Saturday, December 15, 2012

Mount Hyjal: Part 2



I stood alone on an ashen bluff, wrapped in a dead druid’s robe and trying to control my thoughts.  Below me, saplings grew between the husks of trees, grass surviving in patches through the gray dust.  The air still carries a bitter and metallic tinge, the redolence of a once-mighty furnace. 

I stumbled towards the Shrine of Aviana after witnessing the ritual, fearing a second assault the whole while.  I imagined myself helpless before the anger of the Ancients, and the drunken Kaldorei mobs seeking to execute their wills.  I said nothing when the shrine’s guardians first beheld me, silver eyes knife-sharp in the forest shadow.

Though hardly friendly, the druids at the Shrine of Aviana honored the Hyjal Truce better than some others, and allowed me to seek shelter.  Nahonah rushed to my side when he learned of my state, aiding me to the best of his ability.  Druidic healing is of no benefit to the undead, but the physical wounds proved mostly superficial.

Safe though I was, I never felt at ease in that place.  I sensed the hostility in the elven voices, polite but cold.  I spent four days in Nahonah’s tent, not willing to brave the shrine proper.  A gracious host, Nahonah gave me clothes once worn by Hyjal’s defenders and was able to procure a hippogriff rider for transportation down to the Sanctuary of Malorne.

The Horde maintains a comparatively significant presence in the Sanctuary of Malorne.  Recreated in stone, the divine and eponymous stage stands alert on a still-verdant hill.  From there, the Guardians of Hyjal had commandeered the attack on the Firelands.

I hoped to find Horde traveling companions who could take me away from the burned mountain.  The Kaldorei did not want me on Hyjal.  In a certain sense, I could not blame them.  The Horde does terrible things in Stonetalon and Ashenvale, and it is not unreasonable to forbid enemies from journeying in one’s most sacred land.

Yet I had only been a traveler, one ostensibly protected by the Hyjal Truce.  Could they not find some more deserving target for their anger?  Tempted though I was to embrace this burgeoning hatred against the Kaldorei, I knew such a course would be self-destructive and ultimately foolish.  Logically, it was not every night elf that had humiliated me that day, only a small group, whose members might have been more gracious had I met them singly.

Intellectual justifications cannot easily overcome emotions.  My only option was to throw myself into analysis, so that I became fascinated enough with the world around me that I no longer dwelled on personal affronts. 


However, my political allegiance made the severed orcish head in the priestess’ hand impossible to ignore.  I brought the matter to Oklan, an orcish veteran of the Third War and the senior Horde representative in Hyjal at the time of my visit.  He greeted me in a sparsely furnished kodohide tent and listened as I related my story.

“Damn this mess!  Forsaken though you are, any humiliation you suffer is shared by the Horde!”

“I am more concerned about the dead orc.”

“Rightly so, rightly so,” he said quickly.  “The priestess probably spoke the truth.  We shattered the Twilight Cult in Hyjal, but a few still hide in the forests.  There is no way I can prove the dead orc’s identity one way or another.  It’s rotten by now, I’m sure, and you say it was mutilated.”

“I will defer to your judgment on the matter.”  I felt a stab of shame at how quickly I accepted, a disappointment that soon faded into apathy.  I think that I mostly wanted to leave Hyjal and never again see a night elf.

“My blood boils over this insult to us—but there is little I can do.  Destron, you strike me as a wise man.  You know that if this is reported, the warchief will demand the priestess’ own head.”

“Over me?  He hates the Forsaken.”

“It is the duty of the warchief to defend the honor of the orcish people, as well as the races that serve them.  My fear is that this duty will compel him to open up a second front on Hyjal.”

“Why not just wait?  The Horde is already at war against the Kaldorei, and I’m sure his armies will eventually reach Hyjal.”

“It’s not so simple.  The ownership of Mount Hyjal is far from clear.  It has always been a holy place to the entire Kaldorei race.  By right, rulership of the land goes to the Cenarion Circle, but Darnassus now also has influence.  The Kaldorei pay little heed to our notions of national sovereignty.  If the warchief sends troops here, we will be at war with the Cenarion Circle and Darnassus.

