Lalli remembered the day they first met, ten years ago. Strange kid, lost in the woods, unable to say a word in Finnish. Just moved from Sweden, as he later learned. Lalli showed the Swedish boy the way to his village, where he was able, with some difficulty, find somebody who took him to the island he lived in.
They met again the following week, and Lalli knew it wouldn’t be the last time.
The beginnings were difficult, but soon they reached an understanding, which, in time, developed into strong friendship. Lalli taught the other boy Finnish. Once Emil reached an acceptable level of fluency, he returned the favor, telling stories of the lands beyond the Baltic Sea. They traded secrets, and soon they knew each other almost as well as themselves.
Lalli showed Emil his island, his village and all the secrets of the forest. The Swede talked a lot about his family and the village he lived in, and although Lalli never got to see them with his own eyes, he felt like he knew them well. In fact, the Swede talked a lot in general. Though usually quickly annoyed by chatter, Lalli loved listening to his friend. It was soothing.
He once asked Emil if he had friends in his village.
“Yes, in fact, I do,” the other boy replied. “But I like spending time with you more.”
Since his aunt, Taru Hollola, persuaded him to join her hunting units, his meetings with Emil had become less frequent. Lalli didn’t blame him. The increased monster activity had made crossing the lakes into a risky business. They still occasionally met in their designated spots, exchanging news and relaxing, laughing as they talked about what was and what would be.
Scandinavia had been plagued by monster attacks for decades. The forms of those abominable creatures were myriad, and their methods of killing were just as varied. Some were so unsightly their very sight threw people into panic. Some were able to assume human guise to prey on the unsuspecting innocents. The only thing they had in common was the unquenchable desire for humanity’s demise.
Somebody had to protect the people from danger. That’s what professional hunters were for. That’s why he had joined them. Some were only in it for the money. Others seeked fame and glory in slaying mighty beasts. But not Lalli. He believed in his mission. His dedication had been noticed by the higher ups, and he was considered for promotion to a captain.
That’s why when the word came about a lycanthrope on the prowl, he didn’t hesitate to volunteer. Lycans were among the most insidious monsters. Able to freely shift between the forms of a human and a wolf, they were almost impossible to recognize.
Lalli managed to track down the beast and corner it in the forest, and now he stood before it in pale moonlight, pressing the barrel of his pistol to its forehead, and tried very hard not to cry.
The lycan he was tasked with killing was Emil Västerström.
The silver bullet was in the chamber. All Lalli had to do was pressing the trigger. Instead, looked the monster deep into his glowing eyes and spoke.
“Why are you a lycan?”
The Swede shrugged.
“I guess I happened to be born,” he said. “Didn’t you?”
“You lied to me.”
“No!” Emil protested. For a moment he looked genuinely offended, but then his expression changed into that of embarrassment. “Well, maybe a little.”
“I thought we were friends!”
“We are friends! I know everything about you, remember? I know how much you love cinnamon buns!”
An image flashed through Lalli’s head. Emil bringing cinnamon buns on their meetup, freshly baked by his mom. That sweet, sweet taste of the treat. Oh, so delicious. Lalli shook the memory off.
“I thought the same about you. Apparently I was wrong.”
“You’re a lycan, Emil. A monster. I kill monsters.”
“I’ve never harmed anyone, I swear!” shouted Emil with a pleading look in his eyes. “I’m not even an alpha yet!”
“To think that all these years, you’ve continued to deceive me.”
A faint smile appeared on Emil’s face.
“But we’re still friends, right?”
Lalli slowly lowered the gun.
“Go,” he said, putting all the anger, bitterness and sadness he felt into the word.
“Go away, and never return.”
“If I ever see you again, I’ll kill you.”
The lycan fell silent. With sorrow visible on his face, he turned away and ran, turning into his wolf form on the move.
Lalli sat down with his back against a tree, sighed heavily and started to cry.
The following night, as he was laying in a bed in his cottage on the outskirts of the village, his thoughts drifted towards the memory of the night before. If the higher ups found out that he let a lycan go, he could forget about any promotions, forever.
But he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t. Not Emil.
Suddenly he saw movement outside. A silhouette of a wolf. Without thinking, he grabbed his gun and fired a warning shot. The silhouette disappeared and he went back to sleep.
When he opened the door in the morning, he found something on the doorstep.
It was a bag of cinnamon buns.