Monday, August 18, 2008
Eight days of unbroken Zangarmarsh wilderness made me forget what it felt like to be dry. I have always enjoyed the rain, but I was getting thoroughly sick of it after marching through the constant deluge. Though less odious than Hellfire’s demon stink, Zangarmarsh was starting to wear on me.
The warriors of Thrallmar made mention of a troll village called Zabra’jin, deep in the swamps. Reaching it would pose its share of risks. Central Zangarmarsh is a dangerous place, almost untouched by civilization. Wild beasts, Lost Ones, and naga roam at will through the mushroom forests. I was particularly disturbed to hear rumors of skirmishes between Horde and Alliance militias. They allegedly fought over the Twin Spire Ruins, a graveyard for draenic warriors who fell in the Ogre War. Luck was with me; I did not encounter a single partisan from either faction.
My long trek gave me ample opportunity to see some of the land’s strange denizens. I had a close encounter with a predatory species called the marshfang. Notable in being one of the few non-fungal life forms, these flying creatures dart between the mushroom stalks. They have a manta ray shape similar to the sporebat, though without the hypnotic lights and vivid colors.
The marshfang diet consists of carrion and small creatures (both fungal and animal), and they are highly territorial. This results in occasional conflicts with sapient races. A marshfang slammed me off the road on the fourth day of my trek. There was a confused flurry of sharp fangs and swishing tails before I got a good look at my attacker. A frost nova dropped the creature, and I made my escape while it lay immobile.
I was nine days into the thirteen-day journey to Zabra’jin when I saw a brilliant sphere of light shining through a fungal thicket. At the time, I was in the middle of crossing a decaying bridge. The light bobbed in and out of sight a few times before coming around the bend of the stream.
Dubbed the King of the Swamp, the marsh walkers live up to the title. Standing as tall as towers, these majestic fungal creatures stride slowly and deliberately down the innumerable streams of Zangarmarsh. The marsh walkers ambulate on three delicate and elongated legs, on top of which is an organ-like structure that holds its primitive brain. Their telltale light emanates from an incandescent stub at the front. Lengthy tendrils dangle from the body, snapping into the waters to grab prey; mostly plankton, fish, and the occasional frog.
I hurried to the edge of the bridge as the marsh walker stepped over it, not deigning to notice me. The marsh walkers attack any large animal that gets too close, including other walkers. Keeping one’s distance assures safety.
I breathed a sigh of relief when I at last heard the driving beat of trollish drums booming in the dark. Sure enough, I reached Zabra’jin the next day. Zabra’jin is a ramshackle village built in a copse of large zangarstalks. The trolls had assembled plank huts that clung tenaciously to the stems, connected to each other by suspension bridges.
I waved to a pair of troll warriors at the entrance. They responded with icy glares.
“Hello warriors. I’ve come a long way to get here; don’t the Darkspears respect hospitality?” I spoke in Zandali, hoping my studies of that ancient tongue would carry me through.
“For sure, but what are you? Some corpse that jumped up out of its grave?” snarled one. I was quite confused.
“I am Forsaken. You know that.”
“Cha! You go on in then, but remember this: we are far away from Orgrimmar. Here in Zabra’jin, you live by our rules and our rules alone. Tread carefully if you want to stay undead.”
“I always take care to respect the wishes of my host,” I said as I entered. I was puzzled and, to be honest, a bit hurt. Such a reaction was not what I expected.
Beyond the palisade are the crude but sturdy huts in which the trolls make their homes. Trolls wandered to and fro, nearly all carrying spears or axes. There was not a friendly face to be seen. Having spent so much time amongst the relatively cosmopolitan trolls of Orgrimmar, I had forgotten that the jungle tribes loathe undeath. Even in Orgrimmar, only the trolls of the Darkbriar Lodge truly consider me a friend. The rest just politely tolerate me. While those in Sen’jin and Shadowprey Villages had been civil enough, they may have acted that way only out of obligation.
The Zabra’jin trolls allowed me to stay in the village’s common house, as per jungle troll custom. Scowling idols of minor Loa flank the bridge leading to the rambling structure. I felt like I was stepping back into a primal and atavistic past. Smoke lingers in the darkness of the common house, inhabited by a pair of trolls sitting near an active fire pit. They scowled when they saw me.
“Dead man!” one said in Orcish. “Dead human! If you know what’s good for you, you won’t be going up to the second floor. Shadow Hunter Denjai is there, and he won’t want to see you unless you have reason to be there. Do you hear me?”
“I’ll stay on the ground floor,” I replied.
I sat cross-legged under a weird wooden mask mounted on the wall, disheartened and soaking wet. The trolls chatted in Zandali, too quickly for me to understand. A third troll came in after a little while. As he got closer to the fire I was surprised to recognize him as Tobra’nay. Tobra’nay had been one of the apprentice mages at Darkbriar Lodge. He had attended a few of my lectures. I did not know him very well, though he had told me of his reassignment to Outland with great pride.
“Yes, Tobra’nay! I’m glad to see you again.”
“Uh, as am I, Destron.” He cast a nervous glance at the two other trolls in the room. They stared at him in return. “I saw you come in to the village. Some of us would like to see you. If you would follow me?”
Curious, and happy to escape the common house, I did. Back in the rain, Tobra’nay walked to a zangarstalk with a small hut attached to the stem. He climbed up a rope ladder hanging from the side of the hut, and motioned for me to do the same. Once I was seated comfortably within the bare interior, Tobra’nay explained the situation.
“The politics here in Zabra’jin are none too friendly, I fear. They’re happy to receive orcs and tauren, but Denjai hates the Forsaken and the blood elves.”
“I’m happy to see you’ve kept your senses at least.”
“That’s what they taught me to do back in Darkbriar,” laughed Tobra’nay. “Not everyone here is happy with Denjai. No one planned it this way, but most of Denjai’s friends live on the ground, while those who don’t like him so much live up here. They call us mushroom trolls, because they say our heads are soft like mushroom caps.”
Tobra’nay took me to another hut, connected to his by a bridge. This was the home of Shoraka, the de facto leader of the so-called mushroom trolls. A wise female shaman, she stressed that she and the other mushroom trolls followed Denjai’s orders.
“Tell me, Destron. What do the orcs say about us in Thrallmar?”
“I never heard much mention of Zabra’jin.”
“General Nazgrel said that Zabra’jin was to be built on the northern bank of the Lagoon, many miles to the east. But Denjai, he say that the spirits guided him here. Who are we to argue with a shadow hunter?”
“Nazgrel has accepted this?”
“He’s got his hand in other problems right now. To make things right with old Nazgrel, wily Denjai sent some trolls to built a base far to the east, Swamprat Post it’s called. Everyone there is a mushroom troll, glad to have put Zabra’jin behind them.”
“Do you think Denjai had an ulterior motive for building Zabra’jin so deep in the west? Or did the spirits really tell him to do it?”
“Shadow hunters can better hear the spirits of the dead than can we shamans. Those were the ones Denjai heard. I deal with the swamp spirits, and they don’t much care where we live. Denjai has his own plans, and he makes no secret of them.”
“What is that?”
“A new homeland for the trolls, with Zabra’jin as its heart. Denjai is a brave troll, driven by mad passions. He studied under old Rokhan himself. Denjai respects the orcs, but he fears that his people will become like the orcs. You ever been to Sen’jin Village?”
“Actually I have.”
“After Zalazane threw the Darkspear out of the Echo Isles, some wanted to stay in Durotar, others to go back. Denjai was thinking we should return to the islands. No reason to live so close to the orcs. But the sages spoke and decided to remain in Durotar.”
In fact, I was present during one of the debates over that very subject. Had Denjai been in the audience?
“Do you support this effort of a troll homeland in Zangarmarsh?”
“To live here? Yes, I am for that. But we should not distance ourselves from our friends.”
Shoraka and the mushroom trolls seemed generally content to stay, satisfied that they were at least helping the interests of tribe and Horde. I spent four reasonably pleasant days in Zabra’jin, generally staying to the upper levels. The departure to Swamprat Post had vacated a number of the mushroom huts, giving me a place to sleep. Though cramped, it was preferable to the menacing common house.
Tobra’nay had progressed admirably in his arcane ability. He said that Outland was a harsh and effective teacher. Though proud to be serving in Outland, he clearly missed Orgrimmar.
From talking with the trolls on the upper levels, I soon learned that Denjai lurked behind every word and action. Though not always comfortable with Denjai’s actions, Shoraka and her faction all held him in the highest regard.
“After Denjai learned all he could from Master Rokhan, he sailed the seas back to Stranglethorn. This was when the war drums beat fierce in the jungle night, and the holy men of Zandalar said ‘No more!’ to the Soulflayer’s bloody priests,” sang-spoke Shoraka, early in the second evening.
“Denjai made himself a grand terror to the tribes there, that much is for certain. And as they feared him, some grew to love him. When Denjai returned to Durotar he brought seventeen fierce hunters with him; Bloodscalp, Skullsplitter, and even a few blaspheming Gurubashi. They followed his banner.”
“Are they still with him?”
“Two died in Hellfire. Four more have died here. The rest live. The Darkspear weren’t much respected by the other tribes, but so great was Denjai that they forgot their scorn.”
Praise followed every criticism. The criticism certainly seemed valid. Zabra’jin’s planned location to the east would have made it much easier for it to receive supplies. No ready supply of it exists in the marsh.
Zabra’jin’s also in the middle of hostile territory. The trolls there must contend with ogres, naga, Lost Ones, and the occasional Alliance partisan, not to mention hostile fauna. Though the valiant troll warriors are up to the task, their efforts would be better spent elsewhere. The people of Zabra’jin must go on constant patrols in order to forage and maintain security.
However, I believe that Denjai knew that building Zabra’jin so far west would be quite risky. He was willing to deal with these obstacles in order to achieve his stated goal of a new troll homeland. Denjai believed that he and his followers were capable of surviving in such a treacherous land, and so far he’s been proven right. At the same time, this does not negate the criticisms against Denjai. Though beneficial to his faction’s political aims, the fact remains that he is not helping the Horde as much as he could. This might not be so terrible under different circumstances. However, since Outland is primarily a military operation, military discipline must hold sway.
Unfortunately, the Horde’s warrior ethos serves to silence most complaints. Orc and troll alike would be impressed with Denjai’s accomplishments. Certainly it’d be impractical to demand Zabra’jin’s relocation at this point in time. The whole issue does underline the problem of warrior worship prevalent in some parts of the Horde. The social arrangement of Zabra’jin is atypical for trolls. The village populace consists mostly of warriors, a fair number of whom hail from different tribes. These people are more likely to support a character like Denjai. The more diffuse and democratic structure in normal troll villages is absent.
