Friday, March 26, 2010
((First, a quick note for people who are visiting my blog for the first time. This section is something of a direct sequel to Dalaran: Part 2, and will thus be difficult to understand if you have not read that chapter. Most geographic sections in the travelogue are standalone, but this is a rare exception. So if you're new, it you might want to read one of the older chapters first, or simply start from the beginning.
Also, I set up an original fiction blog. There's only one story at the moment. I intend to rewrite it at some point in the future, but I am curious to learn your reactions to its current iteration.))
Dalaran’s Underbelly is nothing new. It was a point of pride in the old city. Kirin Tor artificers and engineers had designed the sprawling network of pumps and storm drains centuries ago, giving the citizens a level of sanitation that no other human city could rival until the First War.
The Dalaranese loved the Underbelly for another reason. The wide tunnels and reservoirs, designed to contain the springtime overflow of Lake Lordamere, gave convenient shelter to more dubious sorts. Criminals thrived in the Underbelly, as did rogue mages and diabolists.
The Kirin Tor could simply not let such a resource go untapped. Over the years their agents infiltrated the sewers, catching the worst miscreants (at least, the ones who did their deeds in Dalaran), and using the rest as an intelligence service. True criminals rubbed shoulders with informants in a shaky truce. Even the most depraved could usually be relied upon to inform on the warlocks, if for no other reason than to continue their own criminal activities without trouble.
I remember how the more daring students bragged of their exploits in the Underbelly, telling tales of late night debauchery. I am sure some of them were even true. Never an especially puritan city, the Dalaranese found the Underbelly to be the perfect place to satisfy their darker interests. A few sections nearly acted as public markets, catering to dissolute students and visiting nobles from staid Lordaeron. Rumor had it that the deeper areas offered corruptions unknown to the surface world.
I never ventured into the Underbelly as a student. As straitlaced as my countrymen are said to be, I found the idea distasteful. Besides, the academy would not show me, a foreigner, the same indulgence they’d grant to a Dalaranese student.
The Underbelly’s winding tunnels are among the only aspects of the old city to have survived the Third War, though the same cannot be said for the poor souls who tried to find shelter in its dank confines. Scourge armies had rampaged through the storm drains as the city over them collapsed, turning the sewer into an abattoir.
“You definitely want to watch your step here. No one bothers us, but that’s because we’re maintenance workers. The criminals don’t want this place breaking down around them.”
I was speaking to a man named Sauverin, his rough-hewn features made all the more brutal by the mix of shadow and torchlight. His crew is one of the four that goes through the Underbelly each day, keeping the place in working order.
“We reclaim as much of the wastewater as we can, use it to keep the trees green and the flowers blooming up on topside. What we can’t use is sent to some kind of pocket dimension. The modern Underbelly’s more of a filtration system than anything else,” he explained.
“I suppose you wouldn’t have much need to involve yourself in Underbelly politics,” I said.
“I should say not!” he guffawed. “Everyone here’s mad as can be. You’ve got agents for the Kirin Tor, the Horde, the Alliance, straight-up criminals, and people who inform on everyone. Some don’t even know who they’re really working for. Best stay out of it.”
I wished I had that option.
“I’m sure the Wrathgate Massacre has only made it worse,” I remarked.
“Right it has. Not a lot of Forsaken show their faces down here these days. There’s plenty here ready to avenge Wrathgate. Fine by me, I hate those deaders.”
“Could you tell me where to find a man named Prewitt Hartley?” I asked Sauverin.
“Never heard of him. Also, you won’t find anybody by asking for him. You need to ask for someone he knows.”
“How would I do that?”
“Friend, if you need to ask, you’re in the wrong place. Believe me, no good will come from involving yourself here.”
Sauverin began whistling as he marched up the dank tunnel, his cheery tune distorted by echoes. I stood in the darkness, a terrible sense of oppression on my shoulders. I should go back, I told myself, and tell Vard I was not up for the task.
Duty dragged my feet deeper into the tunnels until I reached the Circle of Wills. Vard had described the place as an arena where Dalaranese from all walks of life went to share a common love of violence. A crew of goblins ran the place, keeping the bets going and the fights non-lethal (though accidents did happen).
The sheer size of the place is astounding. The Circle of Wills is set up in a grand, vaulted cistern. Three raised platforms are spread across its length, surrounded by an ankle-deep mire of slimy water. Alchemical waste piles up along the walls, the noxious heaps giving off a stench the corrodes the nostrils. Flimsy wooden shacks stand on rot-blackened stilts at the ends of the cistern, held together by inertia.
Despite all this, the Circle of Wills was nearly empty when I arrived. Goblins gathered around abandoned crates, playing dice and cards. A motley collection of Azeroth’s worst leaned against the sagging walls of the huts, drinking from grimy mugs.
“No games today, friend. Come back tomorrow. Maybe the day after. Hard to tell, now,” whined a goblin in a suit that was all stitches.
I nodded, not really sure what to look for. The Circle of Wills reeks of menace, fitting for a place where respectable mages go to vent their worst urges. Added to this was a new level of fear, the doubt that comes from a world irrevocably changed.
“Talus? Talus Corestiam? Is that you?”
I turned to see a broad-shouldered human, his broken and lopsided smile unmistakably a pugilist’s.
“It is you,” he chuckled. “You probably don’t remember me, I don’t think we ever actually met face to face. My name’s Janson, born and raised in Lakeshire.”
He offered a coarse hand, which I shook. I did not remember anyone named Janson, but that was not surprising; I had played a relatively significant role in the Battle of Lakeshire, and was well-known throughout the town.
“Good to see you again! I just wish it was on a happier occasion.”
“As do I,” I said. “How does Lakeshire fare?”
“It’s safe and secure. Fighting the orcs woke something up inside of me, and I couldn’t settle down. Went up to Lordaeron, fought the Forsaken and the Scarlet Crusade, and then guarded some prospectors in Stonetalon for a while. Now I fight for a living!”
“Do you make good money?”
“I’m a top tier human fighter in the Circle of Wills! Bring them up, and I’ll knock them down!” he boasted. “Not much right now though. Actually, I’m thinking I might leave Underbelly and help out in the war effort.”
“Now’s the time for it.”
“Enough about that, what are you doing here? Gambler?”
“I need to speak with a man named Prewitt Hartley. Unfortunately, I’m not at all sure how to reach him.”
“What do you want with him?”
“He has some information that I need.”
“Talus, if you want anything down here, you need to have a good cover story,” laughed Janson. “I know you’re a good man—not many outsiders would volunteer to defend Lakeshire like you did—but goodness alone won’t get you far.”
“Perhaps you could help me then?” I suddenly wondered if Janson was really what he claimed. I had no memory of the man.
“I suppose I owe you a good turn. What does the Kirin Tor want from Prewitt?”
“Kirin Tor? I’m mostly independent, but at the moment I’m working with the Alliance.”
“That might be a problem. Prewitt hates the Alliance; he only works with criminals and the Kirin Tor. He’s got some connections in the Violet Citadel.”
“I did not know that.” Had Vard been mistaken?
“He might be willing to see you if you just pretend to be an independent. What do you need to talk to him about?”
“I’m afraid I can’t say.”
“Suit yourself, but I can tell you aren’t familiar with this place. Lying badly is a good way to get your throat slit,” he warned me.
“I can lie well enough when the situation suits me. Do you work with Prewitt?”
“No, I’m a pit fighter. I know a bit about the man, but I’ve only spoken to him twice. He’s strange sort; he used to be a Stormwind conjurer, but they expelled him from the order so he went up north to Dalaran.”
“Why did they expel him?”
“I have no idea.”
“I suppose the mages might have accepted him simply to upset the conjurers. I don’t suppose Mardera ever mentioned him?” I asked, referencing the retired Lakeshire conjurer who’d died in the battle. That, I figured, would be a good way to learn if Janson was genuine.
“Mardera, now that’s a name I haven’t heard in a while. She never told us much about her conjuration days. I gather they could do some pretty incredible things; she certainly showed that in the battle,” he sighed.
I nodded, feeling slightly less distrustful.
“I can tell you this much: Prewitt deals in information. I’m not in that business, but I know that trust is like money for them. Of course, all the brokers are also liars, to an extent, so they know the trust can’t go that far. At any rate, Prewitt won’t trust you.”
“Is there any way I can get to him?”
“Possibly with a gift.”
“What sort of gift?” I asked.
“He collects red market goods; anyone who goes to his shack brings one as a gift. Since he doesn’t trust you, you’ll need something spectacular, and even that might not do it.”
“Red market?” I’d never heard of such a thing.
“I’ll show you. It’s part of the Black Market in the northern Underbelly.”
“Wait, did you mean illegal black market items?”
“No, red market is different, though they overlap. Red market goods are shady, to be sure, but they’re not necessarily illegal. Come with me, I’ll explain on the way.”
I followed Janson out of the Circle of Wills and back into the tunnel. Fires smolder in the far end of the tunnel, their weak light revealing the huddled forms of the Underbelly’s scavengers.
“I bet there’s a few Forsaken down there,” commented Janson, pointing to the fires. “They dive straight into all that foul alchemy junk that collects in the sewers and sell the usable reagents. Then they use the money to buy information, since a lot of them are Horde agents. Not many others dare to search through those poisons.”
