Celeres Part 5

Odysseus stood over Sextus’ corpse as the rain washed over them. She swatted her wet hair from her eyes, giving the dead man a few good kicks and turning him on his back. Talos shambled closer, stretching his legs. The woman leaned on his muscled arm, giving him a gentle tap as she waved at Sextus.

“I was not expecting a Triumphant. Or at least, not the real deal.”

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Talos groaned, his complains echoing metallic.

“Sorry buddy, I’m not judging.” Odysseus coursed her fingers over the armor plates, reaching to the hidden tank plugged into Talos’ mouth and helmet. She tapped twice on it, frowning. “You’re running on fumes. Are you okay?”

A hiss and red mist, a clang and the loosening of tubes. An exhalation of relief. He licked his dried, burnt lips.

“What a bright ephebe this one was; could you not hold your blade?” Talos was finally able to release his mature and thickly accented voice. “Was he a menace that demanded such finality?”

Odysseus shrugged and leaned away, trailing across the mud.

“Hey, I thought that is how Marmentines roll. Besides, he was making you and Cila work for your silver.”

“It is how we roll.” Talos admitted, bending over and disappearing within his bronzed cocoon. This did not escape the attention of nobody; Odysseus spun around, circling around Talos and leaning against him.

“I’m here for you, Talos.” She comforted him. “It is what we do, not who we are.”

“Tell that to Ariadne.” Talos scoffed. “I’m getting tired; where is the girl?”

As if hearing them, Cila cried softly, squished and aching. Odysseys pulled her cloak’s collar up, ready to rush to her side. Talos’ arm of spheres and links tapped her shoulder, cold metal and gentle warmth.

“No sense to leave him to waste. Hook his corpse to my back; he can still water the crops.”

Odysseus turned, once again leaning over the pale Sextus. She cursed at the blood soaked mud; how fast had he exsanguinated, how thirsty was the ground for him - did the man owe so much to the hungry dead?

“He is empty, there is nothing for the grapes.”

“Concentrate on his Spark, it is all we need.” Talos advised. “If it shines, it will flow.”

Taking a deep breath, Odysseus squatted and closed her eyes.

“Nothing.” She admitted, frustrated. Talos gave her a side-eye, discreetly insisting that the woman try again. Odysseus abided; still nothing.

Cila´s laments grew louder and louder. Odysseus rose, shook her head and rushed to the girl’s help. She was still trapped underneath the stones, her stomach bulging and scratched.

“How was this even possible?” Odysseus muttered as the tore the pillars apart.

“Resonance.” Talos replies as a poor explanation. “The boy and Cila must have had more in common than it seemed.”

“I have been on relationships like that before.” Odysseus remarked. “They still came out better than I did.”

“Odysseus, one of them died.”

“I stand by my words.” Odysseus rubbed Scylla’s stretched belly. “Can you loosen your Spark just a bit? It would really help if you could shrink a bit.”

“Not too much, though.” Talons pointed out. “We need to dump that silver in a safe place; some haste may be in order, we know not what danger this peculiar gluttony invited. It can be harmful for her to stay like this for too long.”

“Alright, let’s bring Cila to the ocean!” Odysseus agreed with a smirk. “But you will be the one carrying her!”

Scylla’s eyes shone, reflecting something. Odysseus followed her gaze, finding a purse heavy with strange silver. Poking at it with a muddy stick, Odysseus whistled happily.

“What do we have here?”

*

The Marmentines departed. The rains stopped. Pitch darkness seized the land.

A fiery bridle danced towards Sextus corpse, a missing muzzle rubbing against him. Climbing on his back, the mare kissed the fallen knight. A cascade of moss-green hair descended on Sextus, a hand with long pomegranate-stained fingernails caressed his mud-encrusted back, a leg slid underneath a skull-patterned shroud. The shifting being wrapped itself around him.

Proserpina stood still, not daring to make a sound.

“How tragic it is.” She whispered. “I am finally able to stand here, before you, as myself; and all it took was for you to die.”

She pressed her hand against Sextus’ sternum, exhaling out of frustration.

“Without your Spark, I am myself; without yourself, I cannot sparkle.” Proserpina released a tired, sad chuckle. “Honey, we need to talk.”

The infernal goddess shifted her weight around, raising a stone platform and resting her legs on it; she pulled Sextus’ head towards her lap.

“You don’t get to make me your monster, Sextus.” Proserpina toyed with Sextus’ long hair, pulling twigs and leaves. “Well, you do get to do that - that is how these things work but by making me your monster, you make me less of me - or at least, I became a version of me I do not want to identify that. And I love you and I think you love me: you loved me, once, before; we can at least agree on that. I’m rambling; what I mean to say is that I believe you do not want to do that to me. That you will listen to me and we will fix this.”

