Reeg quickly finished his work in the Skywall (he refused to discuss it in detail) and returned to Azeroth in the late afternoon with me in tow. Going back and forth between worlds is a disorienting experience, and I stepped into Spirra’s zeppelin with a vague sense of unreality.
I can’t help but think myself rather foolish for expositing and speculating on the Skywall or any other elemental plane after encountering such a minute portion of it. One may as well claim to understand Azeroth after spending an afternoon in the Horde embassy of Dalaran. For all my travels, I increasingly wonder how well I really comprehend my own world.
I was pleasantly surprised to hear Spirra offer to fly me back to Mar’at. She explained that Reeg owed her a week’s vacation, and that she’d always been curious to see more of the city. Considering that she actually owned a Virtic phrasebook (of admittedly dubious provenance), she was likely better prepared than I.
Flying over the deserts I found myself looking down for some sign of the Ptath Band, knowing well the futility of my attempt. The closer we got to Mar’at, the more doubtful my actions seemed. My first departure from Undercity, years ago, had opened up a vista of unparalleled freedom, the world malleable to anyone with sufficient enterprise and daring. Modern politics reveal the world as a cage, bound by history and resentment. No action, however well-intentioned, is without consequence.
We reached Mar’at late at night, streets lit by the glow of stone lanterns. Wanting to go back to Brightblade Hall, I thanked Spirra for her help.
“Don’t mention it. Saving my life is something that’s hard to repay through simple goods and services, but I think we’re getting close to even.”
“If my existence ever needs saving, I won’t stop you,” I laughed.
I drifted aimlessly around the night-side streets for a while, not quite remembering Brightblade Hall’s location. I came about it by accident, the scarlet of the Reliquary flag rippling like blood in torchlight. Climbing the steps, I knocked on the door, hoping a sentry might hear.
“Identify yourself,” requested a voice, the Orcish marked by a Sin’dorei accent.
“Destron Allicant. I apologize for the late hour—“
The door immediately opened, a red-jacketed blood elf ushering me inside with surprising haste. Green eyes narrowed as he looked out onto the street before shutting it behind me.
“Scions of House Windrunner are always welcome as guests of Great House Spellstar and the Reliquary,” he said, etiquette not quite hiding the worry in his voice.
“I’m honored. Is something the matter?”
“My orders are to bring you to Lord Spellstar upon the moment of your arrival. You are not in any kind of danger as far as I can tell, but he stressed that this is a matter of some urgency. If you will come with me?”
“Certainly. Is Daj’yah all right?”
“The troll? She is fine. Lord Spellstar seems pleased with her work.”
Nodding, I followed the guard through the halls, shadows flowing down from the ceilings and coursing around lit sconces to drown the floor. I caught a glimpse of Daj’yah’s tent as we walked past the garden, and strained to see or hear anything inside.
We reached Avaeron’s office to find the door already open, its occupant trying to smooth his sleep-ruffled hair. Wrinkled nightclothes peeked through the gaps in his work robe, and he motioned for me to sit. A single candle burned on the desk with its neat stacks of paper.
“Would you care for some wine?”
“No, thank you. What is the matter?”
Avaeron rubbed his eyes.
“I’m not sure how best to describe this… we recently heard about your freelance diplomacy for the Ptath Orsisi and the Explorer’s League. Specifically, we heard about it from Uzmal, the warchief’s envoy to the Orsisi. He seemed upset.”
“Now, let me preface this by saying that I wholeheartedly approve of your actions. You prevented needless bloodshed. The Horde can ill-afford another front.”
“I take it that Uzmal disagrees?”
“I am not quite sure what Uzmal thinks, because I do not know what Warchief Hellscream wants. Had the Ptath defeated the Explorer’s League, it could have had a galvanizing effect on the other Orsisi.”
“I am not sure if the Ptath would have won.”
“Uzmal agrees that the outcome was in doubt. He knows that a defeat would have hurt the Horde; to see the Ptath lose when armed with orcish weapons is hardly good propaganda.”
“So what’s the problem?”
“Having you intervene suggests that the Horde lacks confidence. Uzmal fears that your actions emboldened the Alliance. If he is blamed for this, he will lose more than his career.”
