Friday, September 7, 2012

Skulduggery and Skepticism

Whatever support Gallywix had enjoyed among us vanished the night of the attack.  We did not blame him for Haluk’s death; Skorg, not Gallywix, had decided to stay and fight.  Gallywix probably thought the Lost Isles to be perfectly safe, the glutts still dormant from the last assault.  Though he had been wrong, nothing had kept us from fleeing except pride.

Thinking back on the Lost Isles, visions of bullet-riddled corpses sour the memories of natural beauty.  I wondered why the glutts had attacked the goblins.  Had it truly been a matter of glutt aggression and xenophobia?  Or had the goblins provoked them in some way?

Conceivably, the glutts might have interpreted any foreign presence as an attack.  If such is the case, it is harder to sympathize with them.  While such an action may be valid in the perspective of an isolated race, I cannot blame the goblins for defending themselves (though such mindless hostility suggests it might be wise to leave the island altogether).  I was reminded of the first contact between orcs and night elves, the latter unleashing deadly volleys from the forest.  No attempt at parley had been made, and the Horde uses this as a justification for its current operation in Ashenvale.  I do not disagree with the Horde on this issue.

If one is to take the orcish side in that conflict, what of Sylvanas?  She turned on her human allies in the early days of the revolution, slaughtering them in the ashes of Lordaeron.  Many believe that Garithos, the Alliance commander, would have betrayed her, and I am inclined to agree.  However, the fact remains that she struck the first blow, and has given the Alliance a legitimate cause for war against the Forsaken.

What then to do with the glutts?  I actually think that Zidinee was telling the truth regarding the first encounter between goblin and glutt.  The Bilgewater Cartel is too honest about its deplorable dealings to bother lying about some obscure island race.  Skorg claimed that the spirits loathed the glutts, giving further credence to the idea of them being an implacable enemy.

I asked Skorg about his encounter on a broiling hot afternoon, several days south of the Lost Isles.  We’d all fled the sweltering cabin, finding relief in the shadows of stacked crates.

“The spirits told me of the island, and its soul of fire.  The glutts threaten to destroy everything in their ferocity, the mad drums rousing the volcano god to wakefulness.”

“Volcano god?”

“The great spirit that dwells the heart of the island, ensconced from its fellows in stone and fire.  The glutts worship this entity.”

I supposed that the laziness of the Bilgewater shamans had prevented them from learning about this.

“Something about the battle is troubling me,” I confessed.  “It seemed more like butchery than a fight.”

“You know that it would disgrace the Horde if its diplomats ran away.  The Bilgewater Cartel can think we are foolish, short-sighted, or old-fashioned, but they cannot think we are cowards.  Why do you doubt this, Destron?  The glutts are hardly worth defending.”

“I suppose I wonder why they attacked.  Perhaps it was completely unprovoked, but the level of slaughter—“

“A warrior fights because it his pride and duty.  I am sure that the glutt fighters understood that.  Even if the goblins lied, the spirits of the island detest the glutts.”

“What do the spirits say about the Forsaken?”

He paused, his eyes studying me.

“Most of Lordaeron groans under your weight.  But your kind is sometimes useful.  The glutts are not.”

Again, I can’t deny the Bilgewater guards their right to self-defense.  Perhaps negotiations with the glutts could have been attempted, but I must be frank and admit that I would not want to be the person selected to start such negotiations, certainly not after seeing their viciousness firsthand.  There are many races such as this, who seem capable only of violence: gnolls, murlocs, and harpies to name just a few.  What is to be done with them?

The narratives of Azeroth’s great nation-states put these races in the category of the enemy.  No serious diplomacy has been attempted because it does not appear possible.  By every account I have read, the gnolls have always been the one to initiate violence in any encounter.

But who is to say that the gnolls do not have their own account?  Assuming they do, can it be seen as valid if the gnolls still act as near-perpetual aggressors?  In the case of the latter, we are faced with the ugly possibility that there exists an entire race of sapient beings with which coexistence is impossible.  Most studies suggest that the gnolls are linked to an instinctual aggression that makes it difficult for them to cooperate.  The level of intra-tribal violence is constant.

Yet I have met gnolls who have managed to adapt to a more civilized existence.  Clearly, it is possible for individuals to overcome these instincts.  Is it something that only a blessed few can attain?  Or have the gnolls simply been hobbled by a violent culture (one that’s been remarkably consistent among the geographically disparate gnoll tribes)?  If so, how can that culture be changed? 

