Saturday, October 20, 2007

Winterspring



“This place is a gold mine. A good inn, some shops... whoever owns it will be very rich.”

Flakes of snow fluttered down from a sky of violet-tinged storm clouds. I stood with Ozbok Gibsmacker on the rocky shore of a small lake. Steam and boiling water regularly burst out from the calcified geysers that ring the shore of the Frostfire Hot Springs in western Winterspring. Though the hot water makes the air warm, the snow-covered plains and trees are just a stone’s throw away.

Back in Moonglade, I met with an anxious young tauren druid headed to the Emerald Sanctuary. His shore leave from the Emerald Circle had just ended, and he felt obliged to return. He was kind enough to take me through Timbermaw Hold to the Winterspring side, perhaps to delay his return to Felwood.

Winterspring is a high plateau that by all rights should be an icy wasteland. However, the energies of the nearby Hyjal summit have a way of bringing life to even the most desolate spots. Vast evergreen forests cover Winterspring, sheltering all manner of wildlife. The combined auras of Moonglade and Hyjal cast a gentle purplish sheen across the sky, similar to what I'd seen in Teldrassil.

After a day on the quiet Winterspring road I found a small survey camp run by Ozbok, an ambitious goblin. He was doing trial work for the Steamwheedle Cartel.

“My idea is that, well, artists sometimes talk about contrast. Like light and shadow, red and green, and all that. It makes something more striking. Anyway, you have great contrast right here, and I think that makes it prime real estate! I’d like to built a vacation spot here,” explained Ozbok.

“It would be quite pleasant.”

“Ah, it’d be paradise! More for the types who aren’t afraid for a rougher time, but I think enough people would be curious. There’s a lot of obstacles though.”

“Such as?”

“First, the Winterfall furbolgs. They’ve gone all crazy and they need to be cleared up. If someone gets rid of them I could build a zeppelin dock here and start getting visitors.”

“A good plan.”

“I like to think so. There’s at least one other place like this in Kalimdor, way down in Thousand Needles. But that wouldn’t be as nice, and anyway the tauren probably won’t let me do anything there. The elves are a lot easier to deal with in that regard. I mean, so long as you follow certain rules, and I have no problem with that. After all, it’s in my best interest to take care of the environment here!”

“Did you have to borrow much money from the Cartel?”

“I had still had a lot left over from my time as a salesman for Coralgear Limited, but I had to borrow some. If this works out I’ll be rich, if not, I just have to endure a few cushy years of Cartel debt slavery. I survived debt slavery in the Venture Company, so I’m not afraid of anything anymore.”

“How did that happen?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

I spent a while longer talking with Ozbok, before going back on the road to Everlook, five days to the east. Everlook was founded shortly after the Third War by a particularly eccentric goblin named Znip Bazzleprog. Znip was convinced that the stars represented a potential source of wealth, so he set up an observatory in Winterspring. He hoped that by studying the stars he could learn how to exploit them. I found his idea odd, as scholars had long ago figured out that stars are similar to our own sun, which is to say an immense sphere of light and heat. Perhaps Znip thought he could sell that somehow.

Znip’s venture was a catastrophic failure and he soon faced debt slavery. Salvation came from the North Kalimdor Company, a Steamwheedle-owned business that gathers resources (generally furs and ore) from the continent. Winterspring is a fur trapper’s dream, and there is a good deal of untapped thorium in the mountains. The North Kalimdor Company purchased the observatory and built the town of Everlook around it. Everlook acts as a base for goblin adventurers and company surveyors. Znip is apparently still allowed to work at his observatory.

A heavy snowfall came on the third night, continuing well into the next two days. I awoke from a brief rest to find the road completely obscured by fresh snow. Undaunted, I set out across the glittering snowdrifts and ended up lost. This was not as terrible as it would have been for someone still living. For the undead, freezing weather and exposure are mild annoyances rather than catastrophes.

The best I could hope to do was to keep slogging eastwards. Though far from a wilderness expert, I at least knew enough about off-road travel to avoid the common problem of traveling in circles. The moonkin ambushed me four days after the sudden snowfall. Moonkin are improbable mixes of owl, bear, and stag known for fiercely territorial behavior. It leapt out from a snowdrift, aiming a feathery claw at my torso. I jumped back in time and froze it in place with a frost nova spell before dispatching it.

I was fortunate enough to spot a zeppelin the next day, heading north through the violet sky. Hoping it was traveling in a more-or-less straight path to Everlook, I traveled in its path. It began snowing again, though only lightly. I scaled a hill within sight of Everlook shortly before dusk. Feeling triumphant, I made my way towards the city.

