Chapter 1: Absit Omen
Tages stepped back from the bulletin board, proudly looking at the print outs of his latest bird flock - all two minutes of it. 60 photos. He then let his eyes gloss over the images, letting his mind plot out the roughest patterns and their meanings in the birds’ flight path.
He then swore swore very, very loudly.
There was a wolf sitting in Lovino’s study. An honest to God wolf, with brown and white fur, an actual tail, and piercing grey eyes that were probably staring into Lovino’s soul.
What he wanted to do was scream for Vash to come in and shoot the thing, or at least be able to let someone know there was a fucking wolf in the Vatican.
What he did instead was slam the door behind him, stare for another moment, and then turn to the wolf, asking, “What the fuck are you doing here?!”
He couldn’t say he was expecting an answer.
“Volume, pup,” the wolf said to him. The wolf was speaking in Latin. It was a wolf and it was in his office and it was speaking in Latin.
“How did you even get in--” Lovino splutted, “What are you--- who--- the fuck?”
The wolf gave him a very, very pained look. “Sit and I will explain.”
He didn’t move. The wolf followed it’s own command and sat down on it’s haunches, looking up at Lovino with what Lovino imagined was an annoyed expression. “I come on official business from an association who has long called this society an ally.”
“Oh, great,” Lovino said flatly, “Apparently we’re friends with all of nature. What’s wrong, you here to tell me some obscure ass forest is about to be destroyed?”
“The monsters of Greek and Roman mythology are returning home to roost, which is to say returning to Europe in great number,” the wolf said. “Lupa, Camp Jupiter. Now, sit down and pay attention, boy.”
“....” Lovino replied, walking over to sink down in his office chair. The deep red leather had long been molded to his form, and he had a feeling he was going to need all the comfort he could get.
“Thank you,” Lupa said, walking over to sit next to the chair. Lovino swiveled towards her and looked down, his face scowling.
“I thought all this shit got handled through Heracles, and even then it was rare since you people take care of your own shit and mostly coordinate with the North American branch.”
“Yes and no,” Lupa replied, her tail curling around her haunches. “Hearcles would be your Camp Half Blood contact. I represent the opposite side of the same coin. Moreover, this seemed too heavy a matter to defer to an underling.”
Lovino rolled his eyes. “What’s the difference between them and you?”
“Half Blood is the Greek gods. I represent the Roman pantheon.” Lupa gave a similar eyeroll. “And yes, the distinction is important.”
“That part I can believe,” Lovino replied. He knew enough of the Roman Empire’s religious mindset before Christianity and he was half tempted to say so, until he reminded himself that wolves posses very sharp teeth. “Now tell me why you’re bucking the system and coming to me rather than to the Americans.”
“You really don’t listen, do you, pup?”
“Assume I was shitting myself from there being a fucking wolf in my office.”
“Who would appreciate some respect, not only as an elder, but as a founding member of this society.”
Lovino laughed. “Okay, now I know I’m dreaming. What’s next, you’re gonna say you’re the wolf who found Romulus and Rem--”
The stare, which most likely would have been translated as ‘bitch, please,’ Lovino recieved finally shut him up. Lupa gave a smile full of teeth, then continued.
“To answer your questions then. I came here and not to your North American headquarters because the situation, which I’ve told you in brief, requires your attention as head of this entire organization. Moreover, I chose not to use proxies - either Heracles or Hunter Brown - because it was the respectful thing to do when delivering such news.”
“Daughter of Baachus,” Lupa said, which made a frightening amount of sense to Lovino. “As to the news I came here to deliver, please pay attention this time. There's been a migration of Roman creatures back to the cities of Italy and the Greek creatures back to their place of origin - they've almost abandoned America entirely and our trainees cannot be expected to travel to Europe due to young age.” She paused. “And the fact you would have millions of euros worth of damage to priceless monuments, which I don’t think you wish to deal with.”
“Not at all,” Lovino said faintly. “Why here though? There’s no way America’s waning that fast, and if they were to move, then China seems the most obvious up and coming powerhouse.”
“Two reasons,” Lupa replied. “One - the gods are fickle. Two - I don’t know, otherwise I would have told you the reasons.”
“You could’ve sent that via mail,” Lovino snapped. “Instead of giving me a heart attack!”
“Let me finish!” Lupa snapped back, growl rising at the back of her throat. “There are means of forecasting how fast this return will happen, which gives you time to prepare and train your hunters accordingly. These things always have a pattern.”
“Yeah with what?” Lovino said, laying on the sarcasm. “Sybline books? Oracles? You want me to go and dig up some of our witchcraft trial records and try out their methods?”
“All you need to do is visit California with me, bird watch with a mad man for a few hours and then wait for him to do an analysis,” the wolf said, as if this was all perfectly normal. “Or you can wait and be blind sided by creatures your organization hasn’t had to deal with since Queen Victoria ruled England.”
“And why me?”
“Because you lead this organization. Because you’re curious. Because it’s in your blood,” Lupa sighed, exasperated.
“Nn,” Lovino muttered. “That blood’s been thinning.”
For a moment, Lupa almost opened her mouth to offer commentary on the disadvantages of the priesthood, but then closed it.
“Where in California?” Lovino asked. “And when?”
“San Fransisco, and ideally tomorrow.”
“And a wolf gets an air plane how?”
“A wolf travels by other means.”
Lovino rubbed at the bridge of his nose. He was insane for considering this. A talking wolf who claimed to help found the Hunters was in his office trying to convince him to go to San Fransico, California, in order to perform pagan rites and divine the future. The number of protocols that probably broke would get him tried for witchcraft. “Is there honestly no other way? Nobody else we can send? I'm sure Ida or Heracles or somebody will be happy to go to the States.”
“It is sensitive subject matter,” Lupa said. “Do you trust them? Moreover,” and this was said with a maternal tone, the one that Lovino’s mother tended to use when she had wanted Lovino or Feliciano to do something that was the right, but hard, thing, “This is your responsibility as the head of this organization, and to hand it off to others shrinks that responsibility.”
“Fine, I'll go!” Lovino groaned, throwing his hands up in the air. “Vash is going to have a heart attack.”
“He’ll appreciate the reprieve, I’m sure.” Lupa let her tail wag very slightly. “Be ready to go at sunrise.”
“Uh-huh,” Lovino muttered, his eyes glazing over, not noticing the wolf leaving the room.
