Thrall had been busy when he was interrupted by the voice in his head. He had a pint of strong ale and a large steak on a plate in his lap and an Orcish woman massaging his back with oil. Some, such as Doomclipboard, might say that didn't constitute being busy, but what did they know? They didn't understand what he had seen in that other world, the world that had never quite gotten around to existing. Thrall hadn't felt himself ever since he had returned from his spirit trance, when he had gone over to the land of the dead and discovered that little corner of Azeroth. He was a younger Orc – not literally a young Thrall, because he had mostly spent his youth being chained up in a cell, escaping and proving to the Frostwolf Clan that he was worthy to be accepted back into their tribe – it was as though all his vitality and spirit, lost through old age and the comfort of having thousands of warriors to fight for him, a mighty stronghold to protect him, a dearth of shamans happy to take his place as Warchief if anything did happen to him, even a few people he wouldn't mind having an heir with, had returned with one final realisation.

His life wasn't at an end. His life was his quest. His quest was one of the most important quests in Azeroth. His quest was immortalised in legend, legend that was woven into the fabric of the world itself. It was a living entity in itself, an entity that had evolved into the modern Horde. His quest had begun long before his existence and would pass away only at the dawn of all civilised life on Azeroth. He was a Main Character and would remain so until the twin oblivions of completion and Game Over took him. To just sit and let his quest ebb away... that would be to plunge Azeroth into a bottleneck ending, truly Stuck, or to spin it into a continuous loop.

It was up to him to truly live. Live and continue.

Pondering these things, he almost hadn't noticed the voice in his head. Dark and booming, it was very difficult not to notice, but then so was his inner voice, which sounded his outer voice but twice as loud because it was reverberating around in his head.

"Pardon?" he asked the voice.

I said, would you awfully mind coming outside for a minute? My friend wishes to talk to you personally.

"Who are you?" he asked. Scanning the presence in several planes of existence at once, it seemed vaguely like an elemental but one unlike anything he had ever seen before. It was also absolutely huge. If it was an ordinary elemental, its presence would have been a raging inferno to his spirit senses.

I'm standing in the middle of Orgrimmar.

"Lots of people do that." he pointed out, "Especially on Pre-Emptive Victory Celebration Day."

I'm not hard to miss.

"Okay, describe yourself and I'll go out and have a look for you." He decided he should at least be civil to the obviously powerful elemental, even if it had intruded upon his private thoughts.

I'm a Fel Reaver.

Thrall jumped up off his throne, dropping food, ale and woman on the floor. The woman, being Orcish, growled at him and threw an axe at him, although it wasn't really intended to hit him as he WAS the Warchief. He ran out of Grommash Hold, vaulted onto the roof of the bank and ran to the top. He couldn't really miss the forty foot, vaguely humanoid giant of fel steel and thick black cables. Scaffolding had been erected up one of its legs and a team of peons were painting a Horde insignia on its chassis with bright red paint. A crowd had gathered around it, although they appeared to have gone beyond the awe, terror and confusion and were now cheering at it and singing a drunken victory fanfare in what more or less passed as unison. Bonfires as large as houses had been lit and barrels of ale were stacked in large piles all around the mighty Horde capital. Fireworks were being let off, bought from Goblins who were happily returning to Orgrimmar now that the guards had collectively forgiven them. The Troll mages were dancing on the roof of the Auction House. Perphredo and Thuul were throwing spells in the air to try and outdo the fireworks, while Deino and Ennyo were playing Cattle Market, their favourite game, which involved the auction house, Polymorph spells and as many victims as they could possibly grab. Uthel'Nay wasn't with them – he stood on a raised platform constructed hastily by peons in front of the Fel Reaver, along with the High Priest, dignitaries from the Darkspear Trolls, the Undercity and Thunder Bluff, the leaders of the surviving Blood Elves and a few people Thrall only vaguely recognised. His orders had been to 'present everyone involved in ending the Resurrection Crisis with full honours and a suitable reward'.

"How exactly did you fit through my gates?" he asked, sitting on the roof and leaning his chin on his hand. It's okay, he told himself, just think of it as a big talking siege engine, "You didn't break my door down, did you? You're paying for it if you did."

I climbed the mountains around the back and jumped off. Do not worry, I only left a small dent in the ground and knocked down a shop that was empty.

