A day or so later, the human and the elf sit near the cave wall, hugging themselves while the death knight remains vigilant at the cave mouth. The fire had died hours before and the living were doing their best to stay warm in the cooling evening air.
A sharp but quiet gasp echoes against the walls. Anarchaia groans and covers her face with her hands as her brain struggles to restart. “What time is it?” she murmurs from behind her palms.
Koltira rushes across the cave and kneels beside the mage. “It’s…late. You’ve been out for a few days.”
“Welcome back to the land of the freezing,” Taveth says. “Koltira won’t let us move camp to a lava pit and Jorick doesn’t want to play cuddle-buddy.” He grins at her from behind his huddled knees. “Any chance you want to?”
She slowly sits up and chuckles. “I may look warm, but I don’t think I’d help much. Unless it’s a psychosomatic effect you’re after.” She lifts a hand and the firepit springs back to life.
Jorick scoots closer to the pit and holds out his freezing hands. “Oh, thank the Light.” He sighs happily. “Thank you, Ana.”
She frowns at his bloodied bandages. “What happened? I remember the woman. I…remember…” She perks. “Ali! Did Ali ever get back?”
Taveth holds his numb fingers up to the fire and whimpers as it stings heat into them. “No Ali. Grim is… He was very short with me. I don’t think he’ll be very helpful if I go back in.”
“Jorick won’t drink the potions Grim sent back. He thinks crows will eat out his eyes. I keep telling him there aren’t crows here, so there’s nothing to worry about.” Koltira shrugs.
“Grim wouldn’t poison you,” Taveth assures for what feels like the hundredth time.
“They’re not labeled!” Jorick hisses, shooting Koltira a look. “For all I know those potions are made with demon blood!”
Anarchaia giggles into her fingertips. “Don’t remember you being this paranoid over mysterious liquids.” She gets to her feet, then frowns at a piece of the man’s armor on the floor. “Oh gods, my hair. I really need a shower.”
“Same,” the human mutters, scratching at his growing beard. “Think the Illidari will let us use theirs?”
Anarchaia shakes her head. “I can help, though.” She smirks at the two near the fire as she conjures a globe of water in a hand. “But I’d have to watch.”
Jorick shrugs. “Nothing you haven’t seen before.”
She flushes at his audacity. “More directed at Taveth.”
Taveth blushes a dark red. “G-good thing there’s nothing to look at? Heh.” He frowns and looks away, his blush creeping up his ears.
Koltira narrows his eyes, unamused. “I’ll go back to keeping watch.” He moves from the mage and stands in the doorway, his back to the three by the fire.
“Offer extends to you, too, obviously,” Anarchaia calls after Koltira. She rolls her eyes and makes her way deeper into the cave where the firelight doesn’t reach.
Jorick chuckles at the man beside him. “Not much experience with women, I take it?”
Taveth gives an awkward chuckle as Koltira barks a laugh from the front of the cave.
“N-no,” the high elf says. “Not really. Heh.” He tucks his nose into his armpit and cringes. “Ana, does that extend to my clothes? A-and do you promise not to look?”
Koltira sighs. “Let them go first,” he calls to Ana. “I can wait a little while.”
“Okay,” she calls, scrubbing her hair with a conjured bar of soap from the outpost in the dim light of a floating ember. “And yes, it does!”
Jorick sighs and stands. “Fine. Since you’re not jumping to your feet.” He unlaces his tunic and makes his way into the small alcove in the back, ignoring the pain in his healing leg.
Anarchaia jumps and squeaks in surprise when his figure strides into the illumination. “I-I’m not finished,” she says, then relaxes and shrugs. “Nothing you haven’t seen before, right?” She chuckles nervously and turns away anyway to dry off.
He lowers his hand that he’d been shielding his view with, then lets his eyes wander when she turns around. “Yeah,” he says with a small smile. He removes his shirt and tosses it aside. “You look just like you did. Must be nice.” He removes the rest of his clothes as she dresses again; then he removes the bandages on his arms.
She frowns and pulls him further into the light as his clothing lifts off the ground and into a sudsy orb of water. “What happened? Jorick, this looks infected.” She flushes, then steps away a bit.
“Imps like their meat well done. So maybe keep the water on the cooler side?”
She nods, unable to keep her eyes from traveling as well, noting all the gnarly scars and his mangled knee. She sets herself on a large boulder and brings the water to his nude form instead, then hands him the soap. Silence passes between them as she watches him scrub himself. Every now and again he catches her eye and she looks away.
