Part 13: Those whom the gods would destroy, they first make happy

“Lirael? Oh Elune be praised you’re home. I found Lesta back. My girlfriend from Auberdine. She’s been sleeping rough in the woods. Not used to it poor thing, and she was all alone. I need a place where she can stay the night. I can’t ask you to put up me, her and Bannog as well, you’re already putting up with so much and I love you for it, but I need someplace private, because if Bannog sees her, he’ll get entirely the wrong impression and if she sees him in all his combat gear, she’ll think he’s out to rape and kill her. She’s had a run-in with the mages of Master’s Glaive, bastards. Lesta was terrified, but she gave them the slip and then she had to walk home through Darkshore at night, all alone. Poor girl fell asleep under a tree and almost died from the cold, she had no blankets or anything, and then she came out and saw me and I almost shot her because I was thinking of Puissance, can you imagine?”

Lirael blinked.

“What?”

“Do you know of any place here where I can put Lesta for now? She needs a bath, and some food. Her clothes are all torn and she hasn’t had anything to eat since yesterday morning, so I’ve put her in the tavern and got her some food but they made her sit all to the back, because she’s not properly dressed. Who cares anyway she needs help!”

Lirael took a deep breath, put one hand on Ariciel’s shoulder, the other on her mouth.

“Right. Slow down. Deep breaths. From the diaphragm unless you’re out to seduce me.”

“Uh… you?”

“Just kidding. Now then. You have found your girlfriend wandering in the Darkshore woods?”

“Yeah, chance of one in a million! I was just running along and out she came! I hardly recognised her, but luckily she recognised me and she…”

“Slow down! So that’s a ‘yes’ then. What’s her name again? Just her name please.”

“She… Lesta.”

“Good. Lesta. Where is Lesta?”

“In the tavern, all the way to the back. She…”

“Good. The tavern. Is she having a meal there?”

“Yes. I…”

“Right. So she’s fine there for now. Now. You want to put her somewhere safe for a bit, so you can prepare her to meet Bannog, and prepare Bannog to meet her.”

“Yeah, and so she can have a bath and some clean clothes. Hers are all torn. Much too thin for going into the woods. She…”

“Quiet! Stop talking and close your mouth. Sit down.”

Lirael stepped over to the table and filled a large mug with water, which she gave to Ariciel.

“Drink. All of it. Now.”

Ariciel opened her mouth to say something. Lirael gave her a look. She closed it again. Then, she drank the water.

“Good. More?”

Ariciel gave the mug back. Lirael refilled it, then handed it back. Ariciel emptied it in one long slow draught.

“Feel better?”

“Yes, I… Yes.”

“Good.” Lirael held out her hand. “I knocked my hand on the table. Could you do me a regrowth?”

Ariciel frowned. “Aren’t you much better at healing?”

“Oh girl. Shut up and do it.”

Ariciel shrugged, concentrated and cast Regrowth on Lirael’s hand. Lirael smiled.

“Thank you. More water?”

“Yes, please.” Lirael refilled her mug, and Ariciel drank in small sips. She closed her eyes for a few moments, then opened them and looked at Lirael over the rim of her mug.

“I never would have taken you for a breast girl.”

Lirael’s eyes glinted. “Had to say something to knock you out of your happy place. Sex. Always works. Right. Has tranquility and serenity been restored? Then let’s go to the tavern and see who we can pick up.”

“In you go. You’re in luck. This place used to belong to the parents of one of the singers in the choir. Zombie plague took them, so the place is empty. As long as you don’t wreck it, you can stay the night here. Tomorrow, we’ll see.”

Ariciel stepped in with Lesta, arm round her shoulders. She looked round. The house was even smaller than Lirael’s, but there was a loft. A fireplace was to the West wall, with a stack of firewood next to it. Old people had lived here. There was a table with two chairs by the window. two more chairs were by a double bed. A half-full glass of water was on one of the chairs, a book on the other. The bed was neatly made, if a bit dusty. Ariciel looked at Lesta, then at Lirael. Lirael smiled.

“You take care of her. I’ll wait for Bannog to show up and talk to him before sending him over.”

Ariciel let go of Lesta for a moment to hug Lirael.

“You’re wonderful. Thank you.”

“I am, aren’t I? A miracle I’m still so modest. Later!” She disappeared.

Ariciel turned round to Lesta and inspected her. She was a mess. Now that she’d calmed down a bit herself, she could see why the innkeeper hadn’t wanted her to mix with the rest of the guests. Hair in tangles, several tears in her dress, all muddy, vacant stare. Ariciel smiled at her. She could almost see her mind floating in from a long, long distance. She smiled back.

“Hello Lesta. Let’s get you cleaned up.”

“Can undress myself. Don’t bother.”

“Right then. I’ll start a fire.” Ariciel stacked a few logs and kindling in the fireplace, lit it with a match. Ah, a kettle.

“Be right back.” She walked outside, and filled the kettle from the water-butt. The fire wasn’t hot enough yet to boil water, but she put the kettle on anyway. It’d boil in its own time. She looked round at Lesta, who was standing in the middle of the room in her underwear, holding up her dress in front of her.

“Ruined. Damn woods.”

Ariciel took the dress away from her, rolled it up and threw it in a corner. She stepped up to the bed, picked up a pillow and beat the dust out of it. Then, she pulled up the blankets, looked at Lesta, and pointed.

“In you get.”

“Oo. Are you joining me?”

“Maybe later. Come on. Get in.”

Lesta stepped into the bed, pulled the covers over her and looked at Ariciel.

“‘s not what you used to say.”

Ariciel sat down on the bed, smiled, and stroked Lesta’s hair.

“You’re knackered. No use to anyone. Get some sleep. I’ll get the house going by the time you wake up.”

Lesta smiled from far, far away. She put her hand on Ariciel’s arm.

“I’m glad you’re back.”

Ariciel felt a wave of pure joy course through her.

“So am I.”


“Right. We send in Morgan to keep their attention, then we pour in the arrows and the bolts, but hold back enough so they keep thinking Morgan is the biggest threat. They stay a nice long way away and we can cream them. Got it?”

Mareva peered at the strange creatures. “What are those things anyway? They look like birds, but they have arms.”

“Arakkoa,” said Stetson. “They did evolve from birds, but that was a long, long time ago.”

“You talk too much,” said Oxana. “They are in our way. Get on with it.”

Stetson nodded, and spoke a few words to Morgan. Morgan growled and rushed off while they readied their missiles. The strange bird-creatures screeched as Morgan tore into them like a fox into a henhouse. Mareva’s fire totem sprang to life, and she carefully selected targets, hitting them with pinpoint accuracy. Stetson’s arrows picked off feathered creatures, glowing with green magic. Oxana stood up, and cut loose. Unending streams of magical arrows shot from her outstretched fingers and crashed into the Arakkoa. A wild grin was on her face. The feathered creatures turned away from Morgan and ran straight at Oxana, weapons raised, magic crackling in their fingers.

“Oh crap,” was Stetson’s opinion. He dropped his crossbow and drew swords. Mareva fell back a few paces and replaced her fire totem with a fresh one. She resumed firing while Stetson hacked away at the bird-people.

Oxana laughed, and a dome of bright light formed over her. The creatures screeched in pain, and were thrown back. The light disappeared, then appeared again, destroying the Arakkoa that hadn’t been killed in the first blast.

Stetson stood still, breathing hard. He turned round to Oxana.

“You psychotic bitch! I said keep your sodding fire down! That’s the third time you’re doing that! Are you trying to get us all killed? What the hell is it going to take to make you stop doing that?”

Oxana looked at Stetson, eyes burning with an inner fire, and laughed again.

“Only Death itself, my friend. Only Death itself.”

She raised her hand, and a whirlwind of dark blue energy blew about her. After a few seconds, it disappeared. She looked at Stetson.

“Oh stop complaining. Don’t you feel more alive now than you ever did?”

Mareva put down a healing stream totem and watched a bird bite on her forearm seal up and disappear. She stared at Oxana.

“Keep this up, and you may feel more dead than ever you did,” she said.

Oxana’s eyes narrowed. “Is that a threat?”

“No. It is a simple assessment of the likely results of your present behaviour. As one of my paladin friends likes to say: Bloody clothies should keep their sodding heads down or they get hurt.”

Stetson stared into the south-west. Only about three more hours riding left till they got to Shattrath. They could survive that, couldn’t they? He glanced at Oxana, who was summoning her cat mount, chuckling to herself.

“Mareva, what’s that Engineer’s phrase again?”

“Depends on company. If any suits are there, it is ‘There may be some challenges ahead.’ If it’s just engineers, it’s ‘We are well and truly screwed.'”

Stetson sighed, and spurred on his Elekk.


“Heh. So one of Ariciel’s former girlfriends has shown up? Oh, that’s always awkward. Even among Night-elves I presume.”

Lirael smiled sweetly. “Former? I don’t recall Ariciel telling me that she let her off. Most likely, she’s still her girlfriend.”

“Oh. Ah. Right.” Bannog looked thoughtful.

“Welcome to the wonderful world of polyamory. Oh don’t look at me like that. It could have been worse. Could have been a boyfriend and a girlfriend.”

“Hm. Yes.” He sighed, and raised his hands at Lirael. “I’ve more or less gotten used to Ariciel having a girlfriend somewhere. She likes girls as well as boys, and I’m not a girl. So fair enough.” He sighed. “But her having another boyfriend would feel like I’m not giving her what she needs. Don’t think I would like that.”

Lirael touched Bannog’s hand.

“Well, I can’t tell you how to feel. Still, none of my boyfriends thinks less of himself because I have others. I don’t think less of myself because Arador has another girlfriend. She’s nothing like me. You may have seen her. Silyenna, one of the guards. They do things together I’d never want to. With bits of metal that I wouldn’t let him bring within a mile of my body. I once made the mistake of asking them to explain what one of them was used for. Ow. Ow. Ow.”

“Huh. I once knew a Blood-elf. She was imprisoned in the cell next to Ariciel in Searing Gorge, so we busted her out as well. Now she had some seriously weird ideas.”

“Oh? What?”

Bannog told her. Lirael gave him a blank stare.

“There is not enough ‘Ewww’ in the world! Why on Azeroth would someone want to do that?”

“I don’t know. So I thought I’d go with Ariciel instead.”

“Oh, that must have been a hard choice.”

“I still lie awake at nights. Looking at her, and very happy.”

The door opened, and Ariciel walked in. She looked nervous, but determined. She stood in front of Bannog, put her hand on his chest.

“My love, there’s something you should know. I…”

“Your girlfriend has shown up,” said Bannog.

“Uh… yes.” She glanced at Lirael.

“She told me,” said Bannog. “How is she?”

Ariciel let out a breath she hadn’t realised she was holding. She closed her eyes a moment.

“Asleep. She’s had a rough time. Me disappearing a while back, then Orin being taken by the plague. And yesterday, the poor girl was almost caught by the Human mages in the Glaive.” Her eyes found Bannog’s. “She needs a bit of loving care. Plenty of sleep. Some good food. Lots of hugs and cuddles.” She swallowed. “In fact, I may have to go a bit further than… just hugs and cuddles. It’s how we heal the mind. I know how it must make you feel, but she’s so… I can’t… not do it.”

Lirael looked from one to the other. Her calm grey eyes settled on the big Human warrior.

“She’s not making this up, Bannog. Making love to someone is our best way of restoring a hurt soul.”

Bannog smiled, and looked at Ariciel.

