The Murloc is Lonely
Book Two: The Emerald Queen
I shivered. I was freezing.
I lay on my back on cold, hard ground, and a cold wind whispered across me. It was dark.
I opened my eyes. The crescent moons floated on the horizon, and the stars shone brightly above. My body was sore, but it felt whole. I sat up.
I was at the top of the bare hill, the one to which the green-haired woman had told me to return when I’d first dreamed this lucid dream. I’d made it back, finally – I’d succeeded.
In fact, you failed, whispered a powerful voice in my mind, a woman’s voice, and I peered across the darkness towards the other hill. A diminutive shadow sat there, less dark against the darkness. You thought you could fly when you had merely hovered. Your pride overwhelmed you, and were you not under my care in this place, you would not have survived, said the voice, and I felt ashamed.
I squinted at the shadow, faint atop the far hill. Was it even actually there? “You’re the Emerald Queen?” I muttered, half to myself, half to the shadow.
I am called that.
Then, Sit, she commanded, and I fell to the ground, my legs suddenly useless. Then my eyelids were, too, and my eyes fell shut.
The voice in my mind went silent. For a moment I thought that she had left, but her mind still watched over mine, I could feel it – silent, powerful, waiting.
Waiting for what? I thought. What am I supposed to do now? I shrugged. Why am I here? I thought.
What is this place? The pure dream of creation, or something, the elf-woman with the animals had called it, but no one had told me more.
Whose creation? Mu’sha the mother of us all, of course – Elune, Tyrande of the golden feathers had called her.
Az, I thought. The planet is alive, that’s what Tyrande had said. Az is a living, breathing being – all things are connected, like my nose is connected to my hand, and… somehow, that connection makes me greater than just all my bits and pieces put together in a pile, makes Az greater than just the sum of everything in the world. She is sentient, I thought. A sentient being.
She is not sentient as you mean the word, hissed the voice in my head, and I sensed that I’d thought something wrong. She is much, much greater.
Clear your mind, she added. Your prattle is distracting you.
Oh, I thought. Well, fine then.
I settled my legs beneath me, and drew in a deep breath. I let Hokato’s spirit wash over me, through my mind, and everything else faded.
The feeling of the place, the calmness which I had felt when I’d first arrived, flowed over me again, but this time – guided, or magnified, by the Emerald Queen’s mind over mine – it felt… somehow… green.
This is what you came for, she whispered. Learn to drink it, and you will have what you need.
* * *
I awoke, unfulfilled and unrested, my sheets knotted about me. The room was dark – dusk had settled outside its window, and torchlight flickered along the half-constructed battlements beyond.
I’d done as I’d been told: With my mind empty, I’d floated in the unexplained green mist, the all-consuming peace of the Dream, doing my level best to contemplate nothing. She had kept watch, sustaining me, constraining me, keeping me somehow in my place – or her mind had, at least.
When the strain of keeping my curious mind empty overtook me, I’d awoken. I wished that the woman had been more receptive to my questions, and if I’d gained any great wisdom from the encounter, I couldn’t tell. The Emerald Queen’s parting words had been, Tell no one of this place.
A shadow moved in the dark room. I sat bolt upright.
“Sorry,” rumbled M.
“Jeeze,” I said. My heart hammered. I creased my forehead at her. “How long have you been sitting there?”
“About a minute,” she replied.
“I had a tip.”
I burned suddenly with curiosity – M was a druid, she wielded the Emerald Queen’s powers, could surely answer my myriad questions. But the Dream-elf had given me explicit orders to keep my mouth shut. Didn’t M and I have greater secrets even than that, though? If I had met the Queen of Dreaming already, surely M knew her well?
Obey her, flashed symbols in the darkness. I sighed. Another layer of secrecy. Great.
“M…” I started, and then I hesitated.
“Do you still trust it?”
“Yeah,” I grunted.
“It’s starting to ask strange things of you,” she rumbled. It wasn’t a question.
I gritted my teeth, and then, with a sudden burst of daring, I blurted, “It’s telling me to keep things from you guys.” Take that, Law.
M smiled in the darkness. “Do you think I tell you everything I know?” she replied coolly.
“Of course not,” I laughed sharply. “Thanks for rubbing it in.”
She shook her head. “You think I tell Fang everything?”
