The Crimson Cloak

Go your ways: behold, I send you out as lambs among wolves. Carry neither purse, nor scrip, nor shoes: and salute no man by the way.
Luke 10:1-4

    Once upon a time, and only once, very long ago, there lived in a small village with his widowed mother a young man whose name was Sage, and he was of extraordinary comeliness surpassed only by the beauty of his soul and the pureness of his heart. There were no children of the village, and so the village thought of Sage as their son and grandson, and he was cherished dearly by all.

    His father, whose face Sage had not seen since he was a child, vanished ten years ago into the forest and he was never heard from again. The mother of Sage knew not how she would manage without her husband, but the people of the village were kind and good to her, and in time learned she how to be both father and mother to her child, who grew up strong and handsome and of merciful heart.

    As Sage drew upon his tenth and seventh year, all his neighbors knew him to be the most handsome young man, having locks of golden hair flowing from his crown, eyes of blue amethyst, and skin so soft and fair as to put the finest eastern silk to shame. The villagers worried for the task of finding a bride to match his own beauty, though Sage himself cared not for betrothal such yet, and was indifferent to the attention his looks received. The youth was much too modest to indulge in vanity and ego.

    Sage was happy to toil alongside his kinsfolk and neighbors, and would often travel across the wood for to visit his grandmother, who lived by herself in a little cottage half a league from the village, and for whom he would chop wood during the cold winter months and help with the hard toil. Though Grandmother was a spry and robust woman, she never declined Sage’s good company. Often the lad visited her and delighted in the stories she would read to him from the Holy Book, for Sage was a pious young man with a righteous heart, and he did love his grandmother as she loved him. Often would she craft for him gifts in exchange for his kindness and aid, though Sage was too humble to accept payment of any kind: yet he entertained her will and accepted the tokens with gratitude.

    And one day after completing his chores for her, Grandmother presented Sage a fine lovely cloak of woven wool, soft as down and red as roses. “Was it not only yesterday that I wove a cloak of crimson for your father, God rest his soul?” said she. “Keep you this garment in his remembrance, my grandson, that may it shelter you from any evil might you encounter in this wood.”

    “What evil be this, Grandmother?” inquired Sage. “I’ve not yet seen a face of ill regard within this forest.”

    Said the old woman with a weary sigh, “Evil is woven together with good in the fabric of this earth, like the threads of this cloak, my child. When you gaze upon the world as an whole you cannot discern wicked from good, just as when you gaze upon this cloak you cannot discern the individual threads. But as time passes and threads begin to fray, the cloak will come to parts, and then shall you recognize the strong threads from the weak.”

    “Then shall the world come to parts as well, Grandmother?” asked Sage with a worried look.

    “It is our job to see that it doesn’t any sooner than is destined; we must take care of the world as you must take care of this garment, and keep it whole for as long as you can. You must shelter it and protect it, and it shall shelter and protect you,” said she. “All things must eventually fall to ruin, but that is no reason to forsake your duties and wait the final hour like a lamb awaits the slaughter. God shall call us when the earth becomes black with sin, and He shall call us when it is our time to pass. But worry not the hour, my child, and live not for the moment, but live in the moment.”

    Sage beamed with admiration. “Shall I ever be as wise as you in my old age, Grandmother?”

    She laughed and petted his golden locks. “As surely as the sun rises at dawn, my dearest. Keep a clear head, a kind heart, and a clean soul; with that, you surely shall.”

    So Sage took the cloak from his grandmother and put it on, promising for as long as possible to keep it safe and with care, and an oath that he would do the same with the advice he was given. He bade his grandmother farewell and quit the cottage, following the oft trodden path through the thick forest back toward his village; but along the way he encountered a stranger, a gentleman of a few years his senior, dressed in a fine blue damask waistcoat and breeches, adorned with a silken jabot and black velvet vest, unspoiled white stockings and gleaming shoes with fine leather gaiters, and a three cornered hat upon his crown. He was a handsome gentleman, walking at his leisure and tapping his cane upon the path he went, gazing idly at the trees and looking to have no other place to be.

    Sage would have inclined to remain silent due in part to his bashfulness around newcomers, but he was also very curious, and it was for this reason that he found his voice. “Good day, monsieur,” said he, whereupon the gentleman turned and smiled in pleasant surprise, and Sage noticed a peculiar cross-shaped mark over his left eye — but a mark that in no way made him any less charming.

    “And good morrow to you, young master,” said the man with a gracious bow, leaving Sage quite embarrassed for himself. “And what accident am I to ascribe this honored meeting?”

    “Begging your pardon, monsieur,” Sage stammered, executing a hasty — if somewhat inappropriate — curtsy, “but I am afraid you’ve mistaken me for somebody else?”

    “Impossible!” the man exclaimed good-naturedly. “As a true gentleman I feel it is my obligation to salute any fellow with courteous regard. But do forgive my haste.” He tipped his hat respectfully, and a bright blush sprang to Sage’s cheeks. “I am Lord Cale L’ouvel.”

    “A pleasure it is, my lord,” replied the lad. “I am Sage Datier.”

    Said Cale with a smile, “The pleasure is mine, I assure you. Where are you going, Sage Datier, and from whence?” And they began to walk along the path together.

    “I am off to my home in the village, returning from my grandmother’s cottage,” said Sage.

    “Ah, do you visit her often?”

    “Indeed, monsieur. She lives alone, you see. I travel across the wood to her house each week to help her with chores and tasks too great for a woman of her age.”

    “That’s very noble of you,” said Cale. “You must be her pride and joy.”

    Sage’s cheeks took color at the compliment. “I’m certain that anyone would do the same for his grandmother.”

    “O, but only a truly courageous person would trek through this perilous wood each week to help another.”

    “This wood is perilous?” inquired Sage. “I never knew it to be so.”

    “There are the wolves, aren’t there?”

    “They do not frighten me. They are only creatures, like the birds and the deer and the frogs; they have no reason to harm me if I present no harm to them.”

    “Is that so? You are indeed brave, Master Sage,” congratulated Cale. “But if I might make so bold as to inquire if I may walk you home?”

    Sage laughed and observed, “My, what grace have you, monsieur!”

    And Cale did grin and say, “All the better to charm you with, mon cher.”

    Sage was made merry at the sport of it all as Cale joined him in laughter, and together they walked through the twilight forest until they reached the gates of Sage’s village. At this, the handsome gentleman stopped and said, “I shall go no further than here. Pray tell, will we meet again, Sage Datier?”

