Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Booty Bay



Flaunting its courtesan glamor in the face of catastrophe, Booty Bay still thrives, the red-roofed houses jewels between the jungle green and the ocean blue.  New huts rise from the ruins of the old like enterprising mushrooms in half-smashed neighborhoods packed breathlessly layer atop layer with clapboard houses.  Rainbow flocks soar over the crowded markets, bold parrots diving down to pluck choice fruits from unwatched stalls. 

Grinning in spite of the rift running up its side, the statue at Janeiro’s Point still stretches his arms wide in greedy welcome, ready to grab all that the world has to offer.  All are welcome so long as they work or spend.

Southern Fortune, a tramp steamer patched together from the scraps of drowned merchant fleets, chugged its weary way through the bay’s crowded waters.  Rafts carrying close to their own weight in moldy food drifted towards the hull, their owners screaming out the best deals for their wares.  Buckets tethered to the rails dropped down, quick green fingers fishing out paltry copper and throwing in a few bruised bananas or mangos.  The smell of fish coiled through the humid air in a perfect tropical miasma.

“I’ve not seen a real jungle in years,” remarked Daj’yah.  She stood next to me at the prow, her bare arms crossed. 

“Did you miss it much?”

“Not too often, but I sometimes missed the weather.  The desert heat near cracked off my skin.”

“I remember: you must have gone through an entire cargo ship’s worth of ointment.” 

Daj’yah and I had left Kalimdor without any trouble, our meager possessions on our backs.  Hardly a wealthy organization, the Reliquary gave us more than enough money to buy passage on Southern Fortune (cheap as the fare was, I am sure that we were overcharged). 

A smile spread across my face seeing Booty Bay again.  I had not spent much time in the city but it always held a special place in my memory.  It is the first place I visited where the division between Alliance and Horde mattered little.  I will never forget how on the day of my arrival, a Stormwinder noblewoman named Alima Corwyn, had snapped a photo of me, my undeath inspiring cheerfully morbid curiosity instead of hatred.

When I met her again in Dalaran, Alima had reached a position of influence in Stormwind’s House of Nobles.  At first focused on domestic affairs, the Northrend Campaign inspired her to look beyond her kingdom’s borders.  Today, she helps shape Stormwind’s foreign policy, defending it against the rapacious Horde.

My mood darkened at the thought.  Alima’s enthusiasm at seeing a Forsaken was the sign of a more innocent time, before the world saw the boundless depravity exhibited by so many of my kindred.  I suppose the Forsaken were just as cruel back then; their deeds had simply been more obscure. 

With a last shuddering cough Southern Fortune came to a stop at the docks.  Passengers and crew alike spilled out onto the planks, escaping cabins turned into ovens by the sweltering heat.  Daj’yah and I bobbed out like a pair of awkward giants in the green tide.

Booty Bay did not emerge unscathed from the Cataclysm.  Reports of that day describe a tidal wave, mountains high, slamming into the city.  Thousands died at the moment of impact and thousands more drowned as the waters pulled them into the sea.  In a single hour the city found its population reduced by half.

Nor were its troubles over.  The Bloodsail Buccaneers saw a chance to at last destroy their hated rivals.  Brigands and displaced jungle warriors answered the call to battle, dreaming of plunder beneath the pirates’ crimson flag. 

Metal-plated ships lumbered into the harbor on the day of the attack, their cannons blazing as savages leapt howling onto the streets.  Under a sky of smoke, the air riddled with lead, the natives made their stand.  Expatriates from both the Horde and the Alliance joined the Steamwheedle bruisers in defending their battered paradise.  By the end of the day, the surviving pirates limped to the southern shore, their power broken.

The town’s resort days are long gone.  Few can still afford to leave their homes on distant foreign vacations.  Fortunately, the jungle offers many gifts.  Booty Bay is Azeroth’s last reliable supplier of rubber and palm oil. 

Those resources had once come to the Horde by way of the Darkspear Tribe.  However, the Cataclysm brought their efforts to ruin and the Steamwheedle Cartel soon took their place.  The Darkspear do not resent the goblins for this; the loss is seen, to some degree, as the act of inscrutable gods. 

We made our way past the Old Port Authority and into the rambling maze of wooden pathways, our path taking us up narrow ramps leading to the lush mountain slopes and down again to the dank waterline hovels, always surrounded by a teeming mass collected from every land and clime.  Booty Bay has more than regained its old population, its reputation as a safe spot attracting refugees from two worlds.  Boundless potential ameliorates the grinding poverty, even the most destitute with at least a few plans for the future.  Goblin optimism is a virulent and sometimes wonderful contagion.

The Salty Sailor Tavern is often mentioned in the same breath as Booty Bay itself.  Made from the hull of an old sailing vessel, it’s an obvious icon.  Unfortunately for us, its fame had also made it very expensive.  Rooms that once cost a silver piece a night now demand two gold.

Lacking those kinds of funds, Daj’yah and I drifted through town until we found cheaper accommodations in a ramshackle hotel called the Lazy Turtle, the sign written in both Common and Orcish.  A hot tropical squall burst moments after we entered the common room, the leaky slate-and-pitch roof soon becoming a shower nozzle.



We relaxed over drinks before going to our room (which cost an affordable half-silver).  I ordered coffee in the goblin style (deep black and sugary, sprinkled with ground peppers), while Daj’yah took a mix of rum and fruit juice.  She rarely drank alcohol, but the situation seemed to call for it.

“Not the nicest place, but I think I’m tired enough to sleep right where I’m sitting for a year or so,” she said.

“I don’t know how the living manage to get anything done,” I sighed.  “I suppose I can start looking for employment tomorrow.”

“We got some funds to last a while, if we’re cheap, but that’s probably smart.  I’ll look around once I get my bearings.  Sea travel’s not to my liking.”

From where we sat we could just hear the goblin crooner, Bozzer Smiley, singing on the radio, his voice fuzzy from interference.  I hadn’t heard any of his music since Bilgewater Harbor and found I did not recognize the tune.

