Part 18: Hail to the night!

Bannog raised his fist, and the soldiers stopped. In the middle of the road, in full view, stood a Human Rogue, dressed in black and grey clothing.

“Good morning, Mr. Gelt. How are things?”

“As well as might be expected, Master-at-arms Bannog. I have information you may find useful in your assault on the tower.”

Gerrig rode up. He didn’t like Gelt much, but recognised the need for such individuals to be employed. He was glad his brother mostly dealt with them, who didn’t seem to mind that much. He looked down on the man from his horse.

“What do you have for us?”

Gelt nodded politely at Gerrig. “I have found out that the new master of the tower is named Gath’ilzogg. He is a Warlord from Blackrock Mountain, who has fallen into disgrace. Thanks to some powerful friends, he was relegated to Stonewatch Tower instead of being sent to Outland. I am not certain, but I guess he was the, shall we say, ‘mastermind’ behind the recent attacks on the castle, and also the murder of your father. He may be aware that we are coming.”

Bannog raised his eyebrows. “How so?”

“One of my men, Wilkinson, was unlucky enough to be caught. I could not break him free. There were too many enemies.”

“Oh damn. How much does Wilkinson know?”

“He’ll carry no tales, Sir. I saw to that, at least.”

Gerrig scowled. “You killed one of your own men? Is that a deed worthy of the soldiers of Caer Bannog?”

Gelt’s face showed no emotion at all, as he answered Gerrig.

“If our lots had been exchanged, Sir, my dying breath would have been spent on a prayer of thanks to him. Do you realise what the Orcs will do to you if they think you are withholding information that they need? They don’t use any of that stupid equipment that the Alliance has in those little rooms in Stormwind that they don’t want anyone to know about. All they need is a length of rope, and it will break the strongest man in an hour.” Gelt produced a dart from his pocket. “This will kill you in ten seconds. Painlessly. I pray that when my time comes, so will I pass.”

“Still, you might have made an attempt to rescue him.”

“Sir, if I had, I would have been captured as well, and you would not have learned the information I have for you.”

Bannog gave his brother the look that, since they were boys, had meant ‘Shut up’. He tuned back to Gelt.

“I am sorry for the loss of your comrade. He will be remembered. Have you any more information for us?”

“Yes. Chief Gharash, Gorm Bladebreaker, Ogre-mage Nal’Reesz and the three sergeants are all dead. Gath’ilzogg remains alive, with most of the Warrior trainers. The main force consists of new recruits. No match for our soldiers, but there are many of them. We should take care not to be overwhelmed.”

“Any mages or weapons that we should be aware of?”

“They have heavy crossbows in the towers that will pierce plate armour. Similar to the ones you have at Caer Bannog. There are three ogre-mages left, but those are enforcers, with no true battle-spells, though still lethal when encountered one on one. There are two guards on the Southern bridge, who are constantly watched from the tower. To the North, there are patrolling outrunners and scouts.”

Bannog nodded slowly, taking this in.

“We’ll split up. Gerrig, you take half the force to the North of the castle. I’ll have the mounted pikemen, you get the foot soldiers. Mr. Gelt, you and your associates will take out the guards on the bridge. Then, our mounted pikemen will charge over and be the first to engage the enemy. Mr. Stetson?”

The Draenei hunter walked up, his face looking calm and serious. His heavy crossbow rested in the crook of his arm, and his large cat, Morgan, followed him silently.

“Yes?”

“I believe that you are able to detect Orcs in your surroundings?”

“I am.”

“Good. Would you please go with Gerrig and his men, and point out to them any Orcish scouts in the area?”

“It will be my pleasure.”

“Thank you. Smitty’s with me. Ariciel…”

“I’m with you,” said Ariciel. Bannog smiled.

“Is with me also. Mareva?”

Mareva’s eyes moved from Stetson to Bannog, considering. She wanted to go with Hunter Stetson, to keep him safe. But there was this other thing… She reached a decision.

“I will go with Bannog. I may be able to assist with the assault on the bridge.” She turned to Stetson. “My love,” she said, in Draenei, “I would like nothing more than to come with you, but I have a premonition that I will be needed here. Be safe.”

Stetson smiled. “I know better than to disregard your instincts. Stay close to the healers.”

“Right. First, Gerrig and his men move into position. We have to circle round the tower, so we will take some time. When we are about to attack, we will send up a red flare. Gerrig responds, and then let hell break loose.”


Bannog was down on one knee, peering ahead into the first slight glimmer of dawn. There was a noise next to him, and Ariciel appeared, in her black cat form. Bannog suppressed an urge to scratch her between the ears. He’d tried once, and almost lost a finger. I’m not your pet, my love. The cat shape shimmered, disappeared, to be replaced with Ariciel’s Elf form. Her white hair almost shone in the darkness. She saw him stare at her, and hid herself. Bannog still couldn’t see if magic was involved in that particular trick. He looked at the bridge again. Two Orc guards were standing on it, swords out.

“It’s quiet,” whispered Ariciel.

“Not for much longer,” said Bannog. Ariciel laughed.

“You say ‘Yes, too quiet’. Don’t you know the stories?”

“Oh yes. If memory serves, in that particular story, everybody died. I don’t like the way that story goes.”

“Me neither. Stay alive, my love.”

