Day and night I ran, past the sodden dales and empty towns, gusty nights scarred by distant howls. Exhaustion is not unknown to the Forsaken; in extended monotony, one hears the echoes of the Lich King. Yet I ran all the same, forcing one leg in front of the other, knowing that each step brought me closer to the shattered border. A dozen nightmare scenarios confronted me: Thrall dead, Sylvanas rampant, the Apothecarium on the march.
Who had spurred the attack? Garrosh and Sylvanas? Or had a rogue faction again taken Undercity? My stomach churned as I remembered the plague labs of New Agamand. Awful enough to test those on the vrykul; unforgivable to do so on the Gilneans. Again my kindred rushed out to embrace the cruelties so often ascribed to them.
I paused only to take deep gulps of conjured water, moor and forest blurring together in my progress. Guilt pulled at my mind when I thought of Eleanor and her daughter, but I was sure that they were safer with the Kaldorei than with me. How had the elves gotten to Gilneas? The description of Tal'doren made it seem like some ancient outpost, covertly sustained by the druids. Given Kaldorei secrecy, that is not as implausible as it might seem, though still unlikely.
Gilneas City again came into view, a pall of smoke over the city. Even from a distance I could see the rents in the walls, the broken mask of the Banshee Queen flying in the wind-driven rain. I continued north, not wanting to walk into a warzone that might test my loyalties. Another dreadful decision on the Horde’s part, I concluded, one that would further erode Thrall's rule. Better for the world, I thought, if he'd never accepted the Forsaken into the Horde.
I reattached my artificial left hand in the rugged Headlands of north Gilneas. I did not yet remove all elements of my disguise, though I watched the scraggly tree line for signs of Forsaken movement. I could not tell who, if anyone was winning the war. Struggling up the gradual incline towards Misty Pine Pass, the days of running like weights on my legs, I at last reached the remains of the Greymane Wall, its mighty granite stones sinking into the muck. A dozen or so Deathguard troopers kept watch, armed with swords and rifles, their purple cloaks still as ragged as I remembered.
Hurriedly I plucked my eyes from their sockets, mentally preparing myself for the worst. Seeing me, two of the soldiers raised their guns while a third held out a skinless hand in warning.
“What are you still doing here? Executor Yarrow ordered all the irregulars back this morning!”
“I was out fighting worgen,” I lied, deciding to go along.
“Can’t keep you lot disciplined! Get back to the Forsaken Front!”
He pointed to the gap between the broken stones, and turned his gaze to the south, peeled fingers clutching a rifle. I moved quickly up the path, walking between the ruined masonry and into the barren mountain pass where scraggly pines cling to the thin soil. I emerged at the northern end of Misty Pine Pass as evening fell across the land.
Denied entry by the Greymane Wall, refugees from Lordaeron and Gilneas’ severed north had once wandered the cold swamps of southern Silverpine. Enduring the gnawing hunger of displacement they roosted in abandoned villages, hiding from Forsaken and worgen. Forgotten by the rest of Azeroth, the land receded into memory, its population dwindling.
Now, the region hosts the Forsaken war machine. Rows of dark purple tents stretch out behind iron barricades, an army of the living dead on guard. Plague wagons bulge like glass pustules on the skin of the earth, leaking death into the soil. Damp earthen platforms act as crude airplane runways, fliers of canvas and metal balanced on rickety landing gear. Acrid smoke flows from the roofs of makeshift labs, darkening the already smoggy air.
I stood dumbfounded before this sight, its motifs of death undeniable reminders of the Lich King. While a cold and distant will had animated the Scourge, hatred compels the Forsaken, a hatred made clear in the purposeful movements, in the devotion displayed in the innumerable banners.
My pace slowed, revulsion curdling my soul. What had happened? Guards at the front waved me in without a word, the presence of an irregular no cause for alarm. Perhaps the troops farther south had simply been more cautious.
