A Mysterious Invitation

The decorations in the hallway leading to the great hall sparkled as the light glinted from the sharp edges of the bat wings, the long tails of the frightened cat cutouts, and the tips of the little witch hats. Koltira grimaced at the decorations and scoffed behind the crimson fang-toothed mask over the lower half of his face. He stopped just before the doorway to stare at a young elf maiden in a lavender dress, who was muttering frantically to herself, pacing side to side as she determined whether or not she should go into the room.

“You okay?” he asked, setting a hand on her shoulder.

She screamed and spun around, her lavender eyes wide with panic. “I-I-I’m fine. Heh. J-just fine. J-just w-waiting. Heh.” She pushed her black hair from her eyes and Koltira stopped, scanning her face.

“Do I know you?”

“N-no!” she shouted, then shot into the room to get lost in the crowd.

A familiar Illidari bobbed a finely shined shoe on an ankle as he sipped mulled wine out of an artisan glass. He looked over the hidden faces of the masses before him and narrowed his eyes behind his own ornate mask. A grin pulls at his lips as a slender figure in a slinky dress smiled at him then turned to disappear into the forest of suits and gowns. He snorted a laugh and took another tentative sip.

In the mezzanine, Anarchaia grunted in frustration as she fussed over a cufflink. She sucked at her teeth as the button again slipped out of her thin, unfeeling fingers. “Do they need to be so…ornate?” she murmured beneath her long-nosed harlequin mask; she grabbed the fastener to try again.

“Are you implying I wear non-seasonal cufflinks to a seasonal ball?” Khadgar replied with furrowed brow. He glanced at himself in the highly-polished vase on the table at his side, admiring the glowing, green flame-engulfed skull floating atop the opening of his tunic and tailcoat. “Is this tacky?”

His apprentice looked up at him from beneath her crown of black and red feathers and snorted before finishing with the cufflink. “Not as tacky as the decor.”

A female blood elf in a tie-die pastel dress flit past Koltira as though floating on the wind. She spun to giggle at him, lifting her arms to display transparent, colorful wings connected from her arms to her sides. The light glittered from the ornamental gems stuck in a pattern across her face as she spun back around; her hair, striped in pastels to match her dress, bounced into delicate curls after the motion. She disappeared past a black tree and into the crowd.

A familiar set of horns caught the death knight’s attention. He rolled his eyes and approached. “How’d you get lucky enough to not have to dress up?”

Grimory cocked his head at the recognizable voice and gave a smirk. He gestured to his tailored suit with a wave of his gloved hand. “Am I not dressed up? I even put on a shirt. What are you supposed to be?” He sipped at his wine and his eyes flicked to the wide staircase leading to the floor where many more costumed patrons ascended and descended, slit pupils scanning their heights and figures.

Koltira bristled at the demon hunter. “Ever heard the legend of the Karazhan vampire? Prince Tenris Mirkblood.” He lifted his own goblet of wine from the table and lowered his mask to drink. “So, any idea what the girls came as?”

A pale, white-haired blood elf stumbled up to them. She giggled and took a drink from the table, then poured into it from her own flask. “Phantom goat and emo wanker. Nice. Cheers!” She tried to weave her way back into the crowd but lost her footing and splashed half of her drink over another guest.

Grimory’s eyes narrowed and he halfheartedly lifted his glass in cheers though she’d already left. “No. Ana told me if I could guess she’d give me a reward.” He smirked then pursed his lips. “Though she’s a mage so gods knows what she is. Could be anybody.”

A short figure dressed in mechanical garb trotted up to the table. The space between the pieces smoked and the mask—complete with glowing blue eyes—whirred as it opened. Gildwynn wiped the sweat from his forehead. “Ay,” he regarded Grimory. “If you see my apprentice, please tell her not to do what she’s thinking about doing.”

“Red hair?” Grimory replied, brow cocked.

“Yeah, that one. Thanks, goat boy.” The Blingtron mask closed again and the goblin bounced off with heavy, clanking feet.

Koltira stared after him and took a pensive drink. “A butterfly gave me a, uh…look as I came in. Might be one of them? Oh, and some muttering girl. Very nervous, stuttered a lot.”

Grimory lifted his brows at the mention of the girls. “Either look familiar?”

The death knight jumped as he turned, spotting a black tree at the end of the table. “Was that…”

He turned to look at the cause of the other’s startle. He shook his head. “No. No it wasn’t.” He took in the rest of his wine and stood to investigate the prop.

Koltira turned away from the tree and shook his head. “Neither, really. Well…one sort of. Black hair. She took off when I asked I knew her.”

The girl in the lavender dress stood in the corner, eyeing the men near the table. Her eyes remained on the demon hunter as she drank the contents of a little vial. Across the room, a fel-succubus eyed the woman and smiled.

