Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Shattrath City: Part 1
The sanctified boulevards and temples of Shattrath City offer little more than the promise of security, but in Outland that is enough. Once the capital of the draenei, the Old Horde sacked the city and left it a ruin. The orcish invaders did not stay long, perhaps discomfited by the holiness embedded into the streets and squares. A realm of scavengers sprang up after the Horde left, its inhabitants assembling new lives from the ruins of the old.
Living manifestations of the Holy Light now reign in Shattrath City. A handful of the old draenic priesthood, called the Aldor, returned to Shattrath after the orcish invasion. They prayed in the shattered temples until the Naaru answered. In glory, these angelic beings descended on the city, granting peace and mercy. Rumors of safety reached the ears of those hiding in the wilderness, and they flocked to it in the hundreds. Shattrath City continues to welcome refugee bands from all over Outland.
Despite all this, Shattrath does not exactly feel welcoming. Damp air and dour skies evoke a sense of oppression, a trait worsened by the monumental and imposing draenic architecture. I do not mean to sound overly critical; after all, impressions are subjective things. Outland is surely a better place for Shattrath’s efforts.
“I say we go straight to the portals. I do not want to spend another night in Outland,” declared Fienra. Still painfully vulnerable after her ordeal, she was understandably eager to return to Azeroth.
“Silvermoon City is my home, and will be until our Sun King declares Outland safe for our people. I’ve already made my sacrifice.” Such were her words as we traveled through Windyreed Pass, a narrow gap that cuts through the Shattrath Mountains. Reports tell of Lost One raiders waylaying travelers, but we encountered none on our journey. With us were Grota, Grom, and a pair of Sin’dorei Aegis troopers.
I was the only one among them who had never before seen Shattrath City. We quickly made way to the Terrace of Light, a raised section in the center of the metropolis. Upon the terrace is the Troikacha, a veritable artificial mountain, its slopes a profusion of scalloped ridges and engravings, culminating in a split draenethyst capstone. Emanating from deep within the Troikacha is a column of purest light that strikes into the gloomy clouds overhead.
“Is this a temple?” I asked.
“It’s far more than a temple. A’dal holds court inside; the beam of light comes from It,” explained Fienra.
“You’ve seen A’dal?”
“Yes,” she sighed. “You ought to see It; nothing is as frightening or as beautiful. There is a terrible misunderstanding between the Sun King and the Naaru.”
“Oh?” There was no misunderstanding. Kael’thas had enslaved one Naaru, and fell in with demons. Most blood elves do not know this, and would not accept it if someone told them.
“Have you seen M’uru, in Silvermoon City?” she asked, referring to the Naaru whose power the Sin’dorei Magisters drained.
“Yes, I have.”
“An awful mistake. Our Sun King shall soon know. He will set things right.”
I nodded, not seeing the point of arguing with her. The Sin’dorei reverence of Kael’thas is based more on faith than on fact, and I doubt many can be swayed with mere words.
Befitting a religious center, the Terrace of Light sees great crowds from all races and nations pass through every day. White-robed draenic priests stand to the side, conversing with their fellows. Armored draenei on elekk mounts keep order in the terrace, though the crowds never express violence or even aggression. I overheard a guard giving a human visitor directions to the nearest inn.
Nothing prepared me for the magnificence living inside the Troikacha. The wonders described in the Exegesis of the Light offer only a paltry translation of the Naaru. Holy A’dal floats in the center of the Troikacha. It is a symbol, alive in both a metaphorical and literal sense. Photographs impart little of its true appearance, which cannot be accurately described in solely visual terms. The angles of A’dal hint at unknown beauties far beyond the ken of the physical realm. Its many segments shift and rotate in unimaginable perfection: an order that does not oppress, but instead makes room for those who choose to accept it.
Concepts of vast mercy and overwhelming love filled my mind as invisible hands plucked me up from the earth, worlds beyond measure flitting across my vision. I saw reality with a new awareness, knowing the magnificent truth that animates all things. The Scourge, the Burning Legion, the Old Gods; all revealed as deformities.
Angels walk in joy through the hallowed chamber, the Troikacha transformed into its heavenly reflection. The Light is its foundation, an essential truth stronger than any material substance. I glowed, a bright spark among countless others, each with their own individual light. Yet I sensed that my light could grow even brighter. Pride and apathy turned to dust as, for one moment, I embraced the bliss offered to all.
A’dal solidified, suddenly distinct from Its surroundings, the grand but austere sanctuary. I felt no resentment for being flung from the conceptual world back to the material, for I knew A’dal lived there, Its existence a promise of greater things. Fienra observed me with a wry smile.
“Did A’dal say hello?”
“Yes. Did that happen to you?”
“It happens to all who are receptive, the first time anyway. If A’dal constantly broadcast those thoughts, no one would get any work done in this place.”
I heard a delighted gasp. Grom’s eyes opened wide, taking in the sight of A’dal. The greeting of the Naaru affects the recipient on a powerfully intuitive level, and I am sure an infant could appreciate it as much as an adult. His new mother shifted her arms slightly, a cautious smile on her warrior’s face.
Back in the mortal world, I took stock of my surroundings. The Troikacha’s airy interior is vast. One could fit a small town inside it. Braziers of blue flame illuminate the far reaches, though they pale next to the light of A'dal. A shallow depression, filled with clear water, encircles the dais over which A’dal shines in eternal peace. Ramps on the side lead to a large mezzanine that seems to flow out from the walls.
The portals to Azeroth open up along the edges of the Troikacha, the destinations visible through a neat tear in reality’s fabric. The Orgrimmar portal is grouped with similar portals to Thunder Bluff and Undercity; the portal to Silvermoon is located in a different part of the Troikacha. Fienra embraced Grota, and kissed Grom’s brow as they stood in front of Orgrimmar’s image.
“Take care of Grom. I’ll put in a good word for him at Silvermoon if Orgrimmar is not to his liking.”
“I think he shall grow strong in Orgrimmar. I will remember your offer though. Farewell, Fienra.” Grota turned to me. “You as well, Destron.”
