Saturday, October 20, 2007
Ashenvale is a new world compared to Darkshore’s oppressive gloom. The gray cloud cover parts, letting the sun’s warmth beam down on the rosy-leaved forests. Much like Teldrassil, the leaves of the smaller trees shine in shades of pink, violet and gold. Unlike the new World Tree, the sun allows nature’s full glory to be manifest.
The beauty of the forest deceives many visitors, as Ashenvale is very much a wilderness. Bears and wolves roam the shadows, as do more terrible creatures like satyrs. Ashenvale is another land where diplomacy failed, though most of the fighting occurs in Warsong Gulch, near the Barrens. Even so, guerrilla attacks on the lonely forest roads are not unheard of.
Ashenvale’s northwest is sparsely populated despite its beauty. A few tiny elven villages and homesteads are scattered across the region, but the place is otherwise empty. While in Auberdine, I learned of the ruins of Zoram on the western coast. Zoram was one of the few cities to maintain itself after the Sundering, and remained an important town for 2,500 years after the cataclysm. The night elf distrust of cities finally grew too strong and the population dwindled until none remained. Elves have recently returned to Zoram, in a fashion. The mutated offspring of the Quel’dorei known as the naga now make their homes in the ruins.
Two-and-a-half days of travel brought me to the small settlement of Maestra’s Post. Maestra’s Post is a recent creation, built to defend against any possible demon incursion into Darkshore during the Third War. A demonic reconnaissance force had made a poorly planned and easily repelled attack on Maestra’s Post. The Kaldorei intended to abandon the post after the fall of Nordrassil.
Not long after the Battle of Mt. Hyjal, a strike force of naga warriors slithered inland through the forests. The purpose of the attack was probably to raze the town of Astranaar, farther to the south and east. Only Maestra's Post stood in the way. Commander Maestra Starglade commanded her troops with skill and brilliance, defeating the better armed and numerically superior naga force, saving Astranaar from almost certain destruction. Her sentinels named the fortress in her honor after she fell towards the end of the battle, struck by a barbed naga spear. Though far from any demonic or Horde presence, Maestra’s Post remains as a bulwark against the very real threat of the naga.
“I still cannot believe that the naga used to be elves. I suppose there is a faint similarity in the grace, the supple strength you see on their scaly bodies. Yet what terrible changes! All that was beautiful about the elves warped into the hateful form of a sea serpent,” exclaimed Retelar Arrokim, a human priest who hailed from fallen Alterac. A fair number of wounded human and dwarven soldiers were recuperating in Maestra’s Post at the time of the attack, and Retelar elected to stay. Retelar was quite advanced in years though his eyes gleamed with a youthful vigor.
“I think, maybe, Elune is an embodiment of the Light. An aspect previously unknown to us. It’s actually remarkable how alike they are! You see, while Elune (or perhaps a different entity, to whom Elune is merely one aspect) showed herself to the Kaldorei through moonlight, it was revealed to Blessed Cassian through inner light. Light is the key, in all cases!” he theorized.
“The night elves hold the concept of wardenship over nature as being of the utmost importance. Is there any equivalent of that in the Holy Light?”
“Certainly! Certainly! The elves view it as their charge to maintain nature—Balance or ahssiva, as they put it—while for us, it is to care for our fellow man. Those charges alone cannot create a state of holiness on this world, but together I know they can. And think of it, don’t these forests make you happier? Do they not fill you with joy and wonder at the creation of this world?”
“What about farmland and cities? Those too can fill humans and even some night elves with joy.”
“People grow apart from each other in cities. Ironic, I know, but true. I think that when there are so many people it becomes hard to really care about them. You take your neighbors for granted. When Alterac still stood, it was full of backstabbing nobles who loathed each other only slightly more than the peasants who weren’t allowed to enter.”
“Once the elves teach us how to gather from nature the way they do, the farms will empty out faster than you’d believe. It’s not much fun plowing a field.”
“I do not think the human and dwarven populations could be sustained by gathering, even with nature’s help.”
“They’ll get used to it in time, I’m sure.”
Druids still attempt to teach humans and dwarves to cull sustenance from nature, the way the Kaldorei do. None have succeeded. It is often pointed out that if even the high elves are unable to use this method, the humans, dwarves, and gnomes stand little chance.
I also spoke with a sentinel named Aumorra Shadowbough. Aumorra was a survivor of the Sundering. During the bloody War of the Ancients she fought against the corrupted Highborne and their demonic allies.
“The War of the Ancients has come again; once more we fight our Highborne cousins, though now they come to us from the depths of the ocean.”
“And the Burning Legion,” I added.
“Yes, the demons too. I am glad that I am no longer immortal. At least I know that I will one day rest, even if I do survive the wrath of the enemy.”
“I’ve noticed that the sentinels adapt better then most to the loss of immortality.”
“No one outside of our Sisterhood can possibly understand what it was like to guard the forests; year after year, century after century, millennium after millennium. The druids slept in peace, the common folk danced beneath the starlight, and we fought. It is hard to remember a time when the smell of blood was unknown to me. I wish I could, but I cannot. I have simply been at this for so long.” She sighed before continuing.
“All those who fought in the War of the Ancients remember the crimes of the Highborne. We blamed them for our endless vigil, for the destruction of our cities, for the satyrs... some even blamed them for the qiraji, though that is one sin the Highborne cannot lay claim to. When it first became common knowledge that the naga were descended from the Highborne, my sisters rejoiced that they would again be able to spill their blood. Some even wanted to kill the Queldorei who live in the east, though they were denied permission for that.”
“How do you feel about this?” I inquired.
“About the naga? I too was happy. I could slay a thousand Highborne, and it would not even begin to make up for 10,000 years of suffering, of dead friends and sisters. Yet I am troubled by that. Elune is a gentle goddess, though She can be wrathful at times. How can I serve Her when I carry such hatred? Many of my sisters say that, as sentinels, we are as the wrath of nature. Elune’s anger is like the ferocity of a mother protecting her child. That is not the sort of anger I feel. I do not hate the naga out of love of Kalimdor, or loyalty to the Kaldorei. I simply despise them for the sake of hatred.”
