BEWARE THE WERE-WOLVES OF TEKARATH!
Everyone is familiar to some extent, with the legend of the wolf-man, a savage lycanthrope cursed by the unholy influence of the full moon to cast aside the human guise he dons by day and revert back to he ravenous, blood thirsty wolf it truly is. There is not a remote mountain village that any adventurer will pass through which does not have its grim tales of the terror more beast than man, a dark abomination utterly dominated by its cannibalistic cravings.
Now imagine yourself locked in mortal combat with not merely one of these murderous monsters, but an entire massive ravening pack of these foul abominations that seem directed by some vile, demonic force urging these vicious brutes to attack and rend your warriors to bloody bits.
Such is the ability of the ruler of Tekarath to corrupt nature and bend it to his will. Ruling in decadent majesty over the last remaining strong-hold of pagan worship, he and his thousand dukes continue to hold out stubbornly against the legions that march ever onwards on his doorstep, armies determined to shatter and throw down the heathen king’s elaborate sand-stone seat of power.
His mind corrupted and consumed by his powerful priests that urge him to continue his lavish and decadent worship of false deities, that depraved monarch has gone to extreme ends to protect both his life and those of his vassals in the endless wars waged with our stalwart legions. And so he employs the aid of distorted and monstrous fiends with the intention of reducing to terror and confusion those noble soldiers of Haracon.
To this end, he sends sent out roving bands of demon-worshiping sorcerers who scour the wretched villages of Tekarath, seeking out unfortunate able-bodied men. These unfortunates are meant to serve as useful shells for the demonic beasts spirits they have summoned to corrupt and twist their human captives into slavering man-wolf hybrids that are doomed to an eternity spent in thrall to their accursed masters, unless a well-aimed arrow or strike were to release them from their torment.
So we have been told, and so we belief. We? Perhaps,I should amend that since I certainly do not belief that the creatures which guard the nobles of Tekarath from their enemies, are were-wolves bound against their will to serve our foes. As I see it, these guardians do not deserve their evil reputation for the simple fact that they have never been human. This is how the Tekrathian version of events goes.
In their myths, much is spoken of about the Great Beginning, a time when their gods were still about the process of shaping the natural world. As with the rest of creation, man was born in due cause, by the will of the gods who had decided in advance exactly the kinds of living things they wanted to inhabit the world. Unfortunately for the first humans to spring forth, they found their home already crowded by other, more dangerous creatures that soon begun to find these new hairless things an easy meal to sate their carnivorous appetites with.
Wild beasts of massive strength and savage jaws, they inspired terror in the hearts of the race of men. A terro so great that as one, the race of men fell to their knees and appealed to the great god Puspah, lord of all living things, to come to their aid and save them from the ferocious creations that he had unleashed prior to their own birth. The god was touched. And so, with the probable fate of the defenseless humanoids hanging in existence, he resolved to rescue them.
He would create yet another breed of powerful hunter, but this would not come into terrible competition with them as his previous creations had done. Nay, instead of savaging the hapless beings, his new children would be tasked to protect the race of humans, aiding them in their grim struggle for survival in the face of the danger posed by the great brown bears and great striped cats that menaced their small bands.
Putting together the bones of wolf carcasses gathered from the hunting fires of the humans, Puspah breathed life into the burnt remains, all the while shutting his great eye, and thinking deep on the the creatures he wished them into existence. And when he had finished, there stood before him in the flaming embers, the first pair of Hounds. All that remained now was to give them that spark of awareness.
Summoning some of the elemental spirits that served him, he bade them to enter the shells he had brought into life, eager that these fleshy bodies be sent forth soon to do the good work he had in mind for them. But they were hesitant to surrender their freedom in the primal chaos of creation, for the suffocating confines of a fleshy body devised from so lowly a thing as a simple beast. Most refused to heed his call.
Only a collection of fire spirits, eager to escape the hungry clutches of the stronger among their kind, flocked to answer his call. They too, had come to seek refuge. Blessing the quaking elementals, the god promised them that henceforth, they would know no persecution as they would now be under the protection of masters that would never brutalize them the way their own kindred had. And with those words of assurance, the elementals were thrust into the bodies of the strange creatures he had fashioned.
