Sunday, November 2, 2008
Netherstorm: Part 1
“Is it safe to cross?”
I stood before a slapdash assemblage of planks and metal beams that the goblins called a bridge. I thought it looked more like an accident in the making.
“Trust me, it’s fine. The last mana storm messed it up a little, so we’re fixing it up. It’ll look as good as new in a week. Hey, I wouldn’t be working on it if I didn’t think it was safe!”
The goblins have a very liberal definition of safe. I looked to the storm-tossed desolation beyond the bridge, a foreboding wasteland of bruise-colored stone. Dark clouds crawl across the sky, veiling bright bursts of mana. Netherstorm may well be the most extreme environment known, an otherworldly mockery of normal reality.
I stepped onto the bridge, which felt more stable than it looked. Perhaps the goblin foreman sensed my relief.
“See? Not so bad.”
“I apologize for doubting you.”
“Hey, no need to worry. A fellow’s got to look out for himself. Do you know much about Netherstorm?”
“Not a great deal.”
“Same as everyone else then, ha! Follow the road until you get to Area 52. Keep a good pace, and you should get there in three to four days.”
“Area 52 is the goblin settlement here?”
“That it is. Don’t stay out in the wastes too long. There’s some pretty strange stuff in the air. Might not affect you, being undead, but it’s best to be careful.”
“What sort of strange stuff?”
“Beams of invisible mana that can slow-roast your innards without you realizing it, pockets of thin air that make you sick and confused, some other things.”
“Is there any way to avoid these hazards?”
“Sure, sure! You can take these little yellow pills that protect against mana exposure, and buy canned air to recover from disorientation. We’ve got lots here but we can’t afford to part with it. Buy it from Snang Grizzgog in Area 52; he’ll give you good bargain.”
“Will I be able to reach Area 52 without these pills?”
“No guarantees but B’naar Island is pretty safe, being close to the mainland and all. B’naar Island is the big chunk on the other side of the bridge, by the way. After that, you definitely want to take some precautions.”
Teams of goblins worked on the edge of the bridge, blinding light sparking on the tips of their welders. A boulder the size of a galleon lazily rotated in the air above them. My senses jangled as I felt currents of wild magic in the cold air, a wind that tugged my mind but not my body. Rivers of violet energy flowed through the impossible sky, surrounded by distant stars.
I reeled, suddenly comprehending the scale of what I saw. Netherstorm's shadowy clouds are more than clouds; they are springs of raw mana millions of miles across. Outland and Azeroth are simple dust specks in the Nether's endless expanse.
The foreman wished me luck once I got to the other side. I thanked him for his time and started walking along a path of lavender rock. Powerful mana currents had scarred the lifeless badlands around me, twisting rock formations like clay.
Netherstorm was not always like this. Called the Fields of Farahlon for much of history, the realm was a verdant and tropical land. Draenic records indicate that Farahlon was a subcontinent being pushed into the mainland; this pressure created the Blade’s Edge Mountains.
The Farahlon coastline was a narrow mushroom jungle connecting to Zangarmarsh in the south and the Blood Tropic in the north. The shoreline was uninhabited aside from a single draenic port called Luuko. Dangerous animals and a scarcity of good harbors made it an unappealing location.
Travelers going inland from any point on the coast would soon encounter a mighty escarpment. The lush plains of Farahlon proper spread across the tablelands past the cliffs. Grass and ferns grew as tall as draenei, and the mossy veeum trees gave shade. Though quite hot, most found the highland climate preferable to that of the torrid coast.
The draenei built many small cities in this green realm: Enkaat, Arklon, Saavedri, and others. Foremost among these was the mighty citadel of Farahlon. The draenei planned to use Farahlon as a staging point from which to explore the rest of the world.
Farahlon suffered terribly during the Ogre War. The surprised draenic armies made a frantic retreat to the Farahlon citadel, where ogre mobs pounded on its massive walls in vain. Fortunately, ogres lack the determination required for siege warfare. The invading army gave up and broke into roaming bands that plagued Farahlon for centuries to come. This is why the draenei were unable to keep watch over the Blade’s Edge Mountains after the war; they were too busy uprooting the remaining ogres. A few ogres joined the Laughing Skull Clan, an orcish culture group notorious for its treachery.
As the draenei of Terrokar fell to the Horde, many hoped that Farahlon would act as a sanctuary for civilization. Yet bad luck and a series of tactical blunders all but gave the subcontinent to the orcs.
I do not know how long I walked through B’naar Island before reaching the ruins, where cracked walls and bent towers lean on in each other in a jumble. I later learned that these were the ruins of Enkaat. I tried to imagine Enkaat when living draenei still prayed in its temples, but the surrounding desert seemed to sap my imagination. I could only see the city's carcass, a symbol of entropy’s victory in Netherstorm.
Several days passed on the road. I will go by the foreman’s estimate of three to four days. Netherstorm lacks any sort of day-night cycle, having only the cold twilight of the arcane storms. Cheered when I finally saw Area 52 in the distance, I hurried my pace. The town looks a bit like Gadgetzan with its cluttered array of domes. The main difference is the great metal tower needling the sky.
Inside Area 52, I found the reassuring chaos of goblin commerce. Though subdued compared to Booty Bay or Ratchet, plenty of merchants still hawk their wares in Area 52’s streets. Many of the buildings were only half-finished when I visited, their squat domes girdled with scaffolding. Work teams scrambled to finish their projects under the bellowed directions of their foremen. Not even Netherstorm’s bleak environs can dampen goblin optimism.
I soon found Starry Nights, a hotel in the center of town. The proprietress designed the guest rooms to be as small as possible to save on space. The builders had crammed the rooms, little more than coffins, around a parlor too brightly lit for comfort. The rates were at least cheap, a necessity due to a lack of guests.
“Things will pick up around here. There’s a lot of room for growth, believe me. It’ll just take some time,” said Remi Dodoso, the hotelier.
“Do the local workers already have company housing?”
“Who owns Area 52?”
“The Braintrust of Orbital Operations and Mechanics, also known as B.O.O.M. It’s a subsidiary of the Steamwheedle Cartel.”
“How do they plan to profit from it?”
“What, do I look like a Steamwheedle executive? I think the idea is to get lots of information about the Twisting Nether, see how it can boost existing arcane engineering. That sort of thing. Researchers can get great company housing at a pittance. You see the rocket yet?”
“Rocket? Like fireworks?”
Remi nearly fell out of her chair laughing.
