A Perch of Her Own Part 2/3
“Davinia? Davinia? Davinia!”
That was a blessed distraction; it is a rare mercy when one is so immersed that they ignore voices shouting inside their brain.
“Sybil, what is it?”
“I got a ping on Aeneid.”
“Please tell me she is still in Rome.”
“Yes, I sensed her near the…”
“That would be all I need.” It is almost impossible to shout over your thoughts, but Davinia had practice. She sped into her cell, dropping her veil and shawl; she grabbed her tangerine uniform on the way out. “Did you find Sextus?”
“That is not the answer I require, Sybil!”
A moment of singular hesitation for one of bronze and silica.
“I have something for you besides faint hope; I registered him passing through the Tarastine Gates.” Sybil left out the part where his Spark attuned itself with them and blinked in and out of existence; one cannot call themselves an Oracle without keeping some secrets.
“That is so far south…” Davinia mumbled as she changed clothes. “Nevermind, I’m going there. I know him and I know his awful family; he can struggle to stay above waterline and still not ask for help: so I have to ask to help him instead. Idiot.”
“It would be unwise.” Sybil advised. “You said it yourself, it is too far away. People are bond to notice your absence—especially after you messed with the publicani.”
“What should I do then?”
“Tell Aeneid that, it is her subprocess to run. It was her responsibility and she can be there before you finish dressing.”
It was true; but then why was Davinia so conflicted?
“She has more than enough on her bread.” She could hear the metallic judgment on Sybil’s silence.
Too long; it was too harsh.
“I don’t think I deserve the silent treatment for that.”
A static burst that made Davinia twist in pain; her frontal lobe exploded in a flowering cascade of mental stabs. Amid the aching nonsense: a single idea. Losing any meaning as it faded into background radiation.
Promethia stumbled her way into the open sky and spiraled south. The bustling Urbe, the busy small towns and the sprawling fields supporting them gave way to the open road and patchwork Oscan and Samnite villages surrounding the ruins of the antique city of Cumae. Davinia struggled to reach the acropolis—not the rebuilt walls that harmonized the cultures of its three peoples, but the archaic spire (untouched and bespoke to the Sybil’s demands).
The spire arched in its metallic glory, separating Celestial and Infernal as it lustrously dominated the sacred precinct. The pain intensified, the offending body revealing itself: delicate hairs of copper coiled around a magnetized stone bounded with a humming metal cylinder; spinning as a needle tormented a thick wax candle. The primal part of her brain shouted for Davinia to destroy it now! Anything to stop the suffering!
Davinia restrained her destructive impulses. She caught the glint of acid-filled containers and she sensed the invisible force of a spark. Stirring, giving life to the contraption, jumping between the silences of that cantata of pain. Pulling the metal connectors, a very much relieved Davinia dropped it for later analysis.
“Promethia!” Unusual emotion burdened Sybil’s voice, her despair uncanny and disturbing. “Someone is trying to breach into my body. They silenced me, Davinia!”
Curses. Promethia’s Spark resonated violently as she drew upon the power her Name had seized from Quirinus; it manifested as a tempestuous discharge that propelled her, manipulating winds with greater affinity. She never soared at this speed!
Acropolis and mundane city behind her, Davinia darted over the serpentine path; peddler carts filled with liturgical goods and the benches of petitioners laid abandoned and upturned. Sybil’s priority was to warn and evacuate the odd Cumaenians that hung around her grotto. Promethia dove deep into the crevice that separated that Infernal place from the material mundanity.
The racket of pickaxes had destroyed any hallowed presence the site had.
“There are six of them.” Sybil seemed to have regained her eternal composure at the imminent entrance of Davinia. “Go. You have made yourself ready for this.”
That she had. Promethia started with a trick she had been practicing since her awkward attack on Veii: she warmed the air on the tunnel leading to the grotto, causing a disturbing roar to rise. Davinia finished with a flair of arms as she advanced, causing most of the moisture to leave the inner chamber.
Six, they were. Five of them carried shovels or pickaxes and they were engaged in their use, hitting anything suspicious that might reveal a passage into the inner sanctuary—or they were, until the drastic change in temperature and humidity stole the wind from their lungs. Their garb was obviously Punic: not the foolish imitation of the Veietes, not of the friendly colors of the warm diplomats and officers. Painted clay masks locked in a mocking grin covered their heads, heavy tunics of red and black their bodies, purple shawls their arms and necks.
A chill coiled around Davinia’s spine: something dangerous and foreign was threatening one of the few spaces private to her; and she hatred the disgust she felt. Her stomach turned, her shame growing as she realized the intent on those masked faces.
They would not settle this without a fight.
Promethia still resisted, discharging successive blasts of suppression air. She pushed two of the Carthaginian agents against the altar and the massive effigy honoring the Cumaenian Sybil, their clothes entangled on their tools and limbs; their companions proved themselves harder to pin: three of them folded into themselves, abandoning the realm of the concrete for the liminal domains left by collapsing quanta.
“Occultists.” Sybil and Promethia thoughts echoed; Davinia could barely hide her fearful curiosity as she rushed towards where the Punics stood merely instants before. She tried to keep moving, to focus on the half that still shared a world with her: in vain. The occultists unfolded across the grotto; the Triumphant ran right into two knives that materialized in her personal space, slashing a thigh and a flank.
