Part 14: If you strike me down

Stetson walked out of the shop, feeling like a hundred gold. Mostly because he had just spent such a sum on armour. The money had been delivered to him by a shifty-looking Goblin, but Stetson knew that Goblins honoured their deals to the very letter once they made them. It was when you made the deals with them that you had to pay attention. There was sometimes a significant difference between the deal you thought you had made and the deal you actually had. Keeping the deals simple was key to success in commerce involving Goblins.

It was about time for lunch, and he almost blindly made for ‘A Hero’s Welcome’, when something made him change his mind and go for the Legerdemain Lounge instead. While Hero’s was kept clean of anything Hordish, the Lounge was free for all. Someone had told him that Arille Azuregaze’s caribou basted in mead was exquisite, so since he had already spent a fortune today, why not? It would probably be his last meal in this floating city full of cloth-wearers, because now that he had his equipment, it was time and beyond time that he found the woman he loved. He walked into the Legerdemain Lounge, Morgan behind him. The tables were small. Blood-elves lounged here and there on thin metal chairs, sipping wine and making subtle gestures with thin, delicate fingers while discussing subjects far too subtle for Stetson ever to care about. Stetson walked up to the bar. Arille Azuregaze gave him an open, friendly look and asked Stetson how he might be of service.

“The mead-basted caribou, please,” said Stetson. “And a pint of ale.”

Mr. Azuregaze didn’t even blink. “Certainly, Sir. Where will you be sitting?”

Stetson held his breath a moment. Well of course he would want to know where to find him. A seven-foot tall Draenei man was easy to overlook in a place like this. Stetson looked round the tables for an empty one, and stopped. With a big grin, he pointed.

“I’ll be at the table with that Blood-elf there.”

 

Stetson pulled back the rickety chair, poked his tail through the back and sat down. Sitting on the other side of the table was none other than Stetson’s fellow patient, looking, as far as Stetson could tell, as healthy as a Blood-elf could be. He noted that she, too, was wearing a shining new set of plate armour.

“Fancy meeting you here,” said Stetson.

The Blood-elf, although she was only five foot something, managed to look down on him. Stetson could not understand a word she said, though she managed to express exactly how glad she was to see him. She pointed at her empty plate.

Est bonum comedi iam,” she said.

“Grub any good in this place?”

Etiam bonum rusticus sicut tibis.”

“That good, eh?”

The Blood-elf looked away, clearly contemplating storming out of this place. Except that she still had a very good glass of wine. It wouldn’t do to leave half-empty wine glasses all over the place. A barmaid walked up with a tall glass of ale on a tray, and a basket of small pieces of bread, a tiny cup of butter, and a knife. The Blood-elf pointed out with a few gestures that the knife was there to put the butter on the bread.

Est non bonum secans iugulum,” she said, sweetly.

Stetson picked up the basket and held it up to her. She looked at him as though he had suggested a week-long orgy involving him, her, and a variety of livestock. Stetson laughed, and ate a piece of the white bread. He fixed the woman with a stare.

“You should be glad, Elf. If we were out in the wild, you would be feeding the vultures by now.”

The Elf picked up her glass, took a tiny sip of wine and put it down again.

Quisquam vis, Draenei.”

A stern-looking, brown-skinned woman walked up carrying a plate of food, which she put down in front of Stetson. She nodded at Stetson.

“The mead-basted caribou. Enjoy your meal, Sir.”

Stetson stared at the plate. On it was some sort of construction made from potato strips. A leaf of lettuce was next to it, upon which was placed, with great skill, a slice of tomato, a few crumbs of cheese and half an olive. A hint of sauce was dripped, almost apologetically, over it. There were also three slices of meat next to it. Stetson was struck by the sadness that for those three slivers of meat, a whole caribou had laid down its life. The Blood-elf woman stared at Stetson’s face, leaned back in her chair and burst out laughing. Stetson frowned at her, which only made matters worse. She leant over to him, patted his arm.

Bonum appetitus, Draenei.”

Stetson scowled, picked up his fork, ignored the vegetation, speared the three pieces of meat and put them in his mouth.

“Get stuffed, scarecrow,” he said, with his mouth full.

The Blood-elf’s eyes lit up with anger. She stood up, glaring at Stetson.