“No! It’s the big metal thing in the town center. I guess it works like a firework. You ignite the fuel and it shoots up. The difference is you’re suppose to bring the rocket in for a landing at some point after exploring as much as possible. Everyone here is real excited about it. I’ve got 10 gold pieces riding on a successful launch by the year’s end!”
I left Starry Nights to see the rocket up close. It is certainly an impressive piece of work, a sleek metal javelin pointing to the heavens. A few workers and engineers tend to the launch site at all times. A goblin wearing a jumpsuit ambled over to me, wiping the sweat from his brow. Oil stains spattered his uniform.
“Hey there,” he grunted.
“Hello. How’s work on the rocket going?”
“What? Oh, it’s going slow. Too damn slow.”
“How much more do you have to do?”
“The rocket itself is mostly done but there’s been some last minute problems with the fuel mixture. The original formula was too volatile, and the alchs are busy cooking up something new. Now they just have us do daily maintenance on the thing. Ugly hunk of junk, but it should get us where we want to go.”
“How far can the rocket travel?”
“This one? Not too far. This is experimental. Right now, we just want to see if we can get something into the Twisting Nether and have it survive. It’s frustrating though, having to wait all this while. I’ve been keeping busy; started up this little venture on the side turning scrap metal into tools. I’m going to call it Nagzag Tool & Dye!”
I remembered my encounter with Znip Bazzleprog in Everlook. He had envisioned using a balloon to travel from world to world. The rocket seemed like an update of his ideas.
“Did you ever hear of a goblin named Znip Bazzleprog?” I asked.
“Old Znip? Sure, he lives right over there,” said Nagzag, pointing to a small house nearby. “I guess he made kind of a name for himself.”
I thanked Nagzag for his time and went over to Znip’s home. The place is small, even by goblin standards. I knocked on the door.
“Who is it?”
“Destron Allicant. We met in Everlook, years ago. You told me about your exploration plan. I thought I would visit while I was in the area.”
A venerable goblin opened the door, a wide smile on his wrinkled face.
“Destron! Sure, I remember you. Come on in.”
I ducked through the door frame. Books, tools, and charts lie scattered across the room, accumulating in piles that nearly reached the ceiling. A tiny cot and an even smaller desk serve as the only visible pieces of furniture.
“Not much room, you’re just going to have to find your own space. The joint’s still a lot nicer than that observatory. So tell me, where you have been?”
I gave Znip a brief description of my travels. Once finished, I asked him about Area 52 and his visionary plan.
“Well I’d sold my balloon idea to the Tinker’s Union, but they were pretty much sitting on it. Then one of the tinkers, Artz Cyklurk, writes some stories about powered vessels exploring the worlds beyond. Imaginative stuff, but all based on what we know. His stories grew real popular and Steamwheedle approached the Union about making it a reality. To make a long story short, some of the tinkers created B.O.O.M. and went out here to do it.”
“Lots of arcane energy, makes for a convenient fuel source. Mixing the fuel’s another matter all together; we’ve had some problems with that.”
“So I’ve heard.”
“Actually I think the real reason is that Steamwheedle wanted to harvest the mineral wealth here. Anyway, Artz went up to visit me in Everlook—I had no idea any of this was going on—and invites me to go along! Says I was an inspiration!”
“That’s great! You must be quite proud.”
“What can I say, I’ve got a good mind.”
“Is it hard living here?”
“Not much worse than Everlook. Same shortages of equipment, but I can deal with that. Outland’s real dangerous, but the way I see it I’m going to keel over of old age any day now. If I’m going to take deadly risks, this is the time for it, right?” He snickered. “I could never figure out why old humans are so careful about things. Us goblins get crazier and bolder as the years go by.”
Life was grand for Znip. He seemed content to observe the rocket’s gradual construction, only giving occasional input. His position in B.O.O.M. was mostly an honorary one though his expertise certainly had value. The old goblin showed no resentment at being placed to the side.
“I’m getting name recognition and plenty of cash. Richer now than I was back in the North Kalimdor Company, that’s for sure!”
Znip offered to introduce me to Artz and I happily accepted. He said that Artz was currently in the wastes studying arcane phenomenon, but would return in a few days.
“As long as he’s alive, that is. What can I say? I love Netherstorm, but it’s dangerous.”
Visitors to Area 52 are sure to notice the massive trench bisecting the town. Weird blue light emanates from the rift and shaky platforms have been hammered into the sides. I visited this curiosity the next day. The trench is the most active spot in town. Sounds of heavy drilling rend the air while goblin engineers and merchants work on the overhanging platforms. I approached a middle-aged goblin woman carrying a ledger.
“About time you arrived! Your shift started—oh, you’re not Venzer. Only way I can tell you deaders apart is by your wounds,” she snorted.
“Don’t mind me, I thought you were someone else. Venzer’s one of the miners, a Forsaken like you. Are you interested in a job? It’s a good starting position.”
“I’m not planning on staying here long. What is it you do here?”
“Mine the trench. It’s not even supposed to be here, really. An excavator struck a mana node when were building Area 52. For a minute we thought we’d cracked B’naar Island in two!”
I walked to the edge of the platform and looked into the gap. The trench gleams with blue phosphorescence. Goblin workers chip at the sides with drills and picks, their heads covered by bulky, spherical helmets.
“Why do the miners need so much protection?”
“Lot of residual energies in the trench.”
“Does it pose a danger to rest of Area 52?”
“We thought it would but the energy dissipates once it reaches our level. Hey, look, I’m not an information desk! Get a job or get out!”
I decided to leave the irritated goblin alone. I saw a team of five workers seated on the edge of the trench drinking from canteens. Four of them were goblins while the last was a tattooed jungle troll.
I made a quick run back to Starry Nights and purchased a bottle of grog. I returned to the trench with the drink under my arm and offered it to the workers. Though a bit suspicious of my generosity, they eased up when I said they could give information in exchange.
“I’m Zobb, team leader,” said one of the goblins. Ugly red patches covered his sharp face.
“How’s the work here?”
“Pretty bad. I’m only in on this bum job because I trusted the wrong people. Used to be an independent trader, and I’m going to go back to that one of these days.”
“I hear mining’s a big business here in Area 52.”
“I think it’s going to be the main one for the region. You can spend a fortune on rockets without getting much more than coppers in return. The Sloggog Mining Concern runs this operation. They aren’t part of Steamwheedle, but they cut a deal with the Cartel.”
“Are you an employee of Sloggog or of Steamwheedle?”
“Sloggog, unfortunately. Most of the miners here, myself included, are on the run from debtors back in the old world. My plan is to get enough money here to pay them back. That way I won’t have to go into debt slavery for Barterbolt Enterprises.”
