What is a Prion?
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I will begin this treatise by pointing out that unlike my previous speculative writings that consider oddities in somewhat structured, ordered, and consistent universes, the Blizzard-created Warcraft universe is a fantasy setting where anything goes. Dragons, magic, portals to other realms, time travel, and creatures that subsist on magic are not just curiosities, they're part of the primary storylines.
However, I've been challenged, and I don't like to turn down a challenge.
So without further ado, I will consider Hunter Pets, and animals in general, by reverse-engineering the laws of Physics and Magycs of World of Warcraft.
First off, there's the issue of parallel worlds to consider. Are we dealing with one set of Laws of Physics or many? On the one hand the different worlds may be different planets in the same universe, much like pure Science Fiction stories where something that works on Earth will work on Mars, and on Saturn and Alpha Centauri. On the other hand, the laws of physics may be different in different worlds, much like the different realities in The Great Book of Amber. In particular, my favorite character from that series, Ghostwheel, is a computer built using Earth's circuitry logic but with magical materials and in a location where the laws of physics are radically different. So where does WoW fall?
I'd be inclined, based on various readings, to suspect it's the former. The implication of the Ethereals in particular is that they are from another planet in "The Great Dark" and left it to wander the Twisting Nether. The Ethereals are a very strange people, whose existence seems to be entirely magical. There's no possible biological explanation for a series of glittering, floating strips of cloth wrapped around nothing (or something invisible) to be sentient. Since their existence is magical, wandering the Twisting Nether in the latter of the previously detailed scenarios would be extremely hazardous to their health. If they set foot on a planet where magic didn't work they'd suddenly turn into a pile of rags. This is obviously not *proof* that different planets operate according to the same rules, but it's a strong suggestion that the planets all inhabit the same universe, and that portals like the Dark Portal are simply shortcuts through space rather than doors into different dimensions.
So with this in mind, we can begin reverse-engineering rudimentary laws of physics.
Inertia, Newton's third law, and conservation of energy/matter appear to be intact (assuming, rather blithely, that magic is a form of energy and can be converted to and from). Gravity is in operation but seems to be circumvented, probably via magic. The laws of thermodynamics aren't measurable but are probably existent in some form.
Materials seems to exist which are much stronger than our own, and metabolisms can be pushed to much higher levels. Some things, like the silithids, are explainable with these two precepts. Note that there is a strict size cap on anything with an exoskeleton in our world, because of the efficiency (or lack thereof) inherent to insect respiration and the strength/weight ratio of increasingly large chitin structures. If we accept that magical materials can be used to make more magical materials (such as augmented magical chitin) and metabolic processes just work faster in this world, some animals are just "allowed." This includes exoskeletal Ravagers, which appear simultaneously exoskeletal and warm-blooded.
(This is not without precedent -- during the Carboniferous period when plants ruled the world, the earth's atmospheric oxygen content spiked to as high as 35%, way higher than today's. This allowed insects to grow much larger, including dragonflies with 2-foot wingspans).
Outlands and Azeroth may have higher oxygen content than we have here, simply by planetary equilibrium with the biosphere. If we are assuming metabolic rates have higher caps than on Earth, it not only follows by companion, but is forced by planet balance, to assume that photosynthesis rates are similarly uncapped. There may be huge reserves of algal blooms in the unexplored oceans of Azeroth as well, but without any ability to explore the ocean it seems unwise to simply declare those blooms are there and they are the "dark matter" that balances the equation. Besides, Outlands doesn't have oceans.
Outlands and Azeroth seem to have equivalent atmospheres, despite the fact that the planet has lost most of its mass and much of its biosphere. Since gravity is apparently not as strong in this universe, and definitely a lot weaker when most of the planet is missing, it seems like some force is holding Outlands together. It may well be the naaru, the most overt benevolent superpower in the game. The lesser possibilities are myriad, ranging from a subtle contingency written into the planet's workings by the Titans, to the working of some Draenei magical master trying to combat Ner'zhul's bungling.
What of the animals themselves? As I've indicated, the possibilities seem expanded by fewer restrictions on metabolism and strength/weight ratios. The Ravager in particular is a great example of something that is almost entirely unremarkable if you accept higher average metabolisms. However, no amount of metabolism can overcome the fact that muscles are limited in their strength by the strength of what they're pulling against. Insect muscles contact against their exoskeleton, which is quite rigid because they are so small, but generalizing this to a five-foot beast's chitinous outer casing, which is at least hinged if not fully flexible, seems absurd. Instead, ravagers must have some sort of internal framework for the muscles to pull against. Walking with an exoskeleton I can accept, but not jumping and spinning in midair. Their chitinous outer layer is not their only means of support, that much is certain.