Trapped they were, in these dense bodies of muscle and fur, but they mourned not, for their eternity of fear had finally ended. And so they went forth among the naked humanoids as the god had commanded them to, their minds filled with peace. But to their great chagrin, only one clan and one clan alone, among the naked ones, did not find themselves overwhelmed by terror of these strange beings. Trusting instead to place their hope of salvation in Puspah’s promise, they welcomed the great furred creatures to their fires with offerings of freshly roasted meat. And so as the bond formed between the great ancestors of Tekarath and the Hounds.
While others see the sulfurous odor that permeates the skin of every Hound as the lingering smoke of unholy fires existing deep within Hell, the rulers of Tekarath recognize it as proof of their divine descent from the the servants of the great God Puspah.
The beasts are an awesome combination of humanoid and canine. Far removed from the four-legged forbears said to have fashioned them with their burnt bones, the creatures are very much bipeds, standing on two powerfully muscled legs that are bent at the joint, lending them powerful bounding ability much like a kangaroo’s.
Covered in short, wiry sable fur, they stand at a height of no less than eight feet. Solid flesh from head to toe, they hardly resemble the half-starved were-wolves of horror stories, their bodies liberally being covered with rippling folds of firm, powerful muscle. Their chests are broad and powerfully developed, as are their arms, which would resemble those of the heftiest of human athletes, were it not for the expanse of short,wiry fur that covers them. Female hounds in a strangely human manner, do possess their nipples in the chest region, and often suckle their pups the way a human mother would her child.
Powerful furry palms sprout amazingly slender finger-like paws that are topped by blunt claws that can easily wrap themselves around a man’s head.
Perched on their large, thick necks are heads which resemble those of a mastiff’s, all rugged simplicity with folded ears tucked tightly against the sides of their heads. Sharp, almost human hazel eyes glimmer with a quick, keen intelligence reflected in crimson pupils . From their rears, curl a thin, vestigial, almost non-existent tail that seems to serve no useful purpose whatsoever. One may well deem it a throwback from canine originators.
DRIVEN TO PLEASE
They are intelligent indeed, but I would not go so far as to call them ever capable of replacing humanity’s authority with an independent will of their own. For though intelligent and able, they lack the ability to organize themselves into anything more than a primitive pack if left to their own devices. You might say they lack the human impulse that might urge them to see something we might term the beginning of civilization.
As for their usage of tools, I have heard that wild Hounds use bones to club large animal such as deer over the head, but they are incapable of aspiring to any more advanced ambitions where the use and crafting of tools is concerned.
Nay, astute and brave though they are, the Hound is driven by one and one thing alone:The all consuming drive to serve their humans masters, for I have seen with my own eyes simply how much pleasure they derive from the generous affection and attention bestowed on them by their masters.
Apart from almost extinct communities of these creatures surviving in the scrub-lands, most Hounds in existence spend the first years of their lives in the canals of their noble and royal masters. An average hound female gives birth to a litter of five to six pups, each of them being no more than fifteen inches in length when they emerge. Suckling on their mother’ teats, they grow quickly within five months and by that stage are separated by their keepers for fear that the males might begin to take the potentially dangerous step of elevating their mock fights into actual struggles for dominance of the pack. Typically lunging at one another with their powerful arms and then attempting to shove their opponents down to the ground where their teeth can come in close enough to bite, the juvenile males can be especially difficult to control.
Only the presence of their father or any other elder alpha male figure serves to keep them in check. In most breeding kennels, such a figure can often be found. A grizzled old veteran bearing scars from numerous battles, he is on hand to keep the pups from getting too out of hand with one another. A quick nip is enough to place the most rambunctious young male his place.
Adoptions of the adolescent pups takes place by virtue of pre-arranged agreements between the various noble houses of Tekarath. Nobles famous for rearing them often give them away to their peers in exchange of lucrative political or financial deals.
Only males are ever groomed to grace the personal guard of the king or those maintained by his nobles. Due to some quirk of Puspah’s divine grace, females are always almost always the minority in litters and as such, are carefully guarded by powerful masters fearful of loosing their priceless breeding stock. Fed with choices cuts of wild game and given daily supplies of fresh milk, they are raised in opulent conditions.
