Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Even after seeing the Exodar with my own eyes I could scarce believe its existence. Everything about it is beyond comprehension; a great crystal keep that had fallen in the remote Azuremyst Archipelago, bearing a cargo of saints and angels.
The first rumors described the Exodar as the vanguard of a new demonic invasion. Dissatisfied with the abilities of lesser demons, the dreadful eredar had come en masse. Then new stories began to circulate, refuting the tales of fiendish incursion. These described the Exodar as crewed by a faction of the draenei, the race that the orcs had nearly exterminated during their corruption. Far from demons, these draenei preached words of the Light.
I was living in Orgrimmar when the Exodar first came to Azeroth. At the time I dwelled with the troll mages, helping them in their studies. Prior to that I fought the Qiraji menace in Silithus for seven long months. I rejoiced along with my fellows when the bulk of the Qiraji force fell in the dust. Though C’thun and Its servants still rule in Ahn’qiraj, the attacking power of the insect empire is broken. Then the Horde and the Alliance, who had accomplished so much together, began to squabble over the arcane silithyst dust in the region. I left in disgust.
Orgrimmar became something of a home to me but I again grew restless. News of the Exodar grew too tantalizing to resist so I resolved to see it for myself. I hired a traveling orc warrior to go to Undercity and pick up more supplies for my disguise, which he did promptly.
The ferry to the Exodar had just opened when I returned to the melancholy night elf port of Auberdine. The Alliance was initially wary of the draenei and had only permitted government officials to visit the new arrivals. The Horde already knew that the draenei were members of the Alliance in all but name. Given their past history with the orcs, this came as no surprise. I spotted some visiting draenei on the docks, dressed in gleaming white robes. Their appearance struck me as reminiscent of eredar, perhaps explaining the initial tales of demons. The truth, I would soon learn, is much stranger.
The ferry, a refitted Kaldorei warship, cut through the stormy waters. Most of the passengers were elves, though gnomes, dwarves, and humans were also present. We exchanged wild speculation about the nature of the draenei. None of us really knew what to expect.
Two days passed on the misty waters of the Veiled Sea. The passengers disembarked from the ferry upon arrival, gazing in awe at the crystal mountain called the Exodar. I lingered at the back of the crowd, struck by a mild apprehension. Would these newcomers see through my disguise? I knew little of their capabilities aside from what the orcs told me, and their information was fragmentary and often contradictory.
A party of three joyful draenei ushered the visitors into a gleaming gate in the side of the Exodar. I separated myself, deciding to explore the crash site. I found surprisingly little in the way of debris. I examined the Exodar’s base, made of a smooth and silvery material with a texture similar to porcelain, though clearly much stronger. If the draenei had been the creators of such a marvel, the Horde’s days could well be numbered.
In time, I came to a spot where great plates and shards punctured the earth. A wall, formerly a piece of the Exodar, lay across the western side of the city. Crowds of blue-skinned draenei worked at various tasks, and the cold northern air rang lively with their musical tongue. Their size is indeed intimidating; while not as big as tauren, they are close.
I spotted a large white capsule on the ground, windows of bright pink glass placed along the circumference. I peered inside and saw six draenei in spotless white robes standing at attention.
“Hello, and welcome to the Exodar, Brother Human. Are you one of the recent arrivals?” asked one, in a booming voice.
“Yes. I became separated from the main group actually. Am I allowed in this area?”
“There are no secrets in the Exodar, and this is merely the Surface Chapel. I am called Naavis. I am a newly initiated Proselyte of the Faith. May I ask your name?”
“I am Talus Corestiam.”
“Excellent, excellent. Would you like me to show you into the Exodar?”
“I don’t wish to interrupt your studies.”
“There is no concern. I would not be fulfilling the dictates of the Infinitely Holy Light if I let a stranger wander lost. Here, let us go, unless you would wish to stay.”
“No, I’ll go. Thank you.”
“You are most welcome.”
Naavis strode out of the chapel as the five other draenei smiled and nodded in acknowledgement. I followed Naavis towards the gate of the Exodar.
The entrance hall to the Exodar (sometimes called the Holy Passage) is itself an amazing sight. The ceiling soars overhead like what one sees in a cathedral’s nave. Immense violet crystals thrust out from rifts in the walls, and lightning races across the tips. Threads of pink light are strung across the expanse like silken threads. The damage of the crash is evident but does not distract from the grandeur.
“The draenei... built all of this?” I asked.
“We have not. Many on this world think so, but the Holy Exodar was crafted by the wisdom of the Naaru. Have you heard of the Naaru?”
“People have been mentioning the name, but I do not truly understand what it means.”
“The Naaru are the pure and magnificent manifestations of the Light. For 25,000 years, the Naaru have guided the draenei. Everything that we have, we owe to them.”
“They are not draenei though?”
