Shapeshifters should stick together

Ariciel woke up with a splitting headache, annoyed with herself for allowing someone to cheap-shot her like that. Frankly, she was lucky to be waking up at all. She took stock of her surroundings. A wooden bench to lie on, softwood of course, for comfort. Iron bars all round. Stone floor. She sat up, winced and applied some healing magic to the back of her head. She got up on her feet and examined the door. It was clearly designed to keep humans in. Significantly, not bears. She could probably bash it open in one or two goes. There was a noise outside, and a man walked in, took one look at her and walked out again. A few minutes later, a woman came through the door. Human, long yellow blonde curly hair, confident look in her grey eyes. She was wearing copper armour, well kept but not buffed to a shine. A shortsword was on her left hip, a truncheon on her right. In short, she was a guard.

“Well then, what have we here?”

Ariciel said nothing, but moved forward.

“Mind the bars, they’re iron.”

Ariciel cleared her throat, and found her voice.

“And nice and solid they are too,” she said, shaking them.

The guard raised her eyebrows.

“Iron doesn’t bother you? You’re an… Elf, aren’t you?” She pronounced the word as though Elves were something you didn’t want to find floating in your soup.

Ariciel sighed. “It’s the ears, isn’t it? Always a dead giveaway.”

“Indeed. Why are you here?”

Ariciel scowled. “Some bastard hit my head from behind. Somebody probably carried me here.”

“Why are you in Ankh-Morpork?”

“Not by choice, I assure you. Bloody portal failed again.”

“Portal.”

“Somebody was supposed to portal me to Stormwind. I ended up here instead.”

The blonde woman looked at Ariciel, then seemed to classify that remark as delusion rather than deception.

“That is unfortunate. People here don’t take kindly to Elves.”

Ariciel rubbed the back of her head.

“You don’t say.”

“You’re lucky to be alive,” said the guard. “Please consider your presence here to be protective custody.”

Without another word, the woman turned round and left, leaving Ariciel to wonder. A dark look was on Ariciel’s face.

They are lucky to be alive,” she said.


The fat guard came in, carrying a tray of food. Ariciel watched him from the shadows she had wrapped round her to hide herself. The man saw the empty cell, took a breath and carefully put the tray on the floor. He walked towards the iron bars, a suspicious look on his face. He stopped well out of arm’s reach. That’s it, my friend. Open the door. I’m not here anymore. And then, since the cell is empty anyway, leave the door open.

The guard grunted, turned round and and left. Ariciel scowled. They weren’t supposed to do that. Oh well. Just wait. Someone would open that door, and then…

The blonde guard walked in, an angry look on her face. Ariciel watched her, as her gaze swept over her without seeing. Then, the woman took a deep breath, turning her head slowly.

“I know you’re still here,” she said, “I can smell you.” She reached into her pocket, and her arm shot forward. A copper coin sailed clean between the bars, spinning, towards Ariciel. She broke her stealth and caught it.

“You were supposed to come in and look under the bed,” said Ariciel, flipping the coin into the air and catching it.

“Someone tried that already,” said the guard. “He made it all the way to the top of the stairs, and then fell all the way down again.”

“Oh? What happened?”

“Me. We don’t like our guests to wander off by themselves. Please don’t try that again.”

Ariciel walked all the way to the bars. Her face nearly touched them.

“I’m running out of subtle ways to get out of here. What are you planning to do with me?”

“Honestly? We don’t know. If we just let you go, the mob outside will tear you to shreds. They’re already outside the station, demanding your blood. Elves aren’t very popular here. They gave us a lot of grief a while back.”

“Must be Blood-elves. I’m a Night-elf. We don’t give grief. We’re either nice to you or you die.”

“I’m sure the lynch mob outside will give you all the time you need to explain that,” said the guard. “Sit tight. Don’t try to escape. We will decide what to do.” She turned round to leave.

“Wait,” said Ariciel. “What’s your name?”

The woman looked over her shoulder, turned back towards the Elf.

“My name is Angua, but you can call me Sergeant.”

“I’m Ariciel, and you can call me Ariciel, Sergeant Angua.”

“I’ll tell your name to the Captain,” said Angua, “But I don’t think it’ll mean much to us Humans.”

Ariciel smiled. “You’re not quite Human, are you?”

“I’m not? What makes you say that?”

