Part 9: Enemies in the mind

The young Night-elf paused in her work. Why did she get these stupid headaches whenever the mages did high magics? Nobody else seemed to. She closed her eyes a moment and leant her head against the wood of the door. She thought she could hear voices.

“How are you getting on?”

“Only partial success. One of them is working out very well. The other one… less so. I opened up the path with no difficulty, but still I could not get…”

Ariciel felt her head swim, almost like she was on a ship. She opened her eyes. She was on a ship. She was sitting with her back against the front mast. In the distance, she could already see the destination. A large crown of leaves seemed to sit on the horizon. Unless there was fog, it must be impossible for sailors to get lost in these waters. Ariciel had slept where she sat, for quite a large part of the journey. Still, her head felt like it was filled up with wool. She should have grabbed one of the hammocks provided by the crew, but she’d just fallen asleep while staring ahead into the distance.

There was something particularly boring about these short sea-journeys. Anything longer than a few days, and she’d probably have lent a hand to the sailors, scrubbing the deck, cooking, anything. Ariciel didn’t like to sit still for too long. But this was only one night, and half of a day. Not worth the trouble. Besides, she had plenty to think about. The Druid trainer, Mathrengyl Bearwalker, did not know she existed. Still, she was planning to take long lessons from him. Maybe he’d just send her away, in which case she’d have to find someone else. The name Bearwalker was interesting. To those who didn’t know, it would probably conjure up the image of someone who walked with bears. Which he undoubtedly did, but that wasn’t the point. Mathrengyl walked as a bear. He was one of the Druids who could shape-shift. The thought of being able to do that had always thrilled Ariciel. She’d often wondered what it must feel like. Bears were strong, but unexpectedly agile as well. Being taught how to do it was almost an end in itself, as well as a means of finding her family. Would she be able to convince this Druid to teach her? Brother Eolas had written a warm recommendation for her, but would that be enough? She took out Brother Eolas’ letter once more and read it.
 

From Brother Eolas, Priest of the Light at Northshire Abbey
To Mathrengyl Bearwalker, Druid Trainer of the Cenarion Circle

 
Greetings,

 
If I may be allowed to remind you of our previous encounter,
you will remember me as the young priest whom you protected
from a band of marauding bandits when you were searching for a
stolen document in Westfall. On that occasion, I was able to
heal you of a poisoned wound by the grace of the Light. We
parted company in Lakeshire two days thereafter. After all
these years, I’m afraid I have to call upon you for a favour.

 
A few years ago, I went on an expedition to gather information
on a religious matter. Both Dwarves and Humans worship the
Light, but in subtly different ways. I am trying to explain
these variations. My travels took me to the city of Stormwind,
where I copied several important documents from the library.
From these documents, I determined that I needed further
information from our Dwarven brothers and sisters.

 
I proceeded to travel south, to the city of Ironforge.
Returning from this journey, I came upon the remains of a
caravan that had been attacked, and all its people slain or
taken, but for a young Night-elf who had escaped the carnage
and had been overlooked. As she spoke only Darnassian, and I
only the language common to our people, it took a while to
establish what had happened. The young lady then joined me on
my travels, which concluded back in Northshire Abbey.

 
This letter is born by my student and friend, the Night-elven
lady Ariciel. For the last two years, she has lived at
Norhshire Abbey, where I have attempted to instruct her in the
ways of my people. However, with the current war situation,
her needs have grown beyond my capacity to provide. She needs
the attention of a Druid trainer, so that she may continue the
search for her family in these dangerous times.

 
Under my own limited tutelage, she has proven herself to be an
excellent student. Her skill with the quarterstaff is
remarkable and she has, with the limited assistance I have been
able to give her, improved her magical abilities considerably.
Still, she needs the proper instructions of her own kind. If
you yourself are unable to teach her, would you please refer
her to one who can? Wherever she goes, my prayers go with her.
May she become all that she wishes, and find what she seeks.

 
May the Light strengthen you and yours.

 
Father Eolas, Priest of the Light.

