Sunday, June 16, 2013

Epilogue


I spent much of the return trip poring over the snapshots Daj’yah had taken of Zul’gurub, wishing very keenly that I’d been there to see.  She was in a much better mood on the return trip; receiving tribal sanction for her position in Booty Bay came as an immense relief to her.

“Mala’ha is still wanting me to start a family there or something.  At least the city gives me more choices than the tribe.  Not sure if that will help, but it’s something.  Besides, she said I had to try; I don’t have to succeed.”

“Do you want to succeed?”

“Not so sure.  Maybe I’m needing to figure that out before anything else.”

Lines of mold greeted us when we opened the door to our apartment, green thickets of the stuff cascading down around a window open to the tropical air.

“Who left the window open?” demanded Daj’yah.

Neither of us could remember who was last in the room, so we satisfied ourselves by blaming the warchief. 

The Bay Dispatch had not been entirely pleased with my request for time off so I volunteered for a week without pay to make up for it.  I had enough money stored up to pay for the rent, and satisfied myself with conjuring my own food and drink.  Given Daj'yah's status and ability, the Steamwheedle Cartel had been more willing to give her the free time (the information and opportunities she brought back with her served to sweeten the deal).

Life resumed as it had before our countryside sojourn, time seeming to pause in a contented blur of work followed by relaxation.  Many nights saw Daj’yah and I simply reading in the apartment, occasionally reciting a particularly choice passage but largely enjoying the quiet.  We weren’t total recluses; the city still beckoned with its lights and excitement, occasionally pulling us out from the Portview Arms to wander its streets, unburdened by any urgency or destination. 

Others drifted in to this pleasant milieu from time to time, Felya being the most frequent visitor.  She often came by unannounced, telling us the latest about the city’s life, the endless ups and downs, the novel cabarets that popped into existence only to vanish the next night.

Felya always tried to wheedle us out of the apartment and succeeded on occasion.  Daj’yah and I made an arrangement for these situations—as someone still alive, she could plead exhaustion, giving us a quick exit in case Felya’s adventure of the night turned out to be more involved than expected. 

I kept up on news regarding the world, both on and off the job.  The Horde stiffened its resolve in Kalimdor, setting up formidable bulwarks across Ashenvale and the Southern Barrens.  The Horde’s depleted forces made further advances impossible, but the surviving warriors vowed to consolidate that which they still held.

However, fresh troops and big guns have a way of dislodging even the most honorable of fighters.  Stormwind’s vanguard had already made landfall in Dustwallow Marsh, uprooting the few pockets of Horde resistance still in the wilderness. 

Ugliness emerged from within the Alliance as it inched towards victory.  Though distrustful of the Horde, the Dispatch did not hesitate to cover stories of Alliance privateers setting alight the coast of Durotar, the partisan crews seeing all orcs as fair game.  The overstretched Horde navy rarely reacted in time, their slow ships finding only the bloody aftermath of such attacks.

The Lordaeronian front remained curiously quiet after the Stromgarders repelled the last Forsaken advance.  Though some hailed their gallantry as a turning point, cooler heads pointed out that they’d be unlikely to survive a second full-on assault.

Some of the delay came from the Alliance’s understandable (if perhaps overcautious) insistence on securing the shipping lines to Lordaeron’s southern coast.   The Alliance probably wishes to secure Tol Barad and the Twilight Highlands before launching a full-scale assault.  The former gives its owner a great deal of air coverage over Gilneas, while the latter still hosts a large Horde fleet.

It is a peculiar situation that Warchief Hellscream would choose to invest so heavily in the Twilight Highlands.  He is, in effect, acting as a bulwark for the Forsaken even as his own defenses crumble.  His forces in the east have been effective, but they are unlikely to make any significant inroads, and will eventually be worn down by Alliance pressure.  

I will admit a certain relief at being so distant from such events.  Perhaps I should not be so hasty; distance no longer means as much as it did in the past.  Nonetheless, I have found a wondrous respite from the Horde's exhausting and self-destructive conflict.  I truly do not know if I am still considered a part of that faction.  

If I am no longer able to travel the world, Booty Bay at least offers a place where the world might travel to me.  Nowhere else in Azeroth can one find such a teeming and cosmopolitan multitude, free to talk and to trade as they see fit.  One needs only to walk down the street to see visitors from a hundred different lands both on and beyond our world.  No one here cares that there are no eyes in my face.

There is no such thing as a perfect place, and Booty Bay is still rife with the sin, callousness, and vice of Steamwheedle society.  For now, in the company of friends, I am content with its imperfections.

*********

((Thank you again for sticking with me through these entries. It's been a great deal of fun, but I simply have to prioritize other matters.

Again, for those who would like to read the unpublished Eastern Kingdoms material, please email me at destron@live.com. The content will cover the Tainted Scar and most of Stormwind, though it does end quite abruptly.

I will continue to write, but will focus on stories that I can publish. In case you missed the earlier update, you can find my first published work here, at Bewildering Stories.))

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Zul'gurub



“Feeling any better?”

“A little.  At least here there’s room for breathing.”

“Breathing is overrated.  I hardly even bother with it these days.”

I laughed as Destron handed me a bowl of tea, the guesthouse humid with the smell of warm morning rains.  They helped me there after I’d come to my senses.  Mala’ha told me to take it easy and that there were plenty of priests around if I needed help.

“Poor Daj’yah, sometimes I forget how much of a girl you still are,” Mala’ha had clucked.

Everyone worried about me until it became quite obvious that I’d already more or less recovered.  At least my projectile vomiting convinced everyone I’d be happier in the guesthouse, which was practically empty by that point.

Reconsecrating one of the greatest temples in the world is no small matter, even for a people like my own who aren’t much for conspicuous displays.  I spent the next few days with people I’d not seen since childhood and strangers from other bands that I’d never met.

Ur’kyo screeched us awake every morning, the hateful old priest lining us up in the center of Bambala to practice the sacred words and motions, his voice sharp and wrenching like rusty goblin machinery.

“They picked you for this, Daj’yah?” he scoffed, taking me aside after the rehearsal.

“Not at my request.”

“You be careful then, the Loa do not like wizards and they like shirkers even less.  I’d marry you to someone here, but no man here deserves that.”

“No man here does.”

My breath caught in my throat as soon as I’d spoke—what arrogance!  Fortunately, Ur’kyo’s a thick one, and he took my comment as an agreement.

The ritual we practiced didn’t ask all that much of me; really, an apprentice could have done the job just as well.  My responsibility was just to coax a frost spell halfway into our world so that shifting ice might show on my hands as I walked.  During this, me and two other wizards would chant a prayer of thanks to Bethekk over and over again.  I think Bethekk would find such a thing quite boring, but I am not a Loa.

Whatever the importance, Ur’kyo surely loved being the center of attention.  The old days had it so that village holy men like Ur’kyo held the title of chaku, which translates more-or-less as amateur priest. Sure enough, a chaku did plenty of other things around the village besides holy work.

Everyone paid them mind, since they knew the Loa better than most, but no one thought them infallible or holy the way they did the Zandalari.  The village elders could defy the chaku’s advice if they so chose. If the priest held a grudge, he’d bring it up to the Zandalari the next time they came; if they sided with him, the headman might lose his job.

Most times though, they settled the matter on their own.  Everyone knew that the Zandalari priests had bigger things to worry about than village quarrels.  Ur’kyo sure saw the fall of Zandalar as a sign that the Loa liked him, but the others didn’t seem to think much more of him.  He said the Loa answered his prayers with victory, but maybe the Loa answered our prayers by giving us the connections we needed so as to get lots of guns. 

Destron walked out with me the morning the procession set off to Zul’gurub.  He looked at the display with a bit of longing; he’s always wanted to see Zul’gurub, but the undead cannot attend such a ceremony.

“Don’t you worry, I’ll be taking good pictures of the place,” I said, holding up Destron’s photo-recorder.

“Of that I have no doubt, but don’t trouble yourself too much over such things.  I think this is a momentous event: for the Darkspear Tribe, for mages, perhaps for the Horde.”

“I’m thinking it’s just politics as usual.”

“Sometimes that’s how momentous things start.”

“That’d explain why such things are usually so disappointing.”

“Ha ha!  At any rate, good luck.”

“I probably won’t be needing much—this is really simple—but thanks all the same.”

Thirty-seven of us marched east to the steaming hills.  It was as much a chance to make new friends and be reacquainted with old ones as it was for religion.  Some other races, it seems to me, put more of a barrier between themselves and their gods.   Judging from what Destron tells me, and what the books say, a human behaves one way in a church, and another in a tavern.

With trolls, it’s much simpler.  Some of this is because we usually live in small villages where you can’t really keep secrets.  Everyone knows your sins already.  The other is that the Loa aren’t so much different from us; mightier by far, but motivated by the same things.  They understand this, so they do not expect us to be holy.

Maybe they expect too little, but I’m not sure I care for the human method.  So much of it goes by promises—if you want the joy of others to be your own, you must do good unto others.  But no one knows how such things are measured. 