In Northrend, I’d seen the weight of cruelty dimming the Forsaken’s anarchic spirit. In Lordaeron, nothing now remains. The undead go about their labors in silence, pale faces fixed on war. I doubted I’d find any real answers from them.
I spotted a lone green-haired troll warrior, a stylized serpent tattoo coiled around his lean right arm. Crouching on the earth, sharpening a well-honed spear with a whetstone, he paid me no attention until I greeted him in Zandali. Though I could say little in that language, he was pleased to encounter a friendly Forsaken, and we switched to conversing in Orcish.
“I’m called Khajjo, once a Skullsplitter, now a Darkspear. Finding myself in this cold and damp land isn’t much to my liking, and I’m not caring for your kind here, but you seem all right.”
“I haven’t been back to this part of the world in years,” I said, taking a seat beside him. “In fact, I’ve been traveling a great deal. I didn’t hear about the war against Gilneas until arriving.”
Green eyes appraised me for a moment. Khajjo laid the spear out on the ground, picking up another from the pile next to him.
“You’ve been gone a while, then. It’s those worgen, tearing up the woods. Gilneas is all worgen, they’re saying. The source of the poison.”
“There aren’t any humans there?” I asked, testing the perceptions.
“Humans there for sure, man, but friends of the worgen. Those worgen packs out in the woods, they might take over Undercity someday if we don’t stop them,” he snickered.
“Were the Gilneans aiding the Silverpine worgen?”
“I’m not knowing that. When you’re a grunt like me, no one tells you a thing. But you hear plenty. Spirits are angry, I’m hearing. A great wave smashed the Forsaken fleet to bits off the coast of Gilneas. Yesterday we smelled smoke on the ocean wind, and the earth still shakes.”
“Earthquakes aren’t uncommon here.”
“This is more, I’m thinking. Some of the deader chiefs, they got this box they listen to, gives them the words straight from Undercity. Don’t tell us nothing, but something big is brewing.”
“That sounds very serious.”
“Ha ha! Yeah, one way to say it, eh? Most of us here aren’t caring too much. We’re here to die.”
“How do you mean?”
“General Hellscream’s throwing us into Gilneas. Tells us to run forward, and half these big cannons don’t even have any shells to fire, the planes don’t have fuel. Not sure if he’s expecting us to win, or if he just wants the Forsaken to kill themselves off.”
“The warchief wouldn’t allow that.”
“Warchief’s real far from here. Hellscream’s warchief in Silverpine.”
“Why are you here?”
“Seeking my fortune. Darkspear let us in, but they aren’t really wanting us Skullsplitters, I’m thinking. Just like the Horde’s not really wanting you Forsaken around.”
Trolls from the other Stranglethorn tribes had filtered into Orgrimmar after the battle of Zul’gurub, the Darkspear making the unprecedented move of assimilating their fallen foes (though most continued to reside in Stranglethorn). Though limited in their social mobility, I had thought most were content with the deal.
“What’s happening in Orgrimmar?”
“I don’t know. Don’t matter much to me.”
“Do the other Forsaken here think that Garrosh is sending them to die?” I asked, keeping my voice quiet.
“Seems like most aren’t caring any longer. Now that the Lich King’s gone, they just want to go down fighting and take someone with them. I was in Undercity when the Dark Lady started scooping folks up, putting them to war.”
“No, they jumped at her call. She was dancing through the darkness, the dead rising to follow her.”
My worst fears had come true. I remembered by visit to Venomspite, in Northrend, and how the Forsaken named Ulrecht had disappeared after aiding the Alliance against the Scourge. With that in mind, every purple-cloaked fanatic in the camp posed a threat. Seeing nothing for me, I went north, a stale nighttime wind carrying the odor of burning rock.
In times past, the noble house of Armindain had sold plots of land in its lush cemetery to those wishing to repose next to Lordaeron’s best. Today, a multitude of graves has sprung from the soil, each one occupied by a Forsaken felled by the Scourge.