“I think the fact that you have doubts shows you are not too far gone,” I said, in an attempt to comfort her.
“Maybe. I will not have to worry about it much longer anyway. Unless Teldrassil does restore our immortality, though I do not believe it will.”
I left Maestra’s Post the day after I arrived, wishing to reach Astranaar. As I walked, I thought of the Forsaken Deathguard. I wondered if they too would feel like Aumorra did if they continued to fight for thousands of years. The Deathguard are different in many aspects, not least of all being that many of them freely admit to being motivated by hate, relishing the fact.
The nature of the forest changes when going into the depths of Ashenvale. Trees grow closer together, blocking the rays of the sun. A rich darkness inundates the land, echoing Teldrassil’s shade. The forests of Ashenvale feel stronger than those of Teldrassil. When in Teldrassil, one has the impression that it is just a fantastic dream that could be ripped away with little difficulty. Ashenvale is eternal. These ancient woodlands have suffered fire, earthquakes, corruption, and much more. Still it thrives, strong and verdant. Some of this is undoubtedly owed to the elves, but it also serves as a testament to nature’s inherent strength. In the shadows of Ashenvale’s trees, I imagined I could hear the heartbeat of the world.
The forest road sees more traffic than most other roads in night elf territory. This is largely due to soldiers going to and from the front lines, though a fair number are on personal or religious business rather than military.
A day after leaving Maestra’s Post I met a druid called Kellidus Greentalon. A woman named Syldra Feathersong accompanied him. It would not be accurate to say that Kellidus and Syldra were married. The night elves do not have the tradition of marriage, though it is customary for close lovers to form exclusive unions. This bond is called the shadrey-nala. There is no set limit for the shadrey-nala, but since it is only meant to describe relationships of great closeness, it is considered to be indefinite or occasionally eternal.
“I have not been with Syldra for long,” said Kellidus, “but ours is a great love.”
“I never left his side, though he spent a thousand years in the Dreaming. In my own dreams, we were again together, and that kept me strong,” explained Syldra.
“I wonder if human love could survive that long without direct contact,” I said.
“We live for many years. Our emotions must extend appropriately.”
The two of them were headed to the Shrine of Aessina, located a few miles south of the road. They invited me to come with them and I gladly accepted. On the way I asked them about the custom of shadrey-nala. Kellidus had a limited grasp of Common, so Syldra did most of the talking.
“Can a shadrey-nala be dissolved?” I asked.
“Yes, it can. But it is not a good idea,” explained Kellidus.
“In most cases, I think only a very selfish person would leave. If you love someone strongly enough to enter that bond, then you must be willing to sacrifice for them,” added Syldra.
“What if one of the partners turns out to be a bad sort? A liar, for instance.”
“Like my dear Kellidus said, you should not enter the shadrey-nala unless you truly know the person. Kellidus and I knew each other for 2,000 years before he joined the Order of the Talon. He had already done much for me, and I trusted our love would survive when he was away in the Emerald Dream.”
“But if someone did enter shadrey-nala with a wicked person, what would happen?”
“I suppose then that a dissolution of the bond would be acceptable. This rarely happens though. The bad Kaldorei are usually found out, at least they are in my experience. It is not as easy here to hide things from your friends as it is in some of the human lands. Oh! I’m sorry, that was rude of me—"
“Not at all. It is simply a fact. Have you spent time in the east?”
“No, but I spent a year in Theramore Isle. There was much I liked about it, though all in all I am glad to be back here.”
“The elves do tend to travel a great deal. Would that not allow for a degree of anonymity?”
“Yes. But if someone stepped right in and tried to join in shadrey-nala the year he arrived, he would not get far! Everyone would think it very strange. He would have to stay a while, long enough for others to know about him. Coming in and trying to achieve shadrey-nala would be like you proposing marriage to a human girl you just met.”
“I see. My apologies if I’m being too inquisitive.”
Concepts like a dowry or arranged marriage strike the elves as cruel and absurd. And in all fairness, those customs were falling out of favor in human lands since before the First War. Shadrey-nala also reflects the loose family bonds that characterize Kaldorei culture. The family cannot impose a spouse (for lack of a better term) on one of their children, nor would they even think of doing so. Certainly the parents might try to influence the offspring in some way, but it is not the parents’ choice. Because of the personal mobility in night elf culture, entry into a shadrey-nala often occurs quite far from home. The parents might not know of the bond for centuries.
Great marble pillars mark the boundaries of the Shrine of Aessina. Tangled in vines and creepers, they stand as relics of ancient days. The grass is more verdant in that spot, and flowers of a hundred colors bloom in the damp meadow. A stone pagoda rises in the center and is the only structure without visible damage, though thick moss covers the terraces, hanging over the edges like falling water.
The sanctified air of the shrine suddenly filled with lively Darnassian chatter. Dryads emerged from the geenery, laughing as they approached. The dryads are a race descended from the slain demigod called Cenarius. The joyous preservers of the woodlands, they work in conjunction with the Kaldorei druids and sentinels. A dryad's upper body resembles that of a female night elf, though with green skin. The lower body is that of a faun.
The dryads surrounded the young couple, giggling and cheering. Kellidus and Syldra looked quite happy with the attention. A few dryads came to me, their dark eyes lively and curious. They gently prodded me with their fingers.
“Ha ha ha, Talus! The dryads are wondering if you are a human or something else. They say they’ve never seen a human as pale and thin as you. They want to know if you could stay here, they think you’ll be much better for it.”
I grinned, masking my unease.
“Tell them that humans come in all shapes and sizes.”
The dryads began collecting flowers from the ground. Incredibly, the flowers started growing in their arms, unfolding new tendrils and blossoms until they wove themselves itself into a wreath. The dryads placed the scented wreaths on our heads, singing as they did.
To the side, I was startled to notice a huge stone hand clasping a bow rising up from the earth. Next to it, the vast head of an elven archer looked out from the earth with eyes of stone. It was the remains of a statue, and I was dumbfounded by the size. Not even the dwarves had ever created a statue so immense.
