An original tale of space warfare based on the bestselling computer game series from Blizzard Entertainment.
Driven by the living memories of a long-dead protoss mystic and hounded by the Queen of Blades’ ravenous zerg, archaeologist Jake Ramsey embarks on a perilous journey to reach the fabled protoss homeworld of Aiur.
Seeking a vital piece of protoss technology, Jake finds that Aiur has been overrun by the zerg. Descending into the shadowy labyrinths beneath the planet’s surface, he must find the sacred crystal before time runs out—for him…and the universe itself.
Yet, what Jake discovers beneath Aiur is a horror beyond his wildest nightmares—Ulrezaj—an archon comprised of the seven most deadly and powerful dark templar in history….
EXCERPT – CHAPTER ONE
In the darkness, there was order.
Her haven was inviolable. She was queen of all she surveyed, and her vision was vast.
What those who served her unquestioningly knew, was her knowledge. What they saw, was her sight. What they felt, were her feelings. Unity, complete and utter, shivering along her nerves, racing in her blood. A unity that began with the lowest and most base of her creations and ended with her.
“All roads lead to Rome” was a saying she remembered from when she was weak and fragile, her mighty spirit encased in human flesh, when her heart could be softened by such things as loyalty, devotion, friendship, or love. It meant that all paths led to the center, to the most important thing in the world.
She, Kerrigan, the Queen of Blades, was the most important thing in the world of every zerg who flew, crept, slithered, or ran. Each breath, each thought, each movement of the zerg, from the doglike beasts to the mighty overlords, lived but by her whim. Lived to service her whim.
All roads led to Rome.
All roads led to her.
She shifted in the damp, dark place, flexing wings that were sharp and bony and devoid of membrane as she might have rolled her neck to ease tension when she was a human woman. The walls pulsated, oozing a thick, viscous substance, and she was as aware of that as she was of the larvae hatching in the pods, as she was of an overlord on a distant planet assimilating a new strain into the whole. As she was of her own discontent.
Kerrigan rose and paced. She was beginning to grow impatient. Before her arrival as their queen, she knew, the zerg had had a mission. To grow, to absorb, to become perfect, as their creators had wanted them to be. Their creators, whom they had turned on without so much as a breath of conscience. Sarah Kerrigan understood the idea of “conscience.” There had been moments, even in this glorious new incarnation, where she had had twinges of it. She did not see such a thing as a weakness, but as an advantage. If one thought like one’s enemies, one could defeat them.
The zerg were still on that mission under her guidance. But she had brought something new into the mix: the pleasure of revenge and victory. And for too long now, she had been forced to rest and recover, lick wounds, and fall back on the original mission. Certainly, she had not been idle over the last four years. She had rested here on Char, had found new worlds for her zerg to explore and exploit. The zerg had thrived under her leadership, had grown and advanced and improved.
But she hungered. And that hunger was not sated by moving from planet to planet and simply re-creating and improving zerg genetics. She hungered for action, for revenge, for pitting her mind—keen even as a human’s, awesome in its ability now—against her adversaries.
Arcturus Mengsk, self-styled “emperor” of the Terran Dominion. She’d enjoyed playing with him before and would again. It was why she had let him survive their last encounter, why she’d even tossed him a few crumbs, just to ensure he’d make it.
Prelate Zeratul, the dark templar protoss. Clever, that one. Admirable. And dangerous.
Unease fluttered inside her, quickly quelled. Once, before her transformation, she had cared for the easygoing marshal. Perhaps she had even loved him. She would never know now. It was enough that thoughts of him were still able to unsettle her. He, too, was dangerous, although in quite another way than Zeratul. He was dangerous for his ability to make her…regret.
Four years of waiting, gathering strength, resting. She had been sick of slaughter, but no more. Now that she—
Kerrigan blinked. Her mind, processing at light speed, sensed something and latched onto it. A psionic disturbance, far, far distant. Of great magnitude—it would have to be for her to have picked up on it from so far away. But then again, she herself had been able to telepathically contact Mengsk and Raynor when she was undergoing her transformation—touch their minds and cry out for aid. Aid which had not come in time, and for that, she was grateful, of course. But what was this, that sent ripples out as if from a stone tossed into a lake?
It was fading now. It was definitely human. And yet there was something else to it, a sort of…flavor, for lack of a better word. Something…protoss about it.
Kerrigan’s mind was always on a thousand things at once. She could see through any zerg’s eyes, dip into any zerg’s mind as she chose. But now she pulled back from all the ceaseless streaming of information and focused her attention on this.
Human…and protoss. Mentally working together. Kerrigan knew that Zeratul, the late unlamented Tassadar, and Raynor had shared thoughts. But they’d created nothing like what she now sensed. Kerrigan hadn’t even realized such a thing was possible. Human and protoss brains were so different. Even a psionic would have difficulty working with a protoss.
Her fingers came up to touch her face, trailing along the spines that lay like Medusa locks on her head. She had been remade. Part human, part zerg. Maybe Mengsk had done the same thing with a human and a protoss. She wouldn’t put it past him. She would put very little indeed past him. She herself might even have been the one to give him the idea.
She’d been what was known as a ghost herself, once. A terran psychic, trained to assassinate, with technology that enabled her to become as invisible as the ghost for which she was named. She knew that people who trained in this program were made of stern stuff; the people who put them through the training, heartless.
Ripples in a pond.
She needed to go to the source.
What had gone wrong?
Valerian Mengsk couldn’t believe what he was seeing. His ships were just…sitting there in space while the vessel with Jacob Ramsey and Rosemary Dahl aboard made a successful jump. They were gone. He’d had them, but now they were gone.
“Raise Stewart!” he snapped. His assistant, Charles Whittier, jumped at his employer’s words.
“I’ve been trying to,” Whittier stammered, his voice pitched even higher than usual in his agitation. “They’re not responding. I can’t raise anyone at the compound either.”
“Did Dahl’s ship manage to emit some kind of electromagnetic pulse?” It was a possibility, but not a likely one; all of Valerian’s ships were well protected against such things happening.
“Possible, I suppose,” Whittier said doubtfully. “Still trying to raise—“
Eight screens came to life at once, with nearly a dozen people talking simultaneously. “Talk to Ethan,” Valerian ordered, leaning down to mute all the other channels. “Find out how it is that he managed to let them slip through his fingers. I’ll talk to Santiago.”
Santiago did not look like he wanted to talk. Valerian would go so far as to say the man looked positively rattled, but the admiral managed to compose himself. “Sir,” Santiago said, “there was…I’m not sure how to explain it—some kind of psi attack. Ramsey rendered us all completely unable to move until he jumped.”
Valerian frowned, his gray eyes taking in images of the others on the vessel. They all looked shaken in one way or another, but—was that young woman over there smiling?
“Let me speak with Agent Starke,” Valerian said. If somehow Jacob Ramsey and the protoss inside his head had indeed been able to send such an attack against his best and brightest, Devon Starke would know the most about it.
Agent Devon Starke was a ghost, one who had come perilously close to becoming a literal one a little more than a year ago. That was when Arcturus Mengsk had decided that the ghost program needed a serious overhaul.
“They are useful tools,” Mengsk had said to his son. “But they are double-edged ones.” He’d frowned into his port. Valerian knew he was thinking about Sarah Kerrigan. Mengsk had helped Kerrigan escape the ghost program, and for that he’d won passionate loyalty from the woman. Valerian had seen holos of her; she’d been beautiful and intense. But then when Kerrigan had outlived her usefulness, started to voice questions, Mengsk had abandoned her to the zerg. He thought they’d kill her for him, but they had another idea. They’d taken this woman and turned her into their queen. Thus it was that Mengsk had unwittingly created the being who was now probably his greatest enemy.
Valerian was determined to learn from his father, both the good lessons and the painful ones. A ghost who was loyal to you was a good thing; letting one out of your control was not.
So when Mengsk decided that he would terminate—in a controlled environment this time—fully half the current ghosts in his government, Valerian had spoken. He’d asked to have one.
