Part 10: Ghosts and Ghouls and Zombies, oh my…

“I think ye look a right pillock wearing them!”

“What? They’re perfectly functional! I almost feel the things make me stronger!” Bannog rolled his shoulders and looked at his new pauldrons.

“Aww! Widdle swords!” Peterselie grinned.

“They’re ornamental! They symbolise the Art of Weaponry!”

“Ornamental as in No Use Except They Look Pretty!”

“Well, if you find anything that protects better, do pass it on to me, will you?”

“Well at least the things don’t look like they’re going to break anytime soon, that’s for sure. Also, since ye got ’em from the Argent Dawn people, they’re likely to be good for Undead.”

“Yeah? Yeah! Bring on the ghouls!”

“Ye still look a pillock, though!”

“You’re just jealous!”

Korenwolf came running out of the church, light of battle in his eyes. Kaylad and Tanque were following him.

“Aszhara! Another necropolis! Race you there!”

Bannog grinned. “If you don’t mind, I’ll pass. Ariciel is due in and I want to be there when she touches down.”

“What? Ye prefer messin’ round with women to fighting?”

“Says the Dwarf who’s messin’ round with women while fighting!”

Kaylad poked Bannog in the ribs.

“Just the one woman, ye big lug, unless you know more than I do.”

Peterselie laughed, and tightened her sword belt. Peterselie, Tanque, Kaylad and Korenwolf trotted off to the flight master.

“Be safe, people!” shouted Bannog.


They flapped off. Bannog looked after them a while, then found a spot in the sun to sit down and wait for Ariciel to arrive. He thought back on the last few days. He’d met more Undead than any sane person should. Briefly, but still. He’d scoured the land for them from this place to the deserted town of Corrin’s Crossing. This place was mainly deserted because there were now hordes of ghosts and other abominations. But the richest source of necrotic tokens came from a secluded field just a few miles South, which was positively teeming with Scourge. Bannog drew his sword. It was still the same blade that Joran had given him on their parting, but he had used special consecrated sharpening stones on it to give him an edge against the less… physical opponents. Bannog had slain enough to earn him the Undead Slayer’s gauntlets, the Undead Slayer’s Breastplate, and now, of course, the Undead Slayer’s shoulder pieces. Oh, and an Argent Dawn tabard. Hopefully, one of them would get him the Undead Slayer’s legplates to complete the set before they ran out. He had to admit they were a bit gaudy, but very effective still.

Bannog cast another glance at the flight point. Still no Elf. Oh well. The sound of large feet made him look round. The first thing he saw was the snake-like trunk of a large creature, sniffing his head. He followed the trunk upwards, to a large tusked head. On top of this nightmarish creature sat Stetson, the Draenei Hunter.

“Blessings upon your family. Do they give you those flashy shoulders here for sitting in the sun?”

Bannog got to his feet. “Hunter Stetson! Good day to you! Here to join in the fun? The Undead vendor is over there in the Ops tent. Where’s that girlfriend of yours?”

Stetson dismounted. “Over in the church, asking for a job. For both of us.”

“Oh, she won’t get any there. You want the tent. Go to Ops. The people in the church are the high-ups. Go there without a massive stack of tokens, and they don’t even talk to you. Except the warrior woman, but she’s a sad piece of work. ‘All is hopeless. I’ll probably die in battle. Oh well.’ And more of that sort of talk.”

“Do not lose faith,” said Stetson. “We may yet beat them.”

“Tell that to her!”

Stetson laughed. “We will do more than that, I hope.” Suddenly his eyes lit up as he looked over Bannog’s heavily beweaponed shoulder.

“They are not interested! They told me to go to Ops. Rude zlotniks. What is ‘Ops’ anyway? Common speech for ‘Hell’?”

Bannog looked round. “It’s that tent over there. Get your zombies while they’re still smelly!”

Mareva gave Bannog a dazzling smile, and wrapped her arms round him. She rubbed her cheeks against his.

“Bannog! What a pleasure to meet you here! I did not recognise you in that strange armour!”

“Well, they have stuff even for you clothies. Hand in enough of these tokens, and you can get loads of good stuff. They even have armour in Big Blue’s size, believe it or not!”

“Bannog of Caer Bannog. I come here all the way from Darnassus, only to find you with a strange woman in your arms?”

Bannog couldn’t help himself. He grinned like a maniac and turned round, to see Ariciel standing before him, with her fist on her hip, looking at him accusingly.

Stetson laughed. “Only on loan, I assure you.”

Ariciel waved Mareva away. Go hug your own boyfriend. She wrapped her arms round Bannog and kissed him, Human fashion. This went on for a while.

“Do you see, Stetson? Humans and Elves are capable of recycling the oxygen between them, enabling them to survive for hours without air, even under water.”

“That is amazing! We would need all manner of breathing apparatus. Rebreathers. Oxygen tanks. These primitive people possess skills beyond our wildest dreams.”

Ariciel looked into Bannog’s eyes and jerked her head at Mareva. Bannog shook his head. Ariciel disentangled herself from Bannog and hugged Mareva. She whispered in her ear.

“Want me to teach you this technique? It’ll drive the boys wild!”

“Mine is already quite wild enough, thank you.”

“Hmm. Sordid details as soon as we can ditch them for a while.”

“I have a bottle of Qrovna.”

“Even better.”

“Oh crap. Quick. Look the other way.”

“What’s up, sis?”

“Just walk away quietly.”

Nix stared at Trixie. Clearly gone mad. Happens to all younger sisters at some point. Birth, usually.

