The lands of Exandria are vast and ever shifting, ever growing with so, so many lives;
People of all shapes and races, living and working, alone and together. Beasts of the earth, sea and sky, surviving and thriving in the lands great wilds. Monstrosities, savage and gruesome, all sharing a taste for innocent blood, living out their twisted, selfish mirrors of civilised life. Visitors from elsewhere, even, be they from the deep, dark abyss or the glittering feywild.
There is much debate to under which category werewolves fall.
The superstitious would argue that they are alien, creatures from other plains not to be meddled with, that they bring omens of death and have gilded tongues with which to lure soft minded adventures and weak willed wanders into their service, not evil per say, but something to avoid. Not to be trusted.
Others may vouch for beast, that they are just trying to survive like the common wild dog through the harsh winters, inhuman and unpredictable as nature is want to be. Something to be wary of when traveling. Something to be put down if troublesome.
The Hunters, those so absolute in their hatred that they have toiled their lives away to the study and extermination of such and similar lives, would cry, scream and bawl ‘monster’. Something to track and chase and purge and maim and stuff and mount upon a wall with pride.
A scourge to snuff out.
The lycan people and friends thereof, however, would resolutely consider them people, for despite the hysteria and gossip, the old wives tales and dark legends, they, like all others considered citizens of this world, are just trying to live, for their families, for their friends and for themselves, whether their lycanthropy was an inherited or given gift, or an unforgivable curse. All good hearted lycans have ever tried to do is survive.
Vox machina was no exception…
There are certain taboos amongst natural born werewolves, all those who have inherited the gift or were granted it by some power or another know it is a great wrong to turn an unwilling creature. To pass the gift on like it is some disease. to some it is sacrilege, to most it is simply a great misdeed.
Pike Trickfoot, having been given the gift through her bloodline, was well aware of this.
But there he was, lying prone on the ground in front of her, rain battering his grey skin, the torrential downpour soaked into her fur and washed the still trickling blood from his form.
Its metallic sent had led her to him.
The full moon made the whole scene glisten, sacred light glinting awfully on his exposed innards. But past the bruises and the lesions, past the reddening, seeping wounds that, despite the rest of his form being freezing, were hot to the touch with sickness, past the indented rib cage that shuddered weakly and the cracked skull, he looked exactly like papa had described him, the goliath who had spared his life.
Her learned magic could not save him, that was clear, there was simply too much infection and not enough of him left.
Her only option now, was her gift.
She could sink her teeth into his already battered flesh and pour the magic that took host in her very soul into his veins.
Give him new life.
But she could not ask him, could not gain permission. She could save him only by committing a great taboo.
Would he want that life? Would he want this death?
His breathing grew shallower.
What would she want?
What did she want?
Her blue eyes burned with intensity in the dual moonlight and she raised her head to its glow. She felt its brightness on her fur, on her soul, to her its was warm like sunlight.
Pike trickfoot, daughter of serene, stepped forward gently, and took his battered flesh into her tooth filled maw.
His blood filled her mouth and coated her tongue as a wolf filled his heart
To absolutely no one's surprise it was Vex'ahlia and Vax'ildan’s mother who carried and passed on the gift in her bloodline. It was after all, pretty difficult to imagine Syldor, the pompous bastard, skulking around on all fours.
While in syngorn it was just another thing to set them apart, lycanthropy wasn't as feared there as it was in other places, given the elfs connections with the wolf infested feywild. However it was an oddity, a rarity , another thing to dirty their blood, to dirty his blood, in their eyes, another dent to Syldor’s shining legacy.
Another thread through which to cling to their mother.
On their first night in syngorn they had cried to the stars for her, sure that their mournful baying would reach her ever attentive ears, they'd never been out of howling distance before, never ever considered that the world was big enough for such a gap to even exist. They would have meweled until they could sing no longer if it weren't for the angry yelling and the thundering knocking on their door.
As they grew they came to treasure full moons, the nights they were led into the woods and set free, to run and bark and play and keep out of the cities hair until the blood red dawn drowned the white light of their salvation.
Full moons reminded them of home, of mother, of bright nights spent together, as a family, running just for the sake of it. Blood pounding, howls rising, hearts soaring.
They choose not to think about the times where they were so hungry, so tired and malnourished that even the full moon would not shift their forms. The nights they would sit in the leaf litter and just shiver in their mother's arms as she tried to hide her own tears. Their bodies aching with want to change but not having enough resources to do so, they could only shiver and press their heads to their mothers breast, listen to her heart beat, just past her protruding ribs.
In the wild, by themselves after they ran, their wolves became more than a sacred treasure, they were an invaluable tool.
Vex’ahlia, a fearsome hunter in human form, was made keener with big ears and such an acute sense of smell, made swifter with four legs, few of her quarry escaped her jaws and arrows, she kept them fed.