Promethia rolled with the pain, cauterizing the wounds; too little, too late—they got her. The knives disappeared, reappearing in the hands of the invader that was avoiding the fight. The mask of the Carthaginian seemed to intensify its smirk; a slit rotated and expanded, revealing a bloodshot eye.
“They have a blood sorcerer.” Sybil warned; Davinia reassured her she knew how to deal with these magics.
She rammed towards the sorcerer as their fingers locked around her blood; Davinia halted, dark viscous fluid erupting from her mouth and ear—but her hemorrhage would not deny the momentum she had gathered. Triumphant and magician tumbled over each other, Davinia clumsily rolling to the side, ready for the inevitable and dreadful follow-up.
The occultists reappeared near the blood sorcerer; the latter grabbing the nearest of the former and anointing them with Davinia’s blood. As both chanted in Ancient Canaanite, Promethia rose with a fist and elbow, hitting them both. She capitalized on the surprise, pushing them towards the others: in the tangled confusion, a mad giggle—two hands reaching out to the rim of tunics and the loose ends of shawls, igniting cloth and hair.
The giggle turned into full cackle as Davinia realized the brutality of fire and blood that desecrated her surroundings. The last three combatants charged her, hoping to tackle her before she unleashed her unrestrained Spark. Too late: no finesse, no careful calculations and controls; Promethia freely lobbed fireballs at anything that moved.
Adrenaline, subdued; blood loss made the earth shake. Davinia stumbled towards the vandalized face of Sybil, finishing the desecration by throwing against her closed lips.
“Davinia.” Sybil reached out to her, with as much sweetness as her simulated voice could evoke.
“Say nothing, there is no need. You always had my back.” The Vestal shook, eyes widening as she realized how lucky she was for not killing anyone—and the terrible danger she just threw herself at. “All I want is to do the same.”
“Come inside.” The stone head slid sideways, opening a secret passage. “Let me clean your wounds.”
Davinia did not protest; she knew only chatting with Sybil was keeping her up. She just wanted to lie down and sleep.
“What in the name of starved Manes happened here?”
“They must have detected my active monitoring; I am impressed they could triangulate my main body from a few protocols.”
“And to act on it in what, a few hours?”
“That is worrisome; Carthaginian agents of considerable skill are well-integrated in Italian communities; spread enough they can appear anywhere. There is no other explanation for their swift reaction.”
Davinia forced herself to laugh.
“Sybil, they knew how to fold space itself. I refuse to give in to paranoia when there is a rational impossibility to account for this.”
Circuitry can be just as exhausted and stressed as muscle and nerves; Sybil was ready to share this moment of joyful decompression.
“We must be vigilant. Pay attention to…” Sybil had a point to make, only to be swallowed by silence.
No, not again. Davinia limped her way back to the grotto and to the entrance, steeling herself against the second round. The day darkened, seized by shadows that came not from clouds or light trickery: Aeneid loomed over Promethia. Her sullen sunken expression made her look even ghastlier than she did this morning. She wrapped her cape around the detached top of the spire which rested over her shoulders; her eyes were enshrouded, making it impossible for Davinia to see if they were Sparkful.
“Hidden in plain sight; how fitting for your type.” Davinia was not sure how the identity disrupting charm attuned to her Triumph worked with another Triumphant; since Lidia was staring at the empty air above her, the Vestal assumed it was working and Lidia saw herself. “I have seen what you did to the world and our people.”
“Aeneid, what are you doing?”
“I will end you.” She was on top of her, still talking to the air. “I be damned if I let you fester next to my city.”
“What? I love Roma as much as you do!”
“You love nothing; you’re not even real. Just a trick of light across woven glass, standing between the people and your bronzed form. Out of my way!” Lidia grabbed Promethia’s shoulder to shove her aside; a betrayed Davinia whimpered, Lidia’s eyes whitened and widened—she looked down and saw the blood spattered across her uniform and legs. She could feel her trembling under her touch, the pain and disappointment.
Lidia looked down; if out of recognition or shame, Davinia was not sure.
“You are real. You’re…” Aeneid shook, releasing Davinia; her trembling hands reached for the other woman. Wounded in so many ways, Promethia stepped back, both out of dread and to block Lidia’s progress into the grotto. “… her? Cannot be, but I… you. Let me in, please. I don’t know what that machine told you, but it is nothing but a construct of cold evil and malice! They have caused suffering in a scale unimaginable: no joy can flower while its kind remains.”
“Sybil is not like that.” Davinia calmly declared. “She is my friend.”
“That does not matter.” Lidia shouted, immediately regretting as she heard her own words. “I mean, of course that matters. But it… she is a tool of hegemony and exploitation. The amount of suffering I can prevent by dismantling her is worth any personal grief.”
Davinia was at the verge of tears.
“Who is being cold and malicious now, Aeneid? Do you wanna follow blind, detached arithmetics? Is that a state of mind you want to carry?”
That seemed to resonate with Lidia; she reached for Davinia, rejected once again. A heavy clang made Promethia turn; she stared at the top of the spire, rolling back and forth against the tunnel walls. Davinia turned in time to see Lidia reappear, covering head and neck with the cloak and walking away. Just slowly enough for fear and shock to turn into bittersweet understanding—and a pinch of regret.