Part 1: Time to get out of here

In the Eastern Kingdoms, on the world of Azeroth, lies the city-state of Stormwind. It was built by Humans, with the help of the Dwarves of Ironforge, stonemasons of renown. It is a beautiful city, lying by the Ocean, with old architecture, small shops, next to the splendour of Stormwind Cathedral with its spires and stained-glass windows. Small boats, filled with trade goods, float along its many canals.

While Stormwind is still considered a Human city, many other creatures of Azeroth can be found there. Times were when a long-eared Night-elf would be stared at, slightly mistrusted and endlessly discussed, but no more. That honour is now bestowed upon the latest addition to the Alliance: The Draenei. While it might be possible to pass off a short Night-elf as a Human by wearing a hat to hide the ears, and perhaps a full facemask to hide the annoyed scowl at being taken for a Human, only a blind man could confuse a Draenei with a Human. This is mostly because even a small Draenei man will overlook a tall Human by more than a head. It would also be rather difficult to hide his tail, and the hooves. Still, even the most stubbornly xenophobic Human has to admit, Draenei are Good People. This is no doubt helped by the fact that their women look Human enough from the ankles up, and tend to be slender, strong, graceful, and in the fevered imagination of many of the young men, not as cold-hearted as their smooth deep blue skin would suggest. A pair of horns on their heads, and a long elegant tail, merely serve to accentuate their exotic beauty.

The Draenei, for their part, look upon the Humans with never ending interest and amusement. As a space-faring race, whose first electronic devices are old enough to be found as fossils, the sheer ingenuity Humans display with simple mechanics, wood, fire, stone, and steel, are a constant fascination. How the Humans are able to build for themselves a quite comfortable existence without even an electric light, or the simplest power-tools, is a delight to watch.

X

In a wonderful mixture of people and technology, old and new, two women, one Night-elf, one Draenei, stood looking into the entrance of the Deeprun Tram. The Tram was one of the great technological marvels of that age, designed by Gnomes, excavated by Dwarves. It connected Stormwind to the Dwarven city of Ironforge. A small Human girl had just disappeared into its gaping maw, to be taught the harsh realities of life, and the skills to overcome them.

The Night-elf woman took a deep breath.

“Aww. They grow up so quickly,” she said.

The Human girl was the little sister of her big Human boyfriend. In a way, she felt she was leaving her child at school for the first time.

“It is to be hoped she will,” said the Draenei woman. Her voice was deep and gentle. She looked into the tunnel with a fond look in her pale blue, luminescent eyes. “Where are we going?”

“Ferry,” said the Night-elf, turning away from the tunnel.

The Night-elf, named Ariciel, ran ahead at a relaxed pace, with the Draenei woman, named Mareva, quickly catching up, hooves clattering on the cobblestones of Stormwind’s Dwarven District. To the unprepared traveller, Stormwind was a bewildering maze of water, stone, bridges and alleyways. You needed to keep your eye on the Cathedral to see where you were going. Ariciel, in those nervous early stages of falling in love with this big Human, had spent quite some time wandering these streets with him. While she had, of course, been paying attention to other things, she had a good sense of direction. Mareva, who could give guided tours blindfold in her area of the world, was happy to follow her here.

They ran under the archway, and the harbour of Stormwind lay before them. This harbour was a fairly new addition to the city. In the days before, there had been a very small pier for the one or two fishing smacks that provided fish for the city. That had changed. There was now a dry-dock for the large steamers, several large piers for the ferries to various places in the world, cannons and Night-elven artillery just in case the Enemy got it into their heads to come calling and a never-ending bustle of activity, goods being carried hither and yon, people getting on and off the boats. Without even breaking step, Ariciel and Mareva ran down the ramp towards the salt-smelling water.

They arrived at the docks, just as the ferry pulled in. With a bit of a sprint, they jumped on board before it sailed again. The captain apparently didn’t want to spend too much time in port.

“This is reasonable,” said Mareva. “Ships only earn money when they are sailing.”

“Uh… It’s free,” said Ariciel.

“To us,” said Mareva. “Not to the King. Our tax gold at work.”

“Hmm.”

