Sunday, March 9, 2008
I agreed with the vindicator’s exclamation. Two clusters of Exodite crystals flank the start of the road into Bloodmyst, their purity visibly sullied. From a distance, the crystals appear to be covered in blankets of red flesh. Closer examination reveals something even stranger. The corruption spreads from the crystal’s interior to the surface. The veins winding through the crystal are actually vines, apparently attracted and tainted by the crystal’s energies.
“I knew there was much trouble in this land, but I had no idea it was this bad. Quickly, brothers and sisters! We have no time to waste!”
I was with a group of five draenei sent to reinforce the beleaguered outpost of Blood Watch. I was glad for the company. I felt trepidation merely looking at Bloodmyst Isle from Azuremyst’s north coast. At night, a harsh red glare emanates from Bloodmyst’s surface, coloring the darkened horizon.
The southeastern section of Bloodmyst Isle is relatively untainted. In earlier times, elves called the island Silvergale. Despite the pleasant name, it has always been an ill-omened place, a refuge for satyrs and dark spirits from before the Sundering.
The temperature rises steadily as one nears the interior of Bloodmyst Isle, caused by an enervating warmth that rises up from the soil. The draenei were cautious but undaunted. Vindicator Seruu, a battle-scarred draenei, nurtured the confidence of his followers. For once, they did not sing hymns. Seruu knew of the dangers that lurked in the forest, and saw no reason to draw their attention. The arcane energies of the Exodar had mixed with the fel taint of the blood elves, resulting in the horrific contamination surrounding us. When we came to a channel filled with crimson water, we knew we were nearing the heart of corruption. Seruu shook his head sadly at the sight.
The land beyond is a loathsome mix of decay and fecundity. The weird energies that scar Bloodmyst have not stunted plant growth; in some cases, they seem to have accelerated it. At one point, we stopped to camp near a patch of blossoming wildflowers that gave off a foul odor. In the morning, they lay in mushy heaps of detritus even as new growth arose from ruins.
Even Seruu, for all his strength, grew weary from the heat and the weight of his armor. The forest thickens deeper in, the trees perforated with glowing red crystalline shards. Vines stretch across the ground, but are so soft that they create no impediment. We literally walked through them, a nauseating plant ichor soon drenching our clothes.
Two days of marching through those miserable environs at last brought us to Blood Watch. Much like Azure Watch to the south, Blood Watch was built from the remains of a pod cluster. The draenei there soon realized that something was terribly wrong.
“Strange new world of course; heh, maybe everything is supposed to be red and glowing? We detected the fel energies soon enough, and the numerous blood elf patrols confirmed our fears.”
I was speaking with Vasalyan, a mage who would be my main contact at Blood Watch. Only a handful of the draenei there could speak Common. Vasalyan was entirely fluent. He had been among the first draenei to meet with the remnants of the Alliance Expeditionary Force.
A large draenethyst crystal stands on a dais in the center of Blood Watch. It is typical for draenic towns to be centered around a particularly fine specimen of draenethyst. The scarlet corruption blooming out from the crystal’s interior is less typical. Vasalyan explained that the fouled crystal no longer amplified the spirituality of the people’s prayers.
“There’s no point in getting a new one until we make some headway in cleaning this island. A fresh crystal will simply be corrupted in a few weeks’ time. We can do without. Draenethyst is important, but the Most Holy Light is not dependent on any material object.”
Armored soldiers keep vigil in Blood Watch at all times. The official draenei army is called the Hand of Argus, and must surely count as the one of the most battle-hardened forces in existence. The millennia of wandering experienced by the draenei was not without its share of strife; more than once, demons made raids onto the barren and usually uninhabited worlds where the draenei occasionally settled. Even the younger warriors had tested their mettle against ogres, orcs, and blood elves.
Another red-litten night descended over Bloodmyst Isle, and I retired to the care center. I spent much of the next day with Vasalyan. He was around 13,000 years old, and was born on a world called Keosol.
“I still feel a bit of longing for it at times. We stayed there for 500 years, enough time to grow fond of it. It was not actually a very pleasant place; it is a world of corrosive air and endless blue sands. One could only venture outdoors with heavy arcane shielding. Still, it had a glorious sky, one of a thousand dark colors fading into each other.”
“Did the Burning Legion take it?”
“A few of them came, but nothing lived on Keosol aside from us. Nothing of interest to keep the demons there. I hope you get to see it some day, Brother Talus. An eerie place, but beautiful nonetheless. It is wise to try and find beauty in that which is dark. Not evil, of course, just dark.”
“Interesting. I must admit I would not have expected to hear that from a draenei.”
“You think it contrary to the Light?” he asked, sounding a bit alarmed.
“Not at all. I agree that it is wise. It’s probably more indicative of my relative unfamiliarity with your culture.”
