Part 12: Culture shock

The sky was wrong. The moons were still there, but there were strange, magical streaks of light passing overhead. Mareva’s pale blue eyes took in the scenery, and her face had no expression at all. Stetson had warned her, but nothing could have prepared her for this. Was this really the place where she had spent the first thirty years of her life? There used to be plants here, creatures running round. She didn’t suppose any had escaped whatever it was that had so utterly destroyed this place. In the distance, some kind of fight was going on, like mountains dancing, but she took no notice. She closed her eyes and bowed her head. Her hand closed tightly on Stetson’s. The big hunter turned to face her, put his fingers under her chin and lifted her face up to him.

“This place is one of the worst, my love. This is where the sorcerers tried to create too many large portals at once, and reality fractured.” He stroked her black hair. “Come with me. Not everything is as bad as this. Shattrath is a place of wonders.” Mareva glanced at the sky. “This does not look stable. How long will this place continue to exist?”

“Long enough for us, Mareva. Let’s find someplace nicer.”

They were riding on the hot sands of the Hellfire Peninsula, keeping to the road that led West from the Portal. Mareva was now riding an elekk of her own. Stetson had insisted, and even paid for it, as they might have to make a quick getaway at some point, and his own Elekk could not carry them both at full speed for long enough. Outland was a dangerous place. In Azeroth, Stetson needn’t be especially afraid of any of the wildlife. Here, things were slightly different.

“South here, Mareva.”

“Why? Shattrath is to the West. I can feel it!”

“That’s correct, but to the west is also the Hellfire Citadel. Crawling with big Hordies. If we take the road South, we can make for Honor Hold. There’s a flightpoint up there.”

“Right.”

They took a left, and rode along the road. After a while, it bent to the West once more, and the spires of Honor Hold came into view. Stetson smiled. His memory of the place was coming back. He looked back at Mareva who was riding behind him.

“About half an hour’s ride left. There’s a good pub there.”

Suddenly, his eyes grew large. Behind Mareva was a large boar. Its eyes were glowing with a hot red light, and its skin was on fire. It was making for Mareva. Stetson leaned over and turned his mount around.

“Company! Get behind me! Morgan!”

The big cat growled. He might not like eldritch portals through the Twisting Nether, but he’d be damned if he’d let a piggie scare him. He charged. Stetson jumped to the ground, pulling out his crossbow and loading it in one move. The first arrow flew even before his hooves hit the ground. Behind the boar, three more came running up. Stetson reloaded, and fired again. He laughed.

“The thing to remember about this place is that the wildlife can get a bit stroppy at times!”

Mareva made no answer, but from behind Stetson, a series of energy bolts sped towards the boars. They hit. The boars fell over. Morgan yowled as his prey dropped without him having anything to do with it. Stetson’s jaw dropped.

“By the light! Mareva, I didn’t know you could do that! You never have before! Is it keyed to Outland or something?” He looked round.

Mareva just stood there, hands raised, shaking her head.

“That wasn’t me! I don’t even know what spell that was!”

She looked over her shoulder, and saw. A few yards behind her stood a tall Draenei woman, pale blue eyes burning over a face mask. In her hand was a staff, and her other hand glowed with the after-effect of her missiles. Her robes flapped back and forth in the breeze, and her dark hair flowed.

“Dionys A’ka. I am Oxana.”


Old Bannog looked at his son, turned the letter round and pushed it towards him. His face showed no emotion at all, which in Bannog’s experience was always a bad sign. Bannog read.
 

Dear Sir,

 
It is with the greatest of regret that I have to inform you
that Phyllis of Eastvale, known to her friends as Puissance,
was killed yesterday, while making the attempt to summon and
control a Succubus minion. She was most insistent that we allow
her to make the attempt, despite her young age, and we had all
confidence that she would be able to complete the test. Due to
the nature of the incident, we cannot deliver her body for
burial, it being utterly destroyed when the Succubus escaped
her control. May the Light grant you the strength to bear this
loss. In consolation, I can only say that Puissance was
completely devoted to her calling, and to die while practicing
it is a great honour.

 
We offer you our sincere condolences.

 
The Grand-Master of the Stormwind Warlock Society.

The note was signed, not with a name, but an esoteric sigil that seemed to burn on the page. Flashy gits. Bannog looked up at his father, who took a deep breath.

“If I had not sent the silly girl back, then she would be alive now. She may not have been the best of guests, but nobody deserves this. Will you tell Ariciel?”

Bannog nodded, reading the letter again.

“No body for burial. Utterly destroyed. I am very, very glad that I am not a Warlock.”

“So am I. Demons live in the Nethers for a reason. Inviting them here can only lead to sorrow. Well, that’s it. When are you leaving?”

“Tonight. We should arrive in Darnassus the day after tomorrow. After my meeting with the priests there, I’ll head back. Ariciel will stay a few more weeks, for more Druidic training.”

“Hm. At least her magic works with Nature, rather than against it.” Old Bannog shook his head. “If only Phyllis had been able to forgive Ariciel her slip-up.”


Ariciel and Bannog were crossing the bridge to Stormwind. Bannog glanced at his Elven girlfriend. She’d been remarkably quiet on the trip. He could guess what she was thinking of. Or rather, who.

“You’re blaming yourself, aren’t you?”

She shook her head. No she bloody wasn’t. She’d wanted to beat her to within an inch of her life, then beat her the rest of the way. She could have used a mail run as a pretext, taken the flappy to Stormwind and rid herself of the little…

“Look. If Father hadn’t sent her packing, she’d have made your life hell. It was her own stupid idea to try playing with demons she shouldn’t have. You had nothing to do with it.”

Ariciel gave him a look, and said nothing. Yes, that’s the problem.

“Oh cheer up, my love. Remember, I have ways of making you laugh. I have jokes, and I’m not afraid to use them!”

Ariciel gave him a wavering grin. She remembered. Bannog grinned back.

“I know! We’re early for the ferry. Why don’t we drop by the Steambenders and see how they’re doing?”

“Trixie hates my guts,” said Ariciel.

“No, she doesn’t! She saved your life!”

“Only because she likes hating my guts.” She looked at Bannog, and accepted the inevitable. “Oh all right then. Just let’s not miss the ferry.”

“Mr. Bannog! Lady Ariciel! What a joy to see you be quiet Trixie.”

“I wasn’t saying anything!”

“That was pre-emptive. May I offer you a cup of coffee?”

Ariciel looked at the sun, Bannog looked doubtful.

