Friday, February 22, 2008
Ten perfect voices rang into the misty morning air, the tones drifting across the placid surface of the nearby lake towards the towering crystal spire rising from its waters. For all the scene's tranquility, the Exodar’s arrival had not been a peaceful one. Fragments and loose crystals from that sacred fortress are still scattered across the landscape of Azuremyst Isle.
Defended by tempestuous ocean waters, the tangled forests of Azuremyst Isle escaped the turmoil of mainland Kalimdor, though its northern neighbor in the archipelago had seen its share of strife. The night elves called the island Ashal Ador, which means the primordial garden. The pristine wilderness, with its enigmatic moonkin and furbolg inhabitants, seemed like a remnant of an earlier time. Elven habitation was limited to Silvermyst Isle, just southwest of Azuremyst Isle. For many years, far-ranging Kaldorei anglers would occasionally ply the teeming waters around the island, though no more than a few families lived in the place at one time. Sadly, the Exodar’s cataclysmic descent had devastated Silvermyst. The night elves understand that the damage was accidental, and no ill will exits between the two peoples.
Arcane energies from the Exodar's crash have altered the ecology in unpredictable ways. The docile moonkin turned savage, and the Bristlelimb furbolg tribe descended into the madness afflicting too many of their mainland brethren. Velen promised the Darnassian authorities that he would do all he could to restore the island to its previous state.
When I left Exodar, I joined a group of ten draenei headed to Azure Watch, a draenic outpost in central Azuremyst. They were delivering supplies taken from the battered portions of the vessel. Elekks, a nearly indescribable beast brought from Draenor, carried most of the supplies. These blue skinned mammals are nearly as big as kodo and walk on four stumpy legs. Each has a pair of tusks and a prehensile nose that resembles a tail. The draenei treat elekks with great affection.
The most prominent member of the party was Norimon, a vindicator. The vindicators are draenic paladins, and to see one in person is like meeting some sort of demigod. The vindicator restores hope and sparks inspiration. All that is good and holy seems possible in the vindicator’s presence. With his imposing figure and gleaming armor, Norimon looked as if he alone could prevail against the entire Burning Legion.
“Do you enjoy the landscape, Brother Talus?” he asked me after he finished leading the dawn prayer.
“I think so as well. The forests here are much different from the ones on Draenor, but they are certainly to my liking. I look forward to seeing more of your world, Brother Talus.”
“There is much worth seeing.”
“What would you recommend?”
I spent the next few hours describing some of the places I had seen.
Human and dwarven paladins are also capable of inspiring those around them, this being one of the traits of their noble role. To some extent, all draenei have this gift. Their steadfastness and faith in the face of overwhelming odds has a way of lifting the spirits. It works from one draenei to another, forming an important part of the empathic skein that binds their society. When this heroic presence is coupled with the charisma of the vindicator, the results are truly astounding.
The eastern stretches of Azuremyst Isle are rugged, covered in dense forests and vast, shallow lakes. An ancient, pre-Sundering elven road made our passage easier. A few elven ruins slumber in the thicket, though even in their golden age the elves mostly left the place untouched. Though the caravan was on a serious mission, the mood was light and joyful. The draenei constantly sang graceful hymns to the Light.
Four days of travel brought us to Azure Watch. The Exodar had jettisoned a number of escape pods as it fell, in the manner of a rowboat fleeing a sinking ship. Several of these pods landed on a rocky hill. The draenei within quickly consolidated and formed the settlement of Azure Watch.
Our caravan was received graciously by Menelaous, the exarch of Azure Watch. An exarch is a priest of exceptional wisdom and piety. Menelaous was particularly happy to see a human, and asked me some questions about Azeroth. I answered these as best I could. I had some questions for him as well.
“How big do you think Azure Watch will become?”
“There is no need for it to be much larger. We draenei only reproduce when there is an actual need for more of us. While that need certainly exists at the moment, most will live in the Exodar. Azure Watch shall not be any larger than a village.”
“This would also please the night elves.”
