Monday, October 22, 2007
The sprawling metropolis of Orgrimmar is a fantastical sight in the sunset's fading light. The massive stone walls, allegedly the thickest in Kalimdor, stand guard before the wind-sculpted canyons and valleys in which the city is built. The gates lead to a grand hall with a high ceiling supported by massive timber pillars. Despite the relative crudity of the architecture, there is an undeniable magnificence to the scene.
Beyond that lies the Valley of Strength, the commercial nerve center of Orgrimmar. Squat and cylindrical orcish structures are stacked on top of each other, and ramshackle huts pile up on the canyon’s walls and ledges. I had never before seen so many orcs in one area, and even after my travels it seemed somehow incomprehensible. What was before me was not a violent army on the rampage, but merely orcs getting on with the business of life.
Kadra left me at the gates. As a warrior, she was honor-bound to report to her pack elders in the Valley of Honor, where the esteemed defenders of Orgrimmar train and plan. Clouds of reddish dust fill the valley at all times, the result of endless commotion. Peons push immense carts that would stymy even the strongest humans.
I made my way to a modest hostel called the Bleeding Flank. To the orcish mentality, such a name conjures thoughts of hearth and home. After paying for a hammock, I sat down on a thick bear pelt and observed my surroundings. A sense of danger hung about the patrons filtering in for evening recreation, nearly all of them armed and more than a few with ugly scars. I was the only Forsaken in the room, but Orgrimmar is cosmopolitan enough that my presence did not attract any particular notice. It was soon clear to me that the Bleeding Flank was an establishment for warriors and adventurers.
The favored beverage among orcs is a wine derived from the cactus apples native to Durotar. Much like bloodmead, it is exceedingly sweet. Some of the tables at the Bleeding Flank are equipped with hookahs, a device that both the trolls and high elves claim to have invented.
The impersonal nature of the big city, combined with orcish rambunctiousness and alcohol, led me to expect that brawls would be a common sight in Orgrimmar’s taverns. The opposite is true; I only saw one fight during my entire stay. It is considered bad form to initiate violence over some passing barb. “True honor is often silent and peaceful,” Thrall had said, soon after Orgrimmar’s founding.
Unlike the witty insult contests favored by the Darkspear, orcs in an honor dispute settle it through a contest of skill or strength. Arm-wrestling is the most popular, often done to the cheers of the crowd. I do not know if this is always the case, but in that tavern it is customary for the winner to buy a drink for the loser. The orcs also tend not to drink to excess.
“The dwarves and humans are the ones who like to cloud their senses and block out the spirits with drink,” criticized a burly orcish hunter named Muk. “We orcs see the world as it is: raw and beautiful.”
Dawn in Orgrimmar is heralded by the beating of great drums all along the canyon ridges, the sound rolling down the streets and into sleepy homes. In the purple darkness of early morning, the orcs get up from their beds and ready themselves for the day.
Like any other city, commerce plays a vital part in Orgrimmar's life. I was curious as to how merchants were regarded in a society that saw warriors as the apogee of greatness. Ancient humans held the peculiar attitude that getting rich through plunder was somehow more righteous than getting rich through trade.
I made my way to the great gates of Orgrimmar, the dense crowds and sheer size of the average orc proving formidable impediments. At the gates, caravans prepare themselves for journeys to Razor Hill, the Barrens, or places even farther, laden with all manner of practical goods. I went to what I thought was a senior caravan guard in order to ask about the position of an orcish merchant. As it turned out, he was the caravan leader, an orc named Sarg Bloodfang.
“These are rough lands undead. A soft human merchant wouldn’t survive a day out in the Barrens! Caravans are too important to be led by anyone other than a warrior.”
“So in a sense, there is no distinction between guard and merchant on a caravan.”
“Can any warrior lead a caravan?”
“Any warrior may try, but the elders must give their permission. A caravan leader must have wisdom, know how to deal with others and can be relied get the caravan to its destination in one piece. That’s why it almost always goes to older warriors like myself. The whelps are too eager to shed blood.”
“Is your caravan a private concern, or are you doing this on behalf of Orgrimmar?”
“I’m not sure what you mean. All that I do is on behalf of the Horde.”
“So you did not buy these materials yourself?”
“Of course I did! I’m not a shirker!” he snarled.
“I’m sorry, please pardon my ignorance. I’m afraid I do not quite understand what you mean, however.”
“As an older warrior, I thought this would be a good way to serve the Horde. The caravans need to be managed, and trade is important to the orcs. We do at times have special shipments that the Warchief needs to be sent somewhere, but those are simple matters. This caravan is my own.”
I realized that there is not a sharp distinction between the private and public spheres in orcish society. While Sarg’s caravan was, in effect, a private enterprise, he saw it as a benefit to the Horde. Given the orcish mind-set, it would be unlikely for someone lead a caravan if that orc cannot justify it for the community.
Warriors like Sarg are highly regarded among the orcs. Caravan merchants are more than just trade catalysts; they also act as explorers, diplomats, and sometimes even spies. Caravan leaders can often gain political authority and influence.
Less glamorous is the position of shopkeeper. At noon, when the sun's painful glare reaches its apex, I entered a cooper’s store situated on the Valley of Strength’s western ledge. Nur, an old peon with failing vision, managed the front desk while his sons made barrels on the upper floor.
