Saturday, August 14, 2010
Sholazar Basin: Part 2
((Computer problems, visiting relatives, and Starcraft 2 put together couldn't stop me from updating in the middle of August. I'm not sure how well I handled the ending in this chapter; please tell me if you think it seems too abrupt. I didn't really want to get bogged down in describing logistics, as I can simply make a quick shorter-than-a-paragraph explanation in the next chapter.
There's also a new page on the blog that explains the references made in the travelogue.
I've also updated Scratched Nerve with a new original story called Crossed Paths.
I almost decided to skip Lake Wintergrasp, but I think I'll just give it a very short chapter instead. That'll be next.))
Rogrof attacked me again two days later. He struck without any warning while my back was turned, pushing me face-down into the earth. Only luck saw me through, the wolvar once again cringing at my feet at the end of the fight. I knew then that I had to leave. The wolvar never intend struggles within the village to end in death, but not all races can withstand their prodigious strength.
I returned to Lakeside Landing on my own, using a rusty machete to cut through the tangled undergrowth. Grenk had given me the machete, which he’d looted from a tauren on the gorloc side.
“You killed another member of the Horde?” I demanded.
“Someone killed the tauren; perhaps me, perhaps another. Battle is many things, but it is never clear. He chose to help the gorlocs, and was thus my enemy.”
The conflict in Sholazar left me unsettled and I tried to understand why people would engage in conflict against their own kind over a matter of such trifling importance. Perhaps Sholazar’s remote location ensures that only the most desperate and bloodthirsty ever reach it.
I arrived at Lakeside Landing to learn that Kada had gone north to Rainspeaker Canopy, the home of the Oracles. Vic, who had a basic understanding of the nearby landscape, explained how to get to the village. I followed his directions with some doubt, not entirely trusting myself to navigate the green maze of the Wildgrove Mangal. Staying on the north bank of the Frenzyheart River I spent a day walking inland before seeing a solitary white rock rising from the sluggish waters as described to me by Vic. I headed north from there, into the trackless jungle.
I stumbled upon the idol in a clearing early the next morning, the surrounding thicket hidden by curtains of vines laden with bright orange blossoms. It resembled an anthropomorphized earthworm, the gaping mouth and blue crystal eyes giving it an almost comical look of startled confusion. Small piles of fermented fruit and dead flowers lay on an earthen dais before the idol, bright crystal shards gleaming in the muck.
As I made my cautious way towards the idol, all the more otherworldly in the dawn’s hazy yellow light, a gorloc darted out from a nearby cluster of ferns. I’d seen gorlocs before from a distance, but the sight of them inspires almost a primal fear of everything reptilian. Standing chest-high, they resemble scaly toads with stubby limbs and huge, staring eyes. One cannot help noticing their too-wide mouths, lined with needle teeth as long as fingers.
If anyone felt fear in that encounter, it was the gorloc, who stampeded away from the clearing making shrill croaks. I paused, not sure if I should proceed; I had no wish to alarm the gorlocs, who were probably already watchful against Frenzyheart incursions.
“What do you want here, Forsaken?” demanded a woman’s voice from behind the trees, the Orcish accented almost to the point of incomprehensibility.
“I only wish to learn more about the gorloc Oracles. I am no friend to the Frenzyheart Tribe,” I answered.
“Words mean little in this ancient land.” I finally identified her accent as Darnassian. “Wait here or leave; do not take a step closer if you wish to live.”
I chose the first option, waiting as hummingbirds in red and green flittered down from the trees and chased each other around the idol, stopping to drink from the open flowers growing at its base. I was not sure if the night elf intended to return or simply wait for me to get bored and go away.
“What are you called, Forsaken?” the voice asked a while later.
“Very well. I have conferred with the Oracles, and they have agreed to let you in. Know that one false move will result in a second and permanent death.”
“I will endeavor to be careful.”
The night elf finally showed herself. Of small size for her race, she walked with the swift and alert assurance of a great cat, poised to strike at any instant. Her green hair, shorn almost to the scalp coupled with a broad and inscrutable face served to enhance the impression. She gripped a black bow with her left hand, while the right hovered over the full quiver strapped to her leg.
“I am Beldrine Moonshadow, a friend of the Oracles. Walk ahead, and you will find Rainspeaker Canopy.”
She pointed to a small opening in the treeline. I marched forward as told, Beldrine filing in behind me, her steps silent on the soft ground. I had the distinct feeling that she’d rather enjoy peppering me full of arrows.
Soft blue lights are the traveler’s first sight of Rainspeaker Canopy, hovering like will o’wisps in the jungle mist. It’s easy to overlook the hemispheric wooden huts settled in the protective embrace of great roots, open to the air and using broad ferns as roofs. Glowing crystals shed their light all through the village, some attached to web-like vines that droop from the canopy, refracting the scant sunlight into soft rainbow patterns that dance across the moss and dirt.
Gorloc voices croaked and called at my arrival and I saw them scurrying out from the undergrowth to get a better look.
“Are they alarmed at my presence?” I asked.
“With good reason. Strangers have brought much woe to the Oracles.”