Tu. Ego. Eamus.

Stetson looked at her, slowly got to his hooves. If the dainty little tart wanted a piece of him, she could have it.

 

Stetson and the Blood-elf walked side by side to a place where a Human sorceress taught passing mages how to do portal magic. As a sort of free sample, a purple crystal floated behind her, slowly bobbing up and down. One had only to touch it to be transported to the camp called Violet Stand, miles below. The Blood-elf jerked her head at the crystal, then touched it and disappeared. After a few moments, Stetson did the same.

He found himself on a small paved area where a reflecting bubble shield was being held up by mages. The Blood-elf stood a few steps away, looking at him. She turned round, walked away. Stetson followed her. Morgan was at his knee. They passed the shield, and kept on walking till they were out of earshot of the battle-mages. As a people, Stetson loathed Blood-elves. One of his most vivid memories was of standing on a faraway hilltop with Garz’houn, watching Shattrath burn. Orcs had been thick about it as flies on elekk dung. And the elekk dung had been his people. Friends. Companions for a night, or for longer. Being used for the entertainment of the Orcs, then killed, tortured, burnt alive, hacked to pieces, disposed of. This was a thing that the Orcs could never have done if it weren’t for the help of the Blood-elves and their subtle magics, the creeping terror that had robbed the Draenei Paladins of their connection to the very Light that was their whole life. In all of Garz’houn’s life, as far as Stetson knew, that was the only time his brother’s faith had been shaken. His brother, paragon of faith, had doubted the very Light itself, and never quite recovered. Stetson had not believed anything could have done that. And one of the things that could have, had done that, now walked next to him, as bent on killing him as he was on killing her. What her motivations were, he didn’t know, nor did he care. Blood-elves had always wanted to kill Draenei.

They came to a small clearing between some trees. Stetson stood still. The Elf gave him a quick look, then walked a few steps further and stopped. Waited, with her hand on the hilt of her sword, watching him. Morgan stood a few steps off to his left, poised to attack. Stetson’s crossbow rested in the crook of his arm. He looked at the Blood-elf. Her chest piece was new, but her legplates weren’t. A small gap showed between them. She had her helm on, but the visor was open. Stetson kneeled to the ground, picked up a few blades of grass, held them up and let them fall to the ground. What little wind there was, was in his back. At this short distance, Stetson could choose which of her eyes he wanted to hit. It would be over quickly, if he was any judge, but it didn’t pay to be complacent. The Elf didn’t look like she was defenceless. She was probably what passed for a Paladin in her part of the world, bending the Holy Light to do her bidding. Blasphemy, Garz’houn would have said. It would be foolish to assume that she was not capable of killing him. She wasn’t stupid. She wouldn’t be here if she was simply offering up her neck. Send Morgan in to distract her. Shot to the throat. If he severed her spine, she would be dead in seconds. Much better than slowly being devoured by bacteria. Unasked-for, the memory came back to him of her gasps of pain, as Miss Birch and Miss Butler treated her. He remembered her lying in his arms as he carried her back to the hospital, determined to keep her face straight.

“Matron Olisarra is going to be well pissed off with me when I get back,” said Stetson.

At the mention of Olisarra’s name, the Blood-elf started, looked up into his eyes. Then, she looked away, and slowly shook her head. She walked up to him. Stetson tensed up, though all the aggression had left the Blood-elf’s bearing. She stood in front of him, looking up at him. Then, she reached up and patted his cheek.

E pluribus unum, Draenei. E pluribus unum.

She pulled from her belt the reins to some kind of flying mount, summoned it, got on, and with a wave of her hand, flew away. Stetson stared after her. If he wanted to, he could still shoot her mount from under her. Oh sod it. It wasn’t his job to wipe all the Blood-elves off Azeroth. He wondered what Garz’houn would have made of it. Stetson walked back to the shield, wondering. Would Garz’houn have approved of him showing mercy on one of his enemies, or would he have given him grief for letting one of these aberrations of the Light get away? Stetson sighed. What did it matter? He touched the purple crystal and was whisked back to Dalaran. Garz’houn was dead. Stetson closed his eyes, bowed his large head.

Garz’houn was dead.