“Yes, we understand the importance of being good neighbors.”
“What are some of the issues affecting Azure Watch at the moment?”
“The Prophet has charged us with securing the environment of the island. As you can see, the Exodar’s arrival left its mark, and we are obliged to repair the damage caused. We also wish to build a solid brotherhood with the Stillpine Tribe of furbolgs to the north. Our shamans have proved quite useful for this task.”
While I was there, most of Azure Watch’s small population concentrated on repairing the damaged capsules. Like most things in draenic society, these utilitarian tasks have religious connotations. For instance, the draenei used wood to patch up the rents in the capsules. The use of different and disparate materials to make a greater whole is considered a symbolic act reflecting the Holy Light. The alien metal of the Exodar does not exist in Azeroth, but the draenei are content to make do with existing materials of lesser quality.
No collectives existed in Azure Watch. The inhabitants were either members of collectives stationed in the Exodar, or those whose collectives had perished or remained in Outland.
“There is some talk about forming new collectives here. The Exarch believes that it could create a strong community, strengthening the metaphysical position of the Most Holy Light on your world. I hope it turns out that way,” said a draenei engineer named Salok. Salok and I were in the care center, the single largest pod in Azure Watch. My fellow travelers from the caravan also stayed there.
“Do you feel a particular sense of unity with the other draenei here?”
“How could I not? We have worked together to forge a new home here, surrounded by this mysterious wilderness. Several of us have discussed this with Exarch Menelaous, who approved of the concept. The Azure Watch can serve as a fine example of how much all people can accomplish by working together under the guidance of the Infinitely Holy Light. From the ruins, we are making a wonderful new place!”
“Wouldn’t a collective cause Azure Watch to grow significantly? I was told that this was going to remain a small settlement.”
“Collectives are not quite like the human family. The sole purpose of a collective is not to produce more draenei; it is to inculcate the precepts of the Light. Early attempts to have all draenei in a single, vast collective did not meet with optimally holy results. It is still too difficult for us to all relate on such a level. The small, three-family collective makes it much easier to forge bonds of unity with one’s peers.”
“Would it be safe to say that collectives are to the draenei race what individuals are to the collective?”
“That is very well said, Brother Talus! As we progress on the paths of virtue, it may become possible to unite into a single collective. However we are not yet holy enough for that. A few concessions to individualism must remain for the time being. Our physical bodies are sometimes the greatest impediment to spiritual unity.”
For the draenei, work is a form of recreation. The laborers in Azure Watch performed their tasks with unerring enthusiasm, and only took breaks when physically spent. Games among the draenei are cooperative rather than competitive. Back in Draenor, they used to run through obstacle courses that could only be navigated with teamwork. The draenei on Azeroth did not yet have the time to build such courses, but I did see them take part in activities like cooperative rock climbing.
Azure Watch has become an important place for the draenic shamans. Located in the midst of a nearly untouched wilderness, it is the perfect spot for the shamans to learn about the spirits of their new world. Many are unmutated, though the head shaman of Azure Watch was a Broken named Tuluun.
Tuluun had a degree of seniority as one of Nobundo’s first followers. However, he spent most of his time in deep meditation at the edge of Azure Watch, and did not interact with the unmutated shamans very often.
On my third day, I met a vivacious draenei woman named Kiba. An unmutated shaman, she was visiting from the Exodar. Kiba was young by draenic standards, being a mere century old.
“I am incredibly joyful that the Light guided Nobundo to find the spirits,” she told me.
“I thought the Broken couldn’t use the Light.”
“They cannot, but the Light can still use them. It is the consensus of the shamanistic community that the Light guided Nobundo, even if he was not consciously aware of it. Oh, this is so exciting, Brother Talus! The shamans may usher in a new era. For too long we focused solely on the metaphysical connections between the races of the universe. With the spirits, we can have a vastly more comprehensive understanding of the Holy Light. My entire collective was wiped out by the orcs, yet I still consider myself immensely blessed to be alive in such a time!”
