The Snake and the Mirror

Mark of the Wolf

September 25th, 2024

 

The room where Leon was being interviewed was far less comfortable than where Aurelio and Hachi spoke with Kira. It was a windowless room lit by long fluorescent lights that shone with a dim buzzing over the cold grey walls. Elisa stood leaning against the metal door, the only entrance, her arms folded over her chest and her sword sheathed at her side. Quietly, minute by minute, she waited for the dawn to come. At her feet were a pile of clothes offered by Cade.

Across form Elisa, hunched on the floor, was the form of the massive werewolf. In the light and in such a small place, Elisa could get a better look at him. His clawed hands were bound behind him with enchanted manacles designed and built by Evangeline Metaxes, champion of Hephaestus, and summoned in by Mary to be used when needed. They were made of silver with ringlets of cold-forged iron encircling them. They were designed so that there would be few things on earth that could break or magic their way out, and Werewolves were no exception.

Still, even in his bonds the werewolf called Leon did not seem to be trying very hard to attack or escape. His legs and jaws were unbound, so he could have thrown himself at Elisa in the hope of attacking, but such an attempt never came. Instead he merely hunched against the opposite wall, yellow eyes watching her keenly as his breath came in long low growls. He was certainly bigger than a human, Elisa noticed. Easily thirty centimeters taller than even a tall man, and with shoulders nearly twice as broad. What could be seen of his chest under the thick fur was heavily muscled. The face had almost no human characteristics left, possessing the head of a wolf with only the faintest marks of humanity. Though he walked on hind legs, his feet were digitigrade like the hind legs of an animal.

Eventually the dawn must have come, as a few hours after being brought into the room a change began to overtake him. His body seemed to collapse inwards, slowly and painfully with several twisted motions as the wolf fled the body of the man. The fur regressed and the snout and muzzle pushed inward to form the nose and distinct jaw of a human. Within a minute, Leon had changed back from wolf to man, but Elisa did not move immediately to set him free.

 

“Are you able to talk now?” Elisa asked, stepping forward when the transformation ceased.

“I…” Leon began, his breath coming in panting gasps as he looked around shakily. “W-where am I?’

Elisa looked at him curiously. “You remember nothing of last night?”

“No I…” Leon tried to stand, but stumbled when he realized his hands were bound behind his back. “Well…it looks like it didn’t go well,” He turned to look at her, fear and worry covering his face.

“Please, did I hurt anyone?”

“No,” Elisa said plainly. “Tell me everything about yesterday evening, as well as the details of your condition.”

“Well, you do seem to know the basics,” Leon said. “I’m a werewolf.”

Leon the man was still quite tall, easily a head taller than Elisa, and with a robust build. Though lacking a full body of fur, his chest and back were hairy and his hair was a matted shoulder-length curtain. His face likewise had a short beard and moustache.

“We guessed as much,” Elisa said. “But you seemed to retain some level of control.”

“I’m not sure if I’d call it control,” Leon said. “Influence maybe…But I can barely remember anything about what happened…y-you’re sure I didn’t hurt anyone? There’s this girl, Serlida.”

“Serlida is here, and quite safe,” Elisa said. She meant it to be reassuring, but there was little comfort in her voice. “She is concerned about you.”

“Too much,” Leon sighed. “I told her not to get involved.

“Before anything else,” Elisa said. “You entered a city of thousands fully aware that you possessed a potentially dangerous affliction, and yet you reported it to no one. Why?”

“Look, I knew that was a mistake,” Leon said. “I wanted to tell someone, but I didn’t want to…I didn’t want to be thrown out. I scheduled to see a doctor but the waiting time for non-emergencies can be weeks and-“

“You put a lot of people in danger recklessly,” Elisa said, arms remaining folded. “All you did was increase your chances of exile.”

“I thought as much,” Leon said. “I was getting ready to tell the guards or someone, but Serlida pitched me this idea.”

“Where did you meet Serlida? What is your relationship?” Elisa asked.

“We were in the same convoy,” Leon said. “She was one of the few who knew about my…condition. She wanted to help, girl’s too nice for her own good.”

“She cared enough to chase after you once you had transformed,” Elisa said.

Leon stared in disbelief. “She did? Ah God…I knew she cared but…I never wanted to put anyone in that kind of danger.”

“What did she suggest exactly?” Elisa asked.

“She said she could enchant some chains to keep me in place, one’s that even a werewolf couldn’t break.”

“Well, apparently, something failed,” Elisa said.

“Ya…” Leon nodded. “But I suppose I have you to thank for bringing me in?”

“Among others,” Elisa nodded. “I’ll give you the details later. For now, we need to know everything we can about your condition before we consider even unshackling you.”

“Makes sense, I suppose,” Leon nodded morosely. “Well…I’m not going to lie, it’s not something that’s easy to manage and it can be dangerous.”

“Clearly,” Elisa said. “Last night wasn’t a full moon, does it happen every night?”

“No,” Leon shook his head. “I can only do it at night, and while I can resist it, the longer I go without shifting the more difficult it becomes to stop, and the wilder the wolf becomes. My limit is about a month, but a week lets me retain at least some control.”