“Not many Humans could spot me when I use my Shadowmeld. My love, he could, because he knows me and knows where I might hide. But you. You sniffed me out. Humans use their eyes, not their noses. Also, no Human moves the way you do, like a hunting animal, quiet, deadly, unless they are hunters, or assassins, or… something more than Human.” Ariciel grinned. “Very sexy, actually.”

“If that is what you think, then consider what it’s likely to cost you if you cross me. The Commander and the Captain are discussing what to do with you. I will be back.”

She pushed the tray of food to where Ariciel could reach it, turned round and left.


Sergeant Angua returned about an hour later. saw Ariciel sitting on her knees, meditating in the middle of the cell, pulled out her truncheon and knocked on the bars with a satisfyingly loud clang. She returned the truncheon to her belt. Ariciel opened her eyes, and the light within shone at the Sergeant in a mildly reproachful way.

“You said you came here by magic,” said Angua.

“Yes.”

“Can you magic yourself away?”

“I tried. I can’t feel my home from here. I need a portal mage.”

“That’s what we thought. We will bring you to the Wizards at Unseen University, and they will try to sort you out.”

Ariciel sighed. So they did have mages here. If they were worth the name, then she could go home.

“Thank you, Sergeant.”

“Don’t thank me yet. One of the wizards said it would be an interesting experiment.”

“Trust me, this time I’ll look before stepping through.” Ariciel rubbed her cheek. “Could you hand me my pack?”

“No. We may want to help you out, but that doesn’t mean we’re friends. I’m not about to hand you anything you can use as a weapon.”

Ariciel looked into Sergeant Angua’s eyes, slowly taking a deep breath. There was a small noise in one of the shady corners of the next cell. Rats! No prison is complete without them. Ariciel turned round, raised a fist in the air and brought it down with vicious speed. A bright white shaft of light appeared, and there was a rush of air followed by a brief noise as it smashed into the rat. Ariciel turned back to the Sergeant, who removed her hand from her truncheon, and crossed her arms. Ariciel’s voice was even.

“Now considering that crispy rat could have been you, exactly what kind of weapon are you worried that I might produce from my pack? In that pack, as you have no doubt found, are a clean set of clothes and a cloak with a hood, to cover the ears.” Ariciel pointed at the food tray. “Also, there’s a bag of decent tea in there. You use about as much of it per cup as fits in the palm of your hand, and if you go anywhere near it with milk, the Gods will strike you down.”

Sergeant Angua studied Ariciel’s alien face, pale, with undertones of purple, curved tattoos running from her forehead, over her luminous eyes, to the corners of her mouth. Angua didn’t do anything as overt as smile or chuckle, but an aura of amusement seemed to grow about her.

“I’ll see what I can do.”

Just as she turned round to leave, the door at the top of the stairs opened, and someone walked in. Ariciel’s ears perked up. It was a rather tall someone, though he walked in a strange hunch. His armour gleamed as though it had just been delivered by the armoursmith. Ariciel could see the telltale small scratches that indicated regular use. The face could be called ruggedly handsome. He had that air about him that Ariciel had observed often in the very strong, who do not actually need to prove exactly how strong they are. People were as pleasant to him as he was to them, because unpleasantness would be unevenly divided. His shoulders were broad, well muscled. His reddish hair was cropped very short. His eyes involuntarily strayed, for the briefest of moments, to Sergeant Angua. Ariciel was just in time to catch the look the Sergeant gave the man. Ariciel grinned.

“Oh Sergeant, I do approve of your taste in men.”

Sergeant Angua feigned innocence.

“Do you?”

Ariciel turned her best mischievous grin on the newcomer.

“Oh definitely. If I knew he would be coming after me, I’d run away from this place like the wind. Not a very fast wind, mind.”

The man looked at Ariciel with a single frown line on his forehead.

“Even if I weren’t with someone already, Ma’am, I very much doubt I would ever want to involve myself personally with someone I would need to arrest. It would be unethical.”

Ariciel’s eyes wrinkled, and she bit her lip.

“I know. I’m just winding up your girlfriend.”

“I’d much prefer you not to, Ma’am. She has gone two hundred and eight days without causing bodily harm to any of our guests. I would not like her to spoil such an impressive record.”

