Part 14: Understanding feast or famine.

The four intrepid adventurers were slowly and carefully making their way along the beach up to Southshore. It was Ramoc’s turn to run point. He suddenly stopped, and dropped to one knee, peering ahead. He grinned.

“I spy, with my little eye, something beginning wth… M.”

“Oh crap.”

“That’s not the correct answer Mr. Bannog. You’re not even trying! Crap starts with C.”

Bannog unsheathed his sword. “Another bloody batch of bloody stinking Murlocs then? I was hoping we’d seen the last of them when we left Menethil with the company.”

Joran stared ahead at the scaly creatures. “These are bigger, too. Oh. And there’s a few shooters. This could get interesting.”

The Elf counted her mana potions. Still only three left. They didn’t breed then, after all. “I’m all for going back inland and giving them a wide berth.”

Bannog shook his head. “That’s where those Syndicate bastards hang out. I’d rather take my chances with these. If one escapes, it won’t tell anyone about us.”

“Perhaps if we tell them that Bannog of Caer Bannog is upon them, they will turn tail and flee.”

Bannog sighed deeply, and turned his head towards the Elf. “My beard will be ten times as long, and grey, and still you will be reminding me of that.”

Ariciel laughed. “I hope so. Hey! There’s a loner there. Want me to shoot it?”

“I still think it was a perfectly acceptable bluff, even though they didn’t fall for it. And we got out of that alive, so why complain? What?”

Ariciel pointed. One of the Murlocs had left the group, and was loping in their general direction, looking for the Light knew what.

Joran drew his trusty hand-and-a-half sword. “May as well. Ready?”

Ariciel jumped up, pointed her hands at the creature, and let fly her green fire. With the characteristic cry that they had come to know and loathe in their long stint of battling the creatures, it charged at her, spear in hand. Before it could get anywhere near Ariciel, Joran and Bannog jumped it, and struck it down.

“One down, six to go,” said Ramoc.

After that, it went like clockwork. One or two of the creatures would spot the Elf, think “Lunch!” and charge at her, only to be ambushed by Ramoc, Joran and Bannog. It was all done in a few minutes. Bannog threw his sword from his right hand into his left, and back.

“Right. Only the shooters left. What do we do with mages?” It was one of their traditional battle-cries.

Joran answered. “Rush them!”

He set off at a sprint. Bannog judged the distance, counted to three, then rushed after Joran. Ramoc and Ariciel held back, ready to deal with any newcomers. Bannog liked to charge just that bit faster than Joran, and he’d judged the distance just right. They arrived at their targets within the same heartbeat, and started hacking. The dazed murlocs fell before they knew what hit them.

Sword raised in the air, ready for more attackers, Bannog looked round. Ramoc and Ariciel ran up. Bannog produced a rag and cleaned his sword.

“Well, that could have been worse. Everybody alright?”

Ramoc kicked one of the corpses. “Silly gits. Not one of them thinking ‘Hey! I wonder what happened to my Fish Brother!’ Anyone want to search them for loot?”

Ariciel looked at the Murlocs with some distaste. “You know, I like clam meat, but perhaps I have enough for dinner already.”

They went on.

“I spy, with my little eye, something beginning with…”

“Oh no. Not again?”

“Ess!” He pointed ahead. “And ending in ‘outhshore’! We’ve made it lads and lady! Time for tea and biscuits, and then a quick flight to Menethil.”

Bannog looked round nervously. He didn’t like to crow victory before both his feet were in the inn. It’s not superstition if you have plenty of anecdotal evidence that you’re most likely to be attacked just after such a statement. On this occasion, though, Cruel Fate was asleep, and soon after, they stepped into the Southshore Inn. Ramoc announced that he was going to buy all the drink in the place, and walked off to the bar. Joran spotted an empty table and dropped his pack on it, then politely pulled back a chair for Ariciel, who smiled at him and sat down. Bannog dropped his luggage in the seat next to her. He pointed at Ariciel.

“Mead?”

“Yes please.”

“Joran?”

“Ale. Strong. Cold.”

“You got it.” He wandered off to the bar to join Ramoc, who passed him mugs of ale, mead and cider. They sat down, and drank deep.

Bannog put his mug down, half empty. “Oh. Before I fall over. I haven’t seen the flight master here yet. Have you?”

Ramoc and Joran had. Ariciel hadn’t. Because you never knew what would happen, Bannog liked to take care of these things as soon as possible, so he got up. It was only a few hundred yards. He could have a word with the Griffin-herder and be back before his ale got warm. Ariciel got up as well. Ramoc smirked, but Bannog gave him a look and he kept his mouth shut. With a “be right back”, they wandered off.

Southshore was a small port town, though there was no ferry. Its economy was mostly based on fish, which they caught fresh from the sea and transported all over Hillsbrad. The closer, the fresher. They walked by the town hall on their left, in no hurry, side by side, hands not quite touching. As Ariciel looked up, she saw a griffin descend from the sky, carrying a Dwarf. She pointed, and they followed it.

