Lessons from a Blademaster
The Path of the Axe
by Richard “Tharion Greyseer" Powell
ASHENVALE FOREST, AZEROTH
Tharion Greyseer knelt across a campfire from the graying old orc, his blindfolded gaze affixed to the blackened metal weapon that the former blademaster held in his lap. Elune was rising for the night over the Ashenvale forest, a sign that Tharion should begin his patrols. But this evening was to be different. This evening was for a lesson.
“To know me, demon hunter," began the orc, “is to know my weapons. To know how I used them." There was a distinct pause before the orc finished his statement. “And to know how they used me."
“Tell me, then, Garikhan Fireblade," Tharion rarely spoke during these meetings, preferring to allow the ancient orc blademaster to speak his lessons. It had been years since Tharion had been gifted with the teachings of another. For far too long he had been the shan'do, the teacher. He enjoyed listening and learning once more, “Tell me of your weapons.”
The graying orc grinned, his yellowing tusks pitted and marred with years of use. The axe in front of him was a massive weapon with an angular bladed head. The neck of the savage tool was serrated and adorned with stylized claws and teeth that embraced a mystical ember of flame that ever-burned. It was the reason for the name of the weapon—Wrathburn—and the blademaster who once wielded it. The sheer size of the weapon would mean that a kaldorei such as Tharion would need to heft it with two hands, but Garikhan, even in his advanced age, could still hold it steady with one of his massive fists.
The orc began his tale.
Shattrath City, Draenor
The Fall of Shattrath
The bombardment had already begun as gargantuan stones were flung over the walls and into the city itself by the crudely constructed catapults. The sky wept as boulders of all shapes tore through the air and shattered structures behind the walls. The falling rain did nothing but irritate Garikhan's feverish bloodlust. He stood amongst scores of his savage brothers, looking down upon the draenei city of Shattrath. He was just one of legion.
The trees around him seemed to crowd close, adding to an already claustrophobic sensation amongst the throng of churning muscular warriors gathered in Terokkar forest. The orc brandished his axe, which seemed to whisper a silent challenge to the trees, as if to say Come closer and I'll show you the meaning of might! Garikhan's bloodlust boiled, and he began to shoulder his way through the mass towards the front, using the substantial weight of his axe to shove aside the other warriors.
A loud explosion sparked a scream of welcome fury from within him and his fellows. The first breach in the wall had been made. As if they were an ocean wave shattering a dam, the gathered orcs flooded their way through the opening and into the heart of the draenei last stand.
Ashenvale Forest, Azeroth
“This axe is stained with the blood of my enemies, past and present, Greyseer. It is tainted by my sins as a pawn of the Burning Legion.” Garikhan stared with fading eyes at the menacing weapon, whose burning ember seemed to stare back in righteous indignation as if to say You did not consider your actions to be so egregious when you wielded me, orc.
“The mistakes of the past can be washed away, blademaster,” Tharion began, “as long as one is willing enough to seek cleansing.”
The gray orc shook his head slowly. “No, elf. This taint goes far deeper than a mere stain on my conscience. I chose my actions willingly. I knew what lay ahead after that battle, and I continued to walk the path that was before me.”
Fields of Nagrand, Draenor
After the Fall of Shattrath
The orc warlock ran his hands over the dark metal of the blade, which had been smithed and shaped to appear as menacing as those who wielded them. His face was hidden beneath the darkness of a deep hood, but his eyes glowed red as any other of his kin these days.
“I will bond you to this weapon, Garikhan. And I will bind its will to yours,” said the cloaked figure as he sat inside his crude hut. Garikhan sat across from him, and his axe was resting between the two.
“Weapons do not have a will, warlock,” responded Garikhan coolly. “They are merely tools for waging war.”
Garikhan could not see the face hidden deep within the hood of the warlock, but he had the sensation that the other orc was smiling at him. “Soon enough, warrior, you will understand.”
Garikhan growled faintly at the condescending tone, but the other did not notice. The warlock had already opened his arms wide and began to chant in a tongue so vile it almost hurt the ears to hear it. The small space inside the hut began to grow warmer as the warlock's voice grew louder.
Finally, after what seemed like hours, the warlock brought his arms in and placed his exposed hands upon the shaft of the axe itself. He spoke one word.
And the world turned to ice.
Garikhan looked around at the shades of gray and blue that colored his surroundings now. Everything appeared frozen. Of the warlock there was no sign. Of his axe there was no sign. There was only an ambient blue light that seemed to reflect off the shimmering now-icy walls of the hut.
“What IS THIS?” shouted Garikhan into the frigid air. His voice did not echo and his breath did not fog. But he was cold. So deathly cold.
A response came screaming back at him from all around, shattering the thick coating of ice and nearly causing Garikhan's ears to burst.
“YOU ARE NOW MINE!”
Garikhan awoke with a start. He was still in the warlock's tent, but it was warm again. There were no signs of ice, and in fact, his axe now seemed to carry a small ember of flame nestled just between the blade and the shaft. The warlock was once again sitting over the weapon, finishing up what sounded like a last incantation.
“What happened?” Asked Garikhan as he rose from the ground, his eyes wide and searching the hut for an answer. “What sort of sorcery spirited me away to such a deathly place?”
The warlock ceased chanting and stayed silent for a few long moments. Garikhan could see the burning red eyes lock onto his from beneath the darkness of the hood, searching for the source of the warrior's sudden outburst.
“The ritual is complete. This weapon is now yours,” the warlock nodded his head once before vanishing into the shadows.
Garikhan, glad to be done with such things, picked up his weapon and left the hut.
