ground and clearing her eyes. She looks over the edge of the cliff into the thick fog. “Taveth!”

<<Master tried to send me away,>> she says, nodding at the mage. <<But I love him, and I didn’t want him to get hurt, so I didn’t listen. I’m so bad.>> She bites her lower lip and gives her rear a little wiggle, then slaps the cheek and sighs. <<So, can you help him?>>

Grimory’s lips tighten to a line at the demoness before he gently pushes her aside to join Kel’ori at the cliff side. <<We can’t get to him right now,>> he growls, if not at the incessant pain then at the irritation caused by the inconvenience of the situation at hand. He turns and makes to walk along the ridge. “We’ll have to go around.”

Anarchaia follows, fidgeting nervously with her fingers. “I hope he’s okay.” She sighs. “We said we were going to keep a better eye on him…”

Koltira sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose. “I’ll go. The rest of you stay here. Make camp for the night, or something. You rest.” He points directly at the demon hunter. He kisses Anarchaia’s forehead and immediately begins searching for a path down the sheer face.

Grimory’s lips tighten at the corners. He cranes his neck to look at his back but cannot see.

“Wait, I can help,” Kel’ori says. “If you fall I can—”

“Blow him up?” Alisbeth asks on a giggle.

The undead mage starts at the suggestion of Koltira going alone, then quickly steps to follow. “Wait! It’s dangerous to go alone! You know that.”

Koltira holds the mage at arms-length. “I know what I’m doing. How about you help me by holding onto all this heavy equipment?” He holds Byfrost out to her in one hand as the other works the buckle of a pauldron.

Alisbeth cocks an eyebrow at Grimory, then gasps. She runs over to him and shoves her cold face against one of his shoulder blades. “Does this help? Is this helping? Are you okay? What else do you need?”

Tryxora skips over to Koltira and smiles at Anarchaia. <<I can catch him if he falls.>> Her eyes bug and she goes stiff, then smiles again. <<S’cuse me, Tavy-wavy’s calling!>> She dives head-first off the cliff into the fog.

Koltira blinks after her then stares at the demon hunter for guidance.

Grimory shudders at the cold, then can’t help smiling. Before he can respond he catches Koltira’s befuddlement and slowly blinks. “She said he’s calling.” He sneers some. “I honestly pity him. Succubi are the worst.”

Anarchaia reflexively extends a hand to take the weapon, then shies away, curling her fingers back into her chest as though they may betray her and reach out again of their own will. “I’d really rather not.”

“Sorry, Ana. I forgot.” Koltira holds out the handle for Grimory to get, though he’s a ways away.

Tryxora zips up into the air over them, then lands beside Anarchaia. <<I love when he lets me cuddle him. Oh!>> She stares at the sword and the demon hunter being held in place and smiles. <<Let’s hurry, please. He’s lonely.>> She grabs Byfrost and slings it over a shoulder as the handle blots from blue to black. She skips to Grimory and holds it out for him to take, as though the sword weighs nothing.

Anarchaia’s brow knits at the sight but she shrugs it off and turns back to the death knight before her. “I mean it. You shouldn’t be going anywhere alone in a place like this.”

Grimory’s thin pupils slide from the black handle to the succubus. <<Thanks, I guess,>> he grumbles and takes it–the handle’s color dying to an unimpressive copper. <<Keep him safe until we can get to him, yeah?>>

Koltira shakes his head and leans close to speak low. “Ana, Grim’s injury is worse than he’s letting on. If something comes this way, Ali is the only one in fighting condition. Excuse me if I’m not excited about that idea. Stay here and keep everyone safe. I won’t be long, I promise.” He straightens as the succubus stands beside him. “Plus, I’ll have…” He blinks at the demon.

<<Tryxora! You can call me Tryx.>>

He blinks again. “She’ll be there.”

Anarchaia purses her lips in a concerned fashion and folds her arms. After quick yet careful consideration, she sighs, defeated. “Fine, but if anything happens to you, I’ll kill you.” She points a finger at him, then at the demoness. “And you,” she adds on a hiss.

Alisbeth squishes her face into Grimory’s other shoulder. “Is-iss heffing?”

Grimory sets the blade gingerly aside and chuckles through the pain. “Yes, Ali. Thank you.” He reaches a hand back to pat her as best he can on her head.

Still smiling, Tryxora gets right in Anarchaia’s face. <<Try it and I’ll make sure you never experience pleasure without feeling pain again.>> Her smile widens and she pats the mage on the head. <<Shall we?>> She slings her whip around Koltira’s waist and drags him away before he can kiss Anarchaia goodbye.

