Creatures of Voraniss: The Kul’Matha

Apart from the poachers and trespassers that occasionally venture into Voraniss, you won’t find a more despised creature than the Kul’Matha. Standing on average around five to six feet tall, their bodies are covered in green, brown, and black scales that look slimy to the touch; the perfect colors to help them blend in with their surroundings. Best described as lizards that walk around on two legs, they have claimed ownership of the Voraniss swamps for generations and don’t take kindly to anyone asserting otherwise. Some people speculate that they are the cause of rumors stating that Voraniss has alligators in its southern freshwater. This is not in fact true, for the climate of the temperate forest would not support such things.

 
Upon first glance one will immediately notice not just the claws and razor sharp teeth, but the long tails of these creatures. These tails are prehensile, meaning they have the ability to grasp or hold objects. Additionally, the tails help the Kul’Matha with balance, swimming, and even their ability to find and eat food that lives up in the trees.

 
One of the reasons that the Kul’Matha have lasted as long as they have, despite being surrounded by enemies, is the fact that they are venomous. One bite or scratch from a Kul’Matha can kill if the wound is not tended to; and the death is not a pleasant one. Reports suggest that discomfort begins with redness and swelling around the area of impact. This can quickly lead to tingling, burning, stinging, or other rather abnormal feelings upon the skin. Things will then escalate into nausea, dizziness, breathing difficulties, confusion…then finally either paralysis, coma, or death depending on how fortunate the individual is. The strangest part of all of this is that each victim will begin leaking green fluid from the eyes, nose and ears, usually right before the final stage of the venom’s journey. When a Shaman or Healer see this in Voraniss, they know they don’t have a lot of time left to save the wounded.

 
To make matters worse, it isn’t just the venom that makes the Kul’Matha feared. They are also harbingers of diseases that effect the rest of the populace. Besides the mites and threat of rabies, the Kul’Matha have a wide variety of bacteria that live on their body that can cause outbreaks. Warriors getting into confrontations with the Kul’Matha, if they were lucky enough to survive the venom, soon learned that cleaning up after a fight was just as important as the battle itself.

 
Being semi-aquatic creatures, the diet of the Kul’Matha consists of a lot of fish, snakes, and frogs; anything that they can catch in the murky swamp waters that they call home. Particularly aggressive Kul’Matha have been known to climb trees to chase after birds and fat squirrels that they think might make a good meal. It is worth noting that these creatures are not opposed to eating other humanoids, but they won’t go out of their way to hunt them except during the summer solstice. More often than not they like to be left to their own devices and are ultimately opportunistic hunters that will take advantage of anything or anyone that enters their territory without permission. They won’t bother the Lycan population if the Lycans don’t bother them.

 
That being said, if a Lycan or other humanoid does happen to enter the territory of the Kul’Matha, they’ll need the help of whatever benevolent spirits they believe in. The Kul’Matha do not fight fair; hunting in small raiding parties while using their stealth to its fullest advantage. They can see perfectly fine in darkness and will never fight you directly if they can help it. Instead they will rely upon surprise attacks and ambushes to minimize their losses. They are clever hunters who have adapted to a savage environment and don’t concern themselves with civilized concepts of honor and decency. To them, survival is the most important part of any violent exchange whether hunting food, or hunting an enemy. They have been found to be more active during the daylight hours because of their reptilian biology. The darkness seems to leave them slow and sluggish.

 
This biology is one of the reasons locals believe the Kul’Matha are so active during the time of the summer solstice. Celebrating the sun during its highest altitude of the year, the creatures become emboldened and construct a variety of ostentatious floats and river barges. They use these creations to cross over the rivers from the swamp and into Lycan territory where they teach their young brood to raid; “blooding” them as it were, and teaching them to become full-fledged warriors. This practice is just another reason why such hostile tensions exist between the two species.

 
There is more to them than their brutality, however. The Kul’Matha are also highly intelligent and have developed a language of their own, both verbal and written. They should be praised for their contributions to herbal medicine as well, for their own Priests somehow manage to take swamp plants and turn them into very sophisticated medicines that are far beyond anything any other species in Voraniss has been able to accomplish thus far. It is also said that the Kul’Matha are experts in reed weaving, making many baskets and primitive pieces of furniture using the techniques passed down through their culture.

 
Their villages primarily consist of clusters of small huts on stilts that you can find scattered throughout the swampland region. None of the villages are enormous and individual populations never seem to exceed beyond the low hundreds. While they can see in the dark, the Kul’Matha seem to love fire and will announce the presence of their homes with an abundance of torchlight almost like they are warning you “We’re over here. Stay away.”

 
Despite their love of stealth and keeping quiet while on the prowl, the Kul’Matha have a fondness for ceremonial dress and will adorn themselves with bright plumage and necklaces of clinking teeth and bones when gathered together in their own villages. Outsiders speculate that these collections of trinkets and feathers are a Kul’Matha’s way of attracting a mate, or proving that one can provide for another. The more trophies a Kul’Matha has, the more powerful and respected they seem to be. Unlike many species, size doesn’t seem to play a role in how they choose their leadership, leading many to think that the Kul’Matha place much value in action over words or ideas and assumptions of weakness.

 
This concept seems to be true in terms of gender as well, for the females of the Kul’Matha do fight alongside the males from what most have reported. What is peculiar, however, is that the females seem to be highly valued to the males. Warriors have said that after slaying a female Kul’Matha in battle, the remaining males have beserked and raged all at once. Researchers hypothesize that this may be evidence that the Kul’Matha are matriarchal in nature. The only visible difference between the two genders as far as we can tell, is that the females seem to possess extra glands upon the cheek bones that house a more potent venom that is capable of disintegrating flesh.

 
The last interesting piece of information we have on the Kul’Matha pertains to their sense of spirituality. Like many of the creatures that make their home within Voraniss, the Kul’Matha have reverence for the natural world and its bounty. Instead of worshipping a variety of totems or spirts though, they focus on one creature: a very large winged serpent they call Kul’Mathanigalurgtha. Supposedly they believe that they were born when this serpent laid her eggs upon the earth and breathed her fire across the world.

 
Love them or hate them, the Kul’Matha have lived within Voraniss for many years and are here to stay. Most of the locals have learned just to leave them alone out of respect and fear for the capable creatures, but every so often tempers will flare and fights will break out. This is just life in Voraniss. The wheel will always keep on turning.

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Tips and Tricks On: How to Avoid Stagnation & Boredom in LARP

As a LARPer, I hear all the time that people are getting bored with their respective games. They are looking for new ways to spice up their experience after being a part of the same community for 20+ years, or looking for new ways to reaffirm bonds of friendship with their countrymen. The good news is that this is a fairly common phenomenon. The bad news is that it will take a little work on your part to get through it. We can’t always have a passive role in our own futures and leave everything up to the event holders that have enough on their plates. Below are some tips and ideas you can feel free to use to help you on your journey:

1.)    Consider what groups or orders might be appropriate for your character to pursue. Expand your horizons outside of your nation. Does your character worship a deity? Is there a religious order or a knighthood that might be appropriate for you? Do the research and make the connections within the community. Communicate what you’re looking for and people may be able and willing to point you in a direction. Most games have a wide variety of different organizations for you to belong to if you’re willing to put in the effort. If you can’t find one that you feel is appropriate, consider starting your own!

