Thursday, September 11, 2008
Something was watching me. I stopped in my tracks, searching for any sign of danger. Looking to my left I found the source. A tawny wolf stood at the treeline, observing me with dispassionate blue eyes. Perhaps sensing that I meant no harm, the wolf stepped back and disappeared into the foliage.
Reaching the Blade’s Edge Mountains proved more difficult than expected. A wyvern delivered me from Zabra’jin to Swamprat Post, and I traveled north from there. Ascending the steep mountain pass turned into a grueling ordeal that took me nearly three days, after which I had to endure a spider-infested tunnel winding through the southern edge. I finally got through to the dry, faded forests of Jagged Ridge.
The mid-altitude woodlands are actually quite temperate, even though the Blade’s Edge Mountains lie just south of what used to be the equator. The trees are of the solka species, once common to Draenor’s equatorial highlands. Related to the olemba trees of the south, they resemble overgrown sticks. Stiff branches divert from slate-colored trunks, ending in tufts of long, dark, and narrow leaves. The structure of the trees, combined with the sparse undergrowth, creates a very open feel in Jagged Ridge.
It’s an incredible contrast with the rest of the mountains.
Alliance visitors have described the Blade’s Edge Mountains as insane, and I do not disagree. Towering over the rest of Outland, the mountains bristle with thousands of immense stone spikes. I doubt there’s as much as a square yard of flat rock on the slopes, and the largest of these spikes surpasses a mile in length. Put simply, such a geographic anomaly should not be possible. The mountains have always looked like that, at least as far as anyone is able to tell. The tortured sky over the mountains is a sea of reds and sickly greens, rotating around a starry expanse. Very little separates the Blade’s Edge Mountains from the Twisting Nether.
I walked for three days in the Jagged Ridge before reaching Thunderlord Stronghold. Fences of stone thorns surround the settlement, the gaps between them filled by rough palisades. The interior might come as a shock to many Azerothians. Thunderlord Stronghold is an example of classical orcish architecture, and bears only faint similarities to the fortress-cities of the modern Horde.
Traditional orc buildings are round, looking a bit like eggs. The dried mud used in the construction gives them a very natural appearance. They do not look at all threatening. The orcs continued using this style well into the First War. Increased access to the quarries of Stormwind inspired the orcs to imitate human stonework, resulting in the formidable architecture currently associated with the Horde. While one might expect stone buildings in an environment like the Blade’s Edge, no suitable quarries exist in the forested regions. All of the quality stone lies in the ogre-dominated lowlands. As a matter of fact, Thunderlord Stronghold had been ogre territory until a few months before my arrival.
“Ogres ruin everything they touch,” lamented Mokta Grimfist, an orcish grunt. He had fought valiantly in the defense of Tarren Mill, and was more accepting of Forsaken than most of his race.
“It seems you’ve done a good job of repairing the place.”
“For the most part. You should have seen this village after we arrived. We had to install incense burners in all the buildings to get rid of the ogre stink.”
“The incense was a gift from Saragleon and his elven pilgrims,” he shrugged. “Though it irks me to admit it, the blood elves are the only reason Thunderlord Stronghold even exists.”
“These mountains have no real use to the Horde. Have you met Gor’drek?”
“You will soon. He is a wise orc, and we all heed his words.”
“Wait, Gor’drek the Packlord?”
“The same. You do know him, then?”
“I know his name.” Gor’drek was an honored shaman known to wield significant (and apparently well-deserved) influence in Horde politics. He used to live the Drag of Orgrimmar.
“His name carries honor. Gor’drek is the son of a Thunderlord shaman who was murdered after the clan’s brief foray into Azeroth. Gor’drek reached maturity in Stonard, hidden away from the Alliance. Now, he seeks to reclaim the memory and spirit of the Thunderlord Clan.”
“Really? The Horde authorities typically frown on attempts to rekindle clan politics.”
“Gor’drek has no wish to create the Thunderlord Clan anew, he merely wants to ensure that the clan lives on in memory. The elder shamans and warriors might say that we should put the clans behind us, but they do not always mean it. Many of them were blood members of the old clans.”
Mokta had a point. Certain clans have undergone a sort of retroactive repatriation to the Horde. The Warsong, Thunderlord, Blackrock, and Bleeding Hollow are the prime examples of this. To a lesser extent, it also applies to the Shattered Hand and Black Tooth Grin. The Frostwolf Clan is, of course, a special case. What these clans shared was a fierce devotion to the warrior spirit, easily separable from the Old Horde’s demonic corruption.
“You said that the blood elves are responsible for Thunderlord Stronghold. I take it that Gor’drek’s case alone was insufficient?”
“We orcs value the wisdom of our ancestors, but there was no denying the fact that southern Outland is simply more important. Then the Sin’dorei ambassador stepped in, saying that his people could use another way-station on the road to Tempest Keep. This, along with Gor’drek’s words, persuaded Thrall.”
“Have you gotten many pilgrims?”
“None since the first batch. I do not always like blood elves, but Saragleon’s were a brave bunch. I hope fortune has favored them since. No one seems certain what Kael’thas is doing in Netherstorm. All I know is that our orders are to kill any blood elves who attack us. But why would they attack us? No one knows that either.”
