Part 2: Lessons learnt, never forgotten

Teacher extinguished the mage-light that had shown them their path in the long winding tunnel. Ellandriel could see daylight at the end, bright sun. She tried to swallow, but her mouth was dry. Her hand gripped her new magic staff.

“Shan’do?” Ellandriel’s voice was shaking.

Teacher turned round to her, hands on her shoulders.

“Do not worry, Ellandriel. We are in no danger.” Teacher frowned. “Well, not in any danger that I cannot deal with easily. I daresay you could, as well, but the time for tests has not yet come. When we leave the tunnel, stay close to me. We will follow the right-hand wall, and we will walk up the stairs to the passageway.”

“Yes, Shan’do,” said Ellandriel, with a deep breath, determination on her face.

“Very good. Follow me.”

Turning round, Teacher stepped into the light, unconcernedly. Ellandriel pushed her chin forward, and followed. Her staff tapped on the ground every two steps or so. She tried to look in all directions at once, while keeping her face straight forward. Then, she saw them. Taller than the tallest of Elves, disgustingly fat. Some had a single short horn on their heads. They wore nothing but loincloths, probably because their filthy hides were thick enough that swords and arrows would bounce off them. Would they shrug off her firebolts or frost bolts? She drew a bit closer to Teacher, and walked on.

None of the Ogres seemed to see them. Or rather, they glanced at her, glanced at Teacher, then quickly turned their eyes away. They looked almost… afraid. Afraid, of a slender Night-elf maiden? She looked at Teacher, whose face held an expression, almost of boredom. Ellandriel opened her mouth to ask something, then closed it again.

“Observe, Thero’shan. Do you see the one in the middle of the garden? His name is Mol’dar, and he is the guardian of this garden. The others are his minions. We like to think of Ogres as… unsophisticated, but you will notice that they maintain a chain of command, a hierarchy. Mol’dar reports to the King’s Observer, Cho’Rush, who reports to King Gordok himself. Interesting, don’t you think?”

“Yes, Teacher,” said Ellandriel. At the moment, Ogre command lines did not interest her as much as Ogre diet, and whether that included her.

“Student? What is this ogre’s name?”

Ellandriel blinked, replayed the last minute’s conversation in her head.

“Mol’dar, Shan’do.”

“Who reports to?”

“The… the King’s advisor, Shan’do.”

“Named?”

Ellandriel bit her lip. “Named… named…”

“Cho’Rush. Observer Cho’Rush. Do pay attention, Student. Don’t let your childish fear distract you. As you can clearly see, these Ogres are more scared of us than you are of them. Now, Cho’rush. Who does he report to?”

Ellandriel looked up at Teacher.

“King Gordok, Shan’do.”

“King Gordok. Very good. As it happens, this is King Gordok the fifth, or sixth. By Ogre law, if you manage to kill the King, then you become their King. This has happened several times already. Bands of adventurers come in and assassinate the King. Then, they do a quick run round, demanding tributes from all and sundry, whereupon they make themselves scarce, leaving the poor Ogres to manage their own affairs. They appoint a new king. You may suspect that this is a rather bloody and violent affair, but in fact, all prospective Kings are expected to state their case to the Observer and the gathered population, whereupon the Observer appoints one of them the new King. Then, the whole sorry business repeats itself ad infinitum, ad nauseam.” Teacher sighed. “People sometimes ask, what is the greatest vice. I think I could make a convincing argument for greed. Never mind. Follow me, Student. Up the stairs.”


“Welcome, child. It is good to see you again.”

Mareva gave Farseer Nobundo an uncertain look.

“I have not been quick in returning, Teacher.”

“Have you learnt much on your travels?”

Mareva considered.

“I have seen things. I have been close to death on several occasions. I have found new friends. I have spoken to the Naaru A’dal.”

“Very good.” Farseer Nobundo studied Mareva’s face, noting details that Mareva would never know she betrayed in her expression. “Very good,” he said again. “You have found love.”