The song faded out, a crisp announcer’s voice taking its place, speaking in Orcish.

“That was Bozzer Smiley’s ‘I Like the Way You Smile at Me’.  I think we’d all like to get a nice smile or two, but the news I have won’t be bringing many smiles to most of you out there.  The station just got confirmation that the Alliance took Stonard last night.”

Daj’yah and I both sat up in surprise, blinking at the radio.  The goblin barkeep idly cleaned some glasses.

“There aren’t too many details yet, but this is definitely a sad day for the Horde.  Stonard is the oldest orcish city on Azeroth.  Stormwind’s saying that prisoners and civilians are being well-treated, and—their words, not mine—that this is more than can be said for how the Horde treats its victims.

“That’s all the news for now; I’ll be back to tell you more as the story develops.  Now I’m going to play an Ailee Stanee number called ‘Broken Hearted’, which I think we’re all feeling right now.”

The radio paused before segueing into the voice of a mournful goblin woman pining for lost love.

“Destron, you visited Stonard, yeah?”

“For a little while,” I said, remembering the archaic mud huts dating back to the First War.  “A lot of people lived there.”

“We hear so much about Kalimdor, we forget about this place.  I don’t believe this.”

“The Horde’s presence is minimal south of Lordaeron.  Stonard never got much support from Orgrimmar.”

“That dumb fool warchief probably never heard of the place!  Losing in Kalimdor, losing here… Alliance is going to be at Orgrimmar before we know it.”

“I doubt it will get that bad,” I said.  We’d received news in Gadgetzan that the battle lines in Ashenvale had returned to their pre-Cataclysm state and that Kaldorei sentinels conducted ever-bolder raids into Horde territory.

We retired for the evening, our moods dampened by the report and the rain.  Daj’yah took the floor with the single bed’s blanket and cushions, unwilling to suffer a goblin-sized frame.  I lay down on the mattress and listened to the rainfall dissipate, the jungle orchestra losing its percussion for the night.

I awoke early in the morning, Daj’yah still sleeping.  Quietly getting dressed, I exited the room and then the hotel, the common room already torrid.

A blinding sliver of sun crested the jagged eastern mountains, thick tropical heat inundating the crowded streets where remnants of the last night’s rain unfurled into vapor.  Fishing boats of reeds and driftwood bobbed back to the makeshift docks at the lower level, their catches silver strips in the morning light.

I spent most of the morning walking around Booty Bay, looking for any business that might need a writer or a translator.  The city is, if anything, even more mazelike than it had been before the Cataclysm.  Disparate neighborhoods flow into one another without interruption, and the market plazas snake into the crooked alleys where contrary traders share buildings (one, jointly occupied by a fruit shop and a noxious outdoor smithy, somehow did particularly brisk business). 

As much as I enjoy goblin cities I felt the need to rest for a bit, overwhelmed by the sensory input.  I climbed to the top levels of central Booty Bay, where comparatively spacious houses lounge under the shade of palms.  From there one can see the city’s bustle without the dirt and the stink, a paradise scrubbed clean by distance.  I sat down beneath one of the palms, wishing only for a breeze to stir the viscous heat.

I watched the traffic for a while (the upper levels are only slightly less crowded than the lower and the middle).  I’m not sure that the goblins make up more than a plurality, so common are the members of other races.  At one point, a rainbow-scaled murloc waddled up to me, carrying a tray of colored glass baubles and trinkets.  The murloc croaked expectantly.  Examining his (or her) wares, I pointed at a dirty tin brooch engraved with the crest of old Lordaeron.  The murloc held up two spindly fingers and I handed over a pair of copper coins, after which I received the brooch.

Croaking again, the murloc walked away in search of more customers.  I examined the piece, speculating from where it had first come.  Given that the symbols of Lordaeron are a key part of Alliance iconography, it might have been problematic for me to wear it.  However, at that point, I was no longer sure the Horde even wanted me.

An approaching figure caught my eye, a slightly built Forsaken woman, her dried black hair raggedly bobbed.  Decay marred her but little though her empty eyes shone with ghost-light visible even in the noontime.  I knew I had seen her, and tried to place a name to the familiar features.

“Felya?” I called out.

She turned at the sound of her name, an expression of delight on her bloodless face.

“Oh, I remember you!  The traveler, right?  Destron, was it?”

“Correct.  I’m actually a bit surprised you still remember me.”

“I’ve got a perfect memory!  So what brings you back to Booty Bay?”

“Circumstance and curiosity.  At the moment, I’m looking for work.”

“Are you?  Believe me, there’s no better place for it in all Azeroth!  I might be able to find something for you; what exactly are you looking for?”

“I can write, research, translate—anything along those lines.”

“Perfect!  I have a dear friend who runs the Dispatch, it’s simply the best newspaper in town!  He’s always on the lookout for talent.  Where are you staying?”

“The Lazy Turtle.”

“I can get you something better.”

Felya found us an affordable place in Portview Arms, a residence hotel straddling the middle and lower levels.  The Portview Arms buzzes with constant activity, hucksters and clerks rubbing elbows in the narrow hallways.  Light-fingered merchants slouch in the lobby, merchandise flitting from pocket to sleeve under the dim lamps.

Daj’yah and I made do with an apartment designed for a single human.  A lumpy bed huddled in the corner, practically lost in the shadow of an immense dresser.  A writing desk, probably designed for a dwarf, squatted next to the door.  West-facing windows turned the apartment into a furnace come sunset.  A cramped kitchen and a coffin-like washroom adjoined the main room.

We decided that to make the place our own, we both needed a comfortable place to sleep.  Pooling our funds we purchased a fine hammock from an island troll merchant.  Taking it home, we drove stout nails into studs on the north and south walls and tied the hammock to them so that it spread across the room like an oversized banner.