Something alerted him. One of those small sounds, a footstep, the rustle of clothes. He ran two steps forward, drew his sword and spun round. A man, about as tall as he was, but not as heavily built, appeared before him as if from nowhere. His dagger lashed out at Bannog, and struck his arm, turned by Bannog’s bracer. As Bannog countered the attack, a second assassin appeared to his right. The second had a shortsword, and was shorter and fatter than the first. Bannog parried their attacks. They were good. They didn’t allow Bannog the time to gather himself up to counter-attack, and it would only be a matter of time before one of them got lucky. With his left arm, Bannog pushed Ariciel behind him, putting himself between her and the assassins. He concentrated again on the assassins. Suddenly, the tall assassin’s eyes opened wide behind the mask, and behind Bannog, there was a bestial growl. Oh damn. Not only assassins, but wildlife too. Taking advantage of his enemy’s surprise, Bannog stabbed out with his sword and scored a lucky hit on the assassin’s throat. He whirled round, and saw a large bear attack the other assassin. Foolishly, the assassin tried to stand and fight, lashing out with his sword. The bear gathered up, and jumped at the assassin, who could not argue with several hundred pounds of muscle and bone. He rolled over onto his back, and the bear went for the throat. It was over in less than a second. Bannog retreated, sword in front of him, looking for Ariciel, who was nowhere to be seen. Keeping one eye on the bear, he scanned the ground, fearing to find the mangled corpse of his favourite Night-elf. He looked back at the bear, then lowered his sword, completely astounded. The bear was sitting on its haunches, looking at him. As he watched, it raised its front paw in the air. Bannog thought he was going mad. A bear had just waved at him! Now that he looked more carefully, there were markings on its shoulders! Circles with dots in, and crescent shapes below. Could this be…

“Ariciel?”

The bear growled, in a reassuring kind of way. Slowly, slowly, Bannog took a step forward and held out his hand to touch the creature’s head. With a short bark-like growl, it snapped at his hand, and he pulled back quickly. Could bears grin? This one did! It got up on all fours. There was a sound like a rush of air and before he could blink, Ariciel stood before him, in her Elf shape, the wicked grin on her face that meant mischief.

“Well? Do you like my bear shape?”

For about three breaths, Bannog did not say anything at all. Then a grin to match hers appeared on his face.

“You weren’t wearing anything!”

Ariciel snorted. “Oh that’s just like you! Now, I’ll be thinking of that whenever I change!”

“Glad to be of service.” He pointed at the slain assassins. “Who the hell were these guys? Syndicate?”

“Must be. Let’s find the flight master and return to the inn. I think this place may be bad for our health.”

They returned to the inn to find that Ramoc had already ordered lunch for them.

“You guys took your time! Well, you were either very slow or very quick!”

Ariciel gave him a look that would have combusted lesser men. Ramoc just grinned. He’d been Looked At by women with much more powerful stares. Bannog sat down.

“We got jumped. Syndicate assassins, no less. Don’t know whether they just kill anyone or whether they recognised us. We may want to consider not staying here tonight.”

“Damn,” said Ramoc. “I had plans for the barmaid! But if the Syndicate is this close on our heels, we may want to decamp to, oh, Menethil anyone?”

Joran’s face was completely straight. “Lady Marisa may be there. You can give her her handkerchief back.”

Bannog attacked his plate. “Sounds like a plan!”

About two hours later, four griffins touched down in Menethil. Bannog looked round at the familiar buildings. Oh, the memories! Maybe they’d go out and kill a few Murlocs for old times’ sake. But then again, maybe not. They went straight to the Inn, where the innkeeper recognised them immediately, and greeted them in a manner befitting old friends. They toasted his health. Nice though this was, they asked him to keep quiet about their presence, and could they get a room?

“Two rooms,” said Bannog, just as Ariciel opened her mouth to say, presumably, exactly the same thing.

“Warriors together?” asked Joran.

Ariciel gave him a beautiful smile. “No.”

Ramoc sighed. “People will think Joran is my boyfriend.”

“Good,” said Bannog. “Puts the ladies off their guard, and then you can surprise them. Works every time!”

They turned in early that night. Ariciel walked into the room with Bannog close behind. He closed the door, and bolted it.

“My goodness! Is this the same room we were in before?”

Bannog sneaked up on Ariciel. “You know, I think it is!”

He made a grab for her, but she’d been expecting that. She twisted round, out of his grasp, and held the big man at bay with one slender finger on his chest.

“Not this time, lover! You taught me your beastly ways, and I was glad to learn them, but tonight, we’re doing this properly.” She tapped his armour. “Take that off, and sit down.”

“Meditation?” Bannog dropped out of his clothes with military efficiency.

“Uh-huh. Trust me. It’ll be worth it.” She put her hands on his shoulders as Bannog did as he was told. “Now. Concentrate on your breathing. In. Hold. Out.”

“Why is it that you mystic types always start anything you do with sitting down and breathing?”

He felt soft skin press against his back, her hair brush his shoulder, and the laugh that he’d run over hot coals to hear was in his ears.

“Because in a moment, you’re going to need every bit of breath in your body,” she whispered.

Her head was on his shoulder, and her arm lay across his chest, fingers slowly moving. His breathing had eventually returned to normal. He ran his fingers through her hair, then traced her ear to the very tip. She moved her head, and made a small noise of protest.

“That was incredible,” he said. She smiled, and wriggled to an even more comfortable position.

“Glad you liked it.”

“You Elves do this all the time?”

“Well, not all the time. Sometimes we have to sleep and eat.”

“I shudder to think. Were the times before a bit dull for you then?”

“With you? Never a dull moment.”

“Speaking of non-dull moments, you haven’t told me yet how you got to Arathi.”