Once finished he cries out as his body is enveloped in a quick flash of fire. He blinks when he realizes that he’s unharmed and perfectly dry, but cries out again when he feels his head and the puffy mass atop itad. “M-my hair!”
She giggles. “Sorry.”
He jerks when a small splash of water hits him in the face. Without another word, he grumbles and heads back to the fire to drop beside his bag and pull out more gauze for his arms and leg.
Koltira grinds his teeth until his jaw aches. Eventually he steps out of the cave to get away from the jealous feelings clawing inside him like a caged animal ready to lash out at the human.
Taveth stands and fidgets as he shuffles to the back of the cave. “Do you really have to look? Can you not?” He hesitates in unbuttoning his vest. “I mean, what’s a little smell, heh? I could just…wait. Or something.” He glances back to the main area of the cave and cringes.
Anarchaia rests on a hip and folds her arms. She lifts a brow. “Don’t make me undress you myself.”
Taveth whimpers and begins undressing. He folds his arms and angles himself away from the mage, still looking over his shoulder. “They can’t see me, right?”
Anarchaia shakes her head, smirking. “Nope. Light’s too dim and we’re safe in this alcove.” She holds out her hand for his clothes.
The high elf relinquishes his clothing. “Let’s go fast, then. Don’t look at me.” He uses the provided soap to first wash his hair as the mage provides him with warmed water. He continues, his neck red and hot from embarrassment over her presence.
The articles wash themselves as the elf does the same. Anarchaia’s smirk quickly fades when the man turns to just the right angle. Her fingertips reflexively cover her mouth as her eyes widen. Oh my gods… She clears her throat, her face also red when she forces herself to look away. “I-I won’t…”
“Don’t burn me,” he says when he’s finished. Once dried, he yanks his clothes on as fast as he can. Taveth clears his throat. “Thank you. For the help, and for not looking. Don’t need another person telling me I’m too skinny.” He pauses. “I need to stop talking. Heh. Thank you.”
“No problem!” she responds, almost too quickly. Visibly flustered, she pushes him back toward the front. “G-get Koltira for me, okay? Heh.”
“O-okay.” Taveth stumbles. “Didn’t realize you were so eager to get him naked. Just remember, this is a shared cave.” He goes outside to find Koltira perched in a small outcropping over the cave. “Your turn.”
“Oh, is she done giggling with her ex?”
“That’s not fair.”
Koltira sighs and jumps down. “Maybe.” He goes to the back of the cave and stands over the mage. He says nothing, just clenches jaw.
Anarchaia shrinks from his aura alone. She frowns, suddenly intimidated. “T-take your clothes off?” is all she can mutter at that moment.
He doesn’t move. “Promise I have nothing to worry about.”
She sobers and fidgets with her fingers, unable to look away. “I-I feel like I’ve already done that. But if you want me to again…”
He lets out a long breath. “I trust you.” He removes his armor and proceeds to do as the others had.
She watches as he runs the soap over his glowing tattoos and long, snowy hair. She sinks to sit on her boulder again and sighs. “I love you,” she says quietly, not wanting her voice to carry.
Koltira stops and turns his head to look at the woman. He steps to her, still dripping, and pulls her up into a passionate kiss. “I love you, too,” he whispers against her lips.
She hums and smiles, running fingertips up his chest. Pulling away and biting her lip, she for a moment actually considers not taking Taveth’s advice. Instead she sighs and kisses him again, then gently pushes him back toward the water. “I love you more,” she responds playfully.
Jorick grits his molars on one side as he continues to fix his hair. Used to say that to me. “How long is blondie supposed to be up there? Place can’t be that big. Especially to someone who lives there,” he says to Taveth. “And what’s so sad about that empty book you keep opening?”
Taveth looks at the book in his hands. “Grim will take as long as he needs to. And…” He opens the book to the last message he’d written and holds it out to show the mercenary.
I have been sent decades into the past by accident. Please respond. If I do not return… My sister, Tyndra, will know who to inform.
Below it a more recent message has been scrawled.
Please. I need to know that you’re reading this.
“My books, save my personal journal, have twins in Stormwind…in our time. I was hoping the connection spanned time-travel, but…”
Koltira gazes ruefully at the two men by the fire. He presses back into her lips and moans lightly.
“This cave has amazing acoustics,” Taveth says loudly enough for it to echo. “Wouldn’t you agree, Jorick?”
The death knight pulls back and grits his teeth. “I can kiss the woman I love, can’t I?” he calls back to them.
