Rise of the Lich King
World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade
Everything that is, is alive.
The words had become a mantra in his mind, a constant reinforcement of his newfound understanding. More importantly they were an epiphany, the key to unlocking a whole new universe of knowledge. And the epiphany was why he was here.
Nobundo took comfort in the words as he slowly negotiated Zangarmarsh's forest of colossal mushrooms, their spores glowing green and red in the early morning mist. He traversed the creaky wooden bridges that stretched over the shallow marshland waters. In just a few moments he found himself at his destination, gazing up at the radiant underbelly of a mushroom that dwarfed all others. There atop its cap, the draenei settlement of Telredor awaited him.
He progressed with trepidation, leaning heavily on his walking stick and cursing the pain in his joints as he stepped onto the platform that would carry him to the top. He was worried, for he was still unsure how the others would react. There had been a time when his kind had not even been allowed to enter the settlements of the unaffected.
They are just going to laugh at me.
He took a deep breath of the cool, misty marsh air and asked it to give him courage for the challenge to come.
Once the platform came to a stop, Nobundo carefully shuffled through the arched entryway, down several shallow steps, and out onto the landing overlooking the settlement's small plaza, where the assembly had already gathered.
He gazed down at the hard-set faces of the various draenei, whose disdainful, superior eyes stared up at him.
He was, after all, Krokul: "Broken".
To be Broken was to be outcast and vilified. It was not right or just, but it was the reality he had been forced to accept. Many of his unaffected brothers and sisters could not understand how the decline of the Krokul could have occurred, and especially, as in Nobundo's case, how one who had been so gifted and so favored by the Light could have fallen so far.
Though Nobundo himself did not know exactly how it happened, he did know when. He recollected with startling clarity the exact moment that marked the beginning of his own personal descent.
- Chapter 1 -
The skies wept when the orcs laid siege to Shattrath City.
It had been many long months since rain had graced the lands of Draenor, but now, almost as if in protest of the looming battle, dark clouds roiled overhead. Light showers drizzled over the city and the army outside its walls, increasing to a steady downpour as the two sides watched and waited.
There must be a thousand of them, Nobundo speculated grimly from his perch high atop the inner ramparts. Beyond the outer walls shadows moved among the torch-lit trees of Terokkar Forest. Perhaps if the orcs had taken the time to plan more carefully, they would have deforested the region outside in preparation for their attack, but these days the orcs cared little for strategy. For them there was only the thrill of battle and the immediate gratification of bloodshed.
Telmor had fallen, as had Karabor and Farahlon. So many of the draenei's once-majestic cities now lay in ruins. Shattrath was all that was left.
Slowly the orc assemblage maneuvered into position, making Nobundo think of a great fanged serpent coiling itself in preparation to strike... a strike that would surely spell the end of Shattrath's defenders.
Not that we are meant to survive anyway.
He knew full well that he and the others who had gathered here tonight were meant to be a sacrifice. They had volunteered to remain behind and fight this last battle. Their inevitable defeat would appease the orcs such that they would consider the draenei decimated and all but extinct. Those who had sought refuge elsewhere would survive to fight another day, a day when the scales would be more balanced.
So be it then. My spirit will live on, becoming one with the glory that is the Light.
Emboldened, Nobundo stood to his full height, his strong and athletic frame bracing for the events to come. His thick tail shifted anxiously as he settled his weight evenly between both leonine legs and ground the toes of his hooves into the solid stone masonry. He took a deep breath, tightening his hands around the shaft of his Light-blessed crystalline hammer.
But I will not go quietly.
He and the other Vindicators, holy warriors of the Light, would fight to the very last. He glanced to either side at his brethren stationed at intervals along the wall walk. Like him, they stood impassive and resolute, having reached their own peace with the destiny that now awaited them.
Outside, the war machines had arrived: catapults, rams, ballistae--siege engines of every description passing briefly through the torchlight. Their heavy apparatuses creaked and groaned ominously as they were positioned within striking distance of the walls.
Drumbeats sounded, sporadic at first, then quickly joined by more and more until the entire forest was alive with a rhythm that started soft like the rain, then grew to a persistent, thundering roll. Nobundo whispered a prayer, asking the Light to give him strength.
There was a deep rumbling and movement in the murky clouds overhead that echoed the frantic drumbeats below. For a second Nobundo wondered if perhaps the Light meant to answer his prayer with a display of power and fury beyond any he could hope to summon, a great beam of holy fire that would eradicate the entire savage, bloodthirsty army in one magnificent sweep.
A display indeed followed, but not of the holy powers of the Light.
The clouds thundered, swirled, and erupted, punched through by massive flaming projectiles that hurtled to the earth with meteoric speed and bone-jarring strength.
A deafening roar assaulted Nobundo's ears as one of the objects passed perilously close, obliterating a nearby buttress and pelting him with flying debris. As if awaiting this signal, the multitudes outside pressed forward, their bloodcurdling war-cries rolling over the city as they mobilized with singular purpose: to destroy all within their path.
The rain's intensity increased as the outermost walls shuddered from the strikes of massive stones slung by the crude catapults. Nobundo knew the outer walls would not hold. They had been constructed rather hastily: the wall sections extending above the depressed floor of the outer ring were an addition made in the last year, a defense made necessary by the orcs' methodical extermination of his people and the subsequent realization that this city would be their final bastion.
Several brutish ogres went to work on penetrating a section of wall already compromised from the meteor assault. Two more of the massive beasts swung a gargantuan battering ram against the city's main gates.
Nobundo's brethren cast several attacks against the enemy, but wherever the draenei struck one attacker down, two more would take his place. The damaged wall section had begun to crumble completely. A flood of crazed orcs clamored on the opposite side, climbing over top of one another in a frenzy of bloodlust.
The time had come. Nobundo raised his hammer to the sky, closed his eyes, and cleared his mind of the overwhelming cacophony of battle. His mind called out, and his body felt the familiar warmth of the Light wash over him. The hammer glowed. He focused his intentions and directed the blessed, purging holy powers into the ogres below.
There was a blinding flash that briefly illuminated the entire battle scene, accompanied by a startled bellowing from the front line of orcs as the Holy Light seared through them, stunning them into silence and halting them long enough for several draenei warriors to focus on bringing down one of the giant ogres.
Nobundo's momentary relief was crushed by the sound of splintering wood: the final successful thrust of the battering ram against the main gates. Nobundo watched as the Lower City defenders raced to meet the incoming tide of orcs and ogres and were immediately cut down. Nobundo called upon the Light again, directing his healing powers to whomever he could, but the opposition was simply too great. As soon as he healed a wounded draenei, that same warrior endured repeated, brutal attacks mere seconds later.
More ogres had gone to work on the weakened section of outer wall and were now succeeding in pushing through. The defenders, hopelessly outnumbered, were beset on either side.
