Koltira scowls and leans out the cave opening. “Sun is almost down,” he says. “Let’s get—”
Something drops down in front of the opening, then sweeps around, sending dust and rocks into the cave and knocking the death knight back. When it settles and the men can see again, a figure stands in front of a crimson and black dragonhawk. She looks at each of them in turn, her glowing green eyes behind her blood knight helm taking them all in, giving extra attention to the elves—particularly the death knight.
“I take it you’re not here for a nice chat,” Koltira says.
He notes what little he can about her, save her gender. Her gear, battered with age and roughly repaired, resembles that of a blood knight. Above one eye is a dark eyebrow, the other cut off from a scar, as best the man can see. Attached to her helm is a hood which completely holds in any hair she might have; the hood connects to a long sweater in two lengths—longer at the back than the front. In her right hand she clasps a black and red spear of elven make.
“Wow. You’re actually here,” she says, her voice muffled and distorted by the piece of her helm covering her lower face; her tone, though, echoes through as one of pretentious disdain, rather than any sort of shock. “Well, then, I suppose we’d best just get to it, hmm?” She swirls her spear over her head and with a shout, leaps at Koltira, first.
He raises his arms to catch the impact on his vambraces. She withdraws too fast for him to grab the pole. She comes at him again, jabbing straight at his face. He swivels and withdraws Byfrost, hitting the spear away from him with a clang of clashing metal.
“Step in anytime, merc!” Koltira shouts.
“So I can kill you both at the same time?” the blood knight scoffs.
Jorick bounds forward to slide a kick into the woman’s ankle, sword and dagger in hand. “You seemed like you knew each other. I’d hate to break up a heartfelt reunion.” He gives a grunt as the dragonhawk barrels into him, sending him skidding.
“Only room for one crazy bitch in my life,” Koltira says. He grunts and blocks another blow with his sword.
The blood knight leaps through the air, lands on Koltira’s shoulders and jabs the tip of her spear through his pauldron, then backflips away. She flicks the spear to rid it of the dripping blood. “It’s easier if you stop fighting the inevitable.”
“Haven’t you heard? We’re hard to kill.”
The knight hisses. “You’re already dead, you filthy abomination.” She leaps for her next attack, this time aiming at the prostrate figure of Jorick.
“Harsh,” Jorick mutters, then tenses when she comes at him. He waits for the right moment to deflect her spearhead with his dagger, then brings the sword around, aiming for what he hopes is her neck behind the cowl. His hopes are in vain, however, as it bounces off the metal and she falls atop him, pinning him to the ground.
Anarchaia stumbles some as she appears, then tenses as she notices Koltira bleeding and running toward a mysterious figure standing over the mercenary with her spear poised again. She grabs at her own hair. “Aah! Who is that?!” She lifts a hand and, just before the spear can come down, knocks the woman away with a weak force of magic.
The blood knight growls and flips to her feet from her back. She stands and glares down at Taveth, who pauses in his search for his dagger. She kicks his satchel from his grasp, then turns back for the others. She tosses her spear up and catches it to hurl at the mage. Taveth scrambles up and lunges to block Anarchaia. The blood knight stops, spins, and sends the spearhead into the side of the mercenary’s knee to stop his progress toward her. She brings it back up.
Jorick yelps and drops to his good knee as blood stains and seeps through his pantleg. “Fffffffuck me,” he hisses.
“Move, elf. You will not die this day,” the woman commands.
His brow furrows. “Why not?”
Koltira uses his good arm to swing Byfrost around to take the blood knight’s head. She blocks with her spear and is knocked back, but recovers in a backflip.
“Who the hell are you?” Koltira shouts.
Her dragonhawk warbles from the doorway. “Looks like you all get to live one more day.” She rushes forward, then slides under Koltira’s swinging blade. She springs up, shoving Taveth and Anarchaia to the side, then leaps deftly onto her mount. With a shrill war cry, she kicks the dragonhawk’s sides and it flaps hard, pushing them up into the sky.
When the dust settles again, Koltira deflates. “Son of a bitch.”
A party of fel orcs marches along the road near enough the cave to see inside.
The human man groans at the sight outside. He pushes back to his feet albeit reluctantly.
