Saturday, October 20, 2007
Lush and dark, the forests of Teldrassil provide a glimpse of primeval Azeroth. I cannot accurately describe the trees of that land, which loom over the land like gods. The elements of the forest are thick and wild, its verdant colors born from a fever dream. A purple sky adds a foreboding and alien touch to the realm. Swaths of soft grass and flowers grow around the gnarled roots of great trees, and between those giants grow smaller trees graced with leaves of faint pink and violet. The gentle lights of hovering wisps flicker ghostly in the dense woods beyond the road.
Old Nordrassil had towered over the other trees of this world, but was a mere sapling compared to Teldrassil. Staghelm invested every effort and resource to create a new beginning for his people. He did not aim to replace Mt. Hyjal, but to surpass it. Teldrassil’s forests nestle in the crown of the World Tree, sheltered by the immense branches stretching out over the waters of the Veiled Sea. No elves live on the wooden surface of the branches, instead making homes in the abundant wilderness at the center.
I do not want to create the impression that Teldrassil is some idyllic garden. The night elves love nature, so they also understand its cruelty. The loamy air that is so thick with life also holds raw menace. Predators roam the forest, just as vicious as they would be in any other land. I never felt entirely comfortable in the confines of Teldrassil, even with its breathtaking beauty. Part of me suspected that the forest would recognize me as an imposter and strike me down on the spot. But as is appropriate for nature, the forest was completely indifferent, taking no action for or against me.
The elves in Darnassus told me of a place called the Oracle Glade. The Oracle is a very specific type of woodland ancient that only communicates to a select few. In addition to keeping in touch with the ebb and flow of Teldrassil’s heart, it also possesses a limited precognitive ability. A rough pathway leads to the Oracle Glade in the north of Teldrassil. The journey there from the main road takes a little longer than a day.
I was astonished to find that the elves had actually paved the road. Somehow I had expected it to be a dirt path. Nature steadily encroaches onto the road, the pavement pushed back by moss and flowering vines. I stopped about halfway to the Oracle and set up a small campfire in a clearing. I had purchased several bags of goblin coffee back in Booty Bay, and decided to brew a cup while I rested. I'd grown quite fond of the drink. When made sufficiently strong, it is one of the few drinks that can really jolt my taste buds back to awareness.
The first spark of the fire had just flared to life when something struck the kindling. It was instantly soaked, as were my clothes. A shadow emerged from the roots of a nearby tree and I saw a sentinel standing over me.
“You should not light fires in this place, human,” she hissed.
“My apologies. I was not aware that it was against the law.”
“Your laws mean little in the wilds of Elune. What is your name, human?”
“Why are you here?”
“I came to see the Oracle.”
“Oh, that is funny! And why do you think the Oracle would deign to speak to you?”
“I merely wished to see it.”
“Very well Talus. There will be no fires from your spells in this place. Elune has little love for the arcane, and I have even less than She. Fire belongs to lightning and dry summers, not to mortals. Learn to take sustenance as it is without charring it. If you wish for something hot, the blood of game serves quite well. And if you think to make any more fires in this place, do not think that it will go unnoticed. For the wisps and owls will see, and then they shall bring it to me.”
With that charming statement, she vanished back into the shadows. As I was denied the use of a fire I decided to press north. Teldrassil is, in one respect, similar to the Plaguelands in that it is very difficult to distinguish night from day. It really does look as if it is in a perpetual twilight.
However, there is no mistaking the Oracle Glade. It is a strange tree growing at the top of a hill, the base shaped like a bear. Lanterns hang from the branches, accentuating Teldrassil’s soft darkness. Smooth stones make a circle around the Oracle, their surfaces covered in spirals and wriggling lines. Wildflowers cover the slopes in great masses, creating a heady smell suggestive of the deepest sleep.
A moonwell shines at the base of the hill, its incandescent waters swirling lazily in the stone basin. Next to it stood a priestess, who eyed me as I approached.
“Greetings stranger,” she said. “Why have you come all the way here?”
“Curiosity mostly. I was hoping to learn about the Oracle. My name is Talus Corestiam.”
“I am Elsendra Frostfeather, a Priestess of Holy Elune.”
“Do you speak for the Oracle?”
“I relay its information, if that’s what you mean. You must have smelled the flowers on the hill?”
“It is through the scent of those blossoms that the Oracle tells us its wisdom.”
“A code of smells?”
“Nothing so complex. The scents summon thoughts that impart the Oracle’s meaning. It takes almost no effort on my part, though only those with sufficient mental training can do this. Then I write it down and give it to one of the messengers.”