“Goodbye,” I said. She disappeared into the portal, and I wondered if Silvermoon would really be much better for Grom. The Sin’dorei generally dislike orcs, and I doubt Fienra’s support would take him very far. I do not doubt her sincerity. Perhaps the loss of her arm inspired a feeling of kinship with the crippled orc infant. Her exposure to the Naaru, and her willingness to at least admit the possibility of error on Silvermoon’s part, may have also helped to create a mental openness.
I crossed the Troikacha with Fienra and the Aegis soldiers. Silvermoon City’s fabled towers and gardens beckoned through the shining portal. The crystal halls of the Exodar gleamed right next to it, an odd placement. We said our good-byes, and they disappeared home.
I sighed, feeling suddenly lonely. I cheered myself up with the thought of meeting the people of Shattrath City, and of learning its strange history. The best place to start seemed to be the Troikacha itself.
Draenor was only the most recent world visited by Kasima, a stunning draenic priestess who worked in the Troikacha. Born in Oshu’gun when it still traversed the void, she’d experienced much of her race’s history.
“When a decision of great import must be made, the draenei in a city held a troika, or council. The Troikacha is an assembly hall made for the express purpose of holding such a meeting. Only the biggest cities had troikachi.”
“Ah, I was wondering if there was some connection with the troika. I actually have seen a troika convene, among the draenei on Azeroth.”
“Very good! I think it is an excellent way to discuss problems. How do my kindred on your world fare?”
“Reasonably well. They are doing an admirable job of forging a new home for themselves. I was wondering: are you subject to Prophet Velen?”
“Subject? I am not sure I understand. Certainly he has immense wisdom and vision, but I am hardly like an orc peon.”
“I meant, do you consider him your political leader?”
“Ah, you have touched on a very complex issue, Brother Destron. First, I am of a faction called the Sha’tar. We directly serve Holy A’dal. Our warriors protect Outland from the depredations of Illidan and the Burning Legion, while our anchorites deliver supplies and kindness to the refugees.”
“You are not part of the Alliance?”
“Not as such. Forgive me if I speak out of turn, Brother Destron, but I think you may misunderstand Prophet Velen’s role. Though very wise, he is strong in the Most Holy Light and makes no claim to greatness. All draenei work to serve the Most Holy Light. Prophet Velen merely helps us do so in a more effective manner. The Prophet charts the actions of the draenei, but he never rules us like a warchief or human monarch.”
“Is it acceptable then, for a draenei to go his or her own way in regards to politics?”
“I should say not! The individual mind is prone to weakness and indulgence. As I said, the Most Holy Light is our guide. While I am not politically affiliated with the draenei in the Exodar, we both follow the same faith. Certainly, none would object to me following the Naaru.”
The draenic government cannot be described as a theocracy, at least not in the traditional sense. Religiously oriented governments (like that of the Dark Iron Empire) place dogma in the hands of an oft-dictatorial priestly caste, usually led by a religious figure. Faith is enforced because the religion (and the underlying rationale for the government) has only a nominal or sporadic hold on the population’s spirit.
The draenei have no need for a traditional government because they all genuinely believe in the Light. This hardly means that anarchy reigns; social bonds are stronger among the draenei than perhaps any other race. The draenei enjoy a curious type of freedom, in which they can join other political groups so long as those groups follow an accepted interpretation of the Light. The Light is, after all, much more important than Prophet Velen.
Clear words echoed in the Troikacha’s vastness as priests gathered at the base of A’dal. A senior draenic priest in flowing turquoise robes chanted in a flowing voice. I did not understand the Eredun words, but had no doubt that they praised the Light. The rest of the Troikacha quieted as he continued the hymn, sometimes answered by the Sha’tar chorus seated before him. I remembered the songs heard across the entirety of the Exodar and other draenic cities, carried by the draenethyst crystals. I heard no such thing in Shattrath City, and later learned that most of the crystals are marred by internal hairline cracks. Until the entire city can enjoy the hymns, Shattrath shall go without.
The sermon ended and I met a young draenic acolyte named Costuun. His anoxic blue face beamed with constant joy. Costuun had come of age during the Horde War, yet counted himself lucky to have not only survived, but to witness what many believe to be the genesis of the prophesied Army of Light.
“Truly momentous times, Brother Destron! I have faith that the Horde shall join the Army of Light. The races of the Horde exhibit violent traits, but I believe they shall be overcome. The Alliance is hardly without sins of its own.”
“Thank you for the vote of confidence. I hope you’re right.”
I asked Costuun about the origins of the Sha’tar, and how they kept their numbers.
“A’dal responded our summons, a fact for which we are forever grateful. We recognized the potential importance of Its presence. Some of us priests pledged to serve it directly, so as to create an optimal ideological paradigm for the Most Holy Light in Outland.”
“Not all of you did this?”
“Some found it better, for political reasons, to remain apart. These are the Aldor. Anyway, the Aldor are closely aligned to Sha’tar, we are not in any sort of competition.”
“How did you attract people to your cause?”
“We made a place of safety. Thousands of refugees already dwelled throughout Shattrath. Our vindicators protected them from the outside, and protected them from each other. A’dal’s presence now suppresses violence in Shattrath City, letting the peacekeepers turn their efforts to the wastelands beyond.”
“I understand that you also do a great deal of charitable work.”
“Of course, Brother Destron, of course. Such is the essence of the Most Holy Light. Our vow is that none in Shattrath shall ever go hungry. Sha’tar priests dedicate themselves to praying at the food crystals for at least a few hours each day. This produces enough saba millet to feed the multitudes.”
“Are all races able to subsist on saba?”
“Not exclusively, I regret to say. We are still wrestling with the problem of incompatible biologies. Saba is nutritious to everyone, but is not always sufficient on its own. Orcs and trolls cannot survive on saba, and it presents difficulty to dwarves and arakkoa. That is why we permit a degree of free trade in the Lower City.”
“They trade things like meat?”
