Sunday, June 15, 2008
Hellfire Peninsula: Part 1
Imagine a red wasteland, stinking of sulfur and clamoring with demon howls. A nightmare sky lit by sinuous columns of arcane energy. A realm where hellfire erupts in gouts from the stony ground, bursts heralded by the telltale hiss of gas. A world shadowed by monuments to slaughter.
To see Outland is to see Hell.
The Dark Portal on the Outland side is a spiked monstrosity of black stone and metal. A generation of peons died in its creation, their bones mixed in the mortar. Blood-drunk necrolytes carved devil faces and skulls into the surface. The cold void of the Twisting Nether beckons from the gate.
The archway of the Dark Portal is at the top of a squat, terraced pyramid. A city of tents and wagons surrounds the portal, where the soldiers of eleven races prepare for the next onslaught. The great standards of the Horde and Alliance hang limply from their frames. No wind stirs the broiling air of Hellfire Peninsula. Sweating laborers pull supplies between worlds, casting anxious eyes towards the barren horizon. The demons had already attacked earlier that day, and a follow up was inevitable.
“Our brother warriors wait for battle on the other side of the Dark Portal! I fear we must disappoint them, for when we are through with them, the demons will be as whimpering dogs! Let the monsters that cursed our people feel pain! Let the gullies fill with demon blood!” shouted General Nazgrel, to the roars of Horde warriors.
Nazgrel was a fierce and uncompromising fighter who’d followed Thrall since the Horde’s genesis. His capability is matched only by his hatred of the Alliance, which made him an odd choice for a joint campaign. Nazgrel swore to uphold the Warchief’s decree, and has done nothing to harm the humans.
I sat on a crate, unsure of what to do. The mages calculated that the Dark Portal would fully open in five days. Nazgrel’s words made the mission sound grander than it really was. Our duty was not to defend the Dark Portal. Rather, it was to garrison and protect the citadels of Honor Hold and Thrallmar, several days’ journey to the west.
I knew that a great army awaited on the Azerothian terminus of the Dark Portal, ready to destroy any and all invaders. The Portal creates a convenient choke point. While good and evil do battle on the homeworld, our forces would harry the demon armies from protected positions and ensure that the Free Peoples maintained a foothold in Hellfire Peninsula and, by extension, the rest of Outland. If all went according to plan, the Horde and Alliance would soon control the Dark Portal.
The last supply shipments were being sent through the small, temporary portals opened up on the lower terraces. I watched as a kodo beast pulled a wagon of food crates sent in from the distant Barrens. Peons scurried to meet the demands of overseers. We had to reach the dubious protection of Thrallmar as soon as possible. We were as good as dead if the main demon force reached us before then.
“Do you smell it wizard? The promise of battle in the air?”
The orcs were having a field day. The idea of combat against a near-unstoppable army excited many of the grunts, though others took a more pragmatic stance. The warrior speaking to me was in the midst of sharpening his ax.
Night and day simply do not exist in Hellfire Peninsula. The sky is always the same cosmic tableaux. I found it beautiful, but not exactly comforting. The exact nature of Outland is a source of puzzlement to scholars. It’s essentially a large fragment of Draenor’s southern hemisphere, floating unharmed in the void.
I kept myself busy with small tasks. Specially trained Sin’dorei magisters maintained the portals, though the foul Outland air sometimes disrupted their concentration. For this reason, two mages operated at each portal, in case one was incapacitated by a coughing fit. Orc and troll warriors mocked elven fragility, but I saw some of their number suffering from shortness of breath.
Worse than the air is the stifling heat. Walking through Hellfire Peninsula is like being roasted. The heat radiates up from the ground, and the shade offers no protection. The shamans periodically whipped up windstorms to cool down the exhausted soldiers and peons, but they could only do so much.
“The spirits must work especially hard in this poisoned land,” explained Sonaka Skychaser, a young tauren shaman. “I fear we ask too much of them, but we have no choice.”
“Is there an alternative?”
“The gnome wizards have used their trickery to create some kind of field of cold, but they cannot maintain it for long. They say the goblins are working on some way to ease the heat’s punishment, but I am not sure I trust their methods.” He sighed. “I’m starting to wish I didn’t have such a heavy mane.”
The blast of a horn boomed out over the commotion, signaling our departure. The porters and laborers did some last minute touch-ups before returning home. Drivers readied the kodo beasts, who carted wagons filled to the brim with supplies. Warriors hurried into formation. Goblin zeppelins hovered above us, carrying some of the lighter goods.
I was a bit irked to see that the Alliance had finished their preparations a few hours before the Horde. Not having access to kodo beasts, they used teams of oxen to pull their wagons. Goblin engineers had built a ramp over the long staircase that lead down from the Dark Portal, enabling our wagons to navigate the descent.
Getting out of the Dark Portal was a frustratingly slow process. Though actually immense, the stairway is not big enough to accommodate two armies side by side. I realized we would probably spend most of the day trying to break away.
Hours passed in the broiling heat, the air alive with confused orders and curses. I heard a sudden snap as the wheels of a Horde wagon slipped off the edge of the ramp. The kodo, heedless to their cargo’s situation, continued pulling forward. The wheels broke and the quick jerk undid the cords that tied down the equipment. All I saw was a pile of heavy boxes tumble off the side, shattering on the stone terrace many feet below.
The procession halted, as men scrambled to fix the mess. To our chagrin, we learned that a warrior had been killed in the accident. A heated argument broke out, but cooler heads soon prevailed. Handlers untethered the kodo beasts and pushed the wagon off the edge. No one had the time to salvage it.
