Sweat poured down the face of the thief as he fled in terror, desperately trying to out-distance the beast behind him. Limbs from nearby trees slashed and tore at his skin and clothing, but he felt no pain. Pain was last on his mind. Racing blindly through the forest, stumbling over logs and large rocks, fear clouding his sight, taking away all rational judgment, for the beast was growing closer. He could hear the footsteps getting closer. He imagined its steamy breath on his neck and ran faster.
Soon he came to a tall and forbidding tree standing alone in a small clearing. Knowing that he could not out run the horrible creature, he scrambled up, digging his fingers into the trunk, clawing his way to the lowest branch, ripping off a nail in the process. If he felt it, it did not show. Blood flowed from his wounds, but his mind was trained on only one thing: to survive. He made his way to the branch and stopped, his heart pounding in his chest like war drum, his breath coming in short, rasping gasps.
Now he felt the cool of the night air and the many abrasions on his skin, but they were minor wounds, nothing compared to what he would face if the beast caught him. A gentle, yet bone chilling, breeze swept through the tree limbs causing them to sway gently. The sky was cloudless that night; a full and bright moon hung overhead, the only witness of what he had done.
He thought back to the beginning, a tale of a miraculous treasure lying deep in the haunted woods of the Wraiths’ Forest. He had come in search of a precious gem that could give its wielder the power over life and death, power to control that very cycle. He knew he should not have come, that his life was at an end. Only if he knew how to summon the power of the Life Gem, he might have some chance of being safe, but he was no sorcerer, no student of the arcane ways. He cursed himself for leaving the safety of his guild and for getting too drunk to decline the tempting offer. So there he sat, waiting, hoping against hope itself that the beast would not find him.
The creature continued the hunt, never doubting that he would find his prey. For what the thief did not know was that the gem that he stole was linked to the beast; no matter how far he ran, the beast could follow. He slowed his pursuit down, sensing the gem was near and that the thief was no longer running. He approached the tree in which the perpetrator hid, its powerful muscles tensing in anticipation. The beast calmly walked into the small clearing, letting the terrified man gaze upon his horrendous, yet beautiful, form.
The moon seemed to brighten, giving the thief a perfect view of this wolf-like beast. Its large muscular body was covered with jet-black fur that seemed to draw in the light around it, leaving it darker than the night itself. Huge claws ended each foot of its powerful legs, digging deep into the soil with each step, the vegetation shriveling and dying around his paws. Razor-sharp teeth lined its maw, and dark drool dripped from each one, a deadly venom that could cause violent convulsions to its victim. The beast had other plans for this one. No, he would not die quickly. An eternity of pain awaited this particular man.
The beast’s gaze fell upon the thief, its blood-red eyes sending shivers up his spine, and the pain behind those eyes made his blood freeze. A thousand tormented souls could be seen behind the creature’s eyes, a promise of eternal torment. The creature’s eyes flashed a deeper red, and all life stood still. Not a single insect dared to make a sound while in the presence of death. The eyes flashed again, and a bone chilling wind swept across the clearing. Black clouds rushed in hurriedly to cover the night sky, for not even the moon herself would be a witness of the imminent. Again the beast’s eyes flicker, and the very tree the thief took refuge in bowed to the mighty will of its master. It shook in violent convulsions. It slung the man high into the air. Just when he was about to smash into the earth, an arm-like branch shot out and caught the thief by his ankles.
Slowly the creature walked up to its prey, willing its body to take a more suitable form. Muscles began to twitch and increase in size and mass, bringing the changeling to its hind legs. Bones twisted and popped out of socket, reforming into a more or less humanoid appearance. The process was finished by the time it was within an arm’s-length of the hanging thief, its body now that of a werewolf, its favorite form to terrify humans.
It eyed the tree and nodded its head. The great tree began to tremble, violently tousling the thief about until a bright red gem fell from his ragged tunic and landed at the changeling’s feet. With a wave of his horrendously clawed hand, the tree ceased its convulsions. A low growl rumbled out of the beast’s throat, and an evil snarl spread across its canine lips. It bent to retrieve the magnificent jewel from the ground and held it up at eye-level, staring into the endless depths within. It was then that the thief noticed the striking resemblance between the gem and the creature’s eyes. The same vision within the haunting orbs was present inside the gem, the swirling of tortured and screaming souls that were trapped for eternity. Now the actual properties of the Life Gem began to flicker faintly within his mind. The gem did not give life. It stole life, and held the spirit from those it fed forever.
The werewolf let out a terrible and wicked growl that made the air and earth tremble in fear. The tree that was holding the thief dropped him to the ground and cowed away, its roots partly ripped free of the ground as it bowed. The beast grabbed the thief violently by the back of his neck and easily lifted him up eye level, leaving his feet dangling above the ground.
The jewel began to melt into the palm of the changeling’s hand. Streams of red fire trailed up its arm covering its body; its eyes grew brighter as the gem rejoined with its lord, transferring its power back into the beast. A tremendous backhand sent the thief flying backwards slamming into the tree, delighting the beast and drawing blood from the corner of his mouth. He came upon the thief fast-ripping his skin with its claws, tearing out chunks of flesh with each powerful swipe. Not wanting to kill him yet, the beast abruptly stopped.
Blood poured freely from the many wounds, bubbling and squirting where the arteries were shredded. Desperately, the thief tried to stand but was hammered down by the beast’s powerful fist, which sent him face first into the soft, blood-soaked soil. Then quite unexpectedly, the beast waved its claws over the fallen form, and a warm breeze encircled the dying thief. His wounds ceased to bleed, and they completely healed over. Perplexed by this strange act of mercy, he lifted his head to the beast, just as a powerful arm jerked him into the air and slammed him hard against the trunk of the tree. The sound of bones cracking echoed in the night. The mighty hand slowly began to squeeze the life out of the thief, claws digging deep into his throat, for he knew no mercy, only torment. The monstrous beast drove the hooked claws of his free hand through the thief’s stomach, disemboweling him. Claws raked continually over flesh. Unearthly screams filled the night air. This was the only pleasure the beast knew.
So it went for hours upon end, the changeling ripping the thief apart and healing him back, so the torment could begin anew. Just when the thief could take no more, the beast clamped its horrible jaw on his throat and slowly drained him of his life essence.
As the last spark of life left his newest victim, the beast tossed the limp body aside and turned back toward his castle, his hellish abode. A bloody grin spread across his maw as he thought of his newest addition to his collection of souls, a new plaything for the torturous demons that dwell within the Life Gem.