Part 21: Scars on the world

Ariciel woke up, for a few moments thinking she had grown a third arm, then realising Ellandriel had rolled over in her sleep and her arm had flopped over. Ariciel looked at it. Her hands were soft, not used to hard work, like sweeping floors, or wielding weapons. Her arm was thinner than Ariciel’s own well-muscled arm. The scars from the fights she had been in had not disappeared yet. They would, with time. Night-elf skin does not keep the bad memories the way Human skin does. Not unless the memories are too bad to flow away on the waters of time. Ellandriel was about as tall as Lesta had been, her girlfriend in Ameth’aran, then on Teldrassil for only a single night before… Ariciel closed her eyes, forcing her mind away from that particular dark place. She thought instead of their time in Ameth’aran. She had been with Orin, who was a huntsman and a carpenter. He was the best man a girl could hope for, but she’d wanted to drink as well as eat. Lesta had sold wildflowers to the High-borne in the Manor. Why the High-borne, who were rich enough to afford the finest roses or orchids, would have only those flowers in their home, Ariciel had never understood until now. The High-borne were not allowed out. Their Manor had been a beautifully crafted, luxurious, expensive prison. The only thing they could do was try to bring some small pieces of the outside in.

Ariciel had been very glad they did. She’d noticed Lesta walking round, putting flowers in vases. Tall, slender, lustrous green hair. Ariciel had always smiled at her when she walked by. She’d always smiled back, and continued on her way. One day, there had been a crash behind Ariciel and an annoyed voice. Lesta had never told her whether she dropped that bucket of flowers on purpose, or not. In any case, Ariciel had been quick to fetch a mop and bucket, then dragged her heels mopping up the water, looking at Lesta picking up the flowers. Finally, there wasn’t a drop or shine of water left on the floor, and only a single broken flower lay on the ground. Lesta had bent over right in front of Ariciel to pick it up, and in a spirit of ‘Now or never’, Ariciel had reached out and put her hand on Lesta’s bottom. Ariciel could still recall every detail. How Lesta had stopped moving completely for a moment. How her hair had flowed as she looked over her shoulder. The way the incredulous look on her face had changed into that smile. Her words.

“Don’t do that, unless you really mean it.”

Ariciel laughed quietly, recalling the play she’d made. I’m so sorry, I don’t know what came over me, I’ve never done that before, I’ve never… wanted to.

Lesta had simply looked at her, believing every word she said even though she knew perfectly well nothing of it was true. Then, she’d broken the stem off the flower, and put it in Ariciel’s hair. When Ariciel had put the mop and the bucket back in the cupboard, she’d found that Lesta, whose name she didn’t even know at the time, had followed her. Her body was pressed into Ariciel’s back, because there was so little room in the broom cupboard. Her arms were round Ariciel, firmly, just in case Ariciel’s knees might give out at some point. Lesta’s breath was on her face and her tongue slowly traced the underside of her ear to the very tip.

Strangely, how they got from that cupboard to a place in the stables where they wouldn’t be disturbed for a while, she could not recall at all. Everything that happened after… perfectly.

 

Ellandriel’s breath quickened, and her legs started to move. Words came from her lips.

“Shan’do… no.”

Ariciel looked round, touched her arm, and Ellandriel woke up, startled, a scared look on her face from her dream, then a slightly different look that realised that here she was, cuddled up to a woman she had not intended to cuddle up to, and any unintentional cuddling might well be taken in entirely the wrong spirit. Ellandriel took her arm away, and sat up.

“Pardon me,” said Ellandriel. “I…”

“Good morning,” said Ariciel. “Sleep well?”

“Yes, I… Yes.”

“Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m hungry. Maliynn does a gorgeous cooked breakfast, and Nantar’s baguettes, you have to taste to believe it.”

 

They arrived downstairs to find Stetson and Mareva already there, demolishing breakfast. Mareva beamed at them.

“Good morning. It is a wonderful day for flying. Has everyone had a good night?”

Stetson concentrated on his breakfast, and apart from a sudden aura of smugness, declined to comment.

Ariciel laughed. “Not as good as yours, I’ll bet.”

Mareva pulled back a chair for Ellandriel and leaned over to her as she sat down. “I cannot believe that. Two gorgeous Night-elves, alone together for the first time? After an exciting evening, filled with the thrill of danger?”

