Thursday, October 4, 2007

Loch Modan



I awoke to the sound of dwarven soldiers conducting a drill, drums and shouted orders echoing down the green hills. The small fort of Algaz Station sits at the entrance to Dun Algaz. The fort’s architecture is tidy and compact, looking like an egg nestled into the ground. It is not the sort of place that sees much action though it’s well-prepared should the occasion arise.

The elderly dwarven career soldier in charge of Algaz Station allowed the caravan to stay the night. Ingni left for Thelsamar before I awoke, leaving me free to explore. There was much that I wished to see in Loch Modan.

There were actually only ten soldiers at Algaz Station when I visited. Though built as a military installation, it had become more of a waystation for travelers coming up from the Wetlands. The soldiers went about their daily chores, performing them with efficiency and pride.

“So are you escaping from the north?”

I was with Sergeant Scodd Coalburn, a stout young dwarf with a surprisingly short yellow beard. He was on break, and generously offered to share a keg of good dwarven beer with me.

“Not escaping. I’m simply traveling, trying to learn as much about the world as I can.”

“We don’t get too many refugees coming through here, at least not since the Scourge first started making trouble.” Coalburn looked around a bit nervously. “Is it true that they number in the millions?”

“That seems like a safe guess.”

“That’s the damn shame of it. For living folk like us, we’ve only got so many that can serve as soldiers. But them? Every peasant they kill they can raise as a warrior of some kind. Not a good one, but with numbers like those...”

“Remember though, a substantial portion of the Scourge broke off to become the Forsaken."

“There’s no difference between the two as far as I’m concerned. Those Forsaken bastards killed my dear brother! He was up in Dun Garok, fighting for people like you, I might add. Then one of those zombies killed him.”

Dun Garok is a large dwarven fort in the Hillsbrad Foothills. I did not try to see it during my time in there.

“I’m sorry—”

“Oh, you’re sorry? That’s all nice and well, but my brother’s still murdered!” he fumed.



“We’ve all lost people to the Scourge,” I said, keeping my voice level. Dwarves often put on a gruff, unflappable persona but they can be quite fierce when tested.

“Aye. Aye, you’re right. I’m sorry, I just got word of his death a few weeks ago. Kellis was his name, he damn near raised me. Our parents both died in the Second War. And now we’re stuck in this. I’ll tell you though, and I think you’ll feel the same way as me, I really hope the Alliance will stop mincing around with the Horde. If we’re not at war with them now, with all the fighting up in Alterac and Arathi, what will it take for them to say we’re at war? It’s madness.”

“I think the Alliance and the Horde are reluctant to fight because if they do the Scourge might go on the offensive again.”

“Like I said, as far as I’m concerned we’re at war. No one wants to admit it is all. That’s why I’m here though. Most of us head back home after our fifteen years is up, but not me. I’m going to make it to the top, and mark my words there will be changes.”

“Fifteen years?”

“You probably don’t know about that. Every able-bodied dwarf is to serve the King for fifteen years. You start as a private and work your way up. Not all of us join the army of course. If you do join the army and stay longer, you get the chance to become an officer. As long as you do good by your superiors.”

“I see. Lordaeron had that in the Second War, but we abandoned conscription after the war’s end.”

“It’s a tradition here and I think it’s daft to give it up. No offense.”

A whistle blew, and Scodd leapt from his chair.

“Duty calls. Good speaking with you Talus, may you have safe travels.”

He saluted smartly and I returned the gesture. Having exhausted whatever Algaz Station offered I decided to start moving again, heading east to the legendary Stonewrought Dam.

Though there is no actual road to the dam, travel is still relatively easy. Loch Modan is a peaceful land, more so than any other part of the world I had so far seen. Though Loch Modan is quiet, it is definitely quite rugged. Thick trees graw to towering heights, and the dour gray crags of the Khaz Mountains encircle the region. It is still a place that appeals the sturdy, determined dwarven people, and the comparatively temperate weather makes it more attractive than the snowbound land of Dun Morogh.

The Loch itself is artificial. The dwarves knew that their expanding society needed a wider agricultural base, something the rocky ground of Dun Morogh could never supply (this was before the gnomes perfected their subterranean mushroom farming techniques). As it was, Loch Modan could support a fair amount of farmland, though the lack of water hampered further growth. The waters of the High River could only do so much.

By decree of Emperor Hendel Anvilmar I, the dwarves built a great dam on the High River, just south of the waterfall where it flows into the Wetlands. It was one of the finest hours for the Royal Engineers, whose exacting techniques and brilliance resulted in a modern wonder. The shallow and muddy High River became glittering Loch Modan. The dam’s creation also created the Wetlands. Much of the region known as the Wetlands was almost totally submerged before the completion of the Stonewrought Dam. The slowing of the river allowed the waters to sink. As any druid could tell you, the ecological damage was mind-boggling, but the Wetlands have since reached equilibrium.

I reached the dam about a day-and-a-half after leaving Algaz Station. Activity was evident before I even saw the dam, with mountaineers keeping a careful watch on the surrounding territory. The azure clarity of the Loch was within sight, the waters disturbed by a slight breeze. I crested a rise and saw a stone ramp, leading to the dam proper.