“Those who lie here gave their final lives for our vengeance. We must all be ready to do the same.”
A shadow in torn black robes uttered those words, inverted symbols of the Holy Light hanging from a thick rope tied around his neck. Ten or so Forsaken stood in front of the podium set up amidst the graves, their heads bowed.
Little remained of the lonely outpost I’d passed through so long ago. Today, the Sepulcher is the headquarters for Forsaken efforts against Gilneas. Few civilians remain from the old days, most having either joined the Deathguard or been sent to the relative safety of the north.
I saw no sign of Adrius and Feana, the Forsaken mother and son I’d met in my earlier visit. Most in the Sepulcher are new arrivals that claimed no knowledge of the tragic pair. I at last found some longtime residents who said that Feana had left for Tirisfal with her son over a year ago.
Dalar Dawnweaver had remained. A notable mage in Dalaran’s glory days, he’d nurtured himself with bitterness and arrogance through the years of undeath. It was from him that I’d first learned of the worgen. I met him as he wasted his undeath grousing in an abandoned crypt, wishing to spend more time among arcanists yet unwilling to leave.
Much like the Sepulcher itself, Dalar had changed. Still dressed in ragged Dalaranese robes, he works in an office within the laboratory, a three-story monstrosity done in the new Forsaken style. Strange fumes wafted over the papers stacked in neat columns on his pine desk. Two personal attendants labored nearby, their mouths stitched shut.
“I meet quite a number of people here, Destron, so forgive an old man his lapses of memory,” he said, after I reintroduced myself. Given how little we had interacted, I could not blame him for forgetting me.
“The Sepulcher has certainly come a long way.”
“Oh yes. Here we research techniques to use against those beastly worgen to the south.”
“What sort of techniques?” Distorted windows on the second-floor mezzanine look down onto the seething laboratory, fat cauldrons and scorched flasks carrying poisons every bit as foul as those used by Putress.
“The Dark Lady’s new policy restricts research into disease, but we can still use our alchemical expertise. Arcane amplifications can do wonders.”
“I must admit that I am surprised this is permitted.”
“Why shouldn’t it be? We are at war, and General Hellscream expects results. Given how poorly we’ve been supplied (I am sure that Hellscream did his best), we’d be fools not to use these weapons.”
“Is General Hellscream overseeing the campaign?”
“Yes, he sailed here the moment word of Arthas’ death reached Warsong Hold. His precise location is a secret, of course. The worgen are only a minor threat; the real reason for the campaign is to bring Stormwind to its knees.”
“Has Stormwind attacked the Horde?”
“Their king led an army into Undercity!”
“Are you mad? After the Wrathgate!”
“But the Horde did not control Undercity at that time—“
“Irrelevant! We cannot tolerate any insults from the living. Make no mistake, they wish all of us dead. The Scarlet Crusade proved that beyond a doubt. We will not let King Varian make his claim to Lordaeron.”
“Lordaeron?” Every statement from Dalar threw me further off-balance.
“We are Lordaeron, the Dark Lady our queen. This continent is rightfully ours. Your ignorance is appalling, Destron. The role of the mage is to enlighten, and I doubt you are capable of that.”
“I am sorry, I’ve been traveling a great deal—“
“Even now our troops march on Hillsbrad and Southshore. All of old Lordaeron will again belong to us.”
“A fine goal,” I said, hoping to stave off suspicion. “But how will we hold all of it? There aren’t enough Forsaken, and we can’t make more.”
“A problem, but one we are willing to solve. More I cannot say, but the solutions being planned are quite ingenious.”
The Forsaken leaders had long hoped that the fall of Icecrown would bring hordes of liberated Scourge under Sylvanas’ banner. In reality, Arthas’ death had only broken his grip over a handful. I supposed that Dalar was planning some way to bring more of the Scourge into the Forsaken fold, though any gains would still be finite. The Forsaken cannot be a race.
