Taveth grumbles awake. He rubs his eye and looks around. “Oh. They already left?”
“Yeah,” Koltira says simply. He throws another rock against the wall. It tumbles back to him and he pulls it into the collection of pebbles between his spread legs.
Jorick inhales slowly but keeps his eyes shut. “Could have at least said goodbye. Hope they don’t die.” He sits up and stretches. “How long do you think it’ll take them?”
Koltira smacks another stone to the wall. “Couple hours, maybe? Taveth is supposed to do that summon-y thing I don’t want him to do. Ana said she’d give some kind of signal.” He throws another stone. “I’m sure Taveth knows what’ll happen if this goes south in any way that is his fault.”
Taveth flinches. “I remember when you called me a friend.”
“Yeah, and then you offered to use unstable fel magics on the woman I love.”
Jorick rolls his eyes. Now he cares. He stands and stretches. “Welp. In any case, we’ll probably need a way to subdue this past Grim if he wakes up? Or does Ana actually plan on teleporting us all back?” He cracks his knuckles and smirks. “I know some methods.”
The death knight shakes his head. “To my knowledge they are teleporting him once off the grounds, then Ana and Ali will be coming back here to join us in the grand adventure of waiting.”
Jorick scratches at a cheek and looks out at the land beyond the cave mouth with bemused eyes. “Fun. So…what until the waiting game?”
Koltira blinks at the human. “We wait.”
Taveth clears his throat gently. “I still consider you a friend, either way.”
Jorick turns his unamused stare on the death knight, then turns to smile at Taveth. He takes up his dagger but leaves the rest of his armor behind as he goes to the front of the cave to observe the valley.
“It’s been quiet all morning,” Koltira says. “Let’s hope it stays that way. At least for a little while longer.”
Taveth takes out a journal with a golden number 9 on the spine. He sighs and writes something on a clean page, then stares intently at it, as though something else might happen.
Some time later, Jorick slowly stands as a small group appears in the distance, just visible and advancing quickly. “Uh,” he calls as he backs inside. “We may be hosting a party we didn’t send invites out for.”
Koltira stands and makes ready. “Demons. I hope they’re not smelling those orcs. Burning the bodies would be a beacon to the whole valley.”
The human curses himself for not putting on his armor earlier and decides he doesn’t have the time to do so now. He unsheathes his sword instead and tosses the belt aside. “I feel like just walking here made us a beacon for the entire valley.”
A colossal ball of green flame tears through the center if the cave, narrowly missing the men and crashing against the back wall. A Doomguard, bookended by packs of imps, stomps toward them, sword in one hand and more fire in the other.
Taveth mutters and puts his things away, then withdraws his dagger. “Of course we’d get one of these guys when my strongest one is occupied. Keeshokin will have to do.”
A purple portal opens and Tryxora steps out.
“You’re not Kee—”
<<You’re too far away from the baby! I can’t get back! What if something happens when I’m not there to—>>
Taveth sets his hand over her mouth. “He has a mother. It’s not you. Now either help, or let Keeshokin come through, or both.”
She grumbles and walks back through the portal. A moment later, the felguard stomps through.
<<Why should I help—>> A fireball passes in front of his face. <<Oh, hey! It’s Irtho’zyn.>>
“Not a friend, is he?” Taveth asks, a note of hope in his tone.
<<He used to cheat at cards, before he disappeared.>>
“So…you don’t like him?”
The felguard shoves Taveth out of the way and stomps to the mouth of the cave.
Irtho’zyn grins as his minions bound in. He lifts his sword and it meets Keeshokin’s axe. <<Well well well,>> he laughs. <<Working for these pathetic worms? Go figure.>>
Jorick furrows his marred brows at the little demons bouncing toward them—particularly the one with no hand. It leaps at him and he steps aside, allowing it to fall face first into the still smoldering fire. He stomps a boot into the back of its head. “Maybe we did invite these guys.”
