Part 9: No love lost

In a strange bed, in a strange room, in a strange land, with a strange man, lay a strange Night-elf mage. Her eyes were closed, and a strange smile was on her face. His arm still lay over her waist, until she stirred, turned round to look at him. His massive fist, trained to slay enemies, gently stroked her hair.

“What made you change your mind, Lady?”

“Does it matter?”

“Your skin is so warm,” said the soldier.

“Must be the exercise,” said Ellandriel.

For a few more lingering moments, they looked into each other’s eyes. Then he sat up, slowly.

“I have to go.”

“Yes.”

Ellandriel lay on her back watching him as he gathered up his clothes, pulled them on. Then, he stood by the bed and looked down on her. Ellandriel got to her feet, stood naked in front of him for a few moments, then wrapped her arms round him.

“Be safe, soldier. Elune light your path.”

His hand ran from between her shoulders down to her bottom one last time, then they smiled, and the door closed behind him.

There was a knock on the door. Ellandriel got up, unlocked it and let Teacher in.

“Good evening, my Student. I take it you enjoyed yourself? I thought he’d never leave.”

“Shan’do…” There was a little edge in Ellandriel’s voice.

Teacher looked up at the white-washed ceiling.

“I wasn’t listening at the door, my Honoured Student. I was playing cards in the common room waiting for him to come down.”

Ellandriel’s eyes shone. “How did you know he was in here with me?”

“Because you, young Ellandriel, despite appearances, are not an idiot.”

Teacher started to undress, putting robes, shirt, loose trousers on the chair beside the other bed. Ellandriel locked the door and got back into her own.

“I wonder what he’s doing now.”

Teacher shrugged. “Bragging to his friends about his prowess. Telling them with more detail than accuracy what he did to you, how you were helpless under his touch. Does it matter?”

“I suppose not.”

Teacher turned round in bed, facing Ellandriel. “Are you still afraid of Keldorei?”

Ellandriel was quiet for a moment.

“Yes, I am,” she said. “I told him nothing, not even my name. But if I had…” She pulled up the blankets. “I am less afraid than I was, though.”

“He is a young man, born into a world where the Sundering already happened. The ones you need to be careful of are the dried-up ancients like me, who bear grudges for centuries. There are people I have not seen in all that time, and yet, I would kill them on sight if I did. Which is a terrible waste of tranquility, but there you have it.” Teacher turned over in bed. “There will be time tomorrow for a decadently late breakfast. Tomorrow night, we sail, first Ratchet, then Booty Bay. I’ve made a decision, Thero’shan. I want to see with my own eyes the Dark Portal. Good night.”


Mareva woke up at the sound of someone moving past her. She opened her eyes a crack, and saw Healer Hirudo leave their camp. It wasn’t much of a camp. Nothing could be found in the Barrens that would burn, and anyway, attracting the attention of the ever-present Horde would be unwise. Still, why would Druid Hirudo be wanting to leave them? The habit was to make Calls of Nature before you started your watch. Before she knew what she was doing, Mareva opened her sleeping furs, and quietly followed Hirudo. The Druid stopped at a small distance from the camp. As Mareva watched, he pulled some kind of device from his pocket and placed it on the ground in front of him. It glowed with a slow pulsating light. After a few moments, it started to make small noises. Mareva frowned. Communication devices? Someone had been selling things they should not have.

“Of course, it’s me. Do you expect bloody Orcs to figure out how to use this?”

Mareva listened, but couldn’t hear what the person on the other end of the connection was saying.

“Just North of Thorn Hill, and I’ve got two left. Though we picked up two passengers. A Feral and one of these goat-women. Caster of some sort.”

Hirudo frowned, listening to the crackle of the person on the other side.

“Well, if anything, they’re making my job harder. I have to keep them up as well as my own, and let me tell you, that’s not easy.”

There was some annoyed crackle.

“No, it’s not cheating. If my warriors die, you’ve won. These women don’t count.”