“It’s difficult business, to be sure. I was never much good with a battle-ax, so it is not my place to expect too much,” sighed Nur.
“Are all the stores here in Orgrimmar owned by peons?”
“Where did you get that idea? Many are owned by warriors. It is a common choice for those that have become too old for the battlefield. They are honorable, and know that past glories will not sustain Orgrimmar or the Horde.”
“So to live here you must contribute to the city’s survival in some way.”
“How did you get to own this store?”
“Once we made landfall in Durotar, I did what I could to build a new home for my people. I did well at the tasks assigned to me. As I got older, I opened up my shop here. So long as a peon has no other obligations, he is free to try and make his way.”
“Obligations such as?”
“For instance, if a peon is at work on the frontier, he must stay there until it is settled.”
“Is there any difficulty in competing with warrior-owned shops?”
“Why would we compete with warriors? I did little with my life. The barrels I made will be dust before long. The deeds of great warriors will echo throughout the generations, and the blood of the fallen nurtures this city. People would prefer to buy from warriors, and I do not blame them. None can dispute their honor.”
“Do other peons also buy from warriors?”
“Yes. So do I. Why wouldn’t we?”
“Are peon-owned shops ever able to be successful?”
“Some are. We do not compete with the warriors, as I said. An honorable peon will close down his shop if a warrior builds the same kind of shop in the same neighborhood. We never forget those to whom we are obliged.”
Nur’s acceptance struck me as disturbing, though it is a common enough attitude in orcish society. The difficulties of being a peon entrepreneur leads most to seek employment as porters or artisans, usually working for warriors.
Not all peons are as resigned as Nur. Some of the more ambitious peons are attempting to build a commercial power base. Yet tradition is an often insurmountable obstacle to these daring souls. There are no laws against peons becoming wealthy. Nor does the government permit warriors to take money from rich peons. The problem lies in the fact that other peons are rarely interested in helping their ambitious fellows. In fact, wealthy peons are often resented. Conversely, peons who are promoted to warrior status become universally admired.
As Nur said, warriors are still expected to contribute. Warriors that retire from active duty and go into business must still manage it properly. However a safety net exists in the form of fellow warriors, particularly ones from the same war-pack. Many a failing business has been saved by such camaraderie. Shops in declining fortune are not subsidized by the local government, and the owners of such shops are not likely to ask or even accept government handouts. As the epitome of the orcish race, warriors are expected to be strong and resilient. The only acceptable form of financial aid comes from brothers-in-arms, and it is considered bad form to ask for it. A warrior who asks one of his fellows for money could not be much of a warrior; if he were truly a warrior, his comrades would support him without hesitation. Should they simply be unaware of a warrior's financial plight, he is expected to hint at his situation.
Sticking out from the north side of the Valley of Strength is the Drag, a narrow and dark canyon filled with orcish homes. Shops and homes sit along and on the sides of the great canyon walls, like earthen wasps' nests. The Drag is actually the closest thing that Orgrimmar has to a wealthy district. The Drag would probably strike humans as menacing, even without the orcs. Great tarps are pulled over the top of the canyon, so that the place is usually as dark as night. One can easily imagine pickpockets and ruffians behind around every corner.
However, the shade and darkness are welcome things in Durotar’s brutal heat. All of the shops in the Drag are owned by warriors. There is no written rule against peons being there; in fact, a fair amount work in the Drag at menial tasks. Yet it would be considered the height of arrogance for a peon to make a home in the Drag.
The Drag is much more sedate than the neighboring Valley of Strength. Though carts and wagons still rumble down the thoroughfare, the comparatively sparse crowds create a calmer atmosphere. The darkness is comforting and it is easier for the living to think rationally when they are out of the sun’s glare.
A massive tree grows in middle of the Drag. Seated at the trunk was an old orc clad in wolf furs and bearing the ornaments of a shaman. Around him sat a circle of young children, who watched him closely as he recited a story. All children in Orgrimmar receive the same education, regardless of their parentage.
Education is largely a communal affair among the orcs. While the family will instill certain basic values, much of the responsibility goes towards the local shaman, who also instructs orcish children how to read and write. Thrall has done everything in his power to ensure that the orcs of the new Horde are literate. Many of the older orcs never really acclimated themselves to the orcish alphabet, but the new generation will probably bring Thrall’s hopes of universal literacy to fruition.
“Reading and writing is secondary. Our greatest duty is to teach honor, the ways of the spirits, and the glory of the ancestors,” explained the shaman, who was named Norosh. He had dismissed his students for the day and was kind enough to answer my questions.
“In what sense do you teach them the ways of the spirits?”
“A young orc must learn respect. First and foremost it is for the elders, and for the idea of honor. Also important is to revere the spirits that make this world. We are in debt to the spirits of Azeroth. That they accepted us after the corruption of our race is something that we can never repay.”
“Are these responsibilities solely the shaman’s?”
“I would not say so. All orcs must provide an example for the young. I teach them of honor, yes, but the teaching begins even before they are old enough to enter my tutelage. Honor is the essence of orcish life.”
“Are all orcs in agreement as to the definition of honor?”
“Honor is not always simple. Humans often think it only means courage in the face of death. In truth, for an orc to be honorable, he—or she, now—must be brave in all aspects. The courage to put the war-pack’s needs ahead of your own, to argue for what is right even when others turn against you, to heed the desires of the spirits. These things and many more make honor. Are you familiar with the difference between pack honor and personal honor?”
