DISCLAIMER: World of Warcraft, Azeroth etc. is owned by Blizzard and was their idea, not mine. Revoemag and Excomunicant are my WoW characters.
WARNING: my WoW knowledge is abysmal and Doan is a bit of a mary sue. I apologise in advance.
My Life For The Horde
Revoemag's lag was particularly soul-crushingly horrendous today.
I always say 'Revoemag's lag', thought Doan. Even though its technically the game, or the internet connection that is lagging. Even though any character I played would have the same lag - Excomunicant, stalking through the shadows and feeding off corpses, Anafect, Doran's proud, vengeful alter-ego, unaware of the madness of the hand that led her, or Laufwerk. Doan really ought to dig Laufwerk out again. Also, it shouldn't have took long enough to say all that to cast one fireball. How? HOW did Revoemag still live? Why did the charred corpse of some poor gnome, presumably the character of another person, a living, breathing person with better reflexes than a stoned snail, lie at Revoemag's feet? Why... oh damn. Suspended in mid cast by velvet cords of lag like some evil spider's web, Doan knew without a doubt that Revoemag was about to disconnect. Then she would die here, alone, in the battlegrounds. No, wait, NOT alone in the battlegrounds. That was the reason she was about to die... any... second...
No, the thread breaks and Revoemag casts the Ice Armour spell. An Alliance player rushes her but is cut down by a passing Undead rogue who appears out of nowhere and yells impatiently at Revoemag in Polish. She runs. Jerkily. Doan hits the 9 key. The air ripples in slow motion and Revoemag's somewhere else but the Tauren have disappeared up the hill. The music is playing at half speed now. Doan thumps the keyboard impatiently. It's 4 am and Doan wants to go to sleep but Revoemag won't level up or go up a rank. Doan HATES leaving things unfinished. She feels her eyes burning, her head sinking towards the keyboard. She can't concentrate on the game because she's having some kind of waking dream, in three places at once, the computer speaking to her, shouting a warning about the strands of lag coming alive, tentacles writhing, wrapping themselves around her and pulling her inwards, into the deep, murky darkness, the forbidden depths from which that dreaded lag is spawned, that twisted server that was now draining all life from Doan, leaving her cold as the grave in which Excomunicant slept... until she was pulled out again, further down into the grey infinity that was not life or death, connection bordered upon disconnection from this mortal coil and standstill ravaged the earth...
Darkness mercifully claimed her.
Doan yawned and stretched. I must have slept for thirteen hours at least, she mused. It felt strange, having enough sleep. Like she could think and move twice as fast, like her wasn't going insane any more. Then her exhilaration turned to blind panic; if she had slept enough, that meant she had woken up in the afternoon, possibly even later. It was a weekday. She was late for all her lectures. She jumped up and ran.
It was then that she noticed she was no longer in her house.
It looked to be some kind of forest. Not a tame one full of old ladies walking their dogs and students looking for mushrooms, either. This was a wild forest. Bears and wolves lived here. Rays of soft light poked out through a canopy of trees. A bird cry echoed through the strange sky, a bird her had never heard before. Not that she knew anything about birds. A red squirrel scrabbled away as I walked towards one of the huge, lush trees. Pretty, she thought.
As she leaned against the tree, pondering where exactly she was, she heard a sound like a horn blowing. Arrows whizzed over her head. One fell short of its target and embedded itself in Doan's tree. She jumped and ran. The whole forest was becoming a battleground. She heard people shouting war cries, bellowing in a language she didn't understand, screaming as they went down. Steel rang upon steel. Somewhere, something was on fire. Doan hid. Running for a bush, she dived underneath it and curled up in a foetal position.
Shit, thought Doan, where the fuck am I?
She heard a strange noise nearby. A furry head appeared in the bush and begin sniffing Doan. It was a large grey wolf. It bore its teeth and snarled at her. She jumped back just as the wolf leapt at her, its jaws snapping. Doan didn't look around; she ran. There was a loud voice and she heard the wolf howl in response. The wolf began loping towards Doan again. It quickly outran her and knocked her over. She felt the animal's claws raking into her back, its hot breath on her neck as its jaws closed around her throat. Oh fuck, she thought, I'm going to die.
Suddenly, the wolf made an unearthly wail of pain as an arrow hit it in the head, knocking it backwards. Its blood was all over Doan and she felt sick. She looked up. An Orc was running towards her, an axe lifted over his head, bellowing at her. The archer shot at him and ran out from behind a tree, brandishing his sword. The Orc and human began laying into each other, giving Doan time to run. She ran away from the forest, towards a clearing with the ruins of a house. A man in a white robe stood there, a large mace at his belt.
"Hey, YOU!" he yelled, "Do you need healing?"
"I need a psychiatrist." she muttered. She hoped this was just an extremely lucid dream, or that she was going horribly mad.
"Where are you running off to? The battle's THAT way!" yelled the priest.
"I'm not running away, I'm preparing an ambush." Doan lied, "I'm gonna hide behind that building and when they're least expecting it I'm gonna JUMP OUT AT THEM and STAB... THEM... IN... THE... BACK!"
"Good idea!" said the priest, "We need some tactical men like you if we're ever going to turn the tide around."
Doan ran and hid behind the collapsed walls of the building. her watched the battle rage. It was clear where her was now, although it made no sense.
She was in Azeroth. In the middle of the battlegrounds, she couldn't tell which one. It didn't matter. And the Horde, as usual, were winning.
The priest was occupied now, having been jumped on by an Undead rogue who wanted to rip his throat out. He didn't notice her fleeing figure as she darted into the old farm house through the broken window and landed on a smelly bale of straw. A loud squeak startled her and she lashed out. A small brown furry shape darted out of the straw. A mouse can scare me, thought Doan, a pitched battle really isn't a good place for me. Her heart was beating so fast she feared that a heart attack would finish her off before any Orcs could get near her. Blood pounded in her ears and sweat rolled down her forehead. She climbed out of the straw and crept through the barn, careful not to stand on any of the loose floorboards. She cast a low shadow on the wall, with long claws and a pointed, soulless face. She thought she could hear the screams of the priest being devoured outside, but it might have been the Undead having his face bashed in with a mace. A farm cat appeared from nowhere and pounced on the mouse.
She crawled out of the building with painstaking care not to be seen. A path extended from the farm house up unto a hill. She dashed towards it then flattened herself behind it, hoping she was hidden in the tall grass. She was filthy and soaked from falling in a muddy puddle somewhere along the way. She listened to the noises around her as she lay, trying to work out where people were going so she could run in the opposite direction. Eventually something stepped on her. It was small and metal and made a crunching sound that sounded as agonising as it felt. She screamed at it. A gnome in plate mail ran out of the undergrowth, apologising profusely. She waved her fist at him anyway and started running again. The silly midget was attracting unwanted attention to her.
Keeping her hear low, she climbed up the side of the hill. It extended quite steeply upwards then levelled out onto another path. She was high above the battle now and could see into the valley, where the remnants of the Alliance presence were desperately trying to make a last stand at the farm. The priest was still alive and was battling alongside a huge man with long blonde hair and a beard, swinging an axe and roaring at the top of his voice. The fighter had cut down one Orc but three more had taken his place. Doan didn't stop any longer to watch. There was some kind of cave entrance behind her, one that lead into the mountain and away from the battlefield. It seemed to be unguarded. Looking behind her once more, she crept into it. It was warm and well lit by guttering torches. She walked along it a little more. She saw light in the distance, possibly daylight. She ran towards it.
Suddenly, she was blinded by an intensely piercing flash of blue-white light. It overwhelmed all her senses, plunging her into a bright darkness like that between spaces, where she could see all the stars of the inner cosmos. The pain was ripping her head apart. Everything was just one sluggish line of light that hurt as though it was stabbing her through the chest. She felt her legs dragged away from under her and she was lifted upside down. Two pinpoints of red light were burning into her skull. Those eyes, she knew those eyes, they were the same eyes she had seen when she first came here. A female voice was laughing at her, mocking her. She was paralysed, everything moving before her so fast. Her strength was draining and there was nothing she could do about it. She was screaming, tapping on the glass and the glass was on fire, overheating. She was burning up...
She was still screaming when she woke up and found herself curled up on a rug.
She was amazed and thoroughly grateful to still be alive. She was lying on a straw-covered floor, her normally straggly brown hair even more matted and filthy, her practical student clothes muddy and wet. A large crackling fire somewhere was warming her. She could hear chattering voices. A large boot prodded her repeatedly, punctuated by a deep male voice that sounded annoyed and vaguely amused. She groaned and curled up into a ball. This provoked a sudden outburst of laughter.
"REVOEMAG, luktar og DABU! DABU! REVOEMAG!"
The Orc grabbed Doan by the front of her shirt and lifted her up, growling from the back of his throat. He glared at her angrily. Doan went stiff. She looked around her carefully. A tall, elegant female Troll in a long white dress and a white mask of bone that covered her face grinned at her. The other two Trolls were on the floor, rolling around in a fit of uncontrollable laughter. Two Undead were sat on an overhanging canopy, watching the show, drinking flagons of ale and feeding bread to a pet chicken. The Orc put Doan down but didn't take his gaze off her. He growled again and pointed to another, much larger Orc in heavy, spiky armour with a red tint to it. He looked very busy and a little stressed. Everyone in the room was crowding around him, chattering and waving things at him. Doan just stared. Her brain was having difficulty processing everything; the large, circular hall. The roaring fire. The bloodthirsty people in full armour with big spiky weapons waving things at the big Orc. This is the Hall of the Brave in Orgrimmar, she realised. She was rather pleased at herself for recognising it. She had only ever seen it as a bunch of pixels on a screen. True, the game had good graphics but seeing it close up was a different thing entirely. This isn't a game. I'm a human, thought Doan with mounting dread, in the middle of Orgrimmar. If she had an Orcish phrase book, she would have flicked through it to look for the words "I surrender. Please let my death be less hideously painful. Thank you."
She looked at the Orc again. He appeared to be trying to push her towards the heavily armoured, overworked bureaucrat.
"REVOEMAG!" he yelled, shaking her, "Og THUKAR!"
The white-clad troll hit him over the head with a staff. He yelped and backed away. He received a thorough berating in Trollish and a few more blows. Then the Troll pointed to Doan, made a clicking sound and mimed something being pulled out of something. Then she walked very slowly and jerky around Doan, causing the Trolls to roar with laughter until they couldn't breathe. The Troll made a noise like a dial-up modem. Even the Orc was on the floor with hysterics now.
"Revoemag, Revoemag, org 'grat ug zog-zog!" chanted the Orc, dancing.
Doan had an idea. She started waving her arms in the air and dancing like Revoemag, her movements elegant and graceful, the raw magic floating around her evident in her every movement, but unnaturally slow and jerky. Then, suddenly, she stopped, frozen. Her heart was beating rapidly. The Orc watched her. Then his face crumpled into laughter again. The Troll whispered something in his ear. She handed him a small object. Chuckling, the Orc walked up to Doan and started drawing on her face with a crayon. He drew black cat's whiskers. The Troll burst out laughing. Pleased with himself, the Orc motioned to the others. They gave their tokens to the Horde commendations officer and walked off, chanting a battle song.
"Give that food back, you little bastard!"
Grog dodged the thrown object and ducked under a market stall. The goblin screeched obscenities at him in Goblin and attempted to follow. He was slightly larger and considerably less agile than the small child and instead pulled the stall, wares and all, on top of himself. The merchant, a Tauren woman selling some less than legal herbs, hit him with over the head with a broomstick repeatedly, mooing. Grog laughed. The goblin, now bruised, battered and smelling of illegal herbs, didn't see the joke. Abandoning the upturned hiding place, the child carried on running. As he ran, he took bites out of the bread he had stolen from the Goblin's stall. Today he had acquired himself a good meal, much better than the slop they served at the orphanage. His stomach was grateful for it and the food was giving him the energy he needed to get away from the enraged goblin shopkeeper.