Everlook is a far cry from the sprawling, tropical metropolis of Booty Bay. The population is much smaller. Being native to warm climates, many goblins are reluctant to travel to Winterspring. The fact that Everlook is so remote poses another problem. Most of the non-goblins are from the Alliance races, though there are still a fair number from the Horde.

The paranoia of the Timbermaw furbolgs makes it impossible for most to reach Everlook via the roads, so visitors usually come by zeppelin. Fur trappers, hunters, and miners, stay in Everlook for a year or so, gather what they can, and then return home. The high quality of these resources fetches a handsome price in the market.

Enclosed within a wall, the domed buildings of Everlook appear quite tidy when compared with the chaos of Booty Bay. It is about as quiet as a goblin city could possibly be. Everlook still feels like a blaring cacophony compared to the elven villages elsewhere in Kalimdor.



The first thing I did the next morning was restock on coffee. I had drank the last of my stocks back in Felwood. Coffee is actually rather expensive in Everlook since it needs to be imported from the southern lands. The goblin demand for the drink is so strong that it is constantly shipped up despite the price, creating quite a profit for the coffee merchants.

I later witnessed an altercation in the center of town. A goblin dressed in mismatched pieces of leather armor argued with robed goblin woman.

“I paid good money to operate here, so when I go out to hunt for bear pelts I don’t want to be stopped by your goons!” yelled the man.

“Nort, you signed the contract just like everyone else. We give you the privilege to hunt here. If we—”

“Come on Blinny, you can’t run this place by putting up all these restrictions! You depend on people like me coming up here and paying money to stay here so that we can get stuff! How am I going to get fur now?”

“If you use the land around Everlook, you have to follow our rules! Any idiot should know that! Hey, if you want to go farther out in Winterspring and hunt stuff on your own, go ahead, we won’t stop you.”

“Then maybe I will!”

“Please do!”

Intrigued, I followed Nort to the Everlook inn, where he angrily ordered some gnomish sparkwater. The inn is rather unusual example of its sort, a squat building under a dome of ice (which acts as a surprisingly effective insulator). Hardly a luxurious place, it only offers shelter and hot food. going inside, I introduced myself and asked about his job as a trapper.

“The North Kalimdor Company is run by a bunch of morons. If they want trappers to keep coming here, they need to give us complete access to our quarry. I mean, that makes sense, right?”

“Why do they restrict it?” I asked.

“Some deal they have with those damn elves. I say forget the elves. I don’t think they can really stop us if we just force it. I spent a lot of money to come up here.”

“What did the contract say?”

“That we have to follow the rules of the North Kalimdor Company. But these rules are stupid.”

“Has there been a complete halt to fur trapping?”

“There’s a temporary one in the south. But other trappers have already elbowed into the other regions, so stay or leave I’m not going to make much of a profit,” lamented Nort. “Maybe I should try my luck in Felwood. They say it’s dangerous, but maybe they just say that to keep people from profiting off of it. Some damn elven conspiracy.”

“I can assure you that Felwood is exceedingly dangerous.”

He arched an eyebrow at me, and then shrugged. Wanting to get both sides of the story, I went to see Blinny, the woman he’d yelled at with such vigor.

Blinny Noddelsprocker worked as a liaison between the North Kalimdor Company and the various traders traveling up to Everlook to do business. She lived in her office, a small, warm chamber under the ground.

“When all’s said and done,” she explained, “it’s the elves who get the last word in. The Company talked with the elves and convinced them that the establishment of Everlook would be to both our people’s benefits. We have to follow rules though.”

“What sort of rules?”

“Mostly they make sure we don’t take too much at a time. Winterspring’s such a huge place that we’ve been able to cycle without suffering too much of a profit loss. Anyway, it’s better to have a minor short-term profit loss than a complete collapse of resources. A few elves live in Everlook, keeping an eye on how many pelts are scored.”

“Do they have any objections to the mines?”

“No. There aren’t really mines per se. Mostly just prospectors finding a few veins out in the mountains.”

“Then the North Kalimdor Company has had little difficulty with the elves?”

“We’ve gotten along without trouble. Like I said, it’s their land. We respect that. Winterspring’s a good place too, I think. Coming from the Isle of Kezan, I couldn’t even imagine what snow looked like. Oh sure I’d seen pictures, and we have artificial ice, but nothing like what you see up here. It’s fantastic. That’s the only word I have for it. Another benefit is that usually only the toughest, scrappiest goblins get up here. The ones who’ve got real drive to make it for themselves. Sure, some of them are just desperate. Nothing’s perfect.”

