Radio static mocked Daj’yah’s attempt to find the right signal, her ear close to the speaker as she turned the scratched tin knob with care. She scowled when she picked up Blood of Heroes, that station of shouted Orcish and thudding music.
Then we heard it, the mellifluous voice of Bozzer Smiley, struggling and then triumphing over the crackling static. Daj’yah thrust her fist in the air as the goblin’s soulful song wafted out from the Darkbriar Lodge, just audible over the noise of the city.
“You’d be thinking this channel’s easier to get.”
“The fight makes it worthwhile, right?” I remarked.
“Maybe if you’re Garrosh. Not me.” She took a sip from an earthen mug of taro root tea mixed with kodo milk, the purple drink sloshing at the brim. Daj’yah resumed her work, her pen scratching against the papyrus scroll.
Unlike the single-channel Horde radios so common in Orgrimmar, the real item is hard to obtain due to the prohibitive tariffs placed on products from Bilgewater Harbor. Only two exist in the Valley of Spirits: one owned by the tribe as a whole, and the other owned by the Darkbriar Lodge.
Most trolls dislike radio music, complaining that the sound quality lacks the texture found in reality. However, some have found uses for it. Musicians gather around the public radio every third evening to add their own sounds to the recorded tunes, changing it sometimes beyond recognition.
As Uthel’nay sees it, the radio is a form of social capital, a way to demonstrate the trollish embrace of modernity. Not everyone in the Darkbriar Lodge considers it a wise investment. The lodge members not being inclined to possessiveness, the Darkbriar radio is a public service; those trolls interested are free to come in and listen if the tribe radio is playing something they dislike.
Putting my hands behind my head I leaned back in the wicker chair, trying to catch the scent of dust and sweat sweltering up from the streets. A kodo beast lumbered along the wooden path, pulling carts only half-filled with slumping sacks of grain. Above, wyverns skimmed the skies on watchful patrol, their shadows flitting over the lake where islands of garbage float on the murky surface.
Another day in Orgrimmar had dawned, its bladed metal towers already heating up in the morning sun. The city of warriors had become a city of weapons under the watch of Warchief Hellscream, Orgrimmar rising from the ashes of disaster to fight anew.
I can’t deny that the old city was ill-prepared for a modern assault, so I will not begrudge the reconstruction on aesthetic grounds. Harder to accept is the new warchief’s bizarre decision to prohibit any but orcs and tauren from living in the city center. He treats the Darkspear Tribe, the Horde’s oldest ally, like a defeated enemy. Trolls are not allowed to leave the Valley of Spirits without permission. Even then they face harassment from bored orcish grunts.
Skorg had never made it back from Kezan; most assumed him lost in the Cataclysm. I hid my notes, telling no one other than Daj’yah about my disastrous visit to Gilneas. In the new regime, sympathy for humanity is a dangerous attitude to hold.
The Cataclysm had also driven the Bilgewater Cartel into the Horde. Settling in Azshara, the goblins built a city from scratch on a rocky island in the Bay of Storms. Trade Prince Gallywix still squeezes his subjects for money.
Vowing to set right the reeling planet, Thrall handed the reins of the Horde to Garrosh Hellscream, allowing the elder shaman to concentrate more fully on mystical matters. Since then, the Horde has engaged in one war after another. Ashenvale is ablaze as the orcs press west into the night elf homeland while human armies march across the Southern Barrens. War grinds on in Lordaeron, with much of the old kingdom in the Forsaken’s rotting grasp. Whispers of atrocity escape the killing fields of Hillsbrad, rumors I can all too easily believe.
The Gilneans found sanctuary in the Alliance. Precisely how many are worgen is a matter of debate; the number is clearly substantial. Pockets of resistance harry the overstretched Forsaken in the old homeland, though most Gilneans now live in Darnassus.
A living storm of destruction, Deathwing still spreads ruin through the world. Even Orgrimmar heard the stories of his attack on Stormwind, the shadows of his victims indelibly burned onto stone. The rejuvenated Twilight’s Hammer Cult follows in his wake, tearing down that which survives his wrath.
Amidst this, I am content to retreat from the world. I’d nearly lost everything in Northrend. Even under the blazing sky I remember his cruel voice in the air. The civilized art of translation keeps his ghost at bay, as do my studies of the ancient Zandali tongue.
That any of the Darkbriar Lodge’s library survived the disaster is due to Daj’yah’s efforts. She braved the flames as they consumed the old lodge, the fire made hotter and crueler by the rampant elementals. Spells of frost saw her through and she escaped with around a third of the tomes. Uthel’nay told me how she had been preparing to go in again as the structure collapsed.
Uthel’nay had first planned to rebuild the Darkbriar Lodge in the same place and style, buying some lumber for the job. Representatives of the warchief bruised their way into the Valley of Spirits at the last minute, demanding to know where he’d gotten permission for the resources. No answer would have satisfied them and they stole much of the lumber, charging the Darkbriar Lodge an extra tax for the trouble.
The new Darkbriar Lodge is a multi-level hut exposed to the open air. Their temples destroyed by earth elementals, the priests conduct age-old rites on the middle tier. Warlocks also thrive under the Darkbriar aegis. Former shadow hunters who fully accepted the darker aspects of their path, they add trollish mysticism to the already well-established school of orcish infernalism. Sharp and acrid, a fel odor hovers around the Darkbriar Lodge in the mornings after the warlocks’ weekly nocturnal rituals. Burning incense and brewed coffee work to dispel the stink, though we can seldom afford the latter.
“Destron, Daj’yah, best of mornings to the both of you.”
With that greeting, Uthel’nay hopped up the stairs. Once bitter over the loss of the old lodge, his newborn son, Twel’ka, had put him in a mood of perpetual cheer.
“Good morning,” I said.
“Mm,” responded Daj’yah, not even looking up from her paper. Uthel’nay gave her a pitying look, and then shrugged.
“So, Destron, it’s your turn this time.”
“Oh? Oh! Pardon me, I completely forgot.”
“As you so often do,” chuckled Uthel’nay. “No matter, no matter. I brought you the books: the Zul’kunda Codex, the Book of the Risen, and the Holy Book of Bethekk. Maybe we’ll get these orcs following the Loa yet, eh?”
“Might do them some good. But as I recall, he wanted some goblin books as well.”
“Ah, yeah. Two small ones in there: Advanced Arcane Studies, and Wizardry for Profit.”
“I suppose I can get started now.”
“Never any hurry, man. Your pass is with the books.”
He handed me a satchel containing three crudely bound papyrus tomes, really more like packets. Zandali texts translated into Orcish, they were intended for the burgeoning field of orcish wizardry. Uthel’nay dreamed of making the Darkbriar Lodge a center of arcane studies in Kalimdor and kept close contact with the other mage societies in Orgrimmar.
Lacking any real arcane tradition, the orcish mages rely on translated Zandali texts. Their social position already very precarious, possessing translations of arcane human books could prove politically dangerous for the orcs. Neophytes take their cues from goblin manuals, which tend to be limited in scope but much easier to understand than their trollish equivalents.
A bit of steel forged in the shape of an eye hung from a looped twine cord placed on top of the books. Symbolizing the omnipresent gaze of Warchief Hellscream, displaying it permits those other than orcs and tauren to walk through central Orgrimmar. The members of the Darkbriar Lodge must make do with two of these tawdry amulets, sharing as needed.
“See if Marud’s finished with the Zinta’jai Codex.”
“Uthel’nay, maybe we should have them come here for the deliveries. I don’t like us having to risk travel through the city,” protested Daj’yah.
“It’s safe! You can’t catch a hummingbird by chasing after it, you know? You get it to come to you.”
“But we’re going to them.”
“It means you have to be open to what others want. This shows we want to help. Troll wizards are mighty, but we spend too much time alone in our huts, studying old tomes. We need to look out, make connections. Not only do the orc wizards need us, they like us, too!”
“I’m not seeing any orcs liking trolls these days.”