For all its heat and griminess, we felt a curious freedom in that apartment.  We’d at last escaped the shadow of the Horde, our pasts severed and the future stretching before us.  Felya had coaxed me a proofreading job at the Bay Dispatch, an Orcish-language newspaper owned by goblins.  She’d arranged for Daj’yah to work directly for the Steamwheedle Cartel as an arcane researcher.

“I’ve done more than a few good turns for the Steamwheedle, it’s really nothing,” insisted Felya.

There is no rule forbidding Horde subjects from working for neutral powers like the Steamwheedle Cartel.  However, doing so was not without risk.  Nonetheless, Daj’yah accepted the job.  We discussed the matter on the night before her first day.

“You’re sure this is safe?  This position might make you more visible.  Even though we’re in neutral territory, some of those partisans might still be seeking to avenge their murderous friend,” I said.

“I’m not sure it’s safe.  But you know, you can die anytime.  Maybe I’ll fall out of my hammock tonight and crack open my head.  Besides, the Steamwheedle Cartel protects its own.  If some Horde rascal starts up trouble here in Booty Bay, the bruisers will make him behave.

“This might be really good for me, you know?  I love to learn, to study, all that.  In Orgrimmar, my kin think I’m a silly girl who doesn’t know how to live.  With the elves, I’m a funny savage who knows how to write.  Maybe here, I’m thinking, I can do what I love.  Goblins don’t care much about how you live.”

“Socially, no.  They will care that about you being profitable.”

“Sure, sure, but I’m good at this!  And if you’re good at it, the goblins are happy.  I mean, Bilgewater Harbor wasn’t much to my liking, but this place feels a bit different.  Maybe it’s just the weather here that’s making me say foolish things.”

“No, it’s not foolish.  This could be a wonderful opportunity.”

“We’ll see, yeah?  I’m thinking, I’m always sort of lonesome, and most sorts don’t like me for it.  Here, maybe it’s okay for me to be lonely.  Maybe no one minds.”



The offices of the Bay Dispatch are contained in a bulky shingle-roofed structure near the Old Port Authority.  I opened the door and stepped into what felt like a fog of stale ink, the room shaken by the metallic grunts of titanic printing machines that reached up to the ceiling.  Goblins scurried across the workspace, half-pushing half-tackling rickety metal carts that banged against every uneven floorboard, papers bucked fluttering into the air.  Beneath all this ran a curious and steady sound, like a hundred machines giving applause.

My supervisor was a fat and phlegmatic goblin named Olzim, who walked me to my desk, his quiet voice unheard in the chaos.  I spotted clerks tapping away at curious metal arrays filled with a dizzying number of circular buttons.  My desk was one of four tucked away into the back of the office.  A gray-haired orcish woman sat at one, while young goblins occupied the other two.

“Felya’s a good friend to the city, so I’m happy to give jobs to her friends, but you still have to earn your keep.  I’ve hired northerners in my day; some turned out good, some flaked out.  Anyhow, your job is to look at printed articles.  Mark them up if you see any mistakes in formatting.  You’re my fourth proofreader; Akuray over there is the senior.  If you have any questions, ask her.”

He pointed to orc, who was completely absorbed in examining an article. 

“Thank you, sir.  I won’t disappoint.”

The job was simple, if perhaps busier than I’d expected.  I found few actual spelling errors though a wealth of extra spaces and unnecessary punctuation awaited me in most articles.  I quickly became acclimated to finding these minute imperfections, slashing them out in red ink.

I learned that the noisy machines on the desks of so many writers were called typewriters.  A relatively recent invention, they have not yet reached the shores of Kalimdor but are common in Khaz Modan, Stormwind, and adjacent regions.  I was a bit relieved that I would not have to use such a complicated device.  That is also where I found out about the telephone, a kind of real-time telegraph that transmits voice.  I soon stopped noticing its unpleasant jangle.

My team was the last to look at an article before it went into print.  Since the Dispatch is a daily paper, we had very little time for socializing.  I did speak a bit with Akuray, who’d been working with the Dispatch since its creation, around the time of the Outland Campaign.

Born into Blackrock peonage shortly after the First War, Akuray had faced a life of slave labor.  A clever child, she’d attracted the attention of the relatively intellectual Stormreaver Clan. 

“They taught me to read and to write,” she reminisced during one of our rare breaks.  “Women were not supposed to know such things, but the Stormreavers knew how to use me to their advantage.”

“What did you do for them, exactly?”

“I served the warriors of the Blackrock.  My job was to read their messages,and report my findings to a wretched old Stormreaver named Kuls,” she said, her brow furrowing when she said his name.  “No one in the Blackrock knew I could read.  I learned to do it quickly, and then tell Kuls what I knew.”

“What sorts of messages were these?”

“Typical warrior talk, boastful and foolish.”

No one in the Blackrock Clan ever suspected Akuray, so she suffered no punishment when the Stormreaver Clan betrayed the Horde.  She snuck onto a fleeing goblin ship as the orcish war machine fell to pieces.  When discovered, she convinced the captain to spare her by volunteering for debt slavery.

“I became the property of a goblin named Miggy.  He left me alone so long as I did my work.”

“Which was?”

“Translating advertisements into Orcish!” she chuckled.  “Miggy thought that the orcs in Kezan—who were few in number—would enjoy buying luxury clothes.  He went deep into debt himself and I got away from him.  Miggy wasn’t cruel, but he was an idiot. 

“I worked in whatever jobs I could find on Kezan.  When the Steamwheedle Cartel opened up Booty Bay, I decided to go.  Turned out to be a wise decision.”

“What did you think of Thrall?”

She shrugged.

“Beyond the grand words, he didn’t really sound so different from the old warriors.  It is no surprise to me that Garrosh now rules.”

Akuray had done well for herself in Booty Bay.  She lived in relative comfort with another displaced orcish woman, with whom she was romantically involved.  Orcish society has no taboo against homosexuality among the warrior caste (though warriors are expected to produce children—exclusive homosexuality is frowned upon), but it is strictly forbidden to peons. 