Mengsk eyed him. “Squeamish, son?”
“Of course not,” Valerian said. “But I’d like one to help me with my research. Mind reading is a useful thing indeed.”
Arcturus grinned. “Very well. Your birthday’s coming up, isn’t it? I’ll let you have your pick of the litter. I’ll send their files over to you tomorrow.”
The following afternoon, Valerian was perusing a data chip containing the files of two hundred and eighty-two ghosts, two hundred and eighty-one of which would be dead within thirty-six hours. Valerian shook his head at the waste. While he understood that his father was dedicating all his resources to rebuilding his empire, it seemed a poor decision to Valerian to simply terminate the ghosts. But it was not his place to challenge or even seriously question his father on such decisions.
Not yet anyway.
One file in particular stood out. Not because of the man’s history or his physical appearance—neither was remarkable—but because of an almost offhand notation about Starke’s area of specialization. “#25876 seems to excel in remote viewing and psychometry. This predilection is counterbalanced by a proportionate weakness in telepathic manipulation and a less efficient method of termination of assignments.”
Translation—#25876, known now by his birth name of Devon Starke, didn’t much care to plant mental orders for suicide or murder, and didn’t like to kill with his own hands. Devon Starke could do these things, certainly, which was why he had not been terminated before now. Mengsk wanted tools he could use immediately. Later, when the empire was firmly established, there would be a place for those who could, say, tell who had held what wineglass and where their families might be hidden away. But that was later, and at this moment Mengsk wanted to keep the best assassins and at the same time send them a very firm message about what would happen to them once they were no longer useful to him.
Valerian knew well what had happened the last time Mengsk had a ghost who was “problematic.” Mengsk did not want that to happen again.
So for his twenty-first birthday, the day he had come of age, his father had given him another human being as a gift. #25876 had been freed from the cell where he had been awaiting death. The neural inhibitor that had been deeply embedded into his brain as a youth was removed, and Starke was permitted to remember his identity and history. He was also permitted to know why he’d been spared, and who had chosen him.
He therefore was utterly loyal to Valerian Mengsk.
Starke’s face appeared on the screen. Devon Starke was, like Jacob Ramsey, someone you wouldn’t give more than a passing glance. Slight, shorter than average, with thinning brown hair and an unremarkable face, the only memorable thing about Devon was his voice. It was a deep, musical baritone, the sort of voice that immediately caught and held one’s attention. And because being memorable was not exactly what being a ghost was all about, Devon Starke had gotten used to seldom speaking.
“Sir,” Devon said, “there was indeed a psychic contact from Professor Ramsey. But I wouldn’t call it an attack. A delaying tactic, maybe, to allow them time to escape.” A pause. “Perhaps we should continue this conversation in private? I can step into my quarters and have you patched through.”
“Good idea,” said Valerian.
At that moment, Charles Whittier turned and looked at him, visibly upset. “Sir—I think you should hear this. Someone named Samuels; he says it’s urgent.”
Valerian sighed. “One moment, Devon.” He punched a button and turned to the screen Charles had indicated.
Samuels, dressed in medical scrubs and looking a bit panicked, was gesticulating. The sound came on in mid-sentence. ”—critical condition. They’re operating on him now but—“
“Hold on a moment, Samuels. This is Mr. V,” Valerian said, using the false name he had adopted when working with most underlings. Very few knew his true identity as the Heir Apparent to the Terran Dominion. “Calm yourself and speak clearly. What’s going on?”
Samuels took a deep breath and ran his hands through his hair in what was obviously a nervous gesture. Valerian observed that Samuels’ hands were bloody and that the man’s fair hair was now clotted with the substance.
“It’s Mr. Stewart, sir. He was injured when Ramsey and Dahl escaped. He’s in critical condition. They’re working on him now.”
“Tell me what happened with Dahl and Ramsey.”
“Sir, I’m just a paramedic, I don’t know much about what went on, only that we have wounded.”
“Please, then, find someone who does know, and have him or her contact me at once.” Valerian nodded to Charles, who continued speaking with the flustered paramedic. Briefly, he permitted himself to wonder why someone who was trained in handling life-and-death situations was so upset by what had happened.
He switched back to Starke, who was alone in his quarters. “Do we have privacy?”
Devon grinned. “Yes, sir.” Devon had, of course, read the minds of the rest of the crew to make certain that their line was not being tapped. Having a ghost was so terribly convenient.
“Continue.” Valerian placed his hands on the table and leaned down closer to the screen.
“Sir…as I said, it was psychic, but it wasn’t an attack. There was nothing hostile or harmful about it. Somehow, Ramsey managed to link our minds. Not just mine to his…all of our minds. Everyone in this immediate area. And not just thoughts, but…feelings, sensations. I—“
For the first time since Valerian had known the man, Starke seemed at a complete and utter loss for words. Valerian could easily believe it, if this was indeed what had happened. This was protoss psi-power, not human. Only a tiny fraction of humanity had any psychic ability at all, and only a small percentage of those could do what the ghosts could do. And from all accounts, even the most gifted, most finely trained human telepaths were pitiful compared to an ordinary, run-of-the-mill protoss.
He hungered to hear more, but he could tell that Starke was in no real position to tell him. Pushing aside his impatience and burning curiosity, Valerian said, “I’m recalling your vessel and two of the others, Devon. We’ll discuss this more when you’ve had a chance to gather your thoughts.”
Starke gave him a grateful expression and nodded. His image blinked out, replaced by that of the vessel floating serenely in space.
Valerian tapped his chin thoughtfully. Now he understood better why the paramedic he’d spoken with seemed so shaken and distracted. If Devon had the right of it—and knowing his ghost, Valerian was certain he had—then the man had just undergone what was possibly the most profound experience of his life.
Not for the first time, Valerian wished he had the freedom to have been present when these miraculous things were happening, rather than hearing about them secondhand. To have been with Jake Ramsey when he finally entered the temple. To have felt this strange psychic contact that Devon was certain wasn’t an attack. He sighed. Noblesse oblige, he thought ruefully.
“Sir, I have a Stephen O’Toole who says he’s now in charge,” Whittier said. At Valerian’s nod, Whittier put the man through.
Valerian listened while O’Toole related what had happened. Rosemary Dahl had managed to take Ethan Stewart hostage, using her former lover to get to the hangar in Stewart’s compound. Once inside the hangar, fighting had broken out. Apparently someone named Phillip Randall, Ethan’s top assassin, had been killed—the witness said by the professor. Ethan himself had gotten a round of slugs in the chest from Rosemary. Fortunately a team had been on hand with sufficient time to get Stewart into surgery, although the prognosis was not good.
Valerian shook his head as he listened, half in despair, half in grudging admiration. Jacob Ramsey and Rosemary Dahl were proving to be more than worthy opponents. The problem was, he’d never wanted them to be opponents at all. None of this was supposed to happen. Rosemary, Jake, and Valerian should have been together in his study, sipping fine liquor and discussing the magnificent archeological breakthroughs Jacob had made. And perhaps that would yet happen.
It was a pity about Ethan. Valerian had poured a great deal of money into financing Ethan Stewart. If he died, it would be quite the loss.
“Thank you for the update, Mr. O’Toole. Please keep Charles apprised of Mr. Stewart’s condition. I’ve recalled three of my vessels but am leaving the others there for the time being. I will be in contact.”
It had been touch-and-go for a long while. Ten more minutes and it would have been too late. As it was, Ethan Stewart was a mess. Whoever shot him had done so at close range, but had been a bit impatient, which had meant he hadn’t stopped to make sure he’d finished the job. Paramedics had snipped off just enough bloodstained clothing to get an IV in one arm and lay bare the bloody chest, impaled with several spikes. The chief surgeon, Janice Howard, had deftly removed the spikes, and they lay in a glittering crimson pile on a table near the bed on which Ethan rested. One had gotten too close—she’d had to suture up a slice to his heart. But Ethan was incredibly fit and apparently as strong-willed in an unconscious state as he was while waking, and against all odds, they’d saved him.