“I saw you arguing with one of the trappers earlier today. Does that happen often?”

“Oh, Nort? Hey, it’s all there in the contract. It isn’t my problem if he’s too stupid to read it. Believe me, goblins aren’t fond of rules. We think too many rules are stupid, and we’re usually right. But we aren’t really in goblin territory. We’re renting this place, so we deal with the rules. As long as the company makes a decent profit we can handle some restrictions.”

“I see. Are there any problems in Everlook?”

“There’s some real bad sorts out in the wilderness, but they aren’t too aggressive so long as we stay out of their area. There’s the furbolgs to the east, and to the south you got demons and dragons.”

“Dragons?”

“The Blue Dragonflight. They live in this cave system called Mazthoril, which I’m sure is full of valuable minerals. We can’t get to it though. I really hate dragons. It’s a goblin thing, I think. We’re small, but we work hard to get where we are. Dragons though? They’re huge ugly lizards that never worked a damn day in their life. The world would be better off without the lot of them, I’d say.”

“I take it the Blue Dragonflight is not open to negotiation?”

“They’re dragons! The elves have legends about how the blue dragons lost their heads over some disaster way back when. It’s bunk if you ask me; they were always bad. But to answer your question, we once sent a company man over with a pair of bruisers. The dragons froze him solid, flew the body over Everlook and dropped it in the main square. We were finding frozen bits of Agnog—that was his name—for days.”

I thanked Blinny for taking time out of her busy schedule to speak with me. A light snow was falling outside, hardly an obstacle to the goblins going about their business. With a large, transient population of miners and trappers, the inhabitants of Everlook are no strangers to hardship.

The most striking sight in Everlook is the observatory in the center of town. It has the haphazard look common to the more elaborate goblin structures. The top of the building is a snow-covered dome with a large vertical opening in the side. A telescope sticks out of the opening, the green lens kept unobstructed through magical heat.

Raucous noise fills the interior all through the day. A large, unidentifiable machine sits in one corner of the room, occasionally belching clouds of hot steam. Clerks working at a makeshift bank count money in the corner opposite of the contraption. The twisted structure of a jury-rigged telescope runs through the chamber, looking ready to collapse. Gambling tables crowd the center, packed with drunken prospectors, the smell of earth and snow still on their fur cloaks. Along the walls, merchants hawk their wares to the world.



Following the length of the telescope I at last came to the section still used for its original purpose. A bald, elderly goblin sat at a desk, completely absorbed in his studies. He did not hear me when I greeted him, so I tapped him on the shoulder. He whirled around and blinked at me.

“Do you need something?” he shouted.

“I just had a few questions. Are you Znip?” I shouted back.

“That’s me.”

“Could I ask you about your work here?”

A toothy smile spread across Znip’s face. He nodded.

“Let’s go outside! There’s too much accumulated stupid in this room to have a decent conversation.”

Znip stopped to put on a heavy fur coat, a fur hat, and orange goggles. Soon we were back outside in the snow.

“Beautiful place don’t you think?” he said, looking up at the sky.

“Indeed.”

“It’s easy enough to block out all the noise when I’m working, but once I start talking it all filters in. I used to be a sapper, but let me tell you that the sound of a well-made bomb going off is much easier to deal with than all that chatter. So what are your questions? You’re the first fellow to ever ask me about my work here.”

“I was wondering how you intend to profit off of stargazing. If you don’t mind me asking.”

“Not at all, I’m flattered. We all know that there are other worlds. Like Draenor. Some of the warlock grimoires talk about places even farther and stranger than that, like Argus or Xoroth. And the only way to get to these worlds is through the Twisting Nether. You’re clear on all this?”

“I am.”

“Good. What I’m thinking, is that here we are on this world of Azeroth. We go around the sun, have a couple of moons, and so forth. Now, scholars say that the sun is a huge sphere of fire, and that the other stars that we see at night are the probably the same way. They’re just so far away they look tiny. But if this sun has a world, why not the others?”

“It would be entirely possible.”

“Exactly! Now, what if the ruins of Draenor are out orbiting one of those stars? Here’s my idea: the Twisting Nether is not the only way to get from place to place. Theoretically, if we could somehow get from here to there with, say a balloon, we could bypass all this trouble with the Twisting Nether. That’s my ultimate goal. Right now, I’m just doing research. Now it might seem like I’ve told you a lot, but I’ve already sold the basic idea to the Tinker’s Union. They want more proof before they start building anything though, so that’s why I’m still here.”

