The War Within: Read Thrall Short Story Trials Online

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Blizzard has released a new The War Within short story about Thrall. Read Thrall short story Trials online here.

The War Within: Read Thrall Short Story Trials Online

Below is the full short story follows Thrall who reflects on his own coming of age as he prepares the new generation for what’s to come.

All characters and copyrights belong to Blizzard Entertainment. We only repost this free story here for your convenience. To download Trials (PDF), please scroll down to the end. And if you have yet to read the other stories in The Voices Within series, then here are the links:

Read Thrall Short Story Trials Online Full

Story: Jonathan Maberry

Illustration: Ognjen Sporin

Editorial: Chloe Fraboni, Eric Geron

Lore Consultation: Courtney Chavez, Sean Copeland

Creative Consultation: Steve Aguilar, Ely Cannon, Steve Danuser, Chris Metzen, Stacy Phillips, Korey Regan

Production: Brianne Messina, Amber Proue-Thibodeu, Carlos Renta

Design: Corey Petershmidt, Jessica Rodriguez

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Trials

The young orc moved like a shadow through the palm fronds.

The edge of the Northern Barrens was a beautiful place: countless trees heavy with fruit, the sound of songbirds calling above. The young orc had heard stories of how the night elf druid Naralex and others restored this once-arid land to the stunning glory that now lay before him. And yet there was great danger here, for all that rampant green majesty. There were scars upon the land if one knew how to look—old bones bleached white amid tangles of lush grass, broken blades, the rusted handles of war axes. The land remembered those who’d fought here. Those who’d bled and died here.

The orc expected it to feel like a graveyard—that was how his father had described it—but it did not carry that mournful melancholy. Instead, with each old weapon, each mark of fire on the oldest trees, he felt a sense of wonder.

I am walking through the history of my people, he mused. It was not the kind of thought he usually had. There was the weight of truth in it, as though he was on the verge of some greater understanding—as close to it as to the beast he now stalked. Something new try- ing to bloom in the soil of his soul.

He climbed atop a cracked boulder and squatted there, his hands automatically moving to touch his blades. Being alone out here was entirely different than he had expected. Long before he’d even left home for his first leg of the om’gora, he had been filled with excite- ment in all its many forms: The bravado that boiled in his chest when announcing to his parents he was ready. The thrill of the hunt. The delight in taking the first step toward acceptance. The hope of earning the next blessing after this one. But now those feelings had faded—not gone, but receded to a shadowy distance in his heart and mind. He’d felt the change happen slowly. The anticipation of the om’gora lasted still, but the fires beneath it had been banked. The fear was there, of course. He was young but not foolish.

Now what he felt, he was certain, was a sense of awe. Perched atop this boulder, hear- ing the wind rustling, the ferns pressing in on either side of him, staring down toward the gaping maw of the Wailing Caverns, he felt as if a thousand—no, ten thousand—orcs stood all around him. He was in their company, even if most were lost to time and battle. Some, he knew, had failed trying to complete this exact rite, here on this rock or within the thick darkness of the caverns.

He felt them. He was them.

And on some level, he realized that this was likely his first real insight as an orc. Not as a warrior in training, but as one who might one day serve his people, should he live long enough to achieve that honor. Strange that even though he grasped his weapons, knowing a fight lay ahead that could only end in death, he could not feel any hate or bloodlust in his heart. He felt only peace. A kind of calm.

I accept death, he thought. Then he corrected that phrasing. I accept that I can die.

It was new to him, and he marveled at it, turning it over in his mind.

I might die today. I might kill today.

We may both die—the beast and I—and that is okay. Natural.

These were not the thoughts of a youngling. They were edging very close to the mus- ings of an orc grown. He smiled, and for a long moment he was pleased with it and with all it might mean.

And then from out of the mouth of the Wailing Caverns came a sound that swept all philosophy and introspection away. A roar. Deep. Hungry. Primal.

The youngling’s mouth suddenly went dry as dust. His hands touched his weapons again, and now the youth—the boy—was back. And he was terrified, longing to be reunited with his armor. That feral, bestial cry came from the thing he had been hunting. A monster who had killed not just the many young orcs who had failed to best it during their own rites but also many battle-tested orcs and passing adventurers. The monster had littered the oasis with their bones and broken blades.

Trigore the Lasher.

The hydra bellowed out its cry to tell the upstart young orc that it knew he was there. It was waiting for him.

And he was ready.

Ready to kill the beast and bring back proof to his people. To his family.

“I’m coming for you!” The young orc tried to summon all his courage and stand as tall and proud as an orc should. But his heart hammered in his chest, and the hands that gripped his axe and dagger were slick with sweat.

Still, he headed down the slope, desperate to ignore the claw marks raking through the dirt at the opening of the caverns. Being in motion seemed to help his faltering courage. Moving was itself an act of bravery. Of purpose. He began to grin as the first flickers of anticipation ignited in his chest.

“I’m coming for you,” he said again, quietly this time. His pace quickened as he left the sunlit plains behind and allowed the darkness of the caverns to envelop him.

Before he could get his bearings, another blood-chilling roar ripped from the throat of the monster.

The glint of slitted eyes appeared, far, far above. The hydra struck out with razor-sharp talons. The orc dodged the attack and swung his axe.


“The death of that youngling marks another loss to the Horde,” said Thrall as they left the council meeting at Grommash Hold. The council had been a grim one, where the main topic was the death of a young orc who had gone out on his om’gora but was clearly not yet ready. That morning a party of warriors had borne his body, torn and cold, back to the city.

Thrall and Aggra strolled down one of the many long dirt roads of Orgrimmar, head- ing in the direction of home, though neither was in any hurry to get there. Or anywhere. It was a fine afternoon, with a warm sun and a mild breeze stirring the leaves on the trees and the banners on the outer walls. Inside those defenses, shadows pooled between the homes and buildings, and the savory smells from scores of cookfires wafted through open windows. And yet, for all that, their hearts were heavy.

“Another life taken by Trigore,” mused Thrall darkly. “Why so many young orcs have chosen to try to track and kill that particular beast is a mystery to me. But I am heartened to know that the Horde will still rally to support the next attempts of our younglings.”

Aggra gave a sad smile. “It will take a great orc to best such a beast.” She paused. “Durak is becoming quite the young warrior, you know. You refused him last season, but he’ll be ready soon.”

Thrall did not meet her eyes. “I would never allow our son to track that monster.” “You think him weak?” Aggra asked sharply.

Thrall set his jaw in a hard line. “Weak? No. Never. But the om’gora is not to be undertaken lightly, as we have just seen.”

“Durak is as strong as anyone of his age, stronger than most,” insisted Aggra.

“Not arguing,” Thrall assured her. In truth, he was shaken by the sight of the dead youngling. He looked around. “Speaking of Durak, where is our boy?”