I did not actually see Denjai until the third night. It is not an experience that I shall ever forget. That night, a crashing downpour drowned out the usual Zangarmarsh drizzle. Just before dusk, I heard a cheer rise up from the village beneath my hut.
Going out the door, I looked down at the gates from where the sound originated. A mob of warriors was filing into the village, their bright red facial paint visible through the rain, raising their arms in the air as if in celebration. Most were trolls, though I spotted a few orcs. The people of Zabra’jin shouted and rejoiced around them.
Tobra’nay had also gone out to see what was happening.
“What’s the occasion?” I called out to him.
“The Raptor Fangs. They’re, uh, warriors. The Raptor Fangs aren’t officially part of the Horde defenses here. They go out to the Twin Spire Ruins, hunting around for Alliance mercenaries.”
I sighed, suddenly quite disappointed.
“The Raptor Fangs are led by Denjai’s personal bodyguards. You know, Bloodscalps and the like. Very fierce warriors, and some have powers of the spirit. Never ever cross them!”
An ecstatic drumbeat rattled up from the village. A horn blew shrilly from the shadows. The entire town filtered out of their huts, forming on the sides of the Raptor Fangs who’d begun to dance in a procession towards the common house.
Tobra’nay said that such an occasion demanded the entire town’s presence. I figured I wouldn’t be welcome, so I went back into my hut. No more than a few minutes had passed when I heard Tobra’nay’s voice from below.
“Destron! Master Denjai says he wants you in the village. This is for all the Horde to see.”
I hurried down. A bonfire in the center belched smoke into the stifling common house. Dozens of trolls crowded in its confines, their feral visages scowling in the half-light. The Raptor Fangs thrust red fists in the air, their movements in tune with booming drums.
I took a seat near the entrance. The air shook with sound. Bright yellow smoke suddenly billowed from the flame and the trolls stopped their shouts. Yellow: the color of death, the west, and Ula-tek, the Loa of War.
The yellow haze burst as a monstrous figure leapt into sight. The trolls gasped as one and the Raptor Fangs dropped to their knees. The figure surveyed the common house through the sockets of a grotesque raptor skull. Bone fetish icons hung from his belt, clicking together in the sudden silence. So fantastic was the scene that I almost thought him a messenger of the Loa. Soon enough, I realized it was none other than Denjai.
A Zandali shout, and Denjai moved, pointing at faces in the crowd with raptor claws tied to his fingers. He chanted while the Raptor Fangs bowed their heads and shook madly. The crowd moved with Denjai’s snarls. Feverish entreaties erupted from the trolls, each one silenced by a clawed finger.
The ritual proceeded like a nightmare, myself trapped at the back and hoping Denjai would not single me out. Fear was a living thing in the common house that night. Denjai’s shouts grew in rage until the two Raptor Fangs farthest from the fire lifted a great box up from the ground. Everyone paused in anticipation. They lowered the box and wrenched off the lid. Reaching inside, a Raptor Fang took out a severed dwarven head.
I gasped, hoping it was just one of the Alliance mercenaries. The Raptor Fangs passed the gruesome memento around before laying it at Denjai’s feet, followed by more heads, until Denjai stood over a pile of four.
The Raptor Fangs withdrew into the crowd while Denjai surveyed the prize. A harsh whisper blew out from the mask, steadily rising in crescendo. Dark shadows enveloped Denjai’s hands as the whispers grew into chants, which grew into shouts. Unseen forces pulled the heads into the air until they rotated around the dancing shadow hunter. Drums started up with a quickening tempo, the cries of the village getting ever louder. The music and motion increased until there was nothing else.
Denjai yelled wordlessly and the room plunged into darkness. The flames burst into life moments later, and the shadow hunter stood unmasked before his followers.
“Now the festival shall begin!” he proclaimed.
The scene abruptly changed, dread replaced by merriment. The Raptor Fangs mingled with the crowd while Denjai flashed a beneficent smile. The common house emptied. Outside, some trolls set up a serving table under a zangarstalk’s protective cap. Women brought out cauldrons and built cooking fires under shelters. Mushrooms and fish dominated the layout though Denjai had the cooks tap into the red meat reserves.
I still felt shaken. The ritual had reenacted an old trollish legend of Ula-Tek demanding the death of his enemies, a task fulfilled by his priests. Denjai obviously stood in for the Loa, and the Raptor Fangs for the clerics. It served to further cement Denjai’s control over his people. It’s also the sort of behavior that tends to spark international incidents. While the Alliance turns a blind eye towards partisan squabbling, I fear it’s only a matter of time before the Raptor Fangs kill official soldiers or, worse yet, civilians. Though the Alliance has not made any official claim of ownership towards the Twin Spire Ruins (largely because they lack the resources to really secure it), there’s no question that it ultimately belongs to them. Zangarmarsh is free of demons, but the naga are a real threat, and the Free Peoples must created a united front against them. Denjai prevents this from happening.
The trolls can be just as savage as any other race. For the first time in thousands of years, they have the opportunity to rebuild their civilization. Trolls can finally transcend the barbarism with which they are associated. Before most of the Azerothian races even existed, the trolls were the builders of empires and cities, the writers of treatises and epics. Yet many trolls reject their civilized heritage in favor of bleak savagery.
I pray that the race does not follow Denjai’s lead.
Zangarmarsh has a long history of barbarism. Tobra’nay told me about the Bonechewer Clan the morning after the rally. The cannibalistic Bonechewer orcs long ago made their home in the swamp, away from the other clans. Their village lay a few miles south of Zabra’jin, though nothing of it remains today.
“No one really knows where the Bonechewers came from. Most figure they couldn’t survive in Nagrand; too many other clans there. Anyway, they somehow ended up in the swamp. Not a good place for an orc, as I’m sure you know,” said Tobra’nay.
“Not enough meat.”
“And that right there is why they became cannibals! The Bonechewers raided northern Nagrand, striking quick as lightning. Their warriors would pillage and then run back to the swamp, carrying captive and cattle to the cookpot. Bonechewers even, ah, chewed the bones of their own dead. Nothing insulting in it, to them.”
“Were they able to get enough meat this way?”
“I do not know for sure, but I do not think so. The Bonechewer warriors could only win by making ambushes. They were poor warriors when it came to drawn-out fights. Maybe they weren’t strong enough.”
“Why did the Horde accept the Bonechewers? It seems like the other clans would hate them.”
“That they did, but I guess Gul’dan had his own uses for them. The orcs sent the Bonechewers up north. They killed ogres for a while, with the help of the Thunderlords.”
“What happened after the ogres joined the Horde?”
“They weren’t much use. When Ner’zhul became Warchief, he forced the Bonechewers—the entire clan—to move south to Shadowmoon Pass. There they stayed until he finally got rid of them.”
“Interesting. Puts their savagery into context.”
“That it does. Swamps can do strange things to the mind too. You start seeing a monster behind every tree. Every mushroom, in this case!” he chortled.
“Do you think the swamp has an affect on Denjai?”
“Ah, come on now. Denjai’s not going to be driven mad by some old swamp. Trust me, he knows what he’s doing.”
Not even the mushroom trolls were very disturbed by the partisan fighting endorsed by Denjai. I understood, to an extent. The victims had been mercenaries. Even so, I could not help thinking it a prologue to open war.
While in Zabra’jin I heard stories about a race of mushroom people living in the wilds of western Zangarmarsh. Both the Horde and Alliance had apparently made contact with this race, called sporelings, but neither seemed very interested in establishing a real political relationship. None in Zabra’jin had made any attempt at meeting their neighbors, and Shoraka said that the sporelings had little to offer the Horde.
The road near Zabra’jin branches off into a poorly-maintained track. No Wrekt roads lead to the sporeling town of Sporeggar, which probably factored into the race’s survival. Though its deteriorated state made the path difficult to follow, I reached Sporeggar after four days of travel.
Sporeggar is best described as looking simultaneously alien and domestic. Tidy houses with dome roofs (actually hollowed-out mushrooms specially bred for the purpose of shelter) stand around a lush fungal garden. Bright glass-cups decorate the top of each home. Decaying polypores stick out of the walls, often holding clusters of small, brightly colored mushrooms, like the wooden planters one sees in human towns.
The sporelings are certainly distinctive. About the size of an adult human, their vertically ellipsoid heads are nearly as big as their torsos. The bent legs and long arms of the sporeling make them look smaller than their actual sizes. Patches of colorful phosphorescence dot their backs, arms, and heads.
Shoraka had earlier informed me that the sporelings could not speak Orcish or any other language. Thus, I would have to limit my interaction to observation. Shoraka assured me that the sporelings were passive, and would not object. Indeed, the sporelings took little notice of me. Most of the sporelings I saw were tending the fungal garden in the village center. A strange, fleshy orb hovers over the surrounding mushrooms in the center of the garden, tethered to the ground by a thick cord. I thought it simply a strange mushroom, but it is actually a spore sac. I shall explain this in more detail later.
Soon after my arrival, I saw a Forsaken woman step out of a fungal hut, her tattered hand gripping an umbrella. I caught her attention with a wave and she quickly walked towards me. Her waxy, death-puffed face bore a distrustful expression.
“Fancy seeing another Forsaken here,” she said. “Are you with the Apothecarium?”
“I am not.”
“Then why are you here?”
“Curiosity. I’m a scholar, my name is Destron Allicant.”
She pursed her peeling lips.
“My name is Irianne Hallisworth. You’ll pardon my suspicion; these are dangerous times, and nowhere is that more true than in Outland. The sporelings are beset by enemies on every side. The last thing they need are those damned poisoners.”
“I am no friend of the Apothecarium.”
“Good. I will admit that your reasons for coming surprise me. Precious few Forsaken have any interest in the sporelings.”
“I have interest in many things. I take it that you’ve befriended these people?”
“To an extent. The sporelings are sorely in need of friends. They do not hate me for being undead. In fact, I’m not at all sure they even comprehend our state.”
“How do you communicate with them?”
“Msshi’fn, the Sporeggar Primus, enabled me to do so. I imagine she’ll do the same for you.”
“Is the primus their leader?”
“She’s more of a village elder or record keeper than a leader per se. I’ll be frank, Mr. Allicant; to communicate with the sporelings, you must let them implant spores into your head. It’s quite harmless.”
“How are they implanted?”
“It’s simple, you just need to put it in your ears. The resulting fungus allows one to understand the sporelings’ speech.”
“Very good. Let’s see if Msshi’fn is at her home. Msshi’fn is not actually a she; sporelings are asexual. However, I am not comfortable with referring to a sporeling as ‘it.’”
