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!
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.
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.
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.
As the packs within Voraniss began to intermingle, wolves who had spent generations in complete ignorance of each other were sharing their culture and finding common ground. Great warriors were learning how to use their beast blood to heal others instead of just themselves. Members of the nocturnal pack, who grew up without any human comforts, were trying their first sips of ale and many of them were wearing clothes for the first time in their lives.
This brought the Druidic Circle within Voraniss great joy. For though Voraniss was host to a number of magical creatures and human settlers, if the wolves rejected the inclusive goals of the Voraniss hierarchy then the forest would surely fall back into chaos before long.
Within the great gathering of Alphas, Hygar sat at a large round table shoulder to shoulder with the leaders of the Voraniss packs. The table had been modeled after one of Hygar’s favorite legends. He had invited Gundulf and a few of the other settlers there as guests to get a chance to meet their neighbors and to make their faces and scents known in case they wandered off where they shouldn’t.
There was one seat at the table which remained empty. Ominously so. No one seemed to pay it any mind. Although the many alphas were packed tight at times, leaning in to have words with one another, they avoided entering even the space which the chair occupied.
In front of the chair was an empty plate and glass; perfectly clean, pristine even, all set for a guest that would never come.
Gundulf took note of the strange behavior and assumed, that like many things within Voraniss, it was something routed in superstition. So of course after a few drinks when the Moot turned into a celebration, Gundulf wanted to see how close he could get to the chair and measure everyone’s reactions.
And so first he bumped into it. Seemingly no one in the room paid any mind.
After a few more drinks, he leaned on it. A few Alphas saw him, but made no real outward reaction toward him.
And finally, he decided to make his move. Gundulf lifted his foot up and untied his boot stealthily. He then walked up to the empty chair, pulled it out, sat on it and began tying his shoe.
The room didn’t exactly fall silent, but the change in volume was obvious. As many of the other wolves looked to one another, some in astonishment, some in amusement and others in anger.
One gaze had been fixed on Gundulf throughout this entire escapade. Hygar Athame. But apart from a dead stare from across the room, even Hygar didn’t make public comment.
When the meeting had ended and many of the wolves were running off into the night, Gundulf gathered himself and prepared to head back to his grove where he was building his home. But before he was able to stumble out the door, Hygar put a firm hand on his shoulder. He then spoke to him very sternly.
“When you get home, pack your things. I’ll be there to collect you in the morning,” Hygar stated without a hint of emotion.
“Come on… is this about the chair? No one seemed to mind!” Gundulf yelled to a Hygar who was already gone and paying him little mind.
And so, Gundulf traveled home to his grove. Electing to walk in human form this night, enjoying the stark beauty that was Voraniss. He couldn’t believe he’d jeopardized his place in his newfound home. Utter despair washed over him and he slept not a wink.
When morning came Hygar arrived with Mouse. Both seemed in a chipper mood, laughing and gossiping as they made their way towards Gundulf’s camp. Gundulf didn’t know whether to be offended or relieved by the revelry that he heard approaching.
“All of my things are packed. I’m so sorry for offending you, Hygar, and I’ve made my peace that I will be leaving my Voraniss adventure… a bit sooner than I had hoped.” A terribly exhausted and anxious Gundulf stated while trying to appear stoic, if not for the visible tears in his eyes.
Hygar and Mouse looked at each other and burst into laughter.
“You aren’t being banished, Gundulf. And it isn’t Hygar you’ve offended,” said Mouse.
They then explained to Gundulf that there was one pack that was afforded a seat on the Alpha council that chooses not to attend. But that the seat remains empty as a sign of respect.
“Well why couldn’t you have just said as much?” asked Gundulf.
“This Pack has a very ancient way of viewing transformation and even the world at large. There are as many opinions about their way of life as there are wolves in Voraniss. We make it a rule not to bring up an unrepresented pack without their presence. It keeps the meeting’s integrity intact and fosters respect between the Alphas,” explained Hygar.
Gundulf held his face in his hand. His mischievous nature had gotten him into trouble before, especially where drinking was involved, but usually he had the upper hand in these matters.
“So I’ll take you as far as the mountain path, then you are going to apologize to their elder. You are not to return home until you’ve apologized and made amends. Please take this seriously Gundulf, for if you return without things being set right you will have to leave Voraniss. We can’t risk destabilizing everything we’ve built for one wolf’s pride,” said Hygar.
The three of them marched off into the woods for what would be a full day’s journey, which for Gundulf was a nightmare. Having had no rest the night before and still very little understanding of where he was going, not to mention the hangover! To Mouse and Hygar’s dismay he was uncharacteristically quiet on the journey. But Mouse and Hygar treated it as any other day, a beautiful walk through the woods within their borders.
It was nightfall when they finally made camp at the bottom of the great mountain.
“Are you going to tell me anything about these wolves? Are they friendly?” Asked Gundulf as he chewed on a bit of bread he had brought with him.
“All will be revealed in the morning,” said Hygar, poking the fire.
