Part 17: Honestly, I can explain

It took Mareva considerable self-control to allow Ellandriel her moment with the Naaru A’Dal. She wanted to grab her by the scruff of her neck and point her in the direction of the portal trainer in the Terrace of Light. But she had been here before. She and Stetson had come to this very place, and walked into the presence of the Creature of Light. Up till then, the only Naaru Mareva had known was O’ros, the pilot, navigator of Exodar. In a sense, O’ros was Exodar. Marerva had always been in awe of O’ros’ incredible intelligence, being able to guide Exodar through the Twisting Nethers to within a quarter of a light-year of Azeroth. It took a spacer to realise what an achievement that was. A’dal, though, was someone different altogether. Where O’ros’ business was the Cosmos, A’dal had made the study of the mortal souls his. Nobody came to him in vain, when they needed advice. Mareva looked at Ellandriel, who stood on A’dal’s platform, still as a statue. She watched Ellandriel bow her head, turn away. There was a smile on her face, and tears on her cheeks. She looked up at Mareva. She drew her sleeve across her face.

“I am ready. Have you found the portal trainer?”

“I have,” said Mareva. “Her name is Iorioa, and she is standing by the wall there.”

Ellandriel and Mareva walked over to the portal trainer, a tall Draenei woman wearing a rich gold-and-blue dress. A staff was in her hand. Ellandriel bowed her head.

“An it please you, Mistress, I wish to learn how to create portals to Dalaran, in Northrend.”

“Certainly,” said Iorioa. “May I have your hearthstone, please?”

Ellandriel took her smooth, shining, new hearthstone out of her pocket. She had received it from Minalei just that morning. Mistress Iorioa’s hand felt cool as she took the pebble. She frowned.

“What level are you, Miss?”

“Level, Mistress?”

“Yes. When was your latest certification?”

Ellandriel looked into Iorioa’s face with a sinking feeling.

“I am… was an apprentice of the Eldre’thalas school of Magecraft. We do not have the certificates you speak of.”

Iorioa shook her head. “Then I am sorry to say that I cannot teach you. In order to avoid tragic accidents, we only teach portal magic to graduates of the sixtieth level of a certified teaching authority. I am afraid that Eldre’thalas is not among them.”

Mareva frowned. “I assure you, Mistress Iorioa, Miss Ellandriel has proven herself quite capable in her mage-craft. If the fact that she is a Night-elf bothers you…”

“Not in the least,” said Iorioa. “I have great respect for the Night-elves and their accomplishments in their Druidic doctrines and their knowledge of the Light. But they themselves have banished mage-craft from their midst. To use it in their presence is punishable by death. Hence, there are no officially accredited lores of mage-craft, and I cannot be sure that Miss Ellandriel has the knowledge required for portal magic.”

Mareva nodded. “I understand. Is there, perhaps, a kind of test she can perform to demonstrate her abilities?”

“There are,” said Iorioa. “There are fifty-nine tests to perform.” Iorioa gave Ellandriel’s hearthstone back to her. “I am sorry I cannot help you, but I would be more sorry if you created a portal to the wrong place, with disastrous results.”

Ellandriel bowed her head. “I understand, Mistress. But I must travel to Dalaran, it is of the greatest importance.”

Iorioa pointed to her right. “You can use this portal, which will take you to the Human city of Stormwind. From there, you can take the ferry to Northrend. You could be in Dalaran in no more than two weeks.”

“Not quick enough,” said Mareva. “We need to be there tomorrow at the latest.”

“Still,” said Iorioa, “This is the best I can do.”

Mareva muttered a few words under her breath which Ellandriel couldn’t understand, and Iorioa pretended not to have heard. Then, she nodded curtly at Iorioa, turned round, and stomped off, trailing Ellandriel.

“Now where has that Druid gone?”

Ellandriel looked round, and pointed. Ariciel stood a little way off, talking to a pretty auburn-haired Human girl. Mareva frowned. Wasn’t that just typical? Mareva walked over. She gave the Human girl a friendly but firm look.

