Mentzelia’s Harvest Witch Transmogrification

Most characters need a sense of identity for me to be able to play them beyond the start levels, without a sense of their hopes and dreams, their hobbies and hates, I tend to abandon them. My Worgen Druid had the opposite problem. I had a clear personality and history in my head, I knew what she looked like both before the bite and after but I couldn’t quite get my head around the sniffles and the vacant puppy look from the front teamed with rabid, rolling eyes and fangs from the side. Thanks in part to Mr Harpy’s decision to level a new warrior rather than transfer his existing one, plus the fun which is running dungeons at the correct level with just two people, Mentzelia has managed to make it to level 82 and Deepholm.

I come from a long line of green fingered gardeners, unfortunately I don’t seem to have inherited it as the only things I seem to be able to grow are herbs and cacti but because of that, the idea of the Harvest Witch took root in fertile ground. Even before she was attacked, she preferred solitude, wandering from village to village helping farmers with their crops for a bed and a good meal, throwing in a fortune telling by the fire. Now she finds the company of Humans uncomfortable, knowing she holds a mirror up for them, showing what might come to pass. That said, she still pursues the life she knew before, traveling from farm to farm, homestead to homestead, helping where she can, her crow and her cards her only necessities. There is a practicality about her, dark clothing to hide the mud and the blood. When you walk the borderlands between life and death, it’s not just your green fingers people pay for, but birthing skills both livestock and children.

She’s drawn to the spaces in between, hedgerows, hollows, glades inside forests, the places where most people quicken their pace and glance backwards not sure what they’re looking for but glad it’s not in view. The scythe serves two purposes, the reaping of crops done properly with skills handed down from generation to generation but also it symbolizes the acceptance that death is merely apart of the circle. We all live and then we die, our blood and bones serving to fertilize the earth.

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When needs must and she has to visit Stormwind, she spends as much time as possible lingering amongst the dead. Reading the cards in the shade or conjuring flowers on the graves of the forgotten, her crow watching from a headstone or perched on a branch.

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  • Shoulders: Cured Mammoth Hide Mantle
  • Chest: Acid Eaten Vest
  • Scythe: Battle Scythe
  • Gloves: Riplash Gloves
  • Belt: Yojamba belt of the Wave Crest

Gilneas is her true home though and she spends far too much time wandering the ruins remembering the life she had before it was all ripped away. Visiting the farms, now deserted or deep underwater where she learnt her craft at her Grandmother’s knee. The rose bushes she helped cultivate to help a local lad snare his heart’s desire are along gone, even magic can’t defeat salt water but the memories of them, their petals red as blood remain. Those trips to the marshlands to obtain herbs for fevers and climbing cliffs for hardy plants clinging by a root to the rock face, these are all memories which belong to another, to the woman she was before someone made her a wolf. Control can be learnt, the ability to twist her body in foreign shapes well that came naturally enough especially when practised under cool and calming Nightelf eyes, when your normal state is somewhere between a Wolf and Human, becoming a whole cat, a whole bear, a whole stormcrow, that’s easy. It’s the borderlands, the in-betweens, the shades of grey where the danger lies, not wolf, not Human but Worgen.

Gilneas too reminds her of the dark days before they “cured” her, when she was nothing but her instincts, the need to hunt twisted and made pleasurable by that undercurrent of cruelty which lies buried deep in most. Now, those instincts are suppressed… unless they run as that suggests the chase, suggests prey and sinking your snout deep into gushing blood, tasting the iron tang on your tongue and knowing that what you’re lapping up is life itself. She knows that many of her kind avoid their birth place like the plague, not wanting to be reminded of what they did, of what they became before Krennan Aranas managed to reign in the sanguine darkness but that’s why Mentzelia makes her pilgrimages. That basic understanding, that need to remember who we are and what we are capable of is crucial to both the people of Gilneas and also to the Witches of the Harvest, spells whispered once in secret, passed down from mother to daughter can now be voiced aloud but the message underlying the song murmurs never forget and never drop your guard.

If I ever get around to transferring my sketches for a Warcraft Tarot set from scraps of paper into real cards, the Harvest Witch would I think be the the Hermit, with the rocky cliffs of Gilneas behind her and one of those wonderful orange lamps in her hand.

