Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Stranglethorn Vale



“This has never happened to me before. I’m a good pilot, dammit! Ugh, I know I’m going to be charged for it too. Serves me right for renting out a Cartel zeppelin, dammit!”

Around us, the jungle steamed in the darkness. The ambient noise of the forest is astonishing. An endless natural orchestra of birds, insects, and mammals play in the lush canopies and dank undergrowth. Much like the Swamp of Sorrows, rain is a daily occurrence in Stranglethorn Vale.

After Spirra crossed over the mountains it looked as if we would soon reach the goblin metropolis of Booty Bay without incident. Then an unexpected storm blew us badly off-course. Spirra took this in stride, saying that it would just take a little longer, and that she could stop by Grom’gol if I wanted. Then, drifting low over the verdant jungle ceiling we heard the staccato of gunfire from somewhere in the verdant landscape below. Bullets shattered the propeller and pierced the balloon, and we streaked to the ground. It ended suddenly when Spirra’s zeppelin impaled itself on a tree. Fortunately, neither of us was badly hurt. We climbed down the tree, carrying what supplies we could. Of our attackers we found no sign.



“I could help pay for it,” I offered.

“That would work”, she mused. “Will you be staying in the area though? I don’t know how long it will take me to get all the money, though I can probably get it quickly.”

“Consider it paid for.”

“Huh?”

“You don’t need to worry about paying me.”

“I have to.”

“Why?”

“It’s the right thing to do. Look, I know goblins have a reputation for being greedy thieves who take whatever they can get their hands on, but my parents raised me with the old goblin virtues. Nothing is free, and always pay back what is due. More goblins hold to those than you might think.”

“As I said, consider it a gift.”

“Accepting a gift from you would be like stealing from you.”

“You already helped me get across the mountains,” I argued.

“Right. After you saved me from dying from exhaustion. Giving you a trip across the mountains doesn’t pay that back in full. I mean, I don’t know how much you consider your life worth, but since you are a mage (and therefore a valuable resource to your society) and are Forsaken (with whom the Steamwheedle Cartel has trading agreements) you’re worth a decent amount. I refuse to go farther in debt to you.”

“But you won’t be in debt to me.”

“Yes I will. If anything, I should pay you money. I’m going to put in a good word for you at Booty Bay, so you can get discounts at company shops. That, plus the ride... I haven’t fulfilled my contract with the Cartel so I can’t do any jobs for you, at least not for a few years.”

“I would consider it adequate. I’m undead, I do not need much money. I can survive on almost nothing.”

“Destron, I understand that the humans were fond of charity. I guess some of the Forsaken are the same way. But this isn’t Lordaeron. I don’t like you trying to impose this on me, since charity is wrong! It makes people weak, and it destroys any sense of obligation. I won’t accept that.”

“Fair enough,” I said.

“I’m pretty disgusted at the goblins who take advantage of charity in the northlands. Total lack of professional ethics.”

“From what you say, it sounds as if the goblins have a great deal of ethics. Just that their ethical system is vastly different.”

“Basically. Sorry I got angry at you.”

“It’s fine.”

We sat for a while without speaking. It occurred to me that Spirra’s voice might have been tired from trying to make herself heard over the sounds of nature.

Dawn arrives swift in the jungle, the shafts of morning light refracted through the drops of water speckled on each leaf, birds still shrieking in the upper branches. I was surprised that Spirra slept so easily. Goblins are native to tropical climes, so perhaps she was used to the noise.

“Who do you think attacked us?” I asked.

“That’s been bothering me. Trolls around here don’t like using guns. And it couldn’t have been northern hunters unless the hunters were horribly drunk. Then again most of the hunters here are dwarves. So to answer your question, I don’t know.”

Spirra guided me south. I led the way (under her direction) since it would have been difficult for her to clear a path for someone twice as tall as her. She cradled a rifle of elegant design in her tiny arms. Spirra said it once belonged to her father, who was part of the now defunct Zeppelin Pilot Association during the Second War.

Spirra wanted to get to Grom’gol, though she warned me it could take up to a week of travel. Lacking any other realistic options, I agreed. On the way, we passed the handiwork of the trolls. Great stone monuments and cyclopean ruins still slumber the tropics, remnants of ancient days. Though the cities are mostly abandoned, the trolls still remember some of their remarkable engineering skill. Today, suspension bridges allow passage across ravines and crocolisk-infested rivers. Though they sway alarmingly, they are of sturdy make.

“The trolls up here are the Bloodscalp Tribe. They’re about as friendly as their name makes them sound,” warned Spirra as we stopped for a lunch break on the second day. As there were only two of us (and neither of us needed to eat very much) I was able to conjure food to meet our requirements. This reduced the amount that we needed to carry from the zeppelin.

“What sort of dealings have the goblins had with them?”

“Plenty, though they all involved gunfire and thrown axes. They’re like mad dogs.”

“I know that they were enemies with the Darkspear.”

“They played a bit part in pushing the Darkspear off the mainland. Then, when the humans built Blackwater Cove just south of where Grom’gol is now, the Bloodscalp drove them off. They get their name because, well, they carry the scalps of their fallen enemies. I’ve heard the chief wears a coat made from scalps.” She shuddered.

“Is their control in the north undisputed?”

“They only really have the northwest. Farther east you get to Zul’gurub, and the Gurubashi run things over there.”

“That’s the capitol of the old Gurubashi Empire, isn’t it?”

“It is. They’ve let it go to ruin though. Maybe back in the old days they were great builders, but they’ve forgotten everything they used to know. The Gurubashi don’t usually go beyond the city.”

Above us, dark clouds suddenly moved over the sun. A veriable river of rain crashed down on the canopy that instant, drowning out the sounds of animal life.

The rain continued as we struggled on through the jungle, the vines and undergrowth like a living wall. The downpour finally let up, shortly before nightfall. I hacked through the vegetation and emerged into a lush sward. A cloud of azure butterflies fluttered up from the shining grass, more than I had ever seen in one place. They flitted off to the northwest where a great slope rose into the sky, streaks of green peeking out from a layer of pearly mist.

“Zul’kunda’s up there. It’s another ruined city, where the Bloodscalp make their home.”

“Odd that they continue to live in the cities, when they don’t seem to have any use for them.”

“I’ve heard that they still worship the old idols in the temples. A friend of mine spent some time up here, searching for the singing crystals along the coast. He said he sometimes heard drumbeats and chants coming from the ruins.”

We spent the night in the clearing and got off to an early start the next day. I found a grisly scene at the forest edge. A gutted human body lay in the emerald grass, the remains swarming with flies that buzzed away at my approach. Someone had hacked off the top of the head, along with the fingers and feet. A hideous little fetish had been thrust in the earth above the corpse’s head, constructed from sticks and bones lashed together with twine. A snakeskin dangled at the front of the fetish, and a pair of severed bird’s wings was attached to the back. My mind went back to the altered serpent idols in Jintha’alor, far to the north in the Hinterlands, and to Dan’jo’s story of the Sunken Temple. The winged serpent was the symbol of Atal’hakkar.

“Do you know what this is?” I asked Spirra, pointing to the fetish.

“Some kind of totem.”

“I believe it is a totem of the Soulflayer.”

“That can’t be. The trolls hate the Soulflayer; he pretty much destroyed the old Gurubashi Empire.”

“I know, but his totem is the winged serpent. You don’t think the Bloodscalp revere the Soulflayer?”

“Like I said, they attack us on sight. Makes it hard to learn much about Bloodscalp superstitions. Now this is interesting.” Spirra had taken a small brooch from the earth next to the corpse. “It has the sigil of Blackwater Cove, a black ship on a blue field.”