“Rehze said he went fishing again,” Aggra said. “He has a knack for coaxing the mackerel up to his line.”

“We will eat well tonight.” Thrall paused, then picked up the thread of their conversation. “It pains my heart to hear tales of our own taken by a rite meant to uplift our young.”

Aggra laughed. “Says the wise and mighty orc who helped bring this practice into the ways of the Horde.”

Thrall nodded. “While that is true, I don’t have to like its every outcome.” They walked a few paces before he sighed and added, “There are times I yearn for my early days as Warchief. No, don’t look at me like that. I love what we have built here, and I would never want to go back. But it felt different.”

“Or,” said Aggra, “perhaps, wise as you are, you don’t relate to what these younglings need to do in order to understand their strength and claim their power. After all, you were raised by humans; you did not complete such rites at that age. You had great battles to fight, a sea of injustices set before you. Your rites were in forging a better world, and in so doing, you have become who you are now.”

He nodded again, taking her point. “Do I envy the opportunity these younglings have had since birth? Of course. Am I satisfied with how far our people have come? Yes. Especially after Garrosh, after Sylvanas—”

“So what troubles you now, am’osh?”

He glowered, but it crumbled into a rueful smile. “As a leader, a shaman, a father, I see this world is better. And yet . . . for all I’ve sought peace, sometimes I fear a world free from war. If Durak and Rehze come of age in a peaceful world . . . will they know why we fought? Have wisdom enough to recognize injustice, evil, cruelty when they see it? Possess the courage, the strength to face it? Even now I spend most of my time roaring and thundering in council meetings. I can hardly remember the last time I hefted a weapon.”

He grunted as they passed a group of younglings dressed as self-styled heroes, wrapped in war cloaks made from tattered banners and helms of battered old cooking pots. They chased each other with swords and axes fashioned from dried palm fronds. While Durak was getting too old for those kinds of games, among them was their youngest, Rehze, who squealed as another young orc chased her, but then pivoted to deliver a clever back- ward slash that caught her pursuer across the stomach.

“That,” he said, pointing. “That’s what I really want to be doing.”

“What? Making war again?”

There was a devious twinkle in his eye. “Of a kind.”

With that, he threw back his head and uttered a war cry, snatched a branch free from a bush, and ran at the children, brandishing it like a weapon of legend. The younglings shrieked, and Rehze, seeing her father, whirled and faced them all, holding her own mock weapon high.

“We are beset by an ogre!” she cried, rallying them—even the ones she was fighting a moment ago.

“Where is Durak?” growled Thrall. “What have you done with my firstborn, you monsters?”

Rehze stood firm in his path. “Durak is gagged and bound and is our rightful prisoner. You shall not find nor free him, for we sacrifice him tonight. He is ours by right of conquest.”

Thrall loomed above them, menacing. “Free my son or feel my wrath.” “Feel mine!” Rehze bellowed. “Orcs of the Horde—to me!”

With her own battle cry, Rehze led the charge, meeting Thrall in the middle of the street. “Do you accept defeat? Do you submit?” she demanded.

Before he could reply, she leapt onto him and bore him backward, and then all the younglings were climbing over the great champion, toppling him, whacking him fero- ciously with their weapons. Aggra stood there, laughing. She called out battle tactics, not to her partner, but to Rehze and her own little Horde.

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Later, soundly defeated, Thrall sat on the edge of a stone well, tenderly probing all the sore places where little fists and feet, elbows and knees, sticks and clubs had landed their mark. Aggra sat beside him as Rehze ran off with the relentless energy of the young to start a new game that sent half the younglings running off while the others chased them.

“I’m getting too old for this,” said Thrall, wincing at a particularly painful bruise on his ribs.

“You love it, and don’t claim otherwise,” countered Aggra, giving him a sharp but affectionate elbow to those same ribs.

“Rehze takes after you, that’s for sure,” he complained. “Lovely as a spring morning but fierce as a wolf with a bad tooth.” He watched the game ebb and flow, losing track of the goals as the rules continued to change.

With a grunt for the effort, he and Aggra rose and headed down a side street where vendors had set up rows of stalls. There were weavers and metalsmiths, coopers and cartwrights, artists and the growers of every colorful fruit and aromatic herb. They browsed more than shopped, pausing now and then to talk to friends new and old. Many wanted to talk about the youngling who had died, and it was Aggra who engaged in those conversations, dissecting the situation, speculating on whether a party should be assembled to go after Trigore or if the glory should be left to a worthy challenger.

Thrall was content to listen. His heart was not drawn to such talk that day.

When her friends had dispersed, Aggra resumed the conversation. “You once told me how dearly Varok prized honor. What was it he said? ‘Honor, young heroes . . . never forsake it.’”

“Yes,” said Thrall, surprised by the comment that seemed to come out of nowhere. “He was certainly right about that.”

She studied his face. “Maybe that is what you yearn for, for our younglings. Honor.

Something easy to claim in a just battle.”

“Perhaps.” He shook his head. “But something with an equally high cost.”

Aggra took his hand and led him out of the side street and onto a quiet lane beyond that wandered between a row of stables. “War has cost me much,” said Thrall. “Orgrim and Grommash. Cairne, Varok, Vol’jin—I often long for their guidance, friendship, understanding, but they are lost to me. Now I lead alongside their children, their successors, while I worry over how to prepare my own.”

“All that they gave lives within you now.”

“The memory of it, yes. But there are many times I wish the spirits I miss dearly would heed my call for counsel. Time has been generous—it has given me you, Durak, Rehze, the Horde—but it has also emptied the world of so many who deserved to live, to learn who they were beyond the field of battle. I feel robbed at times. Does that make sense?”

“Of course it does.” Aggra was often fierce, even in her humor, though not at that moment. “But you are here now, thundering in your council meetings, shaping a new generation to battle with words and ideas, as well as axes and arrows. The Horde will grow stronger for your wisdom, and the wisdom of those who have made their mark on you. I know you will lead our people to greater heights, because I see how you have molded our younglings. And that is also how I know Durak is ready for his om’gora.”

Thrall leaned forward and touched his forehead to hers. A gentle act. She was surprised and resisted for a mere splinter of a moment, then she leaned into it. Sharing the moment.

His brow was swollen—a blow from Rehze’s pointy little elbow—and Thrall winced, then laughed.

“Love hurts,” said Aggra, then hugged him. “But its echoes are all around us. Our ancestors, our lost friends, they ripple through us, as our acts will ripple forward when we are gone. You are here, still. And for that, we are all glad.”

They shared a smile before resuming their meandering walk through Orgrimmar.

“Honor includes caution,” said Aggra. “I understand why you haven’t pushed Durak to begin preparations for his om’gora, but you can’t protect him forever.”