2.)    Open yourself up to learning a new skill or craft. There is always room for improvement in everything we do. Maybe you’ve always wanted to try leatherworking. Maybe you want to get better at foamsmithing or even throwing events of your own. Why not take the time to give it a go? Find someone in the community that can give you some starting tips and advice and work on building that weapon/piece of garb/monster/dungeon you’ve always wanted to. Just like learning how to fight, these are all valuable skills that are only going to get better with practice.

3.)    Assess your weaknesses and strengths, and push yourself to go beyond. If you’re an excellent Role-player that wants to fight better, start attending some practices or find a mentor that you trust to push you outside of your comfort zone so that you might be able to have the confidence to enter some tournaments. If you’re an amazing fighter but you’re too shy to engage in much RP the same applies. Find someone you like or trust to bring you in and get you involved. LARPing communities tend to be very friendly and most people will be all too happy to get you involved in the various aspects of the game that they are passionate about.

4.)    Plan active bonding activities with your nation and friends. If you have permission from the leadership of your nation you might want to try getting everyone together at an event for story time by the fire, a group ritual, group training or fight practice etc. Whatever you feel is an appropriate and enjoyable activity for your respective group of friends. Relationships take work, and if you want to keep people invested in the success of the group then you’ll have to be equally invested in those bonds of friendship. This is also relevant on an OOC level. Make plans to do things together outside of events. Maybe hit up a Renaissance Faire or go to the movies, have a craft night or a party at somebody’s house. All of these are valid ways to just enjoy each other’s company.

5.)    Consider setting goals for yourself. This can be very motivating for people who are driven and independent. Make yourself a LARP “bucket list” as it were, and think about all the things you really want to do that you haven’t yet accomplished. From there, break down your goals into achievable and measurable steps. As an example, say my goal was to become a well-respected shield fighter in a specific game. I might take it a step further and start by saying I’ll hit a certain number of practices a month, that I’ll participate in a certain number of tournaments and so on and so forth. I can expand on my goals as I achieve them, while keeping them reasonable. Don’t keep your goals so far out there that you get discouraged before you really have a chance to explore them.

Obviously this is a very limited list of what you can do to make your LARPing experience more enjoyable, but it is a good starting point on how to deal with a common complaint. Maybe it will even inspire you to come up with suggestions/ideas of your own. Either way, I wish you the best of luck! Remember, it’s okay to ask questions and it’s okay to fail! Learn from everything you do, and you’ll be far less likely to suffer from regret and stagnation.

The Okami Pack: Part 3 by Gundulf (Adrian Cronin)

Gundulf awoke as he had every day for the past few weeks. He made his bed impeccably then made his way to the kitchens to aid the cooks in preparing morning meal. They had taken a liking to the large wolf, bits of humor illuminating through cracks of hard work and dedication. It seemed that he fit in at this temple more than he would have expected to.

Once morning meal was served, he was allowed to eat with his broth… his pack. All seated at the long tables, indulging in polite conversations which Gundulf was delighted to engage in.

A well renowned story teller in his own right, he often found himself at a loss for words when hearing the stories of these monks. Some of their lives seemed so foreign to him. Sitting side by side as equals were Barons who left their wealth and lands behind to seek salvation from the beast blood and paupers who were granted asylum after causing mayhem in the gutters of great cities. All seemed content and treated one another with respect and dignity.

After breakfast came training. Gundulf had spent most of his life as no more than a brawler. He had never seen battle, let alone held a sword. Nonetheless, he had taken to Okami traditions with great vigor and curiosity, and grew stronger every day. Was this why Hygar sent him here? To become a warrior?

Such thoughts were a distraction, and the only way to keep up with his pack members was to empty his mind of all thoughts and embrace the natural flow of combat. This was the hardest part, for Gundulf above all else, was a thinker. It had been how he survived as long as he had.

This day Gundulf was paired with a particularly menacing monk by the name of Thrall. Thrall hailed from desert lands to the south and spoke very little. He appeared to have Orc blood but Gundulf had been too afraid to ask the brute too many questions. All of his focus was required in sparring the beast of a man, for even though he was quicker than Thrall, in terms of strength Gundulf was far outmatched.

Thrall swung high and Gundulf ducked beneath and delivered a quick jab to Thrall’s ribs. Thrall attempted to sweep Gundulf’s feet from under him but Gundulf deftly hopped over the attack and landed in a defensive position. The fight was going well.

Gundulf momentarily let his gaze drift to his blind master who was conversing with several of the older monks near the garden. He gestured to the petals and even took one of the wolfsbane flowers in his hand! This puzzled Gundulf, for a mere whiff of the plant nearly sent him to his end weeks before.

Suddenly Gundulf felt Thrall’s skull bash in his nose. The attack came far too quick for Gundulf to make any sort of defense, and he took the full force of Thrall’s blow and felt himself hit the ground.

A mixture of pain and rage filled Gundulf. As a wolf his nose was his lifeline, and never before had his senses been so overwhelmed. He felt his body begin to twist and contort.

The crowd gathered as they had before on his first day of arrival. Only now it was Gundulf who would stand before the blind master and his spear.

“Gundulf you will revert to your mortal form.” Gundulf heard through a murky haze.

“This is not how you meet your end, boy. Slow your breathing. Think of your friends, all of this will end. Look the beast in the eye and deny it.”

Gundulf closed his eyes and focused. He saw before him a giant wolf, and it snarled and growled in his face. But he did as his master commanded, he looked into the wolf’s eyes and whispered “no”.

 

***

 

Gundulf once again awoke, sweat covering his head and in a bed too small for him. “Is it normal to lose consciousness this often…”

“No. But you are alive. Waking up is a privilege only afforded to the living,” said the master.

“I’ve been to lands where the denizens would beg to differ, as soon they stopped gnawing on your face,” joked Gundulf, still getting his bearings.

“You met your wolf today. Truly met him. How did it feel?” Asked the blind master.

“It is hard to explain. I felt the terror of losing control and I could tell the wolf wanted to come out or maybe… I wanted him to come out? Is Thrall ok?” Asked Gundulf.

“He is fine. He apologizes for the cheap shot. But you should know, you didn’t transform. It took all of your strength and energy but you stopped yourself mid transformation,” said the blind master with respect.

“Wow, well that’s good,” said Gundulf.

“Was this the first time?” The blind master pressed.

“No, I have led quite the adventurous life, master. There have been many occasions where I have come back from the brink. Once I am the wolf my body is dominated so I do all I can to avoid transforming.”

“It is one thing to prevent transformation. Even to regain control and transform back from the wolf. These are common amongst true born wolves. But very few have been able to achieve what you have and even still only with years of training,” said the master.

Gundulf sat and in listened, at a loss for words.

