Wednesday, February 25, 2009
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.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
The sanctified boulevards and temples of Shattrath City offer little more than the promise of security, but in Outland that is enough. Once the capital of the draenei, the Old Horde sacked the city and left it a ruin. The orcish invaders did not stay long, perhaps discomfited by the holiness embedded into the streets and squares. A realm of scavengers sprang up after the Horde left, its inhabitants assembling new lives from the ruins of the old.
Living manifestations of the Holy Light now reign in Shattrath City. A handful of the old draenic priesthood, called the Aldor, returned to Shattrath after the orcish invasion. They prayed in the shattered temples until the Naaru answered. In glory, these angelic beings descended on the city, granting peace and mercy. Rumors of safety reached the ears of those hiding in the wilderness, and they flocked to it in the hundreds. Shattrath City continues to welcome refugee bands from all over Outland.
Despite all this, Shattrath does not exactly feel welcoming. Damp air and dour skies evoke a sense of oppression, a trait worsened by the monumental and imposing draenic architecture. I do not mean to sound overly critical; after all, impressions are subjective things. Outland is surely a better place for Shattrath’s efforts.
“I say we go straight to the portals. I do not want to spend another night in Outland,” declared Fienra. Still painfully vulnerable after her ordeal, she was understandably eager to return to Azeroth.
“Silvermoon City is my home, and will be until our Sun King declares Outland safe for our people. I’ve already made my sacrifice.” Such were her words as we traveled through Windyreed Pass, a narrow gap that cuts through the Shattrath Mountains. Reports tell of Lost One raiders waylaying travelers, but we encountered none on our journey. With us were Grota, Grom, and a pair of Sin’dorei Aegis troopers.
I was the only one among them who had never before seen Shattrath City. We quickly made way to the Terrace of Light, a raised section in the center of the metropolis. Upon the terrace is the Troikacha, a veritable artificial mountain, its slopes a profusion of scalloped ridges and engravings, culminating in a split draenethyst capstone. Emanating from deep within the Troikacha is a column of purest light that strikes into the gloomy clouds overhead.
“Is this a temple?” I asked.
“It’s far more than a temple. A’dal holds court inside; the beam of light comes from It,” explained Fienra.
“You’ve seen A’dal?”
“Yes,” she sighed. “You ought to see It; nothing is as frightening or as beautiful. There is a terrible misunderstanding between the Sun King and the Naaru.”
“Oh?” There was no misunderstanding. Kael’thas had enslaved one Naaru, and fell in with demons. Most blood elves do not know this, and would not accept it if someone told them.
“Have you seen M’uru, in Silvermoon City?” she asked, referring to the Naaru whose power the Sin’dorei Magisters drained.
“Yes, I have.”
“An awful mistake. Our Sun King shall soon know. He will set things right.”
I nodded, not seeing the point of arguing with her. The Sin’dorei reverence of Kael’thas is based more on faith than on fact, and I doubt many can be swayed with mere words.
Befitting a religious center, the Terrace of Light sees great crowds from all races and nations pass through every day. White-robed draenic priests stand to the side, conversing with their fellows. Armored draenei on elekk mounts keep order in the terrace, though the crowds never express violence or even aggression. I overheard a guard giving a human visitor directions to the nearest inn.
Nothing prepared me for the magnificence living inside the Troikacha. The wonders described in the Exegesis of the Light offer only a paltry translation of the Naaru. Holy A’dal floats in the center of the Troikacha. It is a symbol, alive in both a metaphorical and literal sense. Photographs impart little of its true appearance, which cannot be accurately described in solely visual terms. The angles of A’dal hint at unknown beauties far beyond the ken of the physical realm. Its many segments shift and rotate in unimaginable perfection: an order that does not oppress, but instead makes room for those who choose to accept it.
Concepts of vast mercy and overwhelming love filled my mind as invisible hands plucked me up from the earth, worlds beyond measure flitting across my vision. I saw reality with a new awareness, knowing the magnificent truth that animates all things. The Scourge, the Burning Legion, the Old Gods; all revealed as deformities.
Angels walk in joy through the hallowed chamber, the Troikacha transformed into its heavenly reflection. The Light is its foundation, an essential truth stronger than any material substance. I glowed, a bright spark among countless others, each with their own individual light. Yet I sensed that my light could grow even brighter. Pride and apathy turned to dust as, for one moment, I embraced the bliss offered to all.
A’dal solidified, suddenly distinct from Its surroundings, the grand but austere sanctuary. I felt no resentment for being flung from the conceptual world back to the material, for I knew A’dal lived there, Its existence a promise of greater things. Fienra observed me with a wry smile.
“Did A’dal say hello?”
“Yes. Did that happen to you?”
“It happens to all who are receptive, the first time anyway. If A’dal constantly broadcast those thoughts, no one would get any work done in this place.”
I heard a delighted gasp. Grom’s eyes opened wide, taking in the sight of A’dal. The greeting of the Naaru affects the recipient on a powerfully intuitive level, and I am sure an infant could appreciate it as much as an adult. His new mother shifted her arms slightly, a cautious smile on her warrior’s face.
Back in the mortal world, I took stock of my surroundings. The Troikacha’s airy interior is vast. One could fit a small town inside it. Braziers of blue flame illuminate the far reaches, though they pale next to the light of A'dal. A shallow depression, filled with clear water, encircles the dais over which A’dal shines in eternal peace. Ramps on the side lead to a large mezzanine that seems to flow out from the walls.
The portals to Azeroth open up along the edges of the Troikacha, the destinations visible through a neat tear in reality’s fabric. The Orgrimmar portal is grouped with similar portals to Thunder Bluff and Undercity; the portal to Silvermoon is located in a different part of the Troikacha. Fienra embraced Grota, and kissed Grom’s brow as they stood in front of Orgrimmar’s image.
“Take care of Grom. I’ll put in a good word for him at Silvermoon if Orgrimmar is not to his liking.”
“I think he shall grow strong in Orgrimmar. I will remember your offer though. Farewell, Fienra.” Grota turned to me. “You as well, Destron.”