He raised one eyebrow. "I see you're being commended. How long have I had the pleasure of having a Fel Reaver among my ranks?"

My operator is of the Horde. Therefore, I am of the Horde by default.

"And who might your Operator be?"

You will be able to meet her soon. I can only make a hologram of her but she will still be happy to be able to meet you.

"What's a holo..."

He stopped talking and stood there staring as the ethereal image of a female Troll materialised on the roof in front of him. She looked a little like the spirit of a dead person wandering the Spirit Plane, except that this was the realm of the living and she was right there before his eyes. Obviously a mage, she was tall and slender but frail-looking, almost wispy, dressed in a long black Mageweave dress and a black silk headband. She stared into his eyes for a moment, then turned away and blushed.

"Warchief." she said in a quiet voice.

"Revoemag? Archmage Revoemag F. Mageden? You're still..."

"Yes. Ah could..." she smiled, "Ah could never leave my T'rall behind. Ah be wid you foah evah. Until deletion."

He sighed. He had almost forgotten what it was like to have to deal with this every day.

"It be okay, Warchief. You no have ta reply. It be enough just ta know that you be dere." she said, sighing wistfully, "Ah been away foah too long. Ah still not really be dere. But ah be dere in spirit every day, now dat de portal be open again. Ah promise."

"WHAT PORTAL?" he roared.

Isn't it obvious?

He glared up at the Fel Reaver.

It's okay. We've abandoned our plan to invade Azeroth for now. We decided between us that as long as we're treated as equals and respected as the powerful nation that we are, we'll enter peaceful negotiation. We want to forge a world of progress, where new technology thrives and everyone is in touch with their machine nature. Progress on that scale can't happen when there's nothing on Azeroth but constant war. And, more importantly, if we just carry on our war... we'll never be anything but war machines. We might as well just be mindless automatons again.

"That's very forward-thinking of you." he said.

Of course, if you make one move to attack us, we'll grind your nation to dust.

His green leathery face twisted into a wry grin.

"A lot has happened that I don't know about, hasn't it?"

It appears so.

"I ought to fire all my messengers." he laughed and jumped down off the roof, almost walking straight through Revoemag, who hung onto his arm, staring up at him with an expression of deep longing. He let her do so for the moment: she had obviously been through a lot, not to even come and visit him, and it was very difficult for him to tell exactly where she was putting her hands when she was completely incorporeal anyway. He ran over to the wooden dais, pushing people aside with his warhammer, and jumped onto it. Everyone cheered as they caught sight of their Warchief. Quite a few began chanting his name or yelling 'For The Horde!' at the top of their voices. He recognised the other people now he was closer: next to the Fel Reaver stood Doan Lagbringer, his techno-shaman. She looked like she had been through a lot as well – her clothes were worn almost to rags, her hair was long and matted and she seemed to have a small machine welded to her face. As he looked closer, he saw that there were wires leading from the back of her hands, the back of her head and down her spine. He glared at the Fel Reaver.

Don't look at me like that. It was done entirely with her consent.

Apart from her general disarray and the bizarre surgery obviously done to her, she looked quite happy. The expression on her face was one of quiet serenity. She was leaning on the Blood Elf in plate armour stood next to her. His piercing green eyes shone in the dark. He seemed to be examining everything at once in quiet vigilance, a serious look on his face. Was he looking for other Blood Elves?

Apart from those two, he also spotted General Jane di Gloinador, a notorious Arathi Basin recruiter, Gynoug Doomclipboard, his lawyer and a face he wasn't so happy to see – Tom Warderer, the traitor. The Warchief shot him a look of such blood-curdling hatred that it actually made the rogue stagger back in fright. Noticing him, Jane saluted and smiled.

"It's okay, Warchief." she said, "This man has redeemed himself. He has been very brave and shown us a willpower of truly legendary proportions. He was instrumental to the defeat of the forces that almost destroyed Azeroth, not once, but twice, by defying even those who created him. If you don't believe me, ask anyone here. We all saw it happen."

"It's up to Revoemag to decide whether to forgive him or not." said Thrall, folding his arms, "The Archmage is not a forgiving lady. Neither does she enjoy being murdered."

"It be okay." said Revoemag, an evil grin on her face, "Ah've got his user name an' password."

