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Shousetsu Bang*Bang
Issue 27: Fairytales

Edited by Shousetsu Bang*Bang
Smashwords Edition
Copyright 2010 Shousetsu Bang*Bang

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Shousetsu Bang*Bang Issue 27 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License

Based on a work at http://shousetsubangbang.com

Table of contents

Morozko, by qui-te

The Dandy And The Beast, by Zack (ザックス)

A Fish Story, OR, The Ones That Got Away, OR, The Mermaid Solution, by Tsukizubon Saruko (月図凡然る子)

No Luck and No Chance (縁のないもの是非もない), by MYŌGADANI Mōra (茗荷谷 望裸)

Engulfed In The Tentacles Of Horror: Part Nine Of A ‘Horrors By Gaslight’ Serial Novel In Sixteen Thrilling Parts!, by Roumonte Emi (竜主天 蝦)

Solitary Hide And Seek, by Kagamine Marin (鏡音愛鈴)

quarter in die, by Domashita Romero (地下ロメロ)

Break The Ice, by ai rei bel

At First Kiss, by Azia C. It

The Amanuensis, by shukyou (主教),

illustrated by serenity_winner

Final Exam, by Kaerutobi Ike (蛙跳び池)

The Half-Baked Life of Pumpernickel Brett, by bupparo

Shoubumei’s Requital (神の恩返し), by Kikuchi Makoto (菊池 誠),

illustrated by fightfair

White and Woolfe: The Case of the Killer Piper, by Drakonlily and Cendri

Mid-Summer’s Eve, by hcolleen

No Hero Manual Included, by Ogiwara Saki (荻原咲)

Stolen Kisses, by Naniwa Kaoyoshi (浪花顔好)

once upon a time, by fishkro

But This One is Just Right, by iianbe

A Visitor, by Bluejuice (青液)

Questionable Belief, by Blue CheshireCat

Eat Your Heart, by ashe

The Steadfast Tin Soldier, by pseudonymeter

Good Night Sweet Prince, by Queen_Marshed

From Start to Finish, by Lord Mune

Front cover by image by safelybeds

Edited and published by the Shousetsu Bang*Bang editorial staff. Read more about this issue at http://www.shousetsubangbang.com/wiki/index.php?title=Issue_27

Morozko

by qui-te

Once, long long ago, there was a man. He married a woman, and together they had a child; a handsome son. Time passed, and the wife passed as well, leaving her widower to raise their child alone. The man felt that a mother’s presence was very necessary to the health and well-being of a child, and so when the opportunity came to marry a widow in the village, he offered and she accepted.

Now this widow had a son of her own, one of similar age to Vanya, the father’s son. Everyone expected the two boys to be raised equally as brothers, but the step-mother favored her own son, Feofan, in all things.

Not many seasons had changed in this new household before Vanya was little more than a servant, forced to do all the work while his step-brother idled away his time carousing with the other boys from the village.

This did not affect the march of the seasons, and soon enough Vanya was grown into a handsome and charitable young man, his step-brother only slightly behind in looks, but far surpassed in attitude.

“You know, little Vanya,” the step-mother said one winter morning while the icy winter winds blew across the steppes. “I believe you are quite old enough to be married.” She eyed him contemplatively.

“I suppose I am,” replied Vanya, who had not given much thought to the idea.

“I doubt there are any young maidens in the village who would want a husband as repulsive as you,” the step-mother continued. “Not like my own son, for whom I’ve already begun entertaining suggestions.” She smiled dotingly on Feofan. “No, I’m afraid that for you we will have to offer quite a hefty bride-price; which is something we simply cannot afford.”

Vanya smiled nervously. “I have no need to marry,” he said, hoping that it would lay his step-mother off whatever horrid scheme she was planning.

“Yes, yes,” the step-mother waved that away. “But how would it look if my son, who is so much younger than you, married first?”

It was not the first time that Vanya had heard the three months’ difference in their ages referred to as ‘so much,’ and he had long ago learned to stop objecting.

“And anyway, I won’t have you lazing around the house forever,” his step-mother continued. “You will marry and become your wife’s problem.”

“But you said we cannot afford—” Vanya started quietly.

“Oh, of course not,” his step-mother replied. “That is why you will go to your godfather and ask him to furnish you with the proper bride-price.”

“My godfather?” Vanya asked.

“Yes,” the step-mother replied, nodding to the window. “Your godfather Morozko; Old Man Winter himself.”

“Morozko is not my godfather,” Vanya protested.

“Nonsense,” his step-mother said, waving off his concern. “Your father went in search of a suitable man to be your godfather, and along the way he met god, the devil and Mozoko; surely you must have heard this story.”

“You’re making that up,” Vanya accused. “You got that from some fairy tale.”

“Do you see how foolish your brother is?” the step-mother asked of Feofan. “Lord knows why I even put up with him.”

“Morozko is not—” Vanya tried to protest again.

“Oh husband, dear,” the step-mother called, causing Vanya’s father to lift his blurry-eyed head from the table and try to focus on the squabble that was his family. “Isn’t your son’s godfather Morozko, the Old Man of Winter?”

Vanya’s father blinked fuzzily at her a few times, and then waved his mug drunkenly, spilling vodka over the edge. “Yes, yesh, dear, wha’ver you shay; lis’n to yer mosher, Vanya; she’s alwaysh righ.” His head sank back to the table and his eyes closed again upon the world.

“There, you see?” asked the step-mother, folding her arms across her chest. “Now we must prepare you to meet your godfather.” Having said all that she would upon the subject, Vanya’s step-mother now directed him to prepare a small amount of food as an offering to his godfather. She then had him finish all of his usual chores and prepare the family’s dinner—of which he received only scraps. That done, Vanya was ordered to put on his warmest clothing, which was only a ragged coat that let in as much wind as it kept out.

Taking the oldest blanket in the house, the step-mother loaded everything onto the sleigh and drove it deep into the wilderness. Stopping beneath a stand of trees, bare save for a coating of shimmering ice, the step-mother laid out the blanket and directed Vanya to sit upon it. “Morozko will meet with you soon enough,” she said, setting the food beside him. “Just make sure you do not eat any of these cakes, or else he may be insulted and not appear at all.”