“I will teach you to practice this skill. Once harnessed it can be a powerful weapon,” said the master.

“I don’t understand. I see how it could be useful in protecting those around me… but how is it a weapon?” Asked Gundulf.

“You see, by allowing the wolf to pierce the veil you can draw strength from him. For most the strength is too much, which is why their form shifts to that of the Lycan. It is the only way for the werewolf to regain balance. But to draw upon that strength and allow it flow through you will make you most formidable. How is it you think a man as blind as me is able to see? This is why you are here Gundulf.”

“When do we start?” Smiled Gundulf.

 

***

 

The next day, Gundulf left his room and readied himself for his duties in the kitchen. But the blind master was waiting for him in the hall and gestured for him to follow. The two walked into the courtyard and were coming dangerously close to the gardens before Gundulf stopped in his tracks.

“Breathe deeply my son. Do not fight the pain it causes you, only embrace it and focus on your discipline. Focus on your breathing.”

The two entered the gardens just as dawn broke. It took Gundulf quite some time to get used to the presence of the wolfsbane and they repeated this walk routine for many days. On the fifth day, the power of the plant was trivial. And the blind master instead elected for the two of them to meditate within the garden for a while before beginning their lessons. After some time had passed, the master broke his silence.

“You must learn that when you transform, it is still you. Your mind may be foggy, your senses overwhelmed, but it is still your spirit. It is only your fear of the beast blood which causes your shifts to be so chaotic. But even still, you have never tasted human blood. This is no coincidence, Gundulf. You are kind and gentle and so is your wolf. And once we expand upon the relationship with the beast inside you will find great peace.” The master looked into Gundulf eyes as they opened, and promptly slapped him in the face.

Gundulf was in shock. At first he smiled, wondering what possible lesson of peace could be learned from sucker punching him. But then the master slapped him again, this time much harder and the tips of his fingers caught Gundulf’s ear. Gundulf felt his control beginning to slip and the door to transformation begin to open. But this time he found himself standing in the garden, the master nowhere to be seen.

As Gundulf awaited some sort of explanation, he saw a large white wolf saunter over to him. He recognized the beast’s eyes and it looked quite familiar. Sensing no danger from the animal he decided to approach. The wolf, equally as curious, sniffed Gundulf and circled him playfully. Gundulf stroked the beast’s head a few times and touched his forehead to his. A blinding light consumed Gundulf perception. Then he opened his eyes to find himself in meditation before his master.

“You’ve met your wolf. This time on equal footing. A courtesy afforded to us by the wolfsbane we grow here. It prevents transformation, allowing a keen mind to enter the space between. It is a common practice here, it helps to mend the bonds between the two spirits which lie within those with beast blood.”

“I thought you said stopping a transformation was a rare practice…” Gundulf said in confusion, doing his best to remain respectful while absorbing all the master had to offer.

“Without this garden, for many it is. Once you’ve learned to commune with the wolf, we will practice this outside of the garden and hopefully one day outside of this temple and in the world beyond,” said the blind master.

For many days the lessons continued. It wasn’t until the full moon that the blind master changed their routine. When Gundulf awoke, eager to greet his master in the training grounds, he found no one there to greet him. Not knowing what to do, Gundulf went to the kitchens and helped prepare the morning meal as he had so many times before. He then ate with the monks, enjoyed their wisdom and merriment, but when he asked of the master was met simple shrugs.

Gundulf elected to search the grounds rather than spar with the other monks. He walked the halls of the temple, checked the various shrines and rooms of meditation as he passed. He even searched the gardens but could not find the man anywhere.

As midday sun came, many of the monks were meeting in the kitchen for lunch. Lunch was always less formal than breakfast or dinner in the temple because it was the closest thing to a break that any of the disciplined acolytes would receive. And so many of them elected to take their meals outside or even skip the meal in favor of recreation.

Gundulf walked through the courtyard, scanning his memories of the recent days in hopes of gleaming a clue to why he’d been abandoned. Had he done something wrong? Had he offended his master in some way? He elected to meditate by the cliff face and hope that a bit of peace might clear his rattled insecurity.

Many of the monks were making offerings to Luna in celebration of the full moon. Others were chanting to Gaia as they tended to the gardens and made necklaces of dried wolfsbane for some of the less disciplined monks to wear during the full moon.

After dinner the monks gathered in the square to perform kata; which were choreographed fighting moves which they often did to celebrate various aspects of their world. With little to offer to the gods, sweat and discipline were the greatest gifts they could offer. Gundulf joined in and allowed himself to get lost in the movements, even electing to wear a wolfsbane necklace as this was his first full moon in the temple.

Half way through the dance, Gundulf heard loud crashing against the temple gates followed by the ringing of an unfamiliar bell. Many of the monks fled to the temple for shelter while others elected to arm themselves with weapons. All looked around for someone to lead them, but found themselves with none of the masters in sight.

A large crash was heard at the gate and several monks, even those with weapons, ran for the temple with all speed. Those that elected to fight formed a defensive line in front of the temple steps. Gundulf stood with them.

Twilight was upon them and the full moon rose. The moon illuminated the courtyard and afforded the first glimpse of the intruder. A gargantuan werewolf stalked the courtyard, pacing back and forth. Upon first sight of him, a few of the temples defenders elected to run inside. Gundulf wondered if he should do the same.

The clash began with a flash. Half a dozen of the temple’s greatest champions swinging silvered blades and axes at the great beast. None connecting, for the beast was quick and would counter every attack with large swipes of his claws. Gundulf was knocked back several feet from one of the swipes and his necklace was torn from his body and the petals were taken by the night breeze.

As Gundulf lay there, he watched as his brothers and sisters fought valiantly against the beast. But more and more were forced to retreat as a result of exhaustion or some wound. One of them even gave into the moons call and attacked it in beast form. The large wolf clamped its jaws down around the wolf’s neck and promptly ended its life. The moon’s call began to claw at Gundulf, and he knew what he must do.

Gundulf hid himself behind a pillar, crossed his legs, and embraced the wolf’s call. He found himself face to face with his wolf. This time there was no snarling or growls, yet certainly an eagerness. But the wolf stood there, its eyes meeting Gundulf’s as if it were waiting for Gundulf to decide what to do. And so Gundulf petted the wolf and touched his forehead to his. The same white flash occurred as the last time he attempted this, but this time he didn’t close his eyes and he just held on to the wolf. When he opened his eyes he was still sitting behind the pillar.

Infused with the power of the beast blood, Gundulf stepped out and walked towards the great beast. Many within the temple screamed and pleaded for Gundulf to turn back, but he knew his course was clear.

And the clash began. Gundulf swung his arms and legs in a beautiful dance of death. Kicking and punching, using forms far beyond his training. The two battled long into the night, with the entirety of the temple looking on in awe. Gundulf was heard screaming out to the wolf: “Change back! Don’t make me do this!” For the young wolf had battled the beast with his fists up until that point.

It wasn’t until the beast, frustrated by the fruitless contest, turned his attention to the temple and began charging towards the spectators that Gundulf knew what had to be done.

