Part 17: Rebirth.

Bannog stared at the person in front of him, who had just saved him from the pursuing ogres. She was tall, with deep black hair, eyes shining pale blue where Ariciel’s were grey. Small, swept-back horns were on her head. His eyes wandered down, looking at her hooved legs. He looked back up at her face. So this was the woman Ariciel had slept with. Bannog felt a pang of shame for thinking about that now, but he couldn’t help himself. Mareva looked back at him with an even smile, waiting for this Human to finish staring at her. It was one of the things that you got used to if you were a stranger in a strange land.

“When you have finished admiring me, shall we make ourselves a bit less conspicuous? Those ogres may have friends that will come searching for them.”

Bannog snapped out of his thoughts, and nodded.

“Hey Big Lug, blue girl! This way!” Interalia waved at them from the top of a large boulder. “I’ve found a spot to hide in. Big enough even for you!”

Bannog and Mareva followed Interalia into a deep cleft between rocks. When they were out of sight, Mareva looked at both of them in turn, and got straight to the heart of the matter.

“Where is Ariciel?”

Bannog looked at his feet. “Ogres have her. I don’t know where they took her. Probably back to the house.” He caught Mareva’s eye. “They’ll kill her. I’ve got to get her out.”

“I agree. What happened? She wrote that her mother might be in this Grimsteel Manor. Did you find her?”

Interalia scowled. “Nope. All we found was her sister, and a nasty piece of work she was. Tried to kill us all, until Big Lug here finally pulled himself together and chopped her in half. So now Rici’s mum is dead, her bitch of a sister is dead, and for all we know, she may be dead, too.”

Bannog stared ahead of him, a steel-hard look in his eyes. “These Ogres don’t just kill you. They’ll make her pay for everything we did there. I’ve got to get to her, and get her out.”

He got up, threw away his useless armour, checked his sword and started to walk out of their hiding place. Mareva stepped forward and put her hand on his shoulder.

“Wait. Running into battle unprepared will not get Ariciel out of there. We are only few. We must plan. Use our heads.”

Interalia smiled. “Not his department, Blue. The best use for his head is as a bludgeoning weapon.”

Mareva turned round. “Your comments will be taken on board. And pushed out of the airlock as soon as we clear the atmosphere.”

“Huh?”

“Precisely. Now. Tell me if I am wrong. Ariciel’s mother is dead. Her sister is dead. Ariciel herself may be alive. The ogres have taken her. They must have taken her into the manor. It would make no sense to take her somewhere else. So Berciel and her mother no longer concern us. We must find out whether Ariciel is alive or not. We must find out where she is kept. Then someone must go there and set her free. Then, we must help her escape, and reunite Bannog with his love.”

Bannog scowled at Mareva. “She’s not ‘my love’. I thought she was, but I was stupid to think it. You of all people should know that.”

It took Mareva a few moments to realise what Bannog was talking about. Suddenly, her eyes burned bright with rage, and her face turned a darker shade of blue. She stomped over to Bannog, glared at him, then slapped him in the face.

“You zlotnik! Have you no eyes? Have you no brain? Have you no liver? The girl is completely, deliriously, in love with you!” Bannog looked sheepish, and put his hand to his cheek. Mareva pointed her finger at his face, trembling.

“Look at me! Do you think any lover of mine thinks of others when they are with me? I do not let them! Still, all the time I was running round Felwood with Ariciel, she could not stop talking about you!” Mareva crossed her arms, and fixed Bannog with a stare. “So we found a nice place to sleep, and got a bit drunk, and had a bit of fun. Who cares? If it bothers you, you should have found a Human girlfriend. Elves will play with anyone they like well enough.” Anger flared on Mareva’s face. “So now my friend is held captive by the enemy, thinking that you are about to leave her, even if you do come to her rescue. You are right. We do need to get her out fast.”

Interalia watched Mareva with something approaching adoration. “We say ‘heart’, not ‘liver’, Blue. Other than that, well played!”

Mareva turned round, snatched up her pack from the floor and reached into one of its many side pockets. She held up three small potions.

“These potions will put me in a trance, where I can explore areas that are too dangerous to explore in person.” She turned to Interalia. “You have stealth, no? You can open locks?”

“Yeah. The locks here, you can open with a rusty nail.”

“Excellent. Then I will find Ariciel. She will set Ariciel free, and lead her out. And you,” she pointed at Bannog. “You will get us all out of here and back to safety.”