“That’s a very interesting idea. How do you know if it’s safe to go past the sky?”

“I don’t. I’m still working on figuring it out. If I’m right though, I’ll have opened up an entirely new method of transportation. I’d be like one of the zeppelin moguls! Rich as rich can be! I’m just hoping those stars aren’t too far away. Balloons don’t travel all that fast.”

“One of your goals with this would be to close things like the Dark Portal, correct?”

“That’s right. And I know that no one knows how to close it. Someone will figure it out somehow.”

“I don’t think that will necessarily dispel the demonic presence.”

“Oh, I don’t expect it to do that! But basically we can get in touch with worlds untainted by the Legion and not have to risk opening portals to those worlds in order to do so. Then we set up trade agreements. If some of them are uninhabited, we goblins will set up mines and orchards and what-have-you, and sell you things neither of us have ever imagined before!” he laughed. “Speaking of which, you mind making a donation? The North Kalimdor Company lets me keep the observatory, but I have to pay to keep everything running.”

“I thought goblins didn’t accept charity.”

“This isn’t charity! It’s so I can work to find a way to save your world! If anything you owe me, but I can’t hire a collection agency for this sort of thing. You look smart, you get the gist of what I’m saying, you know how important it might be.”

I paid him two gold coins. I rather doubted his theory was feasible, but I admired his daring.

*********

Few beasts of burden adapt to Winterspring’s icy climate. The North Kalimdor Company has purchased a number of Ironforge rams for transportation. Ideally they would have used yaks, which are apparently large, shaggy beasts that live far to the south. But yaks are inconveniently expensive to import.

I traveled with a goblin woman named Syrindi Woltnimmer, who acted as the official diplomat between Everlook and the elves of Starfall Village to the north. She was on her way to meet with the Starfall elders and see if any of the operations needed to be changed. She sat in a small, enclosed sleigh pulled by rams and accompanied by an escort of competent bruisers. She invited me inside the sleigh, but it was too small for me to enter.

Unlike the road from Timbermaw Hold, the road to Starfall Village is well maintained. A brief snowfall came unexpectedly on the second night and the morning revealed a vast expanse of pure white across the forests and hills. The skies were still overcast, which was just as well. Snow blindness is a very real possibility in Winterspring. I remember hearing how an entire orcish army fell victim to snow blindness in the invasion of Khaz Moda, during the Second War. The dwarves, never ones to pass up an opportunity, slew every last one of them.

Syrindi spent much of her time reading the books she had taken with her. I asked about them.

“The one I’m reading now is ‘Alorra de’Esheniel Tal’ara.’ The title would translate into ‘Sorrow in the Time of Esheniel’s Joy.’ It’s a Kaldorei novel, written 2,000 years ago. Have you read any Kaldorei literature?”

“I can’t say that I have.”

“You might want to give it a try. You should learn Darnassian first. These books just don't translate well into other languages. They’re still readable, but they end up feeling quite dull.”

“What is it about?”

“It takes place during the Lunar Festival, as seen through a young Kaldorei woman named Esheniel. The book is 539 pages long but only covers less than a day’s time,” she giggled.

“Very detailed then?”

“Yes. Night elf literature is all about characters and mood. What the author, Aldurran Stormsong, wanted was to do was capture the exact emotional state of Esheniel, the way it was for her at the time of the Lunar Festival. The whole novel is like a poem. No story to speak of, really, though it’s enthralling all the same. Kaldorei literature tends to stretch into the past and future. Like the part I’m reading now is Esheniel considering her own life as an apprentice to an herbalist, and her dreams of what the future will bring if she stays in that position. It’s not the first time the book's made up a possible future for Esheniel. And this is actually one of the more accessible novels; one of the most revered books among the Kaldorei takes place over a single second! I tried reading it once and even I found it too confusing. It kept going in and out of the way two people remembered the same things, what both of them hoped for, how it related to other characters who never actually appeared in the story except in memory or imagination... too much for me. Sorry if I’m babbling.”

“It’s quite all right, I find it very interesting.”

“I feel like I am Esheniel, almost. Kaldorei don't think much like goblins, as I’m sure you know, so me understanding Esheniel's feelings just shows how good of a writer Aldurran was. I don't necessarily agree with everything Eseheniel feels, but understand them. At least I say I do. There’s probably a whole level of comprehension that I’m completely missing because I’m not Kaldorei. Still, I’ll take what I can get.”