“Does the Oracle see the future?”
“It sees possibilities. If a disaster or cataclysm is likely, then it tells us. It is also connected with the spirits of Teldrassil, and can tell us of the events in the forest.”
“Is this the only one of its kind?”
“It is unique. There is a tree in Darnassus of similar appearance; perhaps you saw it. However in all other respects it is simply a tree. The Archdruid wanted to know as much as he could about Teldrassil’s progress. With the help of the other Woodland Ancients, he was able to raise the Oracle from the earth.”
“How does Teldrassil fare?”
“Not without difficulty. I am not certain if this World Tree is sacred to Elune. I should not cast doubt on my druid brothers, yet they are sometimes too distant from Her will.”
“In what way?”
“The druids are very aggressive, as are the Ancients they revere. Even Great Cenarius, closest to Elune, had atavistic qualities. Staghelm once said that it is the will of nature that every species do its utmost to survive. Also that, since nature is self-preserving (though ever-changing), it serves the interests of nature for the night elves to regain their immortality. He said that there was no better way to fight the threats to our world. I suppose he has a point. But Elune wishes us to preserve nature, not to completely embrace its savagery. Such behavior is a last resort.”
“You would not consider these to be times of necessity?”
“In truth I do not know. I only know of the Oracle’s discomfort in the World Tree.”
“What are some of the problems with Teldrassil?”
“The Oracle is always vague. Yet it speaks of a pain in the heart, an ache in the roots. It fears that Teldrassil withers and dies as it dreams. I have faith, though. Elune shall guide us, and Her will is the right path, even if it causes us pain.”
I returned to the main road and began walking east, towards the town of Dolanaar. My anxiety waned as I grew more comfortable within Teldrassil’s green environs. The main road offers something of the tranquility that had been in Darnassus, making it easier to appreciate the landscape's otherworldly beauty. Lampposts of wood grow from the sides of the road, terminating in immaterial orbs of light reminiscent of the wisps.
The weather turned rainy during my journey. With it, the smell of life filled the forest air and took me back to the woodlands of Lordaeron, in the days before the Scourge. Even with age and memory those forests were paltry compared to Teldrassil’s grandeur.
I encountered few travelers on the road. Most were patrols of huntresses, a kind of sentinel that rides the striped nightsaber tigers into battle. They were aloof but polite. The night elves maintain an air of dispassion with the other races, though it was impossible for me to tell if that was due to natural inclination or simple unfamiliarity with humans.
The rain slackened by the time I reached Dolanaar. The village is a scenic one, the gentle curves of night elf architecture blending in with the forest surroundings. Many of the inhabitants within Dolanaar are associates of the Cenarion Circle, a druidic organization of which Archdruid Staghelm is a leader. They consider themselves to be the first line of defense against problems in Teldrassil’s growth. Accordingly, faith in Staghelm’s plans is quite strong in the community.
From what little I'd heard of him in the Alliance territories of the east, I got the impression that very few elves actually liked Staghelm. I was surprised by the amount of support I saw expressed for him in Teldrassil (including Darnassus). While in Dolanaar, I learned that Staghelm is considerably less popular on the mainland and is almost hated in the old capital of Nighthaven. Those who do believe in Staghelm’s vision flock to Teldrassil, and as such it serves as his base of power. As Darnassus grew in importance, it drew some elves less fond of the Archdruid. The Kaldorei outside of the city still praise his ideas.
The night elves are a somewhat anarchic race and it is inaccurate to describe the Darnassian Archdruid as having great political control over his people. Teldrassil was created by druids under his command, and was not an action of the Kaldorei state (or what passed for it). The elves that follow him do so for his creation of the new World Tree, not out of fervor for his aggressive policies. The sentinels control military matters, and Staghelm has very little power over them.
Even Tyrande’s position as high priestess is more one of influence than of actual control. She maintains the social customs of the night elves. These too are loosely arranged. Communities are allowed to manage themselves as they see fit as long as they obey the most important religious laws. The Kaldorei believe they have a duty to preserve the natural world against the arcane and infernal. This is a belief with its roots in the genesis of the elven race and seems almost biologically ingrained. It even showed in the magic-addicted high elves of the east, who also revered their forests and took great effort to protect them.
