“A very rare form of lycanthropy is mutation into a
wolf. This should not, however, be confused with the
legendary lore of werewolves. A wolfling, as commonly called
by mystics, this lycanthrope is a product of fusion of a
werewolf and a wolf by a group of mad alchemists and
wizards. Three quarters wolf blood, this animal is a blood
thirsty, vicious killer that by bite can repopulate its own
kind. A sort of venomous substance will, on contact with its
victim, begin the incredible transformation of man to near
wolf. This ferocious, large creature has been know to bring
beasts as large as bears to the ground with sheer strength
alone. Being an intelligent creature, a wolfling will
selectively attack and kill only those it can not convert to
its own species…”
-Ilyan, alchemist to King Dillas of Gledon, “A Discourse
on Alchemy, Magic and the Consequences of Their Use”,
“It has come to my attention that in centuries past more
myth has been developed around the prospect of a man
becoming a wolf than of the actual strength of the Fretheod
Empire. Being a historian, I feel that I do not need to
exaggerate the facts, as often done by Bards, and as a
scientist, I feel I can understand the facts that lie in
this terrible affliction.
“Let me begin by saying that there is no such creature
as a werewolf. A transformation of a human (or any other)
body to creature such as that is simply impossible,
particularly two times in one night. A wolfling, on the
other hand is a diseased man that over a long period of time
becomes a wolf.
“My personal research and experimentation has shown that
such a transition is possible, though not for all creatures,
to experience the mutation specified above. Let me reprint,
for your information an excerpt from the journal of perhaps
the first man to come across the condition described:
“…I can no longer discern between what is real and
what is not. My dreams have become primitive in nature and
bloodthirsty in content. I feel myself slowly going mad.
“The potion I created weeks ago to cure the madness dogs
carry works, but it also adjusts the organisms that imbibe
it to that of a dog. Already the animals that I experimented
on died of the severe changes to their metabolisms. Their
fate did not become mine. Though cured of one disease, I
carry the other. My skin is becoming grey and covered by
thicker hair. I noticed that my teeth are much sharper and I
am growing fangs. Yesterday I woke up to blood, carnage and
a partially gnawed animal in my house. The blood on the
floor was also on my hands and face.
“To these ends, I am leaving my home, to live out my
life in the woods as far from human life as possible. I feel
that if I do not find a cure soon, I may become the father
of a new ‘human’ race…”
“This was written by Aran Leigh, an alchemist in the
city of Kevra.
“There is no longer evidence of the potion or its
ingredients that are mentioned, but it is quite clear that
the disease is in no way supernatural or a wrath of the
Gods. It is simply an infection that can be transmitted from
one individual to another, such as a cold. While not being
one hundred per cent certain of the precise methods of
transfer, I feel I can unerringly say that by the transfer
of body fluids, such as when bitten, would successfully
“The disease itself can take anywhere from a few months
to a full year to come to completion. In its progress, the
only species known not to die before the process is
completed, is humans. Perhaps it is because of stubbornness
to live or that the original potion was designed to work on
humans only, but all other animals for which a record of
this disease exists, died very quickly. Humans infected most
often go mad from the striking changes they go through in
the progress of the mutation…”
-Bistra, head chronicler, city of Shakin, “The Realities
of Myths”, pages 33-37.
Rien jumped off his horse near a squeaky old cart labled ‘Salamagundi Stew’. Its owner was busy with a sailor, making a sale and took little notice of Rien, who in his turn became fascinated with a monkey sitting atop the stew cart. He carefully put out his hand in front of the animal, allowing it to examine his riding glove. The monkey pulled at his fingers and uttered a loud scream.
“Looks like Skeebo doesn’t like the animal that gave up its hide for that glove.”
“Skeebo?” Rien looked up at the preprietor, puzzled.
“The monkey! I’m Simon Salamagundi. What can I do for you?”
“Ah!” Simon exclaimed. “Regular, sweet and sun-sweet. Which will it be?”
Rien looked at the three kettles, as a sailor approached at the side. “A sweet stew, Simon!” the man exclaimed.
With an adroit move Simon scooped up a bowl and handed it to the sailor, not once changing his focus of attention. The sailor paid to Skeebo and left.