Grimory scratched at the patch of hair on his chin as he gave the decoration a once over, then shrugged and turned. “Black hair, eh? Like—” He was cut off by a bouquet of flowers being thrust into his face. He flinched and backed up, rubbing the pollen off his nose. “Who the hell…?” He narrowed his eyes at the shorter figure in a crimson and red jester’s uniform. Black feathers fluttered about their hip, face, and shoulders as they lifted a finger and motioned the flowers at him again. He scoffed and reached into the bouquet, pulling a single daisy from its depths. “Party favor? Thanks.” The figure glanced into the bundle then lifted it wordlessly to Koltira.

Koltira glanced at the feathery figure and thought a moment before plucking a flower from the bouquet.

As the stem left the bundle, a cloud of confetti blew forth from the spot it’d been plucked. The figure quickly threw a hand over their mouth to hold in their laughter.

Koltira flinched, then lowered his brow in irritation as the bits of paper rained down on him. “Gods damn whoever you are.”

A tall figure eased silently in behind the other. She waited as they finished their exchange then stabbed her ethereal double bladed sword into the floor. “An illusion,” she barked down at the feathered figure, “what are you hiding?

The jester jumped in surprise as a shunk! sounded behind them. They turned and stepped back, then, after a moment, offered the bouquet to the Suramarian guard as well.

After a long time not moving, the guard reached out to pluck a flower, her eyes narrowed.

A cloud of smoke exploded from the bouquet, causing patrons in the area to cough and hack. When the mist cleared, the figured was gone.

Grimory gave a hearty laugh. “This is turning out to be more fun than I’d anticipated.”

The guard blinked. Once the smoke cleared, her serious demeanor failed and she jumped in excitement. “That was amazing! Come back! Do it again!” She ran into the crowd, shoving others to the side to find the trickster.

Koltira blinked and smirked. “I was wrong about the woman in purple. That one’s definitely Ali.” His smile fell as he looked over his other shoulder to find a new black tree at the end of the table, the one at the other end gone.

Grimory snorted another laugh. “You think? Hopefully she hasn’t had anything to drink, yeah? This party could get pretty exciting pretty fast.” He narrowed his eyes at the tree and craned his head to look at the opposite end of the table. “Okay, what’s going on with this fuckin’ decoration?”

The harlequin slid under a tray of hors d’oeuvres and bound through patrons. Once at the edge of the crowd, they disappeared in a flash of sparkles, only to reappear on the balcony above. They placed a thumb on the long nose of their mask and wiggled their fingers down at the guard cutting through the masses.

Koltira reached for his glass on the table, but found nothing. He glanced around only to find the goblet in the branches of the tree. “Okay. I’m done.” He grabbed the goblet, but the branches wrapped around his wrist. “What in gods’ names?”

The Suramarian guard ran smack into a male worgen and fell to her rear. “Get out of my… Hey, these aren’t real!” She poked at the hooves under the paws. “S’cuse me!” She stood and raised her weapon, then chucked it like a spear at the harlequin.

The butterfly from earlier slipped in. She smiled at Grimory. “Clever costume.”

Grimory thrust a hand in his pocket and turned to the butterfly. He returned the smile with added charm. “I know you’re being sarcastic, but I’m choosing to take the compliment anyway. Yours is…colorful.”

The butterfly smiled at Grimory and flicked her hair over a shoulder. “Nothing wrong with some color now and then.”

The jester leaned away from the flying weapon; the sword bounced off the wall behind them and its wooden form clattered across the floor. The figure leapt onto the banister and hung from the adjoining pillar. They waved their free hand and a shower of sparkles burst above the crowd, raining down on the heads of all. The jester snickered, hoping the distraction to be enough, then jumped from the banister and back into the crowd on the mezzanine.

Koltira struggled against the branches of the tree for a minute before growling and kicking the trunk.

“Ow!” the tree yelped, then released the death knight. Eyes opened on the wood. “Is that any way to go treating a lady?” The voice was gruff, but undoubtedly female.

“A druid,” Koltira growled. “Now I get it.”

The tree laughed. “Had you two going there for a bit.”

Having lost the jester, the guard turned back to the worgen, a wide smile on her face. “Are those real bits of worgen?” She ran her hand along the furry mane.

“This had better be a prop,” Khadgar’s skeletal head grunted in annoyance as he knelt to pick up the thrown weapon. With a sigh of relief in finding that it was, in fact, wooden, he held it out to his apprentice for her to take.

“The guards are checking everyone at the front door before they come in and some sort of dampening field’s been put around the castle,” Anarchaia replied as she twirled the sword.

“There has?” The Archmage responded in a mildly surprised tone, though his skinless face showed no hint of it.

Anarchaia furrowed her brow beneath her mask. “Did… Did you not organize this?”

“No. I was invited by a friend and was told I could invite others.” He paused and brought a finger to tap on his chin. “Though now that I think of it, the original invitation was said to be anonymous.”

Anarchaia’s lips pursed as she stared up at him incredulously through her eye holes. “Anonymous. With no weapons and dampened magic.”

Khadgar straightened and gave her a rough pat between the shoulder blades. “I’m sure there’s no cause for alarm. What could possibly happen if everyone is unarmed?”

Anarchaia groaned in apprehension as her teacher turned.

“I’m going to find Modera and the others. Behave yourself,” he said with a smile in his voice, then strode off into the crowd.