She was sitting on a stone floor, arms wrapped round her knees, slowly rocking back and forth. They had taken away her clothes. She stared at the floor in front of her. It was so cold here. Her mana pool was empty, and it was not filling up. She felt as if she was choking. Her last mana had gone to healing the most important parts of her. The large Ogre had told his servants to “soften her up.” It had worked. She was softened up. Ogres had taken her to a small room, lashed her hands together and hung her up on a hook in the ceiling, toes just reaching the floor. Then they had taken heavy sticks and started beating her. At first, she had tried not to cry out. Then, she had cried out loud to convince the brutes that their job was done. Then, she had cried out simply because she couldn’t help herself. The ogres knew exactly what they were doing, how hard to hit her, where to hit her. They almost seemed bored with their work, as though countless Elves had passed through this place, to be “softened up”, broken, every drop of information squeezed out of them, then killed. Finally, they had unhooked her, untied her hands, saving the rope for next time. The ruthless efficiency had scared her. They had pushed her into a cage, and lumbered off. She had tried to get to her feet, take stock of her injuries, when she’d heard a voice coming from the next cage.

“Don’t go to sleep. It’s not over yet.”

It hadn’t been. There had been the sound of the bolts sliding back, and the ogres had come back. This time, she’d fought, kicking, screaming, all to no avail. They were too strong, and she was hurt, empty, out of options. This time, they had lashed her feet together, and hung her upside down. Then, they had started again. Ariciel’s hair was wet. Why was her hair wet? She remembered. Splashes of water in her face to revive her. One of the ogres had grabbed her hair and pulled her up, to look at her face. Then they’d untied her again, and Ariciel had slipped into merciful unconsciousness until she landed on the floor of the cage. Her last drop of mana, she had expended on restoring her battered knees. Then, she had simply sat down. No energy left to cry, just keeping on breathing.

She was going to die. This place did not allow the Light in, she could not drink the energy she needed to fight, or to escape. Even if she could, what was the point? Her family was dead. Bannog was probably dead, or even if he wasn’t, he wasn’t interested in her anymore. Ariciel closed her eyes. Whatever they asked of her, she’d do it. Whatever they wanted to know, she’d tell them. She had little enough to tell. And then, they’d kill her. They’d hurt her some more, and then she’d just let go. Why keep on breathing when all that you live for is gone?

There was a small noise at the door. Ariciel shrank back, gasping for air, tears welling up in her eyes. The door opened, and she could see… nothing. Was this one of their mind tricks? She scrambled back to the back of the cage. She could see a small sort of shadow slipping inside the cage with her. Ariciel’s breath stuck in her throat, and tears started to flow in earnest.

“Hi Rici. Never thought you’d be glad to see me, did ya?”

The young Gnome girl wasted no time. From her pocket, she produced three vials of mana potion.

“Blue girl said to be careful with this, and only to use half a one at a time. Something about ‘Super Mana Potion’. Makes your head explode if you’re not careful.”

Interalia then opened her pack, and pulled out clothes for Ariciel.

“Let me tell you, this blue girl knows how to organise. She gave Big Lug an earfull he won’t soon forget.”

Ariciel stopped, mana potion halfway to her lips.

“Bannog? He’s alive?”

“Alive and kicking, and guarding Blue Girl as we speak. She’s the one who found you here. Never knew you could work hard sitting on yer bum, but she did. Talked me all the way through finding you. And here I am. I’m sure he’d be here if he could, but he’s not exactly built for stealth. Oh, before I forget. Got a message for you.”

Ariciel looked at Interalia, waiting.

“He said ‘Come back to me.’ Now personally, I’d have been a bit more wordy about it, but…”

Ariciel sipped mana potion. Mareva was right, this was the hard stuff. Blessed energy flowed back into her. Come back to me. The words rang in her head, round and round. Come back.

There was a noise from one of the cages, a voice called out.

“Hey! Are you leaving? Can I come?” A face appeared at the door, ragged blonde hair. Green glowing eyes. Interalia scowled.

“It’s a Blood-elf. She’s Horde. Sod her. Let’s go.”

“Please! I know the only way out!”

“So do I. We don’t need you.”

Ariciel stared at the face behind the bars, then pulled at the lock. The door opened and out stepped a slender Elf, naked as she was, battered and bruised as she was. Horde as she was Alliance.

“There’s no enemies in the next cage. Can you walk?”

“I will.”

Interalia grinned. “This has to be someone’s fantasy. Two naked Elf chicks, and only enough clothes for one.”

Ariciel sipped more potion. “Give them to her. I’ll change anyway. Oh, except for the belt.” She tied it round her waist, and put the half-empty bottle of potion in the slot, next to the other two. Six doses of mana. Six times a full mana pool. She could afford this. She took a deep breath, then cast Regrowth on herself. She closed her eyes, and felt the injuries disappear. Elune be praised for the gift of healing magic. She looked at the Blood-elf.