“Good morning, Miss. Is my friend bothering you?”

The girl laughed. “Not in the least. We were talking about Redridge. I haven’t been to Lakeshire in a month of Mondays.”

“That is a great loss, Miss. Ariciel? The portal trainer refuses to teach Miss Ellandriel how to do portals.”

“Oh dear,” said Ariciel.

“Which means we are screwed,” said Mareva. “Unless we want to go by Stormwind, and take weeks on the steamer.”

“Which we don’t,” said Ariciel. “Which is why…”

“The stupid nactba wants Ellandriel to take fifty-nine ‘simple’ tests before she will even consider it.”

“I don’t think I could do that,” said Ellandriel. “It takes years to train a mage. I am truly sorry.”

“It is not your fault, Miss Ellandriel. When last I was here, there were portals here going everywhere! Exodar. Darnassus. Ironforge, even.”

“I heard the portals in Dalaran have also been shut down for some reason or other,” said the Human girl. “Very inconvenient if you’re not a mage.”

“Exactly. Now all we have is Stormwind, which is no use at all, no offence meant, Miss…”

“None taken,” said the Human girl with a smile. “My friends call me Seashell.”

“Mareva. Long life, good health.” Mareva looked back at Ariciel. “In the mean time S’dezo’houn is lying in some filthy hospital, being treated for the Naaru only know what, by who knows what kind of saw-bones…” Mareva took a deep breath. “We need a portal mage, but where would we find one?”

Ariciel smiled sweetly. “Well, I am not a capital-H Hunter, but we could lurk by the portal trainer and wait till one of them shows up looking for lessons.” She lowered her voice to a whisper. “Bad hunters chase. Good hunters wait.”

“But how long will that take? We could be here for days!”

“Hello,” said Seashell, raising a finger.

 

Mareva held Seashell’s hand, looking into her eyes.

“Thank you, Miss. I do not know what I would have done without you. If ever you need my help, you have only to ask.”

“My pleasure, and all the best to your friend. Hurry up. These portals don’t stick around too long.”

Mareva nodded, waved, stepped through. Ariciel and Ellandriel were waiting for her on the other side. Ellandriel had her eyes closed, and was slowly turning round on the spot.

“There are so many enchantments here. The whole world feels like it’s woven out of the strands of the Light.”

Ariciel looked back, watching the portal wink out of existence.

“What a nice girl.” She started digging in her pack for warmer clothes. It was definitely a bit nippy here.

“She is,” said Mareva. “Hunter S’dezo’houn mentioned a hospital named ‘First To Your Aid’. Let us find it.”

“Ask a guard,” said Ariciel.

 

“Hunter S’dezo’houn of Nagrand?” Nurse Birch gave Mareva a little disappointed look. “He’s a regular here. He’s been in here at least six times this month. Frankly, we’re getting a bit tired of the sight of him.”

Mareva slowly breathed in. Behind her, Ariciel gave Ellandriel a sidelong look, and mentally geared herself up to support Mareva in whatever way might be necessary.

“What is it that is wrong with him? Is it some kind of chronic disease?”

Nurse Birch shook her head. “A clear case of transubstantiation of the brain.”

Mareva stared blankly. “Transubstantiation.”

“Yes. We don’t agree what. Miss Butler thinks sawdust. I am more in favour of excreta. Matron Olisarra the Kind thinks hard vacuum. One of these days, we will know for sure, when someone finally cracks open that thick skull of his.”

“Nurse Birch. What is going on, please?”

The corner of Josie Birch’ mouth dropped ever so slightly. “He spends his evenings in the Circle of Wills.”

“Pardon me,” said Mareva. “This is my first time in Dalaran. What is the Circle of Wills?”

“It is where prize fighters fight for prizes,” said nurse Birch. “Every time he wins by a small margin, he comes here for bandages, stitches, or whatever else ails him. If you see him, please tell him we are getting tired of patching him up every time.”

Prize fighters? Is Hunter S’dezo’houn fighting for money?”

