Friday, February 22, 2008
Ten perfect voices rang into the misty morning air, the tones drifting across the placid surface of the nearby lake towards the towering crystal spire rising from its waters. For all the scene's tranquility, the Exodar’s arrival had not been a peaceful one. Fragments and loose crystals from that sacred fortress are still scattered across the landscape of Azuremyst Isle.
Defended by tempestuous ocean waters, the tangled forests of Azuremyst Isle escaped the turmoil of mainland Kalimdor, though its northern neighbor in the archipelago had seen its share of strife. The night elves called the island Ashal Ador, which means the primordial garden. The pristine wilderness, with its enigmatic moonkin and furbolg inhabitants, seemed like a remnant of an earlier time. Elven habitation was limited to Silvermyst Isle, just southwest of Azuremyst Isle. For many years, far-ranging Kaldorei anglers would occasionally ply the teeming waters around the island, though no more than a few families lived in the place at one time. Sadly, the Exodar’s cataclysmic descent had devastated Silvermyst. The night elves understand that the damage was accidental, and no ill will exits between the two peoples.
Arcane energies from the Exodar's crash have altered the ecology in unpredictable ways. The docile moonkin turned savage, and the Bristlelimb furbolg tribe descended into the madness afflicting too many of their mainland brethren. Velen promised the Darnassian authorities that he would do all he could to restore the island to its previous state.
When I left Exodar, I joined a group of ten draenei headed to Azure Watch, a draenic outpost in central Azuremyst. They were delivering supplies taken from the battered portions of the vessel. Elekks, a nearly indescribable beast brought from Draenor, carried most of the supplies. These blue skinned mammals are nearly as big as kodo and walk on four stumpy legs. Each has a pair of tusks and a prehensile nose that resembles a tail. The draenei treat elekks with great affection.
The most prominent member of the party was Norimon, a vindicator. The vindicators are draenic paladins, and to see one in person is like meeting some sort of demigod. The vindicator restores hope and sparks inspiration. All that is good and holy seems possible in the vindicator’s presence. With his imposing figure and gleaming armor, Norimon looked as if he alone could prevail against the entire Burning Legion.
“Do you enjoy the landscape, Brother Talus?” he asked me after he finished leading the dawn prayer.
“I think so as well. The forests here are much different from the ones on Draenor, but they are certainly to my liking. I look forward to seeing more of your world, Brother Talus.”
“There is much worth seeing.”
“What would you recommend?”
I spent the next few hours describing some of the places I had seen.
Human and dwarven paladins are also capable of inspiring those around them, this being one of the traits of their noble role. To some extent, all draenei have this gift. Their steadfastness and faith in the face of overwhelming odds has a way of lifting the spirits. It works from one draenei to another, forming an important part of the empathic skein that binds their society. When this heroic presence is coupled with the charisma of the vindicator, the results are truly astounding.
The eastern stretches of Azuremyst Isle are rugged, covered in dense forests and vast, shallow lakes. An ancient, pre-Sundering elven road made our passage easier. A few elven ruins slumber in the thicket, though even in their golden age the elves mostly left the place untouched. Though the caravan was on a serious mission, the mood was light and joyful. The draenei constantly sang graceful hymns to the Light.
Four days of travel brought us to Azure Watch. The Exodar had jettisoned a number of escape pods as it fell, in the manner of a rowboat fleeing a sinking ship. Several of these pods landed on a rocky hill. The draenei within quickly consolidated and formed the settlement of Azure Watch.
Our caravan was received graciously by Menelaous, the exarch of Azure Watch. An exarch is a priest of exceptional wisdom and piety. Menelaous was particularly happy to see a human, and asked me some questions about Azeroth. I answered these as best I could. I had some questions for him as well.
“How big do you think Azure Watch will become?”
“There is no need for it to be much larger. We draenei only reproduce when there is an actual need for more of us. While that need certainly exists at the moment, most will live in the Exodar. Azure Watch shall not be any larger than a village.”
“This would also please the night elves.”
“Yes, we understand the importance of being good neighbors.”
“What are some of the issues affecting Azure Watch at the moment?”
“The Prophet has charged us with securing the environment of the island. As you can see, the Exodar’s arrival left its mark, and we are obliged to repair the damage caused. We also wish to build a solid brotherhood with the Stillpine Tribe of furbolgs to the north. Our shamans have proved quite useful for this task.”
While I was there, most of Azure Watch’s small population concentrated on repairing the damaged capsules. Like most things in draenic society, these utilitarian tasks have religious connotations. For instance, the draenei used wood to patch up the rents in the capsules. The use of different and disparate materials to make a greater whole is considered a symbolic act reflecting the Holy Light. The alien metal of the Exodar does not exist in Azeroth, but the draenei are content to make do with existing materials of lesser quality.
No collectives existed in Azure Watch. The inhabitants were either members of collectives stationed in the Exodar, or those whose collectives had perished or remained in Outland.
“There is some talk about forming new collectives here. The Exarch believes that it could create a strong community, strengthening the metaphysical position of the Most Holy Light on your world. I hope it turns out that way,” said a draenei engineer named Salok. Salok and I were in the care center, the single largest pod in Azure Watch. My fellow travelers from the caravan also stayed there.
“Do you feel a particular sense of unity with the other draenei here?”
“How could I not? We have worked together to forge a new home here, surrounded by this mysterious wilderness. Several of us have discussed this with Exarch Menelaous, who approved of the concept. The Azure Watch can serve as a fine example of how much all people can accomplish by working together under the guidance of the Infinitely Holy Light. From the ruins, we are making a wonderful new place!”
“Wouldn’t a collective cause Azure Watch to grow significantly? I was told that this was going to remain a small settlement.”
“Collectives are not quite like the human family. The sole purpose of a collective is not to produce more draenei; it is to inculcate the precepts of the Light. Early attempts to have all draenei in a single, vast collective did not meet with optimally holy results. It is still too difficult for us to all relate on such a level. The small, three-family collective makes it much easier to forge bonds of unity with one’s peers.”
“Would it be safe to say that collectives are to the draenei race what individuals are to the collective?”
“That is very well said, Brother Talus! As we progress on the paths of virtue, it may become possible to unite into a single collective. However we are not yet holy enough for that. A few concessions to individualism must remain for the time being. Our physical bodies are sometimes the greatest impediment to spiritual unity.”
For the draenei, work is a form of recreation. The laborers in Azure Watch performed their tasks with unerring enthusiasm, and only took breaks when physically spent. Games among the draenei are cooperative rather than competitive. Back in Draenor, they used to run through obstacle courses that could only be navigated with teamwork. The draenei on Azeroth did not yet have the time to build such courses, but I did see them take part in activities like cooperative rock climbing.
Azure Watch has become an important place for the draenic shamans. Located in the midst of a nearly untouched wilderness, it is the perfect spot for the shamans to learn about the spirits of their new world. Many are unmutated, though the head shaman of Azure Watch was a Broken named Tuluun.
Tuluun had a degree of seniority as one of Nobundo’s first followers. However, he spent most of his time in deep meditation at the edge of Azure Watch, and did not interact with the unmutated shamans very often.
On my third day, I met a vivacious draenei woman named Kiba. An unmutated shaman, she was visiting from the Exodar. Kiba was young by draenic standards, being a mere century old.
“I am incredibly joyful that the Light guided Nobundo to find the spirits,” she told me.
“I thought the Broken couldn’t use the Light.”
“They cannot, but the Light can still use them. It is the consensus of the shamanistic community that the Light guided Nobundo, even if he was not consciously aware of it. Oh, this is so exciting, Brother Talus! The shamans may usher in a new era. For too long we focused solely on the metaphysical connections between the races of the universe. With the spirits, we can have a vastly more comprehensive understanding of the Holy Light. My entire collective was wiped out by the orcs, yet I still consider myself immensely blessed to be alive in such a time!”
Kiba said that she and two other shamans were going to take an expedition into the Moongraze Forest to the north, and asked if I would like to come along. I agreed and set off with them early the next morning. Besides myself and the three shamans, there was also an anchorite priest who said little during our journey.
The shamans enjoy hymns as much as any other draenei, and they sang several as they tramped through the wilderness. It was slow going. Moongraze Forest has remarkably dense growth. Profusions of dark blue and violet wildflowers grow among tangling vines that fill the narrow spaces between trees. Most of the trees are a type of dark-colored pine, though there are many groves of spruces and firs. Most notable is the thick blue moss that carpets the clearings in the forest; this moss is unique to Azuremyst Isle.
After a morning of hard travel we came to a steep rise mostly clear of trees. At the top is a forgotten Kaldorei ruin. Antlered stags with brilliant white fur graze contentedly among the broken pillars. Beyond the ruin is a sheer drop to the dense forests below.