“Most draenei would perhaps doubt my opinion. Still, I explained this to the anchorites when I was young, and they found nothing suspect about this viewpoint. Thus, it is not contrary to the greater good. Now, if I found beauty in that which was evil, that would be a big problem. That would make evil acceptable in my eyes. However, by finding beauty in gloom, I can transform it into joy, helping the Light. Do you understand what I mean?”
“I think so. It’s a good concept. Would other draenei consider it a form of individualism?”
“No, they would not. It is not divergent or selfish. The idea is an acceptable part of the community, and potentially beneficial to the Light. Perhaps not all are inclined to the idea. Not all draenei are inclined to be vindicators either, but this does not make them any less valuable.”
I felt a bit relieved at hearing this. Vasalyan’s accepted divergence demonstrated that the draenei do not march in total lockstep. For them individualism seems to specifically mean selfishness, or behavior so unusual that it spreads doubt or confusion. The draenei may not have dissidents, but they at least have eccentrics.
As an experienced arcanist, Vasalyan was able to teach me much about his race’s attitude towards magic. I may have underemphasized the importance of magic in draenei society in earlier chapters. While secondary to the Holy Light, the draenei nonetheless place great stock in arcane power. Curiously, the draenei church has never regarded magic as inherently corrupting.
“My impression was that the Light represented a vastly different way of life from the magocratic civilization of Argus,” I said. It was noon, and the two of us stood at the edge of the settlement scanning the crimson forest for signs of activity.
“Certainly, but we draenei could not ignore magic. I think, as the humans might say, it is in our blood. We have done it for so long, you see. Anyway the arcane is simply a force, like gravity or magnetism. Do you know what those are?”
“Yes. A gnomish scientist named Flimmer Sparkwhizzle discovered the former, and a goblin engineer named Nug Moglobbet found out about the latter.”
“Ah! Good, good. The arcane certainly has its dangers, but so do most things. As long as reasonable precautions are taken, there is no harm.”
“What are some of these precautions?”
“Faith in the Light. We have observed mages of other races, and they often speak of—or more unfortunately, demonstrate—individuals that fall prey to ambition and lust for power. Yet why should a draenei mage want power? He is already part of the Light, and with fellow believers. There’s nothing more he could want, except to serve the community. The extent to which he serves that community is up to his peers.”
“Does the Light place limits on how much one can know of the arcane?”
“Naturally. We are not oblivious to the dangers of magic. However most everything about magic is already understood. There are other avenues, but they lead to demonology and darker thought patterns, and are thus not worth exploring.”
“Has anyone tried to explore it?”
“I should say not! Perhaps the eredar have.”
“So your people have not seen any significant evolution in magic for some time.”
“We have already achieved something very close to arcane mastery. Research is done, but it is to make arcane usage safer, so that it may be of greater benefit to the Light.”
Though it perhaps fallacious of me to question the wisdom of such an old race, I do wonder about Vasalyan’s statement. Azerothian mages have consistently developed and uncovered new information over the years. I know for a fact that draenei mages are not, in any individual scale, much more powerful than other arcanists. Most of the draenei mage’s efforts go towards aiding the community, and streamlining the existing process. No revolutions in arcane studies have occurred for tens of thousands of years.
The crystal-studded citadel called the Rising Reconciliation is the nerve center of Blood Watch. Here, the exarchs and vindicators make plans to renew the ravaged Bloodmyst Isle. Vasalyan showed me around the Rising Reconciliation. As the most experienced mage in the settlement, he was obliged to spend much of his time there.
Blood Watch faced more than its fair share of threats during my visit. The most immediate concern were the berserk moonkin that rampaged through the forests. Enraged moonkin are no match for armored draenic soldiers, but the creatures’ constant harrying of patrols was destabilizing renewal efforts. The Sin’dorei pose a more formidable menace. Initially, it was believed that most of the elves had been slain before the Exodar’s landing.
“Yet somehow, the forests filled up with those lost souls! We do not think that there could have possibly been so many on board the Exodar; only a handful committed the sabotage.”
“Why are there so many then?”
“Two possibilities: one is that an entire army of them remained hidden, which is unlikely in the extreme. The other is that they are getting reinforcements somehow.”
“That we do not know, if it is indeed the case. Most likely a portal to Outland. Given the recklessness with which the blood elves practice magic, I would not be surprised if even worse entities came through such portals,” warned Vasalyan.
I was given the chance to observe the draenic method of local governance. Obedient to their leader as they were, it would clearly be foolish to consult Prophet Velen on every matter. When local disputes arise they revolve around utilitarian matters; the one I witnessed involved deciding the best strategy for securing the area around Blood Watch. Not being able to understand Draenic, I had to rely on Vasalyan’s account of what was said.
When disagreement arises in the community, the draenei will convene a troika, named in honor of Argus’ ancient rulers. The factions in the community will elect a particularly wise or experienced draenei from their number to act as a champion. The majority faction (sometimes only a plurality) gets two champions. The minority receives only one.