“What’s your name?”

“No hard feelings, but I won’t tell.”

Interalia grinned. “Read a book once, about fairies. One of them was called Tinkerbelle. Just like you, pretty but useless.”

Tinkerbelle looked down on Interalia. “If I could get a full load of mana, you’d say sorry. In fact…” Her green eyes turned to the small Gnome woman. A hungry look was in them, and she raised her hand.

Interalia kept smiling, but all the sparkle went out of her eyes. She turned towards the Blood-elf, hands by her sides, weight balanced between both feet.

“Try it, bitch. You’re naked. I’m kitted for Ogres. I got poisons here that’ll blister you from top to bottom, as well as inside. Just a little scratch.”

Tinkerbelle recoiled as though she’d burned herself. “Just joking. We’re all friends here.”

Interalia handed her a shirt and trousers. “Cover up, Tinkerbelle. You’re scaring the horses. Time to move. This way out, Elf chicks.”

Tinkerbelle finished dressing, and Interalia looked her up and down. “Damn. Shirt’s too short for her, trousers don’t fit, and still she makes it look good.”

“Naturally. You’ll be sneaking out, I expect?”

Interalia’s eyes glazed over. “I knew a girl like that back home. Rosy cheeks, long blonde plaits. She didn’t seduce boys, she just pointed at one and said ‘You’re next.’ I hated her.” The small woman sighed. “Nobody knew how that poison ivy found its way into her face cream. She didn’t come out of the house for three weeks. Gave me a chance to score her boyfriend. Biggest mistake in my life. They were made for each other. Wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. Mind you, ‘sod off or you’ll sing soprano’ worked. It’s all in the delivery.”

Ariciel touched Tinkerbelle’s shoulder. “We won’t leave you. She’ll lead you out. I’ll follow, but I won’t be far. If we can, we’ll get you out.”

The Blood-elf’s green eyes looked at Ariciel’s grey ones. She wanted to make some sharp remark, but didn’t. She needed this one.

“Thanks.”

“Thank me when we’re out.” Ariciel took a deep breath and slipped into her cat form. Then, her form disappeared into the background, and she followed Interalia out. Tinkerbelle took a deep breath, and headed out of the door after them.

Led by Interalia, they stole down the corridor. To the left and right, they could hear the small noises of hurt prisoners coming from the cages. There was nothing they could do for them. Their only hope was in sneaking out. A full-scale riot in the dungeons would only bring in the guards. Ariciel could smell the filth, the blood, the despair, and lowered her head to the ground and walked on.

Tinkerbelle kept her back to the wall as she walked down the cell block, flitting from hiding place to hiding place. In her previous life, before she was caught, she’d been a hunter, and she could still sense the presence of Humanoids. Humanoids. Such a wonderful word for it. She could almost forget that the term included Elves as well as these smelly Ogres, Humans, Dwarfs and Gnomes. Her heart jumped into her throat, as she felt two large creatures lumber towards her. Those bloody Allies were mere shadows, fluttering here and there. No way of warning them without shouting. Oh crap. The door opened, and she looked right in the faces of the two ogres who were in charge of this block. She shrunk back against the wall, but it was no use. They had seen her.

“O ho! Little girl is out of her cage. Looks like she wants the whip this time.”

The other ogre licked his lips. “That means the hot poker in the eye for question time. Green eyes make pretty sizzle.”

They walked forward at their leisure, as Tinkerbelle shrunk back, breathing fast. She felt the touch of fur on her leg. Then there was a noise like a breeze of air, and Ariciel stood next to her. The ogre laughed.

“Two girls to play with! Which one gets to watch first?”

Ariciel looked from one to the other. They had taken her, beaten her, when she was out of energy, tired, hurt and dispirited. She’d been ready to give up, with nothing to live for. That was then. This was now. They were now standing between her and someone she really wanted. Almost before she knew it, her mana flowed and she turned to her bear shape. She charged. She was dimly aware of Interalia and her poisonous weapons behind the ogres, but she didn’t care. Her whole body applied itself to the destruction of her enemies. Teeth, claws, heart. The ogres had no chance. Ariciel stood over their dead bodies, shaking.

“Hey Tinkerbelle!” Interalia grinned, applying fresh doses of poison to her knives. “You’ve found your calling in life. One where you can use your looks and your way of drawing attention to yourself.” She put away the blades, and smiled at the Blood-elf. “Live bait!”

“Go stand on a lawn, shrimp.”

“You’re welcome!”