“I suppose Netherstorm’s isolation has advantages.”
“Definitely. Only problem is that Sloggog’s not entirely honest. This is real dangerous work.”
“Why doesn’t Sloggog use debt slaves?”
“Simple. We’re paid employees, meaning they aren’t obliged to feed us. We have to buy our own food, which makes it harder to scrape money together. A lot of folks trying to get out of debt slavery came here thinking they found a great deal. Joke’s on us as it turns out,” spat Zobb.
“What about the protective gear? Do you also have to buy that?”
“Obviously. Costs a lot of money too. Some of the miners thought they could tough it out with no suit. They regretted that decision when they started coughing up blood.”
“Because of the arcane energies?”
“Uh huh. Working in that trench is like being hit with an arcane blast spell, except that it hurts you over the months instead of in a second.”
“Do the suits provide adequate protection?”
“I don’t always feel so great but they seem to do the trick.”
The opportunities of goblin society come at a high price. Just as there are few limits to what a goblin can earn, there is nothing protecting him in the event of a fall. Nor are the goblins ever moved by the misfortunes of their fellows. That said, it is worth noting that poor or enslaved goblins rarely feel sorry for themselves. Zobb was totally convinced that he would soon be a successful independent merchant. I do not know if his confidence was well-placed.
The meeting with Artz went as planned. Znip took me to the B.O.O.M. offices, a rambling, two-story building in the west side of Area 52. The security personnel at the gate waved us in without questions. Beyond the door we navigated a confused warren where overstuffed filing cabinets teeter on the brink of collapse. Junior employees in threadbare suits noisily push tin carts overflowing with documents and appliances. The small size of the halls (though sufficient for goblin usage) increase the claustrophobic atmosphere.
Znip finally stopped at a small metal door. The whirl through the office left me utterly disoriented and I was not sure if I was on the first or second floor. The door opened at Znip’s rap, revealing a neatly dressed young goblin.
“Destron, this is Artz, visionary writer and inventor. Artz, this is Destron, a Forsaken traveler.”
Artz welcomed us inside. His personal office is little more than a cubbyhole, crowded but tidy. A model of a rocket in flight perches on his desk. Artz related the story of his career. By writing stories for Cutting Edge, a speculative fiction magazine, he’d gone far from his beginnings as a lowly valet.
“It’s amusing, actually. Area 52 is inextricably merged with popular literature. The rocket idea is my own, and the name itself came from an adventure serial called Frontier Chronicles,” he chuckled. Artz had surprisingly formal diction for a goblin. He explained that this was the result of working for displaced Alteracine nobles living in Undermine.
“Are the Chronicles any good?”
“As a joke, maybe,” scoffed Znip.
“They set out to entertain, and most people say they succeed. Znip here has rather high standards. Anyway, speculative fiction has often prompted the development of new sorcery and technology. The zeppelin’s a wonderful example of this, stemming from Voyage in the Sky written by Krig Skern eighty-nine years ago.”
“So ideas expressed in art sometimes become reality.”
“Well said. I think it stems from the fact that every goblin is trying to make money. That’s why an ambitious, or simply desperate, individual might seize upon the idea of making and selling a real version of a fictional device.”
“Does the original author get any credit?”
“Generally. Cutting Edge, for whom I still write stories, offers legal protection to writers who have successfully submitted three stories. Not all publications are so generous, but it’s growing more and more common. After all, good writers are a resource.”
“Do many writers end up in your position? Overseeing the creation of their own project?”
“That really depends on the writer’s technical knowledge. I have a fair amount, but this is not always the case.”
“There must also be instances of unsuccessful attempts to create these imagined technologies.”
“Hah, those outnumber the successful ones. Still, no matter how mad the idea, there’s a goblin crazy enough to try and create it. Sometimes the writers try to produce it themselves though they usually lack the resources.”
“Are the goblins the only race to have speculative fiction?”
“The gnomes have a bit. Not as much as one would expect, actually. I think they go straight from imagination to the drawing board, and don’t see a need for a literary middleman. I’ve seen some from humans, dwarves, and Forsaken. It’s a growing genre. I’m sure orcs and tauren will be writing it soon enough.”
“Not all of these cultures embrace technology to the extent the goblins do.”
“True, but speculative fiction is much more than just gadgets. Take Fil Kaydik, for instance, another goblin writer. He mostly explores how arcane evolution affects society. His work is really excellent, though it can get rather strange.”
“I’ve read some of his work actually, it is quite good.”
“Ah, a man of good taste, I see! I would also hasten to add that a writer’s visions do not spring from a vacuum. I wrote about rocketships only because I was inspired by Znip’s stellar balloon.”
We talked for a few hours longer, stopping only when a clerk asked Artz to review some fuel mix plans. I thanked Artz for his time. He gave me a small list of recommended speculative fiction writers before I left.
Netherstorm’s inimical environment inspired the Horde and Alliance to stay away. No one really wanted to support colonies in such a dangerous area. Netherstorm instead became a prime location for neutral parties, such as the goblins. The Steamwheedle Cartel is by no means the only non-aligned player in Netherstorm. The goblins had recently learned of the ethereals, a race of merchants and looters from somewhere beyond the Twisting Nether.
“We still know very little about them, except that they’re made of solid light—don’t ask me to explain it. The ones we’ve met aren’t hostile and they mostly live in the north anyway,” said Remi. We were sitting in the Starry Nights common room after I returned from the B.O.O.M. offices.
“Why are they in Outland?”
“Something to do with getting magical artifacts. We’ve only encountered two ethereals so there’s not much we can say about them yet. You seem like an explorer type, maybe you ought to go up there and take a look.”
“That is a good idea. What about the blood elves? Doesn’t Kael’thas live somewhere in Netherstorm?”
“Less said about blood elves, the better. They don’t like anyone poking into their business and they aren’t usually interested in trade. The Cartel struck a deal with them: they leave us alone as long as we return the favor. Of course, we still get those lousy pilgrims. A bunch of them arrived a week ago.”
“Is there any other kind out here? A bunch of them are camped outside the walls. I offered them great rates here, and I have enough rooms, but their leader—some fool named Tyrean Adjective-Noun—thought they were too good for it.”
I actually had noticed the elven camp, a collection of incongruously bright and airy pavilions. I was already planning to pay them a visit and did just that the next morning. A few Steamwheedle agents stood at the eastern gate, keeping wary eyes on the pilgrims. The elves numbered 34 in total, mostly retainers of provincial nobility seeking to rejoin their masters. Their numbers obviously rendered it impractical to rent rooms at Starry Nights.
