Part 18: Sharp things and blunt instruments

“That is easy,” said Mareva. “Valgarde is to the south-east from here. There, we take the steam boat to Menethil. Sail to Theramore from there, and fly the rest of the way.”

“Either that, or we find a friendly mage who can portal us,” said Ariciel. “Do we know any?”

Ellandriel wiped the last of the egg off her plate with a bit of bread. “I cannot make any portals, nor to be honest, am I very friendly.”

“I think we should leave soon,” said Stetson. “I feel we have made ourselves somewhat impopular with the prize fighting people.”

Stetson passed Mareva the bread basket. They were sitting quite close, and their tails were touching. Stetson had healed up wonderfully.

“I wonder why,” said Mareva. She reached for the eggs at the same time Stetson did. They looked at each other, did the ‘No You Go First’ dance. Mareva won, and scooped exactly two-thirds of the scrambled egg onto her plate. Stetson looked sadly at the remaining egg, turned round to find Inzi, the Gnome barmaid, already there with a fresh bowl of eggs.

Ellandriel pushed her plate away, and opened the book again. The pages were yellowed, or as the book people have it, “slightly foxed”. It was written mostly in Darnassian, with occasional quotes in Common or Thalassian. Mareva looked over.

“What does it say?”

“It is mostly about the doings of various cults, and the gods they worship. Or, in this case, the Black Dragon Aspect.”

“Do they perform evil and debauched rituals to appease their gods?”

“Ritualised perverse sexual acts, blood sacrifices, and depravities of a disturbing nature?”

“Perhaps,” said Mareva, looking over Ellandriel’s shoulder.

“It doesn’t say,” said Ellandriel. She grinned at Mareva. “I should have a pen somewhere you could borrow, though.”

“That would make the Night-elves wish to join with the Cultists, rather than the High-borne,” said Stetson.

Ellandriel leafed through the book. “Ah. This is where it gets interesting. Oh my goodness. Apparently, this Deathwing creature has his armour nailed to his very hide.”

“Clever, that,” said Ariciel. “Someone remind me, the purpose of armour is to keep pointy things away from your skin, isn’t it?”

“More importantly,” said Mareva, “How is this going to improve the High-borne relationship with their long-lost relatives?”

“I am not certain,” said Ellandriel. “Perhaps as an illustration of the kind of threats we may help combating.”

Mareva pinched a slice of bacon from Stetson’s plate. “Are the Keldorei going to receive you with open arms?”

“Not very likely,” said Ellandriel. “But as long as they refrain from pointing sharp things at me, I will be able to complete my task.”

“Then why go in the first place?”

“My Teacher told me,” said Ellandriel, simply. “I may not have too high an opinion of Mr. Daros Moonlance, but Shan’do told me to follow his orders. Also…” Ellandriel looked round the table. “Where else should I go? I have no place to call home, except Eldre’thalas, and I will not return there.”

“It will be nice to see Lirael and Bearwalker again,” said Ariciel.

Stetson smiled, remembering. “How is she?”

“Good when last I looked.”

“I have never been to Darnassus,” said Stetson.

“I know a tavern there,” said Mareva.

“You know a tavern everywhere,” said Ariciel.

Ellandriel looked from one face to the other. She could not believe her ears. Here they were, calmly planning to accompany her to Darnassus. Tears welled up in her eyes.

“Thank you,” she said, quietly.

“What for?” said Ariciel.

“For coming with me.”

Ariciel shrugged. “Why not? Mareva has her boyfriend, and I’ve had word that Bannog is pissing about in the Eastern Plaguelands for some reason. No way am I going there again. Let him find someplace clean first.”

“Someone is watching us,” said Stetson. “Behind me. Table to the left. Draenei man.”

Ariciel’s eyes flickered over, then returned to Stetson. “I see him. Want me to charge him?”

“He may simply be admiring Mareva’s tail,” said Stetson, seriously.

“Yeah,” said Ariciel. “Like I said, want me to charge him?”

