Thursday, January 29, 2009



It was late in the morning when the young swordsman Percival Jonathon McDoran stared into the tiny room, at the small bald child who was sleeping in her bed. The room's white walls were sparsely decorated; a small painting of a mountain landscape and a drawing of a white flower were the only two decorations that were hung in a spot directly above the little girl's pillow.

Percival was a skinny human of twenty-two years of age with jet black hair that was always spiked up in the front. His body was covered with freshly clean linens. Over the linens was a thin set of chain mail armor and a forest green colored cloak that was draped across his back. Strapped across his back was a two-handed steel sword.

The young swordsman looked down at the little girl and asked in a polite voice," Annie, are you awake?"

The little girl's eyelids opened, revealing the oval shaped green orbs that rested underneath. "Percival, what are you doing here?" 

Percival quietly entered the room, his olive colored eyes examining the little girl as she spoke. He quickly noticed her skin had become more pale and her body more gangly, almost like a skeleton. To Percival, the only thing about Annie that hadn't changed since he last visited her two days before, was the light in her eyes. Her condition has worsened, he said to himself.

"Brother Donald didn't say you were coming," Annie continued, referring to the swordsman's half-elf friend Donald Falturk, who also happened to be a priest at the temple here where Annie was living. Donald was a priest to the Mother Goddess, Harmonia the Feymother, who was known as the goddess who created elves and other fey and magical creatures.

Percival shrugged, thinking of his dark skinned friend. "Donald had just probably forgotten to mention that I was coming today. How are you feeling?"

Annie sighed, staring up at the young man. "I feel a better today than most days. But I wish this sickness would leave me so that way I can run and play like the other children."

"You must grow restless being confined here," commented Percival as he patted her head. "Still you know what Brother Donald and the other priests would say."

"To keep praying," she answered with a smile. Percival nodded as he turned to walk away. He was glad that Annie had such strong faith. As his left foot was outside of the door, he heard Annie ask," Maybe you can visit me some other time Percival."

Percival turned to Annie and nodded. "Yes Annie. I will come and visit you soon." The little girl flashed Percival another smile, then reached underneath her large wool blanket and pulled out a small red book. 

The swordsman quickly left the room and proceeded to wander the hallways quietly. Just as he was about to dive into his personal thoughts once more, he spotted Donald, who was wearing his light green clerical robes.

Donald ran a hand through his clean shaven head and walked over to greet his friend. "I take it you just visited Annie."

Percival nodded. "There seems to be no real improvement on her condition."

The priest shook his head, already knowing the rocky path where this conversation was going. "I have been praying day and night for her, just like everyone else."

Letting out a sigh, Percival crossed his arms and leaned up against the wall. "And has your goddess said anything to you? Is she going to help her? What about the other priests and their gods here at the temple?"

"The Feymother has told me that this sickness is not beyond her power," Donald answered. "But her attention is on other matters, just the other gods, you know that. The Elves in the main land are in a brutal war against the Shadowkin."

"So she can't take a little time out of her war to help a sick child," Percival said in a bitter voice. Noticing the glare in his friend's slightly slanted blue eyes, he added," I apologize. I didn't mean to speak ill of your goddess-"

"You can not go around besmirching the Mother Gods, especially here," Donald interrupted as he tapped his forehead with his index finger. "For someone who doesn't really put his faith in the gods, you sure have been visiting the temple quite a bit."

Percival rolled his eyes. Two months ago, he had been a knight in the service of King Benjamin Grail, and the kingdom of Belaroos, which was several miles northeast of Montagu, the town where the swordsman was currently staying. King Grail's commanding officer, Sir Brandon Trask, had asked Percival to leave the knighthood for unknown reasons, assuring the young man that he would be asked to return soon. Percival took this opportunity to visit Donald in Montagu and within the first week of him staying with the priest, Percival would have his midday meal with Donald at the temple. This is where he met Annie. After two months, Percival had contemplated on going back to Belaroos, but decided against it, seeing as he was called to help at the temple. Donald had told him that it was faith and that the goddesses wanted him to be there, but the swordsman just shook his head, saying that he was too lazy to travel back to Belaroos.

Disregarding his friend's last few words, Percival turned to look back into Annie's room. "I wish there was something I could do for her." The swordsman looked back to Donald. "Isn't there anything we mortals can do?

Donald shrugged then patted Percival on the back. "We can pray." 

* * * *


After leaving Donald to do his praying and his clerical duties, Percival left the temple and ventured over a grassy area behind an abandoned granary. "Maybe Donald is right," Percival whispered as he went to a knee and cast his gaze up towards the cloudless blue sky above. "Maybe prayer-" the swordsman was quickly on his feet, when he spotted a beautiful woman in a long black dress, standing several feet away from him. She had stringy white hair that went down to her back and silvery eyes that stared his way.

"Yes, prayer, sir knight," the woman said in a sultry voice. "Pray to a goddess who will not answer the prayers of her own priests. A goddess you yourself do not believe in. Or perhaps you can pray to one who will listen to you and before you."

Percival arched an eyebrow as she-whom he guessed was an immortal being in avatar form, judging by her radiating beauty and the extravagant garments and jewelry she was sporting-approached him. Aside from the Feymother and Athene the All-Knowing, Percival knew of one other goddess who was worshipped in Montagu. "And I sure you can offer your own answer to my problems Lady of Vengeance."

Callilili, a goddess of vengeance and scorn, smiled as she looked over the young swordsman. Like all dark gods,-who were also known as the Titans-Callilili was a deity who was reviled and loathed by the races and worshipped by the Mother Gods. The Lady of Vengeance had expected Percival to flee in her presence, yet he remained calm as she began to circle him.

"Your priest friend is having trouble having his prayers answered by the Feymother, at least when it's about praying for the little girl. Annie, was it?"

A shiver went through Percival's spine as he felt the titan's hand touch his shoulder. "I had no idea a dark goddess could show sympathy towards children in need."

"You were raised to think-" she stopped and gripped his shoulder tightly when she saw the look of defiance in the eyes of the young man. "Mortal you dare look at me with those eyes. You claim that you are not a believer." 

Percival shut his eyes as several volts of energy and electricity went through his body. Percival rubbed his shoulder after the goddess drew her hand away. "You are right milady, I should have known better…but may I ask why you are here?"

Callilili's lips parted in a cynical smile. Standing face to face with the swordsman, she saw though his deception. It wasn't that this mortal didn't believe in the power of the gods-both the Mothers and the Titans-but he merely lost his faith in their power at some point in his life, or he simply just questions it. "You want to save your little friend? Well sir knight, I am willing to make a bargain with you. Unlike the gods who are caught up in their wars, I can take time and help save the girl, provided you do something for me. One of my followers has abandoned me, and as my Knight of Vengeance, I need you to destroy him."

Percival opened his mouth," One of your followers-" He looked down at his armor, seeing it change from its plain steel color to shade of black. Looking over his shoulder, he saw that his cloak had also turned black, with images of tiny white skulls woven along the edges. Next, Percival let out a muffled cry as he felt Callilili's cold lips planted on his, kissing him deeply as the top row of her teeth bit on the lower part of his lip. As she pulled away, Percival felt a dribble of blood fall from his lips. 

"When you are ready, seek me out," the goddess said with a hiss, then vanished.

Percival looked down at his black armor. He raced back to the temple, to tell Donald what had just happened.

* * * *


"So you are telling me that you pledged your services to a Titan," Donald said in a calm voice, once Percival had finished his story. "Don't you remember me saying to let prayer take care of this. I mean I am glad to you finally found faith with the gods, but a Titan?"

"First of all, I did not pledge my soul to her," Percival immediately answered. "I was about to pray, but then she came to me with the offer to save Annie." Seeing the disappointed look in Donald's face, Percival sighed.

"This is not good for you my friend," the half-elf said with a shake of his head. "Nothing good can come from helping a titan."

Donald shook his head one more. "You could have turned to any of the other Mothers for this."

"But she seemed to so adamant to help," Percival remarked. "She came to me and made a bargain to help Annie." None of the other gods came before me Donald, and I'll admit to you that encountering Callilili for the first time scared me a little. I know you priests seek counsel from your gods at all times and interact with them, draw from their power. But I have never felt that before and I would not have made this deal with Callilili if I did not think she could help Annie. You said yourself that the Titans maintained the power of immortals, even after they were cast out from the heavens."

"So now you are roping me into this," Donald said.

"I'm not trying to Donald, but I could use your help. In exchange for curing Annie, she wants me to destroy a disobedient follower of hers. This most likely could mean that I would be going up against some warlord or priest. I could really use your help on this." Percival paused, wondering how his friend would answer his request.

"So since you are not a priest, you need someone who is powerful in holy magic," the half-elf said with a smile. Percival nodded and then Donald added," I have to go pray."

The swordsman gave another nod, then watched his friend leave.

* * * *


An hour would pass before Donald returned. Seeing the astonished look in the priest's eyes and the smile on his face, Percival knew that his friend had been advised to go with him on this dangerous journey. 

"So when do we leave?" Donald inquired in a calm voice. 

"She told me to call upon her when I was ready." Percival quickly noticed the look of concern in the priest's face. 'Something the matter?"

"Yes something is the matter," Donald answered as he leaned close to his friend. "You can not call upon a titan here. Not in a temple dedicated to the Seven Mothers."

"I know," Percival added as he and Donald began walking down the hallway. "We'll go to the abandoned granary in a moment. There is something I have to do before we leave."

"I'll go with you," the half-elf said as he and the knight stood outside of Annie's door.

Percival flashed the priest a smile, then opened the door. He peeked inside and the girl sitting on her bed, reading her book.

It took Annie a moment to see both Donald and Percival at her door. When she saw the swordsman, she noticed the change in his armor. "Percival, your chain mail is different."

A sigh escaped from the priest's lips while an uneasy expression crossed the face of the swordsman. "Annie," Percival began in a quiet voice. "Donald and I are going away for a little bit. We are going to help…a friend, who in turn says, she can make you better."

As Percival finished his sentence, Annie left her bed and walked over, giving both Percival and Donald each a hug. Her lips parted in an innocent smile as she said," You both be careful and give your friend my blessing."

Percival watched as Annie got back in her bed. He wanted to say more to her, but he felt Donald's fingertips tap his shoulder. Turning to his friend, the swordsman whispered," Let's go."

* * * *


Dusk was settling in as Percival and Donald made their way behind the small granary. Much to the surprise of both the swordsman and the priest-whose left hand was clenching his holy medallion-the Lady of Vengeance was standing in the same exact spot where she had stood face to face with Percival hours ago. "It's about time," she spat when her silvery eyes spotted the two men.

"My apologies milady," Percival responded in a quiet tone. The young human glanced back to his friend, who gave a bow to the immortal being. "This is my friend Donald, he is a priest-"

"Of the Feybitch. Yes I know." Callilili looked over the half-elf, then looked at Percival. "Though he may be a mere priest, I am somewhat relieved that you went to recruit your help. You will need it."

Percival was surprised at Donald's calm nature towards the Titan. He wondered if the high priests had taught their acolytes to be respectful towards immortal beings, be they gods of darkness, or gods of light. 

"So who is this servant of yours you want me to destroy?" Percival asked the goddess as a slick smile crossed his face.

Callilili stared at the swordsman, seeing through his smug look and sensing the uneasiness in his heart. "You must journey to the lair of Crainilar, known to many as the Skull. I am sure you have heard of him."

Both Donald and Percival exchanged worried looks. Indeed they had heard of Crainilar, one of the mightiest dragons in all of Airway. He was known to be a dragon who possessed brute strength and a deadly fiery breath. Many of the tales described how he would collect the skulls of his enemies he vanquished in combat. 

"You never said anything about a dragon," Percival said in quick voice. Finishing his words, he kept silent.

"I realize this may be a bit of a challenge for you," Callilili said with a smirk. Her eyes looked towards the priest once more as she said," I understand if you want to leave, Priest of Harmonia." Her gaze went back to Percival," but you have no real choice sir knight, unless you want to make the choice of abandoning the girl."

"Percival bit his lip and turned to Donald. "If I had known she would be sending me to my doom against a dragon, I wouldn't have asked you to come along." 

Then Donald did something that surprised both his friend and the goddess. "The Feymother told me that something like this might have happened," Donald said as his face broke out in a wide smile. "She predicted the Lady of Vengeance would set you upon a great task."

The Titaness rolled her eyes as the priest patted his friend's back. "So this ,seems you are going with him. Good. You can both be along your way."