I must confess that it did not look terribly impressive at first glance. The dam basically resembles a stone wall rising about twenty feet from the waters of the lake. A dwarven soldier held out a gloved hand, motioning for me to stop.

“What are you here for, lad?” he demanded.

“I just wanted to see the dam.”

“You’ve come to the right place for it,” he laughed. “I have to check your bags first though.”

“Go ahead.”

He took my pack and opened it, methodically taking each item and setting it on the ground. Another soldier watched me as he leaned on a wall, fingering his rifle. He looked nearly asleep but I had no doubt he’d have blasted my head off if I’d tried to run. After a minute or so the first soldier nodded and stood up from my pack.

“You’re clear then. A few rules before going in: don’t go anyplace you’re not supposed to be. If you’re not sure if an area’s open to the public, it probably isn’t. Don’t make a nuisance of yourself to the good people here. Please, please do not jump from the dam. Here’s a pass, show it to anyone who asks to see it. Have a great time now!”

I thanked him, took the pass, and stepped onto the ramp. At that point I had only seen the side of the dam looking over the lake. I crossed over to the other side, hoping for a better view. I nearly swooned when I saw it.



The great edifice rises seemingly miles-high over the valley below, the bottom completely obscured in swirls of mist rising from the crashing waters. The faces of ancient kings stare out from the dam, their stern features putting the might of Ironforge on silent display. The sight is almost mesmerizing, not only for it’s sheer scale (as largeness is hardly an indicator of greatness) but for the magnificent utilitarian beauty of the structure. This was not done for the whim of some half-mad despot, as was the case in Alterac City, but built instead by those who loved what they were doing.

“It took a century to build this,” explained Hafitzer, an elderly dwarf with a scarred face. Hafitzer was an engineer, who in his words had seen “just about all of Khaz Modan and Stormwind, and a good chunk of Lordaeron.” We were inside a tunnel on the main walkway. It was quiet aside from the roar of the waters, the guards having little to do.

“I’m surprised it was only a century,” I said.

“They say that once it was started they couldn’t bear to leave it undone. I don’t think any engineer worth his salt can sleep comfortably with a project that isn’t finished,” he laughed.

“It must have been an expensive project.”

“Very. It’s actually how the Royal Engineers' League ended up proving itself though.”

“Weren’t they always respected?”

“Anyone who can work is respected, so long as they return the favor. Some are just a lot more respected than others. You see, in the early days, the greatest things a dwarf could be was a miner, soldier, or a blacksmith. Sure, engineering was important, and related to both those jobs. You need engineers to build a mine. But people thought we were softies. Fine with pen and parchment, and not any good at digging into the living earth. They called us second-hand gnomes!”

“The gnomes are also very famous for their engineering.”

“Yes. If you want something that’s absolutely brilliant, and not necessarily practical or desirable, a gnome’s the one you want. I think that’s why dwarves and gnomes work so well together. They come up with great ideas, and we make sure that those ideas become useful. Anyway, the Engineers' Guild (as it was known at the time) was always trying to prove itself. Everyone that was a member wanted to be the best, and it was the same way with the organization as a whole.”

“And the Stonewrought Dam gave them an opportunity.”

“Exactly! Not only were they building something that just about defied the laws of nature, they were shaping a new world. It was like they were the Titans of old, crafting Azeroth as they saw fit, shifting the pattern of earth and water. The masons and quarry men all tried to take the glory, but when it was done there was no way for them to do so.”

“But the engineers couldn’t have built the dam with their own hands could they? I’m thinking there couldn’t be enough.”

“There weren’t. It was done by hardworking laborers, the same way everything here was built. And they got credit too, if you go down below there’s five great stone tablets in which are engraved the name of every single dwarf who contributed sweat and time for this dam. Like I said, everyone who works gets respect.”

“So planning it got the engineers the respect they were seeking?”

“That’s right. Emperor Hendel died before it could be completed, but the next emperor, Helm, declared it to be the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. Many dwarves still think so. That’s when the Engineers' Guild became the Royal Engineers' League.”

“A royal league is a station in the dwarven government, correct? Since I’ve heard of the Explorers' League as well.”

“Royal Explorers' League, Royal Miners' League, Royal Masons' League... there’s a good number of them. Most of the benefits of going royal are the fame and respect. It’s not like nobles up in old Lordaeron, where they sat on their duffs all day because their great grandfather killed a bunch of trolls. We still have to work, and every fifty years the government reviews us to see if we’re doing our jobs. Royal Miners' League lost its status for a while, back when I was a boy. They weren’t pulling their weight.”

“Do you get paid more?”

“We work out the payment with whoever hires us. Human kingdoms have availed themselves of our services many times, private interests hire us, local civic governments, you name it. The only rule is the Guardian Act. In a time of active war, we (and this applies to pretty much any League) are to build whatever the king and his generals tell us to, and we don’t have to be paid until later.”

“Do you mind that?”

“No! What sort of man would I be if I let my nation fall for the sake of gold? I worked for free all through the Second War, laying mines and secret tunnels through Dun Morogh. They paid me in the end, and even if they hadn’t it would have been worth it for the fact that my nation still exists!”

I couldn’t help but wonder if he would have still held that attitude if he had not been paid.

“Tell me, do they sing the Ballad of Builder Macragor up in Lordaeron? I’m guessing they don’t.”