He grunts and stumbles backward. “I promise I’ll return. Stay safe.”

Anarchaia scowls after her and balls her fists. “I don’t know what you said, but I’m deciding to take it personally.”

Kel’ori drops back to the ground at the edge of the cliff and sighs into the abyss below. “Great. We’re trusting a demon to get him back.”

“He’ll be fine,” Grimory mumbles in Kel’ori’s direction but not particularly to her. “That succubus…seems to have a thing for him.”

Kel’ori sticks her nose in the air and looks away from Grimory. “Of course you’d vouch for a demon. It’s late. I think. We should make camp.”

Alisbeth rolls her eyes. “Only so I can take care of Grim.” She eases the Redblade from his grasp.

The Illidari’s jaw works beneath the flesh as he glares off into the distance. He hardly notices the sword being taken from his possession.

Anarchaia sighs and turns. “Yes, perhaps it’s best we stay where we are.” She lifts a hand and a couple of sleeping furs, bundled tightly with ragged ropes, appear before the group. She sinks to sit on her heels, chewing idly on a knuckle. “We really need to do a better job of keeping together…”

Alisbeth smiles regardless of the tension and pushes Grimory to one of the furs. “Yes. Let’s all just stay here. Right?”

Kel’ori makes a face as she takes the other fur. “Did anybody bring any food?”

Anarchaia again lifts delicate fingers to summon a small menagerie of baked goods arranged neatly on a table. “I know you aren’t keen on baked goods at the moment, but…”

Grimory sighs tiredly, then winces as he lowers down beneath the furs. He for a moment considers offering some of his meat rations, even going so far as to open his mouth, but instead turns away and onto his injured shoulder. “Thank you, Ali.”

~ * ~

It’s late in the night when Kel’ori stirs and sits up. Alisbeth is huddled over the sleeping demon hunter, setting her icy cheek to the black blotches at his shoulder blades. Anarchaia is at the edge of the cliff, worrying her fingers together and pulling at her gloves as she gazes into the fog below or down the way the succubus had taken Koltira. Quietly, Kel’ori slips from the blanket and takes a thick stick from the fire, then slips away into the darkness.

Her jaw is set as she rushes to the lava pools and finds the pack of imps she’d glimpsed earlier. She hides behind a boulder and tosses a pebble to lure just one. It bounces off the demon’s head; the imp turns and hops around the corner.

“Hey! You’re not suppose—”

Kel’ori swings the branch and smashes in the little skull of the creature. She smirks and lifts it by a leg, then finds a secluded place to build a new fire.

It hadn’t been long before Anarchaia realized she hadn’t even turned to check on the others in quite some time. She cranes her neck to peer behind her, then stands abruptly with a start. “Kel?” she calls quietly as not to wake the slumbering demon hunter. When she gets a mere apathetic shrug from Alisbeth, the undead woman sets off back down the path, figuring the cautious elf would prefer a road more familiar than to wander off into the unknown.

After a while of nervous walking and searching, Anarchaia turns a corner to find a quiet, crackling fire. And over it a spit with the skewered remains of an imp, its flesh charred black in places and both arms crudely torn from its torso. Before it is huddled a figure shadowed by the flames. She takes a step back as not to draw attention to herself, then pauses. A slow hand creeps up to her mouth. “Kel’ori…?” she says quietly, unsure if she wants to be heard or not.

Kel’ori stops and slowly turns her wide eyes on the other mage, her teeth clamped over the muscle of the imp’s forearm, the upper arm already stripped of flesh. She seems to think on it, and finishes tearing off the chunk, then chews quickly. “I said I was hungry,” she growls, as though it perfectly explains her behavior.

Anarchaia takes another step back but stops herself from taking more. “That’s…demon blood,” is all she can manage, eyes wide beneath a brow furrowed with concern. “Why?”

Kel’ori tears the last of the meat of the forearm from the bone and tosses the limb to the ground. “What’s your problem? Do you want me to starve?” She stands and approaches Anarchaia. “I said I was hungry and you gave me cake!”

Anarchaia takes a step back despite herself. “You know we’re not permitted to take anything else from the kitchens unless we’d prepared it ourselves…” She swallows, steeling herself. “Kel, eating demon flesh is dangerous. What would Kalec say?”

Kel’ori frowns and looks away. “When that dog thing burned in the lava it just smelled so good… And I’m so hungry… It’s just a little imp. There can’t be any harm in that.” She gives a shaky smile. “Right?”

