Fandom: World of Warcraft
Warnings: Some bad language, some damp weather.
Disclaimer: Fan fiction, not for profit.
Summary: The ways of amphibians can be inscrutable.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
The mage dodged a slow leak from the ceiling, straight into a faster one. "Drat it," he said.
"Shh," said the warlock. He didn't bother to whisper, and the sound echoed off the damp walls. Hundreds, or perhaps only dozens, of feet above them the weight of Coilfang Reservoir pressed upon the ceiling. Drip. Drip. Drip. The mage looked up nervously and wished, as he did every month, that he was somewhere else. "It's not here again," he said. "Let's go home."
"We've hardly started."
"It's the wrong day," the mage said, knowing the gambit would fail.
The warlock shook his head. "You know the demon comes out on the full moon."
"Which moon? I've seen as many as six here in Outland, and at least once five of them full at the same time. Are you sure--"
"I'm the warlock," said the warlock. "I think I know what demons do, thank you. They come out at the full moon. And it was a full moon a year ago when it attacked me."
"Two full moons actually."
"And it will be out tonight, and this month we're going to find it and kill it and lay it to rest once and for all."
Drip. Drip. Drip. Cold water ran down the back of the mage's neck. He shook his head, and caught sight of something moving along the wall. "There," he said. "There it is!"
The warlock turned and looked. A small green frog hopped past them.
"Here's your chance," the mage said. "Kill it."
The warlock turned away. "That's not it."
"That's the frog, I'm sure of it."
"That is not the demon frog," the warlock said firmly. "The one that attacked me. The one that, this month, we're going to get for sure if you would just shut up and do your job."
The mage did not roll his eyes. Eleven previous full-moon expeditions into the naga camps under Coilfang had taught him, if nothing else, that to display any frivolity toward the demon frog would just stretch the pain out longer. "It's not going to be here again this month," he said. "How long do frogs live, anyway? It's probably dead by now."
"It's not dead. If it were dead I'd know it." The warlock walked around a puddle, holding the edge of his cape, a sequined cloak with gnoll-fur trim, carefully above the water. "Haven't I seen it in my nightmares every night for a year now?"
"You don't even remember the fight, how can you see the frog in your nightmares?"
"How can I not when it marked me like that? It was an epic battle. Epic, I tell you."
"I was the one who told you the details, as I remember."
"Demons wipe memories." The warlock waved away the objection with one perfectly manicured hand. "But I do remember how I woke up the next morning and found the beast had totally ruined my best boots." He pointed to his right foot, where a charred black gouge scarred the pink brocade. "And I was mortally wounded--"
"No you weren't, it was a first-degree burn at worst."
"Mortally wounded in my foot," said the warlock, pointing, "and my leg," he continued, pointing, "and up here all the way to my--"
"I was there," the mage said rather quickly, "I know where you got burned, you don't need to show me. Okay, so the demon frog attacked you, can't you just let it go?"
"You see that," said the warlock, indicating the faint scar, "and you want to tell me to let it go?"
"I see that and I want to wash my eyes out with essence of pain."
"And the night elf priestesses that were with us haven't spoken to me since. Probably because I failed in my warlockish duty and didn't defeat the demon."
"You can't blame the frog for that."
"They wanted me," said the warlock. "Before this happened."
"Didn't I say you don't need to show me? Twice?"
"They were twins. Twin night elf priestesses and they were completely hot for me. I could tell."
"Could you cover that up again, please?"
"That frog," said the warlock, readjusting his clothes, "cost me pain, humiliation, and night elf twins, and it will pay. Oh, how it's gonna pay."
"Every month you say that, and every month we get cold, wet, pinched by bogstroks, beaten up by nagas, and we never see so much as half a demon frog footprint. It's been a year. Let it go."
For answer the warlock whirled the sequined cloak with the gnoll-fur trim dramatically about his shoulders and walked off. The mage sighed and followed.