“He may be watching your tail, my savage hunter.” Mareva turned to Ariciel. “Charge him.”

There was a polite cough, and the Draenei man stood by their table.

“Pardon me. I could not help overhearin’ your conversation. Are you going to Valgarde?”

Stetson turned round. “We are not quite decided yet, but it seems likely. How does this concern you?”

The Draenei man folded his hands and bowed his head at them.

“Allow me to introduce myself. I am Fortibrais, Paladin of the Light. I need to travel to Valgarde meself, to introduce myself to the flight master there. I can offer you my services as a healer.”

“Hmm.” Ariciel looked Fortibrais up and down. “We could do with a dedicated healer. We’ve got plenty of firepower, but no fallback for when it goes wrong.”

“It would be good to have the power of a Paladin on our journey,” said Stetson. “How good are you?”

“I was a healer for a group of Paladins and a Warrior. Together we stormed Utgarde Pinnacle and brought down King Ymiron.” Fortibrais coughed. “And then we got our sorry butts out of there as soon as possible.”

“That sounds eminently sane,” said Stetson, looking the Draenei man in the eyes. “I believe you.”

Mareva turned to Ellandriel. “What do you think? Shall we pick up another stray?”

“What, another?”

It was a bright and sunny morning at Krasus’ Landing. Four bright new gryphons stood on the landing platform, ready to depart. Mareva was no longer a rich woman, having blown her entire fortune on gryphons for all. “Found money”, she had called it. Even Ariciel now had a pretty brown gryphon with blue reins. She didn’t really need it, having the marvellous ability to turn into a bird, but she had to admit, you couldn’t easily talk to people if you had a beak instead of a mouth.

“Are we ready?” Mareva looked round.

Stetson looked a bit uneasy, sitting on his new beast. On the one hand, these gryphons were not truly living creatures, which was good, because a wild gryphon would probably break its back if four hundred pounds of Draenei male sat on it. On the other hand, it had the shape of a beast, but no soul, which was unnerving. Also, since there was no way of fitting Morgan in the saddle with him, he’d had to stuff him away again, only hours after first re-summoning him. Morgan would not be a happy cat when he came back. Fortibrais sat a little way off, on a white Hippogriff he’d earned far away in the North in the wars against the Lich King, now deceased. He looked at the others with an unfathomable look in his glowing eyes.

Ariciel stretched. “Get going already.”

With a rush of feathers, they all took to the skies. There was a bright sun out, and the air was crisp and clear. The wind beat in their faces. They kept a fairly high altitude, and the whole of Crystalsong Forest lay beneath them in its glittering splendour of crystallised trees and purple shrubs. Ellandriel was the only one who had never flown before. At first, she clung to her gryphon, holding on to the saddle with white knuckles, gripping the beast between her thighs until her legs started to ache. Then, she gradually relaxed. Next to her, Ariciel flew with a wild look in her eyes, turning this way and that in the saddle, looking round. Well, she could turn into a bird if she fell off. Mareva flew in front, holding a compass up to her eye. She was leading them due south-east, hoping to clear the frozen fields of Dragonblight before night. She found a convenient landmark to aim for, and dropped the compass, letting it dangle on the string round her neck. Stetson and Fortibrais took up the rear.

Soon the bright white snow of Dragonblight lay beneath them. It grew colder, and Mareva took them down, till their gryphons skimmed just above the snow, looking for a good place for a stop. Herds of woolly mammoths walked below, heading North to the mountains. They landed in the snow, quickly had a bite of flatbread with dried meat, and set off again. Ellandriel was cold, even while she was wearing all of her clothes. Then, she remembered Shan’do’s voice. A cold firemage?

“Apologies, Shan’do,” she whispered, and channeled a little bit of fire magic. She heated up wonderfully.

