Monday, October 8, 2007
The Swamp of Sorrows
The cold roads of Deadwind Pass descend into a marsh that is hot, humid, and alive. The sounds of chirping birds and clicking insects are a welcome relief after the deathly silences of Deadwind Pass and Duskwood. The bloody chaos of Westfall is likewise absent.
It took a full day to navigate the slippery road leading down into the swamp proper. A ferocious rainstorm struck a little after noon, but let up well before evening. Short-lived downpours occur with clockwork regularity nearly every day. The rainstorms sometimes last considerably longer.
I came across an orcish watchtower late in my second day in the swamp. The marshy ground caused the north-facing side to sink into the mire, making it stand askew. A group of lightly armed orcish scouts watched the area, which is called Shatterspear Junction. They were surprised to see me; I was the first Hordeling to have come through Deadwind Pass in four months.
“I have seen Deadwind Pass. I do not think it is avoided because it is dangerous; merely that it is a gloomy land, and it does not lead anywhere of much interest. At least not for humans,” said Tantra.
Tantra Blackfang was the warrior in charge of Shatterspear Junction. She worked and fought for the creation of both Hammerfall and Kargath. As she was somewhat battle-weary, Warlord Goretooth in Kargath sent her to the orcish community in the Swamp of Sorrows where, she said, “nothing much ever happens.” She did not seem to mind this. Tantra invited me to the room at the top of the watchtower, where we shared a meal of roast crocolisk. Outside, sheets of rain crashed down on the swamp.
“The Horde also has the town of Stonard in this region, correct?”
“Yes. Shatterspear is just an outpost. We used to send raiding party against human shipments to Nethergarde. There have not been any for a long while though.”
“Stormwind is a dying nation, from what I have seen.”
“Ha! A fitting fate.”
“It’s not something to laugh about.”
“You still feel loyalty to your clan?” she asked. For some orcs, the concepts of nation and clan are interchangeable.
“I’m from Lordaeron, not Stormwind, if that’s what you mean. What do you think would replace Stormwind if it fell? The Old Horde, perhaps?”
“Wise words, wise words. I do not see any reason to trust humans though. Dead or alive,” she smirked.
“So why maintain Shatterspear when human caravans no longer come through?” I asked.
“It is always good to have a place where the younglings can test their mettle. This is not a terribly dangerous land, but it is not the soft life of a town. The youths of Stonard deserve a place like this. An orcish village once stood here, did you know? It was called Kyross, destroyed in the First War.”
“I know of Kyross, though I did not know I was inside it.”
The Battle of Kyross was the second large-scale battle of the First War, after the Horde’s disastrous assault on Stormwind Keep. The humans were victorious in both, leading to an overconfidence that sowed the seeds of their ultimate downfall.
Tantra gave me some remarkable news the next morning. To the north of Shatterspear is a village called the Harborage, inhabited by a handful of the surviving draenei. Until that point, I had no idea that any draenei existed on this world. Tantra said that the draenei in the Harborage were a spent and exhausted people. Not even their blood hatred of orcs remained, and I could freely visit in my true form.
I followed the road, or what passed for one, for another day. Walking in the swamp is like walking through water. The air is always thick with moisture. The Swamp of Sorrows is a dim place, and the sun never fully penetrates the thick canopy. Openings in the trees provide a view of a hazy sky, often covered with roiling, rain-filled clouds. Thunder booms through the swampy thicket during the frequent storms, though never loud enough to completely drown out the sounds of ambient life. The trunks of many of the trees begin a foot or two above the ground, supported by immense root systems that reminded me of a spider’s legs.
The ground is less solid than it appears. Much of the Swamp of Sorrows consists of muddy islands clustered in what is really a vast lake. Following Tantra’s directions, I turned north, away from the road, at a massive tree that had been split in two. I was soon calf-deep in muck, though an even greater surprise lay in wait for me as I neared the water. I took a step next to a tree, only to feel the ground move beneath me. I hopped back and promptly slipped off my feet. Getting up, I saw the piece of land on which I had stepped was drifting away from the rest of the island. The suddenly mobile chunk of earth (which was at least a few yards across) flowed through the tree roots, lazily floating off into the water.
As I neared the Harborage, I tried to remember what little I knew of the draenei. The only races that had any sustained contact with the draenei were the orcs and ogres. The ogres do not keep any kinds of records, and the old orcish lore is not considered reliable.
