Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Terokkar Forest: Part 1
I stayed in Shattrath a few days longer than I'd intended. A rainstorm from the south drenched the city, propelled forward by the memory of ocean winds. Though inclement weather is hardly an obstacle for me, I found myself unable to muster up the initiative to explore Terokkar Forest. I instead browsed the collection at the Seer’s Library. Few pleasures can match the sublime laziness of spending a rainy day in a warm library.
A gray sky promised yet more rain on the morning of my departure. Danner walked with me to the city limits. Neither of us really knew what to say. My old friend turned to me once we passed through a gatehouse and the lines of vagrants sleeping inside it.
“Destron, are you certain you want to do this? It should be safe, but you will be dealing with very dangerous people.”
“Trust me, I have experience in this sort of thing. If I can play the part of a Scourge lich, acting as a mercenary should pose no challenge.”
“I hope you’re right.”
Danner handed me a demonhide scroll, stamped with the emblem of the Cabal. He grinned as I took it.
“That’s the Cabal Writ of Passage I promised you. While no one would really care, I thought it best to keep it hidden until we got out of the city.”
“Prudent. Are they really so easy to get?”
“If you have the right connections. You can find all kinds of things in the Lower City if you know where to look. True of any city, actually. Why are you looking at me like that? I’m helping you.”
“Uh, no, I have no objection. Just a bit surprised.”
“I’m much more worldly than I was as a student. Same as you, I suppose.”
The document marked the bearer as neutral party in the eyes of the Cabal, protecting him from attack or harassment. To complete the masquerade I would pose as the agent of a fictitious goblin business called Wizlig Materials, interested in setting up lumber camps throughout Terokkar and needing Cabal protection to do so. Danner said that the Cabal would be happy to show me around. Wizlig Materials offered them an income source and a degree of respectability. The goblins are cosmopolitan enough that sending a Forsaken representative, especially to a Burning Legion affiliate, would not seem particularly unusual.
“Good luck then, Destron.”
“Goodbye. I hope our paths cross again in the future.”
I entered the dream forests of Terokkar. Olemba trees grow in profusions on both sides of the road, their coiled gray trunks thin and sharp. Hard and brittle, olemba trees break like glass when they fall. Certain alchemical treatments developed by the arakkoa give olemba timber greater resilience though they are still inferior to wood from Nagrand or most of Azeroth. Olemba seeds nestle in the dull green foliage of the canopies. Strange natural chemicals within the seeds create a pale illumination, making the trees look almost like street lamps. Gray-green crystals the size of an adult human cluster around the roots, emitting a soft glow throughout the day. The crystals lose their luster when removed, and no one has ever found a practical use for them.
The orcs used to attach great mystic significance to the deep parts of Terokkar Forest and it’s easy to see why. One cannot go through its lonely roads without the sensation of being watched. The draenic explorers who first ventured into the forests found it to their liking and soon established colonies that grew into the cities of Shattrath and Auchindoun. Terokkar’s arakkoa residents observed the new arrivals from hidden forest villages, not making contact until nearly a century later. The draenei and the arakkoa never bothered with more than token diplomatic gestures.
Orcs were latecomers to Terokkar and never settled in great numbers. While the clans of forested Shadowmoon Valley to the east grew in strength and numbers, the Terokkar orcs mostly lived at the forest edge. The Bleeding Hollow Clan was the greatest of these, and they are more accurately placed in the Nagrand cultural tradition.
Most Horde histories gloss over the ill-fated Stonebreaker Clan’s attempts to create a domain in central Terokkar Forest. Their mission started off with great promise as their leader, Ogmar Stonehowl, returned to Nagrand in triumph from his victory in the Ogre War. Though he saw relatively little of them during the actual campaign, the chieftain was fascinated by the organized draenic armies who fought alongside the orcs. He vowed to make the orcs more like the draenei and relocated his entire clan to Terokkar Forest to do just that. Many orcs from other clans followed his banner, more out of love for Ogmar than any real interest in adopting draenic civilization.
Ogmar started his dream by establishing a town called Stonebreaker Hold in the wooded foothills southeast of Shattrath. Unfortunately, Ogmar was better as a warlord than as an administrator. The remote town ran headlong into disaster, the area lacking the resources needed to support the population. Ogmar perished in a hunting accident and his followers fought a vicious succession battle that halved the population.
Stonebreaker Hold emerged from the conflict as no more than a poor village. The draenei tried to help the Stonebreakers in their early days, but were driven out by the endless infighting. The remnants of the Stonebreaker Clan joined the ranks of the Bleeding Hollow Clan in the beginning of the Horde War. The modern Horde uses Stonebreaker Hold as a regional base.
Night fell, and I rested at the foot of a stony ridge. The olemba seeds shine bright in the darkness. Because of this, visitors to Terokkar Forest often find themselves unable to sleep for the first few nights. Longtime residents consider the olemba glow a comfort.
I took out the Writ of Passage and studied it. No text or signatures adorned the blank parchment. Most of the Cabal’s troops grew up in the chaos of Outland, and literacy only exists in the upper ranks. The wax stamp suffices for most.
“The Cabal thinks of itself as a legitimate nation, and they can’t understand why the Horde and Alliance don’t recognize them as such,” Danner had said.
Finding the Cabal posed a more difficult issue. Their holdings are scattered and tend to shift according to the political situation. My best chance was to flag down a Cabal patrol; even grunts respected a Writ of Passage, suggesting a high level of organization. The Cabal’s power base lies in the Bone Waste, though Danner said they always maintained some presence in the forests.
Few people travel the roads between Shattrath City and the Bone Waste, heightening the forest’s lonely feel. The Broken had once built isolated hamlets throughout the region. Most of the residents fled to Shattrath once the Naaru made it safe.
I met a young Broken woman named Skova five days after leaving Shattrath. Skova searched the forest for rare and valuable herbs which she sold to the arakkoa in Shattrath. We talked for a few minutes and I asked her about the Cabal.
“I do not see Cabal soldiers very often. None this trip, though I met a patrol on the one before.”
“Do they give you any trouble?”
“Oh, no. I am no threat to them. My father is in the Cabal.”
“How did that come about?”
“He used to be a big warrior in the Wastewalker Tribe. The Illidari came and made him a slave, put him to work building forts in the Bone Waste. The Cabal set him and the others free, though many Wastewalker are still slaves in Zangarmarsh. Others live in Shattrath, like me.”
“I did not know that. I’m glad to hear the Cabal did such a thing. Do they traffic with demons?”
“Sure. Plenty of demons in Outland though, so I’m not so worried. The Cabal is better than the Illidari.”
“Do you think there can be peace between Shattrath and the Cabal?”
“No, there is never peace in Outland. They will fight one day.”
“Does it bother you that your father will fight the Naaru?”
“Yes. I told him to leave the Cabal, but he cannot. The Naaru haven’t freed the Wastewalker in Zangarmarsh, so the Cabal did more for our people. My father owes everything to the Cabal.”
