Kalimdor's Might

A murmur went through the elves tending the roots of the charred World Tree. Even after four weeks straight of endless healing and powerful rejuvenation rituals, the tree remained small, alive, and still mostly green. One could no longer even see where Archimonde's body had lain, tainting its surroundings even in death.

Laronar Stormclaw glanced up from his own healing efforts, to see the source of the angered whispers. He recognized his brother by his horns, and the druid also had his scent. It smelled more like a demon, but there was yet enough elf that Laronar could suspend some of his prejudices towards those who used Fel to fight Fel. The Priestess he'd met years before with the still glowing sword was also with him, and it was the presence of the Sisterhood alone that kept the druids from slaughtering one who was so casually parading marks of Fel magic usage around Nordrassil. "Vehlar. You know you should not be here. Especially not now."

The Demon Hunter sighed. "Relax. My powers will not negatively impact this place...unless I wish them to." He paused, awkwardly, and tilted his head towards several rather angry looking Balance Druids behind him. "I don't wish it harm. The World Tree benefits Azeroth...and our kin."

By that point, one of the elder Archdruids, of the Talon going by his garb, a black ravenshead mask covering raven black hair, and a pair of pauldrons sporting a replica of what Laronar recognized as the Ancient of the Storm Crows, came up to the trio of elves in a huff. "Brother Laronar...you know this abomination?"

The shirtless Feral Druid sighed, as he felt the disapproving glares focus on him. Many had suggested one as feral as he so obviously was should leave the healing efforts to those who specialized in it, but he had proven that his own Restoration spells were not weak. He was able to outlast many of the others with his stamina, as his healing was continuous, if not as initially powerful. He eventually found a rhythm between how much mana his body could draw, and how many healings he could cast on a particular root section before running out entirely, and needing a rest. "I'm related to him. I...trust his word in regards to Nordrassil. He actually sounds genuine...but do not linger, Vehlar. Speak. Why have you sought me?"

The other Archdruid cut in, as Vehlar opened his mouth, the only visible part of his face beneath his hood, to speak. "I care not what the abomination has to say! It leaves, or I will personally blast it apart!" He gestured with a hand to Vehlar, as he leaned close to Laronar's face.

The emerald haired druid let out a low growl. "Do not test me, Talon. Family is still family, and even you cannot deny their effectiveness…" He sighed, shaking his head with more disappointment than anger towards his brother. "I will never agree with their methods, but we need all we have to fight the Legion." He gestured to Nordrassil's still mostly shriveled trunk. "We cannot keep sacrificing everything every time they come back!"

"And they will...come back, that is." Vehlar said, as the Archdruid of the Talon gave him a look that seemed to ask how he would dare to speak in his presence. The Hunter smirked, and continued anyway, despite apparently seeing the Archdruid's face. "Demons only die when you end them within the Twisting Nether. Killing them in the mortal realm only sends them back to the Nether to be reformed. Archimonde will appear again. And he, and the entire Legion, every single demon we slayed, will be back with him. Stronger. Wiser. Some for the third time. Even if you heal Nordrassil and restore the magic imbued within, detonating it in his face again will not be an option. He'll scour the planet from above, before landing and conquering what is left."

A look of genuine fear overcame the flustered Talon, as Vehlar stepped close, and gave him a better look beneath the cowl, to his apparent horror. Having seen his brother's 'eyes', Laronar couldn't blame him for being disturbed. At least Illidan covered his burnt out sockets, but Vehlar's just seemed to intensify as he snared the Talon Druid's gaze. "The Burning Crusade is almost over. Millions of worlds just like ours have already fallen to Sargeras' march. Azeroth may be all that manages to survive, and even with our help, little bird druid, our odds are not good. Suicidal, even. Yet...we fight on." He stepped back from the Archdruid then, his unnervingly charismatic baritone had them all properly on edge, after the equally unnerving amount of truth the satyr elf put into his words. "I came because it is long past time for a reunion."

Vehlar gestured then, and the Moon Priestess with the silver glowing elven blade stepped forward. Her armor was better than it had been when they'd last crossed paths, but it seemed her bulky boots and gauntlets had been charred a blackish purple from smashing and stomping so many volatile demons so recently. The Archdruid of the Talon sighed heavily, and Laronar could tell he was quickly reaching his limit after having so many emotional shifts in such a short period. Many of those who had been asleep the majority of their ten millennia long nap tended to be more mercurial, and stressed, as they dealt with the reality of their newly mortal waking world, and not the fantastical endless Dream they'd been tending for so very long.

He knelt before the woman, and the other druids, those who had paused in their healing efforts, knelt as well. "Priestess. I apologize. If the abomination is with you, then it is the Goddess' will, that it has not yet been slain." Looking appreciatively at all the male praise and attention brought a smile to the woman's not entirely unappealing visage, and the Archdruid of the Talon continued. "I have not felt Elune's blessing since before I went into the Barrow Dens…"

The woman smiled. "I understand." She looked around at the gathered, kneeling druids, and nodded. "One for everyone, then." She closed her eyes then, and despite it being near noon, for that was when life flourished best, an aura of silver light surrounded the Priestess as she called up the relatively simple blessing she'd been taught, and sent it out amongst those gathered in a silver wave of stamina enhancing magic.

It was as she unleashed the magic, that Laronar finally realized who she was. For one disturbing moment, he saw his mother standing before him once more, casting another nightly blessing on crowds of Elune's faithful in Eldarath's own temple. The expression, the hand motion, even the spell itself and the power it gave were identical. He must've shown his shock, because she met his gaze once the blessing was given, and smirked.

"Finally figure it out, brother of mine?"

The intense eyes narrowed, and shifted to Vehlar. "You could have mentioned our sister was alive…"

Vehlar simply shrugged. "It didn't come up. And I only found out but recently that she was still around. Last I saw her, she was on an island of dragon riding elves...and all I found upon returning there was ruin and wreckage. Apparently you met her before, and did not ask her name? It seems it is true. Manners disappear, in the wilds."

"I was trying to alleviate the burden of being systematically slaughtered from the Tauren. I had other things on mind." The druid shifted his gaze back to Alaria then. "I am glad you're alive, little sister. And no less impressed. I recall your...martial prowess. You must be the Stormclaw the Goddess favors. She won't have aught to do with me, and Vehlar…" His eyes narrowed, further. "Vehlar has his own issues. As I'm sure you have noticed."

