Part V

Chapter 2 - Azshara's Veil falls

"When all else fails, look to the Skies. The land may rebel, the sea may froth, but the skies are always clear. Know this, and you shall touch the sky with glory." - High Tinker Gelbin Mekkatorque

The Barrens was a clever obstacle for any army that had to pass through it. In other regions, one could count on foraging, water from natural sources, and relatively friendly life-forms. And even then, the going would be tough. In a desert, with the heat restlessly beating down, the local fauna hostile, and little in the form of obtainable food, it was a horrendous challenge.

Yet, the Alliance proved it's mettle, for it's soldiers in the South were all men and women who had spent the better part of fourteen years in such inhospitable lands. And this time, they had a supply train up and running, which eased the burden considerably. The Horde was just as strong, and if one counted men alone, they were on par with the Alliance forces from Theramore, almost 11,000 men, of which 1,500 were Kor'Kron. The real issue lay, much as was the case in the north, with the lack of Armour. They had no siege engines at all, and were facing off against a fully equipped and upgraded Siege Division. But even then, it wasn't particularly an issue.

The real factor was air power. In this aspect, the Horde was completely outclassed. Of air cover, there was none to be had for the Horde, the few Blood Elven units being lost during the fruitless assault on Theramore. The forces of Theramore, regrouped as Army Group South, were far ahead in this, having suffered no losses during the engagement a week ago. Lady Proudmoore knew that any form of ground assault across the Barrens would be costly, and not commensurate with the outcome. Particularly since the Horde had a whole week to prepare for them, and had ruthlessly fortified every strongpoint they could find along the narrow region. This was where the air power would come in.

On the first day of the Tenth Week, the Alliance opened up it's offensive into the Southern Barrens. There was continual resistance along the entire front, particularly in the narrow pass leading into the Barrens from Dustwallow Marsh, but they were pushed back eventually, and the Alliance continued it's march. On the second day, they reached the Battlescar, and there the situation again became ugly. For the fortifications here had been strengthened considerably, and it seeemed nigh-impossible to breach them, due to the sheer density of obstacles present. For the next two days, the situation remained stagnant, with both sides locked in an unceasing battle. It was around this time that the Air Forces finally came into play.

On the morning of the Third Day, the Horde awoke to the screams of bombs dropping on them from on high. The flying machines of the Alliance proved their worth, as they completely decimated the lines of Horde fighters. The situation was made all the worse due to the closely packed frontline, and the use of incendiary bombs rather than shrapnel bombs, which spread panic among the soldiers manning the battlements. For the whole day, the bombing continued unabated, with no opposition whatsoever, and only ceased when night fell, leaving the Horde forces in trepidation for the next day. The next day proved to be a repeat of the first, with continual bombing and strafing, the din being audible as far as the Great Divide itself. Around mid-afternon, the Horde had enough and the line simply crumbled in an unexpected rout, as the demoralised Horde forces simply fled north.

When one looks at the aftermath, the Horde rout looks all the more foolish, since they had lost over 1,500 men, of which just 350 had been killed in the aerial bombardment. The rest had died on the frontline, fighting against Alliance forces. Alliance losses were also severe, some 800 men being listed as dead. The critical point had been skilfully exploited by Army Group South, however, which was the sheer concentration of air power, which demoralised and broke the Horde, in a masterstroke of psychological warfare that High Overlord Saurfang had not expected at all. Indeed, the whole operation had been based on psychological warfare, rather than on actual fighting.

Jaina Proudmoore was no stranger to how the Orcs worked. She also knew that the Horde, if pushed back continuously, would develop a strong defensive formation that would take a great deal of effort to break open, as had been the case on Mount Hyjal. however, over the years, another point had been made clear that the Horde was technologically backward, and despite their assumed indifference to this, it troubled them greatly. As such, the flying forces were devastatingly effective. During design, the gnomes had been scoffed at for the noise it made and it's overall noticeability and conspicuousness, which was in traditional warfare doctrines a taboo - everything should be muted so that when used, it had the greatest effect on the enemy. In this instance, those very faults became an asset - the buzzing and snorting of the machines, the noise of the bombs and repeater-rifles, the conspicuous zig-zagging they employed, and the aura of the enemy bearing down on the ground troops, literally flying out of the sun in an optical illusion, was to demoralise and dismay the troops fighting below. One can bolster morale against an enemy one can reach out and hit, or who has some living personage against which to vent anger. Against machines, there is no counter, and it is hard to keep spirits high when the enemy is utterly out of reach, alien to one's troops and making terrifying noises besides.