“I know that,” Thrall said, nostrils flaring. “But he is still young.”

“There are those in this town who are younger than him but who’ve already taken the rites.”

“And more than a few of them are dead,” said Thrall. “The om’gora isn’t to be under- taken for glory or to prove oneself. It is a pledge to serve, honor, and safeguard our peo- ple, and to know all that means. I know Durak is of age, but he is not ready. He will be, but for now he thinks it’s all about being tough and brave, and that is such a small part of what he’ll need to succeed.”

Aggra gestured to some of the older children in the yard. “Some of his friends have already achieved their rites. That weighs on him.”

“I know.”

“And there are whispers of some doing so without their parents’ blessings.”

Thrall huffed. “I know that too. Which is why I’m glad Durak is wise enough to listen to us.”

“So far,” said Aggra. “A day may come when he will not wait. That reminds me,” she added, “Rehze has been after you to explain the om’gora to her. She’s jealous that Durak got the talk last winter.”

Thrall nodded. “I shall take her for a walk when we get home. It’s easier to speak away from everyone.” He let out a belabored sigh. “Our young ones will learn the realities of our life soon enough. Battles and glory may make us strong, but we’re stronger knowing why we fight. What we’ve lost and who we’re fighting for.” He paused for a long moment, then added: “It took me a long time to understand that and many other things Varok said.”

“The insight was there all the time. You didn’t learn all of it from Varok.” Aggra gave him a light jab. “Don’t belittle my am’osh.”

“Your am’osh has had more than his fair share of days of boneheaded bravado.”

“Well . . . boneheaded . . . you’re not wrong there . . . ,” she conceded, and they both smiled.

Above them, the sun was a golden ball rolling slowly across the hard blue dome of the sky. There were a few puffy clouds sailing like a fleet of ships out on the far horizon. A flock of gulls coasted along on the air currents, angled so they seemed to hang unmoving in the sky. The giggles of the younglings filled their ears.

“At least our younglings are smart and brave,” said Thrall. “And they both have heart and brains.”

“They take after their mother in all the important ways,” said Aggra airily. “This I will not refute,” said Thrall, and that was as far as he got because something small and very powerful came out of nowhere and raised her faux weapon to him.

“Show me your strength or die screaming, raptor dung!”

He looked down into the ferocious, glaring eyes of his youngest child. “I yield!” “And so you should!” cried Rehze. “For I am a fierce warrior of the Horde!”

With that, she gave her father a crinkling smile, then put her fists on her hips, an unconscious imitation of her mother.

Thrall, grinning, stared at his wife and his daughter. They looked so alike and wore the same fierce, glowering looks. The same flashing eyes.

“Father, can you tell me of the om’gora? I want to learn everything about war and kill- ing the enemy and hunting beasts and all of it.”

Thrall shook his head. Then, off Aggra’s head tilt, he conceded. “Yes. Let us walk.” “Walk where?”

“Anywhere. Just a walk so we can talk in private.” Rehze nodded vigorously.

“Let me say this first, Little Bug,” he said. “The om’gora is not about war or killing. It is about learning what it means to be an orc. It’s about learning how to be strong, yes, but also how to honor our ancestors, how to live in harmony with the elements.”

Rehze stared up at him, half smiling as if he had made a joke, expecting a punch line after his words. Thrall caught Aggra’s amused expression. “I’ll go start on dinner—I’m sure Durak will be home soon,” said Aggra. “You two enjoy your walk. I think your father has a lot to tell you.”

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The creature’s talons were little more than a moving shadow against the deeper blackness of the caverns. They came so fast that the young orc dodged almost too late. He threw himself down, rolled sideways, and sprang back to his feet, hoping for an advantage, but the darkness was so intense he saw nothing. He circled, trying to find it. There was a movement, and once again it was black upon black, and he did not know if he was before or behind the monster.

Then it struck again.

This time, pain exploded across the orc’s right side, and he staggered. But even as he lost balance, he saw a bit of its muscular shoulder, the curl of a wicked mouth, and the gleam of one merciless eye.

Terrified, the orc fought for balance and twisted, shuffling sideways to bring both his weapons up as he backed away toward the bright sunlight at the cavern’s entrance. He swung a backhand blow with the axe and felt the blade strike something that yielded, but there was no death scream. The orc stumbled backward, and it followed him.

The creature was heavy, moving without hurry—either sure of its prey or cautious because of the blow it had just been dealt. Its breath came out as a ragged hissing, and the very ground seemed to tremble with its every step. The young orc smelled blood in the close air of the cavern. Some of it, he knew, was his own, but bigger than that, overpow- ering, was the stench of blood mixed with something like sulfur. Things crunched under- foot that were unmistakably bones.

“Come at me!” he said in a low growl.

Soon, the orc stepped backward out into the sunlight and settled into a fighting stance, knees bent for balance, weapons crossed before him, body crouched to avoid giving the beast an easy opening.

“Come on,” he snarled. It came.

One foot stepped gingerly out of the darkness, poised like one of the big hunting cats, though it was far larger. The creature stalked forward on two legs as big around as tree trunks, wrapped in scales that overlapped like plates of battle armor. There were count- less scars on its legs from other young orcs who had failed to kill it during their rites.

The orc swallowed hard but did not retreat. “Come on,” he goaded. “Show your face . . .”

The hydra took another slow step, moving from utter darkness and into the glare of an unrelenting sun. Its claws gouged lines in the hardpan ground. And then it reared its heads. All three of them.

The orc’s blood turned to ice in his veins.

Three faces glowered down at him from atop long, muscular necks. Each was as hid- eous as the next, with crests of spikes rising from a reptilian pate. Scaly lips peeled back from rows of serrated teeth, the smallest of which was as long and sharp as the orc’s dagger.

The young orc could actually feel the heat of its six eyes. Real heat, piercing and deadly. In the light of day, the orc could more clearly see that the creature’s scaly body was criss- crossed with many scars drawn by sword and axe. Trigore the Lasher had fought many battles and had won them all.

Every single one.

The hydra took another step forward, and now he could see its tail—thick, long, and ending in a cluster of spikes like those on its head. It reared up on two massive legs and split the air with three dreadful shrieks.

It was at that moment that the young orc summoned his courage. This was what he had come all this way for—this battle. This fight. The om’gora demanded that an orc prove their courage, but the young orc felt his faltering. Still, he knew he had to prove himself. Having set out on this quest, it would be humiliating to return in failure. That would cast a shadow over his life forever. It would be better not to return at all.

The realities of the moment cast their own shadow, though. He battled his own doubts and fears, while the creature was absolute in its own power and in the knowledge that it had survived everyone who had ever come hunting.

Every. Single. One.

