Monday, December 22, 2008
Nagrand: Part 1
What divine grace preserves Nagrand? Known as “The Place of the Winds,” orcish shamans had revered its memory as a land of natural resplendence, where wind-sculpted trees grew on the banks of meandering rivers. Few believed that Nagrand had survived the Breaking, predicting it would be a desert similar to the Hellfire Peninsula. To see Nagrand in all its fabled beauty came as a most wonderful surprise.
This is not to say that Nagrand somehow avoided the Breaking; it is still very much a part of Outland. Faded veins of mana branch through the sky. Islands of earth and stone, some graced by picturesque trees, float high above the rolling plains. More evidence exists in the form of absence, for the land now called Nagrand is only a quarter of its pre-Breaking size.
“There is truly more to Outland’s glory than mere relics,” exclaimed Pazshe, observing the endless grasslands.
Nexus-Prince Haramad had appreciated the aid I'd offered to Pazshe’s diplomatic efforts. In return, the ethereal leader permitted me to use a trade gate to the tiny Consortium outpost of Aeris Landing in southwestern Nagrand. A journey of months was reduced to mere seconds. Unota also used the trade gate, finding it a convenient way to shorten her return trip to Shattrath. Pazshe joined us, having earned a respite from its numerous duties.
The Consortium chose a marvelous location for Aeris Landing. The ideal of beauty is never far from the ethereal mind. A modest array of machines work in a peaceful glade. The twisting limbs of Nagrand’s trees provide a welcome shelter from the hot savannah sun. Aeris Landing overlooks the glittering expanse of Sunspring Lake to the north. The clear and placid waters practically invite the traveler to jump in for a swim. Nagrand certainly boasted the cleanest water I've seen in Outland.
“It seems that noble Pazshe has honored us with guests of high caliber. Please, make yourselves at home in Aeris Landing,” welcomed Gezhe, the Consortium’s local overseer.
“What is the purpose of Aeris Landing?” I asked.
“None other than storied Oshu’gun. Are you familiar with it?”
“I know a little about Oshu’gun. It was the mobile temple used by the draenei before they landed in Draenor.”
“Your knowledge is greater than ours when we first came. Never before had we discovered such a relic! The size and power is nearly unparalleled in Consortium—indeed, ethereal—history. Reclamation began immediately and stopped after a single week.”
“Because it belongs to the draenei?”
“Oshu’gun actually belongs to the Naaru. Our esteemed master ordered us to stop work until more could be learned. A painful sacrifice, but also a necessary one. The Consortium does not insult a world’s natives with theft. Besides, befriending the owners may lead us to more relics in the future.”
“Why do you still maintain Aeris Landing?”
“The Naaru may permit us to harvest a portion of Oshu’gun in the future. We stay in hopes that this possibility becomes reality. There is plenty for us to do in the meanwhile.”
“How do you keep yourselves busy?”
“Aeris Landing protects goods delivered from other Consortium operatives; these gates connect with more than just the Stormspire. Nagrand’s also an excellent place for our mnemonic synthesizers.”
“Artists of great skill. Every nexus employs a few, and the Consortium’s number is greater than most. They capture single images and combine each with ambient sound. This is then mixed with the synthesizer’s own emotional interpretation of the vision, as well as choice memories if any are applicable. For instance, a synthesizer might find this verdant splendor reminiscent of a time when it attained great respect for accomplishment in its chosen field. These memories are packaged in devices called holocubes and sold to other ethereals.”
“This is common, you say?”
“Quite. I myself have an extensive collection of holocubes created by none other than Old Master Quaddar.”
“Is Quaddar a Consortium employee?”
“No, the great old master works for the Bazaar of Xarod, a nexus of well-deserved esteem.”
“May I try one of these holocubes? If you have any around.”
“Those who wear flesh seem unable to utilize it. Feel free to try,” he said, picking one up from the ground. The object was a tiny, oblong glass box that fit in its palm. “Use your will to interface with it, guide your thought processes to the mnemonic receptors.”
“Hmm, what is the fleshling equivalent, I wonder?”
Gezhe took the next few minutes trying to explain how to use the holocube. I finally told it not to worry.
We only spent a day in Aeris Landing, as our interests lay in Oshu’gun. None of us had seen it, though Unota knew the sacred vessel’s importance to the draenei.
Oshu’gun is rooted in the center of an enormous basin called the Spirit Fields, leagues across, just south of Aeris Landing. We spotted Oshu’gun even from the northern rim, a bright twinkling speck far and away. The shining draenei artifact perfectly matches the boundless green plains and blue sky around it. The three of us stopped for a moment, gaping at the sight.
We spoke little on the day-and-a-half journey through the Spirit Fields, each of us lost in a sense of awe. Maybe this feeling rose out of the abrupt transition from Netherstorm to Nagrand, but I suspect there was more to it. Oshu’gun had carried the draenic people on their millennia-long journey, making only brief stops on dead or desolate worlds. The draenei kept their faith through those trials. Perhaps seeing Draenor felt like confirmation.
Nor is Oshu’gun an exclusively draenic site. Until the rise of the Horde, the orc clans treated the Spirit Fields as a holy place. Oshu’gun itself is an orcish name meaning “Mountain of Spirits.” The vessel’s original Eredun name was Jaikoob.
The orcish clans used to meet at Oshu’gun for the kosh’harg festival. The orcs held this event twice a year, though they placed special importance on every tenth kosh’harg. All clans were supposed to attend, though only the orcs of Nagrand and Terrokar could really make the trip. The distances and rough terrain made it impractical for the more far-flung groups. The shamans declared a moratorium on all inter-clan wars during Kosh’harg, and the festival presented a perfect opportunity for enemies to make peace without losing face.
“You cannot see it down here, but there are big symbols cut into the grass around Oshu’gun,” said Unota. Twilight’s dusky violet colored the sky over our heads and a gentle wind blew in from the east.
“Oh?” No one had said anything for a long while, and Unota’s statement caught me by surprise.
