Part 8: Eyes I dare not meet in dreams

The green crown of the world-tree Teldrassil came into view on the horizon. Ariciel was sitting on the ship, back to the forward mast, staff on her shoulder, pack next to her on the deck. Almost exactly the same as last time. Almost. This time, she was smiling. This time, she was not desperate. She was not embarking on a long and fruitless quest. She was simply returning to the place where she had learnt most of her skills as a Druid, to learn more. In about a week or two, she’d sail back to Stormwind, and from there back to Caer Bannog. Ariciel still didn’t quite think of it as home, but at some point, if everything worked out, she might. She was not going back to Darkshore. Not to live there, anyway. That chapter in her life had finished. As far as she knew, she had no family left. She’d never known her father, and didn’t know whether he was alive or not. Nor did she care much. Mother had made a conscious decision to raise her on her own, and here she was, all of twenty-five years old, and still breathing. Despite the efforts of several unsavoury characters. She smiled wryly. Not to mention herself.

The boat pulled into Rut’theran, the tiny village that consisted of one house where the Hippogriff masters lived, the flight point, and the dock, where the ferries went to Auberdine. Ariciel knew exactly where to stand to get out the quickest, and leapt onto shore even before the sailors had made fast, which caught her a few dirty looks. More than one eager passenger had fallen between wall and ship, and they got the blame for those passengers’ stupidity. Ariciel took no notice, changed into her cheetah form and dashed off to the portal. She ran through, and suddenly, the city of Darnassus lay before her. This place, she did think of as home, on some deeply spiritual level. It was the home of her kind, the Kel’dorei. However, today, she was not in a philosophical mood. She ran on over the small bridge, then took a sharp left to the Cenarion Enclave, hoping to find Bearwalker. The teachers and merchants in the ground floor of the central tree dwelling had expressed Opinions on people dashing in in animal form, so she changed back to her Elf form before walking in. The reagents man recognised her, and grinned at her.

“Hey! It’s Timbermaw Girl! Welcome back! How’s life?”

“Sex and violence, mostly,” said Ariciel. “Is Bearwalker around?”

“Why yes, my girl. He’s in his gazebo annoying some poor newbie.”

“Plus ca change,” said Ariciel, waved and walked over. She found Mathrengyl Bearwalker sitting at ease on a chair, cup of tea in his hand, while a young lad was throwing all of his weight at the bear’s head statue to dislodge the parchment underneath. She watched him at it for a few moments. Hmm. Nice big muscles. He’d make a great Warrior sometime. Bearwalker was watching the lad intently, a little smirk on his face.

“It’s enchanted,” said Ariciel. “If you touch the knots on the four posts of the gazebo, it levitates up for ten seconds. You have to be quick, though, or it won’t work.”

The lad looked round at Ariciel.

“You’re not supposed to say that! I’m supposed to find out for myself!”

“That’s alright. I lied,” said Ariciel.

“Oh thanks a lot, lady.”

Ariciel smiled at him, and glanced at the metal bar standing in the corner.

“If I offer you a cup of tea, will you stop disturbing my pupil?” Bearwalker held up the teapot.

“Hmm. It’ll run out twice as fast. Wouldn’t want to ruin his chances of getting a free lesson.”

Bearwalker raised an eyebrow. Not a chance, the look said. The aspiring Druid took a few steps back, took a deep breath and cut loose with a Wrath spell. Hot green sparks flew all over the place. The statue stayed where it was. Ariciel raised her arm to protect her face.

“That would be lovely, thanks.”

“Got a cup? Oh, Absynthus, that’s not the solution, by the way. I say this in the interest of not burning down my gazebo, and I won’t subtract any points.”

Absynthus grunted. Ariciel dug her cup out of her pack. Bearwalker filled it, and returned the pot to the tealight. Ariciel sat down on the floor, sipping her tea. It was rather nice. Mint, lemon verbena, camomile. Absynthus laid his hands on the statue and cast another spell. Bearwalker looked amused.

“That’s very kind of you, trying to heal my statue. I assure you, it’ll live.”

“Well, I thought you might have rigged it to detect my ability to cast beginners’ spells.”

“Did you? Why in Azeroth would I do that?”

Absynthus opened his mouth, then closed it again. He walked round the statue, looking at it carefully. Ariciel burned with the desire to tell him, but that would spoil Bearwalker’s game. She stuck her finger in her mouth. Bearwalker stared at her. She smiled at him. Oo! Absynthus was kneeling in front of the statue, and peering into the mouth. Getting warm, boy! Go on. Mechanics. He poked his finger into the mouth. Ariciel made a sharp, quick, hissing noise and Absynthus hurriedly pulled his finger back, then gave her a filthy look.

