"What was I thinking?" Dartien muttered to himself as he sat outside Happy Lucky Drunken Mage, chin in his hands. "I should have just stuck with being a scribe. It's a very fulfilling line of work you know, and people always need things copied." He let his legs dangle over the edge of the low stone wall, clapping his hands on his thighs. "But no, I had to continue my childish obsession with fermented beverages. 'Oh, I'll open a bar in Stormwind!'" he said self-mockingly. "'I can serve all sorts of things and meet interesting people!' Pah! I'm just a delusional fool."
Shailiea paused in her patrol of the Park District, leaning her spear on the wall next to Dartien's legs and looking up at him. "Slow night tonight, sir?" she asked, tilting her head to one side.
"Having nothing to compare it to, I can't really say. I've been open for business for a week now, and you're the only person that's bothered to pass by my door. Well, there was one other person, but she just wanted directions to a different bar." Dartien looked at Shailiea for a moment, then back into his empty bar. "I don't suppose you want to come in for a drink or two? On the house?"
"Thanks, but I'm on duty." She snatched up her spear and saluted him with it. "Good luck to you."
"I don't think even luck can save me now." Dartien watched Shailiea as she walked off on her patrol again.
"You see? You see!? That's what you get for trying to do business in a place like this!" Ergiz's shrill voice cut through the silence as the gnome walked out of the bar and sat beside Dartien. "All grass and trees, they even put a moonwell in there! Stormwind caters to everyone, it seems, but us gnomes."
"It's not a real moonwell, Ergiz," Aren reminded him, leaning in the doorway, "it's just a fake. Look, Dart, I told you to lease out that place by the bank, remember? There's always people standing around a bank. Who cares if it cost three times as much gold per month to rent? It'd give you a steady stream of customers." He slipped a dagger from his belt, absently trimming his nails as he spoke. "You should listen to me, man. I may look like an elf, but inside I'm still…" Remembering Ergiz was sitting right there, he cut off in mid-sentence. Dartien had advised them all to keep the details of their true origins to themselves. "I'm just saying, I know a thing or two about these things."
"Yes, Aren, that's only the seventh time tonight you've reminded me. But it's time to face facts, guys. This was a stupid idea. Everyone's either afraid of the war and moving to more protected places, or caught up in the war and fighting to be on the front lines. The few people that've stayed already have their favorite bars." As if to illustrate Dartien's point, one of the Forsaken riding a skeletal horse galloped into the park, pursued by Shailiea and a half-dozen of the Home Guard. After he'd chased the Grant sisters, Kelly and Kimberly, around the circle a few times, the guards finally managed to overwhelm him.
Dartien sighed. He couldn't help but feel a small stab of pity for the Forsaken. It wasn't their fault they were undead. Most of them just seemed to want to live like normal people, but unfortunately the powerful ones all embraced their inner monsters. He wondered which view this particular one had taken before the guards cut him down. It didn't matter, in the long run. Dartien wanted no part of the war. It was a conflict that neither he nor the rest of his "party" could afford to become involved in. He knew it was sometimes hard for the rest, but they had to make sure not to interfere with the natural progression of events in this world as much as was possible.
"I don't think so, mister." Ergiz piped up, his nose wrinkling in anger. "I've performed for kings! I agreed to this because you're one of the only hew-mons I haven't tried to kill, and you promised me I could kill any elf that touched me so long as I didn't start it. And as long as I'm here, then so are you! Now I went to all the trouble to fly out to this Void-spawned city, and you're going to find me an audience!"
"Give it up, Ergiz." Aren told him with a sigh. "You have no idea how muley Dartien can be when he's decided on something."
"Well I don't care!" the gnome shouted back at him, shaking a fist in the air. "All humor aside, you're trying to do a good thing here. Not everyone wants to spend their nights ogling a bunch of naked elves in a fake moonwell. You're giving them that chance! Don't give up just because all humans and elves are horny drunkards!" He suddenly realized who he was talking to, and sat back down on the wall with a grunt. "You both know what I mean."
It was ironic that neither of them did at first, being a human-who-wasn't-a-human and an elf-who-wasn't-an-elf, but neither of them was really in the mood to appreciate the irony of the moment. Dartien looked back into the bar, where the eight kegs of Thunderbrew Lager he'd special ordered from Westfall were sitting untapped. Aren had hand-delivered each one from the Dagger Hills, but now they were just going to waste. "Look, the place is rented until the end of the month, and you both know where the good liquor is. Enjoy yourselves. Happy Lucky Drunken Mage is officially closed." He turned and started to walk away.
"Don't you turn your back on me like that!" Ergiz shrieked, jumping to his feet. "You get back here right now, and get behind that bar, or so help me I'll…" He was cut off by Aren's hand landing on his shoulder.
"Let him go, Ergiz. Just let him go."
[Index]Parties, Pilgrimages, Paladins and Power
"...and, needless to say, that was Halvore's first and last encounter with alcoholic drinks." Ergiz smiled and leaned back against a rock as the rest of the people around the fire dissolved into laughter. Shock of shocks, he was actually enjoying himself this time around. Dere was an impeccable host and, strangely enough, people seemed to be enjoying his company, even that strange corpse in the wide-brimmed hat. Stranger still, he was enjoying their company! Especially Oleander who, for all her too-tall elfishness, had that same gleam in her eye that told of being ready to deal out a little destruction at the drop of a hat. "Alright, this next one is the story of Dartien and the Man in Blue Plate..."