Blackwater Cove (which she had mentioned earlier) was a failed attempt on Stormwind’s part to annex Stranglethorn Vale. It became an object of some interest in the north, back when I was a student. The noble family of Palsian, one of the more loyal houses of Stormwind, came up with the idea. Blackwater Cove was razed by trolls about the same time that Arthas burnt Stratholme to the ground.

“Blackwater Cove was destroyed a long time ago. What would he have still been doing here? A prisoner?” I wondered.

“Bloodscalps don’t keep prisoners for much longer than a week. This is strange. On any case we should leave before any Bloodscalp warriors decide to come back here. Maybe we should have taken the river route, though that’s not really safe either.”

“What’s the danger there?”

“Crocolisks and other goblins. The Venture Company has an operation next to Lake Nazferiti, and they’re about as friendly as the Darkspear.”

“Venture Company? Who are they, exactly? I know the name, but not much else.”

“A rival group. They’re just about the worst Undermine has to offer the rest of the world. Vicious, thuggish, and not particularly good traders. They rob people, the sure sign of someone without business skill.”

As we set off through the jungle, I explained what I knew about the Venture Company’s presence in Westfall.

“That doesn’t surprise me at all. I know a bit about the Defias, and the Venture Company is a perfect match for them. Do you know why it’s so hard for the Steamwheedle Cartel to do good business with the tauren and night elves? Because the Venture Company sends their people into Kalimdor and lay illegal claims to the land. I mean, the land usually goes unused under tauren management, but the tauren have the right to waste it if they want. The land belongs to them after all.”

“Can the government in Undermine do anything about this?”

“Ha! The Venture Company is part of the Undermine government. They have a Trade Prince on the Mercantile Agreements Council, or MAC. The Venture hasn’t angered enough of the other major goblin consortiums to warrant a Vote-Out. Really it’s mostly the Steamwheedle and our subsidiaries that suffer because of them.”

“Interesting. How is goblin society managed?”

“We aren’t too big on managing things. Most communities have their own laws; until pretty recently each town had its own currency, but the MAC enforced the Standardization Act just after the Second War. They thought a standard monetary system would be more profitable, though you can bet the Banker’s League fought it tooth and nail.”

“So do these various guilds, leagues, and companies run everything?”

“They run their own trading concerns, and they’re all interconnected to one degree or another. They really aren’t interested in running society, if that’s what you’re asking. They let it run itself.”

“Would groups such as Steamwheedle or Venture be analogous to, say, human noble families?”

“No. Nobility in goblin society is something you purchase if you have money to burn. Kind of stupid if you ask me. Neither the Steamwheedle Cartel or the Venture Company goes back very far. Trade groups don’t usually last that long. They get bought out, go bankrupt, split... you name it.”

We reached the coastline as the sun slipped into the west, its few minutes of dying light reflected in the lapping waves. Beyond the ocean awaited the ancient shores of Kalimdor.

No longer hindered by undergrowth, we made much better time. Spirra warned me that we were still technically in Bloodscalp territory, though we did not encounter any of their number on our journey. A day and a half later we arrived at Grom’gol, in the midst of another rainstorm.

Grom’gol is a base for Horde operations in the southern reaches of Stormwind. Tents and simple shelters fill the confines of its stout wooden wall. A massive zeppelin tower dominates the town, linking Grom’gol with Orgrimmar and Undercity. Forsaken are a common enough sight in the settlement, so I did not attract any particular attention. The sounds of industry and craft, saws on wood and hammers on anvils, fill the dusty air of Grom’gol. A team of orcs worked to replace a section of wall as we stepped through the gates.

“One of those damned sea giants attacked us this morning and knocked down part of the wall. As soon as we fix one thing in this place, something else breaks!” complained one the orcs who was at work.

Spirra and I went to the zeppelin tower, the base of which the orcs had converted into a crude inn. Hammocks lined the walls, most already occupied. I learned that the inn has a steady flow of customers who had either just arrived or were waiting for a departing flight.

I decided it would be best to inform the local leadership about the attack on Spirra’s zeppelin. The attack occurred close enough to Grom’gol that it could potentially become a threat to to the town. I looked for Warlord Grimjaw that evening, and found him seated beneath a leather canopy held up by giant yellow tusks. Grimjaw was a massive orc, and looked like he was being crushed under his own weight. Wary eyes looked out from his weathered face.

“Is this important?” he growled.

“Yes, I believe so.” I explained the situation to him, while he looked on impassively.

“Those were Kurzen’s bandits,” he said.

“Kurzen?”

“He was the guard captain in Blackwater Cove. Kurzen led the survivors to the north, he has a compound somewhere out in the jungle. We’ve never been able to find out where, exactly.”

“Do you know if he is supported by the Alliance?”

“We do not think he is. We captured a few of his men, a month ago. They had been attacking travelers, but they weren’t so mighty when faced with our warriors. The humans said they were the Knights of Kurzenberg. As if!” he snorted.

“Kurzenberg?”

“The fool thinks he runs his own nation. He’s in an endless battle with the trolls of the Bloodscalp, sooner or later they’ll wipe out his pathetic kingdom. The Bloodscalp are good for something after all.”

“What happened to the humans that you captured?”

“What do you think? We killed them. Why, are you disappointed that we didn’t torture them, or test poisons on them first?” snarled Grimjaw. “Here, they’re dead, you’re dead, maybe you can find some common ground.”

Grimjaw reached beneath his chair, and took out a bundle of three human skulls, tied together with a string. He tossed them at me while laughing. I caught the grisly projectiles.

“An interesting keepsake,” I said.

“One of the trolls said that I should wear them, it would give me more power. I figure sitting on them is good enough. There were six of them actually; the other three skulls are out by the gate.”

“I see.”

Grimjaw let out a long sigh.

“Oh, how I loath this land. We’re surrounded by insane humans and trolls. I’m expected to make headway here! How? This jungle is a monster. Let the trolls keep it, I say.”

“How did you get this position?”

“It was because of that fool, Nor’gol. Nor’gol is a boastful warrior with delusions of might. Though his skill is negligble, he fights with enough honor to gain followers. I never held him in high esteem, but held my tongue as we were both warriors in the Ebonflint War-pack. A true warrior puts aside his quarrels when he and his brother are threatened from without.”

“Why did Nor’gol persecute you?”

“It was a matter of honor, not something you could understand. Suffice to say, I bested his son in a Rite of Ascension. He could not accept that and spun lies that said I was disloyal and unreliable. Foul lies! My reputation was already secure, or should have been! But his words carried weight, and I was exiled to this stinking green hell!”

“You were actually punished with exile?”

“I was told to go to a new land, that I may hear the spirits unobstructed. It is an exile in all but name.”

“Is this sort of political infighting very common?”

“It grows more so every day. How else would I be sent here? I should be in Warsong Gulch, or someplace where there is battle against the cowardly humans. But here I rot, pestered by those even more rotten than I am, asking useless questions and telling me what I already know!”

I took the hint and left. Grimjaw’s story shed light on Orgrimmar’s internal politics, piquing my curiosity. That said, I did not quite trust Grimjaw. I suspected there was more to the story than what he told me. I spoke with some of the other citizens of Grom’gol to ask about the foul-tempered warlord. None of the ones could give many details about his situation. Most seemed barely aware of his presence.



“Grimjaw... I think he mostly makes sure that Grom’gol does what the Warchief wants it to do. Seems like Commander Aggro’gash does most of the normal jobs. Me, I don’t know for sure, I’m just a hunter,” explained one of the resident Darkspears. “Nimboya does some work too.”

“Nimboya?”

“He’s a shaman. This is where we Darkspears came from, you know? The place is still important to us. Now we’ve got those bad trolls over in Zul’gurub, so we need to keep an eye on them.”

“I’ve heard a bit about the problems there.”

