Sunday, April 11, 2010
A Point of No Return
Prewitt’s exposure sent shockwaves through the ranks of the Kirin Tor. From my position in Sunreaver’s Sanctuary, I watched as couriers bounded back and forth between the Violet Citadel and the Horde embassy, each one looking more frantic than the last.
Hulla’tak excoriated Vard upon his return, unleashing a withering condemnation of his recklessness. How dare he, she fumed, operate against a potential Kirin Tor agent. His actions had only furthered the Horde’s disgrace.
However, she was only partially correct. The Kirin Tor first reacted with fury and disbelief, followed by rank dread once they realized the truth of our claims. The city awoke one morning to find the Violet Citadel shut down and cordoned off, a convenient lie about an arcane mishap keeping the citizens and most of the faculty outside its walls.
Inside, the Kirin Tor had cornered Touron Felindor, the man who’d supplied Prewitt with the components of his human disguise, mislabeled as medicine. I heard how his tanned skin lifted up from his bones of its own accord, revealing the cold splendor of a Scourge lich. Ice and necrotic plagues rained down from the ceiling, killing five of the nine arcanists sent to defeat him. The lich did not long survive them.
The Kirin Tor continued their work as the city fell to a fitful sleep that night, their dreams weighed down with fear. Going by the notes in Touron’s desk they tracked down the eight other unwitting Scourge agents placed throughout Dalaran. Spellfire put a quick end to their suffering, and most welcomed death when informed of the truth. A sad few denied it to the bitter end.
Against all odds, Touron had run a secret intelligence agency parallel to the Kirin Tor’s best. His unknowing spies thought themselves ailing humans, their recollections of death and slavery replaced with implanted memories. These agents worked at every level of Dalaranese society, from Prewitt in the Underbelly, to a senior researcher in the Violet Citadel. The disguises Touron supplied were actually more effective than those I had bought from the Masquerade, the materials similar, but (aside from the powder) not identical.
The Kirin Tor themselves seemed unsure how to react, alternating between accusations of interference and gratitude for uncovering the spy ring. Vard accepted this passively, withdrawing to his tiny room. We all knew that there could be others like Touron in the Horde and Alliance. We could not even be sure that we were not spies ourselves.
The Kirin Tor told no one about the incident. Such a revelation would spread fear among the citizenry and cause the nation to lose face. However, the Dalaranese people are not easy to fool. The explanation of an arcane accident did not ring true, and they soon developed their own theories that rivalled the truth in their strangeness.
Some in the Horde embassy hailed Vard a hero, saying that his courage proved that orcish action would always triumph over human caution. A scarred Second War veteran, his Black Tooth Grin tattoo still on proud display after so many years, promised that he would tell Garrosh of Vard’s heroism. That Vard felt only deep distrust towards Garrosh was lost on the old warrior.
“I did what I thought needed to be done! Maybe it was too fast, but some good came out of it, did it not? Even the Kirin Tor admit this,” Vard said to me, when I visited him a day later.
The Kirin Tor had agreed not to press charges against Vard so long as he left Dalaran. Lord Sunreaver denied all knowledge of the incident (even though he had approved it). Somehow, those of us with Vard managed to escape significant attention.
Though not on active duty, Vard was still a full-fledged warrior of the Swiftblade War-pack. He suspected that his superiors would side with Hulla’tak in the matter.
“Perhaps I should have asked her advice first. But I could not take the chance. If we had not gone down there, Touron would still be sending information back to his dark master.”
“Surely they would at least acknowledge that fact.”
“They will. No one will deny that my personal honor is beyond all doubt. But my pack honor? That is less certain. I did this without the knowledge of my pack leaders, and instead worked with Lord Sunreaver, a total outsider.”
“Why did you not tell Hulla’tak?”
“She was in the Violet Citadel when you returned. I did not want to attract the attention of those sorcerous dogs by going to their den,” he spat. “Sorry.”
“No need to apologize.”
“Some are also angry that I killed Prewitt so quickly. I suppose they are right; he might have been able to give us more information.”
“Why did you kill him?”
“You saw the man, Destron. He’d been made a slave without his knowing. I’m a warrior; when someone wants a clean death, I’m inclined to give it.”
“I think we found most of the information we needed,” I said, not really sure what to think.
“Hopefully. Not only that, but my deeds emboldened the supporters of Garrosh. My war-pack is one of the very few to distance themselves from him. Now Garrosh’s followers have a hero in the heart of the opposition.”
“Is Garrosh really that popular?”
“The warriors of the Horde live to fight, and Garrosh promises a war without end. We nearly worshipped Thrall when he freed us, but I do not think most of us really listened to him. Perhaps he did not really hear us, either.”
“Well, what’s the worst that could happen? The Kirin Tor did forgive you.”
“The worst is that they will keep me in Orgrimmar, running errands. I hope I am sent to the front. At least there I can meet my enemy eye to eye.”
Portals to the world’s capitals were still in operation throughout Dalaran when we left. Images of Shattrath and the Horde’s great cities shimmered along the walls of a verdant rotunda in Sunreaver’s Sanctuary. Vard and I stepped up to Orgrimmar’s hazy skyline.
