Part 13: Puppy dog eyes

They were on the move again, heading South. Normally, Selena would be thrilled to go to such a strange place as the jungles of Stranglethorn Vale. As it was, she couldn’t really work up the enthusiasm. She cast a quick glance over her shoulder. Mr. Cullan was running next to Stoneshield. If she’d hoped that he would be left behind, she would have been disappointed. He ran without effort, eyes turning this way and that, like he’d never seen grass before. His eyes fell on Selena, and he gave her what he probably thought was a ‘friendly’ smile. Selena looked away. Creep. She looked up at Hugin, who was gliding by that moment. With a grin on her face, Selena reached into her bag, fished out a bit of meat, then tossed it into the air. Hugin banked, dived down and snatched the meat out of the air. Stoneshield wasn’t planning on any excitement today. Just get themselves to Menethil, then jump on the boat to Stormwind. Then, at least, they’d be allowed to ride horses all the way to the south of the Eastern Kingdoms. Selena was looking forward to it. They would be real horses, not the magical constructs that were getting all too common these days. Hugin passed by again, and Selena felt a pang of guilt. She reached into her feed bag again, tossed up another bit of meat. Hugin grabbed it, swallowed it, and with powerful wing-strokes made her way ahead, up into the sky.

She looked round to find that Cullan was running next to her. She looked up to him, then ahead again.

“That is a magnificent bird, Lady,” said Cullan. “I have not seen its likes before. What kind is it?”

“Windroc, from Nagrand,” said Selena.

“Nagrand?” Cullan shook his head. “Pardon my ignorance, Lady. I do not know that place. Where in the Eastern kingdoms is that?”

“Outland,” said Selena. “Where the Draenei come from.”

Cullan looked puzzled. “Dareni?”

“Yes.”

“And… is your bird from that species?”

Selena’s eyes turned to Cullan. “Have you ever seen a Draenei?”

“I’m afraid not, Lady. They must be great birds indeed.”

“They’re people! They have blue skin, and horns on their heads, and walk on hooves.”

Cullan stared at Selena. “Horns… Hooves… Do you mean they are demon-kind?”

“No! They’re… friends!”

Cullan closed his eyes briefly. “I’m sorry Lady. I meant no offence. I have never been outside Gilneas before maybe two weeks ago. I have never heard of Dren…”

“Dren-eye,” said Selena.

“Draenei,” repeated Cullan. “Gilneas is a rather private place. King Genn Greymane has built the Wall, and crossing it is not encouraged.”

“How did you get out, then?”

“I had some help,” said Cullan. “A very good friend let me out. It is easier to arrange leaving than it is to arrange to enter Gilneas.”

“It’s a Human place, isn’t it? I heard they ducked out of the Alliance a few years back.”

“More than twenty years ago, Lady. I was a small boy, and I remember us having to move to build the wall.” Cullan looked miles away. “Gilneas is a glorious place. Light’s Dawn Cathedral in the middle of the city is a marvel of architecture. It is surrounded by water, the four canals streaming past it. In the surrounding lands are woods, containing the best of game for our hunters. Farms, where our farmers grow the food to feed the people, fisheries, even a mine. Gilneas steel has no equal in this world, and we are truly blessed that the Earth renders it to us. Our wizards and scientists work ceaselessly, probing, gaining knowledge of both the arcane and the natural world. Gilneas is truly a world in itself. What we need, we make ourselves. It is a very good place to live.”

“So why leave?”

Cullan took a slow, deep breath.

“My employer, and his family, were murdered in a most brutal manner. I…” Cullan hesitated a moment. “I was not there when it happened, but I could not give an account of my whereabouts. Suspicion fell on me. After that, no Lord would employ me.”

“So that’s why those men were after you, then.”

“Yes, Lady,” said Cullan.

Selena looked carefully at Cullan’s face.

“No time to equip for a trip in the wild?”

“No, Lady.” Cullan lifted a bandolier on his chest. “Though I was able to purchase this set of throwing knives at Refuge Pointe. I doubt if I could have hunted anything four-legged with them, but at least I have some skill with throwing weapons, and none with a bow.”

Selena’s smile froze on her face and she looked away. They could get to Menethil quickly, couldn’t they?