Bannog stood at the top of a hill, hidden behind a boulder. As he watched, a large black cat appeared on the path, followed at a distance by Interalia and some blonde Elf Bannog didn’t know. He didn’t care. His eyes were fixed on the cat. He saw the markings on its shoulders and knew who it was. Not caring who might see him, he stepped out onto the road, and waved. The cat sped up and ran towards him. When it reached him, it took a great leap, and changed in mid-air to the shape he wanted to see more than anything in the world. He caught her, and pressed her to him, tightly. He could have stood there for the rest of his life, desiring nothing more. He didn’t. There was a small cough, and he took off his cloak and wrapped it round her, finally looking at her face. What he saw, filled him with relief, pity, anger, all at the same time. Finally, he spoke.

“I thought I’d lost you.”

“I am here.”

There was another, louder cough.

“Hey! We’re not out of danger yet, you lugs! Keep moving!”

Bannog nodded. “Mareva’s over there, finishing her trance. This way!”

He led the way, wondering about the strange Elf. Never mind. He entered the cleft in the rock where they had first hidden. Mareva appeared in the opening, smiling.

“Very good. I see you have found each other. Now do not lose her again, please.”

“Ooo! How cute! You have a Draenei pet! Does it do tricks?”

In the blink of an eye, Mareva’s smile disapeared from her face.

“Sin’dorei!” She ran forward, staff out, at Tinkerbelle who had just walked up. Murder was in her eyes. Only Bannog moved quickly enough. He let go of Ariciel, and grabbed at Mareva as she ran past him, catching her round the middle and throwing her back. Her pale blue eyes burned.

“Why have you brought this filth here?”

Ariciel put her hands on Mareva’s shoulders and looked her in the eyes. “She was a prisoner, like me. I couldn’t leave her behind.”

“My goodness. She’s excitable! Don’t you have a leash or something?”

Bannog looked round at the blonde Elf. Was she suicidal or something? “If you like your teeth to stay where they are now, shut up.”

“Hmm. Do as you say, or you’ll beat me up? Oh I can tell I’m with the good guys now.”

Bannog closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Then he looked back at the Blood-elf. “Why don’t you stop annoying my Draenei friend, who has just helped spring you out, and nobody gets beaten up?”

“That was a regrettable mistake. I will correct it in a moment.”

Bannog turned round to Mareva. “Calm yourself. We will get out of this place, and then we will be out of each other’s hair.”

Ariciel touched Mareva’s face. “This is not the one who killed your friend. For now, we’re in the same boat.” She pulled Mareva to her. “Thank you for saving me.”

Mareva took a deep breath, and her body stopped shaking. “You are welcome.” She whispered: “Everything alright with your big friend?”

Ariciel smiled. “I think so, or it will be. I’ll let you know.”

“He is not a bad man, but now and then he needs a little push in the right direction.”

Bannog coughed. “I’m not deaf, you know? Shall we leave? If so where?”

Mareva picked up her pack. “I suggest that we go to Thorium Point. There are two flight masters there. One for us, one for… her.”

“That’s nice. A separate flightpoint for the noobs.” Tinkerbelle closed her green eyes. Oh bliss. Her mana pool was filling, the way it hadn’t for months. She wondered if she still remembered all her hunter spells. Of course she did.

Interalia raised a small finger. “Won’t those bloody ogres be waiting on the way to Thorium Point? They will want to have a word with us, don’t you think? Much better to go back up to Gol’Bolar. They won’t know about the secret tunnel.”

Tinkerbelle scowled at her. “You must be joking. I’m not risking my neck going into Dun Blech!”

“Perfect!”

“I say we stick together,” said Bannog. “That way, if one gets caught, she can’t tell them where we went.”

Tinkerbelle just scowled. She raised her hands, palms upwards, and her magic started to flow. Would Draco still come to her call after all this time? Her spell completed, and there was a growl. Tinkerbelle smiled, and put her hand on her drake’s head. It nuzzled up to her, asking for food.

“Any of you guys have any meat on you? In your packs, I mean? The meat on your bones you can keep, because we’re all friends.”

Bannog stared. Maybe this chick could be of some use after all. He handed her some dried meat from his pack, which she fed to her pet.

“Right. Thorium point, here we come.”


The hunt was going well. There was no sign of the attackers yet, but Gul’Ruz saw that his hunters and warriors were doing what they should be doing. It would only be a matter of time before one of them found something. A trail, blood, discarded food bags, anything. The two-headed Ogre was justifiably proud of his achievements. His teaching facilities were well hidden, efficient and turned out a high quality of healers and warrior mages. Very few people knew of it, and Gul’Ruz wanted to keep it that way. The students were under oath never to reveal the location. More than this, they knew what would happen to them if they so much as breathed a word about it. Gul’Ruz knew how to combine business with pleasure, pleasure for him with pain for others.