The name of Bearwalker was well-known among Night-elves. She didn’t know if this Druid was the one of whom the stories spoke, or if the name had only passed on to him after the original Bearwalker was no more. He must be a very powerful shapeshifter. She thought of Brother Eolas. He had been so gentle with her after he’d found her at the place where the caravan had been. He’d patiently listened to her gibbering at him in Darnassian, then given her some food to eat. She had devoured the bread with dried meat as if she hadn’t eaten in months, then looked at the priest expectantly. The priest had found a shovel somewhere in one of the broken carts, and started to dig. She remembered fighting the nausea as she helped the old man move the bodies of the caravan guards, the old woman who had told Ariciel to get lost when she surprised her as she was changing dresses, the young boy who she had caught staring at her, and a few others she hadn’t noticed, into the grave. With the last shovelfull of earth piled on, Brother Eolas had stood still for a few moments, eyes closed in prayer.

He’d jerked his head in a Northerly direction, then wandered off. She had followed him. It had taken her weeks to make herself understandable in Eolas’ language, then months until she could speak the language with confidence. A year had passed with her living at Northshire Abbey, taking frequent long trips in search of news of her family. All that time, she could never remember Brother Eolas even raising his voice at her.

The only occasions on which he had no mercy on her, was when they practiced at the quarterstaff. He would show her once or twice how to block a certain thrust or stroke. Then, if she didn’t do it right, she’d feel it! She remembered undressing in her room after the first practice. She’d had more bruises than unmarked skin! He’d never apologised for that. “You’ll face worse enemies than me, Ariciel. I want to teach you. They’ll want to rob, rape or even kill you! And they’ll be nastier even than this!” She still felt proud she’d seen that one coming and blocked it correctly. To be fair, he had demanded of her that she hit him if she could. No going easy on the Old Man. Not that she’d had much of a chance. Brother Eolas was an excellent staff-fighter. On one occasion, she’d managed to score a hit. Eolas had clasped his leg, his face a mask of pain. She had come forward to help him up, only to be rewarded with a sharp jab in the mid-riff. She didn’t score many hits on him, and despaired of ever getting good at attacking. She only found out how good she had become when Brother Eolas set her up a sparring match with one of his friends’ pupils. The old monk had smiled as Ariciel scored hit after hit on the poor boy, all the while wondering if he was trying to fool her. When the match was over, Eolas had given her a rewarding pat on the shoulder. She’d responded by poking him in the side with her staff.

The smile faded from Ariciel’s face. Soon after that, she’d had to apply her lessons for real. She could still remember the look of agony on the face of the robber who had mistaken her for an easy target, as she broke his thighbone with a hard sweeping stroke.

Ariciel stared at the horizon, as it bobbed up and down with the movements of the boat.

She’d found out that she could severely hurt, and even kill others if she had to. Up till then, staff-fighting had been fun. A game. Out in the world, where predators lurked, you didn’t bow to your opponent, nor help him up after the fight. Either you bolted after incapacitating him, or you stood over his corpse.

Ariciel took a deep breath. She folded up the letter, and put it back in her pack. As she did, the staff Bannog had given her slid from her shoulder. She caught it, and looked at it again. This was a serious weapon. The leather handholds would keep her grip from slipping. The copper shodding on both ends would increase the damage she did with it. The smooth oiled wood would allow her to slide the staff through her forward hand as she struck, adding to the force of the blow. These things would allow her to fight, and kill more efficiently. Bannog had given it to her for one reason only: to keep her alive. If that meant others had to die, then so be it. Apart perhaps from Brother Eolas, Bannog had shown her the most kindness of all the people she’d met after her flight from Darkshore. But still, he could be utterly ruthless. As could she. Sometimes, when she could afford the luxury, she looked on herself, and the people she knew, and shuddered.

The boat sailed on, heaving its way through the waves, farther and farther away from Menethil, closer and closer to Teldrassil.


The ship moored at Rut’Theran Village. Ariciel jumped onto the dock as soon as she could, and walked a few steps to avoid being jostled by the passengers behind her. A half-mile in front of her rose a wall, greenish-brown in colour. It extended to her left and right, as far as she could see. Her gaze drifted upwards, and upwards. She knew that this particular wall continued long after it disappeared from sight in the clouds. Ariciel took a deep breath, and was, like everyone who first looked on it, awestruck by the thought that this was not a mountain, nor a building made by Elves, but a living thing. The great tree Teldrassil, “Crown of the World” in her native language. She closed her eyes, and imagined she could extend her vision downwards, to where the roots divided, again and again, until the smallest were no more than a hair’s breadth, deep in the earth. Then, her mind rushed upwards, to where Darnassus lay between the mighty branches of the living tree. Currents of sap, large as rivers and just as wild and tumultuous, flowed underneath the bark, hard as stone. She could hear the flow of them. She imagined being swept along with them, upwards and upwards, emerging from the leaves, no larger than ordinary leaves, but more numerous than the stars in the sky. A thought occurred to her. She was connected to this tree. She was of the same people, the Night… no, the Keldorei, who had planted this tree to serve as a centre of healing for the evils that had come over the world. It was said that Elune herself had a hand in the creation of this tree, though others disagreed. Ariciel opened her eyes, and looked again at the trunk of the tree. A sense of peace came over her, as though the spring rains had swollen a river, and washed away the dead leaves and broken branches, leaving a clear flowing stream. She rearranged the straps of her pack on her shoulders and gripped the smooth, oiled wood of her staff. Then, she set off at a gentle trot towards Teldrassil.

