Rhys, last scion of King Lycaon, approached his ancestral home; it lay in the growing shadow of the mountains in the distance. The color of…
Sort by category
Sort by category
Rhys, last scion of King Lycaon, approached his ancestral home; it lay in the growing shadow of the mountains in the distance. The color of…
Rhys, last scion of King Lycaon, approached his ancestral home; it lay in the growing shadow of the mountains in the distance. The color of the clouds was changing from warm pinks and oranges and cooling into blues and purples as the sun descended towards the peaks. Overgrown grass mingled with weeds in and around the cracked stone walkway; he bared his teeth, realizing the decay would make it easier to destroy. Rhys’ clawed feet scratched at the stone, kicking debris behind as he made his way to the fountain. Stains from where the water had been reminded him of a time when his family would have welcomed him. If the curse hadn't claimed them then perhaps they’d found more suitable deaths, he thought. Forty years. A lifetime ago before he even had fangs and claws or fur, without them he’d have died countless times. Though the curse endowed him with a seemingly endless strength, it was a hungry power. It forced upon him a ferocity and shortness of temper that made the world tremble. It was considered more comfortable to stare into the sun than to meet eyes with Rhys in his current form. He was home, finally here to erase the last vestiges of his existence in this world.
By all reckoning, he was a force of nature. A living catastrophe and yet here, in this forlorn place, the remains of the ones who once loved him might be found. No, not him: the boy who left this place to become whatever he was today. The blood on his hands could fill the rivers and lakes of the surrounding lands and the bones of those that fell before him rivaled the mountains in the distance. He looked to the decaying estate; once white, the stone facade of the villa was covered in ivy that had long since worked its way into the stone. Standing on the balcony, he could see a shadow wearing a veil. It held a parasol; the frayed lace would be useless in the rains promised by the clouds.
The first drops of rain struck like hammers; the tapping drizzle broke into a torrent. Rhys couldn’t tell if the pounding in his ears was thunder or his own heart. A second crash had his breathing ragged and his ears flattening in response. Regaining control, Rhys marched towards the villa. His gray fur clumped together in strands when wet. It revealed how lean his waist and stomach were but showed the true musculature of his arms and legs. Though he tread slowly, each step was the length of a man. A violent gust tore the parasol from the shadow’s gloved hand; it was green, like the dress and nearly the same shade as Rhys’ eyes but in place of the shadow stood a woman. In spite of the rain pelting his face and the distance between them, he could hear the wind howling her name: Acacia. His pace quickened and his clawed fingers stretched in anticipation. She wasn’t supposed to be here. No one was. He was told this place was as desolate as the towns he’d annihilated in his past. As he calculated whether the walls could hold him, Rhys realized she was no longer standing on the balcony. He froze, searching the clouds for something. So many smells, even in the rain. His mind never drifted like this before. The villa’s front door opened. How long had he been standing in the rain staring at the sky? He could see her in the doorway: she was even more beautiful now than in her youth. Where he should have found inky lengths of hair just starting to curl at the shoulder, it was short and silver yet it complimented the subtle changes in the lines of her face and only further illuminated her grace. Yet in her eyes, there was a storm far worse than anything the sky dared produce.
Rhys’ ears pulled back along with his upper lip revealing his teeth, not to the woman but to the ground, to the world. All of his muscles clenched at the thought of Acacia, and his body curled forward yielding to the thought. Her face, her form, seemed to cast a spell that paralyzed him. His mind raced towards any semblance of an answer as to what he was feeling. Countless battles, countless deaths of enemies and allies and even his own for decades but today he trembled in fear of this creature. He would feast the organs of the one who told him this place was deserted.
Rhys recast his fury into resolve. Regaining his composure and reforming his posture, he paused a dozen strides from the open doorway. Water dripped from his fur and face as the wind drove more of the cold into his marrow. As they locked eyes, thunder reverberated off the walls of the villa, again forcing Rhys’ ears back. Water trickled down the lines of her face. Tears, for me?!
