Category Archives: Fiction

Legends of Voraniss: Sariandi the Sly

If Mon’ghora was the Queen of the Forest, Sariandi would have been her advisor. The vixen always had the Queen’s confidence, and was found at her side sharing in her secrets even before the start of the War of the Giants; but when Mon’ghora was flung far up into the sky things began to fall apart. The animals of the land found themselves without strong leadership in the face of a new wave of Giant aggression. They were hunted for pelts that the Giants would drape about their shoulders like morbid fashion statements or used for rugs in the cold, stony, and damp caverns that most of the Giants called home.

In a panic, the animals scattered. They had no desire to be the next to fall and their will to fight was decimated when they saw their loved ones being used as trophies. How cruel the world was when fear was so great that the fires of vengeance had been completely smothered by it.

Sariandi knew that if something didn’t change, and soon, the Giants would win this fight and forever change the face of this great land. Unlike the others, her passion for victory had not entirely faded. She kept Mon’ghora’s face in the forefront of her mind, remembering the love the two friends had shared. She clung to those memories and used them to keep herself going. She ran with the others, all the while plotting and scheming her next move.

One day the animals had a terribly close call. A small group of them had stopped by the lake to drink, swim, and refresh their weary bodies when they heard the rumbling of nearby Giant feet. One Giant was enough to tip them off to the danger, but there was definitely more than one. All around them the startled animals could feel the ground shake. Even the trees were trembling, losing their leaves against their will as the Giants intruded upon the quiet paradise.

“Run!” they cried. “The Giants are coming!” And run they did, though many were lost as the Giants seized up the limbs of trees and batted at the slowest animals in the back; clubbing them over the head to stun and grab them up. The whole earth shook as they pursued the fearful creatures. When they laughed, it surfaced as a cruel and odorous wind that the animals thought they could never unhear.

“Get the beasts! Get them! Let their hides be trophies for King Velindahl!” One Giant shrieked above the others.

King Velindahl was the leader of the Giants, and Sariandi was not impressed by him. He boldly claimed to be descended from the earth itself, and was often depicted sitting upon a throne of gold and rare gems that had been expertly handled to make each facet shine as bright as a star. Mon’ghora had always said he was a braggart, thinking that the advanced smithing techniques of the Giants put them far above the other creatures living in this land. It was that same sense of superiority that had started this war, Sariandi believed. King Velindahl had always been jealous of Mon’ghora’s popularity and status and so it only made sense that his Giants lashed out at her because of his ego. If only there was some way to use it against him…

Sariandi continued to run, fleeing for her life as the Giants began to gain on them. It wasn’t looking good. Their long strides gave them an unavoidable advantage, and their advance wasn’t going to be stopped by brute force; not without organized resistance anyway. The vixen grit her teeth, feeling the pounding vibrations of their pursuers beneath her paws when she was struck with an idea. She paused, suddenly, urging the others to continue.

“Go, run! Save yourselves! I have a plan!” she cried.

“No Sariandi! You can’t!” the animals pleaded, “They’ll kill you!”

“Do as you’re told,” she growled back in frustration. “I will be fine knowing that you made it to safety.” This uttered, the vixen turned and started to run back towards the Giants. Everyone stared in shock, surprised by the sudden audacity of this little fox. Sariandi wasn’t a brawler like Mon’ghora had been. Nor was she huge. She may have even been runty by fox standards, with tiny black paws and a crooked fluffy tail, but at least she was quick. She ran as fast as she could, trying to get the attention of her enemies. “Hey! You there! Let my people go and you’ll be rewarded!”

The Giants looked up in surprise upon being addressed. “Are you talking to us? What do you have that could possibly appease us beside the fur upon your skin and the meat upon your bones?” they teased.

Sariandi was careful to not stop running. If the Giants caught her before her bait had been delivered, then this entire maneuver would have been for naught. “I have information for King Velindahl. Information about the location of Mon’ghora’s secret treasure.”

