The Wolf and the Eagle
March 20th, 2023
For the first time in a long time, there was the familiar sound of people bustling in the city at all hours of the day. The quiet footsteps of the retiring dreamers, the heavy stomps of the Rangers going about their patrols, and the countless conversations between survivors and refugees all converged together into a soothing murmur to lupine ears. The smells were also better than they had been for some time. The prevalent smell of the walking dead had finally begun to be overshadowed by the scent of living, breathing people.
Yet with all the joy at seeing the city survive, Capitolina’s ears and tail were drooped with stress. She never could sleep, there always seemed to be matters requiring her attention. If it wasn’t Lord Nassar demanding a meeting, or having to speak in front of the council, or helping train the Rangers, Capi hadn’t rested for three days. This was the first moment in a while she found herself alone and able to breath. Her muscles relaxed as she slid down the wall supporting her with a plop. Her eyes fell close as she just took in the sounds and smells of the city.
Over the low buzzing din of the ever present noise, Capitolina could make out the much closer sound of footsteps approaching. She opened her eyes as her ears perked up. In a flash, she was back on her feet as a smile grew on her face. Her tail began to wag, before she forced it to stop. Angel always seemed to get more distant when Capi was overly eager to see her. It wasn’t Capi’s fault though, she just always felt surer of what she was doing when she was around the other wolf. While Giovanni and Kebechet agreed to work with her, she still spent more time mediating their arguments than cooperating with them, when she wasn’t arguing with them herself.
With Angel, however, it wasn’t like that. While the other wolf could hardly be considered warm by any stretch of the word, Capitolina still seemed to smile more when she was around than when she wasn’t. The slender wolf walked with heavy steps to Capi’s ears. When she had first met the other wolf, she had been caught off guard by how much Angel had weighed. When she had asked early after they met, Angel had been reticent. It was in her nature never to give up too much, but over the months Capi had started to learn more about the past of the mysterious winged wolf.
“What is it, Angel?” Capi asked.
“The Rangers have moved into the Trastevere tonight. A large group of survivors has been found.” The smaller wolf said, very matter-of-factly.
Capi’s ears and tail perked up. More survivors were always a good thing in her book. The council could moan about food supplies or secure space, but for Capitolina, all survivors were welcome to the Sanctuary. With good planning and a strong leader, there should be enough to make sure everyone could live. That was what she wanted. Without a strong leader, well, she did not know what would happen in the Sanctuary.
“Any sign of food in the area around us?”
As far as Capi was concerned, Angel was the true backbone of the Sanctuary. The wolf, as odd as she was, could see the area around as if she were looking down from the sky itself. It had been Angel who had told them that people had created a barricade around the Vatican, creating a safe zone there. It was Angel who told Capi where there was still living game to be found and safe places to forage. Angel kept a watch over the Rangers and the City Watch, keeping Capi informed of their status. If it wasn’t for her, Capi’s tail and ears would have turned gray with stress.
“There was a deer pack…” Angel began.
“Deer herd. Wolves have packs, Angel, not deer.”
“Deer herd…” Angel continued, as if she hadn’t been cut off at all. “Not far to the south, heading towards Ostica. Getting them back will require at least three of us, for two carcasses and the safest way would be through the route to the Vatican. For foraging, the Rangers have driven the undead away from a grocery market on Cavour, which seems to be untouched.”
“Hmm…send a group of Rangers with volunteers to the grocery, but make sure we don’t have a repeat of people hoarding food. All food goes to the distribution center. As for the deer, if we need to go through the Vatican, we’ll take Giovanni with us on the hunt. He should be agreeable to help us with that, right?”
“And where should the survivors be housed?” Angel asked, awaiting orders as she always did.
“…We’ll put them alongside the Tiber, between here and the Palatine. The Rangers have been clearing that neighborhood out and we can extend the barricades there to protect them. Have the City Watch station some of their guards there on patrols. I’ll tell Hanne to make sure a squad of her troops passes through nightly.”
“As you command, Capitolina.” Angel said, nodding her head stiffly. She turned her head and walked back the way she had come. Capi watched her go, her smile fleeing from her face slowly.
Angel was loyal to her to a fault. Whatever Capi said, Angel did. Whatever Capi wanted, Angel got. She was a perfect beta for Capi’s wolf pack, but she was so distant. Try as Angel might, she never could seem to understand what Capi really wanted from her. Sometimes, Capi wasn’t sure either. She just knew that being around Angel made her happy.
When she had found Angel, the small wolf had been half-dead with hunger. Curled up in the city limits, ragged after wandering halfway across Europe by herself, Capi had taken the poor creature to her den underneath the city. She had nursed the wolf back to health. Capi had fed her, had groomed her, and had even stolen the clothes that the other wolf wore around the city.