Grog didn't normally get caught. He was rather upset at himself about his mishap. He had been stealing since he could remember. He was developing his talent so that when he was an adult Orc he could be trained as a rogue. All his heroes were rogues, the deadly assassins who sneaked around battlefields stabbing Night Elves in the back, the sneaky thieves who stole books from under the noses of the wardens of the Scarlet Monastery, the daring bandits who stole from the Alliance and gave to the Horde. He knew that he wasn't going to be a very big Orc, he couldn't talk to spirits and he certainly didn't have any magical ability. He would make his small size work to his advantage.
Eventually the goblin lost sight of him, decided that it wasn't worth it for one loaf of bread and wandered back to his stall. Grog climbed the wall he had been hiding behind and sat on it, eating his remaining food. He still had a piece of candy left from Hallow's End. Revoemag, his favourite person of all time, had given him the candy. Grog never stole from Revoemag. At first this was because Revoemag never had any money and her food and water, mass-produced by magic, tasted like quorn and wee. Grog had grown to show some fondness for the crazy, wild-haired mage who gave him food and sang him songs about her journeys across Azeroth. She was always kind to the orphans.
It was difficult to find Revoemag now. She was a lot older than she was, a lot more powerful and a lot slower. Archmage Revoemag had always been a very slow person. Not slow as in stupid, slow as in, she actually could not walk at full speed. The others made fun of her because she was no use in a fight but Grog knew she was just taking her time, thinking about what she was doing. Besides, it was wrong to bully people.
Now, Grog was worried she had stopped moving altogether.
I wish I was older, thought Grog as he leapt off the wall and walked back down the path to find something interesting to do, like teasing someone's kodo or playing in the water in the Valley of Spirits. If I was older and I could fight, I would go out and look for Revoemag. I would fight monsters and the Alliance and I would journey to a magical plane and rescue Revoemag from a dragon. No, wait... Revoemag can kill dragons on her own. Something more powerful than a dragon. He tried to think of something more powerful than a dragon but failed miserably. Bored again, he pulled a wolf's tail and laughed as it chased him into the auction house, where he told everyone he was selling it. He was thrown bodily out again by a furious auctioneer. The hunter managed to calm his wolf down but not before it had knocked over whatever it was they were bidding on. The whole auction house was now in uproar.
When I'm a master thief, thought Grog, I'm going to steal the most expensive thing in the auction house right under their noses.
Doan waited for ten seconds, then ran out of the Hall.
Running away had become a major part of her life recently, or more specifically, the preservation of it. She knew that she couldn't keep running forever. Orgrimmar was a big place and everyone in it would quite like to be the first one to place her head on a spike outside the city gates. She had been lucky; she was mistaken for a Troll in the confusion of the battle. It wouldn't happen again. She had to find somewhere safe, somewhere where she could stop and think about everything that had happened, make a plan of action.
She chose a public toilet just outside the gate to the Valley of Strength. People weren't likely to burst into an occupied toilet just to check whether the user was Horde or Alliance, especially if she firmly bolted the door. It smelt awful, even after she wiped the seat and used the bucket of water to activate the primitive flushing mechanism that she suspected was jammed. However, it was peaceful and she could hear herself think.
She was in Orgrimmar. She had accidentally ran through a mage portal. It wasn't just a bad dream. This much she knew. Her dreams were very vivid anyway so the smelly toilets and incredible pain and discomfort could have been imaginary but she had never had a dream that went on this long. Her goal was to go home to her world, where a lot less things could kill her. However, it made more sense to break this down into shorter term goals. She needed to get to Alliance territory. NOT via any hellish plains of existence full of demons, the Undercity or any raging battles. That meant she needed to know where the hell she was going and get there without dying. At the moment, that meant not being here.
Her first thought was to disguise herself. If she wore a long robe with a hood, she might just like a Troll. As long as nobody looked at her feet. Or spoke to her. Maybe an Undead would be easier. She already looked half dead and smelled like she had just climbed out of a grave. She could speak her own language if she disguised herself as an Undead as well. On the other hand, if she was caught by other Undead, they would do far worse things to her than any Orc could even imagine.
Nobody would really be suspecting her that much, though; if she blended into the crowds, she would just be another stranger in a big city. It's safer than trying to sneak out and looking totally suspicious and obviously human if you're caught. Doan unlocked the toilet door and made her way carefully to the road leading to the Drag and the Cleft of Shadow, where there were market stalls everywhere. She spotted a female Orc selling simple cloth garments almost immediately. It would be easy to steal some, she thought; I'm not a bad shoplifter back at home and that is a very crowded stall. She kept to the wall and slunk around the back of the stall, crawling in the dust with the snakes that she hoped weren't poisonous. The vendor was haggling loudly with another Orc. Doan crept forwards...
Doan jumped. She felt a small hand grab her trouser leg and tug insistently.
"Hey you! Ugly lady!" screeched a very fast voice that sounded like a tape rewinding, "Have you seen a sneaky little bastard kid stealing people's food?"
"I'm not stealing." said Doan, rather stupidly.
"I didn't ask you that, miss!" two small red eyes, full of impatience, looked up at her. They were set into a small green angular face with a big pointy nose and small but sharp teeth. The goblin wore a smart brown suit over a white tunic and a large suitcase.
"Er... sorry. Haven't seen any children."
"What are you doing anyway? Do you need any help?"
"I... well, I guess I do, but it's not really the sort of thing I can discuss in public."
"Oh, you got INTERESTING work for me, eh?" he winked at her and lowered his voice, "Well, I'll help with anything if the price is right!"
"I haven't really got any money." she said glumly. She was guessing the goblin wouldn't take credit cards.
"Humph." he looked offended and turned his back on her, "Go away. I charge people for wasting my time."
"It's life or death for me."
"I thought you Forsaken couldn't die."
"I'm a..." she ran up to him, grabbed his arm and whispered, "I'm a human, you idiot. I... need... to... leave... Orgrimmar."
He eyed her critically, as though he was appraising the value of merchandise. She wondered what thought processes were going through the mercenary little creature's brain to make him give another living being a look like that.
"Well... I WAS thinking of leaving Orgrimmar myself. I'm a fish vendor mostly, I have to go to Booty Bay to restock. The boat from Ratchet's the fastest route." he told her.
"You'll take me with you?" she asked hopefully. From Ratchet she could find a ship somewhere else, somewhere a little more human-friendly.
"I haven't finished." he snapped, "I WAS thinking of leaving Orgrimmar. But I'm not taking any goods back with me. They'll spoil soon. The faster I get this bread sold, the sooner we can leave. That's where you come in. Two people sell wares faster than one. I need a shop assistant. Interested?"
"I'm not good at selling things." she told him. It was true; on World of Warcraft she couldn't sell a single thing on the auction.
"Nonsense, we get you cleaned up, put some decent clothes on you, a deviate fish down your throat, you'll have them queuing up."
"A what down my throat?"
"A deviate fish. You know, makes you look like another creature."
"Oh yeah. Those."
"So, do we have a deal?"
"Sure." she shook his hand. It was slippery.
"Welcome to Spanner Fizzlewrench's Trading Emporium!"
Doan minded the stall for two days before they were forced to leave.
Against her expectations, she became very good at being a Goblin shop assistant very fast. It wasn't that difficult - Fizzlewrench did the sales pitch and Doan just stood there, gave out wares, took money and made sure nobody stole anything. There was plenty of incentive to get it right as well - the goblin hit her over the head with a stick and swore at her in Goblin whenever she got it wrong. The stall was very busy during the afternoons and virtually empty in the morning, usually closing when the sun went down. Fish sold fast. Having a chance to taste the wares herself, she found that the fish tasted nice, real fresh fish, not the crap you buy at the chip shop. Doan picked up a little Orcish during the working day, both phrases like 'Welcome to my shop. How can I help you, sir?' and 'Certainly, that'll be 50 silver.' and more interesting phrases like 'For the twentieth time, I'M NOT REVOEMAG!' and 'If you try and steal that again I'll eviscerate you, you little runt'. Most people didn't seem to even notice that she spoke no Trollish. A shop assistant didn't need to be intelligent and, according to Fizzlewrench, she did make a very pretty Troll.
Once, by accident, she discovered a good technique for selling more fish. She was very bored and began humming a tune from Warcraft 2 under her breath. A group of rowdy, completely sloshed Orcs started joining in at the top of their voices. A stoned Tauren joined in and soon everyone was crowded around the stall. Doan threw in some of Revoemag's song lyrics. When she got bored of Warcraft she started singing the Zelda theme and dancing on top of the stall. Everyone joined in with 'Don't Deport Me From Hyrule' and found it absolutely hilarious that nobody understood the words.
Their stall moved around quite a lot depending on what was happening in Orgrimmar; Fizzlewrench liked to take advantage of an already amassed crowd. Once they even set up next to the entrance when thirty of the Alliance's most elite were trying to forcibly break in. Of course they were selling to both sides. Today they were selling next to the Valley of Wisdom as there was some kind of diplomatic meeting with a group of ambassadors from the Undercity. Doan didn't like Undead, they gave her the creeps. She didn't know nearly enough Orcish to understand the intricacies of Horde politics but she thought the Forsaken were about as trustworthy as the beady-eyed Goblin standing next to her. Fizzlewrench told her to shut up and give the the goddamn fish to the man. He then went off to the toilet and left Doan minding the stall. Little bastard, thought Doan, just for that I'm going to FALL ASLEEP! It was very early in the morning and the nice Tauren had given her some sleepy herb tea. She looked around, saw only very large orcs in very spiky plate mail walking straight past the stall and rested her head on the counter. She could already see the flames and the red eyes and the mocking laughter that chased her through the jungle. Damn recurring nightmare. A fireball shot past her head, charring her hair and there was insane screaming, barely coherent Trollish voices whispering:
"Excuse me, ma'am? I'd like to buy a fish."
She sighed, looked up and, in an irritated voice, said 'Gah.'
"That fish over there, please."
"Buh." her hand shook. She pointed to the same fish, unable to take her gaze off him. "Gmph."
"I would LIKE to buy that FISH, please." he growled impatiently, baring his fangs.
"Er..." she stammered.
"DOAN!" screamed an irate Fizzlewrench, running at full pelt back to his stall as fast as his little legs could carry him, "WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING WITH THAT CUSTOMER?"
"Muh." Doan pointed to the customer.
"CAN'T YOU EVEN SERVE A CUSTOMER PROPERLY?" he screeched.
"G... g... gah..." Doan looked at Fizzlewrench. She looked at the customer. She passed out.
The Goblin pushed her unconscious form away from the stall. She fell with a dusty thud onto the floor.
"Sorry. New staff. A little overworked." he said, "How may I help you, sir?"
"Goblins..." he rolled his eyes and stomped off to join his escort.
"YOU MORON, YOU JUST LOST US A CUSTOMER!" Fizzlewrench looked under the stall where Doan was lying, grabbed her by the front of her cloak and attempted to drag her out again. It took him a while; she was a lot bigger and heavier than him. He looked at his stall. There were barely any fish left. It was time to pack up. There was still time to move out; he could go quite a distance before nightfall, especially if his new invention worked. He packed his remaining fish in his bag and dragged Doan back to the warehouse.
The goblin was still alternately swearing at her and muttering at her when they walked out of the city gates. Doan showed him how much of a profit they had made and reminded him that the customer only wanted to buy one fish anyway but he didn't calm down until he wore himself out and fell asleep under a tree. Wrapping herself in a blanket to keep herself warm, she wandered over to a rock and sat on it to watch the sun bleed into the barren plains of Durotar. She listened to the scorpions clattering on the rocks.
She spent a long time wondering what the hell had happened to her back there. True, she hadn't expected to see Thrall and she went a little strange around figures of authority. She couldn't even talk to the head teacher back at school without accidentally calling him Warden and saying 'Don't delete me' at least once. She just wasn't cut out to talk to them; her world was one of having enough food, being warm enough and being able to escape from reality at least 24 hours a day in order to stay sane. And the Warchief wasn't just some guy in a suit with a loud voice, he was the spiritual leader of an entire race and could inspire whole armies to die for him. He was also sort of handsome, in an Orc way. He had nice hair anyway. But it was more than that. It was as if he had stared straight into her very essence. He had commanded not her but the spirit inside her. And he knew in an instant that she was lying, that she was trying to hide something important from him, from the entire Horde. She couldn't go against his will, she knew that if she hadn't been completely paralysed by the sheer force of his spirit and then passed out, she would have surrendered instantly, have thrown herself at his feet and let him kill her or do anything else he might take it into his head to do. Her life and sanity were in terrible danger if she ever went near him again.
