Koltira helps Anarchaia from the wyvern and nods to the other mage. “Did you see Grim?” He looks around to answer his own question. “We should make a plan. First part of the plan is that he cannot be in the same room with his past self. Not even for a second. He can’t see himself.” He points at Kel’ori. “How’s your energy?”
“You’re going to have to teleport him out. To the house, if you can.”
She whimpers. “But, Bel! I need to—”
He growls, hating the defensive part of him that doesn’t want to see any harm come to an infant, but also thankful that he still has that morality within him. “We’ll get him. I promise.”
“But…I should be there…”
“We can handle Bel,” the smaller mage reassures. She smiles. “You can trust me. Do you think you have it in you?”
“Over here!” Grimory calls from the other end of the platform near a boarded-up entryway.
Baemalen jogs to meet him, then scrunches his face. “It smells like death over here.”
Kel’ori nods at the other mage and takes a deep breath. At the door, she holds a wrist over her nose. “What…is that smell?”
Koltira scowls. “Even with my weak sense of smell, I’d know it anywhere. It’s decaying flesh. A smell this strong… I’ve only encountered it in mass graves.” He looks to the mages. “Think two fireballs are strong enough to blow it open?”
“My arcane is stronger,” Kel’ori chirps proudly.
He pinches the bridge of his nose. “One arcane ball and one fireball?”
Anarchaia nods and, with Kel’ori, blasts through the barricade. The smell and a strange, damp warmth rushes out to meet them tenfold. Everyone, even the undead, recoils to cover their faces as though the scent alone could burn off their eyebrows.
Grimory, eyes watering, brings himself to look, then nearly chokes on his own voice. “Dear gods,” he mumbles.
Baemalen looks and gives the smallest noise of surprise. “Wh-who could’ve—… Did she—??”
Anarchaia looks upon the mass of bodies—both flesh and floral—and turns away again as her stomach flips. “There’s no way.”
Kel’ori stumbles away and vomits across the stony balcony. “Oh, gods. How many, do you think?”
Koltira takes a step inside and peers into the large entry chamber. “At very least? A hundred…give or take.” He notices a makeshift nest of some sort, put together with tattered clothes, blankets, blood elf banners, and some dried plants. Within is a pair of legs still in the chainmail, though there is no torso to be found. “Shit,” he hisses, backing back out. “Fucking dragonhawk.”
“What about it?”
“This is its roost.”
Just then, Stormbreaker swoops down and squawks at them, but only his beak fits through the door. The creature screams, shrill and angry, its sharp beak covered in blood.
“I can’t do thi—” Kel’ori gags again as she stumbles into the wall encircling the building. “I want to go home,” she whimpers, but doesn’t teleport away as she thinks of her child being in such a place.
Baemalen goes to her and sets a calming hand on her shoulder. “Hey, you can do this. You aren’t alone, all right?”
Grimory readies his claws. “May as well add him to his own hoard, then, yeah?”
Anarchaia’s palms fill with fire. “You’re sure this is the place?”
He nods. “Positive. We just need to get past…him.”
Kel’ori nods and summons a bundle of fresh mint from the stalls in Shattrath. She hands some to Baemalen and holds some out to Grimory.
“To mask the smell a little,” she says, holding her own in a fist to crush it. She spreads some on her upper lip, then stows the bundle in her bag to free up her hands. The mage readies an arcane blast.
Stormbreaker’s beak snaps shut and he sticks an eye in the doorway. It zips up and down the figure of Grimory, then he pushes his nose back out and sniffs. He squawks, then warbles, and then is gone from the opening.
Koltira narrows his eyes. “I trust that less than a blatant attack.” He tilts his head at Grimory. “Together. Mages behind, ginger, you’re at the back.”
“Baemalen,” Kel’ori informs him forcefully.
“Yeah. Okay. Let’s go. Eyes up.” He signals to let Grimory go through the door first.
