Trapped. Bound. Wrong.
I am caged in a body that is too small.
Anger. Rage. Vengeance.
When I feel for the first time, it is a searing pain. I have no mind to understand, only a body to retaliate.
Scent. Taste. Curse.
A voice – not my voice – gives me a purpose: 'Destroy them all!'
The wolf's howl mingles with cries of agony and terror as I follow the path that my creator has set out for me because I have no other path to follow.
The body – now my body – leashes out. It twists and snaps. I smell fear and it feels like justice – not my justice – when my jaws sink into flesh, filling my mouth with hot, metallic liquid.
Time had no meaning until I became a wolf that is not just a wolf, and as it passes I learn that a century has come and gone and the name Witherfang is whispered in fear by those who walk under the trees and between the rocks and on the earth that still long for what has been torn away from them by one man's lust for vengeance.
The children – our children – that have not been born but come into existence out of our union do not live but haunt the green forest that is more than just home and they suffer and bring suffering to those who cross their path in a never ending cycle of hatred.
I come to learn what it means to feel sorrow and regret. And yet I still have nothing but the creator's voice to guide me.
Trapped. Bound. Wrong.
Until I come upon a clearing in the dark where a fire lights the face of a young, female human. I'm concealed in the shadows but her eyes – golden eyes – find mine and her voice – a new voice – calls.
'Well, well, what have we here?'
'It's your choice. You can remain there in the shadows or come and share the warmth of my fire. I could use the company.' The young woman says calmly as if she doesn't care that she has just invited her death or possibly worse into her light.
I hesitate for the first time since I became Witherfang. A question forms in my mind:
'What is choice?'
The woman looks at me again. The corners of her mouth curve into something that isn't a snarl before she bites into the meat she's been holding between her fingers. I watch her eat, licking the fat off her fingers but not savouring the taste like a mortal who's doomed to die. This one doesn't fear me.
That new word bounces around my head until comprehension washes over me like an icy wind. Even after a century as a wolf, this is not my true form but my mind is my own and I have options.
'So good of you to join me,' the human says in a voice that is too old for her body but matches her eyes.
She smells like sweat and youth but underneath pervades the scent of charred flesh and blood and something else that makes the hair on my neck stand up. I growl at her even as I step closer.
'Oh, don't mind me, dear. I'm no threat to you. Come. Sit. Eat.' She gestures toward the two rabbits that roast over the fire.
I tell her that I'm not interested in her human food with a derisive snort but I sit on my haunches across the fire from her.
She watches me watching her with unveiled curiosity while she continues to eat. Ever so often her mouth quirks in a human sentiment that I've come to understand over time.
'Am I amusing to you?' I wonder in silence because as a wolf I have no voice with which to speak in human ways.
Yet the woman fixes me with a steady gaze as if she has heard me anyway. 'My amusement is my own. I was, in fact, wondering how long you'd decide to stick to this form. A wolf is a magnificent sight to behold, yet it has it's limits especially for one such as you, wouldn't you agree?'
I jump up in surprise and maybe fear. As I suspected, this is no ordinary human.
New, yet old. Alone, but not afraid. Mindreader.
A word that other humans spit out like a curse. One like them, but not one of them.
Just like me. A wolf who is not a wolf.
'What am I?' The question forms in my mind and for a fleeting second I see surprise flash over the woman's features.
'After all this time, you still don't know?' She asks, and her amazement is mingled with sadness, I can tell.
'I don't know.' I reply as if I'd always talked this way and not just learned how to converse with another being by thinking the words that have been there all along but needed to be heard in order to exist.
'You're a wolf,' she says and I make a noise to convey that I knew that much already. Even white teeth flash back at me and I try to imitate the gesture. It makes her throw her head back and her laughter echoes among the trees.
'Oh, but you're precious,' she chuckles before her eyes focus and all mirth drains from her voice. 'You're a wolf that has been forced to be a dog, a rabid dog on a master's bloody leash.'
