Nahast: Chronicles of the Fifth Age

Legends and tales in a world of ancient magic, by Alejandro Melchor & AngelChyld

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The Book of Turning: The Demon Paw

Ollin Amo’xiu - The Demon Paw

Mortals worship spirits and gods, devoting their faith and reverence knowingly and thus giving their deities the power they need to fulfil their divine tasks. The beasts of the land do not know how to worship, but they too have gods that protect them; their essence, all that they are, echoes and coalesces into a being of raw power, a Beastlord.

Beastlords embody all the power of the animals they protect, taking their qualities to mythical heights. Eagle can spot Its prey from the other side of the world, while a swipe from Bear’s claws can topple entire forests if It so chooses.

Few have witnessed the anger of a Beastlord and lived to tell about it. Most people have glimpsed that anger when the animals the Beastlord rules over turn unruly and bold. But for all the savagery and might a Beastlord can bring to bear, there is only one moment in history when the Beastlords went to war.

When the armies of the Demon Princes swept throughout the lands, the Beastlords simply did as they always did: roam the land to protect the animals and the wild, with no concern for the suffering of the people at the hands of the demons. Eventually, when the gods finally routed the evil hordes, the surviving demons sought refuge by possessing the bodies of animals and plants, hoping the gods would not find them there. The gods mostly did not, but this action enraged the Beastlords and it became their turn to fight.

Demons fled the mortals and gods, only to find their escape cut short by the Beastlords. Hawk descended from the skies to shred demons apart with Its scythe-like talons, Stag jumped from the thickest parts of the forest to impale them on Its hardened antlers. But there was no more avid a warrior amongst the Beastlords than Wolf.

Where many Beastlords fought alone, Wolf commanded armies of its followers, normal wolves and beastfolk alike who hunted in packs, harrying the demons and picking them one by one whether they walked the mortal world or faded into the Dreamlands of the wilderness.

The fleeing demons learned to be afraid when they heard howling; they knew that their doom was sealed if any wolf found them, for soon Wolf would be alerted of their presence and he would not rest until It caught up and led the attack on their numbers.

On a harsh winter night, the demon general Ra’ka’uk the Infectious ordered his servants to cross a vast expanse of snowy plains. Their numbers were greatly diminished after a battle with Argizar, god of hunts, and his army of rangers and marksmen, and they had taken possession of a herd of deer, hiding under the unfortunate animals’ hides and twisting their essence from the inside. While they crossed, they heard howling in the distance, and the general ordered them to hurry.

True to his demonic nature, the only options that Ra’ka’uk could see were to keep running or to fight. He chose to fight, forming his demons in a tight formation to repel the onslaught of the wolves that was soon to come. Ra’ka’uk ordered the outer line to defend, while the inner line would jump from the bodies of the deer to those of the attacking wolves.

The battle did not go as planned. The wolves came, definitely, but they stayed just out of range of the demons’ spears, pacing in a wide circle that kept them away from Ra’ka’uk’s magic. And they surrounded the demons, snarling and howling. The demons charged, but the wolves scattered without a single loss, only to return just as the demons were preparing to march.

Ra’ka’uk got angry and shouted curses and obscenities at the wolves, but the beasts did not react, they just waited.

Unable to move under the threat of attack, the demons grew desperate. The two that broke ranks to try to escape through the circle were immediately caught and torn apart so fast that they did not even have time to try and possess their attackers. Any larger maneuver caused the wolves to disperse and regroup further away.

After a maddening week of this treatment, Ra’ka’uk was ready to order a full charge to break their trap when all the wolves sat straight and howled. From the snowy fields, the form of their Beastlord emerged, ready for the final assault after directing Its followers to wear down the demons’ morale.

As foolish as he had been driven, Ra’ka’uk charged at Wolf, and his demons followed. The wolves ran and circled and tore the demons’ rear guard as Wolf Itself tackled Ra’ka’uk, only to leave him on the ground to grind lesser demons into the snow. Three times Ra’ka’uk tried to engage in single combat, three times Wolf ignored him to keep killing the rest.

