November 7, 2010

Dark Lady: The General

An unusual experience today. At the Warchief's behest, I visited a city that was intimately familiar, and yet entirely foreign and unfamiliar: Dalaran.

Thrall's message was simple. He explained that he had visited the floating city to discuss the campaign against the Lich King with their leaders. Rhonin had ensured him that powerful magic defenses were in place, but the idea of using an unfortified city as our primary stronghold in Northrend had made Thrall uneasy, especially since Dalaran is isolated from military reinforcements or ground support.

Thrall asked that I visit Dalaran and assess its defenses from a military perspective, that I was better suited than himself for such a task due to my many years of experience as ranger-general of Quel'Thalas. I was amused to see that he apologized for invoking painful old memories. So diplomatic, that one.

Though I could care less about Dalaran's people, it is vital to our cause, and its survival greatly benefits the Horde. I had one of my mages teleport me there, and spent a few hours walking its streets and exploring its buildings, analyzing every nook and cranny. The Kirin Tor were cautiously hospitable, though my presence clearly had them on edge. But I paid them no notice - they were of no concern to my mission.

The Warchief's instincts are sharp; he was right to be concerned. Though the magical barriers protecting the city and keeping it aloft are incredibly powerful, the Lich King possesses unparalleled raw destructive power. I would not want to risk testing these wards against his might when the cost of failure would mean the entire city tumbling to the forest below.

Were I in charge of this city, I would certainly utilize the abilities of the Kirin Tor, but they would not be my sole source of protection. It is arrogant and foolhardy to have but a single weapon in one's arsenal. A true army has infantry, supported by archers, supported by cavalry, supported by arcanists. Quel'Thalas had all of these at our disposal and still Arthas' legions overwhelmed us. Dalaran's decisions are made by historians and wizards, not soldiers, and it clearly shows.

Where are its martial defenses? Few guards walk Dalaran's streets, and no troops or militia man its walls. Granted, being situated many miles above the ground does eliminate the possibility of a traditional assault, but the Lich King is hardly a traditional foe. We know he has dragons, banshees and gargoyles at his disposal, all of which are innately capable of flight, and I have heard rumor of powerful winged undead spirits serving him known as Val'kyr. A concentrated attack could easily descend from the skies and wreak untold havoc before the city's mages could coordinate a defense.

Some of my people also whisper of a titanic flesh golem roaming the untamed region of Zul'Drak, so tall that it is visible from miles distant. Is Dalaran even beyond the reach of such a creature? All the magic in the world will not help if an enormous foe can simply reach up and pluck it out of the sky.

Another foolish decision is the city's architecture. The massive, gaudy spires and towers protruding into the sky are a significant weakness. These isolated perches would provide ready access points for aerial foes, from which they could rain artillery fire down upon Dalaran's streets or simply enter the buildings and infiltrate the city itself. They may once have stood as proud displays of wealth and accomplishment back in more peaceful times, but such days are past. Now, they are nothing more than open invitations to the Scourge.

However, the worst defensive element of this city is the blissfully unconcerned attitude of its people. So cheerful and insipid are Dalaran's citizens that after spending a few hours among them, one would think we lived in a golden age of peace and happiness, not one embroiled in open warfare.

The city itself is a masterwork of illusion. Twinkling lights dance upon its streets, arcane sigils and symbols float merrily atop its spires, and the garish violet hues sing of opulence and decadence. I once found its luster and majesty quite charming, and I can remember cherishing the time I spent within its walls as a diplomat or courier from Quel'Thalas. Those were idyllic times.

But I look upon Dalaran now and I see the same leisurely trappings and overly decorative flourishes, and I realize that it is all a facade, a shell of self-imposed ignorance and naivete that its citizens hide behind to avoid facing the horror and cold realities of the harsh world outside. Whimsically named beverage shops will not end the threat of the Scourge and the newest designer robe will not stop a Vrykul spear. I heard a human discuss in great length and passion with his companion about the merits of his new hat. Idiots. The rest of us fight for the survival of the world and these weaklings fret about recent fashion trends or what flavor of cheese to have for their evening meal. It sickens me.

I suppose one could interpret this mentality as optimistic. That Dalaran's people are brave or courageous for not letting the grim nature of war dishearten them.

How absurd. War IS grim. It is terrible and tragic. The dread monster that looms before you does not vanish when you close your eyes; it simply grows emboldened, sneaks closer and tears your unguarded throat out.

In my report to the Warchief, I emphasized my findings by providing specific examples of how the Forsaken would, if we were so inclined, take the city by force. I am sure he will be be disconcerted about such...specific details, but it is the best way I can imagine to truly highlight the city's flaws. Besides, I am a commander, not a diplomat.