“Regular,” Rien said. “Seems to be the least traveled of the lot.”
“Least traveled because it’s so regular,” Simon smiled, picking up a bowl.
Skeebo screamed as Rien was violently pushed aside by a running girl. Simon stretched out the bowl of stew as Rien regained his balance. “On the house,” he said, seeing Rien reaching for his pouch with coins. “She’s got it,” he pointed to the girl moving through the crowd. “Just take the stew and forget her.”
“Watch my horse,” Rien growled, his crystal eyes fading to grey.
“I wouldn’t if I were you…” Simon called after him, but Rien’s heart was already set on his action. He chased the girl across the docks and into a maze of alleys. She did not seem aware of him, but this did not mean his guard could be let down.
Rien drew his long dagger on the run, following the girl into a less than respectible neighborhood. What did Simon mean ‘forget about her’? The answer was just around the corner.
Making the turn, Rien spotted three well armed cut throats blocking his advance to the girl. She dangled his purse in a teasing, you-won’t-get-it manner and Rien reached for his sword.
“This isn’t worth it,” he thought aloud, realizing his sword is was still strapped on his horse. “Damn fool!”
“Ain’t worth it’s right,” one of the cut throats uttered in a drunken voice. “No challange at all!” and threw his sword to Rien.
“Still ain’t no challange!” the second thug roared. His laughter ended in a cry of pain as the ‘borrowed’ sword cut deep into his side.
The third rogue charged Rien in frenzied anger. His charge was cut short by the dagger. Rien took his time letting the wounded man slide off the blade. He stared at the one who gave up his sword. “LEAVE” and the man charged past him like a bat out of hell.
“Next time pick friends who are not drunk,” Rien turned to the girl. “If there is a next time.” He slowly advanced towards the girl, who now backed herself into a wall.
A few more steps and…
A sharp pain spread through his leg and Rien spun around, letting out an abrupt cry. The grey in his eyes disolved to his normal shade of crystal blue. He grasped his calf, coming nose to muzzle with a growling dog. He swung his dagger, losing his balance, but avoided being bit again by the dog. Rien rolled and stood up, expecting to be attacked, but was surprised to see the animal lying on the ground with a crossbow bolt in its side. Down the alley a town guardsman lowered his weapon as three people rushed past him. Two were dressed in town guard uniforms, but the third was elderly and dressed in lose fitting clothing.
The man knelt over the dog and produced a white sphere that begun to glow green after a short chant. “This is the animal,” he stood up and looked at the guards. “Dispose of it. Burn it.”
One of the guards pulled out a sack and started wraping the dog, while the other two looked over the alley. “What happend here?” a guard asked Rien, who was diligently searching the other end of the alley for the girl. Both she and his money were gone.
“I was ambushed while taking a shortcut.”
The guard nodded. “There’s a reward for the capture of those two, you know.”
Rien shrugged. “I wasn’t aware of that. There were three of them. This is the last man’s sword.”
The guard took the weapon and looked it over. Not finding anything distinct in it, he passed it to one of the other guards. “Burn the dog and find a physician who’ll treat them,” he instructed.
“What’s with the dog?” Rien asked.
“It did not hurt you, did it?” the guard asked and called the old man over.
“No, no it didn’t, but shooting it and burning its body on such a suspicion does seem a bit extreme.”
“Burning a creature diseased with lycanthropy is no crime,” the old man said to Rien as he approached. “A lycanthrope’s bite makes others into lycanthropes.”
“You mean like those stories about men turning into werewolfs and howling at the moon?”
“That IS a myth. Being a wolfling is not.”
Rien made a mental note to check into this later and accepting the small reward, bid them farewell.
He returned to the spot where he last saw the girl and scanned the area again. She could have left in any direction, while he was struggling with the dog. No chance of finding her now.
As Rien was preparing to leave, he heard a voice behind him and spun about. The grey haired wizard was still standing in the alley.
“The dog bit you.” The old man’s words were a statement.
“Who are you?” Rien asked.
“Taishent, the mage,” the man bowed low.
“Yes, the dog bit me. What’s it to you?”
