Taveth’s lower eyelid twitches at the steady beat of Koltira’s rocks being thrown against the wall. “Would you stop!” he screams.
Koltira pauses and looks him in the eyes, then throws another. “How long have you been holding that one in?”
He groans and flops onto his back, head leaning against the mage. “I should send Tryx in for more news. It’s been… How many days has it been?” He looks to Anarchaia for his answer.
“Several,” she says.
“We’re running low on supplies. We’ll have to make a run soon if he doesn’t come back,” Jorick says, smoothing the last of his salve over his healing burns.
Taveth rolls to the mage and sets his head on her shoulder. “I think I’ve got cabin fever.”
“That’s a sea thing,” Koltira says.
“Is it?” Anarchaia says.
“Yeah,” Grimory says as he steps into the cave.
The mage sits up. “You’re back!”
Taveth yelps as his head is jerked up, then again as it hits the ground with a dull thud. “Oh. Gods. I’m blind. The pain. You monster.”
He cringes at the demon hunter, attempting to smile. “So, how are things in the temple?”
Koltira bounces a rock off the demon hunter as he passes. “Are we storming the castle or going home?”
“It’s been taken care of,” Grimory grumbles. “Would have been a lot easier with some help,” he hisses loud enough to carry through to the back of the cave. “But it’s done.”
Taveth’s brow furrows. “Tryxora said you turned down her offer for help.”
“In exchange for a spanking? Yeah, I did. But Alisbeth knew who he was. But she’d rather be mad at me and risk the whole mission instead.”
“What’d you do?” Anarchaia asks.
“My job,” he grumbles.
A purple portal swirls into existence, then dissipates to reveal the succubus sharpening her claws on a file. <<Don’t lie about me, Grimory. I can hear you, you know.>>
“What’s he lying about?” Taveth asks.
<<I offered to help free of charge. It was only when he turned me down that I tried to get a spanking out of him. You’re all disappointing, by the way.>>
Koltira stands, dusting himself off. “So, we’re done then? We can get out of here?”
<<You’re disappointing,>> Grimory snaps. “Yes. We can get back to the outpost and decide our next move.” He sighs. “But maybe we should stop in Shattrath for supplies.” He furrows his brow at the human. “What happened to you?”
“Things,” Jorick responds plainly.
Anarchaia helps Taveth to his feet. “Let’s get out of here.”
He collects his things and goes to the back of the cave to take Alisbeth by the hand and lead her out to meet the others. “Okay. Hopefully the return trip, save the stop in Shattrath, is much faster than the trip down here. Will we be staying the night? I could really use an actual shower.”
“I like the way this man thinks,” Koltira says. “Let’s get a move on.”
Anarchaia sighs. “I can’t wait to be home where I can have a hot shower whenever I please,” she says wistfully as she follows them back to the west.
“Same,” Jorick says after donning his armor again and following. “I’m mostly excited for medicine, if I’m being honest. Knee’s not healing quite as quickly as I’d like.”
Taveth keeps his mouth shut about all of the alternatives the mercenary had turned down, instead grumbling silently that the man had no right to complain about the pain he’d brought upon himself.
Koltira hums. “That inn last week had very…cozy showers. Barely enough room in there to do everything necessary.” He casts the mage a sly grin.
Taveth whines. “You had hot showers? Where no one stared at you?”
Anarchaia flushes and turns to hide her smile, then jumps at Taveth’s accusation. “I didn’t stare at you! You told me not to!”
Grimory’s brow knits. “I’m not going to ask what you all have been doing.”
Taveth purses his lips. “The mere idea that you could…”
“While you were comfortable in the temple, we were forced to use our mage as a shower source,” Koltira says. “It was only fun for one of us.”
Jorick grins but keeps his thoughts to himself.
“You seem to think I’m some giant perv,” she says, folding her arms.
“Just a little one,” the other human adds, then chuckles when she hisses for him to be quiet.
Grimory rolls his eyes. “A weird team building exercise, but whatever.”
“You sound jealous,” Koltira says to the Illidari.
“About what? She’s seen me naked, too.”
