Part 13: The Blues

The sun was just about to rise over the Hillsbrad Foothills. It promised to be a clear, sunny day, which would be nice for a change. Bannog was sitting with his back to a tree, as the horizon was set on fire. The dark blues gave way to purple, then as he watched, the clouds were painted red. Bannog liked early watch, just for this. Behind him, his friends were still sleeping. Except one. There was a hand on his shoulder. He turned away from the spectacle to look at the Night-elf.

“Hi. Didn’t expect you to be up yet.”

“Actually, I’m more of a morning Elf.” She lay down next to him, her head in his lap, and looked up at him. “So. Tell me.”

Bannog sighed and looked out over Hillsbrad, as day dawned. There was more vegetation here, larger trees than in Arathi. Where Arathi had been flat and cold, Hillsbrad had rolling hills. Larger animals too. They had seen bears and wolves, which hadn’t been there in the Arathi Highlands. The only animals common to this place and the one they had just left, were the rabbits. Hm. Breakfast.

Ariciel patiently waited for Bannog to let his mind come round to his recent experiences. He’d been quiet about it, which was unlike him. She lifted her head as he moved his leg, which was threatening to go to sleep, and listened.

“I killed a traitor, Kent. Up close and personal. I told him I was going to kill him, and then I did it. Didn’t even just stick my sword in him, either. Dropped it and broke his filthy neck. I’ve killed lots of things… people. Murlocs. Dark Iron Dwarves. Gnolls. Orc mages. Goblins. But never like this.” He fell silent for a while. “I enjoyed hurting him. Save me, but I did. I never thought I could.”

Ariciel looked up at him. “Why did you kill him?”

Bannog stared at the horizon. “He started out by snitching our position to the enemy. Bad enough, but then, he tried to poison the lot of us. I’d have killed him for that. I don’t like poisoners. But what really drove me into the red was that he’d used some horrible poison to kill Sergeant Bennett. She was as tough as they come. Never did fight with her, but I can tell. She was lying there on the ground, crying like a child. I asked Ramoc. It’s worse than being burnt alive.” Another long silence. “She asked me. Could she have been with me if I hadn’t known you?”

“What did you say?”

“I said yes.” he looked at Ariciel’s face. “Because it’s true.”

Ariciel smiled. “Chicks in chainmail.”

“For you, I make an exception. Leather will do.”

She touched his cheek. “I’m glad.”

Bannog’s smile faded. “She also asked me if she could have stolen me away from you. I said no. Because that’s also true. She said ‘Good’. And then she died.”

“Humans mate for life,” said Ariciel, deep in thought.

“Usually, yes. Not always. Couples do split up.”

“And they have only one mate at a time.”

“Yes. Again, not always.”

“So she wanted to know if she could make you forget about me.”


“She was falling in love with you.”

“Maybe, but she wouldn’t allow herself to, until she knew I was a valid target. Either single or with someone not very seriously.”

“So why was it good that she couldn’t?”

“Because she wouldn’t have wanted someone who’d leave her as soon as the next came along. We might have become good friends, and she liked loyalty in her friends.”

A thought occurred to Ariciel, but she put it to one side for later. A gust of wind made the leaves on the tree rustle, but apart from that, there was no other sound.

“You are fiercely protective of your friends. You were even protecting me before you really knew me. I knew already that you can be ruthless when you need to be.”

“Ruthless is one thing. Cruel is another. I was so angry that I wanted to make him suffer. I should just have stuck him in the gut and be done with it. But I didn’t.”

“Don’t be so hard on yourself. This… Kent, he’d just killed one of your friends in a horrible way. You have amazing self control, really. But this was too much for you to bear. So you were pushed over the red line. It can happen to anyone. Even Elves, sometimes.”

“I suppose you’re right, but I scare myself, thinking about it.”

Ariciel nodded slowly. “So did I, after my first real fight. We’re dangerous people, Bannog. We’re no longer innocent. There’s people out there with real reasons to kill us.”

Bannog stared at her. “You still haven’t told me how you came to be in Arathi.”

“Long story. Let’s get breakfast and I’ll tell you.”

“Quest” was such a lovely word for it. It gave a certain air to what would otherwise have been a “Job” or an “Errand”. A phrase like “I always get the rotten Quests,” lacked that certain quality to cause sympathy in the listeners. Ariciel was siting on her bed, in Lirael’s place, trying to decide what to take on this particular Quest and what to leave at the bank. Staff, backpack, good supply of mana potions, food, clothes, magic rings, healing pots, skinning knife, there. That should do it. After all, it was just another boat ride, then down the road to Astranaar, drop the letter, take the reply back and that’s that. One of these days, she must ask Bearwalker to teach her a Cheetah form, so she could get these errands over with quickly. Oh sorry, so that she might Fulfill his Quests to deliver the Missives with maximum efficiency. On the positive side, though, Bearwalker paid well (“If we do these things for free, young Ariciel, people will start taking us for granted”), and it allowed her to ask all and sundry about her family. Mother. Berciel. She missed them terribly. It wasn’t so much a thing that she thought about often, as a deep, droning ground note to the usual music of her thoughts.

