The Snake and the Mirror

The Lowest Valleys

 

“Some of the world’s most powerful entities and nothing seems to get done,” Isis-Ra said, looking over the vast table they had made. On its surface of polished marble and inlaid lapis was a topographical map of Europe and the Mediterranean, all lands from Portugal to Britain to Babylon to Tunisia were there in semi-precious stone, examined and scrutinized by the great beings of three powerful pantheons, Zeus, Odin, and Isis-Ra with Freyja, Hera, and Athena as well.

“Powerful beings make for powerful indecisions,” Odin grinned, leaning on the ‘northern’ part of the table. His lone eye never rose to meet theirs, always seeming to track back to a mountain in Germany, where the Nidhoggr’s presence had been marked in swirling black and blue fog.

Three other parts of the map were similarly marked. Over Cairo, the land was black and twisted as something seemed to move beneath the stone. In Greece, fire bellowed from the mountains and hurled ash into the atmosphere over the table. In Babylon, something spread a black corruption across the land.

“Four dragons,” Zeus said. “Four monsters to be slain or thrown back beneath the earth.”

“And none of us with the power to do it alone,” Isis-Ra said.

Zeus scoffed. “I defeated Typhon once, I can do it again.”

“Even if that were true, Lightning-hurler,” Odin said, leaning on his spear. “None of us are in our prime anymore, and that would end but one problem. Typhon might be destroyed but I assure you that if Nidhoggr is not stopped, the Fimbulwinter will not end at my borders. Each of these dragons is a world-ending threat alone. All at once, they are hardly short of invincible.”

Zeus’ face grew stern as he looked down at his own lands. “They may be of the same essence but these creatures do not fight as one.”

“Agreed,” Isis-Ra nodded. “All of them have differences in their methods though their end result is the same. Apep seeks total dominion of the Underworld, twisting and binding the souls of the dead until it can unleash them all upon the earth and claim that for its kingdom as well.”

Odin nodded and turned to Zeus. “And you, Lord of Olympos. What does your monster want?”

“What it has always wanted,” Zeus folded his arms. “It is Gaia’s vengeance, the anger of the Earth given form. It would rip the gates off Tartarus and unleash its siblings, the Titans, back into the world.”

“The Titans were much like we Olympians once,” Hera said, reclining on her throne of cloud and marble nearby. “Powerful, glorious…but their long stay in Tartarus has twisted them until they became as vile as Typhon itself. They want nothing more than to tear down Olympos and the world with it.”

“Freyja’s told me about your wyrm,” Athena said, looking at the two Norse gods. “That it heralds the end of the world…seems almost tame by comparison.”

Odin looked at Athena. Since he had arrived, to most of them he had appeared almost like a doddering old man, more a trickster than the head of a pantheon. But when he looked at Athena, even the grey-eyed goddess of war was humbled by the power in his one-eyed gaze.

“Freyja has not seen Ragnarok,” Odin said. “She is wise in many things, but she does not understand it as I do.”

Odin tapped his spear across the floor and the table map shifted, focusing itself upon Northern Europe and Scandinavia.

“The breaking of Nidhoggr’s prison sets a chain of events in motion, a series of cataclysms each more terrible than the last.”

He waved his spear across the table, and a layer of ice began to spread, like glaciers caving their way across the landscape and crushing the old world beneath them.

“First will be the Fimbulwinter, the winter cold that will bring an end to all mortal resistance and civilization. Their end will not be at the claws and teeth of monsters, but at simply the death of the cold world around them. No food, no soil, no warmth or hope of spring. The mortals will die quietly, and they will be the lucky ones for it.”

“I hardly think theatrics are necessary, Lord of Songs,” Hera said. “We are gods. We have lived through cataclysms before.”

“Though I am pleased by your hospitality, allow me this rudeness, Queen of Argos,” Odin replied. “All of you have lived through hardship, all of you have seen disaster come and go. But none of you, Olympians, have ever died. Your kin quietly slumbered until being awoken again. My people suffered Ragnarok once and we were reborn. I have no intention of letting it happen again.”

“Let him speak,” Isis-Ra spoke next. “Though I will not deny your clear preference for drama…I have seen firsthand the pain of death when my beloved husband was taken from me. I would know what horrors could threaten all the gods of this world.”

“Thank you, Queen of the Sun,” Odin inclined his head. “The world serpent will lash and roil within the seas, creating calamitous waves that will sink islands and nations both. The ship of my forsaken blood-brother Loki will sail, carrying the spirits of the damned and the despised to do battle against my noble Einherjar.”

The waves of lapis roiled and churned upon the map of the world, a great serpent writhing within the depths.

“The skies will split open, and form this rend in the heavens, the sons of Muspell, the fire giants led by their king Surtr will come to the world, shattering the Bifrost with their coming.”

Tiny men moved across the frozen world. Though they were barely finger high to the gods, on the table they dwarfed mountains as they moved, great beings of fire and smoke, with swords that shone like stars surrounded by dancing lights resembling a shattered aurora borealis.

“They will join the frost giants led by Hrym, and the rest of Loki’s foul brood. And that is when the last battle shall begin.”

The stone sea of the table cracked as the serpent broke free, slithering onto the land, armies of giants crashed in all direction leaving destruction in their wake, and in the shadow cast by Odin over the table, the outline of a vast wolf stalked through the darkness.

“These are the horrors that Nidhoggr heralds. And should they join with the Titans, and with Apep’s legions of the dead, then there will be no world left to be saved,” Odin said. “Nidhoggr is the first wave, the ripple that will cascade into the tide of destruction. It needs to be stopped before all else.”

“And is stopping the dragon not what these mortals are trying to do?”

With a wave of his hand Zeus dismissed the illusion of Ragnarok across the table, letting it resettle back into its original form. “A legion of mortals, our champions among them, taking their battle to the dragon?”

“Indeed, they are,” Odin smiled. “Marvelous things, aren’t they?”

“I’m surprised you have faith in them,” Hera said. “Given the calamities you just described. The mortals seem little more than a footnote in your Twilight of the Gods that you’ve envisioned.”

“He’s picked this battle for the same reason I have,” Athena spoke up. “It’s as I always said, there are few greater monster slayers than mortals. They might not be gods, but they have a way of dragging conflicts down to their level,”

“Their level?” Zeus looked at her.

“The Primordials are bound to fate just as surely as anything else. And though they are chaos incarnate, they are bound to certain rules. Just as a God cannot bring their full wrath upon a mortal without due invitation, a Primordial cannot unleash its infinite store of destruction on them either. It would be bound, weakened, so long as no god joined the fray.”

“Clever minds think alike, as they say,” Odin gave Athena a glittering smile. “Though a Primordial, and nigh-indestructible to us, Nidhoggr is a dragon to mortals and can be fought as one.”

“Clever indeed,” Zeus smiled. “And so that is how we provide an edge, using them as proxies and giving them a portion of our powers, enough to give them strength without bringing about Nidhoggr’s divine strength.”

“I thought you knew, Father,” Athena looked at him curiously. “Why else did you make Nicomede your champion?”

Zeus waved it off. “A passing fancy, nothing more, though a serendipitous one it seems.”

Odin noticed that Hera took a long drink from a cup of what looked like wine, clearly irritated.

“So if Nidhoggr falls, and we all must hope it does at the hands of these mortals,” Zeus said. “Will we trust these mortals to deal with Apep and Typhon as well?”

“That can be the subject of later discussion,” Isis-Ra said. “No mortal can face Apep in the same way. At a fundamental level it must be defeated by Ra…but we can provide more guidance to the mortals on that matter.”

“Half the difficulty in defeating Nidhoggr was that it hadn’t been done before,” Odin said. “I’m sure the mortal champions with a little divine guidance can do the impossible again.”

“Hardly seems the meeting was necessary,” Zeus said. “If we’re to just leave it all in mortal hands.”

“That was never for us to decide,” Odin sighed. “That’s a matter for Fate to settle.”

“There is still one more matter before us,” Isis-Ra said. “The fourth shadow on our little world here.”

“Tiamat,” Freyja said. “The Primordial Sea…I’ve heard rumors that she’s taken hold in Babylon.”

“And just as many rumors that she’s about to be deposed there,” Hera said, looking down on the map. “If Ishtar is to be believed.”

“Ishtar doesn’t lie, but that doesn’t mean she’s always to be believed,” Athena said. “When Nidhoggr falls, and I have faith it will…we can turn our attention to Tiamat and see if others from that pantheon can be reached.”

“Tiamat should be a warning to us,” Isis-Ra said.

“A warning?” Zeus asked.

Isis-Ra held out one hand, creating an image of a royal barge bathed in light, rowing through unseen waters. In the other, a growing, pulsing, orb of darkness stood opposed. The barge sailed forward, its light dispelling the darkness, only for the darkness to reform once more. “Apep died and was reborn each night in battle with Ra…but Tiamat was slain by Marduk. Not trapped beneath a tree or mountain, not sent to slumber for eternity. Her corpse formed the earth we thought her forever destroyed.”

Athena frowned. Whereas the others spoke from experience, she had only second-hand accounts of these battles. Still, she was the first among them to grasp what Isis-Ra was saying. “If she has returned, then…”

Isis-Ra nodded her head. “If she has returned, it is only further proof that these Primordials cannot be permanently destroyed.”

 

 

 

 

Previous Chapter                                                                                                           Next Chapter

The Cities Eternal©2017, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa

Where All Roads Lead

Hold the Line

 

The warm touch of fine eolian sand against her skin and the bathing heat of the noonday sun were the first things Asha felt. Her eyes were closed, darkness enveloping her senses so that all she could feel was the heat of sun above and sand below enveloping her. Her fingers ran through the grains, feeling the desert heat stored within as she closed her hand around them, slowly lifting her arm to feel them slip from between her fingers.

She opened her eyes and was bathed in brilliant white.

There were no clouds in the sky, nor tall mountains rising to block the view, there was nothing but a vault of brilliant blue sky that ran from one horizon to the other, all-enveloping and all-encompassing as it wrapped itself around the world. Overhead the sun hung in the sky, like the fierce white pupil of a single great eye.

Asha lay on the sand, blinking as the sun scorched her eyes, straining to see anything else around her. She expected aching muscles or other pains, some feeling to overcome her as she lay there. But there were no aches, no tiredness. She still had feeling throughout her body and nothing seemed to hurt. Slowly she rose into a sitting position, expecting at any moment to feel her spine creak and ache with resistance, but instead there was nothing. She felt…fine, vigorous even. She tried to recall why this was so odd, but her memory was a complete haze when she tried to recall it, only flashes of memory snapped at her. She had been exhausted and starving…not too long ago, less than a day even. It was as if she had woken up at the edge of death, and by  noon she felt fine.

Testing her body, Asha drew herself onto her feet. All around her there was nothing but empty dunes of bright orange-yellow sand rising high like cresting waves. There was no trail to indicate how she had gotten here, no footsteps in the sand to follow. As she turned, however, a building seemed to rise out of the desert ahead of her, a single low monolithic structure nestled between the dunes about a kilometer away.

With nowhere else to go, Asha began to walk towards the structure. She was used to these climates, but she hadn’t been in a dune-filled desert last she recalled. How had she gotten here? And why was she alone?

She took a last few glances around, hoping that someone was there, even if she couldn’t tell who it was that she was looking for. She felt…lonely, as if someone very important was missing, and should have been standing at her side. There was nothing she could do about these odd feelings, however, and she continued walking towards the structure, hoping she might find some answers, or at least some other people. The thought of being entirely alone in the desert was…unsettling to say the least.

As she approached the structure it gained definition. It was built like an old colonial fort, a low-profile wall of mortared brick with casemates at each corner. It was in a clear state of disrepair, the walls crumbling along the edges in several places and the front gate haven taken innumerable mighty blows from some unknown assailant. As she drew closer, she could see the shadow of figures skirting about the parapets, moving rapidly as the gate slowly opened. At first Asha thought they might have been opening for her, but she was soon greeted by a group of armed figures rushing out to meet her. All of them were dressed in long cloaks the color of sand, flickering in the wind as the blended with the dunes around them. They wore broad hats of the same color that hid their outline and shaded their faces. All of them had rifles trained at her, the weapons worn well past their prime but no doubt still effective. Asha noted that all of them also wore swords at their hips. Within moments she was surrounded by a half dozen of them and she slowly raised her hands into the air as a gesture of compliance. She was likely more confused than they were, and wasn’t about to start a fight when she was unarmed and alone in the desert.

The figure facing her lowered their rifle and removed their hat, revealing a youthful feminine face framed by brilliant red hair. Despite looking Asha’s age, somewhere in her late teens, her face had a strained appearance, worn down by the desert wind and sun and prematurely aged.

“Who are you?” She asked, with more than a little threat in her voice.