“You know what? Maybe you want to go to Yojamba Isle. There’s a lot of Zandalari trolls there now, and they actually do the most against Zul’gurub. Good thing too, I hate those Gurubashi. A canoe from Zandalar comes here every week, taking warriors over to the island. It should come tomorrow, if you want to visit.”

“Thank you, I think I’ll go.”

“Just so you know, the Zandalar don’t like undead all that much. I mean, plenty of dead men have gone over there and come back, because the Gurubashi are bigger trouble. The Zandalar won’t give you any grief, but they won’t be real friendly either.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

*********

With the eerie, barbaric splendor of his raiments, Shaydo’han looked like a visitor from a world beyond our own. Yet he was a troll, which most records claim is one of the oldest races of this world. Shaydo’han stood up in the sturdy canoe that carried him, his crew, and his passengers on the way to Yojamba Isle. He spoke for a while in the ancient Zandali language before sitting back down.

“A prayer of thanks to Shadra’alor, for granting us safe journey,” explained a Darkspear traveler seated next to me.

“But the voyage is not yet complete.”

“He is showing his faith. He has faith that she will not strike this boat down on the remainder.” He laughed and gave me a toothy grin.

Shaydo’han faces bore an expression of reluctance when I requested to travel to Yojamba Isle, but he eventually relented. He reasoned that since several Forsaken had already gone, one more would not hurt. Shaydo’han was of venerable years yet possessed the strength and health of a troll half his age. He wore a fantastic, golden headdress fronted by a crest patterned after a rising sun. The crest displayed the glyphs of the five primal Loa, forged into the golden surface. Normal Zandalari priests dedicate themselves to a single Loa; a few like Shaydo’han, serve all.

A vivid mantle of feathers rested on Shaydo’han’s shoulders, brilliant greens, reds, and blues plucked from the wild birds that roost in the Isle of Zandalar somewhere in the south seas. A row of shimmering golden feathers lined his mantle, gifts from the fabled coatls that dwell in the ancient jungles. Coatls offer their feathers only to the most devout, to those who prove their piety with their blood. Sanctified mortifications covered Shaydo’han’s blue skin. Thorned vines had been woven through the flesh of both his wrists, the sharp points preventing him from healing. Spines culled from some of the stranger forms of sea life pierced his nose, ears, and cheeks. When he opened his mouth, his sharp yellow teeth glittered with inset pieces of jade and turquoise.



The huts of Yojamba Isle soon came into sight, open-air wooden houses that stand on stilts, capped by roofs made of leaves and grass. The Zandalari crewmen rowed the canoe forward, their painted faces strange and unearthly in the dull light of dusk. The watchmen spotted our arrival and ten Zandalari priests stood at the side of the docks. Getting closer, I saw that all wore tall wooden masks carved with faces portraying the animal aspects of the Loa.

Shaydo’han disembarked and bade us to step forward. The nine of us that came from Grom’gol went off the canoe and walked towards the waiting Zandalari. A harsh, primitive chant issued forth from behind the masks. The two Darkspear in our number bowed their heads in reverence. Soon the holy trolls surrounded us. Some carried pendants made from trollish skulls that swung from threads of coconut fiber, like censers. Later, it was explained to me that the skulls were “soughan,” the earthly remains of the wisest Zandalari priests. Soughan can be seen in many trollish villages, and the priests and witch doctors claim to consult them for advice. The soughan are the most accessible type of elawi, which is the term for the great trollish ancestors.

Still chanting, the priests shook the skull-censers and drops of blood rained down on us. A single tauren, Panawcha Stouthorn by name, drew back in alarm. A Darkspear urged him forward, trying to put him at ease. Panawcha did so, though he looked as if he wanted to bolt. One of the priests then spoke in perfect Orcish.

“We are sorry if we have alarmed you. This is a holy war that we fight, and you must be cleansed with holy blood. The Soulflayer is a foul entity, and his blood is the stuff of corruption. Holy blood must be your defense. While you are here, consider yourselves honored guests. If you wish to leave, we will not stop you. Only those who are willing to risk their souls should fight the Blood God; all others will fail. There are some here that hail from what you call the Alliance. Though we know there is enmity between your empires, you are to consider them your brothers until the Soulflayer is destroyed. They shall extend the same treatment to you.”

With that, they welcomed us into the island. Before leaving Grom’gol, I had informed Shaydo’han that I had no intention of going to Zul’gurub, but that I could inform others about the Soulflayer’s rise. He deemed that acceptable. To get some perspective, I spoke with Al’Tabim, a troll mage.

Many are surprised to learn that the trolls have an extensive arcanist heritage. In ancient times, the troll lost many battles to the elves due to the latter’s use of magic. To remedy this, the trolls also began to study the arcane. The isolation of most troll tribes made it difficult for mages. The troll mages that did exist tended to excel in one area but have almost no ability in others. In recent years the Darkspear tribe has been able to offer a more comprehensive education to their magic-users, thanks to contact with the Forsaken and (to a lesser extent) the orcs. Though the Zandalari mages have always been more skilled than those of the tribes, Al’Tabim still took it upon himself to learn as much as he could from other practitioners of the Art. I was pleasantly surprised when he greeted me in fluent Gutterspeak.

“I came to study not long after your Dark Lady joined the Horde. Some of the greatest minds from old Dalaran make their homes in Undercity, and I learned much from them,” he said.

I inquired about the nature of the war with Zul’gurub.

“The Gurubashi have forgotten how they suffered under the Soulflayer and his servitors. Once, they sacrificed much to drive him from this world; now they seek to bring him back.”

“How did this come to be? Why do they want him back if he is so dangerous?”

“The Gurubashi had a great empire that was older than the cities of the elves. They first called down the Soulflayer to strengthen their ailing empire in the days after the Sundering, but he only destroyed it. Now, spurred on by the deceptions of the Atal’ai, they hope that the Soulflayer will resurrect their empire. Desperation and memories do strange things to the mind, I think.”

“Then some of the Atal’ai survived the first war against the Soulflayer.”

“Some did. They went to the Sunken Temple in the north. Perhaps we Zandalari became too distant from this world; we now know that the Atal’ai and Gurubashi have been planning this for some time. We took no action until we learned that some of our own warriors had been sent by the local tribes to the Sunken Temple as sacrifices, though the sages lied and said they were on a holy mission.”

I remembered Jan’do’s story of the Zandalari that accompanied him to the temple.

“Finally we sent the five holiest priests of Zandalar to convince the Gurubashi of the error of their ways. The five High Priests, one for each of the great Loas, could easily expose the Atal’ai heretics as the devils they were, or so we thought.”

“They were killed?”

“If only they had been. No, they fell to corruption. The Soulflayer’s influence in this world grows ever stronger. This is the ultimate blasphemy, Destron: the holiness of the High Priests perverted to the ends of the Soulflayer. He is still weak, but if he is not stopped he shall devour this world and all the souls upon it. We realized then that we would have to shed the blood of the Gurubashi, as we had done in days past.”

“And you believe that it is urgent enough that all races should be called to participate.”

“Only a few of the troll tribes came to help us. The Soulflayer has already consumed the hearts of many Zandalari warriors. This is a holy war. It cannot be a battle of spears alone.”

“Are you trying to assemble an army here?”

“We are trying to attract fighters to our cause. The war is still in a preliminary stage. Right now we must weaken the Atal’ai cause by destroying their idols. The idols of the Soulflayer are called bijous. The Atal’ai believe that the Soulflayer gives his strength to those who bear them. We know that it only spreads the Soulflayer’s corruption. So we harry Zul’gurub, taking the bijous and desecrating them on consecrated ground.”

“By doing this you hope to weaken the Atal’ai?”