The orcs were crazed, drunk on their bloodlust. As the outer ring filled with their number, Nobundo could see their eyes: they glowed, burned with a crimson fury that was at once mesmerizing and terrifying. Nobundo and the other Vindicators switched tactics, from healing to purging. Once again the city was bathed in brilliant radiance as scores of orcs were struck by the Light, the crimson glow dimming from their eyes momentarily as they slumped forward to be dispatched by the remaining draenei warriors.
The wall shook, and Nobundo's hooves slid on the rain-slicked stone. He steadied himself and looked down to see one of the ogres pummeling away at the base of the buttress to his left with a tree trunk-sized club. He raised his hammer to the sky and closed his eyes, but his concentration was quickly broken by another sound....
Not the ogre this time, but an explosion that originated from somewhere below but out of sight, knocking Nobundo off balance. He rolled to his side and glanced over the edge to see a fine red mist billowing out into Lower City. The few defenders who were left immediately began choking and retching. They doubled over, many of them dropping their weapons. The barbaric orcs made quick work of the sickened warriors, reveling in the carnage.
When the slaughter was finished, they glared upward, rabid in their desire to tear the defenders on the wall limb from limb. Several orcs climbed on the backs of the ogres, attempting to scale the sheer surface by hand. Their aggression and unbridled ferocity were staggering. The mist had spread throughout the entirety of Lower City and was now beginning to rise, slowly obscuring the bedlam below.
Nobundo heard a commotion behind him. Several orcs who had somehow broken through the inner circle's defenses now stormed onto the rise.
The wall shuddered again, and Nobundo cursed the ogre below, who had undoubtedly returned to pummeling the buttress. A second salvo of flaming meteors fell from the sky as Nobundo readied to meet the oncoming crush of attackers.
He directed the fury of the Light into the first orc head-on. The green beast's eyes dimmed, and he crumpled. Nobundo brought the crystal hammerhead down squarely on top of the orc's skull, then yanked upward and swung left, feeling a satisfying crunch as the orc's ribs shattered. He twisted and brought the hammer across at a downward arc into the side of another orc's leg, shattering its kneecap. The beast howled in pain and fell forward off of the rampart.
The mist had worked its way onto the rise now, where it rolled out and covered the stone like a carpet. Nobundo and his fellow Vindicators fought on as the mist rose to chest level, then finally to their faces, stinging their eyes and burning their lungs.
Nobundo heard the death-cries of several of his companions, but he had lost sight of them in the dense red fog. Mercifully the attacks on him seemed to have abated; he stumbled back a step, stifling the urge to vomit. It felt as if his skull was about to burst.
Then he heard a horrific battle cry from out of the mist that chilled him to the bone.
A shadow approached. Nobundo struggled to see as his body wrenched in spasms. He tried desperately to hold his breath as out of the dense crimson mist stepped a tattooed, fiery-eyed terror... a massive orc covered in the distinctive blue of draenei blood, out of breath, twisting a wicked two-handed axe in his grip. His raven-hued hair clung to his thick chest and shoulders, and his lower jaw had been colored as black as pitch, lending his face the countenance of a skull.
Behind him scores of orcs rushed onto the rise. Nobundo knew that the end was near.
The wall shook once more. The nightmarish orc charged. Nobundo arched back. The blade carved a gash across his chest, rending his armor and numbing his left side. Nobundo answered with a swing of his hammer that crushed the fingers of the orc's right hand, rendering it and the axe he held useless. Then, to Nobundo's horror, the terrifying creature smiled.
The orc gripped him with his good hand, and the twin furnaces of his eyes bored into Nobundo... bored through him. Nobundo was forced to gasp for air. As he did, he felt the veneer of his will being stripped away. It was as if some manner of dark, demonic magic was at work, as if a part of his very essence was being obliterated, and it was an assault he had no answer for.
Nobundo vomited thick blood onto the orc's face and chest. He closed his eyes and frantically, desperately hailed the Light, beseeching it to neutralize the orc long enough for him to mount a defense. He called out...
And for the first time since he had contacted the Light and been graced by its blessed radiance...
There was no answer.
Terrified, he opened his eyes and looked into the manic, fire-pit orbs of the orc, who opened his great mouth and bellowed, drowning out all other sound and threatening to shatter Nobundo's eardrums. It seemed as if he was suddenly plunged into some kind of terrible, silent dream. The beast reared back and slammed its head into Nobundo's face. Nobundo reeled backward, his arms flailing, the rain pounding down, those blazing eyes searing into his own as he fell... down, down, down through the mist, crashing into something large that grunted as it gave beneath him.
Still trapped in the silent nightmare, Nobundo saw the orc disappear from the edge of the wall. Nearby, the ruined buttress gave way, and a massive section of the upper ramparts fell, blocking out the rain and the sky and trapping Nobundo in a world of quiet darkness.
As he lay there, he thought about the ones who had gone into hiding, those he prayed would escape slaughter, those he loved and respected, those for whom he had given his...
Life. Somehow, he still clung to life.
Nobundo emerged from the black pit of unconsciousness only to find himself trapped in a choking, sightless confinement. His breath came in ragged, shuddering gasps, yet he still lived. He had no idea how much time had passed since... since the wall fell, since...
He reached out with his mind. Surely in the tumult of battle he had simply failed to concentrate hard enough to reach the Light, but now, now he could make contact, now surely he could...
There was no response.
Nobundo had never felt so helplessly lost and utterly alone. If the Light was out of reach and he died here, what would become of his spirit? Would the Light not receive him? Would his essence be condemned to an eternity of drifting through the void?
He had lived his life honorably. Yet... could this be some kind of punishment?
Even as his mind reached for answers, his hand reached out and immediately brushed against cold stone. He slowly became aware that he was lying in a very awkward position, that some softer but still formidable mass was packed tightly next to him, and that his left leg was most certainly broken.
He rolled to his right and took in a deep breath, trying to ignore the pain in his ribs and leg. Without recourse to the Light he could not heal himself, and so he would just have to live with the pain for now. At least the feeling had returned to his left side. And... he could hear the muffled noises caused by his movements, so his hearing had returned as well.
The fact that he was breathing meant that air was reaching him from somewhere. As his eyes continued to adjust, he spotted a pinhole, not of light, but simply a lighter shade of darkness than that which surrounded him. He reached out farther, and his hand landed on a familiar cylindrical object: the shaft of his hammer.
With what little strength he possessed, Nobundo gripped the handle just under the head, lifted and thrust in the direction of the pinhole. Chunks of masonry gave way, vaguely revealing a cramped passage created by the massive stone blocks and the angles at which they had fallen.
His ears were immediately greeted with the sound of muted screams, wails of pure terror issuing from some distance away. He used the hammer to pull his upper torso through the hole he created and into the tight space. As he did, he heard a deep moaning sound from the depths of the rubble behind him.