What is known was that the draenei were a relatively peaceful agricultural race. Unlike the orcs, they lived in small towns and cities built in the vast red plains of their world. Contact between the two races was minimal but generally cordial. A few records even indicate that they held philosophical beliefs with many strange parallels to the Holy Light.
The draenei were the first to fall victim to the Horde, and for some time it was believed that the draenei were completely exterminated. Fortunately, it is not as easy as it might seem to wipe out a race, and a few of them survived.
The periphery of the Swamp of Sorrows has firmer ground compared to the sinking morass in the center. I knew that the Redridge Mountains were just to the north, and wondered how the people of Lakeshire fared against the Old Horde.
I came face to face with a draenei three days after leaving Shatterspear. I literally collided with him as he walked through the forest. His gait was stiff, and upon our collision he simply stopped and stared at me. His pale blue skin hung in folds from worn flesh, and his impassive face resembled a stone. He stood on stocky, digitigrade legs, and wore only a hood and a loincloth.
The draenei ambled off to the north without saying a word. I called after him but he did not respond. I followed him until I came to the clearing in which the Harborage stood.
The draenei structures are made of hide, wood, and woven reeds. In design they look a bit like a giant, hollowed out root or tuber. Each hut has only a single room, to which one gains access via an earthen ramp. This was, I learned, to prevent the huts from being flooded during the heavy rains.
The Harborage was filled with draenei who stared at me with dull curiosity as I came into their homes. They looked wretched and tired, beaten down by the world. I experienced an otherworldly feeling as I walked into the Harborage, with its huts of beautiful yet alien design.
“You are of the Horde?” inquired a hollow voice. I looked ahead to see a powerfully built draenei walking towards me. Another, whom I took to be the one I met earlier, stood behind him.
“I am. I mean no harm.”
“It is easy for us to forget which races are which. We see so few. I am Magtoor, the Elder of the Lost.” He bowed slightly as he introduced himself.
“I am Destron Allicant, of the Forsaken.”
“We have heard the name of your kind mentioned. I will offer you what I can, but it is not much.”
“Actually, information would suffice. I’m a scholar.”
“Oh! We once had scholars among our number. They perished with our cities though. Please, follow me.”
Magtoor spoke with the other draenei, who nodded and went back into the wild.
“Who is that?” I asked.
“Amasha. He forages for the village, and announced to me your presence.”
“He seemed a bit distracted when I met him.”
“Amasha does not speak any of this world’s languages. His mind is not what it once was, I fear.”
I followed Magtoor into the largest of the draenei houses. The interior was comfortably dry, aromatic smoke rising up from an incense burner. A number of scrolls, vibrantly illuminated with dreamlike landscapes and figures, were spread out on a crude table.
“I fear that even I have forgotten much about our civilization. The longer we spend here, the more the recollections fade away. Already, some of our number cannot coherently recall any life outside of this swamp. Soon we may be as animals,” sighed Magtoor. I paused for a moment, wondering if any response could be remotely adequate. Magtoor stared off into space, unaware of my silence.
“My ignorance of this world is great,” he said suddenly. “Tell me, are you some form of human? I know there is a relation between the humans and the Forsaken,” said Magtoor.
“I suppose you could say that. Forsaken are basically undead humans. Some of us are elves.”
“I have been told of the elves but I have not met one. We hardly know the present and it is painful for us to remember the past. I think that is why we are forgetting. Draenor was once a beautiful world. To know that it has been irrevocably shattered is terrible. We must remember the past, even though we do not wish to.”
“Would it be accurate to say that you have achieved a new civilization here?”
“That is probably too grand a word for it.”
Looking around the interior of the hut, I noticed intricate, abstract carvings coiling up the wooden supports.
“What do the engravings there represent?” I asked.
“They were... are, I suppose, important to the draenei. I cannot recall precisely what they mean, other than that they contain much holiness. I shall show you how the spirit of the Harborage is maintained.”
Magtoor stood, and opened up a cylindrical chest made of an azure metal I had before never seen. Within were blue crystal shards that pulsed gently in the hut’s dusky light. Symbols, like runes, briefly spun into existence around the shards before sinking back into soft illumination.
“Those are beautiful,” I said.
“These are draenethyst crystals. In better times, these amplified the spirits of our people. Now they remind us of who we are. Come, the Evening Prayer is to begin.”
Magtoor stepped out of the hut, cradling the draenethyst in his withered arms. He began singing, his voice creating an ethereal hymn that suggested qualities of immense antiquity. The other draenei gathered in the Harborage, many of them carrying crystals of their own.