Anarchaia’s face turns scarlet and her shoulders raise. “You’re all making me sound bad.”
Taveth chuckles. “Hey, it’s okay. I trust you. I’m sure you know you can trust me if the tables were turned.” He pulls at Alisbeth’s hand to make her keep up.
“In my experience, Ana can’t help looking. But that’s when there’s something to look at.” Koltira winks at her and pulls her close.
She purses her lips, cheek squished against his cuirass. “Yes. I feel much better. Thanks, guys.” Not that there wasn’t plenty to look at.
“Since you’ve seen everyone, then, who wins?” Grimory turns to lift a brow at her over his shoulder.
“Grim!” she scoffs.
“Oh. Good to know,” he says, turning back with a smirk.
“No! Not—ugh!” She scowls more.
Taveth ducks his head and purses his lips.
Koltira rolls his eyes. “Spoken like a man who needs reassurances.”
The high elf scowls deeper. “Can we stop pretending anatomy is some sort of competition and just get safely out of Shadowmoon?”
“Now who sounds jealous?” Grimory says.
Anarchaia waves her hands frantically. “IagreewithTavetheveryoneshutup!”
Jorick sniggers from the back.
The party makes it safely to Terrokar Forest, the conversation drifting from subject to subject. Taveth looks over at Alisbeth, still holding her hand to make sure she’s following. The death knight continues to stare ahead, as though lost in a trance.
“How long to Shattrath now?” Koltira asks. “Though, I really shouldn’t go walking into the city. Or be seen. Being a death knight in this time-line is just begging for fights.”
“Not before nightfall. But a while longer if you all can stay awake,” Grimory explains.
Koltira’s lower lids raise up. “I’m sure I can stay awake that long. Thank you for the concern.”
“Maybe Mr. Dragon can give you a more convincing disguise,” Anarchaia says up to the death knight beside her. “Since you’re so worried all the time.”
He looks down at the mage, his lips pulled down at the corners. “I don’t think so. I’m pretty sure there’s a reason he only offered to use our appearances from this time.”
“I would imagine it would take a great deal more energy to fish an appearance from the past,” Taveth says. “It’s a shame. It would be interesting seeing you alive, too.”
Koltira chuckles. “Still awful, just not sickly blue, I suppose.” His brow furrows, though his smile remains. “I actually don’t even remember what I looked like.” He shrugs at the mage. “Guess you’re stuck with this mess.” He motions over his face.
Anarchaia scoffs. “Yeah. Because unattractive elves actually exist,” she drones sarcastically. “And you know I don’t mind what you look like. I simply thought it’d make you happier. I feel like I’ve said this already.”
Taveth raises his hand. “Unattractive elf here. I’m offended.”
Koltira laughs. “See? You hurt the kid’s feelings.” He pulls the mage closer and kisses the top of her head. “I’m just concerned. We’re lucky no one has come for my head, yet. They either don’t know what I am or are just confused as to why a death knight wouldn’t be in Icecrown right now. Shattrath, though… They’ll know. More of them means a big mob. I’d rather just avoid that situation altogether.” He lowers his voice so only she can hear him. “If you’re happy, I’m happy. You know this.”
“You’re attractive. Shut up,” she snaps over her shoulder, then gives Koltira a tentative frown. “I’ll stay out with you, then. I can forgo a hot shower if it means you’re safe.”
He narrows his eyes at Taveth and then Anarchaia. “I was going to encourage you to go into the city, but I may need you to stay with me, just so you’re not in the company of the attractive elf.”
The mage again purses her lips up at her partner.
Taveth’s eyes go wide. “I— W-what? No! I’m not— She’s just—”
Koltira laughs and shakes his head.
The high elf pouts. “You were joking. Ha ha.” He looks at Alisbeth and sighs. “They’re dressed like Illidari,” he says, motioning at the two. “How were relations at this time?”
“We often went to Shattrath for supplies, trading, and recruitment,” Grimory says. “We’ll be fine. The only people not allowed in Shattrath are demons and the hellfire orcs.”