All of this was a raging storm in the young orc’s mind. With a cry of mingled fear and rage, he leapt forward, driving straight at the monster, feigning high with the dagger to distract and swinging his axe in a sidearm blow that was powered by all his muscle, every bit of his training, and every ounce of his bravery. The blade bit deep and blood exploded outward.

And it did him no damn good at all. The next scream to fill the plains was his own.


Thrall and Rehze walked through the gates of Orgrimmar and left the city far behind.

It was cool in the shadows beneath the trees. An adder slithered out of their way but stopped to watch them pass. Rehze smiled at it with an innocent joy that touched her father’s heart.

“It’s nice to have some time alone, Little Bug,” said Thrall. “We don’t get to talk much. You’re either pestering Durak, hiding from your mother at chore times, or ambushing your poor old father.”

“I beat you today!” she cried.

“You did,” he agreed and tousled her hair. She swatted his hand away, giggling as she did so.

The arid land soon gave way to canyons made of red rocks that seemed to catch fire in the setting sun. With the haze rising in front of them, the crimson cliffs rippled and steamed. It was dryer out here than in the city, the heat less oppressive. Spiny lizards and dung beetles scuttled across rocks, and a seagull wheeled lazily far above it all.

They walked for nearly half an hour without saying much and instead seeing and hearing all that the natural world had to share. Thrall could feel his daughter growing calmer, losing that youthful agitation that always made her seem like there were ten of her. Now she strolled beside him with something akin to patience.

“Father . . . ?” she said after a while. “Yes?”

“Will you tell me about the om’gora?”

“Yes. But why are you worrying over such a thing?” She looked away for a moment. “I’m not worrying. I just want to know more about it. Harthog’s older brother is planning on going out soon, even though that other orc just got killed. And it’s all Durak’s been talking about. I know what people say and all . . . but that’s not the same as knowing what it means. It’s not the same as knowing why we do it.”

He glanced down at her. The request, though framed with a child’s vocabulary, was a profound one. It was insightful, demonstrating depth of character.

“Tell me what you already know,” he suggested.

She thought about that for a minute as they banked down a hill. “I know there are three parts to it,” she said.

“Three blessings, yes.”

“One’s about learning to respect the spirits of nature and the elements, and one’s about honoring our ancestors.”

“And the third?”

“Proving strength by hunting, I think.”

Thrall nodded. “Yes to all three,” he said. “And no.” “Huh?”

“Let’s take them one by one. Let’s start with the Blessing of the Land.”

“I don’t really know what that means,” admitted Rehze as they passed beneath the lit- tle amount of shade provided by some palm trees here and there. “No one talks much about it. Or about the Blessing of the Ancestors. All the other younglings talk about is the rite to kill beasts.”

“Not surprising. Hunting can be a lot of fun, and it builds character and skills. And the Blessing of the Clan has more exciting stories that get told more often. But between you and me, I think there’s more to learn in the other blessings.”

“What do you mean?”

He nodded his approval and sat down beside her. “The world in which we live is more than this,” he said, gesturing to the sea, the fish, the arid land. “There are layers of reality everywhere, magic of many kinds. We who are called to be shaman naturally look deeper into the world.”

Rehze’s eyes widened in interest, urging him to go on.

He put a hand to her shoulder. “Close your eyes. Listen. Feel. What do you notice?” They sat in silence for a time. He guided her fingers to the soil, digging her fingers in. There was a steady breeze that carried the sounds of wildlife to them, the scent of the

He glanced down at her. The request, though framed with a child’s vocabulary, was a profound one. It was insightful, demonstrating depth of character.

“Tell me what you already know,” he suggested.

She thought about that for a minute as they banked down a hill. “I know there are three parts to it,” she said.

“Three blessings, yes.”

“One’s about learning to respect the spirits of nature and the elements, and one’s about honoring our ancestors.”

“And the third?”

“Proving strength by hunting, I think.”

Thrall nodded. “Yes to all three,” he said. “And no.” “Huh?”

“Let’s take them one by one. Let’s start with the Blessing of the Land.”

“I don’t really know what that means,” admitted Rehze as they passed beneath the lit- tle amount of shade provided by some palm trees here and there. “No one talks much about it. Or about the Blessing of the Ancestors. All the other younglings talk about is the rite to kill beasts.”

“Not surprising. Hunting can be a lot of fun, and it builds character and skills. And the Blessing of the Clan has more exciting stories that get told more often. But between you and me, I think there’s more to learn in the other blessings.”

“What do you mean?”

He nodded his approval and sat down beside her. “The world in which we live is more than this,” he said, gesturing to the sea, the fish, the arid land. “There are layers of reality everywhere, magic of many kinds. We who are called to be shaman naturally look deeper into the world.”

Rehze’s eyes widened in interest, urging him to go on.

He put a hand to her shoulder. “Close your eyes. Listen. Feel. What do you notice?” They sat in silence for a time. He guided her fingers to the soil, digging her fingers in. There was a steady breeze that carried the sounds of wildlife to them, the scent of the

He glanced down at her. The request, though framed with a child’s vocabulary, was a profound one. It was insightful, demonstrating depth of character.

“Tell me what you already know,” he suggested.

She thought about that for a minute as they banked down a hill. “I know there are three parts to it,” she said.

“Three blessings, yes.”

“One’s about learning to respect the spirits of nature and the elements, and one’s about honoring our ancestors.”

“And the third?”

“Proving strength by hunting, I think.”

Thrall nodded. “Yes to all three,” he said. “And no.” “Huh?”

“Let’s take them one by one. Let’s start with the Blessing of the Land.”

“I don’t really know what that means,” admitted Rehze as they passed beneath the lit- tle amount of shade provided by some palm trees here and there. “No one talks much about it. Or about the Blessing of the Ancestors. All the other younglings talk about is the rite to kill beasts.”

“Not surprising. Hunting can be a lot of fun, and it builds character and skills. And the Blessing of the Clan has more exciting stories that get told more often. But between you and me, I think there’s more to learn in the other blessings.”

“What do you mean?”

He nodded his approval and sat down beside her. “The world in which we live is more than this,” he said, gesturing to the sea, the fish, the arid land. “There are layers of reality everywhere, magic of many kinds. We who are called to be shaman naturally look deeper into the world.”

Rehze’s eyes widened in interest, urging him to go on.

He put a hand to her shoulder. “Close your eyes. Listen. Feel. What do you notice?” They sat in silence for a time. He guided her fingers to the soil, digging her fingers in. There was a steady breeze that carried the sounds of wildlife to them, the scent of the earth. There was moisture in the deeper layers of the soil. The sun radiated heat down on them.

Rehze smiled. She was always one for finding beauty in the simplest things—from a squealing piglet to a fallen tree that housed a million insects, flourishing in the rotten timber. Thrall wondered, not for the first time, if she had a shaman’s path in her future. Thrall looked around at the river and the sea, the hills and the arid landscape.