Before she could wonder how she would get all the way up to Darnassus without flying, the answer presented itself: at the very foot of the tree, a wooden frame had been built. Underneath it was a purple glow. As Ariciel watched, passengers from the ship walked underneath the frame and… disappeared from sight. Ah. Portal magic. Ariciel did not particularly like mage-craft, but this seemed innocent enough. She took a deep breath, closed her eyes and stepped into the purple glow. She felt nothing special, no sense of displacement, no rush of air. She opened her eyes, and the Elven city of Darnassus lay before her. She was standing on a small island. In the distance, she could see other small islands, connected by walkways and bridges. To her right was the famous Temple of the Moon, sacred to Elune, where the Priestesses performed their ceremonies. It was the home of the legendary Tyrande Whisperwind, high-priestess of Elune. But where were the Druids?

Being both female and eager to speak her native tongue for a while, she did the logical thing. Ask for directions. She stepped over to one of the guards, a very tall and athletic Elf-woman wielding a three-bladed weapon that Ariciel hadn’t seen before. She was looking round at the people coming in, watchful, but relaxed and confident of her abilities, should any of them try to offend her by, oh, being an Orc or something.

“Ishnu-alah.”

“Ishnu-dal-dieb. How may I help you?”

“I am looking for a Druid.”

The guard smiled. “Then you have come to the right place. I can see at least a dozen of them now, without trying hard. Do you require a trainer, or are you looking for someone in particular?”

“Both, actually. I am looking for a Druid trainer named Mathrengyl Bearwalker.”

The guard recognised the name immediately, and pointed.

“Mathrengyl Bearwalker may be found in the Cenarion Enclave. Take this bridge, then walk round the bank, and continue straight on. He is on the second floor of the tree-dwelling.” The guard smiled. “Tell him Silyenna sends her greetings.”

“I will. Thank you, Silyenna.” Ariciel smiled, and trotted off in the direction Silyenna had indicated, taking in her surroundings. The place smelt of growth. Small wisps floated in the air, like dandelion seeds, changing direction on a whim. Brown squirrels scuttled about in the grass. And everywhere she looked, there were Elves. Nobody gave her a second look, stared at her ears, or made any annoying remarks whatsoever. She fitted in like a leaf among its peers, which was a nice feeling. She quite liked Dwarves and Humans, but even the nicest of them made it clear in little things that she was a stranger. Here, she was home. Ariciel slowed down to a walk, better to take in her surroundings.

Ahead of her was the Bank of Darnassus. This was a wooden structure shaped like a bird on the back of a bear. It was said that this bear would come to life and destroy any who tried to steal the treasure. The guards round the place did not seem to share this belief. Ariciel walked over a small stone bridge, and peered into the water to see if there were any fish. None presented themselves.

She found Cenarion Enclave, and its central tree-dwelling. As she walked in, there were a few Elves, selling ingredients for potions and other useful things. They pointed her up the stairs. Ariciel walked up, taking a deep breath as she reached the next floor. She found a large Elf, who was concentrating on something in a small bowl on a side table. A slight green glow came off a tiny sapling. Not wanting to disturb him, Ariciel stood a few steps away. This had to be him, the Bearwalker. His name suited him. He was tall and muscular. His hair was blue and hung down to his back. On his shoulders were large brown pieces of armour, and his chest armour was green. He wore brown breeches that reminded her of tree-roots with vines attached to them. Suddenly, something disturbed his concentration, and he looked over his shoulder to notice her. Ariciel swallowed.

“Greetings. Are you Mathrengyl Bearwalker?”

The Elf stood up, and gave her his full attention. “You have found me! But don’t tell anyone. I am trying to become a recluse.”

Ariciel smiled shyly. “Silyenna sends her greetings.”

