Wednesday, October 3, 2007
The gloom of Silverpine Forest quickly gives way to the green and gentle Hillsbrad Foothills. When the humans of old Arathor first wandered beyond the confines of the kingdom they found the rich soil and mild climate of Hillsbrad much to their liking. Such a desirable area would not long stay unclaimed. Arathor held the land during it’s last death throes. Alterac, Gilneas, and Kul Tiras all claimed ownership. Lordaeron finally incorporated Hillsbrad as its southernmost province. Orcs battered its shores during the Second War, but it somehow escaped the notice of the Scourge. The land’s natural bounty was of little interest to the mindless dead.
Though untainted by the Scourge, something in the place held the dread promise of war. I saw it in the broken tower near the Silverpine border, and in the rusty weapons and human skeletons half-buried in the dirt. Travelers were common, but always armed and suspicious. As I did not want to use the materials for my disguise, I kept my hood up at all times. No one seemed curious enough to take a close look.
Three-and-a-half-days of travel brought me to the town of Hillsbrad Fields. A martial drumbeat rang through the hills around the town and militia troops marched in formation as I approached. They looked quite experienced. A number of soldiers stood at the entrance, and one held up her hand upon seeing me.
“Your business here, traveler?”
“Simply stopping by. I’m headed to Southshore after this.”
“Talus Corestiam,” I lied.
“You are permitted to stay at Hillsbrad Fields, however we have no accommodation for you. You are not allowed to enter the town hall enclosure, the smithy, or any farm buildings unless given permission by a townsperson of sergeant rank or higher.”
“Thank you. Does everyone here hold a rank?”
“Yes. Everyone participates in the Hillsbrad Militia to some degree.”
The actual town of Hillsbrad is quite small. Most people live in farms next to the town hall. I explored some of the nearby orchards, where the peasants worked with drive and alacrity. Unlike most farmhands, they didn’t spend their time sneaking drinks and gossiping. Considering how dreary farm work can be, I cannot fault normal peasants for doing so.
The drums finally faded and the militia dispersed. Curious, I caught up to one of them, a bulky man with a thick black beard.
“Is there any place to get a drink in this town?” I asked him.
He grinned, showing off some broken teeth.
“I’m afraid not, unless you’ve been posted here. I take it you’re a visitor?” The people of the Hillsbrad Foothills speak rapidly, with a bit of a nasal sound. However, he did not have this accent, suggesting outside origin.
“Yes, I was on the way to Southshore. What do you mean that you’ve been posted here?”
“Where are you from?” His manner was friendly, but I detected a bit of doubt in his eyes.
“I was born in Lordaeron but moved to Stormwind City when it was being rebuilt.” I began to regret choosing a Lordaeron name like Talus as my pseudonym.
“You’re new here?”
“Ah. Well I’m here because when the dead took Tarren Mill, the lords of the Alliance got jittery. This is the biggest farming area that we still have on the continent and they didn’t want to lose it. They definitely didn’t want the undead poisoning the grain. A lot of the villagers here wanted out anyway, and I don’t blame them.”
“So you’re actually a soldier of the Alliance?”
“Always will be! In spirit at least. Most of the folk here are still technically farmers, though we’ve given them all military training and they’re officially part of the Hillsbrad militia. Anyone who isn’t willing to fight has already left.”
“Where were you stationed earlier?”
“Desolace. It’s this big, dead, gray desert in western Kalimdor. Me and my boys got into a tangle with some centaurs and I was run through with some sort of enchanted blade. The priest couldn’t pray it away, so as thanks they sent me here.”
We reached at a large tent, and I heard familiar sounds of conversation inside.
“I don’t know if I can enter”, I said.
“Ah, hell, hold on. Get me two mugs of Southshore Stout!”
A server handed him a pair of wooden mugs, brimming over with foam.
“It’s on me. I’m Ralian by the way.”
We shook hands.
“Is this an easier assignment for you then?”
