Part 11: The cold hard lands to the North

She was beautiful. Shimmering pale skin, a flawless face, partly hidden under her hood, smiling at her. Brilliant white wings fanned lazily back and forth, clearly nothing to do with the fact that she was floating in the air. Ariciel could not stop staring at her, though this new body shape was unlike any she’d ever experienced before. She was a wisp, like a dandelion seed floating freely in the air. She had no eyes, but could see perfectly. She had no mouth, but still, she spoke.

“Who are you?”

The white woman’s eyes shone with a light that managed to be both cold and friendly.

“I am your spirit healer. I am here to cleanse your spirit of impurities and hurts, and to send you on.”

Ariciel felt sad.

“Am I dead, then?”

“Indeed you are not. You fly. You see. You speak. You… are.”

“Is Bannog alive?”

“I don’t know. The person you speak of may be in the arms of another spirit healer. I know only you.”

“Will I see him again?”

“No. You will become a new person. So will he. There will be no ‘you’ to see him again. You may see him again for the first time in your new life, but you will not know.”

“Can’t I return to Azeroth, and see him?”

“Perhaps. But you would return to pain, to your poor wounded body. He may not be there. Would you chance that?”

“Yes.”

“Then someone in Azeroth must call you back. I cannot send you, regrettably. I can only send you forward. Will you come with me?”

“Do I have to?”

“Eventually, yes. You must move, or stay here forever.”

“Can I wait?”

“Of course. But what for?”

“Something might happen.”

The pale woman smiled.

“I doubt it. Hardly anything ever happens here. But still, you can wait.”

“How much time do I have?”

“Eternity.”


Bannog opened his eyes. It was early in the afternoon, and the sun was high in the sky. He was lying in a tent somewhere, on a camp bed, covered with a blanket. Slowly, carefully, he took stock of his body. His hand was on the pillow in front of him. He could move his fingers. His legs responded, if feebly. His other arm? There it was, under the blanket, Light be thanked. He tried to sit up, reeled and quickly lay back down again. Bad idea. Take it easy. His eyes slowly managed to focus on things farther away. In front of him was another camp bed. Bannog held his breath. On the camp bed lay the still form of a Night-elf. He knew who it was. Nobody else had hair quite that white. She was lying with her back to him, and he could not see her move. His stomach clenched. Was she alive? Was he in a place of healing, or was he in a place where the dead were laid up prior to burial? His arm was slow to respond to his command, but eventually, he managed to raise it and reach over. His hand hovered over the white hair, not daring to touch for fear of what he might find out. He lowered his hand, and his fingers brushed her cheek. Bannog closed his eyes. It felt warm! Warm! The big Warrior sobbed. She was alive! As if to answer him, Ariciel stirred, then rolled onto her back. She turned her head under Bannog’s hand and looked at him, eyes shining once more with a bright pale grey light. She smiled. Put her hand on his.

“Hello, my love.” Her voice croaked, and she coughed.

“Ariciel.”

For the longest time, neither of them spoke, they simply looked at each other, not worrying where they were or how they got there. There was a noise outside, and the door of the tent opened. In looked the face of a Night-elf, long black hair flowing down to his shoulders, a slight smile on his lips.

“I do declare, Mr. Bannog. You have an uncanny ability to return from the Dead.”

Bannog gaped. “Bayliss?”

“Eyesight and cognitive facilities returning to normal. Excellent.”

Bannog sat up, with more success than last time.

“How did we get here?”

“Your Gnomish friend found us, and directed us to you. Quite an energetic young lady.”

Ariciel raised herself on her elbow.

“Trixie?”

“Indeed. Miss Steambender.”

Ariciel fell silent. She had not expected that, and felt ashamed of not expecting it. After all, she herself would have. Bannog sighed. It was time for that old, loathsome game of “who’s still here”.

“Any news from our other companions?”

“I don’t know them, but many were slain, I’m afraid, before the Death Knights left.”

“Who healed us?” Ariciel sat up, and swung her legs over the edge of the bed.

“I did. Quite a challenge, actually. Mr. Bannog here was worst off, but you had sustained extensive internal injuries. I had to use my most powerful spells.”

Ariciel looked at Bayliss, and swallowed. “Using maple seed?”

“Please. I am not an amateur, nor am I a Druid. If I were, I would use Flintweed seed.”

Ariciel took a deep breath, and slowly let it out. This was the kind of spell that you really, really did not discuss in front of anyone but other Elves, and then only Elves in the know. It dealt with that significant hair’s breadth that separated the very critically injured from… those worse off.

“May the blessings of Elune follow you always,” said Ariciel. “Can we get up?”

“You can. Though extensive, your injuries were not complicated like some others.”

They walked out of the tent, to find Captain Swann and the rest of the twenty-fifth light infantry outside. Bannog walked up to the captain and saluted.

“Since when do bloody civilians salute army people mister Bannog?”

“Sorry cap’n. Force of habit.”

“Hah. I suppose you will drain Army resources even further by eating our food and drinking our drink?”

“I s’pose. On behalf of the Redridge citizenry I thank you for your generosity.”

Ariciel had joined him, and leaned against him. She looked amused.

“My love, your accent gets thicker when you’re around these people. Why’s that?”

