Sunday, June 29, 2008
Hellfire Peninsula: Part 2
Flying over Hellfire Peninsula is safer than riding or walking through it, but only barely. The steady, burning heat plagues the sky as much as it does the surface. While flying, the rider’s options are to look up at the Twisting Nether’s intimidating expanse, or down to the ruined world far below. From the air, one can see how the Breaking twisted the land, pushing up the ground at odd angles and ripping deep gashes in the earth.
Horde scouts had learned of fel orc activity in the southeastern corner of Hellfire, in and around the ruins of Zeth’gor. The commanders reasoned that it would be easier to observe these demonic creatures at Zeth’gor than it would be at Hellfire Citadel. I was granted permission to take a wyvern down to the newly established camp of Spinebreaker Post, along with an affable young warrior named Zuld, and a laconic troll fighter called Shi’may.
Spinebreaker Post is nothing more than a few ragged shelters surrounding a fire pit. A palisade of sharpened stakes surrounds the encampment, mostly to defend it against the vicious fel boars that roam the desert. Spinebreaker Post sits secure in the foothills of the Spinebreaker Mountains, named after Tagar Spinebreaker, chief of the Bonechewer Clan. The Bonechewers were degenerate and cannibalistic orcs that even the Old Horde held in low regard. Located in his namesake mountains though it was, I still doubted the wisdom of naming the place Spinebreaker Post.
“Tagar Spinebreaker was a wicked orc, but he was also a fearsome warrior,” explained Nada Darkhowl, the base commander of Spinebreaker Post. The name had been her idea.
I do not mean to disparage the warriors in charge of Spinebreaker Post. Questionable naming decisions aside, they were a brave and honorable bunch entirely dedicated to fighting the fel orc menace. The Horde had learned little about the fel orcs since Kolta and I investigated the area around Hellfire Citadel. Reports had filtered in of fel orcs causing trouble in other parts of Outland as well, so they were clearly more than a regional threat. The fel orcs seemed to hate the Horde and Alliance almost as much as they hated the Burning Legion.
Spinebreaker Post is a day’s journey south from the ruins of Zeth’gor. The region around Zeth’gor is actually of significant historical importance. Before the rise of the Horde, Zeth’gor was a satellite town of Zeth’kur, a sprawling port city on the Skeletal Coast. The entirety of Zeth’kur was obliterated in the Breaking. The old city is noteworthy for being the only pre-Orgrimmar example of orcish urban culture.
My teacher in the history of Zeth’kur was an old orc shaman named Zezzak. His father had been one of Zeth'kur's swaggering pit fighters. From him, Zezzak had learned much of this fallen city. While distrustful of the Forsaken, he was nonetheless happy to have a student.
“My people aren’t much good at keeping records. Fathers tell their sons, who tell their sons in turn, so it naturally gets confused along the way. I know that perhaps... four or five centuries ago, orcish swineherds and fishermen made their homes on the Skeletal Coast, testing themselves against the elemants. It was a more verdant land in those days. Legends say that they were clanless orcs, expelled from their homes for transgressions against honor and the ancestors, but no one is really sure of that.”
“They did not adopt the traditional clan structure?”
“Not as far as I know. The Shattered Hand Clan often made war on them. They took prisoners from and cattle from the clanless. Maybe the Shattered Hand had a blood grudge against these orcs, or perhaps these were simply attacks of opportunity. They say that a warrior named Zeth arose from the clanless, and built the walled port city of Zeth’kur, the Red City, for protection.”
“He might have gotten the idea from hearing about the draenei cities, though no one knows for sure. Zeth’kur repelled its attackers and expanded. That’s how Zeth’gor, just north of here, came to be. Zeth’gor was a fortified mining colony of the Red City.”
“Was much trade conducted in Zeth’kur?”
“Actually yes. Zeth ordered it built on the one good harbor. They didn’t trade with other orcs though, nor with the draenei. Instead, they dealt with the surrusil, who came from beyond the horizon in their sleek, scarlet vessels.”
“Another race. They’re probably all dead now. The surrusil were bloated salamander-mages who derived their magic from spilled blood. My father said there were never more than five surrusil per ship; the rest of the crew consisted of blind, white-skinned servitors. He told me that the servitors were actually juvenile surrusil.”
“What did they trade?”
“They wanted slave warriors for their arenas. In return, the orcs got weapons and servitor mercenaries. Zeth’kur gave Shattered Hand prisoners to the surrusil, along with ogres captured in long-distance raids. If not enough slaves could be found, the City Fathers would round up the fighters of Zeth’kur and use them as payment. This happened more and more often as the centuries progressed.”
“Did any ever return from the surrusil?”
“What did you father say Zeth’kur was like?”
“In his words, a sprawl of huts connected by pig-infested streets. Orcs are always savages, even the ones in cities. Instead of clans they formed vicious gangs. The City Fathers approved this.”
“Did Zeth’kur continue to get food from the herders?”
“It did until the last hundred years, when the city became dependent on surrusil shipments. At the same time, the City Fathers sent more and more orcs into surrusil bondage. When my father’s generation first heard of the Horde, they saw it as a sign of hope. Mobs slaughtered the City Fathers in a single bloody night and pledged allegiance to the Horde the next day.”
