Part 4: Ouch!

Stetson stood on the green grass of Krasus’ Landing, in the floating city of Dalaran. The noisy machine had flown off as soon as he got out, and Stetson was happy for it to leave. Gnomish technology had its place, but as far as he was concerned, he did not have to be in the same place. Morgan bumped his head against his thigh, and almost thoughtlessly, Stetson pulled out a few lumps of meat and gave them to his large cat. He surveyed his surroundings. It was busy. People were constantly flying in, and flying out. He was surprised to see among the visitors even Orcs, Tauren and Blood-elves. Debaar had warned him about this. The Kirin Tor, who ruled this city, apparently not only allowed them, but invited them, and did not allow their Alliance visitors to give them what they richly deserved. Anyway, ripping the heads off Blood-elves’ stick-like bodies, enjoyable though it might be, was not what he was here to do.

Stetson walked over to the flight master, a slender Elf-like figure, with long blonde locks of hair. Stetson was not fooled. The man might look like a blood-elf, but for some reason, Dragons had adopted this form to use when they had dealings with the smaller races. He could be anything.

“Chronakai Christor,” said Stetson. “I am wondering whether I might ask you a question.”

“Certainly”, said the flight master, named Aludane Whitecloud. “Where do you wish to fly?”

“That depends,” said Stetson. “I am searching for my brother. He is similar in appearance to myself, but he was turned into a Death Knight. Has any such person passed through this place?”

“Perhaps,” said the flight master. “Many of the Death Knights are attempting to redeem themselves through working against the Scourge. A futile gesture. They cannot undo the damage they did, and it is debatable whether they are obliged to try, given that their thoughts and actions were under the control of the Lich King when they committed the atrocities they did.”

Stetson nodded. “Be that as it may, he is still my brother. I must help him find peace, one way or another. His name is Garz’houn, but I have been told that he goes by the name of Paxvobiscum.”

“I do not remember such a person,” said Whitecloud. “But then, the study of Mortals is not one of my occupations. He may have passed this way. Many of the former servants of the Lich King do.

“And you welcome them.”

“They are more than willing to aid us against the Scourge. We would be fools to deny them the opportunity. After all, we also welcome the exiles of Argus, despite the destruction they have visited upon Kalimdor.”

“I came through the Portal,” said Stetson.

“Indeed. It is hard to say, between Exodar and the Dark Portal, which was the most harmful.”

“At least we Draenei did not make the Dark Portal.”

“That is true. Forgive me for not saying so more clearly. At any rate, I do not know your brother. Do you still wish to fly on one of our griffins?”

Stetson thought a moment. He could only fly back to Sholazar, as he had no other locations in these lands. Garz’houn was not likely to be there.

“No, thank you. Good day to you.”

Following the rest of the visitors, Stetson walked down the stairs, with Morgan staying close behind him, occasionally pushing his head into the back of his knee. Dalaran was a place of wizards, and had been, even when the city was still in the Eastern Kingdoms. The wizards of the Kirin Tor had moved it by magic, so that now, it floated high above Crystalsong Forest. Since the day was getting on, he made towards one of the taverns, called “A Hero’s Welcome”. The food was good, the ale was refreshing, and he could even get food for Morgan. He settled his bill and walked out of the tavern, not quite knowing what to do next. He had been lucky in Sholazar Basin. Hunter Debaar had remembered his brother. Here, the trail went cold. He sighed. Presumably, Garz’houn was still on the move. This place was a transportation hub for this area. Rather than run after him, Stetson could wait. It would take longer, and there was no guarantee that Garz’houn would pass this way, but patience is a virtue that all hunters develop. If he kept an eye on the flight point, he would eventually catch his brother.

The hairs in Stetson’s neck stood up. Someone was watching him. He kept looking ahead, and kept his pace. The syllables he used to call forth his tracking spell were in his mind. Just before he started to whisper the incantation, a hand was on his shoulder.

“Paxvobiscum?”

A chill went up Stetson’s spine. The voice that had spoken, sounded wrong. Slowly he turned round. Behind him stood a Human woman. Stetson’s eyes were immediately drawn to her face. Dark, short hair, pale skin, magically glowing eyes. There was a feeling about her of power that she had been given, if ‘given’ was the right word. Power that she would never have obtained in the normal course of Human development, nor would have wanted to. Her lips were trembling, as the Death Knight called out the name again.