Lenna smiled. “Oh please say yes. When we were living in Gnomeregan, Griggin saw a genuine Piggelmee DE2000 high-pressure coffee maker on sale, and felt he could not live without it. He paid the merchant enough to finance a new dwelling by the sea. One of those round ones made from clay. So now he jumps at every opportunity to use it. It will earn itself back in a mere two-hundred years.”

“Oh my love, you exaggerate.”

Ariciel laughed, the first time since she’d heard the news.

“I’d love a cup of coffee.”

“Excellent! Do come in! Mind the ceiling… Oh I apologise Mr. Bannog.”

Bending over, they made their way into the living room, and found they could just about squat down without hitting the ceiling. Griggin beamed and walked over to a corner where there was a fearsome engine, devoted to providing stimulation to the busy Gnome’s designs and calculations. He started turning valves and knobs, and the machine started making hissing and grinding noises.

“I’ll set it to medium strong. I like mine all the way up, but that’s not to everyone’s tastes. By the way, I am feeding this machine from the house’s main steam generator so it shouldn’t take a minute.”

Bannog looked worried. He did not want to be in a small room when there was going to be an explosion and shrapnel all over the place.

“Um. Is it safe?”

Nix looked up from his desk.

“That’s a very rude question to ask a Gnomish Engineer! We’re not Goblins, you know?”

“Sorry.”

The coffee was made, at speed, and duly distributed. Ariciel sniffed and tasted. It reminded her of the coffee Peterselie had made for them, all that time ago in Dun Morogh. It was very good, actually. Bieslook was sitting on Ariciel’s lap, clutching a large glass of fruit juice. Ariciel looked down. Bieslook smiled. Ariciel smiled back.

“Oh. I’m sorry for your loss, by the way. I heard about young Puissance. The Warlock society is a small place.”

Ariciel’s face fell.

“Killed by her own Succubus,” said Bannog. “Hard to believe one of those girls would do such a thing.”

Griggin took his extra-strong cup of coffee out of the receptacle, and sat down on his chair, putting the cup on his arm-rest.

“Hmm. Succubi you mean? You would think so, wouldn’t you? Pale, soft, yielding flesh. Voluptuous curves, just asking to be caressed. Every man’s dream to possess. You could overlook the horns, and the hooves, and the wings, and the whip. And especially the fact that it is not a girl, but a demon. Succubi have no love for us. The concept is foreign to them. They are made for combat, and they are deadly.”

“Look nice, though.”

“Indeed. Which makes them even more deadly. If ever you face one, Mr. Bannog, do not hesitate. Strike without remorse. It will kill you if you don’t kill it first.”

“I thought demons were your friends and helpers.”

“That is a common misconception. We do not invite them. We tear them from their native home and compel them to do our will. They hate us for it, with a passion that surpasses all. Hate, by the way, is not a concept foreign to demons. They are good at it.”

“Still. To turn on your employer just like that…”

Griggin picked up his cup, and gave Bannog a look through the slowly rising wisps of steam. He smiled gently.

“Mr. Bannog, imagine if you will. I have just put you under a magic spell which keeps you in constant pain, and you are powerless to resist my commands. And my command would be to rape and kill every female being in this room. Lenna. Trixie. Little Bieslook.”

Bannog quickly glanced beside him.

“Oh yes,” said Griggin. “Especially her. With me controlling your every action, you would rip her clothes off her body, and have to listen to her pleas for mercy as you violated her. Finally, you would have to look into her eyes as you beat her to death with your bare fists.”

Bannog swallowed hard, and stared at the Gnome, who looked him straight in the eye.

“Now imagine that my control of you slipped, and you were once more free to act as you would. What would be your action?”

Bannog said nothing for a while. Then he nodded slowly.

“They would have to bury you in a matchbox.”

“Precisely. Now what I have told you is quite a watered down version of the very first lesson that is taught to all those who feel the call of Demonology. The most important thing to take away from that first lesson is that all Demons hate us, even as they do our bidding and try to please us. And never, ever, to attempt to control a demon if you are not sure that you will succeed. You may have noticed that I am always polite to Thuljuk, my voidwalker. I treat him with respect. I thank him for coming, and I thank him when I dismiss him. I never make him stay longer than strictly necessary. Many other Warlocks do not bother, do not see the point. But I would not feel comfortable otherwise, even though I know that at most, it will earn me a half-second of respite, should my control slip, the Light forfend.”

The Gnome sipped his strong coffee, then looked at Ariciel.

“And that is what I do not understand about young Puissance. She tried to control a demon that is so powerful that even I, with years of experience, would hesitate to call it forth. To the Demon of which the Succubus is the hither projection, we are disgusting creatures, as appealing to them as zombies are to us. And we use them, sometimes, as prostitutes, to seduce enemy soldiers. Their hate for us is as intense as the fires of Hell itself. They are not to be trifled with.”

Ariciel stared at her feet, and said nothing for a while. She thought about Puissance being whipped to death by someone who was probably experienced enough to make it last a long time. You should have come to me, girly girl. Blessed oblivion in mere seconds. Same end result. She must have thought that a succubus was just what she needed to defeat this irksome Druid. Ariciel looked up.

“When I was taking her to the flightpoint, Puissance attacked me. I subdued her, and promised her I would return to kill her.”

Bannog’s head turned round slowly, mouth open.

“By the Light! So that’s why she needed a stronger minion!”

Trixie grinned. “Heh! Make her look over her shoulder for the rest of her life! You are one nasty bitch! Next time I want to hit you, I won’t, just for that!”

“Language, Trixie,” said Lenna.

“Yeah,” said Bieslook. “Bitch is a bad word!”

Ariciel tapped her finger on Bieslook’s head.

“You just said it.”

“Sorry.”

Griggin gave Ariciel a look. Then he shook his small head, putting down his empty cup.

“I don’t believe it. Attempting to control a new demon for the first time is not a step taken lightly. If I were in fear of my life, my first instinct would be to ask my lore master for more powerful spells, and to strengthen my current minion. Not to summon a demon that I do not yet know how to control. I have known Warlocks more powerful than I to use an Imp, for just that reason. A high-level Imp can be just as deadly as a Succubus when properly used.”

“She may just have been stupid,” said Bannog.

“There is a technical term for a stupid Warlock,” said Griggin, putting away his cup and turning back to Bannog.

“Corpse.”


Mareva looked at the Mage, who was riding ahead of them on a tiger mount, the only one of hers that their Elekks could keep up with. Oxana had offered to boost them to Shattrath, if they would help her catch some of Outland’s creatures on the way. Given that she could blast her way through a herd of Clefthoof without breaking a sweat, this had seemed like a good idea.