She smiled. That was Lirael talking. She used musical metaphors all the time. Frankly, Ariciel was surprised that Lirael hadn’t turfed her out months ago. She tried to be a good house guest, making herself suitably scarce if Lirael was entertaining people for private purposes, doing her part with the food, and generally keeping her side of the place tidy. Tidiness is an easy habit to pick up if you’re a chamber-maid for people who will actively search for things to shout at you about. She’d brought up the subject a couple of weeks ago, but Lirael had assured her that she was more than welcome to stay, that she was lovely company and that she was a saint compared to some of the others she’d had staying with her. “And that’s not high praise, if you catch my meaning.” So here she was.

But she would soon have to leave. She could feel it. She was no longer afraid of the world outside. She’d put her feet on every place on Teldrassil, and had been up and down Darkshore, from the North, where there were Nagas, strange snake-creatures unfriendly to all other humanoids, to Astranaar in the South. She remembered one particular quest where she’d had to escort a narcoleptic Druid to Maestra’s Point. He’d given her a horn to wake him up if he should fall asleep. She bitterly regretted that as a Druid, she couldn’t wear plate boots. She had to admit, that while he was awake, he’d packed a pretty good punch, but really. The only escort quest that had been worse was when she’d had to take an air-head of a Dryad from the Master’s Glaive to the relative safety of the road. The stupid creature had managed to attract the attention of just about every unfriendly character in the Glaive. How they had managed to escape with their lives, she still didn’t know. Ariciel had a wonderful caring personality, at least she thought so. But at some point, these suicidally clueless deer-girls stopped evoking even her nurturing instincts. The doe-eyed creature had hugged her and told her she’d been marvellous, and it had been all Ariciel could do not to slap her.

Be that as it may, she had come to Teldrassil to learn to defend herself. Now, she could. Though she enjoyed Darnassus and her new friends immensely, it was time to get on with the job. Just one more errand. One more Quest. Lirael came in.

“Going out?”

“Yeah. Been entrusted with a Quest. Again. Trip to Astranaar and back.”

“Oh, that’s not too bad. There’s a flight master there isn’t there?”

“There is, but I feel like a run. Got a bad case of cobwebs in the head, and running for your life in a forest is just the thing for that.”

“Hm. I have safer ways of getting rid of cobwebs.”

“I know. I spend nights in my patch.”

“Bearwalker still wants essays on that?”

“Naah. But I like writing them. When I leave, I’ll expect you to take over.”

“Heh! Went to patch. Saw pretty flowers. Stinging insects still stinging, though am building up resistance. Saw a rabbit. And a bear. Bear! Argh! Nonono!” Lirael looked at Ariciel, with large, liquid, soft eyes. “You wouldn’t want that on your conscience, would you?”

“You’d be helping the Greater Cycle of Life. Providing food for cute little baby bears.”

“I’m a city girl. Cute little bears are for you forest types.”

“Hey! Sometimes I am a cute little bear.”

“You’re applying the word ‘Little’ to half a tonne of barely contained anger. You scared the life out of me!”

“Well, I stopped coming home in bear shape. I said I was sorry.”

“Your cat form is much nicer anyway. Much more graceful.”

Ariciel picked up Bearwalker’s letter and dropped it in her pack. “Good. I’ll be using it. I’m off. Should be back sometime tomorrow afternoon. Any plans for tonight?”

“Arador is coming by. Wants to practice some of the new canticles with me.”

“But you’re already quite good at those,” said Ariciel innocently. Lirael smiled happily.

“We are. But our audience expects nothing less than perfection. Practice makes perfect.”

“Well. Enjoy your practice. See you!”

With a wave, Ariciel stepped out of the door. She took a deep breath. Her magic flowed, and where there had been an attractive Night-elf girl, there was now a graceful black cat. She ran off in the direction of the portal. Privately, she envied Lirael her social life a bit. She’d had good friends in Auberdine, but not very many. Here in Darnassus, she knew Lirael, a few of her friends from the choir, and Bearwalker of course. For some reason, she’d not really felt inclined to meet any of them with her clothes off. Actually, she knew exactly why. She had known all along that she’d be leaving. Better not to put down roots.