Kiba said that she and two other shamans were going to take an expedition into the Moongraze Forest to the north, and asked if I would like to come along. I agreed and set off with them early the next morning. Besides myself and the three shamans, there was also an anchorite priest who said little during our journey.
The shamans enjoy hymns as much as any other draenei, and they sang several as they tramped through the wilderness. It was slow going. Moongraze Forest has remarkably dense growth. Profusions of dark blue and violet wildflowers grow among tangling vines that fill the narrow spaces between trees. Most of the trees are a type of dark-colored pine, though there are many groves of spruces and firs. Most notable is the thick blue moss that carpets the clearings in the forest; this moss is unique to Azuremyst Isle.
After a morning of hard travel we came to a steep rise mostly clear of trees. At the top is a forgotten Kaldorei ruin. Antlered stags with brilliant white fur graze contentedly among the broken pillars. Beyond the ruin is a sheer drop to the dense forests below.
“This will be an excellent place, I think!” exclaimed Kiba.
Chattering excitedly in Draenic, the shamans went to the top and laid out several mats. One, a veritable giant named Loktos, spoke in an imploring tone. He took a slender totem from his pack and set it on the ground. Unlike the totems of the Horde, draenic totems are metallic, orbited by gleaming shards and circles of pale blue light.
“We are attempting to further research the air spirits in this spot. The high altitude makes it an ideal location, no?”
I spent the next several hours watching the trio of shamans, who looked to be enjoying themselves. Loktos took copious notes. I stole a glance at them, and saw that they were full of painstakingly detailed sketches of the local flora and fauna. The priest spent much of his time in traditional prayer, only asking the occasional question of the shamans.
We spent the night outdoors. A bitterly cold wind swept over the rise as the sun fell but the shamans were not bothered.
“So, Brother Talus. What do you think of what you have seen today?” inquired Kiba.
“It’s certainly piqued my curiosity. What did you learn about the air spirits?”
“Currently they seem to be curious about us, as we are new to this world. On our part, we are trying to determine what difference, if any, lies between wind spirits that come from different locations. North, south, northeast, and so forth.”
“One spirit for each wind?”
“Not one, but it is our hypothesis that spirits from a single source may share similar traits. We also did research on the earth spirits in this spot, to see if rocky, high-altitude spirits differ in attitude from lowland spirits. They seem a bit more remote, less receptive to biological intrusion.”
“So it is your hope that you can categorize spirits by physical traits in the natural world?”
“As such, yes. That way we can find the most effective way of communicating with them. The Prophet Velen has always said that communication is one of the most important parts of the Holy Light.”
“Do you intend to convert the spirits?”
“The spirits have their own way of doing things. They serve as an excellent symbol of the Holy Light; they are further proof of the Light’s undeniable truth, showing that it exists in the natural world just as much as it does in the philosophical one. This is why we study them. In addition, a good relationship with the spirits helps to sustain society, increasing the amount of joy.”
“Nature is sometimes quite cruel,” I pointed out.
“The ferocity of the predator is part of the natural balance. Animals are rarely consciously cruel; only the more advanced beasts are capable of such a thing. Thus the spirits, who do not normally act from malice or selfishness, are solid examples of the Holy Light in nature. Theoretically, they might be a very good way of introducing the Light to shamanistic races.”
Unlike the shamanistic traditions of this world which emphasize the fundamentally unknowable nature of the spirits, draenic shamanism posits that the spirits are understandable. Kiba said that ultimately, all things are known within the context of the Light. Certain details might be obscure, but there are no true philosophical mysteries.
I have heard some accuse the draenic shamans of arrogance, but I do not think this is the case. They are not fools who seek mastery over the spirits. Instead, they work for a mutually beneficial relationship that also reflects the Holy Light. They definitely do not treat the spirits with the near-religious reverence of the tauren. Nor, like troll shamans, do they regard the spirits as powerful but essentially capricious entities. The draenei see the spirits as a concrete aspect of the Light in the natural world, and just as worthy of respect and kindness as all others that live within the Light, while still acknowledging the ambivalence spirits hold to sapient races.
