Before Aida landed in whatever bullshit timeline she was meant to be in, she was crying. Not sobbing—who’d embarrass themselves enough to audibly sob—but after seeing Queen Eve of Siina slowly and inevitably die in front of her and not being able to save her, she figured she’d lost all dignity at that point. What were a few hateful tears to remind you that you were a failure?
Her jump brought her into a dark corridor lit by sconces. She fell onto an expensive-looking red rug next to a marble statue of some dead man’s head, but who cared? Who the fuck cared about anything anymore?
She fell against the statue and curled into a tight, frustrated ball. She banged her head into the stone until she felt something. Eve had been murdered by the crown, but she was alive, barely, struck in the gut like an animal. And she had Aida’s powers, or her future self’s powers, able to travel forwards and backwards without pain, if that stomach injury wasn’t from her jump, but how? Why? And why did that matter?
It didn’t. Not anymore. No one could survive injuries like that for ten minutes, let alone the hours and hours Aida would spend in the fucking past for no reason. She would die, in the present, beside Lorian, and Aida had done nothing to stop it from happening.
“Fuck,” she cursed, then louder, slamming her fist onto the rug. If she hadn’t been so awestruck and had asked her what’d happened, who’d done this, and where she’d been the moment it happened, she could’ve been helpful. She could’ve changed history. To this day, no one knew how Eve had died.
And now, nobody ever would.
But beyond all that, beyond her fuck-ups and her embarrassing first real impression to Eve, Eve had known her. “Aida.” Her voice, so frail and close to death, had called out to her so clearly. What had her future self done to make sure that Eve knew who she was? It almost made the pain bearable, to hear her say her name.
Then she remembered all the blood around Eve, her guttural screams of pain as she tried understanding where and when she was.
Aida got up with help of the statue and read the name. It was of a man with too many Roman names, so he must’ve been of wealth. She squinted and read that the date was 42—95, which gave her something to work off of, but the numbers were written in Roman numerals, not numbers.
“They only did that…” She shook away the thought. She couldn’t have travelled back more than a millennium twice in one year, or one lifetime. Circa was cruel, but she wasn’t a sadist.
As she walked out into the main hall, she immediately retracted that naive assumption and wanted to strangle her Goddess.
The main hall opened up into a lavish corridor filled with more priceless pieces of art. Murals of the country landscape and portraits of more well-off gentlemen who were both Visatorre and not Visatorre; silver chandeliers lit a hundred times with thin candles. The ceiling arched over her and was held up with wooden beams that criss-crossed one another. The windows were thin and of stained glass, but they let in just enough light to breathe warmth and security into the hall.
Aida held her arms tight to herself. She felt sick and unclean, lost in a place not meant for her. She was a fool for wanting to learn more. Even though she’d prepared herself for the Catacombs, seeing those skulls forgotten and uncared for had gotten to her, like it was her own skeleton decaying in that darkness.
Voices echoed down the hall, and Aida instinctively tripped backwards into her dark hall.
Someone laughed. It was lighthearted and a bit childish, filling the hall with a new warmth. High heels accompanied heavy boots, and someone made a joke about the weather.
Eve turned the corner, laughing with three officers, or gladiators. She was healthy and younger like Aida had first seen her, and no hole had blown out her innards. She was wearing another deep maroon-colored dress like before, so dark it looked black, with gold jewelry and makeup that looked radiant. Her hair was tied up in those tight braids she favored, and her stomach was now triple the size it was during the festival, her baby due any day.
“She is such a delight,” Eve said as they passed. “A forward state of progress for this mundane city. Put in a request that I meet with her tonight before the feast. I’d like to have a private session with her.”
“Of course, Your Majesty,” one of the sterner looking gladiators said.
“You best be on your best behavior, Your Majesty,” another said. He had orange, spiky hair and freckles dotting his angular face. “I don’t want to be by your side throughout this entire visit to make sure you behave.”
“l’ll be sure that you aren’t, Frederico,” Eve said playfully.
Aida went to pick up her dress to follow her, but she was naked, so she ran to Eve and kept with her pace. Her Visatorre marking only had one normal circle as opposed to her strange two, and her eyes were their normal shade of deep brown. Aida put two and two together and figured this was before she’d been attacked, before she had her baby, and before she’d been able to travel forwards. She wondered how all three were connected to one another, and if she had her new eyes and marking during the festival. She couldn’t remember, it was all a blur.
