Chapter VIII: Unfamiliar Faces

Aida always tried to land on her feet when she travelled backwards in time, but she wasn’t a graceful girl, so, like always, she landed flat on her fucking face.

And as if Circa couldn’t be any crueler to her, she landed on cobblestone. It didn’t break her skin—you couldn’t get injured in the past—but it still hurt to have her brain rattle from the fall. Was it too selfish to ask to land on some grass? Maybe someone’s bed?

She landed in an alleyway between old, brick houses. It was light out, about mid-morning, but it was hard to tell by how the houses were angled. She was cast in shadows that left puddles in-between the stone.

She rubbed her eyes. She hadn’t hallucinated it, right? Someone had jumped her in her room, which she’d locked and she’d made sure she’d locked because what sane girl left her dorm room unlocked? And she’d been in there for several minutes. It made her skin crawl that someone had been watching her without her knowing. People had the same feelings about Visatorre. “Oh, they can be watching you at any point in time!” It’s not like they had a choice when they jumped, and it wasn’t like they were out to cause you harm. She’d have to look into the break-in when she came back. Not that the Dean would be interested in making her feel welcome.

The unwanted feelings came back in her throat, but she swallowed them down. For right now, her expulsion wasn’t her priority. What only mattered now was the present and getting back her balance.

First thing was first: location. Unlike that jump into the forest where time didn’t really matter, when she had more elaborate jumps, she’d land in the deserts of Aldaí, in the snowy farmlands of Bělico. More often than not it was Roma, for some reason, which is where she looked to be. The buildings were ancient and cramped, the alleyways just wide enough to fit a horse, and she heard the distant sound of carriages being pulled and people bartering for their wares.

Next was the time period itself. What year had she found herself in? It didn’t matter so much in a forest than it did in a Roman prefecture, where she could at least spend her time learning about new fashion trends or accent markings. She liked testing herself without looking at a newspaper or reading the bulletin boards posted in town square.

Noise from the next street drew her out of her dark alley. There must’ve been some type of street fair happening. She saw confetti catch between the abandoned houses.

Once she met with the main road, and once she tasted the electric air, she stepped back and instinctively covered her breasts to retain her modesty.

Not a street fair, but a street festival. Or carnival? The birth of a royal heir? Out on the streets, hundreds, perhaps thousands of people were flocked in large groups of joyous, cankerous celebration. Pennant flags of every color tossed in the wind as bags of confetti were thrown out the windows in bunches. The people were dressed in elaborate costumes, too, the women in bright dresses and tight corsets and incredibly tacky, pointy hats, the men in tunics and sandals and also incredibly tacky, pointy hats. The street vendors packed the remaining street space, and between them, musicians played live music. Dancing to the flutes were freely roaming children.

Visatorre children. Alongside normal children. And not just the children, but adults, too. There were mostly Roman people with a sprinkle of Bělican and Aldaían people here and there, but they were integrated like it was commonplace. There were no homeless, no mistrust. In this small corner of wherever she was, there was peace between all people.

She stepped out onto the street, her head turning like a mechanical doll.

The Colosseum, standing tall and in perfect condition, was decorated for whatever festivity was happening. It was like it’d just been built, without chunks of stone broken off from the top. The stones shone brightly in the cloudless sky.

And the Roman palace, off to the side of the Colosseum, looked at once completely different and entirely identical to the one she’s familiarized herself with. Its lion flags whipped proudly in the wind. Its famous clock tower was a different colored stone, unpolished, most likely, but the little soldiers were there, as well as the famous painted glass that twinkled at noon.

Instead of looking like relics, the architecture, the feeling of Roma City looked perfectly intertwined with the time period.

Aida bit her lip. Her breathing hurt. How far back had she gone? Where on Earth was she? She needed to think, but she was drawing a blank.

She listened to the music. That should’ve helped. The men were playing ancient horn trumpets. They hadn’t been used in nearly a century due to the invention of the sousaphone that the public thought was easier on the ears. Everyone was wearing pointed hats, which had also gone out of style nearly two centuries ago because people realized they just needed to bathe with soap to keep their hair from smelling like rot. The corsets were tight for the women, the men wore open sandals instead of boots.

She walked farther up ahead and spotted an officer, or what she assumed to be this time period’s equivalent, talking with a handsome woman. He wore armor and vambraces and carried a heavier sword on his belt than the standard, sleeker rapier of today. If Aida remembered correctly, the Classical Era called these men “gladiators.”

But that couldn’t be right. Gladiators had been abolished along with the city-state of Siina.

Nearly 1,200 years ago.