All these factors were carefully considered by the wily Mage, and she made full use of the resources at her disposal in effecting a victory where traditionally none was possible. It gave a much needed morale boost to her own forces, and the Horde was made aware of the embarassing lack of counters to a threat they had never fully respected. The rout was an outcome of mostly psychological tricks, and less due to the fighting on the ground. Saurfang's rage can be only be guessed when he saw this happen, and it is no surprise that the first thing he did was to summarily execute Warlord Gar'Dul, who had been in charge of the battlements, and who, in a shameful display, had been the first to break ranks and flee, dishonoring his clan and his family. The incident also showed the importance of selecting the right men for a task, since wrong men in command can be detrimental to troop morale.

As such when the Battlescar went under Alliance control, there was panic across much of the Barrens. But the worst reaction was from Thunder Bluff, since the loss had effectively left the corridor to Mulgore highly vulnerable. Chieftain Bloodhoof decided to take no further risks and, in a highly contentious move, sealed off Mulgore completely, much like King Greymane had sealed off Gilneas during the Third War. No one, not even the Tauren troops that had been sent out, were allowed back in. The isloation was to prove the city's salvation, but it also signaled a symbolic end to Tauren cooperation in the Horde offensive, since sealing off the gates effectively meant snapping all contact with the Horde, a contact which Goblin Zeppelins alone could not, and would not, bridge over. The reaction in Orgrimmar was, as expected, sheer outrage at the second act of defiance from the Tauren, and the subsequent expulsions from the city of all Tauren officers was to prove fatal in the long run.

Roughly two days after the Alliance opened up it's front in the south, Army Group Shuriken launched an assault upon Silverwind Refuge and Nightsong Woods in an attempt to dislodge the Horde from their Ashenvale garrisons. To their surprise, the lumber mills were empty. Indeed, after considerable scouting, they realised that virtually no Orcish troops were present at all in the region. This elicited a very cautious optimism from General Feathermoon, since she was aware that it could be just a deception for an ambush tactic strike, which could potentially derail a fledgling revival of the Alliance advantage. As such, the AG advanced slowly, checking continuously along the path for tricks, and finding none. This took the better part of two days, after which the conviction was absolute that there were no Horde forces at all in the Ashenvale region, barring a small force near Nightsong Woods which was easily overrun, and later concluded to have been abandoned in a retreat. This was later proved by checks made on captured Warsong orders, which showed that an entire infantry company of Warsong Grunts had been told to hold onto Raynewood junction in Nightsong Woods, and had not received orders to retreat, leading to their abandonment and eventual destruction.

Encouraged by this, the AG moved all the way to the Mor'Shan Ramparts, and it was here that they finally encountered ferocious resistance. As it turned out, the Ashenvale Region had been abandoned in a tactical maneuver. The Mor'Shan rampart now resembled a fortress in itself, with more men and siege tanks guarding that one pass than men guarding Orgrimmar's gates. The first action resulted in a swift repulsion of the Alliance advance, as the assault petered out against well entrenched and determined Orcs, who had absolutely no intention of letting the Alliance enter the Northern Barrens. Casualties were severe for the Night Elves, who had led the assault, with over 2,000 dead on the first day of the assault alone. In addition, the Night Elves also lost 20 of their Glaive Throwers, which proved ineffective in the face of overwhelming firepower from the Horde Siege Division straddling the Rampart. The next day was just as fruitless, though the casualties were less severe.

All in all, at the start of the Eleventh Week, AG Shuriken lost 2,800 fighters in two days alone. They were being held in check against a well supplied and reinforced military frontier, since Tauren units were observed manning the Ramparts. In addition, the presence of several Undead and Blood Elf soldiers as well nearby seemed to indicate that Mercenary recruitment had taken place here as well, with the balance tilitng sharply towards the Horde. In effect, a stalemate had yet again been formed.

Undaunted by this, General Feathermoon ordered the Draenei forces to advance along the eastern highway into Azshara, to open up a second front and pressurise the Horde further. It was judged that Horde opposition was wholly concentrated around the Mor'Shan Rampart, and that there would be little to contend with on the Azshara frontier. This was to be a mistaken assumption. The Draenei advanced along the Easten Highway, and found that Splintertree Post was similarly empty. This raised questions as to what awaited them further along the road. and sure enough, they found that the bridge to Azshara had been heavily fortified by Goblin Rifle troops. The Draenei decided to not attempt a fruitless Infantry assault, since they had witnessed the slaughter at the Ramparts, and decided ona more ingenious solution. This decision was made partly on the knowledge of a secondary front that they knew would soon open up.