Stand by Me: Thoughts on Instant Casts in Warlords

If the sky that we look upon
Should tumble and fall
All the mountains should crumble to the sea
I won’t cry, I won’t cry
No, I won’t shed a tear
Just as long as you stand, stand by me

From  the song Stand by Me.

I know Blizzard are going to be posting a blog post about the up coming Healing changes either later today or tomorrow but thought I’d throw in a quick post about potential changes first partly because I drafted it a week ago and also because wild speculation is always fun.

This post was sparked by a comment of Prinnie’s

But now, apparently, the WoD thinking is, “CASTING WHILE MOVING IS BAD.”

which only took firm hold in my head later on when I read this on MMO-Champion.

Raid encounters will have more interesting mechanics for healers, allowing them to avoid the boredom that comes with just spamming the same skill over and over.

I must admit these two so innocent looking sentences when added together have me considering a whole new career as some sort of dpser. For interesting mechanics my mind wanders back to Instructor Razuvious and that sinking feeling I’d get whenever we entered Naxxramas, made ten times worse by the memory of the night where I effectively had to solo tank him due to our other Priest’s mindcontrol deciding not to work whilst our raid was working on Immortality. I think of General Vexaz, a fight I hated as a Holy Priest and who can forget Leotheras the Blind and his inner demons which were a whole lot of pain to kill as healers and of course I think of vehicle fights in general.

Now I’m not denying the days of being able to spam Circle of Healing and win were boring in the extreme but I also don’t know many healers who like having the success or failure of raid depend on their ability to deal with “interesting mechanics”. I know we lost healers in Wrath over mindcontrol and also over tank cooldowns because they couldn’t cope with the fallout of timing it wrong and being yelled at by our angry raid leader, they just wanted to stand at the back and heal.

In a conversation with my Guild Master the other day, the phrase “interesting times” was used  and certainly with every detail which drips out,  it seems accurate in the extreme.

In terms of casting on the move:

Holy Priests

  • Holy word: Chastise or Holy Word: Serenity (depending on Chakra state)
  • Renew
  • Power word: Shield
  • Cascade or Divine Star or Halo (Talents)
  • Prayer of Mending
  • Circle of Healing
  • Power word: Solace
  • Desperate Prayer or Spectral Guise (Talents)
  • Levitate
  • Holy Nova (Glyph)
  • Guardian Spirit
  • Shadowfiend
  • Power Infusion (Talent)
  • Void Tendrils or Pysfiend (Talents)
  • Angelic Feather (Talents)
  • Shadow word: Pain
  • Fear
  • Void Shift
  • Dispel
  • Purify
  • Leap of Faith

That’s 21 abilities that depending on my talents and glyph choices I could cast whilst running for my life. Out of that list, I currently have access to 19 (don’t have angelic feathers or power infusion on my Holy Priest) and 9 of them are ways in which I can increase the health pool of other people. Is that too many? Perhaps, I would definitely see no harm in adding a half second cooldown to the level 90 talents. There is probably room for Prayer of Healing and Circle of Healing to merged in some way, perhaps by making Prayer of Healing smart rather than having the party limitation and adding a small cooldown to stop it being spammed. When you’re AoE healing you are unlikely to being either of the instant cast Chakra power words, so they are fine. Tank cooldowns like Guardian Spirit and Void Shift I feel should be instant cast as they should be reactive not cast at x percentage of the way through the fight. The same is true of Leap of Faith, especially from a PvP perspective. Void tendrils/Pysfiend/Fear don’t really have raid uses and shadow word: pain isn’t likely to kill anyone. Holy Nova is little more than a gimmick, I have it because it’s still useful for finding stealths in PvP as well as stopping people tagging flags.

So in terms of what is useful in healing most aoe raid encounters we’re looking at:

  • Renew
  • Cascade or Divine Star or Halo
  • Prayer of Mending
  • Circle of Healing
  • Guardian Spirit
  • Void Shift
  • Shadowfiend
  • Power Solace if talented but the others require a lot less time management

which is a much shorter instant cast list.

I’m not going to do a comparison for every Healing Class, but thought I’d have a brief look at what’s available to a couple of other classes that I play.

