Book 5 – Chapter Forty-Four

Just outside the back entrance to the tavern the mage taps her boot nervously. She gives an uneasy smile when Jorick approaches, but it quickly gives way to a frown. “Look,” she begins, “a lot has happened since we were teenagers.”

“You mean since I left.”

She cringes, then nods. “And I’m only showing you this because I-… Because I think you deserve to know. And because if it were the other way around, I would want to know.” She frowns up into his face, but her hands remain at her sides.

Jorick folds his arms, armor clinking, and stares down at her with intense interest and no smile. “I noticed. Your skin, that is. What happened?” His eyes grow wide as she hesitantly removes her mask. Suddenly sober and with a rush of anger, he grabs her by the arms. “Who?!”

Anarchaia yipes in surprise and drops her mask. “B-bandits! Rogues!”

He growls. “But who?!

“Flayblade!”

He releases her and takes a half step away. “Morohest.”

She nods and rubs at her arms. “Y-yeah. Mother and Father, too.”

Alisbeth perks an ear from where she leans into the empty bathroom. She turns to the door leading outside, then kicks it wide open and hops outside. “Who’s shouting out here? Hey!” She grabs Jorick by the shoulder and pulls him back. “Don’t you yell at Amaryllis!” She stops, still as a statue as she stares at the mage.

Jorick instinctively reaches for a dagger at his belt when he’s jerked back, then relaxes some and lowers his eyelids. “Oh.”

Anarchaia, however, mimics the death knights stony state, hands over her mouth. “A-Ali…” She swallows. “I…didn’t want you t-to find out like this. I didn’t want you to find out at all.” She cautiously lifts her hands out in front of herself.

Jorick furrows his brow at the tension and slowly reaches for his dagger again.

Alisbeth jerks at the sound of the man’s armor shifting for his weapon. She spins on him and shoves her elbow into his nose, then pushes off him, launching at the mage. “You monster!” She gets her hands around the mage’s throat. “You tricked me. You lied to me!”

Jorick grunts and immediately holds his broken nose. When the sparkles in his vision flutter away, he jumps forward to pull at Alisbeth, quickly putting a blade to her throat and struggling to subdue her.

Anarchaia blinks out of the death knight’s grasp and away a few feet. She holds her aching throat. “Don’t hurt her!”

The man does his best to hold onto the flailing elf. “Don’t hurt her?! She just tried to kill you!”

“She can’t kill me by strangulation. Just knock me out…”

“I don’t care,” he growls and pushes the blade closer.

“Jorick, no! I mean it!”

Alisbeth pulls at the man’s wrist. She screams, high and shrill. “I knew it! I knew it! You’re one of them! You’re here to finish the job!” She suddenly stops resisting and instead presses the blade to her throat. “Do it. Do it!

Jorick has to physically restrain from actually cutting the woman in his arms. “She told me not to!”

~ * ~

The two death knights jump and blink at each other as the sound of the scream enters the tavern. Grimory, knocking over anything in his way, rushes through the back door as fast as his legs can muster. He stops at the sight if a blade at Alisbeth’s throat and clenches his fists as they morph into claws.

The human lifts a hand. “Woah, now. I’m not going to hurt her. Ana told me not to.”

The demon hunter turns at the mention of Anarchaia, then pauses at the rare sight of her face. Realization hits him and he turns back to Alisbeth, wanting to explain but knowing he cannot.

“You knew,” Alisbeth says. She glares at the other death knights. “You all knew! You’re all trying to kill me!” She screams and shoves out of Jorick’s grip, then rushes toward the mage. But she doesn’t stop. She runs to the end of the alley to flee.

Thassarian raises his eyebrows at Anarchaia. “Oh. Now you’ve gone and done it.”

Anarchaia scoffs at Thassarian and gestures to herself. “Me?! What have I done?! She came eavesdropping and—”

Koltira grits his teeth and goes to her. “Are you okay?”

She stops and sighs. “Yeah,” she says calmly. “I’m fine.”

Thassarian holds up his hands. “Not what I meant. Just, no offense intended, you being…that. In general. Not your fault, of course.”