The secondary front was opened by the Night Elven Navy. After the destruction of Zoram'Gar, it had spent the previous two weeks sailing around northern Kalimdor to prepare an assault upon Azshara from the sea. At first, this seemed like madness, since the Azshara region was hostile to Ships, with jagged reefs and unpredictable shallows. Worse, the Goblins had heavily fortified Bilgewater Harbour, and the entire region was studded with sea-mines, to deter any Naval assault on the region. HOwever, the narrow silt-beaches were relatively unguarded, as the standard doctrine had calculated that to attempt a landing on those beaches was sheer folly. And it was, in theory, and if the tides were high.

At low tide, however, there was considerable exposure of land to allow a small strike force to be landed and which could advance along the beaches and inland. This was exactly what had been planned, the troops being selected for this operation some time ago, most of them were already on board and had been the ones covering the Draenei advance on Zoram'Gar some weeks ago with a hailstorm of arrows. This small assault group, aptly called Taskforce Rogue, landed in Azshara on the night of the fourth day, during a low-tide situation. Their landing was carried out in complete darkness, a highly risky attempt, but which paid off handsomely (in a considerable stroke of luck, there was a half-moon in the sky to offer some guidance). This also resulted in them being completely undetected by the Goblin advance warning system, since conventional wisdom dictated that no one could be foolhardy enough to carry out an assault in such conditions, and as most of their attention was focused on the Draenei near the bridge to Ashenvale. Having done this, the fleet sailed away to some distance, to advance again once the port had been taken.

The Draenei, in the meantime, had done little except grimly hold out against atempts by the Goblin troops to push them off - no doubt bolstered by the assumption that they had managed to successfully halt the Alliance assault. However, a Stormcrow flew in from the direction of the port on the morning of the fifth day, which the Goblins noted with some surprise, but were not overtly concerned. Around midday, the front opened up again, but with a massive cavalry charge form the Elekks. The surprising assault apart, the Elekks itself frightened some of the Goblins considerably, and the frontline began to quake under the assault, which was soon followed up by an Infantry charge which attempted to seize the advantage caused by the sudden cavalry assault. Just as the Goblins began to respond to this, they were stunned when a barrage of arrows, so thick that in the words of one Goblin soldier, it "blotted out the sun", came upon them from their rear. Taskforce Rogue had managed to sneak up on the enemy as the Draenei had begun their assault, and had taken up superior postions in the hills nearby, from where they rained down death upon the unwary Goblin forces.

Demoralised by the suddenness of the assault, from both sides at that, the bulwark shattered completely and the Goblin Rifle Forces, which turned out to be just a singel infantry Division in strength of the Bilgewater Cartel's security forces, broke into a rout, fleeing toward the Orgrimmar Gates. They did not reach the gates however, as they Elekk Cavalry were able to chase down and eliminate most of them. Only a few stragglers reached the gates, which were in the process of being sealed, more as a precautionary measure than anything else. It was enough to set off alarm bells ringing across the entire city, since the very proximity of Alliance forces unnerved the Orcs more than anything else.

The Draenei, having regrouped with Taskforce Rogue, had no intention however, of an immediate siege of Orgrimmar. Instead, they waited until evening, when low-tide condidtions prevailed, and launched an assault upon Bilgewater Harbour. In response to signal flares ent up by elements from Taskforce Rogue, the Night Elven Navy sailed into close proximity and proceeded to lay waste to the coastal defences, there being Glaive Throwers on board specially procured for this purpose. By midnight, the Port was in Draenei hands, the fires from the port visible all the way from the Orgrimmar Guard Towers. The silence of the Darnassus Gun was also proof of the fall, since it had been firing in a steady rhythm all day, and had abruptly stopped around evening. The Alliance reaction to seeing the Gun for the first time was also notable, there being absolute incredulity at the sheer size of the Gun, to the noise it made when fired.