“Olive oil,” he said. Ariciel smiled, remembering.

Lirael blinked.

“Is that some obscure secret signal? Very rude, you know, speaking in code.”

Ariciel laughed. “When I came back from Searing Gorge, all battered and bruised, he took me up to the room and smeared olive oil all over me.”

“I didn’t have any proper massage oil, and this came closest,” said Bannog.

“Ah,” said Lirael, making a mental note to try this.

Bannog laid his hands on Ariciel’s shoulders, and gave her a long look. Ariciel smiled nervously. Bannog pulled her to him.

“What you have to do, do it. I won’t give you a hard time over it. Did that once, and didn’t like the result.” He kissed her. “Now. Do I get to meet this girl?”

Ariciel smiled up at him. “Yes! Of course, yes! Come with me!”

“Whoa!” Lirael waved her hand. “First, you don’t want to wake her up now, and second, Bannog, lose the hardware. You look way too scary in chainmail. Ariciel, you get back first, see how she is and talk to her. I’ll entertain your boyfriend for about an hour or so, then send him over.”

“Unless you need more time,” said Bannog innocently.

“My goodness,” said Ariciel. “I wasn’t planning on jumping her right now! But Lirael is right, I need to talk to her first, so she won’t be as jumpy around Humans. Oh, and I need some clothes for her.”

She grabbed her pack, pulled out her robes. “We’re still the same size, I think. Well. See you later.” She touched Bannog’s cheek. “Thank you.”

They looked into each others eyes a moment. Then, Ariciel disappeared out of the door. Lirael gave Bannog a long, slow smile, shaking her head.

“You are so far away from the conventions of your people, and you’re not even flinching. Amazing. Just want to let you know I realise that.”

“In the end, she’s my girlfriend. I want her to be happy. I want to watch her being happy. The rest is details.”

He started to remove his official Caer Bannog chainmail.

Ariciel sat on the bed, watching her girlfriend asleep. The fire was going. The kettle was almost boiling. She’d lugged a big copper bath into the room, and filled it with water. A few metal buckets of water were standing in a corner of the fireplace, warming up. She’d opened the windows and a cool breeze blew through the place. A house needed people to become alive. Her housekeeping skills hadn’t left her, but she was never going back to being a chamber-maid. People asked a Druid to do something for them. She looked down again. Lesta’s face was very quiet. Ariciel wanted to stroke her hair, but that would wake her up. The kettle boiled. Ariciel picked up a rag, wrapped it round the copper handle of the kettle and poured out steaming water into the teapot. The rest, she dumped into one of the buckets of bath water. She turned round to see Lesta awake, watching her.

“You’re really back. I wasn’t dreaming.”

“I’m really back. Though I do travel a bit more these days.”

“Can’t blame you. This place is a dump. Everybody’s dead. All the High-borne. Orin. And you, I thought. Your mum?”

Ariciel sadly shook her head.

“Berciel?”

“Also dead.”

“Plague?”

“Horde.”

Lesta sat up, wincing at sore muscles. Then she got up, walked over to Ariciel and put her arms round her.

“You’re here. I’m here. It’s not perfect, but it’ll do.”

“Oh. It’s not all sad. There’s someone I want you to meet. He’ll be along in half an hour or so.”

Lesta’s eyes shone. Ariciel breathed in slowly, remembering how she lost herself in that look, so many years ago.

“What. You’ve got a new boyfriend?”

“Yes. Bannog.”

“That doesn’t sound like he’s from here. Where’s he from?”

“Um… Redridge mountains.”

Lesta looked puzzled. “Never heard of that. Where is that? South Kalimdor?”

“Eastern Kingdoms.”

Lesta frowned. “But that’s not a Night-elf place. There’s Humans there, and Orcs, and other… things.”

“Um, yes. That’s right. I ended up there running from the High-borne.” She clenched her teeth. “He’s not Kel’dorei. He’s a Human.”

Lesta’s eyes opened wide, and her mouth fell open. For several breaths, she said nothing, just stared.

“You are sleeping… with a… Human?!”

“Uh… Yes.”

“You do know what Humans are capable of, don’t you?”

“Oh yes. Trust me, I do. He’s not that kind of Human.”

“Oh, he’s all cute and fluffy is he?”

“Hell, no! If he wants to, he can be scary as hell.” Ariciel chuckled. “As well as cute and fluffy and I didn’t say that.”

Just to give her something to do, Ariciel picked up the buckets of hot water and poured them into the bath. She jerked her head at the steaming water.

“Get naked and get in.”

“Huh. Getting it on with Humans. Bet you they can’t even get up a proper onde-plaisir in bed.” Lesta pulled off what little she was wearing and stuck her toe in the hot water. She carefully lowered herself.

“That’s right, they can’t, but you can do it for them.”

“So they make you do all the hard work?”

“Yeah, unless you don’t use the onde. They’re quite happy to do the hard work then.”

Lesta looked over her shoulder at Ariciel. “What? A la manière des bêtes? Oh my. That’s… barbaric.”

Ariciel emptied a jug of warm water over Lesta’s head.

“Yes,” she said, happily.

There was a knock on the door. Ariciel got up from the bed, walked to the door and opened it. Bannog was wearing his red shirt, reinforced leather trousers, but no weapons or other armour.

“Can I come in? I won’t scare her, I promise. I’ll keep my clothes on.” Ariciel giggled and stepped back. Bannog walked in. Lesta was sitting on the bed, eyes wide open, trying to push herself through the head-board of the bed.