“…”

“Well, it would if they were in any way shape or form competent, but I assure you, they’re complete noobs.”

Mareva’s eyes narrowed. She could see why Hirudo would be downplaying their abilities, but Hirudo would have been short two warriors if it hadn’t been for them. The device crackled again.

“To the road from the Crossroads to Ratchet, and not a step further. I’m sick to my stomach of those half-wits. When I see the Road, I’m porting in.”

“…”

“Do you honestly think I’m going to slog all the way to Theramore if I don’t have to? They’re big boys, and anyway, they’re just Humans. What do you care?”

Mareva tilted her head. That was a very interesting remark. Her opinion of Druid Hirudo had not been favourable to begin with, but now, it was below freezing. She’d heard enough. Time for a little Council of War with Ariciel.

“These fools are going to get us killed,” said Mareva.

They were marching South. They had passed Thorn Hill, and Hirudo was understandably in an excellent mood, congratulating his Warriors on their excellent work. There was a road leading South, all the way from the gold mines to the Northernmost part of the Barrens, but they were avoiding that for obvious reasons.

“When did you come to that conclusion?” said Ariciel. They were walking together, a little ahead of their companions.

“When I heard Druid Hirudo plan to teleport out just after the road to Ratchet,” said Mareva. “I didn’t know Druids could teleport.”

“Only to Moonglade,” said Ariciel. “It takes almost all my mana and an eternity to cast the spell, but yes. Bearwalker taught it to me when I was on my quest for my bear form. So Hirudo is going to do a runner? Nice of him to tell us.”

“When he does, I sincerely hope these warriors find someplace safe,” said Mareva. “They may be zlotniks, but they do not deserve to be left stranded in a hostile place.”

“Oh ye gods,” said Ariciel. “The closest safe place is Ratchet. They’ll be following us.”

“Deep joy,” said Mareva. “Let us try to leave before Master Hirudo does, and get a good headstart. If I hear the words ‘Horny Draenei’ one more time, I will start signalling Orcs.”

“Heh. Don’t blame me, you were the one who brought it up in Winterspring.”

Mareva looked ahead with a vague smile on her blue face.

“I had a good reason for that.”

“To corrupt an innocent Night-elf? If I hadn’t enjoyed it so much, I’d say shame on you.”

“You, my friend, were never an innocent Night-elf.”

At last, they came to the road. They were several miles East of the Crossroads. Before she could stop him, Skullcrusher had taken Ariciel’s hand and kissed it.

“Fare well, my lady. I hope you will reach your destination without our protection.”

“We will simply have to manage somehow,” said Ariciel. “Coming Mareva?”

Mareva bowed to the incompetent warriors and the treacherous Druid. Then, she and Ariciel waved, and ran off along the road.

Ariciel sighed. “We should have warned them.”

“That would have been my word against that of Druid Hirudo. They would not have believed us, and unwilling healers make very bad companions.”

“I know,” said Ariciel. “Still.”

Mareva looked over her schoulder. “I understand. Shall we speed up a little? We are far enough awa-”

She stopped, turned round, and her mouth fell open. She pointed.

“Look!”

Back along the road, there was a large group of Orcish infantry on the move. As Mareva and Ariciel watched, they saw Skullcrusher, Ripface and Hirudo, and attacked. Hirudo changed himself to a spotted Cheetah, and ran. A little way off, they saw him raise his hands in the air. Magic flowed, and Hirudo changed to a thin cloud of green shining dust, then shot off to the North. Ariciel stared, eyes wide open.

“Oh, those poor bastards.”

Ariciel took a step towards the fight, hesitated. Mareva’s hand was on her shoulder. They looked at each other, then shook their heads.

“There are too many for us,” said Mareva. “There is nothing that we can do.”

In the space of a minute, the two Humans were hewn down. The Orcs hacked at them as they lay, then it was over. Ariciel’s teeth showed in a feral growl.