I stared at her. “Yeah,” I said after a moment. “I do. Did.”
“You’re wrong,” she replied. “And he has his secrets from me. We’re together in this, you and me and Fang and the rest of us, but each of us is on a mission from Sarvavidh, fulfilling a piece of its plan. And what our piece of its plan is is an intensely personal thing, Horse. If the Law tells you to keep it to yourself, then do so. Of course I still trust the Law – it’s been asking strange things of me for centuries,” she finished firmly.
“Oh.” I paused a beat. “That’s easy, though, because I have no idea what my purpose is.” I sighed.
“You’ll get glimpses,” replied the other bull, “bits and pieces. I don’t know that any of us ever quite figure it all out, even those that have fulfilled it and moved on.”
“Died, you mean.”
M nodded. “After a good bit more living than they would have done otherwise. We generally think it’s a fair trade.”
The door creaked open, and dim light flickered in from the hallway. “Where’s the beef?” said Fang cheerily.
“Stop that,” growled M.
“What are you two chatting about?”
“Trusting orders from above,” said M lightly. “Horse is having his first crisis of faith.”
“Good,” laughed Fang, stepping in and closing the door. “The sooner you get through those, the better for everyone.”
“You guys had them too?”
“Of course,” said the murloc. “You get pulled out of nowhere to work for an all-knowing, all-powerful force with an unpronounceable name, and it starts asking all kinds of strange things of you. Just… don’t worry, right? Sarvavidh has this all plotted out, all of it. It knew we were gonna have this conversation, and it planned for it.”
I guess it did tip off M when I was about to wake up, I thought. Well played, Law.
“Or something,” M was saying. “The Law may or may not be all-knowing—”
“It may so be all-knowing,” said Fang irritably.
“It certainly does know a lot,” replied M pointedly.
Fang sighed. “Katy and I have a long-running disagreement on the subject,” he explained. “Katy doesn’t believe that the Sarvavidh, whose name means ‘All-knowing,’ is all-knowing.”
“Not necessarily true,” and she sighed in turn. “Understand that I have full faith in the Law, but I’ve never seen any evidence that it’s so minutely in control of the entire world. You can claim that everything the Law does is infallibly in the service of its inscrutable goals,” she spoke over Fang, who had made to speak, “which, conveniently, you don’t know. It could be true, you could be right. My point is just that when you claim that the Sarvavidh is sarvavidh, you’re doing so on faith.”
Fang shrugged. “Faith bolstered by stuff like that time when the Law predicted something that ended up happening – let me remember, which time was that? Oh right, every day.”
“Faith shaken by terrifying, world-shaking events, like the Dawn’s mistake of locking Varimathras away in a brick of ice that was explicitly designed to make people stronger,” returned the bull, her forehead creased.
“The Law clearly wants Varimathras loose on the world,” returned Fang, “and it seems to want him strong. We’ve already spent hours brainstorming why.”
“Why doesn’t it just tell you?” I cried, unable to restrain myself. “Why does it make you brainstorm about why it did the most dangerous-sounding, backward thing ever?”
Fang smiled. “It wants us to brainstorm. It wants us to be having this conversation, so that later on we’ll have another conversation, and even later on we’ll do something, or we’ll be thinking just the right thing at the right time.”
“Why doesn’t it just tell us to think the right thing at the right time?” I threw my hands up in the air.
“Flashing symbols is imprecise,” replied the murloc airily. “Remember when someone forgot to lock up the front door of the Scarlet Monastery so we could just waltz in? You think the Law just told them to do that? Of course not. It set it up somehow – maybe hundreds of years ago – so that at just the right time, some schlub would leave the right door open. Sarvavidh knows everything,” he finished firmly.
“It certainly does know a lot,” muttered M.
“You have no faith,” muttered the murloc in kind.
“I have faith that the Law has a plan,” she snapped, “and that we’re working towards that plan. I have faith that the Law knows a lot more about a lot more than I do, and so I can pledge my full loyalty to it. And since the Law certainly has power over my life and times, and has not to date made me pay for my blasphemies, I feel that my beliefs are good enough for the Law. Horse,” and she turned to me, “the important thing is that you come to whatever conclusion you’re going to come to, on your own, in the way that you can live with. That’s the important thing.”
