Wednesday, October 3, 2007
The air of Silverpine Forest is distinctly different from that of Tirisfal and the Plaguelands. It took me a while to recognize the loamy smell of the forest. While living readers might not think this strange, one must remember that it was my first time outside the dying northlands since resurrection.
Despite this, Silverpine is not a healthy land, the taint of corruption subtly visible throughout the woodland. The silver pines that gave the forest its name are still numerous, their natural lustre faded but undeniably present. A pale sun gleams weak in the sky, its rays revealing the faint silver shine on the needles of the younger trees.
The Forsaken hold the northern portion of Silverpine while the south belongs to the mages of Dalaran. The kingdom of Gilneas once held the southern reaches, but none have heard from that lonesome nation for many years. I spent the second night in the ruins of a pumpkin farm, once owned by a wealthy farmer named Ivar. He has since gone, and a patrol of Forsaken lives in his place. The Deathstalkers (a special branch of the Deathguard specializing in reconnaissance) at Ivar’s Patch allowed me to stay a little while. They had arrived a few months before me.
“Scarcely anything ever happens here anyway,” said Quinn Yorick, one of the Deathstalkers. He and his sister Rane lived in the farmhouse. They mentioned a third Deathstalker named Erland, stationed in the ruins of a nearby orchard.
“Is that good or bad?” I asked.
“Ha ha! Good mostly. Nothing important ever took place in Silverpine back when you and I were alive, and nothing happens now. There’s those damned wizards to the south but they haven’t done much. You come out here from Undercity?”
“Mm. Don’t care much for Undercity myself, though if I liked cities I’d be in the regular Deathguard. Rane’s practically a tauren when it comes to nature!” he laughed.
“I’ll gore you with my horns if you say that again,” she answered from inside.
“She’s a fine sport, glad she’s still with me. Erland’s a fine fellow but a bit of the brooding type.”
Quinn hardly fit my conception of a Deathstalker. Yet his jovial nature in no way made him less of a fighter, a fact he would soon prove.
“Are you from Silverpine?”
“No, thank whichever deity or force you believe in! She and I were both from Gahrron’s Field up in the Garden Wood. Or Gahrron’s Withering up in the Western Plaguelands if you want to be more current about it. I don’t think anyone from Silverpine’s got the brains to be a Deathstalker.”
Silverpine Forest was always a backwater. Merchants needing to get from the capital to Dalaran simply went across Lordamere Lake, a faster and easier route. The only reason anyone ever went through Silverpine was to get to the isolated and paranoid nation of Gilneas. With the exception of Fenris Isle, Silverpine had a bad reputation. People spoke of decaying forest villages that harbored demon cults, and vicious families who fought each other in endless feuds. Outsiders viewed Silverpine’s folk as crude, violent, and backwards, an image that grew stronger in the minds of the north as fewer and fewer people bothered to visit. There is a coastline, but it is long and rocky, lacking any good harbors.
“I really think I’m getting too used to the place. All I want now is to spend my time out here, looking at the field, sipping Ambermill brandy. Say, Rane, remember when we found that cache of brandy out in the barn?”
“How could I not?”
“Damn shame there was so little of it.”
A threadbare rug served as my bed that night. The dreamlike haze of Silverpine during the day lulls people into a false sense of security. It’s a different place at night. The dense trees suddenly seem to hide any manner of horror and one can hear ghostly howls coming from the deeper woods. Quinn said that they came from wolves, though they did not sound like any wolves I had ever heard.
Quinn’s skeletal hand jogged my shoulder, rousing me to awaken. He held an ax and looked out the window. His face, the dead skin pulled tightly back against his skull, betrayed no visible emotion though I sensed his tension.
“Scourge,” he whispered.
Rane came down from the second floor, sword in hand.
“Five of them, ghouls!” she hissed.
“How close together?”
“Scattered around the field. Two of them are near the house, the other three are farther back. I think we should kill the ones closest to us first. Destron, you try to take down the other three as they charge towards us, you ought to be able to take down one or two,” said Rane.
“Stay here until we’re outside. I’ll open the door, Quinn, do your birdman once I engage.”
“Right.” Quinn hurried up the staircase. I was tempted to ask what the “birdman” was, but I figured I’d find out soon enough.
Rane opened the door and charged out. The two ghouls rushed towards her, but Quinn jumped down from the roof of the house, right behind a ghoul whom he decapitated with a swift blow.