“Goodbye,” I said. She disappeared into the portal, and I wondered if Silvermoon would really be much better for Grom. The Sin’dorei generally dislike orcs, and I doubt Fienra’s support would take him very far. I do not doubt her sincerity. Perhaps the loss of her arm inspired a feeling of kinship with the crippled orc infant. Her exposure to the Naaru, and her willingness to at least admit the possibility of error on Silvermoon’s part, may have also helped to create a mental openness.
I crossed the Troikacha with Fienra and the Aegis soldiers. Silvermoon City’s fabled towers and gardens beckoned through the shining portal. The crystal halls of the Exodar gleamed right next to it, an odd placement. We said our good-byes, and they disappeared home.
I sighed, feeling suddenly lonely. I cheered myself up with the thought of meeting the people of Shattrath City, and of learning its strange history. The best place to start seemed to be the Troikacha itself.
Draenor was only the most recent world visited by Kasima, a stunning draenic priestess who worked in the Troikacha. Born in Oshu’gun when it still traversed the void, she’d experienced much of her race’s history.
“When a decision of great import must be made, the draenei in a city held a troika, or council. The Troikacha is an assembly hall made for the express purpose of holding such a meeting. Only the biggest cities had troikachi.”
“Ah, I was wondering if there was some connection with the troika. I actually have seen a troika convene, among the draenei on Azeroth.”
“Very good! I think it is an excellent way to discuss problems. How do my kindred on your world fare?”
“Reasonably well. They are doing an admirable job of forging a new home for themselves. I was wondering: are you subject to Prophet Velen?”
“Subject? I am not sure I understand. Certainly he has immense wisdom and vision, but I am hardly like an orc peon.”
“I meant, do you consider him your political leader?”
“Ah, you have touched on a very complex issue, Brother Destron. First, I am of a faction called the Sha’tar. We directly serve Holy A’dal. Our warriors protect Outland from the depredations of Illidan and the Burning Legion, while our anchorites deliver supplies and kindness to the refugees.”
“You are not part of the Alliance?”
“Not as such. Forgive me if I speak out of turn, Brother Destron, but I think you may misunderstand Prophet Velen’s role. Though very wise, he is strong in the Most Holy Light and makes no claim to greatness. All draenei work to serve the Most Holy Light. Prophet Velen merely helps us do so in a more effective manner. The Prophet charts the actions of the draenei, but he never rules us like a warchief or human monarch.”
“Is it acceptable then, for a draenei to go his or her own way in regards to politics?”
“I should say not! The individual mind is prone to weakness and indulgence. As I said, the Most Holy Light is our guide. While I am not politically affiliated with the draenei in the Exodar, we both follow the same faith. Certainly, none would object to me following the Naaru.”
The draenic government cannot be described as a theocracy, at least not in the traditional sense. Religiously oriented governments (like that of the Dark Iron Empire) place dogma in the hands of an oft-dictatorial priestly caste, usually led by a religious figure. Faith is enforced because the religion (and the underlying rationale for the government) has only a nominal or sporadic hold on the population’s spirit.
The draenei have no need for a traditional government because they all genuinely believe in the Light. This hardly means that anarchy reigns; social bonds are stronger among the draenei than perhaps any other race. The draenei enjoy a curious type of freedom, in which they can join other political groups so long as those groups follow an accepted interpretation of the Light. The Light is, after all, much more important than Prophet Velen.
Clear words echoed in the Troikacha’s vastness as priests gathered at the base of A’dal. A senior draenic priest in flowing turquoise robes chanted in a flowing voice. I did not understand the Eredun words, but had no doubt that they praised the Light. The rest of the Troikacha quieted as he continued the hymn, sometimes answered by the Sha’tar chorus seated before him. I remembered the songs heard across the entirety of the Exodar and other draenic cities, carried by the draenethyst crystals. I heard no such thing in Shattrath City, and later learned that most of the crystals are marred by internal hairline cracks. Until the entire city can enjoy the hymns, Shattrath shall go without.
The sermon ended and I met a young draenic acolyte named Costuun. His anoxic blue face beamed with constant joy. Costuun had come of age during the Horde War, yet counted himself lucky to have not only survived, but to witness what many believe to be the genesis of the prophesied Army of Light.
“Truly momentous times, Brother Destron! I have faith that the Horde shall join the Army of Light. The races of the Horde exhibit violent traits, but I believe they shall be overcome. The Alliance is hardly without sins of its own.”
“Thank you for the vote of confidence. I hope you’re right.”
I asked Costuun about the origins of the Sha’tar, and how they kept their numbers.
“A’dal responded our summons, a fact for which we are forever grateful. We recognized the potential importance of Its presence. Some of us priests pledged to serve it directly, so as to create an optimal ideological paradigm for the Most Holy Light in Outland.”
“Not all of you did this?”
“Some found it better, for political reasons, to remain apart. These are the Aldor. Anyway, the Aldor are closely aligned to Sha’tar, we are not in any sort of competition.”
“How did you attract people to your cause?”
“We made a place of safety. Thousands of refugees already dwelled throughout Shattrath. Our vindicators protected them from the outside, and protected them from each other. A’dal’s presence now suppresses violence in Shattrath City, letting the peacekeepers turn their efforts to the wastelands beyond.”
“I understand that you also do a great deal of charitable work.”
“Of course, Brother Destron, of course. Such is the essence of the Most Holy Light. Our vow is that none in Shattrath shall ever go hungry. Sha’tar priests dedicate themselves to praying at the food crystals for at least a few hours each day. This produces enough saba millet to feed the multitudes.”
“Are all races able to subsist on saba?”
“Not exclusively, I regret to say. We are still wrestling with the problem of incompatible biologies. Saba is nutritious to everyone, but is not always sufficient on its own. Orcs and trolls cannot survive on saba, and it presents difficulty to dwarves and arakkoa. That is why we permit a degree of free trade in the Lower City.”
“They trade things like meat?”
