A long time ago in a land not so very far away, there lived a wealthy duke named Hawke and his six sons and daughters. This was a gentler time when magic was everywhere, and although the duke himself had no magical powers, he was a fierce warrior who had done battle with many demons and legends in his youth and was respected throughout the land as being fair and just to those under his rule who found themselves gifted with these strange powers. The duke doted on his sons and daughters and showered them with gifts and indulgences, for as his wife had died in childbirth with the youngest son, he had turned all his love towards his children.
Hawke raised his children to be kind and loving towards each other and the townspeople they would rule when he was gone, and they spent their days as children running wild through the town and country surrounding their father's fiefdom, and as they grew-although they were thicker than thieves-the siblings were as different as they could be. The three girls, Isabella, Merrill, and Aveline, were the fairest maids in all the land- Isabella was dark and had a wicked laugh, and spent much of her time dancing and sparring with sailors and merchants, whereas Merrill was pale as alabaster and spent all her days locked up in her father's library or wandering the hills with the sheperds, trading tales of magic and learning their lore. Aveline, the eldest, was the quietest of the girls, and the best beloved of the townsfolk for her sweet smile and gentle wisdom, as well as for her strength with a blade. Carver, Aveline's twin brother, was as quiet again as his sister but much quicker to anger, and stronger again by half. He was the only one of the three boys able to heft the great maul their father had used in battle in his younger days. Verrick, the middle son, was always seen about town with a twinkle in his eye and a girl on his arm, and was as quick with a joke as his brother was with his sword. And the youngest boy, Leto, was the most handsome of all of Hawke's children.
He had grown up lithe and muscled, with deep grey eyes and a shock of white blonde hair that all the girls loved to run their fingers through, and his days of running through the fields with Merrill and training in the square with Carver had carved his face sharp with wind and sun, so that when he laughed – which he did often – his eyes crinkled up with joy. Of all the children, Leto was the closest to his father and never strayed far from his side so that when his brothers and sisters would tease him about settling down with a wife or when a girl would run her hand up his side he would thank them for their attention and tell them he was too young yet to marry, and he would not leave his father alone. They might have gone on like this for years and faded away into the dust of history, but one day – the unthinkable happened.
Leto had heard tales of the Witch of the Wilds from his father, but he'd never really believed them. The townspeople, however, swore up and down that as a young man Hawke had faced down the Witch and stolen her most precious belonging, a medallion that kept her young always despite her advancing years. Some said that after, she withered away into nothing and died forgotten in the wood, but others told about how she swore great vengeance on Hawke and flew away into the sky as a dragon. However it happened, there is only this that followed: one afternoon as Hawke and his eldest sat holding court in the keep, an old woman with scarlet hair walked into the gathering, clutching a walking stick and muttering to herself. When the Duke set eyes on her, however, he leapt to his feet and snatched up his sword – but to no avail. The Witch threw off her disguise and drew herself up, eyes snapping with hatred and the wind singing around her so that no matter how hard they tried, none of the children could get close enough through the tempest to their father to protect him from her wrath. She laughed, then, and spoke only a single word, but it was enough: Hawke fell to his knees, foaming, and curled up at the witch's feet as he clawed at his throat. The winds fell as the Duke did so that finally, his sons and daughters drew their weapons and threw themselves at the witch but no matter what they did none of their weapons left a single mark on the evil woman, and they fell back time and again, covered in blood as they grew weary and the battle raged on. One by one they gave into exhaustion and fell to their knees as the witch grinned horribly and beckoned them into the fray. Finally in desperation, Leto could watch his siblings suffer no longer and he threw himself bodily at the Witch, clawing at her face and kicking with his feet - but he could leave no mark upon her smooth skin. Instead, she bared her teeth and struck at him with her staff, and each place she touched him as she parried his blows burned with a terrible fire. He fought bravely, but her magic was too much for Leto to bear and soon enough he sank exhausted into darkness, the Witch's laughter ringing in his ears.
When he woke alone in the keep, he found his brothers and sisters had vanished, and his father slumped on the floor, dead by the Witch's hand.
Leto changed, after that. He still ruled the fief – there was no option, not when he was the only one left – but he grew aloof and quick to anger, and late at night he often raged up and down the hallways of the keep, his temper so wild that the servants would lock themselves in their rooms. His people feared him as he grew more and more terrible and proud in his grief so that soon they began to call him Fenris. The Wolf was a terrible man, they told their children, who had everything and had it all torn away, and so turned from his humanity. Those who could sold their holdings and moved away from the fief, and those didn't have the means crossed the street to avoid him in the marketplace and never looked him in the eye when he heard their disputes. Soon enough only a few servants remained to care for him and his town, the town his father and his family had so lovingly cared for, was no more.