Ergiz had shown up in Ratchet that night on the invitation (and blackmail) of Deremetria, who was hosting a peaceful gathering of both Horde and Alliance races. She had an idea that if a warlock could curse someone to speak in Demonic in order to slow their spellcasting, that two people so cursed would be able to understand each other. The two sides still had difficulty comprehending the other's languages, and while that made for more secure intelligence reports, it also slowed any attempts at diplomacy. Ergiz was just eager to experiment on a Hordeling.
That was how he found himself staring down an orc twice his height at least five times his mass. "Be careful, Ergiz," Dere was telling him, "some of them may still want to fight. This one looks dangerous."
Ergiz could feel the shadow roiling off this orc's spirit. It was plain that this one had indulged a little too much a little too often, and was therefor far stronger than Ergiz. "I can take care of myself, elf." Ergiz replied crossly, rolling his shoulders to re-settle his robe. Dere sighed and made a series of hand gestures at the orc, hopefully conveying the nature of the experiment and telling him not to step on Ergiz once the duel flag dropped. The Kaldorei looked between the two warlocks, took a deep breath, and let the banner fall.
Ergiz's curse took hold on only his second try, a testament to his skills, and found himself similarly cursed a moment later. He waited, and when it was plain the orc wasn't going to pound him into the ground with one meaty fist, he looked up and asked, "So, can you understand me yet?" The orc blinked down at Ergiz, and a series of unintelligible noises came from its throat. So much for Dere's idea. Ergiz spread his arms and took a step back, making it plain he didn't intend to continue the duel in any way, and the orc plopped back on its rump, looking at him thoughtfully.
"Sorry," Ergiz told Dere once he could speak proper Common again, "it was a good theory though."
"Hey, Ergiz!" Oleander came running up, a dwarf in tow. "We're going to take the boat over to Booty Bay and bring back some... candy, for the party! What do you think we should get?"
"Liquid candy?" Dere asked, her eyes sparkling.
"Mmhmm." Oleander smiled and nodded, her own eyes shining with anticipation.
"I'm content with my skin of moonberry juice." He told her, patting the skin hanging at his belt. "Would you like me to summon you back when you've got the stuff? I figure you'll be... 'sampling' as soon as you get out of the bar, and I'd hate for you to fall overboard on the way back and lose all the stuff."
"Sure! We'll send you a signal when we're ready." She hurried off, dragging the dwarf behind her. Ergiz pitied the man, though he had to admit that dwarves served very well as pack mules.
Ergiz took a deep breath and turned to look up at Dere. "I'm going to need some help summoning them back here. I trust you can curb your distaste for Void-spawned majicks long enough to give me a hand?"
Dere glared at him, but there was no malice in her look. "I've been summoned before. I'll go find someone else to help us."
Oleander and her pack mule were brought back to Ratchet in short order. Casks were broached, skins emptied, and spirits lifted. The sun was setting, so campfires were quickly struck and people from both sides gathered 'round to tell and hear stories.
"...and when Dartien looked up, he saw that the summit of the peak had been pierced clean through, and the hole was in the shape of a man." Ergiz smiled and drained the last of his moonberry juice, grinning at the people gathered around the fire. They had been hanging on his every word, and it was nice being the center of attention.
"But what happened after that?" Oleander wailed, still very much inebriated. "Did he really steal that thing from the wind god?"
"I don't know," Ergiz said with a shrug. "You'll have to ask him. He usually hangs around the Stonefire Tavern in Ironforge, and a mug or two is all it takes to loosen his tongue." Ergiz knew that all too well. A veritable lake of cherry grog had already gone toward prying information out of the man. Besides the many stories about his past (Dartien was normally very closemouthed on the subject), he had taught Ergiz a little of the nature of the multiverse, the many universes swirling and twining about one another, swimming through Time and the Void like great worms. It was all fascinating stuff, but he had yet to figure out how to put it to any practical use.
It was getting late, and everyone stretched and started to brush the dust from their clothing. Some were fingering hearthstones, and it seemed like the party was drawing to a close. Two of the undead ladies warming themselves around Ergiz's fire stood up and started beckoning to the people still sitting. They ran off a short way, then turned to look back at everyone. "They seem to want us to follow them..." Oleander mused aloud.
"Well, I'm still wide awake and in need of some entertainment." Ergiz got to his feet, brushing off the back of his robe. "I say we follow."
The undead girls had led Ergiz, Oleander, Deremetria, and a small party of others across the sea to Booty Bay, then started swimming north along the shoreline. Ergiz wove water-breathing enchantments around everyone in the party, beating his legs furiously to keep up with the rest of the party. He wondered for a moment why they didn't just make for the shore and ride along the beach, but as he looked in that direction he spied a saltwater crocodile take a rather large stag in one bite, and decided it would be best if they stuck to open water.
