Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Borean Tundra: Part 1

((This section is dedicated to Niobrara.))


I grabbed at the railing as another blast of icy wind crashed into the dirigible, the wooden hull swinging like a pendulum. The pilot spun the wheel in an effort to stay on course as crewmen scurried across the deck. The passengers could do little more than hang on to anything in reach: ropes, riggings, and chains.

“We’re almost through!” shouted the captain at the top of her reedy voice.

The deck dropped out from beneath my feet as the wind flung it to the side, and my chin hit the rail with a loud crack. Not sensing anything broken, I kept my grip firm, trying to get a glimpse of the Borean Tundra.

We were flying along the western coast in an airship called the Mighty Wind, going past the vast iceberg armadas, grander and loftier than even the greatest vessel. Pale curtains of variegated light shimmer in the sky above the icy ocean. The Borean Tundra offers some of the most spectacular views of the northern lights.

At last the winds died down as we began our flight over the Borean Tundra’s frigid desolation. It is a land beautiful in its harshness, a stony plain of lichen and stubby grasses spreading as far as the eye can see. Angular rock formations in gray and black dot the landscape like the monoliths of Arathi, the freezing winds molding them into the strange shapes of dreams.

Like many seemingly empty places, the Borean Tundra is rich in life. Herds of woolly rhinos and mammoths trundle along the steppes in search of grazing land, watched from afar by fearsome dire wolves. Heated springs bubble amidst the cold, giving refuge to an astounding variety of bacteria.

This too is threatened by the Scourge. The Lich King’s presence had weakened by the time of my arrival, his minions driven back by the courage of the Horde and the Alliance. But many of them hold fast, their festering contagions eating away at the land.

“There it is!” proclaimed Torgak, an enthusiastic orc warrior standing at the prow. “Warsong Hold! The might of the Horde made manifest!”

Looking ahead I could see it, looking like a giant spearhead thrust into the ground, wreathed in the black smoke of the forge. Warsong Hold is the nerve center of Horde operations in Northrend, and the Warchief spared no expense in its construction. He had hired a small army of goblin contractors to help make Warsong Hold the greatest fortress on Azeroth.

While perhaps not unequalled, it is certainly among the best. Goblin engineers built walls of enchanted steel and stone, able to shrug off shells from even the largest Alliance cannons. Machines rumble inside its metallic depths as tremendous smithies produce weapons for the Horde’s armies, using rare and powerful Northrend metals. Greater still are the brave souls defending Warsong Hold, warriors hand-picked for their skill.

Anyone who’s spent any time in Orgrimmar cannot help hearing about Warsong Hold. The fortress is hailed as a bold new development in Horde military science. Some question the accuracy of this statement, as goblin contractors played a major role in the design. However, more than a few of these goblins had fought alongside the orcs during the Second War, and it is fair to say that their motives for building Warsong Hold were not entirely mercenary.

Warsong Hold stands at the center of Mightstone Quarry, a bewildering network of mine shafts and excavation pits. Teams of peons toil at the stone faces all through the day, though large sections are empty and cordoned off by crude barricades. Smoke pours out from camps and field kitchens, joining the pall from the furnaces. There’s no doubt that Warsong Hold (and Valiance Keep, its Alliance equivalent) will also do its share of harm to the Borean Tundra. It is a necessary sacrifice, however, and I trust that the tauren will be able to ameliorate the damage when the Lich King is defeated.

I scanned the edge of Mightstone for signs of a zeppelin dock. Towering fortifications are embedded into the windswept mesas surrounding Warsong Hold, but I saw no place for The Mighty Wind to end its journey. Instead, the pilot began to move the airship around the citadel. Soon enough I saw her destination, a colossal zeppelin hangar on the Hold’s upper levels. Chains the size of wyrms hold steel blast doors at the hangar entrances, ready to drop them in event of attack.

The Mighty Wind slowed as it entered the dark hangar, the grand walls ringing with sounds of the forge. Side vents halfway up Warsong Hold expel most of the noxious smoke from the furnaces, but the upper levels cannot completely escape the foulness. Smoke and the smell of burning metal hang heavy in the air, made worse by the stifling heat.

“Welcome to Warsong Hold!” yelled the captain as we came to a stop at a metal platform. A heroic scale statue of an orc glared down at us from the other side of the hangar, its granite jaw set in a scowl.

“Not very welcoming is it?” remarked Izzig Nomzob, an esteemed goblin engineer. One of the designers of Warsong Hold, he’d gone back to Orgrimmar to report on the performance of the fortress. He’d told me a great deal about Warsong Hold on the way north. Conversation is the only entertainment option aboard the bare-bones northbound zeppelins.

“I should say not. Who is it supposed to represent?” I asked.

“That’s actually an interesting story,” he replied as he picked up a pair of steamer trunks. “I’ve met the sculptor, a passionate if somewhat thoughtless orc named Merkut. He wanted to make a big statue of Thrall, since he was so fond of the Warchief.”

“It does not look like Thrall.”

“Because it isn’t. The Warchief sent Merkut a really nice message saying that he didn’t think making an epic statue was a good use of resources. Merkut threw a tantrum for the ages. Then Garrosh told Merkut to go for it, so Merkut did, taking over a whole peon work crew.”

“But he didn’t make the statue to portray Thrall.”

“Right, Merkut was insulted. So he made a statue of some nameless orc who just happens to look like Garrosh. I’ve heard the man talk, and he thinks it raises morale. Of course, that’s not how he put it; he said it reminds the orcs of the fury that is their birthright, or something.”

“Didn’t Thrall object when he found out?”

“Probably. But a lot of the people here like it. You know orcs, a lot of them will ascribe some deep meaning to any object that catches their fancy.”

I took another look at the glowering statue, suddenly appreciating exactly what Thrall had to deal with on a daily basis.

Our footsteps clattered on the metal stairs leading into the bowels of Warsong Hold. Izzig and I passed a mind-boggling number of armories, barracks, and workshops on the way. Torches and the odd electric lamp only accentuate the Hold’s grimy and barren appearance, so that the usual dimness is almost a relief. Banners of black and blood red drape across the walls, furthering the grim aesthetic.

Something in the size and scale of Warsong Hold serves to brutalize the individual. It is impossible to go through its sweltering stone halls, so much like warrens, and not feel somehow oppressed. Warsong Hold is more like a machine than a city.

Its imposing nature definitely gives Warsong Hold a psychological edge against attackers, though one wonders what for; the Scourge cannot feel fear. The obvious answer is that it is intended to intimidate the Alliance. Perhaps though, I should not make too much of Warsong Hold’s visual qualities. A fortress should look menacing, though Warsong Hold’s builders took this concept to a bold new level.

“Might be hard to believe, but Warsong Hold was really touch and go in its early days,” remarked Izzig.

“How do you mean?”

“Ah, I forgot, they didn’t want to advertise this down in Kalimdor. But there’s no law against me stating the facts now that it’s safe. The Scourge almost wiped the place out. First the kvaldir—basically vrykul pirates—knocked out the maritime supply lines. The Scourge took over the surrounding farmland, and then attacked from underground with those undead spider monsters they love so much.”

“How did Warsong Hold avoid getting starved out?”

“Airlifts helped; that’s why there’s a zeppelin line to this place. Also we’d sometimes be able to secure the supply routes for a month or so, long enough for a new shipment to get in. The place only really became stable a few months before Wrathgate.”

“What about Valiance Keep?”

“They’ve had problems too. Those kvaldir really did a number on the supply ships. Not so much any longer, though; the Alliance reinforced their merchant flotillas, and the kvaldir can’t do much against those.”

“How big is the Scourge presence now?”

“Hard to say. There are still a lot of nerubians in the quarry, though we’ve reduced them by a lot. Kvaldir keep raiding the coastline, but less than they used to.”

“These kvaldir are vrykul, you say?”

“I’ve never seen one, but I hear that they’re green and covered in barnacles, and are savagery incarnate! You know how orcs love exaggerating things, though,” he laughed. “No one knows where they came from; they probably woke up with the rest of the vrykul.”

“How secure is Warsong Hold now?”

“Better than it was, but that could change. At least now the peons know what they’re doing. Let me tell you, the Horde practically sabotaged Warsong Hold with bad peons for political reasons.”

“I don’t follow.”

“Well, it’s kind of complicated, but I’ll explain it as best I can. You said you went to Thrallmar, in Outland, correct?”

“I did.”

“And you noticed how the peons there were a lot more dedicated than usual?”

“Yes, admirably so. They were like the peons on the Kalimdor frontier.”

“Right. Some elements in the Horde—I won’t name names—didn’t like the idea of peons becoming confident or putting on airs. So the orcs gathered up the sorriest work crews they could find, mostly from the streets of Orgrimmar, and sent them to work here. The poor saps had no idea what they were doing. Nerubians killed them in droves, and they ran at the first sign of trouble.”

I sighed in disgust.

“I mean, they could have gotten those Thrallmar work crews, who know how to build and can take care of themselves in a fight. I guarantee you that if they’d done that, Warsong Hold wouldn’t have had half the trouble it went through. But the peons who survived got pretty good at what they did, or so I hear. I don’t talk with peons all that much in my job.”

“So the Horde hired incompetents to avoid creating independent-minded peons, and ended up doing just that.”

“You got it. Nothing like orcish politics, am I right?” he snickered, flashing a yellow-toothed grin.

I bade farewell to Izzig at one of the lower level foundries, the smelters and gears churning out the Horde’s war effort. Goblin workers hurry through the smog and noise, clad in iron masks and kodohide aprons. The din and heat reminded me of the Great Anvil in Ironforge, though not quite as impressive.

Goblin contractors have played an increasingly vital role in Horde affairs in recent years. Thrall’s Horde continues to lag behind the Alliance when it comes to technology. I have heard that the Warchief has attempted to persuade these contractors to form their own cartel, which would in essence create a new Horde nation (some of them already work for the rapacious Bilgewater Cartel). So far he has not had much success, though there’s little doubt that the Horde would fall to a second-rate power without goblin help of some kind.

A cramped drinking hall near the forge called the Blood of Heroes acts as a recreational area for guests. Exposed as it is to the ear-splitting ring of metal on metal, it almost seems designed to discourage long visitation. Barrels of bloodmead and other drinks are piled up against chain link fences. Tired-looking new arrivals slump at the squat tables that are too small for any of the Horde races to sit at comfortably.

Izzig had told me that visitors usually slept in the leaking storage rooms of the bottom floor. Though I’ve slept in much worse places, the idea of going down there so soon after my arrival struck me as most unappealing. I ordered a mug of ginger beer and sat down next to a young Mag’har warrior, sharp tribal emblems tattooed on his broad chest. He looked at me as if in appraisal, before speaking.

“Stranger, have you ever set foot in Garadar?” he asked, his stormy voice easily heard over the noise.

“I have. Did we meet?”

“Not face to face; I was still a whelp in those days. I recall you, however. Uh, I am honored that fate has brought us together yet again,” he said in a cautious voice.

