The Snake and the Mirror

Knights and Monsters

September 25th, 2024

 

The ‘interrogation room’ of the Night Guard headquarters was really more of a lounge that many of the Guard used between shifts. Even now, as the night began to trail on into early morning, a pot of coffee had been started and there was a plate of pastries on the table though no one had deigned to start eating.

There were three people in the room, with two on one side of the table and the third opposite. On the one side was Aurelio, hands folded on the table as he eyed their guest, and at his side was the fox spirit Hachi, who sat quietly with a calm and demure smile on her face. Sitting opposite them was the ‘knight’ from the confrontation with the werewolf. She had willingly doffed most of her armor and was now sitting in her padded gambeson in the room with them.

In the light, and with her armor removed, Aurelio could get a better look at them. She had darker tan skin and possibly bleached blonde hair, amber eyes and a noticeable scar running down her cheek. She was taller than Aurelio and more strongly-built, as he was often seen as lean and somewhat wiry. She kept her arms folded over her chest as her eyes passed back and forth between them, though mostly lingering on Hachi.

“So who exactly are you, Night Guard?” she asked with barely restrained contempt.

“There were a number of pamphlets and bulletins sent out,” Aurelio said. “We’re Rome’s guard against spiritual threats that the city guard and the legions aren’t equipped to deal with.”

“And half of you are…spirits yourselves,” It was clear from her tone that she had been very close to using the word ‘monster’ instead, and her eyes had never left Hachi.

“Well none of us are what could be called ‘fully human’,” Aurelio tried to keep his tone level. “But we all have nothing but Rome’s best interests at heart.”

“And yet you choose to lock up or talk to spirits rather than engage them,” She said, scornfully.

“When it is feasible,” Aurelio said. “When they cannot be reasoned with we answer with force.”

“Well I don’t know how your ‘spirits’ are in Rome, but where I come from, if you don’t hit first and hit hard then you wind up dead.”

“Then it must be unfortunate for you that you’re in Rome now,” Aurelio said, irritation creeping into his voice.

“Let us try to keep this civil,” Hachi said diplomatically. “First of all, we have been quite rude to our guest and failed to introduce ourselves. My name is Hachi.”

“…Captain Aurelio Furlan,” Aurelio said.

“…Kira,” The knight finally said, keeping her arms folded disdainfully.

“Very good, Miss Kira,” Hachi smiled. Aurelio was impressed at how level Hachi could keep her expression, especially considering how most of Kira’s insults had been leveled at her.

“Dame Kira,” Kira shot back scornfully. “Of the Order of the Brass Eagle.”

“Dame Kira, excuse me,” Hachi didn’t miss a beat. “It is obvious that the attitude of spirits and of monsters varies between regions. I have seen proof of this with my own eyes, being as I am from very far away. With that said, I believe that most people in this city would assure you that the spirits present here seek cooperation and coexistence over death and conquest. Our current Pontifex Maximus Nora Newstar, as well as Spiritual Ambassador Megame Kamigawa, are the social and political representatives to the spirits of Rome and they have done tremendous work.”

“If they’re so cooperative, why even have this Night Guard?” Kira asked.

“Earlier this year, from my understanding, the city came under attack by a cruel and merciless Aztec deity that wished to overthrow the city,” Hachi said. “That, coupled with other incidents, showed the need for a specialized task force, one that could deal with spirits on an equal footing, something most humans are incapable of doing.”

“My order is something similar,” Kira said. “Except we didn’t recruit negotiators and ambassadors. We hired monster hunters, trained warriors, and anyone willing to fight and kill for humanity. Spirits only care about one law, the law of the strong over the weak, and no matter how much they dress it up in pretty language I’ve never seen evidence it changes.”

Aurelio glanced at Hachi and the fox woman hadn’t even twitched. Had it been Aurelio he would have visibly bristled at her comments, but Hachi never lost her cool.

“Then I am sorry for the experiences that you have had, Dame Kira,” Hachi said. “But I can assure you that the spirits of Rome wish to live in harmonious balance with their environment, a desire which requires effort both on their part and on the part of the spirits in question. And now, for the benefit of further discussion, I wish to establish the difference between a spirit and a monster.”

“I’ve yet to see the difference, save that some men can be turned into monsters too.”

“Well, it is true that most monsters are spirits and the legions have seen their fair share,” Hachi said. “Manticores, hydras, great lions and boars…there are spirits which have formed for the express purpose of hunting and killing humans. However, this is why we employ expert hunters such as Aurelio and Elisa. We believe in an even-handed approach, seeking diplomatic solutions while also carrying the capacity to respond with force.”

“I didn’t see much of that response when you chose to drag a werewolf back in chains rather than kill the damn thing where it stood!” Kira slammed her fist on the table.

“Leon hadn’t attacked anyone,” Aurelio said. “It was clear he was fleeing, not hunting.”