There was little hope of that, yet he surprised himself that he still had hope. For countless years he’d dined on despair and forced the feast upon any foolish enough to stand before him. Somehow he now stood in the open entrance, as rain and wind buffeted his back. He shivered, whether from the cold or apprehension, he couldn’t tell. Acacia’s eyes traced Rhys’ form from the ground up until their eyes met again. He tried to form words.
My love- No. What should I call her now?
“Has it been so long that you forgot my name? Or maybe just my face?” She touched her cheek as she said it. Two clawed fingers gently pulled her hand from her face into a firm but warm grip. Lowering himself to a single knee, they could now see eye to eye.
What am I doing?! Didn’t I come here to-
“You’re soaked through, come. Sit by the fire.”
The storm in her eyes still raged but her voice was almost even, so close to calm. She’d removed her hand from his and was already making her way to another room.
“Acacia, I- What is that smell? Is something burning?”
Turning, her face wrinkled at the corners when she smiled.
“It’s just a fire. The wood is green but the house needs the heat.”
What was that smile? I don’t recognize it. How could I, after so long.
Rhys glided into a sitting room just off the entrance. Heavy curtains covered large windows, muffling the sounds of wind and rain. Acacia appeared with a tray of sliced meats, cheeses and bread. She set it down on the table nearest Rhys before lighting the wood in this room’s fireplace.
“Do we need another fire?”
“It’s a big place. Sometimes it leaks in the heavy rain. Also, I’d prefer you not shake yourself dry, if you can help it.”
Rhys’ ears flattened as the sides of his lips curled up.
“I’m not some dog.”
Her face betrayed nothing.
“Oh, are wolves that different then?” It sounded like genuine curiosity when she asked it.
Was she always like this?
“Eat first, we can talk when you’re finished.”
Rhys looked around and tried to ignore the smell of smoke stinging his nose.
“Hm, this place looks different.”
Nodding absently, Acacia looked around as well.
“Probably quieter than you expected too. Is that odd, considering how long it’s been?”
Is she smirking?! My heart- it hurts.
Rhys crawled in front of the fire. If he was forced to smell the smoke he might as well benefit from the heat. They sat in silence as Rhys tried to wring the water from his fur.
“Are you feeling better?”
“Hmm, a bit. Should we talk now?”
“Before that, I’ll show you around, since you don’t feel quite at home yet.”
She ushered him out of the sitting room and led him to the kitchen.
“What about the fire?”
“If I don’t light enough of them the whole house gets cold. It’ll be fine.”
“Why don’t you have the servants take care of it?”
Her laugh felt sharper as it bounced off the walls.
“No one else has lived here in quite some time.”
“Then how do you-”
“Is that really what you came here to talk about?”
I didn’t come to talk! But now that I’m here, how do I talk to you?!
Acacia floated across the kitchen, gesturing to more food that Rhys declined. After putting wood in the oven, they moved to the dining room. A grand table that would have seated twenty seemed small in the room. Acacia lit large stacks of wood in two fireplaces. Rhys reached up to touch the ceiling but even at his height, he could only scrape it with his nails.
“What happened to the art that was here?”
Acacia glanced up and their eyes met again as she spoke.
“Storm winds caused a leak and this room flooded. That was- after you left.”
She made her way back to the kitchen as Rhys followed.
Where is she going?
“Aren’t we going to the library?”
Acacia faced him and took several steps closer. Barely up to his chest, she smiled and placed a hand on his forearm.
“I want you to see the house first. The library is our last stop. We can talk there, if that’s all right?”
She was close, so close that he could feel warmth rising from her. Over the smoke and numerous foods, he could smell her. His posture drooped enough for them to be eye to eye once more. Rhys’ ears flattened yet his lips didn’t curl and his eyes widened. His jaw trembled but only a little slaver came out.
