Thursday, October 4, 2007
The Searing Gorge
The burning stink of sulfur rolls up from the Cauldron, that great wound in the earth running through the Searing Gorge. Ash and dust, the result of endless flame and toil, clog the air and make it as dark as night, brightened only by the flare of lava and fire. Metal walkways line the chasm walls, twisted by the eternal heat. The eastern section of the Cauldron is nearly abandoned, inhabited by berserk elementals instead of Dark Iron dwarves.
I stepped back from the brink of that abyss, overwhelmed by the cruelty implicit in its existence. The tortured red sky rained ash on the miserable souls that made their home in the Searing Gorge.
While in Kargath, which seemed a verdant paradise compared to the Gorge, I learned of a group called the Thorium Brotherhood. Most Dark Iron dissidents attempt to flee to Ironforge. The Thorium Brotherhood consists of those who elected to stay and fight, hoping to craft weapons of incredible power that would destroy the emperor and his blasphemous deity once and for all. These rebels make their home in the northern mountains at a place called Thorium Point. That was my destination.
I do not remember precisely how long it took to get from the edge of the Cauldron to Thorium Point though it could not have been more than a few days. Time is largely meaningless in that place, where scorching heat and the sounds of fire bruise the senses. It is as hot at night as it is in day, and there is the added terror of the oppressive darkness that descends after sundown. I was black with soot after a few days, and I found it hard to believe that any living being could survive there for long.
Yet live they do. I passed numerous Dark Iron encampments on my journey, frequently guarded by clones of the stone nightmare that I saw in Angor Fortress. I also encountered giant blue spiders, possessed of an oddly crystalline appearance. They are as vicious as they are beautiful, and I had to fend off their attacks on two occasions.
Most of the Dark Iron buildings are just crude tents, though I saw more development as I went further west. Great wheels and forges burn with activity in some parts, tended by imperial soldiers and engineers. Along the edges of the Cauldron are crooked metal towers, brutish in size and grandiosity. Though undoubtedly made to serve a purpose (the digging of the Cauldron, I eventually learned) they look pointless, more like the idols of a dead and despised god. With the Cauldron long since completed, there is no reason for them to remain standing.
The suffocating furnace air of the place, which blisters the throat and eyes, gradually cripples the visitor. I suffered mild burns in my throat and nostrils from the smoke that hangs heavy over the land. The glare from the innumerable volcanic vents in the rock burrows through the eyelids, haunting sleep with their terrible crimson glare.
At some point I could take no more and collapsed. I tried to push myself up, the jagged fragments of shale and obsidian digging into the dead flesh of my palms, but to no avail. I lay there for a long time and it was only good fortune that prevented any of the spiders or Dark Irons from coming across me. I conjured some of the flat-tasting magic water, and it eased the discomfort but not enough for me to immediately start moving again.
After what I think must have been days, a degree of strength returned to my weakened body. The ruthless will of the Forsaken served me well, and I continued my journey on trembling legs. Apparently I only needed some time to acclimate to the Searing Gorge. I kept my eyes open for the mountain trail that led to Thorium Point, as I feared that I had missed it. In Kargath, the orcs warned me how easy it is to get lost in the jagged slopes of the Searing Gorge.
Without warning, a Dark Iron dwarf wearing mismatched armor accosted me at the point of a crude rifle. His battered face was wild with suspicion, and his halting command of Orcish indicated that he was not aligned with the empire. A few tense moments passed before he consented to lead me to Thorium Point.
“Don’t be so clumsy, fool! We didn’t save you just so you could destroy our projects!” cursed Hansel Heavyhands.
Tension reigns in the fiery workshop of Thorium Point, a motley collection of forges and barricades up in the mountains. Hansel Heavyhands, once numbered among the greatest smiths in the Dark Iron Empire, was training a protege in the ways of crafting metal. The Dark Iron overseers ensured that Hansel would never again work a hammer. His hands were mangled ruins, each finger broken and twisted. Brotherhood craftsmen had attached great metal blades to his hands after he escaped, at his request. One day, he vowed, they would taste the blood of the Emperor himself.
The story of the Thorium Brotherhood is more complex than what I'd heard in Kargath. The Shadowforge Brotherhood used to be an elite cadre of blacksmiths who served the Emperor and his hateful god. They alone could exercise creativity in their work, and the weapons they crafted were in many ways responsible for preserving Shadowforge City from the orcs in what the Dark Irons called the Great Invasion, known to others as the First and Second Wars.
