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Part Four

Grommash lit a small torch inside his tent and sat on the ground, gesturing for Garrosh to do the same. The dim, flickering light played over the thick animal-skin walls rippling in the night's breeze, a chill swirling through the tent.

Garrosh lowered himself to the ground slowly. The pain from the fight would likely last for days, but he felt no sign of serious injury. "I had an advantage in the pit," he said. His voice was calm, betraying nothing.

"Tell me," Grommash said.

"Surprise." Garrosh rested his hands on his knees. "They thought I was finished the moment I fell over."

The clan chief grunted. "You taught them something they already should have learned: your enemy is not dead until he is dead."

"A lesson you've shared with your foes, I understand," Garrosh said. Grommash Hellscream… the orc with the will of iron… my father. It was an effort to keep from smiling. "I am curious. Mak'Rogahn. I am not aware of any other clan that practices that."

"How much do you know about me, stranger?"

"Some," was Garrosh's cautious reply.

To Grommash's left lay a wineskin. He offered it to Garrosh, who refused. The chieftain took a long pull before speaking. "The Warsong once suffered through hard times. An ogre raid nearly wiped us out."

Garrosh knew this story. The death of his mother, the rebirth of the Warsong clan, the beginning of Hellscream's legend. "That's when you lost your mate, yes? A hard thing, to see family die in battle."

"We will not speak of her." Grommash's voice was iron.

His anger was startling. Garrosh hesitated. "I had heard Golka died fighting, taking down several ogres personally before she fell," he said.

"My clan showed weakness that day. They stayed behind," Grommash growled. "I had to show the Warsong how to face death. With blood on your hands and your enemy's throat between your teeth!" He hurled the empty skin across the tent. "Mak'Rogahn culls the shame of that day from my clan. Any who wish to call themselves Warsong must pass through that trial."

Garrosh didn't know what to say. There was clearly more to this story than he had heard as a child. "But your mate, she—"

"I said we will not speak of her."

What am I missing? thought Garrosh. An honorable death should be celebrated, even if the warrior had fallen in a lost battle. Unless…

Memories of Garrosh's youth rushed back to him. Day after day, filled with guilt and shame, bearing a name he had thought cursed. We are not so different. Not so different at all.

"I understand how you feel." Garrosh chose his words carefully. "My father died with his axe buried in his enemy's chest. A good death. But the path that led him there was paved with dishonor and was born from a single wrong decision. For too long I lived with rage toward him. It was wasted anger. Your mate's death and your clan's moment of weakness may still cause you pain, but the son she gave you—"

"My son? She never gave me a son."

Grommash was staring into Garrosh's eyes, weighing him, judging him. Garrosh did not even allow himself to blink. "I did not know that," was all he said.

Kairoz. Garrosh felt a cheek muscle jump. Counting blades of grass. He took a moment to relish the memory of carving out the dragon's middle, feeling Kairoz's hot blood flow over his hands. It calmed him. Deep breaths. I was never born on this world. Grommash was never a father. Is this what the bronze dragon meant by "the perfect timeway"?

Garrosh readied his wits. It is time to tell him why I'm here. "But I will ask you, Chief Hellscream…"

***

"…if you could go back and save her, wouldn't you?" the stranger asked. "I would. My father had an honorable heart. He was misled. He deserved a better legacy. Perhaps Golka deserves one too."

don't you see it's too late? End it!

Legacy. Grommash's scowl deepened. "Words are wind. Unless you can take me back, I am through speaking of her," he said. Golka. He hadn't allowed himself to speak her name for a long time. How had the stranger known it?

The other orc reached behind his back. "I cannot help you go back, but I can help you look forward." He withdrew a cloth bundle, unwrapping it. A glass shard with jagged edges lay within. He set it down between them. "This is how you will avoid making your own unforgiveable mistake."

Grommash didn't touch it. "You were carrying this the entire time?"

"Yes, Chief Hellscream."

It had an edge that could kill, if wielded by a motivated orc. And you didn't use it even when four orcs were trying to kick the life out of you? Few would have had such restraint. "What is it?"