The Bay Dispatch is an independent news organ.  Originally catering to Horde visitors to Booty Bay, its reputation eventually earned it a wider audience.  The paper’s official stance is one of neutrality, and it is one of the few Orcish language publications to criticize the Horde’s policy (there are also clandestine samizdat pieces floating about Orgrimmar, but they are few and necessarily obscure).

At one point, according to Akuray, Alliance representatives had approached the Bay Dispatch wanting to turn the paper into something more intentionally subversive.  Though tempted by the cash being offered, the owners refused.  They realized that being too pro-Alliance might provoke the Horde—there had already been incidents with orcish hotheads defacing the building.

While I sat at that desk I felt the pulse of the world in my fingertips.  Stories from the far corners of the globe and even beyond came to me.  Before my eyes the Dark Iron Empire lost itself in the throes of ruin even as their former empress consolidated her power in Khaz Modan.  Alliance troops held the line at the Arathi Highlands, breaking the Forsaken advance.  So too did I read the stories of mass slaughter in Hillsbrad, its once-thriving towns rendered into toxic hells.

I told this to Daj’yah one night as I lay in bed, the last flush of sunset disappearing into the ocean.

“I fear I’m not any better,” I said.  “That the same evil is inside me, waiting to come out.  That the Scarlet Crusade was right.”

“Destron, that’s foolish,” she chided from the hammock.  “You’ve done good by me, by the Darkbriar Lodge.  You got in trouble doing good back in Uldum, yeah?”

“I suppose it is a bit silly.  I am curious as to why there’s so little outcry in the Horde.”

“You said yourself that the humans wanted to kill all of you, even before Wrathgate.  The Forsaken know this and hold together.”

“They’ve gone far beyond the bounds of defensive solidarity.”

“Sure, but what I mean is that most probably see it as them being protected.  The Darkspear did bloody and savage things back in Stranglethorn.  None of us complained.  Same thing in Undercity.  You humans—dead or living—aren’t that different from us trolls.”

“What worries me is that they know it’s unnecessary, and do it anyway.”

“It’s hard to really know anything in this world.”

“True.  Too true.”

*********

Daj’yah and I sometimes joined Felya on her social outings.  Three years in Booty Bay, combined with insatiable curiosity, had brought her to every hidden corner of the city, from the arakkoa-run tavern smelling of fermented carrion to an elegant floating cafĂ© in the southern waters.

Felya enjoyed a fair amount of respect in the city thanks to her efforts in fighting off the pirates.  She recounted the battle to us when we met one evening at a nameless dockside coffee stand.

“Quite a battle it was, a marvelous sight as such things go, not that I really know the aesthetics of war, or if there even are aesthetics for such a thing.  Thundering cannons, me in the Old Port Authority ripping out minds with pure shadow—a grand thing to see!”

“You seem real fond of fighting,” remarked Daj’yah.

“The Light wants us to be happy.  Fighting’s not my favorite thing, but if I must do it, I may as well have a good time.”

Since then, she’d used her influence to help out the Forsaken expatriate community.  Generally speaking, these Forsaken do not reject Sylvanas on ethical grounds; rather, they fled Lordaeron so that they might enjoy undeath on their own terms. 



I attended a party at Felya’s house a few weeks into my Booty Bay sojourn.  She’d invited most of the notable Forsaken so as to celebrate a new arrival by the name of Melius Lucaram, recently from Undercity.  I went alone, Daj’yah choosing to spend the night reading an old Lordaeronian novel that she’d purchased from a nearby bookstore.  The book in question was Tarrow Hall, and was considered a classic in the genre of provincial literature (which features rural noble families in genteel decline).  I’d never read it myself, though I remember several friends recommending it to me back in Dalaran, saying it was much more exciting than most books of its kind.

Felya lived in a small house on the middle tier, wedged between a combination hardware/woodworking store and a typist’s academy.  The party was well underway by the time of my arrival and I opened the door to find the small parlor wall-to-wall with that rarest of things: happy Forsaken.

Perhaps happy is a bit too strong of an adjective, but the conviviality was undeniable.  A burned man in a dapper modern suit gave me a lipless smile as I entered, as a shambling wreck of a woman, the wounds on her face looking almost fresh, chatted with another whose body was held together by thick stitches.

“Destron!  So marvelous that you could make it!  Drinks are on the table; they’re a bit stronger than normal ones, so do watch yourself.  Or not!”

Felya slunk through the crowd and hugged me, her sleeved arms light from a lack of flesh. 

“Everyone!  I want you to meet Destron Allicant!  He’s a very dear friend of mine who travels all over.  No matter what part of Azeroth or Outland you’re thinking of, he’s probably been there at least twice.”

A few guests clapped, one raising a glass filled with a steaming liquid the color of veins under skin.  Felya guided me to the drinks, telling me more about Melius.

“He’s a writer, in fact.  Undercity used to be quite the place for artistic souls, but nowadays anyone who’s anyone lives here in Booty Bay.”

“What did he write?”

“Novels about the Forsaken experience, I guess bordering a bit on what the goblins call speculative fiction?  To be honest I’ve not yet gotten around to reading his work.  I’m still getting through a volume of Rozgom Granitebeard’s short stories,” she said, referring to the great realist dwarven writer of the last century.

“Interesting.  There’s been a good deal of disturbing news from up north, Felya,” I said.

“Oh, how terrible!” she exclaimed, putting her tattered hands to her cheeks in mock chagrin.  “But you’ll find a splendid escape from it here.”

Leaning in closely, she whispered:

“There are at least a few spies from Undercity here in Booty Bay.  I know for a fact that Morsen—the man in corner wearing the ratty blue coat—is one.  Janesta might be another.”

“Are we in danger?”

“Not really, but be careful all the same.  None of us are here for explicitly political reasons, though none of us particularly like the current regime either.  Sylvanas has a few lackeys watching in case someone tries to raise an army to fight her.  Silly, it’s not as if any of us have the means to do so, but there you have it.”