The Loa don’t bother with the pretense.  They have power, and they must be obeyed, same as one obeys the elders or the priests.  It is not fair, but they do not claim to be fair.  They do not promise any better world.

I drifted to the back of the procession, not really wanting to hear Ur’kyo’s obnoxious laughter as he made jokes with other old men from the Tiger Stripes.  I don’t know if it was fate that guided me to Mala’ha, or what the gnomes call the subconscious, but I soon ended up walking next to my cousin who strode near the kodo-pulled wagon carrying food and gifts for the ritual.

“Remember: no vomiting in the temple.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll eat sacred food before starting the ritual.  That way if I get sick, Bethekk will still be honored.”

“Don’t joke about this!” she snapped.

“I wasn’t trying to be disrespectful.  I just wasn’t sure what to say.”

“Say that you will be careful.  You know, you could save yourself so much trouble if you just stayed quiet and did what we need you to do.”

“What about my magic?  Aren’t wizards supposed to be valuable all of a sudden?”

“Yes, but even then you don’t do much.  You hide out and avoid everyone.  I’m surprised you even came here.  You need to give everything you have, the same way the rest of us do.”

“What do you want me to give?”

“Yourself!  You cannot still live apart from us, especially not now.  Look how much we have done for you!  We protected you as a child, when your crazy mother spent her days and nights crying to herself!  We taught you how to gather food, to sow baskets, to plant cassava.  When you went off to Orgrimmar, we let you.  I heard that when the orcs wanted to kill you, all the trolls in the city rose up to help you!”

“It’s not—“

“Daj’yah, you have so much to offer!  Why do you withhold?  I don’t understand it.”

She furrowed her brow and massaged her forehead.

“I’m not trying to upset you, but you need to remember this.”

She quickened her pace and I knew better than to follow suit.  My mouth hurt as it pulled down into a frown.  I shook my head, not letting myself cry.  I’d never gained from such silliness, and didn’t intend to give Mala’ha the satisfaction.

Besides, she knew she was right.

The tribe still protected my mother as she died slowly over the course of years, weeds sprouting up in her garden and animals eating up the cassava.  She’d go out under scolding glares of neighbors, speaking anger to herself as she pulled out weeds, staggering from patch to patch without ever really clearing any of them.

They made no secret of hating her, a crazy woman who wouldn’t remarry and have more babies.  By that point though, no man in the village would have married her, the gossip of the others cursing her as sure as any shaman could. 

I don’t think they wanted to be cruel, at least not at first.  Life is hard for a tribe, and they could not afford to have someone who didn’t contribute her fullest.  Any other tribe would have let her die, but we’ve always been a bit softer than most.

If I’m going to be honest here, I can’t say I liked her much either.  To be sure, I don’t really remember much about her in detail but there’s no joy in those memories.  I only feel the coldness and the fear.  I think though, that I grasped something about her that my kin did not; that she didn’t act that way to be stubborn or prideful, but simply because she’d lost something.

They say my mother was quite the catch when she was younger, beautiful and strong, more like Mala’ha than me.  She didn’t turn me into someone clumsy, ugly, and weak. 

By the time we reached the gates of Zul’gurub, our feet and calves plastered red from the muddy earth, I was not in much of a state to appreciate the architecture.  Anyone could tell it was grand, its ancient yellow stones bent but not broken by the force of roots as wide as a grown man.  Serpentine idols to Ula-tek slumbered under moss and vines on both sides of the road, ruby eyes crusted over with mud.  You could just see the wing patterns scratched into the sides by the Soulflayer cultists decades ago.

“I wish you were the one seeing this,” I said in Common.  I raised the recorder to my face, looking through the slot like Destron had instructed, and worked to get the gate in view.  Pressing the button, the glass eye blinked and the contraption twitched in my hands.



Tremendous walls, so big you’d think a god must have put them in place, guided the path to a moss-lined stone arch.  The arch is a Gurubashi invention, and archaeologists say that some of them predate anything the elves ever built.  The Amani never had anything like it, instead using the sharp corbel arch for their great temples.

“Behold!  The place of our past glory, and a promise of greater glories to come!” bellowed Ur’kyo, his skinny arms flung out like he wanted to hug the city.

All conversation stopped as the stone enveloped us, entire libraries inscribed on its surface, most of the letters too worn down to read.  I recognized a few bold symbols visible through the curtain of vines.  Our footsteps fell into the sound of marching Gurubashi from more than 10,000 years past as their ghosts returned to the site of their power.

I looked down at my feet, the tropical air as cold as ice, and I knew the others felt it too.  The memories of thousands seep out of the stone and into your brain, you hear the rituals conducted by long-dead priests in ancient sanctuaries.

“Protect me in this place,” I whispered, not really sure which Loa I prayed to.  Perhaps it was not to the gods but only to my mother, her lonely ghost at my heels.

We walked steady and solemn through the ancient place.  I couldn’t bring myself to disrupt it by taking more pictures but my eyes gobbled up all the sights: the great walls that once encircled busy plazas where trolls sold rice and feathers, the slumbering palaces and galleries, the temples where the gods lived.

Zul’gurub wraps around a great lake, the waters feeding it tumbling down from the misty crags all around the city.  The unholy temple to the Soulflayer (in the old days where Ula-Tek was worshipped) sits on a big island in the middle, his profane might no match for nature. Beasts now rule the place, praying to their unknowable gods as they hunt and hide in the flowering ferns.


The Temple of Bethekk is at the northern end of the city on the other side of the waters.  They’d already sent people ahead to lash together some rafts for going across the lake, and we spent some hours loading everything and everyone on-board.  Simple logistics is a good way to cut all the drama out of a scene and the weight of the ghosts lightened a bit as we worked. 

Feeling braver, I took a few more snapshots and smiled as I imagined Destron stumbling about the place in a state of architectural agape.  I’ve never seen him get more excited than when he describes the great cities he’s seen. 


“If the Darkspear end up ruling this place, I’ll make sure you get a chance to visit,” I whispered.

*********

We reached the northern section at nighttime, the sharp lines of the temple black against the moon.  Rituals to Bethekk are to be conducted at dusk, so we had no choice but to wait until the next day.  Ur’kyo warned us not to stray far, since wicked things still dwell in the forgotten courts.

We spent this time doing extra preparations, reciting the words and practicing the steps.  I’d have liked to try it while wearing the cumbersome ritual garments but they were only to be worn once.  Ur’kyo made a big fuss about throwing them away once we were done, how doing that showed our power.

“No longer do we have to cling to every holy scrap we find.  Now, we have the power, as did the Zandalari,” he claimed.  He said that about a hundred different times throughout the day, always making sure everyone heard him.

It seems to me that since the Loa turned against the Zandalari, maybe we shouldn’t be trying so hard to imitate them.  Perhaps better to do the opposite of what the Zandalari did (live on a mainland instead of an island, invite lots of foreigners to our holy places, visit the other tribes instead of making them visit us, and survive the Cataclysm).

Then again, who’s to say what the Loa like or don’t like?



I sat down with Mala’ha at noon, neither of us speaking as she tied my unruly hair into fine braided lengths.  It’s amazing to feel her twist around the strands like it was nothing.  Every troll woman is supposed to know such things and she’s a master even by those standards.

She used to do this for me when we were kids and even a few times as an adult.  I’ll never be a beauty but I’m at least presentable in her hands, someone who might look like a real troll if you’re drunk and not paying attention. 

I’m not sure I could forgive her if she somehow did make me beautiful.

I’m sure Mala’ha was wondering if I’d embarrass her like I’d done so many times in the past, not bothering to use her efforts and shrinking back into the shadows.  Still, she did her best, smearing the skin around my eyes with soot and reminding me to show off my tusks (sorry specimens that they are).

“You walk in the grace of a goddess tonight, so act the part,” she said.

Drums started up when the sun began staining the sky.  Already dressed in my temple rainments, a crazy mosaic of burlap cloth and precious jewels, I donned the golden jaguar mask, its smooth surface almost warm against my skin.  The sheer weight of the thing nearly threw me off balance and I took a few practice steps, getting used to the swaying vise around my head.  The mask was not even that big, but still cumbersome; gold was not made to be worn!

Archaeologists say the Temple of Bethekk is one of the newer structures in Zul’gurub.  Always great in our eyes, my people probably started worshipping her more keenly after elven magic wreaked havoc on our armies.  It’s a bit smaller than most great Gurubashi temples, a sign of the empire’s weakness in those days.



Bethekk sat in carved jade at the very front of our procession, her sharp smile hungry and expectant.  A dozen of the strongest men took positions on the reinforced wooden platform supporting her.  Some goblin engineer said it’d be the best way to get the idol to the sanctuary at the top, though I still wasn’t so sure.  The idol wasn’t the biggest I’d seen—we’d had to get it ready in something of a hurry—and was just a bit taller than a troll, though much wider.  They’d lashed it onto the litter with ropes that I hoped were secure.

Women gathered at the back, carrying bowls of fruit, incense, and other offerings.  My cousin Tanda watched over the big prize, an anxious tapir on a rope leash.  The creature’s beady eyes looked up to the obsidian knife in Tanda’s other hand and the skull-pattern painted on her face, maybe knowing what was to come.