“My dear, I do so to protect my reputation as a bona fide yokel from what is colloquially known as ‘The Sticks’. Shall we move to our repast?”

“Oh hell yeah!”

Nix, Trixie and Griggin were sitting by the fire, half-way through an enormous lunch with the soldiers. Trixie pointed at Ariciel.

“You owe me a lifetime of hangover cures, bitch!”


Korenwolf stared into the fire, with an indescribable expression on his bearded face. Healers were still working on Tanque. Kaylad was leaning against him, eyes closed. She had spent every last drop of mana in her pool healing Tanque, till Wolf told her to get out of there and let the others do their bit. Peterselie was sitting nearby, arm in a sling, looking angry, but without the energy to support that anger. However you looked at it, they had just had their arses handed to them. They were lucky to be alive. Even their combined effort had not been enough even to hurt the Blood-elf death-knight seriously. Korenwolf growled.

“I still don’t get it. The bastards had us, no doubt. We couldn’t touch them. And then they just look at each other, put away their swords and bugger off. What the hell is going on?”

Kaylad opened her eyes.

“I just hope Tanque is alright. He took a beating.”

Korenwolf stared at his feet. Taking the biggest beating was his job. He was equipped to deal with it. They had never been outclassed this way before. Peterselie looked at his face.

“Wolf?”

“What?”

“They were stronger than we were. Bound to happen at some point. What can ye do?”

Korenwolf gave Peterselie a hard look.

“I’ll tell ye. We’re going to find out what we need to know to beat these undead bastards, and then we’re going to beat eighty different colours of shit out of ’em. We’re off to Northrend.”

“After they heal Tanque,” said Kaylad.

Wolf nodded. “After they heal Tanque.”


“I think they’re gone,” said Mareva.

Stetson nodded, just as a response to words being spoken, not because he was paying attention. He was on his knees next to Morgan, trying to feed him small bits of meat. He’d cleaned the wounds, put on bandages, and used his Hunter’s magic to heal his pet as best he could. He gently scratched the big cat between the ears. Mareva put her hand on his shoulder, and knew better than to ask Stetson how Morgan was. Mareva’s Healing Stream totem stood nearby. As she watched, it sputtered and went out. She replaced it with a fresh one. Mareva could not remember ever cutting it this close before, not even at Caer Bannog. They owed both their lives to the animal that now lay heavily wounded before them in a secluded spot. The enemies they had faced were not strong, but they were many, especially with the powerful fighters drawn off to fight those abominations of Nature that had come from the Necropolis.

Mareva shuddered at the memory. As a Shaman, she was sensitive to the spirits of all things. The Death-knights were abhorrent, beyond foul, beyond evil, the enemy of all that lived. She had screamed, the first time she aimed her senses at them. And then, suddenly, as though a light had been switched off, they had changed. They had simply left, leaving their battle unfinished. Mareva sighed, wondering if any of her friends had survived. Bannog, the Dwarves, the Gnomes, Ariciel.

Stetson dropped the bag of meat that Morgan would have swallowed in one go if he had been healthy. He looked up at Mareva, his eyes moist. Mareva knelt beside him, and pulled his large head to her shoulder, muttering small reassuring words. Stetson looked up, then laid his hand on Morgan’s head. Once more, he chanted the syllables of healing. Morgan whimpered, moved a bit and lay back down.

“I can mend him. He will walk again. It’ll just take time. And he’s in such pain.”

“Can we move him?”

“No. The wounds would open again and he would die.” Stetson looked at Mareva. “We may be here for a while.”

Mareva got to her hooves, and closed her eyes, remembering this place.

“Then I’ll go back to Light’s Hope Chapel and bring back supplies. Will you be alright here? Can you hide?”

“I have ways of staying out of combat. Thank you.”

Mareva smiled. “Anything for you.”

She changed to her ghost wolf travel form and ran off in the direction of the chapel. Stetson looked after her.

“Thank you, and hurry back,” he said. In a whisper, he added, “My love.” He turned back to Morgan, and once more cast his healing spells.


“Trixie! Big sis!” Bieslook ran at her adopted sister, head-butted her and wrapped her arms round her. “You are alright.”

Trixie lifted Bieslook off the ground, and held her up. “I’m more than alright! I’m excellent! I’m the best!” Bieslook giggled.

Lenna looked her children up and down, making sure they still had all their limbs. Then she hugged them both. Griggin stood a few steps away, smiling. The family was back together, as it should be.

Ariciel looked round, and spotted Kaylad arguing with an armoursmith over the price of repairing her armour. She called, waved and ran over.

“Nine gold? Why I ought to smack you, ye bastard.”

“Yeah yeah. Want your kit repaired or not? You’re always welcome to check out the competition, of course. Oh wait. There isn’t any!”

“Sod you. I’m off to Ironforge. Wouldn’t trust you bloody lugs to get the rivets straight anyway.”

“Kaylad!” Ariciel slapped the Paladin’s shoulder. “You’re alive! How’s Korenwolf? Peterselie? Tanque?”

Kaylad grinned, though Ariciel noticed dark rings below her eyes. “Alive and well, alive and well, and alive and milking his sick leave for what it’s worth, bless him. How about you?”

“All the Gnomes are good. Bannog’s alive, though he had a narrow escape. How are you?”