The harlequin gave another, more irritated groan and walked over to the banister to lean her elbows on it and look down over the masses below.

The worgen laughed a feminine laugh. “It’s real fur,” she said, “but telling would ruin the fun.”

“You’re a tauren?” Alisbeth asked, grasping her hands around the horns buried in the mane. She yanked excitedly, but stopped as a growl came from near her feet.

“Beauchok doesn’t like how rough you’re being.” She motioned at a tan and brown wolf, which had its gaze fixed on the Suramarian guard disguise.

Alisbeth squealed. “You brought a puppy?” She dropped to the floor and immediately began scratching behind his ears.

Grimory swiped two glasses of champagne from a passing masked butler. He held one out to the butterfly woman beside him. “There’s certainly not. You here alone? Surely a social butterfly like yourself came with friends.”

The butterfly took the champagne and sipped it, smiling reservedly. “Oh, we’re playing a game. I see.” She straightened and took a preparing breath. “Oh, no. I came alone, stranger. Why do you ask?” She set a hand on his bicep and smiled as though magic might ebb from his mouth when he spoke.

The woman in lavender frowned as the butterfly charmed the demon hunter. Beside her, the succubus smirked and checked a fob watch tucked inside a little purse at her side.

“Time for a top-up, darling.”

Together they withdrew small vials and drank. The woman blushing ever so slightly at the succubus.

Grimory have a huff of a laugh and held out his glass in cheers. “To games, then.” He took a slow sip and smirked down at her. “And dancing, mayhaps?”

The butterfly laughed and coughed on her drink. “You? Dance? I’d pay to see that.”

Alisbeth finished with the dog and looked up. She spotted the jester on the banister and squealed. “Give me a boost!” She climbed the tauren without waiting for permission.

The tauren laughed and boosted Alisbeth up.

The guard clambered up, her feet dangling as she held on. “Hi! Can I have another flower?”

Koltira rolled his eyes at Alisbeth’s antics, but decided to let it slide for the night. If someone had a problem with how she was behaving, they could deal with her. “So,” he turned his attention to the druid, “what’s your name?”

The druid took a sip from his goblet. “You’re barking up the wrong tree, pretty boy.”

He laughed and shook his head. “I’m married, honest. Just asking a name.”

“Juliember. Friends call me Jules…you may not.” The tree leaned over to tap his nose with a branch. “Yet. Do you have a name as well?”

“I’m Koltira, this is—” He turned to motion at Grimory, but found him over-occupied with the blood elf in the butterfly costume. “Eh, he’s not really worth introducing, anyway.”

Grimory lifted his eyebrows at the challenge and set his glass on the table behind himself. “Keep your gold. Impressing you is payment enough,” he said with a haughty air, holding out an arm.

The butterfly grinned and set down her own glass. She wrapped her hand through his arm. “Oh, this ought to be great. If you don’t impress me, you owe me a drink.”

“And if I do, you owe me two.” Grimory gave a quiet chuckle beneath the murmur of the crowds and led her through the many people to the area of marbled floor before the small orchestral band playing in an alcove to the side of the ballroom. He held out a hand for her to take.

The butterfly set her hand in his and slid in close. “Screw making bets. Let’s just dance and then get stupid drunk. Maybe then the rest of this night will be more entertaining than small talk with a bunch of weirdoes in masks?” She smiled charmingly up at him.

Anarchaia grinned down at the dangling death knight and plucked a feather from the belt around her waist. She leaned down and, ever so gently, tickled Alisbeth on the tip of her nose.

Alisbeth’s eyes crossed to look at the feather. She wiggled her nose, then shook her head. “That’s no fair!” She let go with one hand to scratch at her nose.

The mage smirked beneath her mask and set her cheek on the knuckles of her other arm. She flipped the feather around and poked the pointed end into Alisbeth’s fingers curled around the bannister.

That’s not fair!” Alisbeth repeated. She swiped to grab the feather. Caught off balance, she fell from the balcony and into the tauren’s arms. “My hero! Uh… Name?”

“Lycantis.”

Alisbeth threw the back of her hand over her forehead and flung back dramatically. “My hero, Lickthis.”

Anarchaia snerked at the two below her and dropped the feather over them for Alisbeth to catch. She turned to make her way to the staircase and back downstairs to find the remainder of her friends.

The Illidari lifted his brows, taken aback by her forwardness. “You sound like my kind of lady.” He lifted a hand to spin her around himself, then pull her back into his arms, a hand in hers and the other at the small of her back. “I take it you won’t be telling me who you really are anytime soon.”

Rain tapped at the windows as the sky above the castle darkened. The wind moaned as it rose, causing the doors to creak as they buckled. A dark, cloaked figure made his way up the front steps, gauntlets and scabbard already dripping wet.

The butterfly laughed to his shoulder. “Why spoil the fun? Let’s play this game just a little longer, darling.” She moved with him dexterously, matching his rhythm and movements. “You’re a good dancer. I’m…actually astonished. Partway there to those drinks.” She leaned in close to whisper in his ear, “on me, of course.”

In the far corner the succubus, shook with quiet laughter. “This just gets better.”