“And you. Come on. I’ve seen what I need to. Play time.”

They crept down the hill. Bannog pointed at Gelt, then forward. Gelt disappeared into the shadows. Smitty was watching Bannog, mounted on his horse at the head of the mounted pikemen. Bannog stuck three fingers up at him, and Smitty nodded, then looked over his shoulder. His men were ready. He straightened his shoulders, and prepared himself.

As Bannog watched, the two guards on the bridge disappeared from sight. Almost immediately, a bell sounded from the tower. Orcs started to pour out of the doors. One of the archers next to Bannog stirred.

“They knew we were coming!”

“Us killing most of their commanding officers may have been a bit of a hint,” said Bannog. He stood up, took a deep breath and gave the order.

“Attack!”

With the thundering sound of hooves, the cavalry galloped up to the tower, over the bridge. Bannog followed at a short distance, with the archers. All around the watch tower, flares were going up. That was a little addition of Gelt’s unlovable rogues. It gave the Orcs something to think about. The archers were in range. They loosed arrows over the heads of the charging cavalry, and several Orcs fell. They managed three flights, then the mounted pikemen of Caer Bannog crashed into the enemy forces, jumping off their horses, shields and pikes out. There was the twang of a large bow from the top of the tower, and large crossbow bolts started to fall between the soldiers. Bannog winced as one of the bolts struck the archer standing next to him. She stared in horror at the arrow sticking out of her chest, then fell forward. Immediately, arrows flew up to the tower. Most of these hit the wall next to the arrow slit, and only a few disappeared inside. It did not stop them firing.

“Into the tower! Archers, cover fire!”

The archers now fired at the Orcs between them and the tower. The hairs on Bannog’s neck stood up as an arrow whizzed past him. It was a testament to the archers’ skills that they did not once hit one of their own people. Bannog tried not to make any sudden moves. The Orcs saw them coming, and fled into the tower. The doors were closed, leaving a few luckless Orcs trapped outside. In desperation they hewed at the door, then turned round to the enemy. In seconds, all the Orcs were cut down.

“Open that door!”

That was easier said than done. Soldiers hurled themselves at the door, and hewed at it with their swords, but the door had been built to withstand precisely that. Bannog made a mental note to train up a few men with axes or maces. For now, though, they were stuck. He looked round.

“Ariciel? Can you shoot open that door?”

“Nope. You want a battle mage for that. My green fire only works on flesh and bone. Sorry.” She looked at the door. “There is one thing I can try. I’ll need a bit of a run-up, though.” Ariciel raised herself to her full height, took a deep breath and let the magic flow. Her form shimmered and disappeared, and in her place appeared a large bear. Keeping a careful eye on the arrow slits above, she backed up, and charged. Half a ton of muscle and bone hit the door. A few cracks appeared in it. Bear-Ariciel backed up once again, and charged, cheered on by the soldiers. Great tears appeared in the door. She shook her large head, and backed up one last time. Bannog rushed out to her and put his hand on her shoulder.

“When you get through, there’s going to be lots of pissed-off Orcs on the other side. Back up as fast as you can, and let us handle them.”

Ariciel nodded, took a deep breath and charged forward. The door cracked, and opened inward. Immediately, two Orcs rushed out, and hit Ariciel with maces. Ariciel’s front legs gave, and she slumped to the floor. Bannog rushed forward and grabbed Ariciel’s hind leg. Next to him, a pikeman grabbed her other leg. With a great heave, they pulled her free as the soldiers ran past them and attacked the Orcs in the tower. Ariciel’s bear-shape shimmered, and disappeared to be replaced with her slender Elf form. Blood was running down her face, into her eyes. Teeth set, she cast a healing spell on herself, then another. She lay back, shaking, and wiped the blood away with her sleeve. Bannog put his hand on her shoulder.

“Are you hurt?”

Ariciel shot him a filthy look.

“I’ll live. Next time, you be the battering ram. Don’t you have a fight somewhere?”

“Uh. Yeah.” Bannog got up, picked up his sword and ran into the tower. The stairs were covered with dark blood, and slippery. Several times, he had to step over the motionless bodies of Orcs, before he reached the top. People were shouting, but the fight seemed to be over.

“Right! Let’s see if these crossbows also work on Orcs!”

Next to him, two soldiers looked up. They were doing precisely that. Bannog raised his eyebrows.

“Oh. Good. Never mind me. Carry on.”

He looked out of the arrow slit and had to duck as an arrow came whizzing in, struck the wall behind him and fell to the floor. Bannog swore. One of his own archers, no less. Letting gravity take him where it would, he ran down the stairs to shout at the forces outside.

“Cease fire! We’ve got it! On to the main tower!”

One of the archers, who had just drawn an arrow back on his bow, lowered it and looked sheepish.

“Sorry.”

“Yeah, yeah. Get on with it. Main tower Soldier!”

By the main tower, defense was fierce. These were mostly the warrior trainers, and they were not beginners. They had managed to halt the onslaught of the Caer Bannog soldiers, who found themselves unable to breach their defences. Bannog looked up at the Stonewatch tower, and realised that somewhere inside was the filth responsible for the death of his father. Deep within him, the fierce ball of anger stirred. A low growl started in his throat, and he rushed at the enemy, shield and sword out.