A messenger arrived. One of his overseers knelt before him. From his faces, he could see that the news was bad. He frowned, fingering the handle of his war hammer.

“Speak.”

“Master, There has been a fight at the Manor. Two prisoners have escaped. The Kel’dorei we caught yesterday, and the Sin’dorei trespasser.”

“Together? That would be an unusual association. Did they leave together, or separately?”

“We do not know, Master. The block cellmasters are dead.”

Gul’Ruz stroked one of his chins. The cages were sound. He had them checked regularly. Therefore, the prisoners must have had help from the outside. Help, no doubt, from the warriors that they were now searching for. Obviously, someone had managed to elude the guards and open the cages. That would mean a rogue. Rogue, warrior, healer. Druids. Elves. But before they were executed, the Ogre guards had told him of a Human warrior. Were Humans and Elves working against him together? No matter. His earlier assumption, that the attackers would leave the Night-elf and run for Thorium Point, had been wrong. They had stayed behind to break out their captured companion. Presumably, they would now try to escape. He had to lock down the roads to Thorium Point, and to the South. That left only one thing to do.

“You have failed to detect the rogue who crept in to free his companions. You have put my manor at risk of discovery.”

“Yes, Master.”

“Which one first?”

The overseer’s heads looked at each other. Then, they indicated their right. Gul’Ruz nodded with satisfaction. Even in failure, his minions had their pride. His war hammer swung round in a great arc, and crushed the overseer’s right head. The other looked up at him, shaking.

“Apologies, Master.”

The hammer swung again.


“Hah! They weren’t expecting that. Nice beastie!”

Interalia looked at Tinkerbelle’s pet, who came bounding back to her, happy with a job well done. Bannog and Draco had rushed out at the ogres, with Interalia in the background. With tooth and claw, and with sword, they had managed to keep the attention of the ogres long enough for the combined firepower of Mareva, her fire totem, and Ariciel to destroy the hunter-killer group. Tinkerbelle, without a weapon, had not been able to help, and was sulking about it. Looking at the corpses, her eyes suddenly lit up, and she pulled from one of the dead hunters’ hand a shortbow. Some further searching revealed a quiver of arrows, and Tinkerbelle was back in full action. Bannog waved them on to the West. Suspecting that the lord of the Manor would watch the only road out, they had taken a long detour to the south. According to Mareva’s guess, they were now south of Thorium Point. Just a bit further and then they’d head North, up to the outpost, and out.

Bannog and Mareva lay side by side near the top of a hill. The others waited below. Bannog wanted to see who was guarding Thorium Point, and Mareva was there to keep her from strangling Tinkerbelle. The Blood-elf was nice enough to Bannog and Ariciel, but did not seem to see the point in getting on with either Mareva or Interalia.

“I swear. That woman has used magic to do her hair. I say we send her to investigate.”

Bannog stared ahead of him, smiling. “Well, she is easy on the eyes.”

Mareva’s horned head slowly turned round to him, watching his face. “That,” she said, “Is not funny.”

“Thorium point is two miles from here. Keep thinking that. Two miles’ run. Then, you’ll see her butt disappearing on a hippogriff.”

“I wish to see her butt disappear down a ravine, not on a hippogriff.”

Bannog peered down Mareva’s long-view, looking for members of the Horde. None were visible, but that didn’t mean a thing.

“What is it with you and Blood-elves anyway?”

“They killed my lover, curse them. He was an armorsmith, in one of the outposts. Blood-elves came and slaughtered every man and woman. It was a research station. No soldiers to speak off. They also messed with my engines. We were running away from the Burning Legion. We had nothing to do with them. Still, they tried to destroy us. But they will learn. We Draenei are a peaceful people, but we are peaceful only because we know how terrible we can be when we need to.”

“Sorry to hear about your lover. I really would not want to get on your bad side.”

Mareva smirked. “Then do not give Ariciel a hard time. I do like her, but believe me, I am no threat to you.”

“Hey. What’s that? Do you see it?” He handed the long-view over to Mareva and pointed. It took Mareva a few moments. Then, she spoke in Draenei. Bannog understood perfectly. He’d seen the glint of weapons. There was probably a cordon round the entrance to Thorium point. If only there were some cover, but there was none.

“What we need, is a diversion. Keep them occupied for a bit so we can rush through.”

“Would a half naked screaming Blood-elf, with a few lightning bolts behind, be an appropriate diversion?”