“Thank you. My name is Destron Allicant.”

“I am Rohg, son of Skral’don.”

“Did you recently arrive from Outland?”

“Such has been my honor. Azeroth is an interesting place.” An almost comical smile broke out on his brutish features. “I am still amazed by Orgrimmar. Never in my life had I imagined so many orcs living together like that! I knew that the draenei could do such things, but the orcs? Never! Or so I thought.”

“Do you like Orgrimmar?”

“It is a strange place, but I think I do like it. My brother warriors say it makes its inhabitants soft. Maybe this is so. But the orcs on Azeroth, on a whole, are mightier than the Mag’har. Only a fool would think otherwise. Also, I cannot help but love a place where, if you are hungry, you just go down to the shop and buy a hunk of kodo meat!”

“City life does offer convenience.”

“And women! The green skin is strange, but I find it to my liking. So many of them too!”

I smiled. Rohg’s story reassured me. There are some in Orgrimmar who fear the Mag’har’s cultural impact on the Horde, warning that it will supplant the values presented by Thrall. Nor is this by any means an unreasonable concern; we are only seeing the beginnings of the Mag’har influence on the highest levels of orcish society, and it hints at dark times to come. However, such affairs never go only one way. Just as the Horde is changed by the Mag’har, so too are the Mag’har changed by the orcs.

I spent the night sleeping on a threadbare mat, in a pitch black room where streams of frigid water flow down the stone walls. The other guests and I agreed that it is still far more comfortable than the cramped and freezing zeppelin passenger compartments.

Waking up early, I spent the next morning exploring the tunnels of Warsong Hold. One needs to spend some time going through the citadel’s interior to truly appreciate its size. Dozens of stairways and torch-lit halls coil through the structure, depositing travelers in armories and forges, barracks and observation posts, all stacked on top of each other.

Getting lost is almost a certainty for the first-time visitor. Few of the rooms stand out, and the constant darkness makes it all the more disorienting. I could scale a near-endless stairway, and still find myself in the icy dampness that characterizes the lower levels. The clang of hammers on anvils echoes down the narrow corridors on some levels, and I would follow the sounds only to find myself at an empty storage room or lonely turret.

After passing by a half-empty storage room for what seemed like the fifth time, I decided to get help. I introduced myself to an off-duty peon, his left leg in a crude brace. He bowed with a smile, and said his name was Krug.

“How might I get back to the Blood of Heroes?” I asked.

“Hmm, you’re nowhere near it. That place is, let’s see, six floors down.”

“Down? I thought I was in the lower floors already.”

“No, you’re towards the top. This section’s drafty like you wouldn’t believe though, and it’s not directly over any furnaces.”

“How do you find your way around here?”

“Heh, it’s an acquired skill.”

“I’m sure you pick up a good number of those in a place like this. What sort of work do you do?”

“Whatever needs to be done. I end up in the quarry more often than not, but I’ve labored at other tasks. I work, as a peon must.” He said this with firm pride.

“I heard that the peons have become much more effective in recent months.”

“We just needed to realize our own strength. Out in the quarry, five months ago, a bunch of us took down a crypt lord. Have you ever seen one of those things? All squirming legs and pincers, as big as two kodo.”

“I have not. You killed it?”

“Not alone! Many brave orcs died there, but at the end of the day we won. We didn’t bother a single warrior either, we did it on our own.”

“You’ve every right to be proud. I’m surprised you weren’t made a warrior as a reward.”

“Why should I be singled out for reward? All of us did our part. Besides, we’re satisfied with what we’re doing. The strength of our arms and the fires in our souls keep the war effort going.”

I returned to the Blood of Heroes, impressed with Krug’s courage and determination. These traits are not often encouraged among the peons, and when they do, it is usually as a means to making them warriors.

In truth, Krug had done even more than I thought. Krug’s name seemed to be on everyone’s lips. “We work, as peons must,” had grown into a mantra, echoing up from the quarries and forges. Used to quelling the odd examples of peon rebellion, the warriors could only encourage this new type of dedicated laborer.

“Krug? He does not like to admit it, but everyone knows he delivered the killing blow!” said one peon in a conspiratorial tone.

“Why does he not admit it?”

“I do not know, but he puts the warrior’s fury in our souls!”

New peons are regularly shipped up to Warsong Hold, and present themselves in the same cringing way that most have come to expect. Such behavior is no longer tolerated. I visited a peon barracks and watched as a burly foreman, with scar tissue for a scalp, shouted at a pack of whimpering newcomers.

“Are you humans? Did your human mothers teach you to whine and beg?” barked the foreman.

“We are orcs!” shouted back one peon, braver than most. The foreman’s head swiveled to face the rebel, his eyes wide.

“You say you’re an orc? What’s your name?”


“Sturk? Well why don’t you act like an orc?”

“I am an orc—”

“Not yet! No orc would snivel like I’ve seen you wretches doing. If you want to live, you will learn to be an orc and a peon. We will work! Whatever it takes, we will work! If our blood turns to ice, we will work! If the Scourge swarms through these walls, slaughtering orcs left and right, we will work! Orcs do not let anything stop them!

“The Warchief has chosen us to bring war to Northrend! Our sweat will be traded for the blood of our enemies. The warriors of this citadel will be our masters, and we will stop at nothing to serve them. If I see any of you weaklings lazing off I’ll have your hides! The war effort depends on us! Never forget this!”

I left the peon barracks with a smile on my face. It is high time that the peons realized their own strength. In the past, peons who went above their station would be shunned. No peon, most orcs believed, had any right to act like a warrior.

Krug has found a way around that, by stressing the peon’s role as separate from (though still subordinate to) that of the warrior. His example has added a heroic quality to the backbreaking labor of the peons. Now they pursue their work with a very orcish intensity. In so doing, the quality of the work is immeasurably improved, as each peon competes to show off his own skill and strength in a manner akin to the dwarves.

However, I cannot let myself be too optimistic. I have long believed that the orcs need to cultivate a greater sense of individualism. Doubt and personal independence may lessen the likelihood of another Gul’dan deceiving the majority of the race. While the intensity of these peons is laudable, they still see themselves only useful in the context of a war effort. This creates disturbing implications for the rising tide of orcish militarism.


A fog of dust and grit pervades the jagged pits around Warsong Hold, the result of the near-constant labor. I watched as peon work crews assaulted a nearby cliff face with picks and hammers. A few overseers stood on a nearby platform, trying and failing to look important.

Mightstone Quarry is almost as imposing as Warsong Hold itself, a wound in the stony earth that stretches for miles around the keep. Goblin blasting powder shattered the ancient landscape, which was then further shaped by peon hammers and picks. Warsong Hold’s planners saw the mineral-rich earth as sufficient cause to sacrifice the convenience of a coastal location. The fact that the supply lines are firmly in orcish hands has justified their decision.

The nerubians had turned Mightstone Quarry into a bloodbath. Deathless arachnids broke out from the cold ground in swarms, cutting down peon and warrior alike. They attacked with impunity, melting tunnels through solid stone to attack behind Horde lines.

I heard the story from a stern tauren shaman named Kolhowakan Windmane.

“We knew that it was only a matter of time before the nerubians destroyed the very foundations of this grim place,” he explained, each word coming out a sigh. Already old, the gray dust made him appear even more aged.

“What did you do?”

“All the shamans in Warsong Hold gathered at the top of the citadel. We sprinkled the surface with stone and dust and began our song, a dirge for this once beautiful land. We knew the spirits had every right to hate us.”

“Pardon me, but what did the United Tauren Tribes have to say about Warsong Hold? The construction methods seem to go against your values.”

“We were not asked. I should add, however, that we are not heavily invested in Northrend. It would not be proper for us to demand significant oversight. Nonetheless, we thought our friends would proceed with more caution. Perhaps we have not provided as good an example as we should have.”

“I see. Please continue.”

“I heard the voice of the earth in the rumble of stone, asking us why she had been hurt. We all fell to the ground, coating ourselves with dirt and begging forgiveness. Mercy only came because the world hates the Scourge more than it hated our trespass. The spirits of the earth accepted totems that would strengthen the foundations around Warsong Hold, protecting it from the corrosive spit of the nerubians.”

“Did it ask for anything in return?”

“When the Lich King is no more, we must stop all work in the northern half of Mightstone Quarry. We shall fill the pits with earth watered by our tears, and give it back to the world. No one but druids may live on it. There, the students of Cheyowattuck, whom you call Cenarius, shall return life to the heath.”

“They’re allowing us to keep the southern portion?”

“Yes, but not for all time. When they tell us to, our descendents must fill it up and make it bloom. Warsong Hold itself may stand as long as there are brave souls to defend it.”

I could tell from first seeing Warsong Hold that it had not been built with the spirits in mind. Shamanism has long been a Horde mainstay, helping it survive the difficult early years. Yet dealing with the spirits means that one must reciprocate their favors. Exactly how this will affect Horde strategy remains to be seen.

Having explored Warsong Hold as thoroughly as possible, I had set my sights on Valiance Keep. To get there, I would have to cross the unearthly Bloodspore Plains that stretch to the east and north of Warsong Hold. My guide through the Bloodspore Plains was a Forsaken alchemist—unaffiliated with the Apothecarium—named Vilus Henelvy.

Some Forsaken come through death with only a few physical scars; Vilus seemed to be nothing else. Short and stocky, scar tissue had distorted his face into a frightening blank, marked only by a slit-thin mouth and pinprick sockets. Splayed and green hands hung at the ends of his stumpy arms, some of them bound in metal wire. His sense of aesthetics matched his wounds, a mishmash of furs and hides sometimes stitched onto his body.

“Good morning, Destron! Are you ready to explore the wonders of the north?” he greeted me. Wounds in his mouth made speech difficult, but there was no hiding his oddly compelling enthusiasm. Vilus was a man who loved his work.

“I’m more than ready. Thank you again for letting me tag along.”

“Of course! As much as I love the Bloodspore Plains, there’s no denying that it’s a very dangerous place. Most of the orcs here say they’re too busy to join me, and I wouldn’t be so foolish as to turn down help!”

“If you don’t mind my asking, how did you fare in Warsong Hold after the Wrathgate Massacre? I am not sure that everyone here would bother to distinguish a regular Forsaken alchemist from the apothecaries responsible for the crime.”

“Ah, yes, unfortunate incident, that. They threw me in a cell and rifled through all my notes—made a terrible mess, they did! I was let out once things cleared up.”

“Have you ever done any work with the Apothecarium?”

“I took advantage of their resources early on, but our interests did not coincide. They want to develop plagues, I just want to learn about the world itself. The compositions of herbs and chemicals fascinate me, and I find it helpful to ruminate on them in my newfound quasi-immortality.”

“That sounds reasonable. There are other branches of the Apothecarium that are more interested in such things.”

“Perhaps. I do not like having to work with others, however. It only slows me down.”

“They do offer resources,” I pointed out.

“True. For the moment, I have enough. My father was a very wealthy man. Though undead, I was still the legal recipient of his fortune, and was able to reclaim it from the ruins of his estate.”

