“The Horde is nothing!” With those infamous words, Sylvanas Windrunner betrayed and abandoned the Horde she vowed to serve. The Dark Lady and her forces now work in the shadows as both the Horde and Alliance, including her own sister, Alleria, race to uncover her next move. Struggling to shoulder the crushing weight of leadership, King Anduin entrusts the void elf and High Exarch Turalyon to uncover Sylvanas’s whereabouts.
The Horde now stands at a crossroads. The various factions form a council, leaving the mantle of warchief to rest. Thrall, Lor’themar Theron, Baine Bloodhoof, First Arcanist Thalyssra, and many other familiar faces rise to this new challenge. But the threats are numerous, and the distrust runs too deep.
When the council is derailed by a failed assassination attempt on Talanji—the Zandalari queen and a key ally—Thrall and the rest of the Horde leaders are forced into action. They empower the young troll shaman Zekhan, still grieving the loss of Varok Saurfang, with a critical mission to aid Talanji and help uncover the rising threat against her.
Meanwhile, Nathanos Blightcaller and Sira Moonwarden have been tasked by the Dark Lady with a terrifying gambit: to kill the troll loa of death himself, Bwonsamdi.
As Zekhan and Talanji work to save Bwonsamdi, their journey will be a key turning point in bolstering the Horde against the coming darkness and finding themselves along the way. Failure to save their allies and the trickster god will surely doom them—but through success, they may rediscover what makes the Horde strong.
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Much as it surprised him, the dry heat and endless noise of Orgrimmar felt like home. Perhaps it was like returning to a wayward, peculiar family, one Thrall had not necessarily chosen, but that he had come to respect. Thrall, son of Durotan, former warchief, had expected to recoil at the familiar scents and mayhem of the Horde city, but he slipped back into its rhythm with surprising ease.
In a way, the familiarity of it frightened him. Things had changed, of course; the Horde itself had changed. It had to. No longer could a single warchief rule them all. No, like a strange family, the Horde had grown, suffered, expanded, retracted, and finally, he thought, they were beginning to find their feet not as different nations united by a single voice, but as a chorus of strong voices raised as one.
Wolves grew stronger as a pack, in numbers, and there in Grommash Hold, among the Horde Council, he saw many fine wolves at his side.
Do not fear this, he thought, gazing around at those assembled. You lead no one. You simply sit among equals.
His pride did not chafe at the thought; in fact, he welcomed it.
Thrall placed his hands on his knees, leaning forward as the two young tauren braves giving report in the center of the rotunda finished recalling their tale. They had sighted two dark ranger spies on a ridge in the Northern Barrens, and after alerting a senior patrol in the area, the rangers were tracked and captured. The spies had swallowed some foul concoction and died before they could be questioned, but still, they would no longer be allowed to be the Dark Lady’s eyes in Durotar.
A smattering of applause went around the room, and the two braves stood tall, puffing out their furred chests and holding their spears straight. Thrall couldn’t stop himself from wondering how long they would live, what cold, bleak place far from here would be their end, what families they would leave behind as they gave themselves over as grist to the mill of war.
No. No. They were putting a stop to all of that. That was the purpose of the council, to eschew the bloody whims of one in favor of more tempered policies. And while many still flinched at the mere mention of the armistice, Thrall thought it a reprieve the Horde sorely needed.
“Well done!” Lor’themar Theron called to the two braves. The leader of the blood elves with his long, pale hair, scarred and dead left eye, and painstakingly groomed beard raised a chalice. “Bravely done. A toast to these fine soldiers of the Horde. Lok-tar!”
Thrall raised his own cup, but his eyes fell on an empty seat beside the crimson-clad leader of the blood elves. Other pairs of eyes and Lor’themar’s good one had wandered to that spot throughout the afternoon. It seemed almost too ironic—here they were, a council in response to Sylvanas Windrunner’s controversial leadership and self-exile, and nobody sat in her place to speak for the Forsaken.
Even the new queen of Zandalar, Talanji, had come from her far-off nation to meet with the council. She sat almost exactly across from Thrall in the circle of chairs making up the council in the hold, and she had said little so far, something, he knew, that was uncharacteristic of the brash young queen.
Beside her, nearest to the entrance, sat the also newly risen trade prince of the Bilgewater Cartel, and while Gazlowe might have been diminutive in size, he had made his larger-than-life presence known throughout the day’s reports, discussions, and disagreements.
The goblin had just poured himself more ale when two figures burst through the open archway, startling the tauren braves and Gazlowe, who slopped half of his drink down his shirt. He grumbled and swore, his single tuft of brown hair wobbling back and forth as he wiped furiously at the stain.