It was a dark and stormy night, the wind sweeping across the moors with abandon, scouring the hills with such ferocity than none dared venture out into the maelstrom. Fenris sat alone in front of the fire, brooding on his misfortune and so lost in his misery that he mistook the booming knock on the door of the keep as a peal of thunder over the valley. On the third knock, however, he made his way to the door and, upon opening it, saw only a tattered old woman, weary with travel and battered down by rain and wind. 'Kind sir!' she called to Fenris. 'Only let me in so I may rest, and I will begone in the morning'. Fenris found himself disgusted by her crooked chin and humped back, and he sneered and shook his head, saying, 'I would not have my stoop marred by such an ill visage as yours. You may rest in the stable with the horses where you belong.' He began to swing the door shut - but before he could close it all the way, the crone stuck her walking staff into the path of the door. 'Kind sir,' she cried again, 'Please lend me your hospitality! I am old, and weary, and I have lost my way.' Again Fenris curled his lip and tried to close the door on her, but for a third time, the woman stepped forward and begged for his pity. 'Young man, young man, can you find it in your heart to help me?' And for the last time, Fenris shook his head, snarling: 'I have nothing in my heart but pain. There is no room for pity, and certainly no room for an old hag such as yourself. Be gone, before I loose the dogs.' At that, Fenris found himself suddenly blinded by a brilliant light and when he blinked the shadows from his eyes, gone was the old woman standing on the stoop and in her place there was a beautiful young woman with long black hair and blazing yellow eyes, dressed only in raven feathers and animal skins, her staff glowing in her hand. Clearly this was a witch, but her gaze was so commanding and cold that he found himself rooted to the spot, unable to move for his fear. 'You abomination!' She thundered as he cowered on the floor. 'Have you forgotten everything your father taught you? Where is your pity, your love for anyone but yourself? I have looked into your heart, and seen that what the villagers say is true: you have become a Beast by name, and you shall be a Beast by nature. Only if you find someone willing to love you for the creature you have become will you ever truly be free.' With that, she stepped forward and pressed her staff against Fenris's chest – and then, everything went black.
Not so very far away from where Fenris lay, stunned with terror, there was a young man by the name of Anders. He was a marvel of a man, for not only was he fair of face but he was so tender hearted that no story of misery failed to move him, and he did all he could to help those less fortunate than he. There was only one small problem, and that was this: he was cursed with the gift of magic. Now, times had changed since Hawke had died, and instead of loving those with magic for the aid they could give, those who had the gift were feared and distrusted, so that though Anders only ever used his magic for healing, he had no friends and was met with disdain no matter where he went. So he traveled from village to village, selling potions and mending minor wounds until someone discovered his secret, and then he would slip away in the dead of night and be gone before the soldiers came to arrest him. When anyone asked him if he was happy, he would shrug and say he had his health and his calling, and the rest would come as the Maker wills it.
He could have gone on like this for the rest of his days if it weren't for a some misfortune he encountered in a small village not far from what used to be the Hawke estate. He had arrived during a great feast three days earlier and set up shop in the market square, doing brisk trade in love potions and enchanted gems. The feast was to celebrate the arrival of the Earl's first child, and while the townspeople made merry outside the gates of the castle, the lovely woman lay gritting her teeth and sweating as the labor progressed. Soon, however, she began to grow delirious and feverish, and still the child would not come. Whispers came down through the crowd to Anders, and when he heard of her plight he hastened to the castle and offered his services as a healer and midwife to the Earl so that through the long night he stood vigil over her, bathing her brow with cool water and trickled potions through her cracked lips but no matter what he tried, her condition worsened so that by morning she barely drew breath. Finally he gave in, and although he knew it meant his life, he unbound his staff and stood over her as his eyes crackled blue with spellfire, chanting over and over words to revive the woman and ease the child's passage. Even as he spoke the last of them, however, the Earl burst into the birthing chamber with guards, shouting at them to arrest him for enchanting his wife – and even then, Anders did not stop his work until he saw the Earless's eyes open again, and heard the cry of the baby boy. Then he tightened his grip on his staff and spoke the word that opened a rift between worlds, and slipped into out of the guard's grasp and into the Fade.
The Fade was not a place to be taken lightly even for a mage so strong as Anders, and as he travelled through the wastelands he was tempted many times by demons offering him power over earth and sky. His will was strong enough to carry him, although he was weary of spirit and body by the time he spied ahead a tear in the Veil back to reality. He stepped through to his own world with his head held high and to his amazement, he found himself in the grounds of what appeared to be an abandoned castle. The gardens had been beautifully tended once, he supposed, although now they were wild and overgrown with thistles so that as he walked through the wandering paths he stopped now and then and pulled out a few weeds here and there, humming a simple tune as he worked. Anders slowly made his way closer to the castle as he sang to himself and tended to the gardens, simply reveling in being alive and outdoors in the bright sun so that it was only gradually he became aware that he was being watched. He lifted his head warily, afraid of what he might find – only to see a huge shaggy dog sitting on his haunches, panting in the hot afternoon and watching him with intelligent grey eyes. 'Here, boy!' he called, but the dog would not budge and only growled at him with raised hackles when Anders tried to pet him. The mage shrugged and kept working his way towards the castle so that as the sun set, he found himself at the front gates, the dog following from a distance as he went.
In the chill of the evening the keep looked even more massive and intimidating than it had from the gardens and despite himself Anders found a chill creeping up his spine as he climbed the steps. When he tried the doors he found them unlocked, so he squared his shoulders and stepped into the shadows of the castle. Strangely enough, he found the hall lit by a cosy fire crackling merrily in the hearth, and a great feast laid upon the table so that it groaned under the weight of all the food. 'Ah!' he cried. 'Surely the Lord of this castle won't begrudge a poor mage a bite or two to eat', and with that he fell upon the roast and ate his fill, making sure to slip the choisest morsels to the dog. When his stomach was full he raised himself up from the chair in front of the fire and wandered through the echoing stone hallways to the residence he found beyond, richly laid with elaborate tapestries and soft bearskin rugs. The four poster bed was hung with thick curtains and freshly turned down, and looked so inviting that Anders simply could not resist. 'You know,' he remarked to the dog, which had followed him from the garden to the bedroom. 'It would be an absolute crime to sleep in the stable when there is an empty bed in the castle. I shall simply have to hope the Lord of the castle will forgive my transgressions.' When the only response he got was a whine as the dog settled himself on the carpet, Anders shed his armor and climbed into the bed. As he fell asleep, though, he almost thought he felt someone smooth his hair back from his brow and tuck the covers more firmly under his chin.