I can't open my eyes.
The only sound is a faint roaring. Distant, but I can feel it thundering through me. It presses me down like a physical weight. I struggle to move, but it is too much. I am too heavy.
As I struggle against the weight, barely able to breathe, I become aware of another sound under the roar. It is...familiar. I have heard it's like before....but where? Oh yes.....
His hands clenched the rail before him, and Dahakha was unsure whether he was bracing himself against the wall of noise created by the crowd around him, or holding himself up as his world dropped away. He stared in disbelief as below him, on the arena floor, Garrosh Hellscream raised his axe and, turning away from the body at his feet, screamed out his triumph to those looking on.
Dahakha had seen many things since the Cataclysm had torn Azeroth apart. Deathwing's return had caused untold suffering for all races, not just the tauren, yet Dahakha had made it his personal mission to visit the new settlements and revisit the old, extending his help wherever possible and wreaking vengeance when grief overcame compassion. This was Cairne's way as well, and Dahakha had followed his chieftan's lead in trying to heal the wounds of the shattered world. He had heard with growing disquiet of the widening breach between Cairne and Garrosh, and was almost relieved when the challenge of honour came. Garrosh had led the Horde away from an honourable future, undermining or rejecting much of the work Cairne and Thrall had begun both before and during the Northrend campaign. It was time to correct that, and if his chief saw no other way to do so than single combat, so be it.
Cairne had been right. He had been true to his people, to his honour, and to the Horde. Yet, as he faced Garrosh and – clearly in control of the fight - moved to finish it, he had faltered. It was unbelievable. The acting Warchief, though, had not hesitated, and Dahakha's true leader, Cairne Bloodhoof, was dead. How could this be?!
Though most of the crowd was shouting its approval of the spectacle, the pocket of tauren around Dahakha was more muted. Many, like him, were silent, staring at their chieftan's body in stunned amazement. Some, however, had joined in their voices to the crowd's. The deep tauren bellows were filled with grief, and here and there, with anger and suspicion.
Dahakha had spent months moving around Azeroth, dealing with the many problems faced by the Horde in the new, devastated world. But as he gazed down at Cairne's lifeless body, he experienced his own personal Cataclysm......
The weight lessens slightly. I force my eyes to crack open, though all I see is a blurry light. Then shapes slowly form in my sluggish mind, faces. Many tauren faces, far off. I fix on one....I know it.....Cairne! But, Cairne is gone?.....no, his son.....
After Cairne's death, and the Grimtotem uprising, Dahakha was busy with his duties both to the Horde and to the Cenarion Circle, but he still found time between these missions to journey back to Thunder Bluff. The mood in the tauren city was changed greatly. While the revelation of Magatha Grimtotem's betrayal had calmed things somewhat between Thunder Bluff and Orgrimmar, resentment and lingering suspicion remained among many tauren. Baine Bloodhoof, the new chief, worked tirelessly to hold the Horde together, despite urging by many young braves, and a few older advisors, to avenge his father.
Dahakha sought to gain his chieftan's ear, but after the first meeting he was dismissed as another troublemaker, and Baine would not spare more time for him. He asked to be appointed as the Cenarion Circle's representative in Thunder Bluff, but the Archdruids assigned him other duties, more 'suitable' tasks. While these duties were in fact important, Dahakha could not help but feel that he was being deliberately blocked from Baine's council.
So he spent his time in Thunder Bluff speaking to the braves, young and old alike, gauging their sentiment and loyalty to their people and to the Horde. Slowly he became acquainted with a number of tauren who felt, like he did, that the Horde was losing its way. Plans were made and discarded, each more fantastic than the last.
Finally, he returned to Thunder Bluff to be met with restrained excitement. They had a chance, at last, to make a difference.
My gaze shifts slowly, up to the sky. The clear blue is unbroken, except for a lone hawk circling lazily above me.....