With a great shout, he crashed into the defenders of the tower. His sword shot forward, and stabbed between helm and chestpiece of the closest warrior trainer, who went down without a sound. Bannog ripped his sword free, slashed out at the next, who parried and counter-thrust. Bannog raised his shield, deflecting the blow and stabbed low. The Orc bellowed as Bannog’s sword punctured his leg armour, and pierced his thigh. He fell back slowly under Bannog’s attacks, then stumbled and fell. The soldiers stabbed him as he lay, and pressed on, into the building. One of the larger Orcs stood his ground, armed with a spear. Bannog made for him, trusting his men to take care of the smaller threats. He dodged a spear-thrust that would have skewered his head, and slashed with his sword at the hand that held the spear. The Orc moved just in time to avoid that, took a step back and struck at Bannog with the lower end of his spear, hitting him in the temple. Bannog reeled, ducking behind his shield. The Orc attacked again, and this time hit Bannog’s right shoulder. Bannog cried out in frustration as his arm went limp. He pressed forward, and smashed his shield into the Orc, propelling him backward. The Orc grinned, knowing he’d scored a hit, and stabbed out again. Bannog deflected the thrust with his shield and dared to look at his shoulder for a splinter of a second. His shoulder piece was torn, and blood flowed from it. He narrowed his eyes, and thrust forward again with his shield, but without his sword, he could do no real damage.

Just as he started to wonder whether he would be able to win this fight, Bannog felt the warm glow of magic around him. The pain he hadn’t even realised he felt in his shoulder, disappeared, and life returned to his arm.

“Thank you, my love,” he whispered. He attacked again. Short, fast stabs that slowly wrecked the Orc’s armour. He feinted to one side, put the Orc on the wrong leg and lunged. His sword pierced the orc, through and through. The brute’s eyes opened wide, and with one last shivering cry he thrust his spear forward, driving himself onto Bannog’s blade. Blood ran from his mouth as he spat his last words in Orcish at Bannog. Then, he fell to the ground, almost wrenching Bannog’s sword from his hand. With a mighty heave, Bannog freed his sword and stood still for a moment, breathing hard. All round him, his men were fighting, pressing on to the top of the tower. Ariciel stood to one side, hands up in her spell-casting stance, firing off healing spells at those who needed them. Blood was still on her face, but she shot him a defiant look as he caught her eye.

Bannog turned round, and forced his way up on the stairs. Enemy soldiers watched him come, and either turned tail and fled, or fell to his carefuly measured attacks. He thrust his way up the stairs, followed by his pikemen. He was vaguely aware of Ariciel somewhere behind him. Finally, he made his way to the top floor, and stood there for a moment. A noise behind him made him turn round, sword raised, until he saw it was Ariciel. Her white hair was stained and matted with blood, bright red and darker. Her eyes shone with a fierce light. To Bannog, she had never looked more beautiful.

“Last room, my love,” said Ariciel. “Want me to investigate?”

Bannog nodded. Ariciel sat down, and picked a bottle from her belt. She drank in small sips.

“Mana break. Won’t be a minute.”

Bannog waited. She tossed the empty bottle over her shoulder, stood up, and turned to her black cat form. Then, she disappeared into the background and walked into the room. Within a minute, she was back.

“Big brute of an Orc, with some kind of dragon thing. Do you think that’s him? If he’s the leader, why isn’t he downstairs?”

Bannog raised his shield, and swished his sword through the air.

“Let’s kill him then ask questions.”

Without another word, he walked into the room. At the end, there was a small raised area. As Ariciel had said, there was a large Orc standing by a table, pretending to be engrossed in papers on it. He raised his head, and pretended to notice Bannog.

“So. You have made it past my guards. Congratulations on your tenacity. Your reward is to be killed by me. A great honour for Human scum like you.”

Bannog said nothing, and slowly, cautiously, walked towards the Orc, sword ready to strike. The Orc drew his scimitar, and hissed at his drake pet. It flapped its wings, and eyed Bannog suspiciously.

“You must be the leader of that rabble from the castle to the North-east. We will soon take care of your little soldiers. I can hear them screaming already. I am Gath’ilzogg, warlord of the Blackrock clan. I am your worst nightmare.”

“I’ve had my worst nightmare already,” said Bannog. “You are nothing.”

“You flatter yourself, Human. I will feed your entrails to Singe, and you can watch him eat them as you die.” Gath’ilzogg raised his scimitar, then paused, giving Bannog a gleeful smile. “Oh, now I see. You must be one of the sons of that old weakling I had killed a few days ago. Gharash said the old man begged for his life.”

Bannog stopped dead. His face went pale, and he started shaking. He raised his left arm, and with his teeth pulled at the straps that held his shield to his arm, not taking his eyes off Gath’ilzogg. The shield clattered onto the floor. His hand went to his side, and he slowly drew the dagger that had belonged to his father. Gath’ilzogg laughed.

“Kill him, Singe.”

The drake drew a deep breath, then belched flame at Bannog. Bannog turned round in a flash, and felt his back heat up as the drake’s flames hit it. Then, he turned back and ignoring Gath’ilzogg, charged straight at the beast. His sword shot forward, and with a sickening sound pierced the drake, pinning it to the wall. Bannog’s dagger flashed, and stabbed the creature in the eye before it could move a muscle. The drake fell to the floor. Bannog put his foot on the carcass and pulled his sword free. Then, he turned back towards Gath’ilzogg, who stared for a moment. Then, he bared his fangs, and spat on the floor at Bannog’s feet.