 

As the morning sun gleamed over the mountain, it blinded all who had been watching the spectacle. When everyone’s eyes adjusted they walked towards Gundulf holding a naked, bruised and bleeding figure in his arms.

“Please… please… I’m so sorry,” they heard Gundulf say through gritted teeth and mournful tears.

Gundulf held his master close. A silver spear head pierced his chest. The master smiled and let out a wheezing laugh. “You are forgiven.”

 

***

Gundulf packed his things with stern conviction. He was eager to put the temple to his back. To think that his master would sacrifice himself in such a way just to teach him a lesson made his skin crawl. As Gundulf walked through the courtyard he witnessed the burning of his master’s body and decided, that despite his current feelings, he would stay for the funeral rites and see if he may gleam some deeper truth from the ceremony.

Many masters took their turn in speaking. Some offered comfort from godly edicts. Others offered lessons they had learned from the blind master. None spoke his name, at this point Gundulf was sure that few ever knew it. He certainly hadn’t.

The final speaker was a very old monk. Her body was bent over from the many years she had walked the earth. She did a sermon with a familiar tale which many from within the temple and even the realms at large were familiar. The tale refers to the two wolves which dwell inside of us all. One embodying anger, hatred, deceit etc. and the other: kindness, love, honesty etc. The two wolves are constantly at war within us all. And the wolf that wins is the one we feed.

“The Blind Master… I was a young girl when he first came to this place. For years he didn’t speak. Didn’t even train. He simply worked and kept to himself. He was only missing one eye back then and was constantly plagued by nightmares. After one particular fit, he scratched out his other eye. This was far from the man that you all would come to know. It was only through years of training and meditation that he made peace with the life he had lived. He had been a champion of Darkspire, and Gaia only knows how many now rest within the ground as a result of his wrath. Though he had learned to channel the power of the wolf, he knew it was only a matter of time before his beast would take over again. He longed for a pupil that would be able to give him the peace he desired and feared that he would one day bring ruin to the temple he considered his salvation. Gundulf. I know you don’t believe it now, but what you did was a kindness. His will asks that you take his ashes to the Wolf shrine. Spread them there and then read this scroll which he has left to you.”

The speech concluded with all eyes on Gundulf. Tears filled his eyes, but remembering his discipline, he humbly gathered the ashes and made his way out of the temple grounds. The Wolf shrine was a short walk from the temple, which was no great surprise.

Arriving at the cliff he looked upon the Wolf shrine with tear filled eyes. He spread the ashes as his master requested and opened the scroll left to him.

It read:

If you are reading this Gundulf, then you have freed me. Your purity of heart made you far more powerful a wolf than I ever could have hoped to achieve. Every moon brought me closer and closer to madness, for my sins upset my balance irreparably. The wolf within me was a cruel twisted creature, for he was me. And though I sought forgiveness and a new life, the wolf within me was too far gone. Or perhaps I was just better at pretending.

Nonetheless, I fear your journey is just beginning. I am honored to be the first life you have taken. I promise you, you’ve slain a wicked villain and avenged the lives of many innocents. Please continue your training at the temple. You are now free to do as you please. Come and go, and take your place among the people of Voraniss. But return, and train. Be better than I was.

For you are the descendant of Vangrim the wolf. It is the only way you could have learned my lessons so quickly. One day the Okami Pack will need a leader again. I hope when that day comes, you will rise to the challenge. 

The letter was signed “B”. A mystery for another day.

Gundulf slipped the parchment into his pouch. He now looked upon the Wolf shrine, wondering how sitting in a chair as a joke got him here. As Gundulf’s contemplations and grief took him well into the night, the second night of the full moon approached. He heard the howling off in the distance, and just before it became too dark to see, a familiar face walked up the path with a lantern.

Mouse approached the shrine and lit its ceremonial torches. She was unsurprised to see Gundulf, and it was clear that she had “divined” the details of the day. She laid a hand upon Gundulf’s shoulder before taking a seat not far from him. She then imparted to him the tale of the Wolf shrine to offer him comfort and answer the many questions he had about the significance of his heritage, before the two of them made their way back home.

A Day in the Life of a Mischievous Fisher Cat: Books, Naps, and Jumping, Oh My!

By Cat White aka Esther

Sunlight streamed in through a small opening in a room of the ruined keep, a few doors down the wing from Kindrianna’s room. Inside the room was simple, with a small sleeping pallet in the corner, a trunk against the wall, and a small table with a chair on the other end of the room that held assorted rocks and other mysterious finds from the forest. A mountain of furs and wool blankets were piled atop the sleeping pallet with no indication that perhaps there may be someone or something under them. That is until a small wiggling nose slid from under the cave of furs and blankets. The nose moved to the right, then to the left, sniffing about. Suddenly, the nose slipped back under and an arm stretched out lazily in its place.

A mop of black hair poked above the blankets and a small young woman, Esther, sat up looking around the room blearily. She squinted at the sun light as she stood and stretched. Her eyes briefly danced over the black and green scarring on her right arm, but quickly she forgot about it. She ran to her door and darted around the corner, nothing but a brown furry blur.

As she ran down the hall, she noticed a candle lit in Kindrianna’s room. She poked her small under the door and sniffed, but she didn’t actively smell Kindrianna. Up to her tricks, Esther squeezed her furry bottom under the door to see if Kindrianna was in her room. Sometimes if she was lucky, Kindrianna had some jerky or something so she didn’t have to hunt for breakfast. Looking around she didn’t see Kindrianna, or Mouse, anywhere. She walked up to her table and hopped up on the chair and sitting up on her hindquarters peered out the window. She didn’t see anyone, except for a few of the other wolves that she tended to keep away from. It may just be her nature, but she didn’t full trust them either even if they did follow Hygar.

Something to the side caught the little fisher cat’s, as she peered over and saw something shining and twinkling. She dropped down to the chair and peered up at it and realized whatever “it” was, was sitting on a shelf with a few books on it that she heard Kindrianna call a library several times. She wasn’t really sure what exactly a library was. She carefully sat back up and gently rested her paws on the edge of the shelf to stare at a strangely glowing crystal that was really pretty. Esther picked up one of her paws to bat at it, but put too much weight on her other paw and toppled down to the table bringing half the book shelf down and a few books down on her head, creating a mess of the table. Esther sat up on the chair, rubbing her now human head.

Esther looked at the table with realization. “Oh no, Mouse is going to be so angry,” Esther said to herself. She hopped up on the window opening back in her natural fur, as she was continuing to regard the mess she made, her stomach gave a protesting growl. She darted out the window in hopes of finding a nice fat porcupine for breakfast, completely forgetting the catastrophe she left behind.

In a large grassed area around the keep, all looked serene and peaceful, until one’s eye caught what looked like dirt flying out of the ground. It was Esther digging what she deemed a rather perfect hole for napping after having a filling breakfast. She popped out of her in progress hole, though at this point it may as well have been a burrow, and looked around. It was a mine field to a poor unsuspecting soul who unlike the pack, knew not to look before walking. Though the pack still had a hard time with quelling and reigning in Esther’s digging habits having struggled themselves almost breaking an ankle regardless of two legs or four.

