|This is a compilation of books assembled for easier reading.|
ertius Felannus gazed down upon the rich valley of his homeland. The rich loamy earth clung to the hem of his simple woolen robe. He was dressed in the garb of his order, wearing the simple weave of Maran devotees. The thick folds of cloth hid his thin frame from the eyes of men and the teeth of the harsh wind. A faint smile played about the edges of his care-worn lips. It was the same gentle smile that was etched into his face by a combination of years of missionary work and a trust in the divinity of the Nine. His feet were unshod, epitomizing the virtue of humility by which he tried to live his life.
He strode joyfully towards the village of Sten. The thatched roofs of the modest houses were partially obscured by a copse of flowering fruit trees, branches laden with their bounty. He carried with him nothing but his faith and a joy that stemmed from the knowledge that he would soon be home.
The orange glow of sunset hung in the air, filling the empty pastures with a subtle glow; a light for the eyes and a light for the soul.
This was Vertius' land; it was here that he had gone through his transformation from a smiling infant, to a solemn youth, into the quiet pious young man who had left to become a missionary. His long years in Argonia had given him an acceptance of life's hardships and had strengthened his faith in Mara. He had decided to return to Sten to run the local shrine. He would live out his last days in peace and solitude; nothing but him and his faith.
That night, he settled down to sleep on the rough pallaisse that served as his bed. He was once more on the bed where he had slept for his formative years. He did not desire more comfortable surroundings. The house was empty now of his family, his last relatives having perished recently. Though he was alone, he felt the warmth of their spirits envelope him. As he drifted into slumber, he whispered a prayer of thanks that his family was in the arms of the gods.
Suddenly, a piercing scream broke through the veil of sleep that enveloped him and thrust him back into the waking world. He arose from his bed, hastily pulling on his clothing. He picked up his traveling staff and rushed to the source of the commotion, trying to think of an innocent reason for a yell in the dark hours of the night. He could think of none and added an extra note of urgency to his efforts.
e emerged into the sharp air of midnight. The moon was full and cast a sprinkling of shimmering light over the rooftops. To Vertius' eyes, all that was visible were blue shapes in the inky darkness. He could discern no movement.
Then he stopped.
Something was stirring. He felt an indescribable urge to take refuge in his home. He had seen nothing, he had heard nothing, but the cold hand of fear gripped his heart. He moved his hand down to the icon that hung around his neck. The soft line of its carved wood gave him solace. He whispered a prayer the Nine and prayed for his own safety and the safety of whoever had released that earth-shattering scream. He shivered-the scream still reverberated in his skull.
Then he saw a shadow unfolding in the darkness. It was the color of the midnight air and its movement was all that distinguished it from the scenery. It was moving at a rate that Vertius could not fathom. It was faster than any creature or person he had ever seen. It was getting closer, and quick.
Suddenly it reached the crouched priest. He saw moonlight glinting off long rows of teeth. He heard a blood-curdling snarl issue from it.
Vertius raised his hand to shield himself from the creature. In the moment of thought available to him, his brain struggled to identify the ball of fury unleashed upon him.
Its jaws connected with the soft flesh of his frail arm. He felt the spikes of pain emanating from his arm as those terrible teeth tore through his papery skin, his thin muscles and his brittle bones. A fear beyond that which he had felt before reached down and enveloped him. He tried to summon the text of the homilies of peace in his mind but they were drowned out by the terror that gripped him.
The beast flung him to the ground. The shock of his impact with the hard-packed earth echoed through him. The beast salivated over him as he lay helpless. Just as it was about to leap for his jugular, it stopped. Its ears were pricked up and its nostrils searched for scents on the breeze.
It turned and bounded away from the paralyzed cleric. He watched in shock as the creature moved towards the shouting that was now audible over the breeze. The source of the commotion was a group of the local farmers. In their hands, they held the implements that they knew so well. A pitchfork or a shovel was a deadly weapon in their hands.
Vertius watched as the beast fell upon the hapless farmers. Their screams shook the night air as blood loss pushed him out of conscience.
ertius awoke to the sound of weeping. He tried to move his head to examine his surroundings, but the attempt sent waves of pain echoing through him.
He was lying in an unfamiliar bed. The linen sheets felt strange to him, accustomed to years of coarse wool. He resolved to find the source of the crying, and with a great effort managed to lever himself into a semi-upright position.