“That’s it Ariciel,” said Bearwalker. “No more tea for you.”

Absynthus looked from one to the other, then back at the statue. He looked round the gazebo, and suddenly, his face lit up. Of course! He took the three steps into the corner, grabbed the metal bar and put it in the mouth of the bear. With little effort, he pushed up and the statue tilted back, freeing the parchment. Only now, he couldn’t get at it without letting go.

Ariciel gave Bearwalker a look, stepped forward and grabbed hold of the bar. With a grunt, she pushed the statue up, and looked at Absynthus, who looked at Bearwalker, then retrieved the parchment. Ariciel smiled, and let down the statue.

“I kicked my staff under it, to keep it from coming down again, but you got it right.”

Absynthus nodded at her. “Thanks.” He presented the parchment to Bearwalker, who took it without a word, read it, then smiled.

“Well done, Absynthus. It’s getting late, so come back in the morning. Same place. Lesson’s free.”

“Thank you, Sir,” said Absynthus. He folded his hands, gave them both a polite nod, and walked off. Bearwalker and Ariciel walked back to the tree-dwelling.

“So what does this tell you about him?”

Bearwalker smiled. “Keen lad. Thinks with his muscles. I’ll have to divest him of a few strange notions, though. Enchanting a statue to fly up if you heal it? Where would he get those ideas from? Been reading fairy-stories no doubt.”

Ariciel pulled up the strap of her pack, which had sagged.

“Yeah. Until you learn about metaphors and subtext, those are a very rich source of misinformation. Makes you confuse real magic with pointing and wishing.”

“Indeed. So, what brings you here to this part of the world? People tell me you found some new friends, and lost some family.”

“My, it’s a small treetop isn’t it? Yes, I found out that my mother is dead. From my sister, who is now also dead.” Ariciel sighed, but then smiled. “But I did find new friends. You know about Bannog. I’ve been to his home in Redridge, and met his family. Oh, and a whole lot of Orcs who were laying siege to the castle. We managed to get rid of those in the end. Not without losses, though.”

“All too common a story these days. Would you believe it? Some say the Horde isn’t even our main concern anymore. Something new and nasty is brewing. I may have to do some extra research on the Undead.”

“Oh, you want my friend Mareva then.” Ariciel laughed. “Her idea of a good night out is hunting for zombies in Darkshire. I’m not sure that’s typical of Draenei, though. She may be uniquely weird.”

Bearwalker walked up the winding stairs to the first floor of the tree dwelling. He looked over his shoulder at Ariciel, who came up behind.

“I’ve never met any Draenei, personally. What are they like?”

“Tasty,” said Ariciel. Bearwalker laughed out loud.

“Ariciel, you have a wonderful way of supplying me with information that I really wish you wouldn’t.”

“Well, joking aside, they are generally very clever, build impossibly complicated machines, and they think that stars are suns that are very very far away. Lots of fun to be with, actually. Their males are impressively large, and like to pretend they are thicker than they really are. I suppose that’s why Bannog gets on with Stetson so well. He does the same thing.”

“Faraway suns, eh? I’ve heard that before, but not from very reliable witnesses.”

“I’m not sure I believe it myself, but then again, Outland is there for all to see. And unless I’ve been very inattentive all these years, they have more moons than we have. Still, it makes you feel humble to think that every star in the sky could be the sun to another world.” Ariciel smiled. “And now the blue people are here. I wonder how they’re doing.”

“How are we doing?” Mareva looked back at Stetson, who was studying the map.

“Well, if that range of mountains is the Razorfen Downs, then we should be getting to the Great Lift in the next hour or so. Get past the guards, into Thousand Needles, To the Southeast till we get to the Shimmering Flats, then South again to Tanaris, then West again to Un’goro Crater.”

“I still think it’s a long way to stare at a few raptors and gorillas.”

“You say that now. Just wait till you see them! I was almost tempted to catch that big raptor up there as a pet.”

“A Shaman hasn’t got any pet.” Mareva grinned. “Don’t need one, either. I’ve got you!”

Stetson rolled up the map, and whistled for his Elekk.

“That remark will cost you.”

“Are you going to make me perform unspeakably perverse acts against my will?”

“No.” Stetson held out his arm to Mareva, and pulled her up behind him. He gave her a grin. “Not against your will.”

