A thin silence fell over Ashenvale as the sun dipped below the western canopy, blanketing us with twilight. We had been called to meet with the Kor’kron overseers of the project the Research Division had worked on, which Sorlain only referred to as the ‘Grom’s Blood’ project.
Given the illustrious history of the elder Warsong chieftain (and his reputation for originating the Blood Curse), I was not exactly enthusiastic. Khairan and Forestfire had not proven forthcoming with the secrets of the project, though between training the furbolg, keeping track of Kaldorei movements, and the successful capture of Rayne’s Retreat, none of us had had much chance to try get information out of them. Sorlain maintained his mystic silence, only speaking to bark orders at us.
Times appeared to have changed rather suddenly. Brightstar kept her face covered at all times, rarely interacting with us, and Vrax had disappeared along with several troll troops. I had heard orcish whelps murmuring about desertion – but again, no one would speak. I was beginning to wonder if I was trusted. I was a fully-fledged member, but the Archons seemed content to withdraw to the safety of the circles they maintained with the Scions.
So, on what was to be a night of rest, we filed in to the dilapidated courtyard of the Warsong Lumber Camp, which now mainly served to collect clutter, the surrounding forest having all been clear-cut. Awaiting us was a small legion of Kor’kron of varying stature, and two oversized cages with dramatic covers, attended by Forsaken.
‘This all seems a bit unnecessary. What’s in those cages?’ Despite my natural curiosity, the pomp of Forsaken apothecaries was always too annoying to deal with. Given the effort we had put in over the past week while they had been busy with tablecloths, I was not in the mood for them.
‘Hail Hellscream!’ It appeared that I was not going to get an answer just yet. ‘Welcome, elves, to the unveiling of the Grom’s Blood project. You are to be the first to witness the Warchief’s newest soldiers, the product of weeks of research, aided in small part by your own members.’ He turned to Aleck. ‘I trust that the Cho’thaki specimens are ready?’
Aleck gave the closest a Forsaken could to a grin. ‘As they’ll ever be.’ The Kor’kron officer ordered the first cage to be uncovered, as he turned to address the various Kor’kron dignitaries that had also been assembled.
‘Everyone, do be ready to move back.’ Sorlain’s monotone voice crackled into my head through the communicators.
‘These are the unstable specimens, lass. They don’t count anyone here as friends, same as they do the night elves. Should teach the orcs to give us proper credit for the operation.’
‘You’re -sabotaging- the project that’s meant to win Ashenvale?’
‘No, lass, just these two beasts.’
We were distracted by the rather dramatic unveiling of the first cover, which was so large it knocked one of the Apothecaries over. Within the cage was a dire orc – no – yes –
It had been an orc, that much was certain, but whatever it was now, the orc within was gone. It evoked memories of the dire fel orcs that had been carried back from Outland on Thrall’s orders to show the dangers of fel magic. It was a sickly orange-yellow in colour, the skin patchy in places, other areas covered in rocky wart-like growths. Its body was at least thrice as big as that of a regular orc, but its massive fists (twice the size of any elven head) belied strength of a greater magnitude. It had gargantuan armour, some of which appeared to have been crafted from dark iron and glowed a metallic purple. The head was closer to the original size, but malformed, slavering curled tusks erupting from around the mouth. The skull appeared to have collapsed inward at the back of the jaw due to sudden stretching, and the resulting head looked more ape than orc. Glazed-over eyes blinked out from within. They were… not red, necessarily, nor green, but a curious mix of colours; I counted yellow and black foremost. It seemed almost dormant, but within a few seconds of being exposed to the nearby torchlight it began to study us, grunting primally. I did not doubt that it could have broken the cage apart if angered.
‘By the Light… You’ve created fel orcs!’
‘No, not fel. No fel was involved.’ Sorlain and the other archons required close to the front – had Kal’es been involved in this? How had this been kept from us?’
‘But those were orcs.’ My voice echoed in my head. No one had paid attention, as the cage was opening. I remembered that the beasts were apparently unstable and pressed myself up against a pile of lumber, ready to turn invisible if need be.
I ended up jumping the mark, because the majority threw themselves into the fray while I hid and watched, making the occasional comment on the barbaric things. They were surprisingly fast for their size – and the usual speed of creatures of such size and intelligence. What no one had bothered to say was that the fiends were magic-repulsive, and the combination of a phase-shift from Kal’es and a fireball from Khairan as well as a barrage of shadow from Aleck left the first one extremely angry while the Military Division struggled against the second. The Kor’kron lay scattered all over the place.
I broke cover to attract the attention of the angered one while its compatriot was felled rather ruthlessly by Draevon, Lareen and a mechanical shredder. The recoil winded me, and the rather lacklustre composition of I, Aleck and Khairan (all weakened) was fortunately aided by the others.
Recuperating after the event, I found myself shell-shocked. My decision to stay within the Horde suddenly looked a lot less clear-cut. I’d already been implicated for war crimes once. Just how far was the research department involved in this?
Several days later, everyone had reverted to their positions of keeping silent, as though nothing at all had happened. The Forsaken had repurposed Raynewood Retreat for the other three Cho’thaki – who Aleck assured us were safe. Given what I’d already seen, I trusted the undead about as much as – well, I didn’t exactly find myself in a position to trust anyone anymore. Edanna, who for all her muttering about Sorlain, was somehow involved. The entire Military Division obeyed Sorlain without thought, the very definition of the Covert Wing was treacherous. Khairan, as much as we had shared horrors on occasion, was a loose cannon. The loosest of them all. I had not been able to look him in the eyes since Dalaran, although he seemed to have calmed since.
We had spent most of our time going from base to base checking that things were in order, and after the final preparations were made with the furbolg we received word from Twist that the Kaldorei were on the move. So we assembled, ready for battle.
It was, of course, a rout. I had spent several incursions making sure that the deaths of Kaldorei scouts closest to our positions looked like furbolg work, so the night elves did not suspect a large army, much less organised furbolg. The following night was celebrated by the orcs, boasting of victory and honour – though Ashenvale had not been won by Garrosh’s grandiose plans for Magnataur or Kraken, and I doubted it would be won by this. Another loss of life followed by deadlock.
At the beginning of the next month, we were recalled to Splintertree as the moon rose high above the hills. All things considered, the commendations were handed out rather quickly. We were all given individual wooden badges bearing the Convocation insignia. How wonderful.
Various commendations in neat gold and iron, showing what looked like an exploding sun, were handed out. The mercenaries, the military division, the research division – everyone who had taken part was awarded something. Though no one seemed particularly enamoured with the creations. I spent a moment observing mine before storing them away. The orcs hadn’t given us commendations before, and we’d had more success in Desolace than in Ashenvale… Was ‘mass killing of night elves’ now a criterion?
Aleck and Edanna were given some form of governance over the Grom’s Blood project, though Khairan did not (but his disdain for orcs was quite renowned by this point).
‘And finally, the High Court of Silvermoon has sent word saying that you have been given permission to return to Quel’thalas. Apparently your recent efforts for the betterment of the Horde have attracted attention.’
With that, the Kor’kron left. The next morning, we began the journey back to Orgrimmar, where an orcish frigate would transport us to Silvermoon.
I was pleased, of course, to go back and see my family. But I was unsure about the whole thing. We still had enemies, no doubt enemies who wanted us out of the picture entirely. Garrosh’s Horde was more criminal, no doubt, but it was a lot more clear-cut than home.
Home… Was it really home, after so long?