"But where is it we are going?" asked Percival, who was now filled with a new sense of confidence. "According to the stories, the Skull's lair is far north in the Main Land, but that has never been proven."

"Well consider yourself blessed by Lady Luck sir knight, although you had best not praise her at this moment," Callilili said in a cool voice as she reached over and grasped Percival by the scruff of his shirt collar. "There is a village in the Vanarhan Mountains that is near the dragon's lair,. I am sure there are locals who can help you, provided you survive the danger."

As the Lady of Vengeance let go of his shirt, Percival felt an increasing warmth fill his body, followed by a bright light that blinded his vision.

* * * *


"Percival, are we in the Main Land?" the swordsman heard his friend ask. Percival opened his eyes, seeing Donald standing near a large boulder. The rest of the mountain area around them was dry and desolate. Looking to his left, Percival saw the base of the Vanarhan Mountains.

"We seem to be in the mountains," Percival observed as he looked into the distance, hoping to find any sign of the village the goddess was speaking of.

As Percival continued to survey the area, Donald whispered a quick prayer to his goddess Harmonia. When he was finished with his prayer, he turned to the swordsman. "A thought just came to me Percival. What did she mean when she said that we would find the village, IF we survived the danger." Percival paused for a moment. He too wondered what the goddess had meant.

Both friends felt a sudden shiver go through their backs. They their eyes north, Percival's eyes seeing several narrow shapes while Donald's eyes, which were able to see better in the distance thanks in part of his elven heritage, saw several hideous creatures; each with their own pair of feathery wings and bodies that resembled an aged elven female.

The harpys-which totaled to nine-all dived down at the swordsman and the priest, their arms extended forward, their claws ready to rip the flesh of their prey.

Following his battle instincts, Percival reached back and drew forth his two-handed sword. Like his armor, the handle and pommel of the swordsman's weapon had turned black, but the blade itself had remained its steel metallic color. 

Two harpys flew straight at Percival, causing him to swing his blade in a wide arc. One of the harpys gave a shriek as the human's weapon cleaved through her body. But the other harpy turned her body just in time to avoid being hit.

Percival was about to advance the harpy he had missed when two other harpys tackled him. The swordsman hit the ground with a hard crash and immediately the two beasts thrashed at his face and chest with their claws. Using what strength he could muster, Percival managed to throw off one of the two harpys, yet the other continued to latch on him, straddling his waist as her claws dug into his chest.

Although he was concerned with his friend's well-being, Donald had found himself surrounded by six harpys. The priest cursed at himself at himself for not bringing a weapon of his own.

As the harpys stepped closer, Donald's sharp eyes noticed six figures racing towards the battle, each of them wearing olive colored robes. 

The harpy's each raked their claws at the priest; four claws missing while eight claws ripped through the half-elf's robes and into his brown skin. Despite feeling the stinging and bleeding, Donald threw a sloppy but hard punch in retaliation. His blow struck one of the harpys in her lower jaw, causing a pair of cracks to fill his ears. As he pulled his hand back, Donald felt intense pain in his hand, followed by numbness,

The harpy Donald had hit, spat a broken tooth, but then let out a shriek as pair of hands wrapped themselves around her head and snapped her neck. 

The other harpys turned to see the six robed months standing behind them. Donald, who was holding his broken hand watched as the six monks moved with lightning speed, each using a combination of their hands and feet to quickly defeat the harpys. 

Donald looked back to check on his friend. Percival, who was no on his feet, slashed one of the harpys across the stomach, spilling a massive amount of blood. Donald noticed the blood that was flowing down the swordsman's face, as if he had just donned a crimson mask.

Partially blinded from the blood that covered his face, Percival stabbed his sword at a low angle, finishing the harpy he had already wounded. As the first harpy fell to the ground, the second harpy raked her bloodstained claws across the swordsman's face, spilling more blood. Percival let out a painful groan, and thrust his blade forward, driving it through the winged creature's chest. The harpy let out a scream as the swordsman's weapon ripped into her flesh, causing Percival to let go of his sword and fall to the ground. 

Donald rushed over to his friend but then stepped back as two monks came over and helped Percival to his feet. One of the monks who was helping the swordsman, a human female who was a foot taller than the half-elf, looked at the priest. "Your friend will be all right. We are taking him back to the monastery."

Donald's eyes stared at the tall woman. Her noodle-like blond hair went past her shoulders and her well-sculpted face had blue eyes that sparkled like gemstones. "We will fix your hand when we get back the monastery. 

As the monks walked away with Percival, Donald whispered a prayer to the Feymother, then followed.

* * * *


The monk's name was Robyn Mock, also known to her fellow monks as the Humming Bird, for her rapid hand movements and speed in combat. Like all monks at the monastery, Robyn was a disciple of Athene and she was a scholar.

Now Robyn was sitting in a small room, watching over the swordsman who had fallen on the battle field. The monks were not only skilled in hand-to-hand combat but also in healing, had done their best to mend the swordsman's wounds. Though the wounds had been healed, there were still many scars that littered his face and body. Robyn also remembered the half-elf, who had wanted to stay at his friend's side. She admired the priest's dedication to his friend, but she had assured him that he was in good hands.

Percival's eyes snapped open, actually had startled the Humming Bird. He sat up and immediately felt the pain that coursed through his body. When he had left his bed and began searching the small room for his weapon, it was at that moment Percival had realized the monk sitting in the room with him. It also that moment when he realized that he was wearing no clothes.

Robyn giggled as the swordsman jumped back into bed. "Relax Percival, we monks may have taken a vow of chastity, but my eyes have seen the naked body of a man."

Percival blushed from embarrassment. "That is good to hear…I guess. Have your eyes by chance seen my armor and my sword?"

The monk gave him a nod. "They are with your friend Donald. There are clothes under your bed and when you are ready, the Master would like to speak with you." With that, Robyn left the room.

Percival reached under the bed, finding a clean white shirt and white pants.

* * * *


Before meeting with the Master, Percival spent an hour exploring the monastery. He noticed the monastery walls were made of plain wood. The many doors were comprised of glass and birch wood and the floors were made of smooth stone. 

After talking with one of the monks, Percival learned that the monastery was located on the other side of the mountain, built by human disciples of Athene and dwarven disciples of Brunhilda the Anvilmother. The swordsman had also learned that the monastery welcomed many visitors as long as they did not disturb the peace and tranquility of the monastery. The monks knew about the benefits of trading and having allies. A group of children passed Percival and his thoughts went to Annie.

When he was finished exploring the grounds, Percival made his way into the Master's private chamber where he and Donald appeared to be meditating. The Master was a bald man in his early sixties, standing an inch above four feet in height. He had olive colored skin that matched his robes and slanted eyes underneath his wrinkled brow.

The Master opened his eyes and smiled at the swordsman. "It is an honor to meet you Percival. Your friend Donald has explained your task to me and your dealing with Callilili."

Percival took a seat across from the Master. He tossed a glance at Donald, wondering if the priest would come out of meditation, just like the Master had done, but then a snore escaped from the half-elf's mouth.

"He has been sleeping like that for the past hour," the Master said in a soft voice. Percival kept silent, wondering if the Master-who according to many of the monks, was a special chosen servant to Athene-would belittle him for his dealing with a dark goddess. "It intrigues me that the Lady of Vengeance would simply offer to help you, especially since Donald has told me that you never really believed in the gods He is confused by this, but it is my belief that you are one who has not found a god to call his own. Perhaps you should think on this. But now to the task at hand."

"Yes the task. Callilili's help does not come with out a price," Percival said with a shrug. "The Skull is no easy foe, or so they say. Do you know where his lair is?"

The Master shook his head at the swordsman's question. "Alas Percival, my knowledge of Crainilar's lair is limited. Yet I know of someone who can help you."

It was then the monk known as the Humming Bird entered the Master's chamber, giving him a bow.

"Robyn is originally from the a village that was close to the dragon's lair," continued the Master. "If you are willing to wait until morning."

Percival looked at Robyn. "I think we can wait."


* * * *


Percival and Donald had settled themselves into the monastery's guest quarters for the evening. While the priest was praying to his goddess, Percival laid on his smell bed and stared up at the plain ceiling. His eyes rested on a spot near the middle-a spot that had now shaped itself into the face of a beautiful woman.

Taking our sweet time are we

! Callilili's voice yelled as it echoed in Percival's mind. If I had known you would be spending the night at a cursed monastery, I would have teleported you to the village myself.

"Do you hear that Donald?" Percival asked his friend.

Donald raised an eyebrow. "Hear what?

Only you can hear me twit, the goddess explained. I expect you to finish the task quickly sir knight. Annie's condition has gotten worse since you've been gone.

"What do you mean?" whispered the swordsman.

Let me just say that if you want to save her from a slow and agonizing death, than I suggest you finish this quickly. The face in the ceiling vanished and Percival closed his eyes. 

From across the room, Donald watched his friend's face twist into an expression of concern. Although Percival didn't say anything, Donald knew the swordsman had just spoken with Callilili and the conversation had not been a good one.

* * * *


It was at dawn's first light when Percival and Donald followed Robyn out of the monastery and into the wilderness. The three companions walked down an invisible road, surrounded by the open plains that were covered with light green bladed grass and small bushes. Their path continued where the wind was blowing light breezes and the animals were just awakening from their winter-long slumber. 

"So what did the Master mean by saying you could help us find the Skull's lair?" asked Percival in hopes of starting a conversation.

"He said you were from a village that was close to his lair," added Donald as he held his new quarterstaff-a gift from the monastery-in his right hand.

Robyn sighed as she and her two companions entered a familiar area that was now littered with corpses and feathers and the ground stained with dry blood. "For many years my village lived quietly near the mountains. We were a peaceful people who fended and took care of the land. But then the dragon came and slaughtered many of my friends and family. I was just one of the very few survivors who were found by the Master his monks. The Master saw promise in me and took me back to the monastery to train with him. He told me if I perfected my skills and become one with the body and spirit, then I would help avenge my village."

Percival nodded, but Donald shook his head in confusion. "But I thought monks were suppose to be all harmonious and peaceful and not lustful. It sounds to me like you are taking a path of vengeance."

"The teachings of Athene not only guide us to study knowledge and wisdom, but to also defend those who can not protect themselves," the monk explained the monk in a calm voice. Taking my revenge against the dragon would only satisfy myself and perhaps the spirits of those he killed, but avenging them would mean that no more lives would be lost. As for my vow of chastity, I have vowed only to give myself to my goddess, unless she it otherwise."

"So if Athene told you to get married and start a family, you would have to do it?" Percival asked, drawing surprised looks from both the half-elf and the Humming Bird.

"If it is her will, then yes," Robyn replied," but for now my focus is on my training and being one with the Mother of Knowledge." 

Donald looked at his friend and saw the confused look in his eyes. The priest laughed and clasped his friend on the shoulder.

The three companions continued to walk until nightfall, talking very few breaks along the way. As the night skies filled the world above, the monk pointed forward. "There it is." Donald and Percival stepped next to her, both looking out into the distance.

"Everything looks burned to a cinder," commented Donald as he noticed hulking shapes moving around a small campfire that was being put out. Surrounding the shapes and the campfire were small burned out homes. "It looks like someone has resettled your village. I'm not sure if it's ogres or orcs. Do you know if they were always here."

"It has been a month since I was last here," Robyn said in a quiet voice. "But I have not seen anyone come to the village. 

Percival drew his sword and looked at Robyn. "We will just have to see why they are there." 

With that, the three companions walked down to the village, their eyes wide open and their weapons ready. "Maybe my eyes were just playing tricks," whispered the priest. "I mean-" he stopped speaking as the echoes of clicking noises filled the air.

"Sounds like they were ready for us," Percival remarked as twelve red skinned orcs, all armed with crossbows, had surrounded them.

* * * *


In the middle of the village, Percival and his friends were brought before a muscular orc with blood red skin and short black hair. He wore burned leathers over his body and had a slack jaw with three missing teeth. Judging by the many scars in his chest and arms, this orc had seen many battles.

"Two humans and a half-elf," the slack-jawed orc said in a gruff voice. "My voice is Slavin Bloodfist."

Percival looked to his friends, who were as confused as he. Slavin had the appearance of a Savage Orc, who were among the first creatures to be created by the Titans to fight the children races of the Mother Goddesses. Savage Orcs were known to hate the other races, especially humans and elves. Yet there was something about way the orc spoke and moved that assured Percival and his friends that they would not be harmed. Not yet anyways.