Adored by their masters, they become near constant companions, often accompanying their lords everywhere, loping along with the puny humans who take great pleasure and pride in the fine pelt and marvelous musculature of their furry companions, especially on hunts where they display their amazing stamina and speed by single-handedly running down and tackling small or medium-sized prey for the pleasure of their owner. It is in a Hound’s blood to stop at nothing to please the desires of a human who has lovingly nurtured them since they were but pup scarcely weaned off their mother’s. Rewards for such pleasing acts of obedience range from the roasted heart of the hunt’s choicest game, to a collar made on interlocked chains of pure gold.
Many of the hounds though ignorant of the true value of this precious metal, are filled with a love and adoration for all glowing things that have been forged in fire. Swayed by a heritage birthed in the possessive hearts of the very fire spirits themselves, they crave burning gold with a deep love and will treat a gift of such with the utmost gratitude, seeing it as a true measure of their lord’s love for them. In fact, more often than not, the winner of such a prize will be treated with cold hostility by the rest of the resident Hounds that see the chain hanging about her throat.
The males too, spend their first few months of their new lives with their owners in pampered indulgence, vying ferociously with their new pack-mates in the nursery to win their lord’s loving attentions. But as their egos begin to develop along with their muscles and fangs, they are soon directed to their true destiny. Upon reaching the above-mentioned state of adolescence, they are taken from the soft caresses of their master and are turned over to his personal instructor who begins the process of training them. The sounds of horns with varying frequencies are employed to get their attention, all of them accessible only to the ears of the Hounds with their extremely keen hearing. So are simple commands that the Hounds quickly come to learn based on their good memory and quick minds. By normal standards, a Hound soon masters the understanding of many simple words that are used in human speech to convey instructions.
Discipline is enforced by a senior hound who is on hand to come to the trainer’s aid by punishing any sign of disobedience. Occasionally, the latter is also expected to show the younger Hounds a particular maneuver expected of them. Always the master’s reigning favorite, his battle- scars and the immense gold caps that sheathe the yellowed fangs of this formidable figure, make him a far more impressive figure than the human instructor whom quite openly treats this warrior of a hundred battles with the appropriate respect due to such a hero.
Witnessing this obvious respect showered on one of their own, the young Hounds come to realize that the reverence of ‘‘lesser’’ humans is theirs to enjoy, for illumined as they are by the arrogant traits that stain the fire element, they quickly learn to distinguish between their own noble master, and the mass of human underlings that serve him. Any filthy peasant that dares to yell orders, or even worse, insults, at these sacred creatures, will be promptly flogged by the lord’s retainers if the Hounds do not succeed in inflicting their own nasty brand of chastisement first, driven by a wild rage to avenge the insult offered. Even their instructor is permitted to command any obedience from them by virtue of the veteran that assists him. Only with their master, do they let go of their haughty disdain and behave with the eagerness to please that has been imprinted on their hearts by Puspah.
As they progress, the Hounds are soon put through the more advanced stages of their training. When they have reached a stage deemed safe for them to begin learning how to use both their fangs and other weapons effectively, the senior hound comes to plays an increasingly large role. Commanding them effectively with only the most guttural and seemingly brutish of growls and barks, he participates with the human trainer in demonstrating to them the correct way of shoving a foe to the ground with their massive strength while being fast enough to evade his sword thrust. Even the rudiments of language are deemed as of being no use to a breed of beings that need only the simplest of cues to divine what is really expected of them by one whose soul shoulders with the same fire as theirs. Creatures in whose souls an elemental heritage mingles with the primordial instincts of the wolf pack, need no human devices of communication to understand one another’s thoughts.
Weaknesses in the basic armor worn by the ‘‘holy’’ paladins menacing Tekarath, are pointed out by the trainer while special importance is placed on the correct manner of ham-stringing or slaughtering a mounted knight’s horse, a time honored tactic that leaves a toppled enemy’s throat vulnerable to a Hound’s slashing fangs. It is a trick that comes easily to these natural born hunters. All the way throughout practice, only the heavy leather padding donned by the instructor and the warning growl issued by their grizzled mentor, saves the arteries of the former from being rent to bloody shreds for such is the ardor with which they take to battle. Fortitude and courage too is hardened, as they find their ears exposed to the terrible din and strident cries of conchs, trumpets, and drums.
