Part 20: Over the shattered world

“No.”

“Oh come on.”

“You navigated through Ashenvale last time. It is my turn now. This will have the added advantage of being able to predict roughly when we will arrive in Darnassus.”

“Pah. And deny our friendly firestarter the pleasure of getting to know the forest?”

“Would a forest truly be pleased to see a firestarter? Trees are notoriously inflammable. The trees might not like me.”

“Forest fires are part of the greater cycle of life. They clear the ground for new plants.”

“Hmm. I have read somewhere that volcanic soil is the most fertile of all soils.”

Stetson sat back in his chair, watching the girls with interest, but keeping a safe distance from the actual discussion. No point sticking his oar in anyway. They would get to Darnassus at some point. He was with Mareva. That was all that mattered.

Mareva pointed at the map on the table. “We want to get to Darnassus as fast as we can be. Ellandriel does not have the flight point at Auberdine, therefore we have to fly under our own power. Even we are not as fast as the flight masters, but we can go more or less in a straight line. We stop at Astranaar, then head for Auberdine. There, we can take the ferry for Rut’theran Village. Easy!”

Ellandriel looked at the map. “The Barrens. That is Horde territory, is it not?”

Ariciel sneered. “Tell me about it.”

“We will stay at high altitude until we reach Astranaar,” said Mareva. “It will be a long flight though. We must have a good meal and wrap up warm.”

“And wash behind our ears?”

“Would you take to the skies with Theramore filth behind your ears?”


The rooftops of Astranaar came into view, exactly where Mareva had expected them to be. Good. This communing with the Forest Spirits was all well and good, but sometimes, you couldn’t beat a nice, exact bit of trigonometry. By way of celebration, she flipped her gryphon’s tail in the air and flew down in a power-dive. She pulled up sharply, and landed right in the middle of town. She blinked. The smell of smoke was on the wind, and all round her, Night-elves were pointing arrows and other sharp things at her. She raised her hands.

“Please do not shoot me. I am good people.”

Sentinel Thenysil stepped forward, lowering her weapon. “Good people don’t come diving down on us like a flesh bomb. Sorry, we’re a bit jumpy round here.”

Mareva sniffed the air, as her friends landed round her. “Has there been a fire?”

“You can say that. The world’s gone to hell in a handbasket, and all the bloody greens can think of is to come and bother us here. I suppose if all you’ve got to defend is two rocks held together with shit, then you can afford to leave it for the bloody Twilight cult to tramp all over.”

Ariciel walked up. “Sentinel Thenysil. Good to see you again. Is there trouble?”

“Druid Ariciel,” said Thenysil. “Likewise. You can say that. The sodding Horde is camping in Silverwind Refuge. When all the bloody noise started, they jumped us. Killed everyone there, except Sentinel Starstrike and Bhaldaran Ravenshade, the bowyer.”

“Damn,” said Ariciel. “What happened?”

“Some Light-bereft Orc Shaman turned the Elemental Spirits in the lake against us.” Thenysil looked at the ground. “Nothing we could do.”

Mareva frowned. “How could they do that? It is difficult to control Elemental Spirits at the best of times.”

“They didn’t ‘control’ them, as such. They sent them into a blind rage of hatred. They used some foul, corrupted water elemental named Tideress. They’ll not do that again, though. We got the Shaman that did it, and then the Orcs took out Tideress themselves.”

“If ever I am tempted to work for the Horde,” said Mareva, “please remind me to ask them if they intend to pay me afterwards or kill me.”

“Wrong joke to make at this time,” said Thenysil, giving Mareva a dark look. “Where are you headed?”

“We will be making for Auberdine,” said Mareva. “And then on to Darnassus. Miss Ellandriel here has an errand there.”

Thenysil shook her head. “You’re not going to Auberdine. It’s been attacked.”

Auberdine?” Ariciel snarled. “Bloody Horde again?”

“Deathwing,” said Thenysil, and put her fingers to her forehead, then to her breast. “Auberdine is… destroyed.”

“I know people in Auberdine,” said Ariciel. She didn’t dare ask.

