Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Eversong Woods’ autumnal glory has long been the pride of Quel’thalas and proof of its inhabitants’ arcane artistry. When the elves first landed in the Eastern Kingdoms, they found a great taiga battered by the icy northern wind. Such a bleak climate was not to their liking.
After driving out the troll tribes (who, it must be said, struck the first blow) the greatest elven magisters sought a way to restore the glory of their fallen empire. Obsessed with capturing the essence of beauty, the elves proposed innumerable ideas. The vision of Lady Safilere Eversong won out in the end. Her heart ached for the enchanted autumn wilderness of Azshara where she had spent her youth. She wished to recreate it in her new home.
Yet her dream was not to duplicate the untamed forests of old Azshara. The new land, she said, must be a place of light and order where all could be illuminated. With Lady Eversong’s guidance, the elves transformed the tangled northern forest into a warm and pastoral idyll. Lady Eversong died before her project reached completion. The elves so loved the artificial forest that they named it the Eversong Woods in her honor.
Grand though this may sound, it represented a shocking rejection of the old druidic ways. The creation of Eversong (and Summer’s Grace to the south), had a devastating effect on the ecology. Many animals died out, unable to survive the sudden alteration. While the environment has since stabilized, one can understand why the Cenarion Circle considers the beautiful Eversong Woods an abomination. That said, attempting to change it back to its original state will create a disaster of similar proportions. The Eversong Woods are here to stay.
Swards of soft green grass stretch out beneath white trees alight with gold and crimson leaves. The Dead Scar runs through Eversong just the same as it does the Ghostlands, though the dark necromantic energies are weaker, and the cursed ground no longer suffocates the senses. Scourge patrols endlessly wander the blighted path, but do not swarm out from the earth. A seasoned traveler can cross it alone.
The Eversong Woods is probably the single safest region on the Lordaeronian continent today. The Scourge’s presence is limited, and bandits and monsters are unknown. This is not to say that it is without danger; Amani trolls to the east and murloc incursions to the west both pose threats. Yet neither troll nor murloc has any chance of being more than a nuisance to Silvermoon.
Most of the travelers I passed were simply tourists on their way to see friends or family. I did once encounter a supply caravan headed to Tranquilien. The elven reaction to me was best described as cold. The Scourge invasion was a recent event, and few elves feel entirely comfortable with undead visiting Eversong. The fact that I was once a human may have furthered their distaste.
Three days of easy travel brought me to picturesque Fairbreeze Village. A velvet dusk was descending over the land when I arrived, and rose-colored windows glowed with a welcoming light. Small groups of elves walked the pathways, many of them drinking wine. Light chatter filled the air, sometimes pausing when the villagers caught sight of me.
The boundaries between town and country are far from distinct in Sin’dorei lands. Though they are not merged to the extent of night elf towns, the blood elves cherish the presence of their (artificial) forest. Stately, circular homes of polished marble are tucked away among the trees. Many Sin’dorei buildings have large second-story turrets and extensions that defy gravity. These are often connected to the first floor by ramps that twist around the structure, also without any support. Sin’dorei architecture is completely dependent on magic; without the arcane, such buildings would quickly topple.
I was quartered in the spacious home of the Amberlight family. Small elven towns do not have inns per se. Visitors (who were almost always other elves) usually stay with friends. If the visitor has no friends in the area, one of the local families will happily receive him or her. Now that the races of the Horde occasionally come calling, the situation has changed. Today, families with more accepting attitudes towards other races offer shelter to non-elves.
The sheer luxury of the Amberlight domicile was a bit overwhelming to me. Marniel Amberlight, the proprietress, did her best to make me feel at home.
“I am honored to welcome you to this gloried land, noble Forsaken. May the Eternal Sun shine upon you,” she said when I walked in.
I was a bit surprised to see that the posh guest quarters on the second floor were communal. It made sense though. The inns are a recent development. Furthermore, the elves consider visitations to other towns an opportunity to make new friends. The only other guests were a pair of women, one orc and the other a troll. They were part of a large and disorganized goodwill community sent in from the Horde territories in Kalimdor.
“I pity the Sin’dorei women; most of them have never before seen a real man, and must make do with these effete scoundrels,” scoffed Kana Grimscar, the orc.
“A real man’s too much for the elf-ladies; it’s best the way it is, I be thinking,” giggled Jidah, the troll. Jidah was sprawled on a silken bed, drinking wine and puffing on a hookah. Kana scowled at her.
“You are a fine huntress, Jidah. Do not spoil yourself with this nonsense.”
“Ah, take it easy Kana. We’re not going to be here much longer, and there’s not any shame in having fun. Besides, we trolls invented the hookah.”
“The hookah’s fine. It’s the rest of this room that concerns me.”
“Just relax, Kana.”
“Suit yourself. I shall sleep on the floor like a warrior should. What do you think, undead? At least your people do not adorn your homes with this junk.”
“It is a touch excessive,” I agreed.
“As for me, I like being able to demand such fine service from the elves, and they got no choice but to do as I say,” laughed Jidah.
The Darkspear Tribe bears no love for the Sin’dorei, though they do not hate the elves the same way that the forest trolls do. The jungle trolls have long looked down on their forest brethren, considering them lazy and crude. The few surviving troll records from the imperial era indicate that the Gurubashi reached much higher levels of cultural sophistication than the Amani, who were perpetually at war with ice trolls, nerubians, and sometimes themselves. The two empires struggled in a proxy war against each other, similar to the modern conflict between the Horde and Alliance. There is even some evidence that the Frostmane Tribe of Dun Morogh were ice trolls enslaved by the Amani and sent south to act as buffers against the Gurubashi. This is far from certain, however.
I asked Jidah what she thought about Zul’jin. She shrugged, essentially saying that if he set himself against the Horde, he was to be regarded as the enemy.
“It’s these forest trolls; all they ever do is fight. Even down in Zandalar they’re always starting quarrels with each other. Not as bad as the ice trolls to be sure, but not much better. So Zul’jin’s just picking another fight.”
“Do you know what the Revantusk think about this?” As the sole Horde-aligned forest tribe, I was curious to know the Revantusk’s opinion on Zul’jin’s recent activities.
“Actually, I was talking with one of them down in Undercity before I came here. Word is, Zul’jin’s been doing blasphemy. Some Amani holy men fled to Revantusk lands a year ago, saying Zul’jin was using bad magic to control the Loa, which is a sure way for him to lose his war. Here’s the funny part; the Revantusk don’t think it’s the real Zul’jin up in Zul’aman. They say it’s an imposter, a wicked spirit.”
“Do you think this is true?”
“Could be. I respect Zul’jin, so I’d like it if it was. But it truly means little to me.”
I spent the next day familiarizing myself with Fairbreeze Village. While House Fairbreeze is dead and gone, signs of its presence abound. Most notable is the lavish family estate located a mile south of the village center. The house has been turned into a memorial, assiduously cared for by Melestriam Noonsong and her mother.
Art fills the halls of the old house, some of it thousands of years old. Melestriam explained that they were gifts from the village to House Fairbreeze.
“Artisans would always create great works for the honor of their lords. It is how our people give thanks.”
“Almost like a tax system, then?”
“In a sense, but there are many differences. Taxes are coercive, while these were always given.”
“What, aside from loyalty, inspired such adoration from subject families?”
“Are you asking what we got in return?”
“You’re still a human at heart. Loyalty runs deeper among our kind. It is in the blood. The Great Houses managed affairs of state, and often maintained the leylines that supply Quel’thalas with arcane energy. More than that, the Great Houses are descendents of the old heroes. All Sin’dorei seek to share in that glory. So we serve. Those with strong loyalty may receive the privilege of marrying into a Great House. The scions of Great Houses, lord and lady alike, typically marry those from subject houses.”
“Interesting. Human nobles would shun such an idea, fearing that it would dilute the blood.”
“A foolish notion. The blood of true nobility runs stronger and brighter than any other. Besides, we are all nobles here.”
Somewhere in Silvermoon City, there is a great chart that lists every elven family, and how close their bloodline runs to the throne. Such an attitude is illuminating. Money is less important for elves than it is for other races, and most Sin’dorei needs are met by magic. Instead, they compete by jockeying for positions of respect and influence. Organizations such as the Magisters' College or the Aegis give ways for lower families to gain prestige.
All elves now receive some training in self-defense. The pampered Quel’dorei civilians were helpless against the Scourge during the Third War, and the survivors vowed to be better prepared against future attacks. It is not surprising that this self-defense training takes the form of simple attack magic. Every man, woman, and child in Fairbreeze can at least fire off a few basic spells.
Fairbreeze Village is home to Eshensar Sunglory, considered one of the foremost artists in modern Quel’thalas. He introduced himself to me and spoke of his desire to one day make a portrait of Sylvanas Windrunner.
“Truly one of our great heroes,” he said.
Eshensar invited me to his studio, a small house in the forests just east of the town. Stepping inside I was greeted with about thirty artistic reproductions of Prince Kael’thas Sunstrider. In each he rose tall and triumphant, bending the world to his will.
“All my art is now inspired by him,” explained Eshensar.
Not all of his art featured the Sun King. Some portrayed verdant landscapes, or the towers of Silvermoon City. His ability was exquisite, though I saw little variety. Eshensar even showed me some of the work he did before the war. The old art was dedicated to House Fairbreeze.
“To whom do you give your more recent works?” I asked.
“I have the honor of giving it to the state. My work hangs in the plazas of Silvermoon and the manors of Eversong. You see, this art carries a vital message; it attempts to uplift the elven spirit. We live in a strange and troubling time, and it is imperative that we fulfill our new destiny.”
“Your work must be very popular.”
“I think it is. Too long have our people dwelled on the past. Looking to the future does not come easily for us elves. But none can argue with this marvelous kingdom that arose from the ashes, the phoenix of House Sunstrider made manifest! My only surviving son now serves Kael’thas in Outland, making a new home for our people.” His voice swelled with pride as he spoke.