“One of the collective mothers told me about it. No one knows who made the runes; the orcs say the spirits did it. They might be right. The orcs respected this place even before we came and their shamans performed holy rites at the symbols. That is why K’ure, the Naaru in Oshu’gun, decided to land here.”
“Then in a way, the orcs brought the draenei to this place,” said Pazshe.
“To Nagrand, yes. Maybe they laid a trap for us? But no, that is unlikely. Holy K’ure already found Draenor. We might have landed somewhere else were it not for the runes.”
Oshu’gun grew brighter and bigger as the hours passed. The diamond hull of Oshu’gun is exceptionally cloudy, though this is probably for the best; a clear diamond could easily blind everyone in the Spirit Fields. Pazshe took us on a brief detour up one of the narrow scarps lifting up from the plains, its rocky form like a ship’s prow breaking the waves. Standing at the tip grants one an unforgettable view of Oshu’gun, and I could even make out the abstract markings seen by K’ure, long ago.
“The Oshu’gun you see is only the top. Most of it is deep underground,” explained Unota.
“What a sight it must have been on its final descent,” marveled Pazshe. “Truly Outland is a place of many fantastic things; I shall forever lament not seeing it in happier times.”
We reached Oshu’gun as night darkened the sky. A few Consortium agents were packing up the last remnants of their camp before returning to Aeris Landing. They welcomed us, asking Pazshe if it brought word of the nexus-prince’s decision regarding Oshu’gun. They betrayed no disappointment at Pazshe’s answer.
“The terms of the agreement, approved by our finest advocates and lawyers, permit us to at least visit Oshu’gun. We must only stay our picks and carving tools,” said an ethereal security expert named Zerid.
“What have you learned about it?” I asked.
“Infinitesimally less when compared with that we do not yet know. This artifact guards its secrets with care. No ethereal has ever seen anything quite like it. In truth, I would be satisfied if the Naaru simply explained the workings of this grand apparatus.”
“I’m sure they’d be happy to tell you.”
“One would hope. Do you intend to enter?”
“I was not aware you could go inside.”
“There is a gateway on the northern side though we’ve had little time to investigate. I should warn you—I have already informed Pazshe—that the Consortium is not the only Nexus interested in Oshu’gun. An envoy from the Nether Union visited us yesterday, telling us that Nexus-Prince Vir’aan intends to take Oshu’gun through whatever means necessary.”
“A small nexus with a poor reputation. The early days counted them as among the Network’s richest but the Great Collapse turned them into a nexus of paupers. Having never been especially righteous in their dealings they embraced banditry like an old friend.”
“Are you going to protect it?”
“To some degree, but I lack the resources to decisively expel their forces. The Consortium is not required to protect Oshu’gun, and I must look after the well-being of my subordinates. The Vir’anni raiders will wait until we leave for Aeris Landing but I cannot guarantee your safety if you come across them outside of our company.”
“Do you know if the Naaru attempted to bargain with the Nether Union?”
“Nexus-Prince Vir’aan would not care. It regards no law beyond its own, and holds theft in higher esteem than trade. A sad state of affairs, to be sure.”
I could not ignore an opportunity to walk the holy halls of Oshu’gun. Zerid said I could enter though it warned me that the Consortium scouts had only visited the outer passages.
“We do not know what, if anything, resides in the center. Remember that many years have passed since the Breaking, and neither orc nor draenei kept vigil over this place.”
“I’ll leave at the first sign of trouble.”
Pazshe and Unota followed me through the diamond hull’s rough entrance. Past the portal is a short earthen tunnel, studded with rough gems the size of a giant’s forearm. The tunnel quickly opens up into a grand metallic hall. The walls expand as they went up, supported by airy interior buttresses. The passage curves to the left, following Oshu’gun’s perimeter. Dim and gentle light suffuses the chambers, seeming to emanate from the distant metallic ceiling. We stopped for a minute, keenly aware of the site’s sanctity.
“We must be near the helm,” whispered Unota, looking around. Her calloused face hinted at melancholy.
“How well do you know this place?” asked Pazshe.
“I have not gone here but we all saw the diagrams of Oshu’gun as children. Most of the sleeper chambers and storage rooms are down below, very deep. The helm is where K’ure the Naaru guided the ship through the Twisting Nether.”
We walked down the hall, our footsteps faint echoes in that mysterious place.
“What exactly happened to K’ure?” I asked.
“Two Naaru on board Oshu’gun: K’ure and D’ore. They gave Oshu’gun the power to travel between worlds but they became tired. Even prayer not enough to save them. K’ure found Draenor with the last of its power, a place far away from the demons. D’ore died during the landing, while K’ure started to fade.”
“Naaru can die?” I felt a stab of disappointment.
“Yes. When Naaru dies it becomes a vacuum, absorbs souls into itself and produces void demons. Very dangerous. That is why we buried D’ore far to the east and set protective wards around the remnants. Difficult task for us. We thought we would have to do the same to K’ure until the orc shamans found Oshu’gun. Somehow K’ure reached out to them and their reverence and spirits sustained it. K’ure was still weak, but not dead, and not a danger.”
“It has been some time since any orcs performed rites here. Would that not make K’ure a hazard?”
“If K’ure were truly dead all the Spirit Fields would be a void. It is still alive, in some sense.”
“How long would this take, Unota? I must warn my compatriots of this,” said Pazshe.
“Not for a while. D’ore died because it gave up its energy to shield Oshu’gun during the descent. Most Naaru die very gradually, over centuries. Should be safe for some time.”
“I see.” Pazshe did not sound entirely comforted.
Immense barely begins to describe Oshu’gun. I tried to imagine how it looked when it still traversed the Nether, in days when robed draenei chanted sacred words in the halls. I doubted I would get to see the deeper levels where most of the race had once lain in suspended animation.
The outer passage stops at a dead end, forcing the visitor to go right through an elaborate gate built around a sloping ramp. No bolts or welding marks mar the surface of the gate's brilliant blue metal. Beyond is another passage, parallel to the first and leading in the opposite direction.
“How far do these halls reach? The aesthetic inspires great wonder but I am curious about other parts of Oshu’gun,” asked Pazshe.