They ran on.


Smitty leaned on the railing of the sailing ship that was taking him and his merry band of willing volunteers to Menethil Harbour. It was not the normal route for the ferry, but Sir Gerrig had managed to find a few other people who were also travelling to Menethil, and struck a deal with them. Smitty liked boats, and it was easier than riding all the way through Elwynn Forest, up through Dun Morogh, and then through the wetlands. There was a noise next to him. Oh dear. One of the men was not going to enjoy the trip. He was hanging over the side, face the colour of an Orc’s. One of the sailors, a tall Night-elf woman, unceremoniously grabbed the man by his collar and dragged him to the lee side of the vessel, muttering about who was going to be hanging over the side to clean up the mess. The soldier was beyond caring. He took one look at the rolling sea, and hung over the railing. The Night-elf patted his back reassuringly, then went about her work.

Smitty looked round at the sound of footsteps behind him, and saw that Paladin Nægling had joined him. She had stowed away her armour, and was wearing simple white robes. Smitty nodded at her.

“Sister Nægling.”

“Lieutenant,” said Nægling.

Smitty noticed the slight lisp, caused, no doubt, by her injuries. He tried to imagine what she would have looked like without the dark, ugly scar on her cheek. He had glanced her in passing, in her underwear, as she was changing out of her armour. On a small boat like this, there was no room for modesty. Even when there was, men and women used the same facilities. Soldiers soon learnt not to stare at each other, nor to flaunt their bodies. Even so, Smitty couldn’t help giving Nægling a second look before moving on. People said that she was lucky to be alive. Smitty looked into her eyes. While there was no denying she had been lucky, any luck was eclipsed by willpower wrought of steel.

There was a noise above them, of the ship’s single lateen sail flapping in the stiff breeze. Nægling looked up at the sail, then back at the Night-elf at the helm, who pulled the yoke towards him, turning the ship leewards. The sail stopped flapping, and the ship sailed on, slowly climbing on the waves, then falling down with a mighty crash.

“She’s close to the wind,” said Smitty.

“It is always tempting to see how close you can sail,” said Nægling.

“Have you ever sailed?”

“Just small boats. My grandfather was a sailor. He would take me sailing sometimes when I was a young girl. He could tell the most wonderfully outrageous lies about his work.”

Smitty looked up at the sail. “It’s almost like magic. There’s no good reason why a boat should go forward, simply because the sail is the shape it is. And still, it does. Even against the wind.”

“Not as fast as this boat would go with the wind abeam. They’re fastest that way.”

“We’ll be turning East soon. Hopefully, Lady Selena will be at Menethil when we arrive. This ship won’t wait more than a day in port.”

Nægling looked round at Smitty. “I heard that you and Lady Selena were… involved. Yet, it seems you are not looking forward to meeting her.”

“Only in her mind, Sister Nægling. A passing notion, about a simple soldier. It could never be. I would expect she has put the matter behind her now.” Smitty paused, looking out over the sea. “I hope she has.”

“It might complicate the mission.”

“Quite.”

“Excuse me Sir, Lady.”

The Night-elf sailor walked up, and they stepped aside to watch her untie one of the sheets. With one eye on the sail, another on the helmsman, she slowly let it slip till the helmsman raised a hand. She tied it up with the ease of long practice, nodded at the passengers and walked off. The ship picked up speed, heading North along the Dun Morogh coast.


Hieronimo pointed forward, and called back: “Bridge!”

“Ah.” Thorfin Stoneshield walked up, nodded. “Right, lads. Thandol Span. Across the Bridge of Size is Dun Modr. Used to be a nest of Dark Iron. Wonder if they’re still there.”

Berrin pulled out his shotgun, checked it and slung it on his back again. “There’s always too many Dark Iron, and too many Undead.”

“No time for playing,” said Stoneshield. “Got to get you lot into Stranglethorn. Now that is a real place for hunters. Anyway, Rockwalker, don’t most hunters have pets?”

