So You Want To be A Druid?

Juanita Callahan, known to her friends as Nita or even Neets, was marching through a dense forest, in the direction that her wizardry was showing her, bright and clear as a neon arrow in her mind. A grim and determined look was on her face as she found a hill too steep for her to scale, again. This place was weird. Obviously, magic was sloshing all over the place here, but when she’d tried feeling for a world kernel, all she had found were lines and lines of text, green letters, numbers and symbols, on a deep black background. It was so complex that she’d at once abandoned the hopes of manipulating this world by poking at its kernel. She’d considered using a transport spell, but something, a capital S Something, had warned her against it. So now, she had to slog all the way around this hill, sometimes moving in the opposite direction of where she wanted to go.

Where she wanted to go, was where her long time partner in Wizardry was. His name was Kit Rodriguez, and she’d known him since she’d started being a wizard, now fully four years ago. Kit was about the same age as Nita, and had started wizarding at the same time Nita had. They had dragged each other through their Ordeal, and were in some ways closer than family. In other ways, they were quite different. To name something completely at random, when a senior wizard told Nita to do something, or not to do something, she always gave it all due consideration. Most of the time. Kit… well he had yet to quell his curiosity as to what would happen if he did (or did not) do the very thing he’d been warned about. It had taken the combined efforts of two senior wizards, and some rather undignified grubbing around in Kit’s bedroom for what Nita preferred to call “samples”, to find where he was. And then a considerable amount of effort to set up the wizardry to transport Nita onto the right continent at least. Getting them both back would be thankfully easy. Find Kit, tell him he was an idiot, get back to the place where Nita had entered this realm (a deeply depressing set of ruins), and pop the charm that would yank them back across the Multiverse. When they did get back, Kit would be in for the bollocking of a lifetime, but first, she had to find him.

***

Nita pushed herself through the underbrush, and came to a small clearing. Her tracking wizardry was pointing right across it, and she was glad that at least for a few dozen yards she wouldn’t have to fight the foliage for every step. She stepped into the clearing, looking up to feel the afternoon sun on her face.

“Hey!”

Nita’s head snapped round in the direction of the voice. In the shadow of a tree sat a woman, all but invisible in her green leather clothes. She got up and calmly walked towards Nita. She had long white hair, and her eyes seemed to shine with a pale grey light. If ever there was a creature of magic, she would be it. A bit showy, actually. Nita bowed her head.

Dai Stiho,” she said. “I am on errantry, and by me Life greets you. My name is Nita Callahan.”

“Hi. I’m Ariciel of the Cenarion Circle. You weren’t thinking of going that way, were you?” She pointed in precisely the direction Nita wanted to go.

“I am looking for my partner in wizardry. I am here to take him home, and I can sense him over there. So that is where I am going.”

“Oh no you don’t,” said Ariciel. “There’s a camp there with about two dozen orcs in. They don’t like you.”

“Nevertheless, I must go there,” said Nita. “My partner may be in danger, and I must help him. I thank you for your warning. Greetings, Cousin.”

Nita stepped forward, but Ariciel stepped in front of her, hands forward and shaking her head.

“You’re not going there, ‘Cousin’. If they spot you and grab you, you will not enjoy what little remains of your life. There’s too many of them for me to drag your butt out of there when you do, and I’m not even sure I want to try if you won’t listen to sense.”

Nita looked up at Ariciel, with a stubborn set to her jaw.

“Very well then, I will give them a wide berth.” Nita turned round, shaking her charm bracelet out from under her sleeve. One of the charms contained a transport wizardry. Risky maybe, but the only way to get away from this woman. She touched the little arrow, and took a deep breath to say the words of the activation spell.

Before she could say even a single syllable, she found she was being pulled back by her hair, and neatly tripped up over Ariciel’s leg. She landed on her back with a thud that knocked all the wind out of her.

“Gwaaak!” said Nita, or words to that effect. She found herself looking from up close into Ariciel’s pale glowing eyes.

“You were going to blink away, weren’t you? Light-bleeding mages. Think you’re too smart for the rest of us. I don’t give a damn about you, but after the orcs finish hanging you from a tree by your wrists and whipping you, they’ll want to know if there’s more of you here, and they’ll start rampaging around. Right now, they’re sitting round their campfires, singing their orcish campfire songs, and that’s just what I want them to keep doing.”

“Let go of me,” said Nita, snarling. “I’m not completely helpless. I’m a wizard and I can use force. Even on orcs.”

“Yeah, but can you do that before I turn into a bear and bite your face off? They have five orc-mages over there, you’re outgunned. And don’t think they are fooled by invisibility spells or something like that. Some of them are hunters.” Ariciel got up and allowed Nita to get to her feet. “Do you think I’m here for my health? I’m keeping an eye on the orcs until my friend comes back with a platoon of Sentinels who will beat the snot out of the orcs. Once they’ve done that, you can go wherever your boyfriend is.”

Nita sniffed. “He’s not my boyfriend,” she said.

That, admittedly, was not as clear-cut an answer as it might be. Nita had, once, mentioned that she didn’t need to keep her boyfriend in a cage. Now to be absolutely clear, she’d meant that in the sense that if she had a boyfriend, whoever that might be, she would not have to keep him in a cage. Kit, of course, had taken this entirely the wrong way. So now Nita was hovering in that horrible space between not wanting to tell Kit that this was not going to happen, and also not wanting to grab him by his shirt and kiss him till she ran out of air. Safe but lonely, or together, but… chaos?

