I’ve heard it said that the eyes are the windows to the soul. Personally, I don’t think that’s true. On the odd occasions that I’ve regarded myself in a looking-glass, I haven’t seen any great secrets to my inner depths in my eyes…I’ve just seen my eyes, gray, like my da's - the gray of a storm cloud. I personally think that my hands reveal more about me than my eyes do…and the same can be said of most of us here on Azeroth. There’s Ol’ Emma’s hands, wizened and cramped around the rope handle of the bucket she carries back and forth to the well each day. There’s toil in those hands, and care – but pain too, after many years of the same task. Lord Bolvar of Stormwind Keep….there’s strength in his hands, under the plate gauntlets he wears. Strength and competence, fitting for a man who so well knows his way around a sword. There’s something…wrong…about Lady Prestor’s hands. The best word I can think of to describe them is “clutching.” Or “grasping,” maybe. Like once she gets a grip on a thing, she’s not inclined to let it go easily.
I’ve noticed the same secrets in most of the adventurers I’ve seen out there. There’s things to be learned from their hands, not their eyes…since tensions with the Horde have surged once more, we all guard our eyes more carefully.
The mages and warlocks? Their hands are soft, often pale from the time spent in the laboratory or tower, whispering secrets to their tubes and retorts – or their demons. Oh, there may be a wand-callus or two in there, if the spell-chucker’s been careless…but on the whole, I’ve seen that most magician’s hands are soft, but solid. And powerful…Light, you can almost smell the arcane power that whips and crackles about their fingers. There’s a reason I don’t make a practice of lightening the purses of arcanists…I have no ambition to spend my life as a sheep.
Druid hands and priest hands are a matter of degrees, I think. Many druids have nicks on their hands here and there, and thick calluses on fingertips and palms where their feral-form paw pads are. Priests have their calluses too…from prayer beads, holy texts, and ministry. Though I have seen a very few priests who carry calluses on their hearts, not their hands…though they’re usually best to avoid, rather than deal with. Shadowy folk, that lot. But as I was saying…druid hands, apart from the undeniable night elven grace in them, are often more tanned and weathered than the hands of a priest…but other than that, I have found only limited difference in the two callings.
I’ve only had the opportunity to examine the hands of one hunter in particular at close range – a dwarven hunter at that. His hands were tough and leathery, callused by blade and gun, and smelt of powder and shot. And that’s exactly the sort of person this hunter was, he with his boar companion – tough as nails, and willing to give you every once of his being if you gave him the same in an endeavor. There’s little room for duplicity in a hunter’s hands.
My hands? I try not to think about them, to be honest. They raise more questions for me than they answer. They’re skilled hands, long-fingered and deft, perhaps suited to a healing trade, though I am no healer. On the sides of my index fingers and along the outer edge of my pinky fingers, there are thick layers of callus, left there by my dagger-wielding. It’s my knuckles, though, that tell the real story. They’re a tram-wreck. A network of scars and tiny nicks, some painfully new, some old and faint, tiny white lines that draw a map of old battles fought with these hands. Very faint now, on the palms of my hands, there are calluses more suited to grip the handles of a plow. I used to say I am a farmer’s son. Now, I wonder if I should say I WAS a farmer’s son. My hands tell two stories…and sometimes, looking at them, I wonder who I really am.
There’s a barmaid in Stormwind, more perceptive than most, who says the scars on my knuckles are only half the story. She says she guesses there are scars on my heart, too.
I almost quit visiting that pub so I wouldn’t have to acknowledge how close to home that shot fell. I stayed, though…stuck to my guns and finished my drink, reliving scenes I would rather have let fade into my past – the night when everything went wrong…
It was a typical evening in Darrowshire, a fine night, with my mum stirring the stew over the fire and tending her loom, my sisters at play, and myself, helping my da bring in our two cows for milking before dinner. I was fourteen years old, looking forward to my fifteenth birthing-day in a few weeks’ time. There were Light-beetles in the air, and everything was magical under the purpling sky and emerging stars. We'd heard rumors of fighting happening, and Master Redpath, who lived in town, had gone off to war, it was said...but we never thought the fighting would have anything to do with us.
In the space of a very few minutes, everything changed. My life changed. Darrowshire changed, wiped off the map by the arrival of that menace which has since been called the Scourge. My da and I could do nothing to protect my mum and sisters. As we crouched in the hayloft of the barn, I could feel his muscles twitching as instinct urged him to rush out to his wife and daughters. When their shrieks went silent, when the town went silent, I could hear his shattered sobs in the barn. My da…weeping. I had never heard him cry before; didn’t think such a thing was possible, but there it was.
