Book 5 – Chapter Thirty-Three

Grimory can’t help but snicker at the banter behind him as he leads the group down a slowly winding slope. A felhound snarls as it races up to meet them, leading a small pack of younglings. The demon hunter steps aside as one lunges at him, pulling Alisbeth behind him to shield her. His boot collides with it midair and it yelps as it bounces off.

Alisbeth swings her axe around and buries it in the spine of the hound. It whimpers as she skips away to hook her arm through the demon hunter’s. “We make a great team!”

Grimory gives her an endearing smile. “We do.” One arm still in hers, he swipes at another hound with the other, effectively severing its head. He turns to look at the succubus. “If you really love Taveth so much, you’ll help, yeah?”

Tryxora flaps her wings to lift her from the ground and plops herself on her hooves beside Taveth. She smiles lustfully at him. <<I would do anything for my master.>>

Taveth makes a face. “I don’t have a choice, do I?”

She shakes her head. <<Hmm-mm.>>

Grimory inwardly chuckles at the exchange behind him as the last hound falls beneath his claws and Alisbeth’s axe.

Koltira smiles at Anarchaia. “Go ahead. I’ll be right behind you.” He kisses the knuckles of her hand.

Anarchaia blushes and steps over the mangled remains as they follow. She thinks, hesitating. “Next we stop for a break, I shall. Heh.”

An inquisitor, horns curling toward the dark sky, is alerted to the party and abandons his book to glide toward them, clawed, gnarled hands full of green fire. The figure catches the eye of the Illidari and, instead of running to fight, he cannot help taking a physical step away.

“Incoming,” he mutters, demeanor quickly shifting.

Alisbeth frowns and steps in front of the demon hunter. “He won’t hurt you, Grim. I promise.”

Kel’ori stumbles back and falls to her rear. “Not again,” she whimpers, shoving herself backward with her heels.

Not questioning the woman’s fear, Taveth places himself between Grimory and Kel’ori. “Don’t look in its eye,” he advises. He turns his head over his shoulder to catch Anarchaia’s eye. “Is that what happened last time? Because I read that—”

“I don’t think now is the right time,” Koltira says, unsheathing Byfrost and rushing forward.

“It’s not being harmed I’m worried about,” Grimory responds and, though he wills it, his legs refuse to move. He grits his teeth and instead turns away to continue on up the path.

Anarchaia blinks forward and throws up a protective barrier of ice around Taveth and Kel’ori as the demon opens a portal to usher forth a group of eager imps and scanning eyes. She focuses on the smaller prey, freezing them all to the ground and hailing over them with sharp shards of ice. “Yes, it was,” she says over her shoulder to the scholar.

Koltira rushes into the group. He extends a hand to freeze the mind of the summoner. The portal closes and the death knight leaps at the demon, slashing at the tall, narrow figure.

Alisbeth frowns as Grimory leaves her behind. “I was going to keep you safe,” she squeaks. After a moment, she purses her lips and begins hacking at the collection of little demons and eyes.

Tryxora squeals and flicks her wrist. Her whip snaps through the air and hits an eye. She growls at the imps advancing on the group and sets a hand on her hip. She grins devilishly and swings the whip in a wide arc, knocking the lesser demons away. <<Nobody comes anywhere near my master!>>

Taveth crouches beside Kel’ori, doing his best to comfort her. She remains frozen on the spot.

The inquisitor’s screech of pain pierces the air as violently as the blade pierces his torso. He hisses a word in Eredun and a massive pillar of flame bursts from beneath Koltira’s feet.

Anarchaia steps aside the erratic whip as she assists with the remaining imps and eyes. She turns to see Grimory walking off with slight haste in his steps and furrows her brow upward. “Poor Grim,” she mutters, then flinches at the heat caused by a fel flame attack.

Koltira encases himself in a shield and hops backward. He shoots a stream of sleet at the end of his cloak to douse the small fire clinging to it.

Taveth growls. “Tryx, do your thing to the guy.” He points emphatically at the inquisitor.

<<He’s a demon. I can’t,>> she snaps, as though it should be obvious. She whips the lesser demons back a few feet.

A thump comes from behind the demon and he pauses, then yowls in pain. He spins around, the Maw of the Damned still embedded in his back.

“You’re not hurting my Grim!” Alisbeth screams and launches at the mask hiding the demon’s face.

Anarchaia sighs in relief when she sees Koltira thinking as quickly as he’s known to do. She turns away, back to her work only to catch the sight of a floating demonic eye. She quickly turns away again and blasts blind bolts of fire toward it.