Berrin scratched under the bandage on his head, made a gruff noise. He stood up, and raised his hands, palms upwards. He closed his eyes in deep concentration and magic started to flow. The ground around him glowed like dewdrops made of light. They rose up, swirled round Berrin, then converged on a spot in front of him, turning faster, blurring, suddenly shining blindingly bright. When they blinked, Evert the swine stood before Berrin. Berrin fed him a few apples from his bag, then looked up at Stoneshield.

“Are we goin’ to cross that soddin’ excuse for a bridge or what?”

Stoneshield stood up, took a deep breath and whistled. His raptor appeared like a breeze of wind turned solid.

“Get ready, lads! No sayin’ what’s goin’ ta be on the other end.” He looked at Cullan, who was standing a few yards off with a phlegmatic expression on his face. “Just try to stay out of trouble, Mr. Cullan. Leave the fightin’ to the hunters.”

“As you wish, Sir.”

X

With pets out, weapons in hand, and grim faces, four hunters and one butler crossed the surviving half of the bridge over Thandol Span. With all their senses sharpened, they walked down the road that led past Dun Modr, and eventually to Dun Algaz. Berrin, who was walking on their right flank, stopped, looked, raised a fist. In the distance, there was the unmistakable sound of gunfire.

“Trouble,” said Berrin.

“No kidding,” said Stoneshield.

“Are we going to check it out?” Hieronimo’s eyes gleamed with a fierce light. “Could be Dwarves in trouble there.”

“Aye,” said Stoneshield. “There’s a mate of mine, got stationed here. I ain’t said hello to him in a month of Mondays.”

Selena and Hieronimo looked at each other, took deep breaths. Their stomachs tightened.

“R-ready,” said Selena.

“Let’s go,” said Stoneshield.

They ran, pets first, guns and bow out, towards the sound of battle. They saw soon enough. Four Dwarves were hiding behind a barricade, firing on metal-clad dwarves who were slowly gaining the advantage.

“Attack!” Stoneshield’s raptor ran out towards the Dwarves, followed by Bjorn, Hugin and Evert. Stoneshield yelled the order to fire. The Dark Iron Dwarves noticed their arrival. Short, broad-shouldered iron-clad men, wielding battle-axes and maces. One of them pointed at their small group of hunters, and shouted.

X

Selena watched them turn towards her, and charge. In a splintered second, Selena understood. Knew that they were enemies, and that either the Dwarves, or she, would not see the sun set on this day. These Dwarves would not rest until she was dead, her body crushed and hacked to pieces, or until the Dwarves themselves were slain. She felt afraid, could look at herself being afraid, but then, she found she had already put the fear to one side. She pulled an arrow out of her quiver, saw that the only gap in their armour was the Dwarfs’ faces, aimed, and fired. A tiny fraction of her mind marvelled at this supreme calm. Not even the sight of a Dark Iron Dwarf falling to his knees, pulling her arrow out of his eye, then collapsing, could break her trance. Not even the Dark Iron commander yelling, pointing at them, ordering more of his men to attack them, broke Selena’s intense concentration. Without even a spoken word, she directed Hugin from one mark to another until the Dark Iron came close to her. She pulled out her staff, and fended off the Dwarf’s attacks, until Bjorn the bear leapt on him. Selena leaped backwards, dropped her staff and resumed her shooting until she reached for another arrow and her quiver was empty. There was one enemy left. Thorfin Stoneshield leapt onto his back, grabbed his head and with a great shout broke his neck.

All, suddenly, was quiet. The wind had stopped, and all they heard was the ringing of the last few shots in their ears. They looked round, to see everyone was upright. Hieronimo grinned at Selena, raised her arm. Selena slapped her hand.

Berrin walked up. “Anyone hurt?”

“I’m fine,” said Selena.

“Fell on my butt,” said Hieronimo. “Nothing hurt but me pride.”

“Where’s Mr. Cullan?” said Berrin.

Everybody looked round. Mr. Cullan was nowhere to be seen. Selena closed her eyes and cast her detection spells. Some fifty yards off, there was a strange, flickering speck of Light. Selena picked up her staff, and ran. She found Cullan curled up on the ground. He had drawn both his daggers, gripping them with white knuckles. He was making a strange, humming sound. His eyes were tightly shut. Selena kneeled by him, put her hand on his shoulder.

“Are you alright, Mr. Cullan?”