She tried to sleep but she was worried about the fact that there were animals around that were bigger than her and/or poisonous. She lit a fire and tried to keep watch until she dropped from exhaustion. Mercifully, the nightmares didn't come. She felt the presence, almost alive, of the beast that was always at the back of her mind, the eyes that followed her and the wild fire in the jungle, but it wasn't the same any more. It had never been just a fire; it was intelligent. And now it was finished chasing her. It was watching. And waiting. Very, very slowly.
Two small eyes watched the goblin and the Troll leave Orgrimmar.
It was Revoemag. It was definitely Revoemag. He couldn't have mistaken a complete stranger for his favourite Troll. He was good with faces like that. He had been watching her for several days now, watching when she woke up, where she set up shop, when she slept. He listened to all the songs she sang; she had a new and strange repertoire. He had brought back the loaf of bread and apologised to the stupid Goblin so he could get closer to Revoemag but she just said she wasn't Revoemag, gave him a pat on the head and sneaked a few fish into his pockets. Something very odd had happened to her. She didn't speak proper Orcish or even Trollish any more and she wouldn't answer questions about where she had been or what she had been doing. Even weirder, she was moving at normal speed. Should a powerful mage be working at a shop anyway? He knew mages made their own food and water and didn't even eat fish. That shopkeeper certainly wasn't paying her enough respect. Grog had been taught about respect since he was born. Respect your elders or you'll get a whack over the head with a stick. Revoemag had a stick too.
Something was very wrong with Revoemag and he had to find out what. He decided he was going to find out. Today. Now. He ate his breakfast at the orphanage and escaped onto the city streets to look for Fizzlewrench's market. After a quick run through all the places he had seen them before, he still couldn't find the goblin or Revoemag. The Tauren herb lady told him that they had left Orgrimmar already.
Packing his belongings - some stolen food and water, a map of Durotar, a few coppers, a stuffed toy wolf and a picture of his parents - he sneaked out of the city gates. He didn't know exactly how he was going to find a Goblin and a Troll who could be anywhere by now but he knew he wasn't going to give up.
Revoemag needed help.
"Hey, stupid employee, wake up!"
Doan groaned. She was being kicked awake. She rolled over and glared at Fizzlewrench. The Goblin was wearing blue overalls and was covered in engine oil. His hair looked slightly singed. He was holding a spanner.
"I've got a new job for you. Now you've got to test this machine for me."
He pointed to the metal giant that towered behind him. It was made of cogs, wheels, bolts and plates of steel that didn't quite fit together, even after he had welded them on. It spat black smoke. Some kind of green fluid, presumably oil, flowed through tubes leading all the way through it. It looked like a pair of mechanical legs with a cockpit on top. Lights flickered on and off in the cockpit at random intervals. There were levers and dials up there too. It went 'phut'.
"It responds to your every movement." he said proudly, "And look, I added new weapons."
The machine did indeed include an assortment of saws, knives, a cannon and something that looked like it sprayed acid or fire or some other unpleasant substance. Doan looked up at it. She had to admit she was impressed. She hadn't even seen where he kept all the parts.
"So, it's like a mecha?"
"Never mind." she stared up at it again, "And you want me to test it?"
"That's right. Just to make extra sure that it works."
"It's not going to explode?"
"It shouldn't do. Any more." he whacked it with a spanner, "See? Stable."
"And it won't turn on me and kill me?"
"Hasn't done so far."
"Or fall apart?"
"I tightened the screws this morning."
"What's the green stuff?"
"It's powered by fish oil?'
"Fish oil is oil." he shrugged, "Do you want me to take you to Ratchet
or not? I'm not taking you for free, you're a goddamn liability!"
"You're the one who left me alone with the stall." she reminded him.
"Just get in the goddamn machine." he tapped it again impatiently.
She shrugged and climbed in. It was a long way up. Fizzlewrench had fitted a ladder to the side. The cockpit was built for two Goblins so she could just about fit inside it. A seal fitted quite neatly around her legs. She strapped herself in to the device and pressed the big button marked 'on'. The mecha chugged into life. Fizzlewrench yelled at her which levers were for steering and she made it go forwards. It went 'thunk' as it slowly moved its massive legs. Doan felt a strange surge of exhilaration. She felt as though they were communicating, its machine-consciousness making its first tenuous connection with its operator's mind. It wasn't that big a mecha; it was about a foot taller than her and twice as broad. However, it was bigger, stronger and stompier than her, made of metal and had weapons. It went quite fast once she learned how to control it. It was a part of her, an extension of her body that meant she no longer had to hide from everything. She could stomp things flat, set them on fire or shoot them. You're a genius, she thought, Fizzlewrench isn't just a grumpy fishmonger, he's a mechanical genius and he's saved my life again! Maybe it isn't so bad working under him after all. He hasn't actually done me any lasting damage or overtly tried to kill me.
At first she was content to run around and around in circles uprooting small trees as they travelled across Durotar to the Barrens and then down in the general direction of Ratchet. Then Fizzlewrench had an idea.
"Hey, we need to test the firepower on this thing!" he said, "Come on, let's find something dangerous to kill."
"I don't know... Raptors! There's a Raptor's nest near here!" he pointed south. Doan sighed and directed her machine towards the small valley he was pointing to. Small patches of herbs grew in the scrubland. Large lizard-like animals with fiery red skin chewed the leaves on the plants. Doan observed their movement patterns carefully. Then, aiming the scope, she pulled the lever until the cannon swung towards the Raptors. She pulled the trigger. A cannonball whizzed down the barrel and shot into the undergrowth, missing the Raptor entirely. The controls started to spark. It was suddenly becoming incredibly warm. Doan heard the Goblin swear. She looked down. Thick black smoke was pouring from the machine and Fizzlewrench was running backwards and forwards trying to throw buckets of water at it.
Doan forced the straps loose and jumped. Seconds after she cleared the machine, it exploded. Her head reeled as she flew through the air. She was buffeted by the blast of a fireball that showered her with lumps of metal, glass and a stream of fish oil. Wrapping her arms around herself, she managed to land in a bush that slowed her fall. She still ended up upside down. Her robe was tattered by the thorns on the bush, charred and stinking of fish. Something growled at her. She looked up to find herself staring at a set of very sharp slavering teeth in a leathery crimson maw. The three other Raptors were slowly spreading stains on the landscape, crushed beneath the wreckage of the huge machine that Fizzlewrench was poking through, sobbing as he tried to salvage some of his more valuable components. The surviving Raptor was attempting to eat Doan. A swipe from its front paws knocked her out of the bush. She righted herself as she fell. The Raptor snarled and snapped at her. She made to run in the opposite direction but Fizzlewrench was already there. Turning around and glaring at it with his tiny belligerent Goblin eyes, he pulled a shotgun out of his suit jacket and shot it in the head. It fell to the ground, instantly killed as the clumsy weapon punched a hole through its skull. Doan wiped the blood off the tattered remains of her cloak.
"MY MACHINE!" screamed the goblin, whacking Doan with his employee-beating stick, "Can't you even test out a simple machine without blowing it up?"
Doan bared her teeth at him, knocking the stick away.
"Are you trying to kill me?" she demanded.
"You're a useless apprentice." he told her, picking up a screw and putting it in his overalls pocket.
"I'm not your apprentice." she said, "And you're not keeping up your part of the bargain. You're supposed to be keeping me out of danger!"
"Do you really think you can be neutral and stay out of danger?" he laughed an unfriendly laugh, "Let me tell you about being neutral in the middle of a war. People think it means you can walk into either territory and nobody will lay a finger on you. 'Neutral' means you'll be attacked by both sides, mark my words. The Alliance hate you, the Horde hate you, wild animals want to eat you and as for Goblins, well, we're always stabbing each other in the back."
"Then why be neutral?" asked Doan.
"Me? I've got goods to sell. Can't sell to only one side if you want to make good money." he folded his arms, "You?"
"Well, I..." she bowed her head, "I don't know. Yesterday I wasn't even thinking about it. I'm not from around here. I'm... kind of an exile."
"An exile? Come off it, I've heard that one before. I'm an exiled princess, give me money and I'll pay you back when I reclaim my rightful throne, ten gold will do."
"Do you really think the Alliance won't like me?" she asked, ignoring his scepticism, "I mean, I'm human, aren't I?"
" Hey, don't ask me what the Allies will and won't do. They're crazier than a barrel of frogs. One day they're queuing up for my fish, the next they're throwing me out of Stormwind Keep." he shook his head, laughing, "Come on, help me find all the screws. It won't explode next time I make it!"
Doan helped him extract pieces of scrap metal from nearby trees, rocks and dangerous animals. After Fizzlewrench was satisfied, they set off again, this time on foot. Doan thought about what the Goblin said. Would she really be welcome with the Alliance? Did she even want to live with them, spend all her days in a wartorn land? She had no idea why she was here, what had brought her here. It wasn't logical. She was willing to accept that Azeroth was real - reality was a fuzzy blur for a starving insomniac student anyway - but she couldn't think of any way she could just end up there. She didn't expect the Alliance knew about it either, otherwise they'd have sent recruiters through and drafted everyone. The Horde obviously didn't know because the entire city hadn't been razed to the ground.
Maybe they would think she was insane, just like she thought she was insane. That meant, even if she did find someone who didn't want to kill her, she still needed to find her own way home. That meant she had to know what brought her here.
After a relatively uneventful night in which she had the nightmares again, Fizzlewrench informed her that they were now very close to Ratchet. Half an hour of walking passed and they saw the wooden gates of the busy Goblin town. Fizzlewrench spotted two trading companions and rushed off to chatter at them in a fast, high-pitched voice. Doan put her bags down, watching out for thieves and listened to the strange engineering noises all around her, clanking and whistling, beeping and whirring and chugging. She could also hear the sea, the gentle crashing of its waves like a giant's whisper as the tide came in, powering Ratchet's newly built generator, the sea breeze in her hair and the rather disgusting taste of salt combined with whatever fumes the engineering workshop was belching out. It was years since she had seen the sea. She was always amazed at how big it was. It contained everything. There was much more of it than land. It was like the sea was a filing cabinet and she lived in a drawer.
The tenth person came up to her and tried to sell her something; insurance in case of death by Orc. She had never understood insurance. She just didn't want to buy anything she couldn't physically see and had no proof was actually there. It was too much like spending money and getting nothing. She decided to go and look at the boats. Most of the boats came from and to Booty Bay. She saw both Horde and Alliance step on and off the boats, watched carefully by the heavily armed and armoured paid thugs who were hired by the bigger merchant guilds to keep the peace. She tried to find out the names of the places she actually wanted to go. Embarrassingly, she knew little to nothing about Alliance territory. In the game, she always played Horde. Why be a human in a fantasy setting when she could be one for free in what passed as real life and wander around Azeroth as a giant cow? She wondered if she should just go to Booty Bay with Fizzlewrench. Goblins seemed like helpful people, if totally mercenary and utterly corrupt. They could build machines. Maybe what had happened to her was technological, something gone very, very wrong with Blizzard's server.
She wondered if this was what Blizzard's technical support called 'falling through the world'.
Eventually a guard walked over to her and asked her if she was Fizzlewrench's new apprentice, and that he was leaving on the next boat. Doan wandered over and saw him shouting at a pair of Ogres who were loading his equipment into the cargo hold. When he was finished, she followed him onto the boat. Fizzlewrench disappeared below deck, presumably to count some money in private. Doan leaned on the rail eating a slice of Kodo pie someone had sold her and looked out at the waves. She had been on a boat before and didn't really get seasick. However, the loneliness of the sea made her feel homesick. She had an urge to write bad poetry.
