Elodor is there, across the expanse of water, and the Altar of Sha'tar, and the wooded grounds of the Enclave as well. Some might claim that I could not possibly see those places from where I sit on the shore of Tanaan's poisoned jungle, that the haze conceals all but the distant outline of Exarch's Rise against the restless sky, but those who make that claim are wrong twice. Elodor is further from Tanaan than they think, and yet I can see it clearly.
Do you doubt this? Then know that I can also still recall, with absolute clarity, the world of Argus, which we left behind more than twenty millennia ago.
From the moment I opened my eyes as an infant I loved our homeworld of Argus—the color of the clouds, the sunrises as the Golden Sisters chased each other across the sky, the Silver Brothers sliding across the velvety brocade of night—but especially the forests. From the time I could walk I was playing in the woodlands that surrounded the hilltop where we lived, making armor from bark, learning the names of all the plants and wild animals. I was especially delighted with how, if I peeled the leaves from the straightest greenrush shoots and bent them into an arc with a strand of silk thread, I could shoot twig-arrows. Once my parents learned where it was I disappeared to each day—and what I was doing—they took me to the archery master. Soon I had a proper bow, and although my brothers and sisters teased me endlessly about the solitary life of a huntress, I was not deterred. Each day after school, Elukka would follow me around as I did my chores and schoolwork, waiting patiently for that moment when I would put the study crystals away and we could burst from the house and race down the hill. Once we were in the forest I could spend hours watching the trees, the flutter of color as the leaves were stirred by the winds, the amused creak of branches when storm-winds blew. The happiest hours of my childhood were spent in those woods, tracking wildlife with my loyal companion, swimming in the icy crystal pools beneath the waterfalls, or just dozing on the smooth moss and fragrant needles that blanketed the ground in the ancient du'antha groves. Elukka's paws and scarred, graying head would rest on my chest, as if she enjoyed the way that the rise and fall of my ribcage modulated her sleepy purr. We two spent many evenings dozing under the star-filled sky of Argus; companions of the wilds, leaning against each other for warmth.
And then one day Sargeras the Dark Titan came, offering unheard-of power to our leaders Archimonde, Kil'jaeden, and Velen. Two said yes; one said no. By the time those who followed Velen in refusing Sargeras were fleeing Argus, my entire family and all of my friends were dead. The du'antha groves blazed as demons and other horrors began to smash and trample my world, draining it of color and beauty, and so Elukka and I fled as well.
The naaru ship Genedar was our new world, but from the first the Crystal Hall was a poor substitute for our forest. As the weeks became a month I almost began to wish we had stayed behind in the ashes of Argus, especially since I knew Elukka, already old when we boarded, was ailing.
There came a day—though what meaning is there to the word 'day' without the rise and set of suns and moons?—when the stubborn beast would not eat no matter how much I coaxed her.
The healer could do nothing. "I am so sorry," he told me gently. "Shipboard life must be ten times more difficult for the wild things."
I nodded. I hated it the ship as much as Elukka did: the blandness of the nutrient paste that was our only food; the still, unmoving air, chaotic with the scents of hundreds of bodies; and most of all, the monotony of the waking hours. "She misses running in the forest," I told the healer, "hunting for fresh food."
"So do we all," the healer said wistfully.
Elukka was too weak to stand and lick the tears from my face, so instead she pressed her front paws against my hands, comforting me, until her rumbling purr began to fade; and then she twitched one last time and was gone.
I came to realize later that the strangers who approached me constantly offering to fold me into their families were well-intentioned, but at that time it enraged me so much that I snarled at them until they left me alone.
I volunteered as often as possible for long sleep, but after my third awakening I was told—somewhat sternly—that it was time for me to begin contributing to the welfare of our people. It was suggested that I tend to the herbs in the farming cluster. "Seasonings are the best way to add variety to our food," the priestess told me. "Gardening is a small thing that you can do to make the life of our people more enjoyable."
