All who live in the shadows of the mundane world know about the black wolves. Most who whisper about these creatures are damned themselves, squatting in stone ruins once tourists leave with the sun, sucking fat from the bones of any who wander too far into the gloom of the woods, sliding off the silk of suits or dresses so that spilled blood will run down bared skin.
They know how to hide their endless appetites in the light of day and hunt with their true faces at night, how to hide from revealing fire and thrive in the dark. And yet even these fiends of glut and malice regard the black wolves as something strange, something unknown. Something to be feared.
What are they?
It’s a question hissed over ritual knives being cleaned, through hair writhing with lice, in the quiet of crumbling churchyards. Not human nor monster. Not spirit, not witch. What, then?
The answers are always the same. Vargr. Men who came back from the grave as wolves. Hunters you’ll never wish to meet. They slip past all boundaries as easily as they slip between fur and skin. Do you understand yet, my pretty? They can’t be killed or caged. They have no loyalty, not even to each other, and whatever they want, they catch. Even we must fear crossing their paths.
Anything more is embellishment, exaggeration. None know how many vargr there truly are. Few enough that it’s rare to meet one. Few enough that most are recognized as more than eyes flashing in the dark. Names change with the centuries, but the black wolves hold true to their appetites no matter what carcass of civilization they slink from, still hungry as their reputations fill the shadows…
The most feared of these doesn’t let himself be much seen. Not now. Something precious found him, and every night he slips into her bed, marveling at how she bares her body to him with such trust. He tests her throat with his teeth and yet she only smiles, opening her heart to him. The warmth of her skin and the sweet smell of her hair always draw a word from him, this wolf who has spent decades at a time in silence. Even now, his voice sounds rough from disuse, more of a growl as he speaks against the pulse in her neck.
She shivers at the sound of her name, but it’s not fear that floods her scent as he kisses along her collar bones, savoring her taste. In the moonlight, her eyes are as mesmerizing as the first time he saw her, a girl who looked lost as she peered through a window in the darkest hours of night.
“Four days,” she says. “We haven’t been apart for that long since…”
He remembers but simply nips at her shoulder. For him, the past is the past. When she continues shivering, though, his mouth turns gentle. “Nervous?”
Her voice turns shy. “I’ll miss you.”
He’s taken antlers to the gut and gunshots to the face, yet hearing this still hits him harder. His kiss is rough, insistent, telling her everything he’ll never put into words as her body relaxes against his.
The moon drifts through the sky for some time before she speaks again, now drowsy. “I don’t mind going on a family camping trip, and I’m not afraid of being in the wilderness without you. I don’t think I could ever be afraid of a forest. Not now.”
It makes him think of how beautiful she looks as a wolf, running lightly among the trees while the moonlight brightens her fur into silver. As he brushes strands of hair from her face, she sighs, and he knows the reason for her worry is about to come out.
“For the past week, I’ve been having dreams about my mother. About her leaving me alone in the woods.”
“It starts off the same way as my memories, but this time I somehow follow her even while I stay behind in the car. I can see her face and how she looks frightened. Like she wants to go back but can’t.” Then she shifts enough to glance away. “I always thought she wanted to leave, but what if she didn’t? What if she was somehow… forced?”
He’s seen a lot, this wolf, and while she’s the one with witch blood, he knows her kind far better. Witches like sniffing each other out. They like using each other even more. “It’s possible.”
At the hitch in her breath, he cups her chin, coaxing her to look at him. “You won’t end up like her. I’d find you and get you back out.”
“I know you would. But what if I’m too far gone to want to leave?”
“It’s not hard to throw you over a shoulder.”
Her laugh is small yet real, and he runs a thumb over her mouth before adding, “Hunting a witch is no harder than hunting a rabbit. If it comes to that, I’ll show you how.”
She nods, some of the fear slipping from her eyes, and her heart returns to a steady beat as she settles against him for sleep. Yet even after her breathing slows, he remains awake, stroking along her back and feeling his teeth sharpen whenever he thinks about losing her.
And as the moon hangs heavy in the nearing dawn, the final glimmer of its light pierces the heart of a forest and the figures hunched in a circle there. As they sharpen knives for a new ritual, their whispers blend into the hissing of blood dripping into their fire.
She’ll be here soon.
Very soon, yes. We’re ready for her.