They walked to the front end of the boat, past the guards. Ariciel remembered when there had been no guards, nor any of these vendors on board. Mareva chatted a bit to one of the guards, though the Night-elf guard’s bearing did not seem to encourage chit-chat. Ariciel looked at the horizon. Another boat trip. Auberdine again. Start point of many of her quests. She looked over her shoulder at Mareva talking to the guard. They had met in Auberdine. After a dreary trek through Felwood, they had dared the tunnel of the Timbermaw Furbolg. Ariciel grinned. The git of a Furbolg had given them some clearly inappropriate feathers to wear. Elune only knew what those feathers signified. ‘Will you marry me’, probably. Or ‘Unsafe to eat’. Whatever it was, it had sent the Furbolg into uncontrollable fits of laughter. A bit embarrassing, even though it had undeniably saved them from being torn to bits.

Soon after that, they had got lucky and found a small, unoccupied cave. Ariciel smiled, biting her lip. They had got to know each other quite, quite well in that small cave. She was almost tempted to suggest trying to find it back. A few yards away, Mareva was grinning at the guard.

“But surely,” said the guard, “If I’m unkind to someone, they’re automatically less fortunate. Do I then have to apply bandages?”

“That depends entirely on their tastes,” said Mareva. “There are many ways to be kind to people.”

“Fighting as foreplay? Hmm. I’ll suggest that to my boyfriend when we get back into port.”

“Who is likely to win?”

The guard raised an eyebrow, and clenched her fist, making her muscles ripple. “Oh please…”

Ariciel chuckled to herself. And to think Mareva regularly accused her of dragging down the conversation. After a while, Mareva joined her on the foredeck.

“Still corrupting innocent Night-elves?”

“Yes,” said Mareva, “Though it is almost depressingly easy. I may need a greater challenge.”

“You could start on the Draenei,” said Ariciel, “Though the challenge may be to find one that isn’t corrupted already.”

“That is not as funny a remark as you think,” said Mareva. “You will see that when you meet Farseer Nobundo. He is one of the Broken ones.”

“Broken? As in wounded?”

“Not quite. Their… problem is magical in nature. They were affected by the same influence that drove the Orcs to attack us on Draenor. They can no longer draw upon the Light, and must seek other sources of magic. They call upon the Elemental Spirits for their magic.” Mareva gave Ariciel a quick look. “Like I do. When we get to Exodar, please do not mention that I am a Shaman. Not all of my people are comfortable with Shamanic magic.”

“Stetson doesn’t seem to mind.”

“Hunter S’dezo’houn is affected by quite another influence.” She looked at her fingernails. “My unparallelled beauty, to be specific.”

“Not to mention the things you’ll do when the mood strikes you,” said Ariciel.

“That, too. I wish this boat would hurry up.”

“Yeah. Know how you feel.”


Deep within the walls of Eldre’Thalas, the Daemon-creature Immol’thar lay dead, its unworldly body slowly dissolving into nothing as is the way with Daemons. Whether this was truly the end of the creature, or whether its incomprehensible soul would be roaming the Twisting Nethers still, looking for a way to re-enter Azeroth, and take a terrible revenge, nobody could tell. What was clear, was that the Shen’dralar would no longer be able to drain it of mana. Immol’thar would no longer power the spells the Shen’dralar used for their research into the arcane magics of the High-borne. Magics to grant them what, through their own great folly, they had lost. Immortality.

Ellandriel stood a few steps behind Teacher, who was watching the corpse of Immol’thar’s Hither Presence, leaning on a staff. Teacher’s glowing eyes turned to her.

“Thero’shan Ellandriel, I have come to the conclusion that this… this ending, is a good thing. Our Prince no longer enjoyed the control over the process he once had. I have been wondering about the…” Teacher’s eyes blinked, the light in them flickering briefly. “The disappearance of several of our younger students.”

“Were they not taken by the Ogres, Shan’do?”

“Yes,” said Teacher. “We all know of the Ogre’s insatiable appetite for Night-elf flesh, don’t we? So what would possess a bright and promising student to leave the safety of the Athenaeum to venture into the outer wings?”

“The lure of adventure, perhaps? Curiosity? Disobedience?”