“That is one example. In the past, before the Corruption, honor meant bravery in battle and loyalty to the clan. The legends say that our world was exceedingly dangerous, even before the demons came. While warriors boasted of their skill and accomplishment, they served their clans mostly without question. This was the fatal flaw. Once the demons began to spread their influence, almost no one objected. We cannot again allow ourselves to be led astray. Thus, an orc with true honor is not afraid to be mocked. If he knows in his heart that he is right, he shall not fear.”
“Then the New Horde is inclusive of differing beliefs?”
“Some beliefs are not worthy of consideration. Any orc who wishes to return to demonic servitude is without honor, and has no place in Orgrimmar. You must understand that Thrall still makes the ultimate decisions for the New Horde. He is wise and listens to the various elders, who often disagree with each other or with him. But once Thrall makes his selection, all must follow.”
“Pardon me, but doesn’t that create the same situation that existed before the Corruption?”
“No. Then we were led by fallible chieftains and lesser shamans. Thrall’s honor and wisdom are unquestionable.”
“But what will happen when Thrall dies?”
“I do not know. I do not think there will ever again be an orc like Thrall. Whoever his successor is, we will not be able to trust him in the same way we trust the current Warchief. I imagine in those days that the Elder Circle will be more important than it is today.”
The human concept of individualism is not as strong in modern orcish society as some have said. Nonetheless, it is at least partially accepted. Some of Norosh’s words puzzled me, as I was not sure how an orc could disagree with the community without also disagreeing with Thrall. Then I learned that Thrall rules with a rather loose grip. So long as they follow certain cultural rules and societal laws, orcish communities are permitted to go their own way.
A tunnel on the western wall of the Drag leads to the Valley of Honor, the headquarters for the Horde’s military efforts. Placed on the high points are great stone buildings that dominate the view. These act as command centers, training grounds, and housing for orcish grunts. Clustered around these mighty structures are small stone shops and hovels. Foundries and smithies line the sides of a winding path in the Valley of Honor, belching black smoke into the dusty air. The area positively drips with the stench of molten metal. Weapons forged in the Valley of Honor are said by some to be the finest in all the world, though I’m sure the dwarves of Ironforge would disagree.
Peons outnumber the warriors in the Valley of Honor. There are too many jobs to be done in that place for warriors to exclude the peons. Perhaps because so many from both castes work in conjunction with each other, there is less of a barrier between them.
“The smiths here are all warriors, but they would not be able to craft the weapons of war without the peons. We protect the peons, and they support our ability to do so,” declared an orcish grunt named Taga. Many of the warriors stationed in the Valley of Honor had once been peons. Taga herself was no exception; she had worked as a peon cook for five years before proving herself in a Trial of Ascension. The social dynamic in the Valley of Strength is similar to what I saw at the Warsong Lumber Camp.
The peons are as reverent of the warriors as ever, but at least understand that they themselves are vital to the well-being of the Horde. Both sides in the Valley of Strength treat each other with respect. Even peons who are too old or weak to ever become warriors do not act with the unabashed servility I had seen in some places. In Orgrimmar, I was told, all who contribute are welcome.
The Valley of Honor is connected to narrow ravines that twist into the red mountains of Durotar. Warm streams gush down these canyons, nurturing the parched earth. Dams (built by Gazlowe) set up in the ravines protect Orgrimmar from flash floods, and have more than proven their worth.
The wilderness adjacent to the Valley of Strength also plays an important cultural part in orcish life. When the orcs of the city reach adolescence they are taught the very basics of survival and combat. It is simply something that they must learn, even if they never become warriors. After a period of training they are sent into the canyons to fend for themselves for five days.
Most succeed in this task. The training is quite comprehensive and the mountain wilds are not terribly dangerous. The orcs wish to toughen their children, not send them into deathtraps. That said, a few die every year. Search attempts are always made for those who do not return, and sometimes the youth in question is simply lost. Those who get lost are required to repeat the trial until they get it right.
Some orcish adolescents become overwhelmed and run back to Orgrimmar. They are chastised for such behavior, but not as severely as I would have thought. They must simply return to the wilderness the next year.
One of the most interesting orcs I met was a Bloodgaze warrior named Martz Swiftax. Though relatively young, he had already achieved a high rank in his War-pack, thanks to his exemplary service in Warsong Gulch. He lived in a sparsely furnished apartment situated above the headquarters of the Red Rock Mining Company, a joint orc-goblin enterprise.
Martz is a perfect example of the evolution undergone by the orcish race in Azeroth. He is first and foremost a warrior. He is also an artist.
“I had always been something of a scribbler. The ax is my true passion, but I cannot always be swinging it. As a child, I’d draw images of the orcish legends in charcoal, the same way my ancestors did. Orcish art was always fierce and striking, though flat. I do not mean any disrespect to our ancestors with that comment; it is simply the truth, and there is much to admire in that style.”
“What made you change?”
“I saw some human paintings that had been in Admiral Proudmoore’s possession during the invasion. I did not like them—I thought that they were stiff and dull—but I admired the way they looked like things you would see in real life. It was as if the artist’s hand was guided by the spirits! Eventually though, I learned that it was accomplished with tools like perspective and shadowing. I used these tools in combination with the traditional orcish style. I wanted to portray the ferocity and power of the great warriors, to make it seem as if they could leap up from the canvas and enter the nearest melee!”
