Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Blade's Edge Mountains: Part 2

“Awaken, Destron. It is time to accept your birthright.”

I was not asleep. The night had crawled by in that foul hut, my mind alert with anticipation. The encounter with Shob’mot was so strange that I wondered if it had truly happened. That perhaps it was nothing more than a hallucination.

Mok’non launched into a recitation of the glorious evils I’d commit in his clan’s name. Ogres bellowed from beyond the hut's stone walls. I jumped down from my alcove and gingerly walked over to the doorway, pushing through the noxious mess on the floor. A blood-red firmament covered the reeking village. Two smaller ogres ran in frantic terror across the grounds, pursued by a towering warrior who struck them with a whip.

“Hurry up, war time now!” shouted the warrior.

“The entire clan will assemble, Destron. Not as great as the Horde armies of old, but great nonetheless,” proclaimed Mok’non.

“Doesn’t anyone stay in the village to guard it?”

“Why? We have nothing of value to guard! The Bloodmaul worship the gronn in the same way that we do.”

Mok’non picked me up with both hands and held me high above his heads.

“We eat in Nukda, soon!”

Ogres shouted the refrain over and over again, eagerly awaiting their gourmand’s paradise. I searched for any sign of Shob’mot, only to be disappointed. Mok’non galumphed towards a mob of ogres, their pale bulks streaked with slime and blood. I saw Gorr’dim, standing on a flat-topped monolith. He was idle, doing nothing to direct the army below. Whips cracked in the air as the overseers drove the last stragglers to the gathering place. The lesser ogres needed little encouragement. They joined the chanting as soon as they arrived, hungry cries shaking the ground. A name finally emerged from the babble.

“Nukda! Nukda!”

The stomping of feet fell into rhythm with that word, and the mob began to move, ordered by a spontaneous discipline. Mok’non joined the chant, his tone mindless.

“Nukda! Nukda!”

Teeth gnashed and feet stomped. No thought or law existed; rage and hunger reigned supreme. Ogres eyes fixed on the illusory horizon of Nukda.

“Nukda! Nukda!”

Dust choked the air, a thick red haze veiling the world. I could not see more than a few feet ahead. Worse yet was the deafening ogre cry. I felt a kind of primal horror at the clamor, surrounded by a race of beings reduced to their most basic and elemental state. No one considers the ogres even remotely civilized, but their normal society looked positively refined compared to the war party. The clan metamorphosed a vast organism, an army of mouths and bellies.

I despaired of rescue. How could Shob’mot even find me in such a disaster? Mok’non, for all his intelligence, proved no more resistant to the pack mentality than his fellows. Perhaps it was the same with Shob’mot.

Then I saw him. The Ogri’la spy marched alongside Mok’non. His left head chanted along with the rest, but his right turned to me. The lips moved, though I could hear nothing over the tumult.

I was trying to figure out which spell would best help me escape from Mok’non when the ogre-mage’s grip slackened. Nerveless hands went limp, and I pushed them aside. I landed between Mok’non’s heads. The movement of his bulk made it a precarious position, but I could not drop down without being trampled by the other brutes all around me.

“Nukda! Nukda!”

The damned word stifled my mind. Acting on impulse, I launched myself towards Shob’mot. I hoped he would catch me. Instead, I stopped in mid-air. Startled, I soon realized that Shob’mot was floating above the other ogres.

Mok’non at last realized what had happened. He looked to me, blind panic on his thuggish face. A single moment was all it took to destroy the ogre-mage’s dreams. With uncomprehending horror he saw his greatest hope flying away from him. He tried to move against the mob, and that was his fatal mistake. An impatient ogre warrior bashed Mok’non to the side with an iron pole. That was all it took; already unbalanced, Mok’non fell to the advancing army.

Shob’mot continued to increase in speed, the rusty canyons flashing by in a red blur. Despite our velocity, I felt no accelerative force.

“We have escaped, Destron,” wheezed Shob’mot. “I must set down, I cannot maintain levitation indefinitely.” He looked as if he was in pain.

Scenery came into focus as Shob’mot slowed. Though still walled in by the bladed cliffs, Bladespire Hold was nowhere in sight.

“How far did we travel?”

“I do not know exactly, but far enough. Besides, with Mok’non dead they will have no real interest in seeking us. I think he was the only one who even noticed our departure.”

We ended our journey at a sprawling ogre structure at the foot of the canyon wall, nothing more than a shallow pit surrounded by cyclopean ramparts. Rough-carved parapets stagger up from odd points, making it look like a parody of a castle. Sad to say, it is easily the most impressive example of ogre architecture.

Shob’mot chose this rude place to rest from his labors. The ogre-mage landed us on the wall and drooped down, his breathing labored.

“Are you all right?” I inquired.

“We will be in time, Destron. Our powers do not come without a cost.”

“Where are we?”

“This is the Circle of Blood. The great temple of the ogre race.” The mockery in Shob’s voice was unmistakable.

“When was it built?”

“Impossible to say for sure. The ogre lords would test their warriors here, pitting them against each other to see who was strongest. The Horde continued this tradition, turning many of the victors into the first ogre-mages.”

“Is it safe?”

“For the most part. I do not think any ogres have set foot here for the past few years. The ogres duel each other in their own villages now. Give me until morning to rest. Feel free to explore, though I advise against venturing too far from this spot.”

With that, Shob’mot assumed a cross-legged position and closed his eyes. His breathing slowed, almost to a standstill. I could not tell if he was sleeping or in deep meditation. Whatever the case, I reasoned it best to leave him alone.

The Circle of Blood is an effective metaphor for ogre society. Lashed together from irregular stones and built for violence, it fails to instill any lasting sense of identity. The ogres have left it, though not from any revulsion towards its loathsome purpose. The Circle of Blood is a victim of forgetfulness.

The sandy pit in the center broils in the stagnant lowland heat. Aged bones clutter the arena grounds, and black stains on the walls tell of the bloodshed that once took place. A decaying wooden suspension bridge straddles the arena. I doubt it could support the weight of even a gnome, much less an ogre.

The hemorrhagic sky brightened, signaling morning. I’d spent the night in melancholy contemplation, and hoped that Shob’mot was awake. I was in no mood to be alone. Fortunately, the ogre-mage had returned to consciousness.

“Would you like anything to eat? I can conjure some food and water. The quality is poor, but it will sustain you,” I offered.

“No need. Living in Ogri’la has taught me to how to properly utilize my physical and mental energies. I try to avoid indulging my physical appetites.” I noticed that Shob did most of the speaking.