“Do many other goblins read night elf literature?”

“I think it’s too introspective for most of us. One of the big themes of this book is fear of change, and goblins are the only race in the world that doesn’t seem to have that fear. Maybe the gnomes too.”

“So how is it that you are able to identify with the story?”

“I was in a situation similar to Esheniel’s about ten years ago. I was practically drowning in different choices and options, without the faintest clue of what was best. Of course, Esheniel isn’t even sure if she wants change, but I most definitely wanted it. I just couldn’t decide which change was best. Impulsiveness and goblins go hand in hand, but I’m a little more restrained than most. I think that’s why this is such a good job for me. Great pay, beautiful scenery, and I like the night elves.”

The sky darkened as we continued on our way. I reflected on what I knew told about our destination. Starfall Village is situated in the northern drifts of Winterspring where there lives a particularly fierce breed of nightsaber called the wintersaber. The wintersabers are prized as steeds by the night elves. High Priestess Tyrande is one of the few respected enough to be considered eligible for wintersaber ownership. The elves of Starfall are a courageous bunch dedicated to training the great cats. Even with their skill, only a few of the wintersabers ever learn to accept a master. The handful of wintersabers that are tamed can form a mental bond with their handlers and become the most faithful of companions.

Had I been traveling alone I would have almost certainly missed tiny Starfall Village, its elegantly gabled roofs white under the new snow. Slender, frost-laden trees grow between the houses. Syrindi stepped out from her sleigh and bustled towards an imposing night elf man with a long silver beard. She bowed, and he returned the gesture. They began to speak in Darnassian.



Though a member of the Horde, Syrindi assured me that I would be in no danger so long as I was with her. As she promised, the elves made no move against me, preferring instead to stare at me in disgust. Then one, a man in druid robes, pointed at me and shouted at Syrindi. I wondered what I could do to save myself but my anxiety was unfounded. The druid glared at me, but made no further move.

“Sorry about that, the last time a lot of these people saw undead was back during the Third War. Most of them at least know about the Forsaken, so they won’t bother you. Um, keep your hands to yourself though.”

I nodded in consent. The bearded Kaldorei motioned for Syrindi and her retinue to enter. We stepped into an open-air common room that was nonetheless quite warm. The life energy contained within the living structure heated the place, and accumulated at the floor. One could have easily lain down and slept without a blanket.

The elves set up a table and gave us wooden cups brimming with a steaming beverage called sholla that could best be described as a hot wine. Food came in the form of heavily spiced cabbage and strips of caribou meat. The conversation between Syrindi and the elder was entirely in Darnassian, so there was little for me to do. I was tempted to explore the village, but decided it would be foolish to do so unless Syrindi were with me.

Much like in Nighthaven, most of Starfall’s citizens can only speak Darnassian. While in the common room, I met an elven wintersaber trainer named Alsien Icedrop. Surprisingly, he was conversant in Orcish. He gained a decent working knowledge of the language during the brief period of peace between the Horde and Alliance. When hostilities resumed, Alsien acted as a spy and translator on the battlefield of Warsong Gulch.

“Given your skill, I’m surprised the sentinels didn’t insist on your presence,” I said.

“I am a volunteer fighter, not officially a sentinel. They could not force me to stay once my contract expired.”

“Do you want to return?”

“I suppose. I have much respect for the orcs and tauren, but they must be made to leave Ashenvale. I regret if you are offended, but I shall not retract my statement.”

“I am not offended. It is an understandable sentiment for a member of the Alliance. So if you want to return, why don’t you?”

“The elves of Starfall Village have met with the spirits of the wintersabers for more than 15,000 years. But there have never been many of us. When the wars in Ashenvale began anew, some thought there would be more need for wintersabers, as mounts to carry warriors into combat, and that more hunters would come here to try their skill. Such has not been the case. It is easier and more effective for the sentinels to use normal nightsabers.”

“Do you fear that the tradition may fade?”

“I do now. Once I could rest assured that we trainers would always do our work here. Without our immortality, it is less certain. One reason the elders were so supportive of Everlook was that they hoped it would provide more interest in the might of the wintersaber. It’s still too early to tell if this plan will succeed.”

“To which do you have more loyalty: Darnassus or Starfall?”

Alsien smiled.

