Part 10: How to build a Druid

Mathrengyl Bearwalker looked in on his students. Five of them were sitting in the sunshine, writing essays. Woefully inadequate. Not the students. They did quite well given the circumstances, but the lessons themselves. When he first learnt his craft, it took years before he even started on changing his environment. These boys and girls would be casting Druidic spells two weeks from now. It was what was needed for the war effort, but they missed out on so much. Mathrengyl could sense what every beetle was doing in a given patch of wood. This lot would not notice it if a whole species of plant died out. He was doing the best he could. This essay was on their little patch in the forest. He’d taken them into the woods, and told them to mark out with ropes a patch of wood. They were to return there for an hour every day and report to him everything that happened. The unsophisticated ones would say that there was too little going on. The better ones would complain that there was too much going on. The smartarses would pick a barren piece of sand, hoping for easy essays. Mathrengyl grinned. No such luck, my lad. No piece of sand is truly barren, it’s just very, very difficult to see what is going on there. He’d pointed out ants, the tiny heaps of sand where sand-worms had started their tunnels, the flow of water beneath the surface. To give him credit, the lad’s essays did not miss much.

He watched one of the girls with special interest. Her white hair almost touched the paper she was writing on. Frankly, he’d been surprised that she was there at all, given how he’d scared her when first they met. But he’d walked into the Enclave, and there she was. She still didn’t quite trust him, and he couldn’t really blame her. Hopefuly, she would before long. The girl was a sponge for knowledge, though, even if she tended to over-analyse a bit. Druidic lore was not like mage-craft. It depended on intuition, hunches and feelings as much as on hard and fast natural rules.

He noted the shadow of one of the pillars on the marble floor. Time was up. Let’s give these boys and girls a taste of what it really could be like to feel a forest from the ground up. Who knows? Maybe some of them would stay on after the war.

“Right ladies and gentlemen! Down tools and get on your feet. Wood trip!”

Ariciel finished her sentence, then looked up. Everybody put their paper and pencils away, then followed Bearwalker out. Ariciel still carried her staff with her. Not that she expected having to fight anyone, but in a forest, a piece of wood strong enough to take your weight came in handy in lots of places.

Bearwalker trotted out of the Darnassus gates and into the forest like a mother hen with five chicks in tow. He was pleased that all of his students seemed to enjoy it here more than in their teaching area in Darnassus. Maybe there was some hope after all. Bearwalker concentrated, then smiled. Ah. There she was. She’d wandered quite far afield. Time to see how she was doing. Without warning, he sped up to running speed and dived into the undergrowth. There was a bit of a scramble behind him as some of the students struggled to keep up. He wasn’t surprised that Ariciel was the first behind him. Listening for a few seconds, he made out her footsteps, and those of his other students. They’d all settled into their stride. Good. He took a quick turn, following a deer’s spoor till he came to a small stream. With a happy smile, he ran into the water and followed the water upstream, splashing as he went. He’d lived in these woods for a long time, on top of Teldrassil. These days, he didn’t get out in the world much, but this almost made up for it. At the edge of a clearing, he raised his hand and slowed down to a walk. He made a bit of a show of concentrating on his footsteps, hoping that his students would catch on. Three of them did, two were still stomping about. Mathrengyl looked over his shoulder at the unsubtle ones, and they caught on. He concentrated again, and found what he was looking for, at the other edge of the clearing.

As she crouched down behind Bearwalker, Ariciel extended her senses to find out what Bearwalker was going to do next. She could still do that, even after the cleansing of her talents. Bearwalker had advised her to take it easy using up her untapped talents, until she found out what her calling was. But this forest-sense hadn’t left her, so it must be part of her Keldorei heritage.

It might have been the smallest of sounds that alerted her, but she could feel it once she concentrated on it: Some great presence at the other edge of this clearing. As Bearwalker put his finger on his lips to warn the others to be quiet, a large brown bear came into the clearing, sniffed the air (they were downwind), then walked into the clearing. The large she-bear grunted. Ariciel held her breath as two little fuzz-balls followed Mama Bear into the clearing. A delighted smile appeared on Ariciel’s face, and she could hear the others hold their breath as well, as the last of the two took a leap and pounced on its sibling. She was aware of Bearwalker’s voice, though she didn’t know if she heard him with her ears or with her mind.

“This is [Bear-Mother-Who-Was-Healed]. I raised her from a cub when some [Harms-The-World] killed her mother. Now she has her own cubs, but they have not earned their names yet. They were fathered on her by [Bear-Who-Walks-The-Edge] last year. At any other time, I could walk up to her and scratch her between the ears, and she would just head-butt me. But not now. Stay where you are, and I will show you. Do not stir, do not come to my aid. I can handle her, and ten more like her. You, as yet, cannot. If any of you cause any harm to [Bear-Mother-Who-Was-Healed], I will not be pleased.” Mathrengyl got up, and prepared to walk into the clearing. Before he did, he turned round and spoke in his normal voice.