“Agreed,” grinned the murloc. “As long as you end up agreeing with me.”
I grimaced. The Law doesn’t want you to know I let Hannathras into my mind, I thought. I wonder how you’d justify that.
“Anyway,” he was saying, and he turned back to the door, “I just came in to see if you big cows wanted to grab some mess-hall grub before Norin packs up the kitchen for the night.”
M stood. “We’ll be right there,” she said, and the murloc nodded and left.
“You doing okay?” she said gruffly, to me.
I shook my head. Not really, I wasn’t. But I sighed. “I guess I have to be,” I answered. “If you guys went through this too, and came out okay and still trusting in the Law, I guess I shouldn’t really wallow in it.”
“Good bull,” she growled, and started for the door.
“There’s one other thing,” I started, and she stopped and turned around. I hesitated, but she nodded for me to continue.
“You said that…” I faltered. “You told me back in Mulgore, up at the top of that cliff, that whatever the Law asked of me, I’d be able to do.”
“Mm hmm,” she grunted.
“But, when we were leaving Under City when they were sealing up, the Law told me to convince Rhy to join us. But I failed. I tried, and I failed! And she’s still there, stuck in her city with the giant ugly spider-people and the Scourge knocking on her door!”
“The Law told you to get Rhy to come along?” said M, cocking her head at me. “What did it say, exactly?”
“Well,” and I thought back to the symbols, their curves and flourishes and inflections of meanings that I knew I was still only beginning to understand. “I guess… she was turning away, and her hair twisted into the symbols, and they said that I should try to convince her.”
M nodded. “And you tried.”
“Oh,” I said.
“Oh,” I said. “Okay, then.”
* * *
The mess-hall looked the same inside as the last time I’d visited, pre-buildup – a long, bare table in an empty room. There were fewer chairs around the table, though. “The army lives and eats down below,” explained Fang, sitting impertinently at the head of the table. “Only the Silver Hand and its guests eat up here.” M and I flanked him.
Norin Ironbottom appeared, draped in an apron. “Hey Horse,” he said, sounding exhausted. I felt his pain. “Good to see you.”
“Yeah, you too,” I replied. “Glad you survived!” I grinned.
“So far,” muttered the young dwarf. “How many for dinner, just three?”
“Far as I know,” said Fang.
Norin nodded and stumped off to the kitchen.
“So, how was everybody’s day… ” drawled the murloc.
“Fang filled me in on the rest of the Scarlet Monastery adventure, finally,” said M. “I hear you met Feathers.”
I nodded. “That was really intense.”
M nodded back. “It doesn’t get easier. Fang says you woke up in the ocean.”
I groaned. “I had to swim like a mile.”
Norin returned, and I clapped my mouth shut. He bore three plates, piled with meat and mashed potatoes. He set them down wordlessly, and then left. I furrowed my brow after him.
“I woke up in a tree my first time,” said Fang thoughtfully, when he’d left. “That’s like the ocean, if you’re an inexperienced murloc.” We began eating hungrily.
“You can swim now, though,” said M to me, through a mouthful of potato.
I grinned through my own mouthful. “I can swim!” I said.
“Although,” and I glanced back and forth between them, unsure for a moment if I was supposed to be discussing such things. “The pendant?” I held it up. “It doesn’t look a damn thing like a sea lion.”
“You got suckered into the sea-lion?” said M, smiling thinly. “Sea lions are inelegant.”
“Especially Horse’s!” hiss-laughed Fang. “Tusks and flippers and misshapen ugly all over the place.”
I wrinkled my forehead at him. He stuffed another forkfull of mashed potato into his mouth. “Why, what do you turn into?” I said to M, to change the subject.
“An otter,” she said, and smiled a rare genuine smile. “I always loved otters.”
“I’ve always loved walruses,” mused Fang. “I always thought she should have gone with a walrus. Fits her more, don’t you think?” M furrowed her broad forehead at the murloc, who shrugged. “Otters are frisky and playful and all, but have you ever run into a walrus down a back alley? Walruses inspire fear! Would you rather be playful Katy or Feared Katy? I think we all know the answer to that one there, Warrior.” He winked.
“Otters are elegant swimmers,” growled the bull.
