The Wolves of Rome

Chapter 28

April 14th, 2023
Cat rolled across the pavement as a bolt of electricity crackled above her head. Without wasting a second, the young magus had risen to a kneeling position, her hands outstretched as she froze a block of ice in the path of the lightning. The hostile magic struck her barrier, protecting the mortals hiding behind it. “Don’t touch it!” She shouted to her allies.

Her mind flashed back to the days studying under her father. He was an ice mage, just like she was and he’d have her practice these magic duels. Cat’s hand reflexively began to rub her arm as a lifetime of duels filled her mind. He would not hold back and more than once she had blacked out from the pain. Yet here, in this war, his lessons were saving her and her newfound allies.

The metal cross around her neck was pulled for a brief moment towards the ice structure, the energy coursing through the frozen water. Soon enough, the phenomenon was over and the cross rested easily once again. Cat, however, did not. She leapt over the city bench behind which she had taken cover.

Hildegard had taught her how to use a sword and magic at the same time. Cat still carried the sword with her into battle, but she hadn’t swung it once yet. Vittorio had enough swordsmen, or so he claimed. The groups had split into three. Cat had spent much of the night reinforcing the mundane troops as best as she was able. Should the magi try to overpower the minds of the resistance, the troops would have a few seconds to fight off the influence. In battle, all it took was a few seconds to break a mage’s focus.

Cat was running across the battlefield, the enemy mage already in her sights. He had been focused on the people behind the ice rather than the girl who had dove for cover. As expected. Syracuse seemed to have a higher mage per capita than Italy had even before the Days of Revelation, but they weren’t trained in the traditional way. The magi here had no reason to hide their natures in the recent days.

The Sicilian mage had brought his arms back, as if preparing to toss a large boulder at the resistance. The electricity already began to spark about his fingers. It was an obvious display of power.

It was hubris, plain and simple. The more powerful the spell, the more obvious it was but the longer it took to cast. Against a mob of angry townsfolk, this show of power might work. Against another mage?

Cat’s hair rushed behind her head as she created a sheet of ice on the ground in front of her, her speed increasing as the traction beneath her feet clung desperately to the ice. With one hand, she drew her sword. Her other hand was weaving the moisture in the air together, gathering it to her grip, creating water from the droplets in the air. She could feel her body pooling the energy in her hand, turning that same energy into even more liquid.

The lightning was starting to crackle loud enough to be heard. Cat stopped running, letting her momentum carry her across the near frictionless ice. Her sword hand fell back as her water hand pushed forward, the water ball she had created flying through the air before splashing on the enemy’s hands. With a shout and the smell of burning hair and flesh, his spell stopped. The electricity dissipated into the air.

He didn’t even have time to turn around before Catarina thrust her sword forward. She had a clear shot and it would be an easy kill. She could not ask for a better opening.

Her body froze, her arm losing its momentum as the sword approached his stomach. In a panic, unsure of what just happened, Cat changed her tactic. Rather than stab the magus, she brought her sword hilt down upon his head. There was a loud, disturbing thud, and a shout of pain, before the magus fell face first to the ground.

Cat felt as though she was going to be sick. What had happened? She had an easy shot. Was there another mage nearby, affecting her abilities?

It had been only fifteen seconds, yet to Cat that whole affair had felt as if it had been in slow motion. The mortal troops had finally caught up her, and one of them unceremoniously impaled the unconscious mage through the chest with a spear. Cat stared wide-eyed, unable to muster the strength to stop them, not sure why she felt the need to do so.

“Good job, mage!” One of them shouted as they rushed forward. Cat stood there motionless as they ran past, staring at the dead body. It was hardly the first she’d ever seen. He was her enemy and certainly a part of an evil system. Yet…

Cat grit her teeth. Now was not the time to hesitate. She had seen what the magi in this city were doing to the mundane citizens. She had seen the destruction that they had brought, keeping the people inside trapped. Still something felt off inside her.

The resistance ran ahead of her, leaving her behind as she watched them. The anger and hate that drove them just tasted bitter in her mouth when she tried to dredge it up. Why was she fighting?
Rather than chase after her allies, Cat turned to the side. She was scouting to protect the flanks, she told herself. She had pretty much brought her forces safely to the Palace. By this point, had Vittorio’s plan worked, he would be there with the majority of the forces. Brigida’s own specially trained “Mage Breakers” would be on patrol to hunt down any magi not at the palace.