“The Emperor feared us because he knew we had the skill to make a weapon that could destroy him!” hissed Hansel, his remaining eye bloodshot and livid.
All of the Empire respected the Shadowforge Brotherhood, yet these artisans remained quiet and obedient. Yet the marvels of Grunsen Oilfist (and to a lesser extent, Hansel Heavyhands) touched the popular imagination. Common Dark Irons celebrated them as heroes, and they met the fate of all heroes in the Dark Iron Empire.
The priests conspired, perhaps with the Emperor himself, and arrested the entire Shadowforge Brotherhood on charges of subversion and betrayal. None were executed for fear of creating martyrs. After indescribable tortures, writ on the bodies of each Brotherhood member, the Empire sent them to the Cauldron.
Oilfist escaped and took some of his brethren with him. Thus began the Thorium Brotherhood. They were like the Forsaken in many ways, a band of victims united by common hatred. As Dark Iron society had so thoroughly betrayed them, they began to sell their work to any interested party. To maintain their operation they send daring teams into the Cauldron to save Dark Irons of notable skill. However they despise the rank-and-file of the Empire even more than they do the leaders.
“They are the sheep that allow the Emperor to reign. I care nothing for those who do not have the skill to create. They are chattel. If they consent to be ruled by the powerful, they deserve their fates!” raged Hansel.
The Thorium Brotherhood does not have the numbers to move directly against the Empire. They accept outsiders, freelance adventurers of the Horde and Alliance, to help with raids and attacks. In return those adventurers gain access to the Thorium Brotherhood’s weapons and armor.
Thorium Point itself is a precarious settlement on a rocky ledge. The only real building is an ancient metal crane tower similar to the ones surrounding the Cauldron. The Empire abandoned it after finishing the construction; no one knows why. Most of the Thorium Brothers (something of a misnomer, as a number of women are among the rebel group) live in cramped tunnels dug into the black, volcanic rock.
The Thorium Brotherhood is akin to a large and extremely authoritarian dwarven family. Imperial authorities brutally stamped clan identity out of the Dark Iron populace, and it only exists in a nominal sense. Oilfist has become a new patriarch of sorts. No matter how skilled or wealthy one of the Thorium Brothers becomes, the wealth is shared among those of the clan. Some of the more fervent members even call Oilfist their father, as they had once called the Emperor.
On the second day at Thorium Point I was woken by the sound of an engine. Rising back into the waking world I looked up to see a dwarven gyrocopter coming down the mountain. A few of the Thorium Brothers looked at it expectantly and went to the craft when it landed.
The pilot was Kossi Copperfoot, the daughter of two Dark Iron refugees who managed to escape. The Thorium Brotherhood receives a great deal of support from the Dark Iron community in Bronzebeard lands.
“To tell you the truth, I don’t trust the Thorium Brotherhood all that much,” she said to me. She was drinking a mug of beer brought from Dun Morogh.
“They seem a bit extreme.”
“You have to understand though, they’ve all suffered awful things, just awful. I can’t blame them for being angry and full of hate. My mother and father avoided the labor camps, and they’re still afraid of being jailed.”
“You would say their attitude is justified then?”
“No, not exactly. My worry is that they’re so keen on killing the Emperor that they won’t know what to do after that happens. They aren’t the most tolerant folk, especially towards their fellows down in Shadowforge City.”
“But you willingly support them anyway?”
“Aye, seems a bit hypocritical I suppose. But the Bronzebeards say that the Horde is a bigger worry than the Dark Irons, which I think is silly. I mean, I’m talking to you and you aren’t trying to cut me open. Something needs to be done about the Emperor. Priests come down here every once in a long while, preaching the Light to temper the Thorium Brotherhood, but it hasn’t caught on. I guess all that ash and fire makes it too dark,” she chuckled.
“The Thorium Brotherhood doesn’t seem all that different from the Forsaken, really,” I commented.
I learned that the Thorium Brotherhood planned a rescue mission in the depths of the Cauldron, with the goal of retrieving a Dark Iron prisoner named Mados, previously an expert miner and engineer. They had need of a mage on the mission, so I asked to join. Rescue missions are normally undertaken by Thorium Brothers so as to alleviate suspicion on the part of the slave masters. On this occasion, they needed a non-dwarf to play the part of a slave-wizard. Dark Iron wizards are executed outright for suspicious behavior, being regarded as too dangerous to be used as laborers. However, the empire still has need of wizards in some of the deeper sections of the Cauldron. As part of the disguise I would wear shackles with sigils of magic warding, though the interior was engraved with a negating sigil, enabling me to cast spells.