The sound of gun shots snapped him back into reality.
Ah yes, Lovino thought to himself, Vash would be very, very confused as to a wolf walking out of his office.
Lovino stood up slowly and walked over to the door, opening it. He wasn’t surprised to see Vash with guns drawn, staring down the wolf and demanding to know why he shouldn’t shoot. He also wasn’t surprised, from what he was able to process about Lupa, that her response had somehow managed too include, “...here acting in an official capacity and to do so would not only violate hospitality but bring my own organization down on your head. Three, your Vargas gentleman would not be capable of completing the trip...”
Vash didn’t lower the guns. “The Cardinal is accompanying you... where, exactly?”
“California,” Lovino and Lupa said in unison. It was only at hearing the cardinal’s voice that Vash lowered his weapon, and even then he did so with great hesitation.
“No,” Vash said simply. “He doesn’t leave here, ever.”
“Well yes, that’s the point,” the wolf replied, not bothering to stand down.
“He's got much too much work to do - the trip to this California will take weeks!” Vash protested.
“Yeah, talk about me like I’m not here,” Lovino interupted, looking disapprovingly at Vash. “Zwingli. Trust the magic, talking, pagan wolf.”
“....” Vash said.
“Well,” Lupa said, turning to Lovino. “Let’s get you packed.”
Chapter 2: Bonis Avibus
In which the magic, talking, pagan wolf drags Cardinal Lovino Vargas and a cursed cat to San Fransico via Sun Ferrari to go bird watching with a hipster
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Lovino didn’t imagine that he would need to explain the dog hair on his floor, but he almost felt bad for whoever had to clean it up. The damn wolf was shedding like fur was going out of style. While he had been packing - which really meant throwing clothes together for the next day and taking a tooth brush just in case - the stupid magic wolf was content to roll about on his floor, leaving her fuzz about everywhere, and criticise what he was pulling out of his drawers.
“Would you stop displaying yourself all over the floor?!” Lovino finally snapped, after an hour.
“It’s not a very comfortable floor,” Lupa shrugged, finally curling up in one of the corners. Lovino imagined that she probably had a point, since it was all stone with only one piece of carpeting beside his bed, but that was what one got for living in rooms that existed long before indoor heating.
“Mrrowr?” a more familiar voice came from the door jamb. Lovino looked up from his closet and smiled. “Hey, Boss.”
The cat darted over to Lovino happily, winding around his legs, before leaping up onto the dresser that rested next to the closet. Lovino gave the cat a small grin and scratched behind it’s ears. “I’m gonna be gone for a day or two.”
“Prrr?” Boss asked, tilting his head.
Lovino laughed, moving to scratch at the cat’s rear. “I know right? It's her fault.” He gestured vaguely over his shoulder, towards Lupa’s general direction. There was little surprise on Lovino’s face when Boss let out a yowl, fur standing on end and hissing.
Lupa lolled her head towards Lovino’s general direction. “Is the feline coming with us?”
“Dunno,” Lovino said, trying to stroke the cat’s back. “Boss isn’t actually mine, he's Gabriel's - er, one of our field agent’s. I've known him since I was a kid. Definitely an old cat, but like Gabriel, pretty much lives forever.” He paused, looking down at Boss. “Think that Gab would let you?”
Boss leaped onto Lovino’s shoulder with another defensive hiss, fixing his eyes onto the wolf. She looked vaguely annoyed, but that was it. Lovino didn’t show any pain from the cat scaling his arm. “Well, I don’t think Gab could argue with that, at any rate,” Lovino mused.
“I don’t mind,” Lupa said, noncommitally. “As long as he doesn’t try to claw my eyes out.”
“Sounds like a fair compromise,” Lovino replied, looking at Boss. “Got that?”
The cat rubbed his face against Lovino’s cheek understandingly, then resumed his glare.
Antonio wasn’t quite sure what to do with a wolf dragging Lovino out of the Vatican, but then again he wasn’t sure what to do with a talking wolf that wasn’t a werewolf to begin with. He opted for staring disapprovingly at her, unwilling to provoke in front of Lovino. The wolf seemed to have the same idea, and the two began a staring contest that lasted all of two minutes, when Lupa excused herself from the room. Lovino looked like he was going to take a nap before leaving, which gave Antonio all the excuse he needed to leave the cardinal alone and follow the creature.
The wolf hadn’t gone far - she was sitting a few feet away from Lovino’s door, looking at it expectantly. She nodded at Antonio, in what to her was a respectful manner. “A word?”
Antonio walked over, mirroring her position exactly when he sat down, up to including the tail wrapped around his front. “What do you really want with Lovino?”
“I have no underlying motive. The changes in monster pattern effect the group I manage and yours. I seek the why and a more accurate augury requires leaders from all relevant organizations be there. The fact that he is a Vargas is secondary.”
The cat flicked his tail slightly. “'m still coming along with him. He doesn't do very well out there. And I still don't trust you. Or the way you just said his name.”
“Do define how poor ‘doesn’t do very well’ is.”
Antonio sighed. “Paranoid, prone to panic attacks when he gets lost, and he yells at people a lot which doesn't do him any favours.”
Lupa narrowed her eyes. “And he's been coddled and allowed to remain as such?”
“It’s,” Antonio started, trying to explain the circumstances without launching into the full story. “It wasn't too bad until his brother died and his mother, uh... became unable to look after him. He's lived in the Vatican constantly since then. Which is why I'm worried about him going out. He barely tolerates the tourist crowds as it is.”
“You'll forgive me my commentary, but that is utterly stupid.” Lupa rolled her eyes. “Harsh circumstances make people stronger, allowing them to be looked after as children for far too long turns them into weaklings unable to face every day people, never mind the challenges of this and like organizations. Holing up in a world does an individual no use.”
“You’re the wolf of Roman legend?”
“I suppose you would say that, then,” Antonio replied. “Anyway, if you force him it'll hurt him even more. And that I won't tolerate.” His tone lost it’s calm for a moment, replaced by a harsh edge. “I'm not always a cat.”
“Which leads me to my next question,” Lupa said, looking down the corridor. “What are you, exactly?”
“Well, I'm like this most of the time. Lovi's right, I am cursed, but it's not that I'm an immortal cat. I'm an immortal man who happens to look like a cat. I become human again randomly for short periods of time. My name's Antonio. Gabriel's brother.”