“I’m afraid so. He is quite good at it. We know. We also look after his opponents.”

Mareva’s eyes narrowed. “Where is this Circle of Wills?”

Josie Birch pointed out the door. “Take a right, then go down. Head for the noise.”

“Thank you,” said Mareva, turned on her hooves and walked out of the door. Ellandriel started to follow her, but Ariciel grabbed her shoulder.

“I know that look on her face. Whatever she’s going to tell Stetson, we won’t be able to understand it. While we’re here, Miss… Birch? Miss Birch. How good are you with arms?”

“Arms are a speciality. Please tell me a fish didn’t swallow it.”


Stetson sat at the edge of the circle, staring at the ground, preparing himself. There was quite a large crowd, and they were cheering for him. Stetson didn’t care. He was not here to be popular, he was here to earn his flying lessons, his ticket out of here. If he won this fight, he would have enough. If he won. He took courage in the fact that he was not expecting to win. No matter how many times he had won, no matter how the mindless idiots told him he was invincible, he still knew that no matter how many times a coin showed heads, the next time was just as likely to show heads as it was tails.

He turned round. Walked to the middle of the circle. Once more. One more fight, and then he could say goodbye to all this, and good riddance. He looked over to the other end of the Circle. A slender figure, dressed in a hooded robe. Oh damn. A Draenei woman. Stetson had fought only one other Draenei woman and had hated it. She had reminded him too much of… Stetson blinked.

“Hello, My-ah sladkaya.”

Stetson took a breath. “Mareva?”

“Recovering in hospital are you?”

“Um…”

“Picking up a little extra cash?”

“I needed it for my flying lessons, so I could search for you from the air.”

“That is good to know. Do you have enough money now?”

“I only need to win… this fight.”

A slow grin started on Mareva’s face.

Stetson’s eyes grew large. “I cannot fight you!”

“Excellent,” said Mareva. “Easy win for me.”

“You can’t fight me!”

The bell rang. Stetson found he was flying backwards. Apparently, she could.


“Daros Moonlance?”

Ellandriel was addressing a tall, dark-skinned Night-elf with a grey moustache, though no beard. Ariciel stood a little way off, not wanting to involve herself with all these High-borne machinations. Ellandriel produced the letter from the side pocket of her pack and showed it to him. Daros Moonlance looked round, a bit uneasy.

“Has your… teacher, not come with you?”

Ellandriel looked at Daros Moonlance’s face. Here was an Elf who Shan’do had wanted to kill. Shan’do had never explained why. Back before the Sundering, politics had run hot. It might simply have been an exaggeration, but Ellandriel thought she could see genuine fear on Moonlance’s face.

“My Teacher is dead,” said Ellandriel. “Shan’do stood against a Fell Reaver of the Burning Legion, and allowed me to escape, so that I could bring this message to you. I am most interested in your explanation.”

Ellandriel watched closely. For the briefest of moments, a flicker of relief showed on Daros Moonlance’s face. Then, he closed his eyes, folded his hands and bowed his head to her.

“That is a great sadness,” said Daros Moonlance. “We may have had… our differences, but your Teacher’s courage was an example to us all. Let me assure you, this death was not in vain.” Daros Moonlance glanced at Ariciel, who was on one knee, looking at a small mustard plant in the grass, with only a quick look back at them. “I will not speak of it here. We need a place away from eyes and ears.”

“And Keldorei?”

“The Keldorei need to know what I am about to tell you. It affects all the Night-elves. It affects all living creatures. Come with me.”

“Very well,” said Ellandriel. “Ariciel? Mr. Moonlance wishes to discuss something with me in private. Will you excuse us for a moment?”

“Of course,” said Ariciel, walking up. “If he gets fresh with you, yell and I’ll come flying.” She smiled at Daros Moonlance. “It’s not I don’t trust you, Mr. Moonlance, but I don’t.”

 

“Honestly,” said Daros Moonlance. “Does the woman think I am going to sunder this continent while she is not looking?”

