It was worse than I could ever have imagined.
The grove was a blackened pit, ash and smoke surrounding me for almost a full mile-long radius. The husks of trees stood out like ghosts in the night. The light in the area came not from the sky, but from the blazes further in the forest, turning the world into an orange twilight.
I felt myself shudder as I wandered across the devastation. Every so often I would pick across a half-cremated skeleton, or the twisted, burnt metal of some vehicle or war machine. It felt like the end of days.
I came to the southern edge of the grove, where fire could still be seen flickering across the mountaintops, and looked upon the lake. Suddenly I understood the tremendous splashing noise from earlier.
The lake was a ruinous marsh by now. Half of the water had been boiled away, and what was left had mixed with the ash and earth to create a black, muddy pit. Water elementals struggled underneath, the occasional ominous bubble illustrating their hopeless attempts at freedom. I gasped as I came to the verge overlooking the lake – where the lodge had stood.
What was left of the lodge was a collapsed mess being swallowed by the northern part of the marsh. I could see no signs of life. The druid-grown building let out a low hiss as the mud rose above it. Most of night elven architecture was grown out of the earth itself by druids. It stopped our race having to fell trees and disturb the balance of the ancient forests.
I winced at the pain of the land, muttering a prayer for the souls of the dead. It would not help much with the devastation, but I could offer little else at this moment.
My reverie was interrupted by an aching groan as the land beneath me shifted. I saw the familiar winding echoes of water lead right beneath me and into what was once Mystral Lake.
The tsunami coming from the north must have pushed the already-ruined lodge into the lake. That explains the splash.
However, by now dirt had begun falling into the sludge at a fast rate after the shift in the earth. I dived aside as the ground split open and the path of lava from the volcano flooded past where I had just been stood. That was close.
I pushed myself back onto my feet, checking that Kalandrios was alright. He’d fallen asleep again. I suppose it was getting quite late. I was struggling to comprehend that Ashenvale was now completely separated by a single volcano. Eventually, the Ring would have to return that land to its normal state.
That would have to wait.
I turned my eyes northward as the pit of sludge behind me began to hiss vigorously at the heat invading its surface. Cooled chunks of lava began to bob around until they were dragged downwards with sickening squelches.
I could see the epicentre.
A crater obscured the northwest, still glowing and illuminated by smoke. I hiked upwards, barely able to find a foothold amongst all the detritus. Eventually, covered in a layer of ash that was stuck to my earlier layer of tar, I made it to the edge of the crater.
It was still steaming hot, and rivulets of lava glowed like miniature streams, criss-crossing the area. Above, remnants of the green cloud that had exploded earlier drifted around menacingly. This must be where the goblins were working – their labs. It was definitely where the Stonetalon Bomb had been developed, and from the looks of it, it was where the next one had been as well. On the ground, little fissures could be seen where the toxic chemicals had been pushed straight into the ground. Across from me, a thin, metal skeleton rose like a deformed ancient, all that was left of a goblin deforesting machine.
Unsure of what I expected to find, I scrambled down into the crater. There had to be something here, anything –
At that, I spotted a goblin hanging off the top of the harvester, apparently saved from the fire by the proximity of two large trees – or what was left of them. As I watched he lost his grip and landed in the black dirt, a little dazed. But as he fell, the structure let out a petrifying creak that echoed louder and louder as the ruined joints in the machine began to break apart and the whole thing began to collapse above the terrified goblin.
And at that, I abandoned thousands of years’ worth of handed-down lessons to never trust goblins, and sprinted towards the collapsing harvester to go save a night elf’s worst enemy. For information.