When Gaius Attiulus and Titus Manlius Were Consuls
I have felt the light of freedom, send the bastions of liberty across the world. One by one they have been going out.
Two beacons shone too bright. Perched atop sunken boats and broken bones, an eagle and a phoenix stood: fighting each other as despots and tyrants thrived.
Through decades of determination and sacrifice, peace was achieved. The purple men knelt before the race that wears the toga. Nobody was pleased.
The last hero left honored that peace, chaining the gates of Janus - held shut only when no war threatened Rome. Such promise was tainted by the misguided belief that peaceful times have no need for heroes. It was time to end my self-imposed exile. I took a ship back to Rome. Accepting the price liberty demanded, I sold myself to the Senate and People.
I now understand that this is the only Way to bring absolute Libertas. To stay firm and fight.
And The Roman Way.
The world demands that the last hero standing after a major crisis becomes a villain for those that come after him.
His oppressive armored form, towering across the sky; the red streak that I was, running through the shops and houses. Crested, closed, black helmet; humble hood and wild pale hair. Surrounded by the blue nimbus of a thunderous god; naked arms and a fist protected by a worn cestus.
Shining golden eagle paraphernalia; a single crudely hammered iron crow.
Yet, we both fought for a Rome That Never Was.
That is, had I not raced across and under the waves, pulling sailors from the grasps of Salacia’s nereides and delivering them to the safety of their home-island.
What drove our friends, so loyal during and after the Punic War, to take sails against us? I took the time to explore Sicilia. Former mercenaries roamed the triangle island, stealing, extorting and establishing themselves as petty tyrants wherever a void had been created by the departure of Punic and Roman forces. Finally, something that I could solve with my aggressive set of skills! Quick hops and a couple of well-landed fists reminded the mercenary captains that Rome was protecting these people and their land.
Perhaps I should have paid more attention to the affairs back in Rome. As I restored order to Sicilia, my heroic compatriot gathered hostages from the Gallic people cordial to Rome.
For The Roman Way.
As news arrived about an incoming Gallic invasion of Etruria, he butchered the hostages alongside the cattle of the Forum Boarium; a ghoulish human sacrifice to ward off the Gallic Nightmare. As if that was not horrifying enough, he made a show of parading in front of the legions as the consuls – the actually constitutionally elected authorities – prepared to march north.
No freedom can be earned, no liberty can be preserved through fear-inspired brutality.
Such kingly show disgusted me and turned my focus to the small, but not insignificant, ways that I could make Rome better - nudge Romans towards Humanity’s dream of True Liberty. But as I kept the streets safe, fended off bandits away from the Via Appia or stood between a small child and a pack of savage dogs, I always kept true to the same maxims.
I will fight as I long as I keep breathing.
It is never enough; I must aim higher.
Those were the words that guided by friends, my teachers, my parents and my masters. My old comrades’s principles. I had abandoned them in foolish rebellion, hoping to find freedom in other’s ideas. I might have been wrong at the time, but there were legitimate grievances that had motivated my decision; doubts that still tormented adult me.
I need to fight for what is right, in my own way.
Hopefully one day I will stand alongside others. For Justice. For Liberty. For The Roman Way. That is a nice dream, for I kept having to fight alone.
All I have is hope that small good acts eventually pile up and create a better world. Making someone’s day better inspires them to resist the inertia that makes one complacent with evil and comfortable with tyranny. You should also enjoy yourself, ever aware of your goals and sharing gentle emotions with the world. I know what I must do.
Make others and yourself happy.
Every unnecessary blow, every unfortunate consequence and every new enemy taught me another important lesson. A simple one that too many forget.
Above everything, cause no suffering.
I was finally ready to assume my place as the protector of the Rome That Never Was (But We Must Try To Make A Bit More Real, Anyway).
Clapping thunder awoke me from my delusions.
The sky was clear, despite lightning bolt after lightning bolt striking the Palatinate Hill. Curving corners, jumping over an open gutter and diving under carts, I sped up until I became a scarlet streak. Climbing into the rooftops, breaking tiles as I ran. I dove into an empty atrium in order to lose momentum and left the house through the entry facing the Forum. It was torturous to navigate the mob fleeing the scene, as more and more thunderous strikes struck the doors of the Temple of Saturn.