“This will be an excellent place, I think!” exclaimed Kiba.
Chattering excitedly in Draenic, the shamans went to the top and laid out several mats. One, a veritable giant named Loktos, spoke in an imploring tone. He took a slender totem from his pack and set it on the ground. Unlike the totems of the Horde, draenic totems are metallic, orbited by gleaming shards and circles of pale blue light.
“We are attempting to further research the air spirits in this spot. The high altitude makes it an ideal location, no?”
I spent the next several hours watching the trio of shamans, who looked to be enjoying themselves. Loktos took copious notes. I stole a glance at them, and saw that they were full of painstakingly detailed sketches of the local flora and fauna. The priest spent much of his time in traditional prayer, only asking the occasional question of the shamans.
We spent the night outdoors. A bitterly cold wind swept over the rise as the sun fell but the shamans were not bothered.
“So, Brother Talus. What do you think of what you have seen today?” inquired Kiba.
“It’s certainly piqued my curiosity. What did you learn about the air spirits?”
“Currently they seem to be curious about us, as we are new to this world. On our part, we are trying to determine what difference, if any, lies between wind spirits that come from different locations. North, south, northeast, and so forth.”
“One spirit for each wind?”
“Not one, but it is our hypothesis that spirits from a single source may share similar traits. We also did research on the earth spirits in this spot, to see if rocky, high-altitude spirits differ in attitude from lowland spirits. They seem a bit more remote, less receptive to biological intrusion.”
“So it is your hope that you can categorize spirits by physical traits in the natural world?”
“As such, yes. That way we can find the most effective way of communicating with them. The Prophet Velen has always said that communication is one of the most important parts of the Holy Light.”
“Do you intend to convert the spirits?”
“The spirits have their own way of doing things. They serve as an excellent symbol of the Holy Light; they are further proof of the Light’s undeniable truth, showing that it exists in the natural world just as much as it does in the philosophical one. This is why we study them. In addition, a good relationship with the spirits helps to sustain society, increasing the amount of joy.”
“Nature is sometimes quite cruel,” I pointed out.
“The ferocity of the predator is part of the natural balance. Animals are rarely consciously cruel; only the more advanced beasts are capable of such a thing. Thus the spirits, who do not normally act from malice or selfishness, are solid examples of the Holy Light in nature. Theoretically, they might be a very good way of introducing the Light to shamanistic races.”
Unlike the shamanistic traditions of this world which emphasize the fundamentally unknowable nature of the spirits, draenic shamanism posits that the spirits are understandable. Kiba said that ultimately, all things are known within the context of the Light. Certain details might be obscure, but there are no true philosophical mysteries.
I have heard some accuse the draenic shamans of arrogance, but I do not think this is the case. They are not fools who seek mastery over the spirits. Instead, they work for a mutually beneficial relationship that also reflects the Holy Light. They definitely do not treat the spirits with the near-religious reverence of the tauren. Nor, like troll shamans, do they regard the spirits as powerful but essentially capricious entities. The draenei see the spirits as a concrete aspect of the Light in the natural world, and just as worthy of respect and kindness as all others that live within the Light, while still acknowledging the ambivalence spirits hold to sapient races.
Fierce storms sometimes rage through the Veiled Sea, their winds and rain slamming into the forested Azuremyst Archipelago. The endless downpour runs down the pine needles to drench the mossy ground beneath.
The rains hit when I left Azure Watch. With me was a draenic huntress named Balaa. Her appearance was startling. Tiny scars pitted Balaa’s alabaster skin, and her left horn ended in a jagged stump. She possessed the haunted eyes of someone who’d seen many terrible things, and it came as no surprise to me when Menelaous informed me that she was an ashem.
Balaa had volunteered for the duty of going to Ammen Vale, where a large segment of the Exodar had crashed. Unlike the fortuitous landing of the Azure Watch pods, the Ammen Vale crash had been a terrible disaster. She was going to help search for survivors in the remote areas.
With Balaa walked a terrifying Outland beast called a ravager, resembling an insect crossed with a demonic porcupine. The ravagers are apparently easy to train so long as the stay in near-constant contact with the master. When left to their own devices, they return to a feral state in almost no time. Balaa had named her ravager Shekan, which means victory in Draenic.
We made relatively good time on the old elven road. Balaa spoke little and frequently checked her rifle. Guns of draenic make tend to look like gray lobsters, sans pincers. The carapace serves the function of keeping the gunpowder dry, making for an incredibly durable weapon.
I was curious about Balaa’s experiences, but I was unsure how to approach her. She herself broached the subject on the second night during the downpour. Balaa had set up a tent made of some stretchy and water-proof fabric manufactured by the draenei. The ravager, indifferent to the rain, curled up into a little ball of razors just outside the tent. I didn’t think I’d be able to touch the ravager without hurting myself.
“Thank you for coming with me, Brother Talus,” she said, her husky voice barely audible over the storm.
“Thank you for permitting my presence.”
“It is not wise for the draenei to spend too long in solitude. Even the company of my dear Shekan is insufficient—though I shudder to think of being without her. However much one may care for beasts, they are not part of the Infinitely Holy Light.”
“If you don’t mind my saying, you must have seen many battles on Draenor.”
“Too many. I was one of the only survivors when the orcs burned Tuurem to the ground. Tuurem was a holy town in the center of a great forest. We had done nothing to harm the orcs, but they slaughtered us just the same.”
“How did you escape?”
“Luck. I made my way to Shattrath, where I volunteered to act as a scout. I and my compatriots fought bravely, ambushing orc caravans and patrols, but it was not enough. One after the other our cities fell: Karabor, Baa’ri, Telaar, Halaa, Auchindoun, and even Shattrath. Those who walked with me also died. For ten years I stalked the forest paths alone, thinking myself the last draenei.”
I glumly remembered my last days as a living human, starving in a refugee camp in the Western Plaguelands.
“Finally I met a vindicator, who took me to the sanctuary at Telredor. The damage had been done. I... I could not think of the community of the Light, when I was alone. Do you understand? Thinking of the Light reminded me of what was lost. What good were the prophecies if all the draenei lay dead? You doubtless question the strength of my faith.”
“Not at all. It’s a credit to your faith that you still have it.”
“Perhaps. I kept myself warm at night by hating the orcs. It was all I could do. I enjoyed killing them, Brother Talus! I still want to! But I don’t want to desire murder.”
“How did you come to Azeroth?”
“I spent a long time doing solitary patrols in Zangarmarsh, only occasionally returning to my brethren. When I learned of the mission to Tempest Keep I implored to be brought along. Some were reluctant, fearing that my sorrow would infect others, but finally they deemed my skills too useful to be cast aside. For my part, I hoped living in a different place would ease my sorrow, but it did not. I brought my misery with me.”
“I still want to kill orcs, Brother Talus. You must be horrified. I would not blame you if you left me and returned to Azure Watch. Do not let me endanger your own faith.”
“It will not. Humans are more understanding of dark thoughts than are draenei. I do not condemn you.”
“You are of the Light, why would you? But I may pose a spiritual threat. Promise me you will leave if I do.”
The rain stopped in the morning, and we soon reached the shallow saltwater channel separating Ammen Vale from Azuremyst Isle. Steep ridges ring Ammen Vale, giving it a formidable appearance. We crossed the channel and emerged at the bottom of a waterfall running like a white scar down the mountain. A densely forested path led deeper into the vale.
Beyond the path is a scene of devastation. Great crystal shards stick into the earth like knives, having plunged deep after their descent. Shining fragments of white metal lie in twisted heaps across the forest, leaving broken trees in their wake.
“Do you know why this descent suffered so much damage?”
“The Ammen Vale survivors said it was the doing of blood elf saboteurs,” she snarled. “I fear I hate them as well.”
The sun had almost set by the time we reached the Ammen Vale crash site. A great tower of charred metal and broken crystals looms over the primeval forest. We encountered a peacekeeper patrol who quickly ushered us into the crash site. The situation of the Ammen Vale survivors was not so desperate as it had been earlier, when they lacked any contact with the outside world, but it was still difficult. Their small segment of the Exodar had not carried any agricultural crystals, forcing them to forage for food.
Most of the Ammen Vale survivors had already relocated to the Exodar. But the crash was not a singular event. After the main segment fell to the earth, smaller pods continued to crash down for weeks. The results were often grim.
Ammen Vale’s situation was initially quite precarious. Some of the blood elf saboteurs aboard the Exodar had also survived. The draenei soon destroyed them, but elven interference with rescue attempts was indirectly responsible for many deaths. Local wildlife became a more persistent problem. The arcane energies from the Exodar fragment inundated the soil of Ammen Vale, mutating or enraging many of the animals. The ultra-sensitive moonkin were particularly affected, and some still rampaged through the wilderness when I was there. A crew of 53 draenei remained in Ammen Vale working to undo or at least ameliorate the damage caused by their arrival, and to retrieve any latecomers.