“No, not at all. There is a Naaru here in the Exodar. It is called O’ros. You may freely see O’ros if you wish. I strongly recommend it. I know that the human holy texts do not mention the Naaru, but we are certain that your Cassian was inspired by them.”
I again felt dumbfounded. The Naaru as living representations of the Light? I recalled the Najaru entities revered by the Ralmanni nomads of Deadwind Pass. Perhaps the Ralmanni seers had seen something that Cassian had missed.
After a long descent, the Holy Passage terminates at an immense, roughly hexagonal chamber. The floor's center is a circular opening surrounded by crystalline spires. Streams of purple light radiate from the portal and waft to the ceiling high above. Draenei walked all around, some of them waving at me.
“My brethren are pleased to have a visitor!” beamed Naavis.
“Thank you,” I said, waving back to my greeters. Gleaming arches of metal and glass waited on the other side, opening to shining sections deeper in the city.
“This is the Seat of the Naaru. O'ros dwells just below us. Its sacred energies power the Exodar, so that we may have light and warmth at all times.”
“This is not a technological construct, I take it?”
“Not as such. The Exodar is a sacred talisman, and the refuge of the draenei. We could go down to see O'ros, if you’d like, though do not force yourself. I am sure you are quite tired, and O'ros can be overwhelming to those that have never seen a Naaru.”
“Yes, I think I may visit It later. I’m sorry if I seem distant. I’m simply a bit overwhelmed.”
“Brother Talus, do not feel shame. It is only natural that you be surprised. Hmm... perhaps you would like to stay with my... what’s the word for it in Common... collective, I think? Yes, would you like to visit? You can meet my family there.”
“I do not wish to intrude—”
“How would that be an intrusion? It is an invitation.”
“All right then.”
“Splendid! I’m afraid that only Vaasya and myself speak Common, but we shall all be glad to see you.”
“Is Vaasya your wife?”
“She is... I wonder if sister is the right word? But that implies blood relation, no? Sister is the best I can think of. Perhaps seeing my family will better explain it. Follow me! We live in the Trader’s Tier.”
I walked with Naavis to the other side of the Seat. I detected a celestial hum in the pristine air and some of my anxiety lifted. The Trader’s Tier is another grand room, shaped a bit like an elongated trapezoid. Once again, giant crystals dominate, some rising up from cracks in the floor. Balconies crowd the walls, leading to homes and shops. On the ground floor are a number of bronze-colored structures filled with draenei. They resemble half-buried nautilus shells, though with sharper edges. In truth, I can think of no natural parallel.
“These structures look to be made of a different material than the rest of the Exodar,” I commented.
“You humans have very good eyes! These are built by the draenei, done in our traditional architectural style. Even for us, the great spaces of the Holy Exodar can be unnerving, so we build walls. Perhaps one day, with faith, we shall no longer need walls. For the time being they are useful, so long as the gates are always open.”
“What is the basis of your economy?”
“Why, it is the same thing upon which we base all the aspects of our society: the Most Holy Light. The purpose of shops and trade is to give us an opportunity to work for the benefit of others. After all, a mind unoccupied by prayer, love, study, or work, is one particularly susceptible to the Shadow. We strive to avoid this at all costs.”
“You do not do the work for your own benefit?”
“That which benefits others within the Light is also of a benefit to you or I. Labor should be a reflection of the Light.”
“Do you use money?”
“We do now. At first we only bartered, but that became inconvenient, especially when dealing with other nations and races. Money has its uses. I have heard there are individuals in human kingdoms that are very wealthy in terms of money, is this true?”
“Ah. Among the draenei, no individual is wealthy. All money earned by a single draenei is put in a collective's account. The money is normally used to purchase necessities, and for donations to the faith. When money is to be used, the families of the collective will meet and all mature members decide the most virtuous way with which to use the money.”
“What about luxury items?”
“As long as there is enough for basic comfort, we are satisfied. The Light charges us to seek joy in the companionship of others, not in material possessions.”
“I see. It sounds like a family would accumulate a great deal of unused money if they never buy anything besides the necessities.”
“Oh, not at all. The family will give most of the money it does not use to the faith.”
“How do they use the money?”
“Sometimes in dealing with other nations. Other times the money is simply recirculated or destroyed. Money among the draenei is really a formality.”
“Are there any poor draenei?”
“I take it you mean poor in a material sense?”
“There are none. Occasionally a family may miscalculate its funds, but that is no matter. They will continue to work until they reestablish their finances. If they cannot buy necessary goods, it will be happily provided to them.”
“There are no malingerers who fake poverty in order to get the benefits?”
“Um, forgive me, I do not understand your question. Are you talking about thieves? Some thieves lived among the orcs back in Draenor, but we never quite understood the phenomenon.”
“There are no thieves?”
“Why would we have thieves? No material needs are left unfulfilled.”
