Chapter XXXII: En Tempore Rose

Thank the Gods she’d brought the Constable into the past. Instead of hitting solid Earth, Aida fell atop him and cushioned her fall. His harsh “oof” made her all too giddy at the thought of mildly hurting him. 

She rolled off the Constable and held her head until it stopped pounding against her eyes. Usually the jump hurt when she’d come back, not when she first landed. This pain wasn’t anything compared to what she’d dealt with that year, but her inner self still hurt, and it wasn’t because of the landing or the fact she’d travelled without her glasses. She sunk her shoulder into the cobblestone until she could focus on something in front of her: the Colosseum. 

They were in its monolithic shadow, cooled and hidden from the summer Sun. They were still in Roma City, in the Colosseum Plaza where Lorian had first reunited with Missus Sharma. Street performers juggled and acted for passersbys while stores sold their wares. There were just as many people out today as there had been when she was there with Lorian, but there weren’t nearly as many officers in the street. The stores were open around street vendors and people selling trinkets and food in rugs in the street, and dozens of people were at each, sampling free cheeses or examining fine swords. 

“It’s a street market,” Aida said. 

“What?” The Constable finally righted himself. He, like Aida, had made the jump fully clothed, and he started refolding his undershirt and collar. “Where are we? When are we? Where did you take us?” 

“I don’t know. I just felt a jump coming on and happened to touch you when I did it.” 

“You kicked at me, you did it entirely on purpose!” 

“I can sometimes control it. Look, it’s complicated. I’m learning just as fast as you are.” 

“Well, this was a poorly thought-out decision from you. You should learn to be more thoughtful when it comes to your powers. You don’t even know what effect it has on people who don’t normally do this.” 

“Well, I don’t normally do this, so I don’t know unless it happens. And don’t call me stupid.” 

“I didn’t.” 

“You implied it. I might be a Visatorre, but that doesn’t mean I’m stupid off the bat.” 

“I didn’t—” He groaned. “Look, I know you’re in a precarious situation at the moment, but that doesn’t give you the right to talk to me like this. I am a Constable, the right-hand man to the queen.” 

“Oh, wow. That totally changes my opinion of you.” 

“Look here—” 

“I am.” She stood her full height against him, her cane digging into the earth. “I have been for twenty-four goddamn years. That king you love so much hasn’t done shit for either me or Lorian, nor does the queen. You attacked us and separated us when we have nothing to do with what our future selves do. You called Lorian by their old name, you tackled me to the ground. You aren’t helping us with all this shit we don’t understand, you’re just following the king’s orders like a scent hound under their master’s command. So excuse me if I don’t trust or think highly of you, because from where I stand, you’re nothing but all the people in my life who’ve hurt me for the mere reason that I have this fucking mark on my head.” 

Her headache panged so hard that she doubled over. It radiated from her eyes down her neck, burning up her head and all of her thoughts. 

Tired and brittle from nerves, all she wanted to do was yell at this stupid man for everything she was angry about. His stupid rhetoric, his stupid mustache. She had half a mind to step on his foot just because she could. 

As she fought through throwing up, she saw the Constable reach out his hand to her. 

She slapped it down. “Don’t touch me.” 

“I’ll need to if I’m to get back home.” 

“If I were as terrible a person as you, I’d leave you here to waste away in a timeless space vacuum.” She strode off, not caring what she wanted or needed to see, and headed towards the Colosseum. Maybe she could catch an opera and ride out this unfortunate time with the Constable in peace. 

He jogged up behind her. He looked so vulnerable without his hat and jacket. No way was Aida to return his jacket that was still over her shoulders. That and his rapier were hers and Lorian’s. 

“I apologize for my previous actions against you. I was truly only working underneath His Majesty’s orders, so it wasn’t as though I could go against—” 

“Oh, fuck off. Don’t try to understand where I’m coming from just because I’m your ticket out of here. You’re a coward. Get fucked.” 