With a burst of strength he pulled himself the rest of the way into the passage, stifling the urge to cry out as his broken leg raked across the jagged stone threshold and sent lances of pain throughout his body. The labored moans continued. The stones around him shifted, and sand and dirt filtered down through the cracks. Quickly he dragged himself toward an irregularly shaped egress, where he spied the faintest hint of light.
Judging by the increased moans of the thing in the rubble, Nobundo guessed it was an ogre, and it was trying desperately to dislodge itself. Nobundo rolled onto his back and crab-walked with his elbows out into the night air while the ogre made another determined effort. Nobundo could see the full mound of debris now. The ogre bellowed in rage one final time, and the entire mass collapsed fully, sending a cloud of dust in all directions and cutting the outburst short.
Another cry immediately followed, however, from some distance away and above: the sound of a terrified female.
Nobundo turned and was greeted by a sight he would never forget, no matter how hard he tried from that day on.
The entire expanse of Lower City, lit by the moon and ambient firelight from above, had become a dumping ground for the bodies of the butchered draenei. And though the rain had stopped, the corpse mounds were still slick with vomit and blood and every manner of waste.
Nobundo's heart withered at the sight of children among the dead. Despite their youth, many of them had bravely volunteered to stay with their parents, who knew all too well that the orcs would be suspicious of a draenei city where no children dwelled and would hunt the last of their kind to extinction. Still, a part of Nobundo hoped and prayed with all his might that the remaining children could be defended, that they would stay safe in the hiding places that had hastily been dug into the mountains. A foolish hope, he understood, but one he clung to nonetheless.
Could anything be more senseless than killing children?
Again his ears were assaulted by the screams of a female, accompanied by taunts and jeers. The orcs were celebrating, reveling in their victory. Looking up, he pinpointed the source of the noise: high above, jutting out from the cliffs of the Barrier Hills, the draenei had built Aldor Rise. There the orcs were torturing some poor female draenei.
I must try to stop them.
But how? Alone, with a broken leg, one against hundreds... one who had been abandoned by the Light, armed with only his hammer. How could he stop the madness unfolding above?
I must find a way!
Frantically he crawled over the corpses, slipping in the fluids, shutting the putrid stench and raw viscera out of his mind. He worked his way around the outer circle of Lower City, toward the base of the cliffs, where the wall met the mountain. He would find a way to climb up there. He would...
The screaming stopped. He looked up to see shadows silhouetted by moonlight. They carried a still form to the edge of the overlook and then swung, tossing the lifeless cargo down into the depths. It landed with a dull thud not far from where Nobundo lay motionless.
He crept forward, looking for any signs of life from the female... Shaka, he determined her name to be when he drew close enough to see her features. He had seen her many times before, though they had only spoken on brief occasions. He had always found her pleasant and engaging. Now she lay battered and bruised, her throat cut, her lifeblood drained. At least for her the pain was over.
Another scream issued from above, the voice of another female. Rage welled within Nobundo. Rage and frustration and an overwhelming desire for vengeance.
There is nothing you can do.
Desperately he gripped the hammer tightly and tried once again to call upon the Light. With its assistance maybe he could do something, anything... but once again his only answer was silence.
Something within urged him to get out as quickly as he could, to seek out the others in hiding, to live... to one day fulfill some greater purpose.
That is cowardice. I must find a way; I must.
But deep inside, Nobundo knew that this battle was over. If indeed some greater destiny awaited him, he must leave immediately. He would only die a meaningless death if he tried to make his way to the rise. Cries of anguish once more pierced the night air. Nobundo looked over to a section of the outer wall that lay partially ruined. It was a perilous obstacle, but not insurmountable, and it was not guarded.
The time is now; you must make your choice.
It was a chance. A chance to live and to someday make a difference once again.
You must make it through this. You must go on.
That long wail sounded again, but this time was cut mercifully short. Then the sound of orcish voices just around the bend of the inner wall drifted to him. It sounded as if they were rooting through the corpses, looking for something or someone. His time had run out.
Nobundo took up his hammer. Though it cost considerable time and effort and sapped what little strength he had left, he made it over the remaining bodies and through the gap in the wall.
As he shambled slowly, painfully into Terokkar Forest, female screams atop Aldor Rise began anew.
- Chapter 2 -
"Surely your survival is a sign, a message from the Light."
"It blesses each of us in its own way. When the time comes, you will find it again."
"I hope that is true, old friend. I just... I do not feel the same. Something within me has changed."
"Nonsense. You are tired and confused, and after all you have been through, you cannot be faulted for either. Get some rest."
Rolc exited the cave. Nobundo laid back and closed his eyes....
Cries. The frantic pleas of the females.
Nobundo's eyes snapped open. He had been here for several days now, in one of the few camps occupied by those who had gone into hiding before the battle. Yet he could not escape the heartrending screams of the women he had left to die. They called out to him every time he closed his eyes, imploring him to help them, to save them.
You had no choice.
But was that really the truth of it? He was not so sure. Recently Nobundo found it increasingly difficult to think clearly. His thoughts were muddy, disjointed. He sighed heavily and got up from his blanket on the stone floor, groaning as his sore joints protested.
He stepped out into the misty marshland air and worked his way through a sodden reed bed. Zangarmarsh was an inhospitable territory, but for the time being at least, it was home.
The wetlands had always been largely avoided by the orcs, and for good reason. The entire region was covered with shallow, brackish water; many of the flora and fauna were poisonous if not properly prepared; and many of the larger wetland creatures would eat anything that did not eat them first.
As Nobundo navigated several towering giant mushrooms, he heard raised voices: a commotion near the edge of camp.
He hurried to see what was happening. Three battered draenei, two male and one female, were being assisted by camp members past the perimeter guards. Another, unconscious, was carried behind them.
Nobundo shot a questioning glance to one of the guards, who responded to the unspoken enquiry: "Survivors from Shattrath."
Galvanized, Nobundo followed the party back to the caves, where the survivors were carefully laid down on blankets. Rolc laid his hands on the unconscious one first, but was unable to awaken him.
The female, seemingly in a daze, was muttering, "Where are we? What has happened? I do not feel--something is..."
Rolc came and shushed her. "Just relax. You are among friends now. Everything is going to be fine."
Nobundo wondered. Would everything be fine? Orcish hunting parties had already discovered one camp and wiped it out. And these four, how had they survived? What horrors had the female witnessed? What had driven the unconscious one to his catatonic state? Even more, the way they looked and behaved... Nobundo wondered if their injuries went beyond the physical: they appeared drained, dispirited.
They looked the way he felt.
Several days later the survivors had recovered sufficiently for Nobundo to feel comfortable asking them about Shattrath.
The female, Korin, spoke first. Her voice broke as she recounted the experience. "We were lucky. We stayed deep in the mountain, in one of the few hiding places that remained undiscovered... at least for the most part."
Nobundo looked puzzled.