The little group had attracted eyes now, from other tenders around the part of the base Laronar had been tending, eyes of elves, and of Cenarius' daughters, who often guided the less experienced healers with overly cheery guidance that had irritated many of the cranky, recently awakened old druids.

Undoubtedly knowing this, Laronar's brother decided to speak again, and manifest a pair of wings that any of the elves present could easily recognize, to their shock and horror. Seeing them on an elven form was disturbing, to many. "What you call 'issues', I call power. I felled a Dreadlord in Ashenvale during the invasion, some respected commander, or something. Very sure of himself. I took his wings, and as many of you no doubt recall, they were rather useful in saving...what was it…seven Druids of the Claw at once?" The smirking abomination eyed the Fel appendages with what looked like admiration as he flexed them, though the manifestation of such obvious Fel in the presence of Nordrassil was enough for many of the surrounding druids to start drawing power for spells of death, rather than healing.

Laronar moved before any of the others did, with silent swiftness his Satyr-bound brother came close to matching...when he paid attention. Hands swirling with orange Wrath, he gripped the edges of the foul wings and forced the Fel appendages back into his brother's shoulder blades, leaving the horned Kaldorei smoking, and snarling. "You look like a Satyr…" Laronar snarled, in his face. "We have a long and storied tradition of killing Satyrs."

"So do I-" Vehalr began, before Laronar interrupted him. "Illidan and the rrrrrest of your cult went north. You should be with them. The Fel has done enough damage to Nordrassil." With an angry wave, he refreshed his own healing spell on his root, and he eyed it carefully, but was content with no immediate signs of reaction to the nearness of Fel magic. The less it had in this early stage of regrowth, the better.

"Excuse me for wanting to see my family after ten thousand years…" Vehlar snarled back, flexing his shoulders free of his brother's grasp in one movement. He padded away from the tree, and the other druids visibly relaxed. "I'll not stay where I'm not wanted."

Laronar sighed, as that hadn't been the point. From his perspective, the danger of any Fel near the World Tree at this stage was potentially disastrous, and Malfurion, among other druids, would be all too eager to kill Vehlar, or attempt to, rather than letting him leave to be exiled if he somehow harmed it. Many Demon Hunters had been forced to leave already in the battle's aftermath, either by the Cenarion Circle, or their family's disgust at what they had turned themselves into. Few of those new initiates could blame them, for they had all known and felt the wrongness of consuming a demon's essence. For many, as long as vengeance was achieved, the path to it mattered little.

The Archdruid of the Talon, who had only risen after glancing up at the Priestess, and seeing what the demonborne was doing, spoke up as the foul abomination walked away. "You surprise me, Laronar. I had heard tell of your high kill count, but to see you spare such a creature…"

"Spare me." Laronar muttered, turning back to his healing efforts. "Shan'do Stormrage ordered them banished, not slain, Avanicus. Or are you suggesting we ignore his judgement?" The intense amber eyes flared, and the feral Archdruid slowly turned his head towards the bird druid as he met the Talon's gaze with his intense stare, daring him to suggest that was what they should indeed do. Not many yet living knew who Laronar was by this point, and those who did know him, often were not aware he had been among the first of the Circle. Avanicus however was aware, at least, of how loyal he was to Malfurion, and of the rank he held in their Circle, a rank they shared, but one that the Feral Druid had held much, much longer than the Talon. It wasn't something Laronar touted often, as for him, it was just another title, though others, like Fandral Staghelm, reminded their contemporaries often that they were old and wise. For Laronar, if it came up in conversation, he answered calmly, rationally, with the accuracy of one who had lived those long gone days of training and discovery. Otherwise, he stayed as quiet as he always had.

A murmur went through the crowd of druids, and some began to do as Laronar had, returning to focusing on reviving the World Tree. Avanicus looked around, grumbled, "Of course not…" And then shifted into his Storm Crow form, as he joined his kin in working their rejuvenating efforts on the World Tree's crown. Alaria joined the healing effort as well, and mainly focused on eagerly telling her stoically focused, but attentive, middle brother of all that had transpired while they had assumed each other dead. She made a point of mentioned Shandris several times, but her brother's face had hardened into an unreadable mask a long time ago. He'd had something similar as a child, but it hadn't been half as good as his current facade. Whenever the General came up, he expertly steered the conversation to something else.

She stayed for several years, as did many who wished to see the World Tree restored. Alaria was of the opinion that if they managed to restore its vitality, the magic that had been imbued within the World Tree as it had grown would return in time as well, thanks in no small part to the Well of magic below it. Without meaning to, the idea from the lips of one of Elune's chosen had spread like a wildfire among Nordrassil's druids, igniting hope in the hearts of those who should have known better, as Malfurion himself had told them the enchantments had been eradicated by the force of the explosive magic. Their power had atmozied an archdemon. He was convinced utterly that the blessings Nordrassil held were gone, but that did not diminish the tree's importance to Azeroth as a whole.

It was that very sentiment that Laronar echoed solemnly, to the sad nodding of several other druids rejuvenating their mana in one of the Moonwells being used to fuel the healing of the World Tree. His cat-headed pipe was being passed around the circle of elves, and it was a habit that Alaria had taken to as well, when she mentioned Vehlar did something similar with what he'd called 'Fel Weed', but had advised her not to try it.

She responded after toking on his pipe, passing it, then exhaling with a sigh into the shimmering water of the inground Moonwell that filled the lowest floor of one of the many temporary tree-inns grown to handle the living needs of the sheer number of druids tending the World Tree. "I have seen many magical enchantments on my journeys, Laronar...enchantments of those who shaped the world, still functional, still working, even after ages and ages of time. You were in Un'goro as well, no? Did you not wonder what kept the bugs from slaughtering us?"

Laronar stayed quiet, pondering her words, and remembering the spire which had, after falling, allowed the bugs a foothold in the jungle. He knew some magic could indeed last, functionally, forever but the only ones to achieve such spells had been Highborne of old, and dragons. The Highborne had, as he'd learned over the past ten millennia, come only so close to the measure of arcane prowess all dragonkin possessed. Their magical enchantments, and the longevity and restoration of such items once they were drained, was well known to the Circle. He looked up, as Alaria continued.

"If you think the magic of the Dragon Aspects is so easily spent, I'm afraid you've much to learn of the arcane, my brother. It's a possibility we should look into. Can we not guide where Nordrassil's roots grow? I've seen each of you manipulate them at one time or another. Why not guide them into the Well itself? Imbuing Nordrassil with that much mana, constantly, should speed up your healing efforts, and perhaps give us a chance at refilling the power of the Aspect's magic."