I do not consider the pronoun “it,” to be disrespectful, so I shall refer to the sporelings this way in my writing.
Irianne took me across the village and to another fungal house. Two sporelings flanked the entrance of Msshi’fn’s house.
“Excuse me, I’d like to request an audience with the Primus. I have someone who may be of aid to the village.”
The sporelings said nothing, though I thought I heard a faint whistling sound.
“Very good.” She turned to me. “Msshi’fn will see you.”
I followed Irianne into the primus’ chamber. Inside sat a lone sporeling, whom I took to be Msshi’fn. A furry, bright green moss served as a sort of carpet. Elongated polypores acted as shelves, while brightly phosphorescent mushrooms emitted a comfortable glow. Sporeling homes are actually quite cozy, albeit in an exceedingly odd fashion.
Irianne greeted Msshi’fn and talked with her for a while. She explained that I could help make others aware of the sporelings' plight. Msshi’fn ambled over to a cluster of pink mushrooms growing next to the wall. It uprooted a pair, and then went to me, holding out its hands. I saw tiny motes of yellow powder on the caps.
“Put the powder in your ears, Destron,” said Irianne.
Suppressing my doubts, I did. Nothing happened.
“Very good. The spores should finish growing tomorrow. Then you’ll be able to understand the sporelings. Thank you, Primus Msshi’fn.”
Irianne took me to a small guest house where I waited for the spores to take effect. The sporelings make houses by shaping large, malleable mushroom species into buildings. It is similar to the way a night elf shaper turns a tree into a lodge. Fungal houses are still viable, but their spores do not grow into new houses. They simply mature into the unaltered mushrooms from which the house was shaped. The Cenarion Expedition may want to consider training sporeling druids.
A Kaldorei warrior named Temoril Dewleaf also resided in the guest house. He appeared less than happy about having to share a room with yet another Forsaken. Temoril spoke only the most basic Common, leaving us unable to communicate with him.
As I had suspected, Irianne was descended from the Hallisworth line. The Hallisworth family had ruled the hamlet of Northdale in what is now the Eastern Plaguelands. Irianne said that she was the last of her family, the rest having perished or been turned during the Third War. Her demeanor certainly suggested of aristocratic upbringing.
“How did you come to Sporeggar?” I inquired.
“Mere happenstance, Mr. Allicant. Those savages at Zabra’jin mentioned it, and I believed it warranted investigation. I think I’ve made a good impression on them, on behalf of myself and for the Horde. I really am mortified by the uncouth behavior of the Horde races. We’re damned lucky that Alliance adventurers aren’t any better in that regard. The tauren are the only Horde race that I would trust with the sporelings, but there are few of them in Outland.”
“There are many tauren in the Cenarion Expedition.”
“Yes, and I’ve informed them of my concerns. It will be some time before there’s any official backing of the sporeling people. The Tribes may not even have enough braves to truly protect my new friends here.”
Morning came, and I stepped out of the guest house. I did not feel any different. Yet soon enough, I began to hear the sporelings conversing in Gutterspeak.
“The translator fungus is truly one of our greatest creations.”
A sporeling had sidled up next to me. I realized that I was not exactly hearing it. Rather, I heard the words in my mind, spoken in my voice.
“Truly,” I agreed. “Pardon me, but are you Msshi’fn?”
“I am. No need to worry, I understand that we all look the same to you. You said you wanted to learn about the sporeling people. Would now be a good time to start?”
“It would, thank you.”
I followed Msshi’fn into its home. I reasoned that Irianne would have heard the primus in her own voice, hence the female designation. The primus took a wooden bowl full of compost, which it explained was a midday meal.
“Our diet is as it has always been; rotting mushrooms and fish. Ingestion creates the phosphorescence on our bodies, the color changing according to the composition of the meal.”
“Food seems easy to come by here in Zangarmarsh.”
“Starvation is one problem we never need to face. So where shall we begin?”
“I’d like to know the history of the sporeling people.”
“It’s a good deal more extensive than just Sporeggar. Our legends speak of a race called the Shapers, who raised the world from primordial muck. They charged us sporelings with maintaining the mushroom jungles.”
The story was reminiscent of the dwarven race’s faith in the Titans. It is conceivable that the Shapers are the Titans, though it could easily be coincidence.
“Did other sporelings live in different swamps?”
“Not to our knowledge. But Zangarmarsh was twice its current size back when the world was still whole. Our first colony was called Sporekish, and it grew far in the west, where the ocean met the land.”
In my mind’s eye I suddenly saw a towering cluster of blue mushrooms, reaching even higher than Telredor. Gossamer bridges connected the caps and stems while dense fungal gardens filled the ground below. Sporelings walked everywhere in the scene, hundreds of them in the city.
“Did you just send me an image of Sporekish? Mentally, that is?”
“It’s a side effect of the translator. Certain terms spark images. The one you saw was given to me by the primus of Sporenai, who received it from its own predecessors. In that way, we remember the past.”
Another picture flashed in my mind, a town similar to Sporeggar but on a rain-lashed island in a cloudy lake.
“That was Sporenai. It is my own memory.”
“Are there any specific memories of the Shapers?”
“Sadly, no. That happened before Sporekish, before we truly learned to think.”
“So from Sporekish, your people expanded?”
“Very slowly, over the course of millennia. We sporelings live in perfect balance with the swamp. We only grow new sporelings to replace those who have fallen. The race was content to stay in Sporekish, but the beasts of the swamp became a menace. To defend ourselves we grew more sporelings than ever before. A single sporeling has very little strength. Unlike orcs or draenei, we lack muscles and bones. Numbers are our only hope. Anyway, after surmounting such challenges, these excess sporelings needed a place to live. We continued to grow in this way, and we eventually controlled 22 colonies throughout Zangarmarsh. We even established a few in the Blood Tropic, a deadly swamp north of the Blade’s Edge.”
I saw a mental image, a fleet of fungal balloons drifting across a jagged mountain range. I gasped, marveling at the sporeling ingenuity.
“Sporeggar is the last real colony. We tried to make a few more after the fall of the Wrekt, sending one south and another far to the east. The first was destroyed by draenic mutants and the second is besieged.”
“Have you sent any reinforcements?”
“We are trying to grow new sporelings for that purpose, but it is difficult. Sporeggar itself is barely surviving.”
“Did the sporelings communicate with any other races?”
“A draenic ambassador once visited Sporekish, a little over a hundred years before the Breaking. The sporelings liked her, but she had to return to Shattrath for some reason and no replacement was ever sent.”
“What about the orcs?”
“Irianne tells me that the orcs here called themselves the Bonechewer Clan. They were our enemies, but it was rare for us to actually fight.”
“The Bonechewer Clan had a reputation for savagery and violence.”
“No doubt. Yet we sporelings had nothing they wanted. Besides, the Bonechewers were well aware that more of us lived to the west. If they became too much of a problem, they knew we would destroy them. One sporeling is weak, but a thousand? Ten thousand?”
“What about when the Bonechewer Clan joined with the Horde?”
“We began to worry when more orcs started to arrive in Zangarmarsh, but all the Bonechewer warriors went north.”
“Then the Horde never made war upon the sporelings?”
“Not in any official capacity. It’s a good thing too. We would lack the advantage of numbers against so many clans. You can probably guess what happened after the Breaking. A single day saw the destruction of ancient Sporekish and most of my race. We did not expect to survive, but somehow we did.”
“Do any sporelings live outside of Zangarmarsh?”
“Some do in Shattrath City. In fact, we established the eastern colony in order to better communicate with them. The climate in Shattrath is too dry to establish a colony, and it lacks a spawning glen. Zangarmarsh is the only hope for our race.”
“How do you govern yourselves?”
“Govern? The sporeling exists to ensure the health of the colony, and the colony exists to perpetuate the species. As primus, I am a record keeper. The primus is born with greater mental capacity than other castes but we are not really leaders. I do not have what Irianne describes as personal ambition.”
“What are the other castes?”
“The harvesters grow mushrooms and maintain the compost, and preservers defend and forage. We used to have seers, who developed new types of fungus. None survived the Breaking, and we cannot yet make new ones.”
The sporelings perfectly adapted to the demands of the marsh. Perhaps too perfectly. Unable to reproduce outside of the swamp’s confines, they do not have the option of escaping to safer lands.
Juff’wup merrily traversed the swamps, its eyes looking out for glowcap mushrooms. I asked Juff’wup about its role as a preserver, but its answers tended to be laconic. It declined to give anything other than very basic descriptions. Juff’wup lacked any real opinions, and did not always seem to understand my questions.
“Do you think that the preservers should attempt to expand Sporeggar’s sphere of influence?” I once asked.
“We collect many glowcaps,” was its response.
Juff’wup’s limited understanding stemmed from the sporeling caste system. As a preserver, it had no need for more developed thought processes. Juff’wup’s youth was another factor. Young sporelings within a caste are essentially mental clones. Even a young primus is nearly identical to the senior primus whom it will eventually replace. With age, a sporeling begins to develop personal attributes. Some never get beyond the basic level of their castes, but others actually become individuals, capable of opinions and new ideas. Harvesters rarely ascend to this state. It is somewhat more common among preservers, and inevitable for a primus. Sporelings that do evolve into individuals are considered the most important parts of the community.
“Here is a glowcap!” exclaimed Juff’wup.
It zipped over to a brightly glowing orange mushroom at the base of a small zangarstalk. Its large hands quickly scooped up the glowcap, dropping it into a bag made of universal veil. The glowcap is a type of mushroom that increases the viability of sporeling spores.
The sporeling reproduction process is immensely complex, and demands its own book. I shall do the best I can to sum it up in a few paragraphs.
Sporelings develop inside seed-like objects called spore sacs. The difference is that a seed has food stored in its body while a spore sac does not. As such, it is less likely to survive. For this reason, sporelings have developed a symbiotic relationship with a biological entity called a spawning glen. These immense organisms are actually submerged networks of fungal fibers that can stretch for miles. Currently, only one exists.
The spawning glen provides nutrition for spore sacs. Though it does not guarantee a successful maturation, it greatly increases the likelihood Spawning glens get their nutritional stores by absorbing airborne microbes, dead animals, and failed spores.
The sporelings say that a spawning glen lives for thousands of years. The last one is middle-aged. Four times in its life, a spawning glen propels clouds of spores into the air. These drift across the land, in rare cases creating new spawning glens. The primus estimated that the nearby spawning glen would have two more reproductive cycles in its lifespan.
Spawning glens are not essential for sporeling reproduction. However, successful reproduction is very difficult without one. Spore sacs cannot easily get the nutrition they need from the soil of Zangarmarsh. Glowcap supplements alone will not do the trick, but greatly help spore sacs implanted in a spawning glen. Considering the current attrition rate suffered by sporelings, they cannot afford to go without the help of the spawning glen.