"At one point a band of the green-skinned monsters found us. The battle that followed was... I have never seen such things. Four of the men who had volunteered to defend our group were slaughtered, but they killed many of the orcs as well. Finally only Herac and Estes were left. They killed the brutal creatures that remained. They were savage beasts. And those eyes, those terrible eyes..." Korin shuddered at the memory.
Estes spoke: "There was an explosion. Moments later a putrid gas filtered into our hiding place, choking us, causing a sickness such as none of us had ever felt before."
Nobundo thought of the unnatural red mist and quickly forced the memory away. Herac broke in. "It felt as if we were dying. Most of us blacked out. When we awoke, it was morning. The upper levels were deserted. We made our way into the Barrier Hills, and from there journeyed into Nagrand, where we were found many days later."
"How many of you were there?"
Herac answered: "Twenty, maybe more. Mostly women, some children. Others trickled in days later, like the one who lies unconscious in the cave... Akama, they said his name is. We were told he caught a larger dose of the gas than any of the other survivors. Rolc is still unsure if he will ever..." Herac broke off and fell silent.
Estes continued, "Later we were split up and sent to different camps throughout Zangarmarsh and Nagrand. A precaution, so that if one of the camps were discovered by the orcs, we would not all be killed."
"Were any of you priests or Vindicators--wielders of the Light?"
All three shook their heads. "I cannot speak for Akama, but Estes and I were simple craftsmen, unaccustomed to wielding a weapon of any kind. That was why we were assigned to the caves: to be a last line of defense."
Korin asked Nobundo, "When you escaped, did any others make it with you? Were there more survivors? We heard the orcs in the lower levels, but we did not want to risk discovery, so we fled."
Nobundo thought of the piled bodies in Lower City... heard the pleas from Aldor Rise, tried to force the tortured screams from his mind.
"No," he answered. "There were no more that I know of."
Velen, their prophet leader, had visited them two days ago... or was it four? Lately Nobundo found it harder to remember some things. Velen had come from one of the neighboring camps. His exact location remained a closely guarded secret, in case one of their number was taken alive and tortured. The draenei could not give up information they did not possess. At any rate, Velen had spoken to them about their future, about how they would have to lie low for quite a long time, possibly years, to watch and wait and see how events concerning the orcs would play out.
According to Velen, the greenskins had begun construction on something that seemed to be monopolizing their time and resources. The project had apparently diverted their attention from hunting down the surviving draenei, at least for the time being. What the orcs were building, not far from their base citadel in the scorched lands, appeared to be some kind of gateway.
Velen seemed to know a great deal more that he did not say, but he was after all a prophet, a seer. Nobundo thought the noble sage must know many things, things he and others were simply not wise enough to understand.
Nobundo watched now as Korin waded into the water with her fishing spear. Something about her appeared different. It seemed to him that her physique had changed in the past several weeks. Her forearms had grown slightly larger; her face looked drawn; and her posture had deteriorated. As improbable as it sounded, her tail seemed to have actually shrunk.
Herac and Estes approached, and Nobundo could have sworn he saw similar transformations in them. He looked down at his own forearms. Was it his imagination, or did they appear swollen? He had not felt right ever since... ever since that night. But he had assumed he would recover in time. Now he was becoming increasingly worried.
Korin approached. "I am finished for today. I need to go lie down." She handed Nobundo her spear.
"Are you okay?" he asked.
Korin attempted a smile that lacked conviction. "Just tired," she replied.
Nobundo sat atop the mountains overlooking Zangarmarsh, eyes closed. He felt tired, tired to his very bones. He had come here to be alone. He had not seen Korin in several days. She and the other two had holed up in one of the caves, and when he enquired as to their condition, his enquiries were answered with unknowing shrugs. As for the one called Akama, he was still unresponsive, barely hanging on despite Rolc’s continued efforts.
Something was drastically wrong. Nobundo knew it: he had seen the changes in himself and in the other survivors, Akama included. The rest of the camp knew it as well. They seemed to speak to him less and less, even Rolc. And just the other day, when Nobundo had returned to camp with a few small fish, he was told that they had plenty, that he should eat the fish himself... as if whatever malady was plaguing him and the others could be spread by touching the same food he had handled.
Nobundo was disgusted. Had his service meant nothing? He had taken to spending long hours here among the hilltops, quietly contemplating, forcing his mind to focus, trying desperately to achieve what still remained unattainable: access to the Light. It was if a door had been closed to him, as if the part of his mind that had been able to make contact simply no longer functioned, or worse yet, no longer existed.
Even simple musings such as these made his head ache. Lately it was becoming more and more difficult to articulate his thoughts. His arms had continued to swell, a swelling that would not go away, and his hooves had begun to splinter. Pieces of them had actually fallen away and not grown back. And all the while, the nightmares... the nightmares persisted.
At least the patrolling orcish war parties had grown less frequent. Reports had come in that whatever the orcs were constructing was nearing completion. And it did appear to be some kind of gateway, just as Velen had predicted.
Good, Nobundo thought. I hope they go through it, and I hope it carries them straight to their doom.
He arose and slowly, deliberately made his way back toward camp, grateful for the support of the hammer, which had grown so heavy in recent weeks that he carried it head down, using it more often than not as a walking stick.
Hours later he reached his destination and decided to see Rolc. Together they could call a meeting to address the issue of the increasing intolerance displayed by--
Nobundo stopped at the entrance to Rolc's cave. Korin was there, lying on a blanket. She had now transformed so that she almost looked no longer like a draenei, but rather like some parody of their race. She was sickly and emaciated. Her eyes were milky, and her lower arms had swollen to a massive size. Her hooves had sloughed away to twin bony protuberances, and her tail was nothing more than a small nub. Despite her frail condition, she was struggling in Rolc's arms.
"I want to die! I just want to die; I want the pain gone!"
Rolc held her firmly. Nobundo quickly approached, leaning close.
"Don't be foolish!" He looked at Rolc. "Can you not cure her?"
The priest frowned at his friend. "I have tried!"
"Let me go! Let me die!"
A glow emanated from Rolc's hands then, soothing Korin, subduing her gently until her exertions lessened and finally stopped completely. She broke down into racking sobs and curled into a fetal position. Rolc motioned with his head for them to leave the cave.
Once outside, Rolc fixed a stern gaze on Nobundo. "I have done all I know. It's as if her body, like her will, has been broken."
"There must be something that can--some way to--" Nobundo struggled to properly communicate his thoughts. "We have to do something!" he finally blurted.
Rolc was silent for a moment. "I worry for them, for you. We have received reports that Shattrath survivors in the other camps are undergoing similar changes. Whatever this is, it is not responding to any kind of treatment, and it is not going away. Our people are afraid that if measures are not taken, we will all be lost."
"What are you saying? What has happened?"
Rolc sighed. "Just talk. For now. I have tried to be the voice of reason, but even I cannot defend you and the others for very long. And, truth be told, I am not sure that I should."