“Of course,” Vanya said, tucking his feet beneath himself because he had nothing better than canvas shoes upon them. “I will be dutiful, Step-Mother,” he said. “You need not worry for me ever again.”

“That’s my hope,” his step-mother replied, frowning down at him. “Good-bye, then.” She climbed back onto the sleigh and returned home, pleased that this would be the last time she needed to look upon the child of her husband.

Vanya, for his part, tucked his fingers into his armpits—he had no mittens—and tried his best to stay warm.

The world around him was full of snow, soft and pristine, broken only where his step-mother’s sleigh had crossed. It looked as if the world was covered in a deep and warm blanket, wrapped up and held safely in the arms of someone that loved it. But the appearance of warmth was just an illusion, as a bitter and biting wind blew across the steppes, cutting through Vanya’s thin coat as if it were not there at all.

The last light of the sun sank below the horizon, leaving Vanya in a world lit only by the stars wheeling overhead. With the sunset the last of the warmth went as well, and Vanya could only sit and shiver more and more as the night grew ever colder. In the distance he could hear a cracking and a snapping as Morozko approached, spreading the deep frost of winter across the land.

Vanya shivered violently and his teeth chattered loudly, but death at the hands of winter was probably preferable to a lifetime spent with his step-family.

“What is this?” Morozko asked, spying Vanya sitting on his blanket in the wilderness of white.

Vanya clenched his teeth on their chattering, but made no reply.

“Are you warm, little one?” Morozko asked, bringing the edge of the wind with him as he approached Vanya, and allowing it to slice through Vanya’s coat.

“Y-yes,” Vanya chattered. “Q-quite warm.”

“Oh now, handsome one,” Morozko said, leaning closer until his breath felt like daggers of ice across Vanya’s skin. “Are you warm? Are you warm, dear one?”

“I’m-mm q-quite w-warm,” Vanya replied, though he could barely speak through the ice in his lungs. He used the spasm of one shiver to look at his alleged ‘godfather’ and found him to be a man made of icicles; thin, pale and fragile.

“Are you really?” Morozko asked, leaning closer still, running his fingers along the threadbare cloth that composed Vanya’s clothing. “Are you warm, my lovely?”

Despite the illusion of protection the fabric gave, the skin those fingers passed over felt like it had itself turned to ice, but Vanya forced his lips into a semblance of a smile, which he directed at Morozko. “I am plenty w-warm, dearest Morozko.”

“Warm, I do not know,” Morozko said, opening his cloak, “Delusional, certainly.” He spread his arms wide and cast the coat over Vanya, engulfing them both in fur and warmth.

In the sudden onslaught of heat and darkness it took Vanya a few moments to understand what had happened. The coat had formed a sort of tent or cave above them, full of smooth folds and pleats, the ripples of fur glistening in the flickering firelight.

There was no chimney in the ceiling overhead, but Vanya could not smell smoke; just the hint of musk and of man, as if he’d donned a borrowed coat. Vanya shifted himself to his elbows and found that there was neither entrance nor exit to the cave, that there was no fire to cast the flickering light upon the walls, and that a strangely handsome young man sat watching him.

“Who are you?” Vanya asked.

“Have you already forgotten?” the stranger asked. “You named me but moments ago.”

Which meant he must be; “Morozko?” Vanya asked, taking a closer look at the handsome man. He was built like a tree, strong, sturdy and immovable, his skin dark and his hair appearing almost green. “But how?”

Morozko smiled at him. “Under the cloak of winter awaits the spring; all that is lush and good, waiting warm and protected until it is time to emerge and grow.”

“Is that where I am?” Vanya asked, looking around with sudden understanding. “Under the cloak of winter?”

“Literally,” Morozko said, settling down next to him. “Now that you are in no danger of dying, why won’t you tell me what it is you are doing out here in my domain at night; not many survive such foolishness.”

Vanya sighed heavily and dropped back onto the furs. “I don’t know,” he said. “I should have left years ago, I suppose, but I did not wish to leave my father.” He laughed bitterly. “Not that Father is really there anymore, you know? He left us for vodka long ago.”

“Hmm,” Morozko hummed sympathetically, shifting until he lay right next to Vanya.

“I suppose I keep hoping my step-mother will improve,” Vanya continued. “She—what are you doing?”

“Well,” Morozko said, tugging gently at the ties on Vanya’s coat. “I’ve removed my coat, so I thought perhaps you would like to remove yours.”

“Oh.” There wasn’t much Vanya could say against that sort of reasoning, so he did his best to ignore it as Morozko helped him out of his coat. “My step-mother loves her lazy son more than me, but he can’t marry until after I have, and she doesn’t want to pay the bride-price for m-me.” He stumbled over the last word as Morozko’s fingers slipped beneath the hem of his shirt, rubbing along his bare skin; cool but not cold.

“Yes?” Morozko prompted. “She didn’t want to buy you a bride, and so…?”

“S-so she claimed that you were my g-godfather.”

“Oh, I think I’d remember a godson as handsome as you,” Morozko replied, spreading his fingers out like a spider across Vanya’s chest.

Vanya shivered in a way that had nothing to do with the cold. “I know,” Vanya replied, “but she insisted, and said I’m to ask you for the bride-price.”

“Ah, so it is gifts you wish of me,” Morozko said, rubbing the cool tips of his fingers along Vanya’s heating skin. “I believe the first thing I will give you is better clothes,” he continued, shifting so he lay half on top of Vanya. “These are not nearly well enough made to keep the frost out, hmm?” he snickered at that last, for Morozko meant ‘frost.’ “But I cannot give you new until I have divested you of the old.”

Morozko started pushing Vanya’s shirt up, but Vanya caught his hand. “What are you doing?”

Morozko lifted himself up on his elbow so he could look down into Vanya’s eyes. “I am giving you something,” he said. “Will you not accept my gift?” He placed a soft kiss beneath Vanya’s eye, followed it up with one beneath the other.

Vanya lay stupidly for a moment, but then shifted away, shaking his head to clear it. “What is it?” he asked.

“Life,” Morozko replied, following him forward slowly, to keep from startling him again. “I have taken yours, and now I return it.” He tugged his hand free from Vanya’s and placed a gentle knuckle under Vanya’s chin. “Don’t you want it?”

