Part 14: Live enemies are bad for you

Lesta opened the door to Fiora Longears’ small house on the Strand. The door was locked, but if you knew where to push, the lock would pop open and you could enter. She entered the storeroom, picked up her tray and started emptying small bags of candy into the various compartments. The day was sunny and bright, so lots of people would be out and about in Auberdine. Better bring lots. When the last compartment was filled, she put on the cover and attached the strap that would go over her shoulders. She put the tray on the table, then stepped back into the storeroom to fetch the bag of change from its hiding place. When she returned, she noticed that she was not alone. A Human woman was in the door, leaning against the door frame, arms crossed, waiting patiently. Lesta recognised the customer Fiora had been talking to, and bowed her head at her.

“I’m sorry Miss. We don’t sell from the house. Only on the pier and in town, if you want candy.”

“That’s alright,” said the woman. “I’m not here to buy anything. I just want to have a little chat. You mentioned a name I remember. Umm… Aricel?”

Lesta’s face shone. “Ariciel? That’s right. She’s my girlfriend. I thought she was gone for good, but she’s back. Are you a friend of hers?”

The woman’s smile faded a little. “Not… exactly. I used to live with her, a while back.” She grinned, as though enjoying a private joke. “I think I kissed her once.”

“Oh, you’re from Caer Bannog? Bannog is here, too, though if you want to see him, you have to be quick. He’s leaving this afternoon. I’m sorry, but Ariciel didn’t mention you.”

“No, she wouldn’t. Never mention the old girlfriends to the new ones eh?”

“No, you’re wrong. She told me about Bannog as soon as I had recovered a bit.”

“Ah, but did she ever mention your existence to Bannog? Before you fell into her arms?”

Lesta stared. “Um… I don’t know.”

“There you go. Out with the old, in with the new.”

Lesta shook her head. “No, she isn’t like that. Maybe you’ve got the wrong person after all.”

The woman sighed dreamily, tilting her head back a little.

“Long silky smooth white hair? Pale grey eyes? Blue single stroke clan markings over the eyes? Just the right amount of chest? Thighs to die for?” Her dream-like expression disappeared as if a candle had been blown out. “Piercing between them?”

“Uh… that’s… right. Were you… lovers, then?”

“I’d like to say we were. One thing’s for sure, though. We’re not lovers now.”

“Uh. Would you like me to take you to her?”

“I don’t think so. In fact, she’s probably the last person I’d want to meet. Actually, I travelled the whole bloody Great Sea to be on a different bloody continent as she is. You see, when we parted company, she made me a promise. Would you like to know what?”

Lesta stared wide-eyed at the woman, and shook her head.

“She promised me that when next we met, she’d kill me. Oh, and she did that Elf-thing with the eyes, so I could see that she meant it. So no, we’re not friends anymore. But that’s alright. I have a new friend.” Her eyes shone, and her lips parted, showing her white teeth. “Would you like to see her?”

Without waiting for an answer, she raised her hands and crushed a small piece of glass in her hand. Magic started to flow. Lesta watched her, rooted to the spot, as lights played round her. Suddenly, there was a hiss of breath, and Lesta looked round. In the small room, there stood a dark-haired woman. And yet, it wasn’t a woman. Her body was strong, trim, athletic. She wore some leather strips by way of armour. Horns were on her head, and on her back were black leathery wings. Her eyes shone with a cruel pale blue light, and in her hand was a long whip.

The Succubus raised her whip, and brought it down on her own thigh with a crack. She… it, gave a satisfied sigh as the red welt on her bare thigh healed up and disappeared.

Puissance walked over to her Succubus, stroked its arm and laid her cheek against its shoulder.

“Isn’t she beautiful? She’s all mine. She does everything I say, and she does it very, very well.”

The succubus sneered, and hissed. Lesta shrank back, eyes large with fear. Puissance shook her head, sadly.

“I’m sorry, girl. I really can’t risk you telling Ariciel I’m here. Not after all the trouble I’ve taken to hide myself. Everybody thinks I’m dead, and I rather like it that way.”

“I won’t tell… I won’t tell anyone! I swear! Please!”

Puissance gave her a sad look. “Oh, you say that now, but we both know that the first thing you’d do if I just let you go is to run to your friends and blab your heart out. I really can’t allow that.” She turned to the Succubus. “Neera? Kill her. Quickly.” She turned back to Lesta. “Nothing personal.”

Neera hissed again, and raised the whip.

“Oh wait.” Puissance grabbed Neera’s arm, looked into Lesta’s eyes, drinking the fear. Lesta’s breath came in fast, shallow gasps.

