Dorian felt uncharacteristically well rested after the night spent in Sage’s musty, yet comfortable mahogany four-poster bed. The rusty springs and well-worn frame sagged in all the right places. The several layers of feather mattresses seemed to envelop his body with an inviting embrace. The goose down pillows may have been old and faded, but the feathers inside were still soft and smooth. In a bed like this, it was easy to pretend that the events of the past week were simply part of some nightmare. He shook his blonde head and cleared the thought from his mind.
He closed his eyes with a sigh of contentment. With a flash, there appeared the snarling face and hideous form of the monster. Its bloodshot eyes knew where he was hiding and the long claws extended towards him, dripping with blood. Dorian’s eyes shot open. He had lingered here for too long. He needed to formulate a plan to escape before the beast found him again. He would wait until nightfall to leave. Then he would gather some funds and leave London immediately.
Dorian spent that afternoon chopping firewood with the old steel maul that he had found sunken into an oak stump. Once he had sharpened the edges, the ash logs split beneath his swing like butter. The repetition was soothing and he continued for several hours. He felt like each block of wood was a terrible deed from his former life. With each downswing, he smashed the memory into a thousand pieces. He cast his shirt aside, his muscles strained with each rhythmic blow until the hot rays of the sun pulled a sheen of sweat from his skin.
After he was done, he brewed a pot of black tea made using an antique Hester Bateman teapot. He had discovered it hanging forlornly above the stove. It was tarnished and dented, but it made the finest pot of tea Dorian had ever tasted. Dorian wished he could stay in this simple life forever. But he knew it couldn’t last.
Dorian would have to sneak into his own mansion without detection. He remembered his blood staining the hardwood floor. He had been gone long enough that anyone who saw the room would certainly think him dead. He would return to his home and gather any small valuables that had not already been spirited away by the servants upon hearing of his death. But the most important thing was the painting. That wretched painting that had been the source of all his pain and misery. Yet it still held his secret. To leave it behind and unprotected would be unthinkable. He must retrieve the painting and vanish before anyone discovered he was still alive.
Despite Sage’s attempts to explain it to him, it was still beyond his understanding how that painting had linked his soul to the wolf. She had started the process by dabbling in Romani magic and had mentioned something about The Spell of Making to increase the realism of her painting. She told Dorian that she had foolishly mixed his and the wolf’s blood with her brushes and applied them to the canvas to achieve a deeper color of red. According to Sage, her biggest mistake had been combining these two actions with the third Romani art of naming. Sage had named the wolf cub that they had rescued little Dorian Grey and put all of herself into bringing the canvas to life. She had succeeded in the worst possible way and it had cost Sage her life.
Dorian had not even cared at the time. How could he have committed all those terrible deeds? He had killed innocent men, and even burned a man alive. As Dorian embraced his most base desires and set down his destructive path, the once innocent wolf had slowly begun to change. It became more gruesome and violent as if it were the living embodiment of his many sins. Dorian, however, was completely unchanged. He had gained eternal youth. Dorian was beginning to suspect that he might have developed other strange abilities as well.
It was his fault that Sage was dead. He had seen her killed right in front of him and done nothing. Perhaps that was when he had lost his soul. But that was all behind him now. Before he had awakened in the forest, he had been the real beast. Now he could feel the weight of his conscience and the fullness of his soul within his body again. He was a demon no longer.
There was still a very real demon out there somewhere. The lycanthrope. The sun had finally faded in the sky, casting a reddish light that played off the clouds and the dust of the fields. He slid back his chair and picked up a threadbare coat that he had found forgotten among Sage’s other possessions. He walked through to her art studio where he and Sage had spent so many days in innocence and laughter. He remembered with a smile the image of his friend at her easel as he played with the small wolf cub. Dorian and Sage had been best friends once and could have been more. But he had been so selfish and in love with the thrill of bedding as many women as he could. He saw now that she had loved him completely, maybe even more than her art.
His eyes felt moist and blurry as he looked at the empty easel still there in the corner. “I’m sorry Sage. Please forgive me.” She would never paint again.
Dorian turned and strode from the room. He locked and closed the door tightly behind him. He knew he could never come back again. Taking one more look around in the fading light, Dorian walked slowly to the woodpile and lifted the heavy handle of the steel maul. His thoughts went to the werewolf that prowled the night and his hand tucked the weapon into his coat.