Saturday, October 27, 2007
The crushing gray of Desolace vanishes amidst the stunning green of nature at its most glorious in the lands south of Gelkis Village. This is the gateway to Feralas, where colossal trees rise up from gnarled roots as big as houses.
Feralas is one of the last remnants of the great forest that once covered nearly all of the lands of south and central Kalimdor. The dramatic climate changes after the Sundering reduced most of the region into deserts and prairies. Somehow, Feralas survived. Today, it exists as a vast, high-altitude, subtropical forest, watered by heavy mists and the frothing rivers that cut deep through the mossy stone.
This land is an enigma to the races of Kalimdor, having been even more sparsely settled than the Barrens or Stonetalon Mountains. Great elven cities like Isildien and Eldre’thalas (the latter now called Dire Maul) stood in the forest before the Sundering. After their abandonment these places fell into evil repute, havens for demonic magic from the old times.
Aside from sporadic and irregular Kaldorei habitation of the islands off of Feralas’ coast, only a few small tauren tribes call the land a home. The horrific early years of the Centaur Wars saw those tribes driven from their lands in Desolace by the spears of the horse-men. The survivors congregated in the wilds, hoping to find shelter from their persecutors.
Khan Sahng of the Maraudine Clan vowed to exterminate these tauren. Somehow convincing the Gelkis Clan to join his army, the centaur forces invaded Feralas intent on slaughter. But the open plains that had served the centaurs so well during their genocidal campaign did not extend to Feralas. Instead of galloping across the steppes, they struggled through thickets choked with vines and ferns.
Braves from the fleeing tribes met at the Twin Colossals, two great mesas of rock that rise high above the canopy in northern Feralas. Covering themselves with leaves and branches, the braves became a part of the surrounding wilderness. When the centaur armies, weary and hungry from their disastrous march, stumbled into the Twin Colossals, the tauren attacked.
This clash has gone down in tauren history as the Battle of the Forest Reaches. All accounts agree that the centaurs were nearly annihilated. Arrows ripped from the foliage and enraged tauren rushed out with axes while the centaurs frantically tried to get their bearings. At the end, only five centaurs survived. The tauren killed two, and imprisoned the other three. This trio of survivors was marched up to the border of Desolace and released, so that they could tell their fellows of what had transpired. The centaurs never again tried to attack Feralas.
The five forest tribes lived quiet and relatively peaceful lives after that, uninvolved with the affairs of other groups. They were so isolated that they usually did not know much about what happened beyond their homes. The forest peoples were reluctant to join the United Tauren Tribes, and have a culture that is quite distinct. The northern tribes are still distrustful of their forest cousins, claiming that the Feralas tauren did not do enough to fight the centaurs. However, the terrible losses incurred by the Maraudine and Gelkis in the Battle of the Forest Reaches probably allowed the tauren in the Barrens to prepare for the onslaught.
I came across the Twin Colossals five days after entering Feralas, and they are indeed an awe-inspiring sight. The forest tribes believe that they act as a spiritual gateway to the realm of the Earthmother. Not wishing to disturb their goddess, the forest shamans rarely approach this holy site. The spirits that live around the place are said to be jealous and fickle, reflecting the forest tribes’ belief in a more distant and capricious Earthmother.
Fortunately, the tauren do not have any objection to the road that passes between the Twin Colossals. Their logic is that only tauren have any effect on the natural monuments. Even the Feralas tauren can freely pass by the Twin Colossals as long as they do not linger. The road itself is an artifact from the ancient Kaldorei. Their powerful magic keeps the path from eroding or becoming overrun.
Northern Feralas is uninhabited aside from harpies, and yetis of dubious sapience. I did not see anyone traveling south, which suited me perfectly. A fierce but short-lived rainstorm hit soon after I passed the Twin Colossals, seeming to wash away the last vestiges of blood and dust lingering from Desolace. Most of the precipitation in Feralas comes from mist, though brief downpours are not uncommon.
A crude, earthen path of recent construction branches off from the main road five or six days south of the Colossals. The path goes down a sheer cliff, leading to a damp and marshy coastal plain. There are few trees and the flora consists mostly of ferns and tall grasses. Heat clings to the soggy ground.
