Monday, October 22, 2007
Desolace is the graveyard of Kalimdor. When the great kodo beasts approach death, they leave their herds and travel west until they come to a land of gray dust and soured skies. These aged and dying animals lumber through the desert in small and ragged herds. Burdened by their immense size they weaken with each step, and stragglers fall prey to roaming packs of hyenas. At last, weary unto death, they come to the great Kodo Graveyard in the center of Desolace and wait for the end to come.
I ventured through this foreboding land for three days before encountering a single soul. Remnants of the pre-Sundering elven civilization litter the ashen hills in the north. There are signs that it had once been a more verdant land, like the petrified trees sticking out of the gray earth. These ancient trees have actually turned to stone over the course of millennia.
Late in the third day, on a stifling night loud with the braying of hyenas, I came across the ruins of a caravan. It was completely ransacked, a tumble of burned wagons and the skeletons of oxen. Desolace is a very violent land. As miserable as it is, the centaurs have long fought each other for control of it, and both the Horde and Alliance maintain outposts.
High up in the northern mountains of Desolace is the Alliance base of Nijel’s Point. I discovered it purely by luck, encountering an Alliance patrol while traveling southeast across the wasteland. Quickly donning my disguise, I introduced myself and they agreed to take me to Nijel’s Point.
“The humans have short memories and like to call it Nijel’s Point. The Kaldorei will always remember it as Selum’aran,” said Shendellora Stargleam, the Sentinel leading the patrol. We were climbing a rocky path into the severe, gray mountains.
Nijel’s Point is staffed by a combination of humans and night elves. This decision was made as a gesture of cooperation between Stormwind and Darnassus, and has so far proven successful. A Lordaeronian explorer named Nijel Aislingowe discovered the site during the Third War. He was flayed alive by centaurs of the Kolkar Clan soon after his discovery.
The ruins of old Selum’aran have somehow become embedded in the mountains. Towers and temples stick out from cliff walls in states of severe erosion. Modern, wooden Kaldorei structures and a few human-style houses stand in the interior of the base.
Nijel’s Point is actually quite green. While a far cry from the lush forests of Ashenvale or Teldrassil, it is a welcome sight after the endless desert. Stunted eucalyptus trees manage to survive in small groups, growing from carpets of lichen and pale grass.
“There was a great lake of pure water in the center of the city when it was still called Selum’aran. Upon it rested the Floating Garden, where every water plant in the world could flower and thrive. I suppose a bit of that old beauty survives even today,” mused Shendellora.
“Were you alive when the Floating Garden existed?”
“I grew up here. For a thousand blessed years I lived in Selum’aran. After the Sundering, I never imagined I would return, and I told myself I did not want to do so. But when the humans found it and spoke of living there, my memories called me home. It is a good thing, I think. Now that I am mortal, I can at least look forward to dying in the city I so loved.”
Kalimdor is sometimes called the New World by humans, dwarves, gnomes, and orcs. For the night elves it is older than old. The tauren see the spirits of nature in all things. The elves, in contrast, associate the myriad ruins of Kalimdor to treasured and painfully distant memories.
The Cenarion Circle maintains a small but growing presence in Nijel’s Point. A Keeper of the Grove and a group of dryads work to expand the greenery present in the mountains. Marandis, the Keeper, explained to me that Desolace had been a land of semi-arid plains before the Sundering.
“More trees shall help this land,” he added.
Remembering Ona Wildmane and her Amber Circle, I had to question that. My doubts offended Marandis, so I left him to his business.
Nijel's Point’s inn is where off-duty soldiers spend much of their time. The human soldiers are mostly from Stormwind, though there is a small contingent of Tirasi marines. The humans and Kaldorei are friendly enough with each other, though at times a bit wary. An intense-looking human in a red robe approached me at sundown.
“Have you come here under the banner of the Alliance?” he demanded. His voice was so strong that I was momentarily at a loss for an answer.
“Er, yes. I have. I’m only visiting however. I intend to travel to Feathermoon Stronghold to the south.”
“Think of your duties to humanity and the world, scholar—”
“How did you know I was a scholar?”
“You have the look of one. Probably an arcanist, if you are traveling in a land as dangerous as this. I am Brother Anton
Ordracu of the Scarlet Crusade. I came here with five holy warriors to cleanse the land of the walking dead.”
