March 19th, 2023
Giovanni had never seen this many people gathered in the Capitoline meeting chambers before. A dozen and a half people could be seated relatively comfortably, but now over thirty people, representatives and elected leaders, had been crammed into the room, most of them surrounding the large table where the established leaders were seated. The chatter was incessant, creating a constant wave of noise that washed back and forth across the room as people prepared their statements and discussed the purpose of the meeting.
There had been several requests to use several of the larger gathering rooms in the Vatican as a civil congregation, but Giovanni had turned them down on principle. The Vatican was for the offices of the church which, while depleted, still had reasonable numbers.
“Ahem.” Capitolina’s growled call for attention quickly silenced the room. She was a diplomatic wolf but could easily be roused to an impatient anger if things moved slowly and most of the people congregated remembered the last time she had barked for silence. None of them were eager to provoke her ire so soon after.
“We called everyone here today for a very specific reason.” She said, her voice as ever retaining its strong and imperious tone, calling the attention of all who heard her. “From the beginning my fellow wolves and I have stated that we were organizing these relief efforts only so long as was necessary and that once the people of Rome were back on their feet we would give the city back to them.”
Giovanni nodded. He had been quick to agree to the decision, as they all had. Capitolina had a strong sense of belief in the Roman government (if perhaps a biased preference for an Empire); Kebechet was a goddess (so she claimed) and unfit to rule on mortal soil; Giovanni had always believed in humans for human rule, knowing his place in the hierarchy of beings; and Angel had expressed indifference as she always did.
“We believe that time has come.” Capitolina said. “Between refugees, wanderers, and sheltered survivors, the latest census points to a population of over four hundred people. Given the number of elected representatives, it’s obvious that the people are recovered enough to govern themselves.”
There was a murmur of assent and approval among the gathered ranks as well as a few heart cheers.
“That said.” Capitolina’s voice cut shore the ebbing murmur. “Organizing a system of government is not one day’s work, and we hope to continue working alongside you on a provisional basis. Before even that, however, there are certain things you must know.”
Giovanni took a deep breath. How this information went over could change the course of the coming government.
“The cause of the Days of Revelations is known.” Instantaneously, there was an uproar. All the usual and expected questions came: “What is it?” “How do you know? “Why didn’t you tell anyone?” “Why weren’t we forewarned?”
Capitolina frowned, letting the people voice their complaints in an almost incomprehensible tide of words and questions before clearing her throat again, silencing the room.
“To answer a few of your questions,” She said, not letting impatience leak into her voice. “We have known for some time, but we only knew well after the events started, too late to stop it or to make any real difference. We kept it from you because there is little to be done with such information and the people’s focus needed to be on survival first and foremost. Now that we’ve reached a measure of sustainability, we can start thinking of the future. As for the cause…I will let Angel explain.”
There was a hushed murmur and even Giovanni glanced at Capitolina in surprise. It was a rarity for Angel to ever speak at meetings, as she seemed content to remain Capitolina’s shadow. But when called upon, the black-haired and winged wolf rose to her feet, all eyes on her, her face an expressionless mask.
“Many of you are familiar with the kinds of spirits that have come to populate your world again.” Angel’s voice was monotone, stark and unfeeling. “Spirits of the land, gods, and monsters. There is, however, another variety of spirit that remains few in number but immense in power. They are older than this world, predating its creation, and until the past year they were trapped in their god-made prisons with relatively little upset. We call these beings ‘Primordials’ for lack of a better term. In ancient times they were described as monsters and dragons, but in reality they are far more than any simple marauding beast. They are the chaos of unmade creation incarnate, anathema to structured reality.”
The room had fallen into hushed silence, all ears on Angel’s quiet and unflinching voice.
“The first to be freed from its prison is known as Nidhoggr. It is said to be a serpent or dragon that gnawed at the roots of the World Tree, Yggdrassil. It is the greatest of all Norse dragons, even above the serpent Jormungandr. Its prison was broken on Samhain last year, its bonds shattered by a renegade goddess the dragon had ensnared. It is said that Nidhoggr would be the harbinger of Ragnarok, the end of the world, and while those events have not come to pass, the release of Nidhoggr unleashed fresh chaos into the world that aided the resurrection and release of other Primordials in a cascading effect.”
Angel’s unblinking deadpan delivery did little to calm the unnerved crowd. No doubt they were remembering that night months ago, when the world seemed to end all around them. Angel’s words were dredging up buried memories. They had all experienced, and buried as best they could, dreams of a being of enormous power and unspeakable evil ripping free of its chains, a predator set loose on a world full of prey.
“The next to awaken was the Primordial known as Typhon, trapped beneath Mount Aetna by the god Zeus. After him, an eternal eclipse over Egypt heralded not only the return of the Primordial Apep, but also his devouring of the sun god Amun-Ra. It is these three Primordials who directly threaten Rome’s continued existence, Nidhoggr above all others. The Dragon of Yggdrassil is a being of death and shadow. Its very breath corrupts the world and re-animates the dead into the abominations that have stalked the continent. These skeletons and zombies are Nidhoggr’s foot soldiers. So long as it remains, the tide of the dead will continue. Typhon meanwhile makes most travel through the Mediteranean impossible. The water is thick with sea monsters at his beck and call and leaves us land-locked and isolated. Apep is the more distant threat, but it is his presence that has led the Egyptian Pantheon into exile and forced the shuttering of Duat, their afterlife.”
There was a long silence when she finished speaking, as if they expected to hear more, perhaps a “But” or “In spite of” to remove the edge and hopelessness from her words.
“What can be done about it?” One brave soul near the back of the room asked, though they all knew the answer that was coming.
“Nothing.” Angel said simply. “All of the Primordials are based hundreds of miles away, with hordes of monsters well beyond the power of those we have encountered between us and them. Even if we could reach them by some miracle, Primordials cannot be killed, and thus far no method has been found for resealing them in their former prisons.”
A dark silence settled on the room, and it did not take the keen senses of a wolf to feel the growing despair in the air. Knowing what had caused the Days of Revelation had not brought them the comfort they had hoped for. There was no solution, and though many of them had accepted it, they now knew without a doubt that the past was not to return.
“The reason we’ve brought this to your attention,” Capitolina’s strong voice broke the silence. “Is because it will be the duty of the new government to decide how best to move forward. We have survived, now we must thrive in a world that is for all intents and purposes ruled by the Primordials. With that said, I am opening the floor to debate. Today we decide the future of Rome and I will open with my own suggestion. With Rome in a crippled state and no allies to rely upon, the people should have a figure to rally around. I suggest a reinstatement of the title of Imperator, an overseer with final word and authority.”
If Angel’s words had silenced the waves then Capitolina’s brought the flood. Giovanni sighed at the sudden uproar that her words brought.
“What I believe the angry mob is trying to say, Capitolina.” The smooth voice of Albion Nassar cut through the rabble and brought a level of silence to the room. “Is that we were willing to stand by and let you reinstate the archaic title of Pontifex Maximus because we agreed that someone needed to be in charge of all the Faiths, new and old, to keep the peace.”
Giovanni frowned. He had been against the title being reinstated, as while it was not technically an official title of His Holiness, it had been associated with him for centuries. But he had bowed to the decision because Nora’s position was more important than squabbling over particulars.
“However,” Lord Nassar continued. “Electing a single person to have unlimited control over the Sanctuary might end in disaster. There are plenty of interest groups who would feel cheated by having a single ruler.”
“I understand that.” Capitolina said, her flattened ears giving away her irritation, though her voice remained calm. “However, Rome is still on new legs, it can easily fall or be crippled. To lead this city out of its infancy requires a strong and efficient hand. I have seen republics strangle themselves in bureaucracy and debate while the city and country starved in need. It could cripple Rome at its peak and it can kill this tiny sanctuary.”
“A fair point.” Nassar nodded, his calm smile doing little to dissuade Capitolina’s distaste. “But it still begs the question of who this potential Emperor would be, as well as selling the idea to the crowd. Without widespread support, any new Emperor could divide the sanctuary into two or three.”
Giovanni sat back in his chair, hands clasped over his lap as he listened to the debate open up. People quickly began to divide into camps, some in support of an Empire, as Capitolina was. The modern man, Giovanni observed, was generally not in favor of dictatorship. A mere glance at recent history, he felt, could explain why.
Despite his early statements, Albion Nassar seemed content to sit out much of the debate once it had started in earnest, merely speaking up here in there to prod the speaker in a certain direction. Giovanni could tell what he was doing. The two of them were the same in many ways. They would let the decision fall where it might so long as their interests were protected. Giovanni’s interests were selfless, the continued support, representation, and respect of the Vatican and a semi-independent entity. Lord Nassar, however, clearly had ulterior motives. He was certainly in favor of the same ideas given to mages, but there was something more to it. He had ambition and a will for power. Giovanni knew Nassar was a snake, but it was up to the people to decide how much power he would take for himself.
The debate raged for hours, and Giovanni rarely spoke save for the odd occasion where someone would throw forward something ridiculous or particularly blasphemous. The gathered crowd meant there was plenty of eccentricity and incompatible beliefs among the more clear-headed and pragmatic, and one after another they needed to be turned down. They had all known that this meeting was to be a slog, but they sat through it regardless. It was more than a debate and they all knew it. In that room, at that time, the future would be decided. The Roman Sanctury had ended its temporary existence. With fewer than five hundred people and a tentative new government, the city was Rome once more.
The Cities Eternal©2016, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa
(( JP Link: https://www.jukepop.com/home/read/9042?chapter=18&sl=838 ))