Lupa began to trot down the corridor, stopping in front of a window. “I assume it’s safer to call you Boss then?” She very carefully balanced on her hind legs, resting her front paws on the windowsill and pressing her nose to the glass.
Antonio followed her. “That's what Lovino calls me. It'd be weird otherwise. He'd get confused, since he also knows me as a human, but hasn't connected the two. I'd prefer he didn't.”
“The boy’s that thick?”
The cat shrugged. “I've been careful. I think he has inklings but dismisses them because it's strange to think about. Besides, he'd then have to reconcile the fact he has a crush on the human me, and yet uses the cat me as a confidant, which he would never do with a human.”
“Mm,” Lupa replied, her eyes daring to the cityscape before her. It was not her Rome, not by a long shot, but it was good to see the hills again. Dimly, she could still see the swamps, trees and mud huts, flickering at her from the distant past. Antonio leapt onto the window ledge next to her and looked out, trying to see what it was she was looking at. When he couldn’t figure it out, and when it was clear she was lost in her own thoughts, he darted off to return to Lovino’s room.
Lovino was fast asleep when Antonio padded in, and the cat had half a mind to join the cardinal in dreams. It was tempting, but Antonio had little faith that the she-wolf might nip in the middle of the night and tear out Lovino’s throat. He stayed awake for as long as possible, until finally falling asleep around three in the morning.
Antonio was awoken by a barely awake Lovino trying to pick him up and throw him over his shoulder. Lovino was muttering about time to hitch a ride to fuck knows where and that they needed to get going now. Antonio gave a purr and readjusted himself to a more comfortable position in Lovino’s arms. Lupa was beside them, apparently, matching her pace to the priest’s and looking far more awake than either Antonio or Lovino. “The highest point would be ideal,” she was saying. “Our ride will find us.”
“Mph,” Lovino said concisely, letting his feet guide the trio through the underground passage ways of the Hunter Headquarter, up far too many flights of stairs, then into Saint Peter’s Basilica. Somewhere, at the back of his mind, Lovino imagined that meeting pagan gods here would be a blasphemy, but the rest of his mind decided it was too tired to care. It debated with itself all the way up and onto the roof, where rosy fingered dawn had just begun to creep over the city.
Lupa was prowling around the roof, looking skyward as if she had been expecting someone. Lovino found a quiet spot, near where the tourist cafe was, and sat. His mind had decided that sleep was the most important thing and -- his eyes snapped awake. Suddenly it was very hot on the roof.
“Come on, pup!” Lupa was barking at him from the furthest point on the roof top.
Okay. Lovino could handle talking wolves. But now there were flying cars, and that was just stupid. Not that he minded the car exactly - it could have been the splitting image of his great uncle’s 1968 Ferrari 330 GTS. Hell, maybe it got stolen and taught to fly, it was in that good of a condition - although it was now a four seater rather than a two seater car. That, and the guy driving it looked nothing like Zio Vittore - he was young, blonde, and grinned far too early in the morning. Lupa growled again.
Lovino looked down at Antonio, who was eyeing the flying car warily. The priest sighed, shuffling over relucantly. “This is how you get around? Seriously?”
Lupa had hopped into the back seat of Ferrari. “No, this is getting Lord Apollo to repay a debt he’s owed me since the reign of Nero.”
“And I’m glad to be rid of it,” the driver replied, offering Lovino a smile that was all shiny white teeth. “Especially since it means shuttling around someone other than Domina Lupa. And not a bad looking someo--”
“OI!” Lovino bellowed at the same time Lupa growled. Apollo laughed, a glorious silvery laugh.
“No one knows how to take a compliment these days! Anyway, let’s get moving, I have a schedule to maintain.”
It wasn’t until Antonio hopped into the car that Lovino became convinced that this was remotely safe, and once in he insisted on putting on his seat belt, signing himself with the cross and insisting that Antonio be on his lap the entire duration of the flight. Ride. Whatever it was. And whatever it was, he sure as fuck wasn’t sleeping in it, because it was hot as balls and then some - even Lupa look displeased.
He didn’t question the logic of a Ferrari being a sun chariot either, or how the sun was even attached to the stupid car. Lovino had a nagging feeling that it was all some ridiculous pagan metaphor that got beaten over the head by science and -- huh. It had an iPod dock in it, and the god didn’t actually seem to notice when Lovino picked it up and started scrolling through the artists listing.
“What don’t you have on here?” Lovino muttered. He had only just started on the Bs, and he was certain that they had been in the car for two hours.
“Bad music,” Apollo replied. “Which means pretty much nothing is out of range.”
“Libraries would kill for this.”
“Oh, I don’t doubt that,” the god grinned. “There’s a good deal on there that’s never been recorded. How’s your cat holding up?”
Lovino looked down at Antonio. The cat had splayed itself out miserably in Lovino’s lap, trying to stretch as much as possible. “Uhhhh.”
“Three more hours,” Apollo said. He turned back to face Lupa, taking both hands off the wheel. “Where am I dropping you?”
“Twin Peaks would be fine,” Lupa replied. “And I’m with the cat - can you kindly put on some air conditioning?”
Apollo muttered something that was probably in another language, and probably an insult by the way Lupa reacted, but put the air on none the less. It felt good on Lovino’s face, and Antonio perked up almost immediately.
Another hour passed wordlessly. Apollo apparently didn’t follow the rule of driver picks the music, and so Lovino found himself finding out what a lay service sounded like in 15th century Italy, the bawdy songs old monks used to sing while brewing beer and too many old Beatles songs to count.
“So,” Lovino said after a while, “How is this thing the sun? Metaphors?”
“Pretty much, actually,” Apollo said, turning the wheel to the right. “Always has been.”
Lovino raised an eyebrow. “Really?”
Apollo paused, then nodded. “Well, it used to be a bit more literal, but well. If I was to take a day off, a big ball of gas that gives off light would still create the sun rise, but it wouldn’t have the same meaning, you know?”
“The metaphors are what, in the trunk?”
The god laughed, “Well, I suppose you can say that they’re a type of baggage.”
Lovino groaned, and Antonio mirrored the noise. “That was bad.”
Apollo only laughed harder, continuing the journey in silence. Somewhere over the east coast, Lovino found himself drifting off to sleep again and lingered there until Antonio pawed at his chest, mewing loudly.