It occurred to him that the Horde maintained a zeppelin tower somewhere north of Booty Bay, and that these undead ladies were taking them on an escorted trip to the Undercity. That would be interesting, to say the least. Ergiz hadn't seen much of that part of the world. But the tower came and went, sliding by with the shoreline as they continued north through the water.
The party made landfall on a very familiar-looking shore, shaking water from their clothing. The two undead paused for a moment to make sure everyone had made it safely, then proceeded northward again. "Where are we?" someone in the group wondered aloud.
"Westfall." Ergiz replied, pointing off into the distance. The beam from the lighthouse was barely visible through the fog. "But there's nothing else in that direction, just Stormwind. Why would they want to go there?" The party continued to run after their not-dead guides, shadowbolts and fireballs keeping the more curious wildlife at bay. Ergiz lengthened his stride, coming up next to Oleander. "I have a bad feeling about this. I'm going to summon up a watchdog, just in case." She nodded and Ergiz slowed to a walk, preparing the summoning ritual.
Thoojom loped out of the portal, grinning like a happy puppy. Ergiz tugged playfully on one of his antennae and scanned the horizon. No sign of his party, so he whistled for his felsteed and headed north, Thoom trotting along at the beast's side. He caught up with Oleander and the rest just as they crossed into Westbrook, where their guides turned to follow the hills north to Stormwind rather than taking the road through Goldshire.
The party stopped short of the gates, a low hill giving them a nice view of the column of soldiers marching under the arch. A few minutes of exchanging hand signals with the undead confirmed that Stormwind was indeed their destination, but they were too scared to go any further. What they needed was an alternate route into the city. The party split up, combing the hills for a way over the wall. After an unsuccessful attempt to get in by climbing the nearby waterfall, Ergiz decided to focus on the gate itself. There was a low ledge along the front of the wall, and there seemed to be just enough room between the gate and the wall to squeeze by. He decided to give it a try, climbing a nearby hill and carefully stepping out onto the ledge. With his back pressed to the wall, he sidled along slowly, using his staff for balance. He rounded the first post, chuckling to himself and praising his own cleverness, only to find his path blocked by a large ornamental carving of a lion. Feeling out with his free hand, he searched for a way over, under, or around the stonework to no avail. Cursing, he thumped the lion with his staff, shouting at it to get out of the way.
The stonework, of course, didn't budge. All he managed to do was throw himself off-balance and slip from the ledge. He landed on something soft that squeaked as he hit, and his entire face turned bright red as he realized just who he'd landed on. "Oh, geez, Rosei. I'm so sorry, are you okay?" He helped the other gnome to her feet, hoping she wouldn't decide to fireball his head for falling on her.
Fortunately for Ergiz, she forgave him in short order once he managed to explain just what he was doing trying to scale Stormwind's outer wall. She was even intrigued enough to help him look for a way inside. They were about to check out the northern hills together when they heard a shout rise up from the guards patrolling the gate. It seemed the undead girls had decided to take the direct route into the city. A trail of bones leading in showed where each had tried to run past the guards, died only to have their spirit re-possess a shattered body, then tried to run again.
Ergiz followed the trail of bone all the way to the park district, to one of the taverns there. The main floor was entirely empty, which wasn't much of a surprise given the state of the rest of the city, so Ergiz carefully descended the stairs to the wine cellar. "Little undead girls..." he called out quietly, knowing they couldn't understand him but hoping a friendly voice wouldn't spook them. "Where are you?" Something moved near one of the large casks, and he gripped his staff tightly, jumping out in front and yelling "Ha!"
There was no corpse, living or otherwise, as he'd expected, but instead an angry-looking elf with a ready dagger in hand. Ergiz growled as he recognized her and gestured at her with his staff. "Yukale! What did you do to that corpse that walked in here? She didn't mean you any harm!"
"I didn't do anything!" Yukale protested, and Ergiz caught sight of something else moving behind one of the barrels. One of the undead girls peeked out cautiously, and Ergiz breathed a sigh of relief, shouldering his staff.
Unfortunately for them, Ergiz wasn't the only one who was able to follow the trail of bone. Within minutes, the basement had filled up with angry Alliance-friendly folk looking for trophies. Ergiz, Rosei, Oleander, and Yukale stood between them and the undead, trying to calm both sides down. Finally, after a little diplomacy and more than a little steel-waving, the mob dispersed, leaving the six of them alone in the otherwise empty tavern. The undead were obviously relieved, relaxing and exploring more of the inn. As Ergiz and the rest of his small party watched, they ran up and down the stairs, swung from chandeliers, and danced on the tables.
Their merriment was interrupted by a flurry of arcane missiles streaking through the air, striking one of the undead in the chest. It seems that one member of the little lynch mob had decided it was her sole duty to stop the threat of two rather unseasoned undead girls. The pair rallied as best they could to repel the magus, but she was relentless in her attack. Both the gnomes and the elves looked on, powerless to do anything to help their undead friends. One of the undead managed to escape using a hearthstone while the other floated around the tavern as a spirit, not re-possessing her body for fear of the mage until she too could find a safe way out.
"She's still standing there..." Rosei commented, looking at the other mage out of the corner of her eye. "How long's she gonna stand there?"