Dahakha drifted through the air high above Mulgore, lazily spiraling around the path his quarry was expected to take. As he instinctively sought the warm air currents, his mind went back over the plan he and the rest of the malcontents had hammered together over the previous days. Satisfied that they had taken every precaution, he allowed his attention to be drawn back to earth. Spying a large and brave, if foolish, rabbit in the grass, he aligned himself with it and prepared to stoop.
There! At the edge of his vision, he caught movement on the path. Aborting his strike on the fortunate rabbit, Dahakha drifted toward the group that had appeared in the distance. After a few minutes of observation he was sure, and casually changed course towards a copse of trees.
As he landed and shifted, Dahakha was met by low greetings and questions from the braves gathered. “They are coming. Now we wait for them to pass.”
A veteran of many a campaign, he rested with his back to a tree trunk, quietly letting the peace and harmony of life fill him. Soon enough, the sounds of booted feet, clinking of mail and creak of leather grew easily heard, and he flowed into lionform, padding to the edge of the copse and settling in amongst a thicket.
Approaching along the path, a group of orcs. Garrosh and his entourage. Interspersed with them were tauren soldiers, tribal markings and armour identifying them as the guard of the Chief of Chiefs. There was Baine, striding back to speak to a guard, then making his way to Garrosh's side again, pointing out various landmarks.
Dahakha growled, low at first, but building strength until his roar echoed around the hills. The group stopped, hands going to weapons and looking about with care. As time passed, slowly they relaxed, and started moving again. A pang of worry went through Dahakha – that had been the signal. Why were his colleagues in the guard not acting? He looked more carefully.....it was difficult to tell from here, but at least one of the guards he had been assured was going was missing from the escort. Something was wrong. Very wrong. Behind him, he heard agitated whispering, questioning the delay. He crawled back to them.
“This is not good. Our guards are not there. We cannot proceed, not with Baine at risk.”
This was met with exclamations of dismay and outrage. Confusion.
“We did not come here to fail, Dahakha. We must try!”
“No. We must wait. There will be other opportunities.”
He went back to the thicket, ignoring the low arguments behind him. Sharp disappointment – another chance like this would be a very long time coming. Suddenly he became aware that the arguments had stopped. He glanced back and found the braves gone. Alarm turned to shock as a cry went up from around him, the braves bursting out of cover towards Baine and Garrosh.
In desperation he dashed after them, barreling into legs to trip them, but most continued unchecked, bellowing warcries, not least among them “For The Horde!” and “Cairne!”. Baine and Garrosh stood together, weapons ready with their guards ranged about them. Garrosh laughed at the oncoming braves, roaring his own challenge.
There was no hope. Dahakha watched in despair as the guards met his braves, orcs mowing them down with ruthless efficiency, tauren aiming to neutralise rather than kill. Baine waded in, clubbing braves to the ground, whilst Garrosh leaped forward with abandon, clearly relishing the opportunity to fight. Dahakha did what he could, healing the worst of the injuries, but he was not as attuned to the tree of life as many of his fellow druids, and his efforts were only enough to prevent some deaths. Tears blurring his vision as the battle raged about him, he never saw the strike that turned the world black.
The weight comes crushing down on me again, and this time with the pain. Ah, but this pain is welcome, for it drowns out the pain I have carried for so long. The pain of betrayal, the pain of loss, the pain of grief.....
As consciousness returned, Dahakha groggily became aware of someone standing over him. Slowly his vision cleared, and in the firelight of the tent he saw Baine's sad face before him. He started to rise, but the clink of metal brought awareness of the weight of chain at his ankles and wrists. The instincts of the wild, the fear of being trapped and caught, took over and he shifted into catform – or tried to. Something blocked him....the chains were enspelled, locking him into his tauren shape.
After a moment of panic and struggle, with great effort he calmed himself and focused on his chieftain once more. Baine sighed.
“What did you hope to accomplish, Dahakha? Why risk splitting the Horde with such a foolish action? You had to have known that the orcs would never rest until they had vengeance for such a betrayal.”