Martz’s description was quite accurate. Fierce warriors, shamans, and heroes (usually done with ink and charcoal) populated the sheets of hide and canvas that hung on the walls of his apartment. The pictures are not realistic, but they are not intended to be. They possess a savage vitality, capturing the fierce spirit of the orcish race.
“I had thought it just a trifle at first, but Artok Stoneblade, who was then the Pack-Leader of the Bloodgaze, saw a picture I had done of Grom Hellscream in battle. He liked it so much that he requested I make one for him. This sort of thing kept happening until I received the ultimate honor: a request from Thrall! Thrall wanted an image of Orgrim Doomhammer at his final stand in Arathi.”
“That is quite an accomplishment. Do you charge for these images?”
“Why would I do that? I am a warrior before I am anything else. I certainly would not ask payment the Warchief; he has given the orcs more than they can ever repay. At most my images remind orcs of the greatness of our heroes and ancestors. My true honor exists in my courage.”
At all times of day the smoggy skies of Orgrimmar are protected by the swift and deadly wind-riders. These skilled warriors ride the proud wyverns into aerial battle against the Horde’s enemies. The wyverns serve Orgrimmar in much the same way that griffins aid the war efforts of Ironforge and Stormwind.
Four days after my arrival in Orgrimmar, I spent a hot and bright morning on the city’s flight tower. There, I met Doras, the sky master. A pack elder of the Black Lion War-pack (one of the three War-packs that focuses on air combat) he spends his days ensuring that the wyverns of Orgrimmar are well-treated. Wyverns are considerably more complex than I had previously believed.
“The wyverns are not like those overgrown bats you have in Undercity, or those foolish griffins so adored by the dwarves. The wyverns are a great race, proud and savage like orcs. And I do mean that they are a race. A wyvern is as much a Horde warrior as I.”
“Do you mean to say that wyverns are sentient?”
“They speak to each other; the roars and cries of the wyverns contain words. They gather in clans across the wilds of Kalimdor. Thrall freed this wyvern clan from the grip of the harpies, and they have promised to aid the Horde in return.”
Part of me wondered if Doras was simply teasing. I had difficulty believing his words.
“What is the name of this particular clan?”
“I do not know. The shamans are the only orcs that can truly speak to wyverns, and even then they must speak through the spirits.”
“Can riders communicate with their mounts?”
“The bond of a wind rider pair transcends language. It is an intuitive understanding.”
“In your own words, how would you explain the relation between wyverns and orcs?”
“It is simple. The wyverns permit us to use them as mounts when needed. The young whelps carry warriors into battle, while older wyverns take messengers across this wild land. They are even magnanimous enough to permit peons to ride them, though I can’t imagine they enjoy it much.”
“Do the wyverns have a leader?”
“Yes. We call him the Stormbringer, and he resides in the mountains to the north. Only the Warchief is permitted to take the Stormbringer into battle. I saw him once, undead, and it was a sight of indescribable glory.”
It was unfortunately impossible for me to speak with the wyverns. The orcs do not consider themselves the masters of the wyverns. Thus, while there are always wyverns in Orgrimmar, they only remain at their pleasure. If a wyvern needs to leave for something like the mating season, it is free to do so. Doras would not think of forcing the wyvern to stay, nor could he. In the event of an emergency, such as an invasion, the wyverns had promised to put aside all concerns in order to focus upon the defense of the city.
A wide canyon branches out from the west of the Valley of Strength. If one goes far enough, the canyon opens up at the Talon Gate, which overlooks the mighty Southfury River. While still part of the city, it has not been built up to a significant degree. I imagine that this will soon change.
On the south side of the canyon is a large, shallow pool ringed with graceful palm trees. Rickety huts with grass roofs are perched on stilts in the lake. This place is the Valley of the Spirits, where the trolls of Orgrimmar make their home. Only a few of the Darkspear trolls choose to live in the great Horde metropolis. Most prefer to stay among their own kind. Orgrimmar’s relatively tolerant atmosphere (as nearly anyone who contributes to the city’s survival is welcome) attracted some of the more marginal members of Darkspear society: the mages.
The Darkbriar Lodge is probably the only trollish school of the arcane outside of Zandalar Isle. A set of creaky wooden steps leads to the entrance, and soughan skulls glare out from around the doorway. Stepping inside, I surveyed a strange assortment of furnishings. Ornaments of wood and metal hang in a profusion from the roof, and spidery white glyphs reach across the wooden walls. Sunlight from a covered balcony overlooking the pool illuminates only the center of the lodge; the rest is cast in shadow.
I thought it was empty until a young troll woman gracefully emerged from one of the darkened recesses. Unlike most trollish women, whose faces are sharp and feral by human standards, her soft and gentle features almost made her look human. Were it not for the state of near-war between the Horde and Alliance, I imagine she would turn a few heads in Stormwind City.
“May I ask what brings you to the Darkbriar Lodge?” She studied me cautiously.
“Simply curiosity. I myself am a mage, and I was curious to learn more about my trollish kindred.”
“This is the place to learn more about it. I am Daj’yah, an apprentice to Great Wizard Gu’jomb. Gu’jomb is sleeping—he is quite old, you see—but I will try to answer any questions you have. I’m sure that once he is awake, he will be happy to see you.”