Ariciel laughed. “Oh I’ve heard that tone of voice before. Somebody uses it, and the next time you see them, well you don’t, until you find them someplace with their faces stuck together. You humans are disgusting. I know, because my boyfriend is a human.”

“Why am I discussing my love life with a…” Nita waved a hand in Ariciel’s general direction.

“Keldorei. Night-elf. I don’t know. Got anything better to talk about while we wait?” Ariciel looked into Nita’s eyes. She put her hand on Nita’s shoulder and sighed. “Look. These orcs are great big brutes twice as tall as you are and three times as wide. This not-a-boyfriend of yours… what’s his name?”

“Kit,” said Nita. “Kit Rodriguez.”

“Kit. Good. When he sees a bunch of savages like that, is Kit smart enough to keep his sorry butt out of sight and get out of there?”

Nita held Ariciel’s gaze for a few moments. She shrugged. “I suppose.”

“Well then. Nothing to worry about. Sit down. I’m getting impatient, so I’m going to make tea to make these bloody sentinels show up.”

 ***

Nita had just finished a lovely cup of honey mint tea, brewed by Ariciel on a very small fire, when there was a noise and their clearing filled up with more Night-elves, all women, wearing chainmail and carrying fierce-looking three-bladed weapons called war-glaives. Their leader, Captain Leafwind, stepped up to Ariciel.

“Druid Ariciel, good evening. Are the orcs still where you said they were?”

“Sure are Captain. Five mages, two shaman healers, three hunters, the rest warriors. Under the trees to the East, resting.”

Captain Leafwind looked at Nita. “And who is this?”

“Human magelet,” said Ariciel. “She’s looking for her lost love in all the wrong places, so I’ve sort of kept her here to keep her from scattering the greens all round.”

Nita bowed her head at Captain Leafwind. “Dai Stiho. Life greets you through me.”

Captain Leafwind made a noise between a sigh and a growl, then called over her shoulder. “Shen’dralar!”

“Yes, Captain?” A tall elf woman wearing dark green robes joined them.

“We got a loose human here.” Captain Leafwind looked at Nita, then at Ariciel. “Did I ever tell you princesses how much I like to have passengers with me on a mission?”

“Nope,” said Ariciel.

“That’s right. That’s because I don’t. You two keep an eye on her. If she even breathes too loudly, stick her in a hole in the ground.”

“There is no need, Captain,” said Nita. “I can simply wait here while you…”

“Haha no,” said Captain Leafwind. “I’m not having you run around stirring up trouble.” She stomped off, a woman with an attack to plan.

The tall woman bent down and smiled at Nita. “I’m Ellandriel of the Shen’dralar, ishnu-dal-dieb. Don’t worry, I won’t stick you in a hole in the ground.”

“Life’s greetings,” said Nita. So far, these elves were falling a bit short of her expectations. For one thing, they were amazingly rude. Ellandriel seemed nice enough, though.

“Because you won’t breathe too loudly, will you?” Ellandriel’s smile now appeared to draw attention to her teeth. “Stay out of sight, little one, and we’ll take care of you.”

“Not we,” said Ariciel. “You.”

Ellandriel’s enthusiasm was beyond measure. “Why?”

“If the Captain wants me to tank, and I think she does, I can hardly take her with me in among the orcs.” Ariciel chuckled. “Don’t feel too bad, she’s cute! And she can tell you all about the love of her life who seems to have wandered off.”

Nita opened her mouth, then shut it again and shot Ariciel a filthy look.

 ***
 There was an order, and everyone started to move. Nita found herself wedged between Ariciel and Ellandriel, who were keeping her safe, but at the same time making sure she was going nowhere. The elves pushed through the trees as though they made way for them, at a deceptively slow trot that had Nita gasping for breath. Luckily, nobody seemed to notice. As suddenly as they had started, they stopped. At a sign from Ariciel, Nita dropped to her knees and peered ahead. Around three campfires, she could see large green-skinned brutes having their dinner. Most of them were in armour, some of them were wearing robes. One of the robed figures caught her attention specially: a skeletal figure, the only one who was not eating. His face was wound about with leather straps, presumably to keep it from falling apart. One of his arms had no flesh left on it.

“Look away,” said Ellandriel in a whisper. “The Forsaken can feel it if you look at them too long.”

“Forsaken?”

“The undead one. A frost mage by the look of it. We’ll be moving soon. Stick to me, and shoot what I shoot.”

“Wait… I can’t shoot anyone. This is not my home, I can’t take sides in a fight that’s not my own!”

“You already have,” said Ariciel. “You’re born a human. These are orcs out of the Dark Portal. They messed up their own world with magic, and now they want ours. But they don’t want us here, so they’re getting rid of us.” Ariciel’s eyes glowed with a fierce pale light. “Or at least they’re trying.”

Nita looked at the orcs. It wasn’t hard to believe Ariciel, but she couldn’t walk onto a strange world and start killing people! It went against all that the Wizardry taught her. She had been at war, had been in grim fights in one of the Otherwheres of Ireland, but that had been different. These orcs didn’t look like manifestations of the Lone Power. They were just people on the other side of a conflict that Nita had no part to play in.

“I… can’t.”

Ellandriel gave her a look. “Then don’t. You’re not here to fight for us, child. You’re here to keep you from making trouble. Just stick with me. Watch my back.”

