Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Shattrath City: Part 2
A circular elevator platform embossed with holy symbols scales the dizzying heights of Aldor Rise. The rise is a small city unto itself, in Shattrath but barely of it. The paladins and warriors of old Shattrath once trained and meditated in the lofty citadel, then called Vindication Rise. Built on a mesa high above the rest of Shattrath, Vindication Rise stymied the orcish invaders. Mobs of blood-mad warriors crowded at the base, howling challenges to the draenei far above. A conventional siege was out of the question. The last defenders even possessed a number of working food crystals, and could not be starved into submission.
Gul’dan finally crafted a diabolical answer to the Horde’s problem. With a blasphemous ritual the warlock summoned a gaseous demon made from the final exhalations of poison victims. The noxious entity rose into the air and killed the draenei in a matter of minutes.
The elevator stops at a sanaum landing sticking out from the mesa’s edge. Aldor Rise looks almost like a park. Trees with thick and winding branches (of the sort often seen in Nagrand) grow next to pools of clear water. Shrines and libraries await visitors amidst the green.
Two draenei in polished armor guard the landing, flanged maces hanging from their belts. They looked at me in mild surprise.
“Good day, Brother Forsaken. Pardon my rudeness, but may I ask your reason for coming here?” he inquired.
“I simply wanted to learn more about the Aldor.”
“Ah, my soul fills with joy to hear that. Again, pardon my rudeness, it is merely that very few Forsaken have any interest in the Aldor. Most find the Scryers more to their liking, though we do count a few Forsaken among our number. We hope you will join us.”
“Perhaps I shall. To whom should I speak?”
“Any of the priests will be more than happy to aid you. Would you like me to introduce you to one?”
“I don’t want to interrupt your duties.”
“It will only take a moment, Brother Forsaken. My name is Herus. Yours?”
“Please follow me, Brother Destron.”
Herus leading the way, we entered the gardens of Aldor Rise. Groves of trees are fed by streams, fed by the slender waterfalls raining down from a pair of massive sanaum monuments floating over Aldor Rise. Abstract in shape, they made me think of elaborate daggers pointed at the ground. I asked Herus to explain the monuments.
“A new addition to Aldor Rise. As you may be able to see, the upper portions indicate an arch, specifically one that is not complete. This symbolizes the figurative gate to the Infinitely Holy Light that we are trying to build for all peoples. Our artificers made them large, to show what anyone can accomplish with sufficient faith and virtue, while the water symbolizes the renewal of life.”
“Very comprehensive. Where do you get the water?”
“Water from the pools is divinely fed to the monuments in a constant circuit. Impressive, but it is only a trifling use of Naaru power.”
We reached a trapezoidal basin directly beneath one of the waterfalls, shaded by the branches of slender trees. Tiny, pale blue birds hopped and chittered on the branches, darting over the pool in groups of two or three. A bridge leads to an odd structure in the center of the pool that I took to be a shrine of some sort. Standing there was a draenic priest in a teal robe, his head lowered and eyes closed. He looked up at me as I got closer.
“Brother Vastus, Brother Destron here wishes to learn more about the Aldor.”
Vastus’ face broke into a merry smile.
“Welcome to Aldor Rise, my Forsaken friend. Thank you, Brother Herus. I shall tell him whatever he wishes to know.”
Herus smiled and saluted before returning to his post.
“It is all too rare that we get Forsaken visitors to Aldor Rise. I know many of you once worshipped the Most Holy Light, when blood ran through your veins.”
“A few of us still do.”
“Such I have learned, to my everlasting joy. Those Forsaken who do preserve their faith are truly exemplars to all races.”
“Are any races besides draenei particularly common among the Aldor?”
“The night elves, dwarves, and tauren all show inclination for the Aldor. These groups hold fast to their traditions and understand the importance of community. We also get a fair number of humans, trolls, and orcs. Those three races are split between our factions.”
The night elves actually tend towards individualism, though many possess a traditional mindset. I suspect that at least some of the Kaldorei joined the Aldor simply to spite their Sin’dorei cousins.
“A few come here seeking to make restitution for their race’s crimes during the Horde War, since the political situation prevents them from doing so on Azeroth. Others simply find the Scryers objectionable.”
“Could you tell me more about the Aldor themselves?”
“Certainly. Let us walk to my quarters. I share them with five other Aldor. They shall be overjoyed to meet you.”
Vastus led me out of the gardens and towards a small house on the edge of Aldor Rise. He told me of the Aldor’s history as he walked. The priest knew it well, having lived much of it himself.
“How long ago... I close my eyes and I can still remember the ocean’s silver waters on the gleaming shores, my dear mother’s sweet voice, our home in the white forests, the great rainstorms.”
I had never heard the draenei express such longing for blood relations. Vastus came from a world before the collectives and the Light, and some of that old sentiment remained.
“I never saw the great citadels of Argus. The people in my village knew nothing of magic. City-folk dismissed us as rustics. We, in turn, scorned them as degenerates. We called ourselves the Aldor and led simple lives of virtue in the Roonasaad Archipelago. Hard lives. Disease and accident felled many, but still we thrived. Faith held us together.”
“Faith in what?”
“Virtue. The Aldor believed that goodness, not magical ability, defines a person’s worth. We spoke with our ancestors for guidance in this area. Funny, don’t you think? We Aldor used to have shamans, though they were much weaker than the ones today. Yet their strength was not important, for they could tell us the stories of the old ways.”
“How many Aldor were there?”
“I am not sure. A hundred-thousand across the islands? Roonasaad was quite expansive. We Aldor were the last to hear about Sargeras’ infernal bargain. We did not think it wise. Fortunately, Prophet Velen also thought it foolish. He found in the Aldor a model for the society described by the Naaru.
“I remember when he came to our village. Dark storms lashed the islands in those days, killing scores of my people. I was little more than a child at the time, and terribly frightened. Mother and father died in the first great storms, and I still do not know what happened to my older brother.”
“What did Velen say?” I asked.
“He told us of the Naaru. At last, we thought, vindication for our beliefs. We were right! A few of the elders thought it a trick, but most Aldor went over to Velen, I among them. We could scarcely believe that he wished to make us priests, the stewards of his new nation on board the Jaikoob.”