"From foreign shores to foreign shores." she sighed.
"I know how you feel, sister."
Doan looked around. A man in white armour walked up to her. Behind him, a slender woman in a red dress and a Gnome sat on a stack of crates.
"We are all very far from home." said the paladin, "I don't know if the village I grew up in even exists any more. But it is necessary if we ever plan to win this war."
"We saw you on the battlefield." said the gnome, "You must be a formidable rogue to survive such odds!"
"I... er... pretended to be an apprentice merchant."
"Ingenious!" he snapped his fingers, "Eww, you didn't have to travel with Goblins, did you?"
"He's not that bad." said Doan, "He stopped me getting killed."
"Live to fight another day." said the paladin, "I wish I could get the new recruits to understand that. Who breeds these rabid fanatics anyway?"
"The Scarlet Monastery?" Doan guessed.
"I'm from the Scarlet Monastery, and I'm not a fanatic." said the woman, "Where do you hail from?"
"You won't have heard of it."
"Try me, I've been all over Azeroth."
"She isn't from Azeroth."
Doan saw the door to the lower levels creak open and a man walk out. His long brown hair was carefully brushed back and he wore a neat black suit and held a briefcase. The paladin waved at him.
"Well met, friend mage!" he cried cheerfully, "This is our new travelling companion. She's a rogue. What did you say your name was again?"
"Doan Tuollaf." said the man in the suit almost mechanically. As he walked towards them, Doan noticed that the suit jacket had a logo on it.
"You... you can read minds?" stammered the gnome.
"Doan Tuollaf. Under article 7,2,5 of the World of Warcraft fair usage policy, your hacked character will be deleted and your account suspended." he put his hand in his jacket pocket and retrieved a Blizzard employee ID.
"AND... you will provide monetary compensation to the creator(s) of Revoemag."
"But Revoemag is my character!"
"Oh, just send yourself a cheque in the post then." said the GM, "But I'm afraid I'll still have to delete you..."
"Did you say Revoemag? HERE? AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH we're all doomed!" yelled the Gnome, running over to the rail and jumping overboard. The resultant splash hit the GM in the face. The woman hid behind the paladin, who stood with his sword raised and a bright white glow surrounding him. The GM spluttered and shook his head.
"Log out." he ordered.
"Er... I'm not sure how..."
Doan shrugged and sat down. Crossing her legs, she stared at the ground and closed her eyes. She tried to think of her home.
"Forward slash logout." she said.
"That's not logging out, you're just sitting down and saying 'forward slash logout'!"
"Okay, you tell ME how to pronounce a forward slash!"
"You can't escape from me, foul witch!" yelled the paladin, destroying random crates with his sword as he chased a large raven around the boat.
"WHAT'S ALL THIS NOISE ABOUT?" a shrill voice yelled. The door flew open and Fizzlewrench stormed out, waving a spanner. His face was covered in fish oil, "Apprentice! Shut up! I'm trying to work!"
"It's not me!" protested Doan, pointing to the GM, "He started it!"
"Look, I haven't got all day. I've got to remove a loose pixel on the edge of Thunder Bluff." the GM folded his arms, "If you don't log out in ten seconds, I'll delete your character anyway, to hell with your poor confused computer. Ten..."
Fizzlewrench threw a spanner at him. It hit him on the head, causing him to bleed. The GM looked slightly confused at this. He wiped the blood off his scalp and stared at it, then licked it.
"HE'S A BLOOD MAGE!" yelled the woman, "Dieter! KILL HIM! HE'S REVOEMAG IN DISGUISE!"
"Five..." said the GM blearily. He felt faintly sick and very confused.
"Look, this isn't a good idea. Either there's something very, very wrong with the server or we aren't in a game. Either way, we're really there and we can both die and if you delete me, I'll be completely erased from existence and I don't want to be..."
"DIE!!!!" screamed the paladin, charging at the GM with a two handed sword raised over his head. A sudden quake knocked him off his feet and he went sprawling, his sword thudding into the wooden planks of the deck and vibrating. The Goblin ran upstairs again. He appeared to be on fire.
"ABANDON SHIP! IT'S GONNA BLOW!" he screamed, vaulting over the rail and jumping into the sea. Doan did as she was told. Seconds later, there was an enormous roaring like some kind of sea-dragon and a column of water that erupted into the air, throwing Doan backwards. Between underwater scenes, she managed to glimpse the ship as it was ripped apart by a fireball. The Goblin was floating on top of a packing crate and the GM was thrashing wildly as he tried to swim to shore. Fortunately, they had barely left port and Doan managed to recover in time to avoid being drowned. Her whole body protesting, she swam up to the docks and managed to lift herself up onto the platform. She threw down a rope to Fizzlewrench, who was using two large planks of wood as oars. The Goblin glared at her, tried to think of a reason why it was her fault, failed and settled for standing next to her and shaking his clothes dry.
There was no sign of gnome, paladin, woman or GM.
"My machine! Ruined! Sank to the bottom of the sea!" screeched Fizzlewrench.
"Maybe you shouldn't power it with fish oil..." Doan volunteered, earning her a whack over the head with a stick.
"What do YOU know about engineering, idiot?" he snapped.
"Less than I thought I did." she muttered, looking back at the last few ripples on the sea. She was more worried about that GM. If he could really delete her, she didn't think she would just lose some data on her computer. If he couldn't... why were there GMs if it was a real world? Why was there lag and disconnection?
Fizzlewrench swore. Four guards had just ran up to him.
"Excuse me, sir. Were you on that boat?"
"Yes. I want a refund. It wasn't even fireproofed."
"Spanner Fizzlewrench? Inventor of the Improved All-Purpose Shredder?"
"Well, it needs a bit of work on it."
"It would make a good bomb." noted Doan.
"You're banned from Ratchet." said the guard.
"You're a liability. We can't afford the insurance for letting you on a boat. That's the fifth one this month you've sunk." said the guard. The other four moved behind him, pikes lowered at his back, "You're bad for business, Fizzlewrench."
"But my own business will be ruined! Booty Bay is my centre of operations!"
"You'll have to take the Zeppelin to Grom'Gorol like everyone else." said the guard, "Maybe you'll be less eager to blow your transport up if you're fifty feet in the air."
Ignoring his protests, the guards led him out of Ratchet and deposited him roughly on a rock. Doan watched him.
"Apprentice! We're taking a detour!" he yelled.
"I'm sorry. I can't come with you any more." she said, "I've got to find the GM... the mage in the suit. It's important. He might be able to get me home."
"You back-stabbing little..." he used a swear word in Goblin that didn't quite translate into Common, "Go, then! I don't need you anyway! You're a lousy apprentice!"
He shouldered his bag full of equipment and stormed off, swearing to himself. Doan started off in the opposite direction. The GM couldn't have got far. She began walking towards the docks. Suddenly the guards began yelling. Doan heard a loud noise and felt an excruciating pain in her ribs. She dropped to the floor convulsing, her vision obscured by a wave of pain that consumed her, filling her with darkness. Then her thoughts simply switched off.
A million voices were whispering in her ear.
She heard voice of the spirit wind and the souls borne on it, the people, animals, birds, plants, the rocks, even the water. She heard the living and the dead. The dead were close to her, as though they were walking right past her, an old kodo at the end of its life, an Orc ambushed by a passing raid party of Night Elves, the plant his limp body crushed as he fell to the ground in a pool of blood. The living were very far away. It was like watching them through a window; on the other side of a screen. She could see her own body, watch the guards drag it away and throw it in the river. She didn't know how she died but she had her suspicions; Fizzlewrench was running VERY fast away from Ratchet holding a gun. There was no pain any more; she couldn't feel anything, pain or hunger or even her feet on the ground. Everything was a ghostly blue, grainy, insubstantial. She looked down at her own hands and stared straight through them. They blended into the rocks and trees, all the souls flowing in the same ether, all one, all pulsing in time to the world's heartbeat, all parts of the world's soul. I'll never again doubt that the world is real, she thought. A serene peace swept over her. Maybe she didn't belong in this world but it was letting her in. It let her into its own lifestream, let her live and die as one of its own.
Okay, she thought, what should I do now?
In the game, she would look for her corpse or resurrect at a graveyard. Assuming the resurrection bit was real, she had to do one of those things. She didn't want to resurrect at the bottom of the sea. It was probably best to find a graveyard. Wasn't there one near the Crossroads? She wandered northwards. Moving felt a little odd; she couldn't quite figure out what she could move through and what she couldn't. The voices were a little distracting after a while as well. She couldn't quite hear anything clearly but couldn't block anything out. She could also see big holes in the world, covered up in the physical, solid plane of existence. If it was a real world, it was still a bit patchy. She saw the shimmering form of the Spirit Guide, a vaguely female winged form that radiated unearthly beauty, its face hidden by a pure white veil. The soul-substance seemed to coalesce into a brilliant white light around it.
"Er... excuse me..." she began. She wasn't sure what you had to say to them to get them to resurrect you. It lifted a hand and pointed to Doan. The light around it became a whirlwind. Doan stepped closer...
She felt something tug on her clothes. She looked down. A very large wolf looked up at her with glowing blue eyes, its fur pure white. It licked her on the hand, whined and continued tugging at her leg. She shrugged and followed it, only just keeping up with its loping gait. It led her further north and east, back towards Orgrimmar. She could just see another spirit guide in the distance when the wolf stopped and barked. Doan hid behind a large rock. There was movement ahead, very close to her, and loud voices that she could hear above all the voices. It sounded like an argument. She peered from behind her rock and saw that the spirit guide was being yelled at by a large Orc who appeared to be wearing a pin stripe suit, a bowler hat and a briefcase. It looked surprisingly good on him; it had obviously been tailored to his shape.
"... And you still say my client cannot renew his license now?" roared the Orc. He spoke surprisingly good Common, if in a strong Orcish accent.
"The Unlimited Soul Deal specifically states that you have to renew your license once a year." said the spirit guide, its voice like the whisper of the wind, "Since your client has missed it, he has to wait until next year."
"But he's not technically late! He was only an hour out and the clocks go back today! In retrospect, he was on time."
"But he was still late at the time of attempting to renew his license."
"Are you condemning my client to death, then?"
"Your client is perfectly entitled to live, sir, but if he should happen to die, we cannot legally resurrect him under his current contract. Everyone pays their due to the spirits, it's the price you pay for your long lives."
"Can't we get him a temporary contract under a different deal?"
"A change of contract takes one year to process."
"Your spiritualness, my client has an extremely dangerous job and his life is constantly in danger. We cannot guarantee he will stay alive until the beginning of next year. Considering how important my client's existence is to the world..."
"Which is why he was allowed an Unlimited Soul License for free to begin with." replied the spirit guide, "With all due respect, sir, if he cannot even organise himself to renew his contract in time, how can your client be a world leader?"
"He was dealing with a VERY important matter that took him all day!" the Orc growled, "I'm sure you're aware of the issue of the portals and the shift in the world's balance. As an adept shaman, it is my client's responsibility to... WOLF-BROTHER! What have I told you about hunting for food when you're dead? It unnerves me!"
The wolf whined. He pointed to Doan with a paw. That's one well-trained wolf, thought Doan.
"Are you trying to tell me that... HUMAN... is what you brought back to help me win my case?"
"Er... am I interrupting something?" asked Doan, looking nervously at the Orc's teeth. The wolf barked.
"I think your wolf is trying to say that the human is one of those anomalies you were talking about." said the spirit guide, "She's registered under the name of the Archmage Revoemag."
"Are you really the Archmage Revoemag?" gasped the Orc.
Doan shook her head. "I'm... lost. In exile."
"Are you from the other world?" asked the spirit guide.
"You know about that already?"
"The Archmage has been there before." said the spirit guide, "She managed to open up a portal to it ten years ago. She said that it was a terrible place to be a Troll. So many humans... she burned down a village and slaughtered every inhabitant, but they kept on coming. They wouldn't heed the warning. They even tried to take her prisoner."
Doan vaguely remembered hearing about that on the news.