“Did the Horde accept them?”
“The Shattered Hand Clan opposed it, but Gul’dan wouldn’t turn down thousands of willing warriors. He sent most of Zeth’kur’s men against the surrusil, though some, like my father, went into Azeroth. The Bleeding Hollow Clan moved into Zeth’kur afterwards and turned it into the Horde’s great shipyard.”
“Was the campaign against the surrusil successful?”
“Mostly. The Horde razed all but one of their blood-soaked arena cities to the ground. One supposedly survived, though the Breaking likely finished it.”
“Did Zeth’kur have any dealings with the draenei?”
“No, though the draenei did disrupt a few of the slave raids. The City Fathers knew that raiding a draenei settlement would surely result in Zeth’kur’s destruction.”
When people on Azeroth think of Draenor, they usually only think of the lands that belonged to the orcs and the draenei. However it was a full world, teeming with different races and cultures. Most records indicate that the entirety of Draenor was quite rugged, making it all but impossible to form nation-states (with the draenei as a notable exception, though their unity was more based on culture than on politics). The largest units of organization were usually city-states. The Horde used its demonic powers to overcome the natural terrain, and no one could really mount large-scale opposition to their attacks.
Nada Darkhowl sent a patrol to the Zeth’gor ruins the next day, led by a confident orc veteran named Murd Redeye. With him were myself and three rookie warriors. Spinebreaker Post is too small to field a kennel so we had to go by foot. Orcish riding wolves are excellent for short-term raids and reconnaissance, but are logistically inconvenient for longer campaigns. For this reason, many mounted Horde warriors in Azeroth ride kodo beasts, which can at least graze on local flora.
Food supplies are another tricky issue in Hellfire Peninsula. Most of the native fauna is too badly contaminated for the untainted to eat and the land is useless. This has probably been the biggest obstacle to the efforts of both the Horde and Alliance in the region.
Zeth’gor appeared to act as more than just a military base. Thus, the purpose of the patrol was to find out how the fel orcs lived: where they got their food, the nature of their societal hierarchy, and so forth. These facts would help build a profile of the enemy that the Horde could exploit.
In order to avoid detection, our patrol made its way to the flinty hills north of Zeth’gor. We followed Murd up to a ledge overlooking the ruins. Zeth’gor is a scene of utter neglect, the structures all in varying states of collapse. A fire had gutted the settlement at some point, and scorch marks blackened the rude hovels. Of the watchtowers, nothing remains but stilts.
“Pitiful,” scoffed Murd.
Borrowing Murd’s binoculars, I took a closer look. Fel orc warriors stood guard, usually wielding improbably large weapons. Wolf-mounted raiders circled Zeth’gor, probably searching for intruders. I could not see any indication of a steady food supply, but the fel orcs looked well-fed.
I saw what seemed like recent construction attempts at the perimeter of Zeth’gor. Unarmed fel orcs (that I took to be peons) worked half-heartedly on the palisades. Many of the peons lay on the burning ground in twisted positions, tremors wracking their bodies. The Old Horde was notorious for its cruel overseers, but we saw no one managing the peons in Zeth’gor.
A fight erupted without warning. One peon barreled into his neighbor, launching a bewildering flurry of blows. The attacker grabbed a nearby pick and slammed it into the victim’s head. Not even stunned, the victim wrenched the tool out of his scalp and struck his assailant, scoring a lethal hit. The peons around the combatants barely paid any notice to the melee.
Perhaps the most striking thing about Zeth’gor was the complete absence of women. At first I thought it a continuation of the Old Horde’s social policies, which brutally mistreated orcish women. Yet even their settlements often had women laboring alongside the peons. The lack of the same in Zeth’gor was puzzling.
We finally saw food towards the end of our observation. Wagons emerged from the crumbling stronghold at Zeth’gor’s center, guided by strangely hunched peons. Fel orcs sauntered up the wagons as they lumbered by, grabbing chunks of dripping black meat.
“Do you know what that is?” I asked, passing the binoculars back to Murd. Looking through the lens, his face wrinkled in disgust.
“The remains of some Outland beast?”
We’d learned all that we could, and headed back. Many questions remained unanswered. The most pressing was how the fel orcs could maintain their numbers if they killed each other so routinely. We also could not determine how they got their meat. There was no sign of ranching or herding, and local game was nowhere near plentiful enough to sustain a settlement of that size.
“They are demons, of that I am certain,” declared Targ’dan, an orc shaman.
“I almost have to assume that they’re sustained by magic,” I said, concurring. “There’s just no other way.”
The landscape around Zeth’gor is littered with wreckage from countless battles. Crumbling Alliance siege towers totter over broken catapults and Horde wagons. Fel orc scavengers pick at these ruins, though there is almost nothing worth taking.
Spinebreaker Post had been busy during our absence. The warriors captured a lone fel peon returning from a long-distance salvage attempt. The warriors were first amused by the peon’s resistance. Things turned quite serious when the peon lashed out and shattered one fighter’s ribs with a single punch. His companions immediately hacked the peon to death.
The fact that a mere peon had done so much damage in a single blow surprised the Spinebreaker garrison. Vog (the injured warrior) actually expressed some admiration for the peon’s ferocity. His attitude was shared by most of the others in the camp, including the Horde peons, who worked to support the place.
