April 14th, 2023
Giovanni spent a long time staring at the note he had been given. It was hand-written in rapid scrawl on an old sheet of paper, folded up and casually addressed “For Giovanni”. Stella had handed it to him nearly ten minutes ago and he had yet to read it, too busy smelling it and looking it over trying to learn what he could. Stella was standing in the corner of his office looking concerned as Giovanni closed his eyes and took in the deep scent from the letter. Humans overestimated the importance of the letters actually scrawled on a message, whereas everything else about it could often tell far more.
He could tell, for instance, that this was certainly penned by Aurelio. It had the man’s scent all over it where his hand had touched the paper while writing and when he had folded it. He could smell that the paper had been stored somewhere particularly damp for a long time. Likely he had gotten to it from an office that was inadequately reclaimed, possibly from outside the sanctuary itself, downriver of where he was. The handwriting was rapid and done by someone inexperienced with shorthand, clearly Aurelio had been in a hurry when he wrote it.
“You keep a very clean floor.” Giovanni remarked wryly as he noted the smell of lemon-scented floor cleaner, almost certainly from when Aurelio or his proxy slid it under Stella’s door. Judging by Stella’s flustered reaction, he was correct. From the letter alone Giovanni was at least partially sure he could track it back to where it had come from, but before he ran off with his hackles raised he decided to read the letter itself.
Apologies for long delay. In deep cover and under surveillance. Tracked almost every hour of the day. I have successfully infiltrated the cult. They have not tried to place me under enchantment, though I believe they will if I advanced in ranks. Cult numbers around twenty, still small. Most members unattached or disillusioned. Few names yet, not enough to bring down cult. Believe something big is coming. Cult speaks of “Arrival of the Messenger. Some kind of prophet, not sure. Cult leader claims to be speaking to messenger, still no clues as to identity if divine or mortal. Afraid to ask too many questions. I will be in touch soon.
All told, it wasn’t a whole lot to go on. It was progress, certainly. Now Giovanni knew that they at least wouldn’t dredge up Aurelio’s body from the bottom of the Tiber. Still it was small comfort. Giovanni had hoped they would get a time and a place to set up an operation to capture all the cultists at once. Something smooth and simple to eliminate the threat. Of course, things like this were rarely ever smooth and simple.
Stella must have seen the irritation on his face, as she spoke up against his prolonged silence. “It is still somewhat reassuring, isn’t it?” She turned her statement into a question at the last minute. “We know he’s still…somewhat safe, and he’s successfully infiltrated the cult. Quite skillfully too if he’s avoided detection.”
“That is some reassurance yes.” Giovanni said idly as he put the paper down. “But it means we’re still stalled, and I’ve nothing to do but sit on my hands while we wait.”
“Sometimes waiting is the best thing to do.” Stella offered, though he could hear from her tone that she was offering a suggestion rather than any reasonable bit of wisdom. It was often said that patience was a virtue, but it was one virtue among many that Giovanni found conflicting with his more wolfish instincts.
Certainly a wolf knew to wait until its prey was in the ideal position to strike, but that could be hours at most and one always kept the prey within their senses. Giovanni however could not see his current prey, he could not smell it on the wind and he could not foresee the ideal opportunity. He instead had to rely on Aurelio, a hunter, and if there is anything more disliked by a wolf than a hunter, Giovanni had yet to find it.
He knew there was no real reason to dislike Aurelio, but it was a deeper more base distaste he had a good deal of trouble ignoring. He would have much rather entrusted something like this to Capitolina, or even Angel or Kebechet. They at least still had the sense of wolves about them. Yet he had been the one to send Aurelio on this mission in the first place out of necessity. His personal preference aside, the other three wolves were as high profile as he himself was.
No, everything about this mission left Giovanni dissatisfied, and it must have shown plainly on his face because Stella was still fretting in the corner, as if looking for the answer that would put him instantly at ease.
There was no solution, however. He stood up from his desk and walked towards the door but he stopped when Stella moved to follow him.
“That’s quite alright, Stella. I’ve no need of you today, see to the church.” He said plainly, and though he kept his tone even it was clear how worried she was by the furrowing of her brow.
“Are you sure, Mister Giovanni?”
He walked out without another word, his mind turning as a plan began to take form. He hadn’t learned much of the cult’s structure or leadership, nor any of their names. It was still far too little to use to make any arrests or bring down the cult, but it was perhaps enough to learn a little more on his own. If enchantment was only used on those who were higher-ranking in the cult, then it meant that the zealot that he had captured might be convinced to speak a little more.
