Tragur was excited. On one hand he finally earned the right to witness a first blood but on the other hand the privilege of participation passed him by in favor of a cat in the same litter as he. Tragurs mood soured at the latter. Only a year ago he despaired at not being old enough to witness the early morning ritual. Now the child like enthusiasm of his peers was only mirrored on his face. Inside he was a miasma of envy and jealous ravings.
Tragur was six years of age, full grown by the standards of his tribe and by extension his race. As far as Tragur was concerned he was ready to hunt when he was four. Nevertheless he and his litter comprised of cats of mostly rival prides, they jockeyed endlessly for status and recognition since there grouping at the age of one. The reward for their hard work, besides begrudging recognition from their lord fathers, was standing in the hunts. Standings that despite Tragur hard work, was probably rather low. A fact Tragur was coming to terms with as the hour of first blood approached and the sleek approach of the chosen one hushed the jitters of the crowd.
As tradition would dictate the warrior approached the circle early and bare of any weapons. The crowd would hush to consider their representative, though he was no more than six, his reputation among those who oversaw his progresses within the litter preceded him like thunder before torrential rain. Rumors spoke of his speed, which was undeniable even to his peers and some even regarded him as the best in his litter, though no self-respecting cat would admit that out loud. To his non-handlers he was the black cat of the Azeroth, and with the name came the rivalry of men many years his senior. Envy has never been his stranger; his parents as a hunting pair bring belts from all cross the peninsula, and new lands to the north and across the seas, if rumors be true. To his friends he was Pant, his birth name, and he kept his friends close, a lesson drilled into him by his father. As Pant he was generous, head strong, and fair. Never shying from opportunities to lead, and yet never overbearing. Within his inner circle Pant regaled his friends with stories of his parent’s exploits, which more often than not exceeded even the most outrageous rumors surrounding Pride Azeroth. Tragur of course, heard none of these camp fire tales; he sat on an opposite circle of friends, whose defacto leader was one of the many prides that fervently opposed the Azeroths, which is often the way of school litters.
But in this day the litter cheered the son of Azeroth, though some did so with more enthusiasm than others. Tragur, who was more concerned with being skipped the honor, cheered the chosen one with tepid enthusiasm.
“I wonder what manner of beast have they prepared for the Azeroth?” whispered Wafelia, her bright ember eyes and somber expression greeting Tragur as he turned to acknowledge her.
“Probably a river rat.” joked Tragur, which elicited a chuckle from the less serious members of the litter, Wafelia included.
“Those things are dangerous; my mother lost a brother in the amazon hunting a family of them.” At this the group nodded somberly, Carl being Carl killed the joke and as usual from the back of the group, where his wide face and height made his otherwise silent presence unmistakable.
Granted he was right, to the many that lost family and limbs to hunts in the river lands and densely wooded areas found further south, the two ton creature was no laughing matter.
“It’s probably a rabbit, it’s always a rabbit.” Alphonese said sagely. He was close to Pant and cheered him with enthusiasm despite his usual reserve. “But it looks like I’m wrong.”
Whereas before the crowd was merely hushed to a murmur, the silence that wrapped the witnesses of First Blood was such that nothing else but the shuffle of reluctant feet echoed inside the open circle. Slowly but surely whatever the son of Azeroth was to face moved toward the center, passing men and women that would have normally hissed at its presence if it wasn’t for the sacred nature of the ritual. To Tragur the anticipation was maddening, he had reasoned it was too short to be rabbit yet made too little of a dent in the circle of onlookers to be on four legs. Curiosity was stinging his feet and traveling up and down his legs, prickly his spine for motion on each relay. He bite down the urgency to act the fool and resolved to be the adult, forcing every fidget and inpatient twitch of the tail to a mere slow grit of his sharp teeth.
And then it emerged through the throng of furry bodies, four burly cats in his tow. Two of which held his arms separate and behind his back with leashes held with both hands, and a third holding a rope tied to a contraption that held his mouth shut while pulling the rope forward to the extent that his body bent low as he moved forward at the urging of the fourth cat setting pace in front of him. When the monster was inside the circle to the satisfaction of his escorts, they let go of the ropes and darted back into the crowd. It was at this moment that Tragur face shifted rapidly, from impatience, to puzzlement, to distaste, and then finally serious concern for the son of Azeroth.