The hall’s outside door opened and King Madoran stumped in, alone. “Ach, company,” he declared, relieved, before striding over and asserting his regal ownership of the chair next to M. “Hell of a day.”
“Hi, your Majesty,” I said.
He grinned at me. Then, a moment of silence later, “Don’t let me keep yeh from yer dinner-talk! Unless it’s secretive.”
I glanced at M, and realized – too late – that the glance was guilty. I glanced guiltily back at the dwarf as M made to casually say, “We were dealing with Horse being amazed at the speed that dwarves build.” Madoran smiled into his beard at my discomfiture. M sighed.
“I am!” I exclaimed. “I was telling Fang that I had always read that it takes years to build walls.”
“Unless ye’re the king of the dwarves, it turns out,” said Madoran proudly.
Norin reappeared, minus his apron, looking bleary and relieved to be leaving. He snapped to attention, though, when he noticed the dwarf king at the table. “Dinner, your Majesty?”
“Aye,” said Madoran, “and long on the gravy, if there’s any left tha’s not slated fer yer own plate.”
Norin bowed low, and backed toward the kitchen, bowing all the way.
“Ah hate that,” grumbled Madoran. “Surely a dwarf can be in charge without doubling the time it takes every other dwarf to leave the room.” I smiled to myself.
We ate in silence for a few moments – the food was simple but delicious – but I couldn’t contain myself. “Why didn’t you come visit the Forsaken this whole time?” I blurted.
Madoran glanced up at me, his bushy eyebrows raised. He looked back down at his plate. “Don’ trust ‘em,” he said matter-of-factly, through a mouthful of mashed potato.
I waited for more, but the dwarf went back to his food. “Oh. Why not? You were the first one of us to be okay with Rhy when we found out…”
“I trust your friend,” he shrugged. “She saved our lives twice over, with nothing in it for her but ignominy and the good of the world. It’s her queen that I question now.”
“Sylvanas?” I said. “Why, what happened?”
The dwarf shook his head, and for a moment he seemed old. “Too many unanswered questions, lad,” he muttered. “Too many suspicions.”
“That’s it?” I cried. “Suspicions?” When had the dwarf’s suspicions ever been wrong before, though? I thought.
“Lad,” he replied, furrowing his already-furrowed brow at me. “When I awoke after the battle of the book, Sylvanas and her people gave me access to the Black Sanctum, the library. They didn’t want to, but they did. The history of the Forsaken is not one that suggests that they are led by a trustworthy leader. Sylvanas fought the Scourge which created her – but she only pretended to join the Dawn. While she was sending token soldiers to the Dawn’s front against the Enemy, her apothecaries were doing research – some of it on thinking beings, some of it – forgive me! – on dwarves–” His eyes flashed in anger, and he set his fork down harder than he meant to. He sighed. “They were researching a new plague, Horse. Sylvanas wanted to win the war by creating a new Scourge that would be loyal to her.”
M tilted her head slightly, staring down at her nearly-empty plate. “She wanted everyone to understand the awful thing that had happened to her,” she mused. “She didn’t want loyalty, she wanted to force sympathy on the world. As I read those histories,” she added, glancing up.
The dwarf shrugged. “So be it,” he said. “Ah’d give her a hug if she so asked, but speakin’ as the representative of a race of living, breathing folk who would just as soon stay that way, ah’m goin’ to give wide berth and mistrust to them that play with plague – especially when the book tha’s required to bring the plague’s general back from the dead disappears off her doorstep.”
I stared. “You think Sylvanas gave the black book up willingly?”
The dwarf shook his head. “I don’t know, lad. An’ the fact that I don’t know worries me. There were plenty of unanswered questions after the battle, and though I asked ‘em, the Dark Lady refused to answer ‘em. I believe that there are good Forsaken,” he concluded, “like your friend Rhy. But until I at least know better why the book was under so little guard, and disappeared so readily, ah’ll be keepin’ the Forsaken Nation at arm’s length from mine.”
I sat, silent and miserable. Sylvanas hadn’t given the book up – we had. The Law. Sarvavidh had consorted with the enemy, sent M to help plan the assault, and sent me in to unwittingly lead the dark wizard Hannathras directly to the book. And why? We still didn’t know.
But I couldn’t come clean – the Law had declared that it was to be a secret, even to the detriment of the unity of the living, thinking beings of the world. I sighed.