Uthel’nay rolled his eyes. Gathering the goods, I followed him out onto the wooden paths connecting the islands of the lake, a hut squatting on each one. Elderly trolls idle daily beneath the grass roofs, languid in the desert heat. Mostly the old and infirm live in the Valley of Spirits, the young long since marched off to the front.
Resources are in short supply and Warchief Hellscream has reserved most jobs for the orcs and tauren, leaving little work for those left behind. Some trolls make and sell handicrafts but getting even the most basic supplies often proves an ordeal, and tradesmen risk having their goods confiscated. Darkspear society looks down on shirkers, and the inability of many trolls to contribute to the tribe is a source of real despair. Most young trolls not at war have left for greener pastures in the Echo Isles and Stranglethorn. In the latter, some seek to reclaim the once-prosperous Darkspear plantations, abandoned and left to ruin after the Cataclysm.
“I’m getting worried about Daj’yah. Never any hope in the girl. She’s making the mistake troll mages always make, secluding herself.”
“She’s not as well integrated in the Darkspear Tribe as are you, Uthel’nay.”
“She never will be unless she tries. Look, maybe the old-timers are not liking us mages very much, but they can’t deny us either! Trolls have to stick together in these times.”
Uthel’nay had a point. Outside, the sun gleamed on ribbons of oily filth snaking across the lake’s surface, runoff from the Goblin Slums. The lake stinks abominably during the afternoon heat, settling down to a subtly dank odor throughout the rest of the day.
Daj’yah had indeed shrunk from the world around her. Her few friends had left the Valley of Spirits and I sensed that something had come between her and Uthel’nay. She made her home in the Darkspear guesthouse, having lost her tiny hut to the elemental attack. The tribe granted her a hammock there in exchange for her services, and she slept to the snores of travelers. Daj’yah often spent the night at the Darkbriar Lodge (though never when the warlocks practiced), sleeping at her desk and returning to the guesthouse only to bathe. Unlike the orcs, the jungle trolls are a fastidious bunch, making the pollution from the Goblin Slums all the more noxious.
I looked down at the odious steel amulet weighing on my palm, frowning. I longed for the day when a new warchief might come to power and end Hellscream’s foolish policies, when we could throw the wasted metal into a furnace and forge something useful.
Rather than going directly to my destination, I elected to make a detour at the Valley of Wisdom. The last green spot in Orgrimmar has a way of soothing the spirit. Once the site of Grommash Hold, only a few scorched walls now remain of Thrall’s old home. Tauren, mostly from the Ragetotem and Windmane Tribes, now raise their tents beneath the swaying palms.
Coming in from any other part of the city, the change is obvious and instantaneous. Expansive and cool where the former is cramped and hot, the Valley of Wisdom is clearly a home for those with connections. Young trees stretch out from the earth around the shell of Grommash Hold and boldly decorated hide tents stand proud within the ruined walls.
Waters from the blistered heights cascade down the canyon wall, splashing into the warm surface of Cairne’s Mirror, the newly formed lake spreading across the eastern half of the valley. Shu’halo ritual law limits the use of the lake, ensuring that it stays limpid amidst Orgrimmar’s dust and filth. Three tauren shamans stood at the hill overlooking the water, their chants slow and sonorous.
I recognized the braves guarding the tunnel opening: Hannota and Susequehan Ragetotem. Both bowed in grave respect, employing the enhanced politeness that a host’s family might show to a guest whom the host has unwittingly offended.
“Winds guide you, Destron. I hope the day finds you well,” greeted Hannota. A survivor of the Wrathgate Massacre, Hannota’s scarred lungs keep him from active duty at the front. Most tauren serve in the Southern Barrens, as their relationship with the spirits creates a conflict of interest in the lumber-fueled Ashenvale campaign.
“It does, thank you,” I said. When greeting tauren, Forsaken should take care to not reference either the spirits or the Earthmother; to do so is very presumptuous, though the tauren are too polite to express offense (save for particularly egregious cases).
“Please forgive me if I’m intruding, but what are the shamans doing at Cairne’s Mirror?” I asked.
“Simply respecting his memory. Though Cairne is no more, his spirit has joined the great ancestral host. Can you not feel his gentle eyes upon this place?”
“Certainly he has blessed it.”
“Indeed, we have been blessed, perhaps in disproportion to our meager contributions. So long as it lasts, we may only share it as best we can. We hope that our guests—all of them—may find what they need in this place.”
Impoverished trolls often find menial work in the Valley of Wisdom. Because the tribe shames those who cannot provide for it, the tauren provide a much-needed safety valve. They pay trolls in food or in money for basic services or entertainment. Darkspear street performers and musicians are common sights in the Valley of Wisdom. The conflux of musical traditions is slowly giving rise to a new style, a mix of measured tauren chants and frenetic trollish percussion. Most such trolls cannot afford or obtain passes, but the tauren never enforce the ridiculous rule, and the orcs are reluctant to offend the tauren by interfering.
“Your generosity is appreciated.” And also resented by some trolls, who associate the tauren with the orcs. Resentment or no, there is no doubt that the Darkspear would be much poorer without tauren aid.
Bidding Hannota goodbye, I walked past Hon’jah, an old troll who’d lazed about even in better days. A snare drum rested in his lap, silent out of respect for the shamans chanting along the shore. Next to him stood Tonda, his grand-nephew, no more than a child, who normally accompanied the drums with a high sing-song voice. Seeing the bowl next to Hon’jah I fished a few coppers out of my pocket and gave them to him. His hard yellow eyes softened in gratitude.
The wind at my back, I went back up the narrow canyon road cutting south from the Valley of Wisdom, the tauren tents abruptly replaced by hexagonal stone huts in the old orcish style. Gangs of peons sat in the dust, many with an arm or a leg cradled in dirty splints. A few glanced up at me with suspicion. I kept my gaze forward; looking at the peons might be considered a challenge, and no grunt will take the word of a Forsaken over that of an orc.
“Doom will come to the foes of the Horde! As I speak, our warriors carve a path of blood and honor through the cowardly elves, leaving only death in their wake! No longer can the elves deny us what is ours, clinging as they do to the useless forests. Already the sons of the Horde bring their herds to the north! For the Horde! And remember: Hellscream’s eyes are upon you!”
The voice on the radio faded, drums rattling and horns blaring after a brief pause, the ear-shattering music made weak and distant. Some of the peons cheered when the lyrics started, the voice adopting a steady up-and-down cadence as it described the might of the orcish spirit.
Fixed to only receive Blood of Heroes, cheap orc-made radios are given to promising peon work teams. Prone to breakage, they are still cherished by their recipients who tune in every day to take part in the racial spirit so beloved by the warchief. Battle songs ancient and modern sooth the wounds of peons injured in the construction of war machines, letting them imagine themselves warriors on the front.
Up ahead the peons stirred, those able getting to their feet as the crippled crossed their arms across their chests in hopeful expectation. I stepped to the side, keeping my head low. A patchwork automobile rolled down the street, surrounded by a pack of predatory junior warriors. A great flag marked by the emblem of the Ebonflint War-pack (a black triangle in a circle, it is an abstracted version of the old Blackrock crest) sailed from the top of the cab, its figurehead a felguard skull nailed to the hood.
“Gokurk! For the Horde!”
Peons shouted as I tried to shrink back into the crowd. I knew of Gokurk, the hero of Shadowmoon Village and the pride of the Ebonflint War-pack. Warriors of his stature are the only people in Orgrimmar permitted to own proper automobiles (others may avail themselves of goblin trikes, though these are expensive), each vehicle customized to carry a visual litany of its driver’s heroism.
Staring down at the red dust I listened to the tread of the young grunts marching around the auto, banging their chestplates with clenched fists. Some sang their pride to the skies, the voices slurred and wandering.
“Gokurk sharpens his ax to bring woe to the human invaders!” shouted one.