I stepped into formation in the middle, near Ur’kyo.  The old priest dressed as a woman so as to appeal to the goddess.  He wore far more gold than me, to the point I wondered how the old man could even stand.  We three wizards assembled into a sort of triangle behind him. 

Players slammed their drums, the beats loud enough wake the stones.  Ur’kyo raised his hands and heavy head, chanting Old Zandali in his thick voice, the presence of the Loa jolting through us.  We all felt it as we followed.  I didn’t think as I spoke, just putting one word in front of the other as I’d been trained. 

“Glory to you, and the power to us, our enemies in dust and blood,” moaned Ur’kyo.

At that I called on the magic, the air cooling around my finger tips to make a thin sheen of frost.  I kept the connection unsteady so the frost shuddered and twitched, its presence as visible as the flames engulfing Man’ko’s hands and the clean blue light on Vad’nag’s.

The mask tilted forward just a bit, the eye slits suddenly below my actual eyes.  Wanting to curse but not daring I kept walking forward, lifting my head up in hopes the damned thing would slide back into place.  No such luck.  I couldn’t move it with my hands without disrupting the ritual.

Surely goddess, you will not mind?  You wouldn’t want your servant to trip over her own feet while honoring you.

Somehow I didn’t think Ur’kyo would acknowlede any divine forgivness on her part.  I kept going forward, casting my eyes downward to see Ur’kyo’s feet treading the flagstones.  The drumbeats annoyed their way back into my conscious mind, and I suddenly realized that, distrated by the mask as I was, I’d fallen out of beat.

Easy, I told myself, still chanting the holy words.

I tried to match my pace to Ur’kyo’s, not an easy thing to do since he kept slipping out of my vision.  Thinking he’d left me behind I started moving more quickly.  Too fast, I realized, when my toes sunk into someone’s flesh followed by an annoyed grunt. 

Raising my head as far as I could, I saw Ur’kyo standing in place, his tongue jumping back into the chant even though I’d run into him.

This is silly, I thought, and raised my arm, just managing to shove the mask into place.  At last I saw why we’d stopped.  One of the porters had stumbled, his fellows just keeping the litter steady as he got back to his feet, apologizing.  Ur’kyo’s voice strained, the sun inching closer to the horizon.

Not sure what else to do, I kept up my part of the ritual, the inside of the mask stinking of my sweat.  The porters soon started only to slow down again when they reached the first of the steps.  It should not be easy to reach a god, or so the thinking went, and the ancient masons made each temple step as steep as possible. 

I glanced to the west, reassured that we still had plenty of time.  The porters began struggling up and we followed.  Behind us, the women carrying the offerings cried out shrill and warbling wails, the tones a match for the pipes.  A few of the ancient codices talked of specially trained women who’d “sing in the voice of eternity”, and Ur’kyo had done his best to replicate that. 

I climbed up the first step, the headdress pressing onto my scalp.  Sweat dripped from my chin and onto my neck.  Maybe undeath isn’t such a bad idea, I thought, the holy words getting thick on my tongue.  Just as the weight seemed to press into my brain, the pounding drums and piercing cries rattled my ears.

Don’t fall down, don’t throw up.

This was no time to make a fool of the tribe.  I just had to keep at it and say the words.  Right then the mask slipped again and my toes slammed straight into the next step.  My chant jumped up an octave for a moment and my face scrunched up as pain boiled in my big toe.  Half-blind, I raised my foot and found what felt like the top of the next step and pulled myself up.

I again raised my arms a bit to put the mask back into place, but I didn’t aim right that time and instead pushed it to the side so I saw everything askew.  I decided I’d try again farther up the stairs, not wanting to make it obvious what I was doing.

With all the distractions I again lost track of the beat.  Putting aside the pain in my toe and the nasal cries in my ears, I tried to concentrate on the drumbeats.  The pain in my toe won the fight without much trouble and I limped to keep pace with everyone around me.

“Careful—oh no!”

The shout came from further up the stairs, the kind that’s panicky enough to grab anyone’s attention.  Sound reached me before sight, something soft and heavy hitting the stone steps with a whooshing grunt, joined by more frightened yells.

I caught sight of right-hand porters buckling and the great jade idol tumbling backwards off the platform, hundreds of pounds worth of stone ready to crush the entire column.  I almost wonder if Bethekk slowed time as her idol fell towards us like some jade boulder, a sign of her might that she could wipe out her worshippers if she wanted.

Ur’kyo backtracked in terror only to misstep and fall, the women in back shrieking as they scrambled out of the way.  The idol hit the stairs with a crack louder than thunder, a crash so deep you heard it with your bones.  Jade fragments split and spun across the stairs as it began to roll.

I didn’t even think, the icy magic in my hands almost singing to me with all its possibility.  The formulae for the ice block spell jumped into my head and I spun it into reality, changing the rules as I went.   

The force left my hands in an instant.  A wave of solid ice flowed up below and around the idol, its translucent mass stopping the god at mid-crest.  For just a second I feared the ice block would crack under the weight and force, but it held the idol in place.

“Get out of the way!” I yelled, knowing the spell only lasted about ten seconds.

I threw off the mask and hurried down the steps to where Ur’kyo lay bleeding from the scalp.  Vad’nag, one of the other mages, was already trying to pull him out of danger.  Working together, we got him to the side and to safety, the gift-bearers already on the lower tier of the pyramid and well away from harm.

We moved to the sides just as the ice vanished from the world.  Its earlier momentum gone, the idol took a bit longer to pick up speed, finally smashing into the plaza hard enough to rattle the entire temple.

*********

The gods must not be kept waiting, but they know that the world is an unfair place.  Still dizzy from his fall, Ur’kyo decided that Bethekk would be satisfied with a simpler ritual the next evening, something on a Darkspear scale instead of a Zandalari one. 

All of us gathered in the musty temple sanctuary, we three wizards with magic dancing in our hands as Ur’kyo (the poor fellow on crutches) performed the rites.  Bearers placed burning incense on the floor and the tapir’s blood and innards draped the altar.  The ceremony was quick, but I am sure she appreciated the gifts.



When it finished we went back to the plaza, all of us with the satisfaction that comes from finally achieving a difficult task.  Ur’kyo insisted on having me be the one to help him down the stairs and I really didn’t have much choice but to comply.  The old man saw me as a good luck charm instead of someone who just knew when to take action.

“It’s clear to anyone that Holy Bethekk favors you, Daj’yah,” he said, when we’d reached the plaza.

If she favored me, wouldn’t she have kept the idol from falling in the first place?  Or maybe it was just that pesky thing known as gravity taking charge.

I didn’t say anything though, just nodding.

“I will take you back to the Valley of Spirits.  There is much to discuss.  Too late for you to be a priest, I think, but someone like you could be of much use.”

“I’m honored.  But it was Vad’nag who first came to save you—“

“Brave, yes, but he’d not have gotten me out of the way in time.  He will be good for helping our warriors.”

“Thank you, holy one, but I’m not sure what I can do there.”  All at once I started feeling this tightness in my chest.  He wanted me back in Orgrimmar?  The damned city is a steel cage, a hellhole where warriors boast and walk on the backs of everyone else.  Hadn’t I spent enough time there?  I worked hard to keep the anger out of my voice; I’d done something good and he’d pull me out of Booty Bay and back to a place that I hate.

“There is much.  You came here to help the tribe, and I am telling you how.  I will talk to Master Dangi, of course, but he is a wise man and you know he will agree with me.  This is a good moment for everyone.”

I couldn’t even think of a response.  There had to be some way out, but Master Dangi would never take my word over Ur’kyo’s.  The hateful old man—he always used to mock my mother’s ghost, laughing at her hunger and saying I’d end up the same way.  He’d ask to my face if I didn’t have some human blood, same way the pupils in Darkbriar made jokes about it when they thought I couldn’t hear. 

Ur’kyo tottered off to be closer to the campfire.  I noticed Mala’ha standing nearby.  We looked at each other for a moment, trying to read each other in the shadows.  With that, I did what I always did in such situations; went off to the edge of the campsite and sat in the dark. 


Going back to Bambala felt like forever but didn’t really take that long.  I kept quiet, though most everyone tried to pull me aside to tell me what a grand mage I was.  Turns out I don’t really like compliments much more than I like insults.  All the damned chatter started to grate on my ears and my brain, like a goblin machine with a loose gear that just won’t stop making awful sounds.  And to think I’d soon be facing more of it!

And yet, like Mala’ha had told me, I owed the tribe.  Being born a Darkspear is like signing a contract in Booty Bay; you have to fulfill it. Maybe if I just let go and accept, it wouldn’t seem so bad. 

Ur’kyo moved more quickly than I thought.  He headed up to the elder’s hut the moment we returned, proclaiming “the heroism of this chosen of Bethekk” to everyone.  I could only cringe, knowing they’d soon crowd around me again.  Seeing him approach Master Dangi, I did the only thing I could do, and ran up to overhear, to maybe say something that would change Dangi’s mind.