“We hope to fill them with fear! They will know that our Loa are stronger than the Soulflayer, that our way is righteous. They must know this, and they must despair. I will show you the Shrine of Zanza, the place where the bijous are destroyed.”

Al’Tabim led me to a small island connected to Yojamba by a narrow wooden bridge. A stone temple squats in the sand like a waiting beast, festooned with carvings of the harsh and angular troll gods. Stone idols of Ula-tek stand guard to ward off evil spirits and terrify trespassers. Two masked trolls armed with spears act as a more earthly defense. One of them began shouting excitedly at Al’Tabim and pointed at me. Then the guard spoke in thickly accented Orcish.



“Get out of here you bag of bones! You won’t be defiling the place of Zanza with your rotten feet! Soulflayer take you and yours if you move a step closer!”

Al’Tabim then spoke in Zandali, his tone ominous. The other guard, who remained silent, motioned for his companion to back down and nodded in deference to Al’Tabim.

“My apologies. Undeath is a blasphemy to the Zandalari,” said Al’Tabim.

“Not all trolls seem so offended. I did not encounter such hostility among the Revantusk.”

“Every tribe has its own ways. The jungle tribes are suspicious of the undead, though they have been known to use them opportunistically. The Atal’ai have many living dead among their numbers. The forest tribes are less strict about it. They do not have any particular issue with undead humans; in fact, they prefer them to living humans.”

“What do you think about the undead?” I asked.

Al’Tabim looked at me for a moment.

“As a mage, Destron, I am also a priest of Bethekk, the Panther and Loa of the Arcane, among other things. The spirits who intermediate between us and the Loas tell me that she weeps for the free-willed undead such as yourself. But the existence of any undead is an offense to the Loas. Bethekk would like you to return to the living or to die. The Atal’ai, however, have committed necromancy and other blasphemies far worse. Because of this, King Rastakhan decided to accept aid from the Forsaken. I am sorry if you do not like my answer, but it is the only answer I may give.”

“I appreciate your honesty,” I sighed.

“Do you know of Zanza,” he said, perhaps wishing to change the subject.

“I do not.”

“He is a lesser Loa, but important nonetheless. The five Primal Loa are eternal; they were, they are, and they will be, all at once. The Lesser Loa were once trolls who became gods through their actions.”

I nodded. It neatly paralleled similar orcish beliefs that I'd learned of in Stonard.

“What did Zanza do?”

“Zanza was a great wizard who once lived in Zul’gurub. His magic was so great that even the elves of the north heard of it, and grew jealous. They sent their wizards down, garbed in threads of shadow so they could slip unseen down the boulevards, between the great temples. The Gurubashi Empire had already fallen, but still its glory remained! The elven wizards surrounded Zanza and slew him but their minds were too weak to make sense of his magic. Now, with proper supplication, he reveals the ways of the arcane.”

“Then the elves lied about being the first to use magic?”

“No, they were the first. That is how they defeated us; they could not have done so otherwise. But once we figured out the arcane, we did it better than they.”

In truth, most evidence suggests otherwise, though there is no doubt that the trolls know some immensely powerful and unique strands of arcane study. Troll mages are an insular bunch, even by the standards of their profession. It may have also been possible that while Zanza personally achieved magic greater than the elves, he simply did not share it with others.

The interior of Zanza’s shrine is a courtyard dominated by a candle-crowned altar. Piles of troll skulls lie around the perimeter, staring inwards to the sanctuary with hollow eyes.

“There are soughan?”

“Yes. It is through their power that the bijous are broken. Each soughan here was once a mage, like myself. They once resided in the Temple of Bethekk in Zandalar. One day, they shall return. I suppose it might seem like necromancy to you, asking the spirits of the departed for help. But we only call the soughan; it is up to them if they want to answer. That is why we must remain good, so they do not abandon us. The necromancer is different, for he forces the spirit of the dead into the corpse. That is why it is an abomination.”

“What does the inscription say?” I asked, pointing to a glyph-covered stone tablet on the altar.

“It is a prayer to Zanza.”

“Do priests speak with the Loa directly, or do they use intermediaries?”

“It depends. The Loa are above all of us, so we cannot expect them to heed our whims. They grow angry at servile worshippers who implore them for every little thing. A troll must be strong, not dependent like an infant. In times of crisis though, they will speak to us and give us advice.”

“You mentioned spirits earlier.”

“Yes, the spirits of the elements. The Zandalari do not worship the nature spirits, whom we call takwe. Some of the more remote tribes serve the takwe as gods though they should not. The takwe are to be respected, but nothing more.”

“The trolls do have shamans that deal with the takwe however.”

“The troll shaman, traditionally, is simply a wise member of the community. One can learn much from the spirits but they are bound to this world as much as we. In some ways, even more. The Loa are beyond this world. The takwe shield their eyes at the approach of the Loa. We consult the takwe for material matters: weather, hunting, and such. The Loa deal with righteousness, with the ways of our people. We Zandalari have few shamans. On our blessed isle, the takwe exist to serve the trolls, as it is the chosen land of the Loa.”

We left the shrine and Al’Tabim spoke about his time in Undercity, sounding vaguely apologetic. I stayed in Yojamba Isle for a week though I confess that I did relatively little. I felt out of place there and saw the suspicious eyes of the Zandalari following me wherever I went.

Two other Forsaken were on Yojamba, both of them warriors. One of them was a sullen and angry fighter named Fremus. He cornered me on the third day and spent all afternoon cursing the Zandalari distrust of the undead. He said he only helped the Zandalari in order to gain access to their weapons, though he suspected that they would find a way to cheat him out of it. His companion was a swordswoman by the name of Ajienne. Ajienne’s jaw had rotted off, so Fremus spoke for her.

Sunset on the fifth day found me walking along the western beach of Yojamba, looking out across the oceanic horizon. I came across Ajienne, on her knees as she used a stick to draw patterns in the sand. Though difficult to make out at first, a picture gradually emerged of a weird landscape where a spiral sun shone down on twisting mountains and whirling forests. The nearly fleshless remnant of Ajienne’s face stared at her work intently as she continued to trace whorls in the beach, adding to the picture.

“This is quite beautiful,” I said to her.

Ajienne looked at me and nodded, making a breezy sound of acknowledgement from the gaping wound in her throat. Eventually the tide came in, obliterating her work. Unperturbed, she lay down on the sand and stared up at the glittering night sky as distant drumbeats echoed out from the village.

Before I left I was able to find another Zandalari willing and able to speak with me. Named Enja’li, she was a priestess of Hir’eek, the Bat, and Loa of Knowledge, Wisdom, and Memory. Enja’li was quite old and spent most of her time meditating in a beach side hut. Five small braziers of burning incense created a dusty, spicy smell in her home. I asked her why the Zandalari could not get a large enough army from the troll tribes.

“The tribes are not what they once where. The histories say that after the fall of the Amani and Gurubashi empires, the different tribes of our race elected to each send a priest to Holy Zandalar every six years, so that we would not forget who we were.”

“This was to create a sense of solidarity?”

“Yes. Hir’eek, in her wisdom, would not have the great learning of our people dissipated. Yet the world changes, even if we would wish it otherwise.”

“Did the tribes stop sending representatives?”

“No. They are still sent today. But they became quarrelsome and fractious. They wondered, ‘why should we heed your words, Zandalar, when you live so far from us?’ If the priests said something they did not like, they would ignore it.”

“You were unable to enforce your dictates?”

“How could we? The trolls live all over the world, and many of them are crafty and dangerous fighters. The priests of Ula-tek wanted to make war, but the other Loa counseled patience. In times of great decision, three of the five Primal Loa must agree. So we lost more and more influence. The tribes sent their own priests, but they did it to flaunt their own power. Why did the Loa not strike them down for their pride? I wonder.”