The two Tauren guards at the Great Lift turned out not to be a big problem. Mareva knocked out one with a lightning bolt, and the other one ran straight into Stetson’s freeze trap. They stepped onto the lift platform, and the elevator started trundling down to Thousand Needles.

“Hah!” said Mareva.


“Never say again that travelling isn’t educational.” Mareva pointed at a little plaque. It showed a small flame, with some writing underneath. “I now know how to write ‘In case of fire, do not use elevator’, in Orcish!”

Stetson laughed, and produced a dagger. With this, he pried loose the plaque and gave it to Mareva.

“There. Now, when there is a fire, Orcs will use the elevator and perish in the flames.”

“Oh my savage hunter! No wonder the Horde fears you.”

With a small jolt, the elevator came to a stop and the desert of Thousand Needles stretched out in front of them. Stetson’s Elekk seemed to like the heat there, and trotted happily through the red sand. This part of the world did not belong to either Horde or Alliance, so an Orc would be in as much danger of being attacked as, say, a pair of Draenei. Despite her remark earlier, Mareva quite liked the trip up to now. There had been a few hair-raising moments, but they’d managed to overcome all difficulties. And the sights they had seen! The jungle of Stranglethorn Vale, with its lush vegetation and wildlife, despite the earnest efforts of Hemet Nessingwary Junior and company, who seemed determined to empty the place of all that went on four legs, or in some cases two. The bustling town of Booty Bay, with its population of creatively mercantile Goblins. Then, the sea trip to Ratchet, in the Horde-controlled area of the Barrens. The white-knuckle ride to the South, to where the Great Lift carried mostly Hordies, but also the occasional brave or foolish Alliance member down. And now, then, Thousand Needles.

It never ceased to amaze Mareva how much life there was in these seemingly dry and uninhabitable parts. Suddenly, Stetson reined in his mount, put his finger on his lips and pointed forward. A slender, graceful, winged, serpent-like form flew in the strong thermals of the hot desert, weaving its way here and there, looking for prey.

“Wind-serpent,” said Stetson. “Stay away from it, it’s venomous.”

“Beautiful, but deadly?”

“Fishing for compliments?”

“Rarely have to.”

Stetson laughed, and spurred on his Elekk. This wasn’t a place to stay for any long time. He’d taken on plenty of water, but all too soon, it would run out. If at all possible, he wanted to be in the town of Gadgetzan before the day after tomorrow. He rubbed the large head of his mount. Shouldn’t be a problem. They moved on.

“So how are you getting on, Sir Wilfrid?” Bannog was sitting at the table in what in his mind he still called Sir Arthur’s farm. Sir Wilfrid smiled, put his elbows on the table and looked at Bannog over his steepled fingers.

“It’s never easy to fill a dead man’s shoes. I don’t have Sir Arthur’s knack for making people want to do what I want them to do. So I’m a bit more authoritarian. I suppose things will improve once people stop comparing me to my predecessor.”

Bannog rubbed his head.

“I see what you mean. There isn’t anyone grudging you your promotion, is there?”

Sir Wilfrid shook his head. “Surprisingly, no. I must have managed to hide my faults well.”

“Saving their hides from the Orcs may have something to do with that. Tends to make people appreciate you.”

“I suppose,” said Sir Wilfrid, “Though I did little more than send everyone East where there weren’t any Orcs and call a few stout lads to hold them off a while. That’s when we were captured.”

“Hah. I know what you mean. When I was in Arathi, I made a sneak attack on a couple of mages, together with my friends. They never knew what hit them. Then, we had a big fight that was much, much more difficult. Almost didn’t make it through. We were bailed out by the heavy infantry. So that’s why they call me ‘Mage-killer’ sometimes. They never remember the right things.”

“People are stupid,” said Sir Wilfrid.

“Yeah. So. Any Horde activity round these parts?”

“Not a sign. Not even a crow in the sky. They are either hiding in fear, or they’re planning something.”

Bannog thought on this, then shook his head.

“The group of Orcs I met a few nights ago didn’t want to fight. Orders. ‘Don’t pick any new fights’ is what the commander told me.”

“They’re holding back for something,” said Sir Wilfrid. “They need every warrior they can keep. No frittering them away on apple farms.”

Bannog nodded. “You may be right. I wonder what it is.”

Bearwalker came down the stairs, ears glowing. On his face was an annoyed expression. Ariciel raised her eyebrows at him.