Teacher laughed. “What a wonderful fairy-tale to instill obedience. Do not go out, or the Ogres will have you. Have you ever tried to look beyond the walls of the Athenaeum? See what lies beyond?”

Ellandriel shook her head. “We are not welcome in the Outside World. We are exiles, exiles who refused to leave. The Keldorei will kill us when they recognise us for what we are.”

The words came without thinking. Every child of the Shen’dralar was fed those words with her mother’s milk. The High-borne, once the magical aristocracy of all the Night-elves, had brought disaster on the world of Azeroth. When the smoke cleared, the noise abated, and the Daemons were finally dealt with, the ruling class was unceremoniously thrown out, never to return to Kalimdor. The new rulers had spared their lives, because they balked at mass executions. It had been made clear that any arcane mage would be killed on sight, if ever they dared return. And so the High-borne had scattered. Some travelled over the sea, to Lordaeron in the Eastern Kingdoms. Some dared the Dark Portal, and went to Outland, the shattered remains of Draenor. And some, like Ellandriel’s parents, went into hiding in the ruins of their old strongholds, and never came out.

“A lesson well learned,” said Teacher. “We do not go out. Few of your age have even seen an Ogre, or a Keldorei. So if not hungry Ogres or vengeful Keldorei, what or who is taking our students?”

“I… don’t know, Shan’do,” said Ellandriel.

“I don’t know. The words that are the first step on the path to wisdom. I take it, then, that you are as eager to find out the truth as I was?”

“Was? You know?”

“I strongly suspect. I am almost certain. To be absolutely certain, I would have needed to ask our Prince. Sadly, the band of brutes that deprived us of the comforting presence of Immol’thar, also killed Prince Tortheldrin. Such a pity. I so hate loose ends.” Teacher took a deep breath. “Still, necromancy is one area of expertise that I will not enter into. Let no ill be spoken of the dead, or with them.”

“Shan’do, you suspect the Prince?”

“I do,” said Teacher. “My suspicion is that Prince Tortheldrin killed our students, and used their life-force to feed himself. But I have no witnesses. No dead and dessicated bodies. No evidence. No matter what I may know, if history teaches us anything, it is that those who are most ardent in their convictions are the ones who are most likely wrong.”

Teacher turned round, and started to walk towards the door.

“Ellandriel, there is nothing left for us here. Follow me. We will defy both Ogre and Keldorei. We are leaving.”

Ellandriel’s jaw dropped, but luckily, Teacher was aleady walking out, and did not see the expression on her face. After a deep breath, Ellandriel followed.

X

Ellandriel watched as Teacher searched through a wooden chest. The search yielded a few rolls of parchment, a book or two and a box containing various potions for use on the road. Satisfied, Teacher closed the chest, started to lock it, then laughed and left the key in the lock.

“We are not coming back here, Thero’shan Ellandriel. Do not leave anything behind you wish to keep, do not take anything you are unwilling to carry for ten thousand miles. Oh.” Teacher walked over to a rack up against the wall and removed from it a long, elegantly carved wooden staff.

“Take this. It is one of my old ones, enchanted for extra spell-power. You’ll need it.”

Ellandriel took the staff from Teacher, looked at it. It was made of dark wood, and it felt warm to the touch. She closed her eyes, and felt the enchantments on the staff work on her.

“Thank you, Shan’do.”

“It’s as much for my convenience as it is for yours. I am expecting you to make good use of it. Now go, pack your things and meet me in the Prince’s study in the Athenaeum.”


To the North of the ocean lies the frozen continent of Northrend. It is the home of the giant race called the Vrykul, and if it weren’t for Arthas Menethil, the Lich King, adopting it as his base of operations, the Vrykul would be welcome to it. As it was, both the Horde and the Alliance were taking a warm interest in the place because allowing the Lich King the free run of the place would result in unpleasantness further down. As a result, there was much coming and going between the Eastern kingdoms, in rather advanced steam-powered ships. One of these ships was now nearing its destination. On board were Bannog of Caer Bannog, and his Draenei friend called S’dezo’houn, or Stetson to his Human friends.