“Well, on my own four feet. As for why, I haven’t got round to that yet.”


Ariciel watched Mareva eat her breakfast. On the one hand, watching her enjoy her meal was wonderful. On the other hand, this was just bread, cheese, fruit juice and water. The Draenei must have really suffered through their long journey for this fairly normal breakfast fare to be so exceptional. Mareva put down her teacup, and noticed Ariciel staring at her.

“Do you think I am exaggerating? You try to live for a year on only Emarree and recycled water. Then, you will know how good an apple tastes.”

“So why didn’t you take on fresh food on your journey, then?”

“In space?” Mareva considered how to explain this to her new forest-dwelling friend. “Think of it as a year-long boat trip, where you cannot fish either. So all you can eat is what you take with you. Mind you, it was an accident that we had to travel so far through normal space. Sin’dorei filth sabotaged our engines and controls, and we ended up twenty units from where we intended to be. So we had to motor in the rest of the way.”

Mareva watched Ariciel’s face. It had that politely glazed expression that said “Do go on. I’ll just wait here for you to start making sense.”

“Long story short. Very long time at sea. No islands. No fish. Just boring, nutritious gunk from bags. You said Emarree was ‘Alright’ no? Imagine that you have nothing else to eat for a year. There is nothing much to do, either. Exodar will find its way.” Mareva’s pale, shining blue eyes stared in the distance. “It is incredible how bored you can get, without going insane. Empty hands, empty minds. I divided my time between keeping my engines in perfect condition, the texts in the library and the tavern. That is how I kept my sanity.” Her smile at Ariciel was just a bit too wide. “At least I think I did. Do you think I am sane?”

“Well, you just told me that stars are just faraway suns, and that you have travelled to them, and that you can sail for a year without ever seeing land, without even lifting a finger to tend the sails.” Ariciel smiled sweetly. “Define ‘sane’.”

Mareva laughed. It was a nice laugh, and not at all insane. She grabbed her last bit of bread, and ate it.

“I think we need to return to Felwood.”

Through the wonder of air travel, they found themselves back in Talonbranch Glade. They asked about Timbermaw Hold, and were told that they were insane to want to go there, but if they must, it was to the North-west. By staying in their animal shapes, they managed to come to within a hundred yards of its entrance. Ariciel got out her notebook again, and made sketches of the entrance, including the banners that were next to it on the post. When she could honestly not think of another detail to add to her drawing, she sighed and looked at Mareva.

“I don’t suppose you feel like going in there, do you?”

There was a dark voice behind them. “I would advise against it. My brothers would tear you to tiny strips. They do not like the bare-faces.”

The girls slowly, slowly turned round. Behind them stood one of the large bear-like creatures. Though “unarmed” was a bit of a stretch for a creature with huge teeth and claws, he did not bear a weapon, or make any threatening moves. Mareva took a deep breath.

“Do you like the bare-faces?”

“No. They are ugly, and have caused much grief to me, and to mine. It is because of them that we now live underground. But there are two of you, and only one of me. I could kill you, but I would need much healing afterwards. You two look like spies. If I tell you what you want to know, you will go away and we all will live another day.”

Ariciel looked at the creature, but its expression was impossible to read. She opened her notebook to the page where she had made the drawings of the dead and living Furbolg.

“I have been sent to find out which of you are the Timbermaw Clan. We don’t want to kill any more of you if we can help it. I’ve made drawings of Furbolg.”

“Then you are lucky. I am of the Timbermaw Clan. Had I been of Deadwood, or Winterfall, you would have many wounds now.” The Furbolg looked away for a moment. “The Winterfall Clan are sick in the head. It makes them attack anything that moves. Not just for food, but for the joy of killing. Even other Furbolg. The Deadwood were never very sane to begin with. They have yellow bloom in the cracks of the brain.”

Mareva looked uneasy. “Do you hunt bare-faces for food?”

“We would hunt you last, blue-face. You do not look healthy.”

Ariciel had to suppress a giggle, even though this meant that she might be on someone’s list of lunch opportunities. She showed her notebook to the Furbolg.

“Could you tell me which Clans these are?”

The furry creature peered at her drawings.

“These are Deadwood. You have drawn them well. Their faces show the mask of Death. Did you kill them?”

“No, we didn’t. They were dead when we found them. So how do you know that these are Deadwood?”

“Only Deadwood would wear four feathers to one side, and three to the other. The Winterfall at least know balance, though they will hang feathers down, instead of making them point up to the Heavens.”

Ariciel flipped her notebook to the page with the other dead Furbolg.

“What about these? Are they Winterfall? They have three feathers to each side, and they are hanging down.”

“That is correct. But do not rely on that. Sometimes Deadwood get the number of feathers right by chance. It is easiest to see by their stupid faces. Also, the Winterfall have white fur. Did you kill these at least?”

Ariciel nodded sadly. “They attacked us and we had to defend ourselves.”

“Good. Two less Winterfall. More sane Furbolg.”

“So how do we recognise the Timbermaw?”

The Furbolg raised his front paws, and pointed at himself. “We are the most handsome, of course. Also, we know how to make a proper feather decoration. Our eyes are more keen. Our noses straight. Our ears sharp. We are the best of Bear-kind, except perhaps the Bears themselves. But Bears are stupid, and we are smart.”

Ariciel pulled out her charcoal. “Do you mind if I draw you?”

“Not at all. You will draw me from my good side.”

