Taveth groans and lays back. “Haven’t seen Grim in three days. Still no Alisbeth. Good news is, no urgent scrolls from Kel’ori and no attacks from angry blood knights. Why is waiting so unbearable?”
“Maybe Alisbeth got lost,” Anarchaia says, conjuring bubbles of different colors and popping them for entertainment. “We should go look for her.”
“She may still be at the temple?” Taveth says.
“If that’s the case, then it’s Grim’s responsibility,” Koltira says evenly from the mouth of the cave, where he’s polishing the blade of Byfrost for the millionth time. “Though, wandering off to search for something that may or may not be missing sounds so much more exciting than sitting here and waiting for more fights.”
The mage stands and brushes her palms off on her robes. “I concur. Maybe two of us should go look and the others can stay in case she returns.”
“Me!” Taveth shouts and scrambles to his feet.
Koltira, mouth still open, narrows his eyes at the high elf. “Excuse me, but maybe someone who can protect her should go?”
Taveth frowns. “You’re right. She needs a big, strong bodyguard, doesn’t she?”
Koltira begins to stand.
The demon stomps into the cave, scowling. <<I’m not a dog.>>
“No, but you did come. And now I’m taking you for a walk.” Taveth grins up at him, then down at the death knight.
Koltira drops back to the ground and throws a pebble at the scholar. “You suck.”
“If we don’t return, just assume this guy,” he jerks his thumb at the felguard, “rebelled and murdered us both.”
<<That would certainly be the best day of my miserable existence.>>
Anarchaia furrows her brow and pouts as she follows the two outside. “I don’t need protecting…”
Jorick chuckles. “She’s probably the strongest of any of us. But yes. Let the bookworm and the meathead tag along.”
“Ana,” Koltira calls, “don’t let him fall in a pool of lava.”
Taveth scoffs and nudges the mage in the ribs with an elbow. “You don’t think I’m that incompetent, do you?”
Anarchaia gives him a smile. “I think you’ve gotten us out of more sticky situations than you give yourself credit for.”
“How many of them did I cause, though? Heh.” He stares out at the land and frowns. “Which way should we go first?”
“Not nearly as many as you think,” she chuckles. “And let’s try south first.”
The duo travels along the road for a long time before Taveth purses his lips. “Would she really stick to the roads? Maybe she went to the wrong cave?” He motions at one not far from them.
“You’re right. That sounds a lot like something she’d do.” She makes her way toward the aforementioned cave and peers inside. She clears her throat and cups her mouth with her hands. “Ali?”
Almost instantly, a couple of imps run at them from inside the cave, cackling as they ignite fireballs in their fists.
“Of course,” Taveth says.
Keeshokin stomps into the cave and brings his giant boot down on one imp, then cuts the other in half with his axe. <<I hate imps,>> he says in response to Taveth’s shocked stare.
“Moving on, then? Moving on.” He takes Anarchaia’s elbow and ushers her toward the next cave. “I hope we find her soon.”
The mage shudders at the gurgling upper half of the imp and grimaces as she’s dragged away. “Right.”
When they reach the next system, she again glances inside, this time hesitating before calling in.
Taveth purses his lips. “Okay. Not the most reliable idea, but it’s the best I’ve got.” He whispers in demonic and an imp pops into view. “I need you to—”
Keeshokin’s boot comes down on the imp.
He bites his lips together and glares at the felguard. “That imp was our friend!”
<<I hate imps.>>
The high elf pinches the bridge of his nose. “Go stand over there.”
The demon scoffs and doesn’t move.
“I said go stand over there before I have Tryx make you stand over there!”
Keeshokin growls quietly, the mutters demonic obscenities as he stomps away.
“Seriously, who’s the master, here?” He summons another imp. “Imp, I need—”
“Okay. Yes. Go search in that cave for a blood elf. Don’t fight anything while you’re in there, okay?”
It stares at him in silence for a long time, before taking off into the dark of the cave. Keeshokin rumbles a laugh from where he stands.