“None of you are ever to repeat this experiment while I teach you.” He walked out into the clearing, checking his armour. The large mother bear spotted him immediately, and snarled. Her cubs knew the sign, and bunched up behind her. As his students watched, he walked straight at the bear and held out his hand to her. The mother bear charged, and swiped at Mathrengyl with a paw. Bearwalker tumbled through the air, rolled over and was back on his feet. The mother bear pursued, snarling, and rammed him straight on, scooping Mathrengyl up and tossing him into the air like a leaf. Ariciel winced. Mama Bear was not playing. She was trying with every bit of her ability to kill the Elf who had been both mother and father to her for all her life. The only reason he was still alive was his enormous capacity to soak up damage. She saw Mathrengyl land, roll, get to his feet and run to create some distance between him and the bear. Suddenly, there was a green glow in both his hands, and a mist seemed to appear all round him. When the mist cleared, where Mathrengyl had been, there now stood an enormous bear. His coat was brown, and on his shoulders were white markings. Bear-Mathrengyl roared, making the forest shake. Involuntarily, Ariciel’s stomach tightened, and she gripped her staff, ready for flight or fight. She had a distinct preference for flight, but she stayed where she was. Not so the Bear who was healed. She charged again, claws and teeth aimed at the strange bear who had so unexpectedly appeared to threaten her cubs. Her claws raked the large bear, who did not counter-attack, but just stood there and took it. Then, he bowed his great head, turned round and ran off into the forest, pursued only for a few yards by the mother bear. She roared, and all the Elves hiding in the shrubs understood her words. “Don’t come back!”

Ariciel felt more than heard Bearwalker circle round in a wide arc, then change back to his Elf form. She and the Elf sitting next to her looked round as Mathrengyl appeared behind them. The others were still looking in the direction where the mother bear had disappeared.

“Listen. What you you have just seen, is the heart of a bear. You will never see anything more fierce and determined to fight. The most ferocious Dragon, Orc, Troll or Fel Beast cannot hold a candle to the heart of the Bear. Consider this. The mother knew perfectly well who I was, who had raised her from when I found her, trapped and helpless, till the time I chased her off into the wild, as mother bears do to their cubs when they are old enough to take care of themselves. That did not hold her back.” Bearwalker looked at each of his students in turn. “Then I changed into my Dire Bear form, the most powerful fighting form known to Druids. I have fought dragons and giants in that form, and won. I could have killed her with one swipe. The mother bear knew this. When you are given your bear form, you will know. But still, she attacked me. Every fibre of her body and mind, from the tips of her claws to the ends of her hair, was devoted to destroying me. She would have died defending her young, and only regretted that she could fight me no more.” Bearwalker turned round, heading for Darnassus, then paused.

“There will be no essays on this. If you have to write this down in order to remember it, then you don’t belong in these classes. Don’t bother writing it down for others, either. Until you have seen it, you won’t understand. First one to arrive in Cenarion Enclave after me gets third Healing Touch for free!” He sprinted off in the direction of Darnassus.

Ariciel ran after Bearwalker. She knew full well that she hadn’t a chance of beating him to Darnassus. He cheated. He changed into a fast cat form as soon as he was out of sight. But like they say, if a lion is chasing you and your friend, you don’t need to outrun the lion. Ariciel could probably have found Darnassus with her eyes closed by now. She felt she had spent most of her life running from Darnassus to Dolanaar in the east, up to Silverspring, down to the moonwell, up to the other moonwell for extra spring water, here, there, and everywere. Not that she minded much. The woods here were beautiful, and a joy to walk in. Sometimes she regretted not being able to stay a while and watch.

She used her staff to vault over a small stream and ran along a boar track.

Her fellow students had long since vanished from sight. All Elves had their own preferred routes. She smiled smugly. She just preferred the fastest ones to the easiest ones. No use going for the easy strolls if you’re learning how to move fast in a forest. Bearwalker often offered free spells as a reward for good performance. Her Wrath spells were the envy of all. Sometimes, she took pity on her fellow students and held back a bit. But not now. She wanted the Healing Touch. Even though it hadn’t been as subtle as, say, a Remove Poison, her heals had served her well. She was now as good at it as she had been before the clearing of her talents, but the better, the better. She’d had to pay for her first Heal, earned the second with a good essay, and this was going to earn her the third.

She emerged from the forest onto the road to the gates. Just an easy run to the finish now. A few hundred yards to her left, she saw Mira step onto the road. Damn! Mira was her main rival, and though Ariciel could usually stay ahead of her in dense growth, Mira was faster in a straight dash. Quick as lightning, Ariciel turned round and ran as fast as she could. Through the gates, along the path to the Warrior’s terrace. As she ran down the ramp to the island where the bank was, she could hear Mira’s footsteps behind her. Mira was catching up. Taking deep breaths, Ariciel forced her legs to move faster, almost leaping over the small bridge to the Enclave. Mira was now so close that Ariciel could hear her breathing. Just a few hundred steps ahead, she could see Bearwalker, with his back to them, studying a piece of his armour. Ariciel knew she was running as fast as she could, and still Mira was gaining on her, then running next to her, long black hair flying in the wind of her speed. With her last breath, Ariciel squeezed a bit more speed out of herself, and gained a half-yard on Mira. Mira’s eyes narrowed, and she leapt forward, just as Ariciel slapped her hand on the table next to Bearwalker, who turned round. Ariciel scowled. So close!

Mathrengyl looked at the girls standing in front of them, as they fought to get more air into them.

“Who was first?”

Ariciel said nothing, as she was still out of breath, but pointed at Mira, who shook her head.

“No. She. First. Hand on the table.”