I was there for the next few hours. Eshensar was actually a better conversationalist than my first impression of him led me to believe. Though a propagandist for the Sin’dorei, he was also knowledgeable and gracious. As I prepared to leave, a black-robed elf came to his door.
“For the Sun King,” said the newcomer by way of greeting.
“His glory is eternal. I am honored to have you at my home, Magister Whiteflame. As you can see I have a guest: Destron Allicant of Undercity.”
“A loyal servant of Lady Windrunner, welcome.”
Magister Whiteflame was a government representative who determined which of Eshensar’s paintings should be sent where. He was keen on delivering some to the domain of House Sunsail, just a day’s journey to the west.
“We must remind Lord Sunsail to remember his role. It should be something joyous, for he is sorely in need of hope,” remarked Whiteflame.
The Magister asked if I would like to accompany the painting to Lord Sunsail’s home. Whiteflame theorized that seeing me would help Lord Sunsail realize there was a world outside of Eversong. I happily accepted his offer.
Magister Whiteflame waited for me outside the Amberlight home, early the next morning. With him was a wagon, or the Sin’dorei equivalent thereof. Made of brightly painted wood, the wagon was built in the likeness of a lynx, with eyes of polished topaz that gleamed in wooden sockets. Ambulatory, it walked along with us, carrying the paintings on its back. This is how the elves move goods, though they use more practical transports for important items.
The bright elven forest boasts all manner of life. Of note are the dragonhawks, serpentine creatures with wings and great beaks. Daring elves have long used the dragonhawks as flying mounts. The dragonhawk is not a natural beast, having been created by Lystelleron Lightwing, a Quel’dorei mage who lived around a thousand years ago. Lyestelleron’s two great creations were the dragonhawk and hawkstrider. Others, like the dubious hawkfish, were less successful. Many dragonhawks turned feral after the Scourge invasion, and their fierce predation has had a troubling impact on other species. The Sin’dorei spend great resources on retraining the wild dragonhawks, occasionally killing those that cannot be repatriated.
Magister Whiteflame explained to me that House Sunsail had always associated itself with the ocean. Unfortunately, Lord Saltheril Sunsail had become hedonistic and dissipated after the Scourge invasion. Unhinged by the deaths of all his children and many of his subject families, he abandoned his responsibilities. The Sunsail Anchorage, which he owned, was falling into disrepair.
“House Sunsail led our fleets against the orcs during the Second War. Given House Sunsail’s deeds, it would not be honorable to start making demands. As such, we are hoping to remind him of his obligations by giving him Eshensar’s art.”
“What if it fails to rekindle his patriotism?”
“Then we may have to take more direct measures. Currently House Sunsail can do little to help our cause, but it must be ready to do so.”
We heard the jolly percussion of fireworks before we reached the demesne of Lord Sunsail, early in the evening. A great crowd of Sin’dorei celebrated on the grass, dressed in spectacular and immensely impractical clothing.
The celebrants took no notice of our arrival. When I got closer, I noticed that many of the partygoers looked less than pleased with their surroundings. Magister Whiteflame took the paintings from the wagon and walked to a tall blood elf who I gathered was Lord Sunsail.
Whiteflame and Sunsail began speaking in Thalassian, the great aristocrat clearly irritated at the interruption. Lord Sunsail was handling the pictures when he noticed me. His eyes widened in outrage, and he began shouting at the magister. Then he turned to me.
“You! Unclean thing! Get off of my land!” he shouted.
Magister Whiteflame looked to me apologetically. I nodded and turned to leave. Some of the elves cast condemnatory glares in my direction, but others appeared merely curious or indifferent.
I went to the forest’s edge, electing to wait for the Magister to finish his duties. To my surprise, a few elves came to visit me. From them, I learned that Lord Sunsail was constantly hosting galas and inviting people from all around the realm. Many celebrants were surviving members of Sunsail’s subject families, who felt bound to attend but hoped that Lord Sunsail would snap out of his funk. A few were visitors from other Great Houses, going in for a bit of recreation.
“House Sunsail still contributes, in its own way,” said one. “His gatherings allow us to partake in the splendor that is our birthright. Some take it to excess, but most act responsibly.”
Lord Sunsail’s subjects, obliged to both set up and attend these parties, were becoming increasingly unhinged and cliquish. While cathartic for the other Great Houses, it was a problem for the loyal attendants of House Sunsail.
Magister Whiteflame returned to me, looking resigned.
“I fear your presence only enraged him,” he sighed.
“You needn’t apologize. I thank you for making the attempt. Now let us take our leave. Some elves are too self-indulgent.”
I first thought he was referring to Lord Sunsail, but he pointed to pair of celebrants slumped in an alcoholic stupor.
“They say they only come on occasion, but more and more elves are becoming fixtures at the Sunsail manor. Something must be done, but I do not know what.”
Millennia of painstaking cultivation have turned northern Eversong into an elven paradise. Picture-perfect gardens and artfully designed ponds decorate the broad roads. These are meant for public use, typically created by whichever Great House owns the land. A subject family is charged with maintaining the garden.
I had left Fairbreeze Village four days earlier, and was headed for the fabled Sunstrider Isle. Enchanted by the beauty of one garden, I took a brief stop to get a closer look. Strange and brilliant flowers flourish around a shining bronze statue of a dancing elven woman. The hedges grow in the spiral shapes and plants blossom in floating stone vases.
By chance I met the gardener, a young woman named Lyria Songflight. Conjured water flowed from her palms as she walked, nurturing the plants around her. Lyria was surprised to see me. She quickly and laudably calmed herself, and asked if I was a guest of Lord Brightsun.
“I am not. I was under the impression that these gardens were free for all to enjoy.”
“Of course they are,” she smiled. “It is simply rare for us to see any Forsaken.”
The Songflight family had tended the beatific garden for thousands of years. Only Lyria and her younger brother remained. She still considered herself fortunate to care for the same garden as her ancestors.
“Through this shall the Songflight line endure.”
Lyria was actually married, and had a daughter of her own. Her husband was one Alamestrius Songflight, a magister stationed somewhere in Outland.
“Even though brute necessity has destroyed the tradition, Alamestrius and I are still undergoing the Trial of Absence, as did our parents before us. I believe it shall strengthen our love,” she said.
“Trial of Absence?”
“Yes, do undead—er, humans, not have that?”
“The humans never did, and the undead have not started. I’d greatly like to hear about it though.”
“I shall tell it to you gladly. We elves live for a long time. As such, our love must be similarly long-lived. When two elves are betrothed they undergo a Trial of Absence lasting for ten years. During this time the lovers must stay apart. Not a single whispered word should pass between the two. If both remain faithful and in love, they are truly meant to be married.”
“It tempers the initial passions.”
“Correct. Unfortunately, no one these days has ten years to spare. So many of our number died during the war, and we must replenish our population as soon as possible. The Trial of Absence that I undergo is not official, yet it is meaningful all the same.”
“Pardon me if this is an inappropriate question, but what happens if one of the lovers is unfaithful? Is the union simply dissolved?”
“It depends. At times, the wronged lover—who is usually the woman—will forgive her suitor. If he convinces her family of his contrition, the trial shall begin anew. Yet when the heart wanders, it is usually taken as a sign that the love was not meant to be.”
“Does this happen often?”
“I would not say it is common. The couple will have known each other for some time before undergoing a Trial of Absence. None take a betrothal lightly.”
“Is there a stigma attached to failing a trial?”
“Only if someone has failed it many times. Those who lack the fidelity to endure have inconstant souls, and should not be trusted.”
Love among humans and many other races tends to wax and wane over time. This is not the case with the elves. Though they may be romantically careless prior to engagement, the Sin’dorei take marriage very seriously. There is some truth to the belief that elves feel stronger and more deeply than humans. Though the Trial of Absence is not practical to maintain, I suspect subsequent generations will return to it if circumstances allow.
I wished Lyria good fortune and went on my way, and reached the Ruins of Silvermoon after a day and a half of travel.
The Scourge’s festering armies conquered Silvermoon City with ease. Most of the Quel’dorei forces were already dead or in disarray by the time Arthas reached the ancient metropolis. A handful of Aegis troops, farstriders, and magisters worked to cover the civilian evacuation. Arthas plowed through the gates, cutting a bloody swath through the center of the city. Not even bothering to organize his forces, the cruel king sent ravening ghoul packs and zombie hordes into the streets. They murdered all that they found while Arthas waited for the Scourge armada to carry him to the Sunwell.
The defenders set up barricades on both sides of the invaders. The ones to the west fell almost immediately. The eastern blockades lasted for a while longer. When they did fall, the Scourge troops did not have the time to raze what the blockades protected. Present-day Silvermoon City is only the eastern half of the old city; the west still lies in a ruined state.
Only the southeastern corner of the western city has been restored. Called Falconwing Square, it was once a haven for artists, many of whom had House Falconwing as their patron. Most of Falconwing died while defending their homes; the rest were killed when the Scourge intercepted the fleeing survivors. Nonetheless, its memory lives on.
Today, Falconwing Square is largely a military outpost. Aegis soldiers go out on constant patrols into the Ruins of Silvermoon. The fallen city has its share of dangers, though the Aegis is more than capable of handling them. Arcane guardians—warriors of enchanted stone and iron—still rampage through the broken streets. This is not as bad as it sounds; the guardians are in such poor condition that a competent fighter can easily destroy one. However, there is another, more insidious threat that the elves do not like to discuss.
Night elves have long shunned arcane and fel energies, citing the corruption it wrought on the satyrs and naga. The existence of the Wretched gives more support to their arguments. The Wretched are actually the biggest concern for Falconwing Square, though this is not immediately obvious. The Aegis guards make vague references to ‘Scourge remnants,’ that haunt the ruins.