“Don’t the Dalaranese reclaim these waters?”
“For keeping the parks green, not for drinking. At least, I hope not! A few of those weird Outland bird-men, arakkoa I think, also scavenge the chemical heaps, though they do it to get food.”
“I didn’t know the arakkoa lived here.”
“A few families do. They haven’t hurt anybody, but I get the chills every time I see one. Can’t explain why they bother me so much. The bird-men actually tie in with the red market trade.”
“Well, not directly, but they both come from Outland. See, the red market is the name we use for the trade in fel arms and equipment. The Burning Legion left hundreds of caches hidden all through Outland, and people there can make good money smuggling the stuff into Azeroth.”
“Is this common?”
“Very. There’s red market trade in all the major cities in Azeroth except for Darnassus, Thunder Bluff, and the Exodar.”
“And it’s not illegal?”
“That depends. The Shattrath Accords state that fel items are not to be taken from Outland into Azeroth. But, once they’re through, the authorities don’t usually look into it. Basically the smuggler makes the delivery, the red market trader gives the very best cut to the local government, and sells the rest to mercenaries and partisans.”
“That’s incredibly dangerous! Fel weapons are inherently corrupting!”
“I know, but people use them all the same. Maybe they figure they won’t go bad, that they’ll sell it before the corruption gets too deep. The red market isn’t supposed to sell to open criminals, though plenty of that goes on. Like I said, most of the really dangerous stuff sells to the Alliance, Horde, and Kirin Tor. Not from loyalty, but the governments offer the best money.”
“Do these governments use these weapons directly?”
“No idea. I don’t deal in the red market myself, this is just what I hear.”
I felt a sudden and overpowering vertigo, as if I stood on some abyssal precipice. The sophistication and breadth of the trade astonished me, a smuggling network that spans worlds set up in little more than a year. I shuddered at the thought of these demonic weapons accumulating on Azeroth, the process aided and abetted by the world’s governments. Thinking on it further, however, I could only wonder how I did not anticipate such a development.
“Rumor has it that they’re working on creating smuggler’s portals, so that they won’t have to take everything through the Dark Portal. Don’t know if they’ll succeed though,” said Janson.
We followed a narrow northbound tunnel to reach the Underbelly’s Black market. Janson’s description had led me to expect a thriving den of crime, akin to Lost Rigger Cove in Tanaris. In truth, the Black Market is small and quiet. Smugglers and fences set up shop in an old reservoir half-flooded with murky water, where rot-festooned wooden walkways connect floating platforms weighed down with contraband.
“Not much actual buying goes on here,” said Janson as we stepped into the Black Market. “This is mostly where they show items and plan backroom deals. But you can purchase what’s on display if you have the money.”
“Even if the merchant doesn’t know me?”
“Like I said, Dalaran’s fine with the Black Market so long as it’s kept out of sight. The Kirin Tor use it as much as anyone else. The red market trader’s over there,” he said, pointing to a platform to our right.
We traversed the bobbing walkway, the soft and sticky surface seeming to mold itself to our soles. A Sin’dorei stood at the red market platform. Green eyes burned in his wizened face, and cracked veins sizzled under slackened skin turned gray by the cellular malaise of fel magic. He surrounded himself with implements of dark and esoteric sorceries: piles of skulls (some of them looted trollish soughans), proscribed books, and demonic ornaments.
“Good evening,” he said in greeting, his metallic voice audible before he moved his lips. I had the sudden impression of a quick and wrenching motion beneath his rotting robes. “Have we met?”
“I’m afraid not. My name is Ryzel. I’m looking to buy some red market items.” Janson went along with this new lie.
“I am Darahir. If I might be so bold as to make a presumption, you do not seem especially familiar with the goods I have here.”
“What gave me away?”
“Calling them red market items. But I enjoy having new customers; it’s dreary seeing the same faces, the same assumed identities, night after night.”
“Bring out your best, Darahir,” interjected Janson.
“And what’s your interest here, brawler?” inquired Darahir, his lipless mouth turning up in a rictus grin.
“This man’s done me a good turn, and I want to help. Sometimes it’s best to get to the point around here.”
“Of course. Many of my best wares are not safe to remove from their packages, and are beyond your price range. I do have some very fine goods, however. What kind of item do you want?”
“What’s a good way to impress someone who’s interested in red market goods?”
“Hmm, I did recently acquire the heart of Pentatharon, a dreadlord slain in the Netherstorm. It’s of little real use, but may be of great interest to a collector.”
“Dreadlords were common in Outland. Are their body parts really so rare?” I asked.
“This is Pentatharon's, mind you.”
“Who was Pentatharon?”
“The Waking Dream of Slaughtered Lambs, they called him. He sowed fear and death among the goblins, and among the draenei before that.”
“I’ve been to Netherstorm, and I never heard of any Pentatharon.”
If my revelation shocked Darahir, he gave no sign.
“Collectors of the demonic are usually rubes with poor taste. True, dreadlord body parts are hardly rare (though they are not common either), but such individuals take a childlike delight in possession of such artifacts. No matter, I do have items for a more discriminating palate.”
Darahir reached into a nearby crate, his atrophied hand folding around a black dagger. The weapon drooped from his loose grip as he held it up for display. It looked like typical Burning Legion material, perhaps the spare weapon of a felguard. Misshapen and bulky, it showed no craftsmanship or efficiency, just the careless brutality that is the hallmark of the demon armies.
“What’s so remarkable about this?”
“This dagger is called the Deliverer of Scarlet Gifts. Until recently it hung from the belt of a shivarran priestess, an implement of sacrifice. The Deliverer changes size according to the wielder, which is how you or I can carry it. If one takes it out in anger, the Deliverer will immediately go towards the opponents heart, and is sharp enough to gouge it out with ease.”
I paused, wondering if I dared buy such a weapon as a gift. A thought came to me.
“Can you control the knife?”
“No, not really. I would not recommend it for actual combat; the shivarrans only used it on the defenseless. Still, it is valuable. Only senior priestesses carried such an item.”
“I take it all the useful weapons go to those with connections?”
“Correct, sir,” smiled Darahir. “There is great demand for such things among Azeroth’s power groups.”
I looked to Janson, who shrugged. Sighing, I decided to pay for the weapon. We haggled briefly before settling on a price, amounting to almost all of the money Vard had given me for the mission. A visceral nausea shivered up the veins in my arm to settle in my heart once I touched the knife, and I almost flung it into the water.
Darahir gave a slight bow, the movement shifting his hood to the side and revealing the band of lime-green blisters running up the side of his head, his ear broken and dislodged by the swelling.
“Be sure to keep track of your names, Ryzel,” warned Janson as we went back towards the Circle of Wills.
“I will. I don’t have others to keep track of,” I lied.
“It’s one of the easiest mistakes a man can make down here, getting his identities mixed up. I don’t play the games of intrigue, but I know some who do. They say the trick is to lie to yourself until you believe it.”
“Right.” I tried not to look at the Deliverer of Scarlet Gifts. I could not shake the impression that corruption was worming its way under my skin as I held it. There’s an inherent wrongness to many demonic artifacts, and the dagger was no exception.
“Thank you again, Janson. I have one more favor to ask of you.”
“Show me to Prewitt’s home.”
Lost in shadows, the denizens of the Circle of Wills cling to a marginal existence with the strength of desperate and dying men. Only a step above the rag pickers, they run errands for the bigger Underbelly players, who usually live outside of the sewer. Most, according to Janson, had tried and failed to make their names as agents, gamblers, and smugglers. By their standards, Prewitt was something of a success.
“Prewitt lives in that one over there,” said Janson, pointing to a mold-blackened house standing on stilts. “I’m afraid I can’t help you beyond this point, but it shouldn’t be too hard. Give him the knife and ask your question. If he doesn’t like the gift, you might be able to exchange it for something else at Darahir’s shop.”
“I see. Thank you again.”
Janson nodded before turning back to the Circle of Wills. I looked at Prewitt’s house, increasingly sure I was making a mistake. If Vard had been wrong about Prewitt being an Alliance agent, who knew what other mistakes he might have made?
Stronger yet, however, was my desire to be rid of the damned knife. I hated feeling its weight in my pack, the very thought of it burning into my mind. Did I really want to meet someone who actually desired such a malefic object?
Bracing myself, I walked up the partially collapsed staircase leading to Prewitt’s door, the wood mushy beneath my weight. The clapboard roof sagged at the center, weighed down by a glistening black forest of molds and fungi. I knocked on the door, and seriously considered tossing the knife inside once it opened.
“What do you want?” demanded a scratchy voice.
“A trade!” I shouted. Just let me get rid of this awful thing, I thought to myself.
“What do you have?”
“Something you want. Let me in, and we can discuss it!”
“Get in,” the voice barked.
I pulled on the door, which sluiced out from the soggy wall. Prewitt was confident, if nothing else. Inside, I could just detect the odor of sweat and neglected wounds.
Prewitt sat on a rickety chair at the far end of the room. An aging human, he had a provisional face that might have been sown onto his skull by a careless surgeon. His penetrating blue eyes stared out between strands of lank white hair. Once-fine clothes hung from his emaciated body, constellations of stains on the fabric.