After a great nap in her very warm and snuggly hole, Esther crawled out stretching with a tongue curling yawn. Esther walked towards the keeps armory, paws and fur sliding into limbs and skin. She pushed the door open as she arrived and was instantly irked. How many times does she have to tell these mangy wolves to keep her armory orderly? Weapons and armor of all sorts were lying around and haphazardly put away, it was a mess.  As she picked up a piece of armor and inspected it, it was dinged up and dirty and it looked like the rest would match. Sighing and muttering to herself she began her work of cleaning and fixing the armor and weapons, putting them away as she went. As she came out of the armory, she heard Kindrianna yelling. Straining her human ears, she tried to make out what she was saying. “What in the world? My books! Hygar!!! Kodan is at it again!,” shouted Mouse. Esther cringed, uh oh. Esther had completely forgotten about the mayhem she had created and left in Mouse’s room. She hugged the wall and slipped towards Osag’s Den to avoid Kindrianna’s wrath.

“Esther what have I told you about jumping at people without warning?” asked Hygar as he held up a squirming fisher cat by the scruff in his hand, bringing her up to eye level. Esther stopped squirming, legs and tail hanging limply. She looked around at some wolves Hygar was training. She was wandering around looking for pack members, she wanted to play. Then she found Hygar in the middle of training some new straggler wolves and she jumped at him in her excitement. However, Hygar had caught her by the scruff before she could make contact. “That I….,” Esther began looking contrite. “Shouldn’t do it?” She asked bright eyed, hopeful that giving the right answer would forgive her the transgression. Hygar shook his head at Esther’s antics, “Exactly, now maybe you should go work on your reading and writing.” Esther pouted, “I don’t wanna, it’s no fun and it makes my head hurt”

In the end, Esther sat cross legged on the floor of Kindrianna’s room her tongue sticking out to the side in concentration as she drew a new letter she learned today while Kindrianna watched her progress as she worked on a scroll. After working on her reading and writing, Esther lazed around on Osag as he patrolled, played one sided hide and seek with Stewhart, played with Wynn, and ate dinner with the pack. At the end of a nice moon lit run, well more like a ride, with the pack, a very sleepy fisher cat comically slid to her room and into her warm mountain of furs and wool.

The Okami Pack: Part 2 by Gundulf (Adrian Cronin)

Gundulf felt like he had been climbing for ages. Looking back he could barely see the bottom, but looking forward, the top was far from sight; a mist clouding his ever pressing destination. His exhaustion grew and grew, far beyond expectation. For although Gundulf was well known for his over indulgence when it came to food and drink, and his physique reflected such lifestyle, his wolf blood often afforded him greater stamina than the average man.

On this occasion he found the sweat to be pouring off of him, and air coming in measured breathes. Finally, he was forced to take an early rest.

As he sat, patting his head of sweat and embracing the cool mountain breeze, he found his comfort return albeit slowly. He had never felt such exhaustion, even after a night of heavy drinking. Looking about, he noticed the path flanked by rich vegetation. Hoping to find a bit of food, he decided to cut through some of the brush.

In his haste, and his exhaustion, Gundulf failed to see that beneath the brush was the largest grouping of Wolfsbane he had ever come into contact with. Tearing away the vines and brush that had grown over the Wolfsbane caused the deadly fumes to fill his lungs. And alas poor Gundulf fell to the ground, and into that heavy space between life and death.

***

Gundulf suddenly saw a great temple. Upon the gate were massive claw marks and a great padlock that was intricately adorned with all matter of runes.

He approached the gate, each step feeling weighted, terror reaching up inside of him and grabbing hold. Where was he? How did he get here?

As he touched the gate, after several moment which felt like an eternity, he felt words form absent intent.

“Hello?” He cried, as a child would call to their mother in the night.

He heard a horrible snarl behind him, yet he lacked the courage to turn and face it. Instead he banged on the gate, failing to remember that it was clearly locked from the outside.

Gundulf could feel the air currents rushing past him as if something were bearing down on him yet again. He could not turn head to face it. He felt tears welling up inside as he crumbled to the ground.

***

Gundulf opened his eyes and sat up straight, taking a measure of his surroundings. He was in a modest bed, although feathered and expertly crafted, it wasn’t quite as large as would be needed for a man his size to consider “comfortable”. The room he was in was strange, even by the worldly bard’s standards. The walls were a mix of paper and bamboo, but expertly crafted to give the impression of absolute security. His bed was also quite low to the ground and the ceiling just high enough for him to stand straight without bumping his head. A single candle burned within a lantern across the room, the dim light illuminating the room delicately in a mesmerizing way.

After wiping the immense amount of sweat off of his head and face, he drank deep from the pitcher of water that had been left on the nightstand next to him, ignoring the glass beside it altogether.

It was indeed water, though herbally infused and quite refreshing. From across the room, a stranger watched him curiously.

“I am quite pleased to see you on the mend young wolf,” said the stranger, who had decided to make his presence known.

Gundulf, still quite delirious, sniffed the air in hopes of catching some glimpse of who or what he may be dealing with. No wolf was accustomed to being taken unaware after all. But all he could smell was the sweat from his lips and a bit of incense that must be burning somewhere nearby. Gundulf sprang from the bed and readied himself.

“Now, now young one. You are a guest. It takes only a snap of my finger and you become an intruder. I should state that many have visited our great temple as guests, however, no intruder has ever left alive.”

At this, and at a complete disadvantage, Gundulf relaxed and decided to take on a more amenable position.

“Apologies. I’m afraid I am a bit disoriented. I’m having a bit of trouble remembering how I’ve gotten here. My name is Gundulf, of Voraniss.”

With the statement hanging in the air, Gundulf’s memory of the climb, and the events that had proceeded it, came to memory. Small fragments of the Wolfsbane mashed together with his fever dreams also rushed forward and caused him to hold his head in his hands.

“Come, Gundulf, I must show you something. Then we will take morning meal and discern your purpose here.”

The two walked slowly through the darkened halls of the temple domiciles, only that same ornamental lantern carried by this strange man to light their way. Their walk at last led to a door which opened up to a small balcony overlooking the darkened courtyard.

They stood there but a moment before dawns first light broke over the mountain top. The sun’s rays came crackling down the mountain, giving way to all manner of beautiful flora. A wondrous waterfall streamed off of one of the cliffs which broke into a stream that led right into the side of the temple, and crystalline pools of water, expertly crafted, took up a large portion of a great garden.

The garden was something from a storybook, artistically tended to with love and devotion. But all of the flowers were of a singular color. Purple.

Gundulf’s eyes followed the newfound illuminations from the sun as it revealed a true spectacle. Standing in the courtyard as statues were dozens of men and women in modest temple garments. As the sun hit them, they broke into a series of coordinated movements. Some movements appeared as a dance to Gundulf while others seemed to be combat maneuvers. Whatever the case was, their movements were quite beautiful.