“Did the city dwellers resent you for this?”
“Many did. We were sure to induct promising city-dwellers into the priesthood to show our impartiality, but it was difficult. Some of us wanted revenge, and they harassed the city draenei.”
“The early years of the exodus were less than peaceful, I take it?”
“It rarely erupted into violence. The draenei were never given to bloodshed, even before the Naaru. But there was much tension. As time passed, however, we grew closer together. The Naaru spoke to our souls, counseling love and forgiveness. We eventually ceased bickering over trivial matters.”
“Do many of the Aldor remember Argus?”
“Very few. Most died, and I think many of our priests today are descended from the city people.”
“Has there ever been any contention between Prophet Velen and the Aldor? Since the Aldor had, in a certain sense, been doing it longer?”
“The early years, yes. We Aldor still had much to learn, since our old society was quite far from the ideals of the Naaru. The Aldor were truly only a little closer than the rest of Argus.”
“How do you differ from the Sha’tar? Don’t you both directly serve the Naaru?”
“We both serve the Naaru. Even the Scryers serve Them, though in a misguided fashion. You may want to think of the Sha’tar as a fundamentally military organization, a sad necessity in these troubled times. They concern themselves with protecting Outland from demons and other disruptive elements. We Aldor are more politically oriented. The Aldor has a fighting force of its own, though one smaller in size than the Sha’tar armies.”
“In what sense are you political?”
“Shattrath’s governmental apparatus is largely our creation. We create theories of societal management that are true to the Most Holy Light; the Sha’tar put it into action and report to us.”
“Why don’t the Aldor put it into action?”
“The denizens of the Lower City feel more comfortable with the Sha’tar.”
“Do the Sha’tar ever disagree with Aldor plans?”
“Dissension has lately arisen due to the influx of non-draenei into the Sha’tar ranks. Forgive me if the statement is insulting; it is simply that most non-draenei have not yet achieved their full potential. As such, their goals, while well-intended, do not always reflect the reality of the Most Holy Light. Their ideas may suffer from elements of selfishness or excessive individualism. Here we are!”
I followed Vastus into a large, sparsely-furnished chamber. Prayer mats stretch out on the floor, worn from constant use, and abstract bas-reliefs decorate the beige walls. Two other draenei, both women, greeted us as we entered.
“Brother Destron, this is Sister Machala,” said Vastus, pointing to dark-skinned draenei with immense horns, “and Sister Kronakeeya,” he finished, gesturing to an unusually short draenei.
I was invited to sit at a bench as the two priestesses introduced themselves and asked me about my experiences in Shattrath and Outland. Both seemed happy to receive a Forsaken visitor. Vastus busied himself with boiling a pot of water in the adjoining kitchen. I, in turn, asked about Aldor philosophy.
“All thinking peoples are, in some way, seekers of the Most Holy Light,” explained Machala. “The goal of the Aldor is the same as the goal of all draenei: we must create a world without cruelty or injustice, where love and virtue replace iniquity. The Naaru offer a path to this perfection.”
“And you wish to bring all nations into the fold?”
“Correct. Shattrath City provides a marvelous opportunity to introduce the Infinitely Holy Light to many different peoples. Shattrath will ideally act as a prototype for the perfect world. The lessons we learn from Shattrath can then be applied on a worldwide and eventually universal scale.”
“I’ve spent some time in the Lower City, and the people there do not necessarily seem all the different from their counterparts in Azeroth or the rest of Outland.”
“Our mission will take time, perhaps centuries. The entrenched power structure in the Lower City is a relic from a darker time, but will take quite a while to overcome. The Aldor give them a better example in our offers of free food and free security. As the refugees grow more dependent on us, they will grow closer to the Most Holy Light.”
“Your goal is to make the refugees dependent on you?”
“Naturally. Does this disturb you?”
“Forsaken place great importance on independence. So do some humans and orcs.”
“Everyone knows our intent,” interjected Kronakeeya.
“Please do not take offense, Brother Destron, but we find it difficult to see independence as truly beneficial. Those who think themselves independent often fall prey to arrogance. It is better to encourage communal thinking.”
“I beg to differ. My people won their independence from the most horrific form of slavery! Never—” I stopped myself. “I am very sorry, Sister Machala, that was rude of me.”
“Ah, Brother Destron, you need not apologize. It is good that you make yourself heard. Discussion is the prime vehicle for education,” smiled Machala.
An education that could only come from the draenei, never from anyone else, I thought.
“Now, you give free food, but saba is not enough for some,” I said.
“We must regrettably rely on some degree of self-interest to produce all the necessities in the Lower City. This will change once Illidan and the Burning Legion are driven from Outland. We can then put more attention to improving the infrastructure.”
“Yet the workers still want to be paid for their labor.”
“This ties back to what I said about the illusion of independence. They believe that because they come from societies where only the driven and ambitious can survive. We will gradually show them that cooperation is a much more fulfilling alternative.”
I nodded. Vastus returned carrying a tray that held four cups of steaming tea. The conversation drifted to lighter matters. All the while, I thought about what Machala said, again finding my beliefs challenged by the sincerity and good faith with which the draenei presented theirs.
I suppose that the question ultimately amounts to whether or not other races should emulate the draenei, assuming it is even possible for them to do so. No one can yet answer this question with any finality. Supporters can point to the very real happiness enjoyed by the draenei, and the absence of crime and inequity in their society.
However, I would argue that most races would be hurt by molding their own societies to draenic ideals. At this point, I think the saba handouts do more good than bad, but they still bring some negative consequences. One might also look to the rapacious human aristocrats who plagued much of that race’s history. Having all their needs met, more than a few descended into debauchery and criminality. Those who avoided this often did so by virtue of internal motivations such as the desire to create or to help, often expressed in highly individual styles.
Logic is not the natural state for individuals of any race, so perhaps logic is an inappropriate grounds for this argument. To put it simply, I cannot imagine most other races achieving happiness by living like the draenei. For us, joy is not something that is given. True happiness is earned through thought and deed. we shall never have the near-constant joy seen in the draenei, but we can obtain moments of it, made all the more meaningful by the suffering that we also experience. The other races need the freedom to try and find happiness, as well as the freedom to risk failure.
