Keith hears them before he sees them.
The sound of their shouts and jeers ring through the valley, echoing between the trees as they trample along the path that leads up the slopes.
Firelight gleams between boughs. Sparks rise up with thin trails of putrid smoke. The dim light grows brighter with every passing second.
Keith wastes no more time in watching the mob climb the deer trail to his home.
His boots scuff across the old wood floor of the cabin as he tugs his cloak over his shoulders. The smooth, aged surface of the threshold hums beneath his palm and fingertips as he hesitates in the doorway. He sends his power crashing through the bones of the building.
The flare of his magic feeds the warding carved between logs and chinking. Lines etched by hands long since passed glow a brilliant golden-red. Flames lick across the beams and roof of the house, illusory fire spreading at his bidding. The tongues of flame carry his spell and will work perfectly as a distraction. The cabin will be protected from harm until he’s able to return as soon as the flames catch fully.
Keith darts through the false fire and makes for the thick of the woods.
Trees and underbrush catch at his hair and clothing. Twigs and thorns rake his skin, drawing blood and making him hiss.
Shouts and cries ring out behind him in the clearing of the cabin. Firelight dances through the trees, bright from the apparent consumption of the cabin.
“Catch the witch!”
“He’s in the trees!”
“He can’t have got far!”
Keith swallows hard around his sawing breath and contemplates climbing a tree. He can manage it well-enough in the day but at night he won’t be able to make out the best branches to hold his weight. And there’s no saying in whether the villagers would be dim enough to keep from looking up.
He pushes through a thicket of thorny brush and runs into something that grunts and grabs at him.
Brawny arms try to lock around his neck. Coarse, stinking wool scrapes at his cheek.
Keith sinks his teeth into the arm beneath his chin and drives an elbow into the soft belly beneath the disgusting cloth.
His captor lets him go with a yell that makes his ears ache.
“He’s over here! The bastard’s over here!”
Keith darts past the bloodied, still-grabbing man and desperately makes for freedom. He should’ve listened to Kolivan.
“Living among humans only hastens a witch’s death. You’d be wise to leave them while you’ve lost so little.”
Something duller than thorns and wilier than boughs snatches at Keith’s cloak and holds fast. The clasp beneath his chin presses hard into his neck, pin scratching over his collarbone and drawing blood.
He’s yanked back. Hands grip his arms, bruising and harsh. Power surges under his skin. He harnesses it and sends it crashing over his body.
Hands, palms burned raw and red, fall away as their owners shout and cry out.
Keith makes it only a few steps before he’s seized again. He lashes out with fists and flame, striking down any villager that tries to lay hands on him. But there is only one of him and many of them and his powers are finite.
His flames gutter into sparks. Roughs fingers capture his arms. Jeering cries ring out as irons clap over wrists. Torches lift high overhead as they’re thrust skyward in triumph. Makeshift weapons glisten with dew and sweat, metal long-since darkened with dirt and use. The trade tools thrust at him and he ducks back to avoid being gouged or speared.
They guide him back through the trees and along the path like that. None are quite brave enough to try and drag him bodily again. Many hands and arms are burned, some beyond any mere human healer’s ability.
Keith takes savage pride in knowing that those folks won’t survive much past the fortnight. Even manacled, he snaps and fights, still. His power has waned but he still has his wits and his hands, for the most part.
When a pitchfork is thrust at him and lingers a breath too long, he seizes his chance. Metal grates against metal. The links of the manacles catch the tines enough to grip.
Keith wrenches his arms and the field tool flies into his hands. He lets the momentum carry him.
Rusted metal pierces rough-spun wool and sinks past thin skin. Red spreads wet and dark in the torchlight. A woman’s scream makes his ears ache even as he pulls his new weapon free and strikes out again.
Another villager falls, tines caught between the bows of his ribs, before the rest leap at Keith again.
They’re emboldened at the absence of flame on his skin and waste no time in dragging him bodily toward the center square.
His boots scrape over the dirt, leaving half-helpless trails behind him that get trampled to nothingness beneath the feet of the villagers.