Kaylad gave her a weary smile. “I’ll live. I’ll have to. If I’m not there, Wolf will just get lost in Northrend.”

“Northrend?”

“Cold hard place up in the North. You can get to it on those new ferries. Don’t go there before you’re ready though.”

“Other places to go first. Well, we’re over where Ops used to be, if you need us. If I don’t see you, Goddess watch over you.”

“Thanks.”

Kaylad scowled at the armoursmith, waved at Ariciel and trotted towards the Chapel. Ariciel walked back to her friends. Her mouth fell open. Talking to Bannog was Mareva! Elune be praised, she was alive. But where was Stetson? She walked up to her just as Mareva finished talking.

“…hiding in a small vale between two mountains, nursing Morgan back to health. I need to bring him food and drink.”

Ariciel said nothing, grabbed Mareva’s shoulders and hugged her.

“I’m so glad to see you.”

Mareva smiled, hand slowly stroking Ariciel’s back.

“And I. But I need to get back to Stetson.”

“Want help?”

“That would be most welcome.”


They were riding across the battlefield. Mareva was riding with Bannog, Ariciel was mounted on her cat. The ground was littered with bones. The wounded and dying had been removed, and Priests were doing their rounds, casting holy spells on the bones, to keep them from being used by necromancers. Mareva tapped Bannog’s shoulder.

“Please ride on. I can feel the suffering.”

Bannog nodded, and spurred on his horse. They came to Stetson’s hiding place, and dismounted. Mareva called out, and Stetson’s voice replied. They all knelt by the big cat, who was now lying on his stomach once more, head raised, much interested in the lumps of meat Mareva had brought. Ariciel laid both hands on Morgan’s back, and cast Regrowth. Stetson sighed, finally daring to relax a bit.

“He will be fine. Though those bald patches will look silly for a while. In a day, he will be able to run. Less, with more healers on hand.”

Mareva pointed at Stetson. “I am taking you to bed. You have not slept in two nights.”

Stetson looked at Morgan doubtfully, but Ariciel sat down next to the big cat.

“Be off with you! You’ve had the best offer you’re likely to get. We’ll watch over Morgan.”

Bannog sat down, back to a tree. Ariciel moved in front of him, close enough to Morgan to cast healing spells on him without getting up. Bannog wrapped his arms round her, and they watched Mareva maneuver herself and her big Hunter friend into the sleeping bag Ariciel had given her. They whispered in their own language. In minutes, Stetson was asleep. Ariciel laid her hands on Morgan and cast another healing spell. Morgan yowled, and moved closer to the Human and the Elf. Bannog scratched his big head, then dropped his arm back round Ariciel. Morgan stuck his head under Bannog’s arm. He sighed, and resumed scratching. Ariciel giggled.

“You have a job, my love.”

“Bannog of Caer Bannog. Slayer of Mages, Siege-breaker of the Castle. Destroyer of Undead. Scratcher of Cats.”

“Mustn’t forget Hugger of Elves.”

“Always the way. Kill lots of mages, Kill lots of Orcs, Zombies, Ghouls, Ghosts even, and nobody notices. But you hug one Elf…”

Ariciel elbowed him. “I know that joke, and I’m not a goat!”

“Nice Elves aren’t supposed to know that joke.”

“I’m not a particularly nice Elf.”

“But I love you anyway.”

Ariciel made herself more comfortable. “Nice to know.”

Night fell over the Eastern Plaguelands.


It was a fairly large group that arrived in Stormwind. The Steambenders, who were going home to their place near the Harbour, Korenwolf and family, who were catching the ferry to Northrend, Stetson and Mareva, who were riding with Bannog and Ariciel prior to leaving for the Dark Portal and Outland, as it was now called. Peterselie had been dropped off in Ironforge. Bannog sniffed the air. Not a hint of zombie. Just healthy sea breeze. The skies were empty of huge stone structures that shouldn’t be there. There was a feeling of watchful optimism. Korenwolf shook his head.

“We ain’t seen the last of those Death Knights, mark my words. They’re not just going to turn friendly on us, so we’d better be ready to give ’em a warm welcome when we meet ’em again.”

“I trust you to,” said Bannog. “But before I start out again, I need to have many a serious talk with my father.”

“If you make your way to Northrend, give us warning and head for Valiance Point. We’ll help you find your feet there. Well, ferry’s leaving. We’re off.”

Hands were shaken and the Dwarves galoped off to the harbour. Lenna took Bieslook’s hand, and smiled at the company.

“I suppose we’d better see if the house is still standing. If ever you’re here, drop in for a cuppa.”

“Indeed,” said Griggin. “We are deservedly famous for our Espresso coffee and many other things.”

“Yeah, just mind your head when you come in,” said Nix. “The place is designed for normal-size people.”

Ariciel ruffled Bieslook’s hair, smiling. The Gnomes said their goodbyes and left, leaving only Bannog, Ariciel, Stetson and Mareva. And Morgan, who was nudging his boss for more food. Stetson accidentally dropped a bit of boar meat, but luckily Morgan was quick enough to catch it.

“Fly or ride?” asked Bannog.

“Ride,” said Stetson. “Morgan needs the exercise.”

They mounted up, and made their way south through Elwynn Forest, and back to the Redridge Mountains in the East. Bannog smiled broadly as his neck of the woods came into view. At the last crossroads before the castle, they halted.