Ariciel flew in front, when the snowy plains gave way to the woodlands of the Grizzly Hills. The trees were gorgeous in their autumn shades, and she could see bears, stags, and wolves if she flew low enough. This forest was so different from Darkshore. Trees here grew slowly, steadily. Their wood would be hard, and have many tight rings. Lirael had shown her one of her violins, made from wood out of this forest. It had belonged to her grandfather, who had made it himself. Its tones were still as deep and vibrant today as they had been when first it was made. Lirael had never known her grandparents, but this instrument still made the same music that her grandfather had played.

Ariciel looked ahead, spotted a perfect place to have lunch, waved at her friends and made for it. She didn’t feel like hunting much, but at least now, they could make a fire and have hot tea.

She felt it as soon as she got off her gryphon. Hairs raising in the back of her neck. She shot Stetson a look. He didn’t seem to trust this place either. His crossbow was in the crook of his arm, loaded and ready. He whistled, and Morgan appeared like a ghost by his side. Ariciel watched Stetson close his eyes, concentrating.

“We are not alone here,” said Stetson.

Ariciel took a breath, and cast the spells that made her skin harden, and the Gift of the Wild that bolstered everyone’s defences. Fortibrais closed his eyes in prayer, and the Light’s glow shone from him, strengthening all.

“Let us leave while we can,” said Mareva.

From out of nowhere, a dark figure appeared, stabbed Mareva in the back and leapt at Ellandriel while Mareva fell over. Fortibrais pointed a hand at Mareva, and a fountain of Light sprang up underneath her, through her. She struggled feebly to get back on her feet, but couldn’t. The figure, a Blood-elf, had grabbed Ellandriel from behind and twisted her arm behind her back, a knife against her throat. His eyes glared a cruel green.

“Weapons down, or-”

Stetson, in one fluid move, whirled round, aimed, fired. The Blood-elf slowly collapsed, Stetson’s crossbow bolt sticking out of his eye. Ariciel turned to her bear form, turning round and round looking for more enemies. Ellandriel coughed, checked her throat for blood, grabbed her staff and cast her battle spells. Fortibrais kneeled by Mareva,

“You alright, me girl?”

Mareva struggled to her hooves. “I am. Just winded. Thank you for the armour, Ariciel.”

Ariciel grunted, looked round.

“There are more,” said Stetson. “Ready?”

There was a crackling noise, and Ariciel charged forward. A bolt of fire headed for Ellandriel hit Ariciel in the chest, and she growled. At a shout from Stetson, Morgan charged in and attacked the spellcaster, another Blood-elf. Three more came running from between the trees, swords and daggers out. Ariciel turned round, and put herself between the sword-fighters and the others. Ellandriel, Mareva and Stetson now opened fire. Fortibrais cast spells of healing on Ariciel.

One of the Blood-elf swordfighters ran away from the pack, and circled round to attack Fortibrais, who was concentrating on healing Ariciel’s wounds as, and sometimes even before, she received them. With her weapons shining with the Holy Light, the Blood-elf ran at Fortibrais, who neatly sidestepped her and swung his mace at her. The Blood-elf rolled out of the way in her plate armour, and was on her feet again. She faced Fortibrais, hoping to distract him from healing Ariciel. There was a noise like a sledge-hammer hitting a metal barrel, and the Blood-elf staggered forward. Turning round, she saw Mareva bearing down on her. As Fortibrais returned to his healing, Mareva took another swing at the Blood-elf, with her slender staff imbued with Earth-magic. She hadn’t a chance of piercing the Blood-elf’s armour, but she could turn her body to jelly inside her plate. The Blood-elf bared her teeth and counter-attacked with sword and dagger. Mareva sprang back, struck out at the hand holding the sword. She got lucky, and the sword went flying. Mareva’s staff swung round, fast, and hit the Blood-elf in the chest. As she did, Mareva felt the energy travel back, along her weapon, burning her as if with fire. As she shrunk back, gasping for breath, a fierce light grew all round the Blood-elf, then leapt out at her, hitting her square in the chest.

Mareva screamed.