Draenei debates are only loosely structured, though they do have a four-hour limit. This represents the four days that Velen spent trying to convince his peers to shun the Legion. Being outnumbered, the minority speaker faces an uphill battle though it is not unheard of for the minority speaker to win. When this happens, the draenei will say that he “followed in the Prophet’s lead,” because Prophet Velen himself was a correct minority speaker.
Unlike most other races, draenei seem to lack egos. Their arguments are based solely on the cause, not on their own pride or standing. This is why, after the debate is concluded, the entire community will happily band together to do what is necessary regardless of their earlier opinions.
There is a strong empathic element to the discussion as well. As one side approaches victory, the confidence felt by that side spreads to the audience. Fortunately, the emotional aspect does not come into play until the closing of the argument nears. To have achieved such a strong emotional base, the speaker must have already successfully defended his position with facts and logic. At the same time, it also means that if a minority speaker is losing towards the end of the debate, it is essentially impossible for him to pull a last minute victory.
Normally, the entire community will assemble to watch the debate, but Blood Watch’s precarious position made this impractical. Even so, the interior of Rising Reconciliation quickly filled with viewers. The debate itself had an oddly relaxed air. Whatever their disagreements, they were still draenei, and companions in the Light. It ended in less than an hour. The community had decided to aggressively exterminate the moonkin presence, and to establish forward bases to keep the blood elves on the defensive.
“I hope our elven friends will not be too upset in regards to the moonkin,” sighed Vasalyan, a while later.
“It doesn’t seem like you have much of a choice.”
“We do not. The moonkin appear to be sapient, on at least a very basic level. That makes our task all the more difficult, in a moral sense. Yet we must march on, with faith.”
Vasalyan sighed gloomily as he studied the remnants of the moonkin village. The Hand of Argus had driven the moonkin out in a hail of bullets and sorcery, killing a fair number. The creatures left behind the hollowed out trees that they use as dwellings, along with a nightmarish idol. Crowned by a yellowish moonkin skull, the figure was made of sticks bound together with twine, decorated with bones and feathers.
“Again, we are deeply sorry for this,” said Vasalyan.
“Do not concern yourself overmuch. These creatures are beyond even Elune’s grace now.”
The speaker was Dalferrin Shadowstream, a Druid of the Talon who had just flown in from Darnassus. He came as a messenger from the Kaldorei authorities, telling the draenei that they had permission to destroy the rogue moonkin.
“Everything about this is very strange,” Dalferrin commented. “These draenei—who are related to some of the worst demons of all—arrive on our world wreaking untold havoc on these islands. Then they ask us for permission to kill Elune’s favored creatures—who are only driven mad because of the draenei—and we grant it.”
It was dusk. The draenei had finished clearing away the remnants of the village so as to prevent the moonkin from returning. Dalferrin watched their activities from the edge of the clearing, looking grim. Dalferrin maintained a diplomatic facade when speaking with Vasalyan, but was clearly troubled by his mission.
“You think the draenei should let have let the moonkin be?”
“No. I concede that they had no real choice. It simply irks me. The more we Kaldorei get involved in the affairs of others, the farther we fall from our duties. There was a time that the full resources of the Cenarion Circle would be used to restore this land. Now, we give it to newcomers who know very little about this world.”
“May I ask who sent you here?”
“Archdruid Staghelm. I know he is a... controversial figure. Still, he understands the value of allies. He’s right; the draenei should be allowed to protect themselves. That said, I cannot imagine how any druid could see Bloodmyst without feeling outrage.”
“Does the Cenarion Circle know about this?”
“They do by now. However they’re far too busy. Many are still in Silithus, trying to destroy C’thun. I’ve heard that nearly a third of the remainder has gone to Outland to try and restore it.”
“As far as I can tell it’s true.”
“That sounds like a noble goal.”
“It is foolish to go and heal another world when our own is suffering. Felwood, Silithus, the Plaguelands, and now this! I disagree with Staghelm on a number of issues, but at least he stays focused on the affairs of this world.”
Dalferrin had a wealth of information when it came to Bloodmyst Isle’s turbulent history. He himself had been born in Astranaar a scant few centuries after the Sundering. His father (who had perished during the Third War), had hailed from the fallen city of Loreth’aran on Bloodmyst.
“To hear him tell it, Loreth’aran was a city like no other. The Green Dragonflight adored the lords of the city. So great was dragonflight’s love for Loreth'aran that some even lent their services to its defense. Elves would actually ride dragons into battle!”
“Truly formidable. Why were the green dragons so fond of this city?”
“That was a secret the city founders took to their graves.”
When the War of the Ancients began, said Dalferrin, Loreth’aran had immediately sided with the forces of Archdruid Malfurion. The city had been one of the few areas that actually respected the Cenarion Circle, and the druids held great influence over local politics. The dragon riders annihilated any invading forces, and even made daring raids on the mainland.