I cast about for a change of subject. “How’s Ironforge?” I said.
“Great,” Madoran replied, his craggy face lighting up again. “Beren continues to rule while I’m here, and he rules well. I’ve had a fantastic idea – that we’ll be a stronger people if our people are all brilliant scholars – and so I’m working on a scheme for an Ironforge academy that all young dwarves will attend, even them whose families can’t pay for it!”
I laughed, my mood broken. “Good luck paying for that,” I said. “Did that monument you commissioned happen, the one about our battle?”
“Aye, it’s complete as well – yeh should see it… it’s got the names of the dead inscribed up the wall, and across the bottom is a carving of the battle – me on a ram, of course, and the people charging up behind, and in front of us all is a great, snarling bear.” He grinned.
Fang laughed. I looked askance at him, and, “You don’t strike me as the snarling kind, is all,” he explained.
“I snarl sometimes,” I said peevishly.
* * *
I spent the rest of the evening helping with the construction – I was no artisan, but there were great, heavy tools to haul from the storage sheds built against the fortress wall’s westernmost, finished end, to the eastern end, where stones lay about, each the size of a grown kodo, ready to rise to the great wall’s top. The sheer number of winches and pullies astounded me, and I saw now how the dwarves could have created a wall so quickly where there had been none: As one great white stone settled into place, guided by twenty barrel-chested, sure-handed workers, singing at the top of their barrel-chested lungs, three more stones were already rising up, and a dozen more still were being chiseled into shape on the ground below by sure-handed stonemasons, according to Dwarvish directions being shouted by a foredwarf in a hardhat. He stumped from stone to stone, clutching a furl of rolled-up plans, pointing and shouting. I stood to watch for a moment, enthralled by the ant-hill of activity, but the dwarf in the hardhat caught sight of me, and, “Step lively, there’s a Scourge to wall out!” he bellowed at me in Common. I saluted, turned on my hoof, and headed back towards the tool shed.
The work was hard, and although I fought fatigue, a few hours of it did me well. Soon I was humming along to the wall-dwarves’ song, and singing it out loud where I could decipher a singable string of guttural syllables. Beneath it all, though, lingered an unsettling discomfiture that something had gone wrong with the Law’s plan. Madoran had been Rhy’s immediate supporter, firmly ensuring that the rest of us took my friend’s condition – her race, the truth about herself – at face value and move on with our duties. He should have been the Forsaken nation’s diplomatic champion, calling on the world’s living nations to set aside their uninformed opinions of this strange, terrifying, but ultimately good race which had been discovered in the dead northlands.
I didn’t know anything about Sylvanas’ experiments with the Scourge, but I was sure that they were ancient history. The Forsaken had withdrawn from the world for shame, and I was sure that Rhy wouldn’t have so revered her queen if she had been bent on our destruction.
And, I thought miserably, the real reason for the dwarf king’s mistrust? The reason that centuries-old histories in dusty books held sway over his opinion? The Book of Arthas had disappeared from Under City too easy, under suspicious circumstances. He’d seen Sylvanas fall, but he, what, thought she’d faked it? There were unanswered questions about the book’s disappearance, certainly, I thought, but it had been Fang and Katy M who should answer for those crimes. Not Lady Sylvanas. Why hadn’t he asked us, pressed us, mistrusted us?
I wondered suddenly if Sylvanas’ decision to withdraw back into her cave and fight her own siege battle with the Scourge, had been made under the pall of having having hesitantly exposed her people to the world, only to be unfairly mistrusted by the most trust-worthy leader of nations. It seemed now that everything that had gone wrong with the war so far rested on King Madoran’s head – and that his mistake had been ours, in believing that we knew what the Law wanted us to do.
I was a guest of the Hand, and reported to no dwarf, so when the fatigue and the weight of wars became too much, I moved my last bucket of fresh stone-cutting blades and stumped blearily back up to Uther’s old barracks, to my room. The sheets had been changed and the bed made. I sat down heavily on it, and the springs creaked. Ajax scooted out from underneath. He hopped up on the bed and greeted me with a meow. I scratched his ears.
There was a knock on the door, and then it eased open. “Hey,” said Fang. “You’re up late.”
“Helping out with the wall,” I replied, “and thinking. You got a minute?”