<<Working is not the term I’d use. Go figure that I’d find you doing an imp’s dirty work.>> He pushes the other demon back and swings his axe around at the doomguard.
The doomguard chuckles as he catches the blade. His blood dribbles to the floor and he tosses it away. <<You certainly aren’t working for us. Traitorous coward.>>
Taveth watches from the back. “I mean…I maybe could enslave that guy. It’s how I got Spinewing to, you know…not kill me. And he’s much stronger.”
Koltira growls. “We really don’t need your warlock nonsense right now.” He grunts as an imp throws a fireball at his cheek.
The imp laughs triumphantly, then screams when the death knight chases him.
“Not sure what you’re on about, but you seem to know what you’re talking about. Worth a try?” Jorick slices through an imp’s throat when it leaps at him and its head bounces across the cave floor.
Koltira pulls the imp to him, then uses the flat of Byfrost to bat it into the cave wall. As it falls down, he presses it with his boot, then uses the flat tip of his sword to cut its head clean off.
“I…don’t know if I should. What if something bad happens this time? What if it’s only temporary? What if—”
<<Good gods, you’re a simpering worm,>> Thal’kiel growls.
“Maybe make up your mind?” Jorick grunts as a fireball washes over him, sizzling his arms and causing blisters to raise as he braces himself.
Ithro’zyn laughs and kicks Keeshokin across the cave. He stomps toward the three men, lifting his sword.
Taveth stands between the others and the doomguard. He utters a word not unlike that which he used to enslave Spinewing. After a moment, purple chains wrap around the demon and bind him in place.
Keeshokin stands. After a moment he begins laughing. <<You have no idea what you’re in for, Irtho’zyn.>> He claps a hand on Taveth’s shoulder, causing the elf to nearly stumble to the ground. <<Good thinking, welp. I think I’ll introduce him to Tryxora.>>
“Oh. You have…fun…with that. Enjoy Tryxora. She, uh…likes her toys,” he says up to the doomguard as Keeshokin drags him, flailing and screaming demonic obscenities at them.
<<Quite the collection you’re building,>> Thal’kiel says. <<That wouldn’t be ambition, would it?>>
Taveth glares at the skull.
Jorick breathes heavily as the last of the imps are dispatched. “Well. Turns out that was pretty useful after all, eh?” He picks up his belt and returns his sword to its holster. “You’re some warlock, y’know that?”
Taveth shakes his head. “Not really.” He helps straighten their supplies in the cave.
Koltira cocks an eyebrow. “Not really? And just how many warlocks do you know who’ve enslaved a doomlord?”
Taveth doesn’t respond.
“Not just any doomlord, a demon hunter’s. Now, accept the man’s compliment.” He grabs the various imp parts and takes them out of the cave to where he’d buried the orcs.
Taveth purses his lips and gives the human a nervous smile. “Thanks. Heh.”
Jorick chuckles. “Don’t mention it.” He touches one of the blisters on his arm and hisses. “A demon hunter? Wouldn’t happen to be our resident pretty boy, would it?” He rummages through their small hoard of supplies, then inwardly curses when he realizes that the healing potions are gone.
Taveth holds out a yellow, knobby stone to the mercenary. “You crush it and inhale,” he says as explanation. “And yes. Grimory. His demon is considerably stronger than most demon hunters have inside them. Enslaving him was…entirely an accident.”
“Saved the lives of himself, Ali, Ana, that incompetent healer they hired,” Koltira says. “And later Kel’ori…and Ana and Ali…again. And probably Grim.” Koltira drops down in the doorway again and collects up his pebble pile.
Taveth shakes his head and looks away, his ears turning red. “Stop, Koltira. I’m not a hero. Just a fool who makes convenient mistakes.”
Jorick gives the stone a look, then hesitantly hands it back. “I’m all for you warlocks being around and what you do, but I’ll kindly pass.” He lifts his eyebrows at the story. “That’s quite impressive. It sounds like you all have been in a few adventures. I assume it’s how you’ve all gotten to know each other.” He pulls out a roll of bandages and begins to wind them around his forearms.