“Meat, and other things. I am surprised by how much importance these refugees place on material objects, like fine clothes or furniture. It is troubling to us, but we are willing to compromise. Certainly they’ve suffered greatly, and it is hardly fair for us to take away their comfort. Instead, we shall wean them from it over time.”
“Certainly some races seem to benefit from trade and change. Wouldn’t they be more joyful in a society that encourages it?”
“I am inclined to doubt it. Those who succeed may claim happiness, but where one succeeds, another fails. That is contrary to the Most Holy Light. The Sha’tar work to prevent and ameliorate the excesses of such a system.”
“Have you gotten complaints about this?”
“Complaints? Yes, actually. Some, especially goblins, dwarves, gnomes, humans, and trolls, have not undergone sufficient acculturation. They think our interference makes them unhappy, even though it works to promote joy in a macro-spiritual sense. We are working on it.”
I nodded, deciding not to say anything else. I suspected that visiting the Lower City would prove most enlightening.
“How do you get more to join your ranks?”
“The people of the Lower City realize we offer the best protection, and they are keen to lend their own skills to the cause. Others are inspired to serve by A’dal. All service is voluntary, as it must be.”
I walked back to the Terrace of Light, the clammy air wrapping around me like a cold sponge. The clash of metal rang across the plaza as Sha’tar soldiers sparred with practice weapons. Heavily armed and armored, they are a powerful force for righteousness for a place badly in need of one.
The trench of the Lower City winds around the Terrace of Light, the battered structures a grim reminder of Outland’s cruelty. It does not look promising from above. Great rents break the paved surface, as if some giant farmer had dragged a plow through the city. Motley crowds of refugees move past ruined buildings covered by jury-rigged roofs of wood or canvas.
I quickly discovered that the Lower City is actually much less dreadful at ground level. The refugees look worn, but basically well-fed. A few of them appear relatively prosperous. I spoke with an old dwarf named Hargun Flintfinger. Blind in one eye, he still kept watch over a flock of fourteen chickens. He proudly wore a faded coat of red velvet, a recent purchase.
“Things were hard at first, but I’ve done well here.”
“Who buys the chickens?”
“Who doesn’t? A chicken’s a fine meal. Saba’s barely worth eating. Everyone here does, but we’d go right mad without some real food.”
“Do many others here deal in livestock?”
“It’s a big business, to be sure. Orcs run most of it, practically giving it to their own and gouging everyone else. They’ve got the market on pigs, sheep, and goats, but not chickens! I guess poultry doesn’t do much for the orc gullet, but they’re easy to raise and there’s plenty of demand for them elsewhere.”
“Did the Sha’tar interfere with the livestock prices?”
“They tried to, but they’re too busy watching out for demons and the like to worry that much about the Lower City. The place is too much of a mess for anyone to really manage. The Sha’tar muck it up half the time, so it’s probably best for them to concentrate on defending the place. I suppose you’re part of the New Horde?”
“You’re as ugly as the old one, but at least you’re more polite.”
The Swapper’s Bargain sprawls across the southern end of the Lower City, a mishmash of tents and stands that blend in with the drab surroundings, livened by the occasional splash of color on the shop of a more prosperous trader. Haggling is the rule of the day, every buyer trying to get the best possible deal. The arguing customers, tethered animals, and rank smell bring to mind scenes from medieval Lordaeron two to three hundred years before the First War. Many humans (and even some Forsaken) idealize that period, not realizing that life was much harder in the days before common magic and affordable technology. The Lower City serves as a useful object lesson for such people.
The merchants of the Swapper’s Bargain offer all manner of goods, of which food is the most important. Only the draenei can really thrive on an exclusive diet of saba; even humans need supplements to stay in good health. This presents a natural opportunity for those with access to food. Such is the rationale for the sections of the Lower City converted to farm or grazing land.
I spoke with a human man named Telray Mordensham. Possessed of a martial bearing, he’d come to Shattrath City after the Breaking. He was once an officer in the ranks of the Alliance Expeditionary Force.
“We were occupying Bleeding Hollow Village when Ner’zhul broke the damn world. At the time, we weren’t sure if any of the other Alliance settlements even survived, so we set up camp in Shattrath.”
Telray was a figure of substance in the Lower City. He held a seat on the Grower’s Guild, an organization of farmers that consists of humans and high elves.
“You could find wheat fields in the Lower City as little as five years ago. My men tore up the flagstones and planted seeds in the ground. The Broken and Mag’har refugees already had their own little plots when we got here.”
“What happened to those farms?”
“The Sha’tar happened! They came here with that awful saba stuff, giving it out for free. Tastes terrible, but fills you up. We switched to fruits and vegetables, though we kept a few barley fields to make beer. Saba can’t fully replace those, at least not for humans. I don’t think any kind of saba-based beer exists; if it does, I don’t want to know about it! An anchorite told me how thousands of years of exposure to the Light changed the draenic body to live on nothing but saba, but I’ll happily stay unholy if it means a bit of variety on the dinner plate,” he chuckled.
“So you provide an essentially necessary service for the people of the Lower City.”
“How much do you charge?”
“Depends on the service. We obviously never charge all that much. I’m well-to-do here, but I’m far from rich.”
“Have the Sha’tar ever interfered?”
“I can tell some of them aren’t happy with the situation in the Lower City. Now, I appreciate them protecting Shattrath. Everyone here does. So I’m inclined to work with them, not against them. Still, they tried to take over the Grower’s Guild in the early days. Thought our products should be handed out for free.”
“What did you do?”
“We explained to them that tending vegetable gardens and fruit orchards requires time and effort, and that we wanted recompense for that. Now, they could manage the gardens themselves if they wanted, but the Sha’tar were spread pretty thin. Besides, if they were going to seize our operations, they’d have to do the same for all the other ventures in the city. They couldn’t maintain all of the infrastructure while still defending Shattrath. Enslaving us was obviously out of the question, so they finally stepped back and let us continue as long as we didn’t overcharge. We didn’t, and still don’t, so things are fine.”