He stayed quiet but continued following her. Aida wanted to look back and yell at him some more, really tell him off and accuse him of being a shitty man, but she didn’t have it in her anymore. He’d ruined so much of what she’d been working for that she didn’t care to try to change him anymore. 

Nobody looked over their way, and when Aida tried waving at someone to get their attention, they looked through her and kept on their way. She relaxed knowing that she could safely ride out her frustrations with only the Constable as her witness. She needed a date to know where she was in the timeline. The people dressed almost too modernly. 

She walked up to the Colosseum and looked for a way in. The front doors had been closed, but on the advertisement board showcased posters about an upcoming show. They were painted dark with the motifs of roses and clocks bordered by a red, scaly tail. 

Aida read the title of the opera and bit her lip. En Tempore Rose. 

Finally, the one good thing to happen during a jump. After dealing with the Constable for however many more hours they’d be stuck here, at least she’d have the joy of watching a rehearsal or even the live show of her dreams. 

She jogged up the steps and tried for the handle only for her hands to slip around it like it was coated in oil. She turned around, searching for someone to come up and open it for her. 

A crowd of highly dignified people took their time coming up the steps. One woman carried a parasol for the Sun, and the men were dressed in their formal attire of red and black suits. 

A little Visatorre girl no more than eight was with them. She was dressed in a brown dress and went just below her knees and had her hair done in two outrageous braids she must’ve done herself. Her glasses were too big for her face and kept falling off of her little button nose, and she had a cute little bandage over her skinned elbow. 

The Constable, who’d looking at a passing officer, ran up the steps, his eyes set on the girl. “What is happening?” 

Aida’s heart skipped a beat, but not in a gentle, giddy sort of way. She was looking deadest into a mirror, and she only just then realized that this little one was her. She’d mentally erased most of her childhood. She’d never thought it’d hit her so soon. 

With her heart cracking, Aida quickly searched the moving crowds for her mother. This must’ve been when she and her family had come to Roma City to sell their milk and eggs and hide. If her mother found out, if she found Aida getting into trouble… 

Little Aida was smart. She’d been waiting for a family of wealth to come by. When she had her target, she ran up against their dresses, making herself as small as possible. She even maneuvered around the ladies’ dresses so she wasn’t seen by officers. She had a plan. 

At such a big group, the officers preemptively opened the doors, and as the people showed their tickets, Little Aida slipped her way through the Colosseum doors. 

Aida lost her voice. She couldn’t warn the little one about how much trouble this would lead her to. She didn’t remember when or where, but she remembered the feeling, the fear. She wondered if seeing the Colosseum was ever worth the sacrifice. 

“Come on,” the Constable said. “Are we meant to follow her? Is this how time travel works?” 

Aida backed up. This was it, her one chance to see her favorite play, with the memories of an adult instead of a naive child too curious for her own good. 

But she couldn’t do it. Her mother, she’d be looking for her. Not now—she probably hadn’t realized Aida was gone until she needed her help with a chore neither her nor her other daughters wanted part in. When she’d find out, her mother would drag her out by the collar of her dress and beat her. 

She shut her eyes. She couldn’t bear it, not when she couldn’t do anything to stop what would always happen. 

The Constable turned back. The crowd kept flowing inside and took him in like a bobber against the current. “What’s the matter with you? Hey!” 

Aida shook her head as she backed up more and more. She should’ve been smarter. She was a child, lost in the wild fascinations of a show she’d wanted to see for years, but she should’ve known better all the same. 

The officers began closing the door. The Constable called for Aida and tried to fight his way back out, but Aida was too afraid to move. Her brain told her that she didn’t need anything in this place. 

The double doors shut, separating them. 

The direness of her actions hit seconds too late. She could barely control her jumps right now, and she couldn’t do it well when she was this afraid or upset. If she were to go back to the carriage, the Constable would be trapped as a ghost in this world forever and, despite hating him, she couldn’t leave him here to die. 

“Wait.” She tried for the door. “Hey, Carmine!” 