Vilus soon launched into a lecture, perhaps better described as a barrage, of alchemical and environmental information. His knowledge on the subject was profound (if sometimes myopic), and I regret being unable to take notes as I walked.

The blade-topped steel gates of Mightstone Quarry open up to vast domain of scarlet moss, forming a living carpet on the miles of jagged rock that extends to the horizon. Frail blossoms spread petals of translucent red and white, overshadowed by the eponymous bloodspore tendrils that grow in groups of two or three, reaching lengths of up to nine feet. Thick and fleshy blades the color of dried blood protect the bloodspore’s fragile stalk. When the bloodspores bloom, the plate-like petals turn white and tufts of silvery filaments, almost like dandelions, start growing from the tips.

These strange plants, unique to the Borean Tundra, grow in profusions along the mossy plains. Veritable forests of them stand around the limpid pools dotting the red land under the lights of the northern sky, creating a vista as alien and beautiful as anything one might find in Outland.

“An amazing place. Are you the only one to study it?” I was sure that the tauren, at the very least, would seek to learn about the spirits of the Bloodspore Plains.

“No, there were some blood elves doing research as well. Their research was more militaristic in nature, and as much as it irks me to do so, I must concede that they made more breakthroughs than did I. Fortunately, there’s still plenty more to study.”


“Oh, you know, they wanted to find ways to defeat the magnataurs and the snobolds.”

One of the orcs in Warsong Hold had mentioned the magnataur and snobold presence, though he stated that their leader had recently been slain.

“What do you hope to find?”

“First, I’ll explain what we do know about the bloodspores. The pollen from their flowers is carried by giant moths native to this region. Now, when a pollinated bloodspore flower is ground up, it exudes chemicals that weaken and confuse most races, the magnataurs most of all. This is how the magnataur leader, Gammothra, was defeated. Snobolds, on the other hand, appear to be immune.”

“Then why would magnataurs live here?”

“A good question! It is entirely possible that they do not realize the effect; magnataurs are not known for intelligence, after all. Or, it may be for some other reason entirely. I want to find some pollinated bloodspore flowers to take back for study.”

“Seems like it would be easy enough.”

“I hope so. The snobolds protect the bloodspores and the moths, but they’ve been in disarray ever since Gammothra’s death. We should be able to take advantage of that, and avoid fighting anyone.”

I watched and listened as Vilus roamed around the Bloodspore Plains, stopping to harvest samples of plant life and place them in a tin kit. Life abounds throughout the plains, most notably in the giant moths that hover around flowering bloodspore tendrils. Most native fauna is small, consisting of rodents and tiny birds.

Vilus told me about his past, particularly of his days in Gnomeregan. The Royal Alchemical Society of Lordaeron had sent him to the fallen gnomish city as part of an exchange program, and he spoke of the place with real wistfulness.

“Granted, everything was a few sizes too small for me, but the resources they had there were incredible! I hope this doesn’t make me a bad Horde citizen, but I do want them to get their city back. A revitalized Gnomeregan would be of immeasurable value to progress. You know, the gnomes were the only Alliance nation that considered recognizing the Forsaken as the successors to Lordaeron.”

“I did not know that.”

“It’s true! Hiltrip Beakerflare himself told me, in the Alchemical Convention at Booty Bay two years ago. Gnomeregan’s government in exile still opposed us, but there were some who vouched in our favor. They thought we could give them more information about undeath. But our supporters were overruled, largely due to the Dark Lady’s murder of Garithos. Oh well.”

We found the snobolds early on the second day. Little was known about the snobolds, though they appear functionally identical to the rat-like kobolds found in southern lands. No one has conducted extensive observation of the snobolds. What has been seen of them suggests that they trap large game animals in the southern steppes, and guide their magnataur masters to the helpless prey.

“A bit like hunting dogs, though with opposable thumbs,” said Vilus, by way of explanation.

No one knows how long the snobolds have served the magnataurs. There was a time when all of Northrend suffered under magnataur brutality, lasting until the Northern Concord, a coalition of humans, taunka, tuskarr, and some wolvar, forever broke their power. As no snobolds were recorded during the Northern Concord’s campaign, it is believed that they only recently fell under magnataur domination.

There is no doubt that the magnataurs are a culture in steep decline. Already a shell of their former power before the Scourge, the rise of the Lich King has weakened them further. For all their size and ferocity, they rarely hunt, preferring to rely on the snobolds’ trapping expertise.

“A typical magnataur herd is a bit like a lion pride. It consists of a small retinue of males who spend their time eating and sleeping, interrupted by the occasional squabble over seniority. The females go out to collect the food that the snobolds trapped for them.”

“Are fewer males born than females?” I asked.

“Hard to say. No one’s done any serious studies on the magnataurs, except maybe the nerubians, and no one can access their writings. It could be that there’s a similar birth rate for both sexes, and the males just frequently kill each other.”

“The leader of the local herd has been killed, correct?”

“Yes, and now the magnataurs are scattered. But the snobolds still seem to thrive.”

The snobolds of the Bloodspore Plains congregate around natural monoliths. They decorate the stones with all manner of found objects: bones, hides, bloodspores, and discarded weapons among others. Coal, gathered from surface deposits, is placed in bowls and set alight around the monoliths, so that each one is surrounded by a cloud of black smoke. Some snobolds strap these bowls onto their own heads.

Hidden in a copse of bloodspores, we watched as the snobolds scurried around one of the monoliths, waving burning sticks and emitting hoarse shrieks and cries. The pale morning light gave the scene a decidedly dreamlike atmosphere, and I almost felt as if I were looking back in time. I could not determine any organization; no snobolds stood out as leaders. Their spindly bodies shivered and twitched, as if racked by convulsions.

Hours passed as we observed in silence. I wondered if we were observing a snobold shamanistic ritual, though I saw no visible signs of a spiritual presence. A pack of five snobolds ran up to the monolith at around noon, their claw-like hands gripping bloodspore flowers the size of their heads.

They passed the flowers on to the snobolds with bowls on their scalps, who put the flower in a crude mortar and pestle. From my vantage point, I could see them crushing the blossom into a fine red paste. Then, they emptied the mortars into the charcoal burners.

Vilus nudged me, holding his hands over his mouth and nose for emphasis. I did the same as the bloodspore smoke rose into the sky, the shrill cries reaching a crescendo. Snobolds ran in circles around the monolith, cavorting like men possessed.

A distant rumbling heralded the approach of something massive. I pressed myself deeper into the red moss as the shaking grew worse. Snobolds shrieked in fear or glee, clustering at the edge of a rugged slope. We saw the magnataur’s head first, a brutish parody of an ape’s. Two yellowed tusks hung from its lipless mouth, each twice the height of a man. The rest of the body soon quaked into sight, a mountain of muscle wrapped up in sagging blue skin and coarse white fur.

Looking at it, I could easily see why the magnataurs had ruled Northrend for so long. An armored knight would be crushed by a single blow from one of its loping arms. Black stains spotted its rough pelt, the remnants of meals long past.

Yet for all its strength, the magnataur could only drag its feet towards the chittering snobolds. Its head was bowed, and it swayed like a drunk. I wanted to ask Vilus if the flower’s smoke had addled the magnataur, but stayed silent for fear of detection.

One snobold, wearing a smoky bowl as his crown, screeched over the rest. In a rapid fusillade of squeaks and chirps it gestured to the plains below, while the other snobolds made wild genuflections before the magnataur. The exchange lasted no more than a few minutes. The lead snobold dropped his arms and went silent as the magnataur turned around, stomping back down the ridge.

The snobolds stayed at the monolith throughout the day, tending the flames. A cold northern dusk was falling upon the land when the magnataur returned, its massive arms cradling the bloody corpse of a woolly rhino. Ear-piercing cheers went up from the snobolds, who spread in a circle around the returned hunter. A few went to add more bloodspore to the fires. Exhaustion was evident on the magnataur’s frame, the wide chest heaving as it tried to get more air.

It dropped the corpse a moment later and the snobolds swarmed it like rabid dogs. A few of the bigger snobolds jumped into the fray and pushed their smaller brethren aside, imposing a crude order on the affair. Through this the magnataur watched without reaction, barely able to stand up under its own strength.

Finally, the lead snobold yelped something to the magnataur before leaping off of the rhino with its fellows. Grunting loudly enough to shake the stones beneath, the magnataur reached into its belt and took out a sharpened stone. Lowering itself over the dead rhino it began to cut at one of the hind legs, opening up a jagged tear along the side. Upon loosening it, the magnataur tore the leg off with a single terrible pull and instantly set about devouring it.

As the magnataur devoured its portion, the snobolds began to divide the prey amongst themselves, their greedy hands cutting out chunks of flesh that they held fast to their chests. A few of them used looted Horde weapons for the butchery, though most made do with stone tools.

Within an hour they’d stripped down most of the rhino carcass. Each took at least two servings of flesh, and many shoved a third into hide pouches for a future meal. The lead snobold barked again, and the magnataur lowered itself onto the remnants to gorge on whatever it could find. The last snobolds extinguished the fires before leaving, plunging the area into darkness. Vilus and I made our escape at this time.

“Amazing!” he exclaimed, once we’d reached a safe distance. “I only wish I knew more; this brings up a myriad other questions.”

“What was your interpretation?”

“From the looks of it, the snobolds are using the pollinated bloodspore flowers to control the magnataurs. What we really need now is a linguist to decipher their language, damn, don’t know where I’ll find that. Getting back to the topic, I am pretty sure that the snobolds are now ordering the magnataurs to fetch food.”

“But why would they need the magnataurs to do that? Don’t the snobolds trap their prey?”

“They do, but there are other predators on the steppes, like wolves, that will quickly eat the trapped animal. Traditionally, the magnataurs have been able to scare the wolves away from the prize.”

“They must work very quickly on that case.”

“We’ve seen snobolds using signal fires to spread word. I can’t imagine it’s foolproof, especially with the magnataur’s slowed reactions, but it probably works often enough. Think about it, Destron. This explains why the magnataurs live here. The snobolds figured out the secret of the bloodspores, and use it to exploit the magnataurs.”

“So the magnataurs were never in control.”

“Maybe. This might be a recent development. More research still needs to be done on the matter. Now, we observed that the snobolds let the magnataur take the first cut; this might be done out of respect, or simply out of habit if this was not always the norm. At any rate, the relationship is not entirely exploitative.”

“The magnataur hardly seemed to be in good health,” I argued.

“True. But she did get the first pick. Like I said, more research needs to be done. Anyway, this is groundbreaking. Everyone’s always assumed that the magnataurs controlled the snobolds. Now, we know that those clever snobolds can turn the tables, at least here.”

Though curious to learn more, I knew I could not stay and wait for more research. I bade farewell to Vilus early the next day, wishing him luck in his efforts.


