Saturday, October 20, 2007
Teldrassil’s eternal evening sky fades in the south, replaced by Darkshore’s mournful gray mists. The ferry passes jagged stones that thrust out like teeth from the Veiled Sea’s iron waters. I would soon step onto a vast and foreboding continent, a world away from the Eastern Kingdoms. Kalimdor had long been inhabited, yet only lightly touched by the hand of sentient beings.
The ferry soon docked at the port of Auberdine. The sun’s rays barely reach the gloomy town. Unlike Rut’theran, Auberdine is a genuine port city. Ships from the Eastern Kingdoms crowd along the quays and human sailors amble down the paths, wrapped in heavy sea coats to ward off the damp chill.
I checked into the inn and set off to explore. The Kaldorei built (or more accurately, grew) Auberdine on the desolate strands and banks that stick out into the ocean. Bridges connect one part of the town to another. Auberdine is smaller than Darnassus but considerably busier. Much of this bustle comes from the large visiting population, who bring with them the chaos of the Eastern Kingdoms. I discovered that a small permanent population of humans lives in Auberdine, acting as dockworkers.
“We work for the merchant companies who own the warehouses, usually Stormwinder or Tirasi. They’re the ones who pay us. I don’t think there are enough elves to really maintain the docks, and they hate this sort of work anyway.” The speaker was Herman Engelschwert, a Stromgarder who originally fled to Menethil with his parents when Lordaeron fell to the Scourge.
“When my mother and father died, I did not have many prospects. I kept hearing that you could get good money working in Auberdine, especially since many humans were afraid to go to Kalimdor. I had little choice, so I went,” he explained.
“Are you glad that you did?”
“Yes, very much so. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Menethil, but it is not a pleasant town. Auberdine is a bit grim, but the people are much... well, not friendly, but polite at least. No one is going to stab you in the back. And I like the rain anyway.”
“I have visited Menethil, so I understand your point. Do you interact with the elves very much?”
“Not all that much. A few of them are friendly but most do not seem to trust us. The elves charge humans extra for food. It is still quite cheap, but some of the workers here are angry about it. I think they charge us more because we cannot make our own, and the elves do not like having to gather it for us.”
“But aren’t you a benefit to the local economy?”
“I do not know. Nearly everything we unload eventually goes to Darnassus, and the elves inspect the cargo once we put it in the warehouse. They’re looking for dangerous magic or something. I don’t know if it is elves or other humans in Darnassus who do the buying. Very little is sold to Auberdine directly. We still help the economy, but not as much as you might think.”
Most humans live communally in a large night elf structure grown especially for them. The humans first set up small shanties of their own, but the authorities in Auberdine considered those rude structures to be eyesores and created a more aesthetic replacement. Unfortunately, many humans dislike the new housing arrangement.
As for the night elves, I do not think they are as hostile to the humans as the dockworkers believe. Their attitude is better described as indifference. Since the human neighborhood no longer offends their sensibilities, they are content to ignore the newcomers.
“Remember that it is difficult for us Kaldorei to much concern ourselves with anything that lasts less than a century. Why should an elf get to know a human when he will die so soon? This is probably a foolish attitude to take; the future seems to belong to these races. Yet most Kaldorei prefer to ignore the present and dream of the past.”
Izuran Meadowspring worked as a smith, forging items both utilitarian and decorative. The night elves are no different than any other race when it comes to metalwork. Their ability to shape materials at will does not apply to metal. Items of gold or silver fell out of favor in the times immediately after the Sundering, for they were too closely associated with the fineries of Queen Azshara. Over the millennia, they again found acceptance. Izuran was himself quite old, having been born before the Sundering. He possessed a wealth of historical information.
“When was Auberdine built?” I asked.
“Five-thousand years 'ere the Sundering. Those days saw it as nothing more than a tiny fishing village on the edge of the world, shadowed by the grand ports of Mathystra to the north and Zoram to the south, both long since ruined. Inland stood the magnificent cities of Bashel’aran and Ameth’aran.”
“Did you live in any of those?”