It’s difficult for me to really blame most groups for dismissing these forgotten races.  Certainly I’ve participated in battles against many of them, helping my allies (as they are the ones who help me).  What is the purpose of negotiating with an endlessly violent holdout when so many more pressing threats are at hand?  From a purely pragmatic stance, there seems little reason to do so.  The gains are not worth the costs.  In many cases, the blame lies with these hated groups.

Is that to be the state of the world?  These forgotten races kept at the edges because they are too violent and dangerous to be tolerated?  Why not simply exterminate them, if that is the case?  Certainly attempts have been made to wipe out the gnolls and the harpies, though none have come close to succeeding.

And how are these forgotten races necessarily worse than some of the influential ones?  I speak of my own race, the Forsaken, who have inflicted far more harm in recent years than have the gnolls.  If gnolls are not to be tolerated, why should the Forsaken receive better treatment?

The answer, of course, is that the Forsaken have power while the gnolls do not.  As Skorg said, the Forsaken are useful.  They are centralized while the gnolls live in quarreling bands.  One can bargain with the Forsaken, though doing so may be unwise, as Garithos discovered.

At the end of the day, whatever my consternations, these forgotten races still tend to be the aggressors.  Gnolls burn paths through the wilderness, killing all that they see.  Murlocs emerge from the waters to attack coastal settlements.  Ogres befoul the landscape and brutalize those that cross their paths.  It is not wrong for someone to take up arms in response; I have done the very same.  Still, I wonder why such groups are so disposed to violence, and if it can be stopped.  I believe there is hope for the Forsaken, so I must also believe that there is some hope for these others.  In the end, however, I am not wise enough to imagine any realistic solution.

We neared Kezan a few days later, the sun reflected in mottled light on strands of grease floating on the ocean surface.  Skorg approached me as I stood on the prow, his face grave.

“Destron, the Horde has a task for you.”


“This is no minor thing we ask, but you have a unique set of abilities.  Eitrigg told us of your clandestine visit to the Exodar, and a similar situation has arisen.  What do you know of Gilneas?”

“An isolationist kingdom south of Lordaeron.  No one’s heard from it since the Third War.”

“Humans still live there.  Gilnean naval ships once fired on any who approached, but they’ve all but vanished in the last year.  We’ve sent a few scouts and they speak of a nation in turmoil.  Lupine monstrosities—the worgen—weaken a kingdom already reeling from civil war.  They are a people in need.”

“You want me to open relations with them?”

“Perhaps in time.  First, we need someone to get a better idea of what’s happening in Gilneas.  Eitrigg and a few others believe that the Gilneans would make fine allies.  Think of what an insult it would be to the Alliance if humans were to join the Horde in large numbers!  Just as we saved the tauren from the centaurs, so too might we save the Gilneans from the worgen.”

“The Gilneans were rather hostile to the idea of orcish rehabilitation,” I said.

“Yes, they wanted to exterminate us to the last.  But a desperate man never turns away a helping hand.”

“This is… quite a mission.” 

To at last see Gilneas!  But I still tasted bitterness in my mouth.  I’d wandered so long, always alone even with companions.  I wished to again sit at my desk in the Darkbriar Lodge, to feel the Durotar sun warm my bones, to hear Daj’yah’s voice.  To delay it any longer inspired an almost physical sense of frustration.

“Yes.  As I said, you are the best choice the Horde has for such an assignment.”

“How urgent is this—no, never mind.  People are in need, after all.”

“Not only that.  You must understand, Destron, that this is a secret mission.  There are factions in the Horde that will not tolerate humans in our ranks.  Garrosh is already mobilizing forces in Lordaeron.  He and Sylvanas intend to seize Gilneas.”


“Because Gilneas is not under Alliance protection, and the histories speak of its wealth in coal and iron.  The peninsula would make it easy for the Horde to raid Stormwind itself.  Garrosh wants the Forsaken do most of the fighting; he sees them worth nothing more than fodder.”

“I had no idea.  Does the warchief know?”

“He is trying to stop or at least slow Garrosh, but Thrall has lost his credibility.  Many orcs see him as a fool after Wrathgate.  Thrall too knows of your mission, but he needs to be sure that the Gilneans will make serviceable allies.”

“I see.  If I may ask, why are you telling this to me now?  Why not earlier, before Kezan?”

“I only learned a few nights ago, when the warchief summoned me in the dreaming realm.  He will gladly embrace humans that behave with honor, but he is in a very delicate political position.  He asked only for advice, but I recommended you, and he decided to take action.”