Stetson lowered his crossbow. The spellcaster had not been able to deflect all Stetson’s arrows. Now, he had cast a spell that encased him in an impenetrable ice block. Stetson did not waste any arrows on him. It gave him a few moments to see who else needed shooting. Ellandriel and Ariciel had two of the three sword-fighters between them. Ariciel lashed out, tooth and claw, and managed to dodge most of the return strikes. Fortibrais was ready whenever Ariciel got hit. Stetson looked round at Mareva, who was fighting the third sword-fighter. She was between him and her enemy, hammering on the Elf’s defences. Stetson aimed his crossbow, but with them both moving around, it was difficult to get a clean shot. He winced as the Elf’s battle spells hit Mareva. It seemed to make her angrier and angrier. Stetson started to run round so he could get a clean shot, but at that moment, a cracking sound warned him that the mage was breaking out of his ice block. Stetson whirled round, called out to Morgan to attack, and fired.

Ellandriel’s mind was fizzing. She was using her most potent fire spells, taking care not to hit Ariciel. Her staff glowed in her left hand, adding power and focus to the attacks she shot from her right. Even so, these cursed Sin’dorei should have died minutes ago. Clearly, they had magical protection.

“I’ll have that,” said Ellandriel, and concentrated.

This was a spell that rarely got used in Eldre’thalas. It was considered rude and reckless to steal the protection of your opponents in a duel. Just the thing for Sin’dorei. With wicked satisfaction, she felt the magical barrier move from her enemy to herself. She took a deep breath, and cut loose with the most powerful fire blast she could manage. The Blood-elf swordfighter cried out, turned round to charge her. Ariciel saw her chance, and raked her claws over the Elf’s back. He fell to his knees, then onto his face.

Ariciel and Ellandriel now rounded on the last swordfighter, who leapt backward to get them both in front of him. Fortibrais’ mace hit him from behind. He dropped his sword and collapsed.

Just as they turned round towards the Blood-elf mage, he cried out, disappeared, and re-appeared between them. There was a rush of ice and all froze in place, as though their legs were fixed to the ground. With a curse in Thalassian on his lips, he faded from sight. They all strained their muscles to no avail, as out of their field of vision, Mareva was still fighting the last Blood-elf. The sounds of battle ended, and the quiet was oppressive. They could hear the sound of laboured breathing, but not who it was. Stetson’s muscles bulged, his face turned dark, but he could not break the bonds of magic that held him. There was a hand on his shoulder, and try as he might, he could not even see what colour it was.

Leaning heavily on her staff, Mareva stepped forward where he could see her. Her armour was torn to pieces. One of her eyes was shut with congealed blood, and she could not use one arm. She balanced herself carefully on her hooves, and with her other hand swung round her staff, with a noise somewhere between a grunt and a cough. She hit the ice barrier holding Stetson, and it shattered like an egg-shell when finally you put too much pressure on it. Stetson sprang forward and caught her in his arms as she fell.

With Mareva in his arms, Stetson stepped over to Fortibrais, and kicked hard. The barrier broke, and Stetson handed over Mareva to the healer without a word. Only then did he free the others. He looked around him.


Stetson’s cat appeared behind him, and pushed his head in his knee. Good. Stetson found his crossbow, fitted an arrow, then concentrated. Nothing moved in their immediate vicinity. the Blood-elf mage would be long gone, if he knew what was good for him. There was a soft noise, and Stetson turned, crossbow up. He walked over to Mareva’s enemy, a Blood-elf woman.

He stopped.

The Blood-elf lay on her back, dagger fallen from her hand. Blood ran from her nose and mouth, and she was trying to swallow so she could breathe. She coughed, spraying drops.

“You,” said Stetson.

The Blood-elf’s green eyes looked up at Stetson. Her lips moved, but no sound came out. She stopped trying to talk, and simply looked at him, a silent plea. Then, she closed her eyes, tilted back her head, exposing her throat. Stetson, without hesitating, aimed his crossbow, pulled the trigger. The Blood-elf’s arms and legs twitched once, then relaxed.