“Well? Come on,” he demanded.
“I need information on the Apothecarium,” I said, deciding to be direct. “My employers think they had links in the Underbelly, which they used to obtain the reagents that killed so many at Wrathgate. In return, I have this.” I withdrew the dagger by its blade.
Feverish eyes looked up and down the length of the demonic weapon, Prewitt’s expression remaining neutral.
“That’s quite a prize. But first, I need to know who you’re working for. Alliance and Kirin Tor have already heard it from me.”
“I work for an independent party with a vested interest in Northrend.”
“Don’t insult me. Word to the wise: try to get by with a lie like that, and you’ll end up dead. There are no independent parties.”
“I’m not sure what my employer’s relationship is to the Kirin Tor; maybe they’re connected. He wants this information.”
“Tell him,” muttered Prewitt, turning back to a tiny desk littered with trash, “that he should ask the Kirin Tor.”
“I’m sure he wouldn’t be sending me here if they were telling him.”
“So what, you’re trying to cross the Kirin Tor? I’m guessing your boss is either stupid or aligned with someone else. Looking at you, I’d guess Alliance, but I’m not going to rule out Horde.”
“What do you want in return for this information?”
“I don’t just give to any dumb grifter who floats into my place with red market junk!” he snarled, his sagging face suddenly animated. “Everything here’s connected! Wrong word to the wrong man, and that causes problems.”
“Look, Prewitt, I need to know this and I’m not leaving until I get it.”
I do not look very threatening. Still, authentic experience can sometimes make up for a mild appearance, and I saw Prewitt hesitate, if only for a moment.
“Who told you I collect red market artifacts?” he asked, after a long pause.
“Janson,” I said, hoping I wasn’t revealing too much. From what Janson had said, it didn’t seem as if Prewitt’s interest was a big secret.
“He’s Alliance,” he muttered. “You say you’re not with the Alliance, and I believe you; they’d have given you a better cover story if you were.”
I began to wonder if anyone in Underbelly knew who was working for what.
“Janson’s a hayseed, too honest to do well anyplace outside the ring. Unless he’s a much better actor than I think he is, he figured he’d do you a favor. Don’t know what he might ask in return—”
“Actually, he owed me a favor.”
“All right, that explains it. Let me see the knife.”
I passed the dagger onto him, and he ran a quivering finger along the edge of the blade. A terrible pressure lifted off my back the moment he took the weapon.
“Shivarran, I can tell,” he whimpered, raising the dagger to his bloodless lips.
For the first time I noticed the scowling demon statuettes crowded on a shelf at the back wall of his shack, their evil features carved with an obsessive attention to detail. I could see other artifacts among the squat figurines: bronze bells, devil masks, and bulbous metal instruments whose purposes I could only guess.
“Why are you so interested in fel objects?”
“There was a time when I loved the feel of mana coursing through my body. After a while, it was no longer enough. Fel magic though, it peels back your senses, forces you to look right into the burning heart of reality. Best way to remind yourself you’re alive,” he sighed, his words tinged with regret.
“You’re a warlock?”
“A demon summoner? You take me for a fool?” he growled, his waxen face twisting in anger. “Warlocks don’t control demons, it’s the other way around! I use fel magic for divination, information like what you’re trying to get. My rituals send eyes and ears through the Twisting Nether, so I can see or hear what I need.”
Janson had mentioned Prewitt’s history among the conjurers of pre-war Stormwind. More reckless than their northern kin, they often delved into the more sinister aspects of magic. They claimed to be experts at divination, though the cryptic answers and predictions that they gave to Stormwind’s kings often proved vague or unreliable.
“You’re continuing the conjurer tradition, then?”
“No. The conjurers could only offer their answers in the form of feeble riddles that obscured more than they revealed,” he snorted. “I made their methods work. For all their talk of tapping into the raw forces of dark magic, they were nearly as timid as the Dalaranese. I went deep into fel sorceries, and got exact answers. Through the haze of demonic eyes I could see the orc camps growing like cysts in the swamp.”
“That must have made you very valuable.”
“My peers thought me a warlock in all but name, so they took me to the king in shackles. I made my escape and went to Dalaran, the old one.”
“Why did they accept you?” I asked, already suspecting the answer.
“To spite the conjurers and prepare for the Second War. My visions let the Alliance intercept the raids of the Burning Blade savages, found the weaknesses in Blackrock Keep, warned them of Deathwing.”
“You’re a hero then, in a way.”
“Trying to ingratiate yourself? The Dalaranese treated me well enough after the war, gave me a good apartment. Wouldn’t let me use fel magic though, and that sucked all the joy out of life.”
“Did they let you resume fel magic in the Third War?”
“Anything to save their skins. I remember them scurrying around, trying to rebuild the ritual chamber as the living dead surrounded the city. Too late though. I escaped, went underground for a while. Didn’t do much else in the Third War, and finally ended up here. I wish I’d gone to Outland; closer to reality than this damned world.”
“How do you mean?”
“Like I said, fel magic peels away the illusions. You see things exactly as they are, not how you want them to be. Anyway, I’m done talking about me or my methods. You want information on who sold reagents to the Apothecarium, right?”
“Goblin named Tyrigz Hulnum. The Alliance nabbed him though; he’s long gone.”
“Is Tyrigz aligned with the Horde?”
“No, just an alchemist without scruples. That sort of person can get far, down here.”
I nodded, disappointed and relieved at the same time. Though too late to do anything, I at least knew that the Horde hadn’t supplied the Apothecarium in Underbelly.
“One question: why did you not anticipate the Wrathgate?”
“Idiot question. My vision can’t be everywhere at once; I need to focus on a target first. I wasn’t spying on the Horde.”
“Who were you spying on?”
“We’re done here. Get out.” He went over to his collection of fel artifacts with a fanatic’s trembling devotion.
I turned to leave. As I walked out the door, I got a quick glimpse of an open vial on Prewitt’s desk, half-filled with a faded tan powder of exceedingly fine texture. Perhaps it was only a trick of the darkness, but it looked exactly like the powder that I use to hide the smell of undeath. I took a pinch of the stuff as his back was turned, and shoved my hand in a coat pocket as I left.
Vard and I struggled up a ramp of trash and castoffs to reach an opening to the main tunnel south of the Circle of Wills. Chemical stains dotted the rubbish like Winter's Veil lanterns in the dark. I spotted Janson sharing a bottle of wine with a dwarf nearby, though he did not recognize me without my disguise.
My first mission to the Underbelly had paved the way for a second. At first, Vard had figured that the powder I'd found in Prewitt’s home only bore a coincidental resemblance to the variety used in my disguise. Vard nonetheless gave it to Lord Sunreaver’s personal alchemist, Elsarion Lightleaf, for analysis, along with a sample of my own for comparison (though he kept the knowledge of my disguise to himself; it is not information I am comfortable sharing, even with other members of the Horde). Elsarion’s research revealed them to be one and the same.
“Dammit, the entire world’s gone mad,” he had said. “This still doesn’t prove that Prewitt is undead. He may use it for some other reason.”
No one could guess what that reason might be, as the powder cannot do anything else. Already perturbed that he’d been wrong about Prewitt working for the Alliance, Vard took direct action. He rounded up some trustworthy people and brought us down into the Underbelly to get the truth from Prewitt. I went at his request. Like the rest of them, I donned a thick hood enchanted to shadow and distort my features. Some wore scarves over their mouths, though I did not go quite that far.
We only knew that Prewitt could not be a Horde agent; otherwise, Vard would have been aware. If he turned out to be a Forsaken himself, he would likely be allied to the Apothecarium or some other questionable group. If he was a Scourge agent, than he posed a danger to everyone in the city.
Elsarion, whom Lord Sunreaver ordered to accompany us, pointed out that Prewitt might be a Forsaken working for the Kirin Tor, which Vard acknowledged as a possibility. However, he could not take the risk of an Apothecarium or Scourge agent operating freely in the Underbelly.
Upon finding Prewitt’s shack empty, we split up into three groups, intending to reunite at the Circle of Wills after each group finished searching part of the Underbelly. Vard and I went south to investigate Cantrips and Crows, a seedy subterranean tavern. The idea of Prewitt visiting a drinking establishment struck me as incongruous, but I figured it best to take a look.
“Some of the Sunreavers mentioned Cantrips and Crows to me,” remarked Vard as we reached one of the main sewage arteries, reeking of burned glass and waste. “They told me it was a good place for orcs.”
“I’ve never been there, and I don’t know of any equivalent in the city’s previous iteration.”
“It was an insult, Destron. The Sin’dorei still think of us as uncouth savages. As far as they’re concerned, we’ll enjoy anything crude and debased.”
“Oh, I see.”
“And some orcs seem determined to prove them right. I feel as if I’m trapped in a nightmare. It was not long ago that Thrall was poised to lead us to a future of honor and glory. Now, his dream is collapsing all around us.”
“That’s why we’re here, is it not? To undo some of the damage done?”
“As much as possible, which I fear is not enough. It’s open war in Lake Wintergrasp now. Garrosh has vowed that the Horde will retake the Titan fortress, and is rallying a mercenary army to the cause. The dwarves are doing the same.”