Much as I owe everything to our Dark Lady, despite my disgust with Undercity’s government.
A wall of bare and broken trees guards the edge of the Bone Waste, a grim desert that touches the southern edge of Outland. Once a teeming forest, a pair of mysterious cataclysms rendered it utterly desolate. No reliable documentation exists for the first, which occurred before the Alliance Expeditionary Force besieged the Horde forces occupying the fallen draenic city of Auchindoun.
The second disaster is similarly obscure, and occurred recently. A blast of concussive force, centered on the ruins of Auchindoun, destroyed the pockets of forest that survived the first incident. Most blame the Shadow Council, which formed the Cabal soon after the devastation. Energies from the explosion are what first attracted the ethereals to Outland, though even they do not know exactly what caused it.
The treeline stops at an expanse of gray dust that extends beyond the horizon. Sanaum slabs from fallen Auchindoun litter the waste, offering a bleak respite from the terrain’s monotony. Auchindoun was once the great mortuary citadel of the draenei. Those who perished in the service of the Holy Light enjoyed the supreme honor of eternal rest in its tombs. In death, they served as exemplars to all races. The draenei buried the holy dead in groups, according to deed or manner of death. This was to avoid the individualism associated with private tombs, though the occupants’ names were maintained in separate records for posterity.
No one can say how so many of the bones survived the explosions. The force should have shattered such fragile materials. Despite this, nearly intact bones lie in gruesome heaps all across the desert, hillsides of eye sockets staring out to the emptiness. Vultures, rats, and mutant worms clatter through the disinterred bodies. The bones provide little nourishment, but newer deaths are common enough to support a small scavenger population.
The experienced traveler associates the desert with quietude, but there is nothing natural about the oppressive silence in the Bone Waste. All noise is dampened as if by magic. I could barely hear my own footsteps, and speech came out as a whisper. Bones rattle noiselessly, blown about by unheard winds. A baleful blue light in the sky, seemingly miles across, shines cruel and distant on the dust. Ponderous burnt-green storm clouds endlessly slither through the dark orange skies.
I walked for a long time without seeing any sign of habitation. Day and night do not exist in the Bone Waste, replaced by the unwholesome glow in the sky.
Gusts of hushed wind kicked up swirls of gray dust, which soon caked my boots and coat. I’d started talking to myself in an attempt to combat the crushing silence, a silence that reminded me horribly of the Scourge.
I almost missed the thick column of black smoke crawling skyward from behind a mountain of bones. Staying near the grisly landmark, I inched around to get a better look. A trench, partially covered in bones, led to a burrow dug into the ground under the pile. The smoke poured out from the opening. The bodies of three dead Broken, a man and two women, lay sprawled at the doorway. Their corpses showed signs of struggle and the dead hands of one Broken still gripped a crude hammer.
I did not hear the killers until they surrounded me. I looked up to see an orc warrior in red armor, eyes glaring through a slit in his helmet. Someone grabbed my shoulders and pressed a notched dagger to my throat. Nearby, I saw two other warriors in identical armor lifting a struggling Broken from the ground.
“State your business!” shouted the first one, his voice distant.
“I have a Writ of Passage!” I cried. “My left coat pocket.”
The orc behind me grabbed my coat and took the parchment. I waited in breathless anticipation; I was not even sure they were of the Cabal.
“Apologies, sir. Standard procedure, you understand.”
“I understand perfectly. What happened here?”
“These wretches were attempting to summon a demon. We captured the ringleader and killed the rest.”
“Doesn’t the Cabal deal with demons?”
“Only those who are authorized. They were not, and we’ll be making a special example out of Vuulor, their leader. The Cabal’s justice is swift and without mercy; the only kind of justice that belongs on this world. Come, you must be tired. We have a base not far from here.”
The soldiers stepped back from Vuulor, who still wrestled against the cords cutting into his skin. Blood-clad, the Broken warlock spit curses at the soldiers, threatening infernal retribution. A crowd collected around the bent steel pole to which Vuulor was lashed, a motley assortment of warriors and camp followers. The mob parted to make way for a sneering Broken in black robes. Mouths moved, but I heard nothing.
The robed Broken raised his arms and I saw a stump in place of his left hand. His face strained as if bellowing, though the Bone Waste still muffled his words.
“Vuulor has broken the law! Three fools followed him; their flesh now feeds the vultures! His crime? Demonology, forbidden to those who are weak. Look around you, my friends! Reckless conjuration reduced Draenor to a ruin. Those like Vuulor would see it happen again.”
Spectators raised their fists, faces contorting in rage.
“Rest easy, friends of the Cabal. Mercy is gone from this world but justice still lives. Vuulor sought hellfire, and he shall now get what he wants.”
Vuulor twisted in his binds, his shouted oaths little more than whispers. The other Broken pointed at Vuulor. Bright flames sprang to life in Vuulor’s wounds and raced across his body. The doomed warlock howled as he blazed, a nightmarish torch burning bright in the gloom.
The hellfire dimmed to a smolder, Vuulor’s flesh still crackling and breaking. The robed Broken declared that justice reigned once more and the crowd dispersed. I stood alone, unable to look away from the corpse. The Cabal deemed Vuulor a dangerous warlock, and the Broken’s words and actions reinforced that, but the swift brutality of his execution frightened me. I did nothing to stop it, though there was not really any way for me to help him.
Pitted sanaum obelisks mark the spot of the Shadow Tomb, a draenic ruin within sight of Vuulor’s pyre. Built to inter heroes slain by shadow magic, the Cabal uses the crypt for a more pragmatic purpose. From there, Cabal generals plan their slow invasion of the forests to the north. A city of dust-covered tents sprawls around the tomb complex.
The Cabal set up Vuulor’s execution as soon as we arrived. Only later did I meet with a senior Cabal official named Riollo Venacci. A bald and wind-scoured human, he offered a faint smile upon seeing me. We met inside a black tent just outside the Shadow Tomb. I introduced myself as Elderus Whittel, a Forsaken mage who had moved to Booty Bay after becoming disillusioned with the Horde.
“Can you hear me? It takes time to get used to the quiet here,” said Riollo.
“I can hear you. I was meaning to ask, why doesn’t sound carry in the Bone Waste?”
“Decades of arcane misuse do strange things to a land. I hope you were not disturbed by the Vuulor’s death. We cannot delay such things, however.”
“I understand. Outland is certainly a brutal place.”
“Now, please tell me more about Wizlig Materials.”
I gave a brief outline of the fictitious company’s history and goals, describing it as an upstart in the goblin marketplace. Pretending to be a commercial representative is actually much more difficult than playing the role of a Scourge lich. The former demands logical explanations and finesse, while the later only requires bombastic decrees.
“How do you ship materials into Outland?”
“Through the Dark Portal.”
“Don’t the Alliance and the Horde keep a strong grip on that place?”
“They do not interfere with goblin trade.”
“I hope not. The Cabal has little need of money; we need experts.”
