by Onabe Ōkamiotoko (御鍋狼男)
Milo had come to the tavern for anything but a drink.
He sat at the table alone, hands occupied with what was between his legs — a dagger made of bone. With a silent focus, he sharpened the blade with a whetstone while the noises of the tavern blossomed around him. Bright, joyous music from the stage filled the room, and lamps flickered from the walls, establishing a cozy atmosphere. Milo sighed. His heart was heavy. He’d been keeping track of the days in his journal for the past week, eager for the arriving full moon.
A clattering on his table broke his concentration. Milo, finally torn away from his blade, stared up to see a young man standing across from him, arms folded with a skeptical. Very light shoulder-length blond hair framed his face, delicate enough to remind Milo of a plume of feathers. Milo set aside his dagger, eyes lingering on the young man for longer than he should have had, until his voice finally broke.
“Let me get you something,” the young man offered.
“Are you the barmaid?” Milo asked, skeptical of whoever this was.
“No, but that isn’t such a bad idea now, isn’t it?”
The young man helped himself to a seat. Milo didn’t argue — he crossed his legs instead and glanced at his blade on the table. He quickly placed the whetstone next to it as well, hoping not to give the impression that he was a threat. However, it seemed that the young man was occupied with everything other than the fact Milo carried a blade so casually into a place of business. He’d seen this type of behavior before — it was typical of werewolf hunters from the village. It seemed as if anything the sun touched, the hunters felt obliged to own in some way or form.
It left a bitter taste in the young man’s mouth, to say the least.
“Is that blade for anything in particular?” He asked Milo.
“No quite — I’m hoping to have it appraised by the guild master.”
“Guild master — you don’t mean Lyle Hartman do you?”
Milo smirked. He was pleased to hear the name spoken so openly. “Yes, that’s exactly who I mean. I crafted it myself.”
“That’s quite the accomplishment then,” the young man said. “You must be very proud of yourself.”
As he spoke, two cups of ale landed on the table. The busty barmaid serving them bowed politely and excused herself after delivering the drinks.
Milo’s eye widened — he hadn’t ordered anything. All his suspicions pointed back to the young man, who was beginning to look rather pleased with himself.
“It’s a treat on me,” the young man explained, waving his hand. “Don’t worry about it. I can appreciate a talented amateur when I see one.”
Milo hummed, not sure what to answer that with. He took a sip from the cup, praying to himself that it wasn’t somehow poisoned. “Thank-you,” Milo said. He’d grown up in a household where gratitude was a virtue, and unlike the other hunters he knew, he never turned his nose up at a gift
“It’s my pleasure.”
The young man was very well-dressed. Milo wasn’t typically one to take note of who was wearing what, however he did notice the cotton collar around the other’s neck. Below it was a frill tucked neatly into his button-down shirt, with his long sleeves expertly tailored to fit his frame.
“Now, tell me about that blade,” the young man asked. “My name is Sylvester. It’s a relic of my previous master.”
“Master — you’re someone’s protege?”
“Precisely, I’m studying under Mr. Hartman himself.”
Milo drummed his fingers impatiently as Sylvester drank, obviously not used to the bitter taste of this tavern’s offerings. “So, you work under the Hunter’s Guild?” Milo asked. If this Sylvester was going to interrupt him, they may as well speak.
“That would be the case,” Sylvester replied. “I’m very lucky to be working with such an expert. The next full moon is soon. It’d be a shame for us to be down any number of men.”
Milo raised a brow. Perhaps he was misunderstanding — but somehow Sylvester neither gave him the impression of a hunter, nor someone who would be working under one. It was suspiciously, to say the least.
“Now, about that blade…”
“I’m planning on using it on the next full moon,” Milo said. “It was a gift. But it’s dull now. So, I’m preparing it for the hunt.”
Sylvester laughed. “Maybe our meeting is auspicious after all.”
There was something vaguely unnatural about his eyes, something almost pointed that seemed to watch Milo’s every move. They were a stark icy blue, a color that Milo had never seen. But he attempted to mask his preoccupation with another drink while Sylvester spoke.
“My master’s quite the huntsman,” Sylvester said. “Many talented werewolf hunters have studied under him. I find his taste in peers… interesting, but I’m grateful nonetheless to be working for him.”