Fierce storms sometimes rage through the Veiled Sea, their winds and rain slamming into the forested Azuremyst Archipelago. The endless downpour runs down the pine needles to drench the mossy ground beneath.
The rains hit when I left Azure Watch. With me was a draenic huntress named Balaa. Her appearance was startling. Tiny scars pitted Balaa’s alabaster skin, and her left horn ended in a jagged stump. She possessed the haunted eyes of someone who’d seen many terrible things, and it came as no surprise to me when Menelaous informed me that she was an ashem.
Balaa had volunteered for the duty of going to Ammen Vale, where a large segment of the Exodar had crashed. Unlike the fortuitous landing of the Azure Watch pods, the Ammen Vale crash had been a terrible disaster. She was going to help search for survivors in the remote areas.
With Balaa walked a terrifying Outland beast called a ravager, resembling an insect crossed with a demonic porcupine. The ravagers are apparently easy to train so long as the stay in near-constant contact with the master. When left to their own devices, they return to a feral state in almost no time. Balaa had named her ravager Shekan, which means victory in Draenic.
We made relatively good time on the old elven road. Balaa spoke little and frequently checked her rifle. Guns of draenic make tend to look like gray lobsters, sans pincers. The carapace serves the function of keeping the gunpowder dry, making for an incredibly durable weapon.
I was curious about Balaa’s experiences, but I was unsure how to approach her. She herself broached the subject on the second night during the downpour. Balaa had set up a tent made of some stretchy and water-proof fabric manufactured by the draenei. The ravager, indifferent to the rain, curled up into a little ball of razors just outside the tent. I didn’t think I’d be able to touch the ravager without hurting myself.
“Thank you for coming with me, Brother Talus,” she said, her husky voice barely audible over the storm.
“Thank you for permitting my presence.”
“It is not wise for the draenei to spend too long in solitude. Even the company of my dear Shekan is insufficient—though I shudder to think of being without her. However much one may care for beasts, they are not part of the Infinitely Holy Light.”
“If you don’t mind my saying, you must have seen many battles on Draenor.”
“Too many. I was one of the only survivors when the orcs burned Tuurem to the ground. Tuurem was a holy town in the center of a great forest. We had done nothing to harm the orcs, but they slaughtered us just the same.”
“How did you escape?”
“Luck. I made my way to Shattrath, where I volunteered to act as a scout. I and my compatriots fought bravely, ambushing orc caravans and patrols, but it was not enough. One after the other our cities fell: Karabor, Baa’ri, Telaar, Halaa, Auchindoun, and even Shattrath. Those who walked with me also died. For ten years I stalked the forest paths alone, thinking myself the last draenei.”
I glumly remembered my last days as a living human, starving in a refugee camp in the Western Plaguelands.
“Finally I met a vindicator, who took me to the sanctuary at Telredor. The damage had been done. I... I could not think of the community of the Light, when I was alone. Do you understand? Thinking of the Light reminded me of what was lost. What good were the prophecies if all the draenei lay dead? You doubtless question the strength of my faith.”
“Not at all. It’s a credit to your faith that you still have it.”
“Perhaps. I kept myself warm at night by hating the orcs. It was all I could do. I enjoyed killing them, Brother Talus! I still want to! But I don’t want to desire murder.”
“How did you come to Azeroth?”
“I spent a long time doing solitary patrols in Zangarmarsh, only occasionally returning to my brethren. When I learned of the mission to Tempest Keep I implored to be brought along. Some were reluctant, fearing that my sorrow would infect others, but finally they deemed my skills too useful to be cast aside. For my part, I hoped living in a different place would ease my sorrow, but it did not. I brought my misery with me.”
“I still want to kill orcs, Brother Talus. You must be horrified. I would not blame you if you left me and returned to Azure Watch. Do not let me endanger your own faith.”
“It will not. Humans are more understanding of dark thoughts than are draenei. I do not condemn you.”