We waited until dawn to emerge from the barn. The wreckage of the peaceful hamlet that was my birthplace assaulted my senses. I was sick, I’m ashamed to admit, and not much help to Da as he searched the ruins of Darrowshire for any survivors. To keep from being sick again, I followed behind him, staring at my knuckles, which were grimy from the night in the barn. There was a scrape on my left ring-finger from the scramble into the hayloft, and it stung. I remember the pain in my hand seemed to match the pain in Da’s voice as he called out, looking for any sign of our friends and neighbors. It was a fruitless search, and one that became only more difficult as a shrouded gloom came to surround the town. At last, my da decided that, for our own safety, we should leave Darrowshire and try to find our way to the neighboring town of Corin’s Crossing, where we did trade from time to time. We set off on the road, only to find ourselves quickly lost in a world quite changed from what we were familiar with. When we met a small patrol of soldiers in scarlet armor, we thought we had found our deliverance from the terror and pain of the last two days.
We were horribly mistaken. These Crusaders, these Scarlets, set upon my father and myself with shouts that we were demon-possessed. I looked up in shock, not fully understanding what was happening, to see a man with a huge sword in his hands bearing down on me. At the very last moment, my father swept me out of the way of the blow that would surely have killed me. The very tip of the sword cut my face and burned like fire, but that was nothing compared to the sickness I felt as Da pushed me away from him, screaming, “Run, Phileas! Run 's fast as tha can an' dinnae stop! Dinnae look back!”
The last time I saw Da alive, he was brandishing the pitchfork he’d brought with us from the farm and charging the Crusaders, screaming a war-cry. As I pelted through the woods, I heard that war-cry cut short. I’m afraid, however, that from that moment, there’s something of a gap in my memory. It’s one of those gaps that the human mind inserts for its own protection, one of those “you don’t want to know what happened, trust me” kind of dead spaces. I haven’t poked too hard at the gap, to tell you the truth. After all, if my survival instinct says I don’t want to remember what I saw, who am I to argue with it?
The next clear memory I have is being tucked into a bed by a soldier wearing a black tabard with a silver and gold sun-sigil on it. From what Corporal Winston told me, he’d found me wandering the Plaguelands a day or so earlier, almost incoherent. He and his wife were good people and kind people. The Corporal was a member of an organization called the Argent Dawn, who had come north to battle the Scourge. I remember his hands quite well…they were very much like Lord Bolvar’s. Strong, capable, and kind – above all else, kind. His wife’s too. She treated just about everything, from the cat drowsing by the fire to me, with gentle kindness and respect. They both did the best they could with a troubled boy, Light bless them. I think…I think maybe I was afraid that those things that killed my family would come after them, too…the things I saw in my nightmares. Or maybe it was just that I was a moody teenaged boy. Either way, it’s not their fault that I ran away at almost sixteen.
It wasn’t the best of ideas, I acknowledge that now. I almost starved to death before I stooped to attempting to pilfer from a church. THAT botched attempt brought Father Emperius into my life. I remember crouching in the dark near the poor box, desperately trying to tease the lock open with a bit of wire, and feeling a strong hand fall onto my shoulder with a grip like iron. When I turned to look, the hand with the tailor’s callus on thumb and forefinger was attached to a gruff, grumbly dwarf. He didn’t summon the authorities, for whatever reason…instead, he drug me back into his refectory and fed me till I was stuffed, all the while giving me a sermon on the dangers of falling from the Light via thievery. I don’t know if it was the food or the tone of his voice, but something made me rather disinclined to leave – at least until I had repaid my debt to Emperius. And after that debt was paid…well, you know, things come up, and time passes. He kept me up for a couple of years…and he’s still one of the few I honestly count as my friends. I wonder how the hell that dwarf priest put up with me sometimes.
Even those good times couldn’t last forever. I was rising eighteen and had to decide what to do with myself. Which wasn’t really much of a question for me…I knew what I wanted to do. Make the Scourge and the Scarlets pay for what they did…I wanted to make them hurt as much as I’d been hurt, by any means necessary. Emperius didn’t say I shouldn’t…he just looked me up and down and advised me to mind that I didn’t delve so deeply into the abyss that I became the very thing I was trying to eradicate.
Maybe I should have listened. Maybe. That was about four years ago, and a lot’s happened since then. There’s been quite a few monsters that have died at these hands of mine – part of the reason for all the scars, really. Defias bandits, ghouls, goblins, other assorted creatures…I’m sure that there’s a scar or two from bite wounds, as well. To be honest, I’ve lost track where they all came from. I’d like to think I’m at least moderately successful at what I do.
But from time to time, in the dark of the night, I just can’t help but think about Emperius’ advice. If I were becoming a monster…how would I know? And at that point…would I even care?
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