“Sure,” said the murloc, and he came in and shut the door. “What about?”
I furrowed my brow, torn suddenly between discussion and action. Discussion won out. “Madoran,” I said. “He doesn’t trust Sylvanas, and it’s because of us. You.”
Fang nodded. “We’re better liars than he thinks we are, and Sylvanas has less to hide than it seems. It’s an awkward situation, to be sure, but unless you plan on outing the Law to your favorite dwarf king, there’s not a lot we can do about it.”
That had been the action which had occurred to me.
Fang read my face. He snorted, then stared, then grinned lopsidedly at me. “No you’re not.”
“I am,” I said. “The battle against the Scourge depends on unity, and you said it yourself – unity depends on us outing the Law to Madoran.”
Fang shook his head. “Seriously,” he said, “what I just heard you say was, blah blah blah, I’m an impulsive initiate.”
“Impulsive?” I snapped. “Seriously? Madoran is trustworthy – he’ll keep our secret, he really will – and there’s a war at stake, if you haven’t noticed.”
He nodded. “I did notice. Look, we can do what we do because nobody thinks that we belong to a faction – everybody either thinks we’re mad, or is convinced that we’re acting for the greater good. If people – anybody – starts to get the idea that we’re a coherent sect, with creepily coordinated actions across the whole world? C’mon!” He grinned. “Anyone with an ounce of personal or national ambition is gonna feel threatened by that, your good dwarf king included. No outsider has ever been let in on the secrets of our order, you understand? No one.” I thought suddenly of my failure with Hannathras, which the Law took so well in stride. Everything happens for a reason, the angel Feathers had declared. Fang misunderstood my expression. “I’m not kidding,” he said. “Even Illidan had the sense or the amnesia to keep the Law to himself when he betrayed us and wandered off to another planet to hand out beat-downs,” he added, half to himself.
“Another time,” muttered Fang. “Right now we have to concentrate on your mad plan to expose us all.”
I grimaced. “Listen,” I said. “The Law isn’t stupid, right? It’s pretty smart, maybe smarter than anything else. If it didn’t want anyone asking questions, it would have pulled out of cities gradually, at different times, not overnight! You think it takes an insider to figure out that when every major city government in the world vanishes in an evening, that they’re related somehow? The Law planned this, if it planned anything! Madoran’s already figured it out part-way, I know he has – everybody has!” I thought back to Redbeard and Cherubim, a continent away. “Now Madoran has abandoned the Forsaken because of something we did? If we don’t get everybody together, Varimathras is going to walk all over us!”
Fang frowned. “Look, kid…” He trailed off. Then he got to his feet. “Varimathras is going to walk all over us anyway,” he said quietly.
He strode to the door, his eyes locked on the ground. He opened it, then turned back around. “If the Law is really in the process of outing itself, let it do it at its own pace. It’s been a secret for a really, really long time. Promise me you won’t do anything harebrained until the Law tells you to.” I sighed. Then I nodded. The Law had a plan, after all.
* * *
The blue moon hung to the west in the pure, unspoiled sky like an electric bulb, but more perfect and beautiful than the goblins could ever manufacture. I hovered above the fern trees, suspended awkwardly in the air by the power of my mind alone, and I breathed the pure, unspoiled night air. Then I flew, carefully, not too fast, at the moon. Hours passed, it seemed, but, although my flight was ungainly – a floating bull doesn’t soar – it was peaceful. The darkened landscapes were cast in blue light from the lone moon, and seemed even more surreal than they had earlier.
The breadth of the world passed by below me, and I found that my mind was empty.
The blue moon had dipped almost to the horizon when a shape lifted itself off the shadowed plains below. It flexed its wings and then rose into the sky ahead of me. I veered off – whatever it was, it was much larger than me.
The shape arched up across the stars, then over my head, and I stopped dead – it flew down, and around, and as I desperately ducked myself under it, I caught a glimpse of its scaly face in the blue light – its long jaw, filled with dagger teeth, and there was a jade spark in its eyes. Its body flashed by, its great claws mere feet above my cowering head, and then its tail whip-cracked and it had past me.