“Do they speak any languages but their own?”
“Some can speak in limited Common or Orcish. One speaks both fluently.”
Beldrine ushered me past the huts until we reached a stone obelisk, solitary and inscrutable next to a pair of moss-cloaked boulders. Designs of simple elegance had been engraved onto the surface, open flowers along with more abstract symbols. Bronze, somehow untarnished by time or moisture, lined the base and the cap.
Three gorlocs stood near the obelisk, one carrying a wooden plate laden with flowers and fruit. Upon seeing me, the porter hurried over to the monument, placed the offering on the damp earth, and ran away.
“Oracle Soo-say, I bring the stranger,” Beldrine said, this time in Common.
“A new dryskin? Soo-say is interested, but unsure,” said the gorloc in a gurgling voice.
“I only want to learn more about the Oracles.”
“Questions good. Oracles happy to teach. But many dryskin are mean to Oracles! You be friendly, or mean?”
“Oracles hope so.”
“Soo-say, I think you should be more careful—”
“Soo-say very careful! This dryskin all alone; do no harm. Puppy-men already know village, nothing this dryskin can teach them.”
“Thank you,” I said, as Beldrine glared at me.
“What you want know about Oracles?” asked Soo-say. The gorloc’s eyes seemed to stare right through me in wide-eyed amazement, as if the most incredible thing in the world was taking place right behind my back.
“How long have you lived here?”
“Forever. Great Ones made Oracles to protect sacred shrines. Oracles do this for many generations. Then puppy-men come. Puppy-men ran here, and Oracles say they can live and be happy. Lots of fish and fruit to eat! But then Oracles invite puppy-men into Rainspeaker Canopy, and the puppy-men attack. Oracles not know why.”
“I may be able to answer that. The Frenzyheart Tribe, or puppy-men, as you call them, fight each other to see who will lead. The losers are expected to serve the winners, at least until the losers can fight back.”
Soo-say stared at me for a long while.
“Puppy-men strange. Oracles still not know why, but think you funny for trying to explain! Soo-say will tell friends, lots of funny!”
Soo-say scampered off into the village, the frog-like voice trilling in what I guessed was joy. Next to me, Beldrine doubled over laughing.
“I seem to be more entertaining when I’m not trying to be funny,” I smirked, switching to Common.
“The Oracles appear to like you, but they are naive. I am not. You should still walk with care, Destron. Oh, your friend Kada is here. She vouched for you, so give her thanks.”
I was reunited with Kada a few minutes later. She’d been overjoyed to find one of her old friends still living among the Oracles, an orc warrior of few words named Holk. He’d originally joined with a scout called Ota, but she had fallen in battle against the wolvar. Fresh flowers grew on her grave, placed there by Kada.
“I feared that my old companions would be fighting. At least I now know which side fights with honor,” she said.
“How do you feel about Horde making war upon Horde?”
She gave me an odd look.
“How do you think I feel, Destron? But when blood is shed, the time for talk is over. Some of the ancestor spirits spoke to me in dreams, admiring the ferocity of the wolvar. But then I heard the spirit of my father, who knew Thrall, give his judgment against the wolvar in my dreams. After that, my heart knew the Oracles to be right.”
Kada introduced me to the other foreigners residing in Rainspeaker Canopy, a mix just as eclectic as the one in Frenzyheart Hill. Beldrine was one of seven Kaldorei huntresses who had chosen to protect the Oracles from predation; collectively, they called themselves the Arrows of the Night. Besides the Kaldorei, the orcs, and myself, a lone tauren (his friend slain by Grenk) and a dishevelled dwarf filled out the ranks.
Neither the Oracles nor the Frenzyhearts can pay their foreign helpers with money. Those who prove themselves in the eyes of a faction are rewarded with shamanistic charms and respect. Personal reasons motivate most of the outsiders.
“The Oracles live in an idyllic harmony with this jungle while the wolvar despoil all that they touch,” spat Beldrine.
Gorlocs lead simple and often very hard lives. Predators are a constant worry in the jungle depths, and High Oracle Soo-say leads the other shamans in placing enchanted wards (taking the form of bundled sticks, wrapped in twine and doused in mud) all around Rainspeaker Canopy every day at sundown. These wards produce a terrific racket of animal screeches when disturbed, though Soo-say told me that some beasts still work their way inside undetected. Lambent crystals give a soft and steady glow, repelling some nocturnal beasts.
Making their beds in shallow pits filled with damp leaves, the gorlocs fall asleep the moment the sun’s fading light disappears, their great eyes snapping shut like clockwork. Awakening with the same regularity, they make their breakfast out of the swarms of buzzing flies that gorge themselves on piles of mushy fruit throughout the village. They leave their trash out for this express purpose.
With that done, the gorlocs begin the day’s labors. All the young women in the village gather up in two lines and tramp through the jungle to the banks of the Rainspeaker Rapids, led by a female shaman who croaks out the litanies of protection. Gorloc females are bigger and more robust than the males, attributes that serve them well in the dangerous task of fishing. I watched as they submerged themselves in the swift waters until only their scalps remained, like pale blue stones in the current.