“Were any of the tribes loyal?”

“Some respected us, and sent priests for the reasons they were meant to. The Darkspear, the Revantusk, the Witherbark and the Frostmane. All the jungle tribes except the Darkspear now sing unholy words to the Soulflayer, and they were falling into savagery for many years before today. The Vilebranch also serve the Soulflayer. The Smolderthorn and Firetree are lost to us, dancing with demons and orcs in the fiery lands. The Sandfury have embraced the heresies of Theka, and their priest tries to undermine the worship of the Loa when he visits Holy Zandalar. The Drakkari are warlike and cruel beyond compare. It goes on and on.”

“At the risk of sounding cynical, do you hope that defeating the Soulflayer could improve Zandalar’s prestige?”

“It would give us great power but I fear the jungle tribes will only hate us more. Perhaps the day of Zandalar’s greatness is over. Perhaps our own pride led the Loa to counsel deception. Some still see a future of power for the Zandalari, but I think that we may have to follow the Darkspear. Mayhap it is time for a new tribe to lead the race.”

I had never known that the far-flung tribes communicated with each other in such a way. However, the story Enja’li told was one of breakdown. The cultural ties of the trollish race had already been in decline, and the return of the Soulflayer was emblematic of the situation. Though only trolls are permitted in Zandalar Island, I was intrigued by the descriptions I heard. It is said that the main city looks like a mountain of carved stone, every inch covered with engravings and bas-reliefs. I hope the Zandalar becomes more friendly and will one day allow those like myself to witness its glory.

Many of the adventurers had already left Yojamba for a perilous incursion to Zul’gurub. When the canoe, still led by Shaydo’han, was ready to travel back to Grom’gol I again became a passenger. Though I could have taken the zeppelin back to Undercity, I first wished to see the thriving goblin port of Booty Bay nestled at the tip of the Cape of Stranglethorn in the south.

It took another week of strenuous travel through the narrow, poorly-maintained jungle paths before I reached the road that winds through the Vale. I journeyed alone past thickets and vine-choked troll ruins. It is difficult to imagine civilization ever thriving in such a place. The old ruins are not remains of a few isolated pockets of habitation; they are the carcass of a great empire. I did not see the ancient city with my own eyes, but most accounts suggest that Zul’gurub today is at least as large (in area) as Stormwind City. In the old days, it may have been even bigger.

The roads of Stranglethorn were built by goblin merchants whose workers fearlessly cut paths through the festering jungles, braving attacks from wild animals and hostile trolls. The trolls of the Gurubashi era also built roads and causeways, but the jungle long ago reclaimed most of those. The goblins originally built the highway for the purposes of overland trade with Stormwind. Given that the road leads to the cursed Duskwood, I wondered if such trade brought much profit. Maritime trade seemed more convenient, though Moonbrook’s destruction would make it similarly difficult.

Not only did the road have to be built, it has to be maintained. To do this, patrols march up the road from Booty Bay to the edge of Duskwood and back again. They cut away at the encroaching vegetation. It is a hard, miserable job, yet the goblins do it all the same. I stumbled upon one of these patrols two weeks after leaving Grom’gol. They numbered eight: four goblins, a gnoll, a human, and two trolls. They were camping inside the vast Gurubashi Arena, one of the better-preserved ruins of Stranglethorn.

“We don’t see that many travelers on the road these days,” said Nibbok, the patrol captain. He was unusually large for a goblin.

“I was wondering about that actually. I can’t imagine you get very much traffic from Stormwind. Doesn’t that make the road unprofitable?”

“Well the road was a gamble to begin with. See, it was more than just trade. The high-ups in the Cartel think that all of Stranglethorn was a resource waiting to be exploited. Their idea was to built other goblin settlements along the road, eventually turn this place into a second homeland of sorts. Decent enough climate and all that.”

“The Cartel still hopes to do that?”

“They’ve already invested a lot. Right now it’s a bit of a loss but they still think it will pay off. Hey, as long as I get paid for it I’ll clear the brush. I like the outdoors anyway.”

“What are the main obstacles to colonizing Stranglethorn?”

“One problem we can’t do much about, and that’s Stormwind. Five years ago they seemed like they were on top of the world, and now they’re just in a sorry state. It’s sad, it really is. Another problem is the Venture Company. They’ve occupied some of the land up near Lake Nazferiti. There’s a claim dispute between Venture and Steamwheedle. The Venture people let us alone though, since they benefit from a clear road too.”

“What about the trolls?”

“They’re becoming more of a problem, I think. Now the Bloodscalp up north, we could never deal with them. The bastards won’t even speak with us. The Skullsplitter, in Zul’mamwe a few days to the east, are easier. They don’t like us much, but we managed to make a deal with them. Namely that we’d stay out of their core territory so long as they let us use the road. There’s nothing all that valuable in Zul’mamwe anyhow. The Skullsplitters have gotten a lot less friendly the past few years though. I hope the Zandalari can take care of it.”

“What about trade by sea?”

“There’s a lot of that, mostly with Undermine and Ratchet. There’s the Bloodsail Buccaneers, but they honestly aren’t too much of a problem.”

“Pirates?”

“Not really. At least, not what I’d consider a pirate. A pirate sails the seas, looking for things to loot. I can understand that. The Bloodsail are more interested in killing people. There’s a specific reason they call themselves the Bloodsail.”

“What is that?”

“Whenever they seize a ship they’ll keep one of the crew alive, preferably the captain. Then they tie the captain to the top of the main mast of the Bloodsail ship and cut him up so his blood stains the sails. I know, it’s real sick.”

“How long have they been here?”

“Too long. We don’t know much about them other than that some insane Tirasi noble formed the group. Humans just aren’t good pirates. They always feel like they have to do something fancy. Intelligence reports say that they’ve got a bigger presence in Plunder Isle, way to the south, but there they seem more interested in bothering ships coming in and out of Kezan. Up here they have a few bases. Their main fleet is somewhere off the southeast coast. They’re still hurting from the last fight they had with us.”

I spent the night with the patrol, learning about their origins and goals. They were an eclectic bunch. Two of the goblins besides Nibbok were youthful brothers from Undermine, out to make their way in the world. The other goblin, Mizzig, was a veteran of the Second War. An enraged dwarf had torn off his right ear during the Battle of Blackrock Mountain.

The human was a Stromgarder rogue named Hanselrich, who simply said he would return to Arathi, “when things quieted down.” The gnoll, who'd adopted the goblin name of Simmer, was captured by Venture operatives working in Mulgore. He was then sold as a slave to a private goblin trader. After a few years, his master freed him in Booty Bay, where he had since worked at a variety of jobs for the Cartel. Though his canine muzzle made it difficult for him to speak our language I could tell he was an exceedingly intelligent gnoll. He understandably despised the Venture “tribe,” but said he preferred the Steamwheedle Cartel to his native Palemane Tribe.

“In Palemane, I only be warrior. No choice for me. Here, I get every choice,” Simmer boasted.

One of the two trolls was an orphan, more or less raised by goblins. The other was a wiry hunter named Gando’lon, previously of the Skullsplitter Tribe. Though initially reticent, I persuaded him to speak of his experiences. He was able to give me a troubling account of intertribal politics in the years leading up to the return of the Atal’ai.

“In my father’s time, Skullsplitter, Bloodscalp, and Darkspear all fought each other in the wild places. A violent life, but how else could we get honor? The Gurubashi stepped in if the fights got out of hand, solved problems with a marriage or trade. We always respected them because they were the ones who lived in the greatest of the ancient cities, the ones who remembered the most about the ancient ways.”

“What about the Zandalari?”

“The Zandalari are not like us, not really. We used to be part of the Gurubashi Empire, not the Zandalari Empire.”

