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The long howl echoed through the mountains, a tinge of madness creeping around its edge. The crowded Wolfkin responded in kind, frantic cheers echoing after the fading howl. Out of the corner of his eye, Thorn caught Elder Havva’s frown, reinforcing the discomfort in his heart. Something was off.

[Buried in the hearts of my children, the Betrayer’s whispers have changed them. What used to be looked on with loathing is now held as a mark of pride. They have even taken to calling this bloodlust the Madness of the Moon and claimed that it comes from me. The Head Disciple of my temple has broken the prohibition. He has failed to abide by the ancient law, using the Betrayer's power in this trial.]

As Thorn listened to Hati, the silver moon in the sky above the ring pulsed, a wave of silver flowing down like a stream of mercury. As it touched the runes on Thorn's body, they fused together, forming shining armor. The light healed the gouges on Thorn's hand as it flowed down his arms, thick armored bracers and gauntlets appearing a piece at a time, complete with claws.

[Champion, cleanse this corruption. Break the influence of the Betrayer. Show them the true path.]

Fully restored, Thorn faced the maddened Wolfkin, Hati's command ringing in his head. With a raging roar, Gelish stormed forward, emboldened by the cheers of the crowd. Once again the two warriors smashed into each other, shaking the ground with the force of their blows.

Standing toe to toe, Thorn and Gelish traded blows. Gelish’s strikes were wild and filled with ferocity. Much more measured, Thorn warded the blows off, focusing on driving the raging Wolfkin toward the edge of the ring. Thorn could tell that the tall Wolfkin had been entirely consumed by madness. Despite the heaviness of Thorn’s strikes, his opponent shrugged them off like they were nothing.

“You cannot beat me, impostor! I am the true Greymane!” Gelish screamed, veins bulging in his neck as he ripped into Thorn. A wild swing glanced off of Thorn’s armored forearm, forcing him to jerk his head back to avoid a vicious claw. Annoyed, Thorn’s eyes narrowed.

Abandoning his attempt to contain his opponent, Thorn lowered his shoulder and lunged, planting his wolf-head pauldron square into Gelish’s chest. Not giving him time to recover, Thorn grabbed the enraged Wolfkin by the shoulder and lifted him up into the air. Swinging him around like a rag doll, Thorn smashed Gelish into the ground so hard the stone ring cracked.

The crowd, stunned by the sudden change in the pace of the fight, gasped in shock. The cheering Wolfkin lapsed into silence at the sight of their champion being thrown to the ground. Gelish struggled to his feet, still caught in the grip of his bloodlust. The silver runes on his fur shimmered and warped, taking on a tinge of red. Roaring out in rage, his body swelled further as he called deeper upon the Madness of the Moon. The silver runes turned completely red and began to burn into his fur, searing bloody paths into his body. Warped arcane symbols rose around Gelish, forming a crimson cage.

Gasps rose from the crowd as the Wolfkin sensed that something was off. Near the statue of Hati, Elder Havva sighed, his head drooping even further. Inside the cage, streams of bloody energy poured into Gelish, causing him to scream in pain. His body writhed as the energy remoulded him, causing sharp black spikes to grow from his spine and forearms. His form grew in size, quickly reaching Thorn’s height as his muscles swelled.

Impassively, Thorn watched as Gelish struggled and grew in the crimson cage. The Wolfkin warrior had lost almost any semblance of his former self by this point. Gone was the self-controlled monk that Thorn had faced initially. In his place was a corrupted monster from a nightmare. As Gelish’s twisted form reached completion, the cage warped again, sinking into Gelish’s body. The crimson brand gave off the copper and carion stench of blood, sickening and weakening those that smelled it.

Many among the tightly packed Wolfkin around the ring fell to their knees as the smell hit them, gagging and retching. The remaining Wolfkin shivered, their eyes turning bloodshot and their forms starting to twist and swell. Cursing, Thorn looked around, unsure what to do. All around the ring Wolfkin were either being consumed by rage or falling to the ground in pain.

As if in response to the spreading corruption, the silver moon in the sky pulsed again, sending down a wave of silver energy to land on Thorn. With a ringing sound, it spread from him, purifying the putrid smell as it washed over the crowd. The Wolfkin who were being corrupted suddenly froze, their bloodshot eyes locking onto Thorn’s shining figure.

“Well, this devolved quickly,” Thorn muttered under his breath. Double checking that Captain Del’har was not turning into a corrupted monster, Thorn flexed his fingers.

The newly corrupted Wolfkin from the crowd had their eyes fixed on him, and Thorn instinctively knew what was going to happen next. Sure enough, the moment the ringing sound faded, the corrupted Wolfkin lunged forward, teeth bared and claws out.

Since the trial by combat was already ruined, Thorn did not hesitate to draw a weapon. Reaching for his tetsubo, Thorn only remembered that it had never been fixed when the massive metal spike he had ripped from the floor of Greymane Keep appeared in his hand. Dried blood and rust flaked from the spike’s pitted surface as his gauntleted hand tightened around it. With no time to exchange it for an actual weapon, Thorn shrugged and threw back his head.

[Wolf Lord’s Howl!]

The stunning effect of his howl stopped most of the charging Wolfkin mid-stride, and Thorn took care of the few that managed to shake off the effect with a sweeping blow of his massive metal spike. The whistle of the spike cutting through the air caused the Wolfkin to pause, but the corrupting influence of the bloodrage was too strong, and soon they surged forward again.

Near the statue of Hati, Elder Havva bowed his head, chanting a long prayer. As the words spilled from his lips, they turned silver and hovered in the air, weaving together to form a semi-circular dome, covering everything within ten feet of the statue. The Wolfkin who were lucky enough to be inside the magical dome were not affected by the corrupting smell of blood and stood, waiting anxiously.

Captain Del’har, his face locked in a furious scowl, was dragging two Wolfkin who had been curled up on the ground, retching, into the protected range of the statue. As soon as they entered the sphere, their symptoms vanished, and they were soon able to struggle to their feet, joining the others. The captain panted for a moment, taking in large gulps of air, his body relaxing. After a couple of breaths, he gathered his focus and plunged through the ward, racing as fast as he could toward another set of fallen Wolfkin.

In the center of the ring, Thorn battled waves of corrupted Wolfkin, all the while keeping an eye on Gelish, who was still releasing the bloody scent. The mammoth corrupted Wolfkin paced at the edge of the ring, his bloodshot eyes fixed on Thorn, acidic saliva dripping from his large maw. No reason was left in his brain, but the cunning instincts of a feral wolf kept him from charging straight in. Instead, he waited, looking for that moment of weakness.

Try as he might, Thorn could not help but hurt the attacking Wolfkin as he battered them back. Despite the cracking of their bones as they were thrown away, the Madness of the Moon made them all but immune to pain, and they were soon charging back into the fray. Claws flashed and teeth snapped as Thorn was nearly drowned in furry bodies.

His mind working furiously, Thorn tried to figure out a solution that did not involve killing the attacking Wolfkin. While it would be easy for him to slaughter them wholesale, Thorn did his best to inflict as little damage as possible. The whole reason he had come was to bring the Wolfkin back as his subjects, and killing their warriors was contrary to that goal.

Yet, it was apparent that, without some means of cleansing them of the corrupting influence of the Madness of the Moon, Thorn had no way to beat them while keeping them alive. With a grimace, Thorn ripped a Wolfkin who had managed to bite into his shoulder from his back, swinging his massive metal spike in a circle to try and gain some space. His temper growing shorter, Thorn was about to activate his [Wolf's Rage] ability and crush the offending Wolfkin in his hand to pulp when a flash of light caught his eye.

Looking toward the end of the ring, Thorn saw Captain Del’har pull a pair of Wolfkin into the ward that Elder Havva had erected. As the two Wolfkin relaxed, no longer vomiting, a lightbulb went off in Thorn’s head and, without any further hesitation, he threw the corrupted Wolfkin in his hand at the silvery circle of protection.

The throw was strong and, no matter how much the corrupted Wolfkin flailed, he could not stop himself from flying through the air. Arms and legs waving, the poor native drew a neat parabola toward the statue of Hati, dropping into the silvery circle. As soon as he got within ten feet of the praying elder, the eyes of the statue of Hati flashed with a silver light.

The corrupted Wolfkin let out a sudden scream, and a boiling sound erupted from his body as a dark red liquid evaporated from his fur. The pain did not last long, and the Wolfkin fell to the ground in a heap, unconscious.

*ding*

Cleanse the Corruption

The Madness of the Moon has taken hold of many of the Temple of the Moon disciples. As the Avatar of Hati, it is your job to cleanse the corruption, removing the influence of the Betrayer from the Wolfkin. You have chosen to remove the corruption instead of killing the corrupted.


Corrupted Wolfkin Cleansed: 1/35

Source of Corruption Cleansed: 0/1


Hardly glancing at the notification, Thorn was ecstatic at the effect of throwing the corrupted Wolfkin near the statue of Hati. Putting away his weapon, Thorn lunged forward, grabbing two more of the corrupted attackers, tossing them toward the statue.

For the next few minutes, a constant stream of flailing Wolfkin flew from the ring toward the statue, piling up into a heap of unconscious bodies. Captain Del’har watched in utter astonishment as the pile grew higher and higher, bodies falling out of the sky.

Across the ring, Gelish was still pacing. Growing more frantic by the minute, the source of the corruption could instinctively tell that his window was growing smaller. Thorn’s reach and strength made it simple for him to grab and throw the attackers to the statue. Each throw reduced the number of attackers, making it even easier for Thorn to grab the next one.

Furious, the corrupted Head Disciple threw the last threads of caution to the wind and charged forward, howling out a challenge. The waves of sound washed over the ring, causing the few corrupted Wolfkin left to fall into a daze. As the howl reached him, Thorn could feel the sound trying to invade his mind and shake his spirit. For a brief moment, the sound wave grew louder and louder, threatening to become the only thing in Thorn’s world.

Shaking his head forcefully, Thorn broke away from the sound. He had only been shaken for the briefest of moments, but that was enough for Gelish to cross the ring. Despite the madness that had overtaken him, the Head Disciple of the Moon Temple had not forgotten his martial arts, and he unleashed a furious flurry of kicks, aiming to strike Thorn down.

Six consecutive kicks smashed into Thorn, each stronger than the next. Grimacing in pain, Thorn could only raise his arms and legs to try and block the attacks. Gelish had not only grown bigger but stronger as well, and while his attacks were not quite enough to force Thorn back, each hit left him shaken.

Having blocked the six kicks, Thorn threw out a palm strike, forcing Gelish to dodge backward. The corrupted Wolfkin jumped out of reach, taking his distance from Thorn’s attack. Seizing the moment of reprieve, Thorn grabbed two of the stunned Wolfkin and threw them onto the pile by the statue.

Just like the others, they landed with a thud, agonizing cries spilling from their lips as the corruption in their bodies boiled out of them. Furious that his opponent was taking time to deal with the other Wolfkin, Gelish howled and rushed forward again. This time, Thorn was ready for him and lashed out with a kick of his own, barely missing the charging Wolfkin as he ducked.

Using the momentum of the kick, Thorn planted his foot and snapped out another kick, catching Gelish off-guard. Thorn’s massive foot connected solidly, visibly compressing the Wolfkin’s chest. Amid the snap and crackle of ribs shattering, Gelish went tumbling backward. Earning some breathing room, Thorn used it to throw the last few corrupted Wolfkin into the ward of purification.

Just as he reached the last one, the corrupted Wolfkin woke from his dazed state and attempted to bite Thorn’s hand as it reached for him. Annoyed, Thorn’s grab turned into a slap, sending the just recovered Wolfkin right back into a stunned state. Hoisting him up, Thorn tossed him onto the pile.

*ding*

Cleanse the Corruption

The Madness of the Moon has taken hold of many of the Temple of the Moon disciples. As the Avatar of Hati, it is your job to cleanse the corruption, removing the influence of the Betrayer from the Wolfkin. You have chosen to remove the corruption instead of killing the corrupted.


Corrupted Wolfkin Cleansed: 35/35

Source of Corruption Cleansed: 0/1


Reading the notification, Thorn smiled in satisfaction. There was something really pleasing about completing quests. A quick glance around showed that all of the affected Wolfkin had been dealt with, so his full attention settled on the source of the corruption. Thorn’s eyes locked on Gelish, who was still trying to regain his feet after taking the bone-breaking kick.

Unhurried, Thorn walked across the ring, his massive figure shining under the moonlight. His silver armor was scratched and dented, and his body was wounded in multiple places, yet somehow the damage simply made him look more heroic.

Sensing his imposing presence approaching, the wounded Wolfkin looked up in alarm. He had barely made it to his feet when a massive hand reached out, gripping him by the neck and lifting him bodily from the cracked stone ring. Choking, Gelish’s crazed eyes stared at the giant who held him up.

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WildCard

Bio: My name is Seth Ring and I am a writer. I create worlds and tell the stories of those who inhabit them. I love exploring these new worlds with other people. I post a chapter every Friday around 12 pm EST. To get advanced access to chapters you can support me on Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/SethRing.

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