The leader of the mission was a Thorium Sister named Azgra Mithrilnail. She had been a gifted tactician in her old life, leading her small group in countless attacks against the Horde. Then someone reported her for something she hadn’t done, and she eventually found herself working for the rebels. A maze of scars covered the left half of her face.
Four of us left the following morning. In addition to Azgra was another Thorium Brother, Ruldfir, a former army captain miraculously free of visible wounds. Also with us was Hanachakay, a tauren shaman with an expression of barely repressed horror. Hanachakay and Ruldfir were to guide us to the Cauldron, but would remain outside and wait for us to return with Mados. Leading me in as a slave, Azgra would meet with an overseer named Thaumadin, who was secretly working for the Brotherhood though he was not officially a member.
It only took us a day to descend from the flinty mountain ridges to the ash fields below. Dark Iron encampments are scattered haphazardly across the plain beneath Thorium Point, a good number of them long abandoned. Soon after leaving the mountains, Hanachakay and I were clapped in irons in order to pass as slaves. I could not help but wonder if they really were planning to sell me into slavery, a fear that haunted me for the rest of the journey.
“What brings you to this place?” I asked Hanachakay. We were resting for the night, though the crushing heat made sleep difficult.
“I first came to this side of the world a year ago. Since then I can only hear the spirits cry out in pain. I am doing what I can to end their agony.”
“If the stories are true, the source of the problem is Ragnaros. He’s the one who turned this place into a volcanic wasteland,” I explained.
“These dwarves do not improve matters however. Mark my words, in a few centuries I have no doubt that Dun Morogh will become like the Searing Gorge. They have no respect for the earth.”
“Have you met the Wildhammer dwarves?”
“I have not, but I have heard of them. More should be like them. Every minute, undead, I can feel the spirits. Air, earth and fire have all been tainted in this place. The spirits of earth especially; they rampage across the land in pain and fury.”
“How do you stand the climate here? I could barely reach Thorium Point and I’m normally able to withstand quite a lot.”
“Did you drink enough water?”
“As much as I normally do.”
“Do the Forsaken feel thirst?”
“In a vague fashion. It’s quite easy for us to ignore.”
“That is the problem then. Though your body has withered, the same rules apply. A Forsaken still needs to drink more in a hot climate. Not as much as a human, but the proportions are the same.”
“I see. Thank you, I hadn’t realized that. It makes sense though.”
“Do you have enough water on this journey?”
“I have some with me, and I can conjure water if need be. It’s foul tasting stuff but it quenches your thirst.”
“Hmm, I would not put so much trust in the arcane, if I were you.”
“It has served me well so far. What do you think of the Thorium Brotherhood?”
“I do not care for them. Did you notice the flight posts at Thorium Point? The griffin and the wyvern?”
“Those only arrived a month before you came. At first, the Brotherhood did everything possible to keep us from leaving. They would pay us to fight their brothers, yet would charge us great amounts to have our tools repaired or our bellies filled. They saw us as axes, as weapons of war. Finally the men of the Alliance and the Horde stood their ground and threatened to leave all at once. Only then did Overseer Oilfist treat us fairly.”
“Old habits die hard, I suppose.”
“The Thorium Brotherhood is only a means to an end; the destruction of this travesty around us. The earth groans under the weight of the Dark Iron Empire. I vow that it shall not do so for much longer.”
We finally reached a long ramp leading down into the Cauldron. Ruldfir and Hanachakay wished us luck and hid in a shallow crater. As he no longer had the need of disguise, Ruldfir removed Hanachakay’s cuffs. Led by Azgra, I descended into the hellish world of the Cauldron.
Unlike the eastern end of the Cauldron, which I had already seen, the western side is quite active. Hulks of metal stab into the cliffside and red-litten tunnels stare out from the surface like a hundred glowing eyes. A terrible cacophony fills the place, the sounds of picks chipping rock and the screams of slaves. This complex of mines and underground camps is called the Slag Pit.
We encountered what seemed like a dozen Dark Iron patrols that all demanded to see Azgra’s papers. After reaching the bottom of the Cauldron, a cracked mess of razor sharp stone and streams of lava, we ascended one of the great metal ramps leading up into the Slag Pit proper.
