I've seen the lights being snuffed out, one by one the bastions of freedom going out across the world.
Against the shadows cast by despots and tyrants, the two beacons shone all too brightly, dragging each other towards conflict. Perched atop sunken boats and broken bones, an eagle and a phoenix stood: fighting each other for their own salvation – or poisoned damnation.
Through decades of determination and sacrifice, a fitting conclusion was achieved. The purple men knelt before the race that wears the toga.
The last hero left standing after the war granted us peace, chaining the gates of Janus that signaled threats to the city. Such promise came tainted with the misguided belief that peaceful times have no need for heroes; ending my self-imposed exile I took a ship back to Rome. Accepting the price to be paid for liberty, I ended my freedom by selling myself back to the Senate and People.
I will not run anymore. For I understand that this is the only Way to herald absolute Libertas, to stay firm and fight.
And The Roman Way.
It is the way of the world that the last hero standing after a major crisis becomes the villain of those that come after him.
His armored form that towered oppressive across the sky; the red streak that was my only guise as I ran through the shops and houses. Crested, closed, black helmet; humble hood and wild pale hair. Surrounded by blue nimbus of a thunderous god; naked arms and a fist encased in a worn cestus.
Shining golden eagle paraphernalia against a single crudely hammered iron crow.
Yet, for an all too familiar Flawed Rome and a Rome That Never Was, we both struggled.
When our allies on Sicilia took to sea and piracy in an act of rebellious need, he struck them as a metallic and vengeful Jupiter Ultor, sinking their ships and burning their sails in a flash, dooming them to oblivion in the depths of the Etruscan Sea. Or so would it have played out, had I not raced across and under the waves, pulling sailors from the grasps of Salacia’s nereides and delivering them to the safety of their home-island.
What drove our friends, so loyal after the Punic War, to take sails against us? A question easily answered as I took the time to explore Sicilia. Former mercenaries roamed the triangle, stealing and extorting, establishing themselves as petty tyrants wherever a void had been created by the departure of Punic and Roman forces. Finally, something that was easy to solve with my aggressive set of skills! Quick hops and a couple of well-landed fists reminded the mercenary captains that Rome was protecting these people and their land.
Perhaps I should have paid more attention to the affairs back in Rome; while I restored order to Sicilia, my heroic compatriot gathered hostages from many of the influential Gallic people cordial to Rome .
For The Roman Way.
As the news arrived of an incoming invasion of Etruria by Gauls, he butchered the hostages among the cattle of the Forum Boarium, a ghoulish human sacrifice to assure victory against the terror of the Gaul Nightmare. As if that was not horrifying enough, he also made a show of parading in front of the legions at the consuls – the actually constitutionally elected authorities – prepared to march north. No, no freedom can be earned, no liberty can be preserved by brutal acts inspired by fear. Such a monarch-like showing of force made me diminish towards myself, focus on small but not insignificant ways that I could make Rome better and nudge Romans towards the dream of True Liberty that all humanity hungers for. Even as I keep the streets safe, fend off bandits away from the Via Appia or stand between a small child and a pack of savage dogs, I am being true to the same three maxims.
I keep fighting as I keep breathing.
It is not enough. I must aim higher.
Those were the ways that guided by friends, my teachers, my parents and my masters. My old comrades’ guiding principles. I had once abandoned them in an act of foolish rebellion, hoping to find freedom in opposition to their ideas somewhere else in the world. I might have been wrong at the time, but there were legitimate grievances hat had motivated my decision, doubts that still tormented adult me.
I need to fight for what is right, in my own way.
I could perhaps fight as they once did. Hopefully one day stand alongside others as we did once before. For Justice. For Liberty. For The Roman Way. That is a nice dream, for I keep fighting alone. If I am to keep standing on the behalf of the People and Friends of Rome, I must do so confident on my own set of principles.
Small good acts eventually pile up to make a better world. Making someone’s day better inspires them to move forward, driving them to resist the inertia that makes one complacent with evil and comfortable to tyranny. You should also enjoy yourself, keeping you well aware of your goals and familiar with the gentle emotions you want to share with the world. I know what I must do.
Make others and yourself happy.
Every blow too heavy, every unfortunate consequence and every new enemy taught me another important lesson, a simple one that I see too many people forgetting.
Above everything, cause no suffering.
I was finally ready to take my place as the protector of the Rome That Can Be instead of The One That Never Was.
Aim higher, aim the highest; not just high enough.
Until clapping thunder awoke me from my delusions.
The sky was clear even if lightning bolt after lightning bolt struck the Palatinate Hill. Curving the corners, jumping over an open gutter and diving under carts, I speed up until I was just a scarlet streak. Climbing into the rooftops and breaking tiles as I ran, I dove into an empty atrium in order to lose momentum and left the house through the entry facing the Forum. Even with my skills it was torturous to navigate the mob that was fleeing the scene, as more and more thunderous strikes found home in the doors of the Temple of Saturn.