Resto Druid

  • Rejuvation
  • Lifebloom
  • Swiftmend
  • Wild Growth
  • Ysera’s Gift/ Renewal/Cenarion Ward (Talents)
  • Wild Mushrooms
  • Wild Mushroom’s Bloom
  • Moonfire
  • Faerie Fire
  • Barkskin
  • Ironbark
  • Wild Charge
  • Nature’s Swiftness
  • Nature’s Cure
  • Innervate
  • Disorienting Roar/Ursol’s Vortex/Mighty Bash (Talents)
  • Stampeding Roar
  • Force of Nature (if Talented for)
  • Mass Entanglement/Typhoon (Depending on Talent choices)
  • Soothe
  • Nature’s Grasp

I deliberately tried to avoid anything which required cat or bear form but that still left me with 21 instant cast spells from the Druid. Like the Holy Priest a good few of those are utility spells and many match up, for example I suspect shadowfiend is instant cast because innervate always has been. Mass Entanglement too might be further down the tree than Void Tendrils but the two spells are very similar in every way apart from graphics. Of these stampeding roar and nature’s grasp definitely shouldn’t have cast times in my opinion as this negates their purpose, i.e. helping you escape.

Mistweaver Monk

  • Healing Spheres
  • Chi Wave/Zen Sphere (Talents)
  • Renewing Mist
  • Detox
  • Paralysis
  • Nimble Brew
  • Expel Harm
  • Thunder Focus Tea
  • Chi Brew
  • Tiger’s Lust
  • Roll
  • Uplift
  • Revival
  • Dampen Harm/Diffuse Magic
  • Summon Jade Statue
  • Disable
  • Ring of Peace/Charging Ox Wave/Leg Sweep
  • Chi Torpedo/Rushing Jade Wind/Xuen
  • Life Cocoon
  • Zen Flight
  • Blackout Kick
  • Tiger Palm
  • Touch of Death
  • Grapple Weapon
  • Mana Tea (can be glyphed to be instant)

So in the notes on MMO-Champion, I did notice that they’re planning on removing Healing Spheres as an actual spell because:

We’re removing it because of the bad gameplay it provided, despite its power. Healing Sphere was spam clicking on an intended target’s feet, trying to account for their movement and latency, tight hit area.

Which personally I disagree with, never having had issues and would rather be in control of where I place my healing tools so that there is a small chance people other than myself will actually use and benefit from. It would also make the current Proving Grounds somewhat harder for Mistweaver Monks.

I find the fact that Summon Jade Statue is instant cast when Lightwell has a cooldown interesting but mostly these spells fall within definite categories. Each one has a hot of some sort, spells which deal with mana regeneration, i.e. innervate, shadowfiend, power word: solace tend to be either baseline instant cast or have the ability to be modified in that way. All single target dispels are instant too and so are movement modifiers whether that’s clearing snares like Nimble Brew or just increasing speed like Stampeding Roar, Roll or Angelic Feathers.

These lists are actually longer than I expected them to be given these are just abilities you can cast whilst moving and perhaps more importantly, they highlight the fact that too much choice can sometimes be a bad thing, especially when it comes to balance. I’ve been watching a quite a few PvP streams on Twitch lately and whilst you tend not to notice it when you’re the one running around chased by three male Bloodelves all wearing plate, carrying very big swords and spamming /lick macros, one grumpy Orc who can’t stop spitting and a gossip of Goblins, spectating on PvP shows just how much of it is done with instants these days. In fact I suspect that’s the issue, each expansion has seen huge amounts of interrupts and crowd control given to every class and in order to counter that, everyone has been given instants to actually be able to cast something. Pare back the control and there is much less need for instants in any aspect of the game.

On the ease of Leveling: Worgens, Whining and Warriors

It took a while but I finally found a hook to make me enjoy leveling my little Worgen Druid.

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Ever since level 40 ish, we’ve been running every single dungeon  as a two person group and so far, 32 levels later it’s been a blast. Not only has this helped me feel a lot more comfortable playing Balance (a spec I haven’t touched since Wrath) but I think this has helped crystallize my feelings towards the intended Proving Grounds change. Dungeons whilst leveling are too easy by far. We’re running a Prot Warrior and Balance Druid combo and haven’t had any issues even when I’ve accidentally thrown mobs at other packs whilst trying to pour a drink one handed. I know that I’ve played a Druid since vanilla and yes, Mr Harpy has tanked on a Warrior since Molten Core including 25 man heroic progression fights in the past but this isn’t about ability to play, we couldn’t fail if we wanted to. I’m not saying that will continue all the way to level 90 but we know that we can two man the first Pandaria dungeons because we’ve already done it at the right level albeit on different classes.  Yes, it’s leveling but that is meant to be where you learn to play, having to expand your toolbox usage with every new spell you get and personally I don’t think it’s fair to set the bar so low below the level cap and then suddenly force players to jump through hoops in order to essentially run the same 5 man content just tuned harder.