“You are of the Light, why would you? But I may pose a spiritual threat. Promise me you will leave if I do.”
The rain stopped in the morning, and we soon reached the shallow saltwater channel separating Ammen Vale from Azuremyst Isle. Steep ridges ring Ammen Vale, giving it a formidable appearance. We crossed the channel and emerged at the bottom of a waterfall running like a white scar down the mountain. A densely forested path led deeper into the vale.
Beyond the path is a scene of devastation. Great crystal shards stick into the earth like knives, having plunged deep after their descent. Shining fragments of white metal lie in twisted heaps across the forest, leaving broken trees in their wake.
“Do you know why this descent suffered so much damage?”
“The Ammen Vale survivors said it was the doing of blood elf saboteurs,” she snarled. “I fear I hate them as well.”
The sun had almost set by the time we reached the Ammen Vale crash site. A great tower of charred metal and broken crystals looms over the primeval forest. We encountered a peacekeeper patrol who quickly ushered us into the crash site. The situation of the Ammen Vale survivors was not so desperate as it had been earlier, when they lacked any contact with the outside world, but it was still difficult. Their small segment of the Exodar had not carried any agricultural crystals, forcing them to forage for food.
Most of the Ammen Vale survivors had already relocated to the Exodar. But the crash was not a singular event. After the main segment fell to the earth, smaller pods continued to crash down for weeks. The results were often grim.
Ammen Vale’s situation was initially quite precarious. Some of the blood elf saboteurs aboard the Exodar had also survived. The draenei soon destroyed them, but elven interference with rescue attempts was indirectly responsible for many deaths. Local wildlife became a more persistent problem. The arcane energies from the Exodar fragment inundated the soil of Ammen Vale, mutating or enraging many of the animals. The ultra-sensitive moonkin were particularly affected, and some still rampaged through the wilderness when I was there. A crew of 53 draenei remained in Ammen Vale working to undo or at least ameliorate the damage caused by their arrival, and to retrieve any latecomers.
The free-floating arcane energy further confounded rescue attempts. Mages found it difficult to use magic and the spirits quarreled in disarray. Neither force could be counted on to locate the more remote pods, which was why Balaa’s expertise had been requested. Vindicator Aldar, the de facto leader of Ammen Vale, said that she was one of the greatest living draenic trackers.
Balaa set off immediately to search for survivors. She was under no illusions about her mission; Aldar informed her that the draenei in those crash sites were probably dead. I did not accompany Balaa. While I could easily keep up with her on the roads, I would only slow her down in the thickets. Aldar was happy to have me as a visitor, but he had too many pressing concerns to do much for me. I simply stayed out of the way and helped out with whatever odd tasks I was able to do.
“I am in communication with the priests and arcanists at the Exodar. We are trying to find out how many pods are unaccounted for. Even one is too many, but the actual number is quite disturbing,” lamented Zhaana, an engineer.
“The blood elves were responsible for this?”
“Correct. We thought we had purged them from the sacred halls, but some of them remained concealed from us. I do not know how this was possible, but somehow they did! The anchorites had nearly finished the appropriate prayers and rites to begin the escape, when the elves came out of hiding. How much do you know of these blood elves, Brother Talus?”
“In my youth, they were called high elves.”
“Yes, we are familiar with the difference. It is simply shocking. I think we must assume that the blood elves are in league with the Burning Legion.”
Glimmering motes suddenly drifted down to us, and Zhaana sneezed. Looking up, I saw a giant moth fluttering over her head. She gave a delighted squeal.
“Good evening, Sister Moth! Beautiful creatures, aren’t they?”
While I am not normally fond of giant insects, I had to agree with Zhaana’s description. The moths of Ammen Vale are covered in silvery fur, and fly with lovely, translucent wings.
“Creatures like these once flitted through the pearly jungles of Argus. We have always kept the moths as pets—kindness to beasts can symbolize the Light, to a degree. Wherever we go, they follow. I am glad to see that so many survived the crash.”