“You saw how big it is outside. Oshu’gun carried all draenei who followed Velen. Even though most slept, it still needed to be big. It takes a long time to reach the deeper levels.”
“Begging your pardon, Unota, but I think it best to heed caution. It may be reckless to go so far into strange territory.”
“You went into Ethereal base without worry!” she protested.
“That is true, but the Ethereum, though despicable, is a known quantity. Oshu’gun is rather more obscure.”
“If you want to go back, we can go. This place interests me but is not that important. Destron?”
I thought for a moment.
“I suppose Pazshe is right.”
“Wait, do you hear screaming?” asked Pazshe.
At first there was only silence. Then I found it at the very edge of hearing. A chorus of wailing from everywhere and nowhere, only half-audible but impossible to ignore. Unota’s hands flew to her rifle and she pointed it wildly, her jaw set. A long shadow reached from behind the hallway’s curve and we all gasped upon seeing the source.
Inspired by their elegant monstrosity, scholars of the Burning Legion wrote lengthy paeans to their might and grace. Such was their purpose as the heralds and priestesses of Sargeras. Esoteric histories tell of these towering demons who compelled the Legion’s armies to ever greater heights of evil. I knew I was at last seeing one of their number: the terrible shivarran priestesses. The shivarran demon looked nearly human, though much too tall and imperious. She carried wicked blades of gold and steel in each of her six hands and her headdress of burning souls cast a fearful light. She beheld the world through a face of beatific cruelty, the assured smile of one who has no doubt of her rightness and inevitable victory.
Unota shouted in Eredun as she blasted the approaching demon, which was nearly three times my height. The Broken’s aim was true but no mark appeared on the shivarran’s skin and she did not break stride. The screaming grew louder and my vision distorted. I was preparing a fireball when Pazshe rushed into the fray, its gleaming blades ready for battle. The ethereal did the same trick it performed on the eye demon back in Netherstorm, teleporting mid-charge to reappear behind the shivarran.
Luck did not favor Pazshe that day. The demon’s swords swung back and cut into Pazshe the moment it blinked back into existence. The ethereal fell back with a bright flash, light bleeding from its wound.
I abjured the fireball when I saw Pazshe’s attack, replacing it with the more precise frostbolt. A tendril of flame lashed out from the shivarran’s crown as the bolt shot forward, evaporating my spell in an instant. Unota fired again and again, her mind focused on killing the age-old enemy.
The shivarran was close and Unota refused to budge. I blinked forward, putting myself just in front of the demon’s feet. A quick frost nova spell froze her bejeweled feet in place and I felt the wind as one of her swords slashed above my head.
Pazshe struck like quicksilver, its blades darting and parrying the demon’s strikes. I cast a frost bolt at the headdress. My spells could not extinguish the inferno, but they could at least weaken it.
The size and multitude of the shivarran’s swords took their toll. Pazshe went on the defensive, barely warding off the endless blows. Not once did the demon’s expression change, the same fixed smile glowering over us through the battle. Still, she was not invincible. Rivulets of black blood trickled down her body, Unota’s attacks finally succeeding.
My mana fading, I cast one last frostbolt at the joint of the shivarran’s upper right arm. The spell had the desired effect, making the limb’s movements ponderous and predictable. Pazshe was not yet safe; the five blades were still more than it could handle. Then the ethereal did something extraordinary.
Pazshe released both of its swords, but they did not drop. Instead they slashed and blocked of their own accord as their wielder stepped back, taking out a glowing dagger. While the swords distracted the demon Pazshe dove at her left foot and slit the heel.
Blood gushed from the wound and she began to lose her balance. The screams intensified, the souls in her headdress struggling in their fiery prison. The demon fell with a ghostly cry and her impact shook the hall. Unota rushed forward, still shouting. She was too late, for Pazshe’s blades had already finished the job.
“We must leave! If a shivarran lived here there’s sure to be more demons!” urged Pazshe. Sparks dripped from the tear in its cloth though the cascade was slowing. Ethereal wounds tend to heal very quickly.
Regaining her composure, Unota slung her rifle and ran to the outer passage. I kept close behind, occasionally looking back for signs of pursuit. I momentarily wondered if there was anything Pazshe couldn’t do with those swords.
My mind soon turned to demonic presence in Oshu’gun. I reasoned that they had arrived before the Consortium, but had not yet established a major presence in the ancient vessel. Otherwise I’m sure the ethereals would have detected them. I was more alarmed by the Legion’s goals in such a place. According to Unota, a dead Naaru presents a physical and spiritual catastrophe. Draining the last of K’ure’s energy would be an obvious tactic for the Burning Legion.
We immediately told Zerid of what had transpired. Clearly disturbed, the ethereal still stressed that its obligations lay elsewhere. Zerid did promise to alert the Naaru in Shattrath, as well as the various peoples of Nagrand.
I parted ways with Pazshe the next day. It informed me that Nexus-Prince Haramad had need of its services and that it would not do to keep its master waiting.
For Unota, home lay in the refugee sanctuary of Shattrath, not far to the east. The most direct route was to cut northeast across the plains, but that would necessitate passing through central Nagrand, a hotbed of violence between Horde and Alliance partisans. The two factions viciously compete for the abandoned draenic town of Halaa and travelers cannot expect safe passage. Knowing this, Unota chose to go east until reaching the Shattrath Mountains, and from there go north to Windyreed Pass.
She planned to make a brief stop in the Broken-held town of Telaar, located in southern Nagrand. Curious to see this place, I asked if I could accompany her.
“Hmm, you are Horde, yes?”
“Telaar is Alliance. The Broken there have made friends with the Pure Ones under Velen. I do not think it is safe for you.”
“I have a disguise that allows me to pass as human. Would you object to joining my deception?”
“Ha! The Telaar Broken are called the Kurenai, but before that many of them were the Murkblood Tribe. My tribe was the Wastewalker, and the Murkblood did nothing but kill my people. I spit on the Kurenai.”
