Lanterns lit the sky. They were like floating fires, distinct and free, twinkling with jolly as they dotted the obscure veil of darkness that should have been the sky. Quirinus sighs, removing his gaze from the sky.
What was it now? Lychnapsia? Pelusia? Or maybe Brumalia? He never paid attention to witch festivities, such paltries. He never cared. Not when a politician's time was of money. But the lanterns elevating deeper into the sky gave him a much needed hint for when he needed to play his part.
“Witches and they’re religious zeal.” He muttered under his breath, glancing with pinched eyes at the buoyant kids fluttering about, moving and flailing their arms to catch one of the lanterns a witch cloaked in crimson is sending to the rest lighting the sky. They lock eyes with him, and instantly dropped their arms. Quirinus flashes his teeth. The kids scamper away. Then he truly smiles, inhaling in the remnants of the kids’ fear still plaguing the warm air.
However, the booth draped with crimson curtains comes into view, and Quirinus automatically straightens. He takes one more look at the lanterns hovering over his head, pulled deeper into the embrace of the starless night, then slips on his love-sick smile, initiating the beginning of his character. Right then does he feel the fortune of being a politician, how easy it’s made it for him to shed skins and tell different truths to whoever’s desperate enough to listen.
His eyes catch on the figure huddling by the booth. As he steps under the lantern lit directly above her head, the delicate features of the witch transform from stone to a radiant smile. A love-sick smile. Quirinus memorizes the expression on her face, and slips his same exact one on. To love-sick couples in a ridiculous night of manmade stars.
“Quirinus.” Claudia sighs when he approaches, stomping on whatever rules propriety held against her. Instantly, she engulfs him into an embrace. She sighs against him as she inhales him in, pressing the side of her face tightly to his chest. Bored to death from the monotonous routine she constantly greets him with, he reminds himself it’s soon to be over, and hugs her back. His forced warmth goes unnoticed by, her earnesty compensating for the lack of his that it doesn’t show.
“Quirinus, you’ve the slightest clue of how dearly I missed you.” Claudia whispers desperately into the night, and Quirinus reflects the exact despair in her eyes in his own. To maximize the effect of his longing gaze, he cradles her fragile hands in the strong palms of his, bringing her closer to whisper endearingly, “I’m afraid I’ve longed for you further more. Sleepless nights went by when I did not cease to dream of your eyes.”
Her shoulders slump at the delicacy of his gaze, the gentle tug on her heart by his eyes, the heat in them, how it’s swirling around her to enchant her deeper into his trap. The irony: where the true powerful enchanter is beguiled by the norm, by the human, by the politician who is soon to share her power and be the greatest politician of all. The only politician standing. The only last step to achieve his glory comes now, more dire than ever. He needs to seal the deal, now.
With green orbs deeper than emerald, Quirinus lets warmth adorn his features, cradle his eyes, as he pretends to look around them in a hurry, pulling her in with a hush. “Dearest Claudia, I’m afraid I can no longer continue such meetings.” Quirinus pauses, making sure the silence ringing with alarm bells take its toll on her. Claudia’s breath hitches, her heart visibly sinks considering the state of her face, and Quirinus deems it sufficient to continue.
“The Foedus has been alarmed. They’re after me, and my heart compels me to leave you out of the dangers entailing me.”
Claudia’s grip over his hands tightens, causing the brief shock to pull on his eyebrows, but it’s a brief second before his features melt back to their concern. “I’m a powerful witch, Quirinus. High Priestess of the Wiccan coven. They cannot touch me.” While the insides of Quirinus’s deep dark intentions rejoice, he makes sure his mask of agony and love remains intact.
“Still, my eternal love, I cannot risk it. I cannot, will not, forgive myself if your health, wellbeing reaches compromise because of me. Even if it means the death of all that breathes within me, all that calls out your name in longing. I must end this before they reach you.”
Claudia’s lips tremble, her grip over his hands tightening until he feels her nails break into his flesh. “Hear me now, Quirinus, son of Marcellus. I will not allow this.”