“The natural world blossoms where the elements meet. The elements find their own rhythm and harmony together. It isn’t always calm, but even in turbulence they find bal- ance.” He paused, then, urging Rehze to open her eyes, continued. “But then we move in.” He pointed to the city in the distance. “We need to hunt for food, cut down trees to build our homes, plant fields for crops. We impose ourselves on the land so that we can live, but if we take too much of it, we can throw the natural world out of balance.

“Every orc must understand that we live in harmony with nature and with the infinite elemental spirits that share this world with us. It is something to be joyful about, but it’s also something that requires us to be vigilant and strong if we are to safeguard it. And it’s the reason we honor the land through the om’gora.”

Rehze gave that a lot of thought. They accidentally flushed a family of gulls from a nest in the tall grass and watched them fly away, scolding in their bird voices.

“I’m too small for the om’gora,” she said. “Is there anything I can do now?”

“Little things,” said Thrall. “But even little things add up over time. Picking up debris left by some careless other will matter. You can plant two new trees for each one our people cut down. You can take only what you need instead of treating resources as free and limitless. Do you understand?”

She nodded, her eyes wide and thoughtful again.

“In these acts, and others, we show our respect and gratitude to the land. This calls to the spirits of nature and brings them into our lives as welcome guests. During this part of the om’gora, the youngling goes to a shaman and asks that these spirits make themselves known, so that they might offer guidance to aid the land. “A true shaman works in harmony with the spirits and the elements,” he went on.

“They might restore the presence of nature to a place sundered by battle or till manure into soil whose richness has been farmed out. These mundane tasks don’t feel glorious, but they do great good. They nourish our world and our people. And done with an open heart, they cultivate humility. Do you know what that is?”

“Sure,” said Rehze. “It means not thinking everything’s just about you.” He gently tapped the top of her head. “You are a very, very clever bug.” “And what’s the Blessing of the Ancestors about?” she asked.

Thrall mulled it over for a moment. “We orcs owe much to those who have come before us. If it was not for their courage, their vision, and their many sacrifices, we would not be the people we are now. We would have no safe homes. We would be consumed by anger and the thirst for pain and blood.” He shook his head. “Without understanding and honoring our ancestors, we could not truly value all that we have.”

“Okay, but my friend Speartwig told me something about cooking. How does that honor the ancestors?”

Thrall smiled. “Some orcs have prepared a feast in honor of the ancestors, but there are other ways to honor their memory and their legacy. We might tell their stories, spread the lessons they learned far and wide for the betterment of all. We may right some wrong they did not have the opportunity to resolve in life, carry on their work. We can care for each other, as those gone once cared for us.

“Humility, kindness, benevolence, compassion . . . ,” he said. “These skills are more difficult to learn than swinging an axe, and yet they matter more to the longevity of our people. Even the sacred meals your Speartwig spoke of demand much—knowledge of herbs, when something is safe to eat according to the calendar of its growing. To orcs obsessed with combat, this may seem silly, and yet it is the heartbeat of our kind. It is what makes the Horde a community worth living in and fighting for.”

Rehze bent to pick a flower and then stopped. She crouched down, looking at it instead.

“Tell me what you’re thinking,” coaxed Thrall. “It’s bruiseweed,” she said slowly. Thrall waited. “If I pick it because it’s pretty, it just dies, doesn’t it?”

“Yes.”

“But Mother says that bruiseweed is what some of the older folks take when their joints ache. Mother makes a paste out of it and puts it on cuts and scrapes. And sometimes she rubs it on me or Durak if we get a rash.”

“All of this is true.”

“I . . . can look at it and see how pretty it is,” said Rehze, “but I don’t have to pick it.

Someone else might need it for medicine.” Thrall once more felt his heart lift.

She understands, he thought with great love and pride.

Rehze stood slowly and turned to look at him. He expected a smile but saw none. Instead, there was a faintness of unease in her eyes that he struggled to define. Was it because of all the weight and responsibilities of this long lesson?

“Tell me about the other rite. That’s the hunting one.”

“The Blessing of the Clan,” he supplied. “Come, let’s sit beneath the palms and watch the water. There are these little fishes that sleep in the dried mud for months and then wake up when it rains. We’ll see if we find any.”

They sat and watched the waters of a small river ambling toward the sea, sunlight sparkling on the tiny wavelets.

“We orcs need to be strong, and we need to be tough. Able to fight, to hunt, to protect our families. But that isn’t the reason for that rite of om’gora. It just looks like it from a distance.” Thrall pointed down to the stream. “Tell me what you see.”

She leaned forward, elbows on her knees, and really looked. “I see . . . pebbles. There’s a blue one and some green ones.”

“What else?”

“I see an old buckle someone must have lost.”

“And . . . ?” “Ooooh!” she cried with sudden delight. “There’s a fish! It’s purple with a pink tummy!”

“Perfect. Now, if you just walked past the stream and looked quickly, then all you would have seen is the water. But when you observe with patience, you see so much more.” He looked at her. “Do you understand the lesson in that?”

Rehze thought about it, still watching the water, then she nodded. “I think so.” “Then how might that apply to the Blessing of the Clan?”

She hmmed at that, and it delighted Thrall that it was clear she was thinking it through. “You’re saying that I only know about om’gora from a distance. I’m hearing about it— looking at it—but I’m not seeing it?”

Thrall smiled and gestured toward the north. “From a distance, the Horde looks like warriors, fighters, killers. We prize strength of arms, hold passion for combat, but only someone looking and not seeing would think that it is because we treasure war.”

“But we do treasure war. It’s how the Horde has won all its battles, isn’t it?”

Thrall smiled grimly at that. “The Horde has won many battles and lost many too. Not all of them on the field of war,” said Thrall, patient. “The strength we orcs acquire by hard training, by dangerous rites like the Blessing of the Clan, through warfare with enemies who must be fought, is not what defines us. It is not the bloodshed that we seek anymore.”

“Then I don’t understand.”

Thrall nodded. “We have how many pigs in our yard?”

“Huh? Pigs? Oh . . . seventeen. And Old Vhreega is about to drop a litter.” “Correct. And we raise pigs for food, yes?”

“Yes . . . ,” she said cautiously. Rehze was not at all a fan of killing any of the family’s livestock and sometimes wept bitterly when a pig was slaughtered.

“You know that we must do this or else we will go hungry. Sure, we can eat vegetables and grains, but we eat meat too. That means that we have to kill the animals we raise.”

“I hate that.”

“I know,” said Thrall kindly, “but you eat your meat all the same.” She said nothing. “When your mother or Durak or I kill an animal, do you think we do it out of hatred?”

“No . . .”

