Close Shave

Nobody was ready for Marcus Considius’s shop to once again be open. Rumours claimed him to be dead and the brutal peace installed by Germanicus on the Aventine allowed an illusion of normality to creep in. Most people would prefer to believe that resistance was over and that they could proceed with their miserable lives, trying to rebuilt something from the ruins of their suffering.

A life that included avoiding anything to do with the Considii.

His status as pariah did not last long. The olive oil lantern that Marcus lit every night attracted those that had everything taken by the remodelling of the Aventine. The word quickly spread among the plebs, the barbershop becoming a site of asylum and a focal point to a new sort of resistance. Clients slowly returned, knowing that any dramatic plan would come from between those four walls. Nothing would be worse than to be caught unaware of a new wave of troubles.

“I don’t know if I will accept working as a porter at the port.” Declares the first client of the day, an Etrurian refugee just arrived to Rome. A growing group of plebeians sat at the entrance of the barbershop.

“Caecinus, you work as a carrier for how many, five or six different patricians?” Considius pointed out as he sharpened his blades. “At a certain point, what is even the difference?”

“Everything! There are faces, names, whole identities driving every single task. It is not simply a job, it is a purpose for my life.”

“And being a porter would give you that? It is hard but honest work, a way to contribute to the State with sweat instead of blood.” The cold blades brushed against the warm skin of Caecinus, the dextrous fingers of Considius perfectly matching the facial curves and his expressive muscles.

“There is little dignity in working for pay. Is that what I want to be seen as? Caecinus, the porter; all the richness of the nature of a Roman citizen is reduced to this.”

“If you put things that way, I can easily see your dilemma.” And so laughed the man that above all was known as tonsore, followed by the tonsore of the Aventino and only finally allowed to be Considius. “It eludes me how one may preserve their sense of self when they are turned into a face and a profession.”

“Exactly, tonsore.” The other plebeian continued with his lamentations. “I do not want to be known for my work, I want to be remembered by the things that I am able to achieve in my moments of leisure.”

“Enough crying, Caecinus.” One of the men waiting patiently for his turn shouted. “We are what we do, not what we want to be! If you spend most of your day carrying grain and bricks for them and another, you are a porter and a porter is what you are going to be! If you want to be anything else, spend more hours working on that.

Caecinus span on his seat, rewarded with a scratch and a scarlet line along the cheek. Each plebeian stared the other down, a moment of tension quickly disarmed by loud laughter from Considius’ stubbornly complaining client.

“Then you should call me Caecianus Somnus, for what I do more than anything is sleep!” Cries in support joined this statement. Surrounded by laughter and an empowering wave of human comfort, Considius once more attacked the beard.

The mood of casual friendship was interrupted by the arrival of a tall and ripped man, caressing his beautiful curly hair as his penetrating green eyes inspected the interior of the shop. He entered, three construction workers with unfriendly faces escorting Considius’ client back to the streets of Rome.

Germanicus sat down at the barber’s bench, waving with one hand so the tonsore approached while

stroking his three-days beard.

“That boulder was lighter than I expected, Considius. You actually made all the way to the top and back.” Lemurs whispered, their words taunting Marcus, trying to inspire violence. Lost in diverging thoughts, the fingers of the man jumped between the various tools of his craft. The crime lord rambled on. “It is strange to have you back, especially when your miraculous recovery correlates with the death of my great friend, Titus Annius. A life paid for another, perhaps? The ways of the gods are capricious and a proper person should not linger too much when guessing what goes on infernal reason.”

Silence felt upon the store, Considius failing in providing a reaction. The lack of words seemed to provide Germanicus with what him required, as the man smiled as he fixed his gaze towards the plebeian and indicated his beard.

“My position demands a certain level of reasonable cruelty, as you witness first hand. Needs aside, that does not mean I am unable to feel sympathy for your or those that you aimed to represent.” The leader of the collegium continued. “There is no need to prolong bad blood and conflicts beyond what is strictly needed, an example has already been made and both parties have already lost enough. I think we all learned a lesson about Concordia and harmony; what happened, happened, and we must move on.”