Quirinus internally smirks, every limb aching for power within him tingling with the excitement, with the anticipation. It is now, the moment of truth, the moment he’s been waiting for all these agonizing months, months of slyly catching the fiercest, most cold-blooded High Priestess of the most powerful coven, wrapping her around his finger, bending her to his will without her knowing it. Finally, he will reach the power he righteously deserves. He’s worked hard to earn it, and now he reaps what he sows.
“I will not stand around and have them tear you away from me. You are mine, son of Marcellus, and I am yours. Our hearts call for each other, and the Foedus will not have a say in us. In our future.”
Quirinus allows himself to display fear, tremble with fright, lowering his voice to a tender hush. “But how, my love? How can a mere politician stand in the way of the Floedus? You must understand, Claudia. I’m powerless against them. I have come to agreement with my fate. However, I will not compromise yours.” He says it with such affection, such devotion, that the first of her tears spill when he pulls away his hands.
“Dearest Claudia, owner of my heart and all that is within me, I bid you farewell.”
He moves to walk away from her, turn his footsteps around and walk the path of feigned heartache and no returns, when the first sob breaks out. His ears catch it, his smile stretches.
He takes his first step away, but a hand grips him hard. “No!”
He turns to find her staring at him, bewildered and outraged, desperate and anguished, yearning glittering her tears and eyes. “No, Quirinus. I won’t let you leave. Not with my heart in your hands.”
“You must understand. The Floedus will bring me down. They forbid any relations with covens. They will not understand the love between us. They will be the end of me.”
She takes a determined, deep sniffle. “No they will not. Not when you’re the head of the Floedus, almighty and most powerful.”
Now, the hummings inside Quirinus truly buzz with triumph. He doesn’t allow it to appear. Instead, he pushes his eyebrows into the doubtful, reluctant fear of what Claudia promises. “What do you mean, Claud?” His nickname for her, carefully inserted, does the trick. Her determination strengthens, like the plan has finally taken form and clicked in her head. “Yes, dearest Quirinus. I will lend you power. I will make you the greatest. I will raise you so high above them, no one can bring you down. No one.”
Before the finality of it all, the dreams drawn and carefully strewn together take a real form before him, a loud sharp clap sounds from the side. And it is not from Claudia.
“Well, well, well. If that wasn’t one spectacular show.”
For a second, Claudia’s insides queeze with the fear of the stranger being a Floedus member, but the shadow steps out of the dark, and Claudia stares agape, torn between horror and offence.
“What are you doing here?” Claudia hisses in spite, Quirinus allowing himself the irritation Xander gets out of them both. Xander pushes himself off the booth’s wall, he crimson cloak brighter in the light.
“Clearly stopping you from haunting fiascos, obviously.”
Claudia huffs, pointing away as if in an order. “Run along now, Xander. This is none of your business.” Moments like these, when Claudia is all in power and control, get Quirinus appreciative, excited even. But he is in it for a certain cause, his own agenda.
Claudia’s pointed out her order, but Xander doesn’t follow. The humor on his handsome face falls away. “But is, dearest Claudia,” Xander seethes mockingly, stepping closer to them both, “Not when a fraudlent, rotten politician claims a lover of yours in hopes of your powers.”
Quirinus’s temper flares, and it isn’t an act this time. “How dare you call me such insolent accusations!”
Claudia splays a hand to Quirinus’s chest, stopping him from approaching Xander, while she does exactly that. “How dare you meddle into the privacy of your High Priestess!”
“It is exactly that, why I meddle in the firs place!”
Quirinus pulls Claudia aside, determined to keep her in his bubble, in his line of defense, in his trance. With feverish eyes, he looks deeply into her. “You can not believe him, Claud. I have not sought anything from your kind soul. It is your soul that reached out to me.”
“Oh, cut the bollox. It is easy to claim love for anyone.”
Claudia snaps her gaze to Xander, pointed with annoyance. Quirinus returns her gaze back to him, her face cupped in his hands.
“Don’t listen to him, Claud. I can see in him the lust for you, but not the endearment I hold for you.” She softens in his hold, and the split second of fear, that it was all for nothing, that his bluff has been called, ceases away.