There’s no pyre waiting behind the stocks. The massive iron pillar in the center square is as he remembers it; scorched black and ashy with char all around the base. The stocks are empty, leftover threads and scraps of thin fabric fluttering in the autumn wind.
The wind picks up, sending leaves and clouds of dust across the square. The hands on Keith suddenly loosen as all faces turn up.
Thin grey clouds skate across the sky. They turn to wisps in the gusts higher up and bare the full face of the moon. Her light washes over the world below, silver and cold. In the distance there comes an eerie noise. It’s the same wild, soul-chilling howl Keith hears in the mountains some nights. It’s hungry and mournful all at once.
His skin pricks, chains rattling faintly as his breath stutters.
It’s similar to the distant snarls and throaty howls he’s heard from the village on full moon nights like this very one. The sound intermingles with screams those nights. Screams that choke off abruptly and leave the village stained scarlet when Keith visits in the dawn for what goods he has need of.
“It’s not the witch-”
“We need to fasten the latches-”
“If we give it the witch, it’ll leave us be, once and for all-”
“Yes, yes. Only a bastard with cursed power could fill its hunger-”
“Let it have the witch and it’ll leave us in peace-”
Keith gathers the last dregs of his power and sends what flame he can summon over his skin.
Hands fall away, cries of agony, surprise, and fear rising up before more villagers cluster close to take their place. They rend at his clothes, tearing seam from seam. The pin of his cloak digs into his skin once more, raising a thin trail of red that beads with blood. Nails scrape at his shoulders and hips. A blade shoves between the edges of his binding, knicking wound cloth and delicate skin. Knuckles collide with his ribs and belly, making him double over and gasp.
The manacles chime discordantly as Keith catches himself before he can fall face-first onto the ground.
“Quickly, bind him to the pillar!”
Keith’s dragged forward hastily, dirt scraping at his palms and knees. His chest smacks into the dirt when his hands are pulled out from under him. The manacles are freed for only the barest moment, links clanking as they’re wound around the pillar. The heavy metal claps shut once more before he can take advantage of the opportunity.
“Make haste! Fasten the latches! Guard your children and elders! Do not open the doors to any cry or call!”
The villagers make for their homes as the howl sounds closer. Much, much closer.
Wooden doors slam shut. Latches fall home over windows and hatches. Torches die in buckets of stale water, hissing as they’re extinguished. A horse screams in a distant paddock.
Keith pulls at his bonds. The metal links rattle as they tighten unbearably. The cuffs dig into his wrists, biting deep enough to make his skin break. His power gutters, barely sparking at his fingertips.
Something moves in his periphery, pale as moonlight and bright as silver. It streaks between the buildings, head above that of any horse. Its paws are bigger than any wolf’s Keith has ever seen. Its fur is a white too pure and flawless, long and thick. Shadows mark its coat oddly; bands of shade that fall over the white like they’re cast from bare branches.
The beast leaps at a straggling pair of villagers in a nearby yard.
Screams rise up, thin with terror.
The horse rears mightily, hooves striking out and tether ripping free. It gallops into the night with a high-pitched whinny, thundering past Keith.
Fangs longer than Keith’s dagger flash in the moonlight as they strike deep and true. Red spatters over the earth and spurts from between the wolf’s jaws. It shakes its massive head, growl rumbling in its throat. The villager’s body flails, limp as a child’s doll.
The second villager has nary a chance to escape the fate his partner had endured.
Satisfied that the first is dead, the wolf lets the body drop from its jaws and leaps at the second.
The villager’s scream cuts off quickly, gurgling into sudden quiet as the beast’s maw shuts with an audible clap and crack.
Moon-pale eyes fix on Keith.
The air stills as though it, too, is holding its breath as Keith locks himself in place. Every muscle in his body trembles. His breath feels like it frosts in his lungs as the beast opens its jaws.
The body drops, halves landing with a sickening noise.