Ariciel walked up, bloody and battered, but alive and defiant. She looked down on the Blood-elf’s body.

“Waste of a good arrow,” she said.

Stetson put one hoof on the Blood-elf’s chest and pulled out the arrow. He started to put it back in his quiver, then changed his mind and dropped it on the floor.

“Yes,” he said, and went to see how Mareva was.

The inn was called Amberpine Lodge. They went in, got a room, and licked their wounds. Fortibrais had been hit by a few pieces of flying magic, and healed himself. He had lit a few candles on the table, set out the simple symbols of his faith, and now sat kneeled in prayer. Ellandriel hadn’t a scratch on her. Mareva had been burnt badly by the Blood-elf’s magic, and had a stab wound. She lay on the bed, bandaged, with her healing totem nearby. She’d sent Stetson away for some tea, or Qrovna, or whatever.

Ariciel sat in a comfortable chair, bare feet on the table, leaning back, eyes closed. She had not been able to dodge everything, and might have cracked a rib. A few regrowth spells had fixed that.

Ellandriel had found a book. It was the most trashy of trash, but the trickle of words into her mind soothed her.

Stetson came in, followed by two Human serving girls bearing hot food and drink.

Ariciel’s eyes shone at the sight of food. “Man has hunted shoveltusk. This woman approves of his gifts.”

Stetson picked up Ariciel’s feet, and dropped them on the floor. The girls put down the food. Stetson walked over to the bed, put a few more pillows behind Mareva’s back and handed her a plate. Mareva looked at him with a slow, lazy smile on her face.

“Are you going to feed me as well, my love?”

“If need be, yes,” said Stetson.

“Go feed yourself. Get your strength up.” Mareva moved a little closer. “You may need it. I certainly will.”

“Oi!” Ariciel looked over. “You’re the only one with a boyfriend handy. Don’t rub it in.”

Ellandriel looked up from her book. “She is recovering. She’ll hardly want to…”

“Speak for yourself,” said Mareva and Ariciel at the same time.

They were on the wing again, after a quick and early breakfast. They could all still feel the effects of their fight the day before. Magical healing was fast and effective, but the body still needed some time to adjust to the fact that it wasn’t time to die yet. They all had sore muscles and rotten tempers. Both were slow to disappear, and it wasn’t until the foreboding shape of Utgarde Pinnacle drifted into view that their mood lifted. Utgarde Pinnacle had been the home of a King of the giants native to Northrend known as the Vrykul. King Ymiron had allied himself with the Lich King. Now, King Ymiron was dead and all that was left of him and his people was the castle. Nobody particularly wanted to live there, so it was simply left to collapse in its own time. Nearby was the town of Valgarde, where steam boats sailed daily to and from Menethil, a small port town in the Wetlands north of the Dwarven lands of Dun Morogh.

They decided against staying the night in Valgarde, and went straight to the pier, where the steam boat was being unloaded of supplies. Fortibrais would not be joining them on board. He had business in other parts of Northrend. They sat in the Inn till it was time for the ferry to leave, then said their goodbyes to Fortibrais. The steamer picked up speed, and set off towards the well-known lands of the Eastern Kingdoms.

Fortibrais stood on the pier, arms crossed, looking at the plume of smoke from the boat. There was a noise beside him and he looked down to see a Dwarven Paladin standing next to him.

“So,” said the Dwarf. “It worked then? They dint recognise ye?”

“It worked alright,” said Fortibrais. “Not even a glimmer of doubt in their minds, Light bless ’em.”

“Good. If it works on them, it’ll work on anyone. So what’s it like, bein’ that tall?”

Fortibrais grinned. “I have to keep meself from ducking whenever I go through a door.” He sighed. “I soddin’ hate this disguise.”

“Yer alive ta hate it,” said the Dwarf. “Keep thinking of it like that.”


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