Cullan looked up, opened his eyes wide, and bared his teeth.

“Stay away from me!”

Selena leapt back, fell down on her bottom. Cullan’s eyes had changed. They had been normal, grey-blue. Now, they were completely blue, and they shone with a terrifying light. He went back to the strange humming Selena had heard before, almost… almost a melody. He rocked back and forth, not listening, not seeing.

Selena took a deep breath, meaning to scream. But then, Hieronimo, Berrin and Stoneshield came up. Cullan slowly stopped shaking and opened his eyes. Selena swallowed. They had returned to normal. She quickly looked at the faces of her fellow hunters. None of them had seen anything. Cullan put away his daggers, looked at his feet, then slowly got up.

“Well, Mr. Cullan,” said Stoneshield. “Ye certainly took it to heart when I said ‘stay out of trouble’. Not a fighter, are ye?”

“I am afraid not, Sir,” said Cullan, in an unsteady voice. “I find it most… most distressing.”

Selena stared. She wanted to scream at her companions. He’s got mad eyes! He’s not what he seems to be! He’s not… not Human! She gave Cullan a long, hard look. They’d think she’d gone mad. Please. Please. Let’s get to Menethil quickly, and we can ditch him.

X

“Rhag, ye big slacker! Can’t take care of a few wee Dark Irons?”

Rhag Garmason, one of the Dwarves behind the barrier when the Dark Iron Dwarves charged, slowly got up and walked up to Thorfin.

“Ye gods Stoneshield,” said Rhag. “Look who’s talking! Who’s the lazy git who’s livin’ it up in the big city? Great outdoors too uncomfortable for ye?”

“Don’t start,” said Thorfin. “I just got relegated to draggin’ these beginners around. Gettin’ paid for whipping them into shape.”

Rhag looked at Hieronimo, and grinned. “Well, at least one of them is pretty.”

Hieronimo gave Rhag a brilliant smile. “Ach, yer nice! So good of ye ta notice. I also saved yer hairy butt from those Dark Irons, by the way.”

“Pretty, and talented.”

Berrin coughed. “And too young for the kind o’ thing you have in mind.”

Rhag laughed. “Well come back in five years, lassie. I’ll show ye how to enjoy yerself!”

Thorfin Stoneshield gave him a nasty grin. “Aye. We know where to find ye. Right here, shootin’ at the poor wee Dark Irons.”

“It’s a noble cause,” said Rhag. “Don’t knock it.”


Cullan ran behind Mr. Stoneshield the Dwarf. So now, everybody thought he was a coward. He didn’t mind. He had only just managed to keep himself from Changing in the fight, and his True Form, he wanted to keep from being seen as long as he could. So far, it had brought him nothing but trouble. Admittedly, it had served to get him out of a tight spot or two, but without it, he would not have been in those tight spots in the first place. Just stay out of trouble, and he could settle down somewhere safe, perhaps find employ with a Stormwind lord who needed someone to run his house for him, and never Change again.

His eyes strayed to Lady Selena. She was avoiding his gaze, and always made sure she was at the other end of the group from him. She knew. How much she knew, Cullan could not say, but she must have seen something. What whould she think of it? Worgen were known only in Gilneas. Her imagination must be running wild, and there wasn’t a thing he could do about it. Perhaps it would be best if he would not be on the same ship to Stormwind as she. He looked at her again, just as she was looking in his direction. Lady Selena quickly looked forward. Her distrust stung him, though he could hardly blame her. The story about his pursuers was the flimsiest of lies, even though he had not actually said anything that was untrue. And now she was afraid of him, with good reason. Good people were dying because of him. Some kind of side-dish to the curse of this Beast that now dwelt within him, hiding just beneath his skin, waiting. As he ran, faces appeared to his mind’s eye. Desperate, angry, scared faces of those he had hurt. Men, who were simply doing their job, hunting someone they thought was a dangerous criminal. And now Lady Selena’s face, large blue eyes staring at him in fear of what he might do to her. Still, how could he reassure her? There was nothing he could say that she would believe.