“Have you ever…” Milo let the question linger, trail to the end of his tongue. He winced at Sylvester’s obvious mention of werewolves, as if approaching such a subject matter wasn’t some tactless faux pas.
“No, no yet,” Sylvester answered. “I hope to find my answer this coming week though. The full moon is coming. I’d be ashamed for all this training to be wasted.”
Milo silently nodded in agreement. He eyed his dagger on the table, wondered if him and Sylvester might have similar goals. If both of them were both destined for that fabled title of werewolf hunter, along with all the danger and baggage the occupation carried. Hundreds of men before them have died doing the same thing, and many before that as well. When Milo truly contemplated it, his skin ran cold, and he felt the sweat on the nape of his neck at the thought of encountering a living, breathing beast in the wilderness.
These were uncertain times.
“My neighbor’s cattle were destroyed only a few days ago,” Milo explained. “He depends on his farm to feed his family. It’ll only get worse the longer we wait. I can’t stand seeing others suffer just because we can’t control the wildlife.”
“Wildlife…that’s one way to put it,” Sylvester laughed. “But I agree. Perhaps, there are other solutions to our problems other than mindless maiming and killing, though. But I doubt we will see that in our lifetime.”
Milo took another drink. A golden medallion hung off Sylvester’s collar in the shape of an eye. If he suspected Sylvester was wealthy, then this observation only confirmed it — he was dealing with a member of the bourgeois who pursued membership into the guild for sport. He feigned a smile, knowing better than to let those ugly thoughts creep across his face in polite company. However, Milo soon caught Sylvester grimace, palming his medallion feverishly, as if he were sitting across a thief rather than a new acquaintance.
“This is from my Lyle. He demands I wear it,” Sylvester confessed. Milo’s ears perked at the sudden drop in formalities. “He said all of his protégés before wore it as well. I don’t argue with him.”
“That’s strange,” Milo said. “But I suppose tradition is worth something.”
Sylvester seemed less concerned. He bit his lip and took another drink from the ale, although it was clear he wasn’t enjoying it much. “I’ll be heading off now,” he announced. “I assume you will be at the gathering at the guild house later?”
Caught off-guard by the invitation, Milo anxiously stirred in his seat. The chair beneath him screeched as he shot up without any reservation for those watching. To meet the guild master personally was the opportunity of a lifetime — one that Milo knew would never land in his lap again if he dismissed it. “An invitation to the guild meeting? Really?”
“Absolutely,” Sylvester said. He circled around the table closer to Milo, close enough that Milo recognized how smooth his skin, how light his hair was. “It’d be an honor on my behalf to have you come join us.”
A pair of gentle lips brushed against Milo’s cheekbones. Milo closed his eyes, and suddenly realizes the soft scent that seemed to radiate from Sylvester, like wet flowers in spring. The kiss was brief, a chaste farewell as Sylvester departed, and left the tavern door swinging in his absence. Milo first touched the side of his face, then reached for his blade with a renewed fever to finishing sharpening it. Such customs weren’t uncommon in the village, yet Milo felt a lucidity in him stir from Sylvester’s touch. Fixated on the blade, he finally placed it back in the sheath strapped to his side and left the ale on the table. The candles on the wall flickered restlessly as the barmaids and patrons went about their regular business.
Milo thought of the gold of Sylvester’s hair – a rich, powerful gold that Milo could only encounter in dreams. He hoped to see him again, as soon as possible.
The starless night made Milo’s eyes weary and his spirit low. He sat on the edge of his bed while the trees shook outside. A few quiet murmurs of animals outside interrupted his silence, but Milo was mostly deep in thought. Tomorrow morning would be the first guild meeting at the village town hall, where he would finally meet Sylvester’s infamous master.
Milo’s stomach twisted itself in knots. He gripped the wooden handle of his dagger, knuckles white with determination as he placed it back in its sheath. The meeting with Sylvester was still on his mind — the impeccable otherworldliness of the young man still fresh in his memory. Something was not right about that boy. His demeanor was polite, however Milo wondered if there was more to him than impressions gave.
Only time will tell. All that matters is walking with those prestigious werewolf hunters, Milo thought to himself.