While Percival and Donald stayed quiet, Robyn stepped forward. "Bloodfist. You must be here hunting Crainilar."

The orc's slack jaw widened in a grin. "That is a good guess little monk. I have been after the dragon for some time, and we had tracked the dragon down to this area. You have seen the small force that I have. There used to be three times as many, but the Skull slaughtered them in attack one year ago. It pains me to think their tribes will go un avenged, that their skulls are in that monster's lair.

Percival stepped towards Slavin. "We have our own reasons for fighting the dragon." He stopped once again, thinking of Annie. "We are hoping to save a friend. Robyn is here with us as our guide, and this village we are standing in used to be her home before the dragon burned it down." Percival stopped when he noticed the smirk on the orc's lips.

"I am aware of your quest, Percival, Knight of Vengeance," Slavin said with a laugh.

"Knight of Vengeance?" Donald whispered in confusion. Robyn also stared at Percival.

"I am no knight, especially one of vengeance," Percival snapped. "Whatever Callilili told you is-" he closed his eyes, regaining control of himself.

"My men have found the entrance to the dragon's lair and I am quite sure he will be expecting us," Slavin continued, ignoring the swordsman's outburst. "We leave at dawn, assuming he does not come out and attack us first." That said, Slavin walked away, leaving the three to discuss their own matters.

"So, Knight of Vengeance-" Donald began, but stopped when he saw the scowl on his friend's face. "I'm sorry my friend. I mean I am glad that you have found an immortal who acts through you-" 

"You said that already Donald," Percival said with a shake of his head. "You know my main reason for being here. The goddess said she would help her. Yes, you should be glad for me because for the first time in my life, I am going to believe in the power of a deity."

"If Percival wants to worship a Titan, than he should be able to," Robyn said to the priest in a somewhat harsh tone. "I know you clerical types do not like hearing this, but the Titans were once considered children of the gods and even after they were banished they still gained followers. You two are friends, so it should not matter what god Percival chooses to worship."

The half-elf sighed and turned to the monk. "Did the Master teach you that?"

The monk known as the Humming Bird shook her head. "Actually my mother taught me that. But in all seriousness, I do not think Percival will give himself to Callilili. I think he is still searching his heart. The monastery has helped many find their way along the road of life. Maybe it could help you Percival." 

Finishing her speech, Robyn left to find a place to sleep. Donald once again looked at his friend. "Percival, I'm-"

"Don't be," Percival interjected. She is right though." Taking a deep breath, the swordsman looked to the sky. "Donald, I need you to do something for me. When this is all over and you see Annie again, I need to you apologize for me."

"Apologize. For what?"

Percival took another breath. "I'm not going back to Belaroos or Montagu."

* * * *


Just as Slavin had said the night before, Percival, Donald, and Robyn had left the village with the orc and his men at dawn. Moments before going to sleep, Percival noticed Robyn standing over a pile of ashes. The swordsman had wondered if he should go talk with her, but had decided against it and fell to sleep, dreaming of dragon's fire.

With Slavin in front, the group walked into an empty canyon, flanked by mountain walls that seemed to touch the heavens. 

At midday, Slavin ordered the group to stop for a break. It was then he sent one of his men to fetch the swordsman.

Percival looked at Donald and Robyn, then walked to the orc leader. "You wanted to see me?"

"Surely two friends can share a meal together," Slavin said as he and Percival sat down.

"I was not aware that we were friends," Percival commented as he watched Slavin break a piece of bread. "Unless you are insinuating we worship Callilili, in which I would have to tell you that you are mistaken."

Slavin handed Percival a piece of bread and watched the human eat it. Together they shared the orc's lunch.

When they were finished eating, Slavin smiled at Percival. "Actually you could not be farther from the truth. Like you, the Titan believes me to be a pawn of her's. Yet I made my decision to turn my back from her years ago, much like the Softhearts who turned their backs from the Titans hundred of years ago."

Percival nodded. Softhearts was a term the orcs used to describe their ork kindred, who had surrendered themselves to the teachings of Athene and the other Mother Goddesses.

Percival was about to ask Slavin something else when the orc stood up. "We must not waste anymore time. Let's get a move on and kill this monster.

* * * *


The dragon's lair was not too far from where they had stopped for their midday meal. The entrance into Crainilar's lair was a vast cave which opened into the mountains. Even at the beginning, small skulls littered the cave floor. As Slavin and his group went deeper into the cave, the echoes of their feet smashing the skulls surrounded them.

"It he did not know we were here before, I am sure he does now," commented one of Slavin's men, drawing glares from many of his comrades.

After walking for what seemed like an hour, the group found themselves in a large open area. Unlike the cave entrance and tunnel, the cave floor in this area was clean and empty. Yet there was no sign of the dragon.

"Just wait," Slavin said aloud. "He will show himself to us."

Sure enough as the orc signaled his men to get ready, a gargantuan dragon flew into the room, his leathery wings spanning the entire room. Standing on all fours, his black scales glinted as his glowing green eyes stared at the many intruders.

Percival felt a surge of fear go through his body. Dragon fear, which was known to cause entire armies to flee in terror, had evoked three of Slavin's men to runaway. Robyn and Donald continued to stand their ground, the monk using a standing meditation while the priest used his faith in his goddess.

"Well Slavin, it seems you have once again come to your doom," Crainilar declared in a deep and powerful voice. "And I see you have brought me additional victims. Your skulls will fit in well with my collection."

The ten of Slavin's group who remained were already firing their loaded crossbows, releasing several bolts at the dragon. The Skull closed his eyes as the crossbow bolts bounced off of his scales.

As the orcs were reloading their weapons, the dragon took a deep breath, released a massive stream of fire that engulfed six of Slavin's hunters. Percival and Donald barely escaped the dragon's breath while Robyn was hit by a little bit of the fire, the right side of her body being mildly burned.

Suppressing the pain take came from the Skull's fire, Robyn dashed over to the dragon and stood before him with no fear in her eyes.

Crainilar laughed as the monk stood in front of him. "Little lady-" he stopped as the Humming Bird's fists struck him several times. The first ten hits did little damage; denting the scales. The monk continued to strike, hitting the dragon twenty more times.

After she was finished with her attack, Robyn jumped back and watched the Skull stumble backwards, which in turn caused the ground to shake.

Slavin drew the large spear from his back and ran towards the dragon. The group of the remaining orcs, along with Percival, whose sword was already drawn charged the giant beast. Donald channeled the divine power of his goddess and released a beam of holy light that flew into the dragon. Crainilar let out an ear splitting scream and thrashed his limbs wildly. Percival and two of the orcs were about to stab their weapons when the dragon's tail knocked them backwards. Robyn was also ready to attack once again, but she was hit in the face by the Skull's left wing.

Slavin Bloodfist, who was managing to avoid the dragon's sloppy attacks, went underneath the dragon's stomach. Letting out a mighty shout, the slack jawed orc let out into the Skull's stomach. Slavin grinned as the dragon's blood spilled from his large stomach and onto the orc's face.

Feeling the sharp spear go through his body, followed by the loss of blood, the dragon vomited a pool of molten lava. The orcs and Percival quickly backed away as the dragon vomited once more. The swordsman's eyes spotted Slavin, who was twisting the spear deeper into the dragon's insides. 

All seemed well but it was at that moment when Crainilar collapsed on his belly, seemingly crushing the orc underneath his massive bleeding bulk.

Seconds after the dragon fell prone to the ground, Percival and Robyn were on the offense once more. The monk leapt into the air, driving her left foot into the dragon's nose. The swordsman came in seconds after, plunging his blade through the Skull's right nostril. Percival drew back his blade and covered his face as flames came his way.

Robyn came in fast, pulling Percival out of the way, her arm once again singed by the fire. Percival, whose armor and body had been darkened by the fire, turned his head to see the orcs rush to their deaths.

Crainilar lifted his head and once again unleashed his fiery breath, finishing them.

Donald ran to his companions and channeled the Feymother's power to heal their wounds. 

Feeling the burns and bruises leave his body, Percival felt a renewed strength flew within him.

With his sword forward, Percival charged the dragon and stabbed his sword through the beast's neck. The swordsman drove his blade deep, but stopped when he felt the weapon shake, as if he had stabbed some solid object that was morning inside of the dragon's body.

Crainilar slowly turned his head to face the swordsman, but quickly jerked his head back, as if his neck had snapped. Then Crainilar's body slumped to the floor, the glow fading from his eyes.

Percival drew back his sword, noticing the amount of fresh blood that covered much of the blade. Robyn and Donald made it to his side and together, they watched a spear covered in blood and gore, break through the dragon's skull.

"You all didn't think I was finished did you," Slavin Bloodfist cried as he crawled from out of the dragon's mouth. To see the orc alive gave Percival a sense of relief, but that relief was vanished when he saw the orc's bunt flesh, and gaping wound in his side. A wound that was made by Percival's sword.

"And now your journey is over," Slavin said in a broken voice as he dropped to a knee. "Or at least it will be once I'm dead." When he saw the look of confusion in the swordsman's face, he added," Crainilar was not the one you were suppose to kill Percival. I was." 

"You told me that you turned your back from her years ago," Percival said, looking down at the wounded orc. "Now it makes sense that she would want revenge against you. But how?-"

"How did I know?" Slavin, said his red eyes staring at the dragon's corpse. "She came to me and told me everything. I think she expected me to kill you, but I was not going to let her win like that. So finish me and go back to your friend. I only ask that you say I destroyed the Skull."

Robyn and Donald looked at Percival, who seemed torn. Part of the swordsman wanted to heal the orc and helped him back, thus helping Slavin offending the Titaness once more. But there was someone else to think about in all of this. If he were to leave with the orc, would Callilili take her frustrations on him and his friends? Or worse, would she take her wrath out on Annie?

Percival looked down at the orc. Despite the smile of triumph on his face, Slavin Bloodfist was in a state of agonizing pain, where every second he was breathing the pain was getting worse. 

Closing his eyes, Percival drove his sword into Slavin's chest, ending his life. The orc's last breath would echo through the swordsman's mind through many days to come.


* * * *


Percival and his friends left the dragon's lair after burying the dead. It was the middle of the night when they returned to the village where Callilili was waiting for Percival.

"Congratulations are in order knight," the Titaness said with a giggle. "You managed to complete your task." With a wave of her hands, both Donald and Robyn fell asleep.

"Then our deal is complete," the swordsman said, standing by his friends. "We have no more business with each other and if you think I will willingly become your servant, than you might as well leave."

Callilili's eyes stared coldly into the swordsman's, but then they softened. "You have changed since our first meeting Percival. But know that I will not forget this. The Lady of Vengeance vanished, leaving Percival once again, alone with his companions.

"I am sorry Annie," the swordsman said as he looked up at the stars. "We must follow our own paths. Perhaps we will see each other again, someday." Percival smiled as he looked at his two friends. "I will go back to the monastery with Robyn and start from there. Feymother, if you can hear me, could you please send Donald some safely and watch over him and Annie." When he was finished, Percival realized something. 

That was the first time he had ever prayed to the Mother Goddesses.

* * * *


When Donald opened his eyes, he found himself laying on his bed back at the temple. The half-elf looked around, wondering where Percival and Robyn could be.

"Donald, you're back," came a voice from the doorway.

Donald looked at the door, seeing Annie standing there in priestly robes that would fit a gnome or a Halfling. The priest noted the peach color of the child's skin, along with the glow of her cheeks.

"Annie, you are better," the priest said in a surprised voice. "Have you seen Percival?"

The little girl shrugged her shoulders. "I saw him in a dream I had. He was looking up at the stars, telling them to watch over me and that there was something he needed to do."

Donald sighed as the little girl sat next to him. "I guess I have some explaining."

"You sure do," Annie commented as she sat up. "But can we go outside?"

"Sure Annie," replied Donald. "We can."

Fanfiction/After piece: Voyage of the Crimson Angel

Voyage of the Crimson Angel

Chapter 1: Boarding the Air Ship

   Sweat dripped from the forehead of of the slender human Kelevmor VanCleef as his sky blue eyes looked over the parchment with his writing on it.  Surrounding the young man-who despite being only twenty five had gray hair went just to his ears-were several empty desks with quills and papers scattered over the tops, and chairs pushed to the side, as if abandoned by their owners before they left for the day.  On the wall to his left was a window that overlooked Stormwind City's Trade District.

