Billy and Dim is an 8-chapter advanced-level story. I originally wrote it with the plan to release all the episodes on the podcast, but I decided it would be too long. You can read the whole story here, and I will be adding chapters as I finish grading them (making the language easier). You can listen to chapter 1 here and chapters 2 and 3 here. The audio versions of chapters 4-8 will be released on Patreon over the next few months.
Patreon audio of the chapters:
Audio and vocabulary for Chapter 4
Audio and vocabulary for Chapter 5
Audio and vocabulary for Chapter 6
Audio and vocabulary for Chapter 7
Audio and vocabulary for Chapter 8
Little Red Riding Hood wasn’t so little anymore. In fact, she was a full-grown woman, and not only that, but a powerful sorceress, too. The only remains of her past were the red riding hood she always wore, whatever the weather, and her nickname: Red.
Billy, for his part, had changed very little. He was the Big Bad Wolf, or at least, that was what the wanted posters and frightened villagers called him, but in reality it couldn’t be further from the truth. Behind his thick muscles, woolly beard and rough shirt lay a soft heart. He was a great teacher to Red and he knew exactly who he was.
The two were an unconventional pair, but they liked it that way. They wandered from forest to mountain, town to village, begging and charming their way into room and board, and discovering the deep dark secrets of magic. It had been a long time since Billy had taught Red her first spell, in the ruins of her wicked grandmother’s home all those years ago, and yet Red felt like she would never learn all the possibilities of magic, for the world held countless mysteries.
‘Do you think they’re still looking for you?’ said Billy in his stony voice as they walked downhill.
Red gave him a questioning look. ‘And I thought I was the one lost in reminiscing. Have you been thinking back to that day?’ Just the mention of it brought a smell of burnt skin to her nose.
‘Yes, which is odd. There are far more exciting battles to reminisce about.’
‘I was thinking of… something important, when we started climbing this hill, but it was swept from my mind.’ Red blinked. ‘What was I thinking about?’
‘Hmm,’ said Billy. He sniffed. ‘There’s something in the air here. Look.’ He put his arm out and pointed. Gradually, she noticed what he was pointing to—a thin kind of pollen, almost invisible in the breeze.
The grin of discovery spread over the werewolf’s lips. ‘Perhaps our reminiscing is not as innocent as we thought. Have you heard of environmental magic altering thoughts?’
She loved the way he did that, always asking questions he already knew the answer to. Of course she hadn’t heard of it. Everything she knew about magic she knew from him. And yet, he always asked, as if he had as much to learn from her as she did from him.
‘No,’ she said, grinning. ‘That sounds like something worth investigating.’
They figured out which way the pollen was coming from and ran in that direction, jumping over logs and pushing through branches. Billy went ahead, as always, his werewolf strength allowing him to easily clear a path, with Red following behind him.
As the pollen in the air grew thicker, Red’s mind was flooded with ever more vivid images: the soup her mother had made for her when she was sick, her first kiss, the sight of her grandmother’s dead body, empty of magic.
She tried to erase the last one from her mind, but there was no use—it was immediately replaced by another image, and then another. Meals, smiles, tears and scenery flashed before her wildly.
Finally they reached the source of the pollen, a group of fat, heavy flowers similar to sunflowers in shape, although it was hard to see them through the fog of images in her mind.
‘Funny, I’ve never seen a flower like this,’ said Billy, kneeling towards it.
‘Is it dangerous?’
‘Dangerous?’ Billy said, staring into the flower. ‘Why should it be?’
Red’s first night with Billy played before her, the shine of the moon melting into the sunny forest. She bit the inside of her cheeks to try and focus herself. ‘It’s just like that spell…’
‘Spell?’ Billy muttered. He moved ever closer to the flower.
‘You know, that… Ah, where are we again?’
She was standing on a cliff by the sea, watching the fishing boats bring in their prize.
‘In Cracktooth’s arms,’ whispered Billy.
‘N-no. Who’s that?’
Red blinked. She was lying naked in bed, but she felt clothes rub against her. And why were their birds singing in her bedroom?
‘This must be a dream.’
‘No!’ shouted a familiar voice.
Red heard a ripping sound. The moon burst into stardust. The fishing boats sank into the sea. The familiar walls of her bedroom cracked away. She saw a friend standing in front of her, but what was his name?
‘Red!’ cried the man, shaking her shoulders. ‘We have to… Oh, curses!’
His arms swept under her, and he carried her through the forest—when had they gotten there? Some strange yellow dots flew all around her, getting thinner as they moved. Her stomach shook with every step.
‘Why are you running so fast? Granny, I still have a fever!’
‘No, you don’t,’ growled the man holding her. Billy, was that his name? ‘You’re in the Captian Forest with Billy, your handsome, strong, intelligent werewolf friend, who’s far better at spotting wicked magic than you.’
‘No more fairy tales,’ Red groaned. ‘Can’t I just sleep?’
They arrived at a river, where Billy threw her onto the ground.
‘Ouch!’ she cried.
The man pulled a waterskin out of his pack, filling it up and pushing it towards her.
‘No!’ groaned Red, crawling away. Her stomach felt warm, soft, comfortable, like the bed she lay on. No, was that grass?
‘Fine then. We’ll do this the hard way. Open your mouth.’
Red pressed her lips together and tried to crawl away, but Billy held her down with strong arms. He forced her jaw open, and she thought he was going to pour the water in, but instead he stuck two fingers down her throat.
Red sat up and threw up onto the grass. It felt like throwing up the remains of a fire, and when she saw the thick orange mess before her, she wondered what the Hell she’d eaten.
The images faded gently away. She wasn’t at home. She was in the Captian Forest, just like Billy had said.
‘But what about the ocean…?’ she muttered. She had smelt it.
‘Looks like you need another go,’ Billy said seriously, moving towards her.
‘No!’ said Red, holding her arms up. ‘I’m back, I promise. It’ll go, whatever it was…’
Billy nodded, threw her the waterskin, and got to work throwing up himself. He was more thorough than her, throwing up three times, until he was only coughing up air. Then he drank greedily from the river. Red sipped on water and looked at what had come out of them. The bright orange colour came from the bits of pollen, she realised, which had stuck together.
‘Just what was that stuff?’ she asked.
‘Nothing natural to here. It was planted, and perhaps enhanced by magic.’
‘You mean… a trap?’
Billy nodded. ‘I’m almost impressed, but it was obvious from the roots that the plants had been taken from somewhere else.’
Red looked around, but she could not see or hear anyone aside from birds and insects.
‘Do you think someone in the last town found out about us?’
‘No,’ said Billy, shaking his head. ‘This is a professional. Could have any number of reasons for coming after me. Us.’
‘And those reasons are?’
Billy chuckled. ‘We’ll save those stories for the road. I realised what it was the moment I started thinking about my ex. I have a strong charm placed on myself, to prevent such thoughts. Anything that can break that charm is powerful magic.’
Red raised an eyebrow. Billy had never talked much about his romantic past, and she desperately wanted to find out the details, but if he had charmed the memories away, it had to be unpleasant.
She was brought back to reality by the grumbling of her stomach.
‘Ugh, well there goes our delicious breakfast. And it took me so long to convince that bird to give up its eggs.’
Anxiously, she looked up at the sky. The sun was far lower than she would have liked. They were hungry, exhausted, and being followed by someone, and evening was approaching.
‘We have two options,’ Billy said, his voice low and soft. ‘We find food and set up camp here tonight, or we walk until we arrive in town, however late it is. What do you think, chief?’
‘I think it would be stupid to set up camp in a forest that might be entirely charmed against us.’
‘Exactly. Let’s get moving.’
Red drank from the river and stood up, groaning at the way her muscles ached. It was going to be a long walk.
‘When’s the full moon?’
‘Night after next. But don’t worry, I have enough supplies. Or maybe we could get rid of this hunter the old-fashioned way.’
So the rogue wolf was smarter than he looked. Demetrius was quietly impressed. Judging from his appearance, he had thought ‘Billy’ nothing more than a charming idiot with powerful uncontrolled magic, but actually the werewolf held a remarkable control over it.
As for the girl, he couldn’t quite decide about her. He had thought her a prisoner of the wolf, but she was far more independent than expected. Still, there was no doubt that the wolf would rip her apart if she tried to escape, assuming he hadn’t already forced her loyalty with a magical contract.
Still, he couldn’t feel sorry for her. She was dangerous, too, and from the report he’d been given about the incident with the girl’s grandmother, it was unclear who had committed the murder.
Demetrius’s first thought—that the pair would be unable to resist the temptation of unknown magic—had been correct, but he had underestimated their ability to handle it. Well, he wouldn’t make that mistake again. He made himself comfortable in the tree he was hiding in and listened in to their waterskin, which he had bugged with magic.
‘…find an inn to stay the night, and leave early tomorrow. Get as far away as we can.’ If the werewolf felt under pressure, he hid it well.
‘No time to stop for a little fun?’ Red teased.
‘That’s what got us into trouble last time!’ Demetrius could hear the grin on the werewolf’s voice, even through the gurgle gurgle of the waterskin. The werewolf’s voice sounded different through it, in a way that made Demetrius’ ears feel funny.
‘The potential for trouble’s never stopped you from doing something before.’
‘True, true. But I can’t stand the way you just sit and watch. Don’t you ever want to find some girl of your own?’
Demetrius forced himself to back away from the conversation. He had the information he needed: they were stopping at the inn in the next village.
Demetrius jumped out of the tree and climbed onto his horse. She complained as he did so. The old horse still seemed to hate him, though he could never tell why. Perhaps she smelt a bit of wolf on him?
‘No, that’s been long erased,’ he muttered to himself.
He adjusted his black wool coat, boiling hot in this warm weather. But he couldn’t take it off. He had promised.
He kicked the horse into action—he couldn’t even remember the animal’s name—and rode through the forest to the village of Noren. There, he put up his horse at the inn, The Beggar’s Hand, and marched inside to talk to the owner.
‘Demetrius Olomew,’ he declared, casually lifting up his sleeve to reveal his six-pointed star tattoo. ‘I require your assistance.’
The heavy woman did not look happy at the sight of the symbol, but she grunted and said, ‘What do you need me to do?’
‘I’ll need to prepare a meal and a room for some particular guests tonight. Would you show me to the latter now?’
‘Right this way, oh great one,’ she said, waving a hand.
Demetrius ignored her rudeness and followed her up the stairs. He couldn’t prevent a smile from pushing its way onto his lips.
Oh, he’d wipe the grin off that handsome face. The werewolf and his student were going to have a lot of trouble tonight, indeed.
Gods, Billy could’ve done without the memory of Cracktooth. It had been at least four years now, but the scars burned like they were formed yesterday, especially after so long being charmed away.
‘My feet hurt,’ Red muttered.
Usually, this was where Billy jumped up, full of energy, and encouraged Red along. But even he was exhausted. The charmed flowers had worn him out more than he’d revealed. The memory of his ex’s words were like a knife in his side.
‘Just stop the magic stuff for one day. It makes me uneasy.’