Dead silence.

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“I came because you invited me; I married because we could bloom.” Proserpina continued. “We had vows filtered through your Spark; myself, our relationship - so much of your suffering and misery was projected on them. We never get to talk and we never get to show each other our true, unshackled self. I get it, of course I get it. That is how a Triumph shines; but that is not how a matrimony should work. You don’t get to make me your obstacle, the anchor holding you down, the boulder crushing your ambitions. I wanted to be on this adventure with you; I still do - nothing about that has changed.”

Proserpina turned her head away.

”I’m sorry Sextus. I understand: and because I understand, I know. This relationship cannot continue like this. I must speak as myself, untainted by the Spark and I must do it now, while I still can. I am not a tool for you to torture yourself. If we stand together we must do so not out of some sense of obligation or duty but for our love for each other and for others.”

She took her wedding band off her finger; she grabbed Sextus hands, cradling them between her own. Proserpina closed her eyes, her warm cheeks resting against Sextus’ coldness. She kissed and licked them loose. As she freed them, two blackened rings laid on her lap.

”We always find each other - I do not worry about that; keep these with you and think of this talk. Or throw them away and let our next meeting be our last.” Proserpina deposited the rings over his eyes circles before rising.

“One last thing: I refuse to depart a widow.” Proserpina declared as she trotted away. “Let not be said that your wife did not safeguard your earthly home. No broken vessels at our place.”

As Proserpina depart, telluric energies returned the diluted Spark of Sextus, restarting the turn of seasons with an earthen embrace.

Life; a thread unbroken, resumed.

The rains returned, obscuring the world into a curtain of mist and walls of water, caking the unconscious body of Sextus. Sextus coughed, waking up to despair as he cleared dirt from his mouth. He tried to rise, a thousand bruises complaining and his body refusing to cooperate; he plummeted, defeated, into a puddle. Sextus turned around, in vain; he rolled over himself and tried to calm down. Maybe rest, yes. Perhaps.

As the rains slowly gave way, dread crept in. He was haunted by the fight and the ominous encounter; what had happened when he was… dead. Sextus tried to cry, his face hurting too much for even that; the mortal violence was nothing compared to the emptiness gnawing at his chest.

Empowered by his turmoil, bones cracked and tendons snapped, but he stood up. Shining faintly in the puddle where he had laid, two rings; Sextus reached for them - only for them to disappear as reflections upon disturbed waters.

Sextus grabbed his chest, paralyzed as his Spark shook. This was not the freedom of oblivion, when he thought himself dead at Telamon; this was not the suffered liberation when he was cast out from the Sergii family; all those were heartfelt sacrifices, needed for him to become as Closer to Himself as he was to the Gods.

This was different. A part of himself, a part of who he wanted to be, something that had been with him his entire adult life; eroded and ripped from him. And the worst part? It was as abrupt as it had been invisible - but inevitable.

And he was at fault here. It was not the work of a cruel system or a conniving antagonist: callousness within his own heart; he had only himself to blame.

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The tears came down, Sextus howling as his entire body shook. Gone was the stoic facade; he left it all flow with the rain: the pain, the frustration, the toll of the world that he ridiculously insisted in carrying alone. We bounded his Names to his severed infernal Spark.

He was once again whole, warm and serene.

“Thank you Proserpina.” Sextus whispered. “Thank you for all these years; thank you for sharing your needs. I will cherish this rare opportunity. How have we been blessed. I will never forget you; I will ever be grateful.”

Collected, Sextus fumbled in the dark. He found his broken lance and pierced hat; trampled, the dried flowers gone. He patted himself, looking into the creases and hidden sewing of his tunic. Nothing. He dove back into the mud, throwing it around.

Sextus found his returned stoicism tested by nothingness.

That was all he could find.

He had lost the Celeres.

The silver coins, entrusted to him by Aeneid, were gone.

Taking a deep breath, Sextus calmly cleaned himself. Dawn was coming, the shy Sun making him think about Proserpina’s words. His serene and stoic nature, did not give him right right to turn people into the tools of his misery and contrition. He got into this mess and strained his marriage by walking that path: by blindingly accepting duties as his own, not refusing tasks beyond him. He needed help, either at maintaining a divine matrimony or facing three (no, two) Triumphants.

Sextus smiled as he put his hat back; he had now internalized more than pain: with the help of others even these insurmountable tasks could be made easy.

Just because he was by himself did not mean he was alone.