“Yes, in Mathystra. I still remember the joy I felt seeing the sparks fly as my father crafted a glimmering sword for a noble client. The skill made my family renowned, and the Highborne often came to witness and receive our creations.”
“But you were not yourself of the Highborne?”
“No, we were simple artisans. Yet those of great skill received appropriate respect. In those days we used limited amounts of arcane magic to craft tools and weapons. My father was very wise though, and insisted I learn how to work without it. I complained bitterly at the time, but now I am deeply thankful that he taught me a higher path.”
“When did you move here?”
“I dare say four or five-hundred years after the Sundering. All the cities of old were dying, even if they escaped the full wrath of the disaster. This seemed an appropriate place. I have been here since, living through my art.”
“Was Darkshore always so gloomy?”
“Sorry, I mean no disrespect. I do not see how rain and clouds are gloomy. Nature has many faces and all are beautiful. Before the Sundering this land lay much farther to the south, and was much warmer. That cataclysm pushed us to the north and the warm grasslands became cold and wet. With them came the forest’s sylvan beauty. That was when we began to call it Darkshore. Darkness does not have the same connotation for us as it does for humans. We are night elves after all, and darkness has always been our friend. Only at night does our Goddess reveals Her glory to us. This land has sickened, though.”
“Why is that?”
“The demons who laid waste to Hyjal corrupted the forests to the east. Rivers now carry the infernal taint to this realm, slowly killing the forest.”
“I trust the druids have been attempting to rectify the situation?”
“Yes, though not without great difficulty. Little of consequence can be done in Darkshore. The solution lies in cleansing Felwood, and that is indeed a great and awful task. I pray for any who attempt it.”
Auberdine has a brighter side as well. Though less so than a human or dwarven port, Auberdine still carries a bit of the cosmopolitan air present in any large seaside settlement.
Shaussiy Glimmerleaf was the proprietress of the inn where I stayed. She was just over 2,000 years old; relatively young for a night elf. The Kaldorei do not bother keeping exact records of their age, due to their perception of time. Shaussiy once lived in a house near the ruins of Mathystra and she remembered spending her childhood years exploring the crumbling temples and palaces. For her, the ancient city was a curiosity, a playground. She moved to Auberdine a few centuries before the Third War and lived with the previous innkeeper, who had accidentally drowned two years ago. The establishment was given over to her care.
Curious about the outside world, Shaussiy makes the inn a welcome place for humans, dwarves, and gnomes. The inn is one of the few places where the human dockworkers go for recreation. She is fond of getting handsome human men to teach her the Common language. Given her beauty, most are quite happy to oblige.
Unlike a human tavern, drinking and socializing is rarely done under the roof of the establishment. Elves come in, buy wine or food, and then go back outside where they may enjoy their purchase closer to nature's beauty. Kaldorei inns are almost always open-air. This is to make it feel more natural, and also serves a symbolic purpose. The outside air moves freely through the inn, just like travelers. Shaussiy convinced the local druids to cast spells to keep warm air in and cold air out for the benefit of the frequent non-elven guests.
Given Darkshore’s drizzly climate, it is not surprising that most non-elves prefer to take their meals indoors. When the evening chill creeps over the rocky coasts, the parlor room (or the elven equivalent thereof) fills with guests. A few of the more inquisitive Kaldorei are also present. As the room began to calm, Shaussiy took out a night elven string instrument called a koto. A koto looks a lot like a zither, though longer and more organic in appearance. The sound is considerably different, the koto’s tones much smoother and more melodic than the zither’s sharp twang. She often played music from the Eastern Kingdoms, adding a few Kaldorei twists. A particular favorite was the koto rendition of “The Harri Leim Song,” a tune that originated in the beer gardens of Stromgarde, composed in honor of a roguish folk hero. I sometimes raised my own withered voice when it came to the few lines I still remembered.
An air of death blankets Darkshore, stymieing the elves’ best efforts to dispel it. Some of this grim atmosphere came from my own perception of the rainy climate, which the elves see much differently. However, the other signs are less subjective.