I spent the day at the priestly quarters. Residents came and went, all of them happy to see a curious Forsaken. One priest urged me to convince other Forsaken to join the Aldor cause, stating that the draenic priests could do much for the wounded souls of my race.
Vastus’ duties included giving lectures on the nature of the Light, as seen by the draenei. His students were mostly newcomers to Shattrath, travelers only loosely associated with the Aldor. Vastus was scheduled to speak that night and I decided to attend.
We walked across Aldor Rise to the Religious Education Facility, a lecture hall near the lift.
“Are your students prospective priests, or merely those sympathetic to the Aldor cause?”
“The latter. We want to spread our message throughout Azeroth and obtaining students is a good way to do that.”
“Do you get very many?”
“Enough for now. Those who learn well or fight evil in the name of the Aldor gain access to our resources: equipment, enhancements, and the like. Some Aldor feared that we were pandering to greed by doing this, yet I do not think we can expect help from strangers unless we offer something in return. Gradually, as they learn, such exchanges will become unnecessary. Most consider it a good idea until then.”
“That is actually very insightful.”
“Our meditations on the Most Holy Light guided us to this decision.”
“Is your goal to convert them to the Aldor interpretation of the Most Holy Light?”
“The goal is to encourage virtuous traits, and put them in the appropriate context. It is not our place to judge the superficial forms of religion so long as these faiths promote good thinking. If such traits are nourished, the resulting society will more closely resemble our own. Admittedly, this may take a long time.”
“Are these Aldor sympathizers required to attend lectures?”
“No. I fear that by not making it a requirement, we are encouraging those who only help us in expectation of material reward. Unfortunately, our forces need help in fighting the demons, so we cannot turn them away.”
“Don’t the Sha’tar handle most of the fighting?”
“Yes, but Aldor forces must also compete with Scryer mercenaries. A Scryer victory over Illidan or the Burning Legion will hurt the cause of the Aldor, and potentially allow them to spread their mistaken beliefs. We cannot allow that.”
For a moment, Vastus’ words suggested a cynical and calculating side to the Aldor. However, I do not think this is the case. I have no doubt that the Aldor priests made this decision in the interest of the greater good.
The interior of the religious education facility looks almost like a human church with its neat rows of wooden pews. I took a seat as Vastus walked to the other end of the room, smiling and greeting the students. The crowd was a mixed bunch, consisting mostly of dwarves and night elves. Three broad-shouldered tauren braves sat at the back, their eyes curious.
Some part of me hoped that Vastus would deliver a radical speech that promoted draenic economic ideals. The actual lecture did not sound so different from the sermons I'd heard while alive, though Vastus delivered it with the skill of an experienced orator. He explained the ideals of the Aldor with eloquence and tact, describing it as a philosophy where all races could live in peace under the Naaru. Shattrath City provided a convenient metaphor.
The students seemed to receive it well, though I am not sure the lecture would convince a non-believer. Vastus spend some time answering their questions. The most interesting comments came from the tauren, who drew parallels between the Naaru and the Earthmother. Vastus encouraged this, though I do not think he fully appreciated the differences between tauren and draenic religion. I did hear a dwarf snort in derision during the discussion with the tauren.
Vastus decided to take a stroll through the gardens after finishing his lecture. I walked with him, appreciating the quiet beauty of the trees.
“I sometimes wonder if I enjoy this place too much. The gardens do not look much like the jungles of old Roonasaad but they somehow remind me of it.”
“Do you ever miss your old life?”
“No, at least not to any great degree. I may feel some sentimental attachment, but I do not let it cloud my judgement. Many of the original Aldor had this problem. Such was not the case with the city-dwellers, probably due to the hollowness of their old culture.”
“Do you know others who long for Roonasaad?”
“So few of us remain. I do not talk too much with them because that might inculcate cultural separatism. For me, the worst time was when I first became a father. I tried to emulate my own father but it was so difficult! A child has many fathers and many mothers in a collective. I could not be the only one, though part of me longed to be just that. Am I making sense?”
“Certainly. You wished to play a greater role in your child’s development.”
“That is correct, Brother Destron. I spoke with Prophet Velen himself about this, and he said my feeling of fatherhood was natural, and even commendable, if slightly misguided. Over time I got better at raising children in a collective, yet part of me still misses my first bright boy, Wolron. He became a great vindicator and died in the Ogre War.”
“Forgive me, Brother Destron. I am not setting a good example.”
“You needn’t apologize.”
“I should not express such sentiments. It does not fit with my societal role. Come, let us return to my quarters. There we can take joy in presence of friends!”
The Shrine of Unending Light is the heart of Aldor Rise. Long a sacred place for the vindicators, it now acts as the headquarters for the Aldor priests. I visited it the next day, having spent the night with my hosts. A glorious incandescence surrounds the shrine at its perch atop a great stairway. The humble sanctum is lit with a delicate lattice of violet energy, arrayed in patterns of import.
High Priestess Ishanah holds court in the Shrine of Unending Light. Ishanah’s name is a respected one in the draenic priesthood. Born on Draenor, her piety, compassion, and foresight brought her to Prophet Velen’s inner circle. When Velen left to reclaim the Exodar, he entrusted her with the spiritual well-being of the draenei on Outland. Today, Ishanah focuses on spreading Aldor influence through Outland and beyond.
“When the Aldor decided to help the refugees by creating a hospital in the Lower City, Sister Ishanah made the necessary arrangements,” explained a vindicator named Senaa.
Ishanah is more like an ambassador than an actual leader, being the Aldor’s face to the outside world. As such, she often meets with representatives from the Lower City’s power groups. While the Sha’tar handle most of the normal governmental interactions, larger issues inevitably involve the Aldor. To use a convenient generalization, the Aldor create the rules, the Sha’tar put them into action, and the Lower City offers feedback. The Scryers act as an unpredictable third party.