Marcus Considius did not give a reply, his callous hand gripping the left shoulder of the other man, his routine gestures instinctive and automatic. He raised his fingers towards the beard, crudely measuring it as he selected the right tool. He first leaned towards a shining blade, sharpened a few moments before, but a lemur limb offered him a blunt and rusty set of scissors instead. The spirits of the Underworld refused to be silenced, theirs the only voices that Considius was still listening to.

If Germanicus was still waiting for an answer, he kept it well hidden, eyes locked on Considius and his scissor as if daring to be challenged. From his point of view a relation of dominance and submission was being established, the tonsore a broken man that had been dragged down to his proper place. The crime lord felt the rising tension as Considius reached for the back of his neck, a tap indicating for him to turn his head to the front. Feeling the scissors pressed against his cheek and Considius starting to work, a satisfied Germanicus allowed himself to relax, closing the eyes to a supposed impotence of the barber.

System shock made him open his mouth, desperately gasping for air.

The Tribune of Shades pinned him down with inhuman strength, keeping Germanicus steady on his bench, all while digging on his neck with the closed scissors. As the tides of pain seized his reality, Germanicus understood the malice behind the choice. Considius was not going to kill him immediately, instead slowly and cruelly tearing and shredding a path until the jugular, maximizing suffering. Without many options and tears on his eyes, the crime lord tried to call for his men, delirium making him see living shadows strangling them.

With a horrid wet sound, the tonsore pulled out his scissor, a gush of blood covering his face and clothing. Germanicus was livid, as if ready to fade away.

“These are the only terms that I accept.” Considius hissed. “Your death and your secrets.”

The scissor descended with violence. Iron shards flew as it broke, forcing him to close his eyes. To much of his surprised, he opened them to find no sign of Germanicus. In his stead, a tall blond woman, her cloak torn by the blade, her skin untouched and unbroken. As she turned on her seat in order to share a cocky smile, Considius noticed that someone had freed Germanicus’ thugs and spirited them away.

“Marcus Considius, I presume.” The woman raised her hand as a greeting. “I heard about your new responsibilities and came to present myself to my latest…

She did not get to finish the phrase, interrupted by a ferocious punch that projected her out of her seat. Still clasping the ruined scissors, the Tribune of Shades pointed forcefully, his entire body shaking with anxiety. His eyes seemed to brim with power, losing colour and becoming a mesh of heavy grey and bronze; lemurs answered to the emotional call, shrouding him in his spectral armour of curses.

“I am Aeneid.” Lidia announced, adopting a pugilism stance and raising her fists.

“I do not care.” Considius growled with clenched teeth. “Germanicus was my prey, it was my right. What did you do with him?”

“Germanicus? Oh yes, you mean Pleuratus. Ridiculous name and awful taste, however, Rome has nothing to gain with his death. You do not gain anything.

“Where he is!” The Umbrae Tribunus charged towards Aeneid, howling his demands. “His acts against the Aventine and my family warrant all sorts of punishments and then more!

A cascade of tentacles tried to grab Lidia, the woman limiting to dodge, refusing to touch them or get closer to Considius. With her impressive speed, it would be all too easy to abandon the scene and escape, however, he always remained only two steps further than what was strictly needed, goading the lemurs hungry for celestial touch to stretch themselves thin, but never enough to force Considus to close the gap.

“Horrible and unforgivable things have been occurring on your corner of the Urbe. Pleuratus might have done all his dead on the behalf of another, but he is only the lackey of great powers. He is more dangerous to them alive than dead.

“What do you understand about what he did to us, guided by that patrician logic?” Considius finally advanced, spectres consuming almost all light in the interior of the shop. The walls seemed to contract and expand, with the effect of turning the barbershop impossible large. Recognizing the interference between their two Triumphs, Aeneid prepared herself against dangerous eventualities; Umbrae Tribunus exploited this moment of hesitation to waylay Lidia towards a corner, joining hundreds of lemurs in a single fist of darkness.