I spotted a lone dock of Kaldorei construction early the next morning. Back in Nijel’s Point, I had been told that a ferry arrives at the mainland every two days. I did not have long to wait. At around noon, I saw the masts of a night elven vessel approaching my position, soon pulling up alongside the dock. Like all night elven ships, it is a construction of living wood. Unlike the floral craft that had taken me to Teldrassil, the Feathermoon transport bears a closer resemblance to a human ship, though more elegant and streamlined in appearance.
Seven sentinels stood guard at the deck, observing me with surprised expressions. Only one could speak Common, and I asked her if I could gain passage to Feathermoon Stronghold. She agreed to it, and we were soon on our way. I learned that her name was Sidria Moonshade.
“It is very rare that anyone seeks access to Feathermoon,” she remarked. “Feralas itself is nearly forgotten.”
“I’ve made it my business to seek out forgotten things,” I replied.
“That can be good, though some things are best kept forgotten. Forgive me if I seem impolite. While I speak your tongue, my knowledge of human manners is quite limited.”
“No offense is taken. May I ask why you support a ferry if there are so few visitors?”
“This is not really a ferry ship. We are on a military craft, as you may have gathered. It’s the first of the new generation of Kaldorei vessels, built for speed and strength. This crew patrols the coastline in search of naga mischief; we know a number of them infest the Isle of Dread to the south.”
“The Isle of Dread?”
“A wilderness. The ominous name comes from the fierce and magnificent beasts that reside within.” She gave a weary sigh. “Did Stormwind send you here to spy on the tauren tribes?”
“I was born in Lordaeron, and I am a free agent. I have no intention of having any contact with the tauren here.”
“Ah. I ask only because many humans bear a great deal of hate for the races of the Horde.”
“As do many Kaldorei,” I pointed out.
“Not as many, I think.”
Dusk had nearly fallen when we reached Feathermoon Stronghold. A rainstorm had started up midway through the journey and I took shelter within the ship’s hold as the deluge made a river on the deck. The interior of the ship follows traditional night elf design, the wooden floor carpeted by moss and flowering vines clinging to the walls and cascading from the ceiling. A druid sat there in deep concentration, guiding the ship through the storm. I headed straight for the inn when the ship at last reached its berth. Because so few visitors come to Feathermoon Stronghold, the institution could be more accurately described as a recreational facility for the garrison.
Feathermoon Stronghold is the latest in successive waves of Kaldorei habitation of the area. In ancient times, the elves dwelled here in the city of Solarsal, famed for artists that could somehow sculpt shadow into permanent forms. None of their work survives today. Solarsal was badly hit by the Sundering, and only a few residents survived the disaster. Fewer still could endure the hellish days that followed. Search parties from the north rescued the last remnants of the population, who soon settled elsewhere.
The island was again colonized as a resupply point for the Kaldorei forces during the War of the Shifting Sands. The inhabitants grew fond of the Feralas’ lush forests and chose to remain after the war’s end, naming their town Sardoranaar. This actually angered the authorities in Moonglade, who accused the inhabitants of shirking their race’s duty to preserve Mt. Hyjal. The druids thought Feralas was too far away from Hyjal to be of any use to their sacred task. Sardoranaar was finally abandoned after a terrible storm destroyed much of the town, a mere 300 years after the War of the Shifting Sands.
The last wave of colonization occurred in response to the naga invasions just after the Battle of Mt. Hyjal. General Shandris Feathermoon, one of the Kaldorei strategists during the Third War, led an expedition to Feralas as a defensive measure against the naga. As with any military settlement, the soldiers are supported by a large civilian force, most of whom have received at least some training in the arts of war.
Dusk turned to night soon after my arrival and the inn emptied out. The sentinels either slept or went out on patrol. I was writing notes at a table in the darkened common room, lit by glowing wooden lanterns growing from the ceiling like strange fruits. An elven woman garbed in rugged forest clothing stepped inside. Her eyes widened with surprise upon seeing me.
“A human! Forgive me if that was rude, I was just surprised. I’ve only seen two other humans here in Feathermon Stronghold. What is your name?”
“Talus Corestiam,” I answered.
“I am Veshera Runethorn, a scholar and an acolyte of Elune.”