The demon reaches back to pry the axe from his back. He dodges Alisbeth’s charge and, despite the agony, brings the weapon down in an arc toward her.

Not expecting the demon to retrieve the weapon, Alisbeth is knocked down. The metal of her breast plate screams in protest before the spike of the Maw slices into her arm. She screams and falls to the ground.

“Ali!” Taveth screams. “Tryx, help her!”

The demoness folds her arms under her bust and purses her thick lips at him. <<I protect you.>>

Koltira pulls the inquisitor back away from the other death knight and dodges as it swings the blade at him. “Ana, some ice would be nice, please.”

“U-uh! Right! Sorry!” The undead girl bounds forward, abandoning her attempts with the eye and aims a shard of ice at the demon. It shatters against his helmet, but the second strikes him in the throat. It melts quickly, leaving spurting blood and water in its wake. The demon seems to tumble backward, clawing at its throat as whatever forces cause him to hover fail; he crashes into the rock and dirt. The Maw clatters across the brimstone.

“Are you all right, Ali?” Anarchaia kneels to help the death knight up.

Alisbeth accepts the help and stoops to pick up her axe with her uninjured arm. She throws a sudden hug around the mage. “Thank you so much. You’re such a good friend.”

Taveth urges Kel’ori out from behind the boulder. “It’s okay. It’s gone.”

Koltira sets his hand on the small of Anarchaia’s back. “You did great.”

“It was nothing. Heh.” Anarchaia returns the hug hesitantly, then smiles up at the second death knight. Suddenly feeling crowded, she ducks from the hug and saunters down the path after Grimory.

The demon hunter, once an adequate distance away, steps off the path to sit beneath an overhang of craggy stone. He sighs and puts his face in his hands, elbows on his knees.

Alisbeth gives Koltira an awkward smile, then frowns as Grimory disappears and the mage follows. She makes her way to her cousins and walks beside them, her brow furrowed in thought.

“You all right?” Taveth asks Kel’ori as he directs a smile to the death knights as they take up spots on either sides of the Nighthearts.

“I just… I’m sorry. I’ll try not to be so useless next time.”

His brow knits. “It’s okay to be afraid of something. No one will hate you for it.”

Grimory starts at the crunching of footsteps. He moves his hands to see Anarchaia’s heeled white boots and sighs, lowering his hands into his lap but not looking up. “I couldn’t…”

“I know. It’s okay.” She holds out a hand but he does not take it.

“No, it’s not.” He rubs at his face with the heels of his palms. “I have literally one purpose, and I can’t even do that.”

She bends and takes his hands anyway, tugging to urge him to his feet. “You don’t only have one purpose. You have many. And you don’t have to rush to recover from what’s happened. We’ll be here for y—”

He pushes past her and back onto the path. “Yeah, I know,” he grumbles, leaving her there beneath the outcrop.

The party reaches the location at what feels like midafternoon. Golden warframes spout holy fire over remaining demons, while others burn the bodies or destroy portals. A warframe stomps up to the group and a draenei smiles down at them.

“High Exarch Turalyon said you were on the way. We’ll clear you a path to the temple.”

“Thank you,” Koltira says, nodding.

Kel’ori swallows and stays put. “I should stay out here.”

The lot watches in awe as a battalion of warframes rush over the grounds like wildfire. A few succumb to the ravages of infernals and skilled doomguards, but otherwise make easy work of the bulk. Nothing but bleeding corpses and fire dot the surrounding area once they’ve finished.

“I…wow,” Anarchaia whispers, blinking. “Draenei engineering is nearly superior to gnomish, I’d dare to say.” She steps forward toward a large, wide set of stairs leading to a narrow hallway, sure to leave her party in her peripherals.

“Don’t let your goblin boyfriend hear you say that,” Grimory grumbles behind her.

Kel’ori blushes at the mention of Gildwynn then pulls free from Taveth’s grip. “I still think I should stay outside. Out of the way. Not pissing anyone off…”

Koltira rolls his eyes. “Shut up and get your ass in there.” He gives Anarchaia a look from over the top of the blonde head.

Taveth takes his sister’s hand. “You’re not in the way.”

Alisbeth sighs down at the skull on her axe. She tucks her injured arm to her stomach and stomps past all of them and into the doorway. “Oh,” she says simply as two huge felguards glare at her from either side of the path.

“Stay with us, please, Ali,” Grimory says as he jogs to catch up. He smiles up at the guards and takes a step back—pulling Alisbeth back with him—as one of them swipes its massive blade at them.

Anarchaia turns to Kel’ori and gives a hidden, encouraging smile with a faint hint if irritation. “We could really use your help in there.” She lifts a barrier of ice that another blade crashes and scrapes against. “Remember what Turalyon said about this demon we need to kill?”