“This is where we say goodbye, my friends,” said Stetson. “We are going to Shattrath City, to take counsel.”

“You’re not coming to the castle with us?” Ariciel looked sad. Mareva slowly shook her head.

“No. We must find the Naaru A’Dal, and ask him for advice. I am afraid it will not wait.”

Ariciel dismounted, put her arms round Mareva, and looked deep into her eyes.

“I’ll miss you. If I sort it out with Bannog, I could give you a proper farewell.”

Mareva smiled. “Better not,” she said. “I am not sure how our respective males would respond to that.” She ran a finger through Ariciel’s hair. “You are my friend, and I love you. I do not need to take your clothes off to express those feelings.”

“Might be nice though.”

“Certainly, but like Qrovna, it might lead to headaches later on.”

The Draenei mounted up again, waved at the Human and the Elf and rode off to the south. Ariciel watched them, a small smile on her face. She leaned back against Bannog.

“I’ve been dropped,” she said.

“Huh?”

“I’ve never lost any girlfriend to an other! I still love her, she still loves me, but still. I’ve been dropped.”

“Well, you’re not alone. And it isn’t like you were… well, at it.”

“I know. But still, it was nice to think I could have asked her.” She looked round. “Given you agree, of course.”

“Hmm. You Elves have complicated lives.”

“That, my love, is a true word. Especially if you involve Others as well.”

“Let’s go home.”


The drawbridge was down, and the doors were open. The Alliance flag waved in the breeze on the flag-pole on the Keep as they rode in. Quartermaster grinned broadly at them, and pointed at Bannog’s shoulders.

“Those are the flashiest things I’ve ever seen on anyone! Do they make the enemy fall over laughing?”

“You don’t get out much, do you?” said Bannog. “Everyone wears them these days.”

“Joy to the world! You’re late for dinner. I suppose the poor cook will have to slave just for you? Again?”

“Only if it doesn’t inconvenience her. Wouldn’t want to inconvenience a cook!”

Ariciel jumped off her cat, and the magical creature disappeared. Quartermaster gaped, but before he could comment, Ariciel pointed her finger at him.

“Have you seen Puissance? When I left she was in a bad way. I want to see if she’s alright.”

Quartermaster gave her a strange look. “Young Phyllis? Sure. She’s probably in the dining hall, reading up on her devilish arts.”

“Thanks!” Ariciel trotted off, with Quartermaster looking after her. He shook his head, and started negotiations with the kitchen.


“You complete and utter bitch!” Puissance’s eyes glowed at Ariciel. “You stupid piece of…” She raised a finger. “One thing I asked of you. One thing only. Do you even remember what it was? I bet you don’t. Do not tell anyone I like girls, is what I asked. Not tell people to be bloody nice to me. Just keep your painted little face shut about who I like to have in my bed. And what do you do?” Puissance’s fist hammered on the table. “You rush off to the daughter of the castle and blab to her!”

Ariciel’s mouth fell open. “I’m sorry. I didn’t… she guessed it. Oh Puissance, I’m so sorry!”

“Oh Ariciel, what blinding difference does that make? Stars and stones! The night after you left, Selena was lying all the way on the edge of the bed! One inch further and she’d have dropped off! She’d have hidden in the closet if she could! Puissance, I don’t do girls!” She rolled her eyes. “As if! The scrawny little thing hardly knows what the bit between her legs is there for! Gods!” Puissance took a deep breath. “So now the whole sodding castle knows! Everybody keeps giving me strange looks whenever they see me. The men think they can help me over it. The women are scared that they might catch it! Oh, and do you know the best bit?”

Ariciel stared at Puissance, eyes large, and shook her head. A smile slowly appeared on Puissance’s face.

“Of course. You just got here, so you don’t know what they’re saying. Ran straight to poor Puissance to see how she was doing.” She got up from the table, and stepped forward. “Well… mustn’t spoil a good rumour.”

Before Ariciel could do anything, Puissance pulled Ariciel towards her, one hand behind her back, the other in her hair. She put her lips on Ariciel’s. Ariciel stepped back, but Puissance followed her till she backed into a table. Her hand slowly slid up Ariciel’s side, to her breast. Suddenly, she jerked away her head. She gave Ariciel a smile that had nothing to do with joy, and everything with teeth, breathing hard.

“Oh… that was nice! Welcome home, my love!”

She turned round, swiped her scrolls off the table and disappeared into the hallway. Ariciel touched her lip, then looked in amazement at the blood on her fingers. Almost without thinking, she directed a little healing magic to her lip, and it sealed up.

“What the…”

As Ariciel gazed round the room, people quickly turned their eyes away and went on with what they were doing.

“What the…”

The door opened and Bannog came in, looking round the room. He spotted her and smiled at her.

“Hungry? The cook is making a big bowl of soup because she loves me. Purely in a clothes-on way of course. Come over to the kitchen if you…” He looked at Ariciel’s expression. “What’s up, my love?”

“Puissance. She…”

“Oh she was going upstairs. You must have missed her.”

“The hell I did!”


“I wonder if he knows.” One of the soldiers watched Bannog as he walked past. “Maybe he does, but she’s got him under a spell and he can’t resist her.”

