Taveth wakes in the morning shivering. He sits up and groans, rubbing his arms. He looks to the two keeping watch, Anarchaia wrapped in Koltira’s arms, then to his cousin, who is slowly tilting side to side as she stares at something on the ceiling.
“The fire went out,” he complains.
“Oh,” Alisbeth says, as though genuinely not having noticed.
“Why didn’t you feed it?” He grabs one of the extra logs and sets it in the pit, hoping there are some embers left over to catch.
“Nobody told me to.”
His eyelids lower at her.
Grimory groans and shifts in his half sleep. He sits up and readjusts his hair that had fallen loose during the night. “Ana,” he whines loudly after realizing she’s not there, “food. Fire.”
Anarchaia sits up with a small gasp. “The fire!” She stumbles over Koltira’s legs and back into the cave. “I’m sorry!” The logs roar back to life and the bundle of rations they’d bought the day before appears near the pit. She opens it and hands some bread and meat to Taveth and Grimory, then bends over Jorick’s still sleeping figure to attempt to push a piece into his mouth.
The man quickly grabs her wrist and glares up at her with a sharp gasp. After she gives a quiet cry of surprise and pain, he relaxes and quickly sits up, releasing her and pulling the bread from his mouth. “I’m sorry, Ana! I-I didn’t mean to! You surpris—”
“It’s fine,” she says, rubbing her wrist. “I’ll remember not to wake you up by shoving things into your face. Sorry.” She chuckles.
Taveth blinks up at the mage. “You can wake me by shoving things in my mouth.” He gives her a silly grin.
“Does that invitation extend to me?” Koltira asks from just inside the mouth of the cave.
Taveth gives a fake dramatic sigh. “If you must.”
Grimory knits his brow as he stands and stretches. “This conversation is getting inappropriate.” He yawns.
Both Jorick and Anarchaia give quiet snickers. The latter helps the former to his feet. “Get your fill of breakfast.” She takes the remaining couple of logs and sends them back to the outpost. “We leave as soon as you’re all ready.”
“Can I shove things in your mouth?” Alisbeth asks the demon hunter.
Grimory smirks down at her after chewing his rasher. “Depends on what it is.”
The death knight thinks as she pushes to her feet. “Something you can eat that isn’t food?” She grins at him.
Grimory taps his chin as though unable to provide an answer. He shrugs at her as he buckles his belt back around his waist. “Chewing gum.”
Taveth chews his food slow and tired, not quite ready to leave the warmth of the newly restored fire.
Anarchaia folds her arms as she stands over Taveth. “Lead in your boots?” she says teasingly.
Taveth mumbles something with the bread shoved into his mouth.
Koltira strides in and folds his arms. “Ana, you’re too nice. We leave in five minutes. Finish your food or stay in the cave. Without the fire.”
“Okay, daddy.” Taveth stops and cringes at himself. “I was meaning that in a completely different manner than it came out. Now I have regrets.”
Anarchaia barks a laugh and points at the high elf with a smirk. <<Only I get to call him that.>> She extinguishes the fire and sends the still smoking logs away for later use.
Jorick’s eyelids lower as he runs his fingers through his hair. He pulls the bread from his mouth and turns for the mouth of the cave. “I’ll be outside before I completely lose my appetite.”
The group gets going, Taveth still grumbling and finishing the small meal he’d eaten too slowly. As they pass under the shadow of Falcon Watch, Alisbeth points up at the spire.
“That’s where we got the wood! They have my stupid helmet.”
They continue walking south and west until a massive bramble forest is before them; behind it looms the darkness of Terrokar Forest. They stop, Koltira readying his blade as Arrakoa stop within the brambles to take notice of the travelers.
“You all didn’t hope this was going to be a pleasurable stroll, did you?” Koltira asks, smirking down at Anarchaia.
“I get to kill things!” Alisbeth shouts. She withdraws her axe and runs toward the bird people.
Anarchaia stares onward, bemused. “It never is, is it?” she grumbles. An Arakkoa, clearly the most foolhardy, runs toward them, followed by the rest; he squawks as a fireball hits him square in the face, then dances around, trying to put out the burning feathers.
Grimory lifts a large mutated hand to cover his face when a bolt of violet energy is thrown at him. He growls in pain and runs forward, after the spellcaster who screeches and attempts to run away.
A quieter enemy attempts to flank them from the fallen crag near the base of the walls. Poisoned daggers ready, it lunges for the bulk of the group.
