Roman scanned the pages of his half-written book. He looked out of the large window behind his desk at the little glimmering lights of Arfandol. Night had fallen too far for him to travel there now. The thick silhouette of the forest that wedged itself between his house and the town would be too dangerous to traverse. As if answering that thought, a wolf howled somewhere in that thick foliage, mocking his house-ridden boredom.
"Enough!" he shouted and slid his chair away from the desk. It got caught on a whorl of wood in the floorboards and tipped him over like dirt on a building site. He smacked his head on the leg of a small table and a beautifully adorned flower pot wobbled its way onto his finely shaven, black-bearded face and smashed. For a moment Roman lay there, allowing the soil to darken his surroundings and the pain to wash over his face. Once he had finished germinating, he shook his head wildly and stormed out of his study.
"Where are you going, my lord?" said Publin, caressing the heaven-white towel draped over his right forearm. No matter how much he cleaned with that towel, it's complexion never sullied.
"To Arfandol, Publin," replied Roman, "I am bored as fuck." Roman shoved a pouch of gold into his pocket, swung a backpack onto his shoulders and grabbed a small stick, which he poked into the fire.
"But sir, the wolves are loud tonight."
"Publin, were you a whore, I may not die of sexual frustration in my own home this very eve," he said, sticking the brightly burning stick into the hole of a glass lantern. The candle inside awoke sleepily from its waxy dreams, stretching awake and yawning brighter.
"I may not be a whore, but I would do anything to keep my master from the grave," said Publin, reaching for his waistcoat's top button.
"Jesus, Publin! Though you show devotion to your master, I trust nor desire your services in that realm. If you truly wish to keep my neck from death's silent scythe, then escort me to Arfandol," said Roman, "and pull your bloody trousers up."
"And if we make it to town, am I to escort myself home again?"
"You think of yourself very lightly, don't you. No, Publin, you too shall be cured of your natural aches."
"Thank you, master," he said with a bow, "then I'll get the blunderbuss."
On a balcony beneath the large, pale face of Arfandol's clocktower, a rotund man lavished in purple robes sat perusing the dark outskirts of the town. He gasped and rushed to get up, knocking over his shisha pipe, when he noticed two orange lights bobbing slowly down the distant hillside. He grumbled and kicked some of the embers over the edge of the balcony, before opening the shutters. A shriek flew up from the street.
"Hafka," he called, "Hafka, we must prepare our finest show!"
"But it's Thursday bloody night, Trempklin!" echoed a gruff voice from somewhere beneath the rafters.
"Yes, but a very important customer bobs towards the forest."
"At this time? That's our finest customer gone. You've heard the wolves. I'm going back to sleep."
Trempklin knew the conversation was over once bedtime was mentioned. Hafka was right, their special customer would never make it through the forest, even with fire and his deadly butler beside him.
He tucked his head into his purple robes and the oval mass began to vibrate almost imperceptibly. The purple hue dissolved into the black of the night sky. The hump of matt black fabric that Trempklin had become hopped onto the balcony fence and tilted forwards. Wing-like protrusions extended outwards and he slipped off the balcony.
Though they could see no more than a few shadowy feet around them, Roman and Publin were well aware that they were not alone in the forest. Crackling chitters responded to each other from undefinable locations. Sloping single notes swooped above them on lonely wings, carrying mice in their claws. A multiplying chorus of four-legged, grey beasts called to mother moon, urging that she take them back.
Roman burst into a run when he heard the wolves and Publin grabbed him by the shoulders.
"Show fear and die," Publin said. Roman stopped. He thought about his destination and found a bubble of courage in the soapy, warm, giggling delights of the bathhouse ahead.
"Onward, Publin," he said, cracked bravery in the vibration of his words, "I must survive first and foremost to complete my book. It is indeed my greatest works yet. Secondly, though it is a close second, I saw from the window of my study that Arfandol is black and it is our duty to paint it thoroughly re-" but before he could finish his faux-brave sentence, a snarling crash of nearby underbrush shot a shrill shriek from his trachea and into the nest of a startled family of wrens. A baby wren pooped on Publin, who grabbed Roman by the shoulders and forced him to continue along the forest path. As instructed, Roman waved his lantern slowly left and right. Orange danced in black eyes that retreated from the path when the fire drew close. A yellow fluid retreated from its home and mingled with the material of Roman's trousers when he noticed them.
A snarl became a roar over quickening footfall and sharpened claws aligned in flight with two rows of salivating, yellowed teeth beside Roman's head. The deafening ignition of Publin's blunderbuss turned the roar into a death-trip whimper that hurtled backwards into the bushes with the wolf's corpse. Roman's legs took hold and he ran, lantern in hand, along the forest path away from Publin.
After a minute of fear-inspired sprinting, he tripped over a root and his oil-lantern splashed excited crowds of luminous blue and orange onto a tree and its leafy companions. They quickly absorbed the fire and had nothing else to do except light up brightly, curling up crispy and black, as they fulfilled their new role as flame-fodder. For the second time that night, Roman wiped soil from his eyes and clambered to his feet with a throbbing head.
Once his blurry vision focused, a three-hundred-and-sixty degree rotation informed him that those choral beasts that had been so vocal this starry night had him surrounded. In a rare moment of smarts, he grabbed a stick whose tip had gripped a part of the growing fiery mass that had spread from the smashed lantern. The long snouts flickered between warm fearful light and cold invisible darkness. There were too many for him to count.
One stepped forward and Roman swung the flame sharply, causing it to retreat a single step. A huge bark behind him made him turn around and in a more common moment of idiocy, throw the flaming stick in that direction. To his brief satisfaction, he heard a whimper, as the stick connected with a wolf's head, leaving a scorch-mark in the center of its skull. Then his satisfaction drained to bloodless mortification, the pages of his book and the bubbles of the bathhouse flashing before his eyes alongside the yellow teeth of the leaping wolves.