“Secret treasure?” One of the Giant’s scratched his chin, unsure if the fox could be believed. “Why don’t you just tell us? We can bring it back for him.”

“I tell King Velindahl, or I tell no one. Your King wouldn’t like it if he found out that you had lost this information for him…would he? I hear he has quite the temperament,” Sariandi said coyly. She knew she had them now. Velindahl was notorious for his barbarous attitude towards those that had failed him. His own reputation would be his undoing.

“Well, no. Of course he wouldn’t like that,” the biggest of the Giants said. “Fine. We’ll stop chasing your friends for now, but you have to come with us and tell the King your secrets. If you don’t, we’ll crush your skull and use the splinters of your bones for toothpicks. Do you understand?”

“I understand,” said Sariandi, and she cautiously ventured forward into the waiting palm of her enemy. “I am with you.”

The Giants marched back in the direction of the mountains and took Sariandi with them. At their pace they were able to travel distances that might have taken Sariandi days by herself. Despite her anger with the Giants, she was still impressed by this and marveled at the speed with which they traversed the countryside. They were eager to get home and make their King happy, thinking they were bringing him the greatest gift he had ever received.

When they arrived at the entrance to King Velindahl’s cave, Sariandi realized that it was far more than some dark hole. This was a mountain stronghold built directly into the stone and disguised as a natural feature of the land so that its true entrance might not be so easily discerned by outsiders. Their stone craft was so impressive that for a brief instant, Sariandi lamented that the Giants were her adversaries. What they could have learned from each other if only their existence hadn’t been plagued by war and competition.

She was brought before King Velindahl and set upon a stone pedestal so that she was higher off the floor than she would have liked to be. The King wasn’t keen on bending over to listen, the Giants explained when she looked confused. Sariandi tilted her head as she regarded King Velindahl up close for the first time. The throne of gold hadn’t been a myth after all, but it was Velindahl himself that really caught her undivided attention. His skin was like marble; stone painted with darkened veins that curled around his arms and down his body. His long hair sparkled like a waterfall of crystallized quartz, and his beard was equally extravagant. He must have been a sight to behold in the daylight, casting small rainbows all about him.

He sat tall upon his throne for the moment, refusing to bend down and make eye contact. “What is this?” he asked, motioning to Sariandi on the pedestal before him. “You bring me a live one? What use have I for such? Kill it and be done with the deed.”

“My King, please. This one claims that it has information for you regarding the whereabouts of Mon’ghora’s treasures. It wouldn’t tell any but you,” one of the Giants explained.

“Mon’ghora’s treasures?” King Velindahl lifted one of his brows, trying not to give away just how excited he was by the prospect. He inched forward and finally looked at Sariandi as though seeing her for the first time. “Is this true, beast? Do you have this information?”

“I do, great King. May I just say what a pleasure it is to finally make your acquaintance? I had heard stories of your majesty, but I am humbled seeing it in person for the first time,” Sariandi said with a smile. The best lies always came with a kernel of truth.

“Is that so?” The Giant King bristled with a bit of pride at the flattery. “Well now, most of your kind don’t share your keen senses.” He chuckled to himself, slowly blinking his large eyes. “How do you know Mon’ghora? What was your relationship?”

“I was one of her servants, your majesty. I helped take care of her family, and often aided her with family matters,” Sariandi replied. This too was not entirely a lie. As a friend and confidant, Sariandi had seen more of Mon’ghora’s personal life than most were privy to.

“Mmm-hmm,” the Giant mused, pinching his chin between his thumb and pointer finger. It was a boring relationship, so he had no reason to question its validity. “What do you want in exchange for this information? I assume you want something. Most do.”

Sariandi looked up at the Giant and tilted her head in the other direction. “I am not sure how much I can trust that my wishes will be granted. How am I to know that you or your kin will not just kill me when I have divulged my valuable secrets?”

Velindahl slammed a fist against his chest before pushing a hand back through his hair. “A good King always keeps his word.”

“Would you swear upon a standing stone?” Sariandi pressed. She knew that most folk were highly superstitious about the mysterious rocks, none more so than the Giants.

