Tyrant's Fall Part 4
Aeneid sped towards Rome, only slowing down as she reached the Pomerium. Sextus was riding alongside the sacred city limits, planting metal rods and securing the perimeter. He dismounted and embraced Lidia. He handed her a waterskin; she refused, demanding wine instead.
They exchanged heavy glances, Lidia realizing Sextus had also figured the worrisome truth about Quirinus and both were still struggling with the realization.
“We got this.” Aeneid reassured the knight as he cleaned her brow and bound some of her cuts. “Go to the priestess once you are finished; remember, you are our shield. If it all goes south, only you can save us.”
“What if we falter?”
“It is not an option. Thousands will die, we will die, Rome will bear the scars forever.” She bid Sextus good luck. “You are not even allowed to think about failure.”
Lidia found a crowd gathered at the Forum, waiting the terrifying tempest approaching the City. Quirinus hovered over the Urbe, letting its Triumph and spark feed on the collective soul of Rome. Lidia bit her lower lip, worried. Quirinus was once again reforming into a more familiar shape, armor and cloak mending as it passed more and more as human. She had to once again ground that Triumphant.
She ran between buildings, trying to gather momentum and jump high enough. All in vain; Quirinus had learned from their first fight, adjusting its position and distance whenever Aeneid disappeared from sight. Lidia would not be able to do reach it on her own.
She was fortunate to have help.
A dry explosion filled the Forum with smoke, dark clouds coalescing into an enormous hydra. Nine reptilian heads darted between temples and shops, clearing the combat zone and attacking Quirinus. The Triumphant easily fended off the smoke monster, but failed to perceive the true purpose behind the apparition.
Lidia had jumped on top of the hydra, climbing its heads as platforms. Quirinus turned away only to see Aeneid’s leg arching down, hitting its neck and pummeling it into a tent.
Setting the empty store on fire, Quirinus tried to get free; it was pulled out by Lidia’s hands, as she had ignored the flames and kept punching its belly. With a frustrated scream, Aeneid lifted Quirinus over her head and threw it against the statue of Saturn.
Diodorus entered the scene, riding the smokey construct of a man and bull hybrid, ordering the beast to charge Quirinus as he unsheathed his swords. A tempest of steel befell the dark Triumphant, the Greek captain slicing it up like meat for souvlaki. Quirinus rose, blocking further strikes with its wrists; it was powerful, but lacked the finesse to match a master swordsmen. Changing strategy, the Triumphant grasped the blades and unleashed a violent electrical discharge. The Magus smiled, giving a quick shake of his arms and letting his mantle drop. The thin metallic cables and the strange fluid spread over them; a work of isolation and conductivity worthy of one that bore such prestigious title. Quirinus roared, receiving a cut on the hip as reply.
The furious dance of death continued, Greek and Triumphant never giving up; Diodorus tried to stay close, preventing Quirinus from gaining distance or an opportunity to overload the resistances of the Magus’ delicate apparatus. Metal finally gave up, heating up and eventually breaking apart. Accepting this outcome, Diodorus threw his swords to the ground and started looking through his ampoules and bottles for a solution. He was taking too long, forcing Aeneid to replace him; she rushed and grabbed Quirinus’ right arm, twisting it until something broke.
The Triumphant scratched Lidia’s face, freeing itself. Returning to the skies, thunderous columns were summoned once again. Recognizing what was happening and knowing that this time Orcus could not help her, Lidia turned to Diodorus:
“Run, get out, try to evacuate as many people as you can.” The Greek obeyed, opening a few bottles and conjuring more mythological helpers; Aeneid nodded and ran up rooftops.
Building on building, Lidia contemplated the state of their preparations. Sextus was climbing the stairs towards a nearby balcony and undressing by his friend. Aeneid raised an eyebrow, staring at the Vestalis at his side and her crummy-looking fake beard; whatever she was crushing on that mortar better be up to task. Entrusting her life in their hands, Lidia advanced against Quirinus.
The dark Triumphant had gathered almost enough power as it had done at the Fields of Fire - something Lidia could not allow in the heart of Rome. She charged recklessly towards her doom, presenting herself as an urgent threat. Quirinus took the bait, unleashing all of its Celestial energies towards Aeneid: they manifested as an intense thunderbolt that shone like a second Sun; it was intertwined around two arrows, one of light-consuming darkness and another of silvery light.
Lidia concentrated on her target; all her planning had created this moment. Her spark vibrated with greater intensity with each breath she took, only feebly anchored to her mortal self. She rubbed her fingers together, feeling the rings and leather of her fingers together, feeling the rings and leather of her Memento Mori; she clenched her hands together, challenging Quirinus.