I found Tyrean Brightstar sitting on a rock next to a small goblin cemetery. A large goblin statue overlooks the head of the graveyard, its arms outstretched like a priest in mid-sermon. The wide and rather unsettling grin on the statue’s face spoiled any attempt at reassurance. Remi’s description of Tyrean had led me to expect a cold and aloof character, but he was actually quite gracious.
“The nation of Lordaeron stood strong against the onslaught of the old Horde and it is my shame that Quel’thalas did not sooner come to your aid. That you continue to stand by my people, even in undeath, is not something I shall ever forget.”
Tyrean’s group had passed through Thunderlord Stronghold quite soon after I'd left, and made the long journey to Netherstorm while I was mired in Bladespire Hold. House Brightstar, of whom Tyrean was the middle son, had been a comparatively tolerant family that once ruled a fief in what is now the Ghostlands. Many prominent Brightstars joined the farstriders, though Tyrean served the Magisters' College.
“We leave for Manaforge Coruu in two days. The last leg of the journey was quite exhausting and I wanted to give everyone a chance to recuperate. Netherstorm is no land for the weary.”
“Where is Manaforge Coruu?”
“Around nine days to the east. Not as if this land really has days. Manaforge B’naar is closer, but royal messengers said we were to go to Coruu instead. I am not sure why.”
“What does the Sun King think of the Horde? Last I heard there was a bit of diplomatic confusion between the two.”
“Confusion? I was not aware of such. I will admit that contact between Silvermoon and its master has been limited, but we would know of it if the Sun King disapproved of befriending the Horde.”
“You said you received royal messengers.”
“A pair of homonculi went down to Thrallmar, directing all pilgrims to Coruu. That has really been the extent of it,” shrugged Tyrean. “Would you like to accompany us to Manaforge Coruu?”
I paused, weighing the risks and benefits. Doing so might reveal Kael’thas’ actual intent in the Netherstorm. Alternately, if my reception turned out to be anything like what I got in Bloodmyst Isle, such a venture could be very dangerous.
“If you would not mind,” I said.
“It would be my pleasure. I am sure that the Sun King will appreciate Horde guests.”
I smiled, hoping that Tyrean’s words were true.
The storm worsened with each mile. Thick clouds blocked the stars and flashes of silent lightning lit the desert. We all heard piercing winds howling in the sky above, even as the air on the surface stayed cold and dead.
Despite all this, the blood elves were happy.
The rich ambient mana of Netherstorm sparked their energies. Wan faces stretched in joy as the Sin’dorei at last felt satisfaction. Some were nearly giddy with excitement. It is a testament to Tyrean’s leadership that he kept everyone in line.
Before we left Area 52, I told Tyrean of my encounter with the Sin’dorei on Bloodmyst Isle and how they had tried to kill me. Tyrean accepted the news, and said that circumstances had forced his people to be suspicious.
“Please understand, Destron. That hostility is a thing of the past. The homonculi our master sent to Thrallmar proves that he is aware of our alliance, and that it does not offend him.”
The pilgrims kept their supplies in floating black cases moved by magic. Made of lacquered wood with gold trim, they made me think of stylish coffins. I remembered the walking wagons in Eversong Woods, designed to look like fanciful beasts. Such creations could not survive in Outland.
A glittering white bridge spans the gap between the isles of B’naar and Coruu. There was no doubt in my mind that the Naaru had built it; the bridge would not have looked out of place in the Exodar. Tyrean seemed impressed by the construct but we did not stay to admire its workmanship.
The other pilgrims were polite but distant towards me. They were nothing like the soft and pampered blood elves of popular imagination. Even the luckiest caravan will undergo great hardship when traveling Outland and they were no exception. Eleven of their number perished en route to Area 52. The survivors were a doughty bunch, carried along by an unbreakable camaraderie.
“This storm is a grand metaphor for the Sun King! Can’t you feel his power in this land?” exulted a young woman when we finished crossing the bridge. I said nothing, though I imagined everlasting noon would be a more obvious metaphor.
The pilgrims cheered when they caught sight of a sinuous pink energy vortex in the distance, a pulsing brightness that fought the darkness. Strands of glowing mana fell from the storm clouds, feeding the swirling tempest.
“We are nearly there. See? They are tapping the mana and purifying it. Here lie the seeds of our rebirth,” said Tyrean.
At the base of the vortex is the imposing alabaster citadel of Manaforge Coruu. Pointed towers buttress the energy stream and scalloped machines rise and fall in tempo. Transparent crystal pipes the size of rivers branch out from the lower levels, carrying mana to unknown destinations. The walls display Kael’thas’ personal flag, a red phoenix on a black field.
I looked away, dizzy from the light. The blood elves stood in expectant hope. Tyrean reached into a pouch tied to his belt and took out a tiny silver orb, throwing it into the air with practiced elegance. The orb flashed into momentary brilliance, a furious sunburst in the frigid waste. Pilgrims waited in anticipation until a similar image fired up in front of the Manaforge, showing Kael’thas’ beloved phoenix.
“They have seen us! We have made it!” shouted Tyrean.
Thirty-four pairs of arms shot up in victory without any pretense of restraint. These elves had suffered too long to disguise their glee.
Minutes passed as hours until a line of soldiers marched out from the Manaforge. Clad in red and black armor they lined up behind a crimson-liveried standard bearer. Tyrean smiled at their arrival, seeing an end to his trials. The soldiers reached us and the standard bearer gave a stiff bow which Tyrean returned. They spoke in Thalassian for a while, the standard-bearer's tone curt. A few of Tyrean’s followers also noticed this, and looked puzzled. The standard bearer’s green eyes suddenly flicked to my position. He flew into a rage, spitting at Tyrean and pointing to me. I realized that I had made a mistake in accompanying the elves.
Tyrean tried to talk through the standard bearer’s tirade without success. At last, the Sin’dorei noble’s eyes narrowed and he backhanded the standard bearer, accosting him and hissing in rage. It was grossly inappropriate for a mere soldier to talk that way to a member of a Great House. That the bearer did so with so little concern suggested that something was very wrong.
One of the other soldiers raised his hand and spoke to Tyrean in a quieter voice. Tyrean nodded, apparently mollified. The standard bearer went on one knee before Tyrean, apologizing without apparent sincerity. He then stood up and bade us to follow. I walked over to Tyrean.
“That brute is from a retainer house yet he saw fit to give me orders!” fumed Tyrean. “I was very patient with him; my father would have struck him down on the spot. I am sure that the Sin’dorei in this land are under great stress but there is no excuse for such behavior, none!”
