Sunday, June 29, 2008
Flying over Hellfire Peninsula is safer than riding or walking through it, but only barely. The steady, burning heat plagues the sky as much as it does the surface. While flying, the rider’s options are to look up at the Twisting Nether’s intimidating expanse, or down to the ruined world far below. From the air, one can see how the Breaking twisted the land, pushing up the ground at odd angles and ripping deep gashes in the earth.
Horde scouts had learned of fel orc activity in the southeastern corner of Hellfire, in and around the ruins of Zeth’gor. The commanders reasoned that it would be easier to observe these demonic creatures at Zeth’gor than it would be at Hellfire Citadel. I was granted permission to take a wyvern down to the newly established camp of Spinebreaker Post, along with an affable young warrior named Zuld, and a laconic troll fighter called Shi’may.
Spinebreaker Post is nothing more than a few ragged shelters surrounding a fire pit. A palisade of sharpened stakes surrounds the encampment, mostly to defend it against the vicious fel boars that roam the desert. Spinebreaker Post sits secure in the foothills of the Spinebreaker Mountains, named after Tagar Spinebreaker, chief of the Bonechewer Clan. The Bonechewers were degenerate and cannibalistic orcs that even the Old Horde held in low regard. Located in his namesake mountains though it was, I still doubted the wisdom of naming the place Spinebreaker Post.
“Tagar Spinebreaker was a wicked orc, but he was also a fearsome warrior,” explained Nada Darkhowl, the base commander of Spinebreaker Post. The name had been her idea.
I do not mean to disparage the warriors in charge of Spinebreaker Post. Questionable naming decisions aside, they were a brave and honorable bunch entirely dedicated to fighting the fel orc menace. The Horde had learned little about the fel orcs since Kolta and I investigated the area around Hellfire Citadel. Reports had filtered in of fel orcs causing trouble in other parts of Outland as well, so they were clearly more than a regional threat. The fel orcs seemed to hate the Horde and Alliance almost as much as they hated the Burning Legion.
Spinebreaker Post is a day’s journey south from the ruins of Zeth’gor. The region around Zeth’gor is actually of significant historical importance. Before the rise of the Horde, Zeth’gor was a satellite town of Zeth’kur, a sprawling port city on the Skeletal Coast. The entirety of Zeth’kur was obliterated in the Breaking. The old city is noteworthy for being the only pre-Orgrimmar example of orcish urban culture.
My teacher in the history of Zeth’kur was an old orc shaman named Zezzak. His father had been one of Zeth'kur's swaggering pit fighters. From him, Zezzak had learned much of this fallen city. While distrustful of the Forsaken, he was nonetheless happy to have a student.
“My people aren’t much good at keeping records. Fathers tell their sons, who tell their sons in turn, so it naturally gets confused along the way. I know that perhaps... four or five centuries ago, orcish swineherds and fishermen made their homes on the Skeletal Coast, testing themselves against the elemants. It was a more verdant land in those days. Legends say that they were clanless orcs, expelled from their homes for transgressions against honor and the ancestors, but no one is really sure of that.”
“They did not adopt the traditional clan structure?”
“Not as far as I know. The Shattered Hand Clan often made war on them. They took prisoners from and cattle from the clanless. Maybe the Shattered Hand had a blood grudge against these orcs, or perhaps these were simply attacks of opportunity. They say that a warrior named Zeth arose from the clanless, and built the walled port city of Zeth’kur, the Red City, for protection.”
“He might have gotten the idea from hearing about the draenei cities, though no one knows for sure. Zeth’kur repelled its attackers and expanded. That’s how Zeth’gor, just north of here, came to be. Zeth’gor was a fortified mining colony of the Red City.”
“Was much trade conducted in Zeth’kur?”
“Actually yes. Zeth ordered it built on the one good harbor. They didn’t trade with other orcs though, nor with the draenei. Instead, they dealt with the surrusil, who came from beyond the horizon in their sleek, scarlet vessels.”
“Another race. They’re probably all dead now. The surrusil were bloated salamander-mages who derived their magic from spilled blood. My father said there were never more than five surrusil per ship; the rest of the crew consisted of blind, white-skinned servitors. He told me that the servitors were actually juvenile surrusil.”
“What did they trade?”
“They wanted slave warriors for their arenas. In return, the orcs got weapons and servitor mercenaries. Zeth’kur gave Shattered Hand prisoners to the surrusil, along with ogres captured in long-distance raids. If not enough slaves could be found, the City Fathers would round up the fighters of Zeth’kur and use them as payment. This happened more and more often as the centuries progressed.”
“Did any ever return from the surrusil?”
“What did you father say Zeth’kur was like?”
“In his words, a sprawl of huts connected by pig-infested streets. Orcs are always savages, even the ones in cities. Instead of clans they formed vicious gangs. The City Fathers approved this.”
“Did Zeth’kur continue to get food from the herders?”
“It did until the last hundred years, when the city became dependent on surrusil shipments. At the same time, the City Fathers sent more and more orcs into surrusil bondage. When my father’s generation first heard of the Horde, they saw it as a sign of hope. Mobs slaughtered the City Fathers in a single bloody night and pledged allegiance to the Horde the next day.”
“Did the Horde accept them?”
“The Shattered Hand Clan opposed it, but Gul’dan wouldn’t turn down thousands of willing warriors. He sent most of Zeth’kur’s men against the surrusil, though some, like my father, went into Azeroth. The Bleeding Hollow Clan moved into Zeth’kur afterwards and turned it into the Horde’s great shipyard.”
“Was the campaign against the surrusil successful?”
“Mostly. The Horde razed all but one of their blood-soaked arena cities to the ground. One supposedly survived, though the Breaking likely finished it.”
“Did Zeth’kur have any dealings with the draenei?”
“No, though the draenei did disrupt a few of the slave raids. The City Fathers knew that raiding a draenei settlement would surely result in Zeth’kur’s destruction.”
When people on Azeroth think of Draenor, they usually only think of the lands that belonged to the orcs and the draenei. However it was a full world, teeming with different races and cultures. Most records indicate that the entirety of Draenor was quite rugged, making it all but impossible to form nation-states (with the draenei as a notable exception, though their unity was more based on culture than on politics). The largest units of organization were usually city-states. The Horde used its demonic powers to overcome the natural terrain, and no one could really mount large-scale opposition to their attacks.
Nada Darkhowl sent a patrol to the Zeth’gor ruins the next day, led by a confident orc veteran named Murd Redeye. With him were myself and three rookie warriors. Spinebreaker Post is too small to field a kennel so we had to go by foot. Orcish riding wolves are excellent for short-term raids and reconnaissance, but are logistically inconvenient for longer campaigns. For this reason, many mounted Horde warriors in Azeroth ride kodo beasts, which can at least graze on local flora.
Food supplies are another tricky issue in Hellfire Peninsula. Most of the native fauna is too badly contaminated for the untainted to eat and the land is useless. This has probably been the biggest obstacle to the efforts of both the Horde and Alliance in the region.
Zeth’gor appeared to act as more than just a military base. Thus, the purpose of the patrol was to find out how the fel orcs lived: where they got their food, the nature of their societal hierarchy, and so forth. These facts would help build a profile of the enemy that the Horde could exploit.
In order to avoid detection, our patrol made its way to the flinty hills north of Zeth’gor. We followed Murd up to a ledge overlooking the ruins. Zeth’gor is a scene of utter neglect, the structures all in varying states of collapse. A fire had gutted the settlement at some point, and scorch marks blackened the rude hovels. Of the watchtowers, nothing remains but stilts.
“Pitiful,” scoffed Murd.
Borrowing Murd’s binoculars, I took a closer look. Fel orc warriors stood guard, usually wielding improbably large weapons. Wolf-mounted raiders circled Zeth’gor, probably searching for intruders. I could not see any indication of a steady food supply, but the fel orcs looked well-fed.
I saw what seemed like recent construction attempts at the perimeter of Zeth’gor. Unarmed fel orcs (that I took to be peons) worked half-heartedly on the palisades. Many of the peons lay on the burning ground in twisted positions, tremors wracking their bodies. The Old Horde was notorious for its cruel overseers, but we saw no one managing the peons in Zeth’gor.
A fight erupted without warning. One peon barreled into his neighbor, launching a bewildering flurry of blows. The attacker grabbed a nearby pick and slammed it into the victim’s head. Not even stunned, the victim wrenched the tool out of his scalp and struck his assailant, scoring a lethal hit. The peons around the combatants barely paid any notice to the melee.
Perhaps the most striking thing about Zeth’gor was the complete absence of women. At first I thought it a continuation of the Old Horde’s social policies, which brutally mistreated orcish women. Yet even their settlements often had women laboring alongside the peons. The lack of the same in Zeth’gor was puzzling.
We finally saw food towards the end of our observation. Wagons emerged from the crumbling stronghold at Zeth’gor’s center, guided by strangely hunched peons. Fel orcs sauntered up the wagons as they lumbered by, grabbing chunks of dripping black meat.
“Do you know what that is?” I asked, passing the binoculars back to Murd. Looking through the lens, his face wrinkled in disgust.
“The remains of some Outland beast?”
We’d learned all that we could, and headed back. Many questions remained unanswered. The most pressing was how the fel orcs could maintain their numbers if they killed each other so routinely. We also could not determine how they got their meat. There was no sign of ranching or herding, and local game was nowhere near plentiful enough to sustain a settlement of that size.
“They are demons, of that I am certain,” declared Targ’dan, an orc shaman.
“I almost have to assume that they’re sustained by magic,” I said, concurring. “There’s just no other way.”
The landscape around Zeth’gor is littered with wreckage from countless battles. Crumbling Alliance siege towers totter over broken catapults and Horde wagons. Fel orc scavengers pick at these ruins, though there is almost nothing worth taking.
Spinebreaker Post had been busy during our absence. The warriors captured a lone fel peon returning from a long-distance salvage attempt. The warriors were first amused by the peon’s resistance. Things turned quite serious when the peon lashed out and shattered one fighter’s ribs with a single punch. His companions immediately hacked the peon to death.
The fact that a mere peon had done so much damage in a single blow surprised the Spinebreaker garrison. Vog (the injured warrior) actually expressed some admiration for the peon’s ferocity. His attitude was shared by most of the others in the camp, including the Horde peons, who worked to support the place.
“Maybe our peons would benefit from some of that demon blood,” joked Vog. He was silenced by a glare from Captain Darkhowl, who launched into a furious tirade about the dangers of demonic corruption. Though humorous in intent, I think there was a grain of genuine belief to Vog’s statement. Considering he was surrounded by testaments to the horror of demonic corruption, I found his remark troubling.
The orcs’ attitude towards their fel cousins is a bit disturbing. The fel orcs are like parodies of true orcs; violent, savage, and nearly mindless. They’re driven solely by the desire to shed blood. While the Horde orcs scorn the dishonorable behavior seen in their fel cousins, they also admire the fel orcs’ fanatic strength and courage. However, the latter quality is not so much courage as it is a combination of bloodlust and a lack of any self-preservation instinct. The more experienced orcs are well able to tell the difference, but these traits seem to impress younger warriors.
Albreck was a Forsaken apothecary stationed at Spinebreaker Post. Ecstatic to get his hands on a fel orc corpse, he immediately began dissecting it. I spoke to him upon my return. Black blood spattered his leather apron. Albreck stank abominably, and the rest of the camp garrison kept their distance.
“It’s very interesting. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. The internal anatomy is vastly different from that of a normal orc. There’s much heavier muscle mass, and the organs have shrunk.”
“Shouldn’t that kill them?” I asked.
“Yes, actually. These withered organs aren’t enough to keep them alive. It’s something to do with all the fel poisons in the body. Twists the laws of reality around, turns them into killing beasts. These fel orcs must eat a lot of demonic flesh. In fact, that’s probably all they eat. They must be get it from the helboars found around the desert. Helboars are basically demons, after all.”
“We didn’t see any pig farms at Zeth’gor. Also there are still plenty of helboars out in the wastes. A large settlement would have culled their numbers.”
“Maybe it’s the flesh of some other demon. Heh, for all we know it might be the flank of a pit lord!” he laughed. “Anyway, I need more blood. Fel orc blood, that is. I really don’t have much equipment here, not nearly enough for a proper analysis. I’ll send some samples over to Undercity once the Dark Portal is secured. We might be able to get a great deal of use from this wonderful stuff!”
Albreck went back to prodding the peon’s remains. I left him, not caring to think what the Apothecarium would do with such a poison.
“I don’t know how even the demons stand this heat. I’d do anything to get a real night out here!”
Looking down on the sweltering wasteland all around us, I could understand Zuld’s lament. Even I found myself on edge, tired of the glaring stars and demon lights in the sky. There’s simply no relief in Hellfire Peninsula. Still, the humans of Honor Hold held out for over a decade without succor. The Horde can hardly plead exhaustion.
Zuld and I were on our way to the blood elf way-station of Falcon Watch after a two-day stop in Spinebreaker Post. Zuld’s duty was to deliver sealed messages to the authorities at both Spinebreaker Post and Falcon Watch. He was an interesting character, being one of the few members of his generation to have not been born in an internment camp. Zuld was raised in the orcish town of Stonard, which maintained a clandestine existence in the years between the Second and Third War. Largely inhabited by remnants of the Thunderlord and Bonechewer Clans, Zuld grew up hearing stories of old Draenor.
“We didn’t find out what happened to Draenor until the Horde reestablished contact with us. I imagined this place as a stark and glorious desert, traversed by doughty Shattered Hand warriors. I began to have doubts when I moved to Orgrimmar, and started hearing about how bad the Old Horde really was. But I never thought it’d be like this.”
“Did they tell you about the Path of Glory?”
“Some of the old-timers did. I respected their words, but I figured they were exaggerating a bit. I really wish that had been the case. How could my people have ever done this?”
“The Warchief works to ensure it never happens again.”
“We didn’t learn much about the Old Horde in Stonard. My father was a Thunderlord warrior and he told me of his brave fights against ogres and draenei, and how Ner'zhul betrayed his clan. It’s hard to believe how wrong he was. Part of me is glad that he passed on to the ancestors a few years ago. I don’t need to worry about facing him after what I’ve seen here.”
“Your doubts must have first arisen when you found out about the Horde’s history in Orgrimmar.”
“That’s where they started. Make no mistake: my father was a brave warrior. His honor is unquestionable, and anyone who speaks ill of him is my enemy. Yet I fear he was deceived by the bloodlust.”
Certainly true, though the orcs don’t always look for an excuse before resorting to violence. I kept my thoughts to myself.
“Nearly all the orcs of his generation were deceived. He bears no particular shame.”
“Wise words. Many orcs detest the Forsaken, but the ones I’ve met in Orgrimmar and Thrallmar seem honorable enough. Strange, I’ll admit, but honorable.”
“Those are atypical Forsaken. Perhaps they’ve left their bitterness behind. The ones in Undercity are often mad, wicked, or both. Not all, but most.”
“Is what they say about the Apothecarium true?”
“You mean rumors of atrocity? Yes. The orcs are trying to redeem their sins; perhaps they are not always successful, or they go about it the wrong way. Still, they try. The Forsaken actively commit such crimes.”
“They’ve never made anything like the Path of Glory though.”
“No. Not yet.”
There’s always violence in some corner of Hellfire Peninsula. We flew over the remains of many battles, always between Burning Legion infantry and fel orc marauders. The aftermaths painted pictures of the savagery in such fights. Where the fel orcs won, they tore the bodies into ribbons and strung them across the desert. I wondered if that was how the fel orcs got their food. In cases of Legion victory, the demons left most of the bodies as they fell, though they nailed some to standing stones as warnings.
On five separate occasions over a week of travel, we saw battles being actively fought. Neither of us were inclined to fly any closer than necessary, but we saw the mindless hatred on both sides. The Burning Legion and fel orcs fight like rabid dogs in a cage. There’s no strategy, no honor, and no thought. I was still amazed by the sheer number of fel orc troops. They swept across the wastes as a red tide, able only to destroy.
A long wall stretches south and north from Hellfire Citadel. Built under Blackhand’s orders, it was intended to run the width of Hellfire Peninsula. Supposedly this was to better defend Draenor from an Azerothian counterattack, though it was of questionable use for this purpose. The Alliance could (and did) simply sail around it.
Too ambitious for even Blackhand’s vast resources, the Horde never finished the project. The wall’s continuity grows increasingly broken the farther south it goes, until it turns into a few lonely sections of isolated masonry. Small fel orc outposts have sprung up around these sites, guarded by warriors lost in an eternal blood haze. The outposts are all falling apart, though I cannot say whether this is due to war or simple neglect.
The seventh day of our journey brought us to the Three Forts. I had heard of them while in Thrallmar. They are small keeps just west of Hellfire Citadel. Ner'zhul had planned to use them as a fallback position for the Horde were the Alliance to clear Hellfire Citadel. Hastily built and never used, they’d quickly sunk into ruin.
This is why Zuld and I were both surprised to see Horde banners flying proudly over Broken Hill, the southernmost fort.
I looked over to Zuld, who motioned down at the gutted stone structure. I nodded my assent and our wyvern circled a few times before landing in a bare courtyard. The fort’s carcass, studded with rusty iron spikes, drew around us like some gargantuan beast.
Our greeter stepped out from behind a pile of rubble, along with three others. The leader was an orc, as were two of his fellows. The last was a troll.
“Hail! I am Zuld Stonespear; the Forsaken is Destron Allicant.” Zuld paused for a moment, examining the trio. Their mismatched equipment suggested that they were not part of the Horde army. “I did not know that our warriors had forged a path this far. You have my respect.”
“We spilled some blood to get here. I am Iruk Ragesong, captain of the Battleborn.”
His followers shouted and saluted at the name. I knew a bit about the Battleborn. They were Horde partisans under the command of independent warriors. The Battleborn had achieved quite a name for themselves in Alterac Valley. Zuld bowed respectfully before Iruk.
“They sing of your deeds in the halls of Orgrimmar.”
“As well they should. Scores of Alliance bandits have tasted the edge of my blade,” boasted Iruk. “Feel free to stay here as long as you need. Twenty-eight brave Battleborn warriors defend this place.”
I followed Iruk into a dusty basement that might have once been a storage cellar. Mercenaries packed the dark chamber from wall to wall. Most were orcs and trolls, though I spotted members of the other Horde races as well.
“Are you on a mission for Thrallmar?” I asked.
“General Nazgrel said we were to do what we could to ensure the Horde’s security. Normally I wouldn’t consider these ruined forts worthy of a warrior’s time, but that was before Teril’s Legion seized Overlook, the northernmost fort.”
“Teril’s Legion... they’re a mercenary group, aren’t they?” I’d heard of them fighting in Warsong Gulch and the Arathi Basin. Its leader was Teril Birrison, once a knight in Lordaeron’s service.
“They’re better described as a group of cowards. If the Alliance takes the Three Forts, it’ll give them an easy way to occupy Hellfire Citadel. They’ll also be able to raid Horde supply caravans headed deeper into Outland. As warriors, we cannot allow this to happen.”
“Has Teril’s Legion gotten to the third fort?”
“The Stadium? Not yet. I shall soon march there with my best warriors and challenge Teril’s fools to do battle. We’ll kill them if they’re already present.”
Iruk joined his comrades while I stood in shock. While I doubted that a fight between Teril’s Legion and the Battleborn would end the treaty, I did not think much good could come from it. The demons are a very real threat to both the Horde and Alliance and neither faction can afford to waste time on petty territorial conflicts.
I was at a loss as to what to do. The Horde had every right to maintain its security, but I doubted that pitched battles with Alliance mercenaries were what Nazgrel intended. Perhaps, I reasoned, the Three Forts could be divided, with Broken Hill going to the Horde, Overlook to the Alliance, and the Stadium remaining unoccupied. I disliked the idea of allowing the Alliance to simply move in and claim Overlook, but the demons were simply a greater threat.
Bracing myself, I convinced Iruk to confer with me outside. I knew that contradicting him in front of his men would be a stupid move. Iruk went to a rocky precipice leaning over the lifeless valley to the north. I could see Overlook’s towers on the other side, standing precariously on the slopes. Folding his arms, Iruk scowled.
“What do you want, undead?”
I knew I had to respond assertively enough to keep his attention, without being so overbearing as to offend him.
“You may be acting rashly in goading Teril’s Legion into battle. Are you certain that this is what Nazgrel ordered?”
“Do you question my honor? I’ve slain whole armies worth of the Horde’s enemies. Nazgrel trusts me as a brother warrior!”
“I do not question your honor; I question your wisdom.”
Iruk grabbed me by the shoulders and slammed me against a stone wall. I’d evidently struck a nerve. His brutish face quivered in rage.
“I do not take orders from you, undead! I am a great warrior! Teril’s Legion attacks peons, did you know that?”
“I’ve no doubt of their cowardice! But this is not the time! Honor alone won’t save us from the demons—”
Iruk threw me to the ground before I could finish. He knelt, his teeth bared.
“If you value your existence, you should leave now. My warriors are tired and bored; they’d happily sharpen their blades on your bones.”
He stood up and stormed back into the cellar. I lay in the dust for a few minutes, stemming my anger. I want to make absolutely clear that my objection did not arise from Iruk’s intent to attack Teril’s Legion. I see no reason to appease Alliance mercenaries. Certainly their decision to size Overlook was immensely careless, and may have even been intended as a provocation. My problem lay in the fact that it was the worst possible time to engage in inter-factional sniping. The Battleborn are unpleasant, but they are fierce, hardened warriors. It’s much wiser to use them as weapons against the Burning Legion, instead of letting them waste themselves in another pointless proxy war.
Some part of me wondered if the Burning Legion was sowing hatred in the minds of orc and human alike. A fractious enemy is a weak one, after all. It’s as if the Free Peoples had suddenly forgotten the demonic invasion. A great external danger is often the only thing that can unite disparate factions. The human kingdoms never trusted Quel’thalas, but they put their old quarrels aside to defeat the Old Horde. Why can we not do the same?
I told Zuld what happened when he returned to the surface a few hours later. Though he was more sympathetic towards Iruk, he understood the need to maintain a unified front. We agreed to leave immediately for Falcon Watch to alert the authorities there.
It took us little more than a day to reach Falcon Watch, but it felt much longer. I realized I was sick of the red desert stretching interminably into the distance. Even more than that, I hated the dead sky and the stagnant air. I longed to feel the wind. Outland weighs upon the mind, a place incomprehensibly old and corrupt.
That said, my laments mean little. I was free to leave whenever I pleased. Those who live and fight here do not have that luxury, and deserve our respect for staying. My blunted senses give me less cause to complain than most. This grim state of mind was also borne largely out of frustration. There is much in Outland worth seeing. Hellfire Peninsula is merely a very harsh introduction.
In Falcon Watch, a crystal-topped elven spire ascends with haughty contempt over the flame-wracked sands. Smaller outlying buildings and deceptively fragile-looking pavilions cluster around the spire base. Ruled by blood elves, Falcon Watch also hosts a few Forsaken and orcs.
I went straight to the local commander upon landing. This turned out to be a farstrider named Venn’ren Noonrunner. He did not seem entirely happy to see me. I’d arrived at a bad time. Falcon Watch had just received word that the demon armies had entered the Dark Portal and were fighting the Argent Dawn on the other side. Apparently, most of the blood elves believed that Kael’thas would intervene before that happened. The Sun King’s failure to appear and the importance of the battle greatly worried the people of Falcon Watch.
“The Battleborn? Yes, they came here from Thrallmar about a month ago. Maybe a year, who can tell in this awful place.”
“They’re planning to engage Alliance mercenaries in a fight for the Three Forts. I’m worried that it may disrupt the war effort.”
Venn’ren shrugged. He looked as if he were struggling to repress a violent outburst.
“The Battleborn should be at the front, I agree. We’re badly understaffed here, I don’t have nearly enough troops. I’d tell them to stay here but I have no real jurisdiction over those savages.”
“What about Nazgrel?”
“I’ll have a magister relay a message to him, but it’ll take Nazgrel even longer to reach the Battleborn and tell them to behave themselves. By that time I’m sure they’ll already be fighting. Besides, Nazgrel’s surrounded by demons and fel orcs. He doesn’t have the time or resources to do much.”
“I see. Thank you for your time, sir.”
“You’re quite welcome. I’m sorry I can’t do more, but things have gotten out of hand. Right now my responsibility is to ensure the safety of Falcon Watch.”
Things seemed to be spiralling into chaos. Information from the Dark Portal was spotty at best. Through great effort, the magisters maintained a steady line of communication to Thrallmar, which was nearly as isolated as Falcon Watch. Beyond that, little was known. Scouts reported seeing more powerful types of demons joining the fray. Especially ominous were stories of fiendish knights that stood as tall as castles.
Falcon Watch only has a small resident population. Most of the elves there are pilgrims on their way to rejoin their gloried Sun King. Though disturbed by recent events, everyone I met held faith that the crisis would soon be averted. For them, the big concern was in figuring out their next destination.
“The demons must be disrupting the Sun King’s missives,” said Talshara Morninglight, a faithful retainer to Lord Velaeron, the youngest surviving son of House Brightsun.
“Most of what I heard led me to believe that he holds court in Tempest Keep.”
“That’s most likely. Yet not even the best of our number are sure how to get to Tempest Keep, or even exactly where to find it. We only know that it lies somewhere in the twisting chaos of Netherstorm.”
“I’m sure you’ll find it.”
“Of that there’s no doubt. The Sun King wouldn’t have fought so long and so hard to abandon us here. A few elves here think he’s testing us by not saying anything, but I don’t believe that. The Sin’dorei have already passed all the tests of race and history.”
I smiled and nodded.
The future of the Horde’s presence in Outland was in doubt. It was for this reason that I ended up staying in Falcon Watch for fifteen long days. If the town became cut off from reinforcements, they’d need all the help available. Few of the elves spoke anything other than Thalassian so I ended up spending a great deal of time with Zuld. I occasionally accompanied the farstrider patrols of the region. We encountered little besides the mutated, two-headed vultures endemic to Hellfire Peninsula. The western portion of the peninsula is more sedate than the wartorn region around Hellfire Citadel.
The entire camp erupted into cheer when we learned that the Argent Dawn had weathered the demon assault, and controlled the Dark Portal. Both Thrallmar and Honor Hold remained intact. Their attacks on the demon lines made the Argent Dawn victory possible. It was a great day for all of Azeroth and Outland.
On a darker note, I also learned that the Battleborn had engaged Teril’s Legion at the Stadium. The Battleborn had gotten to the fortress first and defended it successfully. Yet their victory came at a high cost. The Alliance struck the first blow, but the defeat of Teril’s Legion served to enrage the Alliance command. I’m not sure exactly what happened next, though most stories suggest that the Horde ambassadors foolishly gloated about the Battleborn’s victory.
The treaty held, but barely. Horde citizens would no longer be sheltered in Alliance encampments, and vice versa. I was glad I'd packed the elements of my disguise.
Seeing that Falcon Watch was safe, I decided to continue my journey. Wishing Zuld the best of luck I made my way to one last stop in Hellfire Peninsula: the draenic town called the Temple of Telhamat.
The endless bloodshed between the Shattered Hand Clan and the Zeth’kur warriors formed an ugly stain on the Light’s holy skein. The draenei saw little reason to involve themselves in orcish affairs, but they could not ignore the real suffering that resulted from the conflict.
Prophet Velen and the priests knew that something had to be done. Military intervention was not even seriously considered. Neither side in the war struck the draenei as particularly virtuous. Finally a young priest named Kalvaan suggested that the draenei teach by example.
With Velen’s blessing, Kalvaan traveled to the eastern deserts and founded the Temple of Telhamat. Telhamat is an old Eredun word for “gracious gift.” Kalvaan hoped that by creating a thriving draenic community, the orcs could learn more peaceful ways. The temple’s concentrated prayers would also act to ease the bloodlust pervading the region.
Kalvaan was a bit naive. The war continued unabated, actually growing more savage (for reasons unrelated to the draenei). Even so, the missionaries spared no effort. In order to impress the rugged orcs, the Telhamat community adopted a radical asceticism. While the draenic lifestyle was hardly luxurious, the priests elected to forgo most of their few comforts. They correctly reasoned that they would not be saddened by such an action. The priests went on long prayer retreats into the desert, trying to understand the orcish mindset. Unfortunately, few orcs ever visited Telhamat. Those that did found the temple too alien for their liking.
While Telhamat never reached the great heights of the southern cities, it achieved some notability. Farseer Nobundo, the founder of draenic shamanism, lived in Telhamat for 23 years. This was when Nobundo still served as a vindicator. He accompanied the local priests on many of their wilderness excursions. Nobundo claims that memories of such trips inspired him to return to the desert after the Breaking. The farseers may owe their existence to this simple town.
The draenei abandoned the Temple of Telhamat during the Horde War. The rampaging orcish armies avoided it, believing it harbored malign spirits. Today, the sound of draenic hymns again ring through the temple’s chambers and walkways.
Telhamat was the first draenei-built city I ever saw. Draenic architecture is possessed of a megalithic quality. Telhamat is encircled by massive, solidly constructed walls. A series of terraces form the interior, the temple proper at the apex. Several smaller buildings stand within the complex, each topped with a slab of draenethyst crystal. The buildings resemble nautilus shells, much like the small huts inside the Exodar. Draenic cities are made of a synthetic material called sanaum, which looks and feels like stone, while having some degree of metal’s flexibility. Despite this, a sanaum wall is not much stronger than a normal granite wall, and costlier to produce. Historically, draenic cities protected themselves with arcane shields and illusions.
“Welcome, Brother Human! We have not seen many of your numbers in this place. Please, come inside. You must be quite weary after such a hard journey,” welcomed a beaming anchorite. He introduced himself as Obadei.
The draenei cheered and called out to me as I climbed the stairway leading to the temple.
“Have you heard the news? The warriors of the Argent Dawn have repelled the demon advance on your world. The Dark Portal is in the hands of the Light!”
Since I claimed to have been out in the wastes for the past month, I feigned surprise. Around me, I noticed signs of Telhamat’s long abandonment. Spiked vines bloom up as high as towers from the ground, clambering over walls and houses.
I was surprised to learn that I would be staying at the temple. This turned out to be a draenic tradition.
“You see, Brother Talus, when a visitor comes it is an opportunity to strengthen the community. By making visitors welcome, we fulfill the teachings of the Most Holy Light. So it only makes sense to have them stay in temples.”
“Interesting. Human churches are usually a bit leery about accepting sojourners. Many churches ran shelters for the very poor, but those were usually separate buildings.”
“They separated the spiritually weak?”
“You said the poor. I assumed you meant those weak in faith and kindness. Did I misunderstand?”
“Yes, I meant the economically poor. Those without money.”
Obadei blinked, looking confused. I ended up explaining the basics of human economy (and, to a lesser extent, psychology). I don’t think I did a very good job of it, as Obadei seemed more confused than anything else. Obadei had never been to Azeroth, and had only met one other human in his lifetime. He certainly had astounding linguistic aptitude.
Obadei smiled and excused himself, leaving me in the temple sanctuary. Other than a couch, a rug, and books, the interior was quite bare. Since I cannot read Eredun, I decided to explore Telhamat after unloading my few possessions.
Built into the mountain slope, the Temple of Telhamat is elegantly integrated into the surrounding wilderness. The extremities of each terrace wind into rocky canyons, though draenic buildings assure a civilized presence. Teams of draenei were busy clearing away the growth of massive thorned vines, called spikestems.
“The spikestem is actually a fine metaphor for the Infinitely Holy Light,” explained a young draenei woman named Meer. Her team was taking a short break from the job. Clearing out spikestems is exhausting work.
“It is determined, even in the hardest situations. In a way, we hate to uproot it, but it’s not safe to keep them here. Have you heard of ravagers?”
I nodded, having seen them before in Azuremyst Isle. Ravagers are fierce, vaguely insectoid beasts. They’re not something you want to see in a town.
“Ravagers and spikestems always go together. In fact, we found a cluster of eggs this morning. Ravagers can be tamed individually, but groups of them are exceedingly dangerous.”
The spikestem’s roots go deep into the rocky ground. In the old days, they got most of their water by absorbing the morning dew that appeared in the region’s mountain slopes. Now, they draw nourishment from ambient motes of fel taint. Miraculously, this has not seemed to significantly change the plant’s physiology.
“Maybe it was so tough, that the demons couldn’t figure out any way to make it meaner,” remarked one draenei. I laughed, but the other draenei just looked at him askance.
Most of Telhamat’s current inhabitants had lived in the town before the Horde came to power. During the war, they hid in the depths of Zangarmarsh with the others of their race.
“We were all overjoyed when they announced that it was safe to return here,” reminisced a mage by the name of Vodesiin. “The Telhamat collectives maintained contact with each other during the exile, so our community has become all the stronger.”
“Do you think Telhamat will continue trying to reach out to the orcs?”
Vodesiin’s brow furrowed.
“Perhaps in time. Despite the significant gains made by the orcish people, we cannot rule out the possibility that they will never truly be able to accept the Holy Light. I am not saying they are demons, but separation from their culture may be advisable.”
This puzzled me. I’d never heard a draenei say such a thing. I asked Vodesiin if the other Telhamat draenei thought the same way.
“This is just a theory, Brother Talus. Clearly, more research and prayer need to be done. The recent assimilation of shamanism into our society is certainly evidence in favor of the orcs’ redemption. Even so, we must be cautious.”
“But does the community at large hold this view?”
“It dominates somewhat in Telhamat. No final decision has been made. Prophet Velen has not yet made a definitive statement; he is probably still mentally exploring all possible futures. Certainly our community would never be so brash as to declare ourselves right. Much counsel must be taken before we accept it as a norm.”
“Other communities might feel differently?”
“That is correct. One difficulty with being spread out across a large area is that it makes it difficult to maintain full cohesion, though no community would ever abandon the Holy Light. We take care to stay in its precepts, and defer to the wisdom of the entire draenic community once it makes a decision.”
“That sounds like a good arrangement. My understanding is that few orcs ever came to Telhamat in the days before the Horde.”
“In fairness, our outreach methods may not have been optimal. Perhaps we should have been more forward in our mission. Unfortunately, the delicate political situation made that difficult. But yes, very few orcs came here, or to Sha’naar.”
“A town to the southeast. It was built to further influence the orcs, since Telhamat alone was insufficient. Sha’naar was a thriving community, but it never grew very large. The orcs did not fear it the way they did Telhamat, and the Horde armies destroyed it. It was then that we knew we had to leave. Some of the Sha’naari survived and are sheltered here. Would you like to meet them?”
“Wonderful. They are of the Broken, those draenei mutated by fel energies. Do not be alarmed by their appearance.”
“I’ve seen some of the Broken before, back on Exodar.”
The draenei were clearly more complex than my first impressions led me to believe. I thought of how they must have felt, eking out a harsh life in the swamps, seeing their friends and family warped by demonic forces. I could understand how some would be at least suspicious of the orcs. As Vodesiin led me to the Broken, we passed a small cemetery, partly overgrown by spikestems. For a brief moment, I wondered if the orcs could ever truly redeem themselves.
The Sha’naari Broken huddled on the lowest terrace. Their impassive faces studied me as I approached. None had ever before seen a human.
“The Sha’naari never made it to the sanctum in Zangarmarsh. Those who escaped the Horde hid in the mountains. Their leader here, Ikan, says that they quickly mutated.”
Vodesiin went to a wizened Broken whom I took to be Ikan. After a brief talk with Vodesiin, the Broken shuffled towards me.
“Ikan can only speak Eredun and Orcish. Would you like me to translate?”
“I actually speak some Orcish.”
“Oh, very good!” smiled Vodesiin.
“It is my honor to meet you, Ikan. I am Talus Corestiam, a human.”
“The Pure Ones mentioned your kind. You killed many orcs, did you not?”
“Then I shall call you friend. My tribe is called the Dreghood. I do not remember much of my old life. The Pure Ones are trying to teach me and my people, but it is hard. We have not heard the Light in so long.”
“Do your people have any belief system aside from the Light?”
“The stones and winds speak to us. They say little of right and wrong, which is why the Light that I once knew now seems so strange. The spirits told us how to survive, and for a time we did. I led my warriors against the isolated orc bands, and we broke the bodies of the greenskins.”
“The Dreghood have shamans?”
“Yes. They can best hear the spirits.”
“Did a Broken named Nobundo ever come to your village?”
“No. I know of this Nobundo, the shaman of the Light. The Dreghood shamans heard the voices on their own. At first we tried to control the spirits, but they grew wrathful and some of us died. After that, we learned to respect them.”
“How do the Dreghood now fare?”
“We are slaves. Demons have long haunted this ruined world, and an army of them came to our village last year. They serve the demon lord known as Illidan. They said they would aid us against the orcs, but they lied. Many fel orcs march in Illidan’s army.”
“Wait, the fel orcs work for Illidan?”
“A great army of fel orcs marched through here under the guidance of those same demons.”
“I see. Illidan is not a friend of the Burning Legion’s, however.”
“The Dreghood know little of demons and their affairs. Our goal is to survive. Once it was vengeance, but that only led us to be enslaved.”
“Did Illidan’s servants make any mention of Kael’thas or the Sun King?”
“I have not heard those names.”
That the fel orcs worked with Illidan was not entirely surprising. Their viciousness and disorganization forces one to conclude that they are led by an outside source. Yet why would demons of the Burning Legion march with Illidan? More importantly, what was Kael’thas doing? Did he know that fel orcs (who, as minions of Illidan, would also be in league with Kael’thas) attacked his own people? Perhaps he no longer cared, though that seemed unlikely. Outland was proving to be a confusing and fascinating place.
I was back on the road in three days. The strange realm of Zangarmarsh awaited me to the west, and I was quite eager to see if it was a beautiful as people claimed.
A fearsome red light suddenly filled the sky two days out of Telhamat, emanating from a single burning point in the firmament. I was not sure if it was cause for alarm, as I was still relatively unfamiliar with the effects of the Twisting Nether. Yet there was something undeniably sinister about the glare. I pondered returning to Telhamat.
I soon realized there was no point in doing so. The source of the light grew bigger and brighter by the second, plummeting towards Hellfire Peninsula. I went prone, bracing myself for impact.
The light reached its brightest, followed by a moment of perfect silence. Then came the thunderous waves of force, blasting through the earth and shaking it like gelatin. I could only think it was a demonic attack of some sort.
I stood up once the shaking subsided. Miraculously, everything seemed normal, or at least as normal as it ever gets in Outland. I reluctantly decided to return to Telhamat. The blast had come from the west, and I did not want to risk going there alone.
On the way back, I ran into a draenic military patrol on their way to investigate the crash. Their leader, Vindicator Taruun (whom I’d met briefly in Telhamat) said that, while fel energies had increased, there was no real evidence of a demonic army arriving from the impact. Reassured by the presence of armed soldiers, I decided to accompany them to the site.
Three days brought us to a scene of devastation. A red crystal the size of a city had slammed into to the earth, splitting it asunder. It shone a sickly crimson light throughout the surrounding valley. Only an incredible force could have ever moved such a large object. I had no doubt it was infused with fel energies, a fact made obvious by the prickly heat and acrid stench that bled into the land around the crystal.
Malformed silhouettes lumbered around the base of the crystal. At first I thought they were demons, but a closer look revealed them to be giants of stone. In appearance, they resembled to the mountain giants of Azeroth. Taruun explained that Draenor had its own giants, and that they were capricious and sometimes violent.
Satisfied that no demons had come with the crystal, Taruun took his party back to Telhamat.
“We would like to know more, but our first priority is to protect the Temple of Telhamat,” he said.
I watched them march into the distance before I turned back to the ominous crystal. A palpable feeling of evil radiated from the stone, whispering of dark deeds. I had no way of knowing how it came to fall in Outland. Perhaps it was a warning from the Burning Legion or Illidan. For all I knew, it was simply a fel-touched crystal that had dropped unguided from the Twisting Nether.
War in Outland is practiced on a colossal scale not seen in Azeroth. Empowered by dark forces, the warlords of Outland acknowledge no moral or natural limits. The warped landscape of Hellfire Peninsula is the result of countless such battles. Even now, I wonder how much more punishment Outland can withstand before it is completely destroyed.
Sunday, June 15, 2008
Imagine a red wasteland, stinking of sulfur and clamoring with demon howls. A nightmare sky lit by sinuous columns of arcane energy. A realm where hellfire erupts in gouts from the stony ground, bursts heralded by the telltale hiss of gas. A world shadowed by monuments to slaughter.
To see Outland is to see Hell.
The Dark Portal on the Outland side is a spiked monstrosity of black stone and metal. A generation of peons died in its creation, their bones mixed in the mortar. Blood-drunk necrolytes carved devil faces and skulls into the surface. The cold void of the Twisting Nether beckons from the gate.
The archway of the Dark Portal is at the top of a squat, terraced pyramid. A city of tents and wagons surrounds the portal, where the soldiers of eleven races prepare for the next onslaught. The great standards of the Horde and Alliance hang limply from their frames. No wind stirs the broiling air of Hellfire Peninsula. Sweating laborers pull supplies between worlds, casting anxious eyes towards the barren horizon. The demons had already attacked earlier that day, and a follow up was inevitable.
“Our brother warriors wait for battle on the other side of the Dark Portal! I fear we must disappoint them, for when we are through with them, the demons will be as whimpering dogs! Let the monsters that cursed our people feel pain! Let the gullies fill with demon blood!” shouted General Nazgrel, to the roars of Horde warriors.
Nazgrel was a fierce and uncompromising fighter who’d followed Thrall since the Horde’s genesis. His capability is matched only by his hatred of the Alliance, which made him an odd choice for a joint campaign. Nazgrel swore to uphold the Warchief’s decree, and has done nothing to harm the humans.
I sat on a crate, unsure of what to do. The mages calculated that the Dark Portal would fully open in five days. Nazgrel’s words made the mission sound grander than it really was. Our duty was not to defend the Dark Portal. Rather, it was to garrison and protect the citadels of Honor Hold and Thrallmar, several days’ journey to the west.
I knew that a great army awaited on the Azerothian terminus of the Dark Portal, ready to destroy any and all invaders. The Portal creates a convenient choke point. While good and evil do battle on the homeworld, our forces would harry the demon armies from protected positions and ensure that the Free Peoples maintained a foothold in Hellfire Peninsula and, by extension, the rest of Outland. If all went according to plan, the Horde and Alliance would soon control the Dark Portal.
The last supply shipments were being sent through the small, temporary portals opened up on the lower terraces. I watched as a kodo beast pulled a wagon of food crates sent in from the distant Barrens. Peons scurried to meet the demands of overseers. We had to reach the dubious protection of Thrallmar as soon as possible. We were as good as dead if the main demon force reached us before then.
“Do you smell it wizard? The promise of battle in the air?”
The orcs were having a field day. The idea of combat against a near-unstoppable army excited many of the grunts, though others took a more pragmatic stance. The warrior speaking to me was in the midst of sharpening his ax.
Night and day simply do not exist in Hellfire Peninsula. The sky is always the same cosmic tableaux. I found it beautiful, but not exactly comforting. The exact nature of Outland is a source of puzzlement to scholars. It’s essentially a large fragment of Draenor’s southern hemisphere, floating unharmed in the void.
I kept myself busy with small tasks. Specially trained Sin’dorei magisters maintained the portals, though the foul Outland air sometimes disrupted their concentration. For this reason, two mages operated at each portal, in case one was incapacitated by a coughing fit. Orc and troll warriors mocked elven fragility, but I saw some of their number suffering from shortness of breath.
Worse than the air is the stifling heat. Walking through Hellfire Peninsula is like being roasted. The heat radiates up from the ground, and the shade offers no protection. The shamans periodically whipped up windstorms to cool down the exhausted soldiers and peons, but they could only do so much.
“The spirits must work especially hard in this poisoned land,” explained Sonaka Skychaser, a young tauren shaman. “I fear we ask too much of them, but we have no choice.”
“Is there an alternative?”
“The gnome wizards have used their trickery to create some kind of field of cold, but they cannot maintain it for long. They say the goblins are working on some way to ease the heat’s punishment, but I am not sure I trust their methods.” He sighed. “I’m starting to wish I didn’t have such a heavy mane.”
The blast of a horn boomed out over the commotion, signaling our departure. The porters and laborers did some last minute touch-ups before returning home. Drivers readied the kodo beasts, who carted wagons filled to the brim with supplies. Warriors hurried into formation. Goblin zeppelins hovered above us, carrying some of the lighter goods.
I was a bit irked to see that the Alliance had finished their preparations a few hours before the Horde. Not having access to kodo beasts, they used teams of oxen to pull their wagons. Goblin engineers had built a ramp over the long staircase that lead down from the Dark Portal, enabling our wagons to navigate the descent.
Getting out of the Dark Portal was a frustratingly slow process. Though actually immense, the stairway is not big enough to accommodate two armies side by side. I realized we would probably spend most of the day trying to break away.
Hours passed in the broiling heat, the air alive with confused orders and curses. I heard a sudden snap as the wheels of a Horde wagon slipped off the edge of the ramp. The kodo, heedless to their cargo’s situation, continued pulling forward. The wheels broke and the quick jerk undid the cords that tied down the equipment. All I saw was a pile of heavy boxes tumble off the side, shattering on the stone terrace many feet below.
The procession halted, as men scrambled to fix the mess. To our chagrin, we learned that a warrior had been killed in the accident. A heated argument broke out, but cooler heads soon prevailed. Handlers untethered the kodo beasts and pushed the wagon off the edge. No one had the time to salvage it.
The last of the supply trains reached the ground after a seeming eternity. Tensions ran high on both sides. Nazgrel ordered a quick break, but he warned us that we were behind schedule and that the demons would soon arrive.
The Path of Glory stretches as far as the eye can see. I first heard about the Path of Glory back in Orgrimmar, and had hoped it was simply a grotesque exaggeration, or the result of distorted memory. In the Horde capital, I had known an ancient orc warrior named Solg. Lost in a melancholy that even the shamans could not lift, he sometimes wandered over to the Valley of the Spirits. He rarely spoke; when he did, it was of a vast abattoir where he and his brothers had murdered the draenei. In a guilt-sick voice he described throwing the bones on a great road named the Path of Glory. He broke down in tears after every account.
Poor old Solg’s words were true. The Path of Glory is a road of skulls and bones reaching halfway across the Hellfire Peninsula. Though trod over by legions of orcs over the years, I could still see identifiable remnants at the road’s edge: a socket in one spot, a spine in another. I could say nothing, awed into silence by the enormity of this horrible crime.
A slow and solemn drumbeat sounded in the air accompanied by sorrowful and throaty chanting. A circle of orc shamans had gathered, imploring forgiveness from both the ancestors that their fathers had wronged and from the innocents they had killed. A mournful hymn arose from the Alliance side of the camp at the same time. Draenic priests sang the rites that their kindred had been denied. Shaman and priest alike continued their rituals as we marched.
We passed the towering obelisks that mark the gates of the portal complex. I surveyed a great, dead land. A few sickly green weeds and thorns hold on to life in Hellfire Peninsula, but most is completely barren. The Path of Glory is at least free from the flame jets that sporadically belch forth from the ground. The fire does not emit from any visible fissure, a fact that puzzled me. Gyrick Sparkline, an anxious-looking gnome arcanist, explained it to me.
“I did some tests on the flame geysers when I first got to this miserable place—damn thing nearly burned my eyebrows off! Basically the rock gets porous in spots, I’m not sure why. Anyway, the porosity lets some kind of inflammable gas seep up to the surface. It combusts once it hits air, or what passes for air around here.”
“How did the gas get here?”
“I don’t have a clue. The stuff stinks of fel magic though. My guess is it has something to do with the demons; their taint seeps through the earth itself.”
The punishing heat took its toll. The Alliance column began to slow down, the armored humans and dwarves cooking in their mail. They abandoned their armor after a while, and even then some troops had to be carried on the wagons. The blood elves were similarly affected, though their smaller numbers prevented it from being as much of a problem.
Hard though it was to keep track of time, I reasoned that it took us five days to cross the desert between the Dark Portal and our destination. Only a few perished during the march, usually from exhaustion. During our brief stops we saw green lights flare up on distant mountains, burning pinpricks in our vision. They came from the demonic forge camps, which busily spewed more infernal soldiers into Outland.
The Path of Glory itself sapped morale with every footstep, particularly among the orcs. More than draenei bones lie there. In it are piled the remains of thousands of orc peons who perished in the brutal construction of the Dark Portal and Hellfire Citadel. Bones of ogres, disgraced warriors, and other, more obscure groups help fill that awful road. Some of the orcs began to openly hope for an attack, simply so that they could dispel their shame with the thrill of battle.
Everyone felt relief when we finally came to the crossroads. Two recently-constructed paths lead up to Thrallmar (to the north), and Honor Hold (to the south). The Path of Glory itself terminates at Hellfire Citadel. It was again slow going as the supply trains shifted direction.
I walked near the back of the Horde train, looking forward to reaching Thrallmar. I was listening to a Winterhoof brave recount his first hunt when an ear-splitting roar sounded somewhere in the distance. The armies fell silent. It came again, shaking the very ground with its power.
“Are we under attack?” asked the brave.
“I don’t know.”
The orcs were already shouting their defiance, rallying the Horde forces. Most of our supply train was on the road to Thrallmar, though still nowhere near safety. Then the demons came into view, hurtling across the wasteland at incredible speeds. Confused orders flew through the convoy. Some of the supply trains increased their movement while others slowed down as if to consolidate. No one knew what to do. I began to suspect that distrust or language barriers had greatly hampered the united war effort.
The demons drew closer, the sounds of massive weight and clanking armor growing louder by the second. Archers, mages, and marksmen launched volleys into the attacking force. The demons moved like a swarm of ants, scores falling but the charge never slowing.
A draenic vindicator shouted in alarm and we turned to see a pack of felguards bearing down upon us. Hideous yells and cries rang out all around us as the demons reached melee range.
“To arms! Let us show these curs how real orcs fight!”
A snarl alerted me to a felguard running in my direction, an impossibly long sword gripped in his mailed fist. A grunt intercepted him and I backed off to a safe distance, aiding my rescuer with spells. Demons assaulted our other flank at the same time, and I heard the strain of panic in the yells of human soldiers. Bulky wagons blocked my view of the front and I had no way of knowing how the head of the caravan fared.
A savage troll yelled for the Horde to fall back towards the Alliance but his orders went unnoticed in the din of battle. Demons slammed into one of the rear Horde wagons, chopping it to pieces in short order. The course of battle had pushed me away from the Horde forces and towards the human soldiers.
The ground shook as bright flashes lit up the desert. I threw myself on the ground, thinking it was some kind of demon weapon. Then I heard cheers rise up from the Alliance soldiers. Getting back up to my feet I looked up to see Horde wyvern riders throwing incendiary devices down on the demons. Dozens of fel troopers perished in flame. The nature of the battle quickly changed. Disoriented by the aerial assault, the demons’ forward motion broke. They reached the caravan in twos and threes that the defenders easily cut down. The wagons soon rumbled beyond the reach of the demons and I grinned as we made our escape. That said, I could not yet rest easy. I walked next to one of the Alliance supply trains headed to Honor Hold. A handful of Horde warriors were with me: five orcs, three trolls, two tauren, and a blood elf. Even with the truce, I suspected that the next few days would be quite tense.
Honor Hold paid in blood for its survival. For eighteen years its dour gray walls have prevailed against the surrounding hellscape. The second base of operations for the ill-fated Alliance Expeditionary Force, it has survived the attacks of countless enemies. Orcs, ogres, and demons all laid siege to it, and all failed.
The Alliance wagons wound their way up to the summit on which Honor Hold was located. The other Horde citizens and I tried to stay out of the way, not wanting to annoy our hosts. I wondered how the grizzled soldiers of Honor Hold would react to having orcs as guests.
The scars of constant battle grew more evident around the keep. Some of the towers were crumbling and huge rents marred the walls. Debris and corpses littered the barren field in front of the gate. Most of the cadavers were of felguards and felhounds, but among them lay the bodies of frightfully mutated orcs. Much larger than normal orcs, their skin was boiled-red and studded in bone spikes.
“Fel orcs,” growled Murgat, one of the grunts. His arm hung in a sling, set for him by a kindly draenic priest.
“These are servants of the Burning Legion?”
“I would think so. Whoever they follow, they are traitors to honor.”
Many of the fel orc bodies were clustered with the fallen demons in a manner that suggested they were fighting the Burning Legion. I wasn’t sure what to make of this, and hoped I could learn more in Honor Hold.
Past the gates is a vast and dusty courtyard. A brooding stone monument stands in the middle, engraved with the names of all who fell protecting Honor Hold. Human soldiers clad in mismatched armor stared at us when we entered. They knew that they might have to shelter Horde visitors, but they surely hated the idea. Given their experiences, I do not blame them.
“Stay here. Lord Trollbane wishes to see you. Remember that no one here—myself included—particularly likes seeing you, and we won’t hesitate to kill you if you do anything suspicious,” warned Captain Gester, an officer in the Stormwind army.
Gester stayed near us as a page ran up towards the keep. The Honor Hold inhabitants ventured closer, casting puzzled looks at the tauren. None had ever before seen a Shu’halo. The two braves bowed in deference.
Getting a good look at the defenders, I realized that most were quite old. The lines on their faces indicated lives of hardship and great suffering. They’d guarded the parapets of Honor Hold without rest for many long years, cut off from the world they were sworn to defend. Nations rose and fell back on Azeroth while they languished in Outland. Many in the Alliance Expeditionary Force came from Lordaeron, and I could not fathom the pain they must have felt when learning of their nation’s destruction.
“Do any of you speak Common?” I asked to my Horde comrades. They all shook their heads. I sighed, not looking forward to meeting Trollbane.
Danath Trollbane was one of the great heroes of the Second War. As the nephew of Thoras Trollbane, Steward of Stromgarde, he was expected to honor his nation in battle. He more than fulfilled his country’s expectations. Danath undertook daring raids into troll country early in the war, greatly hampering the mobilization of the forest tribes. He rose through the ranks, eventually becoming the main Stromgarder general. He led his forces to victory in Khaz Modan and was instrumental in the dwarven kingdom’s liberation. Assigned to oversee an orcish internment camp after the war, Danath grew bored and jumped at the chance to take the fight to Draenor. When that world died, we all assumed he had perished with it.
I soon saw Danath marching towards me. Though aged he moved with a confident strength. Stories were unanimous in describing his great physical presence, and he lived up to the hype. I felt like a frightened child looking up to him. With clenched jaw and grim eyes, he studied us for a minute before speaking.
“The truce between our nations requires me to treat you as a guest here in Honor Hold. As a man of my word, I shall fulfill this obligation; all our services will be available to you. However, we shall gladly hang you at the slightest hint of betrayal. I have killed more orcs and trolls than I can count, and I’ll happily add ghouls and traitor elves to that number.”
He spoke in fluent, though accented, Orcish.
“Lord Trollbane, we assure you that we will give our lives in defense of your home,” promised Torsk Bladefang, the sole officer in my group.
“Hmm. You orcs are fierce fighters, I’ll give you that much. There’s one rule you must follow: when my men fight, you will fight alongside them. You will follow the orders of my officers as you would your own. As soon as it is feasible to do so, my men will return you to Thrallmar. Understood?”
“We are honored to fight alongside you,” said Torsk.
Danath nodded, though he made no effort to hide his expression of doubt. He saluted abruptly and then left.
“Everyone back to your stations! The Hordies aren’t worth fussing over!” he shouted, in Common. The crowd around us quickly dispersed.
The Alliance set aside a small tan pavilion for us in the southwest corner of Honor Hold. Murgat rankled at Danath’s attitude but Torsk ordered the young grunt to calm down. While they were arguing, I tried to figure out how to best learn about Honor Hold. Danath had said we were guests, but I had no wish to try his patience.
I decided to walk around the courtyard as a sort of test. The glares cast in my direction soon convinced me it was a bad idea. Frustrated, I returned to the tent.
The Burning Legion sent two probing attacks many hours later. Hoping to prove myself to the local garrison, I manned the battlements and cast spellfire down on the raging felguards and infernals. Among them marched blue-skinned demons in strange, bladed armor. Those were of the type called wrathguards, who were actually a lesser variant of the eredar race. They bear little resemblance to the draenei. The wrathguard form the equivalent of low-level officers in the Burning Legion ranks.
The purpose of the demon assault was to keep the Alliance on edge. There was certainly no chance of such a small force penetrating Honor Hold’s defenses. Because the attack was of such little consequence, I failed to gain much credibility with the humans.
I was back in the tent, where my comrades were trying to stay cool. The heat remains constant at all times. For this reason, the Honor Hold schedule consists of three “daily” shifts, seven hours each. Each shift has a third of the population at work, though even they take frequent breaks. Constant labor in such a climate would kill the older residents. I still had no answer as to why most of the youthful humans were reinforcements from Azeroth.
“Destron? Where are you?” inquired a human warrior. He wore red armor, identifying him as part of the Nethergarde troop complement.
“I’m here. Is there something you need?”
“Father Lacitus wishes to speak to you. If you will follow me?”
The soldier led me through the tent city. He took me to a small stone building on the other side of Honor Hold. The interior burned like an oven despite the large open windows. Upon realizing it was a church, I suddenly feared that Lacitus intended to exorcise me.
“Father Lacitus, I’ve brought the undead.”
“Thank you, young Malos. Return to your duties.”
“Are you certain?”
“Yes, I am. Come here, Destron. I mean you no harm.”
The speaker was an incredibly wizened old man seated at a desk. Candles burned dimly around him, revealing a scarred and careworn face. A black patch covered his left eye. I approached him cautiously.
“Good day, Father Lacitus,” I said, trying to sound noncommittal.
“Please sit down Destron. I bear you no anger. Whatever your state, you seem to be a thinking creature capable of moral choice. As such, you are included in the philosophy of the Light. From your name, I take it you come from Lordaeron?”
“I do. I regret to say that the kingdom is lost.”
“I have heard as such. But I have not heard much of its current state. I was wondering if you could tell me what goes on in the world, at least in the parts with which you are familiar.”
We spent the next five hours in discussion. Despite his age, Lacitus was completely lucid. I hated to bring him so much bad news, but I judged he had the strength of character to take the truth.
“I doubt I’d recognize Azeroth now. I will not return; I’ve made my peace with that. My home is here in Outland, in Honor Hold. Even if it weren’t for the demons, I doubt I’d survive the journey to the Dark Portal.”
“May I ask some questions about Honor Hold?”
“Why are there so few young people here?”
“The young ones all left. No one wanted to live here.”
“They were allowed to leave?”
“We couldn’t stop them. Everyone was in a panic after Draenor’s near-destruction, but Lord Trollbane held us together. He vowed that we would maintain our vigil over the Dark Portal, to ensure that nothing ever again came through it to threaten Azeroth. His words moved us all.”
“Time happened. We watched as demons poured through other portals in other lands, bringing more fel taint to this world. All the while, the Dark Portal stayed silent as the land around it turned to dust and rock.
“After the demons first attacked us, the younger soldiers thought that we should consolidate with the other Alliance forces in Outland. The Dark Portal, they said, would never open. Honor Hold was a useless relic. The most prominent of their number was a daring young firebrand named Ferser Macaul. When he spoke, people listened. Lord Trollbane imprisoned him, had him flogged... yet the younger soldiers loved him all the more. Even us old ones considered his ideas as we worked in the dusty fields, cursing the heat. Finally, he and his followers left.”
“Lord Trollbane surely tried to stop him.”
“He did, but he could not. Two-thirds of Honor Hold followed Ferser out, and they took all the supplies they needed. The only reason we didn’t starve to death was because so few of us remained. I remember Lord Trollbane, how he shouted and raged. Ferser was his majordomo in the early days, and the younger man’s actions hurt him deeply.”
“Where did Ferser go?”
“Word is that Ferser died in the early days of his departure, killed by draenic mutants. Most of his surviving followers now live in Shattrath City.”
“Lord Trollbane is quite a leader to maintain control after such a schism.”
“He’s a brave and noble man, as is everyone in Honor Hold. But the long years of war and suffering have dried up our souls. Honor Hold may well die with us; all of the children left with their parents. I think that is why so many of us secretly welcomed this war. At least now our long wait is over. We have purpose once more.”
Lacitus’ shoulders slumped when he finished. Sweat drenched his face. As he was obviously physically and emotionally tired, I thanked him for his time and wished him well.
The harsh clang of the iron bell signalled the end of one shift and the beginning of another. High above, a dusty red cloud slowly roiled its way across the Twisting Nether. After hearing Lacitus’ story I could understand why the Honor Hold garrison took such a grim attitude.
Word of my meeting with Lacitus spread around Honor Hold. A fortunate side-effect was that more of the soldiers were willing to talk to me. They all had the deepest respect for Father Lacitus, whose kindly nature acted as a welcome counterpart to Danath Trollbane’s strict regime.
After Draenor’s breaking, the remains of the world were ravaged by successive waves of demonic warlords who fought each other for control of Outland. The portals so carelessly opened by the Old Horde brought untold misery to the survivors. The demons came through multiple rifts in western Outland, though most of them moved east for reasons that remain obscure. The Alliance remnants could do little but try and stay out of the way.
Two fiendish commanders rose to prominence: an eredar named Poluus forged a realm in the Blade’s Edge Mountains to the north, while the pit lord Magtheridon established a petty kingdom centered around the Black Temple in Shadowmoon Valley. The armies of these feuding warlords often clashed in Hellfire Peninsula. The invaders usually avoided Honor Hold, though the keep was attacked seven times over the years. Poluus’ fiefdom collapsed ten years after the Breaking, mostly from indigenous resistance in the Blade’s Edge. This left Magtheridon the uncontested Lord of Outland.
At this point, Magtheridon turned his attentions to the Dark Portal. He probably thought he’d be able to seize Azeroth by reactivating it and invading. With this, the Siege of Honor Hold began. It lasted for eight terrible months. Then Magtheridon abruptly lifted the siege and returned his armies to Shadowmoon Valley. Ferser and his followers left Honor Hold a few years after the assault.
Magtheridon’s influence over the rest of Outland, which was never very strong, waned even further. Little is known about Magtheridon but evidence suggests an impatient, lazy, and capricious personality. It’s entirely possible he just lost interest, preferring to sate his cruelty with the blood sports so beloved by demons. He ruled until Illidan came and slew the old demon lord many years later.
One of the worst local results of the Fiend War (as it came to be called) was the further degradation of Hellfire Peninsula’s ecology. I saw some faded daguerreotypes of Hellfire as it looked when the humans first arrived. While hardly inviting, forests of thorn trees thrived in the desert oases, while mushroom swamps dotted the coastline. The region south of Honor Hold supported farmland, and continued to do so after the Breaking. But once the armies of Poluus and Magtheridon clashed on the fields, the land became rocky and useless.
“I think it was Father Lacitus who kept us going during the siege. Lord Trollbane kept talking of our duty to the Alliance, but we were all scared out of our minds,” said a weatherbeaten old knight named Gerion Tusias.
Gerion and I were in the northwestern tower, which was under his command. Gerion had been a middle-aged Lordaeronian nobleman when he ventured through the Dark Portal. A veteran of the Battle of Zul’dare and the Siege of Blackrock Mountain, he nonetheless volunteered his services to the Alliance Expeditionary Force.
“Things looked rather grand at first. The Alliance was the only power bloc in Outland after the Breaking. We all held a council in Honor Hold and declared the nation of Lotharia!”
“How much territory would Lotharia have covered?”
“Outside of Honor Hold there was Kirin’var Village in Netherstorm, Allerian Stronghold in Terokkar Forest, and Wildhammer Stronghold in Shadowmoon Valley. Then the demons came and ended all that.”
“Lotharia no longer exists?”
“I’m not entirely sure it ever really did. Outland’s a terribly rugged place, and we could never really maintain reliable communications with most of our allies. Magtheridon’s armies marched through the south. The Alliance there didn’t stand a chance, so they retreated into the forests and mountains. I believe that’s how they first met the draenei.”
“What about Kirin’var? Netherstorm is to the north, isn’t it? Did Poluus attack them?”
“No, he mostly ignored the Kirin’var wizards and it’s a damned good thing he did. Nothing could grow here after the Fiend War. Honor Hold depended on spellborne food shipments from Kirin’var.”
“Netherstorm is more hospitable than Hellfire Peninsula?”
“Not at all, it’s actually much worse. However, there’s a great lot of free floating mana there—at least that’s how one of the wizards described it. With that excess mana and some gnomish smarts, they managed to build huge farms. Kirin’var’s gone though. Demon elves destroyed it.”
“The ones who came with Illidan. I think your lot calls them blood elves. Supposedly, the Horde is only officially allied with the blood elf government back on Azeroth, is that right? Since I’ll never befriend the partners of those murderers in Netherstorm.”
“You are correct. The elves in Netherstorm are not part of the Horde.”
“Good. Kirin’var was the best hope for the Alliance in Outland. Nowadays, we get our food from Shattrath.”
A very real benefit of reestablishing contact with Outland is getting access to a wealth of information on the Burning Legion. Older sources of demonic knowledge are spotty at best. Documents penned by human mages and conjurers tend to be a mix of theory, guesswork, and delusion. While the orcs had more direct experience with demons, old Horde texts on the subject usually consist of tiresome paeans to the might of fiendish overlords. Even the warlocks of Azeroth had little real information; their grimoires are basically instruction manuals, and reveal little about demonic organization and society.
Benik Spincog was among the more recent arrivals to Honor Hold. A gnome, he had achieved some recognition as an expert on the Burning Legion. Though closely tied with the gnomish warlock community, he himself was a mage. Benik explained that he avoided using fel magic in order to maintain objectivity.
“The humans here really learned a lot. Back in Azeroth we all assumed that the demons were pretty strongly united, but the Magtheridon-Poluus conflict disproves that.”
“The demons certainly showed great unity at the Battle of Mt. Hyjal,” I pointed out.
“Right, right. There are some individuals in the Burning Legion who have achieved enough power and influence to command the loyalty of most demons. This would include demons like Kil’jaeden or Archimonde, possibly others.”
“Why do they not maintain this unity?”
“No one’s really sure yet. It could be that they can only command obedience for a short time. Alternately, they may prefer having demon lords constantly fighting each other.”
“Do you think we could take advantage of this relative disunity?”
“It’s entirely possible, and definitely something we should consider. By now you’ve probably noticed that the Burning Legion shows no tactical acumen whatsoever.”
“They haven’t done much more than mass charges.”
“The Legion doesn’t even have any anti-air defenses set up here! Griffin and wyvern riders are having an easy time trashing their supply portals. Here’s why I think this is the case: the Burning Legion has never encountered serious opposition before. This is the first time. You have to remember that they have probably thousands of worlds at their disposal, unlimited resources. They’ve never had to use anything other than overwhelming force.”
“Did they rely on sheer numbers in the Battle of Mt. Hyjal?”
“Basically, though even there they depended on Scourge auxiliaries. Anyway, their clumsiness is the only reason we’ve lasted so long against them. Eventually, they’re going to wise up.”
“Couldn’t they just wear us down indefinitely?”
“That’s entirely possible. My point is just that we have effective defenses against their tactics. Now this goes back to what I was saying about the different demon lords fighting each other. While Kil’jaeden has infinite resources, the lesser demon overlords do not. So when they fight their peers, some of them may have learned to use tactics. Thus, the Burning Legion may already have capable generals that just haven’t been brought to the front yet.”
“What would you recommend doing?”
“I can think of two possibilities. One is we form a strong united front against the Burning Legion, and work alongside the Naaru to contact other worlds to join our cause. The other option is to seal our world off from the Twisting Nether entirely.”
“Which do you think is preferable?”
“The first option. The second choice would eliminate arcane magic, and cause massive social and economic collapse in many societies. Furthermore, the demons might still be able to open up portals on their own somehow, so I doubt it’s really practical in the long-term.”
“However, would a constant war against the demons be any better?”
“Only if we can find a way to win. Azeroth and Outland are both in very bad situations right now.”
I spent five long days in Honor Hold. The demon assaults stopped after the second day. The Burning Legion instead sent their forces to attack Hellfire Citadel, located a half-day west of Honor Hold. The Citadel was where the fel orcs made their home. The fel orcs are remnants of the Old Horde, twisted by infernal energies. They’d served as the bulk of Magtheridon’s forces until the demon lord’s fall. No one was sure who led them after that, though there were plenty of rumors.
“They started filtering back into Hellfire Citadel just a year ago. They left us alone, which is fortunate. We didn’t have the numbers to clean them out,” said one human veteran.
“Do you think they are allied with anyone?”
“Half of the folk here think they’re allied with your people! But the fel orcs aren’t very bright. They probably just rallied around the biggest and meanest of their number, and now they go around fighting anyone that crosses their path.”
A battered old cantina stands in the center of Honor Hold. Called Andorhal’s Memory, it has serviced the weary garrison since the fort’s inception.
Alcoholism was a very real problem during the Fiend War. Having seen their hopes of a new nation dashed in a few short years, many of the soldiers tried to drown their sorrows. Danath had no choice but to institute a strict alcohol ration, which nearly caused a riot. Only Father Lacitus’ intervention prevented open rebellion, and the resentment felt by many soldiers was a contributing factor to Ferser’s exodus.
Even with the arrival of Azerothian beer, Andorhal’s Memory is a subdued place. Old soldiers sit at their tables, quietly savoring mugs of Southshore stout and Brewnall brown ale. They rarely speak. Perhaps after serving with each other for so long, little remains to be said.
The reinforcements prefer to drink with their mates in the tents and barracks structures outside. The weight of so many years makes Andorhal’s Memory a somewhat intimidating place for the new arrivals.
Captain Gester came to us after the second shift one day. He saluted us, though his eyes were narrowed in anger.
“Destron, now is a good time for you and your men to go to Thrallmar. The Burning Legion has focused all of their attention on Hellfire Citadel. It’s not exactly safe to leave, but it’s as safe as it will ever get.”
I relayed this information to my companions and we left in about an hour. Honor Hold offered no escort, as we could basically take care of ourselves.
Moving quickly, we trekked across the sere wasteland outside of the settlement. Emerald infernos smoldered in the west as the demon armies laid siege to Hellfire Citadel.
We took care to avoid the discolored spots of earth from which fire sometimes erupts. Takona Thunderhorn, a brave, claimed that he could detect a spiritual disturbance near these hidden vents. His claim appeared to be accurate, and he bravely volunteered to stay on point.
The great skeletons of gutted siege engines linger all around the Path of Glory. They are remnants from the time when Honor Hold fought against the Old Horde in Hellfire Citadel. The Alliance machines were primitive versions of the dwarven steam tank, resembling a stone tower on wheels. Though cumbersome, they were more effective than the stationary blade throwing apparatuses used by the Horde.
The Alliance abandoned these mobile cannons soon after the orcs fled Hellfire Citadel. Though they inflicted an impressive amount of damage, their slow speed and vulnerability made them a long-term liability. Of the seven built, only three escaped destruction at the hands of the orcs. The surviving cannons remained where they were left in case the orcs ever returned. Today, their guns point to Thrallmar.
“Stack those stones higher if you think yourself fit to walk in this place! The enemy marches to our gates while you curs lie about!”
The overseer’s bellows were largely ignored by the peons, who were laying the foundation for a defensive post. Thrallmar is a new town, established a few months ago by an advance scouting party. The territory of Thrallmar overlaps with the ruins of an old Horde stronghold called Grom’skur, or Giant’s Fang. Grom’skur was a fortress hastily assembled by the Bleeding Hollow Clan, which had just returned from Azeroth. While the majority returned to the traditional clan holdings to the south, a rear guard stayed to aid in the defense of Hellfire Citadel. The Alliance and the elements had completely annihilated Grom’skur.
Upon returning, my companions and I were debriefed by Kolb, Nazgrel’s lieutenant. Torsk gave a detailed description of Honor Hold’s defenses, much to my surprise. After dismissal, I asked him about this.
“It is my duty to the Horde, Destron. Thrallmar sheltered lost Alliance troops while we were away, and I’m sure they spied on us if that makes you feel better,” he scoffed.
Torsk probably had a point. Still, such distrust does not bode well for the wars against the Burning Legion.
Torsk and his men went off to the barracks to rest up and boast of their exploits. I went to the staging grounds where teams of peons assembled catapults. They did so with minimal supervision, working quickly and efficiently. Even in the days of the Old Horde, peons were the ones in charge of siege equipment.
The peons who came through the Dark Portal were mostly drawn from the ranks in Warsong Lumber Camp and the Barrens. As such, they were a tough and confident lot. While mindful of the warriors, these peons were fully aware of their importance to the war effort.
“Heh, we may be peons, but I promise you that all those drudge workers in Durotar are cursing the fact they could not go with us!” boasted one.
Respect is what motivates these workers. Simply being in Thrallmar gives a peon ample opportunity to prove himself in combat. Even those who do not become warriors will still be treated with a degree of deference upon return.
Whether peons or warriors, the orcs still suffer under the relentless heat. Krakork, who’d managed Thrallmar prior to General Nazgrel’s arrival, had copied Honor Hold’s system of daily shifts. The stronger constitutions of the orcs enables them (as well as the trolls) to maintain eight-hour shifts.
I spent a week in Thrallmar. The siege on Hellfire Citadel ended four days after I arrived. The demons momentarily retreated to the toxic forge camps nestled in the northern mountains. All signs suggested that an attack on the Dark Portal was imminent. The fel orcs mostly stayed within Hellfire Citadel, though small packs began to patrol the surrounding desolation.
The Horde took advantage of this momentary lull to strengthen their defenses. Seemingly numberless warriors sparred in the cracked fields. The warriors also underwent a great deal of mental and spiritual training in an effort to increase their endurance. Only the most determined warriors can thrive in Outland’s inhospitable climate, of which Hellfire Peninsula is by no means the worst example.
Morale was generally quite high. The orcs were enthusiastic to return to their homeworld, and many saw it as a chance to set right their predecessors’ crimes. Interestingly enough, the Thrallmar warriors tended to be relatively inexperienced.
“I said only the finest warriors should be permitted to join this glorious fray,” complained Gunog, a scarred veteran of the Ebonflint War Pack. “Yet they say we can only spare the whelps for this place!”
In truth, the number of warriors is only barely able to keep up with the Horde’s needs. Important though Outland is, the Horde could not afford to abandon the Barrens, Warsong Gulch, or Alterac Valley. There were even rumors that Thrall had made it easier to become a warrior in order to fill the ranks, but that is unlikely.
This is ultimately a problem of orcish physiology. An orc simply requires more food than a human. Not only that, but they must eat a great deal of meat to maintain strength. If the trials for warriorhood were made easier, it would take away from the agricultural labor pool. It is for this reason that the rumor is probably untrue.
The trolls and tauren have a similar disadvantage, and the Horde authorities have worried about it for some time. One of the main reasons that the Sin’dorei were accepted into the Horde was to relieve these pressures. Conceivably, it may come to pass that magic-powered Sin’dorei farms will supply much of the Horde’s armies. Unfortunately, they will need to overcome a very real distrust of the arcane present among orcs, tauren, and (to a lesser extent) trolls. That the Alliance outnumbers the Horde is truly one of the great ironies of our time.
At the time of my visit, Thrallmar also played host to a number of blood elf pilgrims seeking to join Kael’thas’ kingdom. Back in Silvermoon, the elves were told that the Sun King held dominion over all of Outland. They were surprised and disturbed to find that demons and fel orcs still ran rampant through the wastelands.
“It’s a terrible sight, to be sure. I’m sure you’ve heard the reports though?”
I was speaking with Ulsira Skyfire, the eldest of House Skyfire’s two scions. She came to Outland accompanied by four loyal retainers.
“I’m not sure. Which reports are these?” I asked.
“The official ones! They say that the Burning Legion made a second attack after the Sun King first drove them out. Their attack is of small consequence, and the Sun King has his own army of enthralled demons. With the rest of the Horde helping him, the Legion will soon be driven from Outland once and for all. As for the fel orcs, perhaps he simply missed a few. They only recently returned to Hellfire Citadel, from what I’ve heard.”
“What of Illidan?”
“That I do not know. There are rumors that Illidan holds court in a place called Nagrand, but other sources say that he commands the Sun King’s forces in Netherstorm. I suppose we shall find out soon enough.”
Hellfire Citadel was something of an enigma. For this reason, General Nazgrel ordered scouts to perform some reconnaissance on the fortress. I asked around, and was given the opportunity to accompany a scout named Kolta.
Kolta was brawny orc woman with a face covered in scars, courtesy of the night elves. After a brusque greeting she led me to the kennel in which Thrallmar keeps its riding wolves. The modern wolf mount is actually a cross-breed between the bestial Draenic wolf and the cunning Azerothian dire wolf. Smarter than the former and hardier than the latter, they are an essential part of the orcish cavalry.
“You can ride Shnala. She’s a patient one, and should consent to carrying an undead.”
Kolta opened the gate, revealing a majestic brown dire wolf. She studied me with bright blue eyes and sniffed me cautiously. Drawing back, she cast a reproachful look at Kolta.
“Come, Shnala, he is Horde! Put this saddle on her Destron; do it gently or she might tear off your arm,” she laughed.
I picked up a battered saddle and approached Shnala with careful deliberation. Though not happy at my presence, she relaxed enough to let me put it on and saddle up. Mammalian animals do not hate the Forsaken the way they do the Scourge, but they certainly feel uncomfortable around the free-willed undead. Most beasts will tolerate a Forsaken’s presence as long as he keeps his distance and does not stay for long or appear threatening. Fortunately, the Horde wolves are as well-trained as their masters. Shnala did not like me, but she was willing to put up with me.
Our swift mounts carried us across the rocky red fields. Kolta led the way, a wild grin on her brutalized face. It nearly took us a day to reach the precipice overlooking Hellfire Citadel.
Hellfire Citadel beggars belief, its haphazard mass defying the laws of gravity and architecture. Spires and turrets stick out crazily from a hulking mass of confused stone, carelessly thrown together. Jagged metal spikes stick out from the crooked walls. Meandering walls and narrow bridges connect smaller keeps and towers to the main structure. With ramparts built upon ramparts, it looks like some kind of berserk mountain. Outlying towers even had bridges connecting to the precipice miles to the west of us. Dim red lights glowed all along the parapets as fel orc watchmen made their rounds. We escaped notice.
The area around the citadel is equally grim, being little more than sand and bone. The complete lack of demon corpses in the area puzzled me. Had there not been a great siege there just a few days ago?
“Tell me wizard, what happened to the fallen demon soldiers here?” asked Kolta. She took out a pair of brass goblin binoculars and put them to her eyes, surveying the area.
“I was wondering that myself. You don’t suppose the fel orcs ate them, do you?” I said, half-joking.
“Heh, perhaps. I don’t know where else they get their food. Nothing can grow here.”
Kolta handed me the binoculars and I studied the chaotic structure. The area around Hellfire Citadel teemed with fel orc warriors. I was too far to get a good look at them, but the stacked crates suggested they were preparing for something.
“There must be thousands of these fel orcs!” I exclaimed.
“So it seems, though I don’t know how this could be. Pah! We’ll thin out their numbers soon enough. Our warriors have already met a few of these fel orcs in battle. They are strong, but foolish.”
The monstrosity that is Hellfire Citadel was once the home of the Shattered Hand Clan. They lived on the periphery of orcish society for many centuries and were respected as skilled warriors and hunters. No other clan claimed the region as a home, allowing the Shattered Hand to develop in relative isolation.
Hardened by constant fights with the clanless orcs of Zeth’kur (a now-destroyed city on Hellfire Peninsula’s southern coast) and local monsters, the Shattered Hand warriors were quick to join the Horde. They alone had experience in siege warfare, and played a key role in the destruction of fortified draenei cities. It was at this time that the practice of replacing one hand with a bladed weapon became common to all Shattered Hand warriors, instead of being exclusive to the elite. Hellfire Citadel was also constructed during this time, starting as a compact and unremarkable fortress.
When the Dark Portal first opened, the Shattered Hand plunged into a brutal extermination campaign against the ogre clans in Farahlon, to the north. Meanwhile, the Bleeding Hollow and Twilight’s Hammer clans made their disastrous first attack on Azeroth.
When these clans returned from Azeroth in defeat, the Horde exploded into paroxysms of blame and accusation. Golok Bladefist, the leader of the Shattered Hand Clan, vocally blamed the warlocks for this failure. Never, said he, should warriors be controlled by wizards. Several of the other chieftains approved of his words.
Gul’dan, the senior warlock of the Horde, knew he had to act quickly. He found an ally in the form of Blackhand, the crude and ruthless chief of the ascendant Blackrock Clan. The boastful Blackhand claimed that the Shattered Hand were cowards, too timid to go up against the newly-discovered humans. As he was more charismatic than Golok, the sympathies of the other clans soon switched to Blackhand.
Eventually, Golok could take no more, and challenged Blackhand to single combat. This was probably part of Gul’dan’s scheme, as the aged Golok was grossly outmatched by his rival. Sure enough, the Blackrock chieftain slew Golok. Though Blackhand initially called for the Shattered Hand’s destruction, Gul’dan convinced him otherwise. Golok’s more prudent son, Kargath, came to power and agreed to defend Draenor and obey the Horde.
As punishment for the Shattered Hand’s defiance, Blackhand press-ganged many of the clan’s peons into expanding Hellfire Citadel. No one knows how many peons and draenic slaves died in the construction. The Warchief made the citadel his headquarters, callously ordering sections torn down and then rebuilt. It grew so wasteful that Gul’dan finally stepped in and forced him to stop. Blackhand soon relocated to Blackrock Spire in Azeroth. Though it had become a mark of shame on his clan, Kargath nonetheless maintained Hellfire Citadel in the Warchief’s absence. Sources say that Kargath secretly despised Blackhand. Certainly he was one of the first to pledge allegiance to Orgrim Doomhammer, Blackhand’s killer and successor.
Kargath dutifully maintained the castle during this time. When the survivors of the Bleeding Hollow Clan marched back through the Dark Portal, telling Draenor of Orgrim’s capture and Gul’dan’s death, Kargath saw a chance to restore his clan to glory. The Shattered Hand and Warsong Clans struck deep into Azeroth, leading daring raids on the rebuilt nation of Stormwind. They intended to steal powerful magical artifacts that would allow Warchief Ner’zhul to open up portals to new worlds. These raids were successful, but the majority of both clans were inadvertently stranded on Azeroth.
When the Alliance Expeditionary Force made their attack on Draenor, only half of Hellfire Citadel’s intended garrison remained. These defenders consisted of Shattered Hand warriors who had stayed behind, and a number of Bleeding Hollow troops in the outlying fort of Grom’skur. Despite their lack of numbers, they put up stiff resistance against the attacking humans until the warriors in the Citadel were called away to defend the southern Horde holdings.
“Come, let’s go back to Thrallmar. It looks to me like the fel orcs are massing for an attack.”
Turning our backs on the atrocity of Hellfire Citadel, we rode back to Thrallmar. As we left, we heard a fearsome and resounding wail that boomed out from behind the uneven stone walls. Neither of us could say what it was, though the sound suggested an entity of terrible size and power.