Book 5 – Chapter Forty

Gildwynn pads along near Kel’ori’s feet, finding that traveling as a quadruped allows him to keep up with the others’ long strides. They come upon a two-story building with a laser matrix blanketing the floor just inside. His brow knits. “Uh.”

An image of the Vigilant appears before the two and stops their entry. “This challenge is very simple. Enter, and proceed until you reach the other side of the structure. It is designed to kill you. Best of luck.” He disappears and the entry shimmers open.

Kel’ori groans. “Who decided this was a good idea? What if I’m too slow? What if one hits us? Will it cut us in half? Maybe we should wait for the others.”

Gildwynn fidgets in his place. “Why don’t you just let me handle this one, then, doll?” He steps forward, and with a grace expected of a lupine, leaps from safe zone to safe zone as the lasers strobe across the floor. He turns and smiles inwardly. “Eh? Piece of—” A high pitched yelp escapes him as a large orb of electricity engulfs him from behind. Jolted back to his natural form, he stirs on the floor, jewelry hot on his skin. “Ugh… Karma…”

Kel’ori jumps in shock as the yipe echoes back to her. She finds herself blinked forward past the deadly room. A laser cuts off a chunk from the hem of her dress and she yelps and hops forward. “Are you okay?” She kneels beside him and checks for any visible injuries on the goblin.

Gildwynn gives a small smile up at her and pushes his frazzled hair back. “I am now.”

Kel’ori blushes. “Right, you’re a shaman. Healed right up.” She smiles and holds out a hand to help him stand. “Guess we’re in it together, now. Cause I am not going back the way we came.”

~ * ~

Eophen grins down at Koltira. “Your mate is very commandeering.” He chuckles as they approach the center of the amphitheater. “Though you seem like a man who appreciates that.”

The first visage of a draenei warrior stirs to life and readjusts his sword. “Ah. Challengers? Why, it feels like it’s been a millennia since.” He steps forward, weapon raised.

Koltira smirks at the draenei. “A soldier is meant to follow orders.” He regards the image and cracks his knuckles. “So, we’re just sparring with ghosts? Easy enough.”

Eophen swings the specter’s sword away with his hammer and nods without looking back. “I am sure Miss Sparkles will serve you no problem.” He glances over at an advancing draenei mage, her ghostly hands filled with arcane energy.

“Good luck defeating this!” she cries with a haughty grin and sends a barrage of purple projectiles at the death knight.

Koltira raises his large lavender shield over the two; the projectiles shatter against it. He drags her to him and swings wide to hit both specters with one arcing sweep. “No problems at all.”

The duo make short work of the contenders. The final one kneels before them, supported by his staff. “You have bested the trial of mastery. Please, go forth on your journey.”

Eophen glances over at Anarchaia and Taveth, then motions to the other direction with a strong chin. “They seem to have it under control. Perhaps we go help small green man and pretty, erratic elf?”

Koltira nods. “Yeah. I think they went that way.” He points up the hill to the building and begins heading that way.

Eophen follows the death knight until they reach the building. He glances inside just in time to see the goblin stand with Kel’ori’s help. “How are we doing in here?”

Gildwynn brushes himself off, then puffs his chest, the question filling him with determination. “We’re fine, actually.” He looks up at Kel’ori and smiles. “You even blinked right. Wanna try again?” He gestures over his shoulder, then shifts again to a wolf to weave past another ball of energy descending the stairs toward them.

Kel’ori waves to the two in the doorway. “We can handle it. I think.” She hops to the side to avoid an oncoming orb, then runs to the back of the room where they can’t reach her. She studies the orbs rolling down either side of the stairs. “There’s a pattern. When the one on the right reaches the bottom, start running up that staircase.” She absently sets her fingertips in the wolf’s fur and prepares to run. “Ready?”

The wolf’s ears swivel to listen to her instructions and he mindlessly leans into her hand as she talks. He nods. “You go first. If you get hurt, I can heal you. I’ll be right behind you.”

