Veelix flew me back to the Forge of Supplication. While I explored the Molten Front, Gulrow had prepared a new batch of notes that needed to be shared with the Cenarion Circle in Nighthaven. After a day’s rest, Veelix jumped back into the cockpit for a journey to the druidic realm of Moonglade. I again joined him as a passenger.
I did not take the trip lightly. Indeed, I more or less forced myself to go. Back in the Firelands, a part of me had felt more comfortable with the horrifically burned Melestria than with the Guardians of Hyjal.
Even now I hate myself for describing the Kaldorei in such terms (though I have so easily dismissed other races like the murlocs in the same way without any self-reproach). I know full well that theirs is a culture rich in wisdom and virtue. Yet no matter what I know about them, seeing a night elf instantly brings me back to the Shrine of Goldrinn.
Large numbers of Forsaken have the same reaction to humanity, and I cannot allow myself to go the way that so many of my brethren have traveled. Whatever I feel, I know that the night elves are far more than a barbaric mob. Armed with this knowledge, I can overcome the base emotions common to my kind, however painful a process it becomes.
Beyond trying to improve myself, I had another reason for traveling to Moonglade. I’d made a copy of the coded note I’d found back on Hyjal (Nekra possessed the original). My hope was that Moonglade’s decrypters could reveal its contents. The ugly scene had stayed with me, and I found myself speculating as to exactly what had happened. The one dead human had held a rifle, suggesting the use of normal weapons. Yet Nekra’s findings and the state of the Horde bodies indicated that the Twilight’s Hammer bore at least some responsibility.
I began to suspect that the event had started as a fight between partisans. Sadly, it does not stretch belief to think that a gang of six Horde freelancers might have attacked a lone human. They killed the human through normal means only to fall victim to Twilight’s Hammer cultists that attacked immediately after the murder. If such were the case, the note was likely irrelevant, but I wanted to make sure.
Once more I endured a nervous flight, trying to allay my anxiety by talking to Veelix, our voices soon hoarse from shouting over the engine. We made a brief stop at Everlook to refuel. I took advantage of our time there to send another quick telegraph to Daj’yah. By that point, I was very glad she had declined to join me, and vowed to never again be so careless with such an invitation. These travels are often foolish risks, done only to satisfy my curiosity, and I cannot allow my friends to be hurt in such ultimately selfish endeavors. While I have had traveling companions, they usually possessed their own reasons to be there, or were at least paid for their trouble.
Winterspring’s high and snowy plains end at the mountains of the Timbermaw. Beyond is the foggy valley of Moonglade, a patch of deep green when seen from on high. Veelix took his flier to a tiny and neglected-looking landing strip in the mountains around Moonglade; the druids do not allow vehicles to fly in sight of Nighthaven.
We half-walked, half-stumbled down the steep and narrow path leading to Moonglade proper. The sun had set by the time we reached level ground, bringing us into an inky night. Veelix switched on a small electric lantern, revealing dense fog coiling around trees as big as castle keeps.
“This place never ceases to amaze me,” Veelix breathed. “We’ll camp here; Moonglade’s safe, and I like seeing the forest at night.”
I stretched out on the soft grass, the forest seeming to take me into its embrace, abomination though I am. In dreams I wandered through endless glades and sacred darkness, guided by the soft lights of the departed.
We made good time the next day, reaching the shores of Lake Elune’ara in the late morning. Many Kaldorei believe the Elune’ara is the first thing Elune created as she birthed the world in Lake Ashanaral. This suggests that Ashanaral predates Azeroth, perhaps lending credence to the schismatic Lenanorei. Then again, I should probably not try to analyze Kaldorei creation myths through human criteria. The faith of Elune is one of paradox, the priestesses guiding but not defining the beliefs of their petitioners. Only in the forest, say the holy texts, can Elune’s will truly be known.
The bridges of Nighthaven awaited us on the other side of the lake, its lanterns so much like wisps. Luck had preserved Moonglade from the Cataclysm’s physical effects. As I would soon learn, however, its political fallout proved harder to escape.