Nobundo felt bitter disappointment in his friend, in the one person he thought he could trust, who was now succumbing to the same narrow-minded paranoia as the others.
At a loss for words, Nobundo turned and walked away.
Korin's condition worsened, and the decision that Nobundo dreaded, that Rolc had spoken of, was finally rendered a few days later.
Nobundo, Korin, Estes, and Herac were gathered before the camp members. Some wore grim expressions; some appeared sad; others were unreadable. Rolc, for his part, simply appeared conflicted but resolved, like a hunter who prefers not to kill, but knows he must eat and is preparing to deal his prey a mortal blow.
As it turned out, it was Rolc the camp had chosen as their spokesperson. "This is not easy for me, for any of us...." He indicated the stoic assembly behind him. "But we have spoken with representatives from the other camps, and together we have come to a decision. We believe it would be in the best interests of everyone involved if those of you who have been... afflicted commune together, but... separate from those of us who remain in good health."
Korin, looking particularly forlorn, spoke in a harsh rasp: "We are being banished?"
Before Rolc could demur, Nobundo broke in: "That is exactly what this is! They cannot solve our problems, so they... they hope to ignore us! They just want us to go away!"
"We cannot help you!" Rolc blurted. "We have no idea whether or not your condition is contagious, and your decreased physical abilities, your diminished mental faculties are a liability that we cannot afford. There are not enough of us left to take chances!"
"What of the other, Akama?" Korin asked.
"He will stay here in my care until he awakens," Rolc responded, and then added, "if he awakens."
"How kind of you," Nobundo muttered, his words laced with sarcasm.
Rolc strode forward to stand defiantly before Nobundo. Despite his failing health, Nobundo straightened and looked Rolc squarely in the eyes.
Rolc said, "You have said that you wonder if perhaps the Light is punishing you with its silence, for your failure at Shattrath."
"I gave everything at Shattrath! I was prepared to die so that you, all of you could live!"
"Yes, but you did not die."
"What are you--are you saying I deserted?"
"I think that if the Light has abandoned you, it has done so with reason. Who are we to question the ways of the Light?" Rolc looked back at the others for support. Some of them looked away, but many did not. "Whatever the case, I think it is time you accepted your new place in the order of things. I think it is time you took the welfare of others into account...."
Rolc reached down and snatched the hammer from Nobundo's hand.
"And I think it is time you stopped trying to be something you are not."
- Chapter 3 -
It was a mistake to come here. Nothing has changed. You are still Krokul—you are still Broken.
No. They would listen. He would make them listen. There was, after all, the epiphany. Nobundo forced his eyes from the gathered assembly to the fountain in the center of the small plaza. From that water he asked for clarity.
He felt his thoughts resolve into focus. He thanked the water and, leaning heavily on his stick, forced himself to meet the sea of disapproving gazes below. There was a moment of awkward silence.
"This is nonsense," he heard someone whisper.
When at first he tried to speak, his voice sounded small and hoarse, distant to his own ears. He cleared his throat and began again, louder. "I have come to... to talk to you about--"
"We are wasting our time. What can a Krokul have to say to us?"
More voices of dissent joined in. Nobundo faltered. His mouth worked, but his voice was lost.
I was right. This was a mistake.
Nobundo turned to depart, and looked up into the placid eyes of the prophet, their leader, Velen.
The seer fixed Nobundo with a critical gaze. "Going somewhere?"
Nobundo sat atop one of the cliffs overlooking the scorched lands. They had not changed much in the last... how long had it been since he first ventured out here? Five years? Six?
When he and the others were sent away to the new camp for Krokul, as they had finally come to be called, Nobundo was angry, frustrated, and depressed. He went to the farthest spot possible in the only direction he was allowed. He had always meant to investigate the hills bordering Zangarmarsh, but at the base of those hills were camps of the "unaffected", a region now off-limits to "his kind".
And so he ventured here through the blistering heat, to the peaks high above the most desolate wastes on Draenor: wastes that had been lush glades before the orcs' policy of hatred and genocide, wastes created by the warlocks and their twisted magic.
At least the orcs presented less of a problem these days. Some wandering orcish parties still patrolled, and they still killed the draenei on sight. The orcs were fewer in number, however: many of the green-skinned savages had departed through their gateway years ago and not returned.
As a result Nobundo had heard that his people were constructing a new city somewhere in the marsh. No matter, he thought. It is a city I will never be welcome in.
The changes in Nobundo and the others continued. Appendages appeared where before there were none. Spots and warts and strange growths spread across their bodies. Their hooves, one of the draenei's most distinctive features, were entirely gone, replaced by things that now resembled misshapen feet. Nor was such change limited to the purely physical. Their brains struggled more and more to maintain higher functions. And some, some became lost completely, turning into vacant shells that meandered aimlessly, conversing with audiences that existed only in their minds. Some of those Lost Ones would simply wake up one day and wander off, never to return. One of the first to do so was Estes. Now Korin was left with only one of her companions with whom she had shared that dark time at Shattrath.
Enough, he thought. Stop putting it off. Do what you came here to do.
He put it off because part of him knew this time would be no different. But he would do it anyway, just as he had done every day for the past several years... because somehow, someway a part of him still maintained hope.
He closed his eyes, forced all extraneous thought from his mind, and reached out for the Light. Please, just this once... let me bask again in your radiant glory.
He focused with every ounce of concentration he had left in him.
He nearly jumped out of his skin, his eyes snapping open as he put out a hand to steady himself. He looked around, up at the sky.
"I found you!"
He turned to see Korin and let out a deep breath, shaking his head.
You should have known better than to think the Light would favor you again.
She came and sat down next to him, looking worn and weathered and somewhat confused.
"How are you?" he asked.
"No worse than normal."
Nobundo waited for more, but Korin simply stared out over the harsh vista.
Unseen by both of them, a figure peeked out from a nearby cluster of jagged stone, watching. Listening.
"Was there something you wanted to tell me?"
Korin considered for a moment. "Oh yes!" she said at last. "New member came to camp today. Said the orcs were... regrouping. Getting ready for something. They are led by some new... what are they named? The ones who make the dark magic?"
"Yes, I think that was it." Korin stood and stepped forward, standing just a few inches from the edge of the cliff. She was silent for a long moment.
Not far away, the figure behind the stones departed as silently as he had come.
Korin’s eyes were distant, as was her harsh voice when she spoke, as if she were not entirely present. "What do you think would happen if I took a few more steps?"
Nobundo hesitated, unsure whether or not she was joking. "I think you would fall."
"Yes, my body would fall. But sometimes I think my spirit would... fly? No, that's not the word. What's the word... to go up and up, like flying?"
Nobundo thought. "Soar?"
"Yes! My body would fall, but my spirit would soar."
Days later Nobundo awakened, his head aching, his stomach empty. He decided to venture out and see if any fish remained from the previous night's meal.