I spent the night in a vast, circular building that had once been the great hall. When I awoke, the caretaker told me that Gor’drek was waiting for me outside. I quickly threw on my coat and went to see him.
“Destron! We have not met, but I have heard of you, and wanted to welcome you to Thunderlord Stronghold. I am a friend of Gu’jomb, and he told me much about you. Have you spoken to him lately?”
“I am sorry to say that he died. He must have passed just after you left for Outland. I was in Quel’thalas when it happened.”
“Ah, I am saddened to hear that. Gu’jomb was a great troll. Still, he had a long and honorable life. I did not trust arcanists when I came to Orgrimmar, but he convinced me that mages have much to offer.”
Gor’drek invited me into his residence, which doubles as a supply depot. A ragged Thunderlord banner hangs on the wall, between two wooden wolf masks. We reminisced about Gu’jomb over a pot of tea. Gor’drek met the old troll when the Darkbriar Lodge was first being established. The shaman was tasked with ensuring that no fel elements existed among the troll arcanists, and soon became an ardent supporter of the lodge. It was actually rather surprising that we had not met.
After a while, our conversation turned to the history of the Thunderlord Clan.
“The Thunderlords were warriors, a race of hearty fighters, forged in the blood tide of the Ogre War!”
“How did the Ogre War start exactly? I’ve heard a bit about it during my travels, but I still know little.”
“The ogres raged out of the mountains over 200 years ago. First they laid waste to the draenic cities of Farahlon, and then they turned south. Nagrand and Terrokar alike went up in flames”
“Why did they attack?”
“None can say. The ogres don’t have any oral tradition that goes beyond a generation or two. The reason is irrelevant anyway. That they attacked was enough. At first, all seemed lost. Our best and bravest fell to the brute strength of the ogres. The clans finally rallied to the blade of Ogmar Stormhowl, chieftain of the Stonebreaker Clan. We broke the ogre advance in a single year and sent them running back to the mountains, our warriors close behind. Three great armies marched north to the Blade’s Edge; one of orcs, one of draenei, and one of arakkoa.” I had heard mention of the arakkoa, described as an avian race that wielded dark and powerful sorceries. No one really seemed to know much about them beyond that.
“So draenei and orc fought side by side?”
“In a sense. The armies interacted little, and operated independently from each other. The only time the three generals ever met under one roof was before the Blood Gulch Melee, the last battle of the war. That lasted the course of a day. The sun set on a sea of gore, and nine of the twelve ogre lords lay dead.”
“A variety of ogre that is much bigger and slightly smarter than normal. They were not big or smart enough to survive,” he chuckled. “Ogmar knew we could not rest easy in our victory. For this reason he summoned the best raiders of Shadowmoon Valley and the fiercest warriors of Nagrand. With permission from the other clan chieftains, he turned them into the Thunderlord and Warsong Clans, respectively.”
“The Warsong Clan also lived in the Blade’s Edge?”
“For a time, though many left this land to fight Ner’zhul’s abominable wars. Their old village used to be on a ridge to the southwest. The Breaking annihilated it.”
“What did you mean when you said that the orcs ‘could not rest easy’?”
“Ogre clans still ruled the mountains, their savage cries booming down the canyons and gulches. These warriors stayed behind to cull ogre numbers, and to hunt down any new ogre lords.”
“What of the draenei and arakkoa?”
“The draenei promised to keep watch from Farahlon, though they rarely did more than watch. A few arakkoa sorcerers took roost in the lonely mountain forests, but they did even less. Their apathy was the Thunderlords’ glory. Thunderlord raiders taught the ogres how to fear. No clan whelp could call himself a warrior until he slew an ogre in single combat. Our shamans met with the wolf spirits, creating an unbreakable bond between rider and mount. Two souls, one will. That was the motto of the clan.”
“The Thunderlord raiders have certainly gone down in history. How did they feel about the Horde?”
“At first they saw it as a chance to finally destroy the ogres. But the Horde disappointed them by sending the Bonechewer savages to act as fodder. My father did not actually speak of those times with much fondness. He thought that our massive numbers and organization took all the honor out of battle. Some of the other raiders felt the same way, but since they were fulfilling the task set for them by Ogmar so long ago, they obeyed. Then Orgrim Doomhammer disbanded the raiders.”
“Why did he do that?”
“Who knows? Perhaps Gul’dan tricked him. Orgrim fought alongside the Thunderlord Clan during his youth. My father never imagined him capable of such a betrayal.”
“How did the Thunderlords react?”
“How do you expect a proud warrior to react? We refused! Let the other clans give up their wolves, we would not. The Horde was too busy on Azeroth to enforce their edict. Then Gul’dan brought the ogres into the Horde. The fact that ogres had replaced the raiders was an unforgiveable insult.”
“What did the Warsong say about this?”
“The Warsong was more heavily involved in Horde politics. Though skilled, the Warsong’s ability paled in comparison to the Thunderlord Clan’s, and the Warsong grew jealous. The Thunderlords found themselves shunned by the other clans. Finally, the Thunderlords struck Azeroth, aiming to prove the orcish warrior spirit mighter than any ogre’s. Ner’zhul slaughtered most of our clan in a surprise attack. You know the rest.”