Jorick brings a hand up to reset his broken nose, then grunts in pain as fresh blood streams over his lips and chin. “Light, if I’d known this would happen, I’d have kept to my own business.” He replaces the dagger as he watches the demon hunter run off after Alisbeth.

Anarchaia frowns over at him. “I’m sorry.”

Koltira shakes his head at the man. “You’re fine, Jorick. Anything can trigger her. Just being in this city with forsaken guards is…a bad idea. It’s a long story, but the quick and dirty of it is that two forsaken murdered her. She sought vengeance and had to be locked up.”

Thassarian tsks and shakes his head. “I told Mograine it was a bad idea. Tried to get her out, but it wasn’t enough. Her mind couldn’t handle it.” He leans around the other death knight to look at the mage. “Glad you’re okay.”

Anarchaia’s frown deepens and she shrugs. “Physically.” She glances down the alleyway and sighs again. “I’m sure Grim can handle it.” She goes to Jorick and pushes his hand away. “You need a healer.”

The man shakes his head and wipes the blood into the smooth metal of his armored arm. “No biggie. Been broke before. Heh.” He finds he can’t keep eye contact with her for more than a couple seconds. “Just needs time.”

She scowls despite the discomfort. “It won’t heal the same if you leave it.” The mage scoffs when he refuses again, then turns to the death knights and gestures for them to help.

Thassarian grabs the other human by the back of his cuirass. “Healer is open all hours. Let’s go.”

Jorick puts up a bit of resistance before wriggling free when they reach the streets. “Hold on, all right? Look, yeah, healers are fine and dandy, but you know what’s better? Apothecaries.” He gives Thassarian a bloody smile before patting him on the shoulder. “Thanks for the excitement, friend.” He turns in the opposite direction from the infirmary.

Thassarian narrows his eyes. “If you say so. Don’t tell Ana I let you go.”

Jorick laughs from the light of a street lamp down the road. “Why? You afraid of her?” he calls as he waves and turns into another alleyway.

Koltira stoops and picks up Anarchaia’s mask. He pushes it gently into her fingers. “I’m sorry,” he whispers, as though all of it is his fault.

Anarchaia shakes her head and sinks to sit on her heels. She wrings the mask in her hands, then holds back a sob she hadn’t anticipated. “This is bad, isn’t it?” she asks quietly.

Koltira lets out a lungful of air as he kneels beside her. He sets his palm comfortingly on her spine. “Possibly. But…maybe we can find a way around it? With all that’s happened, she does like you, I think. Otherwise she would have just killed you with her first suspicions.”

Anarchaia breaks down into tears. “She did try to kill me! And she didn’t even know!” She turns to bury her face in his shoulder. “And I’m not only afraid of what she’ll do, I’m afraid of what will happen to her if she succeeds.”

Koltira sighs. “What do you want to do about it?”

Anarchaia shrugs and sniffles. She rubs at her nose with the back of her hand. “Kill myself before she inevitably does? Heh.”

Koltira presses his palm to Anarchaia’s shoulder until she tips over. “No.” He stands and offers her a hand up off the ground, absently nodding as Thassarian returns to the end of the alley. “How about a real solution? We could tell her not to rejoin us on Argus.”

Anarchaia gives a quiet oof as she falls, then sticks out a lower lip at the hand up. She hesitates as she stands. “I…don’t want to give any commands to her. But I don’t want to get hurt and I don’t want to hurt her.” She chews on her lip as she thinks. “It may be best just to avoid her.” She pauses. “Forever.”

He shakes his head and hugs her. “Argus isn’t that small, Ana. She either goes or she stays, there really is no avoiding her.”

The mage takes a moment to think, then clenches her fists. “Well I’m not inviting her. If she wants to go with Grim, then so be it. I’m done with niceties. With pretending like we’re friends.”

“Were you always pretending? Or were you actually her friend? Maybe after you two calm down you can try to talk…”

She folds her arms and looks away. “Do you want me to be honest or do you want me to be nice?”

Koltira lets out a long breath. “Just…never mind. You’re right. She can’t go with us anymore.”

Anarchaia gives a small growl of frustration then turns to him. “I tried to. Really, I did. But when she…murdered you, all my efforts became really watered down.” She deflates some, shoulders sagging. “Maybe we should just…go home.”