As he made his way out of the cave, he noticed that the others were gathered, staring upward, eyes shielded. He walked out from beneath a giant mushroom, raised his eyes, and was forced to shield them as well. His mouth fell open.
A rift had appeared across the early-morning crimson sky. It looked as if a seam had opened, tearing through the very fabric of their world, allowing dazzling lights and some kind of raw, unspeakably powerful energy to intrude. The rift wavered and danced like an immense, slithering snake made of pure light.
The ground began to quake. Pressure built up in Nobundo's head, threatening to explode from his ears. Electricity crackled in the air; the hairs on Nobundo's body stood up; and for a brief, maddening second it seemed as though reality itself was coming undone.
As Nobundo watched, for the briefest second the gathered Broken separated into multiple mirror images: some older, some younger, some not Broken at all but rather healthy, unaffected draenei. Then the illusion was gone. The ground shifted as if Nobundo were standing on the back of a cart suddenly spurred into motion. He and the others were flung to the mud, and there they stayed as the trembling continued.
After several moments the shuddering slowed and finally came to a stop. Korin was staring wide eyed at the rift, which was now resealing itself. "Our world is coming to an end," she whispered.
Their world did not end. But it had come close.
When Nobundo returned to his familiar spot atop the mountain peaks the following day, he looked out onto a horizon gone mad. Smoke billowed into the sky, casting a black cloud over the land. The air burned his lungs. At the base of the cliff where he stood, a giant fissure had opened. Steam poured out, and when Nobundo leaned over, he could see a faint glow from deep within the earth.
Large chunks had been ripped from the desert floor and were inexplicably floating high in the air. And portions of the sky itself looked almost like windows to... something. It seemed as if Nobundo could glimpse other worlds in those windows, some distant, some seemingly nearby, but whether it was real or some trick of the catastrophe Nobundo could not say.
And everywhere, everywhere a palpable silence pervaded, as if all the creatures of the land had either died or scurried off to some remote hideaway. Even so, Nobundo felt as if he was not alone. For a brief instant he thought he caught furtive movement out of the corner of his eye. He scanned his nearby surroundings, half expecting to see Korin.
Nothing. Just his addled mind playing tricks.
Nobundo cast his eyes once more to the nightmarish vista before him, and he wondered if the near future would bring an end to all he had come to know.
But time passed and life, such as it was, went on. Reports filtered into the camp that entire regions had been utterly destroyed. Yet the world survived.
Battered, twisted, tormented... the world survived, and so did the Broken. They ate nuts and roots and what few fish they could find in the marshes. They boiled their water and sought shelter from storms the likes of which they had never seen, but they survived. As the seasons wore on, animals returned. Some of them were species that had not previously existed, but the animals did return. When the Broken were lucky enough to have a successful hunt, they fed on meat. They survived.
Most of them, at least. Just days ago Herac had disappeared. He had been distant and confused for many long months, and though Korin would not speak of it, both she and Nobundo knew that he had been close to joining the ranks of the Lost Ones. Herac was the last of Korin's defenders from Shattrath, and Nobundo felt for her loss.
And though Nobundo would not speak of it, he wondered if he too might someday lose all control of his sanity and set out into the unknown, never to return, becoming little more than a memory, if that.
He continued his daily vigil, making his pilgrimage to the remote mountaintop, somehow maintaining hope that one day, if he had served his penance and earned its grace, the Light would shine on him once again.
Every day he returned to camp disappointed.
And every night he suffered the same terrible nightmare.
Nobundo stood outside Shattrath City, pounding his fists against the closed gates while the screams of the dying shattered the night air. In his waking mind he knew that this was yet another dream, another nightmare, and he wondered absently if this one would be the same as all the others.
He pounded repeatedly against the wood until his battered hands began to bleed. Inside, women and children died slow, horrific deaths. One by one the screams died out until a final, tormented wail remained. He recognized that cry: it was the voice that had echoed through the woods of Terokkar Forest as he had made his escape from the city.
Soon that cry faded also, and there was nothing left but silence. Nobundo stepped back from the gates, looking down at his frail, deformed, useless body. He trembled and wept, awaiting his inevitable awakening.
There was a creak as the gates slowly parted. Nobundo looked up, eyes wide. This had never happened before. This was new. What could it mean?
The massive doors revealed an empty Lower City, the inner walls and ramparts lit by a single large fire just inside the inner ring.
Nobundo stepped inside, drawn toward the warmth of the flames. He looked around, but there were no bodies, no sign of the carnage that had transpired beyond a few discarded weapons lying several feet in a radius around the fire.
There was a soft roll of thunder, and Nobundo felt a drop of rain hit his arm. As he took another step forward, the giant gates closed behind him.
He heard sounds then, shuffling noises emanating from beyond the firelight, drawing closer. He carried no weapons, not even his walking stick, and the knowledge that he was dreaming did nothing to diminish the danger he felt. He prepared to grab a cord of burning wood from the fire when he saw a female draenei step into the light.
The sporadic rain persisted.
At first he smiled, delighted to see that one of them had survived, but his smile quickly disappeared as he saw the bloody gash across her throat, the bruises on her body. Her left arm hung limp and useless at her side. She stared at him vacantly, yet something in her demeanor was... accusatory. As she drew nearer, he saw that it was Shaka. Soon she was joined by others, scores of them shambling forward from both sides, their eyes cloudy, their bodies bearing gruesome wounds.
The wind picked up, stirring the fire. The rain became a steady drizzle. One by one, the women bent down, retrieving the various weapons from the earthen floor, advancing. Nobundo grabbed a torch from the fire.
I wanted to save you! There was nothing I could do, he wanted to shout, but the words would not come. His movements felt slow, restricted.
The wind again grew stronger, blowing out the torch Nobundo held. The slain women drew closer, raising their weapons as the fierce wind whipped the flames of the campfire until it too died, leaving Nobundo in complete darkness.
He waited, listening... trying to hear sounds of their approach through the pouring rain.
Suddenly an icy grip closed around his wrist. Nobundo screamed....
And awoke. He felt drained, more tired than when he went to sleep. The dreams were taking their toll.
He decided the morning air might do some good. Perhaps Korin was awake, and they might converse.
He stepped out to where some of the others were gathered for their morning meal and enquired as to Korin's whereabouts from one of the newer members.
"Left? Where? When?"
"Moments ago. She did not say where. She behaved strangely... said she was going to--what was the word?"
The Broken paused, thinking, then nodded in recollection.
"That is right. She said she was going to 'soar'."
Nobundo ran as quickly as his legs would carry him. By the time he reached the mountain peaks, his lungs were on fire; he was coughing up thick green mucus; and his legs shook uncontrollably.
On the plateau leading to the cliff he saw her, standing at the edge looking down.
She looked back, offered the slightest hint of a smile, then turned and pitched forward silently, disappearing into a thick cloud of steam.
Nobundo reached the edge and glanced over, seeing nothing but that faint glow far, far below.