“If I ever meet that Druid again, he’s dead.”

“Agreed,” said Mareva. “I think now would be a good time to review our policy against using riding animals.”

They pulled out the magical reins that summoned their mounts. Ariciel had a riding cat, Mareva a large, tusked elekk. They rode away to the East, as fast as they could.

“Bastard,” said Ariciel.


Stetson was in trouble. Almost as soon as he came out of the transporter, the disguise had failed again. Three of the ghouls had seen him, and given chase. Before long, he had a whole train of them, with no good way to get rid of them. All that kept him from either death of permanent ghoulishness were his hooves. He glanced over his shoulder, and saw five of the ghouls and… oh great. One of the Blightguards. It raised a hand, and shot a bolt of dark energy at him. Stetson tumbled and fell, and the bolt passed over him. Before he could get to his hooves, the ghouls were all over him, beating him with their fists. Stetson drew swords, called on the Naaru for healing, and slashed out with all his might, but he could see that it was no use. The ghouls knocked him over again, and he was buried underneath their foul, rotting bodies. He briefly wondered what it was going to be like, being a ghoul or a Death Knight for real.

The ground underneath him started to glow with an unholy green colour, and all the ghouls screamed. Stetson looked up to see a dark, terrible figure, wielding a big sword, standing over him. As Stetson watched, he held out his hand, and purple lightning shot from it, striking the Blightguard in the chest, and… pulling him in! With a monstrous cry, the figure’s sword came round, cutting in half all those before it. A deep silence fell. The monster looked down on Stetson as he lay, then held out a hand and pulled him to his hooves.

“Are you done playing now, Hunter S’dezo’houn?”

Before anything else, before even healing himself, Stetson raised his hands, and summoned Morgan to him. When he set off for the necropolis, he had dismissed his cat, reasoning that most ghouls did not have tigers following them, and that it would be a bit conspicuous. Morgan gave a big yowl, and head-butted Stetson in the stomach. Stetson winced. Then, finally, he looked at the Death Knight who had once been his brother.

“Thank you, Garz’houn.”

“I just saved your sorry tail, and to kill you now would be a waste of effort. I will not warn you again, S’dezo. Do not call me by that name again. I am Paxvobiscum now. Garz’houn is dead.”

Stetson slowly looked his… brother up and down. He had put away his sword, and stood, arms crossed, looking down on him in exactly the same way he had always done when Stetson had failed to live up to his Paladin’s standards. Stetson slowly nodded.

“Well then… Paxvobiscum. Where next?”

Paxvobiscum closed his eyes a moment. “Get out of this place, S’dezo. There is nothing here that you can do. The Lich King is moving, and we must move against him. Most probably, we will all die and Azeroth is doomed to fall into darkness. Go back to Nagrand.”

“Leaving you here? With that… disease still upon you? I cannot do that. I want you to come with me. I have new friends. I have things to do. I want you to share in them.”

Paxvobiscum made a frustrated noise.

“Before you invite me to your house, S’dezo, do you think we’ll have some time to visit a priest and have him turn me back into a Draenei?” Paxvobiscum grabbed his brother by the shoulders. “Look at me. Don’t look at your brother, look at me! You are still not understanding it. I am Death itself! I am the ultimate creation of the Lich King!” Paxvobiscum turned away. “I can cause terrible, incurable diseases, merely by wishing it to be so. I can torment the living, beyond hope of endurance. And I can kill, as a final mercy. I am made to cause death and suffering. Even now, now that the Lich King no longer guides my blows, I take pleasure in death and suffering. When I do not kill, my body yearns, aches for blood, for the screams of victims, the look of despair in their eyes, their pleas for mercy. When I am starved of those, I suffer pain worse than you can imagine. I still my hunger by destroying those who still serve the Lich King, but they are miserable creatures, who already wish to die. I can survive on them, but I really hunger for the lives of those who have hopes, dreams. They suffer more when I take them away.” Paxvobiscum’s eyes turned to Stetson. “You really do not want me in your life, S’dezo. You want your brother. But your brother is no more. And I am… terrible.”

