The Wolves of Rome

Chapter 24

April 12th, 2023
With the city now empty of its rangers, a number of people had scrambled to pick up the call to police the city of Rome. Giovanni had been one of those people. While edicts had made it clear that no cult was to establish a military branch, Giovanni had enough pull among the faithful to convene something of a small task force. Twenty-five people, all true Catholics, who were willing to take positions as temporary guards in place of the Rangers. They were an eager bunch, wanting to name themselves after an old knightly order as well, but Giovanni had managed to talk them down before too much was made of it. They were Catholic volunteers, nothing more. The last thing they wanted in a relatively undefended city was religious strife.

They made up the bulk of the replacement garrison, and while all of the recruits were eager, the void left by the rangers was particularly evident every day. People had known the ranges and the usual guards, a rapport was built that was now replaced by almost entirely untrained newcomers. The raids and sorties into the city beyond the wall had ceased entirely. Without the skill and strict training of the Rangers most of the new guard didn’t stand a chance against the cacodemons and other beasts that lurked beyond the city walls.

Around fifteen rangers remained, mostly to oversee this new garrison, and they were worked constantly overtime to make sure order and stability were maintained. An unscrupulous few tried to use the confusion to their advantage, leading to a rise in petty crime that ate up valuable senate hours. The leaks were starting to show, and a body of justice would no doubt soon be needed. Add onto that the general public division grown by the popularity of rising cults an the announced proposal of a joint temple complex, and the days long and tiring for all, particularly for a wolf like Giovanni.

Presently he was seeking temporary refuge in his office in the Vatican. Every time he stepped inside he took a moment to chuckle grimly at the reality of a wolf having an office. Truth be told it was just a place where he did paperwork that eventually mutated into what could be called an office. There was no sense of personality or ownership to it, simply stacks of papers and reports to look over on an old and beaten desk.

Stella was off running errands for him and (he hoped) taking a break for a few hours. If he had been busy then Stella had been run ragged, and she didn’t have the wolf’s stamina to work for days on end. That meant he was entirely alone for at least an hour before anyone found him, and he took the time to lean back in his chair and try to clear his head. He was not truly relaxed, he’d have to head down to the grottoes and take his full form to honestly relax, but the quiet was still a necessity from time to time.

Far too many things were gnawing at his mind these days. The Hour of the Wolf had eluded the Rangers and the garrison. Their overt actions had ceased but Giovanni could almost feel their presence like a rot in the city. Aurelio had taken the case, but he had not heard from the young hunter in three days and he was starting to get nervous, it was as if he had simply vanished into the city, unseen and unheard. Maybe that was his plan, Aurelio hadn’t bothered sharing any of the details of how he would work. Even if it was, Giovanni felt distinctly uncomfortable. He hated not knowing how the investigation was progressing, he hated knowing the cult was out there intact even after nearly destroying the greenhouse. It annoyed him so much that some nights he was tempted to take his full form and go hunting, wolf to wolf.

Giovanni sighed. He was not the brazen sort to try it. He needed to keep a calm and level head about himself for the city’s sake at the very least. His ears twitched at the silence. Total silence was almost as bad as too much noise, so he decided to clam his nerves somewhat and reached for the small radio on his desk, flipping it on.

The radio had been an overnight success. With the aid of an unknown engineer, the woman Thalia had set up a small set of broadcasting equipment to test its range and capabilities. Barely more than a low-grade pirate radio station, it had lead to a clamor as every household and business in Rome had all but run over themselves to get their own receiver. Thankfully they were still only a small part of the city and radios were not particularly rare, even in the modern age.

Before this, if a person had wanted to hear music or stories their only venue had been the odd nightly performance by musicians or actors. Sufficient for the ancient world, perhaps, but the people of Rome were still modern in their tastes and sensibilities, they desired more constant distraction, music to have in their homes and offices, relevant stories to make them laugh and pull at their heart strings.

Giovanni had heard about Thalia’s plan and thought it daring if over-ambitious. It seemed she had proved him wrong. Presently his office was filled with the soft sounds of Debussy as violin notes wafted lightly from the speakers. Music was usually what played during much of the day, when people needed their focus elsewhere and they could simply go through the enormous backlog of salvaged records and CDs. They were experimenting with theme days for different genres but it was clear the DJ (who Giovanni suspected was Thalia herself) had a fondness for classical.

The evenings were dominated either by radio plays or variety shows. The latter hadn’t quite come into being yet, as no doubt scripts and concepts were barely past written form, but they did have on program that Stella particularly enjoyed called Night in the City, in which the host interviewed recent refugees for the stories of how they had come to Rome and what they hoped to find and accomplish. It set a good mood between exciting and uplifting, with touches of drama and loss in between. Though the host was a relative unknown, a Spanish girl and former singer by the name of Mariposa, she was clearly skilled in finding excellent candidates, unless Thalia had her devious hands in that as well.