“There’s quite a difference between the draenic and human economies.”
“Certainly. The draenei want everything to be completely fair and equal, which is fine for them. But there’s no way to do that with all these non-draenei. Look at the orcs, they have to spend more money than anyone else on food. Meanwhile the Broken are even better off than humans because they can live on saba! I doubt there’s any way to balance all of that.”
“I agree. Do you foresee future conflicts with the Sha’tar?”
“Anything’s possible. The Sha’tar are changing though. Not all of them are draenei any longer. Young people in the Lower City sometimes enlist. My son’s considering it.”
“Would you approve?”
“Of course! If more Lower City folk get into the Sha’tar, the easier it will be to deal with them. I think it’s good to get some new blood and new ideas in their ranks. We like the Sha’tar, and they like us. This puts us closer together.”
The Lower City’s economy presents a fascinating picture. There, the perfect draenic economy must deal with highly imperfect beings like orcs and humans. As such, compromises must be made. I do not think there’s any ideal answer of Shattrath City in this respect. Instead, they must simply negotiate challenges as they come, the underlying rules adjusted as needed.
Telray excused himself to discuss business with a high elf associate in the Grower’s Guild. I wanted to know more about the Lower City’s early history, when refugee gangs squabbled for resources and territory. The Grower’s Guild, and many of the city’s other organizations, have their origins in that troubled period.
Kopka was a Broken, and looked the part. Scars lined his flat face, his scalp deformed from multiple indentations. He spent much of his time drinking tea in the Swapper’s Bargain, telling rambling and violent stories to passerby.
“Most Broken are part of tribes, but not me. I left the Pure Ones as soon as I started to change, went back to Shattrath City. I figured the orcs there would kill me, but I found no orcs. They didn’t want to stay there, I guess.”
“Any idea why?”
“Do I look like an orc to you? No idea! Other Broken started coming in, along with Lost Ones. The Lost Ones were in a bad way, but we put them to work and gave them food for their trouble. Like trained wolves, they were!”
“When did the other refugees arrive?”
“First were the Mag’har. We fought them, that’s how I got this scar, see?” He held out his left arm, marred by a furrow running from the wrist to the elbow. “Big Mag’har knife did that. We hated them for being orcs, and they didn’t much trust us. Not too many fights though. We kept to the eastern wall, and they stayed in the north.”
“Who came after that?”
“Arakkoa went to the far north end, but we left them alone. Never deal with arakkoa. Things got more complicated after the Breaking. These Alliance start living in the city. First they just fought orcs, but then they started moving in on our farms, so we fought them too. A big armored fellow hit me in the head with his hammer, which is why my head looks like a potato!” laughed Kopka.
“The Alliance stuck together as their own power group, then?”
“For a while. Then the Horde came in, or what was left of them. Mag’har, Alliance, and Broken all stood together to fight the Horde. Biggest battle Shattrath saw since the Horde War! I was in the front lines, lost three fingers on my right hand to one of those trolls. We won the day, and the Horde went outside the city. Then the arakkoa let them in. Mother Moag, she’s the leader of the Broken, she said that the bird-men were afraid since all of us stood together. That’s why they picked the Horde as an ally.”
“Did you do anything?”
“We tussled for a while, raided the arakkoa. Finally got used to having the Horde there. They lived just outside the arakkoa village. Now, things get really insane. First, the Horde loses control of ogres. No surprise to anyone, but they start making a nuisance of themselves. While we’re busy with that, the goblins start talking to the little Alliance people, dwarves and gnomes, I think.”
“I guess they didn’t like the way things were going, so goblins, dwarves, and gnomes split off and make their own group called the Union of the Gear. They start rebuilding parts of Shattrath City, sell their services for food. The Alliance and Horde don’t buy it at first, but they change their minds soon enough.”
“Any other groups?”
“More Broken joined us after that rascal Illidan started killing people. Some of the Pure Ones came back at that time. They didn’t fight in any of the battles, they just wanted to pray in the old temples. That’s how the Sha’tar got here.”
“Is the Lower City still divided on racial lines?”
“Not so much now. No one much feels like fighting, not even me! It’s because of the Naaru. Probably for the best. We’d probably still be killing each other without the Sha’tar. Nowadays, all the young ones who want to fight join the Sha’tar. It’s a good thing.”
The humble crowds of the modern Lower City make it hard to imagine that vicious turf wars once raged in the streets. Many of the various trade groups, once delineated along racial lines, now accept outsiders of sufficient skill. There are exceptions to this: the Sons of Nagrand, a Mag’har group with a near-monopoly on weapon forging, still refuses to accept non-Mag’har. Bigotry is an impediment to trade, and I believe the economic necessities of modern Shattrath City force the inhabitants to look beyond their differences. At the same time, I think that the presence of the Naaru does much to speed up this process. The existence of a pressing outside threat also contributes.
I spent a few minutes watching an ogre carve a massive clefthoof flank. Intent on his job, he paid no attention to the activity around him. While unremarkable on the surface, my recent sojourn among the Bladespire ogres showed it to be quite astounding. This ogre, a being of war and violence, was peaceably turning his energies to a productive task.
Though impressed, I knew there was much more to the city than the Swapper’s Bargain. War and dislocation leave their marks on even the most resilient psyche. Certainly not all refugees would display the admirable prosperity and initiative seen in the markets. I wanted to know how these unfortunates lived.
The crowds thin and the neighborhoods turn destitute north of the Swapper’s Bargain. Lost Ones wander in packs through the rubble, withered hands snatching at castoffs. Some of them stared at me with glassy eyes, but none said a word. The Lost Ones are the rag pickers of Shattrath, and make their home in the aptly named Scavenger Row. Kopka mentioned that the Broken and the Lost Ones had worked together before the Naaru, though his description suggested a more exploitative arrangement. The Lost Ones acted as fodder in the street fights and received food as a reward. Today, the Lost Ones get saba much like everyone else, though their physiology necessitates a higher protein intake. To obtain this, they collect junk and sell it. The Sha’tar sometimes buy protein-rich foods from other groups, and give it to the Lost. Unfortunately, the reclusive nature of the Lost Ones makes it difficult to set up a charity arrangement. I learned this from a Sha’tari administrator named Ililea. Relatively young by draenic standards, she worked closely with the people of the Lower City.
