Taveth snaps his book closed, breaking the stifling silence of the night. He growls and takes Koltira’s glass of bourbon to swallow his agitation with a gulp.
“Excuse you, I was drowning my sorrows with that.”
“Then pour me a glass of my own,” Taveth says. “She’s my friend, too.”
Koltira chuckles as he pours two glasses and tops off Baemalen’s with the last of the bottle. “Little more than just my friend, buddy.”
Taveth makes a few noises of annoyed agreement as he sips his new drink.
“Oh, don’t mind if I do,” the red head hums as he brings the drink to his lips.
“And I’m the only one worried about Alisbeth, I take it,” Grimory says, irritated “I get you’re probably all still upset with what she did, but one would think you’d be over it in two weeks, yeah?”
“Oh, you mean the thing where she somehow created an alternate version of herself through rash decision making of which then proceeded to nearly kill Ana and the kid?” Jorick responds, not looking up from his own book.
“I doubt she’d have killed the baby,” Grimory mutters, as though that fact alone is redeeming enough.
Kel’ori purses her lips so tightly they pale beneath her pink lipstick. “Judging by the mass of dead bodies, I wouldn’t put it past that murderous little bitch. After all, she tried it when I was still pregnant. Same person, just a different kind of crazy.”
“I can’t believe I’m agreeing with you,” Koltira says.
Taveth scowls at his drink. “She did some awful things, yes, but…she’s still Ali. You’re all horrible. Except you, Grim. I’m just more worried about Ana.”
“I have seen Ana literally incinerate a hundred people at once. I’m sure she’s okay,” Grimory reassures for what he feels is the umpteenth time. “Alisbeth is naïve at times and that can get her in trouble. I’m more worried about her.”
Baemalen lifts his hands at the slight tension in the room. “Does it need to be a competition? Heh.”
“We need Alisbeth to get information on where our target is,” Jorick explains, “and we need Ana to kill him. I guess they’re both equally valuable …bias aside.”
Koltira lets out a long breath. “I beg to differ. But I guess I’m overly biased.”
The mage scrunches her nose. “Wait, why would we need Ali for that? She doesn’t know anything.”
“I think he means the other one,” Taveth says.
The door swings open and Vultog steps in with a bundle of firewood. Kel’ori scrambles to hide Bel’theas and the orc grunts in irritation.
“No reason to hide him under a hot blanket. I already know what he is. The red head talks a lot when he’s drunk.”
The mage purses her lips at the blood elf at the table.
Baemalen gives a sheepish grin. “He seems nice enough…haha.” He swallows when her glare does not lessen. “Sssorry…”
“And you don’t mind?” Grimory says with a cocked brow.
Vultog shrugs. “I’m a clan traitor with an idiot in my shadow. I have no room to judge.”
The mage relaxes some, but her irritated expression remains. “Since I can’t turn back time, fine then.”
Bel’theas squeals from the carpet and puts a toy in his mouth to gnaw on. His mother quickly takes it from him and plucks the chunk of wood from his mouth. The infant screams and growls, pushing at the floor in an attempt to crawl after the item.
Koltira sighs into his glass at the noise.
Grimory leans forward in his seat, elbows on his knees, over the sobbing baby. “Hey. Stop that.”
Bel’theas’s wet eyes fixate on the demon hunter and his sobbing stops. He hiccups a few times, then reaches a small hand up.
The corners of Grimory’s lips tighten and he sits upright again. He stands. “I’m going to go look for the girls again.” He makes his way for the door.
Kel’ori purses her lips. Useful, but still annoying.
Koltira stands abruptly. “I’m going with.”
Grimory turns to the death knight, lips parted as though meaning to say something, then nods and continues outside. “We should check Zangarmarsh, if we can get there. Searching the forest has been unsuccessful.”
Koltira nods. “Sounds good. You can search from the air while I take the ground. If they’d just come back…”
“I don’t mean to be offensive, but it may be better if we stick together. If they have turned on us for whatever reason, we’d be harder to kill as a team, yeah?” The Illidari hesitates. “And I’m not quite sure what happened that day, but I’m sure it wasn’t Taveth’s fault.”