Magtoor placed the crystals in a hemispheric pattern at his front, and the others followed suit. A multitude of draenic voices produced a complex harmony. I detected three separate and distinct melodies that seamlessly intertwined into a greater whole. The draenethyst shards glowed more intensely.
The singing died down, and Magtoor began to speak in Draenic. The draenethyst glowed nearly as bright as the sun. Magtoor would speak for a time, and then the other draenei would respond in unison. A vitality not previously apparent grew to a nearly overpowering presence in the decrepit Harborage.
Magtoor finally went silent and the light of the crystals dimmed. The draenei picked up the draenethyst shards and took them inside, resuming their tasks as if there had been no previous interruption.
Magtoor explained that four prayers were said throughout the day, always exactly the same.
“I cannot say for certain to whom or what our prayers are directed. The words are written in my scrolls however.”
“What role does the draenethyst play?”
“The crystals amplify the hope contained in the words. I do not know what the hope is; only that it is hope. Even then it is not enough. Many of our kind have gone mad.”
“How do you mean?”
“We were never meant to live here. The prayers, the draenethyst... it was not enough for the weaker draenei. They now roam the marshes in maddened rage, cutting down all they see. That is why we place such importance on rituals. I would prefer it if we had some way of really understanding them, yet we do not! The prayers have a powerful effect though. For a while we see ourselves as we once were: strong, wise, and good. Perhaps a few draenei are still that way. Maybe we can attain that someday.”
“Do you believe it is possible to return to that state?”
“I have no alternative but to believe.”
Magtoor showed me some artistic representations of the old draenei. Though the art was heavily stylized, the draenei portrayed were much larger and stronger than the Lost Ones. The old draenei had brilliant blue skin and tendrils that grew from their chins, like fleshy beards, as well as tails.
Another prayer, the Night Prayer, was recited before the Harborage went to sleep. I spent the next day trying to get more information about the draenei but it was difficult. Only three of the draenei in the Harborage could speak Orcish, and only Magtoor spoke it with proficiency.
“Our existence is dedicated mostly to survival. I have tried to get my fellows to speak the Orcish language, yet it has proven almost impossible for them. I even suspect that it may have a corrupting effect. Some of those who did learn it were among the first to go mad.”
The draenei lived off the swamp, primarily through foraging and fishing. Their population was small, though I wondered how they avoided consuming all the local resources. Magtoor explained that the Lost Ones had a vastly slowed metabolism (though he did not describe it in those words) and could get by with very little.
There were only a few children in the Harborage, and they sadly seemed as disoriented as their parents. In their previous forms, there was a good deal of sexual dimorphism among the draenei, as much as with humans or orcs. The physical differences of gender among the Lost Ones are not obvious to outsiders like myself. Stillbirths and miscarriages were all too common, and those infants who did survive rarely became very healthy.
A surprising visitor came to the Harborage on my third day there, an elderly orcish shaman named Thok Wolfeye who lived in nearby Stonard. Two warriors and an apprentice shamaness, one Agra Redblade, accompanied him.
The Harborage first refused entry to the orcs. This was completely understandable as the orcs were directly responsible for the draenei’s miserable condition. But as more and more of the draenei descended into madness, Magtoor had no choice but to open the town’s doors to his old enemies. In their favor, the orcs wish to help, to make up for their staggering atrocities in some small way.
Thok was amazed to see a Forsaken in the Harborage, though he was much more friendly than Tantra.
“The only hope for the draenei, I believe, is to take the path of the shaman. The world of Draenor is lost, they must embrace the spirits of this world,” said Thok.
The orcs murdered most of the draenei by the time Thok came of age. Despite that, I could tell that the sins of his people still weighed heavily on his aged shoulders.
“They seem attached to their old beliefs.”
“Naturally. Yet I fear that it only provides a temporary reprieve from their miseries, and that it cannot heal their spiritual wounds.”
“What do the orcs of Stonard do for the draenei”
“We attempt to teach the draenei to more wisely use the resources at their disposal. There is much they could do in this land, so long as they are willing.”
I had to concede that Thok had a point. The Lost Ones seemed to be in a position similar to that of the Forsaken in that they are consumed with memories of the past. Though nostalgia provides comfort in a bleak present, it is ultimately a dead end. While the intense hatred of most Forsaken is self-destructive, it at least provides some impetus for action. The Lost Ones are stuck in a downward spiral of entropy.