Bearwalker smiled. “Easy, girls. Deep breaths.” Mira shot him an acid look, caught her breath and pointed at Ariciel.

“Just give it to her, and remember it at the next close call.”

Bearwalker looked from one to the other. He honestly hadn’t seen who was first. Oh well.

“I think we’ll call this a draw and save my poor memory the effort. Mira?”

Mira held her hand out to Bearwalker. He took it, closed his eyes and let go. Then he turned to Ariciel, who thought of protesting for a half second, then held out her hand. As Mathrengyl touched her hand, she felt his power extend to her, then retreat, leaving memories that Ariciel knew were not hers.

“Thank you.” As her breathing eased, the others started to arrive.

“Who won?” asked one of them. Mira pointed at Ariciel, who pointed back at Mira. Mira wiggled her fingers at them.

“Any of you get hurt?”


“And so we come to the right and proper use of mana potions. I’m warning you, the first to call them ‘Pots of mana’ will be used for target practice by the newbies. Mana Potions are made with great care by our most skilled alchemists and are among the greatest assets for the busy Druid. So have a little respect. Now has any of you ever used one?”

Ariciel raised her hand. “Do they come in any nicer flavours?”

By way of answer, Bearwalker opened up his bag and showed them a strange bottle with an attached plunger. “As a curio, this is a Goblin-invented mana injector. These things inject highly concentrated mana potion straight into your bloodstream. So you don’t have to taste it. One of these can fill up even my immoderately large pool from empty in thirty seconds. If ever you find one of them, stay away. They’re pure poison until you walk among the likes of Arch-Druid Staghelm. Do pick them up. You can sell them for a mint! And remember, if you need these things, then you’re in over your head, or haven’t planned properly…” Bearwalker put away the injector and looked at his students earnestly. “Or both.” Mathrengyl dug in his bag again and produced small bottles, filled with a blue liquid.

“Now these are the standard-strength mana potions. You can get them from the reagent man in the Enclave, and there are some inns that carry them as well. If you pass today’s test, then I’ll bump your hearthstones and you’ll be able to buy them. The newbies are forever trying to get them, against all wisdom and common sense. Do not give mana potions to the newbies. Repeat after me. ‘I will not give mana potions to the newbies.'”

They chorused. Bearwalker nodded. “It’s not just to put the beginners in their place. Anyone can get the lesser ones. They are slightly better than nice cool spring water. The reason anyone can get them is that even drinking two at the same time will probably not kill you. It’ll give you a bit of a headache and the shakes for a while, but that’s more or less it.”

Ariciel remembered the night when she’d healed Bannog, back in Elwynn Forest. She’d drunk two of her potions at once. So that’s why she’d felt like a wet piece of paper afterwards. Oh the joys of education. Bearwalker continued.

“The idea when using these things is to get your mana pool back up, and fast. The answer is not to gulp it down all in one go. You take a small sip, wait for it to kick in, then take another. Swallowing it in one go… is Bad. Gives you stomach cramps and does not give you more mana.”

Mira raised her hand. “What if you’re fighting something? They’re unlikely to give you the time!”

“Keep the potion in your mouth and swallow it bit by bit. Carefully. If you choke on it and spray it all over your enemy, they’ll take offense. It’s very rude.”

Ariciel sighed. Right. So instead of sipping one potion, she’d gulped down two. A miracle Bannog was still alive, really. Her mind wandered, till Bearwalker placed a potion in front of her.

“Everybody got their mana pool nice and full? Good! We need it empty. I don’t like that statue over there. Moonfire please!”

A barrage of bright white shafts of light rained down on the statue. There was nothing that entertained a class more than just cutting loose with maximum firepower on a target that didn’t shoot back. Unfortunately, it had survived much, much worse than a bunch of students emptying their mana pool. After everybody had done their worst, it still stood, making clicking noises as it cooled down. Bearwalker frowned at it.

“That the best you can do? Right. Fill up, then do it again. Remember, small sips. It’s quicker, trust me.”

Ariciel decided to try keeping the whole potion in her mouth and slowly swallowing it. The taste was as horrible as she remembered, only more concentrated. Honestly. Would it hurt to add a little sugar? Slowly, bit by bit, she swallowed the potion. Each time, there was the little buzz in her head that meant that a bit of mana had come back. Next to her, Mira was doing the same. Ariciel wrinkled her nose at her, trying to make her laugh and spill her potion. Mira screwed her eyes closed, but controlled herself. Ariciel swallowed the last sip of potion, raised her hands and sent a bright beam of moonfire down on the statue. A half-second later, Mira followed her. They both amused themselves a bit, sending beam after beam of moonfire at the statue. Finally, Ariciel breathed in deeply, and sent a bolt of Green Fire at the statue. It fell over. Bearwalker glared at her.

“Miss Ariciel, I asked for Moonfire for a reason! Statues don’t care about arcane damage, so hitting it with that won’t really damage Cenarion Circle property. Nature damage is something different altogether. Everybody, cease fire!”

Bearwalker waited for everybody to stop shooting, then walked over to the statue. It was no uglier than it had been. Oh well. He’d put it back upright next morning when it had cooled down a bit. He looked at the sun. Time to call quits.

“And that concludes today’s lesson. No hitting statues when they’re down. Well done everybody, file up to me and I’ll give you the tick that says you can have mana potions. Even you, Ariciel!”