The girl gives a nervous titter, too embarrassed to form a response.
“As long as it stays at that,” Jorick grumbles just loud enough for them to hear. He glances back at Taveth and regards the book again. “Someone you love?” He smirks.
Taveth shakes his head. “Not the kind of love you’re thinking. I’m…loyal to him. Devoted.”
Jorick tilts his head as he ties off the gauze on his arm. “Isn’t that what love is, really?” he replies, seemingly unfazed by the pronouns used.
Anarchaia bites her lip when the men seem to move on. “Next time we’re alone,” she whispers, pulling on his hair to bring him into one last kiss. “Now clean up before you get dirty again.”
Koltira groans at the pulling, his eyes closed and his body eager. He clenches his jaw and looks at her. “That was cruel, and you know it,” he whispers. As payback, he presses a palm where he knows he’ll get a response from her.
She sucks in a breath and places her hand over his as though to stop him, but doesn’t. <<They’ll hear us,>> she urges in Gutterspeak, heart racing.
“Not if we’re very,” he kisses the side of her neck, “very,” he kisses just under her ear, “quiet,” he finally whispers right against her ear. His palm presses harder beneath her hand.
She places her free palm over her mouth when a quiet gasp escapes. “I-I don’t know if I can be.” She again runs her fingertips over his chest and abdominals and smirks as she trails them down. “And I don’t think you can be, either.”
Taveth frowns. “It’s still not like that. I knew him as a child. He sat many hours with me in the library. He wanted to learn priestly things, and I helped him until he found a better mentor. Though I am not in love with him, I suppose I’d lay down my life for him, as many already have.”
Jorick lifts his eyebrows as he quickly places the pieces together. “Anduin. Impressive. Lucky you.”
“You’ve obviously never played the quiet game,” Koltira says on a chuckle. “Just…don’t pull my hair or that’s that.” He looks down at her fingers on his torso. “I don’t want to admit you’re right, though.”
An impish gleam sparkles in her eye and she bites her lip again. “Oh? I don’t understand. Like this?” She gives one of his long, wet tresses another tug.
Jorick’s brow furrows again at the quiet noises he catches just above the crackling of the fire and he rolls his eyes. “Hope he pays you well.”
Taveth blushes as his secret is discovered. “My needs are more than met, yes. Every Alliance outpost, even in this timeline, recognizes and accepts the king’s seal as currency.”
Jorick hums in realization. “So that’s how you got so much from the outpost. Handy. Why keep it a secret, though?”
“Imagine the leverage one would have over the king, should they discover his friend and favored scribe is out in the wilderness taking notes. My life is in danger just by being out of the library. Making my relationship to his highness known would just put a target on my head.” He sighs, then widens his eyes as a desperate groan from Koltira echos to them. “Okay, now you’re just being rude!”
Jorick sighs and stands, unable to contain his unrighteous jealousy. “Getting some air,” he grumbles and makes his way outside.
Anarchaia quickly covers the death knight’s mouth. “We aren’t actually doing anything!” she calls, face a dark pink.
“Yet,” Koltira adds quietly on a husky breath.
She grins against his lips and whispers “yet.”
~ * ~
For the third night in a row, Kel’ori goes down into the basement with a tray of food. She stands over the stagnating pile and holds out the cup of water. She tilts it and begins pouring it into the dirt, a smile on her face. “I’m not supposed to let you starve.” She bats her purple-shadowed eyelids. “But I can pour your meals out again and again while you watch until eventually you say the magic word and I let you eat.” She empties the cup of water and lifts the bowl of creamy potato soup. “I spend so long cooking these meals and you’re just going to kick them back at me again and again, aren’t you?” She dumps the soup onto the rotting pile. When she’s done, she raises her eyebrows. “Well, I hope you enjoy!”
She snaps her fingers and the stove for heat lights up, then the lamps go dark, leaving Grimory in darkness with nothing but the stench of the meals she’s been dumping on the floor. Upstairs she sets the tray down on her newly stolen kitchen table and grins down at Baemalen, sharing cooled sips of soup with Bel’theas.
“How are my boys doing up here?”
Baemalen smiles as the baby makes small, happy noises and reaches for the spoon. “Fine. How is he?”
“He’s doing great! Ate every bite. I guess you’re not the only one who likes my cooking.” She gives the infant a big grin.
Bel’theas lifts his upper lip in a fangy sneer; it softens into a grin.