I had satisfied myself with this explanation. No one can easily eradicate the Scourge from an area, especially one with as many hiding places as the Ruins of Silvermoon. I did not learn about the Wretched until the next day. A slow and steady rain greeted me that morning. Feeling sluggish, I elected to postpone my trip to Sunstrider Isle.
Through the day, Aegis soldiers went in and out of the Grand Parlor, which had once been the finest restaurant in Silvermoon. The Grand Parlor is run by Delaniel Dawnsong, the daughter of the former owner, who died in the invasion. Most of the elves avoided me, though a few were attracted by the novelty of a talking corpse.
A young Aegis warrior came to me a little after noon. He began by politely welcoming me to the ruins, stating his regret that I had not seen the place in its previous state.
“Though I am sure greater homes will be built in Outland,” he added.
“I look forward to those.”
“As do we all. I take it you are here researching the Wretched on behalf of Falthrien Academy?”
“Excuse me? The Wretched?”
The elf grimaced.
“Alas, I should have been more discreet. We Sin’dorei are loath to speak of the Wretched, but they are no secret to our allies. As you doubtless know my race was crippled by the corruption of the Sunwell. The arcane is part of our essence, and we cannot live without it. Though we have new sources for this energy, some of us...” he trailed off.
“Er, yes. The Wretched appeared in the terrible years after the invasion. In those dark days we all hoarded magic items, draining them of their mana to sate our own thirsts. Some drank too much, too deep. These became the Wretched; hollow elves that live only to take mana.”
“Do Sin’dorei still become Wretched?”
“Only rarely. We have a greater understanding of our own limits, and a more steady supply of mana. The Wretched are now a perpetual nuisance. They are too weak and disorganized to do much harm, but they attack anyone connected to the arcane. Here in the ruins a mob of Wretched killed a magister earlier this year.”
“Is there a way to reverse the process?”
“No. The elves who became Wretched are weak, probably not deserving of our aid. Besides, we do not have the resources.”
“But Falthrien Academy is researching them?”
“Only to better understand the nature of healthy Sin’dorei,” he said. Looking around, he leaned in closer.
“As I said, the Wretched are not a secret. However I would greatly appreciate it if you did not tell anyone that I told you about them. It would be embarrassing.”
“I won’t say a thing.”
“Thank you, kind sir,” he smiled. The elf beat a quick retreat to the bar, where he ordered a glass of wine.
Most blood elves despise the Wretched, seeing them as failures worthy of extermination. Others are more conflicted. Every Wretched is someone’s friend or family. In some cases, the relationship inspires the normal elf to persecute the Wretched all the more fervently. Pitiful though they are, the Wretched are a danger, and I do not fault the Sin’dorei for fighting them.
Heeding the soldier’s warning, I traveled with one of the Aegis patrols that combs the ruins on a daily basis. Two soldiers suffice for patrols on the sedate main boulevard; one a veteran, the other a neophyte. Patrols to the more dangerous areas may have three or even four soldiers. My companions were Captain Erilyea Silvercry and Cirindrolar Lightsong. Cirindrolar spoke only Thalassian, but Erilyea had a decent command of Orcish.
The Ruins of Silvermoon look safe enough. Nothing but the wind moves through the deteriorating palaces and citadels. Nature has returned, inexorably reclaiming the city.
Towards sunset we came across a berserk arcane protector stumbling aimlessly around the northern gates. I was reminded of the rampaging harvest golems in Westfall, and wondered if the Defias still troubled that distant land.
“If you’ll excuse us, Destron. I want Cirindrolar to destroy the protector alone. It will be a valuable experience,” said Erilyea.
I paused. Damaged though it was, a solid hit from the protector’s stone arms could easily kill a man.
“They are weaker than they look. These protectors are slow to react, and a single good strike to the crystal core will destroy it,” she said, as if detecting my concern.
“Do what you think is best.”
She already was. Speaking in Thalassian, she pointed to the broken construct. Cirindrolar gripped his warglaive and broke into a run. Erilyea ran close behind him; apparently she was still willing to provide support.
A heavy blow slammed into me without warning and I went sprawling. I quickly became aware of skinny hands grappling at my sleeves, and a sudden faintness, as mana was pulled out of my body.
I lashed out with my arms, breaking free of my assailants’ weak grip. I heard whispery moans as they fell back. My three attackers were elves, though only barely recognizable as such. With their emaciated white bodies and ragged clothing, they would not have looked out of place in the Scourge. Wisps of stringy hair dangled from their scalps, and mindless solid-blue eyes stared from haggard faces. They were the Wretched.
The Wretched seemed at a loss after losing the advantage of surprise. They slowly circled me, never turning their desperate gazes. One of them charged suddenly, frothing as he did. I stayed on my feet as I pushed him back, but as I saw his fellows rush in I realized I was in an untenable position. There was a brief and confused grapple which ended when I delivered a solid knockdown blow to the lead Wretched.
The two soldiers were already running to my aid. The Wretched began to yelp like frightened dogs upon seeing them. Black froth erupted from their mouths as they spat and cursed.
Two of the Wretched were dead in seconds while the third scrambled to the remains of a nearby house. It was a foolish decision on his part as there was nowhere else for him to go. He stared at us from the darkened recess, his body tensed.
“Kill him,” ordered Erilyea.
Reluctantly, I nodded. Enough of my mana had returned to cast a spell, and I propelled a fireball into the ruin. The force of impact killed the Wretched instantly.
“Good work,” she said. “Some Sin’dorei have misplaced pity for these beings. Your ruthlessness is commendable.”
“I merely did what was necessary,” I said. I did not care for the nature of her praise. Cirindrolar was staring hatefully at the Wretched he’d killed earlier.
“Come, we should move. More might be attracted, and while I relish the idea of fighting the beasts, duty demands my attention.”
We had soon left the ruins behind, and stood at the edge of the glittering ocean waters. I could see the golden trees of Sunstrider Isle at the end of a graceful stone bridge.
“Let this be a place of illumination.”
Those were the words of Dath’remar Sunstrider when he first set foot on the island that would eventually bear his name. Though the cold and brambly forest was a grim home for the elves, King Sunstrider’s choice of landing was actually fortuitous. The trolls called the island Jeb'shona, and shunned it as a place of dark magic. No one knows precisely why the trolls thought this. Some theorize it was the site of a battle between Azi’aqir and Amani in the distant past. A few forest trolls even argue that the blood elves grew from the evil that inundated the island, though this is obviously false.
Trollish superstition gave the elves time to consolidate their holdings. Amani society had fallen far from its former glory and the Sundering had destabilized the few remaining social bonds. The trollish presence was still formidable but it could not match the tactical brilliance of King Sunstrider, or the power of the elven magisters. Elven might drove the trolls far to the east, not to reemerge until the Troll Wars a few thousand years later.
The newcomers established the legendary Silvermoon City after scouring the Amani tribes from the forest. By no means was this the end for Sunstrider Isle. Several leylines run through the island, making it a valuable magical resource. The elves also saw it as a culturally important site. In time, Sunstrider Isle became a shrine for the elves. Just as the human faithful would visit the places of saints like Terminion and Cassian, so too would the elves venerate the place where Quel’thalas was born.
The golden forests and gentle hills of the island are clearly the result of arcane alterations. The Quel’dorei began their transformation of the forest in Sunstrider Isle, and it still stands as a showcase of their great efforts. It is like a massive park, decorated with monuments of times past.
Delicate spires and domed houses also dot the landscape. Most of these are museums or libraries, though a few are homes of high-ranking nobles. The largest structure is Falthrien Academy, nestled in the southern hills of Sunstrider Isle. Like many students in Dalaran, I was told tales of the incredible magic resources within Falthrien Academy and its sister school, Duskwither Spire (which is in northeastern Eversong). In those days, the two locales were the bases for the Magisters' College. While both are still used, the College has relocated to a new headquarters in Silvermoon City, part of a general trend towards centralization in the elven nation.
One of the most striking sights of Sunstrider Isle are the Burning Crystals. The Burning Crystals have long powered the arcane experiments conducted in Sunstrider Isle. Mana wyrms, magical creations that feed off of the dead mana that accumulates around the crystals, wriggle through the air around each set. Regrettably, the Scourge invasion disrupted the mana feed and the wyrms now behave erratically, sometimes damaging the crystals they were meant to protect. Overworked magisters must now ensure that the Burning Crystals operate as planned.
“It’s more than just the mana wyrms that are affected,” complained one magister, referring to the guardians. We were standing before a trio of green crystals that hovered above an ornate stone platform. Chains of gold bound the crystals together, and mana wyrms swam lazily around us.
“The Burning Crystals used to tap into the Sunwell. Upon the Sunwell’s corruption, the crystals suffered the same fate.”
“Does it still draw from the Sunwell?”
“No, it now contains energy harvested from Outland. However, something is definitely wrong with this energy. In addition to the wyrms, the local fauna has been driven half-mad. We’ve been forced to cull them several times. Terrible, I know! But we had no choice. It was the only way to keep Sunstrider Isle safe.”
It was with great enthusiasm that I finally arrived at the Sunspire, which stabs into the sky at the island center. The Sunspire contains the personal records of each Great House, along with the original manuscripts of many Quel’dorei histories. Though I could not read Thalassian, I still wished to see the Sunspire’s fabled library. The books themselves are works of art, beautifully illuminated by elven artisans. Unfortunately, I had arrived too late; most of the books had been moved to Silvermoon City after the war, and are kept under lock and key. There is still a decent collection of elven spellbooks, though they lack the aesthetics of the histories.
“We value the histories of our race more than you can imagine, undead. Protecting them from harm is imperative,” explained a librarian.
I was not the first scholar to be frustrated by Quel’dorei records. Elven histories are notoriously difficult to understand or translate. Ever the artists, the elves write history as an epic poem, drowning every fact in several layers of symbolism. As a student I read a direct translation of Quilistus Silverwing’s “Glory Rising,” the preferred history of early Quel’thalas. I could barely make sense of it.