We walked southeast on the old draenic road, preserved by arcane force. The road’s purpose once allowed the draenei quick access to Oshu’gun, should it ever be needed. At first, the draenei made regular visits to Oshu’gun in order to ensure that the orc shamans maintained D’ure. These visits stopped over time.
I took note of the land’s fauna as we traveled. Befitting its wide open spaces, Nagrand is home to some truly gargantuan creatures. We passed a herd of clefthoofs on the fourth day, the beasts rumbling down to the Spirit Fields in search of greener pastures. The clefthoof is a grazer twice the size of a kodo beast, and half as intelligent. Infamously ornery, their formidable bulk makes them a very real danger to the unprepared. Only the orcs could ever manage them. The clefthoofs formed the economic basis for the southern pastoralist clans. They look a little bit like the rhinoceri of Azeroth, though larger and with more compact frames. The head seems to stick out from the body, lacking a neck.
Unota told me more of the Murkblood and Kurenai as we traveled.
“Back in the Horde War there was a vindicator named Tasuur, very respected. When the war started he led a small army into Nagrand to destroy orc supply trains. Tasuur put eastern Nagrand to the torch, killing herds and warriors where they stood! Not enough though, in the end. That did not stop him; he kept on fighting even after Shattrath fell. Killed every orc he could find, even though most clans had already left Nagrand.”
“Is Tasuur still alive?”
Unota shook her head.
“He died, but his people kept fighting. They all became Broken or Lost, maybe their souls saw too much war. The leaders named their tribe the Murkblood. After the Breaking they claimed Nagrand as their own and killed anyone not of their tribe, even other Broken. Their warriors went across the forests and attacked my own people!”
“What happened to these Murkblood?”
“They’re still around, but not so many now. Murkblood don’t produce many children, you know? Always fighting. They say that the world is already dead and that there will be no other generation. But some of the Murkblood stopped their war. They call themselves Kurenai, think they can be like the Pure Ones again.”
“Do you think they will succeed?”
“Who knows? Me? No! I don’t hate Kurenai, but I don’t like them either. I think they are still Murkblood, deep down. Maybe you will see.”
“Are all the Kurenai former Murkbloods?”
“Might as well be. Some from other tribes, even a few Wastewalker. Still, the leaders are Murkblood.”
It’s hard to imagine Broken raiders burning their way through Nagrand’s plains, but this idyllic land is a place of constant strife. The orcs fought plenty of inter-clan wars before the creation of the Horde. This violence has a curious reflection in the topography. Steep ridges and deep ravines cut through the rolling grasslands. Nagrand’s various power groups all spend time and effort building suspension bridges across the chasms, though Unota said that few of those bridges survived longer than a few months. I remembered the old joke of the dwarven combat engineers: "Truth and bridges are the first things to die in a war."
The journey to Telaar lasted a week and a day. Unota told me that the draenei built Telaar to act as a supply station for the agents who periodically checked on K’ure’s recovery. The town’s population decreased along with the frequency of these missions, until only a staff of fifteen temporary residents remained. The Horde histories do not even bother mentioning Telaar.
The town is architecturally quite impressive, built on a rocky hill surrounded by deep gullies. Buildings, done in the classic draenic style, stand tall in the rugged landscape. Telaar is ringed by the floating islands common to Nagrand, adding a fantastical quality to the place. I smiled when I saw the draenethyst tips glinting in the afternoon sun.
Unota presented me as Talus Corestiam as per my instructions. Kurenai notables stood in a circle around me, their faces unreadable. After a brusque introduction, Unota marched up to Telaar's care center. The Broken looked at me for an uncomfortable moment before nodding and returning to their business.
Nearly every Kurenai is armed in some way, a sensible precaution given the political climate. A few of them carry traditional draenic weapons, well cared for despite the difficult situation. Others keep simpler weapons cobbled together from tools.
Telaar gets its water from limpid pond fed by a mountain stream. At midday, most of the older Kurenai gather on the banks to wash clothes. Young Broken children play near their elders, making for a charming domestic scene.
Only a few Kurenai could speak Common and nearly none of them could do it with much proficiency. I had better luck with Orcish. I was hesitant to use that language but the Kurenai did not object. At least, the ones who actually conversed with me had no problems with it. Even some of the Kurenai familiar with Orcish refused to say much of anything, their demeanors guarded and distrustful.
“We Kurenai have hard lives, stranger,” said Otonbu. He came up to me unannounced, explaining that he was a shaman. “Trust does not come naturally to us. It used to, when we were like the Pure Ones. Then we changed as the orcs murdered us. After that we were the terrors of Nagrand, the Murkblood who none dared oppose! Now we must make up for it and fight those Murkblood we once called brother and sister.”
“Were you part of Vindicator Tasuur’s original force?”
“No, I was a priest in Shattrath City. I am not sure how I came to Nagrand—the fog in my mind obscures more than just the Most Holy Light—but I fell in with Tasuur’s group.”
“I was told Tasuur attacked other Broken.”
“Later, he did. I am not proud, but what else could I do? With Murkblood it was like being in a collective again. Not as good, certainly not as holy, but the closest I could get. I would not oppose them.”
“What inspired you to leave?”
“The Light, in a sense. While I was blinded to its eternal glory I could still hear it in the earth and sky. I know now that other Broken heard it too. Truly the Light is merciful to give us another chance.”
“You mean the spirits?”
“Yes. Nature works in balance and harmony for the sake of the greater good. It is not the same as the Most Holy Light. Nature is ruthless while the Light is merciful. Yet we could at last see ourselves as part of a greater whole, almost like the old days.”
“Were you the only one who heard the spirits?”
“Poli’lukluk was the first Murkblood to hear them. None here is wiser than he, and that was true when we lived among the Murkblood. Nine Broken including myself heard the spirits.”
“How did the other Murkbloods react?”
“First thing we did was tell Musel’ek. After Tasuur died, his lieutenant Musel’ek took over. At first Musel’ek laughed, and then he listened. He ordered us to cleanse Nagrand in the name of the spirits. Poli’lukluk had doubts, and so did I. We needed to know more. Musel’ek grew angry and declared us traitors. Poli’lukluk and four others refused. The rest fell to the ground pleading forgiveness, promising they would purge Nagrand.”