“That woman frightens me,” said Mareva.

“She does pack one hell of a punch,” said Stetson. He put a Hunter’s Mark on one of the large creatures and reached for an arrow. Oxana’s firebolt hit it, and the Hellboar fell over. Stetson sighed and put the arrow back in his quiver. This was taking the fun out of it.

“It’s not her firebolts I’m scared of,” said Mareva. “It’s her mind. I cannot feel a trace of kindness or warmth. Either she is hiding it deep inside, or it has been taken from her.”

Oxana came riding back. “That’s twenty Hellboar. Cooked to perfection.” She chuckled. “Next, diggers.” She rode off again, and they followed.

“Good,” said Mareva. “A sense of humour. Nasty humour, but humour nonetheless.”


Ariciel was sitting in her usual spot, back against the mast of the boat. It was so much nicer with Bannog sitting next to her with his arm round her. If only the trip to Darnassus were all she’d have to worry about.

“She’s alive. She faked it. She’s lying low somewhere, training herself up.”

“Well, if you’d asked me, I’d have told you. If you are going to kill someone, don’t piss about. Do it. Live enemies are bad for you.”

“Your dad would’ve thrown me out of the castle if I had. You would not have come with me. I didn’t want her to win, even posthumously.”

Bannog thought about this. He’d never leave Ariciel. But then, he’d never leave his home. Bringing Ariciel home had been the obvious strategy. He glanced at her. When it came to it, what would he do? He stared at the horizon. Leave home, that’s what. Even wandering round in strange lands, with her, he’d still be Bannog of Caer Bannog. With her walking round, alone, unprotected, abandoned, he wouldn’t be.

“Oh well. Spilt milk. Are you going to look for her?”

Ariciel thought for a bit, then shook her head.

“No. I can’t train up and look for her at the same time. I’ll keep growing and be ready for her when she comes.”

“I’ll be there when she does. Nobody touches my Elf and lives.”

Ariciel pointed. On the horizon, a crown of leaves could be seen.

“Darnassus!” She leaned her head against Bannog’s shoulder. “And thank you.”

“What else are exotic Human lovers for?”

“Well…”

“Hold on to that thought.”


“Now that’s the way to travel. Beats a lift.”

“Well, it would probably be a day-long ride. There’s a waterfall somewhere round here where you can look down on the clouds.”

“There is something higher than clouds?”

“Stars. The Moon. And now, you and me.”

“Oh my. If you fall…”

“You’d have time to say all the prayers you’ve ever known, and even come up with some new ones.”

Bannog looked here and there, taking in the scenery, clearly impressed. Ariciel felt absurdly pleased.

“What’s that building?” asked Bannog, pointing ahead. “It looks like a bear, but there’s people in there.”

“The bank. Oh that reminds me. I need to get some stacks of leather. I want to make some more Hillman’s Shoulders. They sell well.”

“Ah. So that’s what you’re wearing? They look silly on you. Sorry.”

“Glass houses? Stones?”

“I think you look nice with bare shoulders. So sue me.”

“Hmm. Maybe I should get a few pretty dresses. Just for use in safe places.”

“You know, I’ve got used to seeing you in armour or robes. Do you even like frilly dresses?”

“Well, nothing wrong with some frills, in moderation. But I don’t like those explosions of lace.” She pointed ahead. “Warrior’s terrace. Take a left there.” Her eyes glinted. “There’s a tailor’s shop on the way to Lirael’s place.”

“Oh go on. Disguise yourself as a girly girl.”

“Feel free to browse. My goods are of the highest quality.”

“Thank you.” Ariciel walked over to a rack and started pulling out dresses, occasionally holding one up to herself. Bannog surreptitiously cast a glance at some of the price tags. O dear. He could see they were in a capital city. He glanced over at Ariciel, who was now actually taking two dresses into a fitting room, leaving Bannog to wander round the place, with an indeterminate smile on his face as all round him, customers were talking in Darnassian. If he paid attention, he could probably pick up the Darnassian for “Does this make my bum look fat?”

“Puis-je vous aider?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Oh. Forgive me. May I serve you?”

Bannog smiled at the elegant Elf, feeling half tempted to ask her if she had anything in his size. What was he thinking? She probably would have, or could make it.

“No thank you. Just waiting for my friend.”

The lady smiled and floated off to help a green-haired Elf girl who was in danger of selecting a particularly clashing red dress. He wandered round the place watching the customers, feeling very much out of place. Perhaps he should take a short walk. Just as he was about ready to run outside screaming, Ariciel reappeared, wearing something quite… nice, actually. It was a dark shade of red and concealed and revealed in all the right places.

“Well?”

“Take it.”

She looked uncertain, looking at the hem line, then at the sleeves.

“You sure?”

“Yes. Take it. It looks great on you.”

“You’re not just saying that to get out of here, are you?”

“No. Take it.”

“Oh I don’t know…”

“I do. You look gorgeous. Take it.”

“Hmm…” She turned round and disappeared back into the fitting room, to reappear a few moments later in a pale blue thing with white… trims? Flanges? Buttresses?

“How about this one?”

“Not as good as the last one. Don’t take this one, take the other one.”

“Are you putting me on? The first one?”

“Yeah. The dark red one.”

“Pff.” She pointed round the shop. “See anything else you like?”

“Not my size, really… oh alright.” He pointed at a simple but elegant white dress on a stand. “That one’s nice.”

Ariciel grinned. “Oh hold on to that thought, lover. That’s a wedding outfit!”

“Oh… Ah. Did I just propose to you?”

“Common mistake, my love. Right. Not this one, then?”

“No. The red one. I like the red one.”

“Be right back.”

Bannog looked at her back as she disappeared again. She’s enjoying herself. He liked to walk into a shop and come out ten minutes later with a stack of shirts that fit. Quick and efficient, military style. Hah. Military fashion even. Ariciel, on the other hand, was more of an explorer. She stuck her head out of the fitting room.

“Right. I’m really not going to buy this, but I want you to see it.” She stepped out. Bannog’s jaw dropped. What she was wearing was not so much a dress as some strategically arranged ribbons. It did show off her… her. She smiled at Bannog.

“Like?”

The shop lady drifted by.

“Oh, Madame. That looks absolutely stunning on you. You are so lucky. White hair goes with anything.”

Bannog gave her a brief look. Lady, I am not looking at her hair. He smiled at his Elf.

“Any more to try on?”

Ariciel put her hand on her hip, and tilted her head.

“Eager to get out?”