I crossed the beach at low tide, my feet sinking into the cold gray sand. Barricades and the burned husks of twice-killed nerubians are strewn across the rocky strand, slowly eroding under the tide and wind. Valiance Keep stands in precarious triumph over this lonely scene, its white parapets built on the briny islets beyond the shoreline. Cannons peek out like metal eyes between battlements and through windows, a testament to Alliance vigilance. A narrow channel of seawater cuts through the settlement, occupied at the time by an eagle-prowed icebreaker.

Fear mixed with my curiosity. I wondered if my disguise was really so effective. Would not security be higher after Wrathgate? Still, there was no reason they would think me anything other than a human. Valiance Keep sees a heavy traffic of individuals and material leaving or arriving at Northrend. One more face, I reasoned, would not make any difference.

Sure enough, the guards shooed me in without a fuss. The vast courtyard of Valiance Keep is a scene of endless commotion taking place in a forest of cranes and scaffolds. Dozens of laborers work at constructing new towers and barracks, supplied by porters who push heavy carts across the stone pavement, forever slippery with the sea spray. They even used the docked icebreaker (which was being repaired) as a makeshift thoroughfare. A solid keep watches over the proceedings.

“Make way!” bellowed a young Stormwinder as he pushed a wheelbarrow filled to the rim with wooden beams. Stone is the preferred building material in Valiance Keep, though some lumber is imported from Stormwind and southern Lordaeron.

Not sure where to go, I impulsively crossed the icebreaker to the other side of Valiance Keep. There, the humans have made some attempt to create a homely atmosphere. Stunted hedges grow in planters along the waterline, and small flowers bloom under the window sills. Peak-roofed houses, similar to the ones in Valgarde, offer shelter from the bitter cold.

The Old Mountain Home is Valiance Keep’s inn. As the name suggests, the interior is designed to look like a Stormwind mountain lodge. The bare wooden walls are covered by tapestries that are embroidered with trees and flowering vines, a contrast to the Borean Tundra’s stark beauty. Hunting trophies line the wall, and a grand stone fireplace fills the parlor with an intoxicating warmth.

I met a draenic Vindicator named Weleeda, who’d recently arrived from Exodar. It was her first time living with humans, and she was more than happy to talk about Valiance Keep, a smile gracing her luminous features.

“We have all been very impressed by how well Valiance Keep has stood up to the rigors of the north. Regrettably, I could not take part in the initial founding, but the inhabitants of this citadel demonstrated admirable bravery and cooperation.”

“What were some of the difficulties faced by the founders?”

“The Scourge, naturally. Unnaturally, perhaps! That entire stretch of beach was infested with nerubians. A few were even able to undermine portions of the walls, causing significant damage. The colony of Farshire was almost completely overrun.”

Very similar, I thought, to Warsong Hold’s situation.

“The nerubians are gone now?”

“There are still some pockets of resistance in Farshire, which we are working to eliminate. Sadly, there is no way to reason with the Scourge.”

“Please do not take offense, but I’ve seen very few draenei in Northrend. May I ask why?”

“Why would I be offended?” She looked genuinely curious.

“Well, some might interpret the question as implicating cowardice or apathy on the part of the draenei,” I answered, somewhat awkwardly.

“Really? How curious! That is a human reaction?”

“For some humans. I only asked to make sure.”

“I see. At any rate, my people are currently of limited means. So few of us survived the Burning Legion’s depredations. We did invest a significant number of troops in Outland, so as to stem the demonic tide in our old home. However, we came dangerously close to overextending ourselves.

“Thousands of draenei perished in the Outland campaign and in Quel’danas, forcing us to consolidate. Most of our involvement consists of sending support troops and various experts.”

“Such as yourself.”

“I am actually part of the limited military presence. High Vindicator Dolun was concerned that the faith of the draenic soldiers in Valiance Keep was weakening due to the isolation.”

“Do you think his concern was valid?”

“He would not send us here if it were not. The interaction with humans has been a significant interest. Initially, the draenei were sequestered from the main force. Our resemblance to the Eredar demons was very disturbing to the humans. Their caution was misguided, though it displayed a commendable wariness.”

“But you are now integrated?”

“Correct. Interaction in Outland tended to be limited, so this has been a fine learning experience. Most of the soldiers here are from a place called the Redridge Mountains.”

“Ah, I’ve been there! That explains the decor in this inn.”

“I do know that some of the humans here are unhappy; they believe that Stormwind has neglected the Redridge region. But the peril of our situation has forged a strong camaraderie.”

I immediately knew I had to learn more. As King Varian languished in Horde captivity (yet another mark of shame in my faction’s history), Stormwind fell into chaos. In Redridge, this took the form of a full-scale attack from the Dark Horde’s remnants.

I spent the night in a barracks-style structure adjoining the Old Mountain Home. The inn is almost always filled to capacity, forcing them to use an overflow room. I met some of the other visitors to Valiance Keep, a collection of treasure hunters and sell-swords. A substantial portion of them were veterans of the Outland campaign, ready to go wherever there was action.

“I already burned through most of the coin I earned in Outland, so Northrend seemed the next best place,” remarked Darresias, a Lordaeronian mercenary. He took on an oddly foppish demeanor, wearing a carefully maintained pencil-thin moustache of the type currently in vogue among Stormwind’s nobility. The left side of his head, with its livid scars and missing ear, proved he was no mere dandy.

“Where in Northrend do you intend to go?”

“Seems as if I’ve missed the fun here in the Borean Tundra. I’ll be headed north, to the thick of things. Lake Wintergrasp most likely, but who knows? Perhaps fortune has something else in store for me.”

A fierce storm lashed the keep that night, the crash of thunder punctuating the sounds of the wind and the waves. Sleet fell in torrents, covering the ground in half-melted ice. Despite this, the people of Valiance Keep roused themselves to another day of labor at first light, shivering in their thick great coats. Workers rubbed calloused hands together for warmth, sometimes heating them with foggy breaths.

Progress had paused on a half-built warehouse, the laborers waiting for the foreman to arrive. They clustered around a small cauldron of boiling tea, ladling it out into battered tin drinking cups. I talked to one of these workers, a man named Orlan.

“I’d like to claim some land up here, but they only allow you to do that if you volunteer for work in Farshire,” he said.

“Why is that?”

“Farshire turned into a spidery and cult-ridden hell on earth a few months back, and it’s still far from safe. They know it’s a miserable place, so that’s why they forced any would-be landowners to spend some time there. Personally, I think the nobles are hoping we’ll all get killed off so that they can claim the land!”

“Don’t you get compensation for being in Valiance Keep?”

“I do, and good compensation at that. But they told us there would be plenty of opportunities for land. Turns out, once we get here, all those opportunities involve Farshire.”

“Is Farshire still so dangerous?”

“Not as much, but I’d really rather not go there. I’ve heard the Cult of the Damned is still active. They found some cultists in Valiance Keep too, a few months back. The ones who were caught were killed, but who knows if we got them all?”

While Valiance Keep’s soldiers hail from Redridge, the colonists are drawn from the ranks of the poor or ambitious in Stormwind City and Elwynn. Most are more enthusiastic than Orlan, though some wonder why they couldn’t just colonize the still-undeveloped regions of eastern Redridge, or reclaim Westfall’s miles of abandoned farmland.

Stormwind’s colonization efforts seem to consistently run into unexpected barriers. In the Howling Fjord, the vrykul threat keeps the colonists in their base camps. The question of Stormwinder versus native human land rights poses another issue. Those in the Borean Tundra must first secure Farshire, a task even more difficult than it first seems.

“It’s different when the Cult of the Damned is involved,” said Tenny, a hollow-eyed woman with limp blonde hair. She worked listlessly as a seamstress, her bony hands looking too stiff for the job. “Scourge minions just kill you. Usually your neighbors can burn your body or something, so you don’t come back. But the cult? They’ll raise you on the spot. I was in Farshire, I know! I saw it happen to my husband... no land’s worth that.”

Tears spilled from her eyes in a flood, and she gritted her yellow teeth. I did my best to comfort her and she nodded in response before returning to her work, crying in silence.

Stormwind’s colonists are a brave and hardy breed. Yet even the bravest might have second thoughts of going up against the cult’s necromancers, who are experts at swiftly bringing the dead to a state of horrific unlife. As a necromancer’s victim, I can sympathize with the colonists’ fear.

Until recently, most authorities believed that the Cult of the Damned was all but defunct. The Scourge relied on the cult to attract followers during its early days. Since then, it was thought they had been mostly subsumed into the undead ranks. The invasion of Northrend revealed that thousands of living cultists are still active.

No one is entirely sure as to why the Scourge keeps them alive; a necromancer can still operate while undead. Some suspect that the Lich King intends to cultivate a captive human population so as to have a regular source of new troops. Given the cult’s relatively small size, however, it will be some time before this becomes feasible.

Orlan had spoken about cult infiltration in Valiance Keep as if it were common knowledge, but most simply gave me odd looks when I asked about it. More than a few scoffed at the idea, and told me that such foolish talk would get me in trouble. Given the general state of anxiety, and Orlan’s own resentment, it may well be nothing more than a rumor. No one, however, denied the cult presence in Farshire.

My past deeds caught up with me at around sundown when an off-duty soldier ran up to say hello, a broad smile on his rugged features. He remembered me from when I had stood alongside the Returners, the militia of the Redridge Mountains, as they battled and ultimately repelled a small army of orcish renegades. As one of the only magic users in the area, my contribution had not been insignificant.

The soldier introduced himself as Parnour, and insisted on getting me a drink at the mess hall. I followed him to low-lying wooden building next to the barracks. He entered first, and I heard him call out:

“You won’t believe who I found! It’s Talus!”

Parnour popped back out a second later, pulling me inside with a grin. Two dozen cheers resounded through the hall on my entry, soldiers’ faces beaming all around the grimy table.

“Is it really you? By the Light! We weren’t sure if you still lived!”

“Good to have you back, Talus!”

“Maybe you’ll stay around a bit longer this time!”

For a moment I stood open-mouthed, amazed at my reception. Though I knew Lakeshire still remembered me, I never thought the Returners would be so enthusiastic to see me again. As someone who prefers a degree of anonymity, I found the experience both thrilling and discomfiting. Did they expect anything from me? Or were they simply voicing appreciation?

The cook, also a Lakeshire native, sat me down at the table and put a mug of lager in front of me, clapping me on the back as he did.

“A hero’s welcome, courtesy of the Returners!” he said.

The desolate mess hall soon came alive with lively conversation. I answered their queries as best I could, not sure how to react. Some asked what I had done after Lakeshire, to which I gave selectively edited accounts of my travels. I became unreasonably fearful of revealing my true identity.

As soldiers, they only had so much time to spend talking with strangers. Many had to go for evening shifts on the battlements, shaking hands with me as they left. The crowd thinned, and I found myself talking to a man named Nerrin. I’d met him before, though he’d been little more than a child at the time. Raised on tales of his grandfather’s military exploits, Nerrin had gotten his first taste of combat in the Battle of Lakeshire.

“How did Lakeshire fare after that battle?” I asked him.

“The Blackrock Clan kept up the assault, but they never again made an attack of that magnitude. Still, times were hard. The Returners had their hand fulls with the constant orcish scouting parties and probe attacks.”