“I would,” Velindahl said sternly.

Sariandi nodded and bowed her head. “I should have known that the King of the Giants would be so generous and virtuous,” she said in praise, “not to mention strong.”

“It is often the strong that are in the position to offer mercy,” he bragged. “Come now. Tell me what you seek in exchange for Mon’ghora’s treasure.”

Sariandi paused a few moments to make it seem like she was deep in thought and carefully considering her desires. When at length she spoke again, she had one simple request. “I wish to see a demonstration of your strength, mighty King. How deep a hole could you punch into the ground in one go? I’m guessing at least a mile by the size of your arms. You’re probably even a better digger than me.”

“Child’s play,” the King scoffed, “But my word is my word and I will keep it.” He rose from his throne and plucked up Sariandi in his hand as he strode outside, placing her down when he came to a wide, flat place that he found suitable to her challenge. “Steady yourself, little beast,” he cautioned. He pulled his arm back and bent his elbow so that it stood above his head.  With a powerful yell, he drove his fist forward into the ground and shattered the rock beneath him. The earth moaned in pain as the wounds ran deep, but King Velindahl was laughing too hard to hear it. “See? The stories of my greatness rival the might of the Primals themselves!”

“Is that so? Wow! I’ve never met anyone as great as you,” Sariandi kept goading him on. “I bet you could beat one of those in a fight too, huh?”

“Of course I could!” Velindahl kept laughing, snorting air in through his nose. “No Primal could withstand the might of my fist! I can break mountains and shatter diamonds with my fingers!”

But Sariandi wasn’t the only one that heard the claim. Deep beneath the ground there stirred a force so ancient that it was there when the world was made. An Earth Primal had awoken, and it was not pleased with the wound it had already sustained from this Giant, nor the ensuing taunts and challenges.

All around Sariandi and the Giants the mountains began to groan and crack, shifting into earthen appendages. The world shook as it came alive, and those angry hands lashed out as a man might lash out at a bug. The mitts of stone pushed together and squished everything into their palms, destroying King Velindahl, his palace, his minions, and Sariandi all in one fell swoop. Where there was once a vibrant civilization of Giants and their skilled craftsmen, now there was only a stone tomb; and a mountain carved from their corpses.

The few Giants that did manage to survive that day surrendered to the Animal-kin and retreated into the mountains never to be seen again; humbled by the true power of nature. Sariandi’s people began to worship her as a hero after her death, learning of her deeds from the Giants that loathed her for this trickery and manipulation. All that was left of Giant-kind after that were bits and traces of their peoples; lost artifacts and swirling runes that can be found all over Voraniss to this day.

Advertisements

Elowen’s Story: By Gisella (Elowen) Aguirre

I can hear yelling in the distance. The smell of fire fills the air. In a haze, I sit up in my bed just as my father bursts through the door. He yells at me to wake my mother and sister and grab some provisions. I look behind him to the opening of the door to what seems like an all out massacre. I quickly dress and go to where my sister and mother were sleeping. My father grabs his bow and tells me goodbye. Confused at first, I understand what he means for us to do. I argue with him and tell him I want to help but he tells me that our safety is more important. I oblige. My mother, sister, and I sneak our way through the village as we see friends strewn about, slaughtered. Men, women, children, no one is spared. As we make our way to the forest, I look back and see my father fighting valiantly, he notices me and nods to me. I see a figure approach him, I have to stifle a scream as the sword goes through my fathers chest. I wake up covered in sweat. It had been a while since I dreamt about that night. 84 years to the date.

I was born in the mid-winter of the year 192 in a village a few miles south east of Corbach. My home was called Endora. We were a peaceful village deep in the woods. We were known for our hunting skills and our Lavender Mead. My father, Rowan, was the leader of our village hunting group. My mother, Illania, was one of the village’s seamstress’. Our family’s symbol was the stag, which was very fitting as our surname is Feenat, which means deer. In the spring of 214, my sister Lyhra was born. She was more like my mother and helped with sewing and cooking, while I looked up to my father more. To my mother’s objections, we would sneak off in the early morning and he would teach me how to hunt and the way of the sword. On my 100th birthday, my parents presented me with a necklace in the shape of a stag, made by my father. My mother gifted me a beautiful dress, and Lyhra gave me a sundial compass. Things were quiet, peaceful, and happy until the night of autumn 933.