“Buff up, people,” said Captain Leafwind.

Ellandriel closed her eyes and a soft pale glow grew from her body, then from all those round her, including Nita. Ariciel stood up, raised her arms and whispered to nobody. This was a different spell. Where Ellandriel’s had made her thoughts run quicker, stronger, Ariciel’s made her think of the forests, the adrenalin rush that wolves and bears and tigers must feel before a hunt. She felt like she could run miles without growing tired.

“Silvercloud, take ten and go round. Signal when you’re in position. Druid Ariciel?”

“Captain?”

“Keep the warriors busy while we hit the healers and mages first.”

Ariciel gave a short nod. She winked at Nita, concentrated. There was a soft noise like a breath of wind, and then where she had stood, there now was a pale grey panther. Ariciel moved off into the trees, the other way round from Sentinel Silvercloud and her group. Presently, there were bird-calls in the air that sounded different from the rest of them. Nita saw the… the Forsaken look up, but before it could warn the others, there was a loud roar, and from out of the trees a giant bear came rushing into the orc camp. All round her, orcs dropped their food and went for their weapons, curved swords, axes, maces. At a high-pitched yell from Captain Leafwind, all the elves rushed forward.

“Come with me,” said Ellandriel, getting up and walking out into the open with quick, deliberate steps. She raised her staff high, and from the palm of her hand shot a burning hot ball of plasma at the orc mages. The orc mages returned fire, but all their attacks bounced off an invisible barrier in front of Ellandriel.

The Sentinels ran out, and started slaughtering their enemies. There was no other word for it. This was nothing like a fair fight. The elves outnumbered the orcs, and worked together in teams, one distracting, the other moving in for the kill. The bear was in the hottest part of the fight, attacking orcs with claw and tooth, and ducking and weaving between the counter-attacks with astounding skill and speed. Nita winced as the bear was hit by one of the swordsmen. But then, a cloud of green light was around her, and the wound disappeared. It only seemed to make the bear angrier.

There was a crash behind Nita. She turned round to see one of the orcs rush towards her swinging a mace. Nita threw up her arms and cast the very first spell she had ever learnt. It created a forcefield that would protect her from blows. She’d learnt it to keep her safe from her school friends who used to beat her up. Of course, with much practice, she’d gotten much better at it, and she was about to find out how much better. The mace hit her, but her shield held for now. The orc glared at her, eyes filled with battle rage, struck again, and again. Still Nita’s shield held. She cried out, and then her shoulder felt like she was sitting next to one of those electric heaters that glows orange. A beam of white-hot light shot past her and hit the orc straight in the face. The body went limp, and with horror Nita found she could see straight through a hole in his head.

“Thank you,” said Ellandriel. “Nice shield.”

 ***

The fight was short and decisive. Within the space of ten minutes, all the orcs and the Forsaken were dead, and more dead. Nita stood next to Ellandriel, still shaking, trying not to be sick. The bear looked round, then turned towards Nita and Ellandriel and calmly walked towards them. It raised itself on its hind legs, and in the blink of an eye, Ariciel stood before them. Nita could see blood trickling down her arm from a gash in her armour.

“Hey kid. Do you want to be a Guardian Druid? It’s fun!” She looked over her shoulder at another green-robed elf Nita hadn’t noticed before. “Especially if the healer forgets you’re there!”

“That?” The healer raised her hand, and a green glow surrounded Ariciel. The wounds disappeared. “You could have done that your bloody self. I’m paid to keep your lazy bear-butt alive, not tuck you into bed and tell you stories. I prescribe bedrest on your own this time, and to drink lots of fluids. Water, not the owl piss you always have.”

“I love you too, Mira,” said Ariciel.

“Get lost.”

Ariciel beamed at Nita. “She’s a druid too, but she’s a healer. She turns into a vegetable. That makes her smarter can you believe it?”

“One of my best friends is a vegetable,” said Nita.

“Anyway, there’s no sign of your beloved, but maybe he’s hiding. You can climb on top of that heap of orcs and undo a button or two. That’ll bring him out.”

Nita sighed. “How am I ever going to convince you?”

“Not to wind you up about it?” Ellandriel shook her head sadly. “Annoying people is her calling in life.”

“And boozing and getting it on with humans,” said Mira the healer, walking up. “Pervert.”

“Honestly,” said Ariciel, “You have one, just one human, and suddenly you have a name.”

“Shen’dralar!” Captain Leafwind called. “Light up and let’s get out of here.”

“Yes Captain,” said Ellandriel. She concentrated and shot a fireball at the heap of bodies. Elves had poured oil on it, and the pyre went up in flames that nearly touched the trees. Nita looked away.

“Hey. Do you know where to find that boy?” Ariciel looked round. “You wanted to go that way didn’t you?”

Nita concentrated, and the light indicating Kit’s direction glowed brightly again. She pointed.

“Well, make yourself useful,” said Ellandriel. “You can give her a ride and still be back in time for cavorting with your human.”

Ariciel sighed. “All right then. But only because I want to see what this boy looks like. If our young mage doesn’t want him…”

Before Nita could comment, there was the rush of magic, and Ariciel turned into a large deer. She looked at Nita, then over her shoulder. Nita saw that she actually had a saddle.

“Um.”

“Get on,” said Mira. “She’s used to having people ride her. Especially humans.”