To understand an elven history, one needs intimate familiarity with Highborne symbolism. Historical figures will rarely if ever be referred to by their real names. The writers refer to them by titles, sometimes of the author’s own invention. This is even true when discussing organizations. For instance, Quilistus often made mention of the “Shining Eye.” This baffled me, and I first thought it was some sort of magical entity. Then I learned that the Shining Eye was another name for the Conclave of Silvermoon, though it could alternately mean the Magisters' College if used in a different context. I think I stopped reading at that point.
Quel’dorei records stymie more than just foreigners. Only the most educated elves can understand their own histories. The populace relies on simplified (still highly poetic, though less symbolic) oral recitations of the elven history. But in a sense, the normal elves are not missing very much. The written histories are slanted and fraught with inaccuracies. Modern blood elf scholars infuse their nation’s history with mythic importance, considering a triumphant narrative more important than objective fact. This is not necessarily uncommon, but the Sin'dorei pursue this ideal with unusual dedication.
The calm environment of Sunstrider Isle led the elves to turn it into a sort of training ground for specialists such as magisters and farstriders. Island authorities assign them to low-risk tasks that typically involve the destruction of errant mana wyrms and similar entities.
I met one of these trainees the morning after I first arrived. She was a priestess by the name of Hestrielle Goldendawn. The high elves were never a religious people, though they did not completely neglect spiritual matters. When we met, Hestrielle asked if any of the Forsaken still followed the Holy Light.
“A few do, and I number myself among them. Most have abandoned it for newer, more esoteric faiths.”
“Truly a sad time for all the peoples of this world. The folk of Lordaeron were long steadfast in their faith, and I hoped they would continue in their cursed state.”
Hestrielle came from an unusually devout family that had once ministered to the people of Windrunner Village. I decided to ask her about the Sin’dorei church. While I knew the basics, I had never before heard it explained by an actual elven priest.
“For my race, the Light was a gift from Princess Ireesa Sunstrider. Hers was a mystic soul, given to strange thoughts. When she heard of Cassian’s message, she grew intrigued. Ireesa took pains to familiarize herself with the Common tongue so that she could read the Exegesis of the Light.”
“She wrote the Thalassian translation, did she not?”
“She did. By writing the Light in her own words, she converted her brother, High King Belereos Sunstrider. The other Great Houses soon took to the faith, as did their subjects.”
“Fascinating. She got the conversion that really counted.”
“In a manner of speaking.”
“I know that there are some doctrinal differences between the elven and human churches. Could you explain these?”
“Yes. You must remember that the Sunstriders have been gifted with great perception since time immemorial. I believe that Princess Ireesa understood aspects of Cassian’s message that were not thoroughly observed by his human followers. I do not say this to denigrate the theologians of Lordaeron; even the wisest may miss something.” Hestrielle paused, appearing a bit flustered.
“Cassian said that joy is transcendental. Yet happiness can be a distant abstraction for those who labor all day. Only when there is enough arcane power to take care of the dreary and mundane tasks can a people truly arise to spiritual transcendence.”
“This describes Quel’thalas?”
“Essentially. The Light is like a fulfillment of our birthright and our art. The other races can take part in it as well. Tragically, there are many obstacles for them to overcome.”
“How did the elven priesthood regard the humans?”
“That depended on the priest. A few of the early mystics claimed that humans would never be able to experience happiness, and that the Quel’dorei should shun them. Yet Princess Ireesa herself refuted that ridiculous statement. Still, we have always been reluctant to interact with the misery to the south, preferring to cultivate our own joy.”
“Cassian did say that a life lived for the self is not worth living,” I pointed out.
“And he was correct in saying that. However isn’t it also selfish for the miserable to spread their unhappiness?”
I paused. While that was not a direct quote from the Exegesis, it was not an entirely unreasonable interpretation. Cassian did warn his followers to avoid being dragged down by the chronically bitter and unhappy. It is certainly true that some people do not really want to be helped.
“Furthermore,” she added, “the Quel’dorei did not live for the self. The Light brought the Great Houses closer to each other and to their subjects.”
“I see. I know that some elven priests did attempt to help the humans. What was their rationale?”
“The Order of Boundless Redemption,” she said. “My grandfather was a member. They were priests that sought to increase the level of magic in other lands, so that they too could have the same joy. They had the full support of the Mystic Hall.” The Mystic Hall is the official name of the elven church.
“There were a few of them in Dalaran, though I did not really know them.”
“Dalaran was popular destination due to the leylines on which the Kirin Tor built that noble city. The Sunwell’s energies could not really extend beyond Quel’thalas. The Order hoped that properly harnessed leylines could replicate the Sunwell’s power.”
“Was the Order based in Tranquilien? I know that many of the Quel’dorei expatriates hailed from that town.”
“The headquarters is in Silvermoon City, though many of the Order’s number did come from Tranquilien.”
“What happened to them?”
“The Boundless Redemption still exists, but its mission is in indefinite suspension. Too many things are afoot. The Scourge schemes in the north, while the demonic Naaru and their draenic minions threaten us in Outland.”
Like all things elven, religion is inextricably tied with magic. The human church never made a secret of its disapproval for elven religious interpretation. Even the most generous theologians placed the Mystic Hall on the borderline of heresy.
I would strongly question Hestrielle’s statement of luxury being a prerequisite for happiness. Human nobles enjoyed easy lives, but were often listless and bored. Likewise, many blood elves are known to have neurotic and melancholic tendencies. The elves seemed to use the Light to justify their own idleness. Further evidence for this exists in the fact that the Mystic Hall was never more than a minor player in elven politics.
That night I was greeted by a young magister named Elnerion Sunbrand. Elnerion had lived among the humans of Kul Tiras for 24 years, and had great respect for human arcanists. Elnerion explained that he would be going to Falthrien Academy the next day to check on an experiment, and invited me to accompany him. I accepted his offer.
Elnerion was able to procure a pair of hawkstriders to speed up the journey to the Academy. I had some difficulty maintaining my balance on such a swift mount. While en route, I learned that Elnerion would soon be traveling to Undercity to confer with the Forsaken mages there. To prepare, he wanted to learn as much as he could about Forsaken society. I told him as much as I could, warning him that the Forsaken tended towards hostility and xenophobia.
“That is not so different from us Sin’dorei,” he laughed.
Falthrien Academy is a breathtaking example of elven architecture, a labyrinthine complex of floating towers and spiraling walkways bedecked in the red and gold favored by modern Quel’thalas. Much of the academy is open-air, though an invisible shield protects it from the rare instances of inclement weather.
“Quite a sight the first time,” remarked Elnerion.
“Indeed.” After the first impression, the academy did strike me as ostentatious. Dalaran had its share of floating buildings, but they never took that style to the same extremes as the Quel’dorei.
An arching bridge led us to the foyer. I was surprised to see no signs of habitation, or even of recent use. I knew that some of this was due to the nature of the academy. Elven wizardry schools never utilized classrooms or lecture halls. Education is on a person-to-person basis, with one or two apprentices being taught by an experienced magister. The academy is purely a venue for research and experimentation.
“My laboratory is higher up,” said Elnerion.
We ascended a long ramp that twisted around the spires of Falthrien Academy. The upper levels gave a stunning view of the surrounding countryside.
“Is Falthrien Academy always so quiet?”
“I’m afraid it is. When I first came here, under the tutelage of the esteemed Sepethrea Skydreamer, the halls were full of mages conducting or observing magical experiments. All of the serious research is now done in Silvermoon City. This is so the Magisters' College can direct arcane development in an optimal direction.”
“Do you think that is a good thing?”
“I suppose it is necessary, but some of the greatest discoveries came about through eccentric individual research. Now that so many magisters are dead, we only have time for the most vital of arcane study.”
“What sort of research do you undertake?”
“I’ve spent the last year studying how mana is altered when it undergoes long-term isolation from any outside sources of arcane energy. I’m hoping to find a way to ameliorate the Sin’dorei thirst for magic. That is to say, I want to see if we can make a little bit of mana last longer.”
“That seems like valuable research.”
“The Magisters' College disagrees. That is why I’m going to Undercity. This work is of great value to the elves! If I can discover a way to make isolated mana last longer it will make things much easier for everyone!”
“I’m surprised the Magisters' College thinks it unimportant.”
“They do not say it is unimportant. They merely think it should be postponed for when we take Outland. But long-lasting mana could make the logistics of the Outland campaign much easier! As a scion of House Sunbrand, I am permitted a certain degree of independence in my research. Nonetheless, the college grows ever more restrictive.”
“Are you not obliged to obey the Magisters' College?”
“I am also obliged to aid House Sunstrider and the blood elf race to the best of my ability, and I can do more good through my research! Everything I do is for the Sin’dorei! My father agrees with me, and I must certainly honor his wishes.”
Elnerion’s lab was nothing more than a long table, over which hovered several glowing crystal shards. He excused himself, saying that he would need a few hours. I explored the academy grounds while waiting. He finished in the late afternoon, looking disheartened with the results.
“I was not able to reach any real conclusions. Hopefully, I’ll have more luck in Undercity,” he sighed.
We walked out of the Falthrien Academy in silence. Elnerion did not speak again until we returned to the hawkstriders.
“Sometimes I fear that the Scourge invasion hollowed our people. More and more loyalty is demanded by the government and its institutions. I have hope for the future though, and I suspect we are over the worst times.”
His voice did not sound as confident as his words. I cannot tell whether Elnerion was a dedicated researcher or a spoiled scion of nobility. Perhaps he was both. Torn between loyalties to his House and the Magisters' College (an extension of the blood elf government) he serves as an interesting example of blood elf society.
For all the respect given to Great Houses, it is clear that they were critically and perhaps permanently weakened by the Scourge invasion. As such, groups like the Magisters' College have risen to take their place. Such institutions act as a more direct representation of Kael’thas’ will. The Sunstrider Dynasty has at last achieved a strong and centralized state. While I am not one to mourn the weakening of hereditary aristocracy, this new system is hardly one conducive to freedom, rationality, or morality. Rather than being managed by a multitude of Great Houses and institutions, the blood elves are now ruled by a single force.