“I asked Arch-druid Staghelm about some of the strange signs I’ve seen, and he took over five minutes to tell me to mind my own business.” He rapped his knuckles on the table. “Damn it. It is my business if I have to send out rank newbies and they are eaten alive by Undead.” He turned to Ariciel. “Undead! In Darkshore! What the blazes is going on?” His fist hit his gloved hand. “I know about those High-borne ghosts. They’re harmless if you stay away from them. Won’t leave the wreckage of their beloved Manor. But animate corpses? We haven’t seen those in these parts since the Dark Ages!”

“Uh-oh. I feel a Quest coming up for a certain blonde.”

“You bet. But not just you.” Bearwalker stared out of the window. “I’m coming along too. Don’t know who I can send out there except you, and it’s dangerous to go alone.”

“Is Mira back yet? If it’s that bad, we may need a healer.”

“Hmm. She’s in the Eastern Kingdoms, gathering flight points. She’s going to be very busy there. No matter. We can both heal each other. Not that I’m planning on letting it come to that. So get your walking boots on. Field trip! I’m going to the temple. See you at the flight master in an hour.”

“There we are. Hello, Steamwheedle Port! Quick trip to the merchant, bit more food and we’re heading for Gadgetzan.”

Mareva shaded her pale blue eyes with her hand and peered ahead. She could almost see the sea. She picked up one of the water bottles and shook it. Half full. She took a few careful sips and closed it.

“Not a moment too soon. We’re running out of water.”

“Yes. But we can take on more in Steamwheedle Port. Shouldn’t take more than half an hour.”

Mareva stretched, raising her arms above her head.

“Move on, then.”

The small port town of Steamwheedle Port came into view. Stetson’s elekk walked tirelessly along the sandy road. Mareva wandered into the inn, while Stetson found a spring to refill his bottles. The Goblin innkeeper nimbly jumped up onto the table, and put on her selling smile. Mareva ordered mead for herself and light ale for Stetson, then found a table. She sat down, sipping her drink, waiting for Stetson. Come on. How long does it take to fill up a few bottles? His beer was getting warm.

Suddenly, Mareva looked up. Some noise or other had alerted her. Slowly, she put her drink down and got up. She walked to the door, and carefully peered out, staff in one hand, the other on the totems on her belt. With slow steps, she left the inn, and made for the port and the beach. A suspicious frown was on her blue face. There it was! Cries of battle, cries of pain. What the… Where was Stetson? Hmm. Heuristics told her he would be where the noise was. She ran forward.

Stetson was at the spring, filling his water bottles. He’d been here before. The water here was better than in the murky wells of Gadgetzan, even though it had a slightly silt taste. He held the water bottles under and watched the bubbles come up. He looked up. Morgan growled. He turned round to see a group of five corpses lumber towards him. In a flash, his crossbow was in his hand, and blackflight arrows were zipping through the air at the zombies. They went down easily, with just a few shots, but there were too many of them to keep away. Morgan caught one, and ripped it to pieces. The last one came close, too close for his crossbow. A rotting fist crashed into his chest. His armour took the brunt. Stetson whipped out his swords and slashed at the undead creature, which took it with typical stoicism. Not my flesh anyway. The thing belched, then spewed forth a vicious green liquid from its mouth, hitting Stetson in the face and chest. With a final double slash, he dismembered his attacker, then wiped the horrible stuff off him. It burned his skin, and it smelled horrible. Morgan seemed unaffected. Suddenly, his eyes and mouth opened with realisation. Steamwheedle Port was under attack! Zombies! Mareva!

Stetson quickly filled the rest of his water bottles. No use rushing out into the desert with no water. Then, he ran out to look for his friend. In the village, a fight was going on between the zombies and the Bruisers, the place’s police force. As Stetson watched, one of the Goblins was hit by a jet of green liquid, and fell down, writhing in agony. As Stetson watched, the small green guy’s skin changed colour. By the Light! It stirred, rose up, and rejoined the fight. On the side of the zombies! Stetson looked at his hands. Had he been quick enough to wash the stuff off him? He felt sick, but that could be his mind playing tricks on him. No matter. Where was Mareva? They needed to get out of here. Calling to Morgan, he ran.