Trust. That was the thing, now that he came to think of it, that he missed most. His Lord and Lady in Gilneas had trusted him implicitly. He could have, had, walked into Lady Jane’s bedroom after her morning bath, held up a towel for her, helped her select her clothes for the day, without looking at anything but her eyes. They had trusted him with their money, with the lives of their very children, and never in all those years had he done anything to break that trust.

It was early in the afternoon. The children, Michael and Joanne, would be coming home to lunch from school. Lady Jane made it a point always to make them their sandwiches herself, even though the maids could do it much quicker. So slices of bread, cheese, and chopped cucumber would be set in the morning room, and Lady Jane would assemble them. Watching her with the children more than made up for the trouble.

And then, on a simple errand to the dockyard for some fish, he had been attacked by a dog. It was a larger dog than usual, and not one of the Gilnean hunting hounds, but some kind of mongrel. A few good hard kicks had seen the creature off. The glancing bite seemed far less serious than the damage to his rather nice butler’s outfit. If only he had known. He’d put some tincture on the bite, wrapped it up in a bandage and gone about his duties. He had felt slightly nauseous, but dismissed the feeling from his mind as he had work to do. That night, he dreamt. Strange, unusual dreams, not simply images, but smells. Smells he had never encountered before, but instantly recognised. Blood. The sweat of prey, running from him. Fear. He’d dreamt of hunger. He had never been hungry in his dreams before, but now, the urge to feed was overwhelming. His territory was rich. Rich with creatures that borrowed their lives from him, walking round until he required their flesh, their heartbeat, to feed himself. He had taken them. Taken them all. Lady Jane had died pushing her children behind her, pleading with him not to hurt them. And then the children, too, had died. It had been so easy. His new claws, his new fangs, were the perfect tools for slaughter. Their bodies, still warm, limbs twitching though they were already dead. Food.

The music of the Ritual hit Cullan, like the blast of a hundred trumpets, playing in perfect unison. He stumbled as his shoulders hunched, and his hands closed in white-knuckled fists. Though he tried to keep silent, a small gasp escaped him. The Dwarf girl who ran next to him looked up, a worried look on her face.

“Are ye right, Mr. Cullan?”

Cullan took a deep breath, as the melody settled down in his mind. One more lie. It would make no difference.

“I’m quite alright, Ma’am. Thank you for asking.”


The small ship found its way to the docks in Menethil Harbour. The sail was let down, and the ship was made fast to the docks. Smitty stepped off the boat, and did a quick count to see if he’d left anyone behind. The sea-sick swordsman was on his knees. He would have wrapped his arms round the world if he could have. Paladin Nægling, once more in her blackened armour, put a hand on his shoulder and told him to buck up. Smitty waved at the Captain, and walked towards town, the swaying motion of the ship still lingering in his legs. He had exactly forty-eight hours to find Lady Selena, and get her on board. If he was later than that, the ship would sail, and they’d have to make their own way home.

They walked into the inn. Lady Selena of Caer Bannog had not been seen there for a week. She and her Dwarven companions had made for the Arathi Highlands, for further training and tests, so Smitty heaved a great sigh, and sent one of the men to inquire after horses. An hour later, they were all mounted and riding East along the road. As they rode, it started to rain.

X

Selena ran along the road to the West, making for Menethil Harbour, as fast as they could. ‘As fast as they could’ meant that they were taking turns using a Hunter’s skill called Aspect of the Pack. Hunters had many aspects, for various situations. Extra focus for shooting. Restoring themselves while in combat. Just what an Aspect actually was, was difficult to explain. They were named after animals, and you had to put your mind inside the mind of, say, a Hawk, or a Cheetah. The Aspect of the Pack they were using now, conjured up the image of a pack of wolves, following their leader, hot on a trail. Hieronimo was in front at the moment, putting wings on their feet, even for… Selena looked over her shoulder. Him. He was running along without any sign of tiring. Were simple household servants supposed to do that? Quartermaster back at the Caer was, as he put it, as tough as an old boot, but he used to be in the army. Where had this man trained? Where in Azeroth did they teach you knife-throwing? It started to rain. Typical.

“Your cloak, Lady?”

Selena jumped. Cullan was running next to her, with her nice green cloak in his hands. How’d he gotten hold of that? Selena sneered at him as she took it from him and pulled it on as she ran.