Mira sniggered. Ariciel blushed. Everybody filed up, got the upgrade and wandered off. Ariciel sighed. Of their original class, only she and Mira were still left. Which was nice, as she quite liked Mira, apart from the times she wanted to strangle her. Some of them had left for other places and other teachers. One of them had quit. Ariciel waved and set off for Lirael’s. It was going to be busy tonight. Choir practice. Six of them would be practicing the female half of a twelve-part harmony. She didn’t mind. She would sit quietly at one edge of the table and write another one of the uncountable essays demanded of her. She had stacks of them, and one day she would have them bound properly. If she timed it right, she could join the after-practice trip to the inn, where the choir girls would relax from their fiendishly difficult chant with some folk songs that were merely very difficult. Ariciel had once asked Lirael which of the two she preferred: Singing in the temple, in front of hundreds of dignitaries who could spot it if one of the sopranos was a fraction off, or singing in the pub. Lirael had laughed.

“You’re kidding right? We are the choir that all the other choirs are scared of! Nobody wants to sing after we’ve been! What do you think?”

She wandered by the mailbox, and touched her hearthstone to it. A letter fell out, bearing a military stamp. The next moment, she was buried under several stacks of leather, neatly bound. She grinned like a maniac. Bannog! As a skinner, he had more leather left than any sane person could ever use up, so he’d started sending her the excess. She had used it to make armour kits, leather bracers, chest pieces and whatever else had presented itself. These, she sent back to Bannog, who had many takers. Bannog himself was now using a quiver that she had made. She walked back to Lirael’s place, dumped the leather by her bed and opened the letter.
 

From Bannog of Caer Bannog, 25th light infantry
To Ariciel, Darnassus

 
Hello Ariciel,

 
As you can see, I’ve been hunting crocolisks. Lots and lots of
them. I think our revenge for one taking a bite out of your leg is
now more or less complete. Which is good, because I’m moving on to
so-called Murlocs. Remember that vendor at the pool in Ironforge?
That’s them. Frankly, why anyone would want them as a pet is beyond
me. They’re revolting, and they’ve taken one of the villagers and
her child here. So we’re hunting them. I’m including a few Murloc
scales, just to see what you can do with them. Someone here said
that the best thing for them was to keep a Murloc in and not to
bother. So if you find a use for them, we’ll be rich!

 
Yours as ever,
Bannog.

 
PS: Due to Army Regulations, my mail gets read before I get it. So
I’m sure someone enjoyed your previous letter. Word to the wise.

Ariciel thought back. What had she written? She couldn’t remember exactly. She might have referred to the night before she sailed, but she’d written nothing specific. Nothing very specific anyway… Oh. Ah. She giggled. Oh well. Nothing wrong with having a bit of a reputation.

Lirael came in, followed by five other choir members. They settled down to their practices, voices blending, perfectly. Ariciel listened for a while, then started on her essay.


Brandishing her latest essay, the white-haired Night-elf wandered up the stairs, and found Bearwalker on the outside walkway, leaning on the rail.

“Bearwalker? Here’s the latest essay on my patch. The kingsblood has come up, and I think some of them are about to bloom.”

The Druid Trainer made no reply.

“Bearwalker?”

“Not now.”

“But you said you wanted me to hand in…”

Bearwalker turned round. Ariciel could only stare at him. She had seen before the expression that was now on Bearwalker’s face. She daren’t breathe, daren’t move. Her hand tightened on her essay, crumpling up the paper, but she didn’t notice.

“Go. Away.”

Without a word, Ariciel turned round and walked from the room when she would have wanted to run. As she came out, one of her fellow students walked up, essay in hand. Ariciel spread her arms, blocking him, and shook her head.

“Not now. Trust me.”

Another one.


Only three of them were left. They were standing in the dark woods of the Moonglade. Dendrite Starblaze, the Druid trainer, stood before them. They had used a spell of teleportation to get here, taught to them by Bearwalker. It had been a strange sensation to use it. Ariciel had been afraid that she might inadvertently teleport only half of her here, body in Moonglade, legs still in Darnassus, but Bearwalker had assured her that that wouldn’t happen. She might fail to rematerialise on the other end if she didn’t concentrate properly, but if that happened, she’d never know. That’s what she loved about Bearwalker. He always managed to reassure her in some way. Luckily, she, Mira, and the lad from the other trainer… Fenrick, had managed to concentrate properly and the three of them had appeared in Moonglade, slightly dazed by the experience but none the worse for it. The three of them were looking straight at Trainer Dendrite. They avoided looking to their right, where a fourth druid stood, towering over them, great horned head kept perfectly still. He was a Tauren. When they first arrived, Dendrite Starblaze had warned them that Moonglade was a place where violence was not tolerated. A warning worth giving, as Druids from both Horde and Alliance came here looking for instruction and solace. Not that any of them was seriously thinking of attacking the imposing figure to their right, but it was nice to know that they were under similar restrictions.

“In the Northwest, you will find the Great Bear Spirit. For all druids, it has served as a tutor and mentor into the first true natural understanding of the bear. Now, you shall find this spirit, and listen to what it has to teach you. Then, return to me here.”

The three of them made ready to leave. Suddenly, on a complete whim, before she even had the time to reconsider, Ariciel turned to the Tauren.

“Will you walk with us?”

