Bond Exchange Part 1
Broom in one hand, greasy rag over the the shoulder; Marcus was set in closing the shop before dawn. Not that an early night would offer him rest - other than what he could get from silencing the spectral voices, constantly demanding his attention.
Hair and bloody bandages were out, boards and locks were in. Lemurs rallied to him, having spent the day scavenging the woes and curses of the Urbane masses. Bronze and lead became his armor of revenge, ghostly mass his gateway to the secrets of the emptied streets.
He was Marcus Considius; he was the Tribune of Shades.
And this seemed to be a quiet night. Or at least, he hoped it better be one, considering what nonsense worried the Roman ghosts.
The barber kept thinking it must be a mistake, even as the specters kept reaching over to the curse tablet.
“Megaro the innkeeper waters his wine with tepid ichor, overcharges outsiders and stole my favorite cloak. Soften his bones and harden his liver, let him roll over with bowel pain and be served to the bugs that stuff his bedding.”
Considius stood there, quiet, awaiting for further comment from the lemurs.
“It is all a bit too much; are you guys sure about this?”
A nudge, then a pull. Ghostly certainty.
“Alright, alright. If this is what you want, I’m a pontifex to my people.”
It better be a damn good cloak.
The innkeeper, decent or not, was familiar to the dead. They never wandered from their goals, skipping over rooftops and sliding alongside the Tiber. The inn was far from impressive. White chalk covered an aged facade, three floors whose tiny windows promised little light and cramped quarters. At least the stables looked decent - and it was within walking distance of most of Rome; it had all the signs of being popular, despite its dilapidated status.
Spectral tendrils lifted Marcus up, allowing the Umbrae Tribunus to inspect the guest rooms. Everyone was asleep, a few of the rooms overcrowded - entire families or groups of wage workers piled on the floor. A division was neat and safe, belongings catalogued and stored. Narrowing his eyes, the barber found what seemed to be a fine dark green cloak laid over a cask.
There was no doubt that the entire operation had a veneer of sleaziness; the marks of shady dealings were everywhere. Yet, how responsible was the responsible party and could he hold them accountable? As cathartic as that would be, it is not like he could shove someone into a open sewer for poor and unethical business practices.
Thinking about the sewer convinced him to look down instead of up. Marcus jumped to street level, sending lemurs into every nook and crook. The inn was separated from the public system, containing its own cooling caves, storage units and sewage pit. Following alongside it, he could feel the stale air trying to escape. Forcing his entrance, Considius compelled the specters to provide an eerie light.
Atmosphere deader than the Underworld, the place was chilled but far from sterile. Mold grew on the walls and dust piled among the amphorae, drops dripping from the ceiling into a waterhole at the corner - all too close to the sewage for health.
The lemurs grew more upset; if this was the water used to soften the wine, no wonder. It was a crime on its own.
Marcus noticed the feeble tapping against the wall.
A draft led him towards a plaster-disguised panel. The smell of urine, sweat and worse stroke Considius’ senses. Rustling and meek whimpering followed, as something had noticed his presence.
“Is someone there?” Marcus warned before entering.
“Please…” A weak answer was uttered by an emaciated youth. His clothes had once been fine and well-tailored, they were now soiled and torn. “Let me out.”
Lemurs did not wait for permission, deathly sharpness severing the young man’s bindings.
“What happened here?”
“I came with a friend to Rome, both of us traveling on behalf of the Bull. The innkeeper learned of our relation to the aristocracy of the Tarentine countryside.” Coughing. “He decided to hold us for ransom.”
He again stopped to cough, Considius wondering about the Bull. Another civic club or a conspiracy like those Second Founders creeps? No matter, these people need help and they needed it now.
“Where is your friend now?” Marcus asked, looking around and finding only empty bindings.
“He died a few days ago.” The youth mumbled, too far gone for mourning. “The stink became too much and people started complaining: the innkeeper waited for the night and took him away… I have been laying here, afraid of what he will do once he comes back...”
Indeed. If their crimes came to light, the once hostage could be a liability - another loose end to tie the noose.
There was no time to waste.
“Go to one of the magistrates houses or the first patrician house you can find; stay there. I will get the innkeeper for you.”
Considius lost himself to ghostly substance, finding the way outside. A quick check of the stables revealed the emptiness left by a big cart, as well as the heavy marks that lead it outside of the city. The lemurs did not hesitate, propelling him alongside the trail and beyond the sacred limits of the Urbe. Considius could feel his Triumph diminishing - and yet, what remained was more focused and purposeful than the usual spiritual turmoil.
It was pretty easy to find fresh tracks at first light - or it may have been the faint ghost of a dead noble, accusatory finger guiding Considius. Megaro the innkeeper was up to his chest on mud and excrement, digging in the refuge, a cart of dung at his side - a bruised arm poking out of it.
Hostage, the dead and the guilty were delivered at the Forum; the issue was quickly expelled from Considius’ mind - it was a plebeian caught on murderous neglect and acting on ill-intent against two aristocrats. He was confident Justice would be expedient, given the august status of the victims.
Returning to the corner of revenge and putting the curse back where he had found it, Marcus was allowed a smile. Things escalated so quickly that he completely forgot about the silly cloak and whoever it had been stolen from.
He frowned as he found another curse, under a recently lit lamp, the script as clumsy as the first one.
“Nevermind, O Manes - for it turns out I had sent my beautiful cloak to launder and forgot about it. Spare your heavy hand from the innkeeper’s Fortune.”
Marcus re-read it aloud, disbelieving the carelessness and impiety. It all started to sound eerie familiar.
“No. Way.” He dismissed the lemurs, curses clanging as they hit the floor; it scared a stray cat that was licking the lantern oil. Considius dipped a finger on it, taking a sniff. Someone had mixed fish and olive oil, no wonder it burned strangely and had such an abominable stench. There were not merchants that sold that ill-smelling mixture within the limits of Rome - even the people of the Aventine would not stand for that. There were a few vendors and tavern keepers right next to the Cloaca Maxima; nobody complained about those.
One of the disgusting establishments was already open - or did not even bother closing for the night. Among the drunks, misers and miserable, a curly haired head poked from a fine red cloak.
Eyes narrowed into slits, Considius grabbed the man by the neck and pinned him against the dirty table, spilling cheap beer everywhere.
“Your disrespect is boundless.” The barber snarled. “It can only be outdone by your cowardice.”
The man struggled to breath and speak, groaning against the hold. Considius released some of the pressure.
“I’m not hiding.” The man coughed, the barber grunted.
“Telling lies, Gaius?” Considius smirked, laying another heavy hand upon the man’s shoulder. “That would be a new low.”
“Okay, I’m laying down, keeping quiet.” The cloaked man admitted. “But I’m not hiding from you, brother.”