    Sage smiled and said, “Perhaps we might.”

    “And what would it take to deliver those words as a promise?”

    “I know not . . .” began Sage, but his words fell to breath as Cale took up Sage’s hand and placed within it a silver button from his coat, and closed the lad’s hand over it.

    “I should like to have this back,” said the man with a wink of his scarred, mysterious eye. “So keep it with you until we meet again. A bientôt, mon cher.” And he disappeared down the path, walking at his leisurely pace.

    Sage hastened to his home, giddy with excitement and anxiety, and he told his mother nothing of the handsome man he had encountered in the wood. He slept that night with the silver button underneath his pillow, and he dreamt strange and wonderful dreams of Cale that made him feel as he had never felt before, and filled him with strange desires and emotions. And when Sage awoke the next morning he found his bed in disarray and his skin damp with sweat, and the musky scent of his spent passion heavy in his clothes. Hurriedly he disrobed and washed the signs of a fitful night from his body, lest his mother find him in this state and embarrass him with queries he felt not like answering this day.

    Sage went about his daily tasks with the silver button resting heavily in his pocket, and that night he dreamt again of the fascinating, mysterious gentleman. And so it went the next day, and the next, and the next, and the button grew heavier with each day’s passing, and Sage could think of nothing but Lord L’ouvel. And when it came upon the seventh day, Sage ventured out wearing his red cloak for to visit his grandmother, encountering no one along the way.

    But when the sun began to dip low in the sky and he departed his grandmother’s cottage, Sage had gone but a little way down the path when he chanced upon Lord Cale, who was leaning casually against a tree with his hands in his pockets and a smile upon his lips. “Why, bonjour, my handsome young master!” he greeted. “We meet again, I presume by chance’s favor.”

    “Indeed, it seems we have,” replied Sage.

    Cale inquired, “And have I the pleasure of walking you home again, might I ask?” And he held his arm for Sage to take, and take he did, and they began walking down the path together, chatting idly of this and that, though the lad could not seem to staunch the recollection of his dreams, and how they made him feel.

    “And how is Grandmother today?” asked Cale.

    “I do believe she’s quite well and in good health,” Sage said.

    “She is fortunate to have a courteous grandson to look after her.”

    “You flatter me, my lord,” Sage tittered bashfully.

    Said Cale, “There is no flattery in the truth! You should be the delight in the presence of any household.”

    “And what of you? Where are you staying, Lord L’ouvel?”

    “O!” laughed he. “I am visiting relatives, you might say. And please, you may call me Cale.”

    “As you wish Lord L’ouv- I mean Cale. Relatives you say? Where do they live?”

    “All about, here and there,” Cale answered with a flip of his gloved hand. “I’ve quite a large family, really. I can’t seem to go on a simple promenade without happening upon at least one or two of them.” He laughed. “What of your family, Sage?”

    “Well, there is only myself and my mother, and Grandmother, of course.”

    “And what of your father?”

    “He . . . he disappeared when I was a young child. I’ve not seen him since.”

    “What do you suppose happened to him?”

    “I know not,” replied Sage morosely. “Perhaps he got lost, perhaps he abandoned us, perhaps he fell and could not walk, and froze in the winter snow.” Sage sighed heavily. “Shall I ever know what happened to him, I wonder?”

    “The world is full of questions that can never be answered, mon cher,” said Cale sadly as he put a comforting arm about Sage’s shoulder. “I too lost my father when I was young. He was killed by cruel creatures, heartless and vengeful, whose depthless ignorance will betray their souls to hell. They slaughtered him before my very eyes and left me this scar upon my face. I shall never forgive those wicked fiends who took my father’s life, never in a thousand years.”

    “That’s simply awful!” exclaimed Sage, turning to gaze upon his companion’s melancholy face. Hesitantly he reached forth to brush the dark tendrils of hair from Cale’s eyes, eyes that stared back at him in shades of gold and emerald, large with pain and woe. So stunned was Sage that he took a breath and uttered, “What large eyes you have, Monsieur Cale.”

    And Cale did grin and say, “All the better to see you with, mon cher,” reaching up his hand to tenderly stroke Sage’s fair smooth cheek.

    A hue as crimson as his cloak sprang to the youth’s face, and he stepped back reproachfully. “I should return home before night falls and my mother begins to worry,” whispered Sage, who turned to make his leave.

    But Cale took him by the hand and pressed another silver button into Sage’s hand, and the gentleman smiled as he said, “Take this — you now have two, which is twice the reason I should like to see you again.”

    And Sage nodded and hurried on his way, leaving behind the pleased and handsome face that gazed after him. And when he made it to his village and across the threshold of his home, he rushed to his bedroom and shut the door, leaning against it with pounding a heart as he touched his hand to his cheek, relishing the blushing heat of his own flesh and it smoldered from Cale’s caress. Never before had Sage felt such desire to see another man, and he rued silently that it would be another seven days ere he would set his eyes upon him again. Fathoms deep within his being, Sage knew that what he was feeling was somehow not right, but it was almost unimaginable that anything to make him feel so good could possibly be wrong.

    And that night he slept with the two silver buttons under his pillow, and his dreams were more vivid and tangible than ever they’d been before, and his body ached all night from the deliciousness of it. When he awoke all he could think of was Cale, and as days passed the people of the village began to notice a dazed and dreamlike quality about their most beloved son; he seemed distant and forgetful, but not at all unhappy. They assumed he had at last met a maiden to whom he had taken a fancy, but when approached about the topic Sage feigned ignorance and was off before he could be questioned further.

    And when at last it had been seven days, Sage donned his red cloak to fend off the approaching winter cold and fairly dashed to his grandmother’s cottage, where he completed his work as quickly as he could and departed to search for Cale. He found him on the path before long, and once again they strolled slowly back toward Sage’s home.

    “Ah! the aroma of ginger and plum,” sighed Cale. “Does Grandmother fancy those scents as well, Sage?”

    “What do you mean?”

    “You leave your grandmother’s cottage each week smelling of it. Quite heavenly, really.”

    “My, what a keen nose you have,” said Sage.

    And Cale did grin and say, “All the better to smell you with, mon cher.” As he lifted a corner of the lad’s cloak and breathed in deeply. “Ginger and plum; it shall forever remind me of you.”

