The Snake and the Mirror

Return to Sicily

October 4th, 2024

What was a quiet day in Rome would be celebrated as a day of victory in the nearby island of Sicily. More than a year after the overthrow of the mage-kings that had ruled with an iron fist, the people of Sicily cheered and feasted as it was announced the last giant on the island had been killed. Throughout the city of Syracuse there was singing, drinking, and partying as the news reached them and the celebrations swung into full swing.

Emidio Cattaneo made his way through the city streets, trying to keep himself out of the direct line of celebration as he moved to the Palace of Law, formerly the Mage King’s Palace and still one of Syracuse’s many fine structures. He still caught a fair bit of attention, formally dressed as he was in half a suit of armor with a long blue cape over his shoulders, his helmet carried under his arm. He was a soldier after all, and one expected to be appropriately formal.

Emidio was a captain of the Sicilian Guard, the people with the training and skill needed to hunt Sicily’s remaining monsters. He was still young, being in his early 20s, and built like a footballer with broad shoulders and a strong chest. His hair was cut short at the beginning of their giant-slaying campaign, and so it had grown longer and begun to grow down his neck.

His armor was a mix of reclaimed museum pieces, roughly-forged steel, and his own additions of leather and wool. Experience had been a strong teacher when it came to arms and armor, and the people under his command were similarly dressed in an eclectic mix of workable armor. After all, a full suit of plate was not going to protect you from the fist of an angry giant. Normally he carried a spear at his side and a round shield slung over his shoulder, but today he was down to the sword carried at his belt. He wasn’t going to war, after all, though it somehow felt the same.

Even as Emidio was surrounded by cheers and celebrations, the raucous crowd throwing flowers at him and trying to pull him in for drinks and food, Emidio felt uneasy. He had a meeting today, an audience with the Tagus no less. It was not an event to be taken lightly.

He ascended the steps of the Palace of Law easily enough, passing nods to the guards who were on duty, many of whom he knew personally, as they let him into the hall. At the center of the somewhat austere palace was the Tagus. Though he was technically only the head of the new council of magistrates, many on the island treated him like a king. He was a hero of the revolution after all, the destroyer of the Dragon, the last mage King of Syracuse.

Tagus Vittorio regarded Emidio as he approached. The man was young for his position, but in the way he held himself and viewed the room around him, Emidio could feel an almost absolute authority emanating from him. At his side was General-Captain Brigida, leader of the home guard and another hero of the revolution. Filling the hall around them, all keeping a reverent distance from the Tagus, were the other captains and magistrates gathered for the celebration. Many of them had their eyes on Emidio as he approached the Tagus’ seat, walking with his back held straight in a steady walk as he approached.

“Tagus,” He announced himself, bowing at the waist as he stood before his seat.

“Speak, Captain,” Vittorio said. His voice was less authoritative and commanding than Emidio had expected. It had weight, ce’rtainly, but it belied his age.

“I have come to announce that the last known giant in Sicily is dead,” Emidio rose and stated proudly, not only for the Tagus but for the entire gathered assembly. “It was slain two days ago by men under my command. We may now live without fear of more giants coming down from the mountain.”

There was a round of applause through the room, and the Tagus rose to take Emidio’s hand.

“Very well done, Captain,” He said. “You and your men are to enjoy the celebration, by order of the magistrates of Syracuse.”

“It will be my pleasure, Tagus, Emidio said with a smile, taking Vittorio’s hand to shake.

Soon the hall had descended into idle conversation as the other captains and magistrates chatted amongst themselves. Although the food presented to them was of the finest quality, the celebrating here was more subdued, and part of Emidio wished to simply join his friends in the party outside the palace. He was only recently promoted, after all, and didn’t know any of the magisters or captains beyond reputation. The Tagus had turned to speak to Brigida on his other side, so Emidio walked into the crowd, awkwardly standing by himself save for the occasional kind regard or word of thanks from the magisters he passed.

“A fine accomplishment, well done,” Came a smooth feminine voice from behind him. He turned and came face-to-face with a very attractive woman looking him over. Her dress was a deep series of grays and mauves, her hair dark, and her eyes a shimmering and unnatural pink-violet color.

“Thank you,” Emidio said. “I don’t think we’ve met.”

“You may call me Cornelia,” She said, and Emidio tried to not let his surprise appear on his face.

Cornelia “Gorgon’s Eyes” Fausti was a…colorful figure in the news. She was a mage, one of the last few remaining mages in the government, and was infamous both for being such and for being a turncoat. She had passed information to the resistance shortly before the revolution at the promise of amnesty and a place in the new government. Her reward for betraying the government had been a cushy job as a city magistrate, free from the persecution of mages rampant in the city.

“A pleasure, Magister,” Emidio bowed his head.

“Now, now, I said to call me Cornelia,” She stepped closer. “So tell me about these giants? How big do they get?”

“Anywhere from five to ten meters tall,” Emidio said. “Most of the biggest were killed during the Roman invasion of Etna.”

“Ah yes, the Romans,” Cornelia said. “They certainly do know how to make an entrance.”

“Well, they say that Roman girl played a large role in defeating the Dragon,” Emidio said. “But I was outside the city when that happened.”

“I’ve heard similar stories,” Cornelia said. “But only the Tagus and a few others know what really happened. We seem to be on decent terms with Rome at least.”

“Well, I always thought it was foolish to make human enemies when there are monsters at the gates.”

“Oh? But what about the revolution then?”

“Well…that was different of course,” Already he was beginning to dislike talking to Cornelia. He felt like he was being cornered. “All I know is Rome never gave us a reason to fight them.”

“Word has it they took artifacts from Moutn Etna,” Cornelia said. “Certainly a…provocative move.”

“It’s not like we controlled Etna anyway,” Emidio shrugged.

“I suppose not,” Cornelia was swift to change tack. “So tell me, are the giants truly gone? I mean they came out of nowhere, couldn’t they do the same again?”

“Hypothetically maybe,” Emidio said. “I don’t pretend to understand where giants came from. But the reason they were such a menace is because they became holed up in large numbers in their giant camps. One or two wandering giants is a nuisance, and one that’s not too hard to get rid of if you know what you’re doing.”

“Interesting,” Cornelia said. “Quite a confident statement.”

“Well we’ve gotten…very good at giant slaying,” Already Emidio was glancing around, looking for an excuse to get away. He disliked how close she was standing, and the color of her eyes was…unnerving.

As he glanced around, he saw a younger woman, dressed in a long blue dress, empty glass in hand as she stood slightly apart from the crowd with a bored expression on her face. As he watched, a pair of laughing men walked past her, one casually knocking into her with enough force to knock the glass from her hand and send it shattering across the ground. A few heads turned at the sound of breaking glass, but they soon all quickly turned away as the woman bent down to begin scooping the shattered remnants together.

“Umm…p-pardon me,” Emidio said as he turned from Cornelia and walked towards the young woman, though he could still feel her piercing eyes on his back. He thought for a moment about confronting the pair, but judging by the bored expression on the woman’s face, she wouldn’t be the type to appreciate the gesture. Instead, he bent down to help her pick up the glass.

“Please stop,” She said, her voice wasn’t pleading, more annoyed. “Believe me, it’s for your own good.”

“Well, guess that’s my problem then,” Emidio said before offering her a smile. “I’m not the one making a scene.”

He’d meant it sarcastically, and while she passed him an annoyed glance there was the slightest tug of a smile at her lips, enough to tell him she at least got the humor. He didn’t stop helping her until the glass was gathered and a servant had come up to help them dispose of it.

“Now, trust me,” She said, wiping down her dress where it had been near the floor. “It’s much more advantageous to be seen with snake eyes over there than with me.”

“Well, I’ll take your word for it, but I’d rather not,” Emidio said. “Snake Eyes is right…”

“Ya, woman’s a gorgon in more ways than one,” The woman said before looking him over. “Oh, you’re the new captain, the giant-slayer.”

“People keep saying that,” Emidio said. “But I didn’t kill the last giant. That was a friend of mine, one of my lieutenants. He’s probably outside partying.”

“Then he’s getting what he deserves,” She said. “Much more fun out there.”

“Seems to be,” Emidio said before extending a hand. “Emidio,” He introduced himself. “I never caught your name.”

“Believe me you have,” She said. “Just not from me.”

“Well…still I’d like to know,” He said.

The woman sighed. “Lana. My name is Lana Drago.”

“…Ah,” Emidio went quiet. “The…”

“The Daughter of the Dragon, yes,” Lana said. “You’re free to return to the crowd before they find you tainted by association.”

Emidio frowned. “Look, I don’t intend to make a habit of coming here that often.”

“Lucky you,” said Lana. “Some of us have to be here, whether they like it or not.”

“I’m surprised you’re here at all,” Emidio said. “Given the Tagus…”

“Tagus Vittorio killed my father,” Lana said. “he also killed a cruel despot and a tyrant. I’m not here for that. I’m here for the mages of Sicily.”

“The mages?” Emidio asked.

“Yes, believe it or not, when my father died the mages didn’t all just vanish into the night. Dozens were killed in a pogrom, regardless of allegiance. The rest of them, myself included, are Sicily’s newest ‘untouchables’.”

“Well…” Emidio was out of his depth here. He didn’t know much about mages or politics, and now he found himself in a quagmire of both. “Maybe they…”

“Maybe they deserve to be marginalized after treating non-mages that way?” Lana asked venomously. Emidio wasn’t sure if he wanted to be talking with her or with Cornelia less. He decided to stick it out here. Lana at least appeared to be genuine.

“N-no I wouldn’t say that,” Emidio sighed. “I don’t have a low opinion of mages.”

“Let me guess,” Lana said. “Not all mages are bad, some of them like Cornelia sold out their fellows for the new regime. Is that it?”

“No,” Emidio spoke more stubbornly this time. “I don’t have a low opinion of mages because a mage saved my life.”

Lana opened her motuh to speak before closing it again. “…Can’t say I’ve heard that before.”

“Well…I’ll be honest, they weren’t Sicilian,” he said. “It was when the revolution was underway. I was far outside the city, pinned down and trapped by two giants and their pet drake, normally they would have turned me into a smear along the countryside but…out of nowhere came this woman. She didn’t even seem real at the time, all armor and whirling cape and she came down from the sky no less.”

“Seriously?” Lana asked. “Was this a mage or an angel?”

“Well, she did have the flaming sword,” Emidio smiled. “I’ve never seen someone move like she did. She was just human but she carved through all three monsters like she’d trained for it. She helped me onto my feet and introduced herself. She was Hildegard Jazheil, a battle mage from Rome.”

“Ah yes…one of the Roman mages,” Lana nodded. “I met her sister.”

“Well, until that point I’d only heard stories of mages killing citizens and setting themselves up as tyrants. But Hildegard showed me Rome’s army…and it was a real army, of normal people with swords and shields, and she wasn’t ruling them, she was an auxiliary. It was the first time I saw mages and non-mages working together and it worked…amazingly well. I don’t say this often, but the Romans broke the back of the giants in Sicily. If they hadn’t sieged Etna we’d have been fighting off giants for four more years.”

“So you’d say it was effective.”

“It was nothing short of amazing,” Emidio said. “And…well I won’t lie I admired her for more than fighting skill but you tell me you think mages and non-mages can work together, I’ll say I agree every day. I’d walk into battle with a mage, because I’ve seen how well it can work.”

“Well,” Lana said. “You and I might have a lot to talk about, Captain Emidio.”

 

 

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The Cities Eternal©2017, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa

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