I was able to get my mother and sister out safely and ran into some of the other villagers as well. It seemed there were not many of us that managed to escape. We kept walking while the fires of Endora lit the sky. I have no idea how long we walked till we found a place safe enough to rest. I, along with two other women took shifts keeping watch while the others managed to sleep. I prayed to our god Rillifane Rallathil for protection of our people, and fell asleep. The sun piercing through the trees is what woke me up. We managed to find berries and went hunting for food, thanking Solonor Thelandira, our god of the hunt, when I caught a wild boar and some wild rabbits. After everyone was fed, we preceded to venture forth deeper into the woods. We came upon an area that was well hidden and decided to set up there. We managed to live there for a good seventeen years, then decided to keep moving. We became nomads and lived within the woods for the next sixty seven years.

This morning, after waking up from that nightmare, I went out exploring for our next location and noticed smoke in the distance. My curiosity got the better of me and I found myself making my way towards it. As I neared the source, I could hear fighting. I made my way up into the trees to get a better view and assess the situation. A pair of goblins were attacking a caravan. There was a tall burly man, a dwarf, and a magician alongside 3 other men fighting the creatures. I inched my way closer to them and snapped one of the branches, which caught the attention of one of the goblins. As it began charging towards me, and I jumped out of the tree sword in hand. I defeated the goblin with little difficulty, keeping to my fathers discipline and immediately ran to the aid of the rest of the group. Together we are able to defeat all of the goblins. The tall man introduced himself as Cronin the Barbarian, who seems to be the leader, the dwarf is named Helkias the Blackraven,  the magician is Ruthade, and the other two are named Critta and Quatra. Odd names for an odd bunch. They told me they are on their way to Rhiassa and Cronin invites me to come along. He claims he is in need of more swords. I tell them that I am grateful for the invitation and that I just need to gather some personal belongings and then I promptly returned to my mother and sister. I made it back to our hideout and when I told them about my encounter I could see my mother get upset. She argues that I should stay out of the outsider’s troubles and it would be better if I stayed with her, safe and secure. I tell her that our people need protection and that regardless of her thoughts, I would be going. She walks away from me as I try to say farewell. My sister, with a sad look in her eyes, agrees with my point. She hugs me goodbye and hands me a satchel full of provisions as I tell her to take care of mother and head back to the men. Corellion give me strength I pray as I wave to the men upon my return.

Understanding the Broken Spears Treaty with Voraniss: By Adrian Cronin(The Barbarian) and Renee Booke aka Mouse

At Tournaments of Creathorne this year, while nations took to the field to establish their prowess in combat, other interesting things were going on. The Broken Spears and the nation of Voraniss were busy signing a treaty. To understand this document, and the story behind it, one must first understand the parties involved.

The Broken Spears were formally a group of refugees from the land of Corbach. The prominent members of the company range from a rebellious street magician to a secretive scholar. From peasant farmer to elven ranger. The one thing they had in common was an enemy. And this enemy was born of political corruption and tyranny.

Things in Corbach slowly degraded in the decades before the rebellion. Taxes and tariffs became so cumbersome that many businesses were forced to close. Their military was involved in so many conflicts that it seemed their soldiers would never come home. As tempers began to rise, curfews were instated and traveling at night on the road was punishable by death. This and many other burdens fell upon the people of Corbach. But it was the death of their King, and all of his heirs which ignited the rebellion to its greatest heights.