“I do have a few questions. How long has the Darkbriar Lodge been in existence? Was it founded along with Orgrimmar, or does its history extend beyond that?”
“The Darkbriar Lodge is new. When Thrall began the construction of Orgrimmar, Gu’jomb saw a perfect opportunity to create a sanctuary for mages.”
“I’ve visited Stranglethorn and from what I saw it did not seem that there were many mages among the trolls there. What exactly was Gu’jomb’s status in the old country?”
“We aren't much for magic. We still remember how elven sorceries gutted our cities and killed our people. Still, it's mighty useful, so a few of us use it. Before we came here, wizards lived on the outskirts of villages. Only those with great need ever spoke to wizards, usually on behalf of the entire village. In times of peace and plenty, all would shun the mage. The hunters would give him food, some of the choicest cuts, but they never talked to him.”
“How would a mage choose a successor?”
“Every 40 years the headman would pick a child from the village as the apprentice. They'd declare the infant dead, hold a funeral and everything, and give him into the mage’s care.”
“Given that mages were so isolated, I find it surprising that they would make very good parents.”
“They often did not.”
“So you were given over to Gu’jomb when you were a baby?”
“No, though Gu’jomb would have made a better parent than most wizards, I am thinking. The situation's a lot different now. It was wizards who first figured out the wickedness brewing over in Zul'gurub. They aided Sen’jin when he slew our old chieftain, the one whom the Gurubashi bewitched. A few of them—Gu'jomb—went to the Southern Isles where the entire tribe lived for a time.
"Much later when the orcs saved us from the murlocs and we came to Durotar, Gu’jomb sensed the great power of this spot. He cast spells here to speak with the surviving Stranglethorn mages, to tell them that there was a haven for their kind. Most had been hiding out, and many were dead. Gu’jomb helped them get here safe and sound. That's why the Darkbriar Lodge stands here.”
“I’m gladdened to hear that. Are the mages accepted here?”
“Sure, some. That is not to say that they like us, but we take what we can get. To speak truly, most other Darkspear are not all that interesting to talk to anyway, unless you’re a hunter.”
“How did you become a mage?” I asked.
“My father died when I was very young, and my mother did not again take a husband, even though many fine hunters proposed. This angered the tribe, and she was not treated much better than the wizards were. The tribesfolk wagged their tongues and spoke dark things about her, for she was unmarried.
"She got sick and died soon after we got to the Southern Isles. A year after we set up camp, Gu'jomb came over to the village one day and told Master Dangi—the local headman—that I had magical potential." She laughed at the last part. "Sounds silly, yeah?"
"You were much older than was normal for an apprentice."
"Yes, for sure. I wasn't real helpful to my people though, so no one objected. Just a little girl who didn't run or fight very well. He taught me the ways of magic, and I followed him here."
“You’ve come quite a long way.”
“Such is life. Orgrimmar's not a bad place, I'm thinking.”
“You feel comfortable here?”
“I do. Back in the village they teased me because I look like a human, and because I’d rather learn new things than listen to the boasts of hunters. Hunters boast here too, but it’s easier to ignore them when they do. Most don’t like coming to this part of the city.”
Daj’yah showed me around the Valley of the Spirits, promising me an audience with Gu’jomb once he awoke for supper. Several troll priests also make their homes in Orgrimmar, largely to keep an eye on the mages.
“What is the source of the distrust between the priests and mages?” I inquired.
“The priests can't figure out if the Loa like magic or not. I’m sure in another millennium they’ll have decided,” she smirked.
“Isn’t there a Loa of the arcane? Bethekk, I believe?”
“Yes, but the priests don't want anyone else to be speaking to the Loa. They fear that by using the arcane, the mages might supplant them, at least in Bethekk’s eyes. We pay Bethekk respect with the proper rites; there is a shrine to him in the Lodge, even.”
I would later speak to one of the priests in Orgrimmar. Though unfriendly, he did give his own side of the story. According to him, the priests are there to ensure that the mages do not fall into corruption.
“Bethekk’s gifts are not to be toyed with,” he warned.
Upon learning that I was a mage, he ordered me to leave the premises. I am inclined to believe Daj’yah’s explanation, though I freely admit I may be biased in her favor.
Daj’yah ushered me in to see Gu’jomb as the smell of evening cook fires lifted up over Orgrimmar. He was a venerable old troll who was nearly blind. Hovering protectively over Gu’jomb was Uthel’nay, his first apprentice. Gu’jomb’s words were difficult to understand due to his unfamiliarity with Orcish. His scattered thoughts did not help matters and I began to wonder if he was senile. Yet once the subject of magical theory was brought up, his mind became sharp and focused. I realized I was in the presence of a brilliant arcanist.
Much of the conversations I had with Gu’jomb over the next two days were technical in nature. Gu’jomb’s understanding rivaled that of the most skilled human mage, and he had far fewer resources at his disposal. Where the Dalaranese and Gurubashi schools differ most significantly is in regard to the nature of the magic. In Dalaran it is considered to be simply a kind of energy that comes from the Twisting Nether. Ancient trolls had concluded that magic is instead a living thing that is somehow connected with Bethekk. Thus, trolls believe that magic must be placated with the proper rituals.