I looked for the other ghouls, following close to the Deathstalkers. A lone ghoul hurtled towards us, claws outstretched. Shards of magical frost gathered at my fingertips as I prepared a spell, and a bolt of killing cold shot from my hands. Ice stiffened its limbs and its run turned into a stiff jog. I finished the wretch with a well-aimed fireball.
Three ghouls lay dead (for good, this time) in the field. Without saying a word, Quinn and Rane sprinted to the middle of the field where the remaining two ghouls fought an unidentified third party. I got close enough to see a small Forsaken, swinging an overlarge sword at his attackers while screaming and cursing.
The ghouls would have surely killed this newcomer were it not for Quinn and Rane. The Deathstalkers easily felled the distracted Scourge minions.
“Who the hell are you?” demanded Quinn.
“I am Adrius, son of Ivar, and the rightful owner of this land. And who are you, other than trespassers?” Adrius spoke slowly, putting emphasis on unusual parts of words, giving his speech a singsong quality. The accent identified him as a Silverpine native.
“Ivar? The old man who used to live here?”
“Aye, the one. You serve the Dark Lady?”
“I commend you, you did a great job. You are relieved of duty, feel free to go wherever you please.”
“Oh, that’s a relief. I don’t suppose you have any documents from Executor Hadrec confirming this?” sneered Quinn.
“I own this land.”
“Not anymore,” said Rane.
“I’m the son of Ivar. I don’t know where my father is, if he walks among the dead or not, but I do know that it’s my duty to lay claim to his land for as long as he’s absent.”
“Look, do you really want this place? There’s nothing here anyway. Yes, pumpkins are nice, but the market isn’t the best for them right now,” said Quinn.
“Perhaps. That’s not the point.”
“Adrius, if you can somehow wrangle permission for this piece of land from Hadrec, you’re more than welcome to it. Until then, we have a job to do.”
“So do I. To get this land back.”
“Oh hell,” muttered Quinn.
“Quinn, we should see of Erland’s all right. I’ll go check”, offered Rane.
“Don’t go alone! There might be more of them out there. Here, I’ll go with you. Do you think you can hold things here Destron? If all goes well, we’ll be back by dawn.”
“Stay in the farmhouse, don’t engage any enemies,” ordered Rane.
“I should be all right,” I agreed.
“With this doughty warrior by your side I’m sure you have nothing to fear!” laughed Quinn, patting Adrius on the back. Adrius scowled. I saw that he was in his teens.
I took Adrius back to the farmhouse where he maintained a stubborn silence. Another ghoul came to the field towards dawn. Thanks to the central intelligence that animates the Scourge, they were all undoubtedly aware that the Forsaken held Ivar’s Patch. Quinn and Rane returned, quickly killed the ghoul, and reported that Erland was fine.
There was still the matter of what to do with Adrius, who insisted on taking care of the farm. He finally explained that he lived with his mother in the Sepulcher, a Forsaken settlement to the south.
“Destron, we need you to do us a few favors,” said Quinn.
“You want me to take him back? I’m headed to the Sepulcher anyway.”
“Thanks, also tell Hadrec that there’s some Scourge here. We’re going to join Erland for a while in case they try to come back in force. If it gets too dangerous though, we’re leaving, with or without orders.”
“I’ll be sure to tell him.”
I said goodbye to Quinn and Rane the next day and began traveling south on the main road, an angry Adrius in tow. We got good weather the first day followed by a fierce rainstorm on the second.
“I hate the rain,” muttered Adrius.
“We’ll be in the Sepulcher soon enough.”
“I should be on my father’s farm. I had to travel all the way up there myself and then you send me back down again!”
“The farm has other uses right now.”
“I don’t care! It’s mine! Nothing happens here anyway, I want to go over to the Hillsbrad Foothills and kill the humans there.”
“On that case perhaps you should have asked the Deathstalkers about employment.”
“I don’t want to be in the Forsaken army. They’ll just order me around.”
“How old were you when you died?”
I suddenly felt very sorry for him.
It was night by the time we reached the Sepulcher. In times past, the Sepulcher was just that; the private burial ground for the noble Armindain family who owned much of central Silverpine. Their ancestral estate was nestled deep in the mountains around the Sepulcher. Like most of Silverpine’s noble estates, the place was abandoned by its owners who preferred the glamor of the capital. An errant lightning bolt burned down their old mansion about a hundred years before the First War. To raise money for a new one, the Armindains began selling burial plots around the main tomb to wealthy individuals wanting to rot in style. They turned a tidy profit and spent the money on other pursuits, never bothering to rebuild the mansion. The Armindains are long gone, and I’ve heard that the surviving members live somewhere in the nation of Stormwind.