Large, dirt- and blood-stained paws move silently. Claws as yellow-white as marrow dig little furrows into the earth with every step. Gristle matts pale fur and drips from the beast’s chin. It tongue, stained red, swipes out to catch the mess.
Keith’s chains rattle quietly as he tries to dredge up power, any power. Nothing, not even the barest bloom of heat greets his fingertips.
Panic flares to life in his chest and belly. Its wings and claws batter his lungs and gut in a bid for freedom. His arms pull the chains taut but the pain feels dim compared to the fear screaming in his mind.
He’s going to die here.
He’s going to die just like Kolivan had tried to warn him he would.
It’s too late to take things back. Time can not be undone or moved. He may die here but he gets to choose how.
Keith gets his feet under himself and stands. The metal links hiss and clank against the pillar. The autumn chill makes him shudder, begs his shoulders to hunch and his arms to curl inward but he stands tall.
Black lips peel back from long, white teeth. Bits of flesh and gristle jam between some fangs. Moon-pale eyes gleam beneath a furrowed brow. Sharp ears pin back as Keith snarls right back.
“I won’t make it easy like they did.” Keith puts the same iron that traps him into his voice.
It’s a bluff but it’s all he has.
The wolf seems to know it, too. Its muzzle relaxes and it huffs as it steps closer.
Keith lifts his hands as much as he’s able within the constraint of the cuffs. His fingers tremble between his nerves and the cold air.
“I’m a witch. I’ll burn you right where you stand if you come any closer.”
That makes the beast’s ears flick back again. The edge of its muzzle curls up, exposing a row of fangs. A growl rumbles in its chest, loud and threatening.
Keith tries to summon something, anything; a tiny inferno, a lick of flame, a spark. His skin remains dark and cold. He curls his fingers into fists and tries to pull at the chains again.
Those great, dirty white paws move at the top of his vision. A wet black nose nudges against his knuckles, his wrists. Dark whiskers tickle his skin. Hot breath washes over his skin, thawing his frozen muscles. Coarse fur brushes against him.
All words abandon Keith as the beast scents him.
This close, Keith can see that its eyes are just as bright as the silver of his blade. Striations of black and gold mark the large irises. The oddly-shaped shadows he’d seen on the beast’s coat aren’t shadows at all. The fur is thinned abruptly around scars. Some are the white-silver of old wounds while others are still pink and angry-looking. One in particular slashes across the wolf’s muzzle, as long as Keith’s hand is from the base of his palm to the tip of his longest finger.
The beast huffs again, softer. It blinks and steps closer, the side of its face sliding against Keith’s cheek. Whiskers tickle Keith’s ear. It rubs its muzzle over Keith’s hair before scenting him again.
Keith jumps when a hot, wet tongue laps over his ear and cheek. He flinches away, chains rattling as he growls and tries to lash out. His reaction only seems to delight the beast further.
Its long tail lifts, swaying from side to side. It butts its head against Keith’s shoulder with a low, thin whine.
Keith grits his teeth and kicks a leg out, aiming for the wolf’s paw.
The beast yips and nudges its head heavily into Keith’s chest, unbalancing him.
The metal of the manacles grates loudly in the quiet as Keith falls. Pain bursts in his knees and elbows. His head cracks against the pillar. The hollow noise makes his skull ache. His teeth buzz with it.
Dirty white paws dance around in his spotty vision. A cold, wet nose nuzzles his hair and shoulders. Coarse fur brushes his bare skin as he tries to regain his feet.
Keith’s shoulders and back bump against the belly of the beast.
It makes that soft, playful sound again, forelegs folding and forcing Keith down again.
His elbows sting as they scrape over the dirt. The cold air makes his skin numb but not numb enough the miss the way something hot and hard nudges against the back of his thigh.
The panic from before slams in his chest. Its talons cut through the lining of his gut as he shouts and tries to kick the beast off.
Small, sharp stones and grit grind their way into his skin and beneath his nails as he struggles. The sting of the tiny wounds is dim in comparison to the fear pooling in his veins and flooding his lungs.