This was the first time Tragur has seen a green devil and it didn’t take long to understand why First Blood was forbidden for the young and untrained. It was this shock and similar shocks to come that awoke Tragur to the seriousness of his new position, as a child to man, from house cat under the safety of his parents Pride to a hunter. What he saw, the green scales, the brown shell that protected its back and looked impossibly heavy, and the beady black eyes that stared at the son of Azeroth and nothing else, was extremely unsettling. It was 5 feet and a few inches and about the size the average cat if only a little shorter. But most importantly to Tragur, the green devil was like a living statue; his scales resembling hard plates of brick baked at odd shapes and made thin enough for the creatures massive muscles to move, if only barely, underneath. In his mind to slay such a beast unarmed and worst head on was suicidal.
But none of his compatriots shared this view. All cheered with blood-lust as the beginning of First Blood was rapidly ending as the sacrifice to the hunt was safely delivered before the tribe’s representative. The son of Azeroth, bounded up and down in a flurry of swipes, lunges, and kicks. However despite the impressive showing, Pant was not trying to intimidate the green devil as much as he was trying to relieve his own impatience. For the match cannot occur unless the beast, if it is capable of reason, removes all disadvantages, the muzzle and the rope around his hands. For a moment the creature stood observing the young Azeroth, unblinking and to the crowd uncomprehending. Then as slow as one would expect a living statue to move, the green devil removed the muzzle first, gnawed at his rope till it fell apart in a heap to be dragged away by cats delegated for the task. It was then that the casual display of martial skill ended, and the young cat stalked his prey, shuffling his feet deliberately between the different stances one takes before the all-consuming lung.
“He plans to end this in one stroke.” whispered Alphonese, appreciation cracking his otherwise monotone speech.
It was in these seconds that the devil mind sharpened, his body tensed, and his breath held in anticipation of what was to come. His capture hung heavy in his mind, having witnessing his scouting party slaughtered, only 6 days before. In the midst of the battle, the helplessness of being taken completely by surprise feebled his response and shattered his resolve against an enemy that leaped from previously harmless shadows at the dead at night, where his kinds vision was rather excellent. In the days preceding his capture, he naturally wondered why he was kept alive while the rest of his troop was butchered, some hacked to pieces in front of him and packaged. These thoughts filled him with understanding that came with despair, he was to be tortured, and executed once they have gathered the information that they need. No known attacks by the cat race left much in the wake of survivors and few could confirm if they bothered taking live prisoners. Their continued success at wiping out scouts and small caravans must be due to the intelligence they gather from captives like himself. Though that much he couldn’t confirm because his captors kept him in a cage, not a prison cell, which was by and large exposed to the elements and lacking in neighboring cages. Worst his theory was slowly falling apart as the cats didn’t torture him, or ask him pointed questions. They spoke the northern tongue when around him, something he found disconcerting, and fed him regularly with cooked meat, local vegetation, and cups of water.
Much to his surprise this unusual treatment went on for many days. This measure of kindness however didn’t lower his guard, but raised it, though not to the point that he abstained from sleep. Expecting to be slaughtered with little chance to fight back, he was more than comfortable with the thought of never waking up again and felt sleep was a reprieve from an otherwise cruel world where his wife and four daughters will never be seen again. On the fifth day the first and only question to be asked of him was his name. To this the scout responded with his name, rank and nation: Henry Butchwater, 2nd Scout of the Expeditionary Legion, Proud citizen of The Black Water Bay, respectively.
On the sixth day, he was selected for first blood, and he woke up to ropes and a muzzle. In his heart Henry Butchwater resigned to his fate, and handled the indignity with meekness and resignation. It was only once he entered the circle, and realized what the cats had in mind, that his heart stirred with cold furry. He was kept alive for sport. His friends slaughtered for sport. The fuckers make light of a turtle.