The Sepulcher seemed an appropriate place to act as a base of operations after Sylvanas’ revolution. Let it never be said that the Forsaken lack a sense of humor. Adrius and I were greeted by a few Forsaken loitering next to the cemetery’s wrought iron gates, oblivious to the pouring rain.
“Adrius! Where have you been?” asked one of them. He was horribly burned, his face destroyed.
“On my father’s farm,” Adrius answered, giving me a dark look.
“Who’s this one, hmm?” inquired another, a badly decayed woman.
“Simply a traveler,” I said.
Executor Hadrec was easy enough to find. He behaved strangely timid for someone of his rank. An Executor acts as a sort of military mayor for a Forsaken town. I explained the situation to him, and he thanked me.
The Armindain crypt is the most visible structure in the town. It was once famous for the detailed bas-reliefs portraying the lives of the great Armindains. Looters broke all the art during the Third War and the Forsaken saw no reason to restore it. The Forsaken even converted the burial chamber into an inn. A few cottages, recent constructions, lined the sides of the main cemetery. Adrius directed me to the one in which he lived.
Adrius’ mother was a tall woman with slick gray skin and tangled red hair. Her name was Feana.
“I can’t thank you enough for bringing Adrius back,” she said.
“It was nothing.”
“Please, would you at least have dinner with us? I have some herbs and a rabbit.”
“You don’t need to—”
“Oh yes I do! Maybe the world’s forsaken us, but we don’t forsake each other. Can you still taste things?”
“Not as well as I used to, but yes.”
“Wonderful. Please come in, make yourself at home. It’s a bit cramped.”
Cramped was an understatement. Broken furniture and odd items piled in the corners of the one-room house. There were two beds with rotten mattresses, and the frame of one had partially collapsed. I could barely see a rust-clad stove behind stacks of soft wood. A puddle of water spread out in the middle of the floor. Feana cooked the rabbit on a simple fire she built on top of the stove.
“I know it isn’t much. So what brings you down here?”
“I’m traveling, just to see as much of the world as I can.”
“You like it here?”
“Well, I’d have liked to see it in the old days.”
“Things were much better then. Ivar was a good husband and father. We had a lot of money but I always did the cooking, got quite good at it too. It seems like I’ve forgotten a lot of my old tricks though. Still, better than any noblewoman could do I’d wager”, she laughed. “No matter how rich we got we always did things ourselves when we could. Sorry if I offended you, don’t know if you’re a noble or not. No one seems to care much about that anymore which is the only good thing about this undeath.”
“I’m a commoner, just like you,” I assured her.
Dinner was served soon after. The meal mostly consisted of various greens cultivated from the forest. She said it was a traditional Silverpine recipe. I could taste little, though it seemed good. Adrius sat facing me, his shoulders slumped in defeat.
“I remember before the Scourge got down here, a whole group of us came to the graveyard. Dug up all the corpses and burned them to keep them from rising back up again. You remember that Adrius?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Doesn’t seem like it helped much. The Forsaken filled all the graves back up again when they got here, don’t know why. Didn’t try to repair the tomb though.”
“Why didn’t you try to go back to the old farm?” I asked.
“I just didn’t want to.”
“I wanted to,” interjected Adrius.
“Maybe we will someday, son. Not right now though. I prayed every day to find my boy again, and finally I did.” Feana gave a warm, matronly smile.
I went outside after dinner. The rain slackened into a light mist. Feana apologized for not having enough room to put me up for the night, and I told her it was not a problem.
“I really feel sorry for Adrius. He’s a good boy... he’ll never grow up though. A thousand years from now he’ll still be looking at life through the eyes of a fourteen-year old. Mothers say they never want their children to grow up, but it’s hard. Hard for him too, those monsters cheated him. Sorry to trouble you with all that, and thank you so much for bringing Adrius back.”
I spent the night in the dank tomb where generations of Armindains once lay. I did not really feel like staying or leaving, but finally elected to remain for at least another day. I followed an old trail into the mountains the next morning, thinking it’d be interesting to see the old Armindain family house. A long hike led to nothing more than the remains of a foundation. I returned to the Sepulcher, wondering if I should just sleep at the inn until I felt ready to leave.
