Part 5: Moving nowhere fast

Stetson lay on the ground, trying to roll with the blows and punches of the Humans who’d jumped him. There were at least three attackers. One of them was kicking him in the head, one in the stomach, and a third or fourth was hitting him with a piece of wood. He tried to grab for people’s arms and legs, but to no avail. Someone’s boot stamped down on his hand, and he cried out. Someone kicked him under the tail, and he gasped. What bastard had told people to kick Draenei there? He tried to roll away, only for a piece of wood to land on his back. There was another hard blow to the base of his skull. Stetson did the last thing he could. With a final gasp, he withdrew his mind from his body, making his heart slow down. His breathing stopped. Then, blessed blackness closed in, and he knew no more.

“There, you blue bastard! Told you I’d get back at you. That’s what happens to squid-goats who try to cheat me!”

“Mitch… I think he’s dead.” Someone put a finger on Stetson’s neck, feeling for a pulse and finding nothing. “Shit! We killed him!”

“Good. Get his stuff. That ought to be enough for what he owes me.”

They pulled off Stetson’s leather armour, emptied his pockets, then disappeared down the alleyway.

A few minutes later, Stetson slowly opened his eyes. He tried to move. Stabs of pain shot through his knee, his fingers. He groaned. Feigning death was a Hunter’s trick, for when you were overwhelmed by enemies. It did leave you at their mercy, but sometimes, they’d fall for it. He rolled onto his back, closed his eyes. He didn’t like to do what he was going to do now, which was to use the birth-right of all Draenei. It was a Gift of the Naaru. A prayer of healing, to be used when all other help had failed. To petition the Naaru with his petty problems seemed disrespectful to him, but he had no other option. The other reason he didn’t like to do this, was that it involved getting hurt first. Stetson gasped as the Gift was bestowed on him. His muscles stiffened, then relaxed. Bones fused. Wounds closed, inside and out. The shining rune faded from above his head, and he took a deep breath.

“For your help, I thank you from the bottom of my heart, Shining Ones.”

Stetson got to his hooves. He was wearing nothing but his underwear. Blood was on his face, dirt stuck to him. The innkeeper gave him a single glance as he walked in, then quickly looked away. Stetson walked up the stairs to his room, and opened his pack. Out of this, he took the armour that he had meant to wear when he met his brother. Just in case the answer to the obvious question was “No”. He pulled on the heavy metal-reinforced leather trousers, the chainmail vest. He fit the bracers, shoulders, boots, and put a thin necklace round his neck, rings on his fingers. The warm glow of the magical jewels coursed through his body. He pulled on heavy gauntlets, and punched one hand with the other. Finally, he put on his helm. He stomped down. People hurriedly got out of his way as he marched out of the door, to the stable master to fetch Morgan, then out into the small square where he’d last seen the recruitment queue. He closed his eyes and whispered the syllables of his tracking spell. The night lit up with the souls of Dwarves, Gnomes, Elves… Humans. Concentrating deeply, he found his mark.

“Come, Morgan. Slay all who attack me.”

It was one of those taverns, unknown to the rulers of the town, that attracted the lowest of the low. The forgotten people, or those who wanted to be forgotten. This is where you found the serious drunks, rogues, thieves, used-up prostitutes looking for undiscerning customers. The windows were shuttered, letting none of the light out. Stetson stood by the door, and extended his senses once again. There, behind that door was Mitchell Bailey. Stetson took two steps back, then kicked the door, which splintered off its hinges. He stood in the empty doorway. His glowing eyes were mirrored by the eyes of his cat Morgan, standing next to him.

“Chronakai Christor,” said Stetson.

Mitchell Bailey was sitting at a table in the middle of the room, bottle in front of him. Stetson stepped forward, fixing him with a stare. Morgan followed him, growling. Stetson reached over the table and pulled Bailey close.

“Where are my things,” said Stetson.

Mitchell Bailey’s face grimaced, in a caricature of a smile. “Sold it,” he said. “Drank it all.” He held up his bottle for Stetson to see.