Billy shuddered. Red raised an eyebrow at him.
‘There’s a first for everything.’
Eventually, after hours of walking along the dark path in near silence, the lights of Noren shone in the distance. Billy had been there once before, many years ago, and to his memory the only famous thing about the village was that they had a horse who had played a decisive role in an attack on a nearby family of vampires. Billy grinned at that. If only they knew who would be staying there tonight.
Thankfully, there had been no sign of their ‘hunter’ since that afternoon, and no more traps. As they approached The Beggar’s Hand, the smell of freshly-baked pie came towards them and Billy’s stomach growled like, well, a wolf.
‘About time,’ he groaned.
When they opened the door, a wave of noise, sights and smells hit them. It looked like the whole village was packed in there, which made sense, since there was no other entertainment around apart from the famous horse. Many eyes turned to look at them, and Billy noticed a few looks of interest from both guys and girls, but for the most part they quickly returned to their drinking and dancing, cards and kissing.
‘Room for two and dinner for three,’ Billy said to the barwoman.
The girl gave a little jump when she saw him, which was odd. He didn’t think he looked particularly threatening after a whole day of trekking through the forest.
‘O-of course. Please.’
She pointed to the single empty table, which was pushed into the corner of the room.
‘Can we put our things in our room first?’ said Red.
‘Oh, right!’ said the girl, blinking like a surprised rabbit. ‘I’ll carry those up.’
She took their packs and struggled under the weight, but she bravely marched up the stairs without a look behind her.
‘How odd,’ said Billy as they sat down. ‘You think she liked you?’
Red snorted. ‘I think you’re seeing things again.’
They had just sat down when a plate with three steaks was carried over to them by an old woman who looked even tougher than the meat she was carrying.
Billy licked his lips. ‘That was quick!’
Red made a face. ‘We smelled pie when we came in. Do you have any left?’
The woman grunted. She looked far too old to be a barwoman, and Billy had a faint memory of her being the owner, from his last visit. Must’ve been a busy night for her to carry food around like a young girl.
‘This is all we have.’
Red sighed and smiled. ‘Well, thank you then.’
‘You’re too polite,’ said Billy, taking a big bite out of his steak. It took considerable self-control not to pick it up with his hands. ‘One would think you’ve been travelling around with your noble uncle, not a horrible hairy werewolf.’
‘Wait,’ said Red, holding up a hand. ‘There’s a hair on my food.’ She lifted the thick blond hair with her fork. ‘I’m just going to see if they have anything else.’
Billy grabbed her arm as she stood up. ‘Come on, don’t start making a scene here,’ he said, bits of meat flying out of his mouth. ‘We have to discuss our plans for tomorrow.’
‘I’ll only be a minute,’ she said, brushing him off.
Billy hated eating alone. Despite the fact that he’d run away from his pack long ago, he was still a social creature. Red was his pack, and without her the dry, tough meat tasted awful. But at the very least, it filled up his stomach and relaxed his mind.
But seriously, had they heard of spices here?
Red returned a few minutes later with her face the colour of her riding hood, carrying her hair-covered steak.
Red shook her head. ‘I overheard the owner talking to someone. A man—I didn’t see him properly. He was asking her for a key, and she was complaining… Then he went quiet, and I looked through the door and saw something on his arm.’
‘Probably just some desperate night with a lonely traveller,’ said Billy, although he couldn’t imagine being lonely enough to want to sleep with her. ‘What was it, a golden bracelet or something?’
‘A tattoo of a six-pointed star.’
Billy spat out the piece of meat he was chewing, sending it flying into Red’s hair. The girl didn’t even react strongly, just picked it out with her fork.
He blinked furiously, forcing his brain to work.
‘What?’ said Red.
‘A six-pointed star!’ He realised he was shouting, so he leant in close and brought his voice down to a whisper. ‘That’s the sign of Strictus.’
‘Never heard of it.’
Right. Of course she wouldn’t know.
‘They’re an organisation wrapped in secret, but what I do know is that they hate free werewolves. And vampires, and all things of that nature. They want magic to be controlled.’ Billy stared down at his food. ‘Curses. I shouldn’t be eating this.’ He pushed his plate away.
Red’s eyes widened. ‘So the flowers, and now the food is… Do you feel OK?’
‘I’m fine,’ said Billy, rubbing his eyes. ‘No, I’m tired. Gods be damned.’
He pushed the plate away and dug his nails into his hands. He needed to stay awake.
‘So the room will be trapped as well,’ said Red.
Oh, right. Billy couldn’t think straight.
‘We can’t move on,’ he muttered. ‘We’re too weak. And the agent will follow us.’
Red glanced around the room, and Billy’s eyes followed. But it all mixed into a vague mess.
‘Can’t seduce anyone like this,’ said Billy, resting his chin on his hand. ‘So we can’t get into another room.’ For a brief second, his eyes fell closed, but then his hand slipped and he jumped awake.
‘What are we going to do?’ said Red, panic in her voice.
‘Stay calm. We’re going to…’ Come on, Billy, think. ‘When the staff aren’t looking, we’ll throw these steaks out to the dogs. Then we’ll go to our room.’
Red gave him a look of alarm.
‘If he’s waiting there to attack us, we’ll be ready. And if not, well, we’ll prepare to attack him.’
It was a weak plan, but it was all his drugged mind could come up with. He had eaten about half of the first steak, but the drug had clearly been strong. It would be hours before he was himself again.
Hopefully, he had the energy to break some Strictus bones. If not, he supposed he would find out just how well he had trained Red.
Thankfully, the bar was busy enough that it wasn’t tricky to dispose of the food. They pretended they were going out to use the bathroom, hiding the steaks into their packs and throwing them to the dogs fighting outside. Then they brought their plates up to the bar.
‘Delicious,’ Billy said, giving a theatrical yawn. ‘We’d like to go to our room now.’
The woman nodded and silently led them up the stairs. She showed them to the last door at the end of a dark corridor and, in a weak attempt at hospitality, said, ‘Sweet dreams.’
They waited for her to leave and Billy slowly turned the knob.
But when they entered the room, it looked entirely normal, with a small double bed and some damaged closets.
Billy sniffed, and caught the scent of magic.
‘Red, check there aren’t any bugs in the walls. You know how they keep me awake.’
Billy went and lit all the candles in the room. Then he fell onto the bed, but thought better of it and sat on the edge. The drugs were starting to wear off, but he was still dangerously close to falling asleep.
Red quietly went and ran a hand over the walls, knitting her eyebrows together as she spell-searched them. Red threw Billy a few looks, uncertain if she should continue, but he nodded each time.
When she reached a section next to the closet she jumped, and the hairs on her arms stood up. Billy jumped up and placed his hand on the wall.
‘Reveal yourself!’ he barked.
A rectangular outline of sharp white light spread out around his hand and the two of them stepped back. A worn door faded out of the wall. For a second, there was silence, and then the knob turned, and Billy got ready to fight.
The door swung open and a figure in black jumped out, holding a blade, but Billy knocked it aside and tackled the man to the floor.
Red swore loudly as Billy pinned the man to the ground, pulled up his arm and ripped back the wool fabric to reveal the six-pointed star.
‘Why are you here?’ grunted Billy.
The Strictus agent said nothing and reached with his free hand, grabbing Billy’s thigh. The werewolf felt the bite of electricity and quickly removed the hand, trapping both of them under his knees.
‘You’re outnumbered two-to-one,’ Billy said, leaning down by his neck. ‘If you try a single spell you’re toast.’
Still, silence. The man’s breathing came slow and steady beneath him. Moonlight spilled onto both of them through the window—the moon was almost full.
Billy drew on its power. His nails and teeth grew sharp. He let out a deep growl.
‘Do you know what happens when a werewolf bites a human’s neck?’ he said, making sure his breath was hot and strong in the man’s ear.
This was the part where the human started sweating, at the very least. But the man remained unnaturally calm. Billy pushed into his neck, rubbing his teeth ever so gently against the man’s pale skin. He shuddered, and Billy breathed in deeply through his nose.
‘Mmm, smells like…’
He was going to say “tasty human”, but that wasn’t true. The man’s scent was heavily masked, under layers of lemon and roses, but Billy had a strong nose, and it was certainly not the smell of a human.
Taking advantage of Billy’s surprise, the Strictus agent freed his hands, gripped Billy’s waist, and sent electricity through him. Billy shuddered and fell to the floor.
The man’s face went red with anger as he pulled out a thin, silvery rope, but just as he was about to tie him up, Red ran forward, grabbing his head in her hands.
‘Forget about me?’ she said. ‘Time to sleep.’
The agent hit her in the stomach, but she maintained her grip, and her spell soon took effect. The man passed out.
Billy shook the remains of the spell off him and stood up.
‘This rope…’ said Red, examining it.
‘Stops magic. Use it on him.’
Red tied up their prisoner’s wrists and Billy pulled him onto the bed. Now he could get a proper look at him. He was dressed in some strange woollen suit covered with trousers and a thin white shirt.
He was young, easily less than 30, and if he hadn’t just sent electricity through him, Billy might’ve even thought he had a kind of naïve beauty to him, with his smooth face and blond hair.
Far too smooth a face for what he was.
‘He’s a werewolf.’
‘What?!’ said Red.
Billy leant over and examined the sleeping man’s face. A five o’ clock shadow was pushing through his boyish cheeks. ‘Probably full of self-hatred.’
‘Are we going to kill him?’ said Red.
There was a storm going on in Billy’s stomach. He had just been threatening to bite him and turn him into a werewolf, which for most humans was basically death, but this guy wasn’t a human.
‘Not before we question him. Besides, peaceful methods are probably best. If Strictus thinks we’re a real threat, they’ll send more force after us.’
‘Then it’s a memory charm and we throw him in the river, right?’ said Red eagerly.
‘We’ll see. By the way,’ he said, putting on his teacher voice, ‘the reason I asked you to search the room is because he placed a charm on his hiding place. Only someone unaware of the spell can find what’s hidden.’
‘So you used my inexperience against me?’ said Red, pretending to be offended.
‘That’s what students are for,’ he said, grinning.
The man on their bed moved, and his eyes started to open.
Billy grabbed his chin, forcing him to look him in the eyes.
‘Tell me your name, dog,’ he spat. ‘Or I’ll break your pretty little neck.’
For the first time, the agent looked genuinely scared. He had bright blue eyes, like fresh rain.
‘Demetrius,’ he croaked, then bit his lip.
‘What a ridiculous name,’ said Billy, giving a cruel grin. ‘From now on, you’re Dim. And let me make one thing clear, Dim: if you try any more tricks or traps, I won’t hesitate to kill you. Understood?’
Dim gulped. ‘You don’t know what you’re dealing with.’
‘Oh, believe me, I do.’
Another memory of Cracktooth came to his mind: his lover leaving that morning, the last time Billy had seen him.
‘Goodbye, Billy. For your sake, I hope we never meet again.’
‘I’m the Big Bad Wolf. You’re the one who should be worried about running into me.’
Billy came back to the present. He couldn’t get lost in those thoughts.