The draenic economy is a rather marvelous construct, albeit one that could never work for any other race. The draenei are communal and content, whereas humans (and other races) are greedy and ambitious.
Naavis led me past a cluster of hemispherical balconies built into a wall of glittering crystals, and then up a shallow stairway. We entered a series of narrow violet corridors, decorated with interweaving bronze strands.
“We are almost there, Talus,” announced Naavis. “My collective is called Pious Serenity.”
“That is a beautiful name.”
“When a collective is founded, it is named after a virtue or trait supported by the Most Holy. Mine is called Pious Serenity because we strive to be examples of the peace and prayerful attitudes created by the Light. Ah, here we are!”
I followed Naavis into a oval doorway, and found myself in a brightly lit room full of draenei. I was instantly the center of attention as nine of their number surrounded me. Some greeted me in halting Common. Naavis made enthusiastic introductions. This great draenei collective whirled around me for several minutes before Naavis spoke.
“I regret to say that I must leave you for now. I have duties that must be attended. Speak to Vaasya if you need anything; we shall do our best to make your stay comfortable.”
Naavis clasped his hands together as if in prayer, and bowed to me.
“May you walk the Path of the Light, for all your days,” he said.
The draenei continued to chatter excitedly while I tried to observe my surroundings. I stood in a triangular room lit by a trio of globular crystals on the ceiling. The furniture was sparse, consisting of a long gray table, chairs, and three bookcases each impractically shaped like a curved triangle. A female voice rose above the tumult, carrying a tone of gentle chastisement. The draenei withdrew, and the speaker approached me.
“I am Vaasya. We are very honored and excited to have a guest, please forgive them if they became overenthusiastic. I know that you humans are not always as comfortable with strangers as we draenei. Please, have a seat.”
“Thank you.” I took a chair at the table. “Where exactly did you learn Common?”
“From the humans that went through the Dark Portal, a little over 20 years ago though we met them more recently. They are truly a brave and pious breed. It is our privilege to have encountered them.”
“Did they inspire you to join the Alliance?”
“We prayed and meditated on it, and their actions were sufficient reasons for the Prophet Velen.”
I asked Vaasya to explain the concept of the collective.
“It is the basic social structure for all draenei societies. A collective is a union of three separate families. If one family stays to itself, it can become dangerously clannish. In a collective, many families will mix and better serve each other, bringing us closer to the Three Virtues.”
“Are you related by blood to Naavis?”
“I am not. However, he is like family, for he is part of Pious Serenity.”
“Are collectives formed by marriage?”
“No. Collectives are arranged by priests who specialize in this duty. When a young draenei comes of age and wishes to marry, she shall petition these elder priests. She and her husband will be placed on a list. When there is enough for a new collective, or if an existing collective has lost members to violence or accidents, the young couple will be married.”
“Is it traditional for an entire collective to share a home?”
“Actually it is not. In our old cities, a collective would inhabit three houses in close proximity to one another. This is one advantage of our new home; by living so close together, the collectives become stronger.”
“Do you have much interaction with other collectives?”
“We interact with others every day. If a collective fell into exclusionary practices it would be no better than a clan.”
Vaasya continued to explain the nature of the collective, while I tried to keep up. One fact truly sets the collective apart from other arrangements. When children come of age and marry, they leave the collective in which they are raised. This itself is not so unusual; the strange thing is that the child and his or her birth collective do not make any real attempt to keep in touch with each other. The parents do not appear to mind.
“But surely you wish to see your children,” I inquired to Vaasya. She had been a mother three times, over the course of two centuries.
“There are in another collective. Every collective is virtuous, so why should I be especially concerned?”
“Pardon me for my ignorance, it’s just that I’ve never heard of anything like this before. You really do not object to not seeing them?”
“No. Talus, the Light encourages love between all thinking beings. If I love my child too much, it could eclipse my love for the Light as a whole. Our priests say it is selfish to love relations and friends too much and they are right. The humans are not like this?”
“Not at all. In fact, the human Church of the Light states clearly that the strength of the Light is exemplified in a mother’s love for her child,” I explained.
Vaasya gasped, looking simultaneously disbelieving and alarmed.
“I admit I did not have as much contact with the humans on Draenor as I would have liked. I was not aware of this fact, though they did seem to form strong attachments to particular individuals.”
“That’s how it has always been with humans,” I explained.
“Interesting,” mused Vaasya.
“Do draenei have friends?”
“Naturally. I would be lying if I said I did not feel closer to those in my collective than to those in others, or if I said I did not have friends. There are draenei whose company I especially enjoy. But I love all who are within the Light.”
At first I suspected Vaasya was faking the indifference towards her distant children (she did not even know if her second child was in the Exodar), but other draenei parents to whom I spoke voiced the same nonchalance. This is not to say that draenei parents are apathetic; they are very attentive to their young while raising them. Children are celebrated in draenei culture. Yet once the child moves out, both parties usually move on. This struck me as a truly alien behavior. Parents and children may reunite at a later date, however this is usually coincidental rather than deliberate.