“Don’t you need to eat?”

“On occasion. But much less than most ogres.”

“I still know very little about this Ogri’la. Could you tell me a bit more?”

“What do you know of ogre history?”

I explained the story as presented to me by Mok’non. Shob nodded when I was done.

“His story is accurate for the most part. Actually, I should say that his story matches with what little we in Ogri’la know. Mok’non’s main error is in regards to the arakkoa. You see, the high mountain deserts were once forests. This was eons ago, before draenei or even orcs lived on this dying world. These forests were ruled by a nation of arakkoa calling themselves the Apexis.”

“They were the ones who enslaved the ogres?”

“Yes, the arakkoa accomplished this with apexite crystals. Ogre aggression stems from physical need. Apexite somehow stifles ogre appetites, making us passive and pliable.”

“Why did the Apexis enslave the ogres?”

“You must understand that almost nothing remains of the Apexis civilization. What does remain is enigmatic. All we know is that the Apexis seemed to be dwindling in number. The highlands were already turning into a desert, something that not even arakkoa sorcery could prevent. They used ogres for labor. When an ogre could work no more, the arakkoa would slaughter him for meat.”

“Terrible,” I sighed. “But if the Apexis’ resources were dwindling, how did they feed the ogres?”

“Isn’t it obvious? You just saw how I recovered from our journey without eating anything.”

“The Apexis taught the ogres mental powers?”

“Only enough so that we could sustain ourselves. Apexite crystals enhance ogre intelligence. The crystals made us easily controlled while, paradoxically, increasing our intellectual acuity. The Apexis countered our newfound intelligence by keeping us in a state of brute ignorance. The crystals gave us the ability, but we had no way to get any knowledge.”

“How did the ogres finally overthrow the Apexis?”

“Ha! I do not believe we ever did. We think the Apexis simply died out. Perhaps some of them migrated to the south. The apexite crystals are all that remain. The Apexis synthesized these crystals, but they now grow naturally. Miles and miles of apexite shards surround Ogri’la.”

“When was Ogri’la created?”

“Two years after Gul’dan created the first ogre-mage. As you know, the personalities of the ogre-mage are perpetually at odds.”

“Understandable, really. Smart though they may be, the ogre-mage is still essentially two hyper-aggressive beasts sharing a body,” added Mot.

“Kronk’vul was the third ogre-mage created. A devotee of Cho’gall, he believed that the ogres mages were destined to usher in a new age. When Cho’gall fell to lunacy, Kronk’vul saw that this would be the fate of all ogre-mages.”

“The intelligence did nothing to stem the beast within,” lamented Mot.

“Kronk’vul spoke to Gul’dan about this. This was a bad idea, since the warlock only cared about the ogre-mages insofar as they could be used for war. Thinking that Kronk’vul’s fears would cripple the ogre-mage forces, the Shadow Council put a bounty on Kronk’vul’s heads. He escaped, convincing a handful of other ogre-mages to join him.”

“I’m happy to say that Shob and I were among that number.”

“The remote Vortex Pinnacle seemed the best place to hide from the Horde. Kronk’vul quickly learned that the apexite in the area worked to stem aggression and encourage cooperation. The Horde never found us.”

“Thanks to the apexite, we had the intelligence of our ancestors. We also had knowledge and freedom, which they lacked. It was a simple matter for us to build a stable society,” commented Mot.

“How did you fare during the Breaking?” I asked.

“Though tragic, the Breaking was also an opportunity. We hoped that we could attract more of the ogre-mages to our sanctuary. However, we soon learned most had fallen prey to the same madness that had consumed Cho’gall. Then came the demons, and the gronn.”

“Do apexite crystals enhance the intellect of normal ogres?”

“Yes, but they do not attain the same degree of enlightenment as do the ogre-mages, whose preexisting intelligence confers certain benefits.”

A disturbing thought suddenly came to me. Adaptable to even the harshest climates, the ogres have spread all over Outland and Azeroth. Only their stupidity kept their numbers in check. Can either world withstand a nation of intelligent ogres?

“Is your goal to spread the apexite enhancements to all ogres?”

“By no means. That would seal the doom of our race.”

“How so?”

“Because the apexite suppresses our appetites. That is what I have been saying all along. Do you understand? We in Ogri’la have very little motivation. Only a tiny handful of us have the initiative to fight our enemies. We are among the most aggressive and unstable of all the enlightened.”

“We were also half-mad before the apexite,” said Mot.

“As we speak, demon armies marshal to the north and south of Ogri’la. Do your leaders know of this? If not, they will soon. Most in Ogri’la cannot bring themselves to fight, even in self-defense.”

“I’m afraid I don’t understand.”

“The powers of the apexite remove our base desires, without which we have nothing!” shouted Shob, his voice suddenly agitated. Shob’s brutish face contorted, and for a moment I feared he would strike me.

“Calm yourself, brother. This is a difficult concept to understand or articulate. You see, Destron, ogres lack the emotional complexity enjoyed by other races, like orcs and humans. This is not to say we do not have emotions, merely that they tend to be simplified. Gul’dan and the apexite both enhanced us intellectually, but not emotionally. In addition, the apexite has dulled our feelings, tied as they are to our hunger. The apexite crystals render us content, even apathetic. Without hunger, we have no interest in doing much of anything.”

Shob, in the meanwhile, had regained control of himself.

“I apologize. I have been away from the apexite for too long, and my base nature reasserts itself.”

“It is fine. So you fear that the ogre race could not defend itself if it became attuned to the apexite crystals?”

“Worse than that, it would simply die off in a few generations. The procreative instinct is greatly suppressed by the apexite,” explained Mot, who had taken over the Shob’mot entity.

“Then what do you hope to accomplish by converting other ogres to your cause?”

“Simply to replenish the number of enlightened ogres. You see, our race is stuck. We cannot transcend the limitations of our minds or our souls. The ultimate goal of Ogri’la is to create an ogre nation guided by an enlightened minority. We will attempt to channel ogre aggression into positive activities, and maintain control of the population level. The gronn must obviously be destroyed for this to happen.”

“So you do have goals then.”

“Yes, some of us. Even the most ambitious of the enlightened must constantly struggle to maintain these goals, and not sink into indifference. Certainly none of us expect to have any great control over the ogre masses. There will never be enough of us dedicated to the task. We only hope to ameliorate the damage they cause. I’m sure the lesser ogres will still fight and kill each other to some degree. It is unavoidable.”