Before Laronar could speak, he paused as a massive shadow covered the entrance to the tree-inn. Laronar sent his eyes floating upwards as his heart sank, in recognition of the unmistakable crown that topped the head of Malfurion Stormrage. The massive Archdruid, looking well fed and easily as muscled as Laronar since his re-awakening, blocked the door as he ducked into the tree, undoubtedly hearing their conversation.

The calming baritone echoed from behind Alaria, who had the luck of having her back to the co-leader of their people, from where she had chosen to sit in the Moonwell. "It is a fool's hope, Priestess. Our immortality will not return so easily, and even if it does, we shall all be long dead by the time it is restored enough to activate. You are correct...the Aspect's magic is powerful, but that power will take millennia to restore, if indeed it comes back at all. It would require mana and power the likes of which we simply do not have, and even if we did have the Well of Eternity...I would not use it on Nordrassil. But your idea with the roots...has merit."

Malfurion walked forward then, smiling down at the Priestess in a fatherly manner, as he patted her shoulder. "It is good to have hope...but do not blindly trust it. Expect the worst outcome, that you may be that much more delighted by a better one."

Alaria looked seemingly confused, Laronar nodded sagely, agreeing with the Archdruid, and the druids around him seemed more like they were still pondering the wisdom of his words. Malfurion moved on then, ascending to the top of the tree, presumably to speak with someone in charge of organization.

Laronar glanced around at the elves, who met his gaze and nodded, and then he turned the intense amber eyes to his sister. "We will feed the roots into and around the Well...it may be a foolish hope, but it's one worth pursuing."

"Certainly better than what Fandral suggested we do...had you heard, Stormclaw?" One of the other druids asked, looking his way as he passed the Archdruid's pipe.

Laronar scowled. "No...but I can guess. He wants to take a branch of Nordrassil and plant it somewhere else as some sort of substitute World Tree?"

The other druid shook his head. "Worse. He wants to take Nordrassil's Seed, and plant it. Grow an entirely new World Tree. The claim, is that a new one will restore what we've lost."

Laronar rolled his eyes. "Assuming Nozdormu even agrees to bless it, for his is the power needed to resume that state of immortality. Alexstrasza and Ysera might...if asked correctly...but bronze dragons seem to take some sort of pleasure in denying mortal requests."

Alaria chimed in then, sighing, "That's what we get for belittling their Heir's sacrifice. Fandral shattered the Scepter of the Shifting Sands...they've never gotten over it, as I hear it."

The druids shifted uncomfortably, or rather, those who were old enough to have survived the sands of Silithus did. No veteran of that bloody campaign wished to relive it. Evidently Alaria had served as well, as reinforcement from Feathermoon Isle, in the later stages of the war. It was no understatement to claim that she and the other fresh Sentinels had been a large driving force behind that final push towards Ahn'Qiraj, and the final brutal melee keeping the bugs penned in the city, as the dragons and spellcasters wove their spell.

"That war is not over." Laronar said, frowning, as he watched the expressions of those gathered. "The sands will someday begin to shift again. We sealed that evil. We couldn't defeat it, and it won't stay buried forever. If we wish to end that threat, we would need the Scepter to even get in, and the pieces are held currently by full grown dragons. Without it...the city has a rather impregnable shield. Let us hope the Silithid do not manage to sneak beyond the barrier."

Several Years Later, The Chamber of C'thun - Ahn'Qiraj, Silithus

"Mighty C'thun! The Hour approaches! We beseech thee with these humble offerings...awaken!" The deep tones of the two-headed ogre mage known as Cho'gall rang throughout the chamber beneath the city of Silithid. The dreams and visions had guided him here, the whispers urged him on, promising power, glory, all for him, if he but proceeded with the ritual.

Before him were several prisoners. Humans, an orc, and even a Kaldorei, they totaled ten in all, and were what Cho'gall's Twilight Cultists had brought him, when he expressed a need for blood, to awaken the God sleeping beneath the sands of Silithus. Most, had been taken in the jungles of Feralas,as had the last forty lives they had offered up to C'thun's glory, all for naught. Their lifeblood had soaked the sands of the innermost chamber of Ahn'Qiraj, but the dark god remained asleep.

Now, that would finally change. Cho'gall was sure that fifty would do...and if it did not, sixty was not so great a demand. There were always dregs to capture, roaming the wilds of Kalimdor.

One by one, the captured innocents were killed, their throats cut by the cultist's knife. When the final throat was severed, the lifeblood of the gathered humanoids moved unnaturally towards the center of the room, filling in a previously hidden runic circle, covered by sand in the long centuries between his last awakening.

Cho'gall and the other magi continued to chant under their breath, as they weaved the spell shown to them in fragments of dreams. Pulled together by old elven tomes from Dire Maul, and the knowledge of Cho'gall's own mages, the spell would direct the life energy of their sacrifices into C'thun's chamber, though none present expected what happened next.

A gaping black hole appeared in the middle of the chamber, and from it, two figures were unceremoniously vomited forth. Vek'lor and Vek'nilash had been taken into an alternate version of reality by their furious god when they failed the first time. After centuries of punishment, they returned to Ahn'qiraj stronger, darker, and with less...quirks, that would only serve to make them incompetent.

Well done, ogre...your efforts will be rewarded...and there is yet more you must do…the elves are weakened...the dragons, divided...the time of Ahn'Qiraj's return is nigh...

Cho'gall and the other Twilight Cultists fell to their knees before the voice of C'thun. It boomed across the chamber, and had a physical presence to it that convinced its worshipers that it was indeed a being akin to a deity.

The clock moves ever closer towards the Final Hour… But your place is not here...your path will take you across this pathetic rock...sow discord wherever you walk, conquer in My name, and do not allow the Horde and Alliance to reach a lasting peace…

Cho'gall rose, as kneeling was arduous for an ogre of his girth, but he still bowed low to the swirling mass of darkness, even as he peeked at the shadowy bug men their spell had seemed to conjure. "I live to serve the Old Ones...the circle will be completed…"

A single black tendril rose from the swirling black circle, and touched the two-headed ogre's foreheads, as its' tip diverged. Knowledge, spells, and other black thoughts were passed from master to minion. When it was finished, Cho'gall was given a single word, his mission, and how to proceed with it according to the Old One's scheming, clear in his mind.