The corpses of great leviathans litter the uninviting beaches south of Auberdine, washed up onto the gray sands to rot. Murlocs with white, nearly translucent skin gather around the carcasses, peeling off meat for sustenance. Corruption is further evident in the dense forests farther inland. Trees rise silent on pale and sickly trunks that rot away around the roots, and the branches bear leaves that are dull or dead. Emaciated animals wander aimlessly in the darkness, sickened by the polluted vegetation. Tufts of strange red grass gather in some areas and create a painful rash if touched with bare skin.
I left Auberdine after three days. I traveled with a group of 37 night elves undertaking a Sorrow Path. These were elves who had survived the Sundering but never truly recovered in mind and spirit, even after 10,000 years. Haunted by the memories of their loved ones they linger on in a ghostly existence, at times barely aware of the world around them. They view the world through the lens of despair. Only a few still remain; many have died of grief over the millennia.
The group with which I traveled was headed to the ruins of Ameth’aran, a day south of Auberdine. Vengeful ghosts of departed elves haunt that ancient site. The spirits of the dead, though hostile, stay put so long as the pilgrims set up the proper wards and do not get too close. These wards take the form of special lanterns called Elune’s Stars, which act as vessels for vey-sil energy.
Three sentinels escorted the pilgrims. Their company was needed, as not a single one of the pilgrims could speak so much as a word of Common. Those sentinels had all been born after the Sundering, and seemed to both pity and resent the elves in their care. I spoke with one named Elynnia Willowtear, who had recently returned from fighting orcs in Ashenvale.
“Seeing these poor souls truly strengthens my respect for Tyrande and Malfurion. They suffered during the Sundering as well, yet they still lead us in our battles.”
“How do these pilgrims function in society?” I asked.
“The simple answer is that they do not. The Kaldorei find it difficult to change. Those sad souls who trudge behind us right now lost all that they knew and loved. They sought solace in their memories, but became trapped by the same. Now they cannot change at all. I think that Nordrassil’s destruction may have been a mercy for them. At least their suffering will someday end.”
“How did they react to the loss of the World Tree?”
“I doubt most of them even know.”
“Do you think more elves will end up this way after Nordrassil’s fall? Assuming Teldrassil does not restore the immortality.”
“Teldrassil is druidic arrogance made manifest,” she scoffed. “That said, I do not think many of our number will end up like this. I’m not sure why. I do not think that the loss of immortality was as awful as the Sundering, though I obviously cannot compare the two. Nor can I speak for all, but many of my Sisters and I were growing weary of immortality. That is why we risked our lives so freely. I do think that most of the elves today are apt to accept their new situation. More than these, at least.”
“I would give some of the credit to the humans. Becoming mortal is easier when we are not alone. So thank you, on behalf of the Kaldorei.”
“You are more than welcome.”
Little of Ameth’aran remains other than a few scattered pillars and stone foundations. The crumbling remnants in that dark forest provide an unforgettably melancholy sight. A vast shudder went through the pilgrims when they arrived, and they fell to the ground wailing laments many thousands of years old. A few who remained standing set up wooden lanterns that emitted a weak, blue light. They knelt beside the dying illumination and bowed their heads, their bodies wracked in sobs.
Specks of cold light danced between the pillars, coalescing into spectres of the ancient dead. The sentinels readied themselves, but remained calm. More ghosts arrived, garbed in afterimages of rotting finery. The mournful chorus continued, becoming ever more dissonant, and a look of pain flitted over Elynnia’s face.
It became an almost physical ordeal to remain there. Several of the mourners tried to fling themselves into the hands of the dead, and the sentinels restrained them by force. The sentinels acted wisely, for those killed by the spirits will become ghosts themselves. Though the undead hovered at a distance, I sensed the loathing and spiritual hunger emanating from their insubstantial forms. Nothing the Kaldorei do will appease those spirits. Sages and priests had made many past attempts to destroy the ghosts, yet more always haunted the weathered stone pillars and broken temples. Some believe that those spirits can never be put to rest.