“A new Scourge in the making. The centaurs of the Magram Clan have committed the unforgiveable sin of necromancy; though their skill in raising the dead is poor, to allow it to continue is an affront to all that lives. Extermination is the only solution. I would not be surprised if the Scourge has had a hand in the Magram Clan’s activities. And there are the demon worshippers in Thunder Axe Fortress and Mannoroc Coven,” he added as an afterthought. He stared directly into my eyes, and I feared he saw through my glass orbs.
“I cannot stay, unfortunately. Urgent business calls me.”
Anton shook his head.
“Then go. I shall pray that you will see the Light, and join us here.”
I had no idea the Scarlet Crusade was active in Kalimdor, or that the Magram centaurs had necromancers. I was profoundly troubled by both revelations. I met another crusader the next day, a gigantic warrior named Kados Gotrescu. He was considerably more amiable than his fanatical superior.
“Brother Anton is a good man; he’s merely worried that the undead will take over this region,” he said to me over breakfast.
“Do you think that it is a risk?”
“A small one. The Magram necromancers are incompetent but there’s always the possibility that they’ll accidentally release some new plague. Anton and I were both stationed in Tyr’s Hand out in the Eastern Plaguelands—trust me, no matter how awful Desolace looks, it’s better than the Plaguelands—when the Grand Crusader ordered us to go out here. We’re also on the lookout for new recruits.”
“So you enjoy being here in Desolace?”
“I always have to remember Desolace is a dangerous place, but I certainly prefer it. And those sentinel women more than make up for the bleak natural scenery,” he laughed.
“If I may speak frankly, you seem much friendlier than most Scarlet Crusaders I’ve met.”
“I imagine that is because I’m out here. When you have so many people with such strong beliefs holed up in a small town surrounded by the dead—like in Tyr’s Hand—you have to expect a bit of moodiness. I know that it is my duty to eventually return, so I shall enjoy Kalimdor as best I can. Maybe I can even convince some sentinels to join the Crusade...”
Kados was well-regarded by the people of Nijel’s Point and he appeared to deserve his reputation. Generous, friendly, and charismatic, he was a natural-born leader. Anton’s recruitment efforts would have been completely futile without Kados. But I recalled Marlus, the Tyr’s Hand peasant maimed by his Scarlet overlords. For all I knew, Kados had been the one to rip the fingers from the wretch’s right hand. I could not view Kados as anything other than utterly despicable.
While I was impatient to leave Nijel’s Point and see the rest of Desolace, I first tried to get some information about the centaurs. Whatever the claims of the Horde and Alliance, Desolace is still the land of the centaur clans, and they are a brutish and cruel bunch. A Sentinel named Kyreesha Whisperbrook informed me of what to expect.
“Walk through these lands with caution. The Kolkar Clan makes their home in the east, and attack everyone they see. They are the only clan that actively pursues war against the Horde, but this does not mean they bear any love for the Alliance. In the west is the Maraudine Clan, who are also hostile. Then in the south are the Gelkis and Magram Clans... currently we have a treaty with the Gelkis, but there’s no way to tell how long it will last.”
“When was this treaty made?”
“Five months ago. The Magram Clan now stands alongside the Horde,” she sighed, casting a contemptuous glance to the south.
“Why are the Horde and Alliance even involved in this struggle?”
“The humans wished to unite the centaurs under a single banner, so that they would have a loyal puppet kingdom in Kalimdor. The Horde feared this, so they sided with the Magram soon after our overture to the Gelkis.”
“I was told that the Magram have necromancers.”
“They do. Fighting the Magram brought the Scarlet Crusade to our side.”
“I never thought that the centaurs would ally with the Horde. Their hatred for the tauren is legendary.”
“It is not as strong as the hatred between the Magram and Gelkis. Now the two clans make bloody raids, led or advised by adventurers of the Horde and Alliance. I shall tell you truthfully that it is a stalemate, and both factions are too concerned with the demon cultists to pay the centaurs much mind. It is for the best; the centaurs can only corrupt us by association. The Gelkis Clan follows earth elementals, so they are not much better than the Magram. We will just let them kill each other. The destruction of that misbegotten race will be for the betterment of the world.”
I woke with the dawn the next day and walked into the cemetery of Kalimdor. Words cannot adequately describe Desolace’s oppressive gloom. The gray wastelands stretch in every direction beneath the sickly sky. The monotony is broken only by the odd boulder, or the clutches of petrified trees that reach out from the desiccated ground like skeletal hands.