Ariciel gave a snort, and waited for Nita to mount up and point in the direction where she wanted to go. Nita would have expected Ariciel to jump forward and almost throw her off, but she accelerated slowly till Nita could feel the wind in her face. The ride was surprisingly smooth. Nita concentrated on her tracking wizardry.

“Right a bit,” she said, and Ariciel turned. “Not that much… Good.” This went on for a bit, until a thought struck Nita. Ariciel’s antlers were right in front of her. They looked like the handle bars of a bicycle, close enough. She took hold of them and gently, politely, turned Ariciel’s head where she wanted to go. She could feel Ariciel laughing underneath her. Ariciel gathered up, jumped over a fallen tree and dashed off into the distance.


This place was awesome! Kit ran along a road in the forest at a slow trot. The forests here were pretty much untouched. There was every kind of cool animal. On the beach where he had arrived, he’d even found a piece of technology. It had a few dials and lights, and a little compartment that turned out to contain the teeth of a kind of big cat, maybe a panther. Unfortunately, it was well and truly broken, and even Kit, with all his affinity for technology, had not been able to get more than a little buzz out of it. He’d hidden it under a few shrubs and made a note in his Wizard’s manual where he’d left it, so he could take it home and maybe repair it.

While the existence of a buzzbox was definitely evidence of the existence of a buzzbox maker, he hadn’t met anyone yet. But then again, he was in the middle of nowhere. The village where he’d landed had been completely destroyed by a tidal wave, and he could see signs of a great fire. He’d taken a deep breath and plunged into the forest. Now and then he paused to take pictures with his manual. Neets would love this. So far, he’d seen only green and growing things, and that was her department. It had taken a bit of doing to get here, but he was sure that with a bit of fine tuning he could get both of them here, and then…

Kit stopped that particular train of thought. After the ‘thing’ on Mars, something had changed in the way he saw her. They had always been friends, but he’d no more wanted to… what was the polite term? Kit slowed down to a walk, and looked up at the trees. He narrowed his eyes as he almost thought he could see some kind of creature flying far overhead. He shook his head. Impossible to see at this distance.

Naked.

That was the word. No use denying it. He wanted to get naked with her. Okay, he’d settle for finding a nice private place and practice kissing till they got very very good at it, but what he really wanted was to see her naked. She could see him naked too, fair is fair. He’d seen her with her clothes off before, of course. You couldn’t transform into a whale with your swimsuit on. But that was just Neets with her clothes off. Naked was different. Naked was come here for a better look. Naked was touching each other. Exploring. Finding out.

Kit sighed. Part of growing up was that what you wanted and what you got was not always the same thing. He’d sooner gnaw his own arm off than touch Neets in ways that she might not want. She hadn’t said no, which was encouraging. She hadn’t said yes either, which was maddening. Kit didn’t want, didn’t dare to bring it up. They’d done wizardries together just like always. The familiarity of worrying about trees squabbling about sunlight and water had been comforting. Talking about things that took all of their attention. And then he’d catch her looking at him, and he’d forget his entire train of thought.

Kit took a roll of mints out of his jacket pocket and slowly sucked on one, resisting the temptation to crunch it until it had got thin enough to break it with his tongue. Neets was deciding. Could be yes. Could be no. One thing was for certain, though. If he tried to push her, it would go horribly wrong. On the other hand, Neets was smart enough to see him not pushing, and that in itself was a push of sorts. Kit put the mints back in his pocket, got up, and started walking up the path again, looking for things that Neets would like.

 ***

The afternoon was getting on. Days in this world seemed to be as long as Earth days. Kit had come prepared. In his pocket of otherspace, there was a tent about large enough for one. Or maybe two if they… Kit shook his head to shake the unhelpful thoughts out of his brain. All he needed was a bit of level ground, and he could stretch out, have some crunchy energy bars and a coke, cast an invisibility spell and go to sleep. He found the perfect place a few moments later. A tree had fallen over, and under its roots was enough space for a sleeping bag. There was still some daylight left, but it was unlikely he’d find a better camping spot. Best of all, he could keep an eye on the road without being seen. Kit sat down in his new home and opened his Wizard’s manual, flicking through all the pictures he had taken. He looked up at a noise, listened more carefully. It was the sound of hoofbeats on the road. As he listened, the rider slowed down, then stopped. Kit peered out from his hiding place and held his breath. Right in the middle of the road, large as life, was miss Nita Callahan, mounted on a deer. She was standing up in her stirrups. Her hair was blowing in the wind, and she had unzipped her jacket, showing a Doctor Who T-shirt that used to belong to Kit a few years ago, before he hit his most recent growth spurt. Nita had borrowed it when Kit had spilt some coke on her, and somehow, the T-shirt had felt more at home at casa Callahan. Kit couldn’t help noticing that it was rather tight on her, almost like what was inside was larger than its outside dimensions. Nita slowly turned her face until she was looking right at him. Kit stepped out.

Neets?!

Nita jumped off her riding deer to the ground. She started to walk towards him, then ran until she barreled into him and nearly threw Kit off his feet. She wrapped her arms round him and squeezed the wind out of him. The side of her face was pressed against his, and he could feel wet tears. She held him at arms’ length and looked into his eyes.

“You idiot!”

“Uh. Hi?”

“What the hell were you thinking setting off on your own like this? Your mom is worried sick! I couldn’t reach you on the manual. Do you realise how much it cost to find you here? Tom and Carl had to call in favours from all over the Universe!” Nita bared her teeth. “I’ve had to look under your bed for socks. Unwashed. Smelly. Socks.”