Thursday, April 3, 2008
Unseen forces pushed our boat towards the mournful shoreline of the Ghostlands. A misty drizzle fell, obscuring our view of the beach. My compatriots cheered when they saw the ruined grandeur of Windrunner Village, its graceful manses and gardens overtaken by the spectral forest.
A centuries-old elven vessel had picked me up from the rotting northern shore of Tirisfal, along with twelve other Forsaken. Called the Dawn Defiant, the ship carried us through the chill waters of the Northern Sea. Like all things elven, arcane energies powered the Dawn Defiant. The captain of the ship, Kelisendra Noonblaze, had welcomed us aboard. Her family had once been retainers to House Goldenmist, the previous owners of the ship. That lineage had been slaughtered to the last by the Scourge. Portraits of the fallen nobles graced the hold, and Captain Kelisendra uttered a blessing before them each day at dawn.
The boat came to a stop on a thin strand of beach. Our Dark Lady had once sprinted down those sands as a youth, racing her sisters Alleria and Vereesa. In those days, the Ghostlands were called Summer’s Grace, a fitting name for the verdant sylvan paradise. A strange place for so much death to occur. Now, white trees spread heavy limbs beneath a gloomy sky. Oily black leaves weigh down the branches, though some are bare and skeletal. Glowing green molds mottle the trunks, and bloated mushrooms burst from the roots.
“These are blessed lands. Our Dark Lady once ruled here, and here she shall rule again!” intoned Ulsar-of-the-Night.
Ulsar was a priest of the Cult of the Forgotten Shadow, the leader of four robed and babbling acolytes. The Shadow had risen in Undercity, acting as a dark inverse to the Holy Light that had once ruled Lordaeron. This faith preaches that the individual can attain great power, and in so doing change the world to suit his own desires. While probably preferable to the hopelessness felt by many Forsaken, the Shadow lacks the redemptive qualities that a religion should possess.
The Cult of the Forgotten Shadow embraces disunity. There can be no heresy, for there is no orthodoxy. Ulsar-of-the-Night led an influential sect that very nearly deified Lady Sylvanas Windrunner. They saw her as a path to power followed by the wise and strong. Through blackened lips, Ulsar gave paeans to his mistress’ might.
One of the elves raised his hand and fired a brilliant arcane light into the air. The purpose was to alert a quartet of farstriders who would escort us to the besieged elven town of Tranquilien, deep within the Ghostlands. They watched from somewhere on the beach, waiting for their decaying charges.
The farstriders appeared soon enough, melting out from the shadows. Unlike the ostentatiously styled Sunhawks I’d encountered in Bloodmyst, the farstriders dressed in practical forest garb. A pair of tamed lynxes accompanied them, their golden eyes examining us with suspicion.
“We are honored to host the followers of Lady Windrunner,” said the leader. “I am Belistus Highstar, a lieutenant of the farstriders. I’m afraid we must leave this place now; the Scourge still holds Windrunner Village. Please, follow us.”
Weeds and toadstools grow from the soft soil in the forest dark, barely visible under the canopy of diseased branches. The farstriders led the way, cutting a path with enchanted machetes. Remnants of glory sink into memory all through the Ghostlands. Lithe marble statues crumble in the grip of vines and cracked foundations drown in the cold earth.
The corruption grows more pronounced beyond the shore. Lines of green phosphorescence wind through the forest floor like fouled streams, collecting in viscous pools. Glowing fungal mounds accumulate in and around these ponds, casting a sickly light on the dead surfaces. The tainted leaves sometimes rustle as if in a breeze, but the damp air is completely still.
We came to a road and the farstriders stopped for a quick head count. Everyone had come through safely, though the path ahead did not look inviting.
“Do not tarry; we are still in dangerous lands. We shall reach sanctuary soon enough.”
We had not gone far before the forests cleared and I saw Windrunner Spire stark and black against a full moon, high up on a rock promontory. The moon shone bright and the stars glittered in the night sky, and I heard Belistus gasp.
“The stars... I have not seen them in so long. They do not often shine in the Ghostlands. Perhaps this is a good omen,” he whispered.
Two smaller towers flank the main spire, each topped with crystals of faded luster. My liberator first drew breath in that place, brought into a world of light and glory. Whatever my differences with Undercity, I shall never forget she to whom I owe my freedom and my soul. Looking around me, I saw all the Forsaken kneeling. I realized I was doing the same.
“Lady of Darkness!” bellowed one of Ulsar’s followers. The charred shadow priest murmured a prayer.
“Ulsar-of-the-Night, let us enter the spire and retake it for the Dark Lady,” urged an enthusiastic acolyte.
“Windrunner Spire is haunted, it is quite dangerous,” warned Belistus.
“Pah! The Dark Lady shall protect us—”
“The Dark Lady will protect those who are worthy of it. Those who are strong and wise. Fools are not worthy of her attention. If you go up that path, I assure you that you will meet your final death, and we will be well rid of you,” hissed Ulsar.
The acolyte froze, and then lowered his head, revealing the leather patch stitched over his scalp.
“Of course. I will gain power over time.”
“We shall see. Continue, Belistus.”
The farstrider nodded. He led us again into the forest, where dead branches obscure the stars and light comes only from the phosphorescent molds and streams. We walked through the night and all the next day. The farstriders are rightly famed for their endurance. During the Second War, they’d track orcish warbands across leagues of wilderness, kept awake and alert by pure willpower.
I observed my companions during our journey. The elves were silent, their faces set and determined. Though the eastern elves had long ago lost their immortality they still live considerably longer than humans. Barring accident or murder, a blood elf will usually live a bit beyond 300 years. Aging takes little toll on their appearance, the result of the magic that has long inundated the race.
Most of the Forsaken on the journey hailed from the various Undercity factions. In addition to Ulsar and his followers walked a pair of alchemists from the Apothecarium and a trio of Deathguard warriors. The Apothecarium had long been eager to gain access to the herbal wealth of Quel’thalas, and ardently supported incorporating the blood elves into the Horde. The Deathguard was similarly interested to learn of new methods with which to fight the Scourge.
The other two Forsaken served their own interests. Marten Ogilvy had been a soldier in life, and continued his service in undeath, acting as a contract warrior for Undercity and the Defilers. He sought work in Quel’thalas. I spoke with him while we were on the ship, but I found that hatred tinged nearly every word he spoke. Conversation with Marten quickly became tiring. The last was a gangrenous woman named Tylvia Fletch, of whom I knew little.
A deep melancholy pervades the haunted forests of the Ghostlands. Something in the air stifles conversation, perhaps the knowledge that one is surrounded by millennia of lost wonder. Unlike the noxious Plaguelands, signs of former beauty still adorn the pale forest, making its ruin all the more poignant. Generations of elves had devoted their lives to tending and beautifying the groves. The slash-and-burn campaigns of the orcs in the Second War had never extended far beyond the border. What the old Horde failed to do in five years the Scourge accomplished in less than a month.
The farstriders finally paused for a brief rest. We camped in a copse of trees near the twisted wreckage of a Scourge meat wagon. Biscuits and dried meat provided sustenance for the Farstriders, who ate it in darkness. There was no real need for a campfire.
I forced myself to break the silence, asking Belistus if the elves had any plans to restore the forest.
“We have plans aplenty. Yet we cannot put them into action until we cleanse this place of the Scourge and the trolls. Though Lady Windrunner has assured my masters that the Apothecarium may be able to help in this area.”
“This was once her homeland, as you know. She longs to see it restored, as do we all.”
“We shall do our part, when the time comes,” replied the lead apothecary, his flayed visage grinning horribly. The apothecary was a Forsaken named Joam Hartfel. He had skinned his own face to show mastery over undeath.
“I know that the Cenarion Circle has worked to cleanse Felwood and the Plaguelands. Perhaps they could also be of assistance.”
“Their restoration attempts have gone on for years, and both those places are still ruined. Besides, the Circle is ruled by night elves and tauren. To them, our forests are an abomination.”
“Because of the use of magic?”
“That is precisely why. Though considering how terrible it is now, you would think the Circle would be more willing to lend aid. A verdant magical forest ought to be preferable to a dead magical one. But they have their ideals, and we Sin’dorei have our own.”
“There is no need for the blood elves to deal with such simple and barbaric creatures. The Apothecarium shall do its utmost to serve our new friends,” said Joam.
Belistus nodded, eyeing the alchemist’s ruined face with some trepidation. Joam snickered, and returned his attentions to an alchemical manual.
The elves went to sleep while the undead kept watch. Most simply fastened their empty eyes beyond the camp’s perimeter, though Joam and Marten played a silent game of backgammon. Leaning against a tree I tried to dispel the nameless sorrows that had been weighing down on me since my arrival.
In such cases, I found it helped for me to think of Orgrimmar. I guessed it would be late morning in the Valley of Spirits, and Daj'yah was doubtless studying some ancient codex while Uthel’nay taught a novice wizard. Strange that a trollish suburb would become a new home for me, but I found myself quite satisfied with it.
Specks of gray ash drifted down on my shoulders. The green illumination of the fungi faded, replaced by a choking darkness, broken by a dull and flickering red light. In the distance, voices screamed in terror. An intangible force slowed my movement, like in a nightmare. Then I saw an impossibly beautiful elven woman running in my direction, casting fearful glances to the burning forest behind her.
Not seeing me, she knelt down and produced a glimmering amulet from her cloak. She held it briefly to her lips and whispered a prayer, before digging a small hole in the earth. Carefully placing the amulet within, she quickly buried it. Tears streamed from her eyes and she again looked back.
Then she faded, as did the flames and the cries. I stood in the damp and dying forest, alone with its pale necromantic lights. I looked down to where she had buried the amulet. I sifted aside the damp earth, but came up with nothing.
When Belistus awoke, I asked about what I had seen.
“You have seen the curse on this realm. The Ghostlands suffer from more than mere physical corruption. The spirits of the fallen rush through this land like a fel wind. Listen closely and you shall hear their lamentations. They forever live their last moments.”
“The woman I saw buried a keepsake, an amulet.”
“You saw Fyllendria, a daughter of House Silverbough. Their estate was in this area, and all were slain in the Third War. The amulet was a gift from her husband, who is buried in the graveyards of Silvermoon. We have known of this haunting for some time.”
“The amulet was never found?”
“On the contrary. A kindly magister placed the amulet on her husband’s grave. Yet her spirit still refuses to rest. The Ghostlands are full of such tales. Each haunting brings a message, or a task. But fulfillment brings no end to the torment of the fallen.”
“The sorrow here is too great. When the Sun King returns to this land and dispels the Scourge, they may at last rest. Until then, we must ignore them and keep our eyes set on victory.”
We continued marching through that tragic land. I did not see any other hauntings, but at times I heard lonely Thalassian susurrations in the air. When we again stopped for a camp, I spoke with Tylvia for the first time since Tirisfal.
“I was a child of ten when the orcs burnt Southshore to the ground. An elf saved my life. Hyrelle Dayborne was her name, a magistrix from Tranquilien. My entire family fell to the Horde—I still find it hard to believe that the orcs are truly our friends—but she set me up with a human mage couple in Dalaran. Even then Hyrelle came to see me; I looked up to her like a glorious sister. She stood with me when I married my dear, fallen Colston.”
“Is Hyrelle in Tranquilien now?”
“I do not know. Whether she is or not, I feel I owe the elves. Do you see their strength, Destron? Misery surrounds them, but still they strive for victory. They say that an elf can be either your best friend or your worst enemy, and the Scourge may have no greater enemy than they.”
“I also think if anyone can cure us of our malady, it shall be the elves. I hope I find Hyrelle though. When I was a child I dreamt of being a beautiful magistrix like herself, the first human to join the Conclave of Silvermoon. I soon found I lacked the talent to be any kind of mage, but Hyrelle never looked down on me for being a mere seamstress.”
“If I find her on my travels I shall tell her that you are looking for her.”
“Thank you, Destron. I truly appreciate that.”
She smiled, her ragged face shifting and exposing her carrion flesh.
Three days of travel brought us to the Dead Scar. This blighted strip of land marks the path Arthas’ forces took through Quel’thalas. The bones of two armies litter a blackened stretch where nothing can grow. Belistus ordered a short stop before crossing the Scar; he warned that Scourge drones always attacked those who set foot on it, and that he wanted the farstriders to be rested before making the attempt.
“You know, Belistus, perhaps we should simply go across. If any of your subordinates fall in battle I’ll be happy to resurrect them,” snickered Joam.
“Your offer is... appreciated. However, to be a farstrider one must be alive.”
“Suit yourself.” The apothecary laughed again when he saw Tylvia glaring at him.
From our vantage point I could make out the dark outline of a Scourge ziggurat. These grim structures were once ubiquitous throughout Lordaeron, though the Forsaken and the Scarlet Crusade razed many of them. The ziggurats were mere outliers of the main Scourge base to the south, a terrible place called Deatholme.
“When Arthas first went mad and burned Stratholme, the survivors fled to the north, where Quel'thalas gave them sanctuary. Those refugees were the first to die when Arthas began his campaign. Now it is the home of the Traitor,” explained Belistus.
“Do you refer to Dar’khan?”
Dar’khan had once been a powerful elven magister. His name was known in Dalaran, and there was even a plaque dedicated to him in the College of Enchantment. Dar’khan’s reasons for betraying his people remain obscure, though most say that he was driven by resentment and arrogance. None know precisely why he would resent Quel’thalas; perhaps he was simply a narcissist.
Deatholme has been mostly silent since the Third War. Death cultists still go forth from its gates to gather carrion, but Dar’khan has made no notable efforts against his former kindred. Even the Scourge’s recent incursion to the northlands brought little change to Dar’khan’s policy.
The greatest harm wrought by Deatholme is its continued poisoning of the land. The lines of green sludge meandering through the Ghostlands all start in Deatholme. Later on, I would obtain a photograph of the Scourge base from a farstrider. It is indeed a place of nightmare, where skull-topped temples and abattoirs loom over a lake of roiling necromantic slime.
Belistus finally stood up, ready to cross. Setting foot in the Dead Scar came as physical shock; a freezing cold gripped my heart as if I still lived. A quick look around revealed similar reactions in my companions. My vision dimmed and my feet felt heavy.
“Do not let the curse distract you, run!” ordered Belistus.
He did not need to tell us. Looking to up and down the Scar, I saw no Scourge presence, and began to hope we would get through without trouble.
A farstrider ahead of me shouted in alarm as a skeletal hand erupted out of the ground. He hacked it in two with his blade, as the air filled with the sound of skittering corpses. Vomited forth from the earth, the Scourge made its attack.
“Stay close together!”
Empty eyes stared at me from a plague-sloughed face, echoing hopeless groans. Three drones marched towards me, their hands outstretched. I countered with a simple fireball, the kinetic force enough to break their fragile bodies. When they fell, I noticed that their bodies sank into the ground, the dirt burying them with astonishing rapidity.
The deathguards hissed vengeance and went to work on their hated foes, cutting them to pieces as they arose. Yet I quickly realized that retreat was the only option, as more and more of the dead surfaced. With a cry, one of the farstriders fell to a pack of skeletons that had managed to separate her from the group.
“Keep moving, we’re nearly there!”
A lynx yowled in death as a skeleton’s ax split its head. One of the deathguards went down besides me, spitting curses as skeletal claws tore him apart. I aimed my spells at the larger groups shambling towards us, quickly taking them down though a few proved surprisingly resilient.
Ichor sprayed across my face. To my right, Marten had cut down a zombie that had somehow passed my notice.
Rather than ascending the slope to safety, the farstriders continued fighting to let us through. I took the rear of the column, casting the most destructive spells I had at the advancing corpses.
I feared that the Scourge would pursue us into the forest. However, the assembled Scourge halted when the last of us left the Dead Scar. They stood for a chilling moment, before collapsing into bones and viscera, burrowing back into the earth.
Two farstriders, a deathguard, and one of Ulsar’s acolytes had fallen in the dangerous crossing. Belistus was visibly shocked.
“I have never before seen so many,” he stammered. “Perhaps Dar’khan is plotting something.”
Though naturally shaken by the loss of two experienced farstriders, Belistus did not forget the purpose of his mission. He apologized for the two dead Forsaken, though Ulsar assured him that no apologies were necessary.
“They were weak. It would have happened sooner or later anyway,” he replied.
The Deathguard captain turned to Ulsar.
“Speak for yourself priest. But every Forsaken blade that falls here is one less that can go to Northrend. Even the weak may grow powerful,” he retorted.
“I beg your pardon, but this is not the time and the place. My friends did not die so that you can bicker!” shouted Belistus. I found myself nodding in agreement, though I had found Ulsar’s comment to be incredibly distasteful.
The necromantic energies in the southern half of the Dead Scar are so strong that they can effectively reanimate the skeletons and zombies slain on its surface. Scourge troops are cut down again and again, only to rise up for another attack. Only by physically removing a carcass from the Scar can it be truly removed from the Scourge's reserves. The common theory is that Dar’khan used the latent magical energy of Quel’thalas to act as a sort of undeath generator. The Dead Scar provides a grim testimony to the horrors of the Scourge.
Lanterns of pink glass floated above the assembled guests in the mansion of House Dawnwhisper, casting the sumptuous interior in a gentle light. Drapes of rich red silk hung on the walls, all proudly displaying the reborn phoenix of Silvermoon. Elegantly robed Sin’dorei nobles and retainers rested in cushioned divans and chairs throughout the room, speaking in gentle sighs and whispers, while an elven cellist played a melancholy song in the center of the room. His eyes closed, the musician lost his soul in the melody.
Lord Tersinial Dawnwhisper, an aged elf with carefully combed silver hair, got to his feet.
“It is my honor to house the servants of Lady Windrunner. However I regret to announce that the festivities must end for tonight. There are many tasks that must be performed tomorrow, and I must rest.”
I sighed, already knowing what would come next. Lord Dawnwhisper took a deep breath and raised his hands. The light from the lanterns dimmed, just as the tapestries blackened and disintegrated. Bits of quickly rotting red cloth drifted to the floor like rose petals. Reality plucked the sound from the attendants’ lips, and they too faded away.
The chamber was a far cry from what it had just been. The painstakingly crafted tables and seats were reduced to cobwebbed rubble piled beneath tattered black banners. A flickering, blood-red jewel radiated a weak and sooty light through the shadowy chamber, revealing the vines and weeds snaking across the cracked floor. Lord Dawnwhisper began to collapse and was caught just in time by Dame Auriferous Dawnwhisper, his daughter.
“Forgive my father. It was quite taxing for him to maintain the illusion. I shall take him to his personal chambers. In the meanwhile, you may rest where you choose,” she said.
Whispering in Thalassian, Auriferous put her father’s trembling arms around her shoulders and disappeared into the darkness beyond the room.
Even the most jaded of the Forsaken had been astonished at the luxury still apparent within Dawnwhisper Manor upon arrival. Tersinial was every inch the impeccable and urbane host. He almost immediately told us that it was all an illusion, and he spent most of the evening attempting to maintain it. We watched the images of dead Quel’dorei at play for hours, carefully recreated from Tersinial’s memory.
I woke early the next morning and wandered the deserted walkways of Tranquilien. The center of the town is dominated by a delicate-looking spire and a statue of two dancing elf maidens. Both showed signs of age and neglect. I spotted a pair of Forsaken in Deathguard cloaks conversing with an elven magister; the two Forsaken were not among the ones who had arrived with me.