She took a great run-up, and leaped into the portal with a grin, coming out running on the other side. She made a dash for the end of the pier, and stopped with her claws half over the edge. She changed back into her Elf form. The incredibly detailed smells disappeared, and colour streamed back into the world. She scanned the horizon. No sign of the ferry yet. She thought of taking the griffin. Naah. The weather was nice. She’d wait a bit. She found a comfortable place and wished she’d brought something to read. She heard someone call her name. She turned her head round, and saw Bearwalker rushing up.

“Good. I caught you just in time. Something’s come up, and I’ve got another quest for you. Don’t look at me like that. This one is slightly more deserving of the name. Another Felwood one.”

“I don’t like Felwood. Still haven’t washed all the ooze out of my hair from last time.”

“Heh. No oozes this time. Furbolg. More information gathering.”

“Essay on the not-exactly-bears?”

“More or less. There’s three factions out there: Deadwood, Winterfall, Timbermaw. The first two are as bad as bad can be, but the Timbermaw have somehow escaped corruption. We’re trying to get friendly with them, because they have a tunnel that leads all the way to Moonglade, and we definitely don’t want to pick fights there. So not killing any Timbermaw Furbolgs would be a good step to that end. Your… job, is to find out how to tell the one from the other. Write one of those wonderfully clear bits of prose for us, with pictures, and we will be most endebted to you. Sound like fun?”

“Sure. Wouldn’t the first clue be that they don’t run at you, slavering?”

A painful expression appeared on Bearwalker’s face. “It would, but people have been killing the Furbolg there without asking for their names. So Timbermaw are just as likely to bite your head off as the others. Hence ‘Get Friendly’ and not ‘Strenghten our already strong friendship.’ All the Furbolg there have a good reason to dislike us.”

“Oh deep joy. How about a quick upgrade to my prowling skills?”

“You should be fine. When have I ever given you quests that were too hard for you?”

Ariciel smiled. “I can do you an essay on that.”

“If you prefer a somewhat lesser challenge, you can deliver a bottle of potion to Fiora Longears. That’s nice and easy.”

“Sure, but I wouldn’t deny you that! What about this letter, though?”

“Deliver it. Give it to the innkeeper, then take the flight to Felwood.”

“Right. Anything else?”

“No. That’s it. By the way, why are you bothering with the ferry?”

“Need some time to think.”

“Dangerous habit. I never do it unless I must. Anything I can help with?”

Ariciel shook her head. “Just stuff. Don’t worry.”

Mathrengyl looked at her for a few moments. He could guess what she was thinking about. “Come on. I’ll get you on the griffin. Can’t have you pondering the knots of life and losing track of what you were doing.”

One of the nice things about trips to Darkshore was Allyndia’s Kimchi pie. They were nice to take with you on trips, as they were small and filling, and warm ones were definitely worth waiting for. So Ariciel waited, watching the people come off the ships and getting on them. There were Humans from Menethil, Elves from Darnassus, the occasional Dwarf or Gnome. One figure drew her attention especially. Ariciel had never seen anyone quite like her. She had blue skin, deep dark black hair, and on her head were blue horns, a bit like those of the satyrs, but more swept back. She was tall, and walked not on feet, but on large hooves. Her face was like that of a Human or Elf, but with no tattoos or paint that Ariciel could notice. Quite beautiful, actually. Her eyes shone pale blue like Ariciel’s shone grey, showing her to be a magic user. Her arms were also of the normal Elf kind, with long, slender fingers. In one hand, she held a quarterstaff. In the other hand, she had a scrap of paper. She wore nice clothes, to which she’d added bits of leather armour. Ariciel smiled. Safety over style any time. Armour that was both stylish and high on protection was worth a fortune. The blue woman had an expression on her face that combined annoyance with determination. She was looking at her note, then up and around, then back at her note again. She saw Ariciel looking at her, smiled broadly and walked over.

“Dyonis A’ka. My name is Mareva. I am looking for a place called Felwood. Would you know where to find it?” She had a deep voice, and an accent with rolling R’s. She spoke in very precise sentences, as though she had only recently learned the Common Speech, in school, and hadn’t yet had the time to pick up colloquialisms. Ariciel smiled back.

“Ishnu-alah. I’m Ariciel. Felwood is the wood to the East of the mountains. It’s not a pleasant place, though.”

“That is why I am going there. My masters have charged me to gather information on the unpleasant events that have occurred there.”

“Well, you can fly there from here if you have the flight point on your hearthstone. Have you ever been there before?”

“I am afraid not. The griffin master on Exodar was most uncooperative. He would not take me to any place where I had not been before. It is a hindrance to the spirit of exploration.”