“That will cost you, Human. I will make you beg for your life, just like the worthless pig who fathered you upon some nameless whore.”

“I’ll only beg one thing of you,” said Bannog. He slowly circled round, looking for weak spots in Gath’ilzogg’s defence.

“Don’t die all at once.”

Deep within Bannog, the bubble burst. All the anger, carefully stored away for just this occasion, welled up within him. Gath’ilzogg slashed out at him, but Bannog was in no mood to parry. He let his armour take the brunt of the attack, and struck out with his sword. Gath’ilzogg dodged, and walked straight into Bannog’s dagger. Blood flowed from Gath’ilzogg’s side, and he leapt over the railing, into the middle of the room. He bellowed defiance.

“Come here and die, Human maggot! I’ll stick you full of holes and scatter your limbs to the four winds. Your soldiers are already dead. We will boil you alive!”

Bannog charged, sword and dagger out. Gath’ilzogg parried the sword, tried to counter-attack. Bannog pushed forward hard, and pushed him away. Gath’ilzogg stumbled backwards, almost into Ariciel, who was watching the fight with large, fearful eyes. Gath’ilzogg saw her, and tried to grab her. Ariciel struck out with her staff, and jumped back, out of his reach. Gath’ilzogg laughed.

“Ha! You have brought your little whore with you, then. Oh, I’ll have some fun with her after I kill you. Or maybe I’ll let you watch as you lie bleeding.”

Bannog growled. He yearned for blood. He yearned to tear this Orc to tiny shreds with his bare hands. Gath’ilzogg struck out at him. With the speed of a predator, Bannog leapt aside. His sword slashed out, hitting Gath’ilzogg’s wrist. Gath’ilzogg’s scimitar clattered onto the floor and his hand hung limp. He retreated to the other end of the room, backing away. Bannog followed him, slashing away at the Orc with his sword. Gath’ilzogg stumbled, fell onto his back, and scrambled further backward, leaving a trail of blood. He tried to fend off Bannog’s blows. first with his chain armour, until it failed, then with his bare arms. Bannog turned his sword round in his hand, raised it high, then stabbed down, through Gath’ilzogg’s thigh, pinning him to the ground. Gath’ilzogg was breathing in fast, shallow gasps as Bannog held his dagger in front of his eyes.

“I’ll give you this. You’re not begging for your life. Wouldn’t matter if you did, ’cause I want you dead. This dagger belonged to my father, till you had him murdered. Time’s up.”

Bannog put his hand on Gath’ilzogg’s head, making him look up. Then, he carefully placed the dagger under Gath’ilzogg’s chin, and pushed it in, inch by inch, until the point came out of the top of Gath’ilzogg’s head. With a jerk, he twisted the dagger and pulled it out. He stood up, and pulled his sword free. Gath’ilzogg’s legs twitched, then he lay still. Bannog turned round, and saw Ariciel, who was shaking. Her eyes were wide open as she stared at him. She tried to say something, coughed, then tried again.

“Holy crap.”

Bannog stuck his sword in the wooden floor, pulled out a cloth and cleaned his father’s dagger. When there was not a trace of blood left on it, he sheathed it, and cleaned his sword as well.

“Holy crap,” said Ariciel again. “I sleep in the same bed as you!”

Bannog sheathed his sword, and walked up to Ariciel. He slowly put his arms round her, and pulled her to him.

“It’s over,” he said.

Ariciel looked up at him, then, slowly, grinned.

“Do you think there’s any Orcs left?”

“Let’s go find out.”

Bannog picked up his shield, and walked out of the room, followed by Ariciel.

“Holy crap,” she said, very quietly.


As Bannog and Ariciel emerged into the first light of dawn, a strange hush had descended upon Stonewatch Tower. The fighting mostly seemed to be over. Healers had set up shop near the entrance to the tower, and were treating the injured. Gerrig was standing in the middle of the yard, directing people to the healers. Smitty was standing by a group of soldiers. Mareva stood next to him. She waved at Bannog.

“It would appear we are victorious.”

“Yeah,” said Bannog. He looked round, searching for familiar faces, nobody seemed to be missing.

“Red flare to the North-west!” One of the soldiers shouted, and pointed.

Gerrig turned round. “Flares? Who’d be popping flares? We’re all here!” He gave Bannog a quizzical look. Then, realisation dawned. Gerrig pointed a finger at Bannog.

“The Steambenders! We told them to send up one of their big flares if they were near the castle, so we could guide them in. Oh damn. I wasn’t expecting them till tomorrow. We need someone to go and guide them in.”

Ariciel raised her hand. “I’m on it. Need a bit of a run anyway. See you back sat the castle.”

Even before Bannog could tell her to be careful, she changed into her Cat form, and dashed off, leaving Bannog scratching his head. He turned round. She’d be alright. As he walked towards Smitty, he suddenly stopped dead, and pointed.

“What in Azeroth are those doing here?”

A small distance away, being watched by pikemen, four Orcs were sitting dejectedly on the ground. Smitty stood to attention.

“Prisoners, Sir. They blundered into us, and just dropped their weapons and sat down. Hadn’t the heart to kill them, Sir.”