“Meat, and other things. I am surprised by how much importance these refugees place on material objects, like fine clothes or furniture. It is troubling to us, but we are willing to compromise. Certainly they’ve suffered greatly, and it is hardly fair for us to take away their comfort. Instead, we shall wean them from it over time.”
“Certainly some races seem to benefit from trade and change. Wouldn’t they be more joyful in a society that encourages it?”
“I am inclined to doubt it. Those who succeed may claim happiness, but where one succeeds, another fails. That is contrary to the Most Holy Light. The Sha’tar work to prevent and ameliorate the excesses of such a system.”
“Have you gotten complaints about this?”
“Complaints? Yes, actually. Some, especially goblins, dwarves, gnomes, humans, and trolls, have not undergone sufficient acculturation. They think our interference makes them unhappy, even though it works to promote joy in a macro-spiritual sense. We are working on it.”
I nodded, deciding not to say anything else. I suspected that visiting the Lower City would prove most enlightening.
“How do you get more to join your ranks?”
“The people of the Lower City realize we offer the best protection, and they are keen to lend their own skills to the cause. Others are inspired to serve by A’dal. All service is voluntary, as it must be.”
I walked back to the Terrace of Light, the clammy air wrapping around me like a cold sponge. The clash of metal rang across the plaza as Sha’tar soldiers sparred with practice weapons. Heavily armed and armored, they are a powerful force for righteousness for a place badly in need of one.
The trench of the Lower City winds around the Terrace of Light, the battered structures a grim reminder of Outland’s cruelty. It does not look promising from above. Great rents break the paved surface, as if some giant farmer had dragged a plow through the city. Motley crowds of refugees move past ruined buildings covered by jury-rigged roofs of wood or canvas.
I quickly discovered that the Lower City is actually much less dreadful at ground level. The refugees look worn, but basically well-fed. A few of them appear relatively prosperous. I spoke with an old dwarf named Hargun Flintfinger. Blind in one eye, he still kept watch over a flock of fourteen chickens. He proudly wore a faded coat of red velvet, a recent purchase.
“Things were hard at first, but I’ve done well here.”
“Who buys the chickens?”
“Who doesn’t? A chicken’s a fine meal. Saba’s barely worth eating. Everyone here does, but we’d go right mad without some real food.”
“Do many others here deal in livestock?”
“It’s a big business, to be sure. Orcs run most of it, practically giving it to their own and gouging everyone else. They’ve got the market on pigs, sheep, and goats, but not chickens! I guess poultry doesn’t do much for the orc gullet, but they’re easy to raise and there’s plenty of demand for them elsewhere.”
“Did the Sha’tar interfere with the livestock prices?”
“They tried to, but they’re too busy watching out for demons and the like to worry that much about the Lower City. The place is too much of a mess for anyone to really manage. The Sha’tar muck it up half the time, so it’s probably best for them to concentrate on defending the place. I suppose you’re part of the New Horde?”
“You’re as ugly as the old one, but at least you’re more polite.”
The Swapper’s Bargain sprawls across the southern end of the Lower City, a mishmash of tents and stands that blend in with the drab surroundings, livened by the occasional splash of color on the shop of a more prosperous trader. Haggling is the rule of the day, every buyer trying to get the best possible deal. The arguing customers, tethered animals, and rank smell bring to mind scenes from medieval Lordaeron two to three hundred years before the First War. Many humans (and even some Forsaken) idealize that period, not realizing that life was much harder in the days before common magic and affordable technology. The Lower City serves as a useful object lesson for such people.
The merchants of the Swapper’s Bargain offer all manner of goods, of which food is the most important. Only the draenei can really thrive on an exclusive diet of saba; even humans need supplements to stay in good health. This presents a natural opportunity for those with access to food. Such is the rationale for the sections of the Lower City converted to farm or grazing land.
I spoke with a human man named Telray Mordensham. Possessed of a martial bearing, he’d come to Shattrath City after the Breaking. He was once an officer in the ranks of the Alliance Expeditionary Force.
“We were occupying Bleeding Hollow Village when Ner’zhul broke the damn world. At the time, we weren’t sure if any of the other Alliance settlements even survived, so we set up camp in Shattrath.”
Telray was a figure of substance in the Lower City. He held a seat on the Grower’s Guild, an organization of farmers that consists of humans and high elves.
“You could find wheat fields in the Lower City as little as five years ago. My men tore up the flagstones and planted seeds in the ground. The Broken and Mag’har refugees already had their own little plots when we got here.”
“What happened to those farms?”
“The Sha’tar happened! They came here with that awful saba stuff, giving it out for free. Tastes terrible, but fills you up. We switched to fruits and vegetables, though we kept a few barley fields to make beer. Saba can’t fully replace those, at least not for humans. I don’t think any kind of saba-based beer exists; if it does, I don’t want to know about it! An anchorite told me how thousands of years of exposure to the Light changed the draenic body to live on nothing but saba, but I’ll happily stay unholy if it means a bit of variety on the dinner plate,” he chuckled.
“So you provide an essentially necessary service for the people of the Lower City.”
“How much do you charge?”
“Depends on the service. We obviously never charge all that much. I’m well-to-do here, but I’m far from rich.”
“Have the Sha’tar ever interfered?”
“I can tell some of them aren’t happy with the situation in the Lower City. Now, I appreciate them protecting Shattrath. Everyone here does. So I’m inclined to work with them, not against them. Still, they tried to take over the Grower’s Guild in the early days. Thought our products should be handed out for free.”
“What did you do?”
“We explained to them that tending vegetable gardens and fruit orchards requires time and effort, and that we wanted recompense for that. Now, they could manage the gardens themselves if they wanted, but the Sha’tar were spread pretty thin. Besides, if they were going to seize our operations, they’d have to do the same for all the other ventures in the city. They couldn’t maintain all of the infrastructure while still defending Shattrath. Enslaving us was obviously out of the question, so they finally stepped back and let us continue as long as we didn’t overcharge. We didn’t, and still don’t, so things are fine.”