“Which side is that?”

The Furbolg grinned. “Any side.”

Ariciel grinned back, and set out. With quick strokes of pencil and charcoal, she managed to capture the Furbolg’s image. She was mildly pleased with the result. She’d even managed to get the self-satisfied smirk right. She showed the drawing to the bear-like creature in front of her. He grinned.

“Not bad, but I think my eyebrows are thicker than that.” Ariciel looked, comparing, and made a small addition to the drawing.

“I mustn’t make this look too good, you know. People may think all Timbermaw Furbolg need to be as good-looking.”

“I do not care about the ugly ones. Let the bare-faces get them.”

Mareva stirred. “If I may ask. You said that the Winterfall are sick in the head. How did they come to be so?”

“Filthy bare-face sorcerers put stupid ideas in their heads. They told them they were the best of the Furbolg, but needed to grow stronger. They gave them nasty potions that made them fierce. Made them attack bare-faces. Bare-faces are stupid. They cannot tell which Furbolg are which, so the bare-faces killed any Furbolg they set their eyes on. Good to see that they now want to kill only the mad Furbolg.”

Mareva rubbed her face in a thoughtful way. “The creatures here are all sick. Not just in the head, but also in the body. Do you know how this came to be?”

“I do not know. The Fel sorcerers may have something to do with it, but I can’t be sure of that.”

“Have any glowing objects come down from the sky here? Before the start of the disease?”

“This place has been struck with disease for many years. I have not seen any objects come from the sky. But then, you bare-faces have driven us underground, so how can I tell?”

Mareva nodded. “Thank you for this information. It may mean that though this place is in need of help, it is not our fault that it came to be like this. We may still have made it worse, but my samples will tell.”

The Furbolg growled. “You are welcome. Now will you go away? If you wish, I can give you free passage to snow-covered Winterspring. There are many more Furbolg there, of the Winterfall and Deadwood clans, to kill and study.”

Mareva looked at Ariciel, who shrugged. “Will there be many Timbermaw inside?”

“Yes, but I will give you feathers to wear, and they will know I sent you and not to attack you.” The Furbolg frowned at each of them in turn. “Do not attack my brothers. Do not even look as though you might, one day, want to attack them, or there will not be enough of you left to fit in a hollow tooth.”

The Bear-creature gave them both two bright red feathers, probably of the owls that still seemed to live in this place, and told them to attach them to their heads with bits of string. Mareva had it easy: she could tie the feathers to her horns. Ariciel first tried putting them in her hair, but they kept falling out, and she sighed, and attached the feathers to her ears. Mareva looked at Ariciel, with a face that said: “I won’t start if you don’t.”

The Furbolg led them to the entrance, and spoke with one of the guards, who let them in after eyeing them suspiciously. Looking as casual and non-threatening as they could, they took a brisk walk through the long tunnels. All round them, furry creatures looked at them incredulously. There was a strange, rhythmic rumble coming from many of them. One of the Furbolg elbowed his mate, and pointed at them. The other Furbolg looked round, sat down and laughed till he couldn’t anymore. Ariciel tried to look as friendly as possible. Her cheeks glowed. Mareva’s face looked a few shades bluer as well. They walked as quickly as they could, until they emerged into the frozen lands of Winterspring, to roaring laughter emerging from the cave. Mareva pulled off her feathers.

“We bring joy and laughter to the world. If ever a Furbolg wants safe passage through Exodar, I will make him shave all his hair off.”

Ariciel stored her feathers in her pack, pulled out a warm cloak and put it on.

“Well, at least they didn’t attack us. Plenty of them to turn us to mincemeat.”

“They did not attack us because they were rolling on the floor laughing. We have been had by a furball.”

Ariciel smiled. “Well, I still think those feathers looked great on you. A pity you’ve taken them off.”

“I look great in anything. Where next?”

Ariciel pointed. “Everlook village is that way. Just follow the road for about four hours as the cat runs.” With only a hint of envy, she added: “Maybe three as the wolf runs. Only thing is, there’s maybe an hour of daylight left. Maybe it’s better to find a place for the night and continue tomorrow.”

“This does not look like the place to find taverns. Where do you suggest that we sleep?”

Ariciel sniffed the air, and looked round. Then, she pointed.

“There’s running water over there. There may be some large conifers that we can hide under, or a small cave or an overhang.” She smiled at Mareva. “You haven’t lived until you’ve slept under the stars.”

“I have slept between the stars. It is the company that makes it interesting.”

They only had to search for half an hour, and then Mareva struck gold: a small, dry cave with no occupants and no toilet facilities. Nonetheless, they dropped their packs inside. Ariciel cast an anxious eye at the sun, already touching the horizon.

“Food or firewood. Which one would you like to get? There’s dead wood lying all over the place. There should be snow rabbits here, too.”

“I will gather the firewood. You have more chance of success hunting.”

“Right. Be careful, there’s demons about here. See you later!” Ariciel changed into her cat form, and ran off in search of food. Mareva watched her go, then walked off and gathered huge armsfull of wood of different sizes. When she thought she had enough, she carried it into the cave, and split large pieces into smaller ones with her dagger. Remembering some of the texts in the library, she gathered rocks into a circle, and stacked up the firewood inside. Then, she found a piece of flint, and tried for a while to get sparks off it with the back edge of her dagger. This did not seem to work very well. The tiny sparks she managed to get were nowhere near hot enough to ignite the kindling.