The topography of the land gradually sinks into a vast basin, as if to help the dying kodo herds reach their last resting place. A suffocating silence reigns in these lands, as if the wind fears disturbing the stagnant air. Dry river beds scar the earth, the basins colored a sickly ochre in contrast to the ashen rock. The gulches quickly fill with flood waters during the rare winter rainstorms; it is only through these storms that life in central Desolace is possible.
Travelers may be surprised by the pools of water scattered across the sere landscape. But the total absence of vegetation around these false oases should serve as a warning. Sitting water in Desolace is quickly contaminated by chemicals that seep up from the ground, turning it into a poisonous mix that calcifies the insides of those who drink from it. I spotted the remains of small animal at the edge of one water hole, its corpse turned completely to stone.
The skeletons of the kodo beasts are ubiquitous in the central basin. Dead kodo are quickly stripped to the bone by lizards and vultures. No one can say for sure why the kodo have always chosen to die in that place. Even the wisest tauren shaman can only guess. Whatever the reason, 10,000 years’ worth of kodo corpses litter the graveyard. Gigantic rib cages and skulls stick out from the ground at strange angles, sheltering the flocks of vultures. Between the great spines and skulls lie the cracked remains of smaller bones, worn down to nubs by time. Eventually, they erode into grainy particles, indistinguishable from the gray sand.
I spent the night in the lonely tauren community of Ghost Walker Post, perched on a barren ridge overlooking the Kodo Graveyard. Though founded as a spiritual site for communion with the ancestors, it has undergone significant militarization. Tauren shamans founded the post two years after the Battle of the Red Rocks. They had always viewed the Kodo Graveyard as a holy place, and considered its liberation from the centaur to be a blessing. Also, keeping a colony in the midst of centaur territory offered a glorious symbol of the Horde’s victory.
The enigmatic society of the Spirit Walk was especially keen to live in this grim frontier. Unlike other tauren shaman lodges, members of the Spirit Walk are inducted by birth rather than by training. When a tauren is born with white fur, the tribes consider it a sign that he or she is destined for the Spirit Walk. Members of the Spirit Walk are said to physically enter the spirit world, their bodies on the temporal world remaining as ghostly after-images. These mysterious shamans hinted that the occupation of the Kodo Graveyard could usher in a new, holy era for the tribes.
War has derailed these plans. I was not able to speak to any spirit walkers while in the Post; only two were actually residing there at the time of my visit, and both were deep in meditative trances. The braves also informed me (politely) that my undead state might disrupt their communication with the ancestors.
There is a growing orcish military presence in Ghost Walker Post. The Spirit Walk is not entirely pleased by this, but they understand that their base would not even exist without the orcs. Ghost Walker Post now acts as a staging area for attacks against the diabolists to the north and south.
The demon worshippers of Desolace are members of the Burning Blade Cult. During the Second War, the Horde had counted the Burning Blade Clan among its ranks as a brotherhood of demented berserkers. While indeed deadly in combat, the Burning Blade’s savagery made them difficult to control. Once all the humans in a given area were dead, the Burning Blade orcs often turned on their brethren and had to be beaten into submission by ogres. The final, suicidal charge of the clan during the Battle of the Dark Portal was a fearsome sight to be sure, but they were little more than an annoyance to the organized Alliance armies.
This new Burning Blade Cult is apparently more disciplined than their previous incarnation, though not by very much. In the years after the Third War, the Burning Blade Cult enjoyed a nearly unassailable position in north and south Desolace. They threw away this advantage, rotting from within due to constant infighting.
I spent a single day in Ghost Walker Post before turning south to Magram Village.
A fence of spears wanders through the desert, each shaft topped with a raw and bloody centaur’s head, flies gorging themselves in the collapsed eyes and neck stumps. Amidst the spears stands a tall, narrow red banner decorated with crudely-drawn white lances: the sign of the Magram Clan.
Dust and ruin have reigned supreme in southern Desolace since time immemorial. The pointless and eternal war between the Magram and Gelkis has forever marked the land. While the Kolkar Clan made war on the tauren tribes, and the Maraudine guarded the centaur holy sites, the Magram and Gelkis preferred to fight each other. This is not to say that the Kolkar and Maraudine are aloof from inter-clan warfare; they simply do not pursue it with the same relish as their southern brethren. The Magram and Gelkis devote most of their mental energy to remembering the endless litany of crimes suffered by each clan at the hands of its neighbor.