“What happened with the Gurubashi in recent years?”

“The Gurubashi priests started ordering us around, like children! Suddenly they had more warriors than we ever saw before, and strange magic beyond what our shamans and witch doctors knew. At first our chieftains were angry and spurned the Gurubashi. Then one night it all changed.”

“How so?”

“I did not see it with my own eyes, but our chieftains all disappeared. They came back two days later, their faces twisted with wickedness. After that they did everything the Gurubashi said. The Gurubashi demanded tribute from us.”

“What sort of tribute?”

“At first simple things, like skins and flints. Then they demanded living sacrifice. Some of us refused but the Gurubashi said that if we did not give in, they would bring down terrible magic on us and destroy us utterly. Every month we would send one of our greatest warriors, or most beautiful maidens, to Zul’gurub.”

“Did this also happen with the Bloodscalp?”

“I suppose so. I know that the Darkspear never went along with it the way we did. The Darkspear, Sen’jin, he killed the chieftain of his tribe and took his place, then said he would not allow any more of his people to be butchered. The Gurubashi said that we had to destroy the Darkspear to prove our faith to the new god. Those were good fights, and I killed many a warrior. The Darkspear fled once enough of them died.”

“Why did you leave the Skullsplitter?”

“My brother Vesh’ok, he was a shaman. Vesh’ok, he did not like the Gurubashi. Maybe they knew this, so they told him to give up his daughter to them as sacrifice. If he did not, the Skullsplitter would be slaughtered. But Vesh’ok refused them.”

“Did you help Vesh’ok in this?”

“No! So one crazy shaman can put the entire tribe in danger to save his daughter? Neelu was a sweet, kind girl, but I cannot risk my tribe. At least, I could not at the time. A spear felled Vesh’ok and Neelu was given over to the Gurubashi. But then the Skullsplitter doubted me. They said I should have been the one to kill Vesh’ok. Maybe he had been a shaman, but I was his older brother. I must have led him down the path of fools when we were children.” Gando’lon snarled.

“What happened then?”

“Finally I placed my honor on the head of Jambalu, the great basilisk. I spent two moons trying to claim it, but never found him. Since my honor was lost I had no choice but to leave.”

“You’ve been working here since?”

“Yes. I do not care for Booty Bay but it is better than nothing. Every night I say a prayer to all the Loa, asking that the Zandalari break the Gurubashi on their own altars, and rip out their hearts for the true Loa.”

I parted ways with the maintenance patrol the next morning, as they were headed north. Though the dangerous wilds of the jungle were never far, the condition of the road improved as I got closer to Booty Bay.

*********

The history of Booty Bay is inextricably entwined with that of the Blackwater Raiders, a pirate group founded by human renegades. Unlike the rival Bloodsail Buccaneers, the Blackwater Raiders were more interested in the traditional pirate goals of plunder and robbery. The two groups were, and are, effectively at war. Both survived by preying on shipping between the Eastern Kingdoms and Kezan. While the Bloodsail Buccaneers were more numerous, they were actually less effective in many ways. Nibbok had mentioned one incident where the Bloodsail became so carried away that they destroyed trade vessels with cannon volleys without bothering to loot them.

The Steamwheedle Cartel wished to built a port in Stranglethorn, but knew they needed help. As the Blackwater Raiders were clearly the more rational gang of thieves, the Cartel made a deal with them. The Blackwater Raiders became security contractors for Booty Bay. They would receive a percentage of the profits from Booty Bay as well as having a more stable headquarters and the backing of one of the most powerful goblin organizations.

Competent though they were, the Blackwater Raiders had been slowly losing ground to the numerically superior Bloodsail. Thus they eagerly accepted Steamwheedle patronage. Their ships became the main line of defense for Booty Bay, and they got permission to prey on Venture shipping lines. Their numbers and supplies bolstered, they dealt the Bloodsail Buccaneers several bloody defeats in the ensuing years.

A ship’s mast, complete with the skull-and-bones and crow’s nest, stands over the entrance to Booty Bay. To gain entrance into the city I had to go through a tunnel dug into the hillside. The jaws of a giant shark line the opening, giving it a decidedly menacing air. Bruisers (the goblin equivalent of a constabulary) guard the entrance, dangerous despite their small size. They let me in without incident. The interior is cool and damp, and if anything feels like a step backwards from civilization.

Nothing could prepare me for what lay on the other side. Booty Bay is a riotous profusion of color and sensation. The steep sides of the bay are ringed with piers and bridges, connecting the different neighborhoods. Cheap clapboard houses clutter the levels close to the waterline, while small but lavish manses rest on the upper platforms. Intermixed with the homes (and frequently sharing space with them) are shops selling every product imaginable—perhaps even a few that are not. Some structures are actually the cannibalized portions of old ships, strengthening the nautical motif. Flocks of brightly colored parrots fly over the city and through the streets, fearlessly darting in and out of the crowds.

And what crowds they are! In the first few minutes there I saw individuals of nearly every race known to me. Humans, orcs, both kinds of elves, gnomes, ogres, trolls, and more all lived there. I even saw a tuskarr from distant Northrend, resting in the shade of a palm tree. Goblins predominate, but not by as much one might expect.



I ventured into the crazy streets of Booty Bay in a bit of a daze. It is easy to get lost. Like any city the walkways turn from side to side; in Booty Bay, they also go up and down. I could be walking among flower-bedecked shops and a moment later find myself around the dank hovels of the lower levels.

Never before had I been so overloaded by sensory stimulation. After a few hours out in the blazing sun, I rested in the cool interior of the Old Port Authority, the largest single building in Booty Bay. In addition to being the base for the local government (what little there was) it also acts as an indoor marketplace.

“Excuse me?” inquired a youthful voice.

I turned to see a well-dressed human woman with long blonde hair, probably in her late adolescence.

“Are you undead?” she asked.

“I am.”

“Really?”

“Yes.”

“But you’re one of those Forsaken, right?”

“That is correct.”

“I’ve never seen someone undead before! Sorry if this seems really rude, but may I take a picture?” She held up a photo-recorder of the same make as mine. I complied, trying to smile as pleasantly as possible.

Her name was Alima Corwyn, the youngest daughter of a Stormwind noble. She arrived mere hours before I did, which was why I was the first Forsaken she had seen.

“So is House Corwyn here for diplomatic purposes?” I asked.

“Stormwind already has an embassy here. My family is just on vacation.”

“I did not know this was a popular holiday destination.”

“All the nobles go here! The richer clans in Ironforge also come down to visit. It’s been the place to go for the past couple years, though this is my first time here. I love it though, it’s so exciting! I mean, I’d have never been able to meet a living, breathing... er, excuse me, an... well, a Forsaken in Eastvale Logging Camp.”

“I should warn you that Forsaken in other areas may not be very friendly.”

“Oh, I know that. But this place seems safe. The Bruisers keep a close eye, especially in places like the Old Port Authority. If you tried to eat my brains or something, you’d be in for a beating,” she giggled. “Sorry, was that offensive?”

“No, not really. How did you get here? By boat?”

“Yes. It was really strange though, we didn’t stop in Moonbrook and they said that bandits had taken it over. Can you believe that?”

“I went by there, I saw it myself. Westfall has more than its share of problems.”

“The goblin captain didn’t know too much about it but my parents both said that they’re going to try to send an army or get something done over there. It’s horrible! In fact we had our mage send out a message while we were on the ship, though it turns out the people in Stormwind already know. They said they had it under control but I’ve got to wonder about that. I’m not going to worry about it right now though. Uh oh, I’d better go. I promised my parents I’d be back before sundown.”