She was closing up the chest cavity, daring to think the worst was over, when suddenly a harsh, wailing sound cut through the air and the room’s lighting changed from antiseptic white to blood red. Howard swore. “Hit the override!”
For a second, her assistants just stared at her. She knew what the sound meant, and so did they, but Janice Howard had taken an oath, and even if the base was under attack she wasn’t going to stop in the middle of a life-and-death operation.
“Hit the damn override!” she yelled, and this time the assistant obeyed. The sound of the Klaxons dimmed and the light returned to normal. Howard gritted her teeth, calmed herself, and returned to the delicate job at hand. She was almost done. A few moments later, she’d finished stitching up her employer like a cloth mannequin and let out a long sigh.
“Someone find out what’s going on,” she said. Samuels nodded and began trying to raise someone from security. She wasn’t overly worried for her personal safety or that of her team; the compound was complex and well guarded and the medical wing was located deep inside. Of more concern to her were the casualties elsewhere on the base. They’d already weathered one attack today; she wondered how many people they’d have to stitch up when it was all over.
She stepped back, peeling off her bloody gloves and disposing of them while her assistants cut away the rest of Ethan Stewart’s bloodstained clothing.
“Can’t raise anyone,” Samuels said. “Everything’s down.”
“Keep trying,” Howard ordered, fighting back a little flutter of panic.
“Huh…this is weird,” Sean Kirby said. Howard turned to look at him and her eyes fell to Ethan’s left wrist.
The clothing on the right arm had been cut away so they could insert the IV, but they’d ignored his left arm until now. The wrist was encircled by a small bracelet which had been taped to his skin. No, not a bracelet, a collection of wires and hardware—
“Shit,” moaned Howard, darting forward, blood still on her upper arms. She grabbed at Ethan’s hair, knowing now that it wasn’t hair at all, hoping she wouldn’t find what she knew she would, and tugged off the hairpiece.
A delicate netting of fine, luminous wires was wrapped around Ethan’s bald pate, held in place by small pieces of tape.
Damn it! There’d been no time to check for such things, he’d been within minutes of death when they’d found him and the surgery had begun almost immediately. It’d taken six hours. How long had he been wearing this thing before then? What kind of damage had it done? Why was he wearing it anyway, Ethan was no telepath—
Gunfire rattled in the corridor. All heads turned toward the doorway. All heads but Janice Howard’s.
“We’re medical staff; they won’t kill us, whoever they are,” said Howard, hoping to calm them. Howard did not look at the doorway, instead bending over Ethan and starting to remove the tape that fastened the softly glowing wires to his cleanly shaven scalp. She didn’t know much about these things. Every instinct told her to just rip it off, but she feared that might damage him further.
More gunfire, and screams. Horrible, shrill, agonized screams. And a strange, chittering sound, a sort of clacking.
“What the…,” whispered Samuels, his eyes wide.
Howard thought she knew what it was. She was pretty sure everyone else in the room had guessed as well. But there was nothing to be done, except their jobs. There were no weapons in an operating room; no one had ever expected they would need them. And if the sound came from the source Howard thought it did, it was unlikely that any weapon any of the doctors and assistants could wield would do anything but make them die slower. They had a patient. He came first. With hands that did not shake, she continued to unfasten the tape.
The screaming stopped. The silence that followed was worse. Howard removed the last piece of tape and gently disengaged the psi-screen.
A bubbling, liquid sound came from the door and a harsh, acrid odor assaulted her nostrils. Coughing violently and holding the psi-screen net in her hands, Howard turned. The door was melting into a steaming puddle, the acid that had dissolved it now starting to eat through the floor. Framed in the hole that was now the doorway to the operating room were creatures straight out of nightmares.
Her team stood frozen in place. The zerg, strangely enough, also did not advance. There were three of them that she could see, standing almost motionless. Two of them were smallish; she’d heard the term “doglike” used in training to describe zerglings, but now that she beheld them, they were nothing so pleasant. They waited, incisors clicking, red human blood shiny on their carapaces. Above them, its sinuous neck undulating slightly, towered something that looked like a deranged cross between a cobra and an insect. Scythelike arms, glinting in the antiseptic light of the operating room, waited, presumably for the order to slice off heads.
The zerglings drooled, fidgeting a little, moving slightly into the room so as not to be standing in the puddle of acid. The medical team backed up as if the creatures were indeed dogs, sheepdogs from old Earth, herding them into the corner. They went, terrified into obedience, confused that the creatures they were told would rip them to pieces on sight were not doing so. Thinking that maybe they might be deemed unimportant, and live to talk about the encounter over a beer somewhere someday.
Howard hoped that too. But she knew in her gut she was wrong. The zergling in the lead was staring at her intently, and Howard knew without knowing how she knew that someone other than the creature was looking through its eyes. Those black eyes, flat and emotionless, went from her face to her hands to the prone form of Ethan Stewart on the bed.
The cobralike thing—hydralisk, that was the name; somehow it was important to Howard to use the proper term for things, even now when the properly named hydralisk was about to kill her and the thought made hysteria bubble up inside her—reared back and spat something on Ethan. It was a strange gooey substance, and as she watched, it spread, rapidly encasing him in some kind of webbing or cocoon.
Attacking her patient.
“No!” Howard cried, the paralysis broken. A saver of lives to the last, she sprang forward. The zergling whirled on her, chittering with excitement, happy to be freed from its command to sit, to stay; by God it really was like a dog, wasn’t it—
She heard the screams around her as she hit the ground, and after that, heard nothing more.
StarCraft: Frontline Volume 1
The brutal, dark and fascinating world of StarCraft comes alive in this collection of never-before-seen thrilling adventures.
Why We Fight
In this profoundly moving introduction to the StarCraft universe, the three species in StarCraft are examined—and what drives their war for survival will shock and awe.
Story by Josh Elder
Art by Ramanda Karmaga
In a story by Richard Knaak, a Thor driver’s ego leads him and two partners to try to pull off a heist in the middle of a war zone.
Story by Richard A. Knaak
Art by Naohiro Washio
Weapon of War
A psionic six-year-old boy is at the center of a conflict between a Terran mining colony and the Zerg—and the Marines and miners must decide whether to shelter the boy, kill him, or use him against their attackers.
Story by Paul Benjamin and Dave Shramek
Art by Hector Sevilla
A Viking pilot must battle his mentor—for the lives of an entire colony. Dogfight/mecha combat w/ a psychological/strategic edge.
Story by Simon Furman
Art by Jesse Elliott
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Sixty-thousand light-years from Earth, the corrupt Terran Confederacy holds the Koprulu sector tightly in its tyrannical grip, controlling every aspect of its citizens’ lives. One man dares to stand up to this faceless empire and vows to bring it to its knees: Arcturus Mengsk—genius propagandist, tactician, and freedom fighter.
A monstrous act of bloody violence sows the seeds of rebellion in Arcturus, but he is not the first Mengsk to rail against such oppression. Before Arcturus grew to manhood, his father, Angus Mengsk, also defied the Confederacy and sought to end its brutal reign.
The destiny of the Mengsk family has long been tied to that of the Confederacy and the Koprulu sector, but as a new empire rises from the ashes of the past and alien invaders threaten the very existence of humanity, what will the future hold for the next generation…?
Warcraft: Legends Volume 1
Hot on the heels of the bestselling Warcraft: The Sunwell Trilogy comes a stunning and truly awesome collection of original adventures set in the Warcraft universe.
From Richard Knaak and Jae-Hwan Kim comes an intriguing follow-up to Warcraft: The Sunwell Trilogy. Trag Highmountain, the courageous Tauren who first made an appearance in Warcraft: Shadows of Ice, finds himself reborn…as one of the Undead.