The deer stepped up, and scratched the ground with a hoof. With a rush of magic, the deer turned into a white-haired, long-eared woman with shining lights where her eyes should be.

“That’s true love, that is,” she said. “I love my human, but not his socks.” Ariciel looked Kit up and down. “So this is the boy I’ve heard so much about? I have to say, I can’t fault your taste.”

“Uh?” Kit looked from Ariciel to Nita, who was rolling her eyes.

“Ariciel? This is Kit. Kit? This is Ariciel.” Nita sniffed. “She annoys people for a living.”

“Heh,” said Kit. “She hasn’t annoyed me so far. You were telling her all about me?”

“Oh yes, yes,” said Ariciel. “Will I ever feel his strong arms round me again? He must be cold, alone, and hungry without me. I will fight Orcs, Forsaken, and Dragons to find him. Personally, I think she’s overdoing it a bit. Don’t give away the goods too soon.” Ariciel smiled wickedly. “Unless you want to.”

Nita sneered. “Do all the Elves stick their noses where they’re not welcome, or is that just you?”

“You’re an Elf? A real Elf?” Kit gave Ariciel a big grin. “Elen síla lùmen ommen tielvo.”

“If you say so,” said Ariciel. “So where do you want to go next? I know lots of romantic little sp- Oof!”

Nita communicated with Ariciel through the medium of a sturdy elbow to the ribs. Ariciel laughed, showing bright white teeth with rather pronounced canines.

“Or you can come to my place in Darnassus. You’re the second most fun human I’ve ever met. Maybe third.”

“Actually…” Nita reached into her Otherspace pocket and retrieved her own Wizard’s Manual. She opened it on one of the map sections. “We need to go back to the place we entered this world. Do you know it? It’s to the West. Ruined town on the beach.”

“Ah.” Ariciel’s face was suddenly sad and serious, like a cloud passing in front of the sun. “Auberdine. That’s what it’s called. Was, really. I used to go there a lot back in the day. A bit of a dump, to be honest, but it was my dump.”

“I’m sorry,” Nita said, with a hand on Ariciel’s arm. “We can probably find it ourselves if there’s bad memories there.”

Ariciel shook her head. “It’s all good. I can take you there. It’s sort of on my way home.” She looked up at the sun. “Won’t make it tonight, though. Not with a pair of night-blind humans tagging along and stumbling over things.”

“I don’t suppose we could both ride on your back,” said Nita.

“Huh. Why don’t you both ride on each other’s backs? Stars and stones, I ran here carrying you because you made me think we’d have to pick your boyfriend out from between the teeth of a dragon, and he’s just here wandering round picking flowers.”

“There’s dragons here?” Kit’s face lit up. “I’d love to see the dragons!”

“The small ones are a pest,” said Ariciel. “And the big ones only show up when there’s big trouble. Or they bring trouble. Are you in a hurry to get home?”

Nita and Kit looked at each other. Nita shrugged. Kit pointed over his shoulder.

“I was going to sleep there tonight. Place is big enough for two or three if we huddle up a bit.”

“I love huddling up!” Ariciel looked at Nita. “Don’t you love huddling up?”

“Depends on the company,” said Nita.

 ***

And so huddling happened. Kit had brought a sleeping bag. Ariciel pulled a rich sleeping fur from a backpack that didn’t look like it could hold even a pair of shoes. When Kit commented on it, Ariciel produced from it a nasty looking pole arm named Hope-render, a few lumps of dark iron ore, a rather lovely blue dress, and as a finale, with a puzzled look and a ‘where did I get that‘, some unlucky ogre’s head, which she tossed out into the shrubs.

“No bloody way am I going all the way back to Khaz Modan to claim that reward,” she said. “This one’s on the house, short-arses.”

“Ah. Looks like some kind of claudication,” said Kit. “We have that as well.”

“Beats carrying it all yourself,” said Ariciel, pulling out some flat bread. “Anyone hungry?”

“That’s been in a pack with someone’s head,” Nita pointed out.

“Adds to the flavour,” said Ariciel, holding out a piece. Nita looked at it a moment, then took it.

“Here, have some of mine,” said Kit, handing Ariciel a Mars bar from his collection.

“Oo! Chocolate. Nice human.”


Kit was asleep. Ariciel was on watch, because even though Darkshore, as this place was called, was fairly quiet, still you could get the occasional nuisance like ghosts, bears, werewolves, or orcs. She was sittting there in her black shirt, mending the rip in her armour. It wasn’t going to look good, but it’d keep her safe. Kit was in his sleeping bag, snoring quietly. Nita was in Ariciel’s furs, turning round, unable to get comfortable. With a sigh, she sat up.

“Can’t sleep?”

“Can’t get settled. If you want to…”

Ariciel shook her head. On the other side of their little treeroot cave, Kit made a noise in his sleep, turned over, then turned over again and settled down. Nita watched him.

“Hey.” Arciel smiled at Nita. “You’re not fooling anyone, you know?”

Nita only looked back at Ariciel, and said nothing.

“You were going, your mom is worried sick, Tom is worried sick, Carl is worried sick…”

“Yeah? They are.”

Ariciel tied off the last bit of thread on her repairs. She produced a pocket knife and cut off the end. She held the leather jacket up in the moonlight and gave it a few experimental tugs. Then, she turned to Nita.