The last of the supply trains reached the ground after a seeming eternity. Tensions ran high on both sides. Nazgrel ordered a quick break, but he warned us that we were behind schedule and that the demons would soon arrive.
The Path of Glory stretches as far as the eye can see. I first heard about the Path of Glory back in Orgrimmar, and had hoped it was simply a grotesque exaggeration, or the result of distorted memory. In the Horde capital, I had known an ancient orc warrior named Solg. Lost in a melancholy that even the shamans could not lift, he sometimes wandered over to the Valley of the Spirits. He rarely spoke; when he did, it was of a vast abattoir where he and his brothers had murdered the draenei. In a guilt-sick voice he described throwing the bones on a great road named the Path of Glory. He broke down in tears after every account.
Poor old Solg’s words were true. The Path of Glory is a road of skulls and bones reaching halfway across the Hellfire Peninsula. Though trod over by legions of orcs over the years, I could still see identifiable remnants at the road’s edge: a socket in one spot, a spine in another. I could say nothing, awed into silence by the enormity of this horrible crime.
A slow and solemn drumbeat sounded in the air accompanied by sorrowful and throaty chanting. A circle of orc shamans had gathered, imploring forgiveness from both the ancestors that their fathers had wronged and from the innocents they had killed. A mournful hymn arose from the Alliance side of the camp at the same time. Draenic priests sang the rites that their kindred had been denied. Shaman and priest alike continued their rituals as we marched.
We passed the towering obelisks that mark the gates of the portal complex. I surveyed a great, dead land. A few sickly green weeds and thorns hold on to life in Hellfire Peninsula, but most is completely barren. The Path of Glory is at least free from the flame jets that sporadically belch forth from the ground. The fire does not emit from any visible fissure, a fact that puzzled me. Gyrick Sparkline, an anxious-looking gnome arcanist, explained it to me.
“I did some tests on the flame geysers when I first got to this miserable place—damn thing nearly burned my eyebrows off! Basically the rock gets porous in spots, I’m not sure why. Anyway, the porosity lets some kind of inflammable gas seep up to the surface. It combusts once it hits air, or what passes for air around here.”
“How did the gas get here?”
“I don’t have a clue. The stuff stinks of fel magic though. My guess is it has something to do with the demons; their taint seeps through the earth itself.”
The punishing heat took its toll. The Alliance column began to slow down, the armored humans and dwarves cooking in their mail. They abandoned their armor after a while, and even then some troops had to be carried on the wagons. The blood elves were similarly affected, though their smaller numbers prevented it from being as much of a problem.
Hard though it was to keep track of time, I reasoned that it took us five days to cross the desert between the Dark Portal and our destination. Only a few perished during the march, usually from exhaustion. During our brief stops we saw green lights flare up on distant mountains, burning pinpricks in our vision. They came from the demonic forge camps, which busily spewed more infernal soldiers into Outland.
The Path of Glory itself sapped morale with every footstep, particularly among the orcs. More than draenei bones lie there. In it are piled the remains of thousands of orc peons who perished in the brutal construction of the Dark Portal and Hellfire Citadel. Bones of ogres, disgraced warriors, and other, more obscure groups help fill that awful road. Some of the orcs began to openly hope for an attack, simply so that they could dispel their shame with the thrill of battle.
Everyone felt relief when we finally came to the crossroads. Two recently-constructed paths lead up to Thrallmar (to the north), and Honor Hold (to the south). The Path of Glory itself terminates at Hellfire Citadel. It was again slow going as the supply trains shifted direction.
I walked near the back of the Horde train, looking forward to reaching Thrallmar. I was listening to a Winterhoof brave recount his first hunt when an ear-splitting roar sounded somewhere in the distance. The armies fell silent. It came again, shaking the very ground with its power.
“Are we under attack?” asked the brave.
“I don’t know.”
The orcs were already shouting their defiance, rallying the Horde forces. Most of our supply train was on the road to Thrallmar, though still nowhere near safety. Then the demons came into view, hurtling across the wasteland at incredible speeds. Confused orders flew through the convoy. Some of the supply trains increased their movement while others slowed down as if to consolidate. No one knew what to do. I began to suspect that distrust or language barriers had greatly hampered the united war effort.
The demons drew closer, the sounds of massive weight and clanking armor growing louder by the second. Archers, mages, and marksmen launched volleys into the attacking force. The demons moved like a swarm of ants, scores falling but the charge never slowing.
A draenic vindicator shouted in alarm and we turned to see a pack of felguards bearing down upon us. Hideous yells and cries rang out all around us as the demons reached melee range.
“To arms! Let us show these curs how real orcs fight!”
A snarl alerted me to a felguard running in my direction, an impossibly long sword gripped in his mailed fist. A grunt intercepted him and I backed off to a safe distance, aiding my rescuer with spells. Demons assaulted our other flank at the same time, and I heard the strain of panic in the yells of human soldiers. Bulky wagons blocked my view of the front and I had no way of knowing how the head of the caravan fared.
A savage troll yelled for the Horde to fall back towards the Alliance but his orders went unnoticed in the din of battle. Demons slammed into one of the rear Horde wagons, chopping it to pieces in short order. The course of battle had pushed me away from the Horde forces and towards the human soldiers.
