Firmly nestled between several prominent mesas and bluffs rising out of the Barrens’ scrubland terrain, the Crossroads had long been a major trade hub for goods and people traveling to and from the capital city. The roads nearby were well-patrolled by experienced Horde guards, it lay within relatively easy reach of other important Horde holdings, and it provided a safe and direct line to the goblin port city of Ratchet, where one could hire a steamer ship to sail across the Great Sea. I was glad to finally arrive, having not much more direction from the guards of Ogrimmar than to “follow the road South,” and I quickly made my way to the large inn, overseen by a grey-haired tauren named Boorand.
Though they were full members of the Horde – just like orcs, trolls, and several stranger races from the Eastern Continent – I had never seen one of the steer-headed cow people up close before. Bipedal, but with enormous hooves at the base of their legs, I did my best not to stare at the kindly proprietor who saw me to my temporary lodging. He kept a clean inn, and had meat on the fire for those wanting a little substance with their morning repast. Beneath his long horns his eyes were gentle, and I was glad to see that, however his life had lead him, he looked comfortable wielding a broom, rather than some dangerous implement of war.
He was kind enough to point out the major town landmarks, mainly the flight master, halls for training, and the various smiths and merchants that could help provision me for my journey, whichever direction it lead me. In the middle of town stood a tall signpost, proudly directing visitors to all manner of places, including many whose name I didn’t recognize. Regional geography wasn’t a big topic, growing up on the farm, and though my sister talked a little about her adventures when she returned home on leave, there were so many place names they all got jumbled in my head. Recognizing my passing confusion, Boorand suggested that there were locals always looking for strong orcs to help with various tasks, in case I felt the need to settle a bit before heading out again. I thanked the large innkeeper and gnawed on tough pack jerky as I walked through the town, finding my way around.
In talking with a caravan master, lashing his team for a long trip Westward, I learned there were several ways I could get to Tanaris, though all of them posed “a lot of risk.” The most straight-forward route, he mused while adjusting harnesses and securing loads, would be to head directly South, into the Southern Barrens, into Thousand Needles, and finally straight through to the desert. I hesitated to ask him how long a journey that would be – I genuinely didn’t want my confidence shaken if he were to answer that it would take a month or more. Alternatively, he added, after brief contemplation, I could skirt the edge of the Southern Barrens, make my way across the Dustwallow Marsh, and then slip across the wide bay that formed the Eastern edge of Thousand Needles. He didn’t offer his suggestion as to which I may find more palatable, but I thanked him for his information all the same – he had given me a lot to think about as I returned to the inn and asked for a map of the area.
Over lunch, which really felt more like dinner, I studied the hand-drawn cartography, marveling at the people who had hiked, ridden, and marched across the whole of the continent, paving the way for future travelers. The inn’s map wasn’t strictly to scale, at least that’s what the big warning near the bottom said, but it gave me an idea of the size, or at least direction, of the trip ahead. Both the Southern Barrens and Dustwallow Marsh had cautionary marks and symbols, some apparently quite recently added, to warn against known dangers. I knew the journey would be difficult and dangerous – I was trying to sort out which path would provide the least risk to life and limb as I sought my sister.
Catching myself falling asleep at the long table, I resolved to make decisions after I had a good rest. Thanking the innkeeper for his hospitality and the quality of the food – it was very good, after all – I lay down in the not-exactly-soft bed and quickly fell to a deep and travel-weary slumber. The next day would come soon enough, and with it more adventures, I had no doubt.