“Well, now that you mention it…”

She laughed, turned round. Bannog noted that her legs went all the way up as she walked back into the fitting room. She looked over her shoulder.

“The burgundy one, then?”

“Yes. The red one.”

“Good good. See you in a bit. Think I’ll put it on now. Make Lirael’s eyes pop out.”

“Hers as well?”


She hid behind some shrubs, as the Humans looked for her. Her breath came in short, shallow gasps, and she tried to calm down, so they would not hear her breath. If they’d find her, she was done for. Why had she ventured out this far? She looked at the ground. Never mind. She’d forgotten. Probably some quest or other. She should never have tried to visit Ariciel’s home. She wasn’t there. Of course, she wasn’t. Ariciel was probably dead. One day, she’d been there, nothing going on, the next, she’d been gone. And then the whole Highborne mansion had blown up. But at least she’d been with Orin then. And then, the zombies had come, and she had been alone. Somehow, she’d made it to Auberdine, and the nice blue-eyed lady had given her food and a job. At first, she’d thought that she was a blood-elf. Not that she cared. Food comes first, then morality. But she’d said no, and that she was a High Elf. She had sold candy on the pier to travellers from all places. Ariciel hadn’t been among them.

So one day, she thought she’d see if Ariciel was simply at home, and she’d set out. Bears had come out, and she had to run for her life. She’d fallen into a place where she really should not be: The Master’s Glaive. There was only one way out, and it was guarded, and she’d been caught. No doubt as to what they were planning to do. They were bickering over who would go first, while she was still pretty, and then an Elf and a Dwarven paladin had come charging through, trailing a Dryad on a leash. The mages, fortunately, did know to put work before fun, and chased. She’d thanked Elune and bolted up the path. Unfortunately, someone had seen her. If only she could make it to the road. She looked again. They were still looking for her. Just wait for her breath to slow down, and then…


“Oh my goodness! Bannog! I never thought you’d trade Ariciel in on a younger and prettier one!”

“You should have seen what she was wearing earlier. The shop lady was ready to jump her.”

Ariciel raised an eyebrow. “She was not! Jumping customers is against regulations.”

“More fool her.”

“Well. Are you enjoying my doorstep or would you like to come in?”

Lirael stepped back and pushed them inside. There was a deep resonating sound as Bannog thumped Lirael’s big drum. Lirael put the kettle on and had steaming mugs of tea ready in no time at all. Ariciel was sitting on a chair by the table, her usual place for writing one of Bearwalker’s essays. She watched Bannog, who seemed somehow too large for this small house. Bannog walked by the wall that held all of Lirael’s musical instruments. She was rather heavily into strings: Violins, lutes, three harps of varying sizes, with a few wind instruments thrown in for variety. He marvelled. Lirael could probably play them all. All he’d ever been taught was how to get some simple tunes out of a lute. He pointed at one, looking at Lirael. She smiled. Go on.

Bannog picked a lute from the wall, and plucked the strings to see if they were still in tune. They were. He sat down, closed his eyes a moment, remembering, then started to play. He’d learnt long ago that it was better to play an easy tune well than it was to play something difficult badly. For one thing, it allows you to talk while playing, so you can tell the girl how beautiful her eyes are without losing your place in the song.

Lirael walked to the wall, took down a harp and played the counter-melody. Ariciel watched them both, smiling, listening. She’d never learnt to play any instrument, though she could probably manage a drum. Not the piece for it, though. She felt oddly left out as the tune finished and Bannog and Lirael smiled at each other.

“I never knew you could play the lute,” said Ariciel.

“Well… I can play this tune and maybe a dozen others. Nothing to write home about.”

“Do another one.”

Bannog smiled, and started another tune. This one did have words, but he only played it, looking into Ariciel’s eyes. Lirael apparently knew the song, though she didn’t play along.

“Hah. You do have a romantic streak in you. Though her hair is white, not black.”

“Yeah, it scans if I just change it, but I would hate to sing ‘black’ by accident. Anyway, that’s a Human song. How do you know it?”

“Temple choir. We’re goodwill ambassadors, so one time, we did a few Human folksongs in Stormwind to break the ice. We got invited to the Recluse, and it sort of grew from there. So. Are you staying the night here?”

Ariciel smiled. “If you don’t mind. Him here is leaving again the day after tomorrow, I’m staying a few weeks. I’ll be coming out here more often, so I’ll get my own place, but if we can crash here tonight, we’d be most obliged.”

“Sure. What’s more, you can have the place to yourself. I’m off to Arador’s for the night.”

Ariciel wiggled her eyebrows. “Practicing canticles?”

“You bet.”


“Ariciel! What a joy to see you! I have a quest for you. Astranaar again. But that’s later.” Bearwalker grinned broadly.

“Glad to see you too, even though the first thing you do is send me away again.”

“Oh. Do you have a report on the goings-on at Light’s Hope Chapel?”

“Argent Dawn has pushed off to Northrend. Not a single Necrotic token to be seen anywhere. I wasn’t near enough to the hot bits of the battle to observe those Death Knights, but they are scary. Scary even to big strong Paladins who don’t scare easily.”

“Any more information other than ‘Big’ and ‘Scary’?”

“They seem to be the risen corpses of fallen heroes of the Alliance, as well as the Horde, according to Peterselie. Unlike most Undead, though, they will remember who they once were if someone reminds them. Kaylad thinks that’s what happened in the big battle. Good thing they did, too, because just five of them can chop their way through a large group of our best.”

“Hmm. That bodes. Though some of them seem to have redeemed themselves. King Varian of Stormwind is sending out messages saying that this or that Death Knight is no longer an enemy. Apparently, they remembered who they are. Anyway. Did you write any of this down?”

“You know? I had a feeling that you were going to ask me that,” said Ariciel, handing Bearwalker a stack of parchments.

“See? There’s a reason I like you. Right. That’s business. How are you?”

“I nearly died in the Eastern Plaguelands, but an old friend of Bannog’s healed us both. I have also acquired a Warlock as an enemy. The little bitch tried to drive Bannog away from me and get me thrown out of the castle. Then she tried to kill me.”

“Did she succeed?”

“Her? Stars and stones, Bearwalker, you taught me better than that. I Starfired her imp and beat her to within an inch of her life.” Ariciel looked at her feet. “I probably should have gone that extra inch. She’s hiding in the undergrowth somewhere now, waiting to attack me.”

“Probably. Leaving an enemy alive could prove to be a distraction at some later point.”