The makeshift parade continued its drive into the Valley of Wisdom, the peons slinking back into the dust, again tired and worn. I stayed for a moment longer, not wanting to indicate disrespect by leaving too soon. Once I deemed it safe, I walked with a quick and purposeful step to the smooth tunnel descending into the Cleft of Shadow.
Huts of hide and bone sleep in the dusty darkness, the braziers burning like stars in a smoky night sky. Fences of wood and bone form the jealous demarcations between clusters of homes. The fires had never reached the Cleft of Shadow, which some saw as proof of its residents’ culpability. Its reputation already tarnished by the orcish warlocks who call the place their home, the Cleft of Shadow now hosts a group even more despised by the Horde: orcish mages.
Incautious footsteps padded on the hard rock behind me and to the right, the trainees of the Shadowswift Brotherhood practicing their stealth. I pretended not to notice; it is not the place of a foreigner to point out a young orcish scout’s clumsiness.
Not bothering to pause at the hide tents stained with spilled reagents and old blood, I made my way to the squat stone house at the bottom level, its anonymous gray walls giving no hint as to its purpose. A thin scrap of kodo skin hangs in the open doorway.
I knocked on the doorframe and heard feet scuffling on the dirt floor, Marud pulling aside the hide a few moments later. His sleeveless brown robes faded and threadbare, the orc’s deep-set eyes wore the signs of exhaustion.
“Hail and well met, Destron,” he said, looking a bit relieved. Crossing his arms, he offered a slight nod before stepping aside and motioning for me to enter. “Please, come inside. My words are not meant for warlocks to hear,” he growled.
I stepped into a fog of dust and old sweat, the air cold despite the afternoon heat. A student wearing a dirt-streaked work tunic used chalk to write arcane formulae on a slate board. He got to his feet as I entered, bowing in respect. I did the same as Marud lifted the Zinta’jai Codex from a low wooden table. We made the exchange, Marud’s brow furrowing when he saw the Holy Book of Bethekk.
“Tell Uthel’nay that we do not want riddles! We orcs cut straight to the heart of the matter, and have no time for tales of troll gods!”
“Watch your tone, neophyte. If you cannot respect the Darkbriar Lodge, I suggest you go back to peonage. There are two goblin books in there, which may be helpful,” I said, softening my tone towards the end.
“I do not mean disrespect to Uthel’nay but we need to learn power, to bring the heat of the sun to our fingertips and freeze blood in the veins of our enemies! We must fight for our survival each day. These goblin books will do much, and I am grateful, but Neeru and his lapdogs watch our every movement.”
Neeru Fireblade is the de facto leader of the Orgrimmar warlocks.
“I was under the impression that the warchief does not trust Neeru.”
“Warchief Hellscream is too wise to listen to upstart peons like Neeru. But the warlocks have done their foul work for many years. We mages remember our place, but we are new.”
“I see. Would more goblin manuals be to your liking?”
“Those have been more helpful. There is worth in the troll codices, but they require time, and that is something we do not have.”
“I will talk to Uthel’nay about this. Do you still want to look at what I delivered?”
“Yes, but this is urgent. Did you hear about the fire two nights ago?”
“Three of my students lived in the peon barracks near the Valley of Honor. They awoke to find the roof aflame. I taught them well; they used their spells to put out the fire and none perished. We all found the fel taint in the embers; I am sure the warlocks sent their minions to do this.”
“Did you report it?”
“No! We are peons, Destron.”
“So are the warlocks.”
“But they are peons who have proven themselves by wrestling with demons and aiding the Horde in Ashenvale and Northrend. No one will listen to us. Neeru’s hatred knows no limit and he thirsts for our blood.”
“Perhaps the problem will solve itself. I have heard that Neeru has fallen from the warchief’s favor; there are other warlocks with ambitions to take his place.”
“And they will still hate us mages! I shunned Neeru’s dark path, but I remember what he taught me, and the weaknesses of his craft. We are in danger, and if the trolls can do nothing, I will take matters into my own hands.”
“A bold move,” I said, not wanting to encourage him, but knowing that overtly urging caution would make me seem like a coward.
“This is a time to strike swiftly and without mercy! Will Uthel’nay stand by me?”
“Fools strike before the time is right. The impatient hunter warns his prey. Do not forget the nature of Orgimmar; though a peon who consorts with demons, Neeru is still an orc. Any troll who moves against an orc forfeits his life.”
“Coward’s talk! We need only prove that Neeru is in league with dark forces.”
“Do you have this proof? If so, why not report it?”
“I told you! They will not listen to words, but they may listen to valorous deeds. There is no physical proof of Neeru’s sins, but even a corpse like you can feel it in your spirit!”
“Never waste my time like this again!” I warned. “If Uthel’nay harms Neeru, the entire tribe will suffer for it. I hate Neeru, but he is still an orc, and only another orc may move against him. You know this. Find proof and report it. Perhaps they will hear you so long as they cannot deny Neeru’s wickedness.”
“My students face murder in their sleep, and you talk politics? Take your damned books and get out! If you or any other troll wizard shows his face here, I’ll make him regret it!”
He shoved the books in my hand. Knowing that he needed them, I tossed the texts on the floor, so that he would not have to lose face by asking for them back.
“Just as you care for your own students, so too must Uthel’nay care for his.”
I stalked to the door, simultaneously exhausted and enraged. I loathe having to negotiate with orcs, as my temperament is simply not suited for the task. Uthel’nay, who excels at it, might have gone in my stead had he known that Marud’s situation was so dire.
I admire Marud; he broke from the warlock ranks at no small risk to himself, the fel devastation of Outland giving him no other moral option. I sympathized with his helplessness in the face of Neeru’s aggression. Yet Uthel’nay could not do anything; it was risky enough talking to the orcish mages. The warchief seems convinced that the Darkbriar Lodge is a subversive element.
Suddenly hating the monstrous city around me, I made a quick exit from the Cleft of Shadows.
Scorching heat pierces the air’s skin of smog, the canyon’s inhabitants sweltering in makeshift tents as electric fans blow hot air on sweaty faces. Plasticine bubbles swell and burst with lazy deliberation on the surface of the oily lake where stained machines from aborted projects sink into the tarry water.
Through this, the goblins never stop working. I sat in the shade of a broad crimson tent, my legs poking out into sunlight hot even by the standards of dead flesh. Near me, his bald brow blasted by a trio of fans, a goblin barkeep mixed impromptu drinks made from any materials available. Bozzer Smiley’s radio-borne fought to be heard in the stagnant air. Called the Queen of the Slum, the bar never fails to attract business from around Orgrimmar.
The goblins’ relative affluence festered into a point of resentment for the neighboring trolls. During Thrall’s rein, the trolls had become successful craftsmen and merchants by selling to peons who were unable to get what they needed from the oft-mismanaged warrior-owned stores in central Orgrimmar. Now, by virtue of their proximity to the city center, the goblins get much of the commercial traffic. Already impoverished by losing access to their resources in Stranglethorn, the Darkspear Tribe is nearly destitute.
I sat with Zinzi Rogritz, a goblin shaman who’d sought training in Thunder Bluff immediately after receiving her certification, a few years before the Cataclysm. Goblin shamanism was once prohibited in Horde lands but Zinzi’s sincerity had convinced the tauren to teach her their ways. Her short black hair grew long in front, sleek bangs covering her right eye, its mate almost too bright and wide for comfort.
“It’s an ugly business,” she said after taking a sip from her drink, a brew that tried to replicate caipirinha’s bittersweet bite with fermented corn. “This could be a great city if the orcs actually listened to people. I think Marud’s just going to have to play it safe.”
Though not a mage, Zinzi dabbled in arcane engineering and had some knowledge of the subject. A frequent visitor (and occasional contributor) to the Darkbriar Lodge’s library, we considered her an honorary member.
“I don’t blame him for wanting blood, but it’s not a fight he can win, at least not if he goes up against Neeru directly. Do the Bilgewater warlocks have any information on Neeru?”