And he went.

The Twin Emperors left as well, for they needed no commands from their patron. They too knew their duty, and they had long waited to enact it. From within their own chamber, they awoke the breeding bugs with spells of their own. As their minds woke, so too did the slumbering Silithid, who had mostly gone dormant with C'thun when their master's mind had faded away.

With the hives waking up, the brothers turned to their first task, namely, replenishing the Obsidian Destroyers the last battle of their war had seen shattered into pieces. Their remnants had seeded the sands of Silithus with foul obsidian crystal obelisks, and as the pair began to weave their spell, the obelisks, once hidden, began to rise from the sand.

Once more, the hives of Silithus began to swarm, and tunnel, and it would not take them long before Silithus again played host to their hives, as it had done in the last war. Only time would tell if the mortals of Kalimdor would rally in time to meet them once again.

Nordrassil Inn - Mount Hyjal

"The woman actually transformed in the middle of the Keep. Right there, in front of the Light, and everyone. We could use some...elven assistance on this, and the High Priestess suggested you and your sister might agree to help. Many of Staghelm's ilk have refused us, and the lack of druidic healing is something we can't afford, if we want to survive this. There's a few others on this mountain I was advised to bring on the raid. We're going straight into her lair, and ending this."

Laronar Stormclaw eyed the human sharing a cup of Moonberry Juice in the Inn, which had long replaced the tree wells in the early days of Nordrassil's regrowth. Many returned to being actual trees in the forest that had survived, or regrown in the years following Archimonde's assault. Much had changed in a short time. Fandral Staghelm had taken official control of the Circle, despite his history of bad decisions under pressure, and in general.

In truth, Laronar knew their other contemporaries, druids who had also survived since the beginning of the Circle, were too passive, or uninterested, in the growing 'politics' of the organization. Many, were all too glad to let Fandral deal with it, while they tended to Malfurion, and his seemingly trapped state within the Dream, or focused on their own personal pursuits.

While nobody suspected this appointment, the overeager Archdruid had already clashed with Laronar over another event in their Circle's history, one that, as usual, Staghelm had opposed, and Stormclaw had wholeheartedly supported. That time, Malfurion had yet been awake enough to take a side, and the majority of the other druids sided with him. Hamuul Runetotem had come to them, requesting to learn. With the condition that, should the druids of the Cenarion Circle find him capable, they would offer training to other Tauren, as they had in ages past. Some younger blooded druids sided with Fandral, as they pointed out that the Tauren were wont to turn around and use their teachings in the assistance of the Horde's goals, but on that too, Stormrage had emphasized their neutrality. The Wilds, and their defense, took precedence over politics. What one did outside of the Moonglade was to be kept separate from the Circle, and its goals.

Having been forced to drop the issue, Staghelm had gone on to concoct his absurd idea of planting Nordrassil's Seed, and once Malfurion entered, and seemingly became unable to leave the Emerald Dream, the Archdruid had gone through with his plan, and it was one that Tyrande Whisperwind, while initially opposed, had taken full advantage of. Nobody had the will to stop the ambition of Staghelm, while the majority of the elven leadership was focused on skirmishes with the Horde, or waking their Shan'do.

Darnassus had quickly been adopted by the Sisterhood of Elune, sometimes also called the Priesthood of Elune, as they had taken to training male members of their society, once the newest Temple of the Moon had been completed. Tyrande Whisperwind had turned the World Tree into an offshore bastion of Kaldorei culture, from which they could coordinate their many holdings in Kalimdor.

Since that event, the Night Elves, as the Alliance called them, had begun to aid the humans, dwarves, and gnomes. The Alliance aided the elves in turn, primarily from Theramore, in maintaining the fragile 'peace' between the factions. They sent their best and brightest to aid the Kaldorei across Kalimdor, when the threat of the Horde on the rise, again, had them readying for war. Skirmishes were common, but everyone knew it was a matter of time before the two factions would clash again, despite the friendship the Alliance's ambassador Jaina Proudmoore and the orc Warchief Thrall shared. The greed of the Horde couldn't leave the timber in Ashenvale alone, and while heavily armored 'adventurers' had thus far been the answer to not mobilizing armies, even they knew it would not last, forever.

Mathias Shaw, he had been told, was to be given whatever he needed, as one of the key figures in the Alliance's structural composition. The human Spymaster seemed a straight enough shooter, for a spy, and Laronar was simply not the kind of person to decline aid, if it was asked for. He had come to appreciate the human sense of honor, and while he doubted Shaw showed it to his enemies, he came off as the type of man unwilling to use spy tactics on his allies. Not without cause, at least. "You'll have my aid, Spymaster. The spawn of Xaxas has plagued Azeroth long enough."

Shaw arched a brow. "Xaxas?"

Laronar blinked, and the intense, almost unsettling amber eyes bore into Shaw's, as he explained in his usual monotone that tinged his Common. "The word my people use for...what did you lot call him...Deathwing? The Black Dragon Aspect, and leader of his flight."

Shaw nodded. "Aye...we know of Deathwing. He played the majority of the human kingdoms for fools, and set us upon each other's throats. Our...draconic contacts would also very much like to see Onyxia dead."

Laronar smirked, knowingly, as he took a swig of juice. "But they won't be sending anyone to help, will they."

Shaw seemed to stifle a sigh, and finally, his eyes shifted from the elf's, to his juice as he took a swig as well. "No, they won't be. Not directly, or so I was told." He shrugged, and rolled his eyes. "There's gear, if you need it, at SI:7's headquarters. The other raiders will be gathering there, and once Varian arrives, we move. Do not be late." Laronar kept his smirk, as he knew he'd be there long before the King, but nodded at the human anyways.

Nobody but the eagle eyed captain helming the ship from Auberdine's port saw him, as they traveled to the Grand Alliance's central hub. The druid napped most of the way, hidden in his favorite form, but the smell of their destination's harbor, and the Canals beyond, was enough to wake the druid, with a sigh. He knew this stench, having visited twice before, out of curiosity. It was amusing to watch how the primarily pale residents turned red, when the 'kitty' they were giving pets to suddenly became a towering, and absurdly well muscled, elf man. He usually entered shops, or inns after that. His main mode of transportation was his cat form, and the mortals seemed enamored with following a giant cat that didn't seem to mind the attention from the Keep to the Park. They had been amusing trips but this one, promised to be more interesting.