“Paxvobiscum? How were you… restored?”

“I am not Paxvobiscum,” said Stetson.

The woman’s gaze turned down. “I… I understand. But I do not know your name from Days Before.”

“I have never named myself Paxvobiscum,” said Stetson. “Though the name is known to me. Where have you heard it?”

The woman blinked, turned her eyes to the ground. It took her only a moment to get herself under control. When she looked up, her face was hard as stone.

“He was one of the platoon in which I served. We stood together at Light’s Hope Chapel. You look like he would have looked, before the Change.”

“His name from the Days Before was Garz’houn,” said Stetson. “My name is S’dezo’houn. He is my brother.”

The woman took a deep breath. “You are looking for him.”

“Yes.”

“Are you hoping to cure him?”

Stetson scratched his neck. “I am not a priest. Even if there were a cure for your… condition, it would be beyond me. All I can hope for is to put his mind at ease.”

“Futile,” said the woman. “We have done terrible things under the thrall of the Lich King. We don’t deserve to be at ease. The best we can hope for is to prevent him from doing more damage, and then to die.”

“I refuse to believe that before I see him,” said Stetson. “He is family. We Draenei do not have so much family that we can afford to give up on them that easily. I owe it to him at least to try.”

The woman shrugged. “If you must see for yourself, I suggest you see Thassarian. He is the head of the order of the Ebon Blade. I met him last in the Wailing Ziggurat in the Borean Tundra. Do not indulge in too much hope.”

“Thassarian of the Ebon Blade. I will seek him out. Thank you for the information.”

“Don’t thank me. It will help you nothing.”

“Do not lose faith,” said Stetson. “Things are rarely as bad as they seem.”

The woman gave him a look, but offered no opinions. We are done here, her eyes seemed to say. He gave her a polite nod, and made to leave. Something occurred to him.

“I almost forgot. What is your name?”

“I don’t remember. I am now known as Kenau.”

Stetson touched down in Valiance Keep, after a long flight, all the way from Dalaran. Flight masters here were expensive. Perhaps it was time to sell some more of his stacks of leather, or even go out on a brief skinning expedition. Problem was, there wasn’t any time. Oh well.

It was a clear night, but a noisy one. The town of Valiance Keep was never quiet. Stetson put Morgan in kennels for the night, and walked towards the inn. Inns did not generally appreciate hunters’ pets in their bedrooms. He dropped his luggage in his room and looked at the bed. It was sadly deficient in Draenei Shaman. He thought of Mareva, all the way over in Kalimdor. Or would she be back yet, on what was left of Draenor? He walked out of the inn for a breath of fresh air before turning in. He imagined Mareva walking next to him, pointing out bits of architecture or especially bad mistakes in street design. He looked at the stars. Mareva would hate this place. Too much filth, nastiness. Unsavoury spirits drifting through the night. War never brought out the best in people, and Humans seemed to amplify every emotion. The good ones were very good. The bad ones were worse than garbage. Stetson sighed, shook his large head and turned round to go back to the inn.

There was a loud noise and a hard blow to the back of his head. Stetson fell to his hands and knees. Someone kicked him, and he fell flat on his face.

“I told you I’d get you!”


Sand. Endless stretches of sand. Sand between her teeth, sand in her boots, sand in her clothes. She was chewing on sand. The parts of this place that weren’t sand were impossibly high, impossibly thin spires of stone. Amazingly, the place was not completely empty of life. Wind serpents flitted here and there on the thermals. Poisonous nasty flying newts, unfit for food. Teacher walked on, seemingly deep in thought. They had been travelling by night, to stay out of the sight of unfriendly eyes. Even so, they’d had to hide several times. Orcs had walked by on business of their own, and Ellandriel had seen large cow-like creatures, Tauren, outside of a book for the first time. Teacher took off a long red scarf. They had both been wearing scarves on their faces to keep the sand out, with limited success. Teacher shook it out and grinned at Ellandriel before putting it back on.

“This is no place for a Night-elf of noble birth, Thero’shan Ellandriel. This is what you get when you leave Keldorei in charge. A small river or a few springs would not have come amiss, don’t you agree?”

“I have some water, Shan’do,” said Ellandriel, reaching for her bottle.