They were moving. Stetson was riding his elekk, Paxvobiscum rode a dark horse, given to him by the Lich King, to do his bidding. Paxvobiscum would take him to the Argent Stand, a place where Paladins of the Argent Crusade still clung to hope. They had a flight master. Paxvobiscum had offered to grab Stetson by his neck, and drop him onto the flight if he had to. Stetson was in no mood to protest. Garz’houn’s face still looked as it had before, only a bit paler. He looked angry. That, too, was familiar. Usually, Garz’houn had been angry with him. Now though, Garz’houn was angry at… who? Himself? The world at large? The Lich King? Any and all of the above?

Paxvobiscum stopped his horse, and gazed into the night. He pointed. Ahead of them, they could see a few carts, containing the dead bodies of Ogres, Night-elves, Humans, Trolls, Orcs, Alliance, Horde, people not associated with either. All were equal in the eyes of the Scourge. Body parts to build minions from. A little way of, there was a circle of runes, green, with an ominous glow like smoke spiraling up above it. Stetson could almost see faces in the smoke, but that could also be a trick of his imagination.

“That is where you would have ended up,” said Paxvobiscum.

“I am a man of many parts,” said Stetson. “Is that where you were… changed?”

Paxvobiscum shook his head. “These are mere foot soldiers. It takes much more effort to create a Death Knight. I awoke at Acherus.”

“Even now, you’re still trying to one-up me. Isn’t it time to give it a rest, Garz’a?”

“S’dezo. Please. Do not use that name. The memories, they hurt, and I can never go back to them.”

“There’s always hope.”

Hope?” Paxvobiscum glared at Stetson. “Let me tell you about hope. There was this woman. A priestess, mother of two children, and they had fallen into our hands. Every day, we would torture her children. We would burn them, infect them with diseases, cut them with knives, break their bones. Then, we would give her just enough mana to heal one of them, making her choose every night which of her children would sleep without pain, and which one would watch her brother be healed while she continued to suffer. And then, the next morning, we would start again, with the woman begging us to take her instead. And yet, she never ended it all as she could have. And why not? Hope, S’dezo’houn. She still believed that she would be saved if she would only endure. I grew bored of her, and killed them. I did that, S’dezo. I, Paxvobiscum. Paladin Garz’houn would have killed me without a second thought, even at the cost of his own life. Hope is a curse.”

They continued on, until finally they came to a large road. Paxvobiscum made them stop again, looking carefully along it, up and down. This was where the giant Thrym patrolled. They crossed with care, then continued on, to avoid the battlefield in front of the Argent Stand.

They were upon them, without warning. Trolls. Stetson recognised their armour from Voltarus: Drakuru’s fighters. Paxvobiscum shouted, and his unholy spells started to take effect. Stetson sent Morgan in, then jumped back, firing arrows into their enemies. Even before they started, they knew it was futile. They were merely postponing the inevitable. There were simply too many of them. Poor Morgan was jumped by at least six warriors at once, and killed before Stetson’s eyes. Stetson’s arrows pierced as many as he could, until he too was overwhelmed, forced down. As a last resort, he feigned death, and knew no more.


They were standing on a beach, in the dead of night. Teacher’s eyes scanned the horizon, muttering. Finally, there was a light out at sea. Teacher walked out, almost to the edge of the water, and sent up a small fireball. Ten minutes later, a small sailing boat with dark grey sails bumped onto the sand.

“Your ladyship’s vessel has arrived,” said Teacher. “Pray be so good as to board.”

Ellandriel looked at the boat. It was sailed by goblin sailors. Several of them were running back and forth between ship and beach, large bags on their backs. One of the goblins leered at Teacher.

“Go go go!”