“Is that when you founded the Kurenai?”
“Not yet. Musel’ek saw fit to let us live but we were the most hated of the Murkbloods. The warriors threw scraps for our food. Two of us broke and went over to Musel’ek. Yet Poli, wise Poli, kept the faith. His body shrunk, covered in sores and starved near death as he meditated in absolute serenity!”
Otonbu’s mouth flecked with spittle, his hands gesticulating as he described his mentor’s suffering.
“The Light shone through him! Other Murkblood came to him, asking questions, and he answered. So many came to him, Brother Talus, that not even Musel’ek dared to move against Poli’lukluk the Wisest. We thought we had won. Then the Ashtongue came, bearing evil promises from Illidan,” snarled Otonbu.
“Another tribe of Broken. They were the first to follow Illidan’s banner. With their help, Musel’ek forced us out. Some counseled vengeance but Poli’lukluk said ‘No more!’ We would redeem ourselves.”
“After that, other Broken joined you.”
“Wastewalkers and Wrekt; we have a few Dreghood too. The Broken of these other tribes live as slaves, refugees, or as Kurenai.”
“How did the normal draenei react to you?”
“They approve! Many Pure Ones live among us, I am sure you will meet some. They help us get closer to the Holy Light though I think Poli’lukluk has done enough for us.”
“You do not think you need the Pure Ones?”
“Oh, no, I don’t mean that. We are Broken, after all. I say only that we have come a long way. Velen is the prophet of the draenei, and we think the Holy Light made Poli’lukluk the prophet of the Broken.”
“I take it you want other Broken in your ranks.”
“Our way brings redemption. Remember though, Brother Talus,” laughed Otonbu, “that nature teaches us. We do not cry over being ruthless when necessary. Found some Murkbloods a week ago, me and the warriors. Killed them and threw their limbs around the plains. Evil bodies rot and feed the earth, nature rejoices with the Light!”
Otonbu’s words sounded troubling, but were not really so strange in context. The Broken have as much a right to defend themselves as anyone else. I began to suspect that Unota’s hostility stemmed mostly from bitterness towards those Wastewalkers who joined their sworn enemy.
I followed the trail up to the care center as the sky darkened. Otonbu had shown me around Telaar, even introducing me to the esteemed Poli’lukluk who appeared to live up to his reputation. From him, I learned that many (though by no means all) Kurenai had given up their old draenic names in favor of new ones given to them by the spirits. For instance, Poli’lukluk used to be called Koro.
“If we are to listen to the spirits, and live in harmony with them, should we not take names they find pleasing? I think this is wise,” he said.
The Kurenai, like all Broken, lack the intense communalism of their unmutated brethren. Unlike most other Broken tribes, they still maintain a strong community. Groups like the Murkblood or Wrekt are held together through fear and hate. The Kurenai have achieved something closer to the ideals espoused by the draenic priests. Though their interpretation of the Holy Light is more aggressive and primal, it remains true to the religion’s core precepts. I actually found the Kurenai much less alienating than the normal draenei. In fact, I think that properly acclimated Broken could act as ideal liaisons between the draenei and the other races, though I doubt the draenei would embrace such an idea.
Telaar’s care center is a two-story building. The first floor is a large, circular parlor room. Squat tables encircle a tattered purple rug in the center. Two ramps cling to the sides as they ascend to the second floor. The caregiver is a normal draenei named Isel. I found her deep in discussion with an armored male draenei. Both turned to me as I entered.
“Welcome to the Care Center, Brother Talus. Your friend Unota is already resting upstairs. Please, make yourself at home,” offered Isel.
I was about to go up one of the ramps when Isel called out to me.
“Brother Talus, begging your pardon but may we have a moment of your time? We wish to know the human opinion in regards to wine.”
“Wine? In truth, that depends on the person. Most humans consume wine and other alcoholic drinks regularly. A few advocate temperance, some avoid alcohol because they cannot control their intake of it.”
“But what is the collective human opinion?”
“There is none.”
“Remember, Isel, the humans have many different groups. There is Stormwind, Kul Tiras, Theramore, and others. Each of those may have its own interpretation,” said the other draenei.
“Even then it largely depends on the individual or the local community,” I said. “Why do you ask?”
“The Kurenai are very fond of Telaari wine. They drink it all the time and even sell shipments of the stuff up in Shattrath. They insist that I keep barrels of it in stock,” said Isel, pointing to the wooden casks stacked against the wall.
“The Telaari vineyards are in the mountains just south of here,” explained the other draenei.
“As long as they control their intake I would not say there is a problem.”
“The wine does seem to make them happy, which is true to the Most Holy Light. I simply fear that they will come to rely on wine rather than on prayer. Cestuum and I both like the wine, somewhat, but we drink it very rarely.”
“The Kurenai do not have time to become dependent, they are too busy surviving,” said the one I took to be Cestuum.
“I know, I merely fear for their future. They cannot let wine hamper their journey back into the Holy Light,” worried Isel.
“Keep an eye on it I suppose. I don’t think there’s any harm in it for the time being.”
I chuckled as I thought back to the Joyous, that dwarven religious sect based around gleeful inebriation. I went up the ramp to the sparsely furnished guest room on the second story. The original architects had engraved abstract designs into the walls, which are partially covered by faded blue curtains. The Kurenai had installed a few lumpy mattresses for visitors’ convenience. Unota sat on the floor, her back to the wall. She drank deeply from a clay vessel, pink wine trickling from the corner of her mouth.
“Ah, you are back. How do you like these Kurenai?”
“They seem like a decent bunch.”
“You would not say that so easily if you met the Murkbloods. Light damn any Wastewalker among the Kurenai! I will say that their wine is not bad,” she conceded with a burp.
“Does the Wastewalker Tribe exist as a distinct entity?”
“As a tribe? No. Murkblood killed many of us, and we could not fight back against Ashtongue Tribe. Most Wastewalker rounded up, taken north to Zangarmarsh. Don’t know why. Anyone left ran to Shattrath or Telaar.”