The lower ramps are clogged with misery. Hundreds of ash-covered dwarves, their tough skins made into a tapestry of welts and bruises, work without respite. Overseers yell orders and brutalize their charges. The smell is indescribable: filth, sweat, and despair rolled into one. Many of the slaves are actually Bronzebeard prisoners though the ash is so thick on their bodies that distinguishing them from Dark Irons is often difficult.
“Kalmod Danaga!” someone shouted over the din. Danaga was the assumed name that Azgra was using on the mission. Kalmod is the word for overseer.
I looked around for a moment before I saw a dwarf in an overseer’s severe uniform. Azgra greeted him and they briefly conversed. Apparently he was Thaumadin, and he allowed Azgra to lead me further into the Cauldron. Thaumadin waved aside any guards by showing them an emblem made of some dull, reddish metal.
We finally entered one of the cavern entrances and I stepped into a furnace. When my eyes adjusted to the infernal glow of the lava beneath us I saw huge stone blocks suspended from a great chain strung across the cavern. Echoes raise the sound of splintering rock to near-deafening levels. Even in that place, at least as hot as the Great Forge, the slaves get no rest.
A pair of guards insisted on inspecting us at the other end of the scorching cavern. I nervously examined their faces, trying to get some idea as to their demands. I noticed that they were just as mutilated as the slaves or Thorium Brothers.
“Cast a spell! Prove you’re a mage!” Azgra shouted at me. She removed the shackles and put a knife to my side, for show (I hoped).
I decided to cast a frost bolt. The place already had more fire than it needed. I aimed at the wall and a freezing beam sprung from my tattered hands. The guards suddenly burst into a frenzy of yells and shouts, and one of them hit me in the stomach with a truncheon. Winded from the blow (though less so than a living man), I caught myself before falling.
“Cast a fire spell! Quickly!” demanded Azgra.
Wincing in pain, I managed to fire a simple flame burst on the ground to the side. The guards allowed passage for Azgra, Thaumadin, and I. The two guards jabbered and pointed at me as I passed.
It was at least slightly cooler in the corridor we entered.
“Did I offend them?” I asked.
“They thought you were showing signs of rebellion with the ice spell. Do not speak to me, someone may be watching,” answered Azgra.
The tunnels opened up into a great quarry, where the slaves had chiseled the walls into shapes of unnatural geometric precision. Great, block-shaped overhangs of stone loom ominous over the passage. Fewer slaves work in the quarry than in other parts of the Cauldron.
I learned later that most of the work done in the Cauldron is literally pointless. The laborers picking away at the first cavern's walls are doing just that. There is nothing left to mine: the work is the means and death is the goal. The quarry is one of a handful of exceptions. Only those slaves with the skill to be stonecutters work there. While still terribly mistreated, they are better fed than the other slaves. This is so that they perform their duties with greater effectiveness. At the same time, the overseers watch them even more closely than regular slaves, and punishment is more severe.
Patrols and overssers stopped us at regular intervals, some of them afflicted with unforgettably gruesome scars. One of the deeper chambers of the quarry held golems at levels of partial completion. It was there that the slave-wizards ensure the basic motor abilities of the golems, though the mental processes and fighting abilities are considered too important to be entrusted to slaves. Enchanting the stone golems with the ability of movement is simple, but also time-consuming and exhausting. Much later, I would learn that the Dark Irons had moved the entire golem manufacturing process elsewhere and liquidated the slave-wizard caste a few months after the rescue attempt. Only the official Dark Iron mages remain today.
Dust from the chipped stones swirl in the stale, underground air of the quarry. A fine layer of grit covered me in minutes. Gray dust falls from the bodies of the slave masons and their masters as they labor in dreamlike agony.
Thaumadin said something to Azgra, and pointed to a dwarven slave that I initially mistook for a pile of rubble. Going closer I saw an exhausted Dark Iron using a chisel to carve a small block out of the wall. Red welts covered his back.
“Is this the one?” I whispered.
Azgra nodded. Thaumadin strode purposefully to the weakened slave and began yelling at him. It was uncomfortable to see Mados’ pitiful reaction, his cringes and pleas more fitting for a desperate animal. Thaumadin then shackled Mados’ arms together as he wept and begged. Confused, I gave a questioning glance at Azgra, but she ignored me.
Producing a length of chain from his pack, Thaumadin chained the slave to me. I would have to lead the poor fellow along. Mados got a look at my eyeless face and nearly fainted.
“This way,” hissed Azgra.