“I am honored. I’m a scholar myself. Would you mind answering a few questions? There is much I wish to learn.”
“I’d be very glad to help,” she smiled.
Veshera was quite well-informed, and told me about the island’s history. She herself was fascinated by dwarven and gnomish society and I told her what I could. The discussion went on past midnight, over a bottle of imported banana wine. She further explained the purpose of Feathermoon Stronghold.
“Have you heard of the forest ruins? The Dire Maul, as it is now called?”
“I know of it.”
“Holy Tyrande feared that the naga would attempt to plunder magical artifacts from the ruins—artifacts of potentially great power. You must understand that, at the time, we did not know the naga were unable to live on dry land for very long. They can go quite far, but we now realize that Dire Maul is simply too far inland,” she laughed.
“I imagine you were also concerned that the Horde might attempt to exploit it.”
“Not at the time. Feathermoon Stronghold was founded in that brief moment of peace between our factions. Many of the sentinels here are veterans of the Battle of Mt. Hyjal; some of them had their lives saved by orcs or tauren. That is why we have an informal agreement of sorts with the Horde in Feralas.”
“The Kaldorei stay to the west of Dire Maul, and the forest tribes keep to the east. The ruins are a neutral territory. At least the perimeter of the ancient city is neutral; the interior is still considered Kaldorei territory, though so far there has not been trouble with that. The road is open to Horde and Alliance so long as travelers go around roadside settlements of the opposing faction.”
“I think that is a good solution. I do find the peaceful attitude here a bit ironic. Was it not General Feathermoon who first attacked the orcs?”
“She was only responding to a threat,” shrugged Veshera. “Anyway, she respects the orcs for the aid they gave in the Battle of Mt. Hyjal.”
“That is understandable. The Horde has made no attempt to enter Dire Maul?”
“Not that we are aware. Terrible things, inimical to tauren and elf alike, dwell in the ruins. The Kaldorei claim to it exists in name only. Besides, the forest tribes shun the ruins. Maybe some Forsaken wizards would be interested, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Forsaken in Feralas.”
I stifled a laugh.
“What does live in the ruins?”
“Demons, in some parts. Ogres have taken over a huge section and they’re the most pressing threat to Feralas. The two ogre clans are the Gordok and the Gordunni. They were killing the forest tauren until the formation of the Horde. As long as the ogres remain a threat, I doubt that a sentinel will ever take arms against a brave in Feralas.”
We finished our conversation and Veshera returned to her home on the outskirts of Feathermoon while I retired to my room at the inn. The next morning, I visited an inhabited tree towering over the rest of Feathermoon Stronghold. Graceful elven structures are seamlessly melded into its living trunk. I had seen similar buildings in Teldrassil.
Scholars within the tree spend their time conducting revolutionary alchemical and herbal studies. The place has been unofficially dubbed the Feathermoon Lyceum, and in a few short years has grown to become one of the most impressive educational institutions in Kalimdor. It is also home to Kylanna Windwhisper, an alchemist whose name is known even in the foul depths of the Apothecarium. She was busy conducting an experiment on a curious herb native to Feralas when I visited, so I did not disturb her. I did speak to one of her assistants, who told me that Kylanna was one of the few Kaldorei who survived from ancient Solarsal.
“I do not think she misses the old city much,” he said. “Her entire focus is on the more permanent beauty of nature. She would not have liked to work in anything other than a living tree.”
The Feathermoon Lyceum has slowly been attracting other elven alchemists, boosting the size of Feathermoon Stronghold. It is probably inevitable that students from other races will also attempt to seek education in the place. Feathermoon Stronghold may eventually become a very important city for the Alliance.
I spent the morning of the third day exploring the pristine wilderness surrounding Feathermoon Stronghold. I unexpectedly encountered Sidria Moonshade, the sentinel I had met on the ferry. Though off-duty, she still hung a sharpened moon glaive on her belt. Sidria nodded upon seeing me.
“Our human guest approaches. How have you found Feathermoon Stronghold?”
“Quite to my liking. I take it you are on leave?”
“Every sentinel is permitted a few days of rest after a patrol. Spending my time in town drives me half-mad so I usually sleep under the stars.”
“It is quite lovely here.”
