The blood knight sets a palm to her chest; a golden shimmer surrounds her, and she breathes deep. Her hand finds the sword and wraps around the handle—which shimmers red at her touch. She unbuckles her helm and holds it in one hand as she spits and wipes blood away from her scarred mouth. The face she glares at them with is that of Alisbeth but marred by battle scars.
“Thank you, Koltira, for being a predictably blood thirsty death knight.” She turns her sights on Taveth. “Cousin. Why don’t you put that silly little dagger down before you take an eye out? We both know you’re not strong enough to wield something like that.”
Grimory blinks when the sparkles in his vision dissipate. His eyes widen and his lips part at the woman standing feet from him. An understanding swells in his mind. “That’s why you didn’t want to kill me,” he says, more to himself. His face softens and he gets back to his feet. “…and why you wanted me to go with you.”
Jorick looks up from the ground, arms still tight around the barely conscious mage. “Am I missing something?” he mutters, not making the connection.
“I didn’t want you to suffer the fate of the Illidari…or whatever they had planned for you in that cellar. I thought…it was a second chance.”
Koltira grunts. “Not this missed connection bullshit again.”
“Why are you trying to kill us?” Taveth demands.
“Because my employer wants me to. He brought me from the future to stop your meddling in his plans. In return I’m protected from any time-line changes and I get whatever I want.”
“You’re me,” the death knight Alisbeth says.
She sweeps her gaze over to her. “And you should be at the Keep.”
Grimory scowls at Koltira, then looks back to the scarred woman in front of him. “Who are you working for? What’s his name and where can we find him?” he says, pushing back the slew of other questions he has.
“You really think I’m going to betray the one person who hasn’t tried to kill me in decades?”
Alisbeth silently moves closer.
Taveth stands, gripping his dagger tighter. “Here’s a better question: how do you even exist?”
“You bore me,” she growls. “Come on where’s the fight you had? Should I put my helm back on? Is it harder to kill someone you care about?” She casts her gaze directly to Koltira, her nose wrinkled. “You were supposed to kill me, were you not? You really thought I’d sit by and let it happen?”
“Ali, stop!” Taveth shouts.
The woman spins to come face to face with Alisbeth. She extends the sword between them, as though to stop the advance.
“If I touch you, I’ll disappear.” Alisbeth whispers.
She steps back. “What?”
“If I touch you, I’ll disappear,” she says more forcefully, her eyes wide. “Right? Right?” She pushes straight to the sword with her chest; the edge glows brighter and the sword vibrates in the woman’s hand.
“Ali, don’t!” Grimory steps forward to wrench Alisbeth away from the sword. He spins her to look at him and scowls. “Okay, I know you don’t believe me about the whole maintaining the timeline thing, but this is ridiculous! I don’t give a fuck how pissed you are at me, I’m not letting you do that, do you understand?”
“I wanna disappear,” Alisbeth cries. “I want to disappear! I want to disappear!” She struggles against him, reaching out for the other version of herself.
The scarred woman backs away slowly. “You…aren’t me. Who…”
“She’s the real Alisbeth,” Taveth shouts. “You’re the imposter.” He creates a stone and holds it to the mage. “Ana, I know you don’t want to…”
She scowls at her cousin but returns her attention to her doppelganger, her eyes sweeping over the Illidari garb. “Wait…I remember you. You had a veil, but your clothes are the same. It was you? You’re that Illidari who stopped me in the hall at the Temple. H-how long ago was that?”
The death knight’s chin wrinkles and she closes her eyes. “I should have disappeared. If you’re here, I should be gone. Why didn’t it work?”
Koltira growls. “Ali, what the fuck did you do?”
“Saved me from you!” The blood knight swings the Redblade around as he steps closer.
He pauses, brow furrowed. “From…me?”
“Did you make her like you? Huh?” she shouts, swiping the sword back and forth as he hops backward. “Eyes open, Redblade! Watch me avenge you and all our people!” She leaps at Koltira, bringing the Redblade down at him.
Having no weapon to block with, Koltira dodges sideways.
Grimory grunts but holds fast. “Ali, please. If she’s you, you have to convince her not to kill us, yeah?” He frowns down at her. “I’m sorry if I hurt you, okay?”
Alisbeth shakes her head at Grimory. “I want to be her. I don’t want to be me.”
Anarchaia weakly pushes Taveth’s hand away and shakes her head. “I’m sorry… I shouldn’t have…even accepted the first one…” She looks up at Jorick. “Help Kolt.”
He shakes his head. “I have to keep you from losing more blood. Stop talking, all right?”
Taveth grits his teeth. “Tryx, get in there?”
<<Do I get to kill her?>>
He purses his lips, looking at the two versions of his favorite cousin, then down at the mage. He closes his eyes. “Yes.”