“Save it. We will be needing it. Conjuring water in this place is understandably a bit taxing. Perhaps we should organise a party of mages here and flood the place, for the benefit of future travellers. Oh well. We’ll soon leave Thousand Needles, and then we’ll be in the Shimmering Flats. Which will still be a sandpit, but it will be firm sand. I have some business there, and then we’ll go North, to where the lands are less arid.

As they trudged on, Teacher became less and less talkative, walking on with hunched shoulders, and sometimes stopped to look round, muttering words Ellandriel couldn’t quite catch.

“Shan’do? Is something the matter?”

Teacher answered only with a small shake of the head.

“There isn’t, and there is. We did this, Thero’shan. Once, this desert was a river. The Shimmering Flats were a lake. And then, the Great Sundering came, and the very mountains were moved. The Keldorei did not banish us for nothing.”

“I know of this. It is described in the tomes of Lore. Queen Azshara wished to enlist the aid of the Titan-lord Sargeras. She created a great portal to allow him entry into Azeroth. The mages were attacked, and the spell failed, bringing on the Great Sundering.”

“Indeed they were, and a very good thing it was, too. Sargeras! If he had entered Azeroth, Thero’shan, neither you or I would be here today. Better to rip asunder all of Kalimdor, killing millions, than allow that to happen and kill everyone.” Teacher scowled behind the scarf. “Better still, not to invite limitless Powers in in the first place. I did argue against it, but to what end? Limitless power. Who can resist it? In the end, it became positively dangerous to dissent. So I gave up, and simply left. And then I entered Eldre’thalas, only to find that Prince Tortheldrin was toying with yet another creature from the Twisting Nethers.” Teacher looked at the floor, with a sad, sad expression. “Why do I even bother? Why bother protesting at all? That this place is now a barren desert is still as much my fault as it is anyone’s.”

“Surely, Teacher, you opposed those who would bring such destruction to Azeroth. They ignored your counsel, so you are blameless.”

“I should have opposed with more force. Perhaps killing a few of the proponents.” Teacher sighed. “Never mind. What’s done is done. So. On to the Shimmering flats, Honoured Student. If we are lucky, we can leave Thousand Needles behind us before daybreak.”

Ellandriel cupped her hands in front of her, closed her eyes and let the magic flow. From an area miles around her, drops of water too tiny for the eye to see were drawn towards her hands. This was a different spell than that used to conjure bread. Magical bread would dissolve into nothing if left for too long. That would be impractical for bottles of water. As she felt the cup of her hands fill up with lukewarm, perfectly clear water, she carefully allowed it to flow into the bottle Teacher was holding underneath them. Teacher had been right. Back in Eldre’thalas, her hands would have filled up in seconds. Here, on the edge of the Shimmering Flats, it took minutes. Teacher pulled away one water-bottle and replaced it with another.

“You are doing well, Thero’shan. Keep it up.”

Ellandriel made no reply, concentrating on keeping the magic, and the water, flowing. Finally, Teacher closed the last bottle.

“That’ll do. Very good.”

Ellandriel raised her hands to her face, and drank the rest of the water. It tasted slightly salty, which in a salt flat was only to be expected. She took two water bottles from Teacher, put them in her pack.

“Where are we going, Shan’do?”

“There is a place in the middle, or so I’ve been told, where we can find a Human named Magis Tirth. He has a book that I want. It contains a number of spells that I think will be most useful to us.”

“What kind of spells, Teacher?”

“Rituals, mostly. They prepare the mind for more powerful spells, and save on mana. A bit like clearcasting, but more powerf-”

There was a sudden, loud noise, and seemingly from out of nowhere a gruesome creature appeared. It walked close to the ground, on six short strong legs. Its head was dragon-like, with many teeth.

“Basilisk,” shouted Teacher. “Don’t let it look you in the eye!”

At the sound of Teacher’s voice, the basilisk turned round. Teacher raised a hand, but there was a cruel light from the basilisk’s eyes and Teacher froze mid-cast.

“Get… it!” Teacher could only just utter the words, then stopped moving completely.

Ellandriel raised her hand, pointed it at the creature and cut loose. The first spell was a frost bolt. The basilisk screeched as the bolt hit it, and slowed down to a crawl. As it made its way towards her, Ellandriel kept hitting the basilisk with blasts of arcane energy. Just like in target practice, she felt the blasts get heavier and heavier until she reached the place in her head where thoughts flowed freely, and spellcasting became effortless. She reached for the spells in her head, and from her hand, silvery arrows sped towards the basilisk, tearing it to shreds. In desperation, the monster lit up its eyes.