“Tsh, tsh.” Aeneid let go, frowning eyebrows and biting her tongue as she regained her classic smile. As the spectral punch descended, she jumped, impelled by her Triumphant celerity, knee meeting Considius’ stomach and kicking him out of the shop. It was easy to turn the conflict into a speed race without further obstacles, pushing the other Triumphant through streets down the hill, quick punches followed by sudden sprints. Cornering Marcus against a dead-end wall, grabbing the man and leaning her brow against this.

“Is this the face of privilege?” A short shake-up. “I know what it is to lose everything, I know how tempting it is to punch your way out of misery. Will you listen to me now?”

As way of response, Considius pulled his head back to prepare a head-butt. With an audible sight Lidia pre-emptively struck him, an equal measure counter-attack.

“I will admit, you are a strong one. But strength is not authority and I am surrounded by the fears and hopes of the people!” The shadow of Considius’ on the wall developed a new silhouette, lemurs feeding it into something titanic, singing a remembrance for the mortality of Lidia and trying to supress her Triumph. It was dangerous, the legitimacy granted to Umbrae Tribunus contesting Aeneid and trapping her in that world vision.

Such threats only made Lidia’s goal even more clear.

Sparks surrounded her eyes and feet, spectres once again shrouding Considius’ face. The Tribune of Shadows attempted to flank Lidia with an attack in two fronts, fists covered in lemurs in an imitation of Aeneid’s cestus, other spectres animating a copy made of living shadow. The alley distorted into the tunnels of the Underworld, the woman well aware that she would have a single chance and hesitation was a luxury she could not afford. She grabbed the man and threw him to the ground, ignoring the shade and making haste towards the main streets.

The chase continued, the lemurs did not give up the hunt and inspired Considius to speed up, lending him more of their power. Aeneid accelerated just enough to stay at the horizon, a prize impossible to catch up to. Arriving to the walls of Rome, she was forced to slow down, inspecting for possible exits or a way to avoid the insane traffic, ubiquitous to the gates of the Urbe.

Marcus Considius approached from the top, tentacles raising him like cables, penetrating the walls and pushing him towards them. More shadows took over the day, warning the woman about the urgency of retreat. An inelegant solution presented itself, inviting Lidia to run across the wall. And so, she acted upon, only to find her path cut down by lemurs. Tongue sticking out, gained impulse by kicking the cold stone and jumped, trying to surprise Marcus through the air.

A shadow whip struck her face, tearing her hood. Lemurs drank her blood, lifting her with a greedy cut across her nose.

“For a moment I thought you to be untouchable.” Consdius stopped for a moment to congratulate himself. One of the lemurs still held what remained of the broken scissors, pointing them towards Lidia.

“I take good care of my skin. Lower those shades and I can share some tips with you!” She shouted, landing own a low roof and cleaning the blood.

“As a fighting taunt that is pretty lacking.” A new exchange of blows followed suit, forcing Aeneid to jump between buildings to dodge.

“What provocation? My offer was as sincere as they go.” A loose tile made Lidia slip, forcing her to awkwardly tumble back to ground level. Considius got too close, fists raised. Dropping her dominant hand in a hook only to suddenly rise it straight towards Umbrae Tribunus’ chin. Such concentrated violence would ruin to day of anyone, even that of a Triumphant.

“Wait one second, I recognize that manoeuvrer!” The stunned Considius recognized her despite her pale completion. “You are Lidia Bella.”

“That pun is something I regret every single day.” Aeneid gifted him a smile. “It is always a pleasure to meet a fan.”

“Fan? I lost the earnings of two months because of you!”

“Lesson one, Considius.” Lidia raised one finger and wiggled it around. “Never bet against me!”

The conflict between the two Triumphant seemed to be getting to a close for a moment, grey abandoning Considius’ eyes. The lemurs do not share the same feeling, still sensing the celestial promises that sprouted from the Triumph incarnated in Lidia. Spurned, they delivered another attack, so unexpected that it made Aeneid quiver.

