[Story] A Letter from Xanaroth

“But Master, you can’t,” Carraith insisted, her tail twitching irritably.

Xanaroth continued writing at his desk, ignoring the succubus’s tantrum. She had been at it since he’d come home the night before. “Watch me,” he said, dipping his quill into the inkwell. “And need I remind you that you don’t make the decisions around here.”

“She’s not suitable! She’s hardly even–”

He supposed he was fortunate not to have had to deal with a jealous succubus before now. Still, her wailing was grating on his nerves. “Not suitable? It was your idea in the first place. You’re upset now that I’ve decided to act on it?”

Carraith gave him a dark look, crossing her arms. “I changed my mind.”

“In that case,” Xanaroth replied, “I suggest you change it back. And keep away from her, lest you find yourself bound in the Nether.” The demon gave an indignant huff at that, but at least it got her to stop talking. He had worked with Carraith for a great many years, but it wasn’t an idle threat — if she caused trouble with Vallindra he would be all too happy to send her away.

He continued in silence, pausing to frown at the paper. He frowned and tore it up, fetching a fresh sheet. Carraith glanced over, her tone softened. “What are you writing?”

Xanaroth’s ear twitched. “A letter,” he muttered. How was he to begin it? “Dear” might be too familiar just yet, but he didn’t want to seem too impersonal either. There were so many opportunities to say the wrong thing. With Saralith it had been much simpler, everything was arranged so it was only a matter of agreeing or not. They’d gone to eat together, and her company was pleasant enough. She had her own interests and was quite intelligent, so he agreed. All he’d had to do was show up to the ceremony, really. And things with the ranger had just sort of happened on its own, quite naturally. He hadn’t stopped to think about what he was supposed to say, because in the end it didn’t really matter. Whatever he said was always the right thing.

In the end, he opened with simply her name. He remembered that she hated when her sister shortened it to “Val”, so he made a note to avoid that.

Vallindra,

You may find it odd that I am sending a letter when we are certain to see each other soon. The reason is that I believed you might wish to receive a letter, and there are some things I find it easier to write than to speak of. I think this is especially true when speaking to you, as I have found I am always afraid I will say the wrong thing.

I am not sure if you are aware, but the study of various herbs and plants is a long-time interest of mine. In addition to the properties of color that they lend an ink, different plants may imbue the finished product with magical effects. The plants of Outland are considered exotic to many, not only for their rarity but for their effects, many of which cannot be replicated by other means.

One of the most remarkable of these is the plant commonly called “netherbloom”. This plant, rare even on its home world, can thrive only in areas of high magical concentration. It requires a constant supply of magical energy, either through the ground or in rarer cases, from airborne streams such as those found in Netherstorm. Alone, its essence has few effects. It is only when combined with another that its true nature is revealed; it amplifies and strengthens whatever it is paired with. Its high levels of magical energy can sometimes be unpredictable, and lead to wholly unexpected results. In the living plant, the magical energy is so concentrated that insects and animals that come into contact with it may actually be altered — or even die — from the exposure. Even magically-resistant creatures such as mana wyrms and nether rays can react in such a way to this plant. Yet its allure is so great that these animals are drawn to it in spite of the danger, ensuring that the plant’s pollen is carried to new ground even though it may kill its carrier.

I hope you will not be offended if I admit that you remind me very much of this flower, perhaps in part because we are here in its home.

~Magister Embersun

PS – Please be wary of any strangers, particularly in female guise. My succubus is a bit displeased with me at the moment and may try to bother you.

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[Story] The Pilgrim 2

Imralion ignored the knock at his door. He knew the only person it could be. Sure enough, after a moment’s pause, his sister let herself in anyway. In hindsight, he probably should have locked it, but the locks were strange and like nothing he’d ever seen before. He was too embarassed to ask how to work them at the desk, so he simply left it unlocked. It’s not like there was anything of value that he left in his room anyway.

“I thought you were busy,” Imralion said, scribbling some notes onto a page. The book in front of him was open to a painting of a fel hound, depicted as it gnawed upon an unsuspecting mage. Imralion wasn’t sure if the illustrations were meant to be realistic or not, but it was kind of gruesome. “With what’s-his-name.”

“Pelandar,” Linarelle said, sitting down on the other side of the bed. Several of the books tumbled off with a loud thump. “He ‘needs space’.”

“Do you know who else needs space? Me. Get out of my room.” He rose to collect the fallen books, hoping none of them were damaged. He really didn’t want to have to replace any of them; most looked old and old things were usually valuable.

“Come to the tavern with me,” Linarelle insisted, picking up one of the smaller books and raising a brow at the drawing of a succubus. “You’ve been studying all day.”