“Many people were killed. A few survivors have been brought to Lor’danel. The unlucky ones have been buried. There is nothing left in Auberdine but ghosts and malevolent spirits. Make for Lor’danel instead. And also, don’t try to fly there tonight. The lands are not safe. Stay the night here. Astranaar is as safe as any place. You’ll want to get some food in you. Go see Kimlya.”

“She’s still open?” Ariciel grinned. “I like her.”

“Was serving guests right through a Horde bombing run. She’s a trooper.”

“I’m going over there, and buy everything she’s got on the menu.”

“Cider for me,” said Mareva.


“Velene.” Sentinel Thenysil walked up and embraced the woman who’d just walked in. “It’s good to see you. How’s things at the Spire?”

Sentinel Velene Starstrike looked into Thenysil’s eyes. “Quiet for now. They can spare me for a night.”

“Good. Raene is also coming. So is Luara.”

“Hmm. Still a bit thin on the ground. Don’t suppose you could spare any sentinels?”

“Not a chance,” said Thenysil. “They’re staying right here just in case those in-bred greenskins get it into their heads to attack again. I’m only coming myself because Caelyb and Cylania were good friends.”

“Hmm…” Velene looked thoughtful.

“Mr. Hephaestus Pilgrim has expressed an interest.”

“Has he, now? Does the Beast stir within him? Or is he just in it for the trees?”

Thenysil laughed. “Oh come on. He’s been here for weeks. Do you think there’s Worgen jokes I haven’t heard yet? Also, we have a few guests. They might be up for an evening’s fun.”

“We can only ask.”


Stetson leaned on the table and looked round. The Elves were standing in the middle of the Inn, in full battle gear. Miss Ellandriel was sitting at a table, blinking, trying to kick-start herself with strong coffee. Mareva was sitting next to her, looking up at all these Night-elf women, trying to work out what, exactly, the plan was. They were all speaking Darnassian, so this was mildly challenging. Mareva’s armour had been repaired by Mr. Tandaan Lightmane, with great speed, and while it didn’t look as good as once it did, it was as strong as it ever was. Next to Stetson sat a Human man, wearing dark leather armour. A top hat and a cloak were in front of him on the table. He poured himself another mug of coffee, then held the jug up to Stetson.

“Yes please.”

Hephaestus Pilgrim poured strong, dark, Darnassian coffee into Stetson’s mug. “The mademoiselles are discussing strategy. As far as I can tell, the objective is to kill enough Orcs at Silverwind Refuge to keep them vulnerable enough that they do not take any initiatives. Sadly, the time for re-taking it is not yet come. It was a beautiful place before the Horde defiled it.”

Stetson looked over to the Night-elves, trying to tell them apart. Druid Ariciel, he thought he could recognise by now. Sentinel Thenysil was the one with the dark plaits. Tails – Thenysil. Sentinel Luara had green hair, and two very impressive Nightsaber cats. Lions – Luara. She was wielding one of these three-bladed Night-elf weapons. It would be interesting to see how she used that without cutting herself. And then, of course, there was Sentinel Velene Starstrike. She was the one with the short green hair, and the expression of boundless hatred lying just below the surface of her face. No need for a memory trick for her, but one came up anyway. Velene. Vengeance.

“Miss Velene Starstrike is not here for reasons of strategy.”

“True.”

Next to Stetson, Morgan suddenly looked up, concentrating on something at the other end of the room. Another tall Night-elf woman had just entered. Next to her were a large wolf, and a black and white striped cat. Morgan lazily got to his feet, and walked over, touching noses with the new arrival. Raene Wolfrunner went down on her knee, and looked at Morgan.

“Alright then, you can go out with Korra, but if you don’t respect her like you ought, I’m turning you into a pair of mittens.”

Stetson finished his coffee, got to his hooves, and walked over.

“Is my cat bothering your cat, Miss?”

Raene looked up at Stetson. “Not at all, Mr…”

“Hunter S’dezo’houn. My friends call me Stetson.”

“Raene Wolfrunner. Enchantée. Is that a Winterspring cat?”

“He is. His name is Morgan.”

“Hmm. Hope he’s not going to be too distracted by Korra.”

Stetson grinned. “He’ll be trying to impress her.”