There was a noise behind him, and a growl from Morgan. Some enterprising person had thought to hit Stetson from behind with a length of wood. Morgan had taken against this, and attacked. Blood was on his jaws, and the would-be attacker lay bleeding on the ground. A good part of the clientele at this point decided that the night would be better continued elsewhere and made themselves scarce. This left only Mitchell Bailey and a a couple of handsfull of his cronies. Stetson dropped Bailey, and looked round. Thugs. Armed with table legs and the occasional switch-blade. There was the noise of glass breaking in front of Stetson, and Mitchell Bailey raised the broken bottle.

“Oh, thank you,” said Stetson. “That is exactly what I wanted you to do.”

Stetson kicked forward, and sent Bailey flying across the room. Around him, the others closed in.

“Morgan! Slay all you see!”

The large snow panther’s eyes glowed briefly in response, and he leapt upon the first attacker. Morgan’s teeth closed on his shoulder, and with one shake of his head, the thug’s arm came loose. Morgan didn’t even wait for the Human to die before continuing to the next. Stetson’s swords were too large to use in these cramped quarters, so he drew a pair of hunting daggers that he’d traded with one of his friends, years ago. They had the wrong enchantments on them for fighting Humans, but they were fast. Against these enemies, it made no difference. There was a blow to his back, turned by his armour. Stetson whirled round on one hoof and stabbed out at the Human who’d hit him with a club. The thug slumped against a table, fell down and didn’t get up again.

Behind him, Stetson heard Morgan yelp. One of the thugs had scored a hit with a knife, to his cat’s face. Stetson’s face darkened. Ignoring blows to his arms and back for now, he cast a spell of mending on Morgan, and saw the wound close and disappear. Then, he leapt forward at the Human who’d hit his cat. With rapid movements, he stabbed the man in the chest, stomach, throat. He finished with a punch to the face.

He roared.

All the Humans who still could, ran. Those who could not, crawled. This included Mitchell Bailey. Ignoring the others, Stetson stomped over, and picked him up. Bailey tried to stab him with his bottle, but Stetson grabbed his wrist and slammed his hand into the wall till he dropped it. His large fist closed on Mitchell Bailey’s throat.

“You are not going to need any more drink.”

With one massive hand, he lifted Mitchell Bailey off the ground by his throat. Looking into the man’s eyes, he closed his fist, and held him up till he stopped struggling. Bailey’s eyes became vacant. There was a growl behind him from Morgan. Stetson looked round and saw Morgan’s tail disappear out of the door.

“Morgan! Follow! Do not attack unless I say!”

Morgan walked back into the room, with an almost disappointed look on his face. Stetson looked back at the Human still hanging from his arm. He made a disgusted noise and dropped the body onto the floor. He called his cat to him, checking him for wounds that needed mending. There were none. Stetson grabbed his cat’s mane, then scratched him between the ears.

“Thank you, my friend. We needed to explain to these Humans why they should stay away from Draenei Hunters.”

He got up, and looked round. The interior of the tavern hadn’t been much to talk of anyway, so no great loss.

“We may have worn out our welcome here, Morgan. Let’s go.”

They left the pub, and set off for the Borean Tundra.


Mareva opened her eyes. The soothing sound of rain was on the roof of the small house. A fire was burning in the fireplace, and the kettle was just about to come to the boil. She took a deep breath, taking in the wholesome scents of the world-tree Teldrassil. This was a nice place. It was small, but comfortable. Ariciel hadn’t changed it much when she moved in, so presumably the previous owners had placed the bed just so that they could look out over their small garden in the morning, out of a paned glass window. Her Night-elf friend was out in the rain, doing her morning staff practice. The silly woman wasn’t wearing anything at all. She probably thought that she was safe, with the house between her and town. Mareva pulled the lovely warm blankets up to her chin. Just a few more minutes. The sight of her friend’s graceful, powerful body outside exercising made her tail itch, but there was getting even and there was getting more than even. She sighed, and got up. Outside, Ariciel was winding down her exercise. Mareva saw the teapot on the table and poured the boiling water. Then, she found a towel in one of the drawers and hung it over a chair by the fire. Ariciel came in, a wild smile on her face, water dripping from her hair onto the floor.