They were standing at the front deck, out of the way of the sailors who were standing ready for their arrival at Valiance Keep. Stetson stood still on his large hooves, long tail gently compensating for the movements of the boat, towering over Bannog, who was leaning his elbows on the railing. If the ship had been a sailing vessel, they would have been in trouble, because there was hardly any wind. Now, with the large paddle wheel at the back gently rotating with soft splashing noises, the ship made steady progress.

Stetson’s eyes did not move from the harbour town. Somewhere in that town, there would be a Human who had seen his brother, Garz’houn, alive, if one could call it that. Mitral, one of his old hunting mates, had sent him the letter that had started this trek. He had overheard someone mention Garz’houn’s name. He and many others, as it had been shouted by a drunken Human who had apparently served under Garz’houn. Garz’houn had not wanted to revive old army memories, and the Human had landed on the floor as a result. Mitral had written that it was one of the recruiters at Valiance Keep. Stetson knew the Human’s name. All he had to do was to find him, and have a little chat with him. Mitral would be gone already. Everybody had Quests these days. Next to Setson, Bannog stood up.

“Just a few more minutes, I’d say, till we land.”

Stetson nodded. “Have you heard from Paladin Korenwolf?”

“Aye. He’ll be waiting for me in the tavern.”

“As tradition requires,” said Stetson. “Incredible, is it not, how many quests start in some drinking hole or other.”

“Taverns have ale. You need to be drunk for some of these quests to seem like a good idea.”

“Hah. I am tracking down a Death Knight, hoping to remind him of his former self. If that is impossible, I may have to kill my own brother. Again.” Stetson took a deep breath. “The prospect is not attractive for several reasons. Still, being drunk may well be counter-productive.”

“Sure you can handle him if you need to?”

“Not at all,” said Stetson. “Not at all.”

Bannog glanced up at the Draenei Hunter’s face, impassive, unshakable. He knew they were both thinking about the battle at Light’s Hope Chapel.

“If he needs to die, don’t go for the beauty prize. Do what you have to do. Graveyards and battlefields are full of chivalrous, honourable people.”

Stetson gave a small nod, and said nothing.

The steamer gently bumped into the quay. They had arrived.


As she stood by the door, Ellandriel went over the things she had packed. The children of the Shen’dalar were not spoilt, and she had only a few possessions. A few changes of clothes, for different kinds of weather. Her enchanting rod. A small supply of magical potions for mana or to cure wounds. Her stomach tightened. Teacher wanted her to fight. She knew how to. She had practiced. She had sparred. Competed even. This would be different. This was frightening. She looked up at the door again. It led to a secret passage to the Broken Commons. The Broken Commons were an area overrun by Ogres. Large, brutish, cruel, violent. Hungering for her flesh. Some of them had two heads, or were they two people sharing one body? She would have to ask them. She laughed nervously to herself.

“Thero’shan? Are you ready?”

Ellandriel looked over her shoulder to see Teacher, holding a large key. It seemed to shimmer in front of her eyes, and to gleam more than the dim light of candles warranted. Teacher stepped forward, and Ellandriel hurriedly stepped aside. The key fit in the lock, turned with only the merest click, and the tall doors briefly gleamed, then opened outward. Teacher looked round at Ellandriel.

“Follow me, my student. We must find out whether the Ogres of… Dire Maul, as they call it, really have an appetite for your flesh.” Teacher turned round, and walked into the tunnel. “I hope not. I do not have so many students that I can afford to use them as decoys.”

Ellandriel hesitated. She didn’t think she liked Teacher’s less than complete concern for her safety. Then, her life-long habit of obedience kicked in, and she followed Teacher into the dark.


“Next! Occupation?”

“I am not here to sign up,” said Stetson. “I am looking for someone.”

“What do you think this is? The visitor centre?”

“I think this is the recruitment queue, and I am looking for someone who works as a recruiter,” said Stetson. “His name is Mitchell Bailey. Do you know where I can find him?”

“Mitch? Gods, yes. At this time of day, he likes to enjoy a little beauty sleep behind the tavern, having just had his afternoon pint. Of caraway burnwine, I might add. Good luck getting him to pay attention. Don’t let him puke all over you.”