“Engineers, agriculturalists, and the like. Outland is a benighted place, far behind Azeroth in terms of development. No one here really knows much about establishing infrastructure.”
“I see. Setting up lumber camps would create some degree of that.”
“Not enough, I’m afraid.”
“Fine, but you’ll also get experts. We can put some on loan, have them service your people.”
“That may work. I must tell you that I’m only a regional commander, I’m not authorized to make decisions for the Cabal. If your offer seems beneficial, I will send you to Auchindoun to speak with someone higher in rank. If not, then you should probably return to Shattrath.”
“I’d like to reach Auchindoun, so I’ll see if I can accommodate you on this.”
The discussion went on for some time. My wearied brain desperately tried to keep track of the offered figures, and I began to suspect that my mission was doomed. Riollo finally nodded and told me he would think about my offer and send word to Auchindoun in the morning.
“In the meantime, make yourself at home. You should be fine as long as you keep your Writ on display.”
“May I ask how long this would take?”
“An infernal messenger will deliver the report through fel channels, so you should know in a few days.”
“Thank you very much.”
“Thank you. We weren’t sure anyone on Azeroth knew about us.”
“I’m sure they will soon,” I said, with a smile. Riollo chuckled at my comment. “How did you come to join the Cabal, if you do not mind my asking.”
“That goes back to the glory days of the Alliance Expeditionary Force. I was a mage in the Tirasi complement, stationed out in Shadowmoon Valley. Most of us died in the year after the Breaking; a few of us escaped Shadowmoon and reached the Bone Waste. I’m not sure how long we spent in the southeastern corner of forest, right up against the edge of the world. When we encountered the Shadow Council, we thought it was war.”
“Magtheridon’s demons rampaged through Outland in those days and cared little about who they killed. Plenty of Shadow Council warlocks died at their hands. The warlocks offered a truce, and we fell into their ranks.”
“Was this the genesis of the Cabal?”
“You could say that. The warlocks were surprisingly receptive to us. I think the Breaking shocked them as much as it did anyone. They knew they would have to be more careful in dealing with demons, hence the need to execute unauthorized diabolists.”
“Is the Cabal in league with the Burning Legion?”
“We are. The Burning Legion seeks to remake the cosmos. Most demon cultists thought this best expressed in wanton slaughter, but we understand the importance of organization. Too much random violence is self-defeating. The destruction of the universe will come when Great Sargeras decides it is time. Until then, we shall keep our house in order so that we may better meet the needs of the Burning Crusade.”
“That’s actually a very good idea.”
“We think so. Outland was in complete disarray before we came here. Many do not realize it, but justice is an important quality for the Burning Legion. Those who do well by the Legion’s standards deserve reward; those who fail must be punished. The old Shadow Council tended to ignore this, the whims of their leaders becoming law. No one in the Cabal is immune from the Law of Sargeras any longer, not even the Shadow Lords.”
I am not sure I would agree with Riollo’s definition of justice. Even so, the Cabal presented an atypical example of a demonic cult. Much as Danner said, they seem to consider themselves a legitimate country.
No one is idle around the Shadow Tomb. Soldiers train and patrol throughout the day, while camp followers cook meals and repair the weapons. Though not technically warriors, the followers carry clubs or spears at all times, and exhibit proficiency in their use.
Though orcs comprise much of the Cabal elite, the leadership also includes a number of humans and Broken. The constant battles against rampaging demons and Illidari forged a common bond between these disparate races. Many of the Cabal’s humans owe their lives to orcs, and vice versa. Even the Broken, who have more reason than anyone else to hate the orcs, respect the Cabal leadership. I asked a Broken ditch digger named Forun about this attitude.
“I remember what the orcs did to the draenei. I was there! I still hear the screams of my people. I also remember how the draenei expelled us mutants. The Broken here are Broken; nothing more, and nothing less. We are not draenei, not anymore, so we do not care what the draenei think. All we know is to survive, and the Cabal helps us do that.”
“How did you live before the Cabal?”
“Those were terrible times! I was in the Wastewalker Tribe; we had to fight demons, orc brigands, Broken, and even the restless dead! No time for peace, only for war. Then the Cabal came, said they would protect us if we served them. The Cabal does not have any mercy! If you cause trouble, they kill you like that!” he exclaimed, chopping with his hand to emphasize the point. “But they are good. The draenei love mercy, and the Light, they say it is good. Maybe so. But we do not have the Light any longer.”
“What do you think about those Broken who still believe in the Light? Or those who practice shamanism in an attempt to heal themselves?”
“I do not care about them. They can do whatever they want. The Cabal saved my life, and the lives of my children. Without them we’d be dead, or Illidari slaves.”
While I can understand (if not condone) the expulsion of the Broken from mainstream draenic society, the fact remains that their banishment created many repercussions. However brutal the Cabal, they at least created some degree of stability for their subjects. At the same time, I think this stability is largely illusory. The Cabal only solves the problem of anarchy with perpetual war.
Three meals are served throughout the day, a stew of beans and meat portioned out from massive steel cauldrons. The food comes from a fertile region on the Bone Waste’s western edge. Auchindoun is still the Cabal’s capital, but their farmland is the base of their power. The arrangement is not dissimilar to the Kil’sorrow fiefdom in Nagrand, though better organized. Many of the Cabal soldiers are shuttled back and forth between the farms and the front, doing work on both ends.
I sat next to a lean human soldier named Aturan. Only fourteen years of age, his hard life made him look much older.
“This is my second time at the front,” he boasted.
“How do you like it here?”
“I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else! I hate farming, and I love battle.”
“Is that a common feeling among the Cabal?”
“Yes. The Cabal is the toughest group you’ll find in Outland. We kill anyone who opposes us, no questions asked.”
“Do you feel any loyalty towards the Alliance?”
“No. The Alliance never did anything for me! The Alliance sent my father and mother to die on Draenor, but they didn’t. They became strong and they raised me, and my brothers! The Alliance is soft, and the Horde’s not much better. We’ll make both of them pay.”
By his reasoning, the Alliance had done something for him, at least indirectly. However I just nodded, feeling quite unhappy at his situation. Cheers went up behind me as a trooper won big on a game of dice. The Cabal soldiers enjoy high morale, even though it masks an inner depravity. No one there hopes for anything other than war, and they gleefully swap atrocity stories. Eyes light up at mention of Shattrath, and the riches inside. While hardly a wealthy city, it must seem quite splendid to the Cabal. Older warriors take a more moderate stance towards Shattrath, as more than a few of them have friends or relatives in the Lower City. I asked a middle-aged orc officer if he ever felt torn.
“At times. Ultimately, I must serve the Cabal.”
I watched a human worker scrape Vuulor off the pole the next morning. Not even the vultures touched the warlock’s fel-charred flesh. Summary executions are a punishment for even relatively minor transgressions. Discipline is the foundation of the Cabal, and the trait to which they owe much of their success. However, I am doubtful of the claim that their leaders are accountable to the same laws as everyone else. The Shadow Lords are simply too secretive for me to believe that.