“Raene. You’re here. Good.” Thenysil walked over. “Time to get moving. We just need to find a place for our honoured guests. Druid Ariciel? We’ll be employing hit-and-run strategies, rather than extermination, so I would like you to go cat on this fight.”

“Meow,” said Ariciel.

“Mr. Stetson, I think I will team you up with Raene. How is your marksmanship?”

“Above average, Miss Thenysil.”

“Good. You and Raene will be our marksmen. When the noise starts, you stay behind and shoot anything that needs shooting. Your pets can make themselves useful.” She turned to Mareva. “You are a…”

Mareva grinned. “I am a sparkle princess. I make pretty lightning. I can also make totems, and it would do any of you good to stay near them for strength, mana and regeneration.”

Orc spells?” Velene’s eyes burnt at Mareva. Mareva gave her back as good as she got.

“A common misconception. Orcs discovered the Elemental Spirits. They did not make them.” Her eyes narrowed. “Do you think, perhaps, that we Draenei have an unrevealed love for Orcs?”

Thenysil stepped forward. “Easy, girls. Save it for later. And you, miss?” Thenysil did a quick double-take as she looked at Ellandriel. “Hang on. You are one of those High-borne witches aren’t you?”

“Aye, Mistress,” said Ellandriel. “High-borne witch at your service. I can shoot fireballs at Orcs, an it please you.”

“Pleases me fine,” said Thenysil. She thought a moment. “You’re with Raene and Mr. Stetson. Mr. Pilgrim? You, Mareva, Ariciel, Luara, Velene, you’re with me. Raene’s group is the long distance firepower. My group does the melee part. Let’s go kill some Orcs.”


They rode most of the way to Silverwind Refuge, ran the rest of the way. The Refuge was a sad sight. One of the first things the Horde had done, was to strip the place of trees that had stood there for thousands of years. Firewood. Sacrilege. Stetson felt Raene tense up next to him. Ellandriel was quiet.

“Bastards,” said Raene. She looked first at Stetson, then at Ellandriel. “Nobody do anything stupid, you hear me? I want to kill as many of the filth as I possibly can. And then come back tomorrow and do it again.”

“I cannot speak for tomorrow,” said Stetson, “But today, I am at your service.”

“As am I,” said Ellandriel. “Deeds such as these must not go unpunished.”

In the lake by the Refuge was a small island. A fallen tree provided a bridge to a smaller island. Raene walked into the water, causing only the slightest ripple. Stetson followed.

“Wait!” Ellandriel whispered.

“What is it?” asked Raene.

“I… I cannot swim.”

Stetson looked at Raene, then at Ellandriel. “Get in the water. Hold on to both our shoulders. We will pull you through. Try to make as little noise as you can. Steady. Do not fall.”

Stetson and Raene swam, holding on to Ellandriel.

Raene slowly shook her head. “You’re not really a fighter, are you?”

“No, Lady. I am only a scholar.”

“We need scholars,” said Raene. “Whether we need them with us on an assassination mission, is a different matter. Stick to me like glue, girl, and you’ll be fine.”

Stetson sat down behind the fallen tree, put down his hunter’s crossbow, and opened his pack. Out of this, he took a long, slender box. He opened it, and with a small spanner assembled the parts within into another crossbow. There were crossbows in Azeroth with stabbing spikes attached. There were longbows with skulls on, to strike fear into the hearts of the enemy. This crossbow did not have any of those ornaments, and yet, it looked more vicious than any of the other weapons. This was not a weapon for use in a battle. This was a weapon to use when you really, really wanted someone dead. This was an assassin’s weapon. Stetson held up a metal tube to Raene.

“Please, when we get back, do not tell anyone I have this scope. We are not allowed to bring our foreign technology into Azeroth.”

Raene cast her eyes to the heavens. “Oh look everybody! He’s got a magic scope! Nobody cares, Goat Man. Make plenty of dead Orcs, and nobody asks how you did it.”

“Does that also apply to the Arcane?” asked Ellandriel.

“Dead Orcs,” said Raene. “Solution to everything.”

Stetson attached the legs to his crossbow, then started to wind the crank that tensed up the bowstring. The main building of the Refuge was open on the lower floor, not much more than a roof over one’s head to work under when it rained. The warm rooms were upstairs. Orcs walked through the lower part. Raene chuckled, pointing at Stetson’s crossbow.

