Kel’ori drops a tray heaped dangerously high with bacon onto the table. Taveth eyes the pile and his sister from the corner of his eyes.
“Did you take all the bacon they had?” he asks.
“Almost. Some guy took some before I got to it.” She blows on a piece and tries to eat it anyway, holding it in her teeth to shake the heat from her fingers.
“You’re not eating…all of that, are you?”
“Doggy bag. Breakfast lunch and dinner. And snacks.” She grins at him as she chews.
A familiar draenei clad in a worn leather apron finds the two in the dining hall and makes his way over. Her gives Kel’ori an amused, scarred grin. “That must be where all the bacon has gone off to. Quite the appetite for such a small woman.” He chuckles.
Kel’ori pauses, for a moment becoming self-aware of how the scene mush look. “I-it’s for all day,” she says, averting her gaze.
Taveth smiles up at the draenei, a clump of blond hair between his eyes. “It’s nice to see you again. How’ve you been?”
Eophen chuckles again at the elf’s messy hair and uses a thick pinky to flick the tress from Taveth’s face. “Well, thank you. And same! How is your adventure faring? Safely, it would seem.” He sets himself beside the scholar.
Taveth blushes at the familiar way in which the draenei touches him. He sets his sights on his book. “Y-yes. We’re staying safe. Heh. Mostly.”
Kel’ori chews slowly, her eyes narrowing suspiciously on the two.
Eophen nods. “That is good. Would it be rude of me to say I am surprised? Granted, it is surprising whenever anyone comes back from that wasteland unscathed.” He shoots Kel’ori a grin. “But you seem to have a good group. Speaking of the sort, where are the rest? Surely not…?”
“No, no, heh. They’re just still on Azeroth. Taking their time. It’d be nice if they’d hurry up.” He glances at the draenei. “I mean, I don’t mind, heh. U-unless We’re keeping you from something?”
“Oh gods, this is too good,” Kel’ori says. “The bacon,” she blurts when her brother looks her way.
Eophen laughs and shakes his head. “Nothing wrong with the engines as of this moment. I am a free man for the time being.” He blinks his golden eyes. “Unless it is I who am imposing?”
Kel’ori giggles. “Oh, no. Please. Stay. I’m sure my brother loves your company.” She gives the blushing high elf an evil grin.
The draenei leans on an elbow to regard both elves more easily. “So, what is on your itinerary for today? The High Exarch has been really impressed with your progress. The Prophet as well.”
Taveth shifts under Kel’ori’s scrutiny. “Heh. Um. W-we delivered parts for a machine of some sort yesterday, so I imagine the repairs have completed. I’m not sure where we’re headed after that.”
Eophen raises his eyebrows. “Oh, the warframe? I have been hearing much talk of it in the lower decks, actually. We are going our best to build more.” He pauses. “Well, not myself personally, as much as I’d love to, but…you understand.”
Taveth smiles. “That’s a shame. I’m sure you’d be an asset to the cause.”
Eophen gives a modest laugh and waves a large, calloused hand. “I would honestly be afraid to work on those. So much responsibility if they malfunction. At least here I can blame my sister if something goes wrong, eh?” He nudges the high elf with an elbow and winks.
Taveth chuckles as he sways under the nudge. His face darkens in embarrassment as he catches Kel’ori’s eye.
~ * ~
Alisbeth stares out at the bustling city street from where she sits on her balcony, her forehead pressed to the ornate bars of the railing.
Grimory awakes with a violent start, sweat glittering on his cheeks and forehead. He runs his hands frantically over his horns and face, then sighs and falls back into the pillows with heavy breaths. “Ali?”
Alisbeth bursts back into the room and launches to the bedside, eyes scanning the room frantically. “What is it? Who hurt you? What am I killing?”
Grimory shakes his head and pulls her to him in a hug, still panting through his nose. “No one. I just…was worried you’d gone, is all. I’m fine.”
The death knight presses her cold forehead to his. “You don’t need to lie about having a nightmare, Grim. I bet if I slept, I’d have them, too. Wanna talk about it?”
Grimory ponders the question for a moment, then shakes his head. “I’ll be fine.” He looks out into the lightening sky through the balcony doors and sighs through his nose. “We should go, yeah?”
Alisbeth frowns. “Oh. Okay.” She shoulders her axe and grabs her hearthstone from the top of the dresser. “Ready when you are.”
Grimory rubs at his face with both palms and throws his feet over the edge of the bed. He dresses and pulls his own hearthstone from his bag. “Yeah. Ready to go slaughter more demon filth?” He smiles wearily.
Alisbeth hugs Grimory, then uses her hearthstone.
Both the Illidari and death knight appear on the main deck in swirls of blue light. Soon followed by another swirling light containing Anarchaia. She gives the two a small wave. “We made it at the same time today, heh.”