So when the young Azeroth, the chosen one, the Lead hunter of his litter, charged the turtle, the crack of life entering Henry’s eyes was mostly unnoticed, as he went for the kill. And how textbook the attack was, perfect execution, managed by painstaking calculations of his speed, height, arch of his swing, the resistance of the soft grass that covered the plains of his homeland, made in a precious moments of calm before the storm… and how it all calm to a halt as the turtle backhanded the blow with ease of a seasoned soldier of his experience and pedigree and carried the assailant off balanced and surprised into the dirt. Having bet the entire ritual on that one strike, he was both surprised and criminally off balance, only the instinctive ability to right himself mid tumble allowed him the grace to see the next attack coming in a hammering knee to the sternum that nearly liquefied his internal organs if it wasn’t for a timely twist of his hips and sudden shift of his weight assist by his tail. Panic however didn’t set into Pant, as he counter attack while falling away from his foe only managing to scratch his shell. Rolling and popping back into stance, Pant contemplated what went wrong. According to his mother these creatures are criminally slow, if not dimwitted. Surely only coincidence of raising its arm out of instinct and enough wherewithal to attack while he was off balance was the only logical explanation.
The turtle was content with not pursuing, for he knew he couldn’t run the cat down. The son of Azeroth paced the creature, his self-confidence and fighting spirit hardly affected by the earlier exchange. A smart hunter always stalks his prey, and his father’s words and the training of his task masters training echoed inside of him as his plan of action took shape.
“No more gimmicks.” whispered Pant in his native tongue, which to Henry was no more than a barely audible sharp hiss.
And that’s when Pant went in again, rushing as before, but as Tragur and many of his peers would note, from a much different stance and footwork. For to the casual observer, Pant was merely doing the same thing again, but to the multitude of trained eyes, Pant was slightly slower and more balanced, so when he attacked he planted his feet before darting to the right while swiping with his left paws. Henry however, while not anticipating the cats actions, instinctively trusted the attack patterns he had learned to defend against from his nation’s footmen; lessons reinforced during campaigns against his neighboring nations like the Red Shells and the Sons of the Sire. With practice and focus he took a back step as the young cat lashed out with right, the blow catching him but not stunning him as he ducked under the left paw while pivoting on the planted foot. As the cat went right he met the out stretched arm of Henry, having intended to end the fight with the left paw in a vicious strike that carried his entire weight, he realized his mistake quickly enough and intended to escape before being yanked to the ground with brutal efficiency. For it only took a second for Henry to catch his quarry, fling him to the ground as he pivoted in the other direction. As the cat bounded for freedom, a cry only matched by newborn kittens in mortal danger escaped his lips as a loud resounding crack was felt more than heard by the entire audience.
It is to be said that having grabbed his opponent, Henry could have pulled the young cat into his muscular embrace and did much worse. And maybe it was because Henry did not take the speed and strength of young Pant for granted that he chose to fling him to the ground. But when Henry planted his foot hard and deep into the cats right leg, there was no doubt that the Black Water Bay soldier took some vindictive pleasure in crippling the son of Azeroth first. And as Pant limped away, the pain of his lost leg made every attempt to put some distance between him and the green devil, a near comic effort if not sight, though no one found it funny. A slow and steady hiss started to build in the crowd as the turtle leisurely stalked his prey. It’s meaning foreign to the turtle soldier and too ancient to translate in the northern tongue. But in a second the hisses will be eclipse by a deafening roar from with the crowd, as a black cat with white spots marking her face and underbelly, leaped into the circle with murderous green eyes.
Time for a second froze as everyone knew who she was but few were willing to cross her, even for the sake of the ritual. But few is not all, as a taskmaster caught her leg with a whip as she was in midair. The resulting break in momentum crashing her in the plain grass, her murderous eyes now burning even brighter with a feral rage as she clawed desperately toward the turtle advancing toward her son. However the sound of her rage and the subsequent crash as her peers desperately stopped her, did get Henry’s attention. And Henry as he turned to see the new attacker, he bellowed in rage. For this wasn’t just any cat, but the cat who murdered his friends and brought him to this hell. So with speed not thought possible he bounded on the Lady of Azeroth, and nearly was on top of her if she wasn’t dragged back into the safety of the circle. Though for whose good, no one will find out as all the previous escort cats rushed the turtle, netting him before knocking him off balance with long poles made of harden wood. As Henry bellowed and cursed, the crowded dispersed; first blood was a failure and the hunt will not be blessed for this day and many days to come.