“Does it mean we think nothing for those animals?” “No, but . . . I . . . guess we have to.”

“Why?”

“Like you said, we have to eat.”

“Exactly,” said Thrall. “Violence is sometimes necessary. We kill livestock for food. We fish the waters for food. We hunt the lands for food. Have you ever heard an orc curse at any animal that’s being killed for these reasons?”

Rehze shook her head. “Of course not. But all the fighters in the city talk of killing enemies. They even sing songs about it.”

She spoke true of a long tradition among the orcs: lok’tra, songs that told the glories of battle and of great wars dating back through time. Rehze knew the lyrics to many of them and often sang these war songs when she played. Durak, on the other hand, favored lok’vadnod—songs of orc heroes. The difference mattered, as Thrall saw it. His son was on the edge of adulthood and that was a personal thing, as heroism is personal. Whereas for Rehze such things were really an abstraction, and at her age it was easier to play at war than want to be a hero.

“Sure,” he said, “but we do not sing to idolize violence. We sing to carry forward the memory of injustice, to honor those brave enough to meet it with steel. I pray you won’t live to see such evil, but the songs of our people may grant you the wisdom to know what to do if you must face it.”

At this, she beamed. “Strike it down!”

“Exactly,” he said again. “Now listen, it is important for younglings to undertake a quest for the Blessing of the Clan, and more importantly to do it without friends or family watching. No one to cheer them on. No one to come and save them. They must learn how strong they are. It is a very important truth that the Horde is only as strong as those who serve it. In war, one poor soldier can cause a line of battle to fal- ter. A weak link can break the strongest chain.” She nodded, engrossed by what he was saying. Thrall wanted to hug her close, to tell

“No . . .”

“Does it mean we think nothing for those animals?” “No, but . . . I . . . guess we have to.”

“Why?”

“Like you said, we have to eat.”

“Exactly,” said Thrall. “Violence is sometimes necessary. We kill livestock for food. We fish the waters for food. We hunt the lands for food. Have you ever heard an orc curse at any animal that’s being killed for these reasons?”

Rehze shook her head. “Of course not. But all the fighters in the city talk of killing enemies. They even sing songs about it.”

She spoke true of a long tradition among the orcs: lok’tra, songs that told the glories of battle and of great wars dating back through time. Rehze knew the lyrics to many of them and often sang these war songs when she played. Durak, on the other hand, favored lok’vadnod—songs of orc heroes. The difference mattered, as Thrall saw it. His son was on the edge of adulthood and that was a personal thing, as heroism is personal. Whereas for Rehze such things were really an abstraction, and at her age it was easier to play at war than want to be a hero.

“Sure,” he said, “but we do not sing to idolize violence. We sing to carry forward the memory of injustice, to honor those brave enough to meet it with steel. I pray you won’t live to see such evil, but the songs of our people may grant you the wisdom to know what to do if you must face it.”

At this, she beamed. “Strike it down!”

“Exactly,” he said again. “Now listen, it is important for younglings to undertake a quest for the Blessing of the Clan, and more importantly to do it without friends or family watching. No one to cheer them on. No one to come and save them. They must learn how strong they are. It is a very important truth that the Horde is only as strong as those who serve it. In war, one poor soldier can cause a line of battle to falter. A weak link can break the strongest chain.” She nodded, engrossed by what he was saying. Thrall wanted to hug her close, to tell her to stop growing so that he might protect her always. But he knew too well the importance of the lesson, a lesson his own parents had not lived long enough to impart to him.

“The Blessing of the Clan is no easy thing for a youngling. It’s frightening to be alone and to know that their survival depends solely on what they do. They might find them- selves moving through unknown terrain, seeking resources like food, water, and shelter while spending days tracking the beast. This requires intelligent observation and equally intelligent decision-making. And when the beast is confronted, they have to fight and kill it. This proves they can do that—that they can overcome something bigger, stronger, possibly wiser, certainly more experienced, and many times more dangerous. So much is learned by that.”

Rehze shuddered, looking askance. “Some get killed. Some orcs, I mean. Like . . .” She trailed off rather than name the orc lad who lay dead back in the city. Thrall under- stood the hesitation some—especially the very young—had for naming the dead aloud.

Thrall thought of that morning’s council meeting. “Yes,” he said, “some die, and that is a sad and terrible thing. It’s a loss to their families and to the entire Horde. We all grieve. But at the same time, we learn from what happened. Did the orc go out too soon? Were they properly trained? Had they not only heard the advice of their elders but heeded it, understood it? And those who knew someone who died, gain deeper—although painful—knowledge of how the loss of a single family member can weaken our people.”

“Then why risk it at all?”

“You tell me.”

She took a long time sorting through that one. Again, Thrall did not interrupt. In a way, this was practice for her own om’gora, because he was letting her discover her own insights. Parenting, he mused privately, was as difficult and demanding as being a warrior. Maybe more so. Rehze finally summoned the words she sought. “Because . . . the next orc who goes out will maybe wait until they’re older,” she said cautiously. Thrall nodded in approval and twirled a thick finger to encourage her to go deeper. “And . . . because they know that risking their life risks the Horde too.”

“Indeed. They lost the orc and all that orc could have been,” agreed Thrall. “All that orc might have become.”

Rehze looked at him and then away. “You were a slave,” she said in a very small voice. “You were there when the orcs were prisoners and kept in camps. But you overcame that. You fought for yourself and everyone else. I wouldn’t even be here. Or Durak. Or . . . maybe the whole Horde. You saved everyone a bunch of times. But if you had died a youngling . . .”

It was a shockingly wise insight for a child, and Thrall could hear the clear echo of Aggra’s wisdom in Rehze. That made his heart swell with pride, and with love.

“It has been my honor to serve our people, in war and in peace,” he said.

Rehze stood straight, a twinkle of mischief in her eye. Suddenly the maturity was gone from her face as she adopted a haughty, regal expression. “And now you will serve me. Kneel!”

Thrall immediately dropped to one knee and bowed his head, spreading his arms wide in supplication. “I bow to you, Warchief Amarehz, Chieftain of the Orcs of Azeroth, benevolent mistress of all she surveys, mistress of beasts and birds and all things that walk, fly, wriggle, climb, crawl, and wallow. Overlord of Quilbeasts, Squisher of Toads, Tamer of Zhevra, Tickler of Wolves, Official Despiser of Hog Stew, Grand Deflater of Swellfish, and Midnight Procurer of Biscuits from the Secret Stash of the Farseer Aggralan the All-Mighty. To you I bow in humility and deference.”

Rehze tried to maintain her imperial haughtiness, but the silliness snuck past her resolve and she collapsed into laughter. Thrall caught her and they tumbled to the grass together.