Lord Nassar had certainly done quite a number on the man, dispelling the enchantment and even offering to turn it back on him to make him reveal everything he knew. The rest of the Senate had decided, however, that using magic to extract information on their first criminal case set a dangerous precedent, and thus they settled for more traditional questioning. His interrogations had been fruitful, and Capitolina’s ears and Nassar’s spells were both sharp enough to catch lies, but even they can’t catch a lie of omission. None of them had heard anything about this “Messenger” or a similar prophet figure.
Giovanni now had questions he would ask.
The prisoner was being kept in a makeshift cell under the capitol building, really just a windowless room in the basement with a reinforced door. The lock was strong and a guard checked in on him every hour or so. It was hardly maximum security, but if he escaped he had nowhere to run.
It was only half past the hour so the guard was nowhere to be seen. Giovanni, of course, had access to the room’s key, and opened it without issue as he stepped inside. The prisoner, who went by Dante (Giovanni neither knew nor cared for his last name), was sitting in a chair at the desk provided for him. He was given a change of clothes and the odd book to keep him preoccupied, but the room was empty save for a cot and small toilet and sink. He looked up at Giovanni as he entered with cold empty eyes.
“We have more questions for you.” Giovanni said, and though his voice remained level he could see his steely gaze reflected in the man’s eyes.
“I’ve answered everything.” Dante said, and Giovanni studied his every movement and reaction carefully. This was more like what he had expected when he first caught the man. His heart rate was rising, sweat beginning to form, and his pupils dilated as his body expected him to run. It was all the marks of prey that knew it was being hunted. Giovanni could not help but be satisfied at the reaction. It felt right to him.
“Allow me to correct myself. I have questions for you. Questions you will answer.” His voice settled into a low growl. Wrath was perhaps the sin Giovanni had the most affinity for. Eight hundred years ago he would have eaten this man alive just on principle. Giovanni may have forsaken violence of any sort, but he still knew how to intimidate, how to inspire fear in his quarry.
Giovanni narrowed his yellow eyes. He knew Dante could remember everything that had happened while he was entranced. He knew what Giovanni’s true form looked like, an enormous monstrous wolf, all muscle, tooth, and scar. There was no way he could fit all of himself in this cramped little room, but a small form did not mean small strength. Giovanni could till easily tear the man limb from limb, and it was clear he knew it.
“Who is the Messenger?” Giovanni snarled, stepping closer to him. Dante visibly recoiled in his chair, but there was more confusion in his eyes than fear.
“W-Who?” He stuttered.
“I am not here for games, human!” Giovanni snarled. Had Stella seen his performance he was not sure if she would wilt or laugh out loud. It truly was entirely out of his character. These days.
Thankfully, Dante had no way of knowing that. “Who is the Messenger!?”
“I-I umm…I…” He seemed at a loss for words, eyes darting across the room as if looking for some way to defend himself, some route that would offer an escape.
“I don’t know! I’ve never seen them!” Dante shouted, his hands rising defensively as Giovanni stepped forward. “They’re talked about a lot but no one’s ever seen them!”
“Do you expect me to believe no one knows who they are!?” Giovanni’s fist slammed into the wall by Dante’s head, causing him to visibly flinch as the bricks cracked beneath the layer of white paint like spider webs.
“Th-The Master Cultist!!” Dante shouted, hands over his face as Giovanni exposed his sharp teeth. “He would know!”
Dante had spoken of the Master Cultist before, but after exhaustive efforts they had decided he truly knew nothing about their cult’s leader save he was an older man.
“I want more than that, human!” Giovanni’s eyes were glowing in the light of the dim lamps that lit the room.
“Th-The Master Cultist…h-he often spoke of a time when the messenger arrive in the city!”
“So they’re outside the city…” Giovanni said. “Are they human? Tell me what you know!”
“I-I don’t think so!” He stammered. “He always said the messenger would come from a faraway land, to bring about the end of days and reveal the true purpose of the Hour of the Wolf!”
Giovanni pulled himself back, letting the man regain some of his breath as he cowered before him.
It was certainly more than they had before now. But it still left far too many questions unanswered. Who or what was this messenger? The Hour of the Wolf worshipped Fenrir and his monstrous offspring. Nora had spoken to the cultists who worshipped the Norse god Odin, and according to them Fenrir was still being bound somewhere in the distant North, not yet free.
Fenrir’s sons Skoll and Hati, however, were unaccounted for.
With this dire thought in his mind, Giovanni left Dante’s cell, locking it behind him as he left. He would need to inform the senate of the threat it posed, but he would have to be careful who he spoke to. If someone in the senate secretly held ties to the cult, Aurelio would almost certainly be put in jeopardy. For now, the only person he could definitively trust was Capitolina.
Though he had gleaned some knowledge thanks to Aurelio’s letter, the sense of unease remained with him. There was still too little he was able to do, so he had to satisfy himself with what he could.