We crept along the bottom of the cliff for miles, edging silently past more exposed areas and hiking side by side, chatting quietly, whenever the cliff rose steep and high enough to give us the feeling of shelter.
Fang relayed the story of his escape: He had woken up in time to see Hannathras hurling my battered corpse over the edge of the tower and into the ocean, after apparently failing to resurrect me as an undead bull minion. Fang had taken a flying leap after me – firing bolts of light out of his hands back at the furious but impotent Varimathras, as he told it.
I grinned. “How’d the fall treat you?” I asked impishly.
“Yeah, I died.”
“You did?” I paused. “You didn’t just, I dunno, do some magic and land?”
Fang shook his head. “That’s M’s specialty.”
I nodded. “What’s your specialty? Back-room deals?”
He grinned toothily. “Whenever possible, yeah.”
The cliff shallowed off for a hundred yards or so. Fang held up a fin, military-style, then motioned me ahead. I slunk forward on silent cat paws.
“Why’d you jump off, then?” I persisted, once Fang signaled that we were safe again. “You coulda run away, or talked to them or something.”
“Didn’t wanna talk to them,” he said. “You kept them out of your head when you were fully awake – imagine how I would’ve done just waking up from the beating you gave me! Didn’t want to jeopardize all the good work you did with them.” He grinned up at me again.
The last memory clicked into place, and the pit of my belly turned to ice. “Fang—” I said, and I pondered how best to break the news of my spectacular, colossal failure – how Hannathras knew, how he knew the identity of every single agent of Sarvavidh – when a single burning-white symbol flashed at me over Fang’s shoulder. Don’t tell him, it read.
I stared, but the symbol had disappeared. What the hell? I thought.
“What?” said Fang.
“Uh,” and I shook my head. Seriously? I fumbled back to my previous thought. “So, like, instead of trying to survive that kind of encounter, you just go ahead and die whenever you need to? That seems kinda cheap.”
Fang nodded. “Pretty cheap, yeah. How’d the resurrection sickness treat you?”
“Oh god, it was terrible.”
Fang smiled. “Gonna try to recapture that feeling in a hurry?”
Not in a million years. “Gotchya. It’s a last resort kind of thing.”
“Very last resort,” he nodded.
“My tongue still kinda hurts,” I mused.
“Mine too,” laughed the murloc sympathetically. “Before you get feeling back in it, you bite it a lot. Imagine how it would feel if your teeth were actually sharp, you big son of herbivores.” He bared his at me.
I laughed back. “Although, the woman, the angel?”
“Feathers!” Fang replied. “She’s somethin’, isn’t she?”
“She said she’d see me again, though,” I said.
Fang smiled. “I guarantee you will. The Law has our backs, up to and beyond death, but it ain’t always pleasant. Our job isn’t to be comfortable.”
“I’m starting to figure that out.”
Fang winked. “You’ll be fine, I have faith.”
Faith in something that just told me to lie to you, I thought.
* * *
That night, we camped fireless beneath the cliff. Fang sat with his back against the rocks, staring out over the restless water. I stared up at the crescent moon hanging in the sky, and off to the east where its full, blue child lifted off the horizon. I’d traveled the breadth of two continents and an ocean, and was no closer to understanding what the strange moons signified. I sighed.
“There used to be murlocs here,” murmured Fang to himself, and I glanced over at him. “They used to swim through these waters, before the land turned the water too foul to breathe. They were blue, some of them.” His lipless mouth was pursed, and his blue scaly forehead was wrinkled.
He glanced over at me. “It sort of helps me not miss my home,” he said, “that my home isn’t there any more. Katy M arrived one day and told me pick up my things and follow her, and then a hundred years later everyone had left and there was no home for me to go back to.”
“I’m sorry,” I replied.
He looked back out over the waves. “I’m not,” he said. “Get some sleep.”
I closed my eyes, and the fatigue of the day overtook me – I drifted between uncomfortable wake and deep sleep for a moment, and then there was a hairline fracture in the world, in reality, though which I could just barely—
And something, subtle, was calling me towards it, guiding me through, and I passed out of my own world, through the void, and into a dream—
—With a light jolt, I landed. I breathed in through my nostrils, and the air smelled pristine, pure. I opened my eyes.
I was in a deep-green forest, but not of trees – instead, over my head arched great, primal ferns. I looked up into the sky, covered in impossibly bright stars. The moons hung there, the white one nearly full and the blue one a graceful crescent.
The peace of the place, the unspoiled scents and pristine beauty, and the powerful familiarity of it, began to take over my mind. I’ve been here before, I thought – Remember this place and return to it, the terrible voice of the green elf-woman had commanded me. The world’s ancient designs hang now by a thread.
Something rustled behind me, and I turned. A small red squirrel stood, perked on his back legs, peering intently up at me. I peered back, and in a moment he fell to all fours and bounded fearlessly past me. He stopped and turned back, looking expectantly after me. With nothing else to do and no reason to distrust the squirrel, I followed.