“Why so hostile? You will need my council if you are to survive,” the wizard said and again produced the white sphere. The glow about it was faint green. “You have the disease. You have only a few months.”
“All this wolfling-werewolf talk strikes me as stories for children, not a sickness.”
“When magic goes bad, it becomes a curse,” the wizard responded. “You do believe in magic?” he asked and not waiting for an answer, turned to leave.
“Is there a cure?” Rien stopped the old man, not quite ready to believe that he would be howling at the moon a few months down the road, but wanting to know more.
“If there was, I would have given it to that poor animal. I wish you luck.” He walked out of the alley and disppeared down the street.
An hour later Rien found Simon’s stew cart and his horse. Skeebo was jumping up and down in the saddle, with the realization that a hard enough landing would make the horse stir.
The surprised Simon looked at a smiling Rien.
“Regular, please,” Rien said and handed a coin to Skeebo. The monkey jumped off the horse and handed the pay to Simon.
“Good show,” the vendor laughed. “Not many get their money back from her.”
“Many aren’t persistant,” Rien grinned. He may not have gotten HIS money back, but was working on it. “What’s her deal anyway?”
“I’m sure you know every town has some problems,” Simon began. “Dargon just happens to have a monopoly on them. Kera, the girl who took your purse, is the legal ward of Lord Liriss, who is rumored to be the man behind a lot of the crime in this town. I’d watch out for his men. Bad things happen to those who cross him, I hear.”
“Why doesn’t the local Duke do anything about the problem?” Rien shifted, sipping the spicy stew.
“What can he do? Lord Dargon is rumored to have enough problems of his own. Liriss is but a small problem compared to what is really going on in this town.”
“And what is really going on?” inquired Rien.
Simon looked about uncomfortably. “They say there is an assassination plot against Lord Dargon. There’ve been some deaths in nobility recently. Slowly, but surely, the assassins are getting closer to him.”
“Sounds like the town guard has its hands very full…” Rien said.
“It’s only a rumor,” Simon replied. “What’s your interest in Dargon anyway? What do you do?”
Now it was Rien’s turn to look about uncomfortably. “Just out to have an adventuresome vacation… You wouldn’t be able to point me to a local alchemist, would you?”
Terell was a tall, young man, dressed very commonly, so as not to reveal his life’s calling. Besides, no one wore the “traditional” starscape cap and robe in real life anyway – no reason unless you were a showman or a fraud. He looked about absent mindedly as Rien pushed open the door to the alchemy shop. “What can I do for you, young man?”
Rien stopped dead in his tracks. ‘Young man’? Right. “I’m looking for Terell, the alchemist…this is his shop?”
“You found ‘im!”
This caused Rien to pause even longer. “You?” he finally asked.
“Been m’self for up over sixty years.”
Sixty? This man looks well preserved for someone his age, though he does act it.
“So what can I do for you?” the man presisted.
“I am interested in what you can tell me about lycanthropes,” Rien said, leaning on the counter across from Terell.
The alchemist smiled. “Heard o’ that crazy dog Taishent captured, have you? Well, there isn’t much I can tell you about that. Taishent is said to o’ve been casting his cards for the town when he came across the dog. No one knows where it came from or how it got ‘ere, but town guard’s always pleased to shoot some’ing.”
“I meant the disease,” Rien explained his need, grateful for the alchemist’s loose mouth. “Do you know anyhing about the curse?”
Terell paced his lab for a minute. “The disease can be passed in many ways. Most common is bite. The infected either die or mutate into those beasts – wolflings. Takes different amount of time for different people, but it get’s ‘em all. I never heard of a cure for it, but I just know I could find one if I’d have a sample! Ah, they sh’uldn’t ‘ve killed that dog!”
Rien thought for a moment. If there was the slightest chance of a cure, he was in desprate need of finding it, but telling someone of the disease was just about as intellignet as running naked through the middle of the market place, screaming about having leprosy. Terell looked young for his supposed age. Thirty at the most and that means that his potions really do work. Sometimes risks have to be taken in life…
“What if I can get you a subject?” Rien asked the alchemist, who was now reorganizing the vials on his counter.
Startled, the man dropped one of the glass vessels. “And just where d’you propose to come up with one?” he asked, ignoring the smoky vapor raising up toward the ceiling.