Ralian shrugged. I took a sip from my drink, the first alcohol I’d had since I died. It was good, though it didn’t have the same zing it had when I lived.
“Plenty of fighting here. See, back when the undead were running around in the north it was simple. If it didn’t have a face any longer, or had bones sticking out of its joints, you killed it. The dead took Tarren Mill before I got here but everyone was ready to force them out. Then the Forsaken went and joined the Horde.”
“And now you can’t fight them, for diplomatic reasons.”
“Some nonsense like that. The maddest thing is, the undead actually apologized for taking Tarren Mill. Of course they didn’t give it back. For a long time, folks would arm up and make raids on the place.”
“Hm. That didn’t start a war?”
“They were real clever about it. See, they weren’t soldiers of the Alliance. They were ‘acting independently,’ as the generals put it. They gave the dead and the orcs a hard time of it too. They surrounded the town so Hordelings couldn’t get in or out.”
“What happened to them?”
“Other fights elsewhere. Up in Alterac Valley, for instance. Now the Horde in Tarren Mill has declared open season on Hillsbrad Fields. They want to get back at us for all the raids. It’s been quiet lately, but I don’t think it will stay that way.”
“And that’s why the people here have military experience?”
“Definitely. Southshore is the foothold of the Alliance on this continent, and we keep it supplied with food. I mean, they have fish, but not enough of it to keep the whole town going. That and I heard they were having problems with fishing, not finding enough or something.”
I thanked Ralian for the drink and said goodbye. I attempted to speak with one of the Hillsbrad officials but they were all in the town hall and thus off-limits. Rather than spend the night, I decided to leave for Southshore where they would at least have an inn. Comfort is not nearly as important to me as it was when I was alive, though a warm room is always preferable to the cold wilderness.
I finally smelled the sea nearing Southshore, the hint of brine fluttering by on a stray breeze. I breathed in deeply and smiled. Years passed since I was last by the ocean. Ahead, I saw the thatch-roofed houses of Southshore, looking almost immaculate beneath the firmament. For one moment, I thought I was human again.
It was hard to believe that the modest, seaside town was once the great port of southern Lordaeron, trading with the merchants of Kul Tiras. Lordaeron’s vessels set sail from that town to lands as distant as Stranglethorn Vale. That ended one night in the Second War when the orcs attacked. They did not leave a single house standing. There were plans to rebuild it after the war but House Feldane, which owned Southshore, could not afford it. They sold the town to the ill-reputed House Barov, who promptly proceeded to do absolutely nothing. Private interests built the town that exists today. Though it’s a pale shadow of its former glory, the fact remains that Southshore is the largest human settlement on Lordaeron.
It is often the case that what appears hopeful from a distance disappoints upon closer examination. Southshore was no exception. People spoke fearfully in hushed tones. A large mob gathered at the docks, yelling about something as dock workers unloaded a merchant ship. Armed footmen kept the protesters in line. I asked a bystander about the commotion.
“They’re farmers from Hillsbrad Fields and Tarren Mills, who ran here,” he explained. “They want to escape Lordaeron but no one wants them at the moment.”
“Are they trying to get on the boat?”
“Aye. Kul Tiras took in a few of them early on. The problem is that they’re afraid these poor folk will spread the Plague to their island.”
“If they had the Plague they’d be dead by now, wouldn’t they?”
“They would. The official word is that necromancers might have tinkered with the Plague, make it so it goes slowly. Supposedly they’ll allow the farmers to move in a month, when they think a long enough quarantine has passed. The people are scared though. Everyone says the undead are going to slaughter us like they did Tarren Mill.”
The guards pushed back the crowd, making way for dock workers who carried crates from the ship.
“Those are supplies?”
“Yes, weapons and some relief goods. Food isn’t a problem at least, even though it’s harder to get fish than it used to be.”
“Why doesn’t Stormwind take in the refugees? They took in quite a lot during the initial invasion didn’t they?” I asked.