Three times a day, the voice of Velen emnates from the numberless crystals throughout the Exodar. Speaking in the ancient tongue of the draenei, he gives words of encouragement, hope, and wisdom. All draenei bow their heads reverently when he speaks. The speech is always brief. When the Prophet finishes, the entirety of the Exodar sings as one.
I recalled my time among the malformed and despairing draenei in the Swamp of Sorrows. They too had used draenethyst crystals in vocal rituals, yet theirs was a pale imitation of the glory I heard in Exodar. Each collective sings its own hymn, and the melodies somehow intertwine in perfection. The draenei state that this unison demonstrates the power of the Light at work.
“Each song is different, yet the guidance of the Light puts them in harmony,” stated Vaasya.
This custom is not limited to the Exodar; the buildings of the cities on Draenor had been capped with great pieces of draenethyst that acted as conduits for prayers. It is another example of the empathic ability of the draenei. The joy they feel in the Light has a very palpable effect on other draenei—indeed, on members of all thinking races. It could be described as an echo chamber of happiness.
Pious Serenity insisted that I stay with them throughout the entirety of my visit. All three families of the collective gather for the Night Prayer. Through the rest of the day, they go in and out of their apartment, working at other assigned tasks.
I was able to go wherever I wished. No place in the Exodar is off-limits. Everywhere I went, draenei smiled and greeted me in Common. Two days after arriving I went the hostel where the Alliance visitors were staying. I met an old human priest named Emnion, who seemed simultaneously dazed and euphoric. On the whole, he was quite impressed with the draenei.
“Truly, they live the Light,” he said.
“Their way of following the Light is not the same as humanity’s. Do you regard their version to be superior?”
“I’m not sure about that. Some things are a bit strange. I will be writing a full report to Archbishop Benedictus. The differences are ultimately insignificant. They follow the Three Virtues in a way that puts Stormwind to shame. We have much to learn.”
Before doing anything else I knew I had to learn more about draenic history. So much was unknown to me, and it was my hope that greater understanding could put things into their proper context. After joining Pious Serenity in the morning prayer, I went to the Crystal Hall. Much like the Trader’s Tier, the Crystal Hall is a chamber of staggering proportions. A great deal of draenei make their homes there. It is also where most of the historical records are kept.
A polite Exodar peacekeeper (it is perhaps redundant to call the peacekeepers polite) directed me to Soolam the Librarian. Short for a draenei, though still taller than I, Soolam was fluent in the Common tongue and happy to educate a human. What I learned was astounding to say the least.
Despite their name, the draenei did not originate on Draenor. Instead, they came from a world called Argus. Soolam, who was old enough to remember the ancient homeworld, described it as a place of green skies and storm-tossed silver oceans.
“In those days,” he said, “we called ourselves the eredar.”
“Excuse me, eredar? That is the name my people give to a race of demons.” I laughed nervously. “Quite a coincidence.”
“It is no coincidence. Allow me to explain. The eredar were a race of magicians. Some people follow kings, or priests, or wise men: we followed those with mastery over the arcane. Great were our citadels, rising from the tangled jungles and rocky islands of Argus. We had achieved mastery over all the world and there was nothing we could not do. We grew prideful,” he added, sorrowfully.
I nodded, not trusting myself to speak.
“The greatest of our number, who were like gods in power, were Velen, Archimonde, and Kil’jaeden: together we called them the Troika. And yes, it is with regret that I say Archimonde and Kil’jaeden are the same villains that have so vexed your world.”
“Why did Velen not follow their path?”
“Velen was always wiser. All three took care to protect those whose arcane skill was poor; before the rule of the Troika, those without magic were cruelly treated. The key difference between Velen and the others was that Archimonde and Kil’jaeden helped the weak to boost their own pride. Only Velen did it out of true compassion. It was inevitable that our power and arrogance would attract Sargeras, the Dark One. He tempted the Troika with promises of more knowledge. The eredar had grown bored and weary, you see. Having reached the apex of power, there was nothing for us to strive for. Sargeras offered us a new philosophical and arcane frontier.”
“Only Velen saw through this?”
“The Naaru came to Velen in a vision, and told him of what was to come. Even he, for all his wisdom, needed their holy guidance to see the truth. Velen gathered up a third of the eredar and followed the Naaru into sanctuary. This sanctuary took the form of a floating temple made of crystal, metal, and light, similar to the Exodar though much larger. On prayer and faith, it moved from world to world, seeking refuge from the Burning Legion. We wandered for thousands of years. On occasion, we would materialize in a world and stay there for a few decades before continuing. During this time, the vast majority of the refugees stayed in a state of sleep in the temple, a little bit like what your druids undergo. Only Velen and a few others remained in the waking world.”