Every account agrees that other orc clans saw the Thunderlords as a model society. Some of the southern clans would even send promising young warriors to be trained by the Thunderlords. Orgrim Doomhammer was a notable example. The Warsong Clan was also respected, though they never attained the same level of prestige. Some see the berserker fury that they unleashed on the Alliance Expeditionary Force as an attempt to compensate.
The Thunderlord Clan’s reputation had waned by the end of the Second War. The ogres better fit the Horde's mentality, and the hardened warriors of the Azeroth campaigns viewed the Thunderlord Clan as dilettantes.
It’s easy to see why the current Horde has interest in rediscovering their Thunderlord heritage. I agree that the old clan’s martial prowess is worthy of regard, but I am not sure if they are really the best role models for the new Horde. They did not fall as far into demonic corruption as most other clans, but they were tainted all the same. Furthermore, their distrust of warlocks stemmed more from arrogance than from any fear of corruption. In the end, their chieftain was only too happy to lead them into Azeroth.
Many of the orcs wondered why the ogres ever replaced raiders. The reason for this stemmed from the independent attitude cultivated by the old raider units. This is why Gul’dan created the ogre-mages. The two-headed ogre-mages were capable of manipulating their less intelligent brethren, but were themselves unable to mount a cohesive opposition to the orcs. The ogre-mages knew that they were enforcers, and that their status was only made possible by collaboration.
“The ogres are too busy beating each other to death to fight us,” explained a peon named Krut. Despite his low caste, Krut’s position as a catapult operator earned him a degree of respect.
“They love war,” I remarked.
“War, yes, but not honor. They do not fight for any reason. Anyway, all that fighting leaves us free to worry about Sylvanaar and Toshley’s Station.”
Thunderlord Stronghold is awkwardly wedged between those two Alliance outposts. Sylvanaar is controlled by the night elves and lies in a ridge on other side of the canyon. An improbable stone bridge, miles in length, connects the two. No trouble had yet arisen between Sylvanaar and Thunderlord Stronghold, but tensions ran high.
Toshley’s Station was of more interest to me. Built on a desolate plateau high above the Jagged Ridge, the station is a gnomish outpost. The orcs suspected the Alliance was trying to encircle Thunderlord Stronghold. I wondered if the gnomes had plans to claim a portion of Outland as their own. This curiosity inspired me to make Toshley’s Station my next stop.
The Razor Plateau stretches stark and empty under the stars. Ghostly winds moan far above in the Twisting Nether’s void, but the air at surface is cold, thin, and stagnant. Stone points jut out at the edge of the plateau, teeth sinking into a bloody horizon. The red skies turn to black the farther up one looks.
The orcs used to call it the Land of Dead Earth, believing it the destination of those who died as cowards. Rainfall came to the plateau in rare intervals, but failed to coax any life from the rocky ground. No animals could survive in the waste.
Such was the Razor Plateau of the past. Today, it is different. While I initially thought the place to be lifeless, I soon noticed hardy thistles breaking through the desert floor. While observing one such patch, I heard a loud snap in the distance.
I crept towards the source of the noise, staying low to the ground. Insect screeches and cracks stirred the air upon my approach. Peering over a low rise I saw a swarm of the dreaded Outland ravagers. Two of them fought each other, their spiny forms jagged blurs. Packs of ravagers watched the melee from the safety of thorn vines twisting up from the rock.
I blinked, not quite believing what I saw. Ravagers have demanding dietary needs, and I could not imagine how they sustained themselves in such an environment. Reasoning that such creatures were best avoided, I slipped away from the pack and resumed my journey.
Seeing the bright lights of Toshley’s Station gave me a feeling of relief. In total, the journey from Thunderlord Stronghold lasted a full week. Toshley’s Station is a disordered assembly of fortifications, machines, labs, and dwellings. Whistling steam and crackling electricity accompany the smell of ozone, while arcane reservoirs glow bright under the black sky. Amidst the hubbub, gnomes busy themselves with countless tasks.
A jury-rigged wood and metal barricade surrounds Toshley’s Station, manned by gnomish sharpshooters. The two standing at the entry saluted me.
“Salutations! Name and purpose, please?”
“I am Talus Corestiam. I’m traveling to Netherstorm to do some research on the arcane energies.”
“Good, lots of stuff to be learned there, I’m sure. Go over and check in at the rest center; it’s that onion-shaped building over on the far end. Don’t touch anything unless someone here says it’s all right to do so. Sorry about the formality, but this is a military base. Rules are a necessary evil.”
“I understand, thank you.”
I made my way past rows of humming glass and copper machines. There is a marvelous aesthetic to gnomish contraptions. The polished surfaces and fine detail work indicate that the makers truly care about the final result. Individual gnomes are typically deeply invested in their creations, motivating them to do the best possible job. Such devices showcase the industriousness, creativity, and optimism of their creators.
The eastern side of Toshley’s Station is protected by a wall of giant rock spikes, similar to the ones I’d seen on the plateau’s edge. Most of the larger buildings are lined up against the wall. Deactivated spider tanks stand next to the rest center. The Blade’s Edge Mountains are an ideal place for such vehicles.