Ariciel laughed quietly, remembering Bannog’s discussions with the flight master in Stormwind.

“Yes, they can be like that. I had to run all the way from Stormwind to Menethil for the same reason. There were advantages to walking, though.”

“Each day is a blessing.” The blue woman stared in the middle distance. “Unfortunately, some days are smaller blessings than others.”

Ariciel made a decision. “I’m going to Felwood myself. If you like, you can travel with me. I have to make a detour to Astranaar first, though. I have a packet to deliver.”

“You are most kind. That would be the solution to my problem. When are you leaving?”

Ariciel pointed at Allyndia. “As soon as she has fresh Kimchi pie. I’m afraid I’ll have to offer you a warm one, as it would be against my religion not to. Oh. They are vegetable only, so you can have them even if you don’t eat meat.”

Mareva’s eyes shone, and a smile played on her face. “We exiles are taught to respect the religious beliefs of those we meet. Please allow me to pay for the food as a token of my appreciation for your kind offer.”

They paid the flight master a quick visit, so Mareva could at least return quickly, then found Allyndia had hot Kimchi pies. They were walking along the road south, chewing on their hot food. Mareva seemed to enjoy the taste.

“This is good. I wonder what is in them.”

“Hmm. I got the recipe, but they don’t taste the same when I make them. There must be some special technique or a secret ingredient.”

“We do not often have real food,” said Mareva. “The food we have on Exodar was cooked many years ago. They say it keeps good indefinitely. If that is true, then it must have been bad when first it was produced.” She ate the last bit of pie, licked her fingers, produced a handkerchief and wiped them. “Good,” she said, putting away her handkerchief. “Time to speed up a little. Do you have animal form?”

Ariciel nodded. Mareva stopped. She closed her eyes, raised her hands, palms upwards, and concentrated. A cloud of light was about her, and a moment later, where she had been, there was a wolf… and yet not a wolf. Normally, you couldn’t see through a wolf. Wolf-Mareva looked at Ariciel expectantly. Alright then. Ariciel breathed in, changed to her cat form, then breathed out. With her claw, she pointed ahead. Wolf-Mareva nodded, and dashed off with Ariciel trailing behind. Ariciel strained to keep up with the ghost-wolf, and soon was panting as she ran. Mareva was fast in this form! That’s it. No more quests for Bearwalker unless he got her her cheetah form. She set her teeth and ran faster.

They arrived at Astranaar in record time. Mareva had gained on Ariciel, and was already at the flight point when Ariciel arrived. She waved at Ariciel as she turned back into her Elf form.

“There you are. I do apologise. I only recently learned this travel form, and I get carried away. It is a wondrous thing to run as one of the Kalimdor creatures.”

Ariciel was still a bit winded, and to be honest, slightly annoyed with herself. Running in forests was what Night-elves did best dammit. She took three deep breaths, and her breathing steadied.

“Don’t worry about it. I’m just going to see Innkeeper Kimlya, and then I’m ready to head up north into Felwood.”

“I will meet you there.”

Soon after, they were on the move again, heading Eastward on the road. Mareva held back a bit, so Ariciel could keep up more easily. This place of the world was called Ashenvale, and Ariciel thought of it as a proper forest, with high trees, rivers, small streams to drink from everywhere, plenty of edible fruit if you knew where to find it and interesting creatures. Mind you, some of the more interesting creatures wanted to have you for lunch, but a forest where there is no danger is not a forest, but a park. Ariciel approved of hunting in principle, and that meant that things would hunt you. You could use an animal’s brain to cure their skins. In all her time of hunting for meat and leather, she’d never found that she had too much brain to cure the leather. There was a lesson to be learned here. She thought of Mareva. Did her kind hunt? She had said that they lived on food prepared years ago, incredible though that might seem, but that was travel food. Who would travel for years without any fresh food? That would be enough to forget where it came from. They came to a fork in the road. Ariciel gave a short warning howl and turned left, to the North. She ran ahead a few steps, then changed back into her Elf form. Mareva did the same.

“Why are we stopping?”

“Do you have enough food and water? There’s no water in Felwood that you would want to drink, and to be honest, the few healthy animals there I’d rather leave alone.”

“I have a half-full water bottle, and some Emarree. It will sustain you, but we have a saying: ‘I am so hungry I could eat an Emarree.'”

Ariciel stepped off the road to where she could hear a running stream. “Emarree? Is that some native fruit from your country? I like dried fruit!”

Mareva gave her an embarrassed look. “M.R.E. stands for Meal Ready to Eat. It is conserved food from Exodar. It will keep you on your hooves, but it drains your will to live.”

