At the first rays of morning light, Koltira jumps down from the roof through the hole in the ceiling. “Get up. All of you. We need to get going.” He yanks a groggy Taveth to his feet. “Ana! Ali!”
Taveth stumbles back, still not awake. “What’s going on? Where are we?”
Koltira kicks at the other men’s boots. “I didn’t see them until the light hit. There’s a large battalion of fel orcs headed this way.”
Taveth’s eyes widen as though he’s suddenly wide awake. “Yep. Time to go.”
Jorick wakes with a start, then groans and nods while rubbing at his dry eyes. He immediately puts his armor back on and brushes the dust off Anarchaia’s robes before folding them nicely and setting them over an arm.
Anarchaia, brushing the ashy dirt from her backside, smiles at the group as she enters. She thanks the human when he relinquishes her robes and belt before putting them back on. “Comfortable?”
“Better than a rock,” he chuckles.
“Let’s go,” Grimory grumbles tiredly and pushes the lot out the door and to the east.
Alisbeth rushes after the party. “Wait! Wait for me!”
“Didn’t you hear Koltira shouting?” Taveth asks as she catches up.
“No. I was… So how far now?” She skips ahead to wrap an arm through Grimory’s.
The demon hunter narrows his eyes at the horizon. “The rest of the day should be fine. We can scan the surrounding crag to find a place for the guys to stay in the meantime. Or Ana can send them back.”
Anarchaia fidgets. “I could. I-I’ll be honest, though. A lot of my arcane energy comes from Azeroth’s core and the leylines beneath the crust. I didn’t want to say anything, but just sending those items back to the outpost was a tad draining. Heh.”
Koltira nods. “When we set up camp, bring all of our supplies here so that your illusion and taking Grim back and forth are the only things you need to do.” He turns to look behind, pursing his lips as the battalion stops at the building they’d just been occupying. He gives a sigh of relief, then keeps watch for anything else, hoping to avoid anymore unpleasant surprises.
Taveth looks around at the others, counting them and making calculations. “My…energies are not from Azeroth. It is not finite here. But… I read of a portal one like me can conjure. However, it requires an amount of energy no one being can contain, let alone harness…without the aid of others.”
“What are you saying?” Koltira asks.
“If Ana wouldn’t mind, I can reach across the nether using this doorway and, theoretically, bring her to where I’ve conjured it.”
The death knight stops to poke Taveth in the sternum. “Neither of you are going to the nether, and that’s an order.”
The scholar shrinks away. “W-we wouldn’t be going in. I-it works like a door. I open it, reach in, and bring her across!”
“You’re not exposing Ana to the nether. Don’t ever suggest endangering her life as though you’re offering her a flower.” He glares down into the frightened lavender eyes.
“Y-yes…sir. I-I’m sorry.” Taveth grips his book and pen to him and rushes to the front of the group.
<<Fool. He doesn’t know your strength. You wouldn’t hurt your friend…intentionally… Riiight?>> Thal’kiel chuckles above the high elf.
<<I’m not doing it. Shut up and keep your eye sockets open.>>
<<Always are. Moron.>>
Anarchaia blinks between the two men as she witnesses the back-and-forth. She eventually gives a slight scowl and sets a hand on Koltira’s arm. “Kolt! He’s just trying to help! There’s no reason to be so aggressive about it. Besides, whether or not I participate is up to me. Believe it or not I’m an adult who can make her own decisions.”
Koltira’s ears pull back and his frown deepens. “I can have an opinion on what happens to you,” he hisses.
“Perhaps,” the mage snaps back reservedly, “but I have the final say. His portals may serve useful here since mine will prove not to be.”
“Fine,” he growls and walks away from the mage.
Taveth flinches, as though the argument might turn onto him.
Anarchaia huffs and folds her arms. She glances at Taveth. “It’s a good idea,” she repeats, a hand on his shoulder.
He frowns. “I…would never lose you in the Nether. You believe me, right?”
Her fingers tighten around his shoulder and her face softens. “Of course I do.”
He nods. “I just want to be useful.”
Grimory lifts his eyebrows at the conversation behind him but says nothing. He looks at Alisbeth. “Do you know what your role is in all this?”
She nods eagerly. “Nope!”
He cannot help chuckling. “You are going to enter the Temple as a recruit, then incapacitate and kidnap me, yeah?”
Alisbeth’s eyes brighten. “I get to be a demon hunter? Will I get cool horns, too?”
Grimory cringes and looks back at her again. “No. You’re not, okay? Don’t do that.”
The death knight frowns. “But…you said I was going to be a recruit again. Recruits become demon hunters, unless they change their minds. Why am I a recruit if I don’t get to become like you?”
“No, you’re just pretending,” Grimory responds sullenly. “Besides, we won’t be there long enough for you to be initiated.”