“A relic from the old days. Long before the War of the Ancients,” said Syldra.
“To whom is it dedicated?”
“I have no idea.”
“Would the dryads know?”
“Probably not. They are the daughters of the forest. Why would they care about some ancient statue? Besides, the forest has already conquered it.”
And indeed it had.
“Who is this Aessina that the shrine is named for?”
“She is the Ancient of Growth. Dryads, who cherish all growing things, bear a particular reverence for her. I’m almost sure that the archer statue is not Aessina.”
“I wouldn’t think so,” I agreed.
Having seen the Shrine (which I thought as beautiful as advertised) I bade farewell to the couple and returned to the road. I arrived Astranaar at noon the next day.
Astranaar is a picturesque elven town on a large island in the middle of a peaceful lake. I could see the crumbling remnants of ancient masonry through the trees on the opposite end of the shore. Stately Kaldorei walk down Astranaar’s paths while inscrutable wisps flit along the trees.
Astranaar became the unofficial capital of the surviving night elves for a brief period after the Sundering. The city suffered remarkably little damage (the stone ruins of the old city are the result of neglect rather than catastrophe) and it occupied a strategic location for handling the floods of refugees. Ashenvale and Ellonara (Ellonara being the stretch of forest to the north now called Felwood) were among the most developed areas in the ancient kingdom.
After 1,300 years the elves relocated their capital to the city of Nighthaven. Yet Astranaar remained an important site, both for sentimental and practical reasons. The majority of elves still lived in Ashenvale, and Astranaar became a religious and cultural center for the region. The bulk of the demon and undead armies bypassed Astranaar in the Third War. The Burning Legion did send a small army to raze the town, thinking it an easy target. The waters around Astranaar became so contaminated with spilled demon blood that it remained undrinkable for weeks after that battle.
In recent years, places like Darnassus and Auberdine surpassed old Astranaar. The town still occupies a special place in the hearts of the elves. It also is of great strategic value in holding Ashenvale. The inhabitants of Astranaar know that they are on the front line in the shadow war between the Horde and the Alliance. There is a definite tension in the air; a fact either ameliorated or exacerbated by the large number of armed sentinels on guard.
“Most of us serve with the Silverwind Sentinels. After one of us fights at the Gulch for a while, we go here to recuperate. I myself would rather be at the front, watering the forests with orcish blood, but they insisted that I rest!” fumed a Sentinel named Trimilla Ashspring. A fierce-looking elf, she drummed her fingers on the edge of her moonglaive with a restless boredom.
“You appear quite acclimated to the rigors of combat.”
“I’ve been fighting since before your race existed. If I wasn’t used to it, I’d be long dead.”
The Silverwing Sentinels are a very motivated fighting force. The deforestation of eastern Ashenvale is an unforgivable blasphemy in their eyes, and they will not rest until the Horde is driven from their lands. The sentinels bear little love for the Horde, though Trimilla’s amount of hatred is an extreme case even there.
“If the orcs leave Ashenvale and promise never to return, I will no longer have a quarrel against them. They cannot live here though. The very trees scream out against their presence, and they befoul this land even further by bringing in the undead. I patrolled these forests for thousands of years, and it is like a mother to me. I have defended it against beings far more dangerous than orcs, and I will not stand by and let them destroy this place. They claim to follow the spirits of nature but I certainly do not see any of that in their actions. The tauren who allow them to do this are hypocrites of the worst sort.”
That was the opinion of another Sentinel named Runia Farsong, who was preparing to return to Silverwing Outpost. Her attitude was a more common one among the Sentinels in town.
A sizeable number of humans and dwarves also live in Astranaar. Unlike most sentinel groups, the Silverwing happily accept the help of volunteer forces in combat. Outside of battle, the easterners provide valuable insight into orcish tactics, though their recommendations sometimes reflect the Second War more than the Third.
“What bothers me is that there isn’t any plan to deal with the undead,” complained Targun Ironbeard, a dwarven veteran of both the First and Second War, his craggy face full of scars. While Khaz Modan was not officially involved in the fighting of the First War, it did send a number of dwarven troops to Stormwind’s aid.
“You mean the Forsaken?”
“Not the regular Forsaken; they fight like humans more or less. I mean death knights!”
“I do not believe the Horde has death knights any longer.”
“Ah, don’t believe it lad! I know the orcs said they were done with all that black magic stuff in the Third War. But then they went and allied with the Forsaken! That’s practically an admission to dark magic! I’ve heard stories about orc shamans coming back as death knights, raising the fallen soldiers of humanity as the mindless dead, casting clouds of decay on the battlefield. I’m sure there are plenty of Forsaken who do the same.”
This is preposterous. No shaman would ever consent to becoming a Death Knight. Forsaken necromancy does exist (regrettably) but only raises other Forsaken, not mindless skeletons. Raising Forsaken is a tricky process. The body has to be in a certain condition to be resurrected at all. Even if the attempt succeeds it is as a Forsaken, with individual motivations and memories, and usually a great deal of anger. I hear that the Apothecaries now work on ways to create a memory wipe in new Forsaken, or to implant false memories. I can only hope they continue to be unsuccessful. The abominations are the closest thing to the mindless undead utilized by the Forsaken, and they are also quite difficult to create. They still have minds, though very simple ones.
“You have not seen these Death Knights with your own eyes?” I questioned.
“Are you doubting me? I’ve not seen them with my eyes, but it is only a matter of time before I do. You’d best take care, as not believing in the truth of the Horde won’t save you from them.”
Erroneous though his beliefs are, they are understandable given the crimes committed by the Horde in the First and Second Wars.
The civilians in Ashenvale are a bit overwhelmed by the presence of non-elves but accept them graciously. Most regard the dangers to Astranaar as very real.
“The sentinels can be frightening. The younger ones not so much, but the older ones who fought for 10,000 years can definitely intimidate others. But they are Kaldorei. They will defend us, and they will defend the forests,” said Seliam Dewrunner, a fruit harvester who operated an orchard near the ruined section of old Astranaar.