“There’s quite a difference between the draenic and human economies.”
“Certainly. The draenei want everything to be completely fair and equal, which is fine for them. But there’s no way to do that with all these non-draenei. Look at the orcs, they have to spend more money than anyone else on food. Meanwhile the Broken are even better off than humans because they can live on saba! I doubt there’s any way to balance all of that.”
“I agree. Do you foresee future conflicts with the Sha’tar?”
“Anything’s possible. The Sha’tar are changing though. Not all of them are draenei any longer. Young people in the Lower City sometimes enlist. My son’s considering it.”
“Would you approve?”
“Of course! If more Lower City folk get into the Sha’tar, the easier it will be to deal with them. I think it’s good to get some new blood and new ideas in their ranks. We like the Sha’tar, and they like us. This puts us closer together.”
The Lower City’s economy presents a fascinating picture. There, the perfect draenic economy must deal with highly imperfect beings like orcs and humans. As such, compromises must be made. I do not think there’s any ideal answer of Shattrath City in this respect. Instead, they must simply negotiate challenges as they come, the underlying rules adjusted as needed.
Telray excused himself to discuss business with a high elf associate in the Grower’s Guild. I wanted to know more about the Lower City’s early history, when refugee gangs squabbled for resources and territory. The Grower’s Guild, and many of the city’s other organizations, have their origins in that troubled period.
Kopka was a Broken, and looked the part. Scars lined his flat face, his scalp deformed from multiple indentations. He spent much of his time drinking tea in the Swapper’s Bargain, telling rambling and violent stories to passerby.
“Most Broken are part of tribes, but not me. I left the Pure Ones as soon as I started to change, went back to Shattrath City. I figured the orcs there would kill me, but I found no orcs. They didn’t want to stay there, I guess.”
“Any idea why?”
“Do I look like an orc to you? No idea! Other Broken started coming in, along with Lost Ones. The Lost Ones were in a bad way, but we put them to work and gave them food for their trouble. Like trained wolves, they were!”
“When did the other refugees arrive?”
“First were the Mag’har. We fought them, that’s how I got this scar, see?” He held out his left arm, marred by a furrow running from the wrist to the elbow. “Big Mag’har knife did that. We hated them for being orcs, and they didn’t much trust us. Not too many fights though. We kept to the eastern wall, and they stayed in the north.”
“Who came after that?”
“Arakkoa went to the far north end, but we left them alone. Never deal with arakkoa. Things got more complicated after the Breaking. These Alliance start living in the city. First they just fought orcs, but then they started moving in on our farms, so we fought them too. A big armored fellow hit me in the head with his hammer, which is why my head looks like a potato!” laughed Kopka.
“The Alliance stuck together as their own power group, then?”
“For a while. Then the Horde came in, or what was left of them. Mag’har, Alliance, and Broken all stood together to fight the Horde. Biggest battle Shattrath saw since the Horde War! I was in the front lines, lost three fingers on my right hand to one of those trolls. We won the day, and the Horde went outside the city. Then the arakkoa let them in. Mother Moag, she’s the leader of the Broken, she said that the bird-men were afraid since all of us stood together. That’s why they picked the Horde as an ally.”
“Did you do anything?”
“We tussled for a while, raided the arakkoa. Finally got used to having the Horde there. They lived just outside the arakkoa village. Now, things get really insane. First, the Horde loses control of ogres. No surprise to anyone, but they start making a nuisance of themselves. While we’re busy with that, the goblins start talking to the little Alliance people, dwarves and gnomes, I think.”
“I guess they didn’t like the way things were going, so goblins, dwarves, and gnomes split off and make their own group called the Union of the Gear. They start rebuilding parts of Shattrath City, sell their services for food. The Alliance and Horde don’t buy it at first, but they change their minds soon enough.”
“Any other groups?”
“More Broken joined us after that rascal Illidan started killing people. Some of the Pure Ones came back at that time. They didn’t fight in any of the battles, they just wanted to pray in the old temples. That’s how the Sha’tar got here.”
“Is the Lower City still divided on racial lines?”
“Not so much now. No one much feels like fighting, not even me! It’s because of the Naaru. Probably for the best. We’d probably still be killing each other without the Sha’tar. Nowadays, all the young ones who want to fight join the Sha’tar. It’s a good thing.”
The humble crowds of the modern Lower City make it hard to imagine that vicious turf wars once raged in the streets. Many of the various trade groups, once delineated along racial lines, now accept outsiders of sufficient skill. There are exceptions to this: the Sons of Nagrand, a Mag’har group with a near-monopoly on weapon forging, still refuses to accept non-Mag’har. Bigotry is an impediment to trade, and I believe the economic necessities of modern Shattrath City force the inhabitants to look beyond their differences. At the same time, I think that the presence of the Naaru does much to speed up this process. The existence of a pressing outside threat also contributes.
I spent a few minutes watching an ogre carve a massive clefthoof flank. Intent on his job, he paid no attention to the activity around him. While unremarkable on the surface, my recent sojourn among the Bladespire ogres showed it to be quite astounding. This ogre, a being of war and violence, was peaceably turning his energies to a productive task.
Though impressed, I knew there was much more to the city than the Swapper’s Bargain. War and dislocation leave their marks on even the most resilient psyche. Certainly not all refugees would display the admirable prosperity and initiative seen in the markets. I wanted to know how these unfortunates lived.
The crowds thin and the neighborhoods turn destitute north of the Swapper’s Bargain. Lost Ones wander in packs through the rubble, withered hands snatching at castoffs. Some of them stared at me with glassy eyes, but none said a word. The Lost Ones are the rag pickers of Shattrath, and make their home in the aptly named Scavenger Row. Kopka mentioned that the Broken and the Lost Ones had worked together before the Naaru, though his description suggested a more exploitative arrangement. The Lost Ones acted as fodder in the street fights and received food as a reward. Today, the Lost Ones get saba much like everyone else, though their physiology necessitates a higher protein intake. To obtain this, they collect junk and sell it. The Sha’tar sometimes buy protein-rich foods from other groups, and give it to the Lost. Unfortunately, the reclusive nature of the Lost Ones makes it difficult to set up a charity arrangement. I learned this from a Sha’tari administrator named Ililea. Relatively young by draenic standards, she worked closely with the people of the Lower City.
