“You will fight,” the Gamesmaster had promised me. Fool that I was, to consider that it could have been otherwise!
The Romans knew as much about my condition as I did, and more. Already they knew the lesson of silver and the power it held over one of my kind. They also knew, as I soon found out, that the beast would never offer a weak acquiescence to its own destruction, no matter if I, Christopher the man, intended to allow myself to die in the arena. The beast would have its own way.
I liken it to Hell, my time of forced servitude as a gladiator. I can envisage no Hell more perfect in its design and specific torments. A dark Hell, as any proper place of suffering must be, was the cell where they kept me, in the catacombs beneath the Coliseum itself. Scarce enough light to see, even after one’s eyes became adjusted to the darkness, and then the temporary, painful instant when the guards came traipsing through the warrens with their torches, the pitch-soaked heads of which blazed brighter and hotter, for a few seconds, than any star, plunging me into a moment of sightlessness, as though scales had grown over my eyes, before the afterimage faded. The labyrinth of cells and stalls beneath the arena existed in such a perpetual night, but where sight was limited, the environs offered a sumptuous, nauseating feast for the other senses. It stank, the commingling of such perfumes as offal; blood; gangrenous, seeping wounds and stale dried sweat; smoke from the torches, given no outlet to escape. Dark, smoky, stinking—yes, a perfect Hell. Cold at night, and this coldness the only way I could ever tell when night came. They’d given me nothing to use for cover, nothing soft to lie on, not even dry straw to cover the hard dirt floor. Close and at times stifling hot during the days, a larger version of my old Penance House, though this one I shared with other men, other animals.
Perhaps worst of all was the noise, the screams, moans, curses; angry or agonized bleating of frightened, wounded beasts; dying men, or men aware of the imminence of death. Never a moment of silence, not even in the depths of the night.
My first fight came at night. My first period of transformation spent among my captors had passed; the moon would not reach fullness again for three weeks. My captors took me from my cell and dragged me to where I faced a well-like shaft, somewhat akin to a wide, open-faced chimney, at the bottom of which a square platform depended at the ends of four chains, one affixed to each corner. The guards goaded me to step up onto the platform. The chains, operated by unseen hands in the darkness, working unseen cranks and pulleys, lifted the platform, and me upon it, up through the shaft. A wooden panel in the ceiling slid aside and the platform rose up through the rectangular opening, raising me up into the, for a moment, blinding radiance of the arena.
Always when a spectacle took place, I could hear the muffled roar of the spectators, even down in the catacombs. The clamor reached deafening proportions when I found myself raised to the Coliseum floor. When I’d blinked away the dull cloud in front of my eyes, I stood gawking up at them, the gathered citizenry of Rome. I had never seen so many people gathered in one place before, the seating of the Coliseum that night at capacity. All those people, I would later hear, had come out to see me, the newest attraction. Every man, woman and child in Rome wanted to see the werewolf of the Marmorca.
For light they had affixed at regular intervals poles in the sand floor of the arena, the tops of which burned bright with lumps of pitch. These torches created a false dusk within the bowl of the arena and were the source of my momentary blindness upon my entrance from beneath.
Across the arena, I saw my opponent enter in a likewise fashion.
I could not appreciate his size until he drew nearer me, walking at leisure to the cheers of the masses. A giant of a man, a full seven feet in height [I here give the modern approximations of measurement—Ed.] and of the girth of a large ox, his neck as large around as his head, arms greater in circumference than my legs and his thighs almost as thick as my waist. He made of me a dwarf, and I am no small man. He wore no more than I did, boots and a leather skirt, and he wore leather bands wrapped around his meaty forearms. He had little hair and no beard to speak of.
“You! Werewolf!” he said, having to bellow to make himself heard over the crowd. “Show it to me! Bring it out so that I may kill it!”
“Kill me, then,” I said.
His first blow caught me unprepared, though I could have done little to check it had I known beforehand it would come. A hammer blow to the side of my head that sent me reeling, my vision spinning. I hit the ground dazed, sand and blood in my mouth, the roar of the crowd like cotton stuffed in my ears, deafening in its volume, my head feeling as if it might come unattached from my neck and go rolling off along the ground.
I will not fight, I told myself. The giant stomped on the small of my back. I felt as if I would burst open.
“Show it to me!”
The crowd echoed the giant’s demand, twenty thousand screams from twenty thousand raw throats.
I will not fight! I answered them.
Grabbing a handful of my hair and the waist of my skirt, he hauled me to my feet. A punch to my side from a fist as big as a melon but harder than stone broke two or more of my ribs, threatened to stave in my whole ribcage. I fell to the ground unable to draw breath.
“Show me!” the big man bellowed, the crowd ordered.
I will not fight! I will not!
A kick to the side that sent me rolling. A second to follow it.
“Show me the monster!”
A third, a fourth. I vomited, choking on it, unable to breathe, unable to get away.
“I want the beast!”
The oversized fool. He got his wish. Of course he did.
The Doghead, sensing the threat to its being, took control of my flesh. The speed with which it did so surprised me. Never before had it acted with such rapidity. Never before, perhaps, had it needed to. Or again, perhaps, the beating had just made it angry.
The giant, to his credit, met the charge of the beast without fear or hesitation. More the fool, he. He caught me up as I lunged at him in a great embrace, seeking to crush me in his arms even as the last vestiges of my flesh were becoming changed from those of a man to those of the Cynocephalus. Trying to hold me, crush me, he left his own face unprotected. True he had managed to clasp both my arms to my sides in the embrace; my claws, unable to reach his head, contented themselves with digging into his sides, peeling the meat from his ribs.
He had not allowed for my teeth.