“We usually do,” Grimory responds pointedly, the events of the previous afternoon still fresh in his mind.
Alisbeth grins at the other two. “Grim is having a rough morning. Probably cause we didn’t bone. He’s always happy about that, but so am I because—”
“Ali, stop,” Koltira says, grimacing and holding up a hand. “None of us want to hear that. Let’s see if the Nighthearts are here.” He takes the mage by the hand and heads downstairs.
Anarchaia flushes beneath her mask but says nothing as she’s pulled along.
Grimory pulls his ears back as the two leave, then scoffs and grabs Alisbeth’s hand as well. “I bet they fuck more than we do,” he grumbles. “Or he’s still jealous.”
Alisbeth makes a face. “Does that mean we need to fuck more? I mean, I’m all for it, you’re just mopey lately. And we’re busy. I don’t think anyone would like it if we just went for it in the mess hall. It’d be fun, though!”
A flush heats Grimory’s face as they near the dining hall. “Yeah. I mean—no. I mean—ugh. I’m not being mopey.” He scowls at her over his shoulder, then leads her inside to sit at the far end of the long table.
~ * ~
Koltira stops over the table and sighs down at the others. “Oh, good. Everyone’s here.”
Eophen turns at the sound of Koltira’s voice, then gives a small smile accompanied by a wave. “Hello again.”
“Good morning! …I think,” Anarchaia responds brightly and sits beside Kel’ori, then does a double take at the mound of bacon on the table. “Oh, uh…good idea. Heh.”
Kel’ori fidgets nervously and looks away from Anarchaia. She sees Grimory at the other end of the table and casts her gaze to her food.
Koltira nods kindly to the draenei. “Well met. Sorry to interrupt, but we should really be on the move.”
Alisbeth narrows her eyes at the demon hunter, then glances at the other end of the table. “Want me to steal some of her bacon for you?”
Grimory follows Alisbeth’s gaze and gives her a half smile. “Nah. I’ve got rations left.” He pushes a lock of hair out of her face. “Thanks, though.”
Alisbeth frowns for a split second, then forces a smile. “Okay. If you insist.”
Eophen blinks, then gives a chuckle and claps Taveth on the shoulder. “Do not break all your bones today, little elf.” He stands and gives a nod to Kel’ori, then the rest. “Be well, adventurers.” Tail swaying lazily behind him, he leaves them to their breakfast.
Anarchaia knits her brow. “I just sat down,” she mutters and stands again. “I suppose we need to find Turalyon. …or him.”
Taveth stares for a second longer at the golden hair on the back of Eophen’s head, then adds a final sentence to his journal, pointedly avoiding looking at Kel’ori.
His sister grins. “This is so perfect. Oh, gods.” She giggles and shovels her food into an animal hide sack.
Koltira rubs Anarchaia’s back. “The sooner we start, the sooner we’ll be done with this whole planet. Right?”
The undead girl nods unenthusiastically and lifts her hands. A swirling door of light materializes, in its center a picture of Destiny Point. “That’s true.” She offers a small smile.
The Nighthearts enter the portal first as Koltira smiles down at the mage.
Grimory stands and stretches. “My back feels a lot better, yeah? Good thing we went back to Azeroth.” He rubs at his shoulder and gives it a roll. “I…don’t think my body heals all that great here.”
Alisbeth grins at Grimory and hooks her arm through his elbow. “Guess we’ll just have to make sure you don’t get hurt, huh? Or you can noms on those freaky yellow rocks Taveth has.” She giggles and hops through to Destiny Point.
Grimory gives a reserved chuckle as he’s pulled through.
Anarchaia kicks at a stone once safely on the other side and scowls at it as it tumbles down the steep incline. “I hate this place,” she mutters.
“Ah, you’ve returned!” Turalyon, having been conversing with the Prophet, waves the party over. “We’re beyond grateful for your help with repairing the warframes. Now that we have a small fleet at the ready, we’re preparing an attack on a structure we’ve heard tell is housing a particularly powerful demon.” He points up the path, past the lava pools, to a looming structure. “There are many guarding just past the gates, however. But we’ve sent the first wave of warframes to take care of them. All that’s left for you lot is to kill Khazaduum.”
“Easy enough,” Grimory drones from the back of the group.
Turalyon turns a stern gaze on him. “I wouldn’t be so quick to judge. We’ve lost many to him already.”
Alisbeth grins up at the human. “We’re what you call experts.”
Taveth opens his mouth to object but closes it. He shudders slightly at the thought of the powerful demon, remembering his encounter with a mere pit lord.
“We’ll handle it, Turalyon. You have our word,” Koltira says and ushers the party north down the steep sloping path leading into a jagged and dangerous landscape.
Grimory stares at nothing in particular as they trek, hiding the apprehension in his verdant eyes behind a knit brow.