“No.”

“Well the story is that five dwarves had an argument about which of them was the best. This was when the dam was being built by the way, so we’re on the very stones that Macragor put together. So they had a contest, to see who could add the most to the dam in a single day. They worked themselves to the bone. No one could hold up with Macragor though. Macragor was the only one still standing by sundown, so they declared him the winner and decided to all go to the camp to buy him some ale. Macragor simply said: ‘Let me build a little more.’ They found him dead the next day of exhaustion, but everyone remembered him.”

“I see. The theme of heroism through sacrifice. Was Macragor real?”

“Yes! The story is a bit embellished obviously. He was a real dwarf though. Every few years there’s a petition to change the name of this place to Macragor’s Glory. Dwarven children learn that song in school. You see, he achieved the dream. Not only had he proven himself to be the best there was in his field, he also gave his life for his people and for his work.”

“That’s sort of an ideal then?”

“For every engineer.” Then he laughed. “At least we tell ourselves that. Either way, he was a great man.”

When Lordaeron still stood, it was a truism for humans to speak of the dwarven focus on community. Many argued that humans should become more like the dwarves. Hearing Hafitzer’s account of the building of Stonewrought Dam was another example of the dwarven belief in a strong society.

At the same time, the dwarves have a reputation as individualists, paradoxical though it seems. Everyone knew about the fierce and solitary dwarven hunters who stalked through the snowy wilds of Dun Morogh to harry orcish supply lines in the Second War. Dwarves are also reputed as being extraordinarily driven. Hafitzer described the Ballad of Macragor as borne from fierce competition, resulting in Macragor’s own elevation as a folk hero.

Generalizations are inaccurate by nature, though also probably indispensable. It is helpful to observe broad trends in any society so long as it is also remembered that every individual has their own motive and viewpoint. I surmised while looking out over the waters of the Loch (magnificent though the view is, looking down the falls is too grand to allow coherent thought) that many dwarves may have been torn between the ideal of individual glory and communal respect. Such a situation is almost identical to the classic polarization of human society though perhaps more pronounced among the dwarves.

I noticed that several cannons had been placed on the dam, their barrels pointing out over the lake towards a small island. I wondered why the barrels would be positioned there, and asked a youngish looking soldier.

“Troggs,” he said.

“Troggs?”

“You don’t know what they are?” he asked, his eyes wide with incredulity.

“I do not.”

“Where have you been? Are you one of them northmen?”

“I am.”

“Huh. You don’t know about Gnomeregan?”

“I know that it was abandoned. That was an accident, wasn’t it?”

“It was a plan that went wrong. They filled it with poison to get rid of the troggs, and they just ended up booting themselves out. Troggs were uncovered by those archaeologists. You ask me, they ought to disband the Royal Archaeologists' League for that. Searching for Titans isn’t worth what the troggs did.”

“I’m sorry, you’ve completely lost me.”

“I’ll put it to you this way. Think of a gorilla with a deformed face and without fur. Then give it a nasty club and make him want nothing more than to bash a body’s head in. That’s a trogg. Some of them settled on that island.”

“I had no idea. Did they start in Gnomeregan?”

“No, they first boiled up out of Uldaman in the Badlands. Spread like wildfire though. They’re still on that island!”

“Couldn’t you blast them out?”

“Only off of the north side. They still cover the rest of it though, killing anyone who gets near. Of course I don’t know why you’d want to go there to begin with, there’s not a damn thing there.”

“You can’t send in a force to clear them out?”

“We have enough troops here to do it, but not enough to do it without losing a lot of good men. They’re primitive, but they’re vicious. Some of them can commune with spirits and shoot lightning at you, like orcs. That island used to be an orcish encampment back in the Second War. Maybe they were related.”

“Do they have boats?”

“Not that we’ve seen. The chief thinks they swam. For now they’re staying on the island but that could change once there are enough of them. We’re waiting for orders from above. Truth be told, we might take matters into our own hands. We can’t just stand by and let the bastards kill the people here. If we had some gunboats, maybe a flight squadron of some kind, that would be all we needed. But they keep saying that they can’t spare any.”

Even the stability of dwarven society was not as strong as it seemed. With Dark Iron infiltration and trogg attacks, the future may hold much strife for the dwarven people.

*********

Traveling down the eastern shore of the Loch, with nothing but verdant forests and mountain air around me, I could almost imagine I still lived. While the western portion of Loch Modan is heavily settled, the east is mostly empty. Hunters, farmers, and fishermen make their living in small homesteads scattered through the wilderness.



A young dwarven woman (young being a relative term as she was a good twenty-five years older than me) acted as my traveling companion. Named Magda Stonechisel, she had been working with a cousin in an excavation site in the south. Both were members of the Royal Archaeologists' League, searching for clues about the dwarven origins. She was granted a short respite from her work and took advantage of that to visit Stonewrought Dam, which she had never seen.