Baemalen chuckles and throws a red lock back over his shoulder. “He’s just jealous that my hair is longer than his.” He says from the back.
Grimory rolls his eyes and cautiously steps through the doorway. His throat tightens at the stench filtering through the mint. “She’s even killed the lashlings,” he says, doing his best to step over the corpses.
Anarchaia ties her robes at her hip but cringes at the blood and viscera staining the soles of her white boots. “You really think she did all this?”
“These are her people…her allies!” Kel’ori says past the palm holding the mint. She gags again and closes her eyes. Her hand blindly grasps for Baemalen’s as she feels his warmth behind her. “I can’t look.”
Baemalen grips her hand gently. “Well, no one accused her of being the good guy.”
Koltira grits his teeth. “Another barricade. Okay. Everyone know what they’re doing?”
“Kill it with fire?” Anarchaia says and blasts the barricade with flames while Grimory helps with his own.
“I think he means after this,” the blond drones.
“Even bad people have loyalties.” Kel’ori says. She stops in her tracks and listens.
In a distant room of the Botanica, Bel’theas lay screaming and alone in a crib, crying for attention and food.
Koltira’s arm bars the mage. “Stick to the plan.”
“But I can hear him!” Tears spill from her eyes.
“Don’t lose your head,” Grimory growls and throws aside corpses as they make their way through the hall. “We’re going as quickly as we can.”
Anarchaia helps by lifting other bodies and tossing them to the side as well. “It’s oddly quiet, other than the crying,” she mumbles, eyes searching overhead for the beast.
“Of course it’s quiet,” Koltira growls as he pulls the bodies away from the path, “everyone is in here.”
“He needs me!” Kel’ori insists. In a quick motion, she pushes the last of the corpses against the wall with her magic, then sprints through.
“The plan!” Koltira shouts.
A shrill cry sounds from above and Anarchaia grits her teeth as she blinks after the other mage, leaving little cinders in her wake. “Kel, we have to stick together!”
Both Illidari men follow, glancing at one another as the dragonhawk makes more warning calls.
~ * ~
The blood knight locks her eyes across the table at the man enjoying the breakfast she’d cooked for them. She slips the fork behind her mask to take a bite of eggs. The utensil scrapes against her helm and she pauses, then returns it to the plate. “Your company means a lot to me…Grimory.” She says his name carefully, as though giving it some reverence.
The blond elf lifts his eyes, then gives an awkward, slightly nervous smile. “I…appreciate yours, too, blood knight lady.” He clears his throat. “What do you plan to do with the baby if he doesn’t come for it?”
She thinks on his question as she slips off one glove. An ugly scar mars the flesh on the back. She sets her hand over his, the callouses on her fingers and palm rough on his skin. She pauses and stares at their touching hands as though it’s a peculiar thing. “The…abomination…” Her brow furrows. “I’ll ask my employer what he wishes to do with it. Does… Does that suit you?”
Grimory swallows and stiffens some at the touch but does not show his discomfort otherwise. “Obviously I’d prefer not to harm it. I mean, abomination or not it’s still just a baby, yeah?” He struggles to read the green glow beneath her helmet. “Wouldn’t you agree?”
“Were it my child…” She scans his features, then casts her gaze to the table. “I would not.” She pulls her hand away and stands. “But it’s not mine. I will take it to m—” She goes quiet and stands completely still, listening. “Stay here,” she insists, holding out her hand. She grabs her glove and pulls it on as she races from the room.
Grimory watches her go, then immediately stands and goes to the door to watch her retreat down the hallway. He hesitates, for a moment wondering whether he should try to escape, but not knowing where he’d go if he did. Instead he sighs and returns to his seat.
The blood knight returns moments later, her brow furrowed and perplexed. “Stormbreaker must be playing with his food again. When he’s done, would you like to go for a ride? To get out of here for a bit. Fresh air. Maybe relax a little.” She gauges his facial expression, her brow pushing up in genuine sincerity. “I’m not going to hurt you, Grimory. Ever. I promise. You don’t have to keep your guard up. I was hoping we could be friends.” As she says this, her tone gives way to the smallest bit of vulnerability.