Dressed in robes of leaves and petals, the natives of Moonglade are very much a part of the forest. Other Kaldorei see these dwellers in dream as wise if also rather distracted. Their idle curiosity bore little resemblance to the arrogant zealotry I’d seen at the Shrine of Goldrinn. Even so, I perceived distant threats in the serene faces.
“I am safe here,” I whispered to myself.
Veelix took me to an ancient stone and timber hall intended to host visitors. I’d stayed there once myself, years ago. We found it to be a site of considerable activity. Dozens of Kaldorei sat on cushions, watching as an elven woman of remarkable beauty played on a wooden harp, her fingers brushing along the chosen strings. Her melody wandered, carrying with it a sense of hypnotic timelessness, a far cry from the elaborate melodies preferred by the eastern elves.
I took an involuntary step back, the crowd appearing to double in size before me. They were not only elves, I realized. Worgen crouched in the shadows, predator eyes bright and sharp. Not making a sound, I watched as the nearest grinned at me to expose a row of sharp and yellow teeth, the gesture’s intent unmistakable.
“Excuse me, I think I’ll stay at the Horde embassy,” I mumbled, making a quick exit. Veelix turned as if to stop me, but I was already long gone.
The Horde embassy resembles the adjacent Kaldorei halls save for a few kodohide tents out in front. The stolid presence of so many tauren quickly set me at ease, and I asked the Horde ambassador (an orcish woman named Skure) if I might stay there. I am not proud of how I expressed this, adopting an attitude of disgust towards the night elves. The truth would expose me as a coward, and most orcs hate the fearful.
“You Forsaken are never satisfied,” grunted Skure. “You may stay here, but don’t get in the way!”
Ashamed, I sat down on a thick tauren-style rug, still glad to no longer feel the searching of silver eyes. I rested there for a while, feeling smaller by the moment. At last I saw a young troll pass by, an enormous green mohawk standing up from his scalp. Surprised that I greeted him in Zandali, he introduced himself as Yazjahd, a druid.
“I lived in the Valley of Spirits for a while. I heard about trolls joining the druidic orders, but never got many details,” I said. Uthel’nay had wanted to incorporate the druids into the Darkbriar Lodge, but was never able to establish much communication with them.
“Yes, we took a strange path to get here, to be sure. Truth is, the old Gurubashi knew the difference between wizards and druids, but could never figure out the druidic ways.”
“So you know about Zalazane, yeah?”
“Of course.” The rogue witch doctor had expelled the tribe from its island home through trickery and dark magic. The Darkspear had only recently reclaimed the Echo Isles.
“The witch doctors were supposed to keep such evils away from our homes, but Zalazane made fools of them all. A wise woman called Zen’tabra knew we’d done wrong, and led some of the witch doctors away from the tribe so that they might again hear the ancestors in the shadows. Fate being what it is, Zen’tabra heard something else: Gonk!
“Gonk is a lesser loa, but lesser or not you never trifle with one called the Chief of Raptors! He told her how the beasts were withering away under Zalazane. So he taught Zen’tabra the secrets of shapeshifting, of the Emerald Dream.”
“Is there any precedence for such a thing? Generally, it was Cenarius who brought mortals into the Emerald Dream,” I said.
“The loa keep their own counsel. Zen’tabra learned the ways of the druid, and helped Vol’jin take back the Echo Isles!”
“You were not yet a druid at this point?”
“No, I was just a hunter, none too good at it either. Now I am closer to the jungle than before. When I hunt beasts, it is in the form of a beast!” he guffawed.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen any trollish druids in Orgrimmar.”
“Some folks there aren’t liking us much. They see us as traitors to the true way. Druidism is a wicked elven magic to them, and they want no part of it. Shamans fear we’ll steal their power.”
“Shamans and druids have gotten along quite well in Shu’halo society,” I said.
“Shu’halo society gets along quite well, yeah? Us trolls, not as much. Even the priests hate us. They’re jealous that Gonk didn’t talk to them, since they’re the closest to the loa,” he snickered. “Only a fool claims to understand the loa, and I think that’s a mistake many priests make.”