Koltira lurches forward to get the sword, but instead is met with the blade slicing into his side, carving into his ribs and cutting the straps holding his armor on. He cries out and stumbles back. “You think I’m a monster? Look in the mirror. What you did at the Botanica…”
“They all die within a few years, anyway. They were nothing but memories invading my home!” She takes a step to swing at him again, but a whip wraps around her neck.
She fights to stay upright, but sinks to her knees, then falls backward as the succubus pulls harder and harder, tightening her hold. the woman’s face flushes dark as she gasps and tugs at the coils cutting off her air.
Grimory shakes his head. “Ali, you don’t want to be her. She’s filled with anger—is that what you want? You’re fine the way you are.” His features soften and he lowers his voice. “Do you think Diori would want a mother like that?”
Alisbeth slaps at the demon hunter. “Don’t you bring her into this. And living versus being a monster? Is that even a question?”
“You’re not a monster!” Grimory growls.
The blood knight flails, swinging the Redblade wildly behind her. The whip goes slack and she quickly uncoils it, ignoring the demoness curled over herself and shrieking into the ground. The woman stumbles to her feet and kicks Tryxora hard enough to send her rolling.
<<Master!>> Tryxora scrambles back toward Taveth, a bloody stump stretching out in place of her hand.
Taveth shoots to his feet. “Tryx! Fly!”
She leaps into the air, but the blood knight pulls her back down by the ankle and cuts one of the wings clean off.
“Your kind sicken me.” She takes the succubus by the hair.
<<No! No! Master! Hel—>>
The doppelgänger lifts Tryxora’s head in the air. “One down.”
Taveth finds tears coming to his eyes at the sight of his demon dismembered. He takes a deep breath. “Hundreds to go.” He summons a handful of imps, some hounds, and Irtho’zyn. Two more succubi hop through the portal, hissing at the blood knight.
Her scarred sneer falls. “He said you were the one to fear…”
“Who?” Taveth demands.
“I can’t…” She focuses on fighting off the demons—easily cutting through the imps and ignoring as the demonesses collect all the parts of Tryxora and drag them through the purple portal. “How do you have so many demons?” she grunts, dodging away from Keeshokin’s axe.
“They’re not even the ones you should be afraid of.”
“Don’t you do it!” Alisbeth, trapped in Grimory’s clutches screams. “Don’t you call him out! Leave her alone!”
Taveth sets his glare on Grimory, silently debating calling forth Spinewing.
The demon hunter returns the glare. “Don’t,” he snarls. “She may be some alternate Ali but who knows what will happen if she dies!”
Koltira falls down beside the humans. He hisses and clutches his bleeding side. “How is she? Ana? Still there?”
“She was just talking a second ago,” Jorick says, not bothering to hide the worry in his voice. He shakes his head. “You’re worse for wear than her, friend.” He groans, feeling helpless. “Surely there’s some magicky shit we can do to help you? My blood. You do that, right?”
Koltira snarls at the wound, his shirt already nearly soaked with his blood. He shakes the mage. “Ana. Open your eyes. We need you to get us out of here. Ana?”
“Keeshokin, bring me that Alisbeth.” Taveth points at the struggling death knight.
The felguard lands a lucky blow, his axe cutting partway into the blood knight’s side before her breastplate causes it to slip and it acts as a club, knocking her to the side. He then stomps to the elves and plucks Alisbeth up by the arm, dangling her over the ground so her feet kick at the air and she can’t get away.
The blood knight kicks at the hounds as they converge on her, biting at her legs. She takes the head of one and stabs the other in the shoulder. In her distraction, she doesn’t see Koltira limp over to get his armor.
“One last thing.” He reaches out a hand and a swirling red tendril runs from her to him, healing his wounds as she screams on the ground.
He pauses, contemplating going for the sword again, but changes his mind as the woman shoves to her knees, her strength only slightly diminished as she presses a palm to her wound and hacks her way through the small demons.
“Grim!” Taveth calls. “I’ll keep her occupied. Come on!”
Grimory growls at the chaos, suddenly uncertain of his loyalties. “Giver her to me,” he says, reaching for the death knight. Once she’s released, he throws the Alisbeth in his arms over his shoulder and ignores her beating on his back as he sprints to the humans. “Get up. Let’s go.”
Jorick wastes no time standing and following. “Where?”
“Just a ways down so those two can catch up. Or until Ana wakes up again. Whichever comes first.”
Koltira catches up, unfastening his cloak to wrap around the mage’s torso. He purses his lips at the demon hunter as it brings back memories of the man’s death. “Give her here. You’ll be faster without the extra weight.”
Jorick nods and relinquishes the mage.
Taveth stays behind a moment longer, staring at the patch of blood soaking the grass where the succubus fell. Thal’kiel finally floats down to watch the chaos of the woman screaming and cutting down demon after demon as more hop through the portal.