“Maybe our peons would benefit from some of that demon blood,” joked Vog. He was silenced by a glare from Captain Darkhowl, who launched into a furious tirade about the dangers of demonic corruption. Though humorous in intent, I think there was a grain of genuine belief to Vog’s statement. Considering he was surrounded by testaments to the horror of demonic corruption, I found his remark troubling.
The orcs’ attitude towards their fel cousins is a bit disturbing. The fel orcs are like parodies of true orcs; violent, savage, and nearly mindless. They’re driven solely by the desire to shed blood. While the Horde orcs scorn the dishonorable behavior seen in their fel cousins, they also admire the fel orcs’ fanatic strength and courage. However, the latter quality is not so much courage as it is a combination of bloodlust and a lack of any self-preservation instinct. The more experienced orcs are well able to tell the difference, but these traits seem to impress younger warriors.
Albreck was a Forsaken apothecary stationed at Spinebreaker Post. Ecstatic to get his hands on a fel orc corpse, he immediately began dissecting it. I spoke to him upon my return. Black blood spattered his leather apron. Albreck stank abominably, and the rest of the camp garrison kept their distance.
“It’s very interesting. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. The internal anatomy is vastly different from that of a normal orc. There’s much heavier muscle mass, and the organs have shrunk.”
“Shouldn’t that kill them?” I asked.
“Yes, actually. These withered organs aren’t enough to keep them alive. It’s something to do with all the fel poisons in the body. Twists the laws of reality around, turns them into killing beasts. These fel orcs must eat a lot of demonic flesh. In fact, that’s probably all they eat. They must be get it from the helboars found around the desert. Helboars are basically demons, after all.”
“We didn’t see any pig farms at Zeth’gor. Also there are still plenty of helboars out in the wastes. A large settlement would have culled their numbers.”
“Maybe it’s the flesh of some other demon. Heh, for all we know it might be the flank of a pit lord!” he laughed. “Anyway, I need more blood. Fel orc blood, that is. I really don’t have much equipment here, not nearly enough for a proper analysis. I’ll send some samples over to Undercity once the Dark Portal is secured. We might be able to get a great deal of use from this wonderful stuff!”
Albreck went back to prodding the peon’s remains. I left him, not caring to think what the Apothecarium would do with such a poison.
“I don’t know how even the demons stand this heat. I’d do anything to get a real night out here!”
Looking down on the sweltering wasteland all around us, I could understand Zuld’s lament. Even I found myself on edge, tired of the glaring stars and demon lights in the sky. There’s simply no relief in Hellfire Peninsula. Still, the humans of Honor Hold held out for over a decade without succor. The Horde can hardly plead exhaustion.
Zuld and I were on our way to the blood elf way-station of Falcon Watch after a two-day stop in Spinebreaker Post. Zuld’s duty was to deliver sealed messages to the authorities at both Spinebreaker Post and Falcon Watch. He was an interesting character, being one of the few members of his generation to have not been born in an internment camp. Zuld was raised in the orcish town of Stonard, which maintained a clandestine existence in the years between the Second and Third War. Largely inhabited by remnants of the Thunderlord and Bonechewer Clans, Zuld grew up hearing stories of old Draenor.
“We didn’t find out what happened to Draenor until the Horde reestablished contact with us. I imagined this place as a stark and glorious desert, traversed by doughty Shattered Hand warriors. I began to have doubts when I moved to Orgrimmar, and started hearing about how bad the Old Horde really was. But I never thought it’d be like this.”
“Did they tell you about the Path of Glory?”
“Some of the old-timers did. I respected their words, but I figured they were exaggerating a bit. I really wish that had been the case. How could my people have ever done this?”
“The Warchief works to ensure it never happens again.”
“We didn’t learn much about the Old Horde in Stonard. My father was a Thunderlord warrior and he told me of his brave fights against ogres and draenei, and how Ner'zhul betrayed his clan. It’s hard to believe how wrong he was. Part of me is glad that he passed on to the ancestors a few years ago. I don’t need to worry about facing him after what I’ve seen here.”
“Your doubts must have first arisen when you found out about the Horde’s history in Orgrimmar.”
“That’s where they started. Make no mistake: my father was a brave warrior. His honor is unquestionable, and anyone who speaks ill of him is my enemy. Yet I fear he was deceived by the bloodlust.”
Certainly true, though the orcs don’t always look for an excuse before resorting to violence. I kept my thoughts to myself.
“Nearly all the orcs of his generation were deceived. He bears no particular shame.”
“Wise words. Many orcs detest the Forsaken, but the ones I’ve met in Orgrimmar and Thrallmar seem honorable enough. Strange, I’ll admit, but honorable.”
“Those are atypical Forsaken. Perhaps they’ve left their bitterness behind. The ones in Undercity are often mad, wicked, or both. Not all, but most.”
“Is what they say about the Apothecarium true?”
“You mean rumors of atrocity? Yes. The orcs are trying to redeem their sins; perhaps they are not always successful, or they go about it the wrong way. Still, they try. The Forsaken actively commit such crimes.”
“They’ve never made anything like the Path of Glory though.”