Yazjahd had come to Moonglade for further training, and he particularly looked forward to seeing the Emerald Dream.
“Are the tauren teaching the troll druids?”
“Mostly. Elves don’t much care for us.”
“But they did let you into the Cenarion Circle.”
“A lot of druids died after the Cataclysm. When the elves invited in the worgen, the tauren said we should be let in too. Fair is fair, yeah?”
“I’m surprised that the tauren have that much clout. My impression is that the Cenarion Circle is less than happy with the Horde.”
“Most here think the Horde is a plague. And I don’t just mean the elves and worgen. Tauren see all the trees in Azshara and Ashenvale getting gobbled up. Orcs treat us trolls like garbage, even though we’d been with them since the beginning.”
“Do you still consider yourself a part of the Horde?”
“You testing me, man?” he laughed. “I’m Horde, still am, but I’m not happy about what Garrosh is doing. You shouldn’t be either; he’s throwing your people away in Gilneas.”
That Yazjahd felt comfortable enough to express his dissatisfaction in an embassy spoke volumes. Horde diplomats like Skure fight an uphill battle trying to persuade the Cenarion Circle of their good intentions. I learned that she’d described the deforestation of Ashenvale as a necessary evil that would end if the Kaldorei traded with the orcs (though this was more to prove her good intentions than to influence policy; the Cenarion Circle has little control over Ashenvale). The goblins’ exploitation of Azshara has, unfortunately, emptied her words of any real meaning (though it is worth noting that the Kaldorei had long been content to ignore Azshara’s magic-infused forests).
I followed Yazjahd around town the next morning, a bit more relaxed with a troll at my side. Trollish druids take basic training under the tutelage of Zen’tabra on the Echo Isles. Those demonstrating enough proficiency can receive further education in Moonglade through tauren sponsorship.
There are probably no more than 50 or so druids in the trollish population. Aside from a few masters like Zen’tabra, most are basically hedge druids. After receiving minimal instruction they go out into the world, sometimes apprenticing themselves to more experienced tauren practitioners, other times studying on their own. These rogues are a source of minor anxiety for the Cenarion Circle.
“It’s not easy to get a sponsor. I knew one man, Zen’tabra’s cousin, got in no problem, but me? I’m nobody, and the tribe doesn’t like the druids too much so it’s not mattering that my father is a mighty hunter. So if you can’t get a tauren to help you out, you need to make your own path.”
“Does the Cenarion Circle actively censure druids that go out on their own?”
“Not so much, no. Hard to keep track of them, and they aren’t doing any harm. What we learn on the Echo Isles is simple, but it’s the simple things that really matter, yeah? We help nature, nature helps us, kind of like the shamans with the spirits. I guess we deal with nature on a deeper level, the whole thing instead of just every local spirit.”
“I would imagine it takes a lot of education to know how to help the entirety of nature.”
“That’s some of what Zen’tabra teaches us. Maybe not as much as the elves learn, but growing up in the jungle you pick up on a lot of details that I think the elves might miss.”
The Kaldorei see nature as their responsibility, and the tauren revere and respect it as something mighter than they. The trolls take a more pragmatic attitude. Yazjahd said that the Cenarion Circle fears the rogue druids might form the nucleus of an exclusively Horde druidic organization, but dismissed such concerns as spurious. Such druids show little indication of organizing, and often feel quite distant from the Horde.
I ran into an old acquaintance by the name of Anlivia Reterion. A Forsaken like myself, she’d actually attended a few classes with me back in my student days. We’d been reunited during my first visit to Moonglade. After her liberation, she’d made it her mission to restore the forests of old Lordaeron, and sought help from the Cenarion Circle.
The efforts of Anlivia and many others have strengthened the ties between the Cenarion Circle and the Argent Crusade. As a result, the Western Plaguelands has undergone a remarkable recovery over the past year. Still eager for more, Anlivia told me she was organizing a campaign to heal the similarly blighted east. She had long ago severed all ties with the Horde.
“I saw where the Horde was headed from the very beginning. What Sylvanas is doing to the Gilneans is no surprise. I’ve heard some of the stories they tell, awful things. I’d kill Sylvanas myself, if I had the chance.”