“You do not need to pretend to enjoy nature, Talus,” she smiled.
“I am not pretending,” I answered. She raised one emerald eyebrow, but said nothing for a while. Soon we arrived at a graveyard in the midst of the forest. Sidria knelt by one of the burial mounds.
“Do you wish to be alone?” I asked.
“There is no need. Perhaps you should see this anyway,” she said, as she laid an arrow next to the mound.
“Who is buried there?”
“Kron Rageheart. Your ears do not deceive you; he was an orc, and a great warrior.”
“I see. Why is he buried here?”
“Kron and his warriors sailed to the island to greet us. The naga were a concern to both the Alliance and the Horde, so we thought it best to pool our resources. By Elune, those orcs are magnificent in war! I have never in all my thousands of years seen someone who could throw himself into battle like Kron.
“We ran into a naga incursion while exploring the Ruins of Solarsal, you see. Four orcs patrolled with us, and they were all fine fighters, but Kron the best of all. He stood against the naga, just like Jarod Shadowsong fought against the demonic Highborne of old. The other Sentinels and I would have died in those ruins had it not been for Kron. He perished of his wounds before we could return to Feathermoon, and we all mourned him bitterly.”
“I am sorry.”
“Really? Even though he was an orc? It was just a little while later that we heard news of Admiral Proudmoore’s ambush against the orcs. The remaining grunts left for the mainland, and none have come here since. Tyrande seems to think the humans make better friends than the orcs, but I wonder sometimes.”
“You believe that orcish ideals are more compatible with Kaldorei culture than human ideals?”
“The orcs respect nature. And yes, I’m well aware of the orcish lumber camp in Ashenvale. But their shamans regulate the harvesting operations, and it’s not as if humans don’t have lumber camps of their own. I have no quarrel with the humans, Talus, but your nation’s hatred of the orcs is misguided and foolish. There are things you could learn from them.”
“Do many other elves feel this way?”
“Here in Feathermoon, they do. Even the general herself does not bear hatred for the orcs, and wishes to see them as allies.”
“I agree with you, mostly. The Horde and Alliance have worse things to worry about than each other.”
“They certainly do. Though after Proudmoore’s attack forced Thrall to ally with the abominable Forsaken, I fear the road to peace will be long and uncertain.”
Many in Feathermoon Stronghold do feel a degree of sympathy to the orcs and tauren, though Sidria was something of an extreme case. I was told that she and Kron became good friends, and that she had been hard hit by his death.
I left Feathermoon Stronghold the next day. The ferry to the mainland was uneventful, and I soon walked down the lonely forest road.
The interior of Feralas is a great cathedral crafted by nature’s hand. Great branches arch over the traveler’s head and delicate light shines through the green canopy as if through a stained glass window. Every inch of the forest bursts with life. Some say that Feralas is the greenest part of the world, and I would be hard-pressed to disagree.
The forest road passes between Dire Maul to the north and the Ruins of Isildien to the south. Veshera Runethorn told me that Dire Maul had been the home of the ancient world’s greatest sorcerers. Its more prosaic southern neighbor was a city famed for the inhabitants' reverence of Elune. While Feralas was spared the worst excesses of the War of the Ancients, some violent clashes occurred between partisans of the two cities. After the Sundering, the inhabitants of Isildien rounded up and executed many of the survivors of Dire Maul. They never received more than a chastisement for this action.
Everyone in Feathermoon Stronghold warned me that venturing into Dire Maul alone would be tantamount to suicide. With this in mind, I decided to satisfy myself with observing the outer ruins. A day’s travel north from the main road brought me to moldering outskirts of Dire Maul. It is probably the largest Kaldorei ruin above sea level.
The shadows grow darker and longer beneath the slumbering towers. Even after 10,000 years, nature has not reclaimed the city. The trees stay at the edges as if afraid to grow any closer to the foreboding boulevards and spires.
I kept careful watch for ogres, knowing that they ruled over most of the ruins. I saw signs of ogre activity—trees stripped of leaves and bark, rubbish heaps and gnawed bones. A savage bellow alerted me to the real dangers of Dire Maul. A quick glimpse revealed the source to be an ogre warrior, enraged about something but oblivious to my presence. Getting up, I quickly and quietly made my exit.