The stranger smiled. "A friend called it a… glint of time. He thought its edges were too sharp, so now I have it." He rapped a knuckle on the shard. The sound was almost musical. "This will prove my words."

"Then speak."

"Let me describe something. Weapons." The stranger's eyes gleamed.

Grommash listened. The stranger spoke of magical energy concentrated into an explosive moment, a "mana bomb." Skilled creatures of power called "sorcerers" could hone and refine it until it had the potential to wipe out an entire clan in an instant.

"Such a weapon exists," the stranger said.

He continued, describing armaments beyond belief. Devices of metal and fire that could blast apart solid rock, spinning blades large enough to shred enemies with the slightest touch, siege weapons that could be used by land or by sea. "Such weapons exist."

"I've never seen them," Grommash said.

"Not yet," the stranger said, "but I can teach you how to build them, how to use them, how enemies might counter them. But the Warsongs cannot build them alone. You will need other clans, their resources and skills."

Grommash's eyes narrowed. "Then I'd rather not have them. Why would I ever want to give the other clans the means to wipe out my people in a single, treacherous attack?" Joining Warsong to other clans can only end badly for us all. He gestured beyond the tent walls. "We have the most fertile parts of Nagrand, and with them, enough food, shelter, and hunting to last for years. No clan has the spine to challenge us. They know they would pay dearly."

"So that is how the Warsongs live now? Complacent and satisfied with what they have? Wanting nothing more?" The stranger's mouth twitched into a shadow of a smile.

The words bit deep, yet Grommash felt no anger. The glut of mak'rogahn matches proved that his people were anything but satisfied. Odd that the stranger had such insight. "Wanting more is a long, long road from needing your impossible weapons."

give me the warrior's death I deserve…

Grommash ruthlessly shoved her voice away. Why did the stranger keep bringing her to mind? Her memory only reminded him of his clan's shame, yet it wouldn't stay buried.

"True. But you needn't fear the other clans. They won't turn against you, Hellscream." The torch's light shimmered in the stranger's eyes. "You would use these weapons against a common foe."

"Who?" The answer was immediately obvious, and he laughed. " The draenei? Are you one of Gul'dan's disciples? He speaks of such things." Gul'dan had made quiet inquiries to Hellscream, and almost certainly to the other clan chieftains, suggesting he had found a new source of power that eclipsed the shamanic arts. This power, Gul'dan claimed, might prove critical in defeating the draenei. Grommash wasn't yet convinced those blue-skinned creatures were dangerous, but Gul'dan's visions were certainly unsettling. "Is that his secret power, stranger? Are you building these weapons on his behalf?"

"No, Chief Hellscream. I have never met Gul'dan…"

***

"…but my weapons will stop him," Garrosh said harshly.

The flames on the torch popped and crackled. No other sound rang through the tent save the soft rustle of the walls in the breeze. Garrosh could see suspicion in his father's gaze. Not suspicion of Gul'dan. Of Garrosh.

"Stop Gul'dan. From what?"

"Convincing you and every other orc to become slaves," Garrosh said. "Gul'dan will start a war the orcs cannot win alone. He will bring the clans together and offer them a gift, one that would guarantee victory. On that day—"

Grommash interrupted. "What gift?"

It was dangerous to speak over any clan chief, but Garrosh pressed on. His anger at Gul'dan spilled into his words. " On that day, Chief Hellscream, you will be the first to accept this gift, not because you are weak but because you would not let any other orc take such a risk first." Garrosh's eyes twitched, and his voice barely rose above a whisper. "This gift will cost you everything. Your thoughts, your mind, your will… all playthings of your new, unseen masters. My father was deceived in such a way. I am here to make sure you are not."

One of his father's brows rose. "If what you say is true," he said, though it was clear Grommash didn't believe it yet, "then there is no need for your new weapons. The old ones are capable of carving out Gul'dan's heart. An easy end."