“You can see my dilemma.  We cannot spend troops fighting the Cenarion Circle when so much of our army is already engaged.  It will also cause problems with the Shu’halo.  Perhaps I will be dishonored for not acting like an orc should, but reprisal will be a cost we can ill-afford.  The warchief’s honor must never be besmirched, but I am simply a humble warrior, and I will do what I can to protect the Horde’s interests and the warchief’s honor.”

Oklan’s face sunk into his hands, the orc making a sound almost like a whimper.

“That is wise,” I said.  “But this might easily happen again.”

“I know.  I’ve already been trying to get every single Horde warrior out of Hyjal.  Only the Shu’halo—and maybe a few trolls—involved in the Cenarion Circle have any reason to stay.”

I am not as convinced as Oklan that Garrosh would send troops to Hyjal.  I think he could easily declare that the dead orc was a Twilight cultist, and no one would challenge him.  Nonetheless, Garrosh’s volatility demands caution on the part of his subordinates.

Here, Thralll’s great sin is revealed.  The position of warchief simply carries too much power.  No reasonable person could ever believe that only individuals of Thrall’s caliber would reach such heights.

Forcing myself to put the issue behind me, I learned what I could about the region known as the Regrowth.  Despite the progress made in the land’s healing, the Guardians of Hyjal face a number of serious obstacles.  Fire can be the harbinger of new life but the flames of Ragnaros’ army burned hot enough to destroy the very soil. 

Today, the druids try to find ways to restore the lost earth.  Moving earth from any other location is problematic at best.  Synthetic soil can be created, but only in minute quantities, and the Kaldorei detest the idea of using artificial substances on the holy mountain.  The most viable solution came as quite a surprise.

“The Cenarion Circle keeps close contact with the Earthen Ring,” explained a Kaldorei druidess, referring to Azeroth’s preeminent shamanistic organization.  “They have been negotiating with Therazane to harvest special minerals from Deepholm.”

“I thought Deepholm had been closed off after the restoration of the World Pillar.”

“Therazane apparently changed her mind, though the shamans tell me she is not at all pleased by this.  I am not clear on exactly what happened, which irks me; it must have been significant.  The gnomes call the mineral crumlite; it’s a soft stone that can be eroded into soil through artificial means.”

“I thought the druids did not wish to use synthetic materials.”

“Crumlite is completely natural; it will simply undergo an artificial alteration.  A fine distinction, perhaps, but an acceptable one.  The forests are my people’s greatest defense; right now, an opposing army could quickly sweep through the lower slopes.

“The crumlite alone is not sufficient.  We will need to use more traditional druidic methods to strengthen it.  That is our only real option.  This is not a matter of soil degradation, which we could solve on our own.  Nothing remains of the earth that once covered the slopes.  Given enough time, Ragnaros would have melted the very bedrock.”

I spent four days in the Sanctuary of Malorne before leaving it in the company of three Horde partisans: Nekra, an orcish shamanness; Kuzlok, an orcish warrior; and Sleed, a goblin scout.  As per Oklan’s wishes, they were headed to the neutral territory of Everlook and would from there fly back to Bilgewater Harbor.


Before we left, Oklan warned us to keep away from any large groups of Kaldorei.

*********

Trekking through miles of gray ash, blown into ghostly swirls by the wind, it is easy to forget that forests once covered the place known as the Scorched Plain.  Here is devastation even more complete than seen in Felwood, the forests not corrupted but annihilated.

I followed close behind my companions, Nekra taking point.  All three had fought against the Elemental Invasion, their deeds recorded on their burned bodies.  Sleed’s face had been nearly destroyed, the gruesome sight hidden by a voluminous hood.

“The Warchief wills me to Ashenvale,” said Nekra as we camped one night.  An elemental’s rage had burned all the hair off of her head, and slick patches of regrown skin covered most of her scalp.

“What?  You are a hero of the Horde, Nekra!  Surely they would listen to you,” insisted Kozluk.  Timely healing had prevented many scars from marring his form.  With his mane of tangled black hair and boisterous voice, he looked every inch the orc warrior.

“I told them.  The voices of my fathers and mothers warned me that it is a poor thing to fight those who so recently fought by your side.  But the warchief better knows the spirits than I,” she sighed.

“You must contest this!  It is not our way to simply accept, we are orcs!”

“I tried!  Honor demands that I serve.  I do not want to go to Ashenvale, and the spirits say I should not.  They will be unlikely to aid me in the forests.”