The centaurs eke out their miserable lives on the marginally habitable fringes of Desolace. There they can take advantage of drinkable mountain streams and wild game. They have enough food to get by, but the centaurs still practice cannibalism. Raids on rival clans serve the same purpose as hunting wild animals. The Gelkis Clan (according to the humans at Nijel’s Point) is especially enamored of this barbaric practice, having incorporated it into their religious rituals. Gelkis or not, cannibalism is a common practice to all centaur clans.
Seven days of hard travel through the lifeless desert brought me to Magram Village. It is a miserable sight, huddles of rude yurts scattered about a rocky basin. A ring of jagged spears encloses each group of tents. Streams of yellowish water, polluted by Magram carelessness, wander through the gray landscape.
I had not gone far into the camp when a band of Magram warriors galloped towards me. Their shrill cries echoed through the dying valley, mixing in with the yelps and howls of the mangy hyenas running between their hooves. They soon surrounded me, their brutish faces stamped in permanent sneers. A hideous barking sound broke from their thin lips, mouths opening to show off rows of broken yellow teeth. Clouds of buzzing flies hovered around the head of each centaur.
A larger centaur pushed one of his comrades aside.
“You from Alliance?” he demanded.
“I am of the Horde.”
“One of the rotten-humans. Where are your weapons?”
“I am a mage.”
The centaur gave a derisive snort.
“If I see you alone in village after today, I kill you, for you are weak. For now, I will take you to Horde warriors that have a bit of strength. Follow!”
Unnerved, I trailed the centaur pack across a rickety bridge that connected to a gathering of yurts. Hyenas darted to and fro as I walked, yapping and baring their fangs. The centaurs laughed, and one of them reared up in front of me without warning, thrusting his hooves inches in front of my face. I stared at him, refusing to allow him the satisfaction of fear. He spat and continued on his way.
“The khan will kill you if he sees you alone, for you are weak and he is strong. You stay with the other Horde. Alen is a rotten-human like you, but he is strong. He murders Gelkis from far away, and piles their bodies high for the feast.”
The centaur shoved me into one of the yurts. As my eyes got used to the darkness, I saw that the rough ground was covered with rugs of centaur skin, and decorated with bones lashed together to form furniture. Revulsion was the only sensible reaction.
“Fancy seeing a Forsaken here,” snickered a hollow voice.
A Forsaken was sprawled on a crude chair, a wide-brimmed black hat obscuring his face. Two rifles were strapped to his back, and belts of shot hung from his shoulders. I could just make out his lipless grin.
“You are Alen?”
“Alen-of-the-Gun, I’ve been called. Make yourself at home. Sorry if the decorations aren’t to your liking; the Magram gave me the skins of the Gelkis and Kolkar as a gift, and I could not refuse them. Besides, I find I rather like the centaur aesthetic. Not so different from Undercity, in truth.”
“The Magram said they would kill me if they caught me wandering alone.”
“They might. You have to understand that centaurs, especially Magram, will threaten to kill nearly anyone. You have to prove yourself in the blood of their enemies. Then they’ll worship you like a god,” he laughed.
I lived in Alen’s gruesome tent for three long days, learning all that I could about the Magram Clan. Alen’s description had not been an exaggeration; power is the only thing they respect. The Magram Clan is ruled by Khan Jehn, a freakishly large centaur of fearsome temper. The khan’s duties are mostly limited to the perpetuation of war against the clan’s enemies. The Magram Clan traces its origins to Khan Magra, who reigned millennia in the past. Though long dead, he is the only khan who is actually respected. The names of subsequent khans are not recorded; indeed, it is something of a blasphemy to even mention them. After all, if they died, they must have been weak and not worthy of remembrance. Presumably, Magra’s status as a progenitor exempts him from this tradition.
The centaurs hold the clan above all else but they do not have a strong sense of family. Centaur children are thrown to the clan’s mercy once they are able to walk. Only the centaurs who achieve some notable victory, either in hunt or in battle, are permitted to select names. Violence is common within the clan, though it is rarely lethal. A strong centaur maintains dominance over his brethren through unprovoked beatings. The centaurs have absolutely no concept of martial honor, and will use any trick to come out on top of a fight. Magic is the only method that is forbidden, and this is largely a moot point since the centaurs seem unable to utilize the arcane. Magram necromancers are corrupted shamans, not wizards.
The centaurs use the remnants of their foes for utilitarian purposes, a perverse reflection of the taurens’ thorough usage of the kodo beast. Enemy centaurs are always skinned upon death or capture, and the skin used to make all manner of objects. Lately, orcs with poor taste have begun trading crude weapons in return for centaur-skin rugs. This habitual flaying is practiced by all centaur clans, not just the Magram.