“Starfall. It is the way of elves to respect and honor those they personally know and trust, not the demands of some distant and self-proclaimed authority. From what I have seen, many communities are falling under the power of Darnassus. Quite alarming really, though I understand why. But Starfall is very far away. To get to Darnassus, we have to brave Felwood. Think me a coward if you will but I am not certain I can ever again travel through that awful land. Darnassus does not think of us either. The blue dragons and corrupted furbolgs here do not usually trouble us, but if they did Darnassus would not send aid. We are too small and distant, a relic of a time before the Third War. If help does come, it will be from Everlook. The druids of Nighthaven are concerned entirely with Felwood, which is proper given the nature of their duties. They cannot be relied upon for help.”



Tired by the rigors of travel, Syrindi and her bruisers stayed in Starfall the next day and night. The bruisers kept to themselves for the most part, playing cards or dice.

“Elves can be a little touchy, and we don’t know all the rules here, at least not as well as Ms. Syrindi. So we pretty much keep to ourselves,” said Kog Stangkrank. Kog was the “Big Bruiser,” a title that roughly translates to Captain of the Guard. Kog actually was quite large for a goblin.

“Are bruisers in all parts of goblin society, or are they just the enforcers for the Steamwheedle Cartel?” I asked.

“Us bruisers are all over. It’s a good way for goblins who maybe aren’t as keen on selling or engineering to make their way in life. ‘Course, the ones under Steamwheedle are the best-trained. It’s because we’ve got to deal with humans and orcs and tauren and all that. Just being able bash heads isn’t enough, you have to think about what you’re doing. Every Steamwheedle bruiser has to know how to speak Orcish and Common.”

“Do the bruisers in Everlook need to know Darnassian?”

“They will, in a few years. Thing was, almost none of us knew anything about the night elves. So the North Kalimdor Company just hired the more clever goblins in hopes they’d learn a few things.”

“Can you speak Darnassian?”

“Sure. Nothing like Ms. Syrindi, but a bruiser just has to know how to tell someone to stop something or talk a bit. I don’t have to worry about negotiations or reading elven novels.”

“What are goblin novels like?”

“Uh, I don’t know. Goblins prefer these things called serials. You know what those are?”

“No, I don’t.”

“Basically, someone’s got this story he wants to tell. So he’ll write up a first chapter and submit it to a magazine. It’ll end on a tense note, most times, and then a week or month later, the next part gets published. Keeps it exciting, you know? Any goblin’s usually got a couple of projects going on at any one time, so the stuff we read has to keep our attention.”

“Could you recommend one to me?”

“Well, a thoughtful guy like you would probably like The Infinite Portal. The idea is that this gnome wizard figures out a way to make cheap and easy access to the, uh, Twisting Nether. As in, just about every person can tap the Nether for energy.”

“Wouldn’t this attract the attention of demons?”

“It does, but the story isn’t usually about that. See, in Infinite Portal, it lets people talk to each other through the Twisting Nether. So you could be in Undermine and talk to someone in Orgrimmar like you were having a regular conversation with them. It changes a lot of things though. Like the thoughts of different people start to meld together, and turns them into one new person in two or more bodies. Lots more stuff like that. And some mages say this sort of thing could actually happen, though no one knows for sure.”

“Where could I find this?”

“The Weekly Weird. It’s a magazine from Inksplat Publishing that they print once every two weeks. Fil Kaydik is the guy who writes Infinite Portal. I actually only found out about Infinite Portal because I was a fan of The Adventures of Demon Patrol, which is a spin-off of Infinite Portal. It’s all about a bunch of real skilled bruisers who fight off the demons that come through all the portals described in Infinite Portal. Infinite Portal is good, but usually I like stuff with more action.”

“Does Fil write The Adventures of Demon Patrol?”

“No, it’s a different guy, Rebek Henmebbel. Different magazine too, Demon Patrol is carried by Bloody Tales. The Weekly Weird, Bloody Tales, Kalimdor Dispatch, and Weird World are the four big magazines from Inksplat. The last two are mostly news, they don’t have any serials. Kalimdor Dispatch is good for news about the continent; it’s the only one of the four we get up in Everlook. Weird World is just sensational junk.”

It was not until much later that I was able to procure copies of Infinite Portal, but it is in fact quite thoughtful and interesting. I wholeheartedly recommend it.

*********

Through the ages, symbols of faith have provided comfort to the pious and impious alike. Yet there was nothing comforting about the way they were arranged on the lead wagon of Sneed’s small caravan. A stylized golden net on a stone pedestal (the net being an early symbol of the Holy Light, where each knot stood for a sentient being and the totality of strands represented the Light itself) perched on top of a haphazard heap of iconography. Tauren totems, signs of Elune, troll fetishes, and others even more obscure piled up on top of each other.