The revelations about blood elf activities troubled me deeply. Were they deceiving the Warchief? Or was the situation more complex than it seemed? The blood elves have certainly adopted some questionable measures to preserve their race, but it is difficult to imagine that they would embrace demons. The Scourge had destroyed Quel’thalas, but the Scourge was made by the Burning Legion. I did not think that the draenei were lying to me, though I suspected they may have been mistaken on some level.
Zhaana said that the elves were much more numerous on Bloodmyst Isle to the north. I had intended to go there anyway, and I resolved to try and contact the blood elves if possible. At the time, I had no way of knowing if the Sin’dorei would even be aware of the existence of the Forsaken. However, I felt obliged to learn as much about the situation as possible, so that I could give an accurate report of elven attitudes.
A defeated-looking Balaa returned to the crash site after two days. She spoke in Draenic to Aldar, whose face turned grave.
“I found the crash site, Talus. Five draenei, all of them dead.”
The pod had landed in an area filled with berserk moonkin, though it was the impact that had killed the draenei. Aldar deemed it too risky to retrieve the bodies. Nonetheless, a funeral ceremony was held later that day in the remains of the main capsule.
Draenic funerals are solemn rather than emotive. An anchorite leads the assembled draenei in prayer. I could not understand his words, but I later learned that he spoke of how all are immortal in the graces of the Light, and that we should be joyful for having known the fallen in at least a spiritual sense. In fact, one of the Ammen Vale survivors had a wife among the dead found by Balaa. Though his luminescent eyes watered, he retained his composure. Funerals last about an hour, and end in a hopeful prayer.
The serene rite was broken by an anguished cry. The assembled draenei turned as one to the source: Balaa. The huntress had collapsed, sobbing and grabbing at her tangled black hair, tearing it out in tufts. The anchorite moved towards her, words of condolence on his tongue.
Upon seeing him, Balaa got to her hooves and shouted in a voice mixed with rage and grief. Then she fled into the wilderness, from which she did not emerge until the evening hours. She returned with her head bowed. Balaa kneeled in front of Vindicator Aldar, speaking in a chastised tone. The vindicator raised her up and embraced her, speaking quietly. Soon after, Balaa came to me.
“I must apologize, Brother Talus. When one forgets the Light, her mind does strange things. I hope that my misery does not dampen your happiness.”
“By human standards your reaction was entirely normal. I’ve seen it many times before.”
She looked at me warily.
“Perhaps, but I am draenei, not human. It is for this reason that I cannot live in a collective. I shall leave Ammen Vale tomorrow. You are welcome to come with me, though I shall not fault you for staying or traveling separately.”
I elected to go with Balaa. Above us, the sky flashed in brilliant bursts of blue and purple in what the draenei call an arcane storm. This type of weather phenomena does not normally exist in Azeroth, and was caused by the Exodar’s entry. Arcane storms create spectacular visual effects but no physical ones. This is not to say that it is illusory; rather, it simply does not interact with the material world. All in all, such storms are unforgettable sights.
We again crossed the ford and made camp on the forest’s edge.
“I cannot imagine how dreadful it must have felt for them,” she sighed.
“The dead draenei that you found?”
“I meant for my brethren at the funeral. For me to have an outburst at such a vulnerable time is terrible.”
“My experience with the draenei is limited, but they are clearly a strong people. Aldar forgave you anyway.”
“Of course, but I cannot live with them lest I darken their dreams. Oh! Such a terrible thing to inflict sorrow wherever I go! I want to be happy again Brother Talus! I just do not know how. Whenever I am with others, I only think of how orcish axes slaughtered the people of old Tuurem. I am adrift in a sea of blood, cut off from the Holy Light. Is there any way to extinguish my hatred? No draenei knows of hatred, save for other ashem, and they are as mad as me.”
“Perhaps a human could help. My people have more experience in dealing with such matters. Some priests specialize in helping warriors who have seen too much bloodshed.”