“You’re the bitch’s girlfriend. So I’m afraid it is personal. Don’t kill her quickly, Neera.”

She let go of Neera’s arm.

In his cave to the north, by the waterfall, Griggin suddenly looked up. Not bothering with the head strap, he picked up his direction finder goggles, and held them up in front of his eyes, adjusting wheels for distance and azimuth, till the yellow dot merged with the bright red spot in his mind. He plotted the numbers on the map. Auberdine. North Auberdine. By the sea.

“Got you.”

Warlock Greenleaf looked up.

“You have found your mark, mon ami?”

“I have. Time to summon the Walker and hunt.” He fished in his pocket for a soulshard.

“Wait,” said Warlock Greenleaf. “Summon him the old way, the right way. Chant his long and glorious name.”

Griggin glared at Greenleaf. Then he popped his soulshard. Ten seconds later, Thuljuk appeared. Griggin bowed to him, then jumped on his mechanostrider. He scowled at Warlock Greenleaf’s outraged face.

“It’s called progress,” he said. “Try it sometime.”

He kicked his strider into gear and sped off for Auberdine.

Bannog drummed his fingers on the table. She still wasn’t back. The boat would go in an hour. Too short dammit. What if he took a griffin? That ought to buy him some time. He shook his head. She wasn’t back yet. Something was up. No time to play. He quickly put on his chain, put his sword on his belt and headed out the door. First stop, Cenarion Enclave.

“No Mr. Bannog, I do not know where she is. Have you come to accuse me of murdering her? Again?”

“Now that’s what our Quartermaster at Caer Bannog would call an interesting remark, but I was working on the assumption that you are her boss, and might have sent her somewhere.”

“Well, I haven’t. She came in this morning, but I hadn’t any work for her, so she took a griffin to Auberdine to look up her girlfriend. I take it she is not back yet?”

“She’s not. Auberdine isn’t such a rough place, is it? There’s candy girls there.”

“It is well protected, by warriors and druids. We do not tolerate foul play in Auberdine.”

“That’s nice. Nonetheless, I think I’ll have a quick look there to see if there’s any stuff going on despite your intolerance.”

Bearwalker thought a moment. This Warrior was about to leave. Surely, Ariciel would want to be back in time to send him off properly. He sneered. Though he still did not understand the attraction. No matter. Perhaps something was up after all.

“Take the griffin, Mr. Bannog. I’ll join you presently.”

Half an hour later, Bannog touched down in Auberdine, with a grim look on his bearded face. Griffins are fast. He walked down the bridge that connected the platform to the inn, to find Bearwalker already there. The next thing he saw was Ariciel riding into the place. She jumped off her cat, and it disappeared. She ran up to Bannog, then looked at Mathrengyl Bearwalker. She raised an eyebrow.

“Are you both looking for me? Aren’t I a popular girl!”

Bearwalker nodded. “And now we have found you. What was keeping you?”

Ariciel fretted. “Can’t find Lesta. She should be around here somewhere, selling candy. Stars and stones, merchants should be easy to find! You can’t sell stuff by hiding in a corner! I was riding up and down Auberdine, but I can’t find her anywhere.”

“Did you ask Fiora?”

Ariciel slapped her hand to her forehead.

“Right. Shan’t be a minute.” Bearwalker changed to his travel form, and ran off along the pier. Bannog looked at his disappearing tail. Ariciel grinned.

“They’re old friends. Really old. Over a century.”

They waited a few minutes, and presently, Fiora Longears came walking up with Bearwalker.

“I sent her to get her stuff at my place, then out to make the world a sweeter place. You must have seen her. She’s good at being seen!”

Ariciel shook her head. Fiora shrugged.

“Well, let’s go to my place, and see if she’s been there.”

Together, they briskly trotted to Fiora’s place. She frowned.

“Something’s wrong. The door isn’t closed properly. It’s a bit rickety, and if you just bang it shut it won’t work. You need to put your foot against the bottom.” Fiora’s eyes narrowed. “Lesta knows that.”

“Get behind me,” said Bearwalker. He took a deep breath and turned to his Dire Bear form. He’d never seen the point in starting small. If you have an extremely powerful fighting form, use it early and often. Bannog drew his sword, and stepped up to the door. He gave it a little push, and it opened, Sword ahead of him, he stepped in, with Ariciel behind. It took his eyes a few seconds to get used to the dark. When they did, he turned round in a flash, and spread his arms, looking at Ariciel.

“Don’t go in.”