He didn’t answer. The doors were too thick, she couldn’t even hear the sound of the possibly hundreds of people gathering for the performance. 

Panicking, she stumbled back down the steps and looked up at the Colosseum. There were nearly a dozen other entrances to this place. Scaling to the first set of archways was out of the question, though with a fitter, stronger person, it might’ve been possible. 

She walked the perimeter of the Colosseum, a sense of déjà vu guiding her. Some parts were still barred by fences or chains, and some areas had more officers patrolling than what seemed necessary. A few walked through the woods, others walked too close to the edge of the higher archways. Those ones had crossbows at the ready like hunters. 

If Aida had been visible, she would’ve been dead by now. 

She came up to the side entrance where Frederico had entered in the past. These doors were just as approachable as the main gates but on nearly the entire other side of the Colosseum. A singular carriage was parked by the tree line, and bored officers were playing cards on the steps. Their swords were unfastened from their belts. One even had his boots off, much to the dismay of his other comrades. They poked fun at him for the smell. 

“Should be over soon,” one of them said. “Intermission’s coming.” 

“They see the opera so often, I’m surprised they don’t have a personal performance at the palace.” 

Aida listened from behind a broken column. 

“Wouldn’t be the theater if there wasn’t an audience.” 

“Maybe you should play the princess, then!” one officer jeered, and tossed his shoes at the other officer. 

Aida ducked her head through the open door into the Colosseum. 

Perhaps it was how much she’d researched the architectural feat, or perhaps it was from Eve and her bloody execution, but just stepping foot into this place felt oddly surreal. Her temperature dropped and ears fuzzed up. Thousands of people had been massacred here, and hundreds had been tortured, beaten, torn apart by lions for the amusement of the sickened hearts who found such bloodshed entertaining. She knew that underneath these polished floors lived the disgraced skeletons of those Visatorre being used as morbid decorations. They were a reminder to a horrible past, where Eve had been buried a millennium too late. 

She held her stomach, feeling sick with herself. A hollowness ate into her broken bones as she travelled deeper into the building. She hated how much of history was drenched in innocent blood. It made her rethink her profession. What good was a historian if they couldn’t fix all the monuments and landmarks that marked the dead? She needed to do more. For them. For what Eve had fought so hard for only to lose it in a single night. 

Someone ran down the dark hall, and through her memories of being chased, hunted, she flinched. An officer, her mother, Eve, a skeleton from the past ready to kill her for being alive when they couldn’t be. 

The Constable stumbled back, a hand on his rapier. “Good God, you frightened me,” he said, exasperated. “No one in this damn building can see me. It’s like I’m invisible. Even my hands seem to go through them.” 

Aida caught her breath. A scowl returned to her tense face. “That’s because you are invisible.” She fanned out her dress collar, trying to regain her composure. She was safe here. So long as she was in the past, she wouldn’t get hurt. 

“Is this how it always is when you travel? This…cold? I feel so off here.” 

“That’s something you get used to. Consider yourself lucky you’re not stark naked, or that you’re going to jump back without a bloody nose or a broken spine.” 

“It’s not like I take pleasure in the fact that Visatorre suffer from their jumps.” 

“Sure.” She started walking. 

He followed. “Are you alright?” 

“Splendid.” 

“Because you seemed afraid of coming in here. Do you have memories of this place?” 

“You’d be afraid too if you were a Visatorre.” 

“What does that mean?” 

“Visatorre aren’t allowed in the theater.” 

“What’re you talking about? Of course they are.” 

Aida rolled her eyes. “You really don’t know shit about Visatorre people, do you?” 

“I know there are no laws preventing them from seeing and performing in the theater.” 

“Yeah, but there’re unspoken rules about ‘certain people disrupting the quality of the show’, so showrunners and directors don’t sell or offer opportunities to Visatorre. Are you really that daft about the goings-on of your own country?” 

“I’m not. I’m sure that I’ve seen Visatorre in the theater before. I’m sure…” He looked into the wall. 