Mareva looked round. Where in the name of the Naaru was Stetson? It wasn’t like he was easy to overlook! All over the place, groups of zombies were in fights with the local Goblins. Mareva had seen one of them turned. She didn’t need a warning to stay well clear of them. She ran from hiding place to hiding place, looking for her friend. Wait! Think! He’d be making for the inn. That’s where they parted company. She turned round, and ran back. The fight had not yet reached the tavern, and the door was shut and barred. Couldn’t say she blamed the innkeeper. She looked round, took a deep breath and yelled out Stetson’s name. No answer. She looked back towards the fight. Suddenly, he heart leapt into her throat. There! She waved. Stetson saw her, and came running towards her. Mareva looked at him with fearful eyes. Despite the dry heat of the desert, he was sweating and shivering.

“Don’t touch me. I may be infected. I don’t know how this spreads.”

“Shall we leave?”

“Yes. West along the road. Make for Gadgetzan.” Stetson tried to call his Elekk, but it wouldn’t come near him. Even Morgan looked at his master, scared. Mareva took Stetson’s hands.

“Let’s move. How long is it on foot?”

“Couple of hours. If I’m fit, that is.”

“You look pretty much fit to me,” said Mareva.

Stetson gave her a half-hearted grin. “Tell me again in an hour or so. I may need it more then. Let’s move.”

They set out along the road. Suddenly Stetson put his hand on Mareva’s arm.

“Did you see what happened to those Goblins?”

Mareva looked straight ahead. “Yes.”

“If any of us…” Stetson faltered. Mareva gave him an earnest look, then nodded.


They ran along the road side by side, keeping a close eye on each other. Stetson’s face was blank, pearls of sweat were on his forehead. He was not in any pain, but he felt sick and weak. It was taking all of his determination to keep up a pace that ordinarily, he could have kept up from one end of Azeroth to the other. His vision blurred. He could feel the poison working inside him, but he said nothing. Get to Gadgetzan. There will be a healer there. Keep moving. Suddenly, he veered off the path, bent over and threw up.

Mareva looked at him with large, fearful eyes. Her hand went to her belt, and with a rush of air, her Healing Stream totem appeared. Damn. She should have learnt more healing spells. This was just a plaster on a gaping wound. Concentrating, she cast another healing spell on Stetson. It seemed to help, just a tiny bit. He looked up at her, and tried to smile.

“Thank you. I’m much better.”

Mareva took one of the bottles from Stetson’s pack and handed it to him. He drank. Mareva took another bottle. She only took a single mouthfull, then spat it out.

“I thought the water was good in Steamwheedle. This is… awful…” Her eyes suddenly grew large, and she stared at the water bottle.

“Oh crap.”

Stetson pulled himself together, and took Mareva’s arm.

“Keep moving. There will be help in Gadgetzan.”

Night fell over the Tanaris desert.

“Do you think you can make me talk, Human? We are born in pain! Your tortures won’t help you!”

Old Bannog crossed his arms and gave the Orc in front of him a weary look. Bannog and three soldiers were standing next to him, just in case. They had bumped into this creature more or less by accident, and had a lot of trouble catching him alive. The Orc had been dragged down to one of the storerooms, one man to each limb, struggling and screaming. Bannog had been all for knocking him on the head for a bit of quiet, but Old Bannog decided against it. After all, they wanted him to take a message to the Blackrock leader. Old Bannog took a deep breath.

“Relax, Soldier. We’re not after your blood. Are you one of the Blackrock clan?”

“I’ll tell you nothing! Do what you will with me, maggots!”

Bannog nodded sagely. “I can see it’s useless. He won’t betray the Blackrock Clan.”

“You’re right, Human! We are the fighters! The Blackrock will feast upon your flesh!”

Old Bannog grinned. “Oh, that’s not fair, Son. Starting a battle of wits with an unarmed opponent.”

The Orc realised what he’d said and turned pale. He closed his mouth and adopted a stony silence. Old Bannog stepped forward and looked the enemy soldier in the eye.

“The reason I’m asking, is that I want you to take a message to your captain. I want a word with him, on neutral ground. Do you think you can do that?”

“My master only kills Humans. He does not talk to maggots like you. We’ll slaughter every one of you!”

“Yes, yes. Think of this. I may be so afraid of you guys that I want to discuss terms of surrender with him. We can clearly see that it’s no use fighting with you. Nothing gets through those thick skulls of yours.”

“That’s right, Human. You may as well give up now and save yourself the torment of years.”

“Good,” said Old Bannog. He reached in his pocket and produced a letter. “This is a message to your leader. It says where I will meet him, if he is willing. Think of it! You may be the one who brings your master the news of your victory!”

The Orc considered carefully, then nodded.

“I accept. Give me the letter of your surrender and I will take it to our leader.”