The ground shook as bright flashes lit up the desert. I threw myself on the ground, thinking it was some kind of demon weapon. Then I heard cheers rise up from the Alliance soldiers. Getting back up to my feet I looked up to see Horde wyvern riders throwing incendiary devices down on the demons. Dozens of fel troopers perished in flame. The nature of the battle quickly changed. Disoriented by the aerial assault, the demons’ forward motion broke. They reached the caravan in twos and threes that the defenders easily cut down. The wagons soon rumbled beyond the reach of the demons and I grinned as we made our escape. That said, I could not yet rest easy. I walked next to one of the Alliance supply trains headed to Honor Hold. A handful of Horde warriors were with me: five orcs, three trolls, two tauren, and a blood elf. Even with the truce, I suspected that the next few days would be quite tense.
Honor Hold paid in blood for its survival. For eighteen years its dour gray walls have prevailed against the surrounding hellscape. The second base of operations for the ill-fated Alliance Expeditionary Force, it has survived the attacks of countless enemies. Orcs, ogres, and demons all laid siege to it, and all failed.
The Alliance wagons wound their way up to the summit on which Honor Hold was located. The other Horde citizens and I tried to stay out of the way, not wanting to annoy our hosts. I wondered how the grizzled soldiers of Honor Hold would react to having orcs as guests.
The scars of constant battle grew more evident around the keep. Some of the towers were crumbling and huge rents marred the walls. Debris and corpses littered the barren field in front of the gate. Most of the cadavers were of felguards and felhounds, but among them lay the bodies of frightfully mutated orcs. Much larger than normal orcs, their skin was boiled-red and studded in bone spikes.
“Fel orcs,” growled Murgat, one of the grunts. His arm hung in a sling, set for him by a kindly draenic priest.
“These are servants of the Burning Legion?”
“I would think so. Whoever they follow, they are traitors to honor.”
Many of the fel orc bodies were clustered with the fallen demons in a manner that suggested they were fighting the Burning Legion. I wasn’t sure what to make of this, and hoped I could learn more in Honor Hold.
Past the gates is a vast and dusty courtyard. A brooding stone monument stands in the middle, engraved with the names of all who fell protecting Honor Hold. Human soldiers clad in mismatched armor stared at us when we entered. They knew that they might have to shelter Horde visitors, but they surely hated the idea. Given their experiences, I do not blame them.
“Stay here. Lord Trollbane wishes to see you. Remember that no one here—myself included—particularly likes seeing you, and we won’t hesitate to kill you if you do anything suspicious,” warned Captain Gester, an officer in the Stormwind army.
Gester stayed near us as a page ran up towards the keep. The Honor Hold inhabitants ventured closer, casting puzzled looks at the tauren. None had ever before seen a Shu’halo. The two braves bowed in deference.
Getting a good look at the defenders, I realized that most were quite old. The lines on their faces indicated lives of hardship and great suffering. They’d guarded the parapets of Honor Hold without rest for many long years, cut off from the world they were sworn to defend. Nations rose and fell back on Azeroth while they languished in Outland. Many in the Alliance Expeditionary Force came from Lordaeron, and I could not fathom the pain they must have felt when learning of their nation’s destruction.
“Do any of you speak Common?” I asked to my Horde comrades. They all shook their heads. I sighed, not looking forward to meeting Trollbane.
Danath Trollbane was one of the great heroes of the Second War. As the nephew of Thoras Trollbane, Steward of Stromgarde, he was expected to honor his nation in battle. He more than fulfilled his country’s expectations. Danath undertook daring raids into troll country early in the war, greatly hampering the mobilization of the forest tribes. He rose through the ranks, eventually becoming the main Stromgarder general. He led his forces to victory in Khaz Modan and was instrumental in the dwarven kingdom’s liberation. Assigned to oversee an orcish internment camp after the war, Danath grew bored and jumped at the chance to take the fight to Draenor. When that world died, we all assumed he had perished with it.
I soon saw Danath marching towards me. Though aged he moved with a confident strength. Stories were unanimous in describing his great physical presence, and he lived up to the hype. I felt like a frightened child looking up to him. With clenched jaw and grim eyes, he studied us for a minute before speaking.
“The truce between our nations requires me to treat you as a guest here in Honor Hold. As a man of my word, I shall fulfill this obligation; all our services will be available to you. However, we shall gladly hang you at the slightest hint of betrayal. I have killed more orcs and trolls than I can count, and I’ll happily add ghouls and traitor elves to that number.”
He spoke in fluent, though accented, Orcish.
“Lord Trollbane, we assure you that we will give our lives in defense of your home,” promised Torsk Bladefang, the sole officer in my group.
“Hmm. You orcs are fierce fighters, I’ll give you that much. There’s one rule you must follow: when my men fight, you will fight alongside them. You will follow the orders of my officers as you would your own. As soon as it is feasible to do so, my men will return you to Thrallmar. Understood?”
“We are honored to fight alongside you,” said Torsk.
Danath nodded, though he made no effort to hide his expression of doubt. He saluted abruptly and then left.
“Everyone back to your stations! The Hordies aren’t worth fussing over!” he shouted, in Common. The crowd around us quickly dispersed.
The Alliance set aside a small tan pavilion for us in the southwest corner of Honor Hold. Murgat rankled at Danath’s attitude but Torsk ordered the young grunt to calm down. While they were arguing, I tried to figure out how to best learn about Honor Hold. Danath had said we were guests, but I had no wish to try his patience.
I decided to walk around the courtyard as a sort of test. The glares cast in my direction soon convinced me it was a bad idea. Frustrated, I returned to the tent.
The Burning Legion sent two probing attacks many hours later. Hoping to prove myself to the local garrison, I manned the battlements and cast spellfire down on the raging felguards and infernals. Among them marched blue-skinned demons in strange, bladed armor. Those were of the type called wrathguards, who were actually a lesser variant of the eredar race. They bear little resemblance to the draenei. The wrathguard form the equivalent of low-level officers in the Burning Legion ranks.