Rests? What kind of a noob needs a crossbow with little legs?”

“Noobs do not get to fire crossbow bolts over a distance of two hundred and fifty yards,” said Stetson.

Raene stared. “Do I look like I was born yesterday?”

Stetson pointed. “Is there anyone in that building you take a special dislike to?”

“You’re serious? You really plan to shoot from here?” Raene frowned. “If you are saying this to keep your filthy hide out of danger, then there will be trouble, understand?”

“Lady Raene,” said Ellandriel, “I have not known Hunter S’dezo’houn for long, but I know him to be true, honest, and a good man. If he says that he can shoot people in the Refuge from here, then I believe him.”

“Very well,” said Raene. “Give me a moment.”

She closed her eyes, concentrated, and used a Hunter’s ability that re-shaped her eyes so she could see far away. She looked at the Orcs in the refuge. Stetson rested his crossbow, cocked and loaded, on the fallen tree.

“The captain appears to be there. It’s a shame, but he is too well armoured… Ah. See the one next to him? Sitting on the bench?”

“Do you mean the one with the red and blue tabard and the teeth on his shoulders?”

“Blood guard Bear Donow.” Raene’s voice was carefully even. “He is the one who likes to torture and kill prisoners taken by mistake. Velene will be very pleased to know he is dead.”

“I have a bead on him,” said Stetson. “Whenever you want.”

“That will be when Thenysil attacks.” Raene looked over to the other end of the Refuge. “Shouldn’t be long.”


Cat-Ariciel came prowling down the side of a hill, behind Velene Starstrike. Sentinel Thenysil walked next to her. Mareva and Luara followed, though Luara had sent her dark saber cats ahead. Her eyes were slightly unfocused from looking through the eyes of both cats at the same time. Mareva had to hold her arm now and then. Velene held up her hand, pointed forward.

“There. Let’s get him.”

“No,” said Mareva. “He is a guard. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”

Thenysil grinned. “For years, I thought that meant ‘Who guards the custard.’ She’s right though, Velene. Someone will be watching him. If he disappears, we’ll have the whole camp on our necks.”

“That was the point, wasn’t it?”

Mareva gave Velene a look. “The ‘point’, Sentinel Starstrike, is to return to Mistress Kimlya’s inn, and tell her how many Orcs we have killed. We cannot do that if we are dead.”

“If you are scared…”

“Yes, Sentinel. I am scared. This is a scary situation, so it is right and proper to be afraid, and foolish not to be.”

Velene looked at Thenysil. “Who thought it would be a good idea to bring passengers along?”

Hephaestus Pilgrim coughed politely. “If we are going to indulge in unnecessary risk-taking, then I will be glad to consider myself a passenger and depart if you so wish. We are but a small group. We must take care.”

“[Cat-Ariciel] will scout ahead,” said Ariciel, in Wildspeech.

Ariciel slipped behind a shadow and disappeared from sight. She gave the guard a wide berth, and looked round. If I were watching a guard, where would I hide? She looked up at the Refuge. That’s where I would be, with a long-view like Mareva’s. But then again, Orcs didn’t usually give expensive equipment to the grunts. Hmm. Ariciel’s whiskers twitched. Something was moving nearby. Ah. An Orc grunt was trudging from one guard to the next, checking if they were still there. Nice. That way, the moving guard would know if one of the stationary guards had disappeared, and the standing guards would know something had happened if they didn’t get a visit every ten minutes or so. So the obvious thing to do was to hit every standing guard right after the moving guard had left, then get the moving guard. Which left only the question of how many moving guards there were. Ariciel’s eyes burnt holes in the darkness. Just one? These Orcs were getting much too comfortable here. Time to tell them to take more care. As fast as she could, she slunk back to the others, and turned back to her Elf form.

“Five guards along a perimeter. One moving guard between them.”

Thenysil nodded. “Two of us follow the moving guard and take down the standing guards behind his back.”

“Leave that to me,” said Luara. “My children will be quick about it.”

“You’ve got it,” said Thenysil. “Who wants the moving guard?”

“I will take care of him,” said Hephaestus Pilgrim. “If you so please.”