Alisbeth slips her arm behind the demon hunter’s back and lays her head on his shoulder. “Smile! We get to kill a thing! We’ve killed bigger, badder things.
Grimory merely slowly nods, Alisbeth’s voice seeming far away. “Yeah, I know. Just…” He sighs and turns to smile down at her with tired eyes. “Promise me you’ll be careful?”
Alisbeth returns the grin. “Only because you asked nicely. After this can we go have some fun? We haven’t had fun in a long time.”
The demon hunter’s face softens some and his smile threatens to widen. “Yeah. We can. What did you have in mind?”
Alisbeth scrunches her face in thought. “Hmm… We could take Diori somewhere fun! Maybe teach her how to fight!” She bounces eagerly.
Grimory gives a small, breathy chuckle and messes her hair. “Yeah. I’d like that. I miss her.” He also thinks for a brief second. “Maybe the faire. Or camping.” He pauses and sobers. “Or to meet her grandparents.”
Alisbeth beams, the snow of her eyes fluttering in excitement. “She has grandparents? Why didn’t you say so sooner? I can’t wait to meet them! Wait, can I meet them? Is that okay? Am I invited?”
An image of how he imagines the encounter playing out runs through his mind and he gives a single laugh through his nose. “Of course you can come.”
Alisbeth laughs and claps. “I can’t wait! What are your parents like? Are they proud of you? I bet they’re proud of you. I’m proud of you.”
A look of sudden sullenness crosses over Grimory’s face and he stares at the path ahead. “I’ve…actually not told them yet. I sent a message telling them I was safe after being released, but…”
Alisbeth frowns. “Oh.” She thinks on it, then hugs him tight. “I bet they’ll still be proud of you. Of what you did.”
Grimory continues to stare ahead, her words prompting scenarios to play in his head. “I…can only hope. Heh.”
Anarchaia silently makes her way to Kel’ori’s shoulder and lifts her mask to show an endearing yet apologetic smile. “Hey, uh…how are you doing today?”
Kel’ori slowly pulls the strip of bacon from her mouth, as though it were the subject of a complaint that wasn’t being made. She clears her throat and sends her gaze to the ground. “I’m, um…fine. How are you?” Her eyes shift to the others and the growing gap as she slows to walk with the other mage.
Anarchaia’s smile wanes. “That’s not important. And I know that’s a lie, because I often tell the same one. Docra is a good friend to you, but if you need someone else to talk to…” She sneers at herself suddenly. “And I’m sorry for bringing him. I…should have known it’d be a disaster. But…he came to my house cr—wanting advice. I told him to make it right with you. And he hasn’t.”
Kel’ori looks away and scowls. “Whatever. Doesn’t matter.”
Anarchaia grits her teeth behind pursed lips, smile now gone. “Kel, please. We’ve been through so much together. Can’t you give it more thought than just whatever?”
Kel’ori sighs. “No. It’s just whatever, Ana. He doesn’t want to apologize or try to make it right, then that’s just…whatever.” She shrugs and purses her lips. “It doesn’t matter anymore. I just want to finish this mission and move on with my life.”
Anarchaia sighs and lets the other mage walk ahead of her a few paces before muttering “But he did apologize,” beneath her breath.
Kel’ori stops and spins to purse her lips at Anarchaia. “It. Doesn’t. Matter. Not anymore. Nothing anyone can say will change any of it.” She pouts and catches her breath as tears threaten to fall from her eyes. “His words are meaningless. And now…I just want to move on.” She turns and resumes following the others.
Anarchaia’s eyes flick from the woman’s angry face, down to her growing belly, and back upon hearing the words move on. She sobers and deflates as she’s left there to walk in the back of the group alone with her thoughts.
A purple swirl appears beside Kel’ori and Tryxora rushes out and runs into the mage. She eep!s and scrambles to Taveth to hug him to her chest. <<Master, you didn’t call me when you got back!>>
“That was intentional,” he gasps as she squeezes him.
<<I would have been back sooner, but I was having naughty thoughts about my handsome-wandsom Tavie-wavie and so Keeshokin was—>>
“I don’t want to know!” Taveth pries free and smooths his hair.
Tryxora purses her lips, an evil smile on her face. She leans closer, biting her bottom lip. <<He was spanking me.>>
Taveth sneers. “I said I didn’t want to know.”
Koltira laughs and looks over his shoulder, then stops when he notices how far behind Anarchaia has gotten. He waits for the others to pass, then falls into step beside her. “Hey. Everything okay back here?”
Anarchaia scrunches her face at the sound of the demoness’s voice, then looks up to crinkle her nose further at the scene. Her smile returns, however, when the death knight approaches. “Yeah. Just…thinking. Heh. You know me.” She shrugs and gives a chuckle that trails off into nothingness.