I still maintain that the Dalaranese theory is the correct one. Yet it must be said that, considering their lack of resources, the trolls seem to have far fewer magical accidents than the humans or elves. Few reliable histories have been kept in the post-Imperial era, so it is certainly possible that the accidents that did happen were not recorded. Ultimately, I could not refute his theory, nor could he refute mine. And given the frankly bizarre nature of the Twisting Nether, it is even conceivable that both are true.
Gu’jomb said that much of what he had learned came from conferring with the other troll mages that fled to Orgrimmar. For the first time since the fall of the Gurubashi Empire there exists a central depository for trollish arcane knowledge. I spent the next three days in the Valley of the Spirits, exchanging information with Gu’jomb and studying the records in the Darkbriar Lodge. The Gurubashi and Amani trolls keep records in codices, which are a sort of folding book made of tree bark. Organic-looking Zandalari script fills the rough pages, joined by striking and often gruesome illustrations. Daj’yah helped translate some of codices for my benefit. In return, I clarified passages in the human and high elven books that were in the possession of Gu’jomb, gifts from the Forsaken.
Towards the end of the third day Daj’yah came to me as I sat on the bare floor of the Darkbriar Lodge, admiring the aesthetics of the Zul’kunda Codex.
“Say there Destron, Gu’jomb was wondering if you could lend us your expertise on a matter of some trouble.”
“Certainly,” I answered.
“The orcs in the Cleft of Shadow stumbled upon what they think is evidence of a demonic plot.”
“Here in Orgrimmar?”
“The orcs have thrown off the curse, but the demons dig in their claws and do not want to let go. Some orcs go back to the old ways. From what I am hearing, the orcs much know what it is, but Gu’jomb wanted you to take a look, just in case. There’s going to be a council tomorrow in the Cleft of Shadow. Uthel’nay will go as well.”
“I shall do whatever I can.”
There is little in the way of true crime in Orgrimmar, but this does not mean that the city is without a darker side. Accompanied by Uthel’nay I entered the Cleft of Shadows, a natural sinkhole in the northern part of the city. Two narrow and easily overlooked tunnels give access to the place. Much like the Drag, great kodohide tarps are placed over the opening to the sky, casting the place in perpetual darkness.
The buildings within are mostly rude huts and tents, and weary peons shuffle through the shadows in fear. A few stray rays of sunlight sneak through the covering above, though the illumination only serves to show how dirty and rundown the area really is.
“Ah, man, I like the orcs sure enough but I do not understand them. They speak so much of how they overthrew the demons, yet here they go and start playing with them again,” complained Uthel’nay.
“What is their justification?”
“They want to fight fire with fire. Magic has its dangers, yes, but we mages do not speak with demons. I suppose that having warlocks helps them figure out how the Shadow Council thinks.”
“Is the Shadow Council still a great threat to orcish society?”
“I used to think so. Nowadays I am not so sure.”
Thrall had initially banned the use of infernal magic in Durotar. Yet many still thought it offered unique and irreplaceable benefits. Such orcs pointed to Grom Hellscream as an example, as it was only through the use of demonic strength that he had been able to fend off the night elves. And of course, he had been subsequently redeemed. The tolerance shown to the Forsaken warlocks, and the old orcish warlocks of Stonard, further weakened Thrall’s position. Finally, he chose to allow warlocks into Orgrimmar, though all who practice that dark profession are required to register with the authorities. The dreary Cleft of Shadow, situated directly above a volcanic cavern system called Ragefire Chasm, was chosen as a place where the warlocks could study their craft.
The warlocks of Orgrimmar are trained to constantly watch each other for any sign of corruption. If evidence for corruption is found, than that warlock is taken to a shaman’s retreat in order to be cleansed. The cleansing is usually successful, though in cases where it is not the corrupted orc is executed. Irrespective of the success of the ritual, any orc who is made to undergo cleansing will be permanently banned from practicing any kind of infernal magic.
Another group resident to the Cleft of Shadow is the Shadowswift Brotherhood, the intelligence agency of the orcs. The Shadowswift found that the cleft was an ideal training spot for neophyte spies. Uthel’nay told me that the trainees will sometimes pickpocket peons for sport, only being punished if caught in the act. The Shadowswift also keeps vigil over the activities of the warlocks.
A sizeable plurality of the Shadowswift Brotherhood consists of survivors from the old Shattered Hand Clan. Some even continue to identify themselves as such. The others are young orcs who have never known a clan, though a small number of former Laughing Skull warriors also support the operation.
Uthel’nay and I stopped by the Shadowswift Brotherhood headquarters to meet up with Dosk Quickblade, a Shadowswift Brother of some authority. He would also go with us to examine the evidence of demonic infiltration. I spoke with him as we walked down the filthy paths.
“I have been told that members of the Brotherhood are still considered warriors. Is this true?” I inquired.
“Ha ha ha! We are not considered warriors; we are warriors. Only those who pass the warrior tests may be admitted. And even then they must pass many other trials. We are like the scouts of old, fast with blade and spear, ruthless to the enemies of the Horde!” he boasted.
I do not know if his behavior is typical of the Shadowswift Brotherhood. Not all Horde spies are members of the Shadowswift; each war-pack is serviced by a small number of spies, who usually act as scouts.
On the way to the council, Dosk spoke contemptuously of the warlocks. Orcish warlocks are all technically peons, even though their abilities largely exempt them from the usual rules of peonage. It also earns them the scorn of the normal peons.