Bannog laughed. “Oh shush.”

Mareva smiled wryly. “In truth, I think I am the only one who can outrun the ogres in Ghost-wolf shape. Even Ariciel in cat shape is not as quick. Do not tell her I said that.”

“She may be. That Bearwalker guy gave her another cat shape for travel. She ran all the way from Menethil to Thoradin’s Wall in half a day.”

“Hmm. Then we will run past them, get their attention and string them along as far as we can.” Mareva stared into empty space, a slight smile on her blue lips. “You do not mind us girls having a bit of fun together?”

Bannog put his hand on her shoulder. “Actually, now that I know you, I don’t mind as much.”

“Good. You learn.”

Bannog was standing at the top of the path, supporting Tinkerbelle, who had managed to get her leg hurt as they rushed through the ring of Ogres. Below, on the path, a yellow cat with dark spots ran beside the shimmering shape of a wolf. Ogres still pursued them, but it was clear that they had no chance of catching up. Interalia appeared beside him. The ogres stopped short, looking into the quietly confident faces of the Thorium Brotherhood guards. Make trouble on our patch, their looks said, and you’ll regret it. The Ogres looked at each other, turned round and ran off to the West. Apparently none of them wanted to meet their Lord and Master after this. Mareva and Ariciel dropped their travel forms.

“That was invigorating,” said Mareva.

“It was, wasn’t it?”

Interalia looked at the sun. “What took you so long?”

“Pah. You know how we girls always take longer to get ready. Ariciel found some spots.”

“Yeah. And Mareva wanted to work on her suntan.”

“Indeed. I call this a success. Nobody important got hurt.”

Tinkerbelle scowled, and said nothing. They walked up to the Alliance flight point. Bannog took Tinkerbelle limping to the Horde one, and eyed the Orc female suspiciously. Her gaze simply glided over Bannog.

“Well, there you are. Off you go.”

Tinkerbelle smiled at Bannog. “You sure you don’t want to come with? I can show you a few things that Night-elf girl has never heard of.”

Bannog gave her a look. “Don’t be so sure. She’s pretty… inventive.”

“Do you mean she’ll,” Tinkerbelle moved close to him, and whispered something in his ear. Bannog raised his eyebrows.

“She might if I asked her, but… why?”

“You don’t come, you’ll never know.”

“I’ll live. See you around.”

“Pray that you don’t. No hard feelings, but next time we meet, we’re enemies again.”

She spoke to the Orc flightmaster in a language Bannog didn’t know, and flew off. Bannog stared after her for a moment, then turned round and rejoined his friends. Ariciel buttoned up her shirt and gave him back his cloak.

“What was that all about?”

“She made a pass at me. Strange creature. Have you ever,” he whispered in her ear. Ariciel raised her eyebrows.

“Honestly. Why would anyone want to do that?”

“Search me. Where are we off to?”

Ariciel looked down at the ground. “I don’t know. I don’t have a family anymore.” Bannog put his hand under her chin, and she looked up at him.

“You can borrow mine for now. Come along to Caer Bannog. It’s time you met my father.”

Ariciel smiled. “That’d be nice.”

“Mareva? Are you coming too? I can offer you a good meal at least.”

“You know just what to say to a girl. Of course I will come.”

Bannog turned to Interalia, and kneeled in front of her. He put his hand on her shoulder and looked at her face.

“Nothing I can say or do will ever be enough to thank you for what you did. If ever you need something, just ask.” He paused. “I will even let you keep the thing that you just took from my pocket. Where do you want to go?”

Interalia handed Bannog back his purse. “No fun if it’s allowed. I think I’ll go back to my folks in Ironforge. Need to tell them how Aquaregis died. Then, I don’t know. Gnomeregan maybe.”

“Are you still a slave, technically speaking?”

“Damn. I was hoping you wouldn’t ask. Technically, you own me. Aquaregis died while in debt to you.” She frowned. “Don’t get any ideas though.”

“I don’t want you. You don’t have the proper slave mentality. Bugger off, then.”

Interalia grinned. “Don’t mind if I do. See you around, Big Lug!”

She hopped onto a hippogriff and flew off. Belatedly, Bannog checked his pockets. His purse was gone again. He sighed, and put the coins he’d taken out into his pocket, where they jingled.

“Well? Lakeshire anyone? From there, it’s about a half-day’s trot home.”

They flew off.


It was evening when they touched down in Lakeshire. It had been a long flight, but Bannog could have sworn that they had passed the same mountain at least three times. From the sun, they had circled round all over the place. Still, they were back now. They walked over the bridge, and Bannog pushed open the door to the tavern. The innkeeper Brianna recognised him immediately, and gaped at him.