She speaks in riddles but I listen. Something in her voice resonates through my very being and I sway at the sound of her words.
'As you're now, you cannot slip your leash but it has thinned enough. Yes, I can see it. It has been done before and it can be done again, all you need to do is choose.'
'Choose what?' I ask and she smiles again.
'Choose the form of your salvation.'
It might have been a trick of the fire or maybe my mind is bewitched by her words but for a fleeting moment there is a halo of light engulfing, no, consuming the human woman before me. The light has form, one that I've heard about in tales told around the camp fires when hunters tried to frighten the young ones. I have never seen one with my own eyes but I know immediately what she is.
'Is that what I'm supposed to be?'
She sighs in disappointment. 'If you have to ask me that, then maybe I've misjudged you. It happens. Maybe you're not ready.'
I stare at her confused, excited, and unsure what to do. I need to think but all I can do is sit and stare and feel the power that is running through this woman who is a dragon, or is this perchance a dragon who chose to become a woman?
It seems obvious now as if she has given me eyes to see, the magic is pouring out of her, surrounding her. It hums through the air, through my fur, my bones, my mind. How is it that I don't shatter instantly?
She seems to ignore me now as I'm pacing nervously on the other end of the glade while she is tending her tiny fire as if she couldn't reduce this whole clearing to ashes with a mere thought.
'Why did a dragon choose to be a frail human woman if she could have the world quivering before her?'
'Even if I wanted the world, a dragon alone cannot conquer it, only reduce it to ashes, and where is the fun in that?' She laughs again but her eyes remain fixed on the flames. 'I have chosen my own path and I walk it with my head held high. A woman is only as strong or as frail as she believes herself to be.' She lifts her gaze. 'Tell me, do you think I'm weak, an easy quarry for your mighty jaws?'
I hear the taunt and the threat in her voice and the mere thought of trying to attack her makes me recoil and I take a few steps backwards just beyond the edge of the light.
'That's what I thought.'
I'm shaken to my core. Every fibre in the wolf's body wants to flee this scene but I need to know more.
I've questions and this woman who is also a dragon has answers that I didn't even know I was looking for.
The wolf wants to run, but I want to stay.
I need a voice that can be my voice.
A voice to speak and to ask and to challenge.
I'm only as strong or frail as I choose to be.
That night I make a choice.
She has many names: Flemeth, Asha'bellanar, Witch of the Wilds, although they're a good way away from the Brecilian Forest as the humans and elves call these woods.
'I have my reasons,' Flemeth tells me one day when I asked her why she is so far from the area she considers her home. A typical answer as I've come to learn since we began travelling together.
At first I retreat into the shadows when she goes to sleep, only to follow her steps at a distance during the day. By nightfall, I join her by the fire again and we continue our journey this way for many weeks.
I learn of the world beyond my reach and of the place that is called the Fade. I listen to Flemeth stories and I hunt for her in return. Every night I ask her what I am and every night she huffs and shakes her head at me and tells me that I'm not ready yet.
After a while it becomes obvious that Flemeth is with child. I think of my own children and my heart grows heavy. When I confide my feelings, she merely laughs and says that this one – indicating her swelling belly – will surly be the death of her but that's the way she has always survived. Another riddle that I cannot untangle, but I'm at her side and for now that's all that matters to me.
I watch her during the day and we talk at night until I make another choice.
She makes a surprised sound in the back of throat that shifts into a chuckle as I lie down beside her and after a moment's hesitation she rolls over and drapes one arm over my body. We fall asleep like that and I'm happy.
I don't run away any more, only slink in between the undergrowth when other travellers are about to cross our path. It is safer that way although I don't like it, and I'm jealous of every minute she spends in another's company.
We come to the fringes of a village that is eerily familiar although I haven't seen it in a century. Even the forest looks diseased in this part. The earth is dry and the few people we see look haggard and aged beyond their years.
'This is no place for a lovely girl like you, and especially not in your condition. We're cursed!' An old man tells Flemeth in a hissing voice before he spits on the ground near her feet. I growl from my hiding place and the man's face turns ashen.