Bannog’s eyes bored into Smitty’s. “Bloody prisoners? I think I was clear on the subject of taking prisoners this morning. I said don’t. It was quite a short speech, so that you could easily remember it. Why are they still breathing?”

Smitty’s eyes narrowed.

“Permission to speak freely Sir?”

“Go on, Lieutenant. This should prove interesting.”

“I’m disgusted with this battle, Sir. Between us, we’ve killed two hundred Blackrock Orcs, and there wasn’t a thing they could do about it. We lost five soldiers, and may the Light forgive me, with all respect to them, I’m almost glad. Otherwise, this bloodbath would have been pure murder. These Orcs weren’t fighting anymore. So we stayed our hand.”

Bannog scowled. “My orders, Lieutenant, were to clear all these murdering bastards off our lands. You are complaining because it was too easy? If you have a problem killing the enemy, then perhaps the military life is not where you should seek employment. Now get rid of them.”

“Bannog.” Mareva’s deep voice sounded even.

“Bit busy Mareva. What about it, Lieutenant?”

Smitty blanched, but stood his ground. “Sir, These Orcs may be accidental prisoners, but prisoners they are. Executing them is against the rules. They must first receive a court-martial.”

“Bannog!” There was now a sharp edge to Mareva’s voice.

“I’ll show you what kind of court-martial they’ll get!” Bannog’s hand went to his sword and he turned to the Orcs. Before he could take another step, someone seemed to hit him between the shoulder-blades with a sledge-hammer, and all his muscles tensed up at the same time. He stumbled a step forward, then turned around. Mareva was standing behind him, hands raised, head tilted slightly to one side. Her eyes burned with a fierce rage.

“Mareva?”

“Bannog?”

“You shot me!”

“Yes.”

“You bloody shot me!”

“Yes. I shot you, and I did it on purpose. I can do it again, and harder. May I have a few moments of your time?”

Mareva stepped in front of Bannog, nearly touching, and looked deep into his eyes. An ancient anger was on her Outlandish blue face. Mareva did not like to be ignored.

“Now that I have your undivided attention, listen. Then, do what you will. You will remember the zombie plague. I too was infected and as I lay ill with fever, I had a dream. More than a dream. Dreams are a few fleeting images, scattered and soon over. This, it was a vision. It lasted a day or so.”

Mareva’s pale blue eyes looked away for a moment, then snapped back to Bannog’s. Try as he might, Bannog could not look away.

“Stetson was dead. Ariciel was a shadow of her former self. You were… mutilated, and I… I was more frightening than you or I could ever imagine. I had lost that which made me what I am now, My… empathy. My love for my fellow beings. In fact, I no longer had fellow beings. They were objects. Things.”

Mareva paused a moment. She briefly lowered her gaze, hesitating, wondering whether to continue. She took a deep breath.

“I was torturing an Orc for information. I was very carefully running my lightning through his brain. Nothing anyone can do causes more pain to a creature than that. I was methodically making him scream as loudly as I could, and I felt no more than I would have if I had taken a piece of paper out of a drawer. Then, your father came down and sent me away. And you…” Mareva pointed a finger at Bannog’s chest. “You had me shot like one would put down an elekk that had gone mad.” She moved her face a bit closer. “You were right to do that. The thing that scared me the most was that it could really happen. My mind, my soul, could really be damaged as much as that. Then, I awoke. Stetson and I reached the Argent Dawn healer just in time to be saved.”

Mareva crossed her arms, and though she was half a head shorter than Bannog was, she managed to look down on him.

“You are in terrible danger. You are at risk of being lost. So is the castle. Places and people do not become evil overnight. It starts slowly. Today, you kill a few Orcs. Big deal. You have killed dozens of them. Only, these Orcs were no longer fighting you. They had surrendered. That turns it into an execution. There was no court-martial. That makes it murder. So maybe next time, you capture a few Orcs, and they might be able to tell you something interesting. Only they are not in a mood for talking, so you have some of your men… persuade them a little. Then when you do that out in the open, you find that sensitive souls are upset. So you take them downstairs into a storeroom. While you are there, you may as well bring a few handy tools.”

Mareva’s face was cold and hard. The light in her eyes flickered as she blinked.

“Then, there is a torture chamber at Caer Bannog.”

Bannog looked horrified. “Don’t be silly. I’d never…”

“Quiet. By that time, you will see that the worthy men will already have left. Look at them. They are afraid. They do not fear the Orcs, they are afraid of you, and of what you might make them do. Soon after, the women will leave. They will not stay in a place where their children are woken up in the night by the screams of prisoners. And then there will be only you left, and the men with no conscience. And then…”

Mareva moved forward another few inches, and lowered her voice to a whisper even Bannog could hardly hear.

“Then, you may sit in your office, asking questions of your father, until your voice gives out, but you will not receive any answers from the spirit of your father. He, and all he and this castle stood for, will be dead.”

Mareva shook her head, looking sad now rather than angry.

“Bannog, I like this castle. I like the people in it. They are strong, but friendly. It is not just a band of soldiers between strong walls, it is a home. I say again. It would not happen in a few days. But every road starts with the first few steps.”

Mareva’s face suddenly became hard again.

