Anarchaia turns and holds out the sword to Koltira, tears welling in an eye from the feeling of being overwhelmed. “Take it!” she yells in an unintentional volume.
Grimory and Baemalen appear in the doorway. “I know I’m not supposed to come in, but we heard—” The blond pauses at the burning woman on the ground and the mage swirling with power. “Oh, right on.”
Koltira takes the sword. He turns and stomps toward the burning woman. “Let’s make sure she stays down.”
Stormbreaker swoops down, batting the death knight away with his tail. He shrieks and places himself between the blood knight and the others, slowly advancing, clacking his sharp beak together.
Koltira scrambles to his feet and puts himself between the creature and the others, checking over his shoulder that Grimory has the infant safely in his arms. “I think it’s time to go.” He casts one final glare to the woman across the room, who still hasn’t moved, though the fire has been extinguished by the dragonhawk’s winds. “Ana, please.” He reaches his hand back for her to take, but otherwise stands his ground.
Anarchaia, veins still humming with energy, nods and takes his hand. She turns and holds her other out for the Illidari. When they’ve all linked, they disappear in a swirl of light. When they appear again, they are standing in the middle of the main room of the outpost. Bel’theas gives a small whimper, not accustomed to the feeling of teleporting.
Grimory sets a hand on the back of his head and looks around. “Where’s Kel’ori?”
“Still downstairs?” Koltira asks.
Baemalen rushes to the door when Kel’ori appears. He grabs her when she stumbles. “Kel! Are you all right? What’s wrong with your side?”
Anarchaia cringes. “She got kicked pretty hard…”
“I’m fine,” Kel’ori insists, looking anything but. “Bel.” She reaches for the baby and takes him as the demon hunter hands him over. “My poor boy. Did she even change you?” She casts her gaze to Grimory. “Thank you. Thank you so much.”
A slight flush tints Grimory’s cheeks and he forces himself to look away from the child. “It’s fine. Just…hold onto him, yeah?” It’s a fine specimen, isn’t it? The demon hunter grits his teeth as he turns for the door. “Shut up.”
“Where’s Grim?” Koltira asks. “Other Grim.”
“Downstairs. I didn’t shackle him. He might be gone. I don’t care anymore. I just want to go home.” She sinks into a chair and holds Bel’theas close, though the infant’s attention is divided between her hair and Grimory.
Anarchaia fidgets at the clear turmoil and frowns at Kel’ori. “Are you sure you’re fine? We can help while we’re here.”
“I think you’ve done enough,” Baemalen says with a kind smile. “I can take care of them.”
Koltira doesn’t move. “Are you sure everything is okay?”
The mage waves her hand dismissively. “I’m fine. Just sore.” She pulls her hair from Bel’theas’s mouth. “Really, go y—AH!” Her scream causes the infant to lean back and start crying as little spots of blood absorb into her dress around several, tiny, fang-size holes in the fabric. Tears of pain and embarrassment fill her eyes and she looks away from the others. “Go. I’m fine,” she says forcefully. “I need to feed my son.”
Anarchaia pulls the death knight from the room and the wailing. She sighs heavily as they step into the cool night air. “You okay?” she says to the demon hunter standing alone some feet away.
“Well…you weren’t too excited about the baby. But he seemed to really like—”
“Can you just teleport us back please?”
She frowns and nods, holding out her hand for him to take. The three disappear and reappear back in the cave.
Jorick smiles after jumping in surprise, nearly dropping his cards. “You’re back in one piece,” he says with a smile.
Taveth gives a relieved groan as the succubus shoots to her hooves.
<<The baby! How is he?>>
Taveth motions at her. “She’s been beside herself—and us—with worry. I’ve also been concerned. How is my sister and my nephew? And Grim…of course.” He cocks his eyebrow at the man. “You went?”
“Yes, I went,” Grimory snaps.
Koltira clenches his jaw. “Hopefully that blood knight won’t be bothering us anymore. Also, she’s a mass murderer and I would love to take that bitch’s head off. Which we would have done if some bumbling Illidari didn’t take off with my sword.” He purses his lips at Grimory. “I like the current you a lot more than the past you. How could you defend…that?”
He gives Koltira a sideways glance, then sobers some. “She was…nice to me. Romantic, even.” He shakes his head and turns. “Baby’s fine. I have to get back to the temple.”