By the time the sun has set and the night is growing dark, Taveth is walking clumsily, his eyes heavy.
Koltira snaps his fingers in front of him. “Stay awake. We’re almost there.”
“I just… A break would have been nice.” He takes a drink from the water skin the mage had given him. “I’m so hungry, too. I was hoping for a real meal, but I’m so tired.”
“It’s only a few more miles. Surely you can handle it. Or do I have to carry you?” Grimory gives him a look.
Taveth whimpers. “My pride says no…”
“Or I can,” Koltira adds.
“Literally everyone here can carry me. I get it,” he grumbles. “Even Ana can. If I collapse, you have my permission. I don’t care who. Otherwise, I’m just f—” Taveth trips over a rock and nearly falls, but Alisbeth’s hand in his remains firm, saving him from sprawling. “That wasn’t a collapse,” he complains.
“If it makes you feel any better, I’d rather not,” Jorick adds. “And that was half a collapse.”
It’s only an hour or so longer before the group reaches the outskirts of town. Anarchaia gives the four a small wave as they cross the bridge toward town.
“We’ll be at the front gates when you’re ready!” she calls.
Taveth waves behind him. “Be safe out here!” Once in the city, the four find an inn. They manage to secure the last two rooms. Taveth takes a key and drags his cousin away. “See you in the morning.”
Jorick and the demon hunter look at one another, the former spinning the key on a finger.
“There better be two beds,” Grimory grumbles and steps down the hall as well.
The human chuckles. “Don’t worry. I think you’ll fit on the floor.”
Anarchaia sighs and sits beneath the nearest tree. “At least this place is prettier than Shadowmoon. How long do we wait in the morning before we drag them out of their warm beds kicking and screaming?”
Koltira drops down beside her. “I think we can find ways to occupy our time, if they’re late.”
~ * ~
The next morning, both Grimory and Jorick are prepped and ready at the front of the inn. The human sighs and shakes more water from his damp hair. “So what’s up with Ali?” he asks casually.
“She saw me kissing my old girlfriend,” the other grumbles as he examines his nails. “We were together at this time and it’d have been weird if I didn’t, yeah?”
Jorick sucks his teeth. “Yikes. Welp. Good luck, buddy. She don’t seem like the reasonable type.”
“They never are.”
Jorick laughs. “Ain’t that the truth.”
Taveth thanks his lucky stars that Alisbeth is where he’d left her before his shower. He leaves his hair out of his usual ponytail to let it dry and leads her to the front. “Oh, good, we’re all here. Let’s get supplies and meet the others, then?”
“Well I’m out of coin, so if you need me, I’ll be at the front gates,” Jorick says tiredly and saunters off in said direction.
“I’m getting some rations,” Grimory grunts and trots in the opposite direction.
“Good morning,” Anarchaia sings to the human as he steps from the bridge and onto the path. “Where is everyone else?”
“All dead,” he responds blandly and gestures to the road. “Shall we?”
Taveth frowns as the others leave him behind. “Guess it’s just you and me,” he says to the death knight. She blinks slowly in response. At the first vendor, he asks about his King’s token. They wave him away. He goes to the front gates to meet the others, his expression as lost as Alisbeth’s, though his lips are pressed to an irritated line.
“Just one more,” Koltira says.
As though on cue, the Illidari falls from the sky and onto his feet, the satchel at his hip heavier with supplies. He folds his wings. “Let’s get going. We have a ways to go.”
Anarchaia groans. “Hate those words.”
“So, what’s today’s topic of discussion?” Koltira asks a few minutes later. He glances around at the others, taking in the sour moods.
The mage taps her chin in thought. “Cats.”
“No,” Grimory says.
“Not a pussy fan, are you?” the human says.
He turns to Jorick and scowls.
“Dogs?” Anarchaia continues with a shrug.
The group moves through the thick of the forest, cutting off the trail to make better time.
Koltira chuckles at the mage under his arm. “Any other animals you want to—”
He’s cut short as she is suddenly thrown forward out of his arm. He pauses, trying to take in the sight of the woman nailed to the tree ahead of them by a red and black spear. He turns around to glare at the blood knight behind them as Taveth rushes to Anarchaia’s side.