"Probably until she's satisfied she's killed them enough for one day." Ergiz muttered. It had been well over an hour, and the intruder hadn't moved an inch. His anger was close to boiling over. Finally, he just couldn't take it anymore. Jumping out of his seat, he strode across the length of the tavern. "I'm sick of this," he muttered, his voice slowly rising in intensity, "this stupid war, all this killing for no reason, the moronic zealots preaching damnation and hellfire. Well if they want damnation and hellfire, I'll be happy to give it to them!"
"Calm down, Ergiz." Rosei said quietly. "Let's just try to ignore her."
"Ignore her? Void take that, I WANT HER HEAD!" Ergiz marched over to the mage and waved his staff under her nose. "And I'm going to take it, by any means necessary!" He pulled back a fist, preparing to conjure demonic fire, only to have his spells unravel around him. He'd forgotten about the wardings around the tavern and the better part of the city. "Alright you, outside. Now."
"Ew, like I'm going to bother with a filthy little gnome!" The mage's face wrinkled in disgust.
That was enough to set off Rosei as well. Soon all three were yelling racial insults and taunts back and forth. The elves were content to sit back and watch, until Oleander finally spoke up. "I don't understand," she said, "someone who was so vehement on wiping out 'invaders' belittling members of her own faction."
The mage's face turned red and she frowned at the elf, finally realizing she was outnumbered and horribly outmatched. "I'm going to get my big sister!" she wailed, gathering her skirts and running out of the tavern.
Ergiz glowered and took a seat at the table, upending his skin of moonberry juice and taking a long swallow. Rosei pulled up a chair next to him, kicking her feet as she looked around. "So... I don't suppose there's a menu?" she asked, looking at Yukale. "I'm kinda tired of eating the same old conjured stuff."
Ergiz nodded his agreement. "Definitely, and I'm almost out of salted pork. What's there to eat around here?"
Oleander rummaged around in her pack. "Well, I have some mushrooms and some leftover wine."
Replacing the stopper on his skin, Ergiz shot her a sardonic look. "How is it possible, Oleander, that YOU have leftover wine?"
Their chuckling was drowned out by the sound of a paladin in full armor stomping into the tavern, waving a hammer and looking around angrily. Yukale looked up from her mug and called out, "We're not open until Saturday."
The paladin sneered at the lot of them. "That's right, stay in here and cower, with the gnomes."
Oleander swayed to her feet, swaggering over to the paladin and bending over slightly to look her in the face. "Hello, cutie..." she said quietly, a very dangerous look in her eyes and a smile on her lips.
The paladin was obviously not impressed. "They pick on my sister, I pick on them. This doesn't concern you."
"Oh, but you're such a big girl. You need a big girl to play with." Oleander's hand came down on the paladin's shoulder, gripping it hard. The smile had faded from her face. "Seriously." She looked hard at the paladin, then narrowed her eyes and grinned. "We should walk outside, will you walk outside with me?"
The paladin snorted disdainfully, shrugging off Oleander's hand and turning away to walk out the door. "Cowardly gnomes, have people fight for you..."
"Oh, they didn't ask..." Oleander followed her out, a feral grin coming to her lips. "I'm just a mad, mad lady." Once outside of the tavern, she faced down the interloper for a second, then suddenly faded from view entirely. When she was visible again, she was clad head to toe in leather armor, and a mace hung at her hip. Ergiz sighed in disappointment; he was expecting Oleander's transformation sequence to involve more flashing lights and partial nudity. Both of them whistled for their mounts and were soon riding for the front gate, where the city's wardings held no sway. Ergiz hesitated a moment, then called for his own steed, yelling over his shoulder to tell Rosei to follow as best she could.
When Ergiz caught up to them, they were already past the front gate and preparing to duel. Oleander faced off against the paladin, Yukale standing between them holding the duel flag. Ergiz dismounted to watch the fight, commanding Thoom to sit under a tree so he wouldn't get underfoot during the fight. Then Yukale dropped the flag.
Oleander disappeared in a burst of gray smoke as the paladin concentrated on sanctifying the ground beneath her feet, reappearing behind the paladin and striking the back of her helmet. The rogue's mace rained blows upon the paladin's armor, setting it ringing like a bell while the dagger in her other hand flicked out like a snake's tongue, finding gaps in the paladin's plating.
It was not very long before the paladin sank to her knees, yielding to Oleander. The paladin looked neither shamed nor angry at her loss, most likely due to the fact that it was clear Oleander was more seasoned than she. The paladin did, however, shoot Ergiz a hateful glance as Yukale challenged her to a duel. It was obvious that she would rather be fighting him than either of the elves. She began to taunt him as she squared off against Yukale, and continued to shout insults as Yukale hammered at her with the pommels of both daggers, keeping her off balance just long enough for the blades to find their way under her armor. She glared her defiance even as she yielded the duel to a grinning Yukale.
"Enough." Ergiz said quietly, shouldering his staff and walking toward the women. "Alright, you. You wanted a fight with me, and that's what you're going to get." Without taking his eyes off of the paladin, he whistled sharply between his teeth and Thoom bounded to his side, crouching there and looking around like a hound at the hunt.