This disorganized central structure served the night elves quite well in the millennia after the Sundering. When threats came, there was no need for diplomacy or debate. Their enemies posed obvious dangers. Politics are no longer so simple. The races of the Horde present a more ambiguous threat. After all, they too are avowed enemies of demonic forces. This fact plays havoc with the night elf command structure. While I generally do not recommend centralization as a solution, I believe that some degree of it will be necessary for the night elves in the near future.
My education in Dolanaar extended beyond the political and into the religious. Like many night elf towns, Dolanaar possesses one of the beautiful moonwells. Until then I had only a vague idea as to what moonwells actually did. A priestess named Milemeny Crystalsong was happy to explain things to me. Milemeny had recently returned from a sojourn to Stormwind City, where she met with priests of the Holy Light. Her goal was to discuss the similarities between the two faiths. She expressed admiration of the Holy Light, but thought it too abstract to truly uplift its adherents. She pointed to the materialism in human, dwarven, and gnomish society as examples as a symptom of this problem.
“Magic is unnatural but comes, shall we say, naturally to the elves? It was once the source of our entire nation, and though I was not yet born all the histories proclaim it to have been magnificent in all aspects, though built on foundations of corruption!” she said breathlessly. Her voice moved with a trembling enthusiasm.
“It powered the society?”
“Yes. Much like it does for the gnomes today, and I pray they will not have to regret it. After the Sundering, Illidan the Betrayer attempted to bring back magic and Malfurion put a stop to it. Still, we needed something to replace the magic so Elune, in Her great kindness, purified the magic that Illidan preserved. It no longer came from the Twisting Nether and instead came from the world’s spirit. I mean, that’s incredible don’t you agree? That something as corrupting as magic could be changed into something holy?”
“An astounding transformation.”
“Elune is an astounding Goddess. The moonwells give life to our towns. It is the catalyst through which we can receive nature’s gift. Here, drink some! Go ahead, it is a gift for all who follow her path, directly or indirectly.”
“I do not want to intrude—”
“You wouldn’t be! I’d be overjoyed if you partook of it, though if you don’t feel ready I won’t force you.”
“Thank you.” It would have probably been safe for me to drink, but I did not wish to take the chance.
“Have you heard of vey-sil and the Waters of Life?” she asked.
“The Waters of Life are the source of life, and vey-sil is the portion of the soul that is recycled into the Waters of Life, correct?”
“Yes! That’s very good! The moonwells are filled with the Waters of Life. In the time before time itself, there was only Elune and the Waters. Our world came from the union of the two. Likewise, the waters provide us with endless renewal.”
The prohibition against fire does not hold true in Dolanaar, and I was at last able to enjoy some of my coffee. A curious elf inquired about it and I let him have a taste. He found it disgusting. The night elves favor water, though they drink a variety of other beverages usually based off of fermented fruits. Pear wine is especially popular. On the non-alcoholic side is moonberry juice, now the favored drink of the rich in Stormwind City. Contrary to popular belief, elves in the homeland rarely drink tea. Most consider it to be a dull drink, lacking the purity of water, the sweetness of juice, or the zing of alcohol. Tea does enjoy some popularity among the elves to the south, in regions like Desolace and Feralas.
After two days in Dolanaar I met a druid named Halerian Earthwhisper. Halerian owned a house in Dolanaar but preferred to spend his days on the shore of Lake Al’Ameth to the south.
“I should not spend too much time in a town,” he growled.
Halerian was disturbed by what he described as a dark presence growing in the wilderness. The other druids were reluctant to take action unless they had more reason to think it a threat, even though they too sensed something amiss. Most brushed it off as the growing pains of Teldrassil. Halerian wanted to take immediate action.
“Teldrassil must be pure. If there is a problem we must cleanse it right away! Otherwise our work will be for nothing.”
I offered to accompany him on a trip down to the lake, eager to see more. He agreed though he warned me that this was not some sort of glorified nature hike. Halerian also said that he would permit me to use fire spells in self-defense.
Halerian was a Druid of the Claw, the most populous of the druidic orders. These druids are known for their ability to physically transform into a bear (as well as other animals), and Halerian looked the part. Unlike the delicate and refined high elves, the night elves are not far removed from the wilderness that they so adore. Halerian himself wore a long white beard and watched the world through stern and glowing eyes. I only kept up with him through great effort.
“Do you find this land beautiful, Talus?” he asked one night. It rained fiercely, though he was completely indifferent to it, letting the downpour soak his thick robes.
“It is quite lovely.”
“Good. Some humans do not know how to appreciate things of importance. Though Teldrassil is but a pale shadow to the Emerald Dream.”
“That is the altered state that the druids enter while in hibernation, correct?”