“Does it hurt? Wait, of course it hurts.”
Koltira draws Byfrost. “You should have stayed dead at the Botanica.”
Anarchaia groans as blood pours down her front and legs. “The shard—” She looks down to see the pole sticking out just beneath her bustline, then sighs in relief before cringing in pain. “Yes. A lot.” She weakly pushes at the tree in an attempt to unpin herself and cries out.
The mercenary joins them, clearly frazzled. “Ana! Are you all right?! Don’t move!” He unsheathes his short sword, hoping it’s sharp enough to hack through the well-made spear.
Taveth stops the human. “The shaft is metal, look. It’s just a leather wrap. You’ll destroy your sword.”
Grimory turns and scowls as well. “You’re alive? You let her live?”
The blood knight blinks. “What sort of greeting is that, Grimory? I’ve come to liberate you from these imbeciles.”
“Imbeciles?” Koltira demands. “Unless I’m mistaken, you just threw your only weapon.”
“Shut up and tend to your dying whore.”
Koltira looks over his shoulder as the blood knight waves the demon hunter to her. “Ana, do you need my help, or can I kill this bitch?”
“Any time!” Anarchaia responds with a tone of annoyance and stress.
“Liberate?” Grimory blinks, the odd, cobbled memories returning to him. “Oh. Oh, right!” He smirks and gives Koltira a look. “I can take care of her.” He steps forward. “Right, then.”
Jorick cringes at the squelching sounds when she pushes herself farther up the handle. “Stupid reliable elf weapons.”
As Koltira retreats to help the mage, the woman steps slowly to the Illidari.
“I thought I’d lost you.” She takes his hands in hers and looks up into his eyes. “I missed you, Grimory. I won’t let you go again. I promise.”
“Ana, you’re going to hate this.” Koltira takes the polearm in both hands and yanks it free from the trunk. He pulls the mage into one arm and holds her gaze, his other fist wrapped around the shaft. “Focus on me. One the count of three, ready?”
Anarchaia whimpers, tears in her one eye. “I suppose I don’t have much of a choice.” She nods.
Grimory tilts his head only slightly, his brow furrowed in curiosity. “I don’t know what you see in me, miss, but I appreciate how much you care. Let’s get out of here, yeah?”
The woman nods. “I owe you an explanation. I know.” She slips her arms around him in a delicate hug. “I’m just so glad I found you.”
Koltira braces himself. “One—” He rips the spear through her in one sudden jerk, thankful that the small head at the other end didn’t catch. The death knight drops it to the ground, then holds the mage. “I’m sorry.”
The blood knight leans around Grimory at the sound of screaming. “Damn it. Get behind me. I’ll take care of them and then we can be on our way.”
Jorick fidgets helplessly, knuckles white beneath his gloves. “I don’t know much about the undead. Are you going to be all right?”
Anarchaia claws at the death knight’s cuirass as her wails of pain subside. She whimpers again. “On a scale of one-to-eating my own eyeball, this is a hard eight…” she says as more blood seeps into her once white robes.
“No!” Grimory gently takes her by the shoulder. “I know they hurt you, but they aren’t bad. Even so, they won’t last out here without my guidance. We can just leave them, yeah?”
The blood knight stares up at him. “Are you protecting them?” she practically spits.
Koltira growls and hands Anarchaia to the other human. “Keep pressure on the wounds. I’m finishing this.” He wipes his hands on his cloak and gets Byfrost once more. “Grim, hold her down.”
Grimory hesitates, eyes darting between the two. “H-hold on. We don’t have to kill her, yeah?”
“Are you joking?!” Jorick barks from the base of the bloodied tree. “Cut her fuckin’ head off!”
The Illidari grits his teeth and looks at the blood knight. “You should probably run,” he whispers as low as possible.
“Come with me,” she whispers back. She reaches her hand out for him.