“What are you on about?”

Trixie took a look behind her.

“It’s Tall Bimbo and her boyfriend. Don’t look! They might see you!”

Nix quickly glanced over his shoulder. Tall Bimbo was wrapped all round this big Human of hers, and talking to two blue people. He searched his memory… Draenei. That’s what they were.

“Oh come on. They’re not that bad.” Nix gave his sister an evil grin. “And you like big strong Warriors!”

“Yeah, not that big thankyouverymuch. Now get, before they see us.”

The Gnomes hurried on, and ran into their father.

“Whoa there. You’re rushing. What are you up to?”

Trixie looked indignant. “What makes you think…”

“Experience,” said Griggin. “Now why are you in such a hurry?”

“Lugs,” said Nix.

Griggin bristled with an old wrath. “What? Are they after you? I’ll soon teach them to leave us alone!”

Trixie shook her head, pink pigtails flapping.

“Nothing like that, it’s the Caer Bannog lot.” she scowled. “That Elf is there.”

“Ahh.” A happy look appeared on Griggin’s face. “Where are they? I must go and greet them.”

Mentally, Trixie buried her face in her hands. Outward, she smiled.

“Must we, Father? They may be too busy to meet us.”

“That Elf sure looked busy,” said Nix. “With the big Human.”

“Nonsense! Now where did you see them?”

Nix sighed. Pointed. “Go to Ops.”

“Good morning, Sir Bannog!”

“I keep telling people. Sir Bannog is my dad. Simply Bannog will do, Mr. Steambender. Good morning to you.”

“Forgive me. I assume that you are here to combat the Scourge and their foul minions?”

“Indeed I am. How is your family? All in good health I hope?”

“My daughter had a tight escape, thank you for asking, but we all came through, thanks to the Argent Dawn. So now, we are here to repay our debt.”

“What, all of you?”

“Yes, yes. Lenna, Bieslook, Nix and Trixie. I never travel far without them.”

Ariciel sighed. Of all the people she could hope to meet here, didn’t it just have to be that annoying little Warrior girl? What are Gnomes doing here anyway? This is no place for the little ones. She plied her face into a friendly smile.

“Surely, Mr. Steambender, you are not leading them into danger? They could get hurt!”

“Oh, we can take care of ourselves, Lady Ariciel. We are united against all the world throws at us. As you will soon see. We are getting ready to do our bit against the enemy.”

“Well, take care. There’s some big things out there.”

“Good. They give a satisfying thud when they fall over.”

Ariciel blinked. “Well. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

“Thank you for your concern. Now I must join my family, and prepare.” Griggin nodded at Bannog, Ariciel, Stetson and Mareva, turned round and wandered off. When he was out of earshot, Ariciel sighed.

“What in Azeroth is that little Gnome doing here? What can he do?”

“Oh, do not underestimate them,” said Mareva. “They can be formidable opponents. They are very clever and extremely good at all kinds of magic.”

“I find that hard to believe.”

Bannog snorted. “Stars and stones, Ariciel! Were you bitten by a Gnome when you were a child? What do you have against them? Mr. Steambender here is a perfectly decent chap!”

“Sure! But this is a dangerous place! What if he gets caught? We’d have to go and bail him out!”

“If we get in trouble, they may have to bail us out,” said Mareva. “It is a possibility.”

Ariciel gave Mareva a look. “So why are you so fond of them? Last time, you were telling me how a Gnome tried to send you on a wild goose chase.”

“This is true, but I disliked him because he was a zlotnik. Not because he was a Gnome.”

“Hm,” said Ariciel, clearly not convinced. “Well. We’ll see. Meanwhile, we need to get busy. Anyone know who to talk to for some work?”

Mareva, Stetson and Bannog chorused. “Go to Ops!”

“Och. It wasn’t an invasion, it was a bloody feeding frenzy!” Korenwolf stared at the camp fire they’d made a small way away from the chapel.

“Feeding frenzy? How so?” Bannog handed Korenwolf another bottle of ale. The Dwarf paladin pulled the cork, threw it into the fire and drank deep. The firelight reflected in his deep-set eyes.

“There were so many Alliance troops that they were almost fighting each other for the privilege of getting at a Scourge minion. Bloody hell. This is gettin’ me nowhere. I need to find some Scourge all of my own.”

“Corrin’s crossing is still full of them,” said Bannog, ripping the head off another bottle.

“No damn use. They don’t carry tokens. They’re just your common or garden variety Undead. I need the right ones. Bah! I should have stayed in Tanaris!”

“We have been there,” said Stetson. “It was the same there.”

Mareva frowned. “We were infected with the Zombie Plague in Tanaris. Not an experience I wish to repeat.”

“Bah! Any Paladin could cleanse you of that. Stick around us, lass, and ye’ll be fine.”

Mareva lay back down, hooves to the fire, and her head in Stetson’s lap. Stetson absent-mindedly stroked her hair. Next to him, the big cat Morgan stretched and curled up. He took a sip from his bottle, perfectly content.

“Today, we were fine, even without you. We earned many tokens.”

“Lucky bastards. I spent all day beating up zombies, then finding that someone else got in the first shot.” He took another drink. “Maybe if we can get a message to them somehow.”

Ariciel laughed. “Dear Foul Minion, Paladin Korenwolf requests the pleasure of your company exactly three miles south of Light’s Hope Chapel, so he can lop your head off without interference from other bloody allies.”