Taveth furrows his brow up at the demon hunter. “Why you?”
“No idea,” Grimory says before he disappears out into the night.
Anarchaia stokes their dying fire and kneels beside it, suddenly drained. She yawns. “Did you two have fun?”
“Oodles,” Jorick says with a smirk.
Taveth purses his lips. “Sorry, but…why Grim?”
Koltira scoffs from the corner where he’s removing his armor. “Because it’s always Grim. Everywhere he goes, women fall at his feet.”
“Jealous?” he jokes.
“No. Are you?”
Taveth narrows his eyes but says nothing.
Jorick casually raises a hand. “I am.”
Anarchaia chuckles. “I think we’ve discussed Grim’s way with women before. They like assholes, remember?” She holds her hands up to the fire.
Taveth slides over to the mage and leans to wrap her in a hug. “I’m glad you’re back safe.” He freezes, eyes wide. “What is that smell? Oh, gods, Ana, your boots!”
“We got to wade through what’s left of the hundred or so elves stationed at the Botanica. It was a massacre. And it was several days old, maybe a week,” Koltira explains”.
Anarchaia blinks, then laughs. “Oh, I guess I forgot.” She sits back on her hind end and slips off the garments to run her orb of water over them. The thought of drying them, however, is too exhausting to her and she sets them near the fire instead. “It was gross.” She shudders. “So many bodies. I should have burned them all.”
Taveth shudders. “And you said she got away?”
“Nope. Ana took her out with the most impressive fireball I’ve ever seen. She was amazing.” Koltira smiles over at the woman.
“I would have vomited.”
“Kel did throw up,” Anarchaia chuckles, then gives Koltira a shy smile. “I’d not be able to do that without some help from Byfrost.”
“Who’s Byfrost?” Jorick asks as he oddly shuffles the cards in his hands.
Koltira meets Anarchaia’s gaze, a sly smirk spreading on his lips. “An enchanted sword that was passed down through Alisbeth’s family, until I got it.” He holds out the blue handle to the man. “Give it a try.”
Taveth sits up to watch.
Jorick stands and dusts his palms on his pant legs. He crosses the cave and takes the handle. It dulls and the blade end drops to the floor as he struggles to lift it. He grunts and tries with both hands. “What is this thing made of? Dying star??”
Anarchaia titters into a hand. “I guess you aren’t worthy,” she sings mockingly.
“Well I could have told you that,” he grumbles.
Taveth laughs. “I’m not worthy, either.”
“Apparently neither is Grim.” The death knight takes the sword back to lean it against the wall. “Ana’s the only magic-user I’ve seen wield it.”
“What was it like?” Taveth asks excitedly, opening his journal to a clean page.
Anarchaia fidgets, her smile gone. “It’s…a lot of power. I don’t like it. It’s nothing compared to Atiesh, but it’s like…wanting to scream after having ten cups of coffee. If that makes any sense?”
“Oh, so much energy you might vibrate out of your skin? I’ve done that. Not the vibrating part, the coffee part. Heh.” Taveth makes a few notes in his book.
“Ana, would you mind dousing my gear in water?” Koltira motions at the pile covered in putrid blood.
“Oh! Yes. Sorry.” She surrounds the soiled armor with a mass of water, then stifles another yawn. “Ugh, speaking of coffee…”
“I think we could all go for something other than stale water and dried meat at this point,” Jorick says, groaning as he sits near the fire.
Taveth makes a face. “I’m really tired of this cave.”
~ * ~
Baemalen gives the two a patient grin. “What can I do for you? And don’t say you’re fine.”
Kel’ori summons her papoose but flinches and gives up when it’s too difficult to lift it over her head. Doing her best to not flash the bashful man, she undoes her bodice and sets the infant to the side he hadn’t bitten into. She rests him on the table to get the weight off her sore ribs.
“Um, if you don’t mind, he needs a new nappie and something to wear? I’ll draw him a bath after he eats. Unless you really feel like heating the water over the fire…the long way.” She presses her lips together, upset that her pain is impeding just how relieved and happy she is to have Bel’theas safely back. She sniffs and sets her palm to the back of his head as she holds him. “I’m never letting him go again,” she says.