The free-floating arcane energy further confounded rescue attempts. Mages found it difficult to use magic and the spirits quarreled in disarray. Neither force could be counted on to locate the more remote pods, which was why Balaa’s expertise had been requested. Vindicator Aldar, the de facto leader of Ammen Vale, said that she was one of the greatest living draenic trackers.
Balaa set off immediately to search for survivors. She was under no illusions about her mission; Aldar informed her that the draenei in those crash sites were probably dead. I did not accompany Balaa. While I could easily keep up with her on the roads, I would only slow her down in the thickets. Aldar was happy to have me as a visitor, but he had too many pressing concerns to do much for me. I simply stayed out of the way and helped out with whatever odd tasks I was able to do.
“I am in communication with the priests and arcanists at the Exodar. We are trying to find out how many pods are unaccounted for. Even one is too many, but the actual number is quite disturbing,” lamented Zhaana, an engineer.
“The blood elves were responsible for this?”
“Correct. We thought we had purged them from the sacred halls, but some of them remained concealed from us. I do not know how this was possible, but somehow they did! The anchorites had nearly finished the appropriate prayers and rites to begin the escape, when the elves came out of hiding. How much do you know of these blood elves, Brother Talus?”
“In my youth, they were called high elves.”
“Yes, we are familiar with the difference. It is simply shocking. I think we must assume that the blood elves are in league with the Burning Legion.”
Glimmering motes suddenly drifted down to us, and Zhaana sneezed. Looking up, I saw a giant moth fluttering over her head. She gave a delighted squeal.
“Good evening, Sister Moth! Beautiful creatures, aren’t they?”
While I am not normally fond of giant insects, I had to agree with Zhaana’s description. The moths of Ammen Vale are covered in silvery fur, and fly with lovely, translucent wings.
“Creatures like these once flitted through the pearly jungles of Argus. We have always kept the moths as pets—kindness to beasts can symbolize the Light, to a degree. Wherever we go, they follow. I am glad to see that so many survived the crash.”
The revelations about blood elf activities troubled me deeply. Were they deceiving the Warchief? Or was the situation more complex than it seemed? The blood elves have certainly adopted some questionable measures to preserve their race, but it is difficult to imagine that they would embrace demons. The Scourge had destroyed Quel’thalas, but the Scourge was made by the Burning Legion. I did not think that the draenei were lying to me, though I suspected they may have been mistaken on some level.
Zhaana said that the elves were much more numerous on Bloodmyst Isle to the north. I had intended to go there anyway, and I resolved to try and contact the blood elves if possible. At the time, I had no way of knowing if the Sin’dorei would even be aware of the existence of the Forsaken. However, I felt obliged to learn as much about the situation as possible, so that I could give an accurate report of elven attitudes.
A defeated-looking Balaa returned to the crash site after two days. She spoke in Draenic to Aldar, whose face turned grave.
“I found the crash site, Talus. Five draenei, all of them dead.”
The pod had landed in an area filled with berserk moonkin, though it was the impact that had killed the draenei. Aldar deemed it too risky to retrieve the bodies. Nonetheless, a funeral ceremony was held later that day in the remains of the main capsule.
Draenic funerals are solemn rather than emotive. An anchorite leads the assembled draenei in prayer. I could not understand his words, but I later learned that he spoke of how all are immortal in the graces of the Light, and that we should be joyful for having known the fallen in at least a spiritual sense. In fact, one of the Ammen Vale survivors had a wife among the dead found by Balaa. Though his luminescent eyes watered, he retained his composure. Funerals last about an hour, and end in a hopeful prayer.
The serene rite was broken by an anguished cry. The assembled draenei turned as one to the source: Balaa. The huntress had collapsed, sobbing and grabbing at her tangled black hair, tearing it out in tufts. The anchorite moved towards her, words of condolence on his tongue.
Upon seeing him, Balaa got to her hooves and shouted in a voice mixed with rage and grief. Then she fled into the wilderness, from which she did not emerge until the evening hours. She returned with her head bowed. Balaa kneeled in front of Vindicator Aldar, speaking in a chastised tone. The vindicator raised her up and embraced her, speaking quietly. Soon after, Balaa came to me.
“I must apologize, Brother Talus. When one forgets the Light, her mind does strange things. I hope that my misery does not dampen your happiness.”
“By human standards your reaction was entirely normal. I’ve seen it many times before.”
She looked at me warily.
“Perhaps, but I am draenei, not human. It is for this reason that I cannot live in a collective. I shall leave Ammen Vale tomorrow. You are welcome to come with me, though I shall not fault you for staying or traveling separately.”
I elected to go with Balaa. Above us, the sky flashed in brilliant bursts of blue and purple in what the draenei call an arcane storm. This type of weather phenomena does not normally exist in Azeroth, and was caused by the Exodar’s entry. Arcane storms create spectacular visual effects but no physical ones. This is not to say that it is illusory; rather, it simply does not interact with the material world. All in all, such storms are unforgettable sights.
We again crossed the ford and made camp on the forest’s edge.
“I cannot imagine how dreadful it must have felt for them,” she sighed.
“The dead draenei that you found?”
“I meant for my brethren at the funeral. For me to have an outburst at such a vulnerable time is terrible.”
“My experience with the draenei is limited, but they are clearly a strong people. Aldar forgave you anyway.”
“Of course, but I cannot live with them lest I darken their dreams. Oh! Such a terrible thing to inflict sorrow wherever I go! I want to be happy again Brother Talus! I just do not know how. Whenever I am with others, I only think of how orcish axes slaughtered the people of old Tuurem. I am adrift in a sea of blood, cut off from the Holy Light. Is there any way to extinguish my hatred? No draenei knows of hatred, save for other ashem, and they are as mad as me.”
“Perhaps a human could help. My people have more experience in dealing with such matters. Some priests specialize in helping warriors who have seen too much bloodshed.”
“I see. I hope that is the case. Best, perhaps, to wait for proper facilities to be instituted here, but I cannot wait much longer. I can think of no greater thing than to be happy in the warmth of the Light. No greater thing, Brother Talus. You cannot know what it is like to have forgotten how to find it.”
“Humans are not as attuned with the Light as are the draenei. We too suffer from rage, fear, sorrow, and isolation. All of us do, throughout our entire lives.”
“How do you manage it?”
“Ever person does so differently. Some use humor, others fill their lives with work, loved ones, or pleasure. The choices are limitless. Sorrow is inevitable, so one must deal with it.”
“We draenei are not a people of choices. There is one path for us. I do not discount your suggestion, Brother Talus. I think there is merit in it. But it cannot be the whole solution.”
“Probably not. Forgive me for asking, but would you say that an ashem’s unhappiness may actually strengthen her faith in the long run? Many of the wisest saints and theologians in human history went through dark times in their lives.”
Balaa looked slightly incredulous.
“No. Sadness and hatred separate me from the Light. Nothing good can come of it. The ashem are sometimes helpful in a purely material sense by undertaking solitary missions for the greater good.”
“But are normal draenei completely free of dark emotions? I must admit I find that hard to believe.”
“It is not absent. Even the wisest may have occasional lapses. Perhaps, say, a vindicator feels great rage towards orcs. The faith of the draenei around him shall ease his dark thoughts. A draenei becomes ashem when the darkness festers. This is why we shun solitude; it is a terrible incubator for cruelty and selfishness.”
Throughout my travels, I’ve always tried to learn about the misfits and downtrodden of society. Whether it was the Unwanted of Ironforge, the peons of the Horde, or the tauren hadoham, their stories always fascinate me. My experiences as a Forsaken have led me to identify with them, at least to an extent.
The ashem are generally desperate to return to the fold and seem painfully aware of their problems. Balaa identified her hatred as one of the main reasons she could not “remember” the Light. This realization makes their situation all the more tragic. The ashem fully understand the difference between them and the status quo, but cannot figure out how to overcome it. Both the ashem and the community acknowledge the perceived need for separation, to avoid a potential spread of the ashem’s misery. I first thought that the overwhelming positivity of the community would outweigh the ashem’s sorrow. However, being distanced from the Light plays havoc with the ashem’s receptive empathy.
The concept of completely eliminating the offending emotion reinforced how alien the draenei really are. On a purely utilitarian level there does not seem to be anything wrong with it. Yet how many of the greatest human minds were motivated by a bit of misery or anger? The hadoham misfits of the tauren are an example of this, often acting as the innovators of society. But unlike the hadoham, the ashem appear too emotionally distraught to be innovators.