“I can almost smell the desert from here,” he said.
Vard stepped inside and vanished into the portal. The portal’s glowing blue outline turned red for a moment, indicating that it was not yet safe to go through. Once it turned back to its customary color, I made my entry.
I experienced the lurching dislocation common to all portals and hurtled through unseen worlds beyond sight. Impressions of a wooden interior began to peek through the shadows, the darkness lit by tallow candles and splashes of garish paint. A moment later, and I stood within the Darkbriar Lodge. Someone had placed painted idols of Bethekk in the center of the room, surrounded by a ring of soughan skulls. Lines of dried pig’s blood crossed the circle in an X-shape. Smoke spiralled up from three earthen bowls of burning incense around the ritual arrangement. Vard stood nearby, examining it with wary curiosity.
I turned to see Daj’yah coming down from the wooden staircase that had once led to the private chamber of Gu’jomb, the late troll arcanist. Dark circles ringed Daj’yah’s golden eyes, and her shoulder-length red hair looked even more neglected than usual.
“I—we were very worried! No one knew what had happened to you up in Northrend! Someone said you might have been a Wrathgate victim, but I was not believing them, and—”
“Daj’yah! Calm down, I’m fine,” I said, surprised and a bit flattered that she’d been so worried.
“Ah, sorry. These are strange times is all. Destron, you should not go out into the streets right now, not even to the village. Some stupid orcs killed a Forsaken less than a week ago, and I am thinking there have been other victims.”
“I will keep a low profile.”
“Who is this?” asked Vard.
“Oh, this is Daj’yah, a friend and respected associate. She holds a high position in the Darkbriar Lodge.”
“The honor is mine. Where does the Darkbriar Lodge stand amidst this chaos?”
“We are loyal to the Warchief, as always. But now the tribe is seething with rage. The Darkspear see little use for the Forsaken, and many think the Warchief a fool for accepting them.”
“Damn, I feared as much. Has the Warchief said anything?”
“He made a vow to avenge the souls of the fallen, whether they be Horde or Alliance, and prepares to march on Undercity. He will be leaving in a few days," reported Daj'yah.
“I see. I had best talk to my superiors. Walk with honor.”
Daj’yah turned back to me as Vard left the room.
"Damn you, Destron! You had me scared!"
She grabbed my shoulders, squeezing them as if to test whether or not I was really there. Letting go, she composed herself.
“Most of the Darkbriar fellows are busy now, giving the Warchief advice. Undercity’s full of sorcerers, and he needs to—oh, you know that already, I’m sure. They wanted someone to stay behind, and I said I’d do it. I never much cared for big meetings; nothing ever gets done in those.”
She sat down on a wooden bench and hugged herself tightly.
“You should have heard Ur’kyo, the priest, yesterday, saying the tribe should be shunning me for letting the living dead into the Lodge. As if I was the only one! I thought we mages had a home here, but it seems we were wrong.”
“Surely the entire tribe can’t be against us,” I said.
“Not all of them are. But mages were never really part of the tribe. And now they can’t stop reminding us of the fact.”
I was puzzled by Daj’yah’s reaction. She’d always considered herself a mage first and a troll second, and paid little heed to tribal politics. I supposed that recent events had forcibly ended her isolation.
The scorching light of the next day’s dawn found me walking Orgrimmar’s dusty streets, wanting and fearing to see the city for myself. The sudden influx of Forsaken refugees had paralyzed Orgrimmar. Throngs of confused undead packed the sun-baked plazas while infuriated warriors yelled at them to stay in the approved refuge districts. Few of the Forsaken could speak Orcish. A handful of Deathguard officers tried to act as liaisons, though with only limited success.
“Why are we even in this greenskin cesspool?” sneered a Forsaken, his chalk-white body bound in unspeakably filthy rags.
“Orgrimmar offered refuge from the coup,” I countered.
He looked at me with puzzlement, clearly not having intended me to hear his words.
“Get out of here, orc-lover. I can tell that you’re one of the Forsaken who lives in this place. Tell me, did your father fight the greenskins in the Second War? Wherever his spirit is, I’m sure he finds you disgusting.”
My father had not, in fact, fought in the Second War. He’d volunteered for service, but poor health had relegated him to work as a supply clerk in the capital.
The enraged Forsaken limped off on stick-thin legs, pale and ridden with unhealed sores. I marveled at his attitude, though I reasoned he may not have fully appreciated what had occurred at Wrathgate.
“That our Dark Lady kept us together is a further testament to her abilities,” said one Deathguard officer who gave his name as Olund. He managed the motley collection of tents known as Camp 4. Nearly all of the camps were located outside of the city, but because the Forsaken had reached Orgrimmar through a portal in the Valley of Spirits, some had ended up in the city during the confusion.
“We are not an obedient people, a fact made all the clearer to me as I try to keep them behind the lines of demarcation. For their own safety, no less!”
“Do they understand what happened?” I asked.
“Most who are capable of understanding do. Their reactions are as heterodox as one would expect. All of them hate Putress, though for many it’s more because he went against our Dark Lady than from any sorrow for the fallen. The orcs do not like us being here; if I am to be honest, I cannot say I blame them. Refugees are always a tiresome burden.”