“That’s a load of rubbish, Ronald,” said Smitty. “That’s not what Druid magic is about. It’s about healing and fighting. Animal shapes. You’ve seen her at it.”

“Yeah, but that may not be all she can do. I hear those Elf lassies use magic in the sack.”

“Bah. Wishful thinking, that is.”

“And they don’t keep themselves to a single lover, either.”

“Hah! And that’s even more wishful thinking! Mate, if you’re that curious, go find your own Elf. This one’s taken.”

“Pff. If she’s got two already, there’s always room for one more. Not that I would like to explain that to Bannog Junior, mind.”

“Yeah. Keep that in mind. Pissing off the boss is generally not good for your health. Well, my watch is coming up. See you later, and stay away from that Elf!”


“Puissance?”

“Yes, dearest?”

“I want to apologise. I’m sorry I let your secret out, but I only wanted to help you.”

Puissance was lying on her bed, reading a dark scroll of Warlock magic.

“Well, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Trust me. I know. Demons go dancing on your good intentions.” Puissance glared at Ariciel. “To err is Human. Or Elf. To forgive is divine. And I am no goddess. I’m going to make sure that you know exactly what it’s like to be completely alone in a castle full of people. Now piss off. I have reading to do.”

“But… please. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

Puissance jumped to her feet and slapped Ariciel in the face.

“But I bloody well mean to hurt you, bitch! Think you feel sorry now? I haven’t even started yet! Now get the hell out of my room, you long-eared freak!”


Bannog was on his way upstairs to the library, when he saw Puissance coming out of her room. He walked over to her.

“Puissance? About Ariciel… could you…”

“Oh, she’s lovely isn’t she? So affectionate and enthusiastic. I feel blessed that she should choose me.”

“Eh?”

“Communion of body and spirit. Such a beautiful ritual.”

“Phyllis, what are you on about?”

“Why, Ariciel, sharing her body with me silly!”

“Yeah, right. I don’t know what you’re playing at, but Ariciel getting naked with you? I find that a tad hard to believe.”

“What? She didn’t tell you? Well, if she didn’t, then how do I know…” Puissance continued in a whisper. “Where her piercings are?”

“You don’t believe her, do you?” Ariciel looked at Bannog, eyes large with fear. Bannog smiled, and put his arms round her. He pulled her to him, and ran his big hand over her white hair.

“Not for a moment. Even if I found you and her naked in my bed, I would assume you had a good reason for being there. I trust you with my life. That stupid girl has it in for you, I can see that.” Bannog frowned. “So you let it slip that she likes girls. Big bloody deal. It’s not as if we didn’t think she was weird already! Her and her demons. Still.”

“What?”

“She knew about your piercings. She said she’d done it with you and found your piercings. Have I found them all?”

Ariciel gave him a wavering smile. “Yes. There aren’t many places where you can have them, really. Lots of Elves have them. Four is all there are.” She raised her blouse, revealing her stomach. “Maybe she spotted the one I don’t mind showing to all and sundry and took a chance from there.”

“Hmm. So your telling me to keep looking…”

“An evil ploy, I’m afraid.”

“Naah. Good ploy. I’ll keep looking. Maybe you put one somewhere and forgot about it.”

“Bannog?”

“Yes?”

“I love you.”


“So. We’re at war again.”

“Yes. Your king challenged our Lord Thrall in Under-city. A foolish thing to do.”

“My king is, of course, the wisest of all, and a brave leader of our people. And he’s been fighting Orcs all his life. So he might be disinclined to consider that your lord Thrall might have had some valid reasons for being there.” Old Bannog rubbed his beard. “So I’ll be forced to send out more patrols looking for you evil buggers. I suspect we’ll be searching all round the Tower of Ilgalar without seeing as much as a tusk or a glint of steel.”

“Likewise, I predict that we will be unable to catch you sneaks at Render’s Valley.”

“Hmm. I suspect that we might catch one of your warriors though, and torture the whereabouts of your search parties out of him. Mind you. Our questioners need a bit of practice. They are quite likely to let slip where we are going next.”

Gharash laughed.

“Do they keep the keys to the cells on their belts?”

“Pff. I’d be surprised if they even remember to lock the cells in the first place.”

Gharash sighed, and shook his head.

“What a farce. We waste our time and blood fighting each other, while the Scourge sits by and watches.”

“We are simply holding up the war. When the Scourge comes knocking on our door, there will be more of your warriors, and mine, to fight them.”

“Remember. If I am ordered directly to attack your castle, I cannot refuse. Nor would I expect you to.”

“Understood.”


Ariciel searched her memory. Ah.

“Ronald, right?”

“Aye. Well?”

“Well. You are a happily married man, are you not?”

“Could always be happier. So I thought I’d give the Elf way a try.”

“The… Elf way?”

“Yeah. Where you can do it with as many people as you like and nobody minds.”

“Ah. That Elf way. You haven’t actually met any Elves before me, have you?” She gave him a smile with menaces. “With your clothes off, I mean?”

“Well, no, but… first time for everything.”

“And it didn’t occur to you to, oh, find out a bit more before asking me to cheat on Bannog?”

“Uh… It wouldn’t be cheating if it was you, would it, Miss?”

“But would it be cheating if it were you?”

“Miss?”

“If you were doing it, would it be cheating?”

“Um.”