The only centaur who deigned to speak with me at any length was Warug. Warug was a figure of some importance in the clan, though he was a common target of Khan Jehn’s assaults. The khan’s reasoning was that the best way to maintain his power was to terrorize those who actually posed a threat to his position. I asked him if there was a cultural reason for skinning the enemies of the clan.
“The ancestor spirits recognize a centaur by the way he looks,” he snorted. “If a centaur dies without skin, the ancestors will not recognize him. He will wander the land as a ghost, forever!”
“Aren’t you afraid of a rival centaur clan doing that to you? I would think such a practice would be taboo among all clans.”
“Ha! If I am weak enough to die at the spears of the Gelkis or Kolkar, I would deserve the fate of the ghost. It does not matter though; I am too strong. I have sent scores of centaurs to an eternity of loneliness and their suffering warms me on the cold desert night.”
“The other clans all believe this?”
“What do I care what the other clans believe? They will be pounded to blood under our hooves, and we shall grow strong off of their deaths.”
“Tell me about the necromancers. Is this a common practice to the centaur, or is it exclusive to the Magram?”
“The necromancers are shamans. They are not the timid shamans of the bull-men, who are the weakest of the weak! Magram necromancers wrestle the spirits of dead Gelkis—the ones who have been shorn of skin—and put them in bones. The necromancers send the skeletons on humiliating tasks, or against other Gelkis. They soon crumble back into bones, but their suffering goes to the glory of Khan Magra.”
“Does the Magram Clan have any connection with the earth elementals?”
“We were born of earth. The great mother of all centaurs was a daughter of Therazane, the Stonemother. Stone is harsh and cruel; the Stonemother gave birth to the first centaurs, but she cast them from her presence so that they would not grow weak. The Gelkis think the Stonemother watches over them, but they are fools! They grow weaker with their faith and soon we will kill all of the Gelkis. We have been slaughtering them and soon we will have victory. A good mother has contempt for her spawn, until they become strong enough to make her fear them.”
I was barely able to hide my complete disgust. With the notable exception of the necromancers, centaur shamans are woman. Unlike the shamans of the Horde, the shamans of the centaur force spirits to do their bidding. It is possible that the centaur connection to the earth elementals allows them to do this. The anger of the spirits may also go some way to explaining the miserable state of Desolace.
A tauren huntress lived among the Magram. It was not too long ago that the centaurs hated the tauren as much as they did each other. Now, with the centaur race in retreat, they accept anyone who offers them aid in battle. It is a curious aspect of centaur psychology that the different clans blame each other for their race’s defeat at the hands of the Horde. This has only bolstered the Horde’s dominance in central Kalimdor.
This huntress was Honakaiya Runetotem. She lived in a small tent on the outskirts of the village, one mercifully free of centaur remnants. Honakaiya acted as the eyes and ears for the United Tauren Tribes and their interest in the Magram Clan.
“Do you wish to see the Magram have victory over the Gelkis?” I asked her.
“I do not care either way,” she said. “The centaurs murdered countless numbers of the Shu’halo. My father and sisters fell to their spears before the orcs came. And now, look what the centaur do to each other. They are so in love with violence that they destroy themselves willfully. I am here to further this process.”
“What do you mean?”
“The United Tauren Tribes only agreed to help the Magram in order to speed up the centaur race’s efforts to exterminate itself. As long as they live, the tauren can never truly be safe. I despise the work I do here, for I have never cared for war.”
“You are here on behalf of your tribe?”
“They said I must go here, and I have faith in the tribes. I do this so that one day there will be a generation of tauren that does not know the terror of the centaurs.”
On the fourth morning, Alen entered the tent after an unexplained absence during the night.
“It seems that you are in luck Destron. A scout found a Gelkis raiding party winding its way through the mountains. The Gelkis hoped to catch us by surprise but that will not happen. Ready yourself Destron; you’re defending the Horde now, or the Horde’s interests at least.”
I stepped out into the dawn’s weird half-light as a blistering mountain wind howled down from the east. Alen raised a crude, black horn to his mouth, and filled the bleak valley with a giant’s scream.
“Wait here. By the time it’s truly light, we’ll have a pack of murderers at our disposal,” smirked Alen.