Once they have attained basic mastery over their natural weapons, they are soon trained to use those same arms they make good use of when whacking goats and other ‘‘food’’ animals over the skull with large sticks and stones. As mentioned earlier, in their natural state, Hounds have been known to club their prey over with large bones, and this primal trait is utilized to the maximum when their first hand-held weapon is shoved into their furry paws.
Given large steel maces topped with five vicious steel points that protrude like the petals of a lethal flower, they are shown the correct way of raising these weapons up for a devastating strike. Soon they are thrust into their first mock battle against human opponents armed with protective leather padding. In response to the command of their trainer, they begin to learn how to fight as a single pack, assisted in this by the ever watchful veteran who shows them the way in responding to the orders issued to them.
As he charges and swings his club with a massive arm, so do they, all of them eager to give an unwary opponent a taste of their raw desire for rough and tumble. A Hound that is correctly drilled in the use of the mace can easily pulverize a knight’s skull into a bloody mass of bone fragments after having taken down the former’s steed with a fatal bite, simply by unleashing the great strength in his arms. If needed, he can even hurl his mace at a mounted target charging towards him from a distance away, growling in satisfaction as the deadly projectile slams into the horseman’s visage, removing most of his face.
When they have completed their training to their instructor’s satisfaction, a small ceremony takes place where they perform their combat skills before their master in the great arena to be found in the court-yard of every Tekrathian noble. This is a great spectacle that draws a audience of hundreds of awe-struck peasants come to witness the exploits of their lord’s fearsome canine soldiers. Swinging their vast clubs at one another with controlled grace and power under the watchful eye of their elder, or forming themselves together in a single pack to pounce upon groups of human soldiers in response to shouted orders and silent commands given by the special horns, they do so with an eagerness and desire to impress that is evident. In battle, their enthusiasm will prove deadly to their enemies.
If their master is pleased, he rewards all of them that day by giving them a seat of honor at this lavish banquet where they dine off plates ladened with the choicest meats and lap up gourds of heated wine(for they crave foods and drinks that are hot,a sure hint at their less than mundane roots), among the other warriors. Gold inlaid iron torcs that that will covering their massive chests when fastened correctly, are lavished on them as the holy invocations of Puspah are chanted by the household priests in attendance, their task being to bless the God’ children and the master who has now officially taken these sacred creatures into his service. At the sight of this loved metal, his prized guardians become almost delirious with joy, understanding that their master has been most satisfied with them.
Serving both as protective armor and as a permanent token of their master’s pride in their abilities, it will always serve them as a reminder of the affection and loyalty that has been invested into them by the one they love above all. A Hound will guard this adornment with its life, savaging anyone who attempts to remove it from him without his master’s consent.
Perhaps it is this almost crazed obsession to obey and please that makes them terrifying foes to encounter on the field of battle. For their beloved lord, any Hound, male and female alike, is willing to do just about anything. Prior to their entering the vicious fray of battle at their lord’s side, he speaks to the entire pack alone, whispering words of encouragement and exhortation in into the ears of each and every one of them as he stares up into deep, soulful eyes that manifest their evident desire to serve and win his affection and praise.
And so,at the appointed hour, his loyal guard gathers around as a mobile shield of lithe, furred bodies that gleam with sparkling gold and vibrant garlands that have been specially blessed by the holy-men and priests to protect the great lord’s most beloved guardians from the blades of the enemy. Keen ears at the ready, they sprint quickly, easily keeping pace with their mounted lord, growling and baying savagely, in response to the shouts and blasts given forth by the adored one that urges them on in the face of the enemy. A certain inflection in their master’s shouted command, or in the event of a night ambush launched against an unwary enemy that must be allowed to suspect nothing, a slight modification to the seemingly silent blast of the horn slung around their lord’s throat, and the restrain imposed on them by the pack-leader is thrown to the winds, replaced with the knowledge that they are at perfect liberty to follow untamed, primal instincts urging them to make quick, bloody work out of their prey. As their lord commands, so shall it be.