<<Our friends are getting away.>>
Taveth says nothing, listening to the screaming as a hound tears at the woman’s arm. It yowls and falls as she cuts it in half and kicks the upper body out of her way. She advances on Taveth, bloody and grunting.
“I made a deal for you,” she says just loud enough for him to hear. “You’re not on the list anymore, big brother. Please.” She dives down as Irtho’zyn lobs a green ball of fire at her. It ignites the tree beside her.
<<You killed Tryxora. No mercy!>> the demon booms.
<<No mercy! No mercy!>> the imps echo.
“Don’t make me hurt you,” she begs, advancing on the high elf once more.
Thal’kiel teleports into her face and lets out a long, shrill scream, causing blood to drip from her ears.
“Taveth, please,” she screams, unable to hear herself.
<<They’re leaving,>> Thal’kiel says over the elf again. <<Move, worm!>>
Taveth turns and runs to catch up to the others, leaving his demons to slow the woman down. “She can’t fight them off forever,” he says.
Grimory turns as Taveth catches up. He frowns. “I’m sorry…about Tryxora,” he says as the group travels far enough to no longer hear the sounds of combat.
Taveth shoves the back of his hand to his cheek, wiping away a tear at the demon hunter’s words. “It’s fine. Sh-she wasn’t…the easiest to…” He purses his lips and focuses on the path in front of him.
Grimory furrows his brow and uses his free arm to pull the scholar into his side for a small embrace. “She may have been a pain, but she was reliable, yeah? It’s okay to cry.”
Taveth just nods, fighting back his tears, not wanting to look weak.
Alisbeth finally stops flailing on Grimory’s shoulder and just droops, silently crying tears that roll into her hairline.
Koltira continues gently shaking the mage in his arms. “Ana. Come on. Look at me.”
The mage stirs, her eyelids fluttering open only the slightest bit. She groans and curls up. “It hurts,” she responds quietly.
Koltira lets out a sigh. “Thank gods. Wait. Jorick, do you still have those potions? Please tell me you didn’t get rid of them. Unlabeled or not—”
A scream from behind them cuts him off. The party turns to find the blood knight stumbling after them, no minions on her heels and her body covered head to toe in blood.
<<If she killed Irtho’zyn…>> Keeshokin mutters, readying his axe.
“I thought you hated him,” Taveth says.
<<He owes me.>>
“I’m sure. He was pretty upset about…Tryx…”
Keeshokin gives the elf’s shoulder a gentle pat. <<We all are.>>
Golden light swirls around the blood knight and she picks up her pace as her wounds lessen.
Alisbeth scrambles to life. “I’m here! Come touch me! Just a finger!” She flails on Grimory’s shoulder, trying to get down.
Jorick shrugs and shakes his head as they pick up the pace. “Gave the last to Alisbeth for her hand and haven’t had any gold.”
Grimory digs in his satchel and pulls out a small red vial. He tosses it to Koltira. “It won’t heal completely but it’ll help some.”
Anarchaia takes the vial as it’s handed to her and drinks the small amount of liquid inside. She groans as the most superficial parts of her entrance and exit wounds seal. “Good enough,” she croaks and lifts a hand, the other still clinging to Koltira. The air sparks and whirls before a shaky portal appears, a vision of the barracks inside.
Taveth purses his lips. “I brought you several from Grim when Tryx and I…” He purses his lips and forces himself to remain calm. “I told you they were healing potions.” He sets himself beside the portal. “You guys go. I’ll be right behind you.” He opens another portal, sending another mob of imps to slow the woman down.
“No labels!” Jorick says and steps through before the warlock can respond.
Koltira doesn’t wait; he follows and moves out of the way for the next person. He ignores the high elf who stands from the large chair in front of the fire, cradling her infant, and lays Anarchaia out on the table. “Just hold on, okay? We’re going to fix you.”
“Wh-what happened? Bae! Help!” Kel’ori rests the child on her hip. He looks around with interest, his body much older than three weeks of his age.
Baemalen sprints into the room, carving knife still in a hand, then cringes at the bloodied woman on the table. “Oh, Light. What’s happened to her?”
Grimory shakes his head and turns to Taveth. “No, here.” He sets Alisbeth down but keeps a hold on her. “You go. I don’t think she’ll kill me given the chance…I hope. I can fly back, yeah?”
Taveth grits his teeth. “Keeshokin, take her.”
<<I can’t go through without you.>> He calmly holds the flailing woman aloft by one arm.
“Grim, I’m not leaving you here. She said I’m not on the list. We’re both safe.” The portal flickers behind them. “Come on. There’s no reason for you to stay!”
Grimory’s eyes flit from the woman approaching them to the man beside him, then to the portal. He swallows as it pulses again, then shoves Taveth through.