“Blamed for what?”
“The Horde looking cowardly to the tol’vir. Some of this depends on how the Alliance tells the story, if indeed they tell it at all. The expedition in question was a tiny one, barely worth noting. Still, great tales start small. There is also the matter of you encouraging the Explorer’s League to meet with the Orsisi; the Horde wants the nomads to see the Alliance as the enemy.”
“I doubt they’ll even listen to my advice.”
“That remains to be seen.”
“Am I in trouble or not?”
“Destron, I have no idea! Maybe Garrosh will be glad to avoid trouble in Uldum because he’s already losing ground on every front. Then again, perhaps he thinks the Horde needs to be more aggressive. Whatever he thinks now, he might change his mind tomorrow.”
“How much of this is known outside of Uldum?”
“It’s hard to say; so far the Alliance has been quiet, though I’m sure the authorities are well aware. I do not know how far the story has traveled throughout Uldum; if enough people know, it will eventually reach Gadgetzan, and they’ll make a radio story of it.”
“Does the warchief know?”
“No. Uzmal’s not saying anything because he doesn’t want to risk undue attention. Right now he’s out in the desert, trying to rally the Orsisi so that they can go on the warpath; that might sate the warchief if he’s unhappy.”
“Warpath against whom?”
“Either the Explorer’s League or Ramkahen. Who knows? I expect that it will eventually reach the warchief’s ears. I do not wish to be rude, but your presence may put us in danger.”
“You think you will be blamed for this?”
“It’s within the realm of possibility. Nothing is certain with the players involved. My kingdom does not always agree with Great House Windrunner. Nonetheless, Lady Windrunner is still linked to Quel’thalas. As your host, I will do everything possible to ensure your safety from these barbarians, though my own people must be my first concern.”
“Of course, of course,” I mumbled, suddenly exhausted.
“Kalimdor is probably no longer safe for you. If you’d like, I can arrange passage to Gadgetzan, and from there to Booty Bay. Warchief Hellscream takes relatively little interest in that region.”
“I can’t believe this. I’m being exiled.”
“Not exactly, not quite. You may not be in any trouble at all. It’s impossible to say at this point. However, leaving Kalimdor would be prudent. I’m afraid I must insist that you leave Brightblade Hall; I cannot afford to endanger the Reliquary or the people under my command.”
“I understand. I am very grateful for how tolerant you’ve been of me. It’s more than a Forsaken deserves. Does Daj’yah know? Might she be in any trouble?”
“I’ve explained the situation to her; she’s not happy about it either. She told me of what happened to her in Orgrimmar; in light of that, it is best that she also leave this place.”
“She must hate me for this.”
“As I said, she is upset, but I do not think she hates you. Trolls possess a savage temperament, but they do not easily abandon their friends.”
“She won’t hate you.”
“That’s not—never mind. So you can also provide passage for her?”
“As long as she goes with you. Neither of you are in immediate danger, but it would be wise to leave as soon as possible.”
“Very well. I’ll ask her where she wants to go.”
“Booty Bay is your best option, but if you have other ideas I will do my best to oblige.”
Not wanting to wake Daj’yah, I retired to the hall’s darkened cantina. I had overstepped my bounds, though I am not sure if I would have done differently if given a second chance. I doubt that the Orsisi will soon fall into the Alliance camp, even on the off-chance that the Explorer’s League does successfully parley with them.
The Ashenvale front appears to be in retreat, while Feralas and the Southern Barrens stagnate. If war spreads to Uldum, the Horde will find it almost impossible to field an army there, while the Alliance’s control of the southern ocean will make it easier for them to do the same. The Orsisi are too few and undisciplined to tip the balance.
The Horde cannot afford a fourth front in Kalimdor.
Daj’yah drifted to the cantina shortly after dawn, her tall form awkward among the delicate Sin’dorei furniture. She gasped when she saw me.
“Destron! When did you get back?”
“Last night. I didn’t want to wake you—“
“You talked to Avaeron, yeah?”
“He told me about the problems I caused. Daj’yah, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bring all these troubles upon you—“
She raised her hand and sat down in front of me.