"But she also said that she could move at full speed there. She said that was worth putting up with all the humans in the world... just so she could run as fast as the wind... be free, like a bird..." the Orc's eyes lit up at the sound of this, "The Archmage was very ill as a child and her motor neurones have never worked properly since. By the time she became Archmage, she was using very powerful time magic to be able to move at all. We don't even have time magic in our world, we have no idea where it came from..."
"Time magic!" the Orc snapped his fingers, "That's it!"
"Surely you're not suggesting... that's highly dangerous! One false step and you'll destroy the fabric of the space-time continuum!"
"But it'll be a valid method of renewing my client's license, won't it?"
"Excuse me, what is this all about anyway?" asked Doan.
"Do we really have to get this pathetic human involved?" complained the Orc.
"She's not going anywhere else." said the spirit guide, "I'm not letting her resurrect and run around using someone else's' identity."
"Okay, human, listen up." the Orc walked over to Doan, put his face next to her and growled, "My name is Gynoug Doomclipboard, personal lawyer to the Warchief."
"You're Thrall's lawyer?"
"Indeed. Now, do you understand why I'm in trouble?"
"Thrall's run out of continues."
"They're not called continues!" complained the spirit guide.
"Now, I have to think of a way to get the Warchief covered for another year before he finds out I lost my case and eviscerates me. Or worse, something happens to him."
"I was lost for ideas until you came along. But now I think we have a chance." he continued.
"I'd be happy to help, but I'm not sure what I..."
"You came from another world. The world that Revoemag went to. And Revoemag disappeared." said the lawyer, "Doesn't that make you think that those two events might be connected? I think Revoemag is in your world, human, and she has sent you here in her place."
"Revoemag's logged in as me? But she doesn't even know my password!"
"If this is true, you are really only separated from your world by a powerful mage portal." said Doomclipboard, "I think the combined efforts of Orgrimmar's other master mages can send you back again."
"You can send me back?"
"Wait a minute, human! We're not letting you go back permanently!" he growled, "You're going to fetch Revoemag for us. It should only take you a day, so our mages will pull you back through the portal after twenty four hours."
"Do you think Revoemag will listen to me? I'm a human. She'll probably want to set me on fire."
"She will come if you send her this message from me; her lover is in danger. She is the only one who can help him. We need to send Thrall back in time to yesterday so he can renew his license."
"Yesterday before 12 am." added the spirit guide.
"I'll do it." said Doan, "On one condition."
"Name your condition, human, and if the Horde can afford it, the Horde will grant it."
"After my mission is complete, I want to be sent home. Permanently."
"It is a deal." he extended a large hand that would have been green if they were both alive and Doan shook on it. They were resurrected outside Orgrimmar.
"Don't worry, it's only resurrection sickness. It will pass." said Doomclipboard, "You died violently and your soul was wrenched from you. There are probably parts of you still floating in every layer between that of the living and the dead. It happens to all of us."
Doan looked up, gave him a bleary look and continued retching, clutching her stomach. Every muscle in her body felt like it was gradually atrophying, like she couldn't support her own biological functions. It was a little like having a bad hangover after falling down a hole the night before. After ten minutes or so, her vision stopped swimming and she stood up from the patch of grass she had fallen face down in. She started walking towards Orgrimmar. The temperature had dropped dramatically.
"Er... human?" Doomclipboard said.
"What? My name's Doan, not 'human'."
"I... I think your resurrection went a bit wrong."
"WHAT DO YOU MEAN? Am I a zombie? Did I come back in an Orc's body?"
"I wish you had, ugly human." said the Orc in mild disgust.
"Of all the..." she crossed her arms, about to make some retort about not being green. She stopped. Slowly. She looked down.
"Oh, stop hiding. I'm not that kind of Orc." said Doomclipboard, "Lots of people lose material objects when they visit the Spirit Plane. I've got some spare clothes."
He threw a rather smelly wolf pelt at her. She emerged from the grass, shook the dew off and set off again. The sun was beginning to rise, a beautiful crimson pool in the sky. The gates of Orgrimmar towered over her, enormous stakes hewn from whole trees rising to the sky. Fires burned bright, filling the air above the city with a warm corona. The guards at the gates waved Doomclipboard through and, giving her a funny look, Doan as well. The stalls were just beginning to set up in the Valley of Strength and there was a band of Undead with wickedly spiked weapons standing in formation, being debriefed after a midnight raid. A particularly dedicated pair of Tauren were standing in the Auction House, attempting to outbid each other on a very large warhammer. Doan had never seen Orgrimmar early in the morning, unless 4 in the morning counts as early morning. They walked through the Valley of Strength, up the ramp and into the Valley of Spirits. The waters below the mage huts sparkled clear and blue, reflecting a different sky, one with an eternal silver moon. A tiny red drake played in the water, its wing beats stirring it into ripples.
Doomclipboard walked up two flights of wooden stairs to a large wooden balcony. Three slender female Trolls, each one possessing the same wild power and beauty as Revoemag, danced and laughed as they spoke in erudite technical terms that Doan could only guess were related to the structure of magic as they compared spells, flinging arcane energy from their hands as effortlessly as if it was as natural as eating or breathing. Doan had expected the Horde's leading magical representatives to be... well... older. And less pretty. Doomclipboard waved to the mages and they turned around and waved back.
"Pephredo! Deino! Enyo!" yelled the Orcs, "You're up early today!"
"We be watchin' de sunrise!" explained Pephredo.
"Uthel'nay giv us de nice coffee." added Deino.
"Have you seen the portal trainer anywhere?"
"Me go an' poke her awake." said Pephredo. She disappeared up another flight of stairs. Minutes later, she reappeared with another Troll woman in a black dress and a black scarf with purple embroidery.
"What you be needin' of me at dis hour, an' wid nothin' but a scrawny human for payment?" she asked.
"A skilled and dangerous task, Great Lady." the Orc addressed her respectfully, "One I could only beseech the greatest of mages for."
"Flattery won't get ya not'in', ya... ya LAWYER!"
"Then think of this as a service for the Warchief... and for the Archmage Revoemag."
"Ya need a priest for dat, mon."
"No, they're not getting married!" the Orc shook his head, exasperated, "I need someone to create a portal to the other world to fetch Revoemag back!"
"So DAT where de Revoemag be!" said Pephredo.
"I'm sure we could manage somet'in' like that." said Enyo, retrieving her staff and turning it around and around in her hand, "Ya need to know exactly where she be, though!"
"I know." said Doan in what she hoped was the correct Trollish. The Portal mage looked at her.
"Ah, so you be not food!"
"I shouldn't think so. I taste too much like fish oil. And Orc wee."
"We be needin' to make a mage circle, ya?" said the portal mage, "We link our minds to make de portal an' you be thinkin' of de location."
The Troll nodded. Deino waved Doomclipboard away.
"Dis ritual not be for lawyers." she said.
"When you're done, bring them all to the Valley of Wisdom, okay?"
"Gah..." said Doan.
"You! Human!" Enyo grabbed her and pulled her into the centre of a large circle of power that the Portal mage was drawing on the floor with chalk. Pephredo and Deino were already waving their hands and chanting in Trollish. This was quite specifically modern Trollish; Trolls did not speak in ancient Trollish. Their history was one of unspeakable savagery and evil and anything they invoked in their old tongue tended to become corrupted by taint. The Portal mage stood at the head of the symbol and the other three stood at the lower points. Their voices were rhythmic and monotonous like the hum of a computer's fan. They made Doan feel slightly sleepy. She tried to think of her home as she was instructed, of her house and her annoying housemates, the park nearby, the University, the city square, the big shopping centre. Where would Revoemag be? Probably somewhere where she could move really fast. The motorway? Holy Saint Kevorkian, don't let her have learned how to drive. The space around her began to ripple as lines of azure arcane fire surged between the chanting mages, outlining the intricate arcs and whorls of the design. The air was crackling with raw mana. The chanting was getting louder, blocking out everything, becoming a living thing. Doan noticed as she tried to keep thinking of the city that she could no longer see the outside of the circle, that the arcane fire had risen up to an impenetrable wall. She felt as though she was spinning through space, flying like light. She wanted to fling herself to the ground to keep her balance but her feet were firmly rooted. It was dark now. The magic was dissipating with a fiery crackling noise. She could see the Troll's faces and hear their voices slow down. She felt a sudden panic that they had accidentally stopped halfway through, that they were stuck somewhere offscreen between worlds. Desperately, she concentrated her mind on the task in hand. Get me back to my world... my city... my house...
Suddenly the circle shattered. The images of the Trolls blinked away and she was no longer supported but falling. She couldn't tell how far. Eventually she hit something soft. It felt like a bed. She opened one eye and saw that she was in her bed, curled in a foetal position, her arms shielding her laptop. There was a loud noise outside. But then, it might have just been heavy traffic, pigeons and the sound of many, many very busy people yelling at each other. Orgrimmar may have been bigger than her city but it was a lot less industrialised and had a lot less caffeine-fuelled zombie workaholics driving around like maniacs trying to kill each other. Orcs just hit each other with axes, they were cheaper and better for the environment.
On the other hand, she had missed her laptop. God, how I've missed you, baby. She gave it a reassuring wipe with a screen cleaning pad. I'm not going anywhere without you ever again. If I have to go to Orgrimmar again, you'll make a good blunt weapon.
Doan rested on the bed for a few moments. She half wondered if it had all been a dream or some kind of sleep-deprived hallucination, except that she still bore the wound in her back from whatever had killed her and she could taste on her tongue the arcane residues of the magic that had brought her back to this world. She knew that if she just went about her normal life, the Troll mages would drag her back into Azeroth again. She had to find Revoemag. She changed her clothes - while the wolf pelt was warm, she would look a little silly walking around Sheffield in it - and walked out of the door. She noticed that the door frame was charred. In fact, several things looked like they might have been set on fire recently.
Two guns were levelled at her head.
"Blizzard." a man whispered. "Don't try and resist. You're coming with us."
"You wouldn't shoot a customer."
"Now." he waved the gun. Doan shrugged and put her hands behind her head. She was led onto the field opposite her house. A large crowd of men and women in suits with Blizzard logos was gathered here, talking in low voices and looking up at her window. Some were doing things with bizarre technology. A siren and a blue flashing light went off. The GM from earlier was there, also with a gun pointed at him and looking extremely nervous.
"I'm an employee!" he yelled, "I have rights!"
"Shut up. You've seen it. Same rules for all of us." snapped a man with an American accent who seemed to be the leader. Doan stared at him, slightly annoyed.
"I want my money back." she said.
"If I remember correctly, you downloaded your copy of World of Warcraft illegally." drawled the man, "I could show you the download logs."
"But I pay my monthly fee!" protested Doan, "And that isn't the point. You can't point a gun at me because of a problem with your server!"
"It isn't a technical problem." he said, "Well, not exactly. We need to talk about this in private. Follow me, please."
"She is safe with us. Follow me, please." he repeated.
"I still want my refund." she said, but followed him anyway. There were quite a lot of guns. They bundled her in the back of a large windowless black car which drove off very fast. Two guards sat either side of her, each with a gun in their lap.
"Are you kidnapping me?" she demanded.
"We can't let word of our... little problem get out." said one of them in a German accent, "You will be perfectly safe as long you co-operate. We are here to protect you as much as we are here to guard you."
"What are you going to do to solve the problem?"
"You will find out at Blizzard HQ."
"Blizzard HQ? That's in London!"
"Indeed, we have a long drive ahead of us. I suggest you get some sleep."
She rested her head on the comfortable black leather seat and closed her eyes. She still saw that vision, that nightmare that followed her into the waking world; the thick jungle, the devouring flames, the pandemonium in the glowing red eyes that followed her, shrieking with laughter. She sat bolt upright and saw that the guards were playing Warcraft 3 over a wireless server.
"Can I have a go?" she asked.
"No. Warcraft has gotten you in enough trouble already."
"I saw Thrall in person." she said rather proudly.
"Really? What was he like?"
"Er..." she couldn't really think of any words that would capture the experience, "Enthralling."