“I heard reports of violence.”
“You heard correctly. That is why we keep the refugees in designated areas. Only one death has been reported, but I suspect there have been more. Orcs aren’t good planners, and I think they demarcated the refuge districts on the spot. Now they curse us as we get in the way of traffic. I suggested that we move to western Orgrimmar, but the orcs fear that the move would disrupt things even further.”
“How long is this state of affairs expected to last?”
“Probably not much longer. The orcs are formidable warriors, and they will soon retake Undercity. Most of the Deathguard is stationed in Brill. Putress is defending Undercity with a cadre of alchemical nightmares and demons. I can’t imagine what he hoped to accomplish; his plan is doomed to failure.
“I do hope we leave soon. I did not realize this, but many Forsaken are only dimly aware of the world outside Undercity. When we first arrived in Durotar, fresh out of the portal, some tried to run back, never mind that it was one-way. Some had never seen their own bodies in good light before. Now the bright sun of these lands reveals the full-extent of their decay, driving them further into madness.”
“We should have let them die in Undercity, in all honesty. There is no future for them, and they will only slow us down. However, the more reasonable Forsaken need all the help that they can get. You do know Orcish, correct?”
“If you have the time, we could use another translator. Something to keep in mind. Go see Deathguard Farrol at the main gate if you’re interested; he’s our commanding officer for all intents and purposes.”
I did as Olund suggested, and found Farrol situated in a curiously lavish pavilion near the great gates. He assigned me to the refugee camp at the Drag’s southern entrance without much thought, as if I were an obvious fit for the location.
Farrol may have assumed me a mere dilettante, as Camp 6 (as it was called) was easily the calmest of the bunch. Some of the veterans who live in the Drag had fought alongside the Forsaken in Hillsbrad and the Arathi Basin, and are more comfortable with the undead than are other orcs.
For their part, the Forsaken in Camp 6 returned the favor, though the comparatively welcome reception had emboldened some to rudeness. Fortunately, Deathguard Murcell discouraged such behavior. Himself a Hillsbrad veteran, he found it a fine opportunity to reconnect with his old orcish comrades-in-arms.
Murcell outright admitted that he had no need of more translators; many of the locals knew enough Gutterspeak to communicate with the residents. Nonetheless, he told me to stand by to perform any needed errands.
Though my task was pointless, it did give me a chance to observe positive interactions between orcs and Forsaken. Camp 6 had become an isolated haven of tolerance in an otherwise fearful city. I never heard anyone use terms like “greenskin,” or “deader.” This is not to say that there was all that much in the way of interaction; the two sides mostly left each other alone. Still, encounters tended to be cordial.
“I do fear that the orcs will tire of us,” remarked Murcell, as the blazing afternoon sky faded into violet dusk. “They reached out to us when no one else would, sent their warriors to fight and die in Hillbrad, and now take us in at our time of need. Now, thanks to Putress, we’ve hurt them badly in return. Unfortunately, far too few Forsaken object to the Apothecarium’s actions. Many are ignorant, some willfully so. Did you know Grand Apothecary Faranell is in this city?”
“I did not.” Faranell was the Apothecarium’s founder. He had originally used the organization’s considerable resources to brew new plagues and poisons. Over time he drifted into even more twisted areas of study, fascinated with inflicting pain for its own sake. Because he was so busy with his cruel (and largely useless) experiments, it was easy for Putress to seize control.
“Where is he?” I asked.
“He’s one of the few allowed to stay near Grommash Hold.”
“Faranell’s a criminal who should be killed!” I suddenly declared, surprised by my own heat. There was a pause, and I wondered if I had crossed a line.
“I agree. There has been limited communication with the apothecaries in the Ghostlands, the Tranquilien faction, they’re called. I’m hoping the Apothecarium goes to them instead of Faranell, but that seems unlikely. The Tranquilien faction is small, and disliked by many.”
“Why are they disliked?” The apothecaries in Tranquilien used their alchemical knowledge to cleanse and heal the Ghostlands, discovering cures instead of diseases.
“The surviving Undercity apothecaries think them fools, as does the Hand of Vengeance. The average Forsaken is at best dimly aware of Tranquilien, and will not make any effort to help them. Few have heard of them outside of Quel’thalas, and the Sin’dorei do not seem inclined to meddle in Forsaken politics.”
“Do you think the Tranquilien apothecaries will at least get more influence?”
“I’m sure their lot will improve. Will it improve enough to make a difference? I would like it to be so, but I do not expect it.”
I returned that night to find Daj’yah still the only troll in the Darkbriar Lodge, brewing a pot of silverleaf tea in the main room. We each took a cup and went up to Gu’jomb’s old chamber, an open-air hut on top of the lodge. Most of the old troll’s few possessions had been buried with him. A woven mat covers the wooden floor, and a round table stands in the center.