“No. Not yet.”
There’s always violence in some corner of Hellfire Peninsula. We flew over the remains of many battles, always between Burning Legion infantry and fel orc marauders. The aftermaths painted pictures of the savagery in such fights. Where the fel orcs won, they tore the bodies into ribbons and strung them across the desert. I wondered if that was how the fel orcs got their food. In cases of Legion victory, the demons left most of the bodies as they fell, though they nailed some to standing stones as warnings.
On five separate occasions over a week of travel, we saw battles being actively fought. Neither of us were inclined to fly any closer than necessary, but we saw the mindless hatred on both sides. The Burning Legion and fel orcs fight like rabid dogs in a cage. There’s no strategy, no honor, and no thought. I was still amazed by the sheer number of fel orc troops. They swept across the wastes as a red tide, able only to destroy.
A long wall stretches south and north from Hellfire Citadel. Built under Blackhand’s orders, it was intended to run the width of Hellfire Peninsula. Supposedly this was to better defend Draenor from an Azerothian counterattack, though it was of questionable use for this purpose. The Alliance could (and did) simply sail around it.
Too ambitious for even Blackhand’s vast resources, the Horde never finished the project. The wall’s continuity grows increasingly broken the farther south it goes, until it turns into a few lonely sections of isolated masonry. Small fel orc outposts have sprung up around these sites, guarded by warriors lost in an eternal blood haze. The outposts are all falling apart, though I cannot say whether this is due to war or simple neglect.
The seventh day of our journey brought us to the Three Forts. I had heard of them while in Thrallmar. They are small keeps just west of Hellfire Citadel. Ner'zhul had planned to use them as a fallback position for the Horde were the Alliance to clear Hellfire Citadel. Hastily built and never used, they’d quickly sunk into ruin.
This is why Zuld and I were both surprised to see Horde banners flying proudly over Broken Hill, the southernmost fort.
I looked over to Zuld, who motioned down at the gutted stone structure. I nodded my assent and our wyvern circled a few times before landing in a bare courtyard. The fort’s carcass, studded with rusty iron spikes, drew around us like some gargantuan beast.
Our greeter stepped out from behind a pile of rubble, along with three others. The leader was an orc, as were two of his fellows. The last was a troll.
“Hail! I am Zuld Stonespear; the Forsaken is Destron Allicant.” Zuld paused for a moment, examining the trio. Their mismatched equipment suggested that they were not part of the Horde army. “I did not know that our warriors had forged a path this far. You have my respect.”
“We spilled some blood to get here. I am Iruk Ragesong, captain of the Battleborn.”
His followers shouted and saluted at the name. I knew a bit about the Battleborn. They were Horde partisans under the command of independent warriors. The Battleborn had achieved quite a name for themselves in Alterac Valley. Zuld bowed respectfully before Iruk.
“They sing of your deeds in the halls of Orgrimmar.”
“As well they should. Scores of Alliance bandits have tasted the edge of my blade,” boasted Iruk. “Feel free to stay here as long as you need. Twenty-eight brave Battleborn warriors defend this place.”
I followed Iruk into a dusty basement that might have once been a storage cellar. Mercenaries packed the dark chamber from wall to wall. Most were orcs and trolls, though I spotted members of the other Horde races as well.
“Are you on a mission for Thrallmar?” I asked.
“General Nazgrel said we were to do what we could to ensure the Horde’s security. Normally I wouldn’t consider these ruined forts worthy of a warrior’s time, but that was before Teril’s Legion seized Overlook, the northernmost fort.”
“Teril’s Legion... they’re a mercenary group, aren’t they?” I’d heard of them fighting in Warsong Gulch and the Arathi Basin. Its leader was Teril Birrison, once a knight in Lordaeron’s service.
“They’re better described as a group of cowards. If the Alliance takes the Three Forts, it’ll give them an easy way to occupy Hellfire Citadel. They’ll also be able to raid Horde supply caravans headed deeper into Outland. As warriors, we cannot allow this to happen.”
“Has Teril’s Legion gotten to the third fort?”
“The Stadium? Not yet. I shall soon march there with my best warriors and challenge Teril’s fools to do battle. We’ll kill them if they’re already present.”
Iruk joined his comrades while I stood in shock. While I doubted that a fight between Teril’s Legion and the Battleborn would end the treaty, I did not think much good could come from it. The demons are a very real threat to both the Horde and Alliance and neither faction can afford to waste time on petty territorial conflicts.
I was at a loss as to what to do. The Horde had every right to maintain its security, but I doubted that pitched battles with Alliance mercenaries were what Nazgrel intended. Perhaps, I reasoned, the Three Forts could be divided, with Broken Hill going to the Horde, Overlook to the Alliance, and the Stadium remaining unoccupied. I disliked the idea of allowing the Alliance to simply move in and claim Overlook, but the demons were simply a greater threat.
Bracing myself, I convinced Iruk to confer with me outside. I knew that contradicting him in front of his men would be a stupid move. Iruk went to a rocky precipice leaning over the lifeless valley to the north. I could see Overlook’s towers on the other side, standing precariously on the slopes. Folding his arms, Iruk scowled.
“What do you want, undead?”