You were worried sick. Why didn’t you tell him? I mean, it’s not like he didn’t catch that, but it’s nice to hear.”

Nita sighed. “I liked where we were about a month ago. We were just doing Wizardry together, and I loved doing that with him. Now there’s all this… this stuff.”

“Some of that is nice stuff, you know?”

“Yeah, but it can go horribly wrong as well. And then I’ve lost everything. You’ve got a boyfriend. You didn’t just… well, jump on him as soon as you met him, did you?”

Ariciel looked miles away. “Dragged him off upstairs the day after I met him. Never regretted it. Mind you, he wasn’t my first boyfriend.”

“Kit is my first…” Nita stopped herself.

Ariciel leaned over to her. “I’m a druid. I was trained by Shan’do Mathrengyl Bearwalker. He had a human lover. Met her when she was twenty or so, and never left her till she died at eighty. You know what he told me?”

“No?”

“Whatever you’re going to do, don’t put it off. You’re a mage. Wizard. Something like that. That’s not safe and healthy work. Could be dead tomorrow. I’m a fighting druid. Bannog’s a warrior. Sure, I can live to be a thousand, but there’s a war on. Tomorrow or next year? I could be dead. And there’s nothing that Bannog and I haven’t done together. Make love, fight, make up, travel.” Ariciel laughed. “Of course, I want to do lots more of all that, but if it all ends tomorrow, I can’t complain.” She put her hand on Nita’s shoulder. “You do know what you want.”

“I’m not sure I want it.”

“Oh? In that case, mind if I do? He’s kind of cute in a human sort of way.”

Nita looked at Ariciel accusingly. Ariciel laughed. “You humans are so stuck up when it comes to enjoying yourselves. You’re old enough aren’t you? So why not?”

“What if we end up doing it all wrong, or I get pregnant, or…” Nita paused. Did Earthly diseases even exist here? “And we end up hating each other? How did you know that wouldn’t happen with you and… what was his name, Rannog?”

“Bannog. I didn’t. In fact I nearly lost him because he thought I’d dropped him for someone else. An elf would have been stupid to think that, but not a human. We’d been apart for months, and I ran into the most gorgeous Draenei girl. We had some hairy moments together and, well… we ended up in the furs together.”

“Ah,” said Nita. “And he’s still your boyfriend?”

“I got caught by ogres. They ended up pulling me out of there together. I’ve had more nasty adventures since then, but that was probably the worst part of my life so far. I wanted to die. And if they hadn’t got me out, I would have. After that, we knew that we were stuck together.” Ariciel smiled fondly. “Mareva married a very handsome hunter. So no more playing with her tail for me.”

“Tail.” Nita frowned. “Like a ponytail?”

“No, a Draenei tail.”

“What’s a Draenei?”

“Um…” said Ariciel. “They look a bit elvish, but they have blue skin, and hooves instead of feet, And horns on their heads.”

“And a tail,” said Nita.

“A very ticklish tail,” said Ariciel, with a grin. “But what I’m getting at, even though it got me into the most trouble I’ve ever been in, the night with Mareva in that cave in Winterspring is one of the happiest I can remember. So unless you’re really sure you don’t want to take him to bed, don’t put it off.”

Nita sighed. “I’m not ready yet. It can’t hurt to wait a bit till I know can it?”

“You already know,” said Ariciel. “If you wait too long, he’ll think you’re not interested and he’ll be sad for a bit and then he’ll find someone else.”

Nita put her elbows on her knees, head in her hands. “What if he doesn’t want me?”

“Oh come on, you know better than that. Please tell me you’ll try at least. I like happy stories. Besides, you’re a cute couple.”

“Gee thanks.”

“Go on, get into that bag with him. I promise I won’t draw pictures. Hey, I can tell you all about what to do with human boys.”

Nita gave Ariciel an are-you-kidding-me kind of look. “There’s not enough room in there.”

“That’s why mine are large enough for an elf and a half.”


Kit watched the sky turn lighter, until he thought it was time to wake up Nita and their new elf friend. Kit got up, stretched his legs and stepped over to where Nita was sleeping in his blue sleeping bag with her head on her arm. She’d bound her hair up in a ponytail. Her face looked quiet and a bit sad. He slowly reached out, put his hand on her shoulder and gently shook it. Nita blinked, looked up at him, and smiled. That smile would go away as she’d remember how things were, but just before she was fully awake, she simply smiled, happy to see him. Kit couldn’t help smiling back. He might be in loads of trouble, but this moment made it worth it. Kit turned round, but Ariciel was already awake and stuffing her sleeping furs into her pack. If she’d seen them, she didn’t show it.

“Anyone hungry? I have some flatbread and dried meat.”

“Any lembas?” asked Kit.

“What’s that?”

Kit heaved a deep sigh. “I spend years reading about Elves, and now I finally meet one, and she doesn’t understand traditional Elvish greetings and hasn’t got any waybread.”

“I’m cute, though.”

Nita yawned. “Time to go running, running into the West.”