A warm spring wind whistled through the canyons, carrying with it the dusty pollen of Durotar’s coastal plains. The lush flame of the palm oil lamp flickered under the gusts. I watched as Daj’yah poured some kodo milk into her tea, turning her eyes to the village as she stirred it. A priest dressed in a robe of coatl feathers was leading a procession up the ziggurat, his fierce sing-song recitations accompanied by wild drumming and ancient tribal chants.
“Bethekk is the Loa of magic and they will not even let us pay our respects to him. What would Gu’jomb say? You saw how he lives on in stone in the temple. I think he would want us there.”
“I am sure this will pass.”
“Pass? Destron, this is normal! I told you, they still aren’t wanting mages to be part of the tribe. They need us, but don’t want us.”
“Where’s Uthel’nay?” I asked, wondering about our mutual friend. He and Daj’yah seemed inseperable, and I half-suspected their relationship was romantic.
“I am thinking he’s in Grommash Hold right now, but who really knows? All the students are in their homes. Their parents do not want them here, lest the tribe start whispering rumors about them.”
“That’s terrible! Daj’yah, would it be better if I left Darkbriar for a time? It seems like I’ve chosen the worst possible time to return.”
“No, no, you best be staying here, Destron. Or else that Ur’kyo will be thinking he’s got one over us. If the rest of the world is going to take us seriously as mages, we’d best act the part. Besides, I can be just as arrogant as any blood elf!” she joked.
“Ha ha! Well said.”
“But to be serious for a moment, the elders are stirring up talk about leaving Orgrimmar.”
“The entire village?”
“Just some. They think the time’s right to take the Echo Isles back from Zalazane.”
I remembered hearing about this when I visited Sen’jin Village, years ago. A renegade witch doctor ruled the islands on which the Darkspear had settled after the Third War. Some wanted to take it back, but they’d been overruled by those who thought it better to stay on the mainland and become friendlier with the orcs.
“I see. Well, I agree he needs to be driven out.”
“That’s for sure, and he’s already weak. Nothing there save him and some zombie trolls. Some think we should do this for safety, saying that the orcs cannot protect us, and shouldn’t have to. Others want to keep our culture pure. A few think that the orcs hold us back.”
“Hold us back in what way?”
“They see the old cities of Gurubashi and the wealth of Stranglethorn, and wonder why we aren’t making cities like those. All the orcs can offer us, say they, is war.”
“What do you think?”
“I am not sure. I’ll go where the Darkbriar go, I suppose. If the Echo Isles turns to a place where the priests and headmen can do as they please, I’m not wanting any part of it. If it lets me learn more about magic, well that might be something.”
“There aren’t many restrictions here in Orgrimmar.”
“No, but they don’t much trust us. Then again, I’m not thinking that would change in the Echo Isles. We’ll see, too early to tell. You know, I heard Ur’kyo talking about my mother the other day. How she made the tribe weak and shamed the ancestors, and how I would do the same.”
She gave a bitter little laugh and took a sip from her cup, glaring out at the temple with disdain. Daj’yah’s father had died soon after her birth, and her mother refused to remarry, which was almost unheard of in Darkspear society.
“I am older now. I understand why they were angry. People die in the jungle, and there need always be young ones to replenish the tribe. It’s selfish to keep alone like that. But she was not trying to be cruel, she was just confused.”
“She raised you, someone who contributes a valuable skillset to the tribe and Horde,” I pointed out.
“I am not sure how much is her doing. I did love her though. Besides, how am I any better? No man will marry me and I won’t be adding to the tribe, especially not now that there are so many from other tribes joining us. They used to try and shame my mother, saying she’d slept with a human to produce me, that she hadn’t proved herself a proper troll mother. I still hear the fellows making fun, saying how I look like a human.”
I nodded, not really sure what to say. Apparently Daj’yah’s social success had been more limited than I'd believed. Her appearance, which might have been considered exotically beautiful by human standards, made her ugly in trollish eyes. Though a skilled and intelligent mage, her reclusive and sometimes self-effacing nature made it difficult for her to get the respect she deserved in the Darkbriar Lodge.
“Do you remember much about your mother, Destron?”
“Um, no, I’m afraid not. I recall that she tended to be withdrawn, much like my father. I do not think they loved each other very much.”
“Love’s a luxury in the tribe, though I’m supposing it was different in old Lordaeron. At least according to the books I read.” Daj'yah had developed a fondness for Lordaeronian novels.
“Some married couples did love each other, some did not, and for most it ebbed and flowed over the course of the marriage. If they told me how they met, I have forgotten.”
“Who brought you up then? I thought immediate families took care of such things in old Lordaeron.”
“My parents did teach me the basics of living and of right and wrong. I just have little recollection of them beyond the very early years. Perhaps it is my memory that’s at fault.”
“You had siblings?”
“Two. I had a younger sister, Nadina. She died when I was somewhere around ten, drowned in Lake Lordamere. I believe she’d been playing near the edge when she hit her head and fell. My parents withdrew even more after that; I think they were closer to her than they were to me or my brother.”
“Always a sad thing.”
“Indeed.” I had not thought of it in a very long time, as my memories of Nadina are indistinct at best. I felt a brief stab of guilt for my relative lack of feeling. If I could just focus on the handful of recollections I did have, I’d feel as one should. Yet they remained elusive, blurred images in the back of my mind.