A scowling spirit’s face glared at me from a rough, wooden totem, one of several thrust into the ground. It is a far cry from the alien serenity of the draenic settlements on the island. Hollowed-out log huts and open cook fires fill the forest clearing, and crude ornaments of bone and twine dangle from the trees.
For thousands of years, the furbolgs of the Stillpine Tribe made their home in the foreboding wilderness of northern Azuremyst. They were content to forage and hunt for sustenance as their ancestors had done before them. Their world changed little in the time after the Sundering, until the Exodar’s apocalyptic arrival.
I came at a time of chaos for the ancient Stillpine Tribe. Ursine warriors bedecked in gray feather headdresses patrolled the area, their massive paws gripping stout spears. A line of tribesmen watched over the entrance to Stillpine Hold, the great cavern where much of the tribe had once lived, their weapons and snarling faces directed towards the opening. Also present were draenei, including a few shamans. Some draenei had learned bits of the Ursic tongue, allowing them to communicate with the reclusive Stillpine. None of the furbolgs spoke any Common, preventing me from conversing with them directly.
“I fear that our arrival was not very auspicious,” lamented Kiba, the shaman I had met earlier in Azure Watch. She was pleased to see me again.
“What’s the problem here? The furbolgs are clearly on guard.”
“The moonkin. They occupy the interior of Stillpine Hold. Fortunately, most of the tribe was conducting an outdoor festival at the time of the invasion. We are working with the furbolgs to reclaim their home, but the moonkin are savage and our resources limited. Victory is a given in this case, but it will take time.”
Kiba was trying to learn as much as possible about the furbolg school of shamanism, but the Stillpine elders were first obliged to restore order to their society. Another problem was the Bristlelimb Tribe, which dwells to the southwest and north of the Stillpine range. The Bristlelimb had been acting curiously aggressive in recent years, but only snapped into violence upon the Exodar’s arrival.
The Stillpine shamans hold to a prophecy that states dark times will come to Kalimdor, and that demon-spirits would corrupt animal and furbolg alike. Salvation, they say, shall be delivered by spirits of ice and metal. The armored draenic warriors and crystal-laden Anchorites fit this description fairly well, though I still consider the prophecy to be coincidence. Though the draenei are indirectly responsible for the island’s state, they are working to correct it. The Stillpine Tribe bears no resentment to the draenei, and regard their new neighbors as almost sacrosanct.
I only spent one night in Stillpine Hold. The furbolg did not appear happy about my presence; none had ever before seen a human. I stayed with the draenei, who had set up a trio of small tents on the village’s edge. There, I met with an stern-looking anchorite named Baruun. His duty was to learn about furbolg society, and see how it compared to the Light.
“The Stillpine really only lack the proper context, which is not really so important. They understand the essence of the Most Holy Light; they work for the good of the tribe.”
“Do you intend to teach them of the Light?”
“As I said, they already know of it. We shall simply introduce some of the faith’s larger context. Given the already holy nature of their society, I imagine they will fully embrace the Light in a few thousand years, and become similar to the draenei.”
“There will not be a conversion per se, I take it.”
“Not at all. The draenei will work through deeds, cultivating the holy tendencies of the Stillpine Tribe in a subtle manner. We are impressed with their selflessness; I think the humans could learn much from them.”
“Judging from the tapestry of history, our scholars have concluded that a society either grows more unified, inevitably bringing them closer to the Light, or more fractured and selfish. The furbolgs are in the former category.”
“What were the draenei like, before the Naaru?”
“We tended towards pride, which was connected with one’s arcane talent. The eredar lived in castes of varying levels of sorcerous ability. Our natural state is not really that much better than any other race; fortunately, constant exposure to the holy energies of the Naaru over the past 25,000 years have created a just society that prevents our darker tendencies from ever manifesting, assuming we do not spend too much time away from the community. That is one thing that concerns us about the shamans. Their interest in expanding the Light to the natural world is laudable, but they must remember that the natural state is not to be embraced.”
“Do you approve of the shamans?”
“Most certainly. The shamans were embraced by the Prophet Velen, who clearly sees great things in their future. Prophet Velen also agrees that shamans need some priestly oversight to be sure they do not tread into dangerous thought patterns. That is another duty of mine. The spirits are part of the Light, but they obey its precepts in their own way. The shamans must not confuse their way, appropriate for spirits, with our own.”
I would agree with Baruun that the fundamental state sapient beings is one of gross selfishness and cruelty. What he said about the shamans was illuminating. The draenei do permit new ideas, though only if they meet with the approval of Velen. Clearly, this suggests a degree of dynamism in the draenic thought process. What still troubled me was the fact that no one in the Exodar seemed to challenge the Holy Light. All scholarly discussion exists to reinforce it.
Please keep in mind that I am not saying the Light is false, or wicked. It is simply that such a vast consensus is utterly alien to my experience. The draenei say that all good societies will eventually progress to their level, and that frightens me. The human history of the Holy Light is full of brave souls who defied conventional wisdom, striking out with ideas that began as radical, and then became gradually accepted. At the same time, human religious history has more than its share of violent heretics and charlatans. But I believe there is worth in the individual. I can take comfort in the fact the draenei disavow forcible conversion. Perhaps the younger races of this world may surprise the draenei with positive and different methods of development.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Even after seeing the Exodar with my own eyes I could scarce believe its existence. Everything about it is beyond comprehension; a great crystal keep that had fallen in the remote Azuremyst Archipelago, bearing a cargo of saints and angels.
The first rumors described the Exodar as the vanguard of a new demonic invasion. Dissatisfied with the abilities of lesser demons, the dreadful eredar had come en masse. Then new stories began to circulate, refuting the tales of fiendish incursion. These described the Exodar as crewed by a faction of the draenei, the race that the orcs had nearly exterminated during their corruption. Far from demons, these draenei preached words of the Light.
I was living in Orgrimmar when the Exodar first came to Azeroth. At the time I dwelled with the troll mages, helping them in their studies. Prior to that I fought the Qiraji menace in Silithus for seven long months. I rejoiced along with my fellows when the bulk of the Qiraji force fell in the dust. Though C’thun and Its servants still rule in Ahn’qiraj, the attacking power of the insect empire is broken. Then the Horde and the Alliance, who had accomplished so much together, began to squabble over the arcane silithyst dust in the region. I left in disgust.
Orgrimmar became something of a home to me but I again grew restless. News of the Exodar grew too tantalizing to resist so I resolved to see it for myself. I hired a traveling orc warrior to go to Undercity and pick up more supplies for my disguise, which he did promptly.
The ferry to the Exodar had just opened when I returned to the melancholy night elf port of Auberdine. The Alliance was initially wary of the draenei and had only permitted government officials to visit the new arrivals. The Horde already knew that the draenei were members of the Alliance in all but name. Given their past history with the orcs, this came as no surprise. I spotted some visiting draenei on the docks, dressed in gleaming white robes. Their appearance struck me as reminiscent of eredar, perhaps explaining the initial tales of demons. The truth, I would soon learn, is much stranger.
The ferry, a refitted Kaldorei warship, cut through the stormy waters. Most of the passengers were elves, though gnomes, dwarves, and humans were also present. We exchanged wild speculation about the nature of the draenei. None of us really knew what to expect.
Two days passed on the misty waters of the Veiled Sea. The passengers disembarked from the ferry upon arrival, gazing in awe at the crystal mountain called the Exodar. I lingered at the back of the crowd, struck by a mild apprehension. Would these newcomers see through my disguise? I knew little of their capabilities aside from what the orcs told me, and their information was fragmentary and often contradictory.
A party of three joyful draenei ushered the visitors into a gleaming gate in the side of the Exodar. I separated myself, deciding to explore the crash site. I found surprisingly little in the way of debris. I examined the Exodar’s base, made of a smooth and silvery material with a texture similar to porcelain, though clearly much stronger. If the draenei had been the creators of such a marvel, the Horde’s days could well be numbered.
In time, I came to a spot where great plates and shards punctured the earth. A wall, formerly a piece of the Exodar, lay across the western side of the city. Crowds of blue-skinned draenei worked at various tasks, and the cold northern air rang lively with their musical tongue. Their size is indeed intimidating; while not as big as tauren, they are close.
I spotted a large white capsule on the ground, windows of bright pink glass placed along the circumference. I peered inside and saw six draenei in spotless white robes standing at attention.
“Hello, and welcome to the Exodar, Brother Human. Are you one of the recent arrivals?” asked one, in a booming voice.
“Yes. I became separated from the main group actually. Am I allowed in this area?”