Koltira frowns. “You know I can’t. Not yet. And if I did manage to go get away with going against orders, that idiot scholar would go off on his own and die. I actually like the squirrelly little bastard.”

“Taveth?” Thassarian asks as he reaches them. “He’s a weird one. Makes good drinks.”

Anarchaia pouts. “His new boyfriend can take care of him…” She groans. “Can we just get sloppy drunk and pass out somewhere, then?” She smiles at Thassarian. “The three of us?”

“Boyfriend?” Thassarian asks, an eyebrow raised.

Koltira laughs. “Don’t say anything to him. He just gets flustered and trips over his own tongue. Come on. Drinks on Ana.” He winks down at her and opens the door, ushering the two inside with a hand.

Anarchaia scoops up her mask and rolls her eyes with a small grin. “Sure. I’m debt free, now. Why not?”

~ * ~

Grimory calls out for Alisbeth, then curses inwardly when his voice doesn’t come. He hisses through his teeth and jumps into the air to follow from the skies.

Alisbeth stops and grabs a stone from inside a floating potted planter. She spins and lobs it at the man flying overhead. “I won’t let you take me!” she screams, then continues running.

Grimory narrowly dodges the stone, then leaps down in front of her and turns, arms outstretched in his best attempt to stop her.

Alisbeth fights against the man’s arms. “Please. Please. I don’t want to die. Please, don’t kill me.”

Grimory struggles with the woman for a moment before pressing his lips to her ear. “Ali, I’m not going to hurt you. It’s Grim, yeah? Me. You know me,” he whispers, doing his best not to hurt her.

“No, no, you tricked me. You’re all conspiring against me!” She struggles half-heartedly against him, her panic instead manifesting as tears.

Grimory frowns and loosens his grasp as she fights less and less. His hold on her becomes more of an embrace and he turns her around to hug her instead. “We didn’t. We aren’t.”

Alisbeth’s body shivers, though she’s colder than the night air. “But you all lied to me. I’m so scared. What is she going to do to me?”

Grimory shakes his head and pulls away to look her in the eyes. ::She’s not going to do anything to you, Ali. She likes you. She wouldn’t hurt you.::

She closes her eyes and shakes her head. “What else are you lying to me about? How can I trust any of you? Are you the one that put me in the room? Did they do it?”

Grimory scowls down at her. ::I didn’t. What reason do I have to lie to you? Have I ever lied to you?::

The death knight shrugs. “I don’t know. Maybe. I want to go home.”

Grimory nods and steers her back toward the lounge. ::Maybe we can see Diori tomorrow. Would that make you feel better? And when I get my voice back, we could visit Mother and Father.::

Alisbeth stops. Her shoulders slump and she stares at the Legerdemain Lounge ahead of them. Then almost instantly, she bursts into more furious tears.

Grimory flinches in surprise and steps in front of her to look into her face, panic in his eyes. ::What? What’s the matter? Please stop crying…::

Alisbeth rubs her nose but doesn’t stop crying. After barely hearing what he whispers, she sniffles and shakes her head. “That’s home.” As she says it, her ears droop and she covers her face. “That’s not a home. I don’t have a home.”

Grimory frowns, brow knit. ::If you leave the city, you’ll never be allowed back in. We could get a house somewhere, yeah? You could stay there. That’d be home.::

Alisbeth shrugs and wipes her eyes as the tears subside. She gazes at the dark city, its lights shining in the green glow from the fel-tainted clouds covering the moon. “Why can’t I just be normal? And have friends? I just want…” She looks at her feet and turns to amble toward the Legerdemain Lounge.

Grimory’s disposition grows forlorn as he watches her walk away. He runs a hand over his hair and catches up in a few steps. ::Want to take a shower and rest a bit? I’ll…order cocoa. With mint?::

Alisbeth frowns and reaches back to take the demon hunter’s hand. She slips her fingers between his and squeezes. “Cocoa and cuddles on the couch in front of the fire?” She slowly smiles as she says it, until she’s grinning and leaning into his shoulder.

Grimory returns the grin, albeit tiredly, and nods. ::I’d love to.::

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