“You left it on the ground after the fight, Lady,” said Cullan. “I thought I’d bring it. You seemed to be otherwise occupied at the time.”

“Yeah,” said Selena. “Trying not to get killed. That sort of grabs you.” She gave Cullan a sidelong look. “Makes you forget about other things.”

“Quite,” said Cullan. “You are the last person I would like to see come to harm.”

Selena swallowed. “I… I don’t want to talk about it. Don’t even want to think about it.”

“As you wish, my Lady. This road to Menethil does seem to stretch on, doesn’t it? How long would you guess we still have to run?”

“Miles,” said Selena. “Miles and miles of wet swamp. Filled with Lightless crocolisks.”

“I…” Cullan looked round. “That is most disconcerting, Lady. I hear a Crocolisk is one of the few animals that can devour a Human whole.”

Selena simply nodded, not daring herself to speak. The words ‘get rid of the body’ rolled round in her head.

There was a shout from Thorfin Stoneshield. “Oi! Caerbannog! Your turn to run point!”

“Thank you, Sir!” Selena ran to the front of the group, concentrated and assumed the aspect of a wolf. With its tail between its legs, and something very nasty behind it.

X

Smitty’s horse ran along the road to the East, heading for Arathi. The obvious place to make for was Refuge Pointe, the military camp right in the middle of the Arathi Highlands. The Sun briefly showed herself behind the clouds, already high in the sky. It’d be doubtful if he’d make it, and back again, before the ship sailed. Smitty hoped Lady Selena would be on this road, heading back to Menethil. He wanted this mission to be over, quickly. The rain clattered on his helm, and he imagined it starting to rust already. He looked round. Sister Nægling was riding next to him. The rest of the soldiers rode behind, resigned expressions on their faces. Nægling suddenly sat up straight, looking round with more than her eyesight. She frowned, as though she’d seen something she didn’t like.

“Is anything the matter, Sister?”

Nægling didn’t answer immediately. “I don’t know. I think I… smelt, or sensed something. Something ugly. But it’s gone now, and I can’t be sure what it was.”

“What do you think it was?”

Nægling shook her head. “Something that is against the Light. An uncomfortable feeling. I can’t be more specific.”

“Hmm. Well, let’s be watchful, then.”

“By your command,” said Nægling.

X

Selena ran, trying not to think. Running was wonderful. Just making her legs move fast, feet splashing in puddles, eating up the miles, getting to Menethil. Menethil was civilisation. Menethil was other people. Menethil was safe. Safe from this madman, who was planning to kill her and feed her dead body to the crocolisks, before anyone could realise. None of her friends knew. Knew what this harmless-looking coward was really capable of. He’d kill them all if he had to, and get away with it too. She couldn’t warn them, they’d think she was mad! And if she tried, he’d make his move. Throw his knives at her. Laugh as she lay there, bleeding to death. Drag her over into the swamp, never to be seen again. If only she could get to Menethil before…

“Look out!” There was a great shout from Berrin.

A sudden, foul stench hit Selena’s nose, made her retch. She stumbled to a halt, dazed. She looked round blearily, took a deep breath and screamed. All round her, things moved. Dead bodies, rotting flesh hanging on to bare bones. Swords were in their hands. There were dozens of them, moving towards them, lurching, crawling.

“Forsaken!” Thorfin Stoneshield sent his raptor into the group of undead. His fists battered any of the enemy that came close to him. “Attack! Attack! For Khaz Modan!”

Selena shook herself. The enemies were already too close for shooting it would be hand to hand all the way must not get hit defend evade Aspect of the Monkey! She thought of the agile, fluid motions of the monkey as it fought, rolled with every punch, always jumped up again, laughing.

“Go for the necks!” Berrin yelled, brandishing his axe as Evert squealed,charging into the enemies.

