Learning to be Human

[Y’all Hazred has ended! To start at the beginning, click here. This story is not part of the main arc, and will not spoil anything in it. It is the tale of the being who will eventually become the grey-suited man associated with the Know spell. Read and enjoy!]

A long time ago, when the Earth was much younger and things were more True than they are now, the world belonged to the animals. They ran across the savannas, climbed through the jungles and swam through the oceans freely. They lived in the moment, and did not trouble themselves with what had been or with what would be.

One day a new sort of animal arose. It walked on two legs and made use of tools and called itself Human. The new animal cared very much about the past and the future. It kept memories. It made plans. It changed things around it. The other animals often suffered for this, and began to learn to stay out of the way of humans.

Humans spread and became populous. They lived on the savannas and in the jungles and at the edge of the ocean, for there was no environment that they would not attempt to bend to their will. Sometimes they were successful, and sometimes they were not. But where one failed, others would try again. Humanity was relentless.

And so they expanded their domain, step by bloody step, shoving back the world. The animals retreated with it, and humans began to be a thing apart.

In the forest lived a wolf, one among many. He ran with his pack and lived among the trees and did not trouble himself with what had been or what would be. When hunting was good, he ate well and lazed about. When it was poor, he starved and became lean and focused. The seasons came and went, the cycles of life turning and turning, and they carried the wolf along with them.

Humans lived nearby, in an artificial clearing that they had made. The wolves knew this and avoided them, for killing a human was like striking a beehive. One would die, but all of the others would come out for vengeance. They would kill anything in the area indiscriminately until their bloodlust was satisfied. And so the wolves learned to leave them alone, for there was easier prey to be had.

But when the lean parts of the year came, even difficult prey began to look tempting. And so when this wolf one day found a human off walking by himself in the woods, he stalked him silently, slipping from tree to tree as he glided through the forest. His jaws dripped as he pictured the fresh blood in his mouth, and once he was certain that the human was alone, he slid from the shadow of a tree and stood before the human, hackles raised, death in his eyes.

“Wait!” said the human, speaking to him in the language of Truth.

The wolf sat back on his haunches, surprised, for he had not known that humans could Speak.

“For what should I wait?”

“Do not eat me. I will give you food.”

“Very well,” said the wolf.

The human detached a section from his back and set it on the ground. Opening it, he withdrew a thin slab of leathery flesh that smelled of charred wood and disuse. He offered it to the wolf, who wrinkled up his nose in a snarl.

“This is no proper food. You insult me.”

“Wait!” cried the human again, seeing that the wolf was prepared to strike. “I will give you something else.”

“What else will you give me?”

“I will tell you what it is to be Human.”

“Very well,” said the wolf, who was curious.

The human sat down and began to speak. The wolf laid down across from him and gnawed on the dried meat as he listened. It was no true food, but it sated some of the hunger and granted him patience.

The human told the wolf about families, and the wolf nodded, for this was like the pack. He spoke about hunting, fishing and farming, and here too the wolf saw parallels. He explained status, respect and friendship, and the wolf saw the many ways in which they were alike.

But he spoke also of the desire to create, to control, to own. He told the wolf about greed, jealousy and envy. For these, the wolf had no understanding, no real reference. The pack was the pack, and the land was the land, and that was that.

The human could see that the wolf did not understand, and so he proposed a trade. “Let us wear each other’s skins. I will be a wolf for a day, and you a human. We will see each other’s lives, and understand each other the better.”

The wolf was wary, but his hunger spurred him on. The human had spoken of a stockpile of food in his camp. A wolf would be immediately driven away. But a human could simply walk in and help himself. The wolf’s belly growled, and he agreed to the trade.

Their skins fit each other strangely, but not poorly. The wolf felt strange and awkward on two legs, but the human assured him that he looked fine. As for the human, he looked as though he was no more comfortable on four legs than the wolf was on two. They practiced for a few minutes, though, and each began to figure it out.

“When you reach the other humans, be careful,” the human cautioned him.

“Why?” asked the wolf, surprised. “Do I not look like you?”

“You look human, yes. But my skin stretched over your body does not look much like me in particular. Do I look like you?”

The wolf considered him for a moment. “I suppose not. But you smell like me, and that is the important thing. They will let you in.”

They agreed to meet back in a day’s time and then went their separate ways, the wolf to be a human and the human to be a wolf.

When the wolf approached the humans’ camp, one greeted him in the tongue of the humans.

“Traveler! Where are you from?”

“A distant camp to the north,” said the wolf, who had not thought to invent a story.

“Did you see my brother Tirigan in the woods?”

“I did. He was well. We shared food and exchanged stories.”

The human smiled, so the wolf smiled back. The man drew back slightly, and the wolf closed his lips, worried that he had done something wrong.

“What is your name, traveler?”

“Tirigan,” said the wolf, who had not known that the humans put such stock in names.

“What, just like my brother?”

“Yes, the same.”

“Well!” laughed the human, smiling again. “Then you shall be my brother while my brother is gone. Come!”

That night the wolf feasted at the humans’ fire, eating better than he had since the summer. He laughed with them, drank with them, and listened carefully as they offered up stories and memories, trading them freely. In their stories he learned of generosity and giving, but also of selfishness, harshness and anger. He heard laughter and vitriol, humor and hatred. He absorbed it all, and wanted more.

The next day, the wolf bid the humans farewell and returned to the woods. He waited where he had met Tirigan the day before, but the human did not return. Hours passed, and finally the wolf began to go in search of his skin.

He found the human among the pack, still in his wolf skin. The wolves regarded him cautiously as he approached, unsure what he was.

“You must give me back my skin,” said the wolf.

“No,” said the human, chewing on a bone. “I prefer this life. You may keep my skin.”

The wolf smiled, revealing long teeth behind his human lips. “Then I will. But you still must give me back mine.”

And before the human could rise from the ground, the wolf clubbed him over the head, crushing his skull and staining the ground with his blood. The other wolves howled and bared their teeth at him as he slipped back into his wolf skin.

“Stop, stop!” he told them. “It is me! See, there was another here pretending, but I am back now.”

“No,” the pack leader said. “It is not you. You have been among the humans, and you have come back changed. You belong here no longer.”

And so the pack chased him away, nipping at his tail and legs as he ran, awkwardly switching between four legs and two. They chased him until he fell down a slope and into a stream, and there they left him.

Wet, angry, and tainted by humanity, the wolf took off his sodden skin and dressed himself again as Tirigan. He made his way back to the humans’ camp, where he collapsed in front of them, limp and bloody.

“What has happened?” they cried.

“Wolves,” he uttered. “They attacked me in the woods. I saw a body. I think they have killed your brother Tirigan.”

The humans looked grim.

“Wolves grow desperate in the winter,” one said.

“We must protect ourselves,” said another.

That night the humans again told stories, tales of Tirigan and his life. The wolf listened and absorbed them all, and still wanted more. And the next day when the humans came to exterminate the wolves, he was at the front of the hunters, yelling “For Tirigan!”

The wolves fled or died. The humans expanded their domain. And hidden amidst them was the wolf in his human skin who had learned too well the lessons of humanity, urging them onward, always hungry for more.

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