He had been, without much progress either. How was he ever supposed to remember all of their names and abilities? The Captain would yell at them if they got it wrong, and the last thing Imralion wanted was to be sent home, especially before he’d even got a chance to see any demons in person. “I have to,” he sighed. “I’m awful at this. That guy in the library was trying, but I think I’m hopeless.”

Linarelle raised a brow again. “What guy in the library?”

Imralion gave her a flat look. She wasn’t already going after another one, was she? “Oh, a mage I think. He was helping me with the names and stuff. He’s had some first-hand experience with them and he said maybe he could come talk to our unit about it. I’ll have to ask the Captain yet, I forgot about it.”

“Well, that’s nice of him,” said Linarelle.

What was that supposed to mean? “Yes,” Imralion agreed. “It is.”

“And he didn’t want anything in return?”

The paladin shrugged. “I figure the Captain will pay him or something. He didn’t mention anything. What’s so weird about that? Can’t people just be nice?”

Linarelle rolled her eyes and sighed at him, the way she did when she thought he was being stupid about something. “Not usually. So are you coming with me or not?”

He glanced down at the book again. He wasn’t even a third of the way through yet. “Sorry,” Imralion said. “I still have a lot to do yet.”

[Story] Exiled 2

They weren’t allowed paper in the cells, and even if they were, the guards would certainly read anything he wrote. Berwick composed the letter in his head as he kept watch out the tiny window. He wasn’t sure how many days it had been; time was easy to lose track of in here. There was little else to do but sleep, and he never knew how long he had slept for. He thought the little window had darkened to black three times, but he couldn’t be sure. He could have missed some, or perhaps he’d forgotten how to count altogether.

He knew what he would write if he could. He’d ask if she was safe, if Thalien had made it back. He’d urge her to get help, though who he wasn’t exactly sure. The other prisoners insisted that someone was coming, was already on the way. If that was true, Berwick thought they were taking their time about it. One in particular had taken to watching the window with him too, a man with his light blonde hair tied back. They spoke quietly, so as not to attract the guards’ attention.

The man, who was a jeweler, had lost someone too. Berwick thought all of them here probably had — a parent, a wife, a sibling. The entire building was full of broken lives. How many else were there? The man asked if Berwick thought the women were being held somewhere else, for it was true there were very few women in with them. The thought of it made his stomach flip uncertainly. It was possible, he agreed. But he hoped it wasn’t true. There was no way out of these cells, he’d looked and he was better than most about locks. Even if they were to open the lock somehow, they were guarded day and night. It would take a miracle — or some outside intervention — to get them out of here.

It wasn’t fair, they hadn’t done anything. Berwick didn’t even live here, really. The men who shared his cell weren’t saboteurs or spies, they were simple shopkeepers and workers. How could they hold all of these innocent people? How could they have simply killed them in the streets? The man kept insisting that help would come, and Berwick knew he was saying that to convince himself as much as anyone else. They all had to believe it, otherwise what hope was there? It was taking so long, though. Berwick guessed there were tense negotiations with they, the prisoners, as the leverage. It was an uncomfortable realization.

The man’s brother and his wife were here in Dalaran too. He had lost everything in his shop, in addition to his family. Berwick’s vault at the bank was still there, though he was certain it had been raided by now. He certainly couldn’t go back to claim it. If he ever did get free, he’d have hardly nothing to his name. Which didn’t matter, not really, he could rebuild. But not without Xyliah. It didn’t seem fair that they could take her house, the house she’d had to marry Sanimir to get, the one she’d spent so long fixing up just the way she liked it. They hadn’t lived there long, but it was already home. They’d never go to the tavern for frog juice again, and it was this realization, on top of everything else, that finally made him break. If the other man saw, he was kind enough to say nothing.

Because he understood. If they hadn’t come back from Pandaria, everything would be fine now. They would be sitting by the stream catching fish, and Xyliah would be feeding some apples to Thalien. Ember would be asleep, rolled onto his back with his little paws in the air. She had to be safe somewhere, she had to be.

Please, he prayed. Let her be safe. And let her find help.

[Story] Kun-Lai

Pandaria was beautiful, they had been right about that. It seemed to Sath’alor almost like a place from a dream, and the strange-looking inhabitants only lent to that feeling of unreality. There were the pandaren of course, the bear-like people with their strange food and eager nature. All of them seemed to want to talk to Sath’alor, in spite of the fact that he really didn’t want to talk to anyone. The little hairy creatures were often found nearby them, Sath’alor wasn’t really sure what these were. Most strange of all were the monkey people. They looked almost exactly like those he had seen in the jungles of Stranglethorn while he was searching for cats — except they were larger and wore clothing. They had built a small village in the forest where the mage had delivered him, the walls and supports made of sticks.