“Um indeed. Now I’m only just learning about Human mating habits, but from what little I know, I would think that if your wife would find out about it, she’d stab you in your sleep. And then she would stab me, fully awake. And rightly so. I don’t like to be stabbed.”

“But Miss, Lady Puissance said she wouldn’t mind sharing!”

Ariciel gave Ronald a look that made him wilt on the spot.

“I bet she wouldn’t.” She moved a bit closer. “The answer is no. Not in a hundred years. And Elves can live for a hundred years, no problem.”

“Huh. Well, if you think you’re too good for me, let’s see how Bannog Junior likes you double-timing him with that Warlock girl.”


“Of course I won’t deny it,” said Bannog. “That’d only make things worse. People will think you’ve got me enchanted or something.” He sighed. “I really don’t see what we can do about it. Ride it out. She’ll get tired of it at some point.”

Selena pushed a mug of tea over to Ariciel on the kitchen table.

“I never knew Puss could be that nasty. I have to admit she’s perfectly nice to me.” Selena frowned. “But then, she would have to be.”

“You’re not afraid she fancies you, are you?” Ariciel looked at Selena nervously. “She said you were nervous around her.”

“Oh I was. Having her hands all over me would gross me out like anything. But she never made any moves in that direction.” Selena took a sip of tea. “She’s got her own room now, anyway. Good thing, too. She was getting on my tits for lots of other reasons.”

“In a manner of speaking,” said Bannog.


Puissance smiled at Ariciel. “You don’t like it? Well, I suppose we could kiss and make up.” Her hand brushed away her robe, revealing a bit more of her chest. “What do you say? Show me some of that Elf magic and I’ll lay off you. For a while, at least.”

“Very funny. Now lay off, or else.”

“Or else what? In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m the Human. You’re the stranger. You’re here because people tolerate your presence. I belong here. And I’ll make sure that people will not tolerate you here for much longer.”

Ariciel leaned over to Puissance.

“I said I was sorry for letting out your dirty little secret. Soon, I won’t be.”

Puissance put her hand on Ariciel’s chest and pushed, making her stagger back. She drew back her arm and aimed her fist at Ariciel’s cheek. Ariciel caught it in her own hand and held it, even when Puissance tried to pull it back.

“Getting hands-on with a feral Druid of the Cenarion Circle? That is unwise.”

“Oh do go on and hit me. Give me a nice black eye. See how they like that here. You’ll be back up your tree before you know it.”

“Sod you.”

“Precisely. Now fuck off and die.”


She’d found the perfect place, on the roof of the keep, hidden behind one of the mini-balistas, back to the wooden frame. Nobody came looking for her here. Perfect for a few moments without Puissance fawning over her. Or rather, pretending to. Her face was completely still, as she watched the sunset. The stupid girl would win. She was right. She was the Human, and knew all about their habits. She knew nothing. Except for one thing. She smiled. Bannog loved her, and trusted her. But even he would, at some point, be affected by this. If Puissance convinced enough people that she was in bed with Ariciel, Bannog’s reputation would suffer for allowing it to continue. At some point, the damage would be too much and she’d have to leave. Bannog would, could, never come with her if that happened. Her smile faded. Not after all they’d been through together. If anyone were to be expelled from the castle, then it should be the most deserving girl. She briefly closed her eyes and thought. Then, jaw set, she got to her feet and walked down the stairs.


Quartermaster grinned.

“Be with you in a minute. We’re just torturing a captive Orc.” He looked over his shoulder. “I think he may be about to break.”

“Cease! No more! North of Alther’s Mill, you fiends!” Gorm Bladebreaker pushed his mug back across the table. “Now give me the good stuff. No Orc should know what watered-down Redridge claret tastes like.”

“Oh my, said Quartermaster. No wonder we won’t be able to find you at Stonewatch Falls. Well. I’m sure we won’t have to watch the door. He’s too exhausted to escape.”

“Not before I finish this, Human,” said Gorm, draining his mug.


Ariciel came into the dining hall like a whirlwind, looked round till she saw Puissance and stomped over to her. She put her fists on the table and stared hard at the dark-haired Warlock girl.

“What the hell are you playing at?” Ariciel was blessed with a healthy pair of lungs, and was using them to full effect.

Puissance smiled.

“I don’t know what you are talking about, my dear,” she murmured.

“Like hell you don’t! Hiding in the closet? Doesn’t know what the bit between her legs is there for? Why are you spouting filth like that?”

“I don’t know who you’ve been listening to, but…”

“Don’t give me that! Do you want to deny saying it? By the Light, you don’t even fancy her! Scrawny little thing was it?” Ariciel took a deep breath, and looked into Puissance’s eyes. “What you do to me, for whatever reason, fine. I can take it. I’m a big girl. But getting at me by scaring the wits out of Selena? I will not allow that to happen.” Ariciel’s fist pounded on the table, punctuating every word.

“Selena. Does. Not. Do. Girls!”


Old Bannog stared at the Night-elf, who looked at his desk, not meeting his eyes.

“Before you left for Light’s Hope Chapel, you said that Puissance was no more likely to seduce Selena than you were.”

“Yes, Sir,” said Ariciel.

“Do you have cause now to revise that statement?”

“Sir, Puissance has a grievance against me. I fear she might try to hurt me, or pressure me, by threatening Selena.”