I hovered, my heart hammering. It had been a dragon, I was sure – one of the Scourge Lord’s bone wyrms, but covered in flesh and animated by the magic of life itself. I’d never seen one before, but I’d heard stories in my childhood, of caravans of travelers disappearing in the mountains of Kali, a lone survivor returning with tales of great blue lizards that dropped down from the sky.
The dragon arched gracefully back around, then behind, and then sped towards me again. I shouted in fear and dropped again, but this time the beast slowed – spreading its enormous wings, it peered at me as it past. Its eyes were narrowed, and although I was sure that I couldn’t read dragons faces, there seemed to be a note of... malice, I thought? But the beast motioned onward with its head. It wants me to follow, I thought. And, for lack of a better guide – I knew I had to go west, but not where – I followed. The shadow ahead of me winged on, and I sped after it.
There were moments when I thought I was overtaking it, that the speed of my mind was greater than the speed of its wings, but it would glance over its shoulder at me and beat its wings, and moments later it would be far ahead of me again.
Then the blue moon set, and all I could see of my guide was a shifting void among the bright stars.
An hour on, and the black void vanished. I blinked, and slowed my flight to a crawl. There was the near-silent whisper of the wind, and then, from ahead and below, there was a roar and a blast of green, sparking fire. The dragon had sent up a flare, of sorts. I floated down and alighted in front of it, at the top of the smooth, round hill where I'd awoken earlier. The beast dragon clacked its jaws shut, narrowed its glinting eyes at me, and, in the last spark of its green fire, leapt into the dark sky. Its trailing void winged off among the glittering stars.
A shadow shifted.
“Hello?” I said.
Sit, whispered the Emerald Queen's voice in my mind. I sat. The shadow moved again, and the Queen floated out of the darkness.
Close your eyes.
Slowly, I felt the green mist envelop my consciousness, and, relaxing as I’d been training to do since I first arrived in this realm, I allowed it to permeate my consciousness. Questions arose within, as they had before, but for a time I quelled them.
The mist seeped into my being, through it, down passageways of memories – I thought of Rhy, and Tidus, and the orcs with whom I’d lived in the slums of Orcmar, and then, as I exhaled each memory, it in turn was subsumed by the peace of the Dream.
Then I thought of my father. I thought of my mother, and the pain that I had caused her. I breathed out, but the thoughts stayed – and, as I resisted, I was suddenly overwhelmed by the strange terror that this green mist, this elemental peace, was driving out everything that made me me. I had allowed it into my easy thoughts, but now, gripped by this new terror, I expelled the invader from my mind.
I shouted and leapt to my feet. My heart was pounding. My guide sat opposite me, her eyes closed as ever, a frown twitching at the edge of her serene lips. The crescent white moon had risen.
“What am I doing here?” I cried. “What is the deal with the green mist? I don’t…” I gasped for air. “I don’t want this, not without knowing what it is.” I glared at the back of her head, her fine hair shimmering in the faint white moonlight.
She rose to her feet, and turned away from me into the darkness.
I cannot teach him, said her voice, but it was distant – as though my mind were merely overhearing it. The bull has no patience.
He will learn patience, said another voice, distant but powerful. He must learn patience – a great many things depend on it. Trust his benefactors in the waking world. It was the voice that had rescued me from the flying elf-woman on my second encounter with her. It had sounded groggy before; now the voice had awoken fully.
Sarvavidh? hissed the Queen.
He will play his part, answered the other voice. You must play yours.
There was silence for a moment. Then, A part I never asked for, whispered the Queen.
None of us have, replied the voice other sternly. Then it was gone.
The Queen stood, her hair cascading over her shoulders, her face turned towards the ground. There will be no more training tonight, she whispered. Go from this place.
Then, feeling awkward and lost, I floated into the sky and drifted off.
For all the terror that had gripped me as the Dreaming had pushed into my most personal of memories, my hesitant hovering had given way to something more graceful – although I still longed to fly the swooping flight of the birds, I felt in much finer control of my motion than I had. I furrowed my brow. I rose higher into the night sky, and then shot off into the night in no particular direction. Before long, I spotted a likely-looking shadow in the moonlit landscape below and descended. Maybe I can find these answers for myself, I thought. My hooves grazed the tips of soft grass and I landed on the grassy shore of a small pond. I settled to the ground in the shadow of a nearby line of hills, closed my eyes, and breathed.