Making no sudden moves, he walked over to the bed and sat down on it, with a friendly smile on his face. Bannog and Lesta looked at each other. She had dark green hair. He’d seen other girls with green hair, but that had been dye. This was her natural colour. Her long eyebrows were the same colour. Her eyes had the same pale glow as Ariciel’s and those of any other Night-elf he knew. Her lips were slightly parted, and dark. Her skin was a bit darker than Ariciel’s, and where Ariciel’s face had some of those small imperfections that aren’t really imperfections at all, Lesta’s face was, even to his carpenter’s eye, perfectly symmetrical and unblemished, aside from a small fresh scar on her cheek, where presumably a branch or something had hit her. Her clan markings were almost exactly the same as Ariciel’s, except that hers had an extra branch at the bottom. Bannog smiled, and slowly held out his hand to her. Lesta stared at it, then back up to Bannog’s face. Slowly, slowly, her hand let go of the collar of Ariciel’s robes, and she put her hand in Bannog’s large coal-shovel of a hand. Bannog squeezed as gently and un-threateningly as he could. Lesta gave a nervous giggle. Bannog grinned.

“Hello. I’m Bannog. What’s your name?”

“Lesta.”

“Hello Lesta. You are beautiful.”

Ariciel leaned on Bannog’s big shoulder, and winked at Lesta.

“Now, do I have taste in women or what?”


Warlock Greenleaf had thankfully buggered off to get some food. Griggin opened his lunch box and smiled. In among the crusty flatbread, there were some homemade biscuits and a note simply saying “Be safe.” He munched on the biscuits. They were uncommonly good. In the fire, his portable coffee maker had stopped gurgling, and he poured out a steaming hot mug. Not a blip had shown up on his detection spell. It was about to run out, and he recalled the true name of Neera. He would have to chant it out without error to renew the spell. How long should he try for? It was a rare warlock who would not summon her demon at least once a week, especially if she were travelling in hostile territory. Not that Darkshore was especially hostile, but to a runaway Warlock, all places could suddenly turn nasty. Griggin sipped his coffee and dunked another biscuit.

Stupid girl. Rather than try to talk Lady Ariciel out of her plans, which, if he was any judge of character, would not have been impossible, she had gone rogue. Did she even realise what she’d done? The moment she sneaked out of the cave where the Succubi were summoned, she had doomed herself. Her life, as she knew it, was over. Any legitimate Warlock was under strict orders not to let anyone, anyone at all, treat Demons in any way that would be a breach of the rules. There were a great many rules, but they all boiled down to a simple guideline: We are already annoying demons by summoning them in the first place. Do not make it worse. He sighed. With any luck, he’d be able to subdue, sedate or bind Puissance and transport her back to Stormwind, where the Warlock Society could deal with the distasteful business of disposing of her properly. Griggin’s face did not show any sign of emotion. “Disposing of her properly”, in this context, could well compete for the euphemism of the century. It involved an extended period of torture, followed by execution. These things were thankfully rare, but occasionally, they happened. Not because the Society was especially vindictive, but because demons were.

In the early days, the days that Warlock Greenleaf recalled so fondly, several demons had broken free of the control of their masters and gone on killing sprees, spreading terror among the innocents. By the Light, they were clueless back then. Ways had been developed to limit the discomfort to the demons, and to ensure that if it did break free, it would take its revenge on the poor fool who summoned it, and be satisfied. But that only worked if you treated your demons well. Somehow, Griggin doubted that Puissance would care. And that would, regrettably, make it necessary to appease the demon. These tasks were assigned at random. Griggin had been chosen only once, and had only been able to complete his task by constantly reminding himself that every cut of the blade, every stroke of the whip, every touch of the glowing irons was one that would not be committed upon a dozen innocents. He sincerely hoped that the lot would not fall on him this time. Griggin could still easily recall the man’s face, as he laid glowing hot irons on his chest, with the demon looking on. He had seen young Puissance once or twice, and the idea of having to do the same to a young girl made his stomach turn.

But it had to be done. If not, the Succubus would go completely out of control. He had seen the effect once. A healthy, peaceful village had been turned into a grisly ghost town, with the mutilated corpses of men, women and children strewn about. That had been a Voidwalker. Succubi were immeasurably more cruel. Sometimes, Griggin wished that he had taken up something nice and wholesome, like, oh, poison-making, rather than Demonology.

He shook himself from his gloomy thoughts. Perhaps Puissance would be dead after all, and none of this would be necessary. He sighed. He didn’t believe it for a moment. The detection spell had run out. Griggin put away the food his wife had lovingly prepared for him, stood up, closed his eyes and started the chant that would ultimately lead to suffering and death.


“I said I would get you to Shattrath alive and well, and that’s what I did. Job done. Oh. You want to tie that a bit tighter.”

Mareva shot Oxana a filthy look, and tied down the strips of Netherweave round Stetson’s arm. The bandage started to glow as it did its work.

“You might have told us about the warpstalkers, and that they can suddenly jump at you from out of nowhere.”

“You mean you didn’t know? Noob. Warp. Stalkers. That might give you a hint, unless you’ve been living under a rock.” Oxana spread her arms, blinked, and suddenly shot forward ten feet. “See? I do it all the time. Short-distance version of a portal.”

“Portal.”

“Yes. Portal. You don’t run everywhere, do you? Anyway, I need to get to Ironforge and sell all this leather. You want to go up to Aldor Rise, and set your hearthstone so a mage can return you to the inn there. Don’t go to the Scryers. Whiny Blood-elf zlotniks.”

Oxana closed her eyes, and concentrated. Circles of glowing runes appeared all round her, and there was a strange metallic grinding sound. She opened her eyes and a vision appeared before them. They could see the lava flowing through the central basin of Ironforge: the Great Forge. Oxana hefted her pack on her shoulder. Despite everything, Mareva smiled.

“It’s a shame you couldn’t have portalled here. Much easier. Thank you anyway. It was… interesting.”

Oxana looked over her shoulder, raising her eyebrows.

“Of course I could have portalled here. What makes you think I couldn’t?”

Stetson looked up. “You could have magiced us here? So why didn’t you?”

