The grass, heavy with rain, rose past my knees and soaked my trousers. Fang disappeared entirely into it, and the waves passing as he moved through it was all I had to follow.
The grass thinned out and a low wooden fence, well-maintained and painted black, appeared ahead of us and to the west. I recognized it: it was Bloodhoof’s graveyard, a wide, shallow dell sunken into the earth. Each grave was marked with a round stone two hands wide, each carved with the name of the tauren whose ashes were buried beneath, each sitting in a tuft of lush, untrodden grass. They were laid down by family, the stones forming lines from near us and to the south, where our fathers and mothers were buried, past us and away to the north, back in time, through the centuries to when our ancestors had ceased their migration and become a sedentary people.
Fang moved to the fence and stopped. He stared down into the barrow dell, blinking slowly. I stood silently, watching him through the mist. “She’s almost there,” he said into the gentle hiss of the rain.
“Who?” I said, “M?”
He turned his head. I followed his gaze south towards the graveyard’s gate. A figure, bent nearly double, hobbled into the graveyard from the mist beyond, moving towards the far side. Sudden tears welled up in my eyes: the walk was slower and the shuffle more stooped than I remembered, but I had recognized the figure. It was my mother.
I emitted a stifled cry, torn between running to her or away, but certain that I had to do one or the other. “Wait,” said Fang, a firm fin on my arm.
I wrenched away. “Why?” I choked, but it had stayed me.
I looked at him staring silently into the mist, then I looked back at my mother. The fear and doubt which had shadowed me since I had set hoof in my homeland intensified, and I stared dumbly as she knelt at a gravestone. It was my father’s.
She’d spent hours a day like that, knelt at his ashstone, silent or speaking quietly: to him, to herself, possibly to no one at all, I’d never known. I’d resented it. He had abandoned us – let her come spend her hours with me, who was still alive, I’d thought. My stomachs twisted, and tears welled up in my eyes again.
Soon she rose to her feet again. She turned south, and moved to the last row of stones, one stone towards the present. I cocked my head as she knelt again. One stone south of my father? Had he had another child? Impossible, I thought.
After another moment, she stood, turned, and shuffled slowly out of the graveyard and back into the mist.
I whirled on the murloc. “Why?” I cried. “Why did you stop me?”
He looked calmly up at me. “You can run, Horse,” he said, “to her or away. But not yet. If you choose now, you’ll miss everything I have to tell you, everything that you need to know.”
I stared at him. I had adopted my Common name after I’d fled home, and hearing it spoken out loud here was a shock.
Then I whirled about, unheeding and cursing the murloc, and ran towards the graveyard’s gate. I bowed my head as I entered. I slowed, deferentially, and walked quietly towards the graves at which my mother had knelt, their carved names hidden in the tufts of achingly green grass. I stopped at my father’s. Ceta, it read – Hawk, in Taurahe. I’m sorry, I thought to him. I’m sorry I disappointed you.
Fang had trailed after me. “You’re not allowed in here,” I growled dangerously.
He looked impassively back at me, standing near the other gravestone. “Horse,” he said.
I choked up again, then bared my molars at him. He stared back, mouth clamped shut, his red eyes blinking impassively, his body swelling and subsiding as he breathed. I held his gaze challengingly, overwhelmed but forcing myself not to cry.
After a moment, he opened his mouth again. “In order to live your life,” he intoned softly, “you must first lose it.” I cocked my head at him. He nodded down to the stone at his feet, the second one my mother had knelt at.
I knelt at it in turn, parting its soft tuft of grass and looking. My breath caught in my throat.
“Oh,” I breathed.
Tashunke, it read. Horse.
I stared at the world in silent shock. Hokato, I thought – my old mentor, the only one who’d known that I’d run away – he must have lied to her, to everyone. White anger flashed through me.
“She has peace,” said Fang after a moment. “You should know that, at least.”
“Peace!” I cried, standing bolt up. “You wanted me to wait to run to her so you could tell me she thinks I’m dead?”