He had seen a fair number of travelers along his way, yet the world seemed vast and empty all the same. Maybe they were going somewhere different than he was, or maybe they simply didn’t see him at all. The forest itself was beautiful, though occupied by more strange things — these large stone creatures that appeared to be statues come to life. They were very large, and didn’t seem to appreciate travelers poking around their ruins. Sath’alor was sure no cats would be eager to stay around them either. He had seen tracks though, which encouraged him. They were here somewhere, it was only a matter of time before he found one. And time was something he had plenty of.

After a few days Sath’alor opted to move west, further inland. The little hairy people offered to rent him an animal to ride — the likes of which he had never seen before. It was something like a ram, but not quite. It looked safe enough, but Sath’alor politely turned down the offer. Tracking cats was much easier on foot, unless he intended to use the creature for bait. He doubted that the little hairy people would appreciate one of their animals being eaten. In searching for cats, it was important to think like a cat: where would you go? A place near fresh water was essential, and access to hunting grounds. It was important to have places to hide, and places high up to sit and observe. The plains to the west seemed a suitable place, though they lacked cover. Herds of the ram-like animals grazed over the open grasses, and snow-fed streams trickled down from the mountains beyond. Here was more harsh than the forest, and the cold temperature would require a sturdier sort of cat to survive here.

There were people here too, loosely speaking. They looked very much like Tauren, though considerably more hostile to outsiders. Of course, Tauren probably were too — Sath’alor knew very little about them. But on his first night he saw a party of travelers robbed by these raiders, and took efforts to hide his own trail after that. He was a good shot, but they were massive and well-armed, and he had no cat to help him fight. At least, not yet. The cats were certainly here, he saw proof of that easily enough. He found tracks, as well as fresh kills, and sun-bleached bones hidden away in a cavern of rock.

On the third day, he saw one. He was thrilled when he caught a glimpse of its silver-white coat, meant to blend in with the mountains behind them. These had to be the cats that he’d seen back at the market, and they were huge, bigger even than the ones in the forest. The one he tracked now was a female, he guessed, based on the narrowness of its head and delicacy of the stride. There was a peculiarity about her stride, and Sath’alor soon was able to see why — she had been injured at one point, and the wound still troubled her from time to time. She was an ideal candidate, for left alone she stood a good chance of becoming unable to hunt. This way, she would always have food to eat. Once, she caught Sath’alor’s scent and turned her gaze onto him, and he was startled by the beauty of her icy blue eyes.

Gaining her trust wasn’t difficult. Sath’alor guessed that the cats here had very little contact with people — at least people who weren’t Tauren.  She eagerly took the roasted meat that he offered to her, and was soon a regular visitor to his camp. Soon it was if they had known each other for years. He studied the ink-black sky, watching the blinking stars above, as the cat groomed herself at his feet. It was beautiful here, but lonely too. The new cat — he had named her Clementine — helped, but there was a deeper loneliness that ran far beneath that. He questioned, as he had a hundred times before, whether he had made the right choices. Usually he thought he had, but on nights like this, sometimes he had doubts.

[Screenshots] LOTRO: Wintry Yule Steed

Okay, well that wasn’t too long. Though all of my characters did some quests last year, so they might count toward it? I dunno. Here’s Andarthir with the Wintry Yule Steed! He’s also wearing a Yule hat that he won from one of his bags!

wintry_yule
Errybody getting horsies today!

wintry_pony
And this one, which I think is from last year? I dunno, Morthorn had enough tokens for all three. And he’s wearing the title you get from building all the different snowmen!

frostyhorse

[Story] Xanaroth’s Notes

* I keep justifying myself with technicalities, as if that somehow changes anything. Technically she isn’t my apprentice, so it’s not so bad, is it? Technically we’re already working together, so she was already in danger. Technically I didn’t declare anything other than intent.

* Her father wasn’t difficult to find. He has an office in Silvermoon, one I’d walked past many times in fact. I thought it better to call in person rather than send a letter, especially as I didn’t wish to write any of those damaging rumors down on paper. Or the other things. It’s clear that he mistrusts her; he said he believed the sister’s rumors might be true. I hope I was able to look suitably appalled. I assured him that I had seen no such “evil magic” in my work with her and the ley-lines, and praised her dedication. The father said she’d engineered some rumors of her own, but wouldn’t give any details. I admit that I was curious about those, perhaps she’ll tell me one day. We spoke a little of the news from Dalaran, isn’t it terrible, those poor people. If his daughter truly was there, then he does have my genuine sympathy. Oh, and I learned she applied for a grant from the Scryers, she never mentioned that before.

* Eventually we got around to my actual reason for calling, and he agreed scarcely before I’d finished speaking. He certainly seems in a hurry to pass her off to someone else. I asked if he didn’t wish to know anything about me, at least? I could be a gutter rat from Murder Row, for all he knew. I explained that I was a mage, though my income comes primarily from scrolls and glyphs. I mentioned that I had been married before, and that my wife had died many years ago. That was all. He suggested that I speak to Vallindra about it rather than wait for his letter. That won’t be an awkward conversation at all.