“In the name of those who would have died otherwise, I thank you.”

“You alright?” Ariciel looked at Mathrengyl Bearwalker, who had just turned back to his Elf form.

“Never better. Ah. It feels good to be out again.”

Ariciel looked at the heap of bodies that until recently had been fighting Bearwalker. Ariciel had held back, healing spells at the ready. It had been a sight to behold. Dire Bear-Mathrengyl had torn the zombies limb from limb before any of them had been able to move a muscle. Green liquid ran down his broad chest, and a big grin was on his face. Ariciel dug in her pack and produced some test tubes. With a disgusted expression on her face, she took samples from the zombies. The ooze stung her hand, and she produced a handkerchief to wipe it off.

“Right. That should be the last of them. If they get any more goo, they can start a shop. Home?”

“Yeah. Damn. That stuff stings. Just a moment.” He looked round at the small stream, smiled and jumped in, changing to his sea lion shape. A quick swim up and down the stream got rid of the stuff, and he climbed back onto the bank. Ariciel grinned.

“Laundry, the Druid way!”

“Damn right! Race you to the flight point. Free Wrath upgrade if you get there no more than five minutes after me.”

Bearwalker changed to his cheetah form at the same time as Ariciel, and they dashed off to the South. To her surprise, Ariciel was well able to keep up with her teacher. Hold on. He was supposed to be able to run rings round her! What was going on? With a bit of effort, she managed to draw level with him.

“Is something wrong with [Cheetah-Mathrengyl]?”

“[Bad-food-feeling],” said Bearwalker. “Keep moving.”

They arrived at the flight point, and changed back to their Elf-forms. Bearwalker looked awful. His face was sweaty and drawn.

“I need to get to the moon-temple. So do you. Something bad in my blood, I can feel it. Quick. Hippogriff.”

They jumped onto the creatures’ backs and flew to Rut’Theran Village. They looked at each other. Ariciel wasn’t feeling well, either. Bearwalker changed to his Cheetah-form, waited for Ariciel and they ran off side by side, through the portal, straight to the Temple of the Moon, where they changed back and clamped on to the first Priest they could find.

“Quick! Cleanse!” Bearwalker was shivering, and so was Ariciel. The priest took one look at them, and wasting no time, cast heavy spells of cleansing on the both of them. Ariciel took deep breaths as the filthy feeling was driven from her. She closed her eyes, suddenly shaking with fear. She looked at Bearwalker.

“For Elune’s sake, what was that?”

“Zombie plague. Now that takes me back. We haven’t had that since I was a young boy.” Suddenly, he frowned. “Right. No more pissing about. I’m going right to the top. Follow me.”

Bearwalker walked up the stairs, and was admitted to see a woman of uncommon beauty and power. Ariciel stayed well back. She knew the woman’s name. Tyrande Whisperwind, high-priestess of Elune. The tales wound about her were extraordinary. She had single-handedly beaten back hordes of Undead, betrayed by one in whom she had put all her trust. Bearwalker bowed his head before her, and spoke to her in whispers. At one point he turned to Ariciel, asking for the samples, which she produced hurriedly. Tyrande Whisperwind held them up to the light, studied them. A worried look appeared on her face. She looked on Bearwalker.

“You were right to bring this to my attention, Mathrengyl Bearwalker. I thank you. Now return to the Cenarion Enclave and prepare. The Scourge is upon us.”

“Is it talking yet?”

Mareva looked round the table. Old Bannog looked like a ghost of his former self, weathered and beaten. Gerrig shook his head. Mareva sniffed, and pulled up her mask. Sometimes she wondered whether she should go for a full face mask, but her forehead and eyes were still alright. Poor Stetson hadn’t been as lucky. Whenever she closed her eyes, she could see the dying expression on his face as she shot him with her lightning bolts. It had been better than watching him turn into a zombie. And these Humans were being nice to one of the causes of her loss. Bannog the Younger looked at her grimly, rubbing the stump of his right arm. The Scourge had taken its toll on all of them.

“No. Don’t know what he could tell us if he wanted.”

“Let’s see what we can do.”

She walked down the stairs, leaning on her staff. She came down to the dungeons. There were now two cells where they could hold prisoners. One of them was empty. The other wasn’t. She gave the soldiers a short look.

“Get lost.”

The soldiers looked at her, then hurried up the stairs, glad to be out of the place. Mareva walked up to the metal bars, and looked at the prisoner. It was sitting on the ground, back against the wall. Mareva concentrated, and shot it with a lightning bolt.