Burning Steppes, Azeroth
At the End of the Orcish Invasion
The Burning Steppes were aptly named, constantly under assault from the molten belches of fire and ash from the active volcano that stood at its center. The rain that fell was not water, nor was it cool. It was, instead, small pieces of superheated stone that were tossed from the mouth of the chaotic mountain. The flaming debris showered the two armies warring in this parched place.
Garikhan Fireblade swung the axe with great force into the oncoming rush of armored humans. This new Alliance had somehow been able to push the Horde back to the base of their fortress at Blackrock Spire. But it was here that Garikhan intended to see them stop. The heavy blade of his dark weapon struck a soldier in the side, cutting a rent in his armor and sending him flying. Garikhan made another strike, this one taking his blade downward on the closed helm of an alliance knight, which split under the force of the impact. The orc grinned and gripped his weapon tighter, feeling the flow of battle through his body.
There were other orcs here, too – most of the horde, in fact, was here. Garikhan could feel the rage and savagery palpable in the air around him as the remaining warriors of the horde, including the sheer force of nature that was the Burning Blade clan, fought for their very survival.
“FOR THE HORDE!” shouted Garikhan, cleaving his way through another pair of humans, the ember from his weapon creating a ribbon of flame as he swung it against his enemies.
“FOR THE HORDE!” echoed many of the bloodraged orcs who were near, cutting their own paths through the undulating mass of humans.
A sharp sting across his back told the blademaster that a human had drawn blood. It was quickly followed by another, and then another. Garikhan spun on his heels and readied his axe to parry the next strike with whatever steel weapons were being used against him. Only they were not steel. A few yards away, standing amidst the chaotic battle, stood a single human male dressed in nothing more than robes. He looked somewhat a cross between the warlocks and shamans of his race, and his eyes held the same cunning intelligence.
“Magic!” cursed Garikhan as he swallowed up the distance between him and the human spellcaster with massive strides. He brought his axe up above his head in preparation to sunder his newly discovered prey. With a bellowing war cry, the orcish blademaster brought his weapon down.
And was stopped in mid-swing, encased in arcane ice.
Something inside Garikhan Fireblade awakened and screamed. The ice encasement shattered, sending razor sharp fragments cutting through the air and into any unprotected combatants nearby, including the mage in front of him. Garikhan heard the death screams of a few of his clanmates as well, but did nothing. They no longer mattered. Now, only the rage mattered. He closed the gap between himself and the injured human mage in a near-instant, swinging downwards with his axe and crumpling the Alliance spellcaster to the ground.
He would no longer be a threat. Inside his head the bloodlust pounded and the voice spoke. Kill everyone, kill everything. Destroy it all. Leave no one unharmed.
And Garikhan listened. And Garikhan screamed in a primal fury.
Burning Steppes, Azeroth
After the Battle
Garikhan collapsed to his knees. His mouth tasted coppery, the taste of blood. His hands were coated with it, both sticky and dry. It was his blood. His—and others. Orcs and humans. The blood of both races was on his hands, on his body, and on his axe.
Garikhan threw the weapon aside in disgust, letting it clatter against the parched soil. All about him were bodies of friend and foe alike. He remembered most of the deaths. He remembered causing a good number of them, too. It was not just him, however. Garikhan remembered the rage igniting in all the orcs around him. He remembered their fevered screams of fury as they tore into the mass of battle, shredding any living thing that got in their way, including each other.
We've paid a high price, Garikhan thought as he fell forward in exhaustion. The rage in his body and mind seeped away, leaving him empty and hollow. The blademaster just wanted to sleep.
He was unconscious when the Alliance soldiers arrived with their shackles and cages.
Ashenvale Forest, Azeroth
“I am bound to this weapon in more ways than one, demon hunter,” said Garikhan. “And I no longer wish to be. But I am far too old now to survive the cleansing of my sins from this axe. Far too weak.” Garikhan stood then, using the hefty weapon as support. He then pulled the axe from the soft Ashenvale soil and held it over the fire in offering to Tharion.
The demon hunter was surprised by the gesture as he rose to his feet. “Why do you offer this to me?”
“My spirit is tainted by the Burning Legion, and it is a stain I can never cleanse. Yours, too, is tainted by the Legion. Both of these taints were by our choosing, and both of us walk a path towards correcting the mistakes of our past.” Garikhan continued to hold the blade out in one hand, his body's true strength betraying his voice's claims of old age. “I have no children, Greyseer. As it should be. And I have not long left on this world. My path is almost at an end.”
Tharion nodded his head as the orc continued.
“Your kind, even still, are long lived. You have seen and done more than I could ever hope. So I give you this, the first of my weapons, in hopes that you can continue on the path I started when I first retired. It has been years since Wrathburn has seen battle, and I know he still hungers. Your continued hunt is the only thing that can satiate that hunger.”
Tharion bowed deeply at the waist and took the axe. He did, indeed, need both hands to carry the weapon.
“The axe is brutal. The axe is savage. The axe cuts with force, not finesse. The axe is feared by both attacker and victim. It does not cut cleanly, only painfully. The the axe guides us along the path of fury. I chose this path willingly.” Garikhan looked at Tharion for a moment. “Do you?”
“Indeed, Garikhan Fireblade.”
“Greyseer, there are many nights when I regret my choices made,” Garikhan's shoulder's slumped slightly, the first true sign of weakness that entire evening. “Will you one day regret the choices you've made?”
“Blademaster,” began Tharion, “I understand that there may be a time in my life when I regret all my choices. But know that this does not stop me from making them. I will not stand still if there is a path to be walked.” The demon hunter bowed deeply at the waist once again.
“Thank you, Greyseer.” Garikhan bowed as he had seen Tharion done many times before, but the motions were still alien and clumsy to him. “For now I must leave. I will continue my lessons soon enough.”
Tharion Greyseer nodded his head as he watched the old orc vanish into the depths of the forest.