Vax’ildan, already fleet and soft of foot found great strength and wisdom in his wolven instincts, and he found, with some training, his nose could sent even the subtlest of poisons. They made him a deadly hunter as well, but vaxs marks were neither deer nor rabbit, although he wasn't against nabbing a few farm animals when his sisters prowess failed. He got them money for clothes and medicines, and if they were really lucky, a bed for the night.
So most days the twins reveled in their gifts, paws made for easier traveling and fur for a more comfortable stay in the harsh outdoors, It helped keep food and other necessities in their reach and most of all it gave them something to belong to.
The bastard children of a human and an elf had little culture of their own to celebrate, hated or uncomfortably heralded wherever they went, never one of the group. But now and again, just by chance, they'd meet another with their gifts. Vex would wink and Vax would smirk, and every time, without fail or hesitation , they'd get a response, a nod, a grin, a blink. In that sense it gave them something so, so special.
It was however very hard to remember the virtues of their gift as they raced through the woodland, the Hunters massive mastiffs and wolfhounds snapping at their hocks, their arrows missing them by hair lengths. The Hunter herself, the very stuff of nightmares to their kind, not far behind.
All because of their protruding ribs and the scrawny chicken, nabbed from it's pen, that hung limp from vax’s jaws
Their crime was hunger
Their crime was surviving
Their crime was their very existence
But Vex’ahlia and Vax'ildan were used to that.
Unlike many lycan families across Exandria, the wolven blood in the stormwind bloodline was new, only a few generations old. Practically just beginning compared to the long, ancient progenies dating back to some of the very first records of lycanthropy.
It had been a freak accident, or so Tiberius was told. A young lycan was mistaken for a regular wolf by a hunting party and shot down, meters from its mother who flew into a savage rage, managing to sink her fangs into the stormwind present at the time. They said the fight was long and hard but at last the beast took a spear to the ribs and in her last death rattle her monsterous form melted into the blood soaked earth, leaving only a slim elven woman behind. She had died right next to where her young son lay, crawling towards him in her final moments.
The spear that felled her was hung on the wall, a family treasure.
The fight was a well told story at celebrations and other such events, it made them seem strong, dependable, noble.
Nobody talked about what that confrontation cost the family.
That was a well kept secret. A fact hidden with carefully planned meetings and trips and the cellar, built deep below the house were they would cower when the moon shone it's awful blighting light.
Oh how he longed to break out of that dark, dank prison, to run through the snow and rock of his homelands and share his song with the sky.
But the secret shame must stay secret, no one could see the monstrosities that lurked within their line. So no matter how tempting this curse made the vast open wilds, he would stay within those cold, claw marked walls until the change subsided and he was presentable again.
He would not give in to the beast, he would not join those accursed lycans he was forced to call brethren.
Tiberius Stormwind may be a filthy, savage werewolf, but the world didn't need to know that.
Grog strongjaw loved full moons.
They made him feel strong and big and free and powerful. Not that grog was not those things anyway, but the full moon multiplied those feelings by…..by…..by a really, really big number!
The full moon was a time for eating loads, singing loudly and making a mess. Grog was very good at those things, but most of all it was a time to spend the whole night runnin’ with his buddy pike!
Grog knew pike loved full moons too, before she'd chowed down on his arm and past on her wolfyness or whatever to save his life, she'd only had Wilhand for company. Now don't get him wrong Grog loved Wilhand, and he knew pike did too but he wasn't exactly a spring chicken. He tended to nap indoors for most of the full moon these days, and running alone was much less fun, howling was rather pointless with no one to answer. But now she had him and he had her and it was good!
She looked less sad on full moons.
Not that pike was prone to sadness in the first place, she was brighter and more brilliant than the sun the stars and the light of the moon that shone upon them now combined.
It's just…whenever he changed, she'd get this look, like she wanted to ask him a question, a super serious question, one he had to answer truthfully like “grog did you eat all of those pastries?” or “grog did you break that man's rib?”.
Often it would fade quickly though and she'd change too, forgetting whatever she was going to ask as black hair turned to black fur, blue eyes growing brighter, teeth to fangs, and they'd run, together, as fast and far as they could and they'd sing so loud the earth would shake and their own ears would be left ringing.
Hearts and souls as one, in this gift she had shared with him.
They loved full moons.
Percival Fredrickstein Von Musel Klossowski De Rolo III first shifted on a full moon, deep below the depths of his blood soaked family home in a dark, small cell.
Ripley's eyes never left him as he shuddered and shook, fighting against every second of it, bones snapping and reforming, fur piercing his skin like a million tiny needles, blunt teeth becoming a monstrous maw. His blood felt like it was boiling, he was hyper aware of every drop in his veins, could feel as it pulsed round his mutating system with each thud of his shivering, struggling heart. He could hear that unsteady beat in his sharpening ears. He hurt and hurt and hurt until all he could feel was the pain and the deep deep desire to sink his new fangs into Sylas’s Delilah’s, Anders’s, Stonefell’s, Ripley's neck.