“Everyone out!” the god declared, projecting into Lovino’s ear. That was the last straw, and the priest stumbled out of the passenger’s door with a stunning quickness. Lupa followed, leaping over the car’s side.
The sun-Ferrari left almost immediately after Lupa had scrambled out. Lovino stared, then put one foot in front of the over. He then fell down rather spectacular. “Christ!”
“You get used to it,” Lupa said, shaking her fur out. “Let’s go.”
“Shit, give me a minute!” Lovino groaned, slowly bringing himself up to lean against one of the trees. “I don’t travel via fucking sun chariot every day!” He didn’t run into pagan gods who flirted with him every day either, but Lovino decided not to dwell on that. Boss looked similarly shaken up, and was digging claws into Lovino’s shoulder.
Lupa sighed, but waited none the less. “We,” Lovino added, after a moment, “are never doing that again.”
“Fine, try air line travel in that record timing,” Lupa said, starting to walk forward.
Lovino opened his mouth to protest, but then stopped. They had been dropped off on top of one of the city’s hills - he guessed in an uninhabited area - overlooking the Bay. “That’s him?” Lovino asked, watching as a low orange glow began to break over the city.
“Mm,” Lupa said. “Or your God. Doesn’t matter much.”
“It’s gorgeous,” he said softly.
Lupa nodded in agreement, pausing for a few more moments for the cardinal to recollect his jaw. “Come along, then,” she said, trotting in what could only be the direction of the city.
Both Lovino and Boss followed after her, reeling from the chariot ride. It wasn’t until Lovino could walk without wobbling everywhere that he realized that they were very far from the water, and there was no way that they were going to walk there.
“Hey,” he said. “How are we making it to er-- wherever it is we need to be?”
“Trolley,” Lupa said.
“How?” Lovino asked. “You’re kind of a wolf.”
Lupa turned and offered what might have been a smile. “You under estimate how used to weird stuff this city is.”
“Clearly,” Lovino said, letting out a long suffering sigh.
Weird had been an under statement. Traveling from the Twin Peaks area to the pier had involved several trolley changes, each tram packed with a startling array of people. Lovino couldn’t say he was surprised by the Asian population, people in well cut suits, school children and what he assumed were art school students given the array of hair colours, but he could say he was surprised by some of the body modifications he saw, the occasional orange mohawk, the people who hadn’t heard punk was dead, what might’ve been a monster given the way Lupa was growling at a plainly dressed woman in plaid or the fact someone had a bird on a leash and it was perched on his shoulder. He quietly chided himself for judging, mostly because he was a Roman Catholic priest with a cat perched on his shoulder and a wolf (who assured him she looked like a husky to most eyes) sitting on the seat next to him.
He remained quiet along Fisherman’s Warf as well - walking past tourist crowds that fought to see the city’s sea lion population, cafe after restaurant after tourist shop after clothing store, and at one point, a man hiding behind branches and leaping out at people.
Lupa wagged her tail happily. “Strange enough for you?”
“You’ve no idea,” he said. The tourist crowd was thinning out, and he noticed that she had begun to walk them down a lesser used dock. “And everyone’s badly dressed.”
“Well,” Lupa said, stepping carefully on the aged wood, “It’s the tourist area.”
“Nn,” Lovino replied. “Are we there yet?”
She continued down the pier. Lovino cringed at the creeks and groans of the boards below him. “What are we doing here again?”
“Bird watching with a mad man.”
“I could’ve done that at home with Frode,” Lovino muttered.
“I'm certain that Tages is much madder than your mad man.” She looked ahead, then let out a sharp bark. “As for doing this at home, well, you need accuracy.
A figure at the end of the dock turned and waved. He seemed to be standing beside a tripod. As Lovino walked closer, the only word that came into his mind was ‘hipster.’ From everything he had heard and seen online of hipster fashion, this man was it. He was dressed in jeans that were far too tight, had black rimmed glasses that looked flat out ridiculous, wore a beard that was equally silly, far too much plaid and a stupid ha-- no. He could approve of the hat, it was a black Sicilian coppola.
“Excellent!” he said, once they were in ear shot. “You’re early!” Lovino was vaguely glad the hipster was speaking in Italian rather than Latin.
Once Lovino, Lupa and Boss reached the end of the peer, the hipster quickly introduced himself as Tages, shook Lovino’s hand warmly, calling him Cardinal Vargas and then let his face fall serious. “I'm sorry to have dragged you all out here but well-- she explained the situation, yes? Monsters coming back to nest at home blah blee blah?”
Lovino blinked. This wasn’t the attitude he had been expecting from some pagan fortune teller. “Uh, yes, in so many words. She also said that you might know why.”
“Okay great, so let's skip the expostion and explain why we're dragging a Catholic cardinal out to do some Etruscan style field work!” Tages said. He talked in overly animated gestures, and Lovino had to remind himself that this man wasn’t an Italian contemporary. “You know how the birds in Rome fly, yes? They can go in one direction, then very suddenly dart in another way all together?”
“Of course,” Lovino said evenly. “It’s why the Romans used it to divine the future.”
“Tch!” Tages said. “The Etruscans taught the Romans how to look at the birds and interpret their patterns. I personally wrote the book on the matter! Well, scroll, technically, but none the less.”
Lupa growled. “Feed your ego later.”
Tages waved a dismissive hand. “She dislikes being reminded of Rome's debt to other cultures, excuse her. Anyway, the thing is we know what's happening, but we need to find out why. Augury is the best way we can, but for complete accuracy we really need all the effected groups present. Hunters, my people and her godlings.”
“And that’s why I’m out in fucking California,” Lovino finished.
“Yup!” Tages said brightly. “Now in the old days we’d need to be in a outside, draw a sacred square and wait for birdies to fly through but thanks to the camera,” he patted the mounted camera beside him, “I just have to set it to take pictures every few seconds then analyze the images!” The smile on his face told Lovino that he thought this was all very clever. “Any questions?”
Lovino opened his mouth, then closed it, absorbing all the information he could. Lupa continued to look mildly annoyed, which gave Tages enough time to lean over and scratch Antonio behind the ears and coo at him. Antonio purred and leaned into the touch.
“We're watching birds to predict the future,” Lovino finally said, flat.
“I said that to you in Rome,” Lupa sighed.