“Exactly! Hey! You’re a Drood! You got flight form! Fly up to the necropolis and stick your tongue out at them!”

“Excellent idea. Just a few problems. First, I don’t have my flight form yet. Second, you can’t use your flight form in Azeroth even if you do, and third…” she grinned at Korenwolf. “Birds don’t have tongues to speak of.”

“Bah! Can’t do, not allowed, haven’t got the body parts. Bloody excuses.”

“Words after my own heart! Never let progress be hindered by the mere fact that what you are trying to do is impossible! Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen!” Griggin Steambender stepped into the circle of light.

“Mr. Steambender! Welcome to our humble camp. Has the day been a profitable one for you and your family?”

“Indeed it has, Mr. Bannog. We managed to slay many of these foul Scourge minions. The Argent Dawn authorities were most appreciative.” Griggin chuckled. “If a bit surprised. Well, enjoy your evening, I must rejoin my family.” The Gnome pointed at the small group of small figures a way off.

“Let them come over,” said Korenwolf. Young Bannog here has had the excellent foresight to buy vast quantities of ale, and if I’d drink it all, I would have a splitting headache in the morning.”

“And be bloody useless tonight,” muttered Kaylad.

“Thank you most kindly, Sir Paladin. Allow me to call them.” He turned round and waved. Lenna, Bieslook, Nix and Trixie walked up.

“Moet ons met die Langbeens omgaan?” asked Trixie.

Griggin frowned. “We certainly do. If you have nothing nice to say, keep quiet.”

Bannog reached into the supply of drink and came out with bottles of beer, which he handed to Griggin and Lenna. Lenna handed hers over to Nix, who accepted it gratefully.

“You don’t like beer?”

“Apologies, Mr. Bannog. I never drink strong drink.”

“Moonberry juice?”

“That would be lovely, thank you.”

Bannog pointed at Trixie, eyebrows raised.

“I’ll have a beer, please!”

Ariciel snorted. “Are you sure she’s old enough to drink?”

Griggin’s eyes slowly turned to Ariciel. A small smile was on his lips. “Hmm. If I remember correctly, your clan markings put your age somewhere between…” he made some mental calculations, “twenty and thirty years, correct?”

“Twenty-five, yeah.”

“Well, then my daughter is… five years your senior.”

Ariciel looked at the small pig-tailed girl in front of her. Unbelievable! Trixie grinned. She put one hand behind her head, put one foot in front of the other, pushed her chest out, big blue eyes sparkling in the firelight.

“Not only older, but prettier too! Nothing going South here! Square-cube law’s a bitch!”

Mareva choked on her drink and exploded with laughter. Still giggling, she wiped the beer off her.

“I should really kick your butt for that. But it is a good joke, so today, you live.”

Ariciel looked at Mareva.


Mareva’s eyes gleamed at Ariciel. “It has to do with mathematics. Essentially, if you were twice as tall as you are now, you would have two times two, four times as much skin. You also would weigh two times two times two as much, eight times your current weight.”

“Yeah? Wow. And?”

Mareva laughed. “You are about twice as tall as Miss Trixie there. Hence, gravity affects your… personal attributes eight times as much as it does hers. Increasing the chance of… sag.”

Ariciel gave Trixie and Mareva her most ingratiating look.

“I am Kel’dorei. What is this ‘sag’ you speak of?”

Mareva raised an eyebrow, then slowly shook her head in a disapproving fashion.

“You use magic to keep your boobs perky?”

“Nope. No magic about it. Just healthy living.”

Mareva glanced down. “Bah! Why do I suddenly feel I am worst off?”

Stetson bent over Mareva, kindly waited for her to swallow her sip of beer, and spoke to her in Draenei.

“I don’t think you’re worst off. What’s more, I will do what I can to support you.”

“Hmm. Promises, promises,” answered Mareva, grinning.

“Right,” said Trixie. “Now can I have a beer?”

“No,” said Mareva, reaching for her pack. “You deserve only the best.” She produced a shining metal bottle and some dull shining cups. “Trixie Steambender, meet Mr. Qrovna.”

It was Mareva’s watch. The stars were out, and a white moon shone its light over the hills of the Eastern Plaguelands. She was sitting near the last glowing embers of the campfire, in her meditative pose, and opened her senses and her spirit to the creatures round her. They became visible to her mind as tiny bright specks of light. Her perception flowed out in slow, gentle waves. She could sense the dark and diseased minds of Undead, but they were far, far away, a sickly undertone in the mix of spirits that were in the vicinity of Light’s Hope Chapel. Kaylad, Korenwolf and Tanque asleep in their tents. Stetson, almost on the verge of waking. The suppressed noises of Ariciel and Bannog trying to be quiet, all reflected in the spiritual plane. The nice family of Gnomes asleep in their tents close to the chapel, guards patrolling the area. Almost, she wanted to wake up Stetson to share the moment with him. No. Let him sleep. She opened her eyes and looked at the stars. The star that shone on Draenor, she knew, was not visible to the naked eye from here. Still, she imagined she could feel it. She thought of her home. Stetson had asked her where she was from. She’d told him, and he had nodded. “Don’t try to go home, Mareva. They call it the Hellfire Peninsula now. It is not a pleasant place anymore.” Mareva sighed. The word ‘Draenei’ meant ‘Exiles’. But in truth, she had no desire to go back, even if the place was not a war-torn, demon-infested wasteland now. She quite liked Azeroth, with all its wonderful and strange people. Night-elves, Humans, Dwarves, Gnomes. She laughed quietly to herself. Oh, they had been mean to that Gnome girl, feeding her Qrovna. Amazingly, she’d liked it. Nobody likes Qrovna the first time they drink it! It was against regulations. Mareva made a mental note to offer her a few healing spells in the morning. How long had she been here now? After the Imperfect Landing, she’d worked on Exodar for a few months, until it was officially decided that she was beyond repair. Still, they’d managed to get some generators going, mainly for creature comforts. It had been oddly pleasing. Nothing was expected, therefore everything they achieved was welcome. Such a difference from before, when they were regularly criticised for being unable to break laws of physics. Later, she’d discharged herself, and started the long string of quests into the various parts of Azeroth that might or might not have been affected by their carelessly dropped parts. Even though the work itself had been distasteful, she had enjoyed the strange smells and sights, but especially the food. She could still remember the first time she’d had an apple after all those months on synthesised goo from the machine. Texture! Crunch! and the sweet, tart taste of the juice! It would probably revert to being normal in a few more months, but she hoped it wouldn’t. She looked over to Stetson’s tent. Was it time to wake Tanque yet? No. Oh well. Mareva closed her eyes again. Nothing in the vicinity. Good.