   Kelevmor took his eyes away from the paper and looked over te rest of the Stormwind Herald's newsroom, noticing the goblin Nixxle looking back and forth between four parchments he held in his hands.  When the editor in chief noticed the human looking at him, he asked in his croaking high pitched voice," You finish that story Kel?"

   The human looked over the paper once more, noticing two punctuation mistakes at the bottom paragraph he had missed before.  After fixing them with his quill, he walked over and placed it in the goblin's hand.

   "Right here chief," Kelevmor said as he stepped back.  "I will be honest, it was interesting doing a story on those dock workers catching that giant cat fish."

   Nixxle nodded as he looked over the reporter's article.  "Just a couple nit-picky things, you forgot to space in the second sentence of third paragraph and it looks like you have an awkward sentence.  Other than that it looks good.  I'll fix it up before I go home."

   Kelevmor smiled.  Whenever Nixxle said he was going to make corrections to a story, it meant he would use an ink spell he learned at a younger age to magically altar the writing on the paper to erase the mistake before it went to print.

   "So Kel, do you have any holiday plans?" continued the editor as he put the papers on the desk next to him.  "Think you're going to visit that brother of yours?"

   "If I could make it past the vast number of Defias, I'm sure Edwin would love to have me over for holiday dinner."  Kelevmor folded his arms, thinking of his brother Edwin, who for many years had been the leader of the murderous Defias Brotherhood.  Although he knew his brother was one of the most wanted men in Stormwind, Kelevmor never felt compelled to go after him, even though the reward for Edwin's capture, or death, increased day by day.  

   Kelevmor picked up his overcoat from his chair and threw it around his linen shirt and leather breeches.  "To answer your question, I am going on a two-day cruise on the Crimson Angel.  I should be back on Sunday morning with a new piece for Tuesday's paper."

   "Doing a story on the ship?" Nixxle asked with a hint of curiousity in his voice.

   Grabbing his tan fedora, Kelevmor said," I hear there's going to be Horde on board.  So my plan is to do something on how the passengers interact with one another.  Maybe because it's the holiday season, everyone will react differently to each other."

   Kelevmor stretched his arms as Nixxle said," Good luck my friend."

   "Thank yo Nix," the human responded with a smile.  "Don't work too hard."

   "The same to you."

*        *        *        *

   Under the cover of dusk, with thousands upon thousands of snowflakes descending from the sky, Kelevmor left the Herald's office, which was across from the Guilded Rose Inn, and walked over to his apartment building across the street from Stormwind's Auction House.

   As he walked into the door of his studio apartment, he whispered," I really should clean up."  He scanned the floor that was cluttered with dirty clothes, empty ale flasks, and medals he had received in during his days in the Alliance army before becoming a reporter.

   Kelevmor paused walked over to the closet where he kept his armor; composed from a thin plate that provided much protection but didn't hinder his speed.  After putting on his armor, he placed his two green hilted long swords onto his belt.

   As he placed on his green dark red cloak with yellow stitching, he turned to see his silver haired tabby cat finishing a hunk of old cheese.  "Baxter what are you doing?"

   Baxter walked over to his master and watched him pick of his backpack.  It was then Kelevmor saw a glimpse of shame in the cat's yellow-green eyes.  "I'm not mad Baxter.  If you don't get sick I'll be impressed.  Now come on, we have to get going."

   The tabby looked at the messy floor, then back up at his master, who replied with a shrug," We could always clean up when we get back."  When the human bent down, Baxter ran up his left arm, climbed his shoulder and lay in his usual spot on top of the human's head.

   After he locked the door and left the building, Kelevmor walked down the street, proceeding towards the docks.

*        *        *        *

   With Baxter settled on his brow, Kelevmor arrived at the docks just as the stars appeared visible in the sky.  He passed the surly dock workers who he had interviewed days before when they were fishing, now carrying in their arms either large loads of lumber, or barrels of alcohol.

   "I'm not sure which one is our ship," Kelevmor said to his cat as they walked over to an area where a dwarven couple and a black haired gnome were talking.  "Excuse me," he asked the dwarves as he approached them," Is this where passengers are boarding the Crimson Angel?"

   The dwarves turned to Kelevmor with smiles on their faces, while the gnome twirled with a strand of her hair as if she was oblivious to everything and everyone around her.  

   The female dwarf, whose long mustard yellow hair and thick fur coat blew with the wind said," You're Kelevmor VanCleef.  Honey, this is Kelevmor, the reporter from the Stormwind Herald."

   The male dwarf, whose figure was covered in a white silk robe and leather overalls, stroked a strand auburn colored beard.  His hair was cut in the shape of a bowl and he sported silver monocles.  "Kelevmor VanCleef," he said in a voice that was soft, but rich with his dwarven accent.  He extended his hand, to which Kelevmor shook firmly.  "My name is Monteray Octobrew and this is my wife Jools."

   Jools gave a mock curtsy.  "We are such fans.  Is it true you actually participated in one of Nesingway Jr.'s hunts in Stranglethorn?"

"Of course it's true woman," Monteray replied before Kelevmor could say anything.  "He gave such an accurate description of bagging that tiger.  Anyways to answer your questions lad, this is where the Angel is picking us up.  To tell you the truth we didn't have to pay a copper for these."

   Kelevmor tilted his head, assuming the dwarf was trying to make conversation.  "You didn't have to pay?  How exactly did that happen?"

   "Monteray went to the auction house to buy me a new war hammer," Jools said in a proud voice.  "He is such a dear.  Anyways, after he bought the hammer, some elf maiden dropped her books and my Monteray, out of the goodness of his heart, helped her."

   Jools' husband shrugged modestly.  "I couldn't just let her books get ruined in the snow.  So I picked them up and carried them to the mage tower."

   The lady dwarf kissed her husband's cheek and continued," Come to find out, the maiden was Elsharin, one of the mage trainers.  For his kindness, she gave him two tickets to ride the Crimson Angel."

   Again Monteray shrugged.  "I tried to refuse, but she insisted.  Said she was going to turn me into a frog if I said no.  How did you get yours Kelevmor?"

   The human's eyes looked up as he said," Me?  I just paid for mine.  I figured this would be a good excuse to take a few days off."

   A look of concern washed over Jools' face.  "You poor dear.  Are they working you too hard at the Herald?"

   "No, not really.  I mean will  be doing some work during the cruise."

   The dwarven couple sighed in unison.  "You know lad, it wouldn't hurt you to relax while you're on board," Monteray suggested.

   "Thank you," the reporter answered as his eyes looked over at the gnome, who red robes began to emit a soft glow  "Is she with you?"

   The Octobrews followed Kelevmor's eyes over to the female gnome.  "All she told us was she was going to cast a spell that keep herself warm," answered Jools.  "She said she'd introduce herself to us on the ship."

   Monteray let out a snort.  "If only that ship would get here."  Baxter let out a meow, showing his agreement with the dwarf.

   A loud horn blased through the skies over the dock as a massive wooden ship, the widest and tallest Kelevmor had ever seen, floated above them.  Painted in red on the mast were the words The Crimson Angel.

  "It's a flying ship," Kelevmor whispered in awe.  He glanced over at the dwarves as they held one another.

   "Good evening passengers," echoed a loud and deep voice coming from the ship.  "If you would just relax we will bring you on board."

   "Did he say he was bringing us on board?" Jools asked in a somewhat frightened voice.  "How does he plan on doing that while being in the sky?"

   "Probably by teleport," the human said in hopes of calming the dwarf woman.

   "I hear there are Horde on the ship," Monteray said in a cautious voice.  "Best watch our backs."

   With that, a purple translucent bubble formed around the four-five counting Baxter- and seconds later they disappered from the Stormwind docks.

*        *        *        *

   Kelevmor and the others found themselves in a vast lobby filled with beautiful tables and a large neatly decorated Winter Veil tree that seemed to touch the ceiling, glowing in red, blue, green, and yellow colors.

   The Herald reporter scanned the occupants in the lobby at each table, noticing the various races of both Horde and Alliance.  One site that caught his attention was an undead woman with stringy purple hair, talking to a tauren female in druidic vestments made from hide, thin leathers, and green leaves.  A tall, muscular orc walked over to the newly arrived passengers.  Adorned in his thick red coat and black hair, he said," I am Captain Enaris Bloodfang and welcome to the Crimson Angel, Azeroth's first air ship."  He pointed over to a muscular black haired and tauern, who had one horn bigger than the other wearing a large white swashbuckler shirt and an eye patch.  "Over there is my First Mate Kenai.  If you have any problems or concerns, feel free to address the staff, myself, or him.  Your room numbers should be on your tickets.  Dinner will be served in one hour."

   The dwarven coupe glanced at each other, then made their way to their room.  Kelevmor stepped over to Enaris.  "I''m curious.  How does the ship manage to stay in the air?"

   Captain Enaris let out a friendly smile.  "With collaborating with goblin and gnome engineers, and wizards, we've managed to harness the powers of crystals from Draenor.  Although we only employ only a handful of staff members of both the Horde and Alliance, the ship itself requires little maintenance."

   "Interesting.  That sounds expensive."

   "And it is," the orc answered in a gleeful voice.  "However, our benefactor Randolph Willim has taken care of the financial arrangements."  Captain Bloodfang pointed to a portrait of a gray haired man sitting in a leather chair.

   Kelevmor stared at the portrait, while Baxter, who had just woken from a brief nap, let out a soft meow.

   "I know Baxter, he looks familiar," the human said, feeling his cat's claws dig slowly into his scalp.

   Kelevmor took this as a suggestion from Baxter to go to their room and unpack.  After taking one last look at the portrait, he glanced at the room number on his ticket then journeyed to his room.

Chapter 2: The Unexpected Roommate and the Other Reporter

   The moment Kelevmor turned to open the door to cabin 104, two small fireballs flew into his chest, searing the front of his armor and blinding him for two minutes.  Baxter, who had managed to jump to safety for a split second before the fireballs hit, walked into the room to confront the one who had thrown the fire.

   Opening his eyes, Kelevmor saw the small female gnome who had stood outside with him, his cat, and the Octobrews.  "I'm really sorry about that," she said in a voice that was high and slightly congested.  

   "Apology accepted," Kelevmor said as he stepped into the room.  "So this is your room too?"

   "Sure is," responded the gnome as the human put down his back pack.  Baxter kindly walked over and brushed his nose against her palm as she ran her fingers through his hair.  

   Kelevmor sat on the bed opposite of the gnome.  "And you are not concerned about sleeping in the same room as a man?"

   The gnome maiden shrugged.  "We are both adults aren't we?  I mean you don't look like the type that would take advantage of a woman, though I would burn off your flesh before you had a chance.  My name is Taffy Gaskitin by the way."

   Kelevmor shook her hand after she extended it.  "My name is Kelevmor VanCleef.  And the little hooligan enjoying your touch is Baxter."

   Taffy giggled as the tabby cat lay next to her.  "He's a nice cat.  Where did you get him?"

   Kelevmor way laying his clothes in the small chest at the end of his bed when he answered," Two years ago when I first settled into Stormwind."

    "That's nice," Taffy remarked while playing with Baxter's ears.  "I see lots of cats running around the tailor shop in Ironforge where I work."  She quickly noticed Kelevmor pull out a piece of paper, ink bottle, and a quill.  "Is that the story you're working on?  I heard Monteray and Jools talking about it."

   The human dipped his quill into the ink, then began writing about the orc captain, the tauern first mate, Taffy, the Octobrews, and the portrait.

   "Just dotting down a few notes," Kelevmor said after a moment of silence.  As he turned his eyes towards Taffy and Baxter, he noticed two dark haired men standing by the door, whispering to one another.  When they saw Kelevmor looking at them, they quickly walked away.

   Feeling the curiosity bug nipping at him, Kelevmor stood up and walked out of the room, following the two men as they turned the corner.

   As he was about to turn the corner himself, he bumped into the undead woman he saw in the Crimson Angel's lobby minutes before.  Stepping back from her, he notcied a circular gold badge on the side side of her tattered gray shirt.  In the middle of the badge were the letters GT.  Underneath it was the name Brianne Beresford.

   "Could you please watch where you are going?" the Forsaken said in a hollow, but sweet voice.  Her purple lips parted in a smile when she noticed his hands were on her hips.

   Kelevmor put his hands to his side.  "I am so sorry.  You're with the Gadgetzhan Times?"