“It is quite strange. He seemed upset at my presence.”
“I explained that you were not Scourge and that the blood elven race is a part of the Horde. I at least convinced the other soldier, who has not forgotten his station in life. It was a very peculiar beginning.”
Tyrean’s dark mood spread to the rest of the pilgrims, who looked markedly less enthusiastic. They had risked their lives trying to reach their brethren only to find that the Outland Sin’dorei had cast aside the most cherished customs. Granted, obeisance to nobility is hardly a desirable trait, but the lack of it in such a traditional race surprised me. I also doubted that this new confidence had anything to do with a belief in individual rights.
We passed camps of red and blue tents, sometimes holding blood-red crystals that I took to be mana storage devices. The manaforges loomed over us, their delicate appearance weirdly threatening in the half light.
We were guided past the manaforge to a rocky ledge near the surrounding abyss, where there is situated a fragile-looking structure of steel and canvas, surrounded by a barricade. The barricade's steel arches had been magically altered to look like wood, though the effect does not convince.
A trio of lean and predatory Sin’dorei archers stood guard inside the building. The soldier said a few words to Tyrean, bowed, gave some orders to the archers and left with the rest of his entourage. The pilgrims instantly began talking, trying to understand what just happened.
“This is Sunfury Hold. Captain Everwind—the one who just spoke to me—says that Manaforge Coruu is currently off-limits,” said Tyrean.
“Did he say why?”
“On order the Sun King. I suppose the situation is difficult. This is just not what I expected at all.”
Tyrean did his best to calm the pilgrims who began to set down their equipment and make the place as much of a home as possible.
“Captain Everwind said that you should stay with us at all times. He makes no guarantee for your safety if you leave Sunfury Hold without an escort,” warned Tyrean.
“Thank you for telling me.”
“I know that this is not an appropriate way to treat an ally. I can only assume that this is due to some unforeseen complication or communications error. Take this.”
Tyrean reached into a pouch on his belt and took out a polished signet ring bearing the red sunburst of his family.
“Wearing this places you under the protection of House Brightstar. Taking this ring does not obligate you to serve as a vassal, merely to be respectful, which you have already done. No one shall hurt you as long as you have this. Any who do, must answer to me.”
He pressed it into my hands and seemed to regain some measure of confidence.
“I am honored by your gift, Lord Brightstar,” I said, unsure how to react. I suspected that the blood elves of Coruu cared little for the Great Houses.
“I believe in the Horde, Destron. So do the Sin’dorei of Netherstorm; they just don’t realize it yet.”
I could only hope that Tyrean’s optimism was justified. The other pilgrims relaxed a bit as time passed, rationalizing their peculiar welcome.
The Coruu authorities came to visit us some time later. A man and a woman entered Sunfury Hold, each in magisterial red robes. They looked somehow unhealthy though I could not tell exactly why. I thought it might have been their pallor, though that would be a natural result of living in Netherstorm.
The greeted Tyrean with a bow and spoke in tones considerably more respectful than that used by the standard bearer. Just this tiny gesture lifted the pall of anxiety hanging over the pilgrims. The woman excused herself from Tyrean after a little while and came to me.
“You must be Destron Allicant,” she said, speaking in Orcish.
“That is correct.”
“I am Katria Dawnhearth. We do not see many undead here in Netherstorm. Lord Brightstar says that you are of the Forsaken.”
“Who are in turn part of the Horde.”
“We are aware of that fact. The Sun King is largely indifferent to your Horde. He does not bear ill will towards them. Nor is he keen on entangling himself with orcs and ghouls.”
“Silvermoon has chosen to do just that. Does he object?”
“Silvermoon must do what it needs to survive. It matters not; we expect the city to be abandoned within a few years. Netherstorm is the new Quel’thalas.”
“The Sun King would be willing to accept the Horde as servants provided they met certain conditions. At any rate, we shall treat you as a guest, if only due to Lord Brightstar’s voucher.”
“I appreciate your hospitality.”
“May I ask how you intend to integrate these pilgrims into your new society?”
“That is still being decided. Manaforge Coruu is full so they will most likely go to Tempest Keep, where our Master reigns in glory. They may stay here until a decision is made.”
“What is the purpose of a manaforge?”
“The distillation and purification of mana, the potency of which is increased tenfold after refinement. You cannot imagine what it is like to drink the energies here, undead. To think I once despaired after the corruption of the Sunwell! Let the Sunwell remain dark, for we have found something greater by far.”
“The manaforges certainly look spectacular. Did the Sun King create them?”
“He had no need. The Naaru built the manaforges to power the Burning Legion. We took them and the Legion now hails the Sun King as its new master.”
“The entire Legion?”
“There are a few stubborn holdouts, like those who follow Illidan the Betrayer.”
“What has happened to Illidan?”
“The Betrayer was never more than a means to an end. Why should the Sun King heed the words of a lowly night elf? We shall eliminate Illidan when it becomes convenient.”
“Demons still attack Horde forces in Hellfire Peninsula, and they do not follow the banner of Illidan. In fact, they wage war against Illidan. Do they fight the Horde in the name of the Sun King?”
Katria arched an eyebrow at my comment.
“Choose your words wisely, undead. It should be obvious that such demons are the minions of petty warlords. Rest assured that we shall soon destroy them. The reign of the Sun King shall brook no dissent.”
The magistrix’s words confirmed my worst fears about the Sin’dorei. Kael’thas’ quest for dominion will inevitably bring him into conflict with both the Horde and Alliance. The most pressing question was Silvermoon City: will they stand with the Horde, or with their mad king? The loss of Silvermoon would be a decisive political victory for the Alliance.
I no longer doubted that Kael’thas had joined the Burning Legion. I did not believe, even for a minute, that he had conquered the demon armies. Kael’thas is dangerous as a servant to the Legion. During the Third War, his keen tactical insights led him to many a victory against overwhelming odds. The elven king would certainly be a better tactician than the demon lords currently fielded by the demon armies.
I expressed my concerns to Tyrean once the magisters left. He only grew annoyed, and made convoluted rationalizations in defense of Kael’thas. I soon realized that my arguments were futile.
The pilgrims settled into a quiet routine, waiting for their deliverance. I tried to formulate some kind of escape plan that included the elves. Unfortunately, only three of Tyrean’s followers spoke any language besides Thalassian. The royal soldiers on constant patrol outside Sunfury Hold further complicated matters. Sounds of combat sometimes rang out in the wastes, never for more than a few moments. The Coruu magisters denied that any fighting occurred in their jurisdiction and said that the sounds came from the storm. I could tell that even Tyrean doubted their assurances.