For the chance to kill one of Neltharion's offspring, he could withstand the truly unique and foul stink that lingered beneath the city. He was convinced that the human's weak senses were used to, or too blunt to detect, the pollution building in the lake beneath the city, and even most of his own kin seemed blind to it. Other druids though, he'd found, preferred the Moonglade to the human capital, solely because the smell was enough to drive one to madness.

The stink of iron and smoke from the Dwarven District did not aid the mix, as the ship pulled up to the harbor dock, to transport supplies, adventurers, and receive more things in return, for the journey back to Darkshore. Laronar was at the Spymaster's not-so-secret headquarters within a few minutes, and he stayed hidden, as he watched the group below. Many were Guardsmen of Stormwind, arming themselves with enchanted arrows, but there was no small number of adventurers either. Each one was interesting to look at, for they had a semi-insane tendency to launch themselves at dens of evil across the world, and come out stronger for it, usually with new pieces of armor. Naturally, attacking a dragon in such a manner was practically their specialty, for she could not fly away unscathed past, including Laronar, forty other warriors.

Many of those gathered had methods of ensnaring her, should she try to escape, and the racial composition of the group was as varied as their methods of killing evil. Dwarven nets would be working with druidic roots to keep her from fleeing, if she tried. Though from what Laronar had gathered of 'Lady Prestor', she had seemed confident that she could take anything the Alliance or Horde threw at her, in her lair.

King Varian Wrynn arrived with his usual fanfare, though beside him rode a scraggly looking human that, upon closer inspection, seemed identical to the King. Laronar leapt down from the tree he'd been chilling in, and beside him, two other druids in Cat Form he simply hadn't noticed, appeared as well. They stared at the massive, maned Nightsaber, and their eyes eventually found their way to his shoulder, and the symbol etched into the fur. They gave greetings in the language of cats, and then trotted towards the rest of the party. Alongside Varian and his grumpy twin was a Blood Elf, a Night Elf sporting a pair of antlers, and a dwarf whose attitude was as boisterous and rude as every other dwarven stereotype Laronar had observed for more than a minute.

His eyes though, were drawn to the Night Elf. Broll Bearmantle was, in his opinion, one of Staghelm's lap dogs, or rather, that had been what Laronar assumed he was. Recalling the druid's comparatively young age, it seemed he had defied the Archdruid on this, and came to aid his friend anyways. Seeing for the first time that perhaps not all who reported to Staghelm were lost causes, Laronar kept quietly to himself, among the raiders, as the Varians tried to give them a speech.

The posh noble spoke of honor, and rescuing Anduin, while the grimy counterpart on a different but still equally well armored warhorse interrupted the speech, with a yell for Onyxia's head that inspired all present, and likely most of the Old Town, with the desire to slay a dragon. With that, Jaina Proudmoore and the other magi teleported them to Theramore, and the swampy morass it bordered.

The trip into the foul smelling bog was relatively quiet, and while many complained about the smell of swamp gas, Laronar found it to be comparable to flowers, after sitting in Stormwind for forty minutes. The first sign of trouble came as they passed into the southern end of the swamp known as the Dragonmurk. Roars filled the air, and the cooler Varian shouted again. "Her dragonkin come! Prepare for battle!"

Magical buffs appeared over all present, and boosted everything from intellect to stamina. The combination of it all almost reminded Laronar of how he'd felt during the Shifting Sands, and he started to understand how these foolhardy mortals survived the dens of evil they had apparently regularly cleared out. It was not all magic boosts that fed their hype though, for as the four legged wyrmkin covered in orange-red plate armor charged them, scimitars in each of their malformed hands, the adventurers kept the contingent of ranged Stormwind guards from being overwhelmed.

They saved their magic arrows for their real target, as the dragon's scales would be immune to non magical attacks, but regular arrows worked just as effectively on her army of minions. For his part, Laronar picked off the weaker ones with strikes to the back from the shadows, or aided those driven away from the group by three or more, evening the odds as he dove on them from behind, and aided the adventurer in question in dispatching the group, and catching up to the main force.

Many stragglers found themselves similarly drawn away, and Laronar was running with the sizable group, as they finally caught up to the initial charge, paused as they were at the gates to Onyxia's Lair. The carnage around them was impressive, and those adventurers who fell were soon raised back to life, by the healers within the group. When cast quick enough, and with strong enough spells, even death could not stop these heroes.

Broll and Jaina led them in, straight into the blades of four Onyxian Warders. They faced down two each, one using roots to great effect, as he had outside, the other, using a torrent of icy death meteors that pummeled the draconic roadblocks between her, and Anduin.

It did not take them long to find Anduin, for the foul spawn of Deathwing was dangling him over a clutch of eggs and snapping whelps, as the mortals arrived. Both Varians shouted his name, which made the dragon pause. Her claw went from dangling the morsel, to wrapping around him, one claw purposefully resting near his pale neck as she did.

"Now now, mortalssss...not another step...or he dies…"

"Don't listen! She's going to kill me anyway! Attack!" Laronar's opinion of the boy-turned-ruler rose, as he shouted, and the adventurers behind the dwarf known as Thargas Anvilmar shifted into two groups, as he gave them the signal to prepare. As they readied, the more rugged Varian threw one of his swords across the entirety of the lair, at the dragon's leg. Thargas and company were already charging, as the blade sank home through the dragonscale, and the Varian who was clearly better at fighting ran with them, making an impressive leap across the lair for his blade, and grimacing as the wounded dragon dropped his son into the nest of her own foul offspring.

Broll shifted into a Storm Crow, and grabbed the boy before the whelps got close, that is, until Onyxia saw him, and answered his heroism with dragonfire. Anduin fell again into the nest, but by that point, other members of Varian's squad surrounded him, and all became chaos, as the raid began firing at Onyxia, and she turned her attention, and flames, to them.

Thargas Anvilmar was a sight to behold, as he faced down the dragon. "Com' ye scaly bitch! I ain't done with ye an' yer foul babbies yet!" The dwarf leapt into one of her as yet unhatched egg clutches, once he had her eye, and smashed them to goo before her. Rage overcame the dragon, and an explosion of magic and air sent the mortal gnats battering somewhat uselessly at her scales flying, before she charged Thargas with the intent to tear him apart.