Magda’s skills in the Common language were limited, which was actually rather surprising. Dwarves and gnomes alike generally speak fluent Common, largely the result of being wedged between the human-held territories of Lordaeron and Stormwind. She still knew enough for basic conversation and was kind enough to teach me some simple Dwarvish. When I travel alone, I tend to sleep in the wilderness, discomfort being of little consequence. However on two occasions Magda and I spent the night at the small and tidy forest homes. One of the homesteaders, a dwarven patriarch named Rawlgen, explained that no decent dwarf would ever deny shelter to another dwarf. In most cases, the same rule applied to humans and gnomes. Though we were given food and a place to sleep without request for anything in return, Magda insisted on entertaining the inhabitants with her dulcimer, which she played with heartbreaking skill.

After four days of travel (I must admit it was somewhat frustrating having to slow myself down for the living) we reached Ironband’s Excavation Site. Night had fallen and black clouds obscured the stars. A blustering wind roared around us as we pressed forward. In the distance we saw the lights of the archaeologist’s camp.

“Ironband is very famous,” Magda shouted over the wind.

“He is an archaeologist?”

“Ironband a... arkalogist?”

“Archaeologist,” I corrected.

“Archaeologist. Thank you! Ironband is an archaeologist. He is very smart.”

A sudden, powerful gust of wind nearly knocked me off balance as I crested a hill. Magda took my arm and laughed.

“Humans are too tall, I think!”

I could dimly make out the silhouettes of great pillars and walls, though I was unable to see any details on their surface. I then noticed a rapid group of lights moving away from the camp and into the ruins. I looked at Magda, her cheerful, copper-colored face barely visible by the light of her lantern, her eyes wide with excitement.

“Look! It is important. We do not go at night, unless it is important.”

The two of us quickened our steps. I took care not to stumble on any unseen obstacles. Magda was much more sure-footed and soon got ahead of me. I wondered what they might have found that justified going out on such a dark night. My understanding was that archaeology was the sort of work that had to be done with a very good light source.

The wind was even noisier as it howled through the remains of a great street, flanked on both sides by monolithic walls. By the lantern light I could see that it was made out of a dark greenish stone. Ancient craftsmen had set tall copper bas-reliefs on the wall, portraying majestic giants, the Titans of legend. Age had oxidized the metal, making it difficult to distinguish from the stone.

For a single instant, I felt as if a vast mind of inconceivable order and perfection had reached across time to touch my own. I stopped, though only momentarily.

“I hear something,” said Magda.

I could only hear the ferocious wind. Magda suddenly broke into a run, yelling something in Dwarvish. I hurriedly followed her. Then I heard a series of ferocious cries over the wind, a cross between a screaming human and a barking dog.

With a hideous roar, a mass of long arms reached from the shadows and grabbed Magda. A ripping noise cut short her terrified scream and some force flung her through the air, her head bloodily impacting on one of the ancient walls. Squat figures suddenly flooded the street, their bestial faces further distorted by long shadows. Acting on reaction I cast a blink spell, teleporting a few yards behind them. Then I turned around, firing arcane bolts into their midst.

The bolts struck true, felling one of their number while the rest howled and shrieked, scattering out of shock. They did not retreat though, and expanded in a semi-circle around me.

A massive area of effect attack would have helped, except that it stood a good chance of killing Magda (assuming she was not already dead) and I probably did not have enough time to cast an appropriate spell. I settled for the next best thing.

They charged, their knotted and bandy legs carrying them with surprising swiftness. A thick hand destroyed my lantern, even as I willed a burst of freezing cold from my position. I immediately ran, hoping to get far enough away that I could launch a more devastating attack.

The ice holding the troggs broke and they loped towards me, screaming in strangled grunts. I prepared to call ice from the sky when I saw an array of torches at the far end of the street and heard shouts in Dwarvish.

The beasts immediately broke rank, most turning to attack the newcomers. One still charged towards me and I set him aflame with a spell. Still burning, he hurtled towards me with agonized yowls, forcing me to leap to the side. With the lights of the dwarven warriors, I saw that the street had been the site of a fierce skirmish. Two dead dwarves, mangled to the point that they could barely be recognized as such, lay on the flagstones beneath a gore-spattered bas-relief. Nearby lay a quintet of dead troggs.

My attacker whirled around, the magical fire on his body beginning to dissipate. I had already begun preparing a fireball in order to more properly dispatch the trogg, and I launched it with a fling of my hand. The spell instantly killed the brute.

The wind mixed with the shocking cries of the beasts and curses of the dwarves, creating a terrible cacophony. The dwarves soon won the field as the last of the monsters either fled or fell. I approached the dwarves, my hands raised. One of them pointed a rifle at me.

“Who are you?” he yelled.

“Talus Corestiam. I came with Magda, she’s hurt.”

“Put down your gun you damn idiot, he’s a human,” shouted another dwarf. The first lowered his weapon with a reluctant snarl.

I began to ask if Magda was alive, but then I saw her body. The troggs had torn one arm out of its socket. The monstrous strength of the troggs became apparent to me, and I felt suddenly weak-kneed.

“Get the bodies, keep weapons ready. You too, mage,” ordered a dwarf.

I nodded and stood on the perimeter, keeping an eye out for intruders as the dwarves went about the business of taking the dead. One poured a foul-smelling fluid on the trogg bodies and then set them alight. He grimaced at the stench of burning trogg flesh, a deep stink that even I couldn’t stand.

The dwarves placed the three fallen archaeologists, Magda among them, in crude litters and headed back to the camp. The wind finally began to die down.