“Are you a Forsaken?”
I halted in my tracks, trying to find out who had spoken. The language was Orcish, and the tone friendly, so I was not too concerned.
“I am. My name is Destron Allicant, I am a scholar.”
The foliage rustled, and out stepped an immense figure that looked to be made of wood and leaves. Getting a better look, I saw that he was actually a tauren dressed in slats of wooden armor. To my surprise, seven more figures emerged from the underbrush. The first one gave a slight bow.
“The Mosshoof Tribe has named me Hechetuck. They have elected that I serve them as a warrior.”
“You are of the Mosshoof Tribe then?”
“That is what—my apologies! Is this your first time meeting the tauren of Feralas?”
“Forgive me, I should not have assumed that you were familiar with our ways. Among our people, the Shu’halo’hanok, the tribe is always announced, so that it may be honored appropriately. For an individual to claim the tribal name as his own is prideful, and the spirits here punish pride.”
“You need not apologize. Thank you for telling me.”
“I should not have assumed that you knew. Do you know of Dire Maul?”
“Yes, and I am aware of the risks. I took care to avoid going too far into the ruins.”
“That is wise, but it would be problematic for you to stay here. The spirits in Dire Maul are strange and easily angered, even moreso than the other entities of the forests. And the ogres are savage beyond compare. If you like, we can take you to Camp Mojache. That place is safe.”
I accepted their offer. We set up camp for the night and left early the next morning, the pale rays of the sun gleaming bright in the dew-laden flora. Hechetuck’s patrol had been finishing up a reconnaissance mission in Dire Maul when they found me. The forest tauren are adept at blending in with the verdant world around them, unseen by the careless ogres. I asked Hechetuck if he had ever before encountered Kaldorei during his incursions.
“Yes, we have twice seen their warriors in the ruins. The forest tauren have no quarrel with the night elves. They have never tried to take what belongs to others, at least not in our experience.”
I found Hechetuck to be polite but oddly recalcitrant in his speech. It was difficult to engage him in conversation. Later, in Camp Mojache, I learned that the tauren of Feralas are reluctant to converse with strangers unless said tauren is an esteemed elder member of the tribe. Gregariousness in a young brave (even a relatively experienced one such as Hechetuck) is seen as extremely inappropriate. The other warriors in the group could only speak in Taurahe.
The road grew narrow as we traversed the steep and densely forested mountains that bifurcate Feralas. We passed towering waterfalls that plunge from incredible heights only to be lost in dark ravines. Roots from the giant trees on the slope arch over the road, creating mossy wooden tunnels. The beauty of Feralas defies belief.
Whenever we passed certain landmarks, such as an oddly-shaped tree or boulder, Hechetuck and the other tauren would perform a ritual. The exact content of the ritual varied from occasion to occasion, but it usually involved a short chant. I asked Hechetuck about this.
“We honor the spirits of the forest whenever we can. Sometimes we will pass a sacred site, where many local spirits will congregate. In these places, we always offer our gratitude and respect, lest they grow wrathful.”
The forest tauren are more fearful of the spirits than are their northern kindred. Glorious though Feralas is, the density of the forest is certainly intimidating to the living. Imagine hunting alone in the forest, where at all times a savage beast could be lurking just out of sight. The spirits of Feralas are seen as fickle and erratic. As such, the forest tauren take great pains to satiate the spirit world whenever possible.
The path took a steep and rapid descent after three days, and Hechetuck assured me that we were close to Camp Mojache. We soon met a group of nine tauren traveling in the opposite direction. Their black-dyed fur marked them as braves of the Grimtotem Tribe, but my companions made no move for combat. The lead Grimtotem, an imperious-looking tauren in kodohide robes marked with bold symbols, stepped forward and bowed, speaking in Taurahe. Hechetuck replied in kind. The air was tense but combat seemed unlikely.
“I have not before seen a Forsaken in these parts. May I ask what it is that you seek in this place?” inquired the Grimtotem leader, in Orcish. His words were polite, but I knew he would not accept silence for an answer.