Bearwalker smiled. It was a good smile. One that put her at her ease.

“She always does. Should you see her again, please tell her that the price is still the same.” He picked up a piece of cloth and carefully draped it over the seedling he had been studying. “Now then. How may I help you?”

Ariciel took a deep breath. “I have come for Druid training. Father Eolas, of Northshire Abbey, sends me.”

“Eolas?”

Mathrengyl frowned, trying to remember. Ariciel produced the letter and gave it to him. There was a pause as he read it. Recollection dawned on his face. “Ah, of course. I remember him. He must be getting on in years by now.”

“He is, but he is well.” Ariciel recalled the bruises on her skin. “He enjoys the best of health, and hasn’t lost any of his skills at the quarterstaff.”

Mathrengyl nodded. “You have come a long way, just to learn some Druidic spells. There are Druid trainers in Stormwind, even. Why do you think Eolas sent you to me?”

“Coming to Teldrassil was my own idea. Eolas simply recommended me to the only Druid trainer he knew here. Also,” Ariciel took a breath. “I used to live near Auberdine, before the events with the High-borne. I think Teldrassil is as close to home as I can risk being.”

Bearwalker gazed at the young Elf with a serious look on his face. He had heard of the High-borne. He had not been told what had happened there, and simply assumed that one day, the Lord Mage had taken too great a risk, with disastrous results. He had not been free to investigate, and in any case, the matter did not concern him directly. Obviously, this girl was connected to those events in some way. Well, it couldn’t hurt to give her some instructions in the ways of the Druids. As a matter of fact, he had just set up the gazebo for a First Lesson that morning.

“Well then. For Brother Eolas’ sake, I will give you the first lesson for nothing. Then, we will see where we go. Follow me, please.”

Ariciel followed Bearwalker downstairs, out of the tree-dwelling and into a small open building, overgrown with beautiful climbing roses. There was a small table on which there was a large pot of tea, and one chair. The most prominent feature, though, was a large stone sculpture of the head of a bear. Mathrengyl pulled back the chair and sat down on it, making himself comfortable. Ariciel stood in the middle of the green room, and wondered what next. Mathrengyl carefully poured himself a cup of herbal tea and with a precise motion put the pot back on the tea-light.

“Well then, young Ariciel. I have a small problem. I was sitting here reading an important parchment, when I was called away. When I came back, I found that the wind had blown away the parchment, under the sculpture.” He pointed at the sculpture. Ariciel looked, and saw the corner of a piece of parchment sticking out from under the statue. Mathrengyl continued. “I would like to continue reading it. Could you fetch it for me, please?”

Ariciel stared at Bearwalker, then at the piece of parchment. She bent down and gently tugged at the corner. It didn’t budge. She looked over her shoulder at Bearwalker. “It’s stuck,” she announced.

“Very perceptive of you.” Bearwalker sipped his tea. He liked this first lesson, and created a perverse delight in being as annoying as he could be. There were, of course, at least four ways to get the parchment out from under the stone, without even resorting to…

“Should I use magic?”

Bearwalker gave her a disapproving look. “I have given you all the instructions you need, girl. I’m not going to answer any more stupid questions.”

Ariciel looked down at the piece of parchment again.

“Can I use explosives?”

Bearwalker closed his eyes and looked down to hide his laughter. Oh, he was going to like this one.

“No.”

The point of this lesson, of course, was not to teach students how to move heavy objects. It really wasn’t that difficult. You could insert a dagger into the crack between statue and floor. You could also insert the metal bar that rested in a corner against the wall, into the mouth of the bear, and quite easily lever the statue up, even if you were a slender waif of an elf-maid. Students came up with the most elaborate methods, sometimes. He remembered one who had managed to lift the entire statue by telekinesis. He’d told him that he was no Druid and sent him off to the Temple of the Moon, with high recommendations to the priest trainer there. Another one had simply disappeared for about an hour, only to come back with one of the tree-giants that protected Darnassus. The giant, grinning madly, had picked up his statue, carefully, between thumb and forefinger, and allowed the new student to retrieve the parchment, then carefully replaced it. How the girl had managed to charm the tree-giant into doing that for her, he still didn’t know.