Vanya swallowed, feeling himself blush hot at the cool touch of Morozko’s finger. His eyes were locked onto Morozko’s deep blue ones, and he couldn’t look away, couldn’t answer, couldn’t think.

Hesitantly, as though expecting to be refused, Morozko leaned forward again, placing his lips gently against Vanya’s, pressing closer when Vanya made no objection. Vanya parted his lips when Morozko’s tongue flickered across them, and the kiss deepened.

Morozko removed his hand from Vanya’s chin, slid it down his chest, leaving trails of ice and fire in its wake until it settled low on his stomach. Vanya whimpered and wrapped his arms around Morozko’s shoulders, pulling him down, pushing him away and rolling on top of him. Vanya sat up, scrambling to get his shirt off, and tossing it to the side when he succeeded, Morozko’s shirt following moments later.

The sight of Morozko’s bare chest reminded Vanya of where he was, of what he was doing, and he sat there staring at it until Morozko’s hands appeared on his knees, slid their way up the inside of Vanya’s thighs, the circling of his thumbs wreaking havoc on Vanya’s thoughts.

“Oh, god,” Vanya moaned, folding forward at the first brush of fingers against his cock. He buried his face in Morozko’s neck, hyper-conscious of their naked chests brushing, of Morozko’s fingers tracing the shape of him through his pants, of the scent and feel of the cool skin beneath him.

Morozko’s tongue flicked out and traced the shell of Vanya’s ear, startling him into wrenching his head away, giving Morozko an affronted look until a carefully repositioned finger sent Vanya’s eyes rolling back into his head with pleasure. Morozko’s hands worked some magic, and the next thing Vanya knew he was lying naked on his back, Morozko leaning above him, wearing nothing more than a wicked smile.

Vanya bit his lip, feeling that hesitation return as his eyes traveled down Morozko’s chest and fixed upon his impressive cock, a pearly-white drop falling from it onto Vanya’s skin. Vanya arched his hips enough to bring their cocks together, wrapped his arms around Morozko’s shoulders and dragged them both back to the ground, biting his lips, biting Morozko’s lips, as he thrust upwards, reaching.

Morozko hummed, and slipped his hand between them, grasping both cocks, now squeezing, now loose. He changed his rhythm so his cock would drag up along Vanya’s as his hand traveled down, his flesh hot and cold, smooth and rough, pressing and rubbing, and driving Vanya mad in all things.

At last Vanya could contain himself no longer and with a strangled cry, his seed tumbled across Morozko’s hand and his own stomach. He thought he was done when the soft pulsing of Morozko’s cock next to his own inspired an extra spike of pleasure and sent Vanya tumbling into darkness.

When he awoke, Vanya was wrapped in furs and silk, the winter sun was streaming into his eyes and the wind was nipping his nose. Confused, he sat up and looked around. He was lying on a pile of think furs in the back of a sleigh, surrounded by gold, jewels, spices and all things rich and wonderful.

The only thing missing was Morozko himself.

“Morozko?” Vanya called, swimming out of the furs—the ones he wasn’t dressed in, that is—and visually searching for Old Man Winter. But the only other living thing from there to the horizon was the snow-white reindeer hitched to the sleigh. “Why did he leave?” Vanya asked it, but the reindeer just shook his antlers and stomped his foot impatiently, huffing out a cloud of steam in the freezing air.

Not knowing what else to do, Vanya moved to the driver’s seat of the fancy sleigh and guided it to his father’s house. When he arrived, Vanya alit from the sleigh and knocked upon the door.

“Who is—oh. Vanya,” his step-mother said when she saw who was there. “You could not even manage this simple task?”

“I’ve managed the task you set me quite well,” Vanya replied, gesturing to the sleigh with all of its gifts. “I believe that this will cover the bride-price quite nicely.” The look on her face was priceless, but Vanya would happily have traded both it and the treasures that bought it for an explanation from Morozko.

“Well, I suppose it will have to do,” the step-mother managed to say when she was mostly recovered. It wasn’t as unaffected as she’d hoped, but it was the best she could manage under the circumstances.

Vanya replied with his own insincere comments, and his place within the family was restored.

His step-mother was not satisfied, however. Seeing the presents that Old Man Winter had heaped upon her step-son, she resolved to get the same for her own son, and the next day she declared her intention of sending Feofan to meet with his ‘godfather.’

Feofan was none-too-pleased with this idea, for he knew that his brother had been sent out to die, and he had no wish to try his own luck against the whimsy of winter, but his mother would hear nothing said against the idea and had Vanya prepare a feast for Feofan’s offering.

At first Vanya was jealous that his brother would be allowed to go—he wished to see Morozko again himself—but he knew that if he offered to his step-mother that he go in Feofan’s place, then she would claim that he was trying to keep all the riches to himself. Instead, Vanya decided to take a subtler route, and late in the afternoon he managed to corner Feofan alone.

“Let me go instead, Brother,” Vanya said to him.

“What, and let you receive twice the riches?” Feofan asked, always as clever as his mother.

Vanya shook his head. “You may have all the riches, those from this past visit and those from the next visit, if I should return.”

“You would give up the fortune of a king to die in the snow?” Feofan scoffed.

“I have my reasons.”

“It won’t work, anyway,” Feofan said. “Mother won’t go along with it.”

“She need not know; if I dress in your coat, hat and scarf, then she will not be able to see enough of me to notice the switch. You need only keep out of sight until she returns; she won’t brave Morozko herself once the sun goes down.”

Feofan hemmed and hawed for awhile longer, but at last he agreed to Vanya’s plan, and once he was dressed in all his winter clothes, he slipped off and exchanged them with Vanya, who silently took his brother’s place in the sleigh.

“I don’t know what that horrid boy said or did to Morozko,” Vanya’s step-mother said as she drove them towards the same stand of trees where she’d left Vanya, “but I am sure that you’ll be able to repeat it—nay, that you’ll be able to better it, and return with twice the riches that lazy brat received.”

Vanya, disguised as Feofan, did not reply, instead watching silently as the snow-trimmed forest slid past. At last they reached the same tree, and the step-mother laid out a beautiful blanket, settled Vanya in the middle of it and spread the offering of food all around. “I’ve a bit of food for you as well,” she said, pulling out a bundle of cakes. “Make sure you don’t eat the offerings lest Morozko take offense. You’re trying to receive gifts from him, not death.”