“It is not an ‘altered state.’ It is the ideal of this world, at least as real if not more so. Imagine the forests and fields of Azeroth as they were long ago, untouched by elves or humans or dwarves. Or orcs,” he added with an angry emphasis.
“This place truly exists then?”
“Yes. Our duties are in this realm, so we must watch over it when a threat arises. But when the Burning Legion is blocked from this world I shall return to the Emerald Dream. We go there to remind ourselves of what we protect.”
“Is the Burning Legion a threat to the Emerald Dream?”
“Conceivably, yes. Ysera, the Green Dragon, guards it and I have no doubt she can repel any and all invaders. Still, we must do our best.”
On the rare occasions when Halerian spoke, he reminisced about the Emerald Dream.
The journey to Lake Al’Ameth took a day and a half, more due to the density of the forest than actual distance. The lake itself presents the same lush and wild beauty that characterizes Teldrassil. A short pier reaches out from the eastern bank, a small rowboat tethered to the end. Halerian explained that an elven angler named Andariel, whom he greatly disliked, used the boat.
Halerian and I walked along the northern shore of the lake, his senses pushing for any sign of corruption. We had not walked for long when he knelt down next to a large root dipping into the water. A gnarled wooden tangle was embedded into the earth next to the root. Halerian let out a terrible roar, startling me badly.
“Look at this!” he exclaimed, after cursing in Darnassian. “This is an abomination!”
“What is it?” I asked.
Halerian pulled at the wooden skin of the tangle, revealing what looked like a rotting green fruit of some sort. The skin of the thing glowed with a sickly light.
“A terrible sign. This is a tumor in the World Tree’s body. Something is truly wrong if these are growing here.”
“Have you seen them before?”
“Nothing exactly like this. Yet I know what it is. Nature itself cries out for me to destroy it. Before I can do that, I must bring it back to Dolanaar. The others must see this!”
Halerian took out a small leather bag and a knife. Using the knife, he extracted the rot and put it in the bag which he quickly tied shut.
“Wait, something approaches,” he warned.
Halerian suddenly went on all fours, bristly fur ripping through his lavender skin, his skeletal structure expanding and warping under the flesh. In seconds, a fierce and terrible bear stood before me.
Bushes rustled and a shambling mound of living vegetation stepped out. Vaguely anthropoid in shape, tightly wrapped moss and vines formed its body, barely contained in a wooden exoskeleton. Halerian charged the beast, his claws at the ready.
I detected more movement from where the first monster emerged and a second stepped forward. Nearly identical to the first it pressed towards Halerian. Acting quickly, I fired a frost bolt at the monster. The killing cold blackened its vine-filled body and slowed it, though it immediately shifted focus towards me. I was more than ready. I unleashed a barrage of arcane missiles as it approached, greatly weakening it by the time it neared melee range. Halerian, who had already felled the first, turned and tore open a gaping hole in the elemental. It promptly collapsed into a heap of rotting vegetation. Halerian transformed back into his normal form, his face livid.
“And this is what those tumors bring. They grow into corrupted elementals of nature that attack all they see. I hope it has not spread. The lake will quickly become uninhabitable if such is the case.”
I took several pictures of the fallen elementals and gave them to Halerian as further proof of the threat. While he said that the tumor would be proof enough, the pictures added more veracity. Though angry, he seemed certain that action would be taken once the other druids knew.
We returned to Dolanaar, and Halerian thanked me.
“I did not hear you complain a single time during our excursion, which makes you the most remarkable human I have ever met. Perhaps I misjudged your race.”
“Most times I feel like I am a race apart from the mass of humanity,” I answered, smiling wryly as I did so. Halerian simply nodded.
I decided it was time for me to explore the lands of Kalimdor proper. Leaving Dolanaar, I went back to Darnassus. There, I took the portal to the small coastal village of Rut’theran, the World Tree’s sole link with the outside world.
The portal to Rut’theran is a violet haze within the confines of curled tree roots. Around the teleporter stand large stones glowing with runic power. I remember similar devices in old Dalaran, though those were powered by arcane rather than natural energy. Rut’theran’s portal is quite large, in order to expedite the transfer of material to the city.
Though a seaport, Rut’theran’s population is small and almost exclusively Kaldorei. Merchants of the Eastern Kingdoms are not permitted to ship directly to Teldrassil. They must sell their cargo in the city of Auberdine on the mainland. Ostensibly this is to ensure that unwelcome arcane components do not end up in Teldrassil, though some suspect the practice really stems from elven xenophobia. After the cargo is approved, it is loaded onto the ferry. The merchant is free to accompany his cargo on its journey to Teldrassil, though most dislike having to wait for permission.