You were too late.
He had failed once again, just as he had failed to save the women of Shattrath. Nobundo closed his eyes tight and called out to the Light with his mind: Why? Why have you abandoned me? Why do you continue to torment me? Did I not serve you faithfully?
Still no response. Only a gentle breeze drying the tears on his cheeks.
Perhaps Korin was right. Nobundo knew deep down exactly why she had done what she had: she had not wanted to become like the Lost Ones. Perhaps she had found the only way out.
This world had nothing left for him. It would be so easy to take those final steps, to walk off the edge and put an end to the misery.
Not far away a figure stepped out from behind jutting rocks, preparing to call out....
But even now, cast out by his own people, ignored by the Light, tormented by the souls of those he had failed to save... Nobundo found that he could not give up.
The breeze turned to a gush then, scattering clouds of steam and pushing so forcefully it backed Nobundo away from the edge. In its rushing he distinctly heard a single word: Everything...
Nobundo strained to hear. Surely his sanity had reached its end; surely his mind was playing tricks on him.
The figure near the rocks took cover again, maintaining its silent watch.
The wind picked up once more. Everything that is...
More words. What madness was this? This was not the work of the Light. The Light did not "speak": it was warmth that pervaded the body. This was something new, something different. A final blast of wind rolled over the plateau, forcing Nobundo to take a seat.
Everything that is... is alive.
After all these years of pleading, Nobundo had finally received an answer; an answer that came not from the Light...
But from the wind.
Nobundo had heard of orcish practices that dealt with the elements: earth, wind, fire, and water. His people had witnessed some of the powers wielded by these "shaman" before the orcs' murderous campaign, but such things were completely foreign to the draenei.
Over the next several days Nobundo returned to the cliff, where he heard whispers carried by the wind: reassurances that he was not alone, promises, and tantalizing hints that a wealth of knowledge awaited him. Sometimes the voice of the wind was calm and placating; at others it was insistent and forceful. All the while, a nagging doubt still lingered in Nobundo's mind that perhaps he was going mad after all.
On the fifth day, as he sat near the cliff's edge, he heard a rumbling sound like thunder, though the sky was clear. He opened his eyes and witnessed a great column of fire erupting beyond the cliff's edge, rising from the fissure below. The flames spread out, and in their flickering dance he could see shifting, nebulous features. When the fire spoke, it sounded like a great and powerful storm.
Go to the mountains of Nagrand. High among the peaks you will find a place... where your true journey will begin.
Nobundo considered this, and answered: "To go there, I will have to pass through the camps of the unaffected, where my kind is forbidden."
The fire expanded rapidly, and he could feel the heat on his face. Do not question the opportunity you are being given!
The flames subsided.
Walk with your head held high, for you are no longer alone.
Not far away, Nobundo’s longtime observer ducked back behind his concealment. And though he could not hear the elements as Nobundo could, he had seen the flames, seen their dancing features. Not surprisingly, if Nobundo could have looked into the eyes of the watcher, he would have seen absolute astonishment.
Over the next two days Nobundo made the arduous trek with the wind always at his back, always whispering in his ear. He learned that the orc shaman communed with the elements, but that their connection was severed when the orcs turned to practicing fel magic. He could have learned more, but many times it was difficult for Nobundo to understand, as if the communication was being filtered or dampened.
At several points along the route he thought he heard footsteps somewhere behind him. Always when he looked back, he sensed that whoever or whatever was following him had just ducked out of sight. He wondered if maybe it was the elements. Or a fabrication of his mind.
When he came at last to the camps of the unaffected, the sun had long since left the sky. Undoubtedly the watchmen had observed his approach, however, for two guards awaited him as he reached the camp perimeter.
"What is your business here?" the larger of the two guards asked.
"I mean only to pass through to the mountains."
Some of the other camp members had emerged, eyeing Nobundo warily.
"We have strict orders. No Krokul are allowed in the camps. You will have to go elsewhere."
"I do not wish to stay in your camp, only to pass through." Nobundo took a step forward.
The larger guard thrust out his hand, shoving Nobundo backward. "I told you--"
There was a deafening clap of thunder then, and a black mass of clouds appeared where clear skies had been only seconds before, releasing a sudden deluge of rain. The wind that had gently urged Nobundo forward now gushed with fantastic strength, forcing the two guards backward. Most incredible of all, the wind and the stinging rain both moved around Nobundo to hammer against the two guards, who fell in the slick mud.
Nobundo witnessed the events, eyes wide in wonderment. "So this is what it is like", he mused out loud, "to have the elements on your side." He smiled.
The camp members sought shelter in the caves. The guards stared up at Nobundo in fear. For his part, Nobundo simply proceeded forward, leaning on his staff as he made his way slowly through the camp and finally to the foothills on the other side, leaving the residents of the camp shocked, scared, and confused.
The figure that had followed Nobundo stepped out from his hiding place behind one of the giant mushrooms. He dared not proceed for he was, after all, Krokul.
But the events that Akama had just witnessed planted a seed within him. Ever since he had awakened from his long sleep, he had felt nothing but despair and a needling dread of the future. But to see what this Krokul had just done, to see the elements rise to his defense stirred a feeling in Akama that he had feared long dead.
He felt hope.
With that newfound hope he turned and slipped quietly back into the marsh.
Many hours later, racked by fatigue, Nobundo scaled the upper reaches of the mountains and began seeing signs of fresh, verdant vegetation. When his pace slowed due to exhaustion, the wind pushed him on, and the very earth beneath his feet seemed to lend him strength. And though the rain continued, it seemed to land everywhere but on him, and it provided flowing streams from which Nobundo eagerly drank.
As he neared the peaks, he heard competing voices in his mind: one low and persistent, followed by the familiar sound of the wind, and finally the occasional rumbling of a fire. The voices seemed chaotic, clashing in their haste to commune with him, building to a cacophony that forced him to stop. Enough! I cannot understand all of you at once.
Nobundo summoned what little strength he had left and crested a hill that opened onto a lush vista. Here was Draenor as it had once been; fertile and serene, a beautiful garden-like refuge of cascading waterfalls and vibrant life.
You must forgive them: it has been too long since they have felt the tempering influence of the shaman. They are angry, confused, still reeling from the blow dealt to them.
"The cataclysm," Nobundo said as he stepped farther into the tranquil setting. He knelt and drank from a pool of water and felt immediately rejuvenated. He felt his mind open up, his thoughts becoming a part of his surroundings as the surroundings in turn became a part of him.
The voice that answered him was at once clear and soothing, strong and robust. Yes. I was perhaps the least affected, but it has always been this way. It is a necessity that I adapt quickly, given that I provide the very foundations of life.
He felt more than heard the affirmation.