“To create such a nation,” said Shob, “we will need a sponsor. This future ogre realm cannot be anything more than a client state, most likely for the Horde or Alliance, though we would not rule out others.”

“You do not believe that you can effectively run such a nation on your own?”

“By aligning ourselves to a faction, Ogri’la can get the initiative it sorely needs. Though the enlightened would not participate to any great degree, we can at least give tasks to the lesser ogres. Perhaps as warriors for our allies, or as builders,” offered Mot.

“As pawns,” mourned Shob.

“It is for their own good. Certainly we will only ally with those that treat the ogres well,” argued Mot.

“They will not be free.”

“Such is the price of being an ogre.”

The ogres have been treated as nothing but chattel for the entirety of their existence. Not even the enlightened leadership of Ogri’la can change this awful fact. Yet I must ask myself: would I want the ogres to create a strong, stable nation? The ogres might well be unstoppable if they achieved such a goal. As long as they are condemned to brutal infighting, they cannot truly threaten the nations of Azeroth. Limiting them to such a grim state is atrocious and hypocritical, but I fear that the alternative would be cataclysmic.

I do not think I shall ever find an easy answer for this conundrum.


Our journey resumed at a slower pace. Shob’mot and I skimmed over parched river beds and rocky flats, heading to the east. I could tell that neither Shob nor Mot wished to spend more time at the Circle of Blood. We rested during the dark red Blade’s Edge nights.

“Where will you go after this?”

“Back to Ogri’la. We will probably never again leave its confines. There is nothing for us beyond its borders.”

Such a sharp contrast, I thought, to Mok’non’s desperate curiosity.

“What about you, Mot?”

“I confess a similar reluctance to leave. However, once Ogri’la opens its gates, we’re sure to get visitors. They will have plenty of interesting stories to tell.”

“Our race has difficulty finding balance, trapped into either mindless aggression or endless passivity,” said Shob, his voice barely above a whisper.

“While we are on the subject of races, should we tell Destron of the mok’nathal?” asked Mot. “It may be of interest to him and his, uh, Horde.”

Shob pondered that for a moment.

“I do not see any harm. There is a race here called the mok’nathal, somewhere between enlightened and bestial in their behavior. Not truly ogres, but closely related.”

“The mok’nathal? One of their number lives on Azeroth, but we all thought him to be the last. Rexxar is his name, and he’s been of great service to the Horde.”

“The last? Not at all. There are, admittedly, very few who still survive.”

Almost nothing was known of the mok’nathal. Legend painted them as a race of peerless hunters, half orc and half ogre. A few joined the Horde during the First War. Save Rexxar, they all perished. While in Thrallmar, I was told that the Horde was hoping that some mok’nathal still lived on Outland. We were even encouraged to attempt contact.

“The orcs say that the mok’nathal are a hybrid race of some kind, orcs mixed with ogres,” I said.

“Hmm, not quite. We believe they are a halfway point. I cannot say with any certainty that the orcs are descended from ogres, though that is the common belief in Ogri’la. If that is true, than the mok’nathal are a link between the two races.”

“I see. You say they still exist?”

“They do, though they are in dire straits. The Breaking was not kind to them. A single village remains, clinging to the edge of Outland. Isolation ensured their survival for a time, but their resources grow thin. The mok’nathal are in desperate need of friends.”

“I’d be happy to offer aid. May I ask why you wish to help them?”

“The mok’nathal are the only group in Blade’s Edge that has not tried to kill us. We’ve maintained limited contact, though they do not particularly like the enlightened. Ogri’la has too many problems to really assist the mok’nathal, and the apexite crystals do nothing for them.”

“I fear that the mok’nathal would hold me in disdain as well. I doubt I would be the best representative of the Horde. An orc would be a better choice.”

“Not necessarily. The mok’nathal fear the orcs. They associate the orcs with war and cruelty. There is no particular prejudice towards undead humans. Besides, I am in a position to introduce you.”

“You said that the mok’nathal dislike Ogri’la.”

“The mok’nathal are discomforted by us, but Ogri’la is the only group that has not persecuted them. If I take you to the mok’nathal, I will stay long enough to ensure that they accept you. If they do not, I’ll take you somewhere safer.”

“This is a grand opportunity for one as curious as you,” pointed out Mot.

“A good point. I’ll visit the mok’nathal. Thank you.”

I could not help but envy Shob’mot as we rose out of the lowlands. While I endured a harsh trek across the desert, he simply floated past. Exhaustion only claimed Shob’mot when he flew very quickly; his normal speed (which matched an eagle’s) took little effort. Outland’s forbidding terrain has been a major obstacle to Horde and Alliance efforts. It is for this reason that both factions brought large numbers of flying mounts through the Dark Portal. To quote dwarven general Sturg Stonejaw: “The war in Outland will be a war in the air.”

Shob said little during the journey, but Mot proved quite talkative. He asked me many questions about Azeroth and Outland, which I answered to the best of my ability. Despite his interest, Mot maintained that he had no desire to ever again leave Ogri’la. Shob had been the driving force behind the Bladespire visitation. Without Shob’s initiative, said Mot, the ogre-mage would live out his days in Ogri’la.

A forested ridge spreads out below the southeastern shelf of Razor Plateau. My soul rejoiced at seeing green after days of travel in the wastes.

“This is Vekhaar Stand, the last home of the mok’nathal,” announced Mot.

Black smoke spiralled upwards from a clearing, and I could just see a collection of stone huts through the trees. I lost sight of it as Shob’mot landed in a thicket beyond the village.

“I shall go ahead and see if they would mind having you as a guest. Stay here, please,” said Shob.

I waited, enjoying my lush surroundings. Somewhere above I heard the sibilant click of the tan-tan bird, a blue-feathered avian about the size of a sparrow. I did wonder how the dry midland forest could support a hunting population.

The sound of crashing foliage heralded Shob’mot’s return. The ogre-mage was alone, but a smile was on Mot’s face. Shob appeared indifferent.

“The mok’nathal will accept you! They are not necessarily welcoming, but they know that they need friends.”


“The mok’nathal understand that you are unfamiliar with their ways, so pay close attention to what they do and say. These are a proud people who hold fast to their traditions.”

“I always respect the rules of my host,” I replied.

“I expected no less. I should tell you that the mok’nathal will be more impressed with you if you go to them alone. Were I to stay, it might make you look weak. The choice is yours: shall I stay or return to Ogri’la?”