Vanya nodded and muttered something appropriate, trusting in the thick wool of his scarf to muffle his voice.

Satisfied, the step-mother returned to her sleigh and drove away.

Feofan’s winter coat was much warmer than Vanya’s own, and he had only just begun to shiver when he heard the cracking and snapping that indicated the approach of Morozko. He watched silently as the old man grew closer, the white coat of winter stretching and freezing him so his hair was like a frozen waterfall and his fingers like the barren branches of the trees.

“Are you cold, pretty one?” Morozko asked when he reached the edge of the blanket, the icy edge of the wind blunted only slightly by the coat Vanya wore.

“I am quite warm, icy one,” Vanya replied, smiling behind his scarf. This close he could see the first hints of spring beneath winter’s disguise.

“You are? You are warm, handsome one?” Morozko asked, coming close enough to run a hand down Vanya’s arm, the touch feeling like ice even through the thick fur.

“I am quite hot, my dear frost,” Vanya replied.

“You are hot?” Morozko repeated, as if he had never heard the word before. “Is that true?”

“I am not as hot as you are beneath your coat,” Vanya said, flipping his head so the hood feel back, even as he reached up to pull down his scarf. His smile faltered when Morozko hesitated, his hand hovering between them.

“Why did you come back?” Morozko asked. “No one ever returns.”

“You gave me something worth more than all the gold in Russia,” Vanya said, reaching to clasp that hand in his own, “but then you took it away again, and I’ve returned to reclaim it.”

“I took nothing from you,” Morozko replied, though he made no move to pull his icy hand away from Vanya’s. “Well, nothing tangible or returnable,” he clarified, remembering.

“It was something that I gave to you before you gave it to me,” Vanya said, pulling Morozko closer, “which you then took away again, all unwitting.”

“Vanya,” Morozko said, resisting the pull. “What is it you speak of?”

“My life,” Vanya said, leaning forward to cover the distance Morozko would not. He pressed their lips together lightly, then pulled back when Morozko didn’t respond. “Don’t say I am a fool for this, Morozko.”

Morozko shook his head. “You are a fool for many things, I am sure, but not for this.” He stood up and offered his hand to Vanya. When Vanya was on his feet, Morozko wrapped his coat around them both and flew upon the wings of the wind to his castle beyond the farthest star, where they reside to this day in happiness and in plenty.

The Dandy And The Beast

by Zack (ザックス)

Sometimes, Gaillard drank too much. It wasn’t something he’d ever admit to anyone, and he rarely even acknowledged the fact himself. He was a man who took pride in his brawn over his brain, although that certainly didn’t mean he was a fool. But, on certain nights in the tavern, Gaillard simply drank a little bit too much — and when that happened, his tongue had a tendency to slip away from him.

The stranger came to the village right in the middle of the changing seasons, that dreary time where autumn is over — trees bare and dry leaves littering the ground — but winter hasn’t quite seen it fit to step in and grip the land in its cold grasp yet. It wasn’t unusual for travelers to pass through, and they always took the time to stop by the tavern, so Gaillard paid the old man little heed.

Then, he began to talk. Stumbling over the words, excitement and fear warring in his voice. He’d come from the north, and had been forced to cross the forest to get to the village. Half way through, he’d stumbled upon on a dilapidated castle.

By now, a crowd was starting to gather around the man. Gaillard didn’t care, instead lazily waving over the barkeep for another beer. As he lifted the mug to his lips, he heard it.

“And then I saw it! It was a man, but at the same time not a man, and — and he was huge, like… like that guy, but even bigger!”

Gaillard stiffened before swirling around fast enough that the beer spilled over the mug’s edge, froth coating his whitening knuckles. As he had suspected, the stranger was pointing straight at him. Him, the man that everyone knew to be the strongest. He was renowned for his strength and hunting skills, the envy of every man — and the out-of-reach desire for women everywhere. And now, a stranger sat in his tavern, claiming to have seen some bastard in the forest — his hunting grounds — that outclassed him.

Gaillard would not stand for it. And, judging by the way the other regular patrons of the tavern shrunk back, that came as no surprise to anyone. Only the stranger seemed to not understand the severity of the situation; sitting still and sending Gaillard a patronizing smile.

The beer mug shattered in his grip and the stranger’s smile wavered, only to disappear completely when Gaillard stood up and crossed the room in a couple of powerful strides. He gripped the scrawny man by the front of his shirt, hauling him up from the chair.

“What did you say?” he bit out.

“I’m sorry,” the man wheezed, panic clear as day in his eyes. “I didn’t realize you’d…”

“Quiet! Where did you see this alleged man?”

“H-he wasn’t a man; that’s what I was trying to get across! Please let me down, I’ll explain.”

Taking a deep breath, Gaillard released him — it wouldn’t be wise to beat him up before he had talked, after all.

“Thank you,” the man muttered, futilely trying to straighten his clothes.

“Talk,” Gaillard growled.

“Yes, right. As I was saying, what I saw was a man — yet at the same time wasn’t. It was a beast, a man-beast! Like half human and half… I don’t know how to describe it. I admit to running away shortly after spotting it, so I didn’t get a very good look.”

Now, had Gaillard not been borderline drunk, he would’ve laughed heartily. The man was clearly insane, and not worthy of his time — much less his anger. But, as it were, he just nodded thoughtfully. Eyes narrowing, he gripped the stranger again. “Where did you see this creature?”

A low rumble rose in the tavern, but one look from Gaillard silenced them all.

“M-maybe a day’s march from here, or so. Close by the gorge.”

Gaillard knew where he meant. He’d hunted all over the forest, and that place was no exception. It made sense that he’d never seen the castle though, because he’d only been there once. A roebuck had gotten away from him there, escaping his arrows by leaping off the cliff. He’d lost a good trophy, not to mention a fine piece of meat, and the frustration and fury he’d felt at that had made him vow to not frequent the area anymore.

“I will find this man-beast,” Gaillard loudly announced, “and when I find it, I’ll make it very obvious which one of us is the strongest. Its head will soon be mounted on my wall, I swear it!”

The roar of encouraging voices knew no bounds.

—-

The birds were too loud. The dry leaves under his horse’s hooves, crisp and crinkling, were too annoying. The winter sun was too sharp. All these things combined with his own foolishness made Gaillard fume.

