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Part Five

The spirits at the Stones of Prophecy had been unsettled for days.

For an evening and a morning, they had panicked. Fate is twisted. Someone has come. Events are already changing. The chatter had since dwindled to confused, scattered murmurs.

Elder Zhanak had seen worse. In his decades of watching over the stones, he had grown to understand that the elements were not peaceful but energetic, not passive but adaptive. Sometimes they grew angry. Sometimes they grew fearful. Sometimes they wanted to talk. Not today. Not to Zhanak, certainly not to any pilgrims. He accepted it—what else could he do?—and sat in the shade, meditating, glimpsing an occasional fragment of the elements' unease.

Twisted and turned. Does not belong here. Who is he? Who is he?

Such talk did not frighten him. Fate was a delicate thing. Sometimes the spirits would deign to provide a glimpse of what might be—might be—or what had come before, but they could not plot out the footsteps of any orc, even if they wanted to. The elements could only speak of what they knew, and they did not know everything.

A whisper guided him back to the world. "Elder Zhanak." It was one of the shaman apprentices. "Pilgrims are arriving."

Zhanak didn't bother opening his eyes. His sight had been declining for three decades, and anything farther than two arms' length was a mere smudge of light and shadow. But when the elements were your ally, waning senses were not so crippling. "Three of them, yes?"

"Four."

Zhanak frowned. The spirits were aware of only three orcs approaching. "You're certain?"

"One is Chief Grommash Hellscream. He has two Warsong guards. I do not recognize the fourth," the apprentice said.

"I see." Zhanak raised a gnarled hand. "Please, help me up." The apprentice carefully pulled him to his feet. Weak knees trembled for a moment but held. The shaman nodded, satisfied. His walking stick would keep him upright for long enough. "You should step away, young one."

"No."

"I am not asking," Zhanak said gently. "Hellscream and I understand each other, but today will be a little different, I think. He may not be pleased when I tell him to leave. I have nothing to fear from him. He could take my head, but what would he truly steal but the little time I have left? He would take much more from you. Go." The apprentice hesitated but finally stepped away.

Zhanak stood alone and waited for the Warsongs—and their strange guest—to arrive. He began to listen closely, very closely indeed, as the spirits' murmurs grew louder and louder.

It is he. He is here. He is here. HE IS HERE.

The spirits were panicking again. Zhanak's hands tightened on his walking stick. Fate is a delicate thing, he thought grimly. Let's see if we can protect it today.

***

"The Blackrock clan is not so welcoming, stranger," said Grommash Hellscream. He stepped around a small rock in the middle of the path. Two Warsong guards trailed behind him by a few respectful paces. "Neither is the Shattered Hand clan. They will want more than trinkets and promises."

"Once they are convinced that another world is for the taking, they will only want a greater share of the spoils. You won't have to give up Nagrand," Garrosh said. "There is a place called Ironforge—the Blackrocks will sacrifice much to claim it. The Shattered Hand? Give them the land near a place called Sen'jin Village. I will even help them take it." And I will enjoy it.

Garrosh kept his glee hidden. His father was seriously considering his words. Already Grommash was contemplating ways to shepherd a united orc people, a Horde. I suppose I should thank you, Kairoz, Garrosh thought. "And if that is not enough for the moment," he added, "tell them about the marvels we'll plunder from the draenei."

"You said they were not the threat Gul'dan claims," Grommash said.

"They aren't, but they will stand in the way eventually. Better to deal with them sooner than later. You will see," Garrosh said.

Grommash didn't look convinced. "Perhaps." He fell silent as they finally topped the last rise. The Stones of Prophecy were only a short distance away.

An orc was waiting for them, standing next to a nearby tree. "Elder Zhanak," the clan chief called, "it is good to see you again."

The old orc, his hands twisted and gnarled with age, leaned heavily on a stick. "It has been too many seasons since I've seen you last, Chief Hellscream, but words of your conquests have reached my ears. You've brought much honor to the Warsongs," he said with warmth and respect.

Garrosh stepped forward. If my father is friends with him, I should be, too. "Greetings, elder. I have journeyed a long way and—"

The elder cut him off. "I know." The warmth was gone. "What is your name?"

