Only Power

 

Don’t tell me I’m lost at sea, good man! Don’t tell me I’m lost at sea! For the water’s my wife, my home and my life…”

A dramatic pause in which all the singers closed their eyes, their stringed instruments still in their hands. The small crowd of people, tightly packed into the bar, cat-called and cheered. Hadrian whistled loudly amongst them.

The performers looked up and raised their hands. The audience sang the last line with them, loud and mirthful.

I’m right where I’m meant to be!”

They strummed out a final tune and everyone applauded. The performers bowed graciously.

“Thank you!” the lead singer called, holding his lyre above his head. “Thank you, lovely citizens of Latria! There’s a reason you’re our favorite city!”

Everyone cheered more emphatically at that. “But don’t tell those arrogant Ostinites we’ve said as much!” another different musician called, and the crowd laughed.

Hadrian laughed louder than them all, as he technically was an Ostinite—but he’d left Ostium behind for many reasons, and he didn’t exactly tell people where he was from.

He hated the capital. He despised the suffocating stone structures which absorbed the heat of the sun, the ridiculous amounts of people, and, most of all, the politics. If Hadrian could go the rest of his life without hearing about another scandal of some lewd patrician slandering his opponent, then he might just die happy.

Latria was the antithesis of Ostium. The city on the water was cool and open, a place where music, culture, and art thrived…

Hadrian had only lived in Latvia for two years, but he knew at once that he belonged in the city dedicated to the water Goddess. Unlike in Ostium, where Hadrian had been ridiculed as a child by his elitist peers for his… peculiarities, here, such uniqueness was celebrated. Latvia was progressive where the rest of the country was conservative, tolerant rather than oppressive.

Hadrian had joined an artist’s guild upon arrival. He had learned how to paint with pigments made of oil on wood, and he had even dabbled in poetry and music. His painting was progressing decently enough, but he had nowhere near the skills of the musicians who had been playing their entire lives.

“Hadrian!” One of those skilled musicians called to him now, pushing past a few people in the crowd and offering him a ceramic mug. He was a member of the band which had just performed—a cithara player, and one of Hadrian’s good friends. “Another ale, since you bought the last round.”

Hadrian smiled as he accepted it. He probably didn’t need another beer—he felt unsteady as it was—but then again, such knowledge had never stopped him before. “To your fine future.”

“To your fine future,” Simon parroted back, clinking his cup to Hadrian’s before they both drank. Hadrian was amazed at how much he’d grown to like the taste of ale—in Ostium, the elites considered it a barbaric beverage, only for the common people. Wine was the drink of choice, there.

Hadrian would admit that he didn’t care for it at first. Now, however, the ale tasted almost sweet on his tongue. Refreshing, even.

The two were nearly shoved into each other, the crowd suddenly rowdy and clamoring for the bar now that the music had stopped. Hadrian adored it all. The ale, his eccentric and artistic friends, the atmosphere of this public place where the middle class gathered—a place which any of the elite in the capital would cringe at the mere notion of.

Especially if they knew he, Hadrian Horatius, was partaking. He could sense his parents’ displeased eyes and resigned sighs even now. Hadrian’s father had given him his blessing to travel once he’d turned sixteen, on the assumption that Hadrian would come back home quite quickly on his own.

Some traveling shall do you well. You shall realize how great the splendor of the capital really is, once you no longer have it.’

This had not been the case.

Hadrian laughed as Simon began belting out another well-known song, corralling the rest of the merry drunks into singing back to him as though the performance had not yet ended. “She is the fairest maiden of the land!” he called, and the crowd, as well as Hadrian, responded at once:

But she’s not of the land, you brute!”

Aye, too true, she’s of the sea!” Simon answered, and they all finished together:

My Goddess, the glorious Mystute!”

Everyone clapped again. Hadrian took another drink of his ale, feeling cheerful and wondering if he should buy another round soon. He probably shouldn’t. He probably would.

“Hadrian!”

Someone from the far side of the bar was called out to him. Hadrian frowned, wondering if, perhaps he had misheard the shrill cry of his name from the entryway.

He hadn’t. “Hadrian! Hadrian Horatius!”

Hadrian dropped his cup. Simon looked at him questionably, but Hadrian ignored both him and the broken porcelain, quickly moving towards the source of stranger shouting his name—his full name!—in this place. He swore under his breath as he forced his way through the crowd, eager to prevent whoever it was from shouting it to the world again.

He found him easily enough. A man in a grey tunic, the garments of a messenger. He blinked at Hadrian for a second before saying, “Are you—?”

“Yes,” Hadrian hissed, grabbing the man by the shoulder and dragging him outside, away from the people. “What is it?”

The man paused, taking a long moment to examine Hadrian’s face and look into his eyes as though for confirmation—first one, then the other. Hadrian had to resist the urge to close one eye out of spite. He hated when people did that.

Though he supposed it was a simple way to identify him. “I have a letter for you,” the messenger finally answered, looking appeased. He withdrew a small, sealed scroll. The Horatius family’s insignia of a serpent was engraved into the wax, long and undulating.

“It’s from your mother.”

Hadrian’s first reaction was annoyance. His mother wrote him all the time, long messages informing him of every little thing that was happening in the capital, and, with increasing tones of concern, beseeching him to come home. Hadrian took the letter and shoved it in his pocket. “Thanks,” he muttered. “I’ll read it later. Now, if you don’t mind—”

“Sir, she instructed me to make sure you read this letter right away, and that I leave with a response.”