The beer had flowed like a river after his declaration, a fresh and full mug offered to him wherever he turned — people got generous when promised even a glimpse of adventure; a break from their boring lives as peasants, that only a man like Gaillard could give.

He’d woken up at noon with a hangover — the sign of a weak man — and the creeping feeling that he had done something utterly stupid. It came back to him when he found himself unable to down the usual raw eggs he ate every morning, thus completing the wretched situation.

Gaillard would rather die than take back his word, however, so he set out for the gorge despite knowing that it was bound to be a pointless journey. A beast, hah! He’d laugh out loud if it weren’t for his aching head. With his luck there probably wouldn’t even be a castle there. Although he couldn’t help but hope that the traveler had told the truth, because a strong opponent would be a nice outlet for the anger that clouded his mind — and, if the beast did exist, he wouldn’t need to return home empty-handed.

A sudden whirring sound alerted him to the presence of a grouse, his stallion having stepped too close to the tall grass where it had lain hidden. He made a blind grab for his musket, eyes never leaving the bird’s swift ascent. The bay, used to the habits of his master, barely twitched his ears when the shot rang out.

Smirking, Gaillard vaulted off the horse and went to pick up the dead grouse. He tied it to the saddle horn, and mounted his horse again — feeling a lot better.

—-

He reached the gorge by nightfall. The day’s march that that the traveler had described hadn’t factored in a horse — nor Gaillard’s expertise; if there was a shortcut in the forest that he didn’t know about, then it was simply not worth knowing.

It was only a matter of thoroughly searching through the area, then. He gave the stallion loose reins, letting him walk along the edge while he himself focused on their surroundings. The forest was thick in this area, and apparently no one had dwelled long or often enough to create any trails. After a while he had to dismount in order to clear their path, and was so relishing in the feeling of working up a decent sweat that he didn’t see the castle until he almost stumbled over it.

All things considered, it wasn’t much of a castle. Dilapidated and overgrown, and rather small to begin with. Still, it could’ve be a grand sight, had only someone kept it in shape. It was nicely secluded though, and — if it was as abandoned as it looked — could be taken advantage of in the coming season. He enjoyed sleeping under the open sky, and frequently did so during his hunting trips, but the snow and ice of winter often prevented such things. He could handle it, of course, but a chance to stay inside overnight would surely be appreciated by his horse.

“Beast or no beast,” he said, “looks like we’ve gotten something good out of this after all. Stay here while I take a look inside.” He gave the bay an encouraging shove on the rump, sending him to graze in what appeared to have once been the garden.

He quickly walked up the stairs, almost expecting the stone steps to crumble under his feet. But they stayed put, and he soon stood in front of the large door. The knocker was cold as ice when he gripped it, and the sound seemed to reverberate throughout the entire courtyard. He knocked once more, and then opened the door on his own. It creaked the entire way, rusty hinges protesting at the unusual exercise.

The inside of the castle was dark, dusty, and desolate. But the lack of cobwebs and stale air made him think twice, unsheathing his poignard before he ventured any further.

He quickly passed through the dark hall, and came to a large room. It was lavishly furnished, and some light seeped through the stained glass windows. There were footprints on the dusty floor, illuminated by the colored sunlight. Footprints that did not belong to a normal man. Gaillard felt his heart begin to race; the beginning rush of an impending hunt coursing through his veins.

There were two different prints, which meant the beast walked upright. Judging from the outline, it was a bear-like creature — though it was impossible to say for sure; no matter how good a tracker a man might be, reading from a dirty floor was far from ideal.

He briefly debated going back out to get his musket, but decided against it. This had initially been about proving himself, and using a weapon like that would defeat the whole purpose. Mind set, he moved deeper into the castle. Up a winding stairway, and through several rooms (the castle even had a library, something that greatly amused Gaillard — books were nonsense to begin with, and in the paws of a beast they were doubly useless). Upon finally reaching the last door in the corridor, he found it impossible to open. The handle seemed to be jammed, and so he put his shoulder to it. The door flew open with a loud bang, and Gaillard almost tripped over the broken remains of a chair. Cursing loudly, he looked up only to meet the red eyes of the beast.

It stood on the opposite side of the room, still as a statue. Brandishing his poignard, Gaillard took a step forward. As soon as he moved, so did the beast. It raised a hand to its forehead, palm facing out, and then toppled to the ground.

Gaillard froze. He stared at the beast for a good minute, mind not comprehending what had just transpired. Had the beast swooned? Swooned?! If that was the case, then it was only natural to assume that it had also tried to barricade the door with that puny chair he had just smashed.

Walking closer, Gaillard carefully studied the beast. It was indeed very large, but not more so than him. …Well, maybe just by a little. It had a relatively human build, but with a lot of animalistic traits; large feet covered in fur, bushy tail, clawed hands (that looked like they could do a lot of damage — so why had it not even tried to fight back?), and a pair of ears that looked like they belonged to a wolf. Its face was partly hairless, but had stripes of fur — like a really odd beard — that extended down its jaw and throat, disappearing under the shirt. And that, that was almost the strangest sight of all; to see such a creature wearing clothes. And not just any clothes either — though they were worn and fit badly, it was obvious that they were made of opulent fabrics.

Slowly extending his booted foot, Gaillard toed the beast’s ribs. It squeezed its eyes even tighter shut, and he heaved an exasperated sigh before giving it a hard kick. Its eyes flew open, and the beast scrabbled at the floor until it finally got itself into a sitting position, back defensively against the wall.

“What are you?” Gaillard snapped. “Quit cowering, you damned mongrel.”

That got a reaction. “I’ll have you know that I am a pure-blooded marquis,” the beast hissed — voice raspy, as if not having been used for a long time.

Gaillard raised an eyebrow. “It talks.”

“And I am most certainly not an ‘it’!” The near-yell made the beast lapse into a coughing fit, eyes watering.

“Maybe not… You’re certainly not what I had expected, that’s for sure.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“I came here to kill a man-beast. You qualify for the beast part, but a man? Hardly.”

The beast slowly stood up, baring a couple of impressive-looking fangs. Gaillard gave him an eager sneer in return, raising the poignard in anticipation. Instantly, the beast’s demeanor changed back — but the glimpse had been enough to rouse Gaillard’s interest.