“… Daj’yah is a great mage.  I was wrong about her, I will admit.  I want to take her back to the Echo Isles.  There is much she can do for us,” he said.

“You seem very excited about this, Holy One,” said Master Dangi.  The elder sat on a wooden stool, his back leaning against the wall, a clay cup filled with coffee in his hand.  “Here, don’t be in such a hurry.  I’ve got some very fine rum for you to enjoy.”

“Certainly, certainly.  I am excited because we have good reason to be.  The Loa demonstrated that they watch over us.  Daj’yah turned a disaster into a moment of heroism!  Bethekk granted her favor to show us all what she could be capable of.  This is just as you were saying, the mages are an important part of our tribe.”

“Yes,” said Master Dangi, pouring some of the Sharkport Rum into a cup and handing it over to Ur’kyo.  “Daj’yah has no husband or living parents, so I certainly shall not refuse.”

Tears built up in my eyes, but I didn’t let them flow.  I’d not be some cringing wretch in their presence.  Destron waved to me from the guesthouse, and I fluttered my right hand in response, my heart about to burst.

 “Good.  The Bone-carvers have always been an important part of the tribe—“

“You don’t need to flatter me, Holy One.  We are clever, but few in number.  Such has always been our way.”

“Daj’yah, this seems like a good opportunity for you.  Do you want to add anything?” asked Master Dangi.

I tried to think of what to say, my mouth dry.  I wished I’d never left Booty Bay, never left my cramped office in the Old Port Authority where people gave me space, never left my hothouse room in the Portview Arms that I shared with an actual friend.

“Holy One, Master Dangi, a word please?”

It was Mala’ha, who’d just entered the hut.  Ur’kyo’s little eyes flickered with something much like lust at the sight of her. 

“Certainly, Mala’ha.  What is it?” asked Master Dangi.

“I’ve known Daj’yah all my life.  She’s a very keen one, to be sure.  What she did back at Zul’gurub was wonderful, but I have seen such magic before.  I am a huntress, and many of the tribe’s enemies have fallen at my spears.  Other wizards—some Darkspear, some not—have used such spells in similar ways.”

“No one doubts that,” said Master Dangi.

“So she is not unique—“

“You should not speak ill of your cousin!” scolded Ur’kyo.

“Not at all!  I do nothing of the sort!  Daj’yah, am I not right?”

“You are.  It’s been done before.  All I did was modify a spell very slightly.  It’s not something all mages are able to do, but there are plenty of others.  I don’t even really have that much experience in actual spellcasting, and have even less at fighting.”

“You see?  Now that would still be fine, but there is more she could do for the tribe.  The truth is, she’s never really been much of a Darkspear.  Holy One, you often reminded her of the fact.”

“I was not entirely wrong, but she has worth.”

“Her real worth isn’t in her magic.  Master Dangi, you often said we need more knowledge from the outside world.  Daj’yah works for the Steamwheedle Cartel.  She’s in the perfect place to get more knowledge.  Spellbooks for the wizards, engineering manuals for our tinkerers, and all that.

“All she has to do is work in Booty Bay.  She doesn’t get along too well with trolls, but maybe she’d be better with goblins.”

“This is silly, Mala’ha.  You are a woman, do not think to—“

“Mala’ha is a great huntress who’s killed more Bloodscalps than you, Holy One,” reminded Master Dangi. 

“Need I remind you that I am a servant of the Loa?  Do not bring their wrath down upon your head!”

“The Zandalari were the first servants of the Loa, and we know what happened to them.  Somehow I don’t think the gods would be impressed if we started acting like the Zandalari. 

“I think I like your idea, Mala’ha.  Daj’yah, you will return to Booty Bay.  Mej and some others will keep in touch with you so that you can keep them informed as to what is happening there.  Some things you can just give to us—like books to the Darkbriar Lodge.  Also, you must keep aware of trade opportunities.  Find out what merchants want, and see if we can make a bargain.”

“Of course,” I said, not quite believing what had just transpired.  Mala’ha flashed me a knowing smile.

Mala’ha didn’t stay long, hurrying away to the hut she shared with her husband.  I didn’t see her until dinner that night, she looking quite satisfied with herself.

“You owe me for this, Daj’yah.”

“I suppose so.  Thank you.  I know I’m not always an easy person—“

“You don’t need to tell me.  Don’t think I’m doing this to let you get away from everything.  But I thought back on things when we were in Zul’gurub.  I can see why it’s hard for you.  At any rate, no one should have to spend more time with Ur’kyo,” she sniffed. 

“The Loa are very gracious to put up with him.”

“I’m not so sure; maybe that incident at the temple was Bethekk telling him to stop.”

My eyes popped open in shock to hear Mala’ha make such a blasphemous joke, and I broke down laughing a moment later.

“Your tongue’s getting awful sharp,” I said, between laughs.

“All the time I spent with you.  Remember though: you do need to take these tasks in Booty Bay seriously.  You are always a Darkspear.”

“I know.  I will.”

“And at least try to find a husband.  It’s your responsibility to have a child.”

A sort of heaviness settled over my heart.  I don’t know how to live with people, much less children. 

“I promise I’ll try.”

In silence we watched the hunters—grown lazy from so much time in Bambala—eat their food and boast of past deeds.  I remembered all those hot youthful days spent in Mala’ha’s shadow, wondering if I’d just forgotten the good times with her, or if they’d truly never existed.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

((Ending the Travelogue))

((I'm making this off-schedule reply to let everyone know that the travelogue will be going on indefinite hiatus after the next update (June 15). I have become increasingly busy lately, and now that I've gotten some work published, it's essential that I create more original stories.

Normally I'd be happy to continue despite this, but my job also demands a great deal of writing. As such, I'm simply too exhausted to continue both the travelogue and work on original fiction with any degree of consistency. Also, to be honest, I'm feeling a bit burned out.

The next update is actually a pretty good stopping place. Destron will be in his favorite city and with his best friend, while Felya's nearby to make sure things don't get too pedantic. I'll add a short epilogue after the June 15 entry.


I suggest that all readers consider this the ending. While there is a possibility that I will continue with the post-Cataclysm Eastern Kingdoms, that's dependent on a number of external factors.

I do have a decent amount already written, so if you'd like, you can email me at destron@live.com (after June 15) and I'll send it over. Keep in mind, however, that it may well be a story without resolution.

Thanks, and I hope nobody's too disappointed.))

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Back to Stranglethorn


((For those who don't already know, I'm now a published author at Bewildering Stories. You can read my story here. Please direct your comments to the previous update, or to my email address at destron@live.com.

Also, one of my RL coworkers is currently battling cancer. If you enjoy this blog, I urge you to show your appreciation by donating to her treatment fundraiser here: http://www.gofundme.com/30zaiw

Now for your regularly scheduled update; I was a little more experimental with this one, so please tell me what you think.))

*********


You never forget the first time you feel sacred pain.  It’s not like the sort of churning pain you get when you’re ill, and you think your bowels are going to rip their way out of your belly.  It’s not anything like the quick sharp stab of a wound.  Instead it’s something slow, the seconds creeping past you and hurting all the more since you know it’s expected.

I remember how Aunt Jol’go pressed the little thorn vine into my palm, the spines prickling my skin.  “Small for your tiny wrist,” she said—first thing she’d said to me in weeks. 

Just about all the village stood out in the square, the Zandalari holy man’s wounds an inspiration as they drew thorned strings through tongues and jammed sharp bones into soles.  I wondered what the priest thought, what our pain felt like against the grills of fish ribs lancing his cheeks.

Not making a sound I wrapped the vine around my wrist, first thinking I’d get used to it by degree.  I heard my mother though, her hungry memory in the shadows of the old hut, and wrapped it tighter so that blood welled up and flowed in ribbons all along my arm.  Maybe if I bled enough, the Loa would feed her a few drops, and she’d taste life for just a moment.

“I remember you,” I whispered.

Blinking away tears I looked to Jol’go and then to my cousin, Mala’ha, delivering blood unto the Loa.  Moh’nim, the village’s priest, burned mangos and animal flesh in the holy flames on festival days, but only when the Zandalari came did we offer ourselves as gifts.

Remembering that, it’s hard to think we Darkspear would ever best the Zandalari.



Great deathtraps on wheels—some call them buses—make weekly trips between Booty Bay and the worksites all through Stranglethorn.  Not long ago, these metal hulks would’ve been easy prey for Skullsplitters and pirates, but the Steamwheedle Cartel’s gotten good at keeping its house in order.  Nowadays, the drivers just have to fight through the red mud that passes for roads in this place.

I sat near the back, hemmed in by goblin bodies and soaked in sweat.  I was starting to think we should have paid extra to go up on the bus’ rooftop, where a whole crowd of other goblins sacrificed safety for a bit of comfort.  Even more daring sorts took the journey on wooden platforms nailed to the side, each dip and pothole threatening to toss them off into the jungle.  Those inside with us didn’t let the heat keep them from being as busy as possible, swapping stories, snacks, and more.