They stopped laughing to gaze up, and Thrall held her close. Clouds tumbled across the sky above them, each one looking like some rare animal. For a few minutes—when their laughter had finally dwindled—they began pointing to one or another, calling out what they looked like. Most of Thrall’s observations were for rare animals, while Rehze pointed to a very fat one and said that it looked like her father after a feast. Thrall considered for a moment, lips pursed, and Rehze paused, as if she had gone too

“Indeed. They lost the orc and all that orc could have been,” agreed Thrall. “All that orc might have become.”

Rehze looked at him and then away. “You were a slave,” she said in a very small voice. “You were there when the orcs were prisoners and kept in camps. But you overcame that. You fought for yourself and everyone else. I wouldn’t even be here. Or Durak. Or . . . maybe the whole Horde. You saved everyone a bunch of times. But if you had died a youngling . . .”

It was a shockingly wise insight for a child, and Thrall could hear the clear echo of Aggra’s wisdom in Rehze. That made his heart swell with pride, and with love.

“It has been my honor to serve our people, in war and in peace,” he said.

Rehze stood straight, a twinkle of mischief in her eye. Suddenly the maturity was gone from her face as she adopted a haughty, regal expression. “And now you will serve me. Kneel!”

Thrall immediately dropped to one knee and bowed his head, spreading his arms wide in supplication. “I bow to you, Warchief Amarehz, Chieftain of the Orcs of Azeroth, benevolent mistress of all she surveys, mistress of beasts and birds and all things that walk, fly, wriggle, climb, crawl, and wallow. Overlord of Quilbeasts, Squisher of Toads, Tamer of Zhevra, Tickler of Wolves, Official Despiser of Hog Stew, Grand Deflater of Swellfish, and Midnight Procurer of Biscuits from the Secret Stash of the Farseer Aggralan the All-Mighty. To you I bow in humility and deference.”

Rehze tried to maintain her imperial haughtiness, but the silliness snuck past her resolve and she collapsed into laughter. Thrall caught her and they tumbled to the grass together.

They stopped laughing to gaze up, and Thrall held her close. Clouds tumbled across the sky above them, each one looking like some rare animal. For a few minutes—when their laughter had finally dwindled—they began pointing to one or another, calling out what they looked like. Most of Thrall’s observations were for rare animals, while Rehze pointed to a very fat one and said that it looked like her father after a feast. Thrall considered for a moment, lips pursed, and Rehze paused, as if she had gone too far. But Thrall said, “I can see it.”

They laughed again, but it didn’t last long as the fingers of twilight pulled the sun toward the west.

“Father?” said Rehze, her tone growing serious again. “What we were talking about, you being a slave, having no family growing up . . . no good times like we have. And now having to be a shaman and representative and everything else for our people . . .”

“What about it?”

She sat up and stared at him with huge eyes. “That . . . that’s a lot to carry.” He got to his feet and pulled her up too.

“Yes,” conceded Thrall. “But every orc of the Horde needs to be able to carry the bur- den of protecting our people and providing for them. That is why the om’gora exists, to show that the strength of our people can’t be measured by having killed or even having won a battle. Our people’s strength is built on more.”

“Is that why you told Durak that he wasn’t ready yet?” asked Rehze flatly. “Because he thinks it is about being tough and being able to kill monsters?”

“Yes. He wasn’t happy about it, and I don’t think he’s ready to understand something so important. That’s why your mother and I suggested he wait. But he’s a good son, and he has something greater than courage. He has heart. That will count for much when his time does come.”

“Yes . . . ,” she said and then looked away.

He saw a shadow cross Rehze’s face, and she turned farther away. When she did not turn around, Thrall asked: “What is it? What is stealing your joy?”

Rehze spoke in a small and fragile voice. “Truth.”

It was said with heavy emotion that Thrall tried to understand. Worry, for sure, but also sadness, regret, and . . . was it shame?

“Little Bug,” he said, “you must tell me what’s wrong. You were full of glee one moment and now you look wretched.”

“I made a promise not to tell,” she said. “If it is a promise that will do no harm, then keep it,” said Thrall after a moment’s consideration. “But if that promise is a dangerous one, then tell me.”

Without turning, she said, “The orc who died. Benge. I saw him when they brought him in. He was all cut up. His . . . father turned away from him, but I don’t know if it was because of how bad he looked or because . . . because he failed to kill the thing that did that to him.”

“Of course Benge failed. He went after Trigore the Lasher, and it is too fierce for so young an orc to face. Trigore has killed many grown orcs and Horde warriors, Alliance too. No one blames the boy for failing. Not even his father. More likely his father was grieving because his son may have gone out too soon. Many of us parents share that fear. After all, how can we ever know if sending our younglings out for these rites will help them grow . . . or end their lives?”

A sob broke in Rehze’s chest, and her body began to tremble. Thrall took her by the shoulders and gently turned her around.

“Amarehz,” he said now, invoking her full name. “What is it? You must tell me.” “It’s . . . it’s Durak.”

“What about him? Are you worried that he will face Trigore next year when he goes out for his om’gora? I won’t permit it, and—”

“But, Father, Durak has gone out.” Thrall froze all the way to his marrow. “What?” he demanded.

“That’s why he’s not around today. Benge was his friend, and Durak was so mad that Trigore killed him. He went out just after dawn to hunt the hydra and kill it himself. For Benge . . . and to prove he is ready for his rites.”“No,” breathed Thrall as the icy terror gripped him. “No, no, no.” Even as he spoke, he rose up, grabbed Rehze, and began running back toward the city.

The journey to the Wailing Caverns was far, but they were upon Moonpaw, and the great wolf seldom tired during times of great exertion. Three of Thrall’s most trusted orc warriors rode with them, and Aggra galloped beside Moonpaw on another huge borrowed wolf.

Even so, the sun was edging toward the horizon and threw long shadows behind it. “Will he be okay?” cried Rehze.

But Thrall, fearing what words of panic and terror would escape him, said nothing.

There was a pain in his chest that felt like an arrow had been shot through his heart.

They passed through Durotar and into the Northern Barrens. They sped past the crossroads and rode hard for the large brown mountain beyond it, pressing on, taking shortcut paths they knew, racing against the setting sun. It seemed to take forever, but then the gray walls of the Wailing Caverns rose out of the twilit gloom.

From far away, they saw someone sprawled in the dirt, sitting with their back against a boulder, legs splayed, arms slack. The dying sunlight painted the figure, and Thrall feared that the bloody red he saw was not all from the sun. He had been on enough battle- fields to know a grave wound from any distance.

“Durak!” cried Rehze, and both father and daughter leaped from Moonpaw’s back and raced like the wind down the slope to the mouth of the caverns, Aggra close on their heels.