“Why does the Horde want you in Ashenvale?” I asked.

“I know how the elves think and act.  I spent half a year defending them.  We stood on the towers of the Shaladral Bulwark, bows and guns at the ready as the inferno swelled in the distance.  Flame devoured beast and tree alike, growing hotter with each pound of fuel, until it was as if we stood in an oven.

“We called on the spirits to stop the fire: orc, tauren, troll, goblin, dwarf, and draenei, all as one.  The earth rose up to suffocate the fires and rivers overflowed their banks to drown them.  We bought time, but at last the spirits wailed and said they could do no more.

“From afar we saw the fortress burn away to ash, all of us vowing to find victory or death.  Still Ragnaros advanced, the heat of his fires weakening us even as we fought.  How many times did a Kaldorei save my life?  How many times did I save one of theirs?  Only the spirits know.”

“We fought well, and with honor,” added Kozluk. 

“Where are you headed, Kozluk?”

“I am an independent, so I will go wherever there is honorable battle.  Perhaps to the Southern Barrens.  Nekra here is a wise woman in the Red Blade Rising, a warrior band of great esteem, but has less choice in her destination.”

I had heard of Red Blade Rising, which had earned its fame battling Alliance freelancers in the Grizzly Hills.  They are so closely associated with the Horde’s government that they are effectively a war-pack of their own.  Red Blade Rising has also championed the trollish cause, but has not made much progress in that field.


We reached the remains of the Shaladral Bulwark the next day.  Named for a huntress who perished on that spot while defending Hyjal in the Third War, the elves had used it as a post from which to observe the demons in Darkwhisper Gorge.  The Guardians of Hyjal reclaimed the fort after Ragnaros’ initial onslaught, but found themselves stretched too thin to occupy it during the pushback into the Firelands. 

Now controlled by Darnassus, the sentinels are embroiled in Ashenvale and unable to protect this charred possession.  Nonetheless, Oklan warned us that any entry onto the grounds of the Shaladral Bulwark would be seen as trespassing.

The ash disperses a few days east of the Shaladral Bulwark, thinning out to a powdery layer on the gray rock.  Once the last tendril of winter before Nordrassil’s eternal warmth, the Darkwhisper Gorge never recovered from the Third War.  Demons lurked there well beyond the defeat of their dark master.  Concerned with other matters throughout their realm, the Kaldorei never saw its reclamation as a priority, preferring to supply the Hyjal summit via hippogriff from Moonglade and Darkshore.

What the Kaldorei neglected, the Twilight’s Hammer Cult finished.  Spilling out from their strange temples, the motley army wiped out the Burning Legion’s last regional foothold.  Their presence did little to improve the situation.


The temperature drops farther down the stony slopes, flecks of ashen snow fluttering down from slate-colored clouds.  The slightest bit of color stands out, which is why, as we crested a ridge, we instantly saw the corpses strewn on the rocks a few miles away.

Weapons gripped in dead hands and bodies torn by gruesome wounds told us that they’d met their ends in battle.  Advancing decay obscured individual features.  Getting closer, we counted seven dead in total.  Most were orcs, along with a tauren and a human, the last with a Horde ax buried in his skull.

“Blood and thunder!” exclaimed Kozluk.  “Six dead Horde?  It must have been an ambush!  Ready yourselves; the attackers may still lurk.”

I stepped over a bloodily splayed orcish body to the lone human.  For armor he wore only a battered cuirass.  He held a broken rifle in his hands, the barrel in the left and the stock in the right; perhaps he’d used it as a clumsy defense against the ax. 

“These wounds are not natural,” said Nekra.

“Arcane?” I asked.

“I know little of the sorcerous arts.  But look at the killing wound on this one!”

She pointed at an orc whose entire front had exploded outwards.  Nekra put her hand over her mouth and stepped away.

“That might have been an arcane blast,” I said.  Had the spell been centered on his body—an unlikely decision, since it’s much easier to aim for the ground at the target’s legs—it could have done such a thing.

“How could some Alliance warband kill six of our own while losing only one of theirs?” demanded Kozluk.

“We can’t even be sure it had anything to do with the Alliance.  This might be the work of Twilight cultists; perhaps even some leftover demons,” I cautioned.