Alima left, thanking me for letting her take a picture. Perhaps a pleasure cruise is an unusual avenue to raise awareness about the bloodshed in Westfall, but it will be well worth it if it helps.

When the sun sinks below the horizon, dots of light from hundreds of torches create a soft and festive illumination. I headed to the southern arm of the bay, finding an inn called the Salty Sailor Tavern. The inn stands through and around the hulk of a goblin caravel that was damaged in a storm while shipping food to the burgeoning colony. It is the only hotel in the city that actually owned and operated by the Steamwheedle Cartel.

I got a pleasant surprise when I went to purchase a room.

“Your name please?” asked the goblin proprietor.

“Destron Allicant.”

“Hmm, a Forsaken named Destron Allicant—ah, Spirra put in a good word for you. The first two nights are free, and the next two nights are half-cost. After that it’s full-price.”

I spent a relaxing night and got up early the next morning. A squall of rain had hit during the night but was gone soon after dawn. I was sitting at a table in the common room when an obviously wealthy goblin came in, followed by a tauren. As it turned out, the goblin was Baron Revilgaz, the administrator of Booty Bay. Though his office was in the Old Port Authority he did most of his work in the Salty Sailor Tavern. Because of his high position in the Cartel everything he ordered was on the house. The tauren was Admiral Seahorn, the leader of the Blackwater Raiders. Curious, I asked Seahorn how he had gotten to be in charge of a gang of mostly human and goblin pirates.

“I was born 32 years ago in the southern Barrens. Eventually I got bored, went east, and here I am.”

He declined to get much more descriptive than that. Revilgaz was much more talkative. Like most goblin nobles, he had bought his title.

“Aye, some parents give titles to their children but no one respects those nobles.” He spoke with a harsh, scratchy voice.

“Can anyone buy a title?”

“Anyone with enough money. It’s heavy on the coin, and plenty of fools go broke because of it.”

“Who gives it out?”

“The Title and Deed Company. They’re one of the last remnants of the bad old days, when we had kings. Maybe it was a bit silly to purchase a baron rank but I figured I’d earned the right to make a foolish purchase or two.”

“How did you become the leader of Booty Bay?”

“I’m not really the leader, at least not in the way you northfolk understand it. I made the deal with the Blackwater Raiders and claimed the area for the Steamwheedle Cartel, though some of the Venture swabs would say otherwise. My only job here is to ensure that Booty Bay makes money for the Cartel, which translates into protecting it. You know, from trolls and the Bloodsail Buccaneers.”

“There aren’t any taxes?”

“Not taxes so much as fees. If you want to set up shop here you have to purchase or rent a building. The trade here is lucrative enough that most merchants would sell their arms for a piece of the action. Though I suppose that wouldn’t mean much if the merchant’s a troll!” He guffawed loudly at his own joke.

“What about the poorer neighborhoods? How do they afford it here?”

“Houses at the waterline are miserable places to live, so we don’t charge much. The goblins there provide a convenient labor pool anyway.”

“I take it then that the trade with Kezan and Kalimdor are quite profitable?”

“They fetch gold, sure. A lot of money comes from rich Alliance types who like to have this as their tropical getaway, and Horde warriors taking a break from Grom’gol.”

“Is there any trouble between the two?”

“There was at first. I made object lessons out of the troublemakers, and it’s usually been quiet since then. It’s important that I present Booty Bay as being a safe place. The Alliance tourists aren’t going to come if it was some seedy den like Ratchet. The Horde are more rough and tumble, but frankly I don’t feel as much need to cater to them. Anyway the Horde seems content enough with Booty Bay in its current state. The two sides usually keep to their own sections of town.”

Before I left to explore more of the town, I inquired about Spirra.

“So you’re the deader she helped out? Spirra’s doing well enough, we got her on a low-level job with a team of other surveyors up in Mistvale Valley. Dangerous place, but she’s a tough one.”

“Will she be able to pay off the debt?”

“If she does her job, sure! Those Skyskipper zeppelins are just about obsolete anyway, she won’t have to get much to pay it off.”

“She was very keen on repaying it.”

“Spirra’s good but she’s old-fashioned. I mean, from a couple centuries ago old-fashioned. Most goblins don’t have any trouble accepting charity. Anything to get you ahead, right?”

I was tempted to give Baron Revilgaz some money to put into her account. Yet, remembering how vehemently she refused my offer I decided it would be disrespectful to do so. Instead I asked Revilgaz to give Spirra my thanks the next time he saw her.

That day I was reacquainted with an old friend of mine, the black goblin miracle known as coffee. While the goblins produce their share of wines and liquors, they generally prefer drinks that stimulate the mind rather than dull it. The coffee that I drank as a student in Dalaran was watered down. Goblin coffee is much stronger, meaning that I could taste it. Goblins frequently drink in the middle of the day, indifferent to the intense heat. Numerous stands serve small clay cups of coffee, often heavily mixed with sugar or peppers. The goblins are somehow able to down the boiling coffee in a single gulp.

Revilgaz offered a rather glowing description of Booty Bay, but one can never get the full picture by asking the local authorities. I went to the lower levels of the city. Dark and claustrophobic (perhaps less so by goblin standards), they stink of rotting fish. I saw very few beggars, which surprised me. I found the reason when I asked a goblin woman named Hully who made a meager living by making fish hooks.

“Beggars try to stay in the upper levels, where stupid humans and elves give them money. Goblins don’t give money, we take it. But we’ve got plenty of thieves here, so watch your pocket. Those beggars would be robbed blind if they tried to pull their scams in this part of town.”

“How long have you lived here?”

“Since my shipping company went under, six years ago. I’d finally saved up enough money to buy my own ship, a neat little merchantman. I worked as an independent transportation contractor for Far Trade Shipping. Usually I sent spices up to Moonbrook.”

“What happened?”

“First Moonbrook was destroyed. I figured, no big deal, I can find a new market. Then these damn Blackwater Raiders looted the ship. Now they’re the bastards protecting me.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Not as sorry as I am to experience it.”

“What are your plans for the future?”

“Get money somehow. Most goblins end up down in the gutter once or twice in their lives. Easy come, easy go and all that. So long as I don’t die poor, I’m happy.”

Many of the poorer goblins echoed Hully’s sentiment. Goblin society is relatively fluid. This is not to say it is easy to become rich, merely that it is easier than in most other cultures. At the same time, it is childishly simple to end up in the poorhouse. Unlike the clannish dwarves the goblins cannot really count on others to help them through hard times. Family ties are quite loose, and in some cases nonexistent. The goblins have a reputation for being good friends, but interestingly enough this does not seem to apply between goblins. Most goblins say that their best friends are from other races. The cynic in me wondered if this is simply because goblins think they can easily take advantage of non-goblins. Though I admire the freedom the goblins enjoy, they are disturbingly callous in many respects.

Not all goblins are free. Debt slavery is atrociously common among the goblins. Entrepreneurs often borrow money in order to finance poorly thought out schemes. If they came to ruin, they must often serve as slaves to their debtors. On my fourth day there I spoke to a goblin slave named Pirrig. He worked on Janeiro Point, a rocky island on which stands a huge statue of a goblin merchant, his arms outstretched to welcome visitors and customers. Pirrig’s job was to make sure the statue stayed clean, somewhat difficult given the mold that frequently springs up from the rains.

“I had some business plans though they did not work out very well. It was stupid of me to think that centaurs would want to buy silk robes, I suppose. Still, I’m sure they’d have some interest in the finer things...”

“What is life as a slave like?”

“Let me tell you; it all depends on who owns you. If you’re smart, you come up with a plan and a good advertisement. Then you try to borrow money from an outfit like the Steamwheedle Cartel. That way, if it falls through, you end up a Steamwheedle slave like myself and it’s not too bad. You can’t usually buy stuff for yourself, but you get meals and they treat you fairly. So long as you pull your weight that is. If you laze off you can still end up in prison, and that’s not good.”