Centaur warriors began galloping in, already armed with spears, bows, and guns. Some wore crude leather armor (the base of the armor is the hide of a thunder lizard, but centaur skin is usually stitched over it); most went without protection. The centaurs let out sharp grunts and barks in anticipation. A great cloud of flies hovered over the assembled centaurs, the black specks diving down to sample their filth and sweat. Alen raised a rifle and fired it in the air to quiet the unruly fighters. He spat a few words in Krenkish, the centaur tongue. Alen then raised his left hand and pointed towards a pile of bones lying outside of his yurt. The bones shook and rose in the air, connecting and attaching until a skeletal horse stood in their place.
Centaur raiding parties are elements of pure nightmare. These warriors are neither man nor beast, but something loathsomely in between. Certainly there is nothing of higher thinking in their perpetual filth, or in their cruel hands that seek violence.
Alen rode at the head of the band like death itself, his torn black coat billowing in the wind. At his orders, one of the centaurs acted as my mount. Morning passed into a scorching afternoon, where pounding heat hammered down on the dead flatlands, falling from the obscured sun.
Trotting along a ridge covered with bits of jagged gray rock, we at last spotted our target. A column of Gelkis centaurs (numbering around 50) pushed their way north, kicking up a storm of dust. Earth elementals rumbled among their ranks, floating rocks held together in a vaguely anthropoid assemblage. At the head of their column rode a human warrior mounted on a white horse, his centaur-skin cloak flapping in the wind.
Letting out a hellish cry the Magram charged at the raiders below, their sharp hooves navigating the steep downward slope. Magram archers unleashed a hail of arrows and gunners fired while still running. I could barely see a thing through the veil of dust, though I could tell that the Gelkis were moving forward and to the right.
The world turned into one enraged scream as arrows and javelins cut down warriors on both sides. Neither army stopped to fight; instead, they engaged in a running battle with both forces constantly maneuvering to attack vulnerable spots. That they were able to do it with such coordination and ease in the midst of the fury is a testament to the centaurs’ ability. Should they ever become united, they will pose a formidable threat.
Casting spells proved difficult in such a tumult. It was nearly impossible for me to distinguish between Magram and Gelkis warriors in all of the chaos. I became so confused by the movement that I could not even be completely sure if I was among allies or foes. Then I saw Alen, visible like some ghastly beacon. Astride his galloping skeletal horse he fired shot after shot into the melee.
Javelins, arrows, and bullets tore through the air, even as centaur fighters got close enough to each other to score gory wounds with their lances and axes. The centaur I rode cast aside his bow and took up the ax, using it to cleave any Gelkis that crossed his path. He fought on, oblivious to the barbed arrow buried in his flank. I aided him as best I could, firing off arcane missiles and fireballs at the enemy.
A shrill cheer rose up from the Magram throats and I realized we had won. Dead Gelkis lay in heaps across the plain, along with more than a few Magram. I saw the body of the human warrior, his head completely crushed.
The Magram centaurs instantly broke rank and charged towards the dead Gelkis. Seeing an opening, I dismounted from the centaur and landed roughly in the dust. Awful war whoops echoed through the wastes as they began their butchery. Magram warriors tied some of the Gelkis bodies to ropes and dragged them around the field. Every Gelkis corpse was defiled in some way. Though the centaur do not treat their own dead with much reverence, they at least placed the fallen Magram to the side, away from the frenzy.
It went on long into the night as I watched, weariness and disgust threatening to overpower me. Alen walked up to where I sat, his spectral form drenched in blood, a sick smile stretched across his face.
“You don’t like what you see?”
“No, I do not.”
“It’s your loss.”
He sat down beside me.
“When I was alive I was a meek school master in Dalson’s Hope. I lived to serve the community, as the Light demanded. Now I am completely free of those restraints. I do whatever I wish. I can exist as my true self. You can be the same way, if you desire.”
“I do what I wish. I simply have not allowed bloodlust to become the focus of my life.”
“That is sad. You could be so much more. As for me,” he laughed, standing up, “I’m in Heaven.”
We returned to Magram Village the next day. I quickly retrieved my things from Alen’s yurt and departed for the trollish enclave of Shadowprey Village to the east.
Two weeks passed as I traveled through the southern reaches of Desolace, accompanied only by the memories of forgotten warriors. I had fallen into a deep gloom, one that I had not felt since seeing Defias atrocities in Westfall. The violence in Desolace was not quite as terrible to me; the centaurs are an unfamiliar race to the humans, whether living or undead. Centaur actions are more distant, and cannot inspire the same sense of horror.
I was most troubled by the Horde involvement with the Magram, though in truth it is probably necessary. The Alliance first made ventures to the Gelkis, threatening Horde stability in the region. Perhaps it was the callousness I had seen in Alen and Honakaiya, though in Honakaiya’s case I felt some empathy.