“Hmm… Tea. Lovely! Give me a hug!”

Mareva put her hand on Ariciel’s chest, keeping her well away.

“You are wet and cold. Warm up and dry first. What possessed you to go out skyclad, in the pouring rain?”

“Saves me having to dry my clothes,” said Ariciel.

Mareva picked up the warm towel and dried her back for her. Then, since she was holding the towel already, she did her front as well. She looked into Ariciel’s eyes. Ariciel looked back. There was no hint of her breakdown last night in that look, full of energy. The memories once more safely under lock and key.

“How are you feeling?”

“Much better,” said Ariciel. “You?”

“I am much restored. I may even forgive my big hunter his transgressions if he grovels appropriately.”

“Good. Well, I think breakfast first, then off to the bank to get some stacks of heavy leather. If you have fel scales, we can try that as well.”

Mareva stood in the middle of the room. She was wearing only bits of paper over her underwear, stuck together with pins. Ariciel was kneeling in front of her, measuring her up for bits of leather. She’d had to borrow some tools to work the fel scale that would go into Mareva’s chest piece. That was already done, and lying on the table. The door opened, and Lirael walked in. She stood still, looking at them.

“Hi! Am I interrupting something beautiful?”

Ariciel looked round and grinned. “Too late. Should have been here last night.”

Mareva raised an eyebrow. How wonderfully relaxed these Elves were discussing their… entertainment. She looked at Lirael, who didn’t even bat an eyelid.

“Oh, last night, I was having a chat with Feanor.”

“Yeah, Arador said. Something about Death Knights.”

“Hm. Yes. They really have the worst deal out of it.”

Ariciel carefully removed the pins from the paper on Mareva’s legs, laid the moulds on a piece of leather and started cutting the shapes.

“It’s not a bundle of laughs for their victims either. Bloody freaks.”

Lirael looked out of the window. “They know. That’s part of the problem. They have enormous amounts of guilt over the deeds they did when they were under the thrall of the Lich king.”

Ariciel fitted two pieces of leather together, and held them up to Mareva’s leg. Draenei legs were interesting in many ways. She stood up, and looked round for her awl and some rune thread.

“And rightly so. Bastards.”

Lirael gave Ariciel a look. Moving quick as water, she grabbed Mareva’s wrist and slapped Ariciel across the face with Mareva’s hand.

“Oi! What’s that good for?”

“Who are you angry with, me or Mareva?”

“Um… you?”

Lirael nodded. “Right. But that’s because you can see it was me who slapped you. Now if I’d have mind-controlled Mareva instead, then who would you have been angry at?”

“Um. Ah.”

“Exactly. The Death Knights get blamed for all the things they did, because people can’t see it was really the Lich King who did it. So they’re hard to like really.”

Ariciel gave Lirael a look. “Did you have to slap me to explain that?”

“Why not?” Lirael turned her cheek to Ariciel, closed her eyes and screwed up her face. “Hit me back if you want.”

Ariciel giggled, and ran a finger over Lirael’s cheek. “I break the vicious circle of violence. Love overcomes all.” She put her hand over her stomach, and stared ahead, wide eyed. A dopy smile was on her face. “I feel all warm and fuzzy inside now.”

“I do not,” said Mareva. She slapped Lirael on the back of the head. “You made me hit my friend, you evil creature.”

Lirael laughed. “And there you have it. The whole Death Knight problem explained with some light violence.” She shook her head. “That’s not all, though. To make one Death Knight takes the living essence of many victims. The spirit that was in the body of the Death Knight when they were made is still the dominant one, but the ones sacrificed to make them, they leave… images. Memories. Feelings. With every breath they take, every beat of their heart, they are acutely aware that they have stolen their existence from the living. They really are abominations of Nature. That they didn’t ask for it, doesn’t change that.”