“Other owners are less forgiving?”

“Most are worse, a few might be better though most say that the Cartel’s one of the best. But may the nonexistent spirit or deity of your choice help you if you can’t pay back Barterbolt Enterprises! As for becoming a debt slave to a private trader, it all depends on him. He could be decent or thoroughly rotten.”

“Then slaves have no legal recourse?”

“The laws are on paper, but no one really enforces them. Why should they? I mean we’ve got real things like trolls and demons to worry about.”

“Doesn’t that bother you?”

“No. I ended up okay. You’ve just got to be smart in borrowing. Let me tell you, some goblins try to make a living by going into debt slavery for groups like Steamwheedle. Of course, they usually get figured out before they get very far. I’d rather be a Steamwheedle slave than be free and poor. If you’re a smart slave, you’ll work at making good connections. I might actually become a Cartel employee after I’m done as a slave. I don’t think the independent scene agrees with me much anyway.”

Slaves who are not goblins often have a much more hostile view to the institution, which is entirely justifiable. Members of hostile factions are sometimes captured and made into slaves. Assuming they are not sold (as was the case with the gnoll I had met in the jungle) they work to pay off the damages caused by their group’s actions. This sometimes amounts to a life sentence as a slave. The Steamwheedle Cartel does not usually engage in slave raids, though they are known to do so on occasion.

Regardless of the benefits some slaves received, I was disgusted by the concept. I left Janeiro Point in a dark mood. While the lot of a Steamwheedle slave is incontestably better than a Scourge drone (as I had once been) it is too similar for my liking.

Despite that, I still found much I liked about goblin society, though I doubt I would wish to live there permanently. Booty Bay is certainly a magnificent city, and I found myself reluctant to leave. Even so, I felt a strong desire to see Kalimdor.



Before doing anything else I needed to buy more materials for my human disguise. Though Orgrimmar would be a more convenient post-Undercity destination, I decided that I would first see the lands of the night elves, to the north of the orcish realms.

Late in my last afternoon in the goblin city I rested at a table in the Salty Sailor Tavern, nursing a cup of coffee as I examined my notes. I found it hard to believe that I had traveled so far. It was then that I had the pleasure of meeting a fellow Forsaken named Felya Winthrop, to whom I am indebted for distributing this manuscript.

“You haven’t been to Kalimdor yet? Oh you must! Really, it’s marvelous!” exclaimed Felya.

“So I’ve heard. I take it you’ve been there before?”

“Of course, I practically live there. I simply adore Thunder Bluff and Orgrimmar.”

I smiled.

“Most Forsaken seem to prefer Undercity.”

“Well I like Undercity too. It’s got this splendidly macabre atmosphere after all, no other place has anything remotely similar. I mean yes, there’s the Scourge, but the Plaguelands are rather dreary when compared to Tirisfal.”

“In all fairness Undercity was originally built by Arthas,” I pointed out.

“Yes, and if he stayed there it’d be as dull as Stratholme! But he ran up to Northrend and we took it over, gave it a nice dash of style I daresay.”

“I suppose we did. What inspires you to travel?”

“What inspires me? Oh darling, what doesn’t inspire me!” she laughed. “It would just be horribly silly for me not to. Take Booty Bay for instance, marvelous city next to the ocean right? It’s also dreadfully humid, but since I’m dead I barely notice it! Believe me, I’d have never gotten up the courage to see Kalimdor or Stranglethorn or anywhere else if I were still alive. Yes, I can’t smell or taste or feel as well as I used to but I can see oh so much more!”

“Good point. What were you in life?”

“A priestess, of sorts. I joined the Order of Mercy when my family fell on hard times though I didn’t much care for life in the Order. I mean, the people there were darling but it wasn’t the life for me.”

“Order of Mercy, I think I remember them. They were a charitable organization, correct?”

“Exactly. I still consider myself a priest actually. Of the Light, not that unpleasant shadow thing some of the other Forsaken priests talk about. Fine, I don't actually use the Light. It's rather painful for our kind. But I still believe in what it has to say, which makes me as much a part of the faithful as anyone in Stormwind or Khaz Modan!”

“You believe in the standard doctrine?”

“No, not quite the standard. I’m sure those bores over in Northshire Abbey would probably call me a heretic or some such nonsense. Yet I think I’m closer to the truth then them, and I’m having more fun besides.”

“What exactly do you believe, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“I don’t mind at all. The Light connects us all, doesn’t it? Many of the holy folk who became Forsaken were terribly upset, and so was I at first. After all I’d devoted my life to the Light, and then I become undead? I mean who’d ever heard of a thing like that! Then I realized I hadn’t been following the Light at all. When I was in the Order of Mercy I was miserable, and by extension making everyone else glum. And if you think about it, you can’t really make someone happy even if you give them all the alms, or indeed all the money, in the world. So not only was I unhappy, I wasn’t necessarily making other people happy either. I’m the only person I can make happy so I made that my new goal.”

“I can see how that would fit into the doctrine of the Light.”

“This isn’t to say that I go around doing awful things to people. If that’s what makes you happy than something’s wrong with you! Just that I do more or less as I please, and why not? Undeath has given me so many more options than life. I really can’t imagine why the humans, tauren, elves, and all that don’t embrace undeath. I think they’d be much happier if they did.”

“Do you think they would ever do that willingly?”

“I’m sure they will once they wake up and see how much fun we’re having, though those doom-and-gloom Forsaken don’t help matters much. It will take a while, maybe a few centuries. Fortunately you and I have a few centuries! More than that, really. The living shouldn’t be forced to be undead, that’s wrong and silly anyway. They’ll do it on their own, eventually.”

I talked with Felya for a while longer before she went off with a pair of other Forsaken to go shopping in the upscale boutiques of Booty Bay. It was interesting to see such a cheerful Forsaken, though in truth I doubt that such an attitude could ever become common in Undercity.

I went out to the balcony, (formerly the ship’s prow) to watch the brilliant colors of sunset. Booty Bay is blessed with a spectacular view of the west. The docks and quays teem with ships from all across the world. I never imagined that so many different groups could coexist in one city the way they do in Booty Bay. I do not think that the Horde and Alliance will ever become fond of each other, though Booty Bay (and the brief period of time after the Battle of Mt. Hyjal) suggest that tolerance might at least be possible. With the Burning Legion and Scourge threatening all life and freedom, there may not be any other choice.

7 comments:

  1. Very well written, my favorite area in game so far! Did not leave me dissapointed.

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  2. Brilliant! This is my favorite area in game, and you definately didn't let me down. The first paragraph where Destron enters Booty Bay is absolutely beautiful!

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  3. First paragraph, "I'm a good pilot dammit!" should be, "I'm a good pilot, dammit!" :) Let me know if you tire of the Comma Patrol, will you? LOL

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  4. Hey, sorry it took me a week finish. But look I'm commenting and everything, just like you asked. I felt like the beginning (the crash) and ending (Booty Bay) of this segment were actually quite good. You did a good job writing the character interactions and descriptions of the scenery. You lost me a little bit in the middle. I wasn't really digging all the history about the trolls or the slogging through the jungle. But once Destron gets to Booty Bay, things liven up nicely. And now I can say I've actually read some of this.

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  5. "fill the dusty air of Grom’gol" - in the previous paragraph you had mentioned that Destron arrived at Grom'gol during a rainstorm. Wouldn't everything be muddy and unconducive to dustiness?

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  6. To think that we've already finished the eastern kingdoms... it feels like a much longer time than the few scattered hours that I've actually spent reading this.

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  7. Thanks! Keep reading; the best is yet to come.

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