The gold and black plate clad dwarf was surprisingly nimble, dodging the snapping jaws of the dragon, before answering her strike with a smack from his similarly gold and black mace. The rest of the raid was soon on her again, and as more potent spells, and lingering bleeding cuts, started to take their toll, Onyxia decided to change the battle entirely. Her tail suddenly spun, sending Laronar, the other melee fighters, and Thargas, sailing into a nest of her hatchlings, eager to eat them.

She roared then, and the sound of it shook the lair, as the other unhatched eggs answered their mother's call, hatched into the world, and began their lives with the violence they craved. Putting down the mad, honking hatchlings made Laronar sick, and few of the other raiders seemed to be enjoying it, as their mother continued to scorch the group as yet not embattled in whelps with annoying shifts in flight pattern, and blast radius.

On Laronar's left, he heard "Enough…" Moments later, massive vines rose around them, shooting through the throats of the whelps, and ending their miserable existences before they could truly begin. Broll's attack did not stop there though, for from both sides, and around the lair, vines shot up in a similar manner, spearing the other whelps. Onyxia, who was again enraged by the slaughter of his children also found herself pinned, as the druid gave them all the chance to, finally, focus on her again.

"Fire!" The posh Varian shouted, and enchanted arrows sank into Onyxia's softer underbelly, soon followed by varied spells, from Fireballs to holy Smiting, each hammering the stunned dragon. The dragon was not done yet, however, for she glared at the druid responsible for the carnage, and instilled within his weak, malleable heart the fear that all mortals should have had, when it came to dragons. The spell faltered, the vines lowered slightly, and with an explosion of magma, Onyxia upended the field, scattered the raid, and sent everyone, Laronar included, flying into an increasingly more lava than rock area of her lair.

"It is long past time for the House of Prestor to replace the House of Wrynn…" Now alone with the Varians and Adnuin, both of whom had taken the chance to leap at her and their son when she was bound, Onyxia began chanting a spell that echoed through the chamber like her voice, and presumably, would end the Kings of Stormwind. Laronar's ear heard the nobler Varian shout something, light flashed within the cave, and as he shook off the remnants of the fear-inducing magic, and lava, he peeked over an upended boulder to see the High King of the Alliance, as armored as he was when the elves had first joined the Alliance, stride forth from the spell's mist, ancient elven war sword in hand, as he faced the dragon down.

Onyxia's rage rose, and as her throat lit with magma breath, the King of Stormwind leapt onto her head with no jump a normal human could mimic, and drove the blade into her skull, finally ending her, as she fell to the floor. The magma cooled rapidly, and Varian hugged Anduin, while the rest of the adventurers and guardsmen slowly recovered, healed themselves, and then began trading laughs and jokes, about how they'd finally killed a dragon after so many dungeons. Laronar never got their humor, and did not rejoin the humans on their march to Theramore, and a teleportation circle that would send them within marching distance of Stormwind, along with their prize, Onyxia's head.

Satisfied that his commitments were fulfilled, Laronar made to fly north, as the humans carried the head of the dragon from the cave, but he found himself stopped by Mathias Shaw once more, before he could. "That was some good claw work in there, Laronar. Not to mention some decent, and timely healing. SI:7 could use a druid of your talents."

Unlike most of the raiding party, Laronar was suspiciously not covered in ash and whelp blood, as it had fallen from him upon shifting forms. The druid pondered the human's offer, and then nodded. "I will aid you…" He looked skyward then, and spied a raven overhead. His mind convinced it to land on his outstretched arm, and he chanted a spell, that would bind the creature to his service when needed. "When you have need of me, send a letter using this raven. Whistle, and it shall come to you."

Shaw imprinted the whistle on the bird, and after receiving a berry from the druid, the raven hopped onto Shaw's shoulder. "He will journey to the Eastern Kingdoms with you, and will be able to hear your whistle from a decent distance, no matter how loud you actually make it." Laronar said, as the slightly unsettled Spymaster eyed the bird, who met his gaze in turn. "For now, I must return home. Safe journey, Shaw."

The Spymaster gave him a brief wave, before marching on alongside the adventurers and soldiers returning to Stormwind to enjoy their new status as dragonslayers. Laronar spied the entrance being blocked with vines as his owl form ascended in a spiral into the sky, and he headed for Ashenvale, and then the Moonglade, content that the Dragonmurk now had significantly less black dragons within it.

Several Months Later, Stormclaw Grove - Stonetalon Mountains

Upon returning to Hyjal, Laronar had been informed by the Guardians that his aid, while welcome, was no longer necessary. Evidently, the hierarchy of Restoration druids had been all too eager to replace what they called his 'outdated healing techniques' with their more modern spell variants. In terms of growth, they both worked equally well, the only difference was the toll his spell took on the caster, for one had to carefully draw life energy from nature around them, channel it through their body, and then into their target. Most druids of the Restoration branch did not have his kind of stamina, and he recognized Fandral's hand in the order for his removal from the healing efforts. It had been penned in his hand, but the smug bastard hadn't signed it. It had smelled of Staghelm, and Laronar knew his writing. He also knew the scent of saliva, and while the discolored patch on the parchment had gone unnoticed by the healing focused druids, he knew, as Fandral had known, that he would smell what the Archdruid had spat upon the paper, as a final, subtle insult.

Laronar did not even bother going to Nighthaven then, for he knew Staghelm's orders included shunning him. My'lanna had said as much upon his last visit, and as much as he enjoyed the tranquility of Darnassus, as his sister did, he was not overly fond of Teldrassil. The bastard offspring of Nordrassil had been doomed from the start. Unblessed by Ysera or Alexstrasza, surprising no one, Nozdormu had also refused to indulge Staghelm's arrogance. While Laronar would've normally found that amusing, it was depressing that such vaunted allies of old, who had stood with them against the demons and worse in ages past, now viewed them as impertinent mortals, worthy of naught but their scorn.

He had returned to his grove in the Stonetalon Mountains, which now played home to more elven druids than just he and Thal'darah. The Cliffwalker Tauren had remained friendly, despite the Horde's call to kill Alliance members on sight, in what they considered their territory. Over the better part of ten millennia, the healing energy he'd dumped into the westernmost forest of the area had started to spread. What had once been barren hills now were now home to an entire forest. He knew others had likely set up here, in the time he'd been gone, but the Keeper who had promised to watch and tend this area was still present.

