Tuesday, February 23, 2010
A single eye stared at me from its place on a narrow blue window, framed by hands frozen in the motions of a spell and the roots of a crystalwood tree. Around me were other windows imbued with soft blue light, illustrating age-old magocratic symbolism: open books and blazing suns.
The entrance to Dalaran is a domed room where dizzying flourishes climb up the walls in a display of expert stonework. I’d never seen the room before, though the images on the stained glass windows offered a reassuring familiarity. As always, the Dalaranese saw themselves as the chosen proponents of knowledge and enlightenment. Theirs the way to reveal, to illuminate.
“Excuse me, sir? I must ask that you leave the Violet Gate.”
Startled, I looked to see a thin human in voluminous blue robes standing at the entrance, an ingratiating smile on his worn face.
“Simply a practical matter, you understand.”
“Of course, my apologies,” I stammered.
I left the Violet Gate, wondering if I was truly in Dalaran. The purple stone opened up to the airy style most often associated with the city’s interior spaces, tan walls covered in abstract ornamentation and floors of fine purple tiles, gem-like in their luster. Dalaran’s aesthetic combines human utility with elven elegance, incorporating the best aspects of both traditions.
Sunlight flashed in the streaming waters of the spire-like fountain in the grassy courtyard, bathed in summer’s heat and light. Dressed in light robes and shirt sleeves, the people of Dalaran walked on cobblestone paths, singly or in groups, faces alight with hope and chatter. No one paid me any mind, the Forsaken being a common enough sight in the city.
“Runeweaver Square,” I said to myself, looking again at the fountain. I’d gone by it a hundred times in my last year there, when I had cause to be on the Violet Citadel’s grounds. How little it had changed, even though I doubted that anything from the original survived. It looked the same: the flowering hedgerows, the alabaster buildings with roofs of purple slate, the ring of blue crystals floating over the fountain’s top like the points of a crown.
I sat down on the fountain’s rim, trying to take in the sights. I knew that the Kirin Tor had done everything they could to recreate the old city, but I never thought they’d take it to such an extent. I shut thin lids over empty sockets, hearing the sounds of conversation and feeling the sun’s warmth on my bony shoulders. I was alive again, in a world where the Scourge and Burning Legion never existed, their evils no more than a bad dream. Around me breathed a world of peace.
It could not last, and I opened my eyes. Something kept me rooted at the fountain, the morning hours passing by in an impressionistic blur. Only when it neared noon did I at last get to my feet, following the cobblestone paths wherever they led.
The sights became less familiar beyond Runeweaver Square, which I found oddly reassuring. Dalaran lost some of its dreamlike quality in the newer buildings, convincing me I still walked in the here and now. Among them stood a few near-perfect facsimiles of my youthful memories, strange and unapproachable.
Quite by accident I found myself in front of the Violet Hold, its copper-sheathed granite walls a sharp contrast to the rest of the city. I felt a chill seeing it, aware of its reputation. Mages often find themselves dealing with beings of terrible power who can be contained but not easily killed. The Violet Hold’s first residents were the largest of the demons that poured into Dalaran thousands of years ago as the city first tested the bounds of magic.
No prison can go unfilled. Perhaps seeing its massive edifice, the Kirin Tor thought it a shame for it to hold so few inmates. Soon, even those without great power found themselves within its walls, sharing space with infernal entities and dark spirits. Some of these mundane occupants were criminals, others were those too critical of the Kirin Tor or the arcane arts.
However, the people of Dalaran bear no love for cruelty. A conclave of lesser mages took a stand as the Kirin Tor grew ever more callous towards the city’s citizens. Surrounding the Violet Citadel with powerful warding spells, mage and citizen alike forced the Kirin Tor to end their abuses. The Kirin Tor never expected mages, even low-ranking ones, to side with commoners against them.
At the end of the Seven Days of Justice (a week-long holiday commemorating this is still celebrated in Dalaran), the Kirin Tor agreed to step down and the organization underwent radical restructuring. New laws made the leading mages accountable to elected civilian bodies, and released most of the political prisoners. Even so, the new Kirin Tor still found ways to avert or circumvent the law. Studying there, we all heard rumors about nosy investigators or rebellious mages who simply disappeared, thought to be thrown in the Violet Hold. I never believed these rumors, simply because so many rabble-rousers walked the streets in freedom, sometimes with tenure.
The Violet Citadel maintains a dark reputation, symbolizing the cold myopia that one can still find all through the city’s power groups. Kael’thas was a recent inmate, and his escape is still the subject of much study.
I moved on from the Violet Hold, observing the ebb and flow of the streets. Humans predominate in the city but there are also large numbers of Quel’dorei, many of them recent arrivals from the waning Stormwind community. Beyond that are members of races one would have never seen in old Dalaran: orcs and trolls, night elves and draenei. Light gleamed from a darkened doorway as an alien ethereal stepped out into the street, its glowing form garbed in robes of subdued elegance.
On some level, the cosmopolitanism of old Dalaran had been little more than a pretense. The Kirin Tor never forgot the suspicion in which the other nations held mages, and returned the favor with a degree of isolationism. While Dalaran took in students and scholars from around the known world, other foreigners found it difficult or impossible to enter. These restrictions loosened somewhat after the Second War, and became even more permissive after the Third.
Still confused, I decided to visit the Horde embassy in order to reorient myself. I smiled at the thought, appreciating the irony of the situation. A shopkeeper told me that I could find it in north Dalaran, in a palatial estate called Sunreaver’s Sanctuary. He spoke its name with tell-tale distaste.
The bright maroon domes of the Sunreaver’s Sanctuary stand out from Dalaran’s customary purple. The Sanctuary is the personal property of Lord Sunreaver, and hosts the Horde embassy. Going past the gate, watched at all times by armored Aegis soldiers, I walked down a cobblestone path lined with junipers and flowering bushes. Skinny walkways branch off from the main path, heading to bubbling fountains and rotating circular bookshelves. Every inch of the sanctuary displays its owner’s wealth and influence.
I resisted the urge to laugh when I saw a scarred orc warrior carefully resting his massive frame on a delicate-looking wooden bench. He glanced at me with his one good eye (the other hidden by a leather patch), obviously discomfited by his surroundings.
“Hail, Forsaken,” he mumbled.
“Good day. Are you with the embassy?”
“Ha! My skill is with the ax, not the pen. I am only visiting this peculiar place, resting from my bloody and heroic venture into Zul’drak so that I may seek battle in Icecrown. I am called Parag, an independent warrior who’s tasted combat on near every front.”
“The honor is mine. I’m Destron Allicant. Is there a hotel here?” I asked, doubting that the embassy would offer room and board.
“Hotel? There’s a place called the Filthy Animal. We don’t call it a hotel; that would give people the wrong idea. It’s a dirty and noisy dining hall, barely a step up from a barracks, and that’s how we like it! Come on, I’ll show you. I came out here for some fresh air, but it’s a bit too fanciful here for my taste.”
Parag got up and started walking, a limp in his right leg. He explained it as the result of an abomination scoring a lucky hit, breaking the bones in five places. Parag went on to describe his exploits in Zul’drak, where his ax had cleaved through Scourge ranks on the first tier. He’d fought alongside the Knights of the Ebon Blade, and admired their prowess though he admitted to being disturbed by them. Parag clapped me on the back when I told him of my own time in Zul’drak, the force of the blow nearly knocking me over.
“I’ll be damned! All my boasts of fighting the Scourge in the toxic death-forests of the first tier, and you went all the way to the icy heights of that rotting kingdom!”
“I didn’t do much fighting.”
“Impressive all the same. I’ll have to go back there and fight the Drakkari king sometime, to keep up with you,” he chortled.
He also explained a bit about life in Sunreaver’s Sanctuary. The Sin’dorei, he said, insisted on doing all of the diplomatic work. Parag conceded that they were well-suited for the task, but resented the fact that the Warchief had to work through so many mediators.
“I am not at all sure that this Sunreaver cares a whit for the Horde. I think he just wants to grow his own influence. The blood elves are a dissembling and untrustworthy lot, never saying what they mean. We orcs used to wonder about you Forsaken, but your kind proved themselves to us.”
“So may the Sin’dorei, in time.”
“Pah! Not as long as they make awful gardens like the ones here. Why can’t they see that nature is beautiful because it’s wild? Forests aren’t arranged in neat little patterns, with flimsy benches for your convenience! Say what you will about the night elves, but they at least understand that much,” snorted Parag.
From the outside, the Filthy Animal looks like any other building in Dalaran, boasting marble walls and decorated eaves. The door takes one to a vastly different place, a hall of rough stone lit by a roaring hearth, the low-lying ceiling exuding a sense of grime and shadow. Torn banners and hunting trophies cover the walls, a testament to the ferocity of the Horde. Warriors rest at tables through the day, conversing in a low and guttural murmur. Most of the patrons I saw were orcs, though there were some of every Horde race, even a few Sin’dorei.
Parag took a seat at a squat round table near the fire. Wordlessly, a lithe troll woman placed a tankard of bloodmead in front of him.
“One for Destron as well,” ordered Parag. “He may not look it, but he’s a warrior in his own way.”
The troll nodded and walked over to the bar, returning minutes later with another tankard. I thanked her, wondering if I could finish such a heroic quantity of the stuff.