“Here and now. This is the first step. If you take it, if you kill these sorry creatures, then you have put your first step on the road to ruin. Once you take it, there will be no turning back, because once you have had your tail pushed, there is nothing that will turn you back into a virgin.”

Bannog said nothing. He stared at the Draenei female in front of him, for a long, long moment. Mareva looked back, unflinching.

“Then what would you do with them?”

Mareva cast a glance at the Orcs as they sat, dejected, watching the exchange without understanding the words spoken.

“Kick them out. Look at them! Even if we gave them back all their armour and weapons, you could take them on your own. They are no threat to us. Let them go.”

Mareva looked at Bannog’s face. For a long time, nothing happened. Then slowly, a smile crept over his tired face. He drew his dagger and walked over to the Orcs. He frowned. They weren’t even tied up! He put away his dagger and pointed to the North-east.

“Blackrock Mountain is that way. Get lost.”

The Orc gaped at him.

“Tand bundolo?”

“Get lost. Sod off. Don’t set foot in these lands again. Get!”

The Orcs looked at each other, got to their feet and slowly started walking, with many a suspicious glance over their shoulders. Clearly, they expected the whizz of arrows and sudden death. When they were out of arrow range, they started to run. Bannog shook his head as he watched them, then turned back to Mareva.

“You have your tail pushed?”

Mareva smiled.

“That was very rude. I apologise.”

Bannog laughed. He turned away, then looked back at Mareva.

“You didn’t say you were sorry.”

“No.”


Ariciel ran. In her yellow spotted Cheetah form, she was faster, but she used her black cat form so she could detect any wandering enemies. Her mind was not on the job. It was filled with images of Bannog, hacking away at the Orc leader. She knew that he could hit harder than that. She shuddered. He’d been pulling his strokes, making the… fight last longer. That was a side of him that she’d never seen for herself before, and hoped never to see again. Revenge. Pure and simple. Make it hurt. Make it last. Ariciel’s sharpened senses told her of a group of enemies ahead. Human soldiers were chasing them. She changed direction. She didn’t want to see this. After a while, she changed course again, making for the point where she had seen the flare go up.

Ariciel knew all too well that she was not innocent either, killing all those mages in the Master’s Glaive. What she would have done if she’d met Puissance in Darkshore, she didn’t know. Would she have blasted her out of existence with Wrath and Starfire, or would she have beaten her to death slowly? She couldn’t remember what state her mind had been in at the time, and to be honest, didn’t want to. Father Eolas had been glad the situation hadn’t arisen, and now she had seen Bannog, she agreed with him.

Ariciel raised her head, and twitched her ears forward. In the distance, she could hear a mechanical sound. She sniffed the air, whiskers vibrating. The faint scent of burning oil was drifting towards her on the wind. That could be a Gnome’s mechanostrider. She changed course to intercept. As she rounded a small hill, the thing came into view, with a familiar figure riding it. Pink pigtails were flapping in the wind of her speed, and a determined look was on her small face. Ariciel changed back to her Elf form, and called out.

“Oi! Short stuff! Are you lost?”

Trixie slammed on the brakes, and the mechanostrider screeched to a halt, just a few yards in front of the tall Night-elf. Trixie closed her eyes briefly. Of all the Caer Bannog people she could hope to meet, didn’t it just have to be Tall Bimbo? Still, the woman was a Druid. She might be just the one she needed.

“Hey you! Can you get rid of poisons?”

Ariciel nodded. She’d learnt several anti-poison spells from Bearwalker. “Who’s poisoned?”

“My mum. We were fighting off Orcs, and then she got bit by a spider. We bandaged the wound, but we don’t have antivenom. Dad sent me to get help. Quick!”

Ariciel grabbed the reins of her cat mount, and spoke the syllables that summoned it. Trixie turned round and zoomed off. A few seconds later, she looked over her shoulder. Ariciel had already fallen behind. Trixie hung to the left, and turned her Strider round.

“Hurry up!”

Ariciel scowled. “Going as fast as I can! We’re not all riding metal things, you know?”

“Oh for the Light’s sake, learn to ride and get a swift mount, will ya?”

“Want me to turn round and go do that? I’m going as fast as I can!”

“Damn you! My mum is dying! Get moving!”

Ariciel looked at Trixie’s face, and swallowed her next remark. Trixie’s face looked frightened. Ariciel took a breath. She’d never seen Trixie as anything other than a small, annoying pack of pure agression. She bent over the neck of her cat, and spurred it on.

“I’ll do what I can. I promise. Show me the way.”

They rode as fast as they could, Trixie zooming ahead at times, then waiting for Ariciel, with an anxious look on her face. Suddenly, Trixie stopped, and raised her hand at Ariciel. She jumped off her Mechanostrider and crept to the edge of a hill. Ariciel joined her. They had come to the entrance of a small ravine, and precisely at the entrance, there was a small band of Orcs. The Orcs had obviously picked this spot just so they could catch anyone who wanted to get to the lake. Trixie swore under her breath, in Gnomish.

“Dammit. When did those get here? They weren’t there when I left.”

Ariciel counted. Six. Usual size. Probably hadn’t a clue about what was going on back at the tower. Trixie growled.

“They’re between us and Mum. Let’s have ’em.”

“Hmm. This is where you’d want a big strong Warrior, to beat ’em up.” Let’s find a way round, she thought.