“You know them?” the woman beside her asked.

“I do. And this is… Do you know them?”

“No!” she shouted, then covered her mouth. “I mean… Not…really. The man. He was nice to me out in the foyer.”

The demon hunter pulled her hips closer to dip her shoulders low, then spun her slowly around himself again after lifting her back up. “Drinks on you? Sounds messy.” His eyes were drawn past her to a dark corner of the room where the succubus stood beside the woman that’d been eyeing him since he’d gotten there. He smirked and spun the woman in his arms once more so that her back pressed against his chest, an arm wrapped around her front and the other running the backs of fingertips up the underside of her arm.

Anarchaia slunk through the crowd, looking for her next victim. Coming upon the demon and woman in the shadowy corner, she stepped beside them and folded her arms as though she’d been standing there for as long as they had, mimicking the girl’s subtle movements.

The woman in purple watched the jester for a time before grinning and covering her mouth as the feathery figure mimicked the succubus.

“What?” the succubus demanded, not seeing the mage behind her.

“The joker behind you,” the woman said, laughing. “Oh, time to drink,” she said after a glance at her watch. The two drank before the succubus turned to look at the jester, her arms folded.

“Clever.”

The butterfly laughed again. “You sure are cheeky tonight, aren’t you? Put on a mask and suddenly you’re a real boy.” She spun and pressed her chest to his. She wrapped one hand over his shoulder and curled the other around his hand, her smile sly and her eyes teasing.

Alisbeth gripped the feather in her hand as her eyes scanned over the crowd. She patted the tauren’s head between her thighs as she sat on her shoulders. “Turn right.”

The tauren huffed. “I’m a hunter, not a—”

I said turn right!

The tauren obliged.

The harlequin resisted a chortle as she again mimicked the demon’s stance. A flurry of smoke and sparkles surrounded her and, when it cleared, a replica of the succubus stood before them. She threw her hair over a shoulder. “What are we drinking?”

“N-nothing,” the woman in purple responded.

Grimory furrowed his brow and thought for a long while about responding. “I’m starting to think you’ve mistaken me for someone else,” he responded while they swayed in one another’s arms.

Alisbeth gasped, then grinned. “Onward, fair steed!”

“I’m not your—”

Onward!” Alisbeth kicked Lycantis to spur her on.

The tauren woman’s eyes narrowed and she shook, dumping the guard from her shoulders. “Okay, let me—”

Alisbeth stuck out her lower lip. “But you’re too tall and you thump when you walk.”

Lycantis sighed and stared at Beauchok, who turned his head to snuffle and lick Alisbeth’s ear. “Fine. Just don’t shove your feet into my bosom again.” With little effort, she yanked Alisbeth to her feet and tossed her back onto her shoulders. “Where to?”

“The two demons in the corner,” Alisbeth said. She smiled manically at the one on the far side. “Onward, Lamborghini!”

“It’s Lycantis.”

“That’s what I said!” She held her posture of excited pointing as the tauren smacked her lips, unamused, then slowly wove through the crowd.

The succubus smiled and leaned closer, looking the image of herself over. “Damn, you look good. You, uh, going anywhere after this? Maybe could have more fun with these little tinctures.”

The other woman sneered. “Gross.”

The image of the succubus gave a coy giggle with fingertips over her dark lips. “I’m not that easy, sweetie.” Another flurry of sparkles. A replica of the woman slid up beside seemingly herself. “Tinctures?” she sang, doing her best to mimic the woman’s shy and nervous facial expressions. “What kind of tinctures?”

The butterfly’s smile faded, though she tried to hold onto it. “Wait, is this another game? Like I couldn’t recognize my best buddy even with a mask on.” She laughed and gave his shoulder a playful punch. “Nice dancing, though. Come on, chicka, drinks are on me. As promised.”

Grimory’s ears pricked at the nickname and realization washed over him. He cautiously lowered his arms but also did his best to let his smile remain. “You aren’t…a rogue by any chance, are you?”

The succubus raised an eyebrow. “I didn’t think you were easy. In fact, I wasn’t even meaning that we—” The image shifted and she smiled wider. “Oh, now this is fantastic.”

The woman in the purple dress shied away from the image of herself. “Oh-oh, heh. I d-didn’t kn-know I looked like Ali. Not nearly as pretty, mind you. Heh. Heh.” She bumped into the wall and pressed herself into the corner.

Alisbeth leapt from the tauren’s shoulders and landed beside a black tree behind the image of the woman in purple. “Ah-ha!

Black branches reached out to wrap around Anarchaia.

“You know Ali?” The mage chirped as her wrists were grabbed, causing her concentration to break along with her illusion. She pursed her lips behind her mask to keep from speaking and giving away her identity.

The woman laughed nervously at the mage. “Y-yes, she’s my—”

Alisbeth pressed a finger to the woman’s lips. “Shh, lady. I need to talk to my friend.” She turned to Anarchaia and grinned. “Your costume is magical.” She tickled at the jester’s belly.

“Yes, it is,” Koltira said. He leaned casually against the tree. “Hey, Ana.” He flicked Alisbeth’s hair. “You make a terrible guard.”