“That’s not a light accusation, Ariciel. Are you sure?”

Ariciel looked up.

“It is what I fear. Whether she would actually harm Selena, I cannot say. I do not know what a Human woman like her is capable of.”

“Hmm.” Old Bannog calmly gazed at the Night-elf in front of him.

“The words you spoke of. ‘Hiding in the closet’, ‘Doesn’t know what’ and so on. Who told you these words?”

“Sir, I heard them from Puissance, in the dining hall when I returned.”

“Might anyone have overheard those words?”

“Possibly. I was not paying attention to those around us.”

“So if you heard these words on your return, then why not comment on them there and then?”

“Sir, I was badly shaken.” Ariciel looked down. “I did betray her confidence. I did not realise what she had said until much later.”

“Ah,” said Old Bannog. “The broken promise.”

“Yes.”

“So she actually has a point.”

“I’m afraid so,” said Ariciel. “I should not have let her secret slip to Selena, nor should I have told you.”

“And she thought to retaliate by spreading rumours about you.”

Ariciel swallowed. “Yes.”

“Hmm. Well, I’ll have a word with her and see what I can do. You may go.”

Ariciel said nothing, and got up to leave.

“Oh. Ariciel?”

“Sir?”

“I do not like having to do this. I have better things to do with my time. The Scourge is moving. Nameless horrors are stalking the lands. That damn fool King Varian is set to start another war with the Horde, to the ruin of all. Next time, find your own way to sort out your differences.”

“Yes, Sir.”


“She’s lying. I never said anything like that.”

“Oh?” Old Bannog gave Puissance a friendly smile. “Then why is one of my soldiers claiming that you did?”

“I don’t know. Which soldier?”

“Oh, my most reliable one. You were expressing an interest in certain parts of my daughter’s body, if I’m not mistaken.”

“Never. The Night-elf made that up.”

“If she did, then she also persuaded a soldier to lie on her behalf. Is that what you’re trying to tell me?”

“Sir, we all know what Night-elves are capable of. They can use their looks and their magic to influence the minds of others.”

“So, in short, you hold that Ariciel put words in your mouth, then used her Night-elf wiles to persuade a soldier to lie about it?”

“I never said those words. What else could it be?”

Old Bannog dropped the friendly smile.

“What grievance do you have against Lady Ariciel?”

“What?”

“Why do you feel moved to encourage soldiers to try and invite her into their bed?”

“I never…”

“Why do you insist on spreading the rumour that she and you are lovers?”

“What?! That’s a lie! I never started that rumour.”

“That may be so, but you did not go out of your way to quell it. Quite the opposite, in fact. So my son tells me.”

“But… he’s under her spell! Can’t you see? Would you take the word of a scheming Elf over that of one of your own kind?”

“Quiet!” Old Bannog paused. His old face looked harsh and cold as stone. Puissance sat back in her chair.

“Lady Ariciel is an honoured guest of this castle. She has fought with us in the siege. She has used her magic to heal many of our soldiers, including myself in fact. Anyone can plainly see that she is completely devoted to my son. I am glad to have her as a guest, and the Caer is better for having her in it. You, on the other hand, have been nothing but trouble since the day you arrived. First by being a drain on the resources of our castle while providing nothing of value. Then by bothering us with your preference in bedfellows, which nobody here cares about. And finally, now, by trying to ruin the good name of Lady Ariciel, and that of my son in the bargain. I think that you will be much happier if you move back to your friends in Stormwind. Even if you are not, we certainly will be. You leave this afternoon.”


Ariciel still didn’t know why she had volunteered to take Puissance to the flight point in Lakeshire. Perhaps she thought she owed her at least that. Puissance was riding one of Caer Bannog’s horses, and Ariciel was on her cat.

“You managed to convince Sir Bannog that I was after his daughter. You scheming bitch. I wouldn’t have touched her if she’d pay me for it, and you know it.”

“You would have, if you thought you could get at me through her.”

“I’ll get you for this.”

“Feel free to try, Phyllis.”

“Oh, I never try things. I do them.”

“Yes, yes. Just a few more miles to Lakeshire. Then you’ll be rid of me.”

“I have better ways to get rid of you.”

Ariciel looked round at Puissance.

“Look, girl. If you want to try something, get on with it. If not, shut up and ride. Well? Nothing? Thought so.”

“You make the mistake of underestimating me.”

“You, Puissance, made the mistake of thinking Old Bannog is stupid. He’s not. You really should not have lied about things he can check up on. Night-elf mind control? You seriously thought he’d fall for that?”

There was silence. Ariciel’s cat trotted on. She looked round, and found Puissance had dismounted. She turned her cat round, and rode back.

“Really. I do not have the patience for this. Get up on that horse and get your sorry butt to Lakeshire.”

“Oh, I will. After this.”

Puissance raised her hands and started chanting. Lights flew up from her upraised palms, meeting above her head. Ariciel recognised the signs of a Warlock’s summoning spell and sure enough, a few moments later, a small creature made its appearance.

“You have annoyed me for the last time, Elf. I’ll deal with you now, then get on to Lakeshire.” She spoke to her imp.

“Kill her.”

The imp took one look at Ariciel, and bared its fangs.

“This was not in my contract!”

“Do it.”