Mareva blinked. How… No use denying it, though.

“Yes,” she said, and her eyes shone brighter. “Yes, I have.”

“So, assuming that it is not your pretty Night-elf companion, why is this person not with you now?”

“He is on a mission. His brother may be lost in Northrend. I could not follow.”

Nobundo nodded. “So now, you want me to teach you the skills you need to survive in horrible places, hmm? Point at your head. Make you awesome.”

Mareva grinned. “Yes please. It would be the easiest way.”

“It would not,” said Nobundo, with only the slightest hint of a laugh in his strange, deep, husky voice. “But you know that. You already know that such things are bought, not with gold, but with pain and trouble.”

“All that, and gold as well,” said Mareva. “I do not grudge you. You must keep up your strength. How are the Draenei treating you these days?”

Nobundo laughed quietly. “They are well able to hide their disdain. Velen, may the spirits smile on him, would not be pleased if they did not. It frightens them to know that I was once like them, and that my fate may come to them as well. And then,” He looked up, into Mareva’s eyes, “There are those who feel no such disdain. They even listen to my teachings now and then. Sometimes I wonder which of the two is more remarkable. The sadness in one, or the gladness in the other.”

Ariciel stood a step behind her Draenei friend, and looked at Farseer Nobundo. The Shaman teacher. A broken Draenei. Seeing them together, Ariciel could see the connection between them. Mareva’s fine, delicate features contrasted with Nobundo’s wrinkled, almost grey face. Mareva’s hands, folded in front of her stomach, with slender fingers, capable of subtle work in her crafts of engineering and jewel-making, mirrored Nobundo’s rough, three-fingered claws. And still, they had the same build. Arms, legs, hooves.

Mareva had told her some of Nobundo’s story. He had been a warrior, a Vindicator, in the battles for Shattrath, against the Orcs. He was strong, then, and powerful in the Light. Still, the opposing Horde had been stronger, and had the help of something horrible. It had robbed many Draenei of their connection to the Holy Light, making them powerless. Then, the slaughter had begun. Ariciel remembered Mareva’s deep sad voice as she told her about Nobundo waking up, half buried under the tower that had crumbled under him, the terrified screams of women and children in his ears. His powers gone, and his leg broken without the Light to heal it, he had crawled away out of the city, eventually to be found by other refugees.

Nobundo had meditated and prayed daily, all day, for his powers to return. All to no avail, until, unexpectedly, his prayers were answered. Not by the Light, but by the Wind. It whispered to him a simple phrase: ‘Everything that is, is alive.’

Slowly but surely, Nobundo had learnt more of the path of the Elements, not only Air, but Earth, Fire, Water, and the one Ariciel felt most connected to, the Wilds. Each with its own message. Its own strength. Its own weakness. Nobundo, driven by necessity, had been the first of his kind to follow the path of the Elements. Many of the Broken had followed, and even some of the unbroken Draenei, such as Mareva. Ariciel looked at Mareva’s face as she talked to Farseer Nobundo. All the tension and anxiety had left it, and she was taking pleasure in speaking with the old teacher.

“This is my friend Ariciel,” said Mareva. “I found her in Auberdine, and tricked her into helping me through Felwood.”

“Loved every moment,” said Ariciel. “Wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”

“Apart from our encounter with the oozes, perhaps,” said Mareva.

“Well, yes. She’s easy to please though. All I had to do was feed her something other than hot gloop from a bag.”

Farseer Nabundo frowned. “Emarree contain a delicate balance of all the nutrients, minerals and liquids that a Draenei needs to stay on the hoof. With the heating element added, it contains within the elements of Fire, Water, Earth and Air. They are a great benefit to our people.”

Ariciel raised her hands. “Sorry, no offence meant.”

“None taken,” said Nobundo. “They taste like an elekk has already eaten them once. So why are you here, child of Elune? You do not walk the path of the Elements. I cannot teach you to call upon them.”