“You haven’t met Uda yet. She runs the place; Uda the Beast, we call her. She’s a Mag’har, as fierce as Outland itself! We all love her after a fashion, you can’t help but love something that strong, even if her face looks like a kodo’s,” he joked.
“I’m surprised that a Mag’har would set up an establishment in Dalaran.
“Plenty of Mag’har live in Azeroth now, teaching us how to be true orcs. Good teachers, for the most part. You ever meet Garrosh?”
“Not face to face?”
“By the ancestors, he’s a hero for our age! My heart’s glad to see him leading our war in Northrend. I only regret that I can’t be at the Wrathgate right now.”
“You’ve not heard? As we speak, the warriors of the Horde and Alliance stand together at the gates of the Lich King’s frozen hell, ready to shatter his army of meat puppets! I’d go, but my bad leg would only slow them down. No matter: there will be greater battles still once we break through.”
“Good,” I said. I hadn’t known that the Horde and Alliance were cooperating so closely on the matter, and the news enthused me.
Looking around the tavern, I noticed just how drunk many of the patrons were getting. They slurred words and staggered up from tables though it was only midday. Orcish culture frowns on excessive drinking. I asked Parag about this.
“Destron, many of the warriors here fought in the Outland campaigns. Now we’re braving this icy ruin to fight rotting armies. I think we’ve earned the right to drink as we please. Besides, we know better than to start a fight here. Uda’s very strict about that. Speaking of drinks, do you know that Garrosh gives his troops twice the bloodmead rations of any other orc commander?”
“I did not.”
“He trusts them, knows they’ve earned it. I hear some goblins bred a more resistant bloodbee, so now they can set up hives in Durotar and the Barrens, making the bloodmead much easier to come by. Used to be we could only get it from Stonard.”
“Are the Mag’har more accepting of alcohol?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think they ever had that much of it. Anyway, trying to keep people from drinking themselves happy is really more the Warchief’s idea. Don’t get me wrong, the Warchief is a wise man. But even the wisest can make mistakes.”
“A good point.”
“I’m a warrior who can’t fight until his leg heals. It’s either drink with my fellows, or sit around thinking about that damned abomination. Easy choice if you ask me.”
I spent the better part of the afternoon in the Filthy Animal, the tavern growing steadily hotter and noisier. Parag’s friends came around, mostly orcish and trollish Outland veterans. Parag’s jovial demeanor remained constant, even as he talked about gutting Alliance mercenaries in Zangarmarsh. At his urging, I told stories of my own time in Outland, though I tried to gloss over the combat.
As Parag had said, the Filthy Animal did not tolerate violent drunks. Parag even intervened in the case of one excitable orc, he and his friends grabbing the would-be combatant and throwing him bodily out of the tavern.
“Let the elves deal with him,” slurred Parag, to laughter from the crowd. One of the main reasons behind orc culture’s disapproval of inebriation is the sheer amount of damage an angry orc can inflict. That element, at least, survived in the Filthy Animal.
Parag lost all semblance of sobriety towards the late afternoon. He announced, in barely understandable words, that he was ready to sleep it off and staggered upstairs to one of the hammocks on the second floor. I went with him long enough to make sure he slept on his side before making my escape.
A cool evening breeze washed over me as I stepped out into the gardens of Sunreaver’s Sanctuary. Night’s velvet blanket crept across the sky, dark save for a few bright stars. The magic lights of Dalaran make it difficult to really appreciate the night sky.
I walked for a while down shaded paths, glad to be free of the tavern’s crowds. Something about Parag had disturbed me. A warrior through and through, he seemed at first glance an admirable (if somewhat intolerant) example of the orcish race. The orcs enjoy combat to a perhaps unhealthy degree, but their enjoyment largely stems from the challenge it brings to life. Judging by Parag’s stories, he preferred the killing. So did many of Parag’s friends.
Despite a well-organized start, the armies of the Outland campaign quickly foundered in the alien world’s harsh terrain. I knew that entire units (from both Horde and Alliance) spent years cut off from command or reinforcements, operating with little oversight. The influence of zealous partisans further confused the matter, their daring (and often bloodthirsty) actions never really condemned by their governments.
A commentary on this subject came from Hulla’tak, an older orc shaman who worked in the embassy. I met her while exploring the embassy’s halls that night. Adjoined to the Sunreaver manse, the embassy follows the Sin’dorei aesthetic. Vermilion rugs and drapes create a feeling of restrained decadence in its vast halls. I met Hulla’tak by alerting her to a sheet of paper that she’d dropped. She asked who I was, and we exchanged introductions before she invited me to join her in the small embassy cafe.
Hulla’tak was a true survivor. The misogynistic Old Horde treated its women like chattel, and Hulla’tak endured terrible brutality at the hands of her husband, a vicious grunt whom she refused to name.
“Some say that the spirit of a dead man feels joy when he hears his name uttered by the living. I will not give any succor to that wretch. Suffice to say, a human knight killed him. I bear no love for humans, but if I ever find that knight I shall offer him my deepest thanks.”
She was one of Thrall’s most enthusiastic followers, and participated in the rediscovery of orcish culture. I mentioned that I’d just come from the Filthy Animal, and she rolled her eyes.
“That place attracts a bad crowd, warriors who love blood more than they love honor. A sad state of affairs.”
“How did it come to be that way?”
“When the Warchief allowed for independent warriors, he never expected them to become so many. We all thought most would give up and join one of the War-packs instead. Those who proved their strength would be valuable, but not numerous. We never counted on the people singing tales of the independents’ exploits.”
“They became popular?”
“While the War-packs defended the cities of the Horde from minor threats, the independents carved a trail of blood and honor across Kalimdor and the East. Their savage breed cleared Ragefire Chasm of demons, and helped the trolls slay their wayward god. Scores died, but the ones who lived inspired others.
“The shamans of the War-packs sooth the spirits of the warriors, and remind them of honor. Many of the older independent warriors heeded the words of unaffiliated shamans, but the younger ones plunged headlong into more bloodshed, hewing limbs and ending lives until that was all they knew.”
“Do you think this is a major problem for Orgrimmar?”
“Not yet. But young orcs fill their minds with stories of these independent warriors, seeking to emulate them. Even some of the shamans praise the more savage independents, saying they make the ancestors proud by acting as orcs should.”
“Do you dislike the concept of independent warriors?”
Hulla’tak drew back, looking somewhat offended.
“Do not take me for some effete shirker, Destron. Many of these men are truly heroes, and well worth emulation. Would that we had a thousand more of great independents like Soluk Bloodrage and Bekkra Steelthorn! As I said, I am only troubled by those who love blood more than honor. The Horde simply never expected that so many would strike out on their own and succeed.”
All orcs are pressured to prove their worth in battle while avoiding the bloodlust that afflicted the old Horde. There is something of a contradiction here. Battle results in death, and if orcs actively seek battle, than they must also actively seek the violent death of others.
Warchief Thrall made several attempts to address this, attempting to institute violent but non-lethal sports as a sort of pressure valve. Sadly, he failed. Preoccupied with matters of state, his ritualized duels degenerated into the heinous gladiatorial combat that still takes place in arenas across orcish lands.
As Hulla’tak mentioned, the War-packs take great pains to address this issue in their own warriors. Unfortunately, the unexpected number of independent warriors creates a new cultural problem that will prove difficult to address. Nor is this problem unique to the orcs. Most nations in Azeroth must find ways to deal with those partisans hardened in heart.
I left the Sanctuary early the next morning to explore Dalaran in a clearer state of mind. My initial daze of fear and nostalgia was gone. Street vendors set up shop in tents and wagons outside of well-appointed stores, some of them already selling to the other early risers.
My first visit was to the Antonidas Memorial in north Dalaran, not far from the Sanctuary. A statue of the fallen archmage floats at the center of a spiral path that winds through a trim lawn. Cast in stone he appears as a figure of wisdom and power, more god than man.
The statue is a marvelous work, but it does not capture the warm humanity of the real Antonidas. I cannot make any claim to have known him well, though I did speak with him once, just before my fateful journey to the north. One of my patrons, an old woman named Avida Corsenn, introduced me to Antonidas. She believed I had great potential as a mage, an opinion shared by many of my instructors. Just as they praised my talent, they lamented my diffidence. Whatever my skill at magic, I preferred history books to arcane tomes.
I think that Avida hoped to inspire me, and in a sense she did. Antonidas shared my interest in history and politics, and we spent the better part of the afternoon talking like old friends about the subject. Part of me suspects that he was tired of being asked about magic, and was grateful to discuss something else. Antonidas knew more about orcish culture than perhaps any other human at the time, and imparted some of that knowledge to me.
Not many are aware that Antonidas was also a deeply pious man. Mages tend to be less religious than other segments of the population (though not as aggressively irreligious as popular belief sometimes suggests). Antonidas, however, believed that magic was a curse if not restrained by the Holy Light. Accordingly, he fought the exclusionist tendencies rampant in the Kirin Tor, though with only limited success.
I did not stay long at the memorial, soon moving on to the Magus Commerce Exchange. Dalaran has always been a city that prided itself on the latest in everything. It is a foundry of ideas, where new products are tested in the city’s wealthy markets before spreading to the rest of the world.
The Magus Commerce Exchange promises to continue this fine tradition. Every shop there is whimsical and outlandish, sometimes incorporating its product into the architecture. For instance, the Agronomic Apothecary is an alchemy shop where the round door is flanked by glass tubes that take the shape of a flask, and is filled with bubbling blue liquid.