Ellandriel, not quite sure what took her all of a sudden, gave Mareva a smouldering look.

“Yes! I admit it! Ariciel and I slept together.” Ellandriel put a hand on Mareva’s arm. “Can you forgive me?”

“Sleeping with her? Easily. Not letting me watch? Never.”

“How am I ever going to enjoy mere sex again after this,” whispered Ariciel, slumping back in her chair.

Ellandriel’s eyes gleamed at Mareva. “If you so desire, I can describe for you what happened.”

“Please do,” said Mareva. “And do not leave out even the slightest detail.”

“Only if you describe everything about your night,” said Ellandriel.

“Agreed,” said Mareva, with a big grin.

Stetson choked on his tea, and Ariciel had to slap his back.

“I fell asleep,” said Ellandriel.

“That is all?”

“I am afraid so. I was exhausted from a night of spellcasting. I fell asleep as soon as my head touched the pillow.” Ellandriel smiled smugly at Mareva. “How was your night?”

Ariciel tapped Ellandriel’s shoulder. “You are trying to embarrass an illustrious grand master of depravity. Just saying.”

“Quite,” said Mareva. “First, we found shelter in one of the burnt-out houses. Personally, I would have been quite happy to do it under the stars, but there was a bed undamaged by the fire. Hunter S’dezo’houn was most eager to-“

Stetson got to his hooves, kicking back his chair. “By the Naaru! Is that the time? We must be on our way. History waits for no-one. Great deeds await us.”

“Oi! I haven’t had any breakfast yet.” Ariciel waved at Maliynn, who had already prepared what Ariciel normally had, and approached the table with a plate full of egg, beans, fried bread and steaming dead pig. Ariciel started on her breakfast, making noises normally associated with other pleasures.

“Anything for you, Miss?” asked Maliynn.

“I will have what she is having,” said Ellandriel.


Sentinel Thenysil came walking out of her house, towards Ariciel and her friends, who were getting ready to leave. Ellandriel was behind Mareva, rummaging in Mareva’s backpack for the map so she wouldn’t have to take it off again. Stetson sat waiting for them, eyes closed, enjoying the sunshine.

“Elune a’dore,” said Thenysil. “And thank you again for your help last night. Last night’s work would have been a lot more difficult without you.”

“My pleasure,” said Ariciel. “How’s Sentinel Starstrike?”

“Returned to Stardust Spire. She sends her greetings.”

“Hm. I hope it brought her some peace.”

Thenysil looked to the West. “She was going to go alone. She would have died there if we hadn’t come along. She might not care if she came out alive, but she does care about us. And about you, despite appearances.”

“She’s a Sentinel,” said Ariciel. “May Elune light her path.”

Thenysil held out her hand to Ariciel. Ariciel took it. There was a small scrap of paper, which Ariciel put in her pocket. Thenysil looked away.

“You’re going to Darnassus. There’s a mail blackout on. Please, just tell him I’m alright.”

“I will.”

As they looked round, wondering if they’d forgotten anything, Luara walked up, together with Raene Wolfrunner. Raene shook hands with Stetson.

“It was a pleasure to run with you, Mr. Stetson. Should you ever come across another one of those crossbows, especially with an illegal scope, I will outbid anyone for it.”

“I will keep that in mind, Huntress Raene. I am certain you will use it to devastating effect.”

 

Ellandriel turned round to see Raene Wolfrunner standing next to her.

“Miss Ellandriel, I wanted to thank you specially. You saved Velene’s life last night.”

“We all saved each other’s life, Lady Raene. You watched over me, and I thank you.”

“Velene went to Silverwind Refuge last night to die. She lost everyone she loved at Silverwind. Velene would have been quite happy to give herself to the Orcs, to die protecting us from them.” There was a melancholy smile on Raene’s face. “But not from a bunch of mindless water elementals. You did precisely the only thing anyone could have done to bring Velene back alive. Thank you.”

 

When they had all said their goodbyes, they summoned their gryphons, and with a final wave, they took to the skies. Ariciel flew in front. A grim look was on her face. Mareva caught up with her, waving her compass.

“You need to turn a little bit to the North.”

Ariciel shook her head. Mareva gave her a look.

“Sentinel Thenysil said there was nothing left in Auberdine.”