“Is it safe to say that here? The walls have ears in this place.”
“It’s no secret, everyone knows about it already. Garrosh surely wants to send the Horde armies to the place, but the Warchief will not permit it. So far, the Alliance has also held back. But the dwarves want blood; they always thought it blasphemy that we reached the fortress before them.”
I again felt that awful and hopeless weight on my shoulders, the sheer enormity of the Apothecarium’s evil defying belief. Their actions also revealed the fragility of the world’s political situation. Both sides had been ready to strike; all they needed was a reason.
Cantrips and Crows is a ramshackle wooden structure spilling out over the edges of the wooden platform on which it is built. Its rambling profile dominates the cluster of huts and tents in the southern cistern, a dank town floating on spoiled water. Red lanterns cast garish light across the peeling wooden walls, while lean and dangerous sorts swagger down the elevated paths, bottles or daggers in their hands.
“A fine place for orcs indeed,” scoffed Vard. “How will we find Prewitt in this mess? Cantrips and Crows isn’t the only place here.”
“It might be a good place to start. Maybe I should have gone alone, in disguise.”
“If Prewitt is with the Apothecarium, he needs to be taken down. That will be easier if there are more of us. Come on, I’ll be able to scare some answers out of these sots if need be.”
We navigated a maze of groaning walkways to reach Cantrips and Crows. Some of the humans glared at me as I walked by, but Vard’s presence dissuaded them from causing trouble.
The parlor room at Cantrips and Crows is hardly inviting, exposed as it is to the rancid air. Too-bright lights cast shadows on the clapboard walls, bare save for a few dusty hunting trophies. Shabby patrons slumped in chairs, nursing cheap beer and bad wine. A human man stood behind the bar wearing elaborate clothes marred by stains and rumples. With deft hands he poured a glass of wine for a scarred blood elf before turning his attention to us.
“Welcome to Cantrips and Crows,” said the barkeep in a curt tone.
I nudged Vard when I spotted Prewitt seated by an uneven table at the other end of the tavern, near a closed door. His palsied right hand clutched a glass of some amber liquor as he stared off into space. The light revealed the full extent of his decrepitude, and I could easily imagine him as an undead. I wondered about my own disguise.
I ordered a cup of ale and took a table opposite Prewitt. The man looked exhausted, almost on the verge of collapse. His skinny arm shook every time he raised his glass, as if protesting the movement. I could almost see through the aged skin on his face, pulled tight over the flesh like something that didn’t belong.
While Vard and I watched, another human entered the tavern. Tall and wearing a well-trimmed black beard, he smiled at the sight of Prewitt and took a seat at the old conjurer’s table.
“Prewitt, good to see you here. You spend too much time in that miserable hovel of yours,” said the newcomer, his false jocularity not hiding the cruelty in his voice.
“Foolish thing to do,” retorted Prewitt. Anger crossed his face, only to vanish a moment later, replaced with hopelessness.
“Hardly, you need to keep this up. It’s healthy. Spend too long alone, and you’ll get even more sick. Here...”
The man’s voice lowered as he leaned in close to Prewitt, his white teeth exposed in a flawless smile. Vard growled in frustration as their voices dropped below hearing. I edged closer to no avail, afraid of attracting their attention.
The bearded man did not stay long. Prewitt gave him a bundle of papers covered in jittery handwriting. In return, the man gave Prewitt a small cloth satchel, after which he got to his feet.
“Good doing business with you, Prewitt. I’ll see you again.”
Prewitt said nothing, and only took a quick look inside the pack as the man left. I looked to Vard, who gave an almost imperceptible shrug. Prewitt’s acquaintance had carried himself like a Dalaranese mage, giving some credence to the belief that Prewitt himself was a Kirin Tor agent. Still, we could not be certain.
Finishing his drink, Prewitt lifted himself up and left the bar, the satchel clutched tight to his bony frame. We waited until he was at the door before getting up and following him. Prewitt made no attempt to throw us off; he was either oblivious, or leading us into a trap.
“The man he spoke to looked Dalaranese,” I said to Vard.
“I agree. Maybe Prewitt is a Kirin Tor agent.”
“Perhaps we should leave the matter to the mages,” I suggested.
“I cannot take that risk. If there’s even the slightest chance that Prewitt is working for the Apothecarium, we need to investigate. Remember, that powder you found doesn’t have any use beyond disguising the undead.”
“He could simply be a Forsaken agent working for the Kirin Tor.”
“If that proves true, we’ll apologize and leave him be.”
“Vard, think about this: the Horde cannot afford to anger the Kirin Tor. I think we should tell the Kirin Tor about our concerns.”
“The Kirin Tor have their own interests. If Prewitt turns out to be an Apothecarium agent, the Kirin Tor might turn him over to the Alliance. The Horde needs to control its own! Destron, the Horde is at its weakest. The slightest push could undo everything we've fought and bled for.”
“All right, you’ve convinced me,” I said.
Prewitt made his way across the rotting walkways, a lonely ghost in the depths. I wondered if he had much longer to live, assuming he wasn’t already undead. He dwelled in the sewers without a single friend, sustained only by his forays into demonic magic.
Back in the Circle of Wills, we saw that it had taken the first steps back to normalcy. Fists flew in the ring as two humans brawled for the crowd, the cheers reverberating in the stone vaults. They shouted for blood, going at it with the enthusiasm of an ascetic ending a long fast, though no more than a few days had passed since the last fight. Many were Dalaranese, the paragons of human civilization only too ready indulge their baser interests. The Underbelly was coming back to life.
The rest of Vard’s operatives walked out from the crowd, joining us in a loose group as we followed Prewitt. He steadfastly continued towards his hovel, blind to the world or pretending to be. Elsarion had brought a small vial whose contents would supposedly undo the effects of the disguise. All he needed to do was convince Prewitt to take it, one way or another.
We reached the sad assemblage of shacks behind the arena. An ancient woman, blind in one eye, sat on a rickety chair outside one of the shacks, a pipe-stem clenched in her yellowed teeth. Prewitt finally turned around, his face like a hunted animal’s.
“What do you all want? How long have you been following me!”
“We’re friends, Prewitt,” rumbled Vard. “We just need to discuss something.”
“Do I have a choice?” he shot back. “All right, follow me inside. No point in airing out all our secrets.”
“No, I think we’ll do it out here.”
“That’s foolish. Anyone could hear us.”
“We won’t be saying much. My friend here just wants to offer you a drink.”
“What, you’re trying to poison me?”
“If we wanted to kill you, you’d be dead. Unless you are already.”
My jaw dropped at Vard’s clumsiness. The whole operation had been done in a hurry; we should have had Elsarion create more vials. I feared the Horde was flailing about for any lifeline, and would only drown itself in the process.
“I’m old but I’m not dead yet. Doesn’t look like I have much of a choice. I can take a drink.”
“Put your hands in the air, Prewitt, and keep them still.”
Prewitt complied. What did he think was the nature of the drink? He seemed confident that whatever the potion did, it would not harm him. Elsarion handed the flask to Vard, who approached Prewitt. Two troll operatives went around the old man, placing cautionary hands on his shoulders. Vard opened the flask and put it to Prewitt’s lips.
“You need to feed me like I’m an infant?” scoffed Prewitt. “I’m not senile.”
“Just drink it.”
Prewitt complied, making a face as he drank the strange brew. Vard stepped back from Prewitt, observing him. Prewitt himself narrowed his eyes.
“Are you done? I half-figured you’d give me a mind control potion, but what you gave me was something else. Whatever it was, it didn’t work.”
Bleached whiteness spread across his wrinkled skin as he spoke. I could see the lines of wounds repaired by subtle stitching reach along his cheeks and brow. All the while, he continued to speak.
“Get out of here, I did what you asked. Believe me when I tell you that my associates will be informed of this. I always hated your damn Horde, and you’ve just given me another reason.”
The light in his eyes went out, their falsity revealed in dead sockets. Prewitt’s tongue went from red to black as we watched.
“Why are you looking at me? Have you—”
Prewitt stopped as he saw his left hand, shriveled and bloodless. He held it in front of his face, shivering as he did.
“What did you do to me? What did you do? You made me one of the damn undead! You’re with the Scourge!”
At once it dawned on us: Prewitt did not know he was undead.
The trolls grabbed Prewitt but he wriggled loose with surprising dexterity, the weaknesses of age suddenly forgotten. Howling he struck at them and broke free. I heard a door shut as the old woman fled inside.
“Do we kill him?” someone demanded.
“Not yet! We need to find out who he works for!” yelled Vard as he pursued Prewitt, who bounded towards his shack. Prewitt spun around and gestured at the ground. Three armored scorpids suddenly poured up from the flooded earth at his command.
“You bastards! I’ll kill you for this! I knew the Horde was up to no good!”
“Prewitt, you’re undead!” shouted Vard. “The potion just exposed what you really are.”
A sharp pincer gripped the leg of a troll warrior, crushing it with ease. The beast raised its tail to skewer the screaming troll. I cast a frost bolt, and saw lines of ice running up its segmented body, slowing it long enough for the wounded troll to take action. Instead of escaping, he grabbed an obsidian hand ax from his cloak and slamming it down on the scorpid’s head. The blade shattered even as it broke the shell, sending glass shards deep into the scorpid’s brain. It shuddered and went still.