The purpose of the demon assault was to keep the Alliance on edge. There was certainly no chance of such a small force penetrating Honor Hold’s defenses. Because the attack was of such little consequence, I failed to gain much credibility with the humans.
I was back in the tent, where my comrades were trying to stay cool. The heat remains constant at all times. For this reason, the Honor Hold schedule consists of three “daily” shifts, seven hours each. Each shift has a third of the population at work, though even they take frequent breaks. Constant labor in such a climate would kill the older residents. I still had no answer as to why most of the youthful humans were reinforcements from Azeroth.
“Destron? Where are you?” inquired a human warrior. He wore red armor, identifying him as part of the Nethergarde troop complement.
“I’m here. Is there something you need?”
“Father Lacitus wishes to speak to you. If you will follow me?”
The soldier led me through the tent city. He took me to a small stone building on the other side of Honor Hold. The interior burned like an oven despite the large open windows. Upon realizing it was a church, I suddenly feared that Lacitus intended to exorcise me.
“Father Lacitus, I’ve brought the undead.”
“Thank you, young Malos. Return to your duties.”
“Are you certain?”
“Yes, I am. Come here, Destron. I mean you no harm.”
The speaker was an incredibly wizened old man seated at a desk. Candles burned dimly around him, revealing a scarred and careworn face. A black patch covered his left eye. I approached him cautiously.
“Good day, Father Lacitus,” I said, trying to sound noncommittal.
“Please sit down Destron. I bear you no anger. Whatever your state, you seem to be a thinking creature capable of moral choice. As such, you are included in the philosophy of the Light. From your name, I take it you come from Lordaeron?”
“I do. I regret to say that the kingdom is lost.”
“I have heard as such. But I have not heard much of its current state. I was wondering if you could tell me what goes on in the world, at least in the parts with which you are familiar.”
We spent the next five hours in discussion. Despite his age, Lacitus was completely lucid. I hated to bring him so much bad news, but I judged he had the strength of character to take the truth.
“I doubt I’d recognize Azeroth now. I will not return; I’ve made my peace with that. My home is here in Outland, in Honor Hold. Even if it weren’t for the demons, I doubt I’d survive the journey to the Dark Portal.”
“May I ask some questions about Honor Hold?”
“Why are there so few young people here?”
“The young ones all left. No one wanted to live here.”
“They were allowed to leave?”
“We couldn’t stop them. Everyone was in a panic after Draenor’s near-destruction, but Lord Trollbane held us together. He vowed that we would maintain our vigil over the Dark Portal, to ensure that nothing ever again came through it to threaten Azeroth. His words moved us all.”
“Time happened. We watched as demons poured through other portals in other lands, bringing more fel taint to this world. All the while, the Dark Portal stayed silent as the land around it turned to dust and rock.
“After the demons first attacked us, the younger soldiers thought that we should consolidate with the other Alliance forces in Outland. The Dark Portal, they said, would never open. Honor Hold was a useless relic. The most prominent of their number was a daring young firebrand named Ferser Macaul. When he spoke, people listened. Lord Trollbane imprisoned him, had him flogged... yet the younger soldiers loved him all the more. Even us old ones considered his ideas as we worked in the dusty fields, cursing the heat. Finally, he and his followers left.”
“Lord Trollbane surely tried to stop him.”
“He did, but he could not. Two-thirds of Honor Hold followed Ferser out, and they took all the supplies they needed. The only reason we didn’t starve to death was because so few of us remained. I remember Lord Trollbane, how he shouted and raged. Ferser was his majordomo in the early days, and the younger man’s actions hurt him deeply.”
“Where did Ferser go?”
“Word is that Ferser died in the early days of his departure, killed by draenic mutants. Most of his surviving followers now live in Shattrath City.”
“Lord Trollbane is quite a leader to maintain control after such a schism.”
“He’s a brave and noble man, as is everyone in Honor Hold. But the long years of war and suffering have dried up our souls. Honor Hold may well die with us; all of the children left with their parents. I think that is why so many of us secretly welcomed this war. At least now our long wait is over. We have purpose once more.”
Lacitus’ shoulders slumped when he finished. Sweat drenched his face. As he was obviously physically and emotionally tired, I thanked him for his time and wished him well.
The harsh clang of the iron bell signalled the end of one shift and the beginning of another. High above, a dusty red cloud slowly roiled its way across the Twisting Nether. After hearing Lacitus’ story I could understand why the Honor Hold garrison took such a grim attitude.
Word of my meeting with Lacitus spread around Honor Hold. A fortunate side-effect was that more of the soldiers were willing to talk to me. They all had the deepest respect for Father Lacitus, whose kindly nature acted as a welcome counterpart to Danath Trollbane’s strict regime.
After Draenor’s breaking, the remains of the world were ravaged by successive waves of demonic warlords who fought each other for control of Outland. The portals so carelessly opened by the Old Horde brought untold misery to the survivors. The demons came through multiple rifts in western Outland, though most of them moved east for reasons that remain obscure. The Alliance remnants could do little but try and stay out of the way.
Two fiendish commanders rose to prominence: an eredar named Poluus forged a realm in the Blade’s Edge Mountains to the north, while the pit lord Magtheridon established a petty kingdom centered around the Black Temple in Shadowmoon Valley. The armies of these feuding warlords often clashed in Hellfire Peninsula. The invaders usually avoided Honor Hold, though the keep was attacked seven times over the years. Poluus’ fiefdom collapsed ten years after the Breaking, mostly from indigenous resistance in the Blade’s Edge. This left Magtheridon the uncontested Lord of Outland.