“Are you dim? I needed the leather. Give my best to Minalei. Try the sweet nectar. Favour the road travelled by few.” Oxana stepped through the portal, leaving Stetson behind with his mouth hanging open. Mareva saw his expression, and held out for at least ten seconds before she burst out laughing. She waved a finger at him.

“Don’t waste your breath stating the obvious. Come on. Let’s go.”

Stetson shook his head.

“The stupid woman never thought to ask. I am a hunter. I have about fifty stacks of knothide leather gathering dust in my safe deposit box. She could have had half of them if she’d just portalled us here.”

They walked through a tunnel up to the upper city, resolutely looking ahead as beggars tried to get coppers and silvers off them.

“Oh well. Never mind. Let’s go and find this tavern. I once knew a girl named Minalei. I wonder if it is her.”

“Not much chance. It’s not like names are unique.”

“I tried out a threesome with her and Viral. Results were distinctly sub-optimal.”

Stetson chuckled. “This was before you found out about the stimulating influence of Undead?”

“It was on board Exodar. You cannot read all day. The food was uninspiring. I saw all the movies in the first month. What can you do?”

“Sing. Learn to play the khitan. Start a religion. Find out if there is really such a thing as a highest prime number.”

“I do not sing. My silence is much appreciated, both vocally and instrumentally. Those who started religions all ended up believing in them and went mad. I already know there is no highest prime number.”

“Which leaves only sexual experimentation.”

“Precisely. Viral conked out half way through. Minalei was most disappointed. If this is her, of course.”

“Of course.”

They had stopped in front of the elevator to Aldor Rise. Mareva smiled.

“Is there a fire?”

“No.”

“Good. We may use the elevator. By the light! There isn’t even a handrail! Someone could fall off.”

“Apparently, people pay attention, or there would be stacks of dead bodies at the bottom.”

The elevator reached the top. They walked into a square, where a cordon of soldiers was standing, being talked to by their commander. With a last command, they all set themselves in motion and filed out of the exit. Mareva looked at their disappearing backs.

“Return home safely, my brothers.”

Stetson pointed. “The inn. Oh. It’s rather small.”

“As long as they have drink and one free table.”

“Dyonis A’k… Hold on. Do I know you?”

Mareva grinned. “I am fully clothed now, so I forgive you.”

A slight frown appeared on the caregiver’s face. She blinked, then her face turned a few shades darker.

“Exodar! Viral! You are… Minerva?”

“Mareva. I am glad to see you, Minalei.”

“Forgive me for not recognising you sooner. The journey on Exodar was a bit of a blur.”

“That would be the best way to endure it.”

“How is Viral?”

Mareva looked at her sadly. “He is dead. Blood-elves killed him on Bloodmyst Isle.”

Minalei took a short breath. “I am sorry to hear it. He was a kind soul. May he rest in peace.”

“May he be part of the Light Everlasting.” Mareva paused a moment, looking far away. “On a happier note, meet my friend, Hunter S’dezo’Houn.”

Stetson smiled. “Arquenon Porous. Pleased to meet you.”

Minalei gave him an appreciative look. “Can I help you?”

“We would like to set this inn as our home. Also, I need to know where the bank is. And the Portals. And the Naaru A’Dal.”

“You will find the Aldor bank at the bottom of the elevator, if you turn left. A’Dal is easier to find.” She pointed outside. “He is under that shaft of light in the middle of town.” Minalei smiled, with gleaming eyes. “And I will be happy to set your hearthstone to this place. May I?”

Mareva and Stetson handed over their hearthstones. Minalei held each of them in her hand. There was a glow of magic, and she handed the pebbles back.

“Will you be returning here often?”

“I imagine so. The portals here are very convenient.”

“Oh by the way,” said Mareva. “Oxana sends her greetings.”

Minalei’s eyes grew large.

“She’s not… um. Is she here in Shattrath?”

Mareva shook her head. “She zoomed off to Ironforge after boosting us here.” A look of relief passed over Minalei’s face, before she could stop it.

“Forgive me. She is a good customer, and she has never been anything but perfectly kind to me, but things tend to become… rather lively when she is around.”

Stetson laughed. “You don’t say! She is a woman for whom the phrase ‘Aggro Magnet’ was invented.”

Minalei gave Stetson a sad smile. “There is a reason why she is so… reckless, but it is not for me to say, and I don’t know the full story anyway.”

“We will ask her when next we meet,” said Mareva.

“Don’t. She takes exception to any prodding into her past. Perhaps she does not wish to be reminded.”

“Hm,” said Stetson. “It’s not our business anyway.” His eyes wrinkled. “Well, I’ve got a little banking to take care of, and I need to go to the auction house. I will return presently.”

Mareva and Minalei watched as Stetson’s tail disappeared in the direction of the elevator.

“Are you still into sharing your boyfriends?”

Mareva gave Minalei a little smile. “If you don’t mind, I would like to give it a miss in his case. Selfish, I know.”

“I still have the Goblin jumper cables.”

“Keep them as a present.”


“You seem to have put on some weight.”

“Oi!”

“Oh, in a good way.” Lesta’s fingers ran over Ariciel’s biceps and shoulders. “Your muscles have grown bigger. You’ve grown. You’re much stronger than when we were in Darkshore together.”

“I suppose I am. I’ve learnt so much from Bearwalker.”

“Oo! Bear shape?”

“Bear, Sea lion, Cat and Cheetah.”

“Oh my.” Lesta’s eyes looked at things far away. “I haven’t even found my calling yet. What do you think? Am I a Druid to be?”

Ariciel giggled. “Let’s find out. Want to go for a cross-country run to Dolanaar?”

“Hell no!”

“Probably not then.”

“What? Druids prefer a run in the woods to lying in bed with their lovers?”

“How about lying in bed with your lover… in the woods?” Ariciel’s cheeks glowed, remembering last night.