“The Ashtongue is aligned with Illidan, correct?”
“I hear Illidan’s name all the time but no one knows what he is. A demon, maybe? Some say he is an elf, which are those humans with pointy ears, right?”
“He is what my world knows as a night elf, though he may have demonic attributes.”
“Great big demon ruled Outland before Illidan. Old Horde before that. Don’t think I want to know who comes after Illidan. More demons, I think.”
“Eh, hope if you want.”
Unota’s head dropped and she started to snore. I quietly tucked myself into bed, not wishing to disturb her.
The next day I witnessed a Kurenai ceremony known as the Spirits’ Call, itself based on the much older draenic ritual of Light’s Call. Assorted Kurenai congregated around the large draenethyst crystal in the center of town, a gift from Shattrath City. Even Unota joined us, blinking wearily in the bright sunlight. The unmutated draenei stood at the edge of the crowd with expressions of restrained ecstasy.
Poli’lukluk chanted in Eredun as he stepped towards the draenethyst shard. He spoke for some time in that sing-song voice. I later learned that he was retelling his own discovery of the spirits. As he told his story he placed four totems around the draenethyst. Each totem flared to life with elemental power, and the crystal glowed in response.
Poli’lukluk raised his scarred hands in the sky and fell to his knees. His rough voice produced a strange hymn and the Kurenai joined him in song. A blustery wind rushed in from the south as choppy waves cascaded across the pond. The earth rumbled in satisfaction, its voice punctuated by the crackling of distant flame.
Everything went quiet. Then the Kurenai cheered. Broken children ran and tossed wildflowers around the crystal as Poli’lukluk collected the totems.
When I first reached Telaar, I learned that the Consortium sent a messenger to warn the Kurenai about the demonic infiltration of Oshu’gun. Pazshe ordered this at my request. While I could have explained it myself, I did not want to risk exposing myself as a Forsaken. A messenger with a scripted message offered an easy solution to the problem.
I discussed this with the senior draenei at Telaar, a taciturn vindicator named Byros. I met him just after the end of Spirits’ Call.
“Sin and darkness dwell in the wilds of southeast Nagrand,” he rumbled. “The Kil’sorrow are a cult, a holdover from the demon-worshippers of the old Horde. They serve the Burning Legion. We have been aware of them for some time. Kurenai warriors have intercepted cultists making the trek to Oshu’gun. I am not surprised to hear that some got through.”
“Do you have any plans for retaking Oshu’gun?”
“Eventually. The Most Holy Light emphasizes unity and brotherhood more than anything else. While I would like to lead the Kurenai warriors to Oshu’gun, that would leave Telaar undefended. I cannot let these Broken die at the hands of the Sin’dorei or Murkblood. Do not worry, K’ure will take some time to fully decay. By then, we will have reached a solution.”
Though well aware of procrastination’s dangers (a familiarity achieved in my student days), I was nonetheless impressed by Byros’ dedication to his charges.
The Spirits’ Call worked to rouse Unota from her gloom and she spent the day visiting her former tribe. I caught her deep in conversation with a Kurenai warrior as evening fell.
“Des—Talus! This old Broken was a neighbor of mine. He has some spirit name now but he used to be called Somot.”
Somot gave a cautious smile.
“He speaks nothing but Eredun. Good with ax though, back in the old days. The Kurenai are lucky to have him.”
Unota said goodbye to Somot and accompanied me back towards the Care Center.
“Such a strange time. I remember when it was just draenei and demon, than draenei and orc. Even after that it was Wastewalker and everyone else. These days, not even tribe means anything. Some Murkblood still murder while others say they are my friends. Some elves follow Illidan, while others are with your group, and others still live in Shattrath. Too many for me to understand.”
“I know how you feel, actually. When I was young, my people saw the world through the lens of Alliance and Horde.”
“Hm. Maybe things were always this complicated. Maybe things only look simple if they happened a long time ago.”
“You speak wisely,” I told her.
The lush hills of southeast Nagrand possess a distinctly foreboding quality. The traveler gets the impression that malign forces stare out from the thickly forested slopes. A trail of sorts cuts through the wilderness, offering at least some convenience. My goal was to reach the orcish village of Garadar. There, the Kurenai told me, lived orcs uncorrupted by demonic forces. Observing them would provide a valuable insight into traditional orcish culture. Unota had stayed behind in Telaar, citing exhaustion from her visit to Netherstorm.
I was especially curious about the history of the orcs prior to the Horde. Constant war and migration made it difficult for the orcs to know much of their past. Records from the time of the Old Horde are rightly viewed as unreliable, and draenic histories largely overlook the orcs.
The clans lived in a relatively static environment for at least a few thousand years. They traveled across the grasslands with their herds of clefthoofs and talbuks, occasionally fighting each other for grazing rights or stubborn pride. The arrival of the draenei jolted orcish culture out of its complacency. The northern clans (who later formed the nucleus of the Horde) adopted agriculture before the Ogre War. These same clans were the ones who sent their own warriors to fight and die in the Blade’s Edge Mountains.
Orcs still sing epics of the Blood River War, a grueling conflict between the southern nomads and northern farmers that took place 37 years after the Ogre War. The epics mostly focus on the exploits of great warriors, but sometimes reveal facts about the war’s context. Krogarg the Crimson Hand, chief of the Bladewind Clan, united the southern orcs into a force called the Stampede and attacked the north for reasons that remain unclear. Some say he was avenging a son (or father) killed by the northern clans, while other tales emphasize his contempt for farmers. The Stampede won but Krogarg never consolidated his power and his barbaric kingdom did not long survive him. Nagrand soon returned to something resembling its pre-war state.
The draenei knew of the Blood River War, but had trouble deciding if they wanted to get involved. They eventually made a half-hearted attempt at supplying the north, though this made little difference.
While Krogarg’s reign was short-lived, it created many repercussions. The brutalized northern clans desired vengeance against the south and resented the draenei for not doing more to help. Ner’zhul, the founder of the Horde, found many enthusiastic supporters among these orcs.