I pondered that for a minute. While I did not relish the idea of walking across the Razor Plateau a second time, I decided it was more important to impress the mok’nathal. I bade farewell to Shob’mot, and he wished me luck.

Fitting for an alleged hybrid race, Mok’nathal Village shows a cross between orc and ogre sensibilities. The outlying structures resemble the adobe homes I’d seen in Thunderlord Stronghold, though rougher in texture. Huts in the village center are made of stone, though they benefit from a greater architectural integrity than the hovels in Bladespire Hold. Standing stones rear up near the huts, festooned with bones and feathers.

Seven mok’nathal stood in wait, their stony faces doubtful. They looked like giant orcs with skin tones ranging from mahogany to gold. The mok’nathal dress in furs and hides, each outfit attesting to the hunter’s career.

One of their number strode towards me. Leaning in close, he sniffed me for a few seconds before standing back. He grimaced, then snorted in derision.

“He does not smell like a death knight, even if he looks a bit like one.”

“The death knights of the old Horde are gone. I have never counted them among my friends,” I said.

“Yet you do count the orcs among your friends. The same orcs who brought war to our people and shattered our world. The Mok’nathal bear no love for the greenskins. Indeed, we hate them. If Shob’mot had not vouched for you, you would already be dead.”

“I am grateful for your mercy.”

“Whatever. Know this, Destron Allicant. As our ways decree, you shall be welcome here for six days. After that you must leave, and never return unless you are called.”

“I understand.”

“Shob’mot says that your Horde offers friendship, which makes me wonder if the Ogri’la sages have lost their minds. We can smell deception, and we punish it without mercy.”

“I will speak only the truth.”

“So you say. You may enter the village. The stone lodge in the center shall be your home, Matron Varah your minder. You may join us for meals, but do not take more than your share. To do so is death.”

“I do not wish to be a burden. I can procure my own food.”

“A magician? Pah! Poison yourself if you wish. Conjured food is for the arakkoa and draenei. Not even orcs would stoop to such filth.”

“He is at least a good guest, to not take our food,” chided a Mok’nathal woman with a mane of white hair.

“So far.”

More mok’nathal examined me as we entered the village proper. The village itself is actually quite clean, more so than Thunderlord Stronghold. Especially surprising are the wolves walking freely through the streets. Moving with grace and dignity, they do not exactly look tamed.

“Take care around our beasts, stranger. They are not like the orcish curs that you can kick at your pleasure. Hurt a wolf, and he shall kill you.”

If the wolves didn’t kill me for such an affront, I suspected the mok’nathal would. We finally stopped at one of the large stone huts I’d seen earlier. A mok’nathal woman stood at the threshold, her head shaved. The lines on her browned face showed age, but she still looked as if she could snap me like a twig.

“Wise Matron,” intoned the leader, nodding his head. “We bring this stranger to you. Can you make him presentable?”

Matron Varah eyed me up and down.

“I shall cleanse him, Leoroxx.”

“Good. Tell him what there is to know. Destron, pay attention to each word she says,” growled Leoroxx.

“I shall.”

“Destron, you stink of ogres," announced Varah. "The mok’nathal do not let poison cloud our homes. We shall go to the river, where you can clean yourself.”

“A wise idea.”

My odor was doubtless quite offensive to the mok’nathal. I followed Varah to a waist-deep stream just outside the village. She led me along the banks until we came to a grassy clearing that contained six rounded stones, three on each side of the creek.

“This is the bathing place. Here, take this.”

She shoved a block of soap into my hands. Thanking her, I undressed and waded into the stream. I saw a brief look of horror cross Varah’s face when she saw my grayish skin and emaciated frame. She soon regained her composure.

The water downstream turned pitch black as I washed myself. Physical sensations fade in undeath, but clearing away the dirt and grime came as a mental relief. Signs hinted that cleanliness was an important part of mok’nathal culture, and I asked Varah about this. I half-expected a mythic explanation, but her reasons turned out to be imminently practical.

“When hunting, one does not want to be given away by her smell. Nor should one have her own smell distract her from the scent of prey.”

“I suppose it would also make your settlements more appealing to beastly companions,” I said.

“The beasts are closer to us in spirit than are the orcs. Or your people... human? Are you human?”

“Of a sort. I was once human, but dark sorcerer’s magic changed me and many others. I am what is called a Forsaken.”

“I thought you were a weak death knight at first, but I can smell that the soul in your body is your own.”

The old Horde death knights were the souls of orcish necrolytes planted in the corpses of human knights.

I finished bathing and went back to the stone hut with Varah. Mok'nathal interiors are utilitarian in design. Baskets and stone tables touch the walls, while cured hides cover the floor. The hides portray scenes of the hunt, where predator and prey take on abstract tones while still giving an undeniable impression of movement. A male mok’nathal stood at a table, chopping up the leg of some animal.

“The man preparing dinner is Braagor, my mate. A great hunter, though age has slowed his reflexes,” said Varah.

Braagor grunted and turned back to his work. Varah outlined the village rules which turned out to be fairly simple. I was to show deference, respect the animal residents, and to stay out of the way. Shob’mot had already warned me that the mok’nathal did not share the orcs’ fondness for bristling aggression.

“Leoroxx, who you met earlier, is the greatest hunter of all. His axes spilled the blood of Seriukraesz the Cruel, one of the black dragons the Horde brought to this land. Brought from your world.”

“The black dragons are a plague on all peoples.”

“The dragons found no home here.”

I spent the next few days trying to learn about mok’nathal culture. This was not an easy task. I was free to explore the village but few of its inhabitants were very forthcoming. I managed to glean some useful information. From the moment I arrived, I was curious as to how the mok’nathal got their food. Hunting societies are typically nomadic, though the mok’nathal were sedentary.

I was told that the mok’nathal had been nomads for much of their history. Vekhaar Stand had been a good deal larger before the Breaking, and the mok’nathal bands once traversed the open wilds of Farahlon to the east. Game was plentiful in the forests and grasslands.

“Five bands of our people once roamed here,” said an elderly mok’nathal hunter named Tagor. He was gregarious, at least by his peoples’ standards. “Now we huddle at the edge of the world.” He then went on to explain the recent history of his race. His details tended to be sketchy, especially in regards to the various invaders. I attempted to fill in the details with what I’ve learned from the Horde histories.

During the ascent of the Horde, the Thunderlord and Warsong clans both argued for the inclusion of the mok’nathal. The Blade’s Edge orcs held their fierce cousins in high esteem. The Horde authorities initially shared this enthusiasm, even building a small embassy settlement in Vekhaar Stand.