Destron sat next to me, comfortable in undeath as he talked to the goblin next to him, a scarred fellow with bloodshot eyes.

“I fix machinery, set things up.  Pretty boring, really,” he grunted.

“You sound as if you’ve been doing this for quite some time.”

“I guess.  Not really sure why you’re so curious.”

The goblin turned away and Destron looked to me, giving a plaintive shrug.

“Fishing for more material?” I asked.

“You need to be patient with this sort of thing, Daj’yah.  Sooner or later I’ll find someone who can’t wait to tell me his entire life story, along with all the social, economic, and political details I might want.”

I smiled at that, glad he was taking the trip with me. 

I never really expected someone like Non’kuj, old and wise as he is, to ever say the tribe needed someone like me.  Sure, wizards are always useful, but you never admit it, certainly not if you’re a shaman. 

My people needed me even earlier, when I was in Bilgewater Harbor and Mar’at, but no one knew to contact me.  Now the Darkspear are in a new place and no one knows what’s next.

Here’s what happened, by Non’kuj’s accout.  The Loa have loved Holy Zandalar since the very beginning but something soured them to the great priests.  Maybe it was because the Zandalari used outsiders to defeat the Soulflayer, or maybe that they stood by and watched Zul’drak perish.  They say that nothing divine watched over the Zandalari on the day of the Cataclysm.

I can think of waves crashing down on Holy Zandalar, but can’t really believe it happened.  They are the elect of the Loa, protected from the world so that their prayers and sacrifices would never end.  In the end, the Loa do as they will.  We can only hope to survive.

Someone named Zul rounded up the surviving Zandalari, calling himself a prophet.  Non’kuj didn’t know if Zul used to be a priest or was just some regular troll; he certainly killed a lot of the remaining holy men.  They’d offended the Loa, Zul said.

With all Zandalar (what remained of it) heeding his words, Zul proclaimed that all Azeroth must be made a sacrifice to the Loa.  He sent the call out to all the tribes, telling them to band together to make an empire greater than Gurubashi or Amani.

I think this proves the Loa were lying to him, or that he’s just a madman.  The tribes are harrowed and scattered; there aren’t enough to form new empires.  Maybe that’s why Zul tried so hard to get my people to help, but Vol’jin would not have any of it.

The Horde hasn’t been a good home for us these past few years.  Still, we’ve been through worse.  We lived as the Zandalari wished us to for centuries, forever fighting the other tribes, squabbling for land and vengeance.  A few decades with the Horde has given us literacy and roads, radios and even a bit of peace (hard for an outsider to believe I know, but tribal life is a long war that never ends—you can ask the tauren and they’ll say the same thing).

Thinking about it that way, you can see why Vol’jin turned Zul away.  Garrosh is a fool, but he’ll die sooner or later.  Maybe the next warchief will be worse, maybe he’ll be better, but we are stronger than we were back in the old ways.  If anyone is going to make a new troll empire, it will be the Darkspear.

The Zandalari don’t allow those who mock the gods to live, and to Zul, we Darkspear were doing just that.  He started stirring up the Skullsplitters and Bloodscalps (at least, those who hadn’t already joined us), so Vol’jin sent our people to Stranglethorn to put an end to it.

And for the first time, normal trolls bested the Zandalari. 

We did not do it alone.  Other Horde warriors helped.  Stranger yet, so did some in the Alliance.  The Loa must approve of the new ways, or we would not have won. 

Here is where it gets political.  Vol’jin knew that the Darkspear had to be the ones to take charge against the Zandalari.  If the Loa favor us, the rest of the world—especially the trollish world—must know.  Hiding behind Garrosh will just make us look weak.

Hellscreams eyes apparently can’t be upon everyone.  He barely seems to notice us, so Vol’jin just took his most trusted aides and went into the jungle.  Now that the battle’s over and won, word’s starting to spread.  All the tribes hear that the old ways are dashed to the ground.  The Horde sees that we can stand on our own.  Even the Alliance heeds us.

So what happens next?  Garrosh will not forgive Vol’jin for doing this behind his back, but with the Horde bleeding itself dry in all these wars, he can’t afford to retaliate (unless he really is that stupid, which might be the case).  Vol’jin made a gamble, and no one knows if he’ll win. 

Years ago, back when we took down the Soulflayer and his followers, we laid a claim to the land.  The Cataclysm robbed us of that but now Vol’jin and the elders see a new opportunity.  That is why they are calling people like me to Stranglethorn. 

I pitched forward in my seat, catching myself before crashing over the bench in front as the bus shook and squealed.  All at once the machine creaked to a stop, the metal still groaning from the strain.  Looking over the crowd, I just saw a troll standing in front of the bus.

I got cold all of a sudden, knowing how slow and heavy we were, how easy it’d be for spears in the jungle to strike us down if we tried to run.  I called out to the magic beyond without even thinking it.

The troll out in front raised his skinny arms and driver started shouting at him.  Time passed in the heat, mana escaping my clenched fist.  A little part of me still thought of spears in the dark but my heart started to relax.

“What’s the hold-up?” screeched the goblin nearest me, along with a whole bunch of others.  No one can make noise like goblins.

“There’s this troll out in front.  His cow just fell in the middle of the road,” shouted the driver.

“Well run it over!”

“First, I don’t think the bus would survive.  Second, that’ll start a vendetta between the local villages and us.  So unless you fellas all want to be peppered with arrows the next time you go through here, be a little friendlier.”

“Aww, come on!”

“Hey, we can figure something out, be good neighbors.  Anyone know anything—“ started the driver.

“Hey!  There’s a troll here.  She’s big she can carry it out of the way or something!” jabbered the screechy one nearby, pointing his skinny arm at me.  I wanted to grab him by it and toss him out of the bus.

“Um, I don’t know much about handling cows,” I mumbled.

“Ma’am, would you mind going out and talking to him at least?  My Zandali isn’t too good,” said the driver.  “Maybe you can help him out.”

I sighed.

“Now I get to move hurt cows.  Destron, when’s the last time I lifted anything heavier than a book?”

“There was that time you lifted two books.”

Dozens of dark eyes all swiveled to me.  What did they expect me to do?  Use some kind of troll magic to fix the cow and get us on our way?

“I’ll talk to him,” I announced.  “What tribe is he?”

“I’m no expert, but he looks like one of the South Seas trolls who settled here after the Cataclysm.  They’re peaceable sorts,” said the driver.

“Should I go with you?” asked Destron.

“Ah, just as far as the door.  Keep an eye on the forest and make sure nothing’s creeping about in there.  You might scare the man outside if he sees you; a lot of trolls are skittish about the undead.”

“Of course.”

I ducked to get through the door, my eyes probing for any movement in the green wall of trees and ferns by the road.  My right foot pressed down on the damp red dirt, the soiled air a grand improvement after the bus, but still promising danger.  I remembered all the cousins and villagers I knew who’d been killed in ambushes, half-expecting a spear to skewer me.

Instead, there was only a troll, bent double under the weight of age, and the sad moos of cow lying on its side.  Relexing a bit, I inclined my head, still not totally comfortable.

“Good day, wise one,” I said. 

So hunched over was the man that I didn’t first realize he was bowing before me (or at least trying to). 

“Is it true?  The goblin in the bus said you’re a Darkspear.”

“I am.”

“Good!  Your people have great power!  I am sure you can help me.”

“Wait, I’m a Darkspear, but I’m no healer.”

“Yes, but you can ask the Loa.  They will listen to you.”

“Why would they listen to me?  I’m not a priest.”

“You’re even better.  Your tribe beat the holiest priests in battle, so you must be close to the gods.”

I wondered if it was too late to just run over the damn cow.

“Sure, but the Loa are very picky about when and why they help people.”

“This is true,” murmured the old man.

“What happened to your cow, exactly?  Did she break her legs?”

“No, I felt no breaks.  She might be sick, which might be just as bad.  I sent my son to the village to get help from Baj’nam—he’s our shaman.  I was hoping he’d get back before people started coming up the road.

“Please understand that I need her,” he said, motioning to the cow.  “This is my middle daughter’s dowry, and she’s going to be married very soon.  I cannot afford to get another one on such short notice.  I’ve always been poor in cattle and rich in daughters.”

“Then we must be careful when we move her,” I said.  I know you never move an injured animal, but I remember it being all right to move one that was merely sick.  How to move it was a different question. 

“Surely you can ask the Loa,” he implored.

What had these people been hearing about my tribe?  There was a time when all the jungle folk spat on our name, thinking us cowards and weaklings.  Now, those from beyond Stranglethorn, who’d never heard our names, saw us as the chosen of the Loa.

“Ah, well—sometimes the Loa like to work in mysterious ways, you know?  As in, maybe there’s something here we could use that they prepared for us.  In advance.”

“You are wise.”

“And perhaps that something would be those goblins in the bus.”

I strode back to the entrance, where Destron still waited.

“Hey!  All you goblins are good at making things, yeah?  Well, now it’s time to make a stretcher for that cow.  Come on!  Faster you do it, faster we’ll be on our way!”

“You said you were going to lift it—“

“No, you assumed I was!  The beast might be hurt, we need to be careful.  Come on!”