Koltira rests on a hip. “Well…either they make it or we’re three party members short, right?”

Eophen chuckles, then pauses and gives Koltira a sideways glance with golden eyes. “Three?”

The mage rushes up the stairs as a purple orb dissipates at the bottom. She yelps and stops as one flies past and onto a balcony before popping out of existence. She rushes out onto the balcony as a new orb spawns at the top of the stairs. “Out here, quick!”

The wolf scales the stairs four at a time. He shakes his hackles when he gets to the top and growls. “You two take the tenacity test,” he mocks in a high, nasally voice and looks up the last round of stairs. “Wanna just run for it?”

Kel’ori nods and braces herself to run, eyes fixed on the orbs as she figures out the pattern. “Count of three? One…two…”

Koltira cocks an eyebrow at the draenei. “You haven’t figured it out by now? Kel’ori is with child. Or rather with monster, if you view it in a certain light. If anyone asks, I didn’t say that.” He steps out of the doorway and looks around. “Think they’ll come out back here, or…”

Eophen blinks, then gives another chuckle. “Is that what that is? I thought she was just overly fond of marsuul.” He nods. “You have my word. But…monster?” He gestures to a mezzanine high above them. “Appears to be the only exit.”

“Three!” Gildwynn leaps forward, pushing Kel’ori onto his back and bounding up the stairs. With too much forward momentum, he skids to a halt on the upper balcony, just before the edge. He gives a breathless chuckle. “Easy. Heh.”

Kel’ori giggles and hops from the wolf, then kneels to hug him. “Amazing! We really do make a great team, I guess.”

“Oh, you made it. Wonderful,” the Gatekeeper’s image drones from the edge of the balcony. “Fine. This trial is complete… Merely because I seem to have run out of space in which to test you.” He shimmers out of existence.

Koltira purses his lips. “It’s half demon.” He backs out of the entryway and motions for the lightforged to follow him around the side of the building, where an image of the vigilant stands on a broken platform. “Here, maybe?”

Eophen joins him below the balcony just in time to see the spectral wolf nearly fall from it. “Half demon, you say? She has peculiar interests.”

“Actually, she wasn’t interested. And it’s best not to mention it to her.” Koltira sets his teeth to his lower lip and lets out a shrill whistle. “When you’re done cuddling up there… I saw the other two headed back, we shouldn’t keep them waiting.”

Eophen’s face falls and he shifts uncomfortably. “R-right.”

Kel’ori frowns and pats the wolf’s head one last time, then looks for a way down that isn’t such a high drop.

Heart pounding from the hug and the run, Gildwynn’s ears pull back at the shrill whistle. He motions back the way they’d come, the traps now seemingly inactive. “You could just put a slow fall spell on us, though, right?” He suddenly remembers all of her failed attempts at magic and clears his throat. “Eh, never mind.” He makes his way back downstairs. “How did you two do?”

Kel’ori follows the shaman and takes a moment to rest against the doorway, a hand over her stomach. Her nose wrinkles and she covers her face. “I’d almost forgotten about that smell. And it’s in my robes, now. This is the worst. I’m hungry.”

Koltira waits patiently for the mage to finish complaining, then shrugs. “It was something I’m good at—swinging a sword and beating things up. Easy. You two look mostly unscathed.” He eyes the burned edge of the mage’s dress.

Gildwynn sniffs the air again, then shrugs a furry shoulder.

Eophen gives them a small smile and gestures back to the amphitheater. “I am sure the other two have finished, yes?”

“Yep,” Koltira says simply, then leads the way.

Kel’ori falls into step behind the death knight, flashing a quick smile to the other two men as she passes. “Trials. Ha! When’s lunch?”

Eophen chuckles. “I am not hungry but… Perhaps smaller mage has means to help you.”

Kel’ori makes a face. “Her conjured food takes like… Like I want to vomit. I think I’ve still got…” She digs into her bag and frowns at the small amount of bacon left. “Better than nothing, I guess.”