“I’ve been seeing these horrible reports—“

“Not now, please.  You won’t convince anyone by ruining their fun.  We all read the Bay Dispatch, so we know what’s happening up there.  One of the reasons we’re down here.”

She laughed, as if in response to a joke, and excused herself to converse with some other guests.  Not sure what else to do, I walked over to the table where a goblin wearing a loud checkered suit held court, the lone representative of the living in the house.  He surrounded himself with a bewildering array of bottles, more than a few labeled with skulls and crossbones.

“What’ll it be for you, sir?” he asked, grinning.

“I haven’t any idea.  Are you a bartender?”

“Jeg Dozzer, at your service!  I’m a man who likes a challenge, and I told myself: ‘Jeg, if there’s anyone who can make a brew that the Forsaken will love, it’s you.’  So I did!  Felya knew that it’s not any kind of Forsaken party unless I’m there serving drinks: she is a woman of very discriminating taste, after all.”

“Inded.  These are designed specifically for undead palates?”

“Each and every one!  Brave volunteers—some of whom are in this very room—tested them out, and found them perfect!”

“When I was alive, I was rather partial to dry red wines.  How does that translate into undeath?”

“I think you’d enjoy what I call the Spiral of Memories!  Has a number of different ingredients: fermented grapes, earthroot starch, a touch of formaldehyde.”

“I’ll try it.”

Jeg got to work, hands darting to various bottles and pouring precise amounts into a metal canister, stopping occasionally to shake the concoction.  When finished, he poured it into a tall glass and handed it to me.

“Here you are!”

I examined the pale green liquid, foggy black corkscrews of some foreign substance rotating in the drink .  Raising it to my lips, an ammonia-like smell jolted my denuded senses.  Closing my eyes, I took a sip, a thick and sour taste seeping into my tongue.

Impressed, I took another look at the beverage.  Tasting it had made me feel almost alive.  The memory of sensation alight in my mind, I felt a bit of weight lift from my shoulders.

“This is quite good.”

“You don’t need to tell me, but thanks all the same!”

My mood improved by Jeg as much as by his drink, I decided to mingle.  I ran into Melius Lucaram a bit later.  He turned out to be a congenial young man, his gossamer face pulled tight against his skull.

“You probably had the right idea leaving Tirisfal when you did.  It’s gotten a lot worse over the past few years.  Especially after Wrathgate, though you could see where it was headed well before that dark day.”

“Is that what you write about?”

“What I write about?  Heh, I’m always asked about what inspires me, and the truth is I haven’t any idea.  I start writing, and then when I look back on it I find it seems to describe the world around me, but that’s never my goal.  Putting words to paper lets me forget myself—and everyone needs to be able to do that.”

“I’m afraid I haven’t read any of your novels.”

“Nothing to worry about, most people haven’t.  A Steamwheedle press specializing in the avant-garde picked up my work, which is how I got here.  They call me the ‘soul of the Forsaken,’ on the dust jackets!”

“At least they think we have souls.”

“We do, dark though they may be.  To me, the key thing about the Forsaken, what really defines us, is that there’s no need for social mores.  Humans stick together because they need big societies to grow food, manufacture tools, defend people, and all that.  Take them back to a more primitive state, and all that will still exist, just on a smaller scale.  Social animals, as it were.

“With the Forsaken, all that’s gone.  We can get by very well just scavenging on whatever biological detritus we can find.  I spent months living on moss and rats.  Maybe we need to defend ourselves from the humans, but what’s the point, really?  We’re a doomed race, and most Forsaken hate themselves.  Social mores?  What a joke!  There’s no point because none of us need each other, and there aren’t even going to be children to teach them to.”

“From what I’ve seen,” I said, “the Forsaken are banding together more than ever.  The opposite of what you’re describing.”

“Precisely!  Sylvanas, or whoever, realized that if she was going to stay in power, she needed to give us a common identity.  That’s why you see all this tripe about the Forsaken being the new Lordearon. 

“She’s given the Forsaken purpose.  A reason to be.  The Cult of the Forgotten Shadow is becoming more tendentious by the day, the war produces new heroes of undeath.  Society now exists.  We needed to develop one, no question; shame it couldn’t be more civilized.”

“How much do normal Forsaken know about the massacres?”

“Not the full amount, but more than you’d think.  In my experience, the people are usually aware on some level of what their leaders do.  As long as its kept out of sight, no one really objects, because they’ll be killed if they do and they might well be beneficiaries of all this.” 

“I’d hardly say that makes them criminals on the same level as Sylvanas.”

“I agree!  I’m just saying that no one has clean hands.”

Besides Melius, few of the guests had much interest in discussing the Forsaken psyche or homeland, most preferring to gossip or discuss their projects.  I suppose I cannot blame them; the focus on aesthetics provided a glossy sheen over our own helplessness.  Taking a few more drinks from the table I felt the foggy lightness of delirium, my concerns slipping away.

Felya returned to me as I examined a set of framed photographs set up on the wall, Outland in black-and-white.

"I took some of those myself!" she boasted.  "I'm just a dilettante photographer, but I do love it when the elements all dance together for that perfect image."

"I didn't know that you'd visited Outland."

"I was a proud vagrant there for a little over a year, just after the Dark Portal reopened.  Mostly Zangarmarsh, Nagrand, and Terokkar; the other regions weren't really to my taste, from what I saw."

"Did you ever set foot on Northrend?"

"I did, actually.  Saw the Howling Fjord, the Grizzly Hills, Sholazar, a bit of the Borean Tundra.  I never got much farther than that.  I almost went to Dragonblight, went as far as the flow separating it from Borea.  I felt something heavy in the air there, pushing down on me.  Some inner voice piped up, said I'd be sorry if I took another step forward.  So I turned around and sailed to Booty Bay, never looked back."