I humbly agreed, but secretly I was delighted: I knew that the herb gardens scattered throughout the botanical area were in small, secluded nooks, and looked forward to working alone, surrounded by the sight and smell of green leaves.
I soon found out that my days were not as solitary as I'd hoped. There was always at least one botanist or seed-tender at the research center where I needed to go to monitor the temperature and irrigation of my gardens, but happily few of them were talkative. Over time I began to find some of them tolerable, and gradually I began to seek out their company whenever I wanted a few hours of companionable silence. Naielle, Chel, Erdanii… I began to believe that, like me, not only were they more at home with the wilds and its silences, but they too found the space between the stars too sparse, too cold, too vast.
We all longed to stand upon a world of stone and earth again, to feel wind and rain and sunlight on our skin, to run and swim, to face and explore a place unknown… and so we began to become more involved with the search for a new home. When at last we found a marginally-habitable world, with air breathable by our kind with only moderate filtering, it was disappointing to see that it was a severe planet of reddish sand and brackish seas.
Still, it was a welcome change from the ship.
At first we saw nothing to break the horizon, but as we flew over the surface we saw at last a huge plant-like form with wide, paddle-shaped leaves. We landed near it, and the botanists ran eagerly from the skimmer to test if the leaves were unsuitable for consumption. An instant later two hideous creatures burst from beneath the sand, silvery horrors with hard carapaces and segmented bodies and maws lined with needle teeth. Our weapons were nearly useless against them, and there was nothing to throw, nowhere to hide. They swayed above us as we cowered on the sand; anyone who tried to run toward the skimmer was snatched up and shredded. When finally the monsters were sated and withdrew to their hiding place under the sand, those of us those of us who remained fled to the skimmer and back to the Genedar, aghast and disbelieving and grieving anew at those we had lost.
Each day is a blessing, my people say, but how can loss be a blessing?
Within hours Naielle and I and several dozen others whose names I no longer remember went to Triumvir Velen with a proposal. "From now on," Naielle told him, "let us be the first to step onto any new world. We will train ourselves to access any world we stop at, to identify the predators and environmental hazards and intelligent hostiles. Once we have presented our assessment, if it is felt that the benefits of a world outweigh the risks, we will aid the Vindicators of the Light in protecting the scientists and the gatherers."
Velen gave this plan his approval, and so were the Rangari founded.
I will tell you something about the Rangari: the Vindicators may boast that they are our shield, but the Rangari have been the ones who have told them where to turn that shield. Over the centuries, across dozens of worlds, wherever we disembarked, whether for hours or weeks, or years, we were the ones who studied and kept watch on the sky and the land and the waters as our people snatched what respite they could. We knew that the dangers in front of us on each new world were trivial compared to that danger that was only a few steps behind us: Kil'jaeden. That he still relentlessly pursued us after more than twenty thousand years proved to me that the noble soul of the leader we had admired so long ago on Argus was no more: why else would he allow himself to be consumed by such fury and thirst for vengeance if he had not become truly demonic?
There were those among us who broke under the stress of this constant threat. They claimed that it had been wrong to flee our homeworld. "What has Triumvir Velen done but condemn us to self-imposed exile? Was it wise to anger two who once put our welfare above their own?" they asked. "And how could he be certain that we would have been in greater danger had we remained on Argus than we are now? Isn't it possible that, had we stayed, we could have harnessed the power Sargeras offered us in service of the Light?"
I and certain others thought such questions were dangerous for morale, but Velen did nothing to stop them… even when what a few whispered in private gatherings began to make public pronouncements.
Still, even with all this foreboding swirling around, the life of a Rangari had many joys. To use one's skill to track strange beasts without being detected, to swiftly and noiselessly disarm, disable, or—if necessary kill—enemies one had never encountered before was a challenge that I welcomed. All that was missing was a companion to share it with.