I met Dalar Dawnweaver in the inn’s subterranean common room. I saw him several times in life, though I never actually spoke with him. Previously a prominent mage in Dalaran, Dalar was pleased to see a fellow practitioner of magic.
“It’s a relief to speak with another Arcanist,” he said. We stood in a darkened corner of the crypt near a pile of charred bones.
“How did you end up here?”
“I was killed when Archimonde smashed Dalaran. When I regained control over my body I made myself useful to our Dark Lady. Apparently I did such a good job that she thought I’d be best rewarded by going to Silverpine. It’s even duller here now than it was in life.”
“Have you been to Dalaran since the war?”
“No, of course not. Why would I go there now?”
“I was only wondering.”
“There’s another mage here, but he’s more of a research sort, no real appreciation for the Art. Him and one of those damned bull-women. A fine reward for all my years in the Violet Citadel. Oh how the mighty do fall,” he clucked. I was beginning to find Dalar’s company unpleasant.
“Are you like an advisor to Hadrec?”
“Hadrec? Hadrec’s got a sword arm and nothing else. He’s barely worth the effort it takes to explain anything to him. I manage everything. It does seem that something is happening around here though, which means more dreary work for me.”
“I’ve heard about the wizards in Ambermill—”
“Yes, they’ve been puttering about for a long time now, and I’m keeping an eye on them. I’m talking about the... I’ll put it this way. Have you ever thought that some of the howls you hear at night don’t quite sound like wolves?”
“I’ve noticed that.”
“Worgen. I don’t know where they came from, but they’re endemic to the region now. A few days before you came I sent a communique to the Dark Lady about it.”
“What are worgen?”
“Wolves that walk like men. They’ve killed several Forsaken already. They could pose quite a threat. Many of them live in these forests.”
I left the Sepulcher the next day, wondering where to go. I considered visiting Ambermill, but I was not confident enough in my disguise to visit a town controlled by mages. I also thought of seeing the Greymane Wall to the south, but soon decided there was no point. The nation of Gilneas, always distrustful of the outside world, built the wall ten years previous. Since then, no one has gone in or out of the nation and its current state is a mystery to all.
I finally elected to go to the village of Pyrewood. A small town near the coast, the rest of the world nearly forgot its existence. The Forsaken of the Sepulcher said it was only nominally under Alliance jurisdiction.
The journey there lasted four days thanks to the road’s poor condition. The land was utterly empty. Were it not for the road, one could easily imagine that no human, living or otherwise, had ever walked the land. I knew that crumbling villages lay behind the dense screen of trees, perhaps inhabited by human holdouts, renegade Forsaken, or even the worgen mentioned by Dalar. I did not see any worgen on my journey to Pyrewood Village, though I heard them every night. I wondered how I ever thought they were wolf howls; once the difference is realized, it cannot be dispelled. The howl is animalistic yet laced with another sound, akin to a human screaming in rage. I never heard of any creature such as the worgen, not even in myths. Perhaps they were demons, leaking into the world alongside the Burning Legion.
Once in view of Pyrewood Village I went to a copse of trees on the side of the road and put on my disguise, hoping for the best. The village itself is an odious sight. The crude construction gives it a half-finished feel, not helped by failed attempts at the steep-gabled Gilnean style. Worse yet are the cold, sullen gazes of the locals. They barely took notice of me when I entered, which at least meant the disguise was effective. Greeted only by stares, I nervously made my way to the dark and dank little establishment that passed for a tavern. Three locals sat in the dusty common room, one man to a table.
“What are you doing here?” asked one, a tall and lanky man with a fixed gaze.
“I’m simply visiting. I’m from Southshore,” I lied.
“Huh. I’ve been there once. A good place. Welcome to Pyrewood.”
“Thank you. May I ask your name?”
“Jace. How about yours?”
He nodded and returned to his drink. I immediately decided that I would not spend the night in town. I sensed something deeply amiss in the place. Though Silverpine was notoriously provincial, there was more afoot in Pyrewood than simple mistrust. I promised myself I’d leave after seeing Silverlaine Keep.
Most of the Silverpine nobles, as I have said, left their homes for the capital where they caroused in the palaces and denied their irrelevance. The Silverlaine family was the exception. Some said that their remote location enabled them to rule like the nobles of old, haughty and cruel. Whatever the reasons, generations of Silverlaines kept to themselves in the gloomy castle overlooking Pyrewood. Rumors abounded of Silverlaine consorting with the forces of darkness, or tyrannizing his subjects though those were simply wild stories. In life, my friends and I often mocked Silverlaine’s reclusive fiefdom, calling it “North Gilneas.”