   Brianne nodded.  "So you recognize the badge.  You probably also knew because you saw me talking to that druid."

   "My name is Kelevmor VanCleef."  The human was about list his credentials when he saw a gray skinned draenei, and a short, but muscular human, pass them.  They were both dressed in blue plate armor with blue Stormwind tabards over the chest pieces.  

   When she saw the two soldiers staring at her, Brianne asked," Do you blokes have a problem?"

   The two said nothing as they shifted their eyes to Kelevmor, who scowled back at them.  

   "They have something against you," Brianne commented as the soldiers turned their backs and walked away.

   "Just minor things," Kelevmor answered quietly.  "So you're Brianne Beresford?  I really like you're work, especially the profile piece you did on the twins Nozari and Andormu."

   "Thank you," the Forsaken replied, her shoulders slumping a little as she relaxed.  "Kelevmor VanCleef.  It's no wonder those men stared at you.  I guess I would be upset too if I wrote a story about King Varian Wrynn not being fit to rule Stormwind."

   "That wasn't exactly how I put it," Kelevmor said in his defense.  "Besides that was an Our View, so the editors and the reporters had their hands in it."

   Brianne smiled.  "And that's why I don't involve myself in news room politics."

   Kelevmor sighed as she began walking away.  His ears then heard a loud bell ring, following by the growling of his stomach.  "Time for dinner," he said as he went on his way to the dining room.


*        *        *        *

   Kelevmor had been sitting down in the dining hall for ten minutes hwen Taffy came over to join him, holding Baxter in her arms.  "Kelevmor we were worried about you," she stated as the cat jumped from her arms and sat next to his master.

   "I know, I left so quickly," the human responded.  His eyes shifted to the left, noticing Brianne sitting at table by herself, writing on parchment.  Across from her sat the tauern he had seen her with earlier, smoking from a pipe.

   "I wonder who they are," Taffy remarked as she reached for Baxter.

   "The undead is Brianne Beresford and the tauern is Daystar Swiftshot," Monteray answered as he and Jools approached them from behind.

   The human raised an eyebrow after the gnome sat back in her seat  "How do you know that Monteray?"

   Jools settled in a seat next to her husband and answered," We overheard a couple of the soldiers talking.  Apparently Daystar is the sister of Tilamock Swiftshot, the leader of that mercenary group Thrall raved about in an interview in the Gadgetzhan Times issue we read while staying in Booty Bay a few years ago."

   "The Thunderbolts," Kelevmor said, remembering he read that story himself while in Darnassus.  He also remembered Brianne wrote that piece.

   "Raved by Thrall?" Taffy asked.  "They must be good if the Warchief of the Horde likes them."

   "Aye lass, they are very good."  Monteray nudged Kelevmor with his arm.  "You know lad, I heard you were talking to that undead maiden.  I'm not one to pry into a man's buisness, but like I said before, be careful."

  "Right," Kelevmor said before calling the stout, goblin waiter over to their table.

*        *        *        *

   Underneath the night sky, two of the Angel's crewman, a skinny human female and a bald dwarf male, walked along the ship's deck, braving the cold wings.  As they traveled the deck, four shadowy figures, dressed from head to toe in black-save for the red masks that covered their faces-silently approached the workers.

   The moment both of the ship's workers realized they were being stalked, a pair of blades ripped through their flesh, followed by a gag that covered their screams.

   The Defias assassins finished their victims with several well-placed stabs through their bodies.  Once their targets were dead, one of the Defias grabbed both corpses and threw them over the ship and watched as they fell to the ocean below.

  "Quickly," the shortest of the four assassins whispered.  "We have our orders.  Once the attack begins, leave no one alive."  That said, he entered a door that led into the ship's interior.

   The other assassins quietly followed suit and walked into the ship, anxious to begin their massacre.

Chapter 3 The First Night's Ball

   After dinner, the ship's crew transformed the dining hall into a ball room.  Holiday music; comprised of eleven different sounding pipes , came from all corners while the walls were decorated with green and silver holly and mistletoe.

   Dressed in a white silk shirt and black suit pants-quickly sewn by Jools because she felt he needed some proper attire-Kelevmor walked through the dance floor with his feline companion at his side, eying the nine different waitresses and eight maids who had served their food now dancing on the floor with the passengers.  He looked over at Brianne, who sat alone at a table.     

   Looking over his shoulder, he noticed Taffy talking to a spiky haired male gnome showing off his three mechanical birds that would call out any name they were asked.  Behind them, Jools was unsuccessfully trying to get her husband to the dance floor.

   Clearing his through, Kelevmor walked over to the bar.  "Can I get an ale?"

   The red haired troll bartender named Scundi looked at him and said in common," And what will the lady be having?"

   "A glass of Darnassan Merlot," Brianne ordered as she stood behind the human.

   Kelevmor turned to Brianne, trying to not to shiver as she felt her four fingered right hand touch his arm.  

   "You know I was hoping you'd be here," confessed the Times reporter in a slurred voice as she stumbled into the human's arms.  "Th...That way we could...could discuss reporter things.  Because we are colleagues Kelevmor.  You and I."

   The undead woman buried her head into Kelevmor's chest, forcing an uncomfortable look to spread across his face as he looked back at the bartender and said," Two for me.  Colleagues yes.  Brianne how many glasses have you had tonight?"

   Brianne perked her head up, hearing the sound of Scundi placing another mug on the bar.  "Drinks are here...I've had three glasses already."  Taking the thin glass of wine in her hand, she added," This will be number four.  Also I smoked a little pipe weed with Daystar, just to try it."

   "Druids do love that stuff," Kelevmor said as he drank his first glass of ale in less than a minute.  "Say let us sit down," he suggested as the rush of ale started to come to his head.  

   "By the tree," she said.  "By the tree is a good spot."

   "Yes it is," agreed Kelevmor, taking her by the arm and leading her over to the empty table next to the Winter Veil tree.

   "Go the Gadgetzhan times," he continued as he scooted close to her.  "That is the biggest circulating paper in Kalimdor."

   "In Azeroth," corrected Brianne.  "See we started out just in Gadgetzhan, then we moved through Kalimdor.  In the past few months, we've been expanding into the Eastern Kingdom.  We're also looking to expand into Outland and Northrend.  You know Kelevmor, I could probably get you a job there."

   Kelevmor let out a small bit of laughter as he felt a burly shadow loom over him.  Looking up, he saw Captain Enarnis standing there with his arms crossed.  "Is there a problem?" questioned the human.     

   The orc captain said nothing to the human.  Instead he looked at Brianne and asked," Is this human bothering you?"

   Brianne glanced at her human friend, then back up at the orc.  "Why no captain.  Kelevmor VanCleef and I are just sharing a drink and conversastioning."

   Captain Enaris nodded and walked away.

   "Can you believe that?" remarked the human in a slurred voice as he drank his ale.

   "It happens," Brianne said, watching the orc leave.  "So what's it like working for an Alliance owned publication?"

   Kelevmor took another drink.  "You mean the Herald?  It is interesting.  I started after four years in the Alliance military, so a year before the Dark Portal was reopened I think."

   Brianne sipped her wine as Kelevmor continued," When I first started, I lived in Darnassus, doing feature stories about Alliance affairs in Kalimdor."

   "Like the story about the power struggle between Sisters of Elune and the Cenarion Circle," commented the undead.  "Your headline was along the lines of 'A World Without Malfurion'."

   Brianne's words intrigued Kelemvor, who said," That's interesting you know about that story."

   "I mentioned your name to Daystar and she showed me that piece.  I'm surprised at how much contreversey you made with it."

   the human shook his head.  "It was really just the druids who were offended.  Although I have to honest, I could not have done that story without Tyrande Whisperwind's help.  Tell me, how did you get started with the Times?"

   Brianne sighed, coming down her buzz.  "For a long time I was an aspiring mage, traveling with different groups to various dungeons.  During these adventures, I would keep a journal that detailed of each raid.  At the suggestion of one of my friends, I showed the Zintel Sprokett, the Editor in Chief, and he decided to give me a job."

   Baxter, who had grown impatient of his master's neglect, jumped onto the table, looking up at both Kelevmor and his undead companion.

   As they began to pet the tabby, the music was interrupted when Randolph Willim entered the dining hall, accompanied by Kenai.  His almond shaped brown eyes looked out at all of the passengers.  "Greetings everyone," he said with a smile that showed all of his white shining teeth.  "It is wonderful to have you all here aboard the Crimson Angel.  I hope that despite recent events, we can put all grudges aside so that we can enjoy this cruise together during this holiday season."

   Each of the ship' passengers exchanged uneasy looks with one another as Randolph continued.  "I wish I could spend the remainder of the evening with you, but I mist return to my cabin.  Farewell and again, enjoy your stay aboard the Crimson Angel."  With that, Kenai led Randolph Willim away and the holiday music resumed.

   Kelevmor watched them for a moment, until Taffy made her way over to the table.  "That is some tree," she said in a nervous voice as she tried to make conversation with a Forsaken at the table.  " So um, Kelevmor, who is your friend?"

   The human pointed to the woman sitting next to him.  "This is Brianne Beresford, a reporter from the Gadgetzhan Times."

   After finishing her wine, Brianne shook the gnome's hand and puckered her purple lips.  "It isss nice to meet you."

   "You as well," Taffy replied, starting to feel less uncomfortable.  "What did you think of Randolph's speech.  I thought it was intriguing."

   Kelevmor looked at the dance floor where Daystar was exchanging words with Alliance soldiers.  Brianne tapped her fingers on the table while Taffy said," It's nice to see everyone take Randolph's words to heart.  I mean I myself have no real animosity towards the Horde except when they steal my spell components and my kills."

   The human shrugged as his buzz began to strengthen.  "I really...really see the Horde and the Alliance the same.  They need to focus on enemies who are important...I mean I know there is evil in the Horde but also evil in the Alliance.  But what about the demons of the Burning Crusade or the Scourge?"

   "Or those gnomes in Gnomeregan," Brianne chimed in, raising her empty glass.

   Taffy's eyebrows crossed as the human laughed.  "Now that is different.  If Thermalplugg hadn't allowed those troggs in the city and allowed the invasion to happen, the gnomes would still be living there.  Someday, I am going to go back there and kill him."

   Kelevmor raised his glass and proclaimed," Let me know when you do Taffy, and I will...will go with you."

   "As will I," Brianne declared, raising her empty glass once more.  "I don't know you that well, but you seem...seem great."

   The three shared a laugh, then music stopped once more when Captain Enaris arrived on the dance floor.  "I wanted to tell you all that we will be arriving in Darnassus on the morning.  In cooperation with the Cenarion Circle, the night elves will allow the Horde passengers to travel the city.  Have a good night and sleep well."

   Whispers generated from all over the dining hall as the orc captain walked away.  Taffy, whose eyes were wide since Enaris made the announcement," This is exciting.  I'm going back to the room and getting ready for tomorrow."

   Brianne laughed and also got out of her chair.  "I should be going as well so I can get rid of any sickness.  How about I meet both of you tomorrow and we'll travel the city together."  She looked at Kelevmor.  "I'm sure Kelevmor can guide us through the city."

   After both the gnome and the human nodded, she added," Good night to both of you."

   "Good night," Kelevmor said as the two women walked in opposite directions, leaving him and Baxter alone at the table.

   The human sighed as he scratched Baxter's ears.  "You know, we should be getting ourselves to bed."

   Baxter gave a nod to his master, then jumped onto his head.  The Herald reporter quickly finished his drink and left his table, walking straight to the room, unaware that he, and the others were being watched by several sets of eyes from the back of the dining hall.

Chapter 4: The Defias Attack

   Kelevmor's eyes snapped opened when he felt Taffy's small fists grasp his left arm and shake him.  "Kelevmor wake up," she said excitedly.  "We're here."

   The human sighed, causing the gnome to let go and stand up.  "We've arrived at Darnassus Kelevmor!  I finally get to see the night elf city."

   With eyes bright as the ones on the Winter Veil tree, Taffy left the cabin.  Kelevmor quickly put on his leggings and boots while Baxter continued to sleep soundfully.  Sighing once more, Kelevmor turned to his cat.  "Must be nice," he whispered before putting on the rest of his armor.  

   Grabbing his swords and his cloak, the human walked out the door, eager to greet the land he had left two years ago.

*        *        *        *

   On this particular Feast of Winter Veil season, Darnassus had seen its greatest snowfall in a thousands of years.  Although some of the night elves had seen this as a sign that the Lich King and his Scourge was on his way to attack the city, others-more specifically the children-perceived the snowfall as something to celebrate.