Story by Richard A. Knaak
Art by Jae-Hwan Kim
The arrival of a group of adventurers with promises of gold and excitement will disrupt a simple farmer’s life in ways unimaginable as he takes a nightmarish ride into Scourge-ridden Andorhal.
Story by Troy Lewter and Mike Wellman
Art by Mi-Young No
How to Win Friends
Lazlo Grindwidget is a Gnome engineer with a house full of seemingly useless inventions and a knack for saying the wrong things at the right time. But when a Troll goes on a rampage in town, Lazlo may be the only one who can sooth the savage beast.
Story by Dan Jolley
Art by Carlos Olivares
An Honest Trade
Nori Blackfinger is known from Thorium Point to Booty Bay as a master weaponsmith who will sell his fine blades to anyone with enough coin. But when he sells a sword to Havoc, the infamous bandit and murderer, the result is an adventure that begins in tragedy and ends in blood…
Story by Troy Lewter’
Art by Nam Kim
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Grim Batol: its dark legacy stretches back into the mists of Azeroth’s past. But most know it as the site of a terrible tragedy—where the vile orcs corrupted the hatchlings of the noble Dragonqueen, Alexstrasza, and used them as weapons of war. Though a band of heroes, led by the enigmatic mage, Krasus, defeated the orcs and freed the captive dragons, the cursed mountain stands as another ravaged landmark within the…
WORLD OF WARCRAFT
But now Krasus—known to some as the red dragon Korialstrasz—senses the malice of Grim Batol rising once more to threaten those he holds dear. Determined this time to confront this evil by himself, he is unaware of the quests that will draw others to Grim Batol and reveal the monstrous truth that could not only herald their deaths, but usher in a terrible new age of darkness and destruction.
The aging orc shaman Ner’zhul has seized control of the Horde and reopened the Dark Portal. His brutal warriors once again encroach upon Azeroth, laying siege to the newly constructed stronghold of Nethergarde Keep. There, the archmage Khadgar and the Alliance commander, Turalyon, lead humanity and its elven and dwarven allies in fighting this new invasion.
Even so, disturbing questions arise. Khadgar learns of orcish incursions farther abroad: small groups of orcs who seem to pursue a goal other than simple conquest. Worse yet, black dragons have been sighted as well, and they appear to be aiding the orcs. To counter Ner’zhul’s dark schemes, the Alliance must now invade the orcs’ ruined homeworld of Draenor. Can Khadgar and his companions stop the nefarious shaman in time to stave off the destruction of two worlds?
Pocket Star, June 2008
Mass Market Paperback, 384 pages
Authors: Aaron Rosenberg & Christie Golden
“Throw down, damn you!”
“Fine!” Gratar growled, half-rising, his powerful shoulder muscles bunching. One arm whipped forward and down, fist descending in a blur—and his fingers opened, the small bone cubes spilling from them to clatter upon the ground.
“Hah!” Brodog laughed, tusks jutting up as his lips pulled back in a grin. “Only one!”
“Damn!” Gratar sank back down onto his stone, sulking as he watched Brodog again gather the cubes and shake them vigorously. He didn’t know why he kept throwing against Brodog—the other orc practically always won. It was almost unnatural.
Unnatural. A word that had nearly stopped having any meaning for Gratar. He glanced up at the stark red sky that filled the horizon, the sun a burning globe of the same shade. The world had not always been thus. Gratar was old enough to remember blue skies, a warm yellow sun, and thick green fields and valleys. He’d swum in deep, cool lakes and rivers, blissfully ignorant of how precious a thing water would one day become. One of the most basic needs of life, uncontaminated water was now brought in in casks and stingily parceled out.
Rising, Gratar kicked idly at the ground before him, watching the red dust puff upward, parching his mouth, and he reached for the waterskin and drank sparingly. The dust covered his skin, dulling the green hue, lightening his black hair. Red everywhere, as if the world had been drenched in blood.
But the most unnatural thing of all was the reason he and Brodog were stationed here, whiling away the dusk-clogged day with idle games of chance. Gratar looked past Brodog at the towering archway just beyond them and the shimmering curtain of energy that filled it. The Dark Portal. Gratar knew that the strange mystic doorway led to another world, though he had not passed through it himself—none of his clan had. But he had watched as proud Horde warriors had entered the portal to win glory over the humans and their allies. Since then, a few orcs had returned to report the Horde’s progress. But lately there had been nothing. No word, no scouts; nothing.
Gratar frowned, ignoring the clattering sound of Brodog’s tossing of the bones. Something about the portal seemed…different. Gratar stepped closer to the towering gateway, the hairs along his arms and chest tingling as he approached.
“Gratar? It’s your turn. What are you doing?”
Gratar ignored Brodog. Squinting, he stared at the rippling veil of energy. What was going on beyond it, on that strange other world?
As he watched the curtain’s undulating shimmer grew and became more translucent, allowing Gratar to see through it as if through murky water. He squinted his eyes, peered intently—and gasped, staggering back.
Playing out before his eyes, as if he were watching a ritual enactment, was a fierce and violent battle.
“What?” Brodog was beside him in an instant, the game forgotten, and then he was gaping as well. They both stared for a second before Gratar regained his wits.
“Go!” he shouted at Brodog. “Tell them what’s happening!”
“Right—the commander.” Brodog’s eyes were still glued to the scene before them.
“No,” Gratar replied sharply. He had a gut feeling that what was about to happen would be more than his commander was prepared to handle. But one orc he knew might be. “Ner’zhul. Get Ner’zhul—he’ll know what to do!”
Brodog nodded and took off at a run, though not without glancing back a few times. Gratar heard him leave, but still his gaze was riveted to the battle that was so violent but so oddly veiled. He could see orcs, some of whom he thought he recognized, but they were fighting strange figures, shorter and more narrowly built but more heavily armored. The strangers—they were called “humans,” Gratar remembered—were quick and as numerous as gnats, swarming over the beleaguered orcs and overpowering them one by one. How could his people be suffering such a defeat? Where was Doomhammer? Gratar saw no sign of the massive, powerful warchief. What had happened on that other world?
He was still watching, sickly enraptured, when he heard the sound of approaching feet. He tore his gaze away to see that Brodog had returned with two others. One was a massive figure, larger by far than any orc and much stronger, with pale milky skin and heavy features. An ogre, and a mage, by the cunning Gratar saw glinting in his small, piggy eyes. More important than this towering figure was the orc who accompanied him, pushing his way forward right up to the portal itself.
Though his hair was gray and his face heavily lined, Ner’zhul, chieftain of the Shadowmoon clan and once the most skilled shaman the orcs had ever known, was still powerfully built and his brown eyes were as sharp as ever. He stared at the portal and the vaguely glimpsed disaster unfolding behind its
“A battle, then,” Ner’zhul said as if to himself.
And one the Horde is losing, Gratar thought.
“How long has—” Ner’zhul began. Suddenly the space framed by the Dark Portal shifted, its energies swirling violently. A hand thrust from the curtain as if it were rising from water, gleams of light and shadow clinging to green skin as it breached the barrier. A head followed, then the torso, and then the orc was through. His war axe was still in his hand but his eyes were wild as he stumbled, then caught himself, racing past Ner’zhul and the others without even looking.
Behind him came another orc, then another and another and another, until there was a flood of them, all racing to pass through the portal as fast as their feet would carry them. And not just orcs—Gratar saw several ogres emerge, and a group of smaller, slighter figures with heavy hooded cloaks bridged the gap as well. One warrior caught Gratar’s attention. Too tall and bulky to be a full orc, his features brutish enough to have some ogre blood in him, this one did not run with the air of panic the others did, but with purpose, as if he was running to something rather than from it. At his heels loped a massive jet-black wolf.
An orc shoved past this warrior as they stepped from the portal, snarling at the obstruction. “Out of the way, half-breed!” the orc snapped, but the warrior merely shook his head, refusing to be baited at such a time. The wolf, however, snarled at the orc before the warrior silenced it with a sharp hand gesture. The wolf fell silent, utterly obedient, and the warrior dropped a huge hand on the black head with affection.