They passed the side corridor where nine months ago a group of naga children had thrown clam shells at them and laughed at the sequined cloak with the gnoll-fur trim, and the now-empty group of slave cages where seven months ago the naga guard had run screaming from the warlock's succubus ("He must be gay," the warlock had said. "Or it could be that he doesn't like her whipping him with that painlash," the mage had said. "No," the warlock had said, "definitely gay.") They edged cautiously into the room where three months ago they had walked in on two naga aquamancers, a Broken slave, and a large pot of whipped cream (the slave had been the angriest) and, finding it unoccupied, passed through. The hall beyond, where two months ago they had been set upon by a pack of bogstroks in the dark, was now brightly-lit by naga torches. Perhaps they hadn't been the only ones to run afoul of the bogstroks.
The warlock paused. "Look," he said. There was a passage in one wall, a small natural tunnel close to the floor. It was little more than shoulder-width wide, and water seeped along its edges. "Never saw that before."
"Interesting." The mage waved his hand in front of the cleft. "There's a bit of a draft coming through. I wonder where it goes."
"Let's find out." The warlock dropped to his hands and knees and crawled into the opening.
After a moment spent suspending all his better judgments, the mage followed. The passage was pitch-dark, cramped, and far too narrow in places for his liking. "I don't like this," he said.
"I really, really do not like this."
"Stop whining, you pansy. The draft's getting stronger, I think we're getting closer to the other end. If you don't get your fat ass stuck back there, you can--Illidan's left hoof, what the HELL is that?"
The mage jumped at the sudden shout, cracking his head against the passage's roof. "Ow! What the hell is what, what's going on?"
"Shh! Get in here, quickly!"
Drip. Drip. Drip. There was water in the mage's eyes and the passage was too narrow for him to reach up and wipe it away. He plowed forward, half-blind, and suddenly tumbled out of the crack into a small cave. It was far from spacious but large enough to stand up in and an opening, maybe six feet across and half again that high, let in both light and air. The warlock stood before the cave mouth, transfixed by something the mage could not yet see. "I found it," he said.
"I found the demon frog."
"But that's impossible," said the mage without thinking.
"Come here, look."
The cave opened onto a ledge near the ceiling of a huge cavern. Phosphorescent lichen clung to hundreds of stalactites hanging from the ceiling, their glow lighting the area. Below the mage could see clusters of mushrooms along the walls and floor, some twenty feet below them. A bogstrok moved among the fungi, grazing. A bogstrok the size of a devilsaur.
"There it is!" the warlock said gleefully. "The demon frog!"
In this cave, too, the ceiling dripped. Drip. Drip. Drip. "That's not a frog," said the mage.
"It's in its demon lobster form."
"Since when do demon frogs have demon lobster forms?"
"I know a demon when I see one," said the warlock. "I'm a professional. I say that's the demon frog, and I say we go down and kill it."
"I say I open a portal to Ironforge and we get the hell out of here."
"Oh no. He's not going to escape my wrath. Not after all this time." The bogstrok clattered aimlessly about the floor, pausing to eat a dozen mushrooms in a single gulp. "He's going to die."
"We're going to die."
"I don't care."
"I do," said the mage.
"I've got to face the demon." The warlock wrapped the sequined cloak with the gnoll-fur trim tightly about his shoulders and assumed a pose he obviously thought looked grim and dangerous. "Only one of us will walk away from here tonight. And it's going to be me, because frogs don't walk, so if it was the frog he'd be hopping."
"Screw 'but'. A whole year I've been obsessed with tracking this evil beast down, and now with victory within my grasp you want to leave. Go ahead, then, leave. I'll do it myself."
"It'll kill you."
"I'll take it with me," said the warlock, and now he looked both slightly demented and totally serious.
The mage took a deep breath. "Look," he said. "I need to tell you something."
"Can't it wait?"
"No, I need to tell you now."
The warlock eyed him suspiciously. "You're not going to get all weird on me, are you?" he said. "Because I'm kind of busy right now and I have enough to deal with, so if you're going to get all weird on me because we're facing certain death and everything can you please save it for--"
"There is no demon frog."
"That's because it's shapeshifted into a demon lobster," the warlock said in that tone of voice that was usually reserved for explaining things to five-year olds or hunters.
"There isn't any demon frog," said the mage, "there never was any demon frog, and that demon lobster has nothing to do with any of it. You were never attacked by a demon frog."
"Excuse me? What about my epic battle with the demon frog, the one you were at? What about my good boots? Look at my boots! What about my foot? Look at my foot! What about my--"
"Elune's garter, would you put your pants back on?! There was a frog, but it wasn't a demon. It was just an ordinary frog. You were drunk and you cast a shadowbolt at it and missed."