When a sporeling buds, it essentially creates a clone of itself. The sporelings hope that individuals with personalities will produce other sporelings that are also capable of psychological evolution. For this reason, developed sporelings use glowcaps to make their offspring more likely to survive. The glowcaps provide extra fuel for the growing spore. Prior to the Breaking, sporeling colonies would even use glowcaps as a form of currency. Though mostly self-sufficient, they still traded on occasion.
This ties back to the spore sac I saw in the center of the village. The sporelings were experimenting with raising a spore sac on a compost heap, hoping it could gain sufficient nutrients. They hoped to reduce their dependence on the spawning glen. The harvesters think that the spore sac looks quite unhealthy, but it is still viable. Only when it hatches will they know if the experiment was successful.
Msshi’fn said that only a primus spore was assured of developing a personality. The children of a developed sporeling may be more likely to gain personality traits, but it is not a certainty. Likewise, children of normal sporelings are known to attain personalities. According to Msshi’fn, the sporeling race had long attempted to increase the number of individualistic sporelings. To some extent, it claimed, the breeding program had worked.
The spawning glen has become quite dangerous in recent years. Irianne told me of the fungal giants, who march down from the mountain valleys to feed on the developed spore sacs. The spore sac quickly encapsulates a developing sporeling, and starts to grow. Some sacs reach as high as a healthy oak. As the sporeling matures, the sac deflates. When it shrinks to the size of a large melon, it means that the sporeling will soon hatch. This is when the giants prey on it.
The fungal giants were never so aggressive in the past. Msshi’fn theorized that something had disrupted the normal food source for the giants. Whatever the reason for the attacks, the spawning glen requires constant protection. The preservers, already overworked in defending the village, need every bit of help they can get.
Accompanied by Irianne, Temoril, and five preservers, I journeyed south to the spawning glen. Rain fell in cascades from boiling clouds, steam rising from rivers and bogs.
“Thank you again for joining us, Mr. Allicant. It means a great deal to everyone in Sporeggar,” said Irianne, raising her voice to be heard over the rain.
“It’s the least I could do. They’ve been very good hosts.”
Our goal was to gather up as many developed spore sacs as possible, as well as any spawn that had escaped predation. It was Irianne’s fourth such expedition, and Temoril’s second. Irianne was proficient in frost spells, making her quite useful to the retrieval efforts.
Cold lights shone out in the fog, the searching glares of marsh walkers. Tendrils and legs took shape as they moved with sinister calm.
“The walkers stand and wait all around the spawning grounds,” said Irianne. “They wait for hatched spore spawn who escape the giants. The marshfolk call them kings, but they’re nothing more than vultures!”
We gave the marsh walkers a wide berth and reached the spawning glen without incident. I stepped into a forest of spore sacs. Distinct from the specimen in Sporeggar, the sacs in the glen are bright and vibrant. Golden pustules dot the surfaces, pulsing with life. Vents in the sides of the sacs periodically exhale streams of orange gas.
A pinkish glow suffuses the spawning glen, pale vapors of the same color rising from the ground. This is a by-product of the glen’s nutrition manufacturing capabilities. The vapors are actually a mild poison. A sporeling can actually withstand a significant amount, but long-term exposure is dangerous. The spawn in the spore sacs are insulated from the toxin. This is why Sporeggar is so far from the glen.
Keeping my balance on the slick ground proved difficult. Shiny, bubbling blue flesh carpets the spawning glen, run through networks of purple veins. Firm in some parts, it gives way in others. The sporelings had no trouble with it, while Irianne and Temoril had sufficient experience and agility, respectively. I stumbled around like a drunk.
The glorious thing about traveling is that, no matter how far or long one travels, there are still places that inspire wonder. All of Zangarmarsh possesses this quality, and the spawning glen is its acme. Utterly alien and still weirdly beautiful, I count myself fortunate to have seen it.
Irianne reached into her pack and withdrew a silver priest’s censer and a small pouch. Opening both, she took a handful of violet mulch from the pouch and placed it inside the censer.
“Sporeling spawn often wander the glen, not knowing where to go. The sporelings created this formula which will attract them to us.”
Getting back to her feet, Irianne swung the censer forwards and backwards. She began to sing, her hollow voice carrying the words of an old Lordaeronian lullaby. I’d heard it frequently as a child, one of the few memories I retain from my first years. The clear yearning in Irianne’s voice gave her singing an eerie quality, compounded by the strange environment and her decayed state. She had to know that the sporeling spawn would be unmoved by the sound, but I found the effort touching.
“There is a mature spore sac here,” announced one of the sporelings. It pointed to a pink, fleshy globe that was very nearly a sporeling’s size. Reaching down to the shrunken stem, it gave a sharp pull. The sac came out with a loud pop. The preserver had to hug it to hold on to it. A wagon would have made transporting the sacs much easier, but the slippery terrain made wheeled constructs impractical.
Hours passed in that dreamlike place. Six sporeling spawn came out of the mists, drawn to us by the formula. Looking like miniature sporelings, the spawn operate on basic instinct. The full-grown sporelings will implant them with memories and have them practice the skills of their caste. Upon attaining proficiency (which takes anywhere from five to six years), they are considered mature.
As evening approached, everyone in our party carried one matured spore sac, except for Temoril who carried two. I cradled mine as best I could, peering at it in hopes of seeing the sporeling spawn within. K’tosh, the lead preserver, said it was time to return.
Temoril abruptly stopped in his tracks, looking to the east. His silver eyes scanned the mists and he uttered something in Darnassian.
“Temoril senses an intruder. So do I,” said K’tosh.
Motion pulsed through the ground. Under K’tosh’s directions, we grouped the spore sacs in a shallow depression. Irianne herded the spawn together and moved to the sacs, along with two preservers. Temoril nocked an arrow to his bow while the remaining three preservers readied their spears. Sporelings coat their weapons in a toxin that deadens fungal giant flesh.
The giant barged into sight by the time we finished our preparations. It beheld us with four shining eyes, set above a mouth resembling a fleshy grill. Thick bunches of fungal stalks infested its rough shoulders and huge tendrils dangled from its arms. Phosphorescence glimmered through layers of creeping moss and fungal symbiotes.
“Remember, use ice and aim for its head!” urged K’tosh.
I answered with a frost bolt. The icy comet hurtled towards the giant, spreading white rime across its crown upon impact. A second frost bolt streaked past me, the work of Irianne. Temoril, his arrows enhanced with the same chemical as the preservers’ spears, unleashed volley after volley, his hands a blur. Black spots soon dotted the fungal giant’s head as ice and poison did their work.
“There is another coming, from the south!” reported K’tosh. “Keep firing at the first one.”
The wounded giant picked up speed. Up close, I realized the actual size of the monster; I barely stood past its knees.
“Destron, Irianne, open fire on the second giant! We shall finish the first!”
Frost spells simply don't do enough damage. Though the damp bodies of fungal giants aren’t especially vulnerable to flame, I reasoned that a pyroblast’s kinetic impact would do enough damage.
Arcane energies swirled in my hands, agitated by heat and motion. The giant loped towards us. Temoril’s battle cry resounded from behind, drowned out by the giant’s whooshing grunts. My target drew closer, a cloud of spores suddenly bursting from its head.
I unleashed the pyroblast. Carried by its momentum, the giant crashed into the burning sphere. The detonation boomed out across the Spawning Glen. I knew I missed the head, but I hoped the bodily damage would kill it.
The giant reeled, a gaping crater in its abdomen. Fibers spooled out from the wound along with cascades of ichor. Incredibly, the giant still stood. Lacking much in the way of real internal organs, it is difficult to deliver a critical hit upon these foes.
A green cloud suddenly enveloped me. I realized it was a gas unleashed from the giant, acting as some form of ranged attack. Merely annoying to Irianne and I, it was debilitating for Temoril and the sporelings. The night elf fell to his knees, hacking and coughing. A swung tendril slammed into a preserver named Sfim, disintegrating the sporeling’s body.
The first giant suddenly stumbled, its lower legs black and rotted from sporeling poisons. The giant literally slid off its calves, falling into a pool of water. Covering his mouth, Temoril jumped on the giants body and ran to its head, plunging his sword deep into what served as its brain. The monster shuddered once and went still.
The gas cleared, only to reveal the second giant nearly upon us. Yet the fibrous strings dangling from its wound wrapped around its legs. Halted by its own innards, the giant fell to the ground. Raising her hand, Irianne summoned a blizzard over the giant, destroying it.
The battle done, we took stock of our situation. The first giant had killed two preservers. Temoril felt dizzy, but said he was able to continue. No one else was hurt but we did have a problem with transporting the spore sacs. To make up for our losses, Irianne and I each carried two. Though awkward, it was our only option. K’tosh took a handful of spores from each dead preserver. These, he explained, would be put to rest in Sporeggar.
We returned to Sporeggar without encountering any hostile elements. The sporelings who met us gave thanks, but there was no formal welcoming party. I do not mean to say that the sporelings were ungrateful. It is merely that spore sac retrieval is considered a routine (if dangerous) task. Retrieval is usually undertaken by preservers, who are simply fulfilling the roles of their caste. Most sporelings assumed that we foreigners were doing the same. The unhatched spore sacs and the spawn were sequestered in separate huts. Once that was done, Msshi’fn conducted a ceremony for the two dead preservers.
The Sporeggar graveyard lies in a grove of zangarstalks on the banks of Sporewind Lake. Mounds of earth dot the ground, marked by blue lantern-cap mushrooms. I was surprised to see ornate stone urns and benches lining the cemetery, crafted with Kaldorei motifs.
“Temoril made them. We sporelings do not work with stone, but he said he had great experience working on something called the Temple of the Moon. I have not seen it, but I’m sure it is quite impressive,” said Msshi’fn.
“It is,” I confirmed. I looked at Temoril, standing alone at the cemetery entrance. I wondered what had brought him to Outland and to Sporeggar.
We observed a simple and elegant burial ceremony. Of the sporelings, only Msshi’fn and nine preservers attended the funeral. Mourning is mostly limited to members of the deceased’s caste, specifically those with whom it was familiar. Msshi’fn described how the essence of the departed would return to the swamp, nourishing it and ensuring a home for future generations. In this way they would be immortal.
When finished, Msshi’fn sprinkled the spores into a small pit which it then filled. The mourners walked back to the village without a word. I lingered for a while before going to the guest house, troubled by a sense of melancholy.
