I sat at the fire at the end of another long day, and looked across at Nariyya. I was enjoying my usual Earl Grey at this point, which she also seemed to have taken to. Although I took it black, I realised that it was my own, single concession towards the sort of opulence which many of the others now customarily lived in.
She'd been with me for three days now, and so far we hadn't done anything hugely consequential. Hunted a few minor animals here and there, while I watched her, figured out how much she already knew, and took her measure, generally.
I had to admit; she had promise. She reminded me of myself when my own tusks weren't quite as long, alhough she was a bit more steady and less headstrong than I had been, and I didn't consider that a bad thing. I decided to mention that, for I felt that it was important.
"You move more cautiously than I did at your age, Nariyya," I began. "That is a good thing. Impatience has nearly got me killed more times than I can count. Lunge forward, make the kill, be quick, and do not worry so much about attention to form, or your own safety. That is the message of the others in Shattrath. That it is not my message, is one of the major differences between me and them."
I paused for a moment, listening to the slow crackling of the fire between us. We'd had a little rain recently, and I figured some of the wood was still damp. I closed my eyes, taking in the residual scent of the rain and the smoke from the fire, the sound of the boar snuffling contentedly at my side, and the intermittent feel of the rough grass beneath me. These were all things which, no matter how many times I experienced them, I never got too used to them, and never took them for granted. Despite the occasional pain, I still considered life itself to be the greatest gift that I had been given.
I continued speaking.
"There are many, from both of the two worlds, who do not know what it means to be a Hunter, and who hate us from the position of their ignorance. Our brothers and sisters in Shattrath are frustrated and caused great pain by this, and they have tried to compensate for it by acting recklessly at times, in order to try to gain credibility from those who will never give it to us.
If you also, truly choose to make the bow your own weapon, you will have to take that burden on your own shoulders as well. You will not find a more lonely path in either of the two worlds. You will be derided, mocked, and insulted at times wherever you go, and although in time, you will eventually come to realise our worth, and power, most of those you meet will never understand.
I do not tell you this to dissuade you, but so that you may make the choice with your eyes open, in full knowledge of the truth. Doing what we do, can only be motivated by love of it. That alone is what will sustain you in the face of the mockery and ostracision which you will receive. As you have seen, I myself am not only an outcast among those of other paths, but even among many within our own order."
Nariyya had turned somewhat pale as I finished speaking. Although she had travelled a bit, I got the feeling that she hadn't really lived in solitude for a long period of time before. I suspected that she was taking in the full gravity of what I was saying, and that was appropriate. I gave her a few moments, and then picked up the bow she had taken off before sitting down.
"Is this yours?"
I studied her for several seconds, wondering if she understood the real meaning of what I was asking her. Then her jaw set, she looked me squarely in the eye, and I realised that she did.
"Then get some sleep." I grinned at her, much less serious now. "We'll be going somewhere more interesting in the morning."
I woke suddenly, covered in sweat, my breath coming in great, shuddering gasps.
We were running forward, always onward, the sounds of Human screaming a constant echo in our ears, fires on both sides of us, and the ground reduced to featureless mud beneath our feet. Farmland, farmhouses, all the Human buildings; we smashed through them, burned them, always seeking the families within, to try and end our mad, desperate hunger. A hunger that could not be ended.
The hunger to kill.
Human men, often smaller than the smallest of us, tried frantically to defend their wives and children. Most barely lasted seconds before being overwhelmed by us, and they never died cleanly. They were always smashed, torn, burned to the point where nobody could have known afterwards that they had once been Humans.
Red blood, black blood, theirs, ours, covered us. We waded through it, it washed over us when we killed. We didn't know which, and we didn't care. We only sought one thing, and we found it. Again and again, times beyond number, we found it.
When I woke, when I remembered, in the few seconds when I could see both of my lives, contrasted, laid side by side, it was always the same. For a moment I would struggle to shut it out; I couldn't bear it, but something forced me to remember, to look.
"Spirits, help us...
What have we done?"
I struggled with my body, now semi-aware of where I was, telling myself to stop. "Must not...be heard...don't know who could come. It's only a dream. Only...a dream!"
"What is wrong?" Nariyya had heard me, and stood at the entrance of my tent. Her voice helped bring me out of it.
"You shouldn't...see me like this," I managed to growl out between convulsions. She didn't move, but her face registered concern.
I couldn't answer her for several more moments, as I was still fighting to bring my body back under control. The customary, agonising fire in my stomach was there, caused by the convulsions and the involuntary storm through my nerves.
I grit my teeth.
"It is...a dream...my memories..."
I answered her haltingly, still shaking.
"Memories of...the Blood."
Although Nariyya was young, she'd obviously read some history, because all of the colour drained from her face, and her eyes widened in barely comprehending horror as she realised what I meant. Her next words were a whisper, and she slowly began backing away.
"You can't mean..."
I closed my eyes, trying to get the shaking to slow down more.
"They gave it...to my parents. They gave it...to all of us. I was...six years old."
My boar then pushed past Nariyya and came into the tent, putting his snout against my face. He had, of course, seen me in this state many times over the years, and he knew that simply his presence was the main thing I needed. As usual, with him there, I was gradually able to regain control, though I gripped his mane tightly for another several seconds.
"It sent us mad, Nariyya," I was speaking more evenly now. "The Humans and your people saw it, saw what we did to them because of it, but they didn't *know*. They weren't us, and they didn't feel it. It was something that the mortal races were never meant to be exposed to. It very nearly destroyed us."
The boar grunted, reminding me that he was there. I ran a hand through his fur, and continued.
"For me, the memories are largely unconscious, and only come when I am asleep. It is like that for most; our minds cannot tolerate consciously remembering. There was only one of us who could still control himself while under the influence of the Blood, although even as strong as he was, for him the control was only partial. He died in order to free the rest of us."
I could see that Nariyya knew who I was referring to. I spoke again, briefly.
"Although it is true that we naturally love to fight, and still have a bloodlust of our own, we can usually control that. The demons used...who we are...against us.
The Blood took our nature and distorted it; sent us berserk, and kept us in a stronger version of that state, constantly, for years. While it affected us, the only thing we wanted to do was kill."
"Will you...be all right now?" Nariyya asked me.
"Yes," I answered her. "Until tomorrow night, at least. There will never be absolution for me, Nariyya. Not for any of us. Grom was able to free us, but even he could not change the past. What is done, is done. Some of the Humans still consider us monsters, and have spat on me. Our Warchief told us that the only way any of us could cope with it was to realise that although we can't change the past, the one thing we can still change is the future. I hold to that, and more than anything else, it is the reason why now I never take life unless it is necessary."
She nodded, and went back to her own tent, as it was still the middle of the night. The boar moved closer to me, and I lay back down next to him, as I was gradually taken by a few hours of what was now, a mercifully dreamless sleep.