Peons scurried to the side as they saw us coming. While the peons are often distressingly meek in the presence of warriors, the ones in the cleft were pitiable in their obsequiousness. The air in the Cleft of Shadow grows more sulfurous and foul in the deeper levels, the result of subterranean vapors rising to the surface.
We finally arrived at low pavilion made of demon’s hide, covered with glowing warding sigils. A small crowd of orcs already gathered within; mostly shamans, though a few warriors were also present. My group was the last to arrive. Standing in the center of the tent was a dour-looking orc in a tattered red shirt. He respectfully inclined his head at Uthel’nay and Dosk. Only the troll returned the gesture.
“That is Neeru Fireblade,” said Uthel’nay. “He’s one of the more important demon dabblers.”
“Are any other warlock representatives present?” I asked. Everyone else in the tent looked like a warrior or shaman.
“Harz Blacknail is over there,” said Uthel’nay, pointing to an orc I had completely missed seeing. Harz’s appearance was astonishing; I had never before (or since) seen an orc of such frailty. His arms looked like twigs compared to Neeru's. Almost hidden in the distorted shadows of that tent was the towering figure of a felguard, apparently Harz’s minion. Only very accomplished warlocks are able to summon and control such minions.
Once everyone was assembled, Neeru began the proceedings.
“Honorable warriors of the Horde: we have found treachery in our ranks! In our very own city!” exclaimed Neeru. “The blood of traitors will flow—”
“Do not try to speak like a warrior, Neeru, for you can never hope to be one. Were your attempts not so amusing I might strike you down for impertinence,” scoffed Dosk. Some of the other orcs chuckled.
“Forgive me. I shall allow Harz to introduce the evidence. It is he who found it.” A dark look passed over Neeru's face as he stepped aside. Harz slowly stood up, supporting himself on a gnarled walking stick.
“Two days ago I sensed a surge in infernal energy coming from the upper part of the Cleft of Shadow. When I went to investigate, I found this.” Harz pointed a table in the center of the pavilion. A round shield lay on the floor, the emblem of the Horde crudely painted on the front.
“Have you damned peons lost your minds? That is the shield of a warrior!” yelled a shaman.
“And why would a warrior’s shield be lying abandoned here in the Cleft of Shadows?” retorted Harz. He paused after he spoke, carefully examining the room, and then continued. “Warriors are taught to care for their equipment, and I do not think a true soldier of the Horde would be so careless as to leave it there. I imagined that perhaps a pack of demons had ambushed and bested a warrior, though the fact that there were no signs of a struggled suggested otherwise.”
“Get to the point, Harz,” chided Tarmok, an elder warrior of the Ebonflint War-pack.
“Please, forgive my delay. The fel magic came from this shield. I examined it in my study. The emblem of the Horde on this shield is not as it appears. It is made of countless demonic runes, written on top of each other so as to create the illusion of a solid image. It is a message, one evident to those with fel-tainted souls, but less obvious to those with honor.”
“What is this message?”
“In short, it reads: ‘The Searing Blade triumphantly cuts away at the cowardice of the Warchief—”
“How dare you! Take back what you have said about our Warchief!” demanded Dosk.
“Dosk, calm yourself. Harz is only reading the message. Continue, warlock,” ordered Tarmok.
“Forgive me, these are not my words. I will gladly slay whoever wrote them. The message speaks of a cult called the Searing Blade that makes its home in Ragefire Chasm, just beneath where we now stand. None of the warlocks here have ever heard of this group. Clearly they are still weak and careless; otherwise they would not have left this message in such an obvious place. The shield should be examined by the mages and shamans present, so they may confirm my judgement.”
We took turns looking at the shield. A spell from Harz revealed the demonic lettering to us. In truth, Harz had uncovered everything that was needed. I concurred with his opinion, as did Uthel’nay and, more reluctantly, the shamans. We returned to our seats.
“You have served the Horde admirably, young Harz. While your chosen path is distasteful, the orcs do not dismiss those who can provide aid. The opinion of the other mystics here is unanimous, at least in regards to the object’s fel origins," announced Tarmok.
“Thank you,” said Harz. He bowed in gratitude.
“Perhaps the warlocks here aren’t the only ones lacking in ability,” commented a warrior. “Why has the Shadowswift Brotherhood not taken notice of this? Do they shirk from our darkest foes?”
“Do not listen to these fools!” spat Dosk. “For all we know the shield was made by the warlocks to discredit us! Normal peons at least have the lesser honor of labor; the warlocks lack even that! We should kill them all! I am an honorable warrior, as are all Shadowswift Brothers.”
“Dosk speaks truly,” murmured a shaman.
“Or perhaps he accuses the warlocks because his own honor is somewhat lacking. As I’m sure any of your Shadowswift Brothers could tell you, honor is not static. One must always strive for it. And it is said that those who lack honor are the quickest to defend their own,” mused Tarmok.
“What? I shall show you honor, Tarmok! You are a noble warrior, but I think these warlocks have deceived you with their treacherous magic. Come face me, Harz, you wretched peon!”
With surprising agility, Dosk jumped from his seat and landed in front of Harz. Dosk had taken out a broad-bladed dagger in mid-jump, pointing it at the delicate warlock.
“Coward,” laughed Dosk. “Too weak to fight or do anything useful.”