I again thought of the Darkbriar Lodge: hot, dusty, flies circling in dim rooms.  The smell of thick coffee and seasoned pork.  My home, in other words.  I’d gone a year without seeing any real friends, and to just have a conversation with one, about nothing in particular…

“Yes, I will do this.  For the Horde,” I said, without much enthusiasm.

“Good.  Gilneas is not part of the Alliance, but only a fool would think that the Alliance will let the Horde attack a human kingdom.  I am not one to shy away from a fight, as I think the Lost Isles proved, but the Horde can ill-afford such a war.  If Thrall is convinced to give Gilneas his support, Garrosh will have to back down; he is not yet powerful enough to directly challenge the warchief.”

“In that case, can’t Thrall tell him to stop?”

“Not without making himself look weak.  He will be seen as afraid to fight the Alliance.  If he declares the Gilneans to be fellow warriors, he will prevent war without losing power.  Do not be afraid to stretch the truth in reporting on the Gilneans.  Emphasize martial courage—certainly they showed that in the Second War—and heroism.  We must prevent this war.”

We disembarked on Kezan, where Skorg searched for a ship that could take us to Gilneas.  I took advantage of this pause and managed to find a rather delightful Common-language bookstore among the asphalt and weeds of eastern Bilgewater Port.  The owner was a goblin blockade-runner who’d sold arms to the Alliance during the Second War.  I purchased five books on Gilnean history and culture, to supplement my own admittedly meager knowledge of the kingdom.

It is not inaccurate to say that the people of Lordaeron tended to look down on the other human kingdoms, and that Gilneas especially suffered in this regard.  Some of the first jokes I remember hearing were directed against Gilneans, mocking them as paranoid, authoritarian, and hopelessly old-fashioned.

There is a grain of truth to most stereotypes.  Gilneas tended to stay aloof from affairs on the continent.  Their kings levied high tariffs on foreign merchants and even non-commercial visitors had to pay entry fees.  Only select Gilneans were permitted to go beyond the kingdom’s borders.  Not surprisingly, this created a thriving market for smugglers.

Though isolated, Gilneas possessed significant wealth and a strong military.  The peninsula was rich in natural resources, and royal merchants sold these commodities (stout lumber, iron, and eventually coal and oil) to other nation-states.  Culturally, it was a relic from a few centuries past.  A strict class system developed: nobles at the top, followed by a middle class based more on aristocratic patronage than on bourgeois meritocracy.  The vast majority of Gilneans lived as impoverished workers or farmers, generally beholden to a local lord.  Nobles owned all the major companies, integrating them into the machinery of the state.

My generation grew up on the so-called “Gilnean novels.”  Never written by Gilneans, these stories featured a heroic Lordaeronian or Tirasi swashbuckler being sent to Gilneas on some political errand.  On the way, the hero would get involved in local intrigue, earn the enmity of a wicked aristocrat, and save a beautiful middle-class Gilnean maiden from a rapacious and effeminate suitor.  The finale invariably involved a grand melee in the villain’s stronghold, the hero usually jumping onto a staircase from a chandelier to engage his rival in a duel.

These novels always cast Gilneans as fundamentally backwards.  In order to showcase this, the authors gave Gilnean nobles the mannerisms of Lordaeronian nobles from before the First War.  Gilnean peasants came across as pitiable, but almost monstrous and probably not worth saving.  The burghers and tradesmen were presented as better than their fellows, though still comically conservative; the love interest typically came from this caste.

Many Lordaeronians distrusted the Gilneans because the latter had been so late in joining the Alliance.  This attitude shaped the perception that the Gilneans had not participated in the Second War in any significant way, but that is patently untrue.  The Gilnean navy wreaked havoc on Horde supply ships, and their soldiers made strikes deep into Horde-held Khaz Modan. 

Of course, Gilneas had ulterior motives beyond protecting humanity, and seized the cargo of the orcish transports they attacked.  Particularly infamous was the Hawke’s Folly Incident.  There, the titular Gilnean vessel intercepted a quartet of southbound orcish transports weighed down with plunder from Stromgarde.  The Gilneans appropriated the treasures and never returned or reimbursed the Stromgarders for their losses.

As a result, Gilneas emerged as the richest human government after the Second War.  Its homeland largely untouched, and the treasuries fat with plunder, they seemed in an ideal position to lead humanity.  But their isolationism got the better of them.