They made an improvised breakfast of flatbread, some kind of jerky, a few energy bars and cans of coke, which Ariciel passed back to Kit after one sip, saying it made her teeth explode. Then, they set off along the road. Ariciel clearly had years of training on them, and Kit found it hard to keep up. Travelling all over the universe by magic didn’t actually give you much in the way of endurance. Next to him, he could hear Nita’s breath. She wasn’t having it any easier than Kit was. Meanwhile, Ariciel was actually chatting to them about the trees, the villages they were passing left and right, the creatures of the forest, both edible and likely to eat you. Now and then, she’d stop and peer ahead, giving them both a chance to catch their breath. Kit looked round to Neets, who was looking at the ground, taking deep breaths.

“Hey… You okay?”

Nita looked up at him. Her Tardis T-shirt was soaked, and Kit noticed most unhelpfully that she was wearing a very practical white bra underneath.

“Yeah,” said Nita. “I’ve got to get in shape. Only I hate gym teachers.” She took another deep breath and Kit looked away. “Too annoyingly fit.”

“You kids alright?” said Ariciel.

“Sure,” said Kit, more brightly than he felt. “This is a nice run.”

“Oh you wanted a run? You should have said.” Ariciel turned round and set off again. Even from behind, Kit could see her laughing at them. He glanced at Nita.

“See what I mean?” said Nita.

“Yeah,” said Kit, and set off again.

 ***

They sat down for lunch. Ariciel felt more comfortable making fire for tea here, in an old and battered kettle that she’d had for years and was filled with the memories of countless brew-ups on all the four continents of Azeroth, and more beyond. They had just packed away all their stuff, and were gathering themselves up to get going again, when Ariciel stood still, a worried look on her face.

“What’s up?” said Kit, but Ariciel raised a hand.

“Shh,” she said, and then, “oh no…”

In a flash, she turned round and sprinted off. If it had been hard to keep up with her before, now it was completely impossible and all Kit and Nita could do was continue on in the same direction. They found her lying on the ground on the top of a hill, looking down on something. Rough cries and laughter drifted up, punctuated by the occasional scream of someone in pain. Ariciel was shaking in anger and fear, but not fear for herself. Down in a little incline, there was a circle of men wearing armour, and a few women wearing dark robes. In the middle of the circle was… Kit supposed she was a kind of deer, but where a deer’s neck would be, she had the torso of a human or elf girl. Her long hair was in front of her eyes, and she flitted from one end of the circle to the other, only to be kicked or punched back again. She was bleeding, faltering on uncertain legs. She turned to one of the women, pleading, but the woman only laughed, raised her hand, and there was a flash of light and the deer girl screamed and ran off only for someone else to punch her in the stomach and hurl her back.

“Too many,” said Ariciel, through clenched teeth. “Too bloody many! Can’t kill them all.” She jumped up, and looked down on Kit and Nita. She pointed. “Get back to the road. Auberdine is a few more miles to the North. You can find it, and fare well.”

Kit looked at Nita. The look in her eyes said enough.

“We’ll help,” said Nita.

Ariciel tilted her head slightly. “What happened to not picking sides?”

“They’re bullies,” said Nita. “Any side is better off without them.”

Kit pulled out his wand, still the antenna he’d pulled off a car during their Ordeal. “We just picked your side.”

Ariciel looked from one to the other, then gave a short nod. “Thank you,” she said. “Hit the mages first.” She turned around and pulled out her pole-arm, facing the enemies.

Kit’s eyes opened wide. “Hang on, are you just going to rush them?”

Ariciel took a deep breath, bared her teeth, and roared. There was a cloud of green light about her, from which ran a monstrously large bear. Bear-Ariciel stormed towards the enemies and ripped into them, biting, clawing, fierce and savage, but with a sense of control that said she was not blindly beating them. She wanted to kill, kill them all. Mercy to her was a quick death.

“Oh… kay,” said Kit. “That’ll work.”

He and Nita ran forward a few steps, aimed their wands and started working their magics of destruction.

 ***

Kit had never been trained as a battle wizard proper, so in magical fights, he was forced to get creative with the spells he already knew. One of the things he was especially good at was teleportation spells. So back in the land of the Fomori, in Ireland but not actually in Ireland, his preferred way of fighting for real was either to transport his enemies into space, or to transport them over a large area of space. He had tried teleporting himself here only once, and ended up in a graveyard, miles from where he wanted to be. If the people he hit here just landed all on top of each other miles away instead of dying, that was fine by Kit. What counted was that they weren’t here anymore.

Nita, on the other hand, wasn’t nearly as merciful. Her most savage attack spell instantly turned living, breathing creatures into a cloud of blood. Kit didn’t have time to look at her properly, but the quick glance he shot her showed her face in a trance of concentrated anger. Nita didn’t talk about it much, but before she became a wizard, she’d been the girl everyone picked on, always coming home with bruises and torn clothes. Wizardry had set her free from all that, but the sight of these brutes beating up and clearly planning to kill a defenceless creature, had turned her from the nicest girl you could hope to meet into a concentrated pack of anger.

They started by picking off the magic users, who were firing bolts of angry light at Bear-Ariciel, hitting her as often as missing. Next were the brave warriors. With only six of them left, Ariciel suddenly raised herself up on her hind legs, and roared out, green lights crackling on her fur. With great sweeps of her paws, she hit everything within arm’s reach. Kit ported out two of them, never caring where he sent them. Ariciel ripped the guts out of another one, then turned to the last of them, teeth bare. Nita’s spell hit, and the man exploded, spattering blood and gore all over Ariciel’s fur. Ariciel stared a moment, and then shook herself, red drops flying from her fur like water off a dog’s. She turned herself back, and grinned at them.