While I was there, Ishanah met with two human representatives from the Grower’s Guild. I came in at the end of the council, and listened to their conversation. Neither representative expressed satisfaction with the outcome.
“I knew this would happen,” complained a stocky, gray-haired woman. “We’re starting to operate at a loss, and Ishanah still does not care.”
“You’re being a little unfair, Tellera,” countered her companion, a young man with a great yellow beard. “She has a solid reasoning.”
“Like what? Look, the facts are simple: the young people cannot get jobs here. I think she’s doing it deliberately. She knows that the only option for Guild children is to join the Sha’tar and die in some Light-forsaken wasteland.”
“I know, but we need to accept some sacrifices as long as we’re fighting the demons.”
“The Aldor aren’t going to let up at the war’s end, they said they intend to keep doing this.”
“Of course, but peacetime will put us in a stronger bargaining position.”
“They will not listen,” scoffed Tellera.
“I suppose we could go back to Azeroth, though I wonder if we could survive there. Stormwind City doesn’t hand out free saba.”
“I’ll take the chance. I’m sick of sinking into the poorhouse. The last thing I want is to be dependent on some draenic priest for my livelihood. Come on, let’s get something to drink.”
I suspect that Shattrath City will survive the demons. They may have more difficulty surviving victory.
“It’s always a good idea to bring a gift when visiting the Scryers.”
Much like the Aldor, the Scryers make their home at the top of a steep mesa. The draenic mages of old Shattrath once made the place their base, calling it the Arcane Tier. Lower in altitude than the Vindication Rise, the Horde found it much easier to overcome. Orc warlocks and necrolytes clambered up the Terrace of Light in a black wave, its apex giving them a line of sight to the Arcane Tier. Survivors of that dark day claim that the resulting spell-battle deafened half the city. At the end, the outnumbered draenic wizards fell to the burning rains of orcish sorcery.
I visited the Scryers with Danner, who gave me a bottle of Telaari wine on the ride up to the tier. He'd spent some time looking through the vintner’s wares before making a decision. The wine was relatively expensive by the standards of Lower City. I had enough money to purchase it, but Danner insisted on buying, citing the many times I’d bought drinks for him back in Dalaran.
“You need to bribe the Scryers to speak with them?” I asked.
“Oh, not at all, but it definitely makes them more receptive.”
“To whom would I give this?”
“Hold onto it until you find someone important. Or simply break it open if a bunch of Scryers are having a conversation.”
“What do the Scryers believe?”
“A better question to ask is: what don’t they believe? Ha, sorry, old Lower City joke. The Scryers aren’t much for dogma or even consistency. I think they define themselves more by their opposition to the Aldor.”
“The hostility between the Aldor and the Scryers has both political and religious aspects, from my understanding.”
“The Aldor were already fighting the forces of Illidan. I can’t blame them for being wary of a small blood elf army that suddenly decides to switch sides.”
“Do you think the Scryers are loyal to Shattrath?”
“I believe so. I simply understand the Aldor’s suspicions.”
The Scryers’ Tier is arranged similarly to Aldor Rise, but no one can confuse the two. Where the rise is austere, the tier is lavish. Paths run between trimmed junipers and golden statues locked in acrobatic poses. A tall fountain, the basin held aloft by graceful caryatids, splashes in the center. Music and lively chatter fill the air at all hours. I felt like I was walking into an Eversong garden party. Arcane protectors guard the tier from intruders, their stony forms ever watchful. No one came to greet us or ask questions.
“Um, where to?”
“Wherever you please, really. The main points of interest are the Scryer Salon and the Seer’s Library. Your choice as to which you want to see first.”
“We can start with the salon,” I said.
“I was hoping you’d say that. I could use a drink.”
Danner guided me to a small building on the Tier’s eastern end. The riches around the salon astonished me. Bright bottles of spirits half-cover the tables outside the Salon, along with hookahs and bowls of fruit. Scryers lounge next to the tables or stand in small groups under pavilions of maroon silk. Nightingales, imported from Azeroth, chirp and fly over potted trees and hedges.
“Is the Scryers’ Tier always like this?”
“This is busier than normal.”
“How do they afford all this?”
“The Scryers brought their wealth with them and they’ve set up business interests all through Outland. The riches here are still a far cry from Silvermoon City, if the stories they tell are true.”
“I’d agree. Quite posh for Outland, however. Can anyone come up here and help themselves to the favors?”
“No, you have to be a Scryer. Here, let me show you.”
Smirking, Danner reached out to pick up a bottle of wine. His hand passed through the neck. He did it a few more times for emphasis.
“Everything on these tables is attuned to those with Scryer membership. Those outside the faction can’t even pick it up.”
“Interesting. I suppose it matches the subtle style of elven magic. Still, I’m impressed that they miniaturized detection and phase enchantments to such a degree.”
“The Scryers have some formidable arcanists among their number. Their departure was a huge blow for Kael’thas; he lost many of his best followers.”
Danner ran into a friend, or associate, a stout goblin wearing a bright red waistcoat. Named Ozzig, he was a low-ranking initiate among the Scryers. We went inside the salon's common room, a place filled with divans, silk curtains, and thick rugs.
“Only makes sense to join up with the Scryers. Outland has a lot of room for development and it can go a long way. Unless the demons or the Aldor take charge of it,” said Ozzig.
“I take it your reasons for joining the Scryers were more pragmatic than idealistic.”
“Definitely. I don’t dismiss their philosophy, it has merits, but I don’t put too much stock into it. Anyway the salon’s where you find fellow travelers and low ranks. All the big names are in the Seer’s Library.”
“What do the Scryers believe?”
“That depends on the Scryer. I think that, really, they’re just a reaction to the traditions of the Aldor. They know the Aldor style doesn’t really go over too well with non-draenei. Scryers offer a lot more personal space.”
Though I wanted to learn more about the Scryer belief system, the conversation inexorably turned to business. Danner knew Ozzig from helping the goblin make contacts in the Lower City, facilitating the trade in arcane goods. In return, Danner received information and some degree of welcome in the Scryers’ Tier. Ozzig made his living by selling luxury items to the Lower City’s well-to-do. The goblin operated trade lines running through both Thrallmar and Honor Hold, delivering a slow but steady influx of goods.