Their toothy maws wide open, the gorlocs wait for the small orange fish native to the river to swim by. Attracted by the lures on the gorloc lips the fish swim right into the mouths to be impaled on the piercing teeth. The gorlocs do not eat the fish on the spot; instead, they keep the fish skewered until they return to Rainspeaker Canopy and add the fish to the village larder.
By no means the apex predator of the region, the gorlocs risk their lives every time they enter the river. The gorlocs alternate between different sections of the rapids, but crocolisks and snakes still kill two or three each month. Emerging at noon, their white fangs punctuated with glistening dashes of orange scales, the gorlocs marched home.
Breadfruit is another mainstay of the gorloc diet. Here, they practice a limited form of agriculture, maintaining a breadfruit tree orchard near their village. I visited Rainspeaker Canopy in the midst of the harvest, which is conducted by the men of the tribe. Small and nimble, they climb on top of each others’ shoulders to form a living ladder to the top. The head gorloc, his entire body tensed trying to maintain balance, reaches out to pluck a fruit from the tree with his spindly arms. This he passes down the ladder, one gorloc to another until it reaches the ground.
Much of the fruit is eaten by the female gorlocs, who use it to bulk their bodies in preparation for the egg-laying season.
“Gloon need much food to make hatchlings,” explained one gorloc.
“How many eggs do you typically lay?”
“Many.” Lacking a counting system, many (to the gorlocs) means anything more than three. “Put eggs in holy pond,” Gloon added, pointing with a crooked finger towards a slimy bog near the monument, a few crystals piercing the muck.
“How long does it take for a gorloc to grow up?”
“Egg open in three months, hatches as water worm. Water worms swim, eat food. Many get eaten. Many grow up, turn into little Oracles and get names. Become adult soon.”
A gorloc can expect to live for around 30 years, though accidents and predation kill most of them well before that age. Though difficult to ascertain from the gorlocs, I gathered that they only just maintained a replacement rate for their population, and the wolvar threatened to push them over the edge. I asked why they couldn’t make the holy pond safer.
“Weak water worms no good, make weak Oracles. Too many Oracles bad. Great Ones made Oracles to watch Sholazar and sacred stones.”
Sholazar’s crystals appear identical to the ones in Un’goro Crater, far to the south. In Un’goro, the crystals draw rain clouds to the region, creating a jungle surrounded by miles of burning sands. I first heard this theorized during my own visit to Un’goro, and later learned that researchers in Khaz Modan had proven it correct, though the mechanism behind it remains obscure. The Sholazar crystals probably operate in a different way, since adjacent regions still experience significant (albeit frozen) precipitation.
To the Oracles, the crystals are the holiest relics of the departed Great Ones. They recognize that the crystals preserve the jungle though they do not know how. Crystals are most common around the five mile-high mesas in Sholazar, each mesa producing shards of a specific color.
Once every five years, the gorlocs go on pilgrimages to the nearest pillar and collect a number of crystals before bringing them back to the village (Rainspeaker Canopy is by no means the only Oracle settlement). The crystals, claimed Gloon (herself a veteran of three such pilgrimages), replenish themselves. Oracles always bring a few of their village’s crystals when visiting other gorloc colonies, giving each one a collection of many colors. When detached from the source, the crystalline shards break down into dirt after a few years, necessitating more pilgrimages.
“We think Scourge broke Lifeblood Pillar. Big storm happen, and everything break. Now place around Lifeblood Pillar cold. Many Oracles dead. Some walk again, but as dryskins,” said Gloon, her sibilant voice matter-of-fact. Oracles do feel emotions, but cannot easily communicate them to other races. “Talk to Moodle. He see this.”
Moodle stands out among the Oracles. While most are content to bask in the slow-moving stream of village life, Moodle’s every movement went at double-time. His nervous fingers tapped a spasmodic beat on his belly when I met him.
“Everything east of here is dead. I know! I went there with a dryskin like you, we saw the Scourge. Many of them. Hundreds, I think you would say. Villages die in the night, they take the bodies and make more Scourge. They’re the ones who destroyed the Lifeblood Pillar.”
“Have the Oracles made any attempt to pool their resources and fight back?”
“Ha! We can’t. The wolvar foul us up every time. Scourge will kill the wolvar too, but at least the wolvar are not stuck here.”
“How did you come to speak Common so well?”
“Blame the wolvar. Oracle Soo-say sent me and four others to alert the other villages when she realized the wolvar wanted to kill us. We were fast, cunning. Sholazar is a dangerous place for us, but we still warned everyone.
“Then the wolvar attacked our little group. Killed two, forced the rest of us into the mountain pass, into the tundra. None of us knew what waited beyond Sholazar. None of us imagined the breath that freezes in your mouth, imagined the frost that stills your blood. Four days later, they all died.”
“How did you survive?”
“Getting to that. Tougher, faster. When a gorloc is cold, she wants to lie down and curl up. Big mistake! They did that, never got up. I kept running. Ran through the snow and the ice. Toes got black and fell off. Dwarves saved me. Found a camp of them. One of them tried to shoot me first, but his friend—gnome, I think—realized I was harmless. Decided to keep me as a pet. Gave me warm water, a warm blanket, I got better. They thought me stupid, until I started picking up their words.”