"You probably made the right decision," I sighed.  "It turns out there's no real good reason for a Forsaken to go up there."

"You heard him too?"

"In Icecrown.  It's like you said, something in the air, embedded in the rock.  Even though he's dead I’m sure I’ll hear him again if I were to return."

"Why did you go?"

"Damned if I know.  I thought I'd forgotten him, but it was still there in the back of my mind."

"He never goes away.  That doesn't mean he has to ruin things for you.  I run—run away to places where it's sunny, where there's a new adventure every day!  Maybe he's still there, but it's hard to hear him when you're having fun."

Felya put a frayed hand on my shoulder, her pallid face lighting up with a gentle smile as she raised her glass in a toast.  I returned the gesture, my own drink nearly empty.

*********

While working I sometimes saw familiar names jump out from the print.  Some of the individuals I'd met in passing had made their names in battle or in activism.  Ona Wildmane, for instance, cautioned the Cenarion Circle to not overdo the regrowth in Desolace, lest it become a second nightmare jungle like what sprouted in the Barrens.  In the Howling Fjord, Father Vanya brokered peace between Stormwind colonists and the native Kirovi, his kindness and charisma winning him many friends on both sides.

So too did a more worrisome name, specifically that of the Zenith.  It soon seemed as if there was not a single action in which Zenith partisans were not somehow involved.  They never warranted more than a brief mention—"Alliance forces aided by Zenith volunteers", "armed by Zenith smugglers", "Zenith partisans scouted out the territory"—but made up for it by always being near the action.

Horde partisans also showed up in the news though somewhat less often.  Horde militias are usually smaller in number and more focused on aiding specific campaigns.  There’s nothing like Zenith, which is involved in every front and helps smaller militias achieve recognition and influence.  I suspect that this reflects the Horde’s increasingly fractious nature; those who defend tauren interests may not care to help the Forsaken, and vice versa.

Towards the end of a long day, the damp air broiling in the stuffy later afternoon heat, I received an article referring to a familiar Horde militia.  I read it three times before really examining it for error, my mind elsewhere as I marked stray letters in red.  When it came time to close I took out a blank sheet and transcribed the article’s contents by hand, keeping the corrections out of habit, and finally made my exit.

I returned to our room in the Portview Arms to find Daj’yah already there, standing at the window to escape the room’s stagnant heat.

“Destron,” she greeted.

“I found an article today.  I think it will be of interest to you.  To us.”

I handed her the paper and she began to read, her expression growing more intent.

“You sure this is right?”

“Perhaps not in all the specifics, but the Dispatch’s sources are quite reliable.”

The article described the fate of Ancestral Fury, the partisan militia whose actions had forced our departure from Orgrimmar.  An example of the orcish warrior ethos at its most aggressive, they’d sacrified themselves in a delaying action at the Ashenvale front, allowing settlers and wounded troops time to escape the Kaldorei.

The Horde hailed the fallen partisans as heroes for their valor, citing them as a fine example for other orcs to follow.  Two of Ancestral Fury’s members still survived; they had been recuperating from injuries at the time of the battle.  Of that pair, one had already struck deep into the forest, intent on avenging his fallen brethren.  The other, a junior warrior named Skor Coldblade, was quoted as intending to join a different militia.

Daj’yah put the paper down on her lap, her face unreadable.

“So, heroes of the Horde,” she said.

“I thought you should know.”

“Thank you.  The whole thing is just very strange to me, you know?  Thieves and killers against my people, and now even bigger heroes to the orcs.  Think I know how the humans feel now.  I remember Thrall saying that we were his people too.  Hasn’t been that way for a long time.  Maybe it never really was like that.”

“I doubt Ancestral Fury will be troubling us any longer.”  I wondered at myself, callous enough to feel relief at the deaths of Horde warriors who had—in however misguided a fashion—died so that others might live.  Yet still they had robbed from their allies, and one of them had tried to kill my only true friend.  

“You know, this doesn’t mean it’s over.  That survivor might take his grudge to a new group.  The warchief loves him now, so maybe he’ll complain about me to the Horde.”

“They can’t hurt you here.”

“They can still hurt my people!  It never ends.  Maybe it doesn’t matter so much now.  Like you said, I’m far from home.”

She stood up, going back to the window and leaning outside.  Daj’yah supported herself by putting her hands on the walls, the window too small for a troll to comfortably use.

“This room is killing me,” she said.  “The Steamwheedle archives are roasting hot, and this isn’t any better.  I’m going outside for a while.”

“Care for some company?”

“Sure.”

We walked out onto the street, crowded with the evening vendors and buyers.  One of the handful of motorcars in Booty Bay (the city is not really designed for such vehicles) rumbled past, more gnomes than was really safe packed into the backseat, singing and raising drinks in their hands.  Black clouds in the shapes of anvils bore down from the north, the setting sun’s red light lost in darkness.

“Do you have any particular destination in mind?”

“Not really.  Mostly I just want to go.  That room’s just too small for me, you know?”

“I might be able to ask Felya for a bigger one.”

“No, it’s nothing.  I think I’ll be living in goblin cities for a while, so I may as well get used to it.  That or hire someone to put together one of those gnomish shrink rays I keep hearing about.”

“I’m reasonably certain those are fictional.”

“Come on, Destron, I know that.  I was making a joke.”

“Oh!  Sorry.”

We wandered as the sun’s light disappeared, lampposts and oil torches taking its place.  The heavy smell of ozone wove itself into the normal stench of rubbish and smoke, a herald for the rain.  I remembered a drier night years ago in Orgrimmar, the two of us again wandering without any destination other than away.

I looked to Daj’yah, wondering how well I really understood her.  Perhaps I saw something of myself during the early days of my unwanted resurrection, when I shunned the world to nurture obsession in Undercity’s darkest pits.  This is unfair, however; Daj’yah has never demonstrated anything close to the level of spite I once felt.