“Sir Bannog! They told me you were dead!”

Bannog smiled at her. It was good to be back. “Only from the neck up, or so they tell me. How’s things here? I’ve been away for a while.”

Ariciel came in, followed by Mareva. The innkeeper stared over Bannog’s shoulder, then back at Bannog. She wasn’t the only one. Night-elves were rare in Lakeshire, but Draenei were unheard-of. The innkeeper recovered.

“I couldn’t rightly say. None of your folks have been here lately. Your Quartermaster was here last, but that was two months ago.”

“Don’t tell me he has lost the taste for your ale! I certainly haven’t!”

Innkeeper Brianna recognised this as one of those hint things, and walked behind the bar, taking orders for one pint of ale, one flagon of mead and a cider.

“Kitchen still open? We’ve come a long way.”

“For you, Sir Bannog, we’ll make an exception. Find a table, and I’ll send Darcy.”

They sat down. Ariciel looked round. So this was the place Bannog called home. The people looked friendly enough. She tasted the mead. Oh, she could get used to this. She sat back in her chair, and closed her eyes a moment.

There was a loud bang behind her, and to her right. In one fluid motion, Ariciel was on her feet, kicking back her chair, hands glowing with energy, breathing fast. People were staring at her, including Bannog. He put down his pint, got up and put his hands on Ariciel’s shoulders, looking deep into her eyes.

“Easy. Darcy dropped a tray, nothing more. It’s alright.”

Tears were in Ariciel’s eyes, and she muttered apologies. Bannog pulled her to him, stroked her hair. Mareva and Bannog exchanged glances. Not good. Well it was only to be expected. Darcy picked up her tray, and went to fetch a mop. They sat down again, Mareva and Bannog on either side of her. Though she kept saying she wasn’t hungry, they managed to make her eat most of her dinner. While Mareva held her hand and talked to Ariciel, Bannog found Brianna, and got a room. He half led, half carried Ariciel upstairs, closed the door, helped her out of her clothes and pulled the blanket over her. Her arm lay on the covers. Though she had healed herself, there were still some ugly bruises on her elbow and shoulder. She looked up.

“Bannog?”

“Hmm?”

“Make love to me. They hurt me everywhere. Used my body against me. I want it back.”

Bannog smiled. “I know just the thing, but I need something from downstairs. Will you be alright till I get back?”

“Yes.”

Bannog quietly stepped out of the room, then quickly moved downstairs. He didn’t want to leave her alone for too long. He saw Mareva talking to one of the local lads, and waved at her. From Brianna, he got a bottle of oil, then went back upstairs. He opened the door quietly, and found Ariciel sitting upright in bed, staring at him. Making no comment, he gently pushed her back down, and pulled back the covers. She was a picture. Back in Searing Gorge, he had been so glad to have her back that he hadn’t even noticed. “Beaten black and blue” had once been a turn of phrase. Now he saw it in reality.

“If I’m hurting you, just say.”

“I’ll yelp.”

Bannog moved to the end of the bed and took hold of her heel, gently shaking her leg, to relax the muscles.

“Aren’t you going to get your kit off?”

“As and when. Lie back. Relax.” He grabbed the other leg. As he shook it, she made a small noise.

“Wait.” She concentrated, and moved some of her healing energy. “There.”

Bannog smiled. “Some of us have to wait for weeks for that sort of thing to heal.”

“Well, you should keep a Night-elf Druid handy then.”

They fell silent. Bannog kept working on her legs, arms, with the occasional pause for healing magic. Then he poured some oil into his hands, and started rubbing it into her leg.

“‘s Good. If you’re not careful, I’ll fall asleep.”

“Not before I finish, you won’t.”

“Who taught you to do this?”

Bannog smiled. “Previous lover. She said it’d win me lots and lots of favours. So what could I do?”

Ariciel laughed quietly. “How long were you with her?”

“One night. One glorious night. The only time I ever overslept for breakfast. She was on a merchant caravan. Left the next morning.”

“Hmm. So Humans can have more than one lover.”

“Oh yes. Just not more than one at the same time. Usually.”

“Shame. We can do different things with different people.”

Bannog thought about this, squeezing her biceps. “I can see why you’d like that, but having just one lover makes you concentrate. Get to know everything they like.”

“I like this. Though I’m going to smell like olives for a week.”

“The only other kind of oil they had was fish oil. I thought you’d prefer this.”

“Hmm. You’re right.”