The rebellion had no true leader, but instead was organized through a series of secret correspondences which were organized and directed by persons unknown to this day. But one particular group grew too large to hide and too dangerous to ignore. This group of war veterans, highwaymen and freedom fighters began raiding the homes and estates of the new Corbach royalty. Burning down fields of crops that they knew fed the incredibly large Corbach military. Causing disruption and devastation with each passing victory. They were precise, efficient and savage. But as their momentum grew, so did the response from Corbach. Through propaganda and fear mongering, it was the very citizens the rebellion was fighting to protect who became Corbach’s greatest weapon.

Once their location was known, it was only a matter of time. Their camp was burned, their men slaughtered or worse captured and made example of. Most of the rebels whose identities remained secret, returned to normal lives within the country, where they would wait for the spark of rebellion to return. Unfortunately for some, their methods were a bit too ostentatious as well as their appearances to hide in plain sight. Plus many of them had no homes to return to. And so, with the threat of imprisonment or worse at their heels, the rebellion was squashed and scores became refugees fleeing to the south.

The greatest and wisest among them rose to leadership positions within the caravan. The burden being shared by three men. Cronin the Barbarian, a great warrior from the rebellion stood as a figurehead. His judgment and level headedness had seen the rebellion through hard times. It was he who promised to find those who followed a new home for which to settle. Helkias the Blackraven, was nothing short of a legend within the rebellion. He used his wits to keep the group well supplied and well armed, and trained those who were willing, in the ways of battle. Matthew had lost more than any man or woman in the caravan. His origins were known only to Helkias and Cronin. Matthew elected to keeping people fed and healthy. More than anything, he lifted the spirits of the refugees.

The road through the lands to the south was fraught with peril. It seemed each new land they visited was plagued by undead or worse. As many of the refugees began to take up the sword and join the front lines of these conflicts, Cronin began to see potential where burden once stood. And so Cronin the Barbarian, with Helkias Blackraven as his second, formed, “The Broken Spears Free Company.” The Company fought alongside the heroes of the realms in many battles and finally found promise when Cronin met with Hygar and Kindrianna Athame and found that they could assist one another for the mutual gain of both their peoples.

 

It was at this junction, that Hygar and Cronin forged the bond that would change the fates of both of their peoples.

 

Voraniss, although a relatively young nation, had seen hardship in recent days when the Shadowlands rose up from the ocean. The small city of Kenkilit had been destroyed by this process, and consumed by mountains and spikes of land. What was left of it was certainly natural, defensible territory, but Hygar’s attention was focused on other issues. The population of his lands was growing quickly, and with trouble brewing in the neighboring country of New Verai; not to mention the threat of the Night Pack, the Archdruid had his hands full.

At its heart, Voraniss was a place with great affinity for magic, ritual, and respect for the natural order. These values allowed the forest’s denizens to live in harmony with the wilderness around them, but also gave them compassion for those creatures and beings without a home. This is what Hygar and Kindrianna saw in the Broken Spears when their Free Company of refugees first arrived.
After much deliberation and discussion, Hygar offered The Spears what remained of the Keep and surrounding territory of Kenkilit. This mountain refuge was severely damaged, and in desperate need of repair and occupation, less it becomes a staging ground for some invading force. The Spears, in turn, offered protection to Voraniss and now act as its first line of defense in the event of war from their neighbors from the east.

Autonomy was freely given to the Spears, as long as they followed the laws of the land. However, seeing the opportunity to unify the two groups, Hygar also included a clause in the treaty which would deepen their relations. Should half or more of the Broken Spears decide to settle in Voraniss and pledge themselves to Hygar, then Cronin would rise to the position of “Druid of the Circle”, which is the ruling council beneath Hygar, Kindrianna and Gavin. This would allow Cronin to look out for his people and continue on as their Commander. No one could have predicted that the groups would get along as well as they did, for not a day had passed before Cronin was granted the title, though ceremonies and rites still remained.

And so it stands. The Broken Spears stand vigil in the east. Offering protection to the people of Voraniss while restoring Kenkilit to its former glory. Many adventures still await the great nation of Voraniss as well as many perils, but they will be met with the full fury of the Broken Spears and the Druidic Circle of Voraniss!

 

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.

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.