“I remember that you sent messengers to Stormwind City, asking for assistance. Did the army ever come to your aid?”

“No. They said that the orcs were not enough of a threat. Merely brigands, they said, easily handled with a competent militia. They were right on one account at least; we held the line. I killed six Blackrock warriors with my crossbow, and I was far from the best fighter.

“We could never spare enough troops to attack the Blackrock bases all around Lakeshire. Volunteers like yourself came to our aid, clearing the orcs from Stonewatch Keep and other spots. After a while, the region was almost free.”

“Judging from your tone of voice, I gather this was not the end.”

“Do you know of Morgan’s Vigil?”

“Yes, I’ve been there.” Morgan’s Vigil is an isolated Stormwinder base in the Burning Steppes, north of the Redridge Mountains.

“A messenger came from there one night. The soldiers at Morgan’s Vigil had captured a Blackrock warrior and interrogated him. The orc claimed that his master, Rend Blackhand, was training an army of dragons. First he would destroy the Dark Iron dwarves, then he would burn Lakeshire to the ground. The people at Morgan’s Vigil thought it a mere lie at first, but they saw the dragons flying around Blackrock Mountain a week later.”

“What happened?” I actually knew full well what happened, but I feigned ignorance.

“Rend was killed. Warriors of Thrall’s Horde infiltrated Blackrock Mountain and slew Rend in his keep. The dragon army fell apart afterwards, saving Lakeshire from certain destruction. We held a celebration that lasted a full week, and we all felt like we’d been given a chance to start anew.

“I was an adult by then, looking forward to a quiet life. I’d seen enough bloodshed. My grandfather had passed away, and I inherited his carpentry shop. I was ready to marry my sweetheart and raise the next generation of Lakeshiremen. Then our king returned from captivity, calling us to serve the crown.”

“You volunteered?”

“I never had to. Stormwind law states that local militias may be conscripted in time of need. Since our king needed us, every Returner under the age of 35 went north to defend Stormwind in this cold land. It’s been a bloody campaign. However, just as the throne protects its subjects, so too must we protect the throne.”

Nerrin said this with a confident smile, but his eyes spoke volumes.

Friday, April 16, 2010

((Yet Another OOC Update))

I wanted to let everyone know about some recent thoughts I've been having on the travelogue, as well as some (positive) developments in my own life that will affect it.

A few of you may already know that I've just been accepted into the Chapman University's graduate school. This is, in a word, awesome. It will also take up a lot of my time. Writing is a vital part of my life, so I won't be stopping. However, I may not have as much time to do so.

Also, conversation and some self-examination are forcing me to reconsider writing about Cataclysm. I do want to, but I think the travelogue is starting to reach a critical mass (in fact, it may have already reached it). Put simply, this thing is so damn long that I can't imagine I'll get too many more readers. While I've tried to make most zones standalone, I'm not sure how well I've succeeded. For instance, if someone else had written the travelogue, and it was shown to me, I'd be really put off by the length. I can hardly blame other people for being reluctant to start. And, as I've mentioned before, I do need to work on other things (and in case you're wondering, I've already started on another story for Scratched Nerve).

What I'm thinking now is that, once I've finished Northrend, I'll take an indefinite break from the travelogue that will last at least four months. It's entirely possible that I will never return to it. Even if I do, I'm going to have to make it shorter, just covering the most interesting aspects of the new zones.

It's also difficult for me to gauge the actual level of interest for the travelogue. If anyone has any suggestions on how to do this (I already use StatCounter), I'd appreciate hearing it. Still, I'm pretty sure the popularity level has plateaued.

Anyway, I still intend to hold the Q and A session on Tuesday at 5:00 PST (roll a Horde character on Feathermoon and /join travelogue to participate). I just wanted to let everyone know what's on my mind.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Point of No Return

Prewitt’s exposure sent shockwaves through the ranks of the Kirin Tor. From my position in Sunreaver’s Sanctuary, I watched as couriers bounded back and forth between the Violet Citadel and the Horde embassy, each one looking more frantic than the last.

Hulla’tak excoriated Vard upon his return, unleashing a withering condemnation of his recklessness. How dare he, she fumed, operate against a potential Kirin Tor agent. His actions had only furthered the Horde’s disgrace.

However, she was only partially correct. The Kirin Tor first reacted with fury and disbelief, followed by rank dread once they realized the truth of our claims. The city awoke one morning to find the Violet Citadel shut down and cordoned off, a convenient lie about an arcane mishap keeping the citizens and most of the faculty outside its walls.

Inside, the Kirin Tor had cornered Touron Felindor, the man who’d supplied Prewitt with the components of his human disguise, mislabeled as medicine. I heard how his tanned skin lifted up from his bones of its own accord, revealing the cold splendor of a Scourge lich. Ice and necrotic plagues rained down from the ceiling, killing five of the nine arcanists sent to defeat him. The lich did not long survive them.

The Kirin Tor continued their work as the city fell to a fitful sleep that night, their dreams weighed down with fear. Going by the notes in Touron’s desk they tracked down the eight other unwitting Scourge agents placed throughout Dalaran. Spellfire put a quick end to their suffering, and most welcomed death when informed of the truth. A sad few denied it to the bitter end.

Against all odds, Touron had run a secret intelligence agency parallel to the Kirin Tor’s best. His unknowing spies thought themselves ailing humans, their recollections of death and slavery replaced with implanted memories. These agents worked at every level of Dalaranese society, from Prewitt in the Underbelly, to a senior researcher in the Violet Citadel. The disguises Touron supplied were actually more effective than those I had bought from the Masquerade, the materials similar, but (aside from the powder) not identical.

The Kirin Tor themselves seemed unsure how to react, alternating between accusations of interference and gratitude for uncovering the spy ring. Vard accepted this passively, withdrawing to his tiny room. We all knew that there could be others like Touron in the Horde and Alliance. We could not even be sure that we were not spies ourselves.

The Kirin Tor told no one about the incident. Such a revelation would spread fear among the citizenry and cause the nation to lose face. However, the Dalaranese people are not easy to fool. The explanation of an arcane accident did not ring true, and they soon developed their own theories that rivalled the truth in their strangeness.

Some in the Horde embassy hailed Vard a hero, saying that his courage proved that orcish action would always triumph over human caution. A scarred Second War veteran, his Black Tooth Grin tattoo still on proud display after so many years, promised that he would tell Garrosh of Vard’s heroism. That Vard felt only deep distrust towards Garrosh was lost on the old warrior.

“I did what I thought needed to be done! Maybe it was too fast, but some good came out of it, did it not? Even the Kirin Tor admit this,” Vard said to me, when I visited him a day later.

The Kirin Tor had agreed not to press charges against Vard so long as he left Dalaran. Lord Sunreaver denied all knowledge of the incident (even though he had approved it). Somehow, those of us with Vard managed to escape significant attention.

Though not on active duty, Vard was still a full-fledged warrior of the Swiftblade War-pack. He suspected that his superiors would side with Hulla’tak in the matter.

“Perhaps I should have asked her advice first. But I could not take the chance. If we had not gone down there, Touron would still be sending information back to his dark master.”

“Surely they would at least acknowledge that fact.”

“They will. No one will deny that my personal honor is beyond all doubt. But my pack honor? That is less certain. I did this without the knowledge of my pack leaders, and instead worked with Lord Sunreaver, a total outsider.”

“Why did you not tell Hulla’tak?”

“She was in the Violet Citadel when you returned. I did not want to attract the attention of those sorcerous dogs by going to their den,” he spat. “Sorry.”

“No need to apologize.”

“Some are also angry that I killed Prewitt so quickly. I suppose they are right; he might have been able to give us more information.”

“Why did you kill him?”

“You saw the man, Destron. He’d been made a slave without his knowing. I’m a warrior; when someone wants a clean death, I’m inclined to give it.”

“I think we found most of the information we needed,” I said, not really sure what to think.

“Hopefully. Not only that, but my deeds emboldened the supporters of Garrosh. My war-pack is one of the very few to distance themselves from him. Now Garrosh’s followers have a hero in the heart of the opposition.”

“Is Garrosh really that popular?”

“The warriors of the Horde live to fight, and Garrosh promises a war without end. We nearly worshipped Thrall when he freed us, but I do not think most of us really listened to him. Perhaps he did not really hear us, either.”

“Well, what’s the worst that could happen? The Kirin Tor did forgive you.”

“The worst is that they will keep me in Orgrimmar, running errands. I hope I am sent to the front. At least there I can meet my enemy eye to eye.”

Portals to the world’s capitals were still in operation throughout Dalaran when we left. Images of Shattrath and the Horde’s great cities shimmered along the walls of a verdant rotunda in Sunreaver’s Sanctuary. Vard and I stepped up to Orgrimmar’s hazy skyline.

“I can almost smell the desert from here,” he said.

Vard stepped inside and vanished into the portal. The portal’s glowing blue outline turned red for a moment, indicating that it was not yet safe to go through. Once it turned back to its customary color, I made my entry.

I experienced the lurching dislocation common to all portals and hurtled through unseen worlds beyond sight. Impressions of a wooden interior began to peek through the shadows, the darkness lit by tallow candles and splashes of garish paint. A moment later, and I stood within the Darkbriar Lodge. Someone had placed painted idols of Bethekk in the center of the room, surrounded by a ring of soughan skulls. Lines of dried pig’s blood crossed the circle in an X-shape. Smoke spiralled up from three earthen bowls of burning incense around the ritual arrangement. Vard stood nearby, examining it with wary curiosity.


I turned to see Daj’yah coming down from the wooden staircase that had once led to the private chamber of Gu’jomb, the late troll arcanist. Dark circles ringed Daj’yah’s golden eyes, and her shoulder-length red hair looked even more neglected than usual.

“I—we were very worried! No one knew what had happened to you up in Northrend! Someone said you might have been a Wrathgate victim, but I was not believing them, and—”

“Daj’yah! Calm down, I’m fine,” I said, surprised and a bit flattered that she’d been so worried.

“Ah, sorry. These are strange times is all. Destron, you should not go out into the streets right now, not even to the village. Some stupid orcs killed a Forsaken less than a week ago, and I am thinking there have been other victims.”

“I will keep a low profile.”

“Who is this?” asked Vard.

“Oh, this is Daj’yah, a friend and respected associate. She holds a high position in the Darkbriar Lodge.”

“The honor is mine. Where does the Darkbriar Lodge stand amidst this chaos?”

“We are loyal to the Warchief, as always. But now the tribe is seething with rage. The Darkspear see little use for the Forsaken, and many think the Warchief a fool for accepting them.”

“Damn, I feared as much. Has the Warchief said anything?”

“He made a vow to avenge the souls of the fallen, whether they be Horde or Alliance, and prepares to march on Undercity. He will be leaving in a few days," reported Daj'yah.

“I see. I had best talk to my superiors. Walk with honor.”

Daj’yah turned back to me as Vard left the room.