“Nekra, ask the spirits what they have seen,” said Kozluk.

A grave look passed over Nekra’s scarred face.

“The poison of the Twilight’s Hammer has spread deep into this land.  Where they walk, the spirits fall silent, sometimes for years.”

“What do you mean?”

“It is difficult to rouse the spirits in lands once ruled by the cult.  Only the greatest shamans can coax them from silence, and the asking price is always great.”

“Can you try?” I asked.

She shook her head.

“I am not worthy to trouble them.”

“This could be important, however.”

“An improper request might waken them into rage.  The spirits are not like the spells that come to your aid whenever you wish, Destron; they keep their own counsel, and it is not always for us to know.”

“Heed her words, Destron,” agreed Kozluk. 

Frustrated, I again examined the dead human, not really sure what I expected to find.  Sleed ambled over, his tiny hands rifling through the dead man’s clothes with a perverse grace.  Lifting up the torso, he pulled out a tin brooch.  A yellow sunburst on a blue field had been painted onto the surface. 

“Do you recognize this emblem?” I asked Sleed.

He shook his head.  I suspected it to be the logo of a partisan band.  Partisans on either side might not necessarily see themselves as beholden to the Hyjal Truce; indeed, I suspect more than a few partisan leaders would deliberately withhold such information from their subordinates.

Kozluk established that the Horde dead had been members of Justice of the Ax, a small partisan band decimated in the Elemental Invasion.  All members wore a tattoo of an ax on their upper left shoulders.

“These were likely the last.  They were fierce fighters.”

“Did they follow the Hyjal Truce?” I asked.

Kozluk’s brow wrinkled in annoyance.

“Perhaps your own state makes you bold, but it is a foolish thing to speak ill of the dead,” he growled.

“Forgive me.  Sleed found a brooch; does the symbol on it mean anything to you?” I asked.  Sleed held it up for all to see.

“I have not seen it.  Probably some meaningless decoration,” said Kozluk.  “Is that all you found?”

“No,” said Sleed, his tone hoarse and labored.  “This too, in a vest pocket.”

He handed me a folded-up paper.  Opening it, I saw several lines of printed text in unidentifiable symbols. 

“Some kind of code?”

I passed it around, but no one recognized the writing.  Nekra said that the Twilight’s Hammer used code for all their written missives, but that she’d never read any herself.  The characters used looked disappointingly prosaic for a group as bizarre as the Twilight’s Hammer.

“There is a joint Argent-Cenarion camp not far from here, in the Forge of Supplication, a former Twilight base.  They came to study the Twilight’s Hammer Cult.  They may know more,” said Nekra.

Our next course of action was clear.

*********

“Nothing about this damned place makes sense.”

Shivering and surrounded by monuments to nonexistence, the human named Leoron Valstad breathed on his wrinkled hands and put them up against the campfire, its flames fed by enchanted embers looted from the Firelands.  No fuel exists in the Forge of Supplication, the cult having made its base in a site as barren as its creed.


“I was a child when the Horde first attacked.  Most of the clans plundered as they went, but the Twilight’s Hammer always stayed behind to break every house and uproot every foundation.”

“To let no stone stand on top another,” I said, remembering the scholar Belgrano’s translations of Cho’gall’s prophecies.

“I saw them tear apart the villages around Northshire, setting everything ablaze.  Didn’t care about treasure or slaves, just destruction.  That’s what happened to my farm.  Some dwarven scouts saved me and took me north—none of my family survived.  Fought the Hammer when I got older, and cheered when the rest of the Horde killed them.

“I never imagined they’d reappear in Silithus, and again after the Cataclysm.  The bastards are like cockroaches; whenever they disappear, it just means they’re regrouping.”

I wondered to what degree the New Horde bears responsibility for the current Twilight’s Hammer. 

“How does the Twilight’s Hammer of today compare to the one of old?” I asked.

“The Twilight’s Hammer in the Second War used to fight like the other clans, more or less; it was only after the battle that they stood out.  The cult is different.  I was up on the Sanctuary of Malorne during the Elemental Invasion, healing wounded soldiers.  Waves of fire tried to burn through us, and the cultists attacked between the infernos.

“They’d charge us in groups of 20 or 30, even though we were firmly in place.  We had one chain-gun set up, opening volley after volley.  I saw a cultist get hit square in the chest and he didn’t even slow down.”