“Good morning, Sis! And how are we feeling this lovely morning? The sun is out, the day is full of promise! Time to get up!”

“Bog off. Ow!”

“Serves you right for getting smashed on alien rotgut! I know better than that! I stick to Thunderbrew’s finest, so I know I can drink exactly two-point-four pints without ill effects.”

“I said piss off. I can give you a headache too, no problem.”

“Well, I think you have about ten minutes left to make yourself presentable. More zombie bashing to be done. Maybe they’ll give you the breastplate.” Nix looked innocent. “If they have them in small enough sizes.” He turned tail and fled, while Trixie threw the first thing that came to hand after him. Older brothers. Scum, the lot of them. Ten minutes later, she stood squinting in the bright sunlight, waiting. Oh for the love of the Light! Tall Bimbo came walking up on her way to Ops. This was not her morning. The Night Elf took one look at her, and before she could stop her, she laid her five-fingered hand on her pink hair. Trixie felt magic flow, then the blessed absence of pain.

“I take it all back. You are old enough to drink.”

“I thought you dint like Gnomes?”

Ariciel grinned. “Not particularly. And now, you owe me one.”


“You’re welcome.”

“The Necropolis to the South has just turned on. Here in he Eastern Plaguelands, spitting distance of the Chapel. Bloody cheek of them!”

Bannog summoned his horse, then reached down to Ariciel to pull her up. To his surprise, she shook her head, and took some small leather straps from her pack. She concentrated, and out of nothing, there appeared a snow-white cat, saddle and all. Ariciel got on, smiling.

“Whoa. I didn’t know you had one of those!”

Ariciel scratched her cat between the ears.

“Easier than running in Cheetah form, and dare I say it, faster too.”

Stetson and Mareva appeared, mounted on his Elekk, with Morgan in tow. Morgan stared at Ariciel’s cat for a few seconds. It was not a female. There was an Upright sitting on it, and he knew that fighting it would bring on Trouble. It wasn’t food either. He mentally put it in with rocks and plants, and ignored it. Next to arrive were Korenwolf, Kaylad and Tanque, all mounted on rams. Peterselie appeared on her magical horse. Bannog looked round at the menagerie.

“We’ve got an impressive collection of mounts! Is there any mount that we haven’t got yet?”

“Griffins, said Korenwolf. But we can’t use those outside Outland.”

There was a mechanical noise, and they were treated to the sight of five Gnomes mounted on gleaming, metallic, flightless birds. Griggin came in at the head of his family, and waved at the group. Lenna had Bieslook in front of her on her Mechanostrider. Bannog was slightly worried about Bieslook being there. This seemed to be a big battle coming up, and Bieslook was so young. The girl herself, of course, was completely oblivious to this, and looking round with gleaming eyes at all the interesting things.

“We seem to have a larger than usual group of Scourge to the South.,” said Griggin. “Over at Tyr’s Hand.”

“We know,” said Bannog. “Could get messy. Take care!”

“We will,” said Griggin, and waved his family on. “We will see you there.” Griggin started to ride off after them, but then stopped his strider. “Oh. I have just been told that some of our more… exotic allies will be there as well. Before hitting anyone, make sure they are not wearing Argent Dawn tabards.”

“We will,” said Stetson, and waved as the Gnomes disappeared in the distance.

Bannog was riding South. Next to him was Ariciel on her cat. Korenwolf and company, on their faster rams, were a way ahead, though they made sure to wait for the rest of them. Bannog stared straight ahead of him. This could be a big battle. All round them, groups of Alliance troops were making their way. It wasn’t difficult to find. The necropolis hung in the air, like some surreal artist’s fancy. It looked out of place. It was out of place. The crystal underneath was emitting blasts of purple light, as they had all done. Where the flashes of light landed, the Scourge minions would be, waiting.

He drew his sword, peering along the edge. There was a faint glimmer to it, where he’d sharpened it with the sharpening stone he’d got from the Argent Dawn quartermaster. It didn’t look like much, but the difference was very noticable when fighting the Undead. The tiny specks of consecrated stone hurt them far, far more than the cold steel. He grabbed his helmet and put it on, staring ahead through the eye-holes. Taking deep breaths, he prepared himself for battle. His bow was slung to his back, next to his quiver of blackflight arrows. His shield hung behind those, ready for use at a moment’s notice. He glanced round to where Korenwolf was sitting on his ram. As usual, Korenwolf was the leader. He would engage the biggest enemies and keep their attention while the mages, paladins or other people with ranged attacks, poured their fire into them. Bannog and Tanque would run round and take care of any spare enemies that were threatening the squishies. Peterselie and Kaylad would keep an eye on everybody’s health, stay out of sight and shoot healing spells.