I came out of long sleep to the chaotic sounds of klaxons and shouting.
I made my way to the command center. Naielle was coordinating dozens of people, but when she saw me she motioned me over.
"Most of the stores were still locked from the last flight," I heard an Artificer tell her as I approached. "The remainder are being secured now."
"Good." She looked around. "You have your assignments. Move quickly!" As the groups dispersed she said to me, "The Light has guided and protected us to the last."
"What do you mean, 'to the last' ?" I asked. "Is that Triumvir Velen?" The ancient was above us on the observation balcony, gesturing forcefully to a cluster of Exarchs. Although many said that he had never taken the long sleep—not even once—since we had left Argus, I had rarely seen him.
"Yes," Naielle said, then added calmly, "We are going to crash, but we couldn't have found a better place to do so." She replaced one of the telemetry screens with a view of a planet that was rushing toward us at alarming speed. "The information coming in is that it's lightly populated, bursting with life and light, and K'ara and K'ure have said that there is no trace of the Legion anywhere nearby. The plants and animals are edible, and it's beautiful, Anaara, so beautiful. Rivers and lakes and forests! It may be that we have found a true home at last!"
I nodded, but was uneasy. What better way to lure prey into a trap than to set out irresistible bait?
Still, despite my misgivings, I fell under this new world's spell. Everything about it appealed to me. The climate and geography were varied enough to be pleasing to the eye, and the inhabitants' societies and interactions complex enough to be interesting.
An area near the sea, southwest of the convergence of rivers at the heart of the continent, was chosen as the best location for our first settlement. While the Exarchs and Vindicators busied themselves with planning and constructing the city shielded and hidden by the Leafshadow Ata'mal, we Rangari spread out to survey the remaining regions. Naielle felt that the most crucial area to observe was the area to the northeast, where titanic primal beings waged a war for domination of the environment, but I was one of those sent to the snowy volcanic northwestern peninsula, to monitor the activities of the orc and ogre clans there.
The orcs I studied were primarily societies of hunters. At first I was drawn to the Thunderlord, for they seemed to be masters of beasts, but once I saw that their mastery was mere domination, bending even the most dangerous animals to their will, they bored me. Far more interesting were the Frostwolves, who treated their wolf companions with respect and affection, almost as equals. I watched enviously as generation after generation of their children bonded to the wolf pups that had chosen them.
Is is surprising that I felt such strong kinship to them? I knew that it was essential that I remain hidden, but how I longed to join them, to share stories with those who I felt would understand me as few other draenei ever had!
And then the Wolf Mother sent me a gift.
I was in the far northwest tip of the peninsula, in an animal graveyard nestled in a canyon north of a small Frostwolf Village. Although the small shallow caves that pitted the walls of the canyon were kept warm by the underground lava flows, the area was avoided by both orcs and ogres, and so it was ideal as a base for me. I was always careful not to disturb the remains.
I had just returned from fishing when a storm descended without warning. One moment the air below the grey sky was clear; the next it was filled with pitiless winds and blinding white. I hurried to the nearest cave, and found that it was already occupied by a mother wolf and a lone cub. The cub was huddled against his mother, trying to nurse, but her teats were already cold.
I bundled the cub inside my clothes and let it lick mashed fish off my fingers, and named her Ceraxas.
When the Shadowmoon began to experiment with fel and necromantic magic, they and the Thunderlord clan began to attack my Frostwolves
After they destroyed the small Frostwolf village south of the boneyard I asked Naielle for help in repelling the attacks.
"The Rangari have far greater dangers to deal with," she said. "Most of the orc clans have united into what they call The Iron Horde, and have begun to use advanced technology that was not previously of this world, heavy war machines and explosives. They have have established footholds and bases in Gorgrond, Tanaan, even Talador. We fear that Shattrath itself may soon come under attack."