“I know,” said Ariciel, not changing her course in the slightest.

“Why are you making for Auberdine?”

“To see what’s there,” said Ariciel. “Even if it’s only ghosts and ruins.”

“That is not wise,” said Mareva.

“No. It isn’t,” said Ariciel.

“But still, you are going there.”

“Yes.”

“That is stupid and dangerous.”

“I’m not asking anyone to come along. Wait for me in Lor’danel if you want.”

Mareva gave Ariciel a long hard look. “You are my friend. I will not abandon you. You know that as well as I do.”

“I have to see it, Mareva. There were people there I know. I met you there for the first time. Do you remember that kimchi pie?”

“I do,” said Mareva. “The first real food in an eternity.”

“I told you that nobody makes them like Allyndia, even if they have the recipe. There’s no secret ingredient. It’s her.”

“What would it help simply to stare at broken buildings? And it may be dangerous.”

“So is this,” said Ariciel. She jumped out off the saddle and her gryphon disappeared into thin air. Ariciel fell down, arms wide, and changed into her flight form, She flapped her wings a few times for altitude and speed, and flew off to the North-west. Mareva looked after her.

“Sometimes, my friend, I wonder why I like you so much. I really do.”


Ariciel stood on a small hill, by a crevasse that hadn’t been there a month ago. A month ago, when Auberdine was still there. The very earth on which it had stood, was broken. Buildings were torn apart. A large strip of forest had blackened into nothing but charred stumps from the Dragon’s breath. There was movement between the buildings, but no Elves. There was nobody left. The Moonwell had been breached, its life-giving water spilled away. There was the noise of feathers behind her, but Ariciel did not look round until Mareva put her hand on Ariciel’s shoulder.

“Really, Ariciel. What are we doing here?”

Ariciel pointed. “That’s where we met. We were both going to Felwood. One of the best things that ever happened to me.” She pointed again. “That’s where Fiora Longears’ house used to be. I… We found Lesta there, tortured to death by that Warlock bitch. One of the worst things that ever happened to me. I am this place, Mareva. And now, it’s gone.”

Mareva stood in front of Ariciel, put her hands on her shoulders.

“You are you. You are my friend. Strong, and kind, and silly, and stupid, and brave, and understanding.”

Ariciel gave Mareva a long look. Then, some of the shine returned to her eyes.

“And sexy?”

“Of course.”

Ariciel pulled Mareva to her in a tight hug. They stood like that for a while, then Ariciel whispered.

“Thank you.”

“Have you seen what you needed to see?”

Ariciel sighed, nodded.

“Then let us join the others in Lor’danel, before they come looking for us here.”

 

They were on the wing again. They flew close together, so they could talk if they wanted to, though at the moment, they didn’t. The wings of their gryphons beat in a steady rhythm, and the damaged lands of Darkshore rolled underneath them, broken, battered, but still green and growing, testament to the Light Everlasting. Death might come to all things living, but while there is life, we want it, to its very last breath. Mareva looked up. Something had drawn her attention, but what? Looking round, she spotted it. Ah. She pointed.

“What is that?”

Ariciel rose in her stirrups, gently rocking with the movement of her griffin as she looked into the distance.

“That’s a Druidic spell. It’s called ‘Cyclone’. You use it to put people out of action for a while. But that one is… a thousand times bigger than any I can manage.”

They hovered in place for a while, watching the enormous whirlwind. Trees had been uprooted and turned round and round in the air.

“Another side trip, I’m afraid. I have to know whether this is friend or foe.”

“After you,” said Mareva, spurring on her gryphon.

They stayed close to the treetops, to avoid being sucked into the whirlwind. Finally, they came to the hill that seemed to be the whirlwind’s focus. They landed, dismounted, and slowly walked up to the top of the hill. The noise was deafening, creaking of wood, howling wind, debris from the ground grinding. They carefully peered over the lip of the hill. As they looked, Ariciel grabbed Mareva’s arm, and gripped it, tighter and tighter, till Mareva pulled at her wrist. The noise was too loud to talk, so she simply raised her hands and shrugged. What?