Laronar had enough time to hunt, eat, and even nap before the Keeper had finally appeared, to tell him that there was a group of elves and tauren, druids all of them, who had asked to meet the 'old Shan'do'. He was then directed to the oldest part of the forest, and the one where his hut had been. It seemed fixed up, and used as a kitchen of sorts, and he had sighed, as he knew his stores of dried meat were either gone or eaten.

The group of druids had gathered by the old Moonwell, and had asked the old Ashen druid to train them. Evidently, the elves were either unproven Ashen, or Sharpclaws wishing to learn more, from the druid their patron seemed to favor. Thaon Moonclaw already had enough acolytes, and while they appreciated his combination of mana and feral forms, rumors about Stormclaw's persistent healing spells keeping him alive war after war had spread, among those who favored the Cat Form.

His hut was soon surrounded by other more permanent dwellings, as getting them out of tents and into some kind of comfortable lodging was the first on their master's list of tasks for them. He had each of them demonstrate how they hunted, and usually, Laronar found himself frowning, as the tauren druids tended to sprint straight at their foes, forgoing stealth entirely. While charging a target was useful for their form, their attacks were strongest when combined with the advantages of a strike from the shadows.

The students who needed to learn basic stealth techniques, he assigned to one of the Sharpclaws, while he took the rest of the mostly elven group at that point, and honed their strikes with what he had learned from Xuen. For several months, almost half a year, he trained them. When word of Silithus' awakening finally reached him, by way of one of Thal'darah's students, the news was unnerving in a way it hadn't been, the first time. Then, Laronar recalled, he'd been in the Dream, and Ashamane had been with him.

This time, when the news of the once more shifting sands spread through the elves of Kalimdor, he was awake for it, and prepared. He had no intention of dragging his inexperienced apprentices into a war with the bugs, but some of the older druids had fought in the last war in Silithus as well. It was those elves, and two of the tauren he deemed ready enough to not immediately die, that he offered to send.

They met up with Thal'darah's students, and Laronar led the lot of them south, to the Cenarion Hold, stopping only in Feralas on the way, to find Thaon's group, and move with them. They were already waiting by the portal when Laronar and the others descended, and he learned that the Alliance was helping as well. Not to be outdone, it seemed the Horde had answered the call to fight too, and both factions had all but ceased hostility, for the moment, as the Silithid returned with a vengeance. Somehow, they had tunneled past the Scarab Wall, and Laronar suspected that if the Scepter had been intact, that would not have happened. Fandral's rage had weakened the spell enough for the bugs to tunnel through, granted it had taken them a millennium.

Thaon was wielding Ashamane's Fangs this time, and as such, Laronar followed his lead. He was more than happy to give it to Thaon, as he had despised commanding in the last conflict. The commanders of the Alliance and the Circle this time had finer heads than Fandral, who by all accounts was staying in Darnassus during this resurgence. He sent adventure-filled elves their way, but beyond the Cenarion Infantry, he contributed little.

Laronar would live to regret not being more curious about what Staghelm was up to, that he would miss a chance for vengeance against the Qiraji, but in that strange time of forced camaraderie, after months of increasingly bloody skirmishes, the forces of the Horde and Alliance were focused on two things: gathering supplies, and finding the shards of the Scepter of the Shifting Sands. Laronar left that 'quest' to those crazy enough to willingly hunt down and face three dragons who had, according to rumor at least, fallen to some kind of peril unique to each of them.

Laronar's task, was more subtle. He arrived at the Cenarion Hold with his stealth favoring druids in tow, and almost immediately, he and Thaon were directed to different parts of the region. Laronar had heard of Baristolth in the first war, of how he had gone into the bug's hives and wrought havoc, repeatedly. How his actions had also earned him some favor with the Bronze Dragonflight, and how he had ultimately become one of their Dragonsworn, retaining his immortality, even as the rest of his race did not.

Laronar found he liked the elven warrior, for they were very similar in their manner, and each respected the other's service in the previous conflict. Anachronos had bestowed upon Baristolth a gift similar to what he'd given Laronar and the other druids who'd defended the entrance to the bronze dragon's whelping grounds. The old druid had found a few silver hairs in his mane of forest green since Nordrassil's sacrifice, but otherwise, his body remained as physically fit as it had been a thousand years in the past.

Baristolth tasked him and his four best prowlers to hit Hive Regal alongside him, for as in the last war, that particular hive was rapidly becoming the biggest, outside the city. Laronar found that having a commander who understood the usefulness of stealth tactics a nice change of pace from the irritation he'd felt under Staghelm, who had tossed him and his students at the waves of insects as callously as every other warrior he'd been commanding.

As hard as they struck the breeding caves of the Qiraji, the group of stealth fighters found that, without fail, they had regrown and resumed spawning warriors the next day. Though supplies were coming in from Ironforge and Orgrimmar regularly and in quite a bit of bulk, it would mean little if the Scarab Gate remained closed. What had started as a prison now became a useful shield the bugs retreated behind just long enough for their mortal adversaries to tire, and return to the Hold for a rest.

Eventually, Laronar found that his sister had also returned to the sands, as had quite a number of priests, old and young, female and male. It was strange seeing male elves in the garb of the Sisterhood of Elune, but Laronar welcomed their healing light all the same. He did not feel Elune's light as the night fell, but neither did her magic fail to heal him, as it had for quite a number of centuries.

He brought it up with Alaria one night, as their group rested by the Hold's Moonwell, and regained their spent mana. "I'm telling you sister, I think she may finally be open to forgiving me. Though, I know not how to continue on this path to redemption…"

Alaria snorted, and glared at her brother, for after several rather revealing chats with Shandris Feathermoon, she had a better understanding of what exactly her druidic brother had done to offend the Goddess of their people. She was not the only Priestess to have pleaded his case, it turned out. "You traded your inherent gifts for Goldrinn's favor, Laronar. You put a wolf above she who made us what we are today."

At that, Laronar scowled. "Calling Goldrinn a mere wolf is like comparing the light of Elune to a glowlamp. And you know that, sister. I do not see why the two must be at odds. Compared to several millennia past, Goldrinn is quite agreeable these days."

The war Priestess sighed, and washed her face with the water from Nordrassil, shining in the moonlight. "And yet, you cannot safely take his form even now. I've seen you try. The rage is always there, and it always will be. Elune knows this. She has a right to be upset. You traded her blessing for something you will never master."