Thok invited me to accompany him to Stonard, but I declined. Before seeing Stonard I wished to explore more of the Swamp of Sorrows. Thok complimented what he saw as my bravery, though he warned me that I should avoid the Pool of Tears.
“There is an ancient troll temple there, shunned by the Darkspear. For good reason, if half of what they say is true. Insane trollish cultists of an evil god made the place their sanctuary in ages past. There are also dragonkin in the swamps around the temple, so it is best avoided.”
As I left the Harborage, I wished Magtoor success in forging a new home for himself and the Lost Ones. I hope that they are able to do so.
Even my desire for knowledge was not so great as to risk the wrath of dragonkin, so I followed Thok’s advice and avoided the Pool of Tears. The swamp grows steadily thicker and wilder in the east, the sky completely blotted out by the moss-draped branches.
My destination was the coastline of the Swamp of Sorrows, the Misty Reed Strand. Thok informed me that there was little worth seeing there, save for a small Horde outpost in the south. Perhaps my real motivation was simply to reflect upon the draenei. I also found something about the environment in the Swamp of Sorrows strangely compelling. I suspect that this was simply because it was a refreshing change from the previous regions in which I had traveled. I doubt I would have enjoyed it was much if I were still living and was made to experience the full heat and humidity.
I encountered a few of the maddened draenei. They dwell in crude shelters throughout the northern swamp, often built around large pieces of draenethyst. I did not stay to observe their culture, though they seemed quarrelsome and bestial. At one point I was attacked by a ferocious draenei warrior. His assault was careless and clumsy, though quite fervent. Regretfully, I had to destroy him.
A week passed before I reached the coast, where the dense trees end abruptly at a beach of fine, powdery sand. Ubiquitous haze hangs over the slow waves of the mostly unexplored Forbidding Sea. A delicate mist clings to the narrow strand, the only sound coming from the gentle lapping of the waves and the cries of seabirds. It dawned on me just how far I had come from Tirisfal. I walked south along the beach, feeling as if I had reached the end of the world. I realized though, that there was still much more for me to see.
Over the next two days I occasionally saw murloc villages, to which I gave a wide berth. At noon on my third day at the Strand I noticed a simple rowboat of trollish make beached amidst the reeds. Its owner sat in the sand a few feet away, cooking fish over a fire. He was an aged troll, with the blue skin of one of the jungle tribes. He waved upon seeing me.
“It’s not too often I see folk coming down here. What’s your name?” he asked.
“Ah, one of the dead men? I’ve met a few of the dead before, not all bad. I’m Emperor Dan’jo of the Eastern Sea.”
Dan’jo was dressed in rags, not exactly what I would expect an emperor to wear.
“I see. Do you have any subjects?” I was not quite sure what to say.
“Ah, hmm, well you can be a subject if you want. Want some fish? I just caught some Misty Reed mahi mahi this morning, it’s good stuff man.”
“All right. I don’t need to eat much though, I’m... like you said, I’m dead.”
“However much you want. Are you a warrior? You don’t look like one to me, but I don’t know much about how dead people do things.”
“I’m a mage.”
“Ah!” Dan’jo picked up his fishing pole and waved it in the air four times. “As Emperor of the Eastern Sea, I declare Destron Allicant to be the First and Most Esteemed Death Mage of the Eastern Sea!”
“Never know when you could use a Death Mage, huh man?”
I sat down on the beach with the emperor, eating one of the fish he caught.
“Where are you from originally?” I asked.
“Down in Stranglethorn Vale. My father was a Bloodscalp and my mother a Darkspear. This was before the Darkspear were tossed out of the mainland.”
“How did you get here?”
“Ah, well it was a woman. Isn’t it always? Ha ha ha! I was a fine hunter, and I had my eye on Wash’akta, daughter of one of the great Bloodscalp warriors. He didn’t take much liking to me though, not at all.”
“He exiled you here?”
“Not quite. He said that I could have Wash’akta, but I had to do something for all the tribes first. We fought each other a lot in those days too, but trolls can get along in important situations. He talked to Chief Adda’chal of the Bloodscalp, and the chief said I should join a group of warriors and hunters that was being sent north. The trolls in the old city came up with the idea; they wanted us to see what the Atal’ai were up to.”
“I’ve heard of the Atal’ai before.”
“They aren’t good trolls, not one bit. You know what they used to be?”
“The priests of the Blood God, the Soulflayer. I won’t say his name, no smart troll would! Long ago they we kicked them out to the Swamp of Sorrows, away from everyone else. I don’t know why the Gurubashi wanted to send us to look in on the Atal’ai. We already knew the dragons smashed up their temple.”