Ariciel looked into the man’s face. That was a threat. And still, she got the distinct impression that he meant what he said. She looked into his eyes, and was convinced he did. She simply could not help grinning, and if Captain Carrot were the kind of man to keep track of his admirers, he might have carved another notch in whatever he used for the purpose. Ariciel glanced at Sergeant Angua, who was studying her fingernails. She looked up at Ariciel with steel in her eyes.

“My name is Captain Carrot Ironfoundersson, and the Sergeant and I will take you safely to Mr. Ponder Stibbons of Unseen University, who will attempt to send you home. How safe that will be, I cannot say. We leave in about an hour. I suggest you prepare yourself.”

Ariciel nodded quietly.

“Can I have my armour back? If the people outside are as hostile to anything Elf-shaped as the Sergeant says they are, then I may need the protection.”

“I don’t see a problem with that. Sergeant?”

Sergeant Angua looked at Captain Carrot.

“Aye.”

She left, to return a few moments later with Ariciel’s backpack and her leather armour. Chestpiece, legs, bracers, gauntlets. Ariciel sighed as she pulled the straps tight. Ready to face the world. Angua was still there. She put Ariciel’s staff against the wall.

“Could I have a cup of boiling water? You can have some as well. It’s honey mint.”

Sergeant Angua gave her a weary look.

“Don’t push it, Elf.”

She turned on her heels and left.


“Come on, let’s go,” said Sergeant Angua. She opened the cell door and walked up the stairs.

Ariciel grabbed her staff in passing and glanced with appreciation at the Sergeant’s legs as she walked up the stairs ahead of her. They stepped into the main hall. Guards of all shapes and sizes stopped doing what they were doing and watched Ariciel with the well-practiced lack of interest of all guards throughout the Universe. I see you’re here, the looks said. I don’t have to care that you’re here. I prefer not caring you’re here, so kindly don’t make me have to care.

“Cover up those ears,” said Sergeant Angua. She turned to one of the guards. “All clear?”

“Yes, Sergeant. The alleyway is empty, so that you may take the heathen back to the unclean places from which she was spawned, there to languish forever under the crushing heel of Om. Permission to give her these pamphlets, Sergeant?”

“That’ll do Visit. Follow me, Ma’am.”

Sergeant Angua led Ariciel down the empty alleyway.

“I wasn’t spawned in any unclean place,” said Ariciel, “We kept the place lovely and clean.”

Angua sighed. “He’s an Omnian. They say things like that. Left here.”

“Oh, one of those religions. Humans are pretty good at pointing out that you’re Not Like Them, aren’t they?”

Angua looked aside at Ariciel, and said nothing. They walked down a street that had a few people in it, none of whom gave them a second look.

“So where’s your boyfriend? I was hoping he’d come along.”

“How do you know who my boyfriend is?”

Ariciel snorted. “Eyes in my head? Pheromones sloshing all over the place?”

“And what makes you think it’s any of your concern?”

Ariciel looked at the Sergeant from under her hood. “Nothing. I like to see happy people. My boyfriend is Human. He’s about the same shape as yours. And size.”

“That’s nice. Wait.”

The Sergeant quickly scanned the street ahead of them, seemed to think it was safe and set off again. She walked at an easy pace, looking only at the places where she wanted to go. Occasionally, her eyes would flicker to a place where something was different from the usual. A Human or Dwarf who looked out of place. A strange smell. Sounds that didn’t fit in. People glanced at her. She was quite something to look at, after all. But nobody looked for long. Something about her, perhaps the uniform, perhaps some undefinable undertone of menace, made them look away and get on with what they were doing. Ariciel walked a half step behind the Sergeant, studying her. Usually, she could spot magic users easily, especially if they were well rested and their magical reserves were full. Sergeant Angua didn’t show any of the signs, but still there was the tiniest shimmer of unreality about her. It couldn’t be any of the whoosh-bang kind of magic that mages could do. Ariciel looked at the Sergeant’s face. She looked supremely confident, the kind of confidence that comes from knowing that if all else fails, you can fight, and win, and kill. There was no way of knowing for certain, of course, but Ariciel had the impression that the Sergeant had killed, and not just for meat. Sergeant Angua looked round to Ariciel. Ariciel held her gaze for a brief moment, then looked away.

“Stay close. We have to cross this square. You can see the Tower of Arts from here. That’s where we’re going.”