They held a burial service the next morning. It was a cool day, the sun shining between white clouds. The dwarves assembled about a mile east of the camp, grim and stoic. They fixed up the bodies as best they could, though they still bore the signs of terrible violence. Dwarven burials, I learned, were conducted almost immediately after death. It would not do, an older dwarven woman explained, to keep good dwarves from their resting grounds longer than necessary.

Dwarves eschew coffins, not understanding why anyone would try to avoid the tight embrace of the earth. The bodies were carefully lowered into their respective graves by rope, as Prospector Ironband stood at the head of the graves chanting a funeral hymn. The dwarves then lowered a small barrel into each grave before the diggers refilled the pits. A few more words were said before we returned to the camp.

“What was in the barrel?” I asked a woman I had spoken to earlier, whose name was Tana.

“Ale, of course,” she answered.

“Ah, sort of a sending off gift?”

“In a way. You see, when someone drinks enough, he’ll say what’s on his mind. That’s why you can’t really trust someone until you’ve seen them drunk. When the deceased goes to meet the Great Fathers of the Dwarves, to be judged in the Halls of Remembrance, the ale will make sure he keeps honest.”

“What if he was a bad dwarf who chose not to drink the ale?”

“Chose not to drink the ale? What do you mean?”

“I mean... decided not to drink it, so that he could lie about his bad deeds.”

“Don’t be daft, no dwarf would turn down ale. Besides, the Great Fathers know if someone is lying, the ale’s more a formality than anything else.”

“Ah. I’m sorry about Magda—”

“You’ve were apologetic enough last night. It wasn’t your fault.”

“If they hadn’t come so suddenly I might have been able to do something.”

“The poor lass was almost certainly dead the moment she hit that wall. It broke open her skull.”

“What about her cousin? She said she had one here.”

“Yes, Keldur... oh, didn’t you know? He was one of the others that died that night.”

I was able to get a better look at the ruins during the day. It is a city once built and inhabited by giants, rather than dwarves. Images of the inhabitants, usually dressed in flowing robes of some sort, show beings with proportions closer to humans than to dwarves. Scaffolding and other signs of more recent dwarven construction are ubiquitous. Not even the previous night’s violence could halt the work. I watched a team of archaeologists use brushes to dust the dirt off of an ancient vase, their strokes slow and painstaking.

I learned that the dwarves are not adverse to using blasting powder to clear out particularly rocky sections. The pillars and structures are impervious to conventional explosions, and only the more delicate artifacts were at risk. Those artifacts are still important, so these controlled demolitions are only used in areas of solid rock unlikely to hold artifacts. This is a matter of some contention within the League, though Ironband is a proponent of it.

I had spent the day helping out in whatever way I could, which generally translated into carrying buckets of ale (occasionally water) to the archaeologists. I was surprised to see them working so diligently after their losses. Work is the dwarf’s preferred way of coping with pain.

“They died to uncover this place and it would do them dishonor if we stopped work to mourn,” explained one dwarf.

After the evening meal I was able to secure some time with Ironband. Ironband was a formidable looking dwarf with intense eyes and a wild gray beard. He sat in his tent, carefully studying sketches of some of the more notable engravings in the site. Several minutes passed before he looked up at me.

“So how can I help you?”

“I’m trying to learn more about the world, and I’m particularly fascinated by this shift in dwarven culture. You seem to occupy a position of some importance in this.”

“I’ve done many a dig in my day, and I’ll do many more.”

“Are attacks like last night common?”

He raised a bushy eyebrow at the question.

“No. Not here at least. We first met those monsters in Uldaman, buried behind a vault. I was there when it happened. The troggs slaughtered us there, human. I was lucky to survive at all. Now they seem common. I don’t wish to talk about troggs though, so don’t ask more questions about them.”

“I’m sorry, I won’t. Could you explain the interest in the Titans?”

Ironband’s face brightened.

“Aye, gladly. The dwarven people have always been curious about their origins. Perhaps because, unlike the other races, we know the exact moment and place of our awakening. Perhaps you know it too, how we came into this world from a sealed vault in Uldaman.”

“I have heard.”

“Even then we wondered why we were there. The ancient stories tell how the first Great Fathers could only remember vague impressions of their own ancestors. ‘Yet Balvor, the greatest of all the elders, whose skin was nearly like the stone that birthed him, remembered only that wondrous things had transpired in the Halls of Antiquity. To face them was a pain too great to bear, so he bade his people leave.’ That’s from the Book of the Forge.”



“I’ve read it, albeit in a Common translation.”

“Ah, good, good. It cannot truly be understood in any language besides Dwarvish, yet Common is an acceptable substitute—Gnomish is better. So you know, more or less, why we left?”

“You did not want to be reminded of something you were afraid you could never achieve again.”

“Correct. In time, people stopped caring about Uldaman. Who cared about ruins when there was gold to be mined and trolls to be cracked? We committed the greatest sin a dwarf can; we stopped caring about our past. Oh sure, we hailed the Great Fathers, yet we all knew that before them was something even grander. But we did nothing. Then, though, we truly awoke!”

“The current interest in archaeology was largely spurred by some discoveries in Kalimdor, if memory serves.”

“You’re very well-informed. Most humans aren’t, so I respect one who is.”

“Thank you.”