Aida looked over her queen, then slowly touched her shoulder blade and the start of her forearm. In the Catacombs, she’d reached out for Aida. She knew her name. Did she know her now? If she were to become visible, would Eve recognize her?
They passed by a wider set of windows that opened up to a courtyard beneath them. Four stories down were knights training and walking their horses across the yard. She went to strain her eyes to check what nationality they might’ve been, then realized by the multiple lion statues glittering the field that she must’ve been in Roma. Then, looking up, while the roads were different and buildings smaller, she noticed that these homes and communities were Roma City, with Siina possibly being to the right. The layout of the town square resembled the one she and Lorian had walked through. Certain columns and arches looked new as opposed to the ones crumbling in the present. She tried to find the Colosseum, but she needed to stay with Eve so she didn’t lose her and continued on.
“Here’s his room, Your Majesty,” one of Eve’s knights said. He was a little more standoffish than the other two. He was the only one with a metallic etching of a stern-looking lion on his shoulder: A Roman gladiator.
“I’m very familiar, thank you,” Eve said with a smile. “You can wait out here. You—” She looked the Roman gladiator up and down. “Well, I don’t know where to place you. Would you like to follow me in?”
“Only—I…” He looked away, annoyed yet bashful.
“Nothing like Siina, ’ey, Frederico?” Eve giggled and knocked for herself. “Julius? I have arrived.”
Aida’s first impression of King Julius at the festival was that he was a powerful, standard king of Roma: domineering, regal, composed. He looked like a true king in his chariot meeting with another equally regal monarch.
Here, Aida saw that he was short, shorter than Lorian and all the pictures she’d seen in him, and he had a bit of a beer belly that showed underneath his thin shirt. He wasn’t dressed as all as he should’ve been to meet Eve, with just this plain shirt, trousers, and black boots that were untied. How dare he insult Eve in his own Palace, and how dare he go against Aida’s expectations of him?
He bowed to Eve. “Good morning, Your Majesty. It’s a pleasure to see you again. I hope my accommodations were to your liking.”
“Very much so, Your Majesty.”
“I do hope you know that ‘Julius’ is more than enough when we’re like this.”
“Oh, is it? Forgive me.” She let herself in. “I was just sure that you’d preferred me to call you a different name when we were alone.”
Aida took her chance and ran in with Eve, all the while keeping an eye on them. If she was hearing them right, this talk indicated something more than formal talk. Not only was it inappropriate, they were supposed to be rivals. Right now, Roma City should’ve been controlling the ocean and its ports, while Siina had settlements along the main rivers, where they grew the grapes to make wine, the biggest export for the country at the time. There were many discrepancies being fought now, so why did they seem like friends? In just a few months, Siina and Roma would be at war, and Eve would be…
This room was no doubt King Julius’ personal bedchamber. His canopy bed looked too expensive to sit on, and the golden art on the wall seemed fit for a museum. Outside, they overlooked yet another courtyard, but this one had flowers and pathways she’d only heard about. This flower garden had been kept for generations. A vase held a few of them on his writing desk: purple and yellow, the colors of Roma.
“I hope finding me wasn’t difficult this time,” King Julius said, locking the door behind him. “You’d said you spent twenty minutes wandering my halls.”
“To keep you waiting, yes, for I never get lost, though I do admit your Palace is very grand.” She ran her hand down the length of his desk. “Almost as grand as mine.”
King Julius smirked and prowled over to her, his saunter slow and calculating.
Aida’s mouth contorted in disgust. They couldn’t. They wouldn’t.
Eve licked her lips as her hands fondled their way into his hair. She pet him slowly before grabbing a fistful of his hair and yanking his head up. He gasped into a smile, and she took him and flung him onto the desk. She pressed her hips and pregnant belly against him.
Aida covered her eyes, notably peeking through her fingers. “Eve, no.”
“Tell me you want to kiss me,” Eve ordered.
“I want to kiss you,” he said, completely submitting to her. “I want to mark you, claim you. I want your everything inside of me, Eve. I love you.”
Eve smiled, then pinned the king’s hand behind him and kissed him passionately.
“What the fuck,” Aida gagged. “Eve, stop! What’re you doing?”
She continued kissing him like Aida wasn’t there. And she wasn’t. She was but a ghost in this timeline, trapped in a room with two disgusting monarchs with no manners or class.
She had to turn away and cover her ears, but the slurping noises came through her fingers. Wasn’t Eve married? Wasn’t King Julius married to Julia? And didn’t Eve have something with Julia, too? That’s what she’d thought, with Julia blushing at her touch, that painting in the Catacombs. What was true here?
