The Birth of an Assassin

In honour of Halloween, here’s a trick and a treat from The Lion & The Wolf. I’ll leave you to decide what the trick is.

The Lion knew that sin well enough; the sin of being born with his mother’s last breath brought censure upon his head from her grieving family. He had long ago given up blaming himself. His mother would’ve been long dead without his hasty arrival into the world. If she’d lived to be a hundred, she would still have been dead for centuries.

When Fane found him, half buried on a battle field, the blood of a thousand soldiers haunting his flesh, he had told him the secrets of a life he’d never contemplated. Fane spoke of angels and demons, of vampires and werewolves. He spoke of magic and knowledge and power.

The lion remembered some of what happened before his death. The man he considered a brother had cursed him with his bite. He was both alive and dead. Sentient and unmoving. His agonised screams were silent. Fane’s voice and the shuffling progress of worms were his ears’ companions. He saw nothing when he was buried, even though his eyes were open to the sky. At night, something cold and angry detached itself from his corpse and fed on whatever creature was foolish enough to cross its path.

“Soon you will emerge without a soul,” Fane had said. “You will rise undead regardless, but if I could save your soul, would you take a bargain? I cannot save you from the curse of immortality, but I can save your soul. What say you, brave one?”

He hadn’t known then how to frame words with his formless mouth. When he was out of his shallow grave at night, he was all shadow and mist and mourning. How could he make words without his tongue? Without his breath?

“You are thinking too hard,” Fane had said. “And what does that tell you? That your brain is working even if it is still buried in that pit. Let the words come. Let me hear you. I won’t bring you up until you consent to it, but you must do it soon, before the matter is out of my hands.”

“You can see me?”

Fane smiled. “I have watched you stalk your prey night after night. You are as stealthy as a lion. I feel your pain. You have been betrayed, yes?”

“Will it always be like this? The pain?”

“It will ease if you allow me to raise you,” said Fane. “I had men among my ranks who would not allow me to raise them. Men who eventually clawed their way from their graves, unwhole, soulless.”

“Had?”

“The pain was too much. They asked for mercy.”

“Did you give it?”

“I tried to, but it was not mine to give.”

“What happened to them?”

“They live in purgatory.”

“Bring me out of my grave. Please. I consent.”

“You will owe a life debt.”

“I consent.”

“You will be my bravest and most loyal,” said Fane. “Mein Löwe.”

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