“It would take someone stronger than you to control the forces at my beck and call,” answered Harz.
A great shadowy fist slammed into Dosk and he flew back two yards, landing roughly on the dirt floor. Moving with terrible speed the felguard burst from the shadows, its body tensed for combat. The demon lashed out with one muscled arm and grabbed the orc’s head, lifting him bodily from the ground. The demon sent two terrific punches into Dosk’s suspended body before tossing him aside.
For a moment, a look of panic crossed Harz’s face. Then the felguard froze in its tracks, its body still trying to pull forward and finish the fight. It glared at Harz and gave a low growl before returning to the shadows. The warlock was drenched in sweat but maintained a facade of confidence. It would have been worse for him to show fear. Dosk was too stunned to say anything, and I will confess I took some pleasure in his discomfort.
“Stop all of this!” bellowed Tarmok. “Dosk, you have acted in a foolish and dishonorable manner! Go back to the Shadowswift Brotherhood and see to it that you get them in shape. Do not accuse me of being deceived, for my honor and wisdom are both greater than yours.”
Dosk snarled, but lowered his head in acquiescence. Tarmok than turned to Harz.
“Under normal circumstances I would have you flogged for using your demon to attack a warrior, even if he did deserve it. In light of your skill and service though, I will let you off with a warning. Never forget that you are not a warrior. Perhaps it does take strength to control a demon; it also takes a terrible spiritual weakness to consort with one.”
I wondered if Tarmok would have said the same thing about Grom Hellscream.
Harz got down on shaking knees, and pleaded forgiveness. Tarmok granted it, and so did Dosk though he clearly wished to kill the warlock. When Dosk’s back was turned, Harz gave him a look of cold and patient hatred.
I did not remain in the Cleft of Shadows for much longer. As the orcs left the building, I overheard a conversation between Neeru and Harz.
“What foolishness was that Harz? You could have gotten us both killed! You can barely even control that felguard of yours!” snarled Neeru.
“He insulted our honor—”
“You have no honor, you are a peon!”
“So are you!” rumbled Harz.
“We are both peons. But only you are a cripple. The Horde will never recognize your abilities, and you are a fool to think that it will.”
“I serve the Warchief, and I shall do so with strength and honor,” swore Harz. “I do have honor.”
“Then you delude yourself.”
I spent three more days in Orgrimmar, mostly in the Valley of Spirits with Daj’yah and Uthel’nay. Though their personalities were actually quite different from my old friends, I was nonetheless reminded of Danner and Emette from my years in Dalaran. I was tempted to stay, but decided that it was time for me to continue on my journey.
The authorities made no attempt to hide the news of the Searing Blade cult discovered by Harz. Leaders of a human city would fear panic among the inhabitants at such an announcement. For the orcs, informing the citizenry of a demonic threat is effectively a call to arms. I suspect that the days of the Searing Blade are numbered.
I awoke before dawn on my last day, and headed to the Valley of Wisdom. There stands Grommash Hold, a sprawling stone keep where Thrall makes his home. Just outside is the petrified remnant of a great tree. The massive trunk is girded with the armor and bones of the demon lord Mannoroth, the catalyst of the orcs' corruption. It remains in the city to remind the orcs of the ever-present danger posed by the Burning Legion.
Seven orcish warriors come to the tree every morning to greet the dawn. Dressed in full armor, they walk through the darkness to stand in formation in front of the tree. They raise their axes and roar in unison as the sun's rays first peek over the canyon walls. The mighty cry resounds through the Valley of Wisdom. Ten years ago, such a sound would have terrified me. Now, I find it strangely inspiring.
After a minute of this, the lead orc grips his great ax with both hands and strikes the blackened cuirass of Mannoroth three times. Then he steps back, revealing that he has not made so much as a scratch on his target. These futile strikes remind the orcs that no amount of combat skill can protect them from demonic infiltration. Honor is their only defense. Then the seven guards bow their heads and march back to the Valley of Honor.
Whatever one’s opinions of the orcs, they are here on this world to stay. With their formidable power, they have carved out a new homeland and rose from the ashes of the Old Horde’s defeat. Their society has undergone a remarkable transformation, from a loose rabble of demon-tainted clans to a unified nation. In many respects they are meritocratic, and will probably always be that way.
The orcs also face many dangers, and I speak of issues beyond the threat of the Scourge or the machinations of the Shadow Council. The orcs have handicapped themselves with the continued denigration of the peons. There are orcs of great intellectual and administrative acumen who are not permitted to use their abilities in any way that matters. Worse yet, the peons themselves rarely show much of an initiative to change the system. For the most part the peons revere the warriors and have utter faith in them. I truly have no idea how, or even if, this situation will change. What I do know is that there is great untapped potential in orcish society. Given the probable trials of the future, they shall need everything they can get.
Few would doubt that Thrall is an exemplary leader. Even I consider him to be a skilled statesman, though I distrust despots. The problem lies in the example that Thrall sets. The orcs have constructed a veritable personality cult for their great leader, but only a fool would expect future warchiefs to meet the same standard. Successive leaders of lesser quality, but equal power, may spell doom for the Horde. Fortunately, there is hope. As I have seen, Thrall has wisely deputized and dispersed much of his power. Though he is a despot, he seems to be paving the way for a more representative government, one of elder warriors and shamans. If this proves to be the case, than he is truly a leader of which the Horde can be proud.