“Will this really ward off demons?” I asked.

“As far as I can tell,” snapped Sneed, who was cradling his rifle and looking nervously through the tint of his snow goggles.

Though I greatly wished to see the fabled majesty of the Hyjal summit, I accepted the fact that it was closed to me. Only a few of the highest druids are allowed entry into Hyjal. For a while, I feared that I would have to return to Ashenvale via Felwood.

A day after returning to Everlook from Starfall Village, I met Sneed Scrabblescrew. Sneed was a trader scraping by on the margins of the world. He was the only merchant that took advantage of a little-known route leading from Winterspring to the broken lands of Azshara. It was a dangerous road that passed through Darkwhisper Gorge, a fel place guarded by demons left over from the Third War. This was far from an ideal choice, but there was little else I could do.

Sneed primarily dealt in whetstones, ropes, bags, and other utilitarian items. He bought the goods at Winterspring and sold them to the tiny Horde outpost of Valormok in Azshara. Sneed could not afford company bruisers for protection, so he’d hired a band of mercenaries to keep his goods safe on the dangerous road through Winterspring.

“I think that one has to believe in the Light in order for icons to provide any sort of protection. The importance of the Light lies more in faith than in possession of icons, which are mostly symbolic,” I warned.

“Aw, really? Well thanks, were you a paladin in life or something? Look, all I know is that just about all the religions that matter hate demons. Maybe the signs can scare them off. Since you’re so religious, why don’t you just say prayers over and over again? It couldn’t hurt.”

“I imagine I’d accomplish more with spellfire.”

Sneed grumbled an obscenity, and again scanned the horizon

The land grows wilder in southern Winterspring. The poor quality of the road is a great impediment, though Sneed was a skilled enough pathfinder that we avoided getting lost. Packs of berserk moonkin twice attacked the caravan, the first assault claiming the lives of two guards: a troll and a goblin.

Six days of fearful travel brought us to the mighty Frostwhisper Gorge. The gorge is a deep trench cut into the icy earth, the bottom lost in swirls of cold mist. I was momentarily dumbfounded upon seeing it.



“Don’t fall in,” snickered Sneed. “I’ve seen it happen before. People who haven’t ever seen Frostwhisper before get so overwhelmed the first time that they lose track of where their feet are.”

“Thank you for the warning. What’s at the bottom?”

“I’ve never been there myself, but some of the more daring miners in Everlook go down here. The place is full of ruined night elf cities and frost giants. The giants don’t take too kindly to intruders, or so I hear,” said Sneed.

“You can see some of the ancient towers on the other side,” pointed out Balgun Stoneforge, a weathered dwarven warrior hired by Sneed. “I’d bet there’s some fine relics to be had in there.”

“Do it on your own time Balgun. I’m not paying you to go exploring.”

“Aye, sir.” Balgun’s tone was not respectful.

Crossing the Frostwhisper Gorge is unnerving; though the bridge is easily wide enough, the precipitous drop inspires a degree of anxiety. We made camp amongst the elven ruins on the other side.

Every step south of Frostwhisper gets warmer. A pall of black smoke hangs over the horizon, emblematic of the demonic corruption in the region. The crisp mountain air turns foul and acrid. We came to Darkwhisper Gorge just before noon. Monuments to iniquity ward the entrance to that cursed spot.

“This is why I brought all those charms,” gloated Sneed. “Stay to the sides, you all know what to do!”

Sneed ordered us to keep close to the mountains rising up on both sides. It would not do, he said, to risk getting too close to the corrupted core of Darkwhisper Gorge. The guards took off their heavy coats and packed them on the wagons. The demonic presence gives the area the temperature of a furnace.

It grows worse deeper in, demonic roars echoing down the canyon's dusty walls, monstrous forms hidden in the smoke and red haze. We caught glimpses of half-completed structures riddled with hooks and razors. From what I could see, it looked as if the demons were readying themselves for another attack on Hyjal.



It occurred to me that Archimonde, the late Lord of the Burning Legion, had once tread the very path I walked. His hoofs, said to be made of polished steel, scoured and wilted the landscape with their touch. What the lesser demons had wrought in Darkwhisper Gorge was rendered permanent by their master. Those unlucky few who saw Archimonde said that his appearance defied belief.