“There are no secrets in the Exodar, and this is merely the Surface Chapel. I am called Naavis. I am a newly initiated Proselyte of the Faith. May I ask your name?”
“I am Talus Corestiam.”
“Excellent, excellent. Would you like me to show you into the Exodar?”
“I don’t wish to interrupt your studies.”
“There is no concern. I would not be fulfilling the dictates of the Infinitely Holy Light if I let a stranger wander lost. Here, let us go, unless you would wish to stay.”
“No, I’ll go. Thank you.”
“You are most welcome.”
Naavis strode out of the chapel as the five other draenei smiled and nodded in acknowledgement. I followed Naavis towards the gate of the Exodar.
The entrance hall to the Exodar (sometimes called the Holy Passage) is itself an amazing sight. The ceiling soars overhead like what one sees in a cathedral’s nave. Immense violet crystals thrust out from rifts in the walls, and lightning races across the tips. Threads of pink light are strung across the expanse like silken threads. The damage of the crash is evident but does not distract from the grandeur.
“The draenei... built all of this?” I asked.
“We have not. Many on this world think so, but the Holy Exodar was crafted by the wisdom of the Naaru. Have you heard of the Naaru?”
“People have been mentioning the name, but I do not truly understand what it means.”
“The Naaru are the pure and magnificent manifestations of the Light. For 25,000 years, the Naaru have guided the draenei. Everything that we have, we owe to them.”
“They are not draenei though?”
“No, not at all. There is a Naaru here in the Exodar. It is called O’ros. You may freely see O’ros if you wish. I strongly recommend it. I know that the human holy texts do not mention the Naaru, but we are certain that your Cassian was inspired by them.”
I again felt dumbfounded. The Naaru as living representations of the Light? I recalled the Najaru entities revered by the Ralmanni nomads of Deadwind Pass. Perhaps the Ralmanni seers had seen something that Cassian had missed.
After a long descent, the Holy Passage terminates at an immense, roughly hexagonal chamber. The floor's center is a circular opening surrounded by crystalline spires. Streams of purple light radiate from the portal and waft to the ceiling high above. Draenei walked all around, some of them waving at me.
“My brethren are pleased to have a visitor!” beamed Naavis.
“Thank you,” I said, waving back to my greeters. Gleaming arches of metal and glass waited on the other side, opening to shining sections deeper in the city.
“This is the Seat of the Naaru. O'ros dwells just below us. Its sacred energies power the Exodar, so that we may have light and warmth at all times.”
“This is not a technological construct, I take it?”
“Not as such. The Exodar is a sacred talisman, and the refuge of the draenei. We could go down to see O'ros, if you’d like, though do not force yourself. I am sure you are quite tired, and O'ros can be overwhelming to those that have never seen a Naaru.”
“Yes, I think I may visit It later. I’m sorry if I seem distant. I’m simply a bit overwhelmed.”
“Brother Talus, do not feel shame. It is only natural that you be surprised. Hmm... perhaps you would like to stay with my... what’s the word for it in Common... collective, I think? Yes, would you like to visit? You can meet my family there.”
“I do not wish to intrude—”
“How would that be an intrusion? It is an invitation.”
“All right then.”
“Splendid! I’m afraid that only Vaasya and myself speak Common, but we shall all be glad to see you.”
“Is Vaasya your wife?”
“She is... I wonder if sister is the right word? But that implies blood relation, no? Sister is the best I can think of. Perhaps seeing my family will better explain it. Follow me! We live in the Trader’s Tier.”
I walked with Naavis to the other side of the Seat. I detected a celestial hum in the pristine air and some of my anxiety lifted. The Trader’s Tier is another grand room, shaped a bit like an elongated trapezoid. Once again, giant crystals dominate, some rising up from cracks in the floor. Balconies crowd the walls, leading to homes and shops. On the ground floor are a number of bronze-colored structures filled with draenei. They resemble half-buried nautilus shells, though with sharper edges. In truth, I can think of no natural parallel.
“These structures look to be made of a different material than the rest of the Exodar,” I commented.
“You humans have very good eyes! These are built by the draenei, done in our traditional architectural style. Even for us, the great spaces of the Holy Exodar can be unnerving, so we build walls. Perhaps one day, with faith, we shall no longer need walls. For the time being they are useful, so long as the gates are always open.”
“What is the basis of your economy?”
“Why, it is the same thing upon which we base all the aspects of our society: the Most Holy Light. The purpose of shops and trade is to give us an opportunity to work for the benefit of others. After all, a mind unoccupied by prayer, love, study, or work, is one particularly susceptible to the Shadow. We strive to avoid this at all costs.”
“You do not do the work for your own benefit?”
“That which benefits others within the Light is also of a benefit to you or I. Labor should be a reflection of the Light.”
“Do you use money?”
“We do now. At first we only bartered, but that became inconvenient, especially when dealing with other nations and races. Money has its uses. I have heard there are individuals in human kingdoms that are very wealthy in terms of money, is this true?”
“Ah. Among the draenei, no individual is wealthy. All money earned by a single draenei is put in a collective's account. The money is normally used to purchase necessities, and for donations to the faith. When money is to be used, the families of the collective will meet and all mature members decide the most virtuous way with which to use the money.”
“What about luxury items?”
“As long as there is enough for basic comfort, we are satisfied. The Light charges us to seek joy in the companionship of others, not in material possessions.”
“I see. It sounds like a family would accumulate a great deal of unused money if they never buy anything besides the necessities.”
“Oh, not at all. The family will give most of the money it does not use to the faith.”
“How do they use the money?”
“Sometimes in dealing with other nations. Other times the money is simply recirculated or destroyed. Money among the draenei is really a formality.”
“Are there any poor draenei?”
“I take it you mean poor in a material sense?”
“There are none. Occasionally a family may miscalculate its funds, but that is no matter. They will continue to work until they reestablish their finances. If they cannot buy necessary goods, it will be happily provided to them.”
“There are no malingerers who fake poverty in order to get the benefits?”
“Um, forgive me, I do not understand your question. Are you talking about thieves? Some thieves lived among the orcs back in Draenor, but we never quite understood the phenomenon.”
“There are no thieves?”
“Why would we have thieves? No material needs are left unfulfilled.”
The draenic economy is a rather marvelous construct, albeit one that could never work for any other race. The draenei are communal and content, whereas humans (and other races) are greedy and ambitious.
Naavis led me past a cluster of hemispherical balconies built into a wall of glittering crystals, and then up a shallow stairway. We entered a series of narrow violet corridors, decorated with interweaving bronze strands.
“We are almost there, Talus,” announced Naavis. “My collective is called Pious Serenity.”
“That is a beautiful name.”
“When a collective is founded, it is named after a virtue or trait supported by the Most Holy. Mine is called Pious Serenity because we strive to be examples of the peace and prayerful attitudes created by the Light. Ah, here we are!”
I followed Naavis into a oval doorway, and found myself in a brightly lit room full of draenei. I was instantly the center of attention as nine of their number surrounded me. Some greeted me in halting Common. Naavis made enthusiastic introductions. This great draenei collective whirled around me for several minutes before Naavis spoke.
“I regret to say that I must leave you for now. I have duties that must be attended. Speak to Vaasya if you need anything; we shall do our best to make your stay comfortable.”
Naavis clasped his hands together as if in prayer, and bowed to me.
“May you walk the Path of the Light, for all your days,” he said.
The draenei continued to chatter excitedly while I tried to observe my surroundings. I stood in a triangular room lit by a trio of globular crystals on the ceiling. The furniture was sparse, consisting of a long gray table, chairs, and three bookcases each impractically shaped like a curved triangle. A female voice rose above the tumult, carrying a tone of gentle chastisement. The draenei withdrew, and the speaker approached me.
“I am Vaasya. We are very honored and excited to have a guest, please forgive them if they became overenthusiastic. I know that you humans are not always as comfortable with strangers as we draenei. Please, have a seat.”
“Thank you.” I took a chair at the table. “Where exactly did you learn Common?”
“From the humans that went through the Dark Portal, a little over 20 years ago though we met them more recently. They are truly a brave and pious breed. It is our privilege to have encountered them.”
“Did they inspire you to join the Alliance?”
“We prayed and meditated on it, and their actions were sufficient reasons for the Prophet Velen.”
I asked Vaasya to explain the concept of the collective.
“It is the basic social structure for all draenei societies. A collective is a union of three separate families. If one family stays to itself, it can become dangerously clannish. In a collective, many families will mix and better serve each other, bringing us closer to the Three Virtues.”
“Are you related by blood to Naavis?”
“I am not. However, he is like family, for he is part of Pious Serenity.”
“Are collectives formed by marriage?”
