It was an early evening on the Lehba Island. Sun has already set thanks to Anzulekk’s twin world, hanging in the sky right on the horizon. Despite that, it still wasn’t too dark. With his office awash in the twilight, Menrim was preparing to leave for his quarters when the doors opened. It was Raelia Sunspear, his felblood elf assistant. She was still calm and somewhat happy, not knowing what Verroak would soon want of her.
“Raelia,” Menrim said to welcome her, “I see you’re back from the mainland.” She spent most of the day commanding the Ivarindian peasants who were building the village where they would live together with the refugees Anzulekk would invite to flee from Azeroth’s certain and urgent doom.
“Yes. If you do not mind, I will just leave the documents and go back to my quarters.” She calmly walked to her desk, but before she could do what she planned, Menrim interrupted her.
“Actually,” he said, “boss wanted to talk to you.”
She sneered snidely. “What does the old coot want this time? Ran out of bird seed?”
Menrim wasn’t laughing at her jokes. He does not often joke, and he got tired of the bird jokes as well. “You’ll have to talk to him.”
“Fine,” she said putting down her paper stack, “I’ll go to his study right away.”
“Not his study,” Menrim said, pointing through the window. “He’s waiting for you at the world tree. Come.” He came out from behind the desk and grabbed his bag, putting it across his shoulder.
She chuckled. “You’ll be escorting me? My knight in shining armor. Only without the armor…” She looked across Menrim’s leonine centauric lower body. “But you got the horse parts alright.” They exchanged concerned looks after that last remark. “Not what I meant.”
“I know,” the tol’vir responded and came over to the door, waving to the felblood. “Come.”
Minutes later, the two were coming upon the giant tree in the middle of the island. The world tree of Anzulekk – Verroak Krasha’s crowning achievement. At least, one among a few of his crowning achievements. Depending on the day you ask him, he could instead mention moving an island halfway across the Galaxy, forcing open the Titan gateway to Planet Aman’thul, his trademarked mind bleach, or the red anti-magic mixture. Or a number of other things of objectively smaller significance which might still occupy his chaotic mind at any given day. However, smuggling a corrupted seed of G’Hanir from Azeroth, cleansing it off the Nightmare force on it, defeating the Shade of Xavius that emerged and planting the tree to grow to world tree size within a day thanks to Vale water is definitely among his greatest feats.
At the base of the tree, just in front of the Dream gateway, Verroak was standing with Balerok and together, they were staring at something small under their feet.
“That should not have happened,” Balerok barked out. “Balerok swears, we mixed the fertilizer correctly!” The dragonman had to skulk to reach Verroak’s height, but he didn’t appear to mind it much. During his time serving Nefarian, Balerok learned how to keep his head low.
Meanwhile, the arakkoa was scratching his nares and thinking what went wrong. He drew his staff through the red grass underneath it, as if he was trying to plough it out. “I know. The amount of Chowinese rhubarb must have been too high after all.”
The drakonid was clutching his hands together, like a student attempting to impress his teacher. “Balerok calculated everything! It should be right!”
“Well,” Verroak squawked out, “there must be something about that rhubarb we still don’t understand. You should recheck it.”
At this point, Menrim cleared his throat to notify the two alchemists of their arrival. They turned around and Verroak brows immediately went into a frown. “Ah, you” the old bird squawked.
“Yes,” Raelia responded, “what seems to be the problem, sir?” She asked, not expecting anything. Suddenly, Verroak raised his free arm and clutched it into a fist. Roots rose out of the ground and bound Raelia all the way to her black wings. Balerok bounced back from his employer and opened his maw in shock and began rifling his pockets. “Where did Balerok put it?” he quietly complained.
Menrim too took a few steps back, even though he expected what might happen. The elf herself shook in the immobilizing trap for a moment until she decided to get it off. Her eyes lit up with a green, infernal glow as her entire body began emitting waves of hellfire. At this point, Menrim ran backwards a few more meters and fearfully looked between the two combatants.
“No!” Verroak yelled out and hit the ground with his monstrous staff. A beam of blinding, yellow light shone from the sky through the gargantuan crown of the world tree. Raelia’s spell was stopped dead and she could only take a breath for now. The arakkoa walked up to her slightly faster – very fast for his norm – and squawked quietly under his proverbial nose. If he had a mouth and teeth, he would certainly be snarling at this point.