Koltira plucks the Arakkoa from the air. He lifts Byfrost to catch the would-be assassin on the blade. The creature squawks and clutches the deep gash across his chest.
Alisbeth cuts through the bird people, laughing in excitement as she leaves them dead or just maimed on the ground. “Grim! C’mon! I can see the other side!” She runs for the path covered over by a bramble canopy.
The Arakkoa recovers somewhat, shakily lifting the dagger, then jerks and falls sideways into the dirt, a dagger protruding from its temple. Jorick easily slides the blade back out with a boot on its head. He notices the two elves racing toward the end of the path and grits his teeth.
“C’mon, bookworm,” he says as he grabs Taveth by the wrist and follows.
Anarchaia follows suit as well, blasting the last few remaining Arakkoa with fire when they get too close.
Taveth runs after the human. As they reach the others, more bird men pour from their hovels carved into the hills.
They pick up their pace until they reach the darkness of the forest and hide in among the trees, but the Arakkoa refuse to follow them into the tree line, anyway.
Koltira sheaths Byfrost and furrows his brow. “Because that’s not disconcerting at all.”
“It is,” Grimory says through huffs of air. “This place is dangerous. My squad and I were sent to Shattrath once on a supply run. A couple of us didn’t make it back to the temple.”
Jorick wipes the blood from his dagger onto the edge of his boot. “Comforting. We should do our best to not make camp here, then.”
“Shadowmoon is just as unforgiving.”
The human purses his lips. “Of course it is.”
Taveth, sunk to the bottom of a tree as he tries to catch his breath, withdraws his dagger and slips it into his belt. Thal’kiel shimmers into view and spins around.
<<What? What do you want?>>
“Float above us and play lookout,” he says.
<<Menial tasks? What do I look like, a common adventurer to you?>> Thal’kiel swirls indignantly, but rises higher and shifts side to side, looking for anything out of the ordinary. <<Good job with the Illidari,>> he says, almost ruefully.
“Careful, that was almost a compliment.” Taveth pushes back to his feet and wipes his brow. “I suppose tarrying in any location is a bad idea, then.”
Koltira nods once. “Let’s try to not stop moving until we get to the temple, then. How long is the journey?” He asks Grimory.
“Not long by dragonhawk,” Alisbeth says wistfully as she cleans the blade of her axe.
“If you’re taking a dragonhawk, then I’ll stay behind, heh,” the mage mutters nervously from the back.
“Oh for fuck’s sake, Ana,” Grimory grumbles.
“Cute little dragonhawks, too?” Jorick teases with a smile.
“If it’s bigger than me it can stay far, far away,” she hisses.
The Illidari rolls his eyes. “It’ll take a few days if we stick to the outskirts. Longer if we run into any troubles. Shadowmoon is a flat wasteland. Shouldn’t take long to traverse after that.” He eyes the skull overhead.
Alisbeth shrugs. “I don’t see any dragonhawks. Time to walk. Yay. Walking. I love walking.” She takes Grimory’s hand and starts kicking her way through the tall grass.
Taveth nods. “He’ll help keep an eye out.” He points up at the flaming skull.
“Or draw attention,” Koltira says blandly.
<<I would never! … Or would I?>> Thal’kiel cackles and swirls around the nearest tree.
“Draw attention and I’ll have Alisbeth pull out your teeth,” Taveth says.
The death knight perks. “Can I do it now?” She hops up and down in excitement.
“Let’s just go,” Koltira says. He sets his palm between Anarchaia’s shoulder blades and guides her after the two in the lead.
After the day progresses, the group comes upon a large stream, the one end rushing over the edge of the world and into the nothingness below. On the other side and into the distance sits a small outpost of sindorei make—one of its spires reaching toward the stars.
Anarchaia holds out a hand to Jorick who relinquishes the map in his cuirass. “Firewing Point?” she says curiously.
“One of Kael’thas’ outposts,” Grimory explains. “Not kind to Alliance. Or much of anyone who hasn’t earned their trust.” He chews on the inside of a cheek. “We should go around, yeah? To be safe.”
“We don’t have much of a choice with the river,” the mercenary mutters.
Alisbeth grins and bites on her lip. “I can go there. They’d know me.” She begins to go in that direction but stops when the demon hunter holding her hand doesn’t move. “They’re friends, right?”
Taveth cringes. “Not friends to us.”
“Keep moving,” Koltira urges, putting himself between any sentries and the mage.