“Why did you not stay on these worlds?”
“They were too easily accessed by the demons. Sargeras vowed to destroy us, as did Archimonde and Kil’jaeden. We hoped that by finding a remote world we could live in a place that the Legion would not think of looking closely. But it was not until Draenor that we found such a world. Draenor means 'exiles’ refuge' in our language, and that is why we renamed ourselves the draenei: the exiled.”
“I see. This is a bit of a shock to me, I must admit.”
“That has been said by all the humans who have learned our history. I know that it is a great deal to accept.”
“What inspired you to follow Velen?” I asked.
“My ability to use magic was limited. For me, Velen offered hope and inclusion, a society where I would not be truly accepted in spite of my inability. All are equal in the Light and my faith has allowed me to use it with great proficiency. The arcane is still important for us, but it is only a tool. It does not guide us.”
“Was there ever any intent to confront the Legion?”
“We have every intent of doing so,” smiled Soolam. “Holy Velen has told us of the Army of Light that shall defeat the Legion. We draenei are an integral part of this army. Velen guided us to Azeroth so that the Alliance races—perhaps in time, the races of the Horde as well—will join us. Because the draenei figure importantly in the plans of the Naaru, we could not afford to risk ourselves in an open confrontation, though we were certainly tempted. We must have faith in the wisdom of the Naaru. To do less is to fall into the arrogance of old.”
I thanked Soolam for his time and left the library. Accepting that the draenei and eredar stem from the same race is not really so difficult; the Forsaken and the Scourge are both undead after all. Yet other facts are harder to comprehend. The Army of Light prophecy puts the struggles for Azeroth in a new context.
Other questions arise for followers of the Light. Are the faithful of Azeroth supposed to accept the guidance of the Naaru and Prophet Velen unconditionally?
As I pondered these questions I nearly collided with a stunted draenei carrying a pick. His appearance was obviously and grotesquely different from the other draenei in the Exodar; in fact, he resembled the miserable draenei of the Harborage that I had encountered so long ago.
“Excuse me, Brother Human,” he apologized with a bow.
“You needn’t apologize.” I tried to think of a polite way to ask him why he looked the way he did. “What is your name?”
“Omon. I am one of the Broken.”
“When Draenor shattered, some of the draenei suffered adverse effects. I am Broken because I can no longer use the Most Holy Light, though I am still a part of it. The Prophet Velen, in his infinite mercy, has given my people a home on the Exodar.”
“Are there many Broken here?”
“We number over a thousand strong. Farseer Nobundo speaks for us, though Velen’s guidance is so insightful that we scarcely have a need for an intermediary. If I may ask your name, Brother Human?”
“Very good, Brother Talus. I am on my way to the Crystal Mine. Would you care to see? Much good work goes on there, as we labor for the greater benefit of the draenei, and all those who dwell within the Most Holy Light.”
“I’d be honored.”
Omon nodded and led me to a great rift in the side of the Crystal Hall. Beyond that is a rocky tunnel studded with shining crystal growths. Broken miners busily chip away at the crystals through the day, singing hymns as they work. I only spotted one normal draenei, engaged in discussion with one of the Broken. I wondered if I’d stumbled onto some sort of draenei underclass, though the Broken seemed happy enough.
“The Exodar carried the sacred draenethyst crystals, which can grow if properly tended. We are at work harvesting the current batch and expanding the mine. Draenethyst grows on the surface as well, but it causes some disruption with your world’s nature. Thus, we work underground.”
Omon introduced me to some of the other Broken, who happily received me. Only Omon could speak any Common. The mine itself is strange and wondrous, much like the rest of Exodar. Crackling streams of violet energy dart from node to node, though they pass harmlessly through the Broken.
The work in the Crystal Mine is as labor intensive as any other mining operation. The Broken approach their task with tireless alacrity. Some work on expanding the mine, while others (like Omon) concentrate on clearing out nodes. Draenethyst requires an extensive purification process before it becomes suitable for use. The holiest priests will pray over a harvested crystal for ten days, during which it rests in a bubbly azure formula. Only the core of the crystal is used, so the miners do not need to exercise great care in removing nodes.
Omon unexpectedly invited me to spend the night in the barracks where the Broken reside. Unlike the normal draenei, the Broken do not live in collectives. I accepted the offer and briefly returned to Pious Serenity to inform them where I would be. When I told Vaasya, she smiled at me gently.
“Ah, Brother Talus. You humans show such mercy even to the Broken. Truly you are our companions in the Most Holy Light.”
The barracks are a colossal structure consisting of several long rooms, each one given a number. Omon dwelled in Number 14. Inside, a long table goes down the middle, cots laid out on either side. A great kitchen and several washrooms adjoin Number 14.
Omon and the other miners on his crew gathered for an evening meal consisting of magically conjured bread.