There came another rustling from the thin, ferny undergrowth, and my guide stopped and looked towards it. A moment later, a green-shelled, black-eyed tortoise ambled out of the underbrush. It looked up at me, tilting its head as though in greeting, and then the squirrel hopped up on its back and the odd pair turned and wandered off again. Laughing and shaking my head, I followed.
Soon, my strangers had led me to a path – one beaten down by hooves and padded paws, not boots or wheels. It stretched off into the dark forest in either direction. And away down the trail to the right, lying in the middle of it, stood a terrifically, terrifyingly large crocodile, its jaws as long as my arm. I jumped, and it moved its thick, stumpy legs, and in a moment it was running towards us at a startling speed. I felt a flicker of rage, of pure, unfamiliar wrath at this predator for interrupting our peaceful journey, and in less than the blink of an eye I had let my body and mind become that of a bear – (That was easy!, I thought) – and I leapt forward and stood, growling, between the charging beast and my small friends.
The crocodile came to a halt in front of me, clacking its long jaws. I felt another flicker of the strange rage which had urged me to action, and I snarled back at him.
Then I caught a movement from the corner of my eye, and I looked down. To my utter consternation, the turtle was ambling amiably past me, the red squirrel perked cheerfully on its shell, and they fearlessly approached the impassive crocodile.
The squirrel hopped off the turtle’s back and onto the crocodile’s snout, and scampered up its length onto its back. The turtle placed its front feet, one at a time, on the crocodile’s head, and then began methodically clambering up onto his back as well.
This is the weirdest dream I’ve ever had, I thought.
The crocodile blinked up at me once and then turned. He headed off down the path, and, with nothing else for it, I followed.
As we journeyed, the primal fern-trees grew smaller and the fern-undergrowth grew thicker, and soon we were marching across a wide, ferny, moon-lit meadow.
My guide and his passengers halted, finally, and turned around. The squirrel, the turtle and the crocodile stared stolidly up at me. The night was silent.
I looked around the primal prairie. There were mountains, dim shadows on the horizon, away to the south and east. There were no lights on the horizon, no goblin electricity, not even a flickering campfire.
“Welcome, Tauren,” said a soft voice in the darkness where no one had been a moment before, and I jumped. A lithe, slender, purple-skinned night-elf had appeared next to me, unbent as Tyrande had been unbent by the twisting corruption of Teldrassil. She wore gray robes, held to her by a woven, copper-studded belt. The robes parted beneath the belt, revealing green-and-brown skirts, and her feet were bare. Her eyes glowed silver in the moonlight, and her hair – black, or, and I squinted, a blue so dark it was black in the moonlight – fell to her shoulders. She smiled serenely. “Welcome, wayfarer,” she said, her voice misty but certain. “It is good that you have found your way to me.”
I nodded. “I had some help,” I said, “from… are those your pets or something?” The crocodile was disappearing off into the ferns, and the squirrel and the turtle had disembarked.
The elf smiled again. “These are three of them,” she replied, “although they, too, are dreaming – all the beasts of nature come here when they sleep. It is a strange curse of the conscious beings of Azeroth that they no longer find their way here without guidance.”
I nodded. I’d had guidance, I thought – a little bit of it, at least, from Tyrande Stormrage, and from the woman on the hill who had pulled me across the void between the waking world and…
“Where is here?” I said. “What is this place?”
A flicker of confusion passed over my guide’s face. “This is the Emerald Dream,” she replied, “the waking dream of Creation.” She shook her head. “How… You’re here, a bull even, without training?”
“I had a little training – I think she said something about the dream of life, it’s where nature’s energy comes from or something. And I don’t think I found my own way here the first time – I was pulled in by a woman, with green hair – she brought me here, told me I had to find my way back to a place with two hills, that it was really important.”
“The Dreamer,” murmured the elf woman.
“The Dreamer?” I repeated.
The elf shook her head and murmured, “And you… a bull…” to herself.
I glanced around, at the ferns rustling in the night breeze, at the moons, arching through the sky as though they had never been meant to freeze in the north, or hide behind one another. “So…” I said, and then paused, hoping that this elf would stop looking thoughtful and start filling me in on what the hell was going on, but she didn’t, so I said, “I have to get back to the two hills. The woman said so, she said the designs of the world are hanging by a thread. What does that even mean?”
Her eyes widened, and it looked as though she had hastily suppressed an urge to take a step backwards, away from me. “It means that to my duties as guide must be added duties as teacher,” she replied after a moment. Then she glanced up at the sky, at the moons. “Next time you sleep, return here – each time it will become easier, more restful. My creatures will lead you to me, and then we will begin.”
“Begin what?” I said, and I could feel time tugging on my mind, pulling me back towards the blackness between worlds.
“To teach you to take to the sky,” she said, her voice now a distant whisper of wind, and then it was gone into the void, and then, with a jolt, I awoke.
“Breakfast time,” Fang was saying in the pre-dawn light. “Hope you like boar jerky and flat-topped bread.”
“Love it,” I muttered.