I only spoke to Dalar a little while longer. I asked him about the recent disasters and he admitted to sensing a massive disturbance.
“At any rate, it hasn’t affected Lordaeron beyond some earthquakes, so it is of little concern to us.”
The world had been pulled out from under me and no one seemed to know exactly what was happening. The Forsaken wanting to attack Stormwind for its largely justified raid into Undercity is shameful but not surprising. Their hatred demanded a new target after the Scourge. Harder to fathom is Sylvanas’ attempt to appropriate the memory of Lordaeron. Then again, it is perhaps not so strange when one considers how closely my unhappy people cling to memories of old lives even as they claim to hate such memories.
Though I had no proof, a part of me was sure that the natural disasters were more significant than most believed. Nor could I come to terms with General Hellscream’s invasion. No one knew, or seemed to care, if it had been done at the warchief’s behest. For that matter, what transpired on Kalimdor? Had the humans attacked there, inspiring the response in Gilneas?
I longed to shout out, to tell the Forsaken the truth about Gilneas, that they were persecuting a battered nation already on the verge of destruction. Some part of me dreamed that the power of my voice would awaken the smoldering embers of conscience in my fellows, leading them to throw off the shackles still binding them.
I knew none would listen, that they might very well kill me for speaking my mind. Also, so long as I stayed silent, I could maybe fool myself into thinking the truth would persuade them. My only option was to inform the warchief in hopes that he could salvage the situation.
The sun burned red as it set behind a veil of ash, retreating from the westbound stormclouds, drizzle spattering the streets in brown and black. Flying in on a giant bat (the Sepulcher still maintains a private aerial courier service), I scarcely recognized Brill. Little now remains of the old houses, replaced by the stone towers bristling with carved skulls favored by the Forsaken in Northrend.
As the bat circled over Brill’s pointed spires I caught sight of the zeppelins tethered to the sky towers. I dared to hope for the first time since the Lost Isles. The signs of disaster worsened during my flight to the north, the horizon rumbling from unseen stresses and colossal lights flashing in the sky. Winds carried soot from distant conflagrations, the sky over Silverpine taking on the reddish hue I’d seen in the Searing Gorge so long ago.
A Forsaken woman, encrusted filth keeping her bruise-colored hair standing straight up from the scalp, sauntered up to me when I landed. She carried a bowl of blood in her pale hands with which she fed the bat. She hurriedly introduced herself as Annette Williams.
“You’re the first to fly up from Silverpine in two weeks! They said Deathwing burned the whole forest to the ground!”
“Deathwing? The dragon? No, he isn’t in Silverpine. As far as I know, he hasn’t been seen since the Second War.”
A look of shock came over her face, slick with rot.
“He’s come back! Haven’t you heard? He burst from the Maelstrom on wings of metal, flying so fast that entire towns crumbled in his wake!”
“Wait, where did you hear this?”
“The radio. Orgrimmar reported it first—“
“Did he attack Orgrimmar?”
“No, but Deathwing flew just north of it, wiped out a whole team of wyvern riders on patrol. Another report came in from Kargath hours later, and we heard something about him attacking Stormwind City. I don’t think he’s on our side though.”
“Kargath? But there’s no way he could have gotten there so quickly.”
“Deathwing is like a god. Mountains melt in his path, the sea boils under his shadow. Exciting, in a way, to live at the end times.”
“Are you sure about all this?”
“Everyone knows it. The radio’s been silent for the past week, all the airwaves dead. For all we know, Tirisfal is the only safe place left.”
“Are the zeppelins active? I need to get to Orgrimmar, it’s urgent.”
“They aren’t going anywhere until we get confirmation that Orgrimmar is still standing.”
I ran into Brill’s town square, barely registering the grandiose statue of Sylvanas in the center. Forsaken in varying stages of decomposition sat under the skulls leering out from the eaves of large houses. Contaminated rain collected in puddles beneath the eaves.