Fangs bared and spiked clubs swinging with swift, brutal strokes, they seek out the weakest spots in a foe’s defenses as they have been trained to by competent teachers both human and fellow Hound, their terrible, bone-crushing fangs ripping deep into the soft, vulnerable parts of a man’s anatomy where the spikes of the club may not be able to reach. As the battle progresses, and the adrenaline given off by stunned human foes begins to clog the very air with it stench, some of the rawer recruits loose all inhibitions and begin to rage like flames spiraling out of control with their destructive energy, transformed into bounding, slashing masses of fur and muscle, eager to sate the sudden thirst for fresh blood that has been awakened by the ripe smell of fear that their enemies ooze from the very pores of their trembling skins. Only the eerie spine-tingling howl of the pack-leader keeps the rest from straying too far from their master’s flanks in the frenzied rush for blood, thwarting any enemy’s hope of distracting the un-human personal guard in the hope of cutting its master down with a well-practiced blow. Even the most blood-maddened Hound will curb its appetite for slaughter, rather than arouse the pack leader’s terrible fury with any blatant act of disobedience.
It is said that in the midst of battle, a noble of Tekarth forms a bond so close with his Hounds that if his favorite in the pack guarding him, falls to a well aimed thrust or stab that succeeds in thwarting even its phenomenal swiftness, his very heart suffers a blow that is almost physical in its agony as nature itself warns him that the tiny pup which once wriggled between his loving hands, is now dead, never to honor him with its rough but moving embrace.
The people of Tekarath call this mysterious connection, Puspha’s gift, a bond forged on emotions powerful and enduring that exist between the Hound and the one who has nurtured it ever since it was removed from its mother as a young pup scarcely finished nursing. History is rife with tales of kings and princes that adorn their helmets with the tufts of fur taken from the fallen companions that sacrificed their lives to protect his.
In such tales, the bond still endures, as the hero find himself sometimes experiencing a surreal sensation that a phantom force wards him on the eve of a ferocious battle. A warm pant on his cheek seemingly coming from nowhere, a soft whine that only he can hear, such are the remnants of the legacy a dying Hound bequeaths to his master as its final thoughts are dominated by fear for its lord’s safety and well-fare. Lush parks stocked with fat,juicy game must be the reward for their undying loyalty as the funeral carvings etched onto the walls of their richly appointed tomb-chambers demonstrate. But when the time comes again for him to return to the cycle of rebirth to serve his beloved lord in yet another life-time, the spirits of fire seize his soul and force it again into the fetus of a pregnant female.
As long as creation is not done with either of them, a Hound will always be destined to end up with his lord again. Is it any wonder than, that the King of Tekarath has a Hound wreathed in flames as the insignia of his royal lineage? Such loyalty that transcends an inconvenience like mortality must have its reward.
Their unique odor lends credence to the popular belief that these revered creatures are proof against fire. Indeed, it is a time honored custom for the Hounds to bound through the great roaring fires that are lit to celebrate the annual fertility festival dedicated to Puspah.
Their pelts streaked with a sacred paste made of certain aromatic crushed herbs dedicated to their divine patron, they ready themselves to spring through the roaring flames like furred arrows, moving with such grace and swiftness that it appears to the eyes of the awed masses as if the flames truly part before their advance. And many of the sages of the land will insist that any crackling fire will never fail to revive a Hound reduced to exhaustion or fatigue.
Ancient myths even speak of a pure-white Hound that is born once in every five generations to a truly enlightened king that has been blessed by the gods. Such a wonder can grab the very flames into his fists and hurl them as scorching missiles at the enemy, turning their advance into a route. Mythical epics are rife with the tales of these almost god-like figures that decimate demonic armies with their arsenal of burning missiles. Some mystics are convinced that the birth of such a Hound is not far away, as Tekarath’s mortal foes continue to encroach against its borders.
-These are notes taken from the journal of that famous writer and anthropologist, Marcus Hoard of Haracon, as his desire to escape the suffocating clutches of the clergy back in his home country takes him on wanderings deep into alien ,pagan cultures.