“Fuck,” she cursed, and let the reality of her situation drown her. She would’ve happily taken such a quiet death sentence. 100 years back in time would’ve severely damaged her body, but to go back more than a millennium, would she even return in one piece? Or would she come back a mass of human skin, her organs spilling out of her open stomach like warm porridge?

She held her intact stomach. This had to be a reenactment, right? But how had they fixed the Colosseum? Why were these Roman people speaking in an accent that almost sounded like a completely new language?

She journeyed through this new Roma. The celebration looked to be more of a world’s fair that was popular back in the day. Pavilions showcased historic inventions that caught the eyes of the wandering crowd. An ancient form of the toothbrush, a new type of papyrus brought from Aldaí you could reuse, a prototype of what they now knew as an aqueduct. Pieces of history Aida and the Neoclassical Era had been using for generations, and they had the gall to have signs saying, “New,” “Reinvention,” “The Wave of the Future. Some of the vowels had been switched for the more ancient spellings. 

She stopped at each tent, taking in the people, the way she spoke, the costumes they wore. No, they weren’t costumes, were they? They were playing a part in a play. These were their everyday outfits, sewn by their mothers in homes they’d built by hand, some of the only clothes they probably owned.

She touched a small dagger on a table. If only she could pick up something, even a stone from the Tiber River. How she’d treasure what a trinket was to these people.

“Heya!”

A loud crash of thunder of lightning behind Aida indicated that a Visatorre just jumped, but when she turned around, she saw no clothes on the ground, no onlookers distracted by the suddenness of the jump. A man with a long beard just hopped back into the world, landing on his feet with a surprising hop in his step. “My, what a night!” he announced.

Two of his friends, one Visatorre and one non-Visatorre, called his name and met up with him.

“Took ya long enough, mate!” one of them said, his accent so thick it hardly sounded Roman. “Whaja see?”

“A brothel a ’omen, I stumbled into,” he said. “What a scene I saw. Musta been 200 ’ears back, and 200 trollops ’ere achin’ for a man. Aye, the things they said were a head-turner.”

“What a find!” the other man said, and the three of them left to continue their day at the festival.

Aida took in the city square in a more confusing light. To not only be injured from a jump, but to come back fully clothed, and happy…

She rubbed her Visatorre marking. This was not only not in her books, this was simply illogical. How had so many history texts gotten history so wrong? Where were the slaves, the poverty? People should’ve been dirty and ruthless. Were these people even at war with Siina and Queen Eve yet? Was this even Roma City, or was it Siina?

She kept going, this time quicker and with more purpose to find answers. Towards the northwest was the Tiber River that cut through Roma City and flowed into the ocean from the northern mountains. Shitty boats bobbed in the water with silly-looking sails that, by today’s standards, wouldn’t have gotten them a kilometer into sea. Men in the most pointy of hats had paper in hand as they judged how each boat sailed. Down the way, Aida spotted a dam that should not have been there, less the countryside to the west would be dry for years. They must’ve fixed that with time.

She turned, found a new invention, a new pavilion, a new Visatorre person whose children’s children were probably dead, living happily, safely.

She covered her mouth, surprised to find her cheeks wet. Tears fell without meaning. These feelings, combined with all she’d been through that day, that year, collectively pummeled her at once like schoolyard bullies her. She sank to her knees. This was all she wanted, and now she had it, but just like with Durante Academy, she knew it was too good to be true, that all of this was destined to implode on her. She’d return to her timeline naked and bleeding horribly, and that freakish stalker would be the only one to find her and do whatever heinous things they wanted to do with her to begin with. This was it. This would be her final jump.

She glared up at the perfectly blue sky filled in with white, mountain-sized clouds. “Is this funny to you or something, because I’m trying really had to find the joke, and I don’t fucking see it.”

Circa, her Goddess, did not answer.

“First you give me a fucked up childhood of which no child should go through, then you raise my hopes with a scholarship to my dream school just to take it away from me before the first semester even ended. Then, as if you haven’t already ruined my life, you bring me back three billion years into the past that I would’ve loved to visit, just so that when I come back, I’ll break my back or choke on my own blood. Then that’s it, isn’t it? Aida Mirko dies accomplishing nothing, further proving that Visatorre have nothing to live for, huh? That we’re meant to die without meaning. Is that it? Huh?”

Circa didn’t answer, so Aida tried to pick up a stone to hurl it at something. She couldn’t, but she tried. To ruin something in the past just to make her mark on it, for once in her damned life.