“I see. I hope that is the case. Best, perhaps, to wait for proper facilities to be instituted here, but I cannot wait much longer. I can think of no greater thing than to be happy in the warmth of the Light. No greater thing, Brother Talus. You cannot know what it is like to have forgotten how to find it.”
“Humans are not as attuned with the Light as are the draenei. We too suffer from rage, fear, sorrow, and isolation. All of us do, throughout our entire lives.”
“How do you manage it?”
“Ever person does so differently. Some use humor, others fill their lives with work, loved ones, or pleasure. The choices are limitless. Sorrow is inevitable, so one must deal with it.”
“We draenei are not a people of choices. There is one path for us. I do not discount your suggestion, Brother Talus. I think there is merit in it. But it cannot be the whole solution.”
“Probably not. Forgive me for asking, but would you say that an ashem’s unhappiness may actually strengthen her faith in the long run? Many of the wisest saints and theologians in human history went through dark times in their lives.”
Balaa looked slightly incredulous.
“No. Sadness and hatred separate me from the Light. Nothing good can come of it. The ashem are sometimes helpful in a purely material sense by undertaking solitary missions for the greater good.”
“But are normal draenei completely free of dark emotions? I must admit I find that hard to believe.”
“It is not absent. Even the wisest may have occasional lapses. Perhaps, say, a vindicator feels great rage towards orcs. The faith of the draenei around him shall ease his dark thoughts. A draenei becomes ashem when the darkness festers. This is why we shun solitude; it is a terrible incubator for cruelty and selfishness.”
Throughout my travels, I’ve always tried to learn about the misfits and downtrodden of society. Whether it was the Unwanted of Ironforge, the peons of the Horde, or the tauren hadoham, their stories always fascinate me. My experiences as a Forsaken have led me to identify with them, at least to an extent.
The ashem are generally desperate to return to the fold and seem painfully aware of their problems. Balaa identified her hatred as one of the main reasons she could not “remember” the Light. This realization makes their situation all the more tragic. The ashem fully understand the difference between them and the status quo, but cannot figure out how to overcome it. Both the ashem and the community acknowledge the perceived need for separation, to avoid a potential spread of the ashem’s misery. I first thought that the overwhelming positivity of the community would outweigh the ashem’s sorrow. However, being distanced from the Light plays havoc with the ashem’s receptive empathy.
The concept of completely eliminating the offending emotion reinforced how alien the draenei really are. On a purely utilitarian level there does not seem to be anything wrong with it. Yet how many of the greatest human minds were motivated by a bit of misery or anger? The hadoham misfits of the tauren are an example of this, often acting as the innovators of society. But unlike the hadoham, the ashem appear too emotionally distraught to be innovators.
A scowling spirit’s face glared at me from a rough, wooden totem, one of several thrust into the ground. It is a far cry from the alien serenity of the draenic settlements on the island. Hollowed-out log huts and open cook fires fill the forest clearing, and crude ornaments of bone and twine dangle from the trees.
For thousands of years, the furbolgs of the Stillpine Tribe made their home in the foreboding wilderness of northern Azuremyst. They were content to forage and hunt for sustenance as their ancestors had done before them. Their world changed little in the time after the Sundering, until the Exodar’s apocalyptic arrival.
I came at a time of chaos for the ancient Stillpine Tribe. Ursine warriors bedecked in gray feather headdresses patrolled the area, their massive paws gripping stout spears. A line of tribesmen watched over the entrance to Stillpine Hold, the great cavern where much of the tribe had once lived, their weapons and snarling faces directed towards the opening. Also present were draenei, including a few shamans. Some draenei had learned bits of the Ursic tongue, allowing them to communicate with the reclusive Stillpine. None of the furbolgs spoke any Common, preventing me from conversing with them directly.
“I fear that our arrival was not very auspicious,” lamented Kiba, the shaman I had met earlier in Azure Watch. She was pleased to see me again.
“What’s the problem here? The furbolgs are clearly on guard.”