“I’m a human! This is some Horde trick—Light, what have you done! I can hear him in my head!”
Prewitt roared and sobbed, clutching his head as he fell to the ground. The scorpids halted their attack, making them easy prey for the agents. Vard took slow steps towards Prewitt as the conjurer sobbed.
“Stop it, stop it, I can’t be receiving from him, not possible, stop it!” he choked. “I never died, I survived the Third War, I remember it!”
Prewitt looked up at Vard, trembling.
“Please kill me, I can’t be a part of the Scourge!” he begged.
“Meet your death with honor, human,” he said.
Vard drove his dagger into the Scourge agent’s scalp in one swift blow. Prewitt dropped, his long-dead body completely limp.
Sunday, March 7, 2010
I spent the next day idling in Sunreaver’s Sanctuary, not feeling particularly inclined to explore more of Dalaran. In fact, I’d already seen most of what I could access. All that remained was the Alliance embassy of the Silver Enclave (off-limits to me, for obvious reasons), and the sewers of the Underbelly.
I was in the gardens late in the afternoon, watching the sun sink behind the city’s towers, when I noticed a middle-aged orc following the garden paths towards me, a scroll in hand. Introducing himself as Vard, he presented me with a fantastic opportunity.
“Do you know of the Dalaran Reconciliation Committee?” he asked.
“I am not familiar with it.”
“They’re a group of high-minded mages seeking to bring the Horde and the Alliance closer together. Naive, but admirable on some level. They convinced the Alliance authorities to allow some of us to attend a gala in the Silver Enclave.”
“That’s actually quite impressive,” I said.
“The committee’s good with words, if nothing else. We spoke to Eitrigg this morning, and he thinks you should go.”
“Eitrigg? Is he here?” Eitrigg is one of the Warchief’s senior advisors. I’d only met him once before, and he’d impressed me as wise and insightful.
“Yes, though he’s too busy working with Lord Sunreaver to attend. Would you be willing to go?”
“Yes. I’d be honored. When is this?”
“Tomorrow evening. You and thirteen other Horde citizens need simply go to the Silver Enclave and put on friendly faces. Eitrigg hopes to demonstrate the Horde’s goodwill.”
“Why not hold it in Sunreaver’s Sanctuary?”
Vard made a face.
“Lord Sunreaver thinks that humans and dwarves would scuff up his precious estate. Personally, I think it could use a bit of scuffing up!” he laughed.
Fourteen of us gathered at the gates of Sunreaver’s Sanctuary just before sunset the next day, dressed in our finest clothes. Well-aware of the tattered state of my normal outfits, I went ahead and purchased a new set at an affordable rate. Four of our party were orcs, including Vard and Hulla’tak, the shaman from the embassy. Besides that were four tauren, three blood elves, another Forsaken, and a troll.
Led by an honor guard of five elaborately armored blood elf warriors, we marched through the streets. Crowds watched us go by with mild interest before getting back to their own business.
Located on the opposite side of the city from Sunreaver’s Sanctuary, the Silver Enclave is a grand building marked by a round stained glass window, a golden lion’s head keeping a solemn watch from the surface. The entirety of the Silver Enclave is set aside for diplomatic ventures, unlike Sunreaver’s Sanctuary with its inaccessible personal spaces. Of course, much of diplomacy’s public face takes place in grandiose banquet halls.
High elf guards nodded in cold acknowledgement of their Sin’dorei brethren. Our own escorts stepped to the side of the street, where they would wait out the night, while a portly human in blue robes came out to greet us, grinning proudly.
“The Dalaran Reconciliation Committee is honored to have so many of the Horde’s finest as guests for this splendid occasion! My name is Sorrestan Valon, I’m heading this effort on the committee’s part. On behalf of the Alliance and of the city of Dalaran, I bid you welcome!” he announced, throwing his arms out to the side.
“The Horde is honored to recognize and accept your invitation,” said Toreg’dan, the senior orc shaman in our party.
“Please, follow me inside. We’re all friends here!”
We followed Sorrestan into a courtyard of white stone. Facing the gate is an impressive staircase that leads to a great stone hall. Within the hall is a heroic statue of Vereesa Windrunner, standing over a collection of disarmed steam tanks from the Third War.
“Please respect the Alliance’s request to stay out from that area,” said Adorean. “Besides, I think you’ll find the Hero’s Rest much more to your liking.”
What looked like the entire staff of the Silver Enclave was waiting for us in the Hero’s Rest, the embassy’s main recreation area. Among the Alliance notables were other blue-robed committee members, all of them human save for one gnomish woman. We came in on a sort of indoor balcony and went downstairs to a parlor where the hosts had set up a long table, its wine glasses and silver plates burnished in the magic light.
I tried to gauge the Alliance response to our visit, but they remained stubbornly inscrutable. I wondered what had actually motivated them to hold such an event, and suspected the Alliance was more interested in proving their own goodwill to Dalaran. The Dalaran Reconciliation Committee counts many of the most esteemed mages and scholars among its members, including a few Kirin Tor. Their influence is not to be disregarded.
Sorrestan hurried up the stairs as we took our places around the table, no one venturing to say a word. An uncomfortable silence stifled the Hero’s Rest, finally broken by an equally awkward greeting from Sorrestan, who stood beaming on the balcony.
He spent the next half-hour or so expounding on the shared virtues of the Horde and the Alliance before proposing a toast to Azeroth, “the world we all desire to protect.” We raised our glasses (filled with Kaldorei apricot wine) before starting dinner.
The combined Horde and Alliance armies at the Wrathgate proved a useful conversation topic. Whatever the differences between our factions, all but the most foolish acknowledged the Scourge as a greater threat.
“Fighting may have already begun. I’d prefer to be on the front lines, but an old cripple like me would hardly be of much use,” said an aged Lordaeronian named Tylus Irvanum. I knew of him as a hero of the Second War, and one of the handful of Lordaeronians who had advocated orcish extermination.
“A sadness felt by many old soldiers,” commiserated Vard.
The overall feeling was one of nervous boredom, the talk always going back to the Wrathgate. I tried to catch up on the news as best I could. People on both sides expressed a seemingly genuine optimism. The Scourge had been in retreat for the last several months, and the armies of the Free Peoples had adapted to their tactics. Despite this, no one expected the war to end anytime soon. Taking Wrathgate would only establish a foothold in Icecrown Glacier, where the Lich King keeps most of his forces.
“We also need to eliminate all possible contingencies,” pointed out Tylus. “There’s no way to know the number of minions he has waiting for us underground. And that might take years to do.”
“Is it still believed that killing the Lich King would wipe out the entirety of the Scourge?” I asked.
“Wipe out all of the undead, you mean? Regrettably, no. That bastard’s reduced his level of control. We kill him, and there’s still a standing army of shambling monsters. They’ll still be a danger.”
“Point taken,” I muttered.
We split up into smaller groups when dinner ended, members of the opposite factions only really conversing when joined by an overenthusiastic committee member.
“You’re Destron, right?”
I paused, the young blonde woman’s bright and aristocratic face teasingly familiar.
“Yes. You must be Alima Corwyn!” I said, finally recognizing her. We’d encountered each other in Booty Bay. She’d come down on vacation with her noble family, and had expressed her concern about Westfall’s state.
“That’s me!” she chirped.
“I hope you enjoyed the rest of your trip to Booty Bay.”
“Oh, I’d love to go again! I’ve been ever so busy, though. I work with my father at the Noble’s Council, and I’m trying to help the kingdom get back on its feet. Sailing past Westfall showed me how bad things were getting before my king’s return.”
“How do you intend to help Stormwind? Assuming you’re allowed to answer that question.”
“It’s no secret, we’re trying to rebuild some of the infrastructure and attract trade. You raise taxes to do the first, and lower it to do the second, so it gets kind of tricky,” she laughed. “I think we’re close to finding a balance though. Right now I’m up in Dalaran to do some trade business with the Kirin Tor.”
“Impressed? Heh, you’re not the first to be fooled by my flighty exterior, Destron. There’s a lot more to me than meets the eye.”
“That’s not what I meant—”
“I’m only teasing you. At any rate, I’m glad to see a Forsaken here.”
“You seem more enthusiastic about this than most of the other Alliance notables.”
“Oh, they want peace too, they just don’t want to look too eager.”
As infectious as Alima’s optimism was, I could not quite share her faith. However, I was happy to see that she appeared to be gaining prominence in Stormwind’s government.
I held a somewhat stranger conversation with a committee mage named Galone Morrust. Standing over six feet in height and with a bushy moustache and ready smile, he had a way of commanding a person’s attention. He walked with the easy confidence that comes from a life of strenuous leisure.
“I do think this must be a very exciting time to be in the Horde right now,” he said. We stood in the Silver Enclave’s library with a few other groups.
“What makes you say that?”
“Garrosh Hellscream. He seems like a dynamic and fiercely authentic figure for orcish politics, wouldn’t you say?”
“I suppose that depends how you define authentic.”
“Oh, well he’s free of demonic or human corruption,” he chortled. “I really think we humans did immeasurable harm to the orcs after the Second War. Interning them was a most regrettable mistake.”