People packed the streets by mid-morning, almost too many for such a small city. The most influential mages in old Dalaran sometimes lived in lavish pocket dimensions, and the same applies today. Creating a pocket dimension for oneself struck me as absurdly extravagant, though the lack of space in modern Dalaran makes this tactic slightly more reasonable.
As the center of Dalaran’s economy, the Magus Commerce Exchange is also home to some of the most skilled enchanters in Azeroth. Enchantment has long been a cornerstone of societies throughout the Eastern Kingdoms, even if many take it for granted. The actual history of enchantment goes far back into ancient times, and was first developed by pre-Sundering elves.
The Quel’dorei brought enchantment to the Eastern Kingdoms after the Sundering. Their enchantments strengthened by the Sunwell, the Quel’dorei utilized the skill in the creation of their fantastic realm. The Magisters of Quel’thalas never imagined the extents to which humans and gnomes would take the profession. Enchantment in the human kingdoms started off as an amusement for wealthy Dalaranese mages, who used it to beautify their city. From there, it spread to the other nations in the form of enhanced weapons given to warlike nobles and their retinues.
Enchantment forces refined mana to follow a circuit imbued into the body of an object. This circuit determines the effect of the enchantment, and can range from simple to complex. The circuit is typically invisible to the naked eye, though the effects it creates may be quite obvious.
Dalaranese experts claimed that enchantment was the province of mages, and that outside of magic-rich areas like Dalaran or Quel’thalas, mana was too rare for anyone but the wealthiest to use. As is so often the case, the gnomes proved them wrong. A woman named Litta Manafusil discovered how to extract refined mana from previously enchanted objects, and use it to create more. Not only that, she was able to use this extract to enchant a greater number of objects. Before this, the mana had to be drawn from ambient sources like leylines, a process requiring a fully-stocked ritual chamber.
The leading citizens of Dalaran might have dismissed it, were it not for the fact that Litta wasn’t even a mage, a fact that sent shivers of outrage through the Kirin Tor. Within years of her discovery, laypeople around the Eastern Kingdoms busied themselves creating their own enchanted items. There was a great deal of trial and error; the process was rather more complicated than she made it seem. Nonetheless, the new field of utilitarian enchantment created longer-lasting tools, vastly more efficient means of production, and even improved health.
Percolating from the bottom up, this new discovery caught the governments by surprise. Stromgarde, Alterac, and Stormwind all made moves to forbid the practice, while Lordaeron and Gilneas dithered indecisively. Only Kul Tiras encouraged it, which resulted in the rise of several prominent merchant houses.
Dalaran was riven between supporters and detractors. The latter claimed that such reckless use of magical energy endangered the entire world. Their argument was somewhat weakened by the fact that utilitarian enchantment was considerably safer than normal magic. Confusing matters further was the huge number of professional enchanters already working in the city, most without any academic background. Dalaran was already considered the heart of human enchantment research, the profession enriching the city immeasurably.
Dalaranese still celebrate the date of the Guild Riots. This rhetorically fierce (though thankfully bloodless) confrontation began when gendarmes tried to shut down the Enchanters’ Guild. Thousands of prominent citizens rallied to the guild’s cause, filling the streets in an hour. More than a few of the protestors were mages themselves.
For two days, the Violet Citadel argued its case, threatening retribution but knowing full well they were outnumbered. Too many people had benefitted from enchantment. Even after the reforms of the Seven Days of Justice, many still saw the Kirin Tor as lacking in moral authority. The leading mages finally agreed to allow enchantment within the city, so long as it followed certain guidelines.
These rules eroded over time, as more enchanted objects made their way into circulation (providing a convenient source for more refined mana). The enchantress Azora convinced the king of Stormwind to allow enchantment (which was already rampant in the southern kingdom’s black market), despite the protestations of the secretive and power-hungry conjurers. Even Stromgarde allowed it, though only under significant government oversight. Stromgarde’s Enchantment Academy eventually grew into a prestigious rival of Dalaran’s. Only Alterac held back, its leaders’ mulish distrust further weakening the already faltering kingdom.
A shop called Simply Enchanting caters to the profession in modern Dalaran. Despite the rather precious name, the proprietors are skilled and knowledgeable. I conversed with an employee named Vanessa Sellers, a human woman hailing from Stormwind.
“A lot of people don’t realize this, because of all the wars and catastrophes, but enchantment is making major in-roads into Kalimdor.”
“I’ve observed this, actually. I live in Orgrimmar.”
“Oh, I was actually talking about the night elves, but I know that Orgrimmar’s become a hub for the profession. Why do you think the orcs and tauren are comfortable with enchantment but not with magic? I have my own opinion, but I’d like to know yours.”
“Hmm, well enchantment is easier to accept by virtue of being contained in a material object. This also gives it a more practical application that appeals to these cultures. Nor is it addicting, since the practitioner does not have mana coursing through his or her body; it’s safely contained.”
“That’s what I thought, but I’m glad to have it confirmed. I do want to see Orgrimmar someday; I’m a Stormwinder by birth, but my citizenship is Dalaranese. Would they let me enter?”
“There wouldn’t be a law against it, but I’d recommend that you wait. The sight of a human would cause quite a stir, and some orcs are very hot-headed about the matter.”
“That’s what my friends say. What about Thunder Bluff?”
“The tauren are much calmer, so if you made arrangements, it would probably be safe.”
“I’ll go there then! Ha, as if I had the time! If I do get the time, I’ll visit.”
“Tell me more about how the night elves react to enchantment.”
“Well, they never really gave it up after the Sundering. See, they had literal tons of magical artifacts just lying around, junk left over from the high elves. Well, not junk, but you know. The night elves didn’t always want these reminders, and some of them disenchanted the artifacts.”
“Much like Litta Manafusil.”
“Their method wasn’t as efficient, though. Anyway, they needed enchanted weapons of their own to fight off the satyrs and monsters running rampant in post-Sundering Kalimdor. Resources and populations were spread thin in those days.”
“Why didn’t they just use the old Quel’dorei weapons?”
“The high elves took their weapons with them; the luxuries they left behind. So the night elves repurposed the old magic divans and whatnot into weapons, and usually handed them over to elite units.”
“I’m surprised that the druids accepted this.”
“It is strange, but you have to remember that the Kaldorei were fighting for their survival. They figured that as long as they only recycled old mana and didn’t open new conduits to the Twisting Nether, their actions were acceptable. Remember how I said that the night elf method was less efficient than Litta’s?”
“That’s because it doesn’t withdraw as much mana from a disenchanted object. In fact, it withdraws much less. On a long enough timeline, it would dissipate entirely. By then, the idea was, they wouldn’t need it any longer.”
“How are they reacting to these new methods?”
“Most aren’t too happy. The night elves really only used enchantment for weapons and armor. They never really needed labor-saving devices since they’re nature’s best friend and can easily get what they need. I don’t think it’s going to expand into utilitarian objects anytime soon. I hear that, in some quarters, magic is no longer as hated as it once was. I could be wrong though.”
“Why would the night elves change their attitude?”
“Do you know how some of the high elves tried to get help from the night elves in controlling mana addiction?”
“I’m familiar with it.”
“Apparently some of the high elves succeeded, and managed to impress people in prestigious positions. I don’t think that any of the night elves are embracing magic, but some may think it less dangerous.”
“I can see how they might become less judgmental of high elves, but wouldn’t the night elves still regard magic as immensely destructive?”
“Maybe. You live in Kalimdor so you’d know better than me, probably.”
“The loss of their immortality is causing some of them to question their traditions, so that may have something to do with it,” I conceded.
“That could be it.”
Leaving Simply Enchanted, I reflected on how little I knew about Kaldorei development in recent years. My travels have not given me much opportunity to interact with that elder race, and their reclusive nature makes it all the harder to keep up with them. There is no doubt, however, that they play a major role in Azerothian affairs, and that their continuing reactions to the Third War will affect the entire world.
Noon came, and the proximity of the Violet Citadel weighed heavy on my thoughts. How could I avoid the place when its soaring towers loomed over every street and square? The more I procrastinated, the more it troubled me. What exactly did I fear? Was it the possible confirmation of Emette’s death? Or my reaction to her if she still lived?
Hundreds of Forsaken were murdered trying to reconnect with loved ones after their liberation. Few have tried since then, and the actions of the Apothecarium and the Defilers only work to justify human suspicion. Yet I must ask myself if such an attempt is even fair to the living. What good does it do the bereaved to see someone they loved return as a rotting corpse?
Freed from the social obligations that bind human societies, the Forsaken are even more naturally selfish than their parent race. Thus, I must take great care when examining my own thought process. I pushed away my own desire to know her fate, to see if she’d lived and found happiness in this new world. Would Emette, if she lived, even want to see me? Would not the sight of me excite pain rather than joy?
My old friend Danner, in Shattrath, had reacted well enough. But a friend is not the same as a lover. Nor can I truly love Emette any longer. With that in mind, the idea of meeting her struck me as utterly selfish. It occurred to me that I could inquire about whether she was alive or dead, and then leave Dalaran when given the answer.
Even then, I knew that if she lived, I would feel driven to meet with her. Could I really justify such an action? Put simply, there is nothing I could offer her beyond memories of the past. I cannot return to my old role no matter how much I wish to do so.