Ariciel jumped over the edge of the hill, walked up to the figure in the eye of the cyclone, and went down on one knee in front of him. Mareva’s jaw dropped. In all the time they had been together, she had never seen her do that. In front of Ariciel was… well, a Night-elf, except that Mareva had never known a Night-elf to have a stag’s horns, a bear’s feet, nor feathers on their arms, though those could be simply ornamental feathers on his clothes. He had long green hair and a long beard, over a bare chest. Within the eye of the cyclone, the air was perfectly still, and Mareva could hear the man speaking to Ariciel in Darnassian. Ariciel rose, and for the first time since Mareva had known her, spoke in Darnassian.

“Shan’do Malfurion. Vous êtes lá.”

“Yes, I am,” said Malfurion Stormrage, using the Common Speech. “I have woken from a long slumber, filled with dreams both sweet and ill, and now I have returned. The stench of evil is on the air. I am needed.”

“Deathwing has returned,” said Ariciel.

“Yes. Neltharion, Aspect of the Black Dragonflight, wishes to plunge this world into an aeon of darkness. But as long as I draw breath, he will not prevail.”

Mareva bowed her head. “Why are you making this cyclone?”

Malfurion looked at Mareva. Mareva noted that where Ariciel’s eyes, and those of any other Night-elf she had ever known, glowed silver, Malfurion’s eyes had a golden glow.

“I am not making it. I am containing it.” Malfurion looked up. “One brave adventurer is up there, combating the forces of the Twilight Cult together with the Emerald Dragon Thessera.”

“Is there anything we can do to help?” asked Ariciel.

Malfurion shook his head. “The winds would tear you to shreds. Only a Dragon can survive in the cyclone.”

“Then what would you have us do?”

Malfurion’s bushy eyebrows knotted as he concentrated on renewing his holding spell.

“Go to Lor’danel, then go to Darnassus. Much suffering has been caused by the onslaught of Deathwing. They need all the help they can get.”

 

Malfurion Stormrage watched two gryphons disappear to the North. On the one hand, their offers of help were commendable. On the other hand, did the fools not grasp that he was busy? At that moment, he felt the forces of the portal diminish. A great crash was heard above, and the cyclone dispersed. The green Dragon Thessera came hurtling down, pulled up just in time and performed a not entirely dignified belly flop. Her rider jumped off and bowed to Malfurion.

“I can report, Sir, that the portal is destroyed, and that the Cultists have been scattered to the four winds.” The Gnome looked up at Malfurion with a sardonic look in his deep dark eyes. “That not all of their limbs were scattered to the same wind is merely a detail.”

Malfurion Stormrage only nodded. He had no particular reason to dislike Gnomes, but he did have a very good reason to dislike Warlocks and anyone who dealt with Daemons.

“Now, Sir, If you don’t mind, I’ll continue on to Un’goro Crater. I need to replenish my store of crystals. Current events nonewithstanding, people will still need hot water.”

“Thank you, Mr. Steambender,” said Malfurion.


“I never would have expected that of you, that is all.”

“Expected what?”

“For you to bow before anyone. You do not respond well to authority.”

“Oh come on. This is Malfurion Stormrage! He’s the very first Druid! What would you do if you stood before the very first Draenei Shaman?”

“I would say ‘Greetings Teacher’,” said Mareva smugly. “You have met him. Farseer Nobundo was the first of the Draenei to find the path of the Elements.”

“Really? He seems so…” Ariciel waved a hand.

“Broken?” Mareva looked at her hands. “He has had to sacrifice much to become what he is now. Or rather, it was taken from him.”

Ariciel raised herself up in the saddle, looking ahead for the rooftops of Lor’danel. She sat down again, looking at Mareva flying beside her, deep in thought.

Mareva stirred. “I wonder about Ellandriel. Who was the first High-borne Mage?”

Ariciel sucked her teeth. “I suppose that would be Queen Azshara. She’s the one who wanted to marry a Titan, opened the door for him, had it slammed closed by Malfurion Stormrage, and then the whole world blew up.”

Mareva laughed. “Of course, you simplify it a bit.”

“Just a bit.” Ariciel gave Mareva a look. “Not everybody in Darnassus is going to like Ellandriel. Memories run deep.”

“As if we do not have enough to worry about.”