“What would you have done with them?”
“I think it would have been better to give them land in Alterac, or for nations like Lordaeron to donate them unused sections on which to settle. The internment camps robbed them of their dignity!”
“To be sure, but I can hardly blame the humans for being reluctant to give up their land. I’d say that the orcs really lost their dignity when they succumbed to demonic corruption.”
“The demons did play a part. That’s why I’m so interested in this Garrosh fellow. He strikes me as a truly authentic voice for the race, every inch the noble savage. I know he’s very popular among the orcs, at least from what I’ve heard.”
“He’s popular in certain segments of society, namely some of the warriors. But not all warriors are necessarily followers of him, and the peons are generally apolitical,” I corrected.
“That is a problem, wouldn’t you say? Peon disinterest? They’re very disenfranchised by the current situation. By giving a more genuinely orcish voice to his society, I think that Garrosh could truly uplift the peon ranks.”
I paused for a moment, wondering if I’d heard him correctly.
“Garrosh is a proponent of orcish warrior culture. I do not think he particularly cares about the peons one way or another,” I said.
“Exactly! By strengthening this cultural renaissance, he’ll give the peons something to believe in. The peons need something to believe in, and—with all due respect—I don’t think the current situation is conducive to that.”
“Well... I would say that it’s more important for peons to find their own motivation. Would you rather Garrosh be Warchief?”
“No, I don’t mean anything like that. I deeply admire Thrall. I think Garrosh, however, is a dynamic figure who can do much for the orcs under Thrall’s leadership. I’m happy to see him rise so high in the ranks, and in a very short time. Certainly he’d be a good prospect for a future Warchief, wouldn’t you say?”
I paused, wondering how much to divulge.
“Some—not necessarily myself—are concerned by his aggression.”
“That can be explained in the proper cultural context,” argued Galone. “Orcs often take a more aggressive stance as a way of stressing the importance of an argument.”
“This is true, but sometimes the aggression is genuine.”
“I have more faith in Garrosh than that. I think Thrall will keep him in line, if such becomes necessary.”
I exchanged a few more pleasantries with Galone before he excused himself and drifted over to the lone troll of our group. Seeing Tylus seated at a nearby table, his eyes fixed with contempt, I realized he’d heard the entire conversation.
Something about Galone’s ignorance angered me on an almost primal level. He was the sort of person, educated but still foolish, who saw only what he wanted to see. Such people credulously accept any praise given to the target of their admiration. Were it fashionable to do so, I have no doubt he’d be lauding the Scourge.
At its core the Horde is a vision of redemption. Races grasping their way out of corruption and oblivion can find a new home under its aegis. And yet, there are still many who only see value in war and vengeance. Brave citizens struggle against these elements, alone or in groups: there are more than a few Forsaken who oppose the Apothecarium’s poisons, and many orcs troubled by the excesses of the Warsong Offensive.
Meanwhile, clueless Dalaranese cheer on the worst and most backwards elements of Horde society. If they enjoy it so much, I invite them to spend some time living in Orgrimmar. Not with the warrior elites, but with the oft-ignored peons. I imagine they will find it very educational.
I drifted back to the Hero’s Rest and got into a conversation with a Stormwinder mage named Harven. He offered his perspective on why Dalaran had left the Alliance.
“Two things helped us win the Second War: Horde disunity, and Dalaranese expertise. But Dalaran got very little say in international affairs after the war ended, at least according to the Kirin Tor. When the Alliance crumpled under the Scourge onslaught in the Third, they saw little reason to stay.”
Hulla’tak came to me soon after we’d started talking, obviously troubled. Sorrestan was with her, his face as white as a ghost’s. I paused, looking over to them.
“Destron, the Horde needs to leave the Silver Enclave, right away,” she said.
“Is something the matter?” asked Harven.
“There’s been an incident at the Wrathgate. News is spreading around the Silver Enclave.”
“What do you mean? Perhaps we should stay then, as a gesture of good faith—”
“The Enclave’s leaders already know about it. They want us gone.”
Hulla’tak herded me in with the other Horde visitors at the gate. I saw a dwarf yelling angrily at one of the tauren, his bearded face red with fury. Shouts and yells of dismay rang out from the Enclave’s buildings. A glass bottle shattered on the cobblestones, inches away from a blood elf, who shrank back towards his compatriots in alarm.
“Quiet!” bellowed Tylus, his mouth set in rage. The old soldier practically quivered in anger as he limped across the courtyard.
“The Horde is leaving the Silver Enclave. Everyone, go back to your rooms until further notice. If you want to kill orcs, join up with the army, don’t throw things at them here. As for you,” he snarled, gesturing at us, “get out of here and pray to whatever misbegotten gods you worship that we don’t kill every last Hordeling, man, woman, and child.”
I had a quick glimpse of Alima, her hands over her mouth in shock. I shrugged, trying to indicate that I had no idea what had happened, even as a sense of pending doom gripped my heart. Fear ruled the night as we hurried from the Silver Enclave. The rest of the city still slumbered, unaware of what had transpired.
“Hulla’tak, what’s this all about?” I demanded.
“The Forsaken—the Apothecarium. They attacked.”
“Our warriors were locked in battle against the Scourge, human and orc, dwarf and tauren, side by side. Then the Apothecarium launched their poisons, killing every soul on the field of battle,” she fumed, her voice inches away from sobs.
“They attacked too soon,” I groaned.
“Not too soon! They intended to kill us! Their leader stood on the ridge and promised death to every single thing! Scourge, Horde, Alliance, he cared not. This was no accident, it was a deliberate betrayal.”
“Did... did the Dark Lady—”
“Damn your Dark Lady! She did nothing to stop this! We knew... we knew the Apothecarium did dark deeds, but never like this. Thousands of the world’s best warriors lie dead in the snow, poison eating away at their bodies. No one knows where Sylvanas is, or if she was even aware of this. There are reports of a coup in Undercity, but we don’t know who’s doing it or why.”
I felt vertigo, as if Dalaran itself had dropped to the ground beneath my feet, leaving me suspended in the air. Sick with horror, I buried my face in my hands.
We waited in the cellar of Sunreaver’s Sanctuary as the world fell to pieces outside us. Slumped against the walls and crates, we hoped for a quick release. A polite Sin’dorei chamberlain came in twice a day to attend to our minimal needs and apologize for the discomfort.
“As my liege wishes to stress, this is only for your own protection.”
All nine of the Forsaken in Sunreaver’s Sanctuary at the time of the Wrathgate Massacre had been personally escorted into the cellar, past mobs of orcs and trolls venting their hate for all forms of the living dead. I’ve no doubt they would have killed us if permitted to do so. Some of the Forsaken resisted, thinking they were to be carted off to the slaughter, but the more level-headed persuaded them otherwise.
“And they wonder why we hate them so much,” hissed Corrold, a Forsaken with a burn victim’s black and peeling skin.
I glared at him, though he ignored me. Of our group, three besides myself expressed appropriate horror at the news. Three appeared indifferent, though eager to leave, and the last two stopped just short of sympathizing with the Apothecarium.
“They hate us now,” mourned Ildaleva, the thick black veil stitched onto her face moving as she spoke. “The orcs were our friends, don’t you see that Corrold? They appreciated us, how we would help them. We repay their friendship with disease and death.”
“You saw what they were like out there. Those ‘friends’ wanted our blood. Well I say, if they’re so eager to fight, let them. The Lich King isn’t the only one who’s wronged us.”
I said nothing, having already tried to calm them down in the past. I tried not to think about what might be happening in the rest of Azeroth, the terror of war erupting across every land.
When the chamberlain returned to us, Hulla’tak came with him, her expression grave.
“The Horde sees fit to release you,” she grunted, before turning around and leaving. The chamberlain stepped to the side, holding open the door.
“Please understand that Lord Sunreaver made every attempt to make your unwilling stay as comfortable as possible,” he reminded us.
Hulla’tak pulled me aside once I’d left the cellar. A few of the other Forsaken came to eavesdrop, but she snarled at them to leave.
“Hulla’tak, are we at war?”
“Not yet. Not totally. Follow me, I will explain what happened.”
We walked past scenes of chaos, frantic embassy staff shuffling through a library's worth of paperwork. Locked rooms hummed with the intensity of emergency meetings.
“The Apothecarium now holds Undercity. Sylvanas escaped, along with many of the common Forsaken.”
“Where are they now?”
“How did they get there so quickly?”
“Loyalist mages created a portal between continents, though several of them died in the process, their minds burnt to cinders by using so much energy all at once. Whether they sacrificed themselves, or were coerced into it, I do not know.”
“What’s the political situation?”
“King Varian’s calling for blood, and Garrosh is eager to oblige. All over Northrend the warriors of the Horde and Alliance prepare to slaughter each other, while the Lich King watches from his throne, ready to add our dead to his army. Some orcs are calling for the expulsion of the Forsaken from the Horde.”
“I suppose I can’t blame them,” I said. The nausea returned, and I wanted to flee from myself, to no longer be Forsaken.
“Undercity is, for all intents and purposes, in enemy hands. The Warchief plans to retake it by force, since there can be no forgiveness for the Apothecarium. Their new leader is a vile monster named Putress. Your Dark Lady’s pet dreadlord is in league with Putress, by the way. Another fine decision on her part.”