Behind her, she could hear Mira gasp. The Tauren turned his large head to her, and seemed to be as surprised as Mira was. And, for that matter, Ariciel herself. The Tauren looked at Dendrite Starblaze, who nodded.

“I will.” His voice was deep, as fitted a creature of his size. He spoke the common tongue. He raised himself, then held out his hand. “Please lead on.”

Ariciel set herself in motion, at a slow trot first, then speeding up. She could hear Mira’s voice.

“We’re tree-huggers, he’s a vegetarian. Way to go you silly blonde!”

There was a rumble from the Tauren. He was laughing! Better not try to speak secrets in Darnassian then! Ariciel grinned in the way she always did when life became interesting. ‘Interesting’ might be a curse in some places, but what use was life if it wasn’t?

They ran on, along the path, to the North-West as Starblaze had indicated. They veered off the path, and fanned out, searching for the Great Bear Spirit. Once or twice, Ariciel could have sworn someone was watching her, but she couldn’t sense who or what it was. Suddenly, the Tauren raised his hand. They stopped, and he pointed forward, a bit off to the right. They all looked, and saw a bear. And yet, it wasn’t, as its body shimmered, almost transparent. This must be it. Slowly, they advanced, each busy with his or her own thoughts. The Tauren kneeled before the image of the bear, and bowed his head. Mira sat down in her normal meditative pose, as did Fenrick. Ariciel just stood, and closed her eyes, sensing the great spirit with her mind, rather than her eyes. To each of them, it seemed like the great bear spoke to them alone, even though they all awoke from their concentration at the same time.

The Spirit spoke to Ariciel of the ways of the Body, and how she must always take care to keep it in good condition. The way of the Claw, the many ways in which to use her body and mind in combat. But most importantly, the way of the Heart. Back in the forest, with Mathrengyl Bearwalker and [Bear-Mother-Who-Was-Healed], she had only seen what happened in others. This time, she felt it in herself. She opened her eyes, as the others did the same. They stood, looked at each other. The shimmering image had vanished. Mira looked up at the Sun.

“Time to go.”

They ran back to the town of Nighthaven, and found Dendrite Starblaze. The trainer looked at them each for a long time, then smiled.

“I can see you have learnt much today. Now return to your teachers, and he, or she, will know what to do next. I recommend the flight to your homes. They will not charge you, and the winds will help to clear your heads. Farewell. We will meet again.”

They walked along the paths of Nighthaven, till they found the flight point that was meant specifically to take Druids home. Before she spoke to the Elf flight master, Ariciel felt a hand on her shoulder. Turning round, she saw the serious face of the Tauren Druid.

“Farewell, and may we not meet again until there is peace between our people. Peace be upon you.”

Ariciel looked into the large brown eyes of the Tauren, wondering. Then, she smiled. “And upon you. Be well.”

The tauren nodded, spoke briefly to the flight master, mounted a bird-like creature, and flew off.

Ariciel looked at her fellow students, then at the bird-creature that would take her. Eyes shining, she stepped on and stroked the feathers. The mighty creature spread its wings, ran a few steps, then heaved itself into the air. Holding on tightly, Ariciel looked back, to see the world disappear below her. This was the way to travel! The hippogriff soared, then beat the air with its wings. Such strength! To think that one of these could even heave aloft a Tauren! The view was stunning, Ariciel had never seen clouds from this close up, nor felt the cold, tiny drops on her face. Far, far below her, the mighty trees of Darkshore forest looked like she could pick them in her hand. As the hippogriff flew over the coastline, she could see the sea, with the occasional ship sailing upon it. Far too soon to Ariciel’s liking, the creature dived down, playfully swerved between the masts of a wrecked ship, then turned towards Rut’Theran Village. They landed on the docks. Ariciel stroked the Hippogriff’s feathers again.

“Thank you!”

The creature gave a squawk. Mira was waiting for her on the dock, with Fenrick. Fenrick couldn’t stay very long – he was taking the ferry. They hugged, waved, and Fenrick ran off. Mira and Ariciel walked slowly, to the portal. Once or twice, they looked at each other, trying to find words, but none came. They walked through the portal, and went in search of Mathrengyl Bearwalker.


“Well girls, this is finally it. Time to swap that scrawny frame of yours for something altogether larger and more muscular. As you should expect by now, it’s not going to be easy. Also, this time, actual combat will be involved.” Mathrengyl Bearwalker looked at each of the girls in turn.

“This is no joke. You will face a spirit-creature known as a Moonkin. In case you’ve never seen one before, they are like large, flightless birds. This one’s name is Lunaclaw. Lunaclaw will kill you if you prove unworthy. That is why we have spent such a long time making doubly sure that you will be able to do it. Despite appearences, we do care whether you live or die. We don’t get paid for dead students. Now, I’m going to give each of you a small bag of dust. It’s called Cenarion Moondust. You are to find the cave of Lunaclaw. In that cave, there is a stone. Sprinkle the dust over the stone and Lunaclaw will appear and attack you. Whether you go in one at a time, or both together, won’t matter, because Lunaclaw gets stronger the more people fight him. If you feel you aren’t going to make it, leave the cave and run like hell. You can try again later, but not if you’re dead. Understood?”

Both girls nodded, subdued expressions on their faces.

“Right. So when you fight him, at some point Lunaclaw will have had enough, and stop fighting. That is your cue to listen to what he has to say, then get out of there. Come back here, and if I’m happy, I’ll teach you how to change into your bear form.” Bearwalker took a deep breath.