Closing in, I was able to fully grasp the situation. The purple hoods of the men cowering behind the sacred gates identified them as pro-Punic activists; the bags of silver they carried justified their presence in the Treasury. They had someone with them, some patrician-looking young woman, poorly restrained and struggling against them.
Another thunderbolt drew my attention towards the skies.
There he was, our great war hero.
His face hidden behind an ebony helmet, fused to a silvery face mask representing an irate divinity, his body protected by a lorica musculata (scorched and engraved with two wolves fighting riverside). You could only see the vague silhouette of his limbs, surrounded by electric blue nimbus.
I was so afraid, my heart almost freezing.
It took all of my resolve to steel myself. I stopped running and looked around, realizing some of the people had stopped trying to escape the Forum. They lingered around, cheering and chanting.
“Quirinus Fulminator Niger! He has come to save us!” A teenage shouted. “Burn everything, Quirinus! Burn! Them! All! Death to the Punics!”
Terror took over the terrorists, making them run away. Two of them were instantly fulminated. Quirinus lifted his stormy hand, ready to lob another thunderbolt.
Make others and yourself happy.
Above all, cause no suffering.
I was starting to see the problems with my new ethos; racing lightning itself, I grabbed one of the terrorists and sped away from the Forum. I dared to be relieved, believing I was too fast for Quirinus to even see me. I turned back to check on him, only to see the patrician hostage from before waving for me to keep running.
Another second more would be a second too late, the tips of my hair singed. He was flying behind me, an ultimately futile effort; nobody could match my speed - even carrying villainous burden. Of course, he would bring buildings down and accidentally wound or kill innocents during the chase.
I would have to fight a fellow “hero” of the “Republic”.
Throwing the confused temple robber against a refuse cart, I ran up the walls of the neighboring shops and jumped the top of a usury office. Quirinus was already aiming at man I had dropped. I threw myself as high as I could, pulling my right arm and concentrating all my strength and momentum into my cestus.
Finally noticing me, Fulminator Niger turned his masked face. Too late to dodge, just enough to perfectly align my punch. It was with delight that I felt the silver soften with my blow, a chin breaking when introduced to my infamous right.
My violent joy was short-lived. I punched Quirinus out of the sky and into the roof of some unfortunate shopkeeper. However, my own descent was anything but graceful; I could either fall like a rock or stumble against buildings, trying to slow my fall at the expense of someone’s propriety.
Bird-eye view of the Forum offered me a unique perspective; it drew my attention away from my personal woes and towards the damage caused by the Fulminator Niger indiscriminate thunder; spilled olive oil from some of the shops had ignited and started a small fire.
Drawing upon my celerity I guided myself towards the burning buildings. Inside them I saw a child trapped underneath a stone basin. I pulled the kid out and ran in circles around the fire, starving it out. Blazes suffocated, I gave in to exhaustion and released the children. Still dizzy and lightheaded, I recovered enough sense to remind myself that I should present the kid with a warm reassuring smile.
The brat clenched the tips of my mantle with both hands and spat against my chest.
Right. Reality check.
The real hero was digging himself out. Without any purple-hood in sight or civilians in danger, I had my fill of ingratitude.
So I ran.
I ran as fast as I could, I ran across the entire Via Appia, I ran until I was at the gates of Capua.
Collapsing underneath an olive tree, allowing myself some rest. I closed my eyes and smiled at the whiplash of bucolic peace and urban chaos that I had just faced. I am fine with this. I am fine. I upheld my tenets, that was enough, right?
I was fine.
When I opened my eyes, hours later, I found an enormous crow staring back at me with sparkling ruby eyes.
“I’m not running away.” I mumbled, tripping over my words. “I’m not going to run away.
The crow leaned closer and turned its head around, cawing - as if doubting my sincerity.
“Seriously. You are not getting rid of me so easily. It is just impossible to do this alone, you know. I need help.”
The bird jumped on my lap. I petted its feathers in gratitude. It was not a meaningless gesture; if a Crow of the Underworld was here, it could only mean the Shadow Senate approved of my actions and supported my claim as a Hero of the Republic. I was once a Corvus.
Now I am the last of the Corvii.
Maybe it was time for that to change.
Starting with Quirinus Fulminator Niger.
“Tell me, my infernal friend: how does one kill an idea?”