Ellandriel was on the road that led down into a barren valley where the wild Felboar roamed. Pigs can live on anything, but Ellandriel could not imagine what it was in that place, unless it was unwary adventurers. Teacher pointed to the South. Ellandriel looked in the distance, at a few buildings. She tilted her head a little.

“That looks about twenty miles distant,” she said, “But it looks… wrong.”

“The way gravity works in this place will never cease to amaze me,” said Teacher. “My current theory is that things here stay down mainly out of habit.”

Ellandriel grinned. “Perhaps if we kick the habit, we could fly here.”

“Do produce an essay on the subject,” said Teacher. “Let’s go.”

They went down the path, not exactly running, but in a relaxed jog that they knew they could keep up for hours if need be. When they first set out, Ellandriel had been footsore, with aching legs every evening. She’d needed to stretch each morning before she could get going again. These days, she hardly even felt a twinge anymore. Habit. If it could keep heavy rocks attached to the ground here, then merely running along was a breeze. Ellandriel saw several of the large boars moving in the distance, their snouts to the ground, searching for the Light knew what. Their leathery, pock-marked skins seemed to be glowing like metal. They gave them a wide berth, lacking all inclination to shoot at them.

As she jumped over a small dry ditch, Ellandriel felt a strange tug, pulling her to one side. It was almost as if she was on a slope, when actually she was on a flat surface. She ended up standing with her legs apart, trying to find her balance. Teacher stood next to her, at an unusual angle to the ground, with a big grin.

“Forgive me for not warning you about this, Thero’shan, but I did not want to miss this wonderful opportunity to embarrass you.”

Ellandriel carefully righted herself and tried to force her brain to accept that ‘upright’ here was not at a right angle to the ground.

“What opportunity have you ever missed, Honoured Teacher?”

“None! Let me tell you, I thoroughly enjoy your company.” Teacher pointed at the remains of a mage tower in the distance. “Shall we see what’s in there first?”

Ellandriel only nodded, and they ran towards the tower. Ellandriel suddenly stood still, pointed.

“Ghosts! I can see soldiers there.”

Teacher looked where Ellandriel was pointing.

“Ah yes. Only to be expected, I suppose. They are just the echoes of things that were. They exist only in the minds of those who pick up the signs, those who are attuned to the unseelie like we are. Nothing to be alarmed by. Come on.”

Ellandriel took a few steps forward, looking at the ghostly images. Strange. It was almost like one of them, a knight on a large horse, was… looking back at her. It turned round, and galloped towards them.

“Shan’do? I think I am alarmed by this one.”

Teacher frowned. “Strange. Ghosts do not normally interact with strangers in their environment.”

Ellandriel took a deep breath, raised her hand and shot a large fireball at the ghostly knight. It hit him in the chest, and the knight cried out in pain.

“This one is interacting just fine, Shan’do.”

Teacher sneered and joined Ellandriel in shooting at the knight. It took them a few shots to take him down, and he fell at their feet. Teacher kneeled down by the dead knight and prodded at the corpse.

“Wraiths. Forgive me, Thero’shan, I was wrong. These are the spiritual remains of those who fell here and yet would not die. I suggest we see if it’s safer in the tower.”

By the tower door stood a ghostly woman dressed in pale grey robes. She saw them, raised her hands and shot fireballs at them. Teacher sprang forward, fire shield up, and took the fireball before Ellandriel could even raise a hand. Together, they fired on the wraith, until it died. They ran into the tower, and found it empty of anything ghostly. They leaned on each other, breathing hard.

“Far be it from me to question your wisdom, Shan’do,” said Ellandriel, “But I think this was a bad idea.”

Teacher stood up. “Nonsense, Student. These are merely a few surprises that capricious Fate throws in our direction. A High-borne Mage does not tremble in the face of surprises.”

There was a strange voice. “I am afraid I have to concur with your Student in this case, Learned One.”

They looked round, to see one of the ghostly figures standing by the stairs up, sword out but pointing down. They both raised their hands, aglow with magic. The ghost shook his head.

“Don’t bother. I am not going to attack you. But it was futile to come here, in search of… loot. This place has been plundered by the disrespectful many, many times. All the treasure is long gone, and only we, the Unyielding, remain. I am Commander Hogarth, at your service.”