Alisbeth folds her arms and pouts. “That’s not fair.”
The party travels through the day making small conversation. Only once do they have to stray from the worn road to avoid yet another Legion patrol. When finally they reach the Black Temple and the surrounding cliffs, they scour the area, until finding a shallow cave with a high ceiling and three AWOL fel orcs camped within.
“Excuse me, boys,” Koltira says, unsheathing Byfrost, “but we require the use of this cave and…well, we can’t have you running off to tell anyone we’re here.”
Alisbeth withdraws the axe and hops from foot to foot. “Which one can I kill? Which one can I kill?”
The orc nearest them growls and barks something to his buddies before standing and rushing at the death knights.
Grimory chuckles and folds his arms. “I guess that’s your answer.”
Anarchaia takes a protective step in front of the scholar and human, hands filling with flames. The orc in the back sends a large hunk of earth at the trio and it crashes against her arcane barrier. She grunts. “A shaman.”
“That’s not nice!” Alisbeth screams and launches toward the orcs, swinging her axe wildly, trying to hit them all.
Koltira pulls the shaman toward them and swings Byfrost. The blade grazes the orc’s chainmail undershirt and catches on the soft flesh beneath his arm. The weapon tears the skin open and slices through the muscle to the bone. The limb drops to dangle uselessly at the shaman’s side.
The third orc runs for his bow. He quickly nocks an arrow and takes aim for the crazed death knight running toward them.
Grimory slashes the arrow out of the air and growls at the man.
The orc gives a grunt. “A demon hunter?”
The leader scoffs and meets Alisbeth’s axe with his own. <<That’s what that smell is,>> he chuckles in orcish.
The grievously wounded shaman, strength fading, backs away to set a hand on the ground. The earth around Koltira’s feet opens and swallows him up to his shins where it clamps down and refuses to let go. The man gives one last croak before a dagger embeds itself into his eye.
Anarchaia turns to look at Taveth after the shaman falls dead. “Are you all—agh!” An arrowhead bursts out of her chest, just below her clavicle. She immediately grabs the wound and hisses in pain.
Koltira whips around and scrabbles at the ground, unable to break free. He wraps a purple shade around the throat of the hunter, lifting him off the ground where he gasps and grunts for air.
“This little piggy went to market,” Alisbeth says, gripping the struggling orc’s foot. She uses her axe to cut it off at the ankle. “This little piggy stayed home.” She gently pats the other foot.
Taveth peaks around from the front where he’s fussing over the mage’s injury. “Ali, is there really time for—”
“There’s always time!” She grins maliciously at the orc as he falls from the air. “Do you know about the next little piggy?” She reaches down for him.
At the last second, he jams an arrow through the center of her palm.
Taveth shoves the yellow stone at the mage, frowning. “I know you don’t like it and Khadgar would kill me, but…I think he’d be more upset if you didn’t use it in this case?”
The archer jerks forward as he’s used as an anchor, face in the dirt. Grimory is quick to send a boot into the back of his head; a sickening crack sounds and the orc goes still.
Jorick, doing his best to ignore the horrible mutilation going on only feet away, bends to offer Koltira a hand up. “You all right?” he says almost tiredly.
Anarchaia takes the stone in a hand and pulls the other away from her chest. She gives a small smile at the color of the blood in her palm, then sighs before wincing in pain. She grabs the arrow by the front and steels herself before ripping it through. She gasps and whimpers, covering the wound again. “M-maybe you’re right…” she wheezes, looking down at the stone.
“It’s non habit-forming. I promise,” Taveth jokes. He takes the arrow from her and tosses it from the cave.
Koltira accepts the help. Both men pull until the land heaves upward and releases its hold on the elf. “Thank you,” he says quickly, distracted as he goes to the mage. “Gods. Ana, are you okay?”
Alisbeth pouts angrily at Grimory. “I had that under control!” She throws her axe around his shoulder, where it embeds in the final orc. “He twitched.”
Grimory goes stiff when the blade sails past him, then lowers his eyelids. “You can’t have all the fun alone, yeah?” he rips the weapon from the orc and holds it out to her.
Anarchaia crumbles some of the stone into her palm, then jumps and hides it behind her back when she hears Koltira’s voice. “Y-yes!” she croaks, blood dribbling from her lips as she smiles innocently. “Just…a hole. In my chest. And esophagus.”
Koltira pauses, then purses his lips at the man behind the mage. “If you have no choice—and even if you did—I can’t really stop you. Can I? And even if I could…” Instead of going to her, he begins dragging the mangled corpses from the cave.
Alisbeth takes the weapon and stares at it for a moment, then turns her attention on the arrow shaft sticking through either side of her hand. “I guess you can have the fun with me. Can you break this? It’s starting to sting a little.” She shoves her hand almost into his face.
