More than once I saw what could have been a passable route down, through, and up the other side of the Great Divide, but the warnings of the more experienced traveler stayed any thoughts of exploration. If someone as well-versed and -equipped as he recommended going all the way around, it would be foolish to think I knew better and strike out on my own. I was very grateful for the people I had met on my journeys, even those with whom I had only interacted for a moment. it really made me appreciate how much even a tiny moment can change an entire course of destiny – without the troll’s earlier warnings I may have attempted to cross the Divide on my own, and never have returned.
Eventually the lava at the bottom of the deep gorge gave way to water, and I knew I was closing in on my goal; once the land flattened out and the small pools of turbid water gave way to a river, I would be safe to cross. With an added spring in my step, I continued journeying, careful to avoid the centaur patrols which seemed to cover the area. They were tall, powerful bodies and bare torsos standing high above the Barrens’ scrubby grasses, and always seemed to be accompanied by powerful war dogs, keen on chasing down any errant interloper who crossed their path – including a small orc like myself.
I tried to keep a flock of plainstriders between me and the patrols, the giant terrestrial birds providing good cover. Later I was able to use some grazing zhevra, thankful for the bounty of life and nature found between the rolling hills. I didn’t know whether the centaurs tended to the flocks or just lived in harmony with them, but I was glad to be out of trouble’s reach before too long. The chasm was still too deep to cross, but at least the water at the bottom was idly flowing now, seemingly stretching out to the Great Sea to the east. I was getting closer, and that sense of excitement was a sincere relief after the anxiety of hiding from the dangerous patrols earlier.
Once I could see the river moving, it didn’t take long for it to open into the sea, finally giving me an opportunity, albeit a soggy one, to cross over to the Southern Barrens, ever closer to my sister in the far-off outpost of Tanaris. In my excitement I almost made a catastrophic mistake – at the last second I was able to throw myself behind a scraggly bush at the edge of the Merchant Coast, out of sight of an Alliance patrol! Taking their passing as my cue to head South, I swam as best I could across the river, the mix of fresh and salt water creating confusing and powerful eddies as I tried to navigate the channel without being seen from above.
I was too far from any Horde patrol, or at least I assumed I was, to let them know about the Alliance, but I knew it would have been foolhardy to try and fend them off by myself. They appeared to be trained soldiers, dressed in shining armour, barking orders to one another in their guttural, indecipherable tongue. I would certainly alert the next Horde guard I saw, but I didn’t know how regularly they patrolled the outer edges of the Barrens. Maybe that’s why the Alliance chose to land there, but I knew far too little of military strategy – only what my sister could try to help us understand when she returned home on leave – to know their motives.
Drying myself off on the far side, under a tall Tauren-carved totem pole which provided reprieve from the overbearing sun, I instantly noticed that the animals on this side of the river seemed larger, more formidable than those to the North. Had isolation from the rest of the Barrens made them fiercer competitors? I didn’t know for sure, but remained resolute that I did not want to cross any of those beasts alone, or even at all if it could be avoided.
Walking toward the lush expanse to the South, I kept a wary eye out for natural predators, as well as any sign of the encroaching Alliance. I didn’t know how far it would be until I reached the next civilized encampment, but I hoped the Horde had set up a waystation nearby; the lands themselves seemed to be getting more hostile with every step.