Teacher leaped on board, and Ellandriel followed. She gave Teacher a look.

Smugglers?”

One of the Goblins hissed at her. “Uncouth female, you use an ugly word. We are the alternative port authorities. Independent entrepreneurs. Speaking of which, where’s the gold?”

Teacher pulled a small stack of gold coins out of a purse, handed them to the Goblin.

“Keep the change.”

Without another word, the Goblins jumped to the ropes and the small boat flitted out onto the sea, her sail perfectly coloured to disappear against the night sky. The trip took the rest of the night, and about half of the following day. They were set down on another beach, about an hour’s march away from the Goblin port town of Ratchet. Their captain didn’t seem to hold much with official landing places, presumably for his health.

Ratchet was a sprawl of buildings, each a picturesque original. Goblins were an industrious people, and all round them was the noise of commerce. Clearly the Goblins followed the ‘Drop The Buildings From A Zeppelin, And See Where They Land’ school of town planning, though the buildings of the Trade Prince looked ferocious, and other buildings stayed away. Teacher walked into the inn, and called for a pint of the landlord’s best. This turned out to be apple cider, a drink Ellandriel had never had before, but instantly liked. Fruit is good for you. They spent the rest of the day waiting for the Human ferry that would take them to the Eastern Kingdoms.

The ferry arrived in the early afternoon. She was a large wooden Human-built square-rigger named the Maiden’s Fancy. As she stepped on board, Ellandriel looked with wonder, and not a little concern, at the crew. The Goblins by now didn’t worry her too much. The Human who was first mate looked friendly enough, even with the eyepatch. The navigator, though… was a Troll. Ellandriel had read about Trolls, large shambling persons with long arms, outrageous haircuts and large tusks. There had been pictures, and speculations on a mysterious bodily excretion named ‘mojo’, which apparently made Trolls fierce. Ellandriel turned her eyes away and followed Teacher below decks.

Teacher walked into the back cabin, closed the door, then checked the lock.

“These are not the worst of people, Thero’shan,” said Teacher. “Still, they have been known to commit acts of piracy. Keep your gold out of sight, and lead them not into temptation.”

“Yes, Shan’do.” Ellandriel looked round. “Where are the beds? Are we sleeping on the floor?”

“What do you think we are, savages? Here. Take this.”

Teacher handed Ellandriel a bundle of sail-cloth, and pointed out to her where to hang it up. It took a few attempts to get in, but once she managed it, it was amazingly comfortable.

“It also moves with the rolling of the ship,” said Teacher. “This prevents sea-sickness.”

“Sea-sickness, Shan’do?”

Ellandriel had a rough time crossing, dividing her time between her hammock and the railing of the ship. She lay as still as possible, whimpering feebly, with a bucket close by. The galley Dwarf had dropped by, and asked her if the little miss might be wantin’ anything, like a hearty breakfast o’ bacon an’ eggs, only the eggs might be a wee bit on the machoor side, he havin’ had them since the last trip out. Ellandriel stared at the Dwarf in horror, then lurched for the bucket.

But finally, incredibly, it passed. Just as she was certain that her last hours had struck, she found, to her amazement, that the dreadful feeling had gone. And now, her stomach growled. She briefly considered conjuring up some mana bread, but no. She wanted substance.

She walked to the galley with a sway in her step, and got a large slice of ham and a hunk of bread from Galley Chief Steelbelly, which was memory within minutes. Then, she went above decks to find Teacher on the foredeck.

“Ah, Ellandriel my girl. You’re back up and running, I see. Good good.” Teacher pointed. “We’re about to pull into Booty Bay.”


Stetson woke up, surprised that he was awake. A chill stole over him. and he looked at his arms, legs. Everything still seemed to be there. He looked up, into a tusked face.

“Hey mon. You awake?”

Stetson tried to get up. He hurt in more places than he cared to count. There was a bandage on his upper arm. He wanted bandages all over him. After a few tries, he managed to sit up. From habit, he looked round to see where Morgan was, and a sudden pang of grief hit him.