“My own beloved. He’s also in Northrend. When Mareva’s business here is done, we will travel on to Darnassus, and I will speak with my teacher, Mathrengyl Bearwalker. We both have to learn the skills to survive in the Lich King’s garden.”

Nobundo briefly closed his eyes. “The Lich King’s forces are strong. I have been grievously hurt by them. He now has his own powers to wield, as well as those of the Burning Legion. Listen well to your teacher, Druid. His teachings may save your life.”

“I know,” said Ariciel. “I will.”

“Good. Now Shaman Mareva, what can I teach you today?”

“Everything,” said Mareva.


Stetson sat on a little hill overlooking the beleaguered town of Farshire. Far to his right, harvest collectors walked the fields. He frowned. Automated crop collection was all well and good, but why did these humans have to make them look like, well, themselves? It seemed to him like pretend slavery. His sharp eyes saw several undead creatures scuttling about between the burning buildings, in that strange, flailing, loping gait of theirs. They were beaten back by the Farshire Militia. Even though they were little more than re-animated flesh puppets, nothing much escaped their attention. They were not very strong, but they could probably overwhelm Stetson and Morgan if he wasn’t careful. Well, only one thing to do, then. He turned to Morgan. He didn’t like to do this, but the big cat would be a magnet for anything wanting a bit of a scrap.

“Sorry, boy,” said Stetson.

He cast the spell, and with a disappointed yowl, Morgan’s form faded and disappeared. Stetson sighed, fumbled for the reins to his elekk and summoned it. He spurred it on and charged. Stetson rode like a storm past several surprised undead, who howled and gave chase. Good. As long as they were behind him, all was fine. They hadn’t a chance of catching up with him. As long as they weren’t in front of him, all was well. Stetson rode on, past the town hall that still stood unassailed, and past the mine entrance where some undead faces were already peeking out. To his north, he saw his goal: a small path leading up into the plains beyond. Stetson narrowed his eyes, and bent over the large head of his mount, trying to get the last bit of speed out of it. Then, without warning, beautiful in the splendour of its golden-hued grass, the Borean Tundra lay before him. The last few Scourge scavengers gave up the chase and returned to Farshire.

Stetson dismounted. First things first. He opened his pack and pulled out a generous portion of meat. Then, he concentrated, and let his magic flow. From out of nowhere, Morgan appeared, looking extremely annoyed at being stuffed away like that. It took most of the meat before he would allow Stetson to scratch him between the ears again. He head-butted Stetson in a way that said: Alright then, but don’t do it again. Stetson smiled.

“I know, boy.”

 

“Hey you! You’re after me kills, aren’t you?”

Stetson slowly turned round, to see a Human… hunter, for want of a better word. He was wearing a blood-spattered tunic of leather, and on his belt were swords. Humans, at the best of times, had only the barest grip on sanity, but this one had clearly not bothered even holding on to it. He looked at Stetson with blood-shot red eyes, fingering his weapons. Best to take this easy.

“I am not after your kills,” said Stetson.

“Oh, I know! You’re with those filthy hippies. After me ears, are ye?”

Stetson stared at the creature.

“What,” he said, “would I want with your ears?”

“Bloody dettas can’t get enough of them. Probably eat ’em.”

Stetson sighed.

“I am going that way.” He pointed North. “Now.”

“I knew it! That’s where they hide! I’ll get ye for this!”

With a scream, the Human charged at Stetson. Stetson caught the swords with his chainmail bracers, and leapt back. There was a growl, and Morgan leapt at the loot-crazed Human. While Morgan kept the Human busy, Stetson jumped back a few paces and loaded his crossbow with the practiced ease of long, long habit. He’d got his whole supply of Terrorshaft arrows out of the bank. The heaviest arrows he had. They worked beautifully on the insane Human, who went down with only two shots. Morgan came bounding back to him with a big kitty grin on his face. Stetson couldn’t resist feeding him a few more pieces of meat. At this rate, he was going to run out before he even got in the same general area as Hemet Nessingwary’s camp. Oh well. Plenty of meat to be had in the plains.