"Finally!" The paladin shouted almost triumphantly, as if she'd already beaten him and proved her point. She unlimbered her warhammer, flexing her arms above her head and walking back to the open patch of ground they'd chosen for their dueling.
Oleander touched Ergiz lightly on the shoulder, whispering. "She's a lot stronger than you, Ergiz. You don't have to prove anything here." But even as she spoke, she knew that was precisely the wrong thing to say.
Ergiz's head snapped around to glare up at the elf, and she braced herself for the imminent tirade that was sure to follow such a comment. It was the second time that evening he'd been reminded that someone he was facing off against was stronger than him. He scowled at her for a moment, then dropped his gaze to the ground. "I know," he whispered back, "but I think I need to do this. For myself." He patted the side of Oleander's leg. "Thanks for the concern."
Thoom followed him as he moved toward the other end of the circle. He'd been studying her during the previous two duels, and she was indeed quite a bit more seasoned than he. In addition, her gear seemed to be a notch above what a normal person would have. Strategies formed and dissolved in his head. He could have Thoom strip her of her enchantments and prevent her from healing, but it was unlikely that any of his spells would take hold. And those that did take hold needed time to work to reach their full potency. That was time Ergiz did not have, considering she would mostly likely eschew bothering with Thoom and come straight for him.
Then he remembered Dartien's mad ramblings about this world, the Void, and the multiverse beyond. It was true that Ergiz could sense none of this, but his mind's eye reached out through the Void anyway, searching. There was nothing but... nothing, the emptiness of the Void. As he peered harder, though, he began to sense small 'gaps' in the emptiness, places where the Void seemed to be sliding around something. They were other realities, he knew.
Realities that, just like this one, could be bent to his will.
He was already drawing the cold energy of the Void toward him as he faced off against the paladin, but rather than drawing it into himself he pulled at the emptiness, warping the space between universes, changing the course of the other realities and bringing them just close enough to his own to siphon off their power. His mind already spinning from the effort, he nodded at Oleander, and the duel flag dropped.
With a cry, he gave one last heave and pulled the other realities to him, unleashing their power at the same moment in a sheet of fire that spread from his hands and wrapped the paladin in red and black flame. He tried to shut off the flow of energy and tie off the spell, but it was like holding back a river with his hands. The paladin's scream of agony echoed his own as he felt his mind start to burn with the torrent of energy rushing through it. She fell to the ground, her armor bubbling and warping from the heat. Frightened of the power flowing through him and desperate to save himself, he flung all of his reserves against the river of power, slowly pushing the gate closed. The energy dwindled, then finally the connection severed and the flow of power snapped back into the Void, cracking in Ergiz's mind like a whip. The hellfire extinguished itself, and Ergiz collapsed to the ground in a heap.
The first thing Ergiz saw when he woke was Dartien's stern face looking down at him. He laid a ribbon in the book he was reading to mark his place and sat down on a stool next to the bed Ergiz was lying in. "That was a very stupid thing you did, Ergiz. And I can't help but feel a little responsible for it."
Ergiz closed his eyes. The light filtering in through the windows caused flashes of pain behind them. "Spare me the lecture, hewmon. I'm really not in the mood." His head felt like a split melon, and dried blood flaked away from his nose and ears as he turned it.
"No, no I'm afraid a lecture is what you're getting today." Dartien quipped, leaning forward in his seat. "Fortunately for me, you're in no condition to protest."
"I could put my hands to my ears and chant loudly." Ergiz replied gruffly, folding his arms over his chest.
"How'd you do it, Ergiz?" Dartien asked without preamble. "You shouldn't be able to sense that far, but somehow you managed to pull that power to you last night. How'd you do it?"
"You don't have to see the wind to know it holds a feather aloft." Ergiz said, mimicking Dartien's own penchant for riddles and half-truths. "The reverse is also true."
"You pulled at the Void and the other threads followed." Dartien translated, causing Ergiz to lose some of his smugness. "Now that you've had a little taste of it, I don't think I need to tell you how dangerous and foolish it was. But I'm going to tell you anyway. It wasn't just yourself you could have killed. You're fooling around with whole other realities." He paused, taking a deep breath. "Ergiz, I want you to promise me you won't try to do that again."
Ergiz sat bolt upright in the bed, ignoring the wave of pain and dizziness. "Void take you, Dartien, you know I'll never do that! I'm not about to give up a single scrap of my power, no matter the cost." He held up a hand to forestall Dartien's protests. "But part of holding onto power is only exercising it when it's appropriate. You know I'm not stupid when it comes to this sort of thing, or you wouldn't have said anything no matter how drunk I got you."
Dartien frowned down at him, silent for a moment. "You're right, of course." He said finally, pushing himself to his feet. "I suppose I'm going to have to trust you to exercise a little discretion because I can't really do anything to stop you. But I'll warn you one last time, Ergiz. Be careful what you toy with. Reality isn't some fickle thing. If you bend it too far, it will snap back and assert its dominance over you. You are, after all, bound by it. It doesn't always work both ways." He leaned down to snatch up his book. "Get some rest. I'll be back to look in on you later."