Ariciel spent some time examining the statue, gently pushing it, nudging it, tapping it with her staff. Finally, she kneeled down and peered into the mouth. Maybe there was some mechanism or other? She started to put her finger into the mouth of the bear, then thought better of it. She picked up a twig and poked it into the mouth of the bear. Sharp, cruel, mechanical teeth failed to snap the twig in half. Hmm. She walked round the statue, checking for any tell-tale scuff marks that would indicate where to slide the statue. There were none. She looked at Bearwalker, who was pouring himself another cup of tea and sitting back.

“If you can do this before I run out of tea, I’ll throw in the next lesson for free.”

Ariciel looked back at the statue, and laid her hands on it, extending her senses. The statue was amazingly like a carved rock.

She realised that of course, there would be a perfectly simple way to accomplish the task. All she had to do was find it. And then, suddenly, she saw it! The mouth of the bear had obviously been fashioned to receive a lever of some sort. She picked up her staff, and inserted it into the bear’s mouth, then pushed up. The wood bent. The statue stayed where it was. Damn. If she pushed any harder, the wood would snap. She looked round, and spotted the metal bar. A ha! With the metal bar, she managed to lever up the statue. With one foot, she kicked her staff underneath the statue, then let go. The copper shodding on her staff held, and the parchment was free! She picked it up, pushed the statue up again to retrieve her staff, put the metal bar back where she’d found it, and only then handed the parchment to Bearwalker. Bearwalker picked up the tea jug and shook it.

“Hmm. I suppose the next lesson is free. Well done!”

Ariciel tried not to smile smugly.

Bearwalker stood up, motioned Ariciel to follow him, and walked out of the gazebo. They went to a small terrace, and sat down on a bench. Time to find out what this girl could really do.

“So tell me. What have you learned of the Druid’s arts so far?”

Ariciel thought a bit. “I have some skill as a healer, but I can only do the spell where you tell the body to heal quicker than normal. I can shoot green fire from my hands, and white fire from above. I can also…” she suddenly realised who she was talking to, and blushed. Bearwalker grinned, guessing what she was thinking of.

“Yes?”

Ariciel’s face turned from slightly pink to a deep, lustrous purple.

“Well… with your friends…”

“Ah. An important skill, that one. Have you ever had formal training from anyone?”

Ariciel shook her head. “Only from Father Eolas, but he’s not a Druid, so he taught me how to meditate, and how to clear my mind quickly for magic work, but I can’t do any of his spells.”

“You wouldn’t. They’re completely different from ours, like asking a bird to fly underwater. Did you teach yourself all this?”

Ariciel thought about that for a moment.

“I suppose I did, though it was more like remembering something from long ago than figuring out how to do it.”

Bearwalker nodded. A self-taught Druid. He met them sometimes, and they were not usually the most powerful ones, but always interesting. Some of them had been the first to do spells that everyone now used.

“Ariciel, if you don’t mind, I’d like to take a better look at the spells you know, by looking into your mind. May I?”

Ariciel stared at Mathrengyl Bearwalker, suddenly realising what Lady Iressa had been doing all that time ago. She wanted very much for people to stay out of her head, but Bearwalker had asked first. She felt she could trust him. She smiled, then nodded.

Bearwalker laid his hand on Ariciel’s shoulder, closed his eyes and concentrated, looking through Ariciel’s repertoire as gently as he could. My, this girl had potential! Already, the flow of her magic was powerful, and she had never even seen a Druid trainer before! He went on. Ah. Wrath. The green fire. Well-practiced, and often used. Moonfire. The white bright beams of energy. A bit sloppy, but still a great achievement to learn unassisted. He must really teach this girl to use Starfire, she was a natural at it. Not a hint of anything to do with shape-shifting, but a nice powerful healing touch. He frowned. What was this? To his mind’s eye, it looked a bit like a funnel on the end of a long hose. It looked… different. It wasn’t even a proper spell. He drew back his mind and opened his eyes.

“Very good. You’ve got quite a lot of muscle there, and your spells are well-disciplined from what I can see. But there’s one thing I don’t understand. It’s like a conduit of some kind. Like a hose. Am I making sense?”

Ariciel looked at him, incomprehendingly, then light dawned.

“Oh. That must have been the trick Lady Iressa taught me, so I can use other people’s mana. I never use it.”

Mathrengyl Bearwalker blinked, his jaw dropped.

“What?”

Ariciel looked at Bearwalker’s expression, suddenly afraid. “Lady Iressa of the High-borne. She drew some mana from me, and then taught me how to draw it back.”