“You heard the lady, get to work,” ordered the driver.

Goblins might whine at first, but once they get started they move pretty quickly.  A bunch of them stumped out of the bus and over to the jungle’s edge, cutting off branches and vines with machetes. 

I went over to the old man, who finally introduced himself as Mo’dak.  We talked as I tore off some ferns and placed them over the cow so she could keep cool.

“What exactly have you been hearing about the Darkspear down here?”

“All kinds of things.  It’s enough that you defeated the Zandalari in battle.  Now that I can say what I want about those priests, I am glad you did!  They spoke so much about what we needed to do for them, but they hardly did anything to help us.

“My people used to live on Rokasha Island, a tiny little place.  We bled ourselves every time the holy men came over, yet the waves washed over Rokasha all the same.  Our village was lucky, but many of the others were completely wiped out.  The Zandalari are useless to us!”

“Careful—“

I stopped myself, almost ready to shut him up for blasphemy.  I’ve never been much to trust priests, but I still remember how they came to us, dressed in gold and blood, all beyond mortal understanding.

“I can see that,” I finally said.

“That is why it’s so good for you Darkspear to take their place.”  The cow moaned, and he leaned down, stroking its neck.  The goblins were almost finished with their stretcher, a big unsteady thing just stable enough to carry the cow over to the edge of the road.  “There’s nothing you can do to heal the wound?  You are powerful.”

“Oh, yes.  I am just—“ I paused, searching for something to say.  “I am just a woman, wise one.  No priest, still quite young.  If someone greater than me, like Zuru the Shadow-Walker, came along, he’d be able to help.”  I hated myself for saying those words, but I didn’t know how else to explain it to him.  Island folk like him see everything as the will of the Loa.

Just like I did, growing up.

“Of course, of course.  My family is part of the Sharpscale branch of the Brinespitter Tribe—what’s left of the tribe, anyway.  Please know that we are friends to your people.”

“We are happy to have such friends here.”

The stretcher was finally ready, and the goblins carried it over to the cow.  Shifting her very carefully, they slid the stretcher beneath, Mo’dak whispering gentle things to her all the while.  Finally they lifted and carried the cow over to the bushes at the edge.

“Thank you!” exclaimed Mo’dak.  “I will give thanks to the shrine once I get back.”

“He says thank you,” I relayed to the goblins.

“You’re welcome,” they mumbled as they mobbed their way back into the bus, squeezing past each other to get inside.

“You’ll be all right here?” I asked.

“My son should be back soon.  You can still help though, do something to protect us against predators or other trolls.  I am not the warrior I once was.”

I wished I could cast a frost armor spell on someone other than myself.  He’d already gotten a lot of help, and the area seemed safe enough.  Still, I didn’t want to just leave the man.

“Here, I will give my own blood to you.  That will please the Loa, won’t it?” he asked.

“Your blood?”

He nimbly took out a heavy carving knife from his belt, putting it up to his palm.  My head started spinning.

“Wait!” 

The Loa show no mercy to pretenders, and I could not afford to encourage him any further.  I tried to think of a way out. 

“Hey, what’s the hold-up?” demanded the driver.

“Just a minute!” I shouted.  “I am no great Darkspear.  You are wiser than me, you are older.  The Loa will not let me accept your blood as a gift.”

“I must give you something.  To do otherwise would be disrespectful,” he protested.

“How about we both give blood?”

“Both?”

“Yes.  Not to me, not to you, but we both give it to the Loa.  They are above us all, and I think that would please them.”

“Miss, we have to get moving!” shouted the driver.

“Excuse me, sir, I think I heard something odd in the engine,” came Destron’s raspy voice.  “Perhaps someone should take a look before we proceed?”

Thank you, I thought.

“How does that sound?” I asked.

Mo’dak looked at his knife, and again at me.

“That will be good,” he said, swiftly cutting open his left palm.  He held out his hand, letting the blood drip to the earth as he handed the knife to me.  Taking it from him, I wondered just how many germs lived on the blade.  Vowing to be quick, I made a quick slice, the edge swooshing just above my palm as I flinched.

I froze, embarrassed.  Mo’dak waited with patience, and I heard the driver arguing with Destron behind me.  I took a few deep breaths and tried again, the blade tearing open my skin. 

I followed Mo’dak’s lead, letting it bleed onto the ground, and returned his knife.

“This is a gift from both of us to the Loa,” I said.

“Yes.  Keep me safe, and keep close your chosen people, the Darkspear Tribe,” he intoned.

“Yes, keep Mo’dak safe, and be kind to the Sharpscales, for they seem faithful.”  I didn’t like how he kept referring to my people as chosen.  That sort of talk was dangerous.

I said goodbye and hurried back to the bus, the driver motioning furiously for me to hurry up.  I kept the wound facing up, closing my hand into a fist so nobody saw.  Pushing down the narrow aisle, I plopped down next to Destron.

“I tried to buy you a little extra time,” he said.  “I hope it helped.”

“Thanks.”

“I figured—what happened to your hand?”

“Let’s just say I’m thinking I know why the Zandalari were always in such foul moods.”


*********

Everyone thinks that we trolls just love putting random pauses in our names: Vol’jin, Hai’zan, and yes, Daj’yah.  That’s why, when people write our names, they drop in an apostrophe to show where you make a brief pause when speaking.

The apostrophe should be there, but not for the reasons they think.  An apostrophe can mean different things in Common (and in Orcish, which adopted it from the humans—I’m sure Garrosh is now claiming the Orcish apostrophe has a long and gloried history where it did battle against diacritical and punctuation marks to claim its rightful place).  The apostrophe might denote possession and certain plural forms.

It also stands for words that have been omitted.  This is why it’s used in trollish (and elven) names.  When a troll is born, his mother (advised by the shaman) gives him a full name.  This is known only to her, the child, and to the shaman.  No one else will ever know.  Parents never tell their true names to children, for a child should never have that much power.

Since the true name is sacred (and also takes a very long time to say), the first and last syllables are combined into a single name.  This is how others will know him.  In the course of life, you might get a kind of nickname and be known by that instead (Master Rokhan’s name, for instance, tells everyone he’s wise in the ways of the spirits—before becoming a mighty a shadow hunter, he was called Toban’da).

That’s why the apostrophe usage in our names is actually correct, even if not everyone knows why.  Like I said, elven names are similar, though there the contraction is more for convenience’s sake than to protect something holy—the full name might refer to all the elf’s different titles and relations and so forth.  For example, Quel’dorei in its full form is Quelulashanurazsharadorandorei—“Those borne to the high retainers of glorious Azshara” (Darnassian and Thalassian are also both very fond of compound words).

Humans got used to putting in the apostrophes when writing troll and elven names.  Yet, as more people learned how to write, they didn’t always get every detail.  They just assumed that the apostrophe meant a pause, which is why they started using it for Orcish names.

Look at Gul’dan’s name.  In Orcish, “-dan” is a suffix that denotes someone of great power or mastery.  There’s a bit of a pause in the pronunciation, but there aren’t any missing words.  A more proper way to write it would be Gul-dan, Gul Dan, or even just Guldan.  Sure enough, some humans did write it that way, but in the official reports made by intelligence agents, the journals of soldiers, and so forth, most people used the apostrophe.  It’s stayed ever since.

You might think it strange to spend so much time dwelling on punctuation, but when you’re stuck on a glorified basket hanging from a ragged balloon that’s being slammed with the full force of a tropical storm, you’ll do what you can to focus on something other than your death.

The dirigible was old even before Vol’jin brought it to ferry volunteers up from the south.  The tribe didn’t want the Steamwheedle getting too involved—it had to be a Darkspear victory before it was anything else—so it only made pickups in an outpost called Camp Madja.  Destron and I got off the bus at that place, waiting a few days for the airship to blow in.  A bunch of Horde volunteers jumped off when it landed; no one except us got on board.

One thing about tribal life is that you can never really escape.  When Destron talks about visiting some new Darkspear village, he sees it as a truly new place.  For me, I’ve already met at least a third of the people living there.  I know who their parents were, which of their cousins is causing trouble, and how they get along with the others.  Maybe I don’t know the details as well as most, but I still get the basics.

Jan’gul, the dirigible pilot, goes way back with me.  We grew up in the same village, him the youngest son of Madiwe’s family.  He used to climb up in the trees to show off his natural hunter’s skill, trying to catch birds and monkeys and often hurting himself in the process.

Pain is the great teacher, but some students just never learn.  Spinning the wheel and laughing mad into the storm, Jan’gul showed no trace of fear or even thought, thrusting his skinny arms in the air when the lighting flashed.

“Ha!  Flying these tubs sure is dull most times, but it’s grand in a storm like this!”

I checked the straps holding me in place and glanced at Destron, rainwater funneling out of the little dry wounds on his face.  He picked up on my worry and learned over just as a gust of wind made the ship swing like a pendulum, throwing him back down to the floor.

“This isn’t the first time I’ve flown over Stranglethorn in a balloon,” he shouted as he righted himself.  “The first time, when I was shot down, it was very drab: we just fell out of the sky.  This is much more interesting, what with all the sound and light.”