“Ashenvale does seem to be more dangerous than it was. What problems concern you besides the Horde?”
“The Horde, I think, is more dangerous to the forest than they are to us. Admittedly, elves and the forest depend on each other, but what I am trying to say is that the orcs have some sense of honor. They will not come in and slaughter those of us who cannot defend ourselves. Though don’t tell the sentinels I said that,” he chuckled.
“Why do you believe this of the orcs?”
“I used to live on the slopes of Mt. Hyjal. I saw the orcs fight the demons with all the courage of the ancient heroes. Some of their warriors defended my village long enough for us to flee. They did not have to do that; they stumbled upon our village by accident just before the demons did.”
“I would agree that there are good aspects about them. There are threats that you consider more dire?”
“The satyrs, for one. The satyrs are more in the central and eastern parts of Ashenvale, but they are utterly depraved. The naga now control the coast, and they’re also supposed to be quite terrible. If they do indeed come from the Highborne I could well believe it. Most sadly, the furbolgs pose yet another problem.”
“The ones here have gone mad?”
“Yes. Before I lived on Mt. Hyjal, I lived in the forests near Astranaar. The Thistlefur furbolgs were our neighbors. Not always the most personable, but they would help us when needed and we did the same for them. Now they behave like demons. That’s what the druids say corrupted them. A whole village of the Thistlefur stands to the north, festering with corruption. They have not made any attacks on Astranaar yet, though they kill travelers who venture too close. Most of the Kaldorei here call them bear-demons rather than furbolgs. It doesn’t hurt as much that way.”
The tragic corruption of the furbolgs is something that troubles the night elves more than they usually let on. Those in the Eastern Kingdoms have often not even heard of the unfortunate race. Callistor Mosscloak, a druid in Astranaar who lived during the Sundering, explained that the state of the furbolg reflects nature’s health.
“The demons twisted these lands by their very presence. Many night elves are reluctant to admit this, but the furbolgs are more familiar with nature than we.”
“I have heard that sentiment expressed before.”
“I think any Kaldorei who knows with the furbolgs would agree. When the demons came... it is like how the Scourge ravaged Lordaeron. It was not enough that they tear through the land and slaughtered all life; they poisoned the land itself. At least, this is what the humans here tell me about Lordaeron.”
“It is correct,” I confirmed.
“The demons were less successful here than the undead, but their pollution remains. Some of the druids, especially the followers of Staghelm, fear that these lands are permanently tainted. Or that it will take tens of thousands of years before it could again be healed.”
“And this was another impetus for the creation of Teldrassil?”
“Indeed, though with Staghelm I suspect it was mostly the desire to regain immortality. I acted as counsel to him during the War of the Shifting Sands, 500 years ago. I do not care for him, though he is a skilled leader in many ways.”
“Anyway, the taint continues to damage the furbolg?”
“Yes. It drives them mad, and there does not seem to be any cure. They are a shamanistic people, tied to the spirits of the land. When those spirits are corrupted you can imagine the effect.”
“Indeed. Do you think there is hope?”
“I do. Not all the tribes have succumbed yet, and there may still be furbolg in Northrend and the Azuremyst Archipelago. For now, we must heal the land. If we do not have enough faith in nature and the Ancients to cleanse the demonic infection, than we cannot call ourselves druids. Some druids, the Order of the Claw especially, are working to reintroduce furbolgs in the ways of druidism.”
Callistor’s comment on the corruption of the nature spirits rang true. The increasing demonic influence on old Draenor might have made it harder and harder for the pre-War orc shamans to speak with the spirits. Eventually, only the voices of the warlocks were heard. It took defeat and the spirits of a relatively untainted world to heal the orcish race.
Five days passed in the peaceful gardens of Astranaar before I decided to move on east. I had barely crossed the bridge out of town when the road plunged deep into the wilderness. Beyond of the roads, Ashenvale is a rugged and nearly impassable landscape. Steep ridges and treacherous slopes combined with the dense foliage make it dangerous to go off the road. But this gives the elves an advantage. They are at home in the wilderness, physically adapted to the forests and more agile than the stumbling human and dwarven warriors. Though nimble, gnomes often lack the stamina to keep up with the elves.
The forest is the Horde’s greatest impediment to securing Ashenvale. Orcs and tauren hail from the open plains, and loathe fighting in the tangled forests. The trolls enjoy many of the same physical advantages as the elves, but are not familiar with the land. Ashenvale is also quite alien compared to the jungles of Stranglethorn from whence they came. The Forsaken are more adaptable than humans, but cannot hope to match the elves when it comes to fighting in the boundless forest.
My goal was to reach the Horde town of Splintertree Post, which I reckoned would take at least a week of travel. I would need to pass through some of the more disputed portions of Ashenvale, so the potential for assault existed either with or without my disguise.
Four days after leaving Ashenvale I was startled to see a huge stag burst out from the thicket to the side of the road, nearly trampling me. I heard a thin, whistling sound over the pounding hooves. Then a streak of violet flew down from the trees and crashed on top of the struggling beast. I quickly jumped back from the blur of motion in front of me. The stag fell to the ground in a heap and a sentinel hopped off before it hit the ground.
The stag thrashed for a while before going still, a stream of blood flowing from its torn throat. The sentinel stood over the dying animal, her mouth covered in gore. She had ripped its throat out with her teeth. As if sensing my discomfort, she bared her red-stained teeth in a predatory grin.
Another sentinel gracefully ran out of the woods, saying something in Darnassian. The newcomer saw me and looked suddenly nervous.
“I’m sorry if we alarmed you. I think my sister has been here a bit too long,” she apologized. She then said some Darnassian words in a sharp tone. The first sentinel laughed.
“It’s fine. A magnificently executed kill,” I complimented. And it was, though discomforting to watch. The first sentinel licked her lips with relish. Then she spoke to the second, who sighed.
“Uh, she wishes to know if you’d like to partake of the quarry. There’s more than enough meat to go around.”
I politely declined, since I did not think any human would eat raw meat. Though as a Forsaken, I’ve eaten much worse in my time. I left the two sentinels to enjoy their meal in peace.