‘Alright, wolfie—yes, I know you’re one of us, don’t look so surprised. Perfumes and razors can only cover so much. Here’s what’s going to happen. I’m going to ask questions, and you’re going to answer them truthfully, or else you’ll find out just how powerful the Big Bad Wolf really is.’
Demetrius should’ve been angry. He should’ve felt scared, at the very least. But as the hulking werewolf stared down at him, his hands pressing into Demetrius’ jaw, he felt something different. Something that he had long pushed down.
‘Tell me your name, dog,’ spat the Big Bad Wolf. ‘Or I’ll break your pretty little neck.’
A deep, dark part of Demetrius’ mind thought, “Maybe I’d like that,” a thought which he quickly silenced.
Wait, no, he hadn’t intended to give him his name! A sweat broke out on him—the wolf had him flustered, and suddenly all his training had disappeared.
Focus, Demetrius. He’d already failed spectacularly in his plan that evening. He didn’t need to make it worse by revealing all his secrets.
‘What a ridiculous name,’ said Billy, giving a cruel grin. ‘From now on, you’re Dim. And let me make one thing clear, Dim: if you try any more tricks or traps, I won’t hesitate to kill you. Understood?’
Demetrius gulped. The name should’ve made him feel stupid, but somehow he… liked it?
‘You don’t know what you’re dealing with,’ he said, trying to sound threatening.
‘Oh, believe me, I do.’
A glassy look passed over the wolf’s eyes, and for a while he said nothing. Then he spoke again.
‘Alright, wolfie—yes, I know you’re one of us, don’t look so surprised. Perfumes and razors can only cover so much.’
Demetrius couldn’t stop himself from going red. There was nothing more he hated than being reminded of his disgusting nature.
‘Here’s what’s going to happen. I’m going to ask questions, and you’re going to answer them truthfully, or else you’ll find out just how powerful the Big Bad Wolf really is.’
Demetrius said nothing. What could he do? His wrists were tightly bound, and even if they weren’t, there was a hulking beast leaning over him, pushing him into the bed, with his magical student to the side, ready to help if necessary.
That had been his mistake. He’d underestimated the girl.
‘Why are Strictus after us?’
Demetrius was surprised. Most targets of Strictus weren’t even aware of its name. This wolf was more clever than he seemed.
‘I’ll never tell you,’ said Demetrius, attempting to use some of his training again.
The wolf sighed. ‘Alright then. We’re going to do this the hard way. Red, go close off the room, make sure no sound can escape.’
Demetrius practically laughed. He may have been terrible at laying traps and keeping his mouth shut, but torture was one thing that every member of Strictus was well prepared for. With his magic bound, he wouldn’t be able to heal himself so easily, but still, he wouldn’t let out a single cry of pain.
A strange smile passed over the Big Bad Wolf’s lips. He placed his hands on Demetrius’ cheeks. They were warm and solid, and Demetrius felt a strange feeling in his chest, along with the smooth touch of magic.
What was he doing?
‘I do quite like blond beards,’ murmured the wolf.
A few seconds later, Demetrius understood. Hair sprouted from his cheeks, pushing against the hands that held them.
Demetrius’ heart beat hard in his chest. What kind of torture was this? But it was effective—it had shaken him up. He couldn’t stand how he looked with a beard.
‘Oh, how pretty,’ said the wolf, once the beard had grown to a decent size. And then he started stroking it. Demetrius felt disgusted.
But suddenly, he stopped. Demetrius felt a pain in his chest. Why had he stopped?
Next, the wolf slipped a hand under his woollen suit and placed it on his chest. Demetrius shuddered, bringing out an even bigger smile from the werewolf.
Thick hairs sprouted from Demetrius’ chest, wrapping around the wolf’s fingers. In his stomach he felt a sickness, but it met with another feeling, one he didn’t fully understand. As much as he wanted every reminder that he was a werewolf taken from his body, there was a certain strange… joy in having the hairs grown like this.
‘How long has it been since you grew your hair?’ said the wolf.
‘Why do you care?’
‘Oh, are you not enjoying this, Dim?’ He pulled his hand away suddenly.
Demetrius was hit by a wave of cold.
‘Of c-course I’m not!’
‘Sounds like you were,’ said the Big Bad Wolf, placing his hand on Demetrius’ neck, his expression casual. ‘Want me to continue, Dim?’
All that came out was a weak sound: ‘Nggh.’
Gods, how did this beast have such a hold over Demetrius? He was sweating and sweating, even though the night was cold, and his Strictus training felt like a distant dream.
‘I’ll take that as a yes.’
Slowly, ever so slowly, he slid his hand down his neck and back to his chest. When his magic flowed into Demetrius again, he exploded with desire.
‘So tell me, Dim. Why are your group after us?’
Every hair that grew felt like a nail stabbing into his skin, and yet, the push of Billy’s hand on his chest felt…
‘You’ll never tame your wolf if you continue like this,’ snapped Professor Banner in his head. His old teacher had never had patience for Dim’s—no, he was Demetrius, damn it!—Demetrius’ poor concentration.
‘Ethel,’ he said.
Red walked over from her spot guarding the door and leant over the bed.
‘What do you know about my grandmother?’
Demetrius had forgotten she was there, so focussed he was on Billy.
‘We know you killed her. One of you.’
Oh damn. He was supposed to not be answering their questions. But Billy had him completely flustered.
‘How did you find out?’ shouted Red.
Clearly, this was a difficult subject for her. Maybe this was something Demetrius could use.
‘I won’t tell you,’ he grunted.
‘I’ve got this,’ said Billy, looking at Red. The sweet, honey-like tone from their private conversations was back.
Reluctantly, Red returned to the door, and the Big Bad Wolf leaned back over Demetrius, his legs pushing into his waist.
‘Why do you wear this awful thing?’ he said, slipping a finger under Demetrius’ woollen suit.
Demetrius bit the insides of his mouth. That was a secret he would never reveal.
Billy leant even closer, pressing his face to Demetrius’ chest and sniffing. The agent shivered, smelling Billy’s own scent. And gods, it smelt sweet. Like wildflowers.
‘It’s charmed,’ Billy said plainly.
‘Just some magic defence.’
Billy shook his head. ‘The perfume, the shaving, now this… They don’t let you shift, do they?’
Demetrius felt like the wolf had cut open his stomach, reached inside and pulled everything out.
‘So I can turn into a wild beast like you? I would never do such a thing. It’s called self-control.’
Billy gave a questioning expression, his hands still resting on Demetrius’ chest.
‘You’re such an expert at self-control that you need a charmed bodysuit to control yourself?’
Oh, curses, he knew. How was this wolf so damn clever?
‘It’s just a precaution,’ Demetrius stammered.
‘You’re a terrible liar, Dim.’
The nickname cut into him.
‘I wonder… What would happen if I took off your suit, tied you up and left you out in the full moon?’
The idea of having his clothes taken off by Billy excited Demetrius—there was no point in denying it now—but then he realised what he was actually saying.
‘You wouldn’t dare!’
‘Try me, little wolf. You’d undo all those hours of shaving in just a few minutes, and I bet you it would feel good.’
‘Shut up!’ cried Demetrius, sounding more childish than he’d intended. ‘I’ve been trained. I wouldn’t transform. Some of us can actually control our magic.’
Billy chuckled. ‘Right now, you can’t even control your desire towards me.’
Demetrius’ cheeks burned red. It was bad enough that he was attracted to this beast, but was it that obvious?
‘I’m going to ask you one last time, Dim. Tell us everything you know about Ethel, and why exactly Strictus want us. If you don’t, we’ll work a memory charm on you so strong you’ll forget you were born, and throw you on a boat going down the river. Oh, and you’ll never get to kiss me, which I’m sure you’re dying to do.’
‘It doesn’t matter! They’ll find out.’
‘Hmm?’ said Billy, raising an eyebrow. ‘So they’re tracking you?’
Curses and hellfire, this wolf was clever. He pulled up Demetrius’ wrist and sniffed his star tattoo, making an unpleasant expression.
‘I thought this was for more than just show. Red!’
The girl came over, apparently unbothered by the whole situation. Demetrius couldn’t stand to look at her, so embarrassed he was by his failure.
‘Mask the magic on this while I get the rest of the information from our friend here.’
Red placed a soft hand over Demetrius’ tattoo and started mumbling magic words. She would have a tough time masking the spell, but if she had even a quarter of the power Ethel had…
‘How did you defeat her, anyway?’ said Demetrius, desperate to fight back.
‘Nuh uh uh, I’m asking the questions here. Tell me: how did you find out that we killed Ethel and lived to tell the tale?’
Demetrius gulped. That was a question he didn’t know the answer to, but he didn’t dare admit it to the wolf.
‘Just kill me. Don’t bother with the memory charm.’
‘Nice try, Dim. But if we kill you this tattoo’s going to sound an alarm, isn’t it? One that can’t be masked.’
‘Done,’ said Red, sighing deeply and moving back. ‘Want me to start working on the memory charm?’
Billy stared at Demetrius and said nothing. He was making some kind of plan.
‘I’ve got a better idea,’ he murmured. ‘You’re gonna call me crazy, Red.’
Then, without warning, he gripped Demetrius’ woollen suit and ripped it open.
‘What are you doing?!’ shrieked the agent.
Billy ignored him, ripping his shirt and the wool apart with his claws.
‘You wearing anything under here?’ he grunted.
‘Then I’ll close my eyes.’
Within minutes he had removed Demetrius’ clothes and completely destroyed the woollen suit. Demetrius could only sit there like a rabbit in the jaws of a fox, unable to stop him. But true to his word, the werewolf did not look at his naked body. Once he was done, he threw the bedsheets over him to make him look decent.
‘What in the Hell are you doing?’ hissed Red.
‘I changed my mind. No memory charm. He needs our help.’
‘This werewolf is full of self-hate. I intend to change that.’
Billy placed his rough hand on Demetrius’ forehead in an oddly gentle way. Demetrius had given up on understanding his intentions.
‘If you’re trying to seduce me… Just do it, you wild beast.’
Billy shook his head, suddenly serious. ‘I would never do such a thing. Good night, Dim.’
The sleeping spell passed through Demetrius’ hair and his eyes slipped shut. The last thing he saw before falling asleep was a strange look on Billy’s face.
It almost looked like pity.
‘What’s happened to you?’ muttered Red. ‘Am I really being the responsible one here?’
‘You wouldn’t understand,’ growled Billy. ‘You’re not one of us.’
Red opened her mouth to say something, but then a loud banging came from the door.
‘Are you in there, Mr. Olomew?’ came the rough voice of the owner.
Billy froze. His eyes met with Red’s. This was unexpected.
Moving as quietly as he could, he leaned over the sleeping figure of Dim and held his throat in his hands, whispering magic words.
‘I told you not to interrupt me!’ he cried in the commanding voice of Dim, powering his speech through magic. He hoped desperately that Red’s sleeping charm would keep him unconscious.