Grimory’s face softens at the hint of familiarity. He nods. “Yeah. Sure. I think I’d like that.” He flushes and looks away. “The ride, that is. The smell near the entranceway gets to me sometimes, yeah? I’m no stranger to slaughter, but…”
Her expression behind her mask is inscrutable, her brows relaxed. She stares at him for a long time, then laughs casually and shrugs a shoulder. “I can’t fool you, can I? I have…a secret. I’m a terrible housekeeper. I haven’t cleaned his roost in so long. I’m sure it’s just scraps from the wildlife he brings in. Dragonhawks are very territorial, so cleaning their nests has to be done carefully. It’s really just so tedious, though.” She takes his one hand in hers. “Forgive me?”
Grimory hesitantly wraps his fingers around hers, a mix of comfort and discomfort swirling in his stomach. He stares at her for a long beat. “Who are you?” he whispers.
Her hand goes to the hood of her crimson tunic. She unhooks it from the wings of her helm and pushes it back. Underneath, the blood knight’s hair is braided tight to the scalp on the sides, while the top is bound in a series of leather straps to keep it down. Resting on her shoulders with the braids are thick, black dreadlocks. She reaches to the buckle of her helm, pausing as though unsure. “Will it change your mind? Will you stay, then? With me? Or will you leave once you know…”
Grimory watches her intently. “Why? Have we met?” He furrows his brow and swallows. “A-are you…?”
The blood knight’s hand falls away. “She pulls the hood back over her hair and hooks it back into the helm. “Whoever you think I could be, I’m not.” Her demeanor shifts and she looks away from him. “I’m the one left to die. I was left bleeding and broken. No one came back for me.” The woman’s eyes lock onto his. “I wasn’t going to let that happen to you.”
“Look, I’m sorry for whatever’s happened to you, but I assure you I’m—” He pauses at the combination of crying and bestial shrieking, then looks at her. “He won’t eat him, will he?”
The blood knight listens. “That’s not…” She shoves to her feet and gets her spear from the corner. On her way out the door, she pauses to tilt his face up by the chin. “Stay with me and I’ll give you a name. Let me just get rid of our visitors.” She strides from the room.
Grimory purses his lips in her wake. She’s actually kinda hot.
~ * ~
Kel’ori races along the wall of the main botanical hall toward the sound of Bel’theas’s crying. A spear lodges into the wall in front of her and she screams and ducks. In moments, the blood knight is upon her. She pulls her up by her blonde locks, then presses her against the wall by the throat.
“I sure hope you brought the dragon with you.”
Kel’ori whimpers. “H-he doesn’t care. Please just let me have my baby—ah!” She cringes as the woman knocks her head back against the wall. “He’s not a dragon. He’s…a demon. Half.”
The blood knight steps back, her eyes wide. Her gaze wanders away as she processes the new information. “It’s not his?”
Koltira stops the others in the doorway. He motions around the side of the room for the Illidari. “Get the baby. I’ll get this bitch,” he mutters. Once the other men are out of the way, he yanks the blood knight back with a slithering, purple tendril of shadow.
She adjusts in midair and brings the metal toe of her boot up to meet his jaw just as she nears him. She hops backward and growls. “Oh, it’s a damned party, now, isn’t it? Sorry, Frosty, ’I’ve already got a dance partner.” She spins to kick him in the chest.
Kel’ori nods to Baemalen as she rips the spear out of the wall with her magic, then hurls it at the woman. It hits her thigh, just enough to pierce the armor, but not enough to reach bone. The woman screams out and tips away from the death knight.
Baemalen shakes his head. “No, Kel! Get Grim! I’ll get Bel!” He and Grimory nod to one another.
Anarchaia throws up a wall of ice between the blood knight and Koltira before she can regain her bearings. She throws more ice at her, hoping to distract her.