“We try to help them, but our words have no effect,” she mourned. “I cannot imagine the terrible things these poor souls have experienced.”
“Do they show any inclination to the Light?”
“They cooperate with each other, so that is a start.”
“Do any engage in trades beyond the junk trade?”
“Not yet, but that might change. Look at this.”
Ililea opened a small pouch and took out a curious metal object. Roughly pyramidal, it was made of oxidized copper studded with brightly colored stones. A closer look revealed it to be cobbled together from junk, like pipes and discarded tools. Fine detail work decorated the panes, delicate whorls engraved on the metal. I got the strange feeling that the longer I examined it, the more I would find to appreciate.
“This is the work of a Lost One named Skon. A number of Lost One artisans make these objects, though she is the most prolific. Quite interesting, don’t you think?”
“It does have a strange beauty to it. Did Skon say why she made it?”
“The woman can barely speak. She gave it to me, and I tried explaining how her work reflected the Most Holy Light, different materials working together to create a greater whole. Yet she seemed indifferent.”
“Perhaps there is a market for this. I’ve certainly never seen anything quite like it, and they say abstract art is growing in popularity among the Alliance peoples, thanks to the draenei.”
“A market? I do not mean offense, Brother Destron, but surely you can’t think that desirable? We must bring the Lost Ones into the Most Holy Light. They are already terribly vulnerable to vices like greed. It would not do to encourage such tendencies.”
I mulled over what Ililea said. No one really knows all that much about the Lost Ones, or how they operate. The draenei see them as lost sheep to be returned to the fold, and this is an understandable viewpoint. While not capable of being full members of draenic society, they can at least attain security in a marginal role. However, I cannot help but wonder if the Lost Ones would benefit more from being separate. They do not seem much like the draenei any longer. Perhaps through making and presenting their art, the Lost Ones can find new talents and roles. I agree with the draenei in that the Lost Ones need protection; Ililea’s fears of exploitation are more than justified. Ultimately, I cannot claim to know what’s best for the Lost Ones.
Destitute humans squat along the walls of Scavenger Row, mocking the Lost Ones. They tease the poor mutants, tempting them with scraps of fabric or empty wineskins, only to toss the prize to their fellows. Grisly wounds mar their features and some have stumps in place of limbs. They flag down others with indignant demands, thrusting out empty bowls. I thought such brazen behavior curious for the supposedly desperate.
I ingratiated myself with a small gang of beggars sitting along a battered gate house. A blind man named Teros acted as a de facto leader. Though slight of frame, he spoke in an arresting voice. Initially hostile, he softened when I gave him two silver pieces, a generous donation.
“Yes, we’re the traitors of Honor Hold. Does Danath still curse our name?” wondered Teros.
“This one’s a Forsaken. They wouldn’t let him in there,” interjected a grubby adolescent.
“I actually did spend some time in Honor Hold. I heard about Ferser Macaul.”
“Ferser. That damned scoundrel. Sounded like he had a good plan. Instead he led us in circles around Zangarmarsh. He got an easier death than he deserved, skewered by a Lost One’s spear.”
“How did you end up here?”
“Pure luck. The humans already in Shattrath wanted nothing to do with us. As if we could stay in Honor Hold! The place had no future, it still doesn’t. Once this war’s over, if it ends, no one’s going to live there. I wanted my daughters to have good lives. The two of them are buried in Zangarmarsh now, thanks to Ferser.”
“How did you survive in Shattrath?”
“Barely. By the time the Sha’tar came, we had nothing. The Alliance and Horde both hated us. The dwarves gave us a few errands, but they hated us too. No one wants anything to do with us even now, so we have to make do with that damned millet the Sha’tar give out.”
“None of your people have found work here?”
“A few did, by sacrificing whatever dignity they had. It’s not as if anyone respects those turncoats, least of all their masters.”
“What groups did they join?”
“Why do you care? We’ve seen too much and fought too long to want any dealings with the people in the Lower City. Any of Ferser’s Fools with sense agree. They don’t respect us, why should I respect them? At least the Sha’tar give us food, makes things a bit easier for us.” His tone of voice suggested that he didn’t care for the Sha’tar either.
Bitterness colored Teros’ account, but there was truth in his words. Ferser’s Fools occupied the bottom rung in pre-Sha’tar society. They haunted the edges of the city, stealing what they needed and avoiding the stronger refugee groups. Encounters with these other groups rarely ended well for the Fools; more than half their number lay dead in the gutters by the time the Naaru returned.
I noticed a lightness in my left coat pocket as I walked north from Teros’ crew. A quick look revealed that the pouch of coins I kept there was gone. The pickpockets of the Lower City had found another victim.
Conversation fell to a quiet murmur as the sultry Tirasi woman took the stage, her olive face framed by thick black curls. No human would dispute Doroti Valencia’s beauty, though the keen eye noticed the fine wrinkles beneath her makeup. Stained and worn curtains of purple silk hung at the sides of the stage, motionless in the expectant air. Closing her eyes, Doroti lifted her voice in song, the words plucking at the half-remembered days of my youth. She chose an old song about regret and lost love, feelings the patrons knew all too well.
The World’s End Tavern had been a library in Shattrath’s glory days. Horde warlocks looted all the books on magic and burned the rest. Located between the Broken neighborhood of Hopeful to the south, and wealthy Gear Town to the north, the World’s End Tavern is the biggest of its kind in Shattrath. The evening sees all sorts come through its doors to take brief respite from their hard lives, and cheap wine keeps the clientele coming back for more. Lately, it’s become a popular locale for visitors to the city. New arrivals from Azeroth sit in the shadows, keeping their voices conspicuously low.