Ariciel cried out as the fireballs hit her. As fast as she could, she cast Mark of the Wild on herself. Protective magic to shield her from the fireballs. She seethed. Stupid, stupid girl! Another fireball shattered on her magical defences, and only a little of the energy reached her. She almost welcomed the pain. Justification for what she wanted to do, was going to do. With a contemptuous sneer, she started casting Starfire, as the imp’s fireballs kept hitting her. The spell completed, and the imp disappeared in a blazing sheet of white flame. It screeched, and desperately tried casting fireballs faster and faster. Ariciel’s hands blazed with Green Fire, and the bolt hit the Imp in the chest. It fell over and died, body dissipating. Ariciel turned to Puissance, who was casting one of her Warlock’s spells.

Ariciel let her. The dark energy hit her flesh, burning it, corrupting it. She cried out in pain and anger.

“Come on! Show me what you’ve got!”

Puissance followed up with shadow bolts, launched from her hands. They did not make it through Ariciel’s magical armour. Ariciel bared her teeth at the Warlock girl.

“Is that the best you can do?”

Her mana pool empty, Puissance pulled out her wand and aimed it at the Night-elf Druid.

“Enough!”

Ariciel took her staff from her back and struck out at Puissance. The jewels that Mareva had placed on it hummed, adding their energy to the stroke. She hit Puissance’s hand, and sent the wand flying. Puissance cried out, and cradled her left hand in her right. Ariciel swung again. and could hear the snap as she broke Puissance’s arm. Using the other end of her staff. she swung again, breaking her other arm as well. Ariciel stabbed out, hitting the girl in the chest. Puissance fell to her knees, then fell over backwards.

“Oh, I shouldn’t be enjoying this.”

Ariciel’s staff swung again, and broke her thigh-bone as she lay. Finally, standing over her, she took careful aim, and swung at Puissance’s head. Puissance cried out, as the staff stopped in the air a finger’s breadth away from her face.

Ariciel kneeled by her. Puissance’s eyes looked up to her with a combination of fear, pain and pure hate. She looked away. Ariciel reached down and took Puissance’s chin in her hand. She made her look up at her.

“Now that was stupid. You really should not have done that. You do realise that the only reason you could slap me around at the Caer was because I let you? Well, you do now.”

Slowly, carefully, Ariciel unbuttoned Puissance’s blouse. She didn’t have to do that for what she was going to do, but she wanted to.

“Bannog and I have been through a lot together. I healed him as he saved my life in Elwynn, and in the Wetlands. I was beaten up by Ogres in Searing Gorge and he took me away from that place. He helped me find my family, such as they were, even though he thought I had abandoned him. We fought together against the Orcs who laid siege to the Caer and the Ogre-mage who led them. We fought and nearly died together in the Eastern Plaguelands. I have had many lovers, but he is the only one I would give up all others for. I love him more than you could know. I would die defending him. And you…” Ariciel laid her hand gently on Puissance’s chest, between her bare breasts. She could feel her heart beating fast. “You tried to take him away from me.” Ariciel briefly closed her eyes, and cast Regrowth, healing the Warlock girl’s broken bones. She kept pouring in the energy, until not a trace remained of her injuries. Ariciel looked down on Puissance, hand still on her chest. “Now if I’d kill you here and now, I’m pretty sure people would figure out that it was me, if you didn’t show up in Stormwind at some point. I’d have to say ‘It wasn’t me, honestly!’ and I don’t think I could carry that off.” Ariciel bent down. “Because I really do want to kill you and I’m a bad liar. So. I’m going to let you get on the griffin at Lakeshire. Then, I’ll wait a bit till enough of your friends have seen you scuttling about in Stormwind.” Ariciel slid her hand slowly up Puissance’s breast, almost a caress, and continued up to her throat. “And then, I’ll come and visit you.” She bent down low over Puissance. The tips of their noses almost touching, looking deep into her eyes so Puissance could see that she meant it.

“And kill you.”

Holding the reins of the horse, Ariciel watched as Puissance’s griffin disappeared in the direction of Stormwind. A thoughtful expression was on her face. Would she have to make good on her promise? Probably. Little Warlock girls don’t stay little if they’re in fear of their lives. Perhaps she should let her grow a bit. But then again, perhaps not. Ariciel leapt upon the horse’s back, and rode back home, to Caer Bannog.


It was huge. It reached hundreds of yards up into the air. Mareva couldn’t see through the swirling shapes. She fell silent. So this was it, then. The Dark Portal. Built by the Orc-mages, Ogre-mages and Daemon lords. The first move in the chess game over this world, Azeroth.

“This leads to Draenor?”

Stetson nodded. “Outland. I did warn you. Draenor is no more, except for a few bits. Don’t expect to come home.”

Morgan was sitting next to them, ears down, pawing at Stetson, yowling. Stetson kneeled, and grabbed him by the collar, scratching his chest.

“Don’t be scared. Once you’re through, there’s going to be rabbits!”

Mareva smiled. “Incredible, how the same animals show up all over the Universe.”

“Convergent evolution,” said Stetson.

“Oo. Big words.”

“Ug.” Stetson thumped his chest.

“Too late, my love. Your secret is out.”

Stetson smiled at Mareva.

“Are you ready?” He held out his hand. Mareva took it. Smiled. Nodded. Together, they stepped through.


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

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