“Does your other sibling still live?”
“No, he died too, killed in a street fight. I was terrified of him as a child, a feeling that grew worse when I realized that my parents shared my fear. His name was Torilun, and he was the sort who lied as easily as he breathed. He took money and burned it away in taverns and gambling dens—while not poor, my family was hardly rich. Torilun always made a huge scene when taken to task on this.”
“Awful! Darkspears like that do appear on occasion. If they don’t mend their ways, someone will take them on a hunting trip from which only one troll returns. A tribe can’t be letting someone like that cause trouble. But I’m not sure if we still take care of it like that these days.”
“It’s easier for such people to get away with that kind of behavior in the cities.”
“Right, too many people. I like cities though; here, most folks don’t care about what my mother did. The trolls around me still talk, but I can usually get away.”
“I understand. Nobody here cares that I’m Forsaken, at least not until recently.”
“Maybe I am being too optimistic, but I think life will be getting back to normal here in a few months. What is that humans and dwarves like doing when they drink? Taking a drink for some cause or person?”
“I believe so.”
“That’s where the drinkers tap their cups together and declare what they’re drinking for.”
“Then I am declaring this a toast to Orgrimmar!”
“To Orgrimmar,” I said.
She smiled as we made the toast. As we drank, I could still hear the priest’s ancient songs twisting in the night’s darkness, joined by the flowing beat of countless hand drums.
I went to Camp 4 early the next day, and offered to help Deathguard Olund without going through Farrol as an intermediary. As I suspected, Olund gladly accepted my assistance.
To my deep disappointment, it was the Forsaken who usually instigated trouble. Some took a childish pleasure in inconveniencing nearby orcs (almost always peons), blocking their way or mocking them. Though the peons never reported these incidents, it is worth noting that warriors would intervene on the peon’s side if they saw something transpire.
Fortunately, I was able to defuse some situations, generally those in which an orc or Forsaken had unknowingly offended the other. My temperament is really only suited to dealing with reasonable individuals, limiting my use as a diplomat. Nonetheless, I stayed in Camp 4 throughout the night and into the next day. Rumors began to circulate, about the Warchief holding a great council to prepare for the reconquest of Undercity. The expectation of violence was in the air, furthered by the young warriors rushing towards Grommash Hold all through the day, eager to prove themselves.
I continued my work until the late afternoon when Olund granted me leave. Daj’yah was standing on the wooden steps in front of the Darkbriar Lodge when I returned, looking off into the distance. She held a rolled-up scroll in her blue hands, which she handed to me.
“I was wondering if you’d ever get back here. A courier came by this morning, saying you were needed in Grommash Hold.”
“Really? What for?”
“He said that the Warchief wants to talk to any Forsaken in the city that he knows he can trust. I’m sure the scroll says more.”
I opened it with trembling hands, reading and rereading the words. As Daj’yah had said, I was wanted in Grommash Hold at sundown.
“This is quite an honor! Thank you for bringing this to my attention.”
“You’d best be hurrying, Destron. The sun’s sinking as we speak.”
Heeding her words I set out for Grommash Hold, reaching it just as the night’s smoky darkness crept over Orgrimmar. Kor’kron warriors patrolled the area around Grommash Hold, monstrous in their black armor. One stopped me and demanded to see my invitation, which I showed. His gauntleted fist clanged on his breastplate in response, and he stepped aside.
Grommash Hold is an impressive stone keep, though much smaller than the royal abodes of Stormwind or Ironforge. I entered to find the massive reception chamber packed with Horde notables. A quick look revealed that many had been in there for days. Rumpled bedrolls were strewn across the stone floor, along with makeshift tables laden with half-empty plates.
I joined the quintet of Forsaken standing near the entrance. I did not recognize any of them. Only one, a woman with slick and bile-colored skin, was an Orgrimmar resident. The rest had proven their loyalty in the snows of Northrend.
A group of orcs walked by and I spotted Vard among them. He caught sight of me and sauntered over.
“Hail and well met, Destron. I’m actually the reason you’re here. In light of your recent work for the Horde, I knew you to be a man of honor.”
“Thank you. How are you doing?”
“I’m not in trouble, but only because there are bigger things for everyone to worry about. Once Undercity is back in the Horde’s hands, I’ll get my demotion.”
“Do not trouble yourself. I’ll be better off on the battlefield, which is where I’ll probably go.”
“Will you be fighting to retake Undercity?”
“Ha! I’m not worth that honor. I’ll likely be defending against quillboars. I will warn you though, that many here do not want the Forsaken to be involved at all. The Warchief finally convinced them that having some would be a strategic asset; I believe he wants to show the Forsaken that he is still their friend. Once that happened, I recommended you.”
“I see. The Warchief must already have a battle plan. I’m sure you already have good intelligence on Undercity’s layout.”
“We do, further helped by Forsaken loyalists embedded there. A great battle will be waged in its tunnels. Putress is not strong enough to hold it, but he will put up a good fight. Demon auxilliaries now patrol the halls, joining his monstrous servants.”