Teacher looked Commander Hogarth up and down. “I am truly sorry for our aggression. I fear we have slain two of your soldiers.”

Commander Hogarth simply pointed a hand outside the door. The ghost-woman was standing there, looking out.

“We die only because we still remember what it was to die the first time. Then, we remember who we are, and the miracle repeats itself. I say ‘miracle’, but as you can see, not all miracles are good.”

Teacher looked at Ellandriel, then back at the ghost of Commander Hogarth.

“We will leave this place, and leave you in peace. Could you tell your soldiers not to attack us?”

Commander Hogarth shook his head. “We are dead. We were Human once, but no more. Yet still we are the Unyielding. None shall pass. You must fight your way out of this place. Do not let it trouble you. We have died many times before, and will again many times after you have gone. The chance of killing you is all that we exist for.”

“Wonderful,” said Teacher. “Well, Thero’shan, you heard the man. Shields up, and put on your best running boots.”

 

Ellandriel was down on her knees. The ghosts had finally stopped pursuing them. Her clothes were torn, she had burns all over her back and a cut in her arm from one of the footmen’s blades. Teacher had taken more hits, and was eating some conjured food.

“A futile excursion, Student. Not my first one, and likely not my last. I offer no apologies. We must take our victories and defeats with equal dignity. I have had enough of this place. We will try to go somewhere a little more civilised. Shattrath, Student, the City of Light. Do you know it? Oh, and let me take care of your arm.”

Ellandriel held out her arm so Teacher could bandage it. She winced at the pain and looked away as Teacher cleaned the wound and wrapped Netherweave round it.

“Shattrath. City of Light. Built by a mystical species called the Eredar, aided by their deities called the Naaru.”

Teacher tied the knot tight. “Not quite. It was built by the Draenei, who are descended from the Eredar, true, but they were not corrupted by the fel magics that the Eredar seemed to love. Also, a Naaru is not quite a god, powerful though they are. But you’ll see. I daresay a few Naaru and more than a few Draenei are still left in Shattrath. We have a much better chance of obtaining some good equipment there.”

“And clothes,” said Ellandriel. “These robes are ruined.”

“Nothing untoward is showing, Thero’shan. It promises without revealing. Move out.”

 

They ran to the west, if ‘west’ had any meaning in this place. While there was a road from Honour Hold to Terrokar Forest where Shattrath lay, that road was patrolled by Fel Orcs, and they had no wish to meet them. Instead, they met felboar. Ellandriel noticed several places where the pebbles were leaping up, and they stayed well away from those places. The plains seemed endless. This had the tactical advantage that they could see any foe approaching from miles away. It had, of course, the tactical disadvantage that any foe could see them. They ran on on aching legs, their boots sinking into the sand.

Ellandriel could never understand what happened next. How such a large… thing, could have got so close without them noticing it. The first thing they noticed was the ground shaking underneath their feet. The second thing was a horrible, deafening, metallic voice, promising death. They looked round, hands raised. Ellandriel’s eyes opened wide. A monstrous creature, made of dark metal, shaking and shivering as it went, came walking towards them, its legs taking steps thirty yards long. It had undeniably seen them, and was walking towards them. Teacher grabbed Ellandriel’s robe.

“Thero’shan! Snap out of it. This foe is far beyond you, and even I must pull out all the stops to conquer it. I cannot do that with you here, because I cannot trust these magics not to hit you. Here. Take this.” Teacher pulled out the letter from Daros Moonlance and put it in Ellandriel’s hand. “Make for Shattrath. If I can, I will meet you there if I cannot find you before. If I can’t, make for Dalaran and find Daros Moonlance. Now Go!

Teacher turned round, facing the monster.

“You are still here, Thero’shan. Be somewhere else.”

Ellandriel ran. Ran with a speed partly due to fear of the monster, partly due to fear of Teacher’s unrestrained war-magics, partly due to simple trust and obedience. Behind her, she could hear Teacher cry out loud.

“Foul creature! You face a battle-mage of the Quel’dorei! Your wretched existence is at an end!”

The rest of Teacher’s words were lost in the sound of a huge explosion, and the Fel Reaver’s deadly voice.