“There’s more to the Horde than Sylvanas.”
“Come now, Destron. The Horde abets her every move. And look at what the orcs do in Ashenvale!”
“Objectionable, I’ll grant you, but Garrosh at least plays by rules of war. His warriors do not murder and pillage like the Horde of old.” The words faltered before they were spoken, my mind returning to the Grand Cannon pointed at Stormwind City.
“You can’t tell me you believe that. You’ve heard of the Stonetalon Massacre, haven’t you?”
“Yes. Garrosh killed the commander who ordered it.” Another in a long list of shameful acts done by the new Horde, the Stonetalon Massacre involved the destruction of a druidic school and its entire populace.
“Oh, how wonderful! Which is why he also killed Sylvanas for murdering so many Gilneans—except he did not. Meanwhile he burns Ashenvale to the ground—including aerial attacks on towns like Astranaar! Hundreds have died because of the Horde! There is nothing good about your warchief, Destron.
“Maybe you should speak to one of the Gilnean druids here,” she said. “See the Horde as it truly is, from the eyes of its victims.”
“Would one be willing to speak to me?”
“I know a few. As a Forsaken, you’d best keep away from the worgen lodge—even I avoid that place. I do know a druidess named Prudence Ancaster who spends most of her time by the lake. She’s more talkative.”
“Anlivia, it’s not necessary for her to tell me about Sylvanas’ crimes against Gilneas. I’m well aware, and I stringently oppose.”
“Yet you do nothing!”
“What do you expect me to do? The Horde despises the Forsaken, and I have no power there.”
“All the more reason to leave. You owe the Horde nothing, Destron.”
“On the contrary, the Horde accepted me when no one else would. That’s a debt I cannot repay!”
“Nonsense. The Argent Crusade accepts Forsaken. The Steamwheedle Cartel accepts us. Look at me! I’m allowed to reside in Moonglade. There are many places for the Forsaken in this world.”
“If the Horde goes, the Alliance will destroy almost all of the Forsaken. We did not come so far from the Lich King’s grasp—“
“So what? What contribution do most Forsaken really make? I used to live in Brill, and death would be a mercy for those people. Don’t try to defend the indefensible. Let our wretched kind fall to ruin. The good ones, like me, maybe even you someday, can stay on to help. Here, I’ll introduce you to Prudence. Listen to what she has to tell you.”
I hated to admit it, but Anlivia’s words wiped out my already weakening defenses. The Horde embraced cruelty, violence, and oppression with a readiness that would have made Orgrim Doomhammer proud. Indeed, many Forsaken have found better existences outside of the Horde. Small dissident communities exist in New Hearthglen, Booty Bay, and Shattrath City. Why not join them?
Could I abandon my own kind so readily? I speak of the Forsaken whom, in a very real sense, I have already abandoned. Yet some hope might remain. Thrall could return, Sylvanas might be destroyed or discredited.
Growing up, I heard my elders decry the orcs as evil incarnate. No thought or deed, they said, could ever redeem something damned from birth. But why would creation allow a race that could only be evil (keeping in mind that demons are not a race per se)?
Even as a child, I wondered how I’d feel as an orc. Would I have some irrepressible urge to kill and destroy (while somehow simultaneously languishing into oblivion)? If I’d simply been born in a different body, would I be so wicked as to deserve universal condemnation? The thought always terrified me, and I’d fear I was similarly tainted in some way.
And I have met many orcs, more than I can count, who have exhibited traits admirable by any standard. Though shoved aside by a cruel leadership, their existence clearly demonstrates that orcs are not irredeemable monsters, even if aspects of their culture are monstrous. One might point also to the rapacious cruelties of Alterac’s ruling class, or the viciousness of the Defias Brotherhood, and dismiss humanity as evil incarnate.
If the orcs can be redeemed, perhaps it is the same with the Forsaken. But most Forsaken never really made the attempt. Most orcs were at least content to tolerate Thrall’s reforms until the world situation changed. My old fear, that I might be evil by simply having the wrong body, returns to me.