‘I don’t care what you told me!’ snapped the owner. ‘Frankly, I don’t care a bit about your dodgy business. I want you out. The dogs are all going crazy. Somebody drugged them, and I can only think of one person here who can do that. Take your prisoners if you want, but get OUT!’
Billy took a deep breath as he thought about what to do. Red picked at the edge of her riding hood, as she always did when she was nervous.
‘Fine,’ Billy responded, through Dim’s voice. ‘We will leave, but we’ll need three bedrolls and a tent. We’ll pay good money.’
The owner grumbled, but Billy had assessed her correctly—she wouldn’t give up the opportunity to make some money.
‘I’ll be back in five minutes,’ she croaked. ‘Be ready to leave then. You can go out the back door.’
Her footsteps went down the corridor and Billy let out his breath.
‘What are we going to do?’ Red hissed. ‘She’ll see we’ve knocked him out.’
Billy ignored her and searched through Dim’s bag, finding, as hoped, a heavy sack of gold. There were also various potion ingredients, bottles of perfume, some oatcakes, and some strange ropes and devices that Billy was unfamiliar with. He would have to try them out on Dim. There was also a large black riding hood, which looked big enough to cover Dim completely.
He threw half of the oatcakes to Red and said, ‘Eat up. We can’t think on an empty stomach.’
As he furiously chewed on his, he started to make a plan.
‘We’ll put his riding cloak on him and compel his body outside. It’s dark, she won’t see his face.’
‘We’ll just have to put on our best acting job. Look like we’re the ones being compelled.’
Red moaned. ‘You know I hate this theatre crap.’
‘I know. But we just have to get down the stairs and out the back door.’
They heard the sound of the owner returning, so they quickly unwrapped Dim’s body and dressed him. Billy made a strong effort to not look down there, but he caught a glimpse nonetheless. Then they renewed the sleep spell on him, and grabbed their bags.
‘Right, time to leave!’ shouted the old woman.
‘Let’s hold hands,’ whispered Billy. ‘Share our magic.’
Compelling a body to move wasn’t easy. Essentially, it was no different from moving any other kind of heavy object, like a log or a piece of furniture, except it was made of hundreds of complex parts that had to work convincingly together. Billy had never thought walking a very complicated act until he tried to compel someone for the first time.
So as they walked Dim through the corridor in front of them, he was very glad of the darkness to cover his strange movements.
‘You been drinking?’ said the woman.
Red squeezed his hand, but Billy stayed calm. Dim had no reason to answer such a rude question. The owner simply grunted at the lack of response. At least she was focussed on Dim, and not them.
When they made it to the stairs, things got a bit more complicated. Billy had never had to do this before, and with every ancient, narrow step he was sure that Dim would trip and fall down. Secretly, he thought the fall would be deserved, but he had to remind himself that the Strictus agent was fast asleep and wouldn’t even remember it.
In the end, it was Red who fell, almost breaking contact with Billy and throwing an arm against the wall to steady herself. The owner turned round to look at her, but she quickly hid her face back under her cloak and continued as before.
Downstairs, most people had gone home. Billy supposed their “torture” had gone on longer than they thought. The owner pushed them towards the back door and dropped the bedrolls and tent into Dim’s clumsy hands.
‘Payment,’ she barked.
Billy charmed Dim’s hand to rise in the air and click his fingers. All that came out was a weak wet sound, like a hand splashing in a river. Then Billy stepped forward, as if Dim was compelling him, and took a handful of coins from his pocket. It was easier that way—compelling Dim to do it would’ve been Hell.
The owner greedily counted them up and then looked closely at Dim. ‘Huh, I didn’t remember you having a beard.’ Billy was tense, but the woman just said, ‘Not that it’s my business. Safe travels.’
She opened the door and sent them out into the stables, where the cold night air bit into their skin. Finally, the door shut and they were safe in the darkness.
‘Thank the gods,’ Red muttered, letting go of Billy’s hand.
Dim immediately fell forward like a doll and Billy reached out to catch him. The Strictus agent was still fast asleep under his hood, completely unaware of the comedy show he had just taken part in.
‘What now?’ said the girl, putting the bedrolls into their packs.
‘Now we find a quiet spot in the woods and get some gods-damned sleep,’ muttered Billy. ‘I’ll carry him.’
Even though he was a werewolf, Dim was light, and Billy could easily throw him over his shoulder. They walked out of the village and back into the Captian Forest, which wrapped around Noren like a pair of hands.
They walked until they came to a small clearing. They were too tired to put up the tent, so they made a simple fire and laid out the bedrolls.
‘I’ll take the first watch,’ said Billy. ‘Make sure this one doesn’t wake up.’
‘Nonsense. You’ve been doing all the work. I’ll take first watch.’
Billy grinned and raised up his hands in a gesture of defeat. ‘I suppose there are some benefits to having a student. Make sure to renew the sleeping spell regularly.’
‘Obviously,’ said Red, snorting. ‘Sleep well.’
Billy lay back and fell straight to sleep. Unfortunately, he did not sleep well, as his dreams were haunted by Cracktooth.
‘How long has it been?’ said Billy, as they sat together on a rock, holding each other.
‘I stopped counting,’ replied Cracktooth sharply.
‘It wouldn’t hurt to do it once in a while.’
‘How can you say that, Billy?’ Cracktooth pushed him away. ‘We’re monsters. Aren’t you ashamed of that?’
‘It’s hard to be ashamed of you when you’re so damned cute.’
‘Hey, wake up.’
Billy blinked his eyes open. ‘…so damned cute.’
Red chuckled. ‘I know I am, but it’s still your turn on watch.’
He rubbed his eyes and crawled over to the fire to watch over Dim. Now that the Strictus agent wasn’t fighting him or squirming under his touch, Billy could get a better look at him.
He was shockingly attractive, especially with his freshly-grown beard. They clearly took training seriously over there, as every inch of him was thin and muscled. The hair Billy had made sprout on his chest looked out of place next to his pale skin, but Billy was sure he would look twice the man if he let his hairs grow. When he let them grow.
His skin was terribly pale, though, as if he hid from both the sun and the full moon, and he looked altogether dry. Well, he had been wearing black wool head-to-toe. It must’ve been horrible in there.
Cracktooth had had a similar body, Billy realised, only he never bothered shaving his hair. Although he supposed that all changed when he left.
Gods, he needed to renew that memory charm. But he needed the right ingredients, a lot of time and, most importantly, peace of mind. He didn’t imagine he would be getting any of that while Dim was around.
Morning came far too early, and Dim was still unconscious when the sun rose.
‘I think we overdid the magic,’ Red said guiltily.
‘Not to worry. Gives me time to hunt.’
And it felt good to stretch his legs, even if they were sore from the day before. He would rather hunt in wolf form than with magic, but it wouldn’t be long until he could do that. He used magic to catch four rabbits—two for him, as always—and whistled a happy tune as he brought them back to the camp.
The smell of food being cooked was finally enough to wake Dim. Once he realised where he was, he sat up, scowled at his bound wrists, and threw a look at Billy.
‘What did you do to me last night?!’
‘Relax, we just left the inn. We were unwelcome, it seems. Can’t imagine why.’
‘Release me,’ commanded Dim, raising his wrists up to Red.
She chuckled and shook her head. ‘You’re in no position to be giving orders.’
‘I’ll have you know I’m expertly trained. The moment you turn your back, you’re toast, to borrow an expression.’
Billy stared open-mouthed at the boy in front of him. Apparently, he was trying to make up for his failures the night before.
‘You don’t get it, do you?’ said Billy. ‘I took your suit off, remember?’
Dim gasped and looked down.
‘You… put my clothes back on?’
Billy couldn’t stop himself from laughing. That was what he was worried about?
‘You do realise what this means, don’t you? You don’t have a potion of formbinding. Without your suit, you’ll transform at the next full moon. Which is tonight.’
‘A potion of what?’ Dim snarled.
Billy was surprised. ‘They don’t know about that in Strictus? How do you suppress your transformations, then?’
Dim raised his chin. ‘We don’t need to rely on potions and spells like a rogue wolf. We can control ourselves.’
‘And you have charmed suits which must get very sweaty. I’m surprised you don’t stink more. Do you ever get to wash them?’
At the mention of sweaty bodies, Dim blushed, which was the response Billy was hoping for.
‘Anyway, if you want breakfast, and you don’t want to transform tonight, you’ll need to stick with us.’
Dim’s eyes went to the rabbits Red was roasting over the fire, as if he had only just seen them. Red waved and mumbled, ‘Good morning, by the way.’
‘Why would you help me?’ said Dim cautiously.
‘Well, for one, restraining untamed werewolves isn’t exactly my thing—and shut your mouth, I know you’re going to say you’re the tamest thing around. But the truth is, if you haven’t shifted for months or years or however long it’s been, you’re going to lose control.’
‘Am not!’ snapped Dim.
Billy grinned. It was such fun reducing the agent of the powerful Strictus to a little child.
‘Besides,’ Billy continued, ‘I made a promise, and I intend to keep it. I’m going to show you the wild side of life.’
‘I don’t need to see the “wild side of life”. I’m not a beast!’
‘Breakfast’s ready,’ Red sang, handing Billy his two rabbits on a stick.
Billy hungrily bit into one, a drop of fat rolling down his chin, before he saw Dim’s problem.
‘Oh dear. It looks like you’re too tightly bound to eat.’ Dim gritted his teeth in embarrassment. ‘I suppose you’ll need someone to feed you.’
A vein popped out on Dim’s neck. ‘I’d rather go hungry.’
‘Nonsense. I can hear your stomach rumbling from here.’ And with perfect timing, a rumble came from Dim’s stomach.
Billy ate his food, then picked up the fourth stick and raised it to Dim’s mouth.
For a moment, the wolf hesitated, but hunger overcame shame, and he bit into it.
‘You eat like a rabbit,’ teased Billy.
‘And you stink like a wolf.’
‘Oh, like the scent, do you?’ He raised his arm and blew in the air, waving his scent towards Dim.
‘Can’t believe I’m third-wheeling and it’s only morning,’ said Red, wiping her lips on her sleeve.
Dim choked on a mouthful of rabbit.
‘Ignore her,’ Billy said. ‘She likes it really.’
After they’d eaten, they packed up their things—Dim and Red swapped bags, just in case—and made their way south.
‘Where are we headed?’ said Dim.
‘Next village,’ said Red. ‘Or town. Or castle.’
‘Well, which is it?’
‘Whatever takes our fancy,’ said Billy, sticking his tongue out. ‘Haven’t seen a map in a while, so we’ll just follow our noses.’
Annoying Dim had turned into a game for him now, and it was simply too fun to stop. The young wolf had stopped blushing at every second word, and now quietly boiled in anger. Billy could practically hear the gritting of his teeth behind him.
In the afternoon, they stopped for a break, finished the oatcakes, and Billy made the potion of formbinding. Strictly, he only had enough for one-and-a-half people, but Billy could manage with half. The prisoner watched the process with curiosity but made no comment.
At some point, they began to pass by travellers, and discovered they were on the road to Finar, the large town which lay beyond the Captian Forest. They cast a spell on Dim’s hands so nobody would look at his bound wrists, and they stopped to chat to everyone they passed. That was something Billy loved about travelling. Red was great company, but he was a social creature. It often got him into trouble, but so what? He always survived.
Eventually, after the tenth conversation, Dim exploded.
‘Do we have to stop and talk to every insignificant peasant that passes by?!’
‘Nothing wrong with being a peasant,’ said Red. ‘I was one, before Billy rescued me.’
Billy gave her a look. She was revealing information about Ethel.
‘Ridiculous,’ muttered Dim. ‘Peasants are dirty, hairy and smelly.’
‘No need to sound so jealous,’ said Billy. ‘After just one transformation, you could be all those things, too!’
‘Disgusting. When are you going to give me the potion, anyway?’
With every passing hour, the sun grew lower, and Billy could sense his anxiety. He felt it himself too, on his skin—the full moon was calling.
‘When the time is right. Don’t want to waste the potion.’
‘What are we going to do in Finar, anyway?’
Billy stopped, and Dim walked right into his back.
He turned around and grinned. ‘I told you. We’re going to help you let your hair down. Have a little fun.’
A look of horror appeared on Dim’s face as he weighed up all the possible meanings of Billy’s words. Gods, he was fun to play with.
When they reached the city gates, Billy stopped to talk to the guards.
‘Excuse me, sir, but my friends and I are looking for a good time. What’s the best drinking house in town?’
The guards smiled. ‘You’ll want The Dirty Coin, I’ll bet.’
‘Excellent. So, Dim, to answer your question: we’re going to The Dirty Coin. Gosh, I hope you’re dirty enough to get in.’
He was, in fact, dirty enough to get in. Demetrius wondered whether he should take that as a compliment or an insult.
The Dirty Coin was hidden in some dark street, the kind of place Demetrius didn’t dare wander, and he couldn’t stop himself from feeling curious as they stepped inside. He was disappointed, though, when he saw that it was just a regular drinking house, although the decorations were a bit darker than usual.
‘I don’t see what’s so special about this place,’ he muttered.
‘Oh, well if you’re lucky, you’ll see later.’
Demetrius considered his words and looked around. It was early, and the place was almost empty, so they sat at a big table and ordered some beers.
‘How are you going to pay for this?’
Billy smiled like an angel. ‘With your money, of course.’
‘You wild beast.’
Billy just laughed. ‘Didn’t train you how to think up good insults, did they?’
Demetrius scowled and pulled on his beard. He hated the thing. It swallowed up his face and itched constantly. Moreover, it was a reminder of how absolutely dreadful things were going.
He had failed to capture his targets, despite numerous opportunities, he had revealed sensitive information to them, and he had let them capture him.
And worst of all, he was all flustered with his captor.
He supposed he should’ve tried harder to escape, but it all seemed so pointless. Whatever happened, his future at Strictus was doomed, and he tried his best to simply avoid thinking about it. Besides, these two were far more capable than he had first thought.
‘Ah, here come our beers.’
Billy seemed completely at ease here. Demetrius couldn’t understand why. He was a rogue wolf and a wanted criminal. Monsters like him lived in the shadows and murdered innocent people in the street. They didn’t relax into their chair and sip from their beer, running their tongue over their top lip to lick off a bit that had spilled.
He forced himself to look down into his drink. He could not keep having those thoughts.
‘And how do you expect me to drink mine with my hands tied?’ he snapped.
‘Hmm, you’re right. Don’t worry, I won’t make you be watered like a horse. Unless you like that…’
Billy grinned and placed his hands on Demetrius’ wrists. His heart beat fast, and the knot loosened, allowing him to move more freely, just enough to lift his drink to his mouth.
And do other things, he was sure. But for now, he would plan.
‘Alright, I suppose we should drink these now,’ said Billy, pulling the bottles of formbinding potion out of his pocket.
‘Are you sure that’s enough for you?’ said Red, eyeing his half-full bottle anxiously.
‘I’ll be fine,’ said Billy.
Demetrius wondered if he had ever lost control. He must’ve, given what happened with Ethel… He couldn’t believe that the girl had killed her. And yet, her body had been lacking in claw and bite marks, as one would expect from a werewolf killing.
Not that it mattered, anyway. These two were working together, and if one went down, the other would go with them.
Billy poured the potions into their beers, which turned a horrible green colour.
‘Are you sure that’s a good idea?’
Billy snorted. ‘Says the wolf who didn’t even know what a formbinding potion was.’
Demetrius’ heart leapt a little at being called “wolf”, and he sipped his drink to distract himself.
He choked and almost spat it out. Gods, it was disgusting.
‘And that’s why we mix it,’ said Billy. ‘Take your time. There’s hours before sunset.’
Demetrius didn’t want to take any chances, so he forced his drink down as quickly as he could, gagging so much his eyes watered.
‘Do you need some water?’ said Red, looking sympathetic.
‘I’m fine,’ Demetrius snarled.
‘It’s a rite of passage,’ Billy commented. ‘He’ll have to get used to doing it this way, now that his little woollen suit’s gone.’
‘As if I won’t just get another one when I return to Strictus!’
And that wouldn’t be long. When he had heard they were headed towards Finar, his heart had leapt. There were Strictus agents there, which the stupid wolf didn’t seem to be aware of. As soon as he could get away, they were toast.
Billy leaned over the table and smiled, showing his sharp teeth.
‘And who says I’m going to let you return to Strictus?’
‘You don’t have that kind of control over me!’ Demetrius stammered.
Billy calmly raised a hand and stroked his beard, pulling on the hair of his chin. Demetrius shuddered.
‘Oh, little wolfie, I believe I do.’
Damn the gods, damn the spirits, and damn all life on Earth! A heat so heavy shot through him that he wondered if the woollen suit had grown back.
‘You know, maybe I will try and find a girl of my own tonight,’ muttered Red. ‘Third-wheeling again.’
‘Sorry, Red. I can’t help it with this one. He’s just too easy.’
Demetrius bit his tongue so hard it bled. How dare he treat him like a child?!
‘You’re going to pay for this, you know! Both of you. You’ve broken serious laws, and you’re both guilty of murder. You’re going to sit in a cell for the rest of your miserable life, and you’ll never shift again.’
Billy’s playful expression vanished, replaced by a mask of hatred.
‘So you’re here to drag us to court, are you? And why would your little organisation go so far? She was an old lady, living alone. They die all the time.’
Demetrius was furious. How could he be so casual about the loss of life?
‘Not “die”, killed!’
‘Keep your voice down,’ hissed Red. ‘Or we’ll gag you for the rest of the evening.’
Demetrius was sure they would. He took some deep breaths and forced himself to calm down.
‘Crimes need punishment,’ he said, finally.
Billy snorted. ‘Rubbish. That’s not why you’re here. Ethel wasn’t just any old lady. She was a powerful sorceress.’
‘I don’t see what difference that makes,’ Demetrius spat.
‘They really fooled you, huh? Well, let’s put all that expert training to the test. Use your brain for once. Why would an organisation full of repressed magic-users and shifters be so interested in Ethel?’
Demetrius blinked. ‘She was a respected figure. While we don’t value one life over another, we can’t just have werewolves going around murdering sorceresses—’
‘Because it would be a waste of precious magic.’
‘Just tell me what you’re getting at, since you won’t listen to what I’m saying.’
Billy finished his drink.
‘Strictus wanted Ethel so they could use her magic. Drain her of it.’
But he looked between them. Billy had a stony, emotionless expression, and Red was staring at the floor in extreme discomfort.
‘They would have told me.’
‘How long have you worked for them?’
‘I’m not telling you that.’
‘A year at most, I’m guessing. They sent you on this dangerous little mission on your own, to see if it’s worth telling you the truth. If you fail, they can at least understand how powerful we are. And if you succeed, you’re one of them.’
Demetrius’ stomach dropped to the floor. He had wondered why they had sent him alone. He had been naïve enough to think it was a compliment, a sign that they believed him ready to take on the big jobs.
‘Little wolfie, did you ever stop to consider what they might do to you once you return? Your group doesn’t look kindly upon failure.’
All trace of kindness was gone. Billy’s wolf side was out completely, and it scared Demetrius.
‘Enough,’ said Red, placing a hand on Billy’s. ‘We came here to have fun, didn’t we?’
Billy slowly nodded. ‘Sorry, Red. Let’s order some food.’ He got up and went to the bar without looking at Demetrius.
Demetrius sat with his thoughts, as the potion sat uncomfortably in his insides. It couldn’t be true, could it?
‘You’ll have to forgive Billy,’ said Red. ‘He… No, it’s not for me to say.’
Demetrius looked at her and licked his lips. She was an odd one. Much quieter than Billy. She had probably been the perfect granddaughter.
‘Steak!’ cried Billy, slamming three big steaming plates onto the table. Demetrius leapt so far his head almost hit the ceiling. ‘Real ones, this time. None of that drugged rubbish.’
Demetrius bit his lip and avoided Billy’s stare. He shouldn’t feel guilty for drugging them. It was his job, after all. But he was somehow so desperate for Billy’s approval, and right now the wolf was acting like he wasn’t there.
They ate in a heavy silence, Billy barely chewing the huge pieces of meat he bit off. Demetrius was thankful for the food. He never usually ate steak, even though he liked it. Too wolf-like. It wasn’t as if Strictus restricted their diets, but he was used to restricting himself.
Soon, the bar started to fill up with people, providing a welcome distraction from their lack of conversation. Billy surveyed the customers with a hunter’s eye, and Demetrius wondered just what kind of “fun” they were going to have.
With a full stomach, he could think clearer. If Billy was indeed planning on seducing someone, or whatever he wanted, that provided an opportunity. It wouldn’t take long to run away and disappear into the crowd in a city like Finar.
‘So what exactly is so special about this place?’ Demetrius asked casually.
‘Told you, wolfie,’ said Billy. ‘You’ll find out if you’re so lucky.’
‘I wish you would stop calling me that.’
‘And I wish you would stop picking at your beard. You look like you have some kind of skin disease.’
Demetrius did not respond. Through the window, the light of the full moon shone. He felt naked without his suit, but the potion had much the same effect. His wolf side was still there, deep inside of him, but he was asleep.
Demetrius was shaken from his thoughts by Billy’s husky voice. It was the same huskiness he’d placed on it during the questioning, and it made Demetrius’ stomach tie itself in knots.
This time, though, it was directed at a young man who looked like he’d walked in straight off a farm, covered with muscles underneath his rough peasant clothes.
The farmer smiled and said, ‘Room for one more?’
Red moved over to sit next to Demetrius so that their guest could squeeze in next to Billy. He looked approvingly at Billy, and then questioningly at Red and Demetrius.
‘Don’t worry,’ said Billy. ‘Just a friend and an acquaintance.’
The wolf inside Demetrius howled, breaking his sleep with an anger that made him tremble.
Down, beast, down! He quickly rehearsed the words of his professor in his mind.
‘The wolf is monster, the wolf is violence, the wolf is death. You reject these things, because you are human.’
Red gently placed her hand on his knee and he jumped.
‘S-sorry,’ he said, sounding like a scared child.
‘Are you OK?’
He was not fine. His wolf bit at his insides. The potion did nothing.
‘Oh, you’re so strong.’
He looked up to see Billy flexing his muscles. The farmer, who was clearly not as innocent as Demetrius had thought, was feeling Billy’s arm.
‘And so hairy. I wonder if it’s all over?’
‘Only one way to find out.’
Billy grabbed the boy’s chin and pulled him into a kiss.
Demetrius exploded. He slammed his hands on the table, his claws cutting into the wood, the rope around his wrists breaking. Hair shot out of him. His breath came out in ragged bursts, and his jaw broke open to make space for the fangs pushing out of his mouth.
Billy saw him and said, ‘Curses.’ Then he turned to the farmer, muttered a ‘sorry’, and pushed him to the floor.
He grabbed Demetrius’ wrists.
‘Listen to me, Dim, do not give in.’
Red’s hand fell on his shoulders—his hairy shoulders which grew so wide they ripped his shirt open—but he barely felt her. His vision went red with blood around the edges.
A mixture of pure hatred and pure desire filled him. He had to have this wolf. He was his.
Billy held Dim’s cheeks, his fingers pushing into the waves of hair.
‘You can control it, Dim!’
Dim snarled and Billy pulled his hand away, almost losing a finger.
‘It’s no use,’ said Red, looking around. ‘We have to get out. Now.’
Billy jumped to his feet, grabbed the table and threw it into the air. Plates and glasses of beer crashed to the floor. His own claws and fangs shot out, but he did not fully shift. He grabbed Dim’s arm and pulled him off the bench.
‘We’re leaving,’ he howled, his voice barely recognisable.
Dim grit his teeth and flexed his claws, but he did not resist as Billy dragged him out. His touch calmed him down, but he needed more of it. All of it.
They emerged into the night, and the moon bathed them in light. Dim shook with joy. His power was growing, and it felt good.
He grabbed Billy around the waist, threw him over his shoulder, and pulled him into a side street.
‘Stop, Dim! Or I’ll—’
Dim felt a small touch on his lower back, and a wave of exhaustion passed through him. He fell forward, throwing Billy onto the ground before him. He growled and turned around. Red had used her magic on him. Again. That was getting annoying.
While he was distracted, Billy jumped on Dim and pinned him down, his claws pushing into his shoulders.
‘You won’t lay a claw on her,’ he snarled protectively.
Gods, Dim wanted that voice to be defending him.
‘Dim, turn back,’ ordered Billy. ‘You’re a human, not a wolf. Turn back.’
The blood in Dim’s eyes faded, just a little. But the sight of Billy leaning over him brought the wolf back in full force, and his strength was beginning to return. He pushed against his captor, who slammed him back on the ground with all his strength. Every one of Billy’s muscles was working. Dim could feel them.
‘I guess there’s only one way to quiet your wolf,’ said Billy darkly.
Dim’s mind went wild with possibilities. Magic? No, not again! He grit his teeth.
Billy leant down close to him and he froze. He was still half-transformed, and Dim wished he would go full wolf. He wanted to see him, the real him.
But Billy did no such thing. Instead, he put his lips to Dim’s head and kissed it.
Dim’s wolf purred in pleasure, shaking through his whole body. Seeing this, Billy kissed him again.
If he hadn’t already been pinned to the ground, he would’ve rolled over and shown his stomach.
The redness left his eyes, and the transformation reversed. Human thought began to dominate wolf thought, and he realised what he had done.
Billy stopped kissing him, and pulled him into a warm hug.
‘Oh, thank the gods, thank the gods.’
‘We don’t have time, Billy,’ said Red, staring anxiously into the street. ‘They’ve informed the authorities.’
Oh, right. Demetrius had just transformed into a werewolf in public, and now he was lying naked in the side street of a large town.
Where there were Strictus agents.
Despite all this, when Billy released Dim from his hug, he wanted to cry out in pain.
‘We’ve got to run,’ said Billy.
And before Demetrius could say a single word, Billy had thrown him over his shoulder and was dashing into the night.
Billy felt cruel and stupid. Who was he to torture this young wolf in such a way? He was their enemy, he’d told himself, so he could do what he wanted to protect him and Red. But it was a lie to make himself feel better. He had attacked Dim personally, searching for his weaknesses, and it was for a far crueller reason than his hatred of Strictus.
It was his revenge on Cracktooth. Years of repressed, charmed-away memories had gone through his mind over the past few days, and his solution was to take it all out on this poor young man, who, despite his sharp words, was really just a frightened baby wolf.
They ran through the night, the moon feeding power to Billy. He barely felt Dim’s weight on his shoulder, and when Red began to slow down, he carried her, too. She sounded unhappy at this, making a little hmph! sound, but she did not say anything.
Once they were away from the city and the farmhouses, they reached a pine forest which Billy didn’t know the name of. His breath made some steam in the night.
‘Billy,’ said Red. ‘We can stop now. Nobody’s following us.’
He blinked and stopped. He had been running for hours. His body was on fire, every muscle strained to its limit, and wolf fur pushed through his skin in some places.
He carefully placed Dim and Red on the ground and fell down himself. It was then he realised that Dim had been quiet the whole time. His eyes were softly closed, but he was breathing quickly.
‘I put him to sleep,’ muttered Red. ‘Took all my strength this time.’
‘Oh, good idea.’
‘Billy,’ said Red in that tone that meant, “We’ve gone too far again.” ‘What are we going to do? We don’t have any of our things, there’s a full moon, and you’re out of potion.’
‘Urgh,’ said Billy, running his hand over his face. It was far hairier than expected. If he had known what was going to happen tonight, he would’ve prepared two potions for himself. ‘I can hold it in for tonight. I’ll go and gather ingredients.’ Just the thought of getting up and walking exhausted him, but he had to.
‘Wait until morning.’
Billy looked down at Dim. He looked completely different. A full beard had sprouted on his face, complete with mutton chops, and the pale skin of his arms was hidden underneath a sea of wheat. And now his full scent came through, strong and clear. He smelled like wild garlic, sharp but pleasant.
More importantly, he was entirely naked. Billy was unable to fully keep up his previous promise, but he tried not to stare at Dim’s naked body. He didn’t do so well.
‘I’ll give him my riding hood,’ said Red.
Billy didn’t want to give up anything of his own—after all, they had already lost their packs to Dim’s transformation—but he felt responsible, so he took off his socks and trousers and left them on the ground.
‘I’ll go now. I need some time to think. Besides, I don’t know if I’ll find enough for him.’
He took a deep breath and stood up. His whole body, wolf included, protested violently.
‘You gonna be alright with him?’
‘He seems pretty easy to knock out.’
Billy grinned and headed into the trees. He needed to find mushrooms and wolfsbane, a purple plant that was poisonous to werewolves. The rest of the ingredients were easy to find, but these two always required a good search. It relaxed him though, searching through the grass. With the full moon, his eyesight was sharp, and although his wolf was more awake than he would have liked, he remained tame.
They couldn’t keep going on like this. Billy’s… thing with Dim wasn’t healthy, whatever it was. He could tell himself that he only kissed him to get him to turn back, but he knew that was a lie. He had wanted to kiss him since the first night they met. But Dim was the enemy, so instead Billy had kissed a farmer to make him jealous.
‘Your claws are still deep in me, Cracktooth,’ he muttered.
He lost himself in the ingredient hunting. Here, a bit further away from the city, the vegetation grew thick and wild. He pulled mushrooms and flowers roughly out of the ground, holding out his shirt and piling them up inside like a child. At a certain point he realised he had enough to make five potions, so he decided to turn back, following Dim’s scent to find them.
Demetrius woke up feeling like his skin had been stretched out a mile and snapped back, and it prickled with the thousands of hairs that had pushed through it. His ears sang loudly, along with the birds in the trees, and it felt like his every muscle had been torn apart and sewn clumsily back together.
His immediate thought was, “Where’s Billy?”, and a shiver of emptiness passed over him, before he pushed away the wolf-thought. No, he was not his wolf, wild and untamed. He was not going to kiss the enemy.
Except the enemy had kissed him. He had gently kissed his forehead to calm him down, and held him until he felt like everything would be right, in a way that only his mother had held him before.
Professor Banner’s voice tried to speak in his head, but his wolf snarled and bit at the man, silencing his protest.
Demetrius sat up, wrapping his arms around his knees, and looked around. Next to him, Red was sleeping softly, her clothes decorated with pine needles. That meant they must’ve gone north of Finar. They couldn’t have gone too far, though, in just one night.
He realised that her riding hood was wrapped around him, and more importantly, that he had nothing on beneath it. Doing his best to avoid looking at his own hairy form, he took the trousers and stockings left to the side and got dressed.
As he did up his trousers, he realised his wrists were unbound. He was free. He could turn around and run, run all the way back to the city, find the Strictus agents, and return to his life.
Billy’s words ate at him. ‘Little wolfie, did you ever stop to consider what they might do to you once you return?’
Probably lock him up in the dungeon under the full moon, and leave his wolf to torture him. He had seen the punishment used on others, and the thought of it never failed to bring an itch to his skin. And there was no way he could cover up the truth. He would need a good, sharp razor, a bucketful of shaving cream and a long bath to get his body into a normal state, and all hopes of that had died when he lost control in the middle of The Dirty Coin.
Demetrius wondered about Billy’s idea, that Strictus wanted to drain magic from its targets rather than simply bring them to justice. He had seen people brought before the court with his own two eyes, but not often. It was not his concern, as an agent. And he had always known that there were far more dungeons for their enemies than their allies, although he had never been near them.
It was possible, but the thought didn’t sit right with him. Strictus were not just a group of torturers doing evil things in the dark. They were justice. They were discipline. They were family.
Or so he had thought. But in just three days, Red and Billy had made him feel more like the member of a family than his years of training.
“No, that’s your wolf talking,” he told himself.
There was a sound from the trees, and Billy emerged. ‘Morning.’ His husky voice was reduced to a weak whisper.
Demetrius opened his mouth to respond, but all that came out was a dry noise. Gods, his wolf had exhausted him.
‘There’s a river not far from here. We could go and get water, if you’d like to get a drink.’
He sat down on the ground, a mountain of flowers and mushrooms falling from his shirt.
Demetrius almost said no. But his hands were free. He could fight back if he needed to.
Billy smiled and shook Red awake. ‘Hey, can you start mixing some potions?’
Red groaned. ‘Don’t I at least get a “good morning” before you make me work?’
Billy laughed guiltily. ‘I never said I was a kind teacher. We don’t have my equipment, so you’ll have to figure out how to do it with magic. A little challenge.’
‘You better hunt me a juicy deer for all this.’
Then Billy got up and held out his hand to Demetrius. He hesitated, but it was too tempting to refuse. He took his hand and Billy pulled him up, and they walked over to the river in silence.
Demetrius was thirstier than he realised and he drank so much he was worried that the little river would dry up. Afterwards he fell back with a gasp. His stomach rumbled with hunger, but that was a problem for later.
‘As you’ve probably noticed, I haven’t bound you again,’ said Billy, playing with a piece of grass. ‘You’re free to go if you want to. We’ll put a weak memory charm on you. Just enough to get you off our trail.’
‘Why?’ was all Demetrius could say.
‘Because you don’t deserve to suffer like this, even if you do work for an evil shadowy organisation. Me playing with you like a rabbit isn’t going to change your mind.’
Demetrius’ stomach leapt. He liked being “played with like a rabbit”, but there was no way he was going to say it.
‘I just want to ask you one thing,’ said Billy. ‘And feel free to tell me it’s none of my business. I’m just curious. Were you born a werewolf, or…?’
Demetrius’ hairs stood on end.
‘You’re right. It is none of your business.’
‘Of course. I’m sorry.’
He cast a glance at Billy and saw a look of complete hopelessness in his eyes. Demetrius’ wolf howled in sadness, and before he could stop himself, he had moved around and held Billy’s face in his hands.
Just like Billy had done on the bed in the inn.
The problem was, he wasn’t sure what to do after that. Billy stared into his eyes, his mouth open just an inch, a tiny glimpse into the tempting darkness inside. Demetrius couldn’t stand the look of his soft brown eyes, and he was forced to look away.
‘I was bitten,’ he stammered. ‘Some rogue wolf had been living in the mountains near my village, going wild every full moon, and I was unlucky enough to be one of the victims.’
He was sure that Billy would push him off. He was completely exposed like this, and Demetrius could easily knock him out with a spell. But he couldn’t bring up even the weakest magic.
Billy raised his right hand to Dim’s cheek and held it. Dim flinched, but then he gave in to the warm touch. His wolf purred softly.
‘Thank you for telling me.’
‘Don’t thank me. I’ll probably lead to you getting killed. Or getting your magic drained or whatever.’
Billy gave a sad smile. ‘Try as you might, wolfie, you’re far from enough to bring me down. It won’t be your fault if it happens.’
Dim’s heart beat fast. He felt… protective of the wolf, which was ridiculous, because it had been shown again and again that Billy was far stronger than he was, in every way, and he was the enemy, damn it.
But he didn’t feel like the enemy as Dim brushed his hands over his beard, enjoying it just as Billy had his. He didn’t feel like the enemy as he grazed his fingers down the wolf’s neck. He didn’t feel like the enemy as he leant forward and felt Billy’s breath on his face.
Their lips met and fire poured through Dim’s veins. He gripped Billy’s shoulders and pulled him forwards, trying to get closer and closer, until their bodies pressed painfully together and the scent of wildflowers and wild garlic joined. He tasted his lips, his tongue, the sweet, sweet darkness inside his mouth, and yet he wanted more.
‘Wolfie,’ growled Billy, running his hand through Dim’s hair.
Yes, this was what he wanted. He buried his fingers into the hairs on his arms, gripping tight and digging in with his nails, as if he was about to rip out the roots of an ancient tree by its leaves.
Billy’s hands danced over his cheeks, his shoulders, his waist, moving with the practised caution that drove Dim wild. He didn’t need Billy’s soft touch, he needed the claws and growls of the Big Bad Wolf.
Billy, as if sensing this, let out a deep noise that shook through Dim, and pushed him off his mouth. He kissed his cheek, licked his ear, and then moved down to his neck, his teeth grazing over it. He bit gently, but possessively.
Dim froze. Unbound from a childhood long past, came the worst memory of his life.
The wolf had him pinned on the ground, and with a snarl of delight, bit into his neck.
‘No!’ screamed Dim.
He pushed Billy off him with a force he didn’t know himself capable of, and jumped to his feet. He panted furiously, and Billy stared up at him, arms held up protectively. His shirt had risen up, leaving his stomach exposed.
For the first time that day, reason pushed through Demetrius’ mind and overcame desire. This man was a werewolf, a dirty beast. He had charmed and tricked Demetrius every step of the way, and now he was getting exactly what he wanted.
‘Dim,’ said Billy in a half-whisper, ‘I—’
Demetrius roared, and with all his strength, repressed the desire to dig his claws into Billy’s chest. No, he would not give in to the beast.
He turned and ran away, ran and ran and ran, until Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf were far away.
Dim ran with an energy he didn’t know he possessed. Despite the bright sunlight, he still felt the cold bite of the moon under his skin, and it had fed him more than ever before. The blood in his veins pumped freely, his head was clear and bright, and his feet moved by themselves. The sticks and stones of the path bit into them, but he barely felt them. It had been two long, bitter years since he had last fully shifted, and even though he wanted to, he could not fully embrace the feeling of guilt that he had learned at Strictus. Right now, if it weren’t for giving in to his wolf side, he wouldn’t have had the energy to run away from Billy.
Focus, Dim, he told himself, before realising that he was still using the Big Bad Wolf’s nickname. Nobody had called him Dim before, but the name stuck to him like an insect. His parents had always called him Demett for short, which he was sure wasn’t even a real name, but it was still better than the half-insult of a name the wolf had given him.
You are Demetrius, you are an agent of Strictus, and you are going to do your job.
As he came near Finar, he passed by townspeople going about their work. When they saw him running they flinched away, shot him disapproving looks, or muttered angrily. He wondered how he must’ve looked, a grown, hairy man running furiously into town wearing nothing but a riding cloak and some trousers and stockings.
More importantly, what would the other Strictus agents think? They would wonder how he had lost his woollen suit, and he had no doubt they would want to hear all the details.
Once he was through the city gates, he paused in a side street and put two fingers on his tattoo. Behind him, an old man carrying shoulder baskets full of apples grumbled and pushed past, but Demetrius ignored him.
His magic was harder to focus now, mixed with the chaos of his wolf. He wondered, aside from the hair, how much of his transformation was visible. Were his eyes surrounded with gold? Was there a wolf-like shape to his jaw? He wished he had looked at his reflection in the river before he’d left, but he’d been too distracted by Billy.
Eventually, he managed to focus enough to send out a magical pulse, and locate the nearest sister tattoos. He could use his tattoo to find others, or they could use theirs to find him, and as far as Demetrius knew, they were for life. That was the other issue that he had been working on at the back of his mind.
Whatever poisonous thoughts Billy put in him about Strictus, Demetrius couldn’t leave. Once you took the rite of passage, you were in it for life, and if you tried to escape, they would use the tattoo to hunt you down. He had heard rumours of what happened to agents who abandoned their cause, and he had believed them. Now he was not so sure.
The other agents were less than a mile away, and holding his hand to the tattoo, he ran through the back streets of the city, following the pulse inside his wrist.
The path took him through the poor part of the city, and Demetrius breathed through his mouth as he squeezed through narrow streets covered with mud and the rejects of humanity. Tired eyes stared up at him, but none dared try to stop him. They knew trouble when they saw it.
When Demetrius arrived at the house, he was sweaty and panicked, and his lower legs were covered in drying mud. The pulse of his tattoo drew him forward, leading him to an old wooden building at the end of an abandoned street.
As he approached the door, he heard a sharp voice from inside.
‘We know it was you!’
Then there was a THUD, the sound of someone punching a stomach.
‘I swear, I haven’t transformed in, in months! I wasn’t even at—’
Another THUD, this one followed by a horrible CRACK. Demetrius pushed himself against the wall, listening in. That could’ve been an arm, or a rib…
‘You were at The Dirty Coin,’ came another voice, smooth and evil. ‘Everyone saw you. Who were you with when you transformed?’
‘I’m telling you.’ The man coughed violently. ‘I live alone.’
For a moment, there was silence, and Demetrius could only hear the beating of his own heart in his chest. Then the victim screamed. Demetrius scented their magic in the air—they were electrocuting him. It went on and on, the wolf’s screams turning wild, until the smooth-voiced man cried, ‘Stop!’
Silence again. Was the wolf dead?
‘I think you overdid it,’ said Smooth.
‘He wasn’t worth converting,’ said Sharp. ‘Come on, let’s drain him.’
Demetrius felt sick to his stomach. He tried desperately to hold his breath as sweat poured down him.
Of course, he had known this sort of thing happened. He had heard about what went on in the dungeons below Strictus. But to hear it with his own ears…
He could’ve been that wolf, if things had gone differently. He had been so close to that path, and now this wolf was possibly dead, all because of him.
Demetrius leaned so hard against the wall that the wood creaked under his weight, and he flinched away.
‘What was that?’ said Smooth.
Footsteps came towards the door. Dim knew he should run. Every inch of his body told him to do so. Even Professor Banner’s voice cared about his survival, and begged him to leave.
But Dim had already run enough. He’d spent his whole life running. It was time to face the truth.
He moved round to the side of the door, spread his legs, and prepared himself to fight.
‘So that’s it,’ said Billy, drinking the foul-tasting potion. ‘He’s gone, with our clothes, our money, and our safety. We’re officially on the run.’
‘Billy, what happened?’
‘I already told you!’ he snarled, showing his teeth.
But he hadn’t told her the truth, not even half of it. He’d just said that Dim ran away, not that they’d kissed. And worse than that, the moment their lips had touched, Dim had claimed his heart. He was in love, just as foolishly as always.
They were sitting by a river—the stream had led into a much deeper one, where they could bathe. Red was cautiously washing herself bit by bit, not wanting to get fully naked, but Billy just sat there, letting the water run over his feet.
‘We should’ve put a memory charm on him and been done with it. Or killed him, like you said. No good ever comes from dealing with Strictus.’
‘You seem to know a lot about them. Why?’
‘If you really must know,’ he said with annoyance, ‘Cracktooth joined them.’
Red didn’t react and just continued rubbing her arms.
‘I was in love with him, which won’t surprise you. He was a werewolf from birth, just like me. We met after I ran away from my pack—he was a rogue, again, just like me. But unlike me, he hated his nature.’
‘I see you have a type,’ Red said cautiously.
Billy chuckled. She always knew just how to tease him.
‘He had seen a werewolf bite another, when he was young, and it scarred him for life. Made him want to fit into the human world, make sure he never hurt anyone. I don’t know how we ever got together, but there was just… this fire. We brought out each other’s magic.’
That drew Red’s attention. She understood how much that meant.
‘And he left you?’
‘Yeah. To join Strictus.’
She flinched. ‘That must’ve hurt a lot.’
Billy shook his head. ‘You don’t know how much. I did a lot of things I regretted then. Hurt a lot of people.’
Red splashed water onto her face, gasping at the cold.
‘Did you ever see him again?’
‘I did, although I wish I hadn’t.’ Billy drew his knees up to his chin and dug his nails into his legs. ‘It was after they, they’d… dealt with him.’
Red froze. ‘Like with Ethel?’
Billy just nodded. The girl shivered, and not just from the water.
‘Like I said before. I charmed all that stuff away, and for good reason.’
‘And you never thought to offer that charm to me?’ she said.
For a moment, he wasn’t sure if she was joking or serious, but when he looked at her she was avoiding his gaze. She was clearly hurt.
‘Look at what it’s done to me, Red. You don’t want to start locking your emotions away like this old beast. You’re too smart for that.’
‘True,’ she said, sticking her tongue out. ‘I am much smarter than you.’
A howl came from the distance and Billy leapt to his feet. It was the middle of the day, the sun beating down on them, but it was a wolf howl without a doubt, coming from the direction they had been in.
They looked at each other.
‘We should run away,’ said Billy.
‘There’s lots of things we should do. But are we going to?’
Billy grinned. ‘We’re both pretty stupid, huh?’
He leapt to his feet and helped her up, and they headed towards the sound.
Gods, he had done it, he had done it. The fruits of his labour were splattered all over his body. He was somehow here, back by the stream where he had kissed Billy, and he was lying on the ground, as if he had fallen from a great height. But his whole body felt alive, a compromise between his wolf’s powerful control and the endless, body-bending flow of magic.
He heard someone approaching from the bushes, and he knew it was him.
‘Billy, I did it, I did it! I gave into my wolf, gave into my magic…’
‘Great flames of Hell!’ cried Billy, rushing over to him. ‘What happened to you?’
That was not the reaction he was expecting. But he still grinned like a madman, because Billy was in front of him, kneeling down, examining his body.
‘You got blood all over my riding hood!’ said Red from behind him.
Dim looked down and saw that it was true. Red’s riding hood was torn in many parts, along with his trousers, but more importantly, his legs were wet with mud and blood, and great splatters of the latter decorated his whole body.
Just how had he gotten there without the entire city attacking him?
‘Are you hurt?’ said Billy.
Hurt?! He could hardly imagine pain, such a joy ran through him. But he forced himself to concentrate, because there was a worried little knot that had formed on Billy’s forehead, which he so desperately wished to kiss away.
He brought his consciousness to his own body, and realised that he was, in fact, badly hurt. There were great cuts all down his back and arms, and his fingers were numb from electrocution.
‘Maybe,’ he said, unable to communicate this to Billy.
The great wolf swore, and his whole body went stiff, and it sent a strange thrill through Dim. He wished to tackle him to the ground, claim him in the most wolf-like way possible, but his body stayed still, as if his brain were disconnected from his muscles. He didn’t have the energy, he realised.
‘Red,’ ordered Billy. ‘Go and find garlic and mushrooms, as much as you can.’
Billy placed his hands on Dim’s chest, and his wolf purred softly.
‘I did it, Billy,’ he repeated, grinning wider. ‘Aren’t you proud of me? I half-transformed, even though it was daytime, and I showed those Strictus guys…’
But Billy wasn’t paying attention to his words, instead focussing and muttering words of magic. As Dim’s wounds healed up, his pain receptors started to kick in, and he flinched.
And still, he could not stop himself from gazing lovingly into the wolf’s eyes. This wonderful, beautiful creature, who had taught him so much. He didn’t need to get so flustered over Dim. He would be fine.
He wanted to thank Billy, show him how much he appreciated him, so he did the best thing he could think of. He leant forward and kissed him.
‘Mmph!’ said Billy, pushing him back. ‘You idiot.’ He smiled. ‘I’m trying to treat your wounds!’
‘Don’t care. This way’s better.’
He threw a hand around his neck and pulled him in for another kiss.
‘That’s hardly going to—’ Billy paused and stared at the wounds on Dim’s arm. ‘Huh, that’s something new. Try that again.’
Dim didn’t need to be asked twice. He launched his tongue into Billy’s mouth, kissing him hungrily, as if it were the fountain of life.
‘How funny,’ said Billy, interrupting him.
‘What is so funny?!’ cried Dim, unable to bear removing his lips from him for even a second.
‘Our… action seems to be healing your wounds.’
‘Fantastic. So shut up and kiss me!’
He launched forward again, but Billy pushed a finger to his lips and held him back. Dim almost started licking the finger, but forced himself to obey the wolf.
‘Are you sure this is what you want?’ said Billy, his eyes turned up with concern. ‘I mean, you’re not going to regret this later, run back to Strictus, and send the agents after me?’
‘Billy, you Big Bad Wolf, I just killed two Strictus agents in cold blood, and right now there is nothing more I desire than to stick my tongue down your throat as far as possible. Call that magical investigation, whatever you want, I don’t care.’
Desire danced over Billy’s face, but he forced the mask of concern over it again.
‘And you’re sure it’s not just your wolf saying this? I’m asking for me, Dim. I couldn’t bear it if you felt differently later.’
‘I am my wolf, Billy. You showed me that.’
The last barrier broke down, and Billy fell into Dim’s arms. They kissed, and growled, and nipped at each other’s necks, and wildflowers danced with wild garlic, and all of Dim’s wounds healed over, leaving him with a joy and energy that he hadn’t felt for many years.
It took almost two weeks for the two of them to stop rubbing each other at every opportunity. At first, Red simply moved away whenever they started making out. She went to collect ingredients, or to “get some fresh air”, despite the fact that they were in the fresh air the whole time. After that, she tried to ignore the kissing noises, but eventually it got too much.
‘I know you’re both in love, but for gods’ sake, I can’t think with how much you’re kissing!’
‘Sorry, Red,’ said Billy, looking sheepishly at her.
She shook her head. ‘Unbelievable. You know we’re still on the run, right?’
Except that part didn’t seem to be going quite as they expected. Of course, once Dim had dealt with the two agents, the alarm was sounded and more were sent after them, but aside from a few encounters, they had mostly avoided danger. Billy explained that there was something about him and Dim’s… activity that allowed them to combine their magic, stopping Dim’s tattoo from revealing their location, but at a certain point the explanation started to get a bit too detailed and Red decided that there were some things about magic she didn’t need to know. Billy kept insisting that they were “this close to solving it”, but it seemed to Red that they were simply using every opportunity to carry out “magical experiments”.
At the next full moon, they disappeared into the forest to perform a ‘ritual’ that involved a lot of loud noises, and when they returned there was not a drop of ink remaining on Dim’s wrist.
Annoyance aside, Red was happy to see Billy enjoying life so much. He had always been a bright and chatty teacher, but she sensed a want coming off him, and he had always been far less independent than her. It took a long time to adjust to having another member to their family, but Red had found a friend, too. One night, while she was meditating in the moonlight to give Billy and Dim some privacy, she was woken from her thoughts by a little squeak.
She looked down to see a fat little mouse, its tail curling around her foot.
‘Hello, little one.’
The mouse squeaked again, reaching a pitch that was almost too high to hear. The mouse jumped into her hand when she offered it, curling up against her and falling asleep.
‘Why, you seem to be a lonely soul, too.’
When the mouse woke up, it didn’t want to leave her, and stubbornly followed her back to the camp. So in the end, she decided to keep her, naming her Squeaks. She decided not to mention her new animal companion to the other two, and it took them a good three days to notice, so obsessed they were with each other.
Once they were confident they’d gotten rid of Strictus, they sat down one night to discuss their next move.
‘Before you came along,’ said Billy, nuzzling Dim’s neck, ‘me and Red were just wandering wherever the wind took us. We had a vague plan of visiting the great magical academies some day, but Red didn’t feel ready.’
‘Well, I’m sure they’d appreciate the visit,’ she said, letting Squeaks run over and under her fingers. ‘You’ve got a new discovery to show them.’
Dim snorted. ‘I’m sure we’re not the only ones who’ve found out about carnal magic.’
Red raised an eyebrow. An interesting choice of name.
‘It’s not a school of magic I’ve ever heard spoken of before,’ said Billy. ‘Could be worth going and asking. Although they might want to do all kinds of experiments on us…’
Billy elbowed Dim softly in the side, and Red sensed how close they were to making out again, so she quickly said, ‘Dim, do you have anywhere you want to go?’
Dim’s smile disappeared, and he nodded seriously.
‘I’d like to visit my parents.’
Billy squeezed his shoulder, and Dim cleared his throat.
‘You see, Red… They’re the whole reason I’m here.’
Red nodded at him to continue.
‘I already told you that I was bitten by a wolf as a child. But the thing is, I didn’t repress my wolf side at first. My parents didn’t throw me out or kill me, like most would.’ He picked out a blade of grass and turned it between his fingers. ‘But then one time I transformed, and I-I hurt them.’
Billy was stroking little circles into his shoulder, encouraging him.
‘They forgave me. They’d forgive anything I did. But deep down, I knew how scared they were. I almost killed my father. I couldn’t forgive myself. And so I joined Strictus.’
He stared down into the fire.
‘Well, I did kill my grandmother,’ said Red, half-smiling, ‘and I have to say it’s not as fun as you think.’
They all laughed, and the atmosphere eased a little. Squeaks climbed up into Red’s hood and nuzzled against her neck.
‘I didn’t mean to, you know. But she was awful. She drained my magic every day, made me do everything for her. Billy didn’t harm her one bit, just tried to get me out. But my magic all boiled up, kind of like what happened with you in Finar, and a spell came out of me that I didn’t even know I could cast. Next thing we knew, she was on the ground, all her magic draining out of her.’
Dim looked into Red’s eyes for a moment, and then back at the fire.
‘I’m sorry for going after you for that. I was told only good things about Ethel.’
‘Of course you were. And you believed that the Big Bad Wolf was the one stealing me away to do evil things, not that they were being done under that very roof. You entered the darkness to protect your parents, and I left the darkness by killing my grandmother.’
Billy snorted, and then burst out laughing, bending so far forward he almost set his hair on fire.
‘What?’ he said, looking at their shocked expressions. ‘You have to admit it’s kind of funny. Oh, don’t give me those looks. I love both of you, you wonderful murderers.’
Squeaks jumped onto Red’s shoulder and gave an angry squeal.
‘And I love you too, Squeaks, though I’d be very surprised if you managed to kill someone. Anyway, of course we can go and visit your parents, wolfie. Why didn’t you ask before?’
Dim shrugged. ‘I know you don’t have such a good relationship with your family. Your pack, I mean.’
Billy ran his hand through Dim’s hair and squeezed him close. ‘Family is family, whether by birth, creation or chance.’
‘There is another idea I had,’ said Dim, stroking Billy’s cheek.
‘There are lots of wolves like me, lost and confused. They don’t deserve to live as rogues in the wild, or to be killed and drained by Strictus. They need a family, too.’
Billy tapped Dim’s nose with his finger. ‘Sometimes I wonder if you can read my mind, little wolfie. I had the same idea. But for now, let’s just see where the wind takes us.’
They started kissing again, and Red took Squeaks into her hands.
‘Those two can’t stop, can they? But I love you just as much, Squeaks!’ She kissed the little mouse on the nose. ‘OK, maybe not quite so much. I don’t think we’ll be inventing any new schools of magic between us.’
So Little Red Riding Hood, the Big Bad Wolf, the Not-So-Big and Not-So-Bad Wolf, and a very loud mouse continued their travels around the land. Many rumours spread about this strange pack of animals, and some even tried to defeat them, but none could break the bonds that held them together.