 

Lor’danel came into view, and Ariciel and Mareva set down on the landing platform, where a new hippogryph tender now did Caylais Moonfeather’s job. Her name was Teldira, and she looked so much like Caylais that they must be related. They didn’t feel like asking. Ellandriel and Stetson were waiting for them. Mareva and Stetson made a sickening spectacle of themselves asking and reassuring each other that they had counted the minutes they had been apart. Ariciel had the vague suspicion that they were doing it on purpose just to wind her or Ellandriel up. Ellandriel was leaning on the railing of the flight platform, looking to the Northwest, where you could just see the crown of Teldrassil in the distance. Her destination. Ariciel put her hand on Ellandriel’s shoulder.

“Ready?”

Ellandriel took a deep breath, then nodded. They all summoned their flying mounts and set off across the strait to where they could see Teldrassil’s branches reach up into the heavens. Ariciel flew in front, making for the foot of the tree, where the portal was. Stetson and Mareva flew behind, with Ellandriel in the middle between them. They stayed just high enough to dodge anything attacking from below the sea. They touched down near what was left of Rut’theran Village. There had been a tidal wave, and though Teldrassil itself had shielded most of the village, many of the buildings had been washed away. The people of Rut’theran had been quick to rebuild a dock, since they were now the closest Night-elf port to Darkshore. The ships had been re-routed and repair of the buildings had already begun.

Ellandriel, though, saw nothing of this. She stood stock still, staring up at the enormous wall that was the trunk of Teldrassil, looking for the first time at the new home of the Night-elves with more than her eyes, more than her magical senses, more than the knowledge from the hastily-penned scrolls that had made their slow way into Eldre’thalas to be read, discussed and learnt by her and her fellow students. Teldrassil spoke to her in an unworldly voice that did not need ears or mind-speech, but went straight for the heart. She closed her eyes, bowed her head. A single tear trickled down her cheek. She looked up to see Ariciel and Mareva standing next to her. Ellandriel blinked, drew her sleeve across her face.

“Where do we go now?”

Mareva pointed. “If you wish to see the whole tree, you can take the flight up. Or you can go through the portal.”

“Let us take the portal.”

Ellandriel stepped through the portal, followed by Ariciel, Stetson and Mareva. She took a few steps forward, then turned to the others.

“My friends, here I must leave you. I need not tell you that it is death for the High-borne to come here, and I would not see you suffer by being associated with me. I thank you for all you have done for me.”

“Don’t be silly, woman,” said Ariciel. “Do you really think we’d leave you now? I’ll bet you don’t even know where the Temple of the Moon is.”

Ellandriel sniffed, then pointed at the largest building.

“Pah. Lucky guess,” said Ariciel. “Come on. We’ll take you there.”

They walked over the bridges, to the path leading up to the Temple. Music sounded from within, the sad, sweet voices of the Darnassus Temple Choir singing a lament for those fallen at Auberdine. Ariciel stood still a few moments, listening.

“Lirael’s here,” she said, brightening up. “Let’s go meet her.”

They walked up to the entrance, and inside. No fierce sentinels rushed at them to slay this impudent High-borne mage daring to defile this most sacred place of Elvendom with her presence. Ellandriel seemed to shrink. Mareva put her hand on her shoulder. Ariciel stood on her other side. Stetson was behind her, a large, comforting presence. Stetson’s cat Morgan gently pushed his big head into her thigh. They stood still, listening to the Choir, conducted by Priestess Jandria. The hymn finished, and after a few moments silence, another priestess led the congregation in prayer. The service ended, and Ariciel waved at her friend in the Choir. When Lirael saw them, she came walking up with a big grin on her face.

“Oh thank Elune, you are alright! I was so worried after what happened. I’m so glad to see you.” Lirael’s eye fell on Ellandriel. “Pardon me, I don’t think we’ve met. My name is Lirael. Welcome to the Moon Temple.”

“Thank you, Lady. My name is Ellandriel of…” she fell silent, not wanting the problems to start just yet.

“When did you get here?”

“Just now,” said Ariciel. “I haven’t even been home yet.”

“Let me finish up here, and I’ll meet you at the entrance. It’s time for lunch, so I’ll take you to Saelienne’s, my treat.”

Ellandriel looked at Lirael. “An it please you, Lady, I am looking for one named Mordent Evenshade. My business is urgent. Would you happen to know where he is?”

In a flash, the smile left Lirael’s face, and it became hard as stone.

“Mordent Evenshade. Archmage Mordent Evenshade.”

“Yes, Lady.”

“What do you want with a High-borne Archmage?”