“Is the Burning Legion behind this?”
“No one knows, but I’d say it is almost a given. I always thought that your Dark Lady was committing a grave error in keeping that dreadlord around.”
“Sylvanas was indeed foolish.”
Vard blinked in surprise.
“I never thought I’d hear a Forsaken say that.”
“I think it is time we took a more realistic look. Anyway, if Thrall already knows what to expect, why does he want us?”
“Like I said, it is a political move. This is a difficult time for the Warchief. I vouched for you since I thought you’d appreciate getting a foretaste of what to expect.”
“I do. Thank you very much, Vard.”
“I could do no less. I’m afraid I can’t stay, so I’ll leave you with this: watch your words, and don’t talk to anyone unless they speak to you first.”
A sweltering heat blanketed the room, dank with the smell of so many warm bodies. I scanned the crowd, trying to pick out familiar faces. I saw Eitrigg, looking more careworn than usual as he discussed something with a young tauren wearing a Bloodhoof Tribe headdress. Garrosh and a gang of bristling orc warriors stood near the entrance to the Warchief’s throne room. The fearsome Mag’har warlord seemed to emanate anger, along with a bold arrogance. The world was shaping itself to suit his desires, and he knew it. Of Sylvanas, I saw no sign.
Vard’s description of my invitation being a political move turned out to be accurate. We never met with Thrall. Instead, an elderly tauren came to us with the plans and asked for our opinions. We found no fault with them.
“The Warchief sends his apologies that he could not meet with you directly. He is currently preoccupied with matters of state,” said the tauren, whose name was Mahanook Ragetotem.
“But not of strategy? With all due respect, Sir Ragetotem, we wished to see the Warchief,” pointed out one of the Forsaken, a priest who’d tattooed his face with interlocking symbols of the Holy Light.
Mahanook paused, his face impassive.
“As I said, he sends his apologies. These are difficult times. Know that he is grateful to you for your continued loyalty. The Forsaken are an essential part of the Horde.”
He excused himself shortly after, leaving us a little island of undeath in a sea of the living. I do not suppose I can blame those who made the decision, at least not entirely. So few Forsaken have come out to vocally condemn Putress. Then again, the Horde itself has done nothing to bring Faranell to justice, and his crimes are only slightly less heinous.
We left Grommash Hold as one, stepping into the warm night air. A western wind had picked up that afternoon, desiccating the city with hot and dry Barrens air. Two of the Forsaken went east towards the Valley of Strength, while the rest of us took the southerly route. One by one they split off to return to their homes, the empty nighttime streets allowing for easy passage. No one really knew what, if anything, to say.
Nearly all of Orgrimmar came out the next morning to see the Warchief before he left for Undercity, heedless of the blistering winds. Something in the dry air inflamed the crowd, and they roared their support with maddened fury unlike anything I’d ever heard before. Thousands stood in the narrow Valley of Wisdom, waving their fists in the air and calling out the names of heroes, living and dead.
A ring of aged warriors, their scalps glistening red with self-made wounds, stood around the entrance to Grommash Hold, where Thrall was expected to make an entrance. They’d cut themselves to show the blood they wished to have shed in battle.
Peon volunteers had set up scaffolding platforms all along the canyon walls, working with laudable skill and speed. I stood on one of these along with Daj’yah and Uthel’nay. I felt a vague dread, fearing what would happen if Thrall fell in battle.
Some have questioned Thrall’s decision to personally lead the attack. However, the nature of orcish politics gave him no other choice. Already made to look a fool by Sylvanas’ own carelessness, he needed to regain the faith of his people through force of arms. To stay in Orgrimmar would be to invite usurpation from the increasingly aggressive militarists, often Mag’har who feel no particular loyalty to Thrall.
The crowds fell into an awed silence as the Warchief stepped out from Grommash Hold, his heroic form clad in black armor, the legendary Doomhammer in his right hand. His wise blue eyes surveyed the audience before he raised the hammer high. We all cheered then, our doubts forgotten for a few glorious moments. Before all of us stood the iconic figure of our generation, the man who’d taken a culture that had lost everything and gave it the opportunity to achieve anything. He is what Sylvanas or Kael’thas could have been had they not let their own demons consume them. Even as Thrall’s dream frayed at the edges, seeing him standing there on the brink of battle again gave us hope. No demon or rogue apothecary could hope to stand against him.
The speech he gave that day is well-known, and I see no need to recreate its contents here. Suffice to say he promised retribution without falling prey to vengeance. He said this with such eloquence that he seemed stronger for his restraint. Thrall finished just as the portal to Undercity opened outside Grommash Hold, giving us a window into the desolate heath surrounding the twice-ruined city.
Warriors from all across the Horde marched out of Grommash Hold. I was pleasantly surprised to see two of the Forsaken I’d met the other night among them; apparently they’d been called back at the last minute. Coming in at the very end was Sylvanas herself. Thrall’s commanding stature kept the crowd in check, and not even the wildest orc dared insult her. Yet her very presence seemed to shrivel the scene, her slight form radiating a cold and depthless hatred.