In fact, that nickname was partially true. The Silverlaine family holdings technically extended to Pyrewood, but the formation of nation-states ended up splitting the territory in two. The barons of Silverlaine had long been a thorn in Gilneas' side, always agitating for more land, and had behaved in an obnoxious manner to their peers in Lordaeron. Thus, the monarchs of both kingdoms chose to work against the old family. Though the Silverlaines technically held Pyrewood, they did not have the authority to collect tax revenue from the village, since it was under Gilnean sovereignty. The folk of Pyrewood were still expected to show respect and deference to their baron, who still held nominal authority over the town (fitting with the stronger status of Gilnean nobility). The Silverlaines protested the deal, but as subjects of the Lordaeronian king, they could do no more than retreat to their ancestral home and brood.
I asked if anyone could show me the way to Silverlaine Keep. Jace agreed after a long pause. He asked if I was ready to go and I said yes, simply wanting to leave town. I was again unnerved as we left. Not only were the people silent to me, they did not even talk amongst each other. Another villager, an old but strong-looking woman, stopped us at the gate.
“Where are you headed?” she demanded.
“Up to the castle. Fellow here wanted to see it. I’ll bring him back safe and sound,” Jace replied.
“No need to go yourself. We’ll come with you,” she said, motioning to some townspeople who gathered around us. Jace’s eyes narrowed, but he said nothing.
The keep stands in the mountains north of Pyrewood, its grim edifice visible from town. Jace led me up a long, winding road while five villagers followed. I feared that they saw through my disguise. Even if that was the case, their reaction was extremely strange.
“Does Baron Silverlaine rule here any more?” I asked, to break the silence.
“No. He died a few years ago. It was when all the wolf-men came.”
“Where are the wolf-men now?”
“How did Silverlaine rule? Up in the north we heard that he still wielded a great deal of power.”
“You said you were from Southshore.”
“Oh, I wasn’t born there. I moved there after the Scourge.”
“The baron kept to himself mostly. He left us alone, we left him alone. By the way, we don’t call it Silverlaine Keep anymore. Now it’s called Shadowfang Keep. Because of the wolf-men.”
We reached Shadowfang Keep later in the day, as the pale sun sank into the mountains and a bitter wind blew from the west. The place reeked of filth and wild animals.
“Are the wolf-men still here?”
“Maybe a few.”
“Well thank you for your time. I really need to head back to Southshore, so I’ll take my chances in the wild.”
“That isn’t a good idea,” disagreed Jace.
“I can take care of myself.”
“No. You’ll be killed for sure, and we don’t want that on our consciences. You can stay with us for the night, free of charge.”
“It needn’t be on your conscience. I’m fully aware of the risk.”
“Well, we went through all the trouble of taking you up here. I think you owe us.”
“Do you want money?”
“Just stay with us. We don’t get many visitors. We’d like to know how things are in Southshore.”
We turned back. They surreptitiously gathered around me as we walked, as if to prevent escape. Upon reaching level ground I saw a nearby thicket and decided to take a chance. I wouldn’t have time to properly form a fireball so I elected for a quick burst of flame. I aimed at the ground in front of the townspeople and immediately ran to the side, tearing through the thickets. Branches tore at me as I escaped. I heard them crashing through the underbrush close behind, not cursing or threatening like one would expect from humans.
Whatever they were, they lacked the endurance of the dead and I managed to lose them. After finding the road again I kept to the sides, wanting to keep a low profile. The next day I heard the sound of something heavy moving through the forest. I slunk beneath a rotting log. It was then I saw the worgen, a figure of bristling fur and sinewy muscle, very much the terrible beast described by Dalar. The worgen looked in my direction as it passed. Thankfully, it did not notice me.
I reached the borders of Silverpine three days later. I continued wearing the disguise, though I did not use my limited supplies of the elixir and powder just yet. Going into human territory required prudence.
Violet-liveried wizards of Dalaran routinely patrol the road to Hillsbrad. One of them accosted me at sunset on the second day. I explained that I was simply a scout in the employ of a private interest in Stormwind City. The mage insisted that I give my signature, and they used a photo-recorder of their own to make a record of my appearance. I was certain they’d catch me when they ran a spell, but they saw nothing unusual. I later learned that the detection spells were designed to uncover Scourge and not Forsaken, probably because Dalaran was not in any direct conflict with Undercity. The mage apologized for the inconvenience and I was on my way.