“We only planned exile, my chief. We never wanted to kill anyone.”
“And yet many were killed. My people. Your people.”
“Yes. I could not stop them....I wanted to abandon the plan. Our people were not in place, we needed you kept safe – wait. You knew. That is why the guards were changed. How long?”
“Long enough, Dahakha. I tried to talk Garrosh out of continuing with the tour, but he insisted on drawing the rebels out so he could crush them at once. I had hoped that by changing the guards you would see sense and not do anything stupid. I share your responsibility for these deaths, I'm afraid.”
“I am sorry that we caused you such pain, my chief. It was our hope that a new Warchief would be more like Thrall, if he could not come back. More like your father.”
“Garrosh was appointed by Thrall himself. Do you doubt his wisdom?”
“Then why did Cairne challenge Garrosh, if not to save the Horde, to stop the descent into savagery that we are seeing with the new Warchief? You know that we are losing our honour, our chance at peace with the Alliance by being a part of such a Horde. We can only guess how long Thrall will be needed by the Earthen Ring. What if he comes back to find a Horde as merciless and destructive as it was before Mannoroth was destroyed? Can we afford to wait until that happens before we act?”
“Even so. But your way was not the right way. We cannot prevent that by becoming it ourselves. You will be judged tomorrow.”
With another sigh, Baine left Dahakha alone with his responsibility and failure.
It is hard to breathe. I seek Baine again, slowly...everything is so slow. Finding him, For the first time I notice my spiritual leader next to him. Archdruid Hamuul......his face is impassive. I do not regret defying you, Archdruid, only that you must be witness to my failure......
Before they took him to face the council that would judge him, Dahakha was visited by Archdruid Hamuul Runetotem. The old tauren said nothing for a long while, regarding him solemnly. Dahakha remained silent, patiently waiting for the remonstrations, the disappointment and shame that he had already taken upon himself. After a time, as he looked at the floor between them, the Archdruid spoke.
“I am to sit on the council.”
His head jerked up with shock and, as little as he deserved it, hope.
“I am not here to plead your innocence. I am here to determine your punishment. You have caused major diplomatic conflict within the Horde, Dahakha. This is not a thing to be treated lightly.”
“Not only that, but the Warchief's trust in the Cenarion Circle has been dealt a blow as well. A member of the Circle does not, can not, become involved in the internal politics of either the Horde or the Alliance. You know this, it has been a part of your training from the beginning. Has our faith in you been so misplaced?”
“No! Archdruid, Garrosh does not respect the Circle like Thrall does. He resists any counsel that could slow the spread of the Horde, even though it destroys the wild places, the sacred places. His relationship with the goblins of the Bilgewater Cartel is a foreshadowing of the future! He allows them to pillage the forests and destroy the wildlife, leaving nothing behind. If he has his way, Ashenvale Forest will be felled to fuel the Horde war machine. Where will it stop? When the Alliance is defeated? When the Horde is defeated? When he has conquered all of Azeroth? What of Draenor? No, Archdruid, I am convinced that Garrosh Hellscream is – or will be soon – an enemy of the Circle.”
“So. You took it upon yourself to determine what is best for the Circle.”
“Archdruid, my people – our people – revere nature and the elements. Where we see life, to be tended and cultivated, the goblins see only profit. Garrosh only sees fuel, war materials, and enemy hiding places. I do not deny that I did what I did because I feel the Horde is losing its nobility and honour, but I also cannot see any other way to avoid the undoing of the Circle's work than by replacing Hellscream as Warchief.”
The Archdruid studied him intently. Then he nodded to himself and turned away.
“Archdruid?” He stopped and looked back at Dahakha, bound and chained. “I do not regret what I tried to do. I did not have murder on my mind.”
“So be it.”
My mind drifts.....I laugh as I remember the look of shock on the faces of the council, only the laugh is more of a gurgle now.....