Ellandriel looked at her feet. “I have urgent tidings for him. Information that may be vital to the survival of Elvendom in Azeroth.”

“You are High-borne.”

“Yes, Lady. I am Ellandriel of the Shen’dralar. I carry news of the return of Neltharion.”

Lirael looked to the south, then back at Ellandriel.

“We already know,” she said.

Ariciel took a step forward and touched Lirael’s shoulder, looking into her eyes. “Lirael, Ellandriel’s alright. She’s got information that could help us fight Deathwing. She’s a friend.”

“She is the reason I don’t have grandparents,” said Lirael, coldly. “They died when the High-borne ripped Kalimdor to pieces.”

Mareva shook her head. “I very much doubt Miss Ellandriel is responsible for that. All that happened long before she was born.”

“She’s High-borne,” said Lirael. “None of them are allowed to be younger than ten thousand years.”

“That is true, Lady.” Ellandriel looked up into Lirael’s eyes. “Yet, here I am.”

Lirael held Ellandriel’s gaze for a few moments. Some older Night-elves, for reasons of their own, did not change the clan markings on their faces as they grew older, settling for a design that did not show their age. Sometimes, the ancient ones simply allowed them to fade with the years, which usually meant that they no longer considered themselves to be part of their birth community. Ellandriel wore the markings of a fifty-year-old girl from the inlands of Darkshore. East Ashenvale, Felwood, or even Feralas. They looked fresh, as though she had received them only a few years ago. It was physically possible to put young markings on an old face. Most skin-artists wouldn’t betray their honour by doing that, but a disguise was a disguise. Lirael looked at Ellandriel’s eyes instead. The eyes that looked back at Lirael had seen suffering, but had not yet found the tranquility that comes from a hundred centuries of living. That look in the eyes was impossible to hide, and impossible to pretend. There was no other possibility. Ellandriel was a young High-borne woman. Which meant it would be unfair to blame her for the crimes of her kind, even if those crimes included giving birth to her.

Née sans permis,” said Lirael.

“You may be the reason I do not have parents,” said Ellandriel.

“Mordent Evenshade moved to the Howling Oak, after his audience with Tyrande Whisperwind. You will find him there.”

Ariciel frowned. “Howling Oak? Where’s that? Have they built another tavern while I was away?”

“I’m not trying to send her on a wild goose chase, you silly girl. The Howling Oak is a new tree dwelling they planted across the pond from my place. It blocks my view of the lake and it’s full of big hairy Gilneans.”

“Worgen? We met one in Astranaar.”

“They’re all over the place,” said Lirael. “Refugees from Gilneas. They’ve been having trouble with the Forsaken there.”

Mareva sighed. “The world is really turning into a great big pile of elekk dung.”

“Let me change out of my choir robes, and I’ll take you to the Howling Oak. Perhaps your new friend has found a way of spiriting away Dragons and Undead.”

 

The Howling Oak was a new addition to Darnassus. It wasn’t really an oak, but one of the fast-growing trees the Night-elves would plant when they needed to keep soil from eroding, or in this case, if they needed quick shelter. None of the Gilneans would ever tell the difference. With the help of the many wisps that floated about in Darnassus, they had grown it in a month. Inspired by the spirit of artistry, they had redirected a stream round it, and created a path of stones leading to the entrance. Inside was a group of Humans, Worgen, and even the occasional Night-elf. Ellandriel looked round. Her eyes fell on a tall, white-haired Night-elf man wearing a dark blue coat. She walked up to him.

“Archmage Mordent Evenshade?”

The Mage shook himself out of gloomy thoughts, and looked at Ellandriel.

“Yes. How may I help you?”

“I bear news from Daros Moonlance,” said Ellandriel, opening her pack. “I hope that I am not overly late in bringing it to you.”

Mordent Evenshade accepted the book, turning it over in his hands before opening it and gazing at it.

“Another volume of Daros’ meticulous writings,” said Evenshade. “Thank you, young lady, for bringing it to me. I think it will be as useful as the others that adventurers have brought to me.”

Ellandriel gave a small nod, noting precisely the thing that the Mage had not said. With a private smile, she thought that something of Engineer Mareva must be rubbing off on her. Mordent Evenshade put the book on a small stack of nearly identical volumes on a table beside him, then turned back to Ellandriel.

