This is a very old story. In fact, it’s the first piece of fic that I wrote for Linedan, back in March of 2005 when he was still leveling through his 20s. It has an interesting story behind it, too. First off, I was, at the time I wrote this, doing the “gather 30 skulls for the Deathguard in Tarren Mill” Souvenirs of Death quest. Also, the meeting that takes place in the middle of the story actually happened in-game, at the lake outside Bloodhoof Village. This was a time when random walk-around roleplay was still prevalent on Feathermoon, but even so, the encounter–which took place exactly as I wrote it in this story–stands out. I don’t remember the shaman’s name. I surely wish I did. And finally, yes, I did drop the quest. (Although I admit to going back and doing it later when I was trying to get Loremaster.)
I like to think I’ve gotten a bit better at my writing and roleplay since I wrote this, but the themes in this story are the same ones that drive my roleplay on Linedan almost six years later. The struggle between the berserker and the protector, the toll that war takes on the warrior, and how far one is willing to go for their faction…they’re still as relevant to me now as they were back then.
The sky over Mulgore was its usual brilliant, deep blue, broken only by a few puffy white clouds drifting east toward the Barrens. A gentle breeze pushed those clouds, and ruffled the grass along the shore of Stonebull Lake.
A lone Tauren sat on the edge of the lake, staring out over its shimmering water. In one hand, he held a fishing pole, its line played out ten paces from shore where a small bobber bounced on the ripples. In the other hand, he held a small white object.
A human skull.
The boomstick shot hit the peasant in the right shoulder and spun him around. As he recovered, he saw me. His face twisted into a snarl, he raised his pitchfork and bravely charged as I set the blunderbuss aside, grabbed my shield from my back, and drew Truecleaver…
The bobber abruptly dipped. Linedan carefully set the skull down in the grass and reeled in a small brightfish, which joined several others on a stringer hooked to his belt. He rebaited the hook and cast the bobber back out into the lake, farther this time, then sat back and closed his eyes. He leaned back to face the bright sun, hoping that even though his closed eyelids, the light could fade the images from his view. But sunlight cannot block images from the mind.
…Truecleaver thudded into the farmer’s side. The human’s shirt began to stain red as he bellowed in pain and twisted away. That gave me an opening, and I took advantage by slashing low, the sabre tearing into his right leg and hobbling him…
Even in the quiet and peace of the lake, Linedan could hear the sounds of battle in his mind. It seemed that was all he ever heard, these days. The clash of swords, the screams of pain, the bellows of anger. It felt odd for his hand to be holding a fishing pole instead of the hilt of Truecleaver, his sabre. His left arm didn’t feel right unencumbered by a shield. He sat forward and closed his eyes again, his breathing coming a bit faster, the memories still raging.
…He hooked Truecleaver with the pitchfork. A quick flick of both his forearms, and my sword was wrenched from my hands and landed on the ground two paces away. He faced me, and smiled. Actually smiled. He was still smiling when I punched him full in the face, he never saw it coming. I felt the flesh part, felt the bones splinter under my mailed fist…
Linedan was agitated now. He stood up and dropped the fishing pole, paced three steps one way, turned, then three steps back the other. He saw the skull, still sitting in the grass. In one motion, he bent and snatched it into his massive hand. The front of the skull was malformed, crushed. The bone under one eyesocket was smashed in and partially missing, and the lower jaw was gone, just as it had been since he had first placed it in his backpack days earlier.
His head bowed, almost involuntarily, as if a ton of weight had landed hard on his shoulders. His empty fist clenched. He reared his arm back, as if to pitch the skull into the lake…and froze. He couldn’t do it. For long seconds, he stood there, locked in time, one arm back with the skull in his hand. Then, slowly, he brought his arm forward and looked again at the skull in his hand. At its smashed face, into its empty sockets.
And he remembered the eyes.
…He was hopping, then crawling away from me. I tripped him, and he landed on his back, looking up to where I loomed over him. And as I brought Truecleaver up to finish him, I saw his eyes. Full of fear, full of rage, maybe a bit of resignation, even relief, knowing that his life was over in a few seconds. Totally devoid of hope. They were blue.
They were still open after I killed him. They were still open after I cut his head off. And they were still open as I began to deflesh the skull to add to the collection that Deathguard Samsa in Tarren Mill asked me to provide.
A motion off to Linedan’s left started him. He dropped the skull behind him and whirled, his right hand falling to his sabre’s hilt. A fellow Tauren stood there, dappled black-and-white, wearing ragged leathers, a staff slung over his back and a small ball of lightning orbiting his chest. A shaman, and a young one at that. The shaman showed no fear, didn’t flinch a bit when Linedan spun on him with Truecleaver half out of its sheath. He just stood there, smiling.
Linedan let his hand fall back to his side. “My apologies, friend,” he muttered. “You startled me.”
The shaman spread his hands by way of apology, then raised a single finger as if to say, “Wait a moment.” As Linedan watched, the young Tauren pointed up to the sky, to one of the white clouds drifting over. Then he held out his left palm and used his right hand to mimic the motion of someone walking. Then he pointed to the east.