“They used Common instead of Dwarvish?”
“Mixed camp, many gnomes, some humans. Once they found out I could talk, they started asking me many questions. When I told them about the Great Ones, all the work in the camp stopped and they crowded around me. Told me about the Titans, how they set the world to order and made the dwarves and humans. Decided I was like them, Titanborn they called me.
“I heard other stories too. About how these Titanborn races lived all over the world, more of them than I could imagine living in what they called cities. How they changed the world to fit their needs, just like the Titans before them. They let me go home after a few months. Way back was easier, I knew how to survive.” Moodle spoke in a rapid cadence, each word sharp and clear. He began to squeeze a small twine ball gripped in his right hand, the movements mechanical in their rapidity.
“How do you feel about being Titanborn?”
“Makes sense. They showed me pictures of Uldaman and other Titan ruins. Told me about Un’goro. And I wonder: why are the gorlocs stuck here? Dwarves and gnomes and humans spread across the globe, but gorlocs can only live here.”
“There are some gorlocs in the Borean Tundra,” I pointed out.
“They are fools, barely able to think. Not like the Oracles are much better. Just walk around, eat until something eats you. No future, no past. Why don’t we have cities? You see, the Titans made the other races to do things, to make things. They made us to watch. Gorlocs do not see the world like other races do. Most of us don’t realize that we are different. But we see life itself. That is why the Titans told us to watch over Sholazar.”
“How do you mean?”
“When the wind blows, a gorloc can see it, can see its direction and all the little particles on the wind, pollen from specific flowers, dust from specific places. If she looks at a leaf, she sees the trails left by all the little insects that crawled on it for weeks back in the past. If she sees you, she sees how no blood flows in your veins, sees exactly how you’ve rotted. Do you understand?”
“You’re saying that the gorlocs can gather all kinds of natural data through their normal senses.”
“Exactly. We do not need to be intelligent to do this. The Titans made us passive. Why? We could be more! Not stuck here, dying, crushed between wolvar and Scourge! I tell this to the other Oracles, but they say I’m foolish. Why leave? Everything here! They can’t see anything else. Can’t see what I see.
“We are a doomed race. Now though, I hear stories of a goddess raising the flowers of Sholazar to be an army against the dead. A dwarf came through here a while ago, saying the Titans left her behind. That she knows many things.”
Moodle paused, eyeing me up and down.
“I think she can answer my questions.”
Though determined to reach this enigmatic goddess, Moodle knew the risks of traveling through the Lost Lands, which had only grown more dangerous since his last visit there. He spent the next four days trying to persuade other Oracles to join him. Moodle hoped to spark their curiosity, and perhaps their indignation as well.
Observing Oracle village life, I reflected on Moodle’s comments about his own race’s passivity. Describing the Oracles as passive is perhaps an overstatement; certainly they work very hard to survive. They view the world through a fatalistic lens, perhaps not surprising given how few gorlocs die of old age.
Non-urban societies often depend on shamans to improve their chances of survival. The tauren are a prime example of this. While life is still difficult, and endemic violence is common (if not among different tribes in the same race, as in trolls, than from other races, like the tauren), sophisticated shamanism is an extremely potent force that improves health and increases the reliability of a food source so long as the spirits are appeased.
Oracle shamans are quite limited in their abilities. I learned about this through Oracle Soo-dow, an elder shaman who resided in the hollowed-out tree. There he held court on a floor strewn with reeds, where crystals from across Sholazar cast their sacred light on the wooden walls.
“Many spirits here. Soo-dow know them,” he hissed.
“How do you interact with them?”
“Make offering. Tend sacred grove. Do like ancestors did.”
“Do you ever speak with the spirits?”
“Speak? Dry-skin funny, but foolish! Spirits great. Oracles must watch garden; not talk to it.”
The power wielded by shamans in most cultures stems from bargaining with (or sometimes dominating) the spirits. This is not to say that their interactions take the form of marketplace haggling, at least not usually; many shamans are quite reverential in their attitudes. But they do hold council with nature’s unseen masters and attempt to reach a deal. The Oracles, in contrast, rely on ritual.
Kada and Pelhehato Windmane (the remaining tauren in Rainspeaker Canopy) offered their own opinions on the subject during the second day. A shaman’s son, Pelhehato knew something about the subject.
“Our shamans gain courage from the deeds and words of warriors past, but the Oracles have no such recourse. Their ancestors say little, if anything. They spend their lives slaving away for Sholazar’s spirits, not knowing if their efforts really please them. A bad situation,” groused Kada.
“Are the spirits of Sholazar unusually hostile or aloof?” I asked.
“That is not certain, Kada,” cautioned Pelhehato. “We must remember that we are new to this land, and know little of it.”
“I speak to the spirits here the same as anywhere else. They do not respect fear, which is all the Oracles offer. Someone must teach them to be stronger.”