“What? Why not?” She tried to push past him. Bannog laid his hand on her chest, and pushed. She staggered back.

“Do not go in.”

Anger flared up in Ariciel’s eyes. She ducked under Bannog’s arm and went in anyway. Bannog closed his eyes, an expression of pain on his face. From inside, Ariciel’s cry of anguish pierced his ears, his mind, his soul.

Bearwalker changed back to his Elf form, and walked in. His fingers reached out to Lesta’s throat, and he didn’t know whether to hope for a pulse. There was none. He sighed. The poor girl had been killed with a whip. That meant a succubus. That meant Warlocks. Outside was a mechanical sound. He found a table cloth, and laid it over Lesta’s face, such as it was. He turned round, and stepped outside. A Gnome had arrived, mounted on one of the metal bird-things that they used. Bearwalker didn’t like them, a clumsy image of a living thing.

“I see I am too late,” said Griggin. “What has happened?”

Bearwalker saw the large blue Voidwalker. Another Warlock. If this kind of thing kept up, he’d have to organise a pest control group.

Ariciel’s head was on Bannog’s shoulder. She was sobbing quietly. She raised her head, eyes red, tears streaking her face.

“Lesta’s dead. Killed. By some Lightless Warlock.”

Griggin took a breath. Well, he could have expected that. One does not summon a Succubus for nothing. He bowed his head.

“My sincere condolences, Lady Ariciel. May I examine her? It may help me to find the Warlock who did this.”

“Stay away from her! You Warlocks have done enough!”

Bannog took Ariciel’s head in his big hands, and looked into her eyes. Ariciel said nothing, then burst out crying again. Bannog laid his hand on her hair. His eyes turned to Griggin’s, and he nodded, imperceptibly. Griggin said nothing, commanded Thuljuk to stay with a gesture, then quietly walked into Fiora’s house. Carefully, he raised the cloth, and looked at what was left of Lesta’s face, her torn clothes, her body, noting details that only he could possibly understand, and that he would not want to explain to anyone, least of all Lady Ariciel. With a sigh, and a small bow of the head to show respect to the dead girl, he put the cover back over her.

He came out of the house with a grim, sad expression on his small face.

“It is as I feared. This was done through the demon I was tracking. I can name she who did this.”

Ariciel looked up.

“Puissance,” she said.

Griggin nodded.

“She has stolen the succubus Neera. Her life is forfeit. I will seek her, and do what must be done.”

Ariciel suddenly raised herself to her full height. She slowly turned round, letting go of Bannog.

“Like hell you will. I’m going to track her, find her, and kill her, like I should have done weeks ago.”

Griggin bowed his head.

“I will renew my detection spell, and find the demon.”

Ariciel stared at him, then changed to her black cat form. She sniffed round the door, found a trail, and set off at a run.

Bannog looked at Bearwalker.

“What are you waiting for, Mr. Bannog? Go after her! In her current state of mind, there’s no knowing what she’ll do.”

“Right.” Bannog ran after Ariciel.

“I will go to the temple, and come back with a priest,” said Bearwalker. He took a deep breath, changed to his flight form, and flew off in the direction of Teldrassil.

Griggin raised an eyebrow. “I thought that was not allowed.”

Fiora gave Griggin a cold stare. “Rules are there for the guidance of the Wise, and the obedience of fools. Now, Mr. Warlock, what were you planning to do?” With slow steps, she walked into her house, staring at the wreckage of her home, and the wreckage of the poor girl she’d taken under her wing.

“How am I ever going to get this clean again?”

Outside, Griggin started his chant. Success depended on whether Puissance had dismissed her demon or not. It took a soulshard to summon a Succubus, and she might be running out. The spell completed. A red spot appeared in his mind. Griggin jumped onto the back of his mechanostrider.

“You can run, but you can’t hide. Follow me, Thuljuk. Slay all who attack me.”

“I obey.”

Stetson walked up to the mailbox that was outside the Ironforge bank. Oo. Lots of gold. Someone had picked up his auctions. Nice! Someone next to him was swearing in Draenei. He looked round. Oh, so nice to hear his own language spoken abroad. Shame about the vocabulary.

“Hello Oxana. Did you sell your leather?”

“Yes, curses. I would have made a profit, if some zlotnik had not dumped twenty stacks of knothide on the auction house at half my asking price. I had to buy the lot of them to get any price at all. And now nobody wants to buy any more.”

“Oh. That was you, then? Thank you! That paid for Mareva’s Elekk, that did. I’d have given them to you for a portal to Shattrath, mind.”