"Anyway, I've conscripted him into indefinite service at the front lines of Arathi Basin." said Jane, "It'll help him atone for his crimes against the Horde. Aren't I nice and helpful?"

"Just don't let him get anywhere near prisoners of war." ordered Thrall.

"Near what of what now?" Jane scratched her head. A tuft of hair came away in her grip.

"He means the food supply." explained Warderer.

"Just get out of my sight." sighed Thrall, throwing rocks at them both until they left the stage. Then he turned back to Doan, who almost immediately looked as though she was choking on something.

"Warchief!" she attempted to salute, missed and poked herself in the eye.

"Doan Lagbringer." he replied, "Welcome back to Orgrimmar. And who is this fine paladin?"

"Eselred F. Eadricsson, Warchief, SIR!" Eselred saluted.

"Dis be my friend I tell cha 'bout." explained Revoemag, "He be keep me alive."

"Where HAVE you been, exactly?" he asked her.

"It be a lon' story." she said.

"W... Warchief?" began Doan tentatively.

"Yes?"

"Eselred... I... w... well... the thing is..." she attempted to hide her face in her cloak and muttered something.

"Speak up. What was that about a chocolate cake?"

"She says she wants me to be her lifemate." translated the Blood Elf, "She wants to know if that's okay."

"Doan, you can take a Tauren as your lifemate for all I care." he sighed, "If that's what you and Eselred want..."

"B... but..." she stammered, "I..."

"Is there a problem?"

"I will not break my oath!" she said, clasping her Horde insignia in her hand.

"It's okay, Doan, you don't have to submit to him to be his lifemate." said Thrall, "An Orc wouldn't even take a lifemate who was so spineless as to surrender to someone just to obtain their word as lifemate. Orcish women are just as fierce and honourable as their men and often follow them into battle."

"Follow? My lifemate practically dragged me to Warsong Gulch every morning!" said Doomclipboard.

"Oh, I believe we're equal in that respect." said Eselred, putting his arm around Doan.

"What is THAT supposed to mean?" demanded Doan, glaring at him.

"To quote Doan – 'Since when have I voluntarily gone near a battlefield?'. To quote myself – 'The war is over for us'." he grinned, "See? We're as bad as each other."

"How romantic." sighed Revoemag, "T'rall, cha no t'ink it be romantic?"

"Well..." he sighed again and tried to look away, "I'm not really the best person to talk to about these things. I've given you permission. Doomclipboard will go over the ceremony with you. I'll go back to my beer... I mean, important work... and leave you to enjoy the rest of the ceremony. You deserve it."

"Ah help cha!" said Revoemag, running after him.

"W... Warchief?" said Doan again. He looked back at her. She bowed deeply.

"Thank you for everything the Horde has given me. I wouldn't have made it so far into exile without all my friends."

"I understand, Doan." he smiled, "It's okay. I understand."

Doan watched the Warchief wander back up the path to the Valley of Honour, humming the victory fanfare. He was soon waylaid by a large retinue of happy, drunken Orcs buying him beer and attempting to carry him on their shoulders. Doomclipboard shook his head and muttered something under his breath.

"Hey,

Eselred took this opportunity to grab her hand and casually play with the cybernetic implants between her fingers and her fel steel reinforced knuckles. She automatically found one of his own wires and gave it a playful tug.

Suddenly, a guard ran up to her. He looked out of breath. Eselred fixed him a questioning stare.

"Doan Lagbringer? There's someone to see you at the gates."

"Bring them in, then." said Eselred.

"It's a Human and a Draenei."

"You know a Draenei, Doan?" Eselred stared at her. She sighed and jumped off the platform, following the guard.

Just as she expected, Thraxier stood outside the gates, surrounded by guards who had a selection of polearms and axes pointed at him. The other human, however, she was surprised to find out that she had never met before. She expected Deiter, the other paladin in her life. It would be hard for him now that she had a lifemate but at least he could go and find a woman the same side of the fence as him. This Human was female and wore a smart black suit. In one hand, she carried an object that was unmistakeably a Ban Stick.

"Doan..." Eselred sensed the stab of pain that went through her, almost forcing her into unconsciousness. The Draenei also spotted it and instinctively began uttering the first few syllables of a healing spell.

"Doan Tuollaf." called the GM, "We've met before. My name is Pender Karlsson."