The dashing and fearsome appearance of the Cabal soldiers belies the often poor quality of their equipment. The armor offers fair protection, but is really more for projecting a professional image. This is not to say that the Cabal is unconcerned about quality; they do the best they can with what they possess. However, they simply do not have the resources they need. Much of the armor consists of hand-downs from the Second War, reforged to fit new bodies. The Cabal outsources their armor crafting needs to the Memories of Worlds, a rogue ethereal group with holdings in Auchindoun, though they dislike this arrangement.
I entered the Shadow Tomb on my second day. Riollo told me that I was free to enter so long as I did not set foot in the deepest sanctum. A steep and narrow staircase leads to dark, sanaum-walled anteroom. The Cabal cares nothing for the state of the bodies, the draenic bones spilled on the floor. I passed through a doorway to my left and stepped into a magnificent funerary chamber. Cabal warlocks and magi walk among bones stacked high under the vaulted ceiling, their shadows stretched in light cast by iron braziers of green flame. The draenei had put great effort into designing the tomb, a glory still visible beneath the demonic glyphs painted all over the walls. Alterations in the construction material turned the normally bronze sanaum into somber colors of black and blue. Open vaults had been carved into the walls, the occupants lying in pieces on the floor.
A crude altar at the back of the room acts as a centerpiece, adorned with bowls of blood and ancient books. The bearded orc standing behind the altar raised his arms, his fingers twisting in the air. Other Cabal notables stood in observance. Violet lights began swirling around the orc, a dizzying and alien brightness in the defiled tomb. Shadows took a beastly form, the hungry eyes of a voidwalker opening in the murk.
“Very good. Remember the motions Kanog made with his hands; the patterns they traced expedited the summoning. This is a matter of life and death on the battlefield,” lectured a human. Getting a better look, I recognized him as Riollo.
The Shadow Tomb also serves as a repository of valuable draenic artifacts. Cabal artificers corrupt these artifacts, infusing them with demonic spirits of anguish and bitterness. The resulting product is of more use to the Cabal. Similar draenic ruins exist throughout the Bone Waste, and are of great interest to the power groups of Auchindoun. The Broken in the Cabal find it easy to disrespect the sacred dead, feeling no commonality with their old culture.
Those in the Shadow Tomb were generally too busy to speak with me so I soon returned to the surface. Riollo offered me some wine that evening, which I accepted. Alcoholic drinks in the Cabal usually come from the Lower City markets. The beverage in question was Telaari wine, of the same variety I’d given to Beshelan in Scryers’ Tier.
“I dislike Telaari wine; the tangy flavor is bereft of any complexity. Yet a Tirasi Pinot nero is far beyond my reach, so I must make do. You know, I never imagined I would be working with the Shadow Council. Had you told me such a thing 30 years ago I’d have cursed you as a liar. Time does strange things to us all. I do not suppose you ever imagined yourself as being undead?”
“Farthest thing from my mind, as a youth.”
“Youth rarely thinks of death. That’s why I volunteered for the Alliance Expeditionary Force. I imagined a grand adventure in a strange realm. They promised us land of our own! Surely that was worth a bit of risk.”
“Do you think you shall ever return to the Alliance?”
Riollo paused, eyes cast down to the violet wine in his cup.
“No. I’m far beyond that. The Alliance brought me here, and the Cabal took me in. I fought heart and soul for the Shadow Lords, and I do not regret it. One must never regret surviving.”
“I can understand that. Living humans persecute the Forsaken back on Azeroth. My kind has also gone beyond morality in order to survive.”
I do not condone the actions of the Apothecarium. However, I wanted to ingratiate myself with Riollo, and in so doing learn more about the Cabal.
“Victims like you or I sometimes find ways to fight back. You cannot imagine the horrors we saw after the Breaking. Horde clans set upon each other like rabid animals as demons poured through rifts and grew fat on the slaughter. Humans died in droves; half our number perished in the first few weeks. We attacked orc stragglers, stole from Broken, committed the atrocities we once swore to fight. Summoning demons is a trifling sin after so much carnage.”
“Did all of the human survivors in your group join the Cabal?”
“Not all, a few went north. Some got to Shattrath, a few to Allerian Stronghold. The rest probably died. They were fools for leaving. The Naaru cannot protect them forever. The Cabal does protect its own. Our universe is already a hell, and we refuse to pretend otherwise. Brutality and cruelty are the only means to establish security. When I am gone, my son and daughter will continue suppressing chaos and killing our enemies.”
“I did not know you had children.”
“Five, though only two survive today. Ontonina works in Auchindoun while Arturo trains for battle in the home territories.”
“You must be proud.”
“They will continue my war, as will their children, until Sargeras is ready. Not what I planned, but such is what happened.”
Riollo took a long draught, finished the cup, and sighed. He abruptly changed the subject to my own experiences, asking me questions about Azeroth. He knew that Kul Tiras still existed, but had only a vague knowledge about other parts of the world. We discussed this until he retired for the night.
Riollo informed me the next morning that the Shadow Lords were interested in my offer.
“You will not speak to the Shadow Lords directly; they rarely leave the confines of the Shadow Labyrinth. Instead, you will meet with a representative, a Broken woman named Seluusa. We do not want to keep her waiting so I’ve arranged for you to leave before noon. I hope this is not an inconvenience?”
“Not at all.”
Two mounted Cabal soldiers were assigned to protect me on the journey across the Bone Waste. Riollo summoned a demonic felsteed for my use. The felsteed is a fearsome beast, a horse with fire-blackened skin, hooves and eyes burning with hellish light.
“Treat it as you would a normal horse. Those riding a felsteed experience some side-effects; they are alarming, but pose no danger to you,” said Riollo.
“What kind of side-effects?”
“Hints of demonic presence. Go ahead, mount up.”
I nodded, not really feeling very confident. A shrill scream escaped from the felsteed’s pitch-colored mouth and the fiery mane flared in response. I gripped the felsteed’s back, the texture of its skin rough like stone, and put my foot in a stirrup of bone. Hoisting myself upwards I found myself seated in a demonhide saddle.
“I hope you have a profitable meeting with Seluusa. Safe travels, Elderus.
My escorts spurred their mounts into action and we soon galloped across the desolation. The world around me shifted, the gray emptiness taking on a reddish hue. Hot winds blew at my back and carried the distant screams of tortured souls. I suppressed the panic welling up in my chest. Memory dredged up an old tale I used to hear as a child, of strange horses that carried their riders to Hell. A silly story, but perhaps based on a grain of truth.
Though unpleasant, felsteeds present an efficient mode of travel. They do not tire and can race for hours at a time. The flats of the Bone Waste sped by as we neared Auchindoun, the shattered skyline of its monumental walls growing larger on the horizon.