“We found ruins in Kalimdor. Once the demons were driven out, Algun Thoriumfoot realized that the ruins had the same architecture as Uldaman! What’s more, he saw certain images suggestive of our history. The night elves have long memories and they corroborated our stories, at least to an extent.”

“How so?”

“Their histories speak of a race of stout humanoids that were made of stone. They looked like dwarves, they even had stony beards! And that matches up with us, we can still call up the skin of stone though only for a little while.”

“So these stone beings were your ancestors?”

“The evidence is staggeringly in favor of it. And we call them the Earthen. There’s more though. We consulted with some of the gnomish warlocks and read some very strange writings in human libraries. These gnomes studied demons, and knew that the demons feared some other group called the Titans, who had metal skin. The books I spoke of in the human libraries were nearly gibberish but they also mentioned Titans, saying that they came to set order to the world. Some books even suggest that they made the giants and the dragons, though I haven’t gotten around to asking any of those beasts yet!” he laughed.

“While in the ruins last night I did see some bas-reliefs of large, humanoid figures. Would those be the Titans?”

“I believe so. Some of the archaeologists are still skeptical but anyone who has spent time in the field and hasn’t been sitting at a desk all day can feel the presence of those Titans. You see, in Kalimdor we found pictures of those inexplicable giants crafting smaller men out of stone. Besides, it makes sense! Dwarves love order, for the most part, and the Titans apparently ordered the world. The Titans came out from metal, just as we came out from rock.”

“Do you think that the Titans have become the focus of a sort of dwarven religion?”

“The Mystery of the Makers is what the scholars call it. But it isn’t really a religion, at least not in the human sense. I believe it with all my heart but I’m not going to preach to the masses about it. Instead I’m going to prove it, as I know I shall.”

“It’s a religion for you in particular though not for dwarven society at large?”

“That’s a fine way of putting it, aye. It’s not so different from the Great Fathers, though no one worships them anymore, at least not seriously. We used to, in the old days, but after Galdacius came down from Lordaeron it was the Light for us.”

“Is work still being done in Uldaman?”

“No. The—well I don’t want to talk about them, you know who I’m referring to—took the place, nine years ago. We had to abandon it though we swore we’d return. Then the undead started their war in the north and we couldn’t afford to send any troops to Uldaman.”

“I see. May I ask one question about the troggs?”

“Very well,” he sighed.

“How do you think the troggs fit in to the Mystery of the Makers?”

“Well, if the Titans are gods then there may be devils also. The troggs aren’t on the same level but they might be like minor lackeys for some greater evil. And in fact, a greater evil came to Uldaman. Dwarves of the Dark Iron Clan blaspheme the sacred halls with their presence.”

“Wouldn’t that be urgent enough to send in the army?”

“It is! Yet they don’t! It’s worse than an insult to us that the Dark Irons are there. It’s like a pestilence gnawing away at us, both physically and spiritually. We have to expunge them, wipe out every trace of the Dark Irons in Uldaman, and the troggs too.”

“Why hasn’t the army been sent?”

“Too busy going off to fight orcs and overgrown cows. Listen, I want you to tell your humans about this. This war is not that important, not really. What matters is discovering how we came into being. There are other great cities of the Earthen that we haven’t even explored yet. One in Kalimdor, and one in Northrend. Who knows, perhaps an entire dwarven kingdom could be waiting for us to awake them. The Horde wouldn’t stand a chance against us then.”

“I don’t mean to contradict but couldn’t there also be the risk of unleashing something akin to the troggs?”

“The troggs are only a danger because we haven’t been setting our full forces against them. They’re stupid beasts. If the Titans came here once, if they crafted us from the stone—and I believe they did—they might come again. Think of it! The Titans returning to this world, setting things back in order. The ogres, the orcs, and the undead wouldn’t stand a chance. Only the races that are of this world—and even then there’s a few I wouldn’t be too sure about—will remain. When that comes, rest assured, the war against the Horde will be forgotten. Their greatest armies would be nothing compared to the might of the Titans.”

Ironband’s voice, previously neutral and even somewhat genial at times, transformed into the voice of a zealot.

“I’m sorry if I scared you with my outburst. It’s something I feel very strongly about as you can tell. It’s simply that these soft-headed fools tell King Magni and the Foundry that they can’t risk such a venture on the recommendation of a few ‘fanatics’ like me. They’re afraid of the troggs, or some such thing. But I want the war to end as much as they do, the difference is I know a better way to do it! The dwarves are special in a way that no other race is. I do not mean to denigrate the humans, and they’ll be held in high esteem as well when the Titans return. This world is our birthright. The elves can concern themselves with the animals and flowers that grow on the surface, but the beating, physical heart of the world itself is our stewardship.”

Ironband calmed down a bit. Then he smiled ruefully.

“Ach, I’ve probably scared you off of our venture here. Don’t worry, everything will be fine. I have full faith in the might of our armies and we’ll smash the damn Horde even if we can’t get the Titans. It’ll be good sight easier if we did though. Here, take some ale. I’ve got some work to get back to.”

*********

Thelsamar is actually quite far from Ironband’s Site. The terrain is also exceedingly rugged and hilly in the south, more so than other parts. The archaeologists warned me that fierce animals and troggs roam the high places. Clearly the troggs are becoming quite a problem for the dwarves, and in my (admittedly biased) view, one worse than the Horde.