<<Oh, but I wanted to see her go in,>> Thal’kiel drones. <<Crossing to the right. Less deep. Don’t slip and break your necks.>> He lets out a heavy sigh. <<Or do.>>
“No, no. Here.” Anarchaia kneels at the chosen crossing place. She sets her hands in the water and a bridge of thick ice blooms across its surface.
Jorick whistles as he crosses. “Impressive, little bird. I remember when you couldn’t even make ice for drinks at the tavern.”
She chuckles embarrassedly and follows. “I guess twenty years of work is finally paying off.”
Koltira’s eyelid lower. She said not to worry. And yet… He makes sure Taveth gets safely across, then leaves the other two to cross. “Now which way?” he asks, not looking back at his companions as he scans the area.
Alisbeth jogs forward and slides across the ice, giggling as she trips over the grass on the other side. “Grim! Slide! It’s so fun!”
Grimory gives a quiet chuckle when he reaches the other side and helps Alisbeth back onto her feet. “I’m not fond of the taste of dirt,” he laughs.
“That way,” Anarchaia says while pointing and poring over the map. “East…ish.” She pulls up her hood as though the elves, even miles away, can see her human face.
“I didn’t eat any dirt,” Alisbeth says. She takes his hand and skips on through the grass behind the others.
The team travels south, following their map; carefully avoiding outposts and Arakkoa tree-towns. It’s not until the afternoon that they reach the border between Terokkar and Shadowmoon Valley. Koltira stops to let the living rest and scans the upcoming terrain.
“Slave-driver,” Taveth mumbles. “Ana, water, please?”
“Need me to carry you?” Alisbeth asks, giving him a playful pinch.
Taveth leans back and closes his eyes as he rests his feet. “I’m not saying no.”
The mage conjures a flask from their stockpile back at the barracks and offers it to the scholar. She smirks. “Need me to carry you?” She wiggles her fingers and the man lifts only a centimeter or two off the ground.
Taveth flails for the split second, then relaxes again as he drinks the water. “I’m sure I’ll live?”
Anarchaia shrugs and hums a note before releasing him unceremoniously back to the dirt.
Grimory looks out over the wasteland of Shadowmoon and mulls over his thoughts, a deeply pensive look carved into his less weathered features.
Jorick seizes the moment of respite and sits to rub at an aching joint.
Alisbeth scrutinizes he demon hunter’s face and frowns. The expression clears and she tries to urge him to sit. “You should rest while there’s time,” she says.
“She’s right,” Koltira says. “We need you to be top shape. I imagine you know this terrain better than anyone here.”
Grimory looks between the two death knights, then smiles into Alisbeth’s lively face. “Yeah,” he says, almost forcefully, “okay.” He sits and leans back on his palms to look up at the canopy above. A drop of moisture from the leaves hits him between the eyebrows and he grumbles.
Anarchaia, noticing the weary man sitting alone, takes a seat beside Jorick. “You holding up?” she asks, hoping to ease the tension some.
He smiles tiredly up at her, still massaging an ankle. “As much as a man my age can. Thanks. I’ll take that water when it’s available.”
Koltira’s jaw tenses after the mage and he takes a few steps toward the darkness beyond the mountains.
Taveth tosses the flask of water the short distance to the human. “I’m finished. Sorry.”
Anarchaia perks and catches just as Koltira nearly disappears beyond the ridge. “Kolt, wait! We should stay together!” She blinks off after him.
Jorick sighs into the flask, the welcome feeling of being near someone he’s familiar with quickly dwindling. “Thanks,” he says to Taveth as he tosses the rest to Grimory.
Taveth nods to the human, then pushes to his feet. “Looks like we’re heading out? No? Maybe?”
Koltira stops in his tracks and folds his arms over his chest. “I’m not going that far. Go back to your friend.”
The mage pauses, then scoffs loudly. “Oh, honestly Koltira!” she hisses. “In a way your jealousy is endearing but at the same time so suffocating.”
Grimory’s ear gives a flick at the hushed yelling down the path. “Nope. They’re arguing. Have a seat.” He pulls a rasher of meat from his bag and gnaws on it while eavesdropping.
A mixture of guilt and irritation washes over Jorick. He rests an elbow on a bent knee and sighs quietly to himself.
Koltira hisses at both himself and the mage. “Ana, just… He’s your friend. Go catch up on old times or something. Have a nice chat about a time you—” He shifts his jaw. “We should really get going.”