Mathrengyl’s face turned white. No! Not this one! Drawing mana from others? What had those blasted High-borne been thinking? Elves were given finite mana-pools for a reason! Start using more mana than you were given, and you were in for all kinds of… He looked again at this young Elf. If he hadn’t looked into her mind, he’d never have known. She’d shown none of the signs that he had come to know, and dread. Arrogance was one. Disdain for other mortals, but above all else, the hunger. The desire for more. More power, more strength, until at last, the power of a god would not satisfy them. That was the thing that would destroy you as surely as night follows day. You might walk the lands of Azeroth, but you would be a shadow of your true self, a danger to all that came near you.

He remembered every one that had come to him, seeking to satisfy their hunger for more power. Already destroyed, the seeds of death germinated, and taking root in their psyche. He had seen what became of some of these creatures if left alone. Birds would not sing near them, nor would trees grow. Anything with a glimmer of life in it, they would devour. If this girl showed the signs, he knew what he had to do while he still could. He’d take her to some secluded spot in the Cenarion Enclave, and tell her to meditate, while he put his hands on her shoulders. He would then dump the entire contents of his mana pool into hers, killing her instantly. It would cause him great pain to do it, but that was fitting. It should hurt to kill one of your own. After that, all that needed doing was to bury the body in the, thankfully small, secret cemetary that only he knew about. And try to forget. So far, he had not been able to forget a single one of them.

“This, Ariciel, is the most important conversation you will have in your entire life. I want you to tell me everything that happened from the moment that High-borne woman first set eyes on you. Do not omit anything. There are no secrets between you and me. Do not lie, I will know. Start now.”

Ariciel looked into the Druid Trainer’s eyes. What had she done wrong? She took a deep breath, and started talking. About Lady Iressa’s requests. About that afternoon when they had exchanged their magics in second by second detail. About Mother and Berciel, their flight to Ironforge. The attack on the caravan, waking up alone afterwards, being found by Brother Eolas. About her long trips searching for her family. The close calls she’d had that had finally convinced her that she must grow, or give up, or perish. Bannog. How he had saved her from her attackers, their trip to Menethil. Peterselie. Bearwalker would often interrupt her with questions, all of which seemed to come down to the one question that mattered: Had she ever drawn the mana of another living creature? And all she could repeat was: never, after the one time she had taken back her own magic from Lady Iressa. They went through her entire story several times, in excruciating, intimate detail.

“You mean even while you were making love to this Human, you never drew your magic back from him?”

“If you must know, we never used magic. We did it Human-fashion, so I poured no magic into him, and there was no need to draw it back out again.” She scowled at Bearwalker. “I would have used the magic, but he swept me off my feet. Literally.”

“Ah. Were you planning to draw your magic out of him after pouring it in?”

“No! It never occurred to me. Probably a good thing then.”

Bearwalker fell silent. If what she told him was true, she’d done something amazing. It was easy for a Human to obey a law against flying. But on many occasions, Ariciel could have used her dark talent to her advantage. Even on the road to Menethil, when she was bleeding to death, desperate for mana, it had not occurred to her simply to reach out to that Human, Bannog, and take it. She had endured the pain, drawn the mana from her surroundings in the usual way, and only then cast her healing spell. She had been offered the gift, and there, in Lady Iressa’s chambers, refused it. He laid his hand on Ariciel’s shoulder and looked her in the eye. She slapped away his arm.

“Now what,” she said.

Bearwalker smiled. “Now,” he straightened his back, “we get rid of this High-borne filth and set you up with some proper talents.”


“Arch-druid Staghelm?”

The Arch-druid cast an eye at his chief trainer, Mathrengyl.

“What is it. Can’t you see I am busy?”

“Apologies, Arch-druid, but I have to bring this matter to your attention.”

The Arch-druid frowned, which was an expression that came naturally to him.

“What can possibly be more important than my research into Morrowgrain?”

“This morning, I met another student, Sir. She was taught by a previous teacher how to draw mana from others.”

The Arch-druid laid down his tools and regarded Bearwalker gravely. “Well. Do you need me to tell you your job? If she’s tainted, get rid of her. You hardly need to bother me with that!”

Bearwalker shook his head. “It’s amazing, Sir. She knew how to steal mana, but as far as I can determine, she never did, except as directed by her teacher, and then only once in her whole life! She was given the opportunity, and yet, she is not tainted!” Before the Arch-druid could speak, he continued. “Also, she is powerful! In a mere hundred years, I could train her to be as powerful as I am! Eighty years if I cut a few corners. We cannot simply throw away an opportunity like that!”