Hieronimo’s bear Bjorn roared, swiped at the enemies with his big claws. He seemed to have grown, and in his anger, he was frightening to see. It made Selena feel glad to have him on their side. Selena rolled to the ground, dodging the sword of one of the skeletons, then was on her feet again and in the same movement struck out, fast at the enemy’s neck. The iron shodding of her staff crunched into the vertebrae, and the un-creature’s head sagged. Something moved behind her. She ducked again, and the sword-stroke aimed for her mid-section glanced off the longbow on her back, snapping it in two. Selena screamed, and Hugin fell from the sky, tearing at her enemy, ripping it to pieces. Another one raised its sword, slashed down at her. She could feel it snagging at her clothes as she rolled out of the way, once, twice, then leapt to her feet, struck out at the bare bones of its wrist, breaking it. The sword fell to the ground.

“Up the hill! Get them in front of us!”

Selena ran with her fellow hunters, up the hill next to the road. There, on the high ground, they turned round to face their attackers. Selena gasped for breath. Only four of them, and their pets. There were at least fifty Undead, crawling, creeping towards them. Evil lights burnt in their empty eye-sockets. Selena raised her staff, and screamed at them, yelling defiance to keep her heart from breaking.

“Die! Die, you monsters!”

X

“Undead!”

Smitty looked at Nægling. Her face had changed. Her eyes burnt with a fiery glow. Her hand went to her two-handed sword, and with a swish, she drew it, and spurred on her horse. A pure, blinding white light shone from Nægling’s body as she galopped ahead. Smitty kicked his horse, drew his own sword.

“Attack!”

All the men charged forward, but nobody even came close to overtaking Nægling. Like a lightning bolt, she sped towards a writhing mass of bodies. Smitty looked up at what they were making for. He took a quick breath, seeing a mane of straw-blonde hair. Selena was fighting off the Undead, her bird tearing into them, beak and talon.

“Up the hill! Protect lady Selena!”

The soldiers turned their horses, and charged forward.

X

A little way away, on a hill, sun in his back, Cuchullainn stood. His blue gleaming eyes watched the carnage below, and one of his throwing knives was in his hand. The Lady, kind bringer of food, must not be harmed, but he must not be seen. The edge of his knife was sticky with poison. The vermin below were not worth hunting. Their flesh was rotten, and he’d vomit it out if he ate it. One of them approached the Lady from behind. Cuchullainn raised his arm, threw the knife. Cuchullainn never missed. The creature twitched, poison burning it from within. It was not the way of the Beast, to fight like this, but he must not be seen. The Lady would not understand.

Cuchullainn’s eyes turned to the newcomers. Simple. Brutes. No subtlety to their fighting. Still, they killed. Good. One of them, he watched with more interest. The shining one. The angry one. A grin appeared on Cuchullainn’s large jaws. A Beast dwelt within her as well, though she had no True Form. It raised his heart to see her in her slaughter, and he wished he could be with her.

Another enemy approached the Lady. He wanted to tear it to bits with claws and steel, but he could not. No matter. His blade would come to them.

X

The last of them fell. The sound of steel on steel, steel on bone, screams, fell silent. Nægling pulled off her helm and dropped it. She drove the tip of her sword into the ground, and kneeled, hands on the hilt, her head bowed in a prayer of thanks. Smitty looked round.

“Everybody alright?”

Slowly, Dwarves and Humans moved up, checking their arms and legs and heads to see if they were still there. Some of them looked like they’d need bandages, but nobody seemed to be irrepairably harmed.

“Right,” said Smitty, turning round. And that was all he said for a while as a young woman came hurtling towards him, blonde hair flying in the wind, and nearly knocked him over as she wrapped her arms round him. head against his chest. She sobbed.

“Joseph… I’m so glad to see you.”

Smitty looked down on Selena’s face, and she opened her eyes, looking up at him.

“Um…”

Selena closed her eyes and put her cheek on his shoulder.

“I know, right? Just… Just hold me for a while.” She sniffed. “I can make that an order if you like.”

Smitty took a deep breath, and put his arms round Selena’s shoulders. Nægling came walking up, helm under an arm, cleaning the filth off her sword. Was there such a thing as an Aura of Amusement? Bloody pallies.

Soldiers were picking through the piles of bodies, looking for loot. Some of the undead had been carrying nice swords, which were gratefully accepted.

“Hey, look at this!”

The pike-wielding woman had levered up one of the Undead, and pulled out a throwing knife.

“Do we have a shooter in the party?”

“Careful with that,” said another soldier. “There’s a reason why he only had to hit ’em once.”