“You better get moving mon, da scary man don’ look like he’s got much time in this world.”

Stetson stared, then got to his hooves. He would have fallen down again if the Troll hadn’t grabbed his shoulder to steady him.

“He’s alive? Where is he?”

“He still breathing now mon, is all I can say. Loas don’t let us heal dem Ju-ju bwoys. Nor you goat-men either. Be hard healing inside when all you can use is bandages.”

Stetson followed the Troll, limping painfully to where the figure of a Draenei man was lying on the ground, under a blanket. Garz’houn’s chest was moving, but it looked like it was costing him dearly just to keep going. Stetson kneeled by his head, hesitating, having to keep himself from falling over on top of Garz’houn.

“Brother?”

Garz’houn smiled through his pain, slowly opened his eyes.

“S’dezo. The Trolls said… you were alive. I thought they were just being… kind. Good.”

Stetson looked at his brother’s face. The Trolls had bandaged his head, more for the look of it than anything else. It was the wrong shape for a Draenei head. They had pulled a woollen blanket over him, for much the same reason.

“We’ll get you patched up, Brother. The Naaru have not forgotten us.”

Stetson started to concentrate, to call the Gift of the Naaru for his brother, but Garz’houn pulled his arm out from under the blanket. Stetson had to swallow hard as he saw that Garz’houn’s hand was missing, as was half of his lower arm.

“No… Brother. No use. I am… done. Do not… grieve. It is finally… over.” Garz’houn coughed, pain on his face. “One thing… Brother. Please. Do not… let this. Happen again. Make sure, no body.”

Garz’houn closed his eyes. His lips moved, and Stetson had to lean over him to hear what he was saying.

“Find father. Tell him… Garz’houn… died, defending…”

“I will, Brother. I will.”

Stetson imagined the shadow of a smile passing over Garz’houn’s lips. His chest stopped moving. Stetson was alone in the wilderness of Zul’drak, with two handsfull of Trolls. It would have been pointless to remind Garz’houn that Father had been dead for over seven years now. There was nobody to tell of Garz’houn, and what he had done. Stetson looked up at the stars in the sky to the south. There was someone to tell. When his work here was done, he would find her.

Stetson stood in one of the ruined Troll buildings that littered Zul’drak. A large pyre of wood was stacked neatly, and on top of it lay Garz’houn’s body. A lit torch was in Stetson’s hand. He leaned on a crutch under his other arm. One of the Trolls put a hand on his shoulder.

“We be goin’ now, Mon. When you light dem big fire, Drakuru’s fuckfuck voodoo bwoys be coming thick as flies on raptor dung.”

“Let them,” said Stetson.

“Mon, we be pulling your tail out of the fire once now. We not gwan to do dat again. Get you out of here. Argent Stand be East of here. You be safer there. Get some priest to look at you. There be some bad voodoo on you.”

“Thank you,” said Stetson. “Thank you for everything that you have done.”

The Troll grinned. “Be irie Mon. Your brother, he do most of dem work. We just clean up dem leftovers. Be right mon. Stay away from the voodoo.”

With a grin and a wave, they were gone. Stetson pushed the torch into the kindling, and the dry wood burst into flame. He stood there for a long time, making sure that nothing was left that a Necromancer could bring back to life. Garz’houn had suffered enough. One more thing to do. Stetson closed his eyes, and let his hunter’s magic flow. A few moments later, there was a familiar yowl. Stetson fell to his knees, and grabbed Morgan’s manes, looking into his eyes. Was this the same Morgan of old? A replacement? Morgan head-butted Stetson, then lapped at his face with a tongue made of sandpaper. Stetson pushed him away and looked at him.

“Let me tell you about my brother, Morgan. Let me tell you of Garz’houn. And then, let’s find Engineer Mareva, and tell her as well.”

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