Welcome. Here in this quiet refuge the elements coexist in relative peace, and so our discourse with you will be easier, especially in the early stages of your journey, before you have learned to feel our intentions without thinking. True knowledge and understanding will take years, but if you stay the course, in time we will be yours to call upon... but never to command. Yet if you respect us, and your motives remain unselfish, we will never abandon you.
"Why have you chosen me?"
The cataclysm cast us all into turmoil and uncertainty. For a time we were lost. In you we sensed a kindred spirit: confused, neglected. It took time for us to recover sufficiently to reach out once again, but when we did, we hoped you would be... receptive.
To Nobundo it seemed almost too good to be true. But what of the Light? Was he forsaking it if he chose this new path? Was he turning his back on it? Was this a test?
The risk would be worthwhile if...
"Will I be able to use these abilities to help my people?"
Yes. The relationship between the elements and the shaman is one of synchronicity. The shaman's influence helps to calm and unite us, just as our influence enriches and fulfills the shaman. When you have completed your training, you will be able to call upon the elements in times of need. If the elements deem your cause just, we will assist you in any way possible.
True understanding, as Water promised, took years. In time, however, Nobundo gained an understanding of the life-energies around him. From the largest creatures on Draenor to a single, seemingly insignificant grain of sand, he was keenly aware that everything in existence was alive with a vital energy, and that these energies were linked and dependent on one another despite geographic location and opposing forces. What was more, he could feel these energies as if they were a part of him, which as he now understood, they were.
The elements kept their bargain, and aspects of their nature were bestowed upon him. From Water he gained clarity and patience: for the first time in so many years, his thoughts were unclouded. From Fire he gained passion, a renewed appreciation for life, and the desire to overcome any obstacle. From Earth he gained resolve, a steel will, and unshakable determination. From Wind he learned courage and persistence: how to dig deep within and press on in the face of adversity.
Still, there was a key lesson that eluded him. He felt it, sensed that the elements were holding something back, something that he was simply not yet ready to understand.
And... there were still the nightmares. They had eased somewhat, but night after night Nobundo still found himself pounding on the gates of Shattrath while the screams of the dying rang in his ears. And now when he went beyond the gates and stood by the fire, when the reproachful dead appeared, they were accompanied by Korin.
He felt the soothing tone of Water: We sense that you are still... conflicted.
"Yes," he answered. "I am haunted by the spirits of those who passed at Shattrath. Can the elements assist in this?"
The conflict rests not with the spirits of the departed, but within you. It is a conflict you alone must resolve.
"Will this inner struggle prevent me from realizing my true potential as a shaman?"
A sense of mirth radiated from the pools around him. Of all the elements, Water was the most lighthearted. Your conflict is reflected in the sky above, in the ground beneath you, in me, and especially in Fire. It is a reflection of nature's eternal struggle to achieve and maintain balance.
Nobundo thought for a moment. "No matter how far my journey takes me, I suppose true understanding lies in the knowledge that the journey will never end."
Good... very good. The time has come for you to take your next step, one that may prove to be the most important of all.
"I am ready."
Close your eyes.
Nobundo did. He felt the earth seemingly fall away beneath him, felt the elements withdraw, and for a single terrifying second his mind was back in Shattrath, abandoned and left in the dark.
Then he felt... something. Something very different from the other elements. It felt immense: cold but not hostile. And in its presence Nobundo felt very, very small. Then, he felt this presence speak with a multitude of voices, both feminine and masculine, a harmonic symphony within and all around him.
Open your eyes.
Nobundo did. And again he experienced that sense of diminution, of insignificance as he witnessed a dark, never-ending expanse filled with myriad worlds. Some like Draenor, some great balls of ice and frost, some covered in water, some lifeless and barren.
And suddenly Nobundo understood... something seemingly so simple, yet a concept that had completely eluded his mind: there were countless worlds beyond. This much he had known, as his people had traveled to many worlds before settling on Draenor. But what Nobundo had failed to comprehend was that the power of the elements stretched far beyond as well. Each world had its own elements, its own powers to call upon.
And there was more. Out here in the void was another element, one that seemed to bind the worlds together, one composed of unspeakable energy. If he could call upon this one--but he knew immediately that he was far too inexperienced at this stage of his journey to commune with this mysterious new element. This was just a glimpse, a gift of understanding...
- Chapter 4 -
Velen appraised Nobundo with his crystal blue eyes. Nobundo protested, "They will not listen to me! I do not think this was a good idea."
Velen's lip curved upward on one side. He wore that same expression that made Nobundo feel as if the Prophet was aware of so many things beyond Nobundo's understanding. "After all you have been through, all you have overcome, are you really willing to give up now?"
"I cannot get them to see me as anything more than Krokul, despite what I may have to teach."
"Perhaps the true problem does not lie with them."
That is what the elements said, Nobundo thought.
As a result of their previous conversations, Nobundo had learned not to try and guess at what the Prophet was thinking, so he stayed silent and waited.
Velen continued, "I hear the screams in your mind: the women of Shattrath. I am aware of your heart's burden. You have questioned whether or not your departure was an act of cowardice."
Nobundo nodded, suddenly overcome with emotion.
"A part of you knew even then that it was imperative for you to survive, to embrace your greater destiny. And throughout so many trials from that day on, never once did you give up. That is why I chose you. Why the elements have chosen you. Our people call you Krokul, Broken, but I believe you may present us with our greatest hope."
Velen extended a gentle hand to Nobundo's shoulder. "Let them go. Let the screams be silenced."
It was true. He was not a coward. Part of him had known, but in all that had happened since then, that part of him had gotten hopelessly lost. Nobundo let out a deep sigh, and somehow he knew right then that when he lay down to sleep that evening, the nightmare would not be waiting for him. He felt a sense of joy from the elements, as if they were... proud.
Velen smiled. "Now, for the good of all of us, go. Go and embrace your destiny."
Nobundo returned to the landing. The gathered draenei were conversing among themselves, paying no heed to the frail figure above.
He raised his staff. Clouds gathered from a clear blue sky, casting a dark shadow onto the settlement. The draenei stopped their conversations.
Nobundo called out, his voice carrying across the marsh. "Watch and listen."
A deluge of rain poured down. Lightning danced between the lamps surrounding the plaza, shattering the glass. The gathered draenei stared in awe.
"You have come here to learn. To one day wield these powers: the powers of the shaman."
"But shamanism is an orcish practice!" one of the audience called out. Others joined in concurrence.
"Yes. A practice they abandoned in favor of communing with demons. Now we will journey the shaman's path, a path that will lead us to a future where no one will kill our women..."
Nobundo paused, keeping his voice steady.
"Or our children. Where Krokul and unaffected will work together to realize a dream that has long been forgotten by our people: true freedom."
The members of the assembly looked at one another, seeking approval from one another, measuring any continued resistance. Finally they all seemed to come to the same conclusion: they would listen.
"Your journey begins with these simple words...."
Nobundo smiled. The clouds above swirled. Lightning arced. Rain poured.
"Everything that is, is alive."