“So what, are you going to let a dangerous beast just walk!?” Kira demanded.

“No,” Aurelio said. “We don’t know the limitations and dangers of his condition, and he broke the law by not reporting it when he arrived. He will be dealt with as Roman law decides.”

“And how will I be dealt with?” Kira spat. “For trying to protect this city form the monsters it refuses to see in front of its face?”

“Well, thankfully, you didn’t hurt anyone either,” Aurelio said, but a slightly raised hand by Hachi left him silent as she took over again.

“Indeed, you were acting entirely in the way you believed best for protecting this city. Your actions were, perhaps, a bit heavy-handed but you broke no written law as we see it. You will be free to go after this talk is over, though we of course recommend you leave these kinds of matters to the Night Guard and the city guard patrol.”

“If there’s a werewolf on the loose,” Kira said. “I’m not going to standby.”

“I understand,” Hachi nodded, though Aurelio could feel slightly more force in her voice. “However, this city does not abide by vigilantism. If you began hunting spirits outside of self-defense then there would certainly be legal ramifications. What I can recommend for someone of your obvious, skill, and talent, is to seek out legitimate employment with the Legions or even perhaps with the Night Guard itself.”

Both Aurelio and Kira looked at Hachi with incredulous expressions.

“I’m surprised you’d even suggest hiring a full-blooded human,” Kira scoffed. “By the sound of it, that wasn’t in your hiring policy.”

“There is no reason to discriminate,” Hachi said. “You have skills that might prove useful in case there is a violent incident.”

“She might be able to work with Hildegard as well,” Aurelio said. “They do a lot of monster hunting.”

“Our point,” Hachi nodded. “Is that there are a number of excellent options for you that can fully utilize your skills, there is no need to make a vigilante of yourself chasing problems that might not exist.”

“Hmm,” Kira frowned, clearly still unhappy with the stated options, but her arms had moved onto the table. “I will…consider things.”

“That’s all we ask,” Hachi smiled. “We would hate for there to be another incident with a less peaceful resolution.”

After a few more questions regarding her background and her living arrangements Kira was released. Hachi offered to put together the official report to give to the guards, so Aurelio left her to it and soon found himself in the large entrance lobby to the Night Guard Headquarters, though he wasn’t alone for long.

“Make much progress?” Sybilla asked, pressing a mug of coffee into his hand.

“We think she’s cooled off a bit,” Aurelio said. “Guards will probably be keeping an eye on her for a while. Here’s hoping we don’t run into her again mid-chase.”

“Here’s hoping,” Sybilla nodded.

“What about the girl, Serlida?” Aurelio asked. “You and Cade had her, right.”

“She’s fine, sleeping on the second-floor lounge couch,” Sybilla said.

“What’s her story?”

“She’s a mage, as it turns out,” Sybilla said. “Explains the hair if your friend Catarina is anything to go by. She seems honest enough, very concerned for her friend Leon.”

“How does a mage meet a werewolf?”

“They apparently came as part of the same caravan. We’ll have more details when she’s rested in the morning.”

“Odd combination,” Aurelio said. “Elisa keeping a watch on the werewolf until his transformation wears off?”

“So she said,” Sybilla nodded. “This turned into a very interesting night.”

“Well, the night’s almost done,” Aurelio said, sipping the coffee.

Sybilla smoothly sat down on the arm of the chair, leaning on his shoulder. “But after a scarce few hours of daytime it’s night again and we’ll be right back at it.”

“Mmm…” Aurelio nodded but said nothing.

“Something on your mind, hunter?”

“The knight we brought in, Kira,” Aurelio said. “She reminded me a lot of…well, me.”

“Only natural,” Sybilla said. “You were very similar not too long ago.”

“I’m still similar now,” Aurelio said. “We have Hachi and Aelia and others for diplomacy, I’m mostly part of this team to be…well, a monster hunter like Kira.”

“Well of course you are,” Sybilla said. “Is that worrying to you?”

“Well if Elisa hadn’t already been there. I’m not sure if I would have held back an arrow on that werewolf,” Aurelio admitted. “I might have just shot him on the spot to be safe.”

“Mmm,” Sybilla simply leaned on him more. “But that’s not what happened.”

“But it could have happened.”

“Hunter,” Sybilla said, turning to look at him, black hair hanging idly around her shoulders. “You could have killed me dead the second I stepped out of my cell in Rome, or shot me in the Dreaming. You could have killed Mary when we had her captive in a cage. You could have spurned the idea of the Night Guard and insisted on working alone. You could have pushed me away the first night we got close….”

Aurelio felt her thin fingers slide over his chin as she drew his head to face her.

“But you didn’t. Do not waste your time and worry on the things that might or might not have been. Here we are in the now, everyone is safe, you are a respected member of the Night Guard, and you are with me.”

“I suppose,” Aurelio said. “That might be enough for now.”

 

 

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The Cities Eternal©2017, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa

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