“Getting dirt everywhere? No thanks.”

“You bring sleeping furs. Honestly. But if you don’t like woods, you can’t be a Druid or a Hunter. You’re far too pretty to be a Warrior. Priestess? Priestesses are nice. Just look at Lirael.”

Lesta sighed. “I sell sticky things to children on the Auberdine pier, for Fiora Longears. Maybe I’m just a dull, simple merchant.”

“You’re not dull. I don’t have a dull girlfriend.”

“You don’t have a dull boyfriend either. You’re right, I think he can be scary, but he’s not all that bad.”

“Careful, girl. You may end up liking an icky Human.”

Ariciel thought of Bannog. He’d been so nice to Lesta. Something in her must have touched his damsel-in-distress nerves. He’d told her about his family back in Redridge. His sister. His brother. How he’d met her. The trip to Menethil. Lesta hadn’t said much, but slowly, gradually, she had relaxed and started laughing at his stupid jokes. She’d told Bannog about their time back in Darkshore, with the High-borne. Ariciel had watched Bannog’s face then. He hadn’t even winced at her mentioning, in passing, they were lovers. And then, he had got up, and left for Lirael’s place.

“Hey,” Lesta pushed Ariciel’s hair out of her eyes. “You’re smiling. You’re thinking about your Human, aren’t you?”

“Yes.”

“While you’re in bed with me.”

“Sorry. Anyway, you brought it up.”

Lesta stroked Ariciel’s cheek.

“He makes you happy. I’m glad.”

She ran her fingers along Ariciel’s ear, all the way to the tip. Then, down again. Ariciel shivered. Lesta’s fingers continued, down her neck, further down.

“Hey. I gave you those. You’re still wearing them?”

“Never took them out since.”

Lesta’s hand slid lower.

“And Orin gave you that one.”

Ariciel closed her eyes.

“Yes. The last one, I got myself.” She sighed. “Week’s wages, with the stones. Worth every copper. Saved up for three months. All mine. Nobody sees it except when I show them.”

“I bet your Human found it.”

“Bannog. Call him Bannog. And yes, he did. Didn’t distract him, though. Dedication. Focus. I like it.”

Lesta leaned her head on her hand.

“Right. Now, I’m curious. If they can’t do an onde-plaisir, what do they do?”

Ariciel opened her eyes and gave Lesta a grin.

“Come here. Close your eyes.”

Lesta did. Ariciel gently put her lips on Lesta’s, and kissed her. Lesta opened her eyes.

“That’s… strange. Nice, but strange. Why close your eyes?”

“Don’t know. Bannog says never trust anyone who kisses you with their eyes open.”

“How would you know?”

“Human magic. They feel it. Go on. Try.”

They kissed again.

“It’s kind of nice, in a strange way,” said Lesta. “Was that with your eyes open?”

“No.”

“Well, that’s no use. Try again.”

They ended up both opening their eyes and staring at each other, which gave them the giggles. Eventually, they calmed down.

“Enough with these strange Human ways,” said Lesta. “Come here.” She looked deep into Ariciel’s eyes, letting her hand run up and down Ariciel’s body, wandering, re-acquainting herself.

“Keep doing that, and there will be Consequences,” said Ariciel.

“Any good reason for there not to be?”

Ariciel thought. Whatever you need to do, do it, he had said. She had studied his face while he said it. He’d meant what he said. She took a deep breath. But then again, that didn’t mean he wouldn’t be hurt if she did. He didn’t like the idea of her sleeping with anyone but him. When she had told him about her night with Mareva, he’d almost got up and left there and then. She frowned, and set her jaw. Bloody unfair. Did he think she’d just walk away and leave him? Mareva and she had only played a bit. She’d been able to experiment with her one-sided onde-plaisir, and Mareva… had enjoyed every minute. Two warm bodies available. No reason not to enjoy. Good feelings all round.

Ariciel studied Lesta’s face. This, on the other hand, had more meaning. Lesta was hurt by loss, fear, pain, solitude. She needed a warm body against hers, a friendly voice telling her that everything would be alright, and how wonderful she was, and gently glowing hands touching her. Ointment for the tormented soul. And damn it. She’d known Lesta for years. She’d known her before she’d known Bannog. She couldn’t turn her away! Anyway, Bannog already thought they were making love now. No use denying Lesta… or herself. She found her breathing had grown faster. Realised only now how much she had missed Lesta. Ariciel laid her hand gently on Lesta’s cheek, ran her fingers down her chin, holding her breath.

“Well?” Lesta’s hand found its way to a particularly nice bit of skin on the back of Ariciel’s neck.

Ariciel gave in. If there were any explosions as a result, she’d pick up the pieces tomorrow. She closed her eyes, concentrated and her hands started to glow. After a few heartbeats, so did Lesta’s


Stetson returned to the inn, smiling to himself. He saw Mareva sitting at the tavern’s only table, talking to Minalei behind the counter. A half-empty mug of cider was in front of her. She hadn’t seen him yet, and he stopped a moment to look at her. Long black hair flowing, relaxed pose, radiating confidence. Stetson smiled. Wonderfully wry sense of humour, that rare talent to drop exactly the right words in when they were needed, and still, the ability to look at the world and be amazed and delighted by it. He walked over to her.

“Is this seat taken?”

“Push off. I’m waiting for my boyfriend. He is a big hunter and I want to do unspeakably depraved things to him.”

Stetson sat down anyway. “By the Light. If you call them depraved, I may not live to see another day!”

Mareva laid her hand on his forearm. The Netherweave bandage had all but disappeared. She looked at Stetson and smiled.

“Please, my love. Joke about anything, except that.”

“Understood. Are you ready to meet A’dal?”

“Yes. Let’s go.”