“Glad to have you here, Talus. We don’t get a whole lot of visitors up this way. Did you get here from Sylvanaar?”
I was signing the rest center’s ledger, held out to me by one Fizit Clocktock.
“Telredor, actually,” I said after signing my name.
“You must have had a long journey. Did you have any trouble getting here? The plateau’s swamped with ornery beasts.”
“I saw some ravagers, but I avoided fighting them. I’m actually glad you brought that up, since I was wondering how they can live here.”
“No one is completely sure. There’s a theory going around though. An ugly one.”
“What is it?”
“We did autopsies on the beasts, found out they were jammed with fel energies. Toshley thinks that’s how they sustain themselves, the fel magic powers them or something.”
“Are there demons nearby?”
“How much do you know about Razor Plateau’s recent history?”
“I know that the orcs largely avoided it.”
“You hear of Poluus?”
“Yes, he was the eredar warlord who fought against Magtheridon for control of Outland, right?”
“Pretty much. He made his home in Razor Plateau. I guess he must have had some pretty hefty powers of his own, since he created this huge chasm in the middle. Called it Death’s Door. It’s right there on the other side of the stone spikes outside.”
“Is it still inhabited?”
“Poluus is gone, but the demons sure aren’t! Death’s Door is full of them. Luckily there’s no way for them to walk up here. The demons just use tunnels or portals to get out of the place.”
“So you think there is a low risk of demon attack?”
“We are being attacked by demons, in a way. The animals here aren’t natural. To the south you’ve got rock flayers—if you haven’t seen them they’re like a cross between a troll and a praying mantis—and nether drakes. Ravagers are all around us, with spiders and ogres just beyond that.”
“All the ones we’ve checked. Not sure about the ogres.”
The purpose of Toshley’s Station is two-fold: research and politics. I’ll explain the research part first. Outland’s unique status as a mana-drenched planetary fragment has understandably attracted a great deal of interest. Arcanists can conduct experiments in Outland that would be impossible in Azeroth. The gnomes are not alone in this. The blood elves have conducted extensive studies, as have goblins and humans. The gnomes are probably the most dedicated in their pursuit.
“You’re a mage, so I’m going to assume you have some familiarity with the concept of teleportation,” began Tani Sparkspin, a mage with a shock of pink hair. Her eyes hid behind oil-stained black goggles.
I’ll give a quick outline for readers unfamiliar with the mechanics behind these spells. Teleportation spells, in effect, create an invisible tunnel through the Twisting Nether. The requirement is to have enough arcane energy at each end to make and maintain these tunnels.
Transporting a single person for a few yards is relatively simple, as per the blink spell. The mana comes directly from the mage casting blink, and does not require ambient arcane energies. A few of the Dalaranese archmages were capable of transporting multiple people across miles of land. This requires an incredible amount of skill, and is far beyond the capabilities of most mages.
“Professor Zapnabber and his brother are working on something called the zephyrium capacitorium. The idea behind this machine is that it can instantly transport you to any mana-rich area. The good news is that most of Outland can be described that way.”
“That sounds... incredible.” Such a device would give the Alliance a decisive advantage against the Horde.
“It will be, if it works. Right now, we’re years away from actually finishing the product, though we should be able to start short-range test runs relatively soon. As you can imagine, such an idea requires loads of mana. That’s why we have so much mana storage here.”
“I take it that the ambient mana in the destination is not enough for the transport?”
“Exactly! We need a very strong power source to do that. That’s why we have Toshley’s Station; it collects and stores the ambient mana for use in the capacitorium.”
“Is there a reason you chose to do this in Blade’s Edge?” I knew that Netherstorm had more ambient energy than any other region.
“Some of us wanted to build it in Netherstorm, but that would be too dangerous. The proximity of the Twisting Nether makes experiments unpredictable and difficult to reproduce. The mountains are the best option.”
“The Capacitorium would certainly benefit the Alliance.”
“For sure, though even a successful result will have limitations. The teleportation is one-way. The capacitorium can send you there, but it can’t bring you back. Another problem is that it requires more energy to send larger objects. Say it works and the Alliance wants to transport an entire army division across Outland. Toshley’s Station would need to be the size of Ironforge for them to do it.”
“How long does it take for the machine to regenerate energy after a transport?”
“We don’t know yet, but I’d estimate at least a day. Transporting people one-by-one is definitely not feasible. The reason we do this is to learn about the underlying principles of long-range teleportation in mana-heavy environments. The zephyrium capacitorium is just a step to better concepts. It’s a fascinating field and I’m very happy to be a part of it.”
The political aspect of Toshley’s Station stems from the Gnomeregan Exiles’ desire to more heavily involve themselves in the Alliance. Traditionally, the gnomes were content to follow the dwarves. The gnomes in the Second War almost always served as support for dwarven (occasionally human) combat units.
The destruction of Gnomeregan inspired them to be more active. This is why they sent Toshley’s contingent of researchers and soldiers to Outland. The gnomes were originally stationed in Sylvanaar, but the night elves refused to allow gnomish experimentation.
“They were afraid it would damage their forest,” said one gnome, giving a massive shrug that suggested he could care less either way.
Rather than being an attempt to surround Thunderlord Stronghold, the gnomes only built Toshley’s Station to have a place where they could conduct research. None of the gnomes expressed any desire to create a new home in Outland.