Tages continued to pet Antonio. “It sounds ridiculous, but it works. We wouldn't have used it and Rome wouldn't have adopted it otherwise.”
“And,” Lovino continued. “It's only the birds here, at this particular, half-broken, rotten excuse for a pier on the other side of this unendingly stupid planet, that we can actually fucking do that?!”
“Yup,” Tages said, finally withdrawing his hand from Antonio’s head and turning to the camera.
“I'm suddenly reminded of why I isolated myself in a giant stone building.”
Tages laughed like Lovino had meant it as a joke and looked through the camera’s viewfinder. “Your loss. This world is, and I mean it in the original sense of the word, awesome.”
Lovino shrugged. “I know it is, it's a creation of God. It's just sometimes the people in it make me test my faith more than a little.
“I did say he was anal retentive and mad,” Lupa said, once it was clear Tages was focused on tiny adjustments to the camera. She was speaking in Latin again, and Lovino matched it.
“The angle’s not that important, he’s just obsessed?”
Lupa smirked. “Seneca the Younger said it best. Whereas we believe lightning to be released as a result of the collision of clouds, they believe that the clouds collide so as to release lightning: for as they attribute all to deity, they are led to believe not that things have a meaning insofar as they occur, but rather that they occur because they must have a meaning.”
“Be glad it’s not livers.”
“Livers are perfectly reliable and I suggested the liver, but you said no, you'd rather have the sheep to eat rather than sacrifice,” Tages said absentmindedly, still in Italian. “Silly wolf.” He then straightened up. “Now, everyone sit down, shut up and watch the birds.”
Lovino sat down on the ancient wood carefully, looking before he took his seat in case any splinters decided to take aim at him. Antonio hopped into his lap with a content purr. On the opposite side of Tages’ camera, Lupa stayed seated on her haunches, watching the sky. Tages was the only one who didn’t take his own instructions, and instead stood armed with a note pad and pen.
At ten o’clock exactly, a bird flock began to fly overhead, exactly where Tages’ camera was aimed. The rapid fire click of the camera told Lovino that it had been automatically programmed, and the furrowed brow on Tages’ face said that this was something mildly important. Lupa seemed bored by the display, but Lovino had to admit there was a haunting beauty to it. The flock would bunch together and then thin out, whirling and dancing around each other. He had seen bird flocks do this before in Rome, but the novelty never wore off.
The display ended three minute and forty two seconds later. Lupa looked at the augur, a mildly bored expression on her face. “Well?”
“Nothing good, but we already knew that,” he said. His face had folded into a mess of worry lines, and his eyes were drifting towards one of the boats attached to the pier. “I’ll need an hour, hour and a half to analyze the images, but I can give a precursory reading.”
“Go on,” Lovino said, not bothering to stand up.
Tages took a deep breath. “The gods are starting to see another societal downturn here and are looking for a new centre which may be as close as Canada, may be moving back to Europe, may be south America. The point is that they’re full of uncertainty and want to withdraw their influence for a while and let things play out before they make another decision. That said, the monsters are getting lost on their way back here because of the decreased godly presence,. This means that they're instinctively returning home - better known as Italy and Greece. The overall them of that pattern though was indecision. I can get more out of it after I download the images off the camera’s memory card.”
Lovino and Lupa frowned, having only caught a small fraction of what he said. “Great. Wonderful. Even more work, as though we didn't have enough trouble to deal with already,” grumbled Lovino.
“You already had a minotaur flare up a few months back, right?” Tages asked.
Lovino nodded, the ghost of a smile resting on his lips. “Yes, I sent Karpusi to deal with it. He performed excellently.”
“Then you’ve had a taste of what’s to come.” Tages began to remove the camera from it’s mount. “You can either join me on my boat while I process these,” he waved at a boat happily emblazoned with the words Tanaquil’s Pride on it, “Or I can meet you at Starbucks in an hour and a half and give you a full report.”
The hiss Antonio answered the question for Tages, and the cardinal stood up without another word. Lupa looked at Tages. “Which one?”
“One that’s to the right when you get off the dock,” Tages said, collapsing the tripod.
“Fine,” Lovino said. “And if I fall through the fucking wood on this dock I am going to have your head.”
Tages watched Lupa and Lovino leave, slightly dumbstruck. He wasn’t aware that priests were allowed to make threats on one’s life these days.
*Literally, “Today me, Tomorrow you.” Chapter title translates as "under good birds" or "under good signs."
*Tages. Following the world logic of the Percy Jackson world, an Etruscan camp would be located in the Pacific north west - I chose Portland because the Etruscans were doing augury since before Rome thought it was cool. And that's historical fact.
*Apollo is somewhat taken from the Percy Jackson series
Chapter 3: Bene Ambula et Redambula
In which some information about the founding of the Hunters is revealed along with Lovino's heritage and everything ends with people wiser than they were before.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Antonio had found that being a cute cat got you whatever you needed in life, up to and including free milk by hanging outside the alley next to Starbucks and mewing pitifully. He was now lapping up organic fat free milk which didn't taste very good, but it was better than nothing. Lupa was leaning against the alley wall, eyes closed.
“You know,” Antonio said, breaking the silence, “I've not been to the Americas for quite a while. My brother and I frequent Europe more.”
“It’s a place, certainly,” Lupa said. The brick was cool against her fur. “Everything gets mixed up here. It’s almost impossible to remain steadfast against it. Not a good place for gods or tradition.”
“Yeah, no kidding.” Antonio stretched, dragging his front paws out in front of him. “There are all sorts of weird things here. Like whatever creature cursed my brother. It called itself a god too." He snorted. "Try and tell me this place is no good for gods once you see how that thing was thriving.”
“Wait. North or South America?”
“South. Somewhere in what I think is part of Brazil now? Deep in the rain forest, in an ancient cave.” Antonio was vaguely aware of his tail moving, although not to the violent extent that Lupa saw. “At that point, we'd figured I was immortal, but my brother was still aging, looking for a cure for my curse. So we tried the New World, and the magicks here. That was a mistake.”
“Well, there you go then. The southern part is untamed still - whatever gods were there probably still are, and are far more defensive than the one you encountered when it was still virgin territory,” Lupa said somberly. “We trend with human endeavour, but losing our primary culture made it hard. For a while we camped out in Byzantium, then to Florence and Venice, then to France, then England during the Victorian era. Always tied to the west. And we’ve run out of west.”