The brief silence broke as a lone voice launched into “Blood and Honor,” a orcish war song dating back to the Blood River War on Draenor, sung by the embattled northern clans. Dozens more joined him with each passing second until the age-old song threatened to break the canyon walls with is volume. As they sung, the heroes of the Horde disappeared through the portal, going forth to destroy those who had brought so much evil into the world.
The song continued long after the portal closed. Finally I saw Eitrigg step up to where Thrall had recently stood, raising both his hands.
“Our Warchief shall return when the cowards Putress and Varimathras lie dead. Until then, do your duty, as always.”
Some orcs protested, crying out that they needed their Warchief. Another elderly orc, whom I did not recognize, approached Eitrigg.
“Why must they leave? Here they show their devotion to the Warchief, as an orc must. His honor is reflected unto them—”
“Our warriors are fighting and dying in Northrend! Are you to say we should forget that? Orgrimmar is where ore is shaped into weapons of war, where Barrens produce is shipped to the front lines. Are you a shirker? The Warchief rules a nation of orcs, not a gang of minions. Do you not have honor?” Eitrigg demanded of the crowd.
That seemed to do the trick, and the orcs shouted their approval, heading back to their tasks. A few hardliners stayed, singing old songs, but without any real support they soon faded. The orc who’d criticized Eitrigg crept back into the hold. Eitrigg had defended himself with the planned aggression that every orc politician needs. He’d stopped the hero worship before it could become entrenched. However, some would have gladly waited there for Thrall’s return, encouraged to do so by the Horde’s more reactionary elements, those orcs who think that war is the domain of heroes and legends rather than of logistics and strategy.
We returned to the Darkbriar Lodge, save for Uthel’nay who retired to his hut for a well-deserved rest. Most of the other mages did the same, all of them exhausted after going for days without sleep. Daj’yah and I sat in the lodge’s main room, the wooden walls as hot as furnaces in the noon heat.
“Would you prefer to go outside? I can’t imagine it’s very comfortable for you here.”
“No, I think I’ll be staying in. I said I’d keep an eye on the place.”
“Are you that worried someone will break in?”
She paused, looking up at the ceiling.
“No, not really. I don’t know, now’s just not a time where I want to go anywhere.”
While all had expected a speedy victory for Thrall, no one had thought he would return the day after leaving. Though I was not there to see it, everyone described him flashing into Orgrimmar fresh from battle, his black armor spattered in ichor and demon blood.
Far more surprising was the news that the Alliance had attacked the city at the very same time. While Thrall had killed the dreadlord Varimathras, it was Stormwind’s King Varian Wrynn who brought an end to Putress. But this shared battle did not engender any camaraderie; quite the opposite happened. Varian discovered the staggering depth of the Apothecarium’s crimes, atrocities long predating Putress’ rise to power.
King and Warchief faced off in Undercity. Justifiably furious, Varian accused the Warchief of complicity, refusing to listen to Thrall’s denial of knowledge. Even if he had, it might not have been enough. A leader must bear some responsibility for his underlings’ actions.
Jaina Proudmoore of Theramore intervened at the last minute, transporting the king and his retinue back to Stormwind. As a mage, I could not help stopping to marvel at her power; few could transport more than a single person across such a long distance with so little notice. Thrall returned, hailed as a hero. I wonder if he truly felt like one.
The possibility of war against their age-old foes galvanized the city. Many of the orcs took shamefully little heed of the Apothecarium’s crimes. I do not think I shall ever find a satisfactory answer as to why Faranell, the Apothecarium’s former leaders, was not killed on the spot. I have never been able to learn who in the Horde had sponsored his reinstatement.
Not all of the Forsaken in the city showed much gratitude towards Thrall. I was somewhat cheered when I learned that a few of the more conscientious Forsaken had assembled a wreath of red flowers, a symbol of victory in orcish culture, and delivered it to Grommash Hold. Most seemed entirely indifferent.
Forsaken mages got to work setting up portals to allow the refugees to gradually leave Orgrimmar. True to their estimates, it took four days for all to return. The more paranoid orcs feared that some Forsaken would stay in the city, but their concerns were groundless; few wanted to be in Orgrimmar.
I did have the fortune of encountering the Masquerade before his (or her) return trip. As always, I purchased a large number of supplies so as to ready myself for further travels.
Dusk fell across the city, bringing its own smothering heat. Troll families left their huts and spread blankets across the lake’s rocky shores, having the good sense to avoid sleeping indoors in such weather. Defying the mood of fear, the trolls sang and danced as the dinner hour approached. The aroma of cooking pork filled up the Valley of Spirits, trolls laughing as they opened up casks of rum and ginger beer. It is an admirable thing to fight dread with simple joy, even if (as in the case of the trolls) it reflects a deeper fatalism.
I looked to Daj’yah, who’d seemed to shrink into herself as she watched the celebrations with a mix of longing and disdain.
“Shall we join them?” I suggested to Daj’yah.
“They won’t be wanting me. Not sure about you either.”
“You’re still part of the tribe.”
“I’m a mage. None of us are truly part of the tribe. That’s what the rules say, but tradition goes deeper than rules. But I do want to go out.”
“Somewhere else in the city, I don’t care.”