“I know you’ll pull this off because I’ve taught you, and I know you. You are both quite capable. I won’t say ‘Don’t be afraid’, because fear is not necessarily bad. But do have faith. Win or lose, I’ll upgrade your Regrowth spells for you for free if you come back alive. Any questions?”

Mira raised her hand. “Umm. Where is this cave, exactly?”

Bearwalker grinned. “I was so hoping you’d only think of asking that after you’d left. It’s the closest one to Auberdine, to the East. Was that it? Yes? Off with you then!”

Mira and Ariciel trotted out of the door, and into the portal. The ferry wasn’t there yet, so the girls sat on the edge of the dock and let the sun beat down on them. Mira stirred.

“I’m scared. You know, apart from training, I’ve never actually fought anyone who wanted to kill me. Really.”

Ariciel said nothing for a while. She kept staring at the horizon. “I have.” There was a long pause. “I’ve had to kill, even. It changes you.”

Mira looked at her sidelong, but said nothing.

“I am alive today because I could outfight the people who wanted to kill me. Occasionally with help from my friends.”

“I don’t want to kill anyone,” said Mira. “I mean, I don’t mind hunting. That’s just the way of life. But I don’t want to take away someone’s life. Who knows what they’d have done with it… otherwise.”

Ariciel leaned back, still looking out to sea. She thought back on the people she had… She’d only ever fought to defend herself. Except for the fight back in Dun Morogh, against the Gnolls, but even then, that had been to keep them from harming others. That horrid woman back in Goldshire, who had wanted to torture and kill her. The man in Eastvale who had reasoned that if he couldn’t have her, then no-one could. All of the people she had killed, would most likely have gone on to harm others if she hadn’t. But still. People can change. Even the nastiest people could have some role to play in the greater scheme of things. And she’d stopped that. But then again, she herself had a role to play. She wanted to re-unite her family. She could hardly do that from beyond the grave. She sighed.

“If it’s me or them, then they die. I’d prefer for nobody to die, but if I can’t avoid it, then so be it. There’s things I have to do that I can’t do if I’m dead.” Ariciel looked at Mira.

“It’s not easy. To see a… thing that used to be a person. I cried for hours the first time.” She turned her eyes back to the horizon. “But I got to cry over it.”

The girls sat in silence, each busy with their own thoughts, until at last the ferry arrived. They got on board. Next stop, Auberdine. That was an entire subject all to itself. Ariciel knew the caves. She’d been in one of them on a dare, when she was much younger and much more stupid. She and Orin had bolted as soon as they’d heard something stir inside, which was probably an action inspired by the last vestige of intelligence. And now, she would have to go back in, but, she hoped, with more chance of facing what she’d meet in there. She took her staff from her back, and inspected it. Shodding nice and solid, hand-holds all fastened, no splinters. Good. From her morning exercises, she’d become familiar with its weight, and was now as good with it as she’d been with her previous one. Better. It was a much better weapon than her old improvised one. Her mana pool was full, ready to cast the protective and offensive spells she’d need. She was, in short, as ready as she would ever be. Bring on the moonkin!

They jumped off the boat in Auberdine, and ran side by side along the pier. With the barest of waves, they walked through the inn, and set out along the path. As they were about to leave the path and enter the forest, they stopped. Ariciel pointed her hand at Mira, concentrated and felt the magic flow. Mira did the same with her, and she felt the slight tightening of her skin that meant magic was protecting her.

“Ready?”

“Ready.”

They plunged into the forest, their eyes and ears straining for signs of trouble. Soon, they felt the presence of the strange creatures all round them. They slid through the forest like shadows, not wishing to fight just now. But of course, it couldn’t last. The creature that they had been hoping to avoid, caught wind of them, and charged. Ariciel hit it hard with her staff, and blocked the first couple of return punches. That gave Mira the time to cast her Wrath spell at it. The creature screeched as the bolt hit it, and turned its attention to Mira. Ariciel responded quickly. Her Moonfire spell struck down, and hit the Moonkin. The Moonkin punched Mira, sending her a few steps back, then turned back to Ariciel. As Ariciel used her staff to keep the Moonkin at a distance, Mira’s moonfire struck down, again and again, until at last the creature fell down and did not get up again, feathers scorched, beak open from its last scream, scarily still, not breathing. Ariciel took a few deep breaths, then turned to Mira. Mira was sitting on the ground, tears running down her face.

“You alright?”

Mira nodded. She closed her eyes a moment, and the green glow of her magic surrounded her. Regrowth. She must have been hurt. Ariciel checked their surroundings for more action, then kneeled next to Mira and put a hand on her shoulder.

“Can you walk?” Again, no words, just a nod.

“Need a mana potion?” Shake of the head.

“Need a kick up the bottom?”

Mira shot her a look. “Shut up, Blondie!”

Ariciel grinned. “Move out, then.”

The cave was just a bit further on, and they managed to sneak in without anyone noticing. If, perchance, they’d have to rush out, they could probably outrun any enemies, unless… never mind. Ariciel placed her hand firmly on Mira’s shoulder.

“Right. Strategy. I’ve got my staff, you’ve got a dagger. When this Lunaclaw appears, I’ll try to keep it busy and away from you. You shoot it with what you have, and if I get hurt, you heal me. If he attacks you, and I can’t get its attention back, we both cut loose with Wraths as long as needed. Do you agree?”