* * *
“So the Scarlets control Storm City now,” I mentioned casually, several hours into our morning march. “I heard from Penelope, the girl that tried to kill me outside of New Rocktusk.”
“Of course they do,” said Fang. “When I died and everyone started fighting with all their pent-up energy, the Scarlets were by far the strongest and best-organized, which I guess no one but me and the Scarlets saw coming. The other cults were completely unprepared, because they were just little local cults. The Scarlets – well,” and he paused. “They’ve been around for a while longer. I mean, they had the same crap organization at the lower levels as the other ones – get converts, get them to work for the cult, and occasionally suggest that any money they make outside the cult should be given to the cult. You know their mystical mumbo-jumbo as well, right? They indoctrinated you in the first couple layers of it.”
“Yeah,” I said, “the questions that need answering, the Chaos Line.”
Fang smiled. “Right, the Chaos Line. And those questions, which are going to bring the Scarlet Resurrection into power over the whole of the world. Exciting stuff, you know? It all seemed pretty ridiculous – not the least because of their stern insistence that they are the heirs of the Scarlet Crusade!”
I nodded. “Madoran told me about that once. The Scarlet Crusade started off by fighting the Scourge but ended up trying to destroy the world or something, right?”
Fang nodded. “The Crusade turned out to be a flimsy front for the Burning Legion, which praise Uther we haven’t seen hide nor hair of since the Second War.”
“That’s when Shadow magic was banned, right?”
“Yeah,” laughed Fang. “Just because most everyone that used it turned out to be allied with the guys that wanted to destroy Az,” and he rolled his eyes.
I frowned at this.
“Anyway,” he continued, “the Crusade got banned and then later on the Scarlet Resurrection happened, and everyone thought they were pretentious prats for claiming to be the heirs of an ancient, universally hated and completely wild-eyed evil organization. Kind of like a gang of rambunctious young orcs claming to be the birthright of Thrall the Peacemaker, you know?” He winked at me. “But there are some things…” and he trailed off.
I stared down at him. “There are things?”
He nodded. “Loads of ‘em. What I was thinking of, though…” He trailed off again.
He shook his head. “The Scarlet Monastery has always been another one of those places that no one goes without dying, like Lordaeron City, ever since the First Scourge War. There was no break in that, between the Crusade and the Resurrection. And the Burning Legion, there were Nathrezim in it… and Varimathras is Nathrezim too, and it’s a fair bet that the Scarlet Resurrection helped free Varimathras. I just wonder…” and he trailed off.
“You wonder if they really are the same organization,” I finished.
The murloc nodded. “There’s no kind of proof there. Makes you think, is all.”
Ordinn wasn’t kidding, I thought – he really does love this stuff.
* * *
We reached the tidal plain where Rayn had fallen less than an hour after nightfall. The last time I had visited it, it had been a wide expanse of barren pebbles; now it churned with activity. Fang pointed to a shadow listing out on the dark water and muttered, “Ship.” I looked closer at it and saw what could have been lights behind shutters. Longboats bobbed in the shallows, and men in Scarlet uniforms marched to them from the cave, high up on the cliff, hefting large sacks in and, from time to time, climbing in themselves and rowing off towards the distant ship.
“Not very good at hiding their presence,” I muttered to Fang. We peered out at them from the dark undergrowth.
“Not any more,” muttered the murloc thoughtfully. “I guess we won’t be sneaking in that way.”
We skirted widely around the cave, and Fang led us unerringly through the thick plague-ridden undergrowth and up the steep hill.
In Storm City, I had always mocked the whispered rumors of the grandeur of the Scarlet Resurrection’s secret Monastery – but we came out of the plagued forest onto the top of a steep, eroded embankment, and, standing across a narrow valley, rose its high, proud, unweathered stone walls. Within stood slate-roofed buildings, their highest windows shuttered, and in the distance, a tall, serrated tower rose above the Monastery’s chapel, eclipsing the temple at Uther’s Tomb, dark and framed in the light of the rising blue moon. I stared across at the sight, enraptured. “It wasn’t a stupid fairy tale after all,” I breathed. “I thought they just made up a far-away Monastery to seem, y’know, cooler.”
Fang smiled. “I think you’ll find, unlike the other cults that ruled in Storm City, the higher up in the Scarlet Resurrection you look, the less insubstantial pomp and bravado you’ll find.”
I shook my head. “You were making fun of the Chaos Line earlier,” I said, “but that goes all the way to the top. They just answered the seventh question this summer. They say its answers are the key to the Resurrection taking over the world.”
Fang nodded. “May I never live to see the day,” he muttered.
We slipped and skidded down the embankment, freezing at the bottom and looking around to see if anyone had heard us break the silence, but the ravine was vacant. Fang led the way confidently along the ravine, and a moment later we had found an arched pair of sturdy-looking wooden doors. The cross-shaped symbol of the Scarlets was carved into each. Behind them, a long covered structure, a tendril of slate roof and stone walls, rose up the embankment towards the base of the high walls above.