As they drew near, their hearts began to break, for the figure was indeed covered with gore. The orc warriors fanned out, blades drawn, eyes fierce and blazing. Thrall, Aggra, and Rehze cried out in horror as they saw that the shape before them was indeed Durak. But soon the image of death and destruction seemed to undergo a strange process of change. At fifty yards they were looking at the corpse of Durak, smeared with his own lifeblood. But at fifteen yards, a new truth emerged.

Durak sat on the ground with his back to the rock. His clothes were slashed and torn, and he bled from a score of cuts, some deep and terrible. His face was painted with blood. Yet it was not the dark red—nearly black—blood of an orc. No, this was something much brighter. It was truly painted. The marks were crooked and sloppy, but there was an order to them, a pattern. The bright red blood on his face matched the dark red on the fingers of

wolf seldom tired during times of great exertion. Three of Thrall’s most trusted orc warriors rode with them, and Aggra galloped beside Moonpaw on another huge borrowed wolf.

Even so, the sun was edging toward the horizon and threw long shadows behind it. “Will he be okay?” cried Rehze.

But Thrall, fearing what words of panic and terror would escape him, said nothing.

There was a pain in his chest that felt like an arrow had been shot through his heart.

They passed through Durotar and into the Northern Barrens. They sped past the crossroads and rode hard for the large brown mountain beyond it, pressing on, taking shortcut paths they knew, racing against the setting sun. It seemed to take forever, but then the gray walls of the Wailing Caverns rose out of the twilit gloom.

From far away, they saw someone sprawled in the dirt, sitting with their back against a boulder, legs splayed, arms slack. The dying sunlight painted the figure, and Thrall feared that the bloody red he saw was not all from the sun. He had been on enough battle- fields to know a grave wound from any distance.

“Durak!” cried Rehze, and both father and daughter leaped from Moonpaw’s back and raced like the wind down the slope to the mouth of the caverns, Aggra close on their heels.

As they drew near, their hearts began to break, for the figure was indeed covered with gore. The orc warriors fanned out, blades drawn, eyes fierce and blazing. Thrall, Aggra, and Rehze cried out in horror as they saw that the shape before them was indeed Durak. But soon the image of death and destruction seemed to undergo a strange process of change. At fifty yards they were looking at the corpse of Durak, smeared with his own lifeblood. But at fifteen yards, a new truth emerged.

Durak sat on the ground with his back to the rock. His clothes were slashed and torn, and he bled from a score of cuts, some deep and terrible. His face was painted with blood. Yet it was not the dark red—nearly black—blood of an orc. No, this was something much brighter. It was truly painted. The marks were crooked and sloppy, but there was an order to them, a pattern. The bright red blood on his face matched the dark red on the fingers of his hands, and that ignited the smallest spark of hope. One bloody hand gripped the edge of the rock, and with a great effort of will, Durak rose to his feet. He stood there, bloody, swaying, but alive!

Thrall reached out to him first, but Durak did not embrace him. As if performing a conjurer’s trick, the young orc instead reached down behind the rock and lifted some- thing. It was a horrifying, dreadful thing to see, and yet it filled Thrall’s heart with joy.

It was one of the severed heads of a hydra, that most dread beast—Trigore the Lasher. “My boy,” cried Thrall. “What have you done?”

Durak looked at his father and mother. “So, now will you let me do the om’gora?”

Durak gestured weakly with his other hand, and behind him, barely visible in the shadows of the cavern’s mouth, were two more huge lumps of flesh, gristle, and spikes. Sightless green eyes staring up at the sky.

“I . . . I wanted to show you,” wheezed Durak. “Father, I wanted to . . . show you that . . . I’m ready—”

Thrall took Durak gently into his powerful embrace and pressed his forehead to his son’s. Aggra leaned in to join them. Rehze took one of Durak’s hands and held it tightly, pressing it to her chest.

“My son,” Thrall finally said, his voice filled with wonder, with pride and love. “Do you know what you’ve done?”

“I . . . killed the monster, Father,” whispered the boy. “I . . . wanted to make you proud, to show you that I can serve our people with honor. You said I wasn’t ready for my om’gora . . . but I wanted to . . . show you . . . that I am.”

“Durak . . . you slew a creature many grown orcs and others have failed to destroy, attained vengeance for your friend, and protected more younglings from a terrible fate. I have never thought you weak or unworthy. No! I just wanted you to be safe. And . . . and . . .” Thrall was unable to finish. He was laughing too hard, and weeping.


They sat around a campfire that blazed so brightly it filled the whole plain with a warm golden light. Even the mouth of the cavern looked less grim, almost cheerful.

After Thrall and Aggra dressed Durak’s wounds, he needed to rest. Aggra had sent Rehze running into the fields to gather certain revitalizing herbs. They worked together, changing bandages and fetching water.

He sat close to Durak.

“You slew Trigore the Lasher,” he said. It was perhaps the twentieth time he’d said it. Each time he laughed and shook his head. “You’re as mad as the moons, but no one will ever question your courage.”

“I might test that courage by hitting you upside the head with an axe handle,” mut- tered Aggra as she began dressing another wound. “Knock some common sense into you.” Then, as if she heard the bitterness in her own voice, Aggra snorted, grinned, and jerked the ends of the bandage tight.

Durak gasped in pain.

“Brave young orc complaining of a scratch,” she said. Rehze chuckled under her breath.

Durak licked his dry, cracked lips. “So, will . . . will you let me do the rest of my om’gora?”

“Well,” said Thrall, feigning doubt, “having tasted your cooking on hunting trips, I think you preparing a meal to honor the ancestors might classify as an act of war.”

Rehze tried not to laugh out loud but snorted instead.

Moonpaw lumbered over and sniffed the hydra blood on Durak’s clothing, uttered a low growl.

Durak glowered at the wolf. “Does everyone in this family have an opinion?”

Thrall sighed. “Your mother and I will discuss your om’gora, and this time, you will wait for us before charging ahead.” He nudged his son’s shoulder. Durak smiled through his bandages as the cinders of the family’s fire rose into the night sky, carried across the Northern Barrens by the wind.

About the author

Jonathan Maberry is a New York Times bestselling author, five-time Bram Stoker Award winner, four-time Scribe Award winner, Inkpot Award winner, comic book writer, executive producer, and writing teacher. He is the author of fifty novels, 160 short stories, twenty-two graphic novels, twenty nonfiction books, and has edited twenty-five anthologies. His vampire apocalypse book series -Wars was a Netflix original series. He writes horror, science fiction, epic fantasy, mystery, adventure, thrillers, and more. He is the president of the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers and the editor of Weird Tales magazine. Find him at www.jonathanmaberry.com and everywhere on social media.

Download Thrall short story: Trials for free

You can download Thrall short story: Trials for free from Blizzard’s official website here:

For more information about The War Within and what’s incoming, be sure to check out our complete overview here:

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