Part 3: Friends and lovers

Mareva and Ariciel walked along the wide hallways of Exodar. Ariciel turned her head this way and that, wordlessly. All about them were lights, crystals, smooth paths. In some places, they seemed to walk on nothing but thin air, supported by magic, and they could see far, far down below. Ariciel told herself that Draenei males twice her own weight regularly walked these paths. On their elekks. This part of Exodar had been spared much of the damage that the outlying parts had sustained.

“It’s beautiful,” said Ariciel.

“It was beautiful, before the crash,” said Mareva. She pointed. “That corridor is lit because I hooked up one of the power crystals to a string of running lights. I had to modify them not to blink, or people would have got headaches. They were originally festive lights. Oh. Come over here.” Mareva leaned over a rail and pointed down.

Ariciel looked. Deep down in what looked to her like a mine shaft, there was a glowing orb, with blades of light lazily revolving round it. Almost she thought she could hear chimes. She’d never seen anything like it, but in this place, that was more or less a constant.

“Is that your engine?”

Mareva snorted. “Do not let him hear it. That, my friend, is the Naaru O’ros. He is the one who could move Exodar from one place to another. You have today seen one of the creatures of the Light.”

“Oh. So he’s the one who crashed the ship?”

Mareva’s face darkened with old anger.

“No. The Sin’dorei crashed Exodar, by tampering with its engines. O’ros could not help it. Nobody could.”

They walked on, until they came to a corridor with many doors. Mareva pressed the buttons on one of them, and it opened, revealing a small room.

“Welcome to my home,” said Mareva.

Ariciel looked round. It was small, more like a ship’s cabin than a proper room. Part of the ceiling was lit up. Light to see by. With the door shut, it was perfectly quiet. A small table was attached to the wall, and there was a single chair to sit on. Mareva touched a side of the wall, and magically, an image appeared of green fields, above which shone a yellow sun. Trees were in the distance. A small lake could be seen.

“That is my real home,” said Mareva, “But it has been destroyed in the cataclysm. I have been there with Stetson. It is not a happy sight.” She sighed, then looked at Ariciel. “Drop your pack here. We are going out. I know a tavern.”

“A tavern?” Ariciel stared at Mareva in slack-jawed astonishment. “You?

Mareva laughed. “Indeed. I am no stranger to alcoholic beverages. I apologise for shattering your illusions.”

“Do you think they’ll have Qrovna?”

“Only if you are well-known to the caregiver.” Mareva grinned. “Which, fortunately, I am.”

“Idiots. Zlotniks. Imbeciles.”

Stetson was hidden in the undergrowth, keeping an iron grip on Morgan’s collar with one hand, his crossbow in the other. Vicious spells turned round in his head, waiting to be cast. His eyes turned upwards, as a raven passed overhead. Bloody Druids. What did they expect a polar tiger to eat? Cabbages? The worst thing was that he’d be pretty hard put to it even to win over one of them, and there were at least a dozen. Tauren, Night-elves. Even one Frost-nymph, may the Light forgive her. A plague on all of them. Stetson’s hunter senses worked overtime, now alerting him to the presence of humanoids, then to beasts. At least there were no Undead. He wondered how long it would be before these madmen would give up. Surely, they would before nightfall?

“Morgan, stay. Do not attack unless I tell you.”

Morgan’s eyes glowed in acknowledgement.

“It’s going to be a long afternoon.”

Morgan gave a low growl, and lay down at Stetson’s feet.

When he could sense nothing too close, Stetson broke cover, and made for a small stream nearby. No telling whether these idiots could track him by scent, so let’s not make it easy for them. The water was just deep enough for him to walk with his head just above the surface. Morgan paddled along next to him, shooting him the occasional filthy look. He didn’t like swimming. Well, neither did Stetson. He just preferred it to being ripped limb from limb by dire bears. When he judged that he had covered enough of his scent, he quietly made for the bank and started wringing himself out. He shook the water out of his boots. Draenei boots would never fit a Human. Mostly, they were simply tubes of leather, chain or plate that protected the pastern, the bit between hoof and ankle. Only rarely did Draenei cover their actual hooves. There was no need to, usually. They didn’t feel heat or cold, and they were hard enough to cut glass. He thought of Mareva’s rather gorgeous hooves, and smiled. It would be a great shame to cover those up.

