"In the north there is a beast called the whyrg that feeds solely on human flesh. It is the size of a bear but shaped like a wolf with the chest of a lion and the maned neck of a horse. It is said to have a human voice, and often it imitates the cry of a child to lure the mother into the woods, where it will kill her. It is said that this beast is born of human parents but changes its shape from human to whyrg and devours its mother."
-- Deirhestres of Alzarath, The Nature of Beasts
Numerous sources dating back to the Second Dazmar Empire mention a great wolf-like predator living in the northern lands that is associated with humans either by being born in the shape of a human or being able to imitate the voice of a human. They were also known as man-eaters. While such creatures must have appeared mythical to Erdasian scholars, Ordosians and Noderlenners were more than familiar with the beasts. While sightings were sporadic, King Valdarik of Isernalt had a cloak made of the skin of a warg he had reportedly killed himself. Velaneic people also knew these beasts well, and claimed that they had once been eradicated from the west, but more kept coming in from the east over the Thalannean mountains.
A common myth among Ordosians was that the warg was a werewolf, a person who could change between the shape of a human and a giant wolf. This was supposedly proven by the fact that the wargs had human-like voices and unusual cunning, were larger than wolves and were said to gather in great feasts in the woods where they would mockingly laugh at the remains of their victims. Wargs were also thought to be evil demonic spirits taken form, because they would often break into tombs and crypts to feast on the bodies. Such stories, quite possibly based on real events, caused the wargs to be confused with stories about ghouls, leading to myths about cannibalistic undead man-demons that could assume the shape of a wolf. The continuing warg attacks in the Ordosian borderlands kept the myths alive for long.
Despite the objections of clerics and the common people, the scholar Onderes of Camora decided that a warg should be captured alive for study, to discern what the beast was truly like. Though long-lived, Onderes barely lived to see this dream of his come to fruition, but he did receive several killed specimens from hunters seeking the great price Onderes had promised for the captor of a living warg. From the dead animals he was able to discern that the warg was like no wolf or dog he had seen before.
Not only was the animal larger than any wolf or dog breed known to man, tallest ones measuring nearly four feet tall at the withers, but they looked peculiar, too. The warg coat was gray or pale brown and had dark stripes on the back and hind legs. It also had a very dark greyish mane, face and tail. Its build was unusual: the head was massive and broad, with strong jaws lined with massive crushing teeth, the neck was muscular and long, the forelegs stronger than hindlegs and the shoulders tall which resulted in a sloping back, ending in a surprisingly short shaggy tail. "The warg seems to be for dogs what the lynx is for cats", concluded Onderes in his book "On Predators".
The live wargs that were eventually brought to Onderes, and ended in the zoo of the University of Camora, were a surprise to everyone who still believed in the werewolf myth: they were two small pups only a month old. A hunter who had killed a female warg had found them in a nearby cave and assumed they belonged to the warg. The pups survived thanks to a wolfhound bitch that was willing to adopt them as her own. Indeed they grew up into two large wargs that were described as "tame as dogs" in the presence of the zoo caretaker. Even when a few months old the pups proved the myth about the human voice of the wargs true: "they would wail and cry like babies if separated from [their surrogate mother]", writes Pardos the elder. The wargs also laughed if they were punished for something, which befuddled their keepers. Their intelligence was also apparent, although in captivity it seems they never got to show their whole range.
It was only later that scholars learned that the warg was no wolf at all. The human-voiced "yinas", or laughing hyenas, that were known to live in Khadasea proved to be their closest relatives, even though they were much smaller than their northern cousins. The keeper of the Imperial Menagerie even tried to crossbreed wargs and hyenas, but the results of the only succesful attempt - several others ended in the warg killing the hyena - were born dead. However the anatomical similarities left no room for doubt. As a result the warg was officially renamed the giant hyena, but the name warg has persisted in both popular use and scholarly literature.
While the hyena was known to be social, next to nothing was known of the lifestyle of the warg. Hunters told that they knowingly avoided human settlements, and would only prey on humans and their cattle if they were lame or very old. There were tales of wargs forming packs, but no western hunters had actually witnessed this themselves. Later, during the reign of the United Empire, Uruseans brought in much information of the warg, known as wircolac to them, which was much more common in the Urusean subcontinent and most common in the taiga. They confirmed that wargs would indeed hunt large prey in packs, but they also scavenged, and with superior numbers could drive even the king bear off a carcass. Some Uruseans had managed to keep trained wargs as pets of sorts, and claimed that though unruly they were much smarter than dogs.
What comes to the myth of warg as a werewolf, it is possibly explained by the warg's human-like vocalizations and unusual intelligence. Another explanation may be that wanted criminals hiding in the woods would dress up in wolf skins to scare humans away, and were mistaken for wargs. At least one such group of "wargwolves" were caught in the kingdom of Firveld 514 years before the United Empire. Certain cults were also said to worship wolves, dress up in their skins and sacrifice children to their forest god. While it is possible that these cults did exist, it is more likely that they are a memory of an ancient religion that worshipped Hrothwulv, a god-man born from a great shewolf and able to take the form of a wolf. Such myths could also have formed a basis for the werewolf myth.
There are unconfirmed stories coming from Baernil about giant dogs or wolves the size of calves with huge teeth and curled tails. They are described as having fur black or greenish grey in colour and being far more cunning than ordinary wolves. They are known as cu-sith or barghest by the Baenrians, and said to have supernatural powers. The description of a traveler who claims to have seen such a beast near the border of Baernil and Tarasia suggests that the barghest may be a far western subspecies of warg.