How much have I truly changed?  I imagined myself embracing the world with abandon, interacting with its varied inhabitants, yet in truth I know most of them but little.  I drift from place to place, making little in the way of meaningful connection.  Daj’yah is my only real friend.



“Dead heroes or not, I think I’ll count this a good day,” she remarked.

They died defending the Horde, I thought, but remained silent.  What would that even mean to her at such a point?  What did that even mean to me? 

“I suppose.  Their last actions were rather heroic.”

“Heroism is a funny word.  Back when I was a girl, there was this Bloodscalp, Vok’tan.  His people called him a hero, the hunter with spears that killed as sure as lightning.  He killed plenty of my people.

“And then my cousin, three times removed, Mako’ba, the warrior with the mad red hair and the sharp ax.  He did things twice as cruel as Vok’tan, and we all called him great.”

“Do you still consider him great?”

“As someone moral?  Someone to look up to?  I think we’ve had enough.  But as someone who probably saved my life?  I can’t just forget something like that.  A hero is just a bloody-minded type who’s on your side.  I’m not even sure how much of a Darkspear I really am, but when someone risks his life to save you, it means something.”

Ancestral Fury defended the Darkspear indirectly.  Again, I remained silent.  They’d tried to kill her, and I cannot fault her for hating them.  I cannot claim I felt particularly badly about their destruction (the guilt instead rising from my lack of sadness).  Some part of me rejoiced, and imagined striking the killing blow against those who’d tormented my best friend. 

My feelings did not change the reality of the situation.

Chance took us to the edges of Dega Street, the haunt of expatriate artists and professional paupers.  Cafes, galleries, and theaters compete for space in the street’s labyrinthine course while clusters of single-room apartments scrabble for hold on the aging roofs. 

A fat raindrop splashed on my brow and I looked up to see heavy nighttime clouds covering the sky.

“How do you feel about walking in the rain tonight?” I asked.

“Let’s step inside for a bit, see if we can wait out the storm.” 

We selected a nearby cabaret, “Frolic in the Tropics” written over the doorway in letters of sputtering light.  Ducking under the frame we emerged into dim room, the tables so tightly packed so as to make movement nearly impossible, though goblin servers performed their work with the peculiar grace for which they are known. 

Taking a seat near the back, our gaze turned to the stage, where a furbolg in odd black and white makeup swayed as a pair of goblins accompanied him (or her, I am not sure) with a horn and ukulele. 

“I think that furbolg is supposed to be a pandaren,” said Daj’yah, squinting her eyes.

 “Really?  I must confess that I don’t know how a pandaren is supposed to look.  The whole phenomenon is very odd.”

“Phenomenon?”

“The idea of there being this great but somehow obscure empire full of jolly beer-drinking creatures.”

“You know, Destron, I’ve met Chen Stormstout.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“The pandaren who helped found Orgrimmar.  I mean, I did not really know him, but I used to see him with Thrall, Rexxar, and Rokhan.  I overheard him talking to Vol'jin.”

“Oh.  I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have scoffed.  It does seem very strange however.”

“What doesn’t, these days?”

“True enough.  I will admit—and I apologize for my parochialism—that I always figured Chen was simply a furbolg warrior of unusual coloration.  It’d be easy to make that sort of mistake, especially when learning the ways of a new land.”

“No, Chen was no furbolg.  The pandarens don’t really look much like furbolgs.”

“So where are all the others?”

She shrugged.

“Chen’s the only one I ever saw.  Some of us thought they’d all join the Horde, but that never happened.  I don’t know if he ever mentioned any great empire, so maybe that’s just something people made up.  He did say he came from an island of some sort.”

“Interesting.  So you’d say the fellow on stage isn’t the best approximation?”

“Probably the best they can do right now.  Chen seemed like a good type; I hope his home—wherever it is—survived the Cataclysm.”

Light applause filtered up from the audience as the troupe finished their performance.  A waitress glided past to take our orders; I ordered coffee while Daj’yah went with tea. 

We sat there for several hours, saying little beyond occasional comments on the performances.  I am not very good at small talk, and it is a great relief to have a friend with whom conversation is not always necessary.  It is enough to take in the sights, to experience the world knowing that neither of us is alone.

Rain still drummed on the rooftop when we stood up to leave.  Nearing the door, Daj’yah paused, her attention grabbed by an older, powerfully built troll leaning against the wall.

“Mej?”

“Daj’yah, I remember you,” he grunted with a nod, still keeping a golden eye on the crowd.  “Never thought to see you back in Stranglethorn.”

“Times change, yeah?  Destron, this is Mej, another Darkspear.  A hunter.”

“The best in my generation.  When Thrall said he needed good men in Stranglethorn, I jumped right ahead and volunteered.  Made a name for myself in Grom’gol.”

“You’re a long way from there.”

“Like you said, Daj’yah, times change.  Darkspear need to stand on their own; Garrosh doesn’t care about us.”

“Mm hmm.  What are you doing here in Booty Bay?”

“Mostly keeping an eye out for the tribe.  Still a lot of us here, you know?  We put a lot of hard work into this place, only for the Cataclysm to wipe it all out.  That’s why we put our feet back on the soil, spears pointed forward.“

“I did not hear of this.”

“Sure, a year ago.  Not all the Bloodscalp and Skullsplitter liked this so much.  The Gurubashi even less.  All that, and they weren’t even close to the toughest we fought.”  He spoke in a tone of exaggerated insouciance.

“All right.  So you’re still fighting them?”

“I heard about some fighting in Stranglethorn, but I didn’t know the Darkspears were involved,” I said, rather shocked.

Mej dropped the Orcish and began speaking in Zandali, shooting me a knowing look as he spoke.  I refused to reward him with any visible reaction.  When he stopped talking, Daj’yah narrowed her eyes.

“You, uh, have to forgive Mej.  His Orcish isn’t very good,” she said, Mej scowling in the shadows at her comment.  “Mej, Destron here has helped the tribe. He is not one of us, but he is a friend, so show him some respect, yeah?  And get to the point with your story.”