At this point, Magtheridon turned his attentions to the Dark Portal. He probably thought he’d be able to seize Azeroth by reactivating it and invading. With this, the Siege of Honor Hold began. It lasted for eight terrible months. Then Magtheridon abruptly lifted the siege and returned his armies to Shadowmoon Valley. Ferser and his followers left Honor Hold a few years after the assault.
Magtheridon’s influence over the rest of Outland, which was never very strong, waned even further. Little is known about Magtheridon but evidence suggests an impatient, lazy, and capricious personality. It’s entirely possible he just lost interest, preferring to sate his cruelty with the blood sports so beloved by demons. He ruled until Illidan came and slew the old demon lord many years later.
One of the worst local results of the Fiend War (as it came to be called) was the further degradation of Hellfire Peninsula’s ecology. I saw some faded daguerreotypes of Hellfire as it looked when the humans first arrived. While hardly inviting, forests of thorn trees thrived in the desert oases, while mushroom swamps dotted the coastline. The region south of Honor Hold supported farmland, and continued to do so after the Breaking. But once the armies of Poluus and Magtheridon clashed on the fields, the land became rocky and useless.
“I think it was Father Lacitus who kept us going during the siege. Lord Trollbane kept talking of our duty to the Alliance, but we were all scared out of our minds,” said a weatherbeaten old knight named Gerion Tusias.
Gerion and I were in the northwestern tower, which was under his command. Gerion had been a middle-aged Lordaeronian nobleman when he ventured through the Dark Portal. A veteran of the Battle of Zul’dare and the Siege of Blackrock Mountain, he nonetheless volunteered his services to the Alliance Expeditionary Force.
“Things looked rather grand at first. The Alliance was the only power bloc in Outland after the Breaking. We all held a council in Honor Hold and declared the nation of Lotharia!”
“How much territory would Lotharia have covered?”
“Outside of Honor Hold there was Kirin’var Village in Netherstorm, Allerian Stronghold in Terokkar Forest, and Wildhammer Stronghold in Shadowmoon Valley. Then the demons came and ended all that.”
“Lotharia no longer exists?”
“I’m not entirely sure it ever really did. Outland’s a terribly rugged place, and we could never really maintain reliable communications with most of our allies. Magtheridon’s armies marched through the south. The Alliance there didn’t stand a chance, so they retreated into the forests and mountains. I believe that’s how they first met the draenei.”
“What about Kirin’var? Netherstorm is to the north, isn’t it? Did Poluus attack them?”
“No, he mostly ignored the Kirin’var wizards and it’s a damned good thing he did. Nothing could grow here after the Fiend War. Honor Hold depended on spellborne food shipments from Kirin’var.”
“Netherstorm is more hospitable than Hellfire Peninsula?”
“Not at all, it’s actually much worse. However, there’s a great lot of free floating mana there—at least that’s how one of the wizards described it. With that excess mana and some gnomish smarts, they managed to build huge farms. Kirin’var’s gone though. Demon elves destroyed it.”
“The ones who came with Illidan. I think your lot calls them blood elves. Supposedly, the Horde is only officially allied with the blood elf government back on Azeroth, is that right? Since I’ll never befriend the partners of those murderers in Netherstorm.”
“You are correct. The elves in Netherstorm are not part of the Horde.”
“Good. Kirin’var was the best hope for the Alliance in Outland. Nowadays, we get our food from Shattrath.”
A very real benefit of reestablishing contact with Outland is getting access to a wealth of information on the Burning Legion. Older sources of demonic knowledge are spotty at best. Documents penned by human mages and conjurers tend to be a mix of theory, guesswork, and delusion. While the orcs had more direct experience with demons, old Horde texts on the subject usually consist of tiresome paeans to the might of fiendish overlords. Even the warlocks of Azeroth had little real information; their grimoires are basically instruction manuals, and reveal little about demonic organization and society.
Benik Spincog was among the more recent arrivals to Honor Hold. A gnome, he had achieved some recognition as an expert on the Burning Legion. Though closely tied with the gnomish warlock community, he himself was a mage. Benik explained that he avoided using fel magic in order to maintain objectivity.
“The humans here really learned a lot. Back in Azeroth we all assumed that the demons were pretty strongly united, but the Magtheridon-Poluus conflict disproves that.”
“The demons certainly showed great unity at the Battle of Mt. Hyjal,” I pointed out.
“Right, right. There are some individuals in the Burning Legion who have achieved enough power and influence to command the loyalty of most demons. This would include demons like Kil’jaeden or Archimonde, possibly others.”
“Why do they not maintain this unity?”
“No one’s really sure yet. It could be that they can only command obedience for a short time. Alternately, they may prefer having demon lords constantly fighting each other.”
“Do you think we could take advantage of this relative disunity?”
“It’s entirely possible, and definitely something we should consider. By now you’ve probably noticed that the Burning Legion shows no tactical acumen whatsoever.”
“They haven’t done much more than mass charges.”
“The Legion doesn’t even have any anti-air defenses set up here! Griffin and wyvern riders are having an easy time trashing their supply portals. Here’s why I think this is the case: the Burning Legion has never encountered serious opposition before. This is the first time. You have to remember that they have probably thousands of worlds at their disposal, unlimited resources. They’ve never had to use anything other than overwhelming force.”
“Did they rely on sheer numbers in the Battle of Mt. Hyjal?”
“Basically, though even there they depended on Scourge auxiliaries. Anyway, their clumsiness is the only reason we’ve lasted so long against them. Eventually, they’re going to wise up.”