Ergiz lied back on the bed, staring up at the ceiling. He would never admit it to Dartien (he could scarcely admit it to himself) but that power truly frightened him. Part of him wanted to explore it further, but the other part knew that next time he might not be able to contain it. He pushed the entire debate to the back of his mind, relegating the knowledge to just one more page of his mental spellbook. It was, after all, just another power. Power was a means to an end, nothing more and nothing less.
It was meant to be used.
[Index]A Night of Story
Teotta sucked in a breath and braced himself as the wyvern glided toward the wind rider tower. The great plateau of Thunder Bluff was coming up awfully fast, and he resisted the urge to close his eyes. He was going to have to get used to this sooner or later. Frightening though it was, it was the most efficient means of travel between cities. All things considered, though, he would have preferred to trust in his own two legs. Tauren were not meant to fly. One did not look at a Tauren and say "Boy, I bet that would look great hurtling through the air."
It just wasn't natural, simple as that.
The wyvern glided into the tower, backwinging a moment before coming to rest. Handlers appeared immediately to care for the beast as Teotta scrambled down hastily, murmuring thanks to the wind rider master before slowly descending the ramp. His balance was slightly off and he leaned heavily against the wall as he made his way down, but the vertigo soon cleared and he stepped out of the tower to see the sun just beginning to set over the mountains.
Thunder Bluff was still the most beautiful city Teotta had ever seen. Granted, he'd not ranged very far in his travels, but there was just something about it that caused him to feel at peace whenever he was there. He had much love for the Tauren people, despite not actually being of their blood. That wasn't important to him, though. Only the spirit mattered, and the spirit was formless. His gaze lingered on the sky for a moment more, then he hefted the sack slung over his shoulder and started down the path.
Mirashe was where Teotta expected her to be, standing on the edge of a small rain pond in the center of the mesa, casting a fishing line out into the water. Taima sat nearby, absently chewing a paw while waiting for dinner to be reeled in. Another female stood nearby, and the two were conversing quietly as Teotta approached. He hung back a little, waiting for a pause, then cleared his throat and stepped forward, setting his sack on the ground. "Provisions." He explained, sticking a hand into the bag and pulling out a bundle of hides tied with string. "The leather you wanted. And these." He held out a hand to her, displaying a pair of small green gems.
Mirashe's eyes twinkled and the entire lot disappeared into her own bags. "Thank you, Teotta." She turned to the other female standing there. "Pakwa, this is my friend Teotta. Teotta, meet Pakwa of the Ravenfeather Clan." Pakwa smiled and bowed to Teotta.
Teotta spread his hands and bowed in return. "I am honored."
Pakwa looked Teotta over critically for a moment. "Have we met before?"
"I am afraid not." Teotta replied, bowing again. "But your name is known to me, by the deeds attached to it."
"Ah. Well, what is your clan, Brother? Perhaps there is a tie between us we are unaware of." Pakwa looked at Teotta questioningly.
Teotta coughed softly, a little nervous. Even though he had already spent a considerable amount of time amongst the Tauren people, he was only beginning to understand all the intricacies of Tauren culture. How did one explain that one simply had no history to speak of? "I have no clan." He told her, looking upward. "I inherit only the sky."
Pakwa seemed to accept this, and the three Tauren settled down around the edge of the pond as the sun disappeared behind the mountains. Teotta built a small fire to take the chill out of the air, and Mirashe began to string her catch (what little of it there was) over the flames to cook. She grunted with frustration whenever she pulled in an empty line, and Teotta chuckled softly. "Normally I fish and Mirashe cooks." He explained to their guest. "She needs all the practice she can get to feed that bottomless pit of hers." He gestured at Taima, who was sitting near the fire, eyeing the cooking fish expectantly.
"I'm just glad for the practice." Mirashe re-baited her hook and tossed it out into the water.
Pakwa continued to eye Teotta curiously over the flames. "So then, Teotta." She said finally. "Both your parents were Shu'halo?"
Teotta looked about nervously for a moment, wetting his lips with his tongue in a half-forgotten gesture. By all signs, he hadn't judged Tauren without clans to be outcast or subject to any form of prejudice. Now he wasn't so sure. "I-I think I have a barrel of fish packed in salt around here somewhere." He said nervously, rising to his feet. "I'll go and fetch it, so Taima doesn't go hungry." Teotta walked away from the campfire, trying to not give the appearance of haste.
Pakwa frowned, turning to Mirashe. "I meant no offense. There is no shame in it; many were lost during the Long March."
Teotta hung back a moment, hefting the barrel over his shoulder and watching the two sitting near the fire. It didn't seem as though he had caused any trouble, so he returned and unpacked the fish for Mirashe to cook.
The smell of roasting fish and the warmth of the campfire on a slightly chilly night attracted other Tauren to sit with them. Mirashe generously shared her catch with everyone, and so they ate together and basked in the fire's warmth. It was true that Tauren were meant to roam, but Teotta found much joy in the simple pleasure of an evening in good company.
"I am on a quest for a fire totem." One of the other Tauren was saying. "But I don't know what to do."
"It will come to you by your own hand." Teotta told her with a smile, remembering his own quest for the totem of fire. He had learned much from the experience.
"You should speak with the shaman in Durotar." Pakwa put in, and the young Tauren smiled her thanks.