A great source of information came in the form of an elderly orc named Lokon. Weathered and stooped, he had spent his youth as a peon. I met Lokon as he led a small caravan packed with bags of grain. Orc porters rode on elekk-pulled carts, swineherds following close behind. Lokon dismounted from the lead elekk when he saw me coming in from the east.
Lokon initially thought me a death knight of the Old Horde. He relaxed visibly when I explained I was not.
“I sent both my sons to Shattrath City, so that they may join your warchief,” he said.
Lokon hailed from a tiny farm village to the southeast where he lived with other former peons. He said many such villages dotted the area, inhabited by the forgotten and dispossessed.
“Mostly orcs, but there are some Lost Ones, and even a few humans who ran away from their Alliance masters.”
Sadly, these victims of history live under the Kil’sorrow Cult’s oppressive rule. Based in the stronghold of Kil’sorrow Fortress, these demon worshippers enact harsh tribute from the surrounding villages. The cult collects tribute at the Nagrand Trademeet, held twice a year in Kil’sorrow Fortress. Lokon’s caravan was headed to that year’s second trademeet.
“What do they offer in return?”
“Protection. Everyone hates the orcs for what we did. The uncorrupted orcs hate us, the Broken hate us even more. I spent years on the move, going from one ruined land to the next. Only the Kil’sorrow protect us.”
“The Kil’sorrow take a percentage of your crops?”
“Souls, too. They take one sacrifice from each village at the year's first trademeet. I lost my daughter that way. Kurm over there,” he pointed to a younger orc, “lost his brother.”
There was a resigned acceptance in Lokon’s voice that pained me to hear.
“The Horde and Alliance are both enemies of the Burning Legion and its followers. I am sure they would be happy to destroy the Kil’sorrow Cult.”
“That would be great, but they must then protect us from the Kurenai and Mag’har. And Illidari,” he added, with a growl.
Lokon was not yet born when the Blood River War was fought but his father told him many stories of that conflict. Lokon’s father, Grenk, had also been a peon.
“The Stampede did not have peons. They were all warriors except for the women, and even they were fierce,” he said.
That did not come as a surprise; social stratification usually requires an agricultural society. Despite their egalitarianism, there was little worth admiring in the nomads. Grenk spoke of fleeing burning villages, and the piles of skulls the nomads left at each victory.
“Chief Kash’drakor of the Dark Scar Clan tried to strike back at the nomads. He gathered the finest warriors of three clans! They raided into the south, thirsty for vengeance. Nothing greeted them but the empty grasslands. He campaigned there for nearly a year, his supplies dwindling and his men dying as the north burned. Kash’drakor finally turned back. The nomadic Redwalker Clan killed him and all but five of his warriors as they crossed north across the Blood River. The war ended with Kash’drakor’s death cry.”
“How did they make peace?”
“At the next Kosh’harg the northern clans agreed to let the Stampede clans rule the grasslands. We feared that their clefthoofs would ruin our land, but Krogarg died before very many herds reached us. His successors destroyed his empire in trying to rule it, freeing us.”
“Why did the Stampede attack your people?”
“My father always said that Krogarg did it for power, but the nomads tell a different story. I found out in the early days of the Horde, when some of the weaker nomad clans first agreed to join. Their reason lay to the south, in a cold poison desert called Yellowblight that steadily consumed their pastures. The shamans suspected a malign influence but could do nothing to stop the encroaching wastes.”
“What happened to the nomad clans in the Horde?”
“Ner’zhul told us that the draenei were responsible for the Yellowblight’s march, that they set orc against orc. That after the fall of the north, they sowed discord in the south. Whatever the Warchief’s words, we still hated the southern clans and they never held a very important position.”
“Did all the southern clans join the Horde?”
“I heard that a few refused. If so, they were too weak and remote to matter. Forgive me; I am a peon and know little.”
“On the contrary, you seem to know quite a lot.”
“Only by listening to what the warriors said as they feasted after battles. It is not my place to know.”
I traveled with the caravan for a few days as it inched towards Kil’sorrow Fortress. I was curious to see it firsthand, and told Lokon I could disguise myself as a human if a free undead would attract too much attention. The orc frowned, doubtful of the idea.
“That is a big risk. The Kil’sorrow will kill both of us if they find out your true nature.”
“I have walked unnoticed in the capital cities of the Alliance. I certainly won’t bring any attention to myself.”
“The Nagrand Trademeet will be well underway by the time we arrive. I suppose you would not seem too remarkable as a human.”
“Do not feel obliged. I understand if you refuse. Either way, I shall inform the Horde of your plight.”
I finally convinced Lokon, who in turn persuaded his fellows. Not all of them showed enthusiasm towards joining the Horde but they reasoned that the destruction of Kil’sorrow would at least let them escape to Shattrath.
A human traveling with orcs was unusual, but would not attract any particular attention at the crowded Nagrand Trademeet. Just in case, Lokon developed an alibi in which I would pose as a human peddler separated from his village. Lokon suggested that I carry something with which to bribe the Kil’sorrow guards. I took out the pendant that the Ethereum diplomat gave to me back in Netherstorm. I was looking for an excuse to get rid of the thing.
Bleak Kil’sorrow Fortress surveys its holdings from on top a lonely hill. Wooden watchtowers lean crooked behind rough walls, the squat buildings within covered in metal spikes. The architecture marks it as a creation of the Old Horde. The Bleeding Hollow Clan built the fortress after fleeing back through the portal, hoping to secure Nagrand from pursuing Alliance soldiers. However, the Alliance never got anywhere close to Nagrand and the Horde abandoned the fortress a few months before the Breaking. It remained empty until the taken by the remnants of the Horde’s Shadow Council.
Two hulking orc guards stood the gate, their armor rusty and mismatched. They wordlessly inspected Lokon’s cargo, grabbing anything that interested them. I noticed that each carried a sack, already bulging with confiscated goods.
“Go on in,” barked a guard.