“Dumbest creatures I’ve ever…” The elf purses his lips at Anarchaia. “I’m so glad I’m not trying to impress you.”
She chuckles and shrugs. “Well I’m apparently real easy to impress, so… At least that’s what Master says.” She stares into the dark abyss, anxious. A long minute passes. “I bet he’s dead.”
Taveth chuckles. “If only others were as easily impressed as you. I don’t think Eophen is impressed by it…” He sighs sadly, then folds his arms impatiently. After another minute he summons a new imp. “Imp, I need you to—”
The high elf’s eyelids lower. “Your name is Pagmir, isn’t it?”
He blinks slowly and turns to the mage. “Well…he’s not dead.” He turns back to Pagmir. “Did you even go into the cave?”
“And did you find a blood elf?”
“And you didn’t come back out and tell me because…?”
<<Wasn’t told to.>> Pagmir cackles and runs away, then disappears right as Keeshokin’s boot comes down over him.
“I think I hate imps, too,” Taveth mumbles.
She gives him a sympathetic smile and rests a hand on his shoulder. “I think Eophen likes you. A lot. You don’t see how he looks at you when you don’t notice.” She directs him further down the cliffs.
The elf shrugs. “I really doubt it. I think he just likes me as a friend. Which I suppose is fine. Not like I’d go around being lewd in caves with my friends a few yards away.” He smirks slyly at her. “I don’t know. I guess I just get jealous of you. You’ve got a companion. Someone to go home to.” He leans into the next cave and sees nothing, so they continue on.
Anarchaia’s shoulders jump. “W-we didn’t do anything! I just pulled on his hair! He likes that!” She waves her hands erratically to change the subject. “And he does too like you! He blushes whenever you compliment him and smiles when you do something cute.”
“Things I was happy not knowing about Koltira…” He sighs. “I guess. I don’t know. And now I’ll never know because I disappeared into thin air.”
The pair continue walking and checking caves for another hour, until the elf insists on sitting down for a break. He stops, however, as something catches his eye.
“A-Ali? Ali!” He rushes back to grab her in a hug. “You found us! How long were you following us? Why didn’t you say something?”
<<An hour,>> the felguard says casually.
“Why didn’t you say something?” he demands.
The demon shrugs. <<You were busy.>>
The death knight remains quiet, her gaze fixed on nothing as she keeps her head slightly ducked.
Anarchaia frowns and leans to look into her face. “Ali? Are you all right? Did something happen?”
Alisbeth turns her head away so as not to look at the mage, and says nothing.
“Come on,” Taveth says. “Let’s get back to the cave.”
The return trip is swift in comparison to the search and soon they’re at their own cave again.
Koltira stops throwing pebbles at the wall as they approach. “And my money was on still at the temple with Grim being unable to get her to come back.”
“Guess you owe me ten gold,” Jorick says to the ceiling, bobbing his foot on his knee.
“She kind of found us. Heh.” Anarchaia stokes the dying fire. “But refuses to talk…”
Alisbeth’s bare feet make no noise as she walks to the back of the cave and huddles down against the wall.
“That’s kind of our shower,” Koltira shouts. When he gets no response and she doesn’t move, he shakes his head and returns to throwing rocks.
“How much longer, do you think?” Taveth asks. “I…kind of hope this is the only thing we have to do, and then we can go home.” He flips to the page in his journal. Upon seeing no reply, he flings the item across the cave and folds his arms over his chest.
Anarchaia jumps at the noise, then sighs at the disarray of her party. “Until Grim gets back and the assassin—if there even is one—has been killed.”
“I reckon he can do that without us waiting around in a cave for him,” Jorick says, scratching at his bandaged arm.
Koltira shakes his head. “We’re his backup, if he finds he cannot complete the task on his own. We don’t even know if this assassin is working alone or not.”
Jorick sighs heavily. “I guess that makes sense.”