Stunned, and honestly wondering if the Wolfsbane had killed him and this were some afterlife, Gundulf followed the tiny man back into the temple hallway and down a spiral staircase which led to a large eating area.

The room was filled with long benches and tables, and many servants seemed to be placing large bowls of soup with baskets of freshly baked rolls. Gundulf didn’t need his werewolf sense of smell to appreciate the aroma within the hall that morning. Several of the temple’s patrons were funneling in and taking their seats when Gundulf and his compatriot made their way to one of the benches.

None of them paid Gundulf much mind. The room was filled with quiet conversation, smiles, and a sense of community. Gundulf took his meal slowly, enjoying every bite and waiting for his shadow to broach conversation; which of course finally he did.

“So have you decided yet?” asked the strange man.

At this question, many of the table’s occupants subtly quieted themselves and turned their attention towards the question, in curiosity towards its answer.

“And what decision am I to be contemplating?” asked Gundulf in genuine curiosity.

“Have you decided if any of this is real or not?” asked the man with a grand smile.

At this, the table and much of the room laughed politely. All eyes were on Gundulf at this point.

“To be quite honest, no, I haven’t decided. But though this place has the staunch beauty of an afterlife, it isn’t one I’m deserving of. So either it’s real and you are all having a laugh at me, or it is indeed an afterlife and I’m in line for some sort of torture. But considering the Goddess of werewolves is also the Goddess of madness, I’m a bit at a loss for what a faithless wolf may expect from the afterlife. So why don’t you tell me?”

The room quieted at this answer, as if a practical joke had back fired. But his shadow, this curious man who still wore his cowl over his head obscuring his face, wasn’t the least taken back.

“Perhaps we should start with something simple. Why are you here?”

“I’ve come to apologize to an elder werewolf whom I seem to have offended with my reckless nature. I am not to leave without his forgiveness,” said Gundulf, who decided being forthright may be his only hope of getting out of this place and back to his home, which he was beginning to sorely miss.

“That may well indeed be why you came, but why you are here remains to be seen,” said the hooded man. Upon completion of his statement, he removed his hood to reveal his visage. The monk was bald, with small dots tattooed on his forehead. He appeared to be quite old, however, there was no slouch in his body and he moved quite gracefully. There was a claw scar across his face in which two claw lines went across his eyes. This revealed the man’s eyes to be pale grey and lifeless. He was blind in both eyes or at least appeared so.

Gundulf instinctually averted his eyes for a moment before returning his gaze for closer examination. A large smile crossed the monks face.

“I seek only to apologize to your master….” Gundulf began to explain, but all within the room began to clear and clean the tables; which happened with such haste and precision Gundulf took too long staring to realize it may be courteous to help and missed his chance.

The monks all made their way out of the room, some staying behind to tend to the kitchen and sweeping the dining area. Gundulf followed the precession of monks outside and found many of them to be stretching and gathering bamboo staffs and unusual looking weapons from weapon racks which lined the courtyard.

He decided to keep to the side, his shadow no longer in sight, and observe all he could from these strange people. The demonstration did not disappoint. Many of the monks paired off and began sparring vigorously to dazzling effect; their movements precise and swift.

Letting his eyes wander to take in as much of the courtyard as possible, he was again drawn to the garden and decided to move in for a closer look. As he approached, he realized had he entered the garden it would have meant his end, for it was filled with Wolfsbane. Gundulf quickly turned around and moved towards the main courtyard once more to seek out answers as to why so much of this poison was being grown here. His mind racing, he wondered if Hygar had sent him to investigate this folly with virgin eyes. He quickly turned from the thought. Hygar wouldn’t endanger Gundulf’s life without telling him so, would he?

When Gundulf reached the courtyard he witnessed the monks gathered in a circle, all whispering to each other and backing away slowly. In the center of the circle was a man. He was convulsing on the ground and tearing at his robes. Many of the monks began to cry out in a language Gundulf did not understand. Other bowed their heads and prayed. Where once stood the monk now stood a gargantuan werewolf, bloodlust in his eyes and foaming at the mouth. And standing across from him was the blind monk, a long spear in hand.

The wolf charged crazily towards the blind monk, and Gundulf attempted to make his way through the crowd towards the clash; but too many stood between him and his destination.

The blind monk sidestepped the beast and launched a palm into its side. The beast fell to the ground in a roll. When once again the beast charged, the monk sprang into the air, stepping on the beast’s head and running down its back. The monk then spoke to the beast, and although once again in a tongue unfamiliar to Gundulf, it seemed like a plea.

The beast rushed towards the monk a third and final time, and with a flash barely visible by the naked eye, the beast was impaled by the spear and was quite dead.

The monk yelled first in that same strange language, then again in the common tongue.

“Junji gave into his bloodlust. He betrayed himself and this temple. This is a result of lack of discipline and a sickness of the spirit. He is not the first to be lost to us, nor shall he be the last. Mourn him, clean his body, and remember his sacrifice. Training is finished for the day in light of this tragedy. Meditate on this my brothers and sisters, or follow in his wake.”

Gundulf stood in terror. He wanted to run straight back to Hygar and Mouse, and all of his friends in the tranquil woods of Voraniss; but before he could claim his thoughts, he found himself face to face with the blind monk.

“Follow,” muttered the blind monk. And so he did.

He took Gundulf to a pair of stones that were smoothed into seats. The blind monk gestured and the two sat down.

“I fear tragedy pushes our revelations quicker than I would have liked,” said the blind monk.

Gundulf had no words and elected to remain silent, yet focused, on the man.

“You are in no danger here, Gundulf. You remain a guest as I’ve explained. Junji was here for different reasons. This place is a sanctuary where a wolf may learn control. Many wolves travel here as a last effort to control the wolf inside. Many struggle with it every day. By joining this monastery, Junji made a promise to never shift within these walls and, more importantly, to never again taste human flesh. But he only sought to control the beast within in the hopes of unleashing it upon his enemies, for personal gain. This is a path to ruin.”

“Are all who dwell here werewolves?”

“Most are. Some have beastblood from different animals. We have been host to all sorts of magical creatures, but we all seek the same thing: Harmony with body, mind and spirit.”

Gundulf looked out down the mountain towards the woods of Voraniss. This was such a strange place and he longed for the revelry of a campfire.

“I would but deliver apology to your elder. I’m not to return until I have received forgiveness for sitting in the chair.”

The old blind monk perked an eye brow up at the remark and smirked slightly at the young wolf.

“You have no right to ask of me anything. Not now anyway. I saved your life upon the mountain trail and would see debt repaid before we speak of forgiveness and chairs.”

Gundulf sighed, knowing it wasn’t going to be this easy after the spectacle of the day. But if it meant balancing scales so that he may return home, then so be it.

“What would you have of me?”

The blind monk smiled and gestured towards a broom.

Lore of Voraniss: The Okami Pack by Gundulf (Adrian Cronin)

As the packs within Voraniss began to intermingle, wolves who had spent generations in complete ignorance of each other were sharing their culture and finding common ground. Great warriors were learning how to use their beast blood to heal others instead of just themselves. Members of the nocturnal pack, who grew up without any human comforts, were trying their first sips of ale and many of them were wearing clothes for the first time in their lives.