“Couldn’t they just wear us down indefinitely?”
“That’s entirely possible. My point is just that we have effective defenses against their tactics. Now this goes back to what I was saying about the different demon lords fighting each other. While Kil’jaeden has infinite resources, the lesser demon overlords do not. So when they fight their peers, some of them may have learned to use tactics. Thus, the Burning Legion may already have capable generals that just haven’t been brought to the front yet.”
“What would you recommend doing?”
“I can think of two possibilities. One is we form a strong united front against the Burning Legion, and work alongside the Naaru to contact other worlds to join our cause. The other option is to seal our world off from the Twisting Nether entirely.”
“Which do you think is preferable?”
“The first option. The second choice would eliminate arcane magic, and cause massive social and economic collapse in many societies. Furthermore, the demons might still be able to open up portals on their own somehow, so I doubt it’s really practical in the long-term.”
“However, would a constant war against the demons be any better?”
“Only if we can find a way to win. Azeroth and Outland are both in very bad situations right now.”
I spent five long days in Honor Hold. The demon assaults stopped after the second day. The Burning Legion instead sent their forces to attack Hellfire Citadel, located a half-day west of Honor Hold. The Citadel was where the fel orcs made their home. The fel orcs are remnants of the Old Horde, twisted by infernal energies. They’d served as the bulk of Magtheridon’s forces until the demon lord’s fall. No one was sure who led them after that, though there were plenty of rumors.
“They started filtering back into Hellfire Citadel just a year ago. They left us alone, which is fortunate. We didn’t have the numbers to clean them out,” said one human veteran.
“Do you think they are allied with anyone?”
“Half of the folk here think they’re allied with your people! But the fel orcs aren’t very bright. They probably just rallied around the biggest and meanest of their number, and now they go around fighting anyone that crosses their path.”
A battered old cantina stands in the center of Honor Hold. Called Andorhal’s Memory, it has serviced the weary garrison since the fort’s inception.
Alcoholism was a very real problem during the Fiend War. Having seen their hopes of a new nation dashed in a few short years, many of the soldiers tried to drown their sorrows. Danath had no choice but to institute a strict alcohol ration, which nearly caused a riot. Only Father Lacitus’ intervention prevented open rebellion, and the resentment felt by many soldiers was a contributing factor to Ferser’s exodus.
Even with the arrival of Azerothian beer, Andorhal’s Memory is a subdued place. Old soldiers sit at their tables, quietly savoring mugs of Southshore stout and Brewnall brown ale. They rarely speak. Perhaps after serving with each other for so long, little remains to be said.
The reinforcements prefer to drink with their mates in the tents and barracks structures outside. The weight of so many years makes Andorhal’s Memory a somewhat intimidating place for the new arrivals.
Captain Gester came to us after the second shift one day. He saluted us, though his eyes were narrowed in anger.
“Destron, now is a good time for you and your men to go to Thrallmar. The Burning Legion has focused all of their attention on Hellfire Citadel. It’s not exactly safe to leave, but it’s as safe as it will ever get.”
I relayed this information to my companions and we left in about an hour. Honor Hold offered no escort, as we could basically take care of ourselves.
Moving quickly, we trekked across the sere wasteland outside of the settlement. Emerald infernos smoldered in the west as the demon armies laid siege to Hellfire Citadel.
We took care to avoid the discolored spots of earth from which fire sometimes erupts. Takona Thunderhorn, a brave, claimed that he could detect a spiritual disturbance near these hidden vents. His claim appeared to be accurate, and he bravely volunteered to stay on point.
The great skeletons of gutted siege engines linger all around the Path of Glory. They are remnants from the time when Honor Hold fought against the Old Horde in Hellfire Citadel. The Alliance machines were primitive versions of the dwarven steam tank, resembling a stone tower on wheels. Though cumbersome, they were more effective than the stationary blade throwing apparatuses used by the Horde.
The Alliance abandoned these mobile cannons soon after the orcs fled Hellfire Citadel. Though they inflicted an impressive amount of damage, their slow speed and vulnerability made them a long-term liability. Of the seven built, only three escaped destruction at the hands of the orcs. The surviving cannons remained where they were left in case the orcs ever returned. Today, their guns point to Thrallmar.
“Stack those stones higher if you think yourself fit to walk in this place! The enemy marches to our gates while you curs lie about!”
The overseer’s bellows were largely ignored by the peons, who were laying the foundation for a defensive post. Thrallmar is a new town, established a few months ago by an advance scouting party. The territory of Thrallmar overlaps with the ruins of an old Horde stronghold called Grom’skur, or Giant’s Fang. Grom’skur was a fortress hastily assembled by the Bleeding Hollow Clan, which had just returned from Azeroth. While the majority returned to the traditional clan holdings to the south, a rear guard stayed to aid in the defense of Hellfire Citadel. The Alliance and the elements had completely annihilated Grom’skur.
Upon returning, my companions and I were debriefed by Kolb, Nazgrel’s lieutenant. Torsk gave a detailed description of Honor Hold’s defenses, much to my surprise. After dismissal, I asked him about this.
“It is my duty to the Horde, Destron. Thrallmar sheltered lost Alliance troops while we were away, and I’m sure they spied on us if that makes you feel better,” he scoffed.
Torsk probably had a point. Still, such distrust does not bode well for the wars against the Burning Legion.
Torsk and his men went off to the barracks to rest up and boast of their exploits. I went to the staging grounds where teams of peons assembled catapults. They did so with minimal supervision, working quickly and efficiently. Even in the days of the Old Horde, peons were the ones in charge of siege equipment.