“How?”

“Elementium.  The stuff’s all around us; Twilight priests grow it out of the earth, the way the druids raise trees.  All the Twilight structures are made of elementium and they can shape raw ingots into weapons and armor.  Wollic, the geologist here, explained how it works.  Elementium armor eats any force inflicted on it.  So a bullet can hit a fellow in elementium, but he doesn’t get hurt.  In fact, the force of the blow gets transferred to his weapon, making it hit harder.  I saw cultists shatter boulders with the swing of a sword.”

“How did you stop them?”

“There’s a limit to how much the elementium can absorb.  Still, it’s a high limit, and the cult never runs out of supplies.  If I didn’t know better I’d swear the earth itself was on their side.  Elves have lived on these slopes for thousands of years and they never found any trace of elementium in the rock.  Wherever the cult goes, the stuff becomes as common as dirt.”

“To be fair, the Kaldorei aren’t the most dedicated miners.”

“Still seems hard to believe that they wouldn’t at least know about it.  We must have killed a hundred cultists in the first week, and figured that would do it for their presence in Hyjal.  After all, they didn’t convert that many people.  Then we found their bases, and saw that we’d barely made a dent in their numbers.”

Night had almost fallen by the time my companions and I reached the Forge of Supplication.  We first reported our findings to the camp’s leader, a dwarven paladin named Orzel Flintknuckle.  After hearing us out, he promised to send someone to investigate the site.

“That’s the last thing I needed to hear!  Ach, no matter, thank you for telling me.  It’s my job to know.”

“Who do you think is responsible?” I asked.

“Too early to say, though I’ll send investigators tomorrow.  If even a few cultists are still around, it could be a big problem.  Dangerous ones, they are.”

“What makes you so sure that it was not the work of Alliance partisans?” pried Kozluk.  Orzel frowned.

“And what makes you so sure that they are?  The Alliance isn’t the one starting a new war every week!  The condition of the bodies, your shaman’s inability to get readings from the spirits, that all says Twilight’s Hammer to me!”

“Did you recognize the emblem or the code?” I said, wanting to prevent a quarrel.

“No.  Emblem might not mean anything; the dead lad you found might’ve looted it from somewhere else.  The code is the only thing that makes me think it’s something other than cultists.  Twilight codes are ugly things that give you a headache if you look too close.  This is downright basic by comparison.”

“Is there anyone here with expertise in codebreaking?”

“I wish, but the Cenarion Circle doesn’t want to send their codebreakers up here.”

“Why do they not go here?  Are they cowards?” accused Kozluk.

“No, just not interested in wasting time and energy!  There aren’t any Twilight writings in this place, not anymore.  Twilight papers fall apart a week after they’re made.  We transcribed them as fast as we could and sent the copies to Nighthaven and New Hearthglen.”

We spent an uncomfortable night in the repurposed Twilight base.  My companions recognized a few of the residents from their mutual defense, but I sensed little in the way of camaraderie.  The Horde and Alliance conflict, once relatively distant, is now very real for many Azerothians.

Nekra chose to stay another day to make sure that Orzel sent the investigators; she still suspected Alliance involvement, and feared Orzel might cover up for any partisans.  Awaking early, I sensed something of Northrend in the dawn’s freezing air. 

Coiling Twilight structures wrap around the more solid demonic constructions, unsightly growths on a corpse.  Elementium dragonheads extend on serpentine necks from stone columns, the worksmanship possessing a strangely childlike quality.

The spiked fortresses display the brutality of the Burning Legion, just as the flanged Scourge citadels had advertised the Lich King’s unspeakable cruelty.  The arrangement of Twilight structures in the Forge of Supplication instead suggests a sort of purposelessness.  The elementium growths, little more than elaborate tents, form a rough circle around a broken stone shrine at the center.  Impressive though it must be to raise elementium from the ground, the final product evinces little effort. 


I took advantage of this to speak with the lead Argent researcher, a Forsaken like myself.  Named Gulrow Ansilian, he went about his work in a gilt-embroidered black silk coat, the kind favored by wealthy Lordaeronian merchants before the Third War.

“Whether cursed into undeath or stuck in this Light-forsaken wilderness, let it never be said that I’ve been anything other than a gentleman,” he declared.