“We try to help them, but our words have no effect,” she mourned. “I cannot imagine the terrible things these poor souls have experienced.”
“Do they show any inclination to the Light?”
“They cooperate with each other, so that is a start.”
“Do any engage in trades beyond the junk trade?”
“Not yet, but that might change. Look at this.”
Ililea opened a small pouch and took out a curious metal object. Roughly pyramidal, it was made of oxidized copper studded with brightly colored stones. A closer look revealed it to be cobbled together from junk, like pipes and discarded tools. Fine detail work decorated the panes, delicate whorls engraved on the metal. I got the strange feeling that the longer I examined it, the more I would find to appreciate.
“This is the work of a Lost One named Skon. A number of Lost One artisans make these objects, though she is the most prolific. Quite interesting, don’t you think?”
“It does have a strange beauty to it. Did Skon say why she made it?”
“The woman can barely speak. She gave it to me, and I tried explaining how her work reflected the Most Holy Light, different materials working together to create a greater whole. Yet she seemed indifferent.”
“Perhaps there is a market for this. I’ve certainly never seen anything quite like it, and they say abstract art is growing in popularity among the Alliance peoples, thanks to the draenei.”
“A market? I do not mean offense, Brother Destron, but surely you can’t think that desirable? We must bring the Lost Ones into the Most Holy Light. They are already terribly vulnerable to vices like greed. It would not do to encourage such tendencies.”
I mulled over what Ililea said. No one really knows all that much about the Lost Ones, or how they operate. The draenei see them as lost sheep to be returned to the fold, and this is an understandable viewpoint. While not capable of being full members of draenic society, they can at least attain security in a marginal role. However, I cannot help but wonder if the Lost Ones would benefit more from being separate. They do not seem much like the draenei any longer. Perhaps through making and presenting their art, the Lost Ones can find new talents and roles. I agree with the draenei in that the Lost Ones need protection; Ililea’s fears of exploitation are more than justified. Ultimately, I cannot claim to know what’s best for the Lost Ones.
Destitute humans squat along the walls of Scavenger Row, mocking the Lost Ones. They tease the poor mutants, tempting them with scraps of fabric or empty wineskins, only to toss the prize to their fellows. Grisly wounds mar their features and some have stumps in place of limbs. They flag down others with indignant demands, thrusting out empty bowls. I thought such brazen behavior curious for the supposedly desperate.
I ingratiated myself with a small gang of beggars sitting along a battered gate house. A blind man named Teros acted as a de facto leader. Though slight of frame, he spoke in an arresting voice. Initially hostile, he softened when I gave him two silver pieces, a generous donation.
“Yes, we’re the traitors of Honor Hold. Does Danath still curse our name?” wondered Teros.
“This one’s a Forsaken. They wouldn’t let him in there,” interjected a grubby adolescent.
“I actually did spend some time in Honor Hold. I heard about Ferser Macaul.”
“Ferser. That damned scoundrel. Sounded like he had a good plan. Instead he led us in circles around Zangarmarsh. He got an easier death than he deserved, skewered by a Lost One’s spear.”
“How did you end up here?”
“Pure luck. The humans already in Shattrath wanted nothing to do with us. As if we could stay in Honor Hold! The place had no future, it still doesn’t. Once this war’s over, if it ends, no one’s going to live there. I wanted my daughters to have good lives. The two of them are buried in Zangarmarsh now, thanks to Ferser.”
“How did you survive in Shattrath?”
“Barely. By the time the Sha’tar came, we had nothing. The Alliance and Horde both hated us. The dwarves gave us a few errands, but they hated us too. No one wants anything to do with us even now, so we have to make do with that damned millet the Sha’tar give out.”
“None of your people have found work here?”
“A few did, by sacrificing whatever dignity they had. It’s not as if anyone respects those turncoats, least of all their masters.”
“What groups did they join?”
“Why do you care? We’ve seen too much and fought too long to want any dealings with the people in the Lower City. Any of Ferser’s Fools with sense agree. They don’t respect us, why should I respect them? At least the Sha’tar give us food, makes things a bit easier for us.” His tone of voice suggested that he didn’t care for the Sha’tar either.
Bitterness colored Teros’ account, but there was truth in his words. Ferser’s Fools occupied the bottom rung in pre-Sha’tar society. They haunted the edges of the city, stealing what they needed and avoiding the stronger refugee groups. Encounters with these other groups rarely ended well for the Fools; more than half their number lay dead in the gutters by the time the Naaru returned.
I noticed a lightness in my left coat pocket as I walked north from Teros’ crew. A quick look revealed that the pouch of coins I kept there was gone. The pickpockets of the Lower City had found another victim.
Conversation fell to a quiet murmur as the sultry Tirasi woman took the stage, her olive face framed by thick black curls. No human would dispute Doroti Valencia’s beauty, though the keen eye noticed the fine wrinkles beneath her makeup. Stained and worn curtains of purple silk hung at the sides of the stage, motionless in the expectant air. Closing her eyes, Doroti lifted her voice in song, the words plucking at the half-remembered days of my youth. She chose an old song about regret and lost love, feelings the patrons knew all too well.
The World’s End Tavern had been a library in Shattrath’s glory days. Horde warlocks looted all the books on magic and burned the rest. Located between the Broken neighborhood of Hopeful to the south, and wealthy Gear Town to the north, the World’s End Tavern is the biggest of its kind in Shattrath. The evening sees all sorts come through its doors to take brief respite from their hard lives, and cheap wine keeps the clientele coming back for more. Lately, it’s become a popular locale for visitors to the city. New arrivals from Azeroth sit in the shadows, keeping their voices conspicuously low.