I could claim to stay in hopes that the Horde will redeem itself. Yet in staying, am I not in some way complicit? Perhaps I stay simply because it is comfortable, and because those I care most about are also a part of it. Simple tribalism at work.
Going past the hazy limits of Nighthaven, Anlivia led me along the placid shores of Lake Elune’ara. I already dreaded the upcoming confrontation, expecting a litany of righteous anger directed at a target I can no longer defend.
Anlivia slowed when we saw the lone worgen woman sitting under a tree, stout roots like armrests at her sides. Dressed in rough-spun forest clothes she displayed little sign of her national heritage. She held an old book, the object absurdly tiny in her clawed and heavy hands.
“Thought that smell was you, Anlivia. I don’t recognize the rotter next to you though; his stink’s drier than yours, and there’s a something a mite sooty about him.” Her fanged muzzle distorted the familiar sounds of the Common tongue, already made strange by her accent.
“I am impressed by your sense of smell. I did just return from a trip to the Firelands.”
“Prudence, this is Destron, a friend of mine. I’ve been trying to get him to leave the Horde.”
Prudence’s head swung towards me, hungry golden eyes burrowing into my sockets, lips curled back to expose slick and yellowed fangs.
“The Horde? You lot are all beasts! First the orcs back in the Second War, and now the undead. Demons next, I’m sure. You ever hear of Emberstone?”
“I’m afraid not.”
“’Course you haven’t. Deaders like you came in the night, killed half of us and put the rest of us to work as slaves! Someone—like you—murdered my son! He was six, he couldn’t have hurt even one of you, and you killed him just the same!”
“Prudence—“ began Anlivia.
“I’ve got a mind to kill this rotter where he stands! Won’t bring back Dorrey, but it’ll make my little one’s soul rest easier. Light damn you and your kind!” Prudence bolted to her feet, as fast as lightning, teeth fully exposed.
“Please! He’s willing to listen! Not all of us are evil, just those that serve Sylvanas,” begged Anlivia. I watched Prudence tense, and remembered the terrible strength of the worgen.
“You said it yourself, he’s a Hordeling!”
“But maybe we can get him to leave.”
“No. You come in on us, and expect a second chance? The pack doesn’t give second chances to cub-killers! We’ll tear apart the lot of you and I’ll eat Sylvanas’ guts as she screams!”
“I bear no love for Sylvanas! I can tell others of Emberstone, I also want to see justice done!” I cried out.
“You’re a nitwit if you think you can weasel out when I’m like this!” Her posture slackened. All at once her body began to twist, the massive shoulders collapsing, the fangs retreating and losing their sharpness. Fur and claws pulled into a body made suddenly normal and I heard the awful sound of snapping bones.
As a human, Prudence looked only slightly less threatening. A hatchet-faced woman of middle age, she carried with her the strength that comes from enduring years of hardship.
“I never go back to this ugly form if I can help it, so you’d best give me a good reason for doing so. It’s like I said; the Forsaken came down and slaughtered women and children. They wanted me for the mines, but I fought, I hit and struck the bastards every step of the way. But like this, I’m weak.
“Greymane’s men saved us, told us how the worgen curse could make them pay. I never did see it a curse, not after what the Forsaken did. If I’d been able to transform then I’d have saved little Dorrey, be holding him right now. He did love the forest, on account of the harvest witches in his family I’m sure.”
Prudence’s eyes clenched shut as her brittle voice tried to retain composure.
“Get out, Destron. Anlivia, you ought to know better than to show me some rotten Hordeling. I wanted to rip you apart, Destron, and I know I can do it, but right now I just want to weep. Don’t lie about changing the Horde, it won’t happen and you know it. Same Horde that attacked us in the Second War. Same damn Horde.”
We left Prudence to her mourning, her muffled sobs audible over the lake. A terrible sense of futility crashed down on my shoulders. How could I ever expect to be forgiven?
“I’m sorry, Destron. I did not think that through,” said Anlivia in a husky whisper.
“She wasn’t angry at you.”
“Prudence is a very wise woman. I didn’t mean to cause her pain.”