Alisbeth frowns at him as she seems to not even notice the fight unfolding around them. “I was going to protect you and you walked away. Why didn’t you let me protect you? Don’t you think I can do it?”

Koltira rolls his eyes. “Of course, right now is the perfect time for that conversation. Makes sense.” He brings up Byfrost to stop a weapon, sparks raining down over the green ground. “Not like anything else is happening.”

<<I’ll help!>> Tryxora runs forward and slashes out her whip. It wraps around the leg of a felguard and she pulls it out from under the demon. He crashes to the ground with a grunt and a string of curses.

Kel’ori wrings her hands. “He said they’ve lost good soldiers. I’m not a soldier. I’m not even good anymore! I’m the person you take so that I die and you don’t.”

“Shut up,” Taveth growls. “Seriously that’s all nonsense. Just…shut up.”

Grimory turns to her. He opens his mouth, then grunts as his claw catches a sweeping blade. Blood trickles from his palm but he holds fast. “Ali, it has nothing to do with you,” he says, noting Koltira’s irritation and speaking in a voice low enough for her alone to hear. “I just…” He grunts again as the blade presses into him, pushing him back. “Didn’t…” He growls and hurls the weapon away from himself.

Alisbeth pinches her face in frustration and jerks her uninjured arm up, bringing the Maw up between the felguard’s legs. “I’m talking!” She pulls a stream of blood from him to heal herself as the demon howls in pain and stumbles away. “What, Grim? You what?”

Anarchaia seizes the opportunity to throw a sharp spike of ice into the fallen demon’s face. It pierces the skin of his cheek and he gives a roar of annoyance and pain. “You are a good mage! I’ve seen what you’re capable of!” she calls over her shoulder, stepping away from the flailing blade of the enraged felguard.

Koltira slices at the felguard’s belly; steam rises from the blood and innards.

Kel’ori frowns. “I can’t do anything, and you know it! See?” She aims her palms at the demon on the ground. Little sparks of orange light sputter forth to rain unimpressively down at him.

Anarchaia sighs inwardly and lifts a hand. The demon on the ground—batting away the sparks and scowling as it struggles to kneel—bursts into flames.

As the two felguards fall, bleeding and burning, Grimory clenches his fists and turns to Alisbeth, eyes small pyres of anger. “Because I didn’t want anything to happen again, all right?” Without waiting to see how she’ll react, he continues on into the hallway, becoming lost in its shadows.

Alisbeth flinches and rubs her arm. “But I was going to protect you,” she whispers.

Taveth’s brow lowers in annoyance. “Tryx, bring my sister.”

Kel’ori jumps and stops her slow retreat back outside. “Bring? What? N—” Her eyes glow pink and her face adopts a passive, calm expression.

<<Come, darling. Follow me.>> Tryxora walks backward beside Taveth as the party travels deeper into the temple.

Grimory trudges ahead of the party, fists clenched at his sides. Another pair of felguards rushes to meet him at the end of the passage, polearms brandished. With a surge of anger, the Illidari swiftly dodges the first attack and plunges his claws into the demon’s chest. The felguard’s weapon falls to the ground as a hunk of flesh, viscera, and sinew is ripped from within him.

Eyes burning, Grimory jerks his head toward the second, who visibly falters. The hesitation is enough for Anarchaia to catch up and freeze the demon’s feet to the earth.

Koltira brushes past Anarchaia as he goes for the felguard frozen to the ground.

Alisbeth runs in. Instead of going for the battle, she crashes against the demon hunter’s back. “Don’t be upset, Grim. Please don’t hate me. I want to meet your parents and have pancakes and make Diori smile and I don’t want you to hate me.”

Still fuming and on alert, Grimory jerks but immediately relaxes when hearing her voice. His scowl subsides some. “I’m not angry,” he says after collecting himself. “And yeah… You know what? After this fucking mission we’re going to do just that, yeah?” He turns to look at her. “I…should see them. And so should she.”

As though they’re in a less hostile environment, Alisbeth curls her arms around Grimory’s neck. She goes up on her tip toes to set her forehead on his cheek. “Just stop being a grumpy-butt, okay? This place is awful enough.”

Grimory calms further, not turning to see the battle behind him. He sighs just as the second demon crumples to the soot-stained soil. “Yeah. I’m sorry.” He reaches up to place a bloody hand on her cheek but does not smile.

Anarchaia assists her partner with attacking the demon, showering it with a blizzard of ice as well as hurling fireballs. Through the blinding light of one of her fire spells, the demon’s polearm slices through the air and bites into her cheek. She gasps in pain and surprise and stumbles back, a hand over the wound.