Just as dragons ensured the city’s survival, it was dragons that ultimately destroyed it. Towards the end of the war, the Black Dragonflight came and razed Loreth’aran to the ground, slaughtering the dragon riders. Many believe that Queen Azshara had somehow summoned the black dragons, but no one really knows why the attack took place. The Sundering came mere months later. Loreth’aran’s spires and temples crumbled on the ocean floor. A few ruins remain on the surface; some on Bloodmyst’s north coast, and others on the desolate Wyrmscar Island nearby.
“How did your father survive?”
“He was fighting under Malfurion at the time. His heart always longed for Loreth’aran, but he could never bring himself to visit the ruins. Many of those born before the Sundering avoid the places of their youth, I’ve found.”
Bloodmyst’s history did not end there. Satyr bands flocked to the distant island after the Sundering, finding it an ideal haven. It was there that Sixtus, the self-proclaimed Prince of Sin, came to power. Upon black-sailed boats, he and his followers took to the seas, scouring coastal towns and leaving atrocities in their wake. The satyrs took hundreds of captives for use as slaves or as sacrifices.
Sixtus was a cunning brute, and attacked distant cities so as to keep his location hidden from the authorities. Still, it was only a matter of time before the sentinels caught on, and they sent a great flotilla to scour Bloodmyst Isle.
The resulting battle was cataclysmic. All knew that the Sixtus was mighty, but none suspected that he had actually succeeded in summoning felguard minions to this world. The campaign on Bloodmyst lasted three bloody years. During this time, an exceptional archer named Shandris Feathermoon rose to prominence. Her fast attacks left the satyrs bewildered, and played a vital part in the eventual elven victory. Today, as the reader probably knows, she is the military leader of the night elves.
Sixtus was slain, though his evil lived on the dreadful Satyrilex, a book of dark magic and ritual penned by his gnarled hand. The Satyrilex has corrupted its share of Kaldorei minds, turning the darkly curious into satyrs. Many of these feel compelled to journey to Bloodmyst Isle. Thus, the demonic presence never entirely left the island. Two great satyr encampments, Axxarien and Nazzivian, still give refuge to the wicked. These demonic enclaves had doubtless contributed to the island’s corruption, though they were not the primary culprits.
“Are the satyrs allied with the blood elves?”
“Almost certainly. Naga have also been sighted. It’s as if all our age-old enemies decided to have a celebration here,” he chuckled.
Vasalyan’s patrol arose early the next morning, and set off to the north. A large piece of the Exodar’s power source had landed there. Vasalyan called it the warp piston. Blood elves had occupied the site in the days after the crash, but had since departed. Vasalyan’s duty was simply to investigate, and see what had happened since then.
“The warp piston is an amazing device. We are not entirely sure how it works. Essentially, it absorbed free-floating mana from the Twisting Nether. This was then transmitted to the vector coil, which used it to open a gate around the Exodar,” said Vasalyan.
“The Naaru left no instructions on how to build a new one?”
“Velen says that such an artifact cannot be built; it can only be created by the will of those greater than ourselves. The Exodar had so many pieces working together in this marvelous arcane symphony; truly a wondrous symbol for the Infinitely Holy Light.”
We marched under the oppressive red sky for a day and a half before reaching the warp piston, another graceful Naaru structure partially embedded into the shoreline. Vasalyan warned me not to get too close, in case blood elves or demons hid in the machinery.
I observed the draenei as they took notes about what they found around the wreckage. Fel energies had soaked the place through, but no demons had yet staked a claim.
That night, I sat around a small campfire with Vasalyan and Dalferrin. The topic of discussion were the blood elves that had caused so much misery. I listened closely, as I still planned to study the blood elf presence on the island. It was the least I could do for the Horde.
“Fascinating. These Quel’dorei, as you call them, became addicted to magic, using it for selfish ends?” inquired Vasalyan.
“Correct. All of this world’s miseries can be traced to the Highborne.”
“Yet the Quel’dorei are different from the blood elves?”
“Only in name,” scoffed Dalferrin.
“That is not quite fair. The high elves worshipped the Holy Light. They stood with humanity against the old Horde,” I pointed out.
Dalferrin shifted uncomfortably.
“Perhaps the Quel’dorei made up for their past misdeeds. Yet by becoming Sin’dorei, they’ve committed many more. The entire race is on the path to damnation, and always has been.”
“Wait, the high elves serve the Light?” inquired Vasalyan.
“They still do, though only a few remain. As Dalferrin stated, they are addicted to the arcane energies. When the undead destroyed the source of their power, many fell into despair.”
“Which would not have happened if they had stayed true to Elune,” remarked Dalferrin.
“The undead... are you speaking of the Scourge or of the Forsaken?”
“The Scourge. The Forsaken did not yet exist during the fall of Quel’thalas. In fact, a former Quel’dorei leads the Forsaken.”