Ariciel smiled. “You know, that’s exactly what Bannog said. But if I had, his father would have thrown me out of the castle. I don’t want to lose Bannog. So I healed her and promised to kill her later.”

Bearwalker gave Ariciel a knowing grin. “So you’ve caught the Human bug, then? Short-lived and strange, but still. They grow on you.”

“Yeah.” Ariciel stared into empty space for a while.

“And this is no doubt the reason you are wearing something now that wouldn’t even turn a poke with a finger?”

“Well, he likes it.”

“He should. It suits you, in a non-combat kind of way.”


“What’s the matter, dear? You haven’t said a word all night.”

“Hmm.” Griggin took a sip from his cup and pulled a face. The coffee had gone cold! That was practically a religious offence. He sighed and put the cup down. He looked at his wife.

“Work trouble. Warlock type. The Succubus Neera is not answering the summons.”

Lenna raised her eyebrows. “They have found a way to evade you?”

“Oh no. Or rather, nothing new. The only way for a demon to avoid being summoned, is to attach itself to a Warlock. Then, at least, only one Warlock can summon it rather than just anyone.”

“Ah. So what…”

“Someone has absconded with a Succubus.”

“For their personal enjoyment? From what I know, that’s suicidal isn’t it?”

“Yes, but I have a dark suspicion. I suspect that young Puissance is, indeed, alive and well and has acquired Neera. Which would have been an impressive achievement, if she hadn’t then pretended to be dead and run off into the blue.” Griggin frowned. “That makes it an unforgivable act of… theft, for lack of a better word. If my suspicion is correct, then no doubt she intends to employ the demon against Lady Ariciel. This might prove to be somewhat hazardous for her. Meanwhile, she knows nothing of this. It may be prudent to warn her. Even assist her.”

“So why don’t you write her? I’ve got her address here somewhere.”

“I’m not sure of my facts. This is all mere conjecture. I would not wish to alarm our Elf friend needlessly. That might be counterproductive.”

“I see. So what are you going to do?”

“Me? Nothing much I can do. We have already tried, and failed, to track the demon’s ties to the here and now. It is not in the Eastern Kingdoms. Puissance may have taken it to Kalimdor. I don’t think she could survive Outland or Northrend without growing much stronger.” He glanced at his wife, then got up. “I am going to Darnassus. If I can contact the local Warlock Society, then we can try to track Neera from there.”

Lenna smiled. “I’ll tell the kids to start packing.”

Griggin shook his head. “No. This I must do alone. You know that the business of a Warlock can be unpleasant, don’t you?”

“How can I not? You keep telling us all.”

“I would very much like those tales to remain your sole source of knowledge.” He laid his hands on Lenna’s shoulders and looked into her eyes. “Not personal experience. I go alone. Don’t worry. I can handle a little Warlock girl.”

Lenna’s throat seized up. She was worrying already, but she knew that it was not worth arguing with her husband when he was protecting the family. She forced herself to smile.

“Be careful.”

“Always am. I’ll try to make this a quick job. I’ll write if I run into any delays.”


Lirael walked up to her door, and heard the sound of her large drum. She grinned. Another victim to the power of the drum. She opened the door and found Bannog sitting in the middle of the room, looking sheepish. She grinned.

“You put it between your knees. Then, you can vary the tone by pushing them together. Let me show you.” Lirael sat down and demonstrated.

“Cool. How’d the lessons go?”

“Three long hours of turning shadowform on and off. Even the slow ones can now do it in less than a second. Not that anyone out there ever does, but I’m sure we’re all the better for it.”

Lirael walked to her wardrobe, dropped her priestly robes and started rummaging through her clothes, picking a blouse to wear tonight. Bannog automatically turned his head. Lirael selected a loose white blouse and a blue silk skirt. As she dropped it on the bed, she noticed Bannog staring resolutely at her collection of oboes. Huh? An amused smile played on her lips.

“Why are you looking away like that? I thought you liked looking at Elves.”

Bannog turned round, slowly. His eyes locked onto Lirael’s face, somehow blocking out the fact that there was hardly a thread of clothing on her.

“Aye, but you’re not my Elf.”

“Um… No. True. But then again, neither is Ariciel. We’re all our own Elves. You do look at her, don’t you?”

“Well, yeah. But she’s my girlfriend. That’s different.”

“I don’t see why. You’re not about to jump me because you suddenly realise I have skin under all these clothes, are you?”

“By the Light, no! But what would your friend Arador say if he saw me staring at you?”

“Arador?” Lirael grinned. “He’d say nothing. Too busy staring himself to worry about you.”

To Bannog’s relief, Lirael quickly put on her clothes and he was able to relax. She still seemed puzzled. Bannog tried to explain.

“It’s probably a Human thing. We’ve got pretty strong rules against, um, getting it on with someone else’s girlfriend. So we don’t even look. You’re not mine. Off limits. Forbidden. Nothing to do with what you look like.”

Lirael laughed. “Oh good. I was worried for a second. I know Humans take their monogamy seriously, but I didn’t realise just how seriously. Either that or you Humans are just too straight for words! Loosen up a bit, will you? Otherwise, you’re going to find it difficult if Ariciel finds someone.”

“She did, once. She just told me, like ‘Oh, and then I met this Draenei girl and we had a great time and I got to practice my non-elf lovemaking.’ That gave me a bit of a turn, I can tell you. It made me feel like… one of many.”

Lirael gave him a look. “What’s bad about that? It’s healthy to have some variation. I’ve got three boys in my groupe intime. They’re vastly different. There’s Arador, there’s one of the baritones in the Stormwind Males, and there’s a fellow priest from Dolanaar.”

“Yeah, but which one of them do you really love?”

“Um. All of them?”

“Nobody among them that you would choose if you could have only one?”

Lirael thought. “No, not really. Happily, I can have all of them.”

“Hm. So you could get it on with me, and nobody’d mind?”

Lirael took a deep breath. Her tongue briefly appeared between her lips. “Oh Bannog, I thought you’d never ask. Come to me.” Her slender fingers strayed to the top button of her blouse.

Bannog gave her a friendly, neutral smile and waited for her to stop joking and answer the question. Lirael chuckled.

“Oh you’re no fun! No, it’s not as easy as that. Groupes intimes are usually pretty delicately balanced. Introducing someone new is always a bit, well, complicated. You don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.”

“Group and team?”

“Nono. Groupe. Intime. Intimate group. The group of people you, um…”

“Shag?”

“What a lovely evocative word. Yeah.”

“So you and Ariciel never…”

Lirael laughed. “No. She’s very cute, but no. Because mostly, I like boys. With nice big strong muscles. I’m really not looking for another girl in my groupe.”