“I don’t know. There’s some problem with a rebellion in Stormwind and they’ve been keeping to themselves. I just pray we can get the refugees out. I’ve seen what the Plague can do.”
“Where are you from?”
“I was born and raised in Brill.”
I took a room at the inn, planning to stay in Southshore for a few days. I learned that most of the refugees were quartered in houses of friends or family in Southshore. Those who didn’t know anyone were provided with room in a small military tower at the edge of town.
The inn’s common room buzzed with speculation of what the Horde might be planning. I was more than a little disturbed to see the symbol of the Scarlet Crusade etched or painted onto walls and furniture. A constable said that the graffiti was usually the work of frightened refugee youngsters. He may have been understating it. Snippets of conversation I heard suggested that townsfolk and refugees alike would not mind if it the Scarlet Crusade came down to Southshore. If the Alliance wasn’t going to adequately protect them, they would find someone who could.
On the second day I met a frightened young couple from Hillsbrad Fields who had just married. They were talking about other means of escape, such as going through the war-torn Arathi Highlands or the more dubious proposition of waiting by the Greymane Wall in Silverpine.
“Gilneas hasn’t let anyone else in, so they aren’t going to let us in,” argued Wenda, a brunette woman who looked matronly in spite of her youth.
“I’ve been to the Silverpine region. Wenda is right, it’s not a good place to go,” I said.
“Everyone says that the dead are going to sweep through this town! And why shouldn’t they? It’d be an easy conquest,” declared Janus, the husband. “Maybe we ought to try Arathi. I’m sure we could get to the refuge without running into any orcs or ogres.”
“We should wait here.”
“Sir? Ma’am?” Inquired a polite voice.
We turned to see a portly, middle-aged man in an orange long coat. He smiled graciously.
“I’m from the area, my name is Falion. I heard that you were thinking of crossing Arathi,” he said.
“Possibly,” replied Janus.
“I know a group of philanthropists who are working to get people like you to safety. They run a sort of caravan through Arathi and into Khaz Modan. We’ve already taken many groups across, and forty-five refugees are leaving tonight, we’d be happy to have you along.”
“What sort of organization is this?” I asked.
“The Protectors. We are associated with the Argent Dawn and the Church of the Light. There aren’t many of us, but we do what we can to help those displaced by war.”
“Who else is going with you? I’d probably know whoever is in your group,” said Wenda.
“Of course! The entire Wright family is going, as are the Carelsens, the Montessens...”
“Those are all good people,” said the husband. “You said there were groups before us?”
“Indeed. The Aldons, the Temirs... some of the earlier groups were people from Strahnbrad and Ambermill, so you might not know most of them. The authorities here all think you’re infected, which is why they won’t let you leave. If you’re interested meet me behind the inn. Be quick though, we’ll be leaving at midnight.”
“They won’t let us leave at all?”
“Not a chance. But please, this is not a good place to discuss such matters.”
The man smiled and bowed his head slightly before leaving.
“We ought to go,” stated Janus.
“I’m reasonably well-traveled, and I’ve never heard of the Protectors before,” I said.
“They said that they’re a small organization. What do you say Wenda?”
“I’m not sure. We don’t know anything about these people. Let’s talk to Ranald and Eria; if they’re going I’ll trust their judgement. Almost anything is better than waiting here.”
I seem to have a somewhat morbid interest in placing myself in dangerous situations. I was also curious about this Protector organization. After all, I had come to learn about the world. I went to meet Falion at midnight.
Janus and Wenda were present, as were other refugees, some of them with children and the aged. We gathered to the east of town, in a secluded spot on the beach. Falion stood, smiling and beneficent, promising that they and their families would soon be safe. Alongside him was a group of twenty rough men in leather armor. They were to provide security.