“Well then, did she practice dark magics, or didn’t she? If she did, then she is tainted.”

“I have already removed the talent she… was given, Arch-druid. She could not steal mana now if she wanted to. Even in dire need, she has refused to do so. It would be a grave injustice for her to be killed, just because her teacher was tainted.”

The Arch-druid turned round. “And who was this teacher? Some wretched Blood-elf no doubt?”

“She was lady Iressa of the High-borne, Sir. It was she who… injected this talent into my student. If the High-borne were experimenting with this kind of magic, then it is not surprising that their fate was less than favourable.”

Arch-druid Staghelm’s eyes bored into Mathrengyl’s. “The High-borne? Are you certain of this? Surely, this girl might have spun you a tale to escape you?”

“I took special precautions against that. She is not lying. Lady Iressa of the High-borne toyed with forbidden magic before she died. I am sure of it.”

Staghelm rubbed his beard, thinking.

“Keep this information to yourself, Mathrengyl. I will do the necessary. You were, after all, not completely misguided in bothering me with this. Now leave me. I have much to do.”


Ariciel walked in a daze along the beautifully-kept paths of Darnassus, in the general direction of the Warrior’s Terrace. She would not have noticed if the path had turned to gold, and the trees started to sing nursery rhymes. The Bearwalker had asked her to sit down, and meditate. Slowly, gently, she had felt the spell of cleansing clear her mind of all the prejudice and preconceptions she had built up over the years. It felt… strange. On the one hand, the spells she knew – Green Fire, White Light, Healing, felt unfamiliar, as though she only learnt how to use them yesterday. If she were called upon to heal Bannog today, from wounds as serious as the ones he took for her in Elwynn, she couldn’t do it. On the other hand, she felt… potential. She felt she could read a long tome of magic spells and remember them all perfectly. Or the words to one of the interminable lays of her people.

He would have killed her.

The thought fell like a large rock in a still pool of water. He might not have wanted it. He might have hated himself for doing it. He might have prayed to Elune not to have to do it. But he would have, and there would have been nothing she could have done about it. Mathrengyl Bearwalker’s strength outmatched hers several times over. She would never have seen Bannog, or Mother, or Berciel again. And why? Oh, he’d answered that question. He had told her of the one that had got away. She’d picked up the mana borrowing… no, mana stealing trick from one of the Blood-elves, the Sin’dorei. She’d used it often, to power more and more elaborate and powerful spells. Bearwalker had spoken about the cages, where she had kept luckless creatures from which to draw more and more magical energy until they died, drained of their life-force. The images were the stuff of nightmares, and she’d only heard Bearwalker describe them. He had seen them. It had taken a team of twenty-five powerful warriors, sorcerers, healers and druids finally to defeat her and kill her. Almost half of them had not made it back to Darnassus. None of them had been unharmed. Ariciel could see the logic in removing the threat before it became a large threat.

But she did not want to die. She had never drained anyone’s mana, never felt the need. Ariciel thought it rude. Bearwalker saw it as the first step on the path to evil, death and destruction. Though he had assured her that the offending talent had vanished and that he had no intention or wish to harm her, part of her wanted to bolt and hide.

She felt a hand on her shoulder, and someone called her name, or something close to it.

“Arithiel? Are you deaf or something?”

Startled, Ariciel looked round, to see the face of the singer in the tavern in Goldshire, a lifetime ago. At the moment, she would be hard pressed to remember her own name, let alone the ones of chance companions. She shook her head to clear the cobwebs, and a name presented itself.

“Lirael? What are you doing here?”

“I live here, silly! Where’s that big Human of yours?”

Ariciel smiled sadly. “He’s in Menethil, and he’s not my Human.”

“More fool you! He’s cute!”

“I know, but I had to leave him there. He was very generous to take me as far as he did. Hope it didn’t land him in too much trouble.”

“Hm. So what are you doing here that’s more important than hunting for cute men?”

Ariciel took a deep breath. “I’m going to take lessons from Mathrengyl Bearwalker. If he’ll have me. I just had two lessons. They were… intense.”

“Bearwalker? Oh he has lots of students. They all love him. Though he doesn’t seem to want to go beyond teaching them, or so I’ve heard. So no use trying to seduce him for extra lessons.”

The very thought made Ariciel shudder. “Believe me, I wasn’t going to. He scared the living daylights out of me. I honestly thought I wasn’t coming out of there alive.”

