On a warm night in Sholazar I asked my lover about his life. At somewhere past a hundred and eighty years, I knew there must be something interesting there. When he finished his story, he asked the same in kind, and I found some of the details becoming unclear. So for my own recollection, and that of my children and grandchildren when I grow old and my mind fades, and perhaps for all the world many centuries from now when these days become tell-tale and lore, I will write it down here.
I was born to the hunter Zuele and the priestess Jiyoti of the house Riverwing, some twenty-ish years ago, on the Broken Isles in the South Seas. In the interest of honesty I will say I was conceived when my mother was attacked during a Skullsplitter raid on our village. This is something that I hid for a long time and was once ashamed of. It is not public knowledge even now, but I will no longer go to such effort to hide it. It is mostly irrelevant; the troll I know as my father showed no regard for my blood, and raised me as his own, as did the rest of my tribe. Many nations would have rejected a child whose veins ran with the blood of their enemy. The fact that mine did not was my first lesson in individuals' independence from their birthrights.
I do not remember a time without war. From my earliest memories, I was not allowed outside the edges of the village by myself, for fear of murlocs or humans attacking while I was defenseless -- not defenseless, truly, as all trolls are born with some ability to fight. But young and inexperienced enough to be a vulnerable target. I recall going out with my father to train in the hunt. We spent more time hiding, avoiding patrols and explorers, than we spent tracking the beasts we pursued. The irony of trying to hunt while being hunted was not lost on either of us. This aspect of my childhood lent itself well to my later tracking abilities -- I know, instinctively, the behavior of prey, from years of being prey myself.
Battles came and went. There would be weeks of relative peace, then weeks of nearly nightly attacks. There were nights we cowered in crudely dug burrows on the outskirts, watching the men or murlocs (or some nights, both) raiding our already meager food stores, setting torch to homes, clothing, precious family heirlooms, sacred objects, all of it. The innocent, carefree days that I hear other cultures describe as childhood were a rare treat, and even those came with the knowledge that they could dissolve into violent upheaval at any moment.
I don't know what peace is like. Not in the long term, not for more than a few sweet days at a time.
After spending that long surrounded by nothing but enemies -- when it seemed as though Azeroth herself was disgusted with us, trying to scrub us from her surface -- to see an unknown ship come to your shores is not a curiosity but an imminent threat. To see such a creature as an orc walk off it, seemingly built of nothing but muscle, wearing thick armor and carrying massive axes as easily as fishing spears, appears as nothing but Death itself walking forth to give its final judgment. And to see the one they clearly treat as their chief hold his empty hands upward before your meager, battered army, lay his hammer on the ground, and kneel before your leader, seems nothing short of a miracle.
Sen'jin was not old -- he'd just survived longer than most of us -- but he was frail. We all were. Too much battle and too little rest; too much hunting and not enough food. We cut a very different figure then than the trolls the Horde is familiar with today. He did his best to stand proudly and look menacing as he approached the foreign warriors, but even the weakest of them could have bested him, and everyone watching knew it. Through the language barrier they managed to express a mutual lack of aggression, and the short green people set up camp within a few minutes' walk from the village. Many were upset; some thought we shouldn't trust them. I think Sen'jin knew that whether we trusted them or not didn't matter. If their intentions were good, they could prove to be powerful allies... and if not, they'd wipe us out no matter what resistance we showed.
Days passed. Languages were learned. We began to understand the story of the orcs, and they began to understand ours. And then -- they pledged their help. More a savior than the sun after a hurricane, Thrall offered the blades of his people in defense of our tribe and our home. It was the first selfless act I had ever seen done toward the Darkspear from an outsider.
With the help of the young Horde, we began to assert ourselves. We fought back when attacked. We didn't fight to live, we fought to win, and were surprised to find ourselves succeeding. The humans finally gave up on us, but the murlocs were less wise -- even as the tide turned against them, in their amphibious nature they only swam deeper. We'd begun to absorb the orcish passion for honorable battle, and combined with our own thirst for vengeance, it was an unstoppable force. When our leaders took the fight to the sea witch's abode, we young ones pranced about the shore all day, declaring the trout to be murloc-kin and killing them in humiliating ways, waiting for our warriors' triumphant return. The warchief didn't so much as look at us when he stepped off the boat, his expression solemn as he walked back toward the village.
Sen'jin's funeral, of all things, was the most beautiful thing I've yet to witness. The orcs honored him as they did their own fallen heroes, and our traditions combined to create a fitting tribute to our wise, humble leader. While we'd fought together many times, it was the first time I saw our two nations truly come together as one. The shamans' lightning and the smoke from the witch doctors' incense combining, reverent and joyful, solid and yielding, fierce and passionate. He was a hero to the orcs, because despite being of an entirely different race, with different ideals and values, they knew a good person and a strong leader when they saw one. The lesson was reinforced for me: good can be found in all colors, all races, all tongues, just as can evil.
