The Crossroads

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The settlement they call the Crossroads is busy, packed with soldiers. Their reasons for loitering here are diverse and contradictory.

When I arrived at the inn, late at night after spending the day in my patch of shade, a group of rowdy orcs accosted me. ‘Join us! Drink!’ and things like that.

They were all quite young, and their leader was exceptionally muscular, wearing little more than a leather harness. He slung his arm around my shoulders and led me to his friends’ table, where I spent the rest of the night perched on his knee, his arm around my hips, food and drink coming in a constant stream, and more passersby being drawn into the festivities. They were celebrating Theramore’s annihilation.

What did we want?
What did we give them?
Why do we fight?
For the Horde!
(And so on.)

Any form of intoxication can be funny like that. This orc rejoiced in the death of humans with a dead human in his lap. I didn’t know whether to take it as a compliment or an insult, so I mostly simply grinned. It was, after all, the warmest greeting I’ve ever had from strangers, since I’ve been this carcass anyway.

Maybe this is the duality of drink. It makes your current passion reveal itself in bright, bright colours, but it also leads everyone to doubt the validity of what you’re doing. It lets you cheer on your bloodlust and hug someone you’d normally hate. Or I assume he would, most do, especially when I’m in my robes – which I wasn’t, they were folded up in my pack, safe and hidden.

I did not put them on when the young orcs’ party was over, either, and everyone was sleeping. In my travelling leathers I left the hut, and there was the mild, clear light of morning outside, with the Crossroads so quiet I could hear the grasses shivering across the plain for miles around, or so it seemed.

But there were also voices, low and hushed. I found them under the guard tower on the western side of camp. Two tauren, a cow and bull, and a troll, in Horde-styled mail with shaman trinkets braided into her aquamarine hair.

All three were subdued. They made no eye contact with one another, watching the savannah instead, and they sat slack, not at all ready for combat, so presumably they were not guards on duty, or if they were they were bad at it.

I sat down with them without introduction, and they did not seem to mind. Staying quiet, staring out, it was as though they had initiated me into this little pocket of contemplation or gloom. I found myself drawn in.

‘It is not my place to contradict,’ said the troll, in the strong accent that is typical of the Darkspear. ‘But sometimes the feeling, it picks you up and it carries you, and there you are all the sudden, out in the open with all your complaints.’

‘Nobody would fault you for that,’ said the bull.

‘They would,’ said the cow, ‘you know they would. That is the greatest problem here: so many have been drawn into the frenzy.’

‘It picks them up and carries them, just like my doubt does me,’ said the troll.

I have read the Forsaken literature on something I think is quite like this phenomenon she was trying to describe. Crowd rage, swarmer mentality, compounded by lifetimes of war and, for the undead, bodily disfigurement. That goes for the orcs as well, with their green skin. I wonder if the orcs see fel corruption when they look at their brethren, like I do when I look at mine?

I said some of this aloud: the part about the swarmer mindsets and wartime conditioning.

‘Are those the excuses your people fall upon?’ asked the bull.

‘There were not so many of the walking dead in the siege, I did notice that,’ said the troll.

‘Some of my people have learned,’ I told them.

‘Only some! Should we expect your newest atrocity soon enough!’ The bull glared at me, his nostrils wide, the tiny hairs within surging in and out.

‘As much as you expect the same from those people in the inn,’ I said, ‘and those who are like them.’

His gaze dropped, then. He snorted helplessly at the dust beneath knees.

‘The Horde has entered a time of sickness,’ said the cow.

So we sat and thought about that for a while, and there was nothing good to say, so no-one said anything at all.

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