“Another?”

“You’re really bordering on the ‘none of your business’ part of the discussion, you know? Anyway, maybe once or twice a year, I get an itch that no man can scratch and I write a long letter to this girl I know in Dolanaar. She writes me back and we meet somewhere nice and emerge the next morning feeling much better.”

“You’re right. None of my business. I’m just trying to understand.”

Lirael smiled. “Yeah. That’s why I haven’t smacked you yet. Don’t worry. Priestesses get the strangest personal questions. Comes with the job. Well. I’d better get going. How do I look?”

“Arador’s a lucky Elf.”

“If I decide he is. Well, best of luck with the priests. They give you any trouble, remember they all have glass jaws.”

“All clothies have. The hard bit is keeping them upright.”

Lirael grinned, and turned round to leave. She turned back to Bannog.

“Oh. Feel free to use the bed. Sheets are clean. Fresh sheets are in that cupboard. Wash basket is there. Candles are in the drawer there. She likes candles. Well. See you!”

“Don’t go with any strange men you don’t know.”

Lirael laughed, and left, leaving Bannog to think. His meeting with the priests in the Temple of the Moon was tomorrow. A pretty straightforward one at that. Tell them about the castle, its resources and offer help to any Elves who might be passing through Redridge. Easy. Well. Ariciel was out on a Momentous Quest for this Bearwalker person. She’d told him all about her first and second lesson. Her first lesson had been one of those get-into-your-mind kind of things. Observe the student at a seemingly impossible task. The second lesson was Talk Teacher Out Of Killing Me. That was not part of the standard curriculum, but by some strange chance Ariciel had some dark magic skill that was so intensely forbidden that anyone who knew it must die. A sudden desire came over Bannog to meet Mr. Mathrengyl Bearwalker. With a grim smile on his face, he got up and walked out of the door.


“Ah, mon ami. I can see that you are one of the Warlocks of the old tradition. Kids these days don’t know how good they have it. Want to summon a voidwalker? Just pop a soulshard. Do you remember? We had to chant the exact name of the demon we wanted. One syllable out of place and all that mana down the drain. Those were the days.”

“Yes, yes,” said Griggin, trying to concentrate on his detection spell. Warlock Greenleaf did have a point, though. They didn’t teach young warlocks the finer points these days. This detection spell, for instance. You did need the demon’s full name for that. “Neera” was just a vastly simplified label for a name that, in this case, went on for full twenty-three syllables. Griggin completed his spell. Nothing. That didn’t mean a thing. It just meant that Neera was not out and about. Oh well. Now that his spell was running, he could relax a little. Just stay in this nice cave with the nice troglodyte of a Warlock, and as soon as she emerged, he’d know. Within a radius of a thousand miles. Griggin straightened his back, laid his hands in his lap and closed his eyes.

“I still remember the first time I summoned a Voidwalker. His name was forty syllables long, and I had to take special breathing exercises to pronounce it. The joy as he answered my summons! But these days… they don’t understand the nature of demons. Their passions, their desires.”

“To kill us and anyone else in a two-mile blast radius,” mumbled Griggin.

“Exactly, my friend. Exactly!”

Griggin smiled, closed his eyes and tried to concentrate.


“Like hell he is!” Trixie looked at her mother with an angry scowl usually reserved for the Enemy and that Night-elf. “How come it’s all fine for him to run off on his own and not for us?”

“Because he is your father and I trust his judgement. I don’t like it any more than you do, but if he says he has to go it alone, then he has a good reason for it. You know very well how much he normally wants to keep us together.”

Trixie took a deep breath.

“He said he wanted to keep us away from his Warlocking business. Thinks we might get upset if we see him mucking about with demons or something. Well, I’m not having it. I have to slash and stab people in my work. What he does can hardly be uglier.” She pointed at Nix. “Take him. I’ve seen him use poisons that make big Orcs cry like little babies. On pretty girls who happened to be on the wrong team and got in our way.” She pointed at her mother. “You burn people with those fireballs. I’ve seen what they look like afterwards. So none of us is exactly in the business of flower arranging. So Dad uses demons. Big deal. You always go full out on an enemy. I’d use demons if I could and it would work better than a sword.”

Lenna put her hand on Trixie’s shoulder and gave her an earnest look.

“He doesn’t tell you everything that he tells me. We all kill our enemies in whatever way we can, true. But he has to do much worse things than that. If I’d told you a Blood-elf had done some of the things he told me about, you’d want to slice its throat. Your father has a dark side, and it’s darker than you can imagine. I accept it because his good side is very, very good. But he wants to shield you, and me, from it. Please let him, Trixie.”

Trixie looked back at her mother, sad now rather than angry.

“Mum, I worry about him. He’s going out into that Night-elves’ place. This runaway Warlock may not be all he’s facing.”

Lenna smiled. “Your father has been getting into trouble, and out of it, since long before you were born. He can take care of himself. None better. He’ll be back.”

Trixie looked at her brother, and nodded. She went to her room, lay down on the lower bunk-bed, and fretted.


“Ah. Mr. Bannog. Finally we meet! Come in, come in. I’m afraid I have to run in just a few minutes, but at least I can point you at the right taverns in that time.” Bearwalker took off his fist weapon and held his hand out to Bannog, who took it. His normal friendly Warrior’s smile was on his face. So this was the Druid who’d wanted to kill Ariciel. Didn’t look like it.

“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Bearwalker. Ariciel has told me much about you.”

“I deny everything,” said Bearwalker. “I find it saves time.”

“I see. Well, I did know she was coming here.”

“Ah yes. I’m afraid I sent her off on a Quest. One of our dignitaries has just arrived in Shadowglen, and needs some papers. Hardly worthy of her talents, but I couldn’t go myself and she was willing and able. She should be back soon.”

“I would have come looking.”

Bearwalker looked puzzled. What was this Human talking about?

“I’m not sure I understand what you mean…”

“What I’m talking about is the lesson that came after the one with the bear statue. The one where you were deciding whether or not to dispose of my friend.”

Mathrengyl Bearwalker fell silent. So she’d told him about that. No reason why she shouldn’t, but still. He didn’t like word of those things to get out.

“Well, luckily, that turned out as well as it could. The offending talent is gone, and she was not using it anyway. No need for drastic measures.”

“Yes, Mr. Bearwalker. I s’pose that was lucky. I don’like people threatening my Elf.”

Bearwalker gave Bannog a slow stare.