“The Scourge is manipulated by demons,” mused Vasalyan.
“So it seems.”
“Most curious. Is it common knowledge that the Scourge and the Burning Legion are related?”
“I would think so.”
“We observed the blood elves working with demons. But if these blood elves had their society destroyed by the Scourge, wouldn’t they hate demons?”
“Some of the blood elves are warlocks. They were probably attempting to manipulate demons.”
“That is sad. That is truly sad! And to think they believed in the Light. Why must demons continue to taint the universe? I have never understood that. I do not think any draenei truly does.”
“The high elves brought demons to this world. They’re natural allies,” muttered Dalferrin.
“Yet Brother Talus says they believed in the Light. They did not have warlocks prior to the Scourge, did they?”
“No, they did not.”
“Perhaps not, but they loved the arcane!” retorted Dalferrin.
“So do we draenei,” pointed out Vasalyan, sounding a bit hurt.
“Well... what is good for the draenei may not necessarily be good for elves. Such is the case with magic.”
“Magic is certainly a danger if not restrained by a moral belief system. From what you have told me, the worship of Elune certainly falls under that category,” said Vasalyan.
Later that night, I learned that the blood elves made their bases in the eastern wilderness of Bloodmyst Isle. It was there that I resolved to travel.
Convincing Vasalyan to let me travel alone was no easy feat. Finally, I persuaded him that whatever knowledge I gleaned would serve the greater good and was worth the risk. I spoke with a confidence that I did not feel. I really had no idea how I would approach the situation.
For much of the next day I thought about my options. I rested on a rock overlooking the pitch-colored beaches of Bloodmyst Isle. Crude murloc huts dot the shore. Even with all the devastation, those monsters manage to thrive. At times, I wonder if murlocs and ogres will one day inherit the universe.
I reflected on what I knew about Quel’thalas and its graceful inhabitants. More than any other human nation, my adopted homeland of Dalaran had maintained close relations with the elven kingdom. Elven magisters were a reasonably common sight on the boulevards of Dalaran, even as the Quel’dorei withdrew from the world after the Second War. The elves had their own institutes of arcane learning, so the only ones I ever interacted with were teachers.
Humans typically considered the high elves to be haughty and arrogant. Though they had fought the orcs with passion and ferocity they were latecomers to the war, refusing to help until they saw their precious forests were in danger. Many elves certainly looked down on humans as uncouth, though the ones in Dalaran were usually polite.
I was gradually forced to conclude that I had no real way of safely contacting the Sin’dorei on Bloodmyst Isle. The elves were not yet a part of the Horde. It was entirely possible that the soldiers on Bloodmyst, having been isolated on Outland until recently, did not even know of the diplomatic hand extended to Quel’thalas. Nor could I be sure they were aware of the Forsaken; there was a good chance they’d kill me on sight for being undead. Given their somewhat precarious hold on Bloodmyst, they could not afford to take any chances on someone like myself. Communication would be another problem. My schoolboy Thalassian was hardly up to the task of finding out what had really gone on in Outland, nor could I rely on the elves being fluent in Common or Orcish.
As the sun set over the befouled island, I decided to start the long journey back to Orgrimmar. It was then that I had a stroke of unbelievable luck. My ears caught the gargling warcries of murlocs, followed by a call to arms yelled in what sounded like Thalassian. Scrambling to my feet, I ran towards the commotion.
A flood of pale murlocs rushed up from the beach, their white skin turning crimson in the setting sun. A trio of blood elves made their stand against the monsters, their backs to a tree covered in crystal shards. One of them, an archer, rapidly fired arrows into the advancing enemy.
Without hesitating, I launched two fireballs in rapid succession. The fish-men screamed as their damp hides burned. One of the creatures sped towards me, while a second hurled a harpoon in my direction; it went wild and landed in the grass.
I had only begun to tap into my mana, and it was a simple matter to fell my assailant with a well placed fire blast. The murloc shrieked as it died, and I looked beyond it to see the others fleeing the scene. Enough remained to have put up a serious fight, but my sudden arrival may have frightened them.
The elves looked in my direction, surprise on their faces.
“I am a friend!” I announced, the Thalassian words awkward on my tongue. “I am not Scourge. Do any of you speak Common?”
There was an awkward pause.
“I can speak some,” answered the archer. “We are thankful for the aid you have given us, though suspicious at the same time. We do not walk in friendly lands. Nor have our previous encounters with the walking dead been pleasant. Who are you, and who do you serve?”
“Destron Allicant. I am a Forsaken—do you know what that is?”
“We have heard stories. I think it is only fair to tell you that the only reason we have not killed you is because you helped us. I’m afraid, however, that I must take you to my superiors. I am not authorized to say anything else about our grand mission. You will not be harmed; the Sin’dorei repay their debts.”