The woman lifts an arm to shield herself and grips the spear in her other hand. She shouts in pain and anger as she rips the tip from her thigh. She spins around the ice wall, sending the pole smacking hard against the mage’s shins. Koltira swings Byfrost down at the blood knight, but she rolls away and the blade clangs against the floor. Upon coming to her feet, she sees Kel’ori racing to the other doorway, where Grimory is waiting for her return.
“No!” she shrieks. She raises her spear in the air and hurls it at the high elf.
Kel’ori glances over her shoulder in time to see the weapon flying at her. She spins to deflect it and trips, spilling out across the floor.
Weaponless, the knight retreats, picking up her spear as she runs, and pauses to kick Kel’ori in the stomach. Once out the other hallway, she whistles. Stormbreaker swoops low and she leaps onto his back, flying her to the kitchen using his shortcut through the rafters.
“Grimory. Grimory!” She stumbles from the dragonhawk, clutching her thigh. “We have to go. Now.”
Grimory nods and runs to her, taking her hand and leaping on.
Baemalen and his Grimory run through the halls, using the baby’s screaming as a waypoint. They eventually find themselves at the correct room, a lone cradle in the middle of a room with a grass floor and trees. The redhead steps forward, minding the thorn bushes, and gives a sigh of relief at the sight of the infant, uninjured.
Grimory meets him at his side and peers into the cradle. His face softens as he sees the baby up close for the first time. He gives a different sort of sigh and picks Bel’theas up.
The child immediately quiets as he’s lifted and opens his dark eyes. He coos happily and reaches for the Illidari’s ponytail.
“Huh. He likes you more than me. Kinda offended. Come on.” Baemalen chuckles and turns for the door, then stops and looks back. “Grim?”
Anarchaia hisses at the sting in her bruised shins as she scrambles back to her feet. She scoffs as the blood knight gets away. “Kel! Are you all right?!”
The blood knight struggles to get back onto the dragonhawk, the blood slicking her glove and her thigh wound opening at each movement.
Koltira leaps over the mages. “She’s getting away!”
“Go,” Kel’ori coughs, fighting her way to all fours. “I’ll be right behind you.”
With the man’s help, the blood knight gets onto Stormbreaker. With no real choice, she stabs into a plant pot, tangling her spear in the roots of the small tree. She hoists it up and holds it out for the Illidari. “You got a good throwing arm?” She points at the glass paneled ceiling.
“Sure do,” the elf says, taking the weapon. He hesitates. “Are you going to be all right?” He makes to say more, but the spear is torn from his grasp and into the hands of a mage clad in blue and white in the doorway.
“You’re not going anywhere,” Anarchaia says. “Koltira, we have to get rid of the dragonhawk.”
The blood knight growls and kicks at Stormbreaker’s side. “Duck. Prepare to get cut.”
The dragonhawk shoots upward toward the window. As it gets there, Koltira reaches out with a shadowy gasp and drags the Illidari back down. The window shatters at the impact of the creature’s beak, raining glass down onto them.
On instinct, Koltira forces Grimory to hunch as he covers the less-armored man with his own body. “Ana, shield!”
Anarchaia throws up a dome of arcane energies, protecting them from the shards. She looks up at the struggling Grimory and frowns. “I’m so sorry, Grim. But we’re trying to protect you.”
Kel’ori stumbles into the entryway, standing back as the glass falls around the others. She holds her ribs and coughs again.
“I don’t even know you people!” he hisses. “And she was just going to let me starve!” He gestures to Kel’ori as he struggles against Koltira’s strength.
“I gave you food,” Kel’ori rasps. “You were the one throwing it back at me.”
Koltira looks up as the shards stop falling. He sees nothing but an empty pane. “Dammit! She got away.” He lets Grimory go, his teeth grit tightly together. “Who is she?” he demands. “Where is she going? What does she want?”