There was a noise behind Stetson, and he jumped to his hooves, crossbow in hand. An enormous bear had walked up. As he watched, there was the flow of magic, and a tall Night-elf stood before him. He waved his hand.

“Have no fear, friend. I mean you no harm. We are hunting for a murderer. Clearly, you are not the one we are looking for, as the reek of blood is not upon you. Have you seen one who looks like you?”

Stetson blinked.

“Um. I may have, I saw him at a great distance. He was fleeing to the South.”

“Hmm. That’s where the Clam Master hides. I suspected as much. Well, I fear he may have eluded us for the moment. But have no fear. If he ever shows his face here again, we will have him.”

Stetson nodded sagely. Idiots.

“May you find what you need. Be kind to those less fortunate.”

The Druid smiled.

“Del’nadris,” he said. “Or, as your people say, favour the road travelled by few.”

“Believe me,” said Stetson, “I will.”

Stetson rode along the road, further and further to the North, in much better spirits. The Druids had given up their chase, and he had escaped. Another delay, but better a long delay than a permanent one. This part of the world was beautiful. Endless plains of grass, teeming with life. From where he was riding, he could see marsh fawns, and caribou, grazing. In the distance, dwarfed by the distance, a herd of some large animal was making its way to feeding grounds. Stetson rose in his stirrups, peering ahead. A big grin appeared on his face. Mammoths! Stetson turned to Morgan, who was easily trotting along beside him.

“If we catch one of those, my friend, we’ll never have to work again!”

Stetson rode ahead, further along the road to the North, until he found what he was looking for: In the distance, a strange magical object floated above a huge pillar of stone. This must be the Mosslight Pillar, one of the five mysterious pillars that dotted Sholazar. Good. That meant Sholazar basin was near, and that he could start rattling people for news of his brother. After a few more hours brisk riding, he plunged down into what was still known as the Lost Passage into Sholazar Basin, though it was quite well travelled these days. Stetson looked round. It looked as though someone had sliced away a piece of steamy jungle, and placed it in the middle of a cold area. Even the temperature rose abruptly, and Stetson took off several layers of clothing before it became bearable. What caused this sharp change, he could not say, though it was obviously magical in nature. Perhaps that strange tower had something to do with it, or else the dragons that were said to inhabit the area.

Never mind. Stetson rode down to the path, until he heard cries of battle and the sound of feet running. Calling Morgan to him, Stetson veered off the road and into the green vegetation. As he peered out, he recognised a creature known as a Gorloc. They were basically a head on legs, with large mouths full of teeth and a large, thick tongue. They were being chased by creatures that looked vaguely bear-like, though they were wielding spears. Stetson patiently waited for the creatures to pass by. Not his fight. When things quieted down again, he continued along the road, till he found a small bridge over a stream. Further upstream was the wreckage of a ship. Apparently, someone had very thoroughly wrecked this ship as bits of plank, deserted cargo and other debris continued downstream. As he looked round, there was the sound of gunfire to his right. Hmm. It wasn’t the frantic rattle of a gun in battle, but rather the regular, composed shots of someone on a shooting range. Which meant intelligent beings. Hah. Intelligent by Northrend standards at least. He turned to Morgan.

“Try to look vegetarian will you?”

“Arquenon Porous,” said the Draenei woman, with a glint in her eye. “It is good to see a blue face again. My name is Debaar.”

“Hunter S’dezo’houn,” said Stetson. “Long life. Good health. What brings a Draenei hunter to a place like this? Surely, you were not at the helm when your ship arrived?”

Debaar’s smile did not even falter, though her pale blue eyes hardened.

“I am warning you. If the words ‘Helmsmen of the Apocalypse’ are hurrying towards your lips, then so is my fist. I keep reminding people that I was off shift when Exodar came down. The unlucky souls who were at the helm when the engines failed, were all killed in the crash.”