Koltira cocks an eyebrow behind him at the high elf. “I’m sure we can get you back to the ship for a bite.” His eyes involuntarily slide to her abdomen, which seems slightly rounder to him—she flops her cloak over herself and purses her lips at the death knight. Koltira rolls his eyes and directs a telling expression to the paladin.

The party rejoins at the amphitheater entrance and Vigilant Quoram sighs. “I’m as surprised as I am disappointed that you all still have your limbs. Though I could tectonically disqualify you for separating and taking on the challenges in duos…”

Anarchaia folds her arms. “That would be rather unfair. What would it matter if we all did it at once or split up?”

The mechanism groans in disgust. “I technically must tell you that the relic you seek is to the north of here. In a crumbling ruin.”

“Ruins. Got it. Let’s go,” Koltira says, almost impatiently.

Kel’ori whimpers, but follows, shoving bacon into her mouth.

The party reaches said ruins and stops, taken aback by an image of Archimonde standing in the center of what was once a grand room.

“Unsettling,” Taveth says as he begins sketching.

“To say the least.” Anarchaia mumbles and pokes the heel of her boot into the dirt a time or two.

A levitating stone sits within a pillar of light at the back of a small alcove. Eophen makes to grab it, but his hand merely passes through.

The image of Archimonde shakes his head. “To obtain the keystone you must first pass the test of will and perseverance.”

Several visages of draenei men and women fade into existence around the group, outnumbering them by a small few. The mages immediately begin casting as the paladins run forward with hammers raised.

Gildwynn, now on two feet, grabs an item from his bag and throws it to the dirt; it springs open to reveal a humming totem. Energy pulses from it, summoning roots that grab at the spirits’ ankles. It hinders the fighters, but the magi are undeterred.

As before with the panthara, Koltira runs to the center-most point and lifts Byfrost into the air. Purple tendrils snake out and pull all the unrooted images to him, where he drops decay beneath them. He grabs a casting straggler and pulls her to him. “Swing wide, Eophen. Let’s get these bastards as fast as possible.”

The farthest caster suddenly stops and stares ahead for a moment. He stomps forward, past the others and up to Taveth. “Hi, master! Want me to kill it?” he asks in a voice which echoes yet is hollow.

The elf cringes for the quickest second, then realizes what is happening and turns around to see Tryxora waving extatically at him. He pinches the bridge of his nose. “Yeah, okay. Kill the ghost.”

The demoness gives a squeal of excitement and runs forward, knocking the image backward into the others with her whip. Once her target is dead, she looks over her shoulder, winks at Taveth, and gives her butt a little wiggle. “Bet you liked watching that!”

“Not really,” he drones.

Kel’ori cocks an eyebrow. “Why does she keep coming back? I thought you had to summon your demons.”

“She’s just completely in love with him,” Anarchaia explains and blasts the knocked-over enemies with fire and ice; they dissipate back into the ether.

Eophen swings his hammer in a wide arc, knocking the ones that had been pulled forward back. They, too, are obliterated.

The oncoming enemies stand little chance against the party of six and are soon defeated. The draenei member of the crew again tries to take the large keystone and is delighted when he’s able to lift it. It hovers gently in his palm. He beams down at the others—Tryxora included. “Well done, yes?”

The demoness pushes herself to the draenei’s arm. <<And, uh, who might you be?>>

“Tryx,” Taveth warns.

<<I’m being friendly!>> she shouts.

The elf deflates and shrugs it off, not in the mood to deal with the succubus.

<<Hey, what’s her problem?>> she asks, pointing at Kel’ori, whose wrist is at her nose again.

“She says it smells bad here.”

The mage perks. “Why are you talking about me?”

Tryxora sniffs. <<She’s kind of right. It’s like…sickly sweet flowers or something.>> The pink woman grins up at the draenei. <<Isn’t my master just so handsome? I’m surprised I don’t have to fight off tons of females that don’t understand he’s mine.>>

Eophen gives the demoness a nervous grin and clears his throat. He leans the object away from her as though she may take it, then clears his throat. <<My Eredun may be rusty, but, uhm…Eophen. My name is.>> He looks at Taveth. “She is yours?”