Kel’ori gasps. “He smiled. Oh, my gods, he smiled at me!” She swoops in to kiss his messy cheeks and, in her excitement, kisses Baemalen’s cheek, too. She immediately jumps back and covers her mouth. “Oh! Oh, gods. I’m so sorry. I don’t know why I did that.”
Baemalen’s face turns a brighter shade of red than his hair. He clears his throat, laughs, and wipes the lipstick from his cheek. “It’s all right,” he chuckles. “Heat of the moment.”
The mage holds up a handkerchief. “At least that shade doesn’t look so bad on you.” She sits down to her own bowl of soup. “Are you staying up late again?”
Baemalen shrugs as he continues to feed the babbling baby. “Maybe. Why? Eager to get me in bed?” He smirks.
Kel’ori giggles across the table. “Oh, please. You really think you’re that charming? No. I was just making conversation. If you do stay up again, just remember that Grim can’t see you. It’ll change future-Grim. Or something. So…” She points her spoon at him. “Be good. And stuff.” She smiles as Bel’theas leans forward, mouth open, to steal Baemalen’s next spoonful of soup.
Baemalen sucks in a hiss at the slight. “Ouch. My pride. And here I thought we were getting along so well.” He blinks when he brings the spoon to his mouth, but there’s nothing on it. He chuckles and pokes the baby in the nose. “I think we’re a bad influence on you.”
~ * ~
The door to the cellar opens, letting the cold night air trickle in with the pale moonlight cutting into the darkness. Heavy boots take the steps one at a time, calculating and cautious, then stop at the bottom. A lantern lifts and the wick is let out to provide more light. It reflects from the helm in small specs from the places where battle had pried open the finish to reveal the shining metal beneath. The blood knight steps forward, eyeing the man on the floor, his long blond hair undone and dirty and his face bent as he ignored whomever has come to join him in the darkness. She sets the flat of the spearhead under his chin and lifts it to look upon his face. After a moment, she kneels to his level.
“Do you have a name?” she asks.
Hungry and weak, yet determined, the Illidari sets his jaw as he looks into her helmet. “Do you?” he asks, the strength in his voice betraying his wear.
She releases a small hmph of a laugh behind her mask. She stands and kicks at his chains. “Tough act for one in shackles.” She turns from him, slowly sauntering to the door. “I’ve a mission, here. I’ll be carrying it out next time that busty whore brings you dinner. After that I’m never returning to this awful desert or this putrid hole you inhabit.” She stops, her boots shining red and black, all the metal glinting in the dim light of the atmosphere. “Would you like to earn your freedom tonight, or rot in your chains?” She turns her head, concentrating her eyebrowless eye on him.
Grimory gives her a once over, seemingly weighing his options. He straightens, only just realizing how much his muscles ache to move again. “I’d obviously prefer to not be locked up in here.” He shrugs a shoulder. “But I won’t hold out for you. Do what you will, yeah?”
“Are you really all brawn and no brains?” She slowly turns and points her spear at him again. “I’m giving you a choice. All you have to do—” She breaks a skeleton key loose from a keyring at her waist, “—is distract the bitch for a few minutes.” The blood knight holds the key out over Grimory. “And give me a name to call you.”
His emerald eyes slowly slide from the key to her helmet and the shadows inside. “Grimory,” he says, not only giving his name but a signal of his compliance. “Silversong. And what do I call my gracious savior?”
She remains motionless for a long time, like a statue, studying him. She crouches down to look into his eyes. “My dragonhawk is on the roof. Be on him when I leave, or we leave without you. Stay out of my way, otherwise.” She gently slips the key into his waistband, then pats it, letting her palm rest there a moment longer. She stands, dims the lantern, and replaces it on the wall. She turns as she’s about to leave. “And don’t try to leave without me, Silversong. Stormbreaker won’t have it.” With that she leaves, closing him back into the darkness of the cellar.
~ * ~
Kel’ori purses her lips at Baemalen as he portions out Grimory’s meal. “He’s not going to eat it, anyway.” She sighs down at the infant, falling asleep at her bosom. “Let me put him to bed.” She takes Bel’theas to his newly stolen crib in the barracks, then returns to the living area, buttoning her bodice.
Baemalen perks, then furrows his brow in clear apprehension. “He still hasn’t been eating?”
“Whether it’s on the floor or nicely in front of him, no. He won’t eat. And if he breaks another of my fine china…” She balls a threatening fist, then takes up the tray. “After you.”
The Illidari forces another smile onto his face despite his distress and nods. He follows her out to the cellar and opens the door for her but does not follow.