A girl of no more than eight years was sitting in a chair at the foot of the bed. Their eyes met and a connection was formed between the two. Her eyes were obscured by tears, but in them he could see deep pools of sadness. This child had an age far beyond that of her few years. She looked away and the connection between the two was broken.
Then the pain of his injuries overcame him once more and he drifted back into a feverish sleep. As he slept, dreams came to him that he could not begin to comprehend. He was visited by images of the moon, its eerie glow awaking in him feelings in him that were both frightening and exciting.
He woke with a start, his body drenched in sweat and his mind enveloped in foreboding. Something was wrong; he could feel the absence of Mara from his mind. There was a gaping hole in his soul, one that he could not fill. The images of moonlight that still assailed him had driven his god way from him. For the first time, Vertius felt truly alone.
He spent the day lying in his bed pondering what could have brought about this change. The absence that filled him left him lying in his bed, unwilling and unable to move. A desire for something was still haunting him, but still couldn't pinpoint it.
The next night was the same as before.
Again the moonlight shone into his soul and once again he awoke with that terrible emptiness inside. This time the desire that he felt was in the form of a terrible thirst, one that could not be sated.
e spent the day praying to Mara, pleading for her to make him whole again and to rid him of the nightmares that separated him from her. But instead of the waves of serenity that usually came to him during prayer, he heard only silence.
On the third night, the visions came to him once more. But this time as the light of the moon shone down upon him, he felt a prickling sensation start to overcome him. He convulsed in pain as he long claws burst out from under his fingernails. He felt the indescribable agony of his bones warping and taking on a new shape. His stringy and frail muscles swelled and he felt new strength in his limbs. He looked at his hands and saw that his wrinkled hands had been replaced by the terrible hairy claws of a monster. He drew breath to find that new scents were coming to him from all sides, providing him with a wealth of sensory information. He was shocked to see a long bushy tail protruding from behind him.
He took a step only to find that he instead of his usual slow and deliberate movements; he was instinctively running across the floor. He ran out of the door, frightened by his new form and new-found strength. He ran silently through the night, unseen and unnoticed.
He reached the shelter of the forest's darkness, and there he spent the night, alone with his new form and the strange lust for something indescribable that welled up inside him.
The next morning he awoke to find he body was returned to itself, and he felt the chill of the morning on his bare skin. He checked the wounds on his arm only to find that the gashes were gone and his arm was whole once more. This was not healing energy of Mara that had done this; her absence still tore at his soul.
e spent the day in fits of prayer, dreading the night and the shadows it would bring.
As the moon rose to shine down upon him, it was not terror as before that came over him, but an unexplainable lust and desire, stronger than before.
As before, he felt his skin splitting and he bones shift.
As before, claws sprouted from his fingers.
As before, he stepped out into the night air.
He felt the call of the beast inside him, and he now he knew what the beast hungered for: blood.
He watched a small figure walking home under the moon's glow, and the lust overtook the last of his reservations. He bounded towards the figure, ignoring his screams of terror. His mind did not register that this was one of his neighbors, a father and a husband.
He lashed out at the helpless individual, and soon lost all consciousness to the ecstasy of the hunt.
He awoke once more in the shade of a tree, his mouth filled with the taste of human blood.
He felt no regret for the life of the farmer. He was but prey to be hunted. Though Mara no longer called to him, he did not wish for her company.
He spent the day waiting for the night, for when he would feel the rush of power once more. As the transformation overtook him once more, he did not fear its pain. He simply waited for blood.
Without delay, he stepped out into the undergrowth. He surged silently through the trees, keen senses searching for life. It did not take long to find it. Sitting alone by a carved headstone overlooking a gorge, a small figure lay weeping.
He approached under the blanket of darkness, mind consumed with the lust for blood and the anticipation of its taste. He emerged from the trees and revealed himself to the girl. Their eyes met, and through the clouds of desire in his mind, he felt a pang of familiarity. The beast retreated. This was the girl who had tended to him. Deep behind his bestial features, a battle raged with the beast. He reached out to Mara for strength, and she responded.
Infused with the strength of his god, he flung himself and the other over the precipice. Man and beast sailed through the air. He saw the beast fall away from him as it dropped like a stone to the ground below. He felt Mara embrace him and fold him in her arms as he sailed above his bestial body, sailing upwards to find his redemption.