Linedan was puzzled. “What do you…can you speak, friend?”
The shaman shook his head, with no trace of embarassment or discomfort. He made the same motions again–pointed to a cloud, then made walking motions with his hand, then shrugged. He stood, looking at Linedan, still smiling faintly.
“I am confused, young one…you seek a windrider? Or Thunder Bluff? Walking in the sky, I don’t understand…”
Again, the young shaman held up a finger in the “wait” gesture. He reached into a pouch at his belt and showed Linedan a parchment. He couldn’t read most of it, but the heading was clear enough to him…”Venture Company.”
Of course! “Ah! You seek Morin Cloudstalker!”, Linedan exclaimed. The shaman nodded vigorously.
“Well, then, you can find him on the road east of Bloodhoof, friend,” he answered. “He wanders the path there on guard. I’m sure he’ll be quite happy to see that.”
The shaman nodded again and made a slight bow toward Linedan. Then he turned to leave, stopped, and turned back to face Linedan. The two of them locked eyes.
Linedan noticed that the young Tauren had the kindest, gentlest eyes he’d ever seen. There was no trace of fear in them, no anger, no rage. Only kindness, and friendship. And hope. They were blue.
The shaman patted Linedan’s shoulder gently, then turned and walked slowly back toward the road. Linedan watched him go, then called after him, “Earthmother protect you, brother.” He turned, bowed to Linedan, and continued walking to the road, turning east toward the Barrens.
Linedan stared after him for a long minute, watching his back recede into the distance, still feeling the touch of that gentle hand on his shoulder, still seeing those eyes, yet untouched by war and darkness. Eyes that must have somewhat resembled his own once, when he was much younger. Before the killing began.
He turned and saw the skull still sitting in the grass where he dropped it. Gently, he bent down, picked it up, and put it in his backpack. He looked up at the sky, and nodded. The sun was lowering in the west. If he hurried, he could be in Hillsbrad by nightfall.
Hillsbrad village was all but silent that night. The only movement was from two footmen who stayed together and looked nervously out into the darkness, hoping that yet more villagers would not disappear, would not be struck down by the Horde.
On the outskirts of the village, Linedan straightened up, panting. Digging the hole had not been easy in the wet, heavy clay, especially with a dull half-broken shovel that he had “borrowed” from a shed in Tarren Mill. Fortunately, he had not needed a large hole, but he knew he had to make it deep, to keep scavengers away from the contents.
He reached into a mageweave bag and pulled out first one skull, then another, then another. All told, he carefully, reverently placed eight skulls into the small trench. The last one was the skull with the smashed face. He placed it beside the other seven.
He said a quick prayer to the Earthmother to guide their spirits to whatever god or gods they worshipped, to give them a safe journey through the spirit world, and to watch over their families and friends in the village. Then he put shovel to dirtpile and began filling the hole back in.
In the village, the footmen heard the scraping. They dared not go into the dark to investigate.
At dawn, a weary Linedan walked back into the Tarren Mill inn and gathered up the last of his possessions to leave. As he walked out, he almost literally bumped into Deathguard Samsa.
“Ahhhh, Tauren,” he hissed. “I have tasssked you with obtaining my trophieessss. Thhhirty human sskullss. How goesss your collection in Hillssssbrad, fleshhhling?”
Linedan never paused. He just glanced over his shoulder at Samsa as he walked out of town.
“Get them yourself.”
The title of this post is a Latin phrase that means “thus passes the glory of the world.” (Sadly, I had to use Wikipedia to get that instead of my five years of high school Latin. Five years of memorization and translation and I can’t get past “Britannia est insula” anymore. Durp.) It’s generally used to mean “the things of this world are fleeting.”
It’s a phrase that immediately popped into my head, for whatever strange reason, when I read the announcement yesterday that The Anvil, the 25-man raid on Feathermoon that I’ve been a member of for the better part of five years, is shutting its doors permanently. The end of The Anvil came out of left field as a real shock to all of us; we already knew that the raid was having issues getting spun up for Cataclysm raiding, and that we’d probably have to drop back to two 10-mans from a 25 at least for now, and that we really didn’t quite have the people even to do two 10s at least in the immediate future. But to get the word that the officers had decided to pull the plug entirely was a stunner…and yet, looking in retrospect at the signs, it’s completely understandable.
The Anvil, you see, is something of an unusual raid. It originally started as a cooperative effort between three smallish Feathermoon RP guilds–the Thundering Hammer Clan, Noxilite, and the Prophecy of Shadow–to form a Molten Core 40-man raid in late 2005/early 2006. It was then, and always has been, a non-guild raid. It’s never been a requirement to be in a particular guild to be a part of The Anvil. The raid leadership team, originally under the baritone command of THC’s Malkavet, is a separate entity from the leadership of any of the guilds that may be involved (although most of the raid officers are also officers in their respective guilds).
