There once was a girl with a red cloak who was nearly savaged by a forest wolf. She had the good fortune to be saved by a holy woodsman.
That's how the story goes, at any rate. Like most stories, they seem to have missed out on the majority of the details... pretty much all of them, in fact, but that's all right.
If you know where to look, you can find them all the same.
His name was Chang Wufei, and there was a cloak all right -- white trimmed in dark red, because what kind of imbecile would wander the winter forest draped in pure crimson? Only a fool tempted fate that way, and Chang Wufei was no such idiot. Sacrifice, perhaps; but he wasn't stupid.
It was the year of the Rabbit. His village was remote, high in the mountain ranges near Lanzhou. The nearest village beyond them was that of the Joketsuzoku, warrior women respected even by Wufei's people. They had a concord between them, and none of Wufei's people would dare break it for any reason. Women were more highly valued among the Joketsuzoku than men by far, and the Xienliung clan understood and accepted the fact in order that the two clans together might be more prosperous. That belief was what led to the white cloak, and Wufei's trip into the forest.
Every thirteen years, stones were drawn among the males of his village who were of a certain age, and every thirteen years one of them went into the forest wearing a red-trimmed white cloak. None returned. Status made no difference in the lottery; only luck, and when Wufei pulled loose the small white stone with its red character, there had been cries of dismay. As eldest son of the current clan leader, he was promised in marriage to Meiran of the Joketsuzoku.
A sharp glance from the dark eyes of Chang Wynn brought all sound into silence. No one spoke again; they only drifted away with backwards glances, leaving Wufei alone in the snowy village center with his father.
They were quiet together there for some time before his father spoke to him. "So."
"So," Wufei replied. His hand was clenched tight around the stone. "I'll go." There had never been any question of that, not really. "Do you think they'll declare war?"
Wynn shook his head. "That is unknowable, my son."
Wufei slowly opened his hand and looked at the thing lying there. The symbol felt burned into his palm even though there was no way for it to have done so. "We're only meeting the agreement. No women have been sent into the forest since it was made."
"And yet another promise has been made." The shush of falling snow began, and his father reached for his arm. "Come to the house, and I'll tell your mother."
His mother. His mother would be angry, perhaps. Resigned was most likely. They would have to make another agreement, another deal in his place, and they would. Meiran was in no way attached to him, no more than he was attached to her. They were symbolic, and someone else would become the representative token when he was gone.
Gone. As if it were only that, as if he would simply walk away instead of walking into the forest and into the den of the creature itself. The idea was terrifying, and yet he held the wolf stone in his palm, and his skin, his fingers, felt as though they were turning to rock around it.
There were no substitutions for drawing the wolf stone, but it kept the wolf away. He had the comfort of knowing that his family would be safe, that his village would still stand, that there would still be other young men to marry Meiran after he was dead. Once every thirteen years wasn't so often.
If only he could convince his backbone of that, he'd be just fine.
His mother hadn't taken the news well. It was no surprise; she was, after all, his mother, even if she had been of the Joketsuzoku and not Xienliung. The Joketsuzoku had never truly understood the wolf sacrifice, only been adamant that no more girls go into the forest after the last one, some centuries past.
It had become very personal to the women who married into the Xienliung clan. Wufei felt sorry for them, almost, although not quite as sorry as he felt for himself. The night of the wolf moon was coming, and that awareness danced along every nerve he possessed until he could barely think of anything else. The fact that everyone he knew avoided him, didn't want to look at him, only made things worse.
It should have gone the other way. it might have made it easier for him if they'd lavished him with attention, treated him well for his last weeks. It didn't matter. He would be dead and they would miss him all the more for it. So, they protected themselves, and he understood it. It didn't make it any easier.
His mother cried all the time now, and his father was silent. The entire village seemed swathed with tension and ill at ease, so for the most part he spent his time outside of it, gathering wood from the edges of the forest and peering into the dark as if it would tell him something that he desperately needed to know.
It never did.
Not once, no matter how long he stayed and stared, trying to glare it down as if that would help quell the fear in him somehow.
Neither did it grab him while he was out there. It didn't know he was the one, it didn't feel the wolf stone that Wufei kept in his pocket, still carried, to be taken from him the night of the full moon. He was just another villager, and it wasn't the time for eating.
