The Wolves of Rome

Mages of Rome

March 14th, 2023
It had taken three days to clear the reservation of the large meeting room on the third floor of the Capitoline Museum. It had taken two days to successfully contact every competent mage in Rome and another day to get them to agree to gather here. It had taken four days to prepare the foundations for this gathering. Now, if all went as planned, it would take only one day for Lord Albion Nassar’s plan to come together.

There were not many mages left in Rome. Though, if he was to be truthful, there were not many mages left anywhere in the world. They tended to gather in smaller and more rural places, where a small group gathering could still be ignored without the constant noise and paranoia of the urban sprawl. This rural isolation fit nicely with the technophobic habit that most mages held. Albion Nassar, however, was not most mages. He enjoyed the bustle of an urban city, the level of power that could be gained behind a veil of anonymity, and the luxury he could build for himself. Money was more powerful over the minds of the mundane masses than almost any enchantment. Now, however, money was worth the paper it was printed on and nothing more. What people wanted now was safety. It was that desire for safety, that need, which would allow him to rise to the top of this little sanctuary.

“They’re approaching the meeting room now, Master.” The smooth silky voice of Suty came to his ear as she appeared behind his chair. Suty was a minor daemon, useful for simple tasks and sending messages while being bound entirely to his will.

“Well done, Suty.” He glanced back at her, and she offered a broad toothy smile in return.

As the other mages of Rome filed in, he eyed them up one by one. He had a talent for observation, but it did not take much to determine that Rome’s magical community was in a sorry state.

“Announcing the young Miss Aldobrandini.” Suty said as his apprentice entered the room first.

Catarina was an interesting specimen. She had a good deal of enthusiasm and an idealistic streak. The former was useful if irritating, but the latter would have to be pressed out of her. In truth she was far more useful as a pawn then an apprentice. Her talent was limited and her application amateurish on top of a poor understanding of general theory. What was significant about her was her bloodline, which was so old and so renowned it might have been gold pumping through her veins for the amount it was worth. The arrangement and joining of bloodlines and families was practically a sport among established magi families. Magically-gifted blood was too precious to be wasted on the common rabble, and as her mentor and chief caretaker Albion was ideally placed to arrange for her suitor.

Catarina greeted him formally with a bow, the sun in her eyes and a smile on her face, ever eager to please. Albion gestured to the seat to his right and she was quick to take it.

“Anything I can get you, Miss Aldobrandini?” Suty almost slithered over to her. “Anything to eat or drink?” Judging by Suty’s posture, it was clear that’s not all she was offering. Albion knew that Suty enjoyed teasing and tormenting his apprentice. It was some of the only sport she was allowed, so he allowed it to keep her from being overly temperamental.

“Ah…no thank you, Suty.” Catarina kept her eyes straight forward, doing her best to ignore the daemon.

“Awww…well as you wish. Announcing Mister Ettore Cavallo!” She scuttled back behind Albion as the next mage entered.

Ettore Cavallo was largely an amateur in terms of practical ability, but he was a veritable genius when it came to theory and research. Albion had met Ettore on several occasions before the Days of Revelation, usually in the depths of a library. He was…harmless, Albion decided. He was rarely a distinct part of the magus community, but with so few of their number remaining every mage counted.

Ettore nodded his head and gave a light, casual wave before taking a seat separate from the pair of them. “Glad I could make it.” He said “Though I wish your familiar could have told me more. I’m not entirely sure what this is about.”

“I will explain in full when the others have arrived.” Albion reassured him. “I believe there should only be two more.”

“Only five?” Ettore asked. “In all of Rome?”

“Hardly surprising.” Albion waved the question off. “Though I have reason to suspect that number will soon increase. As I said, wait and all will be made clear.”

Ettore nodded in silence, fingers drumming nervously on the table.
Foolish. Albion thought to himself He really is poor at guarding himself. He’s not cut out to be a legitimate magus.
He frowned. He didn’t like associating himself openly with lesser mages and apprentices, but these were desperate times for everyone.

“Announcing Miss Abigail White!” Suty called as a blonde-haired woman appearing to be in her late twenties entered the room. She was trimly dressed in a button-down shirt and pencil skirt, her hair done up in a knot behind her head. She hid green eyes behind a pair of thick glasses.

Abigail White was so far the only anomaly in his plans. He had not expected Catarina to be alive but he always factored in the Aldobrandinis just to be safe. Catarina was simple to manipulate but her father had been a force with which to be reckoned. Albion sincerely hoped he was indeed dead. He had never heard of the White family, and his attempts to uncover a second identity beneath this woman had been fruitless. She seemed to be what she claimed, a first-generation magus of unusual power, which made her either a liar or something altogether more important.

“Good afternoon.” Abigail nodded to them as she entered before taking a seat beside Ettore, who was quick to scoot his chair to the side to make room for her.

“Afternoon.” Albion said plainly as the others offered their greetings. “Should be just one more now.”

He kept his eyes on the door. The last mage was the most dangerous factor in this little plan of his.
“Announcing Mister Renard Aestling…er and guest.” Suty blinked as not one but two figures entered the room soon after Abigail.

Renard Aestling was an unusual man even at first glance. Albion was unsure if he was born with albinism or if his colorless hair and pale skin was the result of some magical test gone wrong. He was young, hardly more than thirty, though he walked with a pronounced limp that Albion had long suspected was fake, leaning on a cane at all times. His face was long with a square set jaw and cold eyes that tended to intimidate those lower in the ranks, only adding to his reputation as an outcast and a troublemaker. Much like Albion, Renard rarely got along well with the rest of magical society, thought it did little to engender any mutual sympathy.

Walking just behind Renard was a prime example of his skill and craft. While a decent mage in his own right, Renard’s true skill lay in alchemy, specifically the production of human-like homunculi. These artificial people, living artifacts animated by magic, were rarely any smarter than a toddler, but Renard’s skill was legendary to those who knew of it, and Albion suspected the homunculus acting as his attendant could outwit Suty. This homunculus appeared female and, whether as a byproduct or some leftover vanity, looked in many ways like Renard himself. She had pale skin and white hair over unsettlingly red eyes. She was similarly dressed in a fine suit and openly carried a sword at her hip, a bodyguard as much as an attendant.

“Evening all.” Renard smiled wryly as he limped his way into the room and into his chair, leaning his cane on the table as his homunculus took its place behind him. “So Nassar’s got a plan it seems. Though I doubt he deigned to tell any of you before you came, am I right?”

Ettore and Abigail nodded, Catarina remained silent, likely trying to remain on his good side.
“Should have figured.” Renard turned to Albion. “Then let’s hear it.”

“Very well.” Albion rose to his feet, ignoring Renard’s mocking tone. “Then let us consider this our first meeting as representatives of the mages of Rome.”

“We hardly need to be representatives.” Renard said. “We are all the mages in Rome.”

“A condition I have reason to suspect will change.” Albion said.

“And why’s that? Mages don’t just happen overnight” Albion had known Renard would be the one to turn an announcement into a debate. He just had to endure it. Division could destroy them and he was above petty spite.

“If you will allow me to continue I would be happy to explain.” Albion reined in the venom in his voice. “We are all perfectly aware of the changes occurring in the world, the return of gods and monsters to our fair planet was predicted by mages before anyone else. However, this presents new opportunities for all of us.”

Albion held his hands behind his back as he began to walk a circle around the small table where the five mages and two familiars had gathered, noting the restrained hostility in the homunculus’ eyes.
“For if there are more monsters and more magic in the air…why would there not be more mages?”

He asked. “The modern mage families did not spring from nothing, they were born as first generation mages. And we have every reason to suspect they will start be born again.”
“Ambitious, Albion.” Renard quipped, dripping with sarcasm. “We just have to wait five generations and then we might thirty or so mages.”

“Th-that might not necessarily be true.” It was Abigail who spoke next, peering at them from behind her glasses, hands folded in front of her to disguise their nervous twitching.

“Do elaborate, Miss…?” Renard looked her over from across the table.

“White. Abigail White. And I have been researching an…unusual phenomenon. It seems these changes that have been occurring since the Days of Revelation might be affecting more than just the present.”

“Do you have an example, Miss White?” Albion asked, largely as a formality to the others. He had already interrogated her on her theory.

“Just…small evidence for now regarding the populations of the various pagan groups.”

“What about them?” Renard shrugged, but Ettore was listening with close interest.

“They’ve been interviewed and…a disproportionate number of them claim to have been following those beliefs even before the Days of Revelations. Not all of them are converts, and the pagan population of Rome has never been this high of a percentage of the population.”

“Could it be a sample bias?” Ettore asked “The Pagan gods could be protecting their devout minority so that their numbers appear to rise as the population goes down.”

“Possibly. I admit I need more evidence and research.”

“Still, it is compelling.” Albion finished her statement before it could drag too long. “And if proven true we could see an influx of mage families that are new…yet all evidence points to them having existed all along.”

“Master, that’s…confusing.” Catarina scratched her head.

“Think of it as editing a book.” Albion said, patting Catarina on the head. “We see time as linear, one event after another, effect following cause. Yet the forces that shape the world, the underlying metaphysics of reality beyond even the gods, have no such limitation. Changes do not need to be made in the present, the past can be edited as well, just as easily as you could turn back the page and edit a previous chapter. Being mages, we’re more sensitive and might be able to track these changes where the more mundane populace might simple accept it.”

“Ah…I think I understand now.” Catarina nodded.

“Good. Then I think it would be best if we looked into it. Miss White, Mister Cavallo, I want you to make this the primary object of your research. What duties are you serving at present?”

“I’m doing research on behalf of the Council and the Vatican.” Ettore said “I might be able to find an hour each day to put into it.

“I work in the hospital rehabilitation program.” Abigail spoke next. “There are a lot of wounded civilians, including children, so I’m helping where I can with magic.”

Albion nodded. Abigail had a rare breed of magic, the power to heal, a skill that marked her as an anomaly as sure as her seemingly barren background. Observation of her had been one of the reasons he had called this meeting. She claimed to be researching the possible appearance of new mage families, but failed to suspect as Albion did that she was the first of such mages, forced inelegantly into existence almost as if to justify the changes in the world. He wanted to keep a close eye on her.

“Hold on just a moment.” Renard tapped his cane repeatedly on the tile floor to get their attention. “Now, who is it exactly that gave you power to order us to do much of anything?”

“If you’re smart, all of you.” Albion said stiffly. “This brings me to the second reason I brought you all here. We are mages and our secret is out. Everyone in Rome is aware of our existence, and we need to start making the most of that.”

“Meaining?” Renard asked.

“Meaning representation, meaning politics, meaning getting the respect we deserve as some of the foremost guardians and scholars of this city.”

Renard frowned. “So you want us to represent mages as a whole…who don’t exist yet by the way…while you…”

“Represent the five of us and our interests.” Albion nodded “Once a proper system of government has been established.”

Renard kept his face stony but didn’t speak. Albion could almost see the gears turning in his head. The best way to appeal to mages was to appeal to their desire for solitude. Mages relish one thing above all else and that’s their research. Magical research was the primary currency of mage interactions and that led to their cutthroat politics and mutual distrust. Albion merely had to promise to protect their interests and so long as they were satisfied that he delivered, they wouldn’t pull themselves from their research to throw themselves into the political lion’s den. Renard hated politics and would never willingly play the game, even to spite Albion. Ettore lacked the stomach for it, and was self-conscious enough to know it. Abigail’s charity would handicap her, her desire to help those immediately in need keeping her from any higher office. Cat was obviously too young and too inexperienced to lead them in magic or politics. The choice was logical and all of them knew it.

“Fine.” Renard was, surprisingly, the first to speak. “So long as you’re representing us and not you, then I suppose having a viper in politics on our side is better than having nothing at all.”

“I’m sure Lord Albion is more than capable.” Ettore nodded. “And representation could help us all. We certainly don’t have any at the moment.”

“Agreed.” Abigail said “And it would give us all more time for research rather than having to deal with the council’s decisions individually.”

“Then I propose the formation of a guild.” Albion said, smiling as they all came around. “There are already a few unofficial organizations representing the craftsmen and the Rangers. This shall be ours, a Mage’s Guild.”

“Five people is hardly a guild.” Renard snorted.

“True” Albion nodded “But it will not be five for long.”

 

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The Cities Eternal©2016, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa

((JP Link: https://www.jukepop.com/home/read/9042?chapter=15&sl=627 ))

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