But then Xander steps closer, pulling all of them back to the origins of it all, tracing back the roots of Quirinus’s approach to her. “Have you not wondered, ever, High Priestess, why a politician would be endowed with a witch at all? We are the spawns of the devil to them, aren’t we? But we are also the most in power. The most powerful of all, that is why politicians hate us, fear us. We are untouchable, and so is the goal of this fraudulent bastard.”
“I haven’t asked, not once, for an ounce of power. How could you be so sure of my intentions?” Quirinus spits out, his veins probing from under his pale skin.
Xander flashes a devilish smile, and it was at that moment, that the witch became the devil, and Quirinus was the spawn, the little powerless prey. His fears, with the next uttering of Xander’s words, were blown into with a hissing breath of life.
“Because, my dear friend, I have just put you under a divulgence spell. Something my High Priestess must’ve neglected to call. However, you are here now, and you will be spouting your true intentions after all.”
Dread slashes at Quirinus’s throat, his blood spilling out along with his ambitions and small victories. Dread has clutched Quirinus in a chokehold, and no breath comes out of him.
“T-That shouldn’t be allowed. No citizen must be cast into a spell.”
Sharp knives replace Xander’s smiling lips, and the world seems to tilt when Quirinus gives Claudia a fleeting look of reassurance. Claudia remains silent, protesting nothing. Before he could stop it, Xander orders.
And then he opens his mouth, eyes widening with horror as the secrets keep spilling, and no hand to clamp them down, no amount of sheer will-power to drown them out. His secrets are out in the open, and so will be his demise.
“I have approached the High Priestess with the intention of entrancing her with endearment, gaining her affections and armoring her with undying love for me that if asked, she transfers to me power.”
Quirinus screams into the sky, clawing at his face and mouth to stop himself from talking, from admitting, but the confession doesn’t stop.
“I have never harbored any affections to the High Priestess. In fact, every second I had to be around her drained me out, made me sick to the stomach. How gullible and weak the High Priestess of the Wiccan Coven turned out to be. So much for her rumors.”
Saints. He’s never believed in Gods or Saints. But right this moment, he would pray to anything up there in the sky that would listen to him. Anything that could save him out of this.
When the spell is over, and Xander deems Quirinus humiliated enough, Quirinus falls to his knees from the sheer power of the spell and its toll on him. He gasps for his breath, gasps from his battered dignity and once-brilliant plan, the silence stretching around him screeching and ringing in his ears.
After a baited breath, he dares a look upside.
Claudia looks down on him, and that alone has him raging. He, almighty Quirinus, son of Marcellus, would not be looked down upon. The moment from his childhood where he fought the odds to step on the people who stepped on him on his flight to glory, he swore to never be in this position again. Getting looked down upon. But the anger deflates in him when a visible cloud of vengeful vapor lingers around Claudia’s head, more specifically, her eyes. Her eyes, from a sky blue to a rich spiteful bitter black, more dreadful than the void of black in the sky.
This Claudia in front of him, now, is no longer the Claudia that has gazed hopelessly into his eyes. Seconds ago, she would not let his hands go as he bid her goodbye. Now, it is the fearful Claudia, the High Priestess of the Wiccan Coven, that truly stands before him. The one other humans whispered about, clinging to the walls and their shadows if she passed by, their fear of her all too palpable and consuming.
And he has angered the beast. Poked at it and beckoned it awake.
“You have dared plot against the High Priestess of the Wiccan coven. You have dared insult my very presence, you have dared to seek unrightfully power for your own, and you have dared to use my kind heart and soul for your own agenda. You have risked your own self, and thus, you deserve no life.”
Quirinus’s breath quivers, and his hands holding him up, buckle down.
This can’t be his end. This must not be how he goes down. He’s played out his future hundreds and thousands of times before, but it was never this path that he imagined. They all held timeless, imperishable glory, luxury, and power.
But never this. Never the humiliation he started with, never the threat of ending his life. For this very reason, he craved power. For his doom to not be so simple, perishable.