“Good. Rest of us, sit tight here, be ready to deal with any surprises.”

Mareva looked at Mr. Pilgrim. “You do not appear to have a weapon. Do you have hidden daggers?”

Hephaestus Pilgrim bowed his head at Mareva, then closed his eyes, tilted his head back. When he opened his eyes, they glowed with a cruel blue light. A dark cloud of smoke whirled about him. When it cleared, Hephaestos Pilgrim had disappeared. In his place stood a creature, covered in dark fur, with a wolf’s head, sharp strong claws on his hands. Hephaestos turned to Mareva.

“I am a weapon, Devil-woman.” Hephaestus sniffed the air. “Prey awaits.”

Hephaestus Pilgrim had vanished into the night. Sentinel Luara sat on the ground, eyes closed, directing her saber tigers. One by one, the guards fell to tooth and claw. After a while, Luara looked up.

“My girls are coming back. Mr. Pilgrim has just taken the moving guard.”

“Good,” said Thenysil. “Raene should be in position by now. Let’s stir things up a bit. Druid Ariciel?”

“Yeah?”

“Things are about to get noisy here. Would you like to send down one of those pretty shiny Moonfire bolts behind my back?”

“Sure,” said Ariciel, getting ready. “Just say when.”

Behind me, not on my head.”

“Spoilsport.”

“Hah. Everyone else, I think the greens will feel moved to shoot arrows at me. Don’t get behind me.” She took a few steps forward. “Druid Ariciel? Lights, please.”


Tor ilisar’thera’nal!

Sound carries far over the water, and even if they hadn’t heard the battle cry of Thenysil and her group, the bright beam of moonlight flaring up in the middle of the Refuge would have been a hint. Thenysil stood silhouetted in the bright light, like an angel of vengeance. Raene hissed at Stetson.

“Now!”

Stetson quickly checked for windage, adjusted his aim, then pulled the trigger. The steel crossbow bolt sped across the lake and hit Bear Donow in the head, nailing him to the wall. His screams echoed over the water. Raene’s mouth fell open, and she looked at Stetson, who was quickly rewinding his crossbow, hoping to get another shot in before they would be forced to move.

“Well, Hunter Stetson, it appears you are a true and honest man after all. That was impressive.” She looked again at the commotion in the Refuge. “Where do you get one of those crossbows?”

Stetson glanced over at Ellandriel, who was on her feet, looking round for enemies. He leaned over to Raene, and whispered.

“I stole it from the armory in Honour Hold. There was an attack of Burning Legion daemons, and there was the cry of ‘Everybody take a weapon and the Light protect us all’. So I did.”

Raene’s shoulders rocked with laughter. “I am beginning to like you, Mr. Stetson.”

“That is only natural,” said Stetson, with a grin. “Shall we try for another one?”

Inside the Refuge, Captain Tarkan turned round to his Blood guard, and shouted at him to keep quiet. Blood Guard Donov, against his habits, did not obey. Captain Tarkan stomped over, and with a vicious jerk ripped the crossbow bolt out of Donov’s head. The screaming stopped abruptly. Tarkan’s eyes turned into the night, following the path of the crossbow bolt. He pointed towards their island, and barked orders.

There was a whisper from Ellandriel. “Enemies approach. I believe they may have figured out where your arrow came from, Mr. Stetson.”

“That is one disadvantage to this crossbow,” said Stetson. “It allows one to keep a safe distance, but it takes an eternity to load.”

Ellandriel pointed. “Orcs! They are in the water!”

Raene pulled out her crossbow. “Well, they don’t lack for stupidity.”

Stetson slung his assassin’s crossbow on his back and picked up his normal hunter’s crossbow. “They may be expecting a lone archer.”

“Well, they’re going to be disappointed,” said Raene. She aimed at the closest Orc and fired. There was a vicious hiss as her exploding bolt hit the swimming Orc.

As soon as they saw their comrade sink, the other Orcs dived under. Raene reloaded her crossbow.

“Time to get out of here. Hang on to me, Miss.”

No longer caring about stealth, they splashed into the water and swam, pulling Ellandriel along. Ellandriel got a nose full of water and spluttered. She looked at the shore. The distance looked about right.