Mareva rubbed her chin. “And still they are alive. For certain values of ‘Alive’. They are sentient creatures, and have the rights due all living things. They are free to pursue what happiness they can. We cannot hold them responsible for what, in effect, the Lich King did through them.” She frowned. “Or rather, we can, but we should not. They were reborn the day the Lich King lost control of them.”

“Yes. But try explaining that to people who’ve just lost their family to them. And even the Death Knights themselves sometimes think they should have tried harder to resist the will of the Lich King.” She sat down at the table, looking at Ariciel, who was stitching together pieces of leather for Mareva’s leg armour. She sighed.

“Many of them commit suicide. They simply cannot go on existing, knowing that someone else should have the Light they are using. Others try to make amends, somehow. Usually by fighting the Scourge. Some go insane. Some still believe in the Lich King, in spite of everything. Feanor spoke with a sentry who had been turned. She had returned to her family, but they would have nothing to do with her. Feanor could only just keep her from jumping off the edge. He talked to her for hours.” Tears welled up in Lirael’s eyes. “In the end, she looked at peace. She smiled at Feanor, thanked him for his words.” Lirael took a deep breath. “Then, she jumped, before he could do anything. May her poor soul find rest and renewal.”

“Maybe for the best,” said Ariciel. “I can’t imagine any of them living happily ever after. Would you want to live in the same place as a walking collection of diseases?”

Lirael frowned. “Nobody is beyond redemption. There are thousands of Death Knights. I don’t know how much time any of them have left, but they have a right to live out their lives and try to find peace.”

“Each day is a blessing,” said Mareva. “If I were turned, then I would try to honour those who had died for my continued existence.”

Ariciel handed her the stiff leather armour. “Try these on? I want to see how they fit before I add the fel scale.”

Mareva stepped into her new trousers, and slapped her thighs. Then she pointed. “They pinch slightly here. Otherwise, they are good.”

“Hmm. I’ll adjust it a bit.” Ariciel pulled out some of the stitches and stretched the leather. “Better?”

“Yes.”

Lirael got up. “I think I’ll go home, and think on it a bit more. Maybe write some of it down.” She sighed, and smiled. “Maybe it’ll get me some merit points. When are you leaving?”

Mareva and Ariciel looked at each other.

“I’ll have our armour ready this evening. So I suppose tomorrow morning. Are you going to be in the tavern?”

Lirael nodded.

“Right. See you there, then.”

Lirael stood still for a moment. It had stopped raining. The clouds were parting, and here and there, a wavering patch of sunshine made its way to the treetops. She drew her sleeve across her face, and set off home.


“Hello there! Come to watch the race?”

Ellandriel looked up. She was sitting underneath a structure clearly built by the Gnomes, Goblins and Humans so they could have some shade in this desert. She scraped up her finest Common, and answered the Human girl who bent over her.

“Nay, Lady. My Teacher has business here, and I am here only for the shade and quiet.”

The Human girl laughed, with a face well-used to laughing. Ellandriel couldn’t help but notice her clothes. They seemed to be tailored for a girl a little smaller. Human men would probably quite like the effect, Humans being rather… physical in their affections.

“Ain’t gonna be quiet for much longer, sweetie. I’m about to start the race.”

“Race? Like a horse race?”

“Yeah, kinda. Only the horses ain’t horses but… well see. They’re at the start line.”

Ellandriel got to her feet, and looked between the planks at the place where a black and white banner was suspended between poles. Underneath, Gnomes and Goblins were working on their machines. Ellandriel sighed. She’d come here to get away from the noise of banging hammers and screaming metal. She looked back at the girl. The girl noticed her staring and grinned.

“Like my outfit? Not showing too much cleavage am I?”

Ellandriel had never heard the word before, but could work out from context that it was probably something to do with the girl’s breasts.

“Lady, I am not sure that I know what amount of ‘cleavage’ is appropriate. It appears to be, um, adequate.”

The girl laughed. “It’s a trick question, sweetie! You can never have too much cleavage.” She leaned closer and lowered her voice to a whisper. “The Gnomes are paying me ten silver to distract the Goblins at the start.”