I knew I had to respond assertively enough to keep his attention, without being so overbearing as to offend him.
“You may be acting rashly in goading Teril’s Legion into battle. Are you certain that this is what Nazgrel ordered?”
“Do you question my honor? I’ve slain whole armies worth of the Horde’s enemies. Nazgrel trusts me as a brother warrior!”
“I do not question your honor; I question your wisdom.”
Iruk grabbed me by the shoulders and slammed me against a stone wall. I’d evidently struck a nerve. His brutish face quivered in rage.
“I do not take orders from you, undead! I am a great warrior! Teril’s Legion attacks peons, did you know that?”
“I’ve no doubt of their cowardice! But this is not the time! Honor alone won’t save us from the demons—”
Iruk threw me to the ground before I could finish. He knelt, his teeth bared.
“If you value your existence, you should leave now. My warriors are tired and bored; they’d happily sharpen their blades on your bones.”
He stood up and stormed back into the cellar. I lay in the dust for a few minutes, stemming my anger. I want to make absolutely clear that my objection did not arise from Iruk’s intent to attack Teril’s Legion. I see no reason to appease Alliance mercenaries. Certainly their decision to size Overlook was immensely careless, and may have even been intended as a provocation. My problem lay in the fact that it was the worst possible time to engage in inter-factional sniping. The Battleborn are unpleasant, but they are fierce, hardened warriors. It’s much wiser to use them as weapons against the Burning Legion, instead of letting them waste themselves in another pointless proxy war.
Some part of me wondered if the Burning Legion was sowing hatred in the minds of orc and human alike. A fractious enemy is a weak one, after all. It’s as if the Free Peoples had suddenly forgotten the demonic invasion. A great external danger is often the only thing that can unite disparate factions. The human kingdoms never trusted Quel’thalas, but they put their old quarrels aside to defeat the Old Horde. Why can we not do the same?
I told Zuld what happened when he returned to the surface a few hours later. Though he was more sympathetic towards Iruk, he understood the need to maintain a unified front. We agreed to leave immediately for Falcon Watch to alert the authorities there.
It took us little more than a day to reach Falcon Watch, but it felt much longer. I realized I was sick of the red desert stretching interminably into the distance. Even more than that, I hated the dead sky and the stagnant air. I longed to feel the wind. Outland weighs upon the mind, a place incomprehensibly old and corrupt.
That said, my laments mean little. I was free to leave whenever I pleased. Those who live and fight here do not have that luxury, and deserve our respect for staying. My blunted senses give me less cause to complain than most. This grim state of mind was also borne largely out of frustration. There is much in Outland worth seeing. Hellfire Peninsula is merely a very harsh introduction.
In Falcon Watch, a crystal-topped elven spire ascends with haughty contempt over the flame-wracked sands. Smaller outlying buildings and deceptively fragile-looking pavilions cluster around the spire base. Ruled by blood elves, Falcon Watch also hosts a few Forsaken and orcs.
I went straight to the local commander upon landing. This turned out to be a farstrider named Venn’ren Noonrunner. He did not seem entirely happy to see me. I’d arrived at a bad time. Falcon Watch had just received word that the demon armies had entered the Dark Portal and were fighting the Argent Dawn on the other side. Apparently, most of the blood elves believed that Kael’thas would intervene before that happened. The Sun King’s failure to appear and the importance of the battle greatly worried the people of Falcon Watch.
“The Battleborn? Yes, they came here from Thrallmar about a month ago. Maybe a year, who can tell in this awful place.”
“They’re planning to engage Alliance mercenaries in a fight for the Three Forts. I’m worried that it may disrupt the war effort.”
Venn’ren shrugged. He looked as if he were struggling to repress a violent outburst.
“The Battleborn should be at the front, I agree. We’re badly understaffed here, I don’t have nearly enough troops. I’d tell them to stay here but I have no real jurisdiction over those savages.”
“What about Nazgrel?”
“I’ll have a magister relay a message to him, but it’ll take Nazgrel even longer to reach the Battleborn and tell them to behave themselves. By that time I’m sure they’ll already be fighting. Besides, Nazgrel’s surrounded by demons and fel orcs. He doesn’t have the time or resources to do much.”
“I see. Thank you for your time, sir.”
“You’re quite welcome. I’m sorry I can’t do more, but things have gotten out of hand. Right now my responsibility is to ensure the safety of Falcon Watch.”
Things seemed to be spiralling into chaos. Information from the Dark Portal was spotty at best. Through great effort, the magisters maintained a steady line of communication to Thrallmar, which was nearly as isolated as Falcon Watch. Beyond that, little was known. Scouts reported seeing more powerful types of demons joining the fray. Especially ominous were stories of fiendish knights that stood as tall as castles.
Falcon Watch only has a small resident population. Most of the elves there are pilgrims on their way to rejoin their gloried Sun King. Though disturbed by recent events, everyone I met held faith that the crisis would soon be averted. For them, the big concern was in figuring out their next destination.
“The demons must be disrupting the Sun King’s missives,” said Talshara Morninglight, a faithful retainer to Lord Velaeron, the youngest surviving son of House Brightsun.
“Most of what I heard led me to believe that he holds court in Tempest Keep.”