Three bolts became one, aiming straight at her chest. Aeneid, using her supernatural celerity, caught them head on; her hands shook as she steered lightning, her spark the only thing preventing her instant obliteration. Using these precious instants, she sought Arpineia and Sextus. The bare-chested slave was performing a last minute check while the priestess offered the spell of green onions and mackerel - a rushed Triumph of Numa and Egeria. If they managed to perform the improvised rite properly, “Numa” Arpineia would receive from “Egeria” Sextus the secrets that would protect Humanity from capricious thunder-gods.
Lidia could feel her fingers burning, her heart weakening, the sheer heat on her face unbearable; unable to buy them more time, she aimed with her good eye and hoped for the best.
Aeneid realized that her lack of depth perception had caused her to miss her target for a couple of meters; her heart stopped. It had cost her victory and would cause massive damage to Roma. Horrified and vanquished, Lidia fell down towards the ground. All she could hope was for Sextus to be up to task.
Above her, atop the balcony, fates were being challenged.
Arpineia threw the bowl to the ground, escaping as Sextus tried to grab her. Sliding across the balcony, she stretched herself and adjusted her beard.
She accepted the thunder.
The Vestalis held her open hands high, letting them be struck first; she immediately dropped her arms, pointing towards the closest bronze rod. The storm died out, the Vestalis holding her head against her elbow, fingers pointing to the sky. Smiling, even as her legs gave up.
Sextus ran to her, cradling the priestess against his chest. They nodded at each other, Arpineia jubilant. Lidia crawled away from the debris, surprised by this miracle. She dragged herself towards the Senate building. Quirinus descended from the heavens, slowly approaching the woman. She had just reached the Lapis Niger - the ancient sacred slab in front of the Senate. The dark Triumphant lifted its left hand, ready to extinguish Aeneid once and for all. Its lupine mask contorted in confusion, the storm refusing its call. New attempt. Nothing. Not even a spark.
Lidia laughed between spasms of pain. It was worth it.
“We stole your thunder, Quirinus! You’re not only a false god, you’re a false god of nothing!”
Quirinus snarled. Thunder or not, victory was within its reach. It would tear the incapacitated woman with its own hands. Quirinus charged towards the Lapis Niger, kicking and punching Lidia. She did not even try to defend herself.
When the first punch struck her, Lidia grabbed Quirinus’ arm and threw all her weight against it.
The Lapis Niger merged into the ground, a tide of specters escaping the Underworld. Quirinus and Aeneid fell down a spiral staircase, hitting every stone on the way. Lemurs kept pushing them, preventing the two Celestials from escaping. Quirinus raged and grabbed Lidia, rubbing her face against the rock as they continued towards Infernal domains.
Something stroke Quirinus in the wolf face, Marcus Considius catching the falling Lidia. With a snap of fingers he was covered in the curse-leaden armor of the Shadow Tribune. His lemurs kept tormenting Quirinus, dragging it down deeper Underworld.
“You sent too many souls here, Quirinus.” Marcus provoked, sending more spectres to taunt Quirinus. “People you judged expendable, sacrifices for your so-called peace. The dead, they don’t forget. The living, they do not thank you. Half of my armor is curses against Quirinus Niger Fulminator. Rome does not want you, Prince of Peace. Aeneid asked you to abdicate and leave our Republic, and yet, you dared to refuse the People’s will.”
Howling was the sole response, Quirinus dispersing lemurs as it fought its way towards the Tribune and Lidia, focused in killing either of them. Marcus shook his head, disappointed. Spectral tentacles grasped it, pulling its members in every direction.
“If if has to end like this, sic semper tyrannis.”
The specters threw Quirinus between each other, lashing at it, until they abandoned its weakened form at the Pomerium of the Rome That Never Was. Leaning on the spiritual wall, Quirinus turned to face the two Corvii; it was ready to charge at them, but noticed they were looking up. It did the same, only to meet a giant hand.
The ghost of Romulus picked Quirinus up, taking it to eye level. Inspecting it with his bulgy eyes and dirty fingers, imposed upon the Triumphant his mad judgment. Romulus opened his mouth, revealing a row of millstones. Quirinus struggled, trying to free itself from its mortal ghost. All for naught.
Crushed between millstones. Chewing, swallowing.
Madness; it always ends up devouring its children.
“You don’t have to watch, Lidia.” Marcus suggested, uncomfortable by the reminder that he almost encountered the same fate.
“But I do.” Aeneid disagreed, her good eye fixed on the macabre feast. “Others paid for Quirinus’ peace. I should be the one to pay for my war; starting with this.”