“Right.”

Ariciel pulled her hood further over her face, and kept pace with Sergeant Angua. It had been a while since she had seen so many Humans in one place. This city reminded her of Stormwind, the Human city in the Eastern Kingdoms, except that Stormwind was very much cleaner than this place. Ankh-Morpork stank of too many people living too close together. It was an organically grown city, starting out with maybe a temple, an inn, and two houses, and then slowly growing into a sprawl of people with streets too small to carry all the goods these people required, and the waste they produced. By then, of course, it was too late to knock down the rotting heart of the city and rebuild it with proper size streets, because Humans always fall in love with the place where they lived, nasty though it might be.

Instead of walking straight across the square, Sergeant Angua led them along the edge, keeping a sharp eye out for anyone who might spot her companion for what she was. Ariciel’s staff tapped on the cobblestones in a regular rhythm. They made it half way round the square, and Sergeant Angua picked up the pace to put as much space as possible between them and the mass of civilians behind them.

There wasn’t any warning. As they passed the door to a tavern, someone was ejected with some force, and blundered straight into Ariciel’s path. Ariciel leapt backwards, staff raised, and her hood fell down, revealing her white hair, and long ears. The unwelcome tavern guest looked up at her, stared.

“Elf! Elf! There’s an Elf here!”

Sergeant Angua leapt at Ariciel, grabbed her arm and pulled her back into the wall. Humans, Dwarfs and large lumbering individuals poured out of the tavern. Sergeant Angua glared at the mob. Her hand was on the hilt of her sword. No time for half-measures.

“That was unfortunate,” said Sergeant Angua.

“Sorry.”

They were surrounded. The people waited, jeered, happy for someone else to take the first hit. They knew about the Sergeant. The first hit was likely to be fatal. Go on, my friend, you can take her.

Ariciel’s eyes scanned the faces in front of her. She could smell the blood-thirst, mixed with the fear, and wondered briefly just what any Elves could have done here for them to be so unpopular. There were many people, at least eighty or a hundred, but none of them had any armour. They looked like the kind of people who would carry knives, fist weapons, but no worse. The big golems, stone-creatures or what were they, would probably be the biggest threat.

“I may have some trouble protecting you from this many,” said Sergeant Angua.

Ariciel’s gaze swept over the faces, angry faces, frightened faces. No blows had been struck yet. She could simply shape-shift into her bird form and fly away, leaving the Sergeant to deal with the Humans. She looked at Sergeant Angua, who was glaring round, staring down a big crowd all on her own. If she was scared, and this was a scary situation so it would be madness not to be scared, she hid it very well. Nothing could have persuaded Ariciel to leave her on her own here. In her little fighting force, consisting of herself, her boyfriend, and a few others, it was her task to keep the others safe by drawing attention to herself. These people were civilians. Ariciel had faced dragons.

“I’m a fighter,” said Ariciel. “Apart from those big things, I don’t think there’s anyone there who could hurt me.”

“They got you when we carried you in,” said the Sergeant.

“That was after a thirty foot fall, when I was expecting to turn up in the mage tower in Stormwind.”

“So what are you thinking of doing? Blast through them?” Angua glanced at Ariciel’s face. “I am sworn to protect these people, despite the present situation.”

Ariciel grinned. Life was about to get interesting.

“If I could persuade them for a few minutes that discretion is the better part of valour, could you get us out of here?”

“Certainly. Go down that alley over there, take a sharp right, then up the stairs and onto the roof. There’s an old pigeon roost where we can hide provided nobody follows us.”

“Right. Pulling.”

Ariciel took a step forward, and raised her fists into the air, holding her staff aloft. She cried out loud, words in her own language, a war-cry that had meant death and suffering for the enemies of the Kel’dorei for ages immemorial.

“Tor ilisar’thera’nal!”

