Thursday, May 30, 2013

Back to Stranglethorn

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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!”


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.


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?”


“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.”


“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.


“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—“


“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.