Trixie looked round at the Elf, drawing her two-handed sword. “What do you think I am? A barmaid? I tank, you shoot. If I get too bad, feel free to shoot a few heals, but concentrate on shooting. I got Netherweave bandages. Ready?”

Ariciel closed her eyes a moment.

“Ready,” she said.

Trixie leapt to her feet, and charged into the Orcs. The air in front of her blurred, and Orcs staggered backwards as though they had been kicked. Ariciel stood up, raised her hands and prepared to start shooting. She hesitated. A sad look was on her face. Trixie plunged in between the Orcs, and started hacking. Most of them were still stunned from her initial attack, and several fell before they even came to their senses. One of them raised a scimitar and tried to attack Trixie from behind. Shaking, Ariciel cast her Moonfire spell, and a shaft of merciless white light stabbed down. The Orc fell. Trixie shouted, and there was the sound of thunder. All round her, the Blackrock Warriors fell over. Trixie stood there, sword raised by her side, like a tiny avenging angel. She looked round for more enemies, then back at Ariciel.

“Well that was easy. Thanks for getting that one.”

“Y-you’re welcome.” Ariciel tried not to look at the corpses, and instead looked at Trixie’s face. Something occurred to her.

“Hey. That first attack. That was a Shockwave, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah. Why?” Trixie pulled out a cloth and cleaned her sword before sheathing it.

“That’s a protection talent, isn’t it?”

“Yeah. Did that big Warrior of yours tell you that?”

“Well, we do talk sometimes, you know. So you’re a protection Warrior.”

“Yeah. Is there a point to this?”

“Not really. I just thought that the Fury talents would be more up your street.”

Trixie sneered. “Dad wouldn’t let me. Said it would make me too agressive.”

Ariciel looked at the bodies on the ground.

“Parents. They can be so unreasonable sometimes.”

Trixie tapped her foot. “Shouldn’t you be straddling a cat or something?”

Ariciel said nothing, summoned her cat mount and followed Trixie through the ravine.


Griggin sat on the ground, next to his small cart of engineering equipment. Lenna was in his arms, shivering with fever. Her face was still as a statue, apart from the occasional small gasp. She looked up at her husband. The Voidwalker stood a small distance away, watching them. Bieslook sat next to Griggin, Lenna’s hand between her small fists. Fear was on her face. Nix was sitting on a nearby boulder, looking out for enemies, or his sister, or anyone. Interalia was leaning against the boulder, deep in thought. The woman wouldn’t last more than an hour or so. They’d bandaged her thigh, but the poison was still in her blood. Interalia knew the effect. It wasn’t pleasant. If it weren’t for the chance that someone would come along in time, she’d have stabbed her quickly, and saved her the agony. If she was any judge of character, the husband would, before long. Nobody here was carrying antivenom. Stupid gits. She looked over her shoulder. It was the kind of poison spiders used to digest their prey. It would only get more and more painful as time went on, until her heart’d stop. Interalia looked up as Nix stood up, put his hand over his eyes, and peered into the distance. Poor kid. He was about to lose his mother. Interalia didn’t believe anyone would be here in time. Griggin had said that the castle was a good hour by Strider. Too bloody long. She should really have a word with the Warlock, but she couldn’t bring herself to do that just yet. Something might happen.


“Where next?”

“Let me think. I think I recognise that hill over there. It should be somewhere to the left.”

“Alright.”

Ariciel spurred on her cat, but Trixie shouted.

“Wait! I remember. It was a bit further on. That way.”

“Sure?”

“Yes! No! Oh dammit. I don’t remember!”

“Right. The place where you were. What did it look like?”

“We were somewhere along the road, North of the lake. Mountains to the North.”

“That’s the road to Alther’s Mill. A big sawmill. Did you see that?”

“Yes! We’d just passed that! Big sawmill. Lots of big spiders and dragon things.”

“That’s the place. It’s…” Ariciel pointed. “In that direction. How far after you saw the mill?”

“Bout a mile or so.”

“Can’t be far then. Were you anywhere near the road?”

“About a half-mile south of it. Trying to avoid Orcs.”

“Good. Follow me. I think I know where they are.”

They set off again. Ariciel turned to Trixie.

“Is Bieslook alright?”

“Yeah. Bieslook, Nix, Dad, some trollop we picked up in Stormwind, all good. Just Mum. Hurry. Please!”

Ariciel nodded. Their mounts ran on.


“Griggin?”

“Sssh. Don’t try to talk.”

“Before I go. I’ve had… wonderful life, since… you. Loved every minute. Even now.”

“You’re not dead yet. Trixie’ll be here soon.”

“No… she won’t. Castle… too far.”

“She’s got my strider. It’s fast. She’ll be here.”

Lenna smiled. “I know why you… sent her. Sitting here… doing nothing. Tear her apart.”

“Lenna?” Bieslook put Lenna’s hand to her cheek. “Don’t go! Someone’ll come and make you better.”

Lenna smiled. “I hope so, sweetheart. Don’t be too sad if… not.”

Griggin felt a hand on his shoulder, and looked up. Interalia was standing behind him. She bent down, and pressed something into his hand, then whispered in his ear.

“Use this if it gets too bad. Back of the neck. Ten seconds.”