The song ended. I heard the patter of rain on the roof in the brief pause between songs. Then she started up again, launching into a happier number that I did not recognize. Scanning the room, I found myself looking at a human on the next table, quietly conversing with an old dwarf. I couldn’t get a good look at the human’s face but his voice sounded familiar. Doroti soon left the stage to polite applause and servers brightened the lamps. Finally seeing the human’s face, I almost leapt out of my chair in surprise.
Danner Berdenhof had changed a great deal since Dalaran. His face was longer, the features sharpened by age and hardship. Lank blonde hair dangled from his scalp, still dishevelled. His eyes shone with that old mischief, but combined with a definite wariness.
At a loss for words, I stood up from my chair and walked towards my old friend. How long had it been since I’d seen him? Five years? Six? He left Dalaran well before the Third War, longing for his old Stromgarde home. We'd exchanged letters until my fateful trip to the north.
The dwarf suddenly erupted into laughter, accompanied by quiet chuckles from Danner. I decided to make myself known.
“Danner! You are Danner Berdenhof?”
Turning to me, his jaw dropped, whether out of recognition or alarm at my appearance I do not know. His eyes narrowed as he studied me.
“By the Light... Destron? Is that really you? I thought you were dead! Really dead,” he added, hastily. “Ha! This is incredible! Volker, meet Destron. Destron, Volker.”
“Ah, one of the Forsaken are you? Welcome to Shattrath!” greeted Volker. He extended his hand in greeting, and I offered my own.
“Volker’s a friend. He’s a big name in the Union of the Gear.”
“Sit down lad, any friend of Danner’s is a friend of mine.”
I slowly sat down at the table, not quite believing what I saw. I had long ago given up any hope of seeing my old friends again. Could Emette also be alive? Volker excused himself, and promised to meet Danner the next day, at place called the Floating Market.
“I was wondering if you'd survived the trouble in Stromgarde,” I said, my mind still racing. “I’m very happy to see you here.”
“Yes, I can tell you’re quite enthusiastic.”
I gave a nervous laugh.
“I’m afraid undeath has rendered me even less emotional than I was in life. Sorry, I’m merely surprised.”
“Don’t worry, Destron. I’d be more worried if you started acting like a human being.” Danner laughed, and I figured he was joking. “But yes, I did survive Stromgarde. I served on the front lines against the Syndicate for a few years. Now I raise funds and do business for the Stromgarder government.”
“How does Stromgarde fare now?” I decided not to mention my travels in Alliance lands. I was not yet sure if I could trust him with my alternate identity.
“The countryside is still in chaos but we now have firmer control over the capital and the surrounding regions. The Syndicate’s been decapitated, all their leaders are dead and the remnants are squabbling for control. The Horde’s the biggest obstacle. I’m afraid we must insist on Arathi Basin.”
“It is part of Stromgarde's sovereignty.”
“Good to hear it. I figured if anyone could come up with a robust intellectual defense for the Defilers it would be you, so I’m glad you haven’t bothered. Enough of my recent life. Bring me up to speed on your life. Or undeath.”
I explained my travels to Danner, still leaving out my Alliance visitations.
“That’s wonderful! I knew you had the adventurer’s spark in your soul, deep beneath that scholarly shell! I’ve traveled a fair amount, though little compared to you.”
“Do you know what happened to Emette?” I asked.
“I was going to ask you the same question. I have not seen anything of her since I left Dalaran.” Danner looked momentarily regretful. “I know I often mocked the Dalaranese, but I really did like her. Do you think she realized that?”
I actually did not remember Danner ever making fun of her for being Dalaranese, but my memory does have gaps.
“I’m sure she did.”
We talked for a while, reminiscing about old times. I could tell that life had hardened Danner. He guarded his words and expressions, a far cry from the mercurial youth I’d befriended in Dalaran.
“It is getting late. I can’t turn a friend out to the cold, so I’ll gladly let you stay in my home. The arrangements aren’t the most comfortable—”
“I’m undead. Discomfort is not a problem.”
“Yes, I’ve heard that undeath does offer some benefits.”
Danner finished the glass of wine before him, his third of the night. Getting to his feet, we walked out to the darkened Shattrath streets. A light drizzle pattered on the flagstones.
“Does Stromgarde have some interest in Shattrath?”
“Oh, just the usual. Some of my work is rather sensitive, and I obviously can’t discuss it with outsiders.”
“Of course, I understand.”
“I can tell you that I’ve been working with representatives from the Union of the Gear. They’re an interesting bunch, do you know much about them?”
“I know that they were the gnome, goblin, and dwarf refugees.”
“That’s correct. They got started when the gnomes began to realize how silly it was to maintain the Horde versus Alliance feud in the Lower City. Turns out, the goblins felt the same way. The gnomes somehow convinced the dwarves to go along with them, and the three races struck out on their own. Many of them were engineers, of course, and they began to repair parts of the city’s infrastructure. They charged the other factions for their services, and soon built up a nice network of allies. Then the Sha’tar came.”
“What do they think of the Sha’tar?”
“There’s a bit of jealousy as you might imagine. The Union was the most powerful Shattrath faction when the Naaru appeared. The Union also can’t charge as much as they’d like for their services, and they’re having some trouble with finances. I really do wonder if there’s much of a difference between dwarves and goblins, actually. Both so fond of gold. Anyway they’re not bad sorts.”
As we walked, I noticed signs of recent construction. Tidy, utilitarian homes are arranged in neat rows along the walls north of the World’s End. Tangled copper pipes connect the homes to the remnants of the old draenic water system beneath the pavement. I realized I was in Gear Town.
“I figured Stromgarde would be more interested in contacting the Grower’s Guild. They seem to be the closest thing to the Alliance.”
“That’s precisely why we’re not interested, Destron. We never much cared for the Alliance. This new Horde wouldn’t have come about if you just let us kill all the orcs. Instead, you built internment camps on our territory.”
“The Alliance did pay a handsome rental fee, which your government sorely needed after the war,” I pointed out.
“You’re such a Lordaeronian, Destron.”
We paused, and burst out laughing.