“The Forsaken are often seekers of knowledge, and they can put it to potent use.” He gave an odd smile, and then turned back to Hechetuck. They conversed for a while longer before bowing to each other a second time. With that, the Grimtotems went off to the east. I was, to say the least, confused. I asked Hechetuck if he was aware of the Grimtotem Tribe’s hostility to the Horde and I cited the Aparaje Massacre.
“The Shu’halo’hanok know of these things. Yet the Grimtotem Tribe aid us in our war against the ogres. They have no desire to see ogres on Kalimdor.”
“Haven’t the other tribes also helped you against the ogres?”
“They have. But the other tribes are friends with the orcs, and it is the orcs who brought the ogres to Kalimdor. I understand that the orcs of the Horde are different from the ones that slaughtered our people, 27 of your years past.”
“I have not heard of this.”
“Our first encounter with the orcs came when fierce warriors swept down from the north. They were few in number but we had never clashed with anyone so fierce since the Battle of the Forest Reaches. The orcs also had dark forces at their beck and call, far worse than anything the centaurs used. Fifteen of the Mosshoof Tribe fell to their axes. Half of the Leafhorn Tribe was slain.”
“What banner did these orcs follow?”
“At the time we did not know what they called themselves, though since then we have learned that they were the Twilight’s Hammer Clan. They brought the ogres with them. After seven months of bloodshed and violence the orcs left to the south while the ogres stayed behind. The ogres are fierce, but foolish, so they are less dangerous than the orcs.”
I remembered Augra, the elderly warlock I had met in Felwood. She had told me that remnants of the Stormreaver and Twilight’s Hammer clans had arrived in Kalimdor before Thrall.
“What of the orcs of the New Horde. Have they helped you?”
“I bear no ill-will to the orcs of the Horde, for they are honorable. But they are also very violent; even the northern tribes are wary of this. The Twilight’s Hammer orcs have spilled the blood of the Shu’halo’hanok, but the Grimtotem have never harmed any of our number. I apologize if this sounds disrespectful. We certainly do not aid the Grimtotem Tribe, but we cannot yet call them our enemy, even if we cannot exactly call them our friends either. Our enemies are the ogres, not the elves or the Grimtotems.”
The distrust the forest tauren hold towards the other tribes is a curious variation on tauren provincialism. Many tauren view specific tribes within the Horde as analogous to individual tauren within a tribe. But the forest tribes do not see themselves as truly being part of the Horde. For thousands of years they lived as hunters in the vast southern forests, facing their own challenges without help or interference from the outside world. Then, in a few short years, ogres, orcs, other tauren, and even night elves entered their land. It was in Camp Mojache that I learned just how totally their culture had been overturned.
Camp Mojache rests in the perpetual shade of the great boughs that block the sky in eastern Feralas, amidst the vegetation rising in profusion from the forest floor. Running through the camp is a noisy brook that cascades down a series of sharp, short precipices before reaching the deep waters of the Wildwind Lake. A traveler can get an excellent view of the lake’s deep waters at the balcony of Camp Mojache’s inn.
I stood on that balcony the morning after my arrival, staying under the overhang of the roof as a light rain watered the forest, spreading ripples on the lake below. With me was Tarona Bloodhoof, who was there on behalf of the United Tauren Tribes. We were both drinking tea brewed from the root of a local fern. The taste seemed faintly reminiscent of ginger.
“Feralas is certainly a beautiful place,” I commented.
“That it is. The forest tribes are lucky, at least in that respect.”
“Camp Mojache was only built a few years ago, correct?”
“At first it was nothing more than a single tent and a totem pole. But it grew very quickly. It has become the sanctuary for many of the forest tribes. Only the Vinehorn Tribe, to the east, still maintains its tribal lands.”
“The others were pushed out by ogres?”
“All except for the Leafmane Tribe, who once lived to the south. The gnolls drove them here. The Leafmane were already weakened by the ogres and orcs, and could not fend off the invaders,” she said.
“I didn’t even know there were gnolls in Kalimdor.”
“There are only a few scattered gnoll bands living in remote mountain valleys.”
“How have the forest tribes adapted to life in Mojache?”
“With difficulty. For a people who lived for the hunt, being forced to stay in one small area is a sad fate indeed. The Shu’halo’hanok are fearful and wounded. We hope to restore them.”
“They do not entirely trust the United Tribes.”