“Oh no you don’t,” said Ellandriel. She closed her eyes and blinked. With not even a whisper, her body shot twenty yards forward. She whirled around, and hit the basilisk from behind. It tried to turn round on its six legs, but then staggered, fell over and lay down screaming until Ellandriel’s spells finished it off.

Ellandriel stood leaning on her staff, breathing hard. The wonderful trance of calm evaporated, and she started shaking. She looked at Teacher, who was still standing in the same casting stance as before, fingers slowly starting to move. Ellandriel ran up, wondering what to do. After an anxious minute, Teacher started to move an arm, swaying on unsteady feet. Ellandriel wrapped her arms round her teacher, and turned the fall into a controlled descent. Teacher’s head swayed round at Ellandriel.

“Congratulations you’re up it’s down nice use of Arcane Missiles even if bit slow Blink was unnecessary I think it was almost down anyway eight marks out of ten welldone.” Teacher slumped, lips moving without words.

Ellandriel looked over her shoulder at the dead basilisk. Its limbs were still slowly twitching. There was a screech in the air, and carrion birds, attracted by goodness only knew what, started to descend. Ellandriel closed her eyes and shivered, even in the heat of the desert.

“Shan’do? Can you walk?”

“Give minute… ahh, it’s wearing off.” Teacher looked round, grabbed hold of Ellandriel’s shoulder and sat up. “Thero’shan, you have just saved me the embarrassment of dying to one of these uncouth beasts.”

Ellandriel smiled. “They are not the proper adversaries for the High-borne, Shan’do. If you can walk, then let’s go.”

Teacher got up, then gave Ellandriel a look. “My student, you have just earned the grade of ‘Useful In A Fight’. There is only one correct answer to the question of ‘them or us’, and you got it right.”

“Thank you, Shan’do,” said Ellandriel.


Ariciel walked up the stairs to the Cenarion Enclave tree dwelling, to be greeted by a big grin from Mathrengyl Bearwalker. He walked up and gave her a big bear hug, almost lifting her off the ground, then held her shoulders in his hands and looked at her face.

“Ariciel! It’s good to see you. How is life?”

Ariciel gave him a wavering smile.

“Well enough. Things good and ill. Mostly good, though. Did Lirael make it home alright?”

“Saw her in Saelienne’s a week ago, so she’s upright and running. Beyond that, ask her.” He looked over Ariciel’s shoulder. “And this charming lady, I assume, is your Draenei friend?”

“Yes. Mathrengyl Bearwalker, meet Mareva, Shaman of Exodar.”

Mathrengyl bowed his head to Mareva. “Ariciel told me about you. A pleasure to meet you.”

“Likewise,” said Mareva. “I deny everything.”

Ariciel laughed. “Oh, I told him nothing but good things about you.”

“Precisely.”

Bearwalker gave Mareva his winning grin. “I must admit that the way of the Elements does intrigue me. It is completely different from our own magic, and doesn’t even require connection to the Light.”

“The Elemental Spirits are not easily moved to speak to us,” said Mareva. “But when they do, the experience is profound. The Elemental Spirits were there before there was Light, but they were without purpose, without direction. Then the Light Everlasting shone, and the Elements moved. Life was begun. Light, as it travels through space, is invisible. We only perceive it when it touches something, and then touches our eyes. The Elements exist to be touched by the Light. The Light exists to touch the Elements. All things that are, are connected.”

Bearwalker smiled. “We are the stuff of the Elements, but it is the Light that makes us move, strive.”

“Yes.”

“To look at only the Light, or only at the Elements, is to see only half the story. The poor Broken Draenei only heard the voice of the Elemental Spirits when the Light was hidden from them by the magics of the Burning Legion. You are blessed, Mareva. You are connected to both. Still, I wonder. If we turned away from both the Light and the Elements, what more would we see?”

“Our own selves,” said Mareva. “We consist of the elements. We are thrust forward by the Light. Our minds give us direction, for good or for evil, or most likely, a mixture of both.”

Ariciel wondered how old Mareva was. She’d always assumed her to be about her own age, mentally if not physically. She seemed much older, now. And then, she grinned, and was Ariciel’s age again.