Baemalen gives her a tired sigh, though his smile remains. “Yes. I can do all of those things. And after that, we’re taking care of you, understand?” He points, then leaves. He comes back after starting a fire under their bath trough and retrieving the items. “Hand him here.”
Kel’ori covers herself as Bel’theas finishes. She gives him a quick burping, then holds the infant up. “I’m really fine, Bae. I’m just sore.”
Bel’theas immediately grabs the red locks hanging over the man’s shoulders and grunts excitedly at him.
The mage smiles. “I think he missed you.”
“I don’t know,” Baemalen says as he gets to changing the baby. “He seemed to really love Grim. I mean, that makes sense because…well. Because. But you should have seen it. He was screaming bloody murder, but when Grim picked him up he just…stopped. Didn’t have to sing or anything. Just fell asleep.” He changes his clothes as well, scrutinizing her from the corner of his eye.
A chill runs up Kel’ori’s spine. She sneers at the fireplace. “Spinewing.” Her fist on the table balls tight. “I’ll have to keep them apart.” She stands to go check the heat of the water, bracing one hand on the wall.
Baemalen stands when he’s finished and scowls. He goes to her. “All right, missy. You’re definitely not okay. Show me.”
The mage pauses. “Show you what?”
“Where you were kicked.”
Kel’ori slowly reaches for the buttons of her bodice. With shaking fingers, she starts to undo them. “I’m sure it’s just a bruise.” She sets a palm to the area the hurts, unable to see it past her bust. “Right here.”
Baemalen’s eyes widen at the gnarly yellow and purple bruise. “Kel, there’s no way you don’t have broken bones. You need to lie down.” He points back to the hammock. “I’ll get ointment and bandages.”
The high elf’s eyes go wide. “What? What do you mean?” She tries to see the bruise, but only sees the black fabric of her brazier. “But Bel needs a bath, and I have to make dinner. And take it to Grim, if he’s still down there. Speaking of which.” She waves her hand and a tool from outside slips itself through the handle of the cellar door and through a bar intended for chaining the door.
“I don’t care. Hammock.” Baemalen points again, then retrieves the items while Bel’theas babbles on the floor. He returns, unscrewing the cap off some salve. “Sorry, but…” He gestures to her brassiere.
The woman slaps her arms over her chest. “You can work around it,” she hisses.
Baemalen bristles, face as red as his hair. “I-I’m not trying to see your chest or anything! The bruise goes underneath your underwear!”
She huffs and gingerly lifts her garment up to expose the bottom of her breast, holding it in place. “Is that better?”
Baemalen cringes again at the sight. “You’re holding up well for an injury like that,” he says and gently places a bit of ointment on the bruise.
The mage bites her upper lip in her canines as goosebumps raise all over her body. “Would you believe me if I said I’ve had worse?”
“Right. I imagine that would be much worse than a few broken ribs.” He unwinds the bandage and gestures for her to lean forward, then begins wrapping it around her torso and over the bruise.
Kel’ori braces herself with a hand on his shoulder and hisses as he binds her ribs tightly. “I don’t think it’s a good story to share,” she says on an awkward laugh.
Baemalen regards her with a patient smile. “I wasn’t asking. And I never will. I know it can be hard and it’s no one’s business but yours in the end.” He straightens and rerolls what’s left of the gauze.
She purses her lips, biting back the temptation to remind him that he has no idea what he’s talking about. “I’d rather not stay in bed,” she says instead as she straightens her clothing and buttons her bodice. “There’s too much to be done.”
He sighs and nods. “I mean, I can’t make you do anything. Just ask you to take it easy…” He bends to pick up the baby.
The mage gets a light stew going over the fire, using magic for most of it as she sits in the large chair. “Will you help me feed Grim tonight? I’m…scared. He knows I’m injured, and he came at me when I brought us back. He wanted to go back and save that woman.”
Baemalen thinks on it for a moment, then clears his throat when his stomach growls. “Not sure how I’d bring him anything without him recognizing me. Oh, wait, you mages can do illusions, right? Can you do them on others?”
She pauses, thinking on it. “I’ve never actually tried. Who do you want to look like?”
Baemalen shrugs a shoulder after a second’s thought. “Who do you want me to look like?” he responds with a smirk.