She growled in frustration and kicked a nearby fountain. “Fuck you! You’re the Goddess of Time! You’re the Visatorre’s God. You’re all we have, and you constantly fuck us over! If you really cared for us—” She choked on her tears. “Give me one good thing in my life!”

The crowds erupted into cheers. Families brought their children onto their shoulders. Others ran towards a cobblestone street. Gladiators began parting the crowds, but they couldn’t see Aida, so they left her by the fountain. The rest of the populace gladly obeyed orders and crammed against the street vendors and shops, where the rest hung out of door frames and windows to see what was coming.

Aida scurried up to the fountain’s edge, distancing herself from whatever was about to happen. She hated crowds. Circa must’ve known that. What a prick of a God.

By how the people reacted, something was coming around the corner. She heard the clopping of horse hooves and a rickety carriage coming her way. She figured it was the start of a parade, and with her luck, it would be for something heinous.

The carriage turned the corner, and the plaza erupted in deafening cheers. Visatorre who’d climbed up to the rooftops called for the people riding in the carriage.

“Your Majesty!”

“Congratulations, Your Majesties!”

It was a boy and girl being driven by four massive Clydesdale horses. They were about her age being driven in a gold carriage. The boy was of Aldaían descent with dark brown skin and black cropped hair. The girl, Aida couldn’t make out her origin, but she was beautiful. Tan skin with brown hair that appeared red in the Sun, tied up in messy, coiled buns. She wore a dark maroon dress cinched at the waist, and instead of a hat, she wore a golden crown that matched the man’s.

The crowd chanted, the man’s name: “Meyeso,” “King Meyeso.”

And the woman, with more power to her name: “Eve,” “Queen Eve,” “Our Beloved Queen Mother Eve.”

Aida’s hand shot up to her mouth as the Royal family of Siina made their way over. They were coming right towards her, making the turn at the fountain. At the top of the fountain was a sculpture of Circa smiling down on them.

Eve, who’d been waving to the masses, suddenly stood up in her carriage. Her husband went to grab her dress in case she fell, but she raised it. Hopping over the railing, she jumped right out of the moving carriage and onto the statue of Circa.

Aida gasped as she watched her fly over her, water sparkling in the sky and creating a rainbow between them.

Eve hooked an arm around the Circa statue, spun in a circle, then laughed and waved to the masses, sending everyone into hysteria.

“Congrats on your pregnancy, Your Majesty!”

Eve turned to the brave person who’d shouted that over the crowds. “My thanks to all of you!” she called out, and the people turned to shouting praise about their queen’s expected child.

None of Aida’s history books said anything about Eve having an heir. Had she had a miscarriage? If so, why hadn’t that been addressed in any way? It was a royal child; historians loved royal children as much as they loved war.

Another carriage came in from near the Colosseum. It was just as grand, with four magnificent horses carrying two equally beautiful heirs. They both were of fair skin and blond hair, the boy growing out a beard that made him look older, the girl with freckles and a demure smile that invited Aida in.

Upon seeing the carriage, Eve squealed, hopped off the statue and landed with a thud onto the cobblestone.

“Wait!” Aida shouted, and ran for her. She was right there, right within reaching distance.

Eve climbed into the carriage and sat right between the two heirs. Aida recognized them as King Julius II and Queen Julia, the monarchs—or monarchs to be—of the Roman Empire.

Aida’s brain stuttered. Four of the most well-known monarchs who’d been dead for centuries. And Eve had been friends with them. The man who’d murdered her for murdering the pretty blond beside him, who was now whispering a secret in Eve’s ear and making her laugh.

Aida risked getting knocked over and climbed onto the carriage to get a better look at them. Even though they couldn’t see her or acknowledge all that she knew about them, she needed this. If she were to die after this jump, let her meet her Queen Eve.

Eve, without the king’s knowledge, was holding hands with Queen Julia. Eve played it off like the touch meant nothing, but that wasn’t the same for Julia. She kept looking down at Eve’s hand, her pale cheeks flooding with confusing warmth. Both girls each wore a matching blue bracelet that’d been crafted with care.

“W-what happened between you three?” Aida asked. “What happened to make the world break?”

None of them answered. Eve just kept smiling at the energy around her. Julia fidgeted by the touch of another kingdom’s queen. King Julius took in his people’s admiration with a proud smile.

Aida pinched at Eve’s dress, the closest she could reach. “Did you really kill her?” she asked, looking up at her queen. “Did you murder this girl?”

The carriage jerked, and Aida’s eyesight blotted out in black spots. She reached out for them one last time, but her body dipped into the road. The last thing she saw was Eve looking over at her—the crowd through her—and waving like a true queen. Then Aida was whisked back into the present.

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