The rain intensified as the sun disappeared, ushering in a wet and smoggy night. I could taste the congealed smoke as I bounded up the hill to the zeppelin towers, the earth soft and loose beneath my feet. Two deathguards stood at the door, almost invisible in the shadows.
“No flights tonight, sir,” intoned one.
I stopped in my tracks.
“Did you hear me?” he asked.
“Yes, sorry. When is the soonest I can get to Orgrimmar?”
“Nobody knows when they’ll let the Thundercaller fly. Maybe tomorrow, maybe never. Magistrate’s orders are that no flights are getting into Orgrimmar until the warchief says so. You’ll have to wait.”
I clenched my fists, feeling irrationally angry at the guard.
Total darkness engulfed the sky, tainted rain falling in torrents. I trudged back to Brill, eventually making my way to the gloomy stone crypt that had once been the Gallows’ End Tavern.
Remembering Brill with any distinction was difficult, like looking at a painting where the colors had faded beyond recognition. In the early days of the Forsaken, Brill had become home to castoffs drowning in their memories of life. Some quality of that old apathy remains, as Brill’s populace still lacks the zealotry seen farther south.
The new common room for the Gallow’s End Tavern is located in a mildewed cellar. There the dead sit around grimy tables, parodying the life they’d once known. I listened to snatches of conversation, the Forsaken discussing crops that no longer grew and swapping gossip about the long dead.
I approached a tattered woman standing next to a beer barrel, her face little more than a skull. I asked for a drink and she smiled as best as her wounds would allow, filling up a tankard with a viscous brown brew. I paid her a few coppers and took a sip of the stuff. Forsaken drinks tend to be crammed with all manner of ill-fitting ingredients in an attempt to awaken the taste buds of the undead. The results are unpleasant but also undeniable.
Dread and anticipation had accumulated within me all through my escape from Gilneas, each moment raising the tension. In Brill, it all came crashing down at once. Hollowed out, I slumped into a rickety chair as the conversation around me quieted into silence. Unmoving patrons sat in absolute darkness and listened to the echoes of raindrops.
The Forsaken did not stir until they saw dawn’s gray light shining through the floorboards. They walked slowly out into town, showing neither reluctance nor enthusiasm. I followed them into the smoky rain, watching as they dispersed through the streets. They seemed nearly dead. In a way, I almost found their gloom reassuring. Better, at least, than the awful joy I’d seen Northrend and Silverpine.
Returning to the zeppelin tower brought no relief, the flights still barred. I drifted through Brill for the rest of the day, as confused as I’d been in the days after my resurrection. I could hardly imagine that such a place had ever been familiar to me. Returning to the inn I once more watched as the room fell still for the night.
Time passed in increments of pain, my vision always fixed on the stranded zeppelins. The rain only stopped two days after my arrival, leaving a film of grit on every surface. The Deathguard rounded up Brill’s inhabitants and ordered them to clean the mess.
“Make Sylvanas proud of her dominion!” snarled one.
I worked so as to keep myself occupied, helping my fellow drudges as best I could. They lumbered through their undeaths, falling to a trap that I had avoided. How many Forsaken are like them?
I stood alone in Brill’s main square a week later, rebuilding the Darkbriar Lodge in my mind. A Forsaken soldier strode towards me, his yellow face shadowed by his hood.
“Say there, you’re the one always trying to get on the zeppelin. We just got word: the flight lanes are safe. The Thundercaller will take off tomorrow.”
“It will? Thank you!”
“Didn’t cost me anything to tell you,” he shrugged, resuming his walk.
“Wait, was Orgrimmar attacked?”
“Not by Deathwing, but a fire torched half the city a month back. Sounds like it got hit pretty hard.”
“Did they say anything about the Valley of Spirits?”