Alisbeth laughed excitedly. “I’m not a guard anymore! I’m a knight! And this is my steed, Lemonlime. She’s not really a worgen, but I think she skinned—”

“My name is Lycantis, and I didn’t skin a worgen for—”

“She totally skinned one. Shh.” She leaned in to hiss, “it’s a secret.”

Anarchaia kicked and laughed while tugging at her restraints. “How did you know it was me?” she cried, forlorn.

The butterfly stepped back and narrowed her eyes in suspicion. “Who’s asking?”

Grimory pulled up his mask to grin down at her sheepishly. “Hey. Haha.”

The butterfly sneered. “You… You bastard! You tricked me!” She shoved him away and extended her arm to slap him across the face.

Grimory grimaced and quickly lifted a hand to wedge between her palm and his cheek. “I didn’t! It’s not like I knew who you were up until this point!”

Metal greaves clanked into the ballroom. Patrons moved aside for the figure as he strode through, leaving wet footprints in his wake. One man commended him on his great costume but gained no response. The band stopped playing at a wave of his hand.

The rogue spat on Grimory. She shoved past him while reaching into her bodice to withdraw a small dagger. She slid the blade between two fingers to cover it in a numbing poison, then stabbed the demon hunter between his L2 and L3 vertebrae. In one fluid motion, she concealed the dagger and vanished into the crowd.

“The illusion,” Koltira said. He frowned as the music stopped.

The tree released Anarchaia and turned to face the newcomer. “I would say he has a great costume, but something in me bones tells me this is not right.”

Alisbeth perched on the tauren’s shoulders again to see over the crowd, one hand gripping a branch of the tree.

Only the woman in purple noticed what the rogue had done. She raced forward, a hand in her bag to retrieve something.

The demon hunter grit his teeth and a sound of agony rumbled from his throat. He stumbled to his knees as his legs tingled and pain shot through him like lightning with each movement until he could no longer bear it and collapsed.

“Most mages can do illusions,” Anarchaia mumbled in defeat, then noticed the woman rushing toward the Illidari surrounded by gawking patrons. “Grim!” She bound toward them, seemingly oblivious to the staggering silence in the room.

“Ladies and gentlemen of the ball here, tonight,” boomed the figure from the staircase, arms outstretched. “I trust that my waitstaff is treating you right?”

The woman flinched at the booming voice, but reached Grimory anyway. She knelt and withdrew her hand full of a yellow dust. “H-hi. Um… Sniff this.” She held the hand to his nose.

Koltira frowned up at the figure. “Oh…no.”

Alisbeth tapped the top of the other death knight’s head. “Psst. Hey. How come I’ve never seen him before?”

He shook his head. “I don’t know.” He tensed on reflex and grabbed for his sword, then growled remembering it had been confiscated at the door.

The succubus jumped as the rogue appeared beside her and began cleaning the dagger. “I swear to gods, if you’re not Ash—”

“I’m Ash. What did you do, ‘Nu? Wait, how did you get that in here?”

The rogue smiled and slipped the dagger back into her bodice. “And reveal my tricks? Never. Nice costume. Who’s the blowhard?” She motioned up at the man on the steps.

Branches flicked back to whip the rogue, tearing jewels from her face. “Quiet, sewer rat.”

Crorinu put a hand to her cheek to make sure she wasn’t bleeding. “Smelly troll.”

“I’m afraid, however, I have to interrupt the festivities here. Midnight ticks closer and an event most special draws near,” the man announced over the numerous onlooking guests.

Grimory inhaled to speak, inadvertently taking in the dust. He coughed as he groaned in pain and his wounds healed. He sat up and rubbed at his back. “Thanks, uh…lady from the foyer.” He gave an embarrassed grin.

Anarchaia slid to her knees beside the two. “Are you okay?” she said in a hushed scream out of respect for the speaker. “What happened? How did that lady get a dagger?”

“I’m fine. This lovely woman here helped me.” He stood and frowned down at his blood-soaked clothes. “This suit was expensive…”

The woman’s face turned a deep red and she turned her violet gaze to the floor. “Heh,” was all she could manage as she slowly backed away, fidgeting nervously.

“Who is that?” the succubus asked. No one responded as all eyes remained locked on the stairs.

Anarchaia lifted back to her feet with a sigh of relief. She blinked up at the speaker, only just noticing his ensemble. “Ooh. Very nice costume. I’m almost jealous.”

“While I’m impressed by the turnout tonight, Hallow’s End cannot pass without serving up frights.” The man pushed his cloak aside to rest a hand on the hilt of his sword.

“Wait, Ana?” Grimory furrowed his brow then turned back to the lady who’d saved him. “W-wait! I owe you thanks, at least!”

“Your screams of terror will echo from the highest peaks to the darkest depths. The main event, I hear you ask?” A single flash of steel glinted as the man lunged into the crowd. Blood sprayed onto the ballroom floor, followed by multiple thuds as the injured fell. Screams rang out as the remaining tried to push away. “YOUR DEATHS.

The woman in purple backed away faster, then turned and ran back to the corner. “He’s killing people!”

“We need weapons,” Koltira said.

The druid fell onto all fours as a cat. “I brought mine with me.” She scraped her claws along the stone floor.

“So did I.” Crorinu withdrew her single dagger and sneered. “Just the one, though.”

Koltira grabbed the rogue by the shoulders. “My sword is in the foyer, along with probably a lot of others’. Can you get them?”

She cast a torn gaze around the room. “People are going to die.”

The succubus set her hand on Crorinu’s shoulder. “You can’t do it alone, chicka. We’ll keep him distracted, somehow.”

Lycantis smirked. “I got this.” She stooped, taking care to not topple the death knight, and withdrew her nodachi from beneath the prairie wolf. “Apparently they didn’t check the animals.”

Crorinu nodded and pursed her lips down at the druid. “Come on, animal. Let’s get those weapons.” She stealthed and sneaked forward.

“Better an animal than flushed shit,” the druid growled under her breath. She went on the prowl and pawed quietly after the rogue.

Koltira, Lycantis, and Alisbeth raced to Anarchaia and Grimory. “Distract him,” Koltira said.

The man paused in his assault of the guests at his party to turn toward the small group approaching him. He let out a laugh beneath his metal helm. “Ah, interlopers I see. Your bravery will be your undoing. Why do you not flee?” He swung at the mage, but the jester quickly backpedaled away.

Grimory’s arms swirled with fel fire and his sleeves tore as his claws burned through. “My suit’s already ruined,” he grumbled and flung himself at the attacker. The man sidestepped and returned with a slash across the demon hunter’s back.

Anarchaia gave a sort of grunt as her palms filled with weakly-crackling fireballs. “Oh, right. The dampening field,” she groaned, remembering. Nonetheless, she threw a few bolts of cinders at the disguised man. Doing minimal damage, she huffed and decided small chunks of ice to be more effective.

Annoyed, the attacker sliced the ice in twain with his blade and laughed again.

The tauren whistled as Alisbeth leapt from her shoulders. The wolf skirted the area. He growled behind the man and leapt for his coat tails. Lycantis threw a trap under his feet, it exploded to spread tar across the floor.

The succubus and the woman in purple gripped each other. “I’m not a fighter!” the succubus said.

“I’m just a scholar,” the one in purple agreed. She grabbed her bag and dumped the contents on a nearby table. “Maybe we can help, though?”

The succubus spilled her own onto the table and they began rifling through the mess.

“He’s a death knight,” Koltira said behind the mage’s shoulder.

“But I’ve never seen him before,” Alisbeth said with a whine. “He’s not from Acherus. Where’s my stick? I want to hit him with it.” She ruffled Anarchaia’s feathers as though the weapon might be hidden there.

Grimory tore the remaining scraps of his coat from his torso and threw them to the ground with a growl. He did the same with his mask, eyes smoldering. He lunged again but, even with feet immobilized in tar, the masked assailant leaned away from his slash. The demon hunter turned to blow fire over him and the man threw up a shell of green to protect himself from the flames as well as Anarchaia’s numerous chunks of flying ice.

“You’ll have to do better than that, you fools,” he laughed, sending balls of green fire in each combatant’s direction. “Else by night’s end you’ll be fodder for the ghouls!”

The mage growled. “His limericks are becoming as obnoxious as this dampening field. Where is Master Khadgar?” She threw her own weak shield of ice up to block the flaming balls; however, it shattered after one strike and she was forced to move from the others’ paths.

The hunter and her wolf continued to distract the man back and forth, doing their best to keep him from focusing on any of the others.

“Could you hurry your ass up,” the troll said. She pushed the rogue’s rear with her paw as they crawled through the ventilation duct. “Trade secret, my tail. Did you even go through the warding?”

Crorinu growled and kicked at the druid. “I never go through the warding. I never go through the front door. That’s how you get yourself killed.”

The cat pushed on her rear again. “Well, this is uncomfortable.” She shifted the mass of weapons strapped to her belly.

“Look, troll, I can’t go any faster.” She lifted her skirt to show the long blade of Byfrost tied to her belly. “This thing is heavy. I mean, unnaturally heavy.”

“I have a name, you know. It’s Juliember.”

The rogue scoffed and turned to keep going, the magical weight of the Byfrost holding her down and making her clumsy. “Well, then, shut up, Juliember, or you can carry this thing.”

Alisbeth gripped Anarchaia by the shoulders. “Light him on fire! Why are you holding back? You got this punk death knight!”

“I’m trying!” Anarchaia lamented. “There’s a field around—oh nevermind.” She ran forward, dropped to her knees and stuck her hands in the gooey tar. The pool slowly erupted into crackling flames and the anonymous assailant grunted in pain as the fire licked at his armor. He lifted a palm and the entirety of the pool froze into a sheet of ice. With ease he broke free and stepped atop.

“It’ll take more than fire and tar to best me,” he boomed, now clearly irritated. “Though I’ll admit your persistence is beginning to test me.” A menagerie of skeletons broke through the ice and clambered to their feet, each making its way to their respective victims.

Grimory leaned away from a potential slash of a skeletal claw and retaliated with one of his own. The agile form of bones swayed aside; only its arm clattered to the marble floor.

“Annoying,” the Illidari grunted and made more futile attempts to take it apart.

Crorinu kicked through the vent to see Asheeda and the other woman mixing concoctions at a table. “Hey, you got anything to distract him while we get these weapons passed out?”

“Just in time,” the woman said.

Asheeda corked a large vial and grinned. “There’s a little bit of everything in here, I think. Not too sure what it’ll do, but if he ingests any he might get stronger.”

“Very likely he’ll turn into a woman…while being stronger.”

The rogue grinned. “Good. Let’s go.”

Asheeda skirted through the crowd to the other side as the rogue and druid handed out weapons. Crorinu found Koltira and shoved Byfrost into his hands.

“That thing is heavy. How do you—” She stopped as the hilt swirled from copper to blue.

“Only the worthy may wield it. Sorry.” He winked.

“Bombs away!” Asheeda shouted, then threw the concoction on the attacker. Green smoke billowed forth. The others backed away as it expanded, not wanting to find out what would happen should it touch them.

The helmed man growled as the toxins clouded his vision. Without direct link to their master, the skeletal servants fell into heaps on the floor. Anarchaia took up the opportunity to again light the substance on fire. The cloud burst into rolling flames and the attacker within howled in surprise and agony. From the conflagration flew a disembodied head, still howling, into the rafters above.

The demon hunter spread his wings and took flight, coming up to slash at the flying helm. It hurdled back toward the floor below and into the range of Grimory’s comrades.

The mage stepped away as her flames subsided, but the thick green cloud remained. The floor below glowed and sizzled as the gas settled upon it. “Uh, what is this?” she called over her shoulder to those who threw the vials.

Asheeda lifted his index finger and opened his mouth to speak. He met eyes with the woman in purple. She shrugged.

“I don’t know. Probably best to not touch it.”

Koltira, not hearing, leapt into the area, Byfrost swinging over his head. He brought the blade down on the empty neck of the man. When his feet hit the floor, his body exploded in a puff of grey smoke.

Alisbeth screamed in horror. “Kolty!” She lurched forward, but the rogue caught her by the wrist.

“Wait!” Crorinu launched poisoned daggers at the headless suit of armor.

“Koltira!” Anarchaia called nearly in unison with Alisbeth. Against better judgement and fueled by an instinct to protect her friends, she bound forward into the smoke to find him and ensure his safety. Her own form burst into a gray cloud and she released a sound of surprise followed by a fit of coughing.

Asheeda threw a glaive. It ricocheted from the body’s shoulder up to the head.

“This way, you dolt!” the head shrieked, after bouncing off the careening glaive and into a support pillar. The suit of armor within the smoke stood shakily and trudged forward and out of the obstruction, Byfrost’s hilt clanking against the opening in the neck.

Grimory landed and shuddered. “It’s empty…” He perked and called to the rest, “Don’t let him reach his head!”

One of the rogue’s daggers flew into the first smoke cloud. A girlish shriek came from within. The smoke cleared to reveal a woman in Koltira’s costume, her eyes wide and her hand over her mouth. A moment later he wrapped his arms around his bare chest, his frosty eyes a storm of embarrassment.

“Awkward,” Crorinu said, laughing.

“Give me the Redblade!” Alisbeth demanded from outside the puddle.

Koltira looked at the sword, then at his folded arms, and gave a pained smile.

Asheeda focused his glaive tosses at the head and positioned himself between it and the body. Crorinu joined the fel succubus’s efforts, tossing daggers as she ran at the head. As she neared, she withdrew a longer dagger for close-quarters combat and slicked the blade with poison.

Anarchaia turned once the smoke cleared and let out a bark of a laugh, then immediately covered her mouth as well when a gentle, masculine chuckle came out instead. She glanced down at herself to find a broad chest beneath her tightly fitting costume. She flushed beneath her mask and adjusted her decorative belt to hide her groin and its new addition. “What was that?!” she called in her new voice.

The suit of armor swatted away the flying daggers as it trudged along. The sword hanging from the chest piece fell to the floor with a clatter.

Grimory ran forward to distract the floating, cursing head and delay its reunion with its body. A shriek came from within the helm and he was forced to cover his long ears in pain.

Alisbeth stomped to the sword on the floor and picked it up. “They’re called breasts. Yes, they’re bouncy.” She scoffed. “Risk everyone’s lives over a pair of pillows. Such a girl.”

The woman in lavender ran straight through the green smoke settled near the floor. Her form puffed and she ran out of the cloud, still female. She grabbed the other two by the elbow. “Come on, we don’t know if this could be permanent if you stay in it too long.”

Koltira leapt out of the smoke as fast as he could and made a face. “Something’s missing.”

“It’s your dick!” Alisbeth shouted over her shoulder as she ran after the tauren, who was charging for the head.

Crorinu pointed her dagger at Alisbeth. “You. I like you.”

Beauchok gripped the coat tails of the body, keeping it held back and distracted. The head passed by the dazed Illidari and zoomed toward his restrained body. It released a series of growls and grunts as various weapons ricocheted across its face.

Anarchaia gave another chuckle as she was pulled from the pool. “Perhaps I’m borrowing it. Promise I’ll give it back.” She swallowed, hands filling with more weak flames. “I hope.” She raised a hand and sent more fire in the direction of the head, taking note of its weakening growls and slowing pace.

Koltira narrowed one eye. “Not helping, Ana. Not helping.”

Alisbeth gripped the head to her with a weak tendril. She immediately swung the Redblade around in a flaming green arc to bat the head across the room.

Crorinu gave her a dirty look. “You know I can’t stab him if you keep moving him around like that, right?”

A spear on a chain zipped between the two elves, then Lycantis went flying across the room, knocking both elves to the side with her bulk. She sliced around in a wide arc to catch the head on her sword.

The blade pierced the face of the helm and a light brighter than the sun burst forth from the split. The man shrieked in disbelief and his cries echoed throughout the hall. The suit of armor clattered to the floor in its respective pieces and the helm shattered into dust and green cinders. A deafening silence fell over the now empty ballroom before the quiet murmur of terrified patrons packed in the foyer filled it instead.

The flames filling Anarchaia’s hands suddenly burst into lively balls of fire and she cried out in surprise and stumbled. She gave a low chuckle and her fingers smoldered. “I suppose the field’s gone.”

Grimory gave a sigh and straightened, still rubbing at a ringing ear. “What an asshole, yeah?”

Crorinu picked herself up off the floor and glared at the demon hunter. “Yeah. Reminds me of someone.” She threw a small dagger at him and stomped away to meet Asheeda.

Grimory leaned away from the flying dagger and bristled. “What did I ever do to you?!”

Alisbeth grabbed Koltira in a hug and made a face over his shoulder. “Are you my wife now?”

Koltira jumped and sneered. “Gods, I hope not.”

The druid stood as a troll in a silky, black evening gown. “Well, this certainly was fun.” She fluffed the feathers on Anarchaia’s mask. “Love your costume, by the way. And, now that you’re sporting a different sort of equipment…” She waggled an eyebrow at the male mage.

The mage shrunk away and flushed beneath her disguise. “U-uh…I should actually go find Master and see if he’s okay. And…” She sobered as she looked around. “Do something about…them.” With a hand she motioned toward the multiple bodies strewn near the staircase.

Juliember frowned. “Shame. But I agree. Excuse me.” She winked down at Anarchaia, then swept to the bodies, testing each one for life before healing their wounds.

“Fix us,” Koltira demanded, a finger in Asheeda’s face.

“Oh, but you look so pretty!” Alisbeth took his hair and lifted it, then let it fall from her fingertips.

Please,” Koltira hissed at the laughing succubus.

“I’m sorry,” Asheeda said, “but you’re just going to have to wait it out. It’s a five minute effect, so just a little longer.”

Koltira deflated, an annoyed expression settled on his face as Alisbeth admired his female form.

Grimory turned to the tauren. “Quick thinking. Commendable.”

Lycantis shrugged. “I didn’t expect him to die, I just wanted to beat the snot out of his head.” She motioned at the bodies on the floor, where Beauchok sniffed each one for signs of life, howling when he found one who required healing. “Perhaps we should help?”

“What in Light’s name…?!” A glowing green skull gaped over the bannister at the scene below. “Wha-… What happened?

Where were you?!” Anarchaia hissed up at the man above. “The Headless Horseman came in and started slaughtering people!”

“I, ah…found myself locked in the solar, as it happens,” Khadgar responded in a quieter tone, though the embarrassment was apparent in his voice.

“Whuh—” The smaller mage flailed. “WHUH?!

Grimory sneered at the two arguing between stories and nodded to the tauren. “Yeah. I’ll go into the foyer and see if there are any healers to help.” He turned, wincing at the slice in his back for the first time, and exited through the large entryway.

The woman in lavender went to the windows. She clicked the latch and pushed the panes open to let air into the room to overpower the stench of death. Secretly, she gathered more yellow powder in her palm and aided with tending to the injured.

In a puff of smoke, Koltira returned to his original gender. He sighed. “Thank the gods.”

Alisbeth stuck out her lower lip. “I liked the girl.”

“I can make you a potion,” Asheeda offered.

“No!” Koltira shouted.

Yes!” Alisbeth squealed.

“It doesn’t matter-RR—” Anarchaia’s voice squeaked mid-sentence back into her usual tone and she covered her mouth with a hand. She cleared her throat and folded her arms. “Just get down here and help us aid the wounded, if you’d please.”

The Archmage above gave a solemn nod and, in a whirl of violet magic, appeared beside his student on the ground floor to assist in the cleanup. “No more anonymous invitations,” he murmured through skeletal teeth.

A gentle gust swirled over the cold, blood-stained marble. The ashes of the horseman’s helm fluttered about before slipping silently out the open window and onto the cold midnight breeze. The wind picked up with a high howl that one could almost mistake for laughter.

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