The peons who came through the Dark Portal were mostly drawn from the ranks in Warsong Lumber Camp and the Barrens. As such, they were a tough and confident lot. While mindful of the warriors, these peons were fully aware of their importance to the war effort.
“Heh, we may be peons, but I promise you that all those drudge workers in Durotar are cursing the fact they could not go with us!” boasted one.
Respect is what motivates these workers. Simply being in Thrallmar gives a peon ample opportunity to prove himself in combat. Even those who do not become warriors will still be treated with a degree of deference upon return.
Whether peons or warriors, the orcs still suffer under the relentless heat. Krakork, who’d managed Thrallmar prior to General Nazgrel’s arrival, had copied Honor Hold’s system of daily shifts. The stronger constitutions of the orcs enables them (as well as the trolls) to maintain eight-hour shifts.
I spent a week in Thrallmar. The siege on Hellfire Citadel ended four days after I arrived. The demons momentarily retreated to the toxic forge camps nestled in the northern mountains. All signs suggested that an attack on the Dark Portal was imminent. The fel orcs mostly stayed within Hellfire Citadel, though small packs began to patrol the surrounding desolation.
The Horde took advantage of this momentary lull to strengthen their defenses. Seemingly numberless warriors sparred in the cracked fields. The warriors also underwent a great deal of mental and spiritual training in an effort to increase their endurance. Only the most determined warriors can thrive in Outland’s inhospitable climate, of which Hellfire Peninsula is by no means the worst example.
Morale was generally quite high. The orcs were enthusiastic to return to their homeworld, and many saw it as a chance to set right their predecessors’ crimes. Interestingly enough, the Thrallmar warriors tended to be relatively inexperienced.
“I said only the finest warriors should be permitted to join this glorious fray,” complained Gunog, a scarred veteran of the Ebonflint War Pack. “Yet they say we can only spare the whelps for this place!”
In truth, the number of warriors is only barely able to keep up with the Horde’s needs. Important though Outland is, the Horde could not afford to abandon the Barrens, Warsong Gulch, or Alterac Valley. There were even rumors that Thrall had made it easier to become a warrior in order to fill the ranks, but that is unlikely.
This is ultimately a problem of orcish physiology. An orc simply requires more food than a human. Not only that, but they must eat a great deal of meat to maintain strength. If the trials for warriorhood were made easier, it would take away from the agricultural labor pool. It is for this reason that the rumor is probably untrue.
The trolls and tauren have a similar disadvantage, and the Horde authorities have worried about it for some time. One of the main reasons that the Sin’dorei were accepted into the Horde was to relieve these pressures. Conceivably, it may come to pass that magic-powered Sin’dorei farms will supply much of the Horde’s armies. Unfortunately, they will need to overcome a very real distrust of the arcane present among orcs, tauren, and (to a lesser extent) trolls. That the Alliance outnumbers the Horde is truly one of the great ironies of our time.
At the time of my visit, Thrallmar also played host to a number of blood elf pilgrims seeking to join Kael’thas’ kingdom. Back in Silvermoon, the elves were told that the Sun King held dominion over all of Outland. They were surprised and disturbed to find that demons and fel orcs still ran rampant through the wastelands.
“It’s a terrible sight, to be sure. I’m sure you’ve heard the reports though?”
I was speaking with Ulsira Skyfire, the eldest of House Skyfire’s two scions. She came to Outland accompanied by four loyal retainers.
“I’m not sure. Which reports are these?” I asked.
“The official ones! They say that the Burning Legion made a second attack after the Sun King first drove them out. Their attack is of small consequence, and the Sun King has his own army of enthralled demons. With the rest of the Horde helping him, the Legion will soon be driven from Outland once and for all. As for the fel orcs, perhaps he simply missed a few. They only recently returned to Hellfire Citadel, from what I’ve heard.”
“What of Illidan?”
“That I do not know. There are rumors that Illidan holds court in a place called Nagrand, but other sources say that he commands the Sun King’s forces in Netherstorm. I suppose we shall find out soon enough.”
Hellfire Citadel was something of an enigma. For this reason, General Nazgrel ordered scouts to perform some reconnaissance on the fortress. I asked around, and was given the opportunity to accompany a scout named Kolta.
Kolta was brawny orc woman with a face covered in scars, courtesy of the night elves. After a brusque greeting she led me to the kennel in which Thrallmar keeps its riding wolves. The modern wolf mount is actually a cross-breed between the bestial Draenic wolf and the cunning Azerothian dire wolf. Smarter than the former and hardier than the latter, they are an essential part of the orcish cavalry.
“You can ride Shnala. She’s a patient one, and should consent to carrying an undead.”
Kolta opened the gate, revealing a majestic brown dire wolf. She studied me with bright blue eyes and sniffed me cautiously. Drawing back, she cast a reproachful look at Kolta.
“Come, Shnala, he is Horde! Put this saddle on her Destron; do it gently or she might tear off your arm,” she laughed.
I picked up a battered saddle and approached Shnala with careful deliberation. Though not happy at my presence, she relaxed enough to let me put it on and saddle up. Mammalian animals do not hate the Forsaken the way they do the Scourge, but they certainly feel uncomfortable around the free-willed undead. Most beasts will tolerate a Forsaken’s presence as long as he keeps his distance and does not stay for long or appear threatening. Fortunately, the Horde wolves are as well-trained as their masters. Shnala did not like me, but she was willing to put up with me.
Our swift mounts carried us across the rocky red fields. Kolta led the way, a wild grin on her brutalized face. It nearly took us a day to reach the precipice overlooking Hellfire Citadel.