    They continued on their way until they reached the gates of Sage’s village, whereupon Cale pressed yet another silver button into his palm. And once again, Sage dreamt frighteningly wonderful dreams of the handsome gentleman who walked him home. When he awoke the next morn, his mother asked how could he have ever slept through the great row created by the howling wolves, but Sage insisted that he’d heard nothing. His mother warned him to be wary and cautious when walking in the wood as the days grew shorter and the wolves became more industrious in their cunning, wily ways.

    And once again, Sage suffered the long seven days until he could see Cale, and each day it became more and more of an effort for him to summon himself from his bed and away from his pleasing dreams. He could hardly wait to return to sleep, forsaking even the last meal of the day to dream all the longer during the night. His mother worried that he might be sick, but she’d never seen her son appear so content and satisfied with his life.

    And when days counted seven, Sage donned his cloak and took to the path, hurried to and from Grandmother’s, and found Cale waiting for him not far away. They took a different route through the forest that day, dawdling and laughing and walking unbeaten paths that had not been trod upon for some time. Once, while passing along a steep ravine, Sage lost his footing on some loose gravel and would have surely tumbled to his demise had not Cale reacted with lightning reflex and caught the young man before he could make the descent.

    “My, what strong arms have you,” Sage whispered with a voice trembling from the close call.

    And Cale did grin and say, “All the better to hold you with, mon cher.”

    Sage blushed but allowed the man to hold him for a bit longer, secretly relishing the feeling described only in his wildest dreams. They did not return to the village until after nightfall, and with a fourth silver button put into his hand, Cale bid Sage a fond farewell, and the golden-haired young man dreamt frighteningly wonderful dreams of the handsome gentleman who had saved his life that day. In the morn his mother once again commented that the wolves had been particularly loud last night, but Sage cared nothing of it, and focused every fiber of his body and soul on surviving his awful daily tasks for an whole week, if only to see Cale one last time. Sage himself did not understand his attraction and fascination of the tall, mysterious gentleman; he knew only that he must see him again, no matter the cost.

    And when days counted seven, Sage donned his cloak and took to the path, hurried to and from Grandmother’s, and found Cale waiting for him not far away. They walked deep into the wood, long after darkness had settled and the moon had begun to rise above the tops of the trees. The chill of the night made Sage cling close to Cale for warmth, and the man put his arms about Sage and held him securely.

    Sage soon began to worry the hour, and his handsome companion walked him to the gates of his village, and held a fifth silver button before Sage; he moved to take it, but Cale surprised him by pulling it away and pressing his lips to Sage’s. And fire coursed through Sage’s blood, flames alive and burning with passion and terror, and his heart pounded within his chest. It was like that which he knew only in his dreams.

    “What . . . what fair lips you have,” whispered Sage as they parted.

    And Cale did grin and say, “All the better to kiss you with, mon cher.” And he pressed another kiss to Sage’s tender lips, and placed the fifth silver button into his hand. “Sleep well, my love,” he bade, and then sauntered away into the night.

    After that, the dreams that visited Sage in his sleep were fiery red and erotic, filled with flesh and sweat and things he knew to be ungodly, but which felt so absolutely delightful that he could not help but to beg for their endless continuation. He churned and writhed in his bed, pulled the clothes from his body and lay squirming and naked on his mattress, senseless with desire and yet insatiable, moaning softly as the wolves howled their midnight acapella into the star strewn sky.

    Sage awoke with but one thing on his mind, and that was Cale. He would not eat, he would hardly work — all he wanted was to sleep, and sleep forever if it meant never leaving that place of eternal pleasure. His mother feared him to be greatly ill, so she traveled across the wood to seek advice from Grandmother, who also had noticed Sage’s strange behavior; neither knew what could be the matter with him.

    But when days counted seven, Sage donned his cloak and took to the path; however, this time he did not take his usual route. Hoping that he would happen upon his companion, he travelled a different road, one that Cale and he had taken before. But being all alone, the forest seemed much darker and unfriendly, and he wandered for quite a while before deciding to relent and go to his grandmother’s cottage, as he should have done in the first place.

    Sage was walking quickly down the path when he turned the corner at a prodigious oak and came upon a large wolf standing over the half-eaten carcass of a stag in the middle of the way. Both he and the creature were startled by the sudden appearance of each other, and Sage thought that it had to be the largest wolf he had ever seen before in all his seventeen years. Though frightened and nervous, he held out his hand in a gesture of peace and called to it: “There now, my friend. I mean you no harm.”

    The wolf raised its bloodstained hackles, revealing rows of gleaming red fangs as it snarled terribly. “Do not be afraid,” said Sage gently. “I can see the fear in your eyes, but you’ve no reason to fear me.” As he stared into the creature’s golden eyes, he couldn’t help but feel a sense of familiarity, and upon the creature’s left eye was a peculiar mark. “Have we met before?” the youth inquired. But at that, the wolf sprang off the path and bounded away into the deep, dark forest.

    When Sage reached his grandmother’s cottage, he asked her: “Have you ever met a wolf in these woods, Grandmother?”

    “Aye,” she answered. “When I was a young woman, I had to venture across the forest to my grandmother’s house. And one day, when I was taking to my grandmother some medicine for her cough, a wolf appeared and asked me where I was going, from whence I had come. He tried to persuade me to take a faster route, but as charming as he was, I refused. And when at last I’d reached my grandmother’s, she had disappeared without a trace, the door wide open and the cottage empty. And I never saw her again.”

    “But Grandmother,” Sage said with a silly tone, “wolves cannot speak.”

    “O, indeed they can, my child. You see, wolves come in many different shapes and sizes, and not all of them look like the four-legged creatures skulking about in the wood. No, animals such as those have more nobility in them than even the most deceiving gentlemen.”

    Sage was left silent at that. He completed his tasks at the cottage and set home eagerly as the sun was nearly set, and the forest dark and foreboding. Already was he nervous from his grandmother’s words and he desired to return home as quickly as possible, so he was surprised by the appearance of Cale as the man stepped from between the trees and onto the path; he feigned obliviousness to Sage’s company and stated gladly, “Why, Sage! You surprised me for a moment. It certainly does seem that we have trouble avoiding each other, although I’m glad to say it.”

    But instead of approaching Cale as he normally would, walking to his side as if that were his destined place in life, Sage timidly shied away and uttered, “Forgive me, Cale — but I must return home now.”

    “Is my company suddenly unwelcome?” the dark-haired gentleman inquired with a tone of genuine hurt in his voice.

    “Nay, it is not that,” Sage replied, beginning on his way again. “It is but Grandmother causing me to worry.”