“My friend Mareva says that her engines were sabotaged. Perhaps you want to compare notes.”

“Mareva? Engineer Mareva?”

“Yes,” said Stetson.

“You know her?”

Stetson smiled. “To know her truly, would be the study of a lifetime, but yes, I do.”

“Are you her mate, then? I thought she was with Viral.”

“I’m afraid Viral is dead. He was killed by the Sin’dorei.”

“That is a great sadness. Viral was a good man.”

“Do you know Mareva well, then?”

Debaar blushed, and looked over her shoulder.

“She and I were both in the Deviants. She beat my score by just two points.”

“Deviants? I have not heard of this.”

Debaar looked at Stetson, clearly wondering whether to tell him more. She chuckled.

“Well, it was one of the social clubs on Exodar. There were the Zealots, who made up religions for fun, with exceedingly strict rules against very trivial things. Taking up a fork in the left hand was a grave offence, for instance. And then there were the musicians, the scientists, the sportsmen. All to combat boredom.”

Stetson nodded, an invisible smile on his face. He could see the way this was going.

“And the Deviants?”

Debaar’s face turned a deeper shade of blue.

“Pleasures of the flesh, I’m afraid. We would… sample each other, and give each other points. One, two or three. I should not have tried the Captain. He was interested only in his ship. I am sure I could have scored at least two points off someone else.”

“So you and Mareva…”

Debaar grinned. “Mutual three points. Most memorable.”

“Did Mareva win, then?”

Debaar shook her head. “Not by a long stretch. There was this girl. She was beautiful, and looked so innocent that anyone would swear that nobody had ever got their hands anywhere near her tail. You got an automatic three points for sampling someone outside the Deviants, so everybody leapt for her. And then, she’d calmly pull out her notebook and give you two points out of three. Everybody gave her three points. She won most deservedly.” Her luminous eyes found Stetson’s. “She was killed in the crash. Another kind soul lost.”

“I am beginning to think that travelling here by the Dark Portal was safer after all. Do many Draenei pass this way?”

“Unfortunately not. You are only the third to pass through this month. Though undoubtedly the most handsome.”

Stetson laughed. “How many points for someone not even on the ship?”

“Three. Though the last one, I would not have tried even for a hundred points. He was… changed.”

“Do you mean a Death Knight?”

“Yes. He scared me, though he made no move against anyone here.” Debaar shuddered. “I could see it in his eyes. There was so much blood on his hands that even fire could not burn it off. I was glad to see him depart.”

“Do you know his name?”

Debaar shook her head. “He called himself Paxvobiscum, but that was a chosen name. It means ‘Peace be upon thee’ in one of the ancient dialects of this planet.”

“Hmm. Did he look in any way like me?”

“Of course n-” Debaar stared at Stetson. “Is he related to you?”

“He is, or was, my brother. I need to find him.”

“He flew off to the East, though to the West, there is only the sea, so that tells you very little. Ask the flight master. On second thought, let me take you to him. He might tell me, but not someone he doesn’t know.”

“That would be most helpful, thank you.”

“You mean that scary one? Oh yes. He was making for Dragonblight. I gave him one of my fastest airplanes, just to be rid of him quicker.” Weslex Quickwrench, the Gnomish flightmaster, nodded at Stetson. “If you are related to him, Sir, you have my condolences. I would not recommend chasing after him.”

“Neither would I,” said Stetson, “But I must. Where did he go?”

“Dalaran. Had obviously been there before, or I wouldn’t have sent him there.”

“Of course. I suppose you couldn’t…”

“No. Against the rules, I’m afraid. Very strict. No travelling to unfamiliar places.”

Debaar leaned on Stetson’s shoulder, and whispered in his ear. “I could probably call in a favour from him, if you’ll do me a favour in return.”

“Would I need to join the Deviants?”

Debaar laughed quietly. “Only afterwards. I want my full three points.”