Alisbeth giggles as she walks her fingers down Grimory’s sternum. “I remember when he used to get like that over me and you.” She casts her wide grin on Jorick. “I’m sure he has nothing to worry about. Right, Yelpie?”
“Not helping,” Taveth mutters.
Anarchaia scowls and straightens. “He doesn’t know any of you and he didn’t want to be here at all,” she says firmly but quietly. “So regardless of how it makes you feel, I’m going to see to it that he gets through this safely and at the very least not leave him feeling alone.”
Grimory purses his lips but grabs Alisbeth’s hand all the same.
Jorick sighs again and rubs a palm down his face. “Look, I’m well aware that I’m not completely welcome in this little clique you’ve all got going on, but I’d feel like crap if I’d just sat back at the outpost. So, let’s just pretend I’m not even here and just let me help, all right?”
Koltira grits his teeth. “I believe that’s what I just said you should do.”
Anarchaia clenches her fists. A small squeak of indignation ekes from her throat. “Then I will!” she barks and returns to the others. She plops herself down in the dirt at one edge of the circle and folds her arms.
He strides away from her to hop up the boulder-dotted face of the cliff. He perches on one, watching the mage from the corner of his eye and surveying the terrain before them. He notes the pools of green lava and the creatures living within. To the left is a horde outpost he notes to keep safe distance from. He pulls his ears back at the human’s words, but otherwise doesn’t show that he’s heard him.
Alisbeth quietly goes to sit beside the human, a big grin on her face. “But, I like you. I’m glad you’re here, cause I can get to know you.” She gently pats his cheek. “Smile, Yemen. We’re all friends, here.”
Taveth quirks his lips sideways. “If it makes you feel any better, I wasn’t part of this to begin with, either. I, uh, got left behind a few times. Heh… Probably not comforting.”
Jorick furrows his brow and slightly leans away from the cheek pat. He gives Taveth a somewhat uncomfortable smile. “It’s not. But thanks, regardless.”
Grimory holds his tongue as though he weren’t just listening in. “We should get going as soon as we’re done. Tav, you good?”
Taveth stands and shakes out his legs. “I believe so. I’d rather not be idle too long, lest the fatigue set in so soon.”
“Kolty! Stop being a sour ass and let’s go!” Alisbeth shouts, pulling the others to their feet one at a time.
Koltira’s brow lowers and he hops down one boulder at a time to meet the others. He falls into step at the back this time, keeping any more thoughts to himself.
After traveling through the wastes for a long while, the party finds it’s safer to keep to the path that’s been forged through years of wear.
Anarchaia looks over the map again and hums in thought. “We need a rendezvous point where the three of you can remain while the three of us are in the temple.”
Grimory shrugs as he looks over the familiar terrain. “There’s a Draenei village and altar to the northeast. They may be kind enough to shelter you.”
Koltira shakes his head. “Closer. Less…prying eyes. Or have you forgotten we’re kidnapping you? No. I’d rather we find a cave or secure location—preferably against a wall or mountain or something.” He keeps his eyes on the path ahead and on either side of the party, watching for any creatures that might be itching to wander into them, seeking a fight.
Taveth nods his approval. “I, too, would like to be closer to the temple.”
“You just wanna draw it,” Alisbeth teases.
Grimory gives a nod of agreement. “I don’t know of many cave systems near the temple—especially ones that aren’t infested—but I’m sure we’ll find something.”
A pack of imps wander into view and, upon seeing the adventurers, begin chattering excitedly as they bound forward.
Both Grimory and Anarchaia become tense at the sight, but the latter has the wherewithal to hurl a large fireball into the thick of them. They scatter, shouting jeers and obscenities.
Alisbeth scrambles after the imps, giggling as she swings her axe, skidding back and forth on the dirt.
Taveth taps the end of his pen to his lower lip as he pauses in his note-taking. “How long do you suspect we’ll be here?”
“A good recon job is slow. Infiltration, you’re looking at even longer because he has to blend in and not raise suspicions. We’ll be lucky if he’s out in just a week,” Koltira says from the back.
Grimory again nods. “It may take a couple days to traverse to the end of the valley.” He turns with narrowed eyes. “Faster by horseback.”
Anarchaia scoffs and throws her hands up briefly as she helps with the remaining imps. “So don’t bring me anywhere, then, all right?” She mutters curses under her breath, then yelps as one of the tiny demons leaps into her back to dangle from her hood.