Falion wished us speedy travels and good fortune. Then we began our trek, spurred by the orders and curses of the guards. It was a cold night and our breath came out in puffs of steam. I first thought the guards were only moving quickly to get away from Southshore, yet they maintained the same pace even after we’d gone a good distance. Some of the more fragile refugees started lagging behind. We marched several miles upriver when dawn came and the people pleaded for rest.
“You can rest when we cross the river,” promised the lead guard.
I grew increasingly doubtful of the Protectors’ intentions. The refugees made a brief stop at the river crossing, the healthy taking the time to carry the very young and very old. The humans gritted their teeth as they stepped into the river’s cold and rushing waters. The refugees lay down on the bank once on the other side, glad for the chance to rest their exhausted bodies.
“Get up! Get up! No time for this!” ordered the leader.
A burly young farmer stood up angrily.
“Look here, you promised us that we could stay here a bit. Some of us need to rest, we’ve been traveling all night and it’s not as if anyone is chasing us.”
A guard casually walked to the farmer. Lightning fast, he whipped out a truncheon and slammed it into the farmer’s shoulder. There was a loud crack and he screamed in pain, falling to the ground. His neighbors got to their feet, caught between the desires of defense and escape. The guards all drew swords save for the leader, whose hand crackled with spellfire.
“From now on, you will obey us without question.”
Cowed, the refugees picked up their things. Children whimpered and Wenda went to help up the wounded farmer. I thought of trying to escape, yet elected not to do so. The poor refugees around me would kill me in an instant if they knew my true nature. That said, how was their situation so different from mine, in my last few weeks of life?
We were finally granted a reprieve at noon. The thugs stood in a circle around the refugees. No talking was permitted among us though the guards made idle banter and crude jokes. Some began seizing the few items of value carried by the refugees, threatening them with death if they did withhold anything.
“Don’t take too much,” cautioned the wizard. “Lord Simmermar will get suspicious and want to know where all his goodies are.”
“We can tell him they didn’t have any. It’s not like he’ll know,” sneered one of the thugs.
“It’s your grave,” shrugged the wizard.
Our respite lasted scarcely an hour. Several of the older refugees fell as we continued our march. The first time this happened, a guard drew a sword on the son of the old man who’d fallen. The son had gone to help his father.
“Let him retrieve the dotard,” ordered the wizard.
“That will slow us down!”
“We’re safe as is, and who knows? He might have what we need.”
“Not likely.” The guard nonetheless allowed the old man to be carried. I myself ended up supporting an elderly woman who was nearly unconscious from fatigue.
What was worst was that we could not formulate any plans for resistance. Our escorts quickly hushed all conversation. We could still hear the muffled sobbing of one woman, her teeth shattered by a truncheon blow after she said something to her husband. The guards clearly knew how to fight. They bore themselves with dangerous confidence, not the meaningless bravado of a neophyte. We outnumbered them but we were all unarmed (save for myself), and a fair number weren’t even capable of fighting. My spells could only go so far.
A more substantial rest was granted us that night. Three of our number had already perished, taken by exhaustion. We spent the night in darkness and silence. It was clear to me that if we were to escape, we would have to do so quickly. Yet we still lacked an opening.
Five riders approached us early the next day, all wearing orange scarves around their lower faces. The leader, dressed in dark robes identical to the wizard’s, rased his right fist in greeting.
“The Falcon redeemed!” he shouted.
“The Falcon shall fly again!” responded the wizard.
“A good batch you’ve got here, ought to be more than sufficient,” remarked the newcomer.
“I hope so. I’m tired, and could really use some ale.” This drew cheers of agreement from the assorted toughs.
“Well, almost there, I’m sure Lord Simmermar will be pleased.”
The riders vanished into the south. Our guides took out orange scarves of their own and put them on, apparently some sort of uniform. After sunset we stopped at one of the ruined towers ubiquitous in the land. A pack of orange-scarved bandits stood watch there; it seemed to be some kind of a base camp. At least there the refugees were given medicine and more substantial food.