"Damn you, Destron! You had me scared!"

"I'm sorry—"

She grabbed my shoulders, squeezing them as if to test whether or not I was really there. Letting go, she composed herself.

“Most of the Darkbriar fellows are busy now, giving the Warchief advice. Undercity’s full of sorcerers, and he needs to—oh, you know that already, I’m sure. They wanted someone to stay behind, and I said I’d do it. I never much cared for big meetings; nothing ever gets done in those.”

She sat down on a wooden bench and hugged herself tightly.

“You should have heard Ur’kyo, the priest, yesterday, saying the tribe should be shunning me for letting the living dead into the Lodge. As if I was the only one! I thought we mages had a home here, but it seems we were wrong.”

“Surely the entire tribe can’t be against us,” I said.

“Not all of them are. But mages were never really part of the tribe. And now they can’t stop reminding us of the fact.”

I was puzzled by Daj’yah’s reaction. She’d always considered herself a mage first and a troll second, and paid little heed to tribal politics. I supposed that recent events had forcibly ended her isolation.

The scorching light of the next day’s dawn found me walking Orgrimmar’s dusty streets, wanting and fearing to see the city for myself. The sudden influx of Forsaken refugees had paralyzed Orgrimmar. Throngs of confused undead packed the sun-baked plazas while infuriated warriors yelled at them to stay in the approved refuge districts. Few of the Forsaken could speak Orcish. A handful of Deathguard officers tried to act as liaisons, though with only limited success.

“Why are we even in this greenskin cesspool?” sneered a Forsaken, his chalk-white body bound in unspeakably filthy rags.

“Orgrimmar offered refuge from the coup,” I countered.

He looked at me with puzzlement, clearly not having intended me to hear his words.

“Get out of here, orc-lover. I can tell that you’re one of the Forsaken who lives in this place. Tell me, did your father fight the greenskins in the Second War? Wherever his spirit is, I’m sure he finds you disgusting.”

My father had not, in fact, fought in the Second War. He’d volunteered for service, but poor health had relegated him to work as a supply clerk in the capital.

The enraged Forsaken limped off on stick-thin legs, pale and ridden with unhealed sores. I marveled at his attitude, though I reasoned he may not have fully appreciated what had occurred at Wrathgate.

“That our Dark Lady kept us together is a further testament to her abilities,” said one Deathguard officer who gave his name as Olund. He managed the motley collection of tents known as Camp 4. Nearly all of the camps were located outside of the city, but because the Forsaken had reached Orgrimmar through a portal in the Valley of Spirits, some had ended up in the city during the confusion.

“We are not an obedient people, a fact made all the clearer to me as I try to keep them behind the lines of demarcation. For their own safety, no less!”

“Do they understand what happened?” I asked.

“Most who are capable of understanding do. Their reactions are as heterodox as one would expect. All of them hate Putress, though for many it’s more because he went against our Dark Lady than from any sorrow for the fallen. The orcs do not like us being here; if I am to be honest, I cannot say I blame them. Refugees are always a tiresome burden.”

“I heard reports of violence.”

“You heard correctly. That is why we keep the refugees in designated areas. Only one death has been reported, but I suspect there have been more. Orcs aren’t good planners, and I think they demarcated the refuge districts on the spot. Now they curse us as we get in the way of traffic. I suggested that we move to western Orgrimmar, but the orcs fear that the move would disrupt things even further.”

“How long is this state of affairs expected to last?”

“Probably not much longer. The orcs are formidable warriors, and they will soon retake Undercity. Most of the Deathguard is stationed in Brill. Putress is defending Undercity with a cadre of alchemical nightmares and demons. I can’t imagine what he hoped to accomplish; his plan is doomed to failure.

“I do hope we leave soon. I did not realize this, but many Forsaken are only dimly aware of the world outside Undercity. When we first arrived in Durotar, fresh out of the portal, some tried to run back, never mind that it was one-way. Some had never seen their own bodies in good light before. Now the bright sun of these lands reveals the full-extent of their decay, driving them further into madness.”


“We should have let them die in Undercity, in all honesty. There is no future for them, and they will only slow us down. However, the more reasonable Forsaken need all the help that they can get. You do know Orcish, correct?”


“If you have the time, we could use another translator. Something to keep in mind. Go see Deathguard Farrol at the main gate if you’re interested; he’s our commanding officer for all intents and purposes.”

I did as Olund suggested, and found Farrol situated in a curiously lavish pavilion near the great gates. He assigned me to the refugee camp at the Drag’s southern entrance without much thought, as if I were an obvious fit for the location.

Farrol may have assumed me a mere dilettante, as Camp 6 (as it was called) was easily the calmest of the bunch. Some of the veterans who live in the Drag had fought alongside the Forsaken in Hillsbrad and the Arathi Basin, and are more comfortable with the undead than are other orcs.

For their part, the Forsaken in Camp 6 returned the favor, though the comparatively welcome reception had emboldened some to rudeness. Fortunately, Deathguard Murcell discouraged such behavior. Himself a Hillsbrad veteran, he found it a fine opportunity to reconnect with his old orcish comrades-in-arms.

Murcell outright admitted that he had no need of more translators; many of the locals knew enough Gutterspeak to communicate with the residents. Nonetheless, he told me to stand by to perform any needed errands.

Though my task was pointless, it did give me a chance to observe positive interactions between orcs and Forsaken. Camp 6 had become an isolated haven of tolerance in an otherwise fearful city. I never heard anyone use terms like “greenskin,” or “deader.” This is not to say that there was all that much in the way of interaction; the two sides mostly left each other alone. Still, encounters tended to be cordial.

“I do fear that the orcs will tire of us,” remarked Murcell, as the blazing afternoon sky faded into violet dusk. “They reached out to us when no one else would, sent their warriors to fight and die in Hillbrad, and now take us in at our time of need. Now, thanks to Putress, we’ve hurt them badly in return. Unfortunately, far too few Forsaken object to the Apothecarium’s actions. Many are ignorant, some willfully so. Did you know Grand Apothecary Faranell is in this city?”

“I did not.” Faranell was the Apothecarium’s founder. He had originally used the organization’s considerable resources to brew new plagues and poisons. Over time he drifted into even more twisted areas of study, fascinated with inflicting pain for its own sake. Because he was so busy with his cruel (and largely useless) experiments, it was easy for Putress to seize control.

“Where is he?” I asked.

“He’s one of the few allowed to stay near Grommash Hold.”

“Faranell’s a criminal who should be killed!” I suddenly declared, surprised by my own heat. There was a pause, and I wondered if I had crossed a line.

“I agree. There has been limited communication with the apothecaries in the Ghostlands, the Tranquilien faction, they’re called. I’m hoping the Apothecarium goes to them instead of Faranell, but that seems unlikely. The Tranquilien faction is small, and disliked by many.”

“Why are they disliked?” The apothecaries in Tranquilien used their alchemical knowledge to cleanse and heal the Ghostlands, discovering cures instead of diseases.

“The surviving Undercity apothecaries think them fools, as does the Hand of Vengeance. The average Forsaken is at best dimly aware of Tranquilien, and will not make any effort to help them. Few have heard of them outside of Quel’thalas, and the Sin’dorei do not seem inclined to meddle in Forsaken politics.”

“Do you think the Tranquilien apothecaries will at least get more influence?”

“I’m sure their lot will improve. Will it improve enough to make a difference? I would like it to be so, but I do not expect it.”


I returned that night to find Daj’yah still the only troll in the Darkbriar Lodge, brewing a pot of silverleaf tea in the main room. We each took a cup and went up to Gu’jomb’s old chamber, an open-air hut on top of the lodge. Most of the old troll’s few possessions had been buried with him. A woven mat covers the wooden floor, and a round table stands in the center.

A warm spring wind whistled through the canyons, carrying with it the dusty pollen of Durotar’s coastal plains. The lush flame of the palm oil lamp flickered under the gusts. I watched as Daj’yah poured some kodo milk into her tea, turning her eyes to the village as she stirred it. A priest dressed in a robe of coatl feathers was leading a procession up the ziggurat, his fierce sing-song recitations accompanied by wild drumming and ancient tribal chants.

“Bethekk is the Loa of magic and they will not even let us pay our respects to him. What would Gu’jomb say? You saw how he lives on in stone in the temple. I think he would want us there.”

“I am sure this will pass.”

“Pass? Destron, this is normal! I told you, they still aren’t wanting mages to be part of the tribe. They need us, but don’t want us.”

“Where’s Uthel’nay?” I asked, wondering about our mutual friend. He and Daj’yah seemed inseperable, and I half-suspected their relationship was romantic.

“I am thinking he’s in Grommash Hold right now, but who really knows? All the students are in their homes. Their parents do not want them here, lest the tribe start whispering rumors about them.”

“That’s terrible! Daj’yah, would it be better if I left Darkbriar for a time? It seems like I’ve chosen the worst possible time to return.”

“No, no, you best be staying here, Destron. Or else that Ur’kyo will be thinking he’s got one over us. If the rest of the world is going to take us seriously as mages, we’d best act the part. Besides, I can be just as arrogant as any blood elf!” she joked.

“Ha ha! Well said.”

“But to be serious for a moment, the elders are stirring up talk about leaving Orgrimmar.”

“The entire village?”

“Just some. They think the time’s right to take the Echo Isles back from Zalazane.”

I remembered hearing about this when I visited Sen’jin Village, years ago. A renegade witch doctor ruled the islands on which the Darkspear had settled after the Third War. Some wanted to take it back, but they’d been overruled by those who thought it better to stay on the mainland and become friendlier with the orcs.

“I see. Well, I agree he needs to be driven out.”

“That’s for sure, and he’s already weak. Nothing there save him and some zombie trolls. Some think we should do this for safety, saying that the orcs cannot protect us, and shouldn’t have to. Others want to keep our culture pure. A few think that the orcs hold us back.”

“Hold us back in what way?”

“They see the old cities of Gurubashi and the wealth of Stranglethorn, and wonder why we aren’t making cities like those. All the orcs can offer us, say they, is war.”

“What do you think?”

“I am not sure. I’ll go where the Darkbriar go, I suppose. If the Echo Isles turns to a place where the priests and headmen can do as they please, I’m not wanting any part of it. If it lets me learn more about magic, well that might be something.”

“There aren’t many restrictions here in Orgrimmar.”

“No, but they don’t much trust us. Then again, I’m not thinking that would change in the Echo Isles. We’ll see, too early to tell. You know, I heard Ur’kyo talking about my mother the other day. How she made the tribe weak and shamed the ancestors, and how I would do the same.”

She gave a bitter little laugh and took a sip from her cup, glaring out at the temple with disdain. Daj’yah’s father had died soon after her birth, and her mother refused to remarry, which was almost unheard of in Darkspear society.

“I am older now. I understand why they were angry. People die in the jungle, and there need always be young ones to replenish the tribe. It’s selfish to keep alone like that. But she was not trying to be cruel, she was just confused.”

“She raised you, someone who contributes a valuable skillset to the tribe and Horde,” I pointed out.