The mourners eventually exhausted themselves and their hoarse cries turned to whispers. They lay prone on the ground as if dead. I tried to imagine carrying that sort of grief for 10,000 years, and could barely begin to fathom it.
Elynnia soon set up a small campfire and the sentinels gathered around it to warm up. Apparently fires are only prohibited in the wilds of Teldrassil, a fact that Elynnia thought was silly.
“If a lightning strike causes a fire on the World Tree, are they going to persecute the storm?”
She had a good point. The two other sentinels knew nothing of the Common language, so Elynnia acted as an interpreter. They learned some Common and I learned a tiny bit of Darnassian. Our linguistic exchange came as a welcome relief after the draining ritual.
The mourners woke up in the misty light of early dawn, sitting in brooding silence. The ghosts had faded back into the ruins sometime during the night. With gentle urging, the Sentinels prepared the dazed pilgrims for the journey back to Auberdine.
“I truly loathe this task,” sighed Elynnia. “Spending time with them destroys my sense of life.”
“Would you ever be transferred to a different area?”
“I will eventually. Though eventually is not soon enough.”
“Are Sorrow Paths held at other ruins?”
“In the past yes, but the other ruins are too dangerous these days. Entities like the naga rule those places, and no amount of Elune’s Stars will keep them away. Ameth’aran is the only place in Darkshore cursed with the restless dead.”
“Why is that?”
“I do not know. There are stories about a Highborne magus tricking the people into undeath, or it being a curse upon the people of Ameth’aran. The Ameth’aran survivors are the ones who fled before whatever caused the haunting occurred. A sad business. You are headed south?”
“Yes. I’m afraid this is where we must part.”
“Malorne guide your path then. I hope that I’ll be able to see that great human city in the east... Ironforge, I think?”
“Ironforge is a great city, though it is dwarven, not human. Were you thinking of Stormwind City?”
“Ah! That’s the one. However I’d like to see both.”
“Having seen both I can assure you that both are well worth it.”
Elynnia guided the weary mourners back to Auberdine while I traveled farther into Kalimdor.
A great circle of stone pillars dominates the Grove of the Ancients. Onu stands in the center, an Ancient of Lore whose eyes have witnessed the passing of 20,000 years. Some claim him to be the oldest of his kind, though Onu said there is no way to be sure of that.
“Once, you could feel the life in this forest, every tree and blade of grass bursting with it. Now it hides from the corruption brought by the waters,” lamented Onu.
Onu bears a great and abiding love for the forests of Darkshore, and is taking action against the growing foulness. Working with a small group of druids he watches over the land, searching for ways to heal the damage. From the look of it, he will be busy for a long time.
I met an elven hunter at the Grove of the Ancients named Feyneron Owlwing. Feyneron owned no fixed abode, wandering freely through the forests of Kalimdor. For him, even the naturalistic elven villages seemed alien and constraining. Though preferring a carefree existence, he feared for the health of the furbolg tribes that live in Darkshore.
“Do you know of the furbolgs?” he asked me, not long after we met.
“I think I have heard of them. They are the bear-men correct?”
Feyneron laughed at that.
“Please do not take offense at my laughter. The elves once called them urseldorei, which I suppose would translate as bear-elf. The furbolgs are what they call themselves, and most outsiders seem to have adopted the term.”
Feyneron came to the Grove to offer his services to Onu. The Ancient of Lore deemed him useful and charged him with contacting the furbolgs to learn of their state. The furbolgs had grown increasingly reclusive, making it difficult to learn what troubled them. Feyneron agreed to let me travel with him though he warned me to let him lead the way. I readily agreed.
“In truth, I believe that the Kaldorei should be more like the furbolgs. For all our talk of nature, the furbolgs seem much closer to it than we,” he said, as we walked.
“I take it they do not build cities?”
“They have villages, just the same as we. Perhaps it is simply all the centuries I’ve spent hunting in the wild, but I think that the elves fell out of touch by having nature give everything to them. The elven communities are never in any real danger of running out of food or resources. The furbolg must struggle, and because of that they earn a better understanding of nature.”
