October 9th, 2024
The day of election had finally come to Rome. Amidst gathered crowds and held breaths, the Roman Senate cast their votes for who would be the next Consul, the one who would take over after Capitolina’s temporary rule had ended and would guide the Senate and with it Rome.
Catarina, begin Albion’s apprentice, had been invited to join the gathered crowd within the Senate chamber, and there she watched as the senators cast their vote and formally announced that Albion Nassar would be the next Consul of Rome. There was a great deal of applauding and cheering, even from his opposition, and Cat saw Senator Patricia Bellos clap politely along with them. While he wasn’t a king, and the Consul was meant to guide the Senate rather than command it, Albion was now undoubtedly the most powerful man in Rome.
Cat listened to his speech from the balcony seats of the Senate chamber with Rosa seated next to her. Though uninterested in politics, she had come on Capitolina’s request and was sitting through it with a bored expression on her face. It was a good speech, to be sure, but Cat’s mind was focused elsewhere. She thought of the Dragon of the World Tree, gaining its strength in the North. She thought of the people who might be able to help her reach it. And she thought of the jaguar spirits that haunted the distant forests of Central America. As her eyes wandered over the senate chambers, she caught sight of Albion’s assistant, Lutetiana, seated near the front. Popular rumor had it that Albion was dating her, or at least sleeping with her. Cat wasn’t sure whether it was true or not, but more and more something about the silver-haired mage set her on edge.
After his speech was done and another round of applause filled the Senate chambers the crowd rose to disperse.
“Come on,” Cat said to Rosa. “Let me congratulate him and we can get going.”
“Finally,” Rosa groaned. “This went on waaaay too long.”
“Hey, it’s an important event,” Cat scowled. “Not every day we get a new Consul.”
“I guess,” Rosa shrugged. “Come on, let’s get going.”
“Alright, alright,” Cat rolled her eyes as she went down to congratulate him.
She managed to work her way through a crowd to reach Albion, shaking his head and giving him a polite ‘congratulations’.
“Ah, Catarina, I’m glad I caught you,” He said, smiling at her. “I want to see you in my office in an hour, if you’re available.”
“I…of course,” Cat nodded. “I’ll be there.”
Despite Rosa’s protestation an hour later she was in Albion’s office, which was already being cleared as he began his move to the Consul’s chamber. Still they were alone when he sat at his desk and offered her a seat opposite himself.
“What did you need me for?” Catarina asked, curious as she took the seat.
“I may have won my position but I need to act quickly upon it if I wish to make an impression. To that end I am putting together a diplomatic expedition, and I want you to be a part of it.”
“An expedition?” Cat asked. “To where?”
“To the Alps,” Albion said. “Not too terribly far but important nonetheless. They form the bulwark against northern monsters and having their settlements join Rome will be a key part to securing the borders of the field.”
“I see,” Cat said. “But why would I be part of it? I don’t have diplomatic training…”
“No, and you will not be the expeditionary lead,” Albion said. “However, you are my apprentice, as well as a skilled mage and something of a celebrity. Your presence will add weight to the arrangements.”
“Who else is going?” Cat asked, still caught up in her surprise.
“Your friend, Ms. Kokinos, and your adoptive sister, Ms. Jazheil, will be there for protection. The chief Diplomat will be Giovanni and his secretary, Ms. Notaros.
“Kokinos…” Cat looked at him before realizing. “Oooh Rosa, right. Okay.”
“I’ll have a detailed outline for the expedition for you within two days, you’ll leave within the week,” Albion continued. “We can’t afford to wait around.”
“R-right,” Cat nodded hurriedly. “Thank you and…ah congratulations again.”
“Thank you, Catarina, you are dismissed,” Albion said, waving her off, and Cat got to her feet before bowing her head and exiting.
“Well, that didn’t take too long,” Rosa said, meeting her outside. “What’s up?”
“Think we’re going on a mission soon,” Cat grinned. “Diplomacy work in the Alps.”
“Not exactly my strongest skill,” Rosa frowned.
“Well, I think we’re mostly there for protection and prestige,” Said Cat. “But I need to tell Hanne and Schehera…oh! And Gisela as well, probably.”
“Ah right your creepy prisoner teacher,” Rosa said. “Gotta say you visiting her for advice has this creepy Silence of the Lambs feel to it, you know?”
“Not really,” Cat frowned. “Is that a reference to something?”
“Forget it,” Rosa said, waving it off. “Whatever, is she teaching you how to kill Nidhoggr?”
“Well…in her way I guess,” Cat struggled with a way to describe it.
“Well if you’re going to see your creepy teacher you’re not coming back in time for combat training,” Rosa frowned.
“Ya…sorry about that,” Cat said.
“Well that just means I’m going with you.”
“Wait what?” Cat stared at her.
“You heard me,” Rosa said. “I’m not letting you ditch me, so I’m going too.”
“B-but I’m going to my house…”
“Ya so? You let Gisela in didn’t you? If you say I’m not welcome I might just start taking offense.”
“Ergh it’s not like…ugh fine, whatever you can come,” Cat put her palm to her forehead. “Come on, it’s a long walk.”
Together the pair of them set off towards the edge of Rome, taking nearly two hours on foot to reach the front gate of the Aldobrandini household, and they were well into conversation by the time they arrived.
“Look, all I’m saying is you need to be more aware of your limited range,” said Cat. “A spear isn’t a sword so stop treating it like one.”
“That’s because you don’t know a damn thing about spears,” said Rosa. “I’m plenty aware of my range, I just need to work not to trip over you. I need some maneuvering room.”
“If I moved any further away I’d be leaving huge gaps for Hilde to exploit.”
“If you got any closer I’d have you buy me dinner first, seriously it’s too close.”
“It is not, you’re just not used to fighting in a group.”
“Ain’t that the truth.”
“Well like I said you…ah, here we are,” Cat said as she worked to unlock the gates, the key tied to the numerous magic wards protecting the front entrance as well as the physical lock.
As they stepped inside, Cat turned to lock the gate closed again as Rosa walked forward to view the manor atop the hill, giving an impressed whistle.
“Wow, you were more loaded than I thought, Cat,” She said.
“I’m not,” Cat blushed. “My family was, not that it means much anymore.”
“It means you’ve got this huge mansion,” said Rosa. “Seriously this is the kind of house that other rich people envy.”
“Oh, shut up and come on…” Cat said.
“Why don’t you live here again?” Rosa asked. “Hanne’s house is tiny, bet here you could give everyone their own wing.”
“Seriously did you guys have servants?”
Cat clamped her mouth shut, keeping her eyes pointed forwards as they walked up the hill.
“You guys totally had servants. Wow, are you doing auditions for a new maid?”
“That’s not…you’re way off…”
“Cause I would totally do it if you paid me to live here on the side. Hell, I’d wear the frilly dress and everything.”
Cat paused mid-stride as the image filled her mind, but she pushed onwards as she tried to shake it from her thoughts.
“There were no frills! And I’m not hiring you to be a maid!” Cat shouted.
“I get it. Position filled,” Rosa sighed sarcastically
“You are just the worst sometimes…”
“Eh, you just need to lighten up,” Rosa shrugged as they stepped inside the manor. “So where’ve you got her locked up? The dungeon?”
“We don’t have a dungeon,” Cat sighed. “Gisela is probably in the study.”
“Well lead on, I’d probably get lost looking for it,” Rosa said, falling in behind her.
“I can only hope,” Cat said.
“See? That’s the spirit. No fun if I’m the only one giving,” Smiled Rosa.
Sure enough, they found Gisela in what was once her father’s study, which had been converted into a makeshift library while Gisela sorted through boxes of books and tomes. Cat made sure to check that the wards were still active before stepping inside.
“Glad to see you’re still here,” Cat announced herself as she stepped in. Gisela didn’t look up from where she was sorting piles of books.
“Welcome back, Catarina, I didn’t expect to see you until Friday. Some news with the election?”
“Albion won,” Cat said.
“Of course he did,” nodded Gisela. “And you brought a guest I see.”
“Ya, Rosa insisted on coming,” Cat rolled her eyes. “But I came to talk to you. Albion’s putting an expedition together that he wants me to be a part of.”
“Military? Diplomatic? Exploratory?” Gisela asked.
“Umm he said diplomatic,” said Cat.
“Who else is going?” Gisela never missed a beat as she asked questions.
“He wants me, Rosa, Hilde, Gio, and Gio’s secretary, I think.”
Gisela snorted softly. “Definitely at least some military component. That’s a show of force right there.”
“I mean…ya probably,” Cat frowned. “Point is I’m going so I’ll be missing some of your lessons.”
“Oh, I all but insist that you go,” Gisela said, finally looking up from her books.
“Wait…you do?” Cat asked, nonplussed.
“Of course,” Gisela nodded. “I think it will be an excellent experience for you.”
“Well…alright then,” Cat said, before she could ask more, Rosa stepped into the study.
“So you’re the prisoner then, Gisela right?”
“That would be correct,” Gisela turned to her, regarding her with cold eyes.
“I’ve been wanting to get a look at you ever since I heard you almost beat Aurelio,” Rosa said. “I’m not too impressed.”
“Think what you will,” Gisela shrugged. “I’m not particularly inspired to impress you.”
“Well as one champion to another I make it a point of comparing,” Rosa said. “Need to make sure I’m not being showed up, after all.”
“Well let me put those fears to rest, as a champion you’re still an amateur.”
Rosa’s brow furrowed. “Excuse me?”
“You heard me,” Gisela said. “You wield power like a child with a baseball bat.”
“Er…come on now…” Cat said. “Not in the study.”
“No, by all means this will suffice,” Gisela said. “Come, Champion of Ares, try to strike me.”
Rosa had moved forward before Cat could stop her, moving skillfully through the book tiles as she all but charged Gisela, fingers curling into fists.
“Dammit…” Cat sighed. “If you two break anything…”
Rosa threw the first punch, not with much weight or power as she tested Gisela’s speed, and Cat could only watch as Gisela not only deflected her fist skillfully, but with what looked like ease. Rosa drew back before pushing for another assault, her fists moving like a deft pugilist as she tried to strike at Gisela, but Gisela moved with a grace that seemed almost unnatural, deflecting every one of Rosa’s strikes. She wasn’t blocking them, it was clear from her movements and posture that she lacked the raw strength to intercept a direct hit, but with a blend of martial arts and divine speed she had made herself nearly untouchable.
“Damn, you’re quick.” Rosa pulled back, and Cat was shocked to see a smile on her face, “Like fighting an eel.”
“You’re trained at least,” Gisela said, flexing her hands. “Better than Aurelio certainly, though you lack focus and finesse.”
Rosa seemed about to charge again, but reined herself in as she uncurled her hands. “Heh well…if I tried to get any more focus, I think we’d wreck the place. Cat wouldn’t let me hear the end of it.”
“You bet I wouldn’t,” Cat crossed her arms stubbornly.
“Heh, well your creepy teacher isn’t half bad,” Rosa smirked.
“Likewise…call me, impressed, Champion of Ares.”
“Call me Rosa,” she said. “And I’m going to call you Gisela since I’m not about to try to pronounce your patrons name.”
“Itzpapalotl,” Gisela said. “It sounds like it’s spelled…but very well.”
The Cities Eternal©2017, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa