Author’s note: Following is the first part of the latest story that I have written featuring both my direct proxy character and one of one wonderful lady’s World Of Warcraft characters. As usual, the story is divided into chapters, and will be mapped out with links so as to make it more accessible. As always, if anyone knows a means by which I can convert it to .epub format or similar, give me a yell. But please do not suggest Adobe Acrobat to me. That sluggish, bloated format crashes e-readers like a car on a rollercoaster track.
I did briefly consider changing the order in which I published the stories I wrote during my extended, enforced leave of absence, but then I decided it would just be easier to put things online in the order that they were written. Messing around with things too much can only make life more difficult than it needs to be.
Let us begin, shall we?
Corrigwen had apprehensions about visiting Kali-Yuga with Kronisk. She felt them every time that she exited the portal that Kronisk kept in his house within the Ursine village, and although she had learned to deal with them, she still felt them.
Probably the biggest apprehension she felt was that she looked so very out of place on Kali-Yuga’s friendly lands. Whilst there were Dwarrow aplenty within the Allied Realms, and Corrigwen resembled them in a physical sense, there were also dramatic differences between her and they that had taken a long time for both sides to reconcile. On Azeroth, Dwarrow could be found in many colours of skin and hair that, in spite of some divisions by politics, could all be considered Dwarrow. On Kali-Yuga, a Dwarf with olive-to-brown skin and dark brown eyes was very unusual. Although a fourth realm of Dwarrow had emerged in South-East lands with lightly olive skin and dark brown eyes, Corrigwen could always feel curious glances from other Dwarrow in the Allied Realms, and it was sometimes a little difficult to deal with.
Kronisk had, in fact, taken Corrigwen aside at times when he noticed her discomfort and tried to reassure her that it was alright, she was just experiencing an integration problem. But the truth was that she did not feel completely comfortable around many Dwarrow, a people that other instincts told her she should feel completely natural in the presence of. That was a problem.
Of course, there were Dwarrow of Kali-Yuga that helped Corrigwen feel more comfortable in this world. Dwarvish women of the ruling class, especially Queens or Princesses, understood perfectly well that she was not from around here, and their manner in dealing with her made her comfortable partly through understanding this fact. They also knew that Corrigwen was an adventurer and user of certain arcane skills that they did not completely understand. So when she shared stories of the adventures she had with Kronisk, Corrigwen felt comfortable amongst an enthusiastic audience.
The problem, essentially, was that working class Dwarrow did not have this understanding, and reacted to Corrigwen in a manner that she could not help noticing mild disdain mixed with a deep desire to know just where the hell she had come from. Corrigwen supposed that such was an improvement upon people wondering just where this thing had come from.
Also worthy of note was that this effect, whilst noticeable in all of Kali-Yuga’s known Dwarvish realms, was a good deal less prevalent in Arterclius, the Dwarvish Kingdom that Kronisk visited most frequently.
But the place that Corrigwen most loved to visit the most was the Ursine village. There, the fact that Corrigwen looked significantly different to other Dwarrow mattered not one bit. The cubs loved her, and the adults respected her. Every bear, from the gardener or maid to the commanding soldier, understood that she was an important political figure here, even if they could not understand why. And the Humanoid staff around the village, those that helped train the Ursidae or helped with construction and other important aspects, knew that she was important to someone high in what they curiously referred to as the food chain.
Sitting at a large park table with a group of cubs and several parental bears, Corrigwen listened to the chatter between all around her. Minílwen, who often appeared at these groups, occasionally interjected with comments to cubs about what they were discussing. Corrigwen smirked when Minílwen reminded two cubs who were discussing Corrigwen‘s funny appearance that they probably looked even funnier to her.
And Minílwen was right. The cubs did look funny to Corrigwen. The one group of Ursidae in the village that did not look bewildering were the Pandas. Pandas were a rather curious form of bear that had once been mistaken for being more closely related to raccoons a long time ago, Kronisk had once explained. And yes, they were related, however distantly, to the Pandaren that had begun appearing in great numbers in parts of Azeroth. They had similar builds, similar colourings, and similar approaches to combat, but the similarities ended there. Kali-Yuga’s Pandas, although similarly heavy of build, were also short, especially compared to the Kodiak and Polar Ursidae. But they looked funny in a very curious, innocent, and friendly sort of way.
“You have trouble deciding whether to think of us as Humanoids or beasts,” one Ursine parent guessed aloud to Corrigwen.
“Oh, no,” Corrigwen said. She was a little flabbergasted by how this parent could have reached that conclusion, and how casually he spoke of it in front of the children.
“It is quite alright, I do not blame you,” the parent continued. “You have not seen bears using cutlery and crockery to eat picnic lunches before, I can tell.”
Corrigwen nodded, feeling more than a little awkward.
“The children you see around you now are only the third generation of bears to live in this village,” the parent explained. “Before we were brought to this realm, our people were given lengthy speeches by Kronisk, occasionally with the odd and usually Elvish guest speaker. Our forebears were told that their generation was going to have the hardest time living in this exciting new world because of how used they were to living as savage beasts with no purpose except to be hunted or hunt other beasts.”
Corrigwen reached across the table and gently patted this Ursine parent’s paws. From the size and proportions of this Ursine’s digits, Corrigwen could tell that this was one of the few male parents present at this little get-together.
“I have only been married to him for about a month,” Corrigwen told the Ursine before her. His confusion at the sound of the word “married” prompted Corrigwen to link the thumbs and index fingers of both of her hands in a gesture that he clearly understood better as a legal, love-motivated bond. “My husband is not a subtle man, nor does he forget motivations very easily. In all likelihood, he felt strongly motivated to help Ursidae of all kinds to forward and better themselves.”
The Ursine in front of Corrigwen said nothing. Some of the children were now regarding her with curious, innocent looks. One of the other parents, a sow judging from her smaller size relative to her species, was now regarding her curiously.
“A people strong enough to tear boulders out of the ground and fling them at the Overlanders,” Corrigwen mused. “Useful in battle, but much more so during peacetime if they are also given the ability to design things, or make beautiful art. From seeing the children at play, I can tell that the design was about giving them similar opportunities to Humanoids of comparable age. There is still a way to go yet, but I think the first generation of this village would agree it has already come a long way.”
The Ursine children around the table, having finished their food, looked collectively at Corrigwen, looked at one another, giggled, and rushed from the table to a small area mere feet away. There, they played an interesting game of tag with rules that were not easy to discern from the manner in which the children moved. But the manner in which they parried one another’s tags was very interesting. Apparently, a tag did not count when the recipient intercepted it with an open paw. This meant a lot of dextrous, fast-moving bears, especially the Panda cubs, were parrying a lot of tags. When Corrigwen noticed Minílwen standing near this impromptu game and keeping score, she exchanged quick acknowledging glimpses with the animal specialist, giggled, and turned her attention back to what Kronisk was doing.
Whomever the bear that Kronisk was most directly addressing was, Corrigwen could tell that this boar was of relative importance in the hierarchy. Although he was not as tall was was the case with Kodiaks or Polars, he was clearly considered to be amongst the strongest and proudest of his kind. With this alpha, apex bear, her head turned on an angle to watch the cubs, was a sow who was clearly his grown daughter. After loudly but calmly issuing an instruction in the Ursine speech to one cub that promptly took a place at Minílwen‘s side, this sow turned her attention to Kronisk.
“Even though we have a great deal of physical strength on our side, we lack numbers,” the boar, whom Corrigwen discerned from echoes of Kronisk‘s thoughts was named Bassack, said to Kronisk. “Add to that that our engineering and arcane defensive departments are still in an infancy state, and you can understand that we are not ready for military independence just yet.”
“No realm in the collective is really independent in a military sense,” Kronisk mused. “But I understand. The level of independence that the Dwarvish and Elvish realms enjoy is the result of thousands of years of development. This village has only been habitable for approximately half a century, and developed for about half of that time. We only started to move bears into it twenty to thirty years ago, so nobody is expecting the Ursine Collective to be able to defend it on their own just yet. Odin above, they were not even expecting goods of exportable quality to emerge from it for another twenty years yet.”
“You yourself are a man known for trying to get everything done yesterday,” Bassack, whom Corrigwen now understood from the same means as how she discerned his name to be a General in the Ursine armed forces, mused at Kronisk.
“Aye, but I am one person, and the things I attempt to bend time in order to get done only affect a small space of people,” said Kronisk. “Sometimes only myself, which is quite another matter from a whole village.”
As Minílwen came to the table with a group of semi-tired Ursine cubs behind her, Kronisk continued, “We call ourselves the Allied Realms for a reason. I will not allow anyone to forget that.”
Bassack simply gave a nod and uttered something in the Ursine speech that Corrigwen did not completely understand. It was a sort of idiom that bears used, and one had to really grok their way of thinking in order to understand it. Kronisk (mostly) did this, but Corrigwen did not.
Pledging that he would be at the meeting of the Bear Council that was scheduled for this evening, and excusing himself, Kronisk left the table. With Minílwen leading them, the cubs collectively waved and bade both Kronisk and Corrigwen farewell. Subtle shifts in Kronisk‘s expression, especially on the thinner, lighter right side where disease had really tucked into his face, made something clear to Corrigwen. Minílwen‘s part of the gesture was a subtle communication to Kronisk. Corrigwen did not wish to understand the meaning at this point. She knew that Minílwen knew Kronisk from Terra, and that they had some sort of history together. That was more than enough.
Corrigwen knew that it was the middle of the afternoon here in Kali-Yuga and the Ursine village. That meant that Baladu and Gilmick would be at their schools, teaching groups of children lessons that they specialised in teaching. Baladu taught varied groups of Ursine in the latter stages of childhood how to put things together using tools and various materials (usually wood). Gilmick taught young children such basics as beginning mathematics, reading, communication, and low-level research. Corrigwen was sure she would get to see them soon.
Inside Kronisk‘s house within the Ursine village, there was only one thing worthy of note betwixt the main entrance and the inner chambers. On the kitchen bench, placed under the corner of a tissue dispenser, was a brief and hastily-written note. On it, Inwe stated that she was at the school, speaking with one of Rubio‘s teachers.
Leaving a mark on the note to indicate that he had read and understood it, Kronisk went with Corrigwen into his inner lounge. Putting a musical recording into one player and setting the volume to half the usual level, Kronisk took a bottle from a refrigerator set into one wall and poured two glasses of what looked like wine. Drinking slowly, Corrigwen looked around this room and pondered what she saw.
Corrigwen knew the song she heard from the speakers. A woman who alternated between sounding child-like and screeching with distress told a story of a chained-up dog that people came every day to hurt. It was a sad, distressing song, but it summed up Kronisk‘s base view of himself perfectly. What Corrigwen found peculiar was that towards the end of the song, when the backup singers urged the listener to fall asleep and dream whilst the lead vocalist did likewise in an increasingly distressed-sounding voice, she felt a great urge to kiss Kronisk that neither minded acting upon. This, of course, told Corrigwen the most fundamental truth of how Kronisk‘s powers really worked. Horrid, terrible feelings, or wonderful, joyous feelings, mattered not. What mattered was the strength and longevity of the feeling.
One projection-based entertainment that Kronisk loved a great deal illustrated this point perfectly. The most central character was introduced as a mid to late adolescent who managed to destroy everything in a room during a fit of anger simply through willing metallic objects to bend or break. Later in the story, as a grown man, the same character lifted a submarine out of the ocean through a similar, but more calmly-directed exertion of his will.
Through reading classified documents and speaking with fellows of similar clearance level in the organisation of spirit-wielders within the Allied Realms, Corrigwen had learned enough of the base details of Kronisk‘s abilities. Although he did have similar basic powers to other Mages, he eschewed them in favour of powers based largely upon perception and emotion. Killing an enemy yourself was not nearly as productive or energy-efficient as making your enemy kill himself and those around him, Kronisk reasoned.
Since their wedding, both Kronisk and Corrigwen had been learning much about one another that turned their views of each other in different, sometimes odd, directions. One of the many things that annoyed Kronisk about Terran Humans, he once said, was that they often just talked and talked without really ever listening. Towards the end of his time there, Kronisk had once told both Corrigwen and a chef on Azeroth named Breel at a conversation just prior to the Gnews, Kronisk had tried for an entire half-hour to stop a person speaking as they simply just rambled on, giving no sign that they were even slightly aware that Kronisk was trying to get their attention. Eventually, Kronisk had erupted in a roar, telling them to shut up or he was going to tear their voice box right out of their throat. When the Terran in question pleaded to know why Kronisk was so angry, Kronisk counted out all of the distinct times in that half hour, to an audience that had now gathered around, that the speaker had used the words “suffers from” or variants thereof in conjunction with the structural mutation of Kronisk‘s brain that was as much a part of him as his watery blue eyes. By the time that Kronisk had finished reciting his list to the audience and telling the audience why it offended him so, the speaker could see that no apologies, no verbal flattery, could stop Kronisk‘s anger. And Kronisk had spent a further half-hour speaking to this speaker, and nobody besides, about death camps where people sharing one unique characteristic the speaker bore were herded and left to die in terrible conditions.
Corrigwen was unsure whether the Breel that regularly gave food reports at the Gnews understood it, but she knew that there was an unspoken law with Kronisk. Involuntary characteristics that made a person different to those around them in a significant way were sacred to Kronisk. They were, as far as he was concerned, an edict from Odin delivered through nature, and thus as much a part of the world as the mountains or the air.
Certainly, one had a place to question why they were given such characteristics. But to attempt to erase such variation as if it were a pest or a germ? If someone even hinted at Kronisk that they were contemplating this, the sheer wrath that would come out of him was terrifying. Kronisk never told anyone what became of the speaker that was in his anecdote, but Corrigwen would not be surprised to learn that they had died of fright.
Cuddling up to Kronisk now, relaxing in his muscular but in other ways strangely underdeveloped arms, Corrigwen felt she understood something about Kronisk that almost nobody else did. Kronisk did not use powers of emotion or imagination to kill his enemies because he liked it. He did it because if he did not have an outlet for his ability to visualise people being eaten alive by acidic germs or similarly horrible things, he would be driven to great madness by it. So he let it out in the only safe manner he knew. By using it to challenge and fight his enemies.
With these things in mind, and exhaustion setting in from their recent excursion in the Wunderwerck, Kronisk and Corrigwen fell asleep. And dreamed.
Meetings of the Bear Council were always both formal and informal, Kronisk told Corrigwen as they dressed and prepared to go to the Ursine village’s town hall. The group of citizenry that attended the meetings would offer remarks, suggestions, or complaints to the Council. The Council would respond to some of these in collectives. The Bear Council would, in turn, offer statements concerning exactly what they were planning to implement using the citizens’ taxes during the coming month.
Two meetings of this kind were held every month, always on a Tuesday. Tuesdays were when other businesses such as the picture shows or inns were offering their wares at a special rate, so the gathered audience was generally smaller than would otherwise be the case. It thinned out the audience to the point where said audience consisted of people who felt what they were bringing to the Council was important.
Spirit-wielders were generally divided into two groups. These were offensives, or offensive casters as some might say, and Healers. These two groups had groups of their own, although the offensives almost entirely consisted of Mages. The Healers, however, could be divided into several different means of wielding their power. Until recently, Dwarrow had pretty much exclusively derived their power as Healers directly from the blessings of Odin. In more recent years, a small, but increasing, percentage of Dwarrow were using totemic means to derive their power, a school that they were learning from the Ursidae.
Spirit-wielders were seen at every Bear Council meeting, without fail. The composition of the spirit-wielders differed from meeting to meeting, Kronisk explained, but they were always there. This was partly because the special education programmes offered to spirit-wielders and potential spirit-wielders placed an emphasis on the importance of involving oneself in the decision-making. Although spirit-wielders and the intellectual elite of society were not always in complete overlap where membership was concerned, governments of the Allied Realms knew that they coincided enough to take their addresses to said governments seriously. Kronisk loved to tell the Mage-candidates he spoke to that were nearing the age of voting one thing. Do not hate your government, he would say to them, become it.
Bassack, the General of the Bear Council’s army, was seated at one side of the great table behind which the council sat. He was not actually a member of this council, but they had solicited his opinion in matters concerning the defense of the village. When Kronisk and Corrigwen entered the meeting and took seats near the front of the audience, Kronisk projected to Corrigwen that Bassack‘s presence at the table was a minor cause for concern.
In addition to Bassack, eight bears sat at a wide, heavy table atop a stage at the front of the hall. Each race of Ursine was represented. The contrasts in size were incredible, but the Dwarvish motto engraved into a plate at the front of the Council’s desk emphasised that all kinds of bear were equal here.
After being called to order and going through a small list of motions, the reason Bassack had been called to this meeting, and asked Kronisk to be present, became evident. As the pictures that Bassack had gathered showed, there were people attempting surveillance upon the Ursine village through clandestine means. Two such individuals had been captured by the army, but both had committed suicide rather than divulge any information about their objectives. Photographic equipment had been recovered from both spies, but the nature of this equipment was not readily understood by the general Engineering corps. of the Allied Realms. Thus, Kronisk‘s help was needed, and the sooner the better.
Several representatives of the parent and teacher union that helped keep the schools running upon consistent objectives asked if they should be doing anything. In response, Bassack asked that word be distributed amongst the schools and parental groups. If such spies were scented, one was to report their presence immediately to the authorities, but not to directly act against them unless these spies made any hostile act first.
Corrigwen made a mental note to ask Bassack later if any of her lesser-known powers could be used to assist these efforts. She could summon certain minions with great powers of observation that in turn could not only determine the exact nature of the spies, but also do so without the spies detecting them.
Bassack ended his address to the audience by saying that the few individuals present who did not have family commitments would do well to report to the armed services’ recruitment offices and see about the non-combatant jobs that were available in great numbers right now.