The death knight nods but doesn’t look at the man. “I figured that after the fact. Spending any sort of time with him makes that apparent. I just… I was drunk.”
“You usually are,” Grimory says on a sigh. “Just do your best to ask questions before throwing fists, yeah? I get that’s ripe coming from me, but…”
Koltira cocks an eyebrow. “And…who am I presumably going to punch?”
The demon hunter looks at him. “…does it matter?”
“Is it okay if I punch someone who deserves it, or should I clear it with you, first?” Koltira scoffs, partially amusing himself.
Grimory’s eyelids lower. “Well if the outcome is losing another member of our party, then perhaps you should take it up with me first, yeah?”
“I wasn’t intending on hitting our friends. Gods, I already apologized to him, why can’t you get over it, too?” Koltira looks around, his lips pressed together.
The demon hunter gives a small smirk, unable to hide his amusement at the annoyance. He chuckles and presses on past him. “I’m just giving you shit, Kolt. Calm down.”
The death knight rolls his eyes. “Yeah. Right. Just remember this if it happens to you. Although I doubt it would even bother you.”
“If what happened to me? If some guy kissed Ali? I’m almost certain she would take care of it pretty quickly.” The situation crosses his mind and he chuckles again. “Even so, we aren’t really together, yeah?” He squints at the horizon as the ridge appears on it, the path carving through the center.
“Right.” Koltira’s gaze sweeps over the land. Please be in here Ana. “Let’s get moving.”
Once the duo reach the opposite end of the ravine, the visibility significantly lessens in the darkness beneath massive mushrooms. A large glowing insect buzzes by and Grimory narrows his eyes in the haze. “Gross. Have I mentioned I hate—” He grunts as a large fireball blows him sideways off the path
Anarchaia drops gently onto the dirt a short distance away, more fire ready in her hands. “It took you long enough.” She sets her sights on the death knight and throws another spell toward him.
Koltira thinks quickly, erecting a glimmering purple dome over himself. The fire crashes against the translucent shell, then dissipates so he can look at her. “Ana, what are you doing?”
While his vision was obscured, the mage has made several shards of ice and is now sending them his way. “Two weeks, hm?” she says, scowling. “Good to know that’s how long before you care.” She steps aside as Grimory leaps in an attempt to grab her.
“What is wrong with you?” he hisses. “It’s us! Stop attacking.”
“Two weeks of looking for you,” Koltira shouts. “Apparently in the wrong place.” He reaches out a hand, sending a dark tendril her way to rip her to him and wrap his arms around hers. “Calm down!”
She grunts against his hold, then blinks past him in a flurry of cinders. “Right.” Anarchaia turns and aims a kick between his shoulders while simultaneously turning an advancing Grimory into a squirrel. “If I can incapacitate the two of you, that makes getting to him twice as easy. Especially since Ali is gone.”
Koltira spins, his hands up in a plea to stop her. “Ana, what are you talking about? Where is Ali? Did she find you, too?”
She shakes her head, hands again readying with flame. “Nope. He made me a deal.” She hisses as the little critter sinks its teeth into her ankle; she kicks it across the marsh near the path.
Koltira clenches his jaw as he watches the pacified demon hunter tumble away. He purses his lips. She would never hurt Grim like that… “What did he do to you, Ana? This isn’t you.” He unsheathes Byfrost and holds it out. “I…I won’t fight you.” He drops the sword to the ground.
An inkling of hesitation flickers through her eyes. “Then this should be easy.” After knocking a now restored Grimory back into the murky water—not without a frustrated expletive from him—the girl sends a shockwave of violet toward the death knight. “Just stay out of my way!”
Koltira grunts as he hits the rocks behind him. “Ana, stop. I’m sorry about Taveth and I’m sorry I handled it all wrong. I’m an idiot and I don’t deserve you.”
