North of Razor Hill, the long road to Orgrimmar passed through a deep canyon, where the rock walls rose up and branched overhead, almost touching. The air was cold and the long shadows cast by the canopy meant the rough clay ground didn’t soak up as much heat from the sun, making the whole pass seem ominous and uninviting. Small bonfires were lit along the path, which helped, and I thanked a passing guard for keeping them well-stoked. Still though, I was glad to be out of the gorge as soon as possible; being raised and living under the open sky, walking through what was almost a tunnel did not make me feel comfortable – particularly when I could hear the screeching calls of harpies echoing from side passages. My father never mentioned those when he talked about Orgrimmar.

Partway through the canyon I met an orc named Tednug, who said he was on his way to Orgrimmar as well. It was good to have some company, and his large pet lion helped me feel even safer as we stopped for a quick meal. He asked about my travel, and smiled when I mentioned it was my first time this far outside of home. He shared some dried meat and dark ale with me, clapped me on the back, and said I would be fine, that Orgrimmar was just beyond the tunnel. He didn’t want to tell me what it was like, saying I would appreciate it more witnessing it first-hand.

At the end of the oppressive and occasionally bone-chilling tunnel, Tednug waved and said he was going to spend time with an old acquaintance he saw camped nearby. As he walked off, wishing me luck in my travels, I saw him approach a goblin that had made a cooking fire out of reach of the wind, near which a large wooden wagon sat, laden with goods. Not only had I met friendly locals in my travels so far, some of those people were even friends with outsiders like goblins! To say my adventure was off to a good start was quite an understatement.

As I crested the next hill I was faced with the outlines of large siege engines, silhouetted by the setting sun. Catapults and trebuchets larger than the home I grew up in stood poised, ready to be used in defense of the horde. The sight was almost magical, particularly in thinking about the sheer engineering know-how that went into such constructions, but even those behemoths paled in comparison to seeing the great walls of Orgrimmar for the first time.

A stone-and-iron fortress taller than anything I had ever seen filled the entrance to the valley wherein which Orgrimmar sat, its entrance protected by multiple portcullises, flanked by huge Horde banners as tall as my field was long. The tusks of some great beast adorned the outside, slain ages ago in the city’s history. There were other sights and sounds, including traders with tall piles of wares, pens for animals, and the ever-present guards, but my eyes could do nothing but take in the great walls which ringed the great capital city.

Once I regained my composure, I gave the city a respectful bow, causing some passers-by to shake their heads. Perhaps they couldn’t understand just how much this journey had meant to me, how much this pilgrimage to our capital had already changed me as a person. Once I found my sister we would have such stories to tell, bringing them back to our small little farming hamlet. All I had to do was walk inside and find her.

Approaching the entrance I saw another signpost, this one directing traffic every which way. The Barrens and Bladefist Bay were important enough to warrant larger markings than the rest, and made me wonder whether my sister had ever traveled out that way during her stay in the capital. I looked forward to asking her, to regale me with tales of her adventures, of the people she met and the dangers she overcame.

Trying to appear nonchalant, and admittedly failing, I strode past the compliment of guards who protected the city’s main entrance, the twisted corridor that had been designed to slow any enemy armies that dared approach. Finally, I was through the impossibly thick walls and the Valley of Strength opened up to me – the main thoroughfare of our capital city.

If I thought the walls were beautiful, I was simply dumbstruck at the splendor before me. Buildings of stone and iron, soldiers riding flying, bat-winged panther creatures, the sounds of drunken revelry from nearby inns. Try as I might, there just aren’t words to describe seeing somewhere I had dreamed about since I was a boy, for the first time. There was no question, I was at once far away from home and right where I belonged. I could imagine my father walking out of that same entrance, seeing this sight for the first time, and I wondered what had changed in the years between – what had stayed the same?

As my eyes roamed over the amazing sight laid out before me, my sense of wonderment continued to grow. There, in the flesh, was an actual tauren speaking with a blood elf of all things – a blood elf! My friends back home would never believe this, but that’s okay; I knew what I had seen, and that memory would be with me forever. The Horde was so much bigger than just our little hamlet, than the little world we knew so well. It was even bigger than this continent – the elf was proof of that. They had come all the way from the Eastern Kingdoms to be here, and was idly talking like their mere presence weren’t an amazing feat of determination and cooperation between races.

The realization of the true scope of our empire was staggering, and sent a shake through my bones. Not one of fear, but of awe and appreciation. I knew I would never be able to understand it all, but I was so very thankful for that first glimpse, that small peak behind the curtain.

Header image credit: Darko0666