This brought the Druidic Circle within Voraniss great joy. For though Voraniss was host to a number of magical creatures and human settlers, if the wolves rejected the inclusive goals of the Voraniss hierarchy then the forest would surely fall back into chaos before long.

Within the great gathering of Alphas, Hygar sat at a large round table shoulder to shoulder with the leaders of the Voraniss packs. The table had been modeled after one of Hygar’s favorite legends. He had invited Gundulf and a few of the other settlers there as guests to get a chance to meet their neighbors and to make their faces and scents known in case they wandered off where they shouldn’t.

There was one seat at the table which remained empty. Ominously so. No one seemed to pay it any mind. Although the many alphas were packed tight at times, leaning in to have words with one another, they avoided entering even the space which the chair occupied.

In front of the chair was an empty plate and glass; perfectly clean, pristine even, all set for a guest that would never come.

Gundulf took note of the strange behavior and assumed, that like many things within Voraniss, it was something routed in superstition. So of course after a few drinks when the Moot turned into a celebration, Gundulf wanted to see how close he could get to the chair and measure everyone’s reactions.

And so first he bumped into it. Seemingly no one in the room paid any mind.

After a few more drinks, he leaned on it. A few Alphas saw him, but made no real outward reaction toward him.

And finally, he decided to make his move. Gundulf lifted his foot up and untied his boot stealthily. He then walked up to the empty chair, pulled it out, sat on it and began tying his shoe.

The room didn’t exactly fall silent, but the change in volume was obvious. As many of the other wolves looked to one another, some in astonishment, some in amusement and others in anger.

One gaze had been fixed on Gundulf throughout this entire escapade. Hygar Athame. But apart from a dead stare from across the room, even Hygar didn’t make public comment.

When the meeting had ended and many of the wolves were running off into the night, Gundulf gathered himself and prepared to head back to his grove where he was building his home. But before he was able to stumble out the door, Hygar put a firm hand on his shoulder. He then spoke to him very sternly.

“When you get home, pack your things. I’ll be there to collect you in the morning,” Hygar stated without a hint of emotion.

“Come on… is this about the chair? No one seemed to mind!” Gundulf yelled to a Hygar who was already gone and paying him little mind.

And so, Gundulf traveled home to his grove. Electing to walk in human form this night, enjoying the stark beauty that was Voraniss. He couldn’t believe he’d jeopardized his place in his newfound home. Utter despair washed over him and he slept not a wink.

When morning came Hygar arrived with Mouse. Both seemed in a chipper mood, laughing and gossiping as they made their way towards Gundulf’s camp. Gundulf didn’t know whether to be offended or relieved by the revelry that he heard approaching.

“All of my things are packed. I’m so sorry for offending you, Hygar, and I’ve made my peace that I will be leaving my Voraniss adventure… a bit sooner than I had hoped.” A terribly exhausted and anxious Gundulf stated while trying to appear stoic, if not for the visible tears in his eyes.

Hygar and Mouse looked at each other and burst into laughter.

“You aren’t being banished, Gundulf. And it isn’t Hygar you’ve offended,” said Mouse.

They then explained to Gundulf that there was one pack that was afforded a seat on the Alpha council that chooses not to attend. But that the seat remains empty as a sign of respect.

“Well why couldn’t you have just said as much?” asked Gundulf.

“This Pack has a very ancient way of viewing transformation and even the world at large. There are as many opinions about their way of life as there are wolves in Voraniss. We make it a rule not to bring up an unrepresented pack without their presence. It keeps the meeting’s integrity intact and fosters respect between the Alphas,” explained Hygar.

Gundulf held his face in his hand. His mischievous nature had gotten him into trouble before, especially where drinking was involved, but usually he had the upper hand in these matters.

 
“So I’ll take you as far as the mountain path, then you are going to apologize to their elder. You are not to return home until you’ve apologized and made amends. Please take this seriously Gundulf, for if you return without things being set right you will have to leave Voraniss. We can’t risk destabilizing everything we’ve built for one wolf’s pride,” said Hygar.

The three of them marched off into the woods for what would be a full day’s journey, which for Gundulf was a nightmare. Having had no rest the night before and still very little understanding of where he was going, not to mention the hangover! To Mouse and Hygar’s dismay he was uncharacteristically quiet on the journey. But Mouse and Hygar treated it as any other day, a beautiful walk through the woods within their borders.

***

It was nightfall when they finally made camp at the bottom of the great mountain.

“Are you going to tell me anything about these wolves? Are they friendly?” Asked Gundulf as he chewed on a bit of bread he had brought with him.

“All will be revealed in the morning,” said Hygar, poking the fire.

Mouse sat staring at the moon and singing a song in elvish. Gundulf didn’t speak elvish, to his dismay, for the song was quite beautiful. He was able to make out the words “Luna” and “Gaia,” for the names of gods had often had a way of transcending language.

Gundulf passed out almost as soon as his head hit his pillow.

When morning came he awoke to an empty camp site. Apparently he’d slept through breakfast for the first time in his life. In the dirt there was a huge arrow drawn pointing towards a narrow path up the mountain. Also, he found a small parchment wrap filled with a biscuit, bacon and a few sardines folded far too eloquently to have been folded by Hygar.

“Vandor! God of vengeance and breakfast!” Gundulf heard himself yell a bit too loud in excitement. For a moment he feared Mouse may have heard him…

Gundulf ate his breakfast and began his long hike up the mountain.

Legends of Voraniss: Riel the Ram

The lands of Voraniss weren’t always filled with werewolves and giant men. There was a time, long ago, when the Elves flocked to her forests to enjoy a deep and profound connection to the natural world. This place has always been a haven to those with respect for the wild places, and so it was only right that the Elven people should also make a home here in the shadows of the ancient oak trees.

 
The locals believe that the Elves treated these lands not as a place to settle or conquer, but as a spiritual retreat more than anything else. Some people even believe that it was the Elves that built some of the oldest shrines you can find here still. There is one thing that is consistent in their stories and memories, however, and that is the legend of Riel’iefyr; fondly known as Riel the Ram.

 
While they may disagree on the term: Wizard, Sorcerer, or Druid, everyone agrees that Riel’iefyr was a master of fire. He was a paragon of his art, truly a prodigy of evocation and flame. It was he that tended to the many torches and bonfires of the shrines and always made sure that the spirits had a guiding light with which to find their way home. More than that, it was he who always made sure that the Elves and peaceful folk of those early times never went without warmth during the long winters.

 
Riel’iefyr went about his work without complaint and even seemed to enjoy using his gift for the benefit of the people around him. He did what he could to make their lives bearable, and in turn they would offer him food, drink, or shelter for a night here and there. His work allowed him to travel much of the forest that otherwise went undisturbed which allowed him an up close and personal view of many of the different creatures and animals that made their home in the undisturbed wilderness. Life probably would have gone on much the same for Riel, but as is its nature…change was destined to come.