“Mr. Bannog. Lady Ariciel is a highly talented, very intelligent, strong Druid with an impressive future ahead of her. She is an excellent student, she is always ready to help me, even if I insult her by sending her on fetch quests. I count her among my best friends and I would take a very personal approach to any who would harm her. The events you spoke of occurred when first I met her. She impressed me as deeply then as she does now. I will not have her treated as the property of some tin-wearing sword-fighter.” Bearwalker bent over to Bannog. “I am one of the ancient shape-shifters and have survived battles where warriors like you would be snuffed out by the reactive armour of the common enemies. Still, you come here and threaten me? Would you like to step outside, Mr. Bannog?” Bearwalker scowled. “There are places where I need to be.”


“Hiya! Well, Staghelm has his parchments. He was as grateful as you would expect him to be. Now if you don’t mind, I’m off back to Lirael’s. I want to find my Human.”

“He was here,” said Bearwalker. “Honestly. What do you see in him that is so compelling? He actually threatened me!”

“Huh?”

“He’d somehow got it into his head that I wanted to kill you, and indicated that he would seek revenge on me if I did.”

Ariciel closed her eyes, and thought a single word. Men.

“Oh crap. What did you do?”

“Told him to get lost and pointed out who he was dealing with.”

“Hm. Well… he is fiercely protective of his friends, especially me. I did tell him about Lesson Two.”

“You may want to tell him again. Clarify a few things. With pictures.”

Ariciel smiled, and shook her head.

“Oh don’t underestimate him. He’s a very dangerous man if he wants to be. I know of two people who he really wanted dead. They both are. He’s probably quite aware of how strong you are. He doesn’t go for the beauty prize if someone needs to die.” Ariciel took a deep breath. “But, as a working theory, can we assume that we’re all friends here? Neither of you wants me to come to harm. I’m touched and blessed. I’ll have a word with him and with enough strong drink we can sort this out right?”

“I don’t like stupid people. I realise that your perspective is a bit different, but please do point him in the right direction if he wants to hit something? Save us both the embarrassment.”

“Hah.” Ariciel knew that Bannog liked to pretend he was stupid to potential enemies. Bearwalker had apparently fallen for it. Oh well. Time for some damage control. She smiled, waved, walked outside, changed into her cheetah form and dashed to Lirael’s place like a yellow bolt of lightning.


It was getting dark, and she wished she knew where the road was. She had lost track of the Humans and hoped and prayed to Elune that they had given up the search. She closed her eyes and listened round for anything that might kill her. Not only Humans, but wildlife. There were bears here, and cats that prowled around, hunting by night. She took a deep breath, taking in the smells. They told her nothing. She’d been so stupid to come out here. If only Orin was here. He was strong, and hunted bears. He’d keep her safe. But he was gone. She had been there when he was infected. A zombie had vomited on him, and she had been at his side for a day while he burned inside, scared to death of becoming infected herself. She had not been there when he died. He had sent her away, realising what he was turning into. He had been afraid that he might harm her. She’d bolted. Hadn’t even tried staying with him. A choice that would haunt her to the end of her life. Something stirred to her right. For a moment, she thought someone had found her, but it was only one of the large flightless birds that walked the area. They didn’t attack unless you attacked them first. She took a deep breath and started moving again. Maybe she’d find something she recognised, and could make her way home.


“My sweet, my lover, my hero? Could you please let my teacher live? He still has to teach me how to turn into a Dire Bear.”

“I don’t like him. He wanted to kill you for no good reason. I want you to be alive.”

Ariciel gently put her hand on Bannog’s arm, and looked into his eyes.

“Mathrengyl never wanted to kill me. Trust me, if someone would tell him that he would no longer meet tainted magic users, then he would live out the rest of his life with a happy grin on his face. He hates it. But he has to. Letting them live is much, much worse. Even for those unhappy misguided fools.”

“Doing them a favour, is he? What if you hadn’t been able to convince him?”

“Doesn’t bear thinking about. But luckily, Mathrengyl Bearwalker is very intelligent, and a very kind soul. You’re as wrong about him as he is about you. I’d really hate for you two to be enemies. He’s a very good friend.”

“Is he really as good as he says he is?”

“Oh yes. The most powerful Druid in the city is Arch-druid Fandral Staghelm, and Mathrengyl is the only one who even comes near. I will love and cherish you for the rest of my life, but if you two square off, I’ll bet on him.”

Bannog grinned. “That good, eh?”

“Do not mess with the Druid. In fact, buy him a drink and try to get him going on old times. That’s a trick that got Mira and me through some lessons that might otherwise have been boring. He’s a lovely guy, really. Anyway, the night is young. There’s dinner to be had and after that, who knows?”

“Lirael has graciously allowed us the use of her bed, provided we clean up after ourselves.”

Ariciel thought a moment, then grinned.

“I think we can do better than that!”

“How much further?”

“Not much. Ten minutes tops. I could make it in five, of course, but then, I am a forest dweller.”

“I feel strangely rustic and unsophisticated. The trees may speak to you, but to me, they are silent. Curse the coarse stuff of which I am made.”

“Oh, you make up for it in other ways, my love.”

“That’s what I’m hoping for.”

Ariciel pointed ahead.

“There. The moonwell. Got the sleeping furs?”

“What? I thought you had them!”

“Very funny. Find a level space, would you?”

Bannog chuckled and rolled out the furs on a suitable bit of ground. A few yards off, there was a pool of water from which there came a magical glow. Ariciel’s form was silhouetted in the faint light. She stood there, eyes closed, taking deep breaths.

“I love forests. I honestly can’t think of any other place where just standing still and breathing can be such a pleasure.” She looked over her shoulder at Bannog. “This is where I’m at home.”

Bannog dropped his pack on the floor, walked over behind her and put his arms round her, saying nothing, listening to the sounds. A strange quivering cry pierced the night. Ariciel smiled.

“Strigid owl, hunting. They eat mice, the occasional rabbit. The only things that can see better at night than we can.”

“How do you know?”

“Hunters have strigid owls as pets sometimes. They use their eye of the beast spell. Oo. That was a young bear, learning how to hunt at night from its mother.”

“Bears? Here?”

“Oh yes. There’s animals here that’ll kill you and eat you if they catch you. It’s what makes this a forest, rather than a garden.”

“Hmm. So we’d better be quiet then?”

“No. Loud. Prey tries to be quiet. We don’t want to be prey.”

“Um love? Are we likely to become someone’s midnight snack tonight?”

“Not very. Predators stay away from the Moonwell. But then again, you are very tasty.”