And then, mercifully, it stopped.
For a moment he thought he had died, that he had expired there and then, but no, (and he felt a strange twist of disappointment) he lived.
He was sprawled on his side, twitching with the final twinges of agony. His jaw lay open, his tongue lolled onto the damp floor, he could taste the cold stone as he drooled. Not a single ounce of energy was left in his body or soul but somehow he found the strength to pry open his heavy eyelids.
Her gaze seemed to almost burn into him as he met her eyes, the woman who had stood there mere…..moments? Hours? Seconds? Minutes?... he wasn't sure, but Anna, like himself had changed. Her form was slim, boney and soot black, fur sleek and shiny as oil, her eyes, dark and sharp and staring at him, were the only thing Keeping her from looking like a living shadow. Unlike himself, she was standing, all four….paws, steadily planted on the ground, she didn't look exhausted, she seemed to vibrate with energy.
“Percival, Percival-” she crooned to him but her muzzle didn't move, it was like she was speaking into his mind be he could feel himself instinctively reading her movements, her sent, her stance, it was like he had suddenly learned a whole new language. “-this would be much easier on you if you just accepted it, accept what I have made of you, what a gift I have bestowed upon you”
He didn't say anything in reply, he didn't think he could if he tried. So Percival continued to lay there, a miserable pile of mottled white and brown, and let the darkness slowly creep into his vision.
At the very least he could take joy in the glimmer of disappointment he saw cross her face as he finally passed out.
In his early years Scanlan had sung gruesome songs about werewolves. He had woven tales of vicious monsters and their heroic defeat at the hands of skilled warriors and hunters.
Obviously those stories weren't exactly to his taste these days.
Point was he hadn't always been this way. He didn't like to get into it but to make a long, traumatic story short, it turns out goblins can be werewolves too.
If he were completely honest it hadn't made anything too different , not once he'd found that the transformation was much, much less painful and taxing when he stopped fighting it and accepted it as part of himself. It was scary, terrifying at first but he'd soon realised nothing really had to change that much. Scanlan Shorthalt had been called an animal long long before he came into possession of his gift.
He'd met others like himself before, many times, and despite the convoluted horror stories of ancient blood and devils, they had all seemed like decent people. Sure, some had their sins and vices like everyone else but most of them knew what hardship was, what it was like to suffer. To lose and have lost.
Singers, he had noticed that most of them were good singers, they had strong voices and an almost instinctual sense of tone and rhythm. Sure they weren't all angelic sirens or nothing but not a single one of them would refuse a request for a simple song , neither would he for that matter but he'd always been that way.
They'd look at him strangely, sometimes. When he'd happened to stumble across a lone traveler or a small group of lycan in his travels, if he joined them around the fire, he'd catch them staring. It was like they could sense he wasn't born like them, that circumstance had made him this way without his consent. Sometimes he'd see pity, sometimes sadness and embarrassment, sometimes there would be great anger in their eyes, but their rage would not be at him. Sometimes they would ask questions. The first few times he had tried to fool them with tails of a great battle and brave feats but despite his charisma he could never convince them. Now days he just refused to answer.
Still despite their oggeling, they were pretty great and if scanlan shorthalt knew one thing for certain about werewolves, he thought as he lept and danced under the light of the full moon , throwing his head back and howling his own beautiful tune with this band of lycan travellers he had happened upon just the day before, they sure knew how to party.
There were lots of people like keyleth in the ashari, they had more than enough for a proper pack, as old fashioned a notion as that was. She'd grown up surrounded by lycan
While her wild shaping was similar there was a big difference between druid magic and lycanthropy.
Her animal forms were something she asked for, communing with nature and asking ever so politely for it to grant her this new form. Her wolf was part of her very heart, her soul, a facet of her being made flesh, treasured and heralded.
Both of her parents had had it too, the gift. She remembered, so faintly as it was so so long ago, running under the full moon's light with both her mother and father. She was only young, a pup, still tripping over paws too big for her.
Her father still ran with her, sometimes, when he wasn't too busy. Being a wolf wasn't much of a substantial excuse to get out of duties in a tribe of druids. They had tried to get keyleth to continue her lessons into the night but soon discovered that a build up of full-moon energy and an already overly anxious werewolf were not a great mix so she was allowed her freedom.
Keyleth was of the opinion that it had done her a world of good. If she had stayed cooped up for that brilliant night every month she wouldn't know half as much about nature as she did now and she wouldn't be half as good at running, which was vital for the long trek her aramenté was sure to involve.
Which was why, when she finally did set out into the world on her odyssey to become headmaster, she left with the full moon high in the sky.
A little known fact about lycans was just how far they can travel under the light of a bright and full moon. It's as if it's glow gives them energy, power, to race over even the toughest of terrain.
So with that warm white glow in her fur and her tribes warnings and encouragements fresh in her ears she set off, on steady careful paws down the windy cliffside, towards the nearest settlement.