“That is an unfortunate fact. The Shu’halo’hanok fear outsiders. There is much that they fear. Even the spirits; the forest tauren dread the spirits more than they revere them.”
“Have you observed a difference in the spirits here?”
“Some. The spirits here are a bit more remote, which I think is intrinsic to forest spirits. I doubt that the Shu’halo’hanok need to fear as much as they do. That said, I am probably not seeing the whole picture, for I am a newcomer here. There is certainly much that I do not know.”
Even in the best of times, the forest tribes could only eke out a marginal existence, relying on hunting and gathering. The kodo, that staple of the tauren race, is all but unknown here. The forest tribes are the only tauren culture to completely lack the kodo beast in their iconography.
Game is not rare in Feralas, but neither is it plentiful. Furthermore, the forest is full of dangerous beasts that can quickly turn the tables on even an experienced hunter. The shamans must constantly beseech the spirits for game, or at least safety. Neither is assured even after the proper rituals are conducted. None of the forest tribes were able to grow very large with such a fluctuating food supply, one reason that the recent invaders were so easily able to displace the natives.
The forest tribes do not send out their young as suttaqua. The tribes are too small to allow individual members to go out on personal journeys. The practice of marrying outside of the tribe is still followed, and such unions usually occur during inter-tribal festivals. Nor is there any concept of the hadoham misfit. Forest tauren can be cast out from the tribe, like the omokee of the north, but is so rare that it has not happened a single time in living memory.
The traditions of the Shu’halo’hanok are a source of frustration to the orcs, who see them as threatening the security of the Horde in Feralas. I spoke with an orcish woman named Rok Orhan, a scout working for the Shadowswift Brotherhood.
“These forest tribes still refuse to take arms against the Grimtotem, even after the Aparaje Massacre!” she fumed. “We’ve told them of the way their mountain brethren were murdered in their homes, and they do nothing. Mark my words; if we keep on this way, there will soon be a Mojache Massacre to avenge.”
“The Horde has not made any moves against the Grimtotem?”
“Our warriors have not been idle. Nor have the normal tauren braves. There have been skirmishes with the Grimtotem but we cannot yet afford to destroy that damnable tribe. The United Tauren Tribes fear that fighting the Grimtotem will alienate the Shu’halo’hanok. Frankly, I do not see how it matters. They’re practically useless to the Horde.”
“Has the Grimtotem attacked the Horde in Feralas?”
“Yes, twice. They killed a scout (whom I was sent to replace) and a Ragetotem brave. The Grimtotem Tribe is canny enough to never harm the Shu’halo’hanok. Both wish to see Kalimdor purged of non-tauren; the Grimtotem simply have the courage to admit it!”
Rok’s statement was probably meant to be taken as hyperbole. It is safe to say though, that the orcs hold some resentment towards the forest tauren. The most accurate way to describe the forest tribes is to say that they are deeply fearful of change. The Grimtotem Tribe promises to expel all foreigners from Feralas, which appeals to the forest tribes. On the other hand, the Horde brings both protection and change. The tauren seem to be inherently conservative, and the Shu’halo’hanok are even more so than most.
As I had already gotten the mainstream Horde perspective of politics in Feralas, I sought to hear the opinions of the Shu’halo’hanok. This turned out to be easier than I expected. The forest tauren are only vaguely aware of the existence of the Forsaken, and do not distrust them any more than other outsiders. One Feralas native even asked, in halting Orcish, if I was some kind of elf.
I was able to procure an audience with Kawochee Mosshoof on my third day in Mojache. Kawochee was the Mosshoof shaman, and one of the two surviving shamans of the Feralas tradition. I met with him in the dim interiors of a long tent. It was not a private audience; three other Mosshoofs stood by. As a senior member of the Mosshoof, Kawochee was authorized to speak about the tribe. Yet even he could only talk about tribal issues in the company of others from the tribe. This is done to remind the speaker not to shame his kindred.
“Thank you for coming to speak with us, Destron. We are honored by your presence, for you have come far.”
“The honor is mine, wise one,” I said with a bow. He motioned for me to take a seat, which I did. I then asked if the forest tribes had chieftains.
“No, for what single tauren can truly speak for all? The tribe speaks as a whole, or not at all. Such is the way of our ancestors, and so it is also our way.”