Bannog glanced round at Ariciel. With her leather armour and waving white locks, she looked vulnerable. Looks were deceiving. The small silver circlet on her head was of magic, and protected her head almost as well as his steel plate helmet. She had already woven her protective spells. Swords and arrows would meet an invisible barrier before hitting her. Her face was serious and beautiful. Fearless. She caught him staring at her, and smiled. As a Druid, she could do many things: Shoot from a distance, heal, and in animal shape, do the work of a tank. Sometimes, she did all three in a single fight.

It was time to go. Korenwolf stood up in his stirrups, shouted and waved, and they set themselves in motion: Dwarves, Human, Elf, Draenei. At a regular pace, they rode forward. The enemy was there, waiting for them, and battle had already begun. Small groups of fighters, not unlike their own, were attacking the Scourge minions, drawing them out, then attacking them with fire and sword. The air was thick with magic, as the Light healed wounds, turned weapons, and beat upon foes with fire or ice. Korenwolf’s mount sped up, as did Bannog’s. Tanque fell in to the left of his father, sword and shield in hand. A low growl started in Korenwolf’s throat, then slowly developed into a full roar. He had already chosen their target: One of the crystal wizards, with an entourage of Undead.

Without even seeming to slow down, they leapt off their mounts and crashed into the enemy. Bannog shouted, one of the cries that the Stormwind warrior trainer had taught him. It lent strength to himself and all his allies. The battle shout went beyond the simple vibrations of throat and air. He poured his very rage into it, as he slashed out at his first enemy: a filthy ghoul with rotting flesh clinging to dead bones. Joran’s blade, strengthened by magic, bit deep, and the un-creature fell to the ground. The elation of this early victory surged through Bannog, an almost tangible force. As he had been taught, months ago, he changed the pitch and modulation of his battle shout, aiming it at the enemy this time. He sang of death, defeat, pain, despair, all in one terrible note. The undead creatures shook, their hands wavered. Their concentration suffered, and they became easier targets.

Next to Bannog, Korenwolf and his son beat upon a ghostly creature, like several they had fought before. Magic shimmered on their armour and their weapons, as they hit their enemy, and their enemy hit them. Daring to glance behind them, he saw the women were standing far enough apart not to present a single target, close enough to assist each other should they need to. Ariciel was conserving mana by using her Green Fire rather than Moonfire or Starfire. She was shooting at the ghost Korenwolf and Tanque were fighting.

A noise alerted Bannog, and he swung round. Another ghoul. Zombie. Never mind. He parried the bare-fisted blow with his shield, and slammed into the creature, sending it reeling back. He lunged forward, and slashed out with his sword. These Undead weren’t good fighters by any stretch of the imagination, but their indifference to injury, their numbers and sheer mindless determination made them dangerous. The worst thing was that some of these bodies, he recognised as fighters who he’d met before, and who were slain in battle. Their souls passed on, their bodies were jerked back into action, possessed by some foul spirit provided by the Lich King or his minions. It scared him, and it made him angry. Behind the protective steel of his helmet, Bannog’s jaw clenched, and he struck out.

He never did remember how it happened, but one moment he was fighting with Korenwolf and Tanque. The next moment, he found himself alone, in the company of several nasty Undead, who grouped up and lurched at him. Fighting groups of enemies on his own was no new experience to Bannog. He crossed his arms in front of him, concentrated, and blew out an explosion of pure rage, damaging and slowing down the zombies. The enemies did not seem to notice, and kept coming, pounding on Bannog’s armour. Inside his plate, his muscles ached with the brutal impact of naked flesh and steel. With a deft flick, he knocked the sword out of one of the ghouls’ hands, then concentrated his strokes on that opponent while the others kept pounding him. The weaponless ghoul fell over, and he repeated his Thunder Clap. He knew his situation was desperate, but he had one more trick to try. He drew a deep breath, and howled, a piercing, high-pitched noise that cut through armour and protective spells. His enemies covered their ears and whimpered, their concentration smashed. Bannog turned and fled, before the zombies could regroup. Forcing his aching limbs to move, he ran towards some shrubs to hide, heal, regroup. He felt no shame in fleeing. Graveyards and battlegrounds were full of chivalrous people. The winner was the one who drew breath at the end of a battle, nothing more, nothing less.


Ariciel stood a short way off, not in combat at the moment. With a surge of joy, Bannog turned and ran towards her as she threw away an empty bottle of mana potion. Her hands were on him, and magic flowed. The pain faded, and he found he could move normally again. He grinned at her.

“You ‘right?”

“Yeah. Where are the Dwarves?”

“Dunno. Somewhere over there. Incoming!”

Without another word, Bannog rushed at the enemies, followed by Ariciel, who readied herself for more magic. Now that Ariciel was there, Bannog found it easier to defeat multiple enemies. More than once, he felt the touch of Ariciel’s magic, and wounds disappeared. Soon, the last enemy fell. Wasting no time, Bannog sat down, pulled a thin wafer out of his pack, and ate it. Fresh energy filled him. He would never have guessed months ago how important food was in battles, especially this kind of food, replete with magic and energy.

