My mind wasn’t totally at ease the next morning, but seeing the camp come together around the breakfast fire did help alleviate some of the pangs of guilt I still felt when I thought about the bloody night prior. The woodsman I helped save, a tall orc named Chawg, gave me a small gift as I said my goodbyes. It wasn’t more than a few copper in some cloth scraps, but he said it was the least he could do, for all I had done for him. I took the package and put it in my boot, not wanting to think just yet where the coin had come from.

Waving goodbye to the isolated camp, I set off again, trying to find a military base or installation where I could hopefully get more information about my sister. I didn’t exactly feel comfortable venturing out alone, knowing there were murderous elves in the woods, but something akin to confidence helped me face the fear, at least enough to start walking. Starting is always the hardest part – once you’re on your way, it’s a lot easier to just keep going.

Hiking upstream of the Southfury river, I tried to keep my distance from the hostile-looking wildlife. Unlike the boars in the valley back home, the creatures here seemed like they wanted a fight, that they would be happy to attack any who crossed their paths. Not all of them of course, the deer seemed as friendly as ever, or at least neutral, and merely kept an eye on me as I passed. Avoiding hostile fauna wasn’t easy – there seemed to be new dangers around every tree and under every bush, but somehow I made my way inland without too much trouble.

Stopping at a nearby rocket transfer station, I shamefully admitted that I was lost and had no idea where the nearest military installation could be. The goblins, after arguing among themselves for a time, finally agreed that I should make my way to the East, toward a relatively recent settlement called Bilgewater Harbor. There was a large military presence, they said, and if I were looking for any sort of organized force, it’d be there. I thanked the pair for their time, trying not to say anything negative about the explosive death-traps they were tinkering with. They added that it wouldn’t be an easy trip, not with my meager equipment, but if I didn’t want to take one of their rocket sleds, overland would be the way to go.

Even though I had been away from home for less than a week, I was starting to get the hang of life in the Azshara wilds, particularly how to avoid conflicts with local wildlife. Largely it was a matter of being vigilant about one’s surroundings – if the birds grew quiet and rustling in the underbrush ceased, there was likely a big predator nearby, something that would gladly eat an ill-prepared traveler, if given the chance. By being careful I made it to the Shattered Strand, a rocky beach near my destination.

It looked like a battlezone, with weapons, bodies, and exploded craters all over. Were the Horde using the beach as target practice? Who were they fighting? I didn’t want to stick around longer than I had to, and so I made my way to the small islands with formed a natural bridge to the harbor.

I didn’t know what to expect when approaching the large encampment, but no matter what my guesses, Bilgewater Harbor caught me by complete surprise. A military and trading post larger than the valley in which I had grown up, it seemed to be split down the middle – half a well-run military operation, largely populated by goblins, and the other half a drunken free-for-all of commerce and all sorts of entertainments, some of which I was sure were illegal. Sticking to the military side, I eventually reached the top of the multi-tiered base and met with a captain named Krazz, and inquired whether he knew my sister, or where she may be.

That he had to look her up in record books didn’t bode well for my search, and my heart sank as he scanned page after page.

“Oh yes,” he said, finally, sausage fingers stabbing at the roster. “She was stationed here for about two weeks almost a year ago. No wonder I didn’t remember the name – I don’t pay much attention to the short-timers.”

Having been stationed there, I asked if there were any notes as to where she may have been assigned afterward, trying to reiterate how important it was that I find my sister, that she was needed back home.

“Moved down to Tanaris, looks like” he shrugged. “Captain Wainwright’s unit. Something going on in the desert.”

I asked the fastest route down to Tanaris – not that I had any idea where in the world that was. “If you trust the flyboys running the wind riders, that’d be my guess,” he answered, scratching his stubbly chin. “Me? I don’t like the way those animals smell. I’d rather ride something mechanical or walk all the way through the Barrens before getting on one of those again.”

I knew the Barrens were a large, dusty expanse to the west of where I grew up, across the dangerous estuary formed as the Great Sea snaked around the Durotar peninsula. Unless he had any brighter ideas, it looked like I would have to head all the way back to Orgrimmar before turning westward. Another full day of hiking through the dangerous Azshara foothills, after having just arrived.

Even if I did consider taking the wind rider service, I surely didn’t have enough coin to pay for the trip; I scarcely had enough to get me a crummy bedroll and a few hard pieces of bread for dinner. Save by some grace of charity, the next morning would see me trekking back to our capital. At least in that case, every step would take me closer to Sina.