One of the first buildings to be fully-completed within the expanding city of Rome was the new hospital. Far from the overcrowded first-aid center that had been built on the Capitoline Hill shortly after the safeguarding of the city, the hospital had been built to accommodate all levels of injury and was equipped to almost pre-fall standards. Rome was dependent on a healthy and strong population and that was dependent on strong healthcare facilities. They were lucky to have a respectable number of doctors and staff available in the city and the number grew with volunteers and trainees working around the clock to further expand their numbers. Chemists, medical technicians, nurses, and all others were called to help make the Roman hospital perhaps the most sophisticated and advanced facility on the planet.
Science was not the only power there, however. With the rise of the Roman mage population, those with healing magic or the potential for it were also brought forward to put their inborn talents to work. The mages were hardly conjurers or dime store occultists; these were practiced professionals who could close up wounds with a thought and words, eliminate impurities in the body, and even delay death. Prominently, the mage Abigail White divided her time between scholastic research, medical intervention, and teaching at a school for the physically disabled. On her own Abigail had done much to improve the public view of mages in the city.
Not all of the volunteers and workers in the hospital were healers, be they scientific or magical. Some were simply mundane people looking to help heal the sick and do their part for the people of Rome. One young woman, going by the name of Pierce Noel, liked to think she was one of these people. She was a volunteer nurse at the hospital, meaning she attended to all the menial labor and day-to-day business so that the doctors and professional nurses had more time for administering to their patients. It was not a glamorous or lauded life, but it was one Pierce enjoyed. She liked to think that she was one of the many helpful mundanes seeking to do their part, an ordinary person doing a little good in the world.
The truth, however, was that she was anything but ordinary.
“Good Morning Mister Ruth.” She smiled, speaking in a light sing-song tone as she stepped into the patient’s room. Mister Ruth was, unfortunately, comatose. He had been injured in a building demolition that went wrong when a nest of cacodaemons burst from the foundations of their crumbling home. Still, despite being unconscious, Pierce enjoyed her banter with patients.
She went about cleaning to his room, seeing to the medical apparatuses (many of which were still complete mysteries to her), and making sure he was as comfortable as possible. When those chores were done, she paused, glancing around before closing the door to make sure no one else could listen. Quietly, she pulled a chair up to his bedside, looking over his prone form as she mulled the decision over in her mind. It couldn’t hurt, could it?
“It’s time to come back to us, Mister Ruth.” She said and, starting quietly at first, she began to sing.
Even at hardly more than a whisper her voice quickly filled the room, echoing to reverberate and harmonize with itself in a one-woman chorus of almost divine song. Each note thrummed with the soul, the melody like fire in the mind as it coursed through the unconscious man. It was never meant to heal, but when sung quietly, with nothing but kindness in the words, the song could do the impossible as it coursed through the mind of the listener. It was a magic in many ways more potent than Abigail White could ever hope to be. There were no words, merely a softly sung melody of tones meant to cross the borders of language and time, a song as beautiful and enrapturing as it had been four thousand years ago.
Her song only lasted a few minutes, but as it ended, she could see the shift in the readings on the machines monitoring Mister Ruth, slowly, in the tiniest ways, she saw him begin to stir. Pressing the button to call a doctor to the room, Pierce smiled at him, replaced the chair, and stepped outside.
She smiled and nodded as Mister Ruth’s doctor rushed to the room, just as the man himself began to rise from his coma. She’d done nothing, Pierce insisted, she’d merely been cleaning his room when she noticed him begin to stir. Mister Ruth certainly wouldn’t know any better; he would simply have dull memories of the loveliest dream he’d ever had, that of a songstress with a voice too beautiful to be human. Her work done and Mister Ruth well attended, Pierce slipped away from the room, a light spring in her step after a job well done.
“That was slick.”
Pierce almost tripped over her own feet as the voice caught her off-guard. She whirled around and saw a woman she was certain had not been standing there a moment ago. The woman, looking to be in her late twenties, was smiling at her as she leaned against the wall, bare arms showing off lightly tanned skin folded over her chest. Her eyes were a bright green, her head covered in a tousled ponytail of dark hair, and her smile was as bright as the sun itself.
“S-sorry.” Pierce recovered, turning to face her, smiling apologetically. “I don’t think we’ve met. What did you mean ‘slick’?”
“That little number you sang in the patient’s room.” The woman’s smile didn’t vanish. It wasn’t a mean or malicious smile, but it put Pierce on edge. She wasn’t quite sure why. “That’s quite possibly the loveliest song I’ve heard in…well, a very long time.”
“Ah, I don’t sing.” Pierce insisted. It was time to go. “You must have heard someone else. Maybe a patient was listening to a record.”
The woman sighed. “Come on, let’s not make this difficult. Do you know who I am?”
“I said I didn’t…” Pierce said, though thinking on it there was something awfully familiar about her voice…
“My name’s Thalia,” She smiled. “I run the local radio station. You might have heard about it.”
“Oh my goodness!” Pierce’s hands flew over her mouth as she realized precisely where she knew her voice. This was Thalia, THE Thalia. Pierce listened to her radio station almost nonstop, even tuning in when she was within reach of a radio at the hospital, just hoping to hear a bit more music or one of her shows.
“I’m sorry! Of course! I’m a huge fan! I mean…really! Sorry I just…well I didn’t actually know what you look like.”
“The one big drawback of radio.” Thalia laughed. It was a warm comforting sound. “Thinking of branching into television, get this face on the air you know?” She added laughingly, running a hand through her hair to flip it like a model.
“Well…if I may ask, Miss Thalia…” Pierce began.
“Thalia’s fine.” The woman smiled. “Miss Thalia is my mother…well okay, she isn’t, but still it makes me feel old.”
“Right, Thalia…why are you here? I’m sure if you were doing a charity show I would have heard something…”
“Came here for a little headhunting.” Thalia said. “Some of the doctors and a lot of the patients aren’t from Rome, so there’s a lot of candidates for the Life in the World segments.”
“Ooh I love those!”
“Bit sad to say, but for a lot of the refugees arriving in Rome, this is their first stop.” Thalia said “So I come here now and then, giving people who have had so many troubles a voice and getting them to laugh really is the least I can do, and they bring the best material so it’s a win-win for Rome.”
“That makes sense.” Pierce nodded. “Well…I know a few patients like that.”
“The funny thing is…” Thalia’s smile grew a bit around the edges. “I did come here for them, but then I found something much more enticing.”
“O-oh?” Pierce shivered. She didn’t like where this was going.
“I found you.” Thalia said.
“O-oh…” Pierce blushed. She had to refuse, but she needed to phrase it right.
“I-I don’t think I’m right for your show, Miss Thalia. I have horrible stage fright and ummm…well I’m Roman so I can’t do a Life in the World segment….”
Thalia gave a light snort of laughter. “Better people than you have tried to play me for a fool, Miss Noel.” She said “And while I rather like playing the fool, the jokes on you if you think for a second I’m not always onto the games people like to play. You’re certainly Italian but you’re no Roman. If I recall, you hail from the island of Capri.”
Alarms went off in Pierce’s mind. This woman knew far too much. She took a deep breath, if worst came to worst…
Thalia raised her hands defensively, as if sensing her apprehension and fear, though it was likely clear on Pierce’s face.
“Hold on there, I’m coming as a friend. Your secrets are safe with me, promise. What name are you going by here?”
“Pierce,” She said, defeated. “Pierce Noel.”
“Not bad as far as false names go.” Thalia said, then she added a smile. “I couldn’t be bothered to come up with one.”
“What do you mean…” Before Pierce could finish her question, Thalia raised a hand to her head. A comic mask appeared over her face as her hand moved as if to pull it away, and in that moment a rush of divine energy hit Pierce like a windstorm. Instantly she fell to her knees, grateful the hall was empty as she prostrated herself before the Goddess of Laughter.
“Lady Thalia!” She said, forehead on the floor. “I didn’t know!”
“Oh jeez get off the floor, that’s just embarrassing.” Thalia rolled her eyes, giving her a comforting pat on the shoulder and replacing her mask as Pierce slowly rose to her feet.
Thalia brushed off her coat as Pierce stood up again, thoroughly cowed.
“Sorry…” Pierce mumbled. “I’ve never met a goddess before.”
“Though you’ve met a good number of heroes.” Thalia chuckled. “What’s your real name?”
“Pisinoe…” She mumbled. Even after this long, it still caused her to wince to say it.
Thalia looked at her with a comforting smile, taking one of Pisinoe’s hands in hers.
“I knew it the moment I heard your voice. You’re not just in here to help them are you?” Pisinoe found herself unable to meet the goddess’ vivid green eyes or bring herself to speak.
“You’re just another person who needs healing.” Thalia said, and Pisinoe could feel the glowing warmth in her hand. “You never wanted to hurt anyone, you just wanted to sing, and there’s no desire more beautiful and pure than that. Doing what you did in there? You lured a man right out of a coma with nothing but your voice. That was incredible and selfless.”
Pisinoe could feel the tears welling up in her eyes.
“I can’t sing anymore…” She said. “Not to anyone who can really hear it. Nothing good ever happens.”
“Pisinoe,” Thalia’s hand gently stroked her own. “You’re a siren, you need to sing. You can’t deny that part of who you are. It’s what I want to hire you.”
Pisinoe almost wanted to scream at the thought. Hundreds of people listening to her voice? Her voice had killed ships full of people before, the effect on a city would be unthinkable.
“You’re thoughts are pretty clear on your face.” Thalia smiled at her. “But do remember I’m not an ordinary radio host. I can get a magic dampener for your microphone.”
“They make those?” Pisinoe blinked through her tears, lifting an arm to wipe at her eyes.
“I know a guy…” For a moment Thalia’s smirk grew a bit more mischievous before she turned her warm gaze back on Pisinoe. “But if we get one of those, combined with our recording booth which is already soundproofed, well we’re made in the shade.”
“I…” Pisinoe could scarcely believe it. The thought that she would be able to sing again to people but without consequence.
“You can still work here of course.” Thalia said. “It’s a part time job, and we’ll use a stage name for you. Pay’s competitive too, promise.”
Unable to resist any longer, Pisinoe threw her arms around Thalia, almost sobbing into her shoulder as she hugged her.
“Why…” She managed to sputter. “Why help me? I’m…a monster.”
“You’re not a monster, Pisinoe.” Thalia smiled, stroking her hair. “Besides, even if you were…well, sometimes even monsters deserve a happy ending.”
The Cities Eternal©2016, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa
JP Link: https://www.jukepop.com/home/read/9551?chapter=11&sl=864