“Razor Plateau is obviously a bad place. It’s empty and full of monsters, which actually describes most of Outland. Even beyond that, there’s an ethical issue. Most of the livable spots in Outland have people of some sort already living on them. It’d hardly be decent of us to barge in and demand a place of our own,” said Rilm Longshot, a corporal in the station garrison.
I joined Rilm as he kept watch on the barricades. The red sky darkened to dull rust as the temperature dropped for the night. I’d befriended Rilm on the second day of my visit. He was an enthusiastic supporter of Toshley’s Station and its mission. He taught me about the gnomish military.
“Where we differ from, say, the dwarven army is in the fact that every single gnome soldier is a volunteer.”
“Why is that?”
“A number of reasons. No gnome likes the idea of the high tinker sending him to go fight somewhere, and maybe die. We prefer to have options. Another reason is the fact that we soldiers don’t want conscripts in our army. Believe me, the last thing I need is some sorry trooper who doesn’t want to be out here.”
“Do soldiers get extra compensation?”
“In a sense. You seem pretty canny so you probably know this already, but not all gnomes are brilliant inventors and wizards. Some of us have a very poor grasp of the arcane, or just aren’t very smart. Both of those apply to me. It’s tough for people like me to get employment, or to get a position on the high council.”
The high council is a ten-person advisory body that elects and advises the high tinker.
“Councilors are usually researchers and mages, correct?”
“And soldiers. Soldiers are a minority, but there’s usually one or two councilors who got their success from military service. I myself am not councilor material, but some of the other troopers here would be great. The army lets us prove ourselves in ways other fields don’t. I never got much respect in school, but here? Here I’m a contributor to society. I’m a damned good soldier too, just like the rest of us here.”
“How many soldiers are currently on the high council?”
“Just one, Niknin Pedalvolter.”
“What exactly are the requirements for being a councilor?”
“The only requirement on the books is to be at least 50 years of age. But we have elections, so you need to convince other gnomes that you know what you’re doing. That’s why a councilor needs experience in some area. Now, gnomes tend to prefer research types, but a fighter with a good record can go a long way.”
“Do you think there is a bias?”
“Sure, some. Nothing’s perfect. Still, even if we don’t often get elected we still get prestige and respect for serving.”
The gnomes have an underclass just like any society, in their case the magically or mechanically inept. However, one of their culture’s strengths lies in the ability of such an underclass to improve its own lot. I am not saying that gnomish society is perfect, merely that it has admirably democratic qualities which other nations should adopt. The peons of the Horde would certainly benefit from such an opportunity.
I did not stay in Toshley’s Station for long. Though the gnomes were gracious hosts, I sensed that they regarded me as a bit of a distraction. I departed early in the third morning, walking alone across the wastes. My plan was to visit the Cenarion Expedition base of Evergrove and stop there for a while before proceeding to Netherstorm.
I soon learned that the ravagers I saw near the Jagged Ridge were just a preview of things to come. Danger stalks the Razor Plateau in such number and variety that demonic influence seems the only feasible explanation. Ravager swarms skitter through the desert, driven by hunger and rage. Barbed and bloated spiders lurk behind rocks, waiting for prey. A pair of ravagers attacked me on the second day. The first I crippled with a lucky frostbolt, which froze and cracked its left legs. It collapsed, screaming and writhing while its companion scuttled closer.
My ice armor spell absorbed the first few blows, but one finally hit its mark. The serrated claw sank into my right arm, though not deeply. I rolled away, casting a frost nova as I moved. Taking advantage of the ravager’s immobility, I hit it with an arcane blast. The burst pulped the creature’s insides, killing it in an instant. I got to my feet and looked to the other ravager, still screeching and attempting to right itself. I used a fireball to end its misery.
A great desert spider attacked me the next day. That time I cast frost nova and ran. The judicious use of blink spells put me out of the spider’s range after a short chase. I think the attack stunned the spider too badly for it to want a dedicated pursuit.
After four days in that cold and empty land, I considered turning back. I had not counted on the place being so dangerous. Of course, it was entirely possible that I had simply been unlucky. Even so, I had seen plenty of other dangerous beasts at a distance. The desert seemed livelier than a jungle.
A great force hit me in the back and sent me flying. I landed in a cloud of dust, too dazed to react. The ground rumbled from heavy feet and distorted laughter. Then a clear voice rose above the others.
“This is the one! Take him.”
My senses returned, bringing me to a realm of heat and darkness. Burning air pressed on me from all sides, and even undeath gave no relief from the stench that filled my mouth and nostrils. A smell of rot, smoke, blood, and excrement.
“What he do?”
I became more aware of my surroundings. I lay on a rough stone surface in some sort of alcove. A red glow in the corner of my vision directed me to a massive bonfire set in a huge, bladed metal brazier.
“He small! Not do anything!”
Four ogres suddenly came into focus, standing in the shadows at the other end of the room. The speaker was a gargantuan specimen who pointed at me with a clawed finger. Next to him stood an ogre-mage. The ogre-mage’s right head turned to the warrior, his brow furrowing. The other head wore a cowl from which shone a single burning eye.
“You are too stupid to understand! He is the one. There’s more power in his tiny skull than there is in your entire body!”
Faster than I thought possible, the ogre-mage struck. He slammed a great stone ax into the warrior’s head and a gory mist sprayed from the wound. The warrior collapsed, bellowing in agony.
“No hurt me, Mok’non. You right,” he begged.
“Get out of here, wretch. Soon, you will respect our guest. What is this? Is he awake? Leave, all of you! He is probably alarmed.”
A few grunts signalled the other ogres affirming Mok’non’s order. The ogre-mage’s three eyes set on me, and he crossed the great room in just a few strides.
“Great one,” he said. “How long I have waited. I never imagined you would take the form of a dead human, but once my scouts told me of you, I knew you were our savior.”
My jaw dropped. Heedless of my surprise, Mok’non continued.
“You are confused, perhaps? Rest easy, you are in no danger. I put a minor curse on you to ease the passing of time, it has been nine days since we found you. I am deeply sorry for the ambush, but the ogres know no other way. We are a simple and foolish people, you understand, yes, even us ogre-mages.”
Mok’non spoke in a quick and breathless cadence. Combined with his ogre accent, it made him difficult to understand.
“Where am I?” I croaked.
“Bladespire Hold, home of the Bladespire Clan. I saw you in a vision. Not directly, no, but I saw you all the same. Look.”
Mok’non threw off the hood that covered his left head, revealing a drooling and imbecilic face.
“That is Non. I am Mok. Non was trying to take control of my body. We fought, for that is how we ogres solve problems! I won, in the end, drove Non mad and scarred his brain with flints. But he saw portents in his mad new state! Death itself felling our foes with magic, the ogres triumphant over all the other races. I did not know what to make of these visions, these prophecies, but when my scouts told me of you I knew! You are death. You will kill our enemies. An undead mage, how much simpler could it be?”
Mok’non turned away from me and began to pace around his hut. Still dazed, I tried to process what he had said. I never even realized the ogres believed in prophecies. I thought back to what I knew about the ogre-mages. The Horde warlock Gul’dan created the mutation that caused some ogres to have two heads. It proved a convenient way for the Horde to control them. A single ogre wasted much of its time arguing against himself. The heads could only be united in the heat of battle.
After the Old Horde’s dissolution, most of the two-headed ogres died out. Unable to decide on anything, many starved or were killed by their single-headed fellows. Only the ogre-mages survived, typically by repressing or destroying one of the minds. Mok’non turned his companion mind into a demented seer.
“I am not any great hero. I’m simply a scholar, I do have some magical ability but—”
“You are the triumphant one! What is your name?”
“Destron. Destron the Bloody. That is your name forevermore. Can you walk?”
“I think so.”
“See your new realm. Crude I’m sure, compare to what you’ve seen in the past. But you will make us great.”
I dropped down to the floor, and felt something squish beneath my feet. I was ankle deep in rubbish. Bones, slime, and years of filth covered the ground in Mok’non’s hut. Hooked-tipped chains hung from the ceiling. At first I thought I saw a large beehive on one hook. Stepping closer, I realized it was a chunk of putrescent meat that quivered with maggots.
Mok’non stood in a monstrous doorway, looking out into the dull wasteland glare. Dread rising in me, I trudged through the muck towards him and looked out upon Bladespire Hold. Mok’non’s prophecy chose me to lead a kingdom of filth and ruin. Bladespire Hold is a scattered array of black stone huts, many still adorned with rock spikes. Piles of offal molder in rivulets of polluted water, reeking all the more from the searing heat. Bones and trash are everywhere. A decayed ogre corpse slumped outside Mok'non's home, peeling away in a refuse heap.
Perhaps Mok’non sensed my dismay.
“I know you are accustomed to more, Destron. I have seen the Horde cities of old, certainly grand sights compared to this. Yet you will be our instrument of greatness.”
I looked again at my wretched surroundings, not quite believing them. True, ogres are famously resistant to disease, but how could even they live in such deplorable conditions? I also wondered how they got enough meat to sustain their population.
“There must be some mistake,” I protested. “I cannot make this great.”
“You have the power to defeat our enemies, Destron. I saw it in a dream, so I know it is true.”
“Defeating your enemies will not make you great. Your clan has no infrastructure, no sense of a civic society... I don’t know where to begin.”
“You are great. You will find a way.”
“This is not something one man can do!”
“I am sure you are merely tired. We did bring you a long way from the plateau; you’re now in the lowlands of Blade’s Edge. Stay inside and rest. My clansmen know not of your greatness, and they would not treat you with due respect. They will though, soon.”
Dazed, I complied with the ogre-mage’s orders. I was not surprised to learn that I was in the Blade’s Edge canyons. The hellish lowlands are marked by suffocating heat and dank air almost too heavy to breathe. Near the equator and below sea level, the ravines of the Blade’s Edge Mountains present a truly formidable habitat. Rainfall is almost nonexistent. The rain that does reach the lowlands trickles down through the maze of spikes on the slopes. Much of it evaporates en route, and what little arrives is often tainted by exposure to adamantite and other metals.
I returned to the grimy alcove where I had awoken, trying to figure out what to do next. Learning was a good first step.