Stetson frowned. “I hear he met an old army acquaintance of his. Rather loud words were spoken. Do you know anything about that?”

The man behind the counter shook his head. “Sorry mate, can’t help you. This place can be a bit rowdy at times. That’s what we call ‘quiet times’. Best bet is to ask him. Pour coffee into him till he begs for mercy. You’re Draenei. Kick him once up the arse for me. Stupid sod couldn’t hack it, and escaped by hiding in a bottle.”

“He was drunk when called to duty? Why was he not arrested?”

“No point. Anyone can see, he’s not going to fight again. So scared of the Scourge that he’s turning himself into a zombie before they get the chance to. Anyway, if you’re not going to sign up, move on. You’re holding up the queue.”

“Thank you,” said Stetson. “Each day is a blessing.”

“Not here, it isn’t. Next! Occupation?”

X

He found the Human where the recruiter had predicted he would be. Stetson could see immediately that this man was beyond drunk, beyond passed out after having a few too many. This man was slowly, deliberately, drinking himself into oblivion. Too scared to go on in a mad world of blood, death and fire, yet too scared to end it all. He bent over the man, and rolled him onto his back. The stench of vomit and filth nearly knocked him off his hooves. He grabbed Bailey’s shoulder and shook him.

“Sod off! I’m not in the army anymore! I’m not fighting again.”

“I am not in the army either. I am looking for someone you know.”

The man slowly, slowly, focused his eyes on Stetson. His eyes opened wide.

“Captain!”

Stetson shook his large head. “No. I am not your captain. Where is Captain Garz’houn? I need him.”

“Don’t know. Don’t wanna know.” Mitchell Bailey coughed, a horrible noise. He looked up at Stetson. “Got any drink?”

“Yes,” said Stetson. “Tell me where Captain Garz’houn is, and I will give you all the drink you need.”

“Gimme drink now,” said Mitchell Bailey in a miserable whine, “And I’ll tell you.”

Stetson nodded. He took his backpack from his back, and retrieved a bottle of Qrovna, a parting gift from Mareva. He filled the cup, and passed it to Bailey. Bailey tossed down the drink in one gulp, coughed, and held the cup out to Stetson. Stetson shook his head.

“No. First, you tell me where I can find Captain Garz’houn. Then, you may get more drink.”

Bailey tried to grab the bottle, but Stetson pulled it away from him. Stetson bent down.

“Where is Captain Garz’houn?”

“More drink. Need drink to remember.”

Stetson slowly put the cap back on the bottle and put it back in his pack. Then, he grabbed Bailey’s shirt, lifted him off the ground and slammed him into the wall of the tavern. Bailey struggled feebly, then hung limp. Stetson grunted, and slapped the drunken ex-soldier in the face. He moved his face closer.

“Where is Captain Garz’houn?”

Mitchell Bailey did not reply. Stetson dropped the man, grabbed his hand and wrist, twisted. Bailey gave a startled yell.

“If you tell me all you know about Captain Garz’houn, then I will give you as much drink as you need. If you do not, I will break every bone in your body. One by one.” Stetson pushed a bit harder.

“Where is my brother, Captain Garz’houn.”

“Sholazar!” Bailey gasped, his face drawn with pain. “He went to Sholazar! The Hemingwary camp!”

Stetson let go of Bailey’s wrist. Hemingwary. Or rather, Hemet Nessingwary, Hunter of Renown and, in the considered opinion of Hunter S’dezo’houn of Nagrand, leader of a bunch of tossers. He could find them. Just head for the smell of rotting carcases.

“Good. Be warned. If I go to Sholazar, and nobody has heard of the Captain there, then I will come back, and we will continue this talk.”

Bailey looked up at Stetson, cradling his left arm in his right.

“What about my drink Mister? You promised.”

“I said all the drink you need. You do not need any more drink. For your sake, I hope we never meet again.”

Stetson turned round, and left. Mitchell Bailey’s cry rang in his ears.

“I’ll get you for this, you shithead. I’ll get you!”


Ariciel stood at the railing, watching the town of Valaar’s Berth in the distance. Mareva stood next to her, with a thoughtful expression on her blue face.