“Asha…” Asha said. The girl facing her didn’t have a rifle, but as her arms swept back the long cloak Asha could see two swords of gleaming gold, rubies set in the pommels, glittering red like blood in the desert sunlight.

“Where are you from?” She asked.

Asha merely shrugged, hands still raised “I don’t really know.”

A crooked grin cracked across the girl’s face “Don’t worry, that happens to everyone here. It’ll pass soon enough, but it’s proof enough of who you are.”

“And umm…sorry to ask but who am I?” Asha asked nervously. There was nothing comfortable about the girl’s smile.

“You’re our newest recruit.” She said “I was wondering when the next one would come in.”

That set off alarm bells in Asha’s mind. She didn’t know where she was but she was positive she hadn’t volunteered for anything. “R-Recruit for what? Where am I?”

The girl lifted a hand and the others all lowered their guns and traveled back to the fortress, leaving Asha alone with the girl.

“If you wanted a poetic answer, you’re at the edge of purgatory.”

“I don’t understand” Asha said.

“Come with me” the other girl said “Right this way.” She turned and led Asha back to the fortress. As they entered through the gate, Asha could see, carved into the wall above the gate the simple words”

“THE LINE”

“Line?” Asha asked “What line? Where are we?”

The other girl turned to face her, pulling off her long cloak to reveal an oversized and heavily worn set of desert fatigues, everything about her gear seemed taken through hell and back, with nothing in this fortress looking to have less than ten years of heavy use, including the people.

“This is The Line. You can call it the line in the sand, the thin red line, whatever you want. If you wanted a location we’re in Suez not far from what’s left of the canal.”

“S-Suez!?” Asha almost shouted in surprise. “We’re in Egypt!?”

“Ya, where did you think you were?” The girl asked.

“I was…umm…”Asha struggled to remember. It had been warm, but still quite far from Egypt.

“Well then allow me to welcome you to the first day of the rest of your life. I’m Christina, and I’ll be in charge of you until you get in proper shape.”

“Proper shape for what?” Asha asked “What are we doing here? Why is this fort even here?”

Christina looked at her with an active disinterest before herking her head toward the closest wall.

“Follow me” she said.

Christina led Asha up a flgith of stairs to the top of the low wall, giving her a clear view of the vest ntohign that stretched out in all directions, nothing but a vast dune sea.

Christina raised a hand and pointed to the west.

“Out there is Egypt, now the house of a nasty snake demon they call Apep. From there we get an army of serpent monsters, jackal demons, and all other kinds of desert nasties.”

She then moved her arm and pointed east. “Out there is a big ugly dragon named Tiamat, mother of monsters, and a never-ending well of evil that’s spreading further by the day.”

Finally she pointed her hand to the ground. “We are the line that separates the ugly bastards so they never get to play nice, Every monster, demon, and generally ugly motherfucker fresh-faced from your nightmares is funneled right through this fort. And it’s our job to kill each and every one that we see. Got it?”

“I…” Asha was lost for words, her head spinning with the thought. “How did I get here?”

She never recalled deciding to travel to Egypt, nor did she recall signing up to kill monsters. Was she being shanghaied? What was she even doing in this dangerous part of the world?”

“Alright, here comes the hard part.” Christina said, putting her hands on her hips. “You’re dead.”

“…what?”

“I said you’re dead. Deceased, out for the duration, expired, ashes to ahes, in the ground, am I coming through clear?”

“ I’m…”

“If it makes you feel better so am I.” Christina shrugged.

“What!?”

“Look kid, every single person at the Line is dead. As a doornail.”

“So we’re…what, ghosts?” Asha didn’t feel dead. She’d never felt better!

“Or spirits. Something like that.” Christina said “Point is we died and didn’t go to heaven, jury’s still out on hell.”

Asha stared at her hands, trying to get over the thought. Dead? How? When!?

“Beats me. Not my job to know, or care.” Christina shrugged. “Point is we were all dragged here, one by one, and given a single line of instructions to follow if we ever want to get out.”

“And what’s that?” Asha asked.

“Hold the Line.”

Asha fell into silence as her mind went blank, unable to even think as she struggled with the overwhelming feeling of doubt and growing terror. Any words she would have said, however, were interrupted as a siren blared across the fort, every single man and woman there lifting their heads as they stared at the screaming sirens. There was an instant of total stillness before everyone began running. Weapon lockers were thrown open as the gates were reinforced and people rushed to the edges of the walls.

Christina turned away from Asha as she roared at another passing soldier.

“What’ve we got? Bandits or monsters!?” She shouted over the siren.

“Monsters this time!” He shouted back as he kept running.

“You ever kill a monster, new girl?” Christina asked Asha.

“No!? I-I mean…I don’t remember..”

“Well practice makes better.” Christina said as she dropped her cloak, drawing the twin gleaming swords from her waist.

“Sh-should I get a gun?” Asha asked. She certainly didn’’t feel like taking a sword to a monster fight.

“Won’t help.” Christina said “The guns are for humans, shooting monsters is like flicking rocks at a beehive. Might get a lucky hit or two but it’ll make ‘em real angry first.  Get a bow or a spear or something.”

“O-okay!” Asha rushed to one of the closest weapon racks, where a number of rifles hung alongside more medieval weaponry. Several other soldiers were passing them out rapidly, Asha fell into line practically by accident and had a bow with a  quiver full of arrows shoved unceremoniously into her hands. Slinging her quiver over her shoulder, she ran to meet with Christina again, who was standing atop the wall along with a line of archers, to see what exactly was coming for them.

A small army of horrors was slithering, lurching, and crawling towards the walls. Great serpents ten meters in length coiled through the sands, as giant men with the heads of demonic canines ran with claws and teeth bared towards the wall. Flying batlike creatures came in a small swarm as they flew ungainly towards The Line, and at least a dozen different variety of monsters all came down on their position along the wall.

“Not too many” Asha was shocked to see a grin on Christina’s face. “Shouldn’t take long.”

“D-do you not see the monsters!?” Asha asked incredulously.

Christina grabbed Asha by the collar, bringing her face in close. “Listen up, new girl. I don’t care if it’s God himself marching on The Line, you get a weapon and you hold it. You see something with scales or too many legs? You shoot, stab, and slice it till it dies then a few more times to be sure. If you wanna sit on this wall and wet yourself then I’m gonna throw you over to make room for someone more useful, got it!?”

“I…got it!!” Asha visibly shook form the girl’s fury, clutching the bow tightly.

“Then get that bow ready!” Christina said. “Consider this your first day of the rest of eternity. Welcome to the Line.”

 

Previous Chapter                                                                                                                      Next Chapter

The Cities Eternal©2016, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa
JP Link:  https://www.jukepop.com/home/read/9551?chapter=51&sl=25

Where All Roads lead

The Wolves of Rome

May 18th, 2024

The sound of shuffling footsteps faded from the senate chambers as the last of the active senators filed out for the day. The sun was setting low now, and all of Rome was finishing the work of the day and preparing for the business of night. Capitolina could hear them, her lupine ears quick to pick up the noise of the city as people walked or rode their bicycles home, tuned in their radios, or went to find their friends for the evening. Like the others, Capitolina’s work was over for the day, and she allowed herself a moment of peace before returning to her den under Rome for the evening.

Leaning back in her chair, she shut her eyes and listened to the noises of the night. This was not the Rome she remembered, the Rome of her sons, of the Republic, of Ceasar and Augustus. Still, it was Rome, simply another face of the eternal city, and it had grown larger by the day. She smiled to herself, pleased with the progress it had made. Still, she could not help but feel a tinge of emptiness cut through her satisfaction. Rome had gotten back on its feet. It was administrated by its effective (if somewhat prone to bickering) senate and protected by its legions. The city of Rome was no longer hanging by a thread, but it no longer needed her as it once had.

The soft patter of new footsteps entering the room intruded on her thoughts, but she smiled as she recognized the quiet padding of Angel trying not to disturb her.

“I’m not asleep.” Capitolina said, her eyes still closed as she heard the footsteps freeze in place.

“Pardon the intrusion.” Angel said in her quiet monotone.

“Not an intrusion.” Capitolina corrected her, sitting up and opening her eyes.

Angel, the black-haired and winged wolf was standing across from her. Since almost the very start, Angel had been at her side while they protected Rome. She was only part wolf, but it had been enough for Capitolina to accept her. Angel served an important purpose. It had been her abilities as a former Primordial spirit that had allowed them to safeguard Rome,  and it had been her sound technical skills and supreme vision that had helped organize the city into what it was now. More than anything though, Angel was Capitolina’s close friend and confidant. While she was often at odds with Kebechet and Giovanni, she found she could always find an ear and helping hand in Angel.

Capitolina smiled, reaching out to pat Angel on her head, ruffling her hair and ears and earning a flustered noise from the wolf which did not help to make her any less adorable.

“I came in to check on you.” Angel said.

“Oh?” Capitolina asked, rising easily from her chair and stretching “Why?”

“You have seemed…tired and perhaps slightly listless of late.” Angel observed, looking her over with her calculating dark eyes. “I wanted to make sure everything was alright.”

“Everything is fine, Angel.” Capitolina smiled, petting her again. “Come on, let’s go find the others.”
Normally Kebechet would be at the temple and Giovanni would be at the Vatican, but Capi could smell them both in the building, so before Angel could say another word she set off at a quick march into the halls of the Senate offices with Angel a few steps behind her.

“Are you sure you’re alright?” The concern had left not Angel’s voice.

“I’m fiiiine” Capi said “Just thinking a lot lately.”

“Hmmm…”

They found Kebechet walking the halls in the opposite direction, no look of surprise passing over her face as they came into view. Likely Kebechet had sensed them coming.

“Capitolina, Angel” She nodded politely to them both “Good evening.”

“Heya Kebe” Capitolina smiled. “How’s the Pontifex?”

“Active as ever.”

Captiolina smiled as she saw some of the weariness on Kebechet’s face. Nora Newstar had the mind of Cleopatra with the willpower of Caesar, it was part of why Capitolina had wanted her to be Imperator rather than Pontifex Maximus, and it looked like it was wearing down even a goddess like Kebechet.

“She’s dating that nymph now, right?” Capitolina asked, pulling Kebechet into step alongside them as she walked.

“Echo, yes.” Kebechet nodded “Which brings its own set of problems.”

“Sure sure” Capi nodded along “And the temple? Everyone happy? Human and god both?”

“Happy enough” Kebechet nodded “The gods are pleased by the proper accommodation and the organized reverence, while the people are pleased by the ease of location and the new abundance of fresh water.”

“I do love it when everyone wins” Capitolina’s tail wagged. “Well done, Kebechet.”

“I do what I can for the Pharaoh and the city.” Kebechet bowed her head humbly.

They talked a while longer, Angel falling into silence a step behind them as she always did as Capitolina talked at length with Kebechet. The Wolf of Rome wanted to keep herself in the loop at all times, which is what her wolves were for. Kebechet could connect with the Egyptian gods and the cults in a way she rarely could, utilizing her own divine nature and close connection to Nora. Similarly Giovanni had his Catholic connections and a good reputation among Rome’s poorer residents. Finally, it was Angel’s duty to keep her eyes on the big picture, Rome as merely one city in the world, with the Primordials to contend with. It was a good system and it worked.

They caught up to Giovanni not long after that, he had been meeting with several Catholic Senators as a messenger for the Vatican. That was much of what he did these days, acting as an intermediary between the faith and people in power. It saddened Capitolina somewhat. Giovanni had led and protected the Catholics since the Days of Revelation, and had almost single-handedly developed the plan to bring down the Hour of the Wolf, now he was little more than a messenger and a symbol.

What are you, she thought dryly to herself, If not just a symbol for Rome?

“Giovanni” She smiled as the three wolves came up to him.

“Capitolina” He gave her his subdued smile in return, inclining his head. Much as he seemed to enjoy butting heads with the other wolves, herself included, Capitolina liked Giovanni. He might be a Catholic and a bit on the tame side, but he was strong-willed, courageous, and intensely stubborn, all traits she prized in a good Roman.

He was also the only male in their pack, and while she treasured Angel above all others she enjoyed keeping Giovanni close for other reasons than his governing skill.

“How are the Catholics faring?” she asked as she pulled him along to join the others.

“Well…” He said before finally extricating his simple robe from her hand, falling into step alongside her. “They’re doing well. The Archbishop is reorganizing the College, but with the world in the state it’s in, we do not feel justified electing a new pope quite yet, not while there are still possibly many Catholic sanctuaries in the world who are now voiceless. In his stead, the Archbishop is commanding the faith.”

“Should be you in command” Capitolina smiled, half-teasing him. She enjoyed his flustered reactions, much like Angel. His greatest flaw, Capi always felt, was a crippling lack of pride. He had always pushed being humble too hard.