“How many were in your group?”
“Twenty strong we were! Warriors of the Darkspear, Gurubashi, Bloodscalp, and Skullsplitter all at once. Even a few Zandalari if I’m remembering right. We got to the temple, and a foul place it was! Dead trolls that walked, kind of like you, and horrible monsters filled the halls. They took most of us into the shadows. I was the only one to get out of that temple.”
“Did you go back to Stranglethorn?”
“Of course man. What else could I do? I told the Gurubashi priests. They talked about it for a while, and then they returned to me. They said that my behavior was disgraceful. Can you imagine that? This isn’t some orc thing, man! We’re brave, like no one else, but a troll won’t do something stupid against impossible odds! I couldn’t stay in Stranglethorn, but I wasn’t setting foot back in that temple again so I drifted here. Decided I could run things better than them and made my own empire.” He nodded with satisfaction.
“How long have you been here?”
“Not sure really. I started living on the coast before the orcs came. I didn’t like the orcs too much at first, but they turned out to be decent fellows in the end. Some of them are my Imperial Guard, damn fine fighters too.”
I realized he had been living alone for at least 30 years. He had obviously not come through unaffected, but I still marveled at his tenacity. After finishing the fish, I explained I had business elsewhere. I was afraid he would try to make me stay, but he simply said that I would always have a place in his empire.
In all honesty, I must say that he was a better monarch than most (perhaps all) of the kings and emperors I have known of in my life.
I thought back to my time in the Hinterlands when I nearly ended up a sacrifice at Jintha’alor. The Revantusk witch doctor mentioned the Soulflayer, whom the Revantusk called Atal’hakkar. Such ominous signs pointed to a revival of Hakkar-worship, giving the world yet another problem.
A day later I turned west, seeking Stonard. After a while I came upon Misty Reed Post, a small orcish encampment near the beach. The purpose of the camp is actually to guard against the murloc presence. Due to all the watery channels in the swamp, it would be a simple matter for the murlocs to penetrate deep inland. The creatures seem able to live in both fresh and salt water.
“Dan’jo is a good emperor,” chuckled Norg Blackrune, an orcish warrior at the post. “I’m part of his Imperial Guard!” Norg’s amusement was clearly of an affectionate kind, not insulting, and for that I was glad.
“He had an interesting story about his time in the Temple of Atal’hakkar.”
“He’s told it to me. If the trolls are to be believed about the old Atal’ai, they were truly wicked beings. They presided over the ritualistic slaughter of thousands of trolls, which was why they were exiled.”
“Have you heard anything about Atal’ai influence spreading?”
“Something has made the Stranglethorn tribes restless, and there have been rumors of this Soulflayer. The tribes are an edgy bunch however, and I can’t say how accurate those sayings are. Either way, there are warriors at Grom’gol ready to take action if any threat arises!”
“Has the Horde conducted any investigation of the temple?”
“We sent a few warriors to scout the perimeter, but nothing more. There are not many trolls in Stonard but the ones that are there have been quite eager to go in and cleanse the temple. The Atal’ai are a blasphemy to them.”
“What do you think of assaulting the temple?”
“Honor demands that it be done eventually. The trolls of Darkspear are our friends. Yet we cannot afford to send our warriors to the temple. The humans of Nethergarde watch us from the south, and the swamp itself has many dangers, like murlocs.”
“Are attacks from Nethergarde common?”
“No, but we must be ready. We met the humans on the plain of battle a year ago. Nethergarde is not a city of workers and artisans, it is where mages plot and scheme. If Nethergarde grows much stronger I fear that the warriors of Stonard would have little chance against it.”
“Why have there not been attacks recently?”
“The Warchief ordered us to not attack Nethergarde unless the humans become more of a threat. Supply trains going through our territory are fair game, but we haven’t seen any in a long while. Sometimes I fear that the Warchief has become too softhearted. Still, he knows the treachery of humans, and expects us to ready our blades in event of war.”
“You would not consider the Temple of Atal’hakkar to be a very pressing threat then?”
“It is an evil place and it should be destroyed. But even the trolls, who have every reason to loathe that temple, understand that Nethergarde is more dangerous.”
Stonard is the oldest extant orcish town on this world. A few were built earlier in the areas adjacent to the Dark Portal, but they were all destroyed at the end of the Second War. Most significant of these was Rohk’ard (often incorrectly transliterated by human scholars as Rockard) in the north of what is today the Blasted Lands. The Alliance descended upon Rohk’ard with such ferocity that they even tore the foundations out from the ground and cast them into the dust. The orcs had abandoned Stonard before the humans arrived.