This only served to offend the mok’nathal elders, who saw the invitation as a threat to their culture. A handful of young hunters did join the Horde. The elders declared them non-persons in retaliation, banishing them from Vekhaar Stand.

“Why were they exiled?” I suspected I already knew the answer, but I wanted to be sure.

“Would you not do the same? Those who leave the pack cannot be trusted. The hunt forges bonds that can never be broken, save by those who lack souls.”

The Warsong Clan soon abandoned their embassy and it looked as if the mok’nathal would again return to obscurity. Fate had a different idea. While the Second War raged on Azeroth, the Farahlon-based Laughing Skull Clan pursued its territorial ambitions in the Blade’s Edge Mountains. With the Warsong Clan dispersed across Draenor and the Thunderlord Clan declining in prestige, the Laughing Skull made their move.

Aided by Shattered Hand grunts, the Laughing Skull swept into Vekhaar Stand, killing all that they saw. The mok’nathal inflicted grievous casualties on the invaders but were ultimately overwhelmed. So absolute was the destruction that the Horde believed the mok’nathal to be extinct.

The survivors hid themselves in lonely forest caves, where they remained until the Breaking. Only a third of Vekhaar Stand survived the cataclysm, not enough to make the nomadic lifestyle feasible. Instead, the mok’nathal moved into the ruins of the old Warsong embassy, today called the Mok’nathal Village.

“How do you get enough food from Vekhaar Stand?” I asked.

“We are few in numbers, but are still too many for this forest to support. Our hunters now stalk the lands of death, to the west.” He pointed to Razor Plateau, a barbed outline in the hazy sky.

“I did notice a large number of animals up there.”

“More than should exist. They are beasts tainted with evil. The meat is not clean, so the shamans must purify it.”

“Do you still hunt in the forest?”

“At times. We do not wish to exhaust the wildlife here. Now do you understand why we distrust outsiders?”

“The Horde’s actions in the past certainly—”

“We cannot share our food. If your people, your orcs, want to fill their bellies they must do it themselves,” he fumed, ignoring me. “I shall only hunt for my brothers, and I shall kill any orc hunter who trespasses here.”

“The Horde has plenty of food.”

“Then why do you come to us?”

“To help—”

“You do not understand us. Leave me, I have work to do.”

I did not understand, and perhaps I still don’t, but I was at least attaining a partial comprehension. The mok’nathal had no concept of the nation state. To them, society is still a matter of hunting groups. Given their proximity to the draenic cities of Farahlon, they had to have at least seen civilization. Yet they were satisfied with avoiding it. Tagor said that the young hunters were lured to the Horde by promises of fearsome prey. The orcs promised nothing about territorial expansion. The Horde probably knew this, and deliberately framed their invitations with regards to a hunter-gatherer mentality.

The presence of semi-tamed animals in Mok’nathal Village also struck me as peculiar. I thought it would be an undesirable strain on food supply. A mok’nathal woman named Sotta, her face and shoulders riddled with bone piercings, explained it to me.

“The beasts hunt along with us. When I leave the village with Thurr, the wolf, I can hear through her ears and smell through her nostrils. No quarry can evade us when we are on the hunt.”

“Do you mean that literally? Hearing through her ears, I mean.”

“How else would I mean it? The orcs used to call us beastmasters. Typical orc nonsense!” she scoffed. “We are not masters of the beasts. We are their brothers and sisters.”

“Your skill must be great to get enough food for both you and your animal friends.”

“Sometimes it is hard.”

“What about other animals, like the boars? Do they participate in hunts?”

“No. Older mok’nathal take the boars into the forest, to hunt for roots and herbs. Our people cannot live on meat alone.”

I thought back to what I knew of Rexxar, the only mok’nathal known to live on Azeroth. His courage and skill were instrumental in the Horde’s establishment on Kalimdor. Wherever Rexxar went, his bear companion Misha followed. The two of them were said to fight like a single entity, every action a complementary effort. Rexxar even described Misha in terms similar to what Sotta said about Thurr.

Rexxar never spoke much about his origins. He is as reclusive as his people, and spends most of his time in the wilds of western Kalimdor. As such, it is difficult to make comparisons. However, it seems that the mok’nathal have the natural ability to create psychic or spiritual bonds with certain animals.

The mok’nathal also keep a small herd of clefthoofs. The clefthoof is an animal native to Outland, vaguely resembling a shaggy brown kodo beast. They are significantly bigger than most kodo and much less intelligent. Unlike the boars and wolves, the mok’nathal do not have any real spiritual connection to these beasts. They are kept solely as a backup food supply.

“Herds of clefthoofs once rumbled across the plains of Farahlon,” reminisced a mok’nathal named Grizmor.

“How do you feed such massive creatures?”

“There is just enough grazing land to keep a small herd. I do not like having to watch over these dumb brutes. Such a fate is only fitting for orcs. Yet the world has dealt us a hard life, and we must adapt.”

The mok’nathal have at least one advantage. They do not have to compete with any other predators because all such beasts are either dead or allied with them.

There are two meals in the average day, one in the morning and another in the evening. The evening meal is a communal event in which the villagers gather at a great stone circle on the settlement’s west end. Ogres of the Laughing Skull clan had raised the stones during their brief occupation of the ruins. A massive bonfire rages among the stones. A trio of shamans tends to the fire throughout the day, chanting to the spirits and tossing herbs on the flame. This ritual is done for the spirits of fire, who clean the fel-tainted meat from Razor Plateau in return.

Dinner is followed by a story, told by one of the shamans. The storyteller recites the age-old tales in an epic tone, recreating the abundant forests of old Draenor. Hunting is the most common theme. Typically, a lone hunter pursues a cunning and clever quarry, learning something about himself and the world in the process. Most interesting, to me, was the mok’nathal creation story which I heard on the third day of my visit.

“Listen now, to the call of spirits past, of days when the world was whole. Before demon and draenei stalked the land, before the hunting grounds died.

“Ogres and orcs ruled the mountains and plains. Their lives went for the hunt, and it was good. But the world changed. The ogres grew foul and cruel. No longer did they respect the spirits of beasts. The orcs grew distant and proud. They viewed the beasts as minions.

“Seeing this, Bakan the Wolf grew sad. He knew that the world was changing, and that he could do nothing to stop it. Yet there were a few among the ogres and orcs who remembered the old ways. Like Bakan, they mourned the passing of the old world, and also saw nothing they could do.