Ellandriel ran.


“Are you alright, sweetie?” Inzi Charmlight, the barmaid, looked up at Stetson from her height of maybe three feet.

Stetson said nothing for a while. Then, he looked from his empty pint mug to the Gnome woman.

“My brother is dead,” said Stetson.

“Aww, I’m sorry. Just got the news?”

Stetson shook his head. “He died a few weeks ago. I burnt his body myself.”

“That’s awful.”

“Can I have another pint of ale, please?”

“Sure you can,” said Inzi. “Won’t help in the long run, mind.”

“Nobody cares about the long run.”

“Fair warning friend. If you get rowdy, I’ll chuck you out.”


Ellandriel was too much out of breath to keep running. Gasping for air, she saw a Night-elf size gap between a few boulders and made for it. She lay down on her back, fighting to get her breath back. The blood pumping in her ears was too loud to hear if anyone, anything was following her. As her breath returned to normal, she set her jaw. This sort of thing wasn’t supposed to happen to a Night-elf of noble birth. That’s what soldiers and other functionaries were there for. She shut her eyes. That was one of the private jokes between her and Teacher. Rain in the Marshes? Shouldn’t happen to a High-borne. Burning heat in the Shimmering Flats? Too hot for a High-borne.

With her heart still beating fast, she peered out from between the rocks. Her eyes filled with tears as she saw the monstrous creature walk to the North.

“Shan’do…”

Shaking, she stepped out of her hiding place. She ran to the place where the killing machine had found them. It was not what Teacher had told her, but she could not leave her mentor, her only foothold in this hostile world, possibly wounded.

When she arrived at the scene, one look was enough. The thing that lay on the ground could only be recognised as a Night-elf by the remains of the clothes that were wrapped round it. The screech of scavenger birds was in Ellandriel’s ears. A few yards away, Teacher’s staff lay on the ground. Ellandriel picked it up, held it up, looked at the intricate carvings, the arcane magic flowing up and down its surface. One of the scavenger birds had landed next to Teacher’s broken body. Ellandriel raised the staff, pointed her hand at the ugly bird and fired, making the scavenger explode in a whirlwind of feathers. She stepped over once again to Teacher. She could not leave like this.

“Forgive me, Teacher.”

She pointed her hands at Teacher’s body. Fire flowed from them, until nothing remained of her only companion in all these lands but a heap of ash. Wind blew, and scattered it in the air. Ellandriel leaned on the staff, looked South and set off to obey her Teacher’s last command.

 

Ellandriel ran, concentrating on her running, trying with all her might not to think. She had found a road, and followed it, on the grounds that it must lead somewhere. It was getting dark. She looked up. The small sun of this place was still up. Why was it getting dark? Never mind. In the distance ahead of her, she could see shapes moving. Large. Blue-coloured. The tinge of Demonic magic touched her senses. Would these be Draenei? They were blue and descended from Daemons, but these creatures had no legs that she could see. No hooves. The book that had mentioned them, had not had any illustrations. She stayed well away from the creatures, and ran as fast as she could along the road, until they were far behind her. She tried to compose her mind enough to conjure up some water into her shaking hands. It took her a few tries. The water tasted of nothing. Ellandriel closed her eyes, reality hitting her despite her attempts to avoid it.

“Shan’do.”

Tears streaked her cheeks as she set her teeth, and ran on. As she ran, here and there, trees began to appear. Leafless, thorny, looking long dead, presumably waiting for rain that would never come. Underneath it, strange creatures scurried about. Arthropods. Four legs, fangs, a chitinous body. They had a strange wallowing gait, but nonetheless seemed very quick on their feet. Their teeth did not look apt to chewing up vegetation. Ellandriel hid herself as well as she could, and gathered up her fire magic just in case she was seen after all. Hiding soon became easier as the road found its way to more dense trees. There was a canopy overhead of vicious sharp thorns. Ellandriel knew of no trees that had only thorns. Thorns were a defence mechanism. She was in a place so bad that trees could only survive by producing thorns and no leaves, fruit or flower. What was the point even of trying to keep alive here? The answer was there at once. Our path is no longer of our own choosing, Thero’shan. Shattrath. Must find Shattrath.