* How do you even bring that up? We spoke about Frog the voidwalker, and some other trivial things that I don’t remember. I had meant to explain the system I came up with for the lines. At present they are measured by width, which seems very imprecise to me as it can vary widely, even along the same line. And it’s not really possible to see the line, which makes it tricky to measure. I thought that they could be labeled by letters: “A” for the most narrow of lines, all the way up through the alphabet for wider lines. And if necessary, “AA” could be used. Even if it’s for our own maps, I think it would make things more consistent, and make analysis more precise. But I forgot to mention all of that.

* She said she wasn’t opposed to it either, in spite of my age. I didn’t mention the ranger. I very nearly did, but she said she wouldn’t be bothered by anything other than false intentions, so why dig up something that is resting? It felt dishonest, a bit, but at the same time I think I am content to let the dead lie for now. It’s the first time I’ve felt that way, so it’s something of a turning point. I’m not sure where to go from here. She’s bought a house in Shattrath, on the Tier. I meant to, but I haven’t yet, and now I wonder if it isn’t necessary. She has a point about that, but it’s also still very soon and she could very well change her mind. This won’t guarantee her loyalty, I know enough about women to know that, but I believe in her case it will very nearly. She will be very powerful soon, and a great asset. I don’t want Kestrae or anyone else interfering with that. She could have been too, but it’s too late now for that.

* And I’m sure I’ll hear all about it once she and Aeramin return here. Yes, I know, but they’re in no position to be pointing fingers at anyone. If Vallindra chooses to tell them, that’s her business. Not that she has invited me to her room anyway, so there’s no reason for anyone to suspect anything. I’ve waited this long, I don’t mind waiting a bit more.

[Story] Sanctum of the Sun

Ordinicus emptied the bucket of scraps in front of the sick netherdrake, stepping back to observe it quietly. While the netherbloom hadn’t seemed to help, at least the dragon had eaten last night, and it showed interest in the food in front of it now. Its broad, shark-like muzzle hovered briefly over the meat, then it picked some up in its jaws. Ordinicus was amazed at the number of teeth that it had. One piece after another disappeared down its throat. Kestrae had paid for it, from the inn. Usually the dragons weren’t fed supplies from the kitchen — they were far too scarce and expensive for that, but Ordinicus supposed she had money to spare. She’d bought out all the leftovers from yesterday’s dinner, and some of the supply for today’s lunch. Not that there were many guests to feed. He thought the dour mage was the only person staying here now.

He’d tried to figure out what was going on between all of them. Whatever it was, it was ugly. It was something to do with Sanimir, and keeping him locked away somewhere on a farm. Ordinicus supposed it was the same farm they wanted him to go to. Kestrae said he’d gone away again, somewhere he could be alone and think. Ordinicus could certainly relate to that, though he hadn’t left anyone behind. He’d just wanted to choose for himself, not follow what his family wanted him to do. She asked if he ever thought about leaving, about doing something else. Of course he had, but he didn’t know where he could go. People in Silvermoon might not be too accepting, and apparently Dalaran wasn’t safe anymore either. He’d heard the rumors in enough places that they had to be true; sin’dorei being killed and arrested simply for being sin’dorei. What he’d done — or at least, what he’d been prepared to do — was even worse than that. Shadowmoon wasn’t so bad. He had a job, and a place to stay, though with each passing day the reality of the situation became more apparent. Sooner or later, they would shut down the outpost and send the workers away. Sorry, we don’t need you anymore. He had no idea where he’d go then.

The nether drake uttered a contented sound and lay its head across its forelegs. Carefully, Ordinicus removed the bucket from the pen and rinsed it out with water. The illness, whatever it was, still lingered but at least the animal seemed more alert. It responded to food now, and lifted his head. Sunfall had received a shipment of medicines last night that he claimed were specifically meant for dragons, though nether drakes weren’t quite the same as other dragons. Still, Ordinicus was eager to see if they would have some result. He’d grown attached to the old fellow, and hoped he would make it through.

Kestrae had checked him for fel burns, but Sunfall had already done that. With infernals raining from the sky, he had plenty of experience treating those. Maybe it was a disease brought in from another animal, though the outpost hadn’t seen many visitors lately. The dour mage and the older scholar didn’t have any with them, and he knew that Harkin hadn’t made anyone sick. Ordinicus had the idea of stealing one of the totems from the bird people, though it would be difficult to do. And he didn’t put much belief into totems — what were they really, other than pieces of wood? But it couldn’t hurt, he figured.

He still didn’t know what to think of Kestrae. Most of the time, she seemed friendly, but then she said things like she did last night. That she was dangerous, and sought power. That he could be in danger too. Was she trying to scare him away? It seemed to be working. If he did go somewhere else, he hoped it was a place without summoners.