Something Bearwalker had said came back to her. She had all the time in the world. Years and years to find out what all your lovers preferred. Well, among other things. You had to sleep and eat sometimes. How many years had Bearwalker said? Fifty or so? Whatever she wanted to do with him, she shouldn’t put it off.

“Come here.”


Ariciel awoke to the smell of fried bacon, and tried to remember where she was. She felt the soft sheets. Somewhere civilised. Sheets and proper breakfast. She looked at the window. Curtains were closed, but she could see the sun beating on them outside. Stars and stones! It was already mid-day! This must be a new record of sorts. She stretched out. Her mind registered the empty space next to her. With a sharp breath, she realised. Bannog was gone! She jumped out of bed and opened a curtain. Light streamed into the room. Above the door, the head of a deer stared at her accusingly. Had he left her? Her eyes shot back and forth through the room, until… She smiled. Folded neatly over a chair, covering his pack, hung Bannog’s cloak. The first thing she’d worn after her escape. She closed her eyes, still smiling. She looked down at herself. The signs of her imprisonment were still there. Her Regrowth spell did little against that. A few weeks, and the bruises would be gone.

She looked out of the window, out over the small lake, the woods, the sky, and thought of Mother, and of Berciel. Tears welled up in her eyes. So much suffering. All for nothing. And here she was, just a little worse for wear. She concentrated, trying to feel some of the pain she’d felt before, from the beating, but it had gone already. It wasn’t fair. She walked over to the window, feeling she didn’t deserve to be alive. With friends, lovers even. Perhaps a new family. She sighed. Well, time to let the world know she was awake.

“Tell me something, Bannog. The meal you eat at mid-day, it is called ‘Lunch’, no?”

“Yes. People used to call it ‘The midday feast’, but life’s too short.”

“I understand. But the first meal of the day, it is called ‘breakfast’, correct? As in the breaking of the fast since last night.”

“Precisely. May I commend you on your understanding of the Common Speech?”

“Thank you. But still, I must know. If a Night-elf has her first meal at mid-day, what is it?”

“You know, I couldn’t tell you. I’ve never overslept for my breakfast!”

Ariciel’s eyes moved from the one to the other. “That’s not what you said last night!”

“Oh good morning Ariciel. I did not see you! Have some… food.” Mareva licked her lips. “The crispy bacon is particularly good.”

Ariciel sat down at the table, feeling guilty about feeling this happy. Bannog grabbed her a plate and filled it with bacon and eggs and a large hunk of bread.

“You two seem to be in high spirits this morning!”

Bannog grinned. “And why not? It’s a beautiful day! We saved the pretty girl from the ogres, I’m half a day’s march from home and the food here is as good as I remember.”

Mareva looked at the table. A piece of bread lay forlorn on a plate. She grabbed it and put it out of its misery. “The next person who suggests that I eat an Emarree, I will stick my quarterstaff somewhere painful.”

Ariciel’s face fell. “Damn! I’ve lost my staff! Well, Selena’s staff.” She looked at Bannog. “You gave it to me.”

Mareva and Bannog exchanged glances. Bannog gave Ariciel a serious look.

“Aye. Very careless of you. You couldn’t have asked for it back by any chance?”

Ariciel shuddered. “Please, do not remind me of that place. I won’t be able to forget it, but I don’t want to think about it.”

“Well. In that case… Mareva?”

Mareva said nothing. She got up, and reached under the table behind her, tail sticking up in the air. When she raised herself again, she had in her hand a quarterstaff, which she placed on the table in front of Ariciel.

“From both of us, for you.”

Ariciel put down her knife and fork, gaping first at Mareva, then Bannog.

“Well, not all of us sleep till mid-day. We got a staff, and upgraded it a bit. You may notice that the hand-holds are Wetland Crocolisk. I re-did the shodding with some sheet copper. Mareva did the jewels.”

Ariciel picked up the staff as though it might explode. It was… perfect. It was just like her old staff, but improved. She turned it round in her hands. Two lines of small stones spiralled up from the hand-holds to where they disappeared under the shodding. She ran her hand down the length of the staff, the jewels were perfectly flush with the wood.

“I am quite pleased with the way the jewels turned out. They store kinetic energy while you carry it around, and then release it when you fight, with predictive sensors, for extra speed.”

Ariciel stared.

“They are magic jewels.”

“Ah.”

“Do not use this staff for sparring. It gives you an entirely unfair advantage.”

Ariciel got up, and held out her arms. Both Bannog and Mareva hugged her. She just stood there, her eyes closed, feeling undeservedly, deliriously happy.

She heard Bannog’s voice. “Did she just grab your bottom as well?”

“I thought that was you, was it not?”

Ariciel slapped them both instead.


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

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