“Would you care to continue this discussion over drinks sometime? I find that philosophy is much enhanced by just the right amount of, well, spirit.”

Bearwalker laughed. “When my duties allow, certainly. Saelienne does a wonderful strawberry mead when the mood takes her. Tell her I sent you. Ariciel can show you where it is. Oh. Before I forget. Ariciel, give me your hand for a moment?”

Ariciel did. She felt the familiar rush as a new spell settled in her mind. She frowned.

“Cat shape? But I already have that!”

“Try it. It’s a free update. Some of our spellsmiths have too much time on their hands.”

Ariciel took a breath, and changed. She looked up at Bearwalker. Well? Bearwalker walked to a cupboard and produced a mirror. Ariciel took a breath. Where once, she had been a deep dark bluish black, she was now white, bordering on grey. She noted that she also had a collar now, with pretty bangles. She took a few steps, looking at herself.

“Hmm, I look [Rrrowr]!” said Ariciel, in Wildspeech.

“Heh. You do, don’t you? The spellsmiths have made your fur reflect the colour of your hair. It is not entirely gratuitous and cosmetic. It allows us to tell you apart more easily in shapes. Your bear shape has also been changed. Which reminds me. Come back, please?”

Ariciel dropped her cat shape, and looked up at Bearwalker.

“I think you’re about ready for this one. Try this one outside, please.” He held out a hand. Ariciel’s jaw dropped as she took it.

“Dire bear?”

“Don’t look so surprised. It’s like your original bear shape, only stronger. Everything still works the same. It’s just that you need to know how to move well as a normal bear before you try this. And you are much, much better protected from, well, unfriendly attention.”

“Cool. That’ll help when we get to Outland.”

“Outland? What’s your riding like?”

“Fairly good. Why?”

Bearwalker grinned. “Your hand, please.”

Ariciel looked over her shoulder at Mareva. “We’re going to be busy for a while.”

Ariciel walked out of the Cenarion Keep tree, a good deal lighter in gold, but her mind buzzing with new spells and possibilities. Healing. Tricks to use in bear or cat form. Upgrades to her Wrath and Moonfire spells. And one spell that Bearwalker had not told her much more about than that she should try it once she got to Outland. Mareva was walking next to her, humming to herself. She stopped, turning to her friend.

“Where are we going? I could probably be persuaded to eat something.”

Ariciel thought on this. She pointed to the North. “That’s where my place is, and Saelienne’s Inn. Drop luggage first? Follow the bear!”

Ariciel changed to her new dire bear form. Oh my, someone had done work on this spell. She felt fierce, ready to take on anyone. She must really make some proper armour for it before going out.

“If you are going to behave like an animal, then so will I.” Mareva changed to her ghost wolf form.

Ariciel simply grinned, and led the way to her small house. They stayed only long enough to drop their packs and light a small fire in the hearth to get rid of the chill. Then, they ran to Lirael’s place, but she wasn’t in.

“Probably in the inn,” said Ariciel. “Let’s go!”

Ariciel could hear Mareva’s stomach growl as they reached the inn’s door. It was fairly busy. Ariciel looked round, and spotted Arador sitting on one of the benches. Next to him lay one of the guards of Darnassus, taking up two seats. Her head was in Arador’s lap, and she had drawn up her knees so that one of the choir girls could sit next to her bootless feet. Her plate chest piece lay on the table, next to her three-bladed weapon. There was an almost cat-like sense of repose to her poise. An image that was further reinforced by Arador’s hand, which was lying on her stomach, moving slowly. Arador called and waved.

“Ariciel. Good to see you! Take a chair. Have you met Silyenna?”

Ariciel frowned, not sure. Silyenna wiggled her fingers at her.

“I remember you. You came in a while back, asking for Bearwalker.”

“Uh… yeah, but that was months ago.”

“Hmm. It was something to do with Bearwalker. Sharpens the mind wonderfully.”

“Oh I remember. He said ‘The price is still the same’, though I haven’t a clue what he was on about.”

Silyenna laughed. “He’s gorgeous. Guess.”

Ariciel felt something touching the back of her knees, looked round and saw that Mareva had managed to get two chairs. They sat down.

“Everybody, meet Mareva. She’s hungry. So am I. Bring us food.”