The song ended. I heard the patter of rain on the roof in the brief pause between songs. Then she started up again, launching into a happier number that I did not recognize. Scanning the room, I found myself looking at a human on the next table, quietly conversing with an old dwarf. I couldn’t get a good look at the human’s face but his voice sounded familiar. Doroti soon left the stage to polite applause and servers brightened the lamps. Finally seeing the human’s face, I almost leapt out of my chair in surprise.
Danner Berdenhof had changed a great deal since Dalaran. His face was longer, the features sharpened by age and hardship. Lank blonde hair dangled from his scalp, still dishevelled. His eyes shone with that old mischief, but combined with a definite wariness.
At a loss for words, I stood up from my chair and walked towards my old friend. How long had it been since I’d seen him? Five years? Six? He left Dalaran well before the Third War, longing for his old Stromgarde home. We'd exchanged letters until my fateful trip to the north.
The dwarf suddenly erupted into laughter, accompanied by quiet chuckles from Danner. I decided to make myself known.
“Danner! You are Danner Berdenhof?”
Turning to me, his jaw dropped, whether out of recognition or alarm at my appearance I do not know. His eyes narrowed as he studied me.
“By the Light... Destron? Is that really you? I thought you were dead! Really dead,” he added, hastily. “Ha! This is incredible! Volker, meet Destron. Destron, Volker.”
“Ah, one of the Forsaken are you? Welcome to Shattrath!” greeted Volker. He extended his hand in greeting, and I offered my own.
“Volker’s a friend. He’s a big name in the Union of the Gear.”
“Sit down lad, any friend of Danner’s is a friend of mine.”
I slowly sat down at the table, not quite believing what I saw. I had long ago given up any hope of seeing my old friends again. Could Emette also be alive? Volker excused himself, and promised to meet Danner the next day, at place called the Floating Market.
“I was wondering if you'd survived the trouble in Stromgarde,” I said, my mind still racing. “I’m very happy to see you here.”
“Yes, I can tell you’re quite enthusiastic.”
I gave a nervous laugh.
“I’m afraid undeath has rendered me even less emotional than I was in life. Sorry, I’m merely surprised.”
“Don’t worry, Destron. I’d be more worried if you started acting like a human being.” Danner laughed, and I figured he was joking. “But yes, I did survive Stromgarde. I served on the front lines against the Syndicate for a few years. Now I raise funds and do business for the Stromgarder government.”
“How does Stromgarde fare now?” I decided not to mention my travels in Alliance lands. I was not yet sure if I could trust him with my alternate identity.
“The countryside is still in chaos but we now have firmer control over the capital and the surrounding regions. The Syndicate’s been decapitated, all their leaders are dead and the remnants are squabbling for control. The Horde’s the biggest obstacle. I’m afraid we must insist on Arathi Basin.”
“It is part of Stromgarde's sovereignty.”
“Good to hear it. I figured if anyone could come up with a robust intellectual defense for the Defilers it would be you, so I’m glad you haven’t bothered. Enough of my recent life. Bring me up to speed on your life. Or undeath.”
I explained my travels to Danner, still leaving out my Alliance visitations.
“That’s wonderful! I knew you had the adventurer’s spark in your soul, deep beneath that scholarly shell! I’ve traveled a fair amount, though little compared to you.”
“Do you know what happened to Emette?” I asked.
“I was going to ask you the same question. I have not seen anything of her since I left Dalaran.” Danner looked momentarily regretful. “I know I often mocked the Dalaranese, but I really did like her. Do you think she realized that?”
I actually did not remember Danner ever making fun of her for being Dalaranese, but my memory does have gaps.
“I’m sure she did.”
We talked for a while, reminiscing about old times. I could tell that life had hardened Danner. He guarded his words and expressions, a far cry from the mercurial youth I’d befriended in Dalaran.
“It is getting late. I can’t turn a friend out to the cold, so I’ll gladly let you stay in my home. The arrangements aren’t the most comfortable—”
“I’m undead. Discomfort is not a problem.”
“Yes, I’ve heard that undeath does offer some benefits.”
Danner finished the glass of wine before him, his third of the night. Getting to his feet, we walked out to the darkened Shattrath streets. A light drizzle pattered on the flagstones.
“Does Stromgarde have some interest in Shattrath?”
“Oh, just the usual. Some of my work is rather sensitive, and I obviously can’t discuss it with outsiders.”
“Of course, I understand.”
“I can tell you that I’ve been working with representatives from the Union of the Gear. They’re an interesting bunch, do you know much about them?”
“I know that they were the gnome, goblin, and dwarf refugees.”
“That’s correct. They got started when the gnomes began to realize how silly it was to maintain the Horde versus Alliance feud in the Lower City. Turns out, the goblins felt the same way. The gnomes somehow convinced the dwarves to go along with them, and the three races struck out on their own. Many of them were engineers, of course, and they began to repair parts of the city’s infrastructure. They charged the other factions for their services, and soon built up a nice network of allies. Then the Sha’tar came.”
“What do they think of the Sha’tar?”
“There’s a bit of jealousy as you might imagine. The Union was the most powerful Shattrath faction when the Naaru appeared. The Union also can’t charge as much as they’d like for their services, and they’re having some trouble with finances. I really do wonder if there’s much of a difference between dwarves and goblins, actually. Both so fond of gold. Anyway they’re not bad sorts.”
As we walked, I noticed signs of recent construction. Tidy, utilitarian homes are arranged in neat rows along the walls north of the World’s End. Tangled copper pipes connect the homes to the remnants of the old draenic water system beneath the pavement. I realized I was in Gear Town.
“I figured Stromgarde would be more interested in contacting the Grower’s Guild. They seem to be the closest thing to the Alliance.”
“That’s precisely why we’re not interested, Destron. We never much cared for the Alliance. This new Horde wouldn’t have come about if you just let us kill all the orcs. Instead, you built internment camps on our territory.”
“The Alliance did pay a handsome rental fee, which your government sorely needed after the war,” I pointed out.
“You’re such a Lordaeronian, Destron.”
We paused, and burst out laughing.