Fang took hold of the door’s round brass handle and pulled. It eased quietly open. “That’s convenient,” I whispered.
“Welcome to the Law,” whispered Fang in return. “The doors you’re supposed to find are always unlocked or breakable.”
Fang shrugged and motioned me in.
The staircase rose up through the tunnel-like structure, straight as an arrow and empty. The darkness closed in about us, and then we were at the top. We were in a long, dark vestibule, a warren of great, squat brick columns holding up the low, arched stone ceiling overhead. Low, uncomfortable-looking gray stone benches stood at the cardinal points around each column. Dim electric lanterns hung between each column, casting a hundred dim shadows across the brown-stone floor. “Goblins know about this place?” I whispered. Fang shrugged again.
He glanced up at me, and nodded down the long room. We set off, but the murloc grabbed my arm and I stopped. “Hooves,” he hissed, and I nodded: In a moment, I had assumed the form of a magnificent, light-pawed, hornless lion.
Footsteps echoed from down the long room, and we pressed ourselves urgently behind a column.
“You, stop!” cried a voice.
The footsteps halted.
“What are the signs of the ascendancy?” challenged the voice.
There was a tense pause, then, “There are no signs,” replied another voice dutifully. “The ascendancy will come by the works of the Resurrection.” The Chaos Line, I thought, and leaned forward.
“What is the first work?” pressed the first voice.
“To release an ancient evil on the unsuspecting world,” replied the second, “although I only need the fourth question to be here.”
“Of course,” said the first, “I forgot myself.”
“Can’t be too careful,” replied the other voice genially. “With all the guards helping evacuate, anyone that wanted to could wander in.”
“Ancient evil?” I whispered to Fang, slipping back into a bull.
“Maybe Varimathras?” he replied. Woah, I thought, and nodded.
“Need some help with that load?” the first voice was saying.
“Actually, yeah,” said the second, “it’s monstrous, whatever’s in here.”
There came a shuffling and cursing as the two men shifted the load.
“Where’s it from?” asked the first, as the footsteps shuffled off.
“It’s stuff from the Cardinals, so be careful.”
Their voices faded to distant murmurings, then to silence.
“What now?” I whispered.
Fang shrugged. “Where would you be if you were a book?”
A pair of footfalls and voices approached from the other side of the vestibule. “In the library,” said one of them, answering some question or other.
“Thank you, Chaplain, on my way,” answered the other crisply.
Fang and I looked at each other, eyebrows raised, and nodded. I shrank back into a cat and poked my whiskered face around our column in time to see a Scarlet uniform disappear down a side corridor near the vestibule’s distant end. The other man nodded after him, turned, and began walking towards us. With a soft hiss, I pulled back behind the column, and Fang followed suit. He glanced worriedly down at me as the chaplain’s footfalls came nearer, echoing louder along the stone floor – and then he was even with us, one squat column between us, and I breathed as shallowly as my lungs would allow – and then he was gone, towards the steep staircase which led to the unlocked gates.
Breathing again, I padded forward, Fang a step behind me, and we slipped through the low doorway into which the Scarlet underling had disappeared. Beyond was a higher corridor, lined with stained glass. Through a few of the clear pieces of glass, I could see stars glittering outside. The Scarlet that we’d followed turned a corner ahead of us, and we hurried on.
We found ourselves in a courtyard, between buildings, and the chapel rose beyond them. The Scarlet disappeared ahead of us. I shifted back into a bull as we walked across the soft grass – it was so effortless now that shifting every few minutes didn’t drain me at all. “Why are there like three people here?” I whispered to Fang.
“They’re abandoning the Monastery,” he hissed back. “You saw the boats loaded with stuff same as me.”
The murloc shrugged. “Vacation?”
Then we were across the courtyard and in the library. Its ceiling was high and arched, and its rooms narrow and impossibly long. The walls between each room, each enormous cell, were covered with tall bookshelves – grander by far than the modest library at Uther’s Tomb, grander even than the grand Silver Sanctum. I stared up the book-covered walls as the footsteps of the Scarlet retreated down one of the other long, high rooms.
“I gotta be honest,” I said to Fang, who was staring around like me, a more focused expression on his face. “The folks I worked for in Storm City, they weren’t the brightest group in all of Az. But here – this is the most incredible library I’ve ever seen.”
“Knowledge is power,” intoned Fang. “Keep your enemies close, and your subordinates dumb.”
“Or in the dark,” and I shot a half-serious acidic look at the murloc.
He grinned. “You’re not my subordinate, kid – you belong to the Law now. So if you were a red book with a tree on the cover…”
I sighed, looking back up at the endless rows of books in this one single room. “It’d make our search easier if they were taking their books to the boat along with everything else.”
“Or infinitely harder, if we were unlucky,” muttered the murloc.
The footsteps returned, and I shrank again to a cat and we dashed for the nearest archway. The Scarlet passed through another archway and walked back off towards the courtyard through which we’d entered the library. They stopped. Fang glanced down at me, and I held my breath.
“Hello,” said a new voice, powerful and full-throated. “Everything is set?”