“Visatorre face more oppression than you care to admit,” she told him. “Just because it doesn’t affect you or your circle of friends doesn’t mean it isn’t still happening.” 

They continued walking in silence towards what she believed to be the main arena. The walls vibrated from the sounds outside. They were getting close to the center. 

“I still don’t think we should stay so far apart,” the Constable squeezed in. “I know you hate me, but this’s all very new to me.” 

Aida continued ahead. 

“If I can do anything to make things—” 

“Last time I checked, you didn’t help me when I was unfairly taken away from my dream school and you didn’t help Lorian when they’d been struggling to stay alive in the palace.” 

An actual stab of pain struck the Constable’s face. He opened his mouth to protest her, then closed it and chewed on his inner cheek. He actually looked upset, like he wasn’t aware of exactly what he was doing. She didn’t know if that was meant as a gain for her. 

Why was she so careful about hurting his feelings? He’d made her and Lorian’s lives shitty from taking everything they wanted from them. She should’ve left him in the past for a few years before even thinking about saving him. 

The Constable suddenly jerked to a stop, eyes wide like he’d just seen a ghost. His hand went to his rapier as he looked behind and above him. 

“What?” Aida asked. 

He ran up ahead and peered around the corner. His hands were trembling now. “Is there any way to change time?” he asked. “Can you do it? Can you change things that happen now so they don’t happen in the future?” 

“Uh, I don’t think so any—” 

And he left. 

“Hey!” She gave chase. “I was talking to you!” 

He didn’t stop. He was on a mission, slipping on the carpet as he made his way around the tight corner. It looked like he somewhat knew where he was going, double-taking each four-way intersection before choosing the right or wrong path. Wherever he was going, they were moving farther away from the thrumming of the theater. 

What Aida first heard was a girl, then a girl crying, or pretending not to cry, covering her mouth so as not to be so obvious about her pain. Aida first thought it was her little self, but this person sounded more mature with her sorrow. 

Turning their last corner, Aida bumped into her frozen Constable. They were at a dead end, the hall lit only by a single sconce about to flicker out. Two young people sat on a low bench beneath a painting of a Roman field, holding each other close. 

Young Carmine looked better without his full mustache. He seemed to be growing it out, poor soul, but it wasn’t doing him any favors to look older than what he was. His hair was longer, too, tied in a ponytail that ran down his back, and he wore an officer uniform without any honorary medals. 

The girl he was with had the longest blond hair Aida had ever seen. It hit the bench and flowed down to her high heels. It—she—looked like royalty. 

Aida’s Constable touched his heart, almost in a bow. 

“Oh, shit,” Aida said, realizing a second too late what they’d stumbled into. 

Young Carmine took out a handkerchief and patted Young Queen Rosalia’s cheek. She might’ve been able to do it herself if not for the bruise forming over her delicate wrist. It swelled purple and blue from an injury. 

“It’s nothing, really,” Young Rosalia whispered. “We should get back.” 

“You needn’t worry about Durante right now. I’ll take care of him.” Young Carmine wrapped the handkerchief around her wrist. “Does that feel any better?” 

“It does, yes.” She dropped her head against his shoulder. “You’re too kind to me, Carmello. I can’t ever repay you for how much you care for me.” 

“When have I ever stopped, Your Highness?” 

She chuckled weakly. “That title no longer applies to me.” 

“It does when I’m with you.” 

Real Carmine, Aida’s Carmine, broke from his spell and put a hand in front of Aida. “W-we need to leave, now.” 

“Uh, no?” Aida said. “What’s going on here?” 

He could only shake his head, now a little breathless from the scene before them. He still hadn’t looked away from Rosalia. 

Young Rosalia flinched from a pulse of pain. Both Real Carmine and Young Carmine flinched as well, but his younger self helped the most. He placed the gentlest kiss against her wrist, leaving a trail up and down her fingers. 

Young Rosalia sniffled. “I don’t know why he was so angry with me,” she cried. “I tried so hard to keep everyone happy this morning, but the moment I’m overcome by the beauty of the theater is when he grasps me. He said I was being rude by ignoring him.” 