“Yes, I suppose I still am.”
“It’s reassuring that some things never change. And here we are!”
Danner grandly gestured to a large blue tent at the base of a squat tower. I followed him inside. The interior was monastic in its simplicity. A worn brown rug covered the flagstones underneath. At the far end was a trampled-looking bed, next to some obviously homemade shelves weighed down with tomes.
“Looks like you’ve done rather well for yourself,” I said.
“Flattery was never your strong point, Destron.” I recognized his tone; he was fishing for a compliment.
“I’m entirely genuine. By the standards of the Lower City as a whole, this is rather splendid.”
“I suppose. Do you want to take the bed? I know you’re undead, but I just feel wrong having you sleep on the floor.”
“You needn’t worry, I’ve slept in much worse places than this. Do you ever have trouble with thieves? I don’t see any kind of locks.”
“There’s no need, thieves don’t come up this way.”
Danner retired early that night, explaining that he had a great deal to do the next day. I bade him good night and stretched out on the rug. A curious mix of emotions clamored within me.
I was once able to speak to Danner without any difficulty. Indeed, it was hard for us to stop talking, something that got us in trouble on occasion. I remembered, with equal nostalgia and disbelief, the grossly inappropriate things Danner would say to any person who annoyed him, which was nearly everyone.
That quality once struck me as obnoxious; perhaps a fair assessment. Yet the new Danner seemed a different person, self-possessed and coldly restrained. Perhaps he simply did not trust me as a Forsaken. As I had not been completely honest about my travels, I suppose he had some justification.
To some extent, I had viewed myself as the dominant personality in our old friendship. I am not sure if this is really accurate, but that is how I remember things. Perhaps seeing Danner in such control intimidated me. The dynamic of the friendship was completely changed, and I did not know how to react. These realizations do not reflect well upon me.
Danner was gone the next morning. Figuring he was with Volker, I decided to explore Gear Town and its environs. The rain had stopped before dawn, though a chilly mist blanketed the canyon of the Lower City. Outside Danner’s tent, I found a human shepherd leading a small flock through Gear Town. I complimented him on his stock, to which he laughed.
“Aren’t mine I’m afraid. They belong to Boss Zuk’gok.”
“Used to be an elite soldier in the Bleeding Hollow Clan. Now he’s part of the Horde Remnant, owns a lot of animals. He stole most of them but that was before the Sha’tar came, so no one’s making an issue of it. My name’s Armin, by the way.”
“I’m Destron Allicant. How did you come to work for the orcs?”
“The Alliance didn’t want me. I don’t know if you’ve heard of Ferser’s Fools, but I’m one of them. Was, anyway.”
“I’ve met some.”
“Most Fools are too rattled by pain and disappointment to be good for much. They hold on to their pride because it’s all they have. I surrendered my dignity, became a peon for an orc, but I think I made the right choice.”
“Didn’t the orcs have their own peons?”
“No, they chased most of the peons into the wilderness after the Breaking. Didn’t want too many mouths to feed, you understand. Of course, they soon had a problem because no warrior would deign to do common labor. That’s where I came in. I’m not the only one. There’s Fools and other misfits in the peon ranks.”
“How are you treated?”
“Well enough. I get food and a small salary. Zuk’gok’s actually not a bad sort. He was the one who bullied the orcs into accepting workers from other groups.”
“What’s your job exactly?”
“I make sure no one steals the sheep. No one’s tried in a long time, but you can never be too careful.”
“Do the orcs actually do anything?”
“Plenty! They get drunk and boast of how many people they killed in the war!”
“Does the Horde Remnant keep the sheep for food?”
“Mostly. We get money by selling the wool. We have other animals too, cows, goats, talbuks. The cattle bosses give the meat to their warriors, in return for loyalty. I don’t think that arrangement will hold for much longer though, since the warriors are old and don’t really have anyone to fight. The herds don’t produce enough meat either, so the orcs have to buy meat from foreign merchants. I’m not allowed to have any of the mutton, but I get enough to buy a fowl every now and then.”
“What about the new generation?”
“Some of them joined the Sha’tar, others ran off to Orgrimmar when the Dark Portal reopened.”
“Do you sell meat to the Mag’har?”
“Not anymore, but we used to overcharge them for it. Unpleasant, but there wasn’t anything I could do about it.”
“Where do they get meat now?”
“From the Union of the Gear, who buys it from us or outsiders, and exchanges it for Mag’har weapons. The Mag’har neighborhood’s not far from here, just across that ditch actually.”
The Mag’har occupy a tiny area called the Smelter Hill. The neighborhood’s boundaries have blurred with Gear Town over the years, and some Mag’har live outside of it. True to its name, a grim forge burns at the center of Smelter Hill. There the Mag’har work, crafting weapons of great quality.
Much like their Garadar counterparts, the Sons of Nagrand rarely speak to outsiders. I finally managed to engage one in conversation after purchasing a broad-bladed dagger. The vendor was an aged Mag’har named Surnok, whose face was like leather.
“How did the Sons of Nagrand form?”
“Mag’har always stand together. Why should it be different here?”
“I see. From my understanding—”
“You did not answer my question, stranger. Why should it be different here?”
“Oh. I suppose it shouldn’t. I was merely wondering how the organization got started.”
There was a brief, awkward pause.
“Are you allied with the Union of the Gear?” I asked.
“The Small Ones are not friends, but we do not hold them as enemies. We were beset by enemies on all sides. When they offered aid, we accepted.”
“Dwarves are known on Azeroth for being great metallurgists. How is that the Mag’har came to be the weaponsmiths of the Lower City?”
“You buy my weapon and doubt its skill? Test the edge with your finger!”
“I am not questioning your skill. The dwarves are regarded as fine weaponsmiths. Perhaps the Mag’har surpass them.”
“Most of the dwarves here made tools and pipes instead of blades. The few who did make weapons were impressed by our ability. We combined our efforts to create weapons of even greater strength. Do you have more questions, outsider?”
“I suppose not, thank you.”