The beast makes a noise, a growl that thins into a whine as Keith yells and writhes. Its paws dance over and around him, claws digging little anxious furrows into the earth. The whine rumbles back into a growl when one of Keith’s heels lands sharply.
Hot breath washes over the back of Keith’s neck. Teeth press against his skin, digging enough that the fear crawling down Keith’s spine freezes solid and ices his veins.
His breath frosts over in his chest.
One bite. One tiny movement of muscles. One click. One bite and he’s dead.
Keith whimpers, nails sinking into the earth. The chains rattle quietly. He waits for the jaws to close.
The teeth press harder for the breadth of a moment before releasing just as abruptly as they’d latched on. The beast’s nose nudges against the back of his neck, scenting once more. It huffs again and laps over the tiny wounds.
Dirt shuffles beneath its paws and Keith finds himself praying for the first time in forever.
Hot breath washes over his skin. He lifts his head from the packed earth, glancing over his shoulder.
The wolf’s ears pin back as it scents him again curiously.
Keith tucks his hips up with a choked cry. His knees scrape over the ground as he tries to scramble back up to his feet.
A heavy paw falls over his back, claws catching on his skin hard enough to draw blood. Hard enough to hurt . Hard enough to make him cry out again, this time in pain.
The wolf mimics the sound, dancing back. Its ears lay flat to its skull as it whimpers.
Keith screws his eyes shut against the sting and the feel of wetness beading and rolling down his hips and spine. He pulls at the manacles again, grasping at his power futilely. It sparks weakly before guttering like a candle in a windstorm.
Something wet and hot moves over the skin of his inner thigh.
Keith jumps, one leg kicking out instinctively. The heavy paw falls over his hips again. There is no drag of claws, this time. Just the weight and pressure and feel of fur and muscle and bone.
The beast noses at the join of Keith’s thighs. Its whiskers tease at sensitive skin. Its cold nose pushes through dark, sweat-damp curls. Its breath washes over untouched skin and makes Keith squirm.
In a paddock nearby, a horse whinnies shrilly. The beast snarls back, even tucked between Keith’s legs as it is. The threatening noise rumbles against his thigh and makes shivers crawl up his spine.
Keith’s helpless to stop the whimper that escapes from between his teeth.
The wolf rumbles, softer than a growl and nudges its nose against Keith in a way that makes heat spark in his belly.
“Oh ,” Keith’s fingers clench around the links of chain.
A hot breath makes his hips roll back and his breath catch. The tiny movement earns him another low sound from the wolf. He feels those lips pull apart, feels the barest press of teeth and then wet heat moves over bared skin.
Keith keens as the wolf’s tongue delves between his folds. Saliva wets his skin, making the cool autumn air and the beast’s breath feel like new sensations. He bites his own lip as the sparks in his belly begin to catch. The heat feeds his breathless power, ignites the tiniest of flames. If he can gather enough of it, maybe he can manage to melt one of the links of the chain.
The beast laps over something at the top of his cunt and makes Keith’s breath pitch into a cry. His knees slide painfully over the dirt. His hips roll back, seeking the sensation again. The wolf happily obliges, long tongue licking over and over and over again.
The fire in Keith’s belly burns hotter. It jumps higher with every lap and lick and nudge. He cants his hips back, panting against his forearms as it builds, builds, builds…
The wolf lifts its head away with a growl that sounds more like a groan.
Keith mimics the sound. He….Burns. The fire in him leaps beneath his skin, simmers brightly in his belly and makes his cunt ache and throb. He arches, begging wordlessly for…..Something. He needs. He needs so, so badly.
The beast’s forepaws dance in the dirt by his elbows. It nuzzles into his hair and neck with a pitched sigh. Something hard and hot slides through the mess of wetness between his legs. It nudges and slips, catching gloriously for little moments that make Keith’s whole body jump.
Hot breath washes over the back of Keith’s neck as the wolf thrusts patiently, determinedly.
Keith tilts his hips and tries to think past the firestorm of his mind.
The tip of the beast’s cock catches again and on the next careful thrust, slips in.