“Our lives here are simple and good. On Draenor, many thought us lost, yet Velen saw a future for us.”
Each barracks has a preserver, who is a normal draenei priest responsible for monitoring the spiritual state of the Broken. The preserver for Number 14 was Dalraa, an intense woman who had been born on Draenor.
“I am glad you have expressed curiosity about the Broken. Theirs is a sad fate, and we pray for them daily,” she said.
“They seem to be quite pious,” I observed.
“They are, yet fel energies course through their nerves. The natural state of the Broken is more akin to that of a demon. The remnants of our world are ravaged by bands of violent Broken, destroying and killing all that they see. Only through constant prayer and observation can they join normal draenic society.”
“Why are they all miners?”
“While the degeneration they suffered has affected their mental acuity, they are actually stronger than normal draenei. The Broken have provided an excellent source of physical labor, which also gives the a way of rejoining the community.”
“Is there any way to reverse the process of degeneration?”
“Possibly. The, uh, shamans are researching that.”
“Yes. Perhaps you saw their sacred stones in the Crystal Hall. The Broken claim a kinship with the spirits of nature, saying that they are better able to see it. The theory goes that the spirits might heal them.”
After the meal, the miners joined in the city-wide evening prayer and then retired for the evening. Omon insisted that I take his cot while he slept on the floor. I declined, saying that he needed the rest, and soon convinced him. Dalraa then intervened, saying that I should take the bed.
“The importance of compassion and selflessness cannot be overstated enough, especially for the Broken,” she chided. “Omon has made the moral decision, and I think it best that it be followed.”
The lights of Number 14 faded into darkness as I lay on the bed. Omon snored peacefully on a rug a few feet away. Something disturbed me about the way the Broken were treated, but I could not really find any fault with it. Perhaps part of me suspected that the Broken were not really so mentally damaged, but everything I had seen suggested that they are intellectually weaker than their unmutated brethren. Physical labor was the job to which they were best suited. The worst thing that could be said about the draenei attitude towards the Broken is that it is patronizing.
I realized that what frightened me about draenic society is the overpowering consensus. Unlike the totalitarian regimes of the Dark Iron Empire, or the mental dominance of the Scourge, the draenei have achieved unity by each individual willingly committing him or herself to the Light.
A reasonable comparison would perhaps be to the tauren. Both races have a strongly communal bent, though with the draenei it is far more comprehensive, at least within a single community. As I would learn later, not all draenic groups are in complete agreement though most still hold to roughly the same ideals.
Still pondering what I had seen, I bid goodbye to Omon the next morning and went to learn about the draenic shamans. The shamans in the Exodar gather around four stations, called elemental links, located throughout the Crystal Hall. Each link is dedicated to one primal element. Each station surrounds a large standing stone decorated with an abstract rune that represents “the world within the Nether."
The purpose of an elemental link is to communicate with the corresponding spirits in the area. For instance, the air link is used to understand the state of the local air. Supposedly, the four links’ range covers the entirety of the Azuremyst Archipelago. The links were not yet fully operational at the time of my visit, as even the premier draenei shamans had only a few years of experience.
I spoke with a wizened Broken shaman named Kotoor. He had been a great mage in the ancient draenic capital of Shattrath City, before falling victim to the mutations that cursed his people.
“I’ve been told that shamanism is a recent development among the draenei.”
“Oh yes, very recent, yes. You know Nobundo?”
“I’ve heard the name. He is the first shaman, correct?”
“Truly. He first understood the spirits a few years ago. The Light is gone from our sight and hands. With the spirits we find new balance. It similar to the community of believers that all of the Faithful experience each day.”
“Do you view it as a replacement for the Light?”
“Never! Never, never! Always, we will remember the Light. Some of the priests said it was a moral flaw that led us to this sorry fate; if such is the case, than we must try all the harder to make restitution. The natural state of the Broken is one of isolation, which leads to selfishness and cruelty in every case. But when we heard the spirits, and combined it with the knowledge of the Holy Light, we found a new sense of unity.”
The shamanism of the draenei is better understood as an extension of, rather than an alternative to, the Holy Light. The Broken see it as the only real path they have. Interestingly enough, shamanism is by no means exclusive to the Broken; the mantle has also been taken by unmutated draenei. Normal draenei shaman tend to take the syncretism of shamanism and the Light to an even greater level than their Broken mentors. I would learn more about this after I left the Exodar.
In total, I spent a week in the holy city. Seven days is not nearly enough time to really understand the draenei (or any other race). My residence continued to be Pious Serenity, though I must confess that I began to feel discomfited there. I was simply uneasy about accepting so much generosity, despite the fact that the members of Pious Serenity were entirely willing to share it. This is in no way a criticism of my hosts; the fault lies entirely with my own unfamiliarity with such behavior.