Koltira’s eyes go wide. He steps in front of the mage and swings Byfrost in a wide arc to slice open the demon’s belly. He parries the polearm swing and shoves the wide head of his sword into the gash he’d created. He pushes harder when he feels the resistance of the demon’s spine. With one final shove, he severs the spine and the demon crumples to the floor, growling and swinging weakly at them.

The death knight ignores the felguard and turns to the mage. “Are you okay?” He takes her chin to turn her head and moves her hand away from her cheek. Green necrotic slime oozes down her periwinkle skin. He purses his lips, his eyes instinctively shifting to cast a worried gaze on Alisbeth.

Anarchaia hisses at the pain of his touch, then looks down at her hand. She gives a quick nod and looks over to Alisbeth as well. Seeing her occupied, she quickly pulls the liquid from her clothing and disposes of it, then runs a finger along the torn fabric of her mail to seal the slice. “Good as new. Heh. Are you okay?” She winces when her crooked grin causes the incision to bleed more and she quietly curses, turning away. “I shouldn’t have been so careless.”

Koltira shakes his head. “It’s not your fault.”

Taveth passes the two and purses his lips, knowing he can help, but that Anarchaia won’t accept it. “We’re almost there,” he says instead, gesturing through a doorway.

Alisbeth takes Grimory’s clean hand and pulls him to where Taveth gestured. She stops to wave a hand in front of Kel’ori’s glowing pink eyes, then pokes her nose. She giggles when the high elf doesn’t even flinch.

“More fodder for the fel,” Khazaduum laughs from his platform before a bubbling pool of green lava. “You off-world worms are tenacious, I’ll give you that. But so were the rest.”

Grimory sneers at the demon’s arrogance. “I think we’ll prove to be a bit more of a challenge for you, demon filth.”

Anarchaia follows behind until they catch up with the rest, a hand in Koltira’s and the other obsessively pulling ichor from her mask until the oozing stops. She pauses at the size of the monster standing at the end of the walkway. “He’s huge.”

Koltira shrugs. “We’ve killed bigger.”

Alisbeth unsheathes her axe and sneers. “You’re the only fodder here, ugly.”

Taveth reaches into his bag and grabs the spine dagger. The fractured skull surrounded in orange flames pops up over Tryxora’s shoulder.

<<Oh, there you are, you winged harlot.>>

She jumps and gives a nervous smile. <<Surprise!>>

<<I’m more surprised this bumbling fool summoned you.>>

Taveth’s brow lowers in annoyance. “Trust me, I didn’t. Can we focus?”

The skull spins around and pauses. <<Oh. I see. Well, it wasn’t nice knowing all of you. Don’t come to me in the afterlife. Please leave my spine in the path of a being actually worthy of my power, yes?>>

Grimory steps forward as the demon does, hulking claws at the ready. “Less talk,” he grumbles and rushes forward. Khazaduum lifts a massive claw of his own to shield himself and chuckles.

Anarchaia shudders and steps past the rest to follow Grimory. “I know, but…I have a bad feeling.” She scowls at the skull as she passes. “Keep Kel’ori safe,” she hisses to the succubus in turn, then aims a blast of fire at the demon. The attack, however, seems to be absorbed in his thick, armor-like skin.

“Pathetic,” spits Khazaduum and swipes at Grimory, only narrowly missing. “This will be quick.”

<<Don’t order me around, stinky,>> Tryxora growls.

Anarchaia throws an annoyed look over her shoulder at the now familiar word, then curses herself for becoming distracted. She throws massive shards of ice that merely shatter against the large spikes jutting from the demon’s back. “Useless,” she groans, but continues regardless.

Alisbeth runs to the towering demon and swings her axe wide. She slices into Khazaduum’s thigh, but the demon doesn’t seem to notice.

Koltira places himself on the other side, the death knights working together to hopefully cripple him.

Khazaduum gives a seemingly amused chuckle at the efforts used to harm him. He lifts an injured leg, trickling blood, and throws his clawed foot into Alisbeth.

Grimory gives a distressed noise and slashes again but is blocked. He strains against the weight of the large clawed hand, then is eventually overcome and thrown back. He rolls to dodge a slash, then leaps back to his feet only to dodge another.

Alisbeth flies backward and smacks against a tall green pillar. She screams as the bone in her right arm snaps on a spike, then falls to the ground, her vision blurred and her body shaking.

Taveth growls and calls forth felhunters and imps, then tries to get Keeshokin.