“That’s most likely. Yet not even the best of our number are sure how to get to Tempest Keep, or even exactly where to find it. We only know that it lies somewhere in the twisting chaos of Netherstorm.”
“I’m sure you’ll find it.”
“Of that there’s no doubt. The Sun King wouldn’t have fought so long and so hard to abandon us here. A few elves here think he’s testing us by not saying anything, but I don’t believe that. The Sin’dorei have already passed all the tests of race and history.”
I smiled and nodded.
The future of the Horde’s presence in Outland was in doubt. It was for this reason that I ended up staying in Falcon Watch for fifteen long days. If the town became cut off from reinforcements, they’d need all the help available. Few of the elves spoke anything other than Thalassian so I ended up spending a great deal of time with Zuld. I occasionally accompanied the farstrider patrols of the region. We encountered little besides the mutated, two-headed vultures endemic to Hellfire Peninsula. The western portion of the peninsula is more sedate than the wartorn region around Hellfire Citadel.
The entire camp erupted into cheer when we learned that the Argent Dawn had weathered the demon assault, and controlled the Dark Portal. Both Thrallmar and Honor Hold remained intact. Their attacks on the demon lines made the Argent Dawn victory possible. It was a great day for all of Azeroth and Outland.
On a darker note, I also learned that the Battleborn had engaged Teril’s Legion at the Stadium. The Battleborn had gotten to the fortress first and defended it successfully. Yet their victory came at a high cost. The Alliance struck the first blow, but the defeat of Teril’s Legion served to enrage the Alliance command. I’m not sure exactly what happened next, though most stories suggest that the Horde ambassadors foolishly gloated about the Battleborn’s victory.
The treaty held, but barely. Horde citizens would no longer be sheltered in Alliance encampments, and vice versa. I was glad I'd packed the elements of my disguise.
Seeing that Falcon Watch was safe, I decided to continue my journey. Wishing Zuld the best of luck I made my way to one last stop in Hellfire Peninsula: the draenic town called the Temple of Telhamat.
The endless bloodshed between the Shattered Hand Clan and the Zeth’kur warriors formed an ugly stain on the Light’s holy skein. The draenei saw little reason to involve themselves in orcish affairs, but they could not ignore the real suffering that resulted from the conflict.
Prophet Velen and the priests knew that something had to be done. Military intervention was not even seriously considered. Neither side in the war struck the draenei as particularly virtuous. Finally a young priest named Kalvaan suggested that the draenei teach by example.
With Velen’s blessing, Kalvaan traveled to the eastern deserts and founded the Temple of Telhamat. Telhamat is an old Eredun word for “gracious gift.” Kalvaan hoped that by creating a thriving draenic community, the orcs could learn more peaceful ways. The temple’s concentrated prayers would also act to ease the bloodlust pervading the region.
Kalvaan was a bit naive. The war continued unabated, actually growing more savage (for reasons unrelated to the draenei). Even so, the missionaries spared no effort. In order to impress the rugged orcs, the Telhamat community adopted a radical asceticism. While the draenic lifestyle was hardly luxurious, the priests elected to forgo most of their few comforts. They correctly reasoned that they would not be saddened by such an action. The priests went on long prayer retreats into the desert, trying to understand the orcish mindset. Unfortunately, few orcs ever visited Telhamat. Those that did found the temple too alien for their liking.
While Telhamat never reached the great heights of the southern cities, it achieved some notability. Farseer Nobundo, the founder of draenic shamanism, lived in Telhamat for 23 years. This was when Nobundo still served as a vindicator. He accompanied the local priests on many of their wilderness excursions. Nobundo claims that memories of such trips inspired him to return to the desert after the Breaking. The farseers may owe their existence to this simple town.
The draenei abandoned the Temple of Telhamat during the Horde War. The rampaging orcish armies avoided it, believing it harbored malign spirits. Today, the sound of draenic hymns again ring through the temple’s chambers and walkways.
Telhamat was the first draenei-built city I ever saw. Draenic architecture is possessed of a megalithic quality. Telhamat is encircled by massive, solidly constructed walls. A series of terraces form the interior, the temple proper at the apex. Several smaller buildings stand within the complex, each topped with a slab of draenethyst crystal. The buildings resemble nautilus shells, much like the small huts inside the Exodar. Draenic cities are made of a synthetic material called sanaum, which looks and feels like stone, while having some degree of metal’s flexibility. Despite this, a sanaum wall is not much stronger than a normal granite wall, and costlier to produce. Historically, draenic cities protected themselves with arcane shields and illusions.
“Welcome, Brother Human! We have not seen many of your numbers in this place. Please, come inside. You must be quite weary after such a hard journey,” welcomed a beaming anchorite. He introduced himself as Obadei.
The draenei cheered and called out to me as I climbed the stairway leading to the temple.
“Have you heard the news? The warriors of the Argent Dawn have repelled the demon advance on your world. The Dark Portal is in the hands of the Light!”
Since I claimed to have been out in the wastes for the past month, I feigned surprise. Around me, I noticed signs of Telhamat’s long abandonment. Spiked vines bloom up as high as towers from the ground, clambering over walls and houses.
I was surprised to learn that I would be staying at the temple. This turned out to be a draenic tradition.
