A monster was born in that evening fog, a monster that ate elves and humans and bears and anything that fell into its path.
The sea witch had created it from the young man she had lured to the water. She had tricked him, using the form stolen from the healer to lure him to river to do so and leaving the woman near dead on the riverbank. She fed upon him, namely his ability to transform. Time and time again she repeated her act of stealing his power, transforming the man into beast against his will.
The wretched creature was demented. She was already deeply entrenched in her own circle of damnation. Slowly, inevitably, the pain she inflicted upon him twisted him more and more — into a black thing consumed by sorrow and emptiness. She laughed ecstatically when she unleashed him, savoring the screams of the River elves he tracked and killed. She would praise him before she feasted on the bodies of the two-legged types she hated so much –their bodies torn apart by his jaws.
Where and when his murderous rampage ended, he did not know. He had blocked so much of the past out.
But time had passed before he found himself home, his parents and grandfather anxiously tending him. They did not ask him what he remembered, they did not press. It was clear that the madness had not left him once he had become human again. His mind was still fragile and tormented. He wandered the dark catacombs underneath these grounds for years, long after they passed. He would find rest in the healing light of the caverns. He was safe from the world that he had torn apart. But he was alone, without the elves he had loved and almost annihilated.
Then came Hastings.
And then the woman — who he chased away..
Today in the present day, he faced that darkness the unlocked magic had unleashed. He recalled himself as a four-legged monster, a large black wolf that grew larger with each life he took.
As he faced the darkness, a small piece of the story fell into place and he saw fully what did happen. He understood how he came to be home.
He remembered a small silver wolf foolishly snapping at his neck.
He felt the stings of the dark-haired man’s sword trying to cut through the lies.
He heard the woman with a red cloak singing familiar songs, telling him to wake from the nightmare.
In this memory, they fought him. No, they fought him because they were fighting for him.
His father’s blade opened his eyes and he saw his grandfather and mother. He heard the sea witch laughing as she told them to kill them for her. And he screamed.
He tore the witch’s neck. His teeth gnashed and severed her false human form. The body-less head shrieked long after the rest of that wicked form died.
Her magic stung him, filling his entire being with pain, until she died. Until he died.
But he woke later, not dead. And today, many years later, Count Wolfram wielded the cane — his grandfather’s totem. He used it to beat back against the tendrils that reached for him for a while before he began to exhaust himself. They replenished themselves constantly. Bitterly he realized he had no elves or grandfather to save him.
But as he faltered, he heard a familiar sound – a howling of wolves in the distance.
As the wind began to build, he heard the howls draw closer. A familiar voice rang out, clear and unafraid. “What the hell have you gotten yourself into.”
The lord heard Giles, heard his young cousin cursing up a storm as he continued to shout for him, scolding the ‘goddamned fairy beasts’ for being so slow.
Then Wolfram saw them — the lions faintly shining in the black fog. Giles rode in the middle of this strange pack of beasts as they ran about, stamping their feet. He saw them clawing, tearing at the darkness, allowing cracks of white to show through.
“Master,” Gawain cried out. “Speak so we may find you!”
And then he saw Marrok, also on a beast. And the man’s wife. “My lord,” they cried out as they passed by him in the darkness. Looking. Seeking.
“I’m here,” he called out. “I’m here,” he shouted more loudly as he thrust out his free hand and felt himself tossed lightly onto Gawain’s back.
When he woke, he found himself lying on the trampled snow, the faces of those same people looking back at him. “I’m here,” he croaked out weakly before he saw the darkness was gone.
“This magic stuff is serious horse dung,” Giles complained to no one in particular. He looked shaken. “One minute there, and then this fog rolled in and he was gone. Then the lions were everywhere, dragging us off.”
The Count clutched his cane as they dragged him back into the house. He said little as the healer Elanore came to his side, her face anxious as she looked for signs of injuries.
He pondered the full circle he had come, through light and darkness once again.
This time it was not a wind of his guardian spirits that spoke to him and pulled him from the brink of what he might be. It was not a man of enormous will and power like his grandfather who bravely faced him when he gone astray. This time it was magic come to life — lions born with their own will and power — and the offspring of that great man.
“Marrok. Giles. Tala,” he sat up suddenly. “Listen.”
No more secrets he would hold from them. This was not just his place to watch anymore. He understood the lions now. It was theirs. His family. The girl’s. The boy’s. The people’s.
The magic did not belong to them. They belonged to the magic.
He told them of what he did not know and what he did. He spoke of the maps, the stones, the stories, witches, and elves.
He spoke until he grew hoarse and they forced him to rest, leaving him alone in his room, staring up at the ceiling.
Their only role now was to survive.
His fingers reached for the stone on the unbroken chain in his pocket – his grandfather’s gift – a light against the darkness. He closed his hand.
This time, it shone.