She smiles coyly. “Maybe I don’t have a problem with how you look. But, as a test…” She waves her hand in front of him, a look of concentration on her face. “Oh, now if that isn’t the most beautiful face I’ve ever seen.” She winks at the image of herself.
Baemalen blinks down at himself, then grins and grabs at the breasts now bound to his chest. “Couldn’t agree more. Oh, face. You said face.” He returns the wink.
Kel’ori rolls her eyes. “Closest you’ll ever get to the real thing.” She points up at him, trying not laugh with her injured ribs.
He chuckles and grabs his new robes at the knee. “Or maybe I just check to see if the set is complete, hmm?” He slowly begins lifting the fabric.
Kel’ori waves her hands urgently, dissolving the illusion. “If I’d know you would be so pervy about it—!” She groans and forces herself out of the chair, then uses her magic to serve up three bowls of stew. After everything sets itself neatly on the tray for the man in the basement, she takes a deep breath, grimacing through it. “I’ll just do it myself.”
Baemalen laughs and takes that tray out of her hands. “I’m just messing with you. I like when your face matches my hair. Give me back the illusion and get into bed, okay?”
She narrows her eyes. “I’m not sure what you mean by that. But, fine. Be careful what you say to him, all right?” She waves her hand and returns the illusion to the man. “Let me know when you’re back. Illusions are a small, but constant drain. If I don’t dispel it, it’ll stay until I pass out. Or…other things. There’s a list.” She waves the discussion away. “Be careful. Shackle him if you need to—you still have your own strength, of course.”
Baemalen nods and heads out the door. “I’ll be back in a flash!” He hurries to the cellar doors, setting aside the tray to pull the shovel free and open them. He closes the doors behind him, then chuckles as he sees Grimory’s sleeping figure curled up in the corner nearest the burning furnace. He sets the tray down near him and leaves, returning to the house after the shovel has been replaced. “He was asleep,” he says after the illusion falls away. “Couldn’t bring myself to chain him up.”
“Didn’t want to cuddle your bestie?” the mage asks.
“He’s not much if a cuddler, unless your name is Illith’ra,” he chuckles. “And even then…” He sighs and sets himself into his unofficial hammock. “Today has been…stressful.”
“Or Alisbeth.” Kel’ori looks over at the sleeping infant in the crib and sighs. “We didn’t eat. It’s probably cooled enough. Come on.” She fights the hammock but fails to climb out as her ribs twinge. “I’d kill for a bed,” she mutters up at the ceiling.
He gives her a sad smile. “No, don’t get up.” He steps around the sleeping baby and prepares two bowls. He hands her hers and sits cross legged on the floor beside her hammock. A hum of satisfaction escapes him at the flavor.
“Thank you,” the mage says, then sits up as best she can to eat. Once she’s had her fill, she sends the dish back to the main room. “I really wish Docra had come with. She tells the best jokes. I mean, they’re weird, but in a way they’re super funny. Most importantly, though, she’s a priestess. She hates healing, but I think she’d take care of my ribs.” She giggles at a thought. “She’d also probably set up the dungeon as her bedroom.”
Baemalen angles his ears back so he can hear her while he stares into the fire on the other side of the room. “Oh? Is she your best friend? Tell me more about her.”
“She’s…my only friend, now. Maybe. I don’t think she likes having friends, though.” Kel’ori chews on a nail. “She convinced me not to terminate… And I’m so glad. I mean, she said it because she was curious. Some odd thing to explore. What about your sister? Was she your best friend?”
He sighs wistfully and nods. “I knew some guys. But they were just little rascals like me. Partners in crime, really. What about that other mage girl? Isn’t she your friend? She did come to help…”
Kel’ori shrugs. “I guess? I mean, she pressured me to get rid of Bel. Everyone did. She probably only helped because Grim was gone. If that woman had only taken Bel…” She turns to look at the sleeping infant and bites her bottom lip. Again she struggles to sit up. “I’m restless. This is the worst. I can’t just lay here when I’m not tired!” She uses her magic to pull herself up, then hops gingerly to her feet. “Would you like to…do something? I don’t know. Cards? Could play cards?”
The redhead blinks at the suddenness, then shrugs. “If you can keep up with my cheating,” he responds with a shrug. “Play for shots?” He gestures to the half empty bottle beneath his hammock.