Mouse sat staring at the moon and singing a song in elvish. Gundulf didn’t speak elvish, to his dismay, for the song was quite beautiful. He was able to make out the words “Luna” and “Gaia,” for the names of gods had often had a way of transcending language.
Gundulf passed out almost as soon as his head hit his pillow.
When morning came he awoke to an empty camp site. Apparently he’d slept through breakfast for the first time in his life. In the dirt there was a huge arrow drawn pointing towards a narrow path up the mountain. Also, he found a small parchment wrap filled with a biscuit, bacon and a few sardines folded far too eloquently to have been folded by Hygar.
“Vandor! God of vengeance and breakfast!” Gundulf heard himself yell a bit too loud in excitement. For a moment he feared Mouse may have heard him…
Gundulf ate his breakfast and began his long hike up the mountain.
The Asena Pack, though not the oldest pack in Voraniss, was one of hardest for Hygar to convince to join his newfound nation. These wolves had taken to the darkest aspects of their nature. They would raid the villages both within the wilderness of Voraniss as well as outlying neighbors.
Many of their Pack were the remnants of what was once known as Darkspire. Without a diplomatic purpose most armies break, giving into desertion and infighting; but the bonds of the pack are not so easily cast aside. And so when the strongest of the wolves arose, a bitten lycan General by the name of Brutus, the pack was given purpose once more.
As Brutus grew bolder, even building ships in order to raid the coast of faraway nations, a different wolf was organizing the other packs.
This wolf was, of course, Hygar Athame; the future Arch Druid of what would come to be known as Voraniss. Hygar knew that Brutus was getting out of control, but did not yet have the numbers to challenge him directly. And so Brutus attacked the many strongholds of neighboring nations; never returning to the same place twice, swelling his ranks with the bravest of warriors from each nation and preparing for the conquest of the Darkspire wilderness.
It was not until Brutus began to turn his warriors back towards the peaceful villages within Voraniss that Hygar knew he was out of time. For Hygar’s counterpart, Mouse, had witnessed the destruction of one of the villages. Hygar knew if he did not act quickly, that numbers be dammed, she would be bringing the purging light of Vandor to the Asena tribe.
So he mustered what he could of his ever growing Druidic pack and called upon as many allies as he was able before meeting Brutus on the battlefield.
On the eve of the battle, the full moon rose. And something did not feel right in Hygar’s gut. There was a stillness in the air, and it wasn’t long before he heard the howling of Brutus’ first wave. Mouse was already at the vanguard with a sizeable force of Vandorian Templars who had answered her call, and they were cutting a bloody swatch through the front line of the Asena pack. Hygar decided to tap into his growing mastery of nature and discern a path to Brutus himself. Oddly enough, Brutus was attempting the same thing towards Hygar, hoping to slay Hygar and swell his ranks with limited loss of future minions.
Hygar transformed fully and charged off towards Brutus, spotting him long before Brutus had been able to focus his senses. When Hygar landed in a crash before the General and his bodyguards, much of the battle came to a pause upon hearing the magically infused roar that Hygar blasted in Brutus’ direction.
Hygar was by far the largest wolf any of the lycans had ever seen. While the Asena pack looked forward in awe, Brutus’ rage doubled and his body cracked and distorted into the form of a hideous, drooling wolf with shambles of cracked armor adorning his menacing body.
The two clashed ferociously, smashing and splintering nearby trees. The battle lasted many hours with most of the wolves of either side looking on in amazement.
Alas, Hygar was outmatched in terms of sheer martial prowess. Brutus had been a veteran of countless wars across the years. But Hygar carried the blessings of many of the totem spirits this day and, unbeknownst to him, the favor of both Gaia and Luna. The longer the fight lasted, the stronger he became, and the faster he seemed to be regenerating. Finally Brutus, covered in blood and patched fur, including a nasty wound across his eye which looked to be permanent, fell to his knees and told Hygar to finish it.
For a moment, drunk off of battle, Hygar considered ending Brutus and taking control of this massive pack. With an army this size Hygar could shake the realms to its very core. But this was the corruption of Darkspire. A corruption which had distorted many of these beautiful creatures into the monsters that now stood here before him.
Hygar walked toward Brutus slowly, shifting effortlessly without slowing pace, and placed Brutus’ head in his hands. As Hygar’s hands laid upon him, Brutus’ many wounds began to heal. Even his mangled eye. Taking a cue from their master, the many Druids began to heal and resurrect the fallen warriors of either side.
Brutus could not comprehend such mercy. A mixture of shame and humility washed over him and seemingly without notice, he felt his head bend into a bow.
Hygar allowed Brutus command over the Asena pack, but peace would be brokered between all the packs within Voraniss. Their differences celebrated with their wolves free to choose which pack to follow. All Alphas would report to Hygar and they would unite in times of conflict and strife.
Many of the Asena pack broke off and joined with packs better fitting their values and customs. The need to follow strength now a choice instead of a necessity.