The noise was horrible, but it was fast, no doubt. The wind battered Stetson’s face as the helicopter made its way to Dalaran. Stetson much preferred to travel by Hippogriff or Griffin. A beast would show signs of weariness, where a machine might simply cease to work at high altitude. Nothing for it, though. Besides, Gnomes had an excellent reputation as engineers, or was that Goblins? Never mind. He had a location and a name. He now also had two Deviant points. Debaar had explained that it was bad form to give full marks to the boyfriends of acquaintances. She had come out to wave him goodbye as he left.

The smile left Stetson’s face as his mind returned to the job. He doubted if he’d find the flight master at Dalaran as accomodating as this Gnome. Still, something would come up. It always did.

Ellandriel walked next to Teacher, through the dense forests of Feralas. Keldorei were hiding behind every bush and shrub, arrows aimed at her. Spiders were ready to drop on her from every tree-branch. She glanced at Teacher, who was walking with quick, powerful strides, looking round with a big smile.

“Thero’shan, I cannot begin to tell you how much I have missed this.” Teacher pointed at a tall tree. “What kind of tree is that?”

“It’s an oak, Shan’do.”

“What subspecies?”

“Um…” Ellandriel searched her memory, looking at the leaves.

Quercus Feralaensis, Thero’shan. The Feralas Oak.” Teacher bent down, picking up something from the ground. “Easily recognisable from the shape of the leaves, the direction of its growth and the fact that we are, in fact, in Feralas.”

Quercus Feralaensis. Yes, Shan’do.”

Teacher threw a small thing at Ellandriel, who caught it in her hands.

“Acorns, my student. Acorns. I haven’t had an acorn in my hand since we crawled into Eldre’thalas, ashamed of our every breath. I used to gather them by the hundreds, and with some match-sticks turn them into whole families of little men.” Teacher sighed. “When we hid ourselves in our ruins, Ellandriel, we could risk getting out only for the most essential of things. Food. Hides to make clothes out of. Not a few acorns. I didn’t even realise how much I’d missed them until just now.”

Ellandriel looked at the acorn in her hand. It was a light brown, smooth to the touch, and seemed to wear a little hat, a cupule, she knew. She looked up at Teacher.

“You have never seen an acorn, have you?”

“I have, Shan’do. We read ‘Flora of Kalimdor’ in Lorekeeper Kildrath’s biology classes.”

“Books. They have their uses, but a book cannot tell you what an oak smells like when it is in bloom, nor what an acorn tastes like.”

Ellandriel nodded, and produced a pocket-knife. She cut the acorn in two, and found a light brown nut inside. She put a half in her mouth, and chewed. Her eyes opened wide at the foul bitter taste, and she spat it out. Teacher burst out laughing.

“And now you do know. They taste absolutely horrible. You can use them for food in a pinch, but they are better used for making a kind of coffee. Which, to be honest, also tastes horrible.” Teacher sighed deeply, stood in front of Ellandriel and held her shoulders, looking into her eyes. “We really must apologise to you children. Keldorei girls your age could have told me not only the species of that oak, but how old it was, how well-developed its roots are, how healthy it is, and how it is doing competing for sunlight with the other trees. To our shame, we allowed you to be born into this, this prison, that we preferred to simply finding a new place to live. You should have learnt your biology from real trees, not dead ones. I promise you, I will do my best to make amends.”

Ellandriel bowed her head. “Thank you, Shan’do.”

As the first rays of sunshine showed themselves through the branches of Feralas forest, Ellandriel and Teacher hid in the space that had opened in the ground when a large tree had fallen over. They had been traveling by night, and slept by day. Ellandriel closed her eyes, concentrated and held up her hands, palms up. On her outstretched hands, her magic wove itself into the light bread. It was an easy spell to cast. As long as there was Light, no mage need fear starvation. She handed a few pieces to Teacher, who was covering up the entrance to their hiding place with tree branches. Teacher put down sleeping furs, and stretched out, accepting the food with a small nod. When first she learnt the spells to conjure food out of thin air, Ellandriel had been delighted, and thought she’d never eat anything better. The bread tasted sweet, like honey. Though it did still one’s hunger, it never quite seemed to reach one’s stomach. They had been relying on it for a week now. She chewed, and felt the energy revive her. She should have packed more food. She longed for something solid. She looked at Teacher, who was stretching out, after removing an inconvenient tree-root.