Taveth takes the stone and stares at it. After a moment, he takes his satchel and goes for the exit.
“Don’t wander,” Koltira barks after him. He looks at the human. “Sensitive point. Don’t worry, we all push that button, whether we mean to or not.” He glances out the door, then growls and throws one final rock. “What part of don’t wander…” He chases after the scholar.
Jorick watches him go and throws some tinder onto the nearly dead fire. “Well, my untainted blood is a tad more important than his feelings,” he mutters to himself.
Koltira returns a few minutes later and shoves Taveth into the cave. “You can sulk in the corner, where I can safely protect you.” He drops back down. “Swear to gods, if I have to tell Ana you ran off and died because your feelings were hurt…”
“I said fine,” Taveth mumbles. “Staying here.” He withdraws his number nine book again and checks the page, then the surrounding ones. He growls in frustration and readies to throw it, then stops himself and shoves it back into his bag.
Jorick sighs as he chews on a small rasher of dried meat. “Look, bud. I didn’t mean anything by it. I ain’t got nothin’ against warlocks.”
Taveth nods without looking at the human. “Okay.”
Koltira throws a pebble at Jorick’s boot. “You. Tell us more about yourself. What great deeds have you accomplished?”
Jorick picks up the pebble and weaves it between his fingers while drumming his other fingertips against his chin. “Great deeds…great deeds…” He eventually shrugs. “I cut a cat down from a tree when I was a kid.”
“And your scars?” Koltira presses. “How’d you get those? More cats?”
The man chuckles. “Years of wear. Fights with contracts in my clumsier years. Before I was a merc, I hung around with a lot of…unsavory people. As a sort of initiation, you had to be in a little fight club.” His face grows pensive as a thought runs through his head. He ignores it and holds up his shortened pinky finger. “This one, though. Reeaally big cat.”
Koltira humphs a laugh. “That your worst one? I don’t have many scars, but the worst…” He chuckles and peers out at the passing day. His brow lowers. “It’s almost evening. Ali should have been back by now.”
Taveth looks up from his journal, his features forlorn. “Do you think something happened in the temple?”
“I’d bet my life on it.” Koltira stands as though the height will help him to see better.
“Can’t bet what you don’t have.”
Koltira stares at the scholar.
“I-I’m sorry. That was—”
The death knight smiles and laughs. “Truer words, my friend.”
Jorick rolls his eyes when the death knight looks away. So competitive, this one. “That means Ana should have been back, too. I’m sure they just hit a snag.”
Koltira begins to pace. “Snag. Sure.”
“I’m sure everything is fine,” Taveth assures. “They’re both very capable women. I have the utmost faith in Ana. Ali…is debatable.”
Jorick shrugs. “She did mention that this place isn’t too mage-friendly. Just hope they didn’t get caught.” He chuckles nervously. “I don’t think they’ll kill them, but I doubt possible spies are too welcome in there.”
Koltira frowns. “If we don’t see one of them by sun-down, I’m going in there.”
“On the bright side, your appearance may catch a lot of them off guard, like it did the orc,” Taveth says.
“Aye. Any elves who knew me in life might get a shock. Those who’ve never seen a death knight as well.”
“I’ll go with you,” Taveth says. “If nothing else, to command Grim out of hiding.”
Jorick lifts his eyebrows. “That’s probably not the best idea.” He smiles. “Which is why I’ll help.”
Koltira points without looking, his eyes trained outside. “Good man.”
~ * ~
Alisbeth grumbles as she realizes how lost she is.
“Hey! Recruit!” A tall Kaldorei with wide horns and a brown blindfold stops her. “You’re supposed to be at orientation.”
“I’m lost,” she says, grinning.
“Come with me.”
The Illidari takes Alisbeth to a room full of clothing. He picks out some unimpressive pieces in her size. “Get dressed.”
She opens her mouth to protest, then shrugs and does it anyway. After she is clothed, she settles a veil at her forehead that drapes to cover her entire face. “Do I look cool?”