Note that silithids, which are obviously bugs, have the segmented body parts that indicate each section is probably extremely rigid. This means their level of activity (flying and running, but not leaping and frolicking) can be explained by exoskeletal-based muscles).
Many animals, almost too many to count, can fly and even carry people in full plate on their backs, despite such animals not having a prayer of even being able to glide in our world. A man-sized gryphon should not be able to fly on a 10-foot wingspan, much less carry something its own weight on its back, so there's obviously some major difference between our world and Azeroth/Outlands, even accounting for increased metabolisms.
Possible explanations include reduced gravity, particularly viscous air, a magical component to their biology, and unusually light body mass of the animals. I'm not going to go over the "keeping flammable gases in their bodies to make them lighter" argument you hear whenever someone tries to "explain" dragons, it's been done. Besides, in this case we're dealing with at *least* a dozen different species of higher vertebrate that can fly. They don't all breathe fire either, just black dragons and dragonhawks. So maybe dragonhawks have compressed flammable gases that help them fly and breathe fire, but everyone else has something else going on.
The most egregious example of ignoring gravity are nether rays and spore bats, which float about with no real wings at all. They undulate, almost swimming through air, which looks really cool but makes virtually no sense. Based on their physiology, I'm inclined to eliminate reduced gravity and viscous air as universal causes for improved flight. No amount of reduced gravity or viscous air alone could make these fly, and having them float about because of stored gases, given their small size, seems entirely implausible. They would have to devote improbably large portions of their overall volume to the gases, leaving hardly enough space for the necessary musculature to undulate. It's possible that the world has more viscous air and less gravity, but if it has enough of these to make nether rays fly, it has enough to make people jump ten feet straight up as well.
The tentative conclusion then is that, while physical conditions and a lighter body mass may assist some animals in flying when they otherwise couldn't, magic is probably involved with at least some of the flying animals. Certainly those that carry heavy burdens (gryphons/hippogryphs/bats/wyverns) and those that are unusually heavy and are already established to be magical in some capacity (dragons and higher demons) probably involve magic in some way.
Just because something is magical does not mean it was constructed, of course. If magic is a form of energy, it can presumably be created and used by certain chemical reactions. Even if the materials required must be magical, they may still be naturally occurring (think of nuclear power -- we think of it as artificial but in fact radioactive elements occur in nature).
While some of the flying things may be only of a minimal magical nature (and certain things like Kaliri are certainly explainable without any magic at all), nether rays are rather obviously magical to some degree, to carry tauren larger than themselves while still flying at epic mount speed. This prompts another question: *how* is magic involved?
Well there's a number of possibilities. The magic may be extending the drag of the wings, being used like a light-sail to actually catch currents of magic or air otherwise unreachable, or actually being expended like fuel. The magic may also be used to directionally negate the effects of gravity directly, either by blocking gravitons (if they exist) or countering the space-bending effect of gravity itself. Obviously some of these possibilities are more plausible than others, but I cannot properly eliminate any in general. In the case of nether rays, they are not using magic to augment their wings, as they have none, but they may still be using any of the other possibilities in any combination, including antigravity and magical current-riding (my favorites for this case).
Wind serpents seem to keep themselves aloft with their large bat wings, which seems plausible enough until you consider some have no means of steering (birds and bats use their tails as rudders, and scaled windserpents have fins but feathered ones do not). While it's possible to explain it away with a physical solution, they're already using magic. Specifically, they can use lightning bolts as an attack, presumably for defense and ganking lowbies. Rather than regard these two separate features as conflicting, making the animal more "busy," it would make sense to me to tie them in together. Electric eels (real ones) use electrocytes to generate strong electric potentials which creates the electrical current, and electrocytes are closely related to muscle cells. If we accept these wind serpents have densely packed muscle cells for flight (especially strong wings are needed to steer as well as fly, with no rudder), and we know these are already generating some electric potential, is it so hard to imagine these muscles, rather than some mysterious organ, are generating the electric charge?
Plus, I have it on good authority the animation for the lightning breath shows it emanating from the leading arms of the wind serpent wings.
In conclusion, it's astoundingly difficult to draw more than the vaguest conclusions about a system which was designed with art as a high priority and science and consistency as a nonexistent one. I hope you've enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed wasting my time writing it!