Monday, January 26, 2009

The Lost One

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

-- Emma Lazarus, The New Colossus; from the Statue of Liberty.

I was riding through northeastern Zul'Drak, in the early evening. It should rightfully have been considered a horrible place, with savage, biting cold, the mad remnants of the Drakkari, and the ever-present threat of being overrun with Scourge. Still, I found that somehow, I was able to like it.

I'd come here hunting the local raptors; their skins were more highly prized at the bazaar in Dalaran than most, and I was sorely in need of extra money, of late. However, as I was about to look for another raptor, I noticed a Tauren male who had already begun fighting one, only 30 yards or so in front of me.

He was a young bull. I could immediately tell from the speed of his movements and the lack of scars on his arms. It reminded me of old Tarukhe, and what he must have been like, at that age.

The Hunt was a thing of great wonder for the young, and they threw themselves into it with all the extra energy that came with their youth. It was, therefore, the most dangerous part of any Hunter's career, I realised ruefully, chuckling. Hunters who survived the taking of their first few beasts, generally slowed down and learned more respect for their prey.

This young one's fight began to go badly. Although he fired the rapid succession of smaller, lighter arrows that were a signature of the Beast school, for reasons that he could not understand, it was to no avail. The shots were deflected by the raptor's tough hide, and it continued its' attack.

The raptor had let much blood out of both him and his wolf, and as they panted with exhaustion, closed in for the kill. No doubt the creature thought he would be eating royally tonight, and that this prey would be the envy of the rest of his pack.

I rapidly drew one of the new black powder tipped arrows that we had recently learned to make, lit the fuse with a stone I carried for the purpose, and fired it at the raptor's feet, blowing a hole in the stone of the ruins. The beast was stunned momentarily, turned, looked at me, kicked both the Tauren and his wolf to the ground, and then ran off.

After a moment, the Tauren pulled himself up into a sitting position, but then simply sat for a long while. There was a look of confusion, shock, and great pain on his face, and as I watched, his dark eyes slowly filled with tears, and he began weeping, bellowing out his agony to the stars.

I understood, and averted my eyes, allowing him his dignity. This was not caused by the slashes which the raptor's claws had opened on his arms. This was from something far deeper.

The Hunters of Azeroth and Draenor had, over the course of many ages, discovered and refined three unique forms in which we could fight and hunt.

These were the way of the Beast, which allowed greater communion with animals, and which had traditionally been the first path of our young, as this Tauren was. They had grown to be called the Beast Masters. These had been the most numerous of the three, and their leader within the Hunters' Guild on Azeroth was a fierce and hot tempered, yet very wise and aged Dwarf, with an enormous red beard. His name was Briac.

There was also the way of the Bow, which my Draenei friend Romochka followed; they were called the Marksmen, due to their greater skill with the bow than the rest of us. The Marksmen were still great in number, but despite this, they had little formal representation within the Hunters' Guild. As such, Romochka had come to be recognised as master among them, although reluctantly, and he did not like it when others mentioned this.

Finally, there was the third path, of which I myself had been a native for many years. This was for those of us who embraced both of the above, but who, in addition, had developed a greater ability and will to avoid death. Because of this, we came to be called the Survivalists, and we had traditionally been the rarest of the three. The greatest of our elders, Arland, had simply walked away into the wilderness one day, never to be heard from again.

Followers of all three forms had various abilities which, not only kept us alive and allowed us to fight, but also literally defined who we were, and our sense of identity. When these abilities suddenly ceased to be reliable, we either died, or we experienced the kind of torment which the young Tauren before me was now. Our relationship with our animals, our prey, and the very land itself came into question.

I knew that the young Tauren's confusion and pain were due to this. He had been taught to fight in a particular way, and that if he did so, he would be successful. This had ceased to be true, and as a result, he doubted himself terribly. He had not learned anything else, but now, due to the strange curse which had recently befallen the Beast Masters, he would need to embrace another way.

As I considered what I was about to do, I was reminded of something else. I remembered the pain I had experienced, when in a meeting of the Hunters' Guild, I had finally been cast out. I remembered the Beast Masters' constant taunting and jeering of those of my form, about how we were inferior and always would be. I knew that this was partly why Arland had walked away, and another of our elders, Rakan, had gone back to his home in Desolace, to resume his life as a mystic. I also remembered how savagely yet another of us, Mekhilosio, had been attacked, when he described how he had been able to help others.

I knew that I could respond to this young Tauren now, as many of those of his form had often responded to me and mine, for years without stopping; with laughter, mockery, and insults. The time had come when I could repay cruelty for cruelty, and gloating for gloating. I could kick him when he was down, and in his current state, break his spirit such that he would no longer want to live at all. I had felt much anger towards many of his form before, and for a time, at least, I possibly could have deluded myself that to do that would have been an act of justice.

I also knew, however, that such was not the Survival way, but in fact, the direct opposite of it. That of everything else we might have known, there was ultimately nothing more important in the preservation of our own lives, and that of others, than compassion.

To be a true Survivalist was to be an outcast. It had always been that way. The Beast Masters and Marksmen carried some legitimacy, both in the eyes of each other, and in the rest of Azeroth and Draenor; but us, never. We were the dreamers, the insane; ridiculed, kicked, and spat on.

More than anything else, our path had required broad shoulders, thick skin, and a realisation that to be Survival was to be alone; but it was also to follow your conscience and your own identity. It wasn't something that was done because it was easy, or painless, or beautiful, because it was none of these. It was, however, something that was done for the love of it, despite all of the abuse we received.

And so, taking a deep breath, and closing my own eyes for a few seconds, I gathered together all of the pain that they had ever caused me...and let it go.

When the young Tauren had regained his composure, his vision was suddenly partly obscured by an open green hand. He took it, and I hauled him to his feet.

"What is your name, son of the Horde?" I asked him.

"Caurmahe," he answered. "I do not understand why it is now so much harder for me to kill my prey. They used to fall easily, but now they go from my wolf to me, and it is all we can do to avoid being eaten by them."

I offered him my shoulder, and his wolf began to limp along next to my cat as well, in the direction of the nearest settlement. The Argent Crusaders there would no doubt have a healer among them, who could take care of him for a few days.

"Well, Caurmahe," I replied, as we walked. "Did any of those who you spoke to, mention that we have traps which can produce fire, as well as frost and ice?"

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