“Respect?  You talk of respect when trying to bring abominations into tribal matters?

Daj’yah threw her hands in the air.

“Do whatever you want, Mej.  I’ll find out from someone else.”

She stormed out of the theater and I hurried to keep pace.  Warm rains crashed down from the sky, a trio of drunken human celebrants lurching from side to side as they danced along the slippery boards.

“What was that all about?”

“I’m not sure yet.  Mej was a warrior in my old village, when I was just a little girl.”

“I take it you didn’t care for him?”

“Mej used to say my mother should be given over to the Skullsplitter as an—“ she hissed, her left arm cutting through the air “—as an insult.  That she was so crazy her only use was to mock our foes with a bad gift.”

“Daj’yah, that’s terrible.”

“She was mad.  That’s what happens when you aren’t useful to the tribe.  I’ll probably pay for mocking him, but I don’t care.  Abomination indeed!  You’re only about a dozen sizes too small to be one of those.”

“Ha ha!  I suppose I’m not a very good likeness.  Perhaps if I bulk up he’ll be more impressed?”

“Mej knows so little about anything that if you did walk in as an abomination, he’d probably start calling you a dryad.”

“I’d hate to see where that conversation leads.”

She laughed for half a minute after that, some of the tension leaving her form.

“Mej was telling me some truly strange news.  We aren’t fighting any more, but there’s a lot of Darkspears in Stranglethorn now.  Some others too, to hear him talk.  He kept hinting that there was something bigger, but he wouldn’t come out and say it.  Mej always tried to make things sound more important than they were,” she scoffed.

“Wouldn’t you have heard of this?”

“Aren’t too many Darkspears in Bilgewater and Uldum.”

“I never saw any mention of it in the news.”

“Just a tribal fight, yeah?  Had them all the time when I was a child.  Mej was trying to get me to help the tribe out in the jungle.”

“Will you?”

“I’m happy here.  But my people are still my people, even if I don’t much like them.  I’ll look for more reliable types here, learn more about what’s happening.”

She sighed.

“I should not have insulted Mej like that.  He’s my kin.  But so was my mother.”  Her shoulders slumped, the brief good mood undone by the reality of tribal politics. 

“Would you like to go back and apologize?”

“No, that would look weak.  Folks in the village weren’t much liking him either; he had a way of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.  He was cruel to my mother simply so he’d have someone to be cruel to.”

We returned to our hotel without further event.  I lay in bed for a while, listening to the rain, seeking an answer for what had transpired.  Part of me worried that Daj’yah had put herself at undue risk with her dismissal of Mej.  I certainly understood her reaction, however.

The air boiled like soup the next day, the heat wringing steam from the damp boards and shingles.  Both Daj’yah and I had the day to ourselves and I stepped out early to pick up a copy of the Global News (I rarely read the Bay Dispatch outside of work, partly for fear of stumbling across typos that I might have missed).

An aged troll sat in the lobby of the Portview Arms, his wrinkles adding new depths to the coiling tattoos running all about his arms and shoulders.  The skull-topped staff in his right hand marked him as a man of importance.  Green eyes, sharp even in age, focused on me as I entered.

“Ah, you are Daj’yah’s friend, yes?  Is she up and about?  Forgive me, I do not know the times kept by city folk,” he said, his voice a sing-song whisper.

“You must have just missed her,” I said.  “I believe she went out a little while ago.  I’m not sure where she might be.”

“That is fine.  I am Non’kuj, a Darkspear, and I need to talk to her.”

“I can let her know.  What, may I ask, is this about?”

“Some tribal matters.  It might involve you as well, undead, but I must speak to her first.  Blood is blood, you know?”

I nodded.  My mind racing, I went out and purchased the latest paper, looking up at the window.   I realized I was being a bit absurd; the Darkspear never kill or hurt their own people over mere insults; they have insult contests to take care of that.  Still, given the strange circumstances of the time, I no longer felt sure of many things.



I hurried back inside, nodding at Non’kuj as I passed again through the parlor, and returned to our room.  Daj’yah still slept in the hammock and I woke her by clearing my throat.

“Destron?  What’s going on?”

“Sorry to wake you, but you have a visitor: Non’kuj.”

“Non’kuj?  He’s an old troll, Darkspear?”

“Yes.”

She nimbly got out of the hammock, quickly throwing on a robe and tying back her wiry red hair.

“He’s not any sort of trouble, is he?” I asked.

“No.  He’s a shaman, a very wise man.  I haven’t seen him in forever, though!  I didn’t even know he was still alive.”

“Do you think it’s about Mej last night?”

“If it is, there’s no need to worry.  Non’kuj didn’t much like him either.”

“All right.  Do you want me to go with you, or should I just stay here?”

“Stay here for now.  He is a shaman, you know how they get about traditions sometimes.”

She slipped out the door moments later, and I buried myself into the newspaper.  No longer worried, but still unable to concentrate, I kept looking up at the door in hopes of seeing Daj’yah, curious to learn what transpired.

I’d finally gotten focused on an article discussing the robust recovery of the furbolg population on Azuremyst Isle when Daj’yah came back inside, looking much calmer.

“Destron.  So yeah, the tribe wants my help.  Your help too, if you can offer it.”

“What sort of help?”

“Might just be training mages, or getting them supplies from Booty Bay.  Also, remember how I was saying Mej was trying to make things sound grander than they were, last night?”

“Yes.”

“Not just him boasting, it turns out.  My people—we didn’t just fight the local tribes.  We fought the Zandalari.”

Daj’yah took in a deep breath.

“We fought the Zandalari, and we won.”

1 comment:

  1. You have and always will be my go-to guy for the Forsaken.

    I can tell you put work into this chapter and I think you did very well on it. This is a section I know I'll be coming back to.

    I feel like I should thank you, again, for sharing your works, for putting the time and effort you do into this project. You paint a vivid picture.

    ReplyDelete