Capi had known Angel to be an oddity since she had first found her. There were the wings of course, unkempt and ragged just like the rest of her. Capi had never heard of a winged wolf in any folklore and legend and she knew most of those. Beyond that was the source of Angel’s excessive weight in the form of metal woven into her very being. Though she was loath to reveal it, hiding behind thick clothes and her scarf, Angel’s right leg and arm along with much of her abdomen and almost certainly a number of organs had been replaced by metal.
These were no primitive human prosthetics. It had taken weeks of convincing but Capi had final gotten Angel to give her a good look at them. Functionally they were perfect replacements, responding fluidly to her every thought. The artistry to them was unearthly, the metal shimmering in flowing organic lines wrapped around casing like polished porcelain. Capi had never seen anything like it, but knew enough to know that these artificial limbs were not simply amazing, but truly divine. Angel would not name the smithing god that made them, however, and it was a secret Capi still had not yet coaxed from her.
Capi’s tail started to wag as she barked to get Angel’s attention, before clearing her throat. “Ah…” Sometimes it still happened, especially around the pack that she slipped into her more primal language. Angel could understand it just as well as any other, but it was still hard for her to make the right sounds back. Italian was overall easier for them both.
“Yes, Capitolina?” Angel asked, turning around immediately.
“Ah, well, I was wondering if you were taking care of yourself, Angel, making sure to eat and get proper rest.” Capi spoke with her nurturing tone, just wanting Angel to stay with her a little bit longer. It didn’t matter what they talked about, she just wanted the girl’s company. She could be herself more with Angel than with anyone else in the city. It was, in its way, relaxing just to have Angel near.
It had not always been that way. When Angel had started recovering her strength and lucidity soon after Capi found her, the strange winged wolf had grown hostile, even violent at times. At first Capi couldn’t understand why. She tried her best to help her, done everything she could to make Angel feel like a member of her pack. It was not until Angel gained the clarity to speak again that Capi realized what was wrong, when Angel’s first words to her were “I am not a wolf!”
“I don’t need to eat or sleep, Capitolina. I partake in those activities when convenient.” Angel answered, rather flatly.
“That’s no good, though! You’re a wolf, Angel, just like me. It helps the body and brain to at least do those things to refresh and grow stronger.” Capi put her hands on Angel’s shoulders. “Mm, since you’re too stubborn to do it without me there, how about we take a nap together after sunrise. I could use the rest too, after all.”
“If you insist.”
“I have some business to finish before then, but the humans can manage themselves for an hour or two while we recharge. And you’ll feel better after, I’m sure of it.” Capi’s tail was wagging. If Angel noticed she didn’t show any sign.
Angel truly wasn’t a wolf. Sure she had the fur and the fangs, and even the ears and tail in human form, but no wolf would ever mistake her for something naturally-born. Whatever Angel had been, she had been irrevocably changed, and despite her resistance Capi had worked long and hard to help her make the transition. She seemed more comfortable now, playing at being a wolf like Capi truly was, but there was still something undeniably odd about her. Giovanni had once compared Capitolina to a statue, ever-beautiful yet clearly ancient. Capitolina wasn’t sure if she should have taken it as a compliment, but she at least felt that she knew the feeling. Kebechet was much the same, an ancient goddess predating even Capitolina, yet looking physically no older. But if Capitolina was a statue, Angel was an abyss: all-consuming, unchanging, with eyes that seemed to swallow the years whole.
It was most evident when she used her abilities, the ability to see well beyond mortal sight, her gaze passing for miles around and giving her a view from the heavens. When she used this sight, her eyes shone with starlight, powerful and pure, a kind of magic none of them recognized.
Despite all this, despite her mechanical limbs, tattered wings, impossible age, and supernatural vision, Capi never stopped seeing her as the broken wolf in need of care and nurturing, and that had proven just as correct an observation. Angel was still far from being a wolf, she was cold and seemed to almost disdain her bestial nature, but she was making progress, and Capi was always there to help her.
“…Are you sure it is not just that you need sleep, Capitolina?”
“Well, uh…” Capi’s ears drooped. Angel’s greatest strength was her eagle eye perception. It was easy to mistake her cool demeanor for missing the obvious in front of her.
“…Very well. I will stay with you while you rest to make sure you are safe, Capitolina, though I will continue my duties as I guard by your side. If something happens that you need to know about, it will be more convenient to be close anyway.”
“Ah! W-well, as you say!” Capitolina’s smile grew as she took a step back from the raven-haired wolf. It didn’t really matter the reason why Angel would be there, just so long as she would. Knowing her loyal second was there always helped Capi sleep more soundly. “At sunrise then, Angel, it’s a date.”
“I will be waiting in the den, Capitolina. Is there anything else?”
“Mm, no, that’s it.”
Angel bowed again and resumed her exit. Capi watched her, half wanting to stop her again. In the end, she stood there in silence. There was still, after all, so much to do before sunrise.
The Cities Eternal©2016, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa
((JP Link: https://www.jukepop.com/home/read/9042?chapter=19&sl=632 ))