As near as I can tell, the Sons of Nagrand furthered the Union’s control over the Lower City. When the Union could not bribe or persuade rival factions with offers of improved infrastructure, they could resort to the weapons and warriors of the Mag’har. The Sons of Nagrand sell their wares to visitors and Union representatives, but not to the other factions (though the visitors likely resell the goods to the other factions, perhaps at a discount if motivated by political or racial sympathy). The Union sells the choicest equipment to the Sha’tar, though the Sha’tar dislike the high Union fees. The Mag’har are paid in red meat and money, though they have little use for the latter. A few are attempting to get in on the livestock trade, without any notable success.
The ditch running through the Lower City has its deepest point between Smelter Hill and the larger portion of Gear Town. Union-built storm drains prevent the ditch from flooding, though a layer of algae-infested rainwater reaches ankle high at the bottom. This foul water is how the ditch came to be called the Slimeline. Most refugees see the Slimeline as an obstacle, something that they have to cross when going about the city. Surprisingly enough, however, the place does have its inhabitants.
I was standing at the banks of the Slimeline, a mere inch above the pondscum. Near me, a stone bridge of dubious construction crossed the gap, drapes of moss drooping at the edge. As I turned to leave, I heard snatches of conversation spoken in my own voice. Startled, I looked to the side. A sporeling stood in the shadows, revealed by the luminous patches on its skin. Apparently, the translator spores I had received in Sporeggar still lived.
“Can you understand me?” I asked.
“Yes. I understand. Not many in Shattrath can speak with us.”
“I didn’t even know there were sporelings here.”
“We are few in number. The lack of a Spawning Ground makes a true community impossible.”
“Do you have a primus?”
“Not as such. I am a harvester myself, though my tasks in Shattrath are different from what they were in Zangarmarsh.”
“I’d imagine. Is food difficult to come by?”
“No. Food is relatively easy to find. Shattrath is actually a very good place for us. It is easy for sporeling to develop personalities here.”
The sporelings essentially reproduce by cloning themselves. Most operate on a nearly mechanistic level, rarely understanding more than is needed for their tasks. Those few who develop personalities are held in high regard by the rest of their race.
“Interesting. I remember hearing that harvesters were least likely to develop personalities, yet you seem to have one.”
“A basic one. We believe it results from constant interaction with other races.”
“You said you cannot speak with them.”
“Cannot speak, but we can make ourselves understood through gestures. There is a very clever preserver here, named Fsh’il, who has learned to understand basic Common and Orcish words, though it cannot speak them.”
“Do you think more sporelings should come here if travel ever becomes safe?”
“It will greatly advance desirable attributes in the race as a whole, so yes. The most remarkable examples are the sporelings raised here. A few of them live in the orphanage, where they show great emotional sophistication even if they cannot directly communicate with their peers. Obviously it would be impractical for all sporeling children to be raised in such an environment, but it would be quite beneficial for the child of a primus.”
I do not wish to downplay the ruinous devastation suffered by the sporeloks after the Breaking. However, if Sporeggar abides, Shattrath could present an unprecedented opportunity for the fungal race to take a greater role in world affairs.
I returned to Danner’s tent at around mid-afternoon. Going through the flap, I was startled by an indignant curse.
“Who is that? Who are you?” demanded a high, scratchy voice.
A gnomish woman stood next to Danner, clad in layers of filthy clothing. Greasy strands of gray hair dangled over her splotchy face and she stared at me with angry, bloodshot eyes.
“What? Are you a necromancer now?” she fumed, throwing her arms up in the air. “This is an important deal, Danner! If you aren’t—”
“Relax, Blyna, he’s a friend of mine,” said Danner.
“Did I come at a bad time?” I asked.
“Yes, get out,” ordered Blyna.
“Here, we’ll finish this outside, we’re almost done anyway.”
“No, you invited me in here to finish this deal. He has to stay outside, not me.”
“It’s fine, I’ll show myself out,” I said, not wanting to inconvenience my host.
I stood outside the tent for a few minutes. Blyna finally emerged, glaring at me with hate in her eyes before stalking towards the World’s End Tavern.
“Is it all right for me to come in?” I asked.
“Go ahead, I’m sorry about that.”
Glad that she was gone, I went back inside. Danner’s expression was apologetic.
“I’m very sorry about that. Dealing with Blyna is often difficult.”
“You needn’t worry. Is she with the Union?”
“Hardly. The Union doesn’t deal with her kind. She’s a recent arrival from Ironforge trying to get involved with the market scene here. I’m trying to help her, though she’s not making it easy.”
“Oh, you know. Angry loners with deservedly poor reputations.”
“Blyna’s a merchant?”
“More of a freelancer, doing odd jobs for whomever. She needs to improve her attitude.”
“So, Destron, have you visited the Aldor or Scryers yet?”
“No. The people in the Lower City don’t talk about them very much. I scarcely know anything about either faction.”
“They tend to keep to themselves. The Lower City mostly deals with the Sha’tar, whom they more or less trust. Only the leaders of the Lower City power groups ever deal much with the Aldor, since the Aldor are involved in city governance.”
“What about the Scryers?”
“They have even less presence down here. They buy and sell arcane substances with the ethereals in the Floating Market, but that’s about it.”
“Correct me if I’m wrong, but from what I’ve been told, the Aldor are the remains of the pre-war draenic priesthood, while the Scryers are blood elf dissidents who abandoned Kael’thas.”
“You’ve got it right. The Aldor don’t really trust the Scryers, and there’s also some ideological differences between the two. Neither of them are that important in city politics. Their influence is more significant outside of Shattrath.”
“Do they accept visitors?”
“As long as you aren’t a member of the rival faction, sure. I can show you around Scryer’s Tier, but I wouldn’t be welcome in Aldor Rise. You can visit that one on your own, if you’d like.”
“Are you a Scryer?”
“Not at all, but I’ve worked with some of them. Mostly because they could introduce me to others in a good position to help Stromgarde.”
“I’ll have to pay them both a visit,” I said.