“I am not sure how much is her doing. I did love her though. Besides, how am I any better? No man will marry me and I won’t be adding to the tribe, especially not now that there are so many from other tribes joining us. They used to try and shame my mother, saying she’d slept with a human to produce me, that she hadn’t proved herself a proper troll mother. I still hear the fellows making fun, saying how I look like a human.”

I nodded, not really sure what to say. Apparently Daj’yah’s social success had been more limited than I'd believed. Her appearance, which might have been considered exotically beautiful by human standards, made her ugly in trollish eyes. Though a skilled and intelligent mage, her reclusive and sometimes self-effacing nature made it difficult for her to get the respect she deserved in the Darkbriar Lodge.

“Do you remember much about your mother, Destron?”

“Um, no, I’m afraid not. I recall that she tended to be withdrawn, much like my father. I do not think they loved each other very much.”

“Love’s a luxury in the tribe, though I’m supposing it was different in old Lordaeron. At least according to the books I read.” Daj'yah had developed a fondness for Lordaeronian novels.

“Some married couples did love each other, some did not, and for most it ebbed and flowed over the course of the marriage. If they told me how they met, I have forgotten.”

“Who brought you up then? I thought immediate families took care of such things in old Lordaeron.”

“My parents did teach me the basics of living and of right and wrong. I just have little recollection of them beyond the very early years. Perhaps it is my memory that’s at fault.”

“You had siblings?”

“Two. I had a younger sister, Nadina. She died when I was somewhere around ten, drowned in Lake Lordamere. I believe she’d been playing near the edge when she hit her head and fell. My parents withdrew even more after that; I think they were closer to her than they were to me or my brother.”

“Always a sad thing.”

“Indeed.” I had not thought of it in a very long time, as my memories of Nadina are indistinct at best. I felt a brief stab of guilt for my relative lack of feeling. If I could just focus on the handful of recollections I did have, I’d feel as one should. Yet they remained elusive, blurred images in the back of my mind.

“Does your other sibling still live?”

“No, he died too, killed in a street fight. I was terrified of him as a child, a feeling that grew worse when I realized that my parents shared my fear. His name was Torilun, and he was the sort who lied as easily as he breathed. He took money and burned it away in taverns and gambling dens—while not poor, my family was hardly rich. Torilun always made a huge scene when taken to task on this.”

“Awful! Darkspears like that do appear on occasion. If they don’t mend their ways, someone will take them on a hunting trip from which only one troll returns. A tribe can’t be letting someone like that cause trouble. But I’m not sure if we still take care of it like that these days.”

“It’s easier for such people to get away with that kind of behavior in the cities.”

“Right, too many people. I like cities though; here, most folks don’t care about what my mother did. The trolls around me still talk, but I can usually get away.”

“I understand. Nobody here cares that I’m Forsaken, at least not until recently.”

“Maybe I am being too optimistic, but I think life will be getting back to normal here in a few months. What is that humans and dwarves like doing when they drink? Taking a drink for some cause or person?”

“A toast?”

“I believe so.”

“That’s where the drinkers tap their cups together and declare what they’re drinking for.”

“Then I am declaring this a toast to Orgrimmar!”

“To Orgrimmar,” I said.

She smiled as we made the toast. As we drank, I could still hear the priest’s ancient songs twisting in the night’s darkness, joined by the flowing beat of countless hand drums.

I went to Camp 4 early the next day, and offered to help Deathguard Olund without going through Farrol as an intermediary. As I suspected, Olund gladly accepted my assistance.

To my deep disappointment, it was the Forsaken who usually instigated trouble. Some took a childish pleasure in inconveniencing nearby orcs (almost always peons), blocking their way or mocking them. Though the peons never reported these incidents, it is worth noting that warriors would intervene on the peon’s side if they saw something transpire.

Fortunately, I was able to defuse some situations, generally those in which an orc or Forsaken had unknowingly offended the other. My temperament is really only suited to dealing with reasonable individuals, limiting my use as a diplomat. Nonetheless, I stayed in Camp 4 throughout the night and into the next day. Rumors began to circulate, about the Warchief holding a great council to prepare for the reconquest of Undercity. The expectation of violence was in the air, furthered by the young warriors rushing towards Grommash Hold all through the day, eager to prove themselves.

I continued my work until the late afternoon when Olund granted me leave. Daj’yah was standing on the wooden steps in front of the Darkbriar Lodge when I returned, looking off into the distance. She held a rolled-up scroll in her blue hands, which she handed to me.

“I was wondering if you’d ever get back here. A courier came by this morning, saying you were needed in Grommash Hold.”

“Really? What for?”

“He said that the Warchief wants to talk to any Forsaken in the city that he knows he can trust. I’m sure the scroll says more.”

I opened it with trembling hands, reading and rereading the words. As Daj’yah had said, I was wanted in Grommash Hold at sundown.

“This is quite an honor! Thank you for bringing this to my attention.”

“You’d best be hurrying, Destron. The sun’s sinking as we speak.”

Heeding her words I set out for Grommash Hold, reaching it just as the night’s smoky darkness crept over Orgrimmar. Kor’kron warriors patrolled the area around Grommash Hold, monstrous in their black armor. One stopped me and demanded to see my invitation, which I showed. His gauntleted fist clanged on his breastplate in response, and he stepped aside.

Grommash Hold is an impressive stone keep, though much smaller than the royal abodes of Stormwind or Ironforge. I entered to find the massive reception chamber packed with Horde notables. A quick look revealed that many had been in there for days. Rumpled bedrolls were strewn across the stone floor, along with makeshift tables laden with half-empty plates.

I joined the quintet of Forsaken standing near the entrance. I did not recognize any of them. Only one, a woman with slick and bile-colored skin, was an Orgrimmar resident. The rest had proven their loyalty in the snows of Northrend.

A group of orcs walked by and I spotted Vard among them. He caught sight of me and sauntered over.

“Hail and well met, Destron. I’m actually the reason you’re here. In light of your recent work for the Horde, I knew you to be a man of honor.”

“Thank you. How are you doing?”

“I’m not in trouble, but only because there are bigger things for everyone to worry about. Once Undercity is back in the Horde’s hands, I’ll get my demotion.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Do not trouble yourself. I’ll be better off on the battlefield, which is where I’ll probably go.”

“Will you be fighting to retake Undercity?”

“Ha! I’m not worth that honor. I’ll likely be defending against quillboars. I will warn you though, that many here do not want the Forsaken to be involved at all. The Warchief finally convinced them that having some would be a strategic asset; I believe he wants to show the Forsaken that he is still their friend. Once that happened, I recommended you.”

“I see. The Warchief must already have a battle plan. I’m sure you already have good intelligence on Undercity’s layout.”

“We do, further helped by Forsaken loyalists embedded there. A great battle will be waged in its tunnels. Putress is not strong enough to hold it, but he will put up a good fight. Demon auxilliaries now patrol the halls, joining his monstrous servants.”

“Is the Burning Legion behind this?”

“No one knows, but I’d say it is almost a given. I always thought that your Dark Lady was committing a grave error in keeping that dreadlord around.”

“Sylvanas was indeed foolish.”

Vard blinked in surprise.

“I never thought I’d hear a Forsaken say that.”

“I think it is time we took a more realistic look. Anyway, if Thrall already knows what to expect, why does he want us?”

“Like I said, it is a political move. This is a difficult time for the Warchief. I vouched for you since I thought you’d appreciate getting a foretaste of what to expect.”

“I do. Thank you very much, Vard.”

“I could do no less. I’m afraid I can’t stay, so I’ll leave you with this: watch your words, and don’t talk to anyone unless they speak to you first.”

A sweltering heat blanketed the room, dank with the smell of so many warm bodies. I scanned the crowd, trying to pick out familiar faces. I saw Eitrigg, looking more careworn than usual as he discussed something with a young tauren wearing a Bloodhoof Tribe headdress. Garrosh and a gang of bristling orc warriors stood near the entrance to the Warchief’s throne room. The fearsome Mag’har warlord seemed to emanate anger, along with a bold arrogance. The world was shaping itself to suit his desires, and he knew it. Of Sylvanas, I saw no sign.

Vard’s description of my invitation being a political move turned out to be accurate. We never met with Thrall. Instead, an elderly tauren came to us with the plans and asked for our opinions. We found no fault with them.

“The Warchief sends his apologies that he could not meet with you directly. He is currently preoccupied with matters of state,” said the tauren, whose name was Mahanook Ragetotem.

“But not of strategy? With all due respect, Sir Ragetotem, we wished to see the Warchief,” pointed out one of the Forsaken, a priest who’d tattooed his face with interlocking symbols of the Holy Light.

Mahanook paused, his face impassive.

“As I said, he sends his apologies. These are difficult times. Know that he is grateful to you for your continued loyalty. The Forsaken are an essential part of the Horde.”

He excused himself shortly after, leaving us a little island of undeath in a sea of the living. I do not suppose I can blame those who made the decision, at least not entirely. So few Forsaken have come out to vocally condemn Putress. Then again, the Horde itself has done nothing to bring Faranell to justice, and his crimes are only slightly less heinous.

We left Grommash Hold as one, stepping into the warm night air. A western wind had picked up that afternoon, desiccating the city with hot and dry Barrens air. Two of the Forsaken went east towards the Valley of Strength, while the rest of us took the southerly route. One by one they split off to return to their homes, the empty nighttime streets allowing for easy passage. No one really knew what, if anything, to say.


Nearly all of Orgrimmar came out the next morning to see the Warchief before he left for Undercity, heedless of the blistering winds. Something in the dry air inflamed the crowd, and they roared their support with maddened fury unlike anything I’d ever heard before. Thousands stood in the narrow Valley of Wisdom, waving their fists in the air and calling out the names of heroes, living and dead.

A ring of aged warriors, their scalps glistening red with self-made wounds, stood around the entrance to Grommash Hold, where Thrall was expected to make an entrance. They’d cut themselves to show the blood they wished to have shed in battle.

Peon volunteers had set up scaffolding platforms all along the canyon walls, working with laudable skill and speed. I stood on one of these along with Daj’yah and Uthel’nay. I felt a vague dread, fearing what would happen if Thrall fell in battle.

Some have questioned Thrall’s decision to personally lead the attack. However, the nature of orcish politics gave him no other choice. Already made to look a fool by Sylvanas’ own carelessness, he needed to regain the faith of his people through force of arms. To stay in Orgrimmar would be to invite usurpation from the increasingly aggressive militarists, often Mag’har who feel no particular loyalty to Thrall.

The crowds fell into an awed silence as the Warchief stepped out from Grommash Hold, his heroic form clad in black armor, the legendary Doomhammer in his right hand. His wise blue eyes surveyed the audience before he raised the hammer high. We all cheered then, our doubts forgotten for a few glorious moments. Before all of us stood the iconic figure of our generation, the man who’d taken a culture that had lost everything and gave it the opportunity to achieve anything. He is what Sylvanas or Kael’thas could have been had they not let their own demons consume them. Even as Thrall’s dream frayed at the edges, seeing him standing there on the brink of battle again gave us hope. No demon or rogue apothecary could hope to stand against him.