Katria and her companion returned to us after what might have been two days. They offered a cursory greeting to Tyrean before turning to me.
“We have decided to reveal our true power to your Horde. We hope that this will provide an incentive to accept our guidance,” she said.
“Have you heard of Kirin’var Village? The name is misleading as the settlement was actually quite large. The mages of the Alliance Expedition Force made their home in this land, when it was still called Farahlon. The Sun King, in his generosity, offered safety to these wizards if they accepted his rule. Our master was willing to overlook the traitorous behavior for which humans are known. Moreover, there were also elves of good family living in Kirin’var.”
“I take it Kirin’var refused his offer?”
A look of annoyance flashed across Katria’s face, though she soon regained her composure.
“Quite perceptive. We shall take you to Kirin’var so that you may see the power of the Sun King. Remember, he is as a god.”
“I too would like to see this,” interjected Tyrean, his face grave.
“We would be honored at the presence of such an august personage as yourself. Very well, we shall all go together.”
“The excursion will not take long. Our command over the arcane energies of this place make travel much easier. The village ruins are quite far from here, but we will reach it in mere moments.”
Tyrean and I followed Katria outside. Black clouds engulfed Coruu Island, dusty sparks burning in the gloom. Katria raised her slender arms.
Light everywhere. That is the only way to describe it. Katria’s spell lifted us bodily into one of the mana ribbons winding through the sky, propelling our basic components miles to the east. Immaterial nerves grew in my extremities and I again felt alive.
We emerged from the current. Katria and the other magister stood laughing, eyes alight and veins shining beneath ashen skin.
“The Sunwell cannot compare!” exclaimed Katria.
Tyrean’s eyes were closed and his lips stretched in a distant smile. Hands shaking in bursts of motion, he looked to be worlds away from Outland.
The twisted ground rose in uneven planes and angles, shaken into new form by the Breaking. Empty homes stood in a staggered line, the remnants of Kirin’var Village. A solitary tower guards the ghost town.
“An archmage lives in that tower. We keep him alive so that he may ponder the foolishness that led him to this fate,” intoned Katria.
Tyrean seemed barely conscious. He sat on the ground, still shaking.
“Kirin’var posed a threat then?”
“None can stand in our way, Destron. Not even your Horde. This husked ruin could easily be Orgrimmar or Undercity.”
“All cities die eventually,” I remarked. “How did you destroy Kirin’var?”
“The power of the Sun King enables us to do many things. The energies we unleashed killed the residents and warped time. Parts of the town look the way they did years ago as if the inhabitants just left. Others have fallen into decay.”
“A powerful gesture,” I said, trying to hide my disgust.
The atrocity made it clear that the Horde had to divest itself of Kael’thas as soon as possible. Had the elves merely attacked and occupied the town, the aggression could be forgiven. Yet there is no defense for the wholesale murder of civilians. The people of Kirin’var defied orcs, demons, and disaster to establish a home. All that, destroyed in an instant.
A weird fog descended as I stepped closer. Katria placed a warning hand on my shoulder.
“Kirin’var is not a safe place. The residual energies coalesced into monsters and phantoms.”
“How many people lived here?”
“A few thousand. The Kirin’var mages did have skill; great as we are, we still acknowledge that. They fancied themselves masters of the realm. They somehow learned of the Breaking before it happened and created a great mana shield around their town. Inside there lived a little pocket of Farahlon; green fields and bright lakes. The rock on which you stand was once a farm. We undid all of that in an instant. The Breaking finally came to Kirin’var after all those years.”
I nodded, at last understanding how the town managed to survive in Netherstorm for so long. Rather than creating magic farms from nothing, they had preserved a bit of the old world. Knowing this, my anger only grew. Kael’thas and his followers viewed reality through a lens of untrammeled arrogance. Let the world be damned so long as they had their power. Such behavior was an echo from history, a repeat of Queen Azshara’s corruption. Just as she and her court mutated into the supremely cruel naga, I suspect Kael’thas will likewise turn into something new and terrible.
The purified energies of the manaforges had destroyed all inhibition among the blood elves. The stiff formality and endless rules were gone, replaced by a mentality that regarded whim as law. Seeing themselves as gods, nothing was forbidden to them. I looked at Tyrean, still insensate on the ground. A man of grace and courage turned into a delirious sot.
We returned to Sunfury Hold in the same spectacular way that we left. I guided the half-conscious Tyrean to his companions, who stood in alarm upon seeing their leader.
“We are here, my friends, we are here!” wheezed Tyrean.
Hours passed before Tyrean recovered. In the meantime, I pondered what I had seen and continued searching for an escape. Abandoning the elves would be unethical but I feared I had no other choice. Tyrean would never leave Netherstorm. Of the others, only three could speak any language besides Thalassian. Conversing with them would be risky. If their loyalty to Kael’thas were steadfast, they would probably report me.
I first tried to gauge their general reactions to the Coruu authorities. Only one showed any distrust or worry, a sad-faced woman named Perellea Sunweave.
“These are not the people I once knew,” she sighed. She came from a long line of retainers to House Brightstar.
“I fear that they are enemies of the Horde. Katria, the magistrix, as much as admitted it.”
Perellea bit her lip, her eyes downcast.
“I’ve long worried that the Sin’dorei were losing their way. You could see it in Silvermoon City, the carelessness and hedonism. I thought the defenders of Netherstorm would be different... we’ve come so far! My lord has suffered so much to get here.”
“Do not let such suffering be in vain. Perhaps we can escape—”
“I will not leave without Lord Brightstar. Even if all other Sin’dorei forget their obligations, I shall always remember mine. I am sorry.”
“Think of the other pilgrims! Do they know what is happening here?”
“Most do not care. I will not stop you from escaping. Tell the Horde of what is happening here.”
“If you escape with me, you can help rectify the sins of Kael’thas.”
“My place is by the side of my lord. Please do not discuss this with me any longer.”
The steel ship drifted through the eternal storm, carried by fel mists. Limp pennants drooped from the bejeweled prow and stern, and a circle of flame danced around the fanciful pagoda cabin in the center. Tyrean’s followers stood on the safety of the desk, gazing at the darkly mottled thunderheads that seemed ready to consume the vessel.
I had waited too long to make my escape. An imperious magistrix by the name of Maryana came to Tyrean back on Coruu, directing him to the manaforge on Duro Island. The alarming teleportation I’d earlier experienced did not allow for travel between islands. The Sin’dorei used enchanted ships for this purpose.