“Who are the enemies that you need me to defeat?”
“The Bloodmaul Clan, others beyond that. The Bloodmaul are ogres like us, but weak. We are already ascendent in our fight. You will help us deliver the final blow.”
“Why do you fight them?”
“Because it pleases the gronn.”
“You have not heard? The gronn are the gods of Draenor! Gruul the Dragonkiller is their master, the god of gods. He and his sons tore out of the earth when the world was young. They destroyed the first kindred, a soft and weak race of giants that lived before them. Then the gronn made us, the ogres, to fight for their amusement. The gods of other races demand worship; ours demand only war!”
“Were these the same as the ogre lords?”
“No. The ogre lords were the greatest of our number. They once ruled great tracts of land, and sent the lesser ogres into battle. I have seen visions of those days, Destron, and I cannot describe their beauty. An endless bloodshed, battle after battle. The gronn grew drunk on death and the world rejoiced. Fighting, eating, and mating were all.”
“How did this state of affairs end?”
“The arakkoa wizards attacked us from the darkest forests. We simple ogres had no defense against their dark sorcery, and they put us to work as slaves! Thousands of years passed as they controlled us with their magic crystals. But they grew weak, and we grew strong. We destroyed them, cast them back into the forest depths. The remaining ogre lords led us from them.”
“What about the gronn?”
“They had fallen asleep during the arakkoa rule.”
“They did not attempt to rescue the ogres?”
“We are just their minions. Nothing about us is special; just look around you! Our only purpose is to fight for their pleasure. The ogre lords tried to awaken them. First the clans fought each other and then we made war upon the rest of the world. It was not enough. Only a few of the weaker gronn returned. Since they were weak, they did not inspire our fervor. We eventually killed them with the help of Gul’dan, vowing to serve no gronn until Gruul and his Seven Sons returned.”
“Has that happened yet?”
“The orcs helped us more than they knew, Destron. Millions perished during the Breaking of Draenor. The blood woke Gruul and his Seven Sons. Now we fight for their favor, just as it was in the old days. First we killed the demon invaders, and now we kill each other.”
I nodded, wondering how much of the story to believe. I was frankly surprised that the ogres even had anything resembling an oral history. I had not heard any Horde accounts of the Gronn; perhaps it had been known only to the Shadow Council.
Mok’non summoned me to his side the next morning. He explained that he was to conduct a call to war at the Bladespire ritual circle.
“Here is where I shall present you, Great One. Our secret weapon against the Bloodmaul. The violence you wreak will earn the favor of Gruul like nothing else.”
Mok’non picked me up with his massive hands and held me aloft like an infant. In this manner he stepped outside. By holding me up, Mok’non at least saved me from walking through the stinking morass of Bladespire Hold. The other ogres paid us little heed, most of them lost in slumber. Bestial skulls stared down at me from sharpened poles, and some were distinctly draconic in nature. I wondered if they were the remnants of the black dragons that had fled through the Portal.
The ogre-mage brought me to a ring of standing stones, a bonfire of green flame roaring in the center. Piles of skulls lay at the base of each monolith, and yellow bones littered the ground. Seven ogres stood in the ritual circle; three were mages like Mok’non, while the remainder were normal.
“I humble myself before you, mighty Gorr’dim, crusher of the Bloodmaul, grand glutton!” announced Mok’non. He knelt before a heavily-tattooed ogre-mage. Gorr’dim’s left head studied Mok’non with a bored and contemptuous expression. The right stared off into space.
“This is your prize, Mok’non? Pitiful even for you. What is it, some lost death knight?”
“Not a death knight, master. But undead like them, and a great sorcerer.”
I gritted my teeth, suddenly nervous. Though quite capable in the magical arts, I’m hardly a great sorcerer.
“This little gnat?”
“He is confirmation of my vision, master.”
“Me sick of Mok’non vision. Say funny things but no mean nothing!” shouted a warrior. A few of his fellows grunted in assent.
“Did I not predict the weakness of the Bloodmaul at Churning Gulch?” argued Mok’non.
“You also failed to predict the coming of the orcs; you said their old village would be an insurmountable fortress. Your visions are not reliable!” snarled Gorr’dim.
“Me hungry and sleepy! I smash little death knight!” shouted the bellicose warrior. He charged Mok’non with surprising speed, brandishing a rusted spear.
I had only seconds to react. I fired an arcane burst at the ground in front of the ogre and he stepped right into the impact sphere. I flinched at hearing loud crack his ankle made as it splintered, and he roared as he fell.
Screaming in rage and pain, the warrior struggled to get back up to his feet. Only my death could satiate him. None of the other ogres did anything to stop him. Propping himself up with a spear, the wounded ogre limped towards us, his yellow-crusted eyes filled with fury. A pillar of arcane fire lanced up from the ground at my command, and light consumed him.
He survived a few moments longer, melting fat dripping out from blackened skin. His smoldering body dropped on top of a gnawed and discarded rib cage, his death marked by the laughter of his comrades.
“Not so tough now!”
My eyes met Gorr’dim’s. He looked intrigued.
“Interesting magic. Bok was one of our fiercest warriors though, and his loss will be felt on the battlefield. Still, if you killed him, you may be able to surpass him. Your sorceries remind me of the stories my father told of the draenic wizards, though you are obviously not a draenei.”