I continued to wear the disguise until I crossed the road that leads south to Silverwind Outpost. I was in Horde territory again, more or less, and could afford to come as my true self. I hoped I would not see any sentinels coming along the road, for I would be obliged to act against them.
When the orcs first landed on Kalimdor they set out to build homes and defenses for their burgeoning civilization. The forests of Ashenvale presented an obvious source for lumber. The Warsong Clan, led by the legendary warrior Grom Hellscream, marched north to oversee lumber harvesting operations.
The Kaldorei attacked the orcs without warning. Had the elves come forward and told the orcs to stop harvesting lumber, the orcs would have readily agreed. They also respect the natural world, and only cut down the trees because they knew no other way of obtaining lumber. Also, the orcs were in a strange and foreboding new land. They would have welcomed the elves as friends. Now, the two races are blood enemies.
The subsequent behavior of the orcs was foolish and deadly, though perhaps without hindsight it seemed necessary. Grom and his warriors drank from a demon-tainted fountain, longing for the strength of infernal enhancement. With this unholy might they slew Cenarius the Ancient, enraging the Kaldorei. The wayward orcs who were not killed by their untainted brethren were returned to the fold, along with Grom. Grom died soon after killing Mannoroth, the demon whose blood was the catalyst for orcish corruption, passing into the pantheon of orc heroes for this final act.
Splintertree Post is a small orcish settlement almost hidden from sight in a narrow ravine. The area is actually still verdant, though a number of large stumps testify to the logging efforts. A mine stands at one end of the town, though it has ceased operations due to a lack of available workers. Splintertree Post is almost entirely devoted to war and lumber, really more of a fortress than a town. Most of the orcs live in and around the lumber camp to the east. Splintertree simply does its best to defend the camp against elven attacks from the west.
“Are you with the Apothecarium?”
A huge, glowering warrior at the gates of Splintertree Post accosted me as I went forward.
“No, I am simply a traveler,” I explained.
“Hmmph! The Forsaken in Ashenvale dwell to the south, where they blaspheme with the ghosts of dead druids for their foul mixtures. You should stay among your own accursed kind.”
“There’s a prohibition against the undead in Splintertree?”
“Do not try to trick me, Forsaken. You’ll find we orcs are more clever than you might think.”
“I asked you a question, warrior. There was no trick.”
“Torg, let the corpse inside! It can come in if it wants!” ordered another grunt.
“Very well. But do not cause trouble or you will know the wrath of the Horde!” blustered the first orc.
The inhabitants of Splintertree, while not friendly, are at least more polite than the guards. The Apothecarium had sent a number of Forsaken scouts into a corrupted barrow den near Splintertree, which angered the orcs. This surprised me, as I imagined the night elf threat would have been a unifier rather than a divider. However, I was soon to discover that the Horde situation in Ashenvale is much more complex than I originally thought.
A contingent of five orcs came riding in early the next morning. They were a liaison from Warlord Fangra Redeye at the Warsong Lumber Camp. Mounted on their wolves, they made a commotion on entering, barking out rallying cries as loud as they could. Sleepy orcs, trolls, and tauren stumbled out of bed to see the commotion.
A huge orc rider, his jaw set in fury, raised high his muscled arm in the center of town. Remaining on his mount, he glared at the Splintertree officials standing before him. The warrior Ralg Thornshield ostensibly led Splintertree Post, but he usually followed the advice of Tamak Proudhorn, a majestic tauren shaman. Ralg and Tamak stood together in front of the enraged orc.
“What business do you have here, troubling the people of Splintertree at this early hour?” inquired Tamak in a whispery voice.
“Do not patronize me Tamak, for you know why we are here! What madness inspired you to declare the northern groves sacred?”
“It was the will of the spirits, Lorgan. We have taxed them greatly by cutting down the trees of this forest. It would not be wise to anger them further.”
“Enough! You tauren use lumber the same as we orcs. How can you condemn us for doing the same?”
“This is true, but we have always tried to be careful about such things. We cannot doubt the spirits, Lorgan.”
“All this talk of spirits is unfit for a warrior!”
“The warriors need the spirits as much as anyone else. I am woefully ignorant of politics beyond Ashenvale, but the Warchief, in his wisdom, has lent support to the druidic cause.”
“This is besides the point, shaman! My warriors died for this land, attacked by cowards who hid in shadows. Our noble chieftain Grom sacrificed his life to free us. Yet you would have us stop our operations! Your kind should run to the elves, they would doubtlessly welcome your foolish notions.”
“Lorgan, you forget yourself. Also I think you forget Grom. Grom was an honorable warrior, and though he had his lapses he understood that it is with the spirits of nature that his people’s destiny lay. To ignore them is to ignore him, wouldn’t you say?”
“Great warriors have died in this land!” shouted Lorgan.
“Many did when they first arrived. Since then, the warriors in Splintertree have done an effective job of repelling the invaders. Please, listen to our counsel.”
“Lord Thornshield, I implore you to lift this ban!” shouted Lorgan.
“Tamak has spoken. The Warchief respects the spirits. We should do the same.”
Seeing that he was beaten, Lorgan bowed his head in deference, though his eyes burned in hatred. Many of the orcs and trolls in Splintertree seemed to share Lorgan’s sentiment.
“Forget these spirits, we just get some big magic from the Loa and do whatever we want to this place,” muttered a troll who was standing next to me.
Another event happened just before sundown, when a beaten and bloody orc staggered into Splintertree. She had been patrolling with her husband through eastern Ashenvale when satyrs ambushed them, killing her husband. Sobbing, she begged that her husband’s body be returned to her before the satyrs profaned it.
The Splintertree authorities assembled small strike team for the dual purposes of gathering intelligence on the satyr presence and for retrieving the fallen orc. The distraught woman raised her ax to volunteer, but was restrained. She could barely stand from her grievous wounds.