“What has happened here?” Ner’zhul demanded loudly. “You!” The shaman pointed toward one of the unfamiliar creatures. “What manner of orc are you? Why cover your face so? Come here!”
The figure paused, then suddenly shrugged and stepped closer to Ner’zhul. “As you wish,” he said in a cold voice that had a slightly mocking tone to it. Despite the heat of the land’s baked, lifeless soil, Gratar shivered.
A mailed hand slid the hood back, and Gratar could not help crying out in horror. Perhaps the being’s features had once been fine and regular, but no longer. The skin was a pale grayish green, and had burst open at the juncture where ear met jaw. A thin trickle of ooze glimmered. Swollen, cracked, purple lips drew back in a smile as the eyes glowed with malevolent humor and a fierce intelligence.
The thing was obviously dead.
Even Ner’zhul shrank back, though he rallied quickly. “Who—what are you?” Ner’zhul demanded in a voice that shook only a little. “And what do you want here?”
“Don’t you recognize me? I am Teron Gorefiend,” the figure replied, chuckling at the shaman’s obvious discomfiture.
“Impossible! He is dead and gone, slaughtered by Doomhammer along with the rest of the Shadow Council!”
“Dead I am indeed,” the creature agreed, “but not gone. Your old apprentice Gul’dan found a way to bring us back, and into these rotting carcasses.” He shrugged, and Gratar could hear the lifeless flesh creak in slight protest. “It suffices.”
“Gul’dan?” The old shaman seemed more shocked by that revelation than by the sight of the walking corpse in front of him. “Your master still lives? Then you should return to him. You forsook me and the shaman tradition to follow his lead and become a warlock when you lived, abomination. Serve him now that you are dead.”
But Gorefiend was shaking his head. “Gul’dan is dead. And good riddance. He betrayed us, halving the Horde at a crucial moment and forcing Doomhammer to pursue him instead of conquering a human city. That treachery cost us the war.”
“We…have lost?” Ner’zhul stammered. “But…how is that possible? The Horde covered the very plains, and Doomhammer would not go down without a fight!”
“Oh, he fought,” Gorefiend agreed. “Yet all his might was not enough. He killed the humans’ leader but was overpowered in turn.”
Ner’zhul seemed stunned, turning to look at the panting, bloodied orcs and ogres who had rushed through the gates moments earlier. He took a deep breath and straightened, turning to the ogre who had accompanied him. “Dentarg—summon the other chieftains. Tell them to gather here at once, bringing only weapons and armor. We—“
The wave washed out of the portal with no warning, a massive energy burst that slammed all of them to the ground. Gratar gasped for breath, the wind knocked out of him. He stumbled to his feet, only to be greeted by a second explosion, more violent than the first. This time hunks of stone had been snatched up by the energy that powered the portal and came flying past them, chips and slabs and slivers and sheets. The curtain wavered, becoming opaque.
“No!” Ner’zhul raced toward the portal. He was still several feet away when the shimmering curtain of light flickered, contracted, froze—and then exploded. Stones and dust erupted from the archway. Ner’zhul was tossed into the air like an old bone, and struck the earth hard. Dentarg let out an angry bellow and rushed to his master’s side, scooping him up as if he weighed nothing. The old shaman lay limp, head lolling, eyes shut, a trickle of blood along his right side. For a wild moment energy screamed and shrieked about them all, howling like angry spirits. Then as abruptly as they had come the lights vanished, the curtain disappearing utterly, leaving only an empty stone portal behind.
The Dark Portal had been severed.
Gratar stared at that stone archway, and at all the Horde warriors who had escaped back through it one last time. Then he glanced over at Dentarg, and the elderly shaman cradled in the ogre’s surprisingly gentle grasp.
In the name of the ancestors…what would they do now?
Order this World of Warcraft: Beyond the Dark Portal at our Blizzplanet Store
World of Warcraft: Tides of Darkness
Pocket Star, August 28, 2007
Mass Market Paperback, 384 pages
After killing the corrupt Warchief Blackhand, Orgrim Doomhammer was quick to seize control over the Orcish Horde. Now he is determined to conquer the rest of Azeroth so that his people will once again have a home of their own in the…
WORLD OF WARCRAFT
Anduin Lothar, former Champion of Stormwind, has left his shattered homeland behind and led his people across the Great Sea to the shores of Lordaeron. There, with the aid of the noble King Terenas, he forges a mighty Alliance with the other human nations. But even that may not be enough to stop the Horde’s merciless onslaught.
Elves, dwarves, and trolls enter the fray as the two emerging factions vie for dominance. Will the valiant Alliance prevail, or will the Horde’s tide of darkness consume the last vestiges of freedom on Azeroth?
CHAPTER ONE EXCERPT
Despite himself, Lothar was impressed.
Stormwind had been a towering, imposing city, filled with spires and terraces, carved from strong stone to resist the wind but polished to a mirror sheen. But in its own way Capital City was equally lovely.
Not that Capital City was the same as Stormwind. It was not as tall, for one. But what it lacked in height it made up for in elegance. It sat on a rise above the north shore of Lordamere Lake, gleaming all in white and silver. It did not glitter as Stormwind had, but it glowed somehow, as if the sun were rising from its graceful buildings instead of beating down upon them. It seemed serene, peaceful, almost holy.
“It is a mighty place,” Khadgar agreed beside him, “though I prefer a little more warmth.” He glanced behind them, toward the lake’s southern shore, where a second city rose. Its outlines were similar to those of Capital City, but this mirror image seemed more exotic, its walls and spires suffused in violet and other warm hues. “That is Dalaran,” he explained. “Home of the Kirin Tor and its wizards. My home, before I was sent to Medivh.”
“Perhaps there will be time for you to return, at least briefly,” Lothar suggested. “But for now we must concentrate on Capital City.” He studied the gleaming city again. “Let us hope they are as noble in their thoughts as they are in their dwellings.” He kicked his horse into a canter, and rode down out of the majestic Silverpine Forest, Varian and the mage right behind him and the other men trailing them in their carts.
Two hours later they reached the main gates. Guards stood by the entrance, though the double gates were wide open and large enough for two or even three wagons to pass abreast. The guards had clearly seen them long before they reached the gates, and the one who stepped forward wore a crimson cloak over his polished breastplate and had gold traceries in his armor and helmet. His manner was polite, even respectful, but Lothar could not help noticing how the man stopped only a few feet away, well within sword range. He forced himself to relax and ignore the laxity. This was not Stormwind. These people were not seasoned warriors, hardened by constant battle. They had never had to fight for their lives. Yet.
“Enter freely and be welcome,” the guard captain stated, bowing. “Marcus Redpath warned us of your arrival, and your plight. You will find the king in his throneroom.”
“Our thanks,” Khadgar replied with a nod. “Come, Lothar,” he added, nudging his horse with his heels. “I know the way.”
They rode on through the city, navigating its broad streets easily. Khadgar did indeed seem to know the way, and never slowed to ask directions or puzzle over a turn until they had reached the palace itself. There they surrendered their horses to some of their companions, leaving them to mind the steeds. Lothar and Prince Varian were already striding up the palace’s wide steps and Khadgar quickly joined them.
They stepped through the palace’s outer doors and into a wide courtyard, almost an outdoor hall. Viewing boxes lined the sides, and though empty now Lothar was sure they filled with people during celebrations. At the far end another short flight of steps led up to a second set of doors, and these opened onto the throneroom itself.
It was an imposing chamber, its arched ceiling so high overhead its edges were lost in shadow. The room was round, with arches and columns everywhere. Golden sunlight streamed down from a stained-glass panel set in the ceiling’s center, illuminating the intricate pattern in the floor: a series of nested circles, each one different, with a triangle at their middle overlapping the innermost ring, and the golden seal of Lordaeron within that. It had several high balconies and Lothar guessed these were for nobles but also appreciated their strategic value. A few guards with bows could easily strike anywhere in the room from those vantage points.