Cat winced as she thought of Vittorio’s right hand and her coterie. Their name alone caused her alarm whenever she heard it. Cat had seen the scars when Brigida had stripped out of her gear one practice. The wounds. The brands. Now, the Mage Breaker wanted to hurt magi, but would that not just lead to the same cycle?

Cat pushed herself off a closed dumpster to get onto the roof tops. She could see the walls of the island around her, circling her, entrapping her. Entrapping everyone inside. The magi fought because they had no one to check their power. The resistance fought out of anger and hate.

Vittorio fought because…Cat wasn’t actually sure. He didn’t seem to have the same violence, the same hatred that his soldiers did. Thinking back on her time with the somewhat cold, yet no less brilliant, young man, Cat found herself coming to the conclusion that he fought because he believed it was the right thing to do.

Wasn’t that why she had joined him? Then why was she not rushing towards the palace right now?
From her position on the rooftop, she saw three of the Mage Breakers chasing two women. One of the girls was about Cat’s age. She had brown hair and a blue dress. She looked terrified as she clutched a puppy to her chest. The other was older, wearing a suit and glasses, her long hair hanging freely down her back.

Cat figured those two must be magi if the Mage Breakers were chasing them down like this. Yet they didn’t seem to be doing anything but trying to escape the slaughter.

Why was she fighting? Cat sighed and jumped down from the roof. It was obvious wasn’t it? She was fighting to put an end to all of this. She couldn’t let the resistance perpetuate this cycle. Cat charged forward, putting herself between the two magi and the three Mage Breakers, cape blowing, sword sheathed. No one here was her enemy unless they made her their enemy.

“Stop! What do you think you’re doing?!” Cat said, holding out both her hands as she stared down the three trained soldiers.

“Get out of our way, mage! These two are agents of the Dragon!” One of them shouted. None of them stopped their own charge.

“So what!? They’re not going to the palace, they’re fleeing for their lives! Did they even attack you?!”

“They’re magi working for the Dragon.” Another of them said. This soldier actually slowed down. The other two began to drag their feet as they saw this. Still, it seemed that the three of them considered this to be crime enough.

“So what?!” Cat shouted again, stepping forward. “You want to kill all the magi, is that it?”
“There’s no such thing as a good mage!”

“Then kill me!” Cat raised both her arms to the side, glaring angrily at her three allies. They stood there, staring at her, unsure of what to do. She remembered casting her spells to enhance their speed and mental resistance this morning. The Mage Breakers were the first to receive the benefits.

“What’s the matter? I’m not casting spells at you either, I’m a mage just like these two. There’s no such thing as a good mage, then I guess I’m not a good mage either! So do it…Or maybe you are letting your hate cloud your judgement!”

The three Mage Breakers looked at each other, unsure of what to do. Cat had stood by Vittorio this morning, had given the speech about being in the front line. She wasn’t attacking them, just standing in front of them and their prey. Cat’s face stayed grim and serious.

“Not so black and white, is it? You’ve been hurt by the mage-kings, I get it. But what do you think you’re doing now, “Mage Breakers”? Do you think you’re going to feel better killing these two women?”

The sweat was building on Cat’s brow. Once again everything seemed to be moving in slow motion, as she felt the adrenaline pump through her veins. She knew she was in danger. Two ‘enemies’ behind, three angry mage killers in front. The instincts she had been training for months demanded she act to save her life, but she forced herself to stay still. Her life was not more important than this. The Mage Breakers raised their weapons. They took a step forward.

Cat drew in a deep breath, closing her eyes. She heard the thud of the spearheads embedding themselves with a thud. Opening her eyes, she saw the Mage Breakers had thrust their spears into the ground. Cat slowly lowered her arms.

“Thank you. You may be mad at me right now…but one day, you’ll thank me.” These soldiers, most of the resistance, they were hardly older than the teenaged Cat. She felt so odd speaking to them like that. She could feel their frustration with her pooling and knew she’d have to be careful.

The older woman had pushed herself in front of the younger girl, standing in defiance of the soldiers and Cat as guardian. Her eyes seemed to have a strange glow about them as Cat turned to face her, but whatever power they held seemed to be a passive one.

“I am Catarina Aldobrandini, current head of the Aldobrandini family of Rome.” Cat said. “Tell me…what are your names?”

“I am Cornelia. I’ve been called Ghost Eyes for much of my life, so it is a better last name than my actual family name.”

Cat could hear murmurings behind her, but she ignored them. It didn’t matter to her what the name Ghost Eyes meant right now. There would be time after the action, when everything was calmer, to figure out what crimes this woman might have committed. “And the girl?”

Cornelia seemed to pause. Cat could tell she was unwilling to say anything about her charge, but the girl herself did not. Pushing in front of the tall woman, the brown haired girl with the dog stepped forward, holding her head up in defiance.

“I’m not scared of you or these soldiers, Aldobrandini! My name is Lana. Lana Drago.” In spite of her words, Cat could see her body shaking. The puppy shivered in her arms, sensing the nerves of its master. Cat clicked her tongue as the girl introduced herself. Lana Drago meant that she was…

“The daughter of the Dragon!” Immediately, the Mage Breakers reached to dig their spears out of the ground. Cornelia seemed to be getting ready to cast a spell, not afraid to take the opportunity to get a first strike in. Cat extended her arms out to both of sides, her hands blue as her hair as she prepared her magic.

“Stand down, all of you.” No one moved. “I said…STAND DOWN!” Cat had learned from Hanne the power of a loud voice when nerves were tensed. It wasn’t shouting that made people do what you said, nor was it magic, it was just the force of will with which you spoke.

Cornelia was the first to respond, lowering her hands to her side. Slowly, the Mage Breakers did the same. Cat didn’t lower hers, however. Her father had caught her off guard more times than she could count by pretending to surrender. It was her nature to assume the best of people, but with other people’s lives on the line…it was different than when it was just her own.

Lana was the only one who didn’t seem to back down, staring defiantly at Cat. She was also the only one to not prepare for battle, however. “I’m not afraid of you…” She repeated, though her voice seemed to be straining. “I’m not scared of anything! I-I’m the daughter of the Dragon! I don’t run!”

Cornelia seemed to sigh at that. “Lana…”

“No!” Lana put the dog down on the ground, clenching her hands into fists as she stood there shaking. “I-I’m tired of being scared! I’m not scared of my Father! I’m not scared of these soldiers! I’m not scared of this mage! I don’t wanna run!”

Cornelia moved forward and grabbed Lana by the hand, trying to pull the girl behind her again, but Lana yanked her hand away. She just shot her guardian a look and took a step closer to Cat. “I-I’m not going down without a fight!”

It was Cat’s turn to sigh. Slowly, she lowered her hands and dropped the magic she was preparing. “You’re not going down, Lana. Your father must be stopped, but I know now what I’m doing here.”

Cat stepped back from the middle so she could talk to all five of the others. “This isn’t about punishing mages. This isn’t about killing mundanes. This fight is something more. I’m not fighting to help the resistance take over and start doing the same thing to mages that mages did to them!” She pointed to the Mage Breakers, her voice as steady as she could make it. “I’m fighting for the same reason your Tagus is! Vittorio is fighting because he believes it is right! As am I! But I promise you that I will fight anyone who will wound this city, be they Resistance or Mage!”

She flipped her cape and drew her sword. It felt good to do that. “I’m going to join Vittorio at the palace now. I’m going to help overthrow the Dragon and free this city. But most importantly, I’m going to be there to see that he doesn’t damn him in the process. The Dragon will fall…” She looked at Lana as she said this. The girl’s defiant expression seemed to wither. “But Syracuse will be stronger by the end of this. I’ll make sure of it!”

With her sword raised, Cat started marching towards the palace. The others stood watching her. Lana was the first to act. The young girl ran after the her, the small dog yipping at her heels.
Cornelia turned to the Mage Breakers, her hands lighting up with fire again. The soldiers raised their weapons. Instead of fighting, however, Cornelia turned, striding after her charge. The Mage Breakers followed, all in Catarina’s trail.

 

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The Cities Eternal©2016, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa

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  1. Pingback: The Wolves of Rome | The Cities Eternal

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