Part 1: Undiscovered country

Second Lieutenant Joseph Smith, “Smitty” to his friends, stared at the young, blonde woman standing in front of him. A mischievous grin was on her freckled face. Blue eyes shone at him, promising, promising.

“Hello Joseph. Bet you didn’t expect to see me here hm? Well, I had to see for myself you were doing alright here.”

Joseph Smith took a few slow deep breaths. It wouldn’t do to blow up at the Boss’ sister. That would be… oh hell.

“What by the Light Everlasting do you think you’re doing here?! Have you gone completely mad? Does anyone know you’re here? What if you’d run into the enemy?”

Selena’s jaw dropped. This was not the way it was supposed to go. She had been planning to melt into his arms, whispering small words at him, but to do that, he needed not to be shouting at her.

“But… Joseph?”

“Don’t you know that these woods are crawling with big nasty green bastards, each of which would happily drink our blood for what we did to them at Stonewatch Tower? What do you think would happen to you if one of them got their hands on you?”

“Aww… You’re worried about me! Don’t worry, I can take care-”

“You bet I’m worried about you! If the sodding Blackrock grab you, I’m going to be the lucky guy who gets to pull you out of their filthy paws! I’m planning a long and successful miliary career. Being dead because some stupid girl puts herself in harm’s way does not feature in my plans.” Smitty pointed a finger at Selena. “You suckered me into letting you out of the castle once, and your brothers nearly dropped me into the moat for it! I’m not doing that again, damn it!” Smitty clenched and unclenched his fists a few times, shaking with anger. “Are you determined to ruin me, or what?”

Selena looked up into Joseph’s eyes. This wasn’t supposed to happen!

“But Joseph, I thought… The dance… you…”

“What about it? You are the lady of the castle. What was I going to do, tell you to get lost?”

Selena’s eyes narrowed. “Right, so you weren’t enjoying yourself at all then, were you? Just doing your duty?”

“My mum told me. Always be nice to girls. Especially if you happen to be working for their brothers.” He glowered. “But that’s beside the point. You are going straight back to the castle. You’re not safe if the enemy finds out you’re here.”

Selena’s jaw set. “You know, I am a hunter. I am not entirely defenceless.”

“Aye. Just enough of a threat to get you even deeper in… trouble. There’s a party of real hunters coming here in a few days. If at all possible, I’d like you out of here before then. Save everybody the embarrassment. You may have the clothes, but it takes more than expensive kit to be a hunter.”

Selena said nothing for a few seconds. Then, she slowly took her longbow from her back, still staring at Smitty. She glanced over the fields. Ah. She jerked her head.

“See that rabbit over there?”

“What bloody rabbit?”

Selena said nothing. With a sudden rush of feathers, Hugin leapt into the air and sped towards a specific spot on the ground. With hands that moved quicker than sight, Selena snatched an arrow from her quiver, fit it to the string and let fly. Some fifty yards further, it hit something with a brief noise. Hugin flew round, dipped, picked something up in one claw and came flying back. Selena held out her hand, looking into Smitty’s eyes as Hugin dropped the rabbit in her hand. She pulled out the arrow, put it back in her quiver and handed Smitty the small corpse.

“This bloody rabbit,” she said. “Now I’ll grant you that I did not pay for this outfit myself. It comes with the castle, as do I. My father, may he be part of the Light Everlasting, gave me Hugin when she was just a chick, and I know that she’s a better bird than many others. So yes, I’ve been given more than my share. I am, after all, part of the family that owns the castle. But my skills as a hunter are mine, and mine alone.” She glared at the Lieutenant. “Enjoy your dinner.”

Selena turned round, and took a few steps while Smitty stared at the recently-deceased animal in his hand. He looked up.

“Wait!”

Selena looked over her shoulder, raising an eyebrow. Well?

“You’re not going back alone. I can’t spare enough men for a real escort, so I’ll send word to the castle by courier. They’ll come and pick you up. I’m not letting you risk your life on your own. Meanwhile, I suggest you stay in Sir Gerrig’s bedroom.”

Selena opened her mouth to say something, but Smitty waved his hand.

“I insist.” He looked at Selena with an even expression. “Do I need to insist further?”

Selena gave him an acid look, turned round and disappeared inside. Smitty looked round, into the amused faces of the soldiers and workmen.

“Anything to see here? No? Thought not.” He pointed at one of the soldiers. “You. Take this to the kitchen. Rabbit for dinner tonight.”


Mareva and Ariciel stood on the docks, watching the plume of steam from the boat disappear behind the horizon. That they were friends was the greatest of coincidences. Mareva had been born on the faraway world of Draenor, a child of the tall, blue-skinned Draenei, Exiles in the Common Speech. Ariciel was a Keldorei Elf, born in the forests of Darkshore. A little breeze blew her long, snow-white hair into her eyes. She gathered it up in a pony-tail, dropped it behind her shoulders. She looked at Mareva.

“Want to go find the flight-master?”

Mareva shook her horned head. “No. I think I feel like a run.”

She closed her eyes, and let her magic flow. Her slender body faded, disappeared, and re-arranged itself into the slightly unwordly, slightly transparent, ghostly form of a wolf. Because she could never resist it, she sat down and scratched behind her ear with a hind leg. She looked up at Ariciel. Ariciel grinned, set off at a sprint, leapt up, and in mid-air changed her body to that of a yellow spotted Cheetah. Side by side, they ran towards the city gates.

The afternoon was drawing to an end when they hit the Lakeridge Highway. They would go south of Stonewatch Falls, then North. It would have been quicker to ride, but neither of them particularly cared about getting there quicker. Mareva jumped over a small stream, the water just splashing her hind paws. The run was doing her good, the wind rushing in her fur, the physical challenge in putting her lupine body to its best use. They had just seen their boyfriends off to the cold hard lands of Northrend. Like Ariciel, she would have given anything to be able to join Stetson there, but she knew she would only weigh him down. In their travel forms, they could not talk, but simply having Ariciel run along with her was comfort of a sort.

Ariciel made a short, growling noise, and shook her head as they rounded the last bend and the small castle of Caer Bannog came into view. Ariciel had slowly come to consider the place ‘home’, though with Bannog gone, it seemed a lot less so. Nevertheless, she would be glad to be under a roof. If this included dinner, then so much the better. She looked at the sun. With a bit of effort, they would be there before mealtime, and the kitchen would not have to cater for them specially. She turned her bullet-shaped head to Mareva, and sped up a bit. Mareva gave her a wolfish grin and followed suit.

X

As they joined Gerrig at the table, they could immediately see that he was annoyed. Most annoyed. Ariciel was worried – had some deal with the Orcs gone sour so soon? She looked round. Also, where was Selena? Mareva nudged her, and lowered her voice to a whisper.

“I note that the Lord of the Castle seems displeased with his sister’s absence. Do you think she has done something less than wise?”

Ariciel gave her a slow look. “Selena? Never. She would never try to follow the Human she had a crush on. Not in these uncertain times.”

“Indeed. That is precisely the thing Selena would never do.”

“Oh crap,” said Ariciel, quietly.

She plied her face in an expression of polite concern and turned to Gerrig.

“Good evening Sir Gerrig. You seem to be… disturbed by something. What appears to be the problem?”

Gerrig turned his head round, and gave Ariciel and Mareva a grim smile.

“Nothing that a few tight handcuffs and a length of chain won’t take care of, Lady Ariciel. It appears that my brother was right after all, and that my sister has taken a more than casual interest in one of the officers in our little army. She has taken herself to my farm. I have just had word from Lieutenant Smith. A request, in fact, to come and bring her back to the castle.” Gerrig sighed. “I will see to it after dinner.”

Ariciel shot Mareva a quick glance, then turned back to Gerrig.

“Sir Gerrig, I would be happy to fetch her here, if you have no objections. I could leave after dinner, arrive there before midnight, and be back here tomorrow late in the morning.”

Gerrig looked at Ariciel seriously, shook his shaggy head. Ariciel wondered for a moment what Bannog would have looked like when he still had all his hair, but she pushed the thought to the back of her mind.

“Normally,” said Gerrig, “I would be more than pleased to accept your offer, but we live in dangerous times. I don’t like to ask this of you.”

Ariciel raised her hands. “Sir, I am a fighting Druid. I daresay I can keep myself and Selena out of trouble. Using my Cat form, I can detect the presence of enemies from far away, and protect Selena from attacks. It would remove the need to send a dozen soldiers or so. Also, I think Selena needs a friend to talk to now.”

“What she needs, Lady, is a piece of footwear applied to the rear. She has to be taught that her actions affect all of us.”

Mareva made a small noise. “Sir Gerrig, Selena is in love. She does realise the responsibilities of her position, but those thoughts have been driven out by her emotions. From Lieutenant Smith’s request, I assume that he has not reciprocated. I agree with Ariciel. Selena needs a friend as much as she needs protection. I assure you, Lady Ariciel is well able to escort her here.”

Gerrig looked from Mareva to Ariciel and back, saying nothing. He reached a decision.

“Very well. Thank you for your kind offer. Please return my prodigal sister home, and then I will have a word with her.”

X

“Right,” said Ariciel, stuffing things in her backpack. “Division of labour. I will bring Selena back home. You talk Gerrig out of fitting her with hand-irons, foot-irons and a chastity belt. Persuading men to see sense is definitely where you shine.”

“I may start by explaining to him that ‘prodigal’ does not mean ‘wandering’.”

“That kind of detail, I leave entirely up to you.”

Mareva sighed. “And I thought that the days were over where I had to tell Management what they wanted.”

“Oh, Gerrig’s not Management as such. He’s a big softie. If all else fails, talk to Marcia. He’s powerless against her. Well, that’s me packed. I’m off.”

“Give my regards to Selena,” said Mareva, “It is never pleasant to be scorned.”

“Will do. See you sometime tomorrow.”


It took four of the Humans to hold him. They were speaking to him, but Cullan did not listen. He growled, snarled, bit at the hands that held him. Strangely, they were only holding him, not fighting back. Cullan briefly wondered what their intentions could be, but it did not matter. He would kill them all, taste their warm blood as they died. The creature holding his leg lost his grip, and Cullan kicked, sending him flying. Two others took his place.

“Are you done playing now? There isn’t much time.”

Cullan looked up. This was not a Human voice. He looked into the glowing eyes of a man who looked almost Human, but wasn’t. The ears were too long. No Human had such a purple tone to their skin and hair. The man came forward.

“Now hold him still. This poison is precious, and I don’t want to spill any.”

Cullan bared his fangs, and snarled. The man’s hands shot out, and held his head in a grip that Cullan knew he could never break. He knew exactly where to push to open his mouth. From a bottle, he quickly poured a foul liquid down his throat, then held his mouth shut, rubbing his hand on Cullan’s throat to make him swallow. Cullan’s claws clenched, and he tried to roar through a mouth held tightly shut. He was poisoned. Already, he felt his limbs weaken, his heartbeat slowing down. The Humans and the Elf had killed him, and he would not even be able to take any down with him. The world darkened, and his soul floated, floated away. Just before darkness finally closed in, he heard a voice.

“The word is potion, Fairbreeze. Potion.”


“Good evening, Lieutenant. How go things?” Ariciel smiled at Smitty, in a friendly way that only hinted at the possibility of teeth.

“Reasonably well, Lady. Thank you for asking. I assume that you are here to collect Lady Selena? She is in Sir Gerrig’s bedroom.” After a moment, he added: “She hasn’t come out, even for dinner. I didn’t mean to imprison her there.”

Ariciel gave him a Look, one from the great repertoire of Looks that women have to the ruin of men.

“I imagine that she is not in the mood for dinner. Things did not work out then, between the two of you?”

Smitty smiled unhappily. “Lady, there is no ‘between the two of us’. We are not equals. She is the daughter of Old Sir Bannog, part of the Light, and I am just a soldier. Even if I did return her feelings, ‘We’ could not be.”

“Hmm. Far be it from me to tell you what to do, but not three years ago, I was a humble chamber-maid for the High-borne in Darkshore. Still, I’m now with Bannog. There’s always a way, Lieutenant.”

“That may be so, Lady, but you are not a chamber-maid now. You are a high ranking Druid of the Cenarion Circle, and an honoured guest of the castle. Also, meaning no disrespect, you are a Night-elf, and a stranger, which places you outside the normal order of things.” Smitty raised his hands. “I come from a family of workmen, who have lived in these mountains for countless generations. Those who do not have hands marinated in weapon-oil, have the grit of the very mountains under their fingernails. Lady Selena comes from the ruling class, who sit at the High Table and steer our efforts to our greatest prosperity. We both have our place, and we cannot change it, even if we would.”

“Hm. From what Bannog told me, Sir Gerrig the Ancient came from a family much like your own. His father, Garth, was a carpenter and a woodsman. Sir Gerrig distinguished himself in the wars of that time. You can tell. Caer Bannog was definitely made with workmen in mind. Bannog pointed it out to me. All the woodwork has been made so that you can easily replace beams if ever you’d need to. Gerrig the Ancient did take care of his own.”

“I understand your words,” said Smitty. “But I am not Gerrig the Ancient. I have only been promoted to Second Lieutenant, and in Azeroth, perhaps a thousand with me. I have not drawn the attention of the King yet.”

“Well, you have certainly drawn the attention of the Lady of the castle.” Ariciel’s pale grey eyes shone at Smitty. “Just imagine. If she was not Lady Selena of Caer Bannog, but simply Selena the Hunter girl. Would you give her a second look?”

“I am more than happy to serve under her. She has a kind soul, and deserves happiness as much as any of us. But I cannot give it to her.”

“Well, then, Lieutenant. I suggest you draw the favourable attention of the king to yourself.”

“That, Lady, I am working on.”

X

Ariciel sat down on the large bed, and looked into the face of the youngest lady of the castle. Selena’s cheeks were dry, but Ariciel imagined a hurried sleeve drawn across the face as she heard the knock.

“Oh thank the Light it’s you, and not a bunch of soldiers. I couldn’t have born that.”

“Hey. Keep your head up! We girls don’t do grief, we give it!”

Selena laughed nervously. Ariciel held out her arms. Selena hugged her. Ariciel gently stroked her blonde locks. It would be alright. Just not this very minute. Selena kept perfectly still, for a few moments. Ariciel brushed Selena’s cheek with her fingers.

“Want to go home?”

Selena sniffed, then nodded.

“Come on, then,” said Ariciel.

“What, now? It’s almost dark!”

“Yeah. Night-elf, remember?”

“We won’t reach the Caer till the morning!”

“Not planning to. Ever sleep under the stars? There’s nothing like sleeping in the forest under the moonlight.”

Selena looked out of the window and sniffed the air.

“Under the raindrops, you mean. Smells like rain out.”

“Not for another few hours. Plenty of time to ride a bit, then build a shelter.”

Selena stared at the Night-elf to see if the strange creature was serious. Best to assume she was.

“I think we can do better than that. I know a hunter’s hide by the lakeside. It has beds. Firewood. A stove. A roof that’ll keep off the rain.”

“Oh, alright then,” said Ariciel. “Grab your things, and I’ll tell Smitty where we’re going.”

“Tell him I’m going to drown myself in the lake and it’s all his fault.”

“Right-oh.”

X

“Take care of her,” said Smitty. “I wouldn’t want her to come to harm.”

“You do have a soft spot for her.”

“There is a whole world between wanting her to share my table and bed, and indifference. I don’t want her to be unhappy, or fall into the enemy’s hands.”

“Well, you’ve been brutally honest with her. Don’t really like the brutal part of that, but once this blows over, she will appreciate the honesty.” Ariciel grinned. “For now, though, we’ll just blame everything on you.”

“May as well. Everybody else does. Good travels.”

X

Ariciel ran through the forest, shape-shifted into Cat form, with Selena behind her. In the open plains, or on the road, Selena’s horse could have run rings around her, but they weren’t in open country. There were plenty of nice dense trees with low-hanging branches, dimly lit by the moon. The moon would often hide behind some clouds, and Selena didn’t have an Elf’s night vision, especially not a Night-elf in her Cat form. Ariciel grinned to herself. She was deliberately making it difficult for Selena to follow her. She was making her concentrate on the riding, to keep her from brooding. Ariciel’s whiskers twitched as she smelt the water in the distance. North bank of the lake, Selena had said. Nothing that went on two legs made its presence felt to Ariciel’s sharpened senses. No Orcs, and only Selena behind her. Good. She didn’t really feel like fighting tonight. A slight drizzle had started, settling like small dewdrops on her fur. Selena had been right. No doubt, it would start raining in earnest before long. Better hurry. Come on, girl!

They emerged from the trees a few minutes later. The lake lay before them, still as a mirror, with only the occasional drop of water making slow, widening circles in the moonlight. Ariciel turned back to her Elf form.

“Which way now?”

Selena pushed back her hood, and looked this way and that. She pointed.

“That way.”

“Sure? I’d like to get there before this rain gets worse.”

“Weren’t you planning to sleep in the rain?”

“Yeah, but that was before you told me about this cosy place half-way to the castle.”

“Well, hurry up then. It’s about a mile to the East from here. Can’t miss it. It’s right at the bank. Race you there!”

Selena spurred on her horse, and galopped off to the East. Ariciel frowned a bit, looked up at the moon, then changed to her yellow spotted, fast Cheetah form and ran after Selena.

X

After a while, Ariciel saw the squat shape of a wooden structure, built half-way into the lakeside. The door was open, and Selena was on her knees in front of the little pot stove, trying to light the fire. Ariciel changed back to her Elf form, and Selena jumped.

“Eep! Didn’t feel you coming. Were you hiding or something?”

Ariciel shook her head. “No. Were you tracking people, then?”

“Yeah. Usually works.”

“I was in my cheetah form. Should have tracked Beasts.”

Selena slapped her forehead. Ariciel grinned.

“Well, no harm done. You’d have spotted any Orcs like that. Useful. How is the fire getting along?”

“Wood’s gotten damp. Stupid bastards stacked it outside. That means no fire tonight.”

“Oh, can’t have that. Stand back.”

Ariciel closed her eyes, concentrating. She pointed her hands at the wood, and let go. A small green fireball shot from her hands, and into the stove. The wood hissed as Ariciel’s Green Fire first dried it, then set it alight. Selena gave her a look.

“That’s cheating. And showing off.”

“I can put it out again if you want.”

“Didn’t say I disapproved. You Druids are dead useful.”

Ariciel laughed, then looked over her shoulder. As if with the fire, they had signalled someone, it started to rain as if a second lake had come to visit this one. Ariciel turned round, and stepped out, just outside. She turned her face up to the falling drops and closed her eyes, taking deep breaths, a happy smile on her face.

“Will you listen to that sound? Rain on the water. There’s nothing quite like it. Like thousands of small creatures, all whispering to each other.”

Selena stood behind Ariciel, looking at the falling rain. The lake looked like it was boiling, shining in the dim light of moon and stars, framed by the dark shapes of the trees.

“Get inside, you silly woman! You’re getting wet! Rain on a flat roof is every bit as nice to listen to, and you get to stay warm and dry.”

Ariciel laughed, turned round and closed the door behind her. She shook her head, drops of water flying from her hair, long ears flapping. Then, she looked round. She could almost stand up straight. There was a heavy table made from thick, solid planks, with attached benches. Four bunk beds were on the other end, with straw mattresses. Rain clattered on the flat roof, with no sign of leaking anywhere. The small cabin was warming up nicely. Selena lit a few candles. One of these, she held over the table. Drops of molten wax fell down, and she put the candle in the small puddle, waiting for the wax to stick. She let go, and the candle stood upright. Then, she opened a cupboard and looked inside.

“Hey! There’s a few bags of tea here. Want some?”

“What kind?”

“Brown. The tea kind. No milk, though.”

“Good. Letting cows squirt into your tea is strange and foreign.”

“Oh, stop being a snob,” said Selena. “Want some, or not?”

Ariciel raised a long white eyebrow and picked up her pack. From it, she pulled a bottle, which she put on the table.

“I think… not.”

“Oo! You’ve come prepared. Are you going to feed me drunk and have your way with me?”

Ariciel smiled gently. “Naah. You’d just tell me to sod off. Wouldn’t want that.” She got out cups and poured golden white wine into them. She pushed one across the table to Selena, who picked it up and looked at her over the rim.

“Don’t blame you. It’s not nice.”

Ariciel said nothing, and sipped wine. Selena took a small sip of hers.

“You know, I’ve always meant to stay a virgin till I got married. Still do, actually, when I can think.” She sighed. “Never had any trouble sticking to it, either. Till last week.” She put down her cup, put her elbows on the table and looked at the cup, head on her hands. She turned blue eyes up to Ariciel. “This morning, I was all ready to throw myself at Joseph, if it’d come to that. Stupid, huh?”

“Yeah. You can get much more out of a bloke if you wait a bit.”

“Not me, I can’t. I’m just not pretty enough.” Selena rubbed her cheek. “Stupid freckles.”

“I like your freckles. They’re cute. We don’t get them as often.”

“Gerrig told me I’d fallen face-first into a cow-pie, and I should wash them off.”

Ariciel nodded earnestly. “Gerrig had a good reason to say that.” Selena looked at her questioningly. Ariciel grinned. “He’s an older brother. Scum, the lot of them.”

Selena gave her a look, then laughed. Ariciel swirled the wine in her cup.

“You’re pretty enough to turn heads. I could see several soldiers looking at you when we were leaving.”

“There aren’t any girls there. Anyway, they were all looking at you. You’re the exotic beauty here.”

Ariciel shook her head. “Don’t be so sure.” She gave Selena a grin. “Don’t know if you’re doing it on purpose, but when you’re carrying that bow on your back, the bow-string goes right between your boobs. It… accentuates nicely.”

Selena looked down, then back into Ariciel’s eyes.

“Oh, come on.”

“Hey, I’m a leg girl. You’ve got nice legs, and still, I noticed. So did several of the guys there, believe it.”

“You’re just saying that to make me feel better.”

“Doesn’t mean it isn’t true.”

“Look, it’s very sweet of you, but I know I’m nothing special to look at. Nobody is going to compose poems about me. I’ll probably marry some old git for political reasons.”

Ariciel gave Selena a look, and pointed a finger at her.

“Stop that. You’re a perfectly lovely girl. There’s girls out there who’d love to look the way you do.”

“Yeah right.”

Ariciel sighed. Then, she got up, walked round the table and sat down next to Sulking Girl. Putting her hand on Selena’s arm, Ariciel filled her mind with all the things she liked about Selena. Bright blue eyes, cheerful character, wicked smiles, sparkling laugh, freckled face, the look on her face as she sat next to Ariciel, listening to the Darnassus Temple Choir on a visit to Stormwind, rather nice figure. Then, she put her hand on Selena’s cheek.

“Come here a second.”

“Whu?”

“Closer.”

She gently pulled Selena’s face to hers, until the tips of their noses met, and looked into her eyes. Then, she let her mind flow. Selena took a quick breath. Time passed, and the world floated back in. Selena blinked.

“Whoa.”

Ariciel smiled. Selena grinned.

“You were looking at my butt!”

Ariciel closed her eyes a second. Touche-nez, the thing Night-elves did when Humans would kiss. You could only be completely sincere when you did it. It was also a bit difficult to hold back things you’d rather… hold back. Oh well. Her eyes shone at Selena.

“And why not? It’s a perfectly nice butt.”

“Hah.”

Ariciel reached for her wine and leant back, one arm on the table.

“We both know, you don’t do girls. But if you did… Hmmm!”

Selena giggled.

“There’s also the fact that I’m your boyfriend’s sister. Could be a bit awkward, I’d say.”

“Don’t see why. As long as you talk about it before you jump.”

Selena laughed. A lovely sound to hear. She leant forward.

“It’s a Human thing. Parents don’t have sex. Ever. Neither do younger sisters. Or older brothers. Squick!”

“Um… You exist, no? Sum ergo coitus?”

“Parenting magic. The baby fairy. Storks. Gooseberry bushes.” Selena looked darkly at Ariciel. “Any noises coming from your brother’s bedroom are simply his girlfriend agreeing with him a lot. Likewise, little sisters don’t do it. Especially not with your girlfriend.”

Ariciel reached for the bottle, and waited for Selena to take a swig of wine.

“Well, not both at the same time, perhaps.”

Wine sprayed over the table. Ariciel held up the bottle. Any more?

Selena coughed, trying to get the wine out of her nose. “You Night-elves are sick and depraved.” She held out her cup. Ariciel poured more wine.

“That’s why everybody loves us,” she said.

X

The bottle was empty. Selena was checking one of the straw mattresses for wildlife using a candle, trying not to set the mattress on fire. Ariciel was pulling out the sleeping furs.

“All clear?”

“Can’t see. Oh well.”

She put the candle in the bottle. Ariciel spread out one sleeping fur, and covered it with the other. She stepped out of her clothes. only keeping her soft deer-skin underwear on. She slipped under the blankets and watched Selena do the same in the candle-light. She held the covers up for her.

“Come here, you. Promise I won’t molest you.”

Selena smiled. “Oh good.” She curled up in front of Ariciel.

Ariciel pulled the furs over them. She leaned her head on her hand and looked down on Selena’s blonde hair, one arm round her, hand lying gently on Selena’s stomach. Selena wriggled a bit, getting comfortable. As Ariciel watched her, Selena looked over her shoulder.

“You know?”

“Hm?”

“I’ve been telling myself that this is over, and that Second Lieutenant Joseph Smith can go jump in the lake for all I care.”

“Yes?”

“But the thing is,” Selena laid her head back down, closed her eyes. “If he’d walk in the door now, and said he’d changed his mind, and would I come with him…”

Ariciel’s hand gently stroked Selena’s stomach.

“You would. I know.”

“I would. How stupid is that?”

Ariciel lay down behind Selena, put both arms round her and pulled her a bit closer.

“Very. But that’s how it goes. It’s an itch in your chest where you can’t reach to scratch.”

Ariciel licked her fingers, reached out and pinched out the candle. Selena settled down. A few minutes later, she was asleep. Ariciel sighed.

“It’ll be alright,” she whispered.


“How are you feeling?”

Cullan looked up at the woman. She was holding a jug of water and some bread. Cullan looked at his fingers. Fingers! Not the claws he had been given by the Change. His fur had disappeared, along with the animal muscles that made him what he was. The woman bent down, handed him the food and drink. Cullan could hear her heartbeat, smell her blood, flowing through the arteries in her throat.

She gave him a steady look. “Don’t get any ideas, me boy. You’re not the only one here who gets a bit Bloody Mary now and then.”

“I’m sorry,” said Cullan. “It’s just…”

“I know love. You’ll be fine. Eat. Get your strength up. Long trip ahead. You’re going to meet the Your-good-healths.”

Cullan blinked. “Elves?”

Ther woman rolled her eyes. “Yes, Elves. They’re the ones who started dancing with wolves. They know how to fix you up proper.”

“Elves really exist? I thought they were just an old wives’ tale.”

“You met Mr. Fairbreeze, didn’t you?”

Cullan nodded.

“Well, the potion he gave you keeps the Beast from taking over. But it ain’t gonna last, love. You need to get the ritual done, and you’ll be right as rain.”

“The Beast…”

Cullan buried his head in his hands as the memory came back. Red. Biting. The screams. The… the feeding. Cullan shook, and his muscles bound up. He closed his eyes, breathed in. The feeling subsided.

“Oh merciful Light, what have I done?”

The woman sat down next to him, put her hand on his arm and looked into his eyes. For a moment, Cullan could recognise in her eyes what he felt within himself. Buried, but not deep enough.

“Nothing you could do about it. Nothing at all.”

X

The ritual was in a secluded spot in the woods. Night-elves had been there. Water had been drawn from a moonwell in Darnassus, a name Cullan had never heard of, not even in fairy-tales. He had drunk the waters, listened to the Elven priestess as she spoke of a goddess named Elune, a scythe, the Beast Within. He had let it wash over him. Cullan heard the music of the Ritual within him, and knew it would be there forever. He felt peaceful, but it wasn’t the peace that comes from being at one with the world. It was the peace of a sleeping draught, like the ones he’d prepared for the Lord’s children when sleep would not come. Cullan closed his eyes, and forced his thoughts away. Do not think of the past. The simple, soothing melody played to his mind’s ear. Sometimes like pipes, sometimes like chimes, sometimes like trumpets, but always soothing, restoring, there for him to listen to when he needed it. He saw the Elf named Fairbreeze walk up to him.

“Mr. Cullan?”

Cullan looked up to the man, who overlooked him by at least a foot.

“Yes?”

“There is one thing to do. A test. Just to see how well the Ritual worked, or we need to do it again.”

The Elf’s hands were by his side, relaxed, unafraid. Still, they didn’t stray far from the hilts of two large daggers on his belt. Cullan tensed up, listened to the music in his head, relaxed.

“Sir, tell me what to do.”

“The melody in your head. Still it. Wait.”

Cullan blinked. How could he… but then he realised he could. As the melody faded, he felt the Beast stir, awake, take him. Cullan’s Human self melted away, evaporated, disappeared like a cloud of smoke in the breeze. He looked at Fairbreeze through Worgen eyes. Eyes that could not cry, though he wanted to. His cure was nothing more than an enchantment, an illusion to fool casual onlookers. His large body shook.

“Good,” said Fairbreeze. He put his hand on Cullan’s shoulder, looked into his eyes. “Good. Now listen. The way you look now, is your True Form, for now and forever. It is who you truly are. You can do two things. You can fight it. Push it away behind the music of the Ritual, for as long as you can. It will not always work. Get angry, and the melody goes away and you turn. But this will let you live among Humans, and only your Brethren or Druids will know what you really are. Or you can embrace it. Listen to the Music only when you wish to move among the Humans without drawing attention to yourself. It needs no focus, but do not get out of practice finding the melody. There is no right or wrong. Find the golden mean. Now. Find the melody.”

The melody was there, once heard, never forgotten. The glamour came to him once more, and he looked like he always had. He looked at the tall Elf in front of him.

“Very good,” said Fairbreeze, with a grim smile. “It seems that today, you live.”

Cullan nodded, not knowing whether to be angry about that, or grateful. He rubbed his arms, feeling skin, not fur. His nails were short, not the claws meant to tear and rend flesh. He ran his hands over his cheeks. He hadn’t shaved for days, and the stubble was the same as it always had been.

Fairbreeze smiled. “Elune herself had a hand in creating this ritual. Not even a healer, nor even a lover will be able to tell.”

“A lover,” said Cullan. He shook his head. “Never again. I loved my Lord’s children, as though they were my own. The Lord and Lady never showed me anything but kindness, and yet…”

“You were not master of your mind,” said Fairbreeze. “The Beast is strong, and it overwhelms any soul it takes. No Human could have won. If Elune’s Grace did not protect you, you would be little more than an animal now. The craze has passed, and will never return, now that our Lady protects your soul. Do not fear the Beast, Cullan. You have the strength to tame it now.”

X

With a little smile on his face, Fairbreeze watched the group of Humans leave. Some were in their True Form, others wore their Human disguise. He took a deep breath. Most of them had been a success. Only three failures today, and they had been taken care of, their bodies buried in a secret place. A good day by numbers. Fairbreeze remembered their faces as they died, even if he didn’t know their names. Some day, they would achieve perfection. Until then, they could only do their best.

“Elune a’dore,” he whispered to their disappearing forms. He turned round and walked into the forest.

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Comments

  • AN  On July 2, 2011 at 12:20 pm

    I have followed you here from FFnet, and am so immensely happy to see you finally release this new story. Looking forward to devouring it all 😀

    • bannog  On July 2, 2011 at 3:31 pm

      Hi! Happy to see you. This is another long one – twenty two chapters of Worgen, Humans, Gnomes, Night-elves and what have you. I’ll try to release them every Friday.

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