  As the Crimson Angel descended from the skies, the citizens who were out on the streets, turned their glowing eyes upward, curious about the vessel and its purpose.

   A glowing light engulfed the lower ramp way that led to the Temple of Elune, followed by the voice of Captain Enaris that echoed in the skies above," Guests. welcome to the beautiful city of Darnassus.  To return to the ship, just rub your Hearth stone and it will return you to the ship."

   The light dissapered and eleven of the Angel's passengers stood in silence as they were greeted by six Cenarion druids, all armed with staves and curved sickles.

   "This is to ensure our safety isn't it?" Monteray asked from within the group.

   "It seems the night elves do not trust us," the druid named Daystar commented in her low but feminine voice.

   "You're one to talk tauern," rebutted the human paladin Jon Burgundy.

   Ignoring the paladin, Daystar looked into the city, into the direction of the area where the druids of the Cenarion Circle gathered.  "I've heard of this city from the night elven druids."

   Behind the tauern stood Kelevmor, Taffy, and Brianne, who were debating which direction they should go.

   "Do you think the Horde will really be allowed to roam the city?" Brianne asked, eying the druids.

   "Captain Enaris said everyone would be allowed to walk through the city," answered Taffy as her eyes wandered from one side to the other.  "I think the druids are here to keep people like our paladin friend from trying to start a fight.  Kelevmor, has the city changed since you were last here?"

   Kelevmor watched a group of six children, four night elves and two humans, playing around their finished snowman.  "Other than the snow, not much has changed," he answered.  "I still get a sense of peace and understanding of nature around us."  Looking down, he saw Baxter walk along the ramp, staring forward at the Darnassian soldiers on their nightsabers.

   After picking up his cat, Kelevmor led Brianne and Taffy through the city's Trademen's Terrace.  Neither of the women could believe the heights to which the night elves had build their homes.  Snow began to fall from the morning sky as they entered a garment store near the auction house.

   "If you see something you like Brianne, you should buy it now," the gnome said without thinking, as she picked up a scarf with an image of two turtle doves woven on the side.  "After we get back on the ship, you might not be allowed to return here."

   The Forsaken threw a sharp glare towards Taffy as she picked up a wide brimmed hat.  Hearing the sound of harps playing from outside, Brianne walked over to an open window next to the green haired night elf female Almari, who was patching up a small hole in a pair of cloth pants.  When she stared out the window, she notcied a group of seven swans walking along the snow while beautiful night elf with blue-green hair and wearing a white coat that covered her silk gown placed candy canes on a large pear tree, as a pudgy partridge bird with gray feathers played with one of the glass balls near the tree's trunk.

   Brianne watched the night elf let down her hair.  Feeling the presence of Kelevmor, she asked," Who is that?"

   Kelevmor smiled and looked outside, immediately recognizing the woman.  "That is Tyrande Whisperwind."

   "Does she always decorate the tree like that?" questioned Brianne as they moved away from the window.

   The human looked back.  "Usually she is accompanied by priestesses but yes she does pick out a tree and trim it.  After she's done, she'll probably take it back to the temple.  Do they decorate trees in the Undercity?"

   A laugh escaped from the Forsaken reporter's lips.  "They decorate trees in Gadgetzhan.  In fact there is one in the office."  She sighed, watching Taffy pay for the clothes she picked out.  "I haven't been in the Undercity in a long time.  Because I have no relatives and because the office where I work is in Gadgetzhan, I don't really have a reason to go to the city, other than to cover the occasional profile on a citizen who just killed an Alliance or a declaration made by Sylvannas."

   Kelevmor stared into the undead woman's glowing eyes.  "You don't have a family? No close friends?"

   "Just me editors and fellow reporters at the Times," Brianne replied as their gnome companion walked over to them.

   "I'm ready for some Darnassian cuisine, if you are," Taffy said as she held a stack of neatly folded clothes.  She thrust them towards her human friend.  "Kelevmor, you think you could hold these for me?  At least until we get back to the ship?"

   Kelevmor sighed as he took the clothes into his arms, hoping not to drop them.  As the two women walked out of the door, Kelevmor walked over to Almari.  "Do you think I could have a sack I could carry these in?"

*        *        *        *

   Captain Enaris sat quietly as he sipped his tea, his large yellow eyes watching the bald troll mage and the human waiter as they sat neat the fireplace.  Like a few of the passengers and the workers, Enaris decided to stay on the Angel rather than explore the night elven city.  After watching the other passengers begin their exploration into Darnassus, the orc went back to the dining hall, in hopes of enjoying a peaceful afternoon.

   Enaris took another sip of tea, then watched as a robust human passed the troll and the waiter, yelling at them about mingling with one another.

   The orc rose from his seat, but stopped when he watched the human pull a dagger from his belt and slash the blade across the troll's throat.  Before either Enaris or the waiter could respond, the human threw a small glass vial on the floor, causing an explosion that engulfed the fireplace and the three bodies around it.  Enaris jumped into the smoke and pulled the waiter's wounded body away.

"I wish I had the power to heal you," the captain whispered, holding the waiter in his arms as four more Defias assassins began to circle him.

*        *        *        *

   Holding two large mageweave bags filled with Taffy's, and Brianne's newly purchased clothes and goods, Kelevmor walked through the Darnassian streets behind his two female companions, with Baxter sitting on the top of his head.  The silver tabby was the first to spot the two large zeppelins approaching the Crimson Angel, which was currently lowering itself to allow its passengers to board.

   Baxter, the first to notice the zeppelins, gently dug his claws into his master's scalp, drawing the human's attention upward.  Kelevmor raised an eyebrow as he followed the two women to a small grassy area near the auction house.  "I wonder what that's all about?" he asked.

   "There are probably there to see if the Angel needs any repairs," Taffy answered in a casual tone.  "Or maybe the zepplins are bringing passengers to the ship from Orgrimmar."

   Brianne shook her head as they all stared into the sky.  "Those are not Orgrimmar zeppelins.  I've never seen those before."

*        *        *        *


   The moment they boarded the ship, the four companions were approached by two sword wielding Defias thugs, and behind them a Defias wizard in blood red robes.

   "Burn," cried the wizard as he shot a fireball towards Kelevmor, hitting the human's shoulder as he tired to step away.

   The Defias thugs charged towards Brianne, who threw a fireball spell, hitting one of them in the chest while the other drove his blade into her side.  The burned Defias went to stab her when Kelevmor, who despite being blind drew his sword, sliced the thug through the chest.

   Behind the human, Taffy, who made sure she didn't step on Baxter, released her own fireball at the wizard, charring his flesh upon impact.

   The remaining Defias let out a scream as Kelevmor plunged the sword in his left hand through his chest, then swung the sword in his right hand to slice the head from his shoulders.

   "I wonder if the humans of Stormwind know about this," Brianne asked, looking at her two companions.

   "They might not," Kelevmor said, looking at the bodies.  "We should keep sticking together and see if there any survivors on the ship since there might be more.  After all, the Defias travel in groups."  

   As he turned to walk forward, the human bumped into Monteray.

   "Oh thank the Light for some friendly faces," said Jools, holding her blood stained war hammer as she appeared behind her husband.  "The Defias are swarming the ship like flies, killing whoever crosses their path."

   Monteray and Kelevmor quickly stood up, reasserting themselves.  The human patted the dwarf's shoulder.  "I've got an idea.  We should go see Randolph Willim."

*        *        *        *

   The orc captain helped his side as he stared at the four Defias lying dead on the floor.  He stood up and stared around the room until a loud growl came from behind him.  He quickly turned around to see a large bear with sharp horns staring at him.  He was about to attack when the wounded waiter grabbed his arm.  

   The bear titled her head, then closed her eyes as her body changed itno the shape of a female tauern.  "It is all right," Daystar said in a calm voice as she stepped over to the human.  "It's all right, I am a friend.  I am not going to hurt you."

   The orc stood back as the druid examined the human before he fell limp in her arms.  "He's dead," she said, looking into the captain's eyes.  "I am so sorry."

   Captain Enaris sighed.  Looking over his shoulders he saw four more Defias arrive in the dining hall, their weapons sharp and ready.

Chapter 5: Flight to the Master Cabin

   Kelevmor scratched the back of Baxter's ears as he, Brianne, Taffy, and the Octobrews were cramped into an abandoned cabin they used to keeping themselves hidden from the Defias, as well as a somewhat safe area until they could fully execute their plan of going to see Randolph Willim.

   "Do you really think he is still alive?" asked Taffy as she sat on a bed.  "We have yet to see any survivors who aren't blood thirsty assassins."

   "If Randolph is dead, couldn't we just leave the ship?" Monteray suggested.  "If we look for the survivors first, we can take them with us, then leave."

   The Forsaken turned to the human.  "I think Randolph Willim has a good chance of survival.  After all, he has his captain and his first mate with him."

   "You can leave the ship if you want to," Kelevmor said, looking at the dwarf.  "And I will not hold any ill will towards you.  However, I'm going to see Randolph and get some answers."

   "Get some answers?" Monteray repeated as he raised an eyebrow.  "You think he has something to do with this?"

   "I can't rule out the possibilities Monteray," Kelevmor explained.  "Besides, he might be in the same situation as us, and if he is, I'm sure he'd want to be looking for survivors."


*        *        *        *

   Captain Enaris entered the helm room with his cutlass drawn, followed by Daystar, whose arms held a chipped oak staff.  Both the orc and the tauern were curious as to how the Defias had so easily infiltrated the ship.  He then began to wonder how his first mate and employer were faring.  Although Kenai was as strong as any tauern he had come across, which were only in battle, Enaris had doubt Kenai and Randolph could hold their own if they were outnumbered too greatly by the assassins.

   "The smell of death lingers in the air," Daystar remarked as she set her staff up against the wall.  "How are you feeling?"

   "I am fine," the orc responded  as he grazed his fingers over the helm, feeling a surge of green lightning shock his fingers.

   Captain Enaris pulled away, rubbing his numb his fingers as a thin trail of smoke rose from them.  Daystar examined the wheel, lightly touching it with her left hand.  She too felt the lightning hit her fingers.

   "It must be enchanted or something," the taurern said, turning to the captain.  "But if you are not controling the ship or its wheel, then who is?"

   "A crystal that is imbued with the power of arcane magic," answered Enaris.  "It is similar to a crystal that powered the dranei ship that came to Azeroth."

   "I see," Daystar commented.  "But rather using it to travel across worlds, you are using it on a leisure cruise.  Where is this crystal?"

   The orc captain crossed his arms.  "It's in the possession of Randolph Willim."

*        *        *        *

   Kelevmor and Monteray led their companions into a vast kitchen where pans, broken dishes, pools of blood, and body parts littered the floor.  Passing the women, Baxter looked around and meowed at his master.

   "What's wrong with him?" asked Brianne as she and Taffy walked behind the cat.

   "It reminds him of home," Kelevmor remarked as he spotted four animated corpses walking towards them.  "Brianne, do you think you could communicate with them?"

   The Forsaken stared at the human, rolling her eyes.  "These look like they were brought back to life by a spell of some kind."

   Kelevmor quickly drew his swords and stepped in front of one of the corpses, swinging his blades across the chest.  Monteray stood next to the human and unleashed a spell that covered another zombie in bright white flames.

   From behind the men, Jools let out an intimidating shout that caused the zombies to run.  "Tell me Brianne," she asked with a smirk.  "If you put this in the times, you think you could send a copy to us?"

   Brianne smiled as two Defias wizards teleported into the kitchen, with flames crackling from their fingertips.  "I think I can arrange that."

   Monteray charged and tackled one of the wizards before he could release his fire.  Before the second wizard could attack, Jools charged and hit him in the face with her hammer, sending him to the floor.

   The dwarf maiden finished the wizard by slamming her hammer through his chest.  She turned to see Monteray and Kelevmor get hit with fire.  Before she could avenge her husband, Brianne and Taffy shot six arcane missles that hit the remaining wizard.

   "Damn," cursed Jools as the wizard's body hit the floor next to his dead companion.  She walked over and patted her husband's body.  "Are you all right?"

   Monteray smiled and kissed her softly.  "I am fine dear.  We probably should get ourselves moving, right Kelevmor?"

   All eyes turned to the human, who looked at the doorway.  He glanced over at Brianne, who then stared back at him.  "So Kelevmor, are YOU going to put this in your story?" she asked, somewhat mimicing the question Jools asked her seconds before.