Fang smiled. “I mean,” he said after a moment, “that’s not the only thing.”
I stared dumbly at him for a moment. He was toying with my curiosity again, I knew.
Successfully. I sighed. “Did you bring Varimathras back to unite the world?” I said into the soft silence.
“That’s just the first step,” said the murloc. “But, yeah. Good thinking.”
The thick, misting rain had tapered off, but the mist itself remained, cloaking the world outside the barrow dell.
I sighed. “How’d you know I’d come back here? You were ahead of me on the road.”
Fang smiled. “How could you not? I know you that well, at least.”
“That well from the last couple months, most of which I spent asleep?” I gritted.
Fang laughed shortly, but didn’t answer my question. “Well,” he continued, “if you puzzled out the Varimathras bit, you probably got the big one too.”
I looked back at him. “The big one?” I was his downfall? They were forcing me to help them? I shook my head.
Fang smiled. “Guess not. What,” he continued patiently, “are the two things you want most in the world?”
“Home,” I said instantly. It had been, ever since I’d run away from it. I stared back at my father’s smooth gravestone, gritting my teeth and suppressing the sudden but familiar sense of shame.
“What’s the other?” said the murloc.
I shook my head, lost, but only for a moment. I’d only discovered it a few night past, with the help of a hyperactive eyepatched gnome. “I want,” I said slowly, “to find a way, to find something that will bring this world you shattered back together,” I faltered, “that will keep it from dissolving into bickering groups of, of…” and I trailed off. “I want to do what the Argent Dawn tried to do and failed,” I finished. It was the first time I’d put the thoughts into words: and now that I had, it sounded awfully, terribly naïve.
Fang nodded. “What if I told you that I could give you the second one,” he said quietly, “but that you’d have to give up the first?”
I shook my head. Give up home?, I thought. How can I give up something I don’t have? Give up hope, I supposed he meant, and I shook my head and sighed.
But the prospect of what he’d said began to sink in. “You can give me the second?” I said. “You want me to help you with Varimathras…” I shook my head again.
Fang shook his head. “Not just help us,” he said, “not just with that. We want you to join us. We want you to become an agent of the Law.”
My heart stopped. I stared down at the murloc. “An agent,” I repeated, my heart suddenly in my throat and my voice strained. In all that time, all the way across the span of the known world, I had thought they would want me to help – be their fall-boy – something, I’d been sure, but it had never occurred to me that they would want me to join them.
“Yup,” said Fang.
“Wow,” I said.
“You have no idea,” he rejoined.
I blinked. Wow. “Do I have to decide right now?”
Fang hiss-laughed. “I wouldn’t let you if you tried. You haven’t heard the half of it yet.”
He looked past me, off to the north, and a distant look came over his eyes. I stared back at him. My mind reeled. That explains why they were testing me, back in Lordaeron, I thought, and it explains what it meant that I passed.
“Let’s walk,” said Fang finally, and turned.
We walked north, on opposite sides of my family’s line of gravestones. There were too many questions whirling about in my head. I flashed back suddenly to the mansion in Storm City, so many miles ago. I recalled the same feeling, wondering whether the Argent Dawn was real. It seemed laughable now – I’d been desperately curious about such small things.
“No questions?” said Fang.
“Millions,” I said truthfully. “I just can’t think of which one to ask first.”
Fang grinned toothily.
I shook my head and looked at him. “In Storm City,” I began, “we knew what it meant that you worked for the Law. You told us about the rules it made, and you listened to us complain about them.” Fang smiled humorlously. “Since then,” I continued, “all I know about working for the Law is that you run around, do inexplicable stuff, and don’t tell me anything.”
Fang’s smirk returned to a grin. “Yeah,” he said, “sorry about that. Actually, not at all, because it was fun as hell.” I glowered at him.
“Working for the Law,” he continued slowly and soberly, “means disappearing. It means moving in the shadows and appearing where and when you’re most needed; it means moving among the world’s most powerful people in the world, and knowing secretly that you’re more powerful than they are. They all lead their little lives being important in their little states and nations, but none of them,” and he stared intensely up at me, “none of them move history.”