Anarchaia sits by the fire. “Ali? Come sit by the rest of us?”
The death knight at the end of the short tunnel doesn’t move or give any sign of having heard.
Taveth shivers. “Remember the last time she acted like this?”
Koltira stops mid-throw and looks down the cave at her, then at the high elf. “Are you suggesting…” He makes a quick motion along his neck.
The elf shrugs. “I mean, how would we know any different?”
A pang of concern strikes through the mage and she furrows her brow. She stands. “Maybe I should go to the temple.”
“What? What are we insinuating?” Jorick says, sitting up on his elbows.
Taveth glances at his cousin, then mirrors the motion Koltira had made. “Maybe I should go with you.”
Koltira lets out a long breath. “Getting tired of being the one staying behind!”
The high elf purses his lips. “Take Tryx, actually.”
The demoness steps through a portal and smiles down at her master. <<You called?>>
“Go with Ana. Take her to the side entrance we found last time.” He turns to look at the mage. “No guards, but you’ll have to be flown to the stairs.”
<<Will you spank me if I do this for you?>>
His nose wrinkles. “I’ll command Keeshokin to…spank you…if you do this.”
<<Good enough!>> She hooks her arm through the mage’s and sets off for the entrance of the cave.
Jorick snerks. “Y’know, maybe bein’ a warlock has its perks.”
Taveth scowls. “I’ve yet to encounter any ‘perks.’”
Jorick lifts his brows and ticks items on his fingers. “You get pets that do your bidding, you can heal yourself whenever you want, sexy demon hookers?”
Taveth remains unamused. He lifts a hand to start ticking things off on his fingers. “Ridiculed, feared, hated, useless because my friends refuse what aid I can provide, and Tryxora is honestly the worst part of it. I would take Keeshokin—gods, I would take Spinewing threatening my life at every turn—over a succubus who is not only lewd every moment of every day, but also determined to bed me, whether I want to or not. Which I do not. You want her? Take her. You want your own? I know how you can make that happen. Just remember the way you and everyone treats me before you decide that what I am is in any way glamorous.” He folds his arms and glowers into the fire.
Koltira tosses a stone in the air, then throws it against the wall with enough force that it bounces back to him. “It’s not you, Taveth. It’s the fel.”
“Hating a large part of what I am means hating a large part of me, Koltira. You may say it isn’t so, but it’s always there at the back of your mind.”
Jorick slowly lies back down. “Feels to me like you care a lot about what other people think of you. Maybe you should just take some solace in the fact that you have friends who don’t care what you are. I would never want my few friends wrapped up in the lifestyle I’ve chosen, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to complain when they also don’t agree with it.” He shrugs. “But that’s me. Clearly we’re two different people.”
Taveth grits his teeth. “I liked it better when we sat in silence for two days.” He stands and goes to sit beside Alisbeth.
She doesn’t acknowledge him, but slowly tilts her head until it’s leaning on his shoulder.
Jorick makes a gesture with his hands. “Right. Don’t rain on the pity party. Got it,” he grumbles and folds his arms indignantly.
Koltira purses his lips. “I know what he means. And I’ve spent far too long in my own pity party over it. As has Ana over her own situation. Sucking it up and getting over it is not an easy thing to do. Ana hasn’t shown her face in twenty years. Taveth only just started using his abilities openly. Give him time to get used to the ridicule.” He throws another rock hard enough to cause chips of the wall to rain down. “Then we can tell him to get over it.”
Jorick furrows his brow and opens his mouth to respond, then pauses. “Twenty years?” His eyes dart around the ceiling and he chews on the inside of his lip. “Huh.”
“Give or take. Why?” Koltira asks.
Jorick shakes his head. “No reason.”
~ * ~
“B-but my illusion!” Anarchaia says, but the demoness already has her a ways away from the cave opening.
<<Put it on! No one can see you,>> Tryxora says.