The Orc woke up, and found he couldn’t move. His arms and legs were tied to the bars. He tried to pull himself free. Useless. He looked at the figure in front of him. A slender from, wearing robes and a mask.

“You have one chance. Speak.”

“I know nothing!”

Mareva tilted her head.

“As you wish.”

She rubbed her fingers, trying to get the movement back into them. The healers had done what they could, but the effects remained. Still, the mind was what counted. She stepped forward, and laid her fingers on the Orc’s temples. Concentrated. Let go.

The Orc screamed. Kept on screaming. His muscled bulged, and strained fruitlessly against the bonds. He shook his head, trying to get the blue hell-woman’s fingers away from him. Mareva looked at him intently, took her fingers away.

“The difficult thing is to do this softly. If I let go too much, I could kill you. It is an interesting mental exercise. I have to keep my anger under control, or you die. Are you ready?”

With some effort, she straightened her fingers, then put them back on the Orc’s temples, moving up a bit to get a fresh patch of skin. The Orc screamed again.

There was a great blow to her side, and she fell over. Bannog stood over her.

“If I still had my right arm, you would not be conscious now.”

“Why do you stop me? I am trying to make it talk.”

Old Bannog looked at her, with a calm expression on his face that was worse than anger.

“Not having him talk is an inconvenience. Introducing torture to Caer Bannog will destroy us.”

“I am already destroyed,” said Mareva, pulling down her mask. White teeth showed through a hole in her right cheek. “I do not care what I have to do to get my revenge.”

“Then do it outside. Leave.”

Mareva scowled at Old Bannog, pulling her mask back up.

“As you wish. Come, Ariciel. We are no longer welcome here.”

Her Night-elf friend was looking at her, eyes wide open, a horrified expression on her face. Slowly, she shook her head. Mareva shook with anger. With a great cry, she raised herself to her full height, and changed to her Ghost-wolf form. Ahh. This still worked! She ran up the stairs. Old Bannog looked at his son, who nodded. Mareva ran out of the gate as Bannog reached the top of the stairs. He whistled at the archers, pointed at the running shape and drew his hand across his throat. Bows twanged.

With a cry, Mareva woke up to see the worried face of Stetson looking down on her. His hand was on her shoulder. She looked into his eyes and laid her hand on his arm.

“Do not die, Hunter S’dezo’Houn. Don’t ever die.”

“I don’t intend to. Let’s move.”

“More bloody zombies! Too many for us.” Lenna fired more firebolts, and pushed Bieslook behind her.

“Quick then. Get indoors. Bar the windows. Trixie! Abort! Come back here, we’re going to ground!”

The Gnome Warrior girl turned round and ran to her parents, sheathing her sword. Nix was already closing the shutters and dropping the bars. Trixie ran into the house, followed by more zombies. The door closed, and the zombies started banging on it in their typical mindless way. Griggin rubbed his hands.

“Right. Those creeps are going to find out why I called myself Steambender. House defenses up!”

He checked the manometer on the boiler, which was well into the red. About time to use all that power. He turned a valve, and there were agonized cries outside as super-heated steam boiled the flesh off the zombies. Griggin peered through the observation hatch and laughed at the stack of clean bones lying on the ground.

“Hah! Do you like it, you nasty corpses? Have a taste of Steambender’s Patent Doorstep Steriliser!”

Nix grinned. “It’s almost a shame that it started out as Steambender’s Relaxing Steam Bath. With better product placement, we could still have been in Ironforge.”

“Vastly overrated place,” said Griggin. “Stormwind is where the money is these days. Ironforge is so full of cranks and pipes that you can hardly move without hitting one of them. Stormwind is much better.”

“Keep telling yourself that, Dad. Someday you’ll believe it. At least there’s no zombies in Ironforge.”

Griggin shook his head at his eldest offspring.

“I reckon these bloody zombies are everywhere. And it’s only getting worse. We’re in for a big cave-in. Better get out the shovels.”

Ariciel lay back on the mattress in Lirael’s place. Lirael was making tea.

“I’m alright really. You priests are fantastic. I will certainly consider you when next I need cleansing of zombie plague.”

“Shush,” said Lirael. “Tea’s almost ready. Lie back. Relax.”

Ariciel did, with a smile. It had been carefully explained to her what would have happened if Bearwalker hadn’t had the wits to get them to the Temple. It would certainly have ruined her hair. She watched Lirael as she poured two steaming cups, and handed one to her. She blew on the hot liquid.