I reasoned that it was entirely possible, even probable, that Emette also wanted to learn my fate. I tried to think about the matter from her perspective. Surely she would also be curious. Knowing (or suspecting) that, could I deny her the truth? Did she not have a right to know?
Matters of the heart rarely go the way we expect or want. I left the Magus Commerce Exchange on leaden feet, desiring and dreading what I might find in the Violet Citadel. Worst of all was the possibility that not even the Dalaranese government knew what became of Emette. Unlikely, given their thoroughness, but far from impossible.
I paused at the broad flight of stairs leading up to the Violet Citadel, mentally comparing it to the grand edifice of my youth. A slender white tower reaches to the sky, a halo of stone and crystal around its pointed top. A host of lesser spires ascend alongside it, ending in violet spear-headed domes interlaced with abstract decorations. Architecturally, the central structure differs little from the original Violet Citadel’s, though the old one had a broader base, like that of a great palace.
In fact, the first Violet Citadel was even bigger than it looked from without, reaching deep into the bowels of the earth and overlapping into other dimensions. The sprawling interior combined artistic and architectural skill with gross self-indulgence, entire wings constructed in pocket dimensions for no other reason than that the builders could do it. To be fair, some of the extra-dimensional labs dealt with dangerous substances, and could not be safely built in the material realm.
I remember students joking about entire generations of wizards living and dying within the Citadel’s endless halls, never seeing the light of day. The laughter tended to be strained, because we could so easily believe it to be true.
The old Violet Citadel was safe enough as far as I could tell, despite its sinister reputation. Maps were placed throughout the structure for the convenience of everyone concerned, and the sun shone through walls of patterned glass windows, lighting the sumptuous hallways with their thick rugs and potted ferns. Magic lamps lit the way in the darkness of the lower floors, the shadows made comforting by the rich furnishings and smokeless hearths.
The design of the Violet Citadel proved instrumental in Dalaran’s post-Third War recovery. Archimonde shattered the Violet Citadel, but the building’s destruction did not extend to the pocket dimensions where the mages conducted their most sensitive work. Many arcanists took shelter in these hideaways, and used portals to return home once the Scourge left. The Dalaranese kept this a secret for some time, perhaps fearing retribution if it were ever let out how many of their greatest minds had survived.
Today, Dalaran considers this survival a point of pride. The city stands in proud opposition to the Scourge and other threats, realizing that their preserved knowledge only makes them more formidable. Even before I set foot on Northrend, I knew that many of the old laboratories were still operating and connected to the new Violet Citadel.
A vast foyer greets visitors to the Violet Citadel, thick shadows pooling at the base of purple walls. Enchanted torches give their soft light, and precious jewels set in the domed ceiling shine as stars and suns. I recalled the arcane symbolism so important to the Kirin Tor. Gentle darkness stands for the borderline between sleep and wakefulness. The light of magic represents their own efforts to reveal the truths of the world.
My footsteps echoed lonely in the grand foyer. I could still see the bustle of the streets through the light of the doorway, but it felt a world away. The sounds of the crowd faded almost to silence.I looked up at a steep stairway leading to a mezzanine, elegant patterns interweaving along its sides. Tall and narrow doors offer entry to the rest of the citadel, so much a city unto itself.
“Sir? Are you lost?” inquired an elderly voice.
I looked up to see an old woman in purple robes standing on the mezzanine. Her lined face, almost gaunt, bore a look of polite curiosity.
“Only partially, madam. I studied in Dalaran when I still lived. I am trying to find out if a dear friend of mine still lives. I thought this would be a good place to look.”
“Was this friend also a student?”
“She was, and continued her studies after graduation.”
A sad smile flickered across her aged features.
“I see. You may be able to find out about your... friend in the records office. What was her name? I may know her.”
“Emette Sera,” I said, my voice wavering.
“That name is not one I recall. This one will guide you to the records office.”
Unraveling a delicate hand, a pale blue light sprang up from her palm and bobbed down towards me.
“Sir, I should warn you that you are not the first Forsaken to come looking for lost friends in this place. Most learn that the person they sought died years ago. Those who do reconnect do not always find what they desire.”
“That does not surprise me. But if she still lives, she has the right to know what has become of me. I am sure she has already moved on; if not, this may help her.”
“Good luck then,” she said, before disappearing into the shadows.
The mote of blue light hovered a few feet to my right, tugging from its place like a dog on a leash. I took a step in its direction and the light bobbed forwards through one of the grand doors.
Beyond that is a hallway where tall doors stand at wide intervals along sea-blue mosaic walls. Lamps of pale amethyst glass, shaped like flowers, extend from the walls on copper stems to give their light. At the end is a circular open area with a fountain, water burbling in a copper basin held high by a pair of stone dryads. A few mages walked past the fountain, engaged in relaxed conversation.
I followed the light to the fountain circle, from which leads two other hallways identical to the first. The light chose the one to the right, going all the way down the corridor to where it ends in an arched green door. Artificial trees made of wrought iron are set next to the door, one on each side, spherical glass lamps hanging like fruits from the metal branches. ‘Hall of Records,” is on a sign above the door, the letters written in an elegant script.
The light shone bright for a moment and vanished with a sizzling hiss, leaving me alone before the office. I had come too far to turn back. All I needed, I reminded myself, was an answer. My earlier thoughts of rights and justifications paled before this singular need, and I felt ashamed.
I needed to know.
The Hall of Records is an office that almost resembles a ballroom in its scope and size. A dozen small chandeliers of glass and metal hang from a vaulted ceiling, countless little desk lamps adding to the room’s brightness. Bookshelves line the wooden walls, and rows of scuffed desks cross the chamber like pews in a church. The office is a noisy place compared to the rest of the Violet Citadel, innumerous robed officials scribbling away at books and papers, or discussing administrative matters in a low and rapid murmur.
Not sure where to start, I approached the nearest desk, occupied by a bald and sad-eyed human. He looked up as I neared.
“Your business, sir?”
“I am looking for the whereabouts of one Emette Sera. I was told I could find out here.”
“I am sorry, but the location of individuals is not a matter of public record.”
“That’s fine. I just want to know if she’s alive. I studied in old Dalaran when I still lived, and was a dear friend of hers.”
His expression instantly became understanding.
“You’re not the first to come here for such a reason. I can answer your question. If you’ll give me a moment?”
The official stood up and strode over to a desk farther back, borrowing a thick stack of papers from its occupant. Returning to his own desk, he set it down on the surface and began searching, his fine fingers running through the sheaves. He came to a stop, pointed at a name, and then smiled.
“Emette still lives.”
The warmth of relief washed over me, years of tension lifted in an instant.
“Thank you very much,” I said to him.
I left the Hall of Records and leaned against a wall, letting out a long sigh. I was free from the memories of my past, knowing that Emette was at least safe and sound. The best part of my life had survived the Third War, even if I had not.
Somehow, I could not bring myself to leave the Violet Citadel.
Hours passed in the timeless dusk of its grand halls. I walked miles under the same roof, past closed doors and down silent halls. I compared it with the Violet Citadel of my memory, the sights only occasionally matching my hazy recollections.
Unaware of time’s passage, I was surprised when the doors opened up nearly as one, loosing a tide of mages and officials eager to return home for the day. Not even thinking, I made my way back to the foyer and struggled up the stairs. I wanted a better view of the people leaving, and in my heart I knew exactly why.
I watched in passive disappointment as the flood turned into a trickle, only a few stragglers making their exits. Realizing my own foolishness, I took one last look around the foyer.
Dark eyes on the other side of the mezzanine widened in shock. The broad and cheerful face was just as I remembered, distinct with aquiline features and the subtle beauty that comes from a strong spirit. Long black hair complemented her olive-tone skin.
She froze in place, tears welling in her eyes. She neared me with trembling steps, until her face met mine. Grasping my shoulder with a shaking hand, she sobbed.
“By the Light... Destron? What did they do to you?” Emette asked in a whisper.
Saturday, February 13, 2010
Following the icy canyon of Bor’s Breath at last returned me to the Snowblind Hills, freeing me from the ancient mountains. I considered stopping by at K3, but decided it was simply too far, and instead took a southerly route towards Crystalsong Forest.
Strange magics course through the hills and dales of Crystalsong Forest, the result of an ancient battle. The survivors of the Kirin Tor found it an ideal place for their rebuilt city, which now floats a half-mile above the ground. The ambient mana in the region is responsible for its mild climate, and for the singing crystalline trees covering the eastern half.
Politically, the region is under the auspices of the Kirin Tor, who maintain a policy of neutrality towards the Horde and Alliance. Dalaran played a key role in the Alliance military during the Second and Third Wars, developing the sorceries that proved so effective against the Horde and Scourge. The Alliance is still furious at Dalaran for leaving. I would not learn exactly why the mages left until I reached Dalaran itself.
An unreal white glow fills the eastern valley up to its rim, motes of light from the crystallized forest reflected on the snowy slopes. Through the haze one can still see the trees of glass, brilliant and incandescent. Pointed jewel leaves grow in clusters along delicate limbs, every inch suffused with white or violet light, the colors intermingling in an endless dance.
I also heard the forest’s namesake song, a series of clear and drawn-out notes struck from a vast chime, making subtle changes in pitch and tone. Sound cascaded out from the forest in waves, each tree calling out in a voice fine and high. Song and light merged in this unreal display.