“Yes, Cardinal,” said the voice of the Scarlet underling that we’d trailed to the library.
“Thank you,” said the other voice. “Dismissed.”
The footsteps of the Cardinal shuffled towards us, and Fang and I backed silently into the next room, then back again as the footfalls passed us. Fang jerked his head after them, and we crept forward.
Three great, book-filled, knowledge-filled rooms later, the footsteps stopped. I peered into the room, and the Cardinal was bent over some papers at the far end of a long, wooden table surrounded by high-backed scarlet-upholstered chairs. He was a broad-shouldered man, his yellow hair falling almost to his shoulders, and a yellow beard covered his face. His tabard was white – a band of red ran up the middle, with a scarlet flame across his barrel chest.
Another set of footsteps echoed from behind us and I pulled urgently back into the preceding room. Soon other red-flame tabards were marching past us into the next room, and Fang and I cowered behind a pair of thick padded chairs.
“Cardinal Doan,” said the yellow-bearded man.
“Greetings, High Cardinal,” said the other deferentially, and a seat shuffled.
“Cardinal Rishleau,” he said, and another voice echoed the greeting. The yellow-bearded man greeted each of his peers in turn – six of them – and each settled into a seat, until everything was still.
Rapid, powerful footfalls crescendoed from the quiet library’s entrance, and a tall, black-haired man stormed past us into the meeting-room. “Dathrohan!” he thundered. “High Cardinal Dathrohan, seer of symbols, who finds and interprets all answers in the black depths of sleepless nights, you order an evacuation and then wait to call us together until now, when the enemy is at our doorstep?”
“Cardinal Prestor,” replied the yellow-bearded man the others had called Dathrohan, and there was a smile in his voice. “Glad you could make it.”
A chair was pulled ferociously out, and Cardinal Prestor took his seat.
“Greetings and wisdom to you all,” said Dathrohan. “As you have so uncharitably announced, Prestor, the enemy is on our doorstep. Their army is endless, and if it were to be turned against us, we would fall.”
There was general muttering at this indelicate declaration.
“But we gave aid to the demon’s son,” continued Dathrohan, “and they still believe us to be allies.”
“What of the book they demand?” spoke another voice. “Are we going to give it to them?”
“Regrettably, it doesn’t exist,” soothed Dathrohan. My heart fell. We had traveled so far for a non-existent book. Fang’s eyes flitted up to me, his scaly forehead creased, his mind racing.
“Then why do they want it?” rumbled the deep-voiced Prestor.
“Because I told them they wanted it,” replied Dathrohan. There was a murmuring of voices at this.
“And why would you do that?” growled Prestor, once it had subsided.
“I told them they wanted it,” Dathrohan replied, “that it contained knowledge of a cataclysmic spell which they require, and that we would destroy it in a heartbeat if they attacked us. Although the soulless demons might misjudge the length of a heartbeat, having never felt one,” he added, to tension-easing laughter from around the table. “They won’t attack while they think we have their treasure – my fabrication has bought us precious time.”
“A red book with a golden tree,” murmured another man. “I’m sure I’ve seen it before.”
There was a brief pause. “Maybe one like it?” replied Dathrohan. “The book they believe they seek resides entirely in their imagination.”
Another voice piped up. “If we believe that Varimathras is the being to which the fifth question speaks—”
“And we’d better, hadn’t we,” added another still, “having as good as freed him ourselves.”
“Thank you, Rishleau,” said the man he’d interrupted. “If we believe that Varimathras is our ancient evil, then why aren’t we helping him, rather than defending ourselves from him with lies?”
Dathrohan sighed. “The sixth question, the second Act of the Resurrection – whatever its purpose, Varimathras’ war is his to wage. Our goal now is to fortify our new capital, and quickly.” I glanced down at Fang again, who nodded.
“Thank god for Industry,” mused Rishleau, “and that we’re still its highest bidder.”
“We should rename it,” mused another voice. “Crimsonopolis?”
“Doan, I’m surprised at you,” smiled Dathrohan. “Where does chaos harness itself into order?”
“In the eye of the storm,” replied the other man, comprehension dawning in his voice. “Of course.”
“How do we know that Storm City is safe?” said another.
“We don’t for sure, of course,” replied Dathrohan. “But the Question points to it, and Varimathras hinted to my emissary that his purpose lies west of here, not south.”
“I thought our emissary hadn’t returned,” rumbled Prestor quietly, and I remembered the corpse in the Scarlet uniform dangling in chains atop Death’s Doorstep.
“I have many ears, old friend, as do you,” replied Dathrohan in kind.
“Why aren’t we taking the books?” said Doan. “It’s a mighty collection, and they’re of special value to me, if nothing else.”
“To you and your father and your father’s father,” said Dathrohan, “and to us as well. The Scourge has no interest in books, a grand collection though it be. The library will be waiting for us in the new year.”
Words that I had overheard from Jonathan Trent in his Storm City office came back to me – something was happening sooner than anyone had expected…
But Fang prodded me, gesturing over his shoulder, away from the meeting. Still a cat, I crept after him back through the dark library.
He led us back to the first room, with the door to the courtyard. “I think we’ve heard all we’re going to from them – this is as good a place to hide as any,” he whispered, ducking behind another set of reading chairs.
“The book is fake,” I hissed, angry and disappointed.
The murloc shook his head in the darkness. “No it’s not,” he murmured. “Dathrohan was lying to them, although I don’t know why.”
I stared. “How do you know?”
“The way he said it,” he replied, waving a fin offhandedly. “The loud guy, Prestor, he knows.”
“Wow,” I said, admiring the murloc’s prescience. Fang grinned.
“So if he’s pretending the book doesn’t exist, he wouldn’t leave it lying around in here,” I mused, determined to hold my own.
Fang nodded. “It’ll be somewhere safe,” he agreed, “his office, or a hole in the ground or something. We’ll wait here until he leaves and follow.”
“I hope he doesn’t leave first,” I whispered.
“He won’t,” replied Fang. “He arrived first and he’ll leave last. It’s a power thing.”
The Cardinals began shuffling out of the library a moment later. We watched them from behind the chairs, hardly daring to breathe. Then, true to Fang’s prediction, Dathrohan strode out alone, his sheaf of papers under his arm. The murloc scurried silently out of our hiding place, and, dropping to all fours again, I padded silently after him.
He eased the door open and slipped out into the courtyard. As I made to follow him, he froze, and I stopped in my tracks.
The words, “Hello, Mr. Tooth,” echoed in Dathrohan’s full-chested voice. My cat-stomach dropped into my bowels.
“Hello, Cardinal,” replied Fang, his voice strained between shock and courtesy.
“You didn’t think I don’t know everything that goes on in my Monastery, did you?”
“Not everything, no,” muttered Fang, and with a passing glance back at me in the shadows, he was led away by the Cardinal.
* * *
I padded silently after the pair – walking together as though they were old friends – through the courtyard and out into the Monastery’s park-like gardens. A few abbots and foot soldiers hurried about, but there were enough trees and cultivated bushes for me to flit between that I easily avoided detection.
Above the gardens rose a pair of monstrous stone statues, broad-shouldered men glowering down at us, their swords – each twice my height – planted in front of them. Between them, along the gardens’ far edge, was a wall of water, cascading down from above into a stone-lined rectangular fountain, where six stone fish spouted water in a row. As I glanced at it, I felt a surge of something new: an aversion to wetness, a feline distaste – an animal emotion. Tyrande, I thought, you trained me well.
The Cardinal led Fang along the edge of this fountain, to where white stone stairs rose at the feet of the nearer stone statue. With a quick glance for watchers behind me, I padded up the stairs and after them.
The fountain’s upper level was fed by a three-tiered fountain, this one presided over by a smaller stone statue, a robed man, again leaning on his sword, and facing up at the Cardinal’s destination – the Monastery’s Chapel, its high, strangely-serrated towers rising high above us. Wide, sweeping, white stairs led up to its open front door. The Cardinal and the murloc mounted these and entered, and, after another moment of circumspection, I padded silently in after them.
The chapel had no pews – rows and rows of kneeling mats sufficed – but under the dim electric lights which studded the high columns, black dominated the decorations here as in the Scarlets’ Storm City cathedral, and it gave me an intense and uncomfortable feeling of familiarity. A shiver ran down my feline spine.
Dathrohan led Fang towards the distant altar, and then they turned right. I padded from column to column after them, and turned the corner in time to see them disappear into a doorway down the short hall.
The door was closed by the time I got to it, but I shifted back into a bull long enough to turn the knob and ease it open a crack. Beyond it was an empty antechamber, and, a cat again, I slipped into it.
The chamber’s walls were covered in dark red velvet drapes, and there was a red couch with wide wooden end tables along one wall. On the opposite wall from the couch, to the left of the door I’d slipped in, was a doorway, and Dathrohan’s voice came from within. “I of course apologize for the indignity of detaining the Tooth of Storm City,” he was saying graciously, “but you understand our need for security in these strange days.” I crept towards the doorway and peered in. Fang was sitting in a chair across a wide, dark-wood desk from the yellow-haired Cardinal. I pulled my cat head back into the antechamber and listened.
“Of course,” replied Fang, just as graciously. “And I must admit the peculiarity, from your perspective,” he continued, “of finding me lurking all alone in your secret monastery’s secret library.”
“And so far from home!” laughed Dathrohan, dripping with good-natured airs.
Fang returned the good-natured laugh, and I could tell that some diplomatic tennis match, some war of geniality, was being waged. I listened closer, fascinated. “Ahh, home,” he breathed. “The mystery of why I am no longer master of my old principality isn’t the same mystery at all. Why I chose to leave – and how much of the ensuing events I had predicted – are a separate matter entirely.”
“Did you know?” said the other, straining to keep his voice from betraying genuine curiosity.