“All members of the tribe are equal then?”
“The wisdom of the shamans is held as guidance for the tribe, but the shaman can and must be questioned. What we do not question is the will of the spirits. The Ancestor Spirits and the Forest Spirits speak the truth, in all cases.”
“What of the Earthmother?”
“We are among Her many children. First the Earthmother birthed the spirits of nature, who crafted and shaped the world with their bodies. Later, we came into the world. We look to the spirits that came before us, and please them so that they may please the Earthmother.”
This belief is quite different from normal tauren accounts. The shamans of Mulgore state that the spirits are a reflection of the Earthmother, whereas only sentient races are truly Her children.
“The spirits act as an intermediary between the tauren and the Earthmother?”
“Precisely. Thus we must please the spirits. If the hunt goes well, than the spirits are happy with us. If not, than the spirits are disappointed. That is why we take such care to honor the spirits in the places where they make themselves manifest. The rituals are conducted to make up for whatever sins we have committed. Failure to do this will result in the end of our people.”
“What have the northern tauren said of this?”
“They disagree, but they will not press the issue. The beliefs of the plains tribes have always been that way, and likewise for the people of the forest. Let no tauren go against the wisdom of his ancestors.”
“I was told that you are one of the last two shamans among the Feralas tauren. Why are there so few?”
Kawochee sighed. When he spoke, his tone was mournful.
“The shamans have always listened to spirits in dreams. Not long after the Twilight’s Hammer cut down our people, nightmares came to the sleeping hours. Every shaman saw these horrors. What I felt was beyond description; it was raw fear cutting into my mind.”
“This killed them?”
“The spirits of nightmare so plagued the shamans that they could no longer tell the difference between the waking world, and the hell into which they had been plunged. The ones who reached this state died.”
“How did you survive?”
“The spirits of Feralas chose to protect me. More than that, I cannot say.”
Kawochee’s voice shook with emotion. I was suddenly reminded of Duskwood, where some of the humans in Darkshire had suffered a similar fate. I wondered if the two cases were somehow connected.
“I apologize, wise one. I did not intend to cause you distress.”
“Kawochee and the Mosshoof do not bear you any ill-will for this, Forsaken,” said one of the other tauren, who looked to be a hunter. “Our trials are not yet over, and few suffer this as deeply as the shamans.”
“Do the nightmares continue?”
“They have stopped for now. As Kawochee said, the spirits of Feralas protect us.”
“Where is the other shaman?”
“He is with the Vinehorn Tribe in the eastern wilderness. Please do not be offended, but I think it is best that we leave Kawochee for now. He is troubled.”
I stood up and left the tent, after thanking Kawochee. The sobbing shaman did not respond. Once outside, I noticed the hunter following me, along with another Mosshoof from the tent.
“The Mosshoof Tribe calls me Mahotae. This is my mate, Sanoda. We are gladdened that you take interest in the people of Feralas. Few seem to, these days. I am an elder tribesman, so I am permitted to answer any other questions you may have, so long as Sanoda is with me.”
“I have made it my mission to learn as much as I can.”
“Is this a trait you share in common with others of your tribe?”
“No. The Forsaken are a dark-minded people for the most part. It is my hope that I can help enlighten them, though I do not fully expect to be able to do so.” We walked beyond the borders of the camp, and into the lush forest. “Are new shamans being trained in the forest tradition?”
“A few. The protection provided by the Horde lets those of us who would normally be hunters or gatherers study shamanism. Were it not for them, the shamans of this culture would die.”
“You feel gratitude towards the Horde?”
“All of the Shu’halo’hanok feel gratitude. Some have misgivings, but we are not prideful.”
We came to a stop at a rapidly-flowing stream.
“Once, we were the only people that walked in these forests. Now it seems that a thousand strange tribes make claims to this land. Such is the way of things.”
“What do you think will become of the Shu’halo’hanok?”
“That is for the spirits to know. The northern tauren say that they are the true children of the Earthmother. Perhaps they are, and we should follow their lead.”
“You agree with their theology?”
“We thought their beliefs to be prideful, once. But they have flourished, while we are near death. Now, as long as the Mosshoof survive in some form, I shall be happy.”