Gulrow had worked as an arcane researcher (as opposed to practitioner) in Dalaran, though our paths had never crossed.  His experiments had allowed the Argent Crusade to exploit weaknesses in the Scourge armies, making him a natural choice for uncovering the secrets of the Twilight’s Hammer Cult.  However, the cult proved much harder to crack.

“The cult makes less sense every day.  I’m not speaking of their ridiculous theology, mind you—that’s a realm of absurdity all to itself.  Rather, I refer to their operational capacity.  Tell me, how many converts did the cult find in Orgrimmar?”

“I was not present when they amplified their missionary activity, nor does the Horde keep very good records.  A thousand, perhaps, 2,000 at most.”

“They numbered at least 5,000 here in Hyjal.”

“Did they have more success finding converts in other lands?”

“Orgrimmar was one of their most fruitful.”

“Then most of them must have gone to Hyjal.”

“So you would think.  Except that similar or greater numbers have been reported in other regions.  There seems to be no limit to their zealots in the Twilight Highlands.”

“Then they are getting more troops.  Has anyone been able to track their supply lines?”

“And there’s the thing!  They don’t have any!  The Twilight’s Hammer Cult is an army operating without logistics.  Frothing minions erupt from nowhere, as if birthed from thin air.  Stormwind and Khaz Modan at the very least would have been able to tell if the cult had sent large movements of converts through their territory, but nothing of the sort was ever reported.”

“Perhaps someone’s been concealing records?”

“That is possible, but there is literally no evidence of Twilight supply lines even existing.  Look around you, Destron.  This place is utterly dead; not even a druid could grow food here.  Yet somehow, thousands of soldiers made it their base, even when surrounded by hostile and volatile territories that would have made it impossible for supply caravans to reach them.”

“Did you find any evidence of food infrastructure in these camps?”

“No.  What we did find were hundreds of dead cultists who’d simply perished of thirst or malnutrition.  Sometimes they’d throw the bodies in ravines, but they often let them lie where they fell.  Among the cultists we killed, most were already half-dead from starvation.”

“That’s consistent with what I saw back in the Silithus Campaign,” I said, remembering how the cultists ate locusts sent to them as gifts by the qiraji.

“I’ve heard the stories.  This particular camp is interesting; the Twilight’s Hammer used it as a sort of training ground.  Not a place for hardened troops.  So to set up a base of operations on Hyjal, the cult sent thousands of green recruits through the wartorn forests of Ashenvale, completely unsupported by any manufacturing or agricultural base, and unnoticed by everyone.”

Gulrow threw up his hands.

“It’s maddening.  I suppose the lack of manufacture can be explained by the way they just summoned that disgusting elementium up from the ground—I never thought I’d see a mineral less pleasant than saronite, but elementium comes close. 

“Not only that, but cultist training tended to be very lethal.  We had a few undercover agents here, and they told us that about a third or a half of the recruits died trying to complete ludicrously hazardous trials.  After all that, they’re still able to field an army powerful enough to threaten the Guardians of Hyjal.”

“What’s your hypothesis?”

“I haven’t anything particularly good.  There are two theories in vogue at the moment, neither of them supported by evidence.  Extremely powerful mages are able to teleport large groups of people across vast distances; there are perhaps five people on Azeroth capable of such.  However, the cult would need dozens of such wizards working around the clock to manage such a feat.

“The other, slightly more plausible theory, is that they used the elemental planes as a means of getting from place to place.  That is to say, they opened up a portal to the Firelands in Durotar, and then created a new portal to Mount Hyjal from within the plane.

“This still runs into some trouble.  Such portals are impossible to conceal; even small ones send all kinds of unpleasant energies gallivanting through the landscape.  If they could march troops at will through the elemental planes, why not send more cultists through the portals as they advanced up the slopes?  No one knows how they got to Darkwhisper Gorge, but once here they marched their way up to the top the old-fashioned way.

“Any damn thing is possible with them!  How do you quantify an army that’s freed itself from the bonds of reality and common sense?  The devices here tell me nothing.  I’m going to send my few findings here to everyone: the University-in-Exile, the Magisters’ College, Dalaran, even those dreadful sorts in Undercity.  This is too complex for one mind to solve, even one as marvelous as mine.”