When Tragur walked home, like so many other cats, he moved with a shuffling gate that betrayed his downcast spirit. Whatever feelings he had toward the son of Azeroth, no cat deserves to be a cripple. Yet beyond that was another feeling, the question of whether he or god forbid one of his friends would have ended up the same or worse? It was a terrible thought, an angery thought, and Tragur shuffled through the front door yet again betrayed by his conflicting feelings.
Now Tragur home was not the largest, or the smallest in the Tribe. He was the third son of three litters, and his family wasn’t short on food or pelts to batter with. In this way, his family had the luxury of expanding on their humble home, which was originally one lonely shack facing the east river. In time however their manor grew to the size of eight shacks, as was the cat way to expand their homes by building a second home adjacent to the last. Tragur was fortunate enough to live in a home with four litter-rooms and lodge room two huts long, where cooking fires burned meat brought from the six meat lockers his parents kept stocked, as his siblings watched mouths drooling from the sweet aroma.
Of course such memories were far from his mind as he rubbed his feet against the patch of dry grass, maintained at the front door, before giving way to a rich network of white furs that still smelled of treated prey. He wanted to cry out for his mother, but decided against it, not wishing to interrupt his father in the middle of his pleasure time with his mother. Judging it best not to announce his presence and at the same time avoid any doorways that crossed too close to the master bedroom, a lesson he learned the hard way on two occasions which encompassed two of his three near death experiences. So after taking great pains not to make too much noise, and alternatively not too little, Tragur finally entered his lodge room only to find his father waiting for him, with one bored eye watching him enter while his fingers worked away at the imperfections in a wood carving of some type of lizard.
“So how was your first First Blood.” His Lord Father said with a sigh. Having spent the morning indoors and working on his favorite hobby, he was only half interested in his sons account of the ritual. But to Tragur his father’s question nearly made him gush uncontrollably with words describing the fight in its bloody detail, the despair of the morning events nearly leaping from his lips. But instead with a calming breath, Tragur leveled his voice in its most monotone, choosing even the northern tongue for the maximum dryness.
“The Black of Azeroth is no more.”
“That bitch died?” Tragur’s father nearly jumped out of his seat in excitement, “Wait your talking the Runt of Azeroth, the one half the town been raving about.”
“Be more respectful dear, the boys a cripple.” chimed Tragur’s Mother sharply.
“How do you guys know?” Tragur spoke with astonishment
“How could I not?” retorted his Father, “Practically everyone who walked by here was talking about how that turtle cracked that boys bones. Sad story he’ll tell his cross eyed children one day over the morning fire.”
“Garris!” Tragur’s Mother cracked.
“What!” her husband replayed “Everyone knows those Azeroths are brother to sister. “
“Baseless rumors” his wife countered.
“Baseless my ass. And now the son a crippled? Boy tell me, which one of your sisters will want the runt now”?
Tragur let the question roll over his head, his usual revulsion at the thought, numbed by today’s events.
“Exactly. The only hope he has for a life partner is one of his sisters… and needless to say what the resulting offspring will be like.”
“Still Garris, must you profane the Azeroths on a day like this?” sighed Tragur’s Mother.
“Jiilian everyone is saying it.”
“You don’t have to join them.”
“Why weren’t you at First Blood” Tragur interrupted, having learned early in his life to change subjects before his father and mother started their endless bickering.
“No real hunter needs it.” His father replied, not the least interested in the conversation.
“Isn’t that an affront to the gods?”
At this his father sighed.
“No son. An affront to the gods is an empty meat locker. Starving children. A Pride Lords unable to protect their family –“
“A husband unwilling to give his wife a fourth litter” Garris wife interrupted.
“A woman who won’t shut the hell up.”
“What’s that dear?”
“Nothing” Tragur’s Father sighed, “Nothing….Those things are affronts to the gods. Souring the meat of good prey and carving it up in front of the entire tribe proves nothing but some Pack Leaders vanity.”