They said goodbye to Minalei, and walked off side by side to the great elevator. As they waited, they watched the beam of light that shot up from the central dome. Underneath would be A’dal, the Naaru. Naaru were beings of pure energy, who projected themselves into the here and now in shining, geometrical forms of pure Light. They were the nearest thing Draenei had to gods. Mareva walked on, deep in thought. There was a Naaru on board Exodar. O’ros. The only creature who could wrap his mind round the immeasurably complex calculations needed to propel the ship to its destination. And yet, they had failed. The journey that should have taken no time at all, had taken a whole year. Mareva had always wondered about this. Had Exodar truly failed, or was this a way of keeping its crew in reserve? She could hardly imagine a safer hiding place than a half lightyear away, in the outer reaches of space.

Stetson nudged her. They were about to enter the central dome. Mareva looked up, trying to keep her mind free of doubt, free of expectations. What would the leader of many Naaru tell her? A simple line of quests? Words of wisdom to strengthen her heart against whatever the Universe would throw at her? Nothing?

As they approached, she felt… refreshed, in mind and in body. A sound, like that of the windchimes she had outside her room as a child, was in her ears, or perhaps in her mind. She felt… welcome. Hesitating slightly, she looked up, to see A’dal. Shards of pure light revolved slowly round a bright white heart. Mareva’s hand found Stetson’s, and squeezed, hard. Stetson let her. They stopped.

“Guide me, A’dal,” said Mareva, without opening her mouth to speak.

“What guidance do you desire?”

The words formed in her mind, without the roundabout way of going through her ears.

“I am troubled by the events of this time and place. If not enough is done, then the worlds of Azeroth and Draenor may both be plunged into unending darkness. I fear the Lich King and the Scourge, and I would not have our future lives wasted if I did not do my part.” Mareva paused. “But I do not know what that part is.”

“You are a child of the Eredar. Many paths are open to you. Some lead to darkness. Others do not. You already have a store of wisdom greater than many of your kind. Would you truly ask me to point out the one right path?”

“Four times now, I have nearly been destroyed. First, when Exodar came down. Then, I was nearly slain by Orcs in the Redridge Mountains. I was almost taken by the plague. Finally, I was in mortal peril in the Eastern Plaguelands. Each time, I survived when I could just as easily have died. Am I being saved for something? Am I supposed to do something before I die?”

“The Eredar, and Humans, and Dwarves, and Gnomes, even Blood-elves, Orcs and Trolls, each are not strong enough to turn back the tide. But they are many. Each of the creatures of Azeroth and Draenor, from the mightiest of the mighty, to the snakes that crawl on their bellies through the grass, all heed the call of the light, and strive, unless they are corrupted, and their desires turned to their undoing. Blessed are those who have been tested, and yet have not fallen from their purpose. You need no guidance. You know already.”

Mareva wanted to protest. She really, really had no clue which way to walk when this converstion was over. Maybe Stetson would know. She didn’t dare look at him for fear of losing her connection to A’dal. She knew already. Strength in the face of adversity. Corruption, to be avoided. A’dal had told her nothing. Was she in danger of being corrupted? Not very. Always. Nothing was certain. A’dal continued.

“You know someone who is in great danger of being lost. Your help will be needed. You, and only you, will be able to.”

“Stetson?”

“No, not he. I cannot say more. The future is not certain.”

As gently as sunset, the feeling of connection faded. She found Stetson was looking at her, eyes moist, smiling, happy.

“What?”

“Don’t know how to say. Give me some time. Are you done?”

“Yes.”

Stetson held out his hand to her. She smiled and took it.

“My love, we can go anywhere we want. Portals everywhere. What shall it be?”

Mareva frowned. Someone, somewhere, was going to need her help. No clue who it was, no clue where, no clue when. Well, if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there. She closed her eyes, turned round and pointed. Stetson raised his eyebrows.

“That is a Horde portal. Better not.”

“Hm. Exodar? I can show you my room. Only slightly worse for the Imperfect Landing.”

“I don’t like glowing wildlife.”

“Ironforge? We haven’t seen Peterselie in a while, and if she is not there, we can take the train to Stormwind.”

“Much better. Let’s go.”


Bannog knocked on the door, and after a pause it was opened by Lesta, who put her finger on her lips.

“Quiet. She’s asleep. Come in.”

Lesta was wearing Ariciel’s robes. Probably didn’t have any other clothes here. Hm. That meant that Ariciel was wearing… She wore nothing in bed with him. Why would it be any different with this girl?

Moving as quietly as she could, Lesta poured out a mug of hot tea and handed it to him. He smiled as he took it, and her fingers brushed his. He took a small sip, burning his tongue.

“How are you?”

Lesta sat down, leant back in her chair. She had nice legs. Bannog realised that this probably went a long way towards reconciling him to the fact that his love was sleeping with another. Lesta pulled her robe over her knees.

“I was cold and hungry, but now, I’ve eaten and I’m warm. I was in great danger, but now I’m safe. I was all alone, everybody I knew dead or gone, but now, Ariciel’s back.” She closed her eyes a moment. “In other words, I’m much better. Only the memories to take care of.” She leaned her head back a little. “I’m afraid you didn’t see me at my best, yesterday. I do have a functioning brain in here somewhere, honest.”

“Rough couple of days, I understand?”

“The worst. I’ve never been so scared in my life. Those bloody Hu… uhh Mages.” Lesta smiled. “Sorry. Still can’t get used to Ariciel finding a Human for a boyfriend.”

“I found her, actually. And she was under threat from a bunch of Human bastards. So no offense taken.”

“It’s easier if you can just look at people’s ears and see if they’re good people or not. But Ariciel loves you, so you have honorary ears.”

“That’s the nicest thing anyone ever said to me.”