Dark clouds gathered above Ariciel’s raised fists and lightning struck down. Several startled Humans leapt back with hair standing up straight. Ariciel cried out again, wordless syllables of destruction, a song of pain. She bent down, and her cry lowered in pitch, then turned into a roar that echoed against the old stones of the streets of Ankh-Morpork. Before they could blink, in front of the mob stood a monstrously large bear, fangs bared, claws gouging great furrows into the street. It took a deep breath, and gave a deafening roar. Then, it charged. Bodies of stunned Dwarfs and Humans were thrown left and right as Bear-Ariciel ran through them. Nobody even thought of striking her. People ran. Ariciel ran straight at the alley that Sergeant Angua had indicated, and down it. At the end of the alley, she waited. Angua came running up, sword out. Nobody followed her. After all, it was the Guards’ job to take care of things like this. Ariciel dropped her bear form. Sergeant Angua ran past her, and led her to the pigeon roost she’d mentioned. They slammed the flimsy door shut behind them and listened for anyone following. Nothing but the remote cries of running people.

Ariciel raised her arms in the air, threw her head back and laughed. With glowing eyes, she grabbed Sergeant Angua’s shoulders, pulled her close and kissed her. The Sergeant stared at her, her mouth hanging open. Ariciel laughed again.

“I’m sorry, but you looked too beautiful not to. Hah! Don’t mess with the Druids! Straight through the madding crowds and out to safety. And nothing on the civvies except a few bumps and bruises and a singed eyebrow here and there. We rule!”

Sergeant Angua wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. She glared at Ariciel. “Don’t do that again.” She paused, looking at Ariciel. “What are you? The Elves I know can’t do what you just did. Are you some kind of were-bear or something?”

Ariciel chuckled, leftover adrenalin still sloshing through her veins. “I am a feral Druid of the Cenarion Circle. I am a servant of Cenarius, son of Elune, from whose spirit my powers come. I just showed you my Dire Bear form, and a bit of firework for extra drama.” She bared her teeth in a wild grin. “Animal shapes. It’s what we do.”

Angua nodded slowly. “You don’t belong here.”

“You’re right. I really don’t. So, Sergeant. What are you then? You look Human enough, but there’s more about you. I showed you mine. Show me yours.”

Angua looked at Ariciel, took a deep breath.

“I’m a werewolf. Every month, at the full moon, I turn into a wolf until the next morning.” Angua’s grey eyes fixed Ariciel’s. “Do feel free to joke about bitches. I assure you I have never heard that before.”

“Don’t worry. I did all my bitching at one of my friends. She has a wolf shape. So can you shape-shift at any time or do you need the full moon?”

“I only have to when the moon is full.” Angua sighed. “I usually find a private place. People here get uncomfortable around people who can rip their throat out.”

“Strange, that. Still, it should get you some respect as a guard.”

Angua stared in the middle distance.

“It does. Keeps the Humans at a distance.”

“Well, except for the Captain, of course.”

“He’s special.”

Ariciel grinned. “Indeed. So what do we do now?”

Angua looked at the sky through a small, filth-encrusted window.

“It’ll be dark soon. When it is, we’ll make a run for it.”

Ariciel nodded. She looked round for a place that wasn’t covered in the pigeons’ product. She solved the problem by ripping out one of the shelves, turning it over and putting it back. She sat down. Angua looked at her a moment, then sat down next to her. Ariciel rummaged in her pack, went “Ah” and pulled out some dried meat. She offered a piece to Angua, who shook her head.

“I don’t eat meat. Not in this shape, anyway.”

“You’re a vegetarian wolf? What gives?”

Angua closed her eyes and leant her head against the wall.

“Meat wakes up my hunting instincts. Not a good idea in a city.”

Ariciel reached into her pack again.

“Got some crusty flatbread. Want some of that?”

“Don’t worry. I’m not hungry.”

Ariciel looked at Angua’s face, chewing the tough dried meat she carried for use on journeys.

“Wolves are apex predators.”

“Yes.”

“Do you hunt at all?”

“Not if I can help it. I catch the occasional chicken from a farm.”

“Why not? You can run out of town, can’t you?”

“Trying to give it up.”

Ariciel said nothing for a while. Angua’s face was quiet, beautiful, in perfect repose.

“You’re pushing away part of who you are.”

Angua said nothing.

“Why?”

Angua opened her eyes, looked at the Elf.

“I live among Humans, Dwarfs.”

“Yes?”

“Guess what the traditional prey is of a werewolf.”

Ariciel took a breath.

“Ah.”

“So yes. I could start out catching the occasional deer. Maybe a wild boar. They’re a bit more difficult. Still, not quite as difficult or challenging as…” She fell silent.

“And the fact that Humans and Dwarfs have weapons only makes the hunt more interesting. More rewarding.”