I made my way down the slopes in a half-daze, lost in the forest’s eerie tranquility. At times I forced myself to look back at the Storm Peaks to the north. The mountains, harsh against a stormy sky, reminded me to stay in reality.
Then again, who is to say that the Crystalsong Forest is any less real? One can see it, hear it, feel it. The strange landscape serves as a reminder that magic is quite real, and that there is something in the mind that can never totally accept it. Magic challenges the senses, forcing the witness to accept the impossible. Some esteemed mages believe that the ability to accept magic, more than intelligence or training, is what truly defines a mage.
I do not necessarily disagree with this. I have known many mages who are utterly imbecilic, just as I have encountered others who study hard but focus on scholarly or educational roles, rarely if ever casting an actual spell.
Among the few things I knew about Crystalsong Forest is that the Horde maintains a small camp in the north, connected with the main road. As such, I went about without my disguise and was soon rewarded when I spotted the scarlet banners of Silvermoon atop a snowy hill. Sin’dorei archers stood guard behind a palisade, watchful but relaxed.
“It is our honor to receive a retainer of noble House Windrunner,” said one of the archers as I approached.
“I, in turn, am honored by the hospitality shown by the defenders of Silvermoon.”
“Thank you, though our defense lies more in the political arena than the military. Dangerous creatures do roam this amazing land, necessitating a small degree of security.”
More than a degree, I thought, looking at the ballistae perched in menacing readiness along the hilltop. I could not tell if the guard had simply been indulging in a bit of humor, or honestly considered the defense minimal. Perhaps it is minimal by the standards of Northrend.
Tents of gray silk, capped by bejeweled phoenix statuettes, stand around the summit. The guard told me to speak with one Elisa Silverstream, the commanding officer of the camp. A beautiful Sin’dorei woman, she greeted me in much the same way as the guard, before inviting me to enjoy a glass of mulled wine.
“This camp, the Sunreaver’s Command, is a trifling affair in the larger scheme of things, but I take great pride in its maintenance. I can do no less as a retainer of House Summerdawn.”
Silverstream is a subject family to Summerdawn, one of the Great Houses that survived the Third War relatively intact.
“The archer at the front mentioned that the Sin’dorei here are more concerned with political issues. Could you tell me about this? I know very little about Horde politics as of late.”
“You ask from simple curiosity?”
“That is correct.”
“How familiar are you with the machinations of the Kirin Tor?”
“I know next to nothing, other than they have declared their neutrality.”
“Very well. As you are no doubt aware, many of our greatest magisters once studied and taught in Dalaran. Some, including the traitor Kael’thas, were full members of the Kirin Tor. The destruction of old Dalaran and the fall of Quel’thalas changed this. Most of the elven magisters who survived remembered their obligations to serve their Great Houses in this time of need, and left for Quel’thalas. The Kirin Tor disliked this, though until Kael’thas’ regrettable betrayal, they did not actively oppose it.”
“Were many of these magisters able to return to their homes?”
“Yes. Silvermoon severed its dealings with the Kirin Tor when our nation accepted the friendship of the Horde. Then the masters of Dalaran rebuilt their city and declared themselves above the mortal conflict fought between the Horde and Silvermoon against the Alliance.”
I must confess some surprise at hearing Elisa’s terminology. I was under the impression that the Sin’dorei had come to consider themselves a full part of the Horde (even if most still look down on their compatriot nations). As I later learned, her opinion is a minority one that has sympathetic ears in high places.
“Did the Sin’dorei then attempt to reestablish communication with the Kirin Tor?”
“We would have been fools to do otherwise. A few elves, however, had remained among the Kirin Tor during our time of greatest need. They abandoned lord and nation in Quel’thalas’ darkest hour, yet still have the gall to consider themselves true elves. These cowards—forgive me if I do not mince words, as I am still a soldier, first and foremost—seek to expel us from Dalaran. They call themselves the Silver Covenant.”
“Is there any Horde group opposing them?”
“We fulfill that role under the guidance of Lord Sunreaver. Most call us Sunreavers, though few are related to him by blood. Lord Sunreaver is well-respected, and many Great Houses lent their retainers to his aid. I am an example of this. We are also the Horde’s representation on Dalaran. Orcs lack familiarity with the subtleties of wizards, and the Warchief was wise to request our involvement in this matter.”
“I should say so.”
“Our presence does draw the ire of the Silver Covenant, largely because we remind them of their own inconstancy and cowardice. Why the Kirin Tor listens to them at all is beyond my ability to understand. The Silver Covenant abandoned their very identity, and there is no reason to think that they would not abandon the Kirin Tor should continued loyalty prove inconvenient.”
Elisa’s account conveniently omitted the crippling magic addiction that drew so many elves to follow Kael’thas into Outland. Nonetheless, loyalty to one’s Great House is a prime virtue among the Sin’dorei. Certainly it was the main motivation for at least some of them, and never far from the minds of the rest. As such, it is not surprising that the Sunreavers hold the Silver Covenant in such disdain.
“What does the Kirin Tor think of the Sunreavers?”
“They accept us, for now. Rhonin, a good and honorable human, leads the Kirin Tor, and he understands our importance. This is particularly noteworthy when one considers that his wife is the leader of the Silver Covenant.”
Elisa looked down at her wine, her expression pensive.
“I feel only the deepest regret at telling you this, but you should know that his wife is none other than Vereesa Windrunner, the sister of your Dark Lady.”
“I was not aware of this. I knew that the Dark Lady had a sister by that name, but I had no idea what became of her.”
The situation did not strike me as inordinately worrisome; the Kirin Tor Consul mainly acts as the organization’s public face. The power to decide policy lies in the group as a whole, the consul’s input being no more important than any other member’s. This is not to say that Vereesa’s position is insignificant; only that it will not be critical.
“I am very sorry that you had to find out in such a fashion. Do you need some time to come to terms with this?”
“No, I am fine. Thank you.” While the Forsaken adore our Dark Lady with an intense fanaticism, the Sin’dorei often misunderstand the nature of the relationship, thinking of it in terms of retainers serving a Great House. The adoration of the Dark Lady is singular in nature; the rest of her family is irrelevant to the Forsaken.
“I have always admired the strength and conviction seen in the best specimens of humanity, which can shine undimmed even in undeath.” Elisa’s lips upturned in an almost matronly smile.
“Thank you,” I said, feeling slightly awkward.
“I marched with the armies of Lordaeron during the Second War. My heart is gladdened that the successor to that noble kingdom counts itself as an ally to Quel’thalas.”
While Elisa could not explicate it, the real purpose of Sunreaver’s Command is no secret. It is said that every conversation held in Dalaran, from civic meeting or a drunken argument, is heard, transcribed, and sent to the Kirin Tor within minutes. This is an exaggeration, but one based on the truth. Certainly, no political discussion will go unheard. Dalaranese spies riddle the Horde and Alliance embassies, some of them holding distinct political sympathies for one faction or another.
When Horde diplomats need to confer with the Sunreavers, they meet in the comparative privacy of Sunreaver’s Command. The resident Sin’dorei have set up wards through the camp in hopes of revealing spies, which would be impossible to do in the city where the Kirin Tor controls all mana usage.
This also explains the high level of security. As a remote camp that often hosts notable Horde political figures, it makes a tempting target to the Alliance. However, a full-on attack on either Sunreaver’s Command or Windrunner’s Overlook (the Silver Covenant’s southern equivalent) would be a declaration of war, and roundly condemned by the Kirin Tor. This situation makes an attack unlikely, but far from impossible.
For instance, if the Alliance believed that the Kirin Tor was becoming too sympathetic to the Horde, they might well decide that an attack on Sunreaver’s Command (during a time when, say, the Warchief was visiting) would be worthwhile. Though the interiors of these camps are believed secure, both sides use scouts to monitor all traffic coming in and out of the camps. When a notable figure comes to visit, the other side is sure to know.
Sunreaver’s Command basks in the violet glow of Crystalsong Forest. The hilltop offers a splendid view of the surroundings, the lattice of glass limbs arrayed in nature’s patterns. A closer examination reveals that brilliance shining from blazing rifts in the ground is brilliantly refracted by the trees, their purple coloration changing the shade of the light.
Two researchers from the Magisters' College work at Sunreaver’s Command, hoping to learn more about the strange nature of Crystalsong Forest. The region’s history remains obscure. Though beautiful beyond compare, the crystalline forests cannot support any kind of society.
“What is known is that these forests, called Ishalaral in elder times, hosted a small elven colony,” explained Firulsele Dawncrown, one of the Magisters. Speaking in Orcish he spat every word, as if the language dirtied his mouth.
“Are there Kaldorei ruins in the forests?”
“Several. Druids flocked to Ishalaral, its unspoiled wilderness drawing them like moths to the flame. At the time, of course, it had not yet crystallized.”
“When did that happen?”
“Shortly after the Sundering, probably no more than a few years. The Black and Blue Dragonflights waged a great battle over this land—over what, I do not know—and the Blue Dragonflight lost. The magic used by the Blue Dragonflight unleashed a strange phenomenon, crystallizing the eastern half of the valley. Their goal was supposedly to destroy a particularly powerful black dragon, though that has not been confirmed.”