“Valley? Sorry, you’re asking the wrong man. If you—“
“Thank you again!” I practically shouted, hurrying to the inn to grab my possessions and then scrambling up the hill. I wanted only to stand on the zeppelin’s deck, to assure myself that I’d be returning home to my friends. I’d wait all day in the vessel, not willing to risk it leaving without me.
I hurriedly paid the flight master for a ticket and ran up the narrow stairs, trying not to trip over my own feet. Practically jumping on the Thundercaller’s deck, I looked down at Brill, wishing for the accursed town to disappear over the horizon.
How could I have left for so long? I imagined fires turning the Darkbriar Lodge to ash. So long as Daj’yah and my other friends still lived, I would be happy. Floating over Brill, I realized just how alone I’d really become. Barring a violent death or accident, I’d surely outlive my friends. I’d taken their mortality for granted.
“Damn me!” I hissed.
I wanted to yell, to throw something, as if some action might spur the zeppelin into motion. Instead, I waited, the final day the longest and cruelest of them all. A few orcs boarded towards sundown as engineers checked the equipment. They knew little about the state of Orgrimmar but were glad to see at least one Forsaken who cared.
At last, I heard the propeller blades churning the foul air. Goblin crewmen unhooked the zeppelin from the platform as the engine came to life. I ran to the prow, gripping the edge and looking into the west, the dawn’s weak light at my back.
“Hurry!” I whispered. Ridiculous fears struck me: that Sylvanas would forbid the flight, or that Orgrimmar would again close its doors. I would not be denied again. I saw the vessel’s shadow inching across the dead grass, each minute bringing a bit more speed.
Forcing myself to stay calm, I went below deck, trying to hope.
For days, the Thundercaller braved the storm-ridden skies, where cyclones writhed like worms above a boiled sea. We endured torrid heat and bitter cold, the temperature shifting without warning. Millions of dead fish floated in the ocean, the sunlight reflected on their exposed bellies.
Through the apocalypse we flew, my thoughts on home. A mighty cheer went up from everyone on board when the red coast of Durotar came into sight. Fearful and hopeful of what awaited, we stood at the edge and watched the landscape. Broken trees and the cracked foundations languished under the desert sun, a ruin stretching for miles inland. Nothing but rubble remained of the old zeppelin tower outside of the city.
Smoke shrouded Orgrimmar itself, the streets choked by the debris of burned houses. Yet hope bloomed amidst the chaos, peons clearing out the ruins to rebuild. My possessions in hand, I waited, light-headed, as the Thundercaller docked at a new tower in the center of the city.
I sprinted off the zeppelin the moment it stopped, heedless of the world around me. The city’s old pattern emerged, memory guiding my path as I leapt over heaps of wreckage, running faster than I could ever remember running.
All the while I thought of the trolls’ wooden buildings, how quick they’d burn. Gritting my teeth I ran faster, hurtling around canyon bends where palm trees and cacti still lived.
I crashed through a wall of smoke to see wooden huts around a clouded lake, the style familiar but the layout strange. A terrible dread seized my heart when I spotted the burned posts sticking out of the water. Nothing remained of the old Darkbriar Lodge.
A few nearby trolls took notice of me. Leaning in closer, a look of recognition crossed the face of one.
“Ah, you’re the undead wizard in Darkbriar? All the wizards are over there now,” he said, pointing to a rambling open-air hut farther up the canyon.
I muttered a thank you, my entire world shrinking to my destination. I heard only the sound of my running feet as I bounded ahead, scanning the hut in desperation. Familiar faces: Nonda, Jyah’kom, Uthel’nay. They lived. And another, her red hair unkempt, her face so much like a human’s.
I jumped up the steps leading to the new lodge, coming to a sudden stop as Daj’yah looked up from her desk. Her mouth dropped open in surprise.
I gripped her in a rough embrace, all the fear and misery suddenly made worthwhile.
“Destron! I feared you were dead—“
“You’re my best friend, Daj’yah. Nothing will keep me away.”
And nothing could.