Dejected, Anlivia retreated to her home, a flowering cabin of living wood just north of Nighthaven. Too afraid of what my mere presence might inspire, I kept my distance from any Gilneans and slunk back to the Horde embassy.
I almost ran away when I saw the worgen leaning on the railing at the bridge to the embassy. He dressed like a Gilnean of means, or perhaps a parody of one. Fur poked through holes in his too-small jacket and a skewed top hat looked ready to slide off his furry scalp.
A tauren stepped out from the embassy, dressed in druidic robes and holding a parcel. The worgen turned and they bowed their heads, before the tauren handed over the parcel.
“We appreciate your patience. Here are the reports of Hyjal’s recovery, as observed by our kin,” rumbled the tauren.
“Thank you very much. I had best be off, but I will see you on the by and by,” said the worgen. Tipping his hat further askew, he caught sight of me as he began leaving the premises.
“Are there now Forsaken druids?” he chuckled.
“No, I’m only a visitor. My name is Destron Allicant.”
“Artur Wincrowe, formerly Lord Tharton’s commercial ambassador to the kingdom of Stormwind. An exporter of timber, if we are to be specific. Now I am a druid.”
“An interesting career change,” I said, not sure what to make of his friendliness. It is quite difficult to read a worgen face, though bared teeth are never a good sign.
“Druids and timber merchants both understand the forest in different ways.”
“Do you still work for Lord Tharton?”
“Sadly, his lordship perished in the invasion. Murdered by a Forsaken like you, as a matter of fact. I fear Kalimdor would have been a difficult place for him; only the strong survive in this land.”
“You speak very candidly.”
“Indeed, why not? There is no longer any need for fine words and pretense. The Stormwinders thought the Gilneans fools for their pretensions, and I came to agree. The Kaldorei have been kind enough to confirm my prejudices against our social superstitions.”
“Do other Gilneans feel this way?”
“I should say so, at least here in Moonglade. Those in Darnassus are encouraged to stay in human form, and tend to be a bit less realistic. Here, we know that fine pedigrees and ancient bloodlines matter little in the contest of tooth and claw.” A bloodcurdling sound wracked his throat, somewhere between a terrified human’s shout and a wounded wolf’s whimper. It took me a moment to recognize it as laughter.
“I never much cared for the nobles of old Lordaeron myself, though I suppose most were decent sorts. It did seem like a rather silly institution though,” I said.
“Perhaps humans just need a change of perspective, eh? No matter, what brings you to the Cenarion Circle?”
“Curiosity, for the most part. I wanted to learn more about the Gilneans specifically.”
“Ask away! To a limit, of course; I am not going to say anything that might give your kind an advantage.”
“If I may ask, why are you so friendly? Most Gilneans hate Forsaken.”
“All Gilneans hate Forsaken, my curious friend, and I am the most hateful of all! But I am first and foremost a civilized worgen. The druids did not teach us to control our rage so that we might spill blood on the bridges of Nighthaven.”
“I’m glad that we can at least be civil to one another.”
“So what is it you wish to know?”
“What is the background of the typical Gilnean druid?”
“Most used to be harvest witches. I am more than a little ashamed to admit that I once scoffed at the idea. I thought them charlatans, when in truth they are the inheritors of an ancient tradition that is only now being rediscovered.”
“I’ve heard a bit about the harvest witches. Did Kaldorei teach Gilneans in ancient times?”
“No one really knows the answer to that question. None of the druids here are aware of any elven presence in Gilneas. On the other hand, it could be that the elves that went to Gilneas never returned. The harvest witches tell stories about the court of fae, and nobody can agree whether or not those were the same as the elves.
“Whatever their origins, the harvest witches did know something of druidism. I am really only a neophyte in our ranks. Happily, I have put myself to use in other ways.”
“I represent worgen interests in the Cenarion Circle. Most of the senior druids are elves, and a few are tauren. As a former commercial ambassador, I was the natural choice for Gilneas.”
“So the old class roles still apply?”
“Class roles? Undead or not, you are still a human! I proved myself by tooth and claw, as our savage natures demand. Not all of the nobles and burghers are hapless ponces in a fight; some are quite fierce.”