“You see, Brother Talus, when a visitor comes it is an opportunity to strengthen the community. By making visitors welcome, we fulfill the teachings of the Most Holy Light. So it only makes sense to have them stay in temples.”
“Interesting. Human churches are usually a bit leery about accepting sojourners. Many churches ran shelters for the very poor, but those were usually separate buildings.”
“They separated the spiritually weak?”
“You said the poor. I assumed you meant those weak in faith and kindness. Did I misunderstand?”
“Yes, I meant the economically poor. Those without money.”
Obadei blinked, looking confused. I ended up explaining the basics of human economy (and, to a lesser extent, psychology). I don’t think I did a very good job of it, as Obadei seemed more confused than anything else. Obadei had never been to Azeroth, and had only met one other human in his lifetime. He certainly had astounding linguistic aptitude.
Obadei smiled and excused himself, leaving me in the temple sanctuary. Other than a couch, a rug, and books, the interior was quite bare. Since I cannot read Eredun, I decided to explore Telhamat after unloading my few possessions.
Built into the mountain slope, the Temple of Telhamat is elegantly integrated into the surrounding wilderness. The extremities of each terrace wind into rocky canyons, though draenic buildings assure a civilized presence. Teams of draenei were busy clearing away the growth of massive thorned vines, called spikestems.
“The spikestem is actually a fine metaphor for the Infinitely Holy Light,” explained a young draenei woman named Meer. Her team was taking a short break from the job. Clearing out spikestems is exhausting work.
“It is determined, even in the hardest situations. In a way, we hate to uproot it, but it’s not safe to keep them here. Have you heard of ravagers?”
I nodded, having seen them before in Azuremyst Isle. Ravagers are fierce, vaguely insectoid beasts. They’re not something you want to see in a town.
“Ravagers and spikestems always go together. In fact, we found a cluster of eggs this morning. Ravagers can be tamed individually, but groups of them are exceedingly dangerous.”
The spikestem’s roots go deep into the rocky ground. In the old days, they got most of their water by absorbing the morning dew that appeared in the region’s mountain slopes. Now, they draw nourishment from ambient motes of fel taint. Miraculously, this has not seemed to significantly change the plant’s physiology.
“Maybe it was so tough, that the demons couldn’t figure out any way to make it meaner,” remarked one draenei. I laughed, but the other draenei just looked at him askance.
Most of Telhamat’s current inhabitants had lived in the town before the Horde came to power. During the war, they hid in the depths of Zangarmarsh with the others of their race.
“We were all overjoyed when they announced that it was safe to return here,” reminisced a mage by the name of Vodesiin. “The Telhamat collectives maintained contact with each other during the exile, so our community has become all the stronger.”
“Do you think Telhamat will continue trying to reach out to the orcs?”
Vodesiin’s brow furrowed.
“Perhaps in time. Despite the significant gains made by the orcish people, we cannot rule out the possibility that they will never truly be able to accept the Holy Light. I am not saying they are demons, but separation from their culture may be advisable.”
This puzzled me. I’d never heard a draenei say such a thing. I asked Vodesiin if the other Telhamat draenei thought the same way.
“This is just a theory, Brother Talus. Clearly, more research and prayer need to be done. The recent assimilation of shamanism into our society is certainly evidence in favor of the orcs’ redemption. Even so, we must be cautious.”
“But does the community at large hold this view?”
“It dominates somewhat in Telhamat. No final decision has been made. Prophet Velen has not yet made a definitive statement; he is probably still mentally exploring all possible futures. Certainly our community would never be so brash as to declare ourselves right. Much counsel must be taken before we accept it as a norm.”
“Other communities might feel differently?”
“That is correct. One difficulty with being spread out across a large area is that it makes it difficult to maintain full cohesion, though no community would ever abandon the Holy Light. We take care to stay in its precepts, and defer to the wisdom of the entire draenic community once it makes a decision.”
“That sounds like a good arrangement. My understanding is that few orcs ever came to Telhamat in the days before the Horde.”
“In fairness, our outreach methods may not have been optimal. Perhaps we should have been more forward in our mission. Unfortunately, the delicate political situation made that difficult. But yes, very few orcs came here, or to Sha’naar.”
“A town to the southeast. It was built to further influence the orcs, since Telhamat alone was insufficient. Sha’naar was a thriving community, but it never grew very large. The orcs did not fear it the way they did Telhamat, and the Horde armies destroyed it. It was then that we knew we had to leave. Some of the Sha’naari survived and are sheltered here. Would you like to meet them?”
“Wonderful. They are of the Broken, those draenei mutated by fel energies. Do not be alarmed by their appearance.”
“I’ve seen some of the Broken before, back on Exodar.”
The draenei were clearly more complex than my first impressions led me to believe. I thought of how they must have felt, eking out a harsh life in the swamps, seeing their friends and family warped by demonic forces. I could understand how some would be at least suspicious of the orcs. As Vodesiin led me to the Broken, we passed a small cemetery, partly overgrown by spikestems. For a brief moment, I wondered if the orcs could ever truly redeem themselves.
The Sha’naari Broken huddled on the lowest terrace. Their impassive faces studied me as I approached. None had ever before seen a human.