I thought back to what I knew about Auchindoun. While Shattrath and Karabor had served as the political and religious centers of draenic society (at least to the extent that those two spheres could be separated), Auchindoun became a vast tomb. Back in Nagrand, Unota had explained how the Naaru, D’ore, perished in the landing of Oshu’gun. Due to the cataclysmic side-effects of a Naaru death, the draenei buried It far from the crash site, setting up wards to prevent the remnants from destroying the landscape.
Prophet Velen praised the sacrifice that D’ore made in guiding the draenei to the new world. The shrine around the burial site quickly expanded into a thriving city. As D’ore lay beneath the ground, Auchindoun seemed a fitting place in which to place the fallen draenic heroes. Though epic in size, Auchindoun’s living population never grew very large.
Auchindoun was the first of the great cities to fall. Warriors of the Bleeding Hollow, Shadowmoon, and Twilight’s Hammer Clans made quick work of the defenders. The Horde necrolytes could scarcely believe their luck in finding such a wealth of bodies. Corpse divisions soon marched through the streets. Orcish magic was not powerful enough to sustain them beyond the city’s boundaries, but the undead garrison in Auchindoun allowed the Horde armies to continue their bloody campaign. The Shadow Council chose Auchindoun as their headquarters. There they plotted and grew in power. Warlocks plundered the abandoned draenic libraries, learning more about the wicked Eredar demons whom they served.
Auchindoun declined in importance during the First War as the mightiest warlocks went through the Dark Portal into Azeroth. The first great disaster occurred around this time, laying waste to the forests around Auchindoun. The Shadow Council blamed this on the ineptitude of the local warlocks and purged many of them, though it is anyone's guess as to who was truly at fault. Death Knights moved in to take their place, and ruled Auchindoun until the Alliance Expeditionary Force harrowed the city.
Auchindoun’s defenses, though formidable, had declined since the glory days of the Old Horde. The tattered undead garrison posed little challenge to the Alliance paladins. A few of the remaining Shadow Council warlocks, led by Grand Master Vorpil, hid in the subterranean catacombs. They waited until the Alliance left before returning as the Cabal.
We made good time on the journey and reached Auchindoun’s crumbling northern gate after a few days. The Shadow Council’s violet banner stands tall in the broken lands just outside the gate. Tents flood the edge of the city, crowded with red-armored soldiers and shadowy warlocks. The felsteeds slowed to a trot as we neared the ruins, passing by Cabal patrols. Krig, the lead escort, stopped at pile of broken masonry filling a gap in the wall. Three Cabal soldiers stood guard.
“Courier Seventeen,” barked Krig, brandishing a blood-red pendant, marked with the sign of Kil’jaeden.
The guards nodded and Krig told me to dismount. The demonic taint that plagued me for the entire journey vanished in an instant, and I sighed in relief. I’d never before been so happy to see such a ruinous landscape. Looking up to my sides I saw the great walls of Auchindoun, the damage revealing the steel skeleton under the sanaum exterior. The walls curve inward, almost like a dome. Auchindoun is a testament to both the sophistication of draenic culture and the terrible events of recent history.
I met Seluusa almost immediately after my arrival. A wizened Broken, she presented a curt and demanding personality. She flat out refused the initial offer, saying that Wizlig needed to promise more than a few experts and a percentage of the cut. Since my promises were fraudulent, I only fought back hard enough to make it seem like I had something worth selling. After some debate, she agreed to bring it to the attention of the Shadow Lords. She guided me to a faded green tent at the base of an eroded monument and told me I was to stay there until the Shadow Lords made a decision.
“This is Doss,” she said, pointing to a Broken standing next to the tent. “He will take care of you, make your meals. Doss cannot speak, but he can understand Orcish. Do not leave the Cabal section of Auchindoun; the rest of the city is not safe.”
“I thought the Cabal had uncontested control over Auchindoun.”
“Not yet, we will soon. Stay here!” she ordered
I looked to Doss and smiled. He nodded, standing at attention. I took a seat inside the tent, deciding what to do next. Seluusa’s warning even struck me as a bit suspicious, given that I was in the seat of the Cabal’s power. Was she referring to the miles of underground passages crisscrossing the earth under Auchindoun’s surface? Or did rivals also make their home in Auchindoun?
On a whim, I took a sheaf of paper and a pen out of my pack. Putting it on a stool (the only flat surface in the tent), I wrote “Can you read this?” in Orcish. Taking the paper, I showed it to Doss. The Broken stared at the message for a few seconds, his scarred face inscrutable. He gave an almost imperceptible nod. Quickly, I offered him the pen and the paper. Standing back, I watched as he wrote a reply. Taking the paper back, I saw that it read:
“I read Orcish. I can still hear, so you can tell me what you need.”
“I want to know what you have to say about Auchindoun,” I wrote back. “Tell me of the city, and of your position here.”
I heard a gasp. At first I thought I had alarmed Doss, but I soon recognized his expression as one of gratitude. Taking the paper he furiously began to scribble lines of text, as if some inner dam broke. Once done, he nearly shoved it into my hands.
His words rendered Auchindoun a prison, a place where desperate refugees lingered in pain and sickness. Doss hailed from the defunct Haze Tribe, a group of Broken who fled to the cold and poisonous Yellowblight Desert in the continent’s far south. The Breaking destabilized Yellowblight, and the Haze Tribe made their way north as the world crumbled behind them.
The Wastewalkers put the Haze Tribe to work as serfs. While the Wastewalkers took the fertile lands near the forest, the Haze made do with hardscrabble farms in the corpse-fields around Auchindoun. Doss described Wastewalker rule as quite harsh, and the Haze Tribe first welcomed the Illidari invaders. Illidan’s followers soon revealed their true nature, and the Haze found themselves in an even worse situation. The Cabal then seized power in the Bone Waste and ordered the Haze Tribe to stay in Auchindoun. Their location preserved them from the recent cataclysm (which affected areas outside Auchindoun, not the city itself), but the Haze knew their days were numbered. Not officially Cabal subjects, the Haze are treated as commodities.
Doss mentioned a group called the Auchenai, who are a rival to the Cabal. I took a new sheet of paper and jotted down a question, inquiring about the Auchenai. Doss responded:
“The Auchenai have the bodies of Pure Ones but their souls are wicked. The walking dead do their bidding, skeletons and angry ghosts. Only the Auchenai can still produce saba, and it is they who feed us. In turn, the Cabal takes ten of our number each month and delivers them to the Auchenai so that they may create more undead. The Auchenai wish to raise all of us refugees as undead but the Cabal does not want the Auchenai to attain so many minions. They do not wish to fight directly, so they created this evil arrangement of food for bodies; the Cabal keeps us as a labor pool, and the Auchenai slowly enlarge their armies.”
My hands shook with anger at the thought of necromancers adding to Outland’s pains.
“When did the Auchenai come here?”
“They walked in from the wild two years ago, right after the explosion. I remember learning, when I was still pure in body and soul, that a dark group called the Auchenai had lived in this city over a century ago. Whether these are the same as that old group, or merely successors, I do not know,” he wrote.
“Would you mind taking me to the refugees? I would like to learn more.”