“I do not mean to doubt your wisdom, but again, there is much we do not know. The Oracles learned their methods through generations of experience.”
“They act like frightened children!”
“Have you ever tried to get them to be more assertive?”
“I tried without success. They just laugh and call me a ‘silly dryskin.’”
“Forgive me, Kada, for I am no shaman. Yet my thinking is that spirits do not always understand mortals and that they would react badly to the gorlocs turning more aggressive without warning. Spirits come to expect certain things from certain groups. Might they accept bold bargaining from you, but not necessarily from the gorlocs?”
Kada’s eyes narrowed, but she caught herself at the last moment.
“Perhaps I am overreaching. But I speak with the spirits, and I know that they hold cowards in the same disdain that they hold those who disrespect them. The spirits here are barely aware of the Oracles, and that needs to change if the Oracles intend to survive.”
As Beldrine remarked, the Oracles seem to live in perfect harmony. This does not translate into a safe or easy life. I do not mean this as a criticism; the Oracles certainly appear content. However, they may not realize the precariousness of their own situation. Incurious about the outside world and reluctant to adapt, the critiques of Moodle and Kada are quite valid.
As one might expect from such an intimate society, there is no real division between family and village life. Children are raised in common, typically reaching maturity in two years. Elder (non-shaman) females teach the young the basics of survival. After four months, the young gorlocs are divided according to gender and taught how to gather food by their peers.
Kada jogged me awake on the fourth night. It took me a moment to notice the shrill yowl sounding out over the screams of the jungle night.
“Prepare yourself, Destron,” she warned. Still dressed in her sleeping tunic she grabbed a flanged mace lying next to her bedroll, of the sort once used by Stromgarder knights.
Soft lights of many colors illuminated the village, giving the place something of a carnival feel. I heard the gorlocs hissing in excitement, rising up from the mud as squat shadows. More yowls came from the distance, obviously panicked.
“A wolvar fell into one of the traps,” said Kada. “They never come this far alone; the rest wait for the gorlocs to show themselves before attacking.”
“Should we just ignore it then?”
“Wolvar incursions cannot be tolerated. Beldrine taught the gorlocs to stand back. Eventually, the wolvar will lose their patience.” She said those last words in a tone of dark satisfaction.
I noticed Beldrine and her followers barking out commands that the senior Oracles hurriedly translated into the local tongue. Gorlocs coalesced into awkward formations, the small males taking point. We soon found the source of the disturbance, an entire section of jungle shaking with furious snarls.
Gorlocs lurched forward with sharp teeth bared, only to pull back at Beldrine’s command. Leaves kept falling from the thrashing bushes, the savage growls mixed with pitiful whines. Beldrine nocked an arrow to her bow, a feral smile on her lips.
The jungle burst to life with a dozen chilling howls and wolvar warriors bounded out from the treeline gripping axes and spears, their beady eyes red with reflected light. Some tumbled to the ground in furry heaps, skulls pierced by the deadly rain of Kaldorei arrows.
Despite their losses the wolvar closed the gap in an instant, barrelling into the gorlocs who began to fall back, twisting to avoid the flailing axes. Some slipped through the wolvar lines and dove to the ground, their sharp teeth tearing into soft heels and tendons. Attacked wolvar screamed and fought to escape as more gorlocs jumped in to bring down the wounded, burying them under a storm of scales and snapping jaws.
Kada and I launched our own attacks, lightning and arcane missiles striking the wolvar still rushing out from the forests. Blinding light bathed the village as Kada chanted a savage ode to the ancestors, bringing the wrath of the spirits down on the invaders. The stench of burned fur and flesh seeped from the battle as Kada’s lightning died down. Fire burned in the woods, a red light visible behind the trees, and I remembered the blood elf magister staying at Frenzyheart Hill.
A gout of flame struck the gorloc ranks, nightmare screams filling the air as the Oracles scattered. Some wolvar, still dazed by the lightning attack, remained where they stood and watched the defenders escape. Others pounced on fleeing gorlocs and cut them down. Fiery arcane energies again flared to life in the forest. That time, Beldrine and her allies turned their attention to the trees, loosing arrow after arrow. The spellfire vanished moments later.
With a bloodcurdling cry an orc warrior hurtled into the melee, his raised ax cutting down and splitting open a gorloc standing a few feet from me. The Oracle shrieked as it grabbed at its innards, falling to the ground where it rolled in agony. The flashing ax blade kept the swarming gorlocs at bay. Dim light played across the attacker’s features, fixed in a brutish grin, and I recognized my former host in Frenzyheart Hill: Dheg.
Focused on the gorlocs, he did not see me prepare and unleash a spell. Magic fire exploded across his body, heat and kinetic force blasting a gaping hole in his right shoulder. The ax dropped from nerveless hands as Dheg looked at the wound in dumb shock. He roared in pain and fear, his cry cut short as the gorlocs ripped into his legs, taking him down for good.
I stood before the awful scene as the wolvar beat a panicked retreat into the jungle. Bodies littered the edge of the village, fewer than I’d first supposed. Awoken gorloc children croaked shrilly in alarm from deeper in the village as their elders took stock of the situation. Kada and Helmant, the dwarven priest, began the work of closing wounds and mending bones.