The Exodar’s history deserves some explanation. Though I had learned of its Naaru origins early on, it was not until later that I was told the damaged sanctuary had been part of a much larger structure called Tempest Keep. Around five months ago, the Naaru sent Tempest Keep to retrieve the draenei. These plans were thwarted when a faction of blood elves seized control of the refuge. This came as quite a shock, and a source of no small concern. Before leaving Orgrimmar, I had learned that the Horde was in some kind of negotiation with the resurrected kingdom of Quel’thalas. If the blood elf nation is responsible for such an action, I would say the Horde is obliged to sever relations with the elves.
No less a figure than Prince Kael’thas Sunstrider had led the attack on Tempest Keep. He had somehow succeeded against the lone Naaru within. Velen led a counterattack and retook the sacred Exodar, one of Tempest Keep's four satellite structures. The three remaining satellites are still in Outland, under blood elf control.
Much of the recent history of the draenei was explained to me by Vaasya, early one morning over breakfast. Most draenei meals are exceedingly simple. A type of bland millet, called saba, is served in a large bowl, sometimes mixed with meat or vegetables. Saba is the staple of the draenei and is mass produced through divine means. The Naaru gave sacred green crystals to the draenei thousands of years ago. These crystals actually grow food; most create saba, though some produce vegetables. The food crystals are powered by the collective prayers of a draenei community. They are attuned specifically to the draenei, meaning that other races cannot use this food production technique.
“My people were still in hiding when the blood elves came through. Have you met any of them, Brother Talus?”
“Did you sense the fel horror that inundates their bodies? Even from a distance, we knew that they were to be avoided. Yet we did not realize the level of their depravity until they moved against the Naaru. To actually take arms against the Holy! I never imagined such a thing possible for anything other than a demon. It is the opinion of many draenei that the blood elves are effectively demons at this point.”
“The blood elves are aligned with Illidan, correct?”
“They came with him. We know relatively little about Illidan. He fights demons, but he is one himself. Truly it is sad that our world has suffered so much: Ner’zhul, Gul’dan, Magtheridon, and now Illidan and Kael’thas. Yet through the worst, we keep our faith,” she smiled.
I spent the rest of the day with Vaasya’s husband, Dolos. Dolos was an artist who worked with others of his profession. He could not really speak Common, but was quite happy to have me along for the day.
The studio in which Dolos worked specialized in creating the subtle art used by the draenei. Draenic visual art consists of designs incorporated into the architecture, or into items like carpets and tables. The art is often symbolic and abstract in nature.
That day, the art team worked on plans for creating an tapestry of complex, interweaving lines that was to be placed in the chapel where I had first met Naavis. One of Dolos’ peers, a woman named Selees, explained the principles of draenic art.
“Given the length of time for which the humans have followed the Holy Light, I doubt there is significant difference in our respective peoples’ artistic styles. Our art is done to explain and remind the draenei of the Light. It facilitates prayer. These interconnecting designs that we work on symbolize the way all the peoples of the universe are connected in the Light.”
“I see. Much human art is an attempt to recreate the likenesses of famous people, locations, or events. Like pictures of Cassian, who first brought the Light to our race. Do the draenei do this.”
“No. It is not proper to elevate a single person. Why would one in the Light be so much more holy than another? Prophet Velen, perhaps, but he knows the folly of individualism.”
“You do not make art that realistically represents the draenei?”
“We do, at times. But it is never a specific person. While the portrayal may appear to be of an individual on the surface, it symbolically represents the community. Humans really make art that specifically shows individuals?”
“Yes, as do many other races.”
“I apologize, I do not mean to criticize. It is simply strange to me. If use of places and events in art helps faith among the races of this world, I would encourage it with all my heart! Though making art of a person is—well, I should not say. Consult with the priests. They are trained for such things.”
The draenei do not have a concept of individual art. All art—whether it is visual, musical, or verbal—is created by multiple people. To the draenei, an artistic work created by a single person is a gross self-indulgence. They believe that all art should reflect the Light both in subject matter and in the process of its creation. By coming from multiple artists, the finished work is better able to reflect the Light and the draenic community of belief. Visual art is usually, though not always, abstract.
Creative endeavors like plays or stories are highly symbolic in nature. In all honesty, they are incredibly dull and pedantic, lacking any kind of nuance. Characters in these stories have no personality or motivation. Instead, they exist to illustrate religious or philosophical principles. Draenic novels do not exist. Plays are preferred for the immediacy that they bring to the audience. Short stories (parables, really) also have some popularity. Much like the visual art, stories are created by committee. The reader should not be surprised to find that there is no real innovation in draenic art. It has stayed more or less the same for over 20,000 years.
The Prophet Velen resides in the Vault of Lights. Unlike the blue and violet tones in the rest of the Exodar, the Vault of Lights is gold. White crystals hang from the ceiling, pulsing with sacred light. It is there that Velen explores the pathways of the future. Velen cannot see the entirety of the future; he can only see the possibilities immediately ahead. From these, he selects the one most beneficial to the Holy Light.