“Then you would say that the elves should give up their unique bond with nature?”
“Heh, they may not have a choice. From what I hear, Teldrassil has failed and nature is no longer as generous as it was in years past. I will not say what the elves should or should not do. I merely question their claims of bonding with nature.”
He then explained furbolg societal structure.
“The furbolgs live in simple bands that consist of a few families. The bands in an area make up a larger tribe.”
“How many tribes are there in Darkshore?”
“Just one, the Blackwood. They are not very friendly, but the furbolgs have always been a bit clannish, even before the troubles.”
“How did you come to know so much about them?”
“I spent my childhood with the Redclaw Tribe in Azshara. My mother saved the life of Ulgon Redclaw, an important shaman in the tribe. Both of my parents were slain by satyrs one night, and the Redclaw took me in and raised me as a cub.”
“Relations between the two races were good?”
“We were able to coexist, our hearts lifted in good cheer. Speech between the two races has always been a bit tricky. The elven tongue can only approximate the furbolg language, and the furbolgs have the same difficulty with Darnassian.”
“When did you leave the Redclaw Tribe?”
“I was a century old; long since adult in body though far from it in spirit or mind. Ulgon, who was quite old at that point, took me aside and told me that I must learn the ways of my own kind, that my mother would have wanted it that way. I resisted but eventually saw the wisdom of his words. The Redclaw no longer exist. Three-hundred years ago they split in anger. One half joined the Timbermaw furbolgs, and the other half faded away.”
“I am sorry to hear that. My own nation in the Eastern Kingdoms was destroyed, so I can relate.”
“Tribes and nations fall, and it is the way of things. Nature alone is eternal. Yet I am afraid for the furbolgs. The demons found them a ripe target, and corrupted their minds. Many of the tribes went mad with anger and now slaughter all they see. The furbolgs in Felwood were the worst afflicted and I hear Winterspring is no better.”
“The Blackwood escaped this fate?”
“So far. I pray that the darkening in their mood is not indicative of corruption. Here we are!”
Feyneron pointed to a meadow of dark and dying grass. A mighty bonfire burned in the center. Hulking anthropoids with bear’s heads kept watch around the blaze. From their massive shoulders hung long arms that could undoubtedly tear a man limb from limb. I was slightly unnerved to see several bear hides stretched between poles to be cured. Still, I figured that it was no more abnormal for a furbolg to hunt a bear than it was for a human to hunt an ape.
Feyneron made a strange groan and the large ears of the furbolg perked up in anticipation. They turned to face us, obvious hostility in their posture, fur bristling on their thick necks. Feyneron continued, making occasional gestures. Then the nearest furbolg picked up a spear and threw it. The spear buried itself just below Feryneron’s chest and his words turned into a scream.
Another spear was flung, narrowly missing the wounded elf on the ground, his face open in shock. I summoned up a blizzard, hoping that it would at least give the furbolgs pause. They drew back from the magical storm, snarling and roaring. I picked Feyneron up, his large body almost painful to lift, and fled through the forest. The furbolgs gave chase and I feared they would soon catch up. However they seemed to lose interest, and their snarls receded back into the forest.
I put Feyneron down on the ground once I reached a safe distancy. Violet blood still ran from the wound, and his face was nearly white. I did not expect him to live long.
“I shall try to go for help. I do not think the furbolg will pursue us,” I said.
He mumbled something in reply. I leaned in closer.
“What a pity,” he whispered. With that, he died.
Uncertain as to what to do, I carried the body back to the road. I was fortunate enough to encounter a patrol of huntresses. I explained what had happened, and they sorrowfully agreed to take the body and inform Onu.
The forest regains a measure of health in its last stretch. Ashenvale, the vast woodland to the south, is still healthy and vibrant. It is certainly not peaceful. Warriors of the Alliance and Horde fight for dominance in the ancient forest. It seems that the night elves are in retreat throughout most of their old lands. I suspect it will take a great deal of effort and change to reverse the process.