Easier than the traitor deserves. "Gul'dan is a puppet. Kill him, and his masters will find another vassal, perhaps generations from now, when I and you and all others who remember him are gone," Garrosh said. "They have long memories, and they are patient when they need to be. No. We will not give them the chance to regroup. We will bait them, expose them, and crush them."

Grommash let out a long breath. "You speak of impossible dangers, stranger. I'm destined to be tricked by an enemy I've never known, who offers me a power I cannot imagine, and the way to avoid this fate is to use weapons I've never seen?" He shook his head. "Words are wind. How do you plan to prove this to me? The shard?" He nodded down at the odd, curved piece of glass resting between them.

Garrosh nodded. "Yes, Chief Hellscream."

"How?"

Garrosh had wondered that himself. In truth, all he had was a guess. But it was a good guess. Growing up in the ruined, shattered Draenor, he had visited a sacred place often, begging the spirits for answers and guidance. They had not answered him for years.

Then Thrall had arrived, and the spirits had shown Garrosh how his father had redeemed himself. That moment had set him on a new path.

"I would like to take the shard to the Stones of Prophecy," Garrosh said. "My own fate was changed by the spirits of Nagrand. I believe yours will be, too."

***

Grommash scratched his chin. The Stones of Prophecy .

Many shaman from different clans had made pilgrimages to those standing stones, yet few received answers from the spirits who dwelled there. Only those with thunder in their hearts receive guidance through the storms of fate, went the old saying. Grommash had met the wise elder shaman who watched over the site, but he had never bothered to visit the place himself. He was no Bleeding Hollow chieftain who needed to mutilate himself to catch a glimpse of his destiny. He preferred to believe his fate was in his own hands.

Yet this stranger claimed the spirits had guided him. Interesting. "You are a shaman?" Grommash asked.

"No."

"You can commune with the elements?" he pressed.

"No, Chief Hellscream, but I believe they will aid you," the stranger said.

"Why?"

"The destiny of all who live on this world rests on your shoulders. Not just the orcs'. The elements will respond to our need."

"And if they don't?" Grommash asked.

The stranger didn't hesitate. "Take my head. I will have no further need of it."

Grommash slowly lifted Gorehowl and placed its edge on the stranger's neck again. The other orc's eyes met his, unblinking. "That is a very dangerous price to offer, stranger," Grommash said.

" Lok-tar ogar. If there is no convincing you, I have failed."

Grommash lowered his axe and slipped deep into thought. The stranger was a walking mystery. A whirlwind of questions spun through Grommash's mind, yet he voiced none of them. Questions could come later.

What was truly important?

Destiny? Slavery? Honor? Will?

Weakness.

… don't you see it's too late? End it!

Grommash closed his eyes. Weakness. That was the key. This stranger, the one strong enough to overcome four Warsong warriors while bound, the one who fought as though he had a Hellscream's heart, was warning Grommash about weakness, and he claimed he could prove it. He was wagering his life on it.

He could tolerate this stranger a little while longer to know the truth. The Warsong must never be weak again.

The heart of a Warsong means nothing if you have the brains of an ogre, Grommash had said earlier. Grommash had learned that lesson the hard way. He had been so bent on proving his will that he had run blindly into a fight he could not win. An unseen enemy had been waiting for—no, had been counting on—his recklessness.

… I am done…

Grommash opened his eyes and smiled. "We will walk together to the Stones of Prophecy, stranger, and I will hold you to your promise," he said.

The other orc looked gratified. "I'm glad."

The clan chief eyed the stranger's bumps and bruises. "Do you have the strength to keep up?"

"Yes."

Grommash rose to his feet. He glanced out of the tent flaps and saw the first light of dawn creeping above the horizon. "The stones are not terribly far away, and we have much to talk about. If this danger is real, how could I possibly convince the other clans? I am not beloved by many outside the Warsong, stranger."

The other orc stood as well. "But you command their respect, and you will have things to offer them. Spoils of war beyond imagining…"

They stepped together into the shifting hues of the morning's light, a smile tugging the corners of the stranger's lips.

Hellscream