They were walking up the stairs in the Legerdemain Lounge, to Daros’ room. Ellandriel resisted the temptation to look round, but she had the distinct impression that Ariciel wasn’t far away.

“She is a Feral Druid. It is in her nature to protect the people she has accepted as friends. I am honoured to be in that group. I would not have expected that of her.”

Daros Moonlance said nothing. He touched the door to his room, dispelling the enchantments that held it shut.

“Please enter. I have enchanted this room not to let out any sounds. I cannot trust anyone.”

The door closed behind Ellandriel, and a dead silence descended. The bed was not made up. There were empty glasses and dirty plates on the side table. Clearly, Daros Moonlance did not allow the Lounge staff in his room. She wrinkled her nose. The place stank. The staff would not be happy when he left.

“Please sit down, Miss Ellandriel.”

Ellandriel looked round, moved a stack of papers from a chair to the table, and sat down. Daros Moonlance stood in front of her and took a deep breath.

“Before I continue, you must swear to me that you will convey this message to none other than Magis Mordent Evenshade, in Darnassus.”

“One of the High-borne, in Darnassus?”

“Please let me finish, Ellandriel.” Daros Moonlance kneeled down in front of Ellandriel’s chair and looked into her eyes. “Have you heard of Neltharion?”

“Neltharion. Deathwing. Of course I have. He was the master of the Black Dragonflight. He was killed in the Second War.”

Daros Moonlance closed his eyes a moment, to see if his sound wards were still active. Then, he spoke in a whisper.

“Neltharion lives.”

Ellandriel blinked. ‘Deathwing’ to her was a dark figure of legend, a by-word of fear from ancient time. Daros Moonlance was shaking.

“In his lair in Deepholm, dead Neltharion lies dreaming. Soon, he will return, to the ruin of all. If we do not act, and act now, then all of Azeroth will be covered in darkness. We can no longer afford to be separate from our kinsfolk. All the Night-elves must unite once more. Our knowledge of the Arcane will be essential in countering this threat. We must unite, and even if we do, there is no guarantee of victory. If the Keldorei do not accept our help and knowledge, then we are lost. Mordent Evenshade is in Darnassus now, trying to gain an audience with Tyrande Whisperwind, but he is not allowed in. I have compiled a volume of information on Deathwing and his doings. You must bring this information to Darnassus. Will you do it?”

“Yes,” said Ellandriel. “But why do you not bring this information yourself?”

“I was one of the mages who brought that accursed Portal into existence, for Lord Sargeras. To go to Darnassus is death to me. You, however, are…”

“Expendable?” Ellandriel sniffed.

“Innocent,” said Daros Moonlance. “Please. I can send you now, if you want.”

Ellandriel shook her head. “Not without my friends. They have brought me here, safe and sound.” She ran her fingers along her arm. The broken bone had been re-set and re-healed by Matron Olisarra. She almost felt like she had lost a trophy. “I will not leave without speaking to them.”

“Time is of the essence, Ellandriel. We must re-forge the connections between Keldorei and Quel’dorei, while there is still time.”

“By vanishing into thin air, leaving my Keldorei and Draenei friends wondering where I have gone?”

“They don’t matter. We need to go to the very top. We need to have an audience with Tyrande Whisperwind. You, you can be part of this.”

Ellandriel got up. “I am already a part of this. I would never have expected it, but I am.”

“Hah. You have found your ways into the favours of the Keldorei, have you? Are they treating you with due respect now?”

Ellandriel looked at the High-borne Mage. She couldn’t believe her ears. Even after ten thousand years of exile, now living in fear and squalor, hidden away behind walls and magic, he still thought himself above… who? Everybody?

“They make the most atrocious fun of me whenever the opportunity presents itself,” said Ellandriel, not sure why she suddenly felt so unbelievably happy about this. “So. Mr. Moonlance, do you have a message for me to deliver, or not?”

“A book, actually. This tome represents decades of my work, careful, dangerous research. People have died for this knowledge. It is the only extant copy. It is my hope that Magis Mordent Evenshade will be able to use it to persuade the Council to accept us back into Night-elven society.”