Anarchaia narrows her eyes. “Arguably something you should have said two weeks ago, yes?” She grits her teeth and turns when she hears footsteps rushing toward her.
Grimory brings a claw around as he nears, then cries out as he’s blown backward with a blast of fire; she does not relent until he is on the ground and unmoving. His form smo lders with smoke and the mage again turns to Koltira. She steps toward him, then scoops Byfrost up—her robes swirl and eyes light with power. She sets the blade to his neck as he leans away, face set with determination.
“Best not leave him here,” she says, gesturing to the unconscious demon hunter, then lowers the blade and blinks on down the path in the direction they’d come, sword on a shoulder.
Koltira opens his mouth to shout after her, but she is gone in an instant. “Ana…” His heart sinks and he pushes against the boulder, then moves to Grimory. Palm raised, he sends a quick spray of sleet into the man’s face. “Wake up. There’s fuckery afoot.”
Grimory groans, then quickly sits up and checks himself with his hands, then sighs in relief. “Yeah.” He gets to his feet, but stumbles along the way. “She…didn’t burn me. Just put me to sleep.” He runs a hand over his hair.
“I’m still not comfortable with the fact that she harmed us at all. I’m worried.” He looks back at the orange sands. “We need to get back to the others. Now.”
“Yeah. Honestly kind of relieved she didn’t kill us, though.” He dusts himself off and makes down the path with haste. “If you shed that armo r and some of your pride, I can fly us, yeah?”
Koltira looks down at himself and immediately begins unbuckling the plate piece at his shoulder. “It’s ugly, anyway.” Once all the armor is in a pile, he purses his lips. “Don’t fucking carry me like you carry the girls, right?”
Grimory’s lips purse as he contains a laugh, though he ends up snerking anyway. He holds out his arms at his sides, still grinning. “Not sure how else you’d like me to carry you, but I’m open to suggestions.”
“I…don’t know. Under the arms? Something that doesn’t make me look like a gods damned damsel in distress.” He grumbles under his breath. “Thass would love this way too much.”
The demon hunter rolls his eyes and chuckles. “Well he’s not here.” He scoops up the death knight as he’s done everyone else. “And I won’t tell him, yeah? Now shut up and hold on.” He jumps into the air despite Koltira’s profanities, hiding well the strain of picking up someone his own weight.
Koltira folds his arms and glares off into the distance the entire time in the air, then quickly moves away from the other man once he’s set back on his feet. “No one. You tell no one.”
Grimory cannot contain his smirk. “Careful, I may actually think you like me.” He cautiously steps inside, then gives a sigh of relief when he sees everyone is where they’d left them. “You’re all okay,” he says, a hand on his chest.
Jorick furrows his brow. “Should we not be?”
The demon hunter shakes his head. “It’s Ana. I think she’s on her way here.”
The human blinks. “Is that not what we want? Is she okay?”
Grimory shakes his head again. “You don’t understand. She was…not right.”
“She attacked us. Said Ali is…gone,” Koltira says, closing the door quickly behind him.
Taveth’s eyes widen. “Which Ali? What does she mean gone?”
“She didn’t say. But I don’t think it’s good.”
Vultog grunts. “That’s the lively death knight, right? Shame. She seemed nice.”
“Mostly,” Taveth says gravely, his mind already focused on the possible loss of his cousin.
“So…what do we do?” Kel’ori asks. “Obviously you guys couldn’t stop her, so…”
“Because I’m not going to fight her, okay?” Koltira growls.
“Then I will.”
“You can’t,” he thunders, the reality of the situation finally crashing in on him. “She has Byfrost. She could blow a hole in what’s left of this planet and not even blink.”
“She could practically do that already,” Grimory grumbles, running a hand over his hair to hide his apprehension.
“She can’t possibly be that powerful,” Baemalen says with a nervous smile. “I mean, all of us combined can stop her, right?”