Difficult landscapes aside, I reached Thelsamar in about a week. Thelsamar is one of the oldest dwarven towns. Its steady rise is largely tied in with the Rocksplitter family, a wealthy clan that heavily sponsored the construction of the Stonewrought Dam. The Rocksplitters were not nobles, as might be expected for an equally prestigious human family in Lordaeron. No noble class really exists in dwarven society, much to their credit. The Rocksplitters were simply a wealthy trader clan. Many had served on the Foundry, that conclave of dwarven statesmen that makes most of the decisions for the nation. The king has power, but his descisions are exercised through the Foundry rather than over it. Likewise, a two-thirds vote from the Foundry can veto the king’s plans.



The Horde of the Second War annihilated Thelsamar in a single night. A far-ranging army of the Bleeding Hollow Clan set the place to the torch and killed nearly all of the inhabitants. When the avenging dwarven armies at last drove the orcs from Loch Modan, they decided to rebuild the town. Thelsamar currently exists as a resort. Well-appointed vacation homes line the paths and perch on hills, owned by wealthy merchants often living in Ironforge or other lands. The average residents tend to be well-to-do.

Thelsamar looks as if it just came off of the artist’s canvas and into the real world. The surrounding trees and hills are green enough to put an elf to shame, and the tidy stone burrows in which the dwarves live are picture perfect. Hearty dwarves stroll up and down the meandering roads. It is almost the axiomatic dwarven town; the source from which all other towns are imperfectly derived.

A few of the townsfolk gave me curious and friendly looks as I walked through. I gathered that humans were not a very common sight in the town, though I suspect it will be only a matter of time before some shiftless Stormwind noble discovers it and brings his friends along.

The first person I talked to was a dwarven woman named Lina Hearthstove. She worked as a stable keeper at the inn.

“I lived here for thirty-one years before the orcs came. My father was very shrewd and he knew that Ironforge was the only safe place for his family. Some of our neighbors were angry at us because they thought we were abandoning our homeland. It had to be done though.”

“I’m sure that the journey was quite dangerous. After all, Dun Morogh was invaded before Loch Modan.”

“Aye, but the orcs only had the southernmost sections and we were able to get to the city before they got any further. That’s where I learned the Common tongue!” she beamed.

“You speak it quite well.”

“Oh, you’re flattering me. I try though. Nearly everyone who lived in Thelsamar was killed, but some of the ones who escaped to Ironforge or Lordaeron decided to come back and rebuild the place.”

“What was the old town like?”

“It was a bigger, noisier, a bit homelier really. Loch Modan was much more important back then, since this was where Ironforge got its bread. Nowadays, Ironforge gets much of its food from underground farms developed by the gnomes.”

“Did the shift to gnomish farms happen during the war?”

“The underground farms go far back, it’s just that the dwarves didn’t like mushrooms. But there wasn’t anything else to eat during the war, so the dwarves got used to it, and got pretty sharp at preparing it in interesting ways. Also, it’s very cheap and they don’t have to transport it to the capital. Ironforge still needs us for fruits and vegetables though!”

“Thus, Thelsamar became more of a resort town since it had less utilitarian value?”

“Aye. There weren’t too many of us left, since most folks stayed in Ironforge. And a lot of the ones who returned to Loch Modan decided to strike it out on their own farms or fisheries. So we had a lot of wealthy dwarves tired of life in Ironforge coming over here. Thelsamar near doubles in size in the market weeks though, and gets as messy as old times.”

“What has been the reaction of the old Thelsamar inhabitants?”

“Hm?”

“Have the original inhabitants of the town felt at all displaced? Or are they happy for the influx of wealth and development?”

“Well we’re happy, of course! Most of the clans that moved in were related to us through past marriages anyway. My aunt Thranda was born here, and she married into the Bluntnose clan of Ironforge. Now her husband is the magistrate of Thelsamar.”

“Do you plan to stay in Thelsamar?”

“Oh I’m sure I’ll go back to Ironforge at least a few more times. It’s a wonderful city though it takes a bit of getting used to if you’ve lived in the open air. Right now I’m learning how to take care of rams. I’m hoping one day to start a small ranch.”

“I wish you the best of luck then.”

“Thank you traveler, may you quickly get to wherever it is you’re headed!”

The scions of wealthy clans do most of the menial jobs in Thelsamar. Even if a dwarven family has enough riches to last for generation, the ideal of work is so ingrained in their culture that they consider it anathema for upper-class youth to wile away their time. Poorer dwarves usually work transporting fresh food to Dun Morogh. There is no law that prevents wealthy youngsters from working in the transport industry, but it is considered socially unacceptable. Interestingly, this is not because such work is seen as degrading (for work of any kind is considered empowering), but because the lower classes badly need such jobs, especially given the cost of living in Thelsamar. I spoke to a poorer dwarf named Fulhan Stonelip. Though his clothes obviously consisted of cheaper materials, he took great care to appear as professional as possible.

"I've noticed that many professions band together in leagues. Is there any likelihood that porters such as yourself would form a league?"

"Ha! We'd have to make a guild first, and then become a league. That happened more in the old days, when you had great heroes taming the mountains and whatnot, working alongside kings and visionaries. For jobs like ours, it's easier just to have transport companies that people can hire."