“Really? You druids must get it pretty rough, then. My first lessons were actually a bit boring. Lots of scrolls and books. It took me at least two weeks before I got to do my first few spells. But then, I’m studying to become a priestess. And music.”

Ariciel looked at the smiling woman in front of her, trying to imagine people coming to her with problems, or when they needed specialist healing or, even worse, her standing up to Orcs, Trolls and worse things. Unless there was more to her than met the eye, she foresaw trouble. Though Ariciel had to admit that she felt a lot better talking to her. There was something primally wholesome about Lirael.

“Hey, where do you live? Somewhere in the Enclave?”

“Um, I just got here. I haven’t thought about it, yet. I was thinking of sleeping under the stars tonight. The trees are beautiful here!”

“Oh, but you can’t! Teldrassil is quite safe, but once you leave the gates of Darnassus, there’s wild animals that would make lunch of a sleeping Elf! Why don’t you stay at my place tonight? I have extra mattresses and blankets and you can stay till you find a place of your own…” Lirael grinned wickedly, “Or till my music practice drives you mad.”

“Oh, but I like music,” said Ariciel.

“Heh! Everybody does, but what they really like is the finished work. Listening to me sing the same couple of lines over and over again till I get them right is something different altogether! But I won’t practice music tonight so you’re safe.”

“I’d love to, thank you.”

They walked over to Lirael’s house, a place somewhat away from the beaten path, consisting of one large room with a table against one wall, under the window, and a bed against another. One of the walls was hung with every kind of stringed instrument known to Elf-kind. In the middle of the room stood a large drum. Ariciel stared at it. Lirael laid her hands on Ariciel’s shoulders and whispered in her ear.

“Go on. You know you want to. It calls to you. Already your resistance is weakening. Its tones are rich and deep. You long to touch the smooth skin, to make it sing.”

Ariciel giggled, reached out with one hand and tapped the drum. It gave a deep, resonant sound.

“Nobody can resist the power of the drum,” said Lirael. “Seriously. I’ve had high-priests and mages here for music practice. They all hit the drum. Do not be ashamed, young Druid, for greater ones than you or I have failed this test.”

Ariciel studied the drum in more detail. It was, essentially, a large earthenware pot. It was covered with a goatskin, which was fastened to the top with tightly strung rope, the strands in a nice regular pattern running up and down the sides. Lirael pulled up a small stool and sat down with the drum between her knees. She started to tap out a simple rhythm at the very edge of the skin, then moved her hands to the inside, producing deeper tones. By squeezing the drum between her thighs, she tightened and loosened the skin, varying the tones in ever more complex rhythms. Ariciel had never heard anyone get so much variation out of such a simple instrument. Lirael slowly increased her tempo, until her hands were a blur. She finished with a loud stroke on the middle of the drum.

“A wonderful way to unwind after a hard day’s work,” she said. “Are you hungry?”

Ariciel’s voice dropped an octave. “Yes,” she intoned. “I must feed. Lead me to food, and I shall buy dinner for us both.”

Lirael grinned. “Well, there’s the inn up the street. Don’t have much in the house I’m afraid.”

Before they left, Lirael ducked into a cupboard.

“Hey!”

Ariciel looked back, and Lirael tossed her an apple. Ariciel caught it behind her back.

“Can’t have you starting on passers-by!”

They left for the inn.


Bannog woke up. Someone had hissed at him again, and he half considered not bothering with Watchful Sleep.

“Hey. Wake up.”

“Ramoc?”

“Oh well spotted that man.”

“I ought to kick your butt, you filthy deserter!”

“Join the queue. How’s tricks here?”

“Kent’s buggered off again. I didn’t follow him or he’d get suspicious.”

“I know. Joran is on it.”

“Did you get the guy?”

“Not yet, but I know where he’ll be in an hour or so. This time, I’ll grab him. Yesterday, I just watched.”

“Need any help?”

“Naah. He’s a scrawny thing. A goblin of some description.”

“Be safe. Don’t overestimate yourself.”

Ramoc chuckled. “Git. But thanks for caring. Well, I’m off. After a quick chat with Swann.”

“Need anything?”

“I already helped myself to what was left of the stew. Going easy on the newbies?”

“Yeah, but I got orders from Sarge Bennett to temper them in fire, so tomorrow’s another day.”

“Don’t use so many onions. Very bad for stealth. Well, see you later.”

He disappeared into the shadows. Bannog laid down his head, sighed, and slept.


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

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