“Well, I have some trail rations. We won’t starve then.”

“That was once the advertising slogan for Emarree. Zlotniks.”

They changed back into their animal forms and ran North. When Ariciel first changed into an animal shape, she’d been surprised to find that there was no such thing anymore as a “bad smell”. She’d found she could smell even rotting meat without recoiling or gagging any more than she might have recoiled at a particularly vile colour. That was until she entered Felwood for the first time. It smelled Wrong. Smell was not a sense through which one conveyed complicated messages, but she could smell the disease, the weakness of limb, the desire to lie down and die. She had seen hideously deformed creatures here, great patches of their skin missing, horrible sores. The most scary thing had been that they hardly even seemed to notice. She’d almost cried hearing a large bear, one that should be making the woods shake with mighty roars, produce little more than a cough when it attacked her. She’d killed it as fast as she could, without draining herself too much, and had stood over its corpse for a while, hoping that wherever Bear spirits went, it would be healed. She hadn’t even considered searching or skinning it. Couldn’t bury it either, so she’d just left it. Ariciel did not like Felwood.

They entered it nonetheless, and Ariciel made straight for the Emerald Sanctuary, so Mareva could visit the flightmaster. Then, taking a deep breath, they plunged into the woods.

“I have to go all the way up to the North, and study some Furbolg. What are you doing?”

“Samples. Samples of the diseased creatures, blood samples of the oozes, diseased plants, diseased everything. When Exodar came down, engine parts scattered over a great distance. The radiation corrupted many of the native creatures, to our great sorrow and theirs.” Mareva heaved a great sigh. “We are greatly ashamed of this. We work as hard as we can to repair the damage, but we cannot cure all the misery we have caused. We need to know if Felwood is also suffering through our ineptitude.”

“Exodar… came down? What do you mean?”

Mareva blinked, then understood. “Exodar is not just the place where we live. It is a ship. A star-ship. It can fly to the stars.” Mareva looked sad. “Or at least it could. The only way our poor Exodar will fly again is if the whole planet blows up. I was a technician on board Exodar. Technicians write poems now about how exactly they feel about the Great Helmsmen of Exodar. Stupid Nactba.”

“Fly… to the stars? You’re kidding right?” Ariciel pointed up. “Stars are just lights in the night sky! Good to see by. Probably put up there by the Old Gods for when the sun goes down.”

Mareva started to laugh, but didn’t. Instead, she shook her horned head. “You speak of the sun, and of the stars, as though they are different things. They are similar. Every star you can see at night is another sun to those who live near it.”

Ariciel just looked at her, saying nothing. Clearly mad. Mareva stared in the far, far distance, stars and planets going round in her mind.

“Long before I was born, my people, the Eredar, lived on a planet called Argus. There was a great struggle, and we were exiled. We started calling ourselves the Draenei, the Exiles. We found a new place to live, and called it Draenor… Refuge. We lived in peace there, with the Orcs, until they were raised against us. There was another struggle, during which they created the thing you have come to know as the Dark Portal. Exodar was part of a place called…” Mareva struggled on the translation. “Tempest Keep. It had been captured by the Sin’dorei, but Prophet Velen led a large raid on Exodar. We managed to get the engines going, and we took off into space. It was only then we found that some Sin’dorei had followed us on board. They sabotaged the controls to the engines and we were sent reeling into space. We came upon Azeroth, and tried to reach it, for repairs. But instead, we performed an imperfect landing. We caused much suffering. So now, I am here to find out whether or not we are the cause of Felwood’s sickness. As part of an ongoing effort. We must know.”

Ariciel listened to the blue woman’s deep, sad voice. Her eyes were staring into the unimaginable distances of space. She briefly closed them, then shook her head.

“Too much sadness. Let us go!”

Neither of them much wanted to change back into Wolf or Cat shape. They ran on their own feet and hooves, until Ariciel spotted a number of Oozes just a bit off the road. Oozes were creatures. Definitely. You could tell by the way they attacked you if you came too near them. Ariciel supposed that they were long-forgotten relatives of snails, or other molluscs. They made her skin crawl. The best way to hunt them was to use a Druidic spell, Entangling Roots. Great sinuous arms of plant matter that ensnared them, giving you the chance to hit them with Wrath attacks before they broke free and came at you with a surprising turn of speed. On a few occasions, Ariciel had had to hit them with her staff. It had stuck to their slimy skins, and had to be pulled free with a squelching noise. Much as she loved Mathrengyl Bearwalker, on that occasion, she had loved him just that little bit less. So now Mareva was up. Better get it over with for the poor girl. Ignoring the smell, they stepped off the road. Mareva planted her staff in the ground, and touched one of the small pots that were hanging from her belt. Ariciel felt her magic flow, and suddenly, a large cylinder appeared between them and the nearest oozes. Ariciel watched as the thing started to shoot bolts of fire at the squelching shapes. Mareva cried out words in her own tongue, and her hands shot forward, ejecting violent bolts of lightning. Ariciel took a breath, then started shooting oozes with Wrath. Side by side, the girls poured shot after shot into the advancing oozes, until the last one collapsed. Ariciel stood there, and grinned at her new friend.