I wanted to see the terrible satyrs that I heard so much about, and I requested to join. I worried that the disdain for the undead that was so prevalent would prevent me, but the leader of the force was of a more tolerant breed. He was an orcish hunter named Morx Keenbow, who was followed by a bristling nightsaber cat that he had tamed. He affectionately called the nightsaber Softpaw. We soon left the town, joined by two troll warriors, a tauren hunter, and an orc scout. The plan was to travel through the night and reach the hellish den of Satyrnaar the next morning.
Morx exuded an air of relaxed confidence. He was no stranger to combat, having fought in the Battle of Mt. Hyjal and the Battle of Theramore. Morx did not actually know that much about the satyrs, as he had only once encountered them. However, he was quite knowledgeable about Horde politics in Ashenvale.
“The Forsaken here in Ashenvale actually side with the tauren whenever they deem a stretch of forest off-limits to loggers,” said Morx.
“Yes. The Forsaken have not suddenly become lovers of nature. But some of the more powerful tauren shaman pressured the Horde to accept the Forsaken. The undead just want to keep their allies. Maybe sow a bit of confusion in the Horde as well.”
“That would be in character, unfortunately. Who do you think won the argument this morning?”
“Both sides did to their respective races. When we orcs debate something, we’re supposed to shout and get all angry. The good chieftain is one who acts outraged and furious but keeps calm on the inside. Tamak came off as weak and timid to the orcs.”
“Interesting. The tauren are not like this?”
“Not at all. When tauren argue it’s like a contest to see who can be more polite and self-effacing. So, to the tauren, Tamak was the better speaker and Lorgan was brash and uncouth. Personally I agree with Tamak. He is a bit ignorant of orcish culture. If Ralg was truly following Tamak’s lead, then he would teach the shaman how to argue like an orc. I can’t help but wonder if Ralg is setting up Tamak for a fall.”
“But the Warchief sides with the tauren on this?”
“Thrall will never order the lumber mill closed down. Even I think that would be a dishonorable thing to do. He simply wants to set some boundaries, which we would be wise to acknowledge.”
The light of morning found us still walking on the road. A subtle foulness crept into the forest, the trees turning sickly and brittle. We soon found the corpse of a satyr lying by the road. The orcish couple had slain at least one of their assailants.
The dead satyr bore only a vague resemblance to a night elf. He had the legs of a goat, the fur matted and stinking. The hands had been transformed into huge claws, and the muscle structure across the body built up to grotesque levels. A tangled beard hid a sharp face, cruel even in death. Two long, curving horns grew from the forehead.
“There are hoof prints leading this way,” said the tauren.
He and Morx led the way, the rest of us following as quietly as we could. We soon reached the gate to Satyrnaar. A quick observation of the architecture confirmed that it had once been an ancient elven city. But instead of the white marble with which the Kaldorei built their ancient cities, Satyrnaar’s gate is the color of blood. Piles of skulls litter the ground, supporting braziers of blue flame. My living companions made faces, and I could just detect the raw smell that so alarmed them. A chorus of deep, brassy horn notes echoed ominously from within.
I reached out to one of the red pillars supporting the gate. I thought its blood red coloration strange, for Kaldorei blood runs purple, and even red bloodstains turn black after a little while. My fingers touched the pillar, and the strangely warm surface gave way to the pressure. Wounds opened up in the stone and blood ran down my hands. I quickly withdrew and wiped the blood on the dark, dying grass.
We gathered at the edge of Satyrnaar unnoticed. Around thirty satyrs gathered in a loose circle, several among them blowing on flower-shaped horns without any sense of melody or rhythm. Others manned short, squat drums that they pounded on incessently, creating an deep, echoing beat that shook dried leaves from branches. The horns played on without any concern for the beat of the drums.
Two satyrs grappled in the center of the circle, roaring and laughing. Wounds and gashes covered their red bodies. Entrails hung out from a massive wound in one combatant’s belly. The less bloodied of the two satyrs pinned his opponent to a nearby stone and then began to gore the loser with his horns. Shrill laughter and cries of celebration arose from both the spectators and the combatants, even the one who was dying. The satyrs in the circle began to rise and close in on the fighters, waving their arms wildly and scoring terrific cuts on each other, as the horn blowers danced and contorted. Besides me, I saw one of the trolls turn his eyes from the grisly spectacle.
“The dead orc is over there, next to that monument,” whispered the scout, who had crept ahead to get a better look at the place. “Six satyrs are around it; I think some of them are drunk.”
“All right. Get ready,” ordered Morx.
“Wait! We should leave this place. The fallen warrior is already among his ancestors. We should not risk ourselves for one who has already passed on to a better place,” urged the tauren. I was inclined to agree.
“He is in a better place, but that is not the point. We will not let these demons dishonor him, or us. We shall move quickly. Destron, use quiet spells; I don’t want to attract the attention of the main group if I can help it.”
Tumbled pieces of bleeding masonry gave us cover as we sped to the monument, looking like a nightmare version of the Shrine of Aessina. I saw the body of the orc, though barely recognizable as such. Three of the satyrs near the body drank from wineskins, obviously intoxicated. I did not care to know the sort of drink with which a satyr would intoxicate himself.
The scout crept forward with care, going towards the more sober half of the satyr guard. Those three were watching the festival, bellowing approval from their seats. The scout raised a green fist in signal. Morx and the tauren both let fly with their bows. The tauren’s arrow passed through the head of a satyr, killing him instantly. Morx’s arrow only grazed his target, but the stealthy Softpaw leapt at the satyr and tore him open in a single blow. The scout cut another satyr’s throat.
The three drunkards stumbled to their hooves, moving unsteadily. Softpaw pounced on one, his cries drowned out by the horn blowers. Four arrows embedded themselves in the body of another and he fell to the ground. I fired a set of arcane missiles at the last, killing him.
The two warriors bounded down and retrieved the body as best they could. With that done, we immediately made our exit from that awful place. We had not gone far when we paused to allow the shaman to conduct a cleansing ritual. Speaking in Taurahe, he implored the spirits to remove any demonic corruption. While I do not put much stock in spirits, I still felt reassured.
The air over the Warsong Lumber Camp drowns in a fog of sawdust. Dead roots stick out madly from barren hills, and great piles of logs sprawl across the landscape. When comparing the desolation of the camp to the rest of Ashenvale, the objections of the elves make more sense.