After the construction of Nethergarde there was some talk about keeping Stonard as a sort of museum. The idea only got limited support, and the town was left to the mire. When Draenor was destroyed, a few orcish refugees found sanctuary in the old city. They realized they were too few in numbers to even consider raiding human settlements so they kept to themselves. To some degree, the apathy that afflicted the interned orcs in the north was also a problem among the free orcs in Stonard.
When Thrall became the Warchief, he extended his hand to the orcs of Stonard. Stonard’s leader, a warlock of the old ways named Kartosh, was reluctant to accept but knew he had no choice. Soon, orcs carrying the ideals of the new Horde came to Stonard, revitalizing it materially and spiritually.
Stonard was the first real orcish town I visited. Hammerfall and Kargath are more military outposts than places where orcs live and work. In Stonard however, I saw the ebb and flow of daily life. Crowds of peons and traders walk between the (usually) circular orcish buildings, watched over by the warriors. The rough sound of Orcish (liberally peppered with Common and Dwarven loan words) fills the streets. Wooden planks lie on top of the dirt roads, acting as stable walkways when storms turn the streets to mud. It had just stopped raining when I arrived, and the heavy, raw smell of precipitation mixed with the smoky aroma of roasted meat produced by countless cook fires. The unadorned stones of the city are occasionally livened with the vibrant red and black banner of the Horde.
It was strange for me to see so many orcs engaged in domestic activities. I read accounts of orcish towns during the Second War, written by Alliance prisoners. What they described was similar to the miserable settlements I had found in the Burning Steppes. Those towns were stuffed with slave workers who were treated as chattel by brutish warriors. There was no trade or commerce, only preparation for endless war. Modern Stonard is a world apart. It is obviously not a human city, yet at the same time more similar than one might expect.
I believe that Stonard’s inn is actually fairly educational about orcish society. Orcish inns are arranged communally; there are no private rooms. Hammocks and mattresses are placed on the perimeter, while a great cooking fire burns in the center. It is not really far removed from a clan barracks. I have to say that I quite prefer human and dwarven inns for the privacy they offer. Still, a warm place to sleep should never be snubbed, even while undead.
Though a bustling place, Stonard is still not very large. The town is about the size of Darkshire in terms of population. I interviewed the locals over the next four days. While the majority come from Orgrimmar, a sizeable minority consist of the very last true remnants of the Thunderlord and Bonechewer Clans. Both clans fell out of favor with Ner’zhul (the de facto leader of the Horde in the years immediately following Doomhammer’s capture) after the Second War. Ner’zhul’s Shadowmoon Clan very nearly exterminated those clans. Even without Thrall’s influence, their clan identity eroded somewhat in the post-war era. Survival was a bigger priority than tradition.
I was pleased to again meet Thok Wolfeye. As a shaman of some esteem, his name was actually Thok’dan ('dan being an Orcish suffix denoting wisdom and experience), though he preferred to simply be called Thok. He had returned from the Harborage the day after I arrived in Stonard. Thok saw me exploring the town and greeted me as if I were an old friend. He invited me to his home, one of the submerged buildings sometimes called burrows. The burrow was located on the outskirts of town; it would not do, he explained, to live too far from the spirits of nature. A young apprentice named Lek shared the burrow with Thok. Agra, the shamanness I had seen at the Harborage, was being trained by a different shaman who lived farther out in the swamp.
Lek prepared some tea for us while we sat in the cool stone interior of the burrow. Rain lashed the swamps outside, making a loud clatter on the wooden roof.
“I’m heartened to see that you made it safely to Stonard. It is not the easiest journey through the swamps, especially if one does not know the spirits,” he said.
“As Forsaken, I do not have to worry as much about biological needs or limitations. It is quite an advantage when traveling.”
“How did you fare with the draenei?”
Thok let out a soft sigh, and shook his head.
“Every time I go to them, it seems as if they have sunken even farther into their own misery. I do not know what I can do! We teach them to become strong again, to forge their destiny as Thrall forged ours! But they do not want to. I still believe that they could do well as shamans, but they are not willing.”
“What do you know about their beliefs prior to the genocide?”
“Very little, I fear. The elders never spoke much of the draenei, other than that they were weak and deserving of their fate. I only saw a single unaltered draenei. Did you see the art in the Harborage?”
“Of the old draenei? Yes.”