Hellfire Citadel beggars belief, its haphazard mass defying the laws of gravity and architecture. Spires and turrets stick out crazily from a hulking mass of confused stone, carelessly thrown together. Jagged metal spikes stick out from the crooked walls. Meandering walls and narrow bridges connect smaller keeps and towers to the main structure. With ramparts built upon ramparts, it looks like some kind of berserk mountain. Outlying towers even had bridges connecting to the precipice miles to the west of us. Dim red lights glowed all along the parapets as fel orc watchmen made their rounds. We escaped notice.
The area around the citadel is equally grim, being little more than sand and bone. The complete lack of demon corpses in the area puzzled me. Had there not been a great siege there just a few days ago?
“Tell me wizard, what happened to the fallen demon soldiers here?” asked Kolta. She took out a pair of brass goblin binoculars and put them to her eyes, surveying the area.
“I was wondering that myself. You don’t suppose the fel orcs ate them, do you?” I said, half-joking.
“Heh, perhaps. I don’t know where else they get their food. Nothing can grow here.”
Kolta handed me the binoculars and I studied the chaotic structure. The area around Hellfire Citadel teemed with fel orc warriors. I was too far to get a good look at them, but the stacked crates suggested they were preparing for something.
“There must be thousands of these fel orcs!” I exclaimed.
“So it seems, though I don’t know how this could be. Pah! We’ll thin out their numbers soon enough. Our warriors have already met a few of these fel orcs in battle. They are strong, but foolish.”
The monstrosity that is Hellfire Citadel was once the home of the Shattered Hand Clan. They lived on the periphery of orcish society for many centuries and were respected as skilled warriors and hunters. No other clan claimed the region as a home, allowing the Shattered Hand to develop in relative isolation.
Hardened by constant fights with the clanless orcs of Zeth’kur (a now-destroyed city on Hellfire Peninsula’s southern coast) and local monsters, the Shattered Hand warriors were quick to join the Horde. They alone had experience in siege warfare, and played a key role in the destruction of fortified draenei cities. It was at this time that the practice of replacing one hand with a bladed weapon became common to all Shattered Hand warriors, instead of being exclusive to the elite. Hellfire Citadel was also constructed during this time, starting as a compact and unremarkable fortress.
When the Dark Portal first opened, the Shattered Hand plunged into a brutal extermination campaign against the ogre clans in Farahlon, to the north. Meanwhile, the Bleeding Hollow and Twilight’s Hammer clans made their disastrous first attack on Azeroth.
When these clans returned from Azeroth in defeat, the Horde exploded into paroxysms of blame and accusation. Golok Bladefist, the leader of the Shattered Hand Clan, vocally blamed the warlocks for this failure. Never, said he, should warriors be controlled by wizards. Several of the other chieftains approved of his words.
Gul’dan, the senior warlock of the Horde, knew he had to act quickly. He found an ally in the form of Blackhand, the crude and ruthless chief of the ascendant Blackrock Clan. The boastful Blackhand claimed that the Shattered Hand were cowards, too timid to go up against the newly-discovered humans. As he was more charismatic than Golok, the sympathies of the other clans soon switched to Blackhand.
Eventually, Golok could take no more, and challenged Blackhand to single combat. This was probably part of Gul’dan’s scheme, as the aged Golok was grossly outmatched by his rival. Sure enough, the Blackrock chieftain slew Golok. Though Blackhand initially called for the Shattered Hand’s destruction, Gul’dan convinced him otherwise. Golok’s more prudent son, Kargath, came to power and agreed to defend Draenor and obey the Horde.
As punishment for the Shattered Hand’s defiance, Blackhand press-ganged many of the clan’s peons into expanding Hellfire Citadel. No one knows how many peons and draenic slaves died in the construction. The Warchief made the citadel his headquarters, callously ordering sections torn down and then rebuilt. It grew so wasteful that Gul’dan finally stepped in and forced him to stop. Blackhand soon relocated to Blackrock Spire in Azeroth. Though it had become a mark of shame on his clan, Kargath nonetheless maintained Hellfire Citadel in the Warchief’s absence. Sources say that Kargath secretly despised Blackhand. Certainly he was one of the first to pledge allegiance to Orgrim Doomhammer, Blackhand’s killer and successor.
Kargath dutifully maintained the castle during this time. When the survivors of the Bleeding Hollow Clan marched back through the Dark Portal, telling Draenor of Orgrim’s capture and Gul’dan’s death, Kargath saw a chance to restore his clan to glory. The Shattered Hand and Warsong Clans struck deep into Azeroth, leading daring raids on the rebuilt nation of Stormwind. They intended to steal powerful magical artifacts that would allow Warchief Ner’zhul to open up portals to new worlds. These raids were successful, but the majority of both clans were inadvertently stranded on Azeroth.
When the Alliance Expeditionary Force made their attack on Draenor, only half of Hellfire Citadel’s intended garrison remained. These defenders consisted of Shattered Hand warriors who had stayed behind, and a number of Bleeding Hollow troops in the outlying fort of Grom’skur. Despite their lack of numbers, they put up stiff resistance against the attacking humans until the warriors in the Citadel were called away to defend the southern Horde holdings.
“Come, let’s go back to Thrallmar. It looks to me like the fel orcs are massing for an attack.”
Turning our backs on the atrocity of Hellfire Citadel, we rode back to Thrallmar. As we left, we heard a fearsome and resounding wail that boomed out from behind the uneven stone walls. Neither of us could say what it was, though the sound suggested an entity of terrible size and power.