Ariciel was sitting next to him, drinking sweet nectar to replenish her mana pool. Suddenly, her eyes narrowed, and she pointed. Across the field of battle, she could see Stetson and Mareva. Morgan was fighting a group of Undead, all at once, while Stetson and Mareva poured volleys of arrows, fire and lightning into them. They were deadly. Good, because there was no way to get to them. Offering a quick prayer for them to Elune, she finished her drink and put the bottle back in her pack.

Bannog looked at Ariciel, who smiled back.

“Ready for more?”

“Ready. You do look impressive in that armour.”

“Not enough to make them quail and run off, though.”

Ariciel got to her feet. “So hit them.”

“Thanks for the advice, my love. Never would have thought…”

Bannog’s eyes narrowed. He pointed. A little way off, he could see people he recognised: The Steambender family, and they were in over their heads. Thuljuk the Voidwalker was attacking the zombies and Lenna and Griggin were shooting at them. Neither Nix nor Trixie was anywhere to be seen. Bannog was already moving. Ariciel followed him, hands glowing with green fire. Some thirty yards from the Gnomes, Bannog sped up again, too fast even for Ariciel, even though he was wearing plate, and she wasn’t. Bannog smashed into the largest enemy, decapitating it with a single stroke. Then, he once more struck out with lightning and thunder. His sword slashed out at the enemies with deadly precision. They were tough, the re-animated corpses of fallen warriors. Many of them were still wearing the armour they had died in. Bannog shouted at the Gnomes.

“Back! Fall back! Let me take them!”

Griggin and Lenna fell further back, now that their enemies’ attention was no longer on them. Over the noise of the battle, Bannog could hear Griggin chant words of corruption, destruction and death. Before him, the flesh of one of the zombies smoked and disintegrated, and the armour and bones fell to the ground. Warlock magic. Lenna’s yellow bolts of fire alternated with Ariciel’s green ones, burning and blasting the undead. Thuljuk was not idle. With his bare fists, he hammered the Scourge creatures, but even he could not distract them from Bannog. Reunited with Ariciel, his rage knew no bounds. With mighty strokes, he tore through the enemies.

Still, it was not enough. For each ghoul, ghost, zombie that Bannog hewed down, or the others destroyed with magic, more seemed to spring up. Ariciel had stopped firing at the enemies, and was concentrating on healing him. She must have had a potion already. She would run out any time now, and that would be the end. Bannog set his jaw, and redoubled his efforts.

There was a loud, high-pitched cry, coming from Bannog’s right. The air seemed to shimmer as it does on a hot Summer’s day, then smoke. Bannog’s enemies were tossed back like rag dols, and stood about defenselessly, trying to recover. Bannog glanced. A small figure, clad in plate armour bearing the device of the Argent Dawn, covered in the blood of her enemies, came running towards him, a sword almost as long as she was in her tiny four-fingered hands. Without a pause, Trixie charged at the foul creatures that were threatening her family. Unable to choose between the enemies, she struck out at all of them at the same time in a whirlwind of steel. She was not the only new arrival. Every so often, Nix would appear out of nowhere, stabbing out with short sword or dagger. Finally, they ran out of undead for now, and stood still, breathing hard, but grinning at each other. Alive! They sat down and quickly ate, restoring mana and health. Lenna gave a banana to Bieslook, who accepted it gratefully. Bannog finished his battle-food, and closed his pack.

“Is it just me, or are there more than usual?”

“That is correct,” said Griggin. “Normally, the crystal shuts down after producing two-hundred troops. This one has produced about three-hundred.” The old Gnome shook his head. “In base ten, not base twelve. Forgive me. I am a bit too excited for base conversions in my head.”

“I wonder what it means.”

Lenna stirred. “Despite our usual policy, Griggin, I think this is not the place for Bieslook. We must take her to safety.”

Ariciel finished her nectar, and wiped her mouth. “Policy?”

Trixie had removed her helm to eat and drink. She turned her face towards Ariciel.

“Steambenders Always Fight Everywhere Together Year-round. The Year-round is just to spell out Safety.” She looked at her mother. “But I think this is one of those exceptions to the rule. Too many bloody zombies.”

“We cannot simply leave,” said Griggin, a painful expression on his face. “We have not yet repaid our debt to the Argent Dawn.”

Bannog nodded. “Mr. Steambender, if you wish to take Lenna and Bieslook back to the chapel, we can stay with your son and daughter until you return. That way, Steambenders will be in the fight from start to finish.”

Nix looked at Trixie. Trixie looked at Nix. They both looked at Ariciel and sighed, almost imperceptably. Ariciel gave Bannog a weary look. Griggin’s eyes quickly scanned the faces of his family. Then, he nodded.

“That would be most kind. Children, Sir Bannog the Younger is in charge while I am away. I will drop your mother off at the chapel with Bieslook, then return.” He frowned. “Time to see if the turbine enhancer on my strider really works!”

The Mechanostriders of Griggin and Lenna disappeared in the distance. Bannog looked over his army. One Warrior, one Rogue, one Druid. And I, said the fool.

“Right. Tactics, people.”

Trixie reached behind her back, and drew her two-handed sword.

“We see something nasty, we rush it and kill it?”

“That’s it, more or less,” said Bannog. He glanced at Ariciel and Nix. “Anyone not wearing plate, keep your head down, and do your thing from the shadows. Ariciel, can you heal two tanks?”

The Night-elf counted her remaining mana potions.

“I’ll have to. Try not to get hit too often. Are we going to try and find the Dwarves?”