“Both our peoples have had our civilizations ruined by the Scourge. It is only fitting that we work together to drive it out once and for all,” explained a deathguard named Ristlin.
The Forsaken presence in Tranquilien can actually be seen as the continuation of a long tradition. Quel’thalas had always looked down on the human kingdoms to the south. The isolationist elven nation jealously guarded its borders, only allowing entry to emissaries, visiting aristocrats, and a few traders. The Conclave of Silvermoon flatly forbade the merchants from entering Eversong Woods or Silvermoon City, so the human traders would do their business in Tranquilien. House Dawnwhisper, which owned Tranquilien, was one of the few elven lineages favorably disposed to humans.
While many elven villages hid in the forests, Tranquilien thrived with visitors and new ideas. Local elven artists studied the paintings and crafts brought by the merchants, and even invited a few of the more notable human artists. This resulted in the ‘Tranquilien school,’ a mix of the colorful human aesthetic and the ultra-detailed elven style. Sculpture, music, and other mediums also blossomed under the welcoming dominion of House Dawnwhisper.
Some of the merchants became almost like accepted members of the community. There were pragmatic reasons for this. Human merchants were not permitted to sell their goods in Silvermoon City. As such, Tranquilien could buy their products at a bargain and then resell it for a profit in the capital. Given the peculiar vagaries of the Quel’dorei economy, this was not quite the advantage it would have been in a human nation. Still, it helped. As a result of this intermingling, Tranquilien held the largest population of half-elves in the world until the Third War. Marriage between a human and an elf was regarded as somewhat questionable even there, but it did not meet with the outright condemnatory attitude seen in many other lands.
Unlike the rest of Silvermoon, Tranquilien maintained its ties with the Alliance after the Second War. The Dawnwhispers cited a familial obligation to continue aiding the Alliance, giving the house a legitimate reason for going against Quel’thalas’ departure from the same. A good number of the priests and sorcerers that stayed in the human kingdoms after the war hailed from Tranquilien.
Today, Tranquilien stands as a testament to its residents' resolve. The elves abandoned the town during the Scourge invasion, and a high-ranking necromancer briefly commandeered it. The Sin’dorei retook Tranquilien after a short and bloody campaign, and the town now serves as the Horde's base of operations in the Ghostlands.
Ilsenverine Skyblade was a veteran of the battle to retake Tranquilien. He was a spellbreaker, a type of elven soldier trained to combat arcanists. The Sin’dorei desperately sought ways to sate their addiction to magic after the Sunwell’s corruption. The spellbreakers, who satisfied their needs by draining hostile mages of their mana, quickly became numerous. Their stylized red armor and graceful equipment has made them icons of the blood elf race. I accompanied Ilsenverine as he made his daily patrol through the lower slopes of Sungraze Peak.
“The Aegis was reluctant to let me fight under the banner of House Dawnwhisper. Most thought Tranquilien was not worth the trouble. Even today we must continuously prove ourselves to Silvermoon.” The Aegis is the name for the blood elf army.
“I thought they would be very keen on retaking these lands,” I commented, stepping over a mushroom-encrusted log.
“The Great Houses of Silvermoon turn their gaze to Outland, where they shall soon join the Sun King. I tell you truly that my kin have little interest in this world. The shock of seeing their paradise destroyed in less than a month was too much for them.”
“What of the other houses with estates in the Ghostlands?”
“Most of those families lie under the earth—if they were lucky. Too many wander this land as slaves of the Lich King. Only Dawnwhisper and a few others wish to rebuild Quel’thalas.”
“Surely you’ve done an important task in protecting Eversong’s southern border.”
“Dame Dawnwhisper has devoted herself to it, and so have I. That is why she sought the aid of your Lady Windrunner. Alas, the elves of Eversong are fleeing from the past. Few supplies ever get here.”
“If the departure to Outland occurs, will you leave?”
“The Skyblades have always served House Dawnwhisper. My obligations lie to both the House, and to the Aegis. To the Sin’dorei as a whole, as well. I shall seek to stay here as long as I am able for this land is still dear to me. However I can never forget my masters.”
“Which would have precedence; the Aegis, or your House?”
“Before Arthas, my loyalties were to House Dawnwhisper first and foremost. Now, it is less clear. So many have died, Destron. The great lineages are gone, their bloodlines thinned. It is not proper to replace them directly, so we turn to the great institutions that have guided us.”
Quel’thalas had always appeared a very stable nation, but Ilsenverine’s reports of competing power groups suggested a more chaotic truth. I asked about this.
“The elves have great discipline. Each house served the nation that it helped create, even as it watched over and protected its subject families. We did not always agree, but we Highborne vowed to never set one house against another, back when we first came to this land. This discipline is starting to fade. All we think about is restoring our connection to the arcane. The old ways die as we hunger.”
A dense fog wreathed the village on my third day when I visited the Tranquilien cemetery. The graveyard has expanded in recent years. Like most elven graveyards, it is divided into several family plots. Each plot consists of one large marble gravestone, decorated with a blazing sun of pure gold and red-painted thorium, flanked by smaller markers.
As a student in Dalaran, I had a peculiar fascination with the magical embalming techniques practiced by the elves. This process slowed and altered the normal decay undergone by a corpse. Instead of the carcass decomposing, the practice works to dehydrate and disintegrate it over the course of centuries, until only a fine powder remains.
The coming of the Scourge made this beloved tradition impossible. More than one Tranquilien inhabitant had already told me how necromancers uprooted the ancient cemetery and reanimated the corpses within. The elves now use chemicals to reduce the body to dust upon death. This is considered supremely disrespectful, but even the most conservative Sin’dorei acknowledge its necessity.
Dame Auriferous Dawnwhisper stood alone at the graveyard. Flickering lights from countless memorial candles peeked through the mist. I stood there in silence, and was about to turn and leave when she called to me.
“You are Destron?”
“The servants of Lady Windrunner are welcome here. Come closer, if you would like.”
I walked in, giving the tombstones a respectfully wide berth.
“Each family that lies here is one that dates back to my peoples’ arrival on this land. Throughout all the challenges, House Dawnwhisper protected the Lightsong, the Sunstream, the Everflame... and others. Until we failed.”
“I take it House Dawnwhisper maintained a close relationship with its subject families?”
“All of the Great Houses do. Each Quel’dorei—or Sin’dorei—is of noble blood. The Great Houses are above the rest, but we never disregard our subjects. Doing so would be a betrayal of all we stand for.”
Yet, I would soon find that Dame Auriferous’ idyllic description was not entirely accurate. While the relations between Great Houses and their Subject Houses remained strong in Summer’s Grace, such interfamilial obligations had begun fading in northern Quel’thalas before even the First War. It must be remembered that the southern forest was not as safe as Eversong; the elves never succeeded in removing the pockets of trollish resistance along the eastern border. The greater stresses of the region worked to create a stronger community. Ironically, the human visitation in the south may have inspired the local Great Houses to hold more strongly to their ancient traditions, so as to avoid a loss of culture. While Tranquilien was relatively open to non-elven visitors, they were quite conservative in regards to their social hierarchy. These two seemingly contradictory elements probably both played a significant role in the town’s post-Scourge survival.
It would be inaccurate to say that the Highborne elves were ever egalitarian. Each family had its place in the hierarchy and could only really advance through extraordinary effort or marriage. The high elves also used their nobility as an excuse to isolate themselves from the other races, a foolish move with disastrous consequences. The lack of a strong human-elven front against the Scourge was a significant reason for the relative ease of Arthas’ victory, and the Second War was probably prolonged through early elven inaction. Even the treaty with the Horde came about mostly because of Sylvanas’ ancestry, though Sin’dorei desperation certainly played a part.
The elves have only recently reclaimed Farstrider Enclave from the forest’s grip. The last records of the place describe a refugee camp for Quel’dorei fleeing from Scourge raiders. The forest trolls, seeing an opportunity for revenge against their ancient foe, attacked and killed nearly everyone within. Parts of the compound lingered in a state of disrepair at the time of my visit.
“We have few resources, so we are forced to make do with this ruin,” lamented Belistus.
I had accompanied him into the wilderness of the eastern Ghostlands. The Scourge taint is less apparent here, but it is not without its share of dangers. Mutated bats and hunger-maddened lynxes prowl the forests, and the eternal threat of the trolls still hangs over the region.
The Farstrider Pact has a long and proud history. Though the main armies of the Amani Empire were successfully routed by the Aegis and Arathi warriors, the elven forces had great difficulty in protecting their nation from smaller troll warbands. The origins of the farstriders lie in the village militias, who soon became quite skilled in repelling troll attacks. It was only a matter of time before the farstriders were officially established as the scouting arm of the Quel’dorei defenses.
The disciplined Aegis soldiers had always looked down on the fierce but disorganized human fighters. The farstriders, who had learned much about the Lordaeronian forests from Arathi and Dromascoi trackers, came to respect humans. Patrols of elven rangers kept watch over the entire continent during the period between the fall of Arathor and the establishment of Lordaeron. They quickly struck at potential threats for the sake of Quel’thalas’ security. More than one human village owes its existence to elven aid.
“We loved the forests; the men of the Aegis would mock us and say we were low-born Kaldorei at heart, but we cared not,” said Maranelle Swiftbeam, an older farstrider. Like many elves, she had aged well, and was still in active service.
“I have heard that some farstriders even participated in the First War. Is this true?” I asked.
“Ha! I’m glad to hear that some still remember our contribution. My companions and I stalked through the Swamp of Sorrows, slaying every orc we came across. We were few in number but we did our part,” she laughed.
“I’m honored to meet a veteran of such a conflict.”
“We were not there on any official capacity, but we realized the orcs were a threat. After the First War, the Farstrider Pact petitioned the Conclave of Silvermoon to commit themselves to the Alliance. Instead, they told us to concentrate on the trolls, whom we were already fighting! None conceded our wisdom when the orcs at last laid waste to the forests here.”