    “Has she fallen ill?”

    “Nay; but she makes me fear this world, Cale. Constantly is she reminding me of the evils that lurk within the darkness. Trust no one says she, but how is that possible? Is there nothing but treachery and deceit left in place of kindness and truth? It makes my heart ache when she tells me to be wary . . .” And he sighed, and Cale cast his arm about Sage’s shoulders as they walked together, with Sage’s golden locks resting gratefully upon the sturdy shoulder of his companion.

    “Your grandmother is a wise woman,” said Cale. “She is looking out for your best interest since she loves you so, but her love may cause her to exaggerate the truth. It is true that the hearts of men are riddled with evil and contempt, but not all of them are thus. But if what I just spoke is untrue, then at least I can confide that there is one last good man in this world.” To which Sage stopped short and gazed upon Cale’s face. “You, of course.”

    “You jest,” answered Sage. “I am not yet a man . . .”

    “Ah, says he who fears not even the wolf’s fang, he who approaches the wicked with mercy and compassion, he who befriends a stranger and enchants them with his kindness and beauty, he who makes the hated feel loved.” And he swept the lad into his arms and kissed him with an unholy passion unseen in even the most sinful of lovers’ beds. Sage was overwhelmed by the potency of the gesture, and felt as if his blood had become sparkling red wine now coursing through his veins and igniting his heart ablaze; he grasped Cale’s shoulders and pressed his body against the man, who broke the kiss all too soon and kneeled down before Sage. He took the belt of the lad’s breeches and pulled them down to his thighs, baring the pale, tender flesh of Sage’s partially-aroused member to all the world.

    “Ah!” cried the youth, appalled and yet curious. “What are you doing!”

    “You say you are not yet a man,” replied Cale in a sultry voice, pausing to drag his tongue up the entire length of Sage’s arousal. “Then perhaps I shall make you into one?”

    Sage’s fist planted itself between his biting teeth as he stifled the scream so desperately trying to escape his lungs. “O please,” he begged with his words saturated in lust as he urged his hips forward. “Make me into a man!”

    “As you wish,” Cale agreed with a smile, and swallowed Sage’s blushing cock into his mouth, sucking it firmly as he reached around and grasped the lad’s rear with both hands. Sage’s fingers descended into Cale’s dark hair, clenching gently the thick tufts as he struggled to keep his legs underneath himself. He feared himself to pass out from the sheer atrocity of it all, for it was a sinful thing that was happening to him now, against all rules and every rule, and being performed out in the open, beneath the sky and the setting sun. But Sage regretted it not even for a moment; he pressed forth his groin and Cale’s soft lips hugged his length down to even the coarse dark blond hair between his legs. Meticulously did Cale run his taut lips up and down the youth’s erection, stroking harder and harder. Then he released Sage’s sex and began to kiss his belly, suckle his thighs, nipping gently and sharply, while Sage groaned and cried. And then, quite suddenly, he bit down upon the tender thigh and drew blood.

    “O God!” sobbed Sage as he pulled away. “What sharp teeth you have!”

    And Cale did grin and say, “All the better to eat you with, mon cher.”

    The pain seemed to bring Sage back to his senses, clearing the foggy haze his mind had conjured since happening upon Cale. “I must go,” he stammered, and pulled his breeches up. He did not wait for Cale to respond, instead darting from the scene and leaving in his wake an atmosphere of guilt and awkwardness.

    Sage hastened back to his home and ignored his mother as she rose from her seat by the hearth to inquire where he had been; he locked himself inside his room and drew the curtains to shut out the last lingering light from sundown, and sat on his bed and tried to gather his senses. He decided before long that he should stay awake the entire night, lest he fall into the realm of those unholy dreams again. Sage was becoming aware that he was slowly losing his handle on the situation, and that the only way to redeem himself for his licentious acts would lie in the hands of divinity. He knelt by his bedside and prayed for forgiveness, and deliverance from whatever force was overtaking him.

    Alas, as the hours wore on and the moon rose high, the lad struggled to keep his eyes open, knowing that sleep would bring him anything but peace. But his efforts were in vain, and it was not long ere he had slipped away into the land of vague consciousness. However, his dreams were restless and disturbing, but unlike anything he had ever dreamt of in the previous weeks: he dreamt that he rose from his bedside and removed a sixth silver button from the pocket of his breeches, a button he had not known was there. Then he stripped the clothes from his body until he was nude and undid the latch on his window, crawling out of it and springing as if weightless into the frigid ebony shadows of the forest.

    And he dreamt that he ran all night, ran and ran through the forest, with the trees rushing by as blurs, fairly flying did he go. Everything was silent save for the pounding of his heart in his ears and his own rapid breathing. He found paths he had never travelled before, but ran along them as if he had known them all his life. And he dreamt that he glanced to each side and saw great, black wolves running silently alongside him, escorting him into the night with silent grace shimmering in their golden eyes. They were so wicked, and yet so beautiful. Sage had never imagined that evil could be contained by something so lovely and free, and he suddenly longed to run with them for ever and ever more.

    It seemed that at this thought his foot caught a fallen tree limb, and he sprawled to the ground into a thicket of twisted oak roots where he gouged a great wound of red into his shoulder. As he lay writhing from the pain of it, the wolves ran on and deserted him, and he was terribly frightened and began to cry for them to come back, for he knew not how to return home. At length, a large wolf with a curious mark over its left eye appeared before him, and they stared at each other for the longest time.

    “I know you,” murmured Sage. “And yet I fear I never shall.”

    With that, the wolf bared its long white fangs and sprang at him, and Sage felt the teeth punch through the flesh of his throat like needles through canvas, and the massive furry body pressed him to the ground, smothering him with heat and its animal scent. Sage could feel his muscles and veins rip and begin to pour warmth as the vicious creature tore out his throat, and everything faded to black. The last thing he was aware of was the growls and snarls of the monster devouring his flesh.

    When Sage awoke it was with a gasp and sudden start, but when he sat up and looked about, he knew it had only been a dream. But his flesh was as ice, and he looked down to find himself naked and covered in scratches, and his window was open wide, the pale light of sunset was showing between the gently fluttering curtains. For a moment he was confused, and then he realised that he had slept all day and that it was now almost night again. Sage’s mind was spinning from the surrealism of his consciousness, and he ached all over and his shoulder was sore; when he placed his hand upon it he grew pale with fright, for there was a long, shallow gash from his arm all the way across his collar, crusted over with dried blood. Sage was soundly terrified. Thought he: But if this was all merely a dream, then how can this be real . . . ?