As though she had been summoned by magic, Saelienne the inn-keeper appeared behind their chairs.

“Druid Ariciel. What can I get for you today?”

“Stew, please. And a flagon of mead.”

Saelienne nodded. “And you, Miss? I must admit that I have not cooked for the likes of you before. What do you eat, if I may ask?”

Mareva grinned, showing her fangs. “Anyone. I mean anything.”

Ariciel pointed a finger. “Mareva, she is not food.”

“But she looks… delicious!”

“Yes, she does, but she brings food. She is not on the menu.”

Saelienne smirked. “How about rare steak, with leeks and potatoes?”

“That will do splendidly. Trainer Bearwalker says you do strawberry mead?”

“I do. Anyone else? No?” She disappeared into the kitchen.

Ariciel leaned over to Arador.

“Is Lirael around? She wasn’t at home, so I thought she might be here.”

Arador shook his head. “She’s in Dolanaar with Feanor. She wanted to discuss something with him about the nature of redemption as applied to Death Knights.”

Silyenna grinned. “Thing is, when she says she wants to have some philosophical discussion with Feanor, I believe her, most of the time. When she says she and you are practicing music, she’s really having her wicked way with you.”

“A convenient euphemism,” murmured Arador.

“Hmm. Know when she’ll be back? We’re on our way to Outland, so I’d like to see her before we leave.”

“Should be tomorrow, late. If not, you might take the run to Dolanaar. Feanor lives near the inn, by the moonwell.”

Ariciel looked at Mareva. “Do you mind waiting? That’ll also give me the time to make some proper armour for the trip. Just got some new patterns. I could do you a set as well.”

“I do not mind. I can wear chain armour these days. Nobundo taught me how to work my magic round it.”

Ariciel bit her lip. “Not really my speciality. I have a pattern for fel scale armour somewhere, but no fel scale.”

“I do. I bought it a while back.”

Silyenna snorted. “Bah. One or two steps above the clothies. Use plate. Shoddy armour makes the squishies cry like babies when they try to heal you.”

Arador poked a finger in Silyenna’s midriff. “That remark will cost you.”

“Wimp.”

“Hmm. Your pain threshold may need some work tonight.”

“I’m a Warrior. I don’t have a pain threshold. Pain is just your body talking to you. Bring it on, bedsheet boy.”

Mareva shook her head. “I have to admit, that kind of play never appealed to me. I do not understand. What is it that you enjoy so much about pain?”

A dream-like look came into Silyenna’s eyes. “Rage,” she said. “Hot, burning, delicious rage. You wouldn’t believe how good it feels. He gets me just right, and I can lift him off the ground, With one arm.”

“I can see where that might be useful,” said Mareva, “but I can usually persuade my boyfriend to go where I need him to, without heavy lifting.”

Chacun a son gout,” said Silyenna. “You don’t know what you’re missing.”

“Some things,” said Ariciel, “I’m very happy to be missing. Remember that Blood-elf, Mareva? Back in Searing Gorge?”

“Tinkerbelle,” said Mareva. “How can I not remember her? Stupid nactba.”

“That’s her. She tried to charm Bannog into coming with her. Might have had a better chance if she hadn’t proposed what she did.”

“Oh? What?”

Ariciel told them. Mareva stared blankly.

“I hope I can forget that before my dinner arrives.”

Arador laughed. “Oh, I’ve heard of that practice. They say it’s actually quite pleasurable, once you set your mind over the obvious disadvantages.”

Silyenna reached for her cup of wine, and took a small sip.

“Well, you know me. I’m up for anything. Two conditions, though. Your place, and I do it to you, not the other way round.”

“I may be able to live with not knowing first-hand what it feels like,” said Arador.

Dinner arrived. Mareva promised not to eat the inkeeper, as it would be a great shame. Predictably, with many choir members present, the conversation turned to music. One of the girls, named Tiriel, had brought her lute, and unpacked it. She idly picked out a few chords.

“Your lower G-string is a bit sharp,” said Arador.

“Always is,” said Tiriel. She adjusted it a bit, and started a song. Ariciel sat back on her seat, a happy smile on her face. She could, when pressed, produce a few simple folk songs, but nothing like the professionals gathered here. Mareva was tapping along with one finger on the table, clearly enjoying herself as much. The song ended, to scattered clapping from the rest of the room.