Griggin closed his eyes, pressing back the tears, then looked back up at Interalia and nodded. He was a Warlock. He had many, many ways of managing damage to himself. He could exchange mana for health, he could drain the health of other creatures to heal himself. He could even sacrifice the hither image of Thuljuk to protect himself. None of it worked on others. No bloody use at all. In his arms, Lenna shuddered, and sighed. He pressed her closer to him, and hoped.

“Strider to the North!” Nix jumped up so quickly that he almost fell off the boulder. “Hey! Here!”

Interalia glared. “Shut up! You don’t know who it is!”

“How many bloody Orcs have you seen on Mechanostriders? It’s Trix! I’d recognise that sound anywhere!”

“Yeah? Well look before you start shouting, will you?”

Nix scowled, and ran out towards the noise, not caring about anything else. Interalia rolled her eyes, and ran after him, eyes and ears wide open for anything that wasn’t a Gnome. Her knives were in her hands, promising Trouble for any enemy. Nix was running ahead, waving his arms, then suddenly stopped dead. Interalia could see it as well. It wasn’t a Gnome. Oh crap.

It was a bloody Night-elf.

Ariciel spotted Griggin’s cart, and made straight for it, not even bothering to dismount. She could see it was bad. Gathering up all her mana, she leapt off her cat and kneeled by Lenna and Griggin, pushing Bieslook aside. She looked into Lenna’s eyes. Lenna smiled through her pain.

“Lady… Ariciel. Take… Bieslook… castle.”

“Not on your life. You take Bieslook castle. Now be quiet, and let me work.”

Ariciel placed her hand on Lenna’s cheek, concentrated, and cast her spells to remove poison. Bearwalker had given her this one for free, after a particularly nasty quest, hoping it would be useful. She watched Lenna slowly breathe out, and close her eyes, then breathe easy. A small wisp of steam escaped from her lips. Ariciel smiled. Thank you, Mathrengyl Bearwalker. She concentrated again, and cast Regrowth, her staple healing spell, to counteract the damage the poison had done to Lenna’s small body. It wore off. She cast the same spell again, and again, until her mana pool was empty and she could cast no more spells. She sat down, exhausted. Griggin opened his mouth, hesitated. He closed his eyes, then looked up at Ariciel.

“Is she…?”

“Asleep,” said Ariciel. “She will recover, but I don’t have the mana for more Regrowths. Give me a few minutes to fill up.”

Griggin closed his eyes and sighed. For a few moments, he simply stood, gently rocking back and forth, taking deep breaths. He looked up at Ariciel, tears in his eyes.

“Thank you, Lady. Thank you. I…” He faltered.

Ariciel smiled. Someone’s hand appeared near her face. In it was a small bottle filled with blue liquid.

“Hey Rici? You may want this. Light knows why I hang on to it, I don’t use the stuff.”

Ariciel turned round, slowly.

“Interalia?”

“In the flesh.”

“What are you doing here?”

“Stuffing mana pots down your throat as usual. It’s not the best there is, but better than nothing.”

“I’ll have it. Thanks!”

Ariciel sipped mana potion. Just regular strength. Wouldn’t fill her up, but probably enough for a few more Regrowths. She finished the potion and carried on casting healing spells on Lenna till her pool was empty again. She put her hand on Lenna’s chest, looking for a heartbeat, and smiled. Nice and regular. Time to move her to the castle so Lirael could take a proper look at her. She got up.

“Right. Let’s get Lenna in the cart. Careful.”

Ariciel was gently nudged aside, a room was cleared in the cart for Lenna to lie in, then eight four-fingered hands lifted up the Gnome woman and gently laid her down with someone’s backpack for a pillow. Bieslook sat down next to her, eyes shining, holding Lenna’s hand.

“Knew someone would come to make you better,” said Bieslook.

Lenna opened her eyes, smiled. “Yes you did, sweetheart.”

Griggin leapt into the box of the cart. Nix and Interalia on either side of him. It was going to be slow going, with only one strider in front of it, but Trixie rode the other one. Before setting off, he looked round at Interalia, and surreptitiously handed her a small metal rod. Blunt end first. She accepted it without a word.

“Thank you,” whispered Griggin.

Interalia’s eyes met Griggin’s. She lowered her voice.

“Would you have?”

Griggin looked at his feet.

“Light forgive me, but I don’t know.”

He pulled the reins and set the cart in motion.

Lenna woke up from the shaking of the cart, and looked round.

“Where’s Trixie?”

Nix turned round. “Riding out Mum. Checking if any of those Orcish varknaaiers are waiting for us.”

Bieslook’s lips moved, almost silently. She giggled. Then she pulled Lenna’s sleeve.

“Lenna? What’s a varknaaier?”

Lenna’s eyes opened wide.

“It’s someone who loves pigs very much, dear. But not a nice word.”

“Oh,” said Bieslook, satisfied.

“Nix?” Lenna’s voice could barely be heard over the rattle of the wheels. Nix bent back. “Come a bit closer, Nix.”

Nix leaned back into the cart. Lenna’s arm shot out and there was a loud slap.

“Aww… Mum!”

“I’ve told you a hundred times. No bad language in front of Bieslook! She’s a spunge for things like that. I’m not telling you again!”

“Sorry, Mum.”

Interalia stared up at the sky, body shaking with quiet laughter. Griggin sighed. Lenna would be alright. All would be well.


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

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