A hunting horn moaned through the snowy night. Fat flakes of snow drifted lazily from the heavens, lending an air of whimsy to the night. The loup-garou was on the loose, and the townsfolk were hunting. They were hunting for Mathis. Audric had to get to him first.
Mathis had only just turned, and the first one hundred days for a loup-garou were the hardest. Audric remembered it well, the time when he’d learned to master the wolf inside of him, learned to work with the beast, and eventually control it. Right now, Mathis would have minimal control. It wasn’t his fault that he’d killed off some of the farm animals around the town. Audric knew many people who’d fared much worse when they first became a loup-garou.
Audric went to one knee, studying the large wolf track in the snow. Around him the snow drifted, making him look like a vision from a dream, white hair, ghostly blue eyes, and pale flesh that was bare from the waist up in the cold of the night. He didn’t need the warmth of clothes, his wolf side provided all the warmth that he needed.
His fingers trailed around the edge of the print; Mathis had left the town. The villagers were scouting the streets, hoping to find the wolf and put it down. They knew what they were facing, but they didn’t know it was the orphan, Mathis. It had to be obvious by now that he was gone, but maybe to them he was just another victim of the loup-garou.
He will never come back, Audric spared a thought for the town. It’s my fault. I should have known he would have gone out with those hunters . . .
He pushed the thought away. It would do him no good to reminisce now, not when he had to save Mathis. The tracks led him away from the town. Either Mathis was learning more control or the wolf had realized the threat of the hunting horns and had taken flight.
Audric took advantage of his washed out façade to meld into the flurry of the winter storm. His main focus had to be getting Mathis to safety. Once he was with the others, then he’d be safe.
As Audric trudged through the snow, he couldn’t help but see the look on Mathis’ face when he’d found out.
A swipe of Mathis’ sword and blood spilled from Audric. He’d crumbled to the ground, the wolf form rippling and shifting until he lay there on the snowy forest floor, clutching his arm to his naked chest.
“You?” Mathis had cried out. He took a step back, the light of the crescent moon glinting in his blue eyes. They were watering, tearing up. His black hair caught in the shifting breeze. “You’re the loup-garou?”
“I’m sorry,” Audric had said. Mathis had fled from him then. “Mathis, come back!” he cried out, reaching for Mathis. But he couldn’t reason with his boyfriend. Mathis had taken off into the night, headed back to the village. He didn’t fully understand the curse that gripped Audric. Now that Mathis knew the truth, knew Audric’s secret, he was cursed to a hundred days in the form of the wolf: the loup garou.
If only Audric had been mindful. If only he’d realized his lover would be out that night with the rest of the hunters despite his desperate plea that Mathis stay indoors, then maybe he could have protected Mathis from what he’d seen. Maybe then he would have urged the pack farther away from their normal hunting grounds. But it had been a hard winter, and the lure of the prey in the nearby village had been too strong; he’d been too hungry and his wolf side overrode the better judgement of his human side.
He followed Mathis’ tracks to the forest. Even in wolf form his boyfriend wasn’t the most elegant creature. A large trail had been broken through branches and tore its way through the underbrush. Audric followed with ease, taking strides higher up the hill toward the peak where he figured Mathis was going. Along the way, Audric scuffed out the trail of the loup-garou so that the hunters wouldn’t have anything to follow. He couldn’t imagine the hunters being so brave tonight to climb into the woods. They knew what lurked in the deep parts of the forest, and they were hesitant to tangle with the loup-garou on unfamiliar ground.
Audric made it to the top of the hill and found Mathis right where he thought he’d be. He was a great, black wolf, shaped like a human with powerful forearms and hind legs. The loup-garou, while not precisely wolves, could still run on all fours, or take to their hind legs like humans. But that’s where the similarities typically ended. Their head was that of a wolf, their bodies covered with fur, their hands and feet ending in claws. Their eyes, however, were a different story. Mathis turned toward Audric, his blue eyes taking in the height of his boyfriend.
“You’ve done this to me,” Mathis said. His voice was deep, almost more growl than words. Who knew if the loup-garou was actually speaking a human tongue, or if one wolf could understand words in the snarls and snips typical of dogs? Whatever the case, Audric could understand what Mathis was saying.
“I told you not to go hunting,” Audric said. He neared Mathis, reaching out for him tentatively. When Mathis didn’t flinch away, Audric rested his hand on Mathis’ back. He turned to look down the logging trail to the glow of firelight in the town below. Puffs of white smoke drifted listlessly on the night air. Beneath them, there was a culture they would never be part of again.
“But how did you do this to me?” Mathis asked. “You didn’t scratch me, or bite me. How am I a werewolf?”
“You’re not,” Audric told him. “Loup-garou are different. The moment you saw my secret, saw me turn from wolf into a man, that’s when you changed.”
“And I’m like this . . . forever?” Mathis asked.
“No,” Audric said, shaking his head. “For a hundred days you will remain under the curse, after that, when you’ve mastered the wolf, you can change at will.”
“But I can never go back,” Mathis said. His eyes were trained on the village, and Audric knew what he felt. He’d remembered several hundred years before, staring down at his own village after the curse took him; seeing what he was leaving behind, what he’d never be part of again.
“No,” Audric told him. “At the end of your hundred days it would raise too many questions if you returned. They’d likely know what you were.”
“And then they’d all turn,” Mathis said, turning to Audric.
Audric shook his head. “Only if they’d seen you change, or you told them specifically.”
“Why did you never tell me?” Mathis asked.
“Because this would have happened to you,” Audric said. “I didn’t want to take that choice from you.”
“But it’s been taken from me,” Mathis said. There was no accusation in his words, and he didn’t pull away from Audric’s hand.
“And we live forever?” Mathis asked. “I have no fear of death and old age like I did when I was human.”
“We live for a very long time . . . I don’t know if it’s forever.”
“If we can’t go back, where will we go now?” Mathis asked. “Another town where they don’t know us?”
In the distance, there was a questioning howl. Mathis and Audric turned toward the howl that crept through the deeper parts of the forest.
“We go to the others,” Audric said. “To my clan . . . my pack.”
“And I will be one of you?” Mathis asked.
“Always,” Audric said. “You are family now.”
“Family,” Mathis said. He turned back to the town below. Mathis couldn’t remember his family. They’d left him as an orphan on the steps of the church. “I would like that.”
“Then come, meet them,” Audric said. He reached for Mathis’ paw and as he did his own pale hand transformed into a paw covered with soft white fur. Mathis took his offered paw, and together the white and black loup-garous rushed into the depths of the forest, answering the alpha’s call.