“Why would you want to kill me?”

“Why not? I’m a hunter,” Gaillard replied.

“You don’t even know me,” the beast mumbled, dragging a large hand through his mane.

“Unfortunately, that’s not true. I’ve seen enough to know what a pathetic creature you are, and that makes me uninterested in killing you.”

“Is that so,” he chuckled bitterly. “Showing pity for the beast, are you?”

“No,” Gaillard said bluntly, sheathing his poignard before continuing. “I’d simply be ashamed to have your head on my wall. Others might’ve admired me for it, but I would have known the truth.”

The beast just stared at him for a couple of seconds, an incredulous look on his face. “You’re really something else,” he finally laughed.

Gaillard chose to take that as a compliment, as the laughter had been rather good-naturedly.

“Well then,” the beast continued, “I suppose I am pleased to make your acquaintance. My name is Florian de Sernay.”

Gaillard gave a noncommittal grunt, disliking the stilted introduction. “I’m Gaillard,” he said simply.

“Ah, yes, I…” the beast — Florian — made an airy wave with his hand, as if trying to pluck words from the air. “I imagine the downstairs salon would be slightly more ideal for consorting.”

“I don’t think we have anything more to talk about,” Gaillard clipped. That was a lie, of course, as he had plenty of things he wanted to ask the strange creature. But he’d rather stay curious than have to deal with aristocracy.

“No!” The sudden exclamation made Gaillard raise an eyebrow, and Florian lowered his eyes before continuing, in a much meeker voice. “I mean… that is to say, I — it’s late, and you must’ve come from far away. Would you do me the honor of spending the night?”

Gaillard hesitated, and Florian hurried to encourage him. “You may have your pick of the guest rooms, and will of course be welcome to frequent any of the recreational areas.”

“Recreational areas? You make it sound like you have a bordel stashed away somewhere,” Gaillard snickered.

“Good God, no!” Florian actually blushed, making Gaillard burst into laughter. “I meant the library, or the w-wine cellar,” he clarified.

“I couldn’t care less about books,” Gaillard said, still chuckling. “But I wouldn’t mind taking a look at the latter. So yes, I’ll stay the night.”

“Really?!” Florian’s eyes lit up, sparkling in a manner that rivaled the jewel brooch pinned on his chest. It would’ve him look like an overeager child, had it not been for the impressive set of fangs that his wide smile revealed. “Wonderful! I’m so glad, you’re…” he faltered, clearing his throat before continuing. “Ah, pardon me. I did not intend to become overly familiar.”

Gaillard grit his teeth. “Look,” he slowly said, “I won’t be staying if you keep that up. Marquis or not — I wouldn’t give a damn if you were so a king, actually — I can’t stand people putting on an act. So speak your mind and act normal, or I’m leaving.”

Florian had progressively paled during Gaillard’s impromptu speech, and now seemed to be struggling for words. Gaillard cut him off before he could even begin, “Just nod if you understand me.”

He nodded.

“Good. Now then, since you’re so intent on having me as your guest; some food would be nice.” Hesitating briefly, Gaillard then added, “I don’t like drinking on an empty stomach.” That was completely untrue, but the repercussions of his last binge were still making themselves all too clear.

Gaillard hadn’t thought it possible, but Florian paled further. “I’d love to,” he finally said, “but I’m afraid I can’t offer very much. Getting supplies has proven… difficult.”

“Don’t you hunt?” Gaillard asked, incredulous.

“With what?” Florian snapped, a look of hatred surfacing in his eyes. “Those bastards took everything they could get their hands on, including weapons.”

“Wait, who did?”

Florian sighed. “The servants who used to work here. When I… changed, they more or less fled. But not fast enough to pass up a chance to steal, that is.”

“Ho, so you weren’t always like this. When did it happen?”

Florian picked up a golden candlestick, distractedly turning it over in his hands before putting it back on the bureau. “I’m not sure,” he finally said. “I’ve kind of lost track of time.”

Not one for maudlin stories, Gaillard decided to sidestep the issue for the moment. “Back to the subject of supper — I shot a grouse on the way here. It’s not much, especially not for two people, but it’s better than nothing.”

Florian’s head snapped up. “Actual meat? I haven’t had that in ages!” Gaillard half expected him to begin drooling, but no. Instead a sheepish look flitted over his features, and it almost seemed as if he’d apologize again. But, no doubt recalling Gaillard’s rebuke, he thought better of it and kept silent.

Gaillard resisted the urge of saying ‘good boy’ and petting Florian’s head. “I’ll go and get the grouse then, I left it with my horse. And speaking of that, is there a stable here?”

“Yes, of course. I haven’t used it at all though, so it’s probably really run-down.”

“That’s fine. Come with me then, you can lead my horse to the stable while I reap some grass.”

He’d thought Florian would protest, but the odd marquis just nodded. He followed Gaillard closely, a dichotomy of towering bulk and meek presence.

“So,” Gaillard said, mostly to break the silence, “I take it you live here alone?”

“Yes. There used to be servants here though, like I said.”

“No family?”

“Ah, no… My father passed away when I was a mere child, and my mother died a couple of years before everything changed.” Florian chuckled, but even Gaillard could hear that it was devoid of any real mirth. “Funny,” he continued, “I never thought I’d be grateful for her death — yet I’m glad she didn’t have to see this.”

They had reached the door leading outside, but Gaillard paused before opening it. “Aren’t you selling her short? I don’t presume to know what happened, but you clearly didn’t turn into some snarling monster — even now you act like a well-mannered scion.”

Florian raised his head, a look of surprise on his face.

Gaillard shrugged. “Eh, forget it. Let’s go get my horse.”

A fang bit into Florian’s bottom lip as he slowly shook his head. “Please don’t misunderstand — I truly appreciate your words just now, but… I think my appearance would scare your horse, at the very least.”

“No steed of mine knows fear,” Gaillard scoffed. “Now, come on!” He took hold of Florian’s arm — taking note of the muscle he felt beneath the clothes — and shoved him out the door.

Florian stumbled down the steps. Gaillard followed, eyes focused on his horse. He whistled, and the bay immediately trotted over to stand in front of them.