“Tomorrow, Thero’shan, we leave Feralas. You will take the first watch. Wake me up at mid-day.”

Mareva took Ariciel into a tavern, somewhat off the beaten track, explaining that that was where engineers tended to drink. Engineers did not mix well with the general people. Tell someone that you are an engineer, and invariably, they would end up trying to exchange cheap booze for valuable information, if they offered anything at all. Ariciel spotted an empty table and lunged for it. Mareva opened negotiations with the caregiver, and checked her mail while she was at it. She sat down at the table with a bottle in one hand, two cups in the other and a letter between her teeth. Ariciel filled both their cups while Mareva pulled a small metal object from her belt. There was a swift movement like a propeller, and the object turned into a knife. She cut open the letter from Stetson. Ariciel by now knew what to do with Qrovna, and tossed it back with a flick of the wrist. It hardly touched her taste buds at all. She looked round the inn. All round her, people were sitting, without much talk, busy with their own thoughts. Some were manipulating small devices with lights on. Ariciel was the only Elf in the place. The custom was mostly Draenei, both male and female, with the odd Human or even Gnome thrown in. They were drinking from small glasses, though here and there pints of ale could be seen. Bottles were on many of the tables. It saved them the effort of walking back and forth to the bar. It was a place where people came to forget, to recover. There were very few smiles, but there was a sense of companionship, comfort.

Without any warning, Mareva spat out a few words in her own native tongue that made several Draenei on other tables look round.

“Debaar, you bitch!”

Ariciel raised her eyebrows. “What’s a Debaar?”

“It is something related to a striv that sleeps with your boyfriend.”

Ariciel briefly considered asking what a striv was, but the rest of the sentence seemed more important.

“Stetson get lucky?”

“Pah. He pushed her tail for a flight to Dalaran.”

“Hmm. That seems a bit over-paid.”

Mareva looked at her cup, decided not to bother and took a big gulp straight from the bottle. She wiped her mouth on her sleeve.

“I will get you another. I will need this one.”

Ariciel took the bottle away from her and took a swig herself.

“I’m not carrying you home. Supposing you tell me what’s up?”

“It would appear that Helmsman Debaar has attached herself to the Nessingwary expedition in Sholazar Basin. Whereupon Hunter S’dezo’houn took pity on her loneliness, and temporarily attached himself to her, in return for a flight to Dalaran. Deviant points. Gah.”

“Do you know this Debaar woman? A friend of yours?”

“Fellow member of the Deviants.”

Ariciel put her elbows on the table. The bottle of vile liquor dangled between her hands.

“Deviants? You’ve never told me about that!”

“The Deviants were one of the clubs to relieve boredom on the long trip. We would…” Mareva struggled for a polite way of putting this. Oh what the hell. “We would have sex. And give each other points based on performance.”

“So you and Debaar…” Ariciel wiggled her eyebrows.

“Oh yes.”

“So she’s a friend, then?”

Mareva pulled the bottle from between Ariciel’s hands and refilled her cup.

“I could not stand the sight of the arrogant bitch. I am sure the feeling was mutual.”

Ariciel nodded slowly. “Riiiight. Then why?”

“Well,” said Mareva, “You can have the most amazing samplings with someone you really hate if neither of you wants to fall short of the other. So we did.” An evil grin appeared on Mareva’s face. “She conked out just before I did.” She tossed down her drink in one gulp. “I still had to give her all the three points, though. She earned it. I was not going to be an ingrate.”

“That sounds like fun. So who won?”

“Lorelei did, may she be part of the Light. But I beat Debaar’s score by two. Only now, of course, with the kind help of Hunter S’dezo’houn, she is one point ahead.”

“It’s still going on then?”

“Goodness, no. We totalled up the final scores just before landfall. And then, the word ‘landfall’ acquired a whole new meaning.”

Mareva looked at her cup. It was empty. She looked at the bottle, shook her head and put the cup on the table.

“Let us go to my quarters. Bring the bottle.”