Anarchaia, already weary, goes to the cave mouth. “Who was that?” she asks to no one, readying herself for the next confrontation. “Ali isn’t back yet?”
“Ana, can you cover the cave opening?” Koltira asks. “We’re in no condition to fight that many orcs.”
“Like…?” She pauses, then nods. She lifts a hand and a purple veil lifts up from the dirt. It seals over the opening like a bubble.
The orcs stop as the figures in the cave seem to phase out of existence. The biggest one scratches his head. “Must be the heat,” he grumbles and directs his men back to the road.
The mage’s eyelids flutter as the last bit of her expendable energy is spent and her knees buckle beneath her.
Koltira lurches forward to catch the mage. He grunts in pain as she lands in his injured arm. The orcs outside stop and turn around. They walk closer to the cave, their eyes narrowed in curiosity. Koltira bites the insides of his cheek to keep from moving or crying out again as Anarchaia’s weight drags on his bleeding shoulder. Taveth’s eyes widen as he holds completely still. He turns his head to look at the mercenary, grimacing through his pain, and the mage, breathing and barely conscious as she keeps the illusion going.
After what feels like ages, the orcs return to the road and continue their journey. Koltira lowers the mage to the floor, then spits a pool of blood from his mouth.
“Ana. Ana!” He shakes her as he swallows more blood from his cheeks. “Drop the illusion, you’re nearly spent!”
Jorick exhales as he sinks to sit, wanting to go to his friend but finding he can barely move through the pain. “Is she all right? I didn’t see her get hit,” he calls quietly instead.
Anarchaia groans and grabs at his shoulder. The veil falls and her head rolls back onto Koltira’s forearm.
The death knight growls. “Damn it all. She expended too much energy.” He does his best to carry her to a safer spot. “Where the hell is Ali?” He shouts at Taveth.
“I-I how am I supposed to know? Y-you’d know better than me where she could have gone!”
“Off being an unpredictable idiot,” Koltira says. “Whose idea was it to make her the messenger?”
“Demon boy’s,” Jorick replies coolly. He groans as he opens the cut to examine the depth of the gash. “Maybe she got lost on the way back.” He glances back at the motionless mage. “Is she gonna be okay?”
Koltira doesn’t tear his eyes away from her. “Normally she just needs some rest… But that’s usually a few days.” He sits back on his heels and glances at his shoulder. As carefully as he can, he takes off the armor and hisses though pulling his shirt over his head so he might see the wound better. “Damn,” he mumbles when he realizes the wound is too high up for him to see. He cradles the arm and sits beside Anarchaia, then presses his other palm to the wound.
“You’re a death knight, right? You can heal yourself with me if you want.” Jorick shrugs. “Unless that’s too awkward. Can’t imagine there’s a lot of life left in me, anyway.” He pulls out the gauze from his bag and wraps his knee.
“I’m not taking anything from you. Or you,” he snaps when Taveth opens his mouth.
“I wasn’t going to offer a stone,” the high elf says defensively.
“No to both.”
“If you bleed out and die, Ana will kill you,” Taveth says, making Koltira smirk. “Go. I saw some lone boars not far. I— We will watch Ana.” He nods to the human.
The death knight grunts and waits a moment, then shoves to his feet with one hand. “Shout if she wakes, though I won’t be long.” He takes Byfrost and exits the cave after peering above him, half expecting the blood knight to leap onto his head.
Jorick nods. “Of course.” He gets to his feet and groans as he makes his way over to the unconscious girl and sets himself beside her. “Too old for this shit,” he grumbles and sets his nearly empty pack beneath her head. He frowns. “Does she normally not breathe? It’s…unnerving.”
Taveth furrows his brow. “The undead usually do not, no. They have no need, except to speak.”
Jorick blinks slowly down at the woman beside him. “It’s just so strange to me. She looks just like she did, but…” The thought of her marred, stitched face comes to his mind and a realization strikes him. He looks away from her and into the small fire, guilt gripping his heart. He clears his throat. “How far back did he say he sent us?”
Taveth blinks as he opens his book yet again. “Uh…Twenty-three? I think?” He glances down at her face. “She was so young. Still is, but I mean… Still just as beautiful. That didn’t change, right?”