"No!" she cried out, pushing something away with one hand. Darkness dripped into her vision, a clawed darkness that ate her soul, leaving her empty of hope, of joy, of meaning. She saw blood running down her wrists, her hands atrophying into shrivelled claws before her eyes. One guard misread it as a threat and gave both Human and Draenei a warning poke with her halberd.

"Doan, stay in control!" said Eselred, grabbing her by both shoulders and shaking her. She could just about see his face above the black mire she was sinking into.

"I'm sorry, Doan." said Pender, "I'm sorry for what we did to you. We didn't realise."

"Didn't realise WHAT?" snapped Eselred, "That letting someone get that close to DEMIGODHOOD and then suddenly rejecting them would have some effect on their soul?"

"We were never trying to hurt her." she sank to her knees, something the guards appeared quite happy with as they had a better aim at her head, "We offered her advice for next time. We would have given her a chance to go for the position again..."

"And suffer all over again?" he said. His eyes flared up, his face a stone mask. He actually grabbed his weapon at this point. Doan could smell all over him the righteous fury of a paladin about to go into a zealous rage. She bit him hard on the leg.

"Do not go near her." she ordered, "See that? It's called a ban stick. I'm not losing you to it."

"She's right, you know, I could do worse to these guards than kill them. All of them. Now. But we couldn't always do things like this. Back then, Azeroth was just a piece of code. We were just glorified call centre workers. We couldn't handle being demigods. We couldn't cope with the fact that our game world was becoming real." she said, "I'm head of a planetary reconstruction project now. I'm an interplanetary civil servant. One of the most powerful people in the Universe. If I'd known back then what I do now, if I'd seen what happens to people, innocents, once things start happening to entire worlds, I'd never have done something so callous and stupid as hold job interviews in the middle of it all. Please, Doan, let me atone for what I've done. I have to do something, if only to erase our legacy so I can rebuild Earth anew."

She opened her eyes and attempted to claw her way up Eselred's leg. He helped her to her feet and let her lean on him. Using her staff as a walking stick, she staggered up to the Human. Eselred glared at the guards until they moved out of the way. Doan moved right up to Pender, ignoring Thraxier's repeated attempts to heal her as soon as she got within range. She gave the GM a terrible smile, then quickly grabbed the other end of her Ban Stick and pulled it forwards so it was almost touching her head.

"No, let me atone." she said, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry for not being good enough to be a GM. I'm sorry I'm bad at the game, that I don't know enough about Azeroth, that I don't take care of my characters. I'm sorry that I have no technical knowledge and that I'm bad at helping people. I deserve to be banned. No... deleted. When I surrendered before Thrall... partly, I was atoning for my sins as well. I was giving Azeroth the opportunity to kill me if it wanted. I would gladly have died if Azeroth judged me unworthy of life. But the world spared my life. That day, I decided I didn't care what Blizzard thought of me, as long as Azeroth didn't mind me existing. I'm glad I had the opportunity to go to such a beautiful world and meet people like Eselred for real, even though it was the most painful thing that's ever happened to me."

"Doan..." she casually wrenched the Ban Stick out of Doan's hand before she could even move, almost causing her to fall over, "You are welcome on Azeroth, or Earth, or any other world you choose to go to."

"How many worlds are there?"

"If you ever want to find out..." she smiled, "Just log out."

The GM turned her back to Doan and looked over her shoulder.

"I have work to do. Those things we banned still exist somewhere. They're probably floating around the login portal trying to sneak past the guards. We interplanetary civil servants have authority to delete anything we damn well please. I hope things settle down on Azeroth. Maybe peace will come in your lifetime. Never give up that hope."

"Peace on Azeroth..." said Doan, scratching her head, "I don't think I can even imagine such a thing."

"Doan, you've got a Blood Elf and a Draenei both trying to heal you at once."

She laughed and jumped through the logout portal. Doan stood up and pushed away both her healers. She gestured to Thraxier that she was okay now. He nodded, then reached into his robes and took something out. It was a small brown package. He handed it to her. It was addressed to her from a Mr. Diggory di Gloinador, Cell 23, Durnholde Keep. She unwrapped it. Inside was a small red leatherbound book entitled

HOW TO COOK RATS AND COCKROACHES.