“How has the Cenarion Circle received the Gilneans?”
“With enthusiastic caution borne from guilt. Worgen form is a night elf creation, you know; the druids who first adopted it all went savage and had to be locked up in some part of the Emerald Dream. Arugal’s meddling returned it to Azeroth. The worgen curse is a curse, I would say, but a useful one. Certainly one that I am not in any hurry to relinquish, considering that the elves have taught us to control ourselves.”
“If you can control yourself, how is it a curse?”
“Worgen form has upset the natural order. Ironic, I know, since worgen form is closer to nature. But what is natural for a beast is not natural for mankind. Whatever the case, I do not intend to relinquish it.”
I nodded, noting the difference in attitude from Prudence.
“The elves want the respect and deference that they deserve, and I am more than happy to ensure that my countrymen behave appropriately. In return, they heed our concerns, support the Gilnean Liberation Front in its efforts, and place us firmly in the lap of the Alliance.”
“A reasonable arrangement,” I agreed.
“Quite. I also keep open lines of communication with the tauren and the trolls.”
“I noticed the tauren handing you a package.”
“Suspicious, are we? Ha ha, no matter, the contents are quite innocuous. We wish only to know how Hyjal is recovering. You can see it for yourself, if you would like.”
“No, I trust the tauren.”
“They seem like a good bunch.”
“I’m surprised you’re so fond of them.”
“Fond is not quite the right word, but they have their place in the world, and I am civilized after all. Neither tauren nor troll has harmed my people. That is the doing of the orcs and the Forsaken. The orcs even abuse their own allies; I have heard the stories about what the trolls endure in Orgrimmar.”
“It is a shame.”
“A relatively minor one, I would think, compared to what else the Horde does,” he said. “I really must be going, but I am glad to know that decay has not robbed all Forsaken of the capacity for conversation.”
“We are not all monsters.”
Artur cocked his head to the side, looking so much like a puzzled dog that I had to stop myself from laughing.
“I am afraid your words mean nothing to me. Do not worry, Destron; soon enough, I will rip out Sylvanas’ heart and burn it in front of her. But I will keep you alive until the very end.”
After four days in Nighthaven, I found myself no more comfortable around night elves than I’d been upon my arrival. I could blame only myself. I rarely left the Horde embassy, and when I did it was usually while following Yazjahd like some pitiful shadow.
I met again with Anlivia and was pleased to find her mood improved. She was the only person besides Yazjahd with whom I felt safe in Nighthaven. Prudence had forgiven her, though the druidess had warned Anlivia to never again bring a Horde-aligned Forsaken into her sight.
“And I agree: Destron, there is no reason for you to stay with such an evil group.”
I wondered if she’d heard Artur’s promise to murder us all. I hate Sylvanas and all she stands for, but I have met too many other decent Forsaken to agree with Artur. If it becomes a matter of survival, do we not have a right? We stayed and died while our countrymen found new lives across the sea. But I must beware of vilifying those who ran. I would have fled too if I’d had the means, and Theramore has been a positive presence in the world, something that cannot be said for Undercity.
I again heard rumors of Sylvanas practicing necromancy, this time from Yazjahd. I kept better control of myself, though I explained why such stories could not be true. Some of the darker news from the front lines in Silverpine mentioned Sylvanas and some enslaved val’kyr raising the dead Gilneans, but these were all second- or third-hand accounts. Certainly the Gilneans have reason to degrade Sylvanas’ name (not to say that she deserves anything less than utter ruin—but the truth is the truth, and she has committed enough real sins to make fictional ones unnecessary).
Even Anlivia dismissed such stories.
“I saw Sylvanas’ evil a long time ago, but no one who has suffered undeath can inflict it on another,” she said.
Some might argue that Arthas had done just that, but he had embraced undeath in his own way. We had it forced upon us.
On the fifth day, Veelix told me that he would soon fly back to Hyjal, and offered to take me there or at least as far as Everlook, where I could find passage back to Bilgewater Harbor. I thanked him and accepted his offer, leaving me with one afternoon and one night left in Moonglade.