“I can’t be bothered with this. Get stuffed Baad’un Paul!”

She pointed her hand at the kindling, took a breath and sent a small lightning bolt at the wood. It ignited very satisfactorily. If anyone wanted to call it cheating, let them rub sticks together. She looked around her. Nice big stack of firewood, cosy campfire near the entrance. The place was was already starting to warm up nicely. She would have to set up a proximity alarm near the entrance, but it wouldn’t do to scare her cute new friend out of her wits. Mareva looked outside. She was really out of her element here, unlike Ariciel, who thrived. But she was enjoying herself like never before. Ariciel had never known space travel, lucky girl. She’d never experienced breathing the same oxygen all the others had already breathed ten times over. Mareva took a deep breath. The air here! The medics had warned her of “impurities”, such as pollen, plant matter, trace elements. Stupid bastards. That’s what made this place smell as good as it did. And the people! She’d spent ages in her cabin, learning the language until she could speak it as quickly as the natives. And better, too. She often caught Ariciel making small mistakes, or perhaps they were local variations. She got up and looked out of the cave entrance. It was starting to get dark, and still Ariciel was nowhere to be seen. Oh well. Ariciel could take care of herself. Better than she could. She went back into the cave, and found the fire was bright enough now to use a few of the larger bits. She hummed a few bars of an old tune, and looked out again. There was a noise outside. Mareva readied a spell, and got ready to defend.

Ariciel stepped in, carrying two rabbits by their hind legs. She showed Mareva her catch, then looked round, and spotted the firewood.

“Were you thinking of spending the rest of Winter here?”

“It is better to have it and not need it, than to need it, and not have it. What have you caught?”

“Rabbits. Nice ones, too. Must have been fattening up for winter in Ashenvale.”

Ariciel dug in her pack, and produced a bit of leather. She put down the rabbits, skinned them and dressed them. Then, she pulled a long green stick out of Mareva’s pile of firewood, and spitted the rabbits. With a bit of improvisation, they got the meat to hang over the fire just right. Just a matter of turning occasionally, and in an hour or so, dinner would be ready. Ariciel remembered that it was important always to have something green to eat with rabbits, and produced more dried apples and other fruit.

“Just dried stuff, I’m afraid. Visit me in Darnassus, and I’ll prepare a full meal.”

“This is lovely. Remember, I only ate Emarree for a year. Both flavours. Salty and sweet.”

“Hmm. Poor deprived souls. It must be a bit of a shock for you to get here, with none of your usual facilities. It may get boring after a while to have the same food, but it is convenient.”

“I should not give you the wrong impression about our cooking. We have very good cooks on Draenor. Emarree were never intended to be food for such a long time. They were meant to keep soldiers on their hooves for a week or so. They were all we had for an unplanned delay.”

Mareva turned the rabbits another quarter-turn. It was starting to smell good. Her stomach growled. “There is no need to feel sorry for me. I like it here. Meeting the people. Seeing the land here. It is beautiful.”

“People treating you right? They’ve never seen blue people before, I imagine.”

“So far I cannot complain. Though there was one gnome in Bloodmyst Isle who was trying to make fun of me.”

“Oh?”

“I was running errands for him. Fetch things, mine ores. Just like this quest. So he asked me to fetch him a Draenei-standard adjustable spanner.” Mareva looked at Ariciel with a little smile on her face.

Ariciel shook her head. “What?”

Mareva took a deep breath. How to explain this?

“You know of nuts and bolts, no?”

“Oh yeah. I think I have a handful turning green in the bank. You connect things together with them. Engineers’ stuff.”

“Good. Now to tighten a nut, you use a spanner. Turn the nut with the spanner and you tighten or loosen it. You know spanners? They look like birds’ heads, and the beak has to be the same size as the nut.”

Ariciel nodded.

“Good. Now when the Great Sower of the Universe created both Draenei and Gnomes, She somehow forgot to include in her instructions what size to make nuts and bolts. So Gnomish nuts of similar size are just that little bit smaller.”

“Stands to reason.”

“Yes. So. If you try to turn a Draenei nut with a Gnomish spanner, the nut will not fit in the beak. Other way round, the fit is too loose and you damage the nut. Do you understand so far?”

“I think so. So you have Draenei spanners for Draenei nuts and Gnomish spanners for Gnomish nuts, or it won’t fit.”

“Precisely. Now sometimes when you work on a machine, you don’t want to bring so many spanners. So what you use then is an adjustable spanner. You turn a little wheel and the beak gets smaller and larger.” She illustrated by moving her thumb and forefinger closer, then farther apart. “That way, you can adjust your spanner to the size of the nut, and you only bring the one. It works, but fixed ones are nicer to work with.”

Ariciel looked thoughtful. “But surely, if you can adjust your spanner to a Draenei nut, you can also adjust it to a Gnomish nut?”

Mareva smiled. “Precisely! So there is no reason to find another if you have the one. He was trying to make me hunt the slivet for hours. They always try to pull that trick on the new girl.”

Ariciel nodded, and failed to mention how at the tender age of fourteen, someone had asked her for a bottle of moonlight. She’d stood there for hours, a small bottle held up in her small hand, in the middle of the night. Even her mother had been in on it. Grown-ups can be complete and utter bastards sometimes.

Mareva inspected the meat. It still needed a bit of time. Patience, young Shaman. Raw rabbit is not a reward. She continued.