Afternoon passed into evening. Temoril slept soundly on the guest house’s cushioned floor. Irianne was not present. Outside, life in Sporeggar continued as normal. I hoped that the sporelings would prevail in their fight for survival. Forgotten by most of the world, they must rely on the mercy and dedication of outsiders.
Restless, I stood up and walked around the village. A steady rain fell from the night sky. Quite by accident, I ended up at the nursery holding the sporeling spawn. A lone preserver standing outside gave me a cheerful greeting.
Curious to see how the infants were doing, I looked inside. Unlike human infants, the spawn do not cry or demonstrate any other emotion. Such things must be taught by the elders. Until then, they can do little.
Irianne sat at the back of the nursery, her scarred arms gently cradling a sleeping spawn. The expression on her face was a strange mix of happiness and regret. She smiled upon seeing me, but remained silent. Treading carefully on the mossy ground, I sat down next to her.
“Do you want to hold her for a while?” she whispered.
“I’d love to.”
She slowly handed the child over and I gratefully took the sporeling into my own arms. I felt a great peace and a great longing as I held the infant’s tiny form.
Saturday, August 2, 2008
I descended the mountain pass into a land of otherworldly splendor where the air wraps around the traveler like a hot sponge. Thousands of spectral lantern lights gleam within fungal bodies, lighting the dense fog. Vapor clouds churn endlessly in the murky skies.
Azeroth’s Eastern Plaguelands has a mushroom forest of its own, but it’s nothing more than a foul parody of this alien swamp. Zangarmarsh is a place of overflowing life, a primordial land that exists beyond imagination. Great mushrooms, some reaching as high as Feralas’ giant trees, grow from the swampy floor. Soft lichens and glowing caps cover the ground in a blanket of dark colors. Clouds of glittering spores lazily float through the air like fairy dust.
While much of Outland still reels from the scars of demonic invasion, Zangarmarsh remains vibrant. It was a perfect sanctuary for the draenei. Few orcs were familiar with Zangarmarsh, and the Horde’s impatience made a thorough search of the region an impossibility. Demon armies did march through the swamps after the Breaking, but they moved directly to Shadowmoon Valley. The relentless marsh quickly reclaimed the land they tainted.
I stood in the drizzle for what must have been hours, the water an indescribable deliverance from the parched air of Hellfire Peninsula. I detested humidity while alive, but it’s nothing more than a mild irritant in undeath.
I entered Cenarion Refuge in an ebullient mood. Built on the Zangarmarsh’s eastern edge, the town acts as a base for the Cenarion Circle in Outland. The Circle was one of the first groups to cross over, the druids eager to repair Draenor’s ecology. Some in Nighthaven and Darnassus criticized the Outland druids, arguing that Azeroth’s very real problems should get first priority. Archdruid Fandral Staghelm steadfastly refused to lend any aid to the Outland efforts. Because only a slim majority of the Circle promotes the Outland reclamation campaign, the Outland druids are considered a distinct but subordinate division called the Cenarion Expedition.
The Cenarion Refuge is basically a night elf town transplanted to Outland. The gleaming waters of a Moonwell spread their light at the camp’s perimeter and a leafy ancient keeps a watchful eye for intruders. I saw elven and tauren druids arguing around a cluster of azure-capped mushroom growing on the Moonwell’s rim.
I went to a large wooden hall built on a massive stone foundation. Three Kaldorei worked on the roof, scraping off fungal blooms growing on the eave. A tauren brave, wearing the armor of a Cenarion Warden, leaned against a rail by the entrance. He flinched when he saw me, but quickly regained his composure.
“My apologies, Forsaken ally. My mind was wandering.” His voice sounded quite tired, probably because of the heat.
“You needn’t apologize. Are visitors welcome in Cenarion Refuge?”
“As long as they do not hold the Expedition as an enemy.”
Sensing he wasn’t in the mood for conversation, I thanked him and went inside. The interior was almost painfully bright, as if overcompensating for the dimness outside. Travelers from various races rested on soft mats laid out on the floor.
“Say, by any chance do you have a mushroom problem in Undercity?” asked a night elf, speaking in awkward Orcish.
“There’s a great deal of mold but no one seems to care about it. Why do you ask?”
“The swamp keeps trying to take over Cenarion Refuge. The druids are having a bit of trouble working with it. They say it’s because they’re dealing with an alien world with a very strange ecology. Did you notice the workers up on the roof?”
“They go up there every few days. The wood in Kaldorei buildings is still alive, so it heals itself, but only as long as we scrape off the mushrooms first!”
The elf introduced himself as Marin Moonroot. His stories suggested that the living races weren’t enjoying Zangarmarsh as much as I.
“There’s been much confusion. I hate to sound petulant, but the expedition can’t seem to decide on a role in Zangarmarsh. Tauren and elf alike are driven half-mad by the humidity. The tauren also thought we should build Cenarion Refuge out of indigenous materials. The elves figured it’d be fine to bring in a foreign seed, so long as the druids made sure it couldn’t reproduce, which they did. Unfortunately, the mushrooms seem determined to grow on every wooden surface.”
“You said the tauren wanted to build using local materials. How do you build structures out of fungus?”
“Oh, I’m not really sure. You should probably ask one of the druids.”
Taking his advice, I met with a druidess named Heyemah Windtotem. Though exhausted by the heat, she bore it with good grace. We spoke next to the moonwell, where fungal tendrils gripped the stony rim.
“Ah, Zangarmarsh is still a great mystery. The spirits here do not give up their secrets easily. Still, we are learning. To answer your question: the great big mushrooms, called zangarstalks, have all kinds of uses. They start off small but quickly grow. At first, a zangarstalk is encapsulated in a white ball called the universal veil.”
“I’ve seen these in Azerothian mushrooms.”
“The principle’s the same, just on a bigger scale. Zangarstalk veils are like leather or hide, and can be used for canvas. Anyway, the mushroom eventually breaks the veil. As it grows, it develops a very hard sheath that encircles the stalk and the underside of the cap. This sheath is as strong as wood. The Alliance Expeditionary Force made buildings out of it!”
“Wouldn’t the mushrooms become extremely heavy?”
“The flesh of the fungus is full of air sacs, which keep it light. Sometimes the zangarstalks fill up with water, which causes them to collapse. In these cases, the bottom of the mushroom bursts and the rest topples. That’s why we periodically drain the zangarstalks around the refuge. If they collapse here, people could die.”
“Where do the zangarstalks get their sustenance?”
“Orcish legends say that a terrible and wicked giant lived here until he was slain by one of their heroes. The mushrooms sprouted from his rotting corpse.”
“You think this is true?”
“It is not for me to question the wisdom of the orcish ancestors,” she shrugged. I was not quite satisfied by her answer, but no one else could offer a more concrete explanation. One answer is that the zangarstalks grow on the rotting bodies of older, dying mushrooms. Even the druids acknowledged that these alone could not account for the zangarstalk’s gargantuan size.
Cenarion Refuge seems incongruously busy for an elven-tauren settlement devoted to the preservation of nature. This is because of the very real difficulties faced by the expedition. The fruit trees usually grown by the Kaldorei simply can’t survive in Zangarmarsh. This is not to say that food is hard to find; there are scores of edible mushroom species. The elven druids merely dislike the hassle of having to gather these mushrooms, as they cannot yet grow them with their powers.
“In truth, I am a bit troubled. I am not sure that all the Kaldorei here really understand that we are in an alien world. Cenarius never walked these swamps. I’m not sure if his powers really apply here.” I was speaking with a venerable elven druid named Delendius Nightwhisper. Less bothered by the humidity than most, he spent his free time in a mushroom copse at the town’s edge.
“I’ve seen druids here shapechange and use other abilities. They don’t seem to be having any trouble.”
“Our individual powers remain unaffected. Yet interacting with the local environment is very difficult. Were this Azeroth, we’d have established a much larger colony of living buildings by now. The marsh fights us every step of the way.”
“Do you think the problem lies in using Azerothian seeds to grow the buildings?”
“I believe so, yes. The druids must earn the trust of nature in Outland. This ecology does not yet know us as protectors.”
Cenarion Refuge does provide an interesting perspective on the different attitudes towards nature held by the night elves and tauren. The elves, who have long served as nature’s special guardians, have a paternalistic view of the ecology. No reasonable person would doubt the sincerity of their devotion, but they clearly expect nature to conform to their standards.
In contrast, this first generation of tauren druids grew up as hunters in a vast and often fearsome wilderness. They see nature as the master and believe it will ultimately survive with or without druidism. Obviously, this ties into preexisting tauren religious beliefs. I believe this is why the tauren seem less bothered by the fungal incursions. It’s more or less how they expect nature to behave. Even so, not all of the advantages go to the tauren. The Shu’halo are much more adversely affected by the humidity than are the elves.
The druids arguing over the fungal presence in the moonwell decided to let it stay. I think it was a wise choice on their part, an opinion shared by the majority of the Cenarion Expedition. A cluster of glass-cup mushrooms now thrives in the sacred pool. Egg-shaped with open tops, the texture resembles veined glass. Glass-cups are large, each about the size of a gnome. Rain falls into their open bodies and quickly spills over the brim, making them look like overfull wine glasses. They are common enough in the swamp, growing together to create natural fountainheads.
Delendius acted as my guide in Cenarion Refuge. He had been a druid since before the Sundering and was greatly respected for his wisdom. A preference for animal form and a lack of ambition kept him from rising high in the Cenarion Circle. Delendius joined the Cenarion Expedition to get away from the Azerothian politics he detested. Unlike many druids, he was not bothered by my undeath.
“In my time, I’ve seen our great queen consort with demons, survived the Sundering, waged war with insect monstrosities, and watched as Nordrassil died. Forgive me if I sound jaded, but an ambulatory corpse doesn’t strike me as all that remarkable,” he joked.
Delendius’ passion lay in observing the bizarre animals of Zangarmarsh. Many of these creatures are actually mobile fungi. Such a find is rather incredible, even by Outland’s standards.
One species is called the sporebat. These fungal beasts swim through the air with an almost languorous insouciance, supported by lines of subcutaneous ventral air bladders. The form vaguely resembles that of a manta ray. The most notable feature are the eerie lights that radiate from within the sporebat’s body. The brightest lights lie at the tips of the posterior tendrils.
“Why do they glow like that?” I asked.
“Phosphorescence seems to be a common trait in Zangarmarsh. The sporebats come out at night, which is why we named them after bats.”
“They’re beautiful creatures. What do they eat?”
“Mushrooms. There’s not much else to eat here.”
At that moment, one of the glowing bats drifted towards us. Slowly swishing around in the air, it studied us with glowing eyes (assuming that those lights really were eyes). The creature’s seeming curiosity worked to anthropomorphize it. The interplay of spectral lights in its body was nearly hypnotic. Delendius smiled at the creature, which stayed for a few minutes longer before flying away into the marsh.