Suddenly, a bullet whizzed past the two. Verroak turned his head to see Balerok with a pistol in his outstretched hand. “Sorry,” the drakonid said, shrinking his stature, “Balerok see boss already has this under control.
The elf kept trying to wiggle out of the roots but found the trap beyond her capacity. She looked back at her employer, only to see him staring at her again. “Why?” she said.
“You don’t know? Out of all the things you did recently, nothing is coming to your mind that could cause this response?” She remained silent. Either there were more things she did, or she hoped to still evade responsibility. “The contract! The fake signature!”
She decided to play dumb as long as she could. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Oh really?” he responded. “The troll had no idea about Shadowlands water, let alone buying any from me. You faked his signature and probably took those drops for yourself. What I still don’t know is why you needed them. Did you sell them to someone without paying me back? Or asking first? Or maybe this is a betrayal? Did you contact your old Legion buddies, huh?”
Raelia perhaps decided it was time to drop the act. “I did not contact the Legion!”
“Oh, just as you did not forge the signature?” Verroak responded, yelling in her face. “You forged my client’s signature, you slipped it between other papers so I wouldn’t notice what I’m signing, you took my property, you did Void knows what with it, and then went out of your way to assure me where it was allegedly sold.” She was trying to open her mouth to explain herself, but Verroak kept interrupting. “I do not take kindly to being cheated, lied to and robbed. And probably betrayed.” He finally made a pause and walked a few steps away.
“I did a small test. It was my… insurance,” she said, hanging her head down.
“What kind of insurance cheats the most dangerous person on this planet?” Menrim asked, curious himself.
“Shut up,” Verroak responded to that, then looked back at her. “What he said.”
“In case the Burning Legion ever invaded this planet, I wanted to defect.” Verroak squawked out loudly at that. “But I didn’t!” she continued. “It did not get that far. The Legion doesn’t take just anyone back in, so I had to bring something in. I took some of that Shadowlands water and added it to the beer those two gnoll workers were drinking. Only a few drops, so it doesn’t kill them.”
Verroak was just standing, resting his arm on the Shadowstaff of Terokk, and nodding at what she was saying. “So they weren’t drunk after all.”
“No,” she confirmed, “but they were drinking anyway, so I hoped it would avoid notice. And that I would manage to put the bottle back in place before anyone sees it was missing.”
Menrim was standing far away from others with his arms crossed. “So you lied to me as well.”
“It was necessary!” she yelled at the tol’vir. “I wanted to have all my bases covered. If Krasha would prove to be not as powerful as he thinks he is and the Burning Legion comes to this planet after all, I wanted to have a way out. I wanted to…” she looked at Menrim and the look of betrayal and disappointment in his eyes. Before she could finish this sentence, she realized what she did. “I wanted to betray everyone here and leave them at Legion’s mercy.” Verroak was coming back to her, cackling quietly. She looked at him and expected a coup de grace coming any second. “What are you going to do to me?”
Verroak squawked and scratched his nares. “First, I’m going to tell you a story.” Balerok clutched his hands together. He loves a good story. “You see, when I was but a fledgling, I met a young orc on my way. Just another little bully, like most orcs, but this one, oh, this one had plans. He had grand designs for what he would do. ‘I will rule the world one day,’ he said to me. ‘I will crush anyone who will oppose me,’ he said. ‘Even you, arakkoa,’ he said, ‘you will have to bow to me too.’”
Balerok was listening intently. “So what happened? Did he rule the world?”
“Shut up!” Verroak squawked back. “So, you know, like a little orc, he kicked me and I got scared and ran away. Do you know what that orc’s name was?”
“I don’t know,” Raelia replied, clearly embarrassed about this whole story. “Blackhand?”
The arakkoa squawked. “Of course not! Blackhand wasn’t called that when he was a kid! It was… Gul’dan.”
“You met Gul’dan when you were young?” Menrim asked, furrowing his brow. “How come I never heard this story before?”
“You see,” Verroak continued uninterrupted and pulled out an herbalist knife and stuck it to Raelia’s neck. “If on that day, I pulled out my knife and thrust it into that orcling’s throat,” he said pressing the knife harder to Raelia’s skin, “perhaps today we wouldn’t be here. Perhaps… half of the catastrophes in the recent years would’ve been prevented. But I didn’t. So if I let you go today,” he pressed it hard enough to scratch her skin a little. A small trickle of green blood dripped on her neck. “If I let you go today, what’s to say you will not become another Gul’dan in thirty years?”