The farstriders devastated Horde supply lines in the Second War. Alleria Windrunner, sister of our Dark Lady, was the greatest of these, but many other heroes arose in the conflict. After the war, the Conclave and most of the Great Houses ordered the farstriders home. Maranelle’s family had been retainers of the fallen House Fairbreeze, who were among the most inward-looking of the Great Houses. Like many Sin’dorei who had lost their Great House, she had chosen to devote herself to a neutral organization, in her case the Farstrider Pact.
When the cold chill of night falls over the Farstrider Enclave, one realizes how badly their numbers were thinned out by the Scourge. The cavernous and overgrown interior feels much too big for the handful of rangers within. A great fire in the center reveals tarnished golden statues of farstriders past. Once, magical light would have brightened the grand room. Now, the Sin’dorei make do with burning wood.
“All the arcane energies here are devoted to maintaining the perimeter,” explained Belistus. In his hand was a rococo goblet filled with sweet elven wine. I had never liked the famed wines of Quel’thalas; to me, they taste more like soured punch.
“A magical shield. I’m sure you already realize how damnably indefensible this building is.” He lowered his voice slightly. “Before the war, I was lucky enough to visit Loch Modan. I know, Sin’dorei are supposed to hate Bronzebeards, but they have some fine hunters of their own. Anyway, I’d feel much safer in a dwarven fort. I suppose I’m being disagreeable though. My apologies.”
“On the contrary, I think you are quite perceptive.”
“Thank you. But such opinions are not popular here, though you are not forbidden from voicing them. Still, I suggest caution. The farstriders are more tolerant, yet the lords of Silvermoon are quite suspicious. They act that way for the good of the race, but it can be bothersome.”
He finished the wine and made a face.
“I also confess that I rather miss dwarven beer.”
Breakfast for the farstriders consists of fruits and meat imported from Eversong. Food from the Ghostlands is not always safe for consumption. That fact, more than any other, has strained farstrider operations in the area. The other vital import are the mana tablets. These violet pills sate the mana addiction suffered by elves, and are used by those who (like the inhabitants of the Ghostlands) are too far from the mana generators of Eversong and Silvermoon to benefit from them. Most elves can get by with one a day, but arcanists must take two or even three.
I saw Belistus conferring with another farstrider, whose medals suggested high rank. Belistus looked tense as he spoke, and he pointed to me. He came to me a short while later.
“Is something the matter?” I asked.
“Nothing terrible. Obnoxious perhaps. Some time ago, my patrol encountered a motley crew of bandits operating along the shores of Lake Elrendar. I established a sort of truce with them. Their leader sent a messenger last night; they wish to confer with me.”
“You’re their liaison here?”
“Only by fate’s whim. You may come with me if you wish; I would like to have an arcanist with me.”
“I will gladly accompany you, though I am curious why you do not take a magister.”
“You are the only mage at the enclave, currently. We must depart soon; the bandits are camping out on Sungraze Peak, and I’d prefer to get there before nightfall if possible.”
Two other farstriders accompanied Belistus and I up to Sungraze Peak. Though I’m quite clumsy in comparison to elven rangers I was at least able to keep pace as we marched up the misty slopes.
Sungraze Peak had been one of the last Amani strongholds west of the mountains. The forested hills hid ancient tombs which the troll warriors swore to defend. After Zul’aman fell and Quel’thalas sequestered itself from the rest of the world, the elven people fought a long and difficult battle to clear out the mountain. The elves found little succor in victory, and abandoned Sungraze after pacifying it. The trolls returned after the Third War. The Scourge necromancers had never bothered to plunder the tombs.
Belistus told me of his contact, a human brigand named Budd Nedreck.
“Budd is a very dangerous man. However, his interests lie in the trollish ruins. He is a looter. The truth is that the Sin’dorei have a weak grip in this region, and we cannot refuse help.”
“There is no political difficulty in regards to his being a human?”
“Budd is no friend of the Alliance. If he ever returned to human lands he’d doubtless swing from the gallows. Do not do anything unless I give the order. Budd has no reason to turn on me, but his kind cannot be trusted.”
I nodded in agreement.
“We’re nearly here.”
Belistus pointed to a cluster of wooden huts, covered by branches and leaves. For a moment, I thought it was a bandit camp, but a closer inspection revealed it to be a troll outpost. The inhabitants were dead, their corpses piled in a moldering heap.
“As I said, a dangerous man. He makes his base in a tomb near here.”
One of the farstriders whispered to Belistus, pointing down below. To my shock, I saw a tauren emerge from a copse, followed by two humans. Belistus took out a small silver horn and let out a brief, clarion call. Standing up from the brush he hailed the bandits.
“You speak Common?” demanded one of them.
“I can. We are here to see your master.”
“Right. Get down here and we’ll take you to him.”
We were guided through an intimidating corbel arch chiseled into the mountainside. There, in an ancient tomb thousands of years old, a gang of toughs drank and caroused. Their filthy bodies brushed up against exquisite bas-reliefs of jade and turquoise. Some of them took the time to chip off the gemstones.
I bear no love for the cruel Amani berserkers that terrorized the Alliance during the Second War. However, I have deep respect for history, and words cannot describe the disgust I felt when seeing Nedreck’s thugs ruin such a priceless treasure.
The bandits were indeed a mismatched bunch. I even spotted a trio of wildly tattooed jungle trolls; their markings identified them as being of the Bloodscalp Tribe. The corridor went silent when we entered, countless cruel faces studying the newcomers.
“They’re friends, no need to worry,” came a voice from the back.
A muscular human with a carefully trimmed red beard strode out of the darkness. A battered gold circlet of Amani make rested upon his brow.
“Sir Nedreck,” greeted Belistus.
“Belistus, I appreciate you taking the time to come up here.”
“I suspected your summons would be important. What is it that concerns you?”
“Very little concerns me!” he laughed. “But there may be something here of concern to you. The Amani tribes are on the move. The old cities boom with war drums. They’re planning something. I know they’ve become restive in recent months.”
“There have been encounters between our forces.”
“I’ve always admired the Quel’dorei talent for euphemism,” Budd chuckled. “They say Zul’jin is leading an army of trolls from the mountains and the forests beyond. Hundreds of warriors in Zul’aman, screaming for elven blood.”
Budd was clearly trying to discomfit Belistus. If he was succeeding, Belistus gave no sign.
“We are well aware of this, Sir Nedreck. A few hundred trolls pose no threat to Silvermoon.”
“I’m sure, forgive me, I just wanted to make sure. Would I be right, though, in saying you would not want to be bothered by these trolls?”
“That would be accurate.”
“I thought as much. I have friends coming up here who can help with this problem; you won’t have to dirty your hands with it. They’re a good bunch, quite capable when it comes to combat. I wanted to inform you of this.”
“I do not make decisions for who can or cannot enter Quel’thalas. You’d best try Silvermoon for that.”
“Silvermoon knows; I have contacts all along Murderer’s Row. I’m just telling you for the sake of common courtesy. I thought you’d find it a bit of a treat to come up here and see what I’ve done with this place. The Amani are vicious, but they won’t win this fight.”
“What is your ultimate intent with this makeshift army?”
“We’re going to sack Zul’aman. There’s lots of wealth still in there, not to mention items of great... juju, I think they call it.”
“The Farstrider Pact appreciates your information.”
“I don’t imagine that my men will ever cross paths with yours. Of course, you’ll be leaving for Outland soon enough. I hope that goes well for you, by the way.”
“I do not know when we will be leaving. It may not be for some time.”
“Then perhaps I’ll again experience your inestimable company,” snickered Budd.
The two went off to another room, so that Belistus could examine some of Budd’s plans. In the meanwhile, I explored the tomb, hoping to see what I could before the robbers degraded it any further.
Very few written records exist of imperial Amani culture. The elves destroyed most of the codices, and those few that survived were often burned by the trolls themselves. There was apparently some sort of backlash against literacy and urban Amani culture after the Troll Wars.
The violent tendencies of the modern forest trolls are not so different from the ways of their ancestors, who were always more aggressive than their Gurubashi cousins to the south. The Amani emperor was an absolute leader whose whim was law. The Thousand-Feather Throne of Gurubashi, on the other hand, had to heed the words of priests, warriors, chieftains, and scholars.
The Amani interred their vaunted warrior priests in cyclopean mausoleums, such as the one seized by Budd’s men. I marveled at the precise designs carved into the walls and ceiling, every inch engraved with symbols. Religious iconography is ubiquitous. The Amani had worshipped the same Loa as the other trolls, but they had tended to revere specific aspects, with animal totems more suitable for the north. Their Hireek was an eagle, their Ula-Tek a dragonhawk, their Bethekk a lynx, and so forth.
I noticed another tauren guard, staring off into space. Curious, I asked him how he had come to the Ghostlands. He gave no response.
“The bull-men don’t say much, you’re wasting your time,” shouted a goblin.
“How did they get here?”
“The bulls? Ah, the Venture Company found some tauren exiles. Exiles are kicked out of their tribes, and they’re usually insane. The Venture people gave them some potion that settles the craziness. Makes them stupid, but they can be pretty vicious when they’re told.”
That was a lie. Exiles are incredibly rare; too rare and far apart to have been gathered by even the Venture Company. I am certain that they were normal tauren kidnapped from their tribes.
I brought this to Belistus’ attention as we left.
“Destron, I cannot do anything about this. I despise Budd, yet I have no choice but to tolerate him. Perhaps if the tauren send their braves over here to help, we could get rid of him.”
I also wondered how the Revantusk Tribe would react to news of Zul’jin leading an army. Though the Revantusk are of the Horde, there is no question that the old Amani warlord is an enemy. His berserkers and hexxers pose a threat to all the Horde. Furthermore, he is a despicable killer. Zul’jin slaughtered elven families and skinned human prisoners alive. The world will be a better place if Budd Nedreck and Zul’jin manage to kill each other.