“Blinking out,” said Ellandriel, and cast her spell, ending up standing on the shore, watching Raene and Stetson come in. Orcs were on the island, getting ready to follow them. Ellandriel raised her hand and shot angry bolts of fire at the Orcs. At her feet, Raene and Stetson clambered out of the water and turned round to shoot at their pursuers. Most of them died, two of them fled.

“Ladies, let us run round the lake and see how our friends are doing.”

“Lead on, Mr. Stetson. Miss? Stay close to me.”


Ariciel spotted an Orc who had fallen behind a bit, and jumped him. Her claws tore through armour, skin and bones. Then, she went for the throat. The Orc’s friends heard their comrade’s cries, and turned round. Ariciel quickly wrapped the shadows round herself and disappeared. As fast as she could, she ran round, looking for another opportunity. Luara’s cats took away another one of the Orcs, dragging him off screaming into the darkness. Mareva had put down her totems, and stood between them, far too visible for Ariciel’s liking, but that could not be helped.

There was a deafening cry to Ariciel’s right, and she looked round to see Velene Starstrike, finally able to unleash her full wrath on her enemies. Wielding a three-bladed war-glaive, she descended upon a group of Orcs and tore through them like a scythe through a cornfield. Recklessly, she threw herself at the Orcs, stabbing, slashing and weaving her body between the axes and swords of the Orc soldiers. Ariciel glanced at her, and winced. Dark Orc blood was on her armour and her face. She was shouting, an occasional word, but mostly pure anger. Any Orc who opposed her was cut down. Any one who tried to run, she cut his legs from under him and left him rolling on the floor in agony. Ariciel looked away, attacked another one of the enemy. Before the fight took all her attention, the scariest thought struck her.

Sentinel Velene looked happy.


Stetson ran round the small lake, until recently a favourite fishing spot for tired Alliance warriors. Morgan ran beside him. Behind him, he could hear the footfall and breath of Ellandriel. Raene took up the rear, her wolf Darri and her cat Korra running easily along. Stetson could not hear her at all. There was little doubt where they needed to be. Stetson could see the bright, brief flashes of lightning and flame of Mareva’s magic attacks. Orcs, and now and then a Night-elf were silhouetted in the glare. As Stetson watched, another group of soldiers came from the main Refuge building and ran towards the fray. Without warning, Raene Wolfrunner was next to him.

“You take care of her, Hunter Stetson, I’m needed there.”

Raene sped up, ran like the wind, her familiars next to her, and even using his Hunter’s speed, Stetson could not overtake her. In the distance, he could see how the Night-elves defended themselves from the latest group of Orc grunts. He set his jaw. They were making for Mareva, thinking her to be the leader or the greatest danger or something. One big Orc pushed through the group and swung a big axe at Mareva. Stetson winced as Mareva blocked the stroke, and fell on her back. The Orc raised his axe and brought it down. Mareva rolled out of the way.

Stetson swore. He would be too late. Raene would be too late. Morgan would be too late. Only one thing to do. He swerved sharply to the left, and ran a few paces so he could get a clean shot. Then, he stopped. Droppping his hunter’s bow, he reached for his black assassin’s weapon. He ignored Ellandriel’s questions what he was doing, and forced deep breaths into his lungs, focused, made himself calm down. Then, he took a deep breath, raised his crossbow, then slowly let out his breath as he lowered it. The crosshairs on his illegal night-vision scope lined up, and he pulled the trigger. The crossbow kicked his shoulder and fifteen inches of hardened steel hissed out to the Orc who was gloating at the woman at his feet, unaware that he was dead already. Just as his muscles tensed up to raise the axe and cut this impudent creature to pieces, the bolt hit. It entered through the only gap in his armour, at his neck, left the other end. He dropped his axe, and through his scope, Stetson could just see the incredulous look in his eyes. Then the Orc fell. The world flowed back into Stetson’s consciousness. To his right, Ellandriel stood, hand raised in a shooting stance. He looked to the left, towards the Goblin’s industrial area. A Goblin machine lay smoking in ruins, and the Goblin inside was screaming, trapped, trying to get out.

“Thank you,” said Stetson.

“Let us move,” said Ellandriel.