“Sounds like an idea, but knowing Korenwolf, he’ll be in the hottest bit of the fire. Perhaps we should go for Stetson and Mareva first? Then, we’ll have two healers.”

“Alright,” said Ariciel, and pointed. “They’re over there somewhere.”

“Right. As good a direction as any. Everyone ready? Move out!”

They set off at a trot, Bannog first, Trixie last, Nix and Ariciel between them. Trixie reached up and poked Ariciel in the haunches. Ariciel looked round.


“I still don’t like you. We’re allies. Not friends.”


“Just so you know.”

“Save your breath for running, short stuff.”

There were five of them. They had come down from the Necropolis, bearing swords that shone with a deadly light. Some of them had minions in tow, to aid them in fighting. The First surveyed the battle. It was going badly for the Scourge. You can’t win battles with ghosts and creatures that are already falling apart. That would soon change. It was the bidding of the Lich King that they should go down and destroy the Argent Dawn fighters. Then, they were to go to Light’s Hope Chapel, kill all inside and around it, then burn it to the ground. It did not bother them that they would be fighting their former friends and comrades in arms. Those were from the Days Before. They had already given their lives for them. Now, they were Death Knights, thralls of the Lich King. Arthas, the Lich King, was invincible, and to go on breathing was simply prolonging the agony. Much better for all to be united in Death. The First no longer considered himself to be Draenei. To his left and right were two Orcs, a Blood Elf, and a Night Elf. In the Days Before, it would have been unthinkable that they should fight together. Now, they were all the same. All that remained was to eradicate the Living, and then there would be prosperity for all, under the rule of the Lich King. The First raised his hand, then pointed forward. They rode to battle.

They ran into trouble about half of the way to where Stetson and Mareva were last seen. A large number of Undead came down on them, and they were forced to fight. Bannog and Trixie fought side by side, their swords flashing in the sunlight. There was no place for Nix to hide, so he did what he could, attacking any enemy who looked like attacking Ariciel. Ariciel, for her part, kept a sharp eye on Trixie and Bannog, casting regrowth spells where they were needed. With grim satisfaction, Bannog noted that they were holding their own. That little Gnome girl was amazing. Where Bannog liked to make a nice solid stance and slash out with his weapons from behind armour and shield, Trixie was zooming all over the place, slashing at legs, stabbing through the gaps in armour, then quickly retreating.

Bannog and Trixie were closing in on the last two enemies. Undead ones, stolen bodies, when there was a shout from Ariciel.

“Incoming! To the right!”

Trixie launched herself at the last two Scourge minions, while Bannog turned round to look at the ugliest face he’d ever seen outside of nightmares. It belonged to a hulking, large, green-skinned individual with an unkempt mop of reddish hair that made him look like a very agressive rooster. He had a long beak-like nose and great tusks. Twin axes were in his hands. Bannog stared at him, sword raised. The only thing that kept him from striking was that over his armour, the Troll was wearing the tabard of the Argent Dawn. The Troll lurched forward, and with hard strokes of his axes cut down the Scourge minions, much to Trixie’s surprise. With the area clear, the troll turned round to Bannog and grinned. This did not improve his appearance. Bannog still stood there, staring, sword raised.

“Careful where yo point dat thing, mon. We is playing on da same team.”

Bannog said nothing, but lowered his sword.

“Wot da problem, mon? Yo never seen a handsome troll like I?”

Bannog took a deep breath.

“In all honesty, no I haven’t. You with the Argent Dawn then?”

“Ya, mon. Got ta do my bit against those Scourge lichlings. Dem is bad Ju-ju! Eat us all if we don’t do something ’bout it.”

“Yeah. That would be bad. Well. Good luck. Got to see some Draenei and Dwarves. C’mon people! Lots more nasties to get at!” He waved at the troll. “For the… um. Best of luck.”

The troll chuckled. “For da Horde, mon. Stay away from da Voodoo!” He lumbered off in the direction of a group of Zombies, and started ripping them to pieces.

Ariciel finished her last bottle of sweet nectar and lightly tossed it over her shoulder.

“I take it that this is what Mr. Steambender meant by ‘Exotic allies’?”

Nix chuckled. “We’re playing on the same team as Trolls? Sheesh. What’s next? Night-elves?”

Ariciel bent down over him, looking into Nix’ eyes. She ran a finger along his chin.

“At least we’re beautiful. The trees sing to us.”

“We had a king once who talked to trees,” said Nix. “Everyone thought he was mad.”

“Come to Darnassus sometime. You can chat to the protectors there.”

“What about? Dirty talk about bees?”

Bannog knocked on his shield with the hilt of his sword.

“Kids! Scourge zombies to be had. Draenei to track down. Let’s move!”

“Well, take care. I just had the last of my nectar so I’m down to mana potions.”

Bannog nodded, then trotted off, followed by his not-exactly-friends and allies.

“Oh crap.” Tanque pointed. “Those are bad mothers aren’t they?”

Korenwolf looked round in the direction of Tanque’s finger. Several tall warriors came riding down from the hills. Without looking, he grabbed a mana biscuit from his pocket, sat down and munched on it.

“Look sharp, people,” he said, scattering crumbs. He pointed. “That Belf is coming this way. Get ready!”