They let him appear before the council unbound, undoubtedly due to the Archdruid's influence. It was a short hearing, with the guard who had confessed the plan to Baine standing witness against Dahakha and the surviving braves. To his credit, he did emphasize that the plan had been to take Garrosh alive, not to assassinate him. Dahakha understood the guard's embarrassment at admitting his betrayal, but he had forgiven him even before he knew who the 'spy' was. After the initial burst of anger and shock, he had to ask himself, was I not also betraying those around me to do what I thought was right? Can I judge him for doing exactly what I did?
Garrosh leaned forward. “If I had my way, you would be summarily executed,” he growled. “But since you attempted this cowardice in Mulgore, I have decided to allow Bloodhoof to set your punishment. I am assured that it will be very, very unpleasant.” He flashed a nasty grin. “But if I don't think it is unpleasant enough, I will have your head!”
Dahakha looked to Baine. The chief of chiefs sighed again before he spoke. “Dahakha, you have breached the trust of members of the Horde, but also that of the Cenarion Circle. Archdruid Runetotem and I have discussed the matter, and the decision we have come to is this: you will be taken to Moonglade, never to return. Your presence outside of that sanctuary is upon pain of death. All Horde commanders will have orders to that effect.”
With visible effort, Dahakha choked back a groan of anguish. Then the Archdruid added, “Your rank within the Circle will be revoked permanently. You will be be required to serve, to meditate, and – perhaps, in time – to teach new druids. If you leave Moonglade, you will be forever outcast, and all Circle members will be empowered to hunt you down.”
Garrosh had been following this with impatience, his face growing more and more thunderous as the sentence was revealed. Clearly about to intervene, his outrage slowly faded as he noticed Dahakha's obvious distress. A smug smile appeared. “I hope you do decide to run, Dahakha. I will enjoy having you hunted down like a dog.” A gesture to the guards. “Take him away.”
“Wait.” It came out as a croak. “I have one request.” A little stronger.
“What is there to say? You have been sentenced, worm. Unless you would like to beg for death?” Garrosh laughed at his own joke.
“No. Just what I should have done from the start.” Standing tall, gathering what pride and dignity he had left, Dahakha looked into Garrosh Hellscream's eyes. “You killed Chief Cairne through treachery, though most believe it was not your own.” The Warchief roared to his feet, and the room was filled with tension and rage. Dahakha raised his voice to be heard over the noise.
“Garrosh Hellscream, I challenge you to an honour duel.”
The orc's eyes gleamed, as his fury turned to anticipation. “To the death?”
“To the death.”
Now the roar of the crowd has gone – is it quiet or am I unable to hear? But no, I hear the crunch of boots on sand as Garrosh approaches. My bane. I see his feet and legs at the edge of my vision as I look to my true leaders. “You fought well, tauren.” Grudging. He can afford to be magnanimous in his triumph. “Maybe you deserved this death after all. At least you weren't a coward.” I ignore him, lift my arm – so heavy, so slow – to point at Baine and Hamuul......
The duel is held in Orgrimmar. Dahakha uses every trick of the wild, every part of his druid training, every skill he has learned throughout his campaigns in Draenor and Northrend as well as against the Twilight's Hammer. Yet it is not enough. Garrosh anticipates most of what he does, and the rare occasions that he is surprised, he reacts with lightning speed. Slowly, Dahakha weakens. In a last, desperate flurry of attacks, he launches himself at Garrosh. But this was anticipated as well. The axe that, so long ago now it seems, killed his beloved chief, is buried in his chest. With a twist, the Warchief rips the weapon out, and Dahakha slumps to the ground. Through the roar of the crowd, Dahakha hears the Hellscream howl of victory.
I clench my fist. Bring it back across my ruined chest, a salute to Baine Bloodhoof, Chief of Chiefs, and Archdruid Hamuul Runetotem. For our people, for the Horde...
I try to shout my last words, but I can't tell whether anything comes out or if my mouth is moving silently....