Yet the orcs do not benefit from the blessings of nature. They do need wood to maintain their civilization. The remains of the fallen trees will shelter families from Kalimdor’s harsh elements. I think that some Kaldorei tend to forget the difficulties faced by other races.
Peons work in steady shifts through the camp, hacking away at the piles of fallen timber. Expansion of the camp is now limited, so most of the work is for consolidation rather than expansion. Warriors, often junior members of the Warsong Outriders, sweep the area in constant patrols. A few goblins help to expedite the operation. The goblins come from Spark Enterprises, a relatively small company without a direct representative on the Trade Council. Spark Enterprises deals almost exclusively with the Horde. The founder of Spark Enterprises, Miligon Sparksezzy, operated as a skilled sapper during the Second War. At the conflict’s end he employed a small population of orcs, giving them a sort of sanctuary. Those orcs guarded the interests of Spark Enterprises, though Miligon’s deal was not motivated solely by profit.
I encountered a peon eating a boar shank while resting from his labors. Named Kug, he was initially reticent, but opened up after a while. The peons still remember the brutality they suffered at the hands of the warriors during the era of demonic corruption, and tend to be cautious with those they do not know.
“The work’s hard here, but it helps the Horde so it helps me.”
“Are you compensated monetarily?”
“Yes. I heard that humans really like money. Is that true?”
“It depends on the human, but it is fair to say that money is very important in human society.”
“That’s what they say. Not so much for orcs. I get food, water, protection. The important things.”
“Are you part of the Warsong Clan?”
“No. I was born into the Black Tooth Grin Clan myself, but that’s not so important anymore. Clans don’t really exist any longer. Instead we have war-packs.”
“Could you explain that?”
“Sure. A war-pack’s like an army. If an orc becomes a warrior, he’ll be brought into one of the war-packs. Like if he’s good with wolves and can ride one, he’d join the Swiftblade or Thunderfang War-Packs. Thrall didn’t like the idea of clans, so only a few, like the Warsong and Frostwolf still exist. My little girl’s born into the Horde, and that’s a lot bigger than any old clan!”
“What do you think about your work here?”
“It’s good work. Some of the bosses don’t think it’s important, but Thrall says there’s a lot of honor in this kind of thing. This wood I chop is going to be someone’s house, or a wagon, or maybe even a ship of some kind.”
“What do you think about the druids blocking off the northern parts of the forest?”
“Oh that? I don’t like it too much, but there’s still plenty to do. Thrall’s got to keep the tauren happy, I think, but as long as people have to build things out of wood I’m going to have a job here.”
I had to wonder if Kug was truly free to state his opinion. Still, he spoke with great confidence. I thanked Kug for his time and went further towards the center of the camp. He called out to me as I left.
“Hey, Destron! Thank you for hearing what I had to say. Thrall says there’s a lot of honor in this kind of thing, and it’s good to get the word out!”
Unlike the nearly helpless peons of the First and Second Wars, the peons in the Warsong Lumber Mill actually receive limited training in combat. The ones I spoke to were immensely proud of this. Besides providing more obvious protection against enemies of the Horde, it also gives the peons more power. It will no longer be so easy to mistreat them.
There is a stone burrow near the place where Kug worked. It acts as a storage bunker, though off-duty guards congregate there to drink and brag. Inside, I met with an aged orc warrior called Mal’gok. He had a disdain of humans that extended to the dead. Nonetheless, he answered my questions about the nature of the Warsong Clan.
“Clans were never simple matters, undead. There have always been different groups within a clan, different opinions. Today the Warsong Clan is smaller than it was, consisting of those who had once charged into the heat of battle with the scream of honored Grom on their lips.”
“How is it different from a war-pack?”
“Grom kept our warriors as a cohesive force in the dark times after the war. Thrall would never dishonor Grom by disbanding the clan. Thus we remain. Those who wish to join us become Outriders, who are connected to the clan, but not necessarily of it.”
“What is the Warsong Clan’s opinion of the druids—”
“Pah! Do not speak of those blasted nature wizards in my presence, undead! The druids revere Cenarius. Yet it was Cenarius who came to the aid of the cowardly elves. It was Cenarius who turned the very forest against us, murdering noble warriors in the most dishonorable ways. My own son fell in the attack against Cenarius, entangled by roots and slaughtered by elves,” he fumed.
“Some condemn Grom for drinking of the corrupted waters. Yet what choice did he have? The elves were destroying us. Grom only renewed the demonic curse in order to fight off the elves; he would have cast it aside once we secured Ashenvale. And in the end, it was his blade that killed Mannoroth.”
Mal’gok’s version of events was slanted. As one of the chieftains who first partook of Mannoroth’s blood in the Horde’s early days, Grom was quick to go back to the old ways and probably had no intention of returning to Thrall. The Warchief stopped him by force, and finally gave Grom a last chance at redemption. In fairness though, the elves were a ruthless and powerful foe that Grom could not have hoped to defeat. Since the elves did not bother to parley, I can at least understand Grom’s motivation.
I spent the night in that burrow, as the camp lacks guest facilities. It rained heavily the next morning, the downpour turning the treeless ground into a slurry of mud. Peons worked through the rainstorm, ensuring that the timber piles were properly secured and moving harvested lumber to firm ground. I saw (and helped) a group of peons straining to keep a large woodpile from sinking into the muck.
The elves in Astranaar told me that the roots of the trees strengthen the ground. Thus, the problems caused by the rain are an environmental consequence of the logging efforts. Despite this, the orcs are able to deal with such problems effectively, at least for the time being.
The rain continued well into the night though it lessened in intensity, turning into a soft drizzle. In the nights, the peons gather around great bonfires to enjoy well-earned meals. Hardier than humans, the orcs relish the elements, though I did notice some of the older peons retiring to their burrows. While the burrows are quite bare, they are at least warm and dry.
The grunts still had their work ahead of them. The night elves favor the cloak of darkness and are known to make night raids on the camp. The last successful attack took place a little over a year earlier. Since then, none of the raids have gotten past the outer perimeter.