Mira nodded. “Allright. Mana pool full?”

“Yeah. Tea and biscuits tonight, right?”

“Pints of mead. First round on me. Ready?”

“Ready.”

Their hearts beating in their throat, they poured the silvery dust over the stone. Mira retreated to the wall of the cave, Ariciel stood in the middle, looking round. Mira’s voice rang out.

“Incoming! To your right!”

Ariciel turned, staff lifted in front of her. Running at her was a creature similar to the one they had just fought, only this one seemed to shine. Ariciel aimed a sweep at the thing’s head. The creature lifted a claw and blocked her. Using both ends of her staff, Ariciel pummeled the Moonkin with sweeps and thrusts, connecting as often as not. Then, from the corner of the room, bolts of green fire started flying towards Lunaclaw. In a steady rhythm, the bolts flew as Ariciel pounded the creature with her staff. Lunaclaw shook his head, turned round to Mira and charged. Mira cried out as Lunaclaw hit her several times in quick succession. Ariciel shouted in frustration, and shot Lunaclaw with large Moonfire bolts. It didn’t seem to work. She swung her staff round in a fast, vicious arc, and connected with Lunaclaw’s head with a loud snap. That worked. Lunaclaw turned back round to face her, and aimed vicious blows at her while Mira slumped against the wall. Ariciel’e eyes narrowed. Letting her staff drop to the floor, she started casting a spell, while Lunaclaw pummeled her. She ignored the blows. What her armour couldn’t take, her protective magic could. The rest, she ignored. After what seemed an eternity, and a few false starts, Ariciel managed to complete her spell and cast the largest Healing Touch she’d ever done at Mira. Mira shook her head and got up. Ariciel saw her grab a potion from her pocket, and drink it. Ariciel dropped to her knee, grabbed her staff and retreated to the other end of the cave, followed by Lunaclaw. Her mana pool was empty. The beating she’d taken from Lunaclaw had taken its toll. She was on her last reserves, blocking Lunaclaw’s attacks with her staff. Then, Mira recommenced her barrage of Wrath spells. Ariciel felt faint, but held on, putting in a few more attacks with her staff. Strange. She knew she’d hit Lunaclaw, but it didn’t seem to have any effect. She hit him again. Nothing happened. Lunaclaw, for his part, had also stopped attacking them. They came to a standstill. Mira with her hands glowing green, Ariciel with her staff poised to strike. Although Lunaclaw had a bird-like beak, it almost seemed as though he were smiling.

“Hold! No more! You have proven yourselves worthy to follow the Way of the Claw. Please stand before me. You have my word that I will not attack you again.”

The girls looked at each other. Mira shrugged, and took a few steps to the middle of the cave. Lunaclaw turned towards her.

“I am most impressed with you. Your defensive magic is strong, and it took all of my strength to hurt you. Your spells of Wrath were highly efficacious. If your will does not waver, then you will make an excellent Balance or Feral Druid.” The Moonkin turned to Ariciel.

“Your spirit is strong. I could feel the purpose in it. You see this lesson not as an end, but as the first stepping stone to greater things. You are already a fighter. Your bear form will assist you greatly in your endeavours. Remember this if you should get back to your teacher.”

Ariciel spotted a small word in that otherwise excellent speech that she didn’t like.

“If?”

Lunaclaw shook his feathers. “You have been quite noisy. It would seem that my Children have taken notice. May good luck be with you.”

The bird-like form faded from view, and just outside the cavern, they could hear the hoots and screeches of many Moonkin. Mira stalked to the cave mouth and peered out.

“Oh crap.”

Ariciel raised her eyebrows. Mira’s choice of words was usually more… delicate than that. She joined Mira. Outside the cave, there was a group of five Moonkin, hooting and screeching at each other, and watching the cave.

“I don’t suppose this cave has a back door?”

Mira shook her head. “Nope. Trust me, I’ve looked.”

“Then I suggest we shoot a few, then run like mad back to Auberdine. Don’t stop for anything.”

Mira looked out again, then pointed her hand at Ariciel. Her first spell was a large Healing Touch. Magic flowed from her again, and Ariciel’s protective magic was renewed. Another spell followed, that would bite back at any who struck them. Ariciel cast the same spells on Mira.

“Ready?”

“Ready. On the count of three.”

They ran out.


Exhausted, bloody and battered, the two girls stepped onto the road. Ariciel was limping. Mira’s left arm wasn’t working properly. Wordlessly, Ariciel pointed to their left. Mira nodded. As best they could, they made their way to the inn in Auberdine. Ariciel showed her hearthstone to the innkeeper and bought mana potions for them both. They drank the potions and cast healing spells on themselves. Then, they walked, slowly, to the end of the pier, sat down and waited for the ferry. Ariciel stroked the smooth, comforting wood of her staff. She must ask Bannog to make one for Mira. It would have saved her such a lot of trouble. Daggers were fine weapons if you were the one attacking. For defence, they sucked.

“I’m getting too old for this,” said Mira.

Ariciel snorted. “You’re no older than I am!”

“Perhaps, but still.”

“You’re not thinking of quitting, are you? You were brilliant!”

“Hmm.” Mira stared in front of her. “I don’t like fighting.”