Stetson found the road to the North, and followed it.


With studied nonchalance, Teacher and Ellandriel walked up the stairs. On the large stone walkway were more Ogres. Teacher didn’t even look at them. They left Mol’dar’s garden, and entered a new area. These were called the Broken Commons now. Ellandriel looked up to the sky. High clouds, featureless. The sun did not show itself behind them. This had been the great amphitheater, the scene of great trials of battle, where Mages, Warriors, Druids could show feats of strength, cunning or magic. There were rumours of duels to the death. Sometimes, even the most civilised of societies need a way to indulge their basest instincts. Ellandriel looked at the Ogres, who were walking round the arena, standing in small groups, talking to each other. None of them seemed ready to fight another Ogre.

Ellandriel followed her teacher. They walked along the wall, all the way round, until they came to the entrance to the Warpwood quarter. Ellandriel immediately saw an Ogre standing by the door. Unlike the other Ogres, this one looked at them with an almost hopeful expression in his eyes.

“Ignore him,” said Teacher, walking on.

There was a creaking noise behind Ellandriel, and she jumped. She looked at the tree behind her, up, up, then noticed that it had a face. Deep green mournful eyes stared at her from a great distance of time. She felt she had to say something, but didn’t quite know what.

“Oh Ellandriel,” said Teacher, wearily. “Do keep up. We have no time for this.”

Teacher stepped on, then stood still and made an annoyed sound. The walkway in front of Ellandriel’s feet had collapsed at some point in the past, and a very large tree now grew where Teacher weanted to go.

“Ogres may have a more elaborate society than we give them credit for, Thero’shan, but they do not keep the place in good repair. I suppose we’ll have to walk all the way round. Leaping and clambering along is most undignified.”

Teacher turned round, and walked along the walkway, staying close to the railing. Deep below was another garden. A canopy of leaves hid what lay below. Ellandriel drew her gaze away, and followed Teacher. They had only walked a few steps when they stopped again. Teacher pointed.

“Look at them, Ellandriel.”

Ellandriel looked. She recognised the creatures from many drawings in the books of lore. They were called Treants. Ancient tree-creatures that walked round on short root-like legs, angry expressions on their wooden faces.

“Thero’shan, take care. These creatures will attack us if they see us, but I wish them to come to no harm. They are old. So old, that they make even me feel like a child again. Those eyes looked upon this world before Orcs ever set foot upon it, or even Elves. We will try to elude them. If any of them see us, run.”

Quietly, Ellandriel and Teacher walked along the wide ballustrade, hiding behind the pillars whenever Treants walked past. At the last of the pillars, Teacher kneeled down, looked ahead, and frowned.

“Lashers. Just what we need.”

“These are not Ancients, Shan’do?”

“Mere annuals. Weeds. Still, if we attack them, the Ancients might notice. Follow me, be quiet.”

 

The Night-elves are often described as ‘elusive’. Their deep spiritual connection to their beloved forests lets them pass through the trees without even a leaf stirring at their passage. No other people in Azeroth have their ability to weave the shadows around them, to become as close to invisible as it is possible to be without magic. This marvellous skill lets them flit through the trees, safe, unseen, unafraid, to descend like the Wrath of Nature personified upon their hapless foes.

Ellandriel was shaking in her boots by the time they finally reached the other side of the walkway, and slipped into another tunnel, quiet, hidden. She closed her eyes, leant against the wall, and tried to steady her breathing. Something touched her shoulder, and she jumped, stared. Teacher looked at her.

“Thero’shan, you really must put yourself past this entirely unwarranted concern for your own safety. I am here.” They walked on, and Ellandriel could only just catch the grin on Teacher’s face. “My safety should be all your concern.”