“I’m surprised there’s much of a market for luxuries in the Lower City,” I said.
“Are you kidding me? It’s a huge market! Owning these things is a form of social capital. Makes a fellow more respected. I can’t sell very much to the Mag’har, mutants, or arakkoa, but everyone else buys.”
“Though the Aldor don’t like it much,” pointed out Danner.
“Right. The Aldor think my trade creates division among the refugees. Personally, I think a body has the right to spend the money he’s earned however he sees fit.”
“Do the Aldor actually prohibit your trade?”
“No, but they tend to interfere, make it difficult. Fortunately I have some high-paying customers among the Sha’tar, none of them draenei. That, combined with Scryer backing, means I can sell what I want.”
“The Aldor welcome those who come to lend aid, but are less friendly to outside influence,” commented Danner.
“Speaking of outside influence, what’s been happening with the Cabal lately?” asked Ozzig.
“The Cabal is another influence group in this city,” said Danner.
“They sell items that aren’t strictly legal. Fel weapons, questionable reagents, and the like,” explained Ozzig.
“Why would the refugees buy weapons? I thought the presence of the Naaru prevented violence in the city.”
“Sure it does. But what if the Naaru leave? Or the demons come busting through? I don’t necessarily like the Cabal, but I understand why they have a market."
“Are they based in the city?”
“No, they control the Bone Wastes and parts of Terokkar Forest. You know about the Shadow Council? The old orc warlock organization?”
“Most of them died during the Breaking. Those that didn’t formed the Cabal and the Kil’sorrow Cult. The Cabal and the cult aren’t really on speaking terms.”
“Wait, so agents of the Shadow Council are at work in Shattrath City?”
“There’s a market for their goods, and they don’t draw much attention to themselves. The Sha’tar are too busy to deal with them and the Aldor don’t know how to find them. Us Scryers, on the other hand, aren’t afraid to dig deep.”
“Do the Lower City residents work with you on this?”
“They tell the Scryers if they have evidence of Cabal activity, that’s really the extent of it,” said Danner.
“The problem is that the ranks of the Cabal are filled with refugees, people who either never reached Shattrath, or couldn’t survive here. A typical Cabal trooper has friends or relatives in the Lower City.”
“Do they have popular support?”
“Some. Mostly they just trade here, raise funds. The Scryers try to offer an alternative; we sell enchanted weapons to registered groups, among other goods. Aldor don’t make it easy for us, but hell, I love a challenge. Sure gives an opening to the Cabal though.”
“What do you do when you find a Cabal agent?”
“Depends. Sometimes we arrest him and hand him to the Sha’tar; they usually kill the sod. Other times we brand him on the forehead and kick him out of town. I’d kill the lot of them myself but the Aldor don’t want to alienate the refugees. Honestly, the Aldor are the biggest obstacle to winning the fight here.”
“How heavy is the police presence in the Lower City?”
“Not too heavy, and sending in a big constabulary won’t necessarily help. We need to be subtle about this. Anyway, all the skilled fighters are needed at the front, so we can’t really spare many operatives for the streets. We rely on unofficial sources. The Cabal’s biggest in Honorhome, the Horde Remnant neighborhood. It's pretty much an open secret.”
“Every orc there has a brother in the Cabal," added Danner.
Ozzig excused himself, needing to attend a business meeting with a Lower City representative. With him gone, Danner and I walked up a covered pathway leading to the library.
“I am not at all sure that the Cabal is much of a threat,” remarked Danner.
“Why is that?”
“Like Ozzig said, they do not really do very much.”
“But they serve the Burning Legion.”
“So? Warlocks practice freely in your Undercity and Silvermoon. Gnomish warlocks operate in Ironforge. The Horde and Alliance both find them useful.”
“Those warlocks do not necessarily serve demons.”
“Those who dabble in fel magic rarely start by serving demons, but often end up doing so. Anyway, I do not really blame the Shattrath authorities for persecuting the Cabal; I simply think they are overzealous. Besides: there are at least a few among the Scryers interested in what the Cabal is selling.”
Danner changed the subject and described the Seer’s Library.
“The Seer’s Library is the biggest of its kind in Outland. Most of the books come from Azeroth, not old Draenor. Not many pre-Breaking texts survive, and those that do are usually held by the Aldor.”
“Are there many books from Silvermoon?”
“The majority come from there. It’s really a hodgepodge; the Scryers accept any book that interests them. Go there and you can find extremely thoughtful philosophical works right next to the Seregol Adalan's incoherent ravings.”
Seregol was a discredited mage who wrote a number of spiritual guides and prophetic warnings in the years after the Second War, all of questionable provenance. His lurid descriptions attracted a sizeable readership, but the real cataclysm of the Third War soon made his works irrelevant.
“Can anyone go into the library?”
“Anyone except for the Aldor, though only Scryers can check books out. The Scryers are very keen to spread their knowledge, less so their wine. Most of the patrons are Scryer or Sha’tar, though I sometimes see gnomes and high elves from the Lower City.”
The entrance of the Seer’s Library is a wide hallway that terminates in a domed room of grand proportions. Packed bookshelves lined the walls. Stacks of books totter next to the shelves, the library lacking room to accommodate everything. Golden chandeliers bedecked with blue flame float in the air, and animated lights hover over the shoulders of patrons. A power plant of arcane energy hangs from the ceiling in the central room, its massive iron spheres rotating in silence.
Robed Scryers attend the library at all times. Some bury themselves in research, combing through texts for morsels of forgotten knowledge. Others quietly discuss matters of philosophical interest. The Seer’s Library is still very much a Scryer venue. Wine flows freely and hookah smoke fills the air.
“Amazing!” I exclaimed. “But doesn’t the smoke damage the books?”
“The books are all under arcane protection. Whatever my complaints about the elves, they do know how to enjoy themselves. Can you imagine the old Dalaran student library ever being like this?”
“Quite easily. Didn’t you ever go there after hours? The head librarian was typically inebriated once the sun went down, along with half the faculty," I said, feeling myself smile at the memory.