“So Bakan came to them. First among them was Nath, the greatest of the orc hunters. Nath and Bakan held palaver and talked of what was to be done. At the end, only one choice remained before them. Together they traveled the lands, hunting the deadliest prey. Even the foolish ogres and decadent orcs were impressed, and their best hunters went to Nath in hopes of learning his skill.

“Their numbers grew until Bakan said ‘No more!’ The wise wolf feared that so many skilled hunters would spell an end to all beasts. Bakan and Nath took their followers here, where we now sit. Then, Bakan told them of his plan. Nath gathered only those whose spirits were true to the hunt. From them, ogre and orc alike, a new race would rise. So it was that the mok’nathal came to be. Never shall we forget the deeds of our ancestors, and never shall we forget the spirits of the beasts. Our way is not that of the ogres, to eat and expand without thought. Nor is our way that of the orcs, to declare ourselves masters over all we see and to worship war. Our only path is that of the hunt, from now until the end of time.”

A cheer went up from the assembled mok’nathal. The story contradicted Shob’mot’s description of the mok’nathal being an evolutionary midway point. Tracking down the veracity of such legends is difficult work at the best of times. It is made all the harder by the lack of written records in the ogres and the mok’nathal. The orcs are the only race of the three to have any kind of historiography. Orcish myths do not make any mention of Nath.

Interestingly enough, a few ogre legends do speak of a character named Nath. Rather than a hunter, he is inconsistently described as either a mighty warrior or a deity. He may have been a gronn. The ogre legends about Nath all come from the Stonemaul Clan in Dustwallow Marsh, and it is doubtful that all ogres revere him.

I woke up the next morning to the sound of Varah sharpening a blade.

“Leoroxx will speak to you tonight. He and the rest of us will be there at the stone circle. We have decided to hear your offer, and see if it is to our liking.”

Knowing that I only had one chance, I spent the rest of the day preparing for the meeting. Doubts troubled me and I wondered if I had overestimated my own abilities. The attitude of the mok’nathal had not changed since my arrival.

The time finally came. Leoroxx and the other mok’nathal waited for me at the stones. The great hunter himself rested on a flat rock, his face inscrutable. I noted the fierce scars lining his body, physical reminders of countless battles. He would not be easy to convince. Senior mok’nathal stood on each side of Leoroxx, including Matron Varah.

“Long have we pondered your words, Destron. We have also told you our own story, of how the Horde hunted us for sport and destroyed this world. Yet you come to us, a representative from the Horde who is not even of Draenor, seeking a truce. Is it the Forsaken way to steal a man’s quarry and then demand his friendship?”

“Leoroxx, the Horde you knew is gone. Most are dead, killed by humans or consumed by corruption. The survivors have returned to the old ways, at least in part. They seek to please the spirits, as do you.”

“The orcs always claimed to live with the spirits but they never truly did. Tell me, Destron: do the orcs still claim mastery over the land and beasts? I have spent some time with the orcs, and I saw how they enthralled themselves to their clans. What is a clan? I still wonder if a clan can really exist. Is it not a lie? The orcs of the Frostwolf Clan spoke of their clan as a living thing, with its own desires. But there is no one orc named ‘Frostwolf Clan.’ They had their chieftain, yet how could he claim to speak for all his minions?”

I paused, my mind racing. Leoroxx himself was only a de facto leader. His age and skill gave him significant influence, but he would never command the mok’nathal. So elegant is their outlook that they rarely have disagreements, except perhaps on the best way to hunt. Even there, no one would risk splitting off from the main band over a quarrel. For the mok’nathal, it is better to die together than live alone.

“The orcish ways are undoubtedly strange to you,” I said. “I will not lie: the Horde is quite different from the mok’nathal. The Horde also has no desire to change your ways. They respect the hunt, and they admire those with honor.”

“Then why do they not leave us alone?”

“The Horde seeks to make amends for its past crimes, especially for those committed against your people.”

“So we should do this to make the orcs feel better?”

“You should do it to save yourselves. I have traveled through these mountains. I see a noble people surrounded by enemies on all sides. Vekhaar Stand is sacred place but it is also a small one. All of you know that game is scarce. Why else would you hunt the corrupted highland monsters?”

“Better we starve than turn into orcs.”

“The Horde will not turn you into orcs. Take a look at me; I am Forsaken. My race is one of dark wizards and armored warriors. There are no hunters among our number. As strange as you find the orcs, I assure you that the orcs find the Forsaken even stranger. We are part of the Horde despite these differences. The orcs have not forced us to abandon our ways. Instead, we work to help each other survive, each race contributing in its own way.”

“Interesting words. But the orcs have tried to change us in the past. By force!”

“In a way it was the same with my people. The Forsaken were once humans, the sworn enemies of the orcs. Years ago the orcish armies invaded my world, destroying everything in their path. Great forests burned to ash, and the corpse piles dammed the rivers.”

“Then you are foolish to trust the orcs.”

“I must disagree. A curse descended upon humans, turning many of us into Forsaken. The pure humans hate us. Only the orcs extended their friendship. This is the nature of the new Horde. They do not seek to remake the world in their image. Like yourself, the Horde wishes to survive.”

“The Horde... an even greater abstraction than any one clan,” spat Leoroxx. “The mok’nathal seek only what is real. I hold chieftains and priests in contempt. They cling to empty words. Their followers are worse.”

“The Horde will not steal your hunting grounds or make you slaves. I am not saying that they offer this help for free. All they ask in return is a chance to learn of their past, to rediscover their honorable roots. The mok’nathal are a part of this. Before the Horde, many orcs admired your people.”

“Enough. Leave us, Destron. We shall discuss what you have said, and tell you our decision in the morning. Go to Varah’s hut, and do not leave it.”

I thanked Leoroxx and obeyed, my heart heavy. The abuse suffered by the mok’nathal made them xenophobic. I had deliberately chosen to not mention Rexxar. The mok’nathal hated those of their number that joined the Horde, so I figured it best to keep quiet. I was starting to wonder if I should have said something, to demonstrate how a mok’nathal could win great acclaim and respect in the Horde without surrendering his identity. Rexxar shuns the cities, just as the mok’nathal would expect. I also worried that my description of the Forsaken omitted too many details to really be honest.

Night had fallen when Varah and Braagor returned to their hut. Leoroxx was with them. I quickly stood to attention, facing the hunter. He looked smaller in the confines of the stone house. For the first time, I saw his age and weariness.