The history of the dragonflights invariably involves a significant amount of guesswork and wild speculation. Dragons make it their business to be aloof and unapproachable, as if trying to inflate their importance in mortal eyes. Of the few facts that are known, one is that the Blue Dragonflight is responsible for the existence and maintenance of arcane power on Azeroth. This same dragonflight is among the smallest, its numbers reduced by the rival and seemingly purposeless Black Dragonflight.
Firulsele theorized that the spilled blue dragon blood had seeped into the earth, transforming it into a fount of raw magical energy. This, he stressed, would be quite different from the Well of Eternity, the first known mana source. While the Well of Eternity acted as a connection to the alien energies of the Twisting Nether, the Crystalsong Forest grows on those same energies after being filtered through dragon’s blood.
“What is the difference?”
“The impurities render Crystalsong mana safer, though also less valuable. If I drew my powers from this place, I would not be able to cast any spells of note.”
“The fact that it turned an entire forest to crystal, and kept it alive, seems impressive,” I noted.
“Yes,” he sighed, “however this only demonstrates its static nature. Normal mana is defined by constant movement and change. This remains true even if it is used to slow time or movement. Crystalsong mana is inherently preservative, mimicking biological energies.”
“So the forest still grows?”
“Yes, in a manner very similar to that of a normal forest. Animals cannot survive there, obviously, but trees still grow up from saplings. Crystalwood trees, as they are called, can only grow in the magic-suffused soil in the eastern half of the valley, and in a small patch of similar ground to the west.”
“Does this affect Dalaran at all?”
“No, because that garish city floats over the western half, nor would they need the mana here for anything except study. Many of the world’s greatest leylines intersect at Dalaran’s current position, giving them plenty of normal mana.”
Arcane magic first erupted into the world from the Well of Eternity, and the leylines are the globe-spanning currents that emanate from the Well’s remains. Leyline intersections enhance magical energies. In both its incarnations, Dalaran stood at such an intersection.
For all his arcane knowledge, Firulsele had never really explored the frozen forest, an understandable caution given its dangers. Most of the fieldwork was conducted with the aid of a farstrider named Cylrandor Morrowlight. Far more approachable than the magisters, he gladly agreed to let me join him on his next jaunt through Crystalsong Forest.
“Take your steps with care,” warned Cylrandor, his slender form silhouetted against the luminescent forest. He pointed a gloved hand at the razor-leafed strands of a nearby glass bush.
“One of the first farstriders here stepped on a bush like that. It broke and ripped the poor fellow’s foot to ribbons. The healer stopped the bleeding, but he’ll never walk properly again.”
Cylrandor had already warned me about the dangers in Crystalsong Forest, but caution drove him to alert me a second time. I did not blame him. Eastern Crystalsong is a very dangerous place, all the more so because its beauty lulls the mind into complacency. It is fortunate that the undergrowth is relatively sparse, as not all the plants survived the crystallization.
Though a farstrider, Cylrandor bore little resemblance to the elven ranger of popular imagination. Farstriders in Quel’thalas dress simply and lightly in forest colors so as to blend in with the nation’s legendary woodlands. Cylrandor, in contrast, was covered from head to toe in thick cloth. Leather patches sown into the cloth guarded his throat and mouth, and bulky goggles covered his eyes. He wrapped himself in a cloak of white luminescence, shades of violet shimmering across the surface to match his unearthly surroundings.
“Between this and the falling branches I can see why one would need to be careful,” I pointed out.
“Quite. In most cases, you’ll be safe so long as you watch out for branches that are overlong; those are the ones most likely to fall. There are times, though, that you can be surprised, and end up dead despite your precautions.”
The magisters routinely sent Cylrandor to gather reagents from the forest. In this particular case, they had charged him with returning a certain type of crystallized berry. It struck me as insulting that the magisters would risk Cylrandor’s life on such a trivial task, but the farstrider took a far more positive attitude.
“They send me because there is no one else who can do this. Think of it, Destron. Many farstriders know the forests of Quel’thalas, but only I know Crystalsong. I am sure that my father and my liege, both gone from this world, would look on my actions with approval.”
“I suppose that is a good stance to take.”
“The only sane one, I think,” he laughed.
Cylrandor actually had many reasons to feel proud. He’d been one of the few farstriders to serve under Jaina Proudmoore during the Third War, and continued fighting in the Battle of Mt. Hyjal. He went back to the Eastern Kingdoms after that, hunting the Scourge through Lordaeron’s ruined forests.
His race’s thirst for mana at last compelled him to return to the ashes of Quel’thalas. Even there he remained active, being among the first to go through the Dark Portal when it reopened. To one of Cylrandor’s skill and courage, Crystalsong seemed a vacation.
Trees in the deeper parts of the forest are wreathed in veils of blue light, lifting up from the streams of mana like fog from a riverbank. The light of day never ends in Crystalsong, continued through the night by the forest’s shining roots and limbs.
Noise and light make sleep an unlikely prospect for the neophyte. Cylrandor said that most get used to it over time, and that yellowleaf tea, imported from the Eversong Woods, serves as an efficient catalyst for sleep. As there’s nothing to burn in Crystalsong, we drank it cold.
We rested for the night in a rocky clearing at the top of a hill, the forest glow making a campfire unnecessary. A Kaldorei temple stood in ruins nearby, the gray stone pitted with age, the pillars toppled by crystalline roots. Cylrandor, who’d taken off his mask and goggles, studied the ruins with practiced eyes.
“I am sure that Firulsele told you how this land once went by the name Ishalaral?”
“He mentioned it.”
“Ishalaral, Jewel of the North, Druid’s Gift,” Cylrandor quoted, a rueful smile on his face.
“You sound like you knew the place.”
“No, but there was another who did, Hestelon Nightdream of the Order of the Claw. A druid, if you’re unfamiliar with the terminology.”
Cylrandor went on to describe his time among the Kaldorei, most of whom held him and the other farstriders in utter contempt.
“Hestelon’s love of nature is matched only by his hatred of magic, and he cited Ishalaral’s present state as reason enough for his anger. I suppose I cannot blame him. In times ancient, the druids nurtured the pannealei, the five giant trees that symbolized life itself. Only one still remains, the rest turned to crystal.”
I nodded, thinking of the great crystal trees I’d seen from Sunreaver’s Command, loftier than even their grandest neighbors.
“We’ll be going by the remains of one tomorrow; I believe it’s the one Hestelon called the Light of the Sun Everlasting. I’m sure it sounded less stilted in Darnassian.”
I was silent for a moment, trying to gauge Cylrandor’s feelings towards the Kaldorei. Regret and envy laced his sardonic tone. The night elves had exiled their Highborne cousins thousands of years ago due to the latter group’s arcane addiction. Distrust still runs strong on both sides, and the Third War was the only time the two factions really interacted.
Crystalsong Forest does illustrate the dangers of magic, an energy source still obscure despite millennia of study. I am sure most Kaldorei regard the sterile forest as an abomination, a sentiment intensified by Ishalaral’s former importance to the druids. A forest should shelter and nurture life. Crystalsong is inimical to life, for all its beauty being a place where nothing can survive.
We followed the jagged course of a mana rift all through the next day, past pellucid groves and sunken towers. Cylrandor’s unease vanished as he stalked along the banks, his feet barely touching the ground.
Cylrandor came to a sudden stop, holding up his hand in a motion for me to do the same. I heard nothing more than the forest’s endless chorus as he stood still, light glinting off the dark lens of his goggles.
“I do not wish to alarm you, Destron, but we are being watched.”
“Someone from the Silver Covenant, most likely. Whatever their politics, they’re still elves who cannot resist studying magic. We are probably not in any danger; just be aware of your surroundings.”
Cylrandor suddenly turned to a nearby grove, and I heard muffled laughter under his garb.
“I see that our tracker wishes to be found,” he announced.
“Only to test the talent of Morrowlight’s farstrider scion,” came a woman’s voice.
“Then you do me an injustice by placing such blatant clues,” protested Cylrandor in mock offense.
“Men tend to miss the more subtle clues; you can scarcely blame me for being careful.”
The speaker revealed herself, a shimmering root unfurling into a cloak much like Cylrandor’s own. The wearer was smaller than Cylrandor, her features hidden by a similar arrangement of wool and leather.
Cylrandor went down on one knee before her, speaking Thalassian in a voice both yearning and respectful. She replied, her tone harder to read. Cylrandor then pointed to me.
“We are honored by the presence of Ilviena Sunmist, esteemed daughter of the late Lord Enderion Sunmist. She continues the legacy of her house through honorable service under the Silver Covenant. Lady Sunmist, I humbly introduce Destron Allicant, a loyal servant of House Windrunner.”
“It is my honor to accept you, Destron. I consider myself a friend of House Windrunner, though I fear we follow different branches of that noble lineage.”
“I hope that shall not be a cause of conflict on this day,” I said.
“Stay your sword and I shall stay mine,” she replied, quoting an age-old Quel’dorei proverb.
They drew closer together, and for a moment I thought they would embrace. Something held one or both parties back. Cylrandor removed his mask, his expression reverent and longing.
“May I tell Destron about House Sunmist’s deeds and honors?”
“Always so formal,” she smiled. “I would be honored, dearest Cylrandor.”
“House Sunmist is among the five Great Houses to pledge loyalty to the Alliance. Together, they seek a new future for the Quel’dorei race, away from the corrupting influences of demons.”
“A noble stance,” I said, suddenly wondering if Cylrandor was an Alliance agent. Perhaps detecting my uncertainty, he continued.