“Oh, I like you!” In a flash, her expression changed. “Therylune!”

She turned round and fell to her knees by the deer girl Therylune. Therylune had fallen to the ground, and was looking up with unseeing eyes, fighting for breath. Ariciel pulled Therylune to her, wrapped her arms round her, and started to glow with green magic. Kit could see Therylune’s wounds start to join up and disappear. Nita stepped forward.

“Can I help?”

Ariciel waved a hand, and continued her healing spells until Therylune closed her eyes, and breathed easy. Ariciel closed her eyes and bent over her, shaking with the effort, more worn out even than after miles of running and a difficult fight. After a few deep breaths, she looked up at Kit and Nita.

“Thank you. Thank you so much.”

Kit didn’t know what to say. In Ariciel’s arms, Therylune stirred, blinked slowly, then looked at Ariciel. Therylune’s face lit up.

“Hi,” she said. “You’re beautiful!”

“Hi sweetie,” said Ariciel. “Thank you. Are you feeling better?”

Therylune frowned. “Better? What do you mean?”

“Can you walk?”

Therylune laughed. “Of course I can, silly! I’ve got twice as many legs as you!”

“Well, up you get, then.”

Therylune got to her hooves. She took a few steps, anxiously watched by Ariciel, but she seemed okay. She turned to Nita.

“Hi. Who are you? I’m Therylune. You look nice. Are you my friend?”

“I’m Nita. Glad to see you’re alright.”

“I love it here. The flowers are so pretty, and you can smell the sea from here.”

Ariciel got to her feet, put her arm round Therylune’s shoulders. “But you always get in trouble here. What would Therysil think if she saw you here?”

“She’d love the flowers too, I’m sure.” Therylune’s eye fell on Kit. “Who is that?”

“That’s my friend Kit,” said Ariciel. “He helped getting you away from the nasty humans.”

Therylune bit her lip. “Oh he’s a boy!”

Ariciel laughed. “Nothing much escapes you, does it?”

Therylune walked over to Kit. “Boys’ faces turn red when you get close to them.”

Kit held his breath as Therylune came towards him until she was only inches away. Nita’s T-shirt might be rather eye-catching, but this girl’s breasts (small, firm, perky, down boy!) were hidden from view only by a few strands of green hair.

“Therylune, getting close to humans is what gets you into trouble, don’t you remember?”

Therylune looked into Kit’s eyes. He could see they were a deep green, with specks of brown. She shook her head, making her hair swing, but Kit could see only her eyes, hear only her laugh.

“Not this one. I like this one.”

She briefly touched Kit’s face with a slender hand, then turned away.

“Why don’t you go and find Therysil so you can tell her all about this?”

“That’s a good idea! I think I will.” She waved at Nita, then at Kit, and walked away into the trees.

Ariciel stood there a while, arms crossed, fondly watching Therylune’s little white tail disappear into the forest.

“That girl is using up everybody’s luck.”

Nita stood next to her. “What’s wrong with her?”

“Nothing much,” said Ariciel. “She doesn’t remember things. So every time I meet her, I’m a new friend. Whenever I do, she tells me I’m beautiful. How can you not love a girl like that?”


Ariciel led them back to the road, and they walked a few more miles till they came to the ruined town of Auberdine. Her old stomping ground. Scene of some of her best and worst memories. Soon, she’d return to Redridge with her love. Nita was on the beach, drawing something in the sand. Kit was sitting on a dune watching her every move. How could the silly girl think he’d refuse her? Ariciel stepped up and sat down next to Kit.

“What’s she doing? Portals don’t take this long do they?”

“We’re a long way from home,” said Kit. “It’s a bit complicated.”

“I’l say,” said Ariciel. “She came all the way here just to get you.”

“Yeah.”

“You don’t do that for just anyone.”

“Yeah.”

“Go get her, you idiot boy.”

Kit gave her a look somewhere between sadness and hope. “She’s not the kind of girl you just go and get. What if…”

“Then that is what happens after. You won’t hurt her. Not on purpose anyway. Nobody knows how much time they’ve got left.”

Kit gave a little nod, and looked back at Nita. Nita got up from where whe had been drawing, and came towards them.

“It’s ready. Time to go.”

They walked up to admire Nita’s handiwork, a circle in the sand shimmering with unreality, wound about with characters in the magical language she used to petition the world for what she wanted.

“Um. It’s a bit small,” said Kit.

Nita sneered at him. “It’s as big as you’re going to get. Do you think I have energy to burn? Did you want to take a piano maybe? Come on, time to say goodbye and get in.”

Ariciel held out her arms, and hugged first Kit, then Nita.

“Good luck,” she whispered into her ear.

Kit carefully stepped into the circle. Nita followed, carefully.

“Hold on,” said Nita.

“Eh?”

“To me. Hold on to me. This can get a bit bumpy.”

 ***

Ariciel watched as Kit carefully put his arms round Nita’s waist, and Nita wrapped hers round his neck, pressing herself close. She looked up to him, tilted her head just a little to one side. Kit looked down at her. Ariciel could just see Nita close her eyes before the magic took and they were whisked away back home over unimaginable distances.

Ariciel punched the air, silently, grinning broadly. Well, it was time to see to her own needs. She took a good run-up, leapt into the air, and cast the spell that turned her into a dark-feathered bird. With powerful strokes of her wings, she set off for the World-tree Teldrassil.

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