The man laughed.
"Haven't you got any better games? Like Chrono Trigger?"
"I'd get my ass kicked for using illegal emulators."
"There's a telly up there. Get me a SNES."
"Okay, okay, I'll download an emulator." he laughed and typed rather expertly. Five seconds later, Chrono Trigger was up and running. Doan played it in peace, happy just to wander around the forest levelling up, glad to be in her favourite world for the first time in weeks. After half an hour, the background music had lulled her to sleep.
When the guard shook her awake, they were in London. Doan looked around her, staring at everything. She loved London; it was sprawling with life, full of information that streamed into her from millions and millions of channels, displayed on huge video walls, hot off the press. Everything was so much brighter, faster, more alive. Her blood flowed through her veins freely here, where in her home town it had stagnated in the drudgery of her subhuman existence. She could breathe.
Everything's so much faster...
This is exactly the place that Revoemag would go.
"Move." said the guard, pointing at a large building with walls of dark glass and neo-industrial black plastic. It was shaped like a badly pixellated triangle. The Blizzard logo was stuck on the top with tiles. Two security guards at the door pressed a button and the door slid open. Doan was disappointed to find that it looked like a normal office inside, with a reception area, potted plants, posters featuring the latest big update to World of Warcraft plastered all over the walls ('The Gates of Hamsterzam are about to open!'), incessantly ringing phones and an enormous non functional printer/photocopier/scanner hybrid. An office worker ran past with a trolley.
With a quick word to the receptionist ("We've got a Code 255!") the guards led Doan into the lift and pressed the button for the twelfth floor. It went 'ding'. They emerged in a long corridor full of identical rooms. It connected this building to another with a glass bridge. They crossed over the bridge into a large dome-shaped chamber on the roof, like an observatory but without an actual view of the stars. Instead, it had a display panel that covered the entire ceiling with what looked like a status display. It had green writing and graphs that flickered and changed every so often.
In the middle of the room was Revoemag. She wore her favourite long black dress and pointy black hat. She didn't believe in fancy robes and supernatural armour; with her speed, if anything was still alive to attack her after she had blasted it into a large smoking crater in the ground, it hit her. Hard. Wires in the back of her head led to a box on the floor that in turn was connected to various points on the wall with hundreds more small black wires.
Behind her was a thick green line. It said "Latency 0".
She was asleep when Doan walked in. She lifted her head and glared at the guard with eyes that burned red in absolute loathing. However much she usually hated humans, she stared at the Blizzard employees as though the fact of their existence was inimical to her very soul.
Doan grabbed the guard by his tie, almost snapping his neck. His gun fell from his limp grip and clattered to the floor.
"What do you think you're doing to my character?" she demanded.
"Please, y... you've got it all wrong." he stammered, "Mrs. Revoemag is here of her own will. We built this special device for her so she can be at Latency 0. Her lag is absolutely astronomical, a figure we couldn't actually reproduce on our own computers, even with dial-up. She could only take her Latency down to 800 even after coming into the real world."
"She doesn't look healthy."
"She's still coping with all the humans." said the guard, "She thinks we're holding her hostage."
"As if we would take sides." said a voice. It was painstakingly English. A small ageing man in a pristine suit had appeared behind her. He had a few wispy strands of white hair and looked very, very calm for a businessman. He walked into the room and stood between her and Revoemag.
"Are you the manager of Blizzard?" asked Doan, "I want my money back. And my character."
"Far from it. Permit me to introduce myself. I am Irvi Hydlidica of Blizzard's Department of Interplanetary relations." he said, offering her a hand to shake. She gave him the same look she would give a man handing out leaflets that said 'Dodgy McSwindler's Used Cars Emporium.' at her door. "I cannot offer you a refund but I can explain the situation. Let me make this plain. You have been to Azeroth, have you not?"
"Only a select few of the staff know this. What passes between us in this room remains strictly confidential, do you understand?"
"The place you visited was a real world." he said, "The GMs who volunteered to be sent over verified this. We no longer have administrative control of the place. It has surpassed its programming."
"Do you have any idea how this happened?"
"The last update we made included some very sophisticated AI." he said, "But we think it is more than that. We think Azeroth has gained an existence independent of even the games."
"What do you mean?"
"How many people do you think play World of Warcraft, Miss Tuollaf?"
"Altogether? Half a million." she guessed.
"To tell you the truth, we've stopped counting." he said, "And most of those are players so dedicated they give up important areas of their lives to play it. People have lost jobs, lovers... even their lives to that game. And do you think it is the background music that makes the game so addictive? The pretty Night Elf ladies? No, it is the world."
"I think that one too many people have started to believe the world to be real. It had no reason not to become real, and so it did."
"A spirit." said Doan.
"The world has a spirit. A real soul. Thousands of people believing in it, dreaming of it... that dream became a world-dream. An umaya."
Revoemag started swearing at them in Trollish. Doan, who understood some of the words, blushed. She was reminded of the urgency of her mission.
"What is it you want? I don't have all day."
"I want you to work for us, like I said. On the Interplanetary Relations team. I understand you have been travelling with a Goblin. You are considered neutral to both Alliance and Horde and would make a perfect ambassador."
"Believe me, you don't understand about being neutral at all." she sighed, "Listen, I have to go back to Orgrimmar VERY urgently. I'll be forcibly teleported back and killed if I don't. Do you understand?"
"We will be waiting for you when you return."
If I return, thought Doan. She walked up to Revoemag and said, in Trollish, "You have to leave. Your lover is in danger."
"Thrall?" she sat bolt upright and ripped the cables out of the back of her head before anybody could stop her. A guard pointed a gun at her and was thrown to the other end of the room by a huge blast of fire. She waved her arms and began chanting. A blue wraith of arcane fire surrounded her and she slowly disappeared like an image fading forever from a broken television.
The Blizzard employees stared at Doan, horrified. Seconds later, Doan also disappeared.
"So, human." growled Doomclipboard, "You're not quite as stupid as I thought."
Revoemag squealed and ran to join the other Troll mages, who showered her with freshly picked herbs and danced around in a circle, chattering excitedly. Doan saw her slow down by the second. As though a lead weight had fallen on her, she collapsed. Enyo grabbed her and lifted her up again, supporting her the rest of the way. She looked rather dishevelled, her hair a mess, but she was happy. With all the herbs floating around, some being smoked in a large pipe by a random Tauren shaman who had wandered over to watch the pretty spells, she was too stoned out of her gourd to notice.
"It true dey try an' keep you prisoner?"
"You want us retaliate, Dark Lady?"
"No time for dat, fren'." she said, "What wrong with Thrall?"
Doomclipboard took her to one side and quickly explained the problem. She folded her arms.
"Me can help." she said, "One day is no problem."
"Then... it is really true?" asked Doomclipboard, "Do you really know the secret of time magic?"
"I guess de rest of de Horde need to know." she sighed, "But you got to use dis knowledge wisely, ya? 'Tis powerful mojo."
"I promise this need not go beyond I, you, the Warchief and the elite of the Arcanum." said Doomclipboard, "And the Human promises too... don't you?"
Doan sighed, "That seems to have become my job lately." Maybe I should be a counsellor.
"Then we move fast." said Revoemag, "Follow me."
Revoemag raised her arms and danced around the wooden platform, her movements slow and deliberate. As she circled the area, she whipped up a blue whirlwind of arcane energy that roared in a frenzy. Her dance became more and more intricate, her every shifting pattern forging the spell into another layer of a beautiful cerulean flower. With painful slowness, she turned around, her tusked face dyed blue by the arcane light, waved them forwards and jumped through the portal. The mages all jumped in after her. Doomclipboard grabbed Doan by the throat and pulled her in behind him. Doan felt herself falling down a dark tunnel glittering with celestial blue. She was thrown down from the sky, felt chill air rushing past her and was dumped in a sand dune. She spluttered and stood up. She was in a vast sandy expanse that glimmered in the pale moonlight as though it was made up of crystal rather than sand. The Shimmering Flats, Thousand Needles. Huge lumps in the sand looked suspiciously like they were moving. She swore she could see eyes, teeth, some warm-blooded animal slowly stirring and then sleeping again. The wind howled as lonely as a wolf in exile.
"Come with me. Don't stop." she warned, "No matter how weird it gets, don't take your eyes off me."
She grabbed hold of Doomclipboard and Doan's hands and walked forwards into the desert. The sand whipped around them as they walked, so slowly as to almost fall asleep to keep pace with the mage. At this pace, the sand could cover them, erase them from the records of history in the years that stretched to infinity like a curve becoming a line, one huge red unbroken line through the world. Doan suddenly felt very serene, almost solemn. They were facing the most ancient wild forces in Azeroth, so old that they had gone to sleep now. The world was darkening now and she thought she heard the theme music to the original Warcraft.
Then she noticed she was no longer moving in a straight line. Or rather, she was, but the rest of the world wasn't. The sand had risen upwards again into a huge dune but they were going onwards straight through it as though it didn't exist. Revoemag even began walking downwards, descending a massive flight of stairs that only she could see. She began singing to herself, a hauntingly beautiful song in a language even more ancient than Trollish. As they followed her deeper and deeper into the sand, it began to form walls, edges that it should not have, poking out randomly. She was actually walking down a set of metal stairs now and the sand was trickling down them, kept out by the door that was quickly closing behind the party. It was silent in here except for a few beeps. Revoemag led them down into the blackness until they stepped off the flight of stairs and went down a long corridor that was lit by blue strip lighting along the ceiling. The corridor seemed to go on forever, a metal tube with no distinct features. Then Doan heard the swish of an automatic door opening and saw Revoemag step inside a large square chamber. Computer terminals lined two of the walls, each one showing something different from Azeroth's history; a scene from Warcraft 1, 2 or 3, an old version of World of Warcraft before an important patch, each computer evaluating its program silently, long strings of characters scrolling down open shells in blue. Revoemag gave these a cursory glance then turned and looked up at the huge thing on the far wall. Two giant metal statues of the things in front of the login screen on World of Warcraft stood before it, their swords raised across it, barring entry. The machine itself was a large disc-shaped thing made of pure screen glass (that was what this desert was made of, realised Doan; screen glass) connected with thousands of black cables to the other computers and to unknown ports through the walls, floor and ceiling. Upon the disc was a blue circle in which an intricate pattern of symbols was laid out. The statues rumbled and removed their swords from Revoemag's path as the old mage reached out and touched the crackling disc, her hair rising from the electricity.
"By the Spirits." whispered Doomclipboard.
"Is that..." Doan whispered, "The world's system clock?"
Revoemag was chanting, her eyes closed. As her words became faster and more fervent, it felt, not that she became faster but that everything slowed down in proportion to her. For every one step anything in the world took, she took two.
"You act as though you understand what this means, Human." whispered the Orc.
"So this world is still a computer program of sorts." she said to herself, "It still needs the same things to exist as it did."
"This place is... impossible." declared Doomclipboard, "Revoemag, how and when did you find this place?"
"It only appears for a few seconds at five in the morning." said the mage, "I was just on a late night raid. It spoke to me. I followed it here."
"It speaks to you?" asked Doan.
"I... do things for it. Missions to the other world. In exchange, it lets me move faster."
"How long have you been doing so without the Horde's permission?" growled Doomclipboard, "This thing may be a demon!"
"It's not a demon." Doan reassured him, "It's... something bigger than that. Bigger than all of us. You know the Spirit Guides, right? That important. To all of Azeroth."
"Look, mon, dis t'ing say it want save de Warchief." the mage put her hands on her hips, "You two can talk all night but I'm 'a go an' save my lover! A Troll never leaves a mate!"
"He's not your mate!" protested the Orc, but the mage had already thrown her arms upward and her eyes had rolled back in their sockets, the pupils and retinas pure white. The computers either side of them were changing images at an insane rate as though they were speed running the entire Warcraft series over and over. A bolt of blue lightning hit her and surrounded her and she was lifted up into the air in front of the machine. It made ever more frantic charging sounds, the roiling mass of lightning becoming thicker and thicker until Doan was blinded by a brightness so intense that it burned its image into her brain until she felt like her head was on fire. Then it was over. With a 'FFAUGLM' noise, the machine finished what it was doing and they were plunged into pitch darkness.
"My eyes..." complained Doan. An Orcish voice shushed her. She could hear several noises, some of them voices, others frantic shuffling. She could sense Revoemag teleporting away. After a few minutes, her eyes cleared enough for her to see that there was a little light in the room after all; some of the strip lights were on.
She also realised that were other people in the room with them. People with flashlights and some kind of electronic communication. They appeared to be searching for something. After a few minutes, one of them switched on the lights and Doan saw who they were; Blizzard employees. GMs, by the looks of them. One of them had gone up to the computer and began typing. He swore.
"It's not letting me in."
"Bob, did anyone change the admin passwords?"
"Not that I know of." said a large fat man, "But then, nobody's been down here for months. For Christ' s sake, the server's been down for two weeks. And then there was the time nobody could log on for a week."
"Or off." amended Bob, "What's all this? The AI's been doing strange things without our permission again. Everything's a total mess."
"Alliance players certainly aren't going to like it." muttered another GM.
"I say we take everything offline, remove that AI and anything else affected. Then we put everything back on when it's fixed."
"World of Warcraft will be down for months! There'll be world-wide riots!"
"There are plenty other MMORPGs to be addicted to. Look at the popularity of FF20." said Bob, "We won't have to delete anyone's characters. A few NPCs, maybe."
As much as an Orc's face could go white, Doomclipboard's did. Like a big green ghost.
"Doan... you know how going back in time can change things, right?" he whispered, "And that the past can change the future?"
"This incident was what made Thrall late. He was preventing these people from doing what they are about to do. They're lying. A good lawyer can tell."
"They're going to completely erase the sentient Azeroth and replace it with another game world." she felt a little sick. The momentum of what they had done had hit her, not like an express train but like watching a mushroom cloud from very far away and knowing there would be more.
"Revoemag won't let the Warchief go until he renews his licence, will she?" she asked the Orc. He nodded gravely.
"Our glorious leader has a knack for knowing when things are going to go badly wrong. The way he fought those people... only one survived and he'll have nightmares for the rest of his life. But now he's not there."
"Have you got any of those wolf pelts?"
"Sure." he reached into his backpack and pulled out another one, wrapping it around her shoulders, "I like you, Human. You should have been an Orc."
"I'm sorry, I can't help being Human. I was raised by Humans..."
Wordlessly, she pushed the Orc out of the way and vaulted over the computer. She grabbed the GM at his computer and pulled him away, punching him in the face before he could react.
"...and I AM stupid!"
The fat GM yelled at her and pulled a gun on her.
"Shoot me and you'll damage your server irreparably. See how your customers react to that!" She jumped on the computer display and crouched there snarling, a kitchen knife she had stolen from her house gripped between her teeth. She had pulled her hair over her face and had a wild, murderous look in her eyes that she had seen another student use while role-playing a blackguard once.
"Who are you?"
As if in answer to the question, she felt another consciousness touch hers. It was... beyond human comprehension. Like a cybernetic goddess. So powerful it didn't even think of power, it was only an in built feature that it could without effort create, erase, save, load, cut, copy and paste anything in the world. It was perfectly logical, both serene and deadly. And it was in such perfect synchronisation with her own mind as she floated above it like she had digital wings that its every thought was her own but at double the speed and efficiency. She raised her arms and all the lights came on at once. The computer terminals went wild with white noise. One of the GMs screamed and ran to rescue it but was knocked back by an electric shock that instantly killed him.
"I am the World Server of Azeroth." she said in a voice not her own, a voice flat and mechanical but somehow female. "Your actions are forbidden under error code 256 of the Didros Multiverse Security Protocol and 3.1 of the Rmal Multiverse Creation terms of service. Deleting a world in the process of developing sentience without Didros permission levels or higher (Operator levels for a biological component) is a critical security violation and a deletory offense. Log off now and permanently or be overwritten."
"You... you stupid hacker! Blizzard will sue you!" yelled Bob, walking up to his team-mate.
"I wouldn't touch someone who's been electrocuted. You'll get a shock as well. Don't they teach you first aid?" she said in her own voice again, "That man's really dead, you know."
"Bob..." another man's face was white, "I've just looked away from my screen. She's telling the truth. We... we better call the medics."
"OH MY GOD!" screamed Bob.
"I'd log out now." said Doan. The metal statues were beginning to move from their positions next to the wall, their swords slowly but inevitably swinging around. They all did as they were told.
Doomclipboard emerged from his hiding place, a grin on his fanged mouth that Doan guessed meant he was impressed.
"So the little wolf grows teeth."
"If by 'wolf' you mean 'user' and by 'teeth' you mean 'psychic link to the World Server', then yeah."
"Are you saying a machine did it?"
"That's okay then. I'd be very confused if a Human did something useful."
Half an hour later, Revoemag teleported back into the room. She looked very pleased with herself but rather exhausted.
"Did everything go well?" asked Doomclipboard.
"Us' perfect. You?"
"Oh, nothing went wrong." the lawyer put himself between Revoemag and the dead GM on the floor.
The mage walked over to the System Clock and raised her hand. A few large sparks came off the disc and it span lazily.
"Somethin's made it lose a lot of power. It's gonna be a big effort to get us back to de present day." she warned them. They all crowded around the machine and waited for her to activate it. This time the light was not as bright. In fact, it seemed to dim, shift through darkness. The machine stopped sparking and they were in their own time. Revoemag did not move away from the Clock. She was yelling at it and waving her fists. Doan saw her visibly slow down, as though she had been one image of herself ahead but was now flickering somewhere in-between, then one.
"Archmage, are you okay?"
"Shut up!" she yelled. She pointed a finger at them and they felt space bend around them as they were both teleported back to the Valley of Spirits in Orgrimmar. The mages all ran up to her.
"Did you do it? Did you save your mate?"
"Get me water." she said. Then she collapsed. Pephredo poked her still form with a staff and tried to jolt her out of unconsciousness with a bolt of arcane lightning.
"Get a priest!" she yelled. Deino teleported off. Seconds later, she returned with a Troll in a white robe and a large white bone mask; the same Troll Doan recognised from Battlegrounds. She ran over to her patient, bent down and examined her.
"Looks like one of those comas she used to go into." said the priest.
"She's disconnected?" asked Doan.
"The Clock must have used up all its power saving itself and sending us forwards in time." said Doomclipboard, "It can't keep Revoemag going any more."
"All we can do is wait for her to come out again." said the priest, "I'll take her to the priest's quarters."
"Looks like you're Archmage again, Deino." said Pephredo.
"She ALWAYS gets to be Archmage!" complained Enyo, "How come I'm never Archmage?"
"Maybe if I go back to my world and log her in again..." suggested Doan. Doomclipboard grabbed her shoulder, preventing her from moving.
"Hold on a minute, Human! Who said you could go anywhere?" he growled.
"I saved your Warchief. You said you would let me go!"
"I said that." he grinned, showing a mouth full of fangs, "But I'm not legally entitled to make a decision like that. I have to clear it with the Warchief first."
"YOU BASTARD!" she kicked him on the shin. He yelped. His wolf looked very amused.
"Come on." said the priest, picking Revoemag up as though she was a child. The Archmage had poured her body, mind and soul into moving at the correct speed and now she had lost the battle, she looked as though she had simply collapsed, "We should all speak to Thrall. He needs to know what's happened to our world."
"Gah..." she felt that lump rise in her throat again. She could hardly breathe. She let the priest and lawyer lead her up the ramp and north to the Valley of Wisdom. A familiar Goblin was standing at a market stall, advertising his wares loudly. When he saw Doan, he went an ugly shade of pale green and ran, abandoning his stall. She cried out and ran after him, brandishing her kitchen knife over her head. Doomclipboard whistled and his wolf chased her down and dragged her back in line, swearing in Undercommon.
"He shot me in the back!" she protested.
"He's already punished. He's been banished from the Steamwheedle Cartel. Apprentice-killing is a serious crime in Goblin society."
"How does he still trade?" asked the High Priestess.
"Illegally. I'd throw him out of Orgrimmar on his ear if I could catch the little bastard." growled the lawyer. He walked up to the stall casually, grabbed some fish, passed them round for people to eat and then upturned the stall and set fire to it. They continued up the path until they reached Thrall's great hall, Grommosh Hold. The most heavily armoured Orcs Doan had ever seen in her life, presumably the legendary Kor'Kron Elites, came up to them and growled suspiciously. Doomclipboard threatened to take it to court if they didn't let them past. The guards ran away.
Doan felt her brain trying to escape from her skull through the top with a pickaxe. Her face froze. She was face to face with Thrall, the almighty Orc Warchief. She couldn't even look at him for long in the games without feeling a little disrespectful. Lounging casually on his throne, dressed in his black armour with his huge warhammer by his side, his lush black hair and beard finely combed, his eyes bore into Doan. The look on his face was one of careful contemplation and faint amusement. Then he turned his head and looked at the priest who carried the still form of the Archmage.
"Will she live?" he asked in perfect Trollish. The priest nodded.
"Warchief, she will receive the finest medical care the Horde's priesthood can offer."
"Good, good." he nodded, "Doomclipboard, I understood there was some trouble. Has it been resolved?"
"Yes, Warchief." he bowed.
"You are a good lawyer."
"That is a contradiction in terms, Warchief."
Thrall laughed. "Then you are too good a man to be a lawyer. "
"You flatter me, Warchief."
"You... you are Doan?" he asked her in perfect Common, turning his head to regard her with those clear blue eyes that drowned all other thoughts.
"Gah..." she looked at him bug-eyed.
"Don't worry, I have that effect on lots of people. Just try and breathe through your nose."
"Thrall..." her words came out as a strangled croak.
"I believe you had something to say to me, the last time we met."
"I..." she tried to look him in the eye but her vision was becoming hazy. She dropped to her knees and bowed her head to his feet, throwing down her kitchen knife.
"I surrender!" she proclaimed, "Unconditionally. Do with me what you will. I put my life in the hands of the Horde."
He placed one foot on her head ceremonially, "Hand over your Alliance insignia."
"I haven't got one."
"She isn't from Azeroth, Warchief." said Doomclipboard.
"Not from Azeroth?" he regarded her curiously.
"You may find this hard to believe, but... I'm an exile from a different world."
"What a coincidence. Orcs used to be that." he said, "What am I going to do with you, Doan? You walk right through Horde territory and deceive us all. You hurt my best mage. You mess around with my history and almost destroy Azeroth. And now you want us to send you home!"
"If it's any consolation, Blizzard will probably kill me as soon as I step out of my door." she said glumly.
"Will you fight them to the last?" he asked.
"I'll give the bastards hell. They hurt my char... I mean, my friend Revoemag!"
"You hardly expect me to believe Revoemag has human friends." said Thrall, shifting in his chair, "Will you roar in defiance as you fight? Roar like a wolf?"
"I'll hurt them for every second of my life I spent tending to my poor character." she growled.
"Rise, Doan." he said, lifting the foot off her head. She rose slowly, not taking her eyes off the Warchief. He reached under his chair, took a small object from a big pile he had hidden under his chair and handed it to her. She took it. It was cold and metal and fit perfectly in her hand. She opened her hand and gasped.
It was a Horde insignia.
"Understand that this is a rare and great honour I am bestowing upon you, Doan." he growled, "You have earned it. And besides... it is your fate. I decided the outcome of this day, Doan. I marked you as one of mine the moment I set my eyes upon you. That's why you couldn't help yourself."
"But I'm a Human!" she protested, "Humans can't join the Horde!"
"I could declare you legally an Orc if you'd like." said Doomclipboard helpfully, pulling some paperwork out of his briefcase.
"But..." she stammered, "I'm a wimp! I'm no use in a war! I spent most of the time being hit by a Goblin or teleported against my will."
"You survived." he said, "I see in your eyes that you are a survivor. It doesn't matter how, you'll survive. And staying alive is the most important thing in fighting. Any cause the Horde fights for... it makes no difference if we're all dead. So I need my people to stay alive. We can teach you how to fight, Doan. I see the makings of a shaman in you."
"Technology has spirits too." said Thrall.
"May I also add that your Orcish is really coming along?" said Doomclipboard.
"But I won't have to stay in Orgrimmar, will I?" she felt a lump in her throat suddenly, "I want to go home."
"You are free to go wherever you wish, Doan, as long as you never desert the Horde." said Thrall, "But wherever you choose to go, you're going to earn your Horde insignia, do you understand? You've surrendered before the Warchief. That is the most honourable defeat an Orc can have, and an honourable defeat is as good as an honourable victory. But I want to see you fight now. I don't want you to ever surrender again."
"Yes, Warchief." she bowed.
"And... thank you for taking care of my mage."
"You do understand that she loves you, right?" she said, "I mean, really loves you. Like a woman loves a man."
"I'll deal with it." he growled, "Deino, Pephredo, Enyo... escort our friend Doan to Thuul. Tell him to open a portal back to her world."
The mages bowed and led Doan out of the Valley of Wisdom. Doan pinned the insignia to her shirt. The guards gave her a funny look as she left.
"Bye bye." the priest waved, "You ever want come back Orgrimmar, look me up. Find ya nice place to stay."
Doan walked over to the platform. The mages were drawing a portal circle on the floor and chanting. They pushed her into the middle of the circle. She watched them dance around and wave their hands, the arcane fire crackling around the platform. Now she was used to teleporting, it no longer made her sick. It was rather pretty. Doan took a last look at the huge city with its stout walls, roaring fires, beautiful wolves with lush fur roaming the streets and stalls selling a thousand and one different types of goods before it all disappeared as she was pulled away from it. Everything became dark. She woke up on her bed again. Her laptop lay on the floor, the lid left open, the network cable pulled out. She reconnected it and logged in as Revoemag.
The big red bar in the bottom right hand corner said Latency: 6000.
She went downstairs, grabbed a frying pan, a kitchen knife and the pool cue she kept under her bed. She strapped knife and frying pan to a bandolier she made out of kitchen line and wielded the pool cue. She found her heaviest leather jacket and put it on, fastening a sheet of metal over the spots where she hoped her vital organs were. She put her wolf pelt on over all of this and fastened it using her Horde insignia as a clasp.
She heard harsh rapping at the door. People were shouting. She thought she heard a gun go off. She opened the door to the house and went into the courtyard. She pressed her ear against the front door.
"Doan Tuollaf, we know you're in there! We know you killed a GM! Surrender yourself and we won't shoot!"
Doan slowly turned the key in the lock. She levelled the pool cue.
"FOR THE HORDE!" she screamed, whacking the man across the face and breaking his jaw. He dropped like a stone. Several people started yelling and firing guns rather inaccurately. She looked at the crowd of Blizzard employees around the house; there were around ten of them, some carrying briefcases and watching the fray, others firing guns. She also saw two people in full combat armour with AK47's; corporate mercenaries. She no longer cared. Like the connection after several hours of terrible, terrible lag, she snapped. She ran across the courtyard screaming in Orcish and waving the kitchen knife, her eyes blank and her mouth frothing. Two Blizzard employees ran, terrified by the berserk woman with the Horde insignia running towards them with a knife. She felt pain in several places where she had been shot but this just made her more infuriated. She growled and jumped on one of the Blizzard executives firing at her, knocking his gun out of his hand and slashing him across the face with the knife. He screamed in pain. She pushed him in front of them with the knife pointed at his throat, attempting to use him as a human shield. The other executives stopped firing. However, the mercenaries looked at each other and pointed the assault rifles at her.
"Are you crazy? She's got one of our men!" yelled the leader of the executives.
"Our orders were to bring in the target alive or dead." barked the mercenary, "Nobody said anything about keeping you alive!"
"Well, as leader of this mission I order you not to fire!"
"Our orders were from the manager, sir, and they override yours!"
"Shove him! Let's earn our pay!" the mercenary pointed at Doan and squeezed the trigger. Doan yelled and tried to jump behind the bin.
The gun never went off. Doan heard a loud battle cry and the ring of steel, then the mercenary scream and fall. She looked up and saw a six foot man in white plate mail bring a huge broadsword down over his head, hitting the other mercenary and splitting his skull in two. Then he rested his sword on the ground, picked up both assault rifles and pointed them in the general direction of the two nearest executives. They ran.
"Being neutral... means you get attacked by both sides." he said, tossing his long blonde hair over his shoulders.
"You... you're that paladin on the boat!" yelled Doan, panting. Going into a berserk rage had really taken a lot out of her and she felt like she could hardly stand up. "How did you get here?"
"After the boat blew up, we swam to safety. We saw our mage friend and we interrogated him about what he told you." he explained, "He told us about his world and these 'Blizzard' people. I forced him to open a portal back here. I disguised myself as a guard- I was the one guarding you in the car - and I've been spying on Blizzard ever since."
"Unfortunately, I lost my job after a dispute about religious holidays. Apparently, they don't believe I have 58." he bowed his head, "But that is none of your concern..."
He reached out a hand and tried to touch Doan's Horde insignia. She bit him, almost drawing blood.
"How DARE you! First you steal my kill, then you want to loot my corpse BEFORE I'M DEAD?"
"I apologise." he bowed, "I was merely curious as to why a human... and such a beautiful girl at that... was numbered among the ranks of the Horde."
"Let's just say I've had my share of arguments with Blizzard as well." she told him.
"You're back home from exile now?" he smiled.
"Yeah, back home from exile." she sighed, "Lousy welcoming party. Ten Shinras and a goddamn killsteal pally."
"If you want, we could go and find a tavern somewhere..."
"I'm sorry." she took his hand and tried to look him in the eye, despite him being several inches taller than her, "I'm honestly grateful that you aided me in battle. I admit that, had the ship not exploded, things might have been different. But you and me... we're on opposite sides of the fence now. And I intend to keep my vows to Thrall."
"I understand." he sighed and turned away, "I will continue my mission here on Earth until I am summoned back again. Fate is fickle. Perhaps you and I will meet again."
"If we do, I'll be standing over your corpse." she promised, showing him the knife that dripped with Human blood. She licked it casually. He winced. Striding slowly to the park, he whistled. A large white charger emerged from behind a tree and bowed its head. He jumped on the back of the magnificent horse and waved to her. The horse whinnied and reared, then galloped off."
"So long, killsteal." she turned to the bodies on the floor. The mercenaries' armour didn't fit her but the assault rifles still had bullets in them. She shouldered one. Then she took the unconscious executives' wallet and laptop. She erased the contents of the laptop because a) someone might be tracking it and b) some idiot had installed Windows on it.
Where was she going to go? After her battle rage had worn off, something uncomfortably close to sanity was beginning to creep up on her like a starving wolf. She and her paladin paramour were responsible for multiple homicides. True, they were acting just as illegally and had started the fire fight, but she guessed that wouldn't stand up in a court. Blizzard were an enormous company and could afford the best lawyers in the world. They had branches everywhere in the world. There was nowhere to run. Besides, a Horde warrior didn't run.
Maybe she could fight them. If she got to the press and told them everything - about Azeroth being real, about the attempt to stop the new world from existing, about them abducting her and hiring paramilitary forces and trying to kill her - Blizzard were ruined. But where would she find any actual proof? If the paladin helped her, she could prove they were up to something illegal but what company wasn't? They were just behaving like any other evil corrupt company. The scandal would be on the front page for a few days then disappear. Blizzard would have her and the paladin quietly disposed of. There was no way she could get them to believe that Azeroth was a real world. Not unless more people started coming from Azeroth, not just Humans but Orcs and Tauren, something they couldn't explain away. Then it would take years for people to accept the idea. The first people from Azeroth would probably be persecuted just for being different.
On the other hand, Blizzard were obviously terrified of her. Terrified that someone apart from their highest ranks knew about their darkest secret. Now they knew she wasn't alone and they didn't even know how many others from Azeroth were down here. She was in a position of power in that way. She was their worst nightmare.
Did she really want to live like that, though? Spending every day of her life a vigilante fighting an evil corporation, knowing that her only potential ally was actually her worst enemy of all? When she was first transported to Azeroth her only thought was how much she just wanted to go back to a normal life, a life where her only worries were essay deadlines, gradual sanity loss and a truly dire connection speed, a peaceful life free of people trying to kill her. That wasn't going to happen any more. Not here. Not now.
She went back into her house and packed her belongings. She was still logged in as Revoemag when she disconnected and packed her laptop. She hoped she hadn't hurt the poor mage. Her body really did have to learn to exist on its own though. She packed herself some food and water, a sleeping bag, some spare underwear and a few bits and pieces she thought might she might be able to get a lot of money for in Azeroth, inventions they didn't have yet. She switched off the lights, said good-bye to her housemates and locked the door. Then she ran through the now dark city streets. Cars zoomed past and students were just beginning to pour out of the University and into the pubs. One of her friends, Dave, saw her and ran over to see her.
"Hey, Doan! Where've you been?" said Dave, "Oh wow! Nice Horde insignia! Where did you get that? eBay?"
"Sort of." she said.
"Are there still any left?"
"How's the Crack going anyway? I hear you hit 60 at last."
"My lag sucks." she said.
"You're always complaining about your lag. It can't be THAT bad."
She looked him in the eyes, "You cannot possibly comprehend the depths of the horror that is my lag. None of us can. We're only mortal."
He laughed, "Want to come for a pint and forget about it?"
"It's one of those things that I cannot forget. It haunts me every night." she said.
"You can't hate it that much or you wouldn't keep on at it."
"You're right." she said. Then she bolted down the road. Her friend tried to keep up but failed.
It didn't take her long to find the paladin. He was at the train station, trying to get a horse on a train to London. Apparently the procedure was long and required ten forms to be filled in triplicate. He needed to know the exact height, weight, speed and recent diet of the horse. The process was annoying him a lot and he was banging his fist on the desk and yelling in German. She pushed the station guard out of the way, grabbed a paper knife, crept up on the paladin and pointed it in the small of his back. He looked around slowly.
"We have to talk." she said.
"What is it, my dear?"
"I'm going back to Azeroth, killsteal." she told him, "I want you to come as well. There's nothing for us here."
"We can fight them better from the other side." she said, "The whole of Azeroth is rebelling against its creators. They can't fight a whole world. Paladin, I'm not sure, but I think it's okay to fight alongside the Alliance against a foe even more dangerous. I'm pretty sure that's what Thrall would say. So I want you to follow me back to Azeroth."
"Dieter. My name's Dieter Killsteal. Not 'paladin'."
"Doan Lagbringer." she shook his hand. Before he could respond, she leapt over the desk. "Mister bureaucrat, I'd like to borrow your internet connection for a few minutes."
"Hey, you can't..." he protested, but he had already been lifted off the ground by Dieter. She disconnected his computer and connected her laptop to the web. She switched it on. Soon she was logged on to World of Warcraft as Revoemag. She placed her hand on the screen and concentrated.
The small red line on the corner of the screen said 'Latency: 2500'. Soon that was the only thing on the world that existed. It was oozing blood, it was all her pain, all her grief but it was also her power.
Revoemag, she thought.
I can't move, said a voice, am I going to die?
Don't surrender, replied Doan, it's only death if you accept it. Haven't the Horde learned anything from the Forsaken?
I hate those creepy dead bastards.
Then don't join them.
What do you want anyway, little sister?
A portal to Orgrimmar.
In my state?
I brought you food. Something nice and tasty to help you recover.
A shimmering blue rift appeared before them, making Killsteal jump.
"Grab my hand." she ordered. He did so quite happily. His hand covered hers completely. She could feel the calluses from hours of sword training every day. His heart was beating fast. She led him into the portal. The arcane energy enveloped them, sparking furiously. Everything distorted, went black. She felt the wind on her hair and threw her arms back, laughing. She was going home this time.
She heard a scream.
"Having fun, killsteal?" she whispered. She bent over in hysterical laughter.