“I beg you, Claud. This is not real. That witch is blinded by his own greed for you. He has made me utter atrocious words, false truths so he would be the only one under your favor.”
With his desperate cry, the sky cracks with a flash of lightning, and a rumble of thunder. Cries erupt all around as the harsh, cutting water pelts down from the sky. Violent tears of what should be Claudia’s heart pelt down all around, dousing down the lanterns of Lychnapsia, the sparkles of festivities that floated the horizon.
Quirinus squints through the rain, hoping to catch Claudia’s gaze, but his sight catches on something, and the startling truth strips him of words. Claudia’s eyes glow ablaze, her silky waves of hair float up against the rain dragging everything down, and her crimson robe throbs a vibrant angry red.
When her lips part for words, it isn’t her voice that follows. But a harsh resonant voice of a saint stealing her shape.
“Quirinus, son of Marcellus. By the names of the Seven Saints who dictate their power to the Seven High Priestesses and Priests, I condemn you to a life with no end, no remorse, no pleasure, no luxury. It is a life of hardships and agony, abomination is what you receive, and the world shall frown down upon you. You are condemned to a life of a monster that has already resided in you. You will be harmed just as you have harmed others. May you die, then awake.”
In a flash faster than lightning, the world is colored in red, drips with blood. Kids scream, and Xander no longer stands around. Glasses shatter all around, soaring pieces flashing and piercing his skin, knocking into his ears and eyes. A shout of his is muffled by a deep yawn from the ground and a shriek from the angry sky. Everything turns red, Quirinus bleeds from his eyes and ears, nose and lips, and the world goes red.
The ground beneath Quirinus’s hands yawns, cracks its mouth wide open, and swallows him in.
The world turns black.
The world falls silent. No tears of blood pelt down, sent from the sky. No fires erupt or glasses shattered down. No breath is exhaled by the observing walls.
Then it happens.
The ground yawns again, and a sickly hand punctures a hole through. It stretches and feels for more ground to push through, but it meets air, and the encouragement is enough for the ground to unearth the body out again.
It lays there, pale and bleak, blackish lines running through its body. They might be veins; they might be the traces of condemnation. The first wind rustles by, spooking goose bumps across the body’s flesh, and it quivers to life. It trembles as it uprights itself, joints squeaking with malfunction and rust as it attempts to center itself.
The pressure of the earth left the body unstable in the new pressure and touch of air. With every rustle of wind, the body hisses, and a sense of hunger starts awakening within. A rush of dizziness, a rush of extreme fatigue and lust carries it on. Lust for power, lust for vengeance on its condemner. It sniffs, feels a throb of life around, a break out of iron and liquid flashes through its mind, materializes over its tongue and lips. Something protrudes, kick for an exit, kicking for an out. The creature brings a white, long hand with probing lines of black veins over to its mouth, feeling its gum for where there was supposed to be teeth. Its gums were swelling, and as the lust started consuming it, two pointed bones protruded out. One sliced its fingers.
It looked down to find a viscous black trickling down its cut finger, dropping to the earth that just spouted it. A source of life brightens all its senses, and it catches the soft hummings of a creature approaching it.
One second before the next. It didn’t realize what took occurrence. Just that a body flopped down from its hands to the ground. Bleak and deadweight. Sweet iron filled its senses, caressed its lips. It ran its tongue over its bloodied fingers and lips.
Blood. On its fingers. Red blood.
His hunger’s been satiated.
A scornful choke breaks out from him, into the silence consuming and surrounding.
An abomination indeed. It casts a look around, from the dead body, its first killing, beside his bare pale feet on the ground, to the valley surrounding it.
It tilts its head in surprise. Twenty four hands choke out of the earth’s grip. Twenty four arms pull out of the earth, and twenty four heads appear.
Quirinus smiles, enjoying the scene unfolding before him.
Twenty four bodies appear, and all of them turn to him.
If he is going to exact his revenge, if he is going to be an abomination, he might as well have his own army of monstrosity under his whim.
The Imperials were born.