“Let’s just say,” Rien smiled, “that I can locate one. What would be in it for me?”
I’ll pay you!” Terell exclaimed, his old-like tones dissipating.
“I’ll be rich and you’ll be famous…” Rien said slowly.
“No,” Rien shook his head. “I don’t want money. The deal is you cure the subject. Then you can have your fame.”
“All right,” Terell agreed. “I’ll make a profit either way and you’ll have a cure for who ever you want to aid. Yes?”
“Yes,” Rien nodded.
“So where is my subject?”
Rien could not believe that this old man could act so young. “I am he,” he answered, almost expecting death.
Terell made a step back in shock.
“I won’t bite you, honest,” Rien promised.
Kera snuck up on a fat man leaning over a table with trinkets. The items appeared cheap, but since he intended to buy something, he had some funds. Besides, anyone that fat had to have money to support his belly.
Kera looked over the man’s shoulder at the assortment of glass, clay and metal statuettes of people and animals. Her left hand ran across the belt pouch on the man’s right hip, while her right picked up a crystal clear unicorn. Neither the fat man nor the booth owner noticed what she did. Kera smiled, pocketing both her prizes and allowed a young child to squeeze in before her. Her “profit” for the day was already well above average and thinking that Liriss would be pleased, she turned and left the market place.
Kera had been working for Liriss ever since she could remember. He picked her up off the streets as an orphan and trained her to steal. Liriss provided everything she needed, even luxuries at times. Perhaps there was a better life somewhere, but it certainly was not as an orphan in the Fifth Quarter. She even had Liriss’ thugs for protection, when she needed them…like the day before.
Oh, Liriss was mad to learn what happend! Not only were his guards drunk, but they also got trashed by a single man and later arrested by the town guard. Still, that last purse she lifted would more than pay for new hirelings; especially in the Fifth Quarter. It’s the stupid, careless people who provide the most profit.
Kera turned into an alley, winding up face to face with the stupid, careless person she just been thinking about. Stupid and over confident. He hadn’t camped out here all day, did he?
“Just your luck,” Rien smiled, grabbing her arm.
“You’re hurting me!” Kera screamed trying to wriggle free.
Rien’s grip did not lessen. “You’re hurting yourself.”
Kera stopped trying to pull free. “Bastard! I’ll have you killed for this!”
“I don’t think so,” Rien smiled again. “You used the same alley twice too often. Your body guards will not be able to help you today.”
Stealthily Kera pulled out her stolen unicorn figurine and jabbed it into Rien’s hand, the one that was holding her, horn first. The glass snapped and with a curse Rien withdrew his hand. Kera took off down the alley. For the first time in her life, she wished she had not neglected carrying weapons on her person. She desperately hoped that Rien had lied about Liriss’ guards not being able to help her. It wouldn’t look good to lose two sets of men on consecutive days.
Right about then she went sprawling to the ground over the out stretched arm of one of the downed guards. He lay on a pile of trash, with his companion not far away.
Kera picked herself up, surprised that Rien was already next to her. His eyes were a strange shade of grey, producing a hypnotic effect, as he thrust her into the wall. ‘Weren’t they blue?’ she thought, bending over from pain. The jolt gave her the right state of mind to shrug the useless thoughts off. With the last of her breath, Kera screamed “Help, rape!”
She saw a red streak before her and Rien’s hand clamped over her mouth. She turned her head, spitting blood and smearing it across her right cheek. A finger of her assailant passed across her lips and she bit into it.
Rien looked startled. Kera could have slipped away, but the change of color in his eyes kept her watching. His hand slipped off her face. “I could have killed you…”
Kera shrunk further into the wall behind her.
“The dog that bit me…” Rien continued, “you saw it happen. It was a lycanthrope. I have the disease and now that you’ve tasted my blood, so do you. I tell you this becase you have the right to know, nothing else.”
Kera looked at the broken statuette still in her hand. The horn and part of the head were missing. She let the figure fall to the ground, where it shattered completely. “I have no reason to believe you!” Her defiant eyes challanged Rien.
“No,” he said, “but then I have no reason to lie to you. I only want my money back.”