Just beyond the pattern stood a wide circular dais, its concentric steps rising up toward a massive throne. The throne itself looked carved from glittering stone, all sharp edges and planes and angles. A man sat there, tall and broad, his blond hair only lightly touched with gray, his armor gleaming, the crown upon his head shaped more like a spiked helmet than a coronet. This was a proper king, Lothar knew at once, a king like his Llane who did not hesitate to fight for his people. His hopes rose at the thought.
There were people here, townsfolk and laborers and even peasants, gathered facing the dais from a respectful distance. Many carried items, scraps of parchment, even food, but they parted before Lothar and Khadgar, falling away from the pair without a sound.
“Yes?” the man on the throne called out as they approached. “Who are you and what do you wish of me? Ah.” Even from here Lothar could see the king’s strangely colored eyes, blue and green swirled together—they were sharp and clear, and his hopes rose still further. Here was a man who saw well and clearly.
“Your Majesty,” Lothar replied, his deep voice carrying easily across the large room. He stopped several paces from the dais and bowed. “I am Anduin Lothar, a Knight of Stormwind. This is my companion, Khadgar of Dalaran.” He heard several murmurs from the crowd now behind them. “And this”—he turned so that the king could see Varian, who had been standing behind him, unnerved by the crowd and the strange trappings—“is Prince Varian Wrynn, heir to the throne of Storm-wind.” The murmurs turned to gasps as people realized the youth was visiting royalty, but Lothar ignored them, concentrating only on the king. “We must speak with you, your Majesty. It is a matter of great urgency and major import.”
“Of course.” Terenas was already rising from his throne and approaching them. “Leave us, please,” he asked the rest of the crowd, though it was an order despite its polite wording. The people obeyed quickly, and soon only a handful of nobles and guards remained. The men who had accompanied Lothar faded back to the sides as well, leaving only Lothar, Khadgar, and Varian when Terenas closed the distance between them.
“Your Majesty,” Terenas greeted Varian, bowing to him as to an equal.
“Your Majesty,” Varian replied, his training overcoming his shock.
“We were grieved to hear of your father’s death,” Terenas continued gently. “King Llane was a good man and we counted him as a friend and an ally. Know that we shall do all in our power to restore you to your throne.”
“I thank you,” Varian said, though his lower lip trembled slightly.
“Now come and sit, and tell me what has happened,” Terenas instructed, gesturing to the dais steps. He sat on the top one himself and motioned for Varian to sit beside him. “I have seen Stormwind myself, and admired its strength and beauty. What could destroy such a city?”
“The Horde,” Khadgar said, speaking for the first time since they had entered the throneroom. Terenas turned toward him, and Lothar was close enough to see the king’s eyes narrow slightly. “The Horde did this.”
“And what is this Horde?” Terenas demanded, turning first to Varian and then to Lothar.
“It is an army, more than an army,” Lothar replied. “It is a multitude, more than can be counted, enough to cover the land from shore to shore.”
“And who commands this legion of men?” Terenas asked.
“Not men,” Lothar corrected. “Orcs.” At the king’s puzzlement Lothar explained. “A new race, one not native to this world. They are as tall as we are, and more powerfully built, with green skin and glowing red eyes. And great tusks from their lower lips.” A noble snorted somewhere, and Lothar turned, glaring. “You doubt me?” he shouted, turning toward each of the balconies in turn, looking for the one who had laughed. “You think I lie?” He struck his armor with his fist, near one of the more prominent dents. “This was made by an orc warhammer!” He struck another spot. “And this by an orc war axe!” He pointed to a gash along one forearm. “And this came from a tusk, when one jumped me and was too close for our blades to strike one another! These foul creatures have destroyed my land, my home, my people! If you doubt me come down here and say so to my face! I will show you what sort of man I am, and what happens to those who accuse me of falsehood!”
“Enough!” Terenas’s shout silenced any possible reply, anger plain in his own voice, but when he turned to Lothar the warrior could see that this king’s anger was not directed at him. “Enough,” the king said again, more softly. “None here doubt your word, Champion,” he assured Lothar, a stern look around daring any of his nobles to disagree. “I know of your honor and your loyalty. I will take you at your word, though such creatures sound strange to us.” He turned and nodded at Khadgar. “And with one of the wizards of Dalaran beside you as a witness, we cannot discount what you say, nor the notion of races never seen here before.”
“I thank you, King Terenas,” Lothar replied formally, reining his anger back in. He was not sure what to do next. Fortunately, Terenas was.
“I will summon my neighboring kings,” he announced. “These events concern us all.” He turned back toward Varian. “Your Majesty, I offer you my home and my protection for as long as you shall need it,” he stated, loud enough for all to hear. “When you are ready, know that Lordaeron will assist you in reclaiming your kingdom.”
Lothar nodded. “Your Majesty, you are most generous,” he said on Varian’s behalf, “and I can think of no safer and finer place for my prince to reach his maturity than here in Capital City. Know, however, that we did not come here merely for sanctuary. We came to warn you.” He stood tall, his voice rumbling across the room, his eyes not leaving Lordaeron’s king. “For know this—the Horde will not stop at Stormwind. They mean to claim the entire world, and they have the might and the numbers to make their dream a reality. Nor do they lack magical might. Once they have finished with my homeland—” His voice grew deeper and rougher and he forced himself to continue. “They will find a way across the ocean. And they will come here.”
“You are telling us to prepare for war,” Terenas said quietly. It was not a question, but Lothar answered nonetheless.
“Yes.” He looked around at the assembled men. “A war for the very survival of our race.”
World of Warcraft: Rise of the Horde
352 pages – December 2006
Simon & Schuster Publishing
Written by Christie Golden
Though the young Warchief Thrall ended the demon curse that had plagued his people for generations, the orcs still wrestle with the sins of their bloody past. As the rampaging Horde, they waged a number of devastating wars against their perennial enemy—the Alliance. Yet the rage and bloodlust that drove the orcs to destroy everything in their path nearly consumed them as well.
Long ago, on the idyllic world of Draenor, the noble orc clans lived in relative peace with their enigmatic neighbors, the draenei. But the nefarious agents of the Burning Legion had other plans for both of the unsuspecting races. The demon-lord Kil’jaeden set in motion a dark chain of events that would succeed not only in eradicating the draenei, but forging the orc clans into a single, unstoppable juggernaut of hatred and destruction.
The new pocketbook by Christie Golden will be released on December 2006. Chris Metzen revealed post-E3 2006 some info about the Draenei and plans for the prequel book telling their story. Here is what Metzen revealed about this new pocketbook:
Chris Metzen: “Ok, so what’s the real scoop behind the eredar/draenei story then? At this point, even though the NEW lore directly counters the Warcraft III manual, we’re still going to run with it. There are a lot of reasons for this, not the least of which is that I think it’s far stronger than what I crafted back in the day. The eredar were not necessarily all evil. Sargeras did come to them and tempt them with power. They did NOT make Sargeras crazy. This gives the eredar more dimensionality and roots the draenei to a key moment in Burning Legion history.
We’ve also woven all of this new lore into an upcoming novel by Christie Golden (author of Lord of the Clans) that depicts the draeneis escape from Argus and the RISE OF THE HORDE on Draenor. The book DOMINATES, and you’re going to really dig it. Durotan, Nerzhul, Guldan, Doomhammer, Hellscream, Kiljaeden, Velen; this story is the one youve been waiting for. I’m getting geeked up just thinking about it.
However, this new lore does leave a large hole. How did Sargeras go nuts? What drove him to fall and begin his Burning Crusade? I dont know yet. It will be his encounter with some evil race (who dares me to use Old Gods???), but it wont be the eredar.
I’ll chew on this. Maybe we’ll solve this by the end of the expansion. See this is that flexibility stuff I was talking about earlier.”
an excerpt from
World of Warcraft:
Cycle of Hatred
[Excerpt from the novel on sale in 2006 from Pocket Books. The book can be ordered Here.