The guards still prohibited talking, though I learned more about our situation by listening to our captors. I was surprised to hear that we were being herded towards Durnholde Keep, once the home of the noble Blackmoore family. More recently, it was where Thrall, the Warchief of the Horde, grew up as a slave.
Lord Aedelas Blackmoore forever suffered from the reputation of his father, who had turned bandit during the chaos of the Second War. Aedelas proved himself in the same conflict yet failed to redeem the family name. Moreover, he suffered the indignity of his ancestral estate being turned into an orcish internment camp. It was he who raised Thrall to be his personal servant, and who eventually died at Thrall’s hand.
Thrall liberated his kinsmen from Durnholde Keep and no one ever got around to restoring it. Then the Scourge came, putting such concerns to the side. The bandits apparently found a use for the place.
We reached Durnholde Keep, or the ruins thereof, early the next afternoon. The new residents had done little to repair it for vast portions still lay in ruin. The refugees seemed at least impressed by my stamina, for I was still carrying the infirm woman. Little did they suspect the source of that endurance.
“Here’s your new home for the time being,” announced the wizard.
We were led, stumbling and gasping, towards the keep. I wondered if the thugs would disperse if I killed their wizard. Perhaps, if I took out my remaining glass eyes, I could scare them enough to give us some time. But the refugees would not get far in their condition.
I scanned my surroundings, hoping for some last minute reprieve even as the ruined keep loomed closer and closer. I turned to the wizard, only to see an arrow protruding through his throat. He fell, bloody froth spurting from the wound.
A quick glance around revealed that several of the brigands were already dead, and more arrows flew from the trees. I ducked down as some of the refugees tried to run, while others, driven by rage and desperation, turned on their captors. I made out quick, dark movements in the trees around us. The old woman in my arms looked around frantically, her eyes wide with terror.
“What’s happening?” she asked, her hoarse voice barely above a whisper.
“I’m not sure. Could I put you down for a moment? I need my hands free for a bit.”
She nodded, and I carefully placed her down on the grass. Focusing the arcane energies from realms beyond I fired several arcane missiles at one of the bandits, who died without a sound.
The surviving thugs began to flee but were cut down by arrows and expertly thrown daggers. Our rescuers finally revealed themselves to us, presenting a frankly sinister bunch who didn’t seem far removed from the bandits. Three of their own number lay dead on the ground.
“It’s fortunate we found you in time. You came from Southshore?”
“Yes,” answered one of the refugees, in a stunned voice.
“This isn’t the first time they’ve done this. Move quickly now, we have a rest stop up in the mountains and it’ll take a few hours to get there.”
“We need rest!”
“I’m sorry, we have to get to safe territory. Pretty soon the other Syndicate thugs are going to come looking for you and we can’t fight off that many of them. Do not fear, you are in good hands now.”
“Will you take us back to Southshore?”
“Eventually, yes. The authorities will lecture you on your gullibility but you won’t be punished. You have my word on that.”
“Who are you,” I asked.
“An independent organization of those who would like to see some semblance of law and order return to this land.”
Our saviors spoke truly and took us a to a well-stocked way station up in the hills. There were even a few priests who tended to the sick and hurt.
“You were a mage all along?” demanded a voice. I turned to see Janus.
“Why didn’t you do something!”
“What could I have done? They had a wizard and nineteen armed men. Some of us couldn’t even fight. If I’d done anything I’d have been killed and you might have met the same fate. Mages can’t snap their fingers and make problems go away.”
“He’s right Janus,” argued Wenda.
“Thank you,” I said. Janus still looked at me angrily.
I decided I would leave for Tarren Mill where I would at least be with my own kind. I left the camp and had not gotten more than a few yards away when a woman in dark clothing melted out of the shadows.
“Going somewhere, Forsaken?”
“Don’t fear, we’re neutral. We have dealings with some Forsaken.”
“I see. I am going to Tarren Mill. What is the name of your organization?”
