The Curse of Innistrad
The werewolf is a creature of duality, forever dragged between two worlds: it is both monster and man, nature and civilization, rational thought and raw savagery.
Killer or Victim: Perspectives on the Lycanthrope
Some werewolves see themselves as victims cursed with the souls of untamable killers. Others see themselves as glorious scions of nature trapped inside a cage of civilized lies. Though most of Innistrad society focuses on the mass-murdering horrors of the werewolf’s beast form, the lycanthrope can be seen as a tragic figure with an identity chained to the treacherous moon or an avatar of nature’s inherent wildness.
Human Form: A Tenuous Hold on Civility
A person afflicted with lycanthropy is forever in doubt of his or her own urges and instincts. In human form, a werewolf feels the pull of the wolf’s essence within even while trying to integrate into polite society. A lycanthrope can feel the war of emotions in his or her heart, and as the moon grows full, the influences of conscience, religion, and personal restraint do less and less. The full moon makes the change inevitable, but in fact, any strong emotion or traumatic experience can trigger a lycanthropic crisis and allow the transformation to occur.
Beast Form: The Natural Killing Machine
Werewolves in canid form are beings of unparalleled savagery and strength. Their bodies are perfectly engineered for slaughter, with jaws capable of snapping bone and claws sharp enough to rip the entrails from a beast many times their size. Their minds are explosions of instinct and adrenaline, fed supernatural awareness from their heightened senses yet cognitively blind to almost everything but the kill. They can walk upright for manual dexterity or can lope on four limbs for speed. Their howl is said to release the wolf’s spirit within, a harrowing sound that fogs the air and chills the night. Werewolves in beast form cannot speak human languages, but seem to be able to communicate with each other on matters of hunting, dominance, and social hierarchy, as canines do in the wild.
The transformation process is harrowing for the lycanthrope and incredibly disturbing to any witnesses. The eyes change first, the whites darkening and the iris filling with color. The claws go next; the hands elongate, knifelike claws extend from the fingertips, and the thumb forms a claw back near the wrist. The muzzle thrusts forward out of the human’s skull, and the teeth jut through the gums in sharp points. Bones crack as they rearrange. Marrow spills into the bloodstream as ribs and skull fracture and telescope. Thick, wiry fur pushes through the skin, often pushing out normal human hair. The tailbone elongates and becomes a shaggy wolf’s tail. Metabolism speeds up, increasing blood flow, oxygen flow, and glandular production, creating cravings for protein and fat. Any clothing that was worn at the time of the change is generally torn to shreds and falls away. If a werewolf dies in beast form, it changes back to human form, a process called death reversion.
A werewolf that has just changed back to human form is usually naked, disoriented, and covered in the debris, wounds, and bloodstains of the previous night’s hunt. He or she has flashes of memories left over from canid form, often experienced with involuntary heart spasms and jolts of adrenaline, not unlike the experience of panic attacks. The days following a transformation are often filled with shame, guilt, and depression—and repression, as the lycanthrope struggles to feign normality, construct alibis, and hide evidence of his or her savage crimes.
Repentants vs. Wantons: Living with the Curse
After reverting to humanoid form, most werewolves have partial memories of their time in canid form, and they clearly see the aftereffects of the destruction they’ve caused. This can send lycanthropes into the throes of depression, shame, or even hostility against others. A minority of lycanthropes actually embrace their werewolf nature, however, and actively seek to return to their canid state. Werewolves that revile their lycanthropy are called repentants; the few who embrace the wild are called wantons. While in canid form, however, all werewolves are savage beasts, all traces of their humanity gone.
Religion: Warding Against the Change
Humans destroy known werewolves when they can; all lycanthropes are seen as abominations and mass murderers. But werewolves are dangerous creatures to face head-on, so wide-scale magical prevention is often employed to curb lycanthropy passively.
Regular and repeated application of Avacynian magic can help prevent the change to canid form. Roadside shrines, prayer, angelic rites, the blessing of accomplished clerics, and the presence of holy symbols all help reinforce the werewolf’s humanity, helping her hold on to her human form. Repentant werewolves often stay within the city limits, around their fellow man and the influence of religion, whereas wantons often venture into the wilderness, far from the wards and priests that keep their wolf essence in check. The full moon, however can overcome even powerful religious precautions. In addition, the power of angelic magic has waned in recent times, and werewolf transformations have become more common and harder to predict.
Lycanthropes and the Moon
There’s no doubt that the moon holds sway over werewolves. As the moon’s phases change, so changes the power of lycanthropy over the werewolf. As the full moon approaches, the effectiveness of divine magic becomes dampened, and werewolves change more readily.
Werewolves in canid form are supernaturally strong and tough, and since the weakening of Avacynian magic, few protection spells have been able to harm them or keep them at bay. But werewolves have a weakness: pure silver that has been ritually blessed by a powerful cleric of Avacyn can cause them great agony. According to alchemists, silver’s purity of material readily absorbs the divine magic. Arrowheads, spearpoints, and other weapons made from blessed silver can be powerful instruments for fighting werewolves.
Silver and the Moon
Mages have presumed a relationship between the moon and the metal silver for centuries, but the nature of that relationship remains a mystery. The respected astronomancer Jenrik once posited that Innistrad’s moon is actually a vast desert composed of tiny grains of silver. He believed that any silver found on Innistrad actually originated from the moon’s silver desert, and that terrestrial silver maintains a relationship with the moon’s power. Why the moon seems to empower werewolves while silver harms them is not well understood.
The Cause and Nature of Lycanthropy
There are many theories of how lycanthropy is caused or spread. Most sects of the Church of Avacyn hold that lycanthropy is a kind of demonic possession, but ritual exorcisms have not successfully purged the affliction. Most afflicted humans appear to become werewolves at some point in their lives rather than being born so, although there are sporadic (and chilling) tales of child werewolves in remote areas. Many alchemists and wolfhunters believe that werewolves are sterile, and only reproduce by cursing humans with lycanthropy; however, many commoners fear that they might be able to interbreed with humans or give birth to their own kind.
The True Cause
Lycanthropy is a supernatural curse that causes the victim’s spiritual essence to become mingled with the wild essence of nature, symbolized by the wolf. The lycanthrope in effect has two souls, or one split soul. These two essences constantly battle for control within the victim. When the wild wolf-essence triumphs, the werewolf change occurs. This may explain why werewolves hunt humans so often; the wolf-essence desires to destroy the human side and triumph over humanity, and does so symbolically by brutally slaying humans.
Transmitting the Curse: The Call and the First Hunt
The curse of lycanthropy overtakes a person over a period of one night. One or more werewolves howl in the night, calling out to the victim. Soon after, the victim finds himself in the wilderness, under the silvery moon, surrounded by eyes glowing in the night. The victim’s will is compromised already, the wild essence entering him and doing battle with his human conscience. The victim and the werewolves crash through the woods together, and over the course of the night, they hunt and kill their prey—usually woodland game, but other humans or even another lycanthrope is not unheard of.
The called victim begins to express wolf characteristics throughout the night, and as he sinks his teeth into bloody flesh, the curse perceptibly takes hold, and he transforms fully into canid form for the first time. There is a bone-chilling chorus of howls, and the First Hunt is complete. Later, the new lycanthrope usually staggers back into civilization, half-naked, barely recognizable through the blood and offal and wilderness debris, and nearly mad from fear and shameful memories. Thereafter, the werewolf must remain vigilant with prayer and caution, lest the wolf essence manifest again.
Werewolves in either form seem to be able to tell a human-form lycanthrope by smell. Indeed, humans who are mysteriously spared during werewolf rampages are often suspected of being werewolves themselves.
No Known Cure
No known remedy, blessing, or ritual has effectively purged the curse of lycanthropy. The closest anyone ever came was alchemist Theodora Glick, who was brought in to inspect Guthril, a werewolf captured by the local constabulary. Through a complex ceremony involving mystic circles inlaid with the wolfsbane plant, a blanket woven with blessed silver thread, and a lightning storm, Glick managed to force Guthril to revert to human form and stay that way through three lunar cycles. Unfortunately, the ritual was only temporary, and Guthril re-emerged stronger than ever. He utterly destroyed Glick’s laboratory in Gavony and fled into the night.
Werewolves are often lone hunters, stalking and killing humans as singular monsters in urban settings. But some werewolves form loose, evolving social groups out in the wild called howlpacks. The populations of howlpacks wax and wane like the moon, gaining and losing members as individual lycanthropes enter or leave their canid state. Some werewolves seem to be continually drawn back to their howlpack, returning to it time after time as soon as they drop their human guise and reenter the wild. Howlpacks can be tiny hunting parties of just a few werewolves, or can be massive hordes of over a hundred. A howlpack is often led by a single alpha (male or female) that dominates the pack. Alphas must often defend their power by defeating challengers in combat.
Three of the larger, more stable howlpacks are the Krallenhorde, the Mondronen, Leeraug, and the Vildin.
The Krallenhorde: Innistrad’s Largest Howlpack
When an average Innistrad human thinks of a werewolf pack, he or she thinks of the Krallenhorde. The Krallenhorde has existed in some form for decades, composed of anywhere from fifty to over two hundred werewolves depending on the availability of prey and the phase of the moon. The most heterogeneous of howlpacks, Krallenhorde includes a mix of repentant and wanton werewolves, and has drawn members from all provinces of Innistrad. The alpha of Krallenhorde is currently the werewolf Ulrich, a cunning and perceptive wanton who remains in the wild and runs with the howlpack even when he reverts to human form.
Mondronen: Carnal Ritualists
The Mondronen howlpack is composed of around sixty werewolves who are said to control a dark, bloody magic of nature. Their alpha Tovolar is a mute, silver-furred werewolf who leads his pack on revels of carnage and howling songs, and who never seems to revert to human form. The Mondronen wolves historically stayed far from centers of civilization, only preying on farmlands, rural communities, and remote monasteries. But as Avacyn’s protective wards have diminished in strength, it’s said that the Mondronen territory has grown closer to cities, and that their dark magics may soon spill over into genteel life.
Leeraug: Killers of the Absent Moon
Few know of the Leeraug, a relatively small and tight-knit pack of Innistrad’s most vicious werewolf predators, but almost all have heard tales of their destruction. The Leeraug are unique in that they hunt under the black night of the new moon, rather than transforming when the moon is full. They favor the flesh and entrails of children, and often steal into homes and orphanages through chimneys or windows left ajar. The Leeraug alpha is Skaharra, a black-furred she-wolf noted for her tendency to kill along bloodlines, murdering entire families in a single night while sparing unrelated farmhands and servants.
Vildin: Pre-Bloodied Slaughterers
An especially infamous group of werewolves the Vildin, supposedly only calls into its ranks those humans who have committed murder before becoming a werewolf, making sure that its members are all killers both in human and werewolf form. Whether or not that’s true of all of them, the Vildin werewolves are unmistakably vicious and barbaric predators, often using their time in human form to set inn fires, spread lies, and stir up chaos that will lead to better, more frenzied hunting for the pack. The Vildin Pack dwells among the Natterknolls of Kessig and the Stensian highlands, preying on villagers and stray travelers in both, and are led by a long-braided escaped convict named Rahilda.