“Neither do I. But it only takes one to start a fight, and I really really don’t like losing.”

“Point. But I was watching you. You were on the offensive all the time, except when you were healing me. I just wanted to hide and keep him away from me.”

“That’s very sensible. Just not that many hiding places in that cave. And those Wraths of yours were awesome.”

Mira smiled. “Oh yes, that was an inspired essay that got me those.”

Ariciel laughed. “I’ve already decided on my essay on this one: ‘Went to cave. Fought Moonkin. We won. Now give me my bear shape.'”

“Sounds good. You’ve earned it.”

Ariciel looked round at Mira. “And so have you! I was very glad to have you next to me. Not at all sure I could have done this alone.”

Mira sighed. “Wish this ferry would hurry up.” Ariciel pointed at the horizon.

“You have cast the spell of Ferry Summoning.”

“Cool! For a pint of mead, I’ll teach it to you!”

“Done!”


The colour drained from the world, and was replaced by shades of brown and red. But what Ariciel got back for that loss, was smell. And such smells! The grass, the leaves, the water a half-mile distant that she could drink, the smell of creatures running across the fields. Mathrengyl Bearwalker standing in front of her, Mira in her bear shape, Bearwalker’s tea… Too much to take in all at the same time. Her hearing had also improved. If she concentrated, she could make out the noises of running water, people passing, wind in the trees. If she moved her ears, she could pinpoint where each of these noises came from. Moved her ears! She’d never been able to do that before! She raised her hand to her head, but stopped half way to stare at it. Instead of her normal arm, she now had a… front leg! Instead of a hand, she had a claw. Her thumb had disappeared! She’d probably get it back when she turned back into her Elf form. She scratched at the ground as an experiment. She looked up at Mathrengyl Bearwalker, who had just given them the spell to change themselves into bear shape.

“Now what do I do?”

That’s what she wanted to say. The sound coming out of her… maw, was a curious mixture of a cough and a growl. Oh damn. This was going to be difficult.

Mathrengyl Bearwalker laughed. He really shouldn’t laugh at newbie shapeshifters, but their first uncertain moves were always priceless. It normally took them only a few hours to get used to their new body shape, but until then, watching them try to walk on two legs, pick up objects with their new bear-claws, or in this case hearing them try to talk, was more than he could bear. No pun intended. He opened his mind to them.

“Don’t try to talk like a [Walks-on-two-thin-legs]! You should use Wildspeech. You should know. It comes with the [Change-to-bear].”

Mira tried. “This is [Joy-of-living]! I have fur! I have a…” She fell silent. There were no words in this language for “good hair day.”

Ariciel joined in. “I want to walk in the [Wild-home]. See what [Bear-Ariciel] can do!”

“Well, push off then, the two of you,” said Mathrengyl in his normal voice. “Don’t go to unsafe places, though. You don’t know yet how to fight in this shape. Meet me back at the Enclave later.”

Ariciel turned round. Whoa! She was heavy! Strong enough to be fleet afoot, but still… She made for the door. Mira overtook her, and bumped her, sending Ariciel into the wall.

“[I-am-faster-than-you]!”

Ariciel just roared. It felt great! As she chased Mira, she roared again for the sheer joy of it. Mathrengyl Bearwalker watched them go with a mad grin on his face. These were the moments he lived for. He saw Ariciel swipe at Mira’s back leg. Mira stumbled and fell over, and Ariciel stole the lead. Bearwalker sighed, then went back inside.

Kids.


Mathrengyl Bearwalker walked in from the top floor of the Cenarion Circle tree dwelling. He had a worried look on his face.

“What’s the matter?” Ariciel had seen him look worried like this before. It had not been a good day then, and it probably wouldn’t be now.

“More Morrowgrain. What in Azeroth can anyone want with that much of the stuff? It’s not like it has any good uses. He’s had enough to curse the whole city with itchy feet, and still he wants more.” He sighed. “But that’s not what I called you here for. I have a mission. I need someone to investigate some of the goings-on in the Master’s Glaive. Preferably someone with stealth capability.”

Ariciel looked at him with wide open eyes. “I wonder what stupid blonde you’ll get to volunteer for that!”

She missed Mira, so she insulted herself occasionally. Mira had written quite recently. She was now specialising in healing, which she enjoyed a great deal more than shooting at or clawing things. Ariciel was glad for her, but still she missed her. She had tried getting her to come back by writing about her new cat form, but she’d written back that she could now turn into a tree and heal a whole platoon of soldiers in one go, top that!

“The Cenarion Circle will be most grateful for your kind offer. To the tune of seventy silver, in fact. And all you have to do is risk your life to find out what kind of sorcerors there are.” Bearwalker looked round, then moved closer to Ariciel. He spoke to her in Wildspeech.

“And then, I have another job for you, for [Bear-Mathrengyl]. But I will speak of that later.”


Bannog woke up. It was too early for Reveille, what was going on? Next to him, Kent was also waking up. Outside the tent, there was a lot of shouting going on. Bannog dressed with practiced speed, then crawled out of the tent. He ran to the Captain’s tent, where he saw Chad, who was dragging something along with him. He called for the captain and dropped whatever it was on the floor. As Bannog got closer, he saw that the thing was making feeble movements. What the…? As he looked better, he saw what it was, though he barely recognised him. He took a sharp breath.

It was Ramoc.


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

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