The troll decided to travel with me to Durotar, or fate decided it for us. We met on the path that evening, and after some strides in sync we acknowledged each other, and that was that.
Awende, she introduced herself as. She had ‘some magic’, she said, but refused to specify. I had ‘some medical knowledge’, I told her, and left it at that. There was some conversation, the usual kind, about destination and occupation, but it was precursory and we knew it.
‘Do you know them,’ I asked, ‘the tauren back there?’
The bull, yes, the cow, no. She and the bull had fought in the siege together. He was strong, but wilful.
‘Judgemental,’ I said. ‘He blames every Forsaken for the work of the Royal Apothecary Society. We aren’t one and the same.’
She answered with silence.
‘The Society,’ I told her, ‘had a cure in mind when they were formed. They didn’t have all these subdivisions. They were working for the reincarnation of us all, inarguably. Some still are, of course! But that’s not what they’re known for anymore, is it.’
The troll, like most trolls, was sharp. Unlike most trolls, she wasn’t obstinate, set on feigning ignorance. She spoke.
‘The Horde took my people in, and taught our men to take note of our women. For that there had been no hope before. In our tribes there was danger all the time, always hardship: my mother and her sisters had too much to do to demand anything more. The Horde fixed that. I am a soldier today by the goodness of the Horde. I am turned murderer today by the will of that Horde!’
We fell silent and let the tread of our feet replace her words with steadiness.
‘That Horde only in name, perhaps,’ I said in time.
‘No,’ she said, ‘the same people, the same places, the same Horde. You cannot say Garrosh alone makes everything– like this. We are the same, but infected with a wickedness.’
I think infected is an interesting word. Firstly it suggests something external coming in. An infection isn’t an intended part of us, it breaks through our defences somehow, when we’re cut or when we eat, or it just goes ahead and perseveres through all the mucus and immunities our bodies set up to repel it.
But secondly an infection is still something that gets worse inside of us. It brews in there and builds up, using our strengths against us. A bad cold is nothing while it’s still in the air, floating about doing nothing. It has to encounter someone, and get inside them, to become sickness and to start generating all these symptoms.
Thirdly a truly bad infection, like an epidemic, will affect not only health but behaviour. People flee to the country and abandon one another, even fight to keep other people far away for fear of being infected too. Others will suddenly find heroism and risk themselves to help the sick. And the sick themselves, if the sickness is fatal, can turn despondent, or desperate, or violent.
What I’m saying is this: her analogy seems to work, and suggests that something entered the Horde, maybe through a wound, maybe because we welcomed it in through our everyday hunger, maybe because it was tenacious.
Once inside the Horde it grew, festering within people, feeding on our energies, perhaps our anger, because that’s an easy one to exploit, or our fear, because that is too. It turned our strengths into negative things, maybe putrefying the merits of our diversity by making racial differences into barriers instead of opportunity, or something like that. Perhaps turning our war machine into something inward and problematic?
In fact, yes, because Theramore was the work of the war machine and it prompted this entire discussion. This discussion which is, like the party at the Crossroads, the reaction of the people who suffer or are near to those who suffer the infection. It’s prompted a wide range of behaviours.
But I have issue with using this analogy even if it seems neatly descriptive, because of the very first point, that it has to come in from outside. Placing the blame for our own actions on something inflicted on us is something I hear a lot amongst the apothecaries. Crimes committed against us become reasons for cruelty or poor logic. An infection becomes not a contributing but a deciding factor, as though we are all caught up in this tide toward evil and not one of us can be expected to swim against it.
Even Lydon, who taught me to be self-evaluative, and to keep working for a cure, even as we were pushed more and more to weaponize this and weaponize that, was like this. He would say that we should stomach the work in poisons and plagues so as to keep the resources flowing that we could then use on better research. Then I would witness him torturing individuals with a kind of animal ferocity and joy that I would never see in him at any other time, and he would explain this as his undead state getting the better of him.
I do not think something ‘getting the better of us’ is anything other than an excuse, and I think the same of this supposed ‘infection’ of an otherwise good and forward-thinking Horde. I think Garrosh’s policy is carried aloft by the masses of people who want more war and more land and more butchery, and that Thrall himself appointed Hellscream out of some deep desire for revenge that he could not acknowledge and so could not question or halt.
I don’t think I believe in good people and bad people anymore. I think vengeance and violence and prevarication are ingrained in all of us, even those who have slithered onto the pedestals of heroism, and that should be accepted as fact: it is the condition of all sapient species to have all these destructive traits. To do anything else is to try to formulate cures based on false evidence.
Personally, the thought of Theramore makes me sick, because of the scale and the brutality of the destruction, and because it stirs a little glee in me. I am glad to be on the winning side.
I will not mention this to Awende, I think she is happier with her excuse, and I think she might be happier still to put a spear through me, because my species is such an icon for this behaviour she hates so much.