“I’m in love with a woman who gets turned on by the idea of being mauled to death and had for dinner.”

Ariciel looked round with that special grin on her face. “So you’ve never done it anywhere outside where you could be found?”

“Not by anything with teeth and claws.”

Ariciel turned round and put her arms round his neck. “Well then. Open that bottle and you’re in for a treat.”


She was so hungry, so cold, so tired. She’d found the road, but she was so much farther south than she wanted to be. It would take her at least three hours to get to Auberdine. She was taking a chance. The road was normally safer than the forest, but you could easily be found on the road. She did not want to be found. She had started running, but found that she could not keep it up. So now she walked, occasionally breaking into a trot when she heard something. What a horrible place. The undergrowth was thick with thorns. The animals wanted to kill you for food. The Humans wanted to kill you for- She swallowed. For their entertainment. She rubbed her eyes. Stupid girl. Running around in forests. You’re not made for it. Night-elf though she was, the thing she wanted most was her bed, a blanket and a door between her and the night.

There was a deep yowl of some animal to her right. Eyes wide, she turned round to see an enormous white bear, watching her. Tears welled up in her eyes. There was no way she could outrun this animal now that it had seen her. Please don’t be hungry. Moving an inch at a time, she moved past the creature. It opened its great maw, showing white teeth. Oh please! But the bear was just yawning, not attacking. Small step by step, she moved along the road. As soon as she dared, she turned round and ran, ignoring the pain in her legs, until she could run no more. She found a place in the shadows, and made herself as inconspicuous as she could, curled up in a ball at the foot of the tree. Her teeth started to chatter, and she set her jaw. She closed her eyes, just for a few seconds. In a minute, she was asleep.


“There’s nothing quite like sleeping in the moonlight.” She wriggled her shoulders and tried to move even closer to Bannog.

“Strange, you didn’t seem to be asleep.”

“Well, after that.” Ariciel turned onto her back and smiled at her Human. Bannog stirred and sat up. He looked down on Ariciel, who looked up at him.

“We’d better get back. I’ve got my meeting in the temple and no doubt that boss of yours has more errands to run.”

Ariciel smiled and put her hands behind her head. She found that if she wanted to watch her boyfriend get dressed, as one does, she had to be quick. One of the things that army life teaches you is to get from nearly naked to battle-dressed in under a minute. For some reason, she couldn’t bring herself to ask him to slow down. By comparison, her own getting-dressed ritual was a lot less efficient, because she had to retrieve items of clothing from a rather large area. She looked round, and found her blouse hanging from a tree. Strange. How’d it get there? As she buttoned up, she found that Bannog had already rolled up the furs. She pointed, and they set off.

“Hey. That bed has not been slept in. Where have you been?” Lirael turned her stare on Ariciel. “Tell us, my dear. We must know.”

“Had a picnic out by the moonwell and spent the night there.”

Lirael looked pious. “Ah. Giving praise to the Goddess for blessing us with the Gift of Pleasure.”

“Like mad, yeah. Well, I’d love to stay and discuss my love-life with you, but I have to run. Bearwalkwer is using me as a delivery service. Again.”

“Tell him to pay more or get stuffed.”

“Hey. Twenty silver already. Courtesy of the Cenarion Circle. For a bit of travel on the flappy and a run through the woods. Not badly paid. Well, see you later.”


“Ladies and gentlemen, in the Redridge Mountains lies the castle of Caer Bannog. We have three outlying farms, and produce barley, fruit and vegetables. In addition, we breed horses both as riding animals and as pack animals. They are swift and hardy. It has come to our attention that the Night-elves of Darnassus are moving troops into Stormwind. In an attempt to help combatting the Scourge, we offer safe harbour and lodging to any of the Darnassus soldiery who require a place to stay. We can accomodate a force of up to thirty soldiers within the castle walls, and twice again as many if they are willing to camp outside the wall. We will provide board and lodging free of charge. Supplies, we can sell to you at market prices. This is our contribution to the war effort against the Scourge.”

One of the warriors stirred.

“What about the Redridge Orcs? I have been in Lakeshire, and unless much has changed, they still occupy Stonewatch Tower.”

“Sir, the Redridge Orcs are under orders from their leaders not to attack us. Though King Varian has declared war upon the Horde, these orders have not changed. My father and the Orc Chieftain have an accord whereby neither attacks the other. Any soldiers who rest at Caer Bannog will be under similar orders.”

“Hm. It seems to me that is rather a large risk to take just for some fruit and bread.”

“In that case, we can bring these resources to you in Stormwind.”

The priest who presided over the meeting nodded.

“Then, that will be the way of it. Our clerks will draw up the orders. In the name of Darnassus, we thank you for your offers and contribution.”

Bannog smiled politely, and returned to his seat. Bunch of sissies. Offer them free food and drink for ninety soldiers and they complain about the rough neighborhood. Oh well. If they’re that worried, let them pay for food.


Ariciel was running along the road to Auberdine, in her Elf form. She had delivered her message and had wanted some exercise. Bannog wouldn’t be out of his meeting till the late afternoon, so she had all the time she needed. Stupid delivery quests. Mathrengyl was right, though. Send someone a letter and they can simply throw it away and ignore it. The crucial bit of her job was to stand in front of them for long enough, demanding an answer. Oh well. With the proceeds, she and Bannog could take Lirael out someplace nice. She ran on, concentrating on her breathing. She found herself thinking about Puissance. Stupid girl. Where could she have got to? Could be anywhere, really. But she’d need a trainer if she wanted to get anywhere, and with her little trick, all the legitimate ones would be unavailable. So she’d have to go underground. If she wanted to beat Ariciel, she had a long way to go. She ran past the white bear. Rumour had it that it was the pet of a hunter who had disappeared. Poor thing. It had apparently been ordered to stay, so stay it did, except for quick trips hunting for deer or landstriders. Puissance. She tried to feel angry at her, but she couldn’t work up a proper rage. Well, stuff her. She could go on skulking about wherever she wanted. Ariciel didn’t care. Still, Puissance would probably bear a grudge. She seemed the type. And then, most likely at a most inconvenient time, the little bitch would sneak up behind her, summon some demon or other, and call her name.

“Ariciel!”

Ariciel turned round like a flash, hands glowing with magical energy, ready to beat off the attack. Someone came running at her, dark hair flowing in the wind, calling her name. She threw herself at her, holding on for dear life, head on Ariciel’s shoulder, calling her name again, and again. Ariciel let her magic flow away, and slowly put her arms round her attacker.

“Lesta.”


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

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