Tragur took in his dad’s words and turned to his mother,
“You feel the same way mom?”
“Tragur, I’m 29 years old and the mother of three litters, I sleep as much as your father does.” At this his father hissed something in the native tongue even Tragur didn’t understand, though going by the daggers emitting from his mother’s face, Tragur committed not repeating the hiss within earshot of his queen mother to memory.
“Though Tragur I can’t say I’m not entirely un-thrilled that you wasn’t participating personally. Especially after what happened to that Azeroth boy. I know you worked hard for the privilege but still, I’m glad your home and safe. “ At this his mother crossed the room to give him a hug and a nuzzling, and being too emotionally drained to feel embarrassed he finally let his mother’s act of tenderness warm him, something he hasn’t allowed in quite some time since declaring himself a man in his heart.
“Tragur, you realize what this means right?” His father shouted over his mother embrace. Tragur mind, having finally begun to bring the pieces together, starting to think again with his usual Tragur like thought processes.
“No dad.” Which was the honest truth beyond his mental exhaustion.
“Just as well… Tragur a Azeroth has been made a cripple in combat and the beast that crippled him will be made to go free tomorrow.” His father gave Tragur a minute to soak in the words before continuing, “Please tell me the implications.”
Being the third son of three litters, his lord father, while not overly friendly, has never been unbearably antagonistic either. Nevertheless he has learned over the years that his father regarded him as a son because his mother convince him to do so and that his best chance of reaching adulthood, as he rightly reason, was staying out of his father’s way. Because of this approach to his father, and his father’s seemingly disinterest in him, he had very very few opportunities to genuinely disappoint him.
But as Tragur will come to learn, being an adult and more importantly a hunter will bring his every action and inaction into razor focus. A lesson his mother knew her son will have to learn as she went back to her own carvings, a hobby Tragur’s mother shared with her husband, though her wood miniatures had very little resemblance to anything on earth.
“Son,” his fathered sighed, “I’m too tired to beat the runt out of you. However, since this directly affects you, I’m going to give you this freebie, lash free. “
At this Tragur gulped, his mind finally awakening completely from its stupor and today’s events cast under the measured eyes of a cat’s intellect. At first Tragur’s thought drifted toward the standings. His most importantly, but than his mind flicked that aside for a more terrible thought, for while on one hand the importance his own positioned was nearly all consuming it was battered by another image, the image his father was alluding to despite not being there to witness it. In his mind Tragur replayed the son of Azeroth’s last moments as a hunter, but not in its grizzly detail, but as a casual observer. And in this frame of thought came one image that brought chills to his spine. First was the roar, then the razor claws, sharp fangs, the blur of a muscular body, night black fur with a white underbelly streaking into the demonic circle, only to be stopped, though barely by the crap of the whip.
“The law of first blood present a problem that the bitch of Azeroth cannot avoid.” His father began.
“But if the Azeroths control half the tribe as you say…” replied Tragur, half in thought, half in horror.
“The superstitious fools won’t let her. Not that way.”
“No father…” the horror dawning on Tragur as he spoke, “she can’t make us.”
“Your father is right,” Tragur mother started somberly, “she can. Unless the Lord of Azeroth stops this madness.”
“He is no Lord.” His father grunted.
“Despite the unsavory rumors surrounding him, he is still a Lord to Caitlyn’s Lady.” To this Tragur and his Father raised an eyebrow. For calling the Lady of Azeroth by her first name implies a friendship at odds with the disposition of Pride Greyfish. Though this is merely a coincidence; before Juillian became the life partner of Garris, her school litter housed many great names, one of which was to be the Lady of Azeroth.
With a sigh, Tragur dad continued, “That’s maybe so, but few husbands deny the wishes of grieving mothers. The Silverstreak of Azeroth may not be inclined to avenge his whelp but the same can’t be said for the Black. If the cuddled runt had only fallen during a hunt, she would be free to charge into a pack of green devils as many times as she likes, saves the tribe from her madness all the same. But this…”
“This is war father,” Tragur said soberly.