"I come as a stranger and nothing more."

"What is your name, outsider?" The venom in Zhanak's voice left Garrosh speechless. The elder raised a crooked finger and said, "You do not belong here. The spirits loathe your presence. You bring chaos to this world merely by existing."

Garrosh glanced at his father and saw a veil of doubt drop over his eyes. This old shaman could ruin everything. "I am indeed from a land far away, but—"

"I can smell your lies before you speak, outsider." The shaman was actually hissing with fury . He took slow, deliberate steps forward, staring directly into Garrosh's face, veins standing out against his wrinkled skin. "Fate itself retches. You intend to topple everything about this world."

An oppressive presence seemed to weigh down on Garrosh's mind. The spirits really did loathe him. If you knew what I gladly did to your brethren in Durotar, you would strike me down on the spot. He reached behind his back for the shard, quickly unwrapping it. "This will prove—"

The shaman slapped it out of Garrosh's grip. "I do not care for your vile tricks," Zhanak said, voice rising. He had cut his hand badly on the shard's jagged edges but did not seem to notice his blood dripping to the ground. "Chief Hellscream, it will save you untold pain and heartache to kill this obscenity without delay. His every step will lead to the deaths of countless innocents. Watch. He will deny it."

"I deny nothing," Garrosh snarled. He pointed toward the shard, lying in the grass. "I will topple everything. I must. That will show you why."

"From his own mouth, he condemns himself," Zhanak said softly. "Kill him. Kill him now."

"Do you believe there could be a fate worse than death, elder?" Garrosh struggled to keep a respectful tone. The slightest sign of contempt might turn his father against him. "I do not bring peace. I bring war. Chaos. Death. Each of us could die in agony a thousand times over, and it would be a fair price to avoid what fate has decreed for all orcs."

"Elder Zhanak," Grommash said, "this stranger claims that all orcs will soon fall into enslavement."

"What must be, must be," Zhanak said.

With that one statement, Garrosh knew he had an opening. "No. I will not sit idle and wait for oblivion." Garrosh turned to Grommash, imploring. "Neither will you. I know it."

"Zhanak," Grommash said, "I must see for myself. If he has found… weakness… within our people, it must be corrected."

Zhanak shook his head. "The spirits will not speak with you today."

"I have the right to ask."

"But he doesn't." Zhanak pointed at Garrosh again. "Insist on bringing him with you, and I will stand in your way. You will have to kill me."

Garrosh resisted the urge to break the elder's finger off. I will enjoy your death, you senile halfwit, he thought. "I will stay here with the elder, Chief Hellscream. Take the shard. Speak with the spirits. This is too important to delay."

Grommash stood silent for a long moment, weighing Garrosh with his gaze. "Elder Zhanak, I must do this. I must know for certain."

Zhanak's expression screwed up into a grimace, as though he tasted something foul. "Very well. Get it over with."

Grommash carefully picked up the glass shard. "You, stay here," he said to the male Warsong guard. To the female, he said, "Accompany me." They walked down the path toward the standing stones.

Garrosh said not a word. He kept his eyes on his father, ignoring the poisonous glare from the elder. The remaining Warsong guard was watching Garrosh closely.

"Should it go badly for you," the guard said, "don't run. It will be much, much easier for you if you accept your fate."

"It may go badly for me, but if I can't change his fate, it will go worse for you," Garrosh said, "and I have no intention of seeing it happen."

The guard grunted. Garrosh stared at the stones. A dead weight settled in his stomach.

It's out of my hands now.

***

Grommash stepped into the center of the stone ring after handing Gorehowl to his guard. "Do not disturb me, and do not lose that," he told her.

"Yes, Chief Hellscream."

The air was alive with power. Each of Grommash's movements seemed to disturb the spirits. Zhanak had not been lying—they hated the stranger. Perhaps that meant there was no hope at all to get any answers. But the stranger will pay the price for that, not I, Grommash thought grimly. It would be a shame to remove such a remarkable orc's head, but a promise was a promise.