Closing in, I was able to fully take in the situation. The purple hoods of the men cowering behind the cover of the sacred gates identified them as pro-Punic activists, the bags of silver they carried justified their presence inside the Treasury. There was someone else with them, some patrician-looking young woman, poorly restrained and struggling against their attempts to capture her.
Another thunderbolt drew my attention towards the skies.
There he was, our great war hero.
His face hidden behind an ebony helmet fused to a silvery face mask representing an irate divinity with curled mustache and beard, his body protected by a lorica musculata scorched and engraved with two wolves fighting riverside. You could only see the vague silhouette of his limbs, surrounded by electric blue nimbus.
I was so afraid my heart almost froze, taking all my resolve to steel myself. I stopped running and looked around, realizing some of the people have stopped trying to escape the Forum, instead lingering on, cheering and chanting.
- Quirinus Fulminator Niger! He has come to save us! - An adolescens shouted. - Burn everything, Quirinus! Burn! Them! All! Death to the punics!”
Terror took over the terrorists actions, causing them to make a run for it. Two of them were instantly fulminated. Quirinus lifted his stormy hand once again, ready to lob another thunderbolt.
Make others and yourself happy.
Above all, cause no suffering.
I was starting to see the problems of my new ethos as I raced lightning itself, grabbing one of the terrorists and speeding away from the Forum. For a moment I dared to breath in relief, believing I was too fast for Quirinus to even see me. I turned to check on him, only to see the patrician hostage from before waving for me to continue running.
Another second more would be a second too late, the tips of my hair singed from a graze. He was flying behind me, giving me chase, an ultimately futile effort; nobody could match my speed even with this villainous burden. Of course, he would bring buildings down and accidentally wound or even kill innocents while trying to prevent my escape.
I would have to stand against a fellow “hero” of the “Republic”.
Throwing the confused purple temple robber against a refuse cart, I ran up the walls of the neighboring shops and jumped the top of a usury office. Quirinus was already aiming the man I had dropped, so I rushed even further, standing a mere dozen of feet from him, I threw myself as high as I could, pulling my right arm and concentrating all my strength and momentum into my cestus. Finally noticing me, Fulminator Niger turned his masked face towards me, too late to evade me and just enough to perfectly align my punch. It was with delight that I felt the silver soften with my blow, a chin breaking beneath my infamous right.
My violent joy was short-lived. I punched Quirinus out of the sky and into the roof of some unfortunate shopkeeper, however, my own descent was anything but graceful; I could either fall like a rock or stumble against buildings, trying to slow my fall at the expense of someone’s propriety.
Bird-eye view of the Forum offered me a unique perspective; it drew my attention away from my personal woes and towards the damage caused by the Fulminator Niger indiscriminate lightning strikes, as spilled olive oil from some of the shops was ignited and threatened to start a small inferno.
Drawing upon my celerity I guided myself towards the crumbling and burning buildings, damaging them as I hit them. Inside one of them I saw a child trapped underneath a stone basin. I pulled the kid out and ran in circles around the fire, expelling the elemental air and starving it out. Blazes suffocating, I gave in to exhaustion and released the children. Still dizzy and lightheaded, I recovered enough sense to remind myself that I should present the kid with a warm reassuring smile.
The brat clenched the tips of my mantle with both hands and spat against my chest.
Right. Reality check.
The real hero was digging himself out. Without any purple-hood in sight or civilians in danger, I had my fill of ingratitude and Quirinus Fulminator Niger vengeful anger.
So I ran.
I ran as fast as I could, I ran across the entire Via Appia, I ran until I was at the gates of Capua.
Finally collapsing underneath an olive tree I allowed myself to rest. I closed my eyes and smiled at the thought of the whiplash of bucolic peace and the urban chaos that I had just faced. I am fine with this. I am fine. I upheld my five tenets, that was enough, right?
I was fine.
When I opened my eyes hours later, an enormous crow stared back at me with sparkling ruby eyes.
- I am not running away – I mumbled, tripping over my words. - I am not going to run away.
The crow leaned closer and turned its head around, cawing as if doubting my sincerity.
- Seriously. You are not getting rid of me so easily. It is just impossible to do this alone, I need help.
The bird jumped on my lap and I petted its feathers in gratitude. It was not a meaningless gesture; if a Crow of the Underworld was here, it could only mean the Shadow Senate approved of my actions and supported my claim as a Hero of the Republic. I was a Corvus once. Now I am the last of the Corvii.
Maybe that should change.
Starting with Quirinus Fulminator Niger.
- Tell me, my infernal friend: how does one kill an idea?