“They were as big as orcs once! The one I saw was a slave to Rul’gan Blackhand, the same Blackhand that was Warchief for much of the First War. We called him the Wretch. Even the peons heaped scorn on him, though I learned he was once a formidable warrior. I too mocked him as he stumbled blindly in the camps. They had put out his eyes.” Thok grimaced at the memory.
Lek came with two clay cups of tea. Thok thanked him, and handed me one of the cups.
“I heard that during the First and Second Wars, there were very few shamans in the Horde.”
“Indeed, most became warlocks. I myself was a warrior in the Blackrock Clan. My skill with the ax was great enough that I was in the first scout party to enter the Dark Portal.”
“What was that like?”
“It is difficult to remember. The fel blood of demons twisted the mind in strange ways. In those days, I would not have even been capable of speaking to you the way I am now. Orcish thoughts and memories were distorted and simplified. I do know that we fell upon a small human camp and killed those within.”
Thok must have attacked a Ralmanni band, as no Stormwinders had ever lived near the Dark Portal.
“Everything in our lives was dedicated to the shedding of blood and the destruction of the weak. The land itself began to die, just as the northlands rot under the Scourge. Long before it was destroyed, our corruption seeped into the soil of Draenor, killing it slowly from within. If the spirits of Draenor still live, I think they would shun the orcs.”
As Thok seemed to be distressed, I tried to veer the subject in a different direction.
“Do the orcs worship the spirits?”
“Not exactly. We respect and honor them. We could do no less, as we live on their land. My people do not follow gods, yet our great ancestors become like gods.”
“We revere those who came before us. Some who reached great heights live on eternally, in legend and story. As an example, Tang’ulth the Wolf was the first orc to bond with the fearsome wolf spirits of Draenor, thousands upon thousands of years ago. Now he rides forever as a spirit of the orcs, as shamans like myself tell the tales of his adventures. I have no doubt that Thrall will one day number among them.”
“Is there something like spiritual life after death?”
“Our honor lives on. If our deeds are great, they will be remembered by our descendents. Upon death the soul goes to the Hall of Haedz, where the great heroes reside. Nag’thar the Sage judges the soul; if the dead orc led an honorable life, in which the spirits were respected and courage upheld, he shall be part of the memory of our race and live on in honor. If he was dishonorable, then his deeds shall be despised or forgotten and his soul will be annihilated.”
“Were these beliefs maintained during the First and Second Wars?”
“Yes, though only in a horrible way. We shamed the heroes of old by replacing them with demons.”
“And then Thrall returned the orcs to the old ways.”
“You must remember that not all of the orcs forgot the old ways. The noble Frostwolf Clan, to which Thrall was born, left us when we fell to the throes of demon-worship. When Thrall found them, they taught him. In turn, he taught us.”
I took a sip of the tea, which tasted quite sweet.
“I have done dark things under the banner of the Horde. I was a monster who killed without regard. I cannot place all the blame upon Ner’zhul and the demons; corrupted though we were, some part of us welcomed the corruption. That is how demons work. They are crafty, and nurture the dishonor we all carry in our hearts. No matter what I do, no matter what appeal I make to the spirits, I can never be fully redeemed. In Haedz, it is questionable if my soul will be found honorable. I shall accept their judgement with joy, however. It is up to the new generation, like my apprentice Lek, to return the orcish people to honor. They will have honor that surpasses their fathers'.”
I talked with Thok for a while longer. I assured him that his attempt at redemption was quite honorable, to which he smiled and said that it was for Nag’thar to decide.
Returning to the inn, I sampled bloodmead for the first time. The base of the drink is fermented honey derived from the Draenor bloodbee. Despite the name, bloodbees are not any more aggressive than the honeybees of our world. The only difference is that they are colored red and are slightly bigger. Bloodbees came through the Dark Portal along with the orcs, and the grunts of the First and Second Wars practically lived on their product. Most of the bloodbees were destroyed along with Draenor. Many went to Lordaeron with the orcish armies but could not survive in the northern climate. The Swamp of Sorrows is the only place the bloodbees can survive, and thus Stonard the only town where bloodmead is commonly available. I did not really like the drink very much, though then again I never liked regular mead either.
The largest building in Stonard is the old Great Hall. Relatively little of the original structure remains. It had been constantly added to during the war years until it grew into a rambling building more like a small fortress. Warlord Dreadcry rules the town with a refreshingly light touch from an immense chamber at the center of the Great Hall. The warlord was visiting Shatterspear Junction at the time, and was not available to be interviewed. However a very interesting opportunity presented itself in the upper rooms of the Great Hall.