“Do I recognise in your voice the speech of Eldre’thalas?”

“Yes, Archmage. I don’t think we ever met there, though.”

“I was a recluse inside a recluse’s cave. I’m afraid I did not have my fair share in teaching our young. There were few enough of you anyway.”

“We are forbidden children,” said Ellandriel. “We are not wanted by anyone.”

Mordent Evenshade shook his head. He put one hand on Ellandriel’s shoulder, and gently touched the lines tattooed on her face with his other.

“Not so. Your coming here is a greater gift to me than all of Daros Moonlance’s witterings put together. Do you intend to stay here?”

“I do not know. Teldrassil feels like home to me, but the Keldorei do not seem to want me here.”

“They don’t. The young ones have learnt from the old to loathe the very name of the High-borne. One of the Sentinels offered to slice my throat for me when first I arrived. She could not have been more than a hundred and thirty years old. Luckily, we stood on holy ground, or it would have gone ill with me.”

Ellandriel rubbed her cheek. “Maybe I should leave, and try my luck in a Human settlement instead. Shan’do only told me to bring you the book. What to do afterwards, I do not know.”

“You are a student of the Arcane. What is your specialisation?”

“Yes, Sir. I am a fire mage.” Ellandriel smiled. “Druid Ariciel called me ‘our friendly firestarter’.”

“You have befriended a Druid? That is a great gift.”

“It is her gift to me,” said Ellandriel. “I am very grateful to her, and to my Draenei friends.”

“Draenei as well? Are you sure I could not persuade you to stay here? I could help you with your studies of the Arcane.”

Ellandriel looked at her feet. “I am not sure I am ready for a new teacher. My teacher died defending me from a Fel Reaver in Outland.”

“May I see your collection of spells?”

Ellandriel held out her hand. Mordent took it. He frowned.

“Only fire spells and the occasional utility spell?”

“Yes. I told you I am a fire mage,” said Ellandriel, somewhat defensively. Her teacher had been more dear to her than she realised.

Mordent stroked his beard, thinking. Then, he suddenly grinned.

“I think I know who your teacher was.” He bent over to Ellandriel and whispered in her ear. “Am I right?”

“The Red?”

“That’s right. Firepower that was the envy of everyone, but hardly subtle. A quality I recognise in the spells you have learnt. I can help you round out your repertoire. Think about it. You’ll be able to do this.”

Mordent concentrated, and faded from sight. His voice came from nowhere.

“Or perhaps this.”

Mordent re-appeared, and was suddenly encased in an ice block.

“Nothing can hurt you like this for a minute. Gives your friends time to come to your aid.”

Ellandriel rubbed her arm, the memory of pain on her.

“That would be useful. May I have some time to think about it?”

Mordent’s ice block disappeared, and he laughed.

“Think about it as long as you like. But please stay.”


“Mistress Jandria? May I have a word?”

Jandria turned round to look at Lirael. “Sure. Something bothering you?”

“Yes. It’s this High-borne woman.”

“The one I saw talking to your Druid friend and the Draenei? What about her?”

“I don’t like her.”

“That worries you? It would be hard to find anyone on this treetop who does. Lots of old grievances.”

“Ariciel seems to like her. Also, she’s only fifty. Only twenty-five years younger than I am. The Sundering is as far away from her as it is from me.”

Jandria sat down on one of the small walls in the Moon Temple. Lirael sat down next to her, elbows on her knees, head in her hands.

“Was she rude to you?”

“No,” said Lirael.

“Arrogant?”

“No. She was more polite to me than I was to her. If she’d been a Priestess or a Druid, I might have liked her. But she’s a Mage. An Arcanist. A High-borne.”

“Do you have the same dislike for Elissa Dumas? She’s an Arcanist.”

“She’s Human. I sang at her wedding.”

“So why do you have this dislike for… what’s her name?”

“Ellandriel,” said Lirael. “Ellandriel of the Shen’dalar. I don’t know. It’s just that she is a High-borne, and the High-borne slaughered thousands upon thousands of people. I never even knew my grandparents, and still I hate her for killing them. And she’s fifty!”

“Prejudice,” said Jandria.

Lirael nodded sadly. “I thought I didn’t have it in me. But I do.”

“Bloody High-borne. Always making you prejudiced against them. They should go back into exile, the lot of them.”