I nodded nervously and joined the wary trio. Three pairs of glowing green eyes examined me as I approached. We headed south, moving quickly. The grim landscape of the western wilderness fit my mood. The damage of the Exodar’s descent is quite evident, worsened by the pall of fel energy clinging to the woodlands. Among the shattered trees are great scarlet crystals pulsing dim in the forest dark. The sounds of forest life do not enliven the stifling air; an oppressive silence hangs over everything.
The mushy quality of the undergrowth makes movement difficult, making it like trudging through a swamp made of decayed vegetation. Agile though they were, even my companions found some difficulty navigating the unnatural morass. Despite all the destruction, life continues to bloom, touched by rot at the moment of creation.
We reached the Sin’dorei base after a day and a half of travel, and it was a menacing sight. The tiring heat of Bloodmyst Isle was even worse in the encampments, though it did not seem to bother the inhabitants. Elven warriors made their homes in tattered pavilions. Dark red crystals floated over the ground, tethered by black chains to blade-like metal objects. Arcane energy coursed through the air, tainted by a fel touch.
My guide spoke to a regalblood elf woman dressed in vermilion robes. She soon approached me.
“I welcome you to our home on this island, Destron. I apologize for any difficulty; you must understand that we cannot afford the luxury of trust. Nonetheless, you have helped my comrades and for that I am grateful.”
“You are more than welcome.”
“I also wish to offer my respects to your Dark Lady. While little news of Azeroth reached us in Outland, we were pleased to hear of Lady Windrunner’s triumph over the Lich King.”
“It is my honor to serve her.”
“As it should be. I am Eteria Dawnwalker, a retainer of House Everlight, which loyally serves the Sun King.” She bowed slightly.
“Are you the leader of the Bloodmyst expedition?”
“Hardly,” she laughed. “I am merely one of many Sunhawks.”
“Those who defended the Exodar. Many gave their lives protecting it. We are obliged to retake it both for our master, and for our comrades’ memory.”
“Now, I regret to insist that you explain your reasons for being here. I do not imagine that the draenei would bear any love for the undead, free-willed or otherwise.”
I explained to her that I was a scholar in service of the Horde. Eteria raised an eyebrow at mention of the Horde, but said nothing until I finished.
“An interesting story Destron. You say that the Horde has been in diplomatic discussions with Silvermoon?”
“That is correct.”
“I have not been informed of such. For now, I shall give you the benefit of the doubt. Yet the Sun King has no need for orcs or trolls. While he respects your Dark Lady, he is in no way beholden to her. In fact, she is still obliged to serve him.”
“From my understanding, the diplomatic ventures towards Silvermoon were engineered by Lady Sylvanas—”
“It is not proper to refer to the Dark Lady by her first name Destron. While I understand that the customs of Lordaeron are different, you are among the Highborne, and you must give appropriate respect to your leader.”
“Please pardon my ignorance.”
“For now, I will. Does the Horde make war upon the Alliance?”
“Relations between the two factions are far from easy, but there is no open war. We do fight some unofficial battles, using mercenaries and proxy armies.”
“Unfortunate. The night elves and the draenei are not to be trusted, and we have doubts about living humans.”
“Given the threats posed by the Burning Legion, the Scourge, and the Old Gods, I’d hardly say that the Alliance is the primary threat.”
“The Sun King has mastered the Burning Legion. Demons come to his beck and call, Destron. If they are still a threat on this world, they shall not be for much longer. The Sun King has the power to strike down the Scourge and he soon will. As for the Old Gods, they’re not much more than myth.”
I nodded, not sure how I should respond.
“Given the unusual nature of your arrival, I am obligated to bring you to my master, Matis Everlight. I do not wish to rush you, but it is best done as soon as possible. Will you be ready to continue your journey tomorrow morning?”
“We can leave today, if you wish.”
“Please, take your time. The camp has little to offer, but it is yours. You have saved my comrades, so it is the least I could do.”
I passed an anxious night surrounded by distrustful faces. The activities around me seemed typical of a military camp. A palpable tension existed in every motion, and I was relieved when Eteria came to me the next morning.
“I hope you rested well,” she said, by way of greeting.
“I regret to say that you must wear these anti-magic bracers; a necessary precaution.”
“Saving the life of your subordinates is not enough to earn your trust?”
“Alas, it is not a matter of trust. Such is the command of my masters, and duty is a harsh master in the best of times.”
Knowing that I had no real choice, I consented. After fastening the bracers on my wrists, Eteria took me away from the camp. We soon emerged from the forest and returned to the road. The Sin’dorei were secure enough in the area to use the roads openly. The altitude rose steadily as we walked, leading to the stony foothills of western Bloodmyst.
“I am sorry if my courtesy was lacking. I have spent much of my life among humans, and I greatly respect them. Yet, I must hold to a rather severe interpretation of traditional elven manners. When a race loses its kingdom, culture is all it has left,” said Eteria, later that day.