“No. Collectives are arranged by priests who specialize in this duty. When a young draenei comes of age and wishes to marry, she shall petition these elder priests. She and her husband will be placed on a list. When there is enough for a new collective, or if an existing collective has lost members to violence or accidents, the young couple will be married.”
“Is it traditional for an entire collective to share a home?”
“Actually it is not. In our old cities, a collective would inhabit three houses in close proximity to one another. This is one advantage of our new home; by living so close together, the collectives become stronger.”
“Do you have much interaction with other collectives?”
“We interact with others every day. If a collective fell into exclusionary practices it would be no better than a clan.”
Vaasya continued to explain the nature of the collective, while I tried to keep up. One fact truly sets the collective apart from other arrangements. When children come of age and marry, they leave the collective in which they are raised. This itself is not so unusual; the strange thing is that the child and his or her birth collective do not make any real attempt to keep in touch with each other. The parents do not appear to mind.
“But surely you wish to see your children,” I inquired to Vaasya. She had been a mother three times, over the course of two centuries.
“There are in another collective. Every collective is virtuous, so why should I be especially concerned?”
“Pardon me for my ignorance, it’s just that I’ve never heard of anything like this before. You really do not object to not seeing them?”
“No. Talus, the Light encourages love between all thinking beings. If I love my child too much, it could eclipse my love for the Light as a whole. Our priests say it is selfish to love relations and friends too much and they are right. The humans are not like this?”
“Not at all. In fact, the human Church of the Light states clearly that the strength of the Light is exemplified in a mother’s love for her child,” I explained.
Vaasya gasped, looking simultaneously disbelieving and alarmed.
“I admit I did not have as much contact with the humans on Draenor as I would have liked. I was not aware of this fact, though they did seem to form strong attachments to particular individuals.”
“That’s how it has always been with humans,” I explained.
“Interesting,” mused Vaasya.
“Do draenei have friends?”
“Naturally. I would be lying if I said I did not feel closer to those in my collective than to those in others, or if I said I did not have friends. There are draenei whose company I especially enjoy. But I love all who are within the Light.”
At first I suspected Vaasya was faking the indifference towards her distant children (she did not even know if her second child was in the Exodar), but other draenei parents to whom I spoke voiced the same nonchalance. This is not to say that draenei parents are apathetic; they are very attentive to their young while raising them. Children are celebrated in draenei culture. Yet once the child moves out, both parties usually move on. This struck me as a truly alien behavior. Parents and children may reunite at a later date, however this is usually coincidental rather than deliberate.
Three times a day, the voice of Velen emnates from the numberless crystals throughout the Exodar. Speaking in the ancient tongue of the draenei, he gives words of encouragement, hope, and wisdom. All draenei bow their heads reverently when he speaks. The speech is always brief. When the Prophet finishes, the entirety of the Exodar sings as one.
I recalled my time among the malformed and despairing draenei in the Swamp of Sorrows. They too had used draenethyst crystals in vocal rituals, yet theirs was a pale imitation of the glory I heard in Exodar. Each collective sings its own hymn, and the melodies somehow intertwine in perfection. The draenei state that this unison demonstrates the power of the Light at work.
“Each song is different, yet the guidance of the Light puts them in harmony,” stated Vaasya.
This custom is not limited to the Exodar; the buildings of the cities on Draenor had been capped with great pieces of draenethyst that acted as conduits for prayers. It is another example of the empathic ability of the draenei. The joy they feel in the Light has a very palpable effect on other draenei—indeed, on members of all thinking races. It could be described as an echo chamber of happiness.
Pious Serenity insisted that I stay with them throughout the entirety of my visit. All three families of the collective gather for the Night Prayer. Through the rest of the day, they go in and out of their apartment, working at other assigned tasks.
I was able to go wherever I wished. No place in the Exodar is off-limits. Everywhere I went, draenei smiled and greeted me in Common. Two days after arriving I went the hostel where the Alliance visitors were staying. I met an old human priest named Emnion, who seemed simultaneously dazed and euphoric. On the whole, he was quite impressed with the draenei.
“Truly, they live the Light,” he said.
“Their way of following the Light is not the same as humanity’s. Do you regard their version to be superior?”
“I’m not sure about that. Some things are a bit strange. I will be writing a full report to Archbishop Benedictus. The differences are ultimately insignificant. They follow the Three Virtues in a way that puts Stormwind to shame. We have much to learn.”
Before doing anything else I knew I had to learn more about draenic history. So much was unknown to me, and it was my hope that greater understanding could put things into their proper context. After joining Pious Serenity in the morning prayer, I went to the Crystal Hall. Much like the Trader’s Tier, the Crystal Hall is a chamber of staggering proportions. A great deal of draenei make their homes there. It is also where most of the historical records are kept.
A polite Exodar peacekeeper (it is perhaps redundant to call the peacekeepers polite) directed me to Soolam the Librarian. Short for a draenei, though still taller than I, Soolam was fluent in the Common tongue and happy to educate a human. What I learned was astounding to say the least.
Despite their name, the draenei did not originate on Draenor. Instead, they came from a world called Argus. Soolam, who was old enough to remember the ancient homeworld, described it as a place of green skies and storm-tossed silver oceans.
“In those days,” he said, “we called ourselves the eredar.”
“Excuse me, eredar? That is the name my people give to a race of demons.” I laughed nervously. “Quite a coincidence.”
“It is no coincidence. Allow me to explain. The eredar were a race of magicians. Some people follow kings, or priests, or wise men: we followed those with mastery over the arcane. Great were our citadels, rising from the tangled jungles and rocky islands of Argus. We had achieved mastery over all the world and there was nothing we could not do. We grew prideful,” he added, sorrowfully.
I nodded, not trusting myself to speak.
“The greatest of our number, who were like gods in power, were Velen, Archimonde, and Kil’jaeden: together we called them the Troika. And yes, it is with regret that I say Archimonde and Kil’jaeden are the same villains that have so vexed your world.”
“Why did Velen not follow their path?”
“Velen was always wiser. All three took care to protect those whose arcane skill was poor; before the rule of the Troika, those without magic were cruelly treated. The key difference between Velen and the others was that Archimonde and Kil’jaeden helped the weak to boost their own pride. Only Velen did it out of true compassion. It was inevitable that our power and arrogance would attract Sargeras, the Dark One. He tempted the Troika with promises of more knowledge. The eredar had grown bored and weary, you see. Having reached the apex of power, there was nothing for us to strive for. Sargeras offered us a new philosophical and arcane frontier.”
“Only Velen saw through this?”
“The Naaru came to Velen in a vision, and told him of what was to come. Even he, for all his wisdom, needed their holy guidance to see the truth. Velen gathered up a third of the eredar and followed the Naaru into sanctuary. This sanctuary took the form of a floating temple made of crystal, metal, and light, similar to the Exodar though much larger. On prayer and faith, it moved from world to world, seeking refuge from the Burning Legion. We wandered for thousands of years. On occasion, we would materialize in a world and stay there for a few decades before continuing. During this time, the vast majority of the refugees stayed in a state of sleep in the temple, a little bit like what your druids undergo. Only Velen and a few others remained in the waking world.”
“Why did you not stay on these worlds?”
“They were too easily accessed by the demons. Sargeras vowed to destroy us, as did Archimonde and Kil’jaeden. We hoped that by finding a remote world we could live in a place that the Legion would not think of looking closely. But it was not until Draenor that we found such a world. Draenor means 'exiles’ refuge' in our language, and that is why we renamed ourselves the draenei: the exiled.”
“I see. This is a bit of a shock to me, I must admit.”
“That has been said by all the humans who have learned our history. I know that it is a great deal to accept.”
“What inspired you to follow Velen?” I asked.
“My ability to use magic was limited. For me, Velen offered hope and inclusion, a society where I would not be truly accepted in spite of my inability. All are equal in the Light and my faith has allowed me to use it with great proficiency. The arcane is still important for us, but it is only a tool. It does not guide us.”
“Was there ever any intent to confront the Legion?”
“We have every intent of doing so,” smiled Soolam. “Holy Velen has told us of the Army of Light that shall defeat the Legion. We draenei are an integral part of this army. Velen guided us to Azeroth so that the Alliance races—perhaps in time, the races of the Horde as well—will join us. Because the draenei figure importantly in the plans of the Naaru, we could not afford to risk ourselves in an open confrontation, though we were certainly tempted. We must have faith in the wisdom of the Naaru. To do less is to fall into the arrogance of old.”
I thanked Soolam for his time and left the library. Accepting that the draenei and eredar stem from the same race is not really so difficult; the Forsaken and the Scourge are both undead after all. Yet other facts are harder to comprehend. The Army of Light prophecy puts the struggles for Azeroth in a new context.