“What? What were you doing there after hours?”
I paused, suddenly embarrassed. I'd never told anyone of my failed attempts to reach the proscribed texts in the upper chambers. I only sought certain esoteric histories, not anything so dangerous as tomes of forbidden magic. I knew the punishment to be no more than an extended loss of privilege, which I deemed an acceptable risk. Idle curiosity drove me to it, and the magical defenses on those books kept them out of reach.
“Come now, Destron, what were you doing there? Is there some wild side you never revealed to me?”
“Not exactly. I’ll tell you later,” I said, not really wishing to discuss it.
“Careful, I’m holding you to that promise. I need to know about this,” laughed Danner.
The Seer’s Library gave me the perfect opportunity to learn more about Scryer philosophy. My source came in the form of an older Sin’dorei Magister named Beshelan Summerdawn. I met him while reclining in a divan, a goblet of dark wine in his bird-like right hand. Initially reticent, he opened up once I gave him the Telaari wine.
“We Scryers are a strange group. None of us will deny it. Our philosophy is one of diffusion and disagreement. Dissent is the only unifying force. What do you know of Voren’thal Eversong, our leader?”
“The last scion of House Eversong, he pledged himself to Kael’thas despite his failing health. The Magister’s College counted Voren’thal as among the greatest of their number, so Kael’thas was glad to accept.”
“Excuse me, I just find it interesting that you refer to Kael’thas by his name. I’ve never met a blood elf who did that.”
“Most our kind languish in ignorance of his true nature. The Sun King is a demon, pure and simple. Voren’thal realized this.”
“If I may ask, what happened to Kael’thas?”
“He embraced corruption. Where once he sought to restore Quel’thalas, he now seeks to forge an infernal new dominion, barely related to our fallen kingdom.”
“What inspired Voren’thal to abandon Kael’thas?”
“Revelation, my Forsaken friend. The Naaru called to Voren’thal, taking him to many worlds beyond our own in a voyage of the mind. This journey revealed fundamental truths obscured by Kael’thas’ lies. Voren’thal vowed to seek these Naaru, and they accepted him, confirming his beliefs.”
“He shared these beliefs with the other Scryers?”
“Everything he saw is laid out in the Illuminated Scripture, but his vision is more important to him than it is to you or I. The Naaru are not of this world; they are the Glorious Other! Why should they concern themselves with dogma and rules? They speak to those who are ready, revealing personal truths.”
“Visions true to our experiences, tailored to the viewer alone.”
“So each Scryer has experienced a different revelation?”
“Not at all. Most are unenlightened, including myself. Voren’thal merely gives us a place where we might achieve enlightenment, to seek out the Naaru in whatever way we see fit.”
“How do you seek Them out?”
“Do you ask how I seek Them? Or how you should?”
“The answer is different for each person. Do not trust me to tell you, for I do not know your experience. Seek Them out yourself. I see the Naaru as illuminations of the purest Light, bringers of joy. Should then we not celebrate our lives? There is more holiness in wine and love than in the cold prayers of the Aldor.”
“You disapprove of asceticism?”
“For myself. Some Scryers have found their vision through fasting and self-denial, though I would never see the Naaru that way. The Naaru transcend law and tradition, race, and nation. They reach into your burning soul, attracted by inspiration! What is true for you leads to Their truth.”
“I think I see. But what if, and this is purely hypothetical, one finds his truth in cruelty and greed?”
“I doubt the Naaru would ever reach such an individual.”
“But if They did?”
“I trust Their reasoning. I do not dismiss morality, yet you must remember that the morality of the Naaru is not the same as that which is practiced by the mortal races.”
“Do you think the Aldor are wrong?”
“Probably not, at least not for themselves. Communal thought may be the only way for the Aldor to reach the Naaru. Yet we shall not stand idle as they extend their laws upon us. We are beholden only to the Naaru. Think of it this way; we followed Kael’thas, the Sun King whom we all revered as our true leader. He gave us over to the tyranny of demons. Why should we allow some ancient draenic priesthood to lead us? Only the Naaru are beyond error, beyond reproach. I know this because they do not rule us through demands and laws. They speak to the divine spark within each of us. The Aldor wish to serve the Naaru. We seek to become them, and join them in everlasting wonder.”
Not every Scryer shares Beshelan’s mystic bent. Many Scryers are retainers of House Eversong, and felt obliged to follow their lord even at the cost of serving their king. Tradition brought them to radicalism. Most of the deeply philosophical Scryers are scions of Great Houses, or non-Sin’dorei.
As Beshelan said, each Scryer has an individual method of touching the divine. A few adopt ascetic practices, sitting cross-legged on the ledge behind the library, going for days without sustenance. Visions of the Light stream across their fevered eyes. Others adopt a more scholarly approach, reading obscure and even blasphemous books in order to find the path to the Naaru.
“If I may ask, how does it help you to read demonic grimoires?”
I was speaking to a Sin’dorei woman named Lalaire Skyblaze, a retainer to Lord Voren’thal Eversong. More than most retainers, she took to her master’s philosophy of personal revelation.
“I am not sure if it does. Nearly everyone agrees that the Light embraces all thinking, aware beings. I use my intellect to see what truths lie in these foul words. Everyone knows the Exegesis of the Light; I have studied it extensively. Perhaps the answer lies elsewhere.”
“Do you fear demonic corruption?”
“Only a fool would not fear it. Yet I trust my reason to guide me past the corruption. If the Light exists in these pages, I hope to find it.”
“Aren’t there better books for that though?”
Her eyes narrowed.
“I don’t expect to find my revelation by reading the same books as everyone else. The traditional theological works have not illuminated the path, not for me. I shall look elsewhere. Better to try at redemption and fail than to never try at all.”
The Scryers are remarkably honest about achieving revelation, at least as far as I can tell. Only seven, including Voren’thal, make the claim. True to their philosophy, each came about it a different way. Erasaelleon Dawnsail achieved enlightenment through ecstatic dance and prayer. Norestee Glimmerlight found her enlightenment in arcane study. Eduard Balok, a Forsaken, achieved it through suffering and deprivation.