From the start, The Anvil’s principles were pretty simple. We knew we weren’t going to be a server-leading progression raid, but we were going to come prepared and do our best. Raiding usually went two days a week, three to four hours a day. Roleplay was not required, but was allowed and would be respected. Real life came before raid life, since most of the raid’s members were young professionals, many with families. Using those simple rules, The Anvil went into Molten Core again…and again…and again, and eventually downed Ragnaros many times. (There are Anvillains that still won’t go to Molten Core even today because they’re so sick of it.) Then there was Blackwing Lair, with Nefarian eventually falling.
In Burning Crusade, The Anvil broke into a couple of 10-mans for Karazhan, then reformed and plowed through much of the 25-man content. Serpentshrine Cavern was eventually conquered, but not without Vashj holding us up for a month and a half. Kael’thas, sadly, didn’t get punked until after patch 3.0 dropped and mega-nerfed the fight. The raid also went 3/5 in Hyjal, and (after patch 3.0) 7/9 in one trip to the Black Temple. Sunwell? Nope.
But it was in Wrath of the Lich King where I think The Anvil really came into our own. Yes, we needed the 30% buff to kill Arthas, and we didn’t do it until mid-September of last year. Yes, it took us four months of hard work to get even that single LK kill. But what was great, as a grunt in the raid, was to watch us, as a raid, improve as we moved through Wrath’s 25-man content, from Naxxramas to Ulduar to Trial of the Trashless to Icecrown Citadel. As the fights got more difficult and technical through the years, we got better. We became less of a brute-force group (The Anvil’s early Molten Core nickname was “The DPS Raid,” because of how much we brought in comparison to healers and tanks) and more of a “kill the boss despite a log parse that’d make other raids laugh” raid.
So how did we go from the high of an Arthas kill to disbanding the raid in less than four months? A few reasons, I guess, plus some I’m sure I’m not privy to since I’m not an officer. The changes in Cataclysm raiding greatly favor 10-man raids. They’re simpler, easier to put together, much less strain on leaders, and now drop the same loot, just less of it. We lost several people who wanted to stick with 10-mans instead of the more chaotic 25. Another reason, one that has rankled me since it was announced, is guild achievements and perks. The cross-guild raid is apparently quite rare in the wider world of WoW, but there’ve been many of them on Feathermoon for some reason–we don’t find them unusual. However, with members scattered from several different guilds (or even no guild), our 25-man can’t provide any one guild the guild rep, guild XP, or guild acheesements that a straight one-guild raid can. Combine that with the fact that several of the component guilds in the greater Anvil circle of friends are now, or soon will be, capable of putting together 8 people to form the core of a balanced guild-focused 10-man, and that’s another strike against a cross-guild 25-man. Blizzard could have solved this with some sort of support for guild alliances, much as corporations in EVE Online can form alliances to gain benefits, but they said early on in the Cataclysm development cycle that guild alliance support was right out.
In the end, though, I guess the biggest reason is probably burnout. Some of our officer group have been in place for three or four years. That’s a long time to have to herd cats. There’s always some drama with a raid, even a laid-back one like ours, and it wears after a while. When you’ve been fighting through various 25-man dramas for a couple of years, and then you’re looking at a raid composition for Cataclysm that simply will not allow a 25-man, and then have to deal with shortages in various classes and splitting people into 10-mans and longtime raiders hanging it up due to burnout of their own and getting people geared up and ready…I don’t blame them for pulling the plug, honestly. It took a near-superhuman effort by our officers to get us through WotLK and get us that Arthas kill. They’re volunteers. They just want to play the game again. Who can begrudge them that?
Now, my personal views on the Anvil are well-documented on the post celebrating that Lich King-25 kill. It’s not just “a raid” to me, it’s a large extended group of friends that have given me the opportunity to transform from the terrible warrior who stumbled into Molten Core in mid-2006 to the reasonably competent tank who was on point the night that Arthas Menethil finally fell. Despite all the hard times, despite almost losing my raid spot a couple of times and having to improve to stay, despite all the wipes and struggles and late nights and mistakes, The Anvil has been a wonderful and awesome ride for me over four and a half years. Every Thursday and Friday night for a couple of years now, I’ve known where I’d be and what I’d be doing…sitting on Ventrilo with 24 or so other people, several of them drunk, listening to a cavalcade of “your mom’s face” jokes, our Chief Cat Herder‘s shouts of “Defile, MOVE!”, arguments about whether Batman or Superman was the better superhero, and all the rest. And now that’s gone.
It’s not all bad. At least two 10-mans, maybe more, are going to be forming out of the dispersion of the main 25-man. We still have our in-game chat channel and Vent, and we’re still friends and acquaintances who will heroic or raid with each other from time to time. The people are still there. But the big 25-man, the central focus of The Anvil, is gone, and that’s going to take some getting used to. It felt like something permanent, something that would never go away. But one thing that all of us need to remind ourselves about in a game like WoW…everything is transitory. Change is the only constant. And the things of this world (of Warcraft) are fleeting indeed.
The Anvil Raid. January 6, 2006 – January 11, 2011. Just write on its tombstone “never has a finer group of friends had so much fun kicking a moderate amount of ass.”