Black eyes lit up when I spoke. Sull’s skin, pitted and wrinkled from years of hardship, stretched tightly over his skull. He examined me for almost a minute before responding.
“Forgive my rudeness,” he wheezed. “I sometimes forget where I am. What is your name?”
“Destron Allicant. Delendius told me that you acted as an unofficial liaison with the Lost Ones. I’m trying to learn as much about this world as possible. Do you think you could take me to one of their villages?”
“Hmm, Umbrafen Village is safe enough I suppose. The madness is not as deeply rooted there as it is elsewhere in the swamps. It’s a hard journey; are you sure you would be up for it? Many from your world are not.”
“Very well. Tomorrow morning then?”
“That would be fine.”
I thanked Sull and returned to the inn. Sull was of that tragic breed called the Lost Ones. These unfortunates are draenei who degraded even further than the Broken. Remembering nothing of their past lives, they congregate in remote parts of Outland. Their erratic behavior furthered their isolation; while often peaceable, Lost One militias occasionally go on the warpath and kill all that they see. It was not my first encounter with the Lost Ones. I’d run across a few back in the Swamp of Sorrows.
Delendius said that only the Umbrafen tribe seemed at all interested in coexistence. Sull had guided a few druids to Umbrafen Village in the past, though the Cenarion Expedition could make no headway in healing the Lost Ones. Even the draenei, who strived to redeem their Broken kindred, largely avoided them. Only those few Lost Ones who actively seek help, such as Sull, ever receive it.
We left early the next morning. Waxy orange light glowed dimly on the fungal bodies encompassing us, obscured by sheets of warm rain. Sull stood next to his tent, stick-thin legs barely supporting his hunched figure. Appearances can be deceiving. In spite of his distorted physique, Sull moved quickly and agilely through the marsh and I struggled to keep up with him.
Days passed in the mist and rain, our way lit by the soft fungal lambency. We rested during the night, usually eating local mushrooms. Since we were only a Lost One and a Forsaken, we did not bother with tents. On the way, he told me of Zangarmarsh’s recent history, and of the Lost Ones.
“The Pure Ones, whom you call the draenei, say I was once like them. In truth, I do not remember. None of us do. All I can remember is the marsh.”
“Was Sull the name you bore as a draenei?” I asked. We were camped by the waters of Umbrafen Lake, the rain drumming its surface.
“Perhaps. As far as I can remember, Sull has always been my name. Sometimes I like to think my name was Vuunos. That is a good name. There is a draenei priest named Vuunos in Telredor, who visits Cenarion Refuge. He is very kind to me.”
I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of this.
“But your name was not Vuunos?”
“Everything behind me is blank. I can fill it with whatever I please. Many Lost Ones do, and some entirely believe it. But I know that my name was probably not Vuunos.”
“Do your people have any contact with other Outland races?”
“Only the ones that Vuunos calls the Broken. They made contact with us, though we did not wish it. Many Broken lived here in Zangarmarsh. The Wrekt Tribe, they called themselves.”
Sull’s face distorted into a scowl.
“The Wrekt! Their warriors came to our village, swamp spirits at their beck and call. They said that the spirits demanded blood. Nothing but blood would appease them. So of course, these Wrekt, they say that the blood of Lost Ones will nurture the spirits.”
“They sacrificed Lost Ones?”
“The Wrekt gutted us in our villages, tore us to pieces. But what could we Umbrafen do? They were too great for us to resist. The Wrekt took some of us prisoner and put us to work. The elevated roads we walk right now, how do you think they got there? My people bled for them. The Wrekt wanted to make their little empire. The Mistfen and Hungerfen, two tribes of Lost Ones—completely wiped out!’
“Did you fight back?”
“We could not gather our senses together. At times, great rages seize the entire tribe, but we have no control over it. Lost Ones are poor fighters. Poor in everything!” he spat.
“What happened to the Wrekt?”
“I do not know. Their warriors used to appear every month. One month, they simply stopped.”
“Did the Wrekt have any enemies? Or allies, for that matter?”
“I do not know much of the world beyond the swamp. There was a tribe of Broken to the east, the Dreghood, and they were friends with the Wrekt. Yet I only saw a few Dreghood here. The Pure Ones did nothing to help us. They said they were too busy hiding from the orcs. No orc ever hurt me, as far as I remember. Only the Broken hurt me.”
Days of travel in rain and fog at last brought us to the moldering hovels of Umbrafen Village. These huts are made from sheets of universal veil, supported by rickety frameworks of zangarstalk bark planks. Each is placed on stilts as a precaution against flooding. Sagging under the perpetual drizzle, they hardly inspire confidence.
Umbrafen Village is the perfect image of neglect. I mentally compared the place to the Harborage, that tiny hamlet of exiled draenei back on Azeroth. The Harborage’s populace had been devastated by the experiences of genocide and exile. Yet even they managed to sustain some level of cleanliness in their village. Though they sang hymns whose true meaning was lost to them, such rituals at least brought them together.
In contrast, heaps of decaying rubbish threaten to overwhelm the village. The huts lead out into shallow pools of filthy water. Only the barest effort is made to make the place livable. The draenei describe Magtoor’s folk as stuck in a transitory point between Broken and Lost One. The Umbrafen were my first experience with those who had gone all the way.
“We made the village in the early days of our curse. Since then, it has decayed. It is hard to build things. Our minds cannot stay on task,” explained Sull.
I soon spotted the Umbrafen villagers. Most sat in the mud surrounded by sodden junk. Scraps of universal veil hang loose on their wrinkled bodies. They said nothing as we passed by. I remembered my time in the Exodar, where I had been graciously welcomed even though I was a total stranger. The Lost Ones didn’t even seem to look after their own.
Sull splashed down into a muddy pond filled with floating debris. Three sagging huts loomed over the pond. Sull pointed to one, saying it was his home. I cautiously followed him up the water-logged ramp to a small and dark room completely lacking in furnishings. It was not devoid of life; countless tiny white mushrooms grow from the floor.
“How long has it been since you were last here?” I asked. While I was no stranger to poor accommodations, the village’s miserable state was more indicative of madness than of poverty. Granted, Sull had the excuse of a lengthy absence, but my walk through the village suggested that the other homes were no better.
“I am not sure. A long time.”
“Why did no one welcome you back?”
“They did not care.”
“There’s no tribal community?”
“We are the Lost. Isolation is our fate. We think only of half-formed memories, delusions, and hatreds. The Umbrafen stay together for protection, not for comfort. There are no friends in the tribe.”
Doubtless tired from his long journey, Sull lay down on the blackened floor and instantly fell asleep. I sat by the entrance through the night. Sull’s neighbors never came to visit. Even my alien presence failed to spark their curiosity. I could not fathom how such a society might survive.
I accompanied Sull when he went outside for breakfast the next morning. Ambling over to a nearby zangarstalk, he tore off a brown polypore growing on its side. He plopped down in the mud and began to eat it.
“Do the Umbrafen eat anything other than mushrooms?”
Sull made a strange sound, which I realized was a laugh.
“Not really. The Lost Ones cannot hunt or make farms. A few of us fish, but they only do so to feed themselves. Plenty of mushrooms though. Zangarmarsh indulges our madness. Food is never an issue here. If it were, we’d have all died.”
In the distance I noticed a curious structure in the middle of a stream. A wooden dome sat in the water, supporting an apparatus of veil sheets. The sluggish current turned the sheets, like a crude water mill. I did not know why they would need a mill if they lacked agriculture.
“What is that then? It looks like it took a great deal of effort to build,” I said.
“The spirit taps? Those were not of our making. The Wrekt built them. Their hope was that the spirit taps would capture the entities of water and air, letting the shamans control them.”
“Did it work?”
“No, it failed. Vuunos tells me that the Pure shamans speak with the spirits and bargain with them. The Broken want domination, to use the spirits as tools.”
I recalled the Dreghood Broken in Telhamat, who said that the spirits had turned against his people for that reason. The Dreghood had learned from their mistake, but the lesson was lost on the Wrekt.
“Clearly you hate the Wrekt. Is this sentiment shared by other Umbrafen?”
“All of us hate the Broken. Not just the Wrekt, all Broken. Vuunos says hatred destroys the spirit. But hate is the only spirit I have!”
“Are the Umbrafen united by hate?”
“Perhaps we are. The Lost Ones lie in filth, and care not for the outside world. Only when the outside comes to us, bearing iron and flame, are we roused. Should I not hate? I do not know. We Lost Ones ask for nothing yet the Broken kill us just the same.”
Sull’s mannerisms became wilder and more animated. I tried to calm him down, while thinking over what he said. The draenei said that fel exposure tainted the souls of many Broken, leading them to favor wickedness. The Lost Ones had taken it even further. Largely empty of any real desire beyond bare survival, only negative emotions animated them.
Sull fell silent after venting his rage. Finishing his meal, he took dejected steps back to his hut.
“How could we have ever felt otherwise? This Vuunos does not understand. Maybe he lies when he says that Lost One and Pure One are related?”
“Vuunos speaks the truth, Sull.”
“So you say.”
Communication with the other Lost Ones proved nearly impossible. The Lost Ones speak an altered form of Eredun, filled with Orcish loan words. Their accents are thick, and they slur each letter. I had to content myself with observation, but there was little to see.
A family of Lost Ones lived in the hut opposite of Sull’s. Perhaps family is not the right word, for they seemed indifferent to each other. A pair of Lost One children sat on the ramp. They never played or even spoke. I couldn’t really tell how old they were, though judging from the size I figured that they were probably around ten years of age. An adult with a missing leg lay sprawled in the hut’s interior. Male and female Lost Ones look quite similar, so I could not tell whether the adult was the mother or father.
Sull left his hut and joined me in the evening, as a heavy mist obscured all but the brightest mushroom lights. I felt quite depressed, and was about ready to go back to Cenarion Refuge. Sull apologized for his earlier outburst.
“That is Vin over there, and his two children,” he said, pointing to the family I’d been observing. The children had gone back inside.
“Who is the mother?”
“Vin’s mate was Seda. She is with another.”
“Marriages are not permanent?”
“There are no marriages. We do not love.”
“Doesn’t the mother take care of the infant?”
“At first. I think, in a child’s first year, love may exist between it and the mother, but only then. After that it fades, and both go their own ways. Survival here is easy. A Lost One reaches adulthood in three years; much faster than the Pure Ones.”
“That’s the only interpersonal bond?”
“I think so. Those children will leave Vin in another year, at most. Do you see why I spend my time in Cenarion Refuge? I do not know the things they do there, but something in their souls is stronger. I feel less empty when I am with them.”
