Symposium of Bad Ideas Part 3

Marcus Considius fell for what felt an eternity, sudden and violently hitting some solid plane. He could feel what he had assumed to be his spark resonating in occasional flickers. He immediately knew that something was not right; the scene coalescing around him did not seem to form naturally, blurry and covered in ever-mist. He could made out moving shadows, vaguely-human lumps. They cheered something - or someone - behind him.

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He looked back to see the mists open enough to reveal an Asiatic giant, a distorted shambling version of Lidia; twice his size, long savage hair, wild eyes and greasy green skin. She wore a ridiculous garb of nets, seashells and pelts and her golden mess was marred by a crown of seaweed and dead butterflies.

The crowd cheered, human voices muddled with pained howls and twisted words. They all looked the part of barbarian stereotypes, slowly coalescing into something that resonated too real: the colored and diverse uniforms of the people of Illyria. He was back on the Seaborn Republic and the shameful actions of Rome. A day he would never allow himself to forget.

His distraction cost him a veritable trashing; the sea-king Lidia grabbed his shoulders and threw him to the ground, a cliff forming before him. The barber turned his head around as the horizon stole shape from the mists: there it was, the two fleets against the familiar outline of that cursed island and its impenetrable woods. He was punched one more time, refusing to fight back.

The kingly simulacrum put their hands around Considius neck, lifting him effortlessly. As he could feel moist fingers wrapping and tighten around his neck, the barber wondered: what would mean to die in there? Could he even die here? The metallic voice had mentioned something about transformation. Death as a means of transformation? Then, letting himself die would be giving up control over his change and growth.

Unacceptable terms.

The painful memories and lessons of Illyria were part of him now, part of what drove his pursuit of community; fuel for his sense of civic solidarity. He kicked the wrestling hulk into the stomach, raised his upper limbs and struck its hands with the inside of his arms. The creature did not exactly react to impulses and attacks the same way a human would, but it still offered an opening. Considius punched upwards, his palm striking the nose. There was a disturbing crack as its face started to break into shards of green clay, becoming a wave of bright dust that enveloped the barber.

The scene seemed to change much more organically now; the whiteness did not give away to darkness. Someone held his hand.

“Hello there, regretful barber.” He was back in dark tunnels of the subconscious, the noble teen that had greeted him to the Underworld for the first time, back at his side. “Fancy finding you in my corner of the Underworld.”

She had a sad conflicted smile; that was all Considius could think about.

“What is the problem?”

“You are learning.” She tried to put him at ease with a chuckle. It backfired. “We don’t have much time. I want to help you, Marcus Considius; no, I have to help you - for we shared food and I offered you my hospitality. But the mantle you are wearing now makes me see you as a slayer of my kin, as much of a distant cousin that might have been. This is very distressing to my person; I might be very possessive of what is mine but I do not have petty or rancorous drop of ambrosia in me.”

There was the flutter of the wings, slitter of snakes and cries of birds. The youth held the barber closer; Considius got a peak of the goddesses that held him in clientela, wandering around the tunnels. Perhaps they would be less conflicted about helping him.

“No!” The teenager whispered. “Today those are not your patrons. They are avenging nymphs hunting down a murderer. You are not the Tribune of Shades now, do you understand? There are no shortcuts, you have to follow the mantle that currently have invested to the end. Only then you can return; hopefully transformed for the better, but you should feel lucky if you just come out intact from the ordeal.”

“Only then I can be myself.”

“For whatever that is worth.” The teen frowned. “Or means. I will take you to the next station; do not test your luck, do you hear? Play the Triumph safe.”

Considius nodded as the young woman pushed him towards the tunnel’s walls.

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He was back in the sea, waddling alongside a serene shore, the teenager replaced with thick foam. It lifted him up, becoming a white horse with breeze hooves and empty eyes. The scene looked serene and inviting, green grassland giving way to two hills capped by ancient looking sanctuaries. Twin women of emerald eyes and olive skin waved at him, desiring his attentions and caressing his foamy mount. They grabbed Considius, whispering for him to stay, to forget the war and struggles that governed his life and this fiction. He found himself kissing one as the other nimbly worked around undressing him; his first instinct was to recoil, but his strange steed whinnied in a complaint.