Grommash held the glass shard flat in both palms and inspected it closely. There were tiny pinpricks of bronze light shimmering throughout the glass, like small grains of sand trapped within its mass. A fascinating object.

Perhaps there was some traditional way to greet the spirits. If so, Grommash didn't know it. He would be direct. If they didn't respond, so be it. "The stranger believes the fate of this world rests upon my choices," Grommash said, lifting the glass. "He also claims the proof lies within this. Prove him wrong and he will die here. Show me the truth, one way or the other."

The air swirled. Small motes of fire, droplets of water, and specks of rock were caught in a vortex of rushing wind bearing down on the shard.

Grommash didn't flinch as power filled the shard, even as a sharp light stung his eyes and a mist rose among the Stones of Prophecy, and suddenly Grommash was carried away—

***

In a blink of an eye, Grommash vanished. A solid wall of mist, like no fog Garrosh had ever seen—certainly not when Thrall had shown him a vision—filled the circle of standing stones. The guard at the edge of the stones leaned left and right, trying to spot the clan chief through the haze.

The guard near Garrosh tensed up. "If you've killed our chieftain, stranger, you will die next," he snapped.

Garrosh shook his head. "He's fine." His words belied the sudden fear that seized his heart. How would the spirits react upon glimpsing another world, another time? Would they panic? Might they kill Grommash? "This is all as I expected." This has to work. Confidence. He needed to show confidence.

Light suddenly shone within the mist.

Elder Zhanak cried out, "No!"

The other two orcs turned. The shaman had collapsed to the ground. "No!" he screamed again. "This must not be!" The guard knelt next to him, holding him by the shoulders as the old orc quivered and convulsed.

He's seeing what my father is seeing. That oppressive feeling of disgust and hatred lifted away. So are the spirits. And they were as horrified as elder Zhanak.

Garrosh turned back toward the Stones of Prophecy, and waited.

***

—days and weeks and months rushed past with each blink. Grommash stared in awe.

It was all true. Everything the stranger said was true.

A war the orcs could not win. The blue blood of the draenei and the dark crimson blood of orcs mingling together on the battlefield. The terrifying numbers of a united orc people, far beyond anything the Warsong could ever have mustered alone. This is the Horde. Grommash could scarcely conceive of its power. The stranger had not even come close to describing its potential.

Time continued to whirl past. He saw the slow decay of the land as a new power—warlocks—was embraced. He saw orcish skin changing color, patches of green appearing even on those who never touched the corrupted energy.

He saw Gul'dan's "miracle," a gift of untold might from an unseen benefactor. And, yes… Grommash was the one who strode forward and drank the gift first.

But the stranger had been wrong. Grommash cared little for the danger to other orcs. He would be first because he would not ignore a single thought: None will be stronger than I. Not for a moment. I will never be weak.

Hellscream stared into the mist of prophecy and watched himself drink the glowing liquid and felt its effects as keenly as if he were there. He felt his body transform. He felt the tingling fury as his skin turned entirely green. He felt the power encompass all that he was.

"I feel… magnificent!"he shouted in the vision. "Give me draenei flesh to tear and rip! Draenei blood on my face… I will drink it down until I can hold no more! Give me their blood!"

It was magnificent.

And it was wrong. His thoughts were no longer his own. He could feel that, too.

The mist carried him forward.

***

The elder shaman cried out again. " Must not be!" He was quaking, flailing, his eyes squeezed closed. Spittle dripped from the corner of his lips.

The Warsong guard kept glancing toward the Stones of Prophecy. "Is he dying? Is Hellscream?" he asked.

Garrosh gestured down the road. "Go. I will stay here. If need be, pull Hellscream free of the mist."

The guard needed no further encouragement. He sprinted toward the stones. Garrosh knelt down next to Zhanak, feeling a strange sense of relief. "Do you understand?" he asked the elder. "This is why I traveled here. To stop this."

The shaman clutched his chest, fingers digging into the skin just above his heart as he writhed and muttered. The gash on his palm, where he had cut himself on the shard, left red streaks across his robe. "Not meant to be. Must not happen. Not meant to be. Must not happen." His breaths came shallow and quick. He opened his eyes. "Still hope. Redemption. Redemption."