“I should’ve been there to intervene.” 

“You were busy with Bea and Lucia. I don’t fault you for not being in two places at once.” 

Turning over Rosalia’s hand, Young Carmine licked the center of her wrist. 

“Carmello, we can’t. This isn’t like back in my study.” 

“Rosie, I can’t see you getting hurt by him any longer.” 

“It’s not that bad.” 

“Oh, no more of that, please.” He touched her chin. “Have you sought the option of divorce? I’ve done the research. If he’s abusing you and you are the leading heir—” 

She was already shaking her head. “The public’s already polarized about my fragility. If I go through a divorce, they’ll see me as weak. My advisors have already warned me about going through with this. And I can’t do that to poor Lucia and Beatrice, they’re already going through so much right now. This is fine.” She held him with her good hand. “This is all I need.” 

Young Carmine reached up to the side of Young Rosalia’s face, to which she nestled into it like a baby bird. His fingers played with the hidden locks he found next to her ear and neck. He brought her in closer. She fluttered her eyes closed. 

Aida’s Constable physically pushed her and himself away. 

“Hey!” 

“I can’t do this,” he muttered to himself. “We need to leave.” 

Aida tried to protest, but he was stronger than she was. Turning her head, she caught sight of the couple hand in hand, their faces close enough to kiss but not. 

Catching up with the Constable was harder now that he was trying to distance himself from his own past. Questions and jabs at his own hypocrisy about following the rules came bitterly to Aida’s tongue, but she held back. This was his first jump, so not only was his brain being scrambled, he and she had just witnessed something that probably was never meant to be known outside of that hallway. 

She pushed herself to walk side by side with him. She’d never seen a love displayed so softly before. Not even Eve held Queen Julia with as much care. While she didn’t know what to say about that, this quietness was annoying her. 

Figuring this was the best she could give him, she said, “I ain’t gonna squeal about what I just saw.” 

He lowered his head in shame. 

“Truly,” she promised. “I won’t. What you do behind closed bedroom doors is not my business.” 

“I…I can’t find a way to justify what we saw.” 

“She’s your queen,” she said with a shrug, “and she’s gorgeous. I’d understand why you did what you did. But, Gods, if the king found out you were fadoodling his wife, he’d hang you so fast.” 

“Please,” he begged. “I cannot ask you not to tell anyone about this, but if I can ask you one thing, I ask that you not tell Lorian about this. I want her—them—to trust me, and if they know that this’s happening, it’ll put more burdens on both them and Ro—the Queen.” 

Aida studied his pleading, embarrassed face. Out of everything she was interested in right now, the Constable’s love life, no matter how messy, was at the bottom of the fucking list. 

“Please don’t see me in a bad light,” he said. “I am truly trying to do what’s best, and I don’t want the doom the crown because almost all of the people living there mean the world to me.” 

“Hold on a second, do you actually think I’m trying to doom the crown? Is that what you think I’ve been doing this entire time? All I’m trying to do is tell the truth, the honest truth of a history your rulers seemed to have erased.” 

“Well, how am I supposed to read your mind? Your future self has given me no hints to her plans, just that she plans on making a fool out of me in every instance. And that she’s planning big things for you, and that she’s excited about what’s to come, whatever that means. I try to pay her no mind when she speaks.” 

She didn’t know how she felt about her future self speaking for her to people she still didn’t trust, but she couldn’t imagine how much strife she’d put him through. 

That eased her spirit some. 

“I saw your grades at Durante Academy,” the Constable continued, “and all the hard work you’re putting into this mission of yours. You would make a fantastic historian.” 

A piece of dust flew into Aida’s eye, making her blink back forcefully. “Then why did you take it away from me?” 

“I had my orders.” 

“So I was right. I was only taken off of the scholarship because of who I was, not because my grades were lacking or my determination was misplaced.” 

Him not meeting her eyes told her everything she needed to know. She did know it, deep down, that that was the reason, she’d just never expected it to be confirmed. 