Hidebound leadership combined with rigid social stratification resulted in Gilneas slipping behind.  Despite the enormous wealth in the upper echelons and something of a technological advantage (due pre-war trade deals with Khaz Modan), most Gilneans lived as chattel.  While Gilnean nobles were rarely cruel (the aristocrats held to a very strict code of gentlemanly conduct), they were often incompetent.

This same landed gentry owned nearly all of the major commercial firms (almost always dealing in exports).  More interested in maintaining their titles and reputations than in competing with foreign firms, these aristocratic tycoons gradually seceded from the world economy.  They argued that the unique Gilnean spirit demanded self-sufficiency.  This fit in neatly with the king’s isolationist foreign policy.

In the last few years of peace, Gilneas became an enigma to the human kingdoms.  Only the wealthiest or most important of foreigners were even allowed to set foot on Gilnean soil, and they still had to pay small fortunes for the privilege.  The kingdom’s flow of exports slowed to a trickle.  Outsiders often blamed this on internal rebellions or deliberate withholding, though the truth was more complex.

As the nobles already had a great deal of money stocked up, not to mention income from taxation, they felt little reason to change.  The same nobility possessed a monopoly on technology, whether arcane or scientific.  One could find all manner of advanced goods (oil or magic lamps, printing presses, even the odd steam engine) in noble estates.  These would be occasionally given to loyal middle class retainers, who would put such devices on proud display (an interesting result: Gilneas City actually appeared quite advanced to the casual observer).  Again, most Gilneans lived in abject poverty, especially throughout the rural areas.

Because the nobles felt so secure, they did not bother to use these technological advantages in any meaningful way.  For instance, most Gilnean mines still operated at a fundamentally medieval level, though the potential existed for a safe and more efficient arrangement.

Much of the above was explicated in “A Letter from Gilneas,” written by an expatriate Gilnean noble named Odward Thorpe.  Printed in newspapers across Lordaeron, the piece had a decidedly polemical tone, and one cannot be completely sure as to its accuracy.  However, it did match up with reports from those few who had actually reached the kingdom.  No official response came from the Gilnean government, which had essentially become a non-entity on the political stage.  Odward vowed to return to Gilneas and bring it into the modern age, and vanished a few months before the start of the Third War.

For their part, the Forsaken view the Gilneans as traitors.  Many of the Lordaeronian refugees fled through Silverpine Forest only to encounter the Greymane Wall.  Some were actually Gilnean nationals from the northern provinces, which the wall had severed from the center.  The Scourge claimed many of these unfortunates, and those that broke free of the Lich King still remember the horror they felt at seeing their escape thwarted. 

My passage to Gilneas was secured through a sleek goblin merchantman christened High Seas Plenty.  The captain, one Glintz Spezzig, swore that he’d gotten through every blockade the world could throw at him, and that Gilneas would not be a problem.  Captain Spezzig would take the ship up the brackish Graymist Flow, all the way to the edge of Gilneas City.  There, I would disembark and learn as much as possible.  As Skorg would immediately set sail for Bladefist Bay, I’d go north to Tirisfal when done in Gilneas and return home via zeppelin.

I can’t say I felt entirely confident during the interminable journey.  Tropical heat gave way to the clamminess for which the Lordaeronian continent is known.  I’d wake up each morning to see our ship drifting through impenetrable fogbanks, vast like gods in repose.  With Skorg’s help, I invented a cover story.

I would play the part of one Ordian Sterrenus, a Lordaeronian merchant who’d been trapped in Gilneas after the wall’s construction.  Though once wealthy, I’d claim to have fallen on hard times after being cut off from my home.  Because I had lived in isolation on a lonely stretch of countryside, I would have an excuse for not knowing much about Gilneas.   Worgen attacks had driven me to the relative safety of the capital.

“The problem with this is that I will be deceiving the Gilneans—“ I began.

“You have deceived people on two worlds with your disguises!”

“Yes, but not as a prelude to full diplomatic relations!  Starting such a process with a blatant lie may be unwise.  Can you not simply send a normal ambassador?”

“The Gilneans will kill orcs and trolls on sight.  I do not think the tauren will fare any better.  Elves were never trusted, and none are known to live in the kingdom.  The Gilneans built the wall to keep out the undead; only someone who can look human has any hope.