Strange as it may seem, hope may exist for the centaur race. After struggling through the demon-haunted wastelands of Mannoroc Coven I returned to the endless gasping dust. I knew I was getting close to Gelkis Village. On an evening cursed with hot winds I saw a lone centaur standing on a precipice. Far and away, I could see ancient ruins embedded in a canyon. I assumed that they were Kaldorei, though they did not resemble the fallen cities I had seen in the north. The centaur saw me and raised his hands in a gesture of peace. He spoke in accented Orcish.
“I mean you no harm, stranger. I do not bear the honor of any clan on my shoulders, for no clan will have me. Thus, I harbor no hatred towards you.”
“Thank you. What is your name?”
“I never had one. You may call me Pariah, for that is what I am.”
“Were you a Gelkis?”
“I was of the Maraudine. Do you see those arches down there?”
“Centaurs built that once. Thousands upon thousands of years ago.”
I looked at him with some doubt, and he laughed.
“I do not blame you for thinking me mad or deceitful. I can barely believe it myself at times. We did though. In and around Maraudon, the holy home of the clans, one can find ruins like these. I know there were once druidic centaur as well.”
“That is true. I saw their ancient lodge in Moonglade. It is still maintained.”
“Really? I have heard tell of such a thing but I did not know if I dared to believe it. They really do keep it up? Do they expect us to return?”
“While they maintain it, I believe that they do so more out of habit than anything else.”
“I see,” he said, looking disappointed.
“Did the Sundering cause the centaurs to become warring clans?” I asked.
“I wish I knew. I am a historian without texts. Years ago, I tried to get the Maraudine to cease their wars against the other clans, and they drove me from their camps with javelins and stones. Once the centaur ruled central Kalimdor, but that time is over. If we keep fighting each other we will all die, with or without the help of outside forces.”
“What inspired you to try and unite the centaurs?”
“I am not sure. I heard a voice on the wind, telling me to look around my domain. I realized then that we could not have built these great structures while fighting each other. There must have been something more. Now each clan fights for some lunatic reason. Whatever the motivation, the result is always the same.”
“Have you convinced any to join you?”
“A few. They now live in mountain fastnesses far to the south. It is only through great discipline that they can overcome their anger. Perhaps we are cursed by the dark spirit of stone.”
“I think your cause is admirable. Why are you here and not with them?”
“I spend the summers with them, when the heat becomes too much for me to bear alone. The rest of the year I remain in Desolace, searching for other centaurs who may listen to my words.”
The Pariah was unable to tell me much else. I vastly admire his fortitude in trying to piece together the almost completely forgotten history of the centaurs. Contact between centaur and elf during the period of centaur civilization was extremely limited, even though they were geographically close. The few elves that did see the centaur cities (at least, according to the records) have died by violence or grief since then.
I went north, to avoid Gelkis Village. With each step the ghastly haze over the land cleared up a bit more. When I finally saw the sun, glorious and manifest, it was a nearly religious experience. Brilliant light bleached the menace from the endless gray rock.
Even there the land is nearly lifeless due to the lack of water. Petrified trees still hold fast to the rock. Yet little patches of green begin to appear as one goes west. Scrub grass grows under the shadows of dead trees and boulders. Small splashes of bright color dot the hillsides where wildflowers bloom in an endless summer.
Proof of the rich strangeness of our world is the fact that coastal Desolace may well be one of the most desirable spots in Azeroth. The sun shines almost every day, and the temperatures are mild throughout the year. While the land is not suitable for significant agriculture, the ocean waters teem with sea life.
Two days of travel through that dry garden brought me to a grove of ficus trees on a grassy hill. The skeleton of a great beast, perhaps a stray kodo, lay at the roots. I noticed something stirring within the hollows of the skull. A small, sleek ferret squeezed itself through the left eye socket and scampered into the grass. It paused for only a second, giving me an inquisitive glance before disappearing from sight.
The centaur have always shunned the coast, believing it to be taboo. Their legends speak of a war between the elementals, in which water (along with air) become the bitter enemy of earth and fire. Happily, this has left the area free for other groups. In the future, there’s the grim possibility that the coast will become a battleground between the Horde and Alliance. For the time being, it is inhabited by the Darkspear trolls of Shadowprey Village.