Perellea stood near the crimson pagoda, her shoulders slumped in defeat. I went to her, not seeing any other options. I had the distinct impression that Tyrean did not wish to be bothered.
“You missed your chance,” said Perellea.
“Perhaps. An opportunity may still arise on Duro Island.”
“My answer is the same as before. I have no choice.”
Her tone was decisive. If I were to escape, it would be on my own.
Too soon did I see Manaforge Duro in the distance. The pilgrims flocked to the ship’s prow in anticipation. Manaforge Duro looks no different from Manaforge Coruu, showing the same alien design.
The ship pulled up along a ridge on Manaforge Duro’s southern side. Blood elf soldiers and magisters stood at attention, their eyes cold and impassive. A velvet carpet unrolled from the starboard side and hovered in the air. Tyrean Brightstar adopted a regal demeanor and descended the carpet, every inch a lord. The pilgrims followed in single file.
A solitary magister marched up to Tyrean and bowed, though only slightly. Tyrean ignored the affront, nodding his head in acknowledgement.
We waited for a few minutes as the magister talked to Tyrean, presumably outlining the last leg of the journey.
“They will teleport us near Tempest Keep, the throne of the Sun King,” whispered Perellea.
The soldiers around me rendered escape an impossibility. I could only assume that Tempest Keep would be even more heavily guarded. A blinding flash hit me and my withered body flew across Duro Island.
I fell on my knees upon seeing Tempest Keep. Words cannot create a fitting description of that monstrous and beautiful citadel. Tempest Keep is a fusion of crystal and engraved metal, harmony made manifest. Ivory turrets line the circumference of the crown-shaped base, easily the size of Orgrimmar. An impossible tower, miles high, stands up from the center. Three crystalline satellites float around the main structure, identical to the Exodar in all but color.
Around me the pilgrims, mana-addled after the teleportation, sighing in rapture. The end of their journey had extinguished a raw need, and they cared for nothing else. Only Tyrean maintained himself, perhaps due to the previous exposure.
A quick look around revealed that not a single Sin’dorei soldier had followed us. Escape finally presented itself. I made one last attempt to reach Tyrean.
“Lord Brightstar, please listen to me! This is a trap These Sin’dorei do not uphold your race’s traditions.”
Tyrean blinked in confusion, slowly turning to face me.
“Why are you still babbling? Do you know how long we have hungered for this? Of course not, you and your rotting kindred cannot feel anything! I am at peace for the first time in years and you think to take this away from me?”
The aristocrat’s face twisted in rage. I barely recognized him as the brave leader I once knew.
“Listen to yourself, Lord Brightstar—”
“I have listened long enough.” He strode towards me, and grabbed my wrist when he got close enough. Tyrean lifted my hand and pulled off the signet ring. “You no longer deserve the protection of House Brightstar. Kael’thas will provide deliverance for me, but not for you. Leave, now!”
Tyrean’s fanatic eyes fixed on Tempest Keep. I had done everything possible, but still failed to dissuade him. My only choice was to leave the Sin’dorei to their fates.
I jogged towards higher ground and ducked behind a twisted rock spire upon reaching a safe distance. Dull violet crystals jutted from the sides of the stony growth. I could see the elves gathered below, ants in the distance.
A speck of burning light suddenly flared up over the dazed pilgrims, growing in size and intensity until it formed a miniature sun, brighter than Azeroth's. A shadow stood in the center of that awful light. For one frantic moment I thought it Kael’thas himself. The distance made it impossible to get a good look at anything. Four other shadows then appeared, two on each side of the first.
A commanding voice boomed in the distance. I did not need to know Thalassian to realize that the speaker was of a high position. All the Sin’dorei save for Tyrean knelt in reverence towards the figure. That could only mean that the shadow was someone other than Kael’thas. The endless storm grew still and quiet, the words more distinct. The voice carried a cruel edge.
The massacre took only an instant. Whips of green light lashed out from the central shadow, striking each of the assembled Sin’dorei. The elves collapsed to the ground without a word. The little sun around the dark figure blazed brighter and then winked out of existence.
I checked myself, wondering if I had truly seen that. While I knew Kael’thas’ followers were corrupt I never imagined they would murder their brethren. Such an action served no obvious purpose.
Pebbles fell in cascades as I ran down the rocky slope. Sin’dorei bodies lay scattered across the field, skin clinging tightly to bones. The carcasses smoldered with dull green flames giving off a fel stink. Death had warped their faces beyond recognition.
A gasp broke the silence. A lone blood elf stirred at the edge of the massacre site, groaning in shock and disbelief. I hurried over to him and found him nearly unscathed. I identified him as Selvedar Dawnseeker, one of Tyrean’s retainers.
“Can you walk?” I asked, hoping my Thalassian was understandable. Selvedar spoke no other languages.
The distraught elf ignored me, staring at his dead companions. He opened his mouth as if to scream but nothing came out. Selvedar collapsed, tears streaming down his face.
“Selvedar! Can you walk?”
“Yes,” he said, followed by words I did not know.
“Walk with me,” I said. I wondered if he had seen Tyrean grab the signet ring from my finger.
Selvedar shook his head, pointing at the bodies around him and yelling. He whipped a curved dagger from his belt and turned the blade towards himself. I seized his arm before he could do anything. Selvedar only struggled for a moment before again losing himself to tears.
“Look,” I ordered. I directed his attention to Tempest Keep. He stared at it through tear-filled eyes. Turning his head towards me, I drew one finger across my throat, and again gestured to the keep. My attempt at communication worked. Selvedar nodded and slowly got to his feet. His entire body shook with barely-repressed sobs.
Blood and night elves both form deep bonds to those in their communities and kin groups, a trait that stems from their longevity. The loss of such a relationship through death is a horrific trauma for any elf. Years ago, in the Blasted Lands, I had met a Kaldorei demon hunter who had sworn to kill a lord of the Burning Legion. His stated goal was vengeance for the life he'd lost in the Third War. Yet his true goal was death. Though skilled, he had no chance of defeating the demon lord in single combat. In vain I tried to convince him to abandon his quest, arguing that he could do more damage to the Burning Legion by serving in the Alliance forces.
I do not believe that vengeance is a worthy motivation. Too many of my own people have had their souls hollowed out in a pointless quest to pay back the world for what they had suffered. However, revenge is often preferable to apathy. Perhaps by continuing the fight against the Burning Legion and Kael’thas, Selvedar would discover a better reason to live. Even if he did not, he was obviously more useful alive than dead.