“About an hour,” said Ariciel.

Mareva said nothing.

Ariciel gave her a look. “Hungry? There’s some Old Slab left.”

Mareva shook her head, and kept her silence.

“Need a kick up the bottom?”

“No, thank you,” said Mareva. After a second or so, she frowned. “What?”

Ariciel studied her friend’s face. She wasn’t usually this quiet.

“What’s up?”

Mareva sighed. “I have not kept my promises. I promised Farseer Nobundo that I would be back within a month, and that is now three months ago. If he thinks I have forgotten about him, then I will not be surprised.”

“Hm. Well, you haven’t been sitting still.”

“That is true, but I could have visited him when I was travelling with Stetson. I did not. I am afraid he will think that I no longer respect him as I did.”

“He’s your Shaman teacher isn’t he?”

“He showed me the way of the Spirits, when I thought that I was simply an incompetent mage.” Mareva’s eyes turned to Ariciel, a soft expression in them. “He gave me my first totem. An Earth totem. I learnt how to put down an Earthbind totem from him. That was most useful. I was puny and weak, but at least I could run faster than those Blood-elves with a carefully-placed Earthbind.”

“Is that when you were looking for signs of contamination?”

“Yes. I was very eager to please, then. A new job. New masters. It always gives you such a wonderful surge of optimism.” Mareva stared ahead of her. “It never lasts, but the beginning of a new job…”

“Have all your jobs turned sour?”

“It is the way of jobs. First, enthusiasm. Then, frustration. Then, conflict. Then, the next job. And so it goes on. Even Caer Bannog. I never enjoyed myself as much as when I was out, hunting the Blackrock Orcs. A simple goal. A clearly defined target. And then, Sir Gerrig took over and simply would not listen to reason. I hope that Selena will be alright. She is going to learn fighting skills now, and to command others. She is so young.”

“Hmm. Old enough to want some things, not old enough to catch herself when they go wrong. Have you been bounced a lot by people you wanted to get involved with?”

Mareva gave her a little smile. “Not often. I am, after all, the perfect image of beauty.” Her eyes turned back to the horizon. “But yes, I have been, by a few ones that I thought were important.”

“Doesn’t get better with experience either,” said Ariciel.

The girls stared in the distance for a while, saying nothing. Ariciel stood up, and elbowed her friend in the side.

“Enough of this gloom. We’re both going to see our teachers for some extra spells, and then we’re going out into the world to kick butt. Kalimdor first, then Outland, and then we’ll be ready to drag our boyfriends out of trouble.”

Mareva grinned. “Favour the road travelled by few.”


X

Stetson walked into the tavern, and immediately saw Bannog sitting at a table with the two Dwarf Paladins from the battle at Light’s Hope Chapel. He stepped up, nodded at the others.

“Arquenon porous,” said Stetson. “It is good to see you again, Paladin Kaylad, Korenwolf. I hope I find you well?”

“Very well, Hunter Stetson,” said Wolf. “May I offer you a drink?”

“I am afraid I must leave immediately. I have just received information on the location of my brother. Tracks rarely improve with age. It seems I need to go to Sholazar, where it is known that my brother went.”

Bannog got up, and held out his hand to Stetson.

“Good hunting, Stetson. May you find what you seek. If there is anything I can help with, send word to me.” Bannog grinned. “If it’s fun enough, I may even try to tempt a few Dwarves to join us.”

Wolf laughed. “Where there’s trouble, there’s Korenwolf.”

“If not before he arrives,” said Kaylad, “then after.”

Stetson bowed his head at Kaylad.

“Thank you. Now I must go. Favour the road travelled by few.”

With a last wave, Stetson turned round and left the pub. Once outside, he pulled up a strap on his pack, checked his swords and his crossbow. Then he took a deep breath and whistled. From wherever he’d been, Stetson’s large blue-striped tiger, Morgan, appeared and butted his head against Stetson’s thigh. Stetson scratched him between the ears.

“Today, my friend, we hunt. Slay all that attack me.”

Morgan’s eyes glowed briefly. Together they ran to the North gate.


Copyright: © 2008,2009,2010,2011,2012 Menno Willemse. All rights reserved.

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