“I’ve heard that Twilight prisoners are less than cooperative.”

“Oh, totally useless.  We have to kill them.  Not from brutality, but simple practicality.  They are a danger to themselves and everyone around them, barely able to do anything besides scream and claw.

“You do know what this means, don’t you?  As far as I can tell, the Twilight’s Hammer can create a base anywhere and instantly teleport or transport an endless number of well-equipped soldiers.  With the national armies spread out as they are, can you imagine the damage if they set up shop next to Silvermoon?  Or in the middle of Elwynn?  We’re trying to inform all the sovereign states about this.

“Ghastly business,” he said, after a pause.  “On a more amusing note, the cult is apparently as prone to infighting as anyone else.  The ogres form a sort of elite; some of them had fought alongside Cho’gall during the Second War, or are descended from those who have.  They do not always get along with the other cultists.”

“They actually fought each other?”

“According to our undercover agents: yes!  The ogres are rather more prosaic.  I imagine that their simple minds interpret Cho’gall’s ravings as a mere call to destruction.  Converts from other races demand more elaborate theologies.”

“The ogre-mages are capable of rather sophisticated thought,” I pointed out.

“You know your ogres.  Still, they rely on the normal ogres for protection, and encourage these basic beliefs to retain power.  No point in confusing your underlings.”

“What is the cult’s theology?”

“Hard to say.  Cult texts tend to disintegrate after a week and they’re all encrypted.  What’s more, the codes used change on a constant basis.  The priests must have some way of bypassing the code entirely; there’s no way they could keep track of it all.  The translations we’ve seen are all philosophical, though I hate to sully that adjective by associating it with such ravings.  There’s no mention of how they might have created these armies, so I’m very nearly working blind.”

“What about Cho’gall’s central writings?  Some of them survive in Northshire.”

“Belgrano’s work?”

“You’ve met him?”

“No, sadly.  He passed away a few years ago, but we do possess copies of his translations.  Unfortunately, Cho’gall seemed to take a perverse delight in contradicting himself as often as he could, and even discourages readers from heeding some parts of his message.  There’s a general longing for destruction, but that’s the only constant.”

News in Orgrimmar said little about the Twilight’s Hammer Cult.  Reports described them as sidekicks to more overtly menacing groups, like the elementals or the naga.  Nor do the authorities care to dwell on the fact that the cult gained converts in Orgrimmar.  These converts are generally described as peons and non-orcs.  In reality, some orcish warriors and shamans also joined.  Of places beyond Orgrimmar, nothing is said.

In a way, the cult’s ability to raise bases out of nothing is an amplified version of the threat posed by Scourge necromancers.  A necromancer in a graveyard can quickly assemble a small army.  However, some kind of support infrastructure is required to field more advanced forms of undead.  Abominations, for instance, are not easy to create.  The Twilight’s Hammer Cult does not appear to be limited in this way.

Gulrow offered me a curious opportunity later that day, one that I had to ponder for some time.  The main gate to the Firelands did not close after Ragnaros’ defeat.  The Guardians of Hyjal continue to maintain a small outpost there at great expense, wanting to observe the elemental plane in the aftermath of its lord’s death.  The Argent researchers also found it valuable, both for resources and information.

A gnomish scientist named Veelix Lectronstun would be flying there the next day, and Gulrow said I’d be welcome to go along.  I did not agree to this as quickly as usual.  My humiliation at the Shrine of Goldrinn still pained me, and I feared another encounter.  Beyond the portal, in a realm of infinite flame, what might the elves be willing to do to me?

Gulrow assured me that I’d be safe so long as I stayed under Argent protection, and that the Guardians of Hyjal would not persecute me, however much they disapprove of Sylvanas’ actions.  Doubt in my throat, I told Gulrow that I’d visit the Firelands.  Having made my decision, I resigned myself to whatever might happen on the next journey.

*********

((If any of the readers out there are artistically inclined, by the way, I'd be happy to accept fan art submissions.  Please submit them to destron@live.com.))

1 comment:

  1. Another great read. ^_^

    I really enjoyed how you ramped the pace of the Travelogue up and down between the beginning of the first Hyjal post, to its intense ending, to this one which seemed to slow down and be more about politics and theorizing about the Twilight's Hammer.

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