The next day was quiet. There were sporadic murloc attacks, though their ferocity waned without the witch's guidance -- nothing that we couldn't defend ourselves from easily enough. Vol'jin, our apprentice turned sudden leader, spent the day huddled away with Thrall and some of the elders of both our races. At one point I tried to eavesdrop, but they would have to be in the only hut in the village with walls too thick to hear through, wouldn't they? I don't know what was said in that long conversation, but I barely recognized Vol'jin's expression when he came out. In retrospect, I know what I was seeing on his face -- hope. For the first time in my life, and probably in his as well.
The Horde would follow its prophecy and its fate west to Kalimdor, he said. And the Darkspear would be part of it.
I was afraid for half a moment; for some reason, I expected outcry and anger, that we couldn't abandon our home to sail off into unknown seas with people who had just washed out of nowhere. After a moment's pause, I was proven wrong. Shouts went up from orc and troll alike, shouts of triumph, joy, after all these years, hope. One of our young warriors, taken under the wing of an older orc, threw his arm around his mentor's shoulders and let out our new battle cry first: "FOR THE HORDE!"
Even today when those words leave my throat, my heart hearkens back to that first time -- the sound of victory, of determination, of knowing naught but death itself can stop you. The echo of our voices may have shaken the earth as far back as Stranglethorn. I hope the old Gurubashi tribes heard it, and realized the fate they had sown for themselves when they drove us out of the jungle.
My father insisted that Mama and I go to Kalimdor immediately; as one of our most skilled marksmen, he would stay behind with the last of our forces to ensure the murlocs' defeat. He was certain we would be safer with the orcs, an assumption we have yet to quit ribbing him for. We were sent into conflict almost immediately, finding what was left of the noble Shu'halo in the Barrens, driven in circles and to the brink by raiding centaur. There was no question as to what our actions would be; we suddenly found ourselves on the other side of the coin from a few short months before, trying to convince a desperate, paranoid nation that we weren't just one more hateful force to contend with. I'd grown up surrounded by battle, but as a child, and a female one at that, never been in the thick of it. In the new Horde, neither allowance was made. Surrounded by the seasoned fighters of three separate nations, those of us just coming of age at the time were immersed in training. The Tauren hunters in particular were among my best teachers, and probably part of why I'm so comfortable among their people today. It was in those days I first began to discover some form of self-worth; for the first time, I was able to be the hero, the one who brought help to the helpless, instead of the victim. After the centaur were driven out and the Tauren safely settled into Mulgore, their chief told Thrall of a legendary prophet, hidden deep in the mountains to the north. Surely, Cairne said, he could help us divine our next steps. And that he did -- in the form of the Burning Legion, the demonic army of a fallen titan who'd driven the possessed orcs to Azeroth to begin with.
I'll save the grand stories of what happened at Hyjal for those who can tell them more eloquently. I was on the outskirts of it, anyway -- sent on a few small tracking missions, but due to my relative inexperience, I mostly stayed back with my mother at the infirmary. While she commonly deals with the war loa even today, the light heard her call just as clearly. But she and the other healers still had their hands more than full, so I spent a lot of time treating and bandaging the more minor injuries while the priests, shamans and druids tended to the gravely wounded.
I don't remember much in the way of specifics about that war. But I remember being face to face with demons, and for the first time in my life, seeing genuine evil. The petty cruelty of our brother tribes and narrow-minded anger of the humans and centaur paled in comparison to this. That may be another reason that I am so cautious of ascribing villainous traits to other mortal races... I've seen the darkest, cruelest creatures in this universe, beings comprised from the inside out of nothing but pure, seething hate. And I know no champion of the Alliance could ever compare.
After that war, for a brief time, it was finally calm. Battle was never far away -- Allies, quilboars, the betrayal of some of our own on the Echo Isles -- but we never saw such insurmountable odds as we had in the South Seas. Slowly but surely, the Horde began carving out its niche in Kalimdor. Wyverns and kodo caravans took trade, diplomacy and visiting brethren between Orgrimmar and Thunder Bluff. After some time we were contacted by the Forsaken of Lordaeron -- like the orcs, once commanded by forces beyond their control, and now hated for acts they committed against their own will. To be frank, their inclusion in the Horde was the first time I ever seriously doubted my new Warchief's judgment. And yet, like every other race, I've met as many bright spots as dark in their number. I still sometimes question their collective motivations, but I won't hesitate to fight alongside one... though I may try to keep them where I can see them. The opposite, meanwhile, seemed to hold true for the Blood Elves -- their previous fierce battles and gruesome defeat at the hands of the Amani made them highly suspicious of me. And yet with time, many of them have become some of my dearest friends.
But any soldier knows that old battle scars never really heal, and while some grudges can be lived with or moved on from, others will never fade. By the time the Dark Portal was reopened, I had become a full-fledged member of the Horde, fully grown and a formidable combatant. When I struck into the remains of Draenor to fight back the Legion a second time, it was as a willing and able soldier, entrenched for the first time on the front lines. My time in Outland was what solidified me, what pulled together all the bits and parts and lessons and truths and experiences from the previous nineteen years and molded them into a woman and a warrior. It felt good to finally be the attacker, to be on the offensive, tracking the Legion down onto their own territory to stop them before they destroyed our world like they had this one. And yet even this war wasn't a mere bloody march from one end of a continent to another -- there was the discovery of the Mag'har, the first tangible evidence of the peaceful, uncorrupted bloodline of the orcs. The justification for everything Thrall had tried so hard to make the Horde stand for, everything he'd fought for years to help his people understand. My heart nearly broke when I saw him first lay eyes on the Greatmother... our larger-than-life Warchief, impossible and godlike as he seemed, who'd come to represent strength and freedom to so many of us, who put so much faith and labor into defending and strengthening entire races of people to whom he owed nothing. To see him finally find a peace and resolution of his own was almost more than my heart could bear.
Then came the Scourge.
I had never faced them, not as a force. The bedraggled remnants in the Ghostlands, the small armies east of Tirisfal, I had seen and bested early on. Though I'd heard the stories from elves and Forsaken alike, and could clearly see what a threat they would have been in larger numbers, I hadn't witnessed it myself.
It's been two months now -- is that really all? -- since I was eating lunch in Orgrimmar with my mother, when one of my leatherworking trainer's other students stuck his head in my front door, shouting that Garrosh Hellscream had challenged the Warchief in the arena. I didn't doubt for a moment that Hellscream was fool enough to do it, so of course I immediately followed him across the Valley of Honor to the seats around the ring. I walked in to precisely what I expected to see: Garrosh charging from one end of the arena floor, and suddenly being yanked skyward by bolts of lightning. (I have long felt Thrall was far too tolerant of young Hellscream's cutlass-rattling bravado, and I thought his comeuppance well overdue.)
Midway through the fight, the walls began shaking. Roars of excitement rose from the crowd, thinking Thrall had some incredible elemental trick up his sleeve, but the puzzled look on his face quickly proved that wrong. Myself and a few other hunters and rogues -- trained in observation -- were the first to hear the frightened screams from outside, piercing through the noise in the arena. I had never before met the Forsaken rogue who darted out the door with me first, nor have I seen her since, but I'll never forget her face as we looked at each other in sheer disbelief, then cast our eyes back to the skies.
I've since learned that the appropriate nomenclature is "frost wyrm", but at the time, it was just some kind of screwy undead thing breathing ice over the fishing hole and scaring the orphans. The terminology doesn't change my reaction. It was the first time since we'd first joined the orcs that I saw my home come under a focused outside attack, and I was positively incensed. How dare they, how dare anybody move against the Horde, after all we'd collectively been through, after everything we'd accomplished, now that we finally had a foothold in the world and dared to think we all might survive? We took to the streets without question, every able-bodied citizen taking steel, shield, bow and magic to the enemy. We repelled the invasion without too much trouble, but this time there was no question of dodging conflict, or even of merely defending ourselves. Any enemy that could stage coordinated attacks on Orgrimmar and Stormwind was too much of a threat to be left standing. The Horde would march on Northrend.
Of my many battles in life, this is the first one that I entered as an adult. I was done growing up, I knew who I was, and the difference has been like night and day. I reported for forward scouting during the last phases of Warsong Hold's construction, and have rarely been back to Kalimdor since. I nearly went to the Warchief myself at the news that Hellscream would be leading the offensive, but with High Overlord Saurfang present to keep him in check, I felt much better. I'm not ashamed to say I ended up as his agent behind the commander's back more than once -- there may well have been a lot more war than there already is if I hadn't been. It astounds me that with calm, level heads like Thrall and Saurfang at the top, the third and fourth levels of hierarchy within the Horde are rife with egomaniacal blowhards who value the supposed glory and honor of warfare over the survival of their people. Going to war in defense of your people and homeland and the rights of the innocent is honorable; going to war just so you can call yourself a warrior is stupid. Leading others into war for the sheer sake of glory, and doing so at the expense of your people's safety, is outright treason.
And then there was the Scourge itself. The Horde has always relied on fear tactics in battle -- our sheer physical size compared to most of our enemies, the echo of war drums and the shouts of our soldiers. We make our ferocity and fearlessness well known, and just the idea of us does significant damage to the opposition before we ever land a blow. Our forces are significantly less effective against an enemy that knows no fear, knows no emotion, only lurches forward with all its might. The sheer mindlessness of the Lich King's forces is their greatest asset. Admittedly, in the scale of individual battles, it's also a weakness -- it's easy to outwit that which has no wits about it to begin with. But in the grander scheme, they rely on the commands of their King, who isn't nearly so easily bested.
I've seen him before. Face to face. More than once. He's looked me in the eye and told me he would be rid of me. And yet, he hasn't managed to be, not yet. He's lost almost everything that ever made him mortal, but he's still human enough to glean arrogance from power. That may be our only hope.
That quality existing in the living human king, meanwhile, is yet another problem to be dealt with. The betrayal at the Wrathgate shook the Horde to the core. I made myself ill for days afterwards. The lengths to which I'd gone to help the apothecaries perfect that plague, this dream weapon against the Scourge, turning their own tactics against them... and the fact that I'd have been down there in the melee if young Saurfang hadn't put me on sniper duty from atop the base. The sheer amount of death. The stink of it. And having, indirectly and misled though it may have been, my fingerprints all over those catapults...
And to him, that pain never existed. He honestly thinks that we staged it. That we sacrificed the son of our greatest hero, and countless of our own soldiers, just for the chance to obliterate a squadron of their troops. That sort of underhanded sneakiness is an entirely Forsaken quality; the vast majority of the Horde just isn't that wily. If we'd wanted to destroy the Alliance forces at Angrathar, we'd have done it the old-fashioned way -- with our teeth.
To be perfectly honest, Sylvanas' second-in-command being a demon lord had never sat quite right with me anyway. And given that she, Thrall and myself all had copious experience fighting the Legion -- the Dark Lady in particular has a knack for Dreadlords -- I never quite feared for the future of the Undercity. But the unexpected intrusion of the king of Stormwind, if one can even find it in one's heart to call such an arrogant, self-centered, narrow-minded and spiteful creature as that a king, made the victory a hollow one. To hear the way he spoke to my Warchief... to throw such callous insults to the man who put so much of himself on the line to protect his people. I know most of the orcs' history, and much of the ways of the old Horde. And I know there are many within our ranks today who'd gladly revert to those old ways in a heartbeat. But Thrall is not one of them. There's only so much that any leader can do to control his people, and with the number of threats facing the Horde at any given time, we usually don't have the time or forces to drive every single dark element out of the underbelly of Orgrimmar. He does his best, and from the few glimpses beyond his public facade I've ever had, is wracked with guilt that he cannot do more.
Orcs did terrible things to Varian Wrynn, once. So he thinks that all orcs, and all their allies, need to be destroyed. Humans have been terrible to me, too, but I have the sense to realize every single one of them isn't like them. At barely two decades old, I've figured this out; the king of the human kingdoms of Azeroth cannot. This doesn't bode well for anyone on either side, not with the Lich King breathing down our necks. The Horde will not move against the Alliance; Thrall won't allow it. But if the Alliance declares a full-fledged attack -- or, for that matter, if some isolated Horde forces decide to attack against the Warchief's orders, and the Alliance retaliates -- it will trigger a full-on war the likes of which neither side has seen since we fought together in Hyjal. Tempers will flare, loyalties will burn, soldiers will be slaughtered, followed quickly by innocents and children on both sides. The battles will rage endlessly until one side finally crumbles, defeated, and either the human or orcish race is wiped entirely from the face of Azeroth. Then, as the exhausted victors drag their battered forces home, the full and untiring armies of the Scourge will descend upon them like locust. And it will be finished.
No amount of faith in the Horde or hatred for the Alliance can make me willing to die with that weighing on my conscience. I can only pray that somewhere below their brash pride, the king of Stormwind and the dissidents of the Horde -- the ones whose actions will decide this outcome -- feel the same way.
This is where we stand today. Both the Horde and Alliance are making inroads against the Scourge, but neither is strong enough to topple them alone. What meager peace manages to stand between us is being more sorely tested every day. It appears more and more clear that the fate of our world lies not in the hands of our mighty leaders, but in the hearts and minds of individual fighters on the front lines... those of us who can put aside our ancient grudges and lifelong hate to defend our world itself from an evil that cares nothing for our differences. Try as we might, there's no reliable way to see the whole of the future. My only wish is that far in the future, this will be read as the life of a warrior of the victorious Horde, one of the thousands of unintentional heroes who drove an unthinkable evil from our world. Whether it be from our triumph or eventual defeat, let the lessons we have learned be retained.