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Know Your Lore: The sorrow of Southern Barrens

The World of Warcraft is an expansive universe. You're playing the game, you're fighting the bosses, you know the how, but do you know the why? Each week, Matthew Rossi and Anne Stickney make sure you Know Your Lore by covering the history of the story behind World of Warcraft.

Cataclysm brought with it a lot of changes -- the face of Azeroth was forever changed as the landscape altered when Deathwing burst forth onto the scene. But along with the physical changes, there were plenty of political changes as well. For the Horde, Cataclysm saw the rise of a new Warchief in Garrosh Hellscream, as Thrall took his place beside the Earthen Ring and tried to repair the tattered land. The Alliance saw the rise of the Council of Three Hammers in Ironforge, as Magni Bronzebeard's sudden demise left a hole in the heart of the Bronzebeard dwarves.

It was the shattering of the land that saw both Alliance and Horde forces immediately move to reconfigure their borders and take whatever land and resources they could possibly get. Though the war rages on, some places are no longer war-torn and filled with the sounds of combat. Instead, these once-populated areas are filled with the silence of lives lost, of the cautious footsteps of looters looking to take whatever spoils of war they can carry.

Perhaps the most saddening of these is the once-peaceful settlement of Camp Taurajo -- now a charred version of its former self, left to wither back into the harsh lands of the Southern Barrens.

The Southern Barrens presents a unique and new tactic with World of Warcraft storytelling. Two sides fight over territory, Alliance and Horde -- and the result of that fighting is a small outpost, one that wasn't doing any harm to anybody, populated by the relatively peaceful tauren, shredded to pieces. But what makes the storytelling so unique is the fact that there are two sides to it -- Horde players see one half of the events, Alliance players see the other. To that end, we'll be visiting both sides of the faction war, though today our focus is on the Horde side of the equation.

The Barrens represented a gigantic chunk of Kalimdor that was well and firmly under Horde control -- and who would want it, really? A desert with a few scattered oasis littering the land, there was little to seek out in terms of resources or farmland. The few Horde outposts located in The Barrens were small, and while they weren't resort towns, they did offer shelter from the harsh elements of the area. The Alliance didn't want this land -- they simply wanted a way through it.

And so, shortly before the Cataclysm, plans were put in place to build a road straight across The Barrens, from Dustwallow Marsh all the way to Stonetalon Peak, connecting the two. It was understood that there would be Horde resistance, so forces were sent from Northwatch Hold to pave the way and clear out the area, including the Horde outpost of Honor's Stand. As for Camp Taurajo, though on the map it doesn't appear to be standing in the way of a road, it clearly stood in the way of progress. Orders were given by the Alliance to secure the roadways and anything that stood in the way, including Camp Taurajo.

Forces from Northwatch Hold started their march across the landscape, while forces from Theramore apparently did the same. The Northwatch forces attacked the Crossroads, holding them at bay and then, in the middle of the fighting, presented an organized march south to Honor's Stand. As for Camp Taurajo ... the tauren in the village were quickly overwhelmed and killed, the survivors barely managing to escape and fleeing north.

The Alliance may well have had their road, but they left a slaughter in their wake. And perhaps this would have been a successful mission, were it not for the next day's events -- a day that will be forever scarred in the memories of every living creature on Azeroth. Deathwing emerged from the depths of Deepholm, creating an avalanche of destruction in his wake, including earthquakes that split The Barrens in two. The Northwatch forces struggled to hold on to their newly claimed territory, and the survivors of Camp Taurajo desperately tried to continue their flight.

But The Barrens didn't just belong to the Horde -- the native quillboar of the area chose that moment to attack and captured many of the Camp Taurajo survivors. The land chose to move in their favor, and the brambles and thorny brush that the quillboar called their home rose up from the earth, quickly taking over the path between Razorfen Kraul and Razorfen Downs that led to the Great Lift in Thousand Needles. Not that any seeking refuge south had anywhere to go -- the ocean burst into the canyons of Thousand Needles and left behind a lake of water and still more lives lost.

If things weren't bad enough, the underground depths of the Wailing Caverns, which the druid Naralex sought to use and bring more life into The Barrens, shuddered with the upheaval. The result was an overgrowth of vegetation and ruin in the heart of The Barrens, a rift into the Nightmare portion of the Emerald Dream, right where the beleaguered survivors of Camp Taurajo chose to make their camp. Wild vines, teeming with the corruption of the Nightmare, threatened the lives of those that managed to survive the slaughter.