"Yes," Garrosh said softly. "Redemption. That is why I'm here." He grasped one of the old orc's arms and felt the racing, fluttering heartbeat. Was he dying? Possibly. "I will give our people redemption."

Zhanak didn't seem to hear. "Hellscream has the heart. The heart to change it all."

"Yes," Garrosh agreed.

"The heart to resist. To fight. To unite all orcs. To lead."

Garrosh sat cross-legged and propped up the shaman's head on his lap. "Yes. All of those things and more." He gently patted the elder on the shoulder. At least the old fool understands now.

"Peace… we might see peace…"

Garrosh's hand went still.

***

Lok-tar ogar. Victory or death. The vision showed both. A victory against the draenei and then the death of this world as fel magic corrupted it all.

The elements themselves would be driven to ruin. Grommash could feel their dismay shaking the Stones of Prophecy. This vision was as surprising to them as it was to him.

Then came another magnificent idea from Gul'dan—invade a new world. Azeroth. The Horde charged through a portal, earning victories, destroying cities, slaughtering all who stood in their way.

The victories didn't last. When defeat came, it was total. The orcs who survived were rounded up and held captive in camps. 

And they didn't fight back.

Even those who had been Warsong. They didn't fight back. Their corrupted power had vanished, leaving them listless.

Our souls. Our souls will be gone. Grommash wanted to weep.

***

Zhanak's eyes focused again on Garrosh's face. "You've seen. You know. A united people. Protecting one another. Glorious. Hellscream could lead his people there. He has the heart. Glorious…"

"That is the Horde, elder," Garrosh said.

"Hellscream can bear it. He can overcome it. The corruption will not be the end." Tears streamed down Zhanak's face. His voice was laced with joy and hope. "One world in ruins, but the other stronger than ever. Hellscream's sacrifice saves us all. You've seen it…"

The vision took him again and he began to tremble anew.

Garrosh glanced around. The two guards were pacing at the edge of the mist, clearly debating whether to interrupt the vision. Nobody else was in sight. If this shaman had caretakers or apprentices, they were not nearby.

"I have seen it, elder," Garrosh said. He reached down, pinching the old shaman's nostrils shut with one hand and pressing the other firmly across his lips. "And I will not see it again."

Muffled grunts escaped around Garrosh's fingers, yet the shaman could bring no air into his lungs. Zhanak's hands clawed at Garrosh.

"The ancestors will welcome you home," Garrosh murmured, staring straight ahead.

He waited for the muffled grunts and the squirming and the heartbeat to go quiet. They did. Still he kept his hands in place for a thirty count.

Then he gently laid the shaman down. "The ancestors will welcome you home," Garrosh said again, meaning it. The elder had commanded respect even from Grommash Hellscream. It was a shame he needed to die.

Garrosh strode down toward the Stones of Prophecy. Perhaps the elements would be enraged by what he had just done. Or perhaps they had not seen anything at all. The vision seemed to have enthralled them.

And that reminds me…

Gorehowl was in the arms of one of Grommash's guards. Garrosh smiled and reached for it.

***

Captivity. Horror. Death. Even the orcs outside the camps could barely scavenge an existence on this unfamiliar world. Even Grommash Hellscream, the orc with the iron will, the orc with the giant's heart, the fearsome leader of the Warsong… he fought a losing battle against lethargy and despair, living his life hiding from the orcs' conquerors, secretly longing for death.

His thoughts mirrored her voice. Golka's voice. He finally understood. She had not been weak. Not for a moment. How had he not seen that?

give me the warrior's death I deserve…

"This cannot be!" Grommash howled. "This must not be!"

The elements echoed his emotions. Must. Not. Be. The demonic taint would nearly eradicate them as well. They would all suffer together.

This must not be. Ever. Grommash felt conviction sinking into his bones. Conviction and anger. My clan will never fall to such depths. Any price to avoid this fate.

Any.

The vision continued. A new orc, raised by humans, was forced to fight for their amusement. Strong though he was, he was humiliated and beaten constantly, even given the name Thrall. But soon he dreamed of escape, and—

"You fools, pull him out!"