After one final report concerning the construction of additional water filtration units around the village, the meeting broke for free (to the attendants) snack food and beverages. Corrigwen chose to talk a little with some of the more unusual attendants of the meeting. One middle-aged sow of a medium-sized species admitted to Corrigwen that these meetings were cheaper to attend than the picture shows, had free food, and occasionally gave her a chance to learn about what was going on outside of the low-cost apartment area that she lived in. A sow with two cubs told Corrigwen that Bassack‘s report about the spies was interesting to her because the elder of her two cubs attended the school that one of the spies had been spotted from.
What was interesting to note was that during the free food wind-down, the bears often split into groups to which they stuck. In this instance, the groups could be defined as Kronisk with Bassack and the fathers of Banathel and Darasel, and everyone else. Whatever Kronisk‘s group were discussing, and Corrigwen had a very good idea what it was, their body language made clear they had a serious mind about.
“It is not clear to me,” Bassack admitted. “If these Overlanders are so interested in our Mages or other spirit-wielders, then why are they using equipment to spy upon schools containing children who are not even ten years old as yet?”
“There are two reasons I can think of,” Kronisk offered. “They are trying to map out the entire village, and thus are attempting to gather data on every building and its use.”
“Or they are interested in cutting off future Mages from realising their potential,” Corrigwen said before she was completely conscious of saying it aloud.
Waggling a couple of fingers in Corrigwen‘s general direction, Kronisk said, “She is right. It is just as likely that the Overlanders simply want to size our children up for ways of destroying them in mass amounts. Their original assault upon Nagëlheim strongly suggests it. Somehow, they managed to teleport themselves into the city, and thought that simply opening up with small firearms would be sufficient to achieve whatever their objective was. The Overlanders that chose to remain here and provide us with intelligence would likely tell you that such behaviour is consistent with their former government’s world view.”
“How likely are they to develop a weapon that can inflict such a terrible toll?” Bassack asked, sounding even more serious than usual.
“Ironically, their revulsion towards our kind is what hobbles them the most from achieving such a thing,” said Kronisk. “Weapons that can destroy entire populations at once are not easy to even develop a working theory of. I will discuss this with our refugees later, but I am pretty sure that most of the Overlanders’ long-distance weaponry so far consists of attempts to not make oneself explode. In the few real battles we have had with them to date, every piece of armour or weaponry they have wielded has been something they got from someone or somewhere else.”
“Should what I have to say wait until we are no longer in earshot of the others?” Corrigwen asked, looking over a shoulder at other bears in the room.
After bending a wave of energy around Corrigwen, himself, Bassack, and the in-laws, Kronisk assured her that it was safe to speak.
“I have the ability to summon creatures of an arcane and unnatural nature,” Corrigwen quietly explained to the bears who could hear her. “I do not know if it will work in these lands, but I can attempt to summon creatures capable of observing any approaching spies without their knowledge. If such a summoning is successful, we can intercept and learn from them without them even being aware of it.”
Bassack and the two bears at his sides blinked and remained silent. They knew there was something that they were missing, and waited for Corrigwen to explain it.
“I would require some assistance in this, but if I played it correctly, I could make any future spies believe that they directly observed the village without ever having left whatever shore they landed upon,” said Corrigwen.
“That would be either my part of the job, or that of an agent I can trust,” Kronisk told the bears. “For now, however, let us keep this between ourselves and the folks on the Council Of Spirit-Wielders.”
Turning to look directly at the bears, Kronisk flatly said, “Not even the rest of the Ursine Council should know yet”.
Removing the ribbon of energy that was keeping the group’s words from reaching other ears, Kronisk quietly asked Bassack in Elvish where the recovered photographic equipment was being held. Upon receiving an answer, Kronisk thanked the bears in front of him for another pleasant Council meeting. Standing and smiling, he said that he had best be going to the police archives where the equipment was being held. Corrigwen, not sure what else to do, followed Kronisk through the town hall and into the village’s streets.
“I can call Inwe, Baladu, or Gilmick, and ask them to bring you back to one of the houses,” Kronisk offered. “These photographs are likely to just be boring intelligence business.”
“A fair offer,” Corrigwen said with a smile. “But if I am to participate in further activities along these lines, it may be for the best that I learn as much as I can about our objectives.”
And thus ends the first of what I expect to be three parts. Questions, comments, and suggestions may be directed toward the comments section. I intend to keep links to all chapters at points of each part, but again, any help at all concerning how to get these stories into a format that can be read on an e-reader would be much appreciated. If you have read this far, then thank you.