“Can you imagine the Horde’s fury if the Warchief sent ambassadors and the Gilneans killed them?  He will lose all credibility!  You must see if the Gilneans might be receptive, and if they are trustworthy.  Should this be the case, we will try to open relations.  But we have to know if taking such a risk is worthwhile.”

“Very well,” I conceded.  “What of my cover story?  It seems rather elaborate, and I’m sure a kingdom as paranoid as Gilneas would keep close track of foreigners within its borders.”

“There has been a great deal of chaos within the kingdom.  It’s not possible to watch everyone in such circumstances.”

“This still seems foolhardy.”

“Perhaps.  What choice do we have?  However slim your chances, you might be able to save thousands of lives in Gilneas and in the Horde.  Would you surrender that?”

I clenched my fists, forgetting the danger of showing such a gesture to an orc.

“No.  I will do this.  I cannot pass as a Gilnean, so a Lordaeronian I’ll remain.”

Though the Gilneans are humans, my mannerisms would instantly set me apart as a foreigner.  The Gilnean dialect is effectively a language of its own.  While a Lordaeronian might be able to read Gilnean writing, understanding Gilnean speech is impossible for the untrained.  Familiar words may have different meanings, or radically altered pronunciations.  There are also numerous levels of formality in the Gilnean language; conversations between a noble and a commoner would use a different vocabulary than would a conversation amongst the bourgeoisie.

As an extra precaution, I detached my artificial hand.  Such a device would attract too much attention.  I elected to keep it in my pack in case of an emergency.

With each passing day, I thought more of Orgrimmar.  The Gilnean venture seemed risky, and I’d already come too close to dying.  I’d fought with all my might to keep my freedom in Northrend; I only wished to enjoy its fruits.  Yet we drew ever nearer the rocky Gilnean coast, my false identity less believable by the minute.


  1. Well, not much going on in this post so I won't go into much detail.

    Still suffice it to say that the episode was of the usual, outstanding, quality I especially enjoyed the first talk between Destron and the orc shaman.

    Main reason I post is to voice my support of this awesome work, I will go back and comment on the first new chapter later.

    Keep up the good work!

  2. Nice to see something happening here, the travelogue was always a great read and I look forward to seeing more!

  3. I really enjoyed the passages where Destron wrestles with the problem of the disenfranchised people of Azeroth: the gnoll, murloc, and now the virmen of Pandaria. It's a perspective that has almost no voice in the game, and I appreciated that Destron had to beat his head against the dilemma while admitting there's no easy answer. Although I think a distinction can be made between races like the furbolg and corrupt and twisted creatures like the harmonies or the satyr, it's a very unsettling issue that I think has important real world implications. Thanks for sparking a fascinating train of thought.

    Compelling stuff, and deftly written, as always.

  4. Hm. The whole "recruit the Gilneans" plot line seems rather contrived, but I guess it's a necessary weasel to include the Kingdom/ it's culture in its initial state, especially given all the work that was put into presenting their culture.

    In any case, so begin the first stirrings of Garrosh's "glorious" reighn. When Thrall left, he left Orc society revulotionized and everyone else in the Horde deeply indepted to them, and just on the way out, he offered them Goblins help... The Horde was this place you could go when no one else would care... and Garrosh took hilariously little time to run it all into the ground.
    Literally the first thing he was told upon taking the mantle was "Listen to your advisors", but he just goes and antagonizes the other Horde leaders one after another, and at some points they were too concerned with their own survival to put up with him any longer.

    But as much as I hate Garrosh, I can't deny that he is a very efficient/interesting villain, from a writing perspective. He's not a dragon or lich or demon, he's not even devoid of standards, but he still does collossal damage by being a simple man with a huge sense of entitlement and character flaws, a welcome change to random darkness insanity.

    The Gilneas fiasco is only the first example; He randomly decides he wants a port, and only suceeds in making the Gilneans join the Alliance.

    Now the entire Gilneas/Silverpine storyline is interesting in that you get the entire Story told from two different perspectives without any single one having the "full story", and they were both very efficient at engaging the players; In the end, the war wasn't particularly fun for either the Gilneans (for obvious reasons) or the Forsaken. (who were only in it because Garrosh demaned it and they couldn't easily say no after the Wrathgate - So he sends them out as cannon fodder, and then gets surprised when they use their perfectly efficient bioweapons to minimize their losses... Interestingly, while Sylvanas certainly wants all humans out of what she considers her territory, at least the novels portrayed her as opposed to provoking the Alliance to much (like with attacking Theramore) because the eastern sections of the Horde would be an easy target for backlash...)