 
Nobody really saw the Darkness coming. If they had, surely they would have taken preventative measures to limit its influence. There were hints of its malice in the beginning, but only vague oddities that could be chalked up to unseasonable coolness and early sunsets. It wasn’t anything they hadn’t seen before, and so all of the warnings went unheeded until the Darkness could no longer be ignored. Those that were there finally knew there was a problem when one summer day the sun just didn’t rise, at least that’s the story that has been passed down through their families.

 
Problems only escalated from there. Without the sun everything became dark and cold. Even bonfires were refusing to light. It was as if there was a heavy blanket cast down over the land that smothered any hope of radiance. Nobody could see their way through the forest without light, and many Elves became stranded despite their innate visual prowess. There was something unnatural about this Darkness, and it sucked up more than just light and warmth. Hope became a rare commodity, for how can one fight what they cannot see?

 
Riel’iefyr took this assault on the light very hard. To him it was a personal attack, or some kind of insult to his honor. Was he not a bringer of fire and heat? Living in a world where he was not allowed to use his gifts did not interest him, and so he stubbornly set out to find the source of the misfortune that had befallen the people and land he loved. He struggled to find his way, but his feet remembered what his eyes could not find in the endless haze of darkness. Step by step he wandered deeper into the forest, afraid of what he would find.

 
When the Darkness overwhelmed him, Riel’iefyr knew he was close. The shadows were so heavy that they reminded him of the space between the stars in the heavens, the endless void of emptiness that existed only to make the illustrious brilliance of the cosmos appear all the more radiant. He had read about things like this before; spirits of darkness that fed off of the light and life force of entire peoples. They were so terrible and feared that they had never been given a proper name, but they were supposed to be myths! It couldn’t possibly be what they were dealing with now…could it? The Elf shuddered at the possibility and wrapped his arms around himself to shield his body from the cold.

 
“You do not belong here,” a deep voice whispered.

 
Riel’iefyr jumped, his skin crawling with discomfort. He couldn’t be sure, but it had felt like the voice was speaking directly into his mind. There was understanding without sound, and certainty that the message had been specifically intended for him. “Who goes there?” he cried back. “Show yourself!”

 
“I am all around you,” said the voice, “I am Darkness. I am Despair.”

 
“Leave this place!” Riel’iefyr shouted again. He waved his arms through the air in an attempt to dissipate the concentrated blackness. “You are not wanted!”

 
The sound of laughter echoed everywhere, mocking the Elf’s demands. “I will consume this place.”

 
The shadows began to shift and change, rushing past Riel’iefyr in a tangible whoosh. He squinted his eyes to make sense of the movement and a horrible ethereal face flashed before his eyes. This continued for what felt like an eternity as the Darkness danced before him. One moment the face was there, and then it was gone. The creature was everywhere, and the poor Elf couldn’t be sure that it hadn’t devoured him already. He felt weak and lost, like all his efforts had been in vain. What could he possibly do as he stared down the face of an ancient spirit? It was so mighty and he was so, so small.
Riel’iefyr clenched his hands into tight fists and dug his fingernails into the palm of his hand. He was so frightened that he didn’t realize how powerful his grip was, and the warmth of his own blood startled him back to reality. He couldn’t let himself be lost to this creature. His people were counting on him. This forest was counting on him. The Elf defiantly raised his eyes to match the gaze of the haunting face of Darkness. “I will not let you expand your grasp on this world any further.”

 
“Pathetic mortal. What hope do you have in the face of my power? I have taken all the light from this place. You have nothing that can stop me.” The great being retorted. It seemed amused by the futile act of defiance.

 
It may have been true that all the light was gone. It may have even been true that on his own Riel’iefyr had nothing he knew of that could have stopped the malevolent spirit, but that wasn’t going to stop him from trying. The Elf grit his teeth and concentrated on the warmth of the blood that had awakened him from his lament. There was some heat that still lived, some fires that never went out. So long as his heart continued to beat, he would carry his own flame.

 
Energy began to gather about him. Other spirits who were drawn to his determination began to pull away at the Darkness with curious fingers. His stalwart resistance began as a single spark within the space they created for him, and the stubborn Elf poured all of his courage and will towards stoking that ember. The cold was starting to fade from his body now, and he could see his fingers start to glow with golden light.

 
“Your efforts are meaningless,” the spirit barked again. “I will put out your light forever.” The Darkness converged all around him and attempted to grab him. It would have succeeded too if the goodly Spirits of the forest, which Riel’iefyr had long tended to, hadn’t placed themselves in its path.

 
Riel’iefyr cried out louder, and the light on his fingers and hands began to spread rapidly over his body. Soon he was fully encompassed in the golden glow, and the Darkness was forced to retreat back a little ways. “I’d like to see you try!”

 
Furious, the Darkness drew in its breath and began to suck the other spirits out of the air. If they were going to protect the pesky Elf, then they would die with him.

 
A bone cutting chill erupted throughout the area, and Riel’iefyr could feel icicles growing upon the ends of his ears. This light was only enough to keep the creature at bay, not enough to slay him. He needed more power. More light. In that moment, he knew he needed to push himself beyond his limits if he was to have any chance of taking this thing down.

 
Placing his palms together, Riel’iefyr formed a circle with his arms and closed his eyes as he tried to concentrate. He listened to the beating of his heart, to the blood rushing through his veins. He could feel the warmth from the golden light that had surrounded him and continued to push what energy he had left into amplifying it. He wasn’t sure how long he could keep the magic stable, but he was also too stubborn to give up. The golden glow turned red, shifting through a spectrum of fiery colors before it finally turned white and solidified around his body like a tangible shield.

 
The Darkness shrieked and lunged forward, lashing out at what he most feared. Riel’iefyr was ready for him this time, and he released the tenuous grasp he had upon his explosive magic.

 
Silence. Nothing but silence at first. Gradually a dull roaring sound filled the air, and then finally, an explosion of light and flames. Riel’iefyr’s body was torn apart by his own magic, but the furious light could not be held back now that its handler had released the reins. The brilliant white light lit the area and the Spirit of Darkness shrank into nothingness beneath its blinding rage. It was done.

 
They say the land experienced immediate relief after that explosion. The fires they had been trying so desperately to light flickered into existence all at once. The sun came back, and the cold was snuffed out by a warm wind that gushed forth out of the area following the blast.

 
The Elves and other locals were so grateful to Riel’iefyr for his aid that they implored the spirits to reward him for his deeds, a request which they were only happy to oblige. His heroic spirit was given new form beyond death, one that honored the nature of his life. Riel’iefyr became Riel the Ram: representative of Fire and Light in the spirit realm; known for strength, stubbornness, and sacrifice. To this day they say you can find him wandering the forests and mountains of Voraniss; leading lost adventures to safer places and lighting any unattended shrine fires and torches with a touch of his horn.

 

When magical creatures and their allies unite in defense of their freedom and the forest they love, there is no telling what kinds of shenanigans might ensue.