Koltira gives her a look. “I do know you. I know you over-think and get upset. Calm down. Relax. Wait until there’s something to actually worry about.” He wraps an arm around her shoulders and gives her a little shake. “You can’t make someone else’s problems your own,” he says quietly, his eyes on the other mage trudging along by herself.
Anarchaia frowns as she’s shaken. “I can’t help it,” she says barely audibly. “I feel like this is all my fault.” The toe of her heeled boot finds a pebble and she watches it roll off with a clatter. She absently lifts a hand to rest over the back of his. “If I’d just stayed. Just listened to Master…”
Koltira shakes his head. “Stop, Ana. If you’re going to go with that argument, it’s my fault, not yours. Stop taking blame. What’s done is done. We can’t change that. And now whatever she does, it’s her problem. Not yours.”
Anarchaia’s brow knits and she grits her teeth behind her lips. “I just can’t stand this discourse. Grim doesn’t deserve the way she’s treating him. He apologized, did I tell you that? And she threw it in his face.” She inhales to say more, then holds the breath instead. It comes out as a sigh. “Sorry. I’ll stop talking about it.”
Koltira purses his lip. “What do you think Kalec would do?”
Anarchaia fidgets more. “I almost think he’d kill me,” she mumbles quietly, frown deepening. “He’s so quiet and stoic but those kinds of people are the scariest when angry. And he’s so powerful…”
Koltira frowns, slowing so they don’t reach the others. “Ana, he wouldn’t kill you. What kind of world do you think we live in? Besides, you really think anyone would get to you between me, Khadgar, or even meathead up there?”
“Archmage Kalec could obliterate Grim with ease. Perhaps not you, though.” Anarchaia sobers. “And with the way he’s been treating me, Master would probably send him a signed form of consent.” She sighs. “Let’s just hope he doesn’t find out.”
Grimory turns to give Taveth a look over his shoulder. “Your new girlfriend might be useful, yeah?”
Taveth glares at Grimory for a moment before Tryxora latches onto him.
<<I would never let anything happen to my master! Of course I’ll help with whatever you’re doing, just so I can keep him safe and happy.>>
The high elf pries her away again. “Don’t encourage her, Grim? Please?”
Grimory grins. “But look how much she loves you. I almost think you should be taking advantage of that, yeah?”
Taveth purses his lips. “If you like her so much, come get her,” he unintentionally orders.
Grimory stops in his tracks until the group catches up. He bends at the waist as the succubus nears and lifts her into his arms with an unamused glare to Taveth. “Right. No fun at your expense, yeah? I’ll remember that.”
Tryxora bites her bottom lip and giggles, then frowns. <<You’re strong and handsome and you have a nice booty, but I’m taken. My sweet little master has this demon’s heart. Unless it’s not my heart you’re after.>> She giggles and taps his nose.
Alisbeth sneers and yanks at the demoness. “Get off him right now or I will tear every part of you off one at a time!”
Taveth shrinks back away from the three. “Put her down! I’m so sorry, Grim. I didn’t mean it. I swear, I didn’t!”
“Don’t flatter yourself, darlin’.” At the sound of the word down, Grimory immediately drops the demoness straight into the dirt and, taking Alisbeth’s hand, continues on with a bemused stare on the path ahead.
Taveth steps around the succubus as she reaches her hands up to him.
Tryxora pouts. <<You wouldn’t really leave me here, would you?>>
He shrugs. “Well, you’re supposed to be in the Nether, anyway.”
Kel’ori snickers down at the woman. “Sucks to be the unwanted one, doesn’t it?”
Tryxora stands and dusts herself off. <<At least I’m not wearing a potato sack and calling it a dress.>>
The mage blinks and narrows her eyes. “I caught some of that? I think?”
Koltira grabs Anarchaia by the arms and forces her to look into his eyes. “It’s not your fault, Ana. Stop. You’re the only person even entertaining the idea that it’s somehow your fault.”
Anarchaia keeps her face inclined up at him but cannot help looking away. She clenches her teeth, her composure threatening to break as tears sting her good eye. She forces herself to nod and smile. “Y-yeah. You’re right. Heh. …sssorry…”
Koltira lifts Anarchaia’s mask and sets a kiss on her lips. “I know, you’re worried. To be honest I’m a little worried, too. But what’s done is done. I think now all we can do is just…be her friend, if you can stomach it?” He chuckles and takes her hand to lead her into walking so the others don’t get too far ahead. “I don’t actually think she has anyone else to turn to, does she?”
Anarchaia sobers and nods as they walk, turning to discreetly rub the moisture from her eye. “I…guess you’re right.” She looks up at the sound of gore and dogs, but her attention is only drawn to the back of Kel’ori’s head. “I’ll…try to talk with her…again.”