“Time has truly moved past us,” he sighed. “The wisest have become foolish. We cannot join the Horde, not yet. Nor can we ignore the truth in what you said. If we find agents of the Horde in Vekhaar Stand, we shall let them live. Depending on their subsequent actions, we may give more thought to joining the Horde.”

“I thank you for hearing me out.”

“No longer can the mok’nathal stand alone. Destron, do you believe in honor?”

“I do.”

“Then you must promise me that you will not tell the Horde of our presence here. If the orcs find us again, it must be on their own. They must not be taught what to say to win our friendship. Do you swear to this?”

“I give you my word.”

Part of me wonders if it was right to not tell the Horde of the mok’nathal. However, I had to give the mok’nathal reason to trust me. Nor would the orcs have looked kindly on me breaking a vow, even if it was for their benefit. Since the mok’nathal are now part of the Horde, I feel that it is safe to reveal this story.

I spent my last full day in Mok’nathal Village giving more details about the Horde. I told them to also look out for trolls, tauren, and blood elves. I warned them that not all blood elves were part of the Horde, and that the mok’nathal should be cautious in dealing with them.

A huntress named Kedda guided me back to Razor Plateau. Leoroxx did not want me to have detailed directions to the mok’nathal homeland, so I was to blindfolded and led on a tether. This was an awkward situation, but I was obliged to accept. With us padded Zakk, Kedda’s wolf companion.

Judging from the number of times she stopped to sleep, the journey out of Vekhaar Stand took three days. We spent the first day in the grassy foothills, while the next consisted of the tortuous ascent. The final day was a long march through the high desert. Leoroxx was taking every precaution to keep from revealing his village’s location. Kedda removed my blindfold as the stagnant air grew cold for the night.

“This is far enough,” she declared. “You are free to go where you want.”

“Thank you for taking me so far,” I said, though in truth I did not feel all that thankful.

“I only did my duty. Be careful out here, Destron. Not even a wizard deserves to die in a place like this.”


Had I ever been anywhere else?

Such were my thoughts trudging through Razor Plateau’s bleak monotony. The landscape had not changed in the slightest since Kedda left, at least a week earlier. Stone and dust stretched on without end, interrupted only by clusters of rock spires, like caltrops left behind by giants.

Dreary though it was, I had little cause for complaint. I encountered no hostile wildlife on this second excursion into the Razor Plateau. My plan was to reach a Cenarion Expedition base called Evergrove, located in the mid-altitude forest of Ruaan Weald. I would recuperate there before proceeding to Netherstorm.

I spent much more time in the Blade’s Edge Mountains than intended. This was not a bad thing by any means, as I learned a great deal. Nonetheless, I found myself driven to get back on schedule. My impatience stemmed from having to cross Razor Plateau a second time.

Though bitterly cold and barren, the terrain poses no real obstacle to a solitary Forsaken. I found my way around with a compass. A curious fact about Outland is that compasses work the same there as they do on Azeroth. Compasses act as if Draenor’s magnetic poles still exist. No one knows why this is so. One tantalizing theory is that the compass’ behavior suggests the existence of other world fragments.

I stopped in my tracks upon seeing the strangers. A pair of shadows marched in the distance, bold against the red sky. I hadn’t seen a single traveler since leaving the village. I felt more alarmed than relieved to finally encounter some. My mind raced, figuring on the best course of action. I was sure that they had already seen me. The only thing to do was to wait for them to get closer. If the travelers turned out to be Alliance, I planned to put on my disguise before they got too close.

The pair tramped forward without sign or salutation. One of them had an orc’s build while the other was short and slim. Reasoning that they were Horde citizens, I raised a cautious hand in greeting. They did not acknowledge my gesture. Perturbed, I tried to get a better look at them. I made out details as they neared. Both dressed in hooded robes, marked with the bright yellows and greens of a beetle's shell. More alarming were the masks, dead insect faces peering from cowls.

I drew to the side of their path, not knowing what to do. The strangers radiated dread and nausea but they had not taken any hostile action. I had no proof of wrongdoing on their part, so I stayed my hand even as every fiber of my being urged me to attack. The sound of scraping metal manifested itself, mixed by harsh voices speaking unknown words. At first I thought the strangers were talking, but I soon detected five distinct voices rising and fading from the noise. They still took no notice of me, a fact which was starting to inspire gratitude. I wondered if they were of some Outland race I had not yet encountered.

The strangers halted as if struck, and the hollow voices turned to a garbled cacophony. They swiveled to my left as one, suddenly breaking into a mechanical sprint, legs moving as if broken. They left a trail of damp footprints that sizzled into the ground as they ran.

Something green and serpentine flickered into vision. A winged serpent reared up from a pile of rocks, its hiss audible. The beast swooped towards the mysterious pair, fangs bared. The strangers stopped and raised their staves. Emerald lightning whipped out from the tips, connecting with the serpent so that it screeching in fury. The commotion ended in a mere moment. The strangers lowered their weapons and continued walking south. The wind serpent, suddenly docile, drifted back down to its hiding place.

A suspicion grew in my mind as I watched the strangers retreat into the distance. The gnomes and mok’nathal both mentioned fel-tainted animals. I realized that I had probably found the source of the contagion. The accoutrements of the corrupters certainly suggested demonic influence: baroque armor, an odious aura, and corrosive footprints. Why they ignored me was less clear. Something in their jerky movements suggested that they did not walk of their own volition. Likewise, I had the strange impression that the voices issuing from their masks came from a very distant source.

My theories were all but confirmed the next day. I passed a large break in the stone spikes surrounding the plateau. A scorched waste reached beyond the break, shrouded by a pall of darkness. Green devil flames sizzled in the gloom, their dim lights glinting on iron spires and sickly crystals. The sigil of the Burning Legion hovered over the site, advertising death and ruin. Demons crawled through the twisted metal, hunched and blackened forms set to eternal labor. I was finally looking at one of the demonic forge camps, the Legion’s bases on Outland.

The Razor Plateau seemed an odd place for a forge camp. Holding the plateau offers no real strategic advantages, other than being an isolated staging area. Even then it is too far from the critical battlegrounds of Outland to be of much use. Perhaps the best explanation lies in the Legion’s wastefulness. The demons control armies without number, so it is no great loss to waste an invasion force on some useless endeavour. The forge camp might have been the pet project of some ambitious demon lord, hoping to gain prestige by corrupting the local environment.