“Isn’t that cheating, Lady?”

“Not really. The Goblins are paying me fifteen silver to distract the Gnomes. Do you think I should distract the Gnome more than the Goblin?”

“Um…” Ellandriel was quite lost in this labyrinth of racing ethics.

“Oh well. I’ll just wing it.” The girl winked at Ellandriel, and walked out to the starting line in a way that drew rather a lot of attention to her long legs. As Ellandriel watched, she bent over first the Gnome, then the Goblin and put her lips to their helmets. Whether it distracted them was hard to say from the distance. The girl walked to the center of the track, produced a flag from her pocket, raised it, then dropped it. With an enormous roar, the machines sprung to life, and zoomed off into the distance. The girl looked after them for a while, then walked back to Ellandriel.

“Well, there you go. That’s another step closer to my trip to Theramore.” The girl looked sadly at Ellandriel. “Haven’t seen my folks for ages. Anyway, you look lost. If you want anything, I can probably tell you where to get it. I’m Daisy. I’m in the bar. Come see me.”

“An it please you, Lady Daisy. My name is Ellandriel.”

Daisy smiled, waved and walked off. Teacher walked up, carrying two pinkish blobs of goo in cones, in either hand. Ellandriel was still staring at Daisy. There was something faintly hypnotic in the way she walked. Teacher put one of the cones in her hand. It dripped pink stuff on her wrist. She looked up.

“It’s food. It is pink and sweet, and therefore strawberry icecream. Try it, before it melts.”

Ellandriel nodded, and bit into her icecream. The cold of it surprised her. Teacher sat down on one of the benches, eating the ice cream. Ellandriel took the next seat.

“I trust your business went well, Shan’do?”

“Sadly, no. The stupid man sold his last copy to someone from the Scarlet Monastery, to finance his gambling habit. I don’t even know where that is. Mind you…” Teacher bit into the cone, which Ellandriel now saw was edible. “I’m not sure now I’d want to read it. The man looks decidedly unhinged. What’s that noise?”

“That must be the racers coming back, Shan’do.”

“Racers?” Teacher ate the last bit of icecream cone and walked out onto the race track, looking into the distance.

“Shan’do! Watch out!”

Ellandriel leapt to her feet, dropping her ice cream into the sand, staring in horror. Far in the distance, the racers came hurtling towards the finish line, propelled by goodness only knew what kind of hellish powers. They closed on Teacher.

“They are rather fast, aren’t they?”

Ellandriel winced as the racers came closer, closer. One of them seemed to notice that the track wasn’t free. With a scream of tortured metal, he slammed on the brakes. The other one, after a split second, did the same. One of them suddenly let out a large cloth sail behind it with a loud bang. The sail broke its tethers only a second later. She stared in horror as one racer lurched, hit the other. Teacher frowned, and blinked, appearing next to Ellandriel while the racers, now totally out of control, screamed off into the distance, bouncing on the hard, white sand. Teacher looked after them.

“Well, that seems a bit hazardous. A shame. We might have asked them for a lift to Dustwallow Marsh. Nothing for it, Thero’shan. We’ll have to walk all the way. Did you find any provisions for the trip?”

It took Ellandriel a few tries to find her voice.

“Lady… Lady Daisy will know.”

They were on the move again, faces swathed with scarves against the ever-present dust. This time, they were heading North, to Dustwallow Marsh. Teacher seemed to know quite a lot about the area, and its resident Goblins. All that Ellandriel cared about was that it was likely to be cooler, and less dry. She had filled their bottles at the race track. Lady Daisy had given them cool water, from a small closet kept cool by Goblin magic. It had cost them a few extra silvers, but it had been worth it. Ellandriel had politely declined the offer of a similar outfit to Lady Daisy’s, though she wasn’t sure whether she had been joking. Most things Lady Daisy said had seemed like a joke, but Ellandriel didn’t know enough about Humans to be sure. She had pressed a few extra silver pieces into her hand (the pieces taken from the dead Satyr), towards her visit to her parents in Theramore.