Lirael looked up at Jandria, who looked back at her with a mischievous gleam in her eyes.

“Well, there’s a cure,” said Jandria. “Go spend some time with her. She’s probably not very popular. She might like some company.”

 

Lirael found Ellandriel sitting on the side of the lake, next to a bridge, staring at the setting sun reflected in the water. Her staff lay over her knees.

“Hi. This is a lousy fishing spot. I know a much better one.”

Ellandriel looked up. “Lady Lirael.”

Lirael sat down next to Ellandriel. “I am sorry for being rude to you earlier.”

Ellandriel said nothing.

“Do you have a place to stay the night yet?”

“We are all sleeping in Druid Ariciel’s house,” said Ellandriel.

“The four of you? My goodness. If it gets too crowded, I have a spare bed.”

“I will mention that.”

Lirael stretched her legs out in front of her, leaning back on her hands. The sky turned to fiery reds and purples. Lirael looked at Ellandriel, who was looking at the small waves that slowly rose and fell at the edge of the water.

“When I was only four years old,” said Lirael, “I was running too fast for my feet, and fell over. That was in Feralas, under the shadow of the Twin Colossals. A kind woman heard me cry, and walked over to me. She wiped the dirt off my knee, and held her hand over it, and the Light flowed, and my knee was healed. Then she held me to her, and told me that everything would be alright, and to go find an elder. So I did.”

Ellandriel said nothing.

“Then later, while we were having dinner, there was a big commotion, and all the children were told to go outside and see, and I saw the nice lady riding at the front of a line of soldiers, and priestesses, followed by bears, heading north into Desolace. So I pointed at the head of the line of fighters, and told everyone that that was the woman who healed my knee. And then my elder clipped me round the ear for telling tales.”

Lirael sat up, and put her arms round her knees.

“That woman was Tyrande Whisperwind. Nobody believed me. But I’d seen her hand over my knee, taking away the pain, and felt her arms round me to take away the fright. As long as I’ll live, I’ll never forget that. That’s what made me want to be a priestess. Elune must have blessed me with her gift then.”

Ellandriel looked up at Lirael, still keeping her silence.

“What made you want to study the Arcane?”

Ellandriel looked at the Sun, slowly making his way to the treetops. She took a deep breath.

“Most of the Shen’dralar children did. There were never many of us, and all of our elders were mages. Only two of my sisters did not choose the path. They both disappeared. We shared Eldre’thalas with Ogres, and we were told that they had been taken for food.”

“Were they taken because they chose not to study the Arcane?”

“I think not. One of the novice Arcanists was also taken by… the Ogres. Mages kept the energy flowing. Energy to keep us alive. I wanted to be of use to my fellow Shen’dralar, so I chose to devote myself to the Arcane.”

Lirael nodded. Everything Ellandriel had said, seemed to have little loose ends.

“What is it like?”

“There is a ritual. It opens your mind, and attunes your body to the Arcane energies over the time of a week. They give you potions to dull the pain, but you cannot spend the Time of Change in a drunken stupor. There are things that you need to take note of, and you cannot do that while you are asleep.”

“That sounds horrible,” said Lirael.

“It is,” said Ellandriel. “The first stage in the ritual is mainly to overcome doubt, and harden your resolve. It makes you think that you are past the worst.”

“But that is a lie, isn’t it?”

“Yes. It gets harder as time passes, until the last day. Only then do you know how successful you have been in changing.”

“Is it worth it?”

Ellandriel smiled. “People who do not study the Arcane think of it as something dark, and evil, that the world would be better off without. It is the world. The first time I opened my eyes after the ritual, I could finally see everything for what it really was. All the forces in balance, the Light flowing, and then you can put your mind at the right points in the world, and push, so that the balance of the world moves to one end, and then restores itself. When you look at a tree, or a pool of water, if you’re lucky, you’ll notice how the wind makes it move. An Arcanist will see everything. The forces that hold the water together, so that it flows instead of evaporating. The forces that allow a tree to draw water from deep below the Earth, all the way into all its leaves. The… the mechanics of life, of existence itself. The rules that even the Gods must follow. Vast, infinitely complex, infinitely beautiful.” Ellandriel looked into Lirael’s eyes. “Yes. It is worth every moment of pain. Every single moment.”

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