With a snarl he turned to face the counter.
All my words become soot in my mouth in front of her!
Rhys raked his claws across the wall, tearing out pieces as they went. His fists landed together cracking a butcher’s block. He continued to shred the room and with each strike, Acacia winced and shuddered but was still, otherwise. Her breathing was almost as ragged as Rhys’; when he saw her face, he tried to hide behind his claws.
“I’m- I’m sorry. I should go.”
“No!” She reached out to him as she said it.
She wants me to stay!
“Forgive me. I’ll try to remain in control. Please.”
Tears formed at the corner of her eyes as her posture relaxed. She took a deep breath in as she nodded in agreement. Rhys swore he saw her smile then.
Acacia moved widely around Rhys as she led him to a grand sitting room. He remembered the couches, which felt strange. Though they were clean and in surprisingly good repair, he felt out of place among them, as if the presence of his family still lingered within the wood and fabrics. He stood near the table in the center of the room, not daring to sit while he watched Acacia light the three fireplaces. This is where everyone would have gathered after dinner, especially in the winter, to drink and talk before retiring.
How many years has it been since I drank with anyone?
Even though the flames were still small, the heat of three fires was making him sweat; it mingled with the damp of his fur. His nose burned at the scent of the green wood she kept using. Though the room was large, the couches and chairs made it feel smaller. Rhys didn’t dare touch them, the bulging fabric threatened to split if he even rested his claws on them. Mercifully, Acacia finished lighting the fires and motioned for Rhys to follow her to the only room left before the library. It was called an antechamber but it was more of a hallway with benches along the walls and two grand doors of dark, heavy wood that guarded the library. Rhys watched as she touched the doors but turned back to him. Her hand lingered near her mouth and her eyes were wide. Rhys lowered his face to hers.
“Now that we’re here, I had wanted to prepare something.”
His lips pulled back but his ears remained up and his tongue started to hang out. Rhys realized he'd forgotten how to smile.
“Are we not going to look upstairs?” Rhys looked toward where they came.
“There’s nothing up there. It’s been twenty years since the last servant left and-” She turned away.
“What of the nursery? I’m sorry- I shouldn’t have-” They always assumed they’d have children.
Forcing a smile, Acacia faced him.
“It’s fine. I locked it a few years after you left and haven’t opened it since. All the doors on the second floor stay locked except for my own chambers.”
They stood in silence for a moment before Rhys reached out cautiously.
“Acacia, I don’t need any special consideration.”
She frowned. Shaking her head, she took one of his hands in both of hers.
“Would you mind waiting here for a bit? I’m not trying to distress you further but I need some time. Please, this is important to me.”
How could I deny her- any more than I have already?
“You don’t need to do anything for my sake.”
“Well, it’s not just for your sake. Please, promise me you won’t enter the library without me.”
Rhys looked at the doors and turned back to face her. He nodded slowly with her hands still in his. Releasing her hands, he lowered himself between two of the benches that flanked the walls.
“I’ll wait here for you.”
Her lips formed a flat line across her face as she looked at him.
“I will try to be patient. The sooner you go, the sooner you can return.”
With that, she gave a weak smile before leaving. Though Rhys was used to being alone, he made it a point to fill his time. Moving, eating, training, or even pacing in the night could keep his idle thoughts at bay but waiting in silence without distraction was foreign to him. He forced himself to remain sitting between the benches but the wall pressed still drying patches of fur into his skin. The smell of the smoke made its way into this antechamber; between the smell and wet fur, he couldn’t sit still. He tried to pace but the hallway was only long enough for three of Rhys’ strides. Each time he moved towards the doors to the sitting room, the smell of smoke would flood his nose forcing him to retreat only to meet the library doors all too quickly. More frustrated, he looked for something to hunt. The villa was too clean for rats but maybe a mouse, or a bug, something, anything. He scoured the walls and floor for any sign of a quarry. Before Rhys realized, his forearms were tensed and his claws were stretching and small beads of saliva started to form at the edges of his mouth.