Peterselie and Kaylad stood up, readying their weapons and their magic. The Blood-elf death-knight drew her sword, slowly surveying the carnage around her. Her glowing eyes settled on Korenwolf and his group of fighters She raised her hand and made a beckoning gesture. Suddenly a lightning arc of sickly purple struck out, and hit Korenwolf in the middle of the chest. The Death-knight closed her fist. and Korenwolf flew towards her, landing in front of her. He rolled over once and was back on his feet, axe ready. He slashed out at the deathly creature, who overlooked him by more than a foot. That in itself didn’t bother him. He was used to that. The Death-knight swung her sword at him, and connected with such force thet Korenwolf rolled over and had to scramble back to get out of her reach and get back to his feet. Kaylad’s hands glowed and a large healing spell sped towards her husband. Tanque shouted and charged in. The Death-knight opened her mouth, and her breath came out in a small cloud of steam. Tanque was covered in ice-cold crystals, and shivered. Peterselie took a deep breath, then let fly with her most powerful Exorcism spell. That did get the Death-knight’s attention. She pointed her hand at Peterselie and screamed. Green fumes struck out at Peterselie. Peterselie bent over and threw up. She couldn’t help herself. Then, shivering with fever, she composed her mind and cast a spell that would cleanse her of the disease. She sighed as she felt the Light purge her of the sickness, but it had cost a lot of her mana. Korenwolf was back on his feet, shouting and charging at this hell-woman. But even his attacks barely dented her armour. The Death-knight took two steps back, readied her sword and looked at the Dwarves. She laughed, then charged in.

They still hadn’t found their friends, and they were under heavy attack. Somewhere in the distance, some particularly bad enemies had shown up and all the more powerful fighters were rushing over. This freed up the lesser enemies to attack them. Bannog was bleeding from several wounds, and Trixie was slowing down, which was dangerous for her. Nix was more or less allright, slipping in and out of sight and striking out with poisoned blades. Ariciel was running low on mana, and she had already taken a potion.

“Out of mana! Going bear-shaped!”

With her last bit of magical energy, Ariciel changed to her bear-shape and attacked the enemies, staying close to Bannog. She had not been hurt, and in her bear-shape, her armour was much stronger. But three defenders and no healers make for a very short-lived fighting force. Bannog was swamped by four ghouls at the same time, and did what he could, blasting them with thunder claps. He was doing lots of damage, but still it was not enough. Ariciel charged in to defend her love, roaring as she went, ripping limbs off the uncaring undead creatures, who did not even seem to notice, but kept coming till they could no longer move. Finally, finally, they managed to get the number of enemies down to just two of the Undead. Bannog was on his last legs, dodging for all he could. With a final great shout, he slashed out at the creature in front of him, cutting it in two. Its mate took the chance, and struck hard at Bannog’s side, just before Trixie killed it with a double-handed backstroke. Bannog fell down on his face, and tried to get up. He couldn’t. Next to him, he heard Ariciel yelp in her bear-shape. Turning his head, he saw her large bulk lying on the floor. It seemed to fade, and then, Ariciel was lying on the ground next to him, in her Elf-shape once more.

“Oh shit oh shit oh shit.”

Trixie was next to them, on one knee, leaning on her sword. Nix was sitting on the ground, his head in his hands, not saying anything. Out of energy, out of poison, out of everything.

Wincing with pain, Trixie pulled herself to her feet, and slung her sword on her back. She closed her eyes, pulled off her helm and looked round. A strange hush had come over the battlefield. What the… She looked again at Bannog and Ariciel. Oh shit. They did not look good. Not good at all. Nix was slowly rocking back and forth, whimpering quietly.


Nix kept rocking, saying nothing.

“Nix you lazy sod! Look at me!”

There was a pause, as Trixie’s voice made its way through the clouds around Nix’ thoughts. Then, his eyes slowly moved up to his sister.


Trixie closed her eyes briefly. The big lug and his girlfriend were out. Nix was no use at all at the moment. To be honest, she wasn’t feeling too hot herself. But she was probably in the best shape between them. She took a deep breath. It hurt. Probably cracked a rib or something. She took another breath. Better.

“Right. Nix? Nix! I’m going to get help. Can’t carry the big ones. Are you alright?”

Nix closed his eyes. “Will be. Just give moment.”

“You keep them safe. I’m going to find some healers.”

“‘Right. Seeyou. Be careful sis.”

Trixie winced. “Wrong place to be careful.” She bent over him, whispering in his ear. “If anything bad shows up, run. More living Steambenders always better.”

“Yeah sis.”

Trixie pulled out the control to her mechanostrider and pressed the button. The elaborate mechanism unfolded and shaped itself in the shape of a flightless bird. With some difficulty, Trixie got on, cast a final longing glance at her brother, then galloped off.

Bannog was dying. He was getting worse, not better, with the respite in the fight. He opened his eyes and looked at Ariciel, who was lying on the ground next to him, looking at him with eyes that glowed too dimly. He could see now what colour they really were. Grey. He smiled, and she smiled back.

“Don’t suppose… you have any mana left?”

“Not. A shimmer. I’d give you…”

With some effort, Bannog moved his arm, and touched Ariciel’s hand.

“I’m glad you’re with me.”

Ariciel blinked slowly.

“Bearwalker. Said whatever… you want to do… don’t put off.”

“Bit… late.” Bannog coughed, and pain coursed through his body.

“Longer… life means nothing in a war.”

“Goodbye… my love.”

“Good… bye.”

They said nothing more. Bannog’s vision blurred, and darkness closed in on him. Despite all, he felt happy. The last thing he’d seen was the woman he loved. The last thing he’d done was defend her. As a Warrior he could ask no more. Time for a sleep.

Copyright: © 2008,2009,2010 Menno Willemse. All rights reserved.


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