'Maker, they're back. Run!' He screams before he hobbles toward a ramshackle construction that might have once been a hunter's hut.
Flemeth just quirks an eyebrow as I emerge from the shrubs. 'Friend of yours?'
I'm about to respond when the wind changes course and I catch the scent of something that makes my heart pound. I couldn't have stopped myself even if I'd wanted to. I'm running before I know what I'm doing. Branches tear at my fur as if they're trying to grab me but I care not.
A howl echoes among the leaves and I dread and yearn for what I know I'll find in a moment's time. The wolf's body breaks through the thicket.
There are three of them, feasting on the body of what might have once been a Dalish hunter. They turn their gaze on me – children of my children – and something sparks in their eyes before the curse takes over and they tear into the corpse again.
I despair at the sight. They are not like me but of me. These creatures would be men and women before I became Witherfang and the coming of my children. I look at them and I can see the pain that I carry in my own heart, the pain of knowing that this is not your true self but a trap with no escape. An endless nightmare.
I can't look on any more and with a snarl directed at myself, I run.
My thoughts are racing and I'm tired when I find Flemeth preparing dinner in front of the hut. The old man has vanished.
'Wolves who are humans, doesn't that mean they could turn back if they remembered how? Because that's what they are, people?!'
She pauses and tilts her head. 'Unfortunately, the curse is not so easily broken, but given the right direction they could perhaps regain a semblance of self, yes.'
'Then I need to break the curse.'
Flemeth wipes the back of her hand over her brow and straightens up with a grimace. Not long now before her daughter is born but her voice is strong when she speaks.
'One wolf alone cannot break this curse, all you could do is bring destruction and endless suffering, but you know that already.'
'And where would be the fun in that, is that what you're saying?'
'Are you still a mindless beast?' She snaps angrily. A flash of pain crosses her features but it is fleeting.
'I've never been a mindless beast.' I snarl back angrily and startle as she throws her head back and laughs. Only then do I realise what I've said. Something I knew all along, but have never put into words before.
The wind picks up and the leaves whisper in agreement, I feel the earth shift and when I open my mouth to speak, my voice sounds nothing like the howl of the wolf.
'I've never been a mindless beast.'
Flemeth smiles at me and I smile back.
The Parting of Ways
I can shift effortlessly between the wolf and the woman. When I first caught sight of myself in the surface of a lake, I was startled how much I look like her. Only my eyes are black where hers are golden and I my hands and feet are the roots of the trees.
In this form I can hear and feel the forest so clearly. It's not a voice but a void that is calling for the spirit that was torn from it. Witherfang could sense it but the woman can experience it with all senses. It hurts but it only makes my resolve stronger.
'Have you decided yet what you're going to do?' Flemeth asks, cradling her infant daughter in her arms.
I smile at her even though I'm sad. A part of me wants to remain by her side forever but I know this cannot be the way. I have to walk my own path and she has to return to the Wilds now that her daughter has been born.
'I'll seek out my children and try to reason with them, bring back their humanity as much as I can. If we can unite we can confront our creator and break this curse.'
'Even if that means to end you life?' Flemeth asks.
'All I desire is an end,' I answer truthfully. I watch for my companion's reaction and for the first time ever, I see a sliver of fear cross her face. My gaze shifts to the child in her arms and I wonder. 'But maybe this is difficult to comprehend for someone who strives to live forever?'
Flemeth remains silent for a long time to the point where I fear that she might shift and strike me down before I've even had a chance to begin my journey but when she speaks her voice is warm and a little sad. 'I've chosen my path and you've chosen yours. We'll not meet again but I'm glad that I've met you.'
From what I know of her, that is not something Flemeth says lightly. My heart feels full when I say, 'It was an honour to walk by your side. I'll never forget you.' And then before my tears have a chance to fall, I shift and the white wolf bounds into the forest from which it once came.
Flemeth's words, 'Nor I you,' are carried on the wind and accompany me on my new path.