“You’re not getting it back, so you might as well kill me…or whatever it is you do!”
“I am not going to hurt you if you cooperate.”
“I don’t have your money. Liriss has it.”
“Then I’ll just take what you’ve collected today,” Rien said.
“The hell you will!”
Rien held up the pouch containing her days work. “I already have.”
“You bastard!” she tried to grab it, but missed.
Without saying anything, Rien turned to leave.
“Hey!” Kera screamed.
“I have a name.”
After a moment of hesitation, Kera caught up to Rien. “May I know what it is?” she asked, wiping the blood off her face.
“Rien Keegan,” he answered without hesitation.
Rien did not respond.
“If I don’t bring Liriss what I stole today, he’ll have me punished,” Kera said. “I am not going to entertain his troops again!”
“Should have thought of that earlier. Just be sure and tell them what disease you have so they can decide if they want it.”
“Damn you! Please? It’s too late to start over.”
Rien shrugged. “That’s your problem.”
Kera clenched Rien’s arm. “If I have some disease, you are responsible for it!”
“You’ll try every approach until you find one that works, eh?”
She smiled. “Did this one work?”
Rien shrugged. “Let me think about it.”
“If I don’t have anything to show for my day’s work, I’m not going back,” Kera stated.
“Then don’t,” Rien answered. “Why do work like that at all?”
“It’s the only thing I know how to do well,” Kera answered. “I would have run away long ago if I’d be assured of a better future.”
“How old are you?”
“Twenty. And you?”
“Even if Liriss had some wardship over you before, you are old enough to leave now,” Rien ignorred the counter question.
“Where would I go?” Kera asked. “The only life I know is what most would consider to be the wrong sid of the fence. Besides, he’ll have me hunted down and killed.”
“How can you live in that environment,” Rien wondered aloud.
“The punishment may be great, but so are the rewards.”
“Oh? The guards get to entertain you if they screw up their job?”
Kera threw a disapproving glance at Rien. “Sometimes,” she finally said, casting down her eyes. “There are other rewards too.”
“Like what? Doing the boss?”
Kera stopped dead in her tracks. “That’s damn unfair!”
Rien stopped to look at her. “But it’s true, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” Kera said after a moment and burst into tears.
In spite of himself Rien gave her a hug and held her until she calmed down. This was certainly not a good way to earn someone’s trust, but perhaps there could be a second chance… “I am sorry,” he finally said. “That was unfair.”
“I’ll go with you where ever you’re going,” Kera said. “I don’t want to stay here any longer.”
That was a sudden change. “I am planning to remain in Dargon until I find a cure for the disease,” Rien stated flatly.
“It’s real…” Kera whispered. “You’re a warrior, right?”
“You could say that.”
“If you’re willing to take the risk, I’m willing to be your apprentice.” Kera looked hopeful.
Rien needed an apprentice about as much as a cow needs a saddle. When he was apprenticed in his arts, it was expected that he would do housework as much as learn what he was there for. Granted, the master may have wanted some payment for the services rendered and skills taught, but for some reason that just didn’t sit well with Rien. If he was going to agree, the deal would have to be changed…a little.
Of course there was a second problem as well. The risk Kera mentioned. Naturally Liriss would not be happy to lose an investment that just the day before brought in such a yield. Taking on two or three of his drunk guards was no problem, but a dozen sober men could be a bit more risky. “I’ll bite them,” Rien smirked to himself and unnoticeably chuckled.
“Are you sure that’s what you want?” Rien finally asked.
“Yes,” Kera answered without hesitation. “I think it was you who made the point that my life could be better.”
“Then you have a mentor. Come, it’s beginning to get dark.”
“What about my things?” Kera stopped him.
“Is there anything irreplaceable?” Rien asked, trying not to seem impatient, but wanting to leave the alley.
Kera thought for a moment, then shrugged. “I suppose not. I tried not to grow too attached to my things for some reason. What about your money?”
“If Liriss has any intelligence at all,” Rien said, “he would have hid or invested that some place by now. Don’t worry about it. I have enough funds to draw on.”
“I’m really sorry about that,” Kera continued. “I’ll try to make that up to you.”
“That will be a lot of pockets to pick,” Rien smiled. “Come.”