Wolf only answered the challenge when his goal was met. Of the demonic army, only Ra’ka’uk remained, the snow stained a sickly green from the demons’ tainted blood. No insult or dare would deter the master hunter from Its intended purpose.

The duel was fierce and brutal. Wolf commanded his beasts to stay back, for this was a battle only for gods. They fought for the whole day, infernal power against primordial might. Wolf clamped Its jaws around a fold of skin and tore off the deer body off Ra’ka’uk’s essence, exposing the demon to the world. The demon unfolded to its great height and hideous body but Wolf did not relent.

Ra’ka’uk realized, much too late, that it was night when Wolf pulled his false skin off, and the moon was rising over the mountains. He knew that, come midnight, the god Argizar would see him, and he would be as good as dead. Wolf grinned ferally, and the demon knew this had been Its plan all along.

Ra’ka’uk tried to flee, but Wolf cut his path short every time, forcing him to fight. All the wolves were in a circle too far for him to try to possess, so he locked gazes with Wolf and tried to displace Its soul from Its body. He recoiled in pain and surprise, for a Beastlord is a spirit incarnate, the sum of the essence of its beasts from all around the world, and thus the spirit is the same as the body. Wolf was angered by this attempt and lunged, clasping the demon’s neck between Its jaws.

The moon shone bright then, reaching the zenith of its travels, and the eye of Argizar set upon the land. The god of the Moon noticed the battle and cast down a spear of moonlight right through the demon’s heart, shattering its essence. Before he disappeared from the world, Ra’ka’uk mouthed a curse at Wolf and all Its kind.

Wolf ordered all Its creatures to disperse, but not out of fear. It was confident in Its powers to protect the wolves from whatever curse the demon had managed to cast. It was on the following full moon that Wolf realized that It had not escaped unscathed from the battle. Its right paw began to itch, no matter how many times It washed it in the purest of streams. It had a sour taste when It licked the nonexistent wound.

Wolf was worried. It was not a mystic like Owl, but It knew enough of the demons’ taint to smell Ra’ka’uk on Its paw. The demon had not been able to possess Wolf’s mighty form, but apparently his curse was a disease. Wolf, as pragmatic as any Beastlord, did the natural thing and chewed Its paw off before the infection spread and It became a demon Itself. Wolf knew that the last thing the world needed was for all wolves to become demonic thralls through the corruption of their Beastlord.

Loathe to eat the chewed-off limb, Wolf buried it and thought nothing of it after that. It limped away, knowing that its paw would grow again for a Beastlord was always whole.

The diseased paw, though, did not stay buried. Stirring by its corruption it clawed itself out from under the dirt and snow and ran off, moved by demonic will and containing just enough of Wolf’s essence to be dangerous.

Soon enough, a disease spread slowly across the land: mortals would come in contact with the demonic paw and become possessed of a tainted wolvish nature, and they would change into an insane wolf-like thing to sow the destruction and pain Ra’ka’uk so cherished when he walked the world during the Demon Wars. These monsters, neither beasts nor demonspawn, could only be harmed by the same weapon that killed Ra’ka’uk: silver, the metal that represents Argizar’s shafts of moonlight.

– o –

This story is originally from the Northern provinces of Solerne, but it has been adapted as it traveled southwards. While the original story features Wolf and the Solernian Moon god Argizar, regional versions attribute this legend to Bear or Jaguar and their own lunar deities. The Whanau halflings tell a version of the story that features Shark, while the Iron Baronies instead use Rat as the protagonist. As matters of the Dreamlands go, all of these versions might be equally true. The only hard fact about this story is the existance of the curse of lycanthropy, with lycanthropes of all kind gaining the immediate enmity of all common animals, animal spirits and beastfolk alike.

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