“Or maybe just give her what she wants,” Jorick adds, his hands pressed together and the tips of his fingers against his lips. “Dragon boy going to help at all?” He pauses, then rolls his eyes when he gets no response.
“What does she want?” Taveth asks.
Koltira shrugs. “I have no idea.”
Kel’ori whines some and picks up the infant. “M-maybe we should leave. If she can’t find us then we don’t have to…lose a fight to her.”
Grimory shakes his head. “There was something off, though. I don’t think she’d kill us. She barely hurt us when she had us alone.”
“What if she has both Alisbeths with her?” Baemalen muses with a shrug. “The one at least seems eager to hurt us.”
“They weren’t there,” Koltira says. “If our Ali was there, she wouldn’t have kept quiet.”
“He’s not wrong,” Taveth agrees.
“Well we need some kind of a plan!” Kel’ori says from the tigerskin rug.
Grimory and Koltira share a look. The demon hunter sighs. “I don’t know. My suggestion is we try to reason with her before she gets a hit in. Clearly she’s stalling or she’d have just teleported here by now, yeah?”
Jorick’s brow knits. “I don’t think I’d have the heart to kill her or the crazy one.”
Baemalen gives Taveth a sideways glance. “You’re her best friend, right? Or at least recently gained the title…”
Taveth shrinks as all eyes settle on him. “After that little bit where I went crazy, I wouldn’t be surprised if she never talked to me again. I wish I could take it all back.”
Kel’ori frowns, a small bit of guilt in the pit of her stomach. “I’m sure she’ll forgive. It’s what friends do, right?”
The blood elf sighs and shrugs. “I suppose. What do you need me to do?”
“You and the baby should probably stay in the basement,” Grimory says. “Baemalen can watch over you.”
The Illidari in question gives a nod.
“Okay. I’ll protect us if anything happens.” She gives the man a quick wink.
Koltira catches Taveth’s gaze with his own. “After what happened with the other Ali, I think it’s safe to say you’re the only one who can maybe match Ana.”
“I’m not going to fight her,” Taveth insists.
“You don’t have to hurt her, in fact I’d rather you didn’t. Just distract her. Give her too much to focus on. Maybe we can get through to her that way.”
Vultog grunts and looks up from his silent contemplation. “Dammit can help. And I’ve a few snaring arrows, if needed. With enough distractions someone quick could jump in and take that sword.”
“So, what, we just wait for her to show up outside and then throw demons and lizards at her just to get your stupid sword back—how the hell did she get it, anyway?” Kel’ori demands.
“I told her I wouldn’t fight her and tossed it aside. She blasted me into a cliff and took it.”
Kel’ori growls. “Irresponsible. Okay, so…then what?”
Grimory hesitates. “If that doesn’t work, we take her out, I guess.”
“You can have the honors,” Jorick hisses, clearly offended by the suggestion.
The demon hunter gives a noise of frustration. “So what, then? We just let her maim all of us? Spinewing alone can’t even beat her, you think you—an old human with some knives—can do anything against that?”
The other scowls. “How about we take one step at a time? Or is that thinking too far ahead for you?”
Grimory scoffs and turns to go back outside. “Whatever. I’m going to go wait for her, yeah? Tav, you should come with.”
Taveth scrambles to follow the man outside, taking his satchel with him. Once out of earshot of the others, he clears his throat. “Did you want Spinewing to be in this fight? I can… You know.”
“If you must,” Grimory responds albeit apprehensively.
Taveth frowns. “Last resort, I promise.”
“To be honest,” Grimory says, low enough for the two of them, “if the tables were turned, I’d want her to set me straight. So I guess don’t hesitate too much, yeah? Koltira and the old man will probably be useless, and without Ali only you and I really stand much of a chance. But only together.”
“I don’t want to hurt her. I just…want to talk to her.” He slouches, visibly sulking as he kicks a small pebble.
“Good thing you’re better at that.” Grimory stops abruptly and grabs Taveth by the upper arm. In the distance, surrounded by swirling dust and sand, comes a figure in fluttering robes.