Lesta laughed. She had a nice laugh, as well. “Remember. The last few Humans I’ve met, apart from you, were complete rotters. I’m really glad to meet one who isn’t.” Lesta leaned forward a bit. “You pulled her out of that horrible place in Searing Gorge. I’ll never be able to thank you enough for that.”

“No need. She saved my skin a few times.” Bannog gave her a vague smile. “We thank each other now and again.”

“Heh. I know. She speaks highly of you, actually.”

In the bed on the other side of the room, Ariciel made some happy noises, turned over and buried her face in the pillow. Lesta nodded.

“Well quite.”

“Hm. If anyone had told me a year ago that I’d be sitting here, talking to my girlfriend’s girlfriend, I’d have said they were mad.”

“I’m sorry. I know absolutely nothing about Human courtship rituals.” She gave a wry smile. “I suppose I’ll be forced to find out.”

“Oh, it’s easy. One boy, one girl. Anything else is weird.”

Lesta shook her head. “Don’t know how you cope.”

“By being weird occasionally.”

Lesta bent forward, and put her hand on Bannog’s arm.

“Maybe in three months’ time, we’ll all be in the same bed together. Maybe not. Maybe she’ll just be a very busy girl. But I know it’ll be wonderful. We’ll make it work. We’re good at making stuff like this work.”

“It still gets me, that you don’t seem to mind. I mean, I’ve learnt not to, but in the beginning, I did.”

“Well, I don’t. Don’t mind at all. In fact….” A mischievous grin appeared on Lesta’s pretty face. “I’ll tell you something you really want to know. Turn her to jelly in your fingers.”

Bannog just raised his eyebrows. Lesta looked back at Ariciel. Still asleep.

“You get behind her, then you run your finger from her ear to her chin like this.” She illustrated. “Now when you do that, she’ll look back at you. When she does…” Lesta came a bit closer and continued in a whisper. “Run your tongue along the underside of her ear. Slow as you can. It’ll break her head, because she’ll know it was me who told you, but she’ll melt completely.” Lesta sat back. “It’s how I convinced her that she liked girls, too.”

Bannog nodded at Lesta. Was there such a thing as too much useful information? He was almost convinced there was. He finished his tea and put the empty mug in the small basin. Lesta got up from her chair.

“Anyway, I’d better get myself off to Auberdine. Fiora will be asking herself where I’ve been. I’ll have a hell of a time explaining.”

She walked over to the bed and gently stroked Ariciel’s hair. Ariciel looked up at her, and they whispered together in Darnassian. Lesta walked to the door, waved, and was gone. Ariciel swung her legs out of bed. Bannog noted that his earlier assumption was correct. She came over to him and hugged him.

“Well? What do you think?”

“Seems nice enough. And she’s full of interesting facts about you.”

“Oh? What?”

“Something about the underside of your ear and you going to jelly.”

Ariciel stared. “She told you that? Oh my! How will I resist you now?”

“And that that was how she convinced you that you liked girls.”

“Hah. Sorry Lesta. I already knew that. I was playing innocent with her. It did convince me that I really liked her, though.” She stood before Bannog. Her grey eyes carefully studied his face. “Are you alright with this? Really? Please tell me if you aren’t.”

“I think I can cope with Lesta being there. Don’t know how they’ll take it at home, though.”

“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”


Fiora Longears smiled gently at her customer. Her honoured customer.

“Well, for mana, you want a yellow gem, such as amber. Boosts intellect, and hence the mana pool.” She showed her an amber necklace.

“Hmm. By how much?”

For you? An infinite improvement, my dear.

“Not much. These necklaces are mainly decorative items. For the more powerful enhancements, you’ll need to go to an enchanter.”

“Are there any here?”

Well, thought Fiora, I can do you a pretty good one, only I won’t.

“No, you’d need to go to Darnassus or Stormwind. But I doubt they would give you one.”

“Why not?” She gave Fiora a dark look.

“The more powerful jewellery can be dangerous to the unprepared.”

“Dangerous? I could simply put it on, couldn’t I?”

Oh, I don’t know. If you can do spell work while in the throes of a grand-mal migraine, then I suppose it’s just what you need.

“That would be inadvisable, miss.”

There was a noise of running feet to Fiora’s left. Fiora looked, and sighed with relief. Elune be praised, it was Lesta. She’d been worried sick about her. She frowned.

“Hello stranger. Where have you been? Did you think you could take a few days off without telling me? You’re lucky I haven’t been able to find a suitable replacement for you!”

Lesta raised a hand in the air, and twirled round on the spot, making her robe billow out.

“You’re absolutely right, I should have told you I was going to Astranaar, but… whatever you say, you won’t be able to spoil my mood.”

“Hm. I’d say it’s a bit early to start drinking, but you seem too coordinated for that. What is it, girl?”

Lesta put her hands on Fiora’s shoulders.

“Ariciel is back! I thought she was dead, but she is back! And she’s got a new boyfriend, a big Human, but he’s a nice guy anyway.”

“Ariciel… Oh yes! Well she was back some time ago, but you weren’t here then. Must have missed her. Well, you can tell me all about it later. Go get your tray and start selling. There will be trouble if there is a single bit of candy unsold by tonight.”

“Will do! See you in a bit.”

Lesta walked off along the pier. Fiora smiled at her customer, who was staring at Lesta’s back.

“Sorry about that, Miss. Would you like this necklace?”

“I don’t know. It doesn’t go with my hair. Do you have it in black?”

“Black… amber? No, miss.”

“Well, not much use then, is it? Goodbye!” The girl trotted off in the direction of Auberdine, leaving Fiora shaking her head.

She’d quite liked living among the Humans. They had pathetically short lifespans, so they needed to squeeze the experience of a lifetime into, oh, eighty years or so, which made them wonderfully passionate. But sometimes, they managed to raise cluelessness to an art form. Black amber. Silly girl. Fiora didn’t know why, but for some reason Warlocks were the worst of the lot.


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

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