“Cross your fingers and pray,” Micah says.
I hold my breath in anticipation, my chest tight. My heart is empty and the moon is full. We just rolled out of bed with matching bruised eyes. Neither of us are ready to be swallowed by the earth yet. The night is almost too long.
The summoning circle is prepared as painstakingly as a dinner table. Micah shivers and tightens his windbreaker. His large black nose is wet and cold—I feel it against my neck and watch the goosebumps on my arms rise. Little hairs stand up as he crouches over me, using his good leg, to light the candle between us and hell. Massive paws nimbly swipe the match against the ground as the ember’s born, flickering against the pitch-dark backdrop of the field. We need to be cautious. An unplanned forest fire will sabotage the entire ceremony.
Micah growls. I feel my heart sink at the sound of his frustration. I’ve known him since we were kids, and his tendency to get easily frustrated worries me. I take a deep breath and do my best to comfort him. We’re both deeply concerned, well-aware of the risk we’re taking, the dangerous game we play.
Nothing—the sound of insects is our only company.
“How come it isn’t working?” he asks.
“We need a sacrifice,” I tell him. “That’s the only way it’s going to work.”
“We don’t have any blood.”
“Then the transmog won’t happen,” I sigh. The weight in my chest feels a little heavier, as if someone lifted it and abruptly set it back down. I silently scream in my mind. None of this seems fair. Fuck,I think. None of this wasfair to even begin with. I was hoping the summoning would work, that I would wake up with a new body, a body as strong and masculine as Micah’s, and start all over again.
“I’m sorry,” he told me. He snorts and I see the hot air around him disappear. The summoning circle is too beautiful to destroy. The lit candles surround us like a silent choir. I want to scream and throw myself to the ground, but Micah is right on top of me, and I know he won’t let me do that.
“It’s alright,” I tell him. “We’ll just have to find something else.”
He raises a brow and his nose twitches. I know that expression on Micah’s face all too well—he’s afraid, for himself and me. Neither of us knows what will happen if the summoning succeeds, what will happen to my body or his. It’s a risky procedure none of us are certain about, but certainty was isn’t exactly crucial to our line of work, either.
I love Micah, but he’s thick-headed. His claws dig into the ground with frustration—he hates killing and maiming. But the moon’s full and we only have one night to get this right. I want this more than anything else. I want to become a werewolf stronger than any other version of myself.
I want to believe I can change.
“I know a way,” he finally admits. “We’ll use my own.”
My mouth hangs open with astonishment, but I have no words. My mind runs in a thousand different directions wanting to explain why this is a bad idea, but I fail to answer. An invisible knot ties itself around my throat. When I close my eyes, I feel the warmth of Micah’s body leave me, move toward the circle, cast in the shadow of the candles.
“Are you sure? You don’t know what’ll happen,” I warn him. I slowly wobble to my feet, but feel myself collapse again. I’m too weak—if I’m not careful, I might pass out. That’s one risk I’m not willing to take yet. “Anything could go wrong. You might lose your powers.”
“I’m not afraid of that,” Micah answers. “Hell, it might even be a good thing. God knows I could use a break from this.”
“From what? Black magic?”
“Werewolves just don’t do magic anymore,” he says solemnly. “It’s not expected of us. It’d be kinder for me to pass the mantle on to somebody else.”
I can smell the gentle incense burn. The wax melts into soft puddles on the ground. The world feels pliable and velvety; I want to lay on my back and forget this is even happening. Pretend I’m on a riverbed, close my eyes, and disappear from this mess of growing-up altogether.
It’s neither of our time to transmog. Compared to the other Mystics, we’re basically kids. A hundred years is nothing on a few thousand centuries of haunting the earth. Even Micah knows it—forfeiting his powers to me would be a waste. I shudder at the thought, but I can’t deny my own desires, either. I’ve been waiting too long for this, I remind myself. Opting out now would make me look like a fool. And to waste Micah’s work would be inexcusable—friends don’t do that to each other. I had to stick by his word. I needed to trust him.
“I’ve always wanted to be human,” Micah finally says after a long pause. A yellow glare bounces off his eye as he stares at his padded paws. “It’s getting exhausting. Maybe it’s time for a change. There’s nothing worse than being stuck in a body you hate.”
I whistle and nod. “You’re right about that.”
Micah cackles—it sounds broken and estranged coming from a wolf, but I know its genuine. “You’re in the right state-of-mind,” he laughs. “I wish I could do better. But I’m so nervous.”
“Of course you’re nervous,” I tell him. “Anyone in the right mind would be. Better you do it than me.”
“By it—you mean the bloodletting ritual?”