Also in the vault is a strange museum consisting of illusory recreations of the Burning Legion’s demonic races. Created in exacting detail, each display gives information about a particular demonic type. I was a bit disappointed to find that almost nothing was mentioned of these demons’ respective cultures and histories. The draenei do not consider such things worth knowing. I had encountered some of the demons before, though others, like the monstrously graceful shivarra priestesses, were unknown to me.
The draenei priests, called anchorites, do much of their work in the vault. The priests do not actually play a major role in governance, as most issues are settled by collectives or work committees. Anchorites may be called in to act as judges, in order to determine the choice that best follows the precepts of the Light.
“We do not govern, for there is little need. All draenei walk in the Light, meaning that they understand the importance of unity and peace. All draenei are priests; anchorites are simply those with the strength and experience to lead and focus the prayers on which draenic society depends,” explained one jovial priest named Altus.
Altus helped to answer my questions about the nature of draenic communalism.
“Because we have lived in the Holy Light for so long, we have developed great empathy for those around us. This is why draenei are joyful; to do otherwise would sow misery among the faithful,” said Altus. “I do not speak figuratively either. Sadness among the draenei has a very real emotional effect on those around him or her.”
“Do any draenei become unhappy?”
“It is unlikely, so long as the draenei stays within a collective, which itself stays in the larger community of the faithful. When so many joyful draenei are together, it prevents unhappiness. This is why we discourage draenei from traveling alone. When they are cut off, they may become unhappy. In severe cases they become what we call the ashem, which translates as the forgetful. They have forgotten the Light. Fortunately, they can be reminded of it,” he smiled.
“How are they repatriated?”
“They are cared for by priests and by specialized collectives. Currently, there are none of these operating on the Exodar, and we have an unusually high number of ashem. This is a regrettable statistic, but once stability is achieved we can concentrate on reestablishing the institution.”
“Would the recent stresses of the war be responsible for the creation of so many ashem?”
“You are very perceptive, Brother Talus. Such is indeed the case.”
“How successful are the repatriation attempts?”
“A 90% success rate! I was in one myself. Centuries ago I fought in the Ogre War, and spent far too much time alone on long scouting missions. I did not return to the Light for over 50 years, sad to say.”
“Your fortitude is admirable.”
“It is the Light’s mercy and grace that is truly admirable, my human friend.”
“What of those who cannot be repatriated?”
“Well, I do not believe any ashem are completely beyond repatriation. Some merely find it difficult. My own took half a century! Having been an ashem myself, I can say that all seek to return to the fold. Still, it can be hard. Ashem are part of the community. They are merely encouraged to avoid tainting the emotional state of others. Because of this, they often take solitary sojourns into the wilderness.”
“Wouldn’t that worsen their state?”
“It can, but the ashem themselves would agree that they cannot sadden members of their collective with their presence. If one collective suffers grief, it could spread to others. No draenei wishes that, the ashem least of all. They know too well their own suffering, and do not want to inflict it on anyone else.”
More than any other race, the draenei are an enigma to me. That their civilization is glorious, there can be no doubt. Is this the end result of a society that serves the Light? One could reasonably state that such a communal mindset is the very definition of the Holy Light. There is much to admire in the draenei, but at the same time I am unnerved by their focus on the group.
I believe in the Holy Light, yet my belief is rooted in human thought, distilled by my experience as one of the undead. Human and dwarven priests speak much of the individual’s power. Should such words be ignored? I think not. The draenei are a race of saints, but they are alien saints. If humanity, or trolldom, or elvenkind is to reach a similar pinnacle of civilization, I imagine it will be quite different from what the draenei have achieved.
If I were made to choose between peace and conformity on one hand, and uncertainty and freedom on the other, I would choose the latter. Perhaps this is a sentiment that can only truly be believed by Forsaken and goblins. Nonetheless, I am obliged to consider the draenic way. They are a much older and wiser race than humanity. How can I say that this civilization is not something to which other races should aspire? How can I be sure that my objections are based on anything other than pride and selfishness?
I do not think other races shall ever willingly surrender their independence. Such a selfless society, for them, could only be brought about by force, thus making it antithetical to the Holy Light. Still, honest people cannot walk away from the Exodar without examining their own beliefs.
Pious Serenity bid me a safe journey as I left. Never before had I met such gracious and enthusiastic hosts. They said that I was welcome to return at any time. Naavis went with me as I left the Exodar. As we walked, I remembered the Naaru O’ros. Naavis had recommended I see It, but I never did. Mercifully, Naavis made no mention of O’ros as we walked up the Holy Passage. When we reached the surface, he said a prayer for me before returning to the sanctity of the Exodar.