When Acacia walked in Rhys was gnawing on what was left of the benches.
“I was only gone for thirty minutes.”
Rhys’ ears flattened but he rose to full height, letting the wood drop from his mouth.
“I can’t- With this nose and the smell from the smoke- I can’t control myself.”
Acacia moved toward him and rested a hand on his.
“It seems we’ve both waited long enough, let’s head into the library.”
Rhys remembered the library and longed to see the shelves that rose thirty feet toward a domed ceiling. He cared little for the opulence, or the books for that matter, however the size of the room always made him feel a bit freer. Instead of finding everything in order, all he could see were books tossed haphazardly to every corner of the floor save for an empty space in the middle. The books lay like poorly laid tiles. Only one or two remained on each of the hundreds of shelves. Acacia strolled into the room towards a mantle with half a dozen bottles of strong spirits. She proceeded to pour one out on the books around her before hurling the rest into various parts of the room, letting them break or simply spill where they landed. Rhys watched her; he waited for his mind to make sense of her actions but his thoughts drifted to the various smells. It wasn’t until she took a burning piece of wood from the fireplace that he realized what was happening.
His feet tried to move but only his right claw reached out to stop her. She smiled as she let the wood fall onto the wet books near her. Rhys’ mind raced, almost as fast as the flames drinking the spilled spirits. He’d seen flames like this. He’d started fires like this, in minutes there would be nowhere safe inside.
“Acacia, my- my love. Take my hand and I will get us out of here!”
Her laughter cut into him, forcing him onto all fours. His ears pulled back at the sound of the pages curling from the heat. Slowly, he lumbered towards her until he was looking up at her. Her eyes were hard this time.
“Are you going to run again?”
Rhys rose to one knee until they were eye to eye. Acacia’s eyes watered, probably from the smoke he thought, but she didn’t turn from him.
“Did you know?”
The smoke and heat swirled around them and only the height of the ceiling gave any respite.
“That you’d come back?”
“That I returned to erase this- to erase me.”
She shook her head all the while, giggling like a child. Her laughs gave way to coughs and she rested her hand on Rhys’ shoulder for balance. Even over the scent of burning books and walls, he could smell her mixed with the ends of his fur getting singed. This was the closest she’d been to him since he’d arrived. She was so small. A fragile creature like this set a trap for the monster he’d become and it was... intoxicating. His heart pounded as his eyes traced her form and in spite of his guilt and fear of his own strength, he embraced her. His arms wrapped around her easily, allowing his claws to rest on his own body, lest they damage her. Whispering into her ear, he made his plea.
“I love you. With everything that I am and was, I adore you still. I always have. If you feel even remotely the same then I shall take us from here and never leave your side again.”
She rested her head against his chest but he could still hear her words.
“Thank you. I thought I’d lost you, the real you but I heard him in your whisper and I saw him hiding in your eyes behind your fur and your claws and seething. But no, I won’t leave our home.”
She was so light in his arms and the windows were a few of his strides away; he could shield her from the glass and she’d escape without a scratch yet he knew she’d never forgive him. Rhys, the last scion of King Lycaon, straightened his back only to bow to her, holding out his hand. She coughed as she curtsied in reply, placing her hand in his. As the smoke filled the room and darkened the windows, they danced. As the villa burned and the flames rose, they danced. And as the heat seared Rhys’ skin and the fires grasped Acacia’s gown, they danced.
Flames and rain battled in the skies over the villa until dawn broke. Ash and embers were blown across the land by the westerly morning winds and over time what little remained of the grand estate was reclaimed by the land. Where the library once stood, the dawning sun and the rains fight while the wind dances through a single ring of mouse-eared flowers called forget me nots.
There was a problem reporting this post.
Please confirm you want to block this member.
You will no longer be able to:
Please allow a few minutes for this process to complete.