“I am a wolf, Capitolina, as you well know.” He said, trying to retain his aura of collected calm. It wasn’t working, wolves had a much harder time hiding their emotions than humans did. “An animal deemed the servant of Man by God, I have no authority to command them.”

“You’re a public servant” Capitolina was a Roman, and even a Roman wolf knew her rheotoric. “A proper ruler serves his people as well as himself, and I know no one who rules themselves more strictly than you do, Giovanni.”

Giovanni sighed, and Capitolina’s tail wagged as she knew she had won.

“It is a shame the younger faiths never learned to venerate the spirits of the world as their elders did.” Kebechet said.

“Perhaps it does not underestimate we animals” Giovanni said, turning next to Kebechet “Perhaps yours merely underestimates men.”

Kebechet folded her arms, but her ears remained perked upwards and her tail hanging loosely. Capitolina could tell when the two of them were truly arguing and when it was simply banter. They might be exceedingly different individuals, but Capitolina had chosen them both for a reason.

In time, however, the wolves dispersed. Kebechet, as ever, needed to meet with Nora and her own pantheon of gods while Giovanni needed to return to the Vatican. Once more Angel and Capi were the only two wolves in the Senate House, and as the night grew later they were the only people there at all.

“Capitolina?” Angel was the first to speak, as she had expected.

“Call me Capi, Angel.”

“I do think something is bothering you.”

Capitolina let out a long drawn-out sigh. “I suppose there is, but it’s nothing worth worrying over me for.”

Angel frowned, tail hanging limp, Capitolina knew there was little that the former did other than worry.

“Alright then” She relented, taking a seat for herself. “I suppose…well, there’s less for us to do now, we’re not as needed as we used to be.”

“We knew this was coming.” Angel said, sitting beside her “We’ve known it for a year. This was always meant to be temporary. Wolves can protect people but we cannot rule them.”

“They depended on us, needed us to defend and help them get back on their feet.”

“And you enjoyed that?”

“Of course I did!” She scoffed. “How could I not? It’s good to be needed.”

“None of us were ever truly needed before.” Angel said “I certainly never helped anyone but myself. It is…sad perhaps, but it is the way we knew things would go.”

“Mmm…” Capitolina fell silent as she turned to glance out the window. She had always felt somehow responsible for Rome. In a way she was. She had nurtured and raised Romulus and Remus, had known them as children before the very first stone in the foundation of Rome had been laid. In a way she was the mother of this city, for good or ill, and she had watched its history for thousands of years. It had been wonderful, elating, to be the protective mother of the city again. But just as she had before, she had to pull back and let the humans decide what their fate would be.

“Before long they will not need us.” Angel said “It is simply the way of things.”

Capitolina smiled, ruffling her hair again.

“That’s not true, Angel. They won’t need our help anymore, and that day is fast approaching. But they’ll always need us. Why do you think the humans remembered us for hundreds or thousands of years? Not because of the help we gave them, but because this city needed protectors and they came to us. We’ll be remembered, Angel, for centuries more to come…I suppose both of us can live with that.”

She smiled to herself as she leaned back in her seat. That was enough for her. Rome again remembered who its mother wolf was. Many people already had found small statues of her, once sold as curios and souvenirs in the more ancient parts of the city, and set them up in their homes. The wolves of Rome might not be needed anymore, but the people were grateful, and they would be remembered.

Previous Chapter                                                                                                                      Next Chapter

The Cities Eternal©2016, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa
JP Link: https://www.jukepop.com/home/read/9551?chapter=7&sl=315

Where All Roads Lead

Ways of the Gods

May, 16th, 2024

The Capitoline Hill of Rome was still the seat of the senate, and as such it was almost constantly abuzz with activity. As it had once been the heart of the sanctuary, life seemed to revolve around the hill, making it constantly alive with the sounds of travelers, petitioners, senators, priests, and people from all walks of life.

Albion Nassar, Senator of Rome and Archmage of the fledgling mage’s Guild, was not the biggest fan of crowds, but he recognized the usefulness of placing himself in the beating heart of the city. He kept an office but that was largely for formality, he was more often found in the open on the stairs of the senate building, speaking with his underlings, fellow mages, or petitioners. He wished to become consul, after all, and he needed to craft an image of a man of the people, particularly if his primary competition for the seat were to be Patricia Bellos, darling of the downtrodden, as he knew it would be. Patricia had the rather irritating trait of being naturally beloved. Her rather vocal push for economic reform had ensured that. The shift from scavenger economy to something resembling market capitalism had not gone smoothly for all, and Patricia had been the voice behind safety net programs for them.

Albion knew, of course, that beneath her kind demeanor was an almost terrifyingly shrewd woman who was not to be trifled with. Patricia knew that Albion had the mages and their supporters, he also appealed to the old upper class. She had, in turn, taken the common man to her cause, and Albion knew from experience that the two things least trusted by the common man was nobility and mages. After the civil war in Syracuse, tensions had always been palpable between mages and mundanes. Patricia had never had cause to incite action against mages, but she was perfectly positioned to if the need or desire arose. It was another bullet in the chamber for her, and Albion preferred his opponents disarmed.

Albion would need additional assistance and the news of late had piqued his curiosity. He had known about champions for over a year, ever since Aurelio Furlan and Salvatore Messana both came to Rome. What he still lacked, however, was information. So he had called an acquaintance to meet him here on the steps of the senate to discuss the matter.

“Good afternoon, Senator Nassar.”

The dry voice of Nora Newstar, Pontifex Maximus and nominal Pharaoh, met him as she climbed the steps towards him. True to her position, she kept herself elegantly dressed in ornamented whites and blues. Her hair, parted in the center, was unusually dyed with one half white and the other black as she seemed to prefer. Regardless of her dress and style, he was always caught off-guard by her youth. When they had first met he had reckoned her too young for the job. She had proven him wrong on several occasions, and he knew she had powerful protectors. Nora was on his list of people to not rashly be made into enemies, thankfully he had her as something of an ally.

“And to you, Pontifex” he smiled “I’m glad you received my invitation.”

“What’s this about?” Nora had an open disdain for small talk. He appreciated that, and while he preferred good banter he would indulge her for now.

“I wanted to discuss champions, Pontifex..” he said “you seemed the most qualified on the subject.”

“I’m not the most qualified, merely the most knowledgeable human…that I’m aware of.” She added the last addendum almost as an afterthought. “If you want more information I suggest you go visit a temple.”

“I’ve always preferred a human conversation partner.” He said, starting to walk with her down the steps and onto the hill “Particularly one I know so well.”

Albion knew Nora had no particular fondness for him. Few did. It did not bother him in the slightest though, fondness would only get you so far. It is good to be loved, but it is better to be necessary, a distinction that might cost Senator Bellos the race.

“Fine, what do you want to know?” She asked, and Albion smiled.

“I want to know how and why the contract is established, why a specific person is chosen and what the terms are.”

Nora made a soft snort of derision, and Albion passed per an innocently perplexed look.

“It’s not a business deal, Senator. The ‘contracts’ are rarely beyond verbal as far as I understand. As for picking the person…they want someone both attuned to them and well-suited for the task in mind. Aurelio is a hunter and a protector, two things associated with Diana. She would have preferred a virgin girl but didn’t have any on hand who fit the bill better.”

“So they choose by their own criteria?” Albion asked “Admittedly I did not think one could drop off a resume at a temple, but that seems far too…organic, too trusting.”

This time Nora did not try to hide her laugh, and he knew it was again at his expense. He didn’t care, he prefer Nora think of him too outside his depth. It might make her give more than she intended.

“These are gods. They don’t believe in safeguards or contingencies. They trust in fate, perhaps to a dangerous degree. If they feel right about something, if they have a gut reaction to it, they trust it. That’s part of why Diana chose Aurelio and why Minerva chose Salvatore. They knew when they saw them that it was meant to be that way.”

“Hmmm” Albion considered her words for a moment, a silence between them despite the noise surrounding them.

“I cannot say I am particularly fond of such a system.” He said “It seems so…one sided from the perspective of the gods. What if a man thought himself unsuitable for the position, or another thought himself more suitable?”

“You can feel free to argue the decision.” Nora shrugged “I can tell you from experience that arguing with a god is rarely a painless process. I think even you, Senator, would find the prospect terrifying.”

Truth be told Albion had never had direct contact with a deity. He had met spirits certainly, from the nymph Echo to his own pet demon, but he had never knowingly faced one high enough on the hierarchy of power to be referred to as a “god”.

“And what are their demands?” he asked “Aurelio was granted impressive powers and a magic bow. What does he give in return?”

“Ah, that one is easier.” Nora said, hands held behind her to keep her back straight. “From what I understand, champions are free to act on their own will and desires most of the time. The god in question did choose them for a compatible personality after all, however if the god needs something done then the champion does it. No argument, no fuss, they are to jump when told to jump.”

“That seems almost like servitude.” Albion frowned.

“Of a sort” Nora shrugged “it is the price of power. And they are called champions, after all. They represent a god’s will on earth, and sometimes that requires doing what you’re told. It’d be an issue if a god commanded them to do something horrific or illegal, but that’s a problem we’ve not faced yet.”

“That makes it sound like an issue to be faced in the future.”

“Well…” Nora trailed off her, voice becoming more quiet. “You and I were both there in the aftermath of the Hour of the Wolf Massacre.” She said.

Albion nodded. His nose still wrinkling at the memory of the sights and smells of the carnage and gore the ritualistic mass-slaughter had left behind.

“As you noted, we have evidence to suggest that was a…proto-champion of sorts. Obviously the deity who supports this cult is to be expelled from the city by any means necessary though.”

“Expelled?” Albion raised an eyebrow “Suggesting we mortals send a god into exile?”

“It’s not as hard as you might think.” Nora said “The gods need human worship to sustain themselves. Without it they wither and shrink. If this god can’t get a foothold in Rome they’ll be forced to seek more fertile ground for their fiendish death cult.”

“I see…” Albion said “The problem you could face in the future is if an established deity did not like the course the city was taking.”

“Something like that.” Nora said “a conflict between the desires of the gods and that of the city could be potentially disastrous depending on the size of their following and their influence in the senate.”

Albion folded his arms. “The gods are here to aid humanity, not to direct it.” He said “I’ll make sure my position on that is known before the race for Consul begins in earnest.

“It’ll win you points with the Catholics at least.” Nora shrugged. “Now, is that all you wanted me for?”

“More or less.” Albion nodded “I was curious about the relationships betweenmen and gods, the kind of playing field they’re on.”

“Looking to become a champion?” She passed a glance at him.

“Oh hardly.” Albion waved off the idea “I have no interest in becoming some Olympian puppet.”

“Then why ask?”

“Several reasons” Albion said “First and foremost is that willful ignorance is perhaps the world’s greatest sin. Champions are some of the most powerful people in the city, and it would be foolish not to know how they operate. Aurelio in particular is worth keeping an eye on. There is also the fact that the gods themselves are worth looking into. Knowing their intentions and their Modus Operandi might save us all a good deal of grief in the future.”

“So I see playing on the Capitoline Hill isn’t enough for you” Nora smirked “Now you want to play on Mount Olympus.”

“Oh hardly” Albion could not help but smile himself “I have no interest in the games of the Olympians or the Egyptian Ennead, they are far too large and too dangerous for the likes of me.”

He kept a touch of sarcasm in his voice. He enjoyed keeping Nora guessing about his true intentions.

In reality he was being honest. Attempting to manipulate one of the greater gods would only end in pain, death, and possibly an eternal and humiliating afterlife. No, that was not the goal for him. He lived in the mortal world with mortal people, but that did not mean the gods had no part in it.

“If that will be all, Senator?” Nora’s voice drew him back “I am a busy woman and I am needed elsewhere.”

“Of course.” Albion said, gesturing with an open hand for her to take her leave “Thank you for taking the time to speak with me. It has been…enlightening.”

Nora nodded and departed with a swish of blue dress as she moved back towards the temple complex, leaving Albion surrounded but alone on the Capitoline Hill.

All that she had said simply confirmed what he had suspected. He could never likely manipulate a god, but the aid of one or more could be invaluable to him. The trick was getting that aid without sacrificing too much of himself.

Being a champion was now firmly out of the question. He had no intention of being a servant or a pawn. He could brown nose if need be, respect those in positions of superiority, but there was something different about doing that to a god over, say, Capitolina Lupa. With the wolf of Rome he could eventually usurp her position as chief authority in Rome, but he lacked the delusions of grandeur to consider usurping a god.

Still there were other options to him. The Olympians were well-known and the most worshipped pagan gods in Rome, but they are not the only members of their pantheon. There are hundreds of Greek gods alone, and not all of them are as terrifying or as austere as Diana and Minerva. He smiled as he considered his options, there might be gods and goddesses out there who could be bargained with after all. They might not be on the same level of power as the Olympians, but even the smallest god could grant a great advantage.

Previous Chapter                                                                                                                      Next Chapter

The Cities Eternal©2016, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa

The Wolves of Rome

Lords of Creation

April 20th, 2023
Olympos, the seat of the Greek Gods.

Any mortal who climbs the peak would not find the grand palaces of the Olympians there, for the divine Olympos exists outside of space as most mortals understand it. It is a mountain peak that cannot be reached by mortals unless the gods decree it, and it is there that they hold their council.
It is a place of unparalleled beauty, grand palaces of gold, ivory, and cloud that are shaped into grand architecture beyond even the wisest mortal hands. It is a mountain beyond the “real mountain” in the same way a god is beyond a man.

It sits atop the highest peak, the Pantheon, where Lord of the Sky Zeus holds his power and his thoughts, above all other gods in the way the heaven is above the earth, incomparable and unquestionable in his authority.

At least in regards to the Greeks.

The image of Zeus is well known, yet it cannot be truly captured in image or likeness of stone or pen. He is powerfully built, more perfectly formed than any mortal born man. His body is built of vitality and virility, while his face displays wisdom in its creased brow and trimmed beard of grey beneath a tumbling head of silver hair. He sits on his throne, deep in thought, as the clouds of the heavens whirl around him, a monument to his own magnificence and power. From this throne he can hurl a lightning bolt across the Earth, and in ages past he did so often to let his will be known.
Zeus Olympios, King of the Gods, Master of the world.

His authority is unquestionable among the Olympians and thus there are few things more difficult for an incomparable being than to recognize an equal. Just as the sky is host to more than azure atmosphere, so did Zeus now wait in silence and in thought for the arrival of the Sun.

She is Isis Panbasilea, the All-Ruling Goddess, but she is also Ra.

With the death of Amon-Ra at the hands of Apep the Destroyer, the mantle of Ra and the crown of the sun had been left empty for another to take. Sobek had offered his strength and her son, Horus, had offered his power. Both were needed on the field in the battles to come. The mantle had to go to a ruler, a sovereign, and a Uniter. Thus it went to the Queen of Heaven. Isis.

As Isis, she had been a figure to respect in Olympos, a treasured and honored guest among the Olympians along with her brother-husband Osiris. Now she comes as Isis-Ra, the unquestioned ruler of their pantheon, and that made her an equal to Zeus in authority and in strength.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“I greet you, Zeus Olympios, Lord of this Land, with Honor and respect.” Isis-Ra’s voice was a curtain of soft demure elegance held over an iron core of power. Even before her ascension as Ra, she had been a figure to respect and, at times, to fear.

“You are greeted, Lady Isis-Ra Aigyptus, Queen of Egypt, as honored guest and ally in this court.” Zeus’ voice was stern and powerful, carrying with it an absolute authoritative note.
The formalities in their greetings were long and specific. Each acknowledged the sovereignty of the other in their lands. Isis-Ra offered deference to Zeus as lord of the venue, while Zeus did the same for Isis-Ra’s privilege as guest. Inter-Pantheon relations varied wildly in their forms, but the Greeks and Egyptians had long established theirs, and the meeting of two Pantheon lords was too delicate a matter to be treated lightly.

“You’ve been quiet these past few days, Zeus.” Isis-Ra was the first to drop formalities, as was her right as guest. Zeus, at least, was grateful for the opportunity. Their titles could be dropped for sake of ease, though Zeus knew better than most not to neglect the “Ra” in Isis’ name.

“The news grows no better the further outward we look for it.” Zeus said, hands gripping the arms of his throne. “All the pantheons we have heard from are in varying degrees of disarray. Of them, only we Olympians remain strong and steadfast.”

Isis frowned.

“Grim news indeed, but hardly surprising. If my people can be thrown from their lands so easily, I hardly imagine anyone is prospering. What of the northerners? These…Norsemen and women?”

At this, Zeus gained a look of decided disdain.

“I have spoken only briefly to Odin, their All-Father, when my eagles met his ravens in the skies to the north. The man has little grace in his authority. He seems to revel in speaking in riddles and tricks.”

“And what did you glean from him, Zeus?” Isis asked. Perhaps in better times she would indulge her host with platitudes and assurances, but these were not better times. She had little patience for his complaints.

“The Aesir are managing as they always have. Their realms are in complete disarray but it is almost as if they are reveling in it. They have always been hungrier for battle than us. I suppose now is their time.”

“One should never underestimate the Olympians thirst for blood, Zeus.” Isis-Ra smiled wickedly. “The records of your deeds and actions do not paint a pretty picture. Even mortals need not look far into the works of Homer to see what it is like when the Hellenic Gods wage war.”

“A squabble and a trifle.” Zeus shook off the comment with a wave of his great hand. “Regardless, the Aesir seek no allies and want for no help, at least so long as that pride holds.”

“Perhaps I should speak with them.” Isis-Ra said idly.“I have a penchant for wordplay and a cleverer tongue than most. Perhaps this Odin would enjoy my company.”

“There are few who wouldn’t.” Zeus smirked, and indulged his eyes in a long trek across Isis-Ra’s body.

The power of Isis-Ra could be compared only to her beauty. Her skin was a deep reddish tan, smooth like glass and accentuated by a river of long black hair crowned by a the radiant solar disk. Her eyes shined with a brilliant gold lined in elegant black above a narrow nose and long full lips. Her body, his eyes travelling down, was in the primacy of fertility, long flowing curves that accentuated her wide hips and full breasts, her silhouette only enhanced by the long slimming dress of red and white she wore. Beneath each arm waited the furled wings of a rainbow-feathered kite.

She was, even as Isis alone, a beauty on par with any goddess, and certainly, in Zeus’ eyes, past that of his own wife and queen. Had she been in his pantheon, Zeus would have bedded Isis long ago given even a modicum of a chance.

Isis-Ra could be indulgent to Zeus’ lingering eyes, but only for so long before her voice once more demanded his attention.

“While you may hold firm, Zeus, your stronghold is not so impregnable as to be negligent to its defense.” She said, irritation creeping into her voice. Trapped as her husband might be beyond the pale of death and in the sealed afterlife of Duat, Isis-Ra was still very much devoted wife and lover. “Do not be so quick to judge our strength while Typhon marches at your doorstep.”

At this, Zeus rose from his throne. For all her power, as lord of the Sky Zeus was still a head taller than Isis-Ra. The sun, even at its brightest, had always been a guest in the Halls of Heaven; it was even truer now.

“Typhon is merely a nuisance, and one I have dealt with before.” He said, his voice thundering even as he kept a level tone. “He offers no real threat to Olympos, especially as his mate Echidna still lies truly dead. His offspring are ill-bred and fragile now.”

Isis-Ra, however, remained undaunted. She raised her eyes to his, demanding him to treat with her as an equal, not a subject. Still, she kept her voice calm and respectful. She was, at the end of the day, still his guest. “You defeated him because that was the way the wind had turned in that time. Order was meant to usurp chaos and so the chaotic Primordials were defeated. Tiamat, Typhon, Apep, all of them and others were felled. But Zeus I should not have to remind you that the balance can always tip the other way. It is level now, but an ill-made choice can tip it once more in Chaos’ favor.”

“Do not be quick to lecture, Isis-Ra. We are your hosts after you failed to hold your own gates.”

“Proof enough as any that I know of what I speak.”She said, not rising to his bait. “Typhon is enraged but he is no fool. None of the Primordials are. All of us have every reason to believe he is seeking out a new mate fit to sire a new generation of monstrous offspring.”

“And they will be destroyed, regardless of their number or supposed strength.” Once more Zeus waved off the worry.

Isis-Ra, however, saw past the bravado in his voice. Zeus was self-assured, but not foolhardy.
“Something else is troubling you, Lord of the Sky.”She said, her tone shifting as she stepped closer to the throne. She was no longer playing the guest, but a confidante. “We are allies in this war. Share with me.”

“The fates are beyond reason.” Zeus spat. “Since time immemorial, they have obeyed me and now they spurn my word.”

The worry must have been clear on Isis-Ra’s face. The Moirai, the Fates, were the direct line between the gods and destiny. If they were ignoring Zeus, then terrible and truly unpredictable times were ahead. Few things were as dreadful to the gods as the thought of something completely and truly unknown.

“I suppose then,” Isis-Ra said carefully. “That this is out of our hands. We will fight for what is ours, but I am starting to doubt that this war will be won or lost by gods.”

Once more Zeus scoffed, but credibly so at the mere insinuation. “You would trust mortal hands with the fate of all creation?”

“I would not trust anything to mortal hands.” Isis-Ra corrected him. “But it seems likely that in this case our own hands might be tied.”

Zeus’ face fell into a mask of displeasure. “You have proof of this as well, I suppose?”
“I do.” Isis-Ra nodded, and before her, warped from the space between herself and Zeus, came the image of a city. It was one Zeus knew well, but not as Zues Olympios. It was a city built on seven hills, the Eternal City.

“Rome…” He said the name quietly. “Everyone has spoken much of Rome these days. My Queen was there just a few days ago on her own trivial business.”

“And it is where my Pharaoh is as well.” Isis-Ra said.“These people, these Romans, scarcely past recovery, have already done extraordinary things. They have defended their city time and again against the forces of the Primordials. They have broken into the former prison of Typhon, repelled the invasion of the Wolf and Sun Eater, and proven time and again that mortals, while reeling, have not fallen.”

“I suppose there is some pride to have in them.”Zeus said. “These mortal heroes have ever proven themselves tenacious, with nerve beyond their standing.”  

Zeus sat back down upon his throne, his brow furrowed in thought, but his grip not as tight on the arms. “My children have already taken an interest in the mortals. I did not condone…but I did not refuse my daughters this course either. Perhaps in time we will once more see the likes of the great men of antiquity, Achilles and Hectors of a new era.”

“A good deal to ask of them.” Isis-Ra smiled. “They are still young and vulnerable, they have much to rediscover, and I believe the Fates have much in store for them. Until then, at least, they have some form of protection.”

Once more the image shifted, replaced now with the lifelike picture of four wolves. “The people of Rome are still weak and prone to failure and corruption, but I think the Fates drew these wolves together for a reason.”

“Perhaps it is so.” Zeus nodded. “The wolves become the shepherds of a new and powerful flock…yes I could see the hand of Fate in this.”

“And why is that, Zeus?” Isis-Ra asked.

“Because an act of Fate is always identifiable by the clear hand of irony.” A great chuckle rumbled in his chest. “Yes, I suppose we should look more to these Romans, perhaps they are merely the first of many.”

 

Previous Chapter                                                                                                                      Next Chapter

The Cities Eternal©2016, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa

The Wolves of Rome

The Laughing Mask

April 15th, 2023
“And with that, I’m sorry to say our show is coming to a close.” Thalia spoke into the microphone as she checked the clock on the wall. “The time is seven o’ clock and the sun is just about down. That means it’s time for a few hours of music to lull all you sleepy hard workers off to bed. Today is Saturday meaning its classical aaaaall night, and thanks to the generous donation of Mister Antoni Caruso we have an entire evening of Holst lined up for you. I have a soft spot for the Jupiter piece in his Planets Suite, but there’s something for everybody there. So until tomorrow, this is your hostess Thalia signing off.”

With a flick of the switch Thalia turned off the microphone, giving a thumbs-up to one of her radio DJs to take over and flip through their records. She was a sweet girl but not much of a voice. Thalia had only just begun the search for new talent.

She stretched her neck and arms, the radio booth being a rather stifling place to sit for a few hours each day. As she stood up, she picked up tomorrow’s script that she had flipped through during their musical segments and prepared herself for another round of editing. Writers, that was another thing she needed, good writers. Her red pen flipped through the pages with an almost ferocious assault on the script. Some people simply did not get comedy. Timing, subject, clarity, and poise, good humor was more than a simply knock-knock joke. Why didn’t people seem to get that? Thankfully they had an expert in the field of comedy to see to their needs.

“Miss Thalia?”

Thalia glanced up to see her DJ speaking to her through the booth microphone. She must have announced and put on the music already.

“You um… have a visitor.”

Thalia perked up. A visitor? Most of their applicants went through a screening process, and interviews weren’t until tomorrow. Who was stopping by at this time? Curious, she grabbed the mic and flipped it to the channel to speak to her assistant.

“Who is it, Jodie?”

“Umm…Miss…Kebechet? Yes, you know…one of the wolves.”

Thalia’s face split into a grin running from ear to ear as she almost shouted over the mic. “Send her in! Honestly, silly girl, keeping an important guest like that waiting.” She added teasingly, spinning her chair (she had specifically asked for one with wheels) towards the door to face her guest.

Kebechet stepped in slowly, regarding the recently-assembled amalgam of scavenged machinery that Ilmarinen, bless his divine lovesick heart, had helped set up. There was a look of obvious apprehension on her face that Thalia expected from the start. Still, she had the result she had always hoped for: Kebechet had come to her rather than the reverse.

“Miss Thalia…” She began her greeting, but Thalia cut her off.

“Oh come now, Kebe, you can just call me Thalia.” She smiled before speaking into the microphone again. “Jodie I’ll be taking this into my office.”

She stood up from her chair, stepping towards Kebechet and leading her casually to her office with an arm around her waist and a carefree “Right this way.”

Kebechet, clearly caught off her guard, quietly complied.

Thalia’s office was precisely how she liked it, which was to say “meticulous chaos”. She could find precisely what she was looking for in a second from within her pile of papers, notes, and file upon file of sheet music. Her eldest sister hated it, and Thalia’s boyfriend did as well. Which meant no doubt Kebechet would cringe at the sight as well. Sure enough, even stepping into the somewhat cramped office was clearly uncomfortable for her, but she reluctantly took the seat Thalia offered to her after clearing it of loose Mozart.

“So how can I help you, Kebe?” Thalia smiled, taking a seat in her own rolling chair across from her.

“I…” Kebechet’s face grew flustered at the nickname; Thalia’s smile only grew. “…I wanted to be sure it was really…you who was running this station.”

“Great, isn’t it?” Thalia asked, gesturing to the building around her.

“Well um…yes.” Kebechet glanced around. “It is widely acclaimed.”

“Did you come for a job?” Thalia asked teasingly.

“N-no!” Kebechet objected before blushing again. “Er…I mean…no thank you.”

“Really? You have a lovely voice, Kebe. Your father agrees with me.”

“A-about my father…”

Thalia made something of a spectacle of making a drawn-out weary sigh. “Kebeee…” She said, stretching the vowel to its breaking point “You and Anubis need to clear the air already. You both know I’m not the problem between you two, especially since I’ve done nothing but try and bring you two back together.”

Kebechet’s eyes moved towards the floor “I know…”

Thalia gave her a comforting smile, reaching out to lift her face up towards her. “Look, I know it’s hard. I know we don’t…agree all the time, and it’s hard when your parent starts dating again. Your father and I make each other happy…but you’re part of his family too and I can’t just leave you out. I want us all to be happy together.”

“It’s not exactly easy…” Kebechet said, still trying hard to break eye contact. “We have our differences.”

“It’s true.” Thalia grinned. “But diversity is the spice of life. I mean, none of my sisters are alike and we get along…mostly. And Anubis and I are almost opposites but that’s really what works for us.”

Clearly struggling for an objection, Kebechet tried to change the subject as Thalia let her hand fall away. “Do any of the people here…”

“Know who I am?” Thalia smiled, finishing her sentence.

“…yes.”

“Nope” Thalia said. “Well…Ilmarinen does, but that hardly counts since no one knows who he is.”
“So no one…”

Thalia’s grin grew into her usual mischievous smile. She reached up with her fingers towards her face, and with a single motion pulled away a mask that simply appeared over her visage, a pale mask of alabaster carved with the exaggerated face of a laughing man. As she pulled the mask away, Kebechet could feel the rush of divine energy filling the room. It was not as overwhelming as her grandmother’s had been. It was much lower in intensity, warmer, and almost more human.

“No one knows that their radio station is run by the Muse of Comedy.” Thalia grinned. She was still dressed in her casual clothes, but her face and skin had the grace of a goddess in them. Her whole body seemed to glow with warm light, her eyes a sparkling blue-green that caught the light and glittered. Perched upon her sleek black hair was a crown of ivy leaves.

“Though if Ilmarinen is to be believed, word has gotten out that I’m dating your father.”

“Mmm…” Kebechet simply made a noise. “How long have you been here?” She asked.

“The whole time really.” Thalia shrugged. “I was working on another project first, but that’s largely taken care of itself.”

“Another project?” Kebechet asked.

Thalia’s smile grew.

“I must hand it to your pharaoh; she knows her way around a nymph.” She said. “I knew I could help Echo if I brought her to Rome, but really it’s all exceeded expectations. Do pass along my regards.”

Kebechet blinked in surprise. “W-wait…you were the goddess who brought Echo here?”

Thalia laughed. Here the goddess truly revealed herself, as Thalia’s laugh was nothing short of divine. It was enticing and enchanting, like the ringing of bells and the chirping of morning songbirds. At the sound of it, even Kebechet could not help but smile.

“Well it was a group effort really.” Thalia said, still giggling. “It was an idea my sisters and I hatched. Calliope thought it up, Clio and Urania tracked her down, and Erato was the one who suggested Rome…guess I see why now.” She added with a sly smirk.

“So why did you go?” Kebechet asked.

Because I love a happy ending.” Thalia said, her voice still almost giggling with every word. “It’s kind of my thing.”

“It’s hardly over yet.” Kebechet said, doing her best to force levity to the situation. It was very hard to keep any sort of somberness around the revealed Muse of Comedy. “They plan to confront Hera.”

“I’m sure it will work out.” Shrugged Thalia. “Your Pharaoh is strong, and Echo is a lot tougher than she looks.”

“That’s still quite optimistic of you.” Kebechet said.

“Huh,” Thalia picked up the mask, placing the caricature of the laughing face in front of her own. “If that’s surprising to you I must have switched my mask with Mels. Does this look like a frown to you?” She said, waving the mask in front of her face.

Kebechet could not help but giggle at the joke, keenly aware of Thalia smiling at her through the mask.

“Kebechet…” Thalia said, placing the mask on her desk as she spoke “Your father misses you. He wants to see you again.”

Kebechet sighed. “I…have my duties here. I am in the service of the Pharaoh and…to Rome.”
Thalia’s smile never wavered. “Well, we all have our work to do.”

“I can’t leave now.”

“Well, I’m hardly asking you to pack your bags.”Thalia said. “I tend to flit between Rome and Mount Olympus a few times a week, no reason you couldn’t join me.”

“I suppose” Kebechet said slowly.

“Come on, my Sisters are all dying to meet you, and I know you want to see Anubis just as badly as he wants to see you.”

“Mmm…” Kebechet remained quiet, but the subtle swishing of her tail betrayed her.

“Why did you stay in Rome, Thalia? Was it for me?” Kebechet asked.

“Partially.” Thalia admitted, with a small nod. “But it’s a bit more complicated than that. I didn’t need to start a radio station to check in on you.”

“Then why?”

“I’m Thalia, the Laughing Muse with the face of sunshine.” She said. “It’s my job to make people laugh, to make them happy, and to make them feel fulfilled at the end of the day. Comedy is a lot more than just telling a good joke after all.”

Thalia smiled knowingly at Kebechet. “Of course, you’re just as important as they are, and I think it’s my job to try and make you happy as well.”

“I see…” Kebechet said slowly, before looking back at Thalia, rewarding her with her own subdued smile. “I suppose…I can only be grateful for all you’ve done for this city.”

“I do my best.” Thalia tried to act somewhat humble, even as her grin remained.

“There is certainly no fault I can find in bringing happiness to the people” Kebechet said. “And given the popularity of the radio show…you are doing great work.”

“Awww thanks, Kebe!” Thalia smiled.

“And I suppose…” Kebechet began, her voice more hesitant. “It is not too much for me to come back to see my father…now and then.”

Thalia’s smile only grew wider. “I don’t think it will be too much of anything either.”

 

Previous Chapter                                                                                                                      Next Chapter

The Cities Eternal©2016, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa

The Wolves of Rome

Chapter 25

April 12th, 2023

Echo walked with some trepidation towards the recently-declared capitol building of Rome. It was technical one of her days off (which meant in some cases she had to be shooed away from the greenhouses). It wasn’t that her presence was unappreciated, but if she put too much of herself in the plants it could be draining for her, and Echo was a poor judge of her own limits. She had planned to spend the day at Nora’s place with Dr. White ensuring that Lenore stayed stable, but she tended to fuss and fret when she didn’t have anything to do, so Nora had sent her on a task out of the house, a task Echo was none too eager to fulfill.
Nora had been working out how to best lift Echo’s curse. No speech therapy on Earth could help her, it wasn’t a stutter or impediment but a true divine curse. A goddess had put it in place, and only a goddess could remove it. Nora was well-placed among the Egyptian gods to ask for that kind of favor, and someone like Isis-Ra was no doubt powerful enough to remove it herself. That would be the easy way out.

Rather than call on her directly, however, Nora had sent Echo to speak with Kebechet. When Echo had (in her way) asked why, Nora had brushed off the question and told her it would be good for her, handing her a sealed message for Kebechet to read. So no Echo found herself ascending the steps into the capitol to find the Egyptian wolf. She was nervous and grew more so with each step, the flowers in her hair drooping and her fingers working against each other nervously.

She eventually found Kebechet leaving an office, a stack of papers under her arm. At a glance it seemed she recognized her, as she paused and greeted her. “Ah, Echo, good morning.”
“Good morning.” Echo bowed her head respectfully. She had never formally met the minor goddess, but it was likely that she could sense who and what she was by nature alone.

“Do you need my assistance for something?” She asked, continuing her walk and leaving Echo to follow after her.

“Assistance for something.” Echo nodded, stepping lightly after her, barefoot across the tiled floor.

Kebechet lead her silently to what was likely her office. The room was small and stuffed with papers, with little more than a bland chair and desk to mark itself apart from any other room. Folders and loose sheets piled high here and there, but all of it was arranged with a strict sense of order to it, neat and precise.

“So what can I help you with?” Kebechet asked, placing the fresh stack she had been carrying onto her desk.

“Help you with.” Echo repeatedly hopelessly while offering the letter from Nora. Kebechet took it, unsealing it with a finger and reading through it at lightning speed, Echo taking a moment to marvel at how quickly her eyes seemed to soak in information.

“Very well…” She glanced up at Echo. “The Pharaoh has not let you see this?”

“Not let you see this.” Echo shook her head emphatically.

“Ah” Kebechet said “well, simply put the Pharaoh wants to acclimate you to being once more in the presence of gods.”

“In the presence of gods?” Echo’s confusion was apparent on her face.

“Quite” Kebechet continued, her tone seeming almost bored. “She says you will need to be able to stand your ground when you and she inevitably confront Hera.”

“C-Confront Hera!?” Echo’s voice actually managed a stutter as she took a step back in confusion and alarm. Surely that wasn’t necessary, surely they could just have another god or goddess do it and save them all some trouble.

“That is what it says.” Kebechet glanced at the letter again. Surely you did not think she could do it herself, or find someone else to do it?”

“Find someone else to do it!” Echo all but shouted.

“That will not be possible, I’m afraid.” Kebechet never raised her voice, but Echo still found herself quieted beyond her usual capacity whenever she spoke.

“I’m afraid.” Echo could only repeat glumly, her words and intent aligning by unfortunate coincidence.

“While it likely well within a goddess such as Isis-Ra’s ability to remove your curse, the trouble it would cause could have an effect that escalates into the catastrophic.”

“Catastrophic?” Echo asked, surely it could not be all that bad?

“The Pharaoh has told me the major details of your curse. It seems that the spite of the goddess Juno, or Hera as we both know her better, was the major cause.”

“Major cause.” Echo hung her head, she really didn’t like to speak of it.

“Whether it was justified or not is immaterial” Kebechet continued, unperturbed by Echo’s increasingly obvious distress. “The matter remains that if Isis-Ra removed the curse delivered out of spite, then she would earn the ire of Hera in turn. Given the Greeks’ position as our temporary hosts, such a slight against her is not only ill-advised, but a transgression of our rights as guests. While I do apologize, and I am sure Lady Isis-Ra would as well, the fortunes of one nymph are not worth jeopardizing our already tenuous position, particularly given the grace the Greeks have shown us thus far.”

“Shown us thus far…” Echo meekly repeated. She understood the logic behind it. It made perfect sense why the Egyptians could do nothing, and none of the Greek gods would be willing to go against Hera’s wishes. Still the thought of facing Hera again in person was…Echo shook just considering it.

“That is why…” Echo felt a hand on her shoulder. Though her tone did not change, Kebechet had moved to place a comforting hand on her. “…Nora has advised me to help you get used to being in the presence of a god. The entire experience can be overwhelming, and it has been some time for you.”

“Has been some time for you.” Echo nodded, taking some comfort from Kebechet’s closer presence. If most gods were like her, this might not be so bad.

“Unfortunately” Kebechet continued, and Echo’s heart sank a little at her tone. “I am hardly the caliber of goddess you need to be exposed to. We would need to find someone more…impressive.”

“Impressive.” Echo muttered nervously. She wasn’t sure she liked where this conversation was going.

“Come, walk with me.” Kebechet said, moving to the door as Echo humbly repeated her. Following in her footsteps, the pair of them moved from the capitol building out into the streets with Kebechet leading the way, talking as she went.

“It would be easier for me to request the presence of one of the deities of my pantheon. It would likely also serve us better, as if Hera learned what we were planning she might take great offense.”
“Take great offense” Echo said, nodding as she walked.

“Isis-Ra herself is no doubt busy, and summoning her for such a thing as this would be less than prudent.”

“Less than prudent”

“Don’t get me wrong, my great aunt is a kind and personable woman.” Kebechet said quickly, sensing Echo’s unease. “She is, however, the leader of the pantheon now and thus we need someone who has time to spare to come.”

It was about fifteen minutes of walking before Echo realized where they were going. Kebechet was leading them towards the primary shrine of the House of the Sun, the center of Egyptian faith in Rome. Echo had been there once or twice to see Nora about something, but she always felt a bit uneasy there. It was too out of her element compared to the various Greek and Roman shrines.
As it was a weekday and most of the followers were out working, there were only a handful of people in the shrine itself. It was a small circular chamber with part of the roof removed to create a portal looking up into the clear sky. Small shrines below painted images of numerous Egyptian gods lined the perimeter of the walls. Echo didn’t know most of them, and the odd animal-headed figures put her into a state of unease. Kebechet spoke with the chief priest (below Nora) and soon they had the temple to themselves. It was easier to contact a deity to speak to spirits like Kebechet and Echo alone. A mortal present would have complicated the issue.

While a god and spirit like Echo were fundamentally similar, the comparison was still almost insulting. Echo was a nature spirit, a lesser part of the world that existed independently from humans. Gods were similar in that they were often extensions of worldly phenomenon, but they drew much of their immense power from human worship and faith. If Echo was worshipped and venerated, she doubted it would make her any stronger in particular, but gods thrived on it.

Kebechet moved to the altar in the center of the room, placing her hands upon its surface as she closed her eyes and lifted her face towards the heavens. She stood there in silence for several minutes, leaving Echo alone to fidget awkwardly nearby. When she seemed to have finished, Kebechet opened her eyes, lowering her gaze and taking several steps back. To a mortal it would seem at first as if nothing had happened, but with a rush of energy she could feel something manifesting in the center of the room in the shrine.

The effects came next. The sky overhead seemed to darken as if the morning had rapidly shifted to night, the air howled and whipped through the temple in a brief cyclone as a shape began to manifest in the center, wreathed in a curtain of black feathers.

Finally the goddess took form, that of a tall woman with dark hair and dark eyes. She was royally dressed in a long black dress with gold finery, including an elaborate headdress that adorned her brow. Beneath her arms were folded a pair of black-feathered wings.

There was no malice on her face, but Echo could feel the pressure of her presence like a weight on her shoulders. Kebechet could be mistaken for a person, but this being was a goddess to her core, like a black hole of energy that drew all around her towards herself.

Echo shrank from her gaze as much as she could, the overpowering aura of the deity enough to put her entirely on edge. When she spoke, Echo had expected her to speak with immense command and authority, enough to make Echo fall to her knees.

What she had not expected was for the goddess to rush forward and embrace Kebechet, cheer in her voice as she spoke like a doting mother.

“Kebechet, it’s been entirely too long!”

Kebechet, for her part, seemed a mix of embarrassed and stubborn as she greeted her with a pained hug.

“It’s…good to see you too, grandmother.”

“And who is your friend?” She smiled as she turned to Echo, who was now too surprised to wince. Despite the dark and regal appearance, this…goddess seemed almost full of sunshine.

“Her name is Echo, a Greek nymph. Pharaoh wanted her to meet a proper goddess.”

“Now Kebe, I always said you could be more of a goddess if you cleaned yourself up every once in a while.” She said, her hands rubbing Kebechet’s face and smoothing her hair over. “Honestly you still look like a rowdy teenager.”

“Rowdy teenager” Echo slapped her hand over her mouth as she repeated it, her face flushing red.

“Yes precisely…ah, where are my manners.” The goddess turned again to Echo, and once more she felt that rush of divine power coursing through the room, almost forgotten in the open display of affection. “I am Nephthys, Lady of the Temple, Fourth of the Ennead, Bringer of Dusk and Sister-Wife of Set.”

Echo bowed stiffly, the sudden power display sapping her of will as she blatantly repeated all of Nephthys’ epithets.

“Hmmm…” As Echo rose again, she stiffened even ore as Nephthys placed a light hand on her chin. Though the gesture was a soft one, Echo could feel the power flowing through her like electricity. This wasn’t some two-bit local god, but one of national importance. If that much power had been stuffed into Echo, she likely would have exploded.

“A curse. Poor dear, I wish I could do something.”

Echo had long wondered how another goddess would see her curse, was it like a scar or mark? Was some foul word scrawled across her face in ink only the divine could see? As she stared quaveringly back into Nephthys’ deep black gaze, she tried to see the softness in her expression despite the overwhelming presence she possessed.

“We are trying to acclimate her to a god’s presence.” Kebechet said, her fingers getting her hair back in place.

“I see…” Nephthys said, concern in her voice as she pulled away from Echo. “Little wonder she’s shaking then.”

“Shaking then…” Echo said ruefully, trying to stop herself from shivering.

“Well then, Echo” Nephthys smiled “Perhaps the best advice I can give is that while gods can be cruel, they can be kind in equal measure. A god never does anything halfway. When we cheer we celebrate for days, when we mourn we cry for weeks, and when we rage the earth and heavens quake at our passing.”

Echo took little solace in that knowledge. She had seen a goddess’ full fury before.

“But that means while our curses can last eons from our spite, so to can our forgiveness be all but everlasting.” Nephthys continued. “The same goddess who produced such terrible spite can, I assure you, grant that same forgiveness.”

“Grant that same forgiveness…” Even as Echo doubted her words, she felt somewhat comforted. The goddess’ speech had touched something deeper than her conscious spirit, and spoken to a more potent absolute truth.

Hera was not known for forgiveness. In all the stories Echo knew she had never once rescinded her ire. Still Nephthys was right, Gods did everything humans could but more so. If she could be so truly full of spite, the capacity for forgiveness must be within her as well.

It was, admittedly, not much hope. But that was still infinitely more than what Echo had before.

 

Previous Chapter                                                                                                                      Next Chapter

The Cities Eternal©2016, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa

The Wolves of Rome

House of the Dead

April 5th, 2023
The hospital was usually where Kebechet could be found. Thankfully it was much less full than it had been just a few months before. Injuries were not uncommon, particularly among the rangers and the construction crews, but it was very much an improvement over the throngs of wounded Romans that had once been the bulk of the Sanctuary’s population. Kebechet had no native healing powers, but what she could do was nonetheless useful. The ability to purify water at a touch was invaluable in the hospital, and she went there often to help when she could. It also seemed to her to be a place where she could find some time for herself to think.

She was lost in thought, bent over a large basin full of water as she washed bandages in the clean water. So deep was her reverie that she almost did not notice the young girl approaching until her ears twitched at the sound of the human’s footsteps entering the room. Kebechet paused, glancing up to see a young girl, no more than ten, with her arm in a sling watching her quietly.

“Hello, child.” Kebechet said, and the girl moved to the wall, as if afraid to have been spotted.
“Do not worry.” She said. “I do not bite.”

The girl quietly stepped forward, she seemed intrigued by the water with which Kebechet was working. It shimmered and glowed with its own light as her hands passed through it, constantly purging the blood and taint from the bandages she cleaned.

“Intrigued, child?” Kebechet smiled, and the girl nodded as she watched the water shine.

“Never seen magic before…” She said quietly. Kebechet continued, letting her watch, amazed, by the dance of light and power in the water.

“What is your name, child?” Kebechet asked, trying to elicit a few more words from her.

“Eula” She said “Eula Jennon.”

“Well Eula” Kebechet said. “This is a special kind of magic. It’s divine magic, and only gods can do it.”

“So you really are a…god?” Eula asked. “That’s what a lot of people said. I didn’t believe them though.”

“I am a goddess, yes.” Kebechet said. “Though a very…little one.” She settled on the word.

“Is this your home? Are your momma and poppa gods too?” Eula sat at the edge of the basin, still watching. Kebechet was more than finished at this point, but continued to let her magic flow for the young child’s benefit.

“I came all the way from Egypt. And…it is complicated. I would rather not go into it, child.” Kebechet said. She frowned as Eula turned red and mumbled out an apology. To keep the young girl from getting too embarrassed, Kebechet thought of something to fill the conversation gap that had developed. “Though specifically I am from Duat.”

“Du-what?” Eula asked.

“Duat. It is the Egyptian afterlife, the Land of the Dead.”

She noticed Eula shuffling a little away from her.

“Does that scare you, child? That I am a goddess of death?”

“No…” The girl lied. She was clearly more nervous than she was before. Kebechet did not mind it much. It was the usual reaction she received in Rome. People didn’t like to think about the afterlife. But the girl was young and inquisitive, perhaps she could learn.

Kebechet smiled warmly, a comforting look she was very good at, and she could see Eula loosen slightly as she put her more at ease with a smile alone.

“Every pantheon…mmm every big group of gods oversees their own afterlife, all a little different. Have you heard of Hades? I bet he seems scary to you as well.”

“A…a little” Eula said, her good arm wrapped around her knees which were pulled up against her chest.

“He’s actually quite a lovely man, a good conversationalist and an excellent gardener, very sweet to children too, he gave me these earrings when I was only a little bigger than you.” She said, showing off one of her ears where there was a shiny onyx earring hanging beneath three others.

The story was a bit embellished. Hades was truly kind but could be a bit austere as well; while he had given her the earrings as a gift when she was young, she was born fully grown from her Father and had never been a “child”. However the story served its purpose and Eula seemed more visibly relaxed.

“It’s the job of all the afterlife gods to see to each and every person and make sure they’re properly taken care of.”

“Does Egypt have a heaven?” Eula asked.

Kebechet shook her head. “Mmm not like you would know it. Good people who worshipped the Egyptian gods get to spend eternity as a blissful spirit in their presence. In a way being a good person makes you a smaller god yourself.” She said.

“Are they all like that?” She asked, and Kebechet shook her head.
“No, really good souls of the Greeks go to the Elysium Fields, while the Norse are sent to the care of their Underworld goddess…unless you really liked to fight, then you got to go to Valhalla or Folkvangr. And there are at least a dozen more beside.”

“I hope my soul is good enough…wherever I end up.” Eula said.

Kebechet flicked her ears, a smile still on her face. “We Egyptians believe you actually have many souls.”

Eula blinked. “Many souls?”

“Quite so. You have five in fact.” Kebechet removed her hands from the water and dried them before turning to more properly face Eula.

“First there is your Sheut, your shadow.” She pointed to the small black shadow Eula cast upon the ground.

“How can that be part of my soul? It’s outside. My soul is inside…” Eula said, tilting her head, perplexed.

“Because just like the rest of your soul, your shadow never truly leaves you. Even in total darkness it’s always there at your side, even if you can’t see it.”

“Oh…” Kebechet wasn’t sure if Eula fully understood, but she seemed intrigued.

“Next is your Ren, your name.” Kebechet said.

“My name?” Eula seemed even more incredulous. “What is my name supposed to do?”

“Names are power, child.” Kebechet said. “So long as your name is written and remembered your Ren will continue to exist in this world. If you become famous or do good deeds your Ren can last centuries, even thousands of years.”

“Oh…okay, what are the others?” Eula had relaxed her posture somewhat. It seemed her curiosity was winning out over her confusion.

“Well the next two, the Ba and Ka are very important.” Kebechet said. “Your Ba is what you probably think of as your soul. It’s your personality, your individuality, all of the things that make you “Eula” as opposed to someone else. Your Ka is your vital essence, it’s the force keeping you alive that you sustain with food and drink. When you die, if you believed in our afterlife, your Ba and Ka are what go to Duat…carrying the last and most important piece.”

“And what’s that?”

Kebechet gently placed a finger at the center of Eula’s chest, and the girl felt a small shiver run through her. “Your Ib, your heart. It’s where your feelings and will come from, and that is where your virtues and your sins are carried as well. In Duat, it is your Ib that is tested to see if you were a good person.”

“There’s a test?” Eula complained. “I died, isn’t that enough?”

Kebechet chuckled. “Just the one, but it’s a very important test. Your heart is examined, then weighed against a single feather from Maat, the goddess of balance. If your heart is lighter than the feather because of all your virtues and good deeds, then you get to pass on to the true afterlife and live amongst the gods.”

“What if it’s heavier than the feather?” Eula asked.

“Something…bad happens.” Kebechet said. Eula was perhaps a bit too young to hear that there is no realm of punishment. If the Ib is too heavy, it is consumed entirely by Ammit, the Devourer of Souls. For them, only oblivion awaited.

“So is that what’s going to happen to me?” Eula asked.

“Maybe.” Kebechet smiled. “That’s not up for the gods to decide.”

“Who decides where I go?” She asked.

“You do.” Kebechet said. “Your belief determines where you go. In this, you are more powerful than any god.”

“Well that’s nice…” Eula said. Kebechet hardly blamed her lack of enthusiasm. Ten year old children shouldn’t be preparing their afterlife arrangements.

“So why aren’t you there?” Eula asked after a brief time of silence, during which Kebechet had resumed her washing work.

“Why aren’t I where?” Kebechet asked absentmindedly.

“Du-whatsit. Shouldn’t you be working there?”

“Do you think I should leave?” Kebechet asked teasingly.

“No no no!” Eula said hurriedly “I like that you’re here…but why?”

“Duat is closed to all gods who weren’t in it at the moment the Serpent was freed.” Kebechet said. “I was caught outside.”

“So you’re a refugee too?” Eula asked, and after brief consideration, Kebechet nodded.

“Yes, you could say that. I can’t go back home because of…what’s happened.”

How could you explain to a child the metaphysical horror of what happened? Egypt had not been so lucky as to have its Primordial sealed away. The Serpent of Chaos, Apep, lived beneath the horizon. Every night, Amun-Ran upon his barge would sail below the western sky to face him in battle, and every night Apep would die, only to regenerate again the next day. For six thousand years Amun-Ra had won.

On October 31st, 2022, the Serpent won for the first time.

Amun-Ra had been slain, and Duat had been closed to prevent Apep from feasting on the souls of the dead. Most of the Egyptian Pantheon were refugees, many of them making their temporary base on Mount Olympus at the pleasure of the Greeks with whom they had always had good ties. Osiris and Maat were trapped alone in Duat and Apep ruled all of Egypt, the country now trapped in eternal night.

The mantle of Ra and the Solar Crown had passed to Osiris’ wife and sister, Isis. Now Isis-Ra, she had lead the pantheon from Egypt and continued to lead as they tried in vain to find a plan to take back their home from the serpent. But Apep fed on chaos, and there was so much chaos in the world now…

“Did your parents get out, Kebechet? Are they here in the city?” Eula asked, pulling Kebechet back from her thoughts.

“I have my father, Anubis.” Kebechet said.

“Oh I know that name!” Eula said. “I learned it in school.”

She seemed quite proud of herself, and Kebechet rewarded her with a smile.“He is quite well-known yes.”

“Is he in the city?” Eula asked again.

“No.” Kebechet answered perhaps more curtly than she had meant as Eula promptly stopped asking questions. Kebechet took a deep breath before speaking again.

“Forgive me, Eula. My father and I are…not on good terms. We were both away from Duat when…it happened. But we have not reconnected save to ensure we were both safe.”

“You’re mad at your Dad?” Eula asked.

“Yes.”

“Why?” Eula asked as Kebechet silently cursed the same inquisitiveness she had lauded just minutes ago.

“We have more of a…working relationship than a family one. Really I would rather not talk about it.”

“Sorry…” Eula said, but despite her insistence she didn’t stop. “But my Sister says that while families fight, it’s not something you should ever get rid of. Besides, having a Dad you’re mad at is better than not having a Dad.”

“Are you giving advice to a goddess now?” Kebechet raised an eyebrow.

“Just sayin…” Eula said bashfully.

“Well your sister sounds wise.” Kebechet said. “And she’s probably off looking for you.”

“Oh shoot.” Eula’s eyes went wide as she realized she was no doubt running late. “Ya I got to go. Thanks Kebe!” She shouted as she ran out the door, leaving Kebechet’s ears to hang flat as she did. She really did hate that nickname.

Kebechet knew she should work things out with her father, but something in her, a stubbornness, kept her from moving away from Rome. She was needed here, she told herself. What would the people do if she left? Capitolina certainly enjoyed her company, and the people were thankful for her efforts. She knew, however, that these were nothing more than excuses. Reconciliation did not preclude her staying in Rome. She could make peace with her father and still work here.

There had always been a strain between them. Anubis was more her boss than her father. He was not uncaring or unduly strict, but he had always felt absent from her life…and then of course there was the woman. A goddess, with a face like the sun and ivy in her hair, had seduced his normally strict attentions. She had no ill intent and Kebechet knew it was likely good for her often-stiff father…but still it had driven yet another wedge between them, to the point Kebechet had simply needed some time away, which had turned out to be very ill-timed on her part.

Still, with every passing day Kebechet knew she was further in the wrong. She would have to meet him again someday to make things right. Now of all times was not for holding grudges and dividing gods.

 

Previous Chapter                                                                                                                      Next Chapter

The Cities Eternal©2016, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa
(( JP Link: https://www.jukepop.com/home/read/9042?chapter=37&sl=279 ))

The Wolves of Rome

Chapter 10

March 20th, 2023
With the clink of metal on wood Echo sat the tea tray down on the table. She had finished working in the greenhouse earlier that morning and was spending part of the afternoon at Nora’s home before going back. Nora hadn’t asked for tea while she was entertaining guests, but Echo made some of the best in Rome and she was more than a little excited to show off.

Kebechet had been there since before Echo had arrived. Echo was slowly growing used to the wolf goddess’ appearances at Nora’s home, consider she was her most frequent visitor. The pair of them were in Nora’s study, a cluttered room of books scrolls, pencils and loose paper that Nora refused to organize. They were standing over a large oak table, muttering back and forth to one another as Echo laid down the tea tray, so invested in their sketches and discussions that they didn’t notice her arrival until she had placed the tray before them.

“At the end of the day it’s really the architect’s decision, isn’t it?”

“A fifty-one degree upwards angle is simply more stately, my Lady.”

“We don’t have that much room, Kebechet. Demolition alone…”

“It is a long-term project.”

“It’s still basically a pyramid.”

“Is there something wrong with pyramids?”

Clink.

“Ah…Hello Echo.” The pair of them both glanced up to look at her before glancing at the tea. “Oh, tea, brilliant.” Nora smiled as she poured cups for the three of them.

“Tea brilliant.” Echo agreed as she took her own cup, gently blowing on the surface to drink before glancing down at their sketches.

The table was covered in rough architectural designs, reference images of photographs from across antiquity, and scrawled notes in Nora’s poor penmanship. Echo even recognized a few of the pictured temples from Greece. It was comforting, if full of that biting nostalgia that one enjoys while simultaneously feeling very old.

“Sorry we didn’t notice you, we’re a bit…caught up in discussion about the temple.”

“About the temple?” Echo asked, sipping her tea.

Nora nodded, smiling. “We got approval for the first large-scale construction project, to begin when the population passes one thousand, which with the refugee rate should be within the year. It’s to be a joint cross-faith temple and water purification facility.”

“A joint cross-faith temple and water purification facility?” Echo’s confusion only grew as Nora spoke.

“I know it sounds odd, but Kebechet’s theory seems sound. So long as enough of the gods have their little piece of territory, they’ll send a little power to purify the river.” Nora said excitedly, flipping through the notes of her journal to where she had made recordings.

“It would have been more elegant if we could make contact with the spirit of the Tiber River.” Kebechet said. Echo didn’t like something about the way she spoke, low and slow, as if in mourning for something.

“The spirit of the Tiber River.” Echo nodded. She was Greek, technically, but even she knew of the famed river god Tiber, and she had wondered why he seemed to go unmentioned. Echo herself was a mountain spirit from Mount Kithairon, though even thinking of the place put a shadow over her mood. The only thing left for her on that mountain was tragedy and loss.

“The problem we’re facing.” Nora’s excited voice pulled Echo back into their conversation. “Is that Kebechet here has a bit of a bias when it comes to designing temples.”

“I am simply saying that pre-Ptolemaic temples had more refinement to them.” Kebechet said, arms folded stubbornly.

“Well I’m sorry to say that we don’t have ten thousand tons of sandstone.” Nora said testily.
“You could always…”

“For the last time the Flavian Amphitheater is made of concrete and we’re not scavenging it to make a temple.”

Kebechet frowned and Echo could not help but giggle silently. She glanced down at the drawings again, and she could see by the penmanship and designs which belonged to whom. Nora’s designs were less grandiose, more practical, and were covered in notes regarding which faiths might find certain architectural elements detestable. Echo quietly picked up a pencil and began to lightly draw on Nora’s rough sketch. It was an older version and fairly rough on its own, so she wasn’t worried about messing with Nora’s design. Quietly she began adding in small beautifying elements here, a pillar there. It probably spoke to her Greek tastes but she tried to keep it as neutral as she could.
Nora tried her best, but her design alone ultimately came across as utilitarian and boring, and there was nothing the gods would find more offensive than that.

Echo’s curse extended to her writing. If it didn’t she would have spent her life walking around with a marker and a dry erase board. However, over the passage of time she had found the little loopholes she could exploit to express herself. She could draw freely, even able to communicate a message, but spending your life playing Pictionary was just as frustrating to Echo as the constant repetition of speech. As with speaking, however, she could change the tone and voice of writing even if she couldn’t alter the message. Big bold words for emphasis, italics for surprise, and sometimes little hearts over her “i”s for affection. She did this for Nora’s notes, emphasizing the points she agreed with through repetition while leaving those she disagreed with blank. She worked for several minutes as Nora and Kebechet argued before the pair of them finally noticed her.

“Ah, seems our nymph wants to make contributions.” Nora said, looking over her work.

“Wants to make contributions!” Echo nodded eagerly, showing her where she had made notes.
“Hmmm…not bad…a bit Greek but more room for artistry and sculpture depending on what each deity preferred.” Nora muttered, looking them over.

“Deity preferred.” Echo nodded, message lost but trying to use her tone to set her mood.

“Well, I’ll work some of this into the final design.” Nora began picking up the loose sheets and then slid them into the bag. “I’m sure we can track down a small team of competent architects to look them over.”

“Look them over!” Echo beamed, glad to have contributed.

“Kebechet, I believe you have another council meeting up on the fill to sit in.” Nora nodded to her, and the goddess let out a sigh.

“Another evening of hearing them argue back and forth…”

Nora patted her shoulder comfortingly. “Best of luck to you, Kebe.”

Echo watched in silence as the goddess left, taking a position at Nora’s side as she sipped the last of the tea. She glanced at Kebechet’s abandoned cup. It was an odd sight, the water having been sucked dry, but all the tea residue left stained along the sides. Echo frowned; she should have known a goddess of pure water would not take well to tea.

“Let’s take a walk.” Nora announced, as she packed up the last of her papers and folders in a satchel and threw it over her shoulder.

“Take a walk.” Echo nodded in agreement, stepping lightly at her side as Nora retrieved a light coat from the hook at the door, though she shrugged off Echo’s attempts to help her put it on.

“I’m not a maid.” Nora said flatly, leaving Echo to sigh as she was forced to comply “I’m not a maid.”

Echo wasn’t Nora’s maid, but she liked helping her. She hid it well but Echo could still see the weight she carried. Nora was Pontifex Maximus, and in the new world this meant much more than a fancy title. Nora was the arbiter between gods and man, two forces with tremendous egos and appropriately huge demands. Echo was still learning Latin, but she had learned that Pontifex meant “Bridge-Builder”. Never before had that title been so true.

There was more to her than her job as well. Many considered Nora an enigmatic figure, her origins and her ability to communicate with gods a distinct mystery to most. Echo was more intuitive about these things than most mortals. She could smell unnatural origins to her, but also a distinct antiquated smell to her blood. Her face was a Mediterranean blend of features, and Echo knew her long enough now to know her natural hair color was a dark brown and the paleness of her skin was more likely a condition than its natural shade.

Echo kept her eyes on Nora as they walked, so focused was her gaze that she practically jumped when Nora spoke next.

“Echo I’d like to talk about your past, if you’ll allow it, a nod means yes.”

“A nod means yes.” Echo nodded, though her voice had slowed somewhat from its usual gentle tone.

“The myth is true?” Nora asked.

“The myth is true.” Echo nodded. She knew this day would likely be coming.

“Juno cursed me when I tried to cover for Jupiter’s infidelity.” Nora said. And Echo took a deep breath.

“J-Juno cursed me when I…tried to cover for Jupiter’s infidelity.” Had it not been for the curse, Echo doubted she could have finished the sentence. It sounded so simple when plainly stated like that. As if simply saying no and refusing to cover for Zeus (She always preferred the more familiar Greek names.) had been the only solution she needed. In truth she had been manipulated. Zeus had asked Echo to entertain Hera while she was away. Echo, ever talkative, had eagerly accepted. At the time it had seemed an excellent opportunity, she had the ear of the Queen of the gods and the favor of the king. Of course she knew that Hera had a temper, but she had never met her in person before then, and Hera had seemed quite entertained when they spoke. Besides, could she even have said no? She was a minor Oread, a mountain nymph, and he was King of the Gods. How could she have ever refused? Everything had been going well until they learned that Zeus had used Echo as a distraction for Hera while he went to “cavort” with the other nymphs.

By the time Echo learned she had been manipulated, Hera’s wrath had turned squarely upon her. Echo never claimed to be bold, but she doubted any nymph or mortal would not have quivered under the furious stare of the Queen of the Gods. Her words came out a half-understood gibbering mess of fear, and Hera, in her ironic fury, decided to punish her for the perceived slight. Echo, who had loved to speak, sing, and chatter like a bird, was cursed to only ever repeat the last few words spoken to her.

“And the story about Narcissus was true?”

“The story about Narcissus was true.” Echo shivered as she nodded again. That particular misadventure had taught her the most important lesson of her curse; beauty alone did not count for love. She still had dreams of Narcissus’ impossible beauty, as his was a face that could leave anyone weak at the knees. Echo had wanted nothing more than to be noticed, to be acknowledged and loved, but Narcissus could not see past his own reflection in her eyes, nor see through her words deeper than the repetition of his own. If he had ever felt anything for her, it was merely what little of him she reflected, and he was quick to reject her. From what she had been told Nemesis had taken some measure of revenge on him for his pride, but that did little to heal the wound. She had lived on, abandoning physical form and existing as nothing but a musical disembodied voice across her mountain home. It was Echo’s lot to be loved only by those who loved themselves.

Her head sank, her footsteps slowing, the old blanket of sorrow beginning to weigh on her until it was suddenly interrupted. Nora’s warm arm slid across her back and wrapped around her shoulders. Echo looked up at her, face red as she realized her eyes were beginning to well up as Nora looked back at her. The young woman’s look of concern and compassion sent something meek and warm through Echo’s heart, and she saw herself reflected in Nora’s brilliant eyes. It was the same look, Echo realized, the same look the sun-faced and ivy-wreathed goddess gave her mere months ago when Echo had been rescued from the caves, when she had been pulled back into physical form and told:

“There’s something wonderful waiting for you in Rome. We want to hear you sing again.”

“Echo.” Nora said slowly, making sure to capture her gaze.

“Echo.” The nymph’s voice wavered as she spoke.

“It is my job to maintain the relations between the people of Rome and all the gods. It’s a big job but I accepted it because we need the support of the gods, but I won’t let them be abused…like I was.”

“Like I was.” Echo’s frown began to fade, even speaking like this Nora gave her room to make her words her own.

“You’re a citizen of Rome in my eyes, Echo, and you’ve been wronged. It might take some time, but I promise you, I’ll speak my own words again.”

“I’ll speak my own words again.” Echo blushed deeply, and before she could contain herself she threw her arms around Nora’s neck.

“Oof…” Nora grunted, she might look imposing now and then but she was quite skinny, and the taller full-figured nymph nearly knocked her clean off her feet with the force of her embrace. After regaining her footing she patted Echo’s head, lightly stroking her hair. “It’s a promise.” She smiled, and for once Echo was eager to repeat.

“It’s a promise!”

 

Previous Chapter                                                                                                                      Next Chapter

The Cities Eternal©2016, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa
((JP Link: https://www.jukepop.com/home/read/9042?chapter=20&sl=519 ))

The Wolves of Rome

Chapter 9

March 19th, 2023
Giovanni had never seen this many people gathered in the Capitoline meeting chambers before. A dozen and a half people could be seated relatively comfortably, but now over thirty people, representatives and elected leaders, had been crammed into the room, most of them surrounding the large table where the established leaders were seated. The chatter was incessant, creating a constant wave of noise that washed back and forth across the room as people prepared their statements and discussed the purpose of the meeting.

There had been several requests to use several of the larger gathering rooms in the Vatican as a civil congregation, but Giovanni had turned them down on principle. The Vatican was for the offices of the church which, while depleted, still had reasonable numbers.

“Ahem.” Capitolina’s growled call for attention quickly silenced the room. She was a diplomatic wolf but could easily be roused to an impatient anger if things moved slowly and most of the people congregated remembered the last time she had barked for silence. None of them were eager to provoke her ire so soon after.

“We called everyone here today for a very specific reason.” She said, her voice as ever retaining its strong and imperious tone, calling the attention of all who heard her. “From the beginning my fellow wolves and I have stated that we were organizing these relief efforts only so long as was necessary and that once the people of Rome were back on their feet we would give the city back to them.”

Giovanni nodded. He had been quick to agree to the decision, as they all had. Capitolina had a strong sense of belief in the Roman government (if perhaps a biased preference for an Empire); Kebechet was a goddess (so she claimed) and unfit to rule on mortal soil; Giovanni had always believed in humans for human rule, knowing his place in the hierarchy of beings; and Angel had expressed indifference as she always did.

“We believe that time has come.” Capitolina said. “Between refugees, wanderers, and sheltered survivors, the latest census points to a population of over four hundred people. Given the number of elected representatives, it’s obvious that the people are recovered enough to govern themselves.”
There was a murmur of assent and approval among the gathered ranks as well as a few heart cheers.

“That said.” Capitolina’s voice cut shore the ebbing murmur. “Organizing a system of government is not one day’s work, and we hope to continue working alongside you on a provisional basis. Before even that, however, there are certain things you must know.”

Giovanni took a deep breath. How this information went over could change the course of the coming government.

“The cause of the Days of Revelations is known.” Instantaneously, there was an uproar. All the usual and expected questions came: “What is it?” “How do you know? “Why didn’t you tell anyone?” “Why weren’t we forewarned?”

Capitolina frowned, letting the people voice their complaints in an almost incomprehensible tide of words and questions before clearing her throat again, silencing the room.

“To answer a few of your questions,” She said, not letting impatience leak into her voice. “We have known for some time, but we only knew well after the events started, too late to stop it or to make any real difference. We kept it from you because there is little to be done with such information and the people’s focus needed to be on survival first and foremost. Now that we’ve reached a measure of sustainability, we can start thinking of the future. As for the cause…I will let Angel explain.”

There was a hushed murmur and even Giovanni glanced at Capitolina in surprise. It was a rarity for Angel to ever speak at meetings, as she seemed content to remain Capitolina’s shadow. But when called upon, the black-haired and winged wolf rose to her feet, all eyes on her, her face an expressionless mask.

“Many of you are familiar with the kinds of spirits that have come to populate your world again.” Angel’s voice was monotone, stark and unfeeling. “Spirits of the land, gods, and monsters. There is, however, another variety of spirit that remains few in number but immense in power. They are older than this world, predating its creation, and until the past year they were trapped in their god-made prisons with relatively little upset. We call these beings ‘Primordials’ for lack of a better term. In ancient times they were described as monsters and dragons, but in reality they are far more than any simple marauding beast. They are the chaos of unmade creation incarnate, anathema to structured reality.”

The room had fallen into hushed silence, all ears on Angel’s quiet and unflinching voice.
“The first to be freed from its prison is known as Nidhoggr. It is said to be a serpent or dragon that gnawed at the roots of the World Tree, Yggdrassil. It is the greatest of all Norse dragons, even above the serpent Jormungandr. Its prison was broken on Samhain last year, its bonds shattered by a renegade goddess the dragon had ensnared. It is said that Nidhoggr would be the harbinger of Ragnarok, the end of the world, and while those events have not come to pass, the release of Nidhoggr unleashed fresh chaos into the world that aided the resurrection and release of other Primordials in a cascading effect.”

Angel’s unblinking deadpan delivery did little to calm the unnerved crowd. No doubt they were remembering that night months ago, when the world seemed to end all around them. Angel’s words were dredging up buried memories. They had all experienced, and buried as best they could, dreams of a being of enormous power and unspeakable evil ripping free of its chains, a predator set loose on a world full of prey.

“The next to awaken was the Primordial known as Typhon, trapped beneath Mount Aetna by the god Zeus. After him, an eternal eclipse over Egypt heralded not only the return of the Primordial Apep, but also his devouring of the sun god Amun-Ra. It is these three Primordials who directly threaten Rome’s continued existence, Nidhoggr above all others. The Dragon of Yggdrassil is a being of death and shadow. Its very breath corrupts the world and re-animates the dead into the abominations that have stalked the continent. These skeletons and zombies are Nidhoggr’s foot soldiers. So long as it remains, the tide of the dead will continue. Typhon meanwhile makes most travel through the Mediteranean impossible. The water is thick with sea monsters at his beck and call and leaves us land-locked and isolated. Apep is the more distant threat, but it is his presence that has led the Egyptian Pantheon into exile and forced the shuttering of Duat, their afterlife.”

There was a long silence when she finished speaking, as if they expected to hear more, perhaps a “But” or “In spite of” to remove the edge and hopelessness from her words.

“What can be done about it?” One brave soul near the back of the room asked, though they all knew the answer that was coming.

“Nothing.” Angel said simply. “All of the Primordials are based hundreds of miles away, with hordes of monsters well beyond the power of those we have encountered between us and them. Even if we could reach them by some miracle, Primordials cannot be killed, and thus far no method has been found for resealing them in their former prisons.”

A dark silence settled on the room, and it did not take the keen senses of a wolf to feel the growing despair in the air. Knowing what had caused the Days of Revelation had not brought them the comfort they had hoped for. There was no solution, and though many of them had accepted it, they now knew without a doubt that the past was not to return.

“The reason we’ve brought this to your attention,” Capitolina’s strong voice broke the silence. “Is because it will be the duty of the new government to decide how best to move forward. We have survived, now we must thrive in a world that is for all intents and purposes ruled by the Primordials. With that said, I am opening the floor to debate. Today we decide the future of Rome and I will open with my own suggestion. With Rome in a crippled state and no allies to rely upon, the people should have a figure to rally around. I suggest a reinstatement of the title of Imperator, an overseer with final word and authority.”

If Angel’s words had silenced the waves then Capitolina’s brought the flood. Giovanni sighed at the sudden uproar that her words brought.

“What I believe the angry mob is trying to say, Capitolina.” The smooth voice of Albion Nassar cut through the rabble and brought a level of silence to the room. “Is that we were willing to stand by and let you reinstate the archaic title of Pontifex Maximus because we agreed that someone needed to be in charge of all the Faiths, new and old, to keep the peace.”

Giovanni frowned. He had been against the title being reinstated, as while it was not technically an official title of His Holiness, it had been associated with him for centuries. But he had bowed to the decision because Nora’s position was more important than squabbling over particulars.

“However,” Lord Nassar continued. “Electing a single person to have unlimited control over the Sanctuary might end in disaster. There are plenty of interest groups who would feel cheated by having a single ruler.”

“I understand that.” Capitolina said, her flattened ears giving away her irritation, though her voice remained calm. “However, Rome is still on new legs, it can easily fall or be crippled. To lead this city out of its infancy requires a strong and efficient hand. I have seen republics strangle themselves in bureaucracy and debate while the city and country starved in need. It could cripple Rome at its peak and it can kill this tiny sanctuary.”

“A fair point.” Nassar nodded, his calm smile doing little to dissuade Capitolina’s distaste. “But it still begs the question of who this potential Emperor would be, as well as selling the idea to the crowd. Without widespread support, any new Emperor could divide the sanctuary into two or three.”

Giovanni sat back in his chair, hands clasped over his lap as he listened to the debate open up. People quickly began to divide into camps, some in support of an Empire, as Capitolina was. The modern man, Giovanni observed, was generally not in favor of dictatorship. A mere glance at recent history, he felt, could explain why.

Despite his early statements, Albion Nassar seemed content to sit out much of the debate once it had started in earnest, merely speaking up here in there to prod the speaker in a certain direction. Giovanni could tell what he was doing. The two of them were the same in many ways. They would let the decision fall where it might so long as their interests were protected. Giovanni’s interests were selfless, the continued support, representation, and respect of the Vatican and a semi-independent entity. Lord Nassar, however, clearly had ulterior motives. He was certainly in favor of the same ideas given to mages, but there was something more to it. He had ambition and a will for power. Giovanni knew Nassar was a snake, but it was up to the people to decide how much power he would take for himself.

The debate raged for hours, and Giovanni rarely spoke save for the odd occasion where someone would throw forward something ridiculous or particularly blasphemous. The gathered crowd meant there was plenty of eccentricity and incompatible beliefs among the more clear-headed and pragmatic, and one after another they needed to be turned down. They had all known that this meeting was to be a slog, but they sat through it regardless. It was more than a debate and they all knew it. In that room, at that time, the future would be decided. The Roman Sanctury had ended its temporary existence. With fewer than five hundred people and a tentative new government, the city was Rome once more.

 

Previous Chapter                                                                                                                      Next Chapter

The Cities Eternal©2016, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa
(( JP Link: https://www.jukepop.com/home/read/9042?chapter=18&sl=838 ))