“Not really, orc and goblin warlocks don’t deal much with each other. Goblin warlocks are just trying to figure out how to profit from demons.”
“How does one do that?”
“I’m not a warlock and I think the whole thing is a bad idea, but I hear that they either use their minions as specialized employees or try to secure trade rights.”
“With the Burning Legion?”
Seeing my alarm, she raised up her hands as if in surrender.
“The Trade Prince put a stop to that, only good thing he ever did, but I’ve heard of goblins trying to open trade routes into Hell. Probably get some great profits for a while, sure, but you can’t trust demons.”
“I should say not,” I muttered. I raised a battered tin can to my dry lips and sipped the black goblin coffee within, grounds and sugar fighting for dominance. “I hate to bring this up, but were you able to make any headway with the other environmental engineers since your last visit?”
Effluvium from the goblins’ oil-drilling operations takes a daily toll on the trolls living downstream. Fumes sear the lungs and foulness clogs the water.
“So that’s why you wanted to have this get-together? Just politics, not the pleasure of my company?” she sighed, pouting in mock disappointment.
“The personal and political are never far apart in Orgrimmar.”
“Sad but true. Linza’s still operating on the idea of spiritual credit, that the spirits will let her extract as much and as messily as she wants so long as she promises them there will a big cleanup. Going into debt with the spirits, as it were.” Linza headed the Bilgewater Cartel’s shamanistic operations in Orgrimmar.
“But she knows that she will have to pay them back at some point.”
“I think Linza’s hoping that she’ll be promoted out of Orgrimmar and into Bilgewater Harbor before that happens. Going into debt to raise money is a time-honored tactic, but it’s not the most profitable if you’re dealing with spirits.”
“Everyone is all right with this? That the spirits will be furious and might start becoming violent elementals?”
“Most figure it’ll work out. Linza said she had a bunch of bruisers trained to take elementals down if they cause any trouble. What about the Darkspear shamans? They can still purify the waters, right?”
“Yes, but the water spirits are beginning to resent them. The shamans conduct the proper rituals, but they can tell that the spirits are angry.”
“Maybe if your shamans talked to Linza—“
“Zinzi, they are furious! The Cartel shamans have made fools out of them in front of the spirits. The Darkspears are no longer interested in talking, and I really fear that they might take rash action.”
“Probably more like an angry mob that will break the drilling infrastructure.”
“But we need that to profit in Orgrimmar! It’s the only reason the warchief lets us stay here. Though I guess we could do better elsewhere—“
“Listen to me: the goblins need profit, and the trolls need clean water. There must be some way to reach Linza,” I said.
“She’s on the fast track to success. Not much hope unless you can outbid Gallywix. There has to be some way, I just need to think. Can you give us forewarning about any attack?”
“I’m not a shaman, they won’t tell me their plans. All I know is that they are very angry.” Nor was I willing to go against the Darkspear Tribe, even if I thought such an action would only make thing sworse.
“If I could make a separate shamanistic firm, I’d offer a better service. But breaking from the Cartel is a sure way to debt slavery. Maybe if I convinced Linza that the spirits are about to revolt—but she’s surrounded by spineless yes-men.”
“I’m sorry, Zinzi, I’m not trying to be alarmist, but this is intolerable. No one’s blaming you; I’m just telling you because you’re the only Bilgewater shaman with the vision to solve the problem.”
“You really know how to stoke a girl’s ego,” she said, her smile wry. “Maybe someone could engineer a purification device?”
“The tribe’s finances are stretched thin as is, and the spirits tend to operate more cleanly and efficiently. Provided they are satisfied.”
“Very true. Destron, I’ll try to sell this to Linza as a way to raise profits. I’m not sure what else I can do.”
Zinzi excused herself soon after, her face stamped with worry. The Horde is completely dependent on goblin technical expertise, yet that race enjoys only a tenuous acceptance. Northern Durotar contains 10% of the Horde’s oil reserves. A relatively small amount, it’s convenient location makes these wells especially valuable, and only the goblins really know how to extract and refine the stuff.
The Bilgewater Cartel’s entry into the Horde was not without controversy. Details are still unclear but it is now common knowledge that Trade Prince Gallywix had kidnapped Thrall. Rebellious goblins freed the former Warchief, who soon had Gallywix at his mercy. Then, in a puzzling decision, he allowed Gallywix to maintain control over the Bilgewater Cartel and set him up in the Horde.
Perhaps Thrall thought Gallywix might be grateful, and thus loyal. Most goblins regard Thrall as an idiot for giving Gallywix a second chance. Many also resent being subordinate to orcs whom they see as reckless, crude, and naïve. It is possible that the orcs hope to bring the goblins into their orbit by presenting the trolls as a threat in a sort of divide and conquer tactic.
Finishing my coffee, I wondered if I could afford a second. A shadow fell over me as I stared at the bottom of the cup. Looking up brought into sight the toothy smile of an orcish warrior, his leather vest decorated with the symbols of the Ebonflint War-pack, his right arm ending at a stump just beyond the shoulder.
“Parag! What brings you here?” I asked, smiling.
“What brings me here? What keeps you here? Be careful, Destron: you may have braved the frozen wastes of Northrend, but you cannot live on that forever. You need to prove yourself, do something more mad and daring than before!” He limped to the table and pulled out a chair, settling down on it with relief.
I’d met Parag back in Dalaran while he was recovering from a broken leg suffered in Zul’drak. I had impressed him by relating my own exploits. He later served in Warsong Hold until the Lich King’s death and then joined the Ebonflint War-pack in search of greater opportunities. The war-pack assigned him to Ashenvale, where poisoned Kaldorei weapons took his arm and scoured his nervous system. Unable to serve any longer, his comrades had set him up with a tool shop in Orgrimmar’s Drag.
“I think you should slay Deathwing,” he guffawed.
“Not my style, really.”
“Ah, how easily I forget. You’d interview Deathwing and ask him about his life story. But how are you?”
“Well enough. How does your store fare?”
“Fine. The elders make sure there’s always enough money. I grew weary of selling to peons though and decided to walk around for a bit, bad legs be damned. Hateful feeling, to be closed up in stone all day.”
“Don’t you worry that someone might need what you’re selling?”
“The warchief ensures that all the work crews get their tools. I only sell to the peons with delusions of being carpenters. Some try to buy from the goblins, which is fine if they want something that will break the first time it’s used. I care not about peons. Barkeep! Bloodmead!” shouted Parag.
“All out, friend,” replied the bartender.
“Out? Being enjoyed by warriors, I’m sure. On that case, I will take—what are you drinking, Destron?”
“Never had that. One for me, and a refill for my friend here! My wound keeps me from having as many real adventures, but culinary escapades can suffice for now.”
“Do you think you’ll go back to the front?”
“One day. Right now, I would only slow down my fellows. Ashenvale is a tricky place, not like Northrend. Sometimes I still feel like I’m in that damn forest.”
A waiter in a shabby coat refilled my cup from a scratched porcelain pot that for some reason had the clenched mailed fist of Stromgarde emblazoned on the side. He filled another for Parag, who took a sip and winced at the heat.
“You like this?” he asked.
“It’s an acquired taste.”
“This could use a bit more.” Reaching into his vest, he took out and uncorked a small clay flask from which he dribbled a bit of amber liquid into the coffee.
“Are you sure about that?”
“What? It adds kick! Hard for a warrior to feel at peace, this helps. Got this from the Ebonflint hall, a gift from Nok’losh, who looted it from some cache up in Alterac Valley. Enough about the warrior at peace; there’s a reason no one tells stories about that. How goes the Valley of Spirits?”
“Times are frustrating.”
“I know. I swear to you, Destron, this situation will not last forever. The warchief will clean things up in this city once he defeats the Alliance. He has not forgotten the trolls. Or the goblins. Or the Forsaken!”
“The trolls are essential, but perhaps he should forget the Forsaken. I wonder how much we really add to the Horde at this point.”
“Nonsense! I know things are difficult, but they will improve. Victory or death! And with warriors such as these, there’s little chance of the latter!” he laughed.