"I never miss."
"And you tried again and shot yourself in the foot."
Drip. Drip. Drip.
Finally the warlock said, "But you told me--"
"You were so drunk you didn't remember any of it, so we decided not to tell you what really happened because we didn't want you to be embarrassed. Well, some of us didn't." Drip. Drip. "Well...I didn't."
The warlock was silent for a long moment. "So. The twins..."
"They were kind of--" The mage coughed. "Uh, amused."
"Yes, and they kind of--"
"Who?" said the warlock in rather a small voice.
"Really," said the warlock. "Well," said the warlock. "Wait," said the warlock. "You mean to tell me--You stand there and tell me--Everyone, you say? And my boots, and every full moon, and, and--Everyone?"
"No frog," said the mage. "No epic battle. No reason for us not to turn around and go home and maybe get drunk in front of a nice warm fire. What do you say?"
What the warlock said, for a few seconds, was nothing. He gaped, his mouth working but no words coming out, looking -- the mage realized with some surprise--quite a bit like a frog. "But my foot," the warlock said finally. "My leg. My--" He stepped backwards onto the edge of the sequined cloak with the gnoll-fur trim. He teetered for a moment, said, "Oh, fuck," and fell off the ledge.
The mage decided to give himself credit for only thinking about the portal to Ironforge once. He whispered the words of a slow-fall spell, rolled up his sleeves, and jumped down after the warlock.
"A demon lobster," said the warlock. He sat in the softest chair before the fire, his bandaged foot propped up on the table, a glass of wine in one hand. "I hunted it for a year. Every full moon, despite the great personal danger, because I could not let such a menace stalk freely in Outland..."
"'We'," said the mage, pouring himself another glass of wine. "'We' couldn't."
"I, and my trusty sidekick who was completely not in charge, tracked the path of the foul beast through the endless caverns far beneath the innocent, unsuspecting crowds. Some of whom were night elves, just like you," the warlock added to the night elf priestesses who were watching him raptly. There were six of them, newly dispatched from Darnassus, and had not yet wandered past the safety of Sid's hearth.
"Tell them the part where you were mortally wounded," said the mage.
The priestesses exclaimed in alarm and talked rapidly among themselves in Darnassian. "Girls, girls, don't worry," said the warlock. "Though it was a great struggle I pulled through, though I'll always wear the scars. I'll show you later, if you're nice...Why yes, my foot does hurt a bit, it could use a renew or two, thank you." He made a great show of suppressing a wince as one of the priestesses took the bandaged foot into her lap.
The mage supposed that, being a healer, the priestess would be able to tell that the bandage covered nothing dangerous or even painful. But it wasn't really any of his business. He passed the wine to the quietest of the other priestesses, who bowed her head gracefully in acknowledgement.
"It was an epic battle," the warlock said. "No, no, I shan't tell you the details, I shouldn't want you to have the nightmares I do."
The warlock's part in the fight had consisted mostly of rolling about on the floor swearing at his sprained ankle, but he had offered considerable moral support and unsolicited advice about the efficacy of fireballs against shellfish. The bogstrok, for its part, had seemed too bewildered by a world in which warlocks could fall onto its head out of nowhere to offer any resistance to the mage's attack. They'd sold the large chunks of bogstrok tail to a restaurant in Shatt and the mushrooms to a troll vendor in Lower City who wanted to make some kind of salve from them ("If it make bogstrok dat big it make other t'ings dat big, you bet. I be makin' a fortune from dem gnome boys now") and, in the most satisfying outcome of all, the sequined cloak with the gnoll-fur trim had been thoroughly ruined. True, the warlock had promptly replaced it with one made of orange panne velvet with a bright green satin lining and a beaded edging made from pieces of the bogstrok's shell, but you could not, the mage supposed, win them all.
The quiet priestess smiled at him. It was true you could not win them all, the mage considered, but sometimes you could win one. He raised his glass to her and smiled back, and the warlock leaned back in his chair and said, "Next full moon, I will destroy that demon...demon trout. Yes, I remember, the one in the hot springs in Nagrand. The demon trout that haunts my nightmares...perhaps you girls would like to come with me?"