Morning came quickly after a restless night. Milo stripped away his clothes for a leather vest and cotton tights. He tied a hemp belt around his waist, making sure his cherished dagger was securely in place. A kettle whistled in his kitchen and eggs sizzled on the frying pan — when he was done with breakfast, he left for town.
After locking his door, Milo caught a glimpse of a carriage bolting down the street. Alarmed, he slammed his back against his door frame as the carriage horses trampled past him. However, the horses quickly came to a sudden stop, their hoofs skidding against the ground as their coachman pulled back on their reigns. When the commotion finally came to a pause, Milo eased his way back to the road in front of his house, where he unexpectedly heard his name called out from the carriage window.
“Milo is it?” the voice cried.
Milo bit his bottom lip. He nodded.
A head emerged from the window: a blond, otherworldly head. When Sylvester finally found him, he gave him a toothy grin, clearly pleased that coincidences permitted their meeting. “Would you mind riding with me to the guild meeting? There’s spare room. I prefer to ride with company than alone.”
Milo shook his head. A horse whinnied, kicking the ground with its hoof while Milo cautiously watched. Something never felt right about horses to him. It was their too-human eyes. But their uncanny beauty also reminded Milo of Sylvester, who was currently perched outside his carriage window like a bored tropical bird.
“I understand if you don’t want to draw attention to yourself,” Sylvester offered, “But I promise it will be much quicker this way than traveling on foot. And I suppose you wouldn’t want to miss the opportunity to leave a good impression with master Hartman, wouldn’t you?”
“You have a point,” Milo decided. Arriving on carriage would definitely make a better impression. But it still wouldn’t change the fact that he was a newcomer, a fresh-face who’s arrival would garner unwanted attention from veterans regardless.
With little more convincing to be done, Milo accepted Sylvester’s offer. As he boarded the carriage, Milo noticed Sylvester’s garments to be even more lavish than those he wore the previous night. Milo reckoned it must be for a special occasion, that as Hartman’s protégé, there were different standards in how one dressed for meetings.
As the carriage started moving again, Sylvester took a deep, impatient breath. Milo raised his brow but said nothing until Sylvester finally spoke again.
“I’m frightened,” he admitted. “There are rumors that a werewolf might be about this coming full moon. If that is the case, then this meeting will be more significant than the prior.”
A chill ran down Milo’s spine. Cheery voices ebbed and flow from the village outside while Sylvester carried on their conversation in a hushed, cautious tone.
“I hope not to alarm you, but it’s quite dire. The guild will need every able-bodied man in the village at this rate.”
“Surely you must not be that low in numbers,” Milo gasped. “I understand that enlistment has been…”
“Quite low, yes,” Sylvester muttered. “Not as many individuals are willingly to put their lives on the line. The hunting business is not merciful.”
“That’s a shame,” Milo answered. “But there isn’t much getting around it, nowadays is there?”
“I just wish they weren’t such savages.” Milo watched Sylvester fold a strand of golden hair behind his ear. “The hunters, I mean. Not the werewolves. There’s no working around that.”
“For now. Until we find a cure,” Milo offered. He hoped he sounded sincere. The last thing he needed now was for someone as generous as Sylvester to think less of him. “If men can turn into werewolves, then surely we can reverse the effect somehow.”
Sylvester gave another deep-seated sighed. He leaned into the cushion of the carriage, folding his hands atop one another. “Your optimism is refreshing.”
Milo frowned. A pause. He heard the movement of the horse’s hooves as they approached the cobblestone road in front of the town hall. As he leaned out the window, Milo saw the towering wooden structure move into view. One large balcony watched over the building’s entrance, which was gated and guarded by two members of the guild for that afternoon.
“Let us go,” Sylvester said. As the carriage came to a stop, he neatly adjusted the collar of his vest. For once in his life, Milo felt horribly underdressed. Yet, he wondered where exactly Sylvester acquired such fine clothing, and whether or not the guild had any role in it. Not to mention — what role exactly, did Sylvester act, if he wasn’t a hunter himself? Milo tucked the question away for later, like folding a letter in an envelope he refused to read. To ask so would be impolite, and Milo was beginning to prefer having friends in high places.
Sylvester’s coachman bid them farewell as they arrived at the gate. Without as much as a nod, the guards let Sylvester and Milo through, quickly shutting it behind them.
“Do they always do this for you?” Milo asked.
Sylvester shrugged. “I suppose it comes with the job. No one has complained so far, as to my knowledge.”
Milo laughed. Sylvester glanced at him, before smirking with mild amusement at his reaction.
“Are you surprised?” he asked.
“No, not really,” Milo replied. “Just takes some getting used to, is all.”
“Charming,” Sylvester laughed.
A considerable crowd of huntsmen had arrived before Sylvester and Milo made their proper appearances. From the rows of tables, Milo recognized a few faces he’d only seen in passing at the tavern. The rest of the guild members were absolute strangers, however Sylvester assured him that this was common. As the full moon approached, it was only natural for their numbers to fluctuate, for new members to arrive with the prospect of slaying a werewolf on their first outing. Very few lived to tell the tale — even fewer ever saw the opportunity in their lifetime.
Sylvester wasted no time bringing Milo to a stairwell secluded from the central hall. From here, he promised that they would meet his master, that Sylvester would introduce both to one another with commendations. Milo’s heart jumped at the thought, however he remained skeptical until Sylvester finally led him to an inconspicuous wooden door. After Sylvester gave it a few solid knocks, Mr. Hartman hastily welcomed them inside.
“And who’s this?” Hartman asked. This was clearly a man who’d seen his fair share of battles, marked by scars and painful-looking abrasions.
“A friend,” Sylvester chimed. “I met him at the tavern. He wishes to become a member of the guild. And I highly recommend him for the position, sir.”
“Well, hurry and bring him downstairs,” Hartman spat. He shuffled some documents on his desk and stood up. Milo figured he must’ve been at least six feet tall — nothing less for the man who led the hunting guild. However, how exactly such a man would meet Sylvester, and make him his protégé no less, remained a mystery.
Hartman’s office was a compact room, albeit too antique for Milo’s taste, however he could clearly see Sylvester’s influence. Carefully carved wooden tables and shelves lined the walls, stacked with books, and novelties. A small selection of framed artwork sat aside unhung, most of which were studies, although Milo did notice a few paintings.
Hartman left as soon as they’d met him. Sylvester made an annoyed noise and folded his arms as the man swung the door open to descend downstairs. Murmurs of voices from below indicated that the meeting was taking place soon. However, it quickly became apparent that Sylvester had other plans.
“That was unfortunate,” Sylvester bemoaned. “but it’s also very like him. I’m sorry for my master’s rudeness.”
“There’s nothing to apologize for,” Milo replied. “I mean, I’m just glad to be here. It really makes no difference to me.”
“Yes,” Sylvester hummed, turning to him. “There’s no changing that man. He’s a stubborn asshole. I’m sorry, but I don’t think your blade will be getting appraised anytime soon.”
Milo felt a hand brush against him. Instead of pulling away, Milo allowed it to linger and trace the outline of his fingers before resting in his palm.
“Your hands are calloused,” Sylvester whispered.
“I suppose it comes with the job,” Milo laughed.
Sylvester nodded, fixated on Milo’s reaction. Milo allowed Sylvester to gently take his hand – Sylvester’s skin was soft, surprisingly so compared to his own. Clearly something had prevented him from enrollment in the hunter’s guild, Milo thought. This was not the touch of a man who hunted werewolves. This was a delicateness Milo felt the world was becoming less and less accommodating of, a selflessness that he himself felt incomparable to.
“We have a meeting, don’t we?” Milo asked.
“Yes, we do,” Sylvester sighed. His expression became cloudy, difficult for Milo to read, however he assumed he wasn’t thrilled with the prospect of going back downstairs. “However, I rather spend my time up here with you.”
“What?” Milo was surprised, although he understood Sylvester’s intent well meant. Milo simply couldn’t comprehend why Sylvester would want to abandon an importanting for him, of all people.
“I was just – entertaining a thought,” Sylvester laughed. He rubbed the medallion hanging from his neck feverishly, as if he’d somehow been summoned from a land far away and was trying to return. “I apologize for my directness. I went ahead of myself.”
“No, that’s not it at all,” Milo whispered. He’d admitted he enjoyed the other’s company – it was a welcomed break from the dreariness of hanging around taverns all night. Plus, he also didn’t mind Sylvester’s good looks. “I’m just in awe, really, of actually being here.”
“Well, at least you have a good sense of humor about it,” Sylvester added. He opened the door, revealing the staircase leading back to the hall stage. “How about it? Do you want to join the others? Or would you rather take this opportunity to see something most don’t?”
“Something like – this,” Sylvester said, gesturing at the framed paintings. “You’re not a regular member, so I doubt you’d be given access to Mr. Hartman’s office for some time. Why not make the most of it?”
“Do you spend a lot of time here?” Milo asked, following Sylvester behind the desk to the paintings.
“Something like that,” Sylvester chimed. “Despite being his protégé, I also play the part of a secretary. Not exactly what I signed up for but – it’s worth the experience, I suppose.”
“And these?” Milo asked, pointing to a black and white study.
“Oh, that. An old work. Nothing I would pay attention to, really.”
“I want to see,” Milo implored. He skimmed his fingers along the frame, wiping away a streak of dust in the process. Another frame appeared behind it. Curious, Milo reached for that one as well, before Sylvester placed his hand defensively over his.
“I’m sure they can’t be that bad,” Milo said. “It’s not an art gallery. Surely your master must have some reason for holding on to them.”
“In a better world, yes,” Sylvester answered. “I’d be an artist. But that isn’t the world we live in. I peddle paperwork all day, mostly.”
“Better than putting your throat on the line.”
“Yes, I suppose that much is true,” Sylvester sighed. Milo snorted. He found it bizarre Sylvester felt the need to demean his own work, however he decided not to press it any further until he could see the paintings for himself.
“Here is one.” Sylvester pulled out a single framed work, a small square that he held lightly with both hands. “This is of a specimen we have preserved in one the laboratories.”
The painting depicted a single, lupine-shaped skull with an arrangement of minerals and stones. A nude figure sat beside it, back turned away from the viewer to reveal the boney curvature of their spine. Something ominous surrounded the piece of art, as if it were inviting wandering eyes to nestle themselves between the crevices of each bone, to wearily contemplate it. Sylvester’s lips made a fine, thin line as Milo observed it, fingers ghosting over the glass frame separating the illustration from the rest of the world.
“Something from a long time ago, I’m afraid,” Sylvester said. “The skull belonged to my master. Unfortunately, I cannot recall the name of the model.”
“You have a gift,” Milo said.
“Better here than a gallery, I say. There’s nothing good in hanging useless art up on the wall.”
“No better than hiding it a dusty office.”
Sylvester hummed, and rolled his sleeve cuffs. Milo knew a comment like this would touch a nerve, so he refrained from saying anything more to Sylvester about his art.
A hand gently brushed Milo’s shoulder. This time, he didn’t flinch. His eyes remained glued to the golden framing of the study, how the coils complimented the raw fury of black and white on the paper. The juxtaposition of the frame and color hues made Milo shudder, as if the study itself possessed some otherworldly power.
As Milo turned around, he felt Sylvester’s touch again, and happily welcomed it as he looked up from the study. A kiss – fast and inconsequential. Milo welcomed it, closing his eyes as Sylvester quietly pulled away. Delicately, he reached for the other man’s collar and pressed into the touch, savoring it. Sylvester tasted like whiskey, warm and familiar. Milo moaned and pulled back, breathing heavily as he fixated on Sylvester’s glowing face.
With one hand preoccupied with unbuttoning Sylvester’s shirt, Milo removed his coat and swung it over Mr. Hartman’s chair. He was pleased to find Sylvester purring and grinning, his canines sharp and distinguished. Carefully, Milo removed his gloves and moved his hand to the other’s hip, squeezing it gently. He’d been enamored with Sylvester’s strange allure since they first met – although he feared it was nothing until he felt him reciprocate. Sylvester laughed and brushed a strand of hair away from Milo’s forehead, and gazed into his eyes.
“Mighty bold of you,” he teased.
“You’re fascinating,” Milo answered. He felt as though his head was spinning in a dream “What are you?”
“That’s a secret for me to keep,” Sylvester said. “Please, be patient.”
Both of them knew their time was short. The guild members downstairs only grew louder. Sylvester took a deep breath, and after parting from Milo, reached for his wrist on his hip.
“Sit down,” he told him. Milo silently nodded and obliged, taking Mr. Hartman’s seat as Sylvester made himself comfortable. He couldn’t help but feel the walls watch him, however. Milo felt goosebumps crawl on his skin at the thought of them being caught, much less fooling around in the guildmaster’s personal office. However, Sylvester seemed to show little to no regard for the possibility of being caught. Instead, he licked his pointed teeth and looked up at Milo with big, fierce eyes.
“What are you thinking about?” he asked.
“Your master,” Milo whispered. “If he comes back, we’ll be caught.”
“Don’t be too nervous,” Sylvester hummed. “He’s a very busy man. And you’re about to be, too.”
With a gliding motion, Sylvester spread his palm over Milo’s thigh and groped him through his trousers. Slowly, he moved from his leg to the growing bulge of his groin, running his hand over the taut surface. When Milo cried in response, Sylvester cupped his crotch and thumbed the button holding his trousers shut. “My, someone’s excited,” he said.
“Please,” Milo whimpered, “please, Sylvester.” Was this truly the man he’d met at the bar? Did it ever cross Milo’s mind that, perhaps, such an esteemed citizen of his village would take interest in him?
“Absolutely. You don’t need to ask twice.”
Snapping off the button, Sylvester was glad to find that Milo’s member was already hard. As gently as he could, Sylvester slipped it out of his undergarments, tapping the blushing red tip. A pearly white bead dribbled down the peak, coating his fingers as Sylvester slowly began stroking him. His grip was firm and concentrated; Milo found himself frozen gazing at Sylvester’s beautiful expression completely fixated on pleasuring him. With his cock exposed, Sylvester wasted no time swallowing it, slipping his tongue over hot, swollen head. As he slid it further into his mouth, he felt it brush against the back of his throat, excited and begging for attention. He was going to give Milo plenty of attention – with his hand firmly planted on Milo’s thigh, he felt his cock harden against his tongue. Hungrily, he ran it across the bottom of his shaft, cherishing the precum as it dripped across his lips. Sylvester smirked, and engulfed Milo with a need that reminded him of a hungry, wild animal. He was in heaven.
Suddenly, a crash came from downstairs, followed by footsteps. The picture frames on the bookshelves rattled ominously. Sylvester nearly gagged before pulling away, a thread of saliva trailing from his tongue as his eyes met Milo’s.
“I fear we should be leaving now,” he interrupted, “lest we miss the meeting.”
“…Of course,” Milo gasped. He’d nearly forgotten.
The day grew longer, and as dusk approached, Milo held his breath amongst the other hunters as they spoke among themselves. He felt as if he’d descend into flames like those burning inside his chest, awaiting him just as Sylvester waited for him at the bottom of the stairs, eager again to take him into his arms.
The woods at night darkened as if a curtain had swept over it. Two days since Milo’s first meeting with the hunter’s guild, and he’d yet to see Sylvester since. Naturally, he was concerned, however attributed his sudden disappearance to his work with the guild and nothing less. He’d been given strict orders not to seek him out. After the meeting, he was promptly dismissed by Sylvester’s master, and assigned to meet at the designated spot once the sun had set.
A bird cry startled Milo. He held his dagger’s mantle tightly. A few other men in the guild’s uniform had arrived, but there was a clear distinction between those who had come on assignment, and those individuals seeking personal gain. The anonymity of the group made Milo’s stomach twist – he was not good in crowds, and rarely considered himself valuable unless he was given a very specific task. As he unsheathed his dagger to give it one more polish, he heard Hartman’s voice raise among the crowd. On horseback, he gathered the group’s attention and spoke loudly.
“The hunt begins. There has been reports that a mysterious figure has been spotted deep in the wilderness. Farmers are losing their livestock, and our village cannot suffer any longer. I sincerely believe you men will fix this problem.”
A round of voices. Milo swallowed and as the group quietly dispersed, followed Hartman’s lead, he suddenly felt himself frozen in place. He’d been so optimistic before, but now only felt terror at the thought of confronting one of the beasts from his childhood nightmares. There simply was no ignoring the real threaten afoot, however – lives would be lost if they didn’t act, if they didn’t seek out the monster to slay immediately.
Suddenly, Milo felt a softness wrap around his arm. In shock, he leapt away from the touch until he saw a pair of yellow eyes staring back at him. Blade in hand, he quickly pointed it in the direction of the shadow before it quickly vanished back into the bush. But before he could step away, he heard a gentle, broken cry that barely carried itself beyond the foliage. Curious, Milo cautiously approached it, readying his aim to stab if anything were to suddenly lunge at him ready to kill.
“Perfect,” he heard a voice purr. “I knew you’d come.”
“Sylvester…?” Milo gasped. He felt goosebumps crawl over his skin, take him hostage as the eyes re-emerged from the woods. It was no wonder the huntsmen had missed them – Milo crouched and barely saw them flicker as he stepped closer.
“You have a good ear,” Sylvester laughed. “Come closer. I can’t risk being seen this way. Frankly, it’s embarrassing.”
Hesitantly, Milo followed his orders and snuck behind the bush, finding himself thick in a nest of thistles and weed. How Sylvester had managed to hide so well was a mystery.
“Shouldn’t you be with the others?” Milo whispered. “It’s dangerous being separated from the group. I’ve missed you.”
“I know,” Sylvester apologized. “You’ve been worried sick. But I couldn’t bear to let myself be seen. Even my master’s in denial.”
“In denial – about what, Sylvester?”
“Too much to explain now,” he sighed. “I’m just grateful you came. Had I met the other men, I surely would’ve been dead.”
“You’re confused,” Milo said. He was confident that Sylvester simply needed to go home, to forget this entire business of hunting werewolves and rest.
“There will be another hunt soon, I’m sure. You have to go home.”
“No, I’m not confused,” Sylvester quickly shot back. Milo winced – he sounded offended, if not upset with Milo’s tone of voice. “I’m just coming to terms. With some things about myself. It’d be a shame if you left me, but I’d understand.”
“I wouldn’t leave,” Milo replied. He wasn’t sure what Sylvester’s dilemma was, but he trusted his intentions, trusted that he meant no harm in running away. But now, he felt himself on fire again, determined to get Sylvester back to where he belonged.
“You’ll come with me, right?” Sylvester asked.
“Something like that,” Sylvester laughed. “But it won’t be pretty. I can’t stay here anymore. It’s not safe for me. I can tell you later.”
“You mean – the village?”
“They won’t accept me,” Sylvester elaborated. “They’ll keep trying to kill me for game. Over and over. I’ve finally realized why the guild wants me. If you come with me, I won’t have to be alone.”
Milo reached out for Sylvester’s hand, but instead only felt a rough patch of fur. Alarmed but not afraid, Milo felt himself stuck on his knees, enamored with the shimmer of Sylvester’s glowing eyes.
“You understand now, right?” he asked him.
“I – I’ll try to understand.”
“I can’t go home,” Sylvester insisted. Milo heard a hurt whine and rustling leaves – heavy, padded footsteps started ahead of him. Blindly, Milo followed them with his heart in his throat, his skin crawling with anticipation. As he followed Sylvester into the moonlight, he finally saw the brilliant gold of his fur coat, thick mane and tail, and pointed ears.
He was beautiful. The medallion that seemed to weigh so heavily on his neck was gone. Somehow, Sylvester seemed more at ease this way –human enough simply through the intense gaze of needle-sharp eyes. Milo embraced him gently, pleased find Sylvester warm against the chill of the night. Slowly, Sylvester pulled away, and stared back at him with a concerned pull at his lips. His teeth were daggers and a brilliant white. Milo was not afraid.
“You’ll come with me then?”
“Of course,” Milo said. “You’re beautiful like this.”
Sylvester didn’t speak – Milo wondered if he’d only imagine him speak at all. He closed his eyes and saw stars, felt the gold between his fingers like silk, and soon found himself asleep.
“Thank-you,” Sylvester answered, relieved. “These secrets are heavy on the heart.”
The wolf guided him through the woods, and with Milo steadily at his feet, the two disappeared into the night, unbeknownst the hunters long lost in their ways. Home, Milo and Sylvester decided, would be wherever they came across next before the dawn.