Among the most notable symbols of the war in Kalimdor was taken during the seige of the Port. Taken from a new Gnomish invention that allowed portraits to be taken instantaneously (the Gnomes called it a Photographic Machine), it showed a Draenei Shaman and a Night Elven Ranger fighting side-by-side, firing lightning-bolts and arrows alike into the enemy while standing on a pile of corpses of Orcs, Trolls and Goblins, with a blazing oil-slick in the background, and their comrades charging the enemy in the foreground. It became one of the most inspiring images of the fighting, and even today remains a highly-remembered image, inspiring plays and songs upon the ones who bravely fought in the reclamation of Azshara. By the third day of the Twelfth Week, the Draenei were in complete control of Azshara, and all set to begin their assault on the rear gates of Orgrimmar. Their eagerness was palpable, to bring what they felt was retribution to the butchers of Shattrath.

For the Horde, there was utter panic at the loss. The defeat set off warnings all over Kalimdor, at the thought of the Alliance virtually at the doorstep of Orgrimmar brought the spectre of defeat looming right over them. In a move seen as reckless by all standards, Warchief Hellscream ordered half of the defending forces from the Northern, and half of the forces from the Southern Barrens, to retreat to Orgrimmar immediately, so as to provide some defence to the northern entrance. It was met with protesting bleats from every army commander, since they were being hard-pressed on both these fronts by the Alliance, and it seemed a suicidal move, since it would take these troops almost a week to reach Orgrimmar and set up a defensive cordon in the rear. However, they were completely overruled, and accordingly, four Infantry divisions were poached from the frontlines to defend the rear. This greatly weakened the already precarious postions the Horde held in both frontiers.

What the Horde did not know, could not know, was that it was a coldly planned maneuver. General Feathermoon knew, much like Lady Proudmoore knew, that any form of ground assault against core Horde forces would prove disastrous in the Barrens. However, both handled it in their own unique way. In General Feathermoon's case, she had used Naval and Draenic assets to full efficiency, resulting in not just territorial and strategic gains, but also serving as a distraction for the Horde, and forcing the Horde into weakening their frontlines when they should have strengthened it. It was but one of several steps to bring the Horde to ruin, and the worst of it was that the Horde unwittingly cooperated with it.

Meanwhile, a significant even occurred, not in Kalimdor, and not in the Eastern Kingdoms, but rather, in Northrend. More specifically, in Dalaran. The Silver Covenant had been stealthily amassing political and military support, whilst denuding the Sunreaver faction, to the point that political tensions were rising swiftly in what had been until then a neutral city. Rumours of treachery proliferated, and the streets were almost empty, a dread pallor of apprehension, fear and suspicion resting all over the city, as if waiting for the sudden outbreak of some horrifying apparition. Assassinations seemed to be the order of the day, with prominent offficials dying on both sides amost daily. And it was fast approaching tipping point.

And in the Twelfth Week of the War, civil war broke out in Dalaran, stoked by the Silver Covenant. It raged for three days, of continous fighting, in which more magical energies were dispersed than in the defence of Dalaran nearly 14 years ago against the Scourge. It resulted in their victory, as well as the death of Archmage Aethas Sunreaver of the Six, and Dalaran passed into the hands of the fanatically anti-Horde faction of Veeresa Windrunner. The subsequent outcome was the execution - often referred to as the Great Slaughter - of every Horde officer in Dalaran, as well as every Horde mercenary, representative and Ambassador, an event which has defined Dalaran since then. The streets of Dalaran today, instead of their usual purple, now are tinged a light maroon due to the blood spilled on them, in copious amounts, in a week that shocked much of Azeroth, even with all the brutality of the War surrounding them. The corpses of the Horde were defiled further by being dragged through the streets by the Silver Covenant troops, and unceremoniously flung off from Krasus Landing and into the forest below, where they were devoured by the lifeforms that proliferated there. Aethas Sunreaver died in pain, being tortured by continuous exposure to fel energies for three days after his capture, and finally killed by being thrown off from the Violet Citadel twoers to his death in Crystalsong Forest below.

All these events, coming in close upon each other, served only to deepen the gloom in the Horde, as they saw portents of doom stalking the world for them. And the frightening part was that the worst was yet to come.

I hate it when heavy winds knock out the telephone poles. The disruption of network traffic for a whole week was irritating, to say the least.
Thanks to all those who read, review, fave and sbuscribe. It really humbles me to see it happen. :D

Think that Dalaran job was extreme? Trust me, there's much worse coming up. Since the Banshee Queen has a LOT to answer for. :P