But the Horde was strong, and the Horde would not let the Alliance pass. Though most of the survivors of Honor's Stand traveled south at the orders of Warlord Gar'dul, some insisted on staying behind and letting the Alliance know that they were encroaching on Horde lands. Embittered survivors of Taurajo holed up and created an outpost at Vendetta Point, where they continued to attack the Alliance forces that had murdered their kin -- and keep them away from the much more hospitable lands of Mulgore.

The tauren people knew that it was only a matter of time before the Alliance decided to launch an attack on Thunder Bluff. Before they could get that chance, the tauren constructed a great gate, blocking off the only entrance into Mulgore -- well, the only known entrance. High above the rest of The Barrens, paths over the mesas used for years only by tauren hunters were opened up, providing a vantage point to attack the Alliance forces below. The narrow paths were easily defended -- and the Great Gate into Mulgore remained firmly closed.

The results of all of this, from the Horde side of the equation, are nothing but sorrow -- sorrow for the former NPCs and vendors that once gave quests and rewards to travelers that straggled in from the harsh Barrens. Sorrow for the survivors, who have yet to recover or even begin to rebuild. And sorrow for the tauren themselves, a peaceful people who were never really enemies of the Alliance per se and would never have launched an attack on a similar Alliance settlement.

The tauren, already dealing with the suffering caused by Cairne Bloodhoof's death and the struggles to fight off the treacherous Grimtotem. The tauren, arguably the kindest race the Horde had to offer. Of all the Horde races, the tauren are the least deserving of the heartbreak they are receiving in Cataclysm -- first the loss of a Chieftain, then the inexplicable slaughter of a peaceful hunting outpost, the treachery of the Grimtotem, then the Cataclysm that saw an uprising of the quillboar which shattered the peace of Camp Narache, a flood that ruined the comforting rises of Thousand Needles.

Perhaps the most surprising note in all of this is that the attack on Camp Taurajo, on the Crossroads and on Honor's Stand was carried out by orders from Theramore. The Northwatch Patrols carry Theramore Merit Badges, clearly marking them as members of the Theramore forces. Camp Triumph, situated across from Desolation Hold, is populated with members of the Theramore army. A brief look at the new map of Dustwallow Marsh shows the beginnings of the road the Alliance wishes to construct. Which makes one wonder ... what exactly caused Theramore to order this assault? Or more correctly, Jaina Proudmoore, leader of Theramore?

In the novel The Shattering, it's made clear that Jaina is torn between choosing two distinct paths -- the path of peace that she and Thrall have desperately been trying to create since the end of the Third War, and the path of the Alliance, and King Varian Wrynn -- a path that brooks no handholding with the Horde what so ever. Yet in The Shattering, Jaina takes in a beleaguered Baine Bloodhoof and helps him on his way to take back Thunder Bluff from the Grimtotem that have seized it. She treats Baine with utter kindness, respect and sympathy for his situation. Even Anduin Wrynn gets in on the act, gifting Baine with a weapon once belonging to Magni Bronzebeard.

So where exactly did Jaina go from sympathetic and compassionate leader, to someone who orders her armies to build a road across The Barrens and attack Horde outposts? Where did peace-loving Jaina, gentle friend of Thrall, retreat to? It's unlikely any of this was done under her nose, not with the extent of the assault. Was she influenced by Varian Wrynn and forced to side with her faction over her wish for peace? Was she so infuriated by Garrosh's rise to Warchief? Or has she simply been removed from the picture?

For Horde players, there is no answer ... all that remains in the Southern Barrens is a story, one-sided, that tells the tale of a simple hunting village that was attacked out of the blue, its peaceful citizens laid to waste and left to flee in terror across inhospitable land in the wake of the Cataclysm. Theramore forces continue to attack the Great Gate that bars any from entering the lush lands of Mulgore. And characters players have grown accustomed to seeing on their long trail across The Barrens are no longer with us, bodies left in the dust and ruin the Alliance left in their wake.

From the Horde perspective, the Southern Barrens is a tale of tragedy, vengeance, destruction, and a definitive look at the power of Garrosh's Horde. It's a story that raises more questions than it answers -- and though the person "responsible" for the massacre at Camp Taurajo is brought to justice swiftly and with no mercy, there is no satisfaction, no redemption with his demise. All that remains is yet another empty-eyed corpse, left to hang in the harsh landscape and rot in the unforgiving sun.

Come back next week when we take a look at the other half of the story -- the Alliance side.

For more information on related subjects, please look at these other Know Your Lore entries:

While you don't need to have played the previous Warcraft games to enjoy World of Warcraft, a little history goes a long way toward making the game a lot more fun. Dig into even more of the lore and history behind the World of Warcraft in WoW Insider's Guide to Warcraft Lore.

Filed under: Lore, Know your Lore

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