The game should be progressive, every 10 levels or so everything should get harder so you have to think about what you’re doing. However we know that with the ability to buy level 90s,  if anything the lower levels will get easier not harder which is going to contribute to the issues we already face in group content. If you can either faceroll your way to 90 or hand over your credit card then yes that does mean that there will be some people who struggle in 5 mans either as new players or on new classes but them having obtained silver in test which can be learnt by rote without the random input of players is pointless.  Without a challenge, there is no purpose… but that challenge should not be artificially inserted 99 levels too late and worse input in such a way that it doesn’t fully reflect on what you’ll actually be asked to do in a heroic dungeon. Why not just tune the normals correctly so that they require some thought  and quite possibly some crowd control and then limit entry to the heroic versions to people who have completed the majority of the normals*. That way people will be familiar with said dungeons, will have obtained loot which will help them run the heroics and more importantly will have played with real people.

On our road to Northrend, we also took a brief detour to Karazhan to see how that had changed, given that Mr Harpy tanked him way back in the first few weeks of the Burning Crusade on a warrior with similar health to his new alt.

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Yep, a picture is worth a thousand words. The only thing which hasn’t changed is the lack of a mount in the loot. In fact I suspect whilst we stopped here and went back to doing 5 man content, the only fight we might found painful would have been Chess but since that is soloable even that would doable.

On a slightly less whiny note, I’d forgotten how beautiful the Old Kingdom dungeons were. Who needs a Garrison, I’m planning on living here.

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*I would have said every one but the random dungeon queue adds an annoyance factor to that.

Proving a Point – Thoughts on the Proving Grounds

  • You will need a Silver Proving Grounds medal in a given role in order to queue for random matchmaking for a HeroicWarlords dungeon. If you form a premade group, you can zone in regardless and no such requirement applies.

From here.

To begin, I’m not knee-jerkingly against this nor am I super excited. I don’t (unlike a fair number of WoW Insider’s readers) think that the sky is falling but I’m not convinced that it’s the correct way to fix the cesspit which random encounters can often be. I do on the other hand enjoy doing the Proving Grounds but that’s because I find it interesting to try and push my characters.

Balance:

This is a tricky one, especially at the start of an expansion when everyone is essentially under-geared and adjusting to new spells and talents. I know from talking to guildmates that most of them have faith that if Blizzard put importance on this aspect of the game, that they will ensure that it’s balanced but I look at the Arena ladders and find myself questioning this.  To quote from the Godmother:

What I really don’t understand is why the whining has to start even now, because according to ‘people’ the Proving Ground mechanic is broken and ineffective for many classes. When I hear this, I must admit I find myself thinking one of two things:

1. You need to try harder.
2. You need to play better.

Now I fully subscribe to the principle behind this comment, there is always room for improvement and certainly on a personal level I’m far harder on myself than anyone else but the truth tends to be that certain classes perform better than others in certain situations and trying harder will only get you so far. I imagine it will be possible to get silver on every class and spec in-game but the skill cap is likely to be higher on some than others, remember for example at the start of TBC when Paladin tanks made the Shattered Halls seem trivial compared to the other tanks. Then there is the discrepancy between specs within a class and their scaling potential. Mr Harpy only plays fire on his Mage (long story don’t ask) and admits that despite having easily obtained gold on his dps monk that he would find it well nigh impossible to repeat that feat on his Fire Mage because Fire needs a far higher item level to come into it’s own than the capped Proving Grounds. Should he however give in to the cold side, I suspect he could tick it off on his Mage. My Priest is Holy, I’d rather play Shadow than Disc but it’s likely that when we’re newly dinged, one of my available healing specs will be easier to hit the mark than the other simply because of the nature of the game. This perhaps becomes more of an issue as the game progresses through an expansion. By the time we’re two or three patches down the line, class balance will have changed especially to factor in how some perform with the max item level available and it’s here we might start seeing the real casualties of this change when newly dinged players on a class which scales too well with gear start trying a gear capped encounter. It really depends where the bar is set.