“I assure you that as a farstrider, I am loyal to Silvermoon and the Horde. But the men and women of the Morrowlight family have served House Sunmist since time immemorial, and no war or government can ever change that.”
“Why did you not follow her to the Alliance?”
Ilviena answered for Cylrandor.
“You should first know that my father taught many of the Dalaranese mages who fought the Horde in the Second War, and decreed that all who served him must also respect the Alliance. For this reason, many of our retainer houses pledged their lives to fight the Cult of the Damned. Cylrandor was the first to volunteer.”
“Your family’s honor deserves no less, milady.” I was shocked to see tears in his eyes.
“And your courage served us well. I remained in Quel’thalas and watched it burn. As my father died, fate cast Cylrandor on the shores of Kalimdor, far from home. Put simply, neither of us knew the other was alive.”
“I did not hear the news until my return from Outland,” said Cylrandor, his voice quavering. “For years they lied about Sunmist and the other Alliance houses, claiming they had perished during the war.”
“Did you come up north to reconnect with Lady Sunmist?”
“No. I did not learn of her membership in the Silver Covenant until some time after I arrived. Once I did, however, I made every attempt to find her.”
Nothing was explicated, but judging from their reactions I half-suspected that Cylrandor and Ilviena had been betrothed at some point. Believing in the strength and endurance of noble blood, Sin’dorei aristocrats make it a point to marry commoners. Still, I may be wrong about this. Words cannot really describe the intensity of elven loyalty to house and name.
“If you don’t mind my asking, what did you do after Quel’thalas’ fall?”
“I fled to Kalimdor some time later, but our paths never crossed. I lived in Theramore for many years, until the Kirin Tor invited me to come up north in light of my father’s service to that esteemed organization.”
“Are you a mage?”
“No. My family raised me to be a noble in word and deed, so I knew little that would help me in a time of war. I am now a ranger, and I owe my skills to Delentella Shadowbough, a Kaldorei huntress patient enough to teach even me.”
“How are the relations between the Kaldorei and Quel’dorei?”
“Improving. The Sin’dorei often said that the Quel’dorei are a dying people, rotting in mind and body for a want of mana. They were correct. Desperation destroyed our arrogance, and we sought to learn from the Kaldorei. Though our strength has been restored along with the Sunwell, we will not forget the lessons we learned from them.”
“Though my lady has assured me that Delentella treated her with the respect that a Great House scion should be accorded,” interjected Cylrandor.
“Respect takes many forms,” said Ilviena, and Cylrandor bit his lip. I marveled at his eagerness to defend the honor of House Sunmist, even with Ilviena’s self-deprecation.
“My mother resides in Dalaran proper, while I help the Silver Covenant in their research here. There is still much for me to learn in my chosen craft, and this is a fine testing ground.”
“Albeit, much different from the forests,” I pointed out.
“Why should a ranger only know the forest? Survival is the true criteria, regardless of environment.”
“Is it safe for you to meet like this?” I asked.
“Safe? It’s expected,” chuckled Cylrandor. “The Sunreavers are fully aware of the situation, and they would not expect me or milady to behave in any other way.”
“Are there other Sunreavers who once served the Alliance-aligned Great Houses?”
“A few. This is really the best way to renew the oaths of obligation.”
“I do not fault you for this, but I am curious: what of the obligation to Silvermoon and the Horde?”
“Loyalty, not mana, is the true foundation of elven society. I’m afraid that the Horde has no choice but to allow this.”
Actually, the Horde may well force the issue, though I do not think that would be wise. The relationship between the Sunreavers and Silver Covenant is staggeringly complex. The Sunreavers incorporate a variety of different creeds. In addition to lost retainers, there are scholars who desire access to Dalaran’s resources, Sin’dorei nationalists seeking to expand their influence, and a few who wish to improve diplomatic relations with the Alliance.
As we walked, Ilviena explained more about the Silver Covenant, with which I was less familiar.
“The Silver Covenant regards the Sin’dorei magisters as inconstant, perhaps the worst sin in elven culture. I do not take such an extreme view, but it is a common one.”
“How are they inconstant?”
“They courted demonic magics, abandoned the rules of wizardry, and fought against Dalaran. I see them as being more misguided than anything else, doing what they thought necessary to save their race, and being tragically mistaken.”
“Those are serious charges.”
“Yet modern Dalaran owes its existence to Archmage Aethas Sunreaver, formerly head of the Magisters' College, and now a member of the Kirin Tor’s Council of Six. Sin’dorei mages helped put Dalaran in its lofty place above the world. As such, the Kirin Tor cannot ignore them.”
“Then the Sunreavers have already succeeded.”
“For now. Many in the Silver Covenant wish to expel them, though I am satisfied in limiting their power.”
“Not all in the Sunreavers seek power.”
“Their leaders do. It is ultimately a question of loyalty. We believe that Kael’thas betrayed the spirit and memory of the elven race, and that those who followed him must be held accountable. The Sin’dorei see us as having done the same. Then there are those stalwart few beyond reproach, wrongfully ignored in these times,” she added, looking at Cylrandor.
Light intensified as we neared the roots of a cohesion tree, the mineralized remnant a druidic great tree. The roots take the shape of mountains, rocky slopes that break apart into floating crystal shards as they slope up to meet the blazing glass shell of the trunk. The elves lowered their eyes at the sight of it, a worshipful motion once made by the druids of long ago. A crown of chatoyant limbs spreads out from the hollow trunk, rotating in regal confidence over the sterile forest.
“Why are these called cohesion trees?” I asked, gazing at the splendor.
“After the Black and the Blue fought over this place, the source of the curse fell deep into the ground,” explained Cylrandor. “The roots of the great trees absorbed the strange mana, and spread it throughout the forest via light and sound. By continuing to cycle mana, the cohesion trees perpetuate the curse.”
At this, Cylrandor kneeled down next to a jagged glass vine, the berries he sought hanging like marbles of pink glass. He broke them off with deft movements and I heard them clink as he dropped them in a small pouch.
“Could you end it by destroying the cohesion trees?” Part of me would object to Crystalsong’s destruction on a purely aesthetic basis, though the fact remains that it is both dangerous and void of life.
“The land is still suffused with magic, and nothing will change that. Destroying the cohesion trees would prevent the regrowth of the glass forest, but no natural forest would replace it. Crystalsong is utterly dependent on magic, sickened and beautified all at once.”
“It is little wonder that our race is so fascinated by it,” added Ilviena.
Ilviena left in the night and a morose Cylrandor accompanied me to the edge of the crystalline forest the next morning.
“Often my mind turns to what we Sin’dorei did to survive, following a madman to the brink of damnation. The Naaru saved us. Were we so wrong? The spirit of our nation is stained with the blood of the innocent, but had we not erred, had we not delved into the darkness, the Sunwell would remain a ruin. Meanwhile Quel’dorei kept themselves pure in spirit, though they rotted in mind and body.”
“What do you think about the Quel’dorei today?”
“They are right. And they are wrong. I know how they faded as a people before the Sunwell’s restoration. Had we all done as them, our race would be doomed. Instead, we did evil, and in so doing inspired a greater good to save us from ourselves.”
“What do other Sin’dorei think?”
“Most choose not to think. Few express any fondness for Kael’thas, though they would rather forget him than condemn him. The Quel’dorei believe themselves right for shunning him, and they were. But their inaction did nothing to save the Highborne.”
“Do you blame them?”
“No. They did as they thought necessary. I would like to believe there was no other way for the Sunwell to be restored. Did the Naaru renew it from a goodness of spirit? Or were they only motivated to control it and prevent more demons from coming through? Or both? There is never any way to be sure.”
The crystalline forest comes to an abrupt end, the dead purple earth giving way to fields of stubbly yellow grass. Ash and birch trees with leaves speckled the colors of autumn stand in groves across the landscape, shepherding the smaller apple and plum trees. The air is cool, though still too warm for someplace so far north. At the center is a cold and pure lake called the Twilight Mirror. It is strange that such a lovely place would be called the Forlorn Woods, though the name may make more sense when its former isolation is taken into context.
The floating mountain of Dalaran is almost an intrusion in this idyllic scene, hovering above the land like a meteor frozen in time. Nothing can be seen of the resurrected city’s spires and parapets. There are only the miles of rock taken from the beneath the city’s original location in the Alterac Mountains and moved far to the north.
I bade farewell to Cylrandor and set out across the chill autumnal plains. Smoke curled up into the sky from behind a gentle slope, most likely from one of the farms spread across the Forlorn Woods. A city like Dalaran cannot feed itself, and the ruling magocracy paid surviving Dalaranese farmers and agro-mages a fortune to relocate. These farms experiment with cutting-edge techniques of food production, seeking to enhance crop yields on limited amounts of land.
Agricultural politics in the Crystalsong Forest are actually a very contentious affair. When the Eastern Kingdoms and Kalimdor began their exchanges in earnest, several druids went east to study large-scale agriculture, which was unknown to the night elves. Thanks to the powers of nature, the druids ended up learning a great deal about crop yields and growing methods.
Exactly how this information got into Dalaranese hands is uncertain. The Dalaranese claim that the druidic Cenarion Circle shared it with them, while the druids insist that they were tricked. At any rate, many druids are outraged that the Dalaranese would use information from their notes to advance in sorcery. While druidic and arcane magic cannot intermingle, knowledge in one can (at least in this case) further knowledge in the other.