Oxana’s eyes slowly ronded on the hunter, and for a moment Stetson thought he would find out how well Hunters burn. Then, Oxana started to laugh.

“You miserable bastard. I now have ten stacks of Knothide stinking up my mailbox because I do not have the bank slots.”

“Best place for it. Well, I have to run.”

“Don’t bother. My fireballs have a very long range.”

He found Mareva sitting at a table in a tavern. Her flagon was still full, and she was glaring. A dark expression was on her face.

“Well, that went well. Oxana sends her best.”

“So what? Have you finished playing?”

“Eh? What’s up?”

“Nothing.” Mareva looked round. “I don’t like this place. Why’d you bring me here?”

Stetson studied Mareva’s face. He’d never seen her in this foul a mood, without at least some clue as to what was wrong.

“What is the matter, Mareva?”

“Like I said, nothing. Let’s go somewhere else.”


“Don’t care. Just get me out of here.”

“Your wish is my command, my love.”


Bannog ran as fast as he could in his chainmail. Ariciel ran as fast as she could in her sleek black cat shape. Bannog had a problem. He was panting as he went, strong though he was. A long way ahead of him, he could hear growls and the strange noises of some bird-like creature. Oh damn. He set his teeth, and settled into a longer stride, slower, but he would arrive with energy to fight. As he cleared some bushes, he could see Ariciel being attacked by four Moonkin. She was clearly winning, but the Moonkin managed to hurt her by sheer numbers. With a final dash, Bannog charged them, channeled his rage and struck out with a Thunder Clap. The Moonkin, already hurt by Ariciel’s attacks, fell over. Cat-Ariciel’s head turned round to him for a moment. Then, she started walking round, sniffing the ground, looking for the trail she had been following. She growled, turned back to her Elf form. Bannog could see cuts on her arms. Blood was on her face from a cut to her forehead.

“Damn! I’ve lost it! Stupid Moonkin.”

“Lost what?”

“The trail. I was following it, but those Moonkin bled all over it and spoilt it. Crap. How am I going to find it back now?”



“Calm down, my love.”

“Don’t tell me to calm down! I’ll calm down when Puissance is dead. Not before.”

She changed back to her cat form, and started to search in ever growing circles. Bannog revolved on the spot, following her. He rolled his eyes, ran out a few steps and grabbed Ariciel by the scruff of her neck. He shook her till she changed back to her Elf form.


“You are not helping anyone. Griggin is on it. He can home in on her using his Warlock spells. Now if you run into something bigger than these bird-things, then you may die too, and you can lie in the grave next to Lesta.”

“Pff. I can take on anything you’ll find here. Including Puissance.” She took a breath, and prepared to turn back to her cat form. Bannog grabbed her shoulder and shook her.

“Let go of me! I want to kill Puissance! I should have killed her. If I had, then Lesta would be alive.”

“Then bloody well let the experts do what they are best at! While you’re flailing about here, Grigging is heading straight for her. Follow him and you’ll find Puissance.”

Ariciel gave Bannog an icy stare.

“Take your hand off my shoulder. Very well. I will go and find the bloody Gnome Warlock, and he’d better not get in my way when I find her.”

She concentrated, and this time turned to her cat form without Bannog interfering. She lowered her muzzle to the ground, concentrating on her tracking. Then, she raised her head, and set off. Bannog sighed, took a few deep breaths and set off after her.

Puissance looked at the soulshard in her hand. Well, that was another chance to summon Neera. Better not squander it. She put it in her pouch, and looked again at the corpse of the Moonkin that had so kindly given up a bit of its living essence. Neera stood nearby. Puissance’s eyes shone. She really was a very efficient killer.

“And you’re all mine,” she murmured. Neera said nothing.

This cave looked like a good place to hide for a while, now that she’d cleared all the vermin out of it. Just have her gorgeous pet guard the entrance against any that might wander in, and she could sleep here. She let her eyes rove over Neera’s body. A construct, she knew, but such a nice construct. What a pity she couldn’t fully enjoy it. Well, she probably could, but only once, and then she’d be dead. Puissance scowled. She wanted someone else to die first, slowly. She pointed at the slain Moonkin.

“Neera dear? Get rid of that, will you? It’s starting to smell already. We’re going to lie low here for a bit.” She reached into her pocket and pulled the wrapper off a piece of sticky toffee.

“I do hope you’ve brought enough for everyone.”

Puissance turned round, hands at the ready for a shadow bolt. Then, she relaxed. It was only the little Gnome from the Warlock society.

“Sure I have. That Elf girl had lots. Try one, they’re nice.”