“The Sha’naari never made it to the sanctum in Zangarmarsh. Those who escaped the Horde hid in the mountains. Their leader here, Ikan, says that they quickly mutated.”
Vodesiin went to a wizened Broken whom I took to be Ikan. After a brief talk with Vodesiin, the Broken shuffled towards me.
“Ikan can only speak Eredun and Orcish. Would you like me to translate?”
“I actually speak some Orcish.”
“Oh, very good!” smiled Vodesiin.
“It is my honor to meet you, Ikan. I am Talus Corestiam, a human.”
“The Pure Ones mentioned your kind. You killed many orcs, did you not?”
“Then I shall call you friend. My tribe is called the Dreghood. I do not remember much of my old life. The Pure Ones are trying to teach me and my people, but it is hard. We have not heard the Light in so long.”
“Do your people have any belief system aside from the Light?”
“The stones and winds speak to us. They say little of right and wrong, which is why the Light that I once knew now seems so strange. The spirits told us how to survive, and for a time we did. I led my warriors against the isolated orc bands, and we broke the bodies of the greenskins.”
“The Dreghood have shamans?”
“Yes. They can best hear the spirits.”
“Did a Broken named Nobundo ever come to your village?”
“No. I know of this Nobundo, the shaman of the Light. The Dreghood shamans heard the voices on their own. At first we tried to control the spirits, but they grew wrathful and some of us died. After that, we learned to respect them.”
“How do the Dreghood now fare?”
“We are slaves. Demons have long haunted this ruined world, and an army of them came to our village last year. They serve the demon lord known as Illidan. They said they would aid us against the orcs, but they lied. Many fel orcs march in Illidan’s army.”
“Wait, the fel orcs work for Illidan?”
“A great army of fel orcs marched through here under the guidance of those same demons.”
“I see. Illidan is not a friend of the Burning Legion’s, however.”
“The Dreghood know little of demons and their affairs. Our goal is to survive. Once it was vengeance, but that only led us to be enslaved.”
“Did Illidan’s servants make any mention of Kael’thas or the Sun King?”
“I have not heard those names.”
That the fel orcs worked with Illidan was not entirely surprising. Their viciousness and disorganization forces one to conclude that they are led by an outside source. Yet why would demons of the Burning Legion march with Illidan? More importantly, what was Kael’thas doing? Did he know that fel orcs (who, as minions of Illidan, would also be in league with Kael’thas) attacked his own people? Perhaps he no longer cared, though that seemed unlikely. Outland was proving to be a confusing and fascinating place.
I was back on the road in three days. The strange realm of Zangarmarsh awaited me to the west, and I was quite eager to see if it was a beautiful as people claimed.
A fearsome red light suddenly filled the sky two days out of Telhamat, emanating from a single burning point in the firmament. I was not sure if it was cause for alarm, as I was still relatively unfamiliar with the effects of the Twisting Nether. Yet there was something undeniably sinister about the glare. I pondered returning to Telhamat.
I soon realized there was no point in doing so. The source of the light grew bigger and brighter by the second, plummeting towards Hellfire Peninsula. I went prone, bracing myself for impact.
The light reached its brightest, followed by a moment of perfect silence. Then came the thunderous waves of force, blasting through the earth and shaking it like gelatin. I could only think it was a demonic attack of some sort.
I stood up once the shaking subsided. Miraculously, everything seemed normal, or at least as normal as it ever gets in Outland. I reluctantly decided to return to Telhamat. The blast had come from the west, and I did not want to risk going there alone.
On the way back, I ran into a draenic military patrol on their way to investigate the crash. Their leader, Vindicator Taruun (whom I’d met briefly in Telhamat) said that, while fel energies had increased, there was no real evidence of a demonic army arriving from the impact. Reassured by the presence of armed soldiers, I decided to accompany them to the site.
Three days brought us to a scene of devastation. A red crystal the size of a city had slammed into to the earth, splitting it asunder. It shone a sickly crimson light throughout the surrounding valley. Only an incredible force could have ever moved such a large object. I had no doubt it was infused with fel energies, a fact made obvious by the prickly heat and acrid stench that bled into the land around the crystal.
Malformed silhouettes lumbered around the base of the crystal. At first I thought they were demons, but a closer look revealed them to be giants of stone. In appearance, they resembled to the mountain giants of Azeroth. Taruun explained that Draenor had its own giants, and that they were capricious and sometimes violent.
Satisfied that no demons had come with the crystal, Taruun took his party back to Telhamat.
“We would like to know more, but our first priority is to protect the Temple of Telhamat,” he said.
I watched them march into the distance before I turned back to the ominous crystal. A palpable feeling of evil radiated from the stone, whispering of dark deeds. I had no way of knowing how it came to fall in Outland. Perhaps it was a warning from the Burning Legion or Illidan. For all I knew, it was simply a fel-touched crystal that had dropped unguided from the Twisting Nether.
War in Outland is practiced on a colossal scale not seen in Azeroth. Empowered by dark forces, the warlords of Outland acknowledge no moral or natural limits. The warped landscape of Hellfire Peninsula is the result of countless such battles. Even now, I wonder how much more punishment Outland can withstand before it is completely destroyed.