“Ravenholdt. I cannot divulge any more details however. Suffice to say, we concentrate on eliminating the Syndicate.”
“And those were the bandits?”
“Yes. They’re led by some of the remaining nobles of Alterac. Now that Lordaeron’s fallen, and Stromgarde’s in chaos, they want to make a second bid for power. If they weren’t so incompetent they might have a chance.”
Alterac was the infamous traitor kingdom of the Second War. Their alliance with the orcs was discovered midway through the war and the other nations laid waste to Alterac in retaliation.
“What were they trying to do with the refugees?”
“We haven’t determined it yet. This is the third group, and the first we’ve been able to rescue. Hopefully the refugees can convince their brethren not to run off once they return that is. Are you sure you’ll be safe?”
“Quite. The refugees, they will be cared for?”
“Of course. Southshore is aware of our activities. So is Tarren Mill, for that matter. Neither of them fully trusts us but they’re happy so long as we don’t get directly involved in the war and concentrate on keeping the Syndicate on the run.”
I thanked her for the information as she departed.
Tarren Mill was once a reasonably large town. In addition to the water mill that gave the place its name, the town thrived as a prosperous river port. Boats came down from Darrowmere Lake, carrying goods from Lordaeron and Alterac. While not the final destination of most of these boats (Southshore, which also bordered on the Throndoril River, was the end point) it still grew reasonably wealthy. Tarren Mill escaped destruction in the Second War and the Scourge overlooked it in the Third.
The Forsaken finally conquered the town. Only the central buildings, now dilapidated, remain. The Forsaken demolished the rest to prevent humans from setting them on fire. Though it may have been a town founded by the aggression of my people, it was still good to again walk among other Forsaken.
Tarren Mill is distinct from other Forsaken towns. The animosity and bitterness of the free dead, while present, did not feel as strong. Perhaps it lay in the fact that they were in very real danger of being killed by humans, forcing them to keep their mind on the issue of survival. I discovered that another reason might have been equally, if not more, important for the difference in attitude.
The interior of the inn was a ruin. A Forsaken with a broom incongruously tidied the floor, even though dust was the least of the inn’s problems. Despite it’s wretched state it felt more alive than most Forsaken establishments.
“Eh, back in the day we’d have gutted each other fast as rabbits. Now I’ve saved his life and he’s saved mine.”
The speaker was a Deathguard named Wylan. Born in Stormwind he fled north with his family after the First War and fought in the Second. Sharing a table with him was a towering orc warrior named Dant, who once fought in the ranks of the Black Tooth Grin Clan in the Second War. They had both served in the bloody Battle of Grim Batol.
“The humans don’t fight as well as they used to. I remember when I saw the army of the humans for the first time, it scared me! And that’s when the demon’s curse still lay on my people. Now it’s just a bunch of angry rabble,” complained Dant.
“That’s not quite fair now, Dant. Lordaeron had a lot more to make an army with back then. Now most of them are like me.”
“You Deathguards fight well. At least, after we trained you,” smiled Dant.
“Oh what’s this now? Listen, let’s see how well you fight after you’ve turned into a walking corpse!”
“You did almost passably in battle when the Deathguard got started, and now you do passably. You can’t argue that, Wylan. The Deathguard was a mess before we came.”
“Listen to this fellow!” he exclaimed, pointing at Dant. “Back in the day he and his pals would just rush up in a charge, getting by on being big.”
“Demonic bloodlust does strange things to the mind,” remarked Dant.
“And so does being undead, until you get used to it! Anyhow we can outlast any soldier in any other army in the world. Except the Scourge, but who the hell considers them real soldiers?”
“Bone puppets. That’s all they are.”
“Say, another round of ale here if you would!” shouted Wylan.
When the humans first retaliated against Tarren Mill, and after the Forsaken joined the Horde, many foreign warriors came to help the beleaguered defenders. The humans attacked with fanatic intensity and great numbers, often cutting down unarmed Forsaken.