“Yes, I suppose I still am.”
“It’s reassuring that some things never change. And here we are!”
Danner grandly gestured to a large blue tent at the base of a squat tower. I followed him inside. The interior was monastic in its simplicity. A worn brown rug covered the flagstones underneath. At the far end was a trampled-looking bed, next to some obviously homemade shelves weighed down with tomes.
“Looks like you’ve done rather well for yourself,” I said.
“Flattery was never your strong point, Destron.” I recognized his tone; he was fishing for a compliment.
“I’m entirely genuine. By the standards of the Lower City as a whole, this is rather splendid.”
“I suppose. Do you want to take the bed? I know you’re undead, but I just feel wrong having you sleep on the floor.”
“You needn’t worry, I’ve slept in much worse places than this. Do you ever have trouble with thieves? I don’t see any kind of locks.”
“There’s no need, thieves don’t come up this way.”
Danner retired early that night, explaining that he had a great deal to do the next day. I bade him good night and stretched out on the rug. A curious mix of emotions clamored within me.
I was once able to speak to Danner without any difficulty. Indeed, it was hard for us to stop talking, something that got us in trouble on occasion. I remembered, with equal nostalgia and disbelief, the grossly inappropriate things Danner would say to any person who annoyed him, which was nearly everyone.
That quality once struck me as obnoxious; perhaps a fair assessment. Yet the new Danner seemed a different person, self-possessed and coldly restrained. Perhaps he simply did not trust me as a Forsaken. As I had not been completely honest about my travels, I suppose he had some justification.
To some extent, I had viewed myself as the dominant personality in our old friendship. I am not sure if this is really accurate, but that is how I remember things. Perhaps seeing Danner in such control intimidated me. The dynamic of the friendship was completely changed, and I did not know how to react. These realizations do not reflect well upon me.
Danner was gone the next morning. Figuring he was with Volker, I decided to explore Gear Town and its environs. The rain had stopped before dawn, though a chilly mist blanketed the canyon of the Lower City. Outside Danner’s tent, I found a human shepherd leading a small flock through Gear Town. I complimented him on his stock, to which he laughed.
“Aren’t mine I’m afraid. They belong to Boss Zuk’gok.”
“Used to be an elite soldier in the Bleeding Hollow Clan. Now he’s part of the Horde Remnant, owns a lot of animals. He stole most of them but that was before the Sha’tar came, so no one’s making an issue of it. My name’s Armin, by the way.”
“I’m Destron Allicant. How did you come to work for the orcs?”
“The Alliance didn’t want me. I don’t know if you’ve heard of Ferser’s Fools, but I’m one of them. Was, anyway.”
“I’ve met some.”
“Most Fools are too rattled by pain and disappointment to be good for much. They hold on to their pride because it’s all they have. I surrendered my dignity, became a peon for an orc, but I think I made the right choice.”
“Didn’t the orcs have their own peons?”
“No, they chased most of the peons into the wilderness after the Breaking. Didn’t want too many mouths to feed, you understand. Of course, they soon had a problem because no warrior would deign to do common labor. That’s where I came in. I’m not the only one. There’s Fools and other misfits in the peon ranks.”
“How are you treated?”
“Well enough. I get food and a small salary. Zuk’gok’s actually not a bad sort. He was the one who bullied the orcs into accepting workers from other groups.”
“What’s your job exactly?”
“I make sure no one steals the sheep. No one’s tried in a long time, but you can never be too careful.”
“Do the orcs actually do anything?”
“Plenty! They get drunk and boast of how many people they killed in the war!”
“Does the Horde Remnant keep the sheep for food?”
“Mostly. We get money by selling the wool. We have other animals too, cows, goats, talbuks. The cattle bosses give the meat to their warriors, in return for loyalty. I don’t think that arrangement will hold for much longer though, since the warriors are old and don’t really have anyone to fight. The herds don’t produce enough meat either, so the orcs have to buy meat from foreign merchants. I’m not allowed to have any of the mutton, but I get enough to buy a fowl every now and then.”
“What about the new generation?”
“Some of them joined the Sha’tar, others ran off to Orgrimmar when the Dark Portal reopened.”
“Do you sell meat to the Mag’har?”
“Not anymore, but we used to overcharge them for it. Unpleasant, but there wasn’t anything I could do about it.”
“Where do they get meat now?”
“From the Union of the Gear, who buys it from us or outsiders, and exchanges it for Mag’har weapons. The Mag’har neighborhood’s not far from here, just across that ditch actually.”
The Mag’har occupy a tiny area called the Smelter Hill. The neighborhood’s boundaries have blurred with Gear Town over the years, and some Mag’har live outside of it. True to its name, a grim forge burns at the center of Smelter Hill. There the Mag’har work, crafting weapons of great quality.
Much like their Garadar counterparts, the Sons of Nagrand rarely speak to outsiders. I finally managed to engage one in conversation after purchasing a broad-bladed dagger. The vendor was an aged Mag’har named Surnok, whose face was like leather.
“How did the Sons of Nagrand form?”
“Mag’har always stand together. Why should it be different here?”
“I see. From my understanding—”
“You did not answer my question, stranger. Why should it be different here?”
“Oh. I suppose it shouldn’t. I was merely wondering how the organization got started.”
There was a brief, awkward pause.
“Are you allied with the Union of the Gear?” I asked.
“The Small Ones are not friends, but we do not hold them as enemies. We were beset by enemies on all sides. When they offered aid, we accepted.”
“Dwarves are known on Azeroth for being great metallurgists. How is that the Mag’har came to be the weaponsmiths of the Lower City?”
“You buy my weapon and doubt its skill? Test the edge with your finger!”
“I am not questioning your skill. The dwarves are regarded as fine weaponsmiths. Perhaps the Mag’har surpass them.”
“Most of the dwarves here made tools and pipes instead of blades. The few who did make weapons were impressed by our ability. We combined our efforts to create weapons of even greater strength. Do you have more questions, outsider?”
“I suppose not, thank you.”