Grimory looks up as he hears the delicate footsteps on the wooden stairs as he has every day. “Going to dump it on the floor again?”
She purses her lips tightly. “Will it end up on the floor anyway?”
Grimory looks away as though struggling with his pride. “…no.”
She sets the tray down, her brow furrowed. “Why are you being agreeable?” She narrows her eyes in suspicion. “Don’t break my dishes.” She stands and backs toward the doorway, her sights fixed on him.
He still avoids eye contact, shifting uncomfortably. “These shackles are digging into my wrists. Would you mind…loosening them? Just a little?” He finally looks up at her. “Please?”
“So you can get loose? I think not. Enjoy your food.” She turns away and heads up the stairs.
“N-no, wait!” He frowns when she stops but does not turn to look at him. “I won’t run. I won’t even try to escape. You’re a mage, yeah? Just polymorph me if I do something you don’t like. Yes?”
Kel’ori glares over her shoulder. “Eat your food.” She goes up the stairs and shuts the door, pursing her lips at Baemalen.
Grimory grits his teeth and growls before pulling the key from his waistband just as the doors close.
“He said more words to me tonight than the day he got here.” She leads Baemalen around the side of the house to find the front door wide open.
“Hush little baby, don’t you quake…” The gentle voice emanates from the front door.
Kel’ori stops in her tracks and grabs Baemalen’s hand as they get to the doorway. The blood knight sits with her back to them, her spear angled across her lap.
“I’m gonna buy you a netherdrake.” Her voice is gentle, yet rough. She doesn’t move as the two slowly entered the house. “And if that netherdrake won’t fly…”
They circle around the woman. Kel’ori’s hands fly to cover her mouth as she blocks a scream. Cradled in the blood knight’s arms is the still-sleeping Bel’theas, the spearhead so close to his cheek any sudden move would injure him.
She looks up at them and sets her index finger to her mask. “…Then that netherdrake will die.”
“No,” Kel’ori cries quietly.
“Ah,” the blood knight sighs, “the busty whore and her concubine. You’ve got something I’m looking for.” She inches the blade closer to the baby’s cheek as Kel’ori cries helplessly. “Where is the dragon?”
Baemalen takes an instinctive step to protect the mage. He opens his mouth, then pauses. “Concubine?” he whispers to himself, then shakes his head. “Look, miss—may I call you miss?—we don’t know where he is. He comes and goes as he pleases. I-if we did, we’d gladly send you his direction.” He takes another shaky step forward, a nervous grin on his face as to appear likable. “So please. Relinquish the baby?”
The blood knight chuckles darkly. “I think you’re lying.” The spear shifts closer to graze the infant’s cheek.
Kel’ori squeaks and reaches out but doesn’t move closer. “He’s telling the truth. Please let him go.”
She thinks for a long time, then stands and extends the spear to point at Baemalen’s sternum. “No. I have a better idea. Tell that scaly bastard that if he wants his abomination back, he can come find me.” She ignores Kel’ori. The blood knight whistles as she backs from the house, and her dragonhawk lands out front. “Oh, look who made it. Here.” She hands Bel’theas to the demon hunter and jumps into the saddle in front of Grimory. “Don’t drop it.” In an instant the creature takes flight.
Grimory sneers some at the child. “What is it?” He jerks as the animal rears to take off, wrapping his free arm around her waist.
“It’s the dragon’s spawn, obviously. Half breed, by the looks of it. He’ll come soon enough to take it off our hands. Dragons are protective of their offspring.” The blood knight laughs at her own devious plan and angles north.
Kel’ori runs outside and screams at the retreating dragonhawk, then falls to her knees.
Baemalen watches them go, only catching a brief glimpse of his friend before they disappear into the sky. He gives a small cry of frustration and scrunches his fingers against his head. “Wh-what are we gonna do?!” he says, panicked. “Ven!” He runs inside. “Ven!” He scoffs in disbelief when he receives no answer. Turning, he catches his face in the mirror on the wall—twisted with rage—and he pauses. His features again soften and he looks at Kel’ori. “What do we do?” he says again somberly.
Kel’ori scrambles into the house. Where a quill and paper fly over to meet her. She scribbles a quick letter and it rolls up and puffs away. She sits down, shaking, and holds her head in her hands.
Baemalen sighs and kneels beside her to cautiously wrap his arms around her shoulders and press her tears into himself. “It’s all right. We’ll get him back.”
Kel’ori grips the Illidari. “P-promise?”
He tightens his hold and nods against the top of her head. “I promise.”