The Kaldorei hate and fear arcane magic, and there are still a few who remember the devastation that it caused during the War of the Ancients. They are also suspicious of agriculture due to the effect it has on ecology. That the mages used druidic knowledge to improve on arcane agriculture is a terrible affront to them.
For their part, the Kirin Tor argues that these methods allow them get more food from less land, decreasing the overall impact of agriculture. The land is already swimming in magic, they reasonably argue, so there’s no concern of further arcane contamination.
The druids insist that it’s more a matter of dishonesty. For a time, it looked as if Darnassus would refuse to have any doings with Dalaran. Cooler heads prevailed in the end, with the Kirin Tor promising not to share their information with others. The Cenarion Circle still hates Dalaran.
A few Cenarion dissidents argue that Dalaran’s farming techniques may actually help the natural world by reducing the amount of land needed for agriculture. These dissidents tend to be tauren, who (while not fond of magic) do not share their elven compatriots’ hatred of it. The Kaldorei druids argue that increased food yields would also increase the population, leading to even more land being used.
This is a questionable conclusion. While the human and orc birth rates continue to grow, much of this is in response to the losses incurred during the Third War. Meanwhile, the dwarves, who suffered comparatively little, have not experienced a significant rise in population or birth rate.
The era after the Second War saw a tremendous increase in social mobility and education. The unity of the war exposed the arbitrariness of old class boundaries, which had already been fading for some time. The common person could also expect a degree of security in the form of financial safety nets and better health and education. After the initial population explosion, the birth rate began to shrink. Before the First War, the average family might have as many as thirteen children. After the Second, it was rare to see a family with more than two or three.
The Third War throws a wrench in these calculations. However, evidence suggests that improved living standards are likely to lower the population rather than increase it. Until the world becomes a safer place, however, there is no way to be sure.
Doubt weighed on me the closer I got to Dalaran, the city blocking the sky like some omen of doom. I could not help but laugh at my own anxiety; I’ve seen some of the most dangerous regions in Azeroth and Outland. A gentrified wizard’s city should not be a cause for alarm.
Cylrandor had told me that access to Dalaran could be found at a small base called the Violet Stand in southwestern Crystalsong. There, Kirin Tor agents guarded themselves against Blue Dragonflight. In a grave voice he told me of the madness that had seized the entire flight, and how they made war upon all magic users. I could scarcely believe this, but had no reason to think he was lying. Little of the fighting occurred in Crystalsong, he said, though he warned me to avoid the small patch of crystalline forest in the south.
The first years of my undeath taught me not to dwell overmuch on the memories of Dalaran. I spent those days hunched over slime-stained tomes in the Undercity’s loneliest quarters, my distorted mind flickering between dreams of vengeance and memories of life. What hurt more, I wondered? That Dalaran was no more, or that I had become a walking atrocity? Each recollection of the sun-dappled streets, of Emette’s smile and the smell of great libraries, deepened my pain and hate until I could take no more and forced myself to think of other things. Only then did I really free myself from the Scourge.
Dalaran is a treasured memory that I only take out on the rarest occasions. Yet is there really so much to treasure? I experienced the city as an adolescent. I was callow, timid, lazy, and self-absorbed. The lens through which I saw the old city are not how I would see it if I returned today.
Of course, going to the new Dalaran is not a true return. The old city was three times the size of the current, and many of my most cherished memories take place in the gardens and suburbs surrounding the Violet Citadel, all annihilated by the Scourge. The Languorous Rose (I can almost taste the smoky air in that place, a mix of oil lamps and heady wine), where I spent so much of my time, is no more. For me, the real Dalaran lay outside the alabaster towers and citadels of the center.
I recalled with mixed success (memory is an ever-shifting thing), my reaction to the city upon first seeing it at the age of sixteen, me a fearful youth burdened by bitterness and isolation. I must have felt apprehension at Dalaran’s soaring towers and floating mansions. Magic had fascinated me, but I could not help absorbing the Lordaeronian prejudice against it. Some part of me whispered a promise of madness and damnation if I learned the Art.
I can’t imagine that the sight of first-year student housing did much to assuage my fears. I still remember the building’s dilapidation, its thin wooden walls and threadbare rugs. Like many other things in the academy, the poor furnishings were symbolic. As the first mages had suffered, so too must the first-years.
But perhaps I am being too critical. While poor compared to the dormitories of more advanced students, the first-year quarters were hardly terrible. I spent little time there, too busy going from lecture to experiment, walking across the city dozens of times a month. The Violet Citadel and its grounds were for full-fledged mages, and no instructor would be so audacious as to hold classes there.
As one must when living with so many others, I made friends. Danner was first, his practiced Stromgarder sneer withering the academic pretense of our Dalaranese peers, the blood of ancient mages running in their veins. I appreciated his irreverence, and in turn I helped him excel at his studies. We attracted a few other misfits, though I cannot remember the names of most. Though outsiders, we were too passive to be rebels. The true rebels were all Dalaranese, their connections freeing them to commit all kinds of mischief.
For a year we laughed and studied in that old clapboard dorm, a few souls against a hostile world. Thinking back, I wonder if my memories of Dalaran should really be cast in such a rosy light. I was not happy, being half-lost in a universe I thought determined to hurt me. Nor was Danner, and I remember the drunken nights he spent cursing the heavens and the earth for thwarting his ambitions in school and in love. I could do little but wait for him to tire himself out and then explain to him that life wasn’t so terrible, even if part of me agreed with him.
How strange to think of Danner today, cool and self-possessed, his once-careless smile turned hard and calculating.
There are those rare individuals who can dispel fear and sorrow with their very presence, just the sight of them lightening the heart. Such was Emette. Danner introduced her to me early in our second year; they’d met in a history class. If I am to be honest, I must confess that my first reaction upon seeing her was disappointment that she seemed so plain. Even so, her ready smile invited conversation, and she talked to me like an old friend.
Emette held none of the animosity so common among the Dalaranese. For all their claims to cosmopolitanism, most Dalaranese looked down on everyone except the Quel’dorei, whom they still distrusted. Perhaps her background explained it, Emette being the oldest daughter of a baker who kept shop at the edge of the city, in a place where the streets gave way to tall grass and sparse woodlands.
Some students devoted themselves to petty rebellions, infusing each defiant act with illusory importance. Emette rebelled without effort or intent, her wit and cheer bypassing the barriers of culture and bloodline. She did not consider herself any sort of renegade; Emette loved Dalaran. The way she fulfilled its projected ideals made me love it too.
The universe lost its hateful edge and I pursued my studies with new hope. How could magic possibly be wicked if Emette studied it? Only a lovestruck adolescent would think in such a way, but it helped me embrace my new profession. I left the leaking dormitory and was moved to the quarters of more advanced students, a white hallway standing between the library and the Dalaran Gardens, which contained every flowering plant in the Eastern Kingdoms.
I declared my love for Emette towards the end of my student years, and she embraced me without hesitation. She’d always seemed indifferent to romance, a trait that I found all the more endearing. In my eyes, her common features surpassed the beauty of even the loveliest in Dalaran, their made-up faces and perfect lips cheap and tacky compared to Emette’s honest elegance. When I told this to her, and she said she loved me in turn, I knew I had found what I’d sought all my life.
Undeath throws memory into disarray, and the accuracy of human recollection is questionable in even the best of minds. How much is wishful thinking on my part? Emette was still human, and it is unfair to idealize another person unto perfection. Somehow I cannot remember her flaws, though I know they existed. Carelessness may have been one, or perhaps it was her somewhat rigid personality. She was a teetotaler, an unusual trait for a Dalaranese; few cultures prize fine wine as much as they.
I stopped in my tracks at the top of a hill, burying my face in my hands. Bony fingers pressed on the stretched skin of my face, tracing the rims of hollow sockets. Memories of Emette and her love flashed through my mind, inspiring a recollection of impossible joy. Her inner light again illuminated the shadows of Dalaran and the world, a saint’s grace that she’d given to me and to me alone.
That is gone. I looked up at the floating city, its rock base heavy and brutish. If Emette lived, she would no longer be the Emette I had known, just as I am no longer the Destron I once was. Time writes itself on the soul. Would the Third War have twisted her? Or would she continue to shine in the darkness, that confident smile lighting her face?
I loved a memory. So it is with many Forsaken, our minds lost in thoughts of life, reliving a time when our hearts beat and our blood flowed. With a single thought of Emette I wanted to love, I wanted to desire her as I once did. To again feel my pulse quicken at the sight of her, love’s strange elation lifting my mind and my hopes and knowing that she too felt the same way.
I can remember this, but I cannot feel it.
At that moment I almost turned away from the city, its gleaming towers an imperfect reminder of a world that had never truly existed. Better, I thought, to leave and never return.
Except I would not truly escape that way. Dalaran had haunted me since the moment of my awakening with its cruel and impossible promise. It was conceivable, barely, that Emette still walked those streets. But would it do her any kindness to approach her in my monstrous state? I did not even love her any longer, but I wished more than anything that I still could.
I needed to know if she still lived. The answer likely lay in Dalaran, though there was no guarantee. In the end, I had no other way of finding out. To do anything else would be to cheat myself, to dwell over something that could no longer help me.
I walked through memory towards Dalaran, my past coming to life around me, her voice in the wind and her smile in the sky.