This is the second part in the series about Duskwood and the people living there. I suggest reading the previous article about it, but hey, you do you!
Hidden within the sombre expanse of Duskwood, a realm known for its perpetual gloom, lies a sanctuary of nature and mysticism: the Big Tree and the Druid Grove. This verdant enclave stands as a symbol of hope and balance amidst the darkness that shrouds the surrounding forest, or so I have been told. Naturally, I had to check it out for myself.
Everyone I spoke to in Darkshire made sure to tell me the roads in Duskwood are not exactly safe, and especially not in the evening - as if one can see a difference in this eternal dusk - but I was lucky that a local woman and former Stormwind Ranger knew her way around the place and offered to escort me to the grove.
The trip there was relatively uneventful, we walked on the road towards Westfall, following the path and making sure to not stray from the light and the somewhat regular patrolling night watchmen.
As we ventured deeper into the heart of Duskwood, the gloomy atmosphere intensified, and the darkness seemed to cling to every shadow. It was in this eerie ambiance that we finally reached the Big Tree and the Druid Grove. Towering majestically over the surrounding forest, the Big Tree stood as a testament to the enduring power of nature and where had before been dead plants, gloominess, and a feeling of creeping doom, was now life. Vibrant in its green colours and the sound of birds as they flew around in the surprising amount of sunlight which penetrated the large canopy of the big tree. The contrast was immense, and it was difficult to not gasp and just stand amazed for a moment.
The Big Tree, a towering ancient oak, commands attention with its majestic presence. Its gnarled roots intertwine with the forest floor, as if tethering the land to the balance of the natural world. The tree's canopy stretches wide, sheltering all who seek solace and protection under its boughs. Surrounding the Big Tree is the Druid Grove, an ancient sanctuary where druids commune with the natural world and hone their spiritual powers. Within its hallowed confines and Moon-well, druids hold sacred rituals, share their wisdom, and strengthen their bond with the primal forces that govern the ebb and flow of life.
Intrigued by the origins of this mystical sanctuary, I had the privilege of talking to a couple of local druids who take turns protecting the grove and by extension the portal to the Emerald Dream. They kindly shared the history and lore surrounding the place, at least officially. What they said amongst themselves in Darnassian I will keep out of this article, as I reckon, they didn't quite realize I understood them, until it got a little awkward.
The tale they recounted dates back 4,500 years before the First War, when Fandral Staghelm, a figure of both reverence and controversy, undertook a clandestine mission.
It is said that Fandral Staghelm, in a bid to combat the growing threat of saronite that had begun to taint the world, secretly took six branches from Nordrassil, the World Tree. With these branches in hand, he ventured across the land and planted them over the saronite sources, hoping to cleanse the corrupted land and bolster the power of the Emerald Dream.
A shadowy element born from the malevolent essence of the Old God Yogg-Saron, saronite weaves a tale of corruption and temptation that stretches across the continents of Azeroth. Although Yogg-Saron's imprisonment in Ulduar was meant to contain his dark power, the malevolence within him seeped through, infusing the very essence of the land.
As his black blood coursed through the veins of the world, saronite crystallized into existence, becoming a physical manifestation of his sinister influence. From the haunted woods of Duskwood to the untamed reaches of Feralas, saronite emerged as a relentless force, corrupting all it touched.
As mentioned, Fandral Staghelm, sought to combat this spread of saronite by planting the branches of Nordrassil over its sources, hoping to cleanse the tainted land. Yet even his efforts were met with unforeseen consequences, leading to the creation of Vordrassil, a broken and corrupted World Tree.
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Despite Fandral's best intentions, the true malevolence of saronite could not be contained. It surfaced across Azeroth, threatening the very balance of nature. Still, there was hope, as Fandral's actions did manage to quell the initial appearance of saronite in specific areas.
However, five of the branches from Nordrassil flourished and became the Great Trees, conduits that channeled the essence of the Emerald Dream into the world. They thrived, breathing new life into the nearby wildlife, and purging the land of saronite's malevolence. But the greatest of the branches was planted over the largest growth of saronite in the Grizzly Hills, and thus emerged a new World Tree, Andrassil, 'Crown of the Snow.'
The Cenarion Circle learned of Fandral's actions, and while they were angered by the lack of consultation, they recognized that the plan seemed to have succeeded. Andrassil stood tall and mighty for decades, a beacon of hope in the frigid landscape of Northrend.
However, as the more scholarly inclined readers will know then Andrassil eventually suffered a sad demise. Its roots had delved deep into the earth, touching the subterranean prison of the Old God Yogg-Saron. This contact infused the World Tree with dark energies, driving all living beings in the vicinity to madness. Andrassil's corruption left the Cenarion Circle with a heavy decision. Knowing that without the Dragon Aspects' blessing, Andrassil was susceptible to malevolence, and with no means to save the suffering tree, they had no choice but to destroy it. Thus, Vordrassil, the 'Broken Crown,' came into being.
Unbeknownst to the druids, Yogg-Saron had found a doorway into the Emerald Dream through the trees planted by Fandral. The other Old Gods seized this opportunity, spreading their corrupting influence into Ysera's realm. Seeds of darkness took root in the Dream, polluting its very core.
The Emerald Nightmare was born of these seeds, spreading like a malevolent vine within the ethereal domain. Even Ysera's green dragonflight, tasked with guarding the Great Trees, could not prevent the corruption that had set in. Ysera's most trusted lieutenants— Lethon, Ysondre, Emeriss, and Taerar— became corrupted by the Emerald Nightmare and ventured forth through the Great Trees into the waking world, unleashing madness, and terror.
The Emerald Dream was eventually cleansed, and to prevent malicious beings or forces using the connection (portal) between the great trees and the Emerald Dream, the druids here at the grove in Duskwood has made it their mission to protect it and make sure nothing unwanted gets through the portal and once more corrupts the Dream. But the druids at the grove do so much more. The Grove is a place of learning, where both seasoned and fledgling druids come together to exchange knowledge and embrace their roles as stewards of nature, while ensuring the preservation of its sanctity and safeguarding against any dark forces that may seek to desecrate its purity.
After having talked at length with the druids in the grove I sought out my guide who had been resting nearby while I worked. She had been joined by a local who was cooking a stew for travellers and druids alike (that said, I did not see any of the druids eat from it), and being a man who rarely says no to a good stew - and a chance to talk to people - I sat down and enjoyed the meal while talking about the ins and outs of life in general. Marriage, not living up to ones parents’ expectations and how to find your path in life.
In the quiet embrace of the grove, surrounded by the ancient wisdom of the Big Tree and the druids' guardianship, and with a good hearty meal, I couldn't help but feel a sense of peace. The perpetual gloom of Duskwood seemed to recede, if only momentarily, as the enigmatic sanctuary and the people gathered here, offered a glimpse of nature's enduring spirit.
As my guide and I departed the grove, I carried with me a renewed appreciation for the delicate balance that sustains our world. The tireless guardians of various kinds trying to make sure rest of us can sleep relatively safe at night, stirred something deep inside me. Or maybe it was just the stew.