I stare down at the ground and bite my lip. My knee is bouncing with anxiety because this is exactly the step I’m most terrified of. We both know how the procedure goes, how dangerous a transmog is, but neither of us can bear to stay in our bodies until next moon. It has to happen together, or both of us will be long-gone. More than anything, I want the transmog to work, switch bodies, and go home before the sun rises. God knows both of us deserve at least this.
When I look up, Micah has his wrist in his massive mouth. The muscles in my chest collapse and I feel as if I just swallowed my heart. Fat droplets of dark, black liquid dribble down his elbow, matting the fur as it speckles a ring around his feet. The light of the candles bounce, shaking wearily as a cold breeze burrows its way past us. My throat is dry; I want to shout and tell him to knock it off, but I can’t bear to consider the alternative: we both go home, untouched by black magic, living on emptiness until the next full moon.
The adrenaline pumping through me is nauseatingly intoxicating. I think of ash in my mouth, heavy dark soot folded on my tongue as Micah lets his blood coat the earth. When he steps back, I realize he’s had enough—he slowly approaches me as cautiously as possible, wavering slightly in his step. The trees encircling us are ancient, broad creatures watching us—the forest is impossibly dense, and it’d be a death-wish for me to run away now. For the first time since we met, I’m afraid of Micah, afraid of what his body can do, afraid of the fact that he’s a wolf and I am not.
“It’s ready,” he announces. “I think it’s time. Are you ready?”
I flinch when his paw brushes lightly against my shoulder. His yellow eyes are wet and shiny like a mirror—he must be in pain, I think. I love Micah more than anyone I’ve ever met. He’s the only other mystic I’d trust with my life. But I can’t rationalize my fear away, nor the persisting sinking in my stomach that something will go horribly wrong during the transmog.
We both deserve it, I remind myself. We didn’t work this hard to survive or live this long just to give up.
I reach my hand out towards him. His brown fur is hot to the touch, so frightfully warm I wonder if he’s running a fever. A cloud of air puffs from his snout, and I press my cool forehead against his nose. His thick paws comb through my hair, nervous but gentle. I don’t remember for how long we embrace, but when he finally lets me go, I’m shocked by how cold and bare and empty the air between us feels.
Staring into Micah’s eyes, I finally feel safer, if not more well-equipped to undertake the task at hand. It needs to be done, I repeat to myself, doing my best to twist it into a sort of mantra. We don’t have another chance.
The transmog was created by the ancient Mystics long before rituals became trendy. No one knows exactly when the first transmog was performed, but it’s believed that it was initially a ceremony to transfer the soul of one person into another, and vice versa. At its most rudimentary, its body-swapping with a dive into the macabre, requiring a blood sacrifice and elaborate preparations. Hence the candles—Micah delicately walked around them, tail tucked between his legs, afraid of knocking over something so small. He was brave, I wasn’t. Transmogs were dangerous if done incorrectly—we only had one shot to get it right.
We came to agreement about a year ago. I was becoming exhausted of my flesh, and so was Micah. We spent one night feverishly discussing the pros and cons until we finally realized what we both wanted. A way out of our bodies, into something fresher, easier on our psyches. I’d be better in turn with my magic as a wolf, and Micah could finally live a semi-normal public life. One of us would become a hermit, but I wasn’t bothered adopting that role if it meant Micah stopped getting dirty looks.
Don’t think too hard about it, I remind myself. The wispy tips of the candles jump. The hair on the back of Micah’s neck prickles upwards, and then I know it’s time. I carefully walk into the circle, my arms out, feeling in the dark for Micah’s back until I embrace him. He shudders—the drumbeat in his chest bounce off me, making goosebumps dance on my skin.
“Are you ready?” I ask him.
Micah pauses. The sounds of bird cry cracks across the sky. The pattern on the ground remains lifeless, until the edges begin to glow from the candles. The process is slow and arduous, almost like waiting for grass to grow until light begins to slowly crawl towards us. We stand in the center, as stiff as statues, our muscles locked in fear and anticipation.
“I’m ready,” Micah whispers.
The light is warm and inviting, a blanket waiting to carry us away to better world. The ground seemingly vanishes under our feet, and as I open my eyes, I see my skin aglow, shining with sweat. My body is steaming. I turn to Micah and see he’s alit as well, warm and ever present.
“Thank-you for everything,” I tell him. “I was scared. I didn’t know what would happen.” The ritual is electric, dangerous, and alive, consuming us whole. When I close my eyes again, I know I’ll wake up in a new world.
“Don’t be. We were owed it,” Micah says.
I really hope so, I thought. The steam stops and my vision goes white, leaving nothing but stars and shadows. The lights are painfully bright. They’re diamonds. Our bodies are aflame, with power, with vigor, with the will to live. And I pray. My new flesh is here.