“When were you among the humans?”
“Before, during, and just after the Second War. I was a arcanist in the service of House Everlight even then; my lord at the time was Fyrien Everlight, who perished in the Third War. Fyrien was an envoy to Dalaran, and I spent 37 years that city.”
“Oh! I studied at Dalaran. There was an Everlight Plaza in the western part of the town; it was named after him?”
“Indeed! Ah, Dalaran was glorious was it not? When you were there, did you ever visit a cafe called the Languorous Rose?”
“Many of my happiest memories are in that place.”
“As are many of mine,” she reminisced. “You must keep this in confidence, but I can honestly state that I loved Dalaran more than even Silvermoon.”
“Really? I never saw Silvermoon City.”
“It was wondrous, but Dalaran lovelier still. Something in those shaded avenues felt more real. The thinkers, the artists, the poets... too great for me do it justice with mere words.”
“Where you there when it fell?”
“No. I left Dalaran for the last time seven years after the Second War. Familial obligation called me back to Quel’thalas, though I fully intended to return. Duty held me back. I take it you saw the Scourge raze the city.”
“I did not. I was in a refugee camp when it happened; I may have already been dead.”
“The fall of Quel’thalas wounded my spirit; the fall of Dalaran destroyed it.”
“I’m surprised you went to the Sin’dorei. Some high elves still live among the Alliance, and it sounds as if you’d have had contacts there.”
She laughed bitterly.
“I did just that. For a while I helped Lordaeronian refugees get to safety. Yet a hunger gnawed at me. I thought sorrow clouded my vision, but the need reflected something worse, something deeper. Nothing sustained my people after the Scourge, until the Sun King promised us new hope.”
“How did you find out?”
“Another elf told me. When I learned that House Everlight had also ventured to Outland, I made up my mind to go. I told myself it was obligation, but I know now that a desperation too great to surmount drove me off-world.”
“How does the Sun King satisfy your need for energy?”
“With fel power. I do not know precisely how he obtained it, though the artifacts of these Naaru play a part.”
“You know the dangers of fel energy.”
“What choice did I have, Destron? I was dying. My people were dying. Morality is a fine luxury to have when you live in a kingdom of grace and light, as Quel’thalas was in years past. When you have nothing, you must take stronger measures. Each Sin’dorei owes her life to those who walked before; I cannot dishonor the memory of my ancestors, of my family, of House Everlight, by abandoning Quel’thalas.”
“Your family has always served House Everlight?”
“After the Sundering we journeyed across the sea under their sponsorship. My family has served them long and well. It is what I must do.”
She fell silent, sadness on her sharp and beautiful features.
“Do you remember the street musicians, Destron? Their old songs of wine and lost love?”
“I remember them like yesterday.”
Eteria began to sing the refrain from the Lilies of the Mere, a century-old song that every Dalaranese must have known by heart. I had heard it many times during my student days. The song is told from the perspective of a dying Dalaranese soldier reminiscing of his home.
Sorrow, longing, and regret welled up from within me, coming more strongly than they had in a long time. I knew how dangerous such emotions could be for Forsaken. Interrupting Eteria, I begged her to stop singing. Losing control is a terrifying thing for the free dead, and I did not wish to undergo it on even a small level. Fortunately, she understood my concerns.
“With the Sun King's aid, I am sure that Dalaran will one day be restored,” she said, smiling.
Death has claimed the western lands. Unlike the hideous regeneration in the rest of the island, the plants there crumble into dust upon touch and do not regrow. The air glows red with poison during night and day, and lighting jabs through the sky at all hours. The Sin’dorei made their headquarters at the vector coil, a gargantuan crystal jammed into the stony slopes and visible for miles around.
Eteria and I began a steep ascent on the second day of travel. Strangely, the weird energies coursing through the place barely affected her. In fact, she seemed stronger than before. As we walked, I asked her about Tempest Keep.
“The Naaru made it. The Keep came to Outland after its destruction, to retrieve the draenei. They say the Naaru are holy, but those are lies. The Exegesis of the Light makes no statement or even implication about the Naaru! The Sun King sees through their deceptions, and knows them to be merely another form of demon. Now they are his servants.”
“How did you take it?”
“Easily. Most of the Naaru were spread out across Outland, trying to weaken the position of the Sun King and his ally Illidan. Many of the draenei called the Broken joined Illidan’s banner, and the rest fell into subjugation.”
“The Sin’dorei conquered them?”
“Does this disturb you? I would think your orcish friends would be happy to hear this. I bear no hatred for the draenei, but the elves must survive. Things shall improve for them once the Sun King has established his rule. I have faith in him.”
“It sounds well-earned,” I answered. Eteria clearly knew nothing of the new Horde.
“He is our master. We Sin’dorei must all be ruthless. I do not enjoy it, but we have no choice.”
“The draenei retook the Exodar though.”