“Of course,” replied Fang. “The Scarlet Resurrection had the trump card in the battle for Storm City: preparation for chaos. When chaos struck, your abbots played their card flawlessly, and they delivered you a new fortress, a new capital.”
There was a pause, and I knew that Fang’s choice of words had had some desired effect. The murloc had scored a point. “Indeed,” murmured Dathrohan. “I suppose we have you to thank for it, then.” He paused, but Fang didn’t respond.
“Very well,” he continued. “Then if we’re not to discuss the mystery of why you delivered Storm City to us, let’s return to the matter at hand. What brings you to avail yourself of our poor hospitality?”
“To the contrary, the hospitality of the Scarlet Resurrection has ever been rich and generous,” returned Fang, “at least to me. The question you’re asking me, I believe, is why I attempted to avoid availing myself of it.”
“Of course,” said Dathrohan graciously.
“The answer to that question,” replied Fang, and he let the words hang for a quarter of a beat, “is locked away in your desk.”
This time Dathrohan’s pause was longer, and the tension was palpable, even from the other room. My heart hammered as I waited for Dathrohan’s response.
“You were listening in on our meeting, of course,” he said finally, his voice tense.
“Of course,” replied Fang, and his voice was stonier now. “Why tell your compatriots that the spell-book doesn’t exist?”
Dathrohan sighed. “The spell which it contains is extraordinarily dangerous,” he answered. “The demon Varimathras knows what spell he seeks, and if he gets it, it will mean a great deal of suffering for a great many people, not all of whom I want to see suffer. I revealed to him that we have it, as a gambit – I believe it bought us the time we need to escape to Storm City and get the book and its secrets out of his reach. But there are Cardinals who believe – rightly, maybe – that he is the answer to our oldest prophecies, and there are Cardinals that simply believe that he will not destroy us if we cooperate with him. If either camp knew of the book, it could fall into Varimathras’ clutches.
“I’ve answered your question truthfully,” continued the Cardinal, “so in return you shall answer mine: Why are you here? What’s your design on the book? If it is to deliver it to the Dread Lord, then we are at cross-purposes, my friend, and this heretofore pleasant conversation must end violently.”
“Where I am an actor,” replied Fang, “I act for the purposes of good—”
“Although your methods and magics aren’t always considered so,” interjected Dathrohan. I wonder what that means, I thought.
“You’re one to speak, Cardinal Dathrohan of the Scarlet Crusade,” replied Fang piercingly. “My designs on the book are the same as yours,” he continued, “to ensure that it doesn’t fall into Varimathras’ clutches. When I heard that you’d revealed it to him, I thought you meant to hand it over, and I came here to find out if it was true. I’m most relieved,” he finished graciously, “to find that I was wrong.”
I risked another peek into the office. Dathrohan was smiling, but there was worry behind it. “Indulge me,” he said. “How did you hear that I’d revealed the spell-book to the demon?”
“I have many ears,” replied Fang conspiratorially, glancing fleetingly over his shoulder towards the door, “as do you, friend.” He paused. “I could ask the same of your knowledge of Varimathras’ response to your last envoy – the man’s body hangs behind the demon’s throne like a trophy – but I won’t.”
Dathrohan’s eyes narrowed, and he locked them with the murloc for a moment.
Then, from high above in the chapel’s tower, a bell began tolling – haphazardly, panicked, not the toll of the hour but as a warning. I remembered suddenly the bell which presaged the attack on Under City, and I shivered.
At its sound, Dathrohan stood bolt upright. I pulled back behind the wall, and as the Cardinal strode around his desk, I looked about in a panic – thinking, I should have thought of this before! – and then I slipped under the couch’s far end-table. I pressed my body as close to the wall as I could, and curled my tail tightly against my flank. Dathrohan hauled Fang unceremoniously up by his back fins, depositing him roughly in the antechamber. He produced a ring of keys and turned to lock his office door, then he strode purposefully to the door to the hallway. “Stay here,” he growled at the murloc, and then he passed through, locked the outside door, and was gone.
Fang stood, staring after him, and with his back fins all akimbo he looked quite defeated.
Then, his right shoulder twitched, and then the other, and suddenly he was doing a little victory dance-shuffle and chanting, “I got under his skin, I got under his skin!”
My eyes wide at the display, I crawled out from under the table and reassumed my natural shape. “Hi,” I said cheerily, dearly hoping that he’d be mortified to be caught in the act, but he whirled about and declared, “Boy am I glad to see you!”
I shook my head. “That was a hell of a show you just put on in there,” I said.
He creased his forehead. “That’s great,” he replied, “so are you gonna turn into a bear and knock that door down or not?” He was pointing at the Cardinal’s locked office.
Taken aback, I lowered myself back to all fours and concentrated for a moment on a bear’s place in the world. Then I charged forward with feral ferocity, and the door burst open, its latch and lock falling to the floor in a pile of splinters. Fang strode after me through the door as I stood back up on my hooves. “You’re useful to have around,” he grunted.
He stepped over to the right side of the desk and pulled open a drawer.