The druid responded, as the rest of their unit either talked amongst themselves, or watched the brother-sister argument with mild interest. "One does not simply master a Wild God. That's not how they work. Much like Elune, they are patrons of mine, and much like Elune, their favors can be fickle. I know why I struggle to control the wolf form, both Goldrinn and your High Priestess have explained it. Even after removing my blessing, even after training to temper my rage, Goldrinn's fury is relentless, for the slight he perceived from your Goddess. It is not the Moon's place to judge Nature for embracing its natural state."

The Priestess' silver eyes narrowed, and she sighed as she stood, evidently done with the conversation. By contrast, Laronar remained as chill as he always was as he sat against the well, his tone calm, his face impassive, and his arguments rational. Alaria was having none of it, and neither was the Moon Goddess. "Brute savagery may make one most fit to survive Nature's harshness, but as you said, Goldrinn is no mere savage wolf. He has a mind. A spirit. A purpose. It is Elune's right to demand the best of all who revel in her light, and instead of embracing what he could be, much like you, Goldrinn insists on clinging to his nature, rather than moving beyond it, and becoming all the stronger for it. I see now why Elune persists in keeping her light from you. Thousands of centuries you have been without her warmth, and you have still learned nothing."

She stalked off then, silver glowing sword drawn, as she headed for the front lines of the escalating war. Warriors from the world over were battling to contain the Qiraji, even as they rested, and it seemed she intended to offer her blade's aid to those still fighting. The others around the Moonwell left soon after, leaving the druid alone once more, eyes on the night sky as he toked on his pipe, and wondered what exactly it might take to mend the rift between the Wolf and the Moon.

An idea crept into his mind, as he spied one of the newer male Priests of Elune's Priesthood. The ancient druid padded over to him, footsteps not making a single noise, and the poor man jumped, as the druid tapped his shoulder. "Pardon me, Brother, but I would seek the wisdom of a fellow male in Elune's service."

The Priest looked him over for a moment, before a look of recognition appeared on his beardless and, like most elves, not aesthetically unappealing face. The midnight blue haired elf gave him a small smile, but seemed as reserved as every other Elunite Priest he'd spoken with. "Shan'do Stormclaw...I heard of your efforts in Hive'Regal. What can I do for you? Your wounds seem well tended."

Laronar nodded. "They are. I have a question, actually. One that your female counterparts have ever refused to give me an answer to." The small smile faded from the other male's face, but Laronar pressed on. "How exactly does one...commune with Elune? I know half a hundred methods for contacting the Guardians of the Wilds, but for our people's own patron, I have never received a clear cut answer on the method. I wish to try, you see. I...think the Goddess may have words for me. Though, that would be a first in ten thousand years of existence...I believe it is worth trying."

The priest nodded. "I had heard of your...decision...to eschew our race's patron for more power from Goldrinn. You walk a fine line, Stormclaw. Many think you are already a Worgen, though you hide it well."

The intense amber gaze narrowed, slightly. "I do not bear the curse of the malformed Pack Form...if anything, I'm one of the only druids alive save for Shan'do Stormrage that can even enter the Pack Form and not go insane. I traded Elune's blessing for a closer tie to the Wilds...but I fear she may have mistaken my intent. Life flourishes best beneath the light, and even the cycle of night plays a part in nature's circle. I wish to bring nature and our race's patron closer together, for most of the Wild Gods call Elune an ally. It is Goldrinn specifically with whom the issue lies...and it is Goldrinn I would have words about, with her, if you would but show me the ritual for communing."

The priest looked skyward for a moment, and then seemed to nod to himself. "Very well. It is not a complex ritual...but it may not work for you, as you are not one of Her priests."

The druid kept the priest's gaze as he answered. "I will take my chances. Show me."

The pair walked towards the Moonwell then, and the priest dipped a small glass vial into the water before offering it to the druid along with a pair of incense sticks. "Pour this atop yourself, and then chant the Moon's Prayer for a full minute. I will leave you to speak with her...my duties require attending."

The druid thanked the priest as he walked off. He jabbed the incense sticks into the foul sand that marked the terrain even in the Cenarion Hold, and lit both with a simultaneous burst of Moonfire. Then, he poured the well water over his head and body as instructed, and his senses detected magic guiding it over his form as it wound its way down. Evidently, Elune wished to speak as well. Or that was how Laronar took it. Feeling slightly emboldened, he began chanting the ancient prayer of the Sisterhood, adjusting the language for modern times, and the inclusion of males as he muttered it.

As he felt the spell work, he sensed a presence within the back of his mind, from where he usually drew his mana and spells from. It was calm, serene even, but attentive. In his head, he heard a feminine voice, and he kept himself calm, as for the first time in his life, he realized it was Elune.

You have three questions, druid...ask them.

Mentally, he responded. "What must I do to mend the rift between yourself and Goldrinn?"

There was a lengthy pause, before he sensed mild amusement, and received an answer.

His fate...is not yours to change. Varian Wrynn...will make of him what he was always meant to be.

Laronar put aside wondering how the split-personality of the High King of the Alliance could ever hope to reach or help a Wild God as powerful as Goldrinn, as he pondered his next question. "Will I ever regain your favor?"

Another pause came, before the one word answer, both as hopeful as it was irritating. Yes.

Sighing deeply, the druid waited for elaboration, but none came. Finally, he asked his last question after formulating several others, but deciding not to ask them. "Will you watch over Alaria and Shandris in this latest of conflicts?"

Genuine warmth filled the druid, and he gasped slightly, as he realized he knew it. For a brief moment, he felt the light of the Moon, which he'd lacked for quite a number of millennia now, as the answer echoed in his head.


The warmth left just as quickly as it had come, and with it, went his connection to the Goddess of the Kaldorei. He opened his eyes, to find that the incense had burned low, and his cheeks had stripes of liquid that hadn't been there when he'd started. With a heavy sigh, made slightly lighter by the knowledge of his eventual, and hopefully imminent redemption, he strapped on the leather straps engraved with runes, which criss-crossed over the dark, purple-skinned, muscle-bound chest, and flashed orange as they empowered him once more for battle. He rose, as he headed back to the ongoing war. It felt less hopeless than the last one, though the scope had been extended. Evidently, the bug's reach had extended across Kalimdor over the long centuries, for their mounds and foul crystals had reportedly popped up all over the continent. Faith was a new experience for the druid, but he found it preferable to the perceived coldness he'd believed Elune had for him, and though he did not notice, it made him fight all the harder, as the sands of Silithus once more were drenched in the blood of bugs and mortals.