“Mareva, do your people have folk songs?”

“Yes, they do. We are most famous for our operas, though.”

“You’ve got a lovely voice,” said Tiriel. “Do you sing at all?”

“No. I am afraid I cannot sing.”

“Uh-oh,” said Ariciel.

“What?”

“You said the magic words.”

Tiriel looked accusingly at Mareva. “Everybody can sing, unless they’ve had their heads cut off.”

“There. You’ve set them off now.” Ariciel looked at her cup, which was half full. Should she have another one after this? She looked at Mareva. Probably not.

“I do not understand. I really do not sing.”

“Nonsense,” said Tiriel. “Anyone can sing.”

An evil grin drifted across Mareva’s face. “Is that so? Sing me your favourite song, and I will ruin it for you.”

“Pah. I don’t mean everybody can sing everything! But you’ve got a lovely mezzo voice. It’s just a matter of finding the right repertoire.”

“What is mezzo?”

Ariciel sat back, swirling the last of her mead in her cup. “The lowest of the low.”

“Yeah,” said Tiriel. “You can hit the low notes. Go on. Sing something. Anything. Just ‘Lalala’ if you don’t know any songs.”

“I do not wish to insult your feelings,” said Mareva. “I am in the presence of professionals.”

Ariciel leaned over to whisper in Mareva’s ear.

“Sing something. Anything. Trust me, it’s quicker. They even got Bannog to sing.” She slowly ran her finger up Mareva’s back. Mareva gave her an amused look.

“Go on,” said Ariciel.

With a look that said: well, you asked for it, Mareva started.

X

Kalinka, kalinka, kalinka moya!

V sadu yagoda malinka, malinka moya!

X

Akh, pod sosnoyu, pod zelenoyu,

Spat’ polozhite vy menya!

Ay-lyuli, lyuli, ay-lyuli,

Spat’ polozhite vy menya.

Tiriel raised her hand. “Midriff! Breathe with your midriff. You won’t believe what a difference that makes.”

As the evening progressed, Mareva was gently introduced to the finer points of singing. She was made to stand up, put her hand on her stomach, breathe, resonate. Despite her earlier grumbling, she was enjoying herself immensely. Arador finished a song, looked at Mareva and snapped his fingers.

“I have it! Midnight songs!”

This was met with approval from the Elf crowd, and puzzled looks from Mareva.

“What are Midnight Songs?”

“Just what you need to sing,” said Arador. “Your voice is perfect for it. Tiriel? Give me your lute.” He turned to Mareva. “These are melancholy songs, composed in the early hours. Let’s have one that doesn’t make you want to slit your wrists.”

“Non ex transverso, sed deorsum,” said Mareva.

“I beg your pardon?”

“Nothing.”

Arador shrugged. “Tiriel? Misty?”

Tiriel nodded, took a breath, and started.

X

Look at me

I’m as helpless as a kitten up a tree

And I feel like I’m clinging to a cloud,

I can’t understand

I get misty, just holding your hand.

Mareva watched in rapt attention as Tiriel’s sweet voice wound its way through the song. Had she simply read the lyrics, she might have found them too soppy for words, but the way Tiriel sang it, she felt like she meant every word, without any shame, without any reservation. The song ended, with a few chords on the lute. Mareva smiled.

“That was beautiful. Thank you.”

“The nice thing is, they’re not even that demanding on the voice. No loud passages, no great leaps. The art is putting the feeling in it.”

“Quite.”

“I’m sure I have the lyrics somewhere. Come back here tomorrow night, and I’ll give them to you.”

Mareva tapped her head. “There is no need. I was recording.”

Tiriel blinked. “I beg your pardon?”

Mareva repeated the first few lines.

“That is right, no?”

“Uh… yes. My goodness. You have a good memory!”

“This is easy. It has meaning. Just try to remember the startup sequence for a transdimensional computer. That is far more challenging. Rows of stupid numbers.”

Arador grinned. “Alright. From the top then, Lady Mareva.”

Mareva’s eyes gleamed at Arador. She took a deep breath, from the midriff, and started.

It was very late when Saelienne finally turfed the last of them out. Ariciel and Mareva were walking along the road to Ariciel’s place. Mareva was humming one of the songs she’d heard, a melancholy tune about autumn leaves. Ariciel drew a bit closer.