“Now back on Exodar, I was assistant to the Chief Engineer, working on the transdimensional engines.”

Ariciel fluttered her eyelashes. “I haven’t a clue what you are talking about, but at least I’m pretty!”

Mareva laughed. “At least you are not a redhead. But if I got a few big strong males to do the heavy lifting, I could take apart and re-assemble one of the big engines that made Exodar go where it needed to go.”

“And afterwards, you can use the big strong males for other things,” said Ariciel.

Mareva blinked. And here she thought this Elf was such an innocent sweet girl!

“Well, yes. And here was this little zlotnik trying to make me run round in circles.”

“So what did you do? Hold him out of the window by his ankles?”

Mareva chuckled. “Even better. I stood before him, and bowed, and said ‘May the Naaru reward you for giving me this quest.’ Then I went to the nearest inn. I explained all to the caregiver. He was most understanding. He let me try the whole top shelf of his drinks cabinet.”

“What, for free?”

Mareva grinned broadly. “No. Instead, he gave me a wooden club and attached the bill. He added a note saying ‘Here is your Draenei-standard adjustable spanner. Please find attached the bill, payable within twenty-four hours.'”

Ariciel snorted. “And did he?”

“Oh yes. The note went on to say that he had another similar spanner, and he would come and hide it inside the Gnome if he did not pay. The Gnome gave me no more trouble after that.” Mareva looked thoughtful. “Now that I think of it, he gave me no more quests either.”

Ariciel stared for a second, then burst out laughing. She gave the meat another turn. Some of the outer bits were probably done. With her knife, she cut off one of the legs and quickly transferred it to the bit of leather she was using for cooking. Another leg followed it. In the dim light of the fire, she dug round in her pack for some salt and added that to the table. She speared one of the rabbit legs with her knife, and offered it to Mareva.

“Have a leg. Careful, it’s hot.”

Mareva accepted the leg, passing it quickly from one hand to the other and back. When it had cooled down a bit, she bit into it with a deep sigh.

“This is good. I should not go on talking about this, but it really tastes good.”

“Well, glad you like it. But surely you have cooks in… Draenor?”

Mareva chewed and swallowed. “Oh yes, we do. I have even partaken.”

“Partaken? Of what?”

“Mmm. I should explain. We were working on Exodar, before her maiden voyage. Even before the Sin’dorei stole it from us. Getting her ready.”

Ariciel smiled, and sat back with her bit of rabbit, enjoying Mareva’s deep voice and strange accent as much as the story.

“We were late in the work, because some nactba of a boss had not authorised our work until the very last moment. That meant we had to work round the clock.” Mareva dropped the bone in the fire, picked up the knife and cut off another piece.

“But we did it! Some of our men were sleeping on their hooves as we completed the final tests, but Exodar, she sailed on time.” Mareva frowned. “Some zlotnik wanted us to skip the final test, but my boss, may he be blessed, shouted him down. This was a good thing. We found a problem that would have made life interesting half way through the trip. Anyway. Here we were, job complete and on time.” Mareva pointed a bone at Ariciel. “Now we were doing this for a rich bunch of ungrateful idiots, but my boss pointed out to them that we had performed miracles and saved their stupid hides. And if you are an ungrateful zlotnik, but do not want others to know this, there is a solution.”

The blue woman leant forward, turned round the spit and helped herself to another bit.

“You treat the person who did you a favour to the Repast of Khur’tun Ramizh.” Mareva waved a blue hand in the air. “Khur’tun Ramizh was a master chef to the master chefs. And his Repast was the most elaborate meal that ever was. It is marvellously expensive. Ingredients have to be flown in from around the world. Chefs have to be flown in from around the world to prepare it. It is a celebration of the sense of taste. Each of the flavours is represented, so the first dish will be sweet, the second salty, the third umami and so on. Then, there are dishes that combine flavours. Salt and sweet, perfectly mixed. The same is done for texture. Crunchy, soft, tough and so on. There are times when you have to drink water to clear the palate. Special biscuits to prepare the taste. Even specially perscribed times of rest, where you meditate on food. It is so famous that if you say that you have partaken, there is no need to say of what. They know it is the Repast of Khur’tun Ramizh.”

Mareva brandished her rabbit’s leg at Ariciel. “Now compare to this. This morning, it was running around in the fields, until you caught it. Clean the meat, hold over the fire for a bit, add a bit of salt, some herbs if you want to be elaborate. That is all.” Mareva took a big bite, grease dripping down her chin.

“And it tastes better.”

They did proper justice to the rabbit meat, and stored what little was left for tomorrow. Mareva dug round in her pack.

“Ah. Here it is. I declare the state of emergency. That means I can use this.” She showed Ariciel a shining bottle.

“Ooh! Draenei rotgut! This is culturally important and I must experience this!” Ariciel dug out her mug and held it up.

“Put that away, you silly Elf! I am not pouring Qrovna into that! You want to use it for tea again!” Mareva held up two shining cups. “Some people say that the silver dissolving into the drink adds to the flavour, but I do not agree. These cups are thorium.” She offered Ariciel one of the cups, and filled it from the bottle. Ariciel sniffed suspiciously.

“What did you say this was called?”

“It is called Qrovna. Draenei masters make it from Skethyl-berries, with many secret ingredients and recipes. I must admit that one must learn to like it, but the taste-buds soon disappear and you can properly enjoy it.” Ariciel tried to take a small sip, but Mareva stopped her. “That is not the way. Observe.”