Learning Curve:

Does the Proving Grounds teach you to play? As it currently stands, my answer would have to be yes, it does to a degree. Certainly the Healer challenge requires you to prioritize targets and perhaps more importantly think about your toolbox as a whole, i.e crowd control and interrupts if your class has them however I’d also argue that the activity displayed in the screenshot below teaches the exact same thing in a far more fun and random fashion:

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However in most of the Heroics I have been dragged through, I haven’t needed to cc anything unless I was two manning it as a tank and healer combo (whilst it was current content of course). I’d also say that the Healing one focuses too much on mana control, something which is not needed to such an extent in any other aspect of the game.

People need to be invested in doing something for the right reasons otherwise the game becomes a chore and massively frustrating. I’d also say that people have to be in the right and receptive frame of mind to learn the proving grounds lessons, otherwise it’s nothing more than a paper exercise. You learn the required answers, you tick them off and promptly forget them. There is also the argument that it’s only the really challenging lessons which teach you anything and therefore if Silver is tuned too easily then it’s pointless for 99 percent of the community. Of course the opposite then runs the risk of being impossible for far too many of the player base but then there are ways around that, like playing with guildmates.

Character basis or Account-wide:

Silver needs to be required on every character you wish to queue with, at least until part way through the expansion in my book. Enchantments and gems are a big part of the problem in random content, people are focused on the fact that they will get better, shinier, purpler stuff so don’t bother with the entry gear and this is part of the mindset which needs breaking and rebuilding. The armory provides a list of what is missing as a sort of mini audit of your character and you shouldn’t be able to queue to the proving grounds making sure the basics are covered.

There is also difference between classes, even when covering the same roll and this is especially true of melee versus caster dps. I’m far better at playing casters than I am melee dps and certainly I imagine that getting silver on say a Mage or a Warlock would be considerably easier for me than doing so on a Rogue or Warrior. Therefore I should have to prove my mettle as a bare minimum on the type of dpser I wish to queue to random Heroics on but ideally on a character by character basis.

Circumvention:

If your guildmates can carry you regardless and there is no bar to entering any other form of content, I question what’s the point. 5 mans are indeed a part of the game and I know from most “normal” people, that they encompass a large part of said game but if we’re trying to tackle the obnoxious, the lazy and the “don’t give a damn” brigade then surely this needs to go further. That’s before we even look at the potential for cheating this. Back in Vanilla with the Hunter quests, one of my Guild’s hunter’s completed the quest chain for alts, random Hunters on the server and pretty much anyone willing to supply their log-in details and pay his often fluctuating price. The cynic in me could easily see this happening again if it’s hard enough to be worthwhile. I know Mr Harpy and of course the seller of so many bows didn’t have an issue completing said quest but so many others did.

In conclusion:

All of this is semantics really because I don’t do Heroic Dungeons as I’m too scared that there will  angry people who will blame me rather than looking inward if we can’t stampede the whole place in three seconds flat but I feel that Proving Grounds whilst fun shouldn’t be linked so much to getting gear. The biggest issue I feel with random group activities is the rage you often find there and this won’t do anything to fix that, in fact people might actually be worse because they feel that as Blizzard have effectively “gated” content that everyone should be able to play better. Perhaps a more productive use of Blizzard’s time would be make leveling require a bit of thought, even if it’s only between levels 90 and 100 so that people hit the level cap with an understanding of what their class is capable of and more importantly that overwhelming desire to be the best they can be.

Herstory – The Women of the Scarlet Crusade

I’ve always had a a thing for the Scarlet Crusade, probably for the same reason I have a Templar crush in Dragon Age and so when I was collecting the Teleport: Dalaran Crater spell on my Mage, something occurred to me.

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Of all these statues, three of them represent women. None of those women are mentioned anywhere else in game and all we know about them is what is contained on the tiny plaques beneath their stony feet.

valeatwinblades

holiasunshield

yanabloodspear

So I was thinking, following on the from the fun I had when Matty challenged me to write a backstory for Rona Greenteeth, would anyone like to join me in creating a slightly more fleshed out story for these clearly interesting sounding women?