Kel’ori laughs, which falls into more coughing. “He won’t know anything. Did you see how fast she abandoned him?” Her eyes settle on the Illidari. “We won’t abandon you. Believe it or not, we’re all on the same side.”
Grimory growls and steps away from the death knight. “It doesn’t matter. And like I’d tell you anything, anyway. At least she showed some hospitality and didn’t—oh, I don’t know—chain me up in a basement?”
Anarchaia perks at the sound of footsteps and runs to the doorway after dropping the barrier. “No, you guys. Not in here.” She looks at Kel’ori. “Can you send them back? I can handle the other…one.”
A shriek sounds from the other side of the room as Stormbreaker charges back in through one of his rafter paths. The blood knight leaps from his back as he swirls to a stop, batting the death knight into the wall. Byfrost clangs across the floor.
“You think you can take him from me so easily?” The knight leaps at the mage, her polearm swinging over her head.
Anarchaia’s pink eyes widen and she gives a small cry as the spear crashes through her quickly raised barrier, weak from the continuous use. She grabs the spear and struggles with what little muscle she has instead. “Kel! Take one before we lose our chance!”
In the corridor, Grimory grits his teeth and holds the baby to his shoulder, wanting to help but knowing he can’t see himself.
“We’ll be in the main chamber!” Baemalen calls and grabs Grimory to turn him back.
The Grimory in the solar perks at the voice. “Bae?” He tries to inch his way to the doorway, but his feet freeze to the floor. He pulls at them uselessly.
“Kel, take him!” Koltira points at the man in front of them.
“Grimory, the sword,” the blood knight insists as she grapples shortly with the mage.
Kel’ori stumbles forward to grab at Grimory before he can get a hold of Byfrost.
Grimory growls as he uses all his strength to break free from the ice. He stumbles to the sword and grabs it before the death knight or Kel’ori can recover. The handle remains dull and he struggles to pick it up. “Why is it so heavy?!” he calls to the blood knight. He musters all his strength to lift it and runs forward to deliver it, but a shadowy tendril wraps around his ankle and he falls forward. The weapon spins across the floor to the wrestling duo.
The blood knight reaches for the blade, but Anarchaia cries “No!” and uses her distraction to kick her off. Instead she scoops up the sword with little hesitation. An invisible gust swirls around her form as the handle shifts to a bright violet and a similar color fills her eyes. She straightens, struggling to contain the power coursing through her.
The blood knight’s eyes widen on the mage. She takes a step back, readying her spear.
“Kel!” Koltira shouts.
Kel’ori rushes from the hallway, wrapping her arms around the Illidari. He struggles against her.
“Grimory!” the knight shouts, turning her attention on the elves long enough to miss the massive ball of fire flying at her. The flames smash into her torso and launch her backward across the room and into the wall. She falls to the floor, her clothes still aflame.
Kel’ori closes her eyes to concentrate and in a second the two are back in the basement of the hut.
Grimory blinks and stops struggling as soon as he realizes where he is. He wrenches free from the mage’s grasp and turns on her. “No! Take me back! She’s hurt!”
Kel’ori stumbles back, her breathing forced and painful. “With any luck she’s dead. Do you have any idea what kind of monster you were in bed with?” She leans against the wall, her arm across her ribs and her brow knit in agony.
“Do you?” Grimory sighs as conflicting emotions run through him. “Are you hurt? Maybe I can help…”
Kel’ori holds out her hand to stop him as she coughs on her breath. “Your friend kicked me while I was already down. Literally.” She takes a few calculated breaths. “She killed everyone, Grim. She’s a monster. How dare you aid her in taking my son. Don’t touch me.” She uses her magic to push the cellar door open, then stumbles up the stairs. “You’re welcome for the rescue.” She doesn’t stop to shackle him but does close the door as she makes her way to the front door.
Grimory rushes to the stairs, but his strength isn’t enough to open the doors. “Yeah, and you’re WELCOME FOR OFFERING TO HELP!”