Bleeding wolvar whined in the dirt, their legs torn to pulpy shreds. As they shook and screamed in agony the gorlocs walked forward, finishing them off with quick bites to the throat. I almost protested, but lost myself in indecision. The gorlocs cannot afford to keep prisoners, particularly not those as volatile as the wolvar.
If I am to be honest, some part of me thought the Frenzyheart as deserving nothing better.
The time for objection soon passed, the last of the wounded put to death. Nearby lay the body of a Horde warrior whom I had killed in battle. He was no rogue Blackrock raider or Illidari savage, but a freelance soldier of my own nation. Not only a soldier, but a father as well; he’d mentioned a son. Coldness gripped my innards as I realized what I’d done in the heat of battle. A necessity, I supposed, but horrible all the same.
“Do not concern yourself, Destron,” said Kada, the next morning. “He knew what he was getting into.”
“Still, he was part of—”
“The Horde is far away. No orc will allow others to attack those under his protection. You fought with honor.”
“I still killed a fellow countryman!”
“He’s an orc, you’re a Forsaken. You are not that similar. He chose his friends, and met his end in honorable battle. No one will condemn you for this.”
“Kada, someone needs to inform the Horde about this. We cannot have our own people killing each other—”
“Did not Grenk, Dheg’s lackey, admit to killing Pelhehato’s friend? He boasted of it, did he not?”
“He didn’t show any shame.”
“Neither should you. You do not live in a human nation, where allegiance to king is so important. Among orcs, warriors have their honor, and will fight for it. That is how we are.”
I watched as the gorlocs buried their dead the next day. Oracle funerals are a curious sight to outsiders. The gorlocs display no visible emotion, always lolling their tongues in open-mouthed smiles. Kada and Moodle assured me that the gorlocs felt real sadness for their fallen kin.
“Harder to live now. Village needs every gorloc it can get. I will miss them. We felt warm and strong with Kloob, Sahng, Boohn, and Yavha. Miss them. Miss the sound of their voices.”
As Moodle spoke they laid out the last of the bodies in a pit, each one paired with a Sholazar crystal. Than Soo-say began filling the pit with leaves and mud, to the hissed lamentation of her comrades.
The promise of revelation had led Helmant Coppernose to abandon a thriving millinery business in Ironforge and venture out to Northrend’s frozen shores. His face always glowed with a half-mad smile, the upturned lips surrounded by a tangled brown beard.
“I heard the Titans in my dreams, telling me of our world’s birthright. I listened close, and they spoke of life and the color green; they spoke of Sholazar. One of their greatest creations fights against the Scourge in this land. I am meant to be here, to see her glory with my own eyes.”
Word of this mysterious goddess had already spread throughout Rainspeaker Canopy, brought by foreign travelers fleeing the Lost Lands. The Oracles already revered her in their casual way. Only Moodle and Helmant wanted to actually speak with her, though for very different reasons. I had already agreed to brave the Lost Lands with Moodle, and I told him about Helmant’s interest in the subject.
“Yes, I know the dwarf,” replied Moodle, gripping the worn ball of twine in his hand. “Dwarves love the Titans. Happy with them. I am not. Helmant does not understand.”
“Perhaps you two could learn something from each other.”
“Dwarves aren’t interested in learning. Think they already know. Maybe they do.”
“The Lost Lands are very dangerous. A third party member would be beneficial.”
“I’ve been to the Lost Lands before. Horrible. Fate of Sholazar, if Scourge is not stopped.” He tossed the ball from one clawed hand to another, his breathing harsh and rapid. “A good point though. Yes, Helmant should join us. I cannot let him stop me from asking about the truth.”
“Of course, I will support you.” On some level, I identified with Moodle’s anger at the gorlocs seeming to be one of history’s unwanted children. More than anything else, I wanted to leave Rainspeaker Canopy and its memory of violence.
We began our trek early the next morning, Moodle wrapped up in a tiny fur coat made for him by the dwarves back at the camp. I led the way, using Grenk’s machete to clear a path through the fecund undergrowth. Following the Rainspeaker Rapids for a day brought us to one of its steep cataracts, the water dashing itself to foam against the rocks.
“Curious, don’t you think, how clear and clean this water is after coming from a tainted realm? The work of the goddess I am sure,” said Helmant, his voice touched with exultation.
Days passed as we struggled up the jagged, vine-strewn cliffs, each cataract seeming less passable than the last. Moodle proved ill-suited to the steep terrain, but his obvious weakness only served to strengthen his determination and he walked on without complaint.
The Lost Lands are spreading. Where once the Rainspeaker Rapids acted as a barrier to plague, the foulness has already cleared the river to mar both sides. Once-thick vines dry black and brittle, crumbling to dust at the merest touch. Trees droop under the weight of corruption, the bloated trunks bleeding infected sap.