For my people, the most efficent course of action would be to covertly smuggle agents into the city and then spread disease and discord from inside its walls. After the city has erupted into panic and chaos, our next step would be to locate, target and eliminate the mages responsible for maintaining the integrity of the barriers. Once the shields were dispelled, the city would fall in but a few hours.

Considering the pride and care the Kirin Tor take in their magical wards, they have very little prepared to combat an assault from within. It would be quite easy to spread a contagious plague, as countless rodents and other small animals roam the streets unchecked, and there are numerous wells and fountains that could be tainted. Actually infiltrating the city would be simplicity itself, as a large sewer pipe juts out from the Underbelly, exposed and unguarded - a fatal oversight.

I have told Varimathras to immediately dispatch a courier bearing my findings to Orgrimmar. Hopefully the Warchief will able to convince Rhonin of the numerous gaps in their defenses before it is too late. I will leave the matter in his hands - Thrall is an excellent mediator, considering his youth - and put it out of my mind, for I have other issues that need to be addressed.

If only the Lich King's defenses were as pathetic! But no matter. He can't escape me forever.

Show/Hide Letter Notes

Pertinent Lore: None, really

Sylvanas is one of the WoW's most interesting characters. She's one of the few major NPCs who has a clearly stated purpose and objective in her life, and has incredible backstory and motivation behind her goals. And while not everyone may like her tactics or methodology, she is undeniably intelligent and cunning.

In this letter, I thought I'd showcase an oft-neglected trait of hers - the fact that she's a very experienced military mind. She was Silvermoon's Ranger-GENERAL, after all, and in various stories we see her leading, organizing and coordinating the nation's defenses against Arthas and the Scourge.

In fact, she's undoubtedly the Horde's best military leader. Thrall, Cairne, Vol'Jin, Garrosh...they've got heart, and they are wonderful "lead by example" figures to inspire armies, but they lack the experience and strategies that Sylvanas has accumulated over her many years.

In life, Sylvanas was Ranger-General during the Second and Third wars, which means she has a ton of leadership experience under her belt. And even in undeath, when she broke free of Arthas' control, she masterfully led the Forsaken and Dreadlords in their mission to retake the Ruins of Lordaeron, manipulating and double-crossing the human Garithos.

If I was Thrall, and I wanted an honest assessment of Dalaran's defenses for the upcoming war against the Lich King, there's no question who I'd ask. It'd be Sylvanas, hands-down. She is experienced, smart, practical, and wouldn't hold back any criticism for fear of offending the Kirin Tor. She is EXACTLY the type of person I'd want doing this sort of examination. After all, it's never the front door that is a stronghold's weakness, but the secret passageways, the loose stones in the wall, etc. Sylvanas would find these weaknesses.

I tried to really capture Sylvanas' single-minded attitude, her no-nonsense demeanor, and her loathing for fools. I wanted her to be methodical, yet cynical and pessimistic. I put myself in her shoes, and tried to imagine what she would view as fatal weaknesses while walking Dalaran's streets. The tall towers and the lack of guards immediately struck me as noteworthy, as did the sewer entrance, of course.

For what is supposedly the main meeting point for both factions to discuss strategy and military decisions, Dalaran is extremely gaudy and silly. Seriously, there are hat merchants! HAT. MERCHANTS. For a career army veteran like Sylvanas, this would be extremely annoying, maybe even offensive.

I really enjoyed describing how the Forsaken would destroy the city, using weapons of fear, disease and assassination. I think it's something would Sylvanas would do, for a number of reasons. First, with believable, tangible examples, it would really emphasize just how exposed the city is. Sort of a "Think you're safe? I thought of this plan in an hour. If I wanted this city, you'd all be dead now," message. Chilling and ominous, but effective.

Secondly, I think she'd ENJOY making Thrall & the others squirm a bit, partially out of mischief, but also partially because I don't think she ever wants anyone getting too comfortable around the Forsaken. She wants them to remember just how deadly they are. Their reputation is one of their greatest weapons.

One other thing that I wanted to include was her praise for Thrall. I think Sylvanas, deep inside, still greatly respects worthy individuals. Her interactions with Thrall are always respectful and polite - it's clear she views him as an equal, not just a means to an end. And in Halls of Reflection, when Uther's ghost shows up, she addresses him respectfully and sincerely.

But if you look at her dealings with others, such as Garrosh (in Cataclysm), or that orc who rambles on at the end of Pit of Saron before being killed, you can clearly see that she simply has no patience for fools. It's even one of her on-click quotes: "I've no time for games."

In summary, this letter was quite interesting to write. While it wasn't as emotionally-driven as some of the others, I found myself really into my "role" as the Banshee Queen, imagining what she might think and observe about Dalaran.

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