The Snake and the Mirror

Roman Holiday – Part II

 

“I think it’s about time we called it,” Rosa said, as both she and Torleif took an exhausted seat on the benches around the ring. “Not bad, you’re improving a lot, short stuff.”

“Thanks,” Torleif said, too tired to come up with a retort.

“I gotta run, Cat’s making dinner tonight,” Rosa said. “And you didn’t hear it from me but she’s real good at it so I’m not about to miss that.”

“Mmm…” Torleif was tempted to ask if she could come along, but shivered as she felt something cool being pressed to her shoulder. She turned to see Echo standing next to her, offering her a sandwich with her own in her other hand.

“Ah! Thanks Echo!” Torleif took it happily. “Have fun, Rosa!”

“Heh, see you later, Torleif,” She waved as she got up and walked off the field.

Torleif bit hungrily into her sandwich with abandon; training was tough work. Echo ate far more daintily as she took a seat beside her, both watching the other stragglers on the field as the sun began to set.

“What’s in yours?” Torleif peered over, trying to see what was in Echo’s sandwich.

“Ah, just greens mostly. I’m a vegetarian.”

“Gross,” Torleif stuck out her tongue. “I love meat on sandwiches.”

“I had a feeling you might,” Echo smiled. “You were doing really well out there.”

“Rosa beat me a lot,” Torleif frowned. “If I used my hammer it would have been different.”

“If you had your hammer, she would have had her spear.”

“True…”

Echo’s eyes turned upwards to the darkening sky. “Hmm…it’s getting late. Where are you staying?”

“Let’s walk around a bit more!” Torleif said loudly, hopping to her feet. “It’s not that late.”

“…alright.” The concern was clear on Echo’s face, but she decided to indulge Torleif a little longer, and the pair walked back into the city.

The streetlamps, half magic half gaslight, washed the streets in a cool mixture of soft yellows and mild blues, and the streets grew more subdued as people wandered home or into pubs as the evening began to turn into night. Echo and Torleif chatted easily as they walked along the streets, wandering nowhere in particular as Torleif regaled her with stories of her travels in the north.

“So, this girl, Wilhelmina I think, had armor and a horse and everything! She looked like a real knight! And she said she’d killed dragons. I’m not sure I believe her but everyone else said it was true!”

“A real dragonslayer? She does sound impressive,” Echo smiled, glancing upwards at the night sky. “It’s getting late, we should-“

A crashing sound caused both of them to jump a little as a chair flew out of a window ahead of them, scattering glass across the street.

“I’m not sure we should get involved…” Echo tried to say but Torleif was already rushing forward, hammer in hand, to find the source of the commotion. She peered in through the shattered window before ducking down just in time to avoid a lamp being hurtled out into the street.

The window looked into a large lobby of what was likely a former hotel. Most of the furniture was gone but what remained was up in the air, levitating as it was thrown violently across the room by an unseen force. At the center were two people, trying to dodge the flung furniture as they searched for its source. Torleif recognized one of them, the fox woman Hachi. The other was a young man with a silver bow in hand, arrow nocked as he tried to fix on his target.

“Where is it!?” He shouted, and Hachi pointed towards an apparently blank patch of wall. “There! Er…there!”

“Which is it!?”

“It’s moving very quickly!”

Aurelio shot a bow, the silver arrow lodging itself in the wall. Another chair hurled itself at them, forcing them to throw themselves out of the way.

Torleif vaulted the windowsill, wary of the shattered glass as she lunged into the room. She could feel the power building in her throwing hand, lightning beginning to dance around the oversized head of her hammer as she tried to find the source of the disturbance.

“Where is it!?” She shouted, the sparks on her hammer growing in size and power.

“Who are you!?” Aurelio shouted, but Hachi pointed towards a patch of whirling air near the far wall. Without pause, Torleif lifted her hammer, pointing it in that direction as several bolts of lightning arced from the hammer’s head, filling the air with static as the bolts struck something that had been floating in the air, invisible.

The furniture fell with a crash to the floor as Hachi rushed to where the lightning had struck, muttering something under her breath as the air began to glow, Japanese sigils writing themselves in the air as Hachi exorcized the weakened spirit.

Aurelio walked towards Torleif, slinging his bow over his shoulder. “I’ll say thanks first but…who are you? That could have been dangerous.”

“Torleif, champion of Thor!” She said proudly, clipping her hammer back onto her belt.

“I hope we weren’t interrupting, Aurelio,” Echo picked her way across the glass on the floor as she entered the room.

“Ah, hey Echo. Nothing too serious, just a poltergeist,” Aurelio said.

“Ah, you’re Aurelio?” Torleif asked. “You’re a champion too, right?”

“That’s right,” He nodded, and Torleif smiled at having finally gotten the better of another champion.

“A poltergeist, don’t you have a specialist for that kind of thing?” Echo asked.

“Aelia’s here, she was just locking down the space to make sure it couldn’t flee.”

“Who’s…” Torleif was about to ask, but before she could say anymore a smiling woman appeared out of thin air beside her, shouting “Boo!”

Torleif let out a shrill short of scream as she moved quickly to Echo before angrily drawing her hammer as the semi-transparent woman laughed.

“Sorry about that,” She said. “Sometimes you just can’t help yourself. I’m Aelia, I’m with the Night Guard.”

“Right…” Torleif was still wary, hammer in hand. She wouldn’t say she was afraid of ghosts. She wouldn’t say she was afraid of anything out loud, but at the very least she really didn’t like ghosts.

“We’re all with the Night Guard,” Aurelio said. “We’re the ones who keeps Rome safe from more magical threats.”

“Cool…” Torleif really did think it was cool, but her eyes were kept on Aelia. “Do you have a lot of ghosts?”

“We have a lot of…irregulars.” Aurelio said. “Only the one ghost, unless…”

Aelia shook her head. “Bernadette’s still not up to this kind of work. She needs time adjusting.”

“Ah well, do what’s best for her,” Aurelio said. “Again, thanks for the help, Torleif, we can take it from here.”

“Alright,” Torleif nodded, gaining some of her confidence back. “And if you ever need help punching out more ghosts you can call me!”

“I’ll be sure to come calling,” Aelia smiled as Torleif shivered, taking Echo’s wrist to lead them out as the nymph waved to Aurelio.

 

“Well that was an exciting distraction,” Echo said as the two of them walked down the darkened streets. “Though now it’s getting very late, Torleif.”

“Ya, I guess,” Torleif shrugged, still walking with no clear destination in mind.

“Torleif,” Echo said softly “Where are you staying?”

“…Around,” Torleif admitted. “Usually the refugee center. But I don’t like it there. It’s crowded and noisy, the beds are less comfy than the ground, and everyone’s asking if I need help or if I’m lost.”

“Don’t you have friends you can stay with? Like Rosaria or Catarina?”

“Don’t want to ask them for help…” Torleif mumbled.

“I see…” Echo said. “Is that why we’re out so late?”

“I guess,” Torleif said. “And I like…having friends around. I know soon you’re going to turn back into a tree or something and I have to go back there. Spirits are lucky, they don’t need beds or anything…”

Torleif felt Echo gently but firmly take hold of her wrist. “Come on,” The nymph said. “You’re coming with me.”

“W-wait…” Torleif had to hurry a little to keep pace with her. “Where are we going? I don’t wanna go back yet!”

“We’re not going back,” Echo said. “But trust me and just follow along.”

Echo led Torleif along into the city, away from the refugee center or anywhere else Torleif knew until they were in a dense clean-looking part of the city filled with impressive townhouses. Echo brought her to the door of a particularly large affair, giving it a knock before entering.

“W-wait,” Torleif tugged at her hand. “Whose house is this?”

“Nora!” Echo called into the house. “I’m back! And I have a guest with me.”

“Nora? Wait, the-” Torleif asked before a new person walked into the foyer. She was on the lean side, with pale skin and dark rings under her sharp blue eyes. Smartly dressed, and with an unusual color to her hair (dyed black on one side, white on the other) she looked over Torleif with brief recognition.

“Ah, Torleif, nice to meet you again.”

Echo looked from Nora to Torleif. “You’ve met?”

“Of course, I showed her to the temple and introduced her to the Thor cult,” Nora said. “Come on, Echo, I told you about this.”

“Sorry,” Echo bowed her head.

“So, what’s up? Was there a problem?”

“Uh…” Torleif went quiet, not sure what to say, but Echo put a comforting hand on her shoulder.

“Torleif here doesn’t really have a place to stay. I was wondering if she could take the spare bedroom for a little while. At least until the bureaucracy clears up.”

Nora shrugged. “Sure, I don’t have a problem with it.”

“Thank you!” Torleif said, before turning to Echo. “How does a little nature spirit know Miss Nora so well?”

“Who told you Echo was little?” Nora asked, leading them into the sitting room. “Echo here is a celebrity. She helped save Rome during the early days.”

Torleif stared wide-eyed at Echo. “Really!?”

“Well, I might have helped a little,” Echo said sheepishly.

“That’s amazing!” Torleif said. “And I was just dragging you around…”

“I had a lot of fun, Torleif,” Echo smiled. “Although you do have a tendency to run into things headfirst.”

“Well, she takes after her patron,” Nora smiled. “But yes, Torleif, Echo is important, and she lives here as well.”

“Why does a spirit need a house?” Torleif asked.

“Well I don’t need one so much,” Echo said. “But I stay here with Nora to help her out with things.”

“Ooooh,” Torleif nodded. “So it’s really okay that I stay here?”

“For a while at least,” Nora said. “just don’t make a mess and put things back where you found them. Also don’t bother Lenore.”

“Who’s Lenore?”

“I won’t be around much to be bothered.”

Torleif nearly jumped as a voice sounded behind her.

“People need to stop doing that!” Torleif said angrily, turning to face the new arrival. To her surprise she looked a lot like Nora, almost enough to be a…sister?

“I’m Nora’s bodyguard,” Lenore said. “I prefer to keep myself scarce.”

“Okay…” Torleif nodded before turning back to Nora. “My things are back at the camp…”

“I’ll send someone to get them in the morning,” Nora said. “But right now it’s very late. Though…do you have anything to do tomorrow?”

“No,” Torleif shook her head.

“Well then,” Nora smiled. “I think I can take a day to give a champion a ‘diplomatic tour’ of the city. We’ll have a proper Roman Holiday, sound good, Miss Hepburn?”

“Who?” Torleif asked.

“Forget it,” Nora smiled. “Echo can show you to the spare room. I’ll see you in the morning and give you…maybe a better look at Rome.”

 

 

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The Cities Eternal©2017, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa

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