“Quite.”

“But still, you like Humans.” Ariciel smiled. “Well, one of them at least. So you can’t leave.”

Angua closed her eyes again. Leant back.

“Yes.”

“If you left, would he follow you?”

“I won’t leave.”

Ariciel put the rest of her meat back in her pack, and stared at the floor.

“I can understand why. I wouldn’t leave my Human for anything. At least I don’t have an instinct to hunt Humans.”

Ariciel looked at Angua. Her hands lay in her lap, her legs were stretched out in front of her. Power at rest.

“Is he worth it?”

For the first time since they’d met, Angua smiled.

“Yes.”


Sergeant Angua shuddered, looked up at the small window. Night was coming on, and soon the moon would rise. She looked at the Night-elf who was sitting next to her, eyes closed, hands in her lap, deep in meditation, just like she’d done back in the cell. She looked peaceful, quiet, even though she was far, far away from home, hiding from people who would kill her if they found her. Angua tried to imagine what she would look like in a forest. Invisible, most likely. To hunt her there, in her element, or even simply to see her move, would be a thing to remember. Angua turned her head away. Even talking about hunting made her uneasy, especially at this time of the month. Just another hour or so, and she would change. Better wake up the Elf.

She reached out, and gently touched Ariciel’s shoulder. The creature opened her eyes, looked at her, smiled.

“Time to go.”

Ariciel nodded.

“Only one thing,” said Angua. She pointed up. “It’s about an hour away from full moon. I’ll have to change here first, or I’ll turn at some inconvenient time underway.”

“Right. So I get to see your wolf shape.”

“I’m afraid so.”

Angua undid the straps to her breastplate, and put it up against the wall. She’d have to come back later and pick it up. She wondered idly how many little heaps of clothing she’d left over all the city, and whether she’d remember them all. She was just about to pull off her leather jerkin, when she noticed that Elf standing a few steps away, arms crossed, an annoying little smile on her painted face.

“Do you mind?”

“Not in the least,” said Ariciel, with a grin.

“My clothes don’t change with me. That’s why I’m taking them off. I’ll have to come back here later.”

“Mine do,” said the Elf. “I can carry yours if you want.”

“Thanks,” said Angua. She looked at the Elf, until she laughed and turned her eyes away.

Angua quickly dropped out of her clothes, folded them up and strapped them to her breastplate. She handed them to the Elf. At least the creature had the decency to look into her eyes. Angua took a deep breath, and thought of the Moon. She’d once described the feeling as a full body sneeze. She breathed out, then in again. The world turned to shades of grey. Colour was replaced with smell. It was such a shame that the smell was that of years and years of pigeon droppings. She watched Ariciel put her bundle of clothes in her pack, and sling it on her back. Angua sniffed. Nobody outside. She scratched at the door, looking at Ariciel. The Elf caught on, and opened it. Angua hopped out, and started down the stairs.

“Wait,” said Ariciel.

Angua looked round. As she watched, Ariciel closed her eyes, let her magic flow. In the blink of an eye, where Ariciel had been, there now was a grey panther. Angua shook her head. Of course, it had to be a cat. She ran off, with Ariciel in tow.

“[Wolf-Angua]?”

Angua blinked. She looked round at the panther. She’d spoken. Just a single noise, hardly a word, even. Still, Angua knew it meant her. She paused.

“[Cat-Ariciel] has [Passing-unseen], to hide. But it is slower.”

Angua gave a little bark, to show she’d understood. She ran on.


They arrived at the gates without further mishap. Ariciel knocked on the door with her staff. A Mage opened it, and looked her up and down.

“No women are allowed here,” said the mage. He started to close the door, but Ariciel put her staff in the door opening.

“I have an appointment with a Mr. Ponder Stibbons.”

“Huh. It’s against University rules to receive young ladies on the premises.”

“That’s alright. He’s not receiving me, he’s supposed to be sending me.”

The mage scowled, then grudgingly opened the door and let Ariciel in, followed by Wolf-Angua. He pointed, his beard bristling.

“Women are allowed in only by the greatest of exceptions. Dogs are out of the question!”

Ariciel reached out, and put a finger underneath the mage’s chin, making him look up at her.

“That is Sergeant Angua of the City Watch. She needs a few moments in privacy to change.”