“And now you know why I like being boring.”

I risked a quick look down at the canopy, the entire scene lurching like a drunk.  We were close to Bambala; we’d flown over the Sundering, the great maelstrom splitting north and south, just the previous day.



The good thing about tropical storms is that, unlike the storms in Azshara, they actually end.  Jan’gul let out a disappointed sigh as the black clouds drifted apart towards the end of the day, the setting sun blinding and red.

“Ah, there is nothing like proving yourself to the gods,” he said.

“Proving yourself?”

“Showing I have what it takes to fly through anything they put in my way.  The Loa made us Darkspear strong and crafty.”

“You shouldn’t say such things!”

“Come on, Daj’yah!  You were always a timid little one, I remember, hiding behind your cousins and sneaking off whenever we did something fun.  Maybe that’s how we all used to be dealing with other tribes, but now?  Now we are the leaders of all trolls.”

“And being the leaders of all trolls worked out just fine for the Zandalari.”

“The Loa will change their minds in time, but why not enjoy it for now?”

Jan’gul never much feared the gods.  Maybe in a way he had enough sense to know that it didn’t matter what he did, that in the end he’d live or die at their whim.  Even the most puffed-up priest will tell you that sacrifice and prayer won’t guarantee anything; it’ll just improve your odds.  Only the Zandalari could ever make guarantees, and that didn’t mean so much any longer.

We landed in Bambala at noon a few days later.  Bambala’s not much of a town right now.  Whether it grows or shrinks depends on how much effort we decide to put into Stranglethorn.  All the Alliance volunteers had left already, along with most from the Horde.  My people remained.

Jan’gul had already told me whom to expect, so I spent the journey mentally preparing myself to treat people I hadn’t seen in years as close family.  I come from the Bone-carver band of the tribe, and most of us had settled in Sen’jin Village.  I followed my mentor, Gu’jomb, to Orgrimmar.

Each band has its own story of how it earned its name.   They say the first Bone-carver, Jem’de, hunted down Red-Paw, biggest tiger in all Stranglethorn.  Red-Paw dodged all his spears, so Jem’de grabbed her by the neck with both hands and strangled her to death over two days and two nights.  Once he was done, Bloodscalps surrounded him and demanded he give over the kill.

He promised he would, and in a way, he did.  See, Jem’de still had an obsidian knife, and while he talked to the Bloodscalps, praising them for being so cunning in hunting him, he opened up the tiger and made sharp knives from her bones. 

“’You want Red-paw?” he asked.  “Here she is!”

Jem’de threw the bone knives right into the chests of the Bloodscalps.  Ever since then, the Bone-carvers have been very clever types, always thinking of ways to come out as the winners. 

There are nine recognized bands within the Darkspear Tribe.  A few say it’s more like thirteen, but not all of them meet the qualifications.  A tribal band is based on blood relations.

This structure made it pretty easy for us to spread throughout the Horde lands.  Since each band lives in its own village, we’re used to operating on our own while cooperating when needed.  Here’s the current layout, more or less:

Sen’jin Village: Bone-carvers and Silent Steps.

Orgrimmar: Pierced Lips and Tiger Stripes—a lot of others used to live here, including many of the Bone-carvers, but most drifted back to their own kin after the Cataclysm.

Shadowprey Village: Red Legs and Fish-eaters.

Echo Isles: Stone Tusks—they used to live in Sen’jin but moved back once they threw Zalazane out of the islands; the Echo Isles is a place for all Darkspear, especially when it comes to teaching warriors, but it is the home of the Stone Tusks.

Stranglethorn Vale: Yellow Fingers—they went back to the Vale early, going back and forth between Grom’gol and Booty Bay.  Bambala is largely their work.

Ashenvale: Cold Eyes—dwelled in the Warsong lumber camps, though a lot of them now fight in the Southern Barrens.

The unofficial bands are:

The Darkbriar Lodge (which doesn’t consist of families, so we shouldn’t count).

The druids (same problem as the Darkbriar).

The Holy Voices (technically counts, but they’re led by a crazy witch doctor named Jin’zil out in Stonetalon—of course, sometimes the Loa like craziness, so perhaps he’ll succeed).

The Raptor Fangs (both a partisan militia and a band, with lots of Bloodscalps and Skullsplitters—they were the ones who went to Outland under the warrior Denjai).

Put all this together, and you have a very big tribe.  We can’t just worry ourselves about local things, like we did in the old days.  The whole world is our concern, just as it is the Horde’s.  Maybe that’s why the elders are working so hard to get us to act as one.

I stepped out onto the damp earth, hearing familiar voices.  Bambala’s still very much a place for warriors, but there are others too, men from the Red Arm and Tiger Stripe bands trained as engineers in Orgrimmar, the bunch of them overseeing the construction of a radio tower.

“Destron, I’ll be having to visit the elders.  They probably won’t mind you being there—“

“Of course, I understand.  I’ll amuse myself in the guest house,” he said, motioning to a small hut barely able to hold the two tauren braves resting in the interior.

“Sorry.”

“Daj’yah, don’t apologize.  You accept me, and your opinion is the one that matters.”

It’s hard to know the rules these days.  That’s not such a bad thing, maybe, since it means petty laws against the Forsaken aren’t so likely to matter, but you can never be sure.  I think it might have been fun to walk in with him and upset a millennia’s worth of tradition, but that wouldn’t help either of us.



I ducked into the hut, smoky even though it was open to the air.  A few elders sat in a big circle around a cast iron pot brimming with black coffee so thick you’d need a chisel it out spoonful by spoonful, while old women brewed more of the stuff near the entrance, the smell as heavenly as always.  Other trolls (I recognized many) sat near the open windows, gossiping and telling stories.

I spotted Master Dangi, my great-uncle and the oldest Bone-carver, whom I’d not seen in almost ten years.  I still recognized the sharp eyes in his wrinkled face, the canny old king-maker still very active.  It took him a little longer to recognize me.

“Daj’yah, is that you?”

“Yes, Master Dangi,” I said with a bow.  “Non’kuj said that the tribe—“

“Daj’yah?”

“What are you doing here?  Welcome back!”

“Why didn’t you ever visit?”

“Have you married yet?”

“How many children?”

My mouth opened, trying to think of a clever response for each of the hundred or so questions being hurled at me, the other bands starting to pay attention.

“Hello,” I croaked.

“Daj’yah?  It’s been too long!”

Long arms wrapped around me and I froze, the way I used to as a child.  Moments later I recognized Mala’ha’s smell, so thick with the forest and fresh-spilled blood, my beautiful cousin beloved by all the tribe. 

Only then did I realize that I was hopelessly trapped.

I answered questions and accusations as best I could until the other elders restored some degree of order, tribal politics struggling against family bonds.

“My great-niece, Daj’yah, only child of my son, has at last come back to us,” announced Master Dangi.  “Great must her life have been to not see us in Sen’jin Village, to not even visit after the orcs forced her out.  We are all very happy to see her healthy and well.”

“I’m honored that you still will have me,” I said, keeping my voice low.  When so many focus on you, it’s either for something very good or very bad, and it usually isn’t the latter in my experience.  “I feared I’d bring the partisans to Sen’jin, which is why I didn’t return.”

“Orcs have little sway there, unless they make themselves friends.”

“I have gifts,” I said, unshouldering my pack and opening it, taking out the expensive bottle of Sharkport Rum I’d bought with a week’s salary in Booty Bay.  Master Dangi smiled with his yellowed teeth; he’d never been much for rum personally, but he always liked to use it when negotiating with other elders.

I took out the rest of the gifts, an assortment of ammunition, incense, and a small radio powered by a hand-crank.

“I am sorry I couldn’t get anything more specific.  I knew Master Dangi would be here, but I wasn’t sure about everyone else.”

“You are gift enough, my dear,” said Mala’ha, kissing me on the cheek.  As if you’d say that if I came empty-handed, I thought, mentally chiding myself the moment I did.  Mala’ha’s done much more for the Bone-carvers than me, so who am I to complain?

“I met Non’kuj in Booty Bay.  Well, first I met Mej, but we didn’t communicate very well.”

There was some laughter at that, and I smiled.  They liked Mej more than me for the most part, but his flaws glared enough that I could still jab him so long as I didn’t get too bold.

“I am here to help.”

“You can help a great deal,” mused Master Dangi, pulling at the two wispy strands of white hair spilling from his pointed chin.  “You are a great wizard, so I am told.”

“Great with books.  I am not much of a spellcaster when it comes to fighting.”

“Oh, you’re being modest, Daj’yah,” interjected Mala’ha.  “We all heard how you blasted apart that foolish orc that tried to steal from you!”

“I didn’t blast him apart soon enough to keep from getting stabbed!” I shot back, sounding angrier than I’d intended.  I shrank back after speaking.  “Forgive me, it’s been a long journey.  I will help however you see fit.”

“Don’t fret.  You are clever, like all us Bone-carvers, and brave, like all us Darkspears.”

