Chapter 1: The Assumption
I own nothing but my OC.
August 15, 2014Vatican City, Rome, Italy
"Well, now I finally know what it's like to celebrate a mass in the basilica." Amaryllis commented as she and Valeria exited St. Peter's together, squinting slightly as they walked out into the bright sunlight. She had been living in Rome for over half a year, but she had never actually been to a mass at the famous church until now. The last time she ventured into this city with her father, they had passed up the basilica to see the Sistine Chapel and the rest of the Vatican museums.
"Ah, I'm so glad to be out in the open after being stuck in that stuffy church for so long!" Her Roman friend exclaimed, stretching her arms out. The faithful had been packed tightly into the church like a mass of sardines.
"It was your idea." Amaryllis reminded her, raising an eyebrow.
"Yeah, but only because I forgot how overcrowded it would be since today is the day of the Assumption of Mary, a holy day of obligation." Valeria replied with a shrug. "We should have gone to a less famous church today and saved the basilica for another. But enough complaining! Let's find a gelato vendor, and then we can go see the rest of the city while we're here." She suggested on a brighter note.
"Sounds like a plan." Amaryllis agreed with a grin as they linked arms to cross the vast square together.
As they stood in line for their gelato, the pop music playing over the old, beat-up radio on the vendor's cart started to go on the fritz. The song was interrupted by static and noise.
"Basta!" The vendor snapped at the faulty radio, hitting it with the palm of his hand to try to get it to play again.
"It's probably the solar flares." The middle-aged and pasty-skinned tourist with hints of a sunburn, who was standing in front of them, commented to his plump wife. "I heard on the news last night that they're acting up today."
"Are they really?" His wife asked with feigned interest as she fanned herself and stared with longing at the cool gelato being served to the people at the front of the line.
"Yes." The man said, nodding to himself. "The newscaster said they only reach this level about once every five-hundred years, so be sure to wear plenty of sunscreen, dear." He cautioned her.
"I wonder if that's why my phone claims to have no signal?" Valeria said thoughtfully, causing Amaryllis to glance back at her and see that she had already pulled it out only to have her attempts at texting thwarted by lack of signal.
"Suffering withdrawal already?" Amaryllis asked with a wry smile. "I swear, you're like an addict with that thing."
"You can't swear, we're in the Vatican." Valeria teased with a rueful smile.
"They used to do worse than that within the walls of this city…" Amaryllis reminded her with an impish smirk.
"I know." Valeria said with a smirk of her own. "I was born in Rome, remember? Throughout history, this city has been home to both sinner and saint. Speaking of which, have you seen the Borgia apartments? Pope Alexander VI might've been a bastard, but he had good taste in art in and architecture."
"Now who's swearing?" Amaryllis remarked, smiling wryly and shaking her head as they stepped up to order. "I have, actually, but I wouldn't mind seeing them again. They're so extravagant, I barely had time to take in all the detail with the guide rushing us from one room to the next."
August 15, 1491The city of Rome
Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia let out a heavy sigh. Although Pope Innocent XIII had been bedridden for several weeks due to an illness of uncertain nature, the old man was now once again up and about.
"Will I never be pope?" He asked his son Cesare as they paced the courtyard of St. Peter's Basilica, near the Fontana della Pigna.
"Take care, father. These walls have eyes and ears." Cesare advised carefully in a low voice. It was even more crowded than usual in and around the church, if that was at all possible.
"Yes, yes." Rodrigo said, lowering his own voice to match his son's tone. "It's this blasted heat that riles my temper and fouls my mood. Is it just me, or are the Italian sun's rays even stronger than usual today?"
"The sun feels the same to me as it always does this time of year." Cesare replied calmly.
"Oh, well... Perhaps I am getting old." Rodrigo said a bit grudgingly. "Sometimes I fear I myself shall die of old age before I ever have the chance to become pope… I think I shall retreat to the shade for now." He said with another sigh, leaving his son behind as he headed back indoors.
"And I fear I shall die wearing this collar." Cesare mused somberly to himself in low voice as he crossed his arms behind his back and stared down into the crystal clear water of the fountain's basin, watching the light dance on its surface.
"Oh, you cannot be serious." Amaryllis deadpanned, stopping abruptly in front of the Fontana della Pigna, when she spotted an unwanted face across the courtyard. They were in the Courtile della Pigna now.
"Is that Teresa?" Valeria asked, squinting, as she shielded her eyes from the sun. "What is she doing here? She the only thing 'cultured' she that likes is pearls." As if she had heard them, Valeria's unwelcome cousin turned her head and looked right at them. She narrowed her eyes briefly at Amaryllis before turning her attention to Valeria, staring expectantly at her.
"Does she expect you to go over to her or something?" Amaryllis asked, rolling her eyes at the older girl's hostility.
"Apparently." Valeria said with a sigh. "I guess I'd better go see what her highness wants."
"Can't we just ignore her? She might be nice to you, but she hates my guts." Amaryllis said.
"That's because you stand up to her." Valeria replied. "I only put up with her because she's family. Ugh, wait here. I need to go and get this over with, or I'll have to listen to her bitching to our parents about how I ignored her when our families get together this Sunday…" She grumbled as she grudgingly trudged over to greet her obnoxious cousin, deciding to spare her friend the verbal abuse.
"Heh. Good luck." Amaryllis called after her friend, whose posture resembled that of a wary soldier marching into battle. She watched the two cousins talk for a minute, but just watching Valeria have to put up with Teresa made her feel sympathetically annoyed, so she turned away to look at the fountain. The way the light reflected off of the water was beautiful, but she couldn't understand what the sculptor was thinking when they decide to put that huge bronze pine cone on top. The two bronze peacocks that were framing it on the sides were nice, but… Seriously, why the pine cone? She remembered hearing something about how it used to be in a courtyard in the old basilica before it was torn down and rebuilt in the early 1600s, but the pine cone had already been part of it then.
Amaryllis was so deep in thought as she stood there staring at it, searching her brain for a fact the guide might have mentioned last time that might help explain this odd choice of ornament, that she didn't notice when Valeria returned and began carefully sneaking up on her from behind.
"Gotcha!" Valeria shouted triumphantly as she jabbed her ticklish friend in the side, amused when the startled Amaryllis let out a yelp of surprise as she jumped about a foot in the air, tripped over the edge of the fountain, and toppled into its basin with a big splash. "Ahaha! I got you good that time! You should know better than to let your guard down around me." Valeria said, grinning broadly, as she laughed. Her laughter died down when she realized Amaryllis wasn't coming back up for air. Had she hit her head? "… Amaryllis?" Valeria's eyes widened in shock when she leaned over the edge to check on her friend and saw that the fountain was completely empty. Her jaw dropped. Her friend was gone! Amaryllis had completely, utterly, and inexplicably vanished without a trace...