The glower slid from Hadrian’s face. It only just now occurred to him how odd of an incidence this was: a letter delivered to him by an individual who must have hunted him down to this precise location, rather than by regular delivery.

And to require a direct response? Right away?

Hadrian’s mouth went suddenly dry. The sounds of laughter and raucous shouting from within the bar seemed to fade away. Hadrian pulled the scroll back out and broke the wax seal, anxiety pooling in his stomach.

The letter was short.

.

Hadrian,

Your father has died.

Please come home at once.

Please.

.

Hadrian stared at the second line in complete shock. He felt like his mind was floating somewhere outside of his body, suspended in a state of disbelief.

“…Sir?”

The messenger’s voice startled him so badly that Hadrian dropped the scroll. He fumbled when he bent to pick it up, lightheaded, dizzy, nauseous.

“Your response?” he prompted, looking expectant. “A verbal answer will suffice, I’m to return straight to her…”

Hadrian answered with a sense of surreal detachment. There was only one answer.

“Tell her I’m coming,” he said with a voice that sounded like someone else’s. Hadrian placed the creased letter back in his pocket.

“Tell her I’m coming home.”

 


So this is a new (long) story I’m starting, with this as the summary:

They were adored by the masses, they were famous, they were glorified… but gladiators were still slaves. He knew nothing good could come from falling in love with a killer, least of all one with a silver smile constrained by golden shackles. Shame that Hadrian never was very rational. 

It’s a fictional, ancient society based on Rome. So if you feel like reading more, I may keep posting it on here, but I’m definitely writing it on fictionpress, if you’d like to follow it.

https://www.fictionpress.com/s/3303580/1/Only-Power

🙂

Melted

This fire will be the death of me.

I can’t contain it, I can’t fight it. My veins are flowing with lava, burning me alive from within. My skin is hot to the touch. I’m scratching at my arms and shins like I might be able to pierce the flesh and rip the heat out of me, like I might let these liquid flames pour out of my body and not take my life with it when they go.

This was your fault.

…I was once ice.

I liked being cold, I flourished in the quiet of my winter shell, the darkness of my snow-covered cavern. I could have hibernated forever, icicles clinging to my hair and lashes like crystals adornment. I was beautiful, I was safe.

I couldn’t feel anything.

…Why did you come?

Why would anyone so full of heat come crawling into this cave? Why would you wrap your arms around a frozen beast and melt its crystals adornments?

…Did you think you were saving me?

This fire will be the death of me.

Something Mean

The girl drew in her sketchbook every night.

Pictures of dragons curled on top of piles of gold, guarding their hoard protectively, pictures of unicorns prancing through fields of clovers underneath bright, blue skies. Princesses, castles, cities made entirely of flowers. Always something colorful. Drawing was an escape from reality, which was gray and cold.

One night, the girl drew a monster.

Maybe it was because that day had been even worse than usual, but she didn’t feel like making something pretty.

She colored something mean.

Black and red only. The girl poured all of her coiled up emotions onto the paper in the form of scribbles and harsh marks until there was nothing left of the crayons. When she was done, she set her sketchbook on the nightstand, going to sleep with a bad taste in her mouth and black and red wax under her fingernails.

She didn’t dream.

When she opened her sketchbook the next night, she stopped on the page with the monster. The thing which she had drawn the day before was scary. Crimson eyes peered up at her from a page covered in blackness.

It frightened her, that she had created something so sinister. How was it that a drawing could scare her, when she’d been the one to make it? The girl closed the sketchbook. She suddenly didn’t feel like coloring anymore.

She dreamed of dragons curled on top of piles of gold, guarding their hoard protectively, of unicorns prancing through fields of clovers underneath bright, blue skies. Princesses, castles, cities made entirely of flowers. Colorful dreams.

The girl thought she might like to draw again, the following day. She opened her sketchbook with the intention of tearing out the picture of the monster. Then it wouldn’t bother her anymore.

She screamed.

There were no dragons nor unicorns, no princesses nor castle scenes.

Just monsters.

The girl was shaking as she flipped through page after page of darkness and crimson eyes, black and red, only black and red. Paper beasts, two dimensional nightmares. She flung the sketchbook away from her, where it fell open on its spine. A dozen scarlet irises stared back at her from across the room, peering out of make-believe shadows.

Her make-believe shadows.

How long had she been drawing nothing but monsters?

 

3642165-evil-red-eyes-glowing-in-the-dark

Wither 

Wither, wane, wilt.There is no amount of sunlight that can save you,

No water so pure that can quench your dying thirst.

This is the end of you,

My parchment petals.

This is the end of you,

My bone dry roots.

This is the end.

In Progress 

“I’m not saying you can just wash your hands of this,” she said shakily. “But you can stop. You can stop, right here, right now.”

“Would that make it better?”he  asked. “Would stopping make me any less damned, at this point?”

She was quiet for a long time. 

“…No,” she eventually answered. “No, I don’t think it would.”

“Oh,” he murmured. Surprisingly, he didn’t feel vindicated nor disappointed, like he thought he might. 

He didn’t feel anything at all.

“Then I’m not done.”