Was Eve just like this? Not like she was marring the royal name—she assumed most monarchs did many questionably immoral things during their reign, but come on. What kind of jump was this? What was she learning from seeing this?
She found that banging her head into the window helped block out more of the noise. Eve had undone Julius’ pants and was stroking him, and the noises he was making and the satisfaction Eve gained from it sickened Aida. Out of all of their history, throughout years of historic sites and declarations, Aida had to land here at this time without a chance to escape?
She hated human beings. Why were they like this? Why did they enjoy doing this in such unimaginable ways? She could barely establish meaningful friendships with people, so when they acted this intimate, moaning and grinding and getting off with other people and their genitalia, it horrified her. It felt like everyone had been built with this special piece in their heart, and her piece of her was missing, or she’d destroyed it along the way and could never get it back. She knew it must’ve felt nice, and sometimes she found herself dreaming about having a person, but when it happened in reality, it soured the whole fantasy.
She pictured Lorian when she thought about this, and she didn’t know if that was a good or bad thing.
After getting the king off, Eve stood up, proud with herself, and wiped her lips with her sticky thumb. “Good boy.”
King Julius lifted himself up on his elbows with a drunk smile. His cheeks burned red with needy lust. “I love you,” he slurred. “I want you.”
“Just like your letter foretold,” she said. “How greedy.”
“Aye. Your being encapsulates my every waking moment. I adore you sincerely, Eve. You’re everything.”
“How charming.” She traced circles over his now unbuttoned shirt. “But, alas, you can’t take up as much refuge in my mind as I do for you, for that border disagreement has my people so worried. They take up all of my time, they do.”
He rolled his eyes. “I must do what’s best for my people, Eve. Surely you of all people understand that. I need the Tiber.”
“As do I. Now, if you were to cease building that awful little dam that will shorten a fifth of my people’s agricultural resources, think of how much time I’d be able to spend with you.”
“The flow of the river is damaging the water beds near my plaza.”
Then we can redirect the current flow of the river into a new one. We have the funds to do that, together.” She pet around his head into his beard. “What do you say, my love? Will you satisfy me?”
He hung back his head. “My advisors will not take this well.”
“Aw, is my little baby afraid of the very men he rules? Do you need a reminder of how it’s really done? How it is to govern men with one hand?”
Julius smirked and wrapped one leg around her. “Alright. I’ll talk with them tomorrow.”
“Good boy.” To reward him, she kissed him again. “Now, what about your wife?”
“What about her?”
She sat back up. “You’re an adulterer. Surely you feel shameful for what you’re doing. How do you treat her, knowing what we do?”
He scoffed. “You need not worry about that woman. She gives me no pleasure compared to your grace. You are all that’s in my heart, as I hope I am with you.” He settled down his fervor. “I’m sure you know I’m much better than that Meyeso.”
Eve slowly cocked her head, running that through her mind. “That so,” she said cooly.
“Aye,” he said boldly.
Eve looked over the king of Roma, twirling his exposed chest hair with her finger. Then she got up and went for the bathroom.
“Where’re you going?” he asked.
“To freshen up for round two.”
When King Julius began unbuttoning his shirt, Aida decided that her time was better spent with Eve and quickly followed her into the bathroom.
Eve quietly shut the door, almost politely, and walked to the mirror and looked at herself. Knowing what she’d see, Aida did the same and only saw Eve staring back at her.
Furiously. Biting her inner cheeks, Eve was pissed off and jumping her leg in total frustration.
“What?” Aida demanded. “What’re you thinking? Tell me.”
Eve pushed back her bangs to better reveal her Visatorre marking, and Aida saw her youth slipping away. Despite being in her twenties, there was the weight of a country in her eyes. She was tired, in need of a rest from politics and upsetting men.
She forced out an exhale. “Bastard,” she whispered.
“He is, so why did you do that? He’s a horrible man. He’s going to kill you, so why are you like this with him?”
She fixed up her hair and checked her face from all angles. She was a very beautiful woman. Flecks of gold swam through her brown eyes and her makeup complimented her tan skin and light freckles.
She ruined it by slapping herself in the face. The strike took Aida off guard as well as the second, much harder slap. After hitting herself, she pinched the death out of her cheeks until they were redder than her blush. To finish it off, she stared deeply into her reflection without blinking until tears dripped out of her eyes. She hiccuped, fanning her face like she was actually in distress. “Oh, I cannot bear it!” she said dramatically, and flung herself out of the room.