*********

When you’ve been living with goblins for a while, it’s easy to forget that sometimes getting straight to the point is also to miss the point.  Master Dangi, Mala’ha, and others all crowded around me, prodding me with questions.  The voices you hear growing up never really go away and I started settling into the familiar current of family gossip, pulling me way back to the rain-lashed village where I was born.

The stories I told of Bilgewater Harbor, Mar’at, and Booty Bay weren’t really that interesting, and there was a time that I’d have been shushed for speaking of such nonsense.  The tribe is the world, but I saw them listening to me that time, or at least pretending.

I heard their tales too.  Master Dangi’s eldest son died in Northrend; his left tusk hangs from twine around the old man’s neck.  His younger sons had fared better, making names for themselves as warriors in Ashenvale and (more recently) in Stranglethorn.



“Not even the orcs think to cross my boys,” he chuckled. 

“How’d you get them out of the Ashenvale front?”

“We have our ways.  We serve the Horde, but blood always comes first.”

He didn’t say so much about his daughters, other than little Renshee (not really so little when I’d last met her, but everyone remembered her as the baby) had died on the way to Shadowprey Village where her new husband had lived; he believed the Alliance to be responsible.  Her older sisters had both married good warriors.

Mala’ha, to nobody’s surprise, had found herself the best husband in the tribe (at least, best by the way most women reckoned).  She bragged about him at every possible moment, brave Ab’gan who’d felled a tiger to bring her its skin (draped that moment on her shoulders).

I didn’t really blame her.  Ab’gan is the sort who makes any woman start trembling, and I say this as someone who’d only met him a few times.  I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before they start pumping out an entire litter of little hunters who are absolutely perfect in every conceivable way.

Mala’ha had her own accomplishments to speak of, her arrows snuffing out our enemies one by one.

“So you see, little Daj’yah, the men are now running scared since they know we can fight just as well as them and we can also raise babies,” she laughed.

“Mind yourself,” warned Master Dangi.

“I’m just making fun, Master Dangi,” she said with a smile.  He narrowed his eyes as if to say something, but apparently decided against it.  This is one good thing the orcs gave us (though they probably learned some of it from the humans).

“What brought you here, anyway?” I asked.  A recently married woman was always expected to start bearing children, and I wasn’t sure how Mala’ha might have escaped that to risk her life (and by extenion, the tribe’s) in Stranglethorn.

“I’m too good as a huntress.  I wanted to stay back in Sen’jin like a good wife, but my dear husband said I couldn’t deprive them of my skill.”

“Where is Ab’gan?”

“You want to feast your eyes, Daj’yah?”  I felt myself blushing at her laughter.  I really was just curious; it was strange that he’d be gone, but so much has changed that I no longer knew what to expect.  “Ab’gan’s celebrating out with some of the boys.   You’ll get to see him.”

“Hear him too, he never stops talking about himself,” said Master Dangi.  “Daj’yah, as you can see this is a time for all of our relations to come back together.  It’s good that so many of us live in different places around the world, but we can’t forget our connections.”

“That’s why Non’kuj said I should come here.”

“Yes.  The Loa want us to stand together.  For centuries, we have been retreating, giving way to humans and elves, accepting orcish dominion, and so forth.  The Zandalari did nothing to stop this; as the Scourge destroyed Zul’drak, they stood by and did nothing.”

I didn’t mention that the Drakkari had turned against the gods.  I suspected he already knew that.

“It’s not just the Darkspear.  There are many Bloodscalps and Skullsplitters among us now, their daughters married to our sons, their sons fighting bravely alongside us.”

In truth, it’s not quite as nice as Master Dangi made it sound.  When the Soulflayer was abjured, his followers in the jungle tribes didn’t know what to do.  Many of them were so shaken by how their priests had misled them that they fled and sought sanctuary with us.

We made homes for them, in a sense.  Still, they are not our kind.  Every single Darkspear knows somebody who died at the hands of these tribes.  We nearly bankrupted ourselves buying offerings to burn at the altar, to make sure the ancestors did not hate us for accepting the descendents of their killers.

Women from the other tribes often marry Darkspear men who aren’t highly esteemed enough to get women like Mala’ha.  Bloodscalp and Skullsplitter menfolk, however, have a much harder time of things.  It’s very tough for a foreign man to marry into the tribe, even if they prove themselves.  The men also end up being lower in social stature to those women who married Darkspear men. 

I’ve heard that a lot of the Bloodscalps and Skullsplitters have actually found wives among the Revantusk, since so many of Revantusk men get themselves killed in foolish duels.  Of course, the Revanusk men aren’t happy about this, so the problems continue.

“As you might already know, Zul’gurub is in our possession.  It’s too big for us to hold permanently, but while we are there, it is only right that we reconsecrate the temples to the Loa.  They have been left profaned since the Soulflayer’s priests spilled trollish blood on their altars.

“The mages here in Bambala are going to conduct a ceremony to cleanse the temple to Bethekk.  You are the only Bone-carver mage that we know, and need to show Bethekk that we are as much a part of this as any other band.”

“Oh.  I see.”

“It’s a simple matter.  This is just the start, of course.  There is plenty more that you can do to help.  However, all things must start with the Loa.”

“And end with them too,” I sighed.

“That too.”

Over dinner the other Bone-carvers told me more about what they’d been doing, each and every relation a bigger success than the last.  I didn’t bother describing my own work, and nodded my head as their deeds blurred together.

It’s an awful thing, I know, to say that.  Maybe that’s my punishment for not keeping ties with my own people, to drift even further away.  Back in the old days, my profession was a caste apart, too useful to kill but too strange to hold close.  Children plucked out from the tribe by the old masters got to see their own funerals.  I remember mine, me crying like mad since I didn’t know what was going on, why they were burying an effigy with my name.

Maybe watching your funeral is fun if you’re the most adorable child in the village and get to hear everyone making a fuss, but I don’t remember anyone weeping more than me.

It was good, though.  Old Gu’jomb was not always the clearest thinker, but he wasn’t cruel.  Looking back on it now, he must have been almost as scared as me, him an old man expected to be a father and teacher for a strange girl.  He did a good enough job.

The first few days scared me more than anything else, Gu’jomb puttering around with his reagents and rotting codices while I wailed, as scared of the surrounding jungle as I was of his foul-smelling hut.  Growing up in the village you get used to the sounds of your family—cousins checking in, aunts scolding, younger children playing.  There, I heard nothing but the forest and his whispery chants.

He taught me how to read before anything else.  I flinched the first time I saw the Zul’kunda Codex close up, all those ideograms like monsters ready to leap out from the barksin.  Gu’jomb tried to calm me, a bit of frustration creeping into his voice (the older I get, the more I marvel at the old man’s patience).

I think I finally tired myself out too much to continue my tantrum, and he continued the lesson.  His knobby blue finger pointed to a cluster of green squares dizzy with jagged meanders, and then to the grand tree outside. 

“This is a tree, do you understand?”

Not at first, I didn’t.  He kept at it though, never upset (though maybe a bit tired) going about it like a man working the fields.  The tears dried on my cheeks as I looked closer, the symbol on the codex no longer so strange.

Things fell into place soon after that, the menacing characters suddenly the best toys a girl could ever hope to own.  Then came that night when I unfolded the Zul’kunda Codex on my own to see the words dancing together in perfect order, an abstract world that I held in my hands.  I jumped right into it, reading the holy writ again, a great power in my eyes.

I never again missed the sounds of the village.



Mala’ha insisted that I spend the night in the hut she shared with her husband and some friends of theirs from the Silent Steps.

“I should probably check on my friend—“

“Oh, he’ll be fine, you spend too much with dead people!”

“I don’t want to be a bother—“ I began, already knowing that such excuses only work on humans in books.

“What are you talking about?  Come on, you’ll get to meet more people.”

Minutes later I found myself pressed against the wicker walls of the temporary hut, every bit as cramped as the goblin bus, but this time with something much more frightening than strangers.  Mala’ha and Ab’gan joked all night with some friends of theirs from the Silent Steps, passing around a cask of palm wine that I was obliged to drink (palm wine’s not my favorite).

A dull pain had been wiggling around the inside of my skull all night, and the hot noisy room soon became the midwife for the worst headache I’d had in years.  The air around my head seemed to shake and the pain dripped down my spine and into my belly, mixing with the wine (bad even by the standards of that drink).

“Ha, you should see what this wild one gets up too, huh?  Hey, Daj’yah, who do you like here in Bambala?  Lots of good men from all the bands,” said Mala’ha.

“I’ve got some friends who are a bit younger.  They’re good, I think you’ll like them,” added Ab’gan.  The worst part was, I could tell he was really trying to help. 

“Come on, name someone!  Maybe some boy you fancied before Gu’jomb spirited you away?”

I opened my mouth as if to say something, and they all doubled over in gales of laughter.  Was I in what the humans call hell?  The place felt hot enough.

“That’s the spirit, who is he?”

I started to speak and answered with an eruption of sour wine and half-digested cassava that splattered all over Mala’ha’s feet.  Fate was merciful enough to let me pass out moments later.