“No thank you, Bad for the teeth. Unlike yours, mine will have to serve me for years to come.”

“Griggin Steambender. What are you doing here?”

“Warlock Puissance, I’ve come to hold you accountable for your crimes. You have stolen the aspect of the Succubus Neera, and you have put it to unforgivable uses.”

“Really? Oh my. Whatever will I do?”

Griggin folded his four-fingered hands on his stomach. His face betrayed nothing of his thoughts.

“You can do one of two things. First, you can come with me to Stormwind, where I will hand you over to the Society’s… specialists. They will summon Neera for you, and spend a day or so explaining to you precisely why you shouldn’t have done what you did. Then, they will execute what is left of you. By fire, if they deem you not penitent enough.”

“Oh, I don’t like that much. Is there something else?”

“Yes. You face me.”


Griggin frowned.

“I must confess that I have a slight preference for the latter. I have seen what you did to that poor innocent girl.”

“Well, Neera did it, actually.”

“A weak excuse. You have complete control over her actions. The deed is yours, and you will pay for it.”

“Oh, I mustn’t make it sound like I disapprove. Such dedication. Such skill! Now if I had that whip, I’d just have hit her as hard as I could, till she stopped moving. But Neera! She starts slowly, eyes first, then lets the little thing get used to more and more pain, without letting her pass out. She was screaming till almost the very last. I can’t wait to try it out on the Elf bitch.”

“You flatter yourself. Lady Ariciel can wipe the floor with you, and your Succubus. And so can I.”

“Oh my little Gnome friend. I have a Succubus. You have only a Voidwalker. I’ll have Neera take care of you, and then I’ll train up a bit more, and let Neera display her skills on Lady Ariciel.” She spat the name out.

Griggin bared his teeth in a vicious scowl.

“I do not intend even to sully Thuljuk’s fists on you. Observe.” The Gnome turned to his Voidwalker. “Thuljuk, I thank you for your services. Please return to your demesne in peace.”

“I obey,” said Thuljuk, and disappeared.

“Now, that’s a novel strategy. Maybe you enjoy pain?”

“I do not intend to allow you to cause any more pain.”

“I’d like to see what Neera can really do, little one. Go on. I’ll give you the first move. Then, I’ll have Neera kill you as slowly and painfully as she knows how.”

“Very well,” said Griggin. He raised his hands by his sides, and started a chant. An inner light shone from him as he did, not white like a Paladin’s, but deep, dark, purple. Without any warning, the chant ended. Griggin nodded at Puissance. Puissance raised her eyebrows, looked at her arms, looked round her. Nothing.

“Whatever that was, it failed. And here I was, hoping for something interesting. My turn, I think. Neera darling? Kill him. Make it hurt.”


Puissance’s head slowly turned towards Neera.


“No. I will not do your bidding.”

Griggin coughed.

“I forget. They won’t let you summon a Succubus before the twentieth lesson. Do they teach you before that how to re-establish your control over a minion, should you lose it?”

Puissance made no reply. She stared at Neera, who slowly unrolled her whip.

“You said you wanted to know what a Succubus can really do,” said Griggin. “I think your wish is about to be granted.”

Neera struck out. Puissance cried out, and clasped her face, blood welling up between her fingers. Griggin folded his hands on his stomach, and observed.

Cat-Ariciel ran through the woods, whirlwinds blowing round in her mind. Guilt. Grief. Frustration. Anger. Cats can’t cry, but she would have. Lesta. My wonderful Lesta. She’s dead. Tortured to death by that… She sped up, in the direction where she could vaguely sense Griggin’s presence. If only she’d have bashed her head in, in Redridge. She could have run into a few Orcs afterwards, made up a story about how she barely escaped with her life, after they killed Puissance. But that would have been worse. The Orcs would have violated the Accord, and all hell would have broken loose, with accusations and denials flying all over the place, followed by bloodshed. She could have let Puissance kill her. But then, Lesta would have been alone. She could have gone with her to Auberdine, but how could she have known that Puissance would be there on the bloody pier? She should have hunted her down and killed her. Bearwalker and Bannog were right. Don’t leave live enemies. She had failed, and because of that failure, Lesta had had to endure… Cat-Ariciel yowled. Baring her fangs, she ran even faster.

Griggin was concentrating hard. He had one more thing to do. Render the demon Neera safe. He had started casting his spell when Puissance stopped struggling, and finished preparing it just when she finally lost consciousness and the demon Neera burst the blood vessels in her thighs to make her bleed to death. It was revolving in his mind now. He had one question to ask of Neera, and the spell to cast if the answer was no.