He ignores the question. “Follow me.”
She spins to his voice and steps forward, running smack into the doorframe.
“Lord Illidan must be getting desperate,” he says, rolling his eyes.
“I’m okay!” She adjusts and tries again, seeing only shadows and shapes through the black veil. She sits at the table as she’s pressed into the seat by the Illidari who, for some reason, hasn’t left her side. She stares at the plates and the food. “I actually had a big breakfast. How about if I—”
He plops a baked potato onto her plate. “Takes a lot of energy. Eat up.”
She looks around at the table of recruits, her lips curving to a frown as her heart warms at seeing a few faces she recognizes. “Th-thank you,” she sputters as he adds more food. “Don’t you have a job to do?”
“Aye. But they won’t get at me for helping recruits. I needed the break.”
When the helpful Illidari directs her to the recruit barracks after dinner, she bids him good night, then silently sneaks away toward the training room. After a moment of getting lost, and another of hiding in a closet as two patrols pass, she finds the place she’s looking for.
~ * ~
Grimory eventually makes his way to the mess hall, irritated about Illidan not having time for his important information. He realizes he’s scowling and has to inwardly remind himself that he needs to act like he would have twenty-three years ago. He forces a more neutral expression on his face and scans the tables. A familiar head of chocolate-colored hair beside a horned night elf makes his heart flutter. He swallows, inhales, and walks over.
“Grim!” Illith’ra stands to throw her arms around his neck. “You’re okay! I saw blood. Are you all right? How is your head?”
He takes a second to return her embrace, taking in the smell of her hair. He smiles when she pulls away. “Uh. Yeah. I’m fine. Just a bump.”
Eldon scoffs as he swallows his bite. “Out cold by a new recruit. What’s happened to you?”
The two blood elves sit. “Beginner’s luck,” Grimory says with a nervous chuckle.
Illith’ra giggles and scoots up against him. “Here, I got you a plate in case you were back in time.” She glances around to ensure none of the other recruits are looking, then leans up to kiss his cheek.
Grimory smiles and glances down at her. “Careful. You’re showing softness again,” he says with a smirk.
Illith’ra returns the look. “Can’t say the same for you.”
Eldon grunts. “Honestly.”
After dinner, the trio make their way back to their quarters. Illith’ra blinks at a familiar face in the corridor. “Hey, it’s the girl who knocked you out.” She points at the woman with glowing blue eyes beneath a blood knight’s helmet.
Grimory purses his lips. “Right. Haha. Go on ahead. I’ll be right there.” He takes Alisbeth gently by the upper arm. “What are you still doing here? Go back to the cave, yeah? They’re waiting for you.”
She gives him a queer, wide eyed look and opens her mouth to respond, but he’s already trotting after his friends.
Instead of turning into their shared room, Illith’ra pulls Grimory off toward the end of the corridor. “Extra training!” she calls to Eldon without his even asking. Once down the hall and down the stairs, she drags him onto their sparring platform and into the cool night air. She pulls him off to the side. “I’ve been waiting for this all day,” she hums up to him, gazing through her eyelashes as she pins him against the wall behind a pillar.
He smiles as she presses a kiss to his lips and slips his arms around her waist. When she pulls away, he pulls her close to press his cheek to hers. He sobers, holding the back of her head. “I’m so sorry, Illie.”
She furrows her brow and laughs but returns the embrace all the same. “Did you hit your head that hard?”
“I guess so,” Grimory says quietly and pulls back to look into her face. They give one another a gentle smile. He leans down to press his lips again to hers, cradling her jaw in his hands.
Alisbeth pauses behind a target dummy, catching movement on the upper level. She quickly recognizes Grimory and smiles. She steps from her hiding place, then stops, her call to him caught in her throat as he leans to kiss a woman with brown hair. She watches a little longer as they lock in a passionate embrace. A tear rolls from one eye and she backs away, then runs back down the hallways.