It is a wolf the size of a pony, a creature with coarse shaggy fur as black as night and eyes that burned like a pair of winter moons. It howls, snaps, snarls, and rolls its two moon-eyes that glow with hatred—and with magic.

Azthrak smiles and watches from a safe distance, his own two eyes glittering like pieces of obsidian. His skin is pale, like something that was found growing in the deepest, darkest crevice of a cave where sunlight was never known. His fingers are like fat twitching worms attached to his plump clammy hands.

"Caught you," the alchemist observes, sneezing once from the vile fumes that the kettle's contents gave off by his foot. His ink-dark eyes watered. "I knew that your... (cough)... pup would bring you here."

The werewolf howls a curse, but the howl ends in a yelp of pain as an iron-tipped spear prods its belly. The centaur dodges nimbly away from the retaliatory swipe of a paw, brandishing its spear again and smirking. Its horse body is a liver chestnut, and its human half is that of a cocky youth nearing manhood. The touch of the iron spearhead left a vivid red burn on the werewolf's stomach, searing away the hair that coated its skin.

No immortal being can stand the touch of iron.

"Why?" the werewolf snarled, its voice a gravelly growl that comes out through a fang-filled maw.

Azthrak shrugged his narrow shoulders. He dressed in a hooded black robe that was stained and dirty with food and strange substances—dyes, potions, ichor from manticores, ambrosia that would burn away the stomachs of any mortal that dared consume it. The alchemist looks like a thin, sickly crow.

"I was paid to make a restraint that a werewolf couldn't break free from. A commission from a monster-hunter, if you will," Azthrak said. He gave a little scholarly cough and produced a huge, ugly metal collar from within the folds of his alchemist's robe. It is the color of stormclouds and the werewolf knows that it was made of thunderbolt iron—the same metal that the Weland Smith would use to make the swords of heroes. It is ugly and twisted, forged with thick-cut runes and dipped into trays of caustic, hissing potions that steamed and spat fire from the touch of metal.

The werewolf fought harder against the ribbons that tied it down. Ribbons from a witch's hair. Enchanted woven things made from red silk that looked as delicate as cobwebs—but were as beautiful and strong as adamant. All knotted together and fused with spells, so thickly placed that even the strength of a werewolf—a strength that snapped swords like matchsticks and smashed through thick oaken doors like a brick through paper—could not break them. Magic. Oh, how the wolf hated magic.

"You'll only tire yourself out," Azthrak said. There was a bag slung over the little man's shoulder. An old grain sack. It squirmed, and something inside of it whimpered and whined. The centaur prodded the sack with his spear. There was a yelp. The werewolf tied down with bonds of red silk howled and struggled.

"He told us his name was Blackpaw. And that his wolf-daddy Yellowfang would come for him. He pissed on my leg," the centaur reported. "So I broke two of his."

"And they call me monster," the werewolf snarled, glaring balefully at the centaur.

"You eat the people, the people pay an alchemist to give you a magic collar. Now sit, dog, and be a good boy. Maybe you'll get a treat."

The werewolf's jaws snapped shut just inches from the centaur's hind leg. The horse-man screamed a challenge and reared up, hissing and neighing in the language of his four-legged wind-runners. The werewolf's black lips peeled back, displaying crooked yellow fangs and a lolling red tongue. Its breath stank of carrion, and it growled.

The spear stabbed out like a steel serpent, slicing one of the wolf's moon-eyes almost in half. The creature fell back with a howl of pain, its claws digging deep furrows in the soft forest ground. Azthrack dropped the heavy iron collar into the cauldron, and tongues of green hellfire leaped into the air for a moment. Using a pair of smith's tongs, the alchemist fished out his creation and attached it to the werewolf, using the opportunity that the beast presented when it was mad with pain.

The wolf writhed and struggled, twitching and snapping as blood matted the black fur on its face. It contorted. It shrank. The huge muscles that rippled beneath its fur dwindled. The stubby fingers on its paws became toes.

Azthrak smiled.

Beneath a net of red ribbons was a dog. A one-eyed black dog with a kinked tail and chewed-up ears. The dog snarled at him. No words came from its muzzle. A dog, not a werewolf. But with the mind of a man. Oh, such a fitting punishment. A were-creature that ate the flesh of men every moon, contained now in the body of a man's servant.

The centaur took the bag containing the werewolf puppy from the alchemist. "What are we going to do with this?" he asked, upending it. The pup fell out, now in the form of a four-year-old human with two crooked legs and a mop of tangled black hair. When it hit the ground in curled into a ball, whimpering faintly. The pale flesh was dotted with bruises and cuts.

"Whatever you want," Azthrak answered absentmindedly, getting out a leash for his newest captive. The centaur smiled and raised the spear, then stabbed down. There was a sound like a cross between a squish and a crunch, and the dog howled its grief to the uncaring moon as the little body bled out into the ground.


Norse mythology references make me happy. Could you spot both of them? Cookies for the one who does!

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