They came to a place paradoxically quite well known as the Hidden Reach. At some time in the past, it had been a laboratory for alchemical and magical experiments that one wanted to perform out of sight. All the equipment had long since gone, and weeds grew where once there had been the unwholesome smells of chemicals. Ellandriel and Teacher walked on, until Teacher suddenly stopped.

“Shan’do?”

“Shh. Be ready.”

“Ready for wh-“

Teacher whirled round, one hand burning with fire, then lashed out. There was a startled scream, a horrible choking noise, then.. silence. Teacher kneeled down. On the floor lay the dead body of a Satyr.

“I was wondering when they would turn up,” said Teacher, searching the body. “Here.” Teacher handed Ellandriel a few silver coins.

Ellandriel looked at the dead Satyr. Satyrs were small, covered in red fur, horns on their heads, hooves instead of feet. This Satyr had a gaping, still smouldering hole in his chest. His eyes were wide open, an expression of terror was on his face. Ellandriel had seen two dead people before. One of them had died of that most horrible disease that all Night-elves suffered from, after the Sundering: old age. Another had met with an accident. She had not been there when they died, and they had been laid out for burial. They had looked like they were sleeping, and when the pyres were lit, and the flames died down, there were just ashes, ashes to scatter on the wind. These funeral pyres had not always been the Shen’dralar way. They used to bury their dead, in the forest, so that the last act of a Night-elf’s existence would be to nourish one of his or her beloved trees. But the Shen’dralar, the last remnant of the Aristocracy, had been cast out. The earth would no longer accept their bodies. And so, in their final sleep, they burnt.

That was death, as peaceful as it was possible for one of the Shen’dralar to die. The creature lying on the ground at Ellandriel’s feet had not wanted to die.

“Traitors.” Teacher scowled at the Satyr, and got up.

“Shan’do?”

“Have you read of the Sundering? Have you read of the punishment of the arrogant High-borne whose bodies were twisted and turned?”

“Yes, Shan’do. I took it to be a metaphor for terrible tortures.”

“There is nothing metaphorical about it. Their bodies were literally twisted and turned. Into these wretched Satyrs, and into the Naga. You will have read the illustrated works on them. Where in the animal kingdom are the Naga placed?”

“They are marine reptiles, Shan’do.”

Teacher gave Ellandriel a slow smile. “And do reptiles suckle their young?”

“No, Shan’do. Reptiles lay eggs, and the egg-white and the yolk are the food of the young.”

“Precisely. The word is ‘ovoviviparious’. That being the case,” Teacher pointed at Ellandriel’s chest. “Why do you think that the Naga females should have breasts?”

Ellandriel hesitated. There were ‘artists’ who would put breasts on any creature, whether they had them in that place or not, for no other reason than that they quite liked them. This book, though, had been a serious work on biology. Not that she’d ever admit to even touching any of the… other works.

“I don’t know, Teacher.”

“They have breasts because the one who turned the High-borne into them did not see fit to remove them. They are vestigial. Left only as a reminder of who they once were. And these miserable creatures…” Teacher kicked the corpse of the Satyr. “They were the ones who came up with the ideas that I felt I had to distance myself from. By a whole continent. If they had not, then we would still be immortal.”

 

Ellandriel followed Teacher into the next area, and held her breath. They had come to a hallway. There were a few small fires. Around them were Satyrs, dozens of them. More of the weed-creatures, Lashers, walked about. There was no way to get past them by stealth.

“Ellandriel? It is time for you to wake up and find that you are strong. Do you remember how to do Arcane Missiles?”

Ellandriel stared wide-eyed at Teacher, shook her head. “Teacher… Please, no!”

“Excellent,” said Teacher, and pushed Ellandriel forward, into the hallway. “I think they’ve spotted you. Fire at will.”

Ellandriel froze as pairs of eyes, Satyr and vegetable, fixed on her. She raised her hand, trembling, hesitating.

“Any time you like, Thero’shan. I think they are about to attack you. We may have lost the element of surprise.”