A pronounced chill settles across the landscape when one enters the Lost Lands. Without the Lifeblood Pillar, there is no mechanism preventing Northrend’s natural climate from reasserting itself. Moodle shivered in the cold air, clutching his coat and trying to keep warm through quick movements. He closed his great eyes to mere slits to prevent them from drying out. Congealed orange mist clings to the ground in the night and morning at the edge of the Lost Lands, and endures all day deeper inside.
The cataract marking the true boundary of the Lost Lands proved most difficult to scale. Mud drips down the cliffs and bands of foggy rime lace the ancient rocks. Lacking any clear path on the western bank, we forded the river to the eastern side, where muddy slopes offered some access to the high ground.
Dead trees sink into the Lost Lands’ icy mire, necromantic cancers pulsing in their hollowed trunks. Moodle’s breath billowed out in thick clouds of mist and he closed his mouth, as if to keep the cold out of his innards.
When we set up our camp that night, Moodle warmed up the mud as best he could and settled down into it, compacting his body into a ball for warmth. He could not get too close to the fire for fear that it would further dehydrate his skin.
“Moodle, are you going to be all right?” I asked him.
“Yes. Lost Lands are much worse now, much colder. I will survive.”
“I will not mind turning back,” I offered.
“No! If the goddess has answers, I need to hear them. My people need to hear them. The Titans let the dwarves and gnomes thrive, and we need to do the same.”
I kept the fire burning through the night for Moodle’s sake, helping him warm new baths of mud. Helmant aided him as well.
“He possesses the strength one expects of a Titanborn, to brave this dark land,” remarked Helmant later that night.
“Do you believe the gorlocs to be Titanborn on the same level as the dwarves?”
“Lad, all of us are Titanborn. They gave me visions of the world before They came, a churning hell of flame and storm! Only when They set the world to order could life arise. Some, like us dwarves, they crafted Themselves. Others grew from different sources. Yet we all cherish and rely on the birthright of the Titans.”
“Interesting. What about the races of Draenor?”
“Life springs up wherever the Titans lay their hands. Draenor, or Outland, is no exception.”
“Humans are as Titanborn as any other. You’re just a human with a terrible sickness. Doesn’t make you any less of a Titanborn. They made us strong, Destron. That is why we prevail against the elements, endure the demons, and why the Lich King proved no match for your peoples’ will. When the Titans return, all will live in glory.”
Helmant’s words remain unproven mysticism, but I nonetheless appreciated the inclusive nature of his belief. For too many dwarves, the Mystery of the Makers is a license to arrogance, a religion that places their race at the top, puts gnomes and humans in subordinate roles, and dismisses all others as irrelevant.
Morning’s dim light revealed the Scourge armies slouching through the mud, tortured silhouettes in the fog. The Scourge sends its plague eruptors and bone golems to Sholazar, the reserves of their sprawling army. Cobbled together from the pieces of fallen Scourge minions and corpses too decayed to raise, they walk in a horrible second undeath. Their dead feet splashing through the mud is the only sound in the Lost Lands.
Stone obelisks hover through the air, belching yellow gasses through spouts carved to resemble skulls. I’d heard of these plague-spreaders ruining the land in Zul’drak and the Borean Tundra. Their contaminants settle deep into the ground, making the soil barren for centuries to come.
The plague-spreaders act as the successors to the great cauldrons that the Scourge had once used to lay waste to northern Lordaeron. Expensive and immobile, the cauldrons proved easy to destroy. Though less damaging on an individual level, plague-spreaders are much easier to produce and can transport themselves.
While limitless resources made the Burning Legion complacent, the Scourge reflects its master’s mind; endlessly adaptive, resourceful, and creative. With the necromancers forever tinkering with new strains of the plague, it is only a matter of time before they develop a weapon of unstoppable power.
Staying low in the brittle underbrush we watched as the Scourge drones flooded the landscape in a tide of decay, all headed to the source waters of the Rainspeaker Rapids. Organized in loose packs, the recycled troops still numbered into the hundreds.
“Behold! All this, and they still fall before the might of the goddess!” intoned Helmant.
Dusk began its descent over the Lost Lands, the growing cold and darkness more natural in that place than the sun. Moodle looked to the sinking light, his breaths sharp and ragged. His fine scales had flaked off in patches, revealing the pale pink flesh underneath. Not once did he slow down, forcing his squat legs through the freezing mud, burning with the need to answer his race’s plight.
The last light disappeared into the haze as we clambered up a muddy ridge, each step seeming to slide us back a few inches. Just before true night fell we saw the brilliant blue expanse of Rainspeaker Lake, lush greenery flourishing on its banks in defiance of the surrounding ruin.
Sholazar’s heat returned to us as we ran to the water’s edge, the night once more rich with life. Stars shone as gems in a sky untouched by Scourge fog and bright orange frogs leaped amidst the water lilies, indifferent to the death surrounding them.
Helmant plunged his hands in the water and splashed it on his face, laughing like mad between snatches of dwarven song. Moodle’s eyes scanned the area for predators, his motions cautious. He prodded a nearby mound of flowering vegetation with his claws. Loose dirt spilled out, revealing moldering bones lying under the earth. Their irregular nature, a mix of anthropoid and bestial, identified them as the remnants of the Scourge. From the foulest death, the goddess sowed life.