Stella was a great fan of the radio, and Giovanni had to admit he had grown fond of it as well, if only for the happiness it clearly brought to many. With its runaway popularity, there was little doubt that they would soon be erecting a broadcasting tower to reach for miles around. With their present setup Giovanni doubted the signal even reached past the city limits. Last night, however, Stella had given him an idea. Many of the faithful lead busy lives helping the city or were otherwise unable to join them for morning mass. Why not but some airtime for the sake of spreading the good word? Though Giovanni had quickly reached for his pen to write a missive to the bishop and tell him to get right on it, another idle thought had stayed his hand. If the Church used airtime to spread the word, no doubt the other cults would be quick to follow. Soon the airwaves would be crowded with competing faiths, particularly those with the resources to float around. It would take the religious division to a new battleground and could spread the fires even further than they already hand.

The alternative made him twinge just as much. That he should be the leader in making the radio free of religious broadcast was against his very nature. And the Wolf of the Vatican campaigning for secular radio did not exactly paint the image of him he wanted. It was a sensible thing to do, but he was not the person to do it.

His thoughts, left to wander by the soft tones of the music, were interrupted by a knock on the door. Turning off the radio and sitting up he called to the visitor through the close wooden door.

“Come in!”

Into his office stepped Capitolina, casually dressed as she preferred when not acting as temporary Consul.

“Afternoon, Giovanni.” She smiled, tail wagging as she pulled up a chair next to him. Capi, he noticed, never seemed to know how to sit quite right in a chair. Human behavior did not come easily to her.

“Afternoon, Capitolina.” Giovanni said, leaning back in his seat. “What can I do for you?”

“Bored” she grunted. Meaning she wasn’t needed as Consul and her usual source of entertainment, Angel, was off busy with something else.

“My sincerest apologies.” Giovanni said flatly, figuring this wasn’t to be a productive meeting and looking back at the stack of papers on his desk.

“How’s the investigation with umm…what was his name, Aurelio? Yes, that’s him, I remember liking his name…” Capi said lightly, clearly ignoring Giovanni’s own indifference.

“I don’t know.” He said “I haven’t heard from Aurelio in three days. Either he’s deep undercover or something bad has happened. Either way there’s not much we can do about it.”

Capitolina huffed at the news, her tail falling still. No doubt she was even more eager to run out into the streets and find this doomsday cult. But she had been told (time and again) that discretion was the best plan here.

Next she glanced at the radio. “You got one too, huh?” She mused.

“Yes” said Giovanni “Though it’s mostly for Stella’s sake. Though I was considering buying time for some religious programming.” He chose his tone carefully, gauging Capi’s reaction.

“That could be trouble.” The Wolf of Rome said. “There’s a lot of religions these days. Don’t want them all fighting for air time.”

“You’d suggest barring it?” Giovanni asked, keeping the accusation out of his tone. Capitolina was as much a proponent of faith as he was.

“I’d have to talk to the Senate, they know more about how radios work.” She seemed to shrug off the matter but Giovanni knew she was wrestling with it as much as he was.

“Almost feel like there are too many gods in this city.” Capi sighed.

“Somewhat hypocritical.” Giovanni said with a slight teasing tone. “Rome was hardly a stranger to foreign gods in its day.”

Capitolina shot him a look that made it clear she knew. She was just feeling the same thing they all did, that their own god was being pushed to the wayside to accommodate everyone. It was an uncomfortable feeling, and one with no morally clear solution.

“It’s why there are four of us, I suppose.” Giovanni said.

A certain sense of balance did seem to exist among their diminutive wolf pack. Though Capi was usually in charge and the proclaimed “Alpha”, they shared their qualities and special interests with the city at large and what it had become. Giovanni most represented the modern Rome, the youngest of the wolves and a Catholic to his bones. Capitolina was the old Rome, a conqueror and a fighter with a strong sense of national pride. Kebechet was the foreigner, and as more people came in from over land and sea, her purview as someone not native to Rome became ever more evident. Angel was the strange, and accounted for the abnormal and the inexplicable that happened in the city beyond any mortal control. Their burdens and their tastes had lead them to the city they have now, and Giovanni was to an extent satisfied with the outcome, a Rome that did not lean towards any of them in particular, though the balance was always an unsteady one.

“Do you ever feel rather…useless, Capitolina?” Giovanni asked.

Capi glanced at him before smiling, her tail betraying her good mood again. “Why, does the Catholic wolf feel useless despite all his busy work?” There was a teasing edge in her voice he did not appreciate. She knew he preferred doing extra work while she spent much of her time sleeping and teasing Angel.

Giovanni frowned and didn’t answer, but that was still answer enough for Capi’s reply.
“We were never going to stay their physical leaders and protectors.” She said “They were always going to take back control one way or another. They always do.”

“Speaking from experience?” He asked, and she nodded without hesitation.

“Rome didn’t need its Capitolina Lupa since its founding. It’s not about what we do for them, it’s what we are that they honor us for. You fought for the Vatican, ensured its place in the sanctuary and have secured its future in Rome. Do you think the rest of the church thinks you’re useless?”

Giovanni found he could not answer.

“It’s hard sometimes, but they’re like children. We need to take our hands off their shoulders and let them grow without us, and if we’re lucky they’ll still be making statues of us centuries later.” She smirked at him.

“Leave the human work to humans.” She said. “we’re not meant to be Rome’s leaders anyway. We’re just its wolves.”

 

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The Cities Eternal©2016, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa

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