The mage narrows her eyes as she watches him go. Her fist clenches behind her, crushing the stone entirely. She brings it to her face and inhales the powder, then grits her teeth as her wounds seal shut. She rubs at her nose with the back of a wrist. “Thank you, Taveth.”
Grimory leans back a bit before wrenching the arrow free from her hand.
Jorick retrieves his dagger and wipes the blood into his pant leg before sheathing it again. He rummages through the pack just behind his hip and produces a small red vial. He wiggles it at Alisbeth. “Need this?”
Alisbeth screams and punches at Grimory. “I said break the stick, not yank it out!” She punches at him one last time, swipes the potion from the human, and goes to a secluded corner to whine over her injury.
Taveth nods to the mage and hangs his head as Koltira passes with the next corps. “I’m sure it’s just…the situation. He’ll cheer up,” he whispers.
Grimory jerks as he’s punched, then braces himself at the second assault before chuckling. “I’ve seen you sustain a lot worse than an arrow to the hand, yeah? Besides, it’s better to take it out.” He rubs at his newly forming bruise.
Alisbeth scowls. “That’s why I said to break it. So I only had to hurt a little.”
Anarchaia shrugs and places the rest of the dust into a roll of parchment. She stows it in her bag. “Whatever. It’s up to him.” She goes to the center of the cavern and conjures the last of their firewood.
Taveth lowers his head and finds a place to sit that’s out of the way.
“We’ll enact the plan first thing tomorrow morning. Grim, try and figure out what day it is, maybe you’ll remember where you were?” Koltira says as he comes in for the final corpse.
“Hurts longer the longer you take,” Grimory responds with a smile. He turns to Koltira and sinks to sit next to the fire the mage has made. “Every day started and ended the same. At a certain time, the four of us would get up and have breakfast.” He pauses for a thought. “Though if this is after Eldon’s initiation, Illie and I would train early before the other recruits got up. Can you wake up me up at sunrise?”
Alisbeth continues to mutter about his rough way of dealing with the arrow, even though the wound is healed.
Anarchaia nods and removes her robes again. She pulls the blood from them, tosses it into the fire, and seals the hole shut. She smiles as the mercenary sits beside her to warm his hands.
“You all right?” he asks casually as he unbuckles his cuirass. “Sorry. Didn’t see you get hurt or I’d have brought you one of the potions.”
Anarchaia’s brow furrows. “I honestly forgot we’d bought some. But yes, I’m fine. Thank you.”
Koltira grabs a pack and begins going through it. “You’d think deserters would have only useful things.” He pulls a wooden child’s toy from the bag.
Anarchaia frowns at the toy, empathy filling her eyes. “I hope that doesn’t mean what I think it means.”
Jorick sets a hand on her shoulder. “Having a child doesn’t make someone a good person, Ana.”
She shakes her head. “Maybe not, but I’m sure he was good in the eyes of his son or daughter…”
Grimory grunts as he lies down on his pack. “Gods’ sakes, Ana.”
She folds her arms. “I can’t be the only person to think about these things.”
Koltira purses his lips. He mulls over the toy for a moment longer, then tosses it into the fire. “What’s done is done.”
Anarchaia flinches as the fire flares up to engulf the little object. Her mouth opens in a silent gasp, appalled. She turns her red eyes on him and scowls, then quickly gets to her feet and stomps outside.
Grimory gives a snort and turns away from the fire.
Koltira watches her go but remains outwardly impassive.
Alisbeth purses her lips. After a second, she rushes out after the mage. “I bet it’s okay,” she says. “The kid. If there is one. Probably nowhere near here?”
“Probably not,” Anarchaia mumbles from her spot on the ground. She purses her lips tightly together, the lower one quivering. Her face lowers to hide in her knees. “It doesn’t matter anyway.”
The death knight shakes her head and leans against the opening. “Nothing matters. And everything matters. Hey, how are you getting into the temple? It’s kind of an elves and demons only party in there.”
“I’m going to disguise myself as a demon and hope they somehow don’t notice,” the mage replies without looking up. “Only until we can lure Grim out and back to here.”
Alisbeth grins her usual, big grin—which turns out slightly less unsettling with her living appearance—and looks down at the mage. “You tricked me before. I bet you can trick them.” Her grin widens. “By the way, you’re really pretty. I keep forgetting you’re a monster! Does this face trick you?” She pinches her own cheeks.
The mage looks up at her, still forlorn, but forces a small smile. “Yeah. It does. You’re always really pretty, though,” she says, not without a bite of jealousy. “And thanks. Hopefully you’re right.”
Alisbeth nods awkwardly for a moment, then pats the mage’s head. “Okay. Good talk. Goodnight.” She goes inside to sit beside the dozing demon hunter.