Anarchaia sobers and her face softens. “Kel, are you okay? There’s clearly something going on.” She reaches out a hand to touch her shoulder. “You can talk to me…”

Kel’ori jerks her shoulder from the other mage’s grasp. “I’m just hungry, okay?” She turns away and grips a leg of the imp. She grumbles as it doesn’t immediately come free from the hip. “Should have brought a knife. Do you have a knife?”

Anarchaia again furrows her brow, then shakes her head. “Please don’t eat anymore of that. Surely there’s something else that’ll sate you?” She fidgets with her fingers, wanting to keep her from consuming more but not wanting to incur her irritation.

Kel’ori pouts and releases the demon to straiten and cover her face with her palms. “That bacon on the Vinidcaar. I just want some damn bacon. Is that really so bad? This tastes good, too. Why can’t I just have what I want?”

Anarchaia inhales, holds it, then says “The next time breakfast is on, we’ll grab as much as we’re allowed, okay?” She conjures an ornate pocket watch and flicks it open, then crinkles her nose at the still hands. “Whenever that is. But please, for now, just…don’t…eat demons.” Even though you may have already done something irreversible. “Come back?”

The high elf drops her hands in defeat. “Okay,” she says, but doesn’t sound too sure about it. She drags her feet as she walks past Anarchaia, a forlorn expression on her face.

The undead woman follows, thinking it of no importance to snuff out the fire her fellow mage had forged. She gestures to the second set of sleeping furs. “When Kolt and Tav return I’ll check the Vindicaar for their breakfast hours, all right?”

Kel’ori waves dismissively, her mood sour. “Sure. Fine. Whatever.”

Anarchaia’s red pupils flick across the elf’s figure as Kel’ori lowers onto her furs. She chews on the inside of her cheek as she notices. Kel’ori’s normally thin frame now slightly pulled at her dress-like robes, the fabric taught against her stomach. How long has she been secretly eating imps? And how many? she wonders to herself, then turns and is back to the cliffs with more concern in her gaze than had been previously.

~ * ~

It’s hours before Koltira and Taveth approach, the latter panting and sagging with exhaustion. He practically throws himself on the mage and grabs her in a tight hug. “I’ve never been so happy to see you!” He presses his lips to the side of her mask. “Dear gods, please save me.”

Koltira physically jars as the succubus swoops past him and lands behind Taveth, a scowl directed at the mage. The death knight makes a face and sighs, deciding to wait his turn to hug Anarchaia.

“You missed a…great adventure, Ana. So fun.”

“Tav! Thank gods you’re okay!” Anarchaia emphatically returns the embrace, then gives a nervous chuckle at his words, unsure if he’s serious. She then straightens at the glare directed in her direction. “Why? What happen? Did she hurt you?” She grabs Taveth by the shoulders and shakes. “Show me where!”

Before Taveth can react, the succubus locks her eyes with the mage’s, whose glow pink through her mask. <<It’s okay, master, she won’t touch you again.>>

Taveth flails. “She’s my friend, let her go!”

Tryxora sighs and ends the charm. <<She doesn’t get to touch you.>>

“I’m the master. I give the orders.”

She bites her lower lip and hums. <<I love it when you dom me.>> She slaps her rear and hisses, then smiles.

“Why? Why do you do that? Why can’t you just be evil like the others. Go away. I order you back to the nether.”

<<But I don’t want to go.>>

Taveth holds out his hands at the demon as he faces Anarchaia and raises his eyebrows.

Anarchaia gives her head a small shake as the haze in her brain seems to lift. “U-uhm,” she begins, then blinks at the two before her. “Oh! Uh…I guess she has to accompany us, then,” she says through grit teeth. “Unless killing her is an option.” Smoke wafts and swirls up from between her clenched fingers.

<<Try it,>> Tryxora hisses, a palm on her whip.

Koltira steps between the mage and the demon, his hands out. “Please, there’s no need to get hostile. Let’s just calm down and let Taveth get some sleep.”

The succubus gasps. <<That’s right! My poor master is so tired.>> She grabs him to her and Taveth’s eyes widen in panic.

AAAnaaa,” he whines.

Anarchaia conjures a third fur and it unravels near the others, sighing as she watches the scholar get dragged away. “I hate demons so much,” she mumbles while slowly folding her arms and glowering. She casts the death knight a sideways glance. “She didn’t touch you, did she?”

Koltira’s nose wrinkles as he finally gets the chance to wrap an arm around the mage’s waist. “No, thank gods. Couldn’t understand a thing she said, either.” He leads her around the camp to a better spot for keeping watch and smiles down at her. “Care to keep me company?”

She willingly follows, then sets herself atop a warm, flat rock overlooking the marred and battered land. She smiles up at him and lifts a hand to pull him down beside her. “Always.”

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