Gildwynn and Anarchaia look at one another at the mention of the smell. The mage shrugs. “Demons generally say I smell that way? Perhaps it’s the combination of both she and myself…?”

Taveth hangs his head and gives a faint nod. “Unfortunately, yes. I um, found a relic of your world and…the rest just happened.” He withdraws the spinal dagger and the skull shimmers into existence.

<<Oh, you’re out here, again,>> Thal’kiel says to Tryxora.

<<I am! Poker is boring with you and Spinewing…you don’t let me strip. Say! Do you smell something nasty besides these two mages?>>

Eophen takes a large step away from the succubus.

Taveth folds his arms and purses his lips. “Sorry, I guess they need to catch up.”

<<Quiet, you!>> the skull says. <<No. I only smell them. Why?>>

“My sister says she smells something sickening and sweet. It’s making her nauseous,” Taveth says.

Thal’kiel hums with interest. <<Fascinating.>> He flies over to the mage and sniffs. <<Old berries and…orchid,>> he says. <<Disgusting.>> He goes to Anarchaia. <<Even worse! This one has always been bad. She smells like fermented apples and lilacs. Have you ever smelled anything more abhorrent? Lilacs!>>

Taveth purses his lips and blinks. “Kel, go smell Ana.”

“What?”

“Just do it.”

Kel’ori makes a face and goes to the other mage. “Sorry.” She sniffs at the girl’s shoulder. “Uhm, rotten-ish fruit and flowers? And her perfume, of course.”

Anarchaia hugs herself and raises her shoulders as she’s nasally scrutinized. She stares off into the distance as though disassociating with the current topic, brow furrowed and lips tight.

Thal’kiel laughs. <<Interesting. Is she still with child? Because that would explain it. Spinewing said she’d destroyed it. Such a waste.>>

Taveth’s cheeks darken with stress and shock. “Thank you, that’s enough.” He puts the dagger away. “He says you’re just…smelling yourself. Because of the…”

The mage cries out and drops onto a crumbling step. “How much longer am I going to be smelling myself like this?”

Gildwynn clears his throat. “U-uhm. I guess…until…?” He gives a nervous half-chuckle. “Y’know.”

The mage scowls and pulls her cloak self-consciously around herself. She pushes to her feet and walks past them all, her nose in the air. “I don’t need your judgement,” she mutters.

Taveth sighs at the demoness. “We’re going through light magic. You may want to leave.”

She pouts. <<I guess.>> She runs over to kiss him on the cheek, but he flails and pushes her away.

Koltira’s brow lowers as he pushes away from the pillar he’s leaning against. “Can we go, now that that’s settled?”

“Oh. Uh, I can just…” Anarchaia nods and lifts a hand and a swirling portal of light appears—an image of the main deck of the Vindicaar visible in its center.

The shaman gives her a grateful nod and pads through. He sighs on the other side and shifts back to his birth form. “Actually missing my shop,” he mutters and takes a seat on a step.

Eophen follows, eager to relieve himself of the discomfort. He smiles as Velen descends the stairs toward him.

“Ah, good,” the Prophet says. “I’m glad to see you’ve returned in one piece.” He smiles tiredly at the lightforged and takes the Sigil of Awakening from him. He brings it to the center of the room and it lifts itself into place. “You have my thanks, young Eophen. I’m sure your father will be proud.”

Eophen shifts uncomfortably. “I…yes.” He chuckles and bows his head. “Thank you, prophet.”

Kel’ori doubles back and uses the portal, keeping her head down as though Anarchaia’s watchful eyes were on her. She rushes to the mess hall, her gaze on the floor under her feet, and finds a seat to enjoy the variety of meats on her tray.