“Is the dreadlord Varimathras responsible?”
“Who knows? It would not surprise me if he aided Putress.”
“What about the Hand of Vengeance?”
“They maintain their loyalty to Sylvanas, though they’ve done nothing against the apothecaries in Northrend. We cannot rely on them.”
“What will we do to stop this?”
“What will we do? Destron, do I look like a warchief to you?” she growled. “This is out of our hands. Garrosh and his followers want war, and their word carries weight. Sylvanas’ stupidity made the Warchief look like a fool, and some of the generals are starting to question him. All this has given the human king even more reason to hate us.”
“Hulla’tak, I promise you that there are many Forsaken who will gladly fight and die in the name of the Warchief. We—”
“I know, Destron. No one here is blaming you. But Putress’ actions have destroyed the credibility of the Horde and everyone in it. I wanted so hard to prove that we orcs are not bloodthirsty savages, that we can be noble and civilized. In one day, just one day, Putress and his minions destroyed that hope, maybe forever.”
Hulla’tak sobbed freely, tears coursing down her aged cheeks.
“How could we let this happen?” she cried.
The very worst elements of the Forsaken had inflicted their evil on the world. I knew that Putress stood little chance against the Horde, but the damage had been done. His cowardice threatened to doom an entire generation to bleed and die without reason. It would not surprise me at all if Varimathas, a demon, had engineered the entire massacre. What better way to help the Burning Legion than to spark war between the Horde and the Alliance?
What of the Dark Lady? For all my dislike of Forsaken policy, I had always thought of her as above the worst. Mad, perhaps, but no fool. She, who’d returned to us the gift of free will, proved unable to hold her own nation. A Forsaken like so many others, too blinded by her need for vengeance to see the truth.
I was surprised to see Parag, the fearsome independent warrior I’d met on my arrival, walk towards me as I left the embassy building.
“Destron! Do you serve the Horde?”
“Of course,” I said, preparing myself for the worst.
“Do you hate Putress and the Apothecarium?”
Parag reached out and gripped my shoulder with his scarred right hand, smiling firmly.
“I knew it. Guard your honor, Destron, and don’t let any wretch call you a coward or a traitor. Putress will receive the death he deserves, him and that demon.”
“I... thank you, Parag. Thank you.”
I am not sure if it was Parag’s doing, but no one in Sunreaver’s Sanctuary said so much as a harsh word against me from then on. But their hateful looks spoke volumes.
Days passed by in a blur, news and rumor mixing together until no one could tell them apart. The Kirin Tor used their city’s leylines to create a temporary network of instant communication between all the major cities and throughout Northrend, keeping everyone informed of the unfolding catastrophe. Partisan violence flared up in Lake Wintergrasp, as angry dwarves drove Horde forces from an ancient Titan citadel. Stormwind’s citizens volunteered for military service in droves, eager to avenge loved ones lost at Wrathgate. Enraged orcs lynched a Forsaken refugee on the streets of Orgrimmar as the guards looked on.
I did learn that the victims of Putress’ poison were useless to the Lich King, even the bones rotted to toxic mush. His foul brew was effective, if nothing else. The few survivors reported that the Lich King fled as the clouds expanded, his army disintegrating around him.
Sometimes I wondered what Emette was thinking. Surely, I reasoned, she would know I had nothing to do with the Wrathgate Massacre. She knew me too well to think me capable of helping Putress.
Or did she? I had changed so much since she last saw me alive. She no longer saw me as the same person. Finally, in a sleepless daze, I wrote her a letter that expressed my anger towards Putress’ actions, and begging her not to think I had anything to do with it. I lost heart before sending it, too afraid of learning her reaction. Such a thing should not bother me, I told myself. But it did, and the fear would not leave my mind.
I stayed in Sunreaver’s Sanctuary for two days helping the embassy staff translate documents as worse news kept coming in. Vard came to me at the close of the fifth day, as I rested in the embassy cafe.
“How do you fare, Destron?”
“As badly as everyone else.”
“There are times when blood is shed without honor,” said Vard, reciting an orcish proverb. “Eitrigg left for Orgrimmar last night. He does not think that Putress and his apothecaries are the only ones with blood on their hands. Putress likely found aid in the vile criminal dens of Azeroth.”
“That wouldn’t surprise me. The black market would be a good way to gather rare ingredients.”
“It is imperative that the Horde finds out if there are other guilty parties here. The news has not reached all corners of the world, but the great cities are in an uproar. People curse the name of the Horde, and call out for vengeance. If others in the Horde were responsible, and the Alliance finds out about it first, we may never recover.”
I sighed, knowing this to be true.
“That’s a serious problem. But I can’t imagine that even the most warlike orc would aid Putress in this, at least not knowingly.”
“Whatever the case, we need to find out. Eitrigg told me how you infiltrated the Azuremyst Archipelago with your human disguise.”
“I suppose I did.”
“There is an Alliance informant in the Underbelly of Dalaran, a human named Prewitt Hartley. We think he may know some of Putress’ contacts in the criminal underworld. Destron, it is your honor to go there disguised as a human, and find out what Prewitt knows.”
“I see. I am not sure if I’m the best—”
“You’re the only one we have! Sunreaver has some Alliance double agents who found about Prewitt, but this is too sensitive to give to traitors or freelancers. Eitrigg believes you to have a warrior’s honor. If he trusts you, so do I.”
I only paused for a moment before nodding.
“Where in the Underbelly can I find Prewitt?”
“He lives in a shack near the Circle of Wills. Find out what he knows about this, and then return to us. He’s a vile man, entirely without honor, but he is loyal to the Alliance cause. You’ll never get to him as a Forsaken.”
Stone fish leap and twist in the air, suspended by unseen bonds. One unfortunate fish is skewered on the teeth of a triumphant sea lion, water flowing from its jaws to splash in the basin below. I do not put much stock into luck, but doubt moved me to toss a coin in the fountain for good fortune.
I stood near the Eventide Square, not far down the street from one of the main Underbelly entrances. Sunset slathered the sky with deep shades of red and purple. Around me, the Dalaranese tried to act as always, unable to conceal the fear that gripped every heart.
I wondered if I was really the man for the job. Vard had only picked me for a want of other options. It is difficult to pass oneself off as a criminal. I had only done so once before, in Lost Rigger Cove, and I'd had a guide for that.
The persona of Talus Corestiam is quite simple, as all I need to do is act like a Lordaeronian scholar, which I basically am. Claiming to be a lich is easy so long as the other person lacks familiarity with the Scourge. Pretending to be a merchant takes more effort, but is doable.
Yet to be a criminal is to plunge into a world of fear and mistrust. I knew I would not get far unless I had someone to vouch for me. Vard knew nothing more about Prewitt than his name and location. The entire job struck me as rushed, the Horde reacting blindly to stop a potential threat before it undid the entire organization.
So many warnings unheeded, I thought. Had Thrall truly believed the Apothecarium to be loyal? Perhaps the Warchief had intended to rein them in, but simply waited too long. Thrall’s integrity and wisdom has long been a rallying point for the Horde, and he has many admirers in the Alliance. Putress turned him into an object of hate and ridicule.
A part of me had long thought that the Apothecarium was at least loyal to Sylvanas. Some factions still are, but more than half turned to Putress. How much had our liberator known?
I removed my pack and opened it, taking a glance inside. The elements of my disguise were all ready; I only needed a place to make the switch. Who knew how much worse things could get if someone exposed me? Safer, perhaps, to abandon the mission entirely.
Dalaran continued its policy of tolerance to the Forsaken, though its citizens often cast me wary looks as I walked by. I do not blame them. The depth of the hatred in the Forsaken heart is a truth I found easy to forget living in Orgrimmar. The Forsaken expatriate community there consists of people like myself, disgusted and alienated by the excesses of the Apothecarium. Some part of me had wanted to believe them to be the norm, an illusion that not even Vengeance Landing or New Agamand had been able to dispel.
Why do the Forsaken persist on playing into the hands of their worst enemies? What self-destructive impulse moves them to such idiocy? Do we really hate our rotting forms so much that we seek death at the hands of others? Is insanity so rampant in Forsaken ranks? My recent visits to Undercity had been short ones, so it was hard for me to say.
A figure approached me, her face masked in shadow. Emette, I thought. Only when she got closer did I recognize Alima, the young Stormwinder noblewoman. She’d done up her blonde hair in a hurry, loose strands hanging next to an exhausted face.
“Hello, Destron,” she said.
I paused, wondering what to say next.
“Sorry that we had to rush you out like that. Things got a little tense.”
“I don’t blame you at all. What brings you here?”
“I was headed to the bank. I didn’t expect to find you here.”
“Alima, not all Forsaken are like Putress—”
“I know, Destron. But not a lot of people want to hear that right now. It’s strange, my brother is an officer in the 7th Legion in Dragonblight. He was slated to go up and fight at Wrathgate until he was called back at the last minute. He was so close...” she trailed off and shuddered.
“How likely is the Alliance to declare war?”
“Come on, Destron, I couldn’t tell you even if I knew. I never hated the Horde, and I still don’t, but my loyalties are with my people.”
“Of course. My apologies.”
