In the Vardưnn province in the Santharian Kingdom lives a creature that is seen as both hunter and hunted. Worshipers of Arvins believe that the Horned One gave them stunted antlers to humble the mighty wolf. These creatures have very strong family bonds and live most of their lives with their own pack. There are only a few things that separate a Horned Wolf from its pack and those that are on their own travel the length of the continent. Their sleek forms and many great qualities make them one of the great hunters of the land. The ability to work in large groups, using stealth, speed, intelligence, cunning, and more makes them rivals of man.
Appearance. Many would like to say that there are two different types of Horned Wolf, but the main difference between the same animal on opposite sides of rugged terrain is height. In the Goltherlon Forest they stand between a fore and two palmspans and two fores at the shoulder. Any wolves that are taller than two fores in that area leave on their own and roam the southern continent. Many are unsure why there leave but believe it has to do with the survival of the pack. Larger creatures eat more and the Horned Wolf already fights the herín ("tree cat") for food in the forest so those that are larger than a certain height leave on their own. In the other areas they are two fores on average, with some being taller or shorter.
The double coat of the Horned Wolf is a mix of two colours, fading and darkening in different areas. It seems rather plain, but most find it to be rather interesting. A light ithild covers the head, reaching halfway down the neck, and the tips of its paws. The silvery colour darkens into a light nor'sidian as it goes down, from the head, and up, from the paws. The rest of its body is dark black, fading down from the ridge, highest point of the back. The alpha pair of a pack is easy to spot because they have the darkest ridge. Horned Wolves with a silvery ridge are seen as different amount and their packs are treated like outcasts until they are old enough to leave the pack and survive on their own. It is believed that the silver ridge is a mark of weakness among these animals. Apparently, the darker the ridge the higher the rank of the wolf, and those with silver ridges are seen as the lowest members of the pack and are kept apart from the other pups as the silver on their backs become more dominant.
There are a few things that separate these wolves from others; one of them is the raised area, above each eye, high on the forehead, this is where their name comes from. This gives the males the look of a young buck whose antlers are beginning to grown in, but never break though skin. Usually this is only seen on males, but some females also show sights of a slight elevation in the same area.
Horned Wolves have many other attributes that are helpful when digging their dens. These animals have lethal, sinewy muscles throughout their bodies mixed with broad paws that make them almost more effective than a shovel. Strong jaws and sharp teeth allow them to easily snap bothersome roots when they are working. These things are also helpful went hunting, but there are more important things, such as staying alive. The Horned Wolf has amazing, dark amber eyes that are full of intelligence and cunning. Those that live on the heath depend on their eyes to keep their pack mates alive.
Special Abilities. Horned Wolves are excellent diggers. When they are working on digging their dens, the slight webbing between their toes will help them scoop out larger patches of dirt at a time. Powerful muscles keep them going, sharp claws easily cut through the soil, and their strong jaws and dangerous teeth snap through most bothersome roots. Using all of this they dig their dens, half beneath the trunk of the actual tree and the other half beneath the thick, reaching roots that keep the open, underground spaces from caving in.
These animals are fairly quick and agile though they mainly use their speed when they are out in the open. Those that live in the forest have learned to move silently through the undergrowth, working as a group to either circle an animal or chase them into an ambush. Occasionally a single wolf will be able to get close enough to a feeding animal and is able to take it down by itself, but this is only in the case of small rodents and birds.
As with most wolves, the Horned Wolf has a heightened sense of hearing and smell. They can track their prey cover long distance by the many scents it leaves as it passes though an area. Their hearing is also very sensitive and they can pick up the howling from a rival in from about two leagues away in the open. While these are very helpful to the wolf and its way of life, the main sense that the Horned Wolf relies on is its sight. When they are out in the open, the pack member that is in charge of watching over the others for that night needs to use all three to keep its family safe. Their vision during the dark is very developed and they can see a figure moving from a stral away, if not further. This only allows them to pick out shapes among the landscape and can alert others if the shapes get closer.
Territory. While loners sometimes travel the length of the southern continent, the Horned Wolf is mostly found in the Vardưnn province of Santharia, with a slowly growing population in the Calmarios Forest and lower Tandala Highlands in the Nermeran province. In Vardưnn, most packs can be found in both the Goltherlon and Thaelon forests. The dense woodland areas provide shelter and food for the packs on animals that roam beneath the canopy. Between the two forests is the Heath of Jernais where a few packs roam while others wander into the open for food at times. Most of the Horned Wolves on the hearth come from the Thaelon since the Goltherlon Forest is somewhat isolated.
Habitat/Behaviour. Horned Wolf dens vary depending on the areas where they are living at that time. Out on the Heath of Jernais they dig up small dens that are only big enough to house the alpha female when it is time for her to give birth to her pups and raise them. Once the pups are old enough to sleep outside of the end with the rest of the wolves, the entrance to the dens are covered so that they might return in the years to come. The rest of the time these wolves bed down in the brush, sleeping so close together that they are touching and sharing the warmth. When they are out in the open, pack members will alternately keep watch while the others sleep, even though wolves are aware of their surroundings and are prepared to run if necessary. This prevents unnecessary causalities. On the hearth, they will dig their dens near a large rock so that the wolf on watch has a higher vantage point.
In the forest, these wolves make their dens underneath the larger trees. The lowest members of the pack will set to work, digging a den underneath one of the larger trees in their territory. While others go about their own tasks while settling into a new territory, the peace-keepers and some of the singers will work on either end of the selected area, making a main entrance and a somewhat hidden exit in the back. Their dens are usually deep and have shallow entries that open up into larger areas, large enough for the whole pack to sleep comfortably. The hidden exit is usually lightly covered in dirt after they finish digging out the end, so that they can escape if danger is at the main entrance. Summer and late spring are the only times that they will move out of their elaborate dens.
The growing population of these wolves in the Tandala Highlands usually stays in the foothills and rarely ventures further in. These wolves will only dig dens big enough for the mother and pups, due to the rockier soil in the foothills. At other times they sleep close together to keep warm, touching so that should one sense danger and stir, the others would know.
Horned Wolves are very family orientated and most spend their lives with their packs. Each member of the pack is closely bonded to all the others and as soon as pups get their first taste of life outside the den, the entire pack quickly welcomes them and treats them as if they were their own pups. The relationship between members is strong and they treat each other with respect while keeping the social structure in place. Like most families they have their disputes and sometimes the alpha pair must use force to keep order within the pack. When authority is being challenged - at meal times and during mating season for example - tension levels within the pack are high and the peace-keepers come in to try and decrease the strain.
Unlike other wolves, the Horned Wolf mates for life. Shortly after being introduced into the pack, the next generation of alphas stands out from the group and is already being taught their place within the pack. Between five and six months of age the future alpha male begins courting the dominant female pup. While they continue to grow and learn, these pups will already begin to show signs of being a team. They will work together when tussling with their littermates and assert the dominance from the very beginning. If one of the alpha pair were to be killed the other would relinquish their position at the head of the pack to a younger alpha instead of taking another mate. Other members of the pack might take mates to compensate for a decrease in pack numbers. Those that hold another position in the pack would not step down should their mate die, but they would not select another for the rest of their lives.
Around the birthing season, their territorial nature becomes somewhat lax as the Horned Wolves welcome new pups into their pack. During this time of year, the mid-ranking wolves of the pack will scout out the other packs and watch their alpha female to see when she gives birth to their pups. Most packs in the same general area give birth within a few days of each other. A few days after the pups are born; most of the pack will seek out another den, leaving the mother and a single lower-ranking wolf with her. This is the most vulnerable time for the pups, but as larger animals cannot get into the den and smaller animals are usually scared away by the temporary guardian or mother, the pups are safe.
The other pack members seek out another den. The lower-ranking member guarding their own den will submit to the alpha male as he approaches. The alpha and guard wolves will slowly enter the den one at a time and take between one and three pups under the watchful eye of the mother. She allows the pups to be taken knowing that her pack will return with a few pups from another pack for her to raise. The 'raiders' will return to their own territory, bringing back the 'stolen' pups and expecting to find some of their own pups missing. The mothers will willingly foster the stolen pups, raising them as their own. Researchers believe that this is because most of the pups will not leave the pack, even after they are grown. This allows the pack to keep producing young since males and females from the same mother will not mate.
When hunting the Horned Wolf will use stealth, speed, and sheer numbers to take down their prey depending on the circumstances in order of feed their family. Out in the open the wolves can use their numbers and speed to wear down and isolate a member of a herd of deer or other herd animals in the area. When in the forest they will use stealth to sneak up on their prey, hiding in the underbrush. Depending on the size of the animal they hunt, they will use their numbers as well. At eight to nine months old the pups will tag along with the pack for their first few hunts and are taught to chase down smaller rodents that live in the forest or heath. Once they can successfully take down small game and defend their meal from others, they are taken on their first hunt. Even then they are slowly introduced into the ways of hunting larger game and taught what to watch for.
Throughout their lives Horned Wolves will travel and expand or move to different territory, though they will often return to an area that they previously occupied. Before they move on they will pile dirt over the entrance to their den and pack it down a bit. These wolves have a very good memory and they will never forget where they walk and can easily find and dig up their den again. This is helpful because they spend less time digging out huge areas and only have to unbury the entrance once more.
Wolves leave the pack for only two reasons. As stated above, a wolf with a silver ridge or over two fores at the shoulder (the latter only applies to packs within the Goltherlon Forest) leave the pack shortly after they reach almost one year old and can fend for themselves. No one knows why, but the wolves with the silver ridge begin to be left out of the group more and more as the silver on their back begins to show up. Once they are old enough they leave to find their own way and search for a life outside the pack. In the Goltherlon Forest, a wolf that is taller than two fores at the shoulder will voluntarily leave, knowing that the amount of deer available will not be enough to support them and the pack. It took researchers many years to get an estimate of the maximum height of wolf in these areas. Why they leave because of these two things still remains a mystery.
Diet. These creatures eat a variety of different meats depending on where they live. In the Goltherlon Forest, the main source of food is the snowy deer along with some rodents. Packs of Horned Wolves in this area are often small due to fighting for food against the herín. In the other areas, these wolves hunt various types of deer, including the starback in the steppe on the Heath of Jernais and the white deer in the Thaelon Forest. Near the edge of the Silvermarshes, stilted elk is another creature these animals hunt. In Nermeran, these creatures hunt woolly boars, capricus goats, and some more white deer.
Growing Horned Wolf pups are taught to take down smaller rodents like ferrets, kuatus, and other forest and plains rodents as training. They are expected to learn to hurt and defend their kills on their own before joining the pack in hunting larger game. Growing pups aren't the only ones that tackle smaller game. When hunting alone or during the lean seasons, the full grown wolves will resort to chasing down or trapping these swift creatures. When the little wily little critters escape them wolves will also consume a variety of edible plants even though they are meat eaters.
Mating. The Horned Wolves reach sexual maturity between one and a half to two years of age. Mating takes place between Turning Star and Changing Winds and each produces one litter like most wolves. Once in a while, when a pack suffers looses during the year or gained territory, another pair will give birth to a second liter. Usually one of the guard wolves (mostly male) will select a hunter (often a female) for a mate. After a year when a second liter is needed, the new couple needs to be watched more carefully as they are more likely to succumb to the need to mate after they have selected their life long companion.
During the mating season, pack tension rises and the peace-makers have their hands full trying to keep fights from breaking out while submitting to the alphas. Months before the female comes into season the alpha pair will become more affectionate with one another while keeping the other pack members from coming into season at the same time. When the female come into season, they will both go off alone for a time.
The gestation period is usually between sixty and sixty-three days. After that the pups are born, deft, blind, and dependant on their mother. The average litter size for a Horned Wolf is between four and five pups. While only three or four are born to packs in the Goltherlon Forest. A few days after the liter is born, most of the members of another pack will enter their territory. The pups are only guarded by a lower-ranked pack member and their mother. The dominating males of the rival pack will slowly enter the end to collect their foster pups while the mother watches. She stays in that attentive position, waiting for her pack members to return with her foster pups. When they arrive she treats them as if they were her own. This allows the pack to keep up its numbers while keeping the close family ties.
Usages. The pelt of the Horned Wolf is a favourite among the nobility like other wolf furs. The dark black, fading then changing to a silver is rather appealing too both men and women of the court. The soft fur is also warm and is sometimes used on the inside of jackets, cloaks, gloves, and other winter garments. A few hunters have been known to capture pups while they are only a few days old and are between homes. These would be raised for their fur since the softest furs are worth more. Though it is rare that the pack is caught during that time of movement and if they are the other members can fight off opposition until the males that carry the pups can get away.
Myth/Lore. Like other wolves, the Horned Wolf is already classified as dangerous and considered as a thief by many. Some believe that these wolves are different and pay for the sins of their brothers. They believe that Arvins, the Lord of the Hunter and Hunted, humbled the wolves by giving them stunted antlers. They must always carry the look of a young buck whose antlers have yet to grow in and be both hunter and hunted. When asked, many have split opinions on whether this makes the Horned Wolf any more or less noble or more or less of a hunter. There are many things to be said about these creatures. Some view them as beings conjured by demons to kill children and livestock in the dark of the night, others believe it to be cursed by the gods, while others still believe them to be the most noble and intelligent of animals. In one place in particular, one of these wolves is seen as a hero.
The March of the Darkest Knight. It was only fifty years past that an older man in the town of Denring a man under the influence of drugs or alcohol had a dream that he believed to be a vision. In his dream he saw a Horned Wolf with the darkest ridge he had ever seen and a huge set of antlers. This great beast was standing atop the walls of the town, with an army of blood-thirsty wolves beneath him. The next day he told the people that he was a prophet and the gods had favoured him with a vision. He told them that wolves would take over the world when a Horned Wolf with a ridge as dark as the darkest night and a set of mighty antlers appeared.
Researchers. Wolves in general are rather mysterious creatures and the Horned Wolf is no exception. People have attempted to wring the secrets from these creatures and many have failed. Darrion Jekkon is one of the most renowned wolf researchers. Some believe spending all his time in the woods, watching wolves from afar will put him on the edge of insanity. He spent a few years observing the Horned Wolf, has a whole section of one of many notebooks dedicated to them, but is no closer to unraveling their secrets.