They found Raene in the fray, off to the edge a bit where all good shooters are. Her wolf and her cat worked together, attacking Orcs from two sides at once. Stetson sent Morgan in towards Mareva, who was back on her hooves, and refreshing her totems. Sentinel Thenysil saw them, and hurried towards them.

“They’re getting over their first confusion. Things are heating up.”

Ellandriel paused a moment in her spell-casting. “Goblin engines are on their way. I managed to disable one, but we can expect more.”

“I think we may have worn out our welcome,” said Thenysil. She raised her voice and cried out in Darnassian. Five Night-elves, two Draenei and one Worgen turned tail and fled, which left only…

“Velene!”

Thenysil looked round, to see Velene on her knees stabbing an Orc, again and again. Thenysil rushed over and put a hand on Velene’s shoulder. Velene glared at her.

“We’re leaving,” said Thenysil.

“Place is still crawling with the filth.”

“Something to do another day,” said Thenysil. “Move!”

They found it hard to evade all the Orcs that now came swarming round to get them. They were forced to fight small groups of Orcs that spotted them, and while the groups themselves were not a major threat, they slowed them down when their hope was in a speedy exit. Finally, they huddled by the water, lying flat on their stomachs as Orc patrols moved back and forth. They could see the trees, and their welcoming shadows where they could hide, but several patrols were in the way.

“They’re going to find us if we don’t move,” said Thenysil.

“Good,” said Velene.

“Not good,” said Raene. “I’ve got a town to protect. So do you. She who fights and runs away…”

“I’ll take enough of them with me,” said Velene.

Ariciel looked round. “I did not agree to come on a bloody one-way trip, Miss Starstrike. I’ve got stuff to do. Now what we need is a diversion.”

Ellandriel looked over her shoulder. The water of the lake was still as a mirror. She touched Raene’s shoulder.

“Lady? Do water spirits still dwell in that lake?”

“Sure. I’ve sent a few volunteers down here to take out the befouled ones, but this lake is deep. We’ll have a job cleaning this up when we take back the Refuge.”

“If that be the case, I may be able to do something. But it will take all of my mana, and I will be helpless afterwards. We will need to move quickly.”

“You can ride one of my children,” said Luara. “They will take you swiftly.”

“Very well. Thank you, Lady Luara.”

Ellandriel stood up, her dark robes worryingly visible against the reflection of the moon in the lake. She closed her eyes, gathering up her powers. Then she raised her staff in one hand. Her other hand pointed at the water. There was the noise of flame, then a hiss as a concentrated bolt of heat broke the surface. Ellandriel kept firing, shaking with the effort. Her hand gripped her staff with white knuckles. Her eyes narrowed, and her teeth showed as she fired shot after shot into the lake, ripples slowly sliding over the surface. Finally, she raised her staff, and with a gasp, struck it down on the ground. Ariciel watched her sway on her legs and jumped up to catch her. Velene looked round, then sneered at Ellandriel.

“Well, that didn’t work. Let’s fight our way through.”

“Shut up,” said Ariciel. She looked into Ellandriel’s eyes. “You alright?”

There was a little smile on Ellandriel’s face.

D’abord, il faut faire bouillir de l’eau.

“Huh?”

At that moment, the whole of the lake leapt a hundred feet into the air, with great clouds of steam. Monstrous figures rose to the surface, fists raised, seething, looking for living creatures to kill. Velene stared, mouth open.

“The crazy bitch has aggroed every bloody water elemental in the lake!”

Ellandriel looked at Velene with a thousand-mile stare. “Do you think this would be a good time to leave?”

Run!”


The first hint of dawn was in the sky when they came riding through the South gate of Astranaar. Only the guards noticed them as they passed silently through town. Luara, Ariciel and Ellandriel rode to the North of town where Luara’s house was. Ellandriel got off the large saber tiger and scratched her between the ears.

“Thank you for carrying me, my friend.”