“I’m not going to say that me trying to catch your future self suddenly changed my perspective on social justice or what have you. I’m just saying that…seeing the royal family happy is all I want out of my life. Beatrice and Lorian, and the Queen…” He held his heart. “I’ve never seen Lorian so protective over anyone but you. And knowing they’re becoming that future self, I can’t describe it, but they seem filled with purpose. Back in the palace, they’d stay in their room for days, eating alone, lashing out, refusing to act on what they wanted. I believe you changed them for the better, and I don’t know how much you’ll believe me, but I’m grateful for you giving them a future.” 

Aida racked her brain to figure out when she’d changed them and if she’d been doing that on purpose. It came naturally, just like their first interaction at Durante Academy where they spent hours together in Aida’s dorm, talking about Eve. She’d talked at them, spilling forth all she knew about Eve because no one had ever listened to her while keeping eye contact. They’d cared about what she was saying. 

What was the Constable talking about? She hadn’t done anything. It was Lorian. Lorian had permanently broken her barriers and allowed her to enjoy living. 

They made it to the loudest part of the Colosseum. She heard the individual string instruments and drums playing the soundtrack. It was ramping up. Someone was giving a speech. 

“This door wasn’t open before,” the Constable said. They’d come to two double doors that led into the main auditorium near the orchestra pit. 

She could hardly tell she was in the center of the open Colosseum. Historical art was an important structure for Roma. It amassed its tourism and boasted its wars and the riches it won. And Romans, in a broad sense, were known for their hedonism. Their parties were wild, their sex lives sporadic. And the art they relished in had to be up to their high standards. 

So, for grand theatrical productions, the monarchy reconstructed the Colosseum into a theater. They hung up special tiling to allow performances to play in any weather and to control the lighting. The center stadium transformed into a half-circle stage draped with curtains and levels for the performers to invent into worlds at their will. The royal seating, seats for the wealthiest spectators, were in boxes constructed high above. Five stories high, these seats, furnished with sofas and elegant red curtains laced in gold, let the richest of the rich enjoy the art from above like true Gods. 

The theater was filled to capacity, hundreds of seats hosting eyes all drawn to the stage. The ballerinas were poised around a fake yet beautiful crystal lake, sitting beautifully yet arched in a way that told you they’d practiced it for days to perfect. Neither Pinnacle nor the Dragon nor even the Goddess were on stage. Black smoke was settling around the hidden nooks of the lifelike ferns and hanging crescent moon. This must’ve been somewhere during the intermission, when the Goddess had been struck by the tooth of the dragon and all of nature weeps. The ballerinas were meant to be the lily of the valleys and the dewdrops of the morning, dressed in delicate whites and pearls. 

The stage drew Aida in. All she saw, all she heard, came from the stage, from these characters she loved to get lost in. The world could’ve been ending tomorrow by her own hands and it wouldn’t have mattered. At this moment, all she had was her Pinnacle and his Isle, and his fantastical journey he’d created for himself. 

The curtains fell, and a short murmur spread throughout the crowd. They sat up and talked amongst themselves as they went to get more food. Aida sat down in the aisle next to the first row of seats. She smoothed down her dress, taking in the front row seat she’d never get to have again. The orchestra wasn’t as loud as she’d imagined. The seats felt firmer than they looked. 

“Wow.” 

The little girl’s exclaimed breath was barely audible, but Aida heard it. She hadn’t even noticed the two figures hiding next to her. They’d made themselves small so they wouldn’t be noticed, but the audience nearest them had. The women had fans to their mouths, whispering to their company about the two lost children. 

Little Aida was holding the hand of a blond-haired child. Together, they watched the stage with stars in their eyes. Their childlike joy—the dropped jaws, them leaning in to watch at a better angle—was too pure for Aida’s heart. 