The voice came from outside the vision. Grommash ignored it. What could be more important than this? He watched as the mist showed the young orc learning to read and—

"It killed the shaman! We have to stop this vision now!"

The handle of Gorehowl entered his eyesight—his real eyesight—and swung downward. Pain shot through Grommash's wrist. His hand opened by reflex, and the shard of glass that had channeled such horrifying visions fell to the ground. The mists vanished. The sights and sounds disappeared.

It was over.

Grommash fell to his knees, gasping.

"Chief Hellscream!" The stranger was kneeling at his side. He held Gorehowl. "Are you well?"

Grommash slowly regained his composure. Very slowly. He did not look up until his breathing had calmed. The air continued to swirl around them. The elements were distressed.

Finally, Grommash stood. "Give me that," he said, extending his hand. The stranger handed over Gorehowl. "Why did you interfere?"

The stranger pointed past the edge of the stones, toward the tree where the shaman was waiting. "The vision killed the elder, Hellscream," he said. "I never imagined it could be so dangerous. I feared it would kill you too."

"His heart could not bear to see what I saw." Grommash seized the stranger by the throat and hurled him backward against one of the stones. An instant later, Grommash placed Gorehowl against his neck. "What happened next?"

"What?" the stranger asked.

"I saw slavery and death. That cannot be how it ended." The edge of Gorehowl pressed deep, just shy of breaking skin. "What happened to me? What happened to my clan?"

"You fought to the end, Hellscream. You and others." That sounded like an admission the stranger didn't want to make. "But it was too late. Our hearts had been ripped out. Do you see now? The price for Gul'dan's power is—"

"Everything," Grommash interrupted. His voice was hoarse. Slowly he pulled Gorehowl away. "It will cost us everything."

"Yes. But you saw something else, Hellscream."

Grommash's eyes were haunted. "What?"

"You saw the might of unity," the stranger said quietly. "All orcs marching under one banner. Imagine that with no masters. No corruption. Imagine it. A Horde with Warsong leadership. What limits would there be? What world could stand against us?"

Grommash turned away. His mind still reeled. "Weakness. I thought myself strong, and that would have led me to ruin." Oh, Golka. I vow I will have your strength. If I fall, I will fall in battle... I will spill oceans of blood to avoid the fate the stranger has shown me. Even my own. I swear it.

"Yes, Chief Hellscream," the stranger said. "But now you know what you face. There are enemies waiting to enslave us. Gul'dan's masters. Those on this other world. Who else but you could rise to such a challenge? Who else but you could be a father to all clans?"

Nobody. Nobody else. None but he could know the sheer horror of their fate. None but he would do anything to avoid it.

"This other world conquered us. They are strong. We must be stronger." Grommash felt his soul roar. I will be stronger. "We may fail, stranger, but if so, we will die trying, won't we?"

"Lok-tar ogar," the stranger said.

The two Warsong guards repeated it softly. "Lok-tar ogar."

Grommash lifted Gorehowl to eye level, inspecting his reflection in the polished metal. "We will never be slaves. Not on this world or any other." Any price to avoid this fate, he thought again. Grommash looked at his reflection and then over to the stranger. "You remind me of someone."

"Who?"

Her, Grommash didn't say out loud. It was impossible. But had he not just seen the impossible with his own eyes? "It doesn't matter. How long do we have, stranger?"

"Months. Beyond that, I do not know."

"This must be kept hidden from Gul'dan. We want him blind until the day comes." He turned toward the two guards. "Run back to camp. Tell our scouts to prepare quickly. We will need to send messages to all the other clans in secret. Go!"

They did not hesitate. Grommash and the stranger watched them sprint away.

"We must warn them not to even consider touching Gul'dan's new power," Grommash grunted. "This will not be easy."

"Indeed."

Grommash gave the stranger a long look. "Will you fight with the Warsong?"

"To the death."

"I thought so," the clan chief said. "You indeed have the heart of a Warsong. Stay by my side. We have a long road ahead of us."

The stranger's eyes gleamed.

"I will enjoy every step," he said.

Hellscream