I moved away from the forge camp as quickly as possible. The next day brought me to a steep downward path, ending in the greenery of Ruaan Weald and the safety of Evergrove.

When I first saw Kaldorei cities like Auberdine and Darnassus they seemed beautiful but foreboding. After struggling through miles of Outland’s alien terrain, the lush elven houses came across as wonderfully domestic. A substantial moonwell occupies the center of Evergrove, supporting the community. The druidic residents were friendly, if a little surprised to see a Forsaken.

A keeper of the grove named Wildlord Antelarion acts as the leader of the town. Antelarion had spent thousands of years watching over the sacred glades of Ashenvale. Seeking new horizons, he became a dedicated supporter of the Cenarion Expedition’s campaign in Outland. This was somewhat unusual, since keepers of the grove are often reluctant to leave northern Kalimdor. Antelarion was simply more bold than most. I warned him about demonic presence in Razor Plateau.

“Thank you for bringing that to my attention. I have actually been aware of the demons for some time. They do not conceal their activities. Such audacity can only bode ill for the Cenarion Expedition,” said Antelarion.

“Do you have any idea why they chose to attack Razor Plateau?”

“Their strategy is probably to simply corrupt the wildlife. Maybe by filling Razor Plateau with fel-influenced beasts, they hope to enlarge their army. I cannot think of any other reason for them to use fel corruptors.”

“Fel corruptors?”

“The robed sorcerers you encountered. Fel corruptors were once mortals who worshipped demons but failed the Burning Legion in some task. Legion pain surgeons break their bodies and turn them into near-mindless vessels. I killed some corruptors in Ashenvale during the War of the Ancients.”

That explained their odd movements and behavior.

“Is the Cenarion Expedition able to do anything about these demons?”

Antelarion shook his head.

“Our options are quite limited. Ruaan Weald is not as peaceful as it looks. There’s a hostile arakkoa village to the north, for instance. They have not attacked us directly but they kill any druids they find in the forest. The Wyrmcult is even worse.”

“I have not heard of the Wyrmcult.” For someplace so remote, the Blade’s Edge Mountains were turning out to be quite busy.

“The Wyrmcult is the misbegotten creation of the Black Dragonflight. Plenty of black dragons came through the Portal with the retreating Horde, as I’m sure you know. After the Breaking and the fall of the Horde, the dragons made their own bid to control Outland. They did not count on the gronn.” Antelarion smirked in grim pleasure. “The gronn killed many. The surviving dragons moved to the northwest.”

“Does Deathwing still live?” Deathwing was the dreaded leader of the Black Dragonflight, a nightmare in adamantite plate.

“No one has seen him, but such beings are hard to kill. So the black dragons raised a small army of mortals and set them to work. Orcs and humans mostly, along with a few draenei. These followers are the Wyrmcult.”

“Are the draenei mutated or normal?”

“Both, actually.”

“How did the dragons convince normal draenei to work for them?”

“I do not know. It is certainly strange behavior for that race. I suspect there is some manner of enchantment. The Cenarion Expedition has had little communication with the Wyrmcult, so it is hard to know for sure, but the cultists seem to believe that the dragons bring out some kind of inner power. They say they hope to become dragons, though that may just be some sort of metaphor.”

“Has the Wyrmcult attacked Evergrove?”

“Not yet. They prefer to attack Ruaan Weald itself.”

“How do you mean?”

“They are poachers. They hunt the beasts without regard for natural balance. Since they show no desire to stop or even engage in diplomacy, I fear that conflict is inevitable.”

Evergrove’s outward calm masks a deep anxiety. Necessity demands that Cenarion Expedition agents be exceedingly tough and capable, and the residents of Evergrove are no exception. However, they did not expect to have so many difficulties in what was supposed to be a backwater. Most considered a full-scale attack to be imminent.

I spent the afternoon of the second day talking with a novice Kaldorei druidess named Evinyreal Thistlebranch. She tried to make the best of the situation, saying that Evergrove was turning into a splendid proving ground. The bravado did not quite conceal her fear.

“What about the other settlements to the south, Sylvanaar and Thunderlord Stronghold? They may be able to help,” I suggested.

“You’d think so! Apparently politics are more important than the balance of life itself! I really should not be surprised at this point. Our status with Sylvanaar is... troubled.”

“In what way?”

“Do you know much about druid politics?”

“I know some.”

“All right, there’s a sort of division between the Moonglade druids, led by Archdruid Remulos, and the Darnassian druids, led by Archdruid Staghelm. Remulos encouraged the Cenarion Expedition, along with Archdruid Runetotem of the tauren. Staghelm strongly opposed the Expedition. He openly declared it to be a waste of time. Staghelm said that druidic priorities should be to heal the corruption in Felwood, Silithus, and other places back home.”

“I have not been to Felwood for a long time. It is still infected?”

“Felwood has improved slightly. The Emerald Circle flushed the Shadow Council out of their hiding places a year ago, and the druids hoped that the taint would go away on its own. So far, that hasn’t happened, and it does not look like it will without outside assistance. I concede that Staghelm may have a point. But he forgets that nature isn’t something exclusive to Azeroth. It exists here in Outland too, so we are obligated to help. Anyway, Sylvanaar is led by Staghelm loyalists.”

“So Archdruid Staghelm did send some druids to Outland.”

“Only to supplement the sentinel forces. Officially, at least. Everyone here knows he just wants to keep an eye on the Cenarion Expedition. He probably thinks we’re plotting against him or some nonsense.”

“I figured Sylvanaar would at least try to help Evergrove.”

“I think some of the druids there want to help, but they are not able. Sylvanaar has problems of its own with arakkoa and ogres. They also say that Thunderlord Stronghold is on the verge of an attack.”

“I did not hear anything like that while I was at Thunderlord Stronghold. But that was quite a while ago.”

Evinyreal laughed.

“The orcs say Sylvanaar is about to attack them. Do you see what I mean? They’re both too fearful of each other to help anyone. We’ve made overtures to Thunderlord Stronghold but they refuse to send help unless Sylvanaar does the same. I do not think the orcs really care much about the Expedition anyway. Do you know who has helped us? The gnomes!”

“How unexpected.”

“Toshley’s Station sent over a few researchers, botanists and zoologists mostly. They may not be soldiers but they’re still quite handy.”

I spent a few more days in Evergrove, being reluctant to return to Razor Plateau. Yet the promise of strange new frontiers overrode my recalcitrance. Leaving Evergrove in the morning light, I readied myself for Netherstorm.