A whip cracks in the air, wrapping around the blood knight’s neck and ripping her backward. Tryxora flicks her wrist to loosen the whip, then hits her with it again, sending the woman sliding. Keeshokin stomps through a portal behind the succubus and readies his axe. The blood knight rolls away and the blade is buried into the dirt.
“Put the dagger down,” she commands Taveth, eyes wide.
“You hurt my best friend. I’m not doing anything you want,” he shouts back.
She ducks as Byfrost swings around to hit her, then rolls away. She goes to dive for her spear, but jerks back as the sad, blue eyes of Alisbeth meet hers. The distraction proves enough for Koltira to rip the woman through the air and back within his reach.
Jorick shakes his head down at the woman pressed tightly to his chest plate. “No no no, don’t close your eyes. You’re gonna be all right, little bird. You’re not gonna die, okay?”
She laughs quietly. “I’ll be fine…”
Grimory panics at the chaos surrounding him. He lunges forward toward the flying woman. “W-wait, Kolt don’t! It’s not her fault!”
The blood knight lands against Grimory and straightens, gripping his arm as she gets her bearings.
Koltira sneers. “Move. Or I’ll go through you.”
“Grim. Don’t make me!” Taveth says.
The succubus circles the two, waiting for her moment. <<Do it, master. Order him to kill her!>>
The knight casts sad eyes up at the demon hunter. “You’re not my Grimory, are you?”
Grimory glares over his shoulder. “Is now really the time for that? Just stay behind me, yeah?” He turns back to give Taveth a look through the distance between them, keeping the death knight in his peripherals. “Don’t do it.”
“I don’t need protecting,” she objects.
Taveth looks to the mage covered in blood, then back at the Illidari. He squeezes one of Anarchaia’s hands as small comfort to both of them. “Grim. I order you to kill her.”
Tryxora giggles and claps, then sends her whip at the blood knight’s neck again. The woman ducks and the whip slashes across the man. The blood knight skitters away, making a second dive for her spear.
At the command, both of the Illidari’s arms blacken and morph into hulking claws. He grunts at the whip to his back then, as though with a will of their own, his arm reaches to grab the woman by an ankle. “I’m sorry,” he says sadly, dragging her back toward himself and visibly struggling with himself.
“Wh-what is— No! Grimory, let me go!” The woman scrabbles at the ground, trying to get hold of something.
Koltira doesn’t wait. He strides over and kicks the face of her helm as hard as he can. The felguard stomps to the other side and smashes a thick boot into her chest. She coughs and curls in on herself.
Distressed, the demon hunter lifts his claws and reluctantly brings them down toward the woman’s gut.
The blood knight curls around his hand, her eyes wide on his. “G-Grim…ory?” She pries his hand away and turns to crawl toward her spear. The whole way, the demons kick at her. Blood spurts from beneath her mask as her breath comes in painful rasps.
“Wait,” Taveth orders the others as she ends up at his feet. “I want to know who she is.”
Grimory stops and scowls at him, blood dripping from his claws, and chest heaving as he pants with rage. “Then do it your-fucking-self.”
Koltira sneers. “Her head doesn’t have to be attached for that.”
The woman drags herself up to sit on a hip. Her arm raised in surrender. “I know when I’ve been beaten. Please. Just end my suffering. I only have one request.”
“What?” Taveth demands.
“I want him to do it.” She points at the death knight. “Your kind killed my people. I deserve to share their fate.”
Koltira falters at the words, his own memories of Silvermoon coming to the surface.
Jorick looks between the two as the death knight hesitates. “Ana’s dying!” he says, annoyed. “If you don’t do it, I’m going to eschew her dying wish and avenge my shattered kneecap myself!”
Koltira purses his lips. “Any last words?”
“Yeah.” She tilts her head, pulling her hood back and pushing her dreadlocks out of the way. “Don’t miss.”
Koltira lifts Byfrost high, then brings it down hard on the olive skin of her neck. A light flashes, blinding everyone nearby as a wave of energy shoves them all backward away from the blood knight.
Alisbeth lifts her gaze, watching as though caught in slow motion as her friends fly back around her, but she remains untouched. Her eyes light on the sword that falls to the ground beside the kneeling woman.