With a small flick of the wrist, Mareva tossed down the drink, then showed Ariciel the empty cup. “Now you try. I promise I will not laugh.”

Ariciel raised her eyebrows at Mareva, then did as she was shown. Tears sprang into her eyes as the drink tried to go straight to her head without the unnecessary detour through her stomach.

“Stars and stones! What’s in this stuff?”

“As I said. It is made from Skethyl-berries. They say the secret ingredient is…”

“Let me guess. Love?”

“Cynicism. It is the drink of choice for the put-upon engineer. Another one? Don’t worry. I have many bottles left in my Exodar bank.” Ariciel held out her cup. Mareva filled it and her own. “After the second cup, you no longer care. Skol!” They tossed back their cups. Ariciel almost managed it without coughing this time. Oh dear… This could get interesting if they had to fight anything tonight. Mareva seemed to come to the same conclusion, picked up her pack and dug round in it.

“I do not use this thing often. I should set it up while I am still able. Ah.” She produced one of her totems, though it wasn’t like her other ones. She showed it to Ariciel. “Do you need to get out for any reason? Because this is keyed to me. Anyone else who gets near will set it off. It will make a very loud noise and hopefully scare off any wild animals. Anything worse will get the fright of its life.” Ariciel shook her head, and Mareva placed the box in the entrance to the cave. A shimmering red line appeared on the floor, around the entrance and on the ceiling, then disappeared.

“There. The alarm is set. Now we will be disturbed by anything that comes in. Before it eats us.”

“That’s useful!” Ariciel giggled. “I should have had one of these when I was travelling through the Wetlands with Bannog. We were in a cave, too, with lots of biting Crocolisks outside. We didn’t dare both go to sleep. Very frustrating. But you have so many things that are completely different from the way we do it. How do you cope?”

“Hm. It is not always easy. But I am enjoying it. I used to be very frustrated in my job. People always seemed to want me to do things the hard way. Sometimes for no better reason than to point at some bit of Exodar and say that they advised on it. I was glad to say goodbye to it. So now, I run errands and make magical jewellery. Nobody tells me how to do my job. They just tell me what they want, and leave the rest to me. Most refreshing. One thing I do not understand though.”

“Oh? What?”

“Why is it that Azeroth men say that Draenei women are always horny? I mean,” She flicked a non-existent speck of dust off one of the elegant shapes on her head. “It is obviously true, but why dwell on it? They could also say we are always blue, or always have hooves.”

Ariciel, in her mind, composed a well-chosen string of choice Darnassian swear-words directed at that section of the population that had their genitals on the outside for easy kicking. How to explain this without offending Mareva? Draenei seemed to be pretty relaxed in their attitudes to sex, but she couldn’t be sure. She looked at Mareva’s face. The girl had turned a somewhat darker shade of blue. And she was not breathing. Ariciel frowned, then pulled back her arm and punched Mareva hard on the shoulder. The Draenei woman rolled over backwards laughing. Ariciel took a deep breath.

“You cow! I can’t believe I fell for that!”

Mareva rubbed her shoulder, still grinning. Ariciel did not understand the concept of girly punches.

“Goat. We evolved from Goatish creatures. Let me offer you another shot of Qrovna by way of apology. It brings deep sleep.”

“You’re lucky I’m starting to like this stuff,” said Ariciel, holding out her cup. Mareva poured them both another dose. They drank. Ariciel found that her taste-buds were now quite numb, and she was able to appreciate the warm glow that spread through her body.

Mareva grinned, and put away her bottle. Then, she took out a small package. She opened it and took out some thin material that unfolded into a bag large enough to hold one Draenei female. Ariciel pulled out her sleeping furs.

“That’s a very thin sleeping bag. Are you sure it’ll keep you warm?”

Mareva showed Ariciel the inside. “This is reflective material. It bounces your body heat back at you and keeps you warm. And you can fit it in your pocket. Much more convenient than a large sleeping bag.”

Ariciel nodded, much impressed. She took off her clothes and stepped into her yeti-fur lined sleeping bag before too much of her body heat disappeared. Well, it might be a bit more bulky, but it was wonderfully soft and quite warm enough, even in this snow-covered land.

“Good night, Mareva.”

“Good night.”

Ariciel turned over. Behind her, she heard Mareva’s sleeping bag rustle in the silence of the Winterspring night, and slight murmurings. She closed her eyes. In the fading glow of the fire, Mareva kept stirring, until Ariciel looked round to see Mareva dig through her pack.

“What’s up?”

“This sleeping bag. It does not work properly. Putting on some more clothes. Nights on this planet are cold.”

Ariciel stroked the soft yeti fur of her sleeping bag. She was quite toasty, actually. She turned over, looking at her blue-skinned friend. Well, she was always that colour, but still. No need to let the poor girl suffer.

“Why don’t you come over here? My mother told me always to make sleeping furs large enough for two, for some reason.”

Mareva moved immediately. “That is most welcome, thank you. I will slap the merchant who sold me this bag when I return to Exodar. Repeatedly.” She suddenly held still. Her blue eyes shone at Ariciel, her expression serious in the dying fire-light. “This is not a trick, to…” She searched for a word. “Invite you. I assure you.”