A small group of Forsaken sitting a short distance away, also by the side of the pond but without a fire, jeered and tried to cut into the conversation. They were ignored for the most part, except for a toothy and threatening smile from Mirashe. She reminded Teotta very much of Tashyna when she did that. "It seems almost crowded here today." Pakwa commented, looking about her. "I don't think I've seen so many here at once."
"Ugh, did it have to be Forsaken?" One of the other Tauren asked with a snort. "I don't know how we ever ended up becoming allied with those."
"You kind of have to pity them." Someone else put in. "I mean, just imagine if you had to live like that."
Mirashe started to speak up, then apparently decided not to and returned to her fishing. Teotta kept his thoughts on the matter to himself. In his own experience, he had known both decent Forsaken and horrible Forsaken, same as any other race. But it seemed to be a touchy subject around all non-Forsaken, who either regarded the race as an infestation or an object of pity. So Teotta, as a rule, said nothing on the matter. Instead, he stared up at the stars, taking a deep breath of the cool night air. "It is a night for tales, I think." He said by way of changing the subject. "Who will be the first to favor us with a story?"
The Tauren around the fire discussed the idea quietly for a moment before one turned to Pakwa and said "Tell us a story of your travels, Elder?"
Pakwa smiled softly. "I doubt that would make for a very interesting story. But I will offer another story, one from my clan." The assembled Tauren moved closer to the fire, giving Pakwa their full attention as she cleared her throat. "Both Mouse and Kodo lived in the open grass of the plains, but while Mouse moved quietly through the grass, Kodo would stamp with his feet and thrash with his horn and cause Mouse and the other creatures much distress. So one day, Mouse went up to Kodo, shaking a paw in the air, and said 'Kodo, you must stop stomping your feet and thrashing about so! You ruin our homes and frighten our children!'
But Kodo only looked down at Mouse and laughed. 'And what will you do if I do not stop?' Kodo asked Mouse. 'For I am very large, and you are very small.'
'I will fight you!' Mouse shouted up at Kodo. 'I will fight you and I will make you stop!' And with that, Mouse charged at the mighty Kodo. Kodo laughed again and stamped with his feet, and thrashed with his horn, and so the grass and the earth flew in all directions.
Then Kodo looked around him at the broken ground and snorted his satisfaction. 'Mouse should have known better than to fight me, for I am very large, and he was very small.' But as Kodo turned to leave the place, he felt a sharp pain in his ear. He howled in rage, thrashing about as he tried to dislodge the source of the pain in his ear. But the pain came again and again, and Kodo continued to thrash about until finally he twisted his body so hard that his back broke and he collapsed to the earth.
Mouse crawled out of Kodo's ear then and looked at his body. 'Look at me!' he shouted, climbing over Kodo's body, 'I have killed the great and mighty Kodo!' And while he was boasting, Cougar crept out of the tall grass and gobbled him up in one bite."
Pakwa smiled at her audience, spreading her hands wide. "And the lesson of this story is that we should be careful of our boasting."
"That story is told in my clan also." Another Tauren said, and others nodded. "Except the lesson learned is that bravery can overcome any obstacle."
"In my clan, we learn to always be mindful of our surroundings..."
"In my clan..."
Teotta raised his hands to call for quiet. "Please, Brothers and Sisters, tonight is not the night to discuss the lessons of our youth. It is a night for story and merriment. Who will tell the next tale?" The Tauren once again discussed amongst themselves, but no one seemed to be able to think of a good story, so Teotta said "I will tell a story, if no one minds." The other Tauren all nodded their agreement, and Teotta took a deep breath. "I don't think this is a story anyone else has heard before, but I will tell it anyway." With a sigh, he stared into the fire and began to speak.
Once, in an age forgotten by most, there was a valley surrounded by tall, sharp peaks that sheltered it. And in this valley was every kind of land, thrown together almost haphazardly. Rolling hills shaped the courses of mighty rivers that gave life to low swamps which gradually rose into lush forests. And in that valley lived Blind Wolf and Bird Bear, and they were friends of a sort. But Blind Wolf was cunning and sly, and one day Bird Bear caught him in a lie and said "How can we be friends now, when you lie to me so casually?" This made Blind Wolf angry, and he fled into the forest to gather his family to seek vengeance. But Bird Bear was not a fool, and fled to the caves within the hills to warn his own family of Blind Wolf's intentions. Bird Bear's family was strong, and they fortified their cave against attack, the largest and strongest amongst them holding the mouth of the cave while the old and young lay safe deep within the caverns. For many weeks they waited... but neither Blind Wolf nor his family came.
Blind Wolf's family all agreed that he had been wronged, but knew how strong Bird Bear and his kin were, and were afraid. So Blind Wolf wandered the Valley, and came upon a large round lake. And around this lake lived a people he had never seen before. The people were small, but many, and had a wildness to them that put an idea into Blind Wolf's mind. He pretended to be wild like them, and moved among their crude huts, searching for their leader. When he same to their leader, he stopped thrashing about and pretending he was like them and the leader was frightened by Blind Wolf. Then Blind Wolf spoke to them and he told them that they were good people, and they would inherit the entire valley.