    Without further deliberation he dressed himself and unlocked his room to discover the house empty; his mother had gone to town early in the morning and was not to be back until the day after. Sage donned the crimson cloak and took to the path to seek the wisdom of his grandmother, for surely only she could be able to explain these curious and frightful events. He worried at every shadow cast by a tree branch, jumped at the slightest rustle of leaves. There was something lurking within the forest where he had played as a child, something that neither his mother nor grandmother had ever told him about. Paths that had once been embraced by the sun had fallen into shadows and were tangled with thorns, and the birds that had sung so merrily as the small woodland creatures played by the path were now gone, and only carrion birds remained.

    Was he losing his mind, or had nothing changed at all? What path was this he was travelling? Was it the same, or was he only imagining it darker? Had his fear gotten the better of him? Sage practically wept in confusion, for the line between reality and illusion was growing weak and dim, and he knew not if he could trust his own eyes and ears. The world around him that he had so loved was beginning to deteriorate like the bark from a dying tree, crumbling away and leaving nothing but a stark white skeleton underneath.

    When at last Sage arrived at Grandmother’s cottage he knew that something was eerie, for the front door was slightly ajar; gently did he push it open and creep inside. All was dark, the hearth cold, and ashes lay scattered across the floor. The windows were open wide and chairs had been overturned, tables knocked on their sides, like a great struggle had taken place there. But to his increasing alarm and horror, amongst the soot of ashes were the footprints of an unmistakably large, four-legged animal.

    Nausea boiling in his stomach, Sage bit his fist and fled from the cottage as fast as he could go. His heart pounded like a great drum of thunder upon his ears as he flew back toward the village, toward sanctuary. All around him he felt the forest closing in upon him like a dying flower’s petals, and the imaginary hounds of Hell were in pursuit, frothing and nipping at his heels. He ran blindly as he had never run before, cloak flapping loudly behind him, the trees whizzing past as scarce but blurs. Tears were left spattered on the trail behind him as he struggled to swallow his sobs, for he could not flee when crying so.

    Finally, when he feared his heart and lungs to burst, he barreled through the gate of his village and the door of his home, where he fell to his knees next to the glowing coals of the fireplace and placed his palms over his eyes, doubling over so that his forehead nearly touched the floor, and he trembled silently for several moments. Night fell all too early it seemed, and a light snow began to drift down from the heavy grey clouds. The pregnant moon drew herself up into the heavens, coyly rolling behind the curtains of mist like a dancer.

    For a long time Sage sat by the fireplace in an almost prayerful stance, just barely rocking his body to and fro in rhythm to the nonsensical mantras whispering past his trembling lips. When next he moved, it was a sudden jerk when a distant, lonely howl faded into his hearing. At its knell, Sage wordlessly screamed and leapt from the floor like lightning and to the latch — once the door was secured, he rushed to each window and made sure that they were fastened shut, and then put several logs upon the fire and stirred the coals. And he waited, and he watched. For what, he knew not. The fear that had been creeping up his spine now breathed an icy whisper onto his neck, and he drew his cloak around himself and kept the fire well-stoked.

    Hours passed as centuries each. And then, the lad was awakened from a drowsy slumber by the piercing howl of a wolf as it seemed to come from just outside the house. Another picked up as the howl ended, and another, and another, until it sounded as if an whole pack of the fearful beasts was all about the place, howling fit to shake the walls down like those of Jericho. Sage clapped his hands over his ears and tried to keep the mind-rending din out of his head, but it was no use. He staggered to his feet and shouted at the top of his voice: “What do you want from me! Go away! Go away, you dreadful creatures! Leave me alone! Why do you torment me so? Just leave me alone, I beg you!”

    And slowly, gradually, the howls ceased to ring in Sage’s ears, and he glanced about himself hesitantly. Did I frighten them away? thought he. Are they gone? I dare not get up to see . . .

    Then he heard the scratching, coming from outside the house. Scratching and scraping on all sides. Then a heavy thud upon the rooftop, footsteps walking about…the wolves were trying to get in. Panicking, Sage put more logs upon the fire, knowing that the only thing between himself and the fangs of the beasts outside was a less than a hand’s breadth of wood. Perhaps the smoke would cause them to flee, he thought. “Go away!” sobbed the youth as the scratching continued, and he drew as close to the fire as he could without burning himself. “Leave me alone! Why are you doing this to me? What have I ever done to you? Go away!”

    And just as unexpectedly as it had begun, the scratching and noises ceased, and the house was quiet once more. Sage’s heart was still racing, fearful of the silence even more than the noise itself, for if the wolves were no longer trying to claw their way in, then what had become of them? Had he imagined the whole thing? Was he dreaming? Had they finally gone this time? And then from outside he heard a frail voice cry, “Sage! My dearest boy, where are you? Are you home? Have the wolves gone yet?”

    The lad sprang to his feet in alarm. It was Grandmother! She was outside, and in most certain danger. Sage unlatched the door as quickly as his shaking fingers could manage and threw it open wide. The night was black and barely could he see the faint glow of the moon over the tops of the trees. “Grandmother!” called he, his breath forming a mist as it wafted from his lips. “Grandmother, get inside! Hurry!”

    A snarl broke the air like the sound of shattering glass; Sage realized his error all too lately as a hellish pair of yellow-green eyes pierced the darkness before his face, and then leapt toward him. The heavy wolf struck him head on, knocking him to the floor; he was certain he was going to be dead in a few moments, but the wolf sprang into the darkest corner of the room and sulked there, growling terribly, nothing but glowing eyes gazing malevolently back at the young man.

    Sage scrambled to his feet and pressed his back against the opposite wall, giving the creature his full attention. Slowly did he reach out and grasp a candelabra from the table, holding it as one would a sword, keeping his eyes fixed upon the shadow that held such danger. The eyes stared back and slowly began to shift, gaining height and changing shape so gradually that at first Sage thought it must be his eyes playing tricks on him. But when at last the shadowy metamorphosis was over, the eyes that stared across the room at Sage were human, just slightly taller than he himself was.