Shoddy carts and tents filled the outer court, mostly manned by dispirited orcs. A quartet of Lost Ones huddled around a smoldering fire, their plangent wails audible over the chatter. In one tent, an emaciated human boy studied me with dark and joyless eyes.
Lokon first took the wagon train to a crumbling stone building near the gate. A robed orc stood at the entry, a grim smile on his face. His skin was exceptionally dark and looked almost blue. I’d never before seen such coloration in an orc.
The gatehouse was where merchants unloaded the foodstuffs designated as tribute. After that, the traders could barter with people from the neighboring villages, usually for tools, building materials, and animals.
Besides food, the Kil’sorrow authorities also demand the dignity of their subjects. We knelt before the robed orc, Lokon praising the might and ruthlessness of the Kil’sorrow warriors. A noxious smirk emerged on his face as he looked down on Lokon.
The porters finished unloading the carts and Lokon went to set up shop at the base of a watchtower. He assigned his neighbors to various tasks (buying sickles, purchasing talbuks, and the like) while he and a few younger orcs put the pigs on display. The scene reminded me a bit of the farmer’s markets I used to visit as a child in Andorhal. The differences were still glaring. Lordaeronian farmers after the Second War lived in a time of unprecedented wealth and contentment, nothing like Nagrand’s hardscrabble desperation.
I went from stall to stall, chatting with the farmers. The humans were more talkative than the orcs or Lost Ones.
“I hear that the Alliance is back in Draenor,” said one, a stick-thin human named Elswort. “I don’t suppose you’re from them?” he asked.
“No, I escaped from Kirin’var, found my way down here, just like you,” I lied.
“Everyone here’s been wondering about it. We’re hoping they won’t hang us all for desertion.” He gave a mirthless chuckle.
“You think they would?”
“Who knows? I did what I had to do. There was no future in Honor Hold. I’m old anyway and I don’t much care for serving these orcs. As long as they don’t hold my little ones guilty for my crime, I’ve no complaints.”
“I hear some people send their children to Shattrath.”
“My children aren’t old enough for the journey. Especially not now. Ogres are fighting up in the north, and when they fight, everyone suffers.”
The human villages tend to be more successful than the others. This is because many of the deserters have useful skills like blacksmithing. Almost any metal tool in the Nagrand Trademeet has its origin at a human smithy. The orcs, in contrast, come from unskilled peonage while the Lost Ones can only do the most menial tasks.
Unfortunately, human success attracts unwanted attention. The Kil’sorrow leaders force the humans to give up a greater percentage of their crops. Many humans feel that they are being singled out on a racial basis. I was surprised by how open they are with complaints. Kil’sorrow’s rule is odious but not particularly intrusive.
Some of the guards got drunk at nightfall and began to wreck the shop of a hapless orc farmer while his fellows looked on in pity. Most Kil’sorrow troops are the sons of the Old Horde’s warriors. Unlike most orc fighters, they never underwent any real trials to attain their position. Not particularly skilled or well-equipped, they act more like bullies than actual soldiers. I wondered why the Kil’sorrow leaders showed such indifference to the orcish warrior tradition.
I wanted to learn more about the Kil’sorrow Cult but this proved difficult. No cultist would deign to speak with me and the traders knew little. Most of the cultists stayed in the inner courtyard, which is off-limits to the uninitiated. A token few watch over the Nagrand Trademeet and ensure that the cult gets its tribute. I did overhear an interesting conversation between two cultists.
“Each trademeet is more worse than the last,” complained one.
“We shall only have to endure a few more. Perhaps this shall be the final one.”
“I hope. But we thought the same when Magtheridon ruled, and we’re still here. I hate Nagrand. I hate these humans, these orcs, these draenei—”
“Do not question the Burning Legion, brother. Keep the faith in the eredar. They will send us home to Argus when we are ready.”
Argus was the ancient homeworld of the draenei. Currently held by the demonic eredar (themselves draenei warped by demonic energies), I found it telling that the Kil’sorrow Cult viewed Argus as a home. I thought it indicated a great deal of arrogance on their part. As it turned out, the truth was more complicated.
I told Lokon of the conversation and he explained the context.
“Many of the Kil’sorrow high priests are half-draenei, half-orc,” he said.
“Really?” That would explain the blue-tinged skin I’d seen in some.
“That is what they claim. The Horde did not care for half-breeds, and even we peons spat on them. Most died, but a few were taken in by the Shadow Council and made warlocks.”
“Now they openly declare themselves as half-draenei?”
“That is where it gets confusing. They actually say they are half-eredar, but we all know they are actually half-draenei.”
“Draenei and eredar are two branches of the same race,” I explained.
“Hm, I have never seen an eredar but aren’t they demons? The draenei are not demons.”
“The eredar became demons. The two were once the same.”
“Oh! That makes more sense, I suppose. Anyway, the cultists all think that their eredar or draenic blood makes them greater in the eyes of the Burning Legion. That it gives them great power. I do not believe them myself. True orcs hold their kind in contempt, and the Kil’sorrow only rule us because we no longer have warriors of our own.”
“Why do the full-blooded orcs here cooperate with them?” I asked, swallowing my distaste at Lokon’s unfortunate bigotry.
“Power, maybe? I do not know.”
“Do any other half-draenei exist elsewhere?”
“Probably. Some of the ones not sent to the Shadow Council survived. You might find a few in Shattrath City.”
I nodded, making a mental note to look for them.
Though the cultists claim power, I doubt that their petty theocracy shall survive much longer. Their subjects hate them, and their soldiers are an undisciplined rabble. Thinking about the mixed human, orc, and Lost One population, I wonder if sectarian violence would erupt with Kil’sorrow’s fall. I do not think it likely, mostly due to the relatively passive local culture, but I cannot dismiss the possibility. More alarming is the chance of another loathsome proxy war between Horde and Alliance over the region. Such a matter needs careful handling.
I decided I would try to get a message to Eitrigg, Thrall’s advisor in Orgrimmar. His wisdom can find a way through such difficulty. The Horde’s commanders in Outland tend to aggression, and I doubt their ability to deal with such a delicate situation.