“You did the best you could; it was a bad situation. But Destron, sometimes I don’t think you know how lucky you are in some ways.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“I know you went through hell and saw awful things, worse than I’ll ever see,” she said, her voice softening. “And I’m not saying you should be happy about that. It’s just that you can go wherever you want. One day you’re undead, the next you make folks think you’re human.
“It’s not like that for us, for me. I am part of the Horde, no matter what I do. I think you forget that sometimes. Wherever you go, the Horde’s there too. When you do something like this, the Horde reacts, and it’s your friends who’ll feel it! You can’t pretend that you’re jaunting about anymore, without a care in the world. People like me, like Uthel’nay… we’re stuck with the consequences.”
“I know. I suppose I didn’t really learn from my time in Orgrimmar. You’re completely right. It’s not easy for me to stay put. I don’t know why; maybe I’ve been doing this for too long.”
“You didn’t do anything bad. You were right to keep those fools from killing each other. And now you and me are both running from the Horde.”
“You were happy here, weren’t you?”
“Happy? Ah, Destron, I’ll never be happy anywhere. Spirits cursed me from birth, I’m thinking, but at least this means I’m free to go wherever. Ends up the same way each time. Brightblade Hall’s not a bad place. I like seeing the look on the elves’ faces when I outsmart them. It’s lonesome though.”
“Avaeron said he could get us to Booty Bay. I think the idea is to leave Kalimdor, at the very least.”
“He told me the same. Booty Bay sounded good from what you told me. Lots of different people there, yeah?”
“There were when I visited. That probably hasn’t changed.”
“That way, when I get one group to hate me, I can find another without trouble.”
“Daj’yah, nobody in the Darkbriar Lodge hated you, and you know it. You were practically a celebrity in Bilgewater Harbor!”
“Yeah, I’m just joking,” she laughed. “Maybe I’m easier to be with than I feel. Booty Bay sounds all right to me. You just remember to be careful. Unless the Horde sends you somewhere, you’d best be staying safe. I don’t travel as easy as you, and I need to stay in one place for a while.”
“You deserve someplace to your liking. Again, I wish that hadn’t happened.”
“I didn’t want to stay here forever anyway. You just have to be more careful.”
We began the preparations for the journey later that day. Avaeron did much to expedite the process, waxing effusive about how helpful Daj’yah had been to the Reliquary. I think Avaeron legitimately appreciated and respected her, despite his somewhat questionable attitudes. Daj’yah remembers him with relative fondness.
As we worked, my mind kept drifting to this new face of the Horde. Warrior societies often place great emphasis on personal honor. It is no coincidence that such societies also tend to be largely pre-literate, lacking contracts or rule of law. These cultures often arise from dangerous or uncertain environments. As a result, the most reliable indicator of reputation is one’s deeds in battle; whatever else, a good warrior can be depended on to protect the community.
Certainly, none can doubt that Azeroth is a deadly place. In other respects, however, the orcs have moved beyond this stage. Thanks to Thrall, most orcs know how to read, and many live in teeming cities where their safety is almost assured. Peons learn self-respect and independence in the hard soil of the Barrens, and shamans protect their reputations through wisdom and debate.
Is the current ethos of unending violence a reaction to these changes? Warrior societies tend to be practical; a tenuous pastoral or agricultural community cannot afford losing warriors on frivolous pursuits. The romantic memory of honor is a far cry from the pragmatic reality. Death in battle is honorable, but a warrior still prefers to live if at all possible.
I fear that it is the memory of honor that now guides the Horde. Garrosh is a product of a genuine warrior society. Thrust into the comparative plenty and comfort of Azeroth, he no longer sees the limits that kept the Mag’har’s behavior (however retrograde) within acceptable limits.
Entrusted to him are the multitudes of the Horde, themselves with a rather ad hoc understanding of the warrior mentality, shaped by fears (mixed with longing) of demonic power. Thrall (and perhaps just as significantly, the humans) left the orcs as a people in transition from the brutality of the past towards a more peaceful future.
The spirit of Hellscream’s Horde is a mutation, a crippled and monstrous beast combining the basest elements of orcish tradition with modern weaponry. It remains to be seen how much damage it will inflict on the world.