The speech he gave that day is well-known, and I see no need to recreate its contents here. Suffice to say he promised retribution without falling prey to vengeance. He said this with such eloquence that he seemed stronger for his restraint. Thrall finished just as the portal to Undercity opened outside Grommash Hold, giving us a window into the desolate heath surrounding the twice-ruined city.

Warriors from all across the Horde marched out of Grommash Hold. I was pleasantly surprised to see two of the Forsaken I’d met the other night among them; apparently they’d been called back at the last minute. Coming in at the very end was Sylvanas herself. Thrall’s commanding stature kept the crowd in check, and not even the wildest orc dared insult her. Yet her very presence seemed to shrivel the scene, her slight form radiating a cold and depthless hatred.

The brief silence broke as a lone voice launched into “Blood and Honor,” a orcish war song dating back to the Blood River War on Draenor, sung by the embattled northern clans. Dozens more joined him with each passing second until the age-old song threatened to break the canyon walls with is volume. As they sung, the heroes of the Horde disappeared through the portal, going forth to destroy those who had brought so much evil into the world.

The song continued long after the portal closed. Finally I saw Eitrigg step up to where Thrall had recently stood, raising both his hands.

“Our Warchief shall return when the cowards Putress and Varimathras lie dead. Until then, do your duty, as always.”

Some orcs protested, crying out that they needed their Warchief. Another elderly orc, whom I did not recognize, approached Eitrigg.

“Why must they leave? Here they show their devotion to the Warchief, as an orc must. His honor is reflected unto them—”

“Our warriors are fighting and dying in Northrend! Are you to say we should forget that? Orgrimmar is where ore is shaped into weapons of war, where Barrens produce is shipped to the front lines. Are you a shirker? The Warchief rules a nation of orcs, not a gang of minions. Do you not have honor?” Eitrigg demanded of the crowd.

That seemed to do the trick, and the orcs shouted their approval, heading back to their tasks. A few hardliners stayed, singing old songs, but without any real support they soon faded. The orc who’d criticized Eitrigg crept back into the hold. Eitrigg had defended himself with the planned aggression that every orc politician needs. He’d stopped the hero worship before it could become entrenched. However, some would have gladly waited there for Thrall’s return, encouraged to do so by the Horde’s more reactionary elements, those orcs who think that war is the domain of heroes and legends rather than of logistics and strategy.

We returned to the Darkbriar Lodge, save for Uthel’nay who retired to his hut for a well-deserved rest. Most of the other mages did the same, all of them exhausted after going for days without sleep. Daj’yah and I sat in the lodge’s main room, the wooden walls as hot as furnaces in the noon heat.

“Would you prefer to go outside? I can’t imagine it’s very comfortable for you here.”

“No, I think I’ll be staying in. I said I’d keep an eye on the place.”

“Are you that worried someone will break in?”

She paused, looking up at the ceiling.

“No, not really. I don’t know, now’s just not a time where I want to go anywhere.”

While all had expected a speedy victory for Thrall, no one had thought he would return the day after leaving. Though I was not there to see it, everyone described him flashing into Orgrimmar fresh from battle, his black armor spattered in ichor and demon blood.

Far more surprising was the news that the Alliance had attacked the city at the very same time. While Thrall had killed the dreadlord Varimathras, it was Stormwind’s King Varian Wrynn who brought an end to Putress. But this shared battle did not engender any camaraderie; quite the opposite happened. Varian discovered the staggering depth of the Apothecarium’s crimes, atrocities long predating Putress’ rise to power.

King and Warchief faced off in Undercity. Justifiably furious, Varian accused the Warchief of complicity, refusing to listen to Thrall’s denial of knowledge. Even if he had, it might not have been enough. A leader must bear some responsibility for his underlings’ actions.

Jaina Proudmoore of Theramore intervened at the last minute, transporting the king and his retinue back to Stormwind. As a mage, I could not help stopping to marvel at her power; few could transport more than a single person across such a long distance with so little notice. Thrall returned, hailed as a hero. I wonder if he truly felt like one.

The possibility of war against their age-old foes galvanized the city. Many of the orcs took shamefully little heed of the Apothecarium’s crimes. I do not think I shall ever find a satisfactory answer as to why Faranell, the Apothecarium’s former leaders, was not killed on the spot. I have never been able to learn who in the Horde had sponsored his reinstatement.

Not all of the Forsaken in the city showed much gratitude towards Thrall. I was somewhat cheered when I learned that a few of the more conscientious Forsaken had assembled a wreath of red flowers, a symbol of victory in orcish culture, and delivered it to Grommash Hold. Most seemed entirely indifferent.

Forsaken mages got to work setting up portals to allow the refugees to gradually leave Orgrimmar. True to their estimates, it took four days for all to return. The more paranoid orcs feared that some Forsaken would stay in the city, but their concerns were groundless; few wanted to be in Orgrimmar.

I did have the fortune of encountering the Masquerade before his (or her) return trip. As always, I purchased a large number of supplies so as to ready myself for further travels.

Dusk fell across the city, bringing its own smothering heat. Troll families left their huts and spread blankets across the lake’s rocky shores, having the good sense to avoid sleeping indoors in such weather. Defying the mood of fear, the trolls sang and danced as the dinner hour approached. The aroma of cooking pork filled up the Valley of Spirits, trolls laughing as they opened up casks of rum and ginger beer. It is an admirable thing to fight dread with simple joy, even if (as in the case of the trolls) it reflects a deeper fatalism.

I looked to Daj’yah, who’d seemed to shrink into herself as she watched the celebrations with a mix of longing and disdain.

“Shall we join them?” I suggested to Daj’yah.

“They won’t be wanting me. Not sure about you either.”

“You’re still part of the tribe.”

“I’m a mage. None of us are truly part of the tribe. That’s what the rules say, but tradition goes deeper than rules. But I do want to go out.”


“Somewhere else in the city, I don’t care.”

I followed Daj’yah out of the Darkbriar Lodge. A group of aged trolls seated near the steps turned to look at us, suspicion in their ancient eyes. One of them hissed a Zandali curse through yellowed tusks, and the rest of them cackled. A scowl flashed across Daj’yah’s face for the briefest instant, before returning to her usual neutral expression.

“What did he say?” I asked, when we were some distance.

“‘Look at the two humans!’ he said. Apparently, humans have blue skin and tusks now.”

“Ignore them.”

“Why do I care what old Hon’jah has to say anyway? There were more than a few times he came back from the hunt empty-handed, still puffing himself up with pride. He never could stand his ground in an insult contest anyway.”

“Maybe you should challenge him to one. You’re witty enough.”

“Mages don’t do that, remember? We’re not really part of the tribe.”

“Officially you are. Maybe this can start a new tradition.”

“I truly do wish it were that simple. But I’d be swimming against a thousand years’ worth of current.”

I nodded, not wanting to press the issue. Whether or not it were feasible, she was unwilling. Side by side the two of us made our way through the darkening streets. We took the ridgeway path leading down to the Valley of Honor. A riot of smoky smells, burning trash and roasting kodo meat, rose up from the city’s twisting streets. I could see peons hurrying to light fires in iron braziers. The city lights only came alive in times of celebration or crisis.

Daj’yah and I went into one of the canyons, rock walls high on both sides. A crowd of orcs gathered around one scarred warrior, who stood a head taller than the rest. Bellowing fury, he pronounced doom on the Forsaken and all other cowards, swearing to drive them from the Horde.

“Never again shall orc blood be shed for these wretches! If they defy us again, their blood will be shed at our will!” he shouted to the approval of the crowd.

Daj’yah looked to me, her eyes wide in concern. I smiled as bravely as I could, a gesture that she returned after a moment’s hesitation.

There was more. A Sylvanas of straw and canvas hung by the door of a squat stone house, flames already licking its feet as peons cheered. A shaman, bathed in the firelight, chanted before an audience of acolytes as he called on his ancestors for strength enough to defeat Orgrimmar’s enemies. Eyes hidden under a wolfskin hood, his lips curled in hate as I walked past. On the steps of her stone abode stood an old woman dressed in black and maroon, the orcish colors of mourning. Her eyes narrowed when she saw me, and she hurried back into her house, making a sign to ward off evil spirits.

Daj’yah grabbed my wrist, pulling me close. Smoke hid the stars, and red sparks danced like maddened fireflies over smoldering braziers.

“We’re part of the Horde, no matter what they say.”

“I know. Thank you.”

Nor was the anger limited to the Apothecarium and the Forsaken. I heard young warriors gloat about war with the Alliance, made seemingly unavoidable by Putress’ actions.

“My battle-brothers say that the humans blame us for Putress, and seek our blood in vengeance. Let them come, I say. Now we shall finally prove to the world that the Horde is unstoppable. The Warchief and Garrosh will litter the fields with Alliance dead, and our axes will drip red with human blood,” said one young warrior to his friend. Barely out of adolescence, their eyes glittered with dreams of battles to come.

The rage of a race had been unloosed, and I feared that nothing save a crushing defeat could quench it. Thrall had tried to teach his people, yet only a handful had listened. The rest imagined the Warchief to be a brutal warlord in the worst of orcish tradition. They would not permit any other role for Thrall, casting aside his incredible political and moral achievements.

Had Thrall made mistakes? Certainly. He never did enough to disassociate himself and the Horde from its previous incarnation. Orgrimmar’s name is a perfect example of that, for a monster like Orgrim does not deserve commemoration, whatever virtues he exhibited later in life. Thrall did not do enough to empower the individual orc, establishing a precedent for despotic rule. No one can realistically expect future Warchiefs to rule as well as Thrall. Perhaps worst of all, he trusted the wrong people.

However, Thrall’s story is far from over. As one of the youngest world leaders, he will doubtless continue to do many great things But the Wrathgate reveals his limitations. If he is as wise as is believed, he will learn from these mistakes.

Neither of us could think of anything to say when we returned to the Valley of Spirits. We’d walked for a long time. The cooking fires had already gone out, and most of the Darkspears slept. I could hear a few muted conversations carried on the warm winds, the sort of quiet talk that might be enjoyed by good friends.

“Perhaps that walk wasn’t such a good idea,” sighed Daj’yah.

I paused, not sure what to say. Suddenly, I thought of Vard and Hulla’tak. I thought of Grota, the brave warrior-woman who had defended a crippled child’s right to live, and of Drub, who had found honor in the soil of the Barrens. I thought of them and scores of others, and the thousands I’d never met.

“On the contrary. Seeing all that reminded me of those who did learn Thrall’s lessons, who work for a better and more civilized future. They’re out there; you’re a fine example yourself.”

“I am not sure if I do enough to count. Thank you, though. You are too.”

“And there are others. And they in turn, will teach others.”

We stood outside for a few minutes longer, watching as the smoky haze cleared, revealing a few bright stars in the dusty sky. Finally we said our good nights, our hearts lightened by hope.