If they are worth a lore question on the Timeless Isle, then surely they deserve more than a few lines of text.

The Pre Expansion Bucket List – 2 months in

(new additions are blue, completed items are in red).

Non-character specific

  • Reach 14000 achievement points. Currently at 13565 with plenty of achievements almost finished.
  • Get a Magical pet to 25. Done. Basil the Twilight Fiendling has reached his 25th season.
  • Get an Elemental pet to 25. Done. The annoying Audreytwo otherwise known as the Singing Sunflower also reached the level cap.
  • Get 30 Pets to level 25
  • Defeat Garrosh and my stupid lack of self confidence at the same time. I beat him in Hearthstone.. does that count?
  • Make a decent amount of gold to enter the expansion with. I hate being broke even more than I hate farming.
  • Explore Vashj’ir properly. This is the only exploring achievement I still haven’t completed. Done by my Gnome rogue so now I never need return unless I want to!

vashjir

Dulcamara

  • Make friends with everyone on the farm. Done and as it turned out, it was surprising easy. I just spent a few minutes flying around in between doing the cooking daily as well as heading to the Valley for some between battlegrounds buried treasure pick ups.

friendsonthefarm

  • Get Cooking to 6oo, do the Master of the Ways and pick up the Cooking School Bell
  • Farm the other 8000 Dinosaur Bones I require for the mount
  • Complete rank 6 in the Brawler’s Guild as a Mistweaver. Done. I’m now working my way through rank 7.
  • Get Endless Healer on the Proving Grounds.
  • Master of Alterac Valley, only 33 graveyards to go.

Snowflower

  • 35 reputations ticked off. 
  • hit 40 exalted reputations. (I’m currently at 37 out of 40 – thinking Anglers, Pandas and Wildhammer)
  • Exalted with the Oracles
  • Collect Oracle Eggs until one miraculously turns into a Dragon. 
  • Fish up the remaining coins I need from the Dalaran fountain.
  • Argent Tournament goodies. I need more tokens to be able to buy the mounts I still have outstanding. Still quite a long way to go here although I did score myself a Unicorn Mount.
  • Finish up Frostbitten

frostbitten

Briarrose

  • Briarrose is my long forgotten original Druid currently rusting on a massively imbalanced (not in her favour) PvP server, stuck at lv 73 she needs some love mostly because she has awesome bits and bobs in her bank and can rightfully wield the original vanilla PvP set. Sure the Druid version isn’t my cup of tea but I am rather partial to the staves so she needs to find herself some Boomkin gear and get slaughtering.

Calantha

  • Finish farming the Oshu’gun Crystal Powder I need (in the region of 300ish) to grab the two Halaa mounts. I already have the tokens you get from pvp, it’s just the grind I’ve been putting off.

Mentzelia

  • Get my Worgen Druid to level 90 
  • Farm her a transmogrification that I’m happy with

Anann

  • Level so that I can tame one of these beauties. Very much a work in progress. She’s currently level 30 and parked in Ashenvale.

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I’m off on holiday from Thursday onwards so am hoping to tick off quite a lot of this list, focusing especially on the alts.

Storytime: Rona Greenteeth

A few days ago Matty challenged me, the idea being that we would both write a back story for Rona Greenteeth. Her take on one of the Darkmoon Faire’s more interesting characters can be found here. Mine is below:

“And that’s how I wound up here”, the Nightelf paused, taking another mouthful of cheap beer. Her silvered eyes glittered like searchlights as she raked the rest of the group with her gaze, “come on, cowards, who is next?” No one moved, arms clasped around knees, faces impassive in the shadows, the motley collection of orphans and thieves which comprised the company of the Darkmoon Faire sat in silence. “Rona…. what about you, come closer to the fire and tell us your story”. Caught just outside the circle of bodies, the Undead froze. Scenting safety in numbers, the rest turned, encouraging, pulling her towards the firelight.

“I don’t know what to say. I don’t have a story… I don’t have a life outside the Faire”.

“Start at the beginning”, the Nightelf said, her voice tinged with mockery, “Here, I’ll begin for you…. Once upon a time there was a little girl called Rona”, her voice trailed off leaving a pause filled by nothing but the crackle of the burning logs and faint hiss of glowflies.