More than a few of the peons fought back against the sentinels. Though not warriors of the Horde, the peons are capable of defending themselves, and are thus considered fair targets. In the Horde, those who are able to fight are expected to do so. Some peons have actually been elevated to warrior status for particularly heroic defense against the Sentinels. A famous example is Bolg Breakspear, who killed two sentinels in the last attack. I did not meet him, but heard the other peons celebrating his deeds.
A shaman came to our group after most of the orcs finished their dinner. Scars covered his muscled body and he walked with a warrior’s confident gait. It was what he held that got my attention. His right hand gripped a great antler, imbued with a strange inner light and ending in a jagged stump where it had been broken off. Two elven skulls hung from fine chains attached to the antler, each containing a smoldering flame visible through the eye sockets. The smell of burning incense drifted out from the grisly trophies.
The shaman greeted the peons and began to speak. He skillfully conjured up the fear felt by the orcs who first walked in the forest, dreading the strange and fickle spirits that lived in each tree, stone, and river. Yet no matter how terrible the forest, Grom was mightier. With him, said the shaman, traveled the ancestor spirits who praised Grom’s freedom from demonic shackles.
“Onward, fierce son, to lead the clans to a new land!” boomed the shaman, his rich voice filling the silence of the camp.
He then told how the orcs stood against the elves, and of the terrible weapons and magic that they bore against the warriors.
“Then they sent the greatest spirit of these forests to do battle against the Warsong! Cenarius charged from the trees, bellowing rage on the hooves of a stag! The bravest of the warriors saw him and quailed... and it was then the demon-song called again to mighty Grom. What was he to do? Whatever he chose, he would do something for his people. So he made a terrible sacrifice!”
He described events of the subsequent battle with relative accuracy. I was shocked when, upon describing the death of Cenarius, the shaman raised up the antler, which suddenly glowed like lightning.
“And when the king of the forest spirits fell, his strength came to us when Grom broke off one of the mighty antlers. Now the power of this forest is within us, and our victory is assured.”
The totem held by the shaman was nothing less than the antler of Cenarius himself. He ended the story with the demons working for total control over Grom’s spirit, the possibilities of redemption and damnation becoming a tantalizing cliffhanger. The peons implored him to continue but the shaman said that they must be patient, and that he would conclude the story the next day.
I caught up with the shaman as he left and requested audience with him. He happily agreed and invited me into Kargathia Keep, the nerve center for the lumber camp. Kargathia Keep consists of a large, central building adjoined by five squat towers. The walls bristle with spikes and staves, making the compound look like the head of a mace.
The shaman, whose name was Rog’hom, led me inside. A tall but narrow hall circumnavigates the circular room at the center. Fires burn in metal tripods, casting a sooty light on the blood-red banners hanging from the walls, all decorated with emblems of the Horde.
“Surely the peons must all know the story by now. Yet they were in genuine suspense when you stopped. Why was that?”
“Haven’t you heard a good story before, Destron? It does not matter how many times you have heard it. If it is told well, the effect is always the same. It is how we remember the triumphs of our heroes, of the spirits who watch over our people.”
I suspected that the sheer number of stories that exist in human society make it harder for a single tale to continuously create an emotional impact.
“May I ask a frank question about Grom?”
“Certainly”, said Rog’hom.
“The histories say that he fell to demonic influence. It was only through Thrall that he overcame it—”
“And then he slew Mannoroth, liberating us from the demons. Now only orcs who willingly embrace darkness must follow the demons, and they are scarcely worthy of being called orcs. But you would think that Grom’s resumption of demonic bloodlust would make him more of a traitor than a hero?”
“I would not go that far, since he did kill Mannoroth. It does seem a severe black mark on his character though.”
“Grom only took to corruption out of desperation. But more importantly, all heroes suffer a moment of weakness. Even the greatest may falter. I shall tell you that nearly all the orcs felt the pull of infernal corruption in those days. During that stormy voyage across the Great Sea I fell sick with frustration. I wanted to again hate everything I saw, cast aside these troublesome notions of honor that Thrall spoke of! I rankled at the idea of some dead ancestor watching over me. When demon blood ran through my veins, I thought myself to be mightier than my forefathers, and strength was all that mattered.”
“Then it was something with which most orcs struggled?”
“Indeed. I could not truly understand what Thrall meant until Mannoroth’s death. The great demon died near here, in Demon Fall Canyon to the south. A monument stands to Grom in that place.”
“He is buried there?”
“No, it is only a monument, not a gravestone. His body rests in Orgrimmar.”
“Pilgrims must often visit the monument.”
“Only on occasion. Demons haunt the passes still, and more than a few have died trying to see the spot where the orcs were at last liberated.”
“I’m surprised you allow the demons to exist there.”
“They spawn from the blood of Mannoroth that spilled there. I fear that a great evil such as him does harm even after death. But the demons there are weak, and are not numerous enough to threaten our operation here.”
This seemed at odds with the behavior I had witnessed at Satyrnaar, where Morx insisted on retrieving the fallen orc’s body.
“Do you not think that the demons desecrate the site?”
“As I said, it is just a stone. Grom’s bones are interred beneath Orgrimmar. What the stone represents is beyond the ability of the Burning Legion to corrupt. The presence of demons is actually quite appropriate.”
“Grom struggled greatly through his life. He fought the humans, even when his clan was alone and hunted. He battled demons within and without, torn between the cruelty of the old ways and the righteousness he saw in the new. At the end of his life, he finally won and destroyed the corrupter. His life was a testament to challenge. The best way to honor his memory is not to make some pilgrimage to a stone; even a murloc could do that! We honor Grom by fighting demons. The battle against the Burning Legion is the true memorial to Grom, not some stone obelisk. Those who travel there must do battle, just as he did. And in the death of those demons, the great spirit of Grom is pleased, knowing that his work lives on.”
I was allowed to spend the night in Kargathia Keep. I left early the next morning. The talk of demons had been prescient, for my next destination was the cursed forest of Felwood.