"The Shadowmoon orcs are likely to draw the attention of the Legion if they are not stopped!" I shuddered to recall how the unholy magics the Shadowmoon used had already changed their skin from the orcs' normal reddish brown to a sickly shade of green.
"I fear that as well." Naielle shook her head. "Such a lovely world this was." She smiled down at Ceraxas, who was now fully grown. "At least some good things remain unspoiled." She knelt and scratched the wolf between her ears. "I think you will have to save one of her pups for me."
"Once again, we are beset on all sides," Vos'lor Eshii was telling the crowd gathered in the east garden of Shattrath's residential district. "How many more times must we see our children, and our friends' children, burned alive by hellfire, or torn apart by demons? How many more times will the refuge that our so-called prophet promised us turn out to be an the fantasy of a senile old man?"
The uneasy crowd began to murmur.
"I say," Vos'lor went on in a low, commanding voice, "that we should put an end to being the hunted, and say No more! I say it is time to ally with Sargeras, the one our ancient enemy calls master! Let us take the power Sargeras once offered us, and use it to smite our enemies! The Iron Horde shall know that Draenor is ours! We will cast them out and remake this world into a second Argus… and then never again will we be forced to flee!"
Across the square, past the throngs nodding and cheering with assent, I saw Naielle. "And what of the Light?" Her voice cut through the applause and cheers of assent.
"It is clear that the Light has abandoned its former champions," Vos'lor replied. "K'ara has already gone dark; Velen fades hourly. Should we then sit blind and helpless, mewling in the night until we are crushed, or should we build a new dawn with our own hands?"
Stony-faced, Naielle turned and walk away.
"It's too dangerous!" Naielle exclaimed when I told her my plan.
"It's my decision." I folded my arms. "You know how stubborn I can be."
"All too well."
"But Anaara, you saw Exarch Othaar's transformation into man'ari!" Chel said, shuddering.
"There is no other way," I said. "Othaar kept his allegiance hidden to the last, but there are many who openly agree with Vos'lor's polemic. They seem to think that pledging themselves to Sargeras will divert the Legion from our people to the Iron Horde."
"I can't believe such people are serious," Erdanii said. "We have always had those who have criticized Prophet Velen's decisions, especially among those born after we left Argus, but that hardly means that someone is eager to embrace the Legion."
"If the malcontents ally with the Shadowmoon orcs, they will have access to the vilest demonic and necromantic magic," I said.
"But Anaara, joining their ranks—"
"—is the only way to discover the truth. We need to know who else among us has turned. We need to know what the orcs are planning—and trust me, the Shadowmoon are too secretive for our usual methods of observation. This is the only way."
"Remain vigilant," Kaalya said. "Be well."
"I have the Light and Ceraxas," I said. "That is all I need."
As Ceraxas and I stood in a cave with dozens of others ready to submit to Gul'dan's fel touch and join those who called themselves Sargerei, I was startled by a voice.
"Rangari… " Velhari, accompanied by her adjuncts and flanked by several green-skinned Shadowmoon orcs, was considering me. "Why is this lone Rangari here in our midst?" She was fully transformed and monstrous to behold.
"To pledge myself to Sargeras," I said.
One of the orcs said, "This one has been lurking and spying on us for years. Thought we did not know, did not see."
Velhari glanced down at Ceraxas, who, though crouched almost flat with terror, had not left my side. "Who do you admire, Rangari? The Frostwolves or the Shadowmoon?"
"The Frostwolf bond to their animals," I said honestly. "The Shadowmoon talent for power."
"Oh?" Her eyes narrowed.
"What hunter does not seek more power?" I asked.
"And what will you offer the Sargerei in exchange for power?" Velhari asked.
"Knowledge," I said, "of the Exarchs. Of the Rangari."
"The spy offers to spy for the Sargerei?" Velhari laughed.
"You do not trust me?"
"Of course not," she said, "but I will use you all the same."
