This is what happened:
They placed me, my hands bound with rope behind my back, upon the pedestal that would lift me up into the arena. I could hear the roar of the multitudes through the ceiling, so loud that it shook dust from the rafters, thousands, tens of thousands of voices shouting, clamoring for blood, feeding into one deafening, maddening tumult. They had stripped me to nothing save a leather loincloth. I wore no shoes on my feet. Above me, high above, through the wood and the stone and the sand of the arena floor, through the air and the great cold distance between, I could feel the power of the moon. My naked skin itched for its embrace. The beast inside of me held itself coiled in anticipation, salivating.
“God,” I shouted one final prayer, “have mercy!”
They began to crank the winch. Chains creaked and wood groaned; I heard it, in my proximity to the equipment, despite the muffled cacophony of the crowd. The pedestal began to rise. The panels in the ceiling above my head slid open. White hot fire, molten wax, poured down on me—the kiss of the moonlight.
I had slept none the night before, none during that day. All that time I had spent vacillating between prayer and curses, begging for relief and wailing in despair. When they’d brought me from my cell I’d scarce felt strong enough to stand or walk on my own due to my exhaustion. Bathed now in the light of the moon floating high above the Coliseum, all exhaustion left me. The truth of it is, though loathe I am to admit it, never do I feel, have I felt, more alive than in those last moments before a transformation, and never before moreso than on that night. Alive, vibrant, strong. Hungry. And swelling with rage, the insensate hatred that fed the bloodlust of the beast.
They had set the burning torches up in the arena floor so that the crowd could witness the spectacle. The air, a little chilly on my bare skin—as one with a fever always feels cold, so I, with my skin set afire by the moonlight, could not but shiver—smelled of smoke and oil. Bright orange tongues of flame licked the air, dancing in the quiet breeze. The crowd, all the citizenry of the city, poor men and rich, educated and ignorant, screamed with giddy delight when they saw me rising up through the opening in the ground. They had come for a show, and they would now have their grisly entertainment.
I could see my intended victims. Two dozen of them, I estimated. Men, from those in the bloom of late childhood, beardless, to balding middle-age; women also, maidens and matrons. Young skin, taught, smooth, and others wrinkled and sagging. One old woman, truly old. I counted four small children.
All of them were naked, stripped of everything save their dignity. They saw me, too, but they continued in what they were doing. They knelt, all of them, and they sang. A hymn I did not recognize, perhaps due to the crowd up in the stands, and also my command of Latin is not always perfect. But I recognized the words for what they comprised: a prayer. These people, condemned to death, were committed to dying with God’s name on their lips.
The change overcame me. My muscles swelled and contracted. Bones lengthened, shortened, thickened. My teeth grew; new teeth, fangs, burst from my gums; hair sprouted from my pores, covering me. My jaws distended; my ears lengthened. My head became that of a dog, a wolf. I roared in rage and exultation. Always the pain of my transformations felt so sweet! I snapped the ropes that held my hands behind me as though they were rotten twine. The beast was free.
I moved with no haste toward the people where they knelt, goaded, step by skulking step, by the maddened spectators.
I took note of the fact that the people, kneeling, were still singing. I listened to their song, trying to distinguish the words. Recognizing the anomaly taking place—How could I still think with such clarity? How be it that I maintained a degree of reason?—I clung to the melody of their voices as if to a lifeline. Ignore the howling of the mobs in the stands, I told myself. Ignore the rage of the beast like coals kindled in my belly. Concentrate on the singing. Try to pick out the words.
I understood four: “God is our refuge.”
He became, in that moment, mine as well.
As the story goes, the prophet Daniel, captive in Babylon, stood condemned by the king, who ordered the Hebrew locked into a den filled with lions. Yet God shut the mouths of the lions and Daniel came to no harm. Likewise, on that night in the Coliseum of decadent Rome, where so many gallons of blood had spilled, God clamped with His hand the jaws of the werewolf.
Listening to the song of the Christians as they knelt, the beast became entranced. It did not move. I did not move. Not until it, I, Reprobus the werewolf, Christopher the Cynocephalus, dropped to my knees as well.
The tens of thousands in attendance all fell silent in their tiered seats, all in an instant. I swear to you, not one person made a sound. I know that even the Emperor sat on his cushion, stunned into silence. The Gamesmaster as well, somewhere near the Emperor, perhaps afraid for himself, seeing his promised spectacle ruined, said nothing. No sound filled the air, save for the clear voices of the singers and the flickering of the torch flames. The Christians, wide-eyed and amazed countenances, did not cease to sing; their song grew louder and took on a strain of joy, celebration, became not a supplication for deliverance but an ode of praise.
The beast threw back its head and howled, lending its voice to theirs.
I remember nothing else after that. My senses left me. But I wonder, did the beast pray also?