Parag lingered at the bar until sunset, at last standing up to make his way home. Unsteady on legs weakened by drink and Kaldorei poisons, he first had trouble keeping his balance. I offered to help, but orcish resilience won the day.
I walked back to the Valley of Spirits, a fine layer of soot on my shoulders. Drums reverberate in the air just before dusk, thick and heavy with the day’s remaining heat. Trolls lounge in open-air huts, shooting hard glares at the dirty tents and oil derricks to the south.
The Darkspear shamans keep their own counsel but their rage is for all to see. Unsatisfied with the shamans’ promises, the water spirits let in little strands of filth to show their contempt. Purification machinery provides one possible solution, but machines are typically less efficient, and are completely unaffordable for the Darkspear Tribe.
Worsening the situation is the matter of missing food. Both trolls and goblins engage in small-scale agriculture, the former growing cassava and the latter preferring corn. Privately held foodstuffs are prone to disappearance and both sides seem inclined to blame the other, though no one has yet been caught in the act.
Returning to the Darkbriar Lodge, I found Daj’yah alone at her desk in the first hut. Smoke from burning incense swirled in the second hut as priests bent in whispered supplication before an idol of Hir’eek, the goddess’ chiropteran visage carved in wood. I barely heard their prayers over the noise of the street.
“Any luck with the goblins?” asked Daj’yah, not looking up from her work.
“Unlikely. I suspect that things will get worse before they get better.”
“No surprise there,” she sighed. “I still smell the garbage in the air.”
“Ever consider going back to the Echo Isles?”
She’d revisited the islands shortly after their reclamation (while I was in Northrend), though she’d never said much about her sojourn there.
“No. There’s not much in that place, really.”
“I’ve not actually been there, either before or after the retaking.”
“So there is a part of the world you haven’t seen! It’s very green, like old Stranglethorn. You go there and smell the soil all upturned by the men taking yams from the ground. Hot but humid, not dry like here. A lot of new buildings now, stone towers like in the old days.”
“A return to the Gurubashi style?”
“Trolls see the ruins, but no one’s knowing what really went on back then. Mages there too, working with everyone else.”
“More integration. That sounds like it’d be a good thing.”
“For sure. But I’m not always wanting to talk to people. They’re not much interested in me either. I’m old, Destron.”
“Old? You’re, what, 25?”
“Twenty-six, with no husband and no prospects. Trolls say I’m failing the tribe, that there’s a reason only men became wizards in the old days, never marrying or having kids.”
“Do you think that you’ve failed the tribe?”
“Maybe. Who am I to say? You humans, living or dead, think of yourselves, but with trolls its different. I’m ugly, but ugly women still get husbands.”
“Do you want to marry?”
“Not really. I already know I wouldn’t be satisfied anywhere or with anything. Don’t see much point in making a change.”
“Like there’s a little voice that follows you wherever you go, whispering dark things in your ear,” I said, remembering my time in Icecrown.
“You know what happens after a troll dies,” she said.
“You continue as a hungry ghost demanding acknowledgement from the living.”
“Acknowledgement from descendents. Every time I sprinkle blood into the bonfire, it goes to my mother and to everyone before her. But shamans used to place warding totems where wizards were buried, for spirits doused in elven magic aren’t wanted around the village. No children for wizards, in the old days, just apprentices.”
“But not any longer. Look at Uthel’nay.”
“I know. I liked having the excuse in the old days! Don’t have that any longer. No one will feed me when I’m gone and I’ll starve on the winds. I just work and try to not think about it.”
“People will remember you, with what you’ve written. I’ll remember you for as long as I exist.”
“It’s not the same, Destron,” she said, her voice receding to a whisper. “Enough. It’s bad business to speak too long of death; Old Bwonsamdi might hear us talking and get excited. Being a ghost might not be so bad. I could float around, visit places like you do, haunt King Varian and Garrosh. I’m very sharp, I’ll think of things.”
We laughed at her joke, though our voices soon trailed off in the smoky evening. Daj’yah tightened her robe, as if cold, and returned to her work. Where I stood, I noted the sound of the priests’ ancient Zandali chants.
I awoke in the darkness of my cliff-side hut, the smog not permitting any light from moon or star. Through thin wooden walls I heard the voice of a mob, accusations and interjections merged as one, a dozen bare feet treading on the wooden path.
Getting up off of the straw pallet I grabbed my coat from the wicker box where I’d left it neatly folded. Putting it on, I tried to listen to the angry conversation, not able to pluck out any words. Stepping out into a night swept by cool and dry winds, I saw the line of flickering torches around the Darkbriar Lodge held high by trollish hands.
I broke into a run, both worried and curious to find out the source of the trouble. The voices grew more excited as I neared, and I understood one word raised over the rest.
The trolls shouted their rage and I wondered if Garrosh dreamed such a sound in his nightmares. What would a thief want from the Darkbriar Lodge? I thought, craning my head to get a better look, though the height of the trolls made it impossible to see anything.
“All of you, quiet down!” ordered Uthel’nay. I saw him step up, his yellowed teeth bared in the torchlight. “The thief is dead, and—“
“Quiet down!” he screamed, and I saw how his hands trembled, his robes drenched in sweat. “Now is not the time. One of your own is hurt, Daj’yah. She killed the thief—“
I didn’t hear anything else. I shoved through the crowd and ran past Uthel’nay.
Slumped against the wall, Daj’yah’s breathed in short, sharp little gasps, hands clenching with numb fingers as blood flowed from torn wounds on her chest and shoulders, pooling in her lap and dribbling down her arms. The priestess Nan’je knelt by Daj’yah, her hands imbued with light as she whispered and closed the wounds.
Daj’yah looked up at me, her eyes pleading. I fell to my knees in the blood, barely registering the overturned desk and the smell of burning flesh.
“You’ll be all right,” I said, as the priestess did her work.
“I know,” she whispered, her voice shaking. “I killed the thief. Thought—“
“Silence, Daj’yah! Be still, so I may heal. Destron, you best be going. I’m doing holy work here, and the Loa do not want you.”
“No, he stays,” protested Daj’yah, her voice weak.
“Don’t be a fool by crossing the Loa. Destron, go! You’re causing distress!”
“No he isn’t! I want him to stay!”
Nan’je paused, eyes going back and forth between me and Daj’yah.
“Destron, you can stay, but keep your distance and be quiet.”
I nodded, going to the other side of the room as Daj’yah’s rested her head against the wall. Nan’je opened up the robe, Daj’yah’s undershirt stained solid red by the blood. I averted my gaze as Nan’je worked. Daj’yah gasped as she felt the prickling sensation of arteries and skin stitched back together by the priestess’ power. Helplessness settled upon me with all the weight of Orgrimmar and its brutish metal towers.
I looked to the overturned desk, the body of an orc sprawled on top of it. Smoke rose from the hole blasted in his chest.
“Daj’yah, you hear me now?”
“Stopped the bleeding. Orc’s knife dug deep, but didn’t hit anything I can’t fix up.”
“I’m all right?”
“Easy, you’re in no danger but you’re still weak. We’ll take you to the healer’s hut once we get something to carry you. Destron, you can get close but don’t touch her; the Loa are doing their work.”
Nan’je left in search of a stretcher and I hurried over to Daj’yah’s side, fighting the urge to take her hand. Rivulets of blood dried and blackened on her blue arms, her breathing becoming steadier.
“She said you’ll be fine,” I muttered, at a loss.
She tugged at my sleeve, her sticky hand finding my own, gripping it with what little strength she could muster, the flesh hot against my palm. I concentrated, somehow hoping she could draw strength from my presence. She released her grip, letting her hand fall to the ground.
“Sorry,” she whispered.
I smiled, sitting next to her, feeling the stickiness of the blood on my legs. Suddenly she grabbed my hand again, tighter than before.
“Loa don’t want me around anyway. Let them do what they want.”
“You are strong, Daj’yah. They’d be poorer without you.”
We were silent for a while. Then, in short and gasping sentences, she described the attack.
“I heard him in the second hut. I thought it might be Nan’je or one of the priests, so I called out. Then he charges me! Got loose from his grip, hit him with a fireball. Don’t know what he was doing here, the fool.”
“You did well.”
“We’re in trouble for this—“
“No, we’re not. You defended yourself, the way any warrior would. We will stand by you, even if the warchief himself comes down.”
Daj’yah slipped her hand from mine at the sound of footsteps. Nan’je returned with a troll I did not recognize, a hide stretcher held between them.
“I don’t need that,” said Daj’yah. “I can walk.”
“You probably can, but you should not. We’ll take you to the healer’s hut, and make sure you get better. Destron, you have to stay away. That is a holy place.”
Daj’yah gave me a barely perceptible nod.
“Of course,” I said.
Nan’je and the other troll placed her on the stretcher. I at least knew that Daj’yah was no longer in any danger though alarm still ran through my body. The bleeding had stopped the wounds were closed; the healers would just observe to make sure that no other problems arose. Though priests used the Darkbriar Lodge for ritual and study, proper healing demands a more sanctified facility, built on stilts at the other side of the canyon, icons of the five primal Loa painted on its wooden walls.
I stood at the door and watched as they took her into its shadowed recesses. I again noticed the sounds of the crowd outside as they approached the scene of the crime.
“Is this the one? It’s an orc!”
“Stop crowding the lodge! Just a dead body!” I heard Uthel’nay shout.
Morning came early to the Valley of Spirits that day, entire families venturing into the streets to learn more about the event. I stood at the center of the maelstrom, trolls coming in and out to see the corpse, many not even staying long enough to get a clear picture of what had actually happened. I heard a child telling his friends that raiders had attacked the Darkbriar Lodge in force. More and more armed trolls walked past the hut, the old and infirm again taking up their spears to defend the tribe.
Uthel’nay tried to manage the lodge as best he could, at last telling his neighbors that the mages would be conducting an important arcane ritual that could not be disturbed. He threw his lanky arms up in the air when the last of the curiosity-seekers departed.
“This is mad! I’m glad Daj’yah is in the healer’s hut; she’s not needing people to ask her a hundred silly questions. A troll killing an orc… not good in the warchief’s ugly little eyes.”
“Will the tribe defend her?”
“Naturally! Come on, Destron, for having lived among us for so long you sure don’t know us well. Maybe Daj’yah is not the most popular. But when someone from outside the tribe—from outside the species—hurts us and robs us, we do not show mercy.”
“Good. What do we know about this orc?”
“When they were all prodding the corpse someone found a tattoo of the Horde symbol in red, and the warchief’s glaive inked beneath it. Someone said it means the dead one’s from Ancestral Fury.”
“Oh no.” I’d heard of Ancestral Fury, a partisan band forged in the darkest days of the Northrend Campaign. Starting in Warsong Hold they had dedicated themselves to destroying Hellscream’s enemies.
“I know. Ancestral Fury fields some scouts; maybe he was one, trying to stay in practice. I found a bag full of raw cassava roots still stained with dirt on the second hut, where Daj’yah said she’d first heard him.”
Raw cassava is poisonous, and it is unlikely that anyone would bring unprepared roots to the lodge.
“Why would he steal food?” I wondered. Notable partisan militias rarely have trouble staying fed.
“Keep his skills sharp, I’m thinking. Don’t know why he came here, but maybe he didn’t know the layout too well.”
“It looks as if a riot’s about to begin.”
“An orc attacked the tribe in its home. What else can we do?”
“Uthel’nay, we cannot win against the orcs here.”
“Have a little faith, Destron. We’re crafty enough to not start a fight, but the orcs must never think you’re weak. Then they walk over you. This way, they know we are strong.”
Dry southern winds rustled the grass roofs past the hour of dawn, the desert air already sucking moisture from pores. Smoke laced the air, a gritty veil coating lips and lungs as watchmen’s burning eyes scanned the perimeter. It was a perfect day for a riot.
Master Yejjhe, the elder for the Valley of Spirits, arrived with the morning light, spending only a few minutes in the lodge. Bent with age, his eyes twinkled with a youthful energy behind the wrinkled mask of his face. He told Uthel’nay to only negotiate with a representative from the warchief (who was campaigning in the Stonetalon Mountains at the time).
“Master Yejjhe, what will you do if the orcs force the issue? If they demand retribution?” I asked.
“It is not our way to protect thieves, Destron. For too long, the orcs have stomped on us, treated us like animals. They must learn to respect us.”
“Not all orcs are willing to learn.”
“Maybe not, but they must.”
Frothing rage spewed from the radio when we turned it to Blood of Heroes, the booming voice of Gur’krom Redknife (the voice of that loathsome channel, and an Ebonflint warrior who’d proved his worth in Outland) thundering about the murder of an orcish hero at the hands of trolls. He gave no name for the supposed victim, suggesting that the orcs still weren’t entirely sure what had happened.
“Now everyone’s going to hear this,” said Uthel’nay. “Times like this, rum’s always good. You want some?”
“No, thank you. Have you heard anything about Daj’yah?”
“She’s fine, but probably best for her to stay in the healer’s hut. Most don’t know she killed him.”
Some of the trolls had taken the corpse outside of the lodge, placing it in a shallow gully near the canyon wall and covering it with a tarp. Flies swarmed on the covering, like jewels on the tomb of a downscale king. We’d considered burning the body but decided to keep it as a potential peace offering.
We also heard the report of an ailing troll named Bajjo. He lived near the Darkbriar Lodge with his infant grandson, caring for the boy as best he could. Bajjo kept a small garden plot of cassava that had been plundered during the night. The thief had likely taken the food and then gone to the lodge in search of more loot. We all contributed to cover for Bajjo’s loss.
I feared worse times to come. After the Cataclysm, the darker tendencies of orcish culture came to dominate all other qualities. Courage became reckless aggression, and strength became cruelty. The idea of the orcs simply rampaging through the Valley of Spirits and slaughtering everyone they saw seemed all too plausible. I felt a momentary connection with my late father, who’d doubtless felt the same fear as a young man in Lordaeron.
I was only later informed of the first altercation. A quintet of warriors from Ancestral Fury marched to the entry of the valley, demanding the head of the orc’s killer. They put a name to the thief, Mogrug, and mourned him as a promising young scout who should have been able to kill many more before dying in glorious battle.
Following Master Yejjhe, the trolls turned the warriors away. The orcish partisans threatened violence, but were perhaps dissuaded by the sheer size of the fight they would start.
Daj’yah emerged from the hut at around noon, visibly tired from her ordeal. She made a straight line to the Darkbriar Lodge, casting nervous glances to her sides all the way there. I stepped out to welcome her.
“I won’t be here for long, Destron. They’re saying I should stay in the healer’s hut for my own safety, that the orcs are out for my blood.”
“They won’t get it, Daj’yah. The entire tribe is with you on this.”
“I was wondering if they’d protect me or not. Not long ago, no one saw mages as part of the tribe, but I guess that’s changing. So long as you kill enough enemies, you’re a Darkspear for sure,” she said, ending her sentence with a sad little laugh.
“You will be fine.”
“We’ll be knowing soon enough. Where’s Uthel’nay?”
“I’m not sure exactly. He’s either helping Master Yejjhe or trying to gather more support.”
“Good. Tell him I’m all right.”
She stepped inside, walking to the wicker box where she kept many of her personal belongings and taking out an armful of books.
“Mighty little to do in the healer’s hut, so I’ll need to entertain myself somehow. Better to read silly stories than think of what’s happening. They’re probably calling for my blood.”
“Most outside of the Valley of Spirits don’t even know you killed him.”
“They will soon, I’m thinking.”
“Daj’yah, how are you holding up?”
“Right now, I’m still too angry to be scared.”
“What about the orc you killed? Killing is not an easy or happy thing.”
She paused, looking at the toppled desk where the body had once sprawled.
“When someone from outside the tribe stabs you, you kill him.”
“Do you feel satisfaction?”
“What are you judging me for? I did what I had to do! How many have you killed, huh? Far more than me, I’m thinking!”
“I’m not trying to make you feel guilt! You were completely justified. Perhaps I just expected you to feel unsure.” How unsure am I about the dozens I have killed? I rarely give their deaths much thought, which raises troubling questions. Piles of slaughtered glutts confront me with this grim truth.
“If it makes you feel better, I am happy that I helped the tribe and that they seem to appreciate it for once. I’m not happy that I had to kill someone to do it, but I’m not mourning him. I did the right thing.”
“I agree.” So why did I feel so horrible saying that? “Daj’yah, I am very sorry.”
“You meant well. I know a little of how humans think after reading all those novels. Poor Princess Ilmestria,” she sighed. She referred to a character in the classic Lordaeronian novel A Knight’s Lamentation, who suffers a breakdown after killing an evil wizard threatening the protagonist.
“You’re made of sterner stuff than her.”
“Sometimes I wish I wasn’t. I’d best be going, Destron. But I will see you later.”
“Take care. I promise you that nothing will happen to you.”
I watched my best friend as she walked through the stifling heat back to the healer’s hut.
Master Yejjhe and Uthel’nay showed up at the lodge shortly after the sun reached its apex, their faces coated in dust and sweat. The representatives of the Horde appeared a little while later. We heard the clatter of talbuk hooves, their riders garbed in crimson helmets and vests of red kodohide, axes strapped to their belts and rifles on their backs. Trolls gave them respectful leeway though aged guards still held their weapons.
“Hail, Master Yejjhe,” greeted the lead rider, saluting the wizened troll.
“And to you as well, captain…?”
“Captain Toruk Redstreak, Slayer of Demons, son of Mazzar Redstreak, of the Bleeding Hollow Clan.”
Toruk’s uniform revealed him to be a warrior in the Bloodeye War-pack. Of all the infantry war-packs they had been the closest to the trolls, and maintained good relations even after Garrosh’s decree. Their presence was promising.
“Loa guard you as you write your will with the blood of our enemies.”
“And may honor walk with you, wise one. I will not waste your time. Ancestral Fury is demanding blood. They are legends among peon and warrior alike, and are already gathering mobs in the city, calling your people traitors and cowards.”
“And you let them do this?”
“We are trying to calm the situation, but I fear it grows worse. We cannot kill our own to defend you—”
“They’re just peons!” interrupted Uthel’nay.
“Warriors and peons. The warriors will not wear their uniforms for this, but they will be in the crowd all the same. Many will be independents. We can try to block them, but if they are determined to get past, they will. Raising our blades in anger might spark a civil war in the city, and the Horde can ill-afford that right now.”
“Tell Eitrigg to put a stop to it. We will not apologize for killing a thief who tried to murder one of our own. Why was he even here?”
Toruk bit his lip, tensing his shoulders before responding.
“It is not uncommon for scouts to practice by stealing. So long as they do not take from warriors, no one will censure them.”
“Theft and murder? Four times did he stab the troll who ended his wretched life!”
“A dark situation. I will tell you truly: bloodshed is inevitable if you do not hand over Daj’yah. We know that she killed him. Give her to us, and I swear to you that her death will be quick and clean.”
“We are to accept this? We give her to you, and the orcs will be murdering us in our homes next! No! We cannot compromise on this.”
“Grommash Hold wants to punish the trolls for her action, and also wants the people of Orgrimmar to be their weapon. As much as they mistreat their oldest friends, they fear alienating the trolls at the front. Better for them that she die in a riot than in an official action. Otherwise I would have gone in and killed Daj’yah myself. The Horde’s enemies are everywhere.”
“Your candor is good, Captain Toruk. But I have stated my case.”
“Very well. My men will do what they can. For your sake, I hope you find it in you to hand Daj’yah over to them before they can do more damage. I am sorry that it must be like this, but such is the way of the world.”
Silence fell over the lodge as the Bloodeye warriors departed, each of us faced with the reality of Orgrimmar. Master Yejjhe shook his aged head.
“Thank you for not giving her up to them. But we must prepare for the consequences,” I said.
“I am here to protect the tribe. If I do nothing, they will continue to steal from us, to kill us. It will be a slow and humiliating death, like how the Gurubashi tried to sacrifice our best and bravest on altars to their unspeakable god. If the orcs truly hate us so, we trolls will make them pay for their hatred.
“I’ll gather the elders and everyone else who can make it, and discuss. But look at them; they grabbed their weapons the moment they heard. We are tired of being humiliated. If the orcs want us as friends, they must treat us as friends.”
“Wise words, Master Yejjhe,” agreed Uthel’nay.
I remained in the lodge as they organized the meeting, most trolls not wanting the input of a Forsaken. Part of me feared that they’d lose their nerve, but as Master Yejjhe had said, the trolls had already proven their willingness to stand up to the orcs.
Long cooked by the sun, the air began to broil in the mid-afternoon, trolls slinking into the scorching shade of their huts. Old warriors splashed their brows with water from the stream as they waited for the onslaught. Master Yejjhe stopped by, informing me that the elders had unanimously decided to defend the tribe from further outrage.
“With enough support, we can scare them off,” he said. “I am going to the Valley of Wisdom to speak with the tauren. If they stand by us, the orcs will not attack.”
“What shall I do?”
“Talk to the goblins. They already know what’s happening, that orcs are stealing their food.”
I hurried south to the Goblin Slums, past the troll militias waiting in the shadows. Tension ran high among the raucous tents and dented machinery, goblins chattering excitedly about the events.
“Knives for sale! Defend yourself against orcish assault!” announced one goblin, opening his coat to display sharp pieces of metal taped to the cloth. Judging by the gaps between wares, he’d been rather successful. Goblins are not allowed to own weapons without expensive licenses, but a good number are armed all the same.
I soon learned that the goblins were as outraged as the trolls and blamed the rash of recent thefts on orcish miscreants. Unfortunately, Boss Niz, the executive in charge of the Goblin Slums, was reluctant to take sides.
We spoke in a corrugated tin shed, the walls roasting us both. A thick-bodied goblin with bloodshot yellow eyes, Niz hardly seemed the sort to inspire leadership. He’d gotten the job of managing the Goblin Slums by knowing the right people.
“Look, I’m as upset as you,” he said. “I think it’s terrible that the orcs would defend a thief and attempted murderer, and you trolls were right to kill the bastard. But Gallywix is an ally of the Horde’s. If I threaten this alliance by helping you, I’m as good as dead. Not fired. Dead.”
“There’s no reason to think this will stop here. If orcish partisans are so bold to break into homes and assault the residents, what’s to stop them from doing it on a larger scale to the Bilgewater Cartel?”
“A good point. I tried sending a telegraph to the trade prince but he’s not answering. No one knows where he is right now, so all I can do is go by his last orders. Sorry, but my life is on the line here, and Gallywix doesn’t want anyone causing trouble.”
Zinzi, waiting outside Boss Niz’s office, had a more palatable suggestion.
“A lot of us are on your side. All Boss Niz does is collect rent. He doesn’t care how good or bad things here get. All the wealth you see here? That’s us! We grasped and pinched every copper piece. Niz didn’t do anything, and neither did Gallywix.
“We don’t want what we earned, what we struggled to get, to be taken away by some thief. If there’s one thing we goblins respect, it’s defending personal property. So a bunch of us will just show up to the Valley of Spirits; make the orcs think twice if there are more of us. If anyone asks, we’ll just say we wanted to try trollish cuisine—and that maybe the orcs are next on the menu.”
“The Darkspear no longer engage in cannibalism—“
“I’m joking, Destron! Point is, we’re not letting Ancestral Fury get away with this. We’ll be there before the end of the hour.”
True to her word, dozens of goblins soon camped out at the northern edge of the Valley of Spirits. The troll militias relinquished the old distrust and let them mingle, goblins soon walking the streets like longtime residents. Most of the goblins went without visible weapons, perhaps to lend credence to the idea that they were just visiting. All the same, their presence added to the density of the crowds. Long arms and dense muscles mean that the goblins can hit hard despite their small size. While orcs are mightier overall, many have been unpleasantly surprised by goblin strength.
Some goblins appraised trollish goods, finding the fried cassava strips and stone carvings to their liking. I overheard discussion about possible trade deals. Such would not necessarily be safe for the trolls, given the track record of the Bilgewater Cartel. However, I think the trolls are sufficiently wary and crafty to get a good bargain.
The ground still burned at sundown, the pebbles hot against bare feet. The first orcs appeared, but not as enemies. Orcish warriors long separated from trollish friends again hailed their former comrades in arms. Shamans who’d learned at the feet of Darkspear’s wisest paid their respects, and said that the ancestors frowned on those who’d steal and murder in the night. Peons came in quiet groups, following the warriors they admired, perhaps a few protesting injustice in their hearts.
Taurahe chants rose up and down in the warm dusk air, the tauren marching out in a long line from the Valley of Wisdom. Trolls cheered as they passed, the presence of the mighty warriors and shamans sparking hope in every breast. While Garrosh denigrates most of the Horde races, he shows an almost obsequious regard to the tauren. Any orc who strikes one in Orgrimmar faces severe penalties.
Palm oil torches burst to light, plumes of flame dancing in the smoggy night as trolls said their farewells to the sun with the pounding of drums. Firepits where the old and hungry met to ease their pains became centers of life, aged trolls joined by tauren, orcs, and goblins, songs and speech from many tongues rising up in the festive night. Aromas of roast kodo and spiced Kezan-style chicken joined the familiar scents of cooked pork and cassava, a mix made all the headier by the coffee passed out in small earthen cups.
A smile spread on my face as I observed the harmonious commotion, my doubts suddenly looking a bit silly. Thousands stood in the Valley of Spirits, old suspicions cast aside without a second thought. Even the Orgrimmar of old had not seen such camaraderie.
I saw Daj’yah step out of the healer’s hut, bemused at the activity. She entered the lodge without a word, leaning against the wall and watching the impromptu celebration.
“Never thought the Darkspear had so many friends,” she said.
“Perhaps this is a sign of improvement.”
“I’m thinking just a time to have fun. Might as well.” She did not say it as a criticism, merely as an observation.
“Shall we go out?”
She paused, her eyes uncertain.
Together we walked out into the night’s fog of smoke and sweat, myriad faces shadowed in the violet dusk. There is a softness to nights in Orgrimmar, even as the day’s heat lingers into the late hours when the sky beckons with all of Kalimdor’s unfulfilled promise.
Aimless, we took a seat by one of the cookfires, a pot of kodo stew bubbling over the flames. Two tauren women sung in deep and sonorous voices, their tune nearly lost in the night’s happy noise. An elder trollish hunter joined them on his flute, making the occasional pause as he tracked the unfamiliar rhythm. Two goblins talked quietly, nodding at us as we entered the circle.
Nothing really needed to be said as the firewood popped, trapped gasses expanding in the heat. One of the goblins took a ladle and scooped out some of the soup, blowing on it before making the first cautious sips.
“The lady who set the soup up says it’s free for some reason, so help yourself,” he said.
Neither of us had brought any bowls, but I smiled and thanked him. The tauren women rested from their singing, introducing themselves as sisters in the Runetotem Tribe.
“The orcs are brave, but we sometimes worry that they forget their friends when trying to protect them,” said one.
The plenitude of warm food and cheerful faces wrapped around us like a cocoon, the anger over Mogrug’s death made distant. Despite the show of support, the night had not yet been decided. Should violence be averted, it would likely only be a matter of time before something like it happened again.
Orcish throats shouted from the south, angry voices carried through the party on distant winds. I sat up, straining to hear them. The music quieted down, drums pattering to a halt. The orcs had come expecting a brawl but we did not intend to oblige unless forced.
Hundreds of hulking bodies packed the south entry, their angry voices flowing into a low and rumbling current, nightmare faces hovering in torchlight. I saw the crowd’s organization even in the darkness: formidably armed orcs stood in twos or threes at the heads of vast peon mobs. Their armor unmarked by war-pack emblems, they were still unmistakably warriors, power-infused weapons clasped in rough hands.
“Trolls! For too long you have leeched off of our heroism and generosity, but our patience is at an end! Mogrug’s death demands vengeance! Give us Daj’yah and we will spare your miserable village!” bellowed the mob leader, an orc garbed head to toe in black armor.
“I know you, Krod,” came Master Yejjhe’s voice. I could just see him, standing next to an imposing tauren shaman. “Big hero after the Cataclysm, saved many lives, killed many quilboars. Come, there is food for everyone, join us.”
“Coward! Now you hide behind tauren and goblins to protect your murderous witch!”
“No one’s hiding here. These are our friends. Not a good night for fighting, the priests tell me. Bad luck for those who do. Wiser to be happy.”
“Enough with your words! Give us the witch or we will take her!”
“Why? When a thief sneaks into your house and tries to kill you, is it dishonorable to defend yourself? A big warrior like you would never let a wretch take what’s his! You’d fight, the way Daj’yah did.”
“Mogrug was no thief! He was a hero!” screamed Krod, sounding close to tears. Cries of assent echoed in the crowd, some shouting grief to the skies. “Give her to us!”
“The tribe stands together. If we cannot defend ourselves against thieves, what good are we? You know this.”
“Fool! Stand aside, or we will kill every last troll in the city!”
“And goblins? And tauren? Plenty of them standing with us. Orcs here too, orcs who haven’t forgotten the honor of defending one’s home. You cannot fight the Darkspear alone, unless you also want to fight the tribes, the cartel, and your own kind.”
“We orcs do not fear war—“
“Good! Because the humans are bringing war! The Twilight Cult is bringing war! The Horde must stay strong. You think Warchief Hellscream wants to come back to Orgrimmar to find it ruined, all because of you? He’s an orc of mighty honor and he does not look kindly on those who kill tauren, who kill women and children. We’re just trolls sure, but we aren’t alone.”
“Give us Daj’yah—“
“No. The tribe defends what belongs to it.”
“Mogrug must be avenged! One word and I can drown this canyon in blood—“
“You will drown the entire city in the name of a thief! A thief who crept into our homes and took our food, who attacked one of us. Orgrimmar is worth more than that!” thundered Yejjhe, conviction amplifying his aged voice.
Both contestants paused, the silence thick in the dusty air. I sensed the awful power of the mob, an animalistic fury just waiting to be loosed. Daj’yah trembled, her lips moving as if in prayer.
“I can smell your fear, troll,” sneered Krod. “Not brave enough to stand up to us on your own. I will not stain my ax with your coward’s blood. We leave! Mogrug and all the ancestors spit on these wretches!”
“No! Do not listen—“ shouted another orc.
“Enough! It is done!” yelled Krod.
Orcs wailed, some in dismay, some in anger, and the crowd twisted like a beast tearing itself apart. Krod slammed his fist into the face of an orc pushing to get into the village. Warriors and peons joined the melee, those at the front trying to drive the mob back north and those in the rear driving forward. The mob demanded blood, and would get it one way or another.
Red-armored Bloodeye soldiers ran to the edge of the brawl, beating heads with wooden truncheons and pulling rioters out from the mass and slamming them into the dust, the entire scene erupting in a collective yell. Those in the Valley of Spirits looked at each other in confusion, no one sure what might happen next.
Working with admirable efficiency, the warriors herded angry orcs away from the brawl, hurrying them along with heavy strokes to the back. Many began fleeing of their own accord, all will to fight long gone. The music again livened the night and throaty trollish laughter graced the air.
In the middle of all this, Daj’yah sat in silence, clutching at her robes.