   "Well I guess-" he stopped as the Forsaken grabbed him and kissed him deeply.  He had to resist the urge to vomit, not because she was part of a race affiliated with the Horde, but because her cold, rotting lips tasted like cold fish.

   And yet, when he sensed a warmth in her lips, Kelevmor kissed her back just as passionatly, wrapping his arms around her.  When they parted, he smiled as she walked out of the kitchen.  Once she was out of site, the human pulled two maggots out of his teeth, he followed.

   The companions continued through the ship uuntil they came across Captain Enaris and Daystar.  After the captain explained to them about Randolph's crystal controling the ship, the echoes of glass breaking breaking filled the hallway behind them.

   Kelevmor looked to the captain.  "Do you know where Randolph's cabin is?"

   Emaris noddded.  "I do and I plan on going there myself."

   "As do we," the human said, looking at his friends.  

Chapter 6: Randolph's Green Crystal

   The party arrived at Randolph's quarters, surpsied at the door was wide open.  Kelevmor and Enaris were the first to enter, immediatly spotting Randolph Willim standing by the window, with his back turned to to them, and Kenai standing next to him, brandishing twin axes with jagged edges.

   The tauern first mate stepped forward but Randolph held up his hand to stop him.  " Stop there Mr. Smite.  They will not escape or attack, especially with the guards surrounding the room."  He turned to face the intruders, a wicked grin spreading across his face when he saw everyone else's eyes stare at the glowing green crystal protruding from his chest.

   Enaris gasped, watching the crystal.  "That is what controls the ship.  You must have been aware that the ship was being infiltrated.  But why?"

  "So since the ship is in your control, then you knew the Defias were attacking the ship and slaughtering its passengers?" Kelevmor asked accusingly.

   "Of course I did," answered the older human.  "It was my idea all along Kelevmor.  I must say even when I told him that we would be losing lots of assassins on this mission, the Kingpin showed more entusiam about the plan then you are now.  He was even more enthused when I told him I was going to crash the Crimson Angel into Stormwind Keep, killing the king and anyone else in the palace, and all of us as well."

   Captain Enaris pointed his sword at the human.  "You purposely sacrifised innocent lives because of a grudge your gang holds against the humans.  I can not stand by and allow you to do this."  The orc charged his employer, aiming the blade's tip at his chest, only to have Kenai-now Mr. Smite-stand in his way.

   "What do you care for humans," the tauern spat, swinging both axes at the orc, who successfully blocked both attacks.  Smite went for another attack, but Enaris stepped out of the way, allowing Kelevmor, who was directly behind him, to stab the tauern in the side.

   "Your brother isn't here to save you VanCleef," Randolph said with manical laughter as Kelevmor pumped his arms and slashed his swords at Mr. Smite, who-despite his size-was able to match the younger human's speed.

   Just as Randolph turned his head to face the other passengers, six Defias sword wielding assassins revealed themselves from the shadows.  One assassin struck Jools in the temple with his fist, but the female dwarf swung her hammer low, delievering a crushing blow into the assassin's stomach, shattering four of his ribs.  Next to her, Brianne had drawn a dagger and stabbed the eye of a woman assassin shorter than her.

   "Get back Baxter," Taffy yelled as an ice blue glow radiated from her fingertips.  Heeding her words, the silver tabby watched as the gnome released a spell that encased all six assassins in ice.  

   "Not bad gnomeling," Daystar remarked as she shifted into her bear form and jumped onto a bald Defias, ripping out his throat with her teeth while Monteray drew his red glowing mace and slappped it across the face of the assassin his wife had wounded seconds before.

   Six feet away, Randolph watched as Enaris and Kelevmor, bleeding from cuts they had just recieved courtsey of Mr. Smite's axes, attacked the tauern furiously with their weapons.  The human made an X formation with his blades and thrust forward.  Mr. Smite caught both blades with his axes, there by blocking the human's attack, but allowing the orc captain to seize the oppurtunity and drive cutlass through Smite's midsection.

   "Quickly, we have to finish him," Captain Enaris said to the human as the wounded Mr. Smite took three steps back.  Kelevmor nodded, eager to slay the tauern, but his momentum was stopped when a green lightning bolt hit his body and sent him to the floor.  Enaris turned to his left, watching Randolph, whose fingertips and eyes were emitting the same green glow that came from the crystal.

   "We might have to destroy-" the orc stopped when he too was struck by a lightning bolt and was sent flying into the wall opposite where Randolph stood.

   Taffy, who had successfully heard the orc's words, shot two arcane missles at Randolph, hitting him directly in the chest.  "You'll have to hit it harder than that," cried the Angel's owner as he shot a thick stream of lightning directly at the gnome, who held her hand to block the lightning from hitting her face.  Determined but disoriented, Taffy spun in a circle and shot two fireballs, which ended up hitting two of the unwounded Defias she had trapped in her ice.  Monteray and Jools ran over and finished the Defias with their weapons before helping their friend come to her senses, then looked over at their human companion, who was spitting up blood and rising to his feet.   "Kelevmor, he's coming!" Jools cried.

   Kelevmor turned to see Mr. Smite charging towards him.  Swords up and a look in his eye that said he was ready to meet death, Kelevmor stepped towards Mr. Smite and swing his swords from one side to the other, cutting two thin lines across the tauern's midsection.  Unphased by the attack or the loss of blood, Smite grabbed Kelevmor by the neck and tossed him into Brianne, causing them both to hit the floor.

   Just as Mr. Smite turned his attention to Captain Enaris, the druid headbutt the tauern pushing him all the way through the wall, causing a large hole that was followed by a large gust of cold wind that tried to pull everyone into the sky.  

   "Oh no," whispered Brianne as she and Kelevmor watched Daystar and Mr. Smite fall through the air.  Remebering the captain's words, the undead woman jumped onto Randolph, who was struggling to keep himself into the cabin.  Despite the lightning that was shooting into her body from the man's fingertips, Brianne clawed at the man's chest, supressing the pain coming from the lightning's burn as she pulled the crystal from his chest and tossed it towards her companions.

   Kelevmor jumped and grabbed the crystal as it hit the floor.  As he held the gem, he realized Brianne and Randolph were going to be pulled into the sky like Daystar and Smite.  

   Looking up, he saw Randolph fall from the window while Brianne held onto walls. Standing up, he was ready to attempt to save her when he felt the freezing ice capture his legs.  Cursing, he looked up and watched as Brianne slipped out of the hole, further and further away from him.

   "Damn!" cried the human as he felt four paws jump onto his head.  "Baxter?" The tabby let out a meow, digging his claws into his master's scalp, telling him to turn to the orc.

   "You have to tell the crystal to land the ship before it crashes into the keep," Captain Enaris said with a shiver.  Like Kelevmor, his legs too were encased in ice.

   The human looked at the glowing crystal in his hands as the freezing winds blew through his hair, silently commanding the crystal to land the ship safely in the waters near Stormwind Harbor.  After he finished his thought the human felt a strong energy flow through him.  Baxter, who too felt this sensation purred and brushed his nose into his master's hair.  

   And so it was, that several minutes the Crimson Angel landing somewhat gracefully in the waters near the docks.  One they had landed, Enaris and Monteray, who had grown comfortable around the orc captain, searched for a life boat while Kelevmor, Jools, and Taffy had found a group of five survivors; Jon the paladin, two female troll waitresses, the spiky haired gnome, and Scundi the bartender.

*        *        *        *

   Kelevmor, Baxter, and Taffy stayed on the ship as the Octobrews, the captain, and the survivor began boarding the life boat.  "We can only fit eight at a time," Enaris explained, staring at the human.  "I will come back for you after I drop them off."

   "No need to hurry captain," replied the human.  He gave the orc a salute.  "It was an honor to fight along side you."

   "I feel the same my friend," the orc replied with a smile.  "Or should I say friends.  If we do not see each other again, may you have a wonderful Winter Veil."   He and Jon began to row while Jools began talking with the waitresses about mending their torn clothes, Monteray and Jon began making preperations to making bandages for their wounds, as well as dicussing how they survived.

   After watching them row back to the docks, Kelevmor looked into the water in hopes Brianne would spring up from the water.  After two minutes, someone did rise from the water.  A seal with runes on its body, and small horns, similar to that of the bear who had helped him on the ship against Smite.

   "Do you think that's Daystar?" asked the human, looking at the gnome.  

   After tilting her head, Taffy nodded.  "I have heard that druids can use seal form."  Looking down, she said," That has to be Daystar."

   The seal moved her body and clapped her hands, informing the gnome she was right.

   "Interesting," Kelevmor remarked as he felt Baxter's whiskers touch his forehead.  "Any sign of Brianne or Smite?  Or Randolph?"

   Daystar shook her head and began swimming towards the shore.  Kelevmor sighed and looked at the green crystal in his hand, its green glow slowly fading.  

   Taffy stared at the crystal, then looked to her friend.  "Do you think the ships is losing its power now that Randolph is dead?  Assuming he is dead?"

   "Who knows," he said in a calm voice.  "I suppose I could give it to the mages in the tower.  Or if you want, you can keep it."

   The gnome shook her head.  "You have it.  Keeping might inspire you to write your story."

   "Yes the story," Kelevmor whispered before placing the crystal in his pocket.

Chapter 7 The Herald Loses a Reporter and an Editor

   The morning after arriving back in Stormwind, Kelevmor spent most his efforts and time on wriitng his article.  In the story, he detailed his experiences on the ship, both good and bad, as well as gathered quotes from Taffy, the Octobrews, as well as Daystar and Captain Enaris, who were enthusiastic about being interviewed for the story.  Also included in his story were his experiences with making new friends during the holiday season, and how the Horde reacted to being in Darnassus for the first time.  

   Although he did his best not too much of his opnion into the article, he did emphizie how the Alliance could benefit from having the Horde as allies instead of enemies, and deal with the real enemies of Azeroth such as the Defias Brotherhood and the Burning Legion.

   When he turned the story into Nixxle, the Editor in Chief gave his ususal grammatical changes and then told the reporter it would run in the next morning Feature's section.  After leaving the office, Kelevmor went home to properly grieve for Brianne, whom he had mentioned several times in the story.

   With the headline 'Alliance and Horde unite to stop Holiday Disaster', the story was met with mixed reviews.  Some praised the reporter's attention to the how the Horde and Alliance working together, while others-most notably the nobles and Alliance soldiers dedicated to eradicating the Horde-saw the article as another way for the Herald to challenge the king's competence and ability to rule and control his kingdom.  

*        *        *        *

   Two days before Greatfather Winter would be handing out presents to the everyone in Azeroth, Kelevmor walked into Nixxle's office, aware of the reactions his story had created across the city.  He smiled, but then became confused when he saw his editor look up at him with sad eyes.  "Madill said you wanted to see me," the human said quietly.  Nixxle looked past Kelevmor, seeing the other Herald staff members sitting silently at their desks.

   "I'm sure you've heard the ruckus your story has made Kelevmor," the goblin said in a serious voice.  Kelevmor nodded and Nixxle continued," As you also know, the nobles who fund the Stormwind armies also fund part of this paper.  They are not happy Kel.  They think we are trying to challenge the king.  They have convinced him we are doing so."

   Kelevmor sighed and shook his head.  "I know.  I've apologized to a few people already.  Look if you want to print a retraction-"

   "It's not that simple," interrupted the goblin.  "By the light I didn't want to to this."  He handed Kelevmor a letter written on parchment, with the royal seal of Stormwind imprinted at the bottom.

   After reading the letter through once, Kelevmor's eyes shot a cold look at the Herald's Editor in Chief.  "I'm being fired."  

   "Direct orders from the king," Nixxle explained, holding his hands up.  "Kelevmor I'm really sorry."

   Kelevmor stared at the letter once more.  "In compensation for the damages suffered by the Alliance forces and for questioning the competence of the king and his orders," he read aloud.  "The nobles and myself demand the termination of reporter Kelevmor VanCleef and also ask that any stories written about the Horde, King Varian Wrynn, or any members of the royal family or nobility, be sent to me for my approval before publishing.  Signed King Varian Wrynn."

   Nixxle looked up as the human stood up.  "Kelevmor-"

   "No it's fine Nix," the human responded in a stern voice.  "I'm not upset about being fired, I'm upset because the king is trying to control a publication that gives the honest news to the people of Stormwind.  A publication that was approved by his son two years ago.  I'll have my desk cleaned out before the afternoon.  Merry Winter Veil."