Ariciel laughed. “The word you are looking for is ‘seduce’. It’s alright. I’m just plying you with body heat so I can have my way with you. Come on over here while I still have some.” She opened her sleeping furs. Mareva got into the furs with her. Ariciel shivered. The girl was freezing!

Mareva sighed. “It is a good thing you are not trying to seduce me. It would work. These furs are marvellous!”

“I have another half-dozen in Lirael’s place in Darnassus. You can have one if you want. I’ve flooded the market making them using all the stuff Bannog sent me. Ow!”

“What is wrong?”

“Your horn. You almost poked my eye out. Turn over, please.”

The girls maneuvered round so that Ariciel was lying in front of Mareva, and was no longer in danger of losing an eye. Instead, Ariciel’s ear was now flapping in Mareva’s face. But that was just cartilage, so that was alright.

“Your men must have this problem. How do they cope?”

“They are usually a head taller than we are. It fits.”

“Oh you lucky girls.”

“If you like that sort of thing.” Mareva smiled. “Which fortunately I do.”

“So do I. Humans aren’t as tall as Elves, but more heavily built. Must be difficult if you’re with a girl, though.”

“I do admit that takes a bit of careful adjusting. Though the times I did that, we had more space than this.” Mareva smiled in the dark. “This Bannog of yours, you love him, no?”

Ariciel stared ahead, not saying anything for a few moments. ” I really should have told him that before I told you. But yes, I do. After I find my family, I’ll go and find him.”

“You should not worry about that too much. Telling him, I mean. I have loved maybe five people in my life. Three of them, I never said, but still they knew.” A sharp edge appeared in Mareva’s voice. “One of them, I did tell, and he laughed in my face. That was the end of that.”

“Are you with someone now?”

“No. He died in a battle against the Sin’dorei and Orcs, curse them. I was not there when he died. I never told him I loved him, either. Did not need to. We both knew.”

Ariciel turned her head round. “I’m sorry.” She didn’t know what else to say. Mareva sighed.

“Do not worry. It is over a year ago. Much has happened since.” There was a pause. “Though I haven’t yet taken any serious lovers, and only played with women. They do not remind me.”

Ariciel was silent. What could she say? Mareva didn’t seem to need the sympathy. She laid down her head and took a deep breath. Now that Mareva had warmed up a bit, it felt good to have warm skin pressing against hers. It had been too long. Ariciel smiled. Strange. Back in Darnassus, she had been living for months with Lirael, who was quite beautiful, and would probably not object. Still, she’d never felt inclined to cross over to the other side of the room. But this strange woman somehow managed to stir her. Her hand was on Ariciel’s stomach, mainly because in the confines of he sleeping furs, there was nowhere else for it to go. It was moving slowly. Mareva was probably not even aware that she was doing it, it didn’t feel deliberate. Still, it felt… nice. Ariciel closed her eyes.

“Mareva?”

“Ariciel?”

“I’m sure you’re not the kind of girl to take advantage of a Night-elf who’s just generously shared her sleeping-furs with you,” With one finger, she drew circles on the back of Mareva’s hand. “But if, um, someone were to do this to turn me on…” Ariciel sighed. “It would be working.”

Mareva froze. “I am sorry. I did not mean to…”

“Well, I didn’t say stop it.” There was a pause. Mareva’s hand pressed lightly on Ariciel’s shoulder, till they looked into each other’s eyes. Neither of them moved for a few hesitant moments. There were only two ways this could go. No. There was only one way. A small smile appeared on Mareva’s face.

“We are playing, no?”

“I think so, yes.” Ariciel smiled. “There’s this thing I’ve been dying to try out on someone who is not an Elf.”


“So I got to practice my skills in non-Elf lovemaking into the bargain. I hope you appreciate the result.”

Bannog’s hand, which had been stroking her hair, suddenly stopped.

“Bannog? What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.”

Bannog looked at the Elf who was lying next to him, who’d just given him the experience of a lifetime. Of course! Different people. Different ways. Elves could have many lovers. Bannog himself could not, but that was just him. There were even Humans who had several girlfriends or boyfriends at the same time. Ariciel had done nothing wrong.

Then why was there this horrible knot in his stomach?

Just his own stupidity, that’s why. How could he have assumed that a woman like Ariciel would say farewell to everything she’d ever known about relationships, and stick only to him?

“Don’t give me that! You look like you’ve just swallowed a Murloc! What’s up?”

“Really. Nothing. I just thought you… Never mind.”

With that horrible flash of intelligence that arrives just one minute after you need it, realisation dawned on Ariciel. Humans, oh alright Bannog, would only have one mate at a time. She was that mate! Up till now she’d never realised that he might expect the same of her. In his view, she’d been… unfaithful. Which was nonsense. She’d had a nice night of play with Mareva, but giving up Bannog so she could be with her? Never! So why could these stupid humans not tell a bit of play from love? And why could some stupid Elf not remember that and keep her silly mouth shut?

“Bannog? I’m sorry. I should have thought…”

“You’ve done nothing wrong. It’s just me. You don’t love me in the way I imagined. It’s not your way.”

“What? How can you say that? I…”

Bannog looked at her, his face immeasurably sad. “Drop it. Just drop it.”

The big man turned over. Ariciel stared at his back. She could reach out and touch him if she wanted. She desperately wanted to tell him. But she felt farther away from him than she had felt when he was in Arathi, and she in Darnassus. Her mind shaking like a leaf, she lay back down.


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

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