Ariciel followed Mareva into her tiny cabin, and only now noticed a grave shortcoming in the whole ‘sleeping quarters’ arrangement.

“Hey! There’s no bed. Where are we going to sleep?”

Mareva raised a finger, waved Ariciel to one end of the room and touched one of the marked spots on the wall. With the low hum of technology, a large double bed slid out of the wall, taking up most of the floorspace. Mareva pointed at it.

“That bed was my secret weapon in the Deviants. It is robust. It does not creak. It does not move. It is large enough for two. Much more pleasant than the bunks other people had to make do with. I earned this cabin with some emergency repairs when they were most needed to lift Exodar off Draenor.

“So you and the other… Deviants. You were constantly in each other’s beds?”

Mareva sighed. “It was a stupid game. It passed the time. I wasn’t good enough to join the chess players. I already lived science while at work. Mathematics is dull. I am not musically gifted. So why not?”

“Didn’t your boyfriend object?”

Mareva’s eyes softened with the memories. “Viral and I joined the Deviants together. He and I would compare notes, before going to sleep. I felt better sleeping in his arms than I did doing… other things, even with the best. He rarely got fewer than three points, but it is relatively uncommon for our men to desire each other, so I had more opportunities. I must admit that I do prefer the company of males, but there were points to be earned, and I am quite good with either.”

“Heh. I know.”

“I still think using magic is cheating,” said Mareva.

“Well, all you had to do was say stop.”

Mareva yawned. “I did not say I disapproved. Let us go to sleep. We have to leave early tomorrow to catch the ferry.”

They stepped out of their clothes. Ariciel sat up in a corner of the bed, and Mareva lay down with her head in Ariciel’s lap. Mareva closed her eyes for a while. Ariciel thought she’d fallen asleep, but then, she spoke.

“We never told each other that we would not enjoy the company of others.”


“I know that Hunter S’dezo’houn will not leave me because of her. He took pity on a lonely girl. She did him a favour in return.”

“Yes,” said Ariciel. She ran her fingers through Mareva’s smooth dark hair.

“He did not try to hide it from me. He probably thought we were friends and I would enjoy hearing news of her.”

“How was he to know?”

“Precisely. Stetson has done nothing wrong. So speaks the brain.”

“But,” said Ariciel.

“But the liver wishes to kick him.” Mareva opened her eyes and looked up at Ariciel. “Debaar, I already wanted to kick, so now I simply wish to kick her harder.”

“Well, you’re in a nice comfortable cabin with your favourite Night-elf. She’s in the middle of nowhere. Alone. Probably being eaten alive by midges.”

“Dragons,” said Mareva.

“Midges take longer,” said Ariciel.

Mareva took a deep breath. Then, she shook her head. “This is not helpful. We have not forsaken all others. I still love him. He still loves me. He will probably never see Debaar again in his life. Stetson can amuse himself with whomever he likes. So can I.”

Ariciel’s fingers were still playing with Mareva’s hair, twining it into little strands. They looked into each other’s eyes, hesitating. Then, at the same time, they smiled. Ariciel shook her head.

“You know I’d never refuse you, normally, but…”


“No, not that. Bannog’s told me he doesn’t mind you. He didn’t mind Lesta.”

Mareva raised her arm and touched Ariciel’s cheek.

“I am sorry I never met her. Was she beautiful?”

“More than you can imagine.”

“That is always helpful when dealing with men,” said Mareva.

“I’m drunk,” said Ariciel. “That Qrovna of yours is nasty stuff. I’ve only ever done it twice after too much drink. Neither was a success. I don’t think tonight is a night for athletics or magic.”

Mareva closed her eyes.

“I agree,” she said.

Ariciel waited a while for more words, but none came. A few minutes later, Mareva’s breathing became regular.

“And there you have it,” said Ariciel. “Night-elf Druids. Feral combat, healing, long-range firepower. And solace for the broken-hearted.”

With care, she maneuvered herself out from under Mareva, put a pillow under her head and lay down next to her, one arm round her waist.

“Somebody better take note of this for when I need hugs and cuddles.”


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