   The goblin sighed as the human stormed out of his office.  He watched as the other staff members shook Kelevmor's hand and discussed plans for going to the tavern later.  

   After sighing once again, Nixxle reached for a quill and parchment and began his resignation letter.

*        *        *        *

   The stars had just began shining in the dark blue sky when Kelevmor finished his sixth mug of ale.  Slouching in his bar stool, he had realized his former coworkers who had bought several rounds had now gone home.  He cast a glance at the other patrons of the Guilded Rose Tavern, then looked to an empty table that sat near a small but neatly decorated Winter Veil tree.

   "I'm sure we would have had a great...great time," he muttered in his slurred voice as his buzz was turning into drunkenness.  Turning to Allison the inn keeper, he sighed," One more for the road."

   Beautiful with short red hair, Allison poured more ale into the ex-reporter's mug.  "I shouldn't be doing tihs, but you did just lose your job."  Kelevmor nodded and reached into his pocket for some copper, to which the inn keeper responded by shaking her head.  "No, you need it."

   "No what I need to do, is to find the king and shove my boot-" he stopped when Allison's eyes went to the door.  Kelevmor turned and saw two Stormwind guards staring at him.  Although he would never think about confronting the powers of Stormwind in his current state of mind, Kelevmor felt he needed to at least say something to the king.

   After downing his drink in thirty seconds, Kelevmor walked over to the two guards, trying his best not to stumble  "Do you think you two could take me to the palace?  I would...would like a word with your boss."

*        *        *        *

   Dressed in his blue ceremonial armor, King Varian Wrynn sat quietly at the beautifully crafted wooden dining table that was moved into the throne room moments before the arrival of his guests, the dwarven explorer Brann Bronzebeard and Lady Jaina Proudmoore, ruler of Theramoore.  Several of the king's finest guards surrouded the throne room, their backs up againt the blue and white stone walls, armed and ready should anyone be foolish enough to attack the king.

   Brann tipped his brown hat to the king and stroked his orange beard that was done in braids.  "Tis a fine meal you put on tonight your majesty.  And must I say, you're really in a drinking mood tonight.  How much ale have ya had?  Four cups?"

   "Five cups to be exacty," the beautiful Jaina Proudmoore answered.  "King-" her words were interrupted by multiple voices shouting from the hallway, followed by what sounded like metal hitting skin and bones.

   The king stood up as three royal guards; two female and one male, tossed in a badly beaten and bruised man.  Immediatly recognizing the man, Wrynn ordered his guards to raise him to his feet.  "Kelevmor VanCleef, you have a lot of gall coming here.  Have you come to plead for your job at the Herald?"

   "After getting fired because of writing the honest truth, hardly," Kelevmor responded as blood dripped from his chin.  As the king stood face to face to him, the bruised man could smell the faint smell of alcohol coming from the king's breath.  "You know its true of what I speak Wrynn," he continued.  "Sorry, I mean your majesty.  You know I speak the truth.  If we continue to fight each other, organiza...organizations like the Burning Legion and the Scourge will sweep up the pieces that are left over.  But if we unite together we can stop them.  And if know want to go to war with the Horde, go right ahead.  But I am sure you will find that there are many Horde and Alliance who want peace just as much as those who want war."

   King Varian Wrynn nodded.  "I've heard that your days in the military were a joke VanCleef...sorry, I meant Sergeant."  Turning to his guests, the king said," By the way, have you met my guests, Lady Jaina Proudmoore and Brann Bronzebeard."

   "Jaina Proudmoore and Brann Bronzebeard. The explorer?  I'm a huge fan."

   The king of Stormwind nodded.  "Yes both he and Lady Proudmoore are visiting for the holiday."  Turning away from his guests, who were both amused and embarrased, King Varian Wrynn looked at Kelevmor and said," Now I know that you lost a friend on that ship.  So why don't you go find your brother and confront him.  After all, wasn't it the Defias who attacked?"

   "I should," replied the ex-reporter, trying to break free of the guards.  "Kind of like you are going after the Horde because you lost Bolvar Fordragon.  But you avenged his death in the Undercity, while the Horde fought to regain it with Sylvannas.  Unless you are really just trying to eradicat the Horde and take their lands, shouldn't you really concentrate your efforts on Northrend?"  

   Having heard enough, King Wrynn sent a blackhanded slap across Kelevmor's face that rattled his jaw.

   In normal circumstances, Kelevmor would have stopped speaking, however due to his impared state of mind, he continued," I read a story about your return to Stormwind Varian and I have researched into Thrall's history.  One would think that will all of those times you spent in the Warchief's arenas, that yes you would have hatred for him, but that he would have sympathy for you.  Because he too was once a slave, fighting in Blackmoore's arenas.  He knows what it was like.  If you think about it you too-" his words were finished as King Wrynn's plate covered fist slammed into his nose.

   Despite knowing his would be going into a losing fight, Kelevmor broke free of the guards and flung himself at King Wrynn.  Both men hit the palace floor, pummeling each others faces and midsections while Brann Bronzebeard and some of the guards cheered them on.

   The guards who had held him before, picked up the Kelevmor and stood back as King Wrynn delievered a right handed punch into the man's face, causing four of his teeth to shatter.

   As his body fell to the ground, Kelevmor shot a defiant look into the king, who wore an expression that resembled both disgust and pity.

   King Varian Wrynn then looked to his guards.  "Get him out of my site.  If it is convenient, take him home."

*        *        *        *

   When Kelevmor VanCleef opened his eyes, he found himself in a small bed, his legs sore from danging over the edge of the bed.  The stone walls around him were bright yellow with various runes painted on them.  His eyes looked over at the door to see Baxter staring at him.

   "Baxter, how did I get here?"  As he sat up, he was suprised to see Taffy enter the room.

   "I see you are awake," the gnome commented as she and Baxter made their way over to the bed.  "It looks like your face is still bruised up.  Oh, I have your stuff you left on the ship in the living room.  You just left it all on the ship.  Did you know Kelevmor, you've been asleep for two days?"

   Kelevmor raised an eyebrow.  "Two days?  So you brought me here?"

   Taffy smiled as she stroked the tabby's back.  "I was on my way to visit you when I saw you get thrown out of the palace as I was making my way out of the Dwarven District.  I didn't know where you lived so I brought you to my apartment.  Of course when I was coming to the Tram with you on my back, that's when Baxter found us."

   Baxter jumped onto the bed and laid his head on his master's lap.  Stroking his cat's fur, Kelevmor realized what day it was.  "Thank you Taffy and Merry Winter Veil."

   The gnome smiled.  "Merry Winter Veil Kelevmor.  By the way, when I went to get my presents, Greatfather Winter asked me to bring you yours, and you had a lot.  Wait here."

   Kelevmor sighed happily as his friend brought in a big red sack, then dumped its contents on the floor.  All in all, there were four neatly wrapped red and green packages, a small package wrapped in black with a letter attached to it, and one small piece of paper.  The paper was from Nixxle, who wished the human Happy Winter Veil and also informed him that he resigned from the Herald.

   Taffy handed Kelevmor the black package with the paper attached to it.  "Dearest brother, I am glad to hear you survived the Angel," the human read aloud.  "Do not interfere in my affairs again.  This is your first and final warning.  Merry Winter Veil, from Edwin."

   The gnome's eyes widened for a moment before handing one of the red and green packages to Kelevmor.  "Here, Greatfather Winter said you should open this one as soon as you could."

   Kelevmor tore through the wrapping paper and opened the box.  Inside was a small clipping from the Gadgetzhan Times.  He quickly picked it up and skimmed through the article, his attention focused on the byline.  "I don't believe it."

   "What's wrong Kelevmor?" asked Taffy, who was trying to take away the wrapping paper from Baxter's claws.  "What is it?"

   The human looked at the gnome.  "This is a clipping of Brianne's article for the Times that she was writing on the ship.  It was published yesterday."

   The gnome leaned in close.  "This means she must be alive."

   "Yes it does," he said, feeling relieved to know his friend had survived.  "I might have to go see her after I move."

   Taffy became confused.  "You're leaving Stormwind?  Is it because of the king?"

   Kelevmor nodded.  "I don't think the king would care if I stayed in Stormwind or if I left.  It's just I don't have a job there anymore, so there's no real reason to stay."  A somber expression spread across his face as he realized he would have to make a new start.  "Where will I go?"

   Sensing the distress rising in her friend, Taffy took his hand.  "It's the holidays Kelevmor.  Try not to think about it.  Come on, let's go for a walk."

   The ex-reporter shrugged and stepped out of bed, thankful he had found such a caring friend.

*        *        *        *

   During his days a soldier and as a reporter for the Herald, Kelevmor had visited the city of Ironforge on numerous occassions.  And after all of those occasions, the human was still astonished at the beautiful architecture and stonework the dwarves had made from within the mountain that sheltered their city.  

   Passing by the many number of people who were either getting their presents from Greatfather Winter-who had tossed a wink in Kelevmor's direction when he passed-going to the auction house, or on their way to the bank, Kelevmor breathed in the sulfurous air that suprisingly had no ill effects on Ironforge's citizens.  Taffy smiled as they entered the Mystic Ward with Baxter trailing behind them.  Pointing to the sparkling blue fountain in the middle, Taffy said," I always come here when I need to think clearly."

   "It is a good spot," remarked a musical voice from their left.  

   Kelevmor and Taffy turned to see the priestess Tyrande Whisperwind walking towards them.  The human bowed his head as he watched his cat approach the beautiful night elf.  "Lady Tyrande, how are you?"

   "Better than you are faring from what Jaina Proudmoore has told me," Tyrande responded.  "You actually started a fight with the king?"

   Kelevmor shrugged.  "We were both drinking."  Tyrande laughed and shook her head.

   "So it is true," Taffy said, pointing to the two of them.  "Kelevmor you really know Tyande Whisperwind?"

   "Yes I am one of his contacts," confirmed the high priestess as she picked up Baxter, who was trying to claw at her gown.  "Kelevmor came to the temple, asking about the relationship between the druids and the priestesses.  I just happened to be in the temple when he came in.  After he let me know this would be published, I was happy to oblidge any information I could give him."

   "Yes, but you didn't give me all the information you could have given me," Kelevmor corrected.  "Not that I needed anymore.  Since you talked to Lady Proudmoore, you must have heard."

   Tyrande nodded as she set Baxter on the ground.  "Yes I did, which is why I came here to offer you a job with the Gadgetzhan Times, specifically to ask if you wanted to be a Times correspondant in Shattrath City."

   Kelevmor became a little skeptical.  "Not to sound rude or anything Tyrande, but how can you get me a job with the Times?  I thought it was all owned by the Steamwaddle Cartel?"

   "Well, you know how nobles fund the Stormwind Herald," replied the night elf.  "I, along with Thrall and Carne Bloodhoof own part of the Gadgetzhan Times.  Once I showed them your story about the Crimson Angel, both Thrall and Carne agreed you would suit the job, given your stance on certain issues.  Are you interested?"

   Kelevmor's eyes lit up.  "Interested?  When do I start?"

   Tyrande stepped back when he felt the human wrap his arms around her.  "I suggest you take a vacation first," she said as he drew away.  "When you are ready, go to Shattrath City and report to the editor there.  One last thing."  She touched his shoulder and then placed a Gadgetzhan Times press badge in his hands.  He stared at it for a moment and smiled as his name appeared at the bottom.

   "Merry Winter Veil," Tyrande Whisperind said before walking away.  "If you need anything I will be with King Mangi Bronzebeard."

   "Merry Winter Veil," Kelevmor said he watched her walk away.  "Are you all right Taffy?  You haven't said anything since Tyrande made tha job offer.

   Taffy looked up at her friend.  "It's nothing.  I mean, I guess you probably want to leave now.  Go get your things and head to the Outland."

   The human smiled and shook his head.  "It doesn't have to be.  I mean Tyrande did say I should take a vacation.  The holiday isn't over for a few days and I could spend a few days here.  You know, you could also go with me to the Outlands."

   "That would be great Kelevmor," the gnome shouted as she hugged him.  Then an idea came to her mind.  "You know, we could also go to Gadgetzhan and visit Brianne."

   "You're right Taffy.  In fact, let's leave right now."

   With that, the two friends raced to the gryphon master, with Baxter following behind them.

For those who have traveled Azeroth and those who haven't

Happy Holidays