And the leader heard Blind Wolf's words and agreed with him, and Blind Wolf told him that before his people could inherit the valley, they must drive Bird Bear and his family from the mountains. With control of the high ground, Blind Wolf reasoned, they should be in a position to take what was rightfully theirs. And so the leader called to his people and rallied them together, and they marched to the mountains while Blind Wolf went back to the forest and his family. And blind Wolf said to his family "Look! Bird Bear is strong, but with the people attacking his caves, he will be less strong!" and Blind Wolf's family agreed.
But while Blind Wolf and the lake people schemed against Bird Bear, Lynx and Tiger waited on the hill. Lynx made a fire, and in the smoke their ancestors came to them and told them that Blind Wolf threatened the harmony of the valley, and that they two mush restore the order before the three warring tribes tore the valley apart. And so, Lynx hefted his spear. And Tiger unsheathed her claws. And together they went down into the valley of the three warring tribes.
Down to the lake they crept, and Tiger slashed at the huts, and Lynx threw dust in their fires that caused blue smoke to rise. The lake people cried out, and their leader spied the smoke from atop Bird Bear's hill. The leader cried out "Blind Wolf has tricked us! We must go to the forest and find him!" And the lake people turned from the hill and marched into the forest after Blind Wolf.
Bird Bear and his kin saw the lake people, armed for war, moving through their mountains. And they said "Blind Wolf has turned them against us! We must attack them before the two of them can move on our caves!"
And Blind Wolf's family saw the lake people turn from the caves, and they said "The lake people have failed us, we must attack Bird Bear ourselves!"
And so, the lake people attacked Blind Wolf's family, and Blind Wolf's family attacked Bird Bear's family, and Bird Bear's family attacked the lake people. Tiger and Lynx watched this happen and were dismayed and ashamed at the role they had played.
Teotta paused in his story, just staring into the fire for a moment, remembering how he and Tashyna had run through the valley together in their days before coming through Dartien's portal. They had killed many of the tribals together, along with the creatures that preyed upon them. There was, in truth, neither shame nor regret in the action, only a longing for what he had lost. If there was a purpose behind him and him alone being separated from the others, he had yet to discover it.
"...and what happened then?" Teotta blinked, snapping out of his reverie to look at Mirashe's concerned face. She, like the other Tauren, were very much absorbed in his tale.
"Forgive me." He told her with a smile he did not really feel at the moment. "I will continue."
So, as the three warring tribes attacked each other's homes, Tiger and Lynx returned to the hilltop, and Lynx lit another fire. And their ancestors came to them and said "You have set into motion a chain of events that cannot be reversed. As the three sides were evenly matched in peace, so too are they evenly matched in war. But there is no balance in war. Order will become chaos." As the spirits left the fire, Lynx (the wiser) turned to Tiger (the stronger) and said "We cannot have balance now. But Chaos will spread, as is the nature of Chaos. We must therefore have Order, else Chaos will spread to the very borders of our city." Tiger agreed with this, and she said. "But how will we have order?" Lynx told her "We must end the war, and for the war to end, there must be a victory."
"But who shall be the victor?" Tiger asked. "Bird Bear is strong, Blind Wolf is smart." It was an unspoken agreement between the two that the lake people should not win, for they and their kind had caused much destruction in other places. "I do not like either choice." Lynx told her. "But since it was Blind Wolf's lie that started the war, Bird Bear should bring the best order." And Tiger nodded, for Lynx was wise.
And so, Tiger and Lynx ran with Bird Bear and his family. Through the forest they ran, and hunted Blind Wolf and all his kin. Through the swamps and around the lake they ran, hunting the people there. And when Bird Bear stood amongst the broken huts, and stood amidst the burning trees, Lynx and Tiger slipped away to their hilltop so that none but they would know the shame of their actions.
Now there is a valley. A valley of rolling hills guiding mighty rivers that give life to low swamps that rise into lush forests. But only Bird Bear lives there now. Blind Wolf and the lake people are no more, and there is order in the valley.
And only the stones remember what has been lost.
Teotta closed his eyes, the flickering flames casting strange shadows over his face. Most of the Tauren sat in stunned silence. Clearly many of them had not expected the story to end in such a way.
"Your story has an important lesson." Pakwa said as she slowly stood, giving her mane a soft shake.
"The nature of lies." Another Tauren put in, and many of the rest nodded in agreement.
Teotta opened his eyes, looking up at her quizzically for a moment. "Some have seen it as such, yes."
"Thank you for your gifts, company and stories tonight, Brothers and Sisters." Pakwa bowed to the other Tauren, and they returned the gesture before she turned from the fire and walked off into the night. The others made similar excuses, stretching their limbs before leaving.
Mirashe began to pack up her equipment and prepared to douse the flames. Only once she had covered the small pit with earth and scattered the stones back around the pond did Teotta stand up, exhaling deeply and staring out over the mesa's edge. After a moment, she placed a hand on his shoulder and whispered, "What was the real lesson behind your story?"
"That we must always strive for balance." He told her without turning his head. For a moment, just one moment, he had seen his own home in the stars shining through the peaks of the tents of Thunder Bluff, the moon rising over the mountains so very like the bright jewel of his own evening sky. "That even though we, small beings that we are, may never comprehend it, there is balance in all things."