“Careful, Tav,” Koltira says as he steps back into the cave, his shoulder smeared with blood, but his wound healed. “I might start to think you’re getting ideas.”
“I-I wasn’t— I didn’t— You’re joking, right? Is that it?”
Koltira laughs and bends to get his shirt. “Scoot.” He slides in as Taveth moves over, then stares down, brows knit, at the sleeping woman.
Jorick sobers and he gives her a sideways glance before looking back out over the land. “Yeah,” he mumbles, mentally going through his head the lay of the land of the trip they’d taken. And, more importantly, where the portal had been. He grins. “Pretty interesting, though. If any of us really wanted to, we could give ourselves or others a second chance. I could probably stop my brother from becoming a priest. Or save my sister from her first abusive boyfriend.”
Taveth shakes his head. “Any actions you take could dramatically change the future. It could make things worse. Our mission is to prevent changes to the timeline.”
“Listen to the geek,” Koltira says, his eyes closed, and one hand wrapped around one of Anarchaia’s.
“Could make it better, too.” The human glances at Koltira. “If you could stop what happened to you, wouldn’t you do it?”
“If I wasn’t a death knight, I’d just be dead. Most of the people I knew are dead. My brother would have still died, and his beloved before him.” He eyes the human. “I saw so much death when my people were massacred, and I see no way I could thwart any of it. Besides, I’ve done great things as a death knight.” He tilts his head to study the man. “What’ve you got in your past so terrible you’d risk possible catastrophic changes to the future?”
Though he was not asked, Taveth clears his throat. “I’d rescue more books from the Stormwind library before the orcs invaded.”
Jorick nods at Taveth’s musings, then chooses to ignore the question offered to him. “But if you could stop your brother’s death, then. Would you do that?”
Koltira swallows the hard knot in his throat and pauses for a minute on the distaste of the truth on his tongue. “Faltora wasn’t strong enough,” he says slowly, as though trying to refuse the words exit from his lips. “He wouldn’t have lasted the night, or the assault the next morning. After seeing what it was like, I didn’t want him to be a Farstrider…but he wanted to follow in my footsteps.”
Taveth sets a comforting hand over Koltira’s. The death knight allows it before casting the man a look. Taveth withdraws it and gives an awkward smile.
Jorick gives a small, knowing nod. “I suppose you’d know better.” He gives Anarchaia another glance, then gestures to her with his chin. “And her? Do you think she’d go back? Save herself?” He already has an idea of an answer but does not voice it, instead curious what her friends might say.
Taveth looks down at her as well. “As her friend and a fellow scholar, I’d have to say that first she’d make a list.”
“Two lists,” Koltira says on a chuckle.
“Yes.” Taveth laughs. “She’d list the pros and cons and stew over it for an insufferable amount of time, ask someone’s advice only to not listen to it, anyway. I think, though…her list of reasons to stay as she is might outweigh the ones for changing her past. Her apprenticeship; her friends…Koltira.” He swallows and frowns. “As much as it might hurt, I think she would choose to not change her past.”
Jorick hums a laugh and nods, then looks into the fire after running a hand through his hair. “She’d save her parents, though. I know that much.”
Taveth frowns, the furrow in his brow deep with painful thoughts. “Ali would, too. It’d be much farther back, but…if given the chance, she’d save them both.” He swallows and stares at the message he’d scrawled on the page, still unanswered. “I’d save my mother, if I wasn’t the one who killed her.”
Koltira sets a heavy hand on Taveth’s shoulder but says nothing.
Jorick gives the elf a sympathetic smile. “If you mean by birth, then it wasn’t your fault. It happens all the time.” He shifts and cringes as pain shoots through his leg. “Your mother would feel the way you do if it’d been you who had died. Would you want that? Also, how would you go about preventing your own birth?” He smirks.
The high elf shrugs. “I said I couldn’t save her. I think instead I’d just…want to meet her. Just once. Tell her I’m someone else and have a conversation. That’s all I’d want. And it wouldn’t change anything.”
“I think I’d go back and tell my brother I’m proud of him. I’m not sure he knew it,” Koltira says.