Right. Wear the mantle; become the mantle. The mantle wants what the mantle wants.

He heard familiar laughter; his brother approached, riding a red steed. Not brother, Diodorus, wearing an expression of “better you than me” in his clouded face. The other Triumphant liberated the barber from one of the eager women, lifting her to his saddle and greeting with a reluctant kiss.

“Brother!” Considius repeated the same words in his head. “How fares our sister? Did you find her?”

“Far from our reach she is, hopefully happy; at least unharmed. She is besieged by all sides, but who knows how long that will last? One year, five, seven, ten or a lifetime? Let us entrust the Heavens and be merry; let us find happiness of our own. It is what she would have wanted.”

“But what can be more important than reuniting our family?”

“Making sure there is a family to reunite with!” Diodorus held the ephemeral woman against him. “Not everyone can afford to take their time like you, brother; day by day I waste into death. Who will remember me when I am held by the corn-bearing earth?”

Considius was going to say something, but his mouth echoed only an alert shared by the women and beasts. Horses and brides-to-be disappeared into nothingness, leaving only Diodorus, Considius and an enormous clay-like lynx. The cat pounced between the Triumphants, leaving a trail of lightning bolts behind. Avoiding the electrically trail separated the barber and the pirate, leaving Diodorus to face the lynx alone. Considius shouted, looking in despair for something to throw.

Diodorus raised his right hand, signaling to Considius that he had this.

The lynx jumped on the Greek, sharp teeth tearing his neck apart as his hind legs clawed his stomach. The lightning bolts caught with the cat, obliterating it into red ash as Diodorus fell to the ground.

“So this is what unbridled endurance, speed and strength feels like. No wonder Lidia is so comfortable staying in that Triumph.”

Lidia… he had seen her, right? Considius blinked, fatigued and hurting.

“You tricked me.”

“I told you, barber. It is the price power demands of me.” Diodorus pointed out. “That is what you can expect, that is what I bring to the team.”

“That was dangerous.” Considius swallowed. “And you did not tell me anything.”

Diodorus had the decency to look ashamed.

“There were miscalculations; I assumed you knew more and it was nothing you had not done before. Besides, it would defeat the point of the con! I would be asking you what I wanted.” He waved his hands, nervous. “It does not matter, we did well, we made it out whole and safe! Everything is fine.”

Everything was not fine. The bitterness of betrayal was too much.

“I would have done anything for your help. I do not understand why you had to be like this.”

"It was part of the deal, part of what we need to find your family.” Diodorus lowered his voice. “This was a Triumph and mantle that I did not choose casually. This bond is important; it can help us find each other, it can help us find them. Sharing this lifeline also gives me the connection to the Rome That Never Was that I lack. It makes me one of the Crows.”

“Sure Diodorus, I’m sure that improves things.” Considius riposted bitterly, pausing to ponder about the event. “That was a Triumph. That is what is like to experience it.”

“Yes?” Diodorus raised an eyebrow.

“All those familiar faces and places… why?”

“Triumphs are bond to one’s spark; the influence goes both way. As much as the Triumph changes you, it itself is marred and corrupted by what you are. We can only observe them through our experiences, never in their wild, pure and platonic forms; just that is enough to change it forever. There is no such thing as a wild or untouched Triumph.”

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“This bond we now share. It is real.” Considius narrowed his eyes. “Now I know why you were so afraid of me. You were there, were you not? That is why it kept slipping in. You were in Illyria.”

“You should rest, barber.” Diodorus covered his eyes by lowering his cap. “You alone stand as protector of the Urbe; you need to stay strong.”

“By what name did you went? What was your role in the Seaborn Republic?”

Diodorus turned around, making his way outside. Silent.

“Who were you, Magus?”

The Magus stopped at door.

“It does not matter. We are now kin, of sorts. Farewell, brother. I hope to bear happier news the next time we meet.”