Just as Ellandriel thought she had cleared the forest of thorns, there was a chittering noise behind her. She whirled round, Shan’do’s staff aloft, hand out. Behind her stood one of the larger creatures, raising itself up as high as it could, showing its fangs. Ellandriel bared her teeth.

“I am Ellandriel of the High-borne! Die, monster!”

Fire leapt from Ellandriel’s hand, at the creature’s eyes. It screamed, and charged. Ellandriel blinked aside and fired again, and again. The creature’s legs gave, and it fell to the ground. Still, Ellandriel kept pouring her fireballs into it. Die!

Finally, all her mana spent, the ravager reduced to a small heap of smouldering ashes, she leaned on her staff, bent down, and wept. Large, uncontrollable sobs with occasionally a word. Shan’do’s name, curses. A few hundred yards ahead, she could see some sort of building. A wooden framework, covered with skins, tumble down, derelict. Perhaps there would be people there. Perhaps more enemies. Ellandriel no longer cared. She walked up to one of the huts, entered, found it empty. She curled up on the floor, not bothering even with a blanket, and fell asleep.


Stetson sat at a table in the sewer-inn, called Cantrips and Crows. All round him, Humans, Blood-elves, Trolls, Undead went about their sordid business. Stetson didn’t care. His head swam with the drink. When the Gnome in Hero’s had finally stopped serving him drink, he’d dragged himself down here where nobody cared about his liver. From further on in the sewer system, the noises of battle reached him. He frowned. Wasn’t fighting forbidden in this place? Curiosity took the better of him and he walked towards the noise. A bit further on, there was a large hall, with the bulk of the room being taken up by three large fighting rings. Inside, a Dwarf warrior was fighting an Undead mage, and being cheered on and shouted at by the audience. The hint of a smile appeared on Stetson’s face. Now this was more like it. He looked at Morgan, who looked back up at him. Not with this much drink in him, though. He couldn’t even walk straight, let alone shoot straight. Let’s have a little nap first, and then let’s show this filth who’s boss.


She woke up, not knowing or caring how long she had slept. Night and day didn’t seem to work here like they did in Azeroth. She conjured up some food and water, ate, and set out again. Shattrath must be at the end of this road. Or perhaps not, but it would lead somewhere. Someone would be able to tell her where Shattrath was. The trees changed as she ran, becoming more green, with large leathery leaves. To her left she saw more huts like the one she’d slept in. Strange, shambling shapes walked round the huts, spears in their hands, bows on their backs. Ellandriel ran on before they could see her. There was more wildlife here. Moths flew among the trees. Huge lizards, of Basilisk kind, slid over the ground. Ellandriel even saw a wolf far in the distance, tearing at some unlucky prey animal. The road, unpaved, but flattened by many feet, wound on through the trees. Finally, she came to a fork in the road. With wide open eyes, she looked. This was a signpost! Who would put up a signpost in a place like this? The signpost was marked in a script Ellandriel didn’t know. Would one of them be Shattrath? Ellandriel closed her eyes, counted to ten and pointed. When she opened her eyes, she found she was pointing at the lower right sign. Very well then. If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there. She turned right.

 

She almost missed her. She was sitting between a large cart abandoned on the road, and a tall tree. A small fire was at her feet, containing… Ellandriel sniffed. A teapot. A Night-elf was calmly sitting there, brewing tea! Of all the things she’d expected to see here, that was the last. The Night-elf smiled at her and raised a hand.

“Ishnu-alah, traveller. My name is Ariciel. I’ve just made some fresh honey mint tea. Would you like some?”

“Ishnu dal-dieb,” said Ellandriel. “Yes please,” she added, after a few moments.

Ariciel reached behind her, and dug a mug out of her pack. While she did, she shook the figure of someone sleeping next to her.

“Wake up,” she said, in Common. “We have a guest.”

Ellandriel took a breath. Common. That meant that the person next Ariciel was not an Elf. The creature that stirred, sat up and looked at her was definitely not an Elf. Elves did not have a blue face, neither did they have horns on their heads. A long bare blue arm emerged from the sleeping furs.

“Ishnu-alah,” said the Draenei woman, with a strange accent. She continued in Common. “My name is Mareva. Long life, good health.”

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