“Succubus Neera. You have taken your revenge on this woman’s body, as is your right. Are you satisfied?”

The succubus turned round to the Gnome, and Griggin reflected that if the young men could see a Succubus like this, fangs bare, blood smoking on those lovely curves, claws extended, then they might possibly be dissuaded from desiring them so much. The demon’s breath hissed through her teeth, and she spoke.

“No. The flesh-creature touched me. Her stink is on my arms, and legs, and breasts, and hair. Her body could not carry the proper suffering for such a crime. I thirst for more blood.” She cracked her whip, sending tiny drops of blood flying through the air. “But I will be satisfied if you will give yourself to me.”

“That is out of the question. I am not a party in this crime, and will not suffer its consequences. I gave you your revenge. You must leave, unsatisfied.”

The Gnome held his hands in front of him, and a ball of yellow light appeared between them. With a small push, the ball shot forward, touched Neera, and engulfed her before she could even move a muscle. Griggin cried out Neera’s true name.

“Thus I name you, and thus I banish you from this world, for now and all times, never to return. Go!”

The ball of yellow light contracted, and Neera’s form was crushed to nothing, until the ball, no larger than an egg, disappeared with a small noise. Griggin closed his eyes. Damn. He could have done that with Puissance still alive. The Succubus Neera would have been lost either way. But then again, that would merely have been a stay of execution for Puissance. Even if Lady Ariciel would not have torn her to shreds, the Warlock Society would have. So much suffering. That poor young Elf girl, Puissance, even the demon Neera. The spell he had used had cut off the demon from this world, and, metaphorically speaking, put a hot poker on the wound, cauterising it. All for nothing. He walked over to the body, and looked at the tattered remains that had once walked Azeroth as Phyllis of Eastvale. The wounds had stopped bleeding. She was probably dead already. Still, no need for anyone to suffer more. He drew his dagger, positioned it below her left breast, and pushed. There was no reaction. He pulled it out, and wiped it on a bit of Puissance’s dress before sheathing it. He took one last look, then walked to the mouth of the cave for some fresh air.

“Where is she?”

Ariciel had come running up through the woods, and changed back to her Elf form. Her eyes burned at Griggin, who bowed his head.

“She is dead. She lost control of the Succubus, who then killed her. I removed the Succubus. I would advise against entering the cave. It is not a pleasant sight.”

“I didn’t come here for a pleasant sight. Let me in. I have to see the body.”

Griggin stood aside, and gestured. Ariciel went in. Her boots sank a little way into the soft sand on the bottom of the cave. It was a Moonkin cave, she could see. Only Moonkin, descended from owls as they were, would illuminate their dwellings with luminous mushrooms. To Ariciel’s eyes, it was a bit on the dark side. To a moonkin, it would be brightly lit. Ariciel barely avoided stepping on the body of the luckless Moonkin that had found itself in the same cave as Puissance and her murderous girlfriend.

Slowly, she walked forward, to where she could see the ravaged bit of Humanity lying on the floor. She kneeled by the corpse. It was her alright. With one long finger, she turned the head. That earring, she recognised. She wiped her finger on her trouser leg, and stared blankly. So now what? Put in a few whacks with the staff, and maybe a few bolts of Moonfire? To what end? She was gone. She’d fled to where Ariciel could not follow. Probably talking to the White Lady right now. Better luck next life. Ariciel sighed, and stood up. It wasn’t that Puissance hadn’t suffered enough. That demon seemed quite capable, and there was hardly any skin left on her. Bones were visible here and there. But Ariciel had wanted to be the one to kill her. Break every bone in her body, then put her hands on her throat, make her look into her eyes and squeeze till she went limp. Or something like that. Well, no such luck. Ariciel turned round, and walked to the mouth of the cave. Bannog had arrived. So had Mathrengyl Bearwalker. She was surprised at how calm she suddenly felt. She was not alright by any stretch of the imagination, but she could… function. Slowly she walked over to Bannog, put her arms round him and pressed her face against the metal rings of his chainmail.

“Sorry for being nasty to you.”

His hand was on her hair again, stroking gently.

“Don’t worry my love. Everything is going to be alright. Going to be just fine.”

No, it wouldn’t. Not in a hundred years would everything be alright. But she’d live.

“I am truly sorry, my love.”

“Feel better now?” Stetson picked up the bottle of Qrovna, and refilled both their cups. Mareva stared ahead of her, at nothing in particular.