The cat gently head-butted her. These were not the magical constructs that other hunters worked with, the echoes of animals that once were. These cats were real, living creatures. Luara took exception to the term ‘tamed’. She had befriended them, adopted them as her own, and poured her love into these creatures, until their very souls were part of each other. Luara walked into the back of the house carrying a large knife and returned a few moments later with the hind leg of a deer. Ellandriel swallowed. She was a Night-elf, and Elves are not as far removed from nature as city-dwelling humans, but still, this was a bit… organic to her taste. Ariciel, of course, wasn’t bothered at all. She walked in carrying a bucket of water. The cats started on their meal, each pulling at an end of the leg. Luara wiped her hands on a bit of cloth, and grinned at Ariciel and Ellandriel.

“Can I get you anything?”

Ellandriel looked at Ariciel, who luckily shook her head. “We really ought to get back to the tavern.”

Ariciel and Ellandriel walked to the inn. Ellandriel looked round.

“Where are Stetson and Mareva?”

“Somewhere safely out of earshot,” said Ariciel dryly. “They don’t need our help.”

“Ah.”

As they entered the inn, they saw Thenysil sitting on one of the wooden benches. Velene was in her arms, head resting on Thenysil’s shoulder. Her body was shaking in uncontrollable sobs. Raene was sitting on her other side, hand gently stroking her short green hair. Velene’s war-glaive, dark blood still on it, lay on the floor at her feet.

Ellandriel stood still, looking at them, until Ariciel gave her shoulder a little push and they walked up the stairs to their room.

“What is wrong with her?” said Ellandriel.

Ariciel sighed. “She’s just learnt that you can’t defend your friends when they’re already dead. Poor girl.”

“What do you mean? Of course you can’t.”

They stepped into the room and closed the door behind them. Ariciel sat down on the bed, and kicked off her boots.

“You know that by figuring it out,” said Ariciel. “I know it from experience. I’ve been where she is now. I’ve suffered loss, and taken revenge just like her. It doesn’t help.”

“It doesn’t bring them back,” said Ellandriel. She looked round the room. Only one bed.

“No,” said Ariciel. “And then you think, but at least these Orcs won’t hurt anyone else. And then you realise that there’s thousands of Orcs, hurting people, and you can’t ever kill them all. And then you think that you’ve shown them that there’s a price to pay for hurting the ones you love, until you realise that they don’t care. And then, there’s just the truth that they killed someone you love, and you can never see her again. And then, you hope that Elune grants you the blessing of friends, who love you.”

Ellandriel looked at Ariciel. “Sentinels Thenysil, and Velene, Raene. Are they… together?”

Ariciel shook her head. “Thenysil has someone in Darnassus. Nice guy, sells tailoring goods. I carried the odd message for them when I worked here for Bearwalker. Raene doesn’t have anyone, though I’ve seen her pick up the occasional stranger.” She rolled back on the bed, kicking her reinforced leather trousers off, and laughing. “Her pickup line is ‘You. Come to my bedroom.’ Never fails.”

“I can see why. She is very attractive.” Ellandriel leaned her staff against the wall, took off her robes and her light blue shirt. Now where was she going to sleep?

“Yeah.” Ariciel paused, looking sadly at the chest armour in her hands. “Sentinel Velene, I don’t know her as well. Haven’t been to Silverwind all that often. Still. Whoever she was with, probably didn’t make it out of there alive.”

“So she wanted her revenge.” Ellandriel took a decision. “You have the bed. I’ll take the chair.” The chair looked very comfortable. There was probably a blanket around here somewhere.

“Don’t be silly,” said Ariciel. “This is a double.”

“Um,” said Ellandriel.

Ariciel looked at the High-borne mage, standing in the middle of the room in her underwear, rubbing her right arm with her left, a slightly worried look on her face.

“Come on,” said Ariciel, “Get in. I don’t go where I’m not wanted. Honest.”

“That’s not…” said Ellandriel, and fell silent. She pulled up the blanket and got in. Ariciel lay back, with her hands behind her head.

“Poor Velene,” said Ariciel. “She’s not stupid. She knows that it won’t make a damn bit of difference how many Orcs she kills there. But…”

Ellandriel looked at Ariciel, saying nothing.

“When you’re taking your revenge,” said Ariciel, eyes miles away. “There’s a moment. Just one moment. Right in the middle of the fight, when you are killing your enemies, and there’s nothing that can stop you, nothing that you care about. May the gods grant that you never have such a moment, but it is the best feeling you can have.”

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