I gaped at him. “I have no idea what that means,” I said after a moment.
Fang laughed shortly. “Right now, it means trailing your sorry ass around Kali making sure you don’t get yourself killed.”
I nodded. I deserved that, I thought.
“More generally, though,” he continued, “it means that your home is the world, that your primary allegiance is to the world. When you think, when you move, when you scheme and plot and negotiate and advise, you’re doing it for them.”
“For the people of Az,” I breathed.
“You got it,” said Fang.
“Wow,” I said.
We had come far down through the centuries of my ancestors. The graveyard’s northern fence was visible ahead in the mist – the first Tauren to be burned and so buried. Beyond it was the more misty past: When we had been migratory, we built platforms to set our dead upon, face to the sky so their spirits would know which way to go.
We stopped walking. Fang looked down at the nearest gravestone, and something like affection passed over his blue face. Then he looked upwards, into the thinning mist, and his face softened. “I love this place,” he said quietly.
“You’ve been here before?” I said.
He smiled. “Loads of times,” he replied. “Whenever I took a break from Storm City. It was sort of my second assignment.”
“You didn’t take any breaks in Storm City!” I said. “It was legendary how much you worked.”
He laughed. “I didn’t have to any more by the time you were there,” he said. “By then, you’d come to me.”
I cocked my head at him. “What did I have to do with it?”
Fang’s round body swelled as he inhaled, staring intently up at me. Then he looked off distantly, away south, down past my ancestors. “Everything,” he said quietly.
“I watched you at school, and I watched you training to shift shapes. I listened at the window to your mother crying out as she passed you into the world.” He locked his red eyes back on me. “I watched your mother and father fall in love,” he said quietly. “They almost didn’t, but I saved it. I knew both of your grandfathers. I’ve been coming here, once every ten years at least, since before your great great grandfathers were born.”
I stared. “How old are you?” I breathed.
He smiled thinly and looked down. “Older than I should be, at least,” he murmured. He looked back up. “Working for the Law?” he said. “It means, for as long as it pleases the Law, you stop getting older, and you don’t worry about death. The Law doesn’t lose its agents. It holds onto them, for years, centuries, until their purposes are fulfilled.”
It was impossible. Completely implausible, fantastic, unbelievable and stupid. “That’s total crap,” I said.
“Yeah?” replied the murloc. “Who ran Storm City before me? Who preceded the Tooth? Or the Whelp in Orcmar? Nobody,” he answered firmly, “that’s who. I ran that damn place for five hundred years.”
It was true: there had never been any talk of a time before Fang, or before the Whelp. They had simply always been there.
I stared at him. “You’re immortal,” I said disbelievingly.
“Not quite,” Fang replied seriously. “But I am, by far, the oldest murloc on Az.” Breath hissed in past his teeth and then out, and he was staring off into the mist again, his mouth pressed firmly shut.
He looked back up at me. “You want to know what it means to work for the Law?” he said. “It means being lonely. It means knowing that your whole family, all of your friends, are growing old and dying, and it means forgetting them, because why not? Their children’s children’s children have forgotten them.” He looked up and laughed, but there was a faint note of desperation in it. “I mean, I’m a murloc!” he said. “My greatest joy in the world is getting together with my whole family, and running at something and killing it! But my entire family is dead. Everyone I knew has been dead for centuries.” He looked down and sighed. “I don’t even miss them any more.”
I paused uncertainly. “Is that supposed to convince me?” I said.
“No,” he replied, looking back up. “It’s supposed to let you know exactly what you’re getting yourself into. We owe you that, at least.”
He squeezed his red eyes shut. When he opened them again, the desperation had gone, replaced with a quiet acceptance. “It’s a trade,” he said firmly. “You give up everything you’re close to, but in return, you get the world.”
The mist began to condense into rain again: not falling so much as floating down out of the sky, but I was soaking wet and cold.