Teacher drank a few small sips of water, with an eye on the horizon.

“Thero’shan, if no evil befalls, we’ll be out of this desert before daybreak tomorrow. We are going to Dustwallow Marsh. That is a literal translation of the Goblin name for it, which is… unpronouncable. Luckily, the Goblins speak Common very well. In the interest, of course, of taking our gold away from us.”

Teacher’s head turned sharply to the right, where there had been movement. Moving with the liquid motion of long practice, Teacher turned, hand raised, staff aloft. A vicious purple blast of arcane energy shot out, and there was a primeval scream. A large scorpid’s tail quivered mid-attack, then slumped lifeless to the ground. Teacher looked back at Ellandriel.

Do pay attention, Thero’shan. As I said before, we are not in the Athenaeum anymore. Only low-order minds cannot pay attention to two things at the same time.”

Ellandriel simply stared, first at the dead scorpid, then at Teacher. Teacher laughed.

“Oh come on, Ellandriel. Did you really think I would take you into a place where I couldn’t fight off the local wildlife? The moment I genuinely require your assistance, I’ll tell…” Teacher paused a moment, considering. “Actually, no. I’ll expect you to work it out for yourself. Let’s keep moving.”


Priest trainer Jandria looked up from the piece of parchment, at her student, who was staring into her mug of tea.

“That’s very good, Lirael. Have lots of extra points for that.”

Her student didn’t look up from her tea, and simply sighed. That was not the expected result. Jandria kept merit points sufficiently rare for them to be greeted with more enthusiasm than this. Especially from Lirael, who was a great natural source of enthusiasm.

“What’s up, dear?”

Lirael looked up. “Everybody is dumping their worries on me. I know it’s what priestesses are there for, but still.”

Jandria smiled, got up and sat down next to Lirael. She put an arm round her and pulled Lirael’s head onto her shoulder. Lirael closed her eyes.

“Ariciel is a good friend, so I don’t mind her. I’d do anything for Feanor. Whenever Aletta drops another one of her boyfriends, I’m there to pick up the pieces, and I don’t mind. But I feel like I’m accumulating everybody’s cruft in my head.” She looked up. “Yesterday, I didn’t feel like singing.”

Jandria blinked. It was like a fish had just told her it didn’t feel like swimming.

“I’ve been to Feanor,” said Lirael. “He’d just had a sentry jump to her death in front of his eyes because she’d been turned into a Death Knight. Ariciel with all her dead loved ones.”

“Their suffering is bothering you,” said Jandria. “Good. It should. Especially them, because you love them. But you owe it to yourself to let their problems be their problems. You aren’t helping them any by going down with them.”

“Easier said than done.”

“True.”

“How do you manage?”

Jandria pulled Lirael a bit closer. “I am furnished with a very capable boyfriend who is very understanding when I tell him I need to forget the world for a while. I take long walks. I swim in the river. I try to seduce Mathrengyl Bearwalker.”

Lirael snorted. “Not a chance. He’s still pining for some lost love, and he visits someone in Auberdine for the more immediate needs.”

Jandria grinned. “So I can keep trying again and again. Come on. If he’d give in, I’d have to find someone else.”

“Arch-druid Staghelm?”

“Thank you for that advice. I do want to remain on speaking terms with Tyrande, you know?”

Lirael laughed. Jandria stroked her hair.

“But to answer your question, you need to make a conscious effort. Find something to occupy yourself with that knocks all else out of your head. Don’t feel guilty about it either. If the healer goes under, everybody goes under.”

“I’ll try.”

“I know.” Jandria looked into Lirael’s eyes. “You’re very good at what you do, you know? Take care of yourself. If it becomes too much, see me. I know all the best fishing spots on this treetop, and they say there’s a fifty pound grouper in there somewhere,”

“My goodness. You’ll be able to feed thousands!”

“Got to catch it first.”

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Comments

  • Pyrelle  On July 11, 2012 at 8:18 pm

    Really glad I found this page. Good stuff, I am going to have to back track and read from the begining.

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