As near as I can tell, the Sons of Nagrand furthered the Union’s control over the Lower City. When the Union could not bribe or persuade rival factions with offers of improved infrastructure, they could resort to the weapons and warriors of the Mag’har. The Sons of Nagrand sell their wares to visitors and Union representatives, but not to the other factions (though the visitors likely resell the goods to the other factions, perhaps at a discount if motivated by political or racial sympathy). The Union sells the choicest equipment to the Sha’tar, though the Sha’tar dislike the high Union fees. The Mag’har are paid in red meat and money, though they have little use for the latter. A few are attempting to get in on the livestock trade, without any notable success.
The ditch running through the Lower City has its deepest point between Smelter Hill and the larger portion of Gear Town. Union-built storm drains prevent the ditch from flooding, though a layer of algae-infested rainwater reaches ankle high at the bottom. This foul water is how the ditch came to be called the Slimeline. Most refugees see the Slimeline as an obstacle, something that they have to cross when going about the city. Surprisingly enough, however, the place does have its inhabitants.
I was standing at the banks of the Slimeline, a mere inch above the pondscum. Near me, a stone bridge of dubious construction crossed the gap, drapes of moss drooping at the edge. As I turned to leave, I heard snatches of conversation spoken in my own voice. Startled, I looked to the side. A sporeling stood in the shadows, revealed by the luminous patches on its skin. Apparently, the translator spores I had received in Sporeggar still lived.
“Can you understand me?” I asked.
“Yes. I understand. Not many in Shattrath can speak with us.”
“I didn’t even know there were sporelings here.”
“We are few in number. The lack of a Spawning Ground makes a true community impossible.”
“Do you have a primus?”
“Not as such. I am a harvester myself, though my tasks in Shattrath are different from what they were in Zangarmarsh.”
“I’d imagine. Is food difficult to come by?”
“No. Food is relatively easy to find. Shattrath is actually a very good place for us. It is easy for sporeling to develop personalities here.”
The sporelings essentially reproduce by cloning themselves. Most operate on a nearly mechanistic level, rarely understanding more than is needed for their tasks. Those few who develop personalities are held in high regard by the rest of their race.
“Interesting. I remember hearing that harvesters were least likely to develop personalities, yet you seem to have one.”
“A basic one. We believe it results from constant interaction with other races.”
“You said you cannot speak with them.”
“Cannot speak, but we can make ourselves understood through gestures. There is a very clever preserver here, named Fsh’il, who has learned to understand basic Common and Orcish words, though it cannot speak them.”
“Do you think more sporelings should come here if travel ever becomes safe?”
“It will greatly advance desirable attributes in the race as a whole, so yes. The most remarkable examples are the sporelings raised here. A few of them live in the orphanage, where they show great emotional sophistication even if they cannot directly communicate with their peers. Obviously it would be impractical for all sporeling children to be raised in such an environment, but it would be quite beneficial for the child of a primus.”
I do not wish to downplay the ruinous devastation suffered by the sporeloks after the Breaking. However, if Sporeggar abides, Shattrath could present an unprecedented opportunity for the fungal race to take a greater role in world affairs.
I returned to Danner’s tent at around mid-afternoon. Going through the flap, I was startled by an indignant curse.
“Who is that? Who are you?” demanded a high, scratchy voice.
A gnomish woman stood next to Danner, clad in layers of filthy clothing. Greasy strands of gray hair dangled over her splotchy face and she stared at me with angry, bloodshot eyes.
“What? Are you a necromancer now?” she fumed, throwing her arms up in the air. “This is an important deal, Danner! If you aren’t—”
“Relax, Blyna, he’s a friend of mine,” said Danner.
“Did I come at a bad time?” I asked.
“Yes, get out,” ordered Blyna.
“Here, we’ll finish this outside, we’re almost done anyway.”
“No, you invited me in here to finish this deal. He has to stay outside, not me.”
“It’s fine, I’ll show myself out,” I said, not wanting to inconvenience my host.
I stood outside the tent for a few minutes. Blyna finally emerged, glaring at me with hate in her eyes before stalking towards the World’s End Tavern.
“Is it all right for me to come in?” I asked.
“Go ahead, I’m sorry about that.”
Glad that she was gone, I went back inside. Danner’s expression was apologetic.
“I’m very sorry about that. Dealing with Blyna is often difficult.”
“You needn’t worry. Is she with the Union?”
“Hardly. The Union doesn’t deal with her kind. She’s a recent arrival from Ironforge trying to get involved with the market scene here. I’m trying to help her, though she’s not making it easy.”
“Oh, you know. Angry loners with deservedly poor reputations.”
“Blyna’s a merchant?”
“More of a freelancer, doing odd jobs for whomever. She needs to improve her attitude.”
“So, Destron, have you visited the Aldor or Scryers yet?”
“No. The people in the Lower City don’t talk about them very much. I scarcely know anything about either faction.”
“They tend to keep to themselves. The Lower City mostly deals with the Sha’tar, whom they more or less trust. Only the leaders of the Lower City power groups ever deal much with the Aldor, since the Aldor are involved in city governance.”
“What about the Scryers?”
“They have even less presence down here. They buy and sell arcane substances with the ethereals in the Floating Market, but that’s about it.”
“Correct me if I’m wrong, but from what I’ve been told, the Aldor are the remains of the pre-war draenic priesthood, while the Scryers are blood elf dissidents who abandoned Kael’thas.”
“You’ve got it right. The Aldor don’t really trust the Scryers, and there’s also some ideological differences between the two. Neither of them are that important in city politics. Their influence is more significant outside of Shattrath.”
“Do they accept visitors?”
“As long as you aren’t a member of the rival faction, sure. I can show you around Scryer’s Tier, but I wouldn’t be welcome in Aldor Rise. You can visit that one on your own, if you’d like.”
“Are you a Scryer?”
“Not at all, but I’ve worked with some of them. Mostly because they could introduce me to others in a good position to help Stromgarde.”
“I’ll have to pay them both a visit,” I said.