The strife gradually moved north to Alterac Valley, though open war could still erupt in the Hillsbrad Foothills at any time. Some of the Horde (mostly orcs) stayed in Tarren Mill. What I found most interesting was that the orcs seemed relatively comfortable. Of course, one can get used to almost anything. More revealing was that most Forsaken seemed at least accepting of the orcs. Friendships, like that between Wylan and Dant, were not exactly common, but far from rare. Some Forsaken held the orcs in very high regard, admiring their dedication in defending someone they did not fully trust.
This cross-cultural interaction has gone both ways. The rest of the Horde greatly respects the Deathguard of Tarren Mill, even if they generally dislike Forsaken. Orcs always hold combat prowess in high esteem, so it was easy for them to make minor heroes out of the Deathguard who held out against such fearsome odds.
Many of the Deathguard spoke of the human attacks with great anger.
“Yes, we did kill some humans in taking this place. That’s what war is. Most of the humans fled, only the foolish remained, and they were soldiers anyway,” said one Deathguard. “What did they do to us in their retaliation? Wholesale murder! The woman to whom I was married, in life and undeath, came here with me. She wasn’t a Deathguard. She was a scholar, who believed in the Light even in her state. They killed her, five of them all together around one unarmed woman.”
I was not able to speak to Lydon, the local apothecary. When I went into his home he yelled at me to get out of his lab unless I had bear tongues, in which case he was outraged at not getting them sooner. I did not bother responding. Lydon, and by extension the entire Apothecarium, was unpopular in Tarren Mill. This is partially because Lydon was an extraordinarily unpleasant individual. Beyond that, the Apothecarium was where the Forsaken dreamed of remaking the world with little concern for the other Horde races. The people of Tarren Mill see themselves as indebted to the Horde, and hold them in high regard. Some Deathguard in the town oppose the very idea of a new Plague, though most support it at least as a bargaining tool. The orcish concept of honor in battle has spread to them, and they would consider it cowardly to stoop to the Apothecarium’s level.
I stayed in Tarren Mill for nearly a week, recovering from my ordeal with the Syndicate. High Executor Zarthalia, though tight-lipped on the matter, did acknowledge the presence of Ravenholdt and the Syndicate though she told me little more than what I already knew. I also visited the shell of the old church in Tarren Mill. Books and overturned pews cluttered the interior. A Forsaken named Calstus resided there, dressed in the remains of a priest’s robes.
“I come here sometimes, to think of what has transpired,” he said.
“The Plague of Undeath?”
“No. Not any longer. I think instead of when we first came to this town. Yes, most of the humans fled. And yes, the ones who stayed were armed, but soldiers? Hardly. They were a peasant militia trying to defend their homes. What we did was murder.”
“Why was Tarren Mill even taken?”
“Simple vanity, nothing more. We sought to prove our strength to the world. Blood was apparently a worthwhile price. If the humans all stayed, I have no doubt that we would have slain them all.”
“Do you think that would still be the case? If we were today presented with an opportunity to kill human civilians?”
“Apothecary Lydon has already begun hiring people to supply him with reagents, and there have been some preliminary attacks on Hillsbrad Fields, though the people there are soldiers of a sort. Perhaps we would stay our hand. Do not think that the Forsaken here have all become heroes though. The Executor fully intends to destroy Southshore one day. Lydon may be hated, but he is still permitted. I killed people here when I first came. The one I remember most painfully was a wounded old man with a rusty sword. I can only try to make some restitution for that,” he continued. “If we are to be redeemed, it will come through the orcs.”
“Why is that?”
“They are no longer the heartless killing beasts of old. Now that lot falls to us. We must listen to them. I’d like for the Forsaken to remember the edicts of the Light, though I do not expect that to happen for a very long time.”
“Do you regard undeath as a curse?”
Calstus sat in thought for a moment.
“Whether or not it is a curse is irrelevant. As long as we are free, we must act with conscience.”