“I don’t want to rule the world,” she said quietly, trying carefully not to push the blade further in with her talking. “I just wanted a way out.”
“A way out?” Verroak said louder, pulling the blade away. “That’s it? Just a way out that happens to doom everyone in this community I’m building here?”
Balerok meanwhile pulled out a strange contraption out of one his pockets. A folding chair, it turns out. “Balerok can’t hear a bloody thing,” he said, coming closer with his half-broken chair.
Raelia was not distracted by that. “I see now the mistake I made. Spare my life and I…”
“And you what?” the bird yelled out, not noticing the dragonman sitting down beside him. “Become a ticking time bomb, waiting to go off when the first danger looms?”
“No, I swear, this will not happen again,” she replied and took a few deep breaths.
“Indeed, it will not. But not because you will it so,” Verroak replied and hid the knife back behind his belt. Then, he reached out beneath his cloak and pulled out a metallic orb with glowing Titanic runes on it. “You will do it because I want you to.” He reached out with the orb, and it began to glow far more than it did before.
“Shiny,” Balerok noticed and began staring at it. Verroak smacked him across the face to knock him away and Menrim instinctively looked away.
“From now on, my word will be a divine mandate to you.” No matter how much Raelia wanted, she could not look away. She felt compelled to look at it, and once she embraced it, the words coming out of Verroak’s beak were as if spoken by a god from on high. “You will do anything, including giving your life, to protect the people you tried to betray. And you will never forge another document, unless I or someone with my authority directly orders you to. Understood?”
She kept staring at the Titanic orb, nodding at every pause Verroak made. “Yes, sir,” she replied, “I will do anything. I can see now your true power… I was never in danger. The Burning Legion cannot defeat a g…” Menrim nervously paced around. That was the Dragon Orb of Yasei. Had he known Verroak would use his power like this… perhaps he would make sure it gets lost in transit. “…I have my faith in you now.”
“Good,” Verroak responded. He motioned his talons and the roots let her go. “Go back to your duties now. Know that I know mercy.”
She bowed deeply, as deep as you’d expect elves to bow only before the Sun King. Then, she left to her office, leaving the three alone. Menrim looked at Verroak with concern, prompting the arakkoa to respond. “What? I did that for the good of all of us,” he responded, hiding the inactive orb beneath his cloak again.
“Don’t you feel you’re going too far?” Menrim responded. “Such power over minds… no one should have that kind of power.”
Balerok was still clutching his face. “He went too far. He smacked Balerok. That is workplace abuse.”
But Verroak was ignoring the mad drakonid. “Don’t you moralize me again. When time comes and she fights for all of us, including you, with the fervor you’d only expect from a paladin, you will thank me.”
“People should make those choices on their own, not compelled by magic, or force.” Menrim argued.
“Well, I’d rather have a few people whose minds sit in my pocket and defend me, then have them free and betraying me, or making ‘emergency plans’, or whatever she called it.”
Balerok raised a finger. “Insurance,” he corrected his employer.
“Whatever,” Verroak waved Balerok away. “Freedom is only good as long as it doesn’t kill everyone around. Now, you are welcome to keep sitting on your high horse…” Verroak looked at Menrim’s centaurine body again, “or be your own high horse, and keep demonizing me, but when the real demons come, you will thank me.” The arakkoa moved away from the scribe and turned back towards his alchemist. “Come,” he said waving at him dismissively, “we need to fix that fertilizer.”
The two soon left, and Menrim was left standing there alone, looking at the Dream gate and contemplating. He could not say there was no truth in his boss’s arguments but they still felt wrong. Giving up freedom for safety… felt wrong. People should be able to choose what they fight for, he thought, but in the end, when the smoke clears, will anyone care how we protected ourselves? When the demons triumph and we lay broken beneath their hooves, what good will our freedom will be for us then? But on the other hand, if we sacrifice what we are just to win… is it still a victory? Tol’vir philosophers taught Menrim that one should always respect authority because of its Titan-given right, and then they happily supported rebellions that overthrew oppressive kings. No matter how many hours Menrim spent staring at the green whirlpool of that gate, he could not find a clear answer. He preferred to think he would stick to his heart when the worse comes to worst… but he never had to really face these kinds of decisions, beyond lengthy musings in the night.
He hoped he will never have to.