Doss paused, mulling over my words.
“Are you with the Sha’tar?”
I thought about the question. Doss’ complaints suggested he hated the Cabal, but I could not be entirely sure he was not spying on me. I elected to perpetuate the lie.
“I am as I described myself; a commercial ambassador. However, I wish to know as much about my clients as possible.”
Doss read the note and beckoned me to follow. Since the refugees lived in Cabal territory, visiting them did not technically violate Seluusa’s directions. The muted Broken guided me to a wretched tent city crowded on the edge of a great precipice. At Auchindoun’s center is a colossal pit lined with cracked-open tombs. The ground below is unclaimed by any faction.
Half-starved Broken lay in the dust of the refugee camp, their listless bodies covered in sores and old wounds. Many lacked a full complement of limbs. Not all of the refugees were Broken; I saw a few tired humans and dwarves, and even a lone arakkoa. I wondered how much labor the Cabal could really get from such beaten people. The healthier refugees engaged in simple industries such as tailoring or cobbling, but I figured such activities would also exist in the Cabal farms west of Auchindoun.
Doss stopped at a tent larger than its neighbors, though still tattered. With careful motions he lifted the front flap, motioning for me to stay behind. I saw him genuflect in the shadows. He remained there for some time before stepping back out. Doss looked at me and pointed inside.
Holy icons dangled from strings on the ceiling, the abstract symbols of the Light recreated in bone and twine. A Broken woman sat at the far end, holding a stunted child in swaddling cloth. A veil of light fell on her from a gap in the tent. She raised her head as I crossed the threadbare rug.
“Doss informed me that you wish to learn about us. Why do you have interest in the Forgotten? Your world still lives, human, if that is what you are.” Her eyes narrowed as she studied my deathly face.
“I am no human, madam. I am of the Forsaken. The Forsaken are to the humans what the Broken are to the draenei. We too once worshipped the Light, but it was not enough to save us from this fate. Now I wish to learn about all things, especially that which is forgotten.”
“Hmm. I am Mother Chadaa, the last elder of the Haze Tribe. Now I am mother of the Forgotten, whether they be Broken, human, arakkoa, or anything else.”
“Does the Cabal know about you?”
“Yes. They tolerate me for now. I protect the interests of my people as best I can, though it is difficult. I must make sacrifices. But such a state cannot go on forever. We must find a way to escape.”
“I may be able to help. I have just come from Shattrath City. They welcome all who go there in peace. You can find safety there.”
“A few of our number escaped Auchindoun for Shattrath. Only one returned; she said that the defenders of Shattrath kill all who approach their city. Perhaps the Cabal coerced her into saying that before they hung her. I do not trust you, but I may have no other choice. The end draws near, one way or another.”
“If I may ask, how do you serve the Cabal? Doss said your people worked as slave laborers, but most seem barely capable of it.”
“The healthier ones work, or are forcibly inducted into the farming teams. They keep us in order to get saba. We Forgotten are not the only recipients of Auchenai food; it also feeds the Cabal peasants in the west. The farmers only produce enough food for the Cabal armies, not for themselves.”
“Can they live on saba alone?”
“The supplement it with bits of what they grow, but they are stretched thin. The Cabal stands on a foundation of sand.”
“You do not think they can survive?”
“Not for much longer.”
“What of the Auchenai?”
“The Auchenai are an enigma. They claim to follow an ancient tradition of finding holiness through undeath, but only fools believe them. I am Broken, but I am closer to the Light than those heretics!” she spat.
“Are there any other groups in the city?”
“The ethereals called the Memories of Worlds make their home in the Mana Crypts. They sell weapons to the Cabal. Then there are the Sethekki, a band of rogue arakkoa. Sethekki haunt the lonely places, killing those who cross their paths. Sometimes they help the Auchenai in return for scraps of carrion. The Auchenai flense the meat from their victims, raising only the bones. The flesh becomes currency for the Sethekki.”
“What about the disaster here? Did you see it?”
“We heard it. No one in the Cabal speaks of what happened. The truth is that they summoned something they could not control. The Shadow Lords never intended for the disaster to happen, but it did all the same. It shows how little power they really hold.”
I was about to ask another question, but Mother Chadaa raised her hand in warning.
“I thank you on behalf of the Forgotten, for telling us that Shattrath is open. Eyes of the Cabal are everywhere, however, and I am sure they know you came to see me. For my sake, and your own, never visit me again. I have matters to attend to; go back to your business.”
“Thank you for your time. I shall tell the Sha’tar of your plight.”
I stepped out of the tent to see Doss, patiently waiting next to the entrance.
“Doss, come inside. I have new directions for you," called Mother Chadaa.
Doss hurried through the flap. Assuming I was meant to wait for him, I stood outside. A lonesome wind picked up from the south, howling ghostly against the looming walls and blowing down to the dusty streets. Lightning flashed in the black clouds over Auchindoun and the refugees looked up in anticipation. Doss came back out, tugging at my coat and pointing towards my guest tent in the Cabal base, which was called Shadow Stair. I followed him through the trash-strewn streets. The camp suddenly came alive with activity as we walked, the refugees placing buckets and bowls outside their tents. I understood why when the first cold raindrops splashed into the grime. Scattered cheers rose up from the tents, though most restrained themselves even as the rainfall grew heavier.
Once back in my tent, I asked Doss how the refugees got water. In writing, he explained that water was available from natural underground wells, but was strictly rationed. Rainwater, on the other hand, was free for everyone. Even the Cabal took pains to collect water, setting up big wooden vats near the barricades and ritual circles. Writing to one another, I learned more about Doss’ history. He remembered being a priest in Shattrath before the war, though he retained only miniscule knowledge about his old religion. A Wastewalker overseer had cut out his tongue for some minor infraction years ago. Doss’ work ethic and physical strength made him useful to the Cabal. Refugees who work for the Cabal enjoy benefits like extra rations and the odd luxury, but are often ostracized by their fellows. To make up for this, Doss kept Mother Chadaa informed of cult activities.
“I do not care that most other Haze shun me, for I know I do what is right. The extra rations go to my children; you should see how strong they have already grown! I have two: Nol, my young boy, and Feza, my older girl. Illidari marauders killed their mother, my wife, but an old human woman now cares for them. Feza already knows how to read. I teach her whenever I have time, and she teaches Nol,” he wrote. I could hear the pride in his words, though he had no voice with which to speak.
“I can tell that you are a dedicated father. With those skills, your children will have a good start in Shattrath City. Does the Cabal know about your literacy?”
“Yes, but they do not trust refugees with any work that involves documentation, so it is of little benefit to me in this area.”
The rain stopped that night and the morning brought more of the Bone Waste’s stale murk. Seluusa came to my tent at mid-morning, her expression carefully neutral.
“The Shadow Lords accept your deal, though they reserve the right to renegotiate in the future. Our scribes drafted an agreement, of which there are two copies. Sign both, and keep one for yourself.”