We went up a long, winding ramp. I found it difficult to walk with Mados in tow. The abuse he suffered forced me to slow down in order to accommodate his battered body. I realized that if something did go wrong, I would probably be unable to escape. With that understanding, every Dark Iron around me became immeasurably more menacing.
We were led into a chamber mostly inhabited by soldiers and overseers. Azgra and Thaumadin took us to a Dark Iron dwarf sitting behind a desk, who looked like a squashed ogre with a beard. They talked for a while, the official making threatening motions. Finally he opened up a ledger filled with runic script. With his pen he crossed out one name, and then another.
I was surprised that I was able to be led in as a new slave-wizard, yet still be in the books. Later I learned that Azgra simply used a false name for me, and that the Dark Iron bureaucracy is notoriously poor at inter-service communication.
We again walked out into the Cauldron. Dragging his feet behind me, Mados hung his head in defeat, his body trembling. Occasionally he looked up with fearful and suspicious eyes. I was again alarmed when four guards flanked us, though Azgra and Thaumadin were unperturbed.
With chains clanking we slowly made our way up the great earthen ramp leading out of the Cauldron. My last sight of that terrible place was a Dark Iron, presumably a slave, taking dead bodies out of a cart and dropping them into a pool of lava.
At the end of the ramp Azgra handed Thaumadin a pouch. Thaumadin took it, his face not betraying any emotion. The pouch contained the marks of exchange used in any slave transfer, as well as a few unofficial pieces of gold, Thaumadin’s payment. We left Thaumadin and traveled south across the charred flats, the guards still with us. In the distance I could see the flaming spire of Blackrock Mountain, hurling sulfurous clouds into the red sky.
I constantly eyed the horizon for any sign of Ruldfir or Hanachakay. No matter what I did, I could not shake the feeling that Azgra was actually working for the Empire and had every intention of enslaving me. While going south was part of the plan, trust does not come easily to most Forsaken. The familiar instincts of cold hatred and self-preservation began to manifest themselves.
We only rested for a few hours that night before resuming our journey. Night travel in the Searing Gorge is always disorienting. In Thorium Point, a homesick orc explained to me how a troll friend of his went mad during one of those nights, the all-consuming darkness sending him over the edge.
I was surprised by a sudden surge of strength in my body, immediately followed with a sickening crunch. Looking behind me I saw the towering figure of Hanachakay, darkness distorting his features into nightmare. Not far from him shone the flickering light of a shamanistic totem, the source of my newfound strength.
Another one of our escort went down, hacked by Rulfgir’s ax-blade. I fired a few arcane missiles at one of the guards but there was no need. All four were dead in less than a minute. I felt a sudden and terrific pull on my chains and fell backwards on the ground as Mados tried to flee. Too weak drag me along, it was an easy matter for Hanachakay to catch him. Mados’ cries rang out in the stagnant night.
“I do not think we will be able to make these kinds of rescues much longer,” said Azgra. We rested around a simple campfire, mostly for Mados’ sake. The unfortunate dwarf was in a state of near shock, particularly because of Hanachakay and I.
“It is becoming too suspicious to send small slave transfers across the wastes. It is quite uncommon for slaves to be sent back to the Blackrock Depths. That is from where they were exiled, after all. Still, there is need at times. Usually they are sent in large caravans with as many as thirty guards. Exceptions are made for some of the more skilled slaves, such as the ones with arcane talent. There have been too many disappearances though, and the Empire grows suspicious. Soon they’ll all be in the caravans.”
“That seems a bit short-sighted on the Brotherhood’s part.”
“Perhaps. It gets us what we need while we need it though.”
“I see. Do you think Mados will adapt?”
Azgra gave a wicked laugh, and was joined in by Ruldfir.
“Perhaps. He will work for us though. It’s not as if he has a choice.”
“Azgra, I was wondering something.”
“I noticed that the overseers and guards often sported wounds. Are slave rebellions common?”
“No. The slaves are thoroughly broken before they are sent to the Cauldron. It is because every overseer and guard in that place was once a slave.”
“The Dark Irons are a foul tribe,” muttered Hanachakay.
“Slaves have no loyalty to one another. The only escape is to become an overseer. Slaves who inform on their fellows have a chance of rising in the ranks. Enough overseers die in accidents or from illness to create a situation where there is always space for more.”
“All the slaves do this?”
“Some of the foreign slaves hold out against it. Most give in eventually. Make no mistake, no soul loves the Emperor as much as a slave. They hate themselves for failing him.”