    From the darkness came forth a gentle groan, and into the light stumbled a man, naked, his body flecked with angry red cuts and spotted with bruises, and he leaned heavily on a nearby table with one hand, shaking weakly. It took a few moments for Sage to recognize at whom he was staring, and when the notion finally dawned upon him, it was with an awed, fear-instilling wonder like the first rising of the sun at the beginning of time. Sage immediately discarded the candelabra and darted across the room with an oath of, “My God! Cale! What has happened to-”

    But the once refined gentleman released a perfectly inhuman snarl and swiped at Sage to keep him away, regarding him with seething hatred in his eyes. “Take a good look at what stands before you, mon cher, and tell me: what is it you see?”

    Tears flooded Sage’s amethyst eyes and he begged, “Cale, you are wounded. Let me help you.”

    “You did not answer my question!” he said so sharply that it made Sage recoil. “What is it you see before you?”

    “I see an injured man who needs my help.”

    At that response, Cale’s face relaxed and he smiled and began to laugh haltingly. “You are still so blind, I see. Either you are stupid or you’re just that naïve. Could you tell me which you were if I asked you?”

    Sage drew closer and murmured, “Cale . . . what happened to you? What fiendish monster did this?”

    “The same monsters who killed my father,” he replied coldly. “And my father’s father, and his father before him.”

    “I do not understand,” said Sage as he draped a blanket over Cale’s shoulders and helped him towards the warm coals of the fireplace.

    Retorted the man, “I wagered you would not.”

    Sage ignored Cale’s words. “You are bleeding. Sit here and I shall prepare some dressings.”

    “Do not bother; they will find me shortly and then . . .” He trailed off languidly and sat before the hearth, as if speaking drew from him too much energy. Sage kneeled down beside Cale with a wet cloth he produced from a small cauldron of water above the fire, and gently tended the cuts and scrapes with dutiful silence. After several long moments Cale spoke, as if almost to himself, “I do not wish to hurt you, mon cher. But you are the last blood.”

    “What blood is this?” inquired Sage.

    Cale’s golden eyes radiated pain and torment. “To hear this story I am about to tell you will mean certain death. However, it is not death in the way that you imagine; it is also the one story you must be told, and to deny you of its hearing would mean painting a false path for your future, and I shall not withhold from you this knowledge any longer.”

    Sage sat back on his knees quietly and waited.

    Cale began, “Many years ago, longer almost than this forest has been here, there lived an enchantress in this wood, and she was of incredible beauty. She practiced the pagan magic and lived by herself in her cottage, keeping to herself. And one day, a wealthy gentleman from the nearby town was travelling through the wood when his steed was frightened by a snake and bolted from underneath him. Thus the man wandered lost for some time before he happened upon the beautiful witch’s home, and when first he laid eyes on her, he loved her.

    “However, this love was tainted and forbidden, for already the gentleman had a wife, and was committing a most punishable sin. But the powers of the enchantress were so strong that he could not resist, and they spent six days and six nights in each other’s arms, making passionate and adulterous love. And when at last the seventh day dawned, the man’s senses returned and he realized what a terrible thing he had done. He resolved to kill her to amend his sins but he had not the courage, so he decided to steal away before the enchantress awoke. However, a button from the man’s coat had a loose thread, and it fell to the floor and awoke her. The man tried to explain himself, but the woman was infuriated at the deception committed and said to him: ‘The creeping beasts in the forest have more virtue than the likes of you, so it is only fit that I send you out to be learned by them.’

    “And with that, the enchantress placed a curse upon the gentleman which turned him into a horrible creature somewhere between a wolf and a man, and the poor soul fled into the wood. The curse fell over the man’s family — his wife, his unborn child — and he vowed revenge for the evil temptations of the woman that led to his downfall. Many years later the man-wolf returned to the enchantress’ home and wrought his vengeance upon her, an act which should have set him free, but in that time she had been taken to wife, and borne children who perpetuated the curse just by being alive. And thus, the wretched man was condemned to hunt and kill every last one who shared the enchantress’s blood.

    “And so it went for decades and decades, and the family of the gentleman lived their lives for but one purpose: to destroy the curse that burdened them so, and with each kill hoping that the victim was the final sacrifice, the key to their repentance. On and on the killing went, man hunting beast, beast hunting man, and the family lines grew narrower and narrower, until at long last only one soul remained to free the mass of long-suffering wretches from the unholy curse.”

    Cale paused and gazed into Sage’s eyes. “That soul is yours.”

    For a moment Sage was stunned speechless, unable to believe what he had heard. “But . . . it cannot be. My family is not associated with pagans and witches; we are and have always been a pious folk who walk in the light of God-”

    “Or have you only been told that, I wonder?” Cale put forth. “What happened to your father? Do you think he simply disappeared? No, he was killed, Sage, because his blood was tainted. When first we met those many weeks ago, I knew then that you must be the last from the way you enchanted me by your loveliness, and when I tasted your blood that day on the path, I knew it was true.”

    Sage’s face colored deeply at the mention, but still he denied his family’s treachery. “Impossible!” cried he. “If this curse is indeed real, why not was my grandmother killed? She is my father’s mother!”

    “Ah, your grandmother lived for so long because she secluded herself after her son was sacrificed, she hid herself away so that none might find her. She knew of the curse but she filled your head with pleasant stories so that you might never know, and that is why she told you always to beware of this, be careful of that, and was so adamant in her own mistruths of your father’s ‘disappearance’. She probably even told you of her own grandmother vanishing without a trace, for the curse goes even farther back than that. You’ve been feeding from her poisoned hand, I am afraid. All that she has ever told to you was a lie.”

    “How can I believe you!” cried Sage angrily with his fists clenched. “You yourself are a liar! You deceived me all this time! The world has now come to pieces, and you reveal your true form to me. Grandmother was right; it is now so much easier to find the wicked among the righteous. You led me to believe that we were friends. Lovers. When all along you were trying to kill me. You . . . monstrous . . .” He trailed off weakly and hung his head.

    “I admit that I am guilty of this treason,” murmured Cale. “But if it has led you to the truth and opened your eyes to it, then I cannot be such a liar then, can I?” He paused before adding, “I was not born wicked, mon cher. But I was cursed from the moment I came into this world.”

    Sage placed a hand upon his forehead as if he were suddenly very ill. “I don’t know what is real anymore. I cannot see the truth for the lies; I am lost in a forest of them. And you . . .” He glared hatefully at the man. “Why should I believe you? If you admit to lying once then you could very well be doing it again.”

    Said Cale, “I am speaking the truth from now forever on because I’ve nothing left to hide anymore. And because I have no reason to lie to you.”

    Sage’s lips remained parted for some time, trying to form words that he could not seem to speak. “What became of my grandmother? I heard her voice outside just before . . .”