Anarchaia sneers at the language. “I don’t know what you said, but my point is that I don’t need any help!” A cloud of sparkles envelopes her and she dons a succubus illusion identical to the woman beside her. She scowls and heads on. “Everyone seems to think I can’t handle myself. I may be far from home, but I’m just as capable…”
The demoness scowls at the mage, but not because of her use of her form. <<If Taveth cared about me half as much as he cares about you, I would be grateful. Instead, I get to babysit a whining brat.>> She yanks her hand from the mage and folds her arms beneath her bosom. She scowls at the human. <<But if you want to just go off on your own, fine. Be my guest. But just know, they won’t let a lone demon through the front door. And they especially won’t let you leave the pleasure palace.>>
Anarchaia turns as her hand is yanked away, then purses her lips through the entirety of the demoness’ prattling. “Oh, you don’t want come with, now? Fine! I got in just fine before. I don’t need you!” She turns and stomps her way back toward the temple.
Tryxora balls her fists and rushes after the mage. <<You will give yourself away in an instant. Keep your mouth shut and let me do the talking.>> She leads the mage to the side entrance and, without asking, flies her up, struggling against the extra weight on her smaller wings. <<I’ve never worked so hard for a spanking,>> she grumbles, catching her breath.
Anarchaia grunts as she’s set back on her feet, then gives the succubus a look as she trots down the corridor. She peeks around the corner and steps out once the coast is clear. “Thanks,” she mumbles after her pride fades.
The demoness narrows her eyes at the woman. <<What did I say?>> She reaches over and pinches the mage’s lips together, then holds a finger up to her own lips. <<Don’t speak.>>
Two guards walk around the corner, and the succubus immediately grabs Anarchaia and giggles as she embraces her lustfully and presses kisses to her lips. The Illidari blink at the display for longer than necessary, then one clears his throat.
“Ladies. Take it to the chambers upstairs?”
<<Of course,>> Tryxora says, releasing the mage. <<But first… What’s a girl gotta do to get a spanking around here?>> She turns her rear to the mage but keeps her eyes on the men.
The mage blinks, still reeling and face red. She shakes her head to snap out of it, then hesitates. “U-uhm.” She places a gentle, halfhearted smack on the other demoness’ behind, then laughs uncomfortably.
The men both cringe. “Right. Well. Move along.”
Tryxora’s face falls in disappointment. <<I’m almost sure Taveth could do a better job.>> She ushers the mage up a stairwell away from the guards, then back down another. <<Okay. Where would he be?>> she says very slowly, enunciating emphatically as though the mage will magically understand.
Anarchaia stares at her for a long beat. “So, anyway. I’m pretty sure he’s either training or…” She slinks through the halls with the other succubus on the heels of her hooves. They turn into a somewhat crowded hallway near the bottom of the temple and she notices a familiar blond ponytail. She bounds forward, weaving through the people to grasp Grimory by the arm. “Hey,” she whispers, ignoring the strange looks.
The Illidari turns from his conversation with the woman beside him. “Oh. You. What?”
She blinks at his attitude. “The assassin?”
“I’m working on it, yeah? I’ll come back when the job is done.” He pries his arm away and continues down the hall.
Anarchaia huffs, annoyed.
Tryxora’s brow lowers again. She slips in on the other side of the demon hunter and smiles sweetly. <<Our master is worried for your safety,>> she hisses, maintaining the smile. <<Tell us what you need so we can help expedite this nonsense.>>
The corners of Grimory’s lips tighten and he leans away. <<Well tell him that knowing the name of the fucking assassin would help a ton. Other than that, I’m fine, okay?>>
<<I don’t have that. Spank for the road?>> the demoness turns her rear to him as she’d done the mage, but this time she gives it a little wiggle.
Grimory scowls. “Yeah, no.”
The succubus sighs and stomps away, muttering in demonic.
Anarchaia gives the demon hunter a look. “Thanks. Just send word, okay?”
He gives her thumbs up and she rolls her eyes.
“Wait for me!” She trots off after the succubus.