Jorick, still mildly annoyed by everything, tiredly slashes at its wrist and the imp separates from its hand. Before it can hit the ground, the human kicks it into a nearby pool if emerald lava as though it were a football.
“That’s not an option,” Koltira says from the back, then says much quieter, “I need you with me.”
Taveth wraps the stems of his glasses behind his ears and looks up at the massive peak in the center of the land, though it seems so small from where they are. “Based on the lack of things flying in the sky around that mountain, I’d guess it to be a safe place to stop…if we do stop for the night? If not I…” He stops himself from admitting he’d be the weak link that forces them to stop in such a dangerous zone.
“I’ll carry you and you can sleep,” Alisbeth whispers against his ear. “I won’t tell anyone. It’s okay to be mortal and need to sleep.” She bites her lower lip and stares at him. “I envy you.”
Grimory nods a third time and looks over his shoulder at the weary human, not wanting to admit how tired he is himself. “No, we can stop there for the night. It’s safer if we stay together for as much time as possible, yeah?”
Anarchaia gives a small nod, not having heard the words of endearment from behind her. “We can re-energize and get a move on early, then.”
“I’ll watch the south,” Koltira offers, taking the more dangerous direction for himself.
“I get north!” Alisbeth says, raising her hand.
“The mountain will be to the north,” Taveth says.
“That leaves me with west. Unless I have to pretend to be a firepit again,” Anarchaia says with a small laugh.
“I think you did a good job,” Jorick reassures with a grin. “I must admit that you make a better mage than a firepit, though. So maybe lookout would be best.”
Grimory runs his tongue over his flattened teeth for the hundredth time, still not accustomed to the feeling. “We can pick up firewood on the way there to stock supplies. Ali, keep an eye out for anything flammable, yeah?”
“Flammable! Got it! Clothes! Our clothes are flammable!”
Taveth pinches the bridge of his nose. “He means specifically things we can use to build a fire.”
Alisbeth nods. “Oh. Yes. I knew this.”
When the group does finally reach the spire, it’s been many hours. The demon hunter, scholar, and human lag behind the undead, sweating from the heat and weary from the walk. In a stroke of luck, the southern side of the mountain is not only unattended by demons, but a small Eredar building—long since abandoned and the roof caved in—sits at its base amongst the ruins of others.
“Well,” Grimory sighs. “Thank gods for that.” He wanders inside and sets himself immediately against a wall, followed by the mercenary, who finds a dilapidated alcove to shed his armor.
Taveth practically falls to the floor, shifting his bag as he goes down so it ends up under his head. “Goodbye, cruel world.”
Alisbeth giggles at her cousin as she sits beside the demon hunter. “Want my leg again?” she asks, already unbuckling the armor of one.
Grimory hesitates. “You aren’t going to keep watch?”
She frowns. “Oh. Right. Goodnight.” She pats the top of his head and rushes eagerly out the door without the detached piece of armor.
He frowns tentatively, then undoes the fastener on his belt. Taking a page from Taveth, he rests his head on his pack. He takes Alisbeth’s abandoned armor and sets it beside himself before closing his eyes.
Koltira takes Anarchaia’s hand and stops as he makes for the side of the house to climb onto what little roof is left. “I’m glad to travel with you,” he says. He knows he should say that he’s sorry, but for some reason doesn’t feel ready to. “Don’t be a hero, okay? Call to me if you see anything.”
Anarchaia purses her lips as she watches him climb the footholds in the broken wall. “I can handle it,” she simply mumbles and turns away to duck under the crumbled archway and inside. She conjures the old logs from the previous night and arranges them in the center of the room before lighting them and throwing a few of the dried foliage they’d found on top. She frowns when she sees Jorick’s boot sticking out from the shadows of the alcove and goes to him. “Hey. You shouldn’t sleep like that.”
The human looks up at her, arms folded against his chest and armor piled beside him. “I’m all right,” he says with a tired smile.
“Mm. No.” She unbuckles her belt and sets it beside his armor, then pulls her robes up and over her head. “Here. Don’t tell Kel’ori.” She holds them out to him.
Jorick hesitates, then chuckles and takes them when she shoves them into his face. “Okay, okay. Thanks.” He bundles them up and sets them down to use as a pillow. “Be careful out there.”
The mage smiles down at him as he turns away, then frowns to herself and steps back outside to watch at her post to the west.
Koltira scowls through a hole in the roof as Anarchaia gives the human her robes. She said it’s nothing to worry about, so it’s nothing to worry about.