Selvedar and I followed the great mana conduit between Tempest Keep and Manaforge Duro. The manaforge was obviously unsafe but the conduit made for a convenient point of reference.
I did not know what lay beyond Manaforge Duro. Goblin maps showed a Naaru bridge connecting Duro Island with B’naar Island, so I could presumably get back to Area 52. Such a journey could take weeks and Selvedar lacked the stamina or equipment to survive that long.
Some inner resolve pushed Selvedar forward and he made surprisingly good speed across the wastes. I myself put on an air of quiet confidence, all the while knowing that the nearest sanctuary was very far.
Though the Breaking had destroyed all of Farahlon’s native life, the strange new realm it produced attracted new kinds of flora and fauna. Drifting in from the Twisting Nether, these creatures went to any mana source they could find, like moths to a light. Greatest among them are the warp stalkers, sinuous lizards the size of a basilisk. The warp-stalkers searche for prey through slit-like orange eyes set in flat triangular heads. Protected by a coat of razor-sharp scales, they are truly formidable beasts. Strangest of all is their ability to maintain a constant, natural connection to the Twisting Nether. With this ability they phase in and out of reality. I’ve heard some experts claim that, though warp stalkers only appear to phase out for a few minutes, the stalkers actually spend years in the Twisting Nether each time they shift. This is the state in which they supposedly do much of their hunting. It would explain how such large beings are able to find food, though solid evidence for the theory is a bit lacking. Others say that the warp stalkers are advance scouts of the Burning Legion, a fact supported by the fel energies found in their bodies.
The warp stalkers are far from the only alien beasts. Mana wyrms haunt the shadowed deserts, their pale translucent forms meandering through the air. Movements sometimes disturbed the corner of my vision and I would turn to glimpse a pale jellyfish no bigger than my hand, vanishing as soon as I focused my eyes on them. Weirdest of all are the ones called netherstriders, egg-like bodies supported on four spindly legs, each as tall as a barn. We did not see the netherstalkers, but sounds and smells in the open spaces conjured the mental images I described.
Plant life is less common, though solitary netherbloom flowers sometimes take root in the solid rock. At rare intervals, the tubular blossoms double in size for a single moment before returning to normal. I went to uproot one on a whim. I grasped the stalk and pulled. The plant abruptly lost solidity and my hand passed through it. Slightly disturbed, I decided to leave it alone.
We were somewhere in western Duro when Selvedar began to sicken. Red splotches spread across his cheeks and brow while his eyes glittered with fever. I went over to him when I first noticed Selvedar lagging behind. The elf could barely walk in a straight line. I took his shoulders and motioned for him to stop. Looking relieved, he sat down and promptly vomited. He fell on his side, groaning in pain.
I hurriedly looked through his pack. Selvedar had used up his supply of Snang’s pills, leaving him vulnerable to the hazards of Netherstorm. I cursed under my breath. My supply of the same was running low though I was not sure if I actually needed it. I had earlier searched the dead elves for their pills, but they had all been destroyed in the attack. I looked at Selvedar and tried to appraise his condition. Doing so was guesswork as I did not know what symptoms to expect. I could not even be sure his problems resulted from environmental exposure.
Giving him some from my own supply, I waited for him to get his bearings. An hour or two passed before he managed to force himself up. Though able to continue, he still looked quite ill. He thanked me in Thalassian.
We continued inching towards safety. The pills may have protected Selvedar from further injury, but did little to heal the damage he’d already suffered. I supported him when the pain and nausea became too much.
The endeavor took an air of futility, Selvedar steadily inching towards death. I knew we would never reach Area 52 in time. Abandoning him was the only logical course of action. Ruthless pragmatism is sometimes a virtue, and is one of the few that come readily to the Forsaken. Yet I forced myself to help him, perhaps hoping that doing so would bring me, in some way, closer to the Light. Too many undead lose themselves in cruelty and indifference, and I vowed to never become like them.
The western horizon brightened as we marched, a curious phenomenon that I first dismissed as part of the storm. Selvedar’s state grew worse: hair fell in clumps from his scalp and every cough carried blood. I knew he would not live much longer.
We finished struggling up a long incline to find a most unexpected form of salvation. An incandescent dome of violet energy stretched across the western half of Duro Island. I boggled at the size of the dome; it can easily hold an entire city. Stranger still is the lush jungle in the dome’s interior. The mighty trees are just visible through the energy’s haze.
I heard Selvedar gasp in surprise, momentarily forgetting his pain. Who built the dome? I wondered. A similar dome existed over the ruins of Dalaran back in Azeroth. Perhaps, I thought, some remnant of the Kirin’var was responsible. However, the Area 52 goblins would have probably known about a Kirin’var enclave. Then I remembered the ethereals, the strange race of traders mentioned by Remi back in Area 52.
The dome was not as close to us as its size made it look. We would still have to get through another stretch of desert.
“Ueredal!” exclaimed Selvedar, pointing to the north.
I looked where he indicated, and cursed. The purple rock turned black in the north and baleful green flames lit the desert. Ueredal must have been the Thalassian word for demons.
I guided Selvedar down from the ridge. He weakened rapidly, the skin on his face and neck taking on a boiled look. The man was falling apart next to me.
“Only a little farther,” I said.
Finally I chose to simply carry him, difficult but less so than having him walk. I took care to stay to the south, away from the demons. The dome shined just ahead, a tantalizing promise. In the back of my mind lurked a fear that the dome contained something just as terrible as fiends or Kael’thas’ elves.
A line of hunched figures marched in the distance. The emerald lanterns they carried revealed twisted faces frozen in sneers. They wore torn and blackened robes, and burns marked their flesh. I recognized them as the gan’arg, a race of demonic laborers. The gan’arg chattered in some debased language, occasionally interrupted by mirthless laughter.
I hurriedly put Selvedar down and pressed myself to the ground. I saw at least six gan’arg, far more than I could hope to defeat. I watched them until they returned to the northern shadows. I was astonished to see Selvedar getting up on his own, and succeeding in spite of his shaking legs.
We were very close to the dome. The terrain gradually rose as we got closer and Selvedar overextended himself in his efforts. He fell, and I again carried him. Selvedar would die unless the residents of the dome had great healing ability.
The light of the dome filled my vision. Ripples ran across the surface. Could I even get inside? Surely the dome had been designed to block intruders.
I finally stood at the base of the dome. Placing Selvedar down as gently as possible, I picked up a rock and tossed it in. The stone sailed through the energy field without resistance. Bracing myself, I took Selvedar and stepped into the unknown.