“I was channeling. I’ve never felt that before. It happens only if someone you know has a very, very strong emotion.”

Stetson gave Mareva a dirty grin.

“Such as…”

Mareva laughed. “No you zlotnik. Not even that will do it. Anyway, that would be very trying on a Shaman’s boyfriend. No. Someone I know, felt more miserable than ever before. And lucky girl that I am, I get to experience part of it. Would you like to be a Shaman? I wouldn’t. I don’t even get a pet. All I have is bloody totems. And other people’s nightmares.”

“Channeling again?”

“No. This time, I am annoyed and cross on my own account.” She picked up her cup and tossed down the vile liquor in one gulp. She held out her cup to Stetson, who refilled it without comment.

“I think I’d better find out who it is, and cheer them up. Otherwise, I will be a most unentertaining girlfriend.”

“Not a chance. A’dal assured me that you would love me until the day you die.”

Mareva looked at Stetson over the rim of her cup.

“I have endured much of the speech of managers. I bet you, that as soon as this wears off, I can point out to you five different ways in which that can suck like a black hole.” She gulped down her Qrovna. “Without even trying hard.”

Stetson sipped his drink, and screwed up his face.

“How you can drink this stuff, I will never understand.”

Mareva laughed. “You are doing it wrong. You are not supposed to taste it. Anyway, I think I should probably not have any more. It would make getting down from here a bit hazardous.”

“True. The view is worth it, though. You can see the boats coming in all the way from Northrend.”

“Yes. I thought making me climb all the way up here was some sort of therapy, but it works.”

A small door opened behind them, and the angry head of the lighthouse keeper poked through it.

“Right. Get your blue arses off my lighthouse. You’re obstructing the light. And get that bloody cat away from my fish!”

Stetson looked round.

“In a minute. Mareva? Do you feel like visiting Caer Bannog? Perhaps the great sadness you spoke of has occurred there.”

Mareva put away the bottle and cups.

“As good a guess as any. It will be nice to see Selena again, and Ariciel, and Bannog. Whoa! Do you think the nice Human will let us use the stairs this time?”

In the Darnassus cemetery, a small group of people was standing round a freshly dug grave. Griggin Steambender was there. So was Fiora Longears, and Lirael wearing her priestly robes. Lesta’s body had been wrapped in linen, and covered with a cloth. Bannog and Bearwalker together lowered her into the grave. Ariciel stood silently, staring at the form that only yesterday had been her long lost girlfriend. She tried to cry, but no tears came. Ariciel threw a handful of dirt into the grave, followed by the others. Then, she took a few steps back and watched Bannog and Bearwalker fill the grave. Still, she did not cry. She looked round her. There were large trees. The grass was growing. There were flowers. Wisps drifted lazily on the wind. So many growing things. So much life. She looked at the small mound of earth. Still, no tears.

“Ariciel?” She looked over her shoulder. Fiora Longears stood behind her, a friendly smile in her strange, blue eyes, hand on her shoulder.

“This morning, when Lesta came back to Auberdine, she was almost dancing with joy. When she told me you were back, her face was glowing with it. I have never seen her so happy since I met her. What happened to her, was beyond horrible, but before she died, she was the happiest girl in the world. All because you were back, and loved her as you still do now. Remember that when the bad times come.”

Fiora gave Ariciel a hug, touched her cheek, and set off in the direction of the portal, and home. Lirael put her arm round Ariciel’s shoulder, whispered in her ear.

“Any time of the day or night. You want to talk, come to me. I’ll throw Arador out if need be.”

Ariciel giggled. They all went down to the tavern, for a few final drinks before each going their own way. Ariciel walked between Bannog and Lirael, with Bearwalker and Griggin behind. Bannog sighed.

“I wish I could stay, but I’m already late in returning. These orders have to go through, or there will be hungry soldiers in Stormwind.”

“I’ll be fine. I have work to keep me distracted and my very own priestess! I’ll come back to the Caer in a few weeks.”

“Do feel free to drop in on your way through. I have nigh-limitless reserves of coffee. Young Bieslook was asking for you!”

Ariciel thought of the lively young Gnome girl. She’d never have thought it, but she liked children. Maybe some day… she looked at Bannog. Could they even? She’d have to ask Lirael.