“And why would I-”

Ariciel turned a brilliant smile onto the mage.

“Sergeant Angua, in her Human form, has long, wild, golden blonde hair, and a perfectly sculpted, athletic, muscular body, the proportions of which are so perfect, that they reduce even me to mindless staring.”

There was a low growl somewhere by Ariciel’s thigh. Ariciel ignored it. The mage stared at Ariciel, glanced down at the dog.

“Her clothes are in my pack.” Ariciel grinned. “Would you like her to put them on here in the hall, or would you like to show her to a little room where she can change without haunting your dreams for the next few months?”

The mage blinked. He looked at Ariciel’s face, then at Angua, then back at Ariciel. He swallowed.

“She would, you know,” said Ariciel. “She is very very beautiful.”

“Through here, Lady.”

Angua came walking out of the room, pulling on her sword belt. She shot Ariciel a filthy look.

“Well, you’re here. I’m off to the guard house.”

Angua started to make for the door, but Ariciel put a hand on her shoulder. She turned back.

“Thank you, Sergeant Angua. For bringing me here.”

“Not to worry, it was my job.”

Ariciel put her hands on Angua’s shoulders. Angua frowned.

“You would have died protecting me. That’s not just a job, that’s a calling. Thank you. I hope everything works out with your Captain. Take him for a walk in the woods sometime. See if he likes it.”

Angua’s eyes softened only the tiniest amount.

“He likes long walks. Well, you’re welcome. Take care.”

She turned round. Ariciel watched her walk towards the door, then out of it. She really had perfect legs. Ariciel sighed, then turned to the mage.

“This way, Ma’am.”


Ponder Stibbons consulted one of his pieces of parchment, and moved one of the pebbles in the magic circle the tiniest amount. A purple glow appeared in the middle.

“Won’t be much longer, Ma’am. I’ve nearly got it right.”

“Are you working with someone on the other side?”

“Yes, Ma’am. We just need to bring our magical fields into alignment and then, the portal should appear.”

“Who is it?”

“Don’t know. This is interesting though. You seem to be using the Dungeon Dimensions for all kind of things. How do you keep the Creatures there from breaking through to your reality?”

“We put the fear of the Gods in them, usually.”

“Amazing. I wasn’t aware these creatures could fear anything. Ah!”

There was a small ‘Pop’ noise, and a perfect circle appeared, hanging in the middle of Ponder’s stone circle. Ariciel’s heart leapt into her throat as she recognised the banners of Stormwind, and the Mage Tower, just on the other side of the circle. Ponder stood next to Ariciel, looking through, shaking with excitement.

“We’ve done it! My goodness! All the way across the distances of space and time, and we’re connected! I must tell the Archchancellor!”

Just at that moment, Ariciel lost all interest in theoretical magic. A large, bald-headed, bearded man had just apeared in the circle.

“Bannog!”

The man stepped forward, but an invisible arm yanked him backward. He looked over his shoulder as someone was obviously telling him not to. He sneered, then turned back to the portal and waved. Ariciel waved back, with a lump in her throat.

“Just let me fine-tune a bit, Ma’am,” said Ponder Stibbons. Someone on the other end held up a rectangular piece of wood. With delicate movements of his fingers, Ponder adjusted the small pebbles, until the rectangle became a square. He then pulled up a small stand and placed a metal square on it, presumably so that the mage on the other end could do the same. The next moment, something came sailing out of the portal. Stibbons caught it. He held it up to his eye, a silver coin. He pocketed the coin, grinning, then threw back one of his own silver coins to the other end.

“Ma’am? You have just witnessed the first inter-dimensional currency exchange. I wonder what effect it’ll have on the economy.”

“Can I step through now, Mr. Stibbons? There’s this man on the other end of the portal that I urgently have to hold in my arms and perhaps drag him off somewhere private for rude purposes.”

Ponder pulled at his collar, looked at the Azeroth coin in his hand, then nodded.

“Just be careful not to disturb any of the rocks. That would be bad.”

Ariciel gave Ponder her best smile.

“Thank you, Mr. Stibbons, for all your trouble.”

“My pleasure. Connecting to a different dimension for the first time makes it more than worth my while. I may even get a chair!”

“Elune light your path, Mr. Stibbons,” said Ariciel. She waved, carefully stepped over the circle of pebbles, and through the portal.

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