Slowly, very slowly, Florian reached out to place his hand on the animal’s neck. When the bay didn’t immediately bolt, Florian gave him a couple of awkward pats. When still not presented with an adverse reaction he grew bolder, letting his hand roam over to the muzzle. He was rewarded with a snort and a friendly nip of the is-there-possibly-an-apple-in-your-hand sort.

Florian turned to Gaillard, face-splitting grin showing off his teeth — it was probably a good thing he’d turned away from the bay before revealing those. “Your horse isn’t scared of me at all!”

“You’re really not that scary.”

“Yeah?” Florian’s smile softened as he tilted his head to the side. “Or maybe you — and, by association, your horse — are special. Seeing something that no one else could, or bothered to even try seeing-”

“Oh please,” Gaillard cut him off, rolling his eyes. “Aside from becoming hairy, did you also get turned into a woman?”

He’d expected the marquis to shrink back, perhaps even offer an apology, but to his surprise he saw Florian’s eyes narrow. “I was trying to thank you, you brute!” he snapped.

Amused — and pleased with the reaction — Gaillard went to reap grass.

—-

Dinner far exceeded Gaillard’s expectations. His side of it — the rouse coupled with the bread he’d put in his saddlebag that morning — was nothing special, but Florian really set out vow his guest with what he could offer. Wine aged to perfection, refreshing cider, cognac… Gaillard soon lost count, and utterly forgot he’d begun the day with a determination not to get drunk again anytime soon.

He was regaling Florian with an adventurous tale of his exploits, when the other man let out an undignified giggle — he’d drunk nowhere near as much as Gaillard, but what he had consumed was enough.

“What’s so funny?” Gaillard sniffed.

“This is the third time I hear this story.”

“Like hell it is-”

“You single-handedly killed the bear, dragged it back to the village, and bedded three women. Right?”

Gaillard grunted. “Did I tell you they were sisters?”

“Mhm. Each one more beautiful and enticing than the last, and so forth. I remember.”

Feeling somewhat vindictive, Gaillard decided to ask a question he already knew the answer to. “Then, what about you? When was the last time you knew a woman?”

Florian stiffened. “That’s hardly something a gentleman would inquire about.”

“In case you haven’t noticed,” Gaillard guffawed, “I’m not a gentleman.”

Florian muttered something under his breath, and started to get up from the couch. Gaillard’s hand shot out, dragging him back down. Overbalanced, he more or less landed in Gaillard’s lap — which only served to make him struggle harder.

“Hold still,” Gaillard said, despite enjoying the skirmish. “I’m not trying to hurt you.”

“No, you don’t understand!” Florian’s voice was muffled due to his face being pressed into Gaillard’s thigh, but the despair in it was evident nonetheless.

“Huh?” He eased up on his hold, but Florian didn’t move.

“…It has been a long time.”

Still not getting it, Gaillard found himself distracted by Florian’s ears. They had folded back against his head, pointing down in a dejected manner. Unable to resist, he reached out to stroke them. The fur was surprisingly soft, and the skin beneath gave off a pleasant warmth.

A guttural moan broke through his fascinated exploration, stilling his hand. Understanding finally dawned as Florian’s head lifted, revealing eyes glazed with lust.

It wasn’t as if Gaillard had no experience with men. There’d been times around the campfire, far away from any female companionship, where he’d been given release by a fellow hunter’s hand — and had given it in turn. But none of them had ever looked at him like Florian was. Hell, most women didn’t even look at him that way.

Acting on instinct he took hold of Florian, and — having to use quite a bit of strength — pulled him up so that he was sitting with his back against Gaillard’s chest.

For a second it seemed like Florian would fight it, but when Gaillard began untying the drawstrings of his breeches he relaxed, tilting his head back to rest on Gaillard’s shoulder.

It was with no small measure of curiosity that Gaillard looked at Florian’s cock. He wasn’t sure whether to be relieved or somewhat disappointed as to its appearance; aside from being larger than most men’s and having furred balls, it was perfectly normal.

By now Florian was panting. He raised his hips, silently begging. Smirking, Gaillard granted his request.

It quickly became evident that Florian hadn’t exaggerated when saying it had been a long time. A mere couple of pumps up and down his shaft, and then he was coming all over Gaillard’s hand.

As he came, he twisted his head to the side and growled into Gaillard’s neck. The feel of the sharp teeth, a predator’s in every way, pressed so close to such a vulnerable spot made Gaillard’s heart speed up — not to mention the faint response that stirred in his groin.

The fangs sunk into his skin for a brief moment, before withdrawing. A coarse tongue took their place, slowly licking his neck as if to apologize for drawing blood.

The faint response in his groin wasn’t all that faint, anymore.

Having ceased licking and grown quite still, Florian was now emitting another sound. Gaillard struggled to focus on it; unable at first to understand its nature. The answer turned out to be very simple (and very disappointing) — Florian was snoring.

Gaillard flung him aside with a snarl, anger not appeased in the slightest even when Florian landed on the floor with a thud.

A disgusting cooling sensation made him look down at his hand. Florian’s semen still coated it. He felt a slow grin grow on his face as an idea took root.

Reaching down, he meticulously wiped his hand on Florian’s fine shirt. Revenge thus complete, he lay back on the couch and dropped off to sleep himself.

—-

For the second day in a row, Gaillard woke up with a hangover and the feeling that he’d done something foolish. This time, however, the memory came to mind easily — and that made it all the worse.

Florian was nowhere to be seen. Which wasn’t all that surprising, really. Gaillard got up and stretched, idly looking around. There was nothing more for him here, now was there? Mind made up, he left the castle without a backward glance.

His horse was happy to see him, prancing eagerly as he mounted. They made good ground, but Gaillard found himself distracted by the abundant wildlife. Since the area wasn’t frequented by any hunters — least of all Florian — the animals were foolhardy. Even a boy still wet behind the ears would be able to lay down prey here. Not to mention it was the perfect place for trapping.

Before he knew it he’d turned the bay and urged him into a quick canter.

Florian sat on the castle steps when they burst through the underbrush. Gaillard had his hands full with controlling the stallion; angry at being reined in when he wanted nothing more than to stretch out into a full gallop. Still, Florian’s surprise was impossible to miss. He sat frozen on the steps, with the berries he’d apparently collected for breakfast rolling from his lap.