She handed me the papers, which I quickly read. Someone in the Cabal must have legal experience, since the wording allowed for several loopholes advantageous to their people. Since it did not really matter, I went ahead and signed them.
“Thank you. The Shadow Lords wanted me to tell you that they hope this will turn into a profitable relationship.”
“Would your superiors mind if I stayed here for another day? I do not wish to go back across the Bone Waste just yet.”
“I must ask the camp commander. Why are you tired? Do undead get tired?”
“Not physically, but constant travel does take its toll on the spirit. I merely ask for a day.”
“That should be all right.”
“I no longer need Doss’ exemplary services, so you may reassign him if you need.” I already told Doss about this, and had slipped him a few gold pieces for his time. Coins are more useful as adornment than as currency in a refugee camp, but every little bit still helps.
“I will be right back, let me ask.”
Seluusa stumped off to the center of the Shadow Stair. She soon returned, saying that I could stay for a few more days if I wished. I thanked her, said my good-byes to Doss, and thought about what to do next. The main reason I dismissed the Broken was because I did not wish to endanger him by leaving the Shadow Stair to explore other areas of Auchindoun. The Cabal would doubtless hold him responsible in the event of my death. With that problem solved, I still needed to figure out how to reach the Auchenai.
The enigma of the Auchenai both fascinated and repelled me. How could unmutated draenei ever fall into the path of necromancy? Their existence went against everything I knew about that race, though I reasoned that not even the draenei were immune to the chaos of war. Perhaps the strife did something to break the social mores of this particular group. On a more basic level, I feared that the presence of necromancers heralded some terrible new force in Outland. The Cult of the Damned began with bands of necromancers in the backwoods and alleys of old Lordaeron. For all I knew, the Auchenai were some distant arm of the Lich King’s army.
The Shadow Stair is not walled, making it impossible for the sentries to maintain a complete lockdown on the perimeter. Those few who do go in and out of the camp simply display their emblems and the soldiers let them go through without a word. Guards do watch the areas leading out to the Bone Waste, but security inside the Auchindoun proper is surprisingly lax. Bracing myself, I took out my Writ of Passage and showed it to a guard as I walked past him; he did nothing to stop me.
Leaving the Shadow Stair and the adjoining refugee camp, I ventured into the empty places of Auchindoun. Melancholy shadows linger in the cracked streets, darkening the collapsed houses and dusty galleries. Seeing Auchindoun truly forces one to realize the enormity of the atrocities committed by the orcs in the Horde War.
I walked for an hour or so, cowed by the ruins and the silence. The unnatural quiet of the Bone Waste no longer bothered me. My fear came from the encircling tomb city. I am no stranger to ruined vistas; perhaps Auchindoun’s previous iteration as a holy place makes its current state all the worse.
Nine Broken shuffled out from a rubble-framed pit at the base of the outer wall, dressed in rags. They froze in place upon seeing me, before suddenly running as a group. Clubs and spears were tied to their backs, though they did not draw the weapons. I heard snatches of rough speech as they neared.
The one in front, who looked almost like a normal draenei, asked me a question in Eredun. Not getting a response, he switched to Orcish.
“Who are you?”
“I am Elderus Whittel.”
He looked back at his companions.
“We smell holiness on your body, though you are not a draenei of any kind.”
“I am a Forsaken, an altered version of the race you call human.”
“You have attained blessedness, yet you speak as one ignorant. How can this be?”
“Perhaps you could enlighten me. What do you mean by blessedness?”
His eyes widened.
“This is most strange. We must take you to the Auchenai. They will know. Perhaps you herald great things.”
While he spoke, two of his companions went behind me, revealing their weapons. With no other options, I agreed to go with them. I asked for a name as we walked, which the Broken gave as Molor.
“The fel energies did not afflict me as much as the others, so I am called leader and blessed pupil,” he offered.
“You are not with the refugees near the Shadow Stair?”
“I live there, but I am not beholden to Mother Chadaa! She is more Broken than me, and she claims to know holiness? To know what is right? I think not! The Auchenai are still pure. Only they know the Most Holy Light!”
“Are many refugees sympathetic to the Auchenai?” I asked, thinking that Chadaa’s situation was even less stable than she thought.
“Many, yes. The Infinitely Holy Light left us behind, Brother Elderus. We wandered accursed through devastation. The Pure Ones exiled us, but they now return to us.”
“Tell me more about the Auchenai.”
“They are the last true priests. Givers of the Most Holy Light. I owe them everything: my body, my mind, and my soul. There is nothing I would not do for them.”
We stopped upon reaching a sanaum dais, covered in worn bones. Robed and blindfolded draenei crouched before a stone tomb, their mouths contorting in rapid unheard speech. Motes of violet light drifted up from the tomb, like sparks from a fire. Molor fell to his knees. One of his companions grabbed my shoulders and pushed me down to the dust. I bowed my head only slightly, wanting to see what occurred.
A glowing figure ascended the stairs leading to the dais. Risking a quick look, I saw the ghost of a draenic vindicator in full battle regalia, his face set in hope. The spirit entered the light and dissipated in an instant.
The ritualists stood up and walked away, leaving the dais empty. Light faded from the tomb. Another draenei emerged from the shadows, dressed in black robes. Unlike the two other priests, he wore no blindfold. The newcomer approached Molor, smiling broadly.
“Ah, Brother Molor! My heart is gladdened to see you again. Were you able to bring any new souls into the fold?” he inquired.
“None from the refugees, Brother Soom, though their resistance weakens. I also found this most peculiar specimen,” he said, pointing to me.
“So I see! Brother... Human? No, you are not a human unless I am greatly mistaken. Ah, you must be Forsaken. We hear very little of this Alliance or Horde, but rumors reach us of your strange kind. What is your name?”
“Elderus Whittel,” I said.
“Brother Elderus! Good, good! The state of undeath is of great interest to the Auchenai. Your situation is most peculiar. I see that your soul still belongs to you. Would you be so good as to accompany me? My brethren would like to see you.”
“Would you accept a refusal?”
“I do not know what you think of the draenei, but you must know that the Most Holy Light and its precepts are preeminent in our hearts and minds. We only wish to help. Though I would be skeptical of the religious benefits associated with your particular undeath, that does not mean it should be ignored. Tell me, are the Forsaken happy?”
“Some are happy.”
“Please, follow me. For your own sake, Brother Elderus.”
“Go!” ordered Molor, shoving me towards Soom.
“Is coercion part of the Infinitely Holy Light?”
“You are not being coerced, dear Brother Elderus Your soul yearns for us, bringing you forward. I would not deny your soul.” Nothing in his tone or expression indicated duplicity.
“I am not sure my soul agrees.”
A cord of light sprang into existence, wrapping around my wrists.
“For your own safety, Brother Elderus I suspect your individual mind is still uncertain, and I do not wish for you to make a rash decision. I can tell you are a mage; this cord prevents you from casting spells. Please do not attempt any magic. Shall we go?”