I followed Daj’yah out of the Darkbriar Lodge. A group of aged trolls seated near the steps turned to look at us, suspicion in their ancient eyes. One of them hissed a Zandali curse through yellowed tusks, and the rest of them cackled. A scowl flashed across Daj’yah’s face for the briefest instant, before returning to her usual neutral expression.
“What did he say?” I asked, when we were some distance.
“‘Look at the two humans!’ he said. Apparently, humans have blue skin and tusks now.”
“Why do I care what old Hon’jah has to say anyway? There were more than a few times he came back from the hunt empty-handed, still puffing himself up with pride. He never could stand his ground in an insult contest anyway.”
“Maybe you should challenge him to one. You’re witty enough.”
“Mages don’t do that, remember? We’re not really part of the tribe.”
“Officially you are. Maybe this can start a new tradition.”
“I truly do wish it were that simple. But I’d be swimming against a thousand years’ worth of current.”
I nodded, not wanting to press the issue. Whether or not it were feasible, she was unwilling. Side by side the two of us made our way through the darkening streets. We took the ridgeway path leading down to the Valley of Honor. A riot of smoky smells, burning trash and roasting kodo meat, rose up from the city’s twisting streets. I could see peons hurrying to light fires in iron braziers. The city lights only came alive in times of celebration or crisis.
Daj’yah and I went into one of the canyons, rock walls high on both sides. A crowd of orcs gathered around one scarred warrior, who stood a head taller than the rest. Bellowing fury, he pronounced doom on the Forsaken and all other cowards, swearing to drive them from the Horde.
“Never again shall orc blood be shed for these wretches! If they defy us again, their blood will be shed at our will!” he shouted to the approval of the crowd.
Daj’yah looked to me, her eyes wide in concern. I smiled as bravely as I could, a gesture that she returned after a moment’s hesitation.
There was more. A Sylvanas of straw and canvas hung by the door of a squat stone house, flames already licking its feet as peons cheered. A shaman, bathed in the firelight, chanted before an audience of acolytes as he called on his ancestors for strength enough to defeat Orgrimmar’s enemies. Eyes hidden under a wolfskin hood, his lips curled in hate as I walked past. On the steps of her stone abode stood an old woman dressed in black and maroon, the orcish colors of mourning. Her eyes narrowed when she saw me, and she hurried back into her house, making a sign to ward off evil spirits.
Daj’yah grabbed my wrist, pulling me close. Smoke hid the stars, and red sparks danced like maddened fireflies over smoldering braziers.
“We’re part of the Horde, no matter what they say.”
“I know. Thank you.”
Nor was the anger limited to the Apothecarium and the Forsaken. I heard young warriors gloat about war with the Alliance, made seemingly unavoidable by Putress’ actions.
“My battle-brothers say that the humans blame us for Putress, and seek our blood in vengeance. Let them come, I say. Now we shall finally prove to the world that the Horde is unstoppable. The Warchief and Garrosh will litter the fields with Alliance dead, and our axes will drip red with human blood,” said one young warrior to his friend. Barely out of adolescence, their eyes glittered with dreams of battles to come.
The rage of a race had been unloosed, and I feared that nothing save a crushing defeat could quench it. Thrall had tried to teach his people, yet only a handful had listened. The rest imagined the Warchief to be a brutal warlord in the worst of orcish tradition. They would not permit any other role for Thrall, casting aside his incredible political and moral achievements.
Had Thrall made mistakes? Certainly. He never did enough to disassociate himself and the Horde from its previous incarnation. Orgrimmar’s name is a perfect example of that, for a monster like Orgrim does not deserve commemoration, whatever virtues he exhibited later in life. Thrall did not do enough to empower the individual orc, establishing a precedent for despotic rule. No one can realistically expect future Warchiefs to rule as well as Thrall. Perhaps worst of all, he trusted the wrong people.
However, Thrall’s story is far from over. As one of the youngest world leaders, he will doubtless continue to do many great things But the Wrathgate reveals his limitations. If he is as wise as is believed, he will learn from these mistakes.
Neither of us could think of anything to say when we returned to the Valley of Spirits. We’d walked for a long time. The cooking fires had already gone out, and most of the Darkspears slept. I could hear a few muted conversations carried on the warm winds, the sort of quiet talk that might be enjoyed by good friends.
“Perhaps that walk wasn’t such a good idea,” sighed Daj’yah.
I paused, not sure what to say. Suddenly, I thought of Vard and Hulla’tak. I thought of Grota, the brave warrior-woman who had defended a crippled child’s right to live, and of Drub, who had found honor in the soil of the Barrens. I thought of them and scores of others, and the thousands I’d never met.
“On the contrary. Seeing all that reminded me of those who did learn Thrall’s lessons, who work for a better and more civilized future. They’re out there; you’re a fine example yourself.”
“I am not sure if I do enough to count. Thank you, though. You are too.”
“And there are others. And they in turn, will teach others.”
We stood outside for a few minutes longer, watching as the smoky haze cleared, revealing a few bright stars in the dusty sky. Finally we said our good nights, our hearts lightened by hope.