Horse under control, Gaillard dismounted and began rifling through the saddlebags. He hadn’t brought the tools needed for proper traps, but making a couple of simple snares wouldn’t be a problem.

“G-Gaillard?”

Looking up, he met Florian’s gaze. He’d gotten to his feet, and now stood red-faced and fidgeting. It was clear that he wasn’t sure how to act or what to say.

“Stop acting like a blushing virgin and get over here,” Gaillard snapped.

Florian started and grew pale. He finally lumbered forward, obeying the command with a lowered head. “Please allow me to apologize,” he hurriedly said as he reached Gaillard’s side. “My behavior last night was despicable and I-”

“Forget it,” Gaillard cut in, waving off the apology. “Just be sure to actually return the favor next time, and it’s fine.”

Florian stood still, head still bowed and obscured by his mane. “You mean…?” he whispered, voice breaking.

“What?” Gaillard said, trying to push down the annoyance he felt.

Finally, Florian lifted his head and revealed a pair of suspiciously wet eyes. They glistened in the sunlight, at odds with the overjoyed smile on his face.

“Now, this is very simple,” Gaillard slowly enunciated. “If you cry, I’m gone.”

Florian nodded vigorously, fishing out an ornate lace handkerchief to dab at his eyes. He even raised his pinky as he did so, which made Gaillard see red.

“Just… stop. Pay attention because I returned to show you the basics of trapping. Next time I come I’ll bring better equipment, but I still expect to be presented with at least one snared hare. Understood?”

Florian showed off every single fang in his mouth with his beaming grin. What a complete waste; they could’ve had a glorious battle, if only his personality had matched his looks.

—-

Gaillard smirked as the sword skittered across the ballroom floor. He’d actually had to work for it this time, even breaking into a sweat before managing to disarm his opponent. And Florian looked suitably frustrated at having lost.

“It was a good idea to train in here,” Gaillard said.

“It’s not like it’s ever going to be properly used again. So we might as well, eh?” Florian muttered as he stalked off to pick up his sword.

“Mm. I do hope the snowing lets up soon, though. Going back will be a hassle otherwise.”

The snow would be a hindrance to his horse, no matter how used he was to going back and forth. And the bay certainly was used to it, what with having traveled the distance a couple of times per week for the past month. He had taken to Florian; always eager to pet and offer treats, spoiling the animal in a way Gaillard never would.

Gaillard had rather taken to Florian as well — not that he’d ever admit that out loud, naturally.

He’d never been given the chance to teach before, so taking Florian on as his student had been a new experience. He’d expected it to be a chore, but it soon proved otherwise. It was fun to spar with the marquis, so proper and collected in his fencing before he grew frustrated; each strike becoming wilder and having more force behind it than the previous. Oh yes, it was fun to whittle away at the dandy and reveal the man underneath.

Florian had even grown bolder when it came to the other aspect of their relationship. Last time he’d even been the one to initiate the intimate contact. It was a situation of mutual benefit, equal in every way — yet Gaillard wanted to take things further. So far, the sex between them had only consisted of using their hands. It was time to change that.

Gaillard slowly advanced on Florian, who stood with his back turned. Leaning in, he made sure to whisper directly into Florian’s ear. “Let’s go to bed.”

The ear had twitched at his words, and to drive his point home he nipped it — getting a mouth full of fur for his efforts, but some sacrifices had to be made. He ran his hand down Florian’s spine, grabbing hold of his tail and yanking it slightly.

The reaction to having both his sensitive spots manhandled was immediate; Florian spun around, slamming Gaillard up against the wall with a growl of primitive lust.

“Not here,” Gaillard reminded as he swatted away the hand that’d been headed for his breeches.

“Why the hell not? I want it now,” Florian grumbled, hips jutting forward to press his hard cock into Gaillard’s groin.

Gaillard had to bite a back an answering moan at that. Indeed, there was no doubt that Florian was ready to take things to the next level. “Not here,” he grit out, “because I plan on fucking you.”

Florian grew very still. Even the humping stopped, and that was not a good sign. “What?” he said, voice toneless.

“Fuck you,” Gaillard repeated. For good measure he put his hand on Florian’s ass, making sure his words were as unambiguous as possible.

Florian flailed back. “No, I… I can’t.”

“What did you say?”

“Not if I’m the one in the woman’s role!”

Gaillard snorted at the unvoiced suggestion. “Well, I sure as hell won’t be.”

“I… I outrank you!”

“Yeah, well, I’m more of a man than you are,” Gaillard said, voice dangerously low.

Florian bared his teeth in a snarl. “How dare you?! You… you boorish beast!”

Gaillard had to laugh at that. Being called a beast by someone who truly was a beast — it was just too much. Despite being the only thing that held him back from starting a physical fight, the laughter held no humor.

What the hell was he doing, anyway? If he wanted to fuck a man, he could find someone a whole lot more attractive than the blue-blooded mutt he’d wasted so much time and energy on. If Florian was under a spell, perhaps he’d somehow been affected as well — the way he’d acted lately was nothing like him.

Snow be damned, he’d lead his horse if he had to. He stalked out of the castle after giving Florian one last glare.

—-

Gaillard took a deep breath of the ice-cold air, feeling it burn its way down his throat. He was glad he’d accepted the offer of going out on a group hunt. He normally turned such things down — hunting with a bunch of boisterous men (who just wanted an excuse to get away from their wives) didn’t tend to yield game. But he’d spent the last couple of weeks cooped up inside, feeling frustrated and restless but without having the slightest urge to hunt or do much of anything.

Clearly, Florian’s spell had rubbed off on him a lot worse than he’d initially thought.

His horse had also been glad to get out, but quickly made it clear that the group hunt wasn’t particularly interesting. The bay kept trying to grab the bit and pull towards the familiar path to the castle. Having his steed turn traitor was really the last thing Gaillard needed.

“Hey, get ready!”

Gaillard snapped to attention. They’d divided up into two groups; half of the men had taken off to round up prey and drive it towards the rest. Judging by the shout it was apparently time to make the kill.

He raised his bow and focused, ready for whatever creature would have the misfortune of running out in front of him.

A wolf came crashing out into the clearing, freezing for one fatal moment when finding itself face-to-face with a rider. Its ears flattened against its head, baring fangs in a futile snarl that was more about pride than self-preservation.


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