“I can’t imagine it’s easy,” Antonio offered. “Although I wonder what makes your gods so determined to stay.”
“The Greeks and Romans?” Lupa asked, continuing after Antonio nodded. “Well, what else are they going to do, die out? Why else do you think they have so many children?”
“Mm,” Antonio grunted. “But their genetics don’t get passed on, do they?”
“No,” Lupa said. “But we call those children of their children legacies, and they retain some power. Your cardinal is an example.”
Antonio stared. “Come again?”
“Cognomen Vargas. Old family, correct? In your society since time immemorial?”
“One of the founders of your society was an ancestor - a son of Jupiter by the name of Titus Marcus Vargus,” Lupa said evenly. "The cognomen changed, but I assure you, family traits have not if your cardinal is anything to go by."
Antonio laughed. It was the only thing he could do - it was ridiculous to even think about. Lovino, a descendent of the chiff of the Roman pantheon. Lupa didn’t share in the laugh. “The family has horrible luck, correct? Recent and in the past?”
“Well, yes, but,” Antonio started to say. “That’s the cause?”
“Juno’s abhorrence for her husband having affairs with mortal women is almost in the blood,” Lupa continued. “Tell me some of the things that have happened and consider my explanation.”
“Where to start?” the cat mused. “He lost a brother, for one. Younger brother. Sweet kid actually. Tended to upstage Lovino a bit by being so cute and friendly whereas Lovino isn't a people person. I think Lovino compared himself to him too much. Still does.” He paused, scratching his ear with his hind leg. “Anyway Felicinao's dissa-- death caused his mother's breakdown. Lovino told me once that he wished he was Feliciano so she would get better. But that's impossible. His grandfather died from a werewolf and he had lost his older brother and sister. Ironically, they were named Romulus and Remus Before that, oh goodness, their father lost face entirely because of Mussolini, their great-great-grandfather lost an eye to a ghoul, one ancestor almost lost children to Dracula and well, we always figured it was just bad luck.” He stopped. “Your explanation does make sense.”
Lupa nodded. “I’m surprised you don’t have records of Titus. Do you have anything written down about your own founding?”
“We might’ve, at one point. If there was, the documentation got destroyed, if it ever existed.”
Lupa shruged. “Any documentation wouldn’t have been written the day or week of the founding. Most of us were illiterate.”
“Fair then. I couldn’t read or write when I first joined the hunters,” Antonino yawned. “Learning was so hard.”
“I'm still not literate myself,” Lupa admitted. “Although Brown occasionally reads me everyones’ Twitter feeds.”
“Aaaaahhh!” Antonio groaned, burying his head between his paws. “Lovi yells whenever you mention that thing. I don't even know what it is but it must be annoying.”
“It’s a lot of thinly veiled complaining,” Lupa snickered. “It’s amusing.”
“That'll be why he hates having it used in meetings then.”
Lupa grinned. “From what I recall, there's a lot of complaining about the meetings. And speculations on how large his nostrils can flare.”
Antonio laughed. “Record is three centimetres from my observation!”
The wolf clamped both of her paws over her muzzle, trying to hold in her laughs. She failed wonderfully and the two rolled in their entertainment, until Lupa finally took a sobering breath.
“Speaking of impotent rage, he's been in that accursed coffee store for a while now.”
Antonio followed suit, standing up. “I’ll go check on him then. Er...I guess you’ll stay here?”
He left after Lupa nodded, trotting into the Starbucks without much fuss. If anyone noticed him, they said nothing, and it was very easy to find Lovino. The cardinal had found a plush arm chair in the corner and curled up, sleeping. He looked relaxed, and Antonio felt bad leaping onto his lap and purring loudly in his ear. The cardinal took a few moments to register what was going on, and when he did, he barely wanted to move. “Hn?” he said thickly. “How long was I out, Boss?”
The cat purred at him happily and leaped off his lap, darting towards the door. Lovino sighed and forced himself to stand up, following him out. Lupa was lingering at the alley as Antonio approached.
“He just nods off. Guess he was stressed out.” Antonio whispered, gesturing behind him. “Where’s the other guy?”
Lupa gestured in the opposite direction of the street. Tages was walking towards them, a large cup of coffee in one hand and a file folder tucked neatly under his arm. He and Lovino reached the alley entrance at the same time.
“I got my Starbucks mixed up,” Tages said apologetically.
“It’s fine,” Lovino muttered. “Although why do they need to have two of them on the same street?”
“It’s America,” Tages grinned, offering Lovino the folder. Lovino took it gingerly and began to leaf through.
In very precise print - Italian, even - Tages had compiled images of the bird flock with explainations of what each movement meant and all possible interpretations, ranked one through three in terms of likelihood. He had also included a basic guide to signs as well as means of contact in case Lovino had questions or had found some new monster the Hunters hadn’t encountered - to say nothing of the full report that Tages had written, detailing the probable withdrawl of power, what monsters would reappear first and where. Lovino knew he needed more time to read it over, but-- still. For pagan divination, this was impressive, and he said so. Tages beamed.
“I wish some of my profilers paid this much attention to detail,” Lovino muttered, flicking through the pages. “You wouldn't consider joining the Hunters would you?”
“Tell you what,” the augur offered. “I can freelance.”
“That’ll do,” Lovino said, pausing, then offering a hand. “...Thanks. To the both of you.”
Tages took it, shaking it warmly. “Quite welcome. Just remember, these are not good for exact details, just painting a general sketch. There’s no way of telling it’ll rain tomorrow in those birds.”
“There are other forecasts for that,” Lovino said, letting go. Tages grinned and offered Lovino a Roman salute and then walking off. The priest watched him for a few moments, then looked down at Lupa. “How do we get home?”
“Luna,” Lupa said. “Diana is otherwise occupied.”
“A moon chariot,” Lovino muttered. “Sure, why not?”
However, it was only 12.30 in the afternoon. The trio wandered quietly around Fisherman’s Warf for another hour or two, then simply walked along the hills before settling in another Starbuck’s. Lupa was content to nap outside, Antonio hiding himself under one of the chairs so that he could remain with Lovino.