Other questions arise for followers of the Light. Are the faithful of Azeroth supposed to accept the guidance of the Naaru and Prophet Velen unconditionally?
As I pondered these questions I nearly collided with a stunted draenei carrying a pick. His appearance was obviously and grotesquely different from the other draenei in the Exodar; in fact, he resembled the miserable draenei of the Harborage that I had encountered so long ago.
“Excuse me, Brother Human,” he apologized with a bow.
“You needn’t apologize.” I tried to think of a polite way to ask him why he looked the way he did. “What is your name?”
“Omon. I am one of the Broken.”
“When Draenor shattered, some of the draenei suffered adverse effects. I am Broken because I can no longer use the Most Holy Light, though I am still a part of it. The Prophet Velen, in his infinite mercy, has given my people a home on the Exodar.”
“Are there many Broken here?”
“We number over a thousand strong. Farseer Nobundo speaks for us, though Velen’s guidance is so insightful that we scarcely have a need for an intermediary. If I may ask your name, Brother Human?”
“Very good, Brother Talus. I am on my way to the Crystal Mine. Would you care to see? Much good work goes on there, as we labor for the greater benefit of the draenei, and all those who dwell within the Most Holy Light.”
“I’d be honored.”
Omon nodded and led me to a great rift in the side of the Crystal Hall. Beyond that is a rocky tunnel studded with shining crystal growths. Broken miners busily chip away at the crystals through the day, singing hymns as they work. I only spotted one normal draenei, engaged in discussion with one of the Broken. I wondered if I’d stumbled onto some sort of draenei underclass, though the Broken seemed happy enough.
“The Exodar carried the sacred draenethyst crystals, which can grow if properly tended. We are at work harvesting the current batch and expanding the mine. Draenethyst grows on the surface as well, but it causes some disruption with your world’s nature. Thus, we work underground.”
Omon introduced me to some of the other Broken, who happily received me. Only Omon could speak any Common. The mine itself is strange and wondrous, much like the rest of Exodar. Crackling streams of violet energy dart from node to node, though they pass harmlessly through the Broken.
The work in the Crystal Mine is as labor intensive as any other mining operation. The Broken approach their task with tireless alacrity. Some work on expanding the mine, while others (like Omon) concentrate on clearing out nodes. Draenethyst requires an extensive purification process before it becomes suitable for use. The holiest priests will pray over a harvested crystal for ten days, during which it rests in a bubbly azure formula. Only the core of the crystal is used, so the miners do not need to exercise great care in removing nodes.
Omon unexpectedly invited me to spend the night in the barracks where the Broken reside. Unlike the normal draenei, the Broken do not live in collectives. I accepted the offer and briefly returned to Pious Serenity to inform them where I would be. When I told Vaasya, she smiled at me gently.
“Ah, Brother Talus. You humans show such mercy even to the Broken. Truly you are our companions in the Most Holy Light.”
The barracks are a colossal structure consisting of several long rooms, each one given a number. Omon dwelled in Number 14. Inside, a long table goes down the middle, cots laid out on either side. A great kitchen and several washrooms adjoin Number 14.
Omon and the other miners on his crew gathered for an evening meal consisting of magically conjured bread.
“Our lives here are simple and good. On Draenor, many thought us lost, yet Velen saw a future for us.”
Each barracks has a preserver, who is a normal draenei priest responsible for monitoring the spiritual state of the Broken. The preserver for Number 14 was Dalraa, an intense woman who had been born on Draenor.
“I am glad you have expressed curiosity about the Broken. Theirs is a sad fate, and we pray for them daily,” she said.
“They seem to be quite pious,” I observed.
“They are, yet fel energies course through their nerves. The natural state of the Broken is more akin to that of a demon. The remnants of our world are ravaged by bands of violent Broken, destroying and killing all that they see. Only through constant prayer and observation can they join normal draenic society.”
“Why are they all miners?”
“While the degeneration they suffered has affected their mental acuity, they are actually stronger than normal draenei. The Broken have provided an excellent source of physical labor, which also gives the a way of rejoining the community.”
“Is there any way to reverse the process of degeneration?”
“Possibly. The, uh, shamans are researching that.”
“Yes. Perhaps you saw their sacred stones in the Crystal Hall. The Broken claim a kinship with the spirits of nature, saying that they are better able to see it. The theory goes that the spirits might heal them.”
After the meal, the miners joined in the city-wide evening prayer and then retired for the evening. Omon insisted that I take his cot while he slept on the floor. I declined, saying that he needed the rest, and soon convinced him. Dalraa then intervened, saying that I should take the bed.
“The importance of compassion and selflessness cannot be overstated enough, especially for the Broken,” she chided. “Omon has made the moral decision, and I think it best that it be followed.”
The lights of Number 14 faded into darkness as I lay on the bed. Omon snored peacefully on a rug a few feet away. Something disturbed me about the way the Broken were treated, but I could not really find any fault with it. Perhaps part of me suspected that the Broken were not really so mentally damaged, but everything I had seen suggested that they are intellectually weaker than their unmutated brethren. Physical labor was the job to which they were best suited. The worst thing that could be said about the draenei attitude towards the Broken is that it is patronizing.
I realized that what frightened me about draenic society is the overpowering consensus. Unlike the totalitarian regimes of the Dark Iron Empire, or the mental dominance of the Scourge, the draenei have achieved unity by each individual willingly committing him or herself to the Light.
A reasonable comparison would perhaps be to the tauren. Both races have a strongly communal bent, though with the draenei it is far more comprehensive, at least within a single community. As I would learn later, not all draenic groups are in complete agreement though most still hold to roughly the same ideals.
Still pondering what I had seen, I bid goodbye to Omon the next morning and went to learn about the draenic shamans. The shamans in the Exodar gather around four stations, called elemental links, located throughout the Crystal Hall. Each link is dedicated to one primal element. Each station surrounds a large standing stone decorated with an abstract rune that represents “the world within the Nether."
The purpose of an elemental link is to communicate with the corresponding spirits in the area. For instance, the air link is used to understand the state of the local air. Supposedly, the four links’ range covers the entirety of the Azuremyst Archipelago. The links were not yet fully operational at the time of my visit, as even the premier draenei shamans had only a few years of experience.
I spoke with a wizened Broken shaman named Kotoor. He had been a great mage in the ancient draenic capital of Shattrath City, before falling victim to the mutations that cursed his people.
“I’ve been told that shamanism is a recent development among the draenei.”
“Oh yes, very recent, yes. You know Nobundo?”
“I’ve heard the name. He is the first shaman, correct?”
“Truly. He first understood the spirits a few years ago. The Light is gone from our sight and hands. With the spirits we find new balance. It similar to the community of believers that all of the Faithful experience each day.”
“Do you view it as a replacement for the Light?”
“Never! Never, never! Always, we will remember the Light. Some of the priests said it was a moral flaw that led us to this sorry fate; if such is the case, than we must try all the harder to make restitution. The natural state of the Broken is one of isolation, which leads to selfishness and cruelty in every case. But when we heard the spirits, and combined it with the knowledge of the Holy Light, we found a new sense of unity.”
The shamanism of the draenei is better understood as an extension of, rather than an alternative to, the Holy Light. The Broken see it as the only real path they have. Interestingly enough, shamanism is by no means exclusive to the Broken; the mantle has also been taken by unmutated draenei. Normal draenei shaman tend to take the syncretism of shamanism and the Light to an even greater level than their Broken mentors. I would learn more about this after I left the Exodar.
In total, I spent a week in the holy city. Seven days is not nearly enough time to really understand the draenei (or any other race). My residence continued to be Pious Serenity, though I must confess that I began to feel discomfited there. I was simply uneasy about accepting so much generosity, despite the fact that the members of Pious Serenity were entirely willing to share it. This is in no way a criticism of my hosts; the fault lies entirely with my own unfamiliarity with such behavior.
The Exodar’s history deserves some explanation. Though I had learned of its Naaru origins early on, it was not until later that I was told the damaged sanctuary had been part of a much larger structure called Tempest Keep. Around five months ago, the Naaru sent Tempest Keep to retrieve the draenei. These plans were thwarted when a faction of blood elves seized control of the refuge. This came as quite a shock, and a source of no small concern. Before leaving Orgrimmar, I had learned that the Horde was in some kind of negotiation with the resurrected kingdom of Quel’thalas. If the blood elf nation is responsible for such an action, I would say the Horde is obliged to sever relations with the elves.
No less a figure than Prince Kael’thas Sunstrider had led the attack on Tempest Keep. He had somehow succeeded against the lone Naaru within. Velen led a counterattack and retook the sacred Exodar, one of Tempest Keep's four satellite structures. The three remaining satellites are still in Outland, under blood elf control.