Shoving all thought from my mind, I got up from my chair in the embassy and began walking, making a straight line out of the hall and onto the arched bridges. Keeping a brisk pace I soon marched past the Horde enclave and into the elven parts of the city. I busied myself thinking about the courageous Kaldorei who stood against their queen in ages past, and of their novels that eschew narrative for examinations of memory and perspective.
I am not sure how much I really accomplished, but I felt at least somewhat better about myself. One task remained on my itinerary. I still held the copy of the coded letter in the pouch that Sleed had found in Hyjal. In truth, I’d nearly forgotten about it, but a stubborn curiosity drove me to make the effort.
The codebreakers of the Cenarion Circle do their work in a library found at Nighthaven’s southern tip, perched on a living platform whose roots drink the waters of Lake Elune’ara. The druids keep the open-air building warm and dry in sanctioned circumvention of nature. At the time of my visit, druidic tomes shared shelf space with copied and partly translated Twilight manuscripts. Chalkboards bearing dizzying nebulae of scrawled formulae hung from the walls, and beneath them linguists argued without end. If the Twilight’s Hammer hoped to sow confusion, they appear to have succeeded.
I was directed to an old orc named Mawglor Rendhammer. Greasy locks of white hair hung to the sides of his wrinkled face like drapes but his cold and penetrating eyes belied the dirty appearance. He sat cross-legged on a rug of woven moss, surrounded by stacks of paper.
“What is it, youngling?” he grumbled. “More Twilight gibberish?”
“I am not sure if this is a cult document or not, actually. I was hoping for your expertise on the matter,” I said, handing him the paper.
Mawglor blinked as he examined the document.
“’After testing, dispose of material. Then, rendezvous with the Conjurer at Point Llane, and await further instructions’,” he read.
“I take it that you recognize the code?”
“I saw it as a whelp. It was one of the codes Stormwind had in the First War. It’s actually a very complicated one; I spent so much time trying to figure it out that I am probably incapable of forgetting it. Stormwind used it up until the raid on Northshire Abbey, which is when they realized we’d broken it.”
“This is a very recent document, however.”
“I doubt very many people alive would recognize it, though modern techniques make it a good deal easier to figure out. Where did you find this?”
I related the story to Mawglor, who frowned upon hearing it.
“The Twilight’s Hammer Cult has plenty of its own codes. I am positive this is Alliance.”
“My theory is that Horde and Alliance partisans were fighting each other, and that the Twilight’s Hammer killed the survivors.”
“That is possible. But this says the Alliance was testing something—“
“It might not have even been the Alliance,” I cautioned. “At least not officially. Some of these partisan groups have a staggering amount of resources at their disposal.”
“Partisans are still part of their factions! The Alliance or Alliance patriots were testing something that they did not want to be caught with. I think we can draw an obvious conclusion.”
“That these partisans were using Twilight’s Hammer weaponry?”
“Partisans already use tools looted from the Burning Legion and the Scourge. The Twilight’s Hammer Cult is the next logical step. Fools. We orcs already made that mistake once, and I will not stand by and see whelps of either faction do it again!”
“We did not see any such gear on the dead human.”
“His companions probably retrieved it and took it to Point Llane. That’s probably a codename itself; Llane was Stormwind’s king during the First War, so whoever wrote this has a long memory. They did not bury him, so they must have been keen to escape before anyone learned of their foul deeds.”
“The ground was solid rock, it would not have been possible to bury him. We also found a brooch marked with a yellow sunburst. Is that symbol familiar to you?”
“No. That might be the symbol of their group, or it might not matter. This needs to be reported.”
“I think Nekra, the shaman, will have already delivered this to authorities elsewhere,” I said.
“Perhaps, but remember that very few people alive today know this code. I never expected to see it again. Where are you going after Moonglade?”
“Let someone in charge know about this. Will you swear to do so?”
“I will do it. For the Horde.”
“For the Horde!” he bellowed, a bit of youth’s flush returning to his aged face. I prepared myself to again defend a faction that I’d come to fear.