Faced with a pack of snarling Broken, I saw little choice. I followed Soom to a door in the outer wall; a sloping corridor dropped into the shadows beyond the threshold. To my surprise, Soom told Molor to stay on the surface. The Broken obeyed without question, leaving me with the Auchenai priest.
“Please, tell me more of the Forsaken. They are not typical undead. Did a necromancer raise you?”
I told Soom about the Scourge and the Third War, followed by Sylvanas’ rebellion. All the while we ventured deeper into Auchindoun. Cobwebs hung like drapes from the ceiling, though the floor was mostly clear. Such passages obviously saw a fair amount of use.
“That is troubling. The Lich King must truly be wicked to inspire this Sylvanas to such rebellion. Tell me, does the Scourge still persecute the people of Azeroth?”
“Yes, they do.”
“My deepest sympathies, Brother Elderus Undeath should be an occasion for joy. Rest assured when I tell you that the Auchenai feel no connection to the Lich King.”
“That is good to hear,” I said. I decided to adopt a more conciliatory tone, hoping to lull Soom into a false sense of security.
“The Infinitely Holy Light demands no less.”
“Could you tell me more about the Auchenai?”
“Certainly! Do you know of D’ore?”
“The Naaru who died upon your race’s arrival on this world, correct?”
“Almost. D’ore did not truly die. Prophet Velen made a grave error. Rather, D’ore ascended to a new state. In this state, It revealed new truths to the draenei, truths we were not ready to accept back on Argus. Please understand that Prophet Velen was once very wise, but he fell victim to pride. Of what good were his predictions when the Horde devastated our people? Of what help were they to the Broken?”
“My understanding, and I am no follower of Velen, is that these things were done for the greater good.”
“Greater good? When the draenei are weaker than in any previous era? We Auchenai doubt that. D’ore, in Its endless mercy, chose an ashem as Its vessel. Do you know the ashem?”
“Those draenei who have become alienated, usually due to extreme stress or isolation.”
“Your knowledge is an admirable trait, Brother Elderus This Ashem was named Pekara; she was an anchorite who served in the Ogre War and saw many terrible things. She was sent to a repatriation facility in Auchindoun, where she first heard D’ore. The Naaru’s words healed her as soon as she heard them, astonishing and delighting those near her. Joy returned to her at long last.”
I wondered how deep we were headed. Soom continued speaking.
“Yet the other priests felt only horror when they heard her speak. Still, she recovered more quickly than any other ashem. They could not ignore that, so they sent word to Prophet Velen in Karabor. As the Prophet thought and prayed on the matter, some came to believe Pekara. Their prayers entered the draenethyst crystals in Auchindoun, subtly interwoven with the normal prayers. The wise heard this and began to listen, began to understand.”
“What exactly did Pekara say?”
“A good question, I shall explain. She was deeply troubled by the misery caused by the war. Not only among draenei, but also among orc, ogre, and arakkoa. Surely, the Naaru did not intend this! A new way was needed to ensure happiness at all times. Pekara said undeath provided such a method.”
“As I said earlier, we are not like the Scourge of your world, or the Horde necrolytes who recently tainted Auchindoun with their blasphemies. Pekara bonded the spirit of the dead to the body. This put the undead entity in a receptive state, during which she filled the undead’s mind with euphoric visions. Upon completing the Ritual of Undeath the resulting entity came into a state of perpetual joy. Do you see? She at last solved the problem of death! With her gifts, all draenei, dead or alive, could continue to spread the happiness of the Infinitely Holy Light.”
“What happened to Pekara?”
“Sadly, Prophet Velen did not heed our words. He personally led an army to Auchindoun. Most of the city was still loyal to him though we Auchenai controlled the catacombs. Velen’s prayers swayed some of the newly initiated and they were herded into repatriation facilities. Those who held to Pekara’s words were put to the sword,” he sighed.
“Yet some survived, for the truth always must.”
“Indeed, Brother Elderus Pekara did not survive the war, but her lieutenant, Exarch Maladar, found a sanctuary in the wilderness. The Breaking gave us the chance we needed and we finally returned to Auchindoun. Recent events have only proven Pekara’s truth. From here, we shall bring our message to all peoples! D’ore blesses us, and a new Naaru messenger named Levixus also lends us aid. These are the promised times, when all worlds shall unite as one for the greater good.”
“Do you get your undead from the catacombs?”
“Yes, though such cases take extra effort as we must summon the spirits of the fallen in order to bind them to the corpse. Death has freed these heroes of old from Velen’s error and they are happy to help us. We also turn the Broken into the undead, though the Cabal interferes with us. No matter, they shall soon be brushed aside and made happy.”
“Why the Broken?”
“Isn’t it obvious? Most races cannot feel the great joy of unity experienced by draenei, except through undeath. Since Broken cannot be as happy while alive, it is our duty to make them so. We do the same for the other races, and other kinds of undead.”
“Such as myself?”
“Yes! We do want to study you for a bit, but do not fear. You shall soon join the ranks of the blessed.”
“Thank you for honoring me with this gift,” I said, all the while looking for an escape route. Few draenei have much familiarity with deceit, and Soom clearly thought my conversion sincere.
“It is merely our duty, Brother Elderus.”
While Soom talked, I formulated a plan of escape. Soom was bigger and stronger than I, but he thought me compliant. Even without spells, I figured I could win with the advantage of surprise.
“Why did you leave Molor behind?” I asked.
“Though they serve the cause, the Broken in our service suffer mournful thoughts. We normally only permit unmutated draenei and the blessed undead to enter the Auchenai Crypts. The sadness of the Broken could weaken our sanctity. You, of course, are a special case. Molor is currently of more use to us alive, since he can tell us the attitudes of the refugees. We shall make him undead once we can afford to do so.”
I saw the dusty light of the outdoors up ahead, filtering in from the side. We came to a huge rift in the wall, beyond which was the fatal drop to Auchindoun’s central pit. Jagged walls reached out from the edge of the rent, empty tombs carved into the sides. Floor fragments clung precariously to the lower walls though the central floor was long gone. I slowed my pace, letting Soom move forward. The passage thinned to a narrow strand.
“Who was buried here?”
“Ah, I believe this chamber once held the remains of those who died while establishing Auchindoun. Draenor was a dangerous world, even in those days. The bones walk with us now, of course.”
“Of course,” I murmured.
I struck, knowing I would not get another chance. I slammed into Soom in mid step, catching him completely off-guard. The priest tottered for a moment, and then fell over the edge. Hurrying forward, I watched Soom’s flailing body as it plunged past the ruined walls. The arcane bindings on my wrists vanished the moment he hit the ground. I could still see him, a dark silhouette in the gray field. I looked around the passage, making sure no one witnessed the killing.
As I got up to leave, I again looked down to Soom’s corpse. Two shadowy arakkoa lurched into view and circled the fallen priest, their movements slow and awkward. They paused for a few moments before lifting Soom’s body and disappearing into the recesses of Auchindoun.
I turned and made my escape.