“I should have known you weeks ago! I had to do this on my own.” She wrinkled her nose. “Hands-on.”

“Each day is a blessing,” said Mareva. She produced a bundle of test tubes, extracted one and gingerly took samples from each of the Oozes. “There. Next are the bears.”

They slowly made their way up to the North of Felwood, leaving a trail of dead animals in their wake. Normally, Ariciel would not even have considered killing so many animals unless she needed food or leather, but these creatures were sick. Seriously sick. It was a long, bloody and dispiriting job. She could see it affected Mareva as well as herself. Worse. Mareva thought that her people might have caused all this suffering. Finally, they reached northernmost part, where the Furbolg were. They were sitting down, resting. Mareva touched one of the little pots on her belt, and another one of her totems appeared. It glowed with a pretty green-blue hue. To her surprise, Ariciel felt her mana pool begin to fill. She pointed at the totem.

“That’s useful, that is!”

Mareva smiled. “Mana spring totem. It gathers mana from a large area and emits it in higher density. Good for those brief pauses between lots of magic work. I also have one for healing.”

“Hmm. You are, what? A priest? Paladin?”

“I am an elemental Shaman. This here is a Water totem. You have also seen my Fire totem. Shamans live partially in the spirit world, and can petition spirits for help if we need to. Everything has a spirit. Not just people and animals. Plants. Rocks.”

Ariciel raised her eyebrows, and picked up a pebble.

“Hello Mister Rock.”

Mareva gave her a weary look.

“Yes. Most amusing. That is not the kind of spirit I speak of. The spirit is the thing that tells the rock to be a rock. It is a relatively simple spirit, when compared to that of a Night-elf. Let alone Draenei.”

Ariciel chuckled. Well, she’d deserved that. “I’m a Druid. I’ve freshly been re-taught as Balance and Feral Combat.”


“There is a deep mystical explanation of that, but basically, it means restoring the balance of nature through blowing things up. All the green fire you’ve seen me use was balance stuff.”

“And your cat form would be Feral Combat?”

“Yeah. Though I haven’t done any feral combat here. Biting some of these things doesn’t bear thinking of. Balance is definitely the way to go there. If they get too close, I’ll hit them with my stick.” She held up her staff. “Bannog made it for me. Well, he made it for his sister and she let me have it.”

“Bannog? He is your mate?”

Ariciel turned her head round to Mareva. She hadn’t thought of it like that.

“Not really, but as close to it as you can get. I met him in Goldshire, and we travelled together, all the way to Menethil. We parted company there.”

“You mean to rejoin him.”

Ariciel nodded.

“I’d love to. But we both have things to do first. He has a tour of duty in the Army, and I have to find my family.”

“Do you expect to find them here?”

“No. I’m doing this job for the Elf who taught me how to fight. It probably still counts as training. But I’ll have to move on soon.”

In front of them, the mana totem faded and disappeared with a small sound.

“It is almost as if it heard you.” Mareva pointed a long, slender finger at Ariciel. “But it cannot. It is not within its spirit. Shall we move?”

They got up, and walked down into the valley. Ariciel’s eyes scanned the ground for tracks. Nothing. Pulling out the map, she tried to work out where they were. Mareva pointed.

“We are here. The village you seek is to the North-West, no?”

Ariciel nodded. As they walked, they saw the corpses of several Furbolg. They were of bear-kind, though they were not actually bears. They were intelligent, built camps, used fire, used magic even. They did not have any great cities. Nor did they use mechanical devices. A bow was the height of their technical abilities. Ariciel pulled out her notebook and made notes on the kinds of feathers the dead Furbolg were wearing. They had died in a fight, that was clear. Not of any disease that showed itself. No way of telling which tribe this was, so she named them Tribe One for now. They went on, deeper and deeper into tribe country. Once in a while, they could now see the furry shapes move about in the woods. They were beginning to count themselves lucky that none had spotted them, which made them anxious. Suddenly, Mareva gave a short cry, twisted round and with practiced speed put down two totems: Fire and Earth. Ariciel scowled. She should have cast protective spells on them both. Behind them, two Furbolg had appeared. They growled, and ran towards them, brandishing spears. Mareva’s fire totem started to spit fire at them. Ariciel frowned. Too late to cast Mark of the Wild or Thorns. Next best thing then. She took a deep breath, and shouted. Half way through, her shout turned into a roar as she took on her bear shape and charged at the Furbolg. Behind her, Mareva started shooting. Bear-Ariciel ran straight at the largest of the two and attacked him, tooth and claw. She raised herself on her hind legs, and raked her claws across the Furbolg’s chest. The Furbolg fell down, stunned and mortally wounded.