“It’s all right. I know this must be difficult. Everything seemed so bright a few years ago. I really thought that it would never get worse than the mercenary fights up in Alterac Valley and Arathi Basin. Father kept saying how war was inevitable, and to get ready for it, but I never believed him. I guess he was right.”
“I wish it were otherwise,” I sighed. “I’d best be going. Be safe, Lady Corwyn.”
“Good luck, Destron.”
Would you wish me good luck, I wondered, if you knew I was trying to beat Alliance agents to the prize? I ducked into a disused alley, where I put on my disguise and changed my clothes. Once finished, I walked to the Underbelly entrance as sunset turned to dusk.
I watched as Emette lifted a cup to thin lips with trembling hands. Steam from the tea veiled her face, eyes downcast. Taking a slow sip, she lowered the cup back to the table, the porcelain rattling on the wooden surface. She looked up at me for a second before turning away.
“I’m sorry, Destron. I’m not bothered by the Forsaken. It’s hard to look at you when you’re like this though. I remember how you used to look...”
She trailed off, lifting her cup for another drink.
“I wasn’t particularly handsome when alive, surely the undeath can’t make things much worse,” I said, in a lame attempt at humor. Levity never came naturally to me, but Emette had always inspired me to try, my weak jokes amusing only her and myself.
“I’m sorry. I can’t laugh right now.” She suddenly grabbed my right hand, the feeling bringing back a thousand memories. Still not looking at my empty eyes she probed the dried skin.
“You’re not in any pain, are you?”
“Good,” she said, releasing my hand. Her eyes searched the room as if looking for something to say. We sat at a table in the Legerdemain Lounge, a sumptuous cafe near the Violet Citadel. A quiet evening crowd filled up the parlor, happy faces illuminated by smokeless candles.
Emette finally looked at me, hiding her horror with firm resolve.
“I’m so sorry,” she said. “I never knew—”
“You have no need to apologize. Emette, I am very happy. I’ve done more in my undead state than I ever could have while alive. Please, you have no need to feel sorry for me.”
She smiled, in that wondrous way unique to her, and I felt the corners of my mouth turning up in response.
“What do you do in the Violet Citadel?” I asked, wanting to change the subject.
“Oh, I research new forms of abjuration. I’m one of the lead researchers.”
“That’s wonderful! You always were very talented.”
“Just a hard worker, really. I love the subject. There’s so much to study.”
Then Emette made a curious sound, somewhere between a laugh and a sob.
“I’m so sorry if I sound confused, I never thought I’d see you again. I thought you truly dead. It’s just that so many of the Forsaken I’ve met are so angry at everything, in so much pain.”
“Only the most vocal. A fair number, like myself, have learned to appreciate the advantages it offers.”
“But you can’t feel things the way you used to, can you?”
“There are drawbacks, but such is always the case.”
“I see. Destron, I’m married now.”
She stiffened, as if expecting some outburst. I cannot say I felt entirely calm, but I was not exactly surprised. All I had really wanted to learn, I told myself, was if Emette still lived. Though if that were really true, I reflected, I would not have wandered the corridors of the Violet Citadel for an entire afternoon.
“I knew—I thought I knew—that you were dead. I didn’t want anybody else though, I just kept working through my tears as we tried to rebuild the city. Destron, you have no idea how sick I was, I cried every night thinking I could stand it if you were just with me.” Tears welled up in her eyes as she recounted the story.
“Emette, you were always stronger than me—”
“Was I? Where did you—I don’t know. Everything seemed so perfect before the war. It was like the world turned upside down or something! You must have been in the Scourge for some time.”
“I was, though I remember almost nothing.”
“Good. Thank the Light, I mean, the things I hear, what the Lich King forced you to do. I had nightmares of you in the Scourge armies because I knew how much you’d hate being made to burn and murder.”
She looked away, taking a moment to compose herself, and I felt a sudden pride for her, in her determination to keep going. I’d always seen her as stronger, and myself as undeservingly fortunate to have her love.
“I’m glad you don’t remember anything,” she said. “I couldn’t stop thinking about it though. I worked under the dome, rebuilding Dalaran for years. I practically starved, never slept, just worked. They finally had to force me to stop, they kept me in a hospital for almost a year. I didn’t know what to do.”
“Emette, I can’t imagine—”
“It wasn’t as bad as what happened to you,” she said. “Everyone suffered horribly in those days. There was nothing special about my case. It was just the shock, every day I expected you to come back to me, to restart our future.”
Some part of me had envisioned Emette taking charge of Dalaran’s reconstruction, mustering her fierce intelligence and boundless enthusiasm to the cause. Getting a better look at her, I finally noticed how she’d changed, made older and gaunter by suffering. I hated the idea of her breaking under the strain. I suddenly felt ashamed. What could I hope to accomplish by reminding her of so much pain?
“Why? I was safe, I was fed. Thousands weren’t. I’m not as strong as you thought, is all. When I met Jalos, just before the relocation, he could make me forget.”
“Jalos is your husband?”
“Jalos Taliere. He’s a soldier. He always smiled when he saw me, thanked me for doing such a good job. I suppose he believed in me.”
“When you needed it most.”
“Exactly.” She looked away again. “I don’t know what I should say. Are you angry at me?”
“No. Emette, I only wanted to know if you lived—”
“Why didn’t you try to find out—I’m sorry, I know you couldn’t. I’m confused. I wanted so badly to see you for years, to have you hold me again. Almost all of my—all of our—friends died, you know? I was in Ambermill when Dalaran fell. Inorienne, Cataly, Michel, Avelette... every single one, dead or marching with the Scourge. They call us the lost generation, did you know? Because so many of us died.”
“I had no idea,” I said, feeling sick. Seeing Emette had been a mistake, my ruined form only able to reopen old wounds.
“I still don’t know what happened to Danner,” she said, forcing her voice to stay level.
“He’s alive. I met Danner in Shattrath, a little over a year ago. He seems to be doing well.”
“Oh? Oh, I didn’t dare think... he’s really alive?”
“Yes. I’m not in regular contact with him.”
“At least there’s that. I’m sorry, Destron. I know this isn’t what you wanted to see, but this is all there is. I’m still trying to come to terms with things.”
She pushed back her chair and stood up as if to leave. I got to my feet in response.
“Emette, you don’t need to apologize. I did not realize seeing me would hurt you so much. If I’d known—”
Emette threw her arms around me without a word. Obeying a long-lost instinct I embraced her in turn, clutching her to my chest.
“I loved you so much, Destron. Always remember that, even if I cannot love you any longer.”
“I loved you, Emette. You made my life worth living.”
We held each other in that shadowed cafe corner for a few golden minutes. I longed so much to again feel that mad desire, the promise of fulfillment in her arms. But I could not. We had both changed too much.
She disengaged from me, slowly as if reluctant. A wan joy lit Emette’s face, her eyes still flooded. I smiled in turn, feeling an elation in my spirit.
Neither of us needed to say goodbye. We left the cafe and went out onto the street, side by side as the spires around us turned into the colorful shops and homes of old Dalaran. We looked at each other one last time before going our separate ways. I have not seen Emette since then, and I do not expect I ever will.
A chapter in my life had come to a close. Given what had happened, I do not think I could have asked for a better ending. It is a strange thing, to want to love, but to be unable to do so. The more I think of it though, I realize that this has less to do with me being Forsaken, and more to do with the way people change.
May’s warm sun freckled the broad and tree-lined streets as Danner and I made our exit from one of Alois’ interminable lectures. Both of us mocked the teacher’s boasts as we walked, weary as we were of listening to his self-aggrandizement.
We were crossing the garden paths leading back to the dorms, books in hand and the restlessness of youth in our steps, when Emette came into sight, surrounded by a cluster of girls as she so often was, her clear laughter ringing out above the chatter.
Danner waved, as did I. I’d only met her a few times before, and hadn’t really formed much of an opinion. I couldn’t help but marvel at the way she seemed to hold her entire group spellbound with every remark, and I must confess I suspected her to be another one of Dalaran’s shallow student heroes.
Somehow, we fell into the crowd. Given Emette’s cheerful invitation, and the four girls with her, we’d have been fools to refuse. I could see Danner’s shyness competing with curiosity, his cheeks flushed and his eyes hungry. I remember how he spoke faster than normal, trying to compensate for his nervousness. In this case, my diffidence served me well as I eased into casual conversations about studies and tiresome teachers.
I never got the sense that Emette particularly cared what I had to say, busy as she was being the center of attention. My interest lay more in the tall, green-eyed girl at her side, whose name I can no longer recall. Emette’s friends (though not Emette herself) were on their way to a lesson, and soon disappeared into their instructor’s lyceum, waving goodbye.
The three of us stood there, and I made a comment about a popular and irritating song that had been making the dormitory circuit at the time. Emette looked to me, and I first noticed the wide brown eyes that seemed to take me in all at once. She agreed, sharing my opinion of the song, and at that moment a spark flared in my heart.
I realized, then, that she had not become well-liked by choosing good clothes, or by manipulating others, or through gossip. Rather, it was because she found something fascinating in nearly everyone she met. Despite all her friends around the school, and the trivial nature of the conversation, I felt one thing above all else: that when speaking to me, she had made me the center of her world.