There was a noise in the air, as every creature in the room started to growl, hiss, rustle. Anger flared up. As Ellandriel stared at them, several of the creatures prepared spells. She couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t think. She tried to remember her spells and couldn’t. She looked from one creature to the other, hand following her gaze. Two of the satyrs thrust their hands forward, and dark bolts of death flew towards her.

“Oh for the love of Elune…”

Teacher stepped forward, body shining with a fierce green light, in front of Ellandriel. The bolts hit. Teacher grimaced, raised a hand and cried out. From out of nowhere, ice and hailstones fell down on the Satyrs and the Lashers, crushing, freezing. Teacher kept looking round, redirecting the falling ice where the most enemies were. Then, a deep silence fell, only broken by Ellandriel’s gasps for air. Teacher turned round to Ellandriel, who had fallen to her knees. She looked up.

“Shan’do… I… I failed you.” Ellandriel bowed her head. “I am sorry.”

Teacher kneeled by Ellandriel, put a hand under her chin and made her look up.

“Would you care to explain to me what happened?”

Ellandriel didn’t dare look away. “I could not fire, Shan’do. I could not do it. I could not strike to…” She swallowed. “To kill.”

Teacher took a deep breath, slowly let it escape. “You have never taken the life of anything that can talk. Possibly never even hunted for food. That is a line to cross, and for some, it is harder than for others. I will not hold that against you. Let no blood be on your hands for a little while longer.” Teacher stood up, pulled Ellandriel to her feet. “But if you learn one thing today, learn this. We have left the Athenaeum. We have left the classroom. The moment you stepped through the door, into the tunnel, you left your childhood behind, and you will never regain it. And let me tell you, Thero’shan, that life will become harder, never easier, with every step you take from now on. Any student with your abilities should easily have been able to take out these satyrs and a few lashers. The next test will not be so easy, and may well require the strength of both of us. Do I need to tell you what will be the price of failing that test?”

Ellandriel blinked, slowly, once.

“No, Shan’do.”

“Good. Now let’s get going.”

 

Together, they walked on through the tunnel at the end of the hallway. They were not disturbed until they came to a large door. With only a single glance at Ellandriel, Teacher opened it. They found themselves in a deep trough, running left and right in a circle, sloping up. They walked on, and found themselves in a pavillion. Teacher, Ellandriel’s dismal performance apparently forgotten, grinned at her.

“Nobody can help you when you are facing a gazebo.”

Ellandriel blinked. “Teacher?”

“Never mind.” Teacher stopped dead, staring. In the middle of the pavillion, a Night-elf sat on the floor. Teacher stood in front of the Elf’s feet. “Azj’Tordin. What an infinitessimal pleasure to see you.”

Azj’Tordin looked up, scowling.

“You.”

Teacher simply nodded.

“I suppose you are pleased that you were proven right.”

“Not really, no. In this particular case, I would have much preferred to be wrong.”

“Well, all is perfectly clear in hindsight.”

“Oh come now. Do you mean to say that the signs were unclear? Our Prince? The timing? Coincidences should not repeat themselves too often.”

Ellandriel watched the Elf and her teacher arguing, when she spied movement from the corner of her eye. Her jaw dropped.

“Shan’do,” she hissed.

“Quiet girl,” said Teacher.

“But. There’s an Orc there.”

“Ignore him, and we will go away. Much like our friend here, I assume.”

“Can’t,” said Azj’Tordin. “I need my book of incantations.”

“Well you should have brought it then.”

Azj’Tordin scowled. “What do you think I am, an imbecile? I brought it, but some cursed imp stole it from me, then ran back into the Warpwood Quarter. There is no way that I can retrieve it. I don’t suppose you could?”

“My dear chap, we would be absolutely delighted to carry your things after you.”

“Really?” Azj’Tordin’s eyes lit up with hope.

“No. I suggest you ask some adventurers to take some time out of their busy plans of murder and pillage, and fetch your book for you.” Teacher turned round. “Ellandriel, stop staring at Mr. Fireblade and follow me.”

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