Meanwhile, the other had seen Mareva and was charging her. Mareva’s totem kept shooting fire at it, but Mareva could not keep her concentration long enough to use her lightning bolts. She used her staff to parry the attacks. She was pushed farther and farther back. Ariciel charged, attacking the creature from behind. As her claws ripped into the creature, Mareva took a few steps back and started shooting again, until the Furbolg fell down and died. Ariciel stood still, taking deep breaths. After a few moments, she turned back to her Elf form. She was well aware that she had been trespassing. These creatures were now dead because she had been snooping around. She looked at Mareva. A change had come over her as they were attacked. Her eyes now shone so brightly that the light almost hid her face. She held her staff in both hands in front of her. She gave a fierce cry. Then, slowly, she seemed to calm down. Her totems faded into nothing. A sad look appeared on her face.

“Forgive me, dead ones. Be at peace. The troubles of the world, they are for us who are left behind.”

With a deep sigh, Ariciel examined the bodies of the creatures, noting down differences and similarities in their attire. All Furbolg seemed to decorate themselves with feathers, but in subtly different ways. That could be a clue. Before the images could fade from her memory, she drew a few quick sketches of all the feathers as she remembered them. Then she put away her notebook and looked at Mareva. “This may take a while. A few days, even. Do you need to return your findings?”

“Yes, but I have time. Without you, I would have been searching for days, and had much more difficulty. I can stay and return the favour.”

Ariciel did not argue. She was glad of the company in this dismal place of disease and madness. Besides, Mareva was one of the most interesting persons she could hope to meet, with her strange magics and her… unusual beliefs.

They managed to keep themselves hidden well enough to reach a small Furbolg camp at the foot of a large hill. They were lying on their stomachs at the top of the hill, peering down at the camp. Ariciel looked round at Mareva to ask her something, and saw that she was looking through a small copper tube.

“What’s that?”

“This is a long-view. I bought it from a Gnome. It is most useful for observing those who do not wish to be observed. We have better ones on Exodar, but still, this one is good.” She passed the tube to Ariciel, who peered through.

“If the image is unclear, turn the ring at the end,” said Mareva.

Ariciel did, and like magic, the image of the village appeared to her. Astonished, she looked over the tube, then back through it.

“Whoa! This is a good invention! Clever little gnomes!” She spent a few minutes pointing the tube this way and that, then passed it back to Mareva. “I still need to get down there, I think. Unless you also have a long-ear?”

Mareva grinned. “Sadly no. I would not have thought you needed one.”

“Oi! I’ll have you know that people like my ears! Humans can’t keep their eyes off them!”

“I believe you. Do you truly intend to go down there?”

“Yeah. Not in this shape, though. One moment.” She slid down the hill a way, then changed into her cat form.

“Now for the [Passing-unseen],” she said, in Wildspeech.

Mareva nodded. Hold on. She could understand her! Oh well. Talk about that later. Ariciel concentrated, and her cat form faded into the background. She was pleased that Mareva was suitably impressed.


Ariciel slowly walked down the hill. She couldn’t run, of course, and still stay hidden as she was. She concentrated on the creatures in front of her, who were going about their business without suspecting she was there. She pondered. Her vision had altered. She could not observe colours as she could in her Elf form. She severely doubted if she could find words in Darnassian to describe the smells of Furbolgs, cooking smells, fire. She looked round for a suitable spot to hide, checked carefully if there was nobody looking at her, and changed back to her Elf form. She concentrated, and twisted and turned her shadows till she was sure that no-one would notice her between the shrubs. She looked round nervously. Good. nobody had seen her. Careful not to break the illusion, she pulled out her notebook and started to take notes.

The Furbolg’s language consisted mainly of growls and grunts, with the odd bit of Wildspeech. Sometimes, though, Ariciel could catch something like a Common Speech word in their conversation. Strange. Swapping her pencil for a piece of charcoal, she quickly made a few sketches of the most prominent Furbolg. She hadn’t brought any colours, or a painters’ easel and brushes, so she’d just have to remember that for later in Darnassus. After a last look, she closed her notebook and checked her surroundings.