We awoke to a spectacular dawn mirrored on the lake. I saw an obvious improvement in Moodle’s health, his movements returned to their preternatural alertness. I could not help feeling like a medieval pilgrim on the way to a saint’s shrine as we circumnavigated the lake. No one claimed the goddess to be a Titan per se; rather, they described her as Titan creation of great power. Though I’d traveled through Ulduar, the Titans still came across as enigmatic, perhaps even threatening. The Naaru bring glory to all who listen. The Titans had come to bring order, and who really knows what that meant?
Soon after dawn we saw a skirmish fought in the lake’s shallow waters. A quintet of bone golems splashed down from the surrounding bluffs, saronite claws outstretched. They’d not gone far when nature recoiled. Giant lilies reared up from the water, their thick stem bodies carried by moving roots. Thorned vines lashed out like whips, entangling the intruders and cracking their slimy bones. The battle ended before I could think of a spell to cast, the flowers sinking back down into the drink to await the next attack.
We first saw the goddess as a light on the horizon, the sight of which inspired Helmant to quicken his pace. I urged caution but to no avail. A clearer image soon emerged, of a woman standing as tall as a tower, her skin gold and hair green. As we neared I imagined my steps becoming more regular, like a metronome’s beat. The clarity of the world sharpened to a crystalline focus, my sight noticing clear demarcations between light and shadow.
We caught up to Helmant at the mighty cascades that feed the Rainspeaker Rapids. Standing on an island covered in tall red blossoms, the goddess watched the horizon with eyes of cold blue light, imperious and aloof. Mighty roots wrapped around her feet like sandals and leafy vines grew from her scalp and reached down to her shoulders. Her face, sharp and angular, resembled a vrykul’s. In one golden hand she held a staff the size of a tree, leafy vines growing in bunches from its surface.
Falling to his knees, Helmant cried out in Dwarvish to his deity. She turned to face her unexpected supplicant, eyes widening. She moved with a ponderous might that suggested the subtle and inescapable power of a growing forest. At last she spoke, the sound of her words unknown to me, but some ancient mental mechanism unlocking their meaning in my ears.
“I am no goddess, mortals. I am Freya. Only that, and nothing more.” She spoke in a murmuring whisper as clear as a shout.
“Freya, I have come to serve you and the Titans,” said Helmant, his words suddenly known to me. He buried his face in his hands as if unable to look upon her.
“And your companions?”
“Destron and Moodle, both of them brave.”
“Freya! You must know many things.”
Moodle walked towards the crashing river, trembling but determined. Freya turned to look at the gorloc.
“I know all that my creators told me. Much to you, but little to them.”
“What did they tell you of us? The Oracles?”
“The Titans created a stable and self-perpetuating system in which life plays an essential role. Your kind was placed under my stewardship, and directed to observe the development of life on the ground level. For this reason they crafted you from flesh instead of from minerals.”
“We did as you told and we are dying! Wolvar kill our people, the Scourge kills our land. Our world shrinks more and more, until there’s no place for us. Dwarves and other races live everywhere. World keeps growing bigger for them. Other gorlocs don’t understand, only I do. Why? Why can we not grow?” Moodle looked up to Freya, and I sensed the demand in his blank eyes.
“You ask many things.”
“No, not so much. Your masters made us. Why can’t we succeed?”
“My masters made you, as they made me. Their directives encountered unforeseen difficulties.” She spoke slowly and with care, as if unsure of her own words. Something in her hard features softened.
“The system fell into chaos. Sholazar was never meant to be threatened, your world never meant to disappear. But the world changes more every day.”
“So what can I do?”
“I do not know.”
“You do not know? How? You said you were our steward! It is your responsibility to know!”
The strange order in which I saw the world wavered, shaken by Moodle’s doubt. Helmant got to his feet, staring at the gorloc in shock.
“Calm yourself, Earthen,” ordered Freya. “My masters did not prepare me for the changes that the world would experience. Stone turned to flesh of its own volition, as it did with the dwarves. Now, those who stayed stone remain cloistered in their ancient cities. Those who became flesh flourish all across the world.”
“We gorlocs are flesh. Why not us?”
“Why not you, indeed? Moodle, you braved the darkness to reach me. Few would do that. Is that not proof you can grow? I am trapped here, the directives of the Titans still dictating my every move. I must preserve a world that no longer exists. You are under no such obligation.”
“But I cannot change my people—”
“If you can change, so can some of them. Speak to them. Urge them. Teach them. The dwarves and the others may help you.”
“This will save my people?”
“Maybe. I can only promise that if you do nothing, your race will die. If you do something, they might live. You can fight the wolvar and the Scourge. You can flee to other lands; Sholazar is not the only garden that we created. I am sorry I cannot do more for you.”
Moodle looked down at the ground, silent for a while.
“I will see what I can do then. Not happy with answer. But thank you.”
“You are welcome.”
“A place for all of us after all, even if we must fight for it,” chuckled Helmant. “They knew the changes would come, and that they’d make us stronger.”
Moodle said nothing, lost in thought.