“Fuck—” Aida slipped out before the door slammed.
The king was up, trying to battle to fix his pants on. “What’s wrong?”
“I just…Oh, I can’t do this right now. It’s too soon.” She cried into her wrist, but when Julius went to hold her, she aggressively pushed him back and ran out of the bedroom.
“Eve—” He jumped back behind his dresser so the gladiators didn’t see him. “Are you serious?”
“I need to leave. Farewell.”
“God damn it.” Aida ran before she lost Eve again, but the king’s stupid, elegant rug tripped her up, now as solid as stone, and those few seconds cost her everything. Eve ran, shut the door, and left Aida alone with a sweaty, horny King Julius.
“Fuck!” She hit the ground again. “Damn you, Eve!”
“Curse her,” Julius agreed, and put his hands on his hips. “Cursed courtesan. The things I do for her.”
“Do what?” Aida spat. If she was going to be trapped in this damn room for however many more hellish hours, the least she could do was vent out her grievances with this monarch. “You and your actions are what cursed the Romano family tree in bloodlust. You’re selfish, you’re stupid, you’re a horny disgrace to all Roman customs! Fuck you. I don’t ever want to see you again.”
Her woozy feeling came back, and she braced herself for the pain she’d have to endure when she jumped back to the present. Would she even survive the trip back? She hadn’t even thought about that.
Very much like her to worry more about dead monarchs than her own self.
The air around her swirled in her ears, and she fell forwards into her darkness.
She landed wrong in several ways.
One, she landed on her bad knee, and while it didn’t hurt directly, her brain acted like it did.
Two, she wasn’t hurting. Her hand was as normal as ever, her thoughts clear.
Three, she was still in the Roman Palace. The same layout, the same red rug and art of dead Roman men. It even looked like the same day, with the Sun still behind the Palace and cooling the hall in a comfortable blue.
Hurried high heels ran down the hall Aida had fallen into, and she turned to see none other than Eve along with her two gladiators. She had lost her tears as well as her meek demeanor as she ran with her dress lifted, but her cheeks were still red from forcing the tears out. “Jules.”
Jules—Queen Julia—poked her head out from Aida’s corridor. “Eta.”
The two embraced in the main hall, then, to keep discrete, hid next to Aida. Aida dusted off her confusion and followed them down the dead end. The two gladiators stayed back to give them privacy.
Jules grasped onto Eve’s sleeves. She almost looked ready to pass out if not for Eve’s touch.
They were wearing those matching bracelets. From this close up, Aida could tell that Eve’s had a blue stone in the bracelet with the letter J carved into it. Julia’s had the letter E.
“Oh, Eta, please be merciful,” Jules begged. “What did he do? What did he say?”
“I regret to say that he reaffirmed your fears. He did come on to me. I’m sorry.”
Jules crumpled and cried into Eve’s shoulder. Despite being so short, she held her tenderly, massaging her back in comfort.
“I knew it,” Jules cried. “I didn’t want to, but I knew it, I did. What did he do?”
“He confirmed that what he wrote to me was genuine and confessed his love. It was short-sighted, love, he said nothing about my inner beauty.”
“Oh, Circa almighty. I knew it. I heard the rumors but wanted to know myself. Did he do anything else?”
Eve paused, then wiped away her good friend’s tears. “No, love. I left before he did anything.” She kissed her temple, washing away her worries. “He’s too good for you, my love. Don’t plague yourself over his misdoings. You’re a beautiful gemstone in this city of greedy fools. Do not let their sins overcome your sense of truth.”
Jules nodded along with everything she said. “I-I won’t. I’ll stay strong, for Roma, for you.”
“Good girl.” She tilted Jules’ golden head and left a gentle kiss on her chin, and then her lips, gentler, like a feather touching a still pond.
Aida replicated their hands over her own body. Their energy was so much different than Jules’ reject of a husband. These two were, from what she knew, love itself, pure and experimental and fortified by passion and understanding.
Then her hands dropped. “Wait,” she said aloud. “You’re lying to her. You did much more than just talk with him. You’re just as much a cheater as he is.”
She kept watching them, these confusing women embracing in secret, and she felt that sinking feeling again. No matter how much history she crammed into her brain, she’d always feel this: hollowness, a spot in her heart she’d never fill, a dance everyone knew but her.
Her body swayed, dancing its own dance, and she was swept back into time.
Before she lost sight of the girls, her body burned up in blistering, numbing pain.