“Sneed! We have trouble!” shouted Balgun, pointing down the slope. We could all see the silhouette of a tall, brutish figure in the burning haze below. I recognized it as a felguard. It bounded towards us, a huge black sword gripped in both hands.

Sneed raised his rifle and fired, the noise and echo of the blast barely audible over the gorge’s seething background noise. Another goblin, Trigz, unleashed a series of arrows from his bow. Only one of them scored a hit.

My spells proved more useful. A frost bolt served to slow down the felguard, allowing Sneed and Trigz to unleash a second volley. The demon’s head burst open in a shower of foul blood as one of Sneed’s bullets struck.

“Keep moving! Keep moving!” ordered Sneed. “Someone might have heard that!” The echoes distorted his voice.

“I’m getting dizzy,” complained Trigz.

“Ignore it, keep moving!”

We had not gone far when Trigz lost his footing and tumbled down the rocky slope. He stopped just before the red fog obscured his body. Trigz slowly got to his feet. A twisted rod of iron lashed out from the mist, breaking him in two.

Five felguard rumbled out from the haze, deep noises churning up from their bellies that might have been some kind of laughter. Sneed cursed and ordered us to fire on the biggest of the bunch. Balgrun picked up one of the tauren totems and threw it down at the approaching demons to no effect.

I knew that the roasting heat would greatly weaken a blizzard spell, so I instead fired off arcane explosions that erupted in azure hemispheres from the ground. One of the demons became separated in the confusion, and I temporarily removed him from battle with a polymorph spell.

Then, a pack of thorny felstalkers burst into view, loping towards me. The felstalkers are demonic hounds, of sorts, and feed on the mana of spellcasters. If they got close to me, I would be rendered helpless.

Fortunately, Sneed knew how to fight demons, and began firing at the felstalkers. Balgrun had readied a massive old crossbow and began making shots of deadly accuracy at the charging pack. The remaining fighters prepared for melee with the felguard.

The strange presence of the Twisting Nether grew suddenly faint as one of the felstalkers got close to me. My powers fizzled out at my fingertips, the mana diverted into the felstalker. A quarrel thudded into its thick scarlet hide, distracting it momentarily. I seized the opportunity by using my remaining mana to cast another arcane explosion, killing the demon.

Looking to my side I saw that the battle was not going well. Two of the felguard lay dead on the slope, but so did five mercenaries.

“Here, get to that tunnel!” screamed Sneed, pointing up to an almost invisible rift in the mountains. The rams pulling the wagons had long since panicked and fled, taking the cargo with them.

Sneed clambered up a narrow path, trying to reach the tunnel. The last of the guards engaged in combat were dead, and the two survivors followed Sneed. A blink spell would have been enormously helpful but my connection to the Twisting Nether was too degraded for such a spell. I ran as fast as my rotting legs would carry me. Their great size forced the felguard to proceed single file on the ramp, making it possible for me to weave past them. One demon made a clumsy swing with his ax, causing him to lose footing and trip. His fall knocked down the felguard immediately in front of him, and distracted the rest to let me get by untroubled.

Sneed was already gone from sight so I ran faster until I got to the tunnel entrance. I ducked in, thankful that the felguards could not enter its narrow confines. I saw a lantern light ahead, revealing Sneed’s diminutive form.

The tunnel suddenly shook as a great demonic hand smashed into the entrance. Rubble began to fall from the ceiling and I frantically ran down the passage, hoping I would not trip. I heard a loud rumble from behind, and Sneed’s thin scream of “cave-in!” There was an earth-shattering crash and I was thrown to the ground.

I stayed down until the shaking subsided. I was covered with loose dirt, but was otherwise unharmed. Ahead of me stood Sneed and a goblin guard, their faces terrified. I saw no sign of the other guard who escaped.

“Is the way clear?” I demanded.

“The way to Azshara is. You’re one lucky fellow, Destron. Look behind you.”

I did, and saw a wall of collapsed earth. I could not have been more than a few inches in front of it when I fell. No one would ever again use the tunnel.

5 comments:

  1. Hope you don't mind the canon patrol - it's 'Xoroth', although I suppose Znip could be a little fuzzy on the name...

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  2. I'm a staunch supporter of the canon patrol.

    Also, I fixed the error. Thanks!

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  3. Hmm... underneath the second picture: "drunken" should be "drank." Drunken is an adjective/adverb, drank is a verb.

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  4. I went ahead and made the change, thanks!

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  5. Interesting of you to ponder what kind of literature they'd produce...

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