    “It was the wind in the trees,” answered Cale, “and nothing more. It does not matter to you now.”

    “What of my grandmother!” cried Sage.

    “She is dead. There was nothing I could do to save her if even I wanted to.”

    “Murderer!” sobbed Sage as he hid his face behind his hands in agony. “She was guilty of nothing! She never-”

    “She knew the truth but withheld it from you!” shouted Cale. “That alone is crime enough. Your grandmother was trying to protect you by keeping you ignorant and stupid. If anything, blame her for your death when your soul ascends to Heaven, and hold me not responsible for it. I am not the murderer — I am merely the weapon.”

    “So then . . . I am to die?” asked the young man with a bitter tone.

    “You are the final sacrifice,” said Cale as he turned toward Sage. “You must die so that my family can be freed from this hellish curse.”

    Sage sat quietly, the light from the fire dancing across his creamy skin and catching the brief shimmer of tears as they slid down his cheeks and into his lap. He did not say a thing.

    “My dear boy,” murmured Cale as he reached out and stroked a lock of golden hair. “I should not want to lay a harmful touch upon your fairness, for I fear myself to become more damned for that than what is already the bane of my life. But it cannot be helped; I would rather to die than to see my kin continue to live a life condemned to misery.”

    “I am sorry.” Sage looked up at the handsome gentleman he had known. “I am sorry that it had to be this way, Cale. For the both of us. How pitiable we must be to deserve such a fate.”

    The man allowed his expression to shift into one of puzzlement. “Are you not wrathful? Are you not going to fight for your life? Are you not going to even attempt to flee from death?”

    “What good would it do? Death comes to us all in time. A life as malignant as mine is not worth fighting for . . .”

    “Do not say such things.”

    “It is the truth.”

    Cale gently turned Sage’s face to his own, the merciful beauty who wept for the sinner’s sake. “The truth is what lies in your eyes,” said he. “You are so innocent, so pure to the evils committed by your kin so long before you. I am to live my life in misery without you. There is no happy ending to the tale of you and I, mon cher.”

    Sage nodded slightly. “I know. I knew from the moment I first met you, my enemy. My love.”

    Gently did Cale allow his fingers to retreat from the fine smoothness of the lad’s skin; Sage gazed at him sadly, hopelessly, but with silent resignation and acknowledgement so profound that the man could not help but to say: “How serene you are — like the lamb who awaits slaughter. So alive, so beautiful, so brief upon this earth. Poor, beautiful lamb . . . you have just begun to venture forth into the world of Man, but the journey you did not survive. Never shall you travel beyond the land of the trees, never shall you grow old and corrupt with the evils of this world.” He reached out his hand to stroke Sage’s cheek, but held back as if fearing to spoil the vestal splendor before him. “No,” said he. “You shall die young and beautiful and innocent, the virgin sacrifice, the everlasting light of all that is good and faultless.”

    “I would not want to die so terribly,” uttered Sage, to the man’s surprise. “It is a waste of a soul to die with life this unfulfilled. I do not want to die pure and unlearned. I want this knowledge before I leave this world, or else my spirit shall be forever yearning for its taste.”

    Cale shook his head. “You know not what you are saying, cher.”

    “But I do.” Sage crawled across the floor to Cale and took his handsome face in both hands. “If I am to die tonight, I first want you to take my innocence, as payment for my sins. Lie with me as you would a woman. Corrupt me. Teach me. I am ready to learn.”

    “You would give yourself to me?”

    “I would and I shall.”

    “You would shed the wings of grace and descend into the darkness with my wretched soul?”

    “A thousand times would I rather keep company to your soul in Hell than to spend eternity in Heaven alone. My love, my prince.” And he laid a kiss upon the faulted man’s lips, and wrapped his arms about the sturdy shoulders. Tentatively did Cale’s hands come to rest upon Sage’s hips as their kiss deepened with each passing moment.

    The crimson cloak that the lad was still wearing was soon found within Cale’s grasp, and with a single smooth movement he tore the garment from Sage’s body and tossed it aside onto the hearth. The golden-haired young man sat in Cale’s lap and removed his shirt, and likewise did the man shake the blanket from his shoulders and press his palms to the fevered flesh of Sage’s back. Both were consumed and overwhelmed by the mere sensation of touch that it was impossible to imagine being any more unified than they were at this moment.

    Their kisses were urgent and desperate, violent while at the same time sorrowful. Lips parted briefly as Sage fumbled to remove his trousers, and Cale whispered to him, “I would hate you if I did not love you so much, mon cher.”

    Divested of his clothes and now naked, Sage answered, “Both I feel for you, Cale, but I cannot tell which of the two is stronger.”

    The firelight played upon skin as it met with skin, as Sage returned to his cursed lover’s arms willingly and they sat breast to breast, for a moment relishing the coupling as their discordant heartbeats slowly became as one. One beat, one heart, two bodies. No further words need be spoken; for now eyes and touches spoke all that needed to be said.

    Gently did Cale ease Sage down onto the floor, trying to keep up with the lad’s eager kisses. So thirsty for knowledge, so hungry to taste the bittersweet flavor of the world is he, thought Cale. How awful to be sheltered for so long, made to fear the places beyond the realm of the forest. How cruel to deny one the freedom of life for the sake of the wicked things that are simply a part of it. Like a beautiful bird in a cage, never meant to fly in the open blue heavens. Fear not, my dove. I shall bend the bars for you. I shall free you from your heavenly prison so that we may fly together forever.

    He broke the kiss and drew back far enough that he could gaze upon Sage’s lovely face, and stroke the moistened pink lips with his thumb. “So beautiful,” Cale murmured. “Forgive my slowness. I must take the time to honor this gift you are giving me.”

    Sage’s lips ghosted a smile and he batted eyes saturated with pleasure. Then he slid his rouge tongue from his mouth and drew Cale’s thumb within the hot embrace, holding it gently between his teeth as he sucked it delicately. The man’s breath hastened as he became aroused from the erogenous act, and Sage felt Cale’s sex stiffen against his hip. It felt so good, even outside of him: firm and hot, an instrument of flesh to teach the art of perfect union. He could scarcely wait to feel it inside of him. What would it feel like, he wondered? Would it hurt? Would he bleed? Would he cry?