The days passed, cold and crisp and clear. One by one, the weeks until the wolf moon fell prey to time until it was there, on the cusp, and he only had one day left.
That was when his mother gave him the cloak.
It was so the creature would see him. The cloak was part of the agreement, a winter hunting cloak trimmed with red. It was a vanity no one else would use, particularly since the agreement so very long ago. She wrapped him up in it, and kissed his forehead. That was enough to make him shake, to take away all of the strength he'd tried so hard to hold onto, and for a very long moment, he clasped her as if nothing could possibly tear them apart. Somehow, he managed to pull away and offer her a grimace that hopefully resembled a smile. Maybe it wasn't the best of them, but it was all he had. When his father reached out for him, it was only to grasp his forearm, as if he knew that Wufei was scant steps from being unmanned entirely.
He was. He wanted more, but that was the best he could do and not scream and howl and make a fool of himself, his family, their village. He was going to go with honor and strength, so he took a deep breath, and then another, and straightened up, nodding to his father.
Wufei couldn't bring himself to speak, and he kept his face as blank as possible as he reached up and tugged the hood over his head before turning to trudge his way onto the snow-dusted path leading to the Place of Sacrifice.
The villagers didn't go there; not ever, not even during the time in between the wolf moon of every thirteenth year, and so Wufei wondered how it stayed clear. He paused at the forest's edge, looking into the gloom for a long moment as he gathered the things he'd left there waiting.
He had a sword for himself, and a basket of things he'd need. Most of the young men went out without a defense, without a plan. They just went with their cloak and they were never seen from again. The woods all by themselves could have taken care of that. It was altogether possible that they had simply fallen by the wayside to injury or the cold.
The fact that he didn't actually believe that made it a little harder to continue forward, but he had to go. He had to keep going, and so he steeled himself. Wufei forced each step down the brightly lit path, toes cold and curling in his boots. Even the dark of the forest didn't dare breach the wolf path, and so he kept one hand on the hilt of his sword, and the other on his basket.
He wondered just what was on the other end and where it was taking him. No one talked about it, discussed what there was to expect about the Wolf, about the forest's darkest dark. No one said a word; only pulled the stones from the bag, and then sent someone out into the night. Perhaps there was some strange ritual he didn't know; perhaps the one sent into the forest was hunted, or....
The shuff of sound behind him made him turn sharply, basket tumbling to the rocky trail as he pulled loose his saber in a hiss of sound. "Who's there?" Wufei was thankful for small favors; his voice sounded sharp and clear, unafraid.
Nothing. Nothing answered, nothing responded, but he was sure he wasn't hearing things. He was sure it wasn't him jumping at ghosts. He was better than that, but now he wondered -- if it was out there, was it still behind him?
There was naught for it. He'd have to continue down the path and hope for the best.
Carefully, he reached down and slipped his arm through the handle of the basket, keeping a tight grip upon his sword. If the wolf attacked him from behind, well. There was no helping it. He was obligated to take the wolf path, whatever that came to, and so he began walking again, nerves jangling in his skin.
He was ready for whatever it was, whatever was going to come, but when he saw the clearing ahead where the path ended, he couldn't see anything waiting for him. There was no horrifying pile of bones, either, which was some small relief. He'd halfway expected to see abominations unknown to man, or at least to his village since the peace had been made. That faint alleviation of worry led his steps to quicken until he was almost running as he hurried towards the moonlight-drenched area.
Nothing. There was nothing. It wasn't relief but worry that struck him. Had something gone wrong? Had he violated the peace somehow? He had wanted the wolf there, easy prey, ready for at least a fair fight. He didn't want to die without putting up something of a struggle first.
He paused, looking across the way, turning his head in search of... he didn't know. Something. Anything that would make sense, and yet nothing did. The silence was broken by the soft wet sound of snow beginning to fall and the moment seemed to stretch forever. He heard a quiet 'tcht' noise, coming from behind him on the path. It made him pivot and startle to see a man blocking the way wearing a white furred hunting cloak edged in deep crimson with eyes like ice.
That wasn't what he had expected. Perhaps he'd been expecting many things, or perhaps nothing at all. Wufei wasn't exactly certain, but this... this wasn't it. His fist tightened around the hilt of his sword and he dropped his basket again as he searched for his voice. When he finally found it, he found himself uncertain as to what to say. "Who are you?" If his voice cracked a bit, well.
"I think you know who I am." He was smiling, and it was a smile that reached his eyes, oddly gentle. He took a step towards Wufei. "You brought a sword. It's been many years since someone tried to fight me."
Many years. Wufei swallowed, and raised his hand to drop the hood from his head, still standing ready. "You seem very certain of yourself."
"I am." He tossed the cloak back on one side, and Wufei felt surprise to see the sword at the man's hip. It wasn't something that would have come from Wufei's village, the shape was too strange. Hardly functional, he was sure.
"And what do you do, then? With others, the ones who come. It can't have been you all these years." Not for more than the last two times; Wufei had been too young to draw from the pouch of stones, but he remembered Marron, pretty and pale and also trying to be brave.
"It can." He laughed, still smiling. "I seek companionship. If you come with me, you shall live a long, healthy life. If you do not wish to come with me, then you will die here."
Too good to be true. Anything that sounded that way certainly was. "And did you make that offer to Marron? I notice that you have no companion with you."
"Was that his name? He did not accept my... gracious offer." The man's mouth curled a little more, and oh, there were more teeth than Wufei had expected.
"Your teeth..." Wufei shivered. "You...." Marron. Had he eaten him? "I won't give in easily."
"I'm sure you won't. You brought a sword, after all. That takes some courage, foolish bravery or stupidity." He took one step closer, and Wufei resisted the urge to take one step back.
Stupid, maybe, but it was all he had; he was marked for death by the wolf stone in his pocket, and he might as well die a fool so long as he went down fighting. "So draw your own. I don't want to be all night in dying."
"What if I make you a deal?" He pulled his own sword, holding it out at an angle in front of him. It made him look desperately dangerous. Wufei knew in that moment that no deals with him could end well.
It didn't stop him from asking. "What kind of deal?"
"If you win, you take off into the forest. Do not return home. But you live. If I win, I take you as my companion." Either way, it sounded as if he wasn't going to be eaten just for having the tenacity to bring a sword.
Wufei was fairly certain that not taking the deal or trying to run before winning would get him eaten. With one hand, he reached up and released the clasp of his cloak, dropping it to the ground atop his basket. "All right."
He watched the man shift, pushing his own cloak back over his shoulders, sword still at the ready. "Good! Have at me, then."
Have at him, indeed. Wufei moved forward, smooth and certain in motion. He had trained for this; trained to be sure of his movements, of the expected parry and thrust of things. Trained for years, and yet the man met his motion as easily as if he were a child at play.
It left him wondering if that was what the other boys had come to, as well, because each sure stroke Wufei took was met with a sharp clang, the grind of a sharp edge against his own blade. It felt strangely as if he were being toyed with, and that made him distinctly and specifically angry. Furious, even, which he knew was a bad thing, a stupid feeling, in fact, only he'd spent so long tamping down emotions since he'd put his hand on the wolf stone that they all wanted to come spilling out of him. He yelled, pushed himself off of a rock in the clearing for a little extra force.
He didn't expect to be smacked hard in the back with the flat of a heavy blade, sending him tumbling as the man in the crimson edged cloak just brushed past him. Jerking around, he brought up his sword again, scowling and uncertain.
"What was that?" As if making demands would be in any way useful or liable to end well for him.
"You've lost. I could have killed you then. Severed your spine." And he hadn't. If he planned to eat Wufei, he needed to have it done and over with. "Do you know what a spine is?"
There was no helping the way he sounded when he snapped, angrily, "I'm not stupid." Not by a long shot, although he felt that way now, slow and stupid and a poor warrior. "So. Tell me. Tell me what you want." Or show him, but he wanted it over and done, finished, so that he could stop worrying about it.
"I want you as my companion." He smiled again, so many teeth, so many many teeth. "Let me bite you."
Wufei's heart nearly stopped. Biting, ha. More like eating, never mind that there weren't any bones anywhere in sight. "I think you are going to bite me regardless." He'd given his word, though; said that he'd accept it if he lost, although he hadn't believed that he would, and so he let his sabre drop and turned his face away, closing his eyes.
"I want your eyes open." It was sharp, a little strong, but he was moving in toward Wufei and smiling, reaching for his shoulders. His hands were hot, burning in the icy cold air around them. "You will make a beautiful wolf."
Beautiful, and those teeth. They were so desperately sharp, terrifying and fascinating and he couldn't stop looking at them. Couldn't stop watching them as he came close, even if he wanted more than anything to turn away, not to watch, not to see.
As lips pulled back and teeth and teeth and teeth showed themselves while the man leaned in, teeth against Wufei's shoulder, and then firmly bit him. Though the fabric, through the flesh at the junction of neck and shoulder. He couldn't keep himself from shrieking, struggling, trying to get away. It hurt, burned, fire in his flesh and in his veins and oh.
Oh, oh, oh.
They fell to the ground like that, the man looming over him, biting and biting but never biting all the way through. His mouth was bright with it, on his lips, and he lifted a hand to wipe it away, smearing it with the back of his fingers. "There."
He shuddered on the ground, gasping with the pain of it. The velvet of his cloak was to the right, underneath his hand, and Wufei buried his fingers in it, whimpering. It hurt, skin screaming where it had parted beneath those excruciating bites, and he wanted to scream, too.
He was smiling, panting, and looking down at Wufei, leaning in to kiss him or bite off his mouth, Wufei wasn't sure. He didn't know how to react, so he laid still, trembling and panting with the pain, fingers of one hand curling in the white velvet of his cloak, the other scrabbling against the rocks of the path. He could feel an inferno shivering in him, spilling slowly through him, spreading out from the bites and making him shake.
It was a kiss, hot and tasting like blood, a mess, and he didn't want to taste that. He wanted to throw up, but he couldn't. "You will be fine. I look forward to many years with you."
Years? He didn't feel as if he had minutes, much less as long as this insane man implied, and he finally broke, a sound that made his throat ache. "P-please. P...."
"You're becoming what I am, now. Welcome to the Woods, Wufei." He was shifting, kneeling back and standing up, abandoning Wufei to pain on the forest floor and snow, or so Wufei had hoped.
If he could just die here, just finally be done and safe and dead, it would be so much better. He would never have to know what was happening. He'd never have to become... whatever he was becoming.
He'd never have to ask how the man in the white fur cloak knew his name.
He picked him up, though, after a moment, and Wufei closed his eyes, felt the jostling more than he saw it, felt movement. He didn't know where his basket or his sword were.
His eyes closed, and for a while...
There was nothing.
He walked the woods in a white fur cloak trimmed in crimson. It insulated him against the cold and ice, but he didn't need it. They didn't need it. It just felt good on his shoulders, a comfortable weight. A statement. He didn't need to hide.
It had been so long since he'd been here -- years and years -- and it still felt right. Felt like home from the familiar scent of the trees to the wet smell of the snow.
"Yes. And now we wait." He settled cross-legged at Treize's side, while Treize stretched out his legs and slid an arm over Wufei's shoulders.
Thirteen years of waiting. They'd gone all sorts of places -- Piatra-Neamt, where they had eaten well for weeks; Volgograd and a house Treize had there. They never stayed many places for long. Mostly, they stayed between moon-times and then moved on to quieter stretches when the urge for meat became too great.
Now they were waiting on the Wolf Path. They'd cleared it together before the snow fall, late and in the dark when no one would be inclined to leave the safety of the village. Wufei remembered a number of the younger boys, too young to draw stones from the bag. He hoped that it wouldn't be any of them, but he was really quite hungry.
"When you waited for me, was it like this?"
The travel was gorgeous, too, seeing the country, so many countries, seeing the world, and then seeing the pieces that made it up, so important to each city had their own cultures, their own... madness. Their own quirks, but no one quite like his village.
No one who made the sacrifice.
No one who fed willingly.
There was a sound, further up the Wolf Path, and Wufei tensed against Treize, already salivating. "He's coming." It didn't matter which he, so long as he came. Came willingly, pushed out, sent to feed them. It was so novel that Treize kept to it, returning only every thirteenth year, and Wufei was sure they would feed. There would be no side bargains for this one.
He wasn't tired of having Treize to himself yet. He probably never would be.
The boy who stepped onto the path was younger than Wufei had been; barely old enough to draw from the stone bag, and they'd sent him down the path. Dark hair tumbled into eyes that shone clear and afraid in the moonlight. Wufei kissed Treize's throat, and pulled away. "Now?" A whisper, barely spoken, clearly heard.
Treize smiled sharply at Wufei, eyes dancing. "Now." They stood up from their crouch as one, headed for their meal.
The screams weren't distracting for very long.