“Yechh,” said the pike woman, dropping the knife. “Rogues?”

Selena looked up. She didn’t want to say it, but she had to.

“That’s one of Cullan’s knives.”

Smitty let go of her, and raised his eyebrows.

“Who’s Cullan?”

“He followed us here,” said Selena.

“Well, Lady,” said one of the soldiers, “He did drop a few of those corpses for you. Better see if he’s alright.”

Smitty looked at the Sun. “We cannot wait too long, though. We need to make it to the boat in time.”

“Boat?” said Selena. “What boat?”

“We have been attacked, Lady,” said Smitty. “Sir Gerrig wishes you to come home to the safety of the castle. With the death of the Lich King, these lands have become more dangerous.”

“But… I haven’t finished my training yet!”

Thorfin Stoneshield snorted. “Nobody ever finishes their training, lad. Until they die.”

“A ship is waiting to take us to Stormwind,” said Smitty. “I can offer anyone here passage, if they want. If we’re quick enough.”

Nægling put her helm back on, and sheathed her sword. “What about Mr. Cullan, though? He may have run into trouble with more Undead.”

Leave him, Selena wanted to say, but she couldn’t.

“We’ve got horses enough for everyone,” said Smitty, “if a few of the lighter people share.”

“I can go and find Mr. Cullan,” said Nægling. “And make it to Menethil in time. I can give up my horse, as I have my own. These Undead do not frighten me. If I am late for the boat, I can travel back to the castle on my own.”

“Very well, Sister Nægling. Good hunting, and thank you. Everybody else, find a horse. We haven’t much time.”

They rode off. Lady Selena had said nothing, but jumped up behind Smitty before he could have said anything. Smitty sighed. What would he have said, anyway?

X

It didn’t take Nægling long. She found a dark-haired man sitting on a small hill, watching her as she came up. He nodded at her.

“Good afternoon, Ma’am.”

“Greetings. Mr. Cullan, I presume?”

“Indeed.”

“Are you hurt?”

“No Ma’am. I am quite alright. Allow me to compliment you on your fighting. It was most impressive.”

“Thank you. Why did you not come down when the battle was over?”

Cullan sighed. “I believe Lady Selena has all the company she needs. She does not require mine. In fact, I believe she will be happier without it.”

Nægling looked at Cullan’s face, polite, calm.

“Why would this be so?”

Cullan looked out over the Wetlands. The Sun had come out, and shone on still pools of water. He looked back at Nægling.

“Could I persuade you to tell Lady Selena that you arrived here only to find my dead body?”

“That would be a lie,” said Nægling. “I am not in the habit of lying to my fellow adventurers.”

Cullan’s eyes gleamed at her. “Not even in a good cause?”

“Not even then. Why would you want me to?”

Cullan looked at his feet. It was so delightfully quiet here. Nothing to hear except the slight rush of the wind and the chiming of the melody in his mind.

“Lady Selena suspects me of… unkind intentions towards her. Unwarranted, I assure you, but nonetheless, the air is not clear.”

Nægling’s eyes looked into Cullan’s. “Your knives struck mostly those Undead that were close to Lady Selena.”

“Yes.”

“Surely, she will appreciate that?”

“Maybe,” said Cullan. “But her suspicions run deeper than that.”

“What is it, that arouses these suspicions? Your weapons are those of a Rogue. Are there evil deeds in your past, that Lady Selena knows about?”

Cullan said nothing.

“Mr. Cullan, several Rogues are friends of mine. You do not strike me as an evil man. Will you come with me, to Menethil and Stormwind?”

“What if I do not want to?”

“Then I will leave alone, and report such to Lieutenant Smith.” Nægling looked round. “These lands are not safe, though. You may come to grief trying to travel on your own.”

“A true word, Ma’am.”

“Shall we travel to Menethil together, at least? We may profit from each other’s protection.”

Cullan laughed. “Ma’am, I am a coward, and no good in a fight, as any of my companions will tell you. You may be coming off worst in the exchange.”

“You may surprise yourself yet, Mr. Cullan.”

Cullan got to his feet, brushed the dirt off his trousers.

“Very well, then. Lead on, and if by life or death I can help you, I will.”

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: