Friday, November 30, 2012

Mount Hyjal: Part 1

Seeing the wilderness of north Kalimdor from on high, spread out in its tapestry of lush greens and immaculate whites, one cannot help marveling at how much Azeroth has changed.  I remember the land as beautiful and terrifying all at once while on foot, the primeval forests triggering an ancestral fear of darkness and danger.  From above, flying in the very icon of modernity, the land is just as stunning but in a far different way. 

I signed on with a rickety cargo plane hauling special deliveries to Everlook.  Trade with other groups had been strictly regulated back on Kezan but the difficulty of frontier life forced the Bilgewater to take a more liberal stance.  So long as a small bribe is paid to the authorities, goblins trading with the Steamwheedle or the distant Consortium will not face any censure.  Only dealing with the Alliance is prohibited (and is thus very lucrative and popular).

My pilot spoke little but warned me ahead of time that Bilgewater planes were not welcome in the skies of Mount Hyjal.  If I wanted to get there, my best bet would be to hire a Steamwheedle airplane or zeppelin.

“Turns out if you occupy a chunk of foreign land and tear out half the forests, the natives get upset.  I’m as surprised as you,” he said.

We landed in Everlook without incident.  The icy town had changed little since my last visit.  Znip’s daring observatory still looks up into the sky, and is now under the care of a gnome named Vrig Lenscribber.  Vrig continues his predecessor’s work, though says he’s not heard from Znip since his move to Area 52 in Outland.  While in Everlook, I went to the frigid telegraph office and sent a message to Daj’yah explaining that all had gone well.  I did not expect to find available telegraphs on Hyjal itself.

No planes flew directly to the Hyjal summit though I did find a Darkshore-bound zeppelin willing to let me off at the peak.  Darkshore had been hit hard by the Cataclysm, and it was with great sorrow that I learned of Auberdine’s destruction.  The old town had held a curious and tragic beauty.  To have survived so long, only to be destroyed by Deathwing’s madness, is another in a long list of tragedies.

My pilot was a middle-aged but still adventurous Alteracine human by the name of Besslar Marnok.  Born during the Second War he’d come of age in the streets of Lordaeron before making his way south a few years prior to the Third War.  Since then, he’d worked for the Steamwheedle Cartel in varying capacities.

“There was a good number of Hordelings going up to Mount Hyjal for a while, but seems like most of them have stopped,” he said, as we made the steep ascent.

“Why is that?”

“Mostly because the war’s over.  Also, when you see what’s going on in Ashenvale, I can’t say I’d blame the elves for being less than hospitable.”

Our climb revealed the progress of Ragnaros’ servants.  Char and dust swirl between the skeletons of trees on the lower mountain passes, the soil burned away to bare rock.  This ruination stretches for miles.  Only later does the victory of nature become apparent, shoots of new growth piercing through the layer of ash to receive the sun and the air. 

Nordrassil, the World Tree of legend, had nurtured itself back to health on the purified corpse of Archimonde, its roots reaching through the earth and its branches through the air to give life anew to a world in need.  Connected to the skein of nature, it made a tempting target for Ragnaros, who had burst forth from his elemental prison after the Cataclysm.  Had he destroyed Nordrassil, the world might not have been able to recover, so the Horde and the Alliance cooperated under the auspices of the Cenarion Circle.

News from Hyjal had been sporadic back in Orgrimmar.  At times Gur’krom Redknife would announce glorious victories of Horde partisans on its green slopes.  He downplayed Alliance efforts to the point where one might easily think that the Horde alone defended Nordrassil.  Warriors returning from Hyjal told a different story.  However much they might hate their enemies, the orcs respect valor, and each came back expressing admiration for the Alliance fighters.

Ragnaros’ armies buckled under the onslaught and the Cenarion Circle established a beachhead in the hellish Firelands, the elemental plane that it ruled.  Daring Alliance partisans sallied out from this foothold and brought an end to Ragnaros.  Many believe that if an elemental lord dies on its home plane, it will truly be destroyed, though there’s no precedent for such an act.  Whatever the case, the Firelands is in chaos and will not pose a threat to Azeroth for some time. 

Rising higher still, we saw more green spreading across the scorched earth, ancient trees breaking the charred line that marks the limit of Ragnaros’ thrust.  Only a few skirmishers and shock troops had battled past the line, and nature swiftly healed whatever damage they wrought.  Flowers abound in meadows of tall grass, verdant despite being well above the snow level. 

The branches of Nordrassil unfurl over the mighty granite ridges, the grand stone seeming to shrink away from the manifestation of Elune’s grace.  The World Tree fills the mind in a way that its larger cousin, Teldrassil, cannot.  The age-old glory touches all with its subtle strength.  The entirety of nature is suggested in its form: deserts in the stretches of bare bark, forests teeming in the moss and leaves, lakes spreading in the form of dew drops.

Kaldorei histories speak of a satyr army that tried to lay siege Nordrassil in the century after the War of the Ancients.  Their steps faltered as they neared, one after another falling to the ground as flowers burst from their bodies, each praising Elune as he fell.

This miracle did not repeat itself in the Third War, leading some to question its veracity.  The Kaldorei point out that Archimonde’s presence likely bolstered the demons’ defenses.  As for why it did not affect Ragnaros and the Twilight’s Cult, Nordrassil’s current state of relative fragility or its enemies’ elemental physiologies may have been at fault.

Opalescent water cascades down from the summit in a hundred brilliant rivulets, reeds growing in profusion along the banks.  These streams course down from Lake Ashanaral.  Elune had emerged, whole and perfect, from the lake’s waters in eons past.  In its soothing embrace, she birthed Azeroth and all its life.  Some of the water she flung into the sky, to form the stars.  Other droplets formed Lake Elune’ara in Moonglade, the first part of Azeroth to be created.

A schismatic group of Kaldorei, called the Lenanorei, believes that Lake Ashanaral is itself the mother of Elune and deserving of worship.  Distrusted though never persecuted, most of the Lenanorei died defending the sacred waters in the Third War.  The sect’s continued existence is in doubt and their numbers declined even further during the Elemental Invasion.  Nonetheless, those who survived have taken heart at the sight of Nordrassil rejuvenating in the waters of Ashanaral.

My senses sharpened as we neared Nordrassil, my world suddenly lit up with a sense of life and its possibilities.  I imagined the tremor of a heartbeat and the sound of blood rushing through my veins as Besslar circled ever higher.  Light pours out from the arching branches, intensifying the green of the leaves and setting the entire sky ablaze.  At once I saw Nordrassil as the font of life, the beating heart of the world spoken of by the Kaldorei.

Besslar landed in the soft grass beneath the colossal roots that arch up from the rock to lift the trunk above the shining lake, the grandeur of a cathedral sanctuary magnified and replicated in living wood.  A second wave of sensation hit me when I stepped out from the airplane and onto the vivid grass, the colors bright and forever new.  Trees, vines, and ferns all flourish beneath Nordrassil, its shadow as nourishing as the sun’s light.

“I’ve a delivery to make, so I’ll take off.  The Hall of Rejuvenation is just to the north, but be careful, Destron.  I have heard that the night elves as no longer as accepting of visitors.”

I barely heard him, the zeppelin looking unreal and comical next to the undeniable reality of Nordrassil.  I gave him a feeble wave and turned away as the ungainly vehicle made its ascent.

I staggered to the shores of Lake Ashanaral, the world spinning around me.  Falling to my knees in the soft soil, I remembered the Temple of the Moon in Darnassus, how the moonwater brought the pain of life.  Did I dare touch Ashanaral?  Heedless of the risk I dipped my right hand in the drink, the water warm against the fingertips. 

At last regaining some composure I spotted the Hall of Rejuvenation farther down the shore.  Made in the traditional open-air night elf style, thick and mossy roots touch down on the earth around the building.  Unwilling to cut down trees, the Kaldorei grow their structures, their halls and homes as alive as the surrounding forests.

Opalescent blossoms reaching up to four feet from petal to petal grow in the darkened relam beneath the roots, ghostly beacons in the night.  Light from Lake Ashanaral pierces the dew droplets on the petals, in turn reflecting a mottled glow onto the darkened wood.  I felt as if I walked inside a god, almost embracing the desire for self-annihilation that such awe inspires.  Why fear death, when rotting into the soil brings immortality beyond consciousness?

For thousands of years, the Hall of Rejuvenation offered rest and shelter to the Kaldorei pilgrims who made the journey to Nordrassil.  Nearly as famous were its keepers, the Sisterhood of Bounteous Green, who traveled Kalimdor on beams of moonlight to kill or abjure the most stubborn demons.  Three-quarters of the sisterhood fell in the Battle of Mount Hyjal, and the survivors relocated to Darnassus.  More recently, the Hall of Rejuvenation acted as an infirmary for those defending Nordrassil from Ragnaros.

Smaller versions of the wonders growing in the soil, white flowers bloom on the eaves and stone floor, a clear mark of the departed sisterhood’s influence.  The flowers’ sweetness lifts into the air, an aroma conjuring images of unending growth.  I almost didn’t see the Kaldorei druid in his robe of moss, its shape kept by gnarled branches interwoven through the surface.

“The battle for Hyjal is long over, Hordeling.  We no longer have any need for volunteers.”

“All of Azeroth was relieved to hear of your victory.  I only came to visit.”

“The Cenarion Circle cares for Nordrassil now, through the Guardians of Hyjal.  Since you are not one of our number, there is little here for you.”

“May I come in?  I’ve had a long flight—“

“No.  We see no reason to let Ashenvale’s enemies—or those who poison the forests of Lordaeron—into the Hall of Rejuvenation.  If you wish to learn, Hordeling, the rest of Hyjal may still be open to you.  This place is not.”

Taking my leave, I walked until I stepped out from beneath Nordrassil, the familiar sun made alien in such a primal realm.


The fiery invaders linger on as obsidian boulders scattered across the lush stretch of land called the Verdant Thicket.  Swift white streams tumble down the meadows, their banks laden with dense clusters of pallid flowers.

Ruined palaces sleep beneath eons’ worth of moss, their marble pillars swathed in green.  The ancient Kaldorei saw Mount Hyjal as a challenge to be bested.  To curry the favor of their beloved queen, Highborne wizards built grand manses on the then-frozen slopes, and with arcane might fashioned bubbles of heat and breathable air around such sites.  For thousands of years such icebound oases testified to the victory of the magical over the natural.  The greatest of these was the city of Lar’donir, where arcanists used the heavens as a canvas for artistic abstractions of subtle color and detail.

Seeing the pains that the Kaldorei took to reject (though not deny) their avaricious past, it is hard to believe that they’d even consider experimenting with the arcane a second time.  Nonetheless, Horde troops in Ashenvale have reported night elf mages blasting them with ice and fire.  Highborne remnants in Dire Maul, the Shen’dralar, are credited with starting this arcane renaissance, though others say that the Quel’dorei of Theramore or the draenei bear greater responsibility.

Evening was stealing across the sky when I met Nahonah Runetotem tending a small campfire at the edge of a stream.  Upon meeting him, I warned him that the Kaldorei did not always appreciate campfires, as I’d found out in Teldrassil years ago.

“Ah, I welcome your concern, but the Guardians of Hyjal bear no ill will to the spirits of fire so long as they do not overreach their bounds,” he chuckled.

A druid, Nahonah wore a kodohide robe decorated with bold geometric patterns of white and turquoise.  One of his gray horns ended in a stump, a memento of a fight against the centaur.  Middle-aged, patches of gray dotted his brown fur.

“It is not often that war feels right, but I felt the ancestors calling me to battle on these slopes.  A fearsome sight it was, the land below consumed in advancing flame, the twisting elemental spirits at the forefront.  Yet we stood as one and triumphed!  We will not see the likes of it again for some time.”

“You make me wish I’d been there,” I said, more out of politeness than genuine sentiment.

“Consider yourself lucky to have known peace.  I praise only the rightness of our cause and the camaraderie in the air, not the battle itself.”

“Why are you still on Mount Hyjal?”

“The Runetotem elders wanted a few Horde druids to remain and observe the healing of the land.  I am collecting samples of the earth in this place and will bring it down to Shrine of Aviana for study.”

I related my experience at the Hall of Rejuvenation.  Nahonah sighed, his face grave.

“The Guardians of Hyjal—and the Cenarion Circle—see those who destroy the forests as enemies.  The orcs leave a wasteland of stumps and mud in their wake.  We Shu’halo have fought and bled to defend our lands from invaders, and I cannot fault the Kaldorei for doing the same.”

“Is the Cenarion Circle still a neutral organization?”

“For now.  The defense of Mount Hyjal proved a boon to them.  Do you know of former Archdruid Staghelm?”  

“I do.”  Staghelm had been the Darnassian archdruid during Malfurion’s absence.  A staunch nationalist, he’d alienated the Cenarion Circle with his attempts to restore Kaldorei immortality.  Long a troubled soul, the sentinels arrested him upon learning of his efforts to keep Malfurion trapped within the Emerald Dream.  Twilight cultists freed him from prison and he joined Ragnaros after his escape.  The radio in Orgrimmar had used this as proof of Kaldorei inconstancy.
“His betrayal galvanized the Cenarion Circle, as did Malfurion’s return.  Darnassus and Nighthaven are now working more closely together.  The druids of the Horde find themselves with no choice but to apologize for the actions of the orcs and the Forsaken, and we do all we can to persuade the Cenarion Circle to stay its hand.”

“What do you tell them?”

“I am not involved in this, but the Horde druids in Nighthaven try to convince the elder druids that the orcs will retreat once they are given lumber.  But their words falter and lack strength, for many fear that Garrosh will not stop until he rules all Kalimdor.  The warchief is an honorable man, but he must make his intentions clear if we are to help the Horde.”

Actually, Garrosh has made explicit his desire for a continental conquest.  By tauren standards, him doing an about face and claiming his earlier plan to be a misstatement would be the only way to save face, and he would still be expected to step down.  In orcish society, such an act would be condemned as betrayal.

“All know that many of the elven Cenarion defenders have resigned from their posts with the circle’s blessing, and now aid the sentinels in Ashenvale,” he continued.

Voices on the radio had once gloated over Horde victories in Ashenvale and Stonetalon, but such announcements grew sparse over time.  Warriors returning from the front told of endless delays in the dark forests, and of elven wrath severing supply lines with ease.

“And what of the Ancients?  I remember hearing that Goldrinn, the Wolf Ancient, had returned to defend Hyjal.  The orcs are fond of wolves; perhaps the Horde could use to its favor,” I said.

“Goldrinn’s paws indeed walk again upon the earth.  I would not pretend to know what Goldrinn thinks of the orcs, though he has a long history with the elves.  There are stories that say he is somehow attuned to the king of Stormwind.”

Demigods of nature, the Ancients had devastated the demon armies of times past.  Entire fiendish cohorts perished before the hooves of Malorne and Goldrinn’s howl could topple a dozen fel reavers.  Certainly the Horde armies are far more competent than the Burning Legion, but I imagine they will still find the Ancients difficult foes.

“Cheyowattuck, whom you call Cenarius, also lives.  He has not forgotten at whose blade he fell during the Third War.”

“Is the Cenarion Circle planning to use the Ancients against the Horde?”

“The Ancients follow their own counsel, but they bear no love for those who destroy the forest.”

“Why do have they not already intervened?”

“Beceause their souls live in the Emerald Dream.  There are currently limits as to how often they can manifest on Azeroth.  None lost their physical forms in Hyjal’s defense, so they will need only a little time to rest.  For now, the Kaldorei make sacrifices in their honor and water the forests with orcish blood.  It grows late, and I do not wish to speak of ill tidings any longer.  We can talk more when An’she reveals the day’s picture of the Earthmother’s glory.”

Agreeing, I lay down on grass softer than any bed.  I looked up at the stars, close and bright, a few perhaps girdled by the orbits of inhabited worlds.  Do they also suffer from endless strife?

Hyjal’s altitude makes it an astronomer’s dream, and should also preserve it as peak of frozen rock, like it was before the War of the Ancients.  Nordrassil alone makes it habitable, the warmth and air exuded from the branches preserving the land in an endless summer (as artificial, in its own way, as Azshara’s eternal autumn).

Nordrassil’s destruction at the end of the Third War threatened to render this holiest of places into an icy wasteland.  The air began to thin out, orcs and humans falling to their knees as they struggled to breathe.  Druids watched in horror as snow filled in valleys once blessed by constant warmth. 

The Horde and Alliance troops rapidly vacated Hyjal for the warmer lowlands.  However, the damage never spread beyond a few locales.  As the snowfall slowed and came to a halt, the druids got their first inkling of Nordrassil’s stubbornness.

Blessed by the Dragonflights, Nordrassil had been the source of Kaldorei immortality.  Creating the blighted tree of Teldrassil (supposedly since healed) had been Staghelm’s misguided reaction to this loss.  According to druidic reports, the regrown Nordrassil will not grant eternal life to the night elves or anyone else. 

We awoke early the next day, beams of sunlight playing through Nordrassil’s distant boughs.  My glum mood lifted as I relished the invigoration of the pure mountain air. 

Nahonah told me more about his time defending against the Elemental Invasion.  His picture of cooperation between factions still revealed fault lines.  Many Kaldorei saw no meaningful difference between the orcs and the elementals. 

“How did the orcs respond?”

“They found it burdensome, but did not complain.  Like me, they understand why the elves are angry.  Both had a sacred task to fulfill, and put their energies to good use.”

“There was never any violence between the two?”

Nahonah made a rumbling sound deep in his throat.

“Not that we have seen.  The Hyjal Truce has not been revoked; neither is it still relevant.  Mount Hyjal is great in size, and who can watch all of its hidden groves and valleys?”

The Guardians of Hyjal had fought a grudging retreat up the slopes.  Engineers rerouted streams to block the burning advance only to see entire lakes worth of water boil into vapor.  Druids called for rain, their need drawing ponderous stormclouds from across northern Kalimdor, yet their downpours only slowed the consuming flame.  The weather change caused a terrible drought in the Northern Barrens that raised food prices in Orgrimmar and was indirectly responsible for the terrible fire that wiped out several ranches east of the Crossroads.  A necessary sacrifice, but it is difficult to think that the Guardians of Hyjal did not relish it in some way.

Partisans and select troops rallied to Hyjal’s defense, making lightning strikes into the Firelands to shut down the enemy’s operational capacity.  Their greatest contribution was the reawakening of the Ancients, whose decisive actions saved the world.  It was the work of Horde partisans that brought Malorne and Goldrinn back to the world.  One wonders how these warriors now feel, knowing that they put such formidable weapons into Kaldorei hands.  They had no other option, and I can only hope that the Horde is farsighted enough to refrain from punishing them.

We walked for several days through the Verdant Thicket, the skies clear and the air warm.  Nahonah and I parted ways at Wolf’s Run, where burned patches still mar the greenery.  The druid was headed to the Shrine of Aviana, while I intended to continue my journey down the slopes.  Before we parted, I asked one more question.

“Nahonah, I would be much obliged if you told me, frankly, what the general consensus is among the tauren regarding the Horde?”

“The Horde?  Do you test me?”

“No, I’m only curious.  Besides, you’re a tauren, you can tell me whatever you wish.  No one will take my word over yours.”

He looked at the ground, and I feared that I’d embarrassed him.

“We gladly pledge ourselves to the Horde.  Thrall saved us from annihilation at the hands of the centaurs and quilboar, and aided us against the Grimtotem Tribe.  These are not debts we can quickly repay, nor does Cairne’s death absolve us of our duty.  Thrall implored our wise ones to teach the orcs the ways of the spirits, and we will continue to teach those who will listen.”

“I hope more will heed your words.”

“Only so long as our words are true and worthy.  Many are fearful for the souls of the Forsaken.  Your Dark Lady has done foul things in the Horde’s name.  She raises the dead into slavery, just—“

“What did you say?”

“The Dark Lady has embraced necromancy.”

“No, she would not do such a thing.”

“I repeat only what I have been told by those who have seen it happen.  How else are the Forsaken to replenish their numbers—“

“That is a damned lie!  I hate Sylvanas; I hate where she has led my people, and what she has done to the Horde.  I hate her plagues and cruelties.  But—I promise you this—no Forsaken will ever tolerate necromancy.

“Did you know that the Scourge necromancers feared the Forsaken more than any other?  They knew what we would do to them for vengeance’s sake.  What we suffered, you cannot imagine!  Sylvanas would never inflict undeath on another.  It is the one line she will never cross, because for all her sins, she delivered me and all my kindred from the Lich King’s grasp, and she will always be my liberator!”

I shouted the last words, made rattling echoes by the surrounding cliffs.  His eyes wide, Nahonah stepped back.

“Forgive me, Forsaken.  It is easy to become confused in battle.  Perhaps these reports were in error.  Yet it is telling that this rumor would be so easily believed by so many.  There seem to be few evils that your Dark Lady is unwilling to commit.”

“Yes.  Mistakes are easy to make.  And I can see why people would think it.  Please don’t think I’m any supporter of Sylvanas.  She is a criminal, and needs to face justice.  But she would never commit necromancy.  Of this, I am certain.  I’m sorry, Nahonah; I like you, and I’d rather we didn’t part on such a dark note.”

“You have faced many trials in your undeath, and I think you have come through them wiser.  So long as your curiosity remains undimmed, the spirits will favor you as much as they can.”

Saying our last goodbyes, I followed a road hugging the cliffs, ferns and scraggly trees gripping the rock face.  Looking over my shoulder, I could just see Nahonah’s bulky figure walking south.


The statue of Goldrinn shows the Ancient in a state of guarded watchfulness, its stone eyes searching the surrounding valley for prey and threat alike.  The woods are silent in that place, not daring to contradict the menace imbued in the very air.  A strange vitality is evident in the statue, its carved fur seeming to move in the wind, the tumbled and mossy pillars around it accentuating the hint of divine natural might.

Pilgrims once traveled from shrine to shrine to perform sacrificial rites in honor of the distant Ancients.  Goldrinn’s took the form of a freshly slain game animal, ideally a stag, hunted down by the petitioner.  I’d come an empty-handed monstrosity.  Nahonah had told me that Goldrinn would not expect an offering from someone unable to hunt, and that bringing him a quarry caught by another would be disrespectful.  Reverence was supposedly enough, though I couldn’t help fearing that my curiosity ventured on insult.

Examining the statue, I became aware of a strange unease pinpointed on the center of my back.  A sudden dread consumed me, the forest darker and wilder than before, nature revealed in all its savagery.  Goldrinn’s sightless stone eyes, forever fixed on the southern ridge, urged me to take in the world around me.  Preparing myself for some unknown horror, I turned around to see my fear.

I fell back as if physically struck.  A fantastical army stood in the forested valley, perhaps 50 Kaldorei garbed in hides and still-living flora, streaks of red and blue painted on predatory faces.  Some held icons, complicated arrangements of twigs and sticks, and more than half bore weapons.  A woman stood at the front, her jaw painted crimson, feathers and claws tied to her tangled green hair.  Challenge in her silver eyes, the woman’s face set itself in an expression of mixed contempt, disbelief, and pity.

“Why are you here?” she demanded in harshly accented Orcish.

I tried to think of a response, still trying to comprehend my situation.   Armor made of living roots enclosed a woman standing next the speaker, the tendrils sharpened like stakes around her hands.  I saw a man, naked from the waist up, toting a slain stag on his broad shoulders, runes painted in blood on his chest.  Getting a closer look, I realized that some whom I’d taken to be elves dressed in furs were not elves at all; worgen shadowed the crowd, their golden lupine eyes recreating Goldrinn’s.

“Answer the question, undead.”

“I wished to pay my respects to Goldrinn,” I said, forcing my voice to stay clear and steady.  I remembered the evils that my kind had inflicted on the Gilneans and prayed that the worgen I saw would not seek vengeance on the account of fallen countrymen.

“Lies.  You have no gift for the Ancient.  You insult him by treading on this holy place with rotten feet!”

“A wise druid told—“

“Do not lie about druids, for none would tell you to come here.”

“My lady, I speak truly when I say I wished to pay my respects.  I am no hunter, and can only offer my reverence to this Ancient, so recently reawoken by the orcs.”

I spotted one of the worgen pushing through the crowd to reach me, teeth bared.  The elven woman’s lips inched up in a cold smile, the red pigment glistening in the sun.

“Clever words, monster.  Get on your knees.”

Still watching the worgen, I obeyed, trying to maintain an appearance of respectful deference.  Part of me had never fully divorced the Kaldorei from an image of elves based on their decadent eastern cousins.  Only then did I truly appreciate the difference, and realize why so many orcs dread Ashenvale.

The worgen stopped while the speaker stepped towards me.  Seeing the crescent moon pendant dangling from a silvery necklace, I realized that she was a priestess.  With fingers like iron she grabbed my jaw and forced my face upwards so that I looked at her directly. 

“A few of your wretched breed aided in the defense.  Why, I do not know.  I would welcome annihilation if cursed like you.  Nonetheless, the Hyjal Truce holds, and though I am a servant of Darnassus and Holy Tyrande I will heed its bindings.  We will not kill you.”

With that she pulled me up to my feet, clasping my shoulders in a parody of solidarity. 

“But neither can we allow this insult to go unpunished.”

Turning to the crowd, her Darnassian words thundered to cries of assent from the pilgrims.  The back of her right hand slammed into my face, my head snapping back from the force.  I had not yet recovered when the root-armored elf struck, jagged wood tearing open my right sleeve and taking off a bit of skin.  That too, was only a prelude.

One blow fell after another, fists striking with frustration borne from years of setbacks and humiliations.  I tried only to stay on my feet, my deadened nerves allowing me to weather the attacks.  Something snapped in my chest as a scarred elven woman propelled her knee into my ribcage, worgen claws gouging my sides.  Those too far to hit me reached out and grabbed at my flesh.

Hope faded with each blow, my clothes in rags, dead flesh further pulverized.  The worgen attacked with the most relish, one of them snapping viciously at my throat before the elves, determined to fulfill the letter of the truce, pulled her back.

At last they ejected me from the crowd.  Pain reverberated through cracked bones and I fell to the ground in exhaustion, curling up in shame; my body is more visibly dead than is my face.  Hearing footfalls near me, I prayed they’d make it quick.

Instead, I saw a man grab my backpack and lift it into the air.  Undoing the cord, he dumped its contents onto the ground: extra clothes, some money, and the notes I’d taken on Hyjal.  Reaching down, he picked up the notes and, without looking at them, ripped the paper into shreds.   Other elves grabbed the spare clothes, noses wrinkling in disgust as they handled the apparel, soon throwing it to the ground.  The coins they left in the grass.

“Now you know our displeasure.  You may continue your existence, but you must stay where you lie until we are done here.  Since you wished to pay respects to Goldrinn, we will let you see us pay our respects instead.”

She called out in Darnassian, the pilgrims falling silent.  Slow and solemn, a pair of elves began to beat their snare drums while others blew into wooden flutes that forked into two prongs at the mouthpiece.  Atonal and hypnotic, the music carried a suggestion of the infinite in its discordant notes.  The multitudes stepped to the side as the elf I’d earlier seen carrying the stag made his slow progress to the shrine.

The priestess raised her arms over her head, chanting to the Ancient in a voice strident and passionate.   The bearer of gifts threw the corpse at the wolf’s feet before genuflecting.

Beheld through the lens of shame and exhaustion, I saw wild beasts take the place of the elves, the antlers and furs they wore suddenly made parts of their bodies.  Shrill cries erupted from the pilgrims, and I heard too the howls of the worgen.  Their voices shook the mountaintop, and I shivered in dismal fear.  I saw nothing of Goldrinn himself, and imagined the wrath of the Loa that I’d once seen in Zul’drak, loosed instead on the Kaldorei.

Wild ritual dancers stormed the shrine, night elven bodies twisting in ways seemingly never meant for mortal bodies as the harsh music played faster and louder.  Worshippers heaped more offerings before the shrine, slain birds as supplements for the main course.  The Kaldorei can keep near-perfect track of the number of animals in their forests, knowing precisely how many to cull without harming the ecosystem.  I had no doubt that each sacrifice was measured in full.

Wisps swirled through the masses as the sun set, elves leaping high into the chilly air.  Some pantomimed the hunt, elven women in wolfskins prowling the grounds as men with antlers tied to their brows laughed and ran.  They played for some time in the spectral light before moving in, mock cries turning into hearty laughs and sighs as they disappeared into the tall grass.

I smelled wine on the evening air, sweet and heady in the Kaldorei manner.  Bowls of the stuff made rounds around the celebrants, each drinking deep.  My head ached from the noise and commotion, the festivities like a knife in a wound. 

The night wore on, and I wondered how the elves kept from collapsing.  Instead they drove themselves into greater heights, exulting in a maddened joy.  Their gods had returned and Nordrassil again lived.  With this glee came the righteous anger of the victim, ready to repay cruelty with blood.  Ancient lords of the world, they’d again reclaim it.

The elves ended their revels as the moon’s lurid glow dulled in the light of the rising sun, retiring from the dances to settle on the grass and sip from bowls of wine.  The priestess staggered down the steps, her eyes betraying none of the exhaustion visible in her movements, something heavy hanging from her closed fist.  She walked to my side, her cruel grin visible in the darkness.  Holding up her right arm, I saw what she held: the severed head of an orcish woman, her eyes and tongue torn out.  I recoiled at the sight, at last feeling the welcome heat of anger.

“Do not be so quick to defend it.  This is no Horde warrior, but a Twilight cultist we found the other day.  It was not a fresh kill, so we did not make it our main offering.  Besides, Goldrinn detests this alien meat, though I find myself appreciative of its strange flavor.”

The priestess licked her lips, and laughed.

“We will never try your flesh, foul thing.  But nightmares of ancient days are returning to defend their land.  One day soon we will dance in the streets of Bilgewater Harbor, of Orgrimmar.  Undercity will fall to the worgen, and a new eternity will be upon us.”

She threw the head at my feet and I winced when I heard the impact, heavy and wet.  I loathed the priestess and her arrogance even as I understood the source of her rage.  But the night elves had already had their chance to rule the world, a victory they obtained by attacking the trollish empires older than their own…

“Leave, now.  If I see you again, I will kill you.  Take your coins, if you wish.”

I tried to stand up, dead limbs resisting my will.  Wrapped in clothes, I could pretend a humanity I no longer possessed.  Naked, I was nothing but a corpse.  Still, I forced myself to return her gaze, even as my body shook.  Finally I broke, turning around and limping away, shamed beneath the morning sky.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Bilgewater Harbor

Straining to lift bags overstuffed with a lifetime’s worth of work, I tottered down from the train carriage as dozens of goblins hopped off around me.  Dressed in shabby suits and borrowed hats they’d crammed themselves into the compartment, arms and heads sticking out from the tiny windows.

Behind me, Daj’yah struggled with a too-large briefcase, bought on the cheap from a merchant in the Goblin Slums.  I waited at the cement platform, smelling the once-crisp northern air laden with new smog.  Putting down the bags, I reached out to help her disembark.

The Darkspear Tribe had stood fast against the angry mob but all knew that Mogrug’s friends would never abandon their grudge.  Troll watchers had spotted orcs hiding in the shadows near the Darkbriar Lodge as soon as the next night.  All decided that it would be best for Daj’yah to leave for a while.  Contacts in the goblin mage community gave us the means to reach the dubious safety of Bilgewater Harbor.

I remember Azshara as an untamed wilderness, the whims of its long-departed queen having frozen it in an eternal autumn.  Overnight, the goblins had turned it into a vast workshop, at once fascinating and a bit horrifying.  I have always tried to put myself on the side of progress but the speed and rapaciousness with which the goblins had torn out ancient trees and demolished entire mountains disturbed even me.

Rocket-trains scream along elevated rails past denuded forests still bearing fringes of their old autumnal glory.  We’d taken the train used by goblin laborers who commute between squalid villages and Orgrimmar’s munitions plants.  At the southern terminus of the rail, we boarded a steamer to Bilgewater Harbor itself, Kezan reborn on a smaller scale.

Upon reaching the ferry we bought our fare and put the bags in steerage, the area little more than a cramped metal corridor with coffin-like slots for beds.  Occupied sleeping bags covered most of the floor, though our comparatively large sizes gave us no choice but to rest outside.

Cold and briny winds washed over us as we stood at the prow, Bilgewater Harbor a solitary electric mountain in the ocean.  We could see the monstrous cannon atop the city, the front shaped like a goblin’s screaming head.  Presented as a gift from the Bilgewater Cartel to the Horde, the Grand Cannon is the biggest weapon in the world.  Many claim that its shells can actually hit Stormwind City, though the fact that it’s never been used casts doubt on such boasts.

“So this is where I’m going to live?” sighed Daj’yah.  She’d accepted the news of her leaving Orgrimmar with an acceptance bordering on indifference.  The city’s charms no longer held much meaning for her.

“You’ll get used to it.  I’ve usually enjoyed my time in goblin cities.  Admittedly most of them were Steamwheedle-owned.  Besides, you don’t have to stay here.  There are plenty of other cities.”

A shrill whistle announced the start of the journey, the ferry creaking to life as it chugged across the polluted waters.  All the while the glaring corona of Bilgewater Harbor, thrilling and monstrous, filled our sights.   

We finally reached the city’s quays the next evening, our little ship skirting between the floating hulks of Horde cruisers and goblin barges.  Bilgewater Harbor is the Horde’s primary naval base in the west.  Orcish admirals complain that the temptations of the city subvert crew discipline.

Daj’yah held the rails as we passed mere inches from the metal prows of Horde vessels that jutted up from the waters like giant teeth.  Already we heard the clamor of the city, an orchestra of factories and motor vehicles, the occasional backfiring engine serving as percussion.

“All right, we’re at the harbor, get off my boat!” screeched the captain when the ferry at last came to a stop.

Pushed out with all the others we lugged our belongings onto a new shore.  I remembered when the spot had been nothing more than a rain-lashed rock.  Only the goblins could find use for such a place.

Most of the passengers scurried up ramps to lose themselves in the city’s brilliant cacophony.  Back in Orgrimmar, however, Zinzy had arranged for us to meet a wealthy goblin sorceress named Elazzi Mazwreg.  She’d let us stay in her home for a while.  Charity does not come naturally to the goblins, so I could only suspect she’d either been paid or had some ulterior motive.

If charity exists to ease despair, it is no wonder that the goblins have so little use for it.  The bloodiest disaster in the entire history of the race barely a year behind them, they’d already found new lives, striving upwards with dizzy abandon.  Street traders push carts loaded with cosmetics, spices, and every other product, faces lit up by the glare of electric signs promising the world.  I wondered how many goblins had lost loved ones in the eruption of Kezan.  Where does resilience turn into callousness?

“Destron!” shouted Daj’yah.  She tugged at my sleeve, pointing to her left where a gray open-air automobile idled in a stream of moving bodies, the driver holding up a sign with her name written on it. 

Getting closer we saw another goblin in the passenger seat.  Bold makeup applied to her face with artful care, her red hair a deliberately disarrayed mop on her head, she waved at us with a cigarette holder in her hand, the smoldering tip making figure eights in the air.

“Daj’yah!  It’s so wonderful to finally meet you!  I’m Elazzi Mazwreg, grand dame of magic in this berg!  Here, you and your friend slide into the back.  Joag, help them get their bags in the trunk, would you?”

“Right, miss.”

Joag, the driver, catapulted himself over the driver’s seat and ran to grab the bags.  His smallness belying his strength, he nimbly opened the trunk and put them in, each movement possessed of a machine’s artificial grace.  A little overwhelmed by the reception, I opened the door for Daj’yah before following her into the kodohide backseat.

“Joag, take us to the Kalimdor Cantina.  So how was your trip?  Safe and smooth, but not too boring, I hope?”

“Fine.  How do you know me?” asked Daj’yah.  Her eyes darted back and forth, and she looked half-ready to bolt.  She flinched when Joag blasted the horn, the car still mired in the crowd.

“You’re a big name here in Bilgewater, at least among us mages.  Your book, Flame and Shadow, is still all the rage!”

“Wait, Flame and Shadow?  That’s just a treatise, not enough for a book.”

“Sells better if it’s called a book.  We spruced it up, added some forwards and commentary by big names in the arcane industry.  But your writing is the meat of the book, what it rests on.”

“When did this happen?  I didn’t think anyone outside of Orgrimmar had read it.”

“Oh, six months ago, I think?  Right when the first printing presses got back up into gear.”  Beneath us, the auto finally picked up speed as Joag cleared the docks, steering uphill through narrow streets pressed in on both sides by walls of light and metal.

“How did it get here?”

“Someone in the Goblin Slums brought it in, I bought it from him—fellow’s keen on wizardry, but a dummy for finance—and got it published.”

“Oh.  That’s good?”

“Of course, of course!  Daj’yah, you’re a star!  I got a nice and tidy profit from your book.  And don’t worry, you’ll get your cut.  It’s hard to wire money to Orgrimmar; every time you do, the warchief and the trade prince both decide to grab a piece.  Better to do it face to face, when the taxman isn’t looking.”

I yelped as another auto, twice as tall as ours and on wheels as narrow as coins swung less than an inch away from the door, the side view-mirror filling my vision for one horrifying instant.  Throwing myself to the side, I watched as the ramshackle vehicle rolled downhill, swinging around pedestrians.

“There’s a thousand people here you have to meet!”  Elazzi hadn’t noticed the near crash.  Gingerly sitting back up, I resolved to keep a closer eye on my surroundings, a task made difficult by the sheer variety on show, a thousand faces and electric signs in every imaginable language whooshing by.

“Oh, they told me about you… Destron, is it?”


“We’re happy to have you on board too.  Daj’yah, is this your first time in Bilgewater Harbor?”  

“Ah, yes.  Forgive me, Elazzi, I’m very weary.  We’ve been traveling a long ways.  Could we maybe just go to your home?”

“Oh, you have to make an appearance!  It’ll be short, all you have to do is smile and say hello.  Kalimdor Cantina is the place to be these days.”

“All right, if it’s short, but don’t be expecting me to say much.”

“I’ll do all the talking.”

Still going uphill, Joag swung a knife-sharp turn to the right, going up an alley just large enough for the auto to squeeze through.  Darker than the last street, bulging wooden platforms hung over us on both sides, the gap between criss-crossed by metal planks.  Pushed out of the street level, the goblins sold wares up on top. Ahead, I saw a trader lean over the edge and dangle a lush red jacket, still on its hanger, over the street.

“Great prices, great looks!” he shouted at us as we sped past him.

Surrounded by all this action, the sense of invigoration in the filthy air spread to me, ideas spinning within ideas, the whole world an opportunity. 

“The Bilgewater Cartel certainly seems to have recovered,” I said, shouting to make myself heard.

“Disaster is another word for opportunity, my friend.  I admit I thought Gallywix was a fool to want to buy Azshara, but it turns out the place is loaded with resources.  I had maybe three coppers to scrape together after the Cataclysm, but I invested them in mainland resource extraction and I’m a rich woman again!”

“What do you think about the trade prince?”

“Smarter than I thought.  I figured he’d take Azshara to himself, but he’s actually letting investors in.  I heard the tauren are trying to buy it all up to stop some of the logging, but they’ve got a ways to go before they get majority shares.”

Azshara has, in fact, become a vital part of the Horde’s food production in spite of the land’s poor quality.  Agricultural technology has expanded greatly over the past ten years, the result of engineering, magic, druidism, and shamanism working together (though not always without controversy).  Wheat grows on land that would have been useless during the Third War.

Many of the orcish ranches in the Northern Barrens were wiped out during and after the Cataclysm.  Rebuilding has been slow due to distance and poor regional infrastructure.  Most efforts go towards seizing Ashenvale, which is a questionable strategy as the soil there is of poor quality (though Ashenvale’s lumber is the real impetus for the invasion).  For now, Azshara’s farms pick up the slack, though they are subject to diminishing returns (ranches in Ashenvale would also have this problem).  The Horde needs to focus on reclaiming the Northern Barrens, but many orcs fear that the land will never be safe so long as the Kaldorei rule the north.

Joag turned again, returning us to the electric daylight of the main streets.  Blasting the horn, he edged the auto onto the walkways, the rear tires sticking out into the street.  He struggled with the wheel for a bit, at last getting the vehicle more-or-less perpendicular to the curb.

“Here we are!  Kalimdor Cantina!  Best place to get a drink in all Bilgewater Harbor—except on the nights when there’s a party at my place!”

From the outside, the Kalimdor Cantina looked much like its neighbors, gray metal walls groaning under the weight of a heavy green roof. 

“I feel like I’m having a bad dream,” muttered Daj’yah.

“We can get her to take us back to her home if you’d like.  I’m sure she won’t force the issue.”

“No, I’m already here.  Just hope it doesn’t take too long.”

Elazzi practically pulled us inside, where dim lamps cast smoldering light on red walls.  Dozens of mismatched tables filled the common area and a small stage stood at the other end.  A quick look revealed how much the goblins had done with so little.  Most of the furniture looked as if it had been repurposed; one of the wooden tables still bore the imprint of “Bizzig Packaging Concern” beneath a tablecloth that might have once been a fisherman’s tarp.  The goblins within dressed as best they could, pushing felt flowers through holes in tattered jackets, cutting old potato sacks to fit and flatter.  Glamour and scarcity made surprisingly comfortable bedfellows.

“Elazzi!  Glad you could make it tonight.  And who are your guests?” inquired a bald goblin in a black suit, his pencil-thin moustache barely visible in the half-light.

“Daj’yah, one of the greatest minds in the arcane industry today, and Destron, a fearless explorer who’s been all over Azeroth and Outland.”

“Wonderful!  I’ll show you to your seats.”

He gave us a circular table not far from the stage, bits of sawdust clinging to the rim.  Elazzi immediately began telling us what to expect.

“The Bilgewater Big-Timers are giving a show tonight, so there’s going to be a lot of people.  Both of you are here to be seen, good way to announce your presence here.”

“Why do I want to announce my presence?  There are orcs who want to kill me!”

“In Orgrimmar!  You’re safe here.”

“No, I’m not!  I’m exhausted!  I’ve been traveling for days, carrying everything I own, and now you want me to be in some party?  You’re crazy!”

Elazzi raised her hands.

“Relax, relax.  Anger gives you wrinkles.  In Bilgewater Harbor, your best protection is to have a lot of friends.  The orcs might rule the Horde, but this is goblin territory and a bunch of orcish thugs won’t be able to get away with so much.  I’m in charge of every arcane publication; even in the age of radio, there’s a lot of money in print.  You make yourself valuable, and no one will dare lay a finger on you.  I’m sorry, Daj’yah, I know this is a lot.  We’ll keep it quiet tonight; the Big-Timers are going to be back next week and we can do something then.”

Gazing down at her hands, Daj’yah’s shoulders drooped.

“Fine.  I just want to get some sleep.”

“Anything you want, I’ll buy.  I’m a woman of wealth!”

Elazzi pointed out the local titans as the evening crowd filtered in, industrial lords rubbing shoulders with inventors and shipping magnates.  Hard times barely touched their splendor, bold confidence turning their ragged clothes into haute couture.   

“I visited Kezan briefly, and it seemed that goblins there were more constrained,” I commented.

“Oh, Kezan was awful.  After it blew up, most of the connections became just about worthless.  One of the trade prince’s old sycophants, Mogger, used to be in charge of transportation.  He didn’t have a clue what he was doing, but he worked the system and gave an extra big cut to Gallywix, so he stayed.

“So he dies, and the cartel needs transport more than ever.  The goblin with the big glob of red hair over there,” she said, pointing to a man a few tables away, “is now boss.  His named is Agrob Nolg, and thanks to him, Azshara has the fastest transportation infrastructure in all of Kalimdor.  Maybe not the safest, but what’s life without a little risk?  Agrob was nothing back in the old days, and lost every one he loved.  Now, he’s a king.”

“He’s not bothered by that?” wondered Daj’yah.

“We all lost people.  My daughter, Nenny, died.  I tried to get her, but everyone was running towards the docks, and I couldn’t get through the crowd—but I’m still alive, and crying won’t bring her back.  Besides, if there is an afterlife, I'm pretty sure that the dead are more interested in making money there than in listening to us weep about them.”


Leaning from atop the steel roof of the Gizlibbet Foundry like a crooked finger, Elazzi’s mansion is bigger than it first appears, the cramped rooms seeming to spiral inwards in defiance of logic or sound construction.  Metal struts connected to the neighboring warehouse support the off-kilter top floor, while the lower levels receive the full brunt of the foundry’s smoke. 

“Smoke adds character,” said Elazzi by way of explanation.

I slept in a tiny parlor tucked away somewhere between the first and second floors, furnished by empty crates (painted in garish shades to add color) and a thick tauren-style rug.  Scarcity of consumer goods and Elazzi’s busy schedule kept her from decorating most of the rooms.  Daj’yah slept in a narrow bedchamber up a stairway that doubled as a hall.  She spent the entirety of the first full day there, trying to regain her strength.

The combination of narrow corridors and fiery heat is reminiscent of Warsong Hold, though Elazzi’s home is far more pleasant.  Open windows let in the cool Azshara air and most rooms have at least some concession to comfort.  The mazelike interior proves initially bewildering, and one has to explore the place a few times before really getting used to the layout.

A wrong turn in the narrow (and somewhat drafty) top floor brought me to a tiny room that might be better described as a closet.  Behind a red curtain I found a small circular table made of mahogany (suggesting that it had been recently imported from the south—an expensive endeavor in this day and age).  Lit candles surrounded a framed black-and-white photograph of a goblin girl, probably no more than eight years old.  A tiny porcelain bowl holding fresh banana pudding slowly cooled in front of the picture, an old tin spoon lying next to it.

I closed the curtain, not wishing to intrude on the sacred. 

Going back down to the first floor, I reflected on what little I knew about goblin religious beliefs.  Ancient goblins had casually acknowledged a vague godhead called Uz, who sneered at those who spent their time praying instead of accruing profit.  Organized belief in Uz disappeared centuries before the First War, and he only lives on in oaths (which, if the ancient texts are any indication, he would find quite satisfactory).

Regardless of its piety, a society still needs ways to heal its sick and injured.  Shamans fulfilled the role throughout much of early goblin history, but contact with the miraculous healing abilities exhibited by trollish and human priests inspired the goblins to research this role.

Belief in a metaphysical (as opposed to merely philosophical or ideological) force greater than oneself seems a prerequisite for tapping into the psychic powers that are at the core of the priest’s abilities.  This is the scientific view; priests of Elune or the Loa maintain that their talents are divine gifts, as do a fair number of the more zealous Light-worshippers (the draenei combine the two, arguing that the mental discipline itself is a gift from on high).

Before the First Trade War, goblin priests tended to mix the roles of healer and huckster.  No unified church existed and hedge priests roamed the highways of Kezan performing miracles in the name of the Loa, the Light, and anything else that came to mind.  They’d work themselves into frenzies and clearly believed every word they said, brushing aside any contradiction.

The surviving trade groups quickly snatched up these miracle workers (as they were sometimes called) once they consolidated their holdings after the First Trade War.  Most priests now work as full-time employees for various cartels and may follow any religion.  Utter pragmatism describes the Bilgewater health program, and an employee must meet a certain level of profitability to receive any medical care at all.

Flashing a grin that seemed carved onto his face, Azdro Viglid emanated cheerful grandiosity from every pore.  I found him at the docks as I explored the city during my first day, where he had just closed a gaping wound on a worker’s leg.  The goblin thanked Azdro as he finished and the priest raised his arms.

“I accept your thanks!  And thank your own contribution to the Bilgewater Cartel and the Holy Light!  We all march together, and we can only keep pace through the efforts of goblins like you!” proclaimed Azdro.  His bright orange suit made him look more like a clown than a priest.

We introduced ourselves a few minutes later, and retired to dingy outdoor cafĂ© squeezed into a narrow alley.  I bought Azdro a cup of coffee and he grinned wider than I thought possible.

“I am most truly a believer in the Holy Light, and I hope you are the same.  The Bilgewater Cartel is simply the best means of fulfilling my faith,” he said by way of explanation.

“Forgive me if I’m relying too much on the human interpretation, but the Light postulates that all thinking beings are united on a metaphysical level.  Does this ever create a conflict of interest with your employers’ demands?”

“Priests march in armies don’t they?  They heal their charges and bring holy wrath down on the enemy, no matter who’s really right or wrong.  Moral monopolies don’t appear in most wars, but the priests always think they’re righteous.”

“That is a fair point,” I conceded.

“Destron, you and I have both read the same book, that wonderful, singular, fantastical book, the Exegesis of Light.  What is the second virtue of the Light?  Tenacity, my friend.  This is a sorry world of sin and sadness, and we can’t always have things the way we want them.  Some might pretend to be always on the side of the right; I just try to do as little harm as I can.”

“That does seem a rather glib response.  Few will deny that there is much evil, but to simply accept it without trying to change—“

“Hold on!  I do plenty good, probably more than you!  I heal thousands every month, from old goblins suffering pneumonia to little children creaking on broken bones.  There are priests who work outside the system, and they charge folks a fortune!  My pay comes out of my clients’ revenue, so it’s all fair.”

“Pardon me, I did not mean to offend.”

“I’m a bit of a hothead, so don’t mind me if I start shouting!” he laughed.  “There are rogues out there that heal unprofitable employees.  Clients typically can’t pay them back—there’s a reason they’re unprofitable, after all—and go into debt slavery.  More of them now, with all the independents roaming Kalimdor.

“Listen, I’m the first to point out the flaws of the system.  But after the First Trade War, we had to organize things.  Bilgewater isn’t perfect, but it’s a good sight better than the Venture Company.  I know that some of the Steamwheedle priests talk about the free exchange of the market being the true representation of the Light or some nonsense, but most of us are realists.  I believe because faith lets me do my job, which is helping people.  I can help more by working in the system.”

“What if—and this is purely hypothetical—you worked outside of it without charging exorbitantly?”

“I’d still be run out of town once the bruisers caught sight of me.  That’s why the freelancers charge so much; it’s a big risk for them.”

Those who see the miraculous healing abilities of priests may wonder why something so simple requires a monetary transaction at all.  While healing spells are fast and do not consume resources, the fact remains that achieving even the most basic level of proficiency requires years of study and prayer.  Only a minority of Azeroth’s clergy actually possesses the ability to heal; most fulfill ritual or scholarly roles.

In a sense, the various churches of the Light are not too dissimilar in function to the medical infrastructure of the Bilgewater Cartel.  For both, healing is a free service.  The church pays priests through money gained from tithes, while the cartel collects money from rent and fees.  Priests of Elune or the Loa receive ad hoc societal compensation for their efforts. 

However, priests in the Eastern Kingdoms are charged with healing everyone, including criminals, the impoverished, and those who oppose the church.  The one exception is during times of war, in which case a priest may choose to abstain from healing the enemy.  When the human kingdoms fought each other in days of yore, battle priests typically healed wounded enemy prisoners.  They showed less mercy when fighting nonhumans. 

Built on a tiny island in the Bay of Storms, Bilgewater Harbor is routinely battered by freezing squalls.  Great waves crash against the rocky shore, threatening to overturn the berthed vessels.  The worst storms render street travel impossible, so the goblins use the jury-rigged walkways that connect the city’s roofs.  From Elazzi’s house we could see dozens of goblins jostling each other across the narrow paths, often without rails.  Elazzi claims that falls are quite rare, though I rather doubt that anyone is keeping track.  At the very least, the goblins are a surefooted race.

One such rainy afternoon found me in Elazzi’s house with Daj’yah.  On a lark, we’d started brewing a pot of coffee in the trollish style, black and bitter with the grinds floating in the drink.  Finishing up in the kitchen we carried the pot to an adjacent parlor, using a ladle to fill the small porcelain cups.  Daj’yah had brought the ladle from Orgrimmar.  Stylized bats flew along the handle, wings chiseled on the basin itself.  The imagery symbolized Hir’eek, the Loa of knowledge and wisdom whose domain also contains coffee.

“I still can’t get used to the way goblins drink.  They’re just taking one cup on their own, shoot it down, and put it away.  They aren’t enjoying it proper!” she laughed.  Coffee is a social drink among the trolls; saying that someone drinks coffee alone indicates that he is arrogant or greedy.  Back in the Darkbriar Lodge, we often drank while working.  Considering how often we conferred and debated, it still counted as social.

“What do you think of the taste?”

“The taste is all right.  Different, like everything else here.  Do you think it’s strange how Elazzi goes to every party she can find, but still seems lonely?”

“She never struck me as lonesome.”

“It’s there, I’m thinking.  She goes around but she doesn’t know anyone.  None of the goblins do.  And yeah, I know it’s strange for me to say that.  Maybe I was more a part of the tribe than I thought,” she sighed.

“Do you miss Orgrimmar?”

“Sometimes.  But I know I didn’t like being there all that much, so I try not to think about it.  Bilgewater Harbor is not a bad place, but I start getting tired with so much going on all the time.  Every moment the goblins are busy.”

“They all believe that they’ll soon be rich,” I said.

“But most of them won’t be.”

“Perhaps.  But the belief seems to make them happier.  I think it’s just the way goblin psychology works.”

“We Darkspear always lived expecting to die the next day.  Too often, we did just that.  So we always stuck to the tribe, since if one of us died, some of those around us still lived.  I don’t think the goblins feel that way about their bosses.”

“No, not at all.  It’s a very individualistic society, even with the trade princes interfering.”

“I never thought I fit in with the Darkspear, but seeing how all these goblins go at it alone, I’m not so sure.  But all the excitement is interesting.”

“Speaking of goblins, I do wonder how much longer Elazzi will let me stay here.”

“You’re with me, why would she make you leave?”

“You’re well-known, Daj’yah.  I’m not.  It’s not fair for me to impose on her hospitality when I really can’t offer much for her.  Goblins expect reciprocity,” I said.  I remembered Spirra, the goblin pilot whose life I’d saved in the Blasted Lands.  She’d insisted on paying me back what she thought her life was worth, a value she’d taken great pains to calculate accurately.

“Elazzi likes you.”

“She does, but probably not enough to justify my living in her house, taking her coffee.  I’ll ask her about it.”

“Maybe you could tell her about her Gilnean adventure?  Stories are a type of payment.”

“She might accept that, but I’m not sure I trust her enough to tell her.  I was actually thinking I might visit Mount Hyjal for a while.”

“Again?  We shouldn’t have let you out of Orgrimmar; once you go, you can’t stop.”

“Hyjal’s not that far, and most of the fire elementals have been removed.  Why don’t you join me?” I suggested.

“No.  Thanks, but no.  I’m still getting used to this place.  Besides, I think there’s another hundred people Elazzi wants me to meet.  Most of the goblins here haven’t heard of me, but they all pretend to.”

“How can you be sure?”

“One of them thought I was a fashion model for some reason.  Another had me for a priestess.  But they all say they’ve heard of me since I’m Elazzi’s friend,” she laughed.  “I do like Elazzi, though she’s right strange.  If I had her energy, I’d be writing a whole library of books every month!

“Oh, if you do decide to jaunt up to Hyjal, send me a telegraph if they have such things,” she added.

“I’ll do just that,” I promised.

Pleased at Daj’yah’s improved mood, I held the coffee cup in both hands, my right trying to feel the warmth through the thin porcelain.


A little more than a month had passed since my arrival.  Eager to visit new places, I’d arranged for a seat on a flight to Mount Hyjal.  The Horde’s presence on the sacred mountain has been vastly reduced but freelancers and less jingoistic partisans still find reasons to visit.  I earned my keep in Elazzi’s house by writing ad copy for the mainland resource extraction operations in which she’d invested. 

Daj’yah entertained herself by observing the tics and habits of the wealthy goblins to who she was regularly introduced.  She and Elazzi became unlikely friends, though Daj’yah began to attend fewer of the endless parties and meetings.  She convinced Elazzi that she would be of more social value if made a scarcer commodity.  Daj’yah preferred to have time for her writing, and the interaction with goblin mages had given her new ideas to pursue, and new connections with which to do so.

I did not visit the Grand Cannon until near the end of my stay in Bilgewater Harbor.  Sticking into the sky like a leprous arm clawing out from a grave it serves an oppressive reminder of the state of war that exists between the Horde and the Alliance.

The crowds thin at the top of the summit and heavily armed bruisers keep constant watch over the place.  Chemicals and lubricants give the air a greasy sort of stink.  The Grand Cannon must be ready to fire at all times by order of the warchief, necessitating a small fortune spent on maintenance.

I spoke to a tired-looking mechanic while he rested from his labors.

“Putting this rig together was the last thing Gallywix did before hiding himself away.  No one’s fired the damn thing.”

“Will it really be able to destroy Stormwind City?”

“They say that, but like I said it’s never been tested.  The shell might not even reach Stormwind.  Or it might just explode in the chamber and take out the entire city.”  He grunted, rubbing his hands together. 

“You don’t sound very optimistic.”

“Look, I’m as forward-looking as anyone else, but you have to test something before you can claim it’s useful!  That’s just how it’s done!  As long as it doesn’t explode on us, I’ll count myself happy.”

Warchief Hellscream has often proclaimed that only cowards kill defenseless civilians.  However, if the Grand Cannon lives up to its promises and is able to hit Stormwind City, it would be an atrocity on a level not seen since the Third War.  I do not know if the warchief has thought of this.

Many of the great armament factories cluster on the slopes below the Grand Cannon, smoky hives of metal and flame.  Smithing is hardly the same art it was a mere ten years ago.  I remember being astonished by the amount of labor it took for a blacksmith to make a single sword back in old Lordaeron.

Today, enchantments on the metal make it predisposed to take certain shapes.  The blacksmith just has to guide it into the appropriate form.  A reasonably capable worker can produce dozens in a single working day.  This assumes that the said worker is motivated, which is unfortunately not necessarily the case. 

“It’s no secret,” remarked an off-duty worker named Lugz, whose domino mask of old burns showed the exact size and shape of his goggles.  “My boss needs to produce a certain number of weapons for the Horde each week.  He also wants to make a profit.

“So, once we finish production for the Horde, which just pays a fixed price, never mind the quality, we start making other weapons.  These go to partisans, independent groups, you get the idea.”

“There’s more profit in this?” I asked.

“It adds to the total.  If you’re smart, like me, you just laze through the quota.  We’ll get it done, but all the effort goes into the unofficial stuff we make.  I get paid more if I really show my stuff doing that, because that’s what my boss cares about.”

“You… you aren’t afraid you’ll get in trouble for this?  That someone will report it?”

His eyes narrowed.

“I’m the company’s best producer when it comes to the unofficial weapons, so my boss listens to me.  My boss meets the quota, so the orc generals listen to him.  The generals have to make sure that the army gets enough weapons, or else Hellscream kills them.  Do you really think these generals are going to rock the boat?”

I had one final duty in Azshara.  I awoke early the day after my visit to the Grand Cannon and walked quickly down the streets in the cold morning darkness, pushing a wooden cart half-crushed under the weight of its cargo.  Rain from the previous evening poured down from gutters and rooftops and a heavy fog blanketed the streets.  At last reaching the docks, I spotted Captain Noggrin’s boat, an assemblage of wood and scrap metal that I hoped was stronger than it looked.

Noggrin’s crew of three helped me push the cart up the gangplank, the ship embarking only a few minutes later.  The engine steadily chugged as the ship braved the choppy waves, icy spray washing the deck.

Dawn’s promising brilliance soon gave way to a cold and paltry morning, a patchwork of dark clouds flung across the sky.  Cutting winds swept the ocean, not so strong as the ones we’d felt earlier in the day.  I visited with Captain Noggrin, who’d been a pro-Alliance blockade-runner during the Second War.

“Wild days, those,” he reminisced.  “Now I’m working for the Horde.  Reckon if a fellow lives long enough, he ends up switching sides a few times.  Suppose you’d know a bit about that yourself.”

“Does it bother you?”

“Not really.  Boltwick Limited paid me to deliver to the Alliance, and Bilgewater wants a cut from what I earn selling fish.  Or ferrying people, if they pay enough.”

I had paid a significant amount for the trip.  In Orgrimmar, I’d lived conservatively on what little I’d earned working for the Darkbriar Lodge, and had saved up enough to be generous.

“How is the fishing?”

“Not as good as it used to be.  I once fished here on long trips out from Ratchet, back before the Cataclysm.  This whole sea teemed with delicious life!  The deck of my old boat sank practically to wave level going back to Ratchet, that’s how many fish we caught!

“Now, it’s not as good.  Too many other anglers, but there’s more than enough for me to make decent coin.  Shame what they did to Azshara, but such is life.”

“You don’t approve of the reshaping?”

“Damned waste of money.”

When Gallywix first came to Azshara, he’d made the strange decision to reshape the landscape into something resembling the Horde symbol.  At no small cost he hired an army of laborers to demolish mountains and move earth, torturing Azshara’s geography.  He had no choice but to break his own rule and hire from outside the Bilgewater Cartel; there’s even a somewhat believable rumor that he’d employed Venture operatives in this project.

Gallywix had wanted to ingratiate himself with the Horde with the project, but the orcs rightfully condemned it as wasteful while the tauren cursed Gallywix’s name in their prayers.  While he was able to collect some ore, a greater amount was destroyed in the demolitions.  Some say that the project’s unpopularity is why Gallywix has made so few appearances since finishing it.

The rust-splotched prow beached itself on sand as the sun began to disappear into the west, the craggy peaks of northern Azshara silhouettes stark against the dying light.  I waded into the surf, two of Captain Noggrin’s crew carrying my cargo.  Seagulls screeched as they fought in the cold air and I could just see the metallic glints on the shells of tiny crabs as they scuttled on the damp sand.

I spotted the mountain of rubble ahead, half-buried under a blanket of lichen.  I remembered how grand it had once looked, a relic of a bygone age wreathed in millennia of history.  There the Lord of the Tides had survived the Sundering and the passage of time, watching over the currents even as the world forgot his existence.  He’d saved me from the naga, asking only that I not let his memory vanish.

I had come to fulfill that promise.  Taking careful steps up the broken pillars and shattered walls, I reached the top of the heap, a place high enough to avoid the tide.  I helped the goblins place the cube of polished black marble on the stone, testing it to make sure it rested on a stable site.

Satisfied, I again read the words on the plaque.

“From this place, Lord Arkkoroc watched the tides since time immemorial.  Hear his name in the swell of the waves, and remember.”

I did not know how long the memorial would survive in such a remote place, but it was the least I could do for the lonely demigod.  I stood in silence for a while, the roaring wind tearing at my coat.  At last I turned and walked down the ruins and back to the boat.


((Comments are appreciated, as always.  Also, those of you with an interest in film should check out This Cinematic Life, the blog of an old friend of mine.  It it, he adds his insight to everything from cutting '90s high school satire to the medium-expanding work of William Castle.))