“The moonkin. They occupy the interior of Stillpine Hold. Fortunately, most of the tribe was conducting an outdoor festival at the time of the invasion. We are working with the furbolgs to reclaim their home, but the moonkin are savage and our resources limited. Victory is a given in this case, but it will take time.”
Kiba was trying to learn as much as possible about the furbolg school of shamanism, but the Stillpine elders were first obliged to restore order to their society. Another problem was the Bristlelimb Tribe, which dwells to the southwest and north of the Stillpine range. The Bristlelimb had been acting curiously aggressive in recent years, but only snapped into violence upon the Exodar’s arrival.
The Stillpine shamans hold to a prophecy that states dark times will come to Kalimdor, and that demon-spirits would corrupt animal and furbolg alike. Salvation, they say, shall be delivered by spirits of ice and metal. The armored draenic warriors and crystal-laden Anchorites fit this description fairly well, though I still consider the prophecy to be coincidence. Though the draenei are indirectly responsible for the island’s state, they are working to correct it. The Stillpine Tribe bears no resentment to the draenei, and regard their new neighbors as almost sacrosanct.
I only spent one night in Stillpine Hold. The furbolg did not appear happy about my presence; none had ever before seen a human. I stayed with the draenei, who had set up a trio of small tents on the village’s edge. There, I met with an stern-looking anchorite named Baruun. His duty was to learn about furbolg society, and see how it compared to the Light.
“The Stillpine really only lack the proper context, which is not really so important. They understand the essence of the Most Holy Light; they work for the good of the tribe.”
“Do you intend to teach them of the Light?”
“As I said, they already know of it. We shall simply introduce some of the faith’s larger context. Given the already holy nature of their society, I imagine they will fully embrace the Light in a few thousand years, and become similar to the draenei.”
“There will not be a conversion per se, I take it.”
“Not at all. The draenei will work through deeds, cultivating the holy tendencies of the Stillpine Tribe in a subtle manner. We are impressed with their selflessness; I think the humans could learn much from them.”
“Judging from the tapestry of history, our scholars have concluded that a society either grows more unified, inevitably bringing them closer to the Light, or more fractured and selfish. The furbolgs are in the former category.”
“What were the draenei like, before the Naaru?”
“We tended towards pride, which was connected with one’s arcane talent. The eredar lived in castes of varying levels of sorcerous ability. Our natural state is not really that much better than any other race; fortunately, constant exposure to the holy energies of the Naaru over the past 25,000 years have created a just society that prevents our darker tendencies from ever manifesting, assuming we do not spend too much time away from the community. That is one thing that concerns us about the shamans. Their interest in expanding the Light to the natural world is laudable, but they must remember that the natural state is not to be embraced.”
“Do you approve of the shamans?”
“Most certainly. The shamans were embraced by the Prophet Velen, who clearly sees great things in their future. Prophet Velen also agrees that shamans need some priestly oversight to be sure they do not tread into dangerous thought patterns. That is another duty of mine. The spirits are part of the Light, but they obey its precepts in their own way. The shamans must not confuse their way, appropriate for spirits, with our own.”
I would agree with Baruun that the fundamental state sapient beings is one of gross selfishness and cruelty. What he said about the shamans was illuminating. The draenei do permit new ideas, though only if they meet with the approval of Velen. Clearly, this suggests a degree of dynamism in the draenic thought process. What still troubled me was the fact that no one in the Exodar seemed to challenge the Holy Light. All scholarly discussion exists to reinforce it.
Please keep in mind that I am not saying the Light is false, or wicked. It is simply that such a vast consensus is utterly alien to my experience. The draenei say that all good societies will eventually progress to their level, and that frightens me. The human history of the Holy Light is full of brave souls who defied conventional wisdom, striking out with ideas that began as radical, and then became gradually accepted. At the same time, human religious history has more than its share of violent heretics and charlatans. But I believe there is worth in the individual. I can take comfort in the fact the draenei disavow forcible conversion. Perhaps the younger races of this world may surprise the draenei with positive and different methods of development.