* * *
Copyright ? 2006 Blizzard Games. All rights reserved.]
|Erik had been cleaning ale off the demon skull mounted behind the bar when the stranger walked in.
The Demonsbane Inn and Tavern didn’t usually get much by way of tourists. Rare was the day when Erik didn’t know the face of one of his patrons. More common was when he didn’t know their names—he only remembered their faces due to repeated exposure. Erik didn’t much care who came into his tavern, as long as they had coin and a thirst.
Sitting down at a table, the stranger seemed to be either waiting for something or looking for something. He wasn’t looking at the dark wooden walls—though you could barely see them, seeing as how the Demonsbane had no windows and illumination only from a couple of torches—or at the small round wooden tables and stools festooned about the floor. Erik never bothered to arrange the tables in any particular pattern, since folks would just go and move them around to suit themselves anyhow.
After a minute, the stranger got up and walked up to the wooden bar. “I’m trying to get some table service.”
“Don’t have none,” Erik said. He never saw the sense in paying good money for waiters. If folks wanted a drink, they could walk up to the bar. If they were too drunk to walk up to the bar, he didn’t want them to drink anymore anyhow, since folks who were that drunk were like to start fights. Erik ran a quiet tavern.
The stranger plunked a silver piece on the bar, and asked, “What’s the most expensive drink you have there?”
“That’d be the boar’s grog from the north. Orcs make it, ferment it in—”
The stranger’s nose wrinkled. “No—no orc drink.”
Erik shrugged. People had weird considerations when it came to alcohol. He’d seen folks argue about the relative merits of beer versus corn whiskey with an intensity greater than political or religious disagreements. If this gentleman didn’t like orc drinks, that wasn’t Erik’s lookout. “Got corn whiskey—fresh batch made last month.”
“Sold.” The stranger smacked his hand on the wooden bar, disturbing some of the nut shells, berry seeds, and other detritus that had gathered there. Erik only cleaned the bar about once a year or so—unlike the demon skull, no one could really see the bar, and he never saw the need to clean a surface that wasn’t visible.
One of the regulars, a soldier who always drank the grog, turned to look at the stranger. “Mind tellin’ me what you got against orc booze?”
The stranger shrugged while Erik pulled the glass bottle of corn whiskey off the shelf, and poured some of its contents into a mug that was mostly clean.
“I have nothing against orc drink, good sir—it’s orcs themselves I have issue with.” The stranger held out a hand. “My name is Margoz. I’m a fisherman by trade, and I have to say that I’m not well pleased with how my nets have filled up this season.”
Not bothering to shake the hand or introduce himself, the soldier said, “All that tells me is you ain’t no good as a fisherman.”
Lowering his hand upon realizing that the soldier wasn’t feeling friendly, Margoz took his corn whiskey instead. “I’m a fine fisherman, sir—I thrived in Kul Tiras, before circumstances forced me to move here.”
On the other side of Margoz sat a merchant who sputtered into his ale. “Circumstances. Right. Got conscripted to fight the Burning Legion, did you?”
Margoz nodded. “As I’m sure many were. I tried to make a new life for myself here in Theramore—but how can I, with the damned greenskins taking all the good fishing waters for themselves?”
Erik found himself nodding in agreement with the first half of Margoz’s statement, if not the second. He himself had come to Theramore after the Burning Legion was driven off—not to fight, as the fighting was over by the time he made the journey, but to claim his inheritance. Erik’s brother Olaf fought against the Legion, and died, leaving Erik enough coin to build the tavern Olaf had dreamed of opening after he finished his service. In addition to the money, Erik was bequeathed the skull of a demon that Olaf had slain in combat. Erik had never particularly wanted to run a tavern, but he’d never particularly wanted to do anything else, so he opened the Demonsbane in honor of his brother. He figured, rightly, that the community of humans in Theramore would gravitate toward a place with a name that symbolized the driving off of demons that led to the city-state’s formation.
“I ain’t standin’ for this,” the soldier said. “You fought in the war, fisherman—you know what the orcs did for us.”
“What they did for us is not what distresses me, good sir,” Margoz said, “but rather what they are doing to us now.”
“They get the best of everything.” This was the boat captain at one of the tables behind the soldier. “Up Ratchet way, them goblins always favor orcs for repairs or dock space. Last month, I had to wait half a day ‘fore they’d let me dock my skiff, but some orc boat come by two hour after me, and got a spot right off.”
Turning to face the captain, the soldier said, “Then go somewhere other than Ratchet.”
“T’ain’t always an option,” the captain said with a sneer.
“S’not like they always need the repairin’, neither,” the man with the captain—Erik thought it might have been his first mate, since they dressed similarly—said. “They got oaks up in mountains above Orgrimmar, be makin’ their ships from them. What we got? Weak spruce, is all. They hoard ‘em, they do, keepin’ all the good wood. Our boats’ll be leakin’ all over thanks to the marshy garbage we gotta work with.”
Several other voices muttered in agreement with this sentiment.
“So you’d all like it better if the orcs weren’t around?” The soldier slammed his fist on the bar. “Without them, we’d be demon-food, and that’s a fact.”
“I don’t think anyone’s denying that.” Margoz sipped from his whiskey mug. “Still, there does seem to be an unequal distribution of resources.”
“Orcs used to be slaves, you know.” This was someone else at the bar whom Erik couldn’t see from where he was standing. “To humans, and to the Burning Legion, if you think about it. Can’t blame ‘em for wanting to take everything they can now.”
“I can if they’re takin’ it away from us,” the captain said.
The merchant nodded. “You know, they’re not from here. They came from some other world, and the Burning Legion brought ‘em here.”
The first mate muttered, “Maybe they oughtta go back where they came.”
“Makes you wonder what Lady Proudmoore was thinking,” Margoz said.
Erik frowned. At those words, the tavern suddenly got rather quiet. Lots of people had been muttering assent or disagreement, either with the sentiments expressed or the people expressing them.
But as soon as Margoz mentioned Jaina Proudmoore—worse, mentioned her in a disparaging manner—the place got quiet.
Too quiet. In the three years Erik had been a tavern owner, there were two
times when you expected a fight to break out: when the place got too loud or got too quiet. And the latter were usually the really nasty fights
Another soldier stood up from next to the first one—this one was wider in the shoulders, and he didn’t talk much, but when he did, it was in a booming voice that made the demon skull behind the bar rattle on its mount. “Don’t nobody talk bad ‘bout Lady Proudmoore ‘less he wants to be livin’ without teeth.”
Swallowing audibly, Margoz quickly said, “I would never dream of speaking of our leader in anything but reverent tones, good sir, I promise.” He gulped down more of the corn whiskey than it was advisable to drink in one sip, which caused his eyes to greatly widen. He shook his head a few times.
“Lady Proudmoore’s been very good to us,” the merchant said. “After we drove back the Burning Legion, she made us into a community. Your complaints are fair, Margoz, but none of it can be laid at the lady’s feet. I’ve met a few wizards in my day, and most of ‘em aren’t fit to be scrapings off my sandals. But the lady’s a good one, and you’ll find no support for disparagements toward her.”
“It was never my intent to disparage, good sir,” Margoz said, still sounding a bit shaky from his ill-advised gulp of corn whiskey. “But one must wonder why no trade agreements have been made to obtain this superior wood that these fine gentlemen have mentioned.” He looked thoughtful for a second. “Perhaps she has tried, but the orcs would not permit it.”
The captain swallowed a gulp of his ale, then said, “Perhaps them orcs told her to leave Northwatch.”
“We should leave Northwatch,” the merchant said. “The Barrens are neutral territory, that was agreed to from the beginning.”
The soldier stiffened. “You’re crazy if you think we’re givin’ that up.”
Margoz said, “That is where the orcs fought Admiral Proudmoore.”