    As Cale began massaging the lad’s chest with his free hand, Sage came to realize that he didn’t really care if it hurt or if he bled and cried. He wanted it no matter the cost. After all, it was just flesh, and flesh would eventually heal. Cale’s fingertips gently traced the pebbly pink circles of the lad’s nipples, and with a satisfied sigh the lad arched his back off the floor a little to receive more of these arousing ministrations. Cale leaned down and peppered the warm bosom with open-mouthed kisses, tongue just barely touching the skin and leaving behind a mark of cooling saliva. The room was silent save for the occasional soft crackling of the fire, the quiescent breathing of the two unfortunate lovers, and the moan of the icy wind outside as it gyred about the corners of the cottage.

    Sage released Cale’s thumb and ran both hands through the thick, soft locks of midnight azure as he began to issue a series of small moans in the back of his throat, growing more urgent the lower Cale descended with his molten kisses. As he drew near the tender flesh of the lad’s abdomen, Sage propped himself back on his elbows and drew up his knees, spreading them slowly and allowing Cale’s torso to settle between his pale thighs.

    Briefly did their eyes meet, golden green to soft lavender, and Sage nudged his hips upward, bidding for Cale to continue. He did, resting his hands firmly upon the lad’s slender hips and taking the already hardened warm red cock into his mouth and sucking it rhythmically. Sage wanted to buck and urge himself deeper into that delicious heat, but the hands held him down, forcing him to be patient. So the young man watched in fascination as his sex was nursed, becoming short of breath and more aroused than he had ever been in his most sinful dreams.

    “You taste so divine,” uttered Cale as his tongue darted out to catch the few clear drops of essence as they dribbled from Sage’s swollen length. “Never have I tasted anything sweeter than you.”

    “Please,” came the lust-laden whisper. “More, I beg you . . .”

    “But there is so much to learn, my sweet. Come, let me show you.” And he rose up onto his knees, and the lad caught sight of the large erection that Cale possessed and became fraught with worry.

    “That is to go inside me?” he quivered.

    “It shall,” replied the man.

    “But it looks far too large! It cannot possibly fit-”

    Cale murmured, “You would be surprised at what the human body can accommodate.” He lowered his hand and gripped his sex, rubbing his fingers over the blood-engorged head until they became slick and coated with thick moisture. Then his hand disappeared between Sage’s parted legs, and no matter how far he strained to see what Cale was doing, the blond could only see his forearm. Then he gasped in shock as he felt something stiff and hard press against his body. Once, twice, and then Sage’s body parted and allowed it inside.

    “O!” cried Sage. “What is that!”

    “This is where I shall penetrate you,” Cale said. “But you are not yet ready to take me in. There is much to be done to prepare you for that.” And he pushed his finger into Sage’s body; the youth squealed in alarm and arched up off the floor. “Shh,” admonished Cale. “This won’t take long.”

    Deeper and deeper he went, and soon, Sage began to feel better, pleasantly warm and aroused, as if something inside of him were being lit like a candle. Soon it became a slow, hungry burn, and the lad’s cheeks were flushed red as roses. He hooked a finger between his pearly teeth and closed his eyes, moaning softly and allowing his legs to sprawl open like a butterfly’s wings, knees still drawn up, his oozing cock jumping at each retreat and reentering of Cale’s large finger as it glided smoothly in and out of him.

    Sage grunted softly when Cale inserted two fingers, but soon he became adapted to that feeling as well. The man reached down and grasped Sage’s hard sex firmly in his hand, stroking it so slowly that it began to drive the blond mad with desire. He laid his hand upon Cale’s and they stroked together, and Sage felt absolutely wonderful.

    And when Cale felt that his young love was ready to endure the finality, he grasped Sage’s hips and pulled him forward to rest upon the man’s thighs — Sage smiled drowsily and watched as Cale guided his penis between the lad’s legs. Sage felt something large press hard against him, then pierce through his flesh quite suddenly.

    “O God! What a large cock your have!” cried Sage.

    And Cale did grin and say, “All the better to please you with, mon cher.” And with that, he thrust himself forward, plunging into the parting, tender flesh. Into the warm virgin embrace did Cale’s swollen length go, polishing and pounding again and again until poor Sage thought himself to either faint or die from the ecstasy and pain of it. His own reddened cock ached and wept thick sticky tears of seed onto his lower stomach as sweat beaded upon his brow. He ached so wonderfully; he could feel the veins in Cale’s sex throbbing against the insides of his clenching body, pulsing with fiery heat and life.

    Cale lifted Sage’s leg upon his shoulder and gripped the other thigh, holding it against the young man’s chest as he drove his hips forward and back, in and out with a moist smacking of flesh within flesh. Sage began to feel dizzy, almost on the verge of blacking out. His vision began to blur and his body ached all over. And when Cale looked into his eyes, and they reflected yellow-green, he knew that the boy he had so loved was dying.

    And after a little while, beautiful young Sage was no more.

    The next morning, when the sun rose over a land blanketed in snow, Sage’s mother returned home to find the cottage empty and the fireplace cold and black. Upon the hearth lay the crimson cloak, its edges singed and covered with soot. But nestled within the folds of crimson lay six silver buttons. The woman knelt down and picked them up, studying the detailed and intricate designs curiously.

    A cold wind caused her to shiver; the windows were open and an icy wind carried through the room. She went to shut them, and as she looked out among the trees, she caught her breath in shock; standing at the edge of the clearing was a large wolf with a coat as white and pure as the snow it was standing upon. And by his side stood a larger wolf, with fur as black as the darkest night. And then she knew what had become of her son.

    “Sage!” his mother cried out, and the dark wolf turned away and slowly walked into the forest. The white wolf gazed at the strange woman for a few moments, as if trying to recognize her from a life long passed. And soon he turned away, following his mate into the cold shadows and perpetual night of the forest.

    And Sage was never seen or heard from again.

    After that, the wolves seemed to slowly disappear from the land. Some say they retreated into the darkest reaches of the black wood, far away from the destruction of man as he burnt the edges of the forest and built great cities all over. Still others say that they were hunted out of existence, hated by man for reasons unknown, and that the only real wolves remained in picture books and fairy tales.

    But sometimes, on cold clear nights, one might be able to hear the sorrowful song of the poor beasts as they cry their regrets to God. And hear them He does, and it is on nights like those that even God knows regret. Too many times has He watched his angels fall like stars in the night sky, the lights of their innocence flickering and going out as do the flames of candles in a strong wind.

    But even God can sometimes forget: dead stars still burn.


A/N: I'm currently working on a complete re-write of this story. Look for it sometime in early 2010.