I took some time to peruse Voren’thal’s Illuminated Scripture, multiple copies of which are available in the Seer’s Library. Whatever its philosophical content there’s no denying that the Illuminated Scripture is a fantastic work of art. Rather than pure text, the pages are brilliant relief etchings, combining words and images. These were all done personally by Voren’thal. Put to paper, his visions portray an unseen world of gods and angels dancing in storms of light and darkness. The stylized figures look ready to leap off the page and into reality. Originally written in Thalassian, the version I read was a Common translation, outlining the author’s revelation in epic verse.
I left the Scryers’ Tier with Danner that evening, thinking about what I learned there. I am not sure that I entirely trust the Scryers; they seem dangerously self-absorbed. At the same time, I appreciate the fact that they provide an individualistic counterpart to the Aldor. If one or the other came to rule Outland, I think I might prefer Scryer neglect to Aldor control.
The hope for Outland ultimately lies in the Sha’tar, who are in a better position to gain control than either the Aldor or the Scryers. Being less ideologically-driven, the Sha’tar take a moderate and pragmatic approach. This tendency is furthered by the presence of Lower City refugees in their ranks.
I do find it interesting that A’dal remains silent as to which philosophy is closer to the Light: Aldor, or Scryer. Some might take Its silence as proof of the Scryer belief system, but I think such statements are premature. Perhaps It recognizes the flaws and benefits in both groups, and waits for them to improve. Perhaps both are completely incorrect.
Honorhome is a world away from the tidy streets of Gear Town. Despite its grand name, it’s clear that no one cares much about the place. A permanent haze shrouds the neighborhood, the result of the giant cookfires that the orcs set alight each day. Sounds of boisterous revelry fill the plaza as aged warriors brag about past exploits over cheap beer and bad food in the sagging hide tents that serve as taverns.
An ancient orc barbarian staggered out from a tent, his scarred face set in a scowl. One bleary eye glared at me from the wrinkled face, daring me to take up arms against him.
The grazing pens are the only part of Honorhome that look new, their fences are in good condition and the grass green. Herders, mostly humans and Broken, look after their charges. I saw Armin, the shepherd I met earlier, and waved. He smiled back at me.
An orcish adolescent sat nearby, sharpening a broad knife. He occasionally looked up, his intelligent eyes revealing a restless boredom. I managed to strike up a conversation with him, and in so doing learned more about Honorhome. His name was Ruhk.
“This place is dead. More dead than you. At least you walk about,” he said.
“I don’t see much going on here except drinking.”
“That’s all there is! Those herdsmen will take over while our fathers drown in beer. Let them, I say. The time of the Old Horde is over.”
“Do many of the younger orcs feel as you do?”
“Only the foolish and weak stay here for long. I would rather be a peon in your Horde than a warrior in this one. Not as if anyone here can fight any longer. I remember when my father stood brave against the other gangs in the city. His spirit died when the Naaru came.”
“Doesn’t he have to at least take care of the herds?”
“No, he has people to do that for him. How would I join the New Horde? Do I just go through the portal and ask the nearest warrior?”
“I’m not sure of the exact procedure, though I’m sure it’s something like that. You will have to pass trials.”
“I can do it! I’ve been practicing with my friends outside of town. See this?” Ruhk lifted up his sleeve, revealing a scar on his left arm. “I got that sparring. I already have a warrior’s wounds!”
“You spar with metal weapons?”
“Uh, no. I tripped and cut myself on a sharp rock. Still, I got it while I was practicing. That has to impress the warriors, right?”
“I’m sure they’ll take it into account.”
“You sound like you aren’t sure.”
“As I said, I do not know the details.”
“I suppose I could join the Sha’tar. I respect them.”
“I’ve heard that many young people in the Lower City join the Sha’tar.”
“Some. A lot of the whelps here join the Cabal; they’ll accept nearly anyone.”
“Do you plan to join them?”
“No. I know the history of my race. The demons bring nothing but woe. I hate demons. If I see one, I will kill him!”
“Good. Does the Cabal have a big presence in Honorhome?”
“Go into any of the drinking tents; you’ll probably find at least two Cabal agents in there.”
“Can the Sha’tar do anything about that?”
“No. They have no proof. We like the Sha'tar as warriors, not as police.”
All the races of the Old Horde once made their base in Honorhome, but today only the orcs remain. The ogres and goblins long since went their separate ways, and the forest trolls only maintain a tenuous connection to the orcs. The trolls hail from the Mossflayer Tribe, the only tribe to go through the Dark Portal in any great number. The tribe’s warriors were unable to return to the north as the Horde retreated. This lack of warriors made the Mossflayer easy prey for the Scourge, many years later.
The trolls actually live outside of the city walls in a tiny village called Mashar’jin, going out into the forest to hunt game. No more than a few families live there, the number of Mossflayers in Outland having never been large. They sell choice bits of meat to the orcs at a discount, and sell the rest on the open market at full price.
Some of the orcs in Honorhome hail from the ogre-led Laughing Skull Clan. The Laughing Skull originated in Farahlon, and made an arduous trek to Nagrand after the Breaking. Murkblood raiders attacked soon after the clan settled. The Broken demanded that the ogres turn over their orcish subjects. Those orcs who survived the resulting massacre made their way to Shattrath.
The arakkoa neighborhood of Skilika looms over Honorhome like a dying bird of prey. A jumble of bulging wooden huts built around trees, it covers the northern end of the Lower City. Bands of Lost One scavengers dwell in the shadows beneath Skilika, their pale bodies only emerging at night. Moldering suspension bridges connect the huts at high levels, traversed by hunched arakkoa refugees. Canvas roofs of bruised magenta and purple cover the huts like stretched skins.
Few people venture into Skilika. Even the draenei find the arakkoa unsettling. Worse yet is the horrendous stench that clings to each surface in Skilika. The arakkoa, like most birds, have a poor sense of smell.
A strange chill ran down my spine when I saw a lone arakkoa at the edge of Skilika. I could not tell what disturbed me so much about his appearance. Perhaps it was his cruel mauve beak, which looked like a dangerous weapon, or the yellow slits that served as eyes. He gripped a staff in pebbled talons, walking towards me in an odd, limping gait. His shoulders, like those of all arakkoa, were uneven.