“Yes, an embarrassment. As fine a leader as Lady Proudmoore is, that’s as much of an idiot her father was.” The merchant shook his head. “That entire sordid incident should be put out of our heads. But it won’t be as long as—”
The captain interrupted. “If’n you ask me, we need to expand beyond Northwatch.”
Sounding annoyed, though whether at the interruption or the sentiment, Erik neither knew nor cared, the merchant said, “Are you mad?”
“Are you? The orcs’re squeezin’ us out! They’re all over the blessed continent, and we’ve got Theramore. It’s been three year since the Burning Legion was sent off. Don’t we deserve better than to be lower class in our own land—to be confined to one cesspool of a city-state?”
“Theramore is as fine a city as you will see in human lands.” The soldier spoke the words with a defensive pride, only to be followed by a more resigned tone. “But it is true, that the orcs have greater territory. That is why Northwatch is essential—it allows us to maintain a defense beyond the walls of Theramore.”
“Besides,” the first mate said with a laugh into his ale mug, “the orcs don’t like us there. That’s reason enough to keep it, y’ask me.”
“Nobody asked you,” the merchant said snidely.
The other man at the bar—Erik had wandered downbar a bit, and now saw that it was that bookkeeper who worked the docks—said, “Maybe someone should. The orcs act as if they own Kalimdor, and we’re just visiting. But this is our home, too, and it’s time we acted like it. Orcs aren’t humans, aren’t even from this world. What right do they have to dictate how we live our lives?”
“They have the right to live their lives, don’t they?” the merchant asked.
Nodding, the soldier said, “I’d say they earned that when they fought the Burning Legion. Weren’t for them?” He gulped down the remainder of his wine, then slid the mug toward Erik. “Get me an ale.”
Erik hesitated. He had already started reaching for the grog bottle. This soldier had been coming into the Demonsbane ever since Erik opened the place, and he’d never drunk anything save for grog.
But that three-year-long patronage had earned him the right not to be questioned. Besides, as long as he was paying, he could drink soapy water, for all Erik cared.
“Fact is,” the captain said, “this is our world, by right of birth. Them orcs are just guests in our home, and it’s high time they started actin’ like it!”
The conversation went on from there. Erik served a few more drinks, tossed a few mugs into the basin to be cleaned later, and only after he gave the merchant another ale did he realize that Margoz, who started the whole conversation, had left.
He hadn’t even left a tip. Erik shook his head in disgust, the fisherman’s name already falling out of his head.
But he’d remember the face. And probably spit in the bastard’s drink next time he came in—only having one drink and then starting trouble. Erik hated troublemakers like that in his place. Just hated it.
More people started complaining about the orcs. One person—the bruiser next to the soldier—slammed his ale mug on the bar so hard that it spattered his drink on the demon skull. Sighing, Erik grabbed a rag and wiped it off.
* * *
There was a time when Margoz would have been too scared to walk the darkened streets of Theramore alone.
True, crime was not a major concern in so closed a community as Theramore—everyone knew most everyone else, and if they didn’t, they knew someone else who did—so criminal acts were rare enough. Those that were committed, were generally punished quickly and brutally by Lady Proudmoore’s soldiers.
Still, Margoz had always been small and weak, and the big and strong tended to prey on the small and weak, so Margoz generally avoided walking around alone at night. You never knew what big and strong person was lurking to show how big and strong he was by beating up on a lesser target. Many times, Margoz had been that target. He soon learned that it was best to do what they said and make them happy to avoid the violence.
But Margoz no longer had that fear. Or any other kind of fear. Now he had a patron. True, Margoz had to do his bidding, also, but this time the reward was power and wealth. In the old days, the reward was not being beaten within an inch of his life. Maybe it was exchanging one type of gut-crippling fear for another, but Margoz thought this was working out better for him.
A salty breeze wafted through the air, blowing in off the port. Margoz inhaled deeply, the scent of the water invigorating him. He spoke at least partly true in the Demonsbane—he was a fisherman, though never a particularly successful one. However, he did not fight against the Burning Legion as he claimed, but instead came here after they were driven back. He’d hoped to have more opportunities here than he had at Kul Tiras. It hadn’t been his fault that the nets were substandard—it was all he could afford, but tell the dock authority that and see where it got you.
Where it got him, mostly, was beat up.
So he came to Kalimdor, following the rush of people hoping to provide services for the humans who lived there under Lady Proudmoore. But Margoz hadn’t been the only fisherman to ply his trade, nor was he anywhere near the best.
Before his patron arrived, Margoz was close to destitute. He wasn’t even catching enough to eat himself, m
uch less sell, and he was seriously considering just grabbing his boat’s anchor and jumping off the side with it. Put himself out
of his misery.
But then his patron arrived, and everything got better.
Margoz soon arrived at his modest apartment. His patron hadn’t let him move to better accommodations, despite his pleading—the patron called it whining, and unseemly—regarding the lack of good ventilation, the poor furnishings, and the rats. But his patron assured him that such a sudden change in his status would draw attention, and for now, he was to remain unnoticed.
Until tonight, when he was instructed to go to the Demonsbane and start sowing anti-orc sentiments. In the old days, he never would dared have set foot in such a place. The types of people who liked to beat him up usually congregated in large groups in taverns, and he preferred to avoid them for that reason.
Or, rather, used to prefer to avoid them.
He entered his room. A pallet that was no thinner than a slice of bread; a burlap sheet that itched so much he only used it when the winter got particularly cold, and even then it was a difficult choice; a lantern; and precious little else. A rat scurried across into one of the many cracks in the wall.
Sighing, he knew what needed to be done next. Next to the inability to move to better quarters, the thing Margoz hated most about his dealing with his patron was the odor he carried with him whenever they spoke. It was some kind of side-effect of the magic at his patron’s command, but whatever the reason, it annoyed Margoz.
Still, it was worth it for the power. And the ability to walk the streets and drink in the Demonsbane without fear of physical reprisal.
Shoving his hand past his collar to reach under his shirt, Margoz pulled out the necklace with the silver pendant shaped like a sword afire. Clutching the sword so tightly that he felt the edges dig into his palm, he spoke the words whose meaning he’d never learned, but which filled him with an unspeakable dread every time he said them: “Galtak Ered’nash. Ered’nash ban galar. Ered’nash havik yrthog. Galtak Ered’nash.”
The stink of sulfur started to permeate the small room. This was the part Margoz hated.
Galtak Ered’nash. You have done as I commanded?
“Yes, sir.” Margoz was embarrassed to realize that his voice was getting all squeaky. Clearing his throat, he tried to deepen his tone. “I did as you asked. As soon as I mentioned difficulties with the orcs, virtually the entire tavern joined in.”
Margoz didn’t like the threat implied in that one-word question. “One man was a holdout, but the others were ganging up on him to a certain degree. Provided a focus for their ire, really.”
Perhaps. You have done well.
That came as a huge relief. “Thank you, sir, thank you. I am glad to have been of service.” He hesitated. “If I may, sir, might now be a good time to once again broach the subject of improved accommodations? You might have noticed the rat that—”
You have served us. You will be rewarded.
“So you’ve said, sir, but—well, I was hoping a reward would come soon.” He decided to take advantage of his lifelong fears. “I was in grave danger this evening, you know. Walking alone near the docks can be—”
You will come to no harm so long as you serve. You need never walk with fear again, Margoz.
“Of—of course. I simply—”
You simply wish to live the life you have never been permitted to live. That is an understandable concern. Be patient, Margoz. Your reward will come in due time.
The sulfur stench started to abate. “Thank you, sir. Galtak Ered’nash!”
Dimly, the patron’s voice said, Galtak Ered’nash. Then all was quiet in Margoz’s apartment once again.
A bang came on the wall, followed by the muffled voice of his neighbor. “Stop yelling in there! We’re tryin’ to sleep!”
Once, such importunings would have had Margoz cowering in fear. Today, he simply ignored it, and lay down on his pallet, hoping the smell wouldn’t keep him from sleeping.
* * *
To learn what happens next, you’ll just have to buy the book……