The trolls have picked an excellent spot in which to live, one blessed by the coast’s near-perfect climate. The ocean provides more than enough sustenance, and some game animals live in the adjacent wilderness. The fishers of Shadowprey also set lobster traps, and the crustaceans are a dietary mainstay.
Forsaken do not come often to Shadowprey so my appearance caused a bit of a stir. I was permitted entry, though they ordered me to keep away from some areas, like the mothers' hut and a shrine to the Loa. I went to the inn (inns are something of a novelty for jungle trolls, who traditionally had guests stay in the headman’s hut as a show of his power) which is owned by a tauren woman named Sikewa. The inn is built in a trollish architectural style but is very clean and well-lit. The latter quality is thanks to the great open air windows that look out over the gleaming ocean.
I sat there looking at the western horizon for some time when Sikewa informed me that Naj’hawi, the Shadowprey headman, wished to see me. She pointed towards a multi-level hut down the path. I thanked her and anxiously went to see Naj’hawi.
Naj’hawi was a troll of advanced years who was incongruously wearing a battered Southshore-style fishing hat. He greeted me in unaccented orcish.
“You do not need to worry. Many trolls have a bit of doubt to the Forsaken, but for now you are our friends. I simply wanted to make sure you are comfortable.”
“I am.” I suspected that he may have wanted to see me in order to continue the tradition of the headman accepting guests. “May I ask why you chose to establish an inn? I do think it is a good idea.”
“Thank you, it was my idea. I am a great admirer of Warchief Thrall and I want to make the Darkspear more civilized. Since we are so far away, I was afraid we would turn our backs to the Horde. So I took great measures to ensure that we do not. The inn is one of those. The tauren also help us to become great.”
“Do the other trolls object to it?”
“Most of the ones that came here to Shadowprey are more open-minded than our kin in Durotar.”
“How did Shadowprey come to be founded?”
“As you might know, the elves live to the south and north of here. After the Battle of Theramore, the Horde did not want the elves to converge in Desolace. The Darkspear Tribe held a council and it was decided to send some of our number over here. So too, the Echo Isles are much smaller than our old home, and they were getting crowded.”
“This does not seem like a military encampment.”
“It is not. Our anglers go out on long fishing trips, and when they do, they look for Alliance activity on the waves. In time more warriors may come here and there will be battles. Until then, we shall simply enjoy our time waiting for the apocalypse,” he laughed.
I spent a pleasant week in Shadowprey Village doing little more than observing nature and the daily ebb and flow of the village. Though curious about Feralas, I wanted some time to mentally recover after surviving Desolace. Most of the trolls were content to ignore me after the first few days, and Naj’hawi spoke with me a few more times. We traded stories about our respective adventures. Naj’hawi himself had helped depose the old, Gurubashi-controlled chieftain of the Darkspear Tribe back in Stranglethorn. Before that, he had helped repel a small exploratory force of the Old Horde that was sent into the jungles late in the First War. Naj’hawi jokingly referred to himself as an “unofficial Alliance veteran.”
The trolls of Shadowprey have invented a curious new sport that they call “wave-riding.” As the tide begins to rise, young trolls will swim out into the ocean carrying specially carved wooden boards. They will then attempt to find a strong wave, balance themselves on the boards, and ride the wave for as long as possible. It is evidently difficult to master though it has become one of the primary forms of recreation in Shadowprey. It has met with the approval of the older trolls, who realize that wave-riding helps its practitioners become more agile. I talked to one of the wave-riders, a heavily tattooed troll named Zhan’vul.
“Way back when we first came here, there was a clever fellow named Hun’ton. One day he found a plank all floating in the water by itself and I am guessing the idea just came to him. He was the first wave-rider, and started the tradition. It’s a good thing to do.”
“Where is Hun’ton now?”
“With the spirits, dead-man. He went out on a fishing trip to the north with his father, and neither of them ever came back. The waters are calm in these parts, but bad things can always happen out in the ocean,” he said.
Late on my last day in the village I was gazing out from the inn at the panorama of the setting sun. Trollish boats, fitted with outriggers, were making their way back to the docks to bring back the catch of the day. Above the sounds of trollish chatter I could hear the gentle lap of the ocean waves and the breath of the wind.
I knew that strange lands lay ahead. Southern Kalimdor has always been a remote place, largely untouched by either the Horde or the Alliance. It is a place dominated by savage tribes, cruel bandits, profiteering goblins, and (some tales say) ancient horrors older than time itself. Despite all this I felt no dread, only curiosity. Until then, I was happy to rest in the cool ocean breeze.