“That makes your release more difficult,” Elisa sighed. “If you can change any night you want then you’re a potential threat every night.”

“I know, you see now why I hesitated?” Leon asked. “It’s one thing if it’s just once a month, but something like this is harder to deal with. But I just want to live my life.”

“I understand but please, I need to know everything. Is your condition transmissible?” Elisa asked.

“Yes, through biting mainly but contact with my blood might do it too.” Leon said. “Not sure how transmissible it is in human form.”

“I’m sure we can develop tests for that,” Elisa said. “Now is the more difficult part…have you ever killed anyone, Leon? Either as a human or as a wolf?”

“Do you ask everyone that?” Leon asked. He didn’t sound contemptuous, merely curious.

“We do,” Elisa said. “We understand the world is not easy outside of Rome. Sometimes hard decisions need to be made. It is why we ask these questions, to gauge what level of assistance you might need.”

“Well I have,” Leon said. “But only one, in human form.”

“Do go on,” Elisa said.

“Before I met the convoy I moved with a group of similarly afflicted people. The curse affects different people different ways. It’s worse than some than in others…a lot worse,” Leon’s expression darkened. “We moved…well I’ll be honest, like a bandit camp. We raided and stole and threatened. We fought for our lives now and then but I refused to kill people to survive. It also gave me the opportunity to shift almost every night giving me a certain…well clarity I guess. I could remember most of what I did and temper my actions, I still felt more man than animal.”

“And why did you choose to leave them then? If it allowed you that clarity?”

“Because the price of that clarity is knowing precisely what you were doing,” Leon said. “I’m not a thief or a murderer, I’m not a bad guy. I could take being sick…being a werewolf, but I didn’t want to be a monster as both a man and a wolf.”

“I understand,” Elisa nodded. “Please, continue. How did you leave?”

“Not easily,” Leon sighed. “I had to fight my way out, including through our nominal ‘leader’. I…don’t like to talk about it. But it was either die a pacifist or kill to get away and survive. I chose the latter, and I suppose I deserve some kind of judgment for that decision.”

“It’s not my place to make judgment,” Elisa said coolly. “I’m here to take your statement and ensure you are mentally fit to have your case reviewed. This will…complicate things…”

“But…?” Leon asked hopefully.

“But I believe given the circumstances, the fact that you harmed nobody, and the lack of resistance you’re offering now gives you a fighting chance,” Elisa said. “Your release may be conditional but for now…”

Elisa walked over to him, gently moving behind him to undo the shackles around his wrists.

“That’s a lot of trust you’re putting in me…” Leon said, rubbing his forearms. “I could have lied. I might try to attack you right now.”

“You’re a human man,” Elisa said. “I could kill you before the first strike hit, and if you tried to shift form I would kill you before you were done. While I believe you are telling the truth, it was still a measured response.”

Leon couldn’t help but smile. “Heh well…I assume you got my name from Serlida. Mind if I know yours?”

“Elisa,” She said plainly. “And because it’s obvious you’re wondering, no I am not human.”

“What are you then, if you don’t mind my asking?” Leon said. “Not really in a position to judge you, just curious.”

“I’m a homunculus,” Elisa said plainly.

“Well I’ll…take your word for it,” Leon nodded.

“Here,” Elisa said, handing him the pile of spare clothes. “You seem to have destroyed most of your old ones.”

“Oh, thank ya,” He smiled. “Ya, tailor’s worst nightmare right here.”

He quickly pulled on the shirt and the tear-less pants as he stood up, stretching his arms, “Ah, that feels much better. Have to say though…I’m impressed.”

“Impressed?” Elisa asked.

“Normally when people know you’re a werewolf, you get torches and pitchforks. Best I had hoped for when it got out was dirt looks and terrified stares. I mean…you’re not exactly all smiles but I’ll take the neutral mask over and angry mob.”

“It’s…just how I am I suppose,” Elisa shrugged.

“It helps when it’s on such a pretty face,” Leon added with a smile.

“Don’t push your luck,” Elisa said. “We still need to review your case,” Despite her words a smile still tugged at the edges of her face.

She honestly did believe Leon. Work with Mary and the later hearings would confirm if he was telling the truth or not, but Elisa believed him. Many who entered the city tried to do so under false pretenses, masking the deeds they did to survive in a harsher world. It was understandable, and Leon knew that there was little point left hiding.

“It is likely that you will be assigned a caretaker if you stay,” Elisa said. “Someone who can report on you and make sure you’re healthy and under control.”

“Sounds like a dangerous job, and a pretty degrading one,” Leon said. “I don’t need a social worker, or someone to put in danger if I change.”

“Think of them more like a parole officer,” Elisa said. “And in your case…someone like myself might volunteer.”

“Oh?” Leon asked. “Why you?”

“As a homunculus, I am likely immune to your affliction in all its forms,” Elisa said. “And I have the strength and speed necessary to subdue you. More than that, however, I suppose I…understand.”

“You understand?”

“You’re with the Night Guard, Mister Leon,” Elisa said. “We’re the misfits of Rome’s guardians. None of us fully human and plenty of us mistrusted. If anyone can empathize with the plight of a desperate werewolf, it’s us.”

 

 

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The Cities Eternal©2017, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa

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