“Once upon a time there was a little girl called Rona who lived by a pond with her mother and sister. Every night, we’d come home from school and lie in the moonlight, our fingers trailing through the water. Distorting the reflections, rippling them til they looked three weeks drowned. Jenny, my sister, she loved the water even more than I did. It was almost impossible to tell what was waterweeds and what was her long hair streaming through the glistening and glittering water”. Rona sighed, her mind drifting back through the long damp years. “When we hit 12 or so, everything changed. I wanted to spend time with my friends, not to suffocate in the weeds and water with just my mother and my sister for company. Jenny though, she got more and more obsessed with the pond. Said it talked to her, promised her things, wanted things. It’s weeds were like fingers, always touching, always prodding. We managed though, we were a family at least …. until the children started to go missing”.

“Oh no, you can’t stop there. It’s starting to get interesting”.

“I’ll tell it at my pace or not at all”, Rona straightened her bony back and took the proffered bottle. “That summer was a frightening one. No more drifting home from school across the fields, no more lingering in the lanes or dawdling beneath the laden apple trees. They talked of monsters who walked the roads disguised as men and of things which are not quite as they appear to be. They planted briarthorn to keep away evil and hung wreaths of flowering garlic above the lintels and yet still the children vanished. My friend Lucy, she was the last to go missing. Lucy with her red plaits and easy grin, freckles melting into freckles. One minute she was there, laughing, her scarlet satchel swinging behind her and next …. nothing at all. Just an empty space. With hindsight though, I think I always knew. They’d almost got it right with their talk of disguises and masks. When you stare into a mirror whether that’s glass or freezing water, that’s not quite your face you see. It’s altered, subtly perhaps but still we see what we want to see. The good sister, the gentle sister, not what lurks underneath like weeds ready to drown you in the cold truth”.

Rona bit her lip and took a gulp of the burning liquid. “I couldn’t sleep the night Lucy disappeared. I tossed and turned for what seemed like hours but the air was thick, suffocating. I needed fresh air, a cool breeze on my face, to run my fingers through the pond water. Lying in the bullrushes, I heard them arguing. My mother berating Jenny, telling her to control herself, to be reasonable rather than choosing those too close to home. Jenny, yelling back, telling her that the waters couldn’t be denied. All to a soft soundtrack of lapping water. Peeking through the weeds, I saw them carrying a satchel back into the house and in that moment, my childhood sank in those black waters”.

The fire had burnt low, bodies were huddled closer now both for warmth and to ensure they heard every word.

“What I did next, I’ve regretted ever since. I had to know you see. I dived down into the depths, to where the weeds twisted like hangman’s ropes and even the fish darted in shoals rather than linger alone. I found her, laid out like a Queen. A coronet of sweet reed grass twisted in her hair and a bridal bouquet of stranglekelp clasped in her cold dead hands. She wasn’t alone though, oh, no my best friend Lucy would never be alone again, guarded as she was by six skeletons, one for each of the other missing children, their bones picked white by passing fish and water rats. Anger grasped at my heart with it’s long bony fingers, powering me through the water and then speeding me through the lanes to the town, barefoot and soaking in my heavy gown. At first they didn’t understand. Evil isn’t the neighbour, the girl you taught to read doesn’t steal your child away, the woman who makes your winter coat isn’t a murderess but truth is like a stone, it has a habit of shattering the accepted into tiny fragments, which when put back together show not the reflection but the reality.”

A sigh ran through the ensembled group.

“They burnt them, my mother and sister both. There by the pond and with each gust through the trees, the wind sounded like children laughing.”

Rona’s last words were punctuated by the fire breathing it’s last and as she stopped talking, the embers glowed red once before collapsing into black dust. “Oh no you don’t. What happened next?”, the Nightelf’s tone was indignant. “I told the whole story, an entire skeleton from my cupboard if you will, not just a finger bone’s worth”. Rona gave what passed for a wintry smile, “Patience my dear, patience. I thought you Elves were meant to have that in spades. Tomorrow night perhaps, when the wolves howl in the forest and the fire burns hot like my sister’s pyre, then I’ll tell you what happened next”. With that, the old woman rose and walked back into the shadows, leaving her audience gazing open mouthed after her.

——————–

Perhaps there is more or maybe Rona is just the Undead version of Scheherazade, desperate not to be thrown to the worgs. Only time will tell.