“Yes. The pure draenei are fierce fighters, and they caught us by surprise. Their prophet must be a powerful sorcerer to evade the Sun King’s detection.”
“How do things fare in Outland?”
“Hope emerges from chaos. The Sun King is in his dawning day, but the Burning Legion is still a threat.”
“He can control demons though?”
“Yes, he controls many of them. Not yet all of them.”
“Does that strike you as odd? That he would consort with demons? After all, the Scourge is the product of the Burning Legion.”
“Come now, Destron, I’d expect you to be able to see the difference. The Sun King rules the demons with an iron fist, just as he rules most of Outland. Only a few Naaru oppose him now; they are resistant to his power, but not for much longer. One already powers Silvermoon.”
“How do you mean?”
“The master bound one of the Naaru to his will. Now it gives succor to our brethren in old Quel’thalas.”
I remained outwardly nonchalant, but inside I reeled. My knowledge was limited, so I could not completely rule out the possibility that Eteria was correct, and that the Naaru were demons. Yet everything else I had seen suggested otherwise. Whatever my doubts about draenic society, none can accuse them of dishonesty. Why would a demon create a society so totally in line with the Holy Light?
Furthermore, Eteria’s own story was quite strange. For the past few years, there had been more rumor than fact about Kael’thas. Though one of the greatest arcanists of our time, I found it difficult to believe that he had become a master of demons. If he had, it would be a valid reason to distrust him.
We struggled up a slope of black stones, the glaring crystals of the vector coil in our sights. Two blood elf soldiers marched out of the shimmering heat in the early evening. They drew their weapons, but relaxed when Eteria raised her hand. They spoke in Thalassian for a while. The guards saluted, and we followed them to the vector coil's impact site. Great rifts mar the crystal's surface, and pools of viscous red liquid glow on the barren land surrounding it.
“Lord Matis Everlight approaches, Destron. Show your respects.”
I bowed slightly to the black-armored elf who strode towards us, his gaunt face was locked in a sneer. I could not understand his words, but there was no mistaking his tone: Eteria had done something to annoy him. They spoke for a while, Eteria’s words taking on a pleading tone. That only seemed to anger Matis, and Eteria fell to her knees, saying what sounded like an apology. Matis smiled, examined me, and departed.
“I am sorry, Destron,” she said, her voice shaking. “However my duty is clear.” Two elves flanked me, and quickly put my hands behind my back, tying them with a rope.
“What is Lord Everlight’s objection?” I demanded.
“The Sun King has told him we have no need of allies on this world. Certainly not of the walking dead, even those that are free. I enjoyed your company Destron, but I have no choice but to destroy you. You may hate me with my blessing.”
“I’d prefer to reserve my hate for Matis.”
Through her sadness, her eyes flashed with short-lived rage. The elves grabbed my shoulders, and moved me down the slope, towards a copse of dead and brittle trees.
“Are you prepared to accept the Horde as an enemy?”
“I have faith in my master. I am sorry, Destron.”
I had no doubt that she spoke truly. I tried to plan an avenue of escape, but nothing presented itself. The anti-magic bracers deprived me of my only real weapon.
The guards positioned me in front of a tree’s husk; Eteria stood a few yards away from me, preparing a spell. I struck quickly. As Eteria had said, the Sunhawks were keen on maintaining culture and tradition; this included the habit of maintaining stylish and often long hair.
I twisted violently, flinging my arms upwards and grabbing the hair of the guard to my left, after which I threw myself down on the charred ground, my captor falling on top of me. I rolled to the side and scrambled to my feet, running down the rough mountain slope, while behind me a hastily thrown fireball ignited a tree. I heard Eteria shouting, and the guards in fast pursuit. Their agility enabled them to traverse the rugged ground, but I still had one advantage.
I hurled myself off the edge of a short drop and heard my ribs crack as I hit the sharp stones below. It was nothing that could not be repaired with an influx of shadow energies back in Orgrimmar, and the pain was inconsequential. Again getting to my feet, I continued running.
Stealing a quick glance behind me I saw Eteria and the two soldiers up on the ridge. They had ceased pursuit, but I knew I had to flee the forest as quickly as possible; the elven trackers are rightly famed for their skill. They'd catch me even while impeded by Bloodmyst's environs.
Upon finding the road, I used a sharp stone to cut the rope binding my wrists, and quickly removed the anti-magic bracers. I did encounter a blood elf patrol, and used a combination of frost nova and polymorph to temporarily incapacitate them and escape. I was reluctant to use lethal force against the elves, as I was still unsure as to the Horde’s plans with them. That said, no orc would have questioned my right to self-defense.
I reached Blood Watch after three days of constant movement. I had already put on my disguise, so I entered without trouble. Vasalyan was overjoyed to see me again, but I could not speak with him for long. It was imperative that I get to Orgrimmar right away The Horde authorities needed to be warned about Sin’dorei activities in Outland.