To her dismay, one of the Furbolg was sitting on the ground, making flint arrows, not twenty yards away from her. If their hearing was anything like that of a bear, he’d hear her transform and hide. Also, she could not move without breaking her Shadowmeld. Damn! He had a large stack of flint beside him, so presumably he would be busy for hours. At least he was facing away from her. She looked round. No other Furbolg were close. She took a deep breath, and as slowly and carefully as she could, she moved, breaking her illusionary invisibility. She did not want to be the target of one of the arrows she could see.

She almost made it. There wasn’t anything specific she did to make the arrow-maker look up, but he did. With a snarl, he got up and ran in her direction. Ariciel did not want to fight. She ran, with all the abilities she’d learnt on Teldrassil and off it for passing swiftly through dense growth. The Furbolg behind her made no such efforts. Crashing through the brushes, he ran after her. Ariciel came to a slight clearing. While still moving, she changed into her cat form and dashed off to her right. Speed was now her only defence. Can’t very well engage stealth after they’ve already seen you. Arrows hissed to her left and right. Damn! How long would it take the archer to get his eye in? An arrow hissed past her shoulder. Not very long. Fortunately, she seemed to be gaining on the Furbolg. Give up fuzzball! Let’s both see the sun rise tomorrow. Far to her right, she could see another shape. Four legged. Making for her. Damn and blast! Was she going to attract everything furry in this stinking place? She changed direction, away from the wolf. Looking over her shoulder, she could see that the hunter was still after her, and that the wolf was running behind him. She lowered her nose to the ground, and sped up, until there was a loud snap and a crash behind her. She glanced backwards, to see the Furbolg lying sprawled on the ground, and a tall, blue-skinned woman wielding a staff standing over him. Ariciel skidded to a halt and ran back to where she’d come from. The furry shape on the floor was breathing, but otherwise did not move.

“That was a well-controlled attack,” said Mareva, looking pleased with herself. Ariciel turned back into her Elf shape, and stared at the hunter, who was lying on the ground, whimpering feebly. She looked back up at Mareva.

“I was watching this one through the long-view when he stood up and ran off. I thought you might have a stealth problem and need some help.”

“Thank you.”

“Do you have the information you need?”

“Yes. Shall we go?”

Mareva made no reply, but turned back to her wolf-shape. Ariciel turned back into her cat shape, and they ran off, leaving the dazed Furbolg to nurse his headache. They made for the outpost of Talonbranch Glade, for a rest and regrouping. Though they could not stay the night there, they were invited into one of the small houses. Mareva brought out two of her Emarrees, and pulled the tab on them. To Ariciel’s wonder, the bags of… food, heated themselves up until steam came out of them. A spoon was provided, and Ariciel spooned up some of the gunk from the bag. She tasted, somewhat suspiciously, but it wasn’t too bad, if a bit salty. In return, she shared some of her dried plums and some apples.

“Hmm. Real food,” said Mareva. “This almost makes it worth digging through ooze and sampling diseased animals.” Ariciel looked at her unbelievingly. She must really do this girl some proper food, instead of these preserved things.

As evening fell, they took the bird back to Astranaar. They got a room at the inn. Ariciel kicked off her boots and dropped her clothes in a neatly crumpled pile. She saw Mareva stare at the floor beside her bed. Ariciel looked at her, quizzically. Mareva’s face turned a darker shade of blue.

“I am sorry. I should not stare, but your hooves… they look strange to me.” Ariciel laughed, held her leg up and wiggled her toes.

“Feet. They’re called feet. One foot, two feet.”

“Feet. I apologise. I have not often travelled beyond Bloodmyst Isle. I have never met any Elves with their shoes off.”

“Amazing, really, how similar we are. Five fingers, eyes, nose, hair. Given that your kind live beyond the Dark Portal.”

“There is a theory about that, but it is a long and boring one. I think I can fall asleep without recounting it.” Ariciel got in bed and pulled the covers over her.

“So can I. Good night, Mareva.”

Ariciel finished her story, only slightly slowed down by breakfast. She held out her mug, and Bannog refilled it with strong tea.

“That still doesn’t tell me how you got here. Though this Mareva girl sounds interesting.”

“Oh, she is. Perhaps you’ll meet her sometime.” She stared at the sky. “Each star another Sun. Can you imagine it?”

“There’s thousands of them! Imagine how many people that would be. Is there enough Light for all of them?”

“Hard to believe, isn’t it?”

Joran put out the fire, and covered it with the grass they’d dug up. “Not as hard as you think. Well, next stop, Southshore. First point!”

They set off.

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


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