Their conspicuously missing council member had at last appeared. A slight, blue-eyed undead woman ran breathlessly into the hold, her gaze flicking in every direction, her posture suggesting she was not at all sorry for their tardiness. Behind her, a ghostly pale woman, also undead, stood with far more poise. They could not have been any more different, the two ladies, one ravaged by her affliction to the bones, the other smooth and unblemished, glowing from within with an arresting light.
Lilian Voss, interim leader of the Forsaken, and Calia Menethil had arrived, stealing the attention of every breathing creature in the hold, and leaving the two reporting braves to shift awkwardly in the sudden silence. Calia seemed to be watching Lilian’s every move, as if she might be tested on it later. Finally, Baine Bloodhoof gestured for them to step away, and the two tauren shuffled toward him, kneeling on the floor behind their high chieftain.
Nobody spoke, and nobody seemed to know what to say, least of all the new arrivals. Lilian Voss adjusted the worn pack on her shoulder, her boots, grieves, and cloak spattered in fresh mud.
To Thrall’s right, the white-haired and white-tattooed first arcanist Thalyssra coughed delicately into her fist.
I am not their leader. The silence stretched painfully on. Thrall stood and opened his arms wide to the newcomers, conjuring a warm smile.
“Your absence was keenly felt,” Thrall boomed. “The Horde is not the Horde without the Forsaken.”
Lilian nodded, biting down so hard on her lower lip that Thrall worried she would break the skin. Her companion, the luminous Calia Menethil in priestly garb, glided forward, inclining her silver head toward him. “Graciously said.”
“Join us, please.” Thrall returned to his seat and indicated the open set of high-backed chairs reserved for their party.
“You will find Orgrimmar’s finest foods and all the wine or mead you can . . . er . . . I mean, we are at your disposal,” the vulpera Kiro said, paws washing over one another after the mistake. They were new to the Horde, after all. More softly, he added, “Please take a seat.”
The gaffe broke the tension, and Gazlowe got a good chuckle out of the tawny vulpera’s misstep. The undead had no need of food or drink, and Thrall was glad to find their new Forsaken leadership did not take offense. Instead, they were welcomed by the immense and feather bedecked Baine Bloodhoof and Lor’themar, sitting on either side of the empty chairs.
“May we ask what detained you?” Lor’themar inquired as the ladies were seated.
“Our people can’t stay in Orgrimmar forever,” Lilian replied, at last finding her tongue. Once she had sat down and unburdened herself of her pack, she appeared more at ease. Her blue eyes flashed brighter as she straightened her back and removed her leather cloak. “It’s too hot. We prefer the shadows and the damp. Perhaps in time the ruins of Lordaeron can be reclaimed and our home there restored. Things are a little less heated with the armistice, but that doesn’t mean Alliance ships are happy to see our flags at sea.”
Across from them, sharpening a knife beside the trade prince, the Darkspear troll Rokhan hissed and leaped to his feet. His tusks gleamed as readily as his dagger. “They give you trouble?”
“We took the long way ’round,” Lilian rasped. “Added a few days to our journey.”
“Better to be careful in these tense times,” Calia added softly. “Lest we cause a diplomatic incident.” Then she shrugged, weary, and removed her sun-faded blue shawl, folding it neatly. “I am sure if we were intercepted, Derek Proudmoore could intervene on our—”
“The Proudmoores can do nothing for us.”
Just when Thrall felt the thrum of nerves in the room dissipating, the young Zandalari queen was on her feet, icily rigid. Talanji slashed her hand through the air, her many golden piercings twinkling softly as she did, her tall, jewel-encrusted headdress casting a looming shadow that reached across the hold and flickered in the firelight.
Leather squeaked and iron jangled as the murmurs and shifting began. Behind him, Thrall heard his page, Zekhan, blow out a long breath.
“The Horde could not stop the attack on Zandalar, a failure I took in stride, believing that when we had recovered, we could take the fight to the Alliance, to the Proudmoores,” Talanji continued, her voice shaking with emotion. “Peace with the Alliance means peace with the Proudmoores, with Jaina. I was foolish to believe my people would have their revenge.”
Thrall squeezed the bridge of his nose. And it had all been going so smoothly. Perhaps he should have expected this. They were all so different, these assembled leaders, with conflicting ideas on what it meant to be part of the Horde, and no doubt their visions of the future varied as well. The tide of uneasy voices in the room began to crest.
Before he could offer something mollifying to the new queen, Lilian was quick to respond. “Derek is one of us now. You will have to accept that.”
Talanji snarled, taking a single menacing step toward the Forsaken leader. “I have to accept nothing. You need me, and I had thought we had need of the Horde; now I see you will not help us seek justice for the siege of Zuldazar.”