Night fell long after dinner, which Lupa had to convince Lovino to eat. Discerning Italians, Lovino had argued, need not apply for crappy American food. Lupa dragged him to a small cafe and insisted he at least get a salad, as she could hear his stomach rumbling from a few feet away. Lovino compromised, going so far as to order a pretentious pizza with fig and prosciutto on it. Reluctantly, he declared it not bad and engulfed the entire small pie, feeding only one slice to Lupa who had lounged casually on the sidewalk next to the cafe’s outdoor seating.
“Where’re we meeting our ride?” Lovino asked, waiting for the check. He was trying not to look insane for talking down at the street dog that was hanging around.
“Pier 39. Five minute walk,” Lupa said.
Lovino paid quickly with his credit card - praying that his bank account didn’t deny him the purchase under the suspicion it had been stolen - then left, following Lupa again. It felt like all he had done was follow people around and let himself be guided, rather than be the grumpy master of his domain. It was an unwelcoming feeling, and he had half the mind to never do it again.
Lupa cast Lovino a dark glance over her shoulder as they begna to wade through the evening tourist crowd. Pier 39 had begun to hum to life, the arcade lighting up in the fading sun, amusement park rides carrying the shrieks of childeren and adults alike and the smell of popcorn filled the air. Lovino was doing his best to tune it all out, but the noise still made him smile. It was a glorious cacaphony of unbridled happiness and elation, and it was marvelous to hear.
The crowd didn’t thin out as they approached the end of the pier either. It wouldn’t, Lovino chided himself, because it was a tourist attraction, but it made him worry about how easy it would be to hide another flying car.
“Ah?” he asked, when they reached the end of the pier.
Lupa was looking up, a smile on her face. “Here she is.”
It wasn’t a Ferrari this time - in fact, it didn’t look to be anything special at first glance. Just a dark blue saloon car that glowed in the night. The driver inside it was an older woman, maybe forty, with a cheerful smile, auburn hair and soft jazz emitting from the car stereo. Lovino looked at it again - the car was a Chevrolet Impala. He was sure it was meant to be ironic, but he couldn’t think of the connection.
“Lady Luna,” Lupa said, doing a wolf version of a bow. Lovino wasn’t sure why Lupa was doing this, but he dare not say anything.
Luna smiled at her, then looked to Lovino. “Front or back?”
“Er.” Lovino said, then opening the back door. “You mind?”
“Not at all,” the goddess replied. The trio climbed into the back, squishing together. Antonio settled on Lovino’s lap again, and Lupa curling up on the floor. “Domina Lupa, where is it we’re landing?”
“Ask the cardinal,” Lupa said.
“Vatican Hill? There’s a cloister near the library that will get me back to where I usually am.”
“Sure thing,” Luna replied.
It was a smoother flight than before, that much was certain. As a driver, Luna barely sped, although Lovino logically knew that they were going around 2,000 miles per hour. What he loved doing though was sneaking a look out the back, seeing night fall in the wake of the car. It wasn’t even just the eerie blue of the Pacific Ocean, or what Asia looked like beneath them, lighting up in their wake. It was the sensation of it and even if they were pagan gods, it was still incredible.
He stayed awake the entire ride, head pressed against the passenger window and eyes wide with childlike wonder. It was almost disappointing when he saw Rome in the windsheild, and moreso when they began to descend, landing in the Hunter’s Cloister.
“Thanks,” he said, opening the door. “That was....really amazing.”
Luna gave him a gentle smile. “I hope I was better than Apollo?”
“I think a lot of people are,” Lovino replied, watching Lupa and Antonio hop out. "Er. But not like that. Although probably like that too."
A laugh came from Luna, and the Impala roared off, leaving Lovino with his miniature zoo in the Hunter’s Cloister. It took him no time at all to gain his legs back, and he walked over to the eastern wall. He knocked on a section of it once, twice, thrice, and then in a pattern that probably had some meaning back when the society was young.
“Well?” Lovino said, turning back towards Lupa. “You gonna come in and prove Vash wrong, or is this good bye?”
Lupa trotted over, grinning. “I would very much like to prove your nanny goat wrong.”
The wall opened before them, revealing a set of subterranean stairs. Lovino and Antonio stepped in first, Lupa trailing after them. It was 72 stairs down - Romano only knew that because he had counted them the first time he ever entered head quarters, and he found himself amused at the number. Lupa, for her part, was simply taking it all in and sniffing the air madly. She had never been into the Hunter’s den, and she doubted she would enter it ever again.
Upon coming off the last step, they found themselves in a long corridor that stretched out in either direction, as well as looking at an elaborate iron door in front of them. It was lovingly engraved with the Society’s crest, and Lovino’s hands rested on the handles.
“I suggest you let me walk in first,” he said. “ They'll probably shoot you first and ask questions later.”
Lupa nodded to show he understood, then let the cardinal fling the door open. The sounds and scents of the mess hall bombarded her at once - zucchini risotto, chorizo, roast chicken, tomatoes, all spice, saffron, and conversation in too many languages to count. The minute that Lovino stepped through the door though, the room fell silent and stood to attention in quick succession. Lovino’s sneakers echoed on the marble floor, and he gestured for everyone to be seated.
“Before you continue,” he said, walking towards the food section and grabbing a plate. “I'm giving you a warning. If you shoot the animal that follows in this door behind me, I will have Vash shoot you, and dump you in the Tiber. Understood?”
All the assembled hunters nodded, allowing the cardinal to take his risotto in peace. “Resume,” he said, once he had reached the end of the line and grabbed his utensils. Lupa took that as good an indication as any that she could walk in, and did so. Antonino padded on one of the tables beside her, taking the stunned silence as an opportunity to snag a sausage. Lovino waited for them both at the opposite end of the mess hall.
“They listen well,” Lupa said in Latin, once in ear shot. It was likely the room still heard her - the noise level was still barely a whisper.
“A trait that comes and goes depending on the amount of booze they've snuck in,” Lovino sighed, pushing the door next to him open.
“In wine, truth,” Lupa said, trailing after him. “ Mind, everyone used to be in some state of intoxication during the days of Rome.”
“You know,” Lovino replied, “That explains a lot.”
They paused for all of a moment, waiting for Antonio to rejoin them. The cat placed a sausage down in front of the much larger wolf, who gave Antonio a gentle nudge and then snapped the meat up all in one bite. A few minutes later, which involved two flights of stairs and three hallways with far too many doors, Lovino breezed into Vash’s office.
“I’m back,” he said, walking past the Swiss Guard’s desk.