“Well, you’ve found your voice! You’re pretty good, actually.”

“Hm. I never knew I had it in me. But these songs, they… move me. Even the happy ones are filled with the knowledge of passing. Also the mathematics of the chord progressions appeal to me.”

Ariciel opened the door, and stepped in. Mareva followed close, and bumped into Ariciel as she stopped. She put her hand on Ariciel’s shoulder to steady her. And kept it there. Ariciel looked over her shoulder. Her cheek brushed Mareva’s fingers.

“Let us go to bed,” said Mareva.

Ariciel gave a single nod. They stepped out of their clothes, and climbed into the bed. Mareva lay close behind Ariciel. Her fingers were gently stroking Ariciel’s stomach. Ariciel closed her eyes.

“You just want to get back at Stetson for sleeping with that Debaar woman.”

“Getting even is an essential part of forgiving and forgetting,” said Mareva. “I will do my utmost to ensure you enjoy the experience.”

“Hmm. That sounds promising, Move your hand a bit lower and I may be persuaded.”

Mareva did, played with the golden ring Ariciel wore in her belly button. Ariciel sighed. Mareva’s body pressed warm against her back, and she felt so comfortable. Well, perhaps…

“One thing,” said Mareva, “None of that Elvish magic, please. Let us keep to things we can both do.”

“Suits me,” murmured Ariciel. “What did you have in mind?”

Mareva laid her hand flat on Ariciel’s stomach, and slowly moved up. Ariciel felt her breath, warm in her neck, and the soft warm touch of Mareva’s tongue on the underside of her ear, slowly, slowly moving. Ariciel made a sound somewhere between a moan and a sigh, and melted on the spot. Oh, it had been too long. Too long without the attention of a girl. She hadn’t done this since…

Mareva raised her head, and looked in surprise and concern at her friend. One moment, she was definitely enjoying herself. Now she was lying on her side on the bed, arms and legs drawn in, body shaking with quiet sobs.

“What is wrong?”

“Nothing. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

“Why are you sorry?”

“You did something, something I used to like when… she did it. I’m sorry. You must be thinking…”

Mareva sat up, and looked down on Ariciel, putting a hand on her shoulder.

“Ariciel?”

Ariciel sniffed, and said nothing.

“Ariciel.”

“I’ll be fine.”

Mareva moved, fast. She grabbed Ariciel’s hand and with a swift move turned her on her back, pinning her wrists above her head. Ariciel looked up at her, startled. Mareva brushed her tears away with her hand.

“I understand. After Viral died, I could not make love to another man for a long time. I did not even try. But I am not Lesta. I am sorry for bringing back these memories.”

Ariciel looked up at her Draenei friend, her face sad.

“It’s not your fault. She was all cut up, Mareva. People always wonder if their loved ones suffered before they died. I know she did. Succubi know how to make you.”

Mareva’s long, sensitive fingers gently brushed Ariciel’s cheek. What to do now? It would seem most sensible just to give up on the night. A few hours’ enjoyable play did not seem to be in the cards. But if not now, then when? Assuming that Ariciel did not want to turn celibate… well partly celibate, she would go through more of these spoilt nights. Time heals all wounds, but it is not the time that heals. It is the things that happen.

“Do you remember our first time? We were sleeping outside in Winterspring. We both had just the right amount of Qrovna, and I was cold, because I had the wrong sleeping bag.”

Ariciel smiled through her tears.

“You looked gorgeous, in the fire light.”

Mareva raised an eyebrow. “I still look gorgeous. And now, I can sing.”

“Yes.”

“So,” said Mareva. She made herself comfortable sitting on Ariciel’s legs. “Which part of me do you like looking at most?”

“Well…”

Mareva put her finger on Ariciel’s lips.

“Do not tell me. Touch me.”

Ariciel raised her arm and put her hand on Mareva’s cheek. Mareva put her hand on Ariciel’s wrist and pressed her face into Ariciel’s hand. She sighed.

“That is very sweet of you, but I was hoping for another body part.”

Ariciel put both arms round Mareva’s shoulders, and pulled her down on top of her. She held her tight.

“I’m fine,” she said, “Thank you. Just stay away from my ear. It’s still a bit raw.”

Mareva lifted her head, and pushed a white lock of Ariciel’s hair out of her face.

“I will find another bit of skin.”

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