Much of the recent history of the draenei was explained to me by Vaasya, early one morning over breakfast. Most draenei meals are exceedingly simple. A type of bland millet, called saba, is served in a large bowl, sometimes mixed with meat or vegetables. Saba is the staple of the draenei and is mass produced through divine means. The Naaru gave sacred green crystals to the draenei thousands of years ago. These crystals actually grow food; most create saba, though some produce vegetables. The food crystals are powered by the collective prayers of a draenei community. They are attuned specifically to the draenei, meaning that other races cannot use this food production technique.
“My people were still in hiding when the blood elves came through. Have you met any of them, Brother Talus?”
“Did you sense the fel horror that inundates their bodies? Even from a distance, we knew that they were to be avoided. Yet we did not realize the level of their depravity until they moved against the Naaru. To actually take arms against the Holy! I never imagined such a thing possible for anything other than a demon. It is the opinion of many draenei that the blood elves are effectively demons at this point.”
“The blood elves are aligned with Illidan, correct?”
“They came with him. We know relatively little about Illidan. He fights demons, but he is one himself. Truly it is sad that our world has suffered so much: Ner’zhul, Gul’dan, Magtheridon, and now Illidan and Kael’thas. Yet through the worst, we keep our faith,” she smiled.
I spent the rest of the day with Vaasya’s husband, Dolos. Dolos was an artist who worked with others of his profession. He could not really speak Common, but was quite happy to have me along for the day.
The studio in which Dolos worked specialized in creating the subtle art used by the draenei. Draenic visual art consists of designs incorporated into the architecture, or into items like carpets and tables. The art is often symbolic and abstract in nature.
That day, the art team worked on plans for creating an tapestry of complex, interweaving lines that was to be placed in the chapel where I had first met Naavis. One of Dolos’ peers, a woman named Selees, explained the principles of draenic art.
“Given the length of time for which the humans have followed the Holy Light, I doubt there is significant difference in our respective peoples’ artistic styles. Our art is done to explain and remind the draenei of the Light. It facilitates prayer. These interconnecting designs that we work on symbolize the way all the peoples of the universe are connected in the Light.”
“I see. Much human art is an attempt to recreate the likenesses of famous people, locations, or events. Like pictures of Cassian, who first brought the Light to our race. Do the draenei do this.”
“No. It is not proper to elevate a single person. Why would one in the Light be so much more holy than another? Prophet Velen, perhaps, but he knows the folly of individualism.”
“You do not make art that realistically represents the draenei?”
“We do, at times. But it is never a specific person. While the portrayal may appear to be of an individual on the surface, it symbolically represents the community. Humans really make art that specifically shows individuals?”
“Yes, as do many other races.”
“I apologize, I do not mean to criticize. It is simply strange to me. If use of places and events in art helps faith among the races of this world, I would encourage it with all my heart! Though making art of a person is—well, I should not say. Consult with the priests. They are trained for such things.”
The draenei do not have a concept of individual art. All art—whether it is visual, musical, or verbal—is created by multiple people. To the draenei, an artistic work created by a single person is a gross self-indulgence. They believe that all art should reflect the Light both in subject matter and in the process of its creation. By coming from multiple artists, the finished work is better able to reflect the Light and the draenic community of belief. Visual art is usually, though not always, abstract.
Creative endeavors like plays or stories are highly symbolic in nature. In all honesty, they are incredibly dull and pedantic, lacking any kind of nuance. Characters in these stories have no personality or motivation. Instead, they exist to illustrate religious or philosophical principles. Draenic novels do not exist. Plays are preferred for the immediacy that they bring to the audience. Short stories (parables, really) also have some popularity. Much like the visual art, stories are created by committee. The reader should not be surprised to find that there is no real innovation in draenic art. It has stayed more or less the same for over 20,000 years.
The Prophet Velen resides in the Vault of Lights. Unlike the blue and violet tones in the rest of the Exodar, the Vault of Lights is gold. White crystals hang from the ceiling, pulsing with sacred light. It is there that Velen explores the pathways of the future. Velen cannot see the entirety of the future; he can only see the possibilities immediately ahead. From these, he selects the one most beneficial to the Holy Light.
Also in the vault is a strange museum consisting of illusory recreations of the Burning Legion’s demonic races. Created in exacting detail, each display gives information about a particular demonic type. I was a bit disappointed to find that almost nothing was mentioned of these demons’ respective cultures and histories. The draenei do not consider such things worth knowing. I had encountered some of the demons before, though others, like the monstrously graceful shivarra priestesses, were unknown to me.
The draenei priests, called anchorites, do much of their work in the vault. The priests do not actually play a major role in governance, as most issues are settled by collectives or work committees. Anchorites may be called in to act as judges, in order to determine the choice that best follows the precepts of the Light.
“We do not govern, for there is little need. All draenei walk in the Light, meaning that they understand the importance of unity and peace. All draenei are priests; anchorites are simply those with the strength and experience to lead and focus the prayers on which draenic society depends,” explained one jovial priest named Altus.
Altus helped to answer my questions about the nature of draenic communalism.
“Because we have lived in the Holy Light for so long, we have developed great empathy for those around us. This is why draenei are joyful; to do otherwise would sow misery among the faithful,” said Altus. “I do not speak figuratively either. Sadness among the draenei has a very real emotional effect on those around him or her.”
“Do any draenei become unhappy?”
“It is unlikely, so long as the draenei stays within a collective, which itself stays in the larger community of the faithful. When so many joyful draenei are together, it prevents unhappiness. This is why we discourage draenei from traveling alone. When they are cut off, they may become unhappy. In severe cases they become what we call the ashem, which translates as the forgetful. They have forgotten the Light. Fortunately, they can be reminded of it,” he smiled.
“How are they repatriated?”
“They are cared for by priests and by specialized collectives. Currently, there are none of these operating on the Exodar, and we have an unusually high number of ashem. This is a regrettable statistic, but once stability is achieved we can concentrate on reestablishing the institution.”
“Would the recent stresses of the war be responsible for the creation of so many ashem?”
“You are very perceptive, Brother Talus. Such is indeed the case.”
“How successful are the repatriation attempts?”
“A 90% success rate! I was in one myself. Centuries ago I fought in the Ogre War, and spent far too much time alone on long scouting missions. I did not return to the Light for over 50 years, sad to say.”
“Your fortitude is admirable.”
“It is the Light’s mercy and grace that is truly admirable, my human friend.”
“What of those who cannot be repatriated?”
“Well, I do not believe any ashem are completely beyond repatriation. Some merely find it difficult. My own took half a century! Having been an ashem myself, I can say that all seek to return to the fold. Still, it can be hard. Ashem are part of the community. They are merely encouraged to avoid tainting the emotional state of others. Because of this, they often take solitary sojourns into the wilderness.”
“Wouldn’t that worsen their state?”
“It can, but the ashem themselves would agree that they cannot sadden members of their collective with their presence. If one collective suffers grief, it could spread to others. No draenei wishes that, the ashem least of all. They know too well their own suffering, and do not want to inflict it on anyone else.”
More than any other race, the draenei are an enigma to me. That their civilization is glorious, there can be no doubt. Is this the end result of a society that serves the Light? One could reasonably state that such a communal mindset is the very definition of the Holy Light. There is much to admire in the draenei, but at the same time I am unnerved by their focus on the group.
I believe in the Holy Light, yet my belief is rooted in human thought, distilled by my experience as one of the undead. Human and dwarven priests speak much of the individual’s power. Should such words be ignored? I think not. The draenei are a race of saints, but they are alien saints. If humanity, or trolldom, or elvenkind is to reach a similar pinnacle of civilization, I imagine it will be quite different from what the draenei have achieved.
If I were made to choose between peace and conformity on one hand, and uncertainty and freedom on the other, I would choose the latter. Perhaps this is a sentiment that can only truly be believed by Forsaken and goblins. Nonetheless, I am obliged to consider the draenic way. They are a much older and wiser race than humanity. How can I say that this civilization is not something to which other races should aspire? How can I be sure that my objections are based on anything other than pride and selfishness?
I do not think other races shall ever willingly surrender their independence. Such a selfless society, for them, could only be brought about by force, thus making it antithetical to the Holy Light. Still, honest people cannot walk away from the Exodar without examining their own beliefs.
Pious Serenity bid me a safe journey as I left. Never before had I met such gracious and enthusiastic hosts. They said that I was welcome to return at any time. Naavis went with me as I left the Exodar. As we walked, I remembered the Naaru O’ros. Naavis had recommended I see It, but I never did. Mercifully, Naavis made no mention of O’ros as we walked up the Holy Passage. When we reached the surface, he said a prayer for me before returning to the sanctity of the Exodar.