<<Sorry, master, only one of us is allowed out at a time,>> Tryxora says, slowly urging Kel’ori to move to the right. <<I can get him if—>>

“Keep my sister there. We’ll be fine without him,” Taveth says.

<<Ballsy,>> Thal’kiel mutters from a save corner of the room.

Koltira aims his slices at Kazaduum’s ankles, hoping to sever the tendons. The demon hicks his own legs out from under him, then stomps back to the demon hunter.

Anarchaia glances between the two death knights with alarm. She bites her lip, the helplessness of the situation beginning to sink in. Before Khazaduum can bring an arm up to ready an attack on Grimory, she summons a fiery whip that lashes around the demon’s wrist.

Khazaduum stops, not because he’s hindered but rather because he’s intrigued. He smirks and swings his hulking arm in an arc, throwing the mage through the bulk of summoned demons and to the opposite end of the platform—she grunts in pain but manages to shakily lift herself to a knee.

The demon again turns to Grimory, eyes glinting with triumph. <<Are the lot of you even trying?>> He brings a sweeping claw down onto the Illidari’s shoulder, but only cuts shallow as the elf moves away.

Grimory breathes fire over his attacker, but the flames merely lick Khazaduum’s armored claws and forearms as he shields himself. “Shit,” he spits, growing anxious.

Alisbeth struggles to stand. She sends out a tendril of red, draining life from the demon to heal her arm. She gets to her feet, but skids and falls back down as her vision is still doubled.

Koltira pushes back to his feet and runs at Khazaduum, swinging Byfrost down and slicing a deep gash from the demons hip to nearly his knee.

The demon cries out in surprise and pain for the first time. He cringes as his life forces are drained, then turns on Koltira. <<Impudent elves!>> he roars, grabbing Koltira by his long tresses before he can get away. He hisses as another whip bites at his wrist and drops the death knight back to his feet. He turns on the succubus, the humor in his eyes replaced with irritation. <<Traitorous whore.>> He easily shrugs off the blasts of green and orange fire to his back as he brings a razor-sharp claw down on the demoness.

Tryxora yipes in alarm and her form swirls into fel green and purple smoke before he can do her any damage.

Khazaduum gives a quiet chuckle at her cowardice. With her form gone from before him, his glowing eyes focus on another figure hiding in the shadows. He grins and stomps toward the blonde elf near the walkway, still ignoring the attacks to his armored back.

Kel’ori blinks as the pink charm fades from her eyes. She looks around, then squeaks in shock as the huge demon thunders her way. She backs away but stops as her foot slides down when she reaches the end of the platform.

“Kel!” Taveth shouts, then feverishly begins the incantation to summon an infernal.

Alisbeth gets to her feet on the other side of the room, her vision finally cleared. “Get away from my bitchy cousin!” She charges forward.

Khazaduum gives another, more bloodthirsty chuckle. He swings back a clawed hand to ready a strike. Pounding footsteps rush forward as his nails rake around, leaving steaks of green in their wake. The demon grunts and his enthusiasm fades when, instead of slicing into the delicate flesh of the mage before him, his claws dig into the hard muscle of a different body.

Blood sputters from Grimory’s mouth as he coughs; it runs down his lips and stains the patch of blond on his chin. With wings wrapped around the Nightheart girl in a protective stance, he grimaces and avoids looking down at himself, though eventually cannot resist. Coming up and at an angle, the demon’s claws tore through the side of his torso, just below his outstretched arms, until they’d met with enough resistance at his core.

He clenches his eyes shut and forces his mouth closed, but more coughing erupts fun his throat, causing more blood to spray into the woman beneath him. “Run,” he chokes, visibly straining to stay upright.

Alisbeth stops in her tracks and stares in shock at the demon hunter’s mangled torso. She drops the Maw to the ground. Her hands shaking as tears immediately roll from her eyes. “Not again,” she whispers.

Koltira falters, then runs at the demon. “Grim?” he shouts.

Taveth’s incantation comes to a halt. “N-no…”

Thal’kiel hovers over the elf’s shoulder. <<I told you. Run, before you share his fate.>>

Kel’ori gasps in shock, her hands scrabbling at the blood coated skin of Grimory, trying to keep him from falling at her knees. “You saved me,” she whimpers. “You saved me.” His weight becomes too much and she can’t hold him up any longer. Instead of running, the mage builds a massive arcane orb between her palms as Khazaduum readies another swing. She sends the red-colored orb into the leering face of the demon. He screams out as the orb sears his eyes from the socks, then goes quiet when it explodes, slamming him with a fatal concussive blast. She stands in dumb shock for a moment as Khazaduum crashes to the ground.

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