Kartosh the warlock had guided Stonard through the chaotic and uncertain years after Draenor’s collapse. Upon relinquishing control of the town to the new Horde, he stepped aside for Warlord Dreadcry, who at the time was a charismatic warrior subject to Kartosh. Yet Kartosh’s influence was still felt. He agreed to see me, and I went to his room in the second floor of the Great Hall.
Draped in a faded red robe, Kartosh sat in a shadowed corner of the room. Two servitors flanked him as he sipped bloodmead from the crown of an orcish skull. His lined face was exceptionally grim, though his lips turned up in a menacing smile when I came to his presence.
“Thrall has so much fear of the old ways, of the necrolytes and warlocks, yet here you are, an undead,” he laughed. “Do you have a name, undead?”
I truly despise it when I am called an “undead.” The term does not differentiate between Scourge and Forsaken. I swallowed my irritation and answered.
“Allicant? Ha, that is a Lordaeronian surname! A mockery of life who was once part of the Alliance, serving the Warchief. Do not take offense Destron, I do not have any objection to the undead. Undeath is a fitting avenue for the pursuit of power. I daresay I feel a kinship with the Forsaken.”
“Ah. From what clan do you hail?”
“I was once a Shadowmoon, though that name has fallen into ill-repute.”
“Interesting. Since many in Stonard were of the Thunderlord and Bonechewer Clans I’m surprised they would accept a Shadowmoon warlock as their leader,” I said.
“Strange times make for strange situations. I had the power and vision that they lacked. They would have destroyed themselves in futile battles against the humans. I kept them in line. There would be no Stonard today were it not for me.”
“What do you think of the current leadership in Stonard?”
“Dreadcry is a capable orc. I suppose it would have been inconvenient for Thrall to allow a warlock to remain in power.”
“Yet warlock activities are still permitted among the orcs, correct?” I had seen a few orcish warlocks visit Undercity in the past.
“In a manner of speaking. They are not warlocks that would have survived in Ner’zhul’s Horde however. They tiptoe around power like frightened children. They are not strong.”
“What exactly do you mean by ‘strong’?”
“A strong warlock embraces the infernal darkness. Weak ones cower at the idea, clinging to their notions of honor. I can no longer bring myself to care about such foolish concepts as honor or dishonor, or the even more ridiculous good and evil. Such issues are what the weak argue about. When someone weak is betrayed, he whines about dishonor. The betrayer, who becomes stronger, will be lauded by warriors as a hero.”
“That example does make many assumptions,” I protested.
“The same basic argument always applies,” replied Kartosh, with a dismissive wave of his hand.
“I would respectfully disagree. The betrayer could be well condemned by others for his action. As an example I might bring up Gul’dan—”
“Gul’dan was condemned because he failed. Had he succeeded we would all worship at his bloody altar.”
“Respect based on fear is hardly the same as respect based on virtue—”
Kartosh held up his hand.
“I’m rather disappointed. I thought the Forsaken were more realistic than the orcs. Yet you’ve proved as naive as any. I have other business to attend to, so you may leave my presence.”
Beneath his childish and self-serving cynicism, there is a grain of truth to Kartosh’s words. If one traces the lineage of royal lines back to their sources, one would probably find little to admire. However for Kartosh, such a belief merely serves to exonerate him from any evil that he committed. If evil deeds are not recognized as such, we are all obliged to expose their true nature.
I was rather baffled as to why Kartosh’s presence was tolerated in Stonard. His philosophy was a relic of the Old Horde, diametrically opposed to Thrall’s ideals. I asked the other orcs of Stonard about the warlock. Though the Thunderlords and Bonechewers rather disliked Kartosh, so too did they respect him. Most agreed when he said that Stonard would not have survived without his leadership. The new orcs are only vaguely aware of the old warlock. Kartosh rarely leaves the confines of the Great Hall. The few recent arrivals who do know Kartosh typically despise him. I talked to a newcomer who even suspected him of worshipping demons. I also learned that Kartosh is actually a demonic name, and not an orcish one.
I prepared to depart Stonard and venture into the Blasted Lands to the south. My unpleasant encounter with Kartosh aside, I rather liked Stonard. Though rough around the edges, it was gloriously civilized compared to most of the nearby lands I had visited. The sins of the Old Horde cannot be forgotten, yet the fact that the orcs are trying to make up for it in some way is reassuring.