Taveth gives the lightforged a smile. He waits until Velen becomes busy with other matters, then approaches. “I’m not sure if the others wanted to go to Dalaran, but…if we do, would you, I mean, if you want to, um…” He grabs the strap of his bag and looks away. “Y-you can join us…if you like.”

Eophen blinks down at him, then lowers his hammer to rest on the floor. He glances between all of the elf’s changes in body language. He sets a hand on Taveth’s shoulder in an attempt to calm him. “I would love to visit your world.”

Taveth grins and straightens, looking up at the man. “My family owns a tavern—you don’t have to drink, of course—but we serve food, as well. My sister, not Kel’ori, makes the best peanut chicken you’ve ever had—not that you’ve ever had any. That is, if you’d like to go to Stormwind. Am I rambling? I’m rambling.” He clamps his lips together but smiles all the same.

Koltira takes Anarchaia by the hand and drags her through the portal. He sighs and takes in all of their companions. “I hope they don’t mind a very short rest,” he says low to her. “I’m rather sick of this entire planet and would rather not linger longer than necessary. How about you?”

Anarchaia sighs and hugs herself again before nodding. “I’m…surprisingly tired.” She places a hand on her forehead, then offers him a small smile. “I’d like to go rest somewhere. Preferably back on Azeroth. Heh.”

“That sounds like a wonderful plan.” He eyes the others in the main room. “We’re headed back to Azeroth, but don’t feel obligated to join us.” He hooks an arm around Anarchaia’s waist and leads her down the stairs.

Eophen watches the elf flounder with light amusement. He chuckles. “Anything you suggest I am interested in. You can be my guide.” He looks over his shoulder at the goblin. “Are you accompanying us?”

Gildwynn perks, then glances the way Kel’ori had gone. “Uh…yeah. Let me go get her.” He makes his way back to the mess hall. “Hey, girlie. They’re going back to Dal. You ready?”

Kel’ori smiles at the goblin. “Sorry for my outburst earlier. You really want me to go with you?”

Gildwynn smiles at her and nods. “I think I’d—we’d feel bad leaving you behind.” He watches her practically inhale her bacon. “Unless you’d miss whatever that is too much.”

The mage shrugs. “I suppose I can go.” She wipes her mouth and leaves her tray to walk with the shaman and meet the others.

Taveth leads Eophen to the portal and stops to wait for the other two. “Do you need to…tell anyone you’re leaving?”

Eophen fidgets, then shrugs an apprehensive shoulder. “Cannot possibly disappoint him more.” He gives a small, uncomfortable chuckle.

Taveth smiles at the others and takes the lead, waiting for them on the other side of the portal. “We can stay here or visit Stormwind. Whichever you’ve a mind to do.”

Kel’ori frowns. “I’d rather not see dad right now.”

Gildwynn lowers his ears at the mention of the Alliance city and gives a small shrug. “I’m actually just gonna pop on by the shop. Make sure it isn’t completely destroyed, y’know?” He gives a small wave as he heads in that direction. “Call on me again if you need me!”

Eophen does not see him go, his golden eyes scanning the tall spires and buildings. He snaps out of his wonder and gives an embarrassed smile. “I am fine with whatever. Heh. Or perhaps a small tour of this city? It is very…what is the word? Purple.”

Taveth nods at the draenei. “Yes! Of course! Let me show you around. Kel, care to join?”

She shrugs. “Shoulda just…stayed behind,” she mumbles under her breath.

Eophen pats Kel’ori on the shoulder. “Perhaps you could join him?” He smiles. “From the sounds of it, he may need assistance.”

The mage fidgets for a moment, then heads off into the city alone, cloak wrapped protectively around herself.

He turns back to Taveth. “So, where is your favorite place here?”

Taveth thinks on it. “Since I’m not allowed in the secret library here, I usually find myself in the Legerdemain Lounge with my friends. The tavern, of course, feels like a home away from home with Ervaen there. Sadly, I haven’t actually gotten to have much leisure time in the city.”

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