Category Archives: Monsters

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.

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Legends of Voraniss: Mon’ghora the Sky Boar

Unlike the tales of Osag and Riel’iefyr, the story of Mon’ghora isn’t about the heroic deeds of some Man or Elf. Her story reminds us that there are ancient places upon this earth where humanoids still fight for power against the mighty primordial beasts that once controlled the world. You see, Mon’ghora was not in fact a person, but an enormous boar that towered over six feet high. In her prime she was a walking boulder; a huge creature with jagged tusks and an angry squeal that could split the heavens when she was in a foul mood.

Many hunters tried to slay her, but they always met with disaster. Her toughened hide turned away their spears like harmless children’s toys, and her charge could not be halted by any wall they could build. Her ferocity went unmatched, and she became a Queen of the forest like no other as warriors of every specie fell in line behind her as a sign of respect.

Unfortunately for Mon’ghora, her great power invited the envy of the Giants. It was they, with their great height and close proximity to the clouds, who should command the hearts of the masses they believed. In secret they plotted, keeping an eye on Mon’ghora and her followers so that they might strike when the time was right.

One day when Mon’ghora and her people were traveling close to the Calandia mountain pass, the Giants attacked. Some of them covered the exit to the pass with huge rocks along with their bodies; trying to prevent escape. The other Giants had climbed up the cliffs, looking down upon the trapped Animal-kin and various humanoids that usually traveled beside the Queen Boar, as they lifted logs and enormous stones like projectile weapons.

Protectively, Mon’ghora urged her followers to run back the way they had come and away from the trap the Giants had sprung…but she was not to go with them. Never one to back down from a fight, the she-Boar turned angrily to face the barricade that had been constructed before her and used her own body to plug up the pass and prevent the giants on the ground from pursuing those that fled.

Stomping her hooves into the dirt, the earth began to shake and tremble beneath her. Several Giants tumbled down from the cliffside and crashed into the rock below where they were buried beneath an angry landslide. Mon’ghora didn’t stop there. The mighty creature began to scream and squeal, causing her remaining opponents to cover their ears in desperation.

Sensing the weakness of her enemies, Mon’ghora charged forth as she mustered all the fierce and righteous rage that she could. Panicking at the sight, the first Giant in her path lowered his spear to skewer her; but the weapon snapped upon impact and she gored him through the legs on her way by. Blood littered the ground of the mountain pass and Giants dove out of her way as fast as they could; terrified that they too would be on the receiving end of her furious punishment.

Unable to see clearly through the haze of mayhem, the last Giant in her path saw her coming only when she was already on top of him. He didn’t have enough time to raise his weapon, so he did the only thing he could think of in the heat of the moment. The Giant grabbed Mon’ghora by the tusks and started to swing her. Round and round he spun until he was so dizzy that he could no longer see straight. Nauseous and drunk with terror he let out a fatalistic scream of his own as he finally released her.

Up into the air Mon’ghora went sailing, boring a hole through the clouds and sky. The friction of the fast moving wind upon her skin caused her to combust into flames, but still she didn’t stop charging. This was how the sun was born the locals tell me. Each day you can see Mon’ghora running around the world as she eternally chases the Giants that dared defy her, and each day she disappears for a short while as the world mourns her departure to the heavens and the sky turns dark with despair.

Some of the Orcs tell the story a little differently. They say that Mon’ghora only went berserk in the pass because she was trying to protect her family and infant child. They also suggest that they are descended from her, the peoples that were chosen to carry on her bloodline of strength and unwavering ferocity in the heat of battle. It might explain their cultural attitudes, and maybe even their tusks. Unfortunately, there aren’t any Orcs alive today, which we know of, that were around during the time this legend began.

Either way, the story is an interesting one and showed us just how much respect still exists within our lands for the once powerful Queen.

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.

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.