The mage stares ruefully at the bottle. “Unfortunately, I can’t. Not until he’s eating something else.” She summons a small glass bottle and pops the cork. “Ha. I knew I saw this at the vendor.” She goes to the living area and summons water into a cup, then pours some of the red liquid into it. “It’s liquor flavoring for those fruity drinks. This one happens to be concentrated daiquiri. Just add alcohol—or water, in my case.” She sits down and sets the cards on the table and they raise up to shuffle themselves. “Oh, and cheating will be met with severe punishment.”
Baemalen smirks and sets himself at the table with the bottle. “You’d have to catch me first, obviously.” He takes up his hand.
Kel’ori casually waves her fingers, her face stony. The elf, and his chair, lift off the floor. “Oh look, I caught you.”
Baemalen flails and hops to his feet and away from the floating chair, then breaks down in chuckles. “Oh, that’s funny.” He forces the chair back down and sits again. “You’re a funny girl. Hopefully you play Hold ‘Em as well as you tell jokes.” He deals the board and narrows his eyes over his grin.
Kel’ori pouts. “I’m not that good. You’ll go easy on an innocent girl, right?” She maintains her face, internally jumping at her hand.
“I suppose I can be convinced,” he says and pulls out his coins. “These are pretty much both of ours right now, but can’t hurt to pretend.” He splits the amount in half and gives her hers, then tosses in a piece.
Kel’ori puts a piece in with his. “I suppose you’re right. We can. How easy is it to convince you of things? Do I just need to bat my eyelashes at you?”
Baemalen lifts a brow and flips the second card then puts in another piece. “I know I look gullible, but I know every trick in the book, sweetie. It’ll take more than a sultry gaze to pierce my poker face.”
“Oh, really? All talk but when being pretty really matters, you go blind?” The buttons down the front of her dress slowly pop open one by one, making the remaining ones work harder to keep her breasts in place. She takes a drink as though she hadn’t noticed the event. “I raise.” She flicks two pieces into the middle of the table.
He keeps his eyes trained on her face. “You know, that’s really not fair. What am I supposed to flash you? I have no cleavage.” He tosses in another piece. “I call. Let’s see what you have.”
Another button undoes itself. “I think you can see what I’ve got just fine.” She pretends to scratch her collar bone, pulling the neckline wider and accidentally revealing part of the row of scars from the demon’s teeth. “Oh, did you mean cards?” She sets down a queen and a king.
His eyes briefly flick to the scars, then down at her cards. “Oh, darn.” He sets down a two-three suited. “You win.” He pushes the coins toward her and takes a hefty swig from the bottle.
After several hands with the gold shifting near evenly between the two—both resorting to less than savory means of winning, Kel’ori leans back and rubs her eyes, leaving her recent winnings on the table. “I’m absolutely worn out. I can’t play another round.” Her hand mirror quietly slips from behind the man’s shoulder and back into her crate of makeup. “Not sleepy, though.” She purses her lips.
Baemalen, visibly tipsy, smiles and nods. “I’m a tad tired, but I won’t leave you up alone.” He slides from his chair and onto the floor where he crawls over to the still sleeping Bel’theas and collapses into his stomach beside him, in front of the fire. He pushes his cheek into the tiger fur and blinks slowly at the sleeping infant. “Must be nice to have no worries, like you.”
Kel’ori smiles from the chair. “Wouldn’t that be nice? I can’t imagine you’ve too much on your mind, now that you’ve defected.”
His brow knits some and he looks up at the fire as though avoiding looking at her. “Quite the opposite, actually. At least training and fear kept my brain busy…”
“Busy from what? Being attractive too hard for you?” she jokes.
He smirks and turns to look back at her. “You think I’m attractive?” he asks in hopes of catching her off guard.
Kel’ori blinks down at him. “Are you seeking validation?”
He rolls into his back and laces his fingers over his stomach. “Maybe? Is that a bad thing?”
She shrugs. “Only if you stroke my ego in return.” She chews on her lower lip an smirks. “Yes. I’d say you’re attractive.”
The Illidari blushes but grins as though he’s unfazed. “Well. Your face is lovelier than your bust line if that means anything to you.”
Kel’ori gives a small titter into her fingertips, then sighs and just stares at her baby.