Bannog trudged on. The second funeral today, though the first one had not seen as much ceremony. They had brought Puissance’s body to Mathrengyl Bearwalker’s secret cemetery, dug a grave and dumped her in. No prayers, no spectators except Griggin Steambender. So that part of Ariciel’s story was true. It did fall to Bearwalker to… dispose of practitioners of dark magic. Bannog did not envy him his job. As master-at-arms of Caer Bannog, it fell to him to keep discipline among the soldiers, and deal out punishment as well as rewards. So far, nothing serious had happened. The worst he’d had to do was assign someone to some extra hard duties for picking a fight. He shuddered to think that one day, he might have to send someone to the axe man. Better not let things get that far in the first place.

They went into the tavern, found a table, sat down, ordered drinks. With at least two fighters being present, the conversation quickly turned to the relative merits of various fighting tactics.

“But of course,” said Bearwalker, “Elf warriors tend to have greater strength than Human or Gnome ones.”

“Oh really?” Bannog flexed his muscles. “No need to feel sorry for us, Mr. Bearwalker.”

“It is a simple scientific fact. We can lift more weight than Humans can. Which isn’t to say, of course, that a Human couldn’t defeat a Night-elf, but they would need to be far better trained.”

Griggin protested. “Brute force isn’t everything, Mr. Bearwalker. My daughter can bring down a warrior more than twice her own weight, and has done so on several occasions. Even non-magical fights are won or lost in the mind rather than by pure strength.”

Bearwalker nodded graciously at Griggin. “That is true, of course, but we are limited by our physical capabilities. Having higher limits gives us more options.”

“I’m still not convinced you guys are always stronger, either.”

“Statistics do not lie, Mr. Bannog.”

“Only one way to find out.” Bannog put his elbow on the table. “Let’s settle this like real men.”

“I hate to point out the obvious, Mr. Bannog,” said Bearwalker, “but I’m not a man. Real, or otherwise.”

“Doesn’t mean you’re a sissy does it?”

“This is pointless. I am much older than you are, and have had more time to develop. You still have to reach the peak of your abilities.”

Bannog banged his elbow on the table. “Stop making excuses.”

“Oh very well, then.” Bearwalker sat down opposite Bannog, and took his hand. “On the count of three?”

“Three,” said Bannog. Their hands shuddered as they started to push. Nothing happened for a while.

“Have ye started yet?”

“No. Have you?”

“Sod this. It’s cuttin’ into my drinkin’ time.” Bannog took a deep breath. His muscles bulged and his face turned red. Bearwalker frowned, as his arm was pushed backwards, slowly, inexorably. He put in more effort, and progress stopped.

“Oh no, ye don’t,” growled Bannog. He concentrated, and redoubled his effort. Bearwalker’s arm started to descend towards the table.

“My turn,” said Bearwalker. He took a few quick breaths, then pushed back with all his might. Their arms rose again, tilted to the other side. Bannog gave a low growl, and gave it his all. He might as well have tried to move Teldrassil itself. His knuckles hit the table. He grinned.

“Right. That settles that. Thank you, Mr. Bearwalker.”

“Impressive for a Human, Mr. Bannog. Come back in five years or so, and try again.”

“If the Light grant it, Mr. Bearwalker.”

Ariciel and Bannog were walking to the Rut’theran flight point, with Bannog rubbing his arm, chuckling to himself. Ariciel looked up at him.

“What are you so happy about? You lost! Or did you let him win?”

“Hell no! You mean you couldn’t see? But I arm-wrestled an ancient shapeshifter Druid! It’s like breathing fire at a dragon!”

“I’m glad you two are at peace, though.”

“Yeah. Still hate to leave, though. Are you sure you’ll be alright? If not, come to the Caer with me.”

Ariciel shook her head.

“Can’t. I still have lots to learn. Don’t worry. Just be ready for me when I do return.”

“Count on it.”

Ariciel took a deep breath as she saw the hippogriff disappear in the distance. She slowly walked back to the little house. Lirael had offered her a bed for the night, but she wanted to be alone for a while. She opened the door and stepped in, closing it behind her. The fire was burning low, so she put on a few more logs. She filled the kettle and made tea. Three mugs were on the table by the window. She picked them up and put them in the small washbasin. One, she rinsed out. The large copper bath was still in the middle of the room, so she dragged it out, and turned it over, watching Lesta’s bath water disappear into the grass. The bath went back into its normal place, and she went back inside. As she closed the door behind her, her eye fell on Lesta’s torn and muddy dress, still lying on the floor where she’d dropped it. With a trembling hand, she picked it up, held it up to her chest. She closed her eyes. Tears finally came. She stood in the middle of the room, crying quietly, for a very long time. Then, she sniffed, slowly walked over to the fireplace and threw the dress into the fire, watching as the flames consumed the thin linen.

“Goodbye, Lesta. Goodbye, my love.”

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


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