“Sull, I am very sorry for asking you to take me here. You should have told me. I don’t want you to suffer like this.”
He looked puzzled.
“Are you suffering?”
“Some. I think the suffering around me is causing that.”
“Hmm, just like the Pure Ones say. It is hard for me to imagine that you care. Perhaps you are only pretending.”
“I assure you that I am sincere.”
“Maybe. We will leave tomorrow.”
The Lost Ones were like draenei that had abandoned everything, keeping only that which was necessary for basic physical survival. The Umbrafen mental state proves that sapient beings need more than food and water. Community of some sort is equally necessary. The Lost Ones have no love, no ambitions, no hope, and no morals. I doubt they can survive for very long, even in the plenitude of Zangarmarsh. Apathy will eventually consume them.
Enraged shouts from outside Sull's hut broke my slumber. A lone voice yelled at first, though others soon joined it. I suddenly noticed Sull roaring, his mouth a black and bloody pit. He scrambled outside on his knees and I followed, readying a spell.
A pair of Lost Ones stood in the central pond. Bright motes of lightning orbited their bloated figures. I recognized the phenomenon as the lightning shield used by shamans. The electric glare revealed the net bundles on their backs, packed with bones and fungal husks. The two shamans flailed their arms. One of them held a wooden pole topped with a burning skull.
Umbrafen villagers stood all around, raising their spindly arms and crying in tones of fury. Then it stopped. The fire in the skull died, and the shamans wandered away. The Lost Ones returned to their homes. Sull’s body relaxed and I turned to him.
“What happened?” I demanded.
“The shamans did their rituals.”
“I didn’t know the Umbrafen had shamans.”
“We learned from the Wrekt. The Lost Ones could always hear the voices of the swamp, but we could not understand them. Our shamans are mad. Vuunos believes that they actually taint the spirits with their minds.”
“The Wrekt taught this to the Umbrafen?”
“I think they wanted to use Lost One shamans as weapons. They had many uses for us. I am sorry if that disturbed you. The madness of the shamans is spread to us when they are near.”
“You needn’t apologize.”
I was almost desperate to leave Umbrafen Village. Zangarmarsh, which once seemed so beautiful, became menacing and ineffably alien. The mentality of the Lost One is not really so different from the psyches of some Forsaken. I feared that spending too much time with the Umbrafen would make me like those I'd sought to escape.
We left in the early morning, the swamp mists lit by an unseen sun. I walked as quickly as the treacherous marsh would allow, badly wanting to be away from the rotting village. I suspected that Sull was also eager to depart, and I regretted asking him to return. I noticed movement in the distance as we traveled. Distorted Lost One silhouettes marched alongside us in the fog. Worried, I asked Sull if he noticed it.
“I see them. I do not know what could rouse them like this.”
“Are they following us?”
“No. Some have already passed us by. I think they are headed in the same direction as us though.”
Perturbed, I continued following Sull. A pack of five shabby Lost Ones fell into step besides us. Sull began speaking with the Lost One in front. They talked for a while before Sull turned to me with an explanation.
“The Wrekt and the Dreghood! They are slaves now! Just as they turned we Lost Ones into slaves, a greater power has made them into slaves!” exulted Sull.
“What is this greater power?”
“They killed many of the Wrekt and enslaved the survivors. Truly this is glorious! A race of serpent warriors conquered them.”
I realized, in grim certainty, that the serpent warriors were none other than the naga. The naga had allied with Illidan, and sent many of their kind to Outland. Zangarmarsh is really the only region in Outland compatible with naga physiology.
“Sull, you must listen to me. The naga are wicked. They are the enemies of your friends in Cenarion Refuge!”
My words were lost on him. A hideous glee spread through the Umbrafen gestalt and the ragged figures around me cavorted and cheered. Spore-encrusted faces broke into terrible smiles. Sull was completely beyond caring what I said, and I knew that my only choice was to flee.
I tried to force my way out of the mob, even as the multitudes pushed me forward. They arrived at the Broken prisoners before I escaped. The shouts of the Lost Ones drowned out all other sound. Bound hand and foot, the Broken were completely helpless.
Sull broke to the front of the crowd, howling as he went. Reaching one of the slaves he flailed at the Broken’s face. The slave cried out in pain, trying to dodge the blows. More Lost Ones joined the fray.
I finally forced my way out of the mob. I had seen what the naga did to their prisoners, and I was determined to escape. Bright flashes punctuated the mist and the crowd abruptly fell silent, the shouts melting into gibberish chants from a trio of shamans. The shamans raised their totems above their heads, their bodies jerking and contorting in pain. The Umbrafen laypeople retreated as the shamans approached the Broken. The fog hissed, heralding the arrival of the naga.
I did not look back as I fled to the north.
It was with a heavy heart that I described my sojourn in Umbrafen Village to Ysiel Windsinger. Ysiel was the leader of the Cenarion Expedition, and she took a keen interest in news from around Outland. As one of the most articulate proponents of healing Outland, she was a natural choice for leading the Expedition.
“We received reports of naga activity just a few days after you left. I do not know what they want from Zangarmarsh, but it cannot be anything good.”
“I am sorry that Sull did not return. I have no idea what happened to him.”
“You are not at fault, Destron. Sull made his own choice. You say that the naga use the Broken as slaves?”
“That’s what Sull told me. I do not think he knew of the alliance between naga and Lost One prior to our arrival.”
“Why didn’t the naga enslave the Lost Ones?” mused Ysiel.
“The Broken are in better physical and mental condition than the Lost Ones. I suspect that the Wrekt only used the Lost Ones as slaves for a lack of alternatives.”
“That makes sense.”
Cenarion Refuge had been busy in my absence. A quintet of volunteers had journeyed east to investigate the impact I witnessed in Hellfire Peninsula. More controversial were the actions of one Terserion Shadeleaf. Terserion was an old druid known for erratic behavior. Somehow, he’d gotten the idea that the Lost Ones would benefit from learning druidism. Ignoring Ysiel’s orders, he marched off to teach the reclusive Feralfen Tribe. None knew what had become of him since then.
The Feralfen Tribe itself is something of a curiosity. Though generally hostile to outsiders, draenic reports suggested a much stronger community than what I saw in Umbrafen. Lost One shamans seem to have great psychic influence on the rest of their tribe. Thus, if the Feralfen shamans are more rational than the Umbrafen, it may result in a stronger tribe.
My next stop would be the draenic sanctuary of Telredor. I’d heard of the place while in the Exodar. I first thought the draenei were joking when they said that Telredor was built on top of a giant mushroom, though I soon learned that such things are far from impossible in Outland. I also hoped that the draenei could give me a more objective viewpoint of the conflict between the Broken and the Lost Ones.
I felt my spirits rise as I traveled. The wretched squalor of Umbrafen Village receded into memory, and I again appreciated the swamp’s surreal elegance. The elevated roads leading to Telredor had been recently built by the draenei (as opposed to Lost One slaves), and remained in good condition. As such, it took only three days to reach Telredor. Needless to say, I prepared my human disguise.
The Telredor zangarstalk rises high above the surrounding murk. As I got closer I saw lamp-lit walkways and structures clinging to the stem. Large though it was, I knew it wasn’t big enough to have sheltered the entirety of the unmutated draenic population.
The road ended at a raised sanaum platform facing away from Telredor. Next to it was an engraved metal plaque with two messages, one written in Eredun and the other in Common. It read:
“The people of Telredor are glad to welcome you, fellow traveler in the Most Holy Light. To gain access, simply stand on the platform to your right. It is enchanted, and shall lift you to Telredor proper.”
Shrugging, I did as the message suggested. Sure enough, the platform disengaged, moved back a few feet, and ascended into the air. The platform ascended above the rim of the mushroom cap, and I glimpsed the polished towers of Telredor. The ascent stopped and moved forward to a ledge built into the cap’s side. Two draenic guards stood at the ledge, and waved when they saw me.
“Welcome to Telredor, Brother Human!” beamed one. “I am Lorus and my companion here is Nataar,” he said, pointing to the other guard. Nataar nodded in acknowledgement.
“Thank you, Lorus. My name is Talus Corestiam; I’m an itinerant mage and scholar. I’m hoping to learn more about draenic history here.”
“Telredor is a good place for learning! We stored our records here while we recovered from the orcish attacks. Many of those records went to Shattrath, but some remain. Please, follow me. Our guests typically stay in the temple though I will happily set you up elsewhere if you would prefer.”
“The temple will be fine, thank you.”
I followed Lorus through a pointed archway embedded into the cap. On the other side is a wide, circular plaza, ringed with flawless buildings. Clean and delicate, Telredor is a sharp departure from the murky wilderness. The houses and communal structures (efficiently and seamlessly built into the zangarstalk) look almost like sea creatures, their walls curved and segmented. Telredor bears scarcely any resemblance to the Temple of Telhamat. The architecture in Telhamat is imposing and monolithic, like a fortress. In contrast, the structures in Telredor possess an airy and ephemeral quality.
The plaza’s center is graced by a towering statue erected on a fountain. Carved with exquisite detail, the statue shows two children and a woman, all of them draenei. The woman is pouring water from a jar. All three figures bear radiant and hopeful smiles. Though the draenei typically favor abstract art, they can do remarkable work in more representational styles.
“I see you’ve noticed Gracious Renewal,” remarked Lorus, pointing to the fountain.
“It’s a beautiful piece of work. When was it built?”
“Quite recently, around the time that Velen reclaimed the Exodar and our anchorites returned to Shattrath. Before then, we lacked the resources for such a project. Gracious Renewal shows how, through community and faith (faith being a prerequisite for a strong community), we were able to rebuild from even the worst disaster. Look close; do you see how little the children in the fountain resemble the woman?”
I studied the fountain for a bit. In truth, I could not really tell the difference, though it was undoubtedly clear to draenic eyes.
“The designers did that to indicate that the woman is not the mother of the children. However, all three are part of the Most Holy Light, something that transcends family. Most likely their biological mother is dead, as are her biological children. Yet they stand together, boldly facing the future.”
I walked down a ramp into the plaza, townsfolk waving and calling out to me as I walked. I’ll admit that I always feel a bit guilty entering draenic towns in disguise. I wonder if I really deserve their unparalleled hospitality. Even so, circumstances gave me no other option. Lorus took me to the temple and then returned to his post. The temple was clearly older than the rest of the city, and looked more like the constructions I’d seen in Telhamat.
A young anchorite welcomed me to the temple and showed me to the guest quarters. The sanctuary is dim and plainly furnished though quite clean. A row of bunk beds fill one wing of the temple. I idled there for a bit before exploring Telredor.
Telredor began as a small monastic community on the fringe of draenic society. Established shortly after the Ogre War, the draenei built Telredor in order to supply missionary expeditions headed to the east and north. Telredor was instrumental in the foundation of the Temple of Telhamat. Sadly, Telredor never really lived up to its promise. Telhamat soon became self-sufficient and the draenei never got around to sending missions to the north. As such, only pilgrims on their way to Telhamat ever stopped in Telredor.
The Prophet Velen ensured that Telredor was maintained; he saw it as being one of two potential sanctuaries for the draenei in the event of disaster. For the curious, the other choice was a town called Sanaa which was probably annihilated during the Breaking. The Prophet chose wisely, and Telredor ended up harboring draenic refugees from the Horde War.
Just as I’d thought, Telredor was not nearly big enough to shelter all of them. Several refugee camps existed throughout Zangarmarsh, the biggest located below and around Telredor. The city proper was largely uninhabited during this time, as the draenei sought to avoid social stratification within the unmutated population. The monastery did act as a sort of nerve center for the refugee network.
Many draenei perished. Others mutated and were relocated to special camps, eventually turning into the Broken and Lost One tribes that populate Outland. When the draenei reclaimed Shattrath a few years ago, many of the normal ones left Zangarmarsh in order to salvage their old capital. Not long after, some departed to take the Exodar.
Telredor today has a much bigger population than it did before the war. The draenei who remained built the town that I saw. The buildings use zangarstalk planks to support thin plates of sanaum, explaining Telredor’s distinct architecture. Sanaum is difficult to make, and the mushroom isn't strong enough to support an entire town made of the stuff.
Homes and public structures are crammed together in the mushroom cap. The draenei utilize coiling passages to save space. Telredor really cannot get any bigger, though its confusing layout makes it seem larger than its actual size.
“I thank the Infinitely Holy Light every day that I live here. There is much camaraderie here in Telredor, the result of having survived so much suffering.”
I was speaking with a young draenei woman named Nyxa. Nyxa served Telredor in a bureaucratic capacity. Having learned fluent Common from Alliance Expeditionary Force survivors, she helped to manage Telredor’s dealings with other Alliance factions. We met inside a small, bright office. A kettle of tea steamed on a hot plate at her desk. Pouring two cups, she offered one to me.
“Were you born on Draenor?” I asked.
“In Shattrath City, yes. Most of my Collective was killed in the orcish attack. I barely escaped with my life.”
“I’m sorry for your loss.”
“All draenei experienced loss during that time. There was nothing special about me. Besides, I feel joyous living here! Telredor is a spiritual sanctuary as well as a physical one. Here I can wait until I grow stronger, and am able to better serve the Most Holy Light.”
“A noble goal. Have you ever returned to Shattrath City?”
“No. I am reluctant to leave the community here. Do you know of the ashem?”
“Yes,” I said, thinking of the emotionally distraught draenei cut off from the religious community.
“I am not ashem. Nor are the other permanent residents here. However, the Horde War shook our faith. This is an unforeseen generational problem. A few of us who were born and raised on Draenor could not adapt to the trials of warfare and persecution. Older draenei are used to hopping from world to world. Here, we had settled in and felt comfortable.” Nyxa sighed.
“This is a common issue among your generation?”
“Far from common, but my generation does have difficulty. Those affected are called kodei, or Confused Ones. The sages believe that we kodei became too attached to material things like cities and comfort. We reacted badly when deprived of them.”
“I’d hardly consider the draenei a materialistic people.”
“I fear that the kodei were. Still, there is good news. Weak though I am, my faith grows stronger every day.”
“I’m glad to hear that. Do you intend to leave eventually?”
“Yes. I have already visited Telhamat and the Cenarion Refuge. One day, when I know I can look upon an orc without feeling hatred in my heart, I shall go back to Shattrath City.”
It must be remembered that the kodei are only materialistic by draenic standards. The fact that they had grown too used to physical comfort was simply the result of establishing a permanent home. By human standards, the kodei would still be counted among the most spiritual people.
As I learned more about it, I began to suspect that the draenei overemphasized the significance of the kodei phenomenon. Many of the young draenei traumatized by the Horde War still went on to Shattrath or the Exodar. Only a very few were encouraged to stay behind in Telredor. Nor is such behavior exclusive to the young; a small number of older draenei were similarly affected.
At the same time, it must be noted that most of those who turned Broken or Lost came from the Draenor-born generation. These mutations occurred before the kodei phenomenon was documented. Many believe that, had the transformations not occurred, the Broken and Lost would have ended up like Nyxa. While this evidence is hardly conclusive, it is worth pondering.
This generation is also unique in being the first (and hopefully last) to witness the near-extermination of the draenei race. Demons have always hunted the draenei, but only the orcs defeated them. Even so, most of those labeled kodei quickly overcome their inner turmoil.
I spent the next few days learning about Zangarmarsh’s recent history. Sull’s account was basically accurate. The Wrekt came to power at some point after the Breaking and built their kingdom by enslaving the Lost One tribes. The draenei knew of this, but did nothing. This was not because of apathy. The draenei simply lacked the resources to effectively fight the Wrekt. For their part, the Wrekt avoided Telredor. When Illidan came he initially attempted to convince the Wrekt to join his fledgling empire. The Wrekt refused and were soon conquered by the naga. The nearby Dreghood Tribe met a similar fate at the hands of other Illidari.
I managed to get a firsthand account of the Wrekt Tribe’s rise and fall on my third day at Telredor. A handful of Wrekt refugees had returned to Telredor after their conquest, asking for sanctuary. Since the Broken had been accepted back into the fold, the draenei gave these Wrekt a cautious welcome. These refugees (six of them in total) dwell in a small but cozy chamber that looks out onto the marsh.
These Broken were watched over by none other than Vuunos, the priest mentioned by Sull. Vuunos cut an impressive figure and spoke in a voice like rumbling stone. Equal parts fierce general, stern preacher, and kindly father, I could easily see why the Broken looked up to him. Though I badly wanted to tell him about Sull, I decided against it for fear it would expose the Talus persona.
Vuunos insisted on moderating the interview.
“You must understand that my duty is to bring the Broken back into the joy of the Infinitely Holy Light. However, speaking of the Wrekt Nation is quite painful for them. I cannot allow them to slide back into misery. That is why I must be present to help if needed.”
Vuunos introduced me to Makon. Makon hardly looked like he was once the terror of Zangarmarsh. Though powerfully built, his solemn and humble demeanor reminded me more of a penitent than a warrior. Yet he had been the greatest warrior of his tribe.
“We Broken left Telredor into a world of fear and confusion. None of us could find the Light. We were once draenei, but no longer,” reminisced Makon.
“You are still a brother in the Light, dear Makon,” reminded Vuunos.
“I know. We did not know then.”
I wondered if Makon ever resented the draenei for expelling the Broken. If so, was he ever allowed to voice the resentment?
“Among us was a Broken who had once been a vindicator; Koshen was his name. He said that we had to make things right, to punish those who persecuted us. Koshen led us to Orebor Harborage.”
“Orebor Harborage is an old fort built by our people during the Ogre War,” interjected Vuunos.
“I swore fealty to Koshen. To establish ourselves we fought the ogres to the north. Yet we knew that the true enemy, the orcs, resided in the south. Koshen said that we had to strengthen our position before we assailed the Horde. His words inspired us to conquer the Lost Ones.”
“Did you know that the Lost Ones were related to you?” I asked.
“We did. Koshen said they had fallen further than we. The Lost Ones were nothing to us, and even now the true draenei make little effort to help them—”
“The Lost Ones who seek help receive it Makon. You know that,” chided Vuunos.
“Yes. I apologize.”
“The Lost Ones have fallen further, as you said. But the way of the Light is not to kill them. We must take care around them, lest their misery spread to us, but those Lost Ones receptive to the Light should be taught.”
“Yes, Brother Vuunos. I will remember.” Makon lowered his face into his hands and began to cry. Vuunos immediately embraced the sobbing Broken, speaking soft words of hope.
“I apologize Brother Talus. I think this interview must end. If you would go to the foyer and wait, I’ll explain more.”
I went to the anteroom and watched the rain fall on the fungal canopy outside. I recalled the Broken I’d met in Exodar, led by Nobundo. I knew that most of them hailed from the Broken camps nearest Telredor. They had never really formed their own tribe. Certainly they showed the most inclination for self-improvement. The Dreghood and Wrekt only returned to the draenei after suffering total defeat.
Something about Makon’s tale had disturbed me. The draenei had cast out the Broken, fearing that their mental state would harm draenic society. Given the empathic tendencies of the draenei, this was not unreasonable. But left to their own devices in the wastes of Outland, the Broken had no choice but to turn savage.
Traveling in Outland soon reveals just how much damage these Broken caused. Their marauders plagued many regions, and the Wrekt were hardly the worst. How much of this cruelty was due to the Broken’s mental condition, and how much came from their exclusion, is open to debate. What is certain is that Illidan found the Broken to be a great resource. Admittedly he has largely wasted the Broken by enslaving them, but they play a key role in his petty kingdom. Had Illidan done more to win the favor of the Broken, his position in Outland could well be unassailable.
“We sent an anchorite over to Orebor, to convince the Wrekt to stop their violence. I do not know if she ever reached them.”
Vuunos had finished comforting Makon, and had returned to me.
“I suppose you would not have really had the resources to send more than one,” I said.
“You are correct. Makon’s story ends with the naga coming to Zangarmarsh. To their credit, the Wrekt refused to join Illidan. Most are now slaves.”
“Is it difficult being with them?”
“It is, but Nobundo’s partial redemption has proven that the Broken are undeniably a part of the Most Holy Light. We can accept small groups of them. Our goal is to cultivate joy in their hearts and, when the time is right, return them to their brethren. Hopefully the Light will spread from there.”
“What about shamanism? From my understanding the Wrekt already practiced a corrupted form.”
“A foul and nearly unrecognizable form. Farseer Saamo, one of Nobundo’s disciples, teaches them shamanism that is compatible with the Most Holy Light.”
“Making the Broken leave was a terrible thing, but we had no choice. Happiness was in short supply during that time, and we could not afford to lose any of it.”
I voiced agreement with Vuunos, but I had my doubts. If draenic faith is so great, couldn’t they have overcome the sorrow of the Broken? I cannot help but think that both the draenei and Outland would be in better shape if the Broken had not been made to leave. Certainly their expulsion caused them and their neighbors to suffer great misery, decreasing the universal level of happiness. Then again, I am neither a draenei nor a theologian. Perhaps keeping the Broken would have destroyed the draenei.
To put it simply, there are no easy answers when it comes to the Broken.