“Disgusting!” raged Hanachakay. “How can you do that to one another?”
“Have you looked at my face, bull-man?” demanded Azgra. “You’ve never suffered pain like we have! You can’t imagine it! It is the only way to survive.”
Hanachakay grumbled, but said nothing more.
“Cruelty is the way of the world. Only those with strength can rise above. Who becomes an overseer and who remains a slave is arbitrary. Oilfist had the ability, talent, and strength to break out. We are the gods of dwarvenkind. When the Emperor is dead, and Ragnaros extinguished, there shall be a great culling.”
I departed from them the next morning. The only way to reach the lands to the south is through Blackrock Mountain. Surprisingly, the tunnels connecting the Searing Gorge to the Burning Steppes are relatively safe (albeit terribly hot). Neither orcs nor dwarves have a solid claim to the area. It is very peaceful aside from the occasional skirmish.
Three days of fast walking brought me to the dour gates of Blackrock Mountain. A dwarven face scowls on each door, glaring in eternal judgement over the ruined landscape before it. The emptiness of the place is eerie. Feeling mild trepidation, I stepped into a vast and gloomy hallway.
While the First War raged in Stormwind, the Horde fought another bloody campaign in the north. Orcs and Dark Irons clashed on the dying lands around Blackrock Mountain. By all rights the hellish Dark Iron mountain city should have been impenetrable. Pushed onward by their demonic bloodlust the orcs nonetheless wrested the upper levels of the mountain from the Dark Iron Empire.
Stormwind was only vaguely aware of the Dark Iron Empire. The Bronzebeard kingdom regarded the Dark Irons as a sort of embarrassing secret, and did not ask for outside help in dealing with them. Since Dark Iron records are unavailable, most of the data regarding the fight between the Dark Irons and Horde comes from wartime orcish histories, which can charitably be described as unreliable. Recent studies suggest that the battles against the Dark Iron took place on a colossal scale. The Third Battle of the Spire, when the forces of the Blackrock Clan made the final push into the heart of the Empire, was probably much larger and bloodier than the Siege of Stormwind that took place three years later. The nation of Stormwind may have only survived as long as it did because the Horde had its attention focused elsewhere.
When Alliance forces routed the Horde from Blackrock Mountain, many hoped that the Dark Irons were wiped out. Such was obviously not the case. From what little could be gleaned about the region’s history, the Emperor made a deal with the Warchief shortly before the end of the First War; that the Warchief would be free to pursue his ambitions so long as the Blackrock Depths (and more particularly Shadowforge City) were left untouched. Perhaps even the battle-maddened orcs were daunted by the idea of another long subterranean campaign, so they agreed to these terms. Once the orcs were gone the Dark Iron Empire slowly began to reclaim their ancestral home.
The harrowing of the orcs was perhaps less thorough than we in the north were led to believe. In time the remaining orcs of the Blackrock and Black Tooth Grin Clans again seized control of the upper regions. Rumor has it that the Black Dragonflight lent aid to the orcs, though these stories have not been confirmed. Regardless of who helped them do it, the remnants of the Old Horde continue to fight over the volcanic dungeon that they call home.
The wide corridor ends in a walkway surrounding a great pit of lava. It was yet another blistering locale, inimical to any sort of life. The heat momentarily distracted me from noticing an impossibility. A great chunk of rock, covered with burrows and half-completed metal structures, hangs suspended over the lava. Gigantic chains run through it, somehow holding it above the inferno. I wondered what sort of construction could have possibly created that. My mind hearkened back to the Plaguelands, where the sheer malignancy of the Lich King (or more accurately, Kel’thuzad) had twisted the very laws of reality. Perhaps the presence of Ragnaros is strong enough to do the same. Some of the warping of normal reality is evident in the Searing Gorge. The fire, smoke, and lava should make life impossible.
I moved quickly, not wishing to spend any longer than necessary in such a damnable place. The Dark Iron Empire struck me as being nearly as odious as the Scourge. The vague consciousness that was present in the undead minions of the Lich King is a crueler state of existence than the Dark Iron slaves, who at least have some modicum of free will, however twisted. I consider myself fortunate to be unable to remember any of my actions as a soldier of the Scourge.
When I reached the south gate I felt momentarily overwhelmed at the thought of crossing the Burning Steppes. I consoled myself with the thought of gentler lands to the south, and emerged beneath the smoldering skies.