“That was incredible,” the blond-haired one whispered. They wore their long hair down and were wearing a white dress with yellow highlights around their chest and puffy sleeves. While it was hard for Aida to see herself as a child, she knew Lorian’s lisp and facial features anywhere, even as a little one. “That boy was fantastic. I’ve seen Pinnacle be played by many men, but that one was the best. He looked like a real gladiator.” 

“He  looked just like you,” Little Aida whispered back.  “Was he your brother?” 

“I haven’t a brother, but the Goddess looked just like you. You have the same braids.” They picked up one of Little Aida’s braids and played with the end between their fingers. “They’re really pretty.” 

“Thanks, but where’d they go? Where is everyone?” 

“I believe it’s intermission. Do you wish to give chase?” 

“Yeah! But…” Little Aida looked up at the balcony boxes. “You said your family’s up there.” 

“They are, but they don’t care about me, so it’s fine.” 

Aida looked up for herself. Little Lorian had said that too matter-of-factly and without a hint of sorrow. To think a child thought their family didn’t care for them at such a young age. 

“Mine don’t, either,” Little Aida said easily. “I snuck in here without them knowing.” 

“Did you really?” Little Lorian’s smile doubled. They were missing a front tooth. “That’s so cool.” 

Little Aida returned their beam. “Thanks. “What’s your name, by the way?” 

“It’s a long name, but you can call me—” 

“No,” Little Aida interrupted. “I like hearing people’s full names. You can tell a lot about a person’s last name. It’s also called a ‘surname’. Did you know that?” 

Little Lorian chuckled, then placed an exaggerated hand over their heart. “My name is Lucia Maria Carolus Durante di Romano.” 

Little Aida pieced the name together in her mind. “Maria Carolus…Wait, Romano? Like the royal family?” 

“Well, my name is actually Lorian.” 

“Oh. So, are you a princess?” 

They shook their head. They lied as easily as they breathed, even at this age. “No, but I’m gonna be an officer. No, a prince. Just like Pinnacle.” 

“Pinnacle isn’t a prince, he’s an orphan who lost his father to sea, and if you read the books, you find out that he’s actually a god who lost all of his powers and needs to get them back. Have you read the books?” 

“Alas, I have not.” 

“Whoops.” 

“You’ll have to show me sometime.” 

“I will.” She held out her pinkie, and Lorian locked theirs around hers, their fates interwoven. 

Aida covered the smile forming on her face. To think she’d forgotten this first meeting with her favorite person, her person, in such a quiet way. No one in her family had cared to listen about her love for her stories. Lorian had been her first. They’d always been her first. 

“I’m sorry, I forgot to ask you for your name,” Little Lorian said. 

Little Aida sat up proudly. “I’m actually a princess from a faraway island. I can control the wind and read people’s minds. I also own a dragon, just like Pinnacle.” 

“Really? That’s impressive. What island do you govern?” 

The people around them whispered more. Others kept quiet because that’s what one did at the theater back then. 

Little Aida looked up at the decorated ceiling of Gods. “I don’t know. My memories got all fuzzy when I was adopted by a mean dragon, but my real pet dragon’s sleeping right underneath this place, so don’t make me mad, or else I’ll make her eat you.” 

“I’d love to meet this dragon one day. My sister says dragons aren’t real, but there’re too many stories about them across the world for them not to exist.” 

“Your sister sounds like a dummy, just like mine. Where is she? Up there?” 

When Little Aida turned back to the play, Little Lorian, staring longingly at her, pulled out their skeleton key from around their neck. It seemed comically large in their small hands. “Do you want to go backstage? This key can open almost any door in the world.” 

“The whole world?” 

Little Lorian nodded enthusiastically. “Yeah! Let’s go now, though, before—” 

“Lucia!” 

The Constable—not the one she’d come with, the other—came down the stairwell leading to the balcony boxes. He was out of breath and had a noticeable blush still on his face from his time with Young Rosalia. 

The Constable she’d come with, who’d been watching over them from the shadows, turned at his younger self’s voice. 

“Lucia Romano, you come here right now!” he said. He grabbed hold of Little Lorian’s hand and brought them to their feet. “Your father