I inhaled slowly. “Why did you come and watch me?” I said. “Why not M? She would have fit in better, no offense.”
Fang frowned and looked down at the ground. “Katy doesn’t come to this place,” he said quietly. He pointed to the gravestone at his feet.
I knelt and parted the stone’s grass. Its carved name read, Suyeta, and the characters looked just a little strange. I looked up at Fang. “This is Old Taurahe,” I said.
He nodded. “It means, ‘Chosen One’,” he replied. “Of course, it’s just a name, no more than ‘Horse’.” He smiled. “We make fun of her for it whenever we can.”
I looked up. “This is Katy M’s grave?” I motioned away south with my head. “It’s got to be…” I trailed off, counting generations in my head.
“…seven centuries old,” finished Fang.
“Wow,” I said. I looked off down the line of stones, bending and intersecting with other lines, and realized with a shock –
“This is my family,” I said. “These stones are my ancestors.”
“Mm hmm,” said Fang nonchalantly.
“Katy M is my…” I looked off down the lines of stones, hiding in their tufts of grass.
“She’s your great great aunt,” Fang finished for me, “with lots more greats in there – more than twenty of them, in fact.”
I shook my head. It was a strange and crazy idea, that M – Suyeta, who I’d met only months before – was my ancestor, my great-great-great-great-aunt. I flashed back to her gruff but maternal way, and to the keen ache that I’d felt when she’d pitched off the back of the Ironforge Mountains and away. She was family before I knew she was family, I thought.
“Although if you follow the lines back this far, almost everybody in this graveyard is related,” Fang was musing to himself.
I sighed, and let out the question that had been building in my mind, the most important one of all: “What’s so special about me? Why am I so important that you’ve been keeping track of my family for hundreds of years?” Had he said that he’d helped my parents fall in love? I thought suddenly, with the urge to scream. You’d better have a damn good answer, I thought at the little blue murloc.
“No idea,” answered Fang, shrugging, and I boggled at him. “It’s probably not anything, exactly – that’s not really how it works. I was a kid too when Katy came and lured me away from my people with promises of adventure and glory.” He grinned toothily. “I sure wasn’t a hero. It’s not what you are now,” he concluded. “It’s bits and pieces of who you are and what that’ll turn into later. The Law thinks that you’ve got what it takes to become what it needs.”
“Oh.” I inhaled deeply, then let the air hiss back out of me. Then I shook my head. “This is too big,” I said. “Every time I think I have a handle on this thing it gets bigger – with the black book and Hannathras winning and now this, this scheming to make me be born thing, and living forever-ish, and being some kind of immortal super-agent while everyone you love gets old and dies?”
“Oh,” said Fang, as though he’d forgotten to name an important item on his list of favorite foods. “Not everyone you love – pets are sort of exempt from that. The Law keeps your pets around too.” He smiled fondly and opened the small sack that hung at his side, and the little blue snake with its unsettling vestigial wings slithered out and wrapped itself around his wrist. “I have Bait, here, and Katy has Screech. And that cat of yours, you’ll have him forever too. Just so’s you know.”
“Wow,” I said, and then said it again for good measure.
“Yup,” said Fang.
We stared at each other for a moment.
A shadow of a grin played across his face. “You can decide now,” he said lightly.
I looked down at the gravestone marked Suyeta, then back through the mist towards where my own lay. I looked down at the lonely, cheery murloc and shook my head. A battle was brewing inside me, tearing me between duties, between guilts, and between guilt and a tremendous, irrepressible excitement, the need to discover what it was all about, to be a part of it. Then the guilt regained the upper hand, and my stomachs clenched, and the murloc’s two red eyes were staring expectantly up at me. Yes!, I thought, then, Never!, and then, before I quite knew what I was doing, I sprinted for the north fence, vaulted over it, horsed up and galloped off across the great green mist-shrouded plains.
“Go on, run away! RUN!” shouted Fang after me, his voice fading with the distance and the falling hush of the rain. “If it’s not the last time you run away,” I thought I heard him say, “then there won’t ever be a last time.”