“How did you know that the book was in the desk?” I asked, as he rustled through papers. “Did you read his mind?”
Fang shook his head absently. “Dathrohan has an extraordinarily powerful mind, for a human,” he muttered, “and he keeps it locked tight.”
I waited for him to continue, but instead the creases on his forehead deepened and he pulled open the next drawer. “Then did the Law tell you?” I pressed.
“Nope,” said Fang, looking up at me. “Dathrohan may have a strong mind, but he’s only human: his eyes kept flickering down towards one of his desk drawers like there was something important in there, and given the gambit we knew he was making with the book, I figured it was a fair guess what it was. His reaction confirmed it.” He hissed a victory hiss and held the book up triumphantly.
It was thinner than I’d expected a tome of magic to be. Its cover was scarlet velvet, and hair-thin lines of gold inlay spidered across it, forming what looked like a mountain peak with a wide-canopied tree at its peak. I stepped forward, eager to plumb its secrets, and Fang set it delicately down on the desk. “What kind of spell do you need so badly, Varimathras?” he muttered, and he opened it.
To my intense disappointment, the words which covered the page were in an alphabet that was alien to me. I should have expected that, I thought dully. The shape of the letters looked familiar, though – from the map of Lordaeron, and from the plaque at Uther’s Tomb. “Can you read it?” I said.
“Of course,” muttered Fang. “Looks like pages have been torn out… starts in the middle of a sentence.” He ran a finger down the crease. Then he looked back at the text. “The moons…” He trailed off.
“What?” I cried. “The moons what?”
He turned a page. There were diagrams now, of the blue moon (shaded meticulously in the same black ink in which the words were printed) passing slowly behind the white moon. “This has to happen,” he said, tapping the diagram. “So far it’s spent three pages saying that this has to happen. The alignment of the moons allows the channeling of great power.”
“Well that’s convenient,” I grunted. “Happens every midnight.”
Fang nodded. “Didn’t happen quite that much back in the day.” He flipped forward through the pages, to the next diagram. It was a drawing of a staff, or a wand – black-inked jewels were inlaid up its length, and its head was encrusted in them. Fang creased his forehead at it. “And you need something called the Scepter of the… Giant?” He looked up at me. “The Big Thing’s Scepter. My ancient Lordaeronese is a little rusty.” He sighed. “Anyway, it’s a stick with jewels on it and it’s super-powerful, and you need it to initiate the spell.”
He flipped forward more, and towards the end of the thin book was a third picture: a finely-detailed line drawing that mirrored the tree on the book’s cover. The mountain rose steeply from the mists at the bottom of the page, and in a caldera at its top stood the enormous tree, clouds drifting through its branches.
“And that,” said Fang, “is Nordrassil.”
“The World Tree?” I said.
Fang nodded. “And in the course of the spell,” and he traced a sentence to the end of the page and turned it, “the tree is destroyed, its energy sapped.” He looked soberly up at me. “Varimathras wants to finish the job that the Burning Legion started six and a half centuries ago.”
I stared at him. Then, “So?” I said.
Fang looked blankly back at me. “It’s the World Tree,” he said.
“Right, but Katy M told me that after it almost got destroyed last time it’s just a big tree now.”
Fang stared down at the book, hissing to himself, his forehead wrinkled again. “Katy will know,” he declared. Then he flipped forward to the book’s end. “And the purpose of the spell is,” he muttered, tracing the sentence to the end of the page, “missing.” He sighed. “More pages torn out.”
“Great,” I said.
There were hurried footsteps outside the antechamber, and then the sound of a key slipping into the lock. “Hide!” hissed Fang, throwing the book back in the drawer and hurrying to the office’s door.
“Where?” I hissed back. Fang grimaced, looking around the bare office, then pointed at the desk.
“Are you crazy?” I almost cried, but the lock clicked and Fang shut the office door behind him.
There was a momentary pause. Then High Cardinal Dathrohan’s voice growled, “The Scourge has decided that our borrowed time is at an end, and so I regret that I must withdraw the hospitality which we have extended to you.”
There was another pause. From somewhere outside, I heard a thunderous crash, punctuated by terrified shouts.
“I see you’ve been in my office,” said Dathrohan.
“Yeah,” said Fang quickly. “That’s a super-interesting book you’re not giving to Varimathras. I’m just gonna have to keep an eye on you,” he added cheerily, impishly, loudly. He’s speaking to me, I thought.
There was another pause, a much longer one this time.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” said Dathrohan.
Then, “Ah crap,” muttered Fang, and there was a powerful, magical whirring, and a flash of negative, almost purple light slipped in through the jagged hole in the office door where the lock had been, and then came the sickening sound of Fang’s body collapsing to the floor.
I slipped urgently into a cat and pressed myself just as urgently under Dathrohan’s desk, praying he wouldn’t sit down. But he strode purposefully in, pulled open the desk drawer, retrieved the red book, and strode back out.
I slipped back out from under the desk, through the tin-smelling antechamber, past Fang’s dead body, and after the murderous Cardinal into the dark hallway beyond.