I thought he was going to say something yet he walked by without a word. I momentarily felt like going back to Danner’s home, but forced myself to continue. I went up the rickety suspension bridge leading to Skilika proper, the boards groaning with every step. Danner told me that the arakkoa have hollow bones, making them quite light despite their ponderous appearance.
I walked into a terrible mess, heaps of rags and bones covering the floor. An arakkoa stood behind a complex array of glass vials and powder bowls, his talons twitching as they turned the pages of a massive book. Scraps of festering black meat lay on the desk, mysteriously free of flies. His head flicked up in a quick movement when he heard me. He wore a cumbersome headdress of bones, sticks, and gray feathers.
“What do you want, dead one?” he screeched in Orcish. I winced at the sound.
“I wanted to learn more about the arakkoa. Is this a bad time?”
“No, not at all. Do not mind my voice, I am not angry. The Orcish tongue does not come naturally to my race. Great difficulty in speaking. What do you wish to learn?”
I noticed a filthy nest lying next to tree trunk that supported the hut. Two pinkish eggs lay in straw, surrounded by rags and broken idols.
“Whose eggs are those?”
“I am the mother. Beautiful eggs, no? A harsh world awaits them, so I care for them well.”
“Oh, I see. Congratulations on your soon-to-be-hatched brood.”
“A few more months yet, dead one.”
“Do you need to warm the eggs?”
“Simple sorceries do that for us, though I sleep in the nest each night. What do you wish to know about the arakkoa?”
“Whatever you’re willing to tell me. I know almost nothing about your race.”
“Many things are not safe to say.” Her head darted from side to side in a rapid, almost mechanical movement. “If you wish, I can show you to Matriarch Ikireekilok.”
“Is she your leader?”
“Rilak the Redeemed is our leader, but he heeds the words of the matriarch. Follow me.”
“What were you working on, if I may ask?”
“Potions. Brewing elixirs is an old art among my race.”
I became hopelessly disoriented as I followed the alchemist deeper into Skilika. She guided me up stairs, across swaying bridges, and down more stairs. We passed by many years’ worth of detritus. Bulky arakkoa stand in the shadows of the huts, veiled in smoke and steam from their experiments. I soon lost all sight of the city’s temples and citadels, wandering in a dark and stinking forest.
We finally reached a hut built over the roots of an especially large tree. Stained and spotted drapes hang around the structure. The alchemist stopped at the entryway and made a painfully loud squawk. I heard something from the interior.
“Ikireekilok will see you.”
“Thank you. I’m not sure if I can find my way back.”
“I shall wait here.”
I stepped into the hut, a dark place lit by curtains of gray light filtering in from the outside. Thick, damp sheets of canvas covered the floor and stacks of old books reached nearly to the ceiling. I could not imagine that any were still readable, even if one knew the language.
Ikireekilok was a fearsomely large arakkoa standing at the back of the hut, wearing a battered headdress similar to the alchemist’s. She spread her arms akimbo and lowered her body slightly.
“Greetings, dead one. I am Matriarch Ikireekilok. Many nests have I made in my day.”
“I am honored to meet you. My name is Destron Allicant.”
“Of the Forsaken? The fledgelings tell me much of your Horde, so dissimilar to the one that destroyed this world. What do you wish to know?”
“All about the arakkoa. The history, the religion, the culture, and anything else.”
“How old is your race, dead one?”
“The Forsaken? A mere seven years. If you mean humanity, my original race, the answer is less clear. At least ten-thousand years, probably more.”
“Ten-thousand? Already old were the arakkoa, ten-thousand years ago. You cannot imagine the long eons. Everywhere we are surrounded by the corpses of our dead nations, memories falling into time’s abyss. How many times can a race rise and fall before such change loses meaning? We ruled the world, say the time-lost, and the histories agree. Sorceries once took us beyond even the Twisting Nether.”
“Sages of our number who live outside of time. In dreams and rituals they speak to us.”
“I see,” I said, confused. “What of your more recent history?”
“Like the others we came to Shattrath as refugees. So much destroyed by the Breaking, latest of many cataclysms, not the final one. Rilak took us here from Skettis.”
“Our Hidden Kingdom, the Lie of Terokk. The Patriarch of Skettis was Terokk. As our race faded he crafted Skettis, and to us a new home was given. His delusion was our sanctuary, but no longer. The Light is our new delusion.”
“Delusion? Why would you want to be deluded?”
“There is no hope in truth.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t understand. This is a bit much for me to take in all at once. What are the time-lost again?”
“Not here, dead one. In this place do the Eyes of Terokk watch us. Some shadows are too dark for even the Light. There is one who might tell you, should you be willing to seek him. Egorak the Old can help.”
“Does he live here?”
“No. Egorak does not exist here.”
Ikireekilok hobbled over to a desk covered in dusty alchemical equipment. Sorting through cracked glass she withdrew a hollowed clefthoof horn.
“If you truly wish to learn more, this horn you must take to a place called Raastok Glade, deep in Terokkar Forest. Wait there until the midnight hour and sound the horn. There will come a messenger, offering passage to Egorak. The messenger you must shun. Sound the horn again when it leaves, there will come a second messenger. That too, you must ignore. Sound the horn a final time. This shall summon a final messenger. Follow that one to Egorak.”
She pushed the horn into my hands before gripping my shoulders. The yellow light of her eyes bored into me.
“Fraught with peril is your journey. Be sure that you desire this. Egorak does not speak the One Truth, but he describes it. That alone is too much for some.”
“Is this the only way for me to learn?”
“Than I am willing.”
“In the glade must you leave the horn, after the final messenger takes you. It shall return to me. Go now. May your delusions protect you.”
Ikireekilok ushered me out of her hut. The alchemist stood outside, inquisitive clicks issuing from her beak. She spoke with the matriarch for a few moments before Ikireekilok vanished back into the darkness. The alchemist guided me back through the rambling maze of Skilika, the harsh cries of the arakkoa rising up from the huts in a strange and terrible chorus.