I sought God. The Devil answered me. My personal Devil.
I could tell, the last night before the change came over me. I could feel the beast inside me awake and stirring, stretching itself, raking claws down the inner walls of my soul. I knew that the following night the moon would reach sufficient fullness. I knew that I would, the very next night, become the monster.
Twenty-four hours, then. Less than twenty-four hours. Innocent blood would again flow beneath my claws. Nothing had changed. Almost three decades had passed since I had claimed my first victim, the little girl on the bank of that stream in my homeland of Arcadia. Two decades since I had, with my own hands, transformed though they may have been, still my hands—two decades since I had murdered my beloved Kethryn. Nothing had changed. I had found a means for delaying the bloodshed, not staunching it in full. The killings would continue. More innocents would die by my hands.
I prayed for death, but death did not come. In the early hours of the morning on the Tuesday when, at dusk that coming night, I would transform and be loosed into the arena, would tear apart the victims offered up to me by the Romans, the Devil, my Devil, came to me.
I heard his laughter, a sound I took at first for thunder. I had wedged myself into the corner furthest from the stinging moonlight coming in through the window of my cell, the darkest corner, on my knees with my face pressed into the declivity. I heard the laughter and felt his breath hot on my naked back. These were no hallucinations of hearing or of touch; I heard and felt these things, as I sensed his presence there in the room with me even before I turned to look at him.
“Never before have I heard such carrying on from one of my own!” His voice reverberated in the close space, the hissing of gongs and pounding of drums and howling of a thousand feral beasts all in unison, fashioning words from the cacophony. “The sobbing of a little child! The tears of a baby girl! What a disgrace you are!”
I saw him, yet did not see him, at the same time. A shadow amidst the moonlight, indistinct, rippling, like a reflection seen in water when the water is disturbed. A man’s shape, black torso, black arms, black legs, elongated, stretched, the way one’s shadow is stretched before him if he stands with the sun at his back; hands at his sides, fingers longer than the hands from which they sprouted; these curled like the tails of serpents, tapering to needle-sharp points.
“You are not fit to be called one of mine!”
“Who are you?” I said, staring.
Laughter, even louder than before, deeper. The walls of the room, the floor, trembled with it.
“I have so many names, and none,” he said. “But you may call me Master, my little whelp. Or Father.”
I gasped. “Lycanon!”
“Or call me Reprobus,” he said. It said. For this being represented no mere man. It had three heads, like Cerberus, but the heads of wolves rather than dogs. It was not human and had never been human. “Call me by your own name,” it continued, “for I am the greater part of you!”
“No!” I screamed, trying to press myself deeper into the corner. I had nowhere to flee.
‘Why do you struggle so against your very nature, against what you are?” the thing, the shade or semblance of Lycanon, said to me. The form seemed to swell, getting bigger, filling the room. “You are a god amongst vermin, the proud fox amidst squawking hens, gold amidst the dross! You should revel in your true being, not rail against it! You cry out to a god who is not yours to pray to! You are not one of his children, but of mine!”
“A beast you were born! A beast you have always been and a beast you will always be! Turn loose of your pretentious guilt. Embrace your true nature and I will make you the greatest of all my children. Empires will quake and cower at the mention of your name! Reprobus the Dreaded! Reprobus the Great!”
“No!” I shouted. “Never!”
“Cease this futile pretense, pup. You are not like them. You never could be. You are mine. Together, we will drink our fill of the blood of rabbits and sheep! We will have our surfeit of flesh!”
“I won’t!” I cried. “I won’t! I’m not like you! I won’t be like you!”
The vision faded with laughter. Vision? Had it only been such, brought about by my deprivations? No. I knew better. Lycanon himself—the thing I had known throughout my life by the name of Lycanon—it had been there in truth, in my cell with me. It had spoken to me, laughed at me. I could not, cannot deny the reality of it.