Ellandriel tilted her head slightly.

“Mr. Moonlance, when I was a young girl, someone told me that the word ‘gullible’ was not in the dictionary. So I verified, and what do you know? It was. I have been unable to trust anyone since. How many people have copies of this book?”

Daros Moonlance sneered, held out the book to Ellandriel. She took it.

“Mordent Evenshade. Darnassus. Correct?”

“Yes.”

 

As Ellandriel opened the door, the first thing she saw was a large, grey-white cat lying curled up on the thick carpet, one yellow eye watching the door. Ellandriel grinned, walked over and bent over the cat, hands on her knees.

“Walkies!”

Cat-Ariciel raised her head, and her tail banged against the wall with enthusiasm. Then, she jumped to her feet, and skipped down the stairs ahead of Ellandriel. As they walked out onto the street, the stars were out, and all Darnassus’ lights were on. Ariciel changed back to her Elf shape without breaking stride. Ellandriel looked round at her.

“Lady Ariciel?”

Ariciel raised an eyebrow.

“Thank you for looking out for me,” said Ellandriel.

“My pleasure,” said Ariciel. “He looked like a git.”

“He was. High-borne.”


Stetson immediately recognised the ceiling when he opened his eyes. O dear. He’d lost then. The Goblin would be besides himself with joy – profit at last! For Stetson, it meant he would need… three? Four fights to get his money back, and he could go and find…

Someone put a damp towel on his forehead. Stetson’s eyes turned round.

“Comfy, my love?”

Stetson considered his answer carefully.

“Yes, thank you.”

“I thought you were dying,” said Mareva. “We had agreed that you would not do that, hadn’t we?”

“I was under a new kind of Scourge curse. If not for Anchorite Yazmina, I would have died.”

“And so, having miraculously escaped death, you decide to have people shoot at you in some rancid prize-fighting ring.”

Stetson sighed. “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

“Just like payment in lieu for a trip to Dalaran?”

“Eh?”

Mareva gave him a Look. “You slept with Helmsman Debaar.”

“Well, so did you. She explained to me what you did on the trip to Azeroth.”

Mareva did not turn her eyes away, not even for a moment.

“I am sorry, Mareva.”

“There are no promises between us,” said Mareva. “You did nothing wrong. Still, it hurt.”

Stetson reached out, put his big hand on Mareva’s slender arm.

“You are the last person I would want to hurt. I would endure anything rather than hurt you.” Stetson looked at the wall opposite his bed. “It seems my wishes have been granted.”

“Move over,” said Mareva. She pulled up Stetson’s blanket.

Stetson moved to one side. Mareva got under the blanket with him, and put her head on his shoulder. She’d picked a sore spot to put her head on, but Stetson said nothing. He watched Mareva’s face, eyes closed, a smile that made his stomach knot up.

“I apologise for fighting you tonight,” said Mareva. “Did you lose much money?”

“Half my capital,” said Stetson. “I cannot afford my flying lessons now. But since you have found me, I do not need them.”

“I put all my money on myself,” said Mareva. “I know what a wimp you are when confronted by attractive Shaman chicks.”

“How much?”

“Five hundred gold at eighteen to one.”

“That is… nine thousand!”

“Actually, it is over nine thousand. I had a little chat with the Goblin, and explained to him that you would find it hard to hit me. He was most appreciative. He promised me another twenty if I would win.”

“And he… paid?”

“Of course. A Goblin’s word is his bond. It is when you make your deals that they rob you blind. ‘Twenty K on a win’, indeed. What kind of a zlotnik does he think I am?”

“You did not say you were sorry for fighting me.”

Mareva wriggled a bit, getting more comfortable.

“No.”

“Engineer Mareva, I love you.”

“Since I am already in your bed, I assume it is for my money.” Mareva looked up at Stetson. “You big lump. What made you do something as stupid as that?”

Stetson ran his fingers through Mareva’s hair.

“Let me tell you about Garz’houn. Let me tell you about my brother.”

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