Jorick leans his head back against the stone wall, a shiver from the cold night creeping up on him. “I bet he knew.” He closes his eyes, but the lack of visual stimulation draws attention to the severe pain in his burnt arms and shattered kneecap, so he opens them again. “I have some fuck-ups I wouldn’t mind mending.”
“Starting with your current injuries?” Koltira asks with a smirk.
The man huffs a laugh through his nose but does not smile. “A few more scars ain’t gonna make a difference. And some of us don’t have tinkly witchcraft we can heal ourselves with.” He wiggles his fingers.
Taveth settles on his back, his bag under his head. “I don’t wiggle my fingers.”
“…Or wave a magic dagger.” He sighs. “Should have swiped more potions. I guess I just assumed everyone would be fine. Didn’t even think about myself.” He laces his fingers atop his stomach. “Could use a drink.”
Koltira nods but says nothing. He forces his eyes to the cave entrance. “I’ll keep watch while you sleep.” He stands and redresses in his armor, then takes up his seat at the opening, Byfrost over his lap.
~ * ~
The blood knight stomps through corridors, leering at any who glance her way. She kicks in a door and hurls her spear at a dining Kaldorei. The sharp edge passes less than an inch from his ear, though he doesn’t move to avoid it.
“You were wrong about my targets. Or you lied. One death knight; the mage was late; no warlocks, just some helpless elf; no demon hunter, and there was a human with them. He was not on your list!” She paces back and forth in front of him.
The man continues to eat his dinner, unfazed. “A human, you say?” He smiles at her. “Why are you so flustered about this?”
“You sent me in blind!” She circles behind him to yank her spear from the wall. “I could’ve died. Or do you even care?” She returns to pacing in front of him, twirling her weapon in one hand. “My price has doubled. I’m not killing the quel’dorei, not after… I’ll kill the others, as you asked, though. The mage is weak, so I’ll start with her. The human is no threat to me, so he can watch his friends die before I kill him. I’ll need to find the other death knight and the demon hunter. We could use the high elf, though; looked…scholarly. He might have information we can use. Physically I could beat him with both hands tied behind my back; probably both feet. Easy to capture.” She stares over at the elf still enjoying his meal. “Are you even listening to me?” She slams both palms onto the table, causing the silverware and dishes to rattle. Her green eyes pierce into his as her furious breathing echoes behind the mask of her helm.
The elf continues to chew his steak, again showing no signs of distress. “Mind your attitude if you’d be so kind.” He sets his utensils down to interlace his fingers and stare into her helmet with calm, azure eyes. “A few things. One, don’t underestimate the mage—that would be a dire mistake. Not only that, but the death knight and mercenary would make that difficult. You can’t go about it as though they’ll just queue up to take you on. Two, you’ll dispose of them all. If any of them remain, it could throw a wrench in my cogs. If you want extra pay, then you’ll have it.” He sips his wine. “And three, I’ve decided to sweeten the deal altogether.” He sets the steel goblet aside. “Kill my brother as well, and you’ll have anything you desire.”
The blood knight reaches up to twirl one of his hanging verdant tresses. “Anything? Let’s say we skip the high elf in exchange for your brother.” She wraps the hairs around her index finger, then gives it a pull. “Before I go, though, are there any other surprises you’d like to tell me about? Other players in this little game…or maybe their hideout? Hmm?” She releases his hair and tilts her head. “Don’t tell me it’s the cave. They’d have more supplies. And only an idiot would make permanent camp so close to the Black Temple.” She takes a grape from a nearby bowl as she straightens, then pushes it beneath her mask.
The man readjusts his locks with his fingertips. “Hm. Kill the rest and we’ll see how I feel. Is that a good enough answer for you?” He sighs and swirls his drink around the in the glass. “I’m not sure. They appeared on the peninsula, so perhaps an abandoned place there? I cannot pinpoint the location without going near, and if I do Vendormu will sense my presence.”
“I’ll find them. And I’ll bring you his head on a silver platter, if it please you.” She lifts her spear and turns back for the doorway. “Don’t ever keep information from me again.” She leaves with the open threat still heavy in the air.