I clung to one thought during the days that followed, telling myself that, in the way that sometimes one must destroy a swathe of a forest in order to keep a conflagration from spreading, I would burn so that others need not. I would do whatever was needed to save this world that I had come to love, to save its people from the Legion and the Iron Horde.
Ceraxas and I were sent with the other Sargerei to Auchindoun, and though it was agonizing, she and I cut down everyone who stood against the Sargerei. From time to time there was a face that I knew, but none of them knew us.
And the power… it was undeniable. My body felt different, stronger, absolutely no frailty or weakness anywhere. My mind seemed altered as well, more focused; few extraneous thoughts wandered through. The only thing was… well, no matter.
Velhari was pleased, and allowed me to advance to the rank of the chosen. "Born of chaos, the first of the fel Rangari," she said when the ritual was done.
I looked down at my hands. The skin, once blue, was now charred to the elbow and latticed with glowing green veins. I felt a ravenous hunger to kill, to destroy the very land my enemies stood upon. "If only my sisters knew of this power… " I said.
"Convince them to join us," Velhari said, "and you will be even more richly rewarded."
She had been the only one who had recognized me, the only one who had not reacted with horror or disgust or anger when I stepped out of the shadows.
"Why did you not warn us of the attack on Auchindoun?" Khaano demanded. "How many of our people did you kill with your own hands?"
"She had no time," Naielle said, physically restraining him from attacking me. "And even if we had known, we still would not have interfered. To stop the attack would have revealed Anaara's duplicity. Her sacrifice would have been for nothing." She looked at me. "What did you discover? Who aided them? Why were they there?"
"Soulbinder Nyami was the traitor," I said. "There was a creature in the depths, consuming souls. Gul'dan sent—"
"Nyami was working with Guldan?" Naielle was aghast.
"He now leads the Iron Horde," I said. "Shattrath is his next target."
"We had hoped to pit the Legion against him!" Chel cried out with despair. "Now our enemies have joined forces?"
"The Shadowmoon hated Garrosh's Iron Horde as much as we did," I said, "but I was mistaken when I thought that they fought him for love of Draenor. It seems that that they simply wished to take the power of the machines for themselves."
"There is some talk," Kaalya said, "of adventurers from another world who have come to fight the Iron Horde and the Legion."
"Perhaps they will succeed where we did not," I said.
Ceraxas was not herself. She did not come when called for, and when I finally found her she shrank back under one of the Temple's stone tables and growled when I came near, baring her teeth at me.
I knelt down, and held out my hand. "It's still me," I said softly. "I am still Anaara. There is nothing to fear."
"I give the orcs credit," a warlock said. "They recognized that loyalty makes the wolf a better minion than a felstalker. Too bad the beasts resist the conversion so strenuously."
"What do you mean?" I turned to look at Ceraxas again, and now it saw what was happening to her. The greenish glow that made her eyes look rheumy, the lightening of her muzzle and paws that I had taken for signs of age, the deformity that was twisting her spine—she was being poisoned with fel energy.
Poisoned by staying so near to me.
The warlock chuckled. "Once that wolf dies, you'll hardly be able to call yourself a hunter anymore, will you? You're nothing without your animal slave."
I tossed my bow aside and tore out his throat.
And now, here I sit. This beach is the only place in Tanaan where the sun breaks through the clouds. It burns the back of my neck like a reprimand.
The antidote that Naielle made to counteract the fel touch worked beautifully on Ceraxas and her pups, but not on me. Within hours, I had begun to corrupt them again. I left them at the Temple, unable to end their lives: they deserved to be with someone worthy of them, someone untainted.
From the corner of my eye I see a green-skinned female orc approaching. For a moment I mistake her for a Shadowmoon, but then I see the bow in her hand, and a faint shimmer moving alongside her: a spirit beast, a loyal companion.
"Each day is a blessing," I whisper, and as the orc lifts her bow and signals to her beautiful pet to attack me, I thank the Light and smile.
first post 29 February 2016; rev 12 March