“It took two weeks for them to be sure that I wasn’t smuggling demons!” complained Engus Steelglove, a dwarven ship captain. “My ship’s still at Auberdine. I didn’t trust these elves to manage my client’s goods so I figured I’d best keep an eye on it until it got to Darnassus. But I didn’t think they’d keep me waiting so damn long!”
“Would this get you in any trouble with your client?”
“No. For all he knows I’m still out at sea. You can’t say for sure how long these things will take after all. But I ought to be back at Menethil right now, drinking good dwarven ale and finding a new contract! Aye, that’s what’s bothering me.”
Engus was waiting for the ferry to arrive, having already delivered his shipment. Visitors of other races usually passed right through Rut’theran and went to Darnassus. Rut’theran lacks amenities for travelers. Since Darnassus is literally only a few minutes away (thanks to the teleporter) this is not as bad as it might seem. It is still surprising for those accustomed to eastern seaports.
The night elves in Rut’theran tend to be unfriendly. Any interaction with other races is done solely as a professional obligation. Despite Engus' distrust, most tradesmen trust the elves to deliver the cargo safely, so relatively few actually come to Rut’theran. Non-commercial visitors usually go directly to Darnassus, though Rut’theran is quite lovely in its own way.
“These merchants are a fearful bunch,” said Salar Wavespeaker, who acted as a dock master. “The ones who actually come to Rut’theran, like Engus over there, are afraid we will steal or somehow mishandle their cargo. As if the Kaldorei have thieves! Our kind cares not for the ephemera so beloved by humans and dwarves.”
“There have not been night elf thieves?”
“The satyrs are known to take what does not belong to them, though they are more demon than elf. Why would we steal? Possessions mean nothing. We value what is eternal.”
“Do you think this would still hold true without immortality?”
“I am sure it will. A thousand years, if that is indeed our lifespan, is not long, but still too long to be concerned with shiny metal discs.”
Even though the lack of immortality and the introduction of normal commerce will bring changes, I do not think thievery will become common in Kaldorei society. Night elves are biologically non-materialistic. They have long enjoyed a high standard of living, so they could have become materialistic if they wished. However, the average elf simply does not care and finds it an alien drive. Many new goods are available thanks to trade with the Eastern Kingdoms, but most hold little, if any, appeal to the elves.
There is also the matter of economic disparity, which does not currently exist with the Kaldorei. But that alone does not create thieves. I suspect that the potential elven rich and poor will not particularly care about economic status, assuming that basic needs such as food and shelter can still be met. Despite the weakened state of the Kaldorei’s connection with nature, I believe that such elemental needs will continue to be fulfilled with little difficulty.
The one area where the elves show any sort of materialism is with objects of art and craftsmanship. But the act of creation is considered better and actually more desirable than ownership. “The maker owns forever what others can only borrow,” is a night elf proverb illustrating this attitude.
I wish to reiterate that these are merely predictions on my part. My knowledge of night elf culture and psychology is basic at best. I could well be completely wrong. Also, I fully imagine that some night elves will become materialistic, just as some humans and dwarves adopt the path of the ascetic. Though any given race has certain psychological and biological fundamentals, there is an almost infinite degree of variation in each. Ultimately, the individual is the only thing that truly exists in this world; nations and classes are convenient fictions that often obscure more than they reveal. Differences between the races are undeniable, yet almost anything is possible within the natural constraints of a given race. A night elf who became materialistic would probably not become that way for the same reason as a dwarf or troll.
Aside from the ferry, the elves at Rut’theran also maintain a hippogryph aviary. Hippogryphs are magnificent creatures with the antlers and hindquarters of a stag, and the upper body of a bird-of-prey. Their feathers are usually in dark, almost metallic, colors. Though fierce in the wild, tamed hippogryphs are usually more tractable than tamed griffins.
I stepped into the ferry’s mossy interior at dusk. My travels in Darnassus and Teldrassil had both enriched and bemused me. The culture that I had examined was not only new and mysterious (to me, of course) but was also one in the midst of tumultuous change. The Third War destroyed or weakened many of the night elf civilization’s foundations, and they now desperately seek new bearings. They look out into a world of chaos and uncertainty. The humans, with their quarreling kingdoms and armies, have more experience with those sorts of politics. The insular night elves have no such background, and will need to tread carefully.