“Well, it’s only fitting. We don’t all get invited into the presence of Tyrande Whisperwind.”

“Hah. Bearwalker invited himself, and I tagged along. She seemed worried.”

“That scares me,” sais Lirael. “High Priestess Whisperwind can vaporise armies of zombies. If she’s worried, we’re in for rough weather. But at least, you’re home now.”

Ariciel looked at Lirael through the tea-vapours. Was she? She was away from Bannog. That didn’t feel home-like. Well, she wouldn’t be going anywhere for a while. Bearwalker had promised to upgrade her Wrath for her, anyway. She burnt her tongue on her tea. She would write to Bannog. Her eyes gleamed.

“Hey Lirael.”


“Mind if I invite my boyfriend over? Not now. Sometime.”

Lirael raised her eyebrows, looking as innocent as an Elven priestess can look. “Whatever for?”

“Teach him to sing.”

Lirael laughed.

“Sure.” Lirael pointed at Ariciel. “One thing though, I’m not spending the night in that patch of wood of yours.”

“I’m sure Arador wouldn’t mind putting you up for the night.”

“You won’t let me watch then?”

Ariciel laughed, almost spilling her tea.

“Bannog would have a fit! Especially if you gave helpful advice!” She sipped her tea. “Almost worth it. But no. Are you sure it’s alright? We can find somewhere else if you’d rather…”

“Oh, ask him. It’ll be good to see the big lug again. I’ll make a discreet exit if you start dropping clothes.”

“I love you forever.”

“That means dinner’s on you?”


“Another two! Draenei. Serious!”

“Take them to Father Brendynn. Quick! The male looks like he’s collapsing and he’s heavy!”

There was an old man, wearing a black tabard with a white sunrise painted on it. It was the device of the Argent Dawn. They were a busy lot these days. The day of their testing was at hand. Soon, they would fulfill their destiny or perish along with the rest of the world. Meanwhile, they healed those who had been afflicted by the plague, and slew those who had succumbed to it. These two were in bad shape, but not yet beyond help. He concentrated, casting the familiar spells of cleansing and healing. He smiled. They would wake up, healed. Their flesh had not yet started to putrify, which was good. What state their minds would be in, was anyone’s guess. Father Brendynn sighed. It was possible, of course, even likely, that they would run into more of these Scourge zombies. But not tonight. He closed his eyes and prayed for them to the Light.

Mareva woke up. She’d expected to be dead by now, and she wasn’t. She looked round, and tears welled up in her eyes as she saw Stetson lying asleep on the next bed. She studied his face. He looked peaceful, breathing regularly. Her pack was at the foot end of the bed. She opened it, looking for clothes. She smiled as she saw the shirt Ariciel had given her. Not yet, but soon.

“I made a promise,” said Stetson, “To shoot myself if ever I started to comment on how beautiful you look. So I won’t.”

Mareva looked over her shoulder, with a smile. “And rightly so. Why waste your breath on stating the obvious if you can better use it for other things?”

Stetson swung his big hooves out of bed, walked over to Mareva and wrapped his arms round her, completely ignoring the fact that she wasn’t in fact wearing very much at all, simply enjoying the feel of her arms round him. He pulled her tighter.

“Each day is a blessing.”

Old Bannog sat behind his desk, staring at the letter. He’d known immediately that it was bad news. Not only was it from one of Florence’s vague float-in-the-sky friends, but it had been brought to him by that Warlock girl Florence had taken in. Opening the letter and reading it had confirmed his suspicions. With slow movements, he picked up the bottle and refilled his glass with the fortified wine he kept for occasions such as these. As he put the cork back on, he guessed that there were maybe three or four glasses left in the bottle. So Florence was no more. No more tea parties smothered in incense and drowned in horrible herbal tea. He read the letter again. Old Bannog took a deep breath. This sort of message was getting all to familiar at his age. There’s not many of us left. Not many at all. He picked up his glass, swirled round the wine and held it up.

“Here’s to you, Flo, you daft old bat.”

He drained his glass, walked to the window and looked out. It was dark outside, but clear, and the stars were out. Zombie plague. In Stormwind. Hadn’t he earned a bit of rest after all these years? Apparently not. He sighed. He might not have much longer in this world, but he’d be damned if he didn’t at least try to make sure that his sons had clean earth to till. Tomorrow he’d meet with the leader of the Orcs, if that pillock of an Orc had managed not to drop the letter in a ditch somewhere. And then, we’ll see.

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


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