Vash looked up from the piece of paper he had been doodling on. “So you are.” He then looked down at Lupa, narrowing her eyes. The wolf wagged her tail and offered him a grin.
“And no worse for wear,” she added. “Unless you wish to check him for bumps and bruises.”
“...” Vash said to the magic, talking, pagan wolf, taking into account the weary look Lovino was given him. He imagined that it was supernatural jet lag and decided to return to his work.
Lupa gave Vash a curt nod, then walked over to Lovino. She sat down again and offered a paw. Lovino placed his plate of risotto down on the ground and then took it, marveling at how ridiculous this all was. “Do you need a place to stay for the night or are you good?”
“I can find my own way back,” Lupa said. Lovino had to blink, as the perpetual edge in her voice had disappeared. “But thank you.”
“Yeah, well,” Lovino said, letting go of her paw. “If you want to come back some time, I'll make sure they don't shoot you.”
Lupa nodded. “Noted, and with deep gratitude, Lovino.”
“Hey can I--?” Lovino paused, reaching a hand out towards Lupa’s head.
“Yes, so long as your cat can show me a more hidden way out.”
Lovino gently scratched behind one of Lupa’s ears, “Do you mind, Boss?”
The cat, who had perched himself on Lovino’s shoulder at some point that Lovino had missed entirely, purred happily, leaping off after Lovino withdrew his hand.
“It freaks me out how well he understands human speech,” Lovino said with a shaky laugh. “Anyway. Later.”
He disappeared with his plate of risotto back through the office door without another word. Antonio waited until the door shut, then looked at Lupa with a proud grin. “He’s good with animals.”
The wolf said nothing in response -only replying once they were in the corridor.
“It was oddly satisfying to see him do such crowd control.”
“Lovino does use the power of his office occasionally,” Antonio said, speaking ahead into the corridor. “He doesn't like to do it too often. It lessens the impact when he does. “
“That’s very smart of him, actually,” Lupa replied. “He cuts more of a figure with a calmer and more commanding voice than spluttering like a pup over small things.”
Antonio paused, staring at the door in front of them. Lupa sighed and lowered herself to the ground, figuring the cat needed a boost. Antonio climbed onto her back, forcing the door open. It lead to another set of stairs and more doors, but Lupa couldn’t say that was surprising. The entire place was a labyrinth.
“Thanks,” the cat said, trotting up the stairs. “Sometimes this form has drawbacks, and I can’t exactly will myself into being a human just for the sake of opening doors.” He began to pick the pace up, reaching another door soon after. This one had a number of boxes stacked beside it, and he scaled them with ease. The door, Lupa supposed, reacted to his DNA or other technology, because it opened the minute he climbed the last box. She made a little noise of approval, then walked through the door and onto the streets of Rome.
“There are worse curses than being a cat, I suppose,” she offered weakly, taking in the scent of her old city in it’s entirty. “Lyacon’s springs to mind.”
“You mean the werewolves? Yeah, at least my transformations aren't painful, and I keep in control of myself all the time.” He sat down beside her. “You know where you’re going?”
“Tiber Island,” Lupa said, starting to walk. They had emerged on the side of the Castel Sant’Angelo, which meant it would take ten minutes tops. Antonio scurried to keep pace with her. “And I tend not to use their actual name - names have power, and there were two in my territory not too long ago.”
“Did you chase them off?” Antonio asked, weaving between the legs of tourists.
Lupa grinned. “I sent them towards Tages. I doubt they made it that far.”
“Likely,” Antonio said, imagining that there were probably interesting monsters between the two. Tages had never said where he was based though, and Antonio didn't feel like asking was a wise idea. “Why not just kill them yourself if you dislike them so much?”
“Why waste my time?” Lupa said with an elegant shrug. Antonio nodded in agreement, then fell into silence. From the way the wolf kept pausing to sniff at the air, or to take in a shop that Antonio had seen many times before, he had to wonder what was going through her mind - especially if she did remember when the places was nothing but huts and mud.
“How long has it been since you were--”
“410, CE,” Lupa said, cringing. “When it was sacked by Alaric. The closest I got to coming back was when power shifted to Florence and Venice.”
“Ah,” Antonio offered weakly. Tiber Island was in sight, and Lupa seemed to be barely holding back a desire to run.
“The entire attitude of the place has changed,” Lupa said, walking onto the bridge.
“It’s always in flux,” Antonio said. “But how do you mean--?
“It is.....Rome loved life, but it had some romanticized element of discipline. That element has long left this city.”
“So, you’re go back to the beginning?” Antonio asked, as they walked onto Tiber Island. It wasn’t big at all - home of a very small park and a hospital. “That’s how you get back?”
Lupa began to walk towards the south of the island. “In a cartoon, you know how a child digs a hole in their back yard and ends up in China?”
“Yes? Is there a portal here?”
“Similar to cartoon logic. Enter the cave here, and you re-emerge in San Fransico..”
“Huh,” Antonio said. “Can only half bloods and gods use it or--?” The idea of such transportation sounded perfect for hunters.
“Yes,” Lupa said, almost too quickly. It was a lie, of course, as it was limited further but Antonio didn’t need to know that. “I will leave you here then.”
Antonio nodded. “It was nice of you to come to us as you did.”
Lupa gave Antonio a smile and bumped her nose to his. “Hopefully, I will not need to see you again.”
“Nothing wrong with a social visit. Lovi doesn't mind, nor do I. “
“I will drag that boy kicking and screaming into the world if I return.”
“Someone's got to, I'm just not brave enough!” Antonio said cheerfully, turning around. “Happy travels.”
“Boccal al lupo,” Lupa replied with a nod.
She turned her tail to Antonio after that, walking down towards the edge of the water. Where the steps should have ended, the ground opened up, leading into a deep and dark cave. Antonio turned around long enough to see her descend, then considered following after her. He blinked, and the cave was gone, back to wherever it had come from.
Quietly, Antonio began to wander back towards the Vatican. He was starting to feel the same chariot lag as Lovino, and needed to confer to Gabriel what had transpired that day. It was something his brother needed to know - although Antonio was unsure how okay Gabriel might be with more magical talking animals.
*Literally, “Today me, Tomorrow you.” Chapter title translates as "a safe journey to you."
*Luna is the Roman goddess of the moon.
*Not much to add here, really. Thanks for reading.