“The spectres are still furious, I do not know what is going on!”

“They just remember me, everything is fine.” Aeneid forced her most confident smile, hiding the pain that she felt. “Follow me, Considius, do not spare me for one second or they can turn against you. Such is the burden of the Infernii.

They climbed the walls together, trading blows all the way. The lemurs looked more and more eager, failing to be hampered by human limitations; Lidia looked more and more tired, unwilling to lose more of herself to the Triumph. Marcus grew more worried, hoping that whatever was the plan of Lidia, it was good enough.

To his surprise she jumped from the walls down to a trash and dejections pile, crossing on her tip toes over the sewers and stopping at the borders between city, road and fields. An astonished Marcus observed as she scratched a line on the grass with the right foot.

The spectres slithered behind the woman, ignoring the excrement of civilization, once again arming Considius with lemurs and animating a shadowy duplicate.

Aeneid lifted her palm and challenged him to advance, cocky smile and all.

Umbrae Tribunus crossed over the line, Marcus Considus arrived to the other side. The lemurs were not able to pass through, remaining bound to him through a spectral umbilical cord that slowly withered away when encountering sunlight. Under the implacable will of Apollo the lemurs moaned as they got separated from Marcus and dragged back to the Underworld.

“You are a Tribune, Considius.” Lidia explained to the confused barber. “The powers entrusted to you are the same as your orthologues, they do not extend beyond the sacred limits of Rome. Without the authority, the lemurs elected you for, nothing anchors them to the world of the living and there is nothing left to them besides surrendering to the fact.

Marcus nodded, believing that made sense for the most part, despite the events with Atticus suggesting that there were exceptions to the rule. Lifting his head up, he noticed the shadows that darted across the ground, reshaping the duplicate of Umbrae Tribunes. Aeneid’s expression was genuinely impressed.

- Amazing, how so little of my blood was enough to keep them cohesive?

The woman disappeared.

The shadow-tribune turned to the barber, the expression on his empty face composed of silent spectres that was impossible to read. Fearing the worst, Considius did not hide his relief to see a cestus going through the duplicate, followed by Aeneid. The eyes of the woman had disappeared behind scarlet and alabaster blurs, colouring her gestures with an inhuman aura. The lemurs finally dispersed, she regained her usual expression as Marcus instinctively grabbed something that had collided against his chest. He found himself starting down towards an amphora of wine from Bruttium.

“I know that my motivations might not make much sense to you.” Aeneid held her hand out, offering a cup. “Fear and hope, you say, but above all fear. Good sense of purpose, but a reactive one; I focus only in one thing. Avoid suffering.”

“I’m sorry, friend.” Considius helped himself to the wine. “Did you take a good look at the Urbe?”

Lidia pulled the hood up in order to hid the loose of her smile.

“Sometimes there is no path for happiness, only choices between major or minor suffering. Pleuratus must live for now.” He looked sadly towards Umbrae Tribunes, while discretely Marcus put a leg behind the line previously marked, lemurs gradually responding to the call and preparing for an eventual offensive. “I know what he did, I know of his involvement in the disappearance of your family. Much as yourself, Considius, I am someone that has to see the world beyond my fists; someone smarter than either of us will be required to solve this delicate trap.”

“I must try.” Exchange of nods showed how both agreed on that. “Above all I cannot distract myself with banalities.”

“I know.” Lidia breathed in. “The Shadow Senate wishes to replace you, there is a kid in training that will be adopted and take your place. I saw enough of you to conclude that you are a touchstone for the plebs and a pillar of the community. I want to help you maintain this position, but for that you must start to act with the acumen that the office demands. If even I manage to learn anything, how easy it will be for Marcus Considius?

“You are a good woman, Lidia.”

“Am I? I am this close to start a war. Talk about avoiding suffering. Tell me, Umbrae Tribunus; how much your blood boil for the opportunity to dethrone an oppressor?”