“He is much greater, master. As is Bok, so shall be the entirety of the Bloodmaul!” vowed Mok’non.
“Mok’non, my opinion of you has not changed. I will not kill you yet. If this little wizard proves useful on our battle, I may see fit to let you continue your pathetic existence. Now begone. I am hungry and bored.”
Mok’non took me back to his hut. I took note of the fact that none of the regular clansmen attended the meeting. Thinking of their laziness, I doubted that anything beyond food could impel them to go.
“This is your first triumph, Destron. You should feel proud.”
What I had done was not really that impressive, at least by arcane standards. I reasoned that none of these ogres had ever before seen a fully trained mage.
“You will share in the Bladespire Clan’s reward. You see, when a clan wins enough honor in the eyes of the gronn, its ogres can go to Nukda upon death.”
“Nukda is paradise! Trees of meat and rivers of blood, always plenty to eat. Once there you and I can indulge ourselves for eternity.”
The thought nauseated me. I asked a question that had been bothering me for some time.
“Speaking of food, where does your clan get all this meat? Almost nothing lives here besides ogres.”
“In the old days we had to hunt in the midlands. Now the gronn reach into Nukda and bring us raw flesh.”
“They reach in and take it! We are fed by Goc, one of Gruul’s Seven Sons. He comes to us and meat drops from his hands. The quality improves if we have done well in battle.”
I figured that Mok’non’s statement must have been literal. Intelligent though they are, I do not think that the ogre-mages understand the concept of metaphor. I have spoken to others that met with the ogres, and all evidence suggests that the Gronn are somehow able to summon or create meat.
“We shall begin the raid tomorrow, Destron. You shall flood the canyons with Bloodmaul corpses!”
I tried to formulate an escape plan, wondering if I could use Mok’non’s faith against him. The ogre-mage spent much of the day ranting about his prophecy and describing Nukda. Then, towards the late afternoon, he began to ask me about my home.
“I know you come from Azeroth, but I know so little about that place. Sometimes I grow hungry for things besides food. Could you tell me?”
Taken aback by his curiosity, I described the lay of Lordaeron, as well as its recent history.
“Hmm. I cannot really imagine anything other than the Blade’s Edge Mountains. Yet I am sure you and I shall see many great and strange lands in the future!”
The gift of intelligence had inspired Mok’non on some level. Yet it provided no escape from his nightmarish world, a prison of hunger and instinct. The insanity of the ogre-mages is often credited to their dueling personalities, but perhaps there is another element. Their intellects wage a doomed war against their appetites. The ogre-mages can see a better life, yet they can never reach it. Worst of all, they know that it lies forever beyond them.
A shadow suddenly blocked the light from the doorway. Another ogre-mage stood in the jagged frame, slightly smaller than Mok’non.
“Why do you disturb me, Shob’mot?” questioned Mok’non.
“I merely wished to see your pet. They say he did a good job of killing Bok. Is this him?”
“Yes, that is Destron.”
“You look tired, Mok’non. Why don’t you rest for a bit. I’d like to learn about your new weapon.”
“Do you seek to steal my glory?” demanded Mok’non, his face contorted in fury.
“Just rest for a while. You must be tired.”
Mok’non’s anger suddenly evaporated and he sat down. He fell asleep within minutes.
“There, now we can speak.”
“Did you cast a spell on him?”
“Not exactly. I know you are from the Horde, and that you recognize Mok’non’s vision as a delusion.”
“Are you of the Bladespire Clan?”
“The Bladespire have accepted me, but my loyalties lie elsewhere.”
“Then who do you serve?”
“Ogri’la, a hidden ogre city of enlightenment high in the western peaks. We are trying to forge a new path for our race.”
I found this hard to believe.
“Why are you down here?”
“For the purpose of subversion. The ogres here hope to reach the flesh forests of Nukda. I tell them of a different possibility. Unfortunately, few ogres are interested in wisdom or enlightenment. The ogre-mages have more potential in this area, but most are too heavily invested in these eternal blood feuds. Enough of this. I want to help you escape.”
“Thank you. Why?”
“My motives are not altruistic. Both the Horde and Alliance would make powerful allies for Ogri’la. Helping your kindred is now a higher priority than subversion. Tomorrow, there will be chaos in the streets at the Bladespire warlords assemble their war party. Stay near Mok’non, I will handle everything else. We should end this conversation, since I cannot impel Mok’non to remain asleep for much longer. Once we escape, I shall tell you more of Ogri’la.”
“You will go with me?”
“Yes, there is nothing more for me to do in this place.”
“Perhaps we should explain the escape plan to Destron. I sense that he is confused.”
Shocked, I realized that the voice came from the second head. Both of Shob’mot’s personalities functioned.
“No time. Trust us, Destron. We have learned certain mental disciplines in Ogri’la. These will allow us to escape. Now speak no more of this.”
Mok’non’s eyes opened, and he continued as if never asleep.
“Get out, Shob’mot! I have no need of you here.”
“Forgive me, Mok’non.”
The mysterious ogre-mage bowed before making his exit. Seeing him leave, I could only hope that he lived up to his promise.