Baemalen stares at the ceiling for a long moment, watching it slowly spin. The image of the teeth marks near her neck suddenly comes to his mind. “I know we haven’t known each other long, but if you ever need someone to talk to…”
Kel’ori giggles. “About what? How hard it is being as attractive as we are? Really, it’s so difficult. Every day is a battle.” She smirks down at him.
“No. About what happened.”
The mage purses her lips at him. “Bae… It’s sweet and all but… You don’t want to hear any of it. And it’s just hard talking to people about it, knowing they don’t actually know how it feels. You can’t imagine or even sympathize with someone unless you’ve been through something similar.” She shakes her head and adjusts in her seat. “But thank you.”
He knits his brow at the rafters above, his smile gone. “…I do know how it feels.”
“You sister’s pain does not count as knowing,” Kel’ori snaps. “Just…leave it.” Her chin trembles, but she doesn’t cry.
He groans and covers his face. “Not my sister.”
Her brow furrows. “What do you mean?”
Baemalen shakes his head, face still behind his palms. “To protect my sister…”
Kel’ori blinks in confusion. “What? I don’t understand.”
He groans again and lets his hands fall to the floor on either side of himself, but still avoids looking at her. “I had to. If I didn’t let them…they’d have gone after her instead.”
Kel’ori sits up a bit. “Bae, if you don’t explain what you mean…” She leaves the threat open as anger fills her, even though she’s unsure she has the story straight.
His face softens to a small frown. He takes in a shaky breath. “I was raped. Nearly nightly. By whomever was working that night.” His frown turns into a pensive scowl. “The only times I wasn’t was my birthday or when they were too drunk to remember about me.”
Kel’ori shoots to her feet, crying out at the pain in her ribs. She turns and wordlessly walks into the other room.
Baemalen sits up. “W-wait, where are you going?” He stumbles to his feet and follows. “Kel?”
The mage sinks to her knees in a dark corner and silently cries. “Bae…”
He swallows, panic welling in his chest as he keeps his distance. “L-look, if it’s something I said, I-I’m sorry.”
She sniffles and pushes back to her feet. “Bae, I…” This time, without a warning, she goes to him. She approaches slowly. “I’m so…ashamed,” she says. She wipes her cheeks, but more tears swiftly replace the first. She takes a final step and wraps her arms around him. “I’m so sorry. I…didn’t even think…” She holds him tighter
He stiffens some at the embrace, but soon relaxes and gives a half smile. He lifts his hands to return the hug. “It’s fine. Really.” A quiet, uncomfortable chuckle escapes him. “I…haven’t told many people…” A tear drops down his cheek. “Just you. And him.” He gestures to the cellar below.
“What I wouldn’t give for less people to know.” She shakes her head and sniffles. “You’re a good man, Bae. I hope you know how extraordinary that makes you. Your sister probably remembers you as a hero.”
He shakes his head. “She never knew. I never could tell her. A little girl doesn’t need to know about that stuff.” He sniffles as well, then turns away, surprised at his crying. “S-sorry. Heh.”
“Don’t be sorry,” she says. “If I’m allowed to cry about it, then so are you.”
“Yeah, but men aren’t supposed to cry.”
“My father always said men are allowed to cry if it helps. So…if it helps, you can cry in front of me.” She pulls her head back, her blue eyes locking onto his green ones. Kel’ori reaches up and wipes a tear from his cheek. “I know I’m not the nicest person, but I promise I won’t judge you for it. You’re probably the only person who genuinely likes me, why would I ruin that?” She gives him a wry smile and sniffs.
He smirks through his tears and chuckles. “But I thought this Docra person was your only friend.”
“I’m her friend. She isn’t my friend. Entirely. I don’t know. She’s odd. She says she’s not my friend, but she puts up with me visiting and staying with her. But then she turns around and complains that I’m in her hair all the time.” Kel’ori shakes her head in bewilderment. “I don’t think she truly likes anyone. I think she’s just is okay with occasional company from specific people.”
Baemalen blinks. “All right, then let me rephrase.” He clears his throat dramatically. “But I thought you had no friends.”
She smiles and shrugs, wiping her tears away. “Do you want to be my friend?”
He laughs quietly. “Well we’re crying in each other’s arms. I really don’t think we have a choice at this point.”
Kel’ori giggles, smiling up at him. “I’m okay with that.”
He returns the smile, the tips of his ears growing warm. “Me, too.”