"Are companies still be able to get royal contracts?"

"Sure, if someone high-up needs us. But there's less of an established relationship."

"Do you think there should ever be a Royal Porters' League?"

"No need. It's a hard life, but we work hard and we're paid fair. 'A dwarf who cheats another is poorer for it,' as the old saying goes. I've seen companies run by real begrudging types, and once word gets out, no one will do business with them. If I do well, I might make my own transport company, and get some good coin doing it. Life's harder outside of a guild or league, but a bit more flexible. We're not beholden to the Guardian Act, for instance, though I'd still volunteer if Khaz Modan needed me. So would every other porter worth his beard. Still, it's our choice, and choosing it freely makes us all the braver."

I stayed in Thelsamar longer than I planned. I cannot deny being seduced by its charm, at least initially. That said, I began to find it a bit dull after four days. The inhabitants are polite and rather aloof. The tightly knit nature of dwarven society is not very open to outsiders.

I kept myself entertained by talking with people (at least, those who were willing to spend time conversing with me) and observing the events. On the third day I saw a boat race on the waters of the Loch. The Loch is much too large to conveniently circumnavigate, so the race only covered the southwestern portion. The boats were sturdy and well-made, and when they disappeared from sight the spectators congregated in a sprawling lakeside picnic. When the boats returned (the winner being one Magnar Steelhew) the dwarves held a celebratory dinner. The competition was fierce, and some of Felhew’s subsequent comments might have been regarded as rude in human society. None of the dwarves seemed particularly offended and the losers had plenty of their own barbs with which to counter Felhew’s. The uneasy contrast between individuality and communalism that is so prevalent in dwarven society was again illustrated to me.

After the race, as the sun's fading rays reddened the lake, I went to sample the ales at the Stoutlager Inn, Thelsamar's main drinking establishment in the town. The inn is comfortable and impeccably clean, like everything else in Thelsamar. It was a crowded night, dwarves taking their spouses and children with them for some evening fun. A dwarf with grayish skin unexpectedly joined me. He was extremely muscular, and short even for his race. I had seen a few dwarves that shared his appearance though I had not yet talked to any them.



“You’re a human are you? From Lordaeron?” His accent was peculiarly sibilant, not sounding like any dwarf I’d ever heard.

“I am.”

“Welcome to Thelsamar. I am Brant Cloudbeard.”

“My name is Talus Corestiam.”

“My wife and I noticed you at the race earlier, and she thought you seemed a bit lonesome. I would have joined you if I’d had the time, but I was busy doing a dozen different things. The dwarves aren’t always the most welcoming of people. Being one myself, I would know.” He gave a sympathetic laugh.

“I’ve done all right. Humans aren’t really all that friendly either. May I ask where you are from? I’ve never heard an accent like yours before.”

“I was born in Shadowforge City. I am a Dark Iron. You know of the Dark Irons, yes?”

“I do. I was under the impression that you were at war with the Bronzebeards.”

“I’m sure the Emperor is, but I’m not. Every year some Dark Irons will try to escape. Most don’t make it but some of us get lucky.”

“It must be terrible over there.”

“Oh no. The only problem is that it’s such a wonderfully perfect society, we always have to die to keep it that way.” He laughed. “Pardon my little joke. It is terrible over there.”

“How have you done in Bronzebeard lands?”

“Most Dark Irons do very well. The Bronzebeards don’t mind us either, they set us up very handsomely. I myself own a bakery. Let me tell you, fresh-baked bread smells a thousand times better than molten iron. I used to work at a forge. As soon as I stepped into this land, I swore I would never again pick up a hammer.”

“I’m glad to hear you’ve been so successful.”

“I can afford to live here so that’s probably a good sign.”

We talked for a while longer. Brant was always evasive about my questions on Dark Iron society and I quickly gathered he did not like to be reminded of it. He preferred to speak of his accomplishments in Ironforge (where he had been adopted by the Cloudbeard family; nearly all Dark Iron refugees are adopted by an extant Bronzebeard family) and Thelsamar. He had married a woman from Ironforge and was blissfully happy to raise his two children in such a prosperous land. Brant eventually had to leave, and I thanked him for his time.

I left early the next morning, glad to again walk on actual roads. The last landmark before Dun Morogh is the Valley of the Kings, a few days south of Thelsamar. Rocky and uninviting, it is a harbinger for the cold landscape to the west. Two great statues, of Thane Khardros Wildhammer and King Madoran Bronzebeard (the leaders of their namesake clans during the War of the Three Hammers) maintain a lonely vigil over the valley. The fiery realm of the Dark Irons is not far from there. A fort, nearly identical to Algaz Station, acts as an anxious watch post for Loch Modan. Another tunnel system burrows through the mountains bordering Dun Morogh. Though not as extensive as Dun Algaz, it is somewhat steeper. I steeled myself for the long and snowy journey ahead.

2 comments:

  1. I've read through quite alot of the zones and I must say I'm impressed with 'em. Though, being a Dwarf fan I have to say this one is one of my favs. ^^

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks, Klo. I like dwarves too, even though I don't actually have a dwarf character in game. Though I can't really think of a single playable race that I actually dislike.

    ReplyDelete