A loud, ringing cry tears out of Keith’s throat as he rocks back desperately. The stretch burns in a way that has a craving joining the fire in his veins.
Slowly, steadily, the wolf moves deeper. Each thrust seemingly calculated in the most careful of ways. It pants against Keith’s neck, saliva stringing from its teeth and wetting his hair.
Only when something hotter and bulbous nudges against Keith’s hole do the beast’s hips retreat fully.
It causes Keith to wail, nails digging into the dirt as he chases the wolf’s cock. His needy noises are rewarded with a low, pleased snarl and the press of teeth.
The wolf thrusts forward, setting a relentless pace that has Keith’s mind devouring itself in a wildfire of sensation and pleasure.
Sweat makes the wounds on Keith’s back and neck sting. The small sparks of pain only stoke the flames in his belly higher, brighter. His hair hangs in his face and sticks to his skin. His thighs and arms tremble, threatening to give out at any moment.
Blood coats his tongue. He must have bitten his tongue or lip too hard but he can’t even feel the sting of that, now.
His cunt throbs, clenching desperately as the wolf’s pace strengthens. He hangs his head, panting.
The wolf’s fangs press against the skin of his neck. They slide with each thrust, sending its jaw toward the juncture of Keith’s shoulder.
Slick noises echo off the buildings and trees. The wolf’s growls and snarls rumble in his ears, against his skin. Coarse fur sticks to his sweaty skin and the wet mess between his legs and where they’re joining. Long claws dig nasty furrows into the earth around his elbows.
Keith’s mouth drops open as the fire in his belly rages into something that he’s never felt before. His fingertips scrabble at the chains and ground. He chokes on his own breath as the wolf’s hips stutter and begin to move more forcefully.
The round, hot base of the beast’s cock presses against Keith’s cunt again. This time, the wolf doesn’t withdraw. It fucks its hips forward brutally, driving the knot past his fluttering entrance.
Keith’s scream is silent until his vocal chords catch the air.
The beast shudders violently, hips bucking recklessly as heat floods Keith’s cunt. The teeth on Keith’s shoulder clamp down, piercing skin and sinking into muscle. Blood runs freely, dribbling to pool on the packed earth.
Keith screams as he comes, voice breaking into a keen.
The wolf snarls against his skin before releasing its bite.
The pain matches the white-hot burn of power in Keith’s veins as he fights to catch his breath. Cold air rushes over his skin, colder still where he’s wet and exposed and covered in his own blood. He shivers violently and feels his shaking arms and legs finally give out.
Keith’s cheek presses against the wet dirt. He pants raggedly until the thundering of his heart finally calms.
The wolf whines, legs lifting and paws dancing until it finds a comfortable position on its side beside Keith. Its cock twitches sporadically, knot urging yet more cum into his already full hole.
Keith shivers again and leans into the beast’s belly and chest, savoring the warmth beneath all that fur. With the wolf lapping at the bite on his shoulder, he gives into the heaviness of his eyelids.
He’s not sure how long he’s dozed but when Keith wakes, the moon is fading from the sky.
The sun’s first rays peek over the mountaintops. There’s a slick, cooling mess between his thighs. His arms and wrists and whole body ache fiercely. The skin of his neck and shoulder are tight with dried spit.
There’s no coarse fur against his back or a cold nose in the crook of his neck. Instead, warm skin and strong arms encircle him. Scars and pale hair mark those arms and the thigh draped over his hip. A gentle mouth presses soft kisses along the top of his head.
Keith swallows hard and urges his power to heat the metal of the manacles. The metal glows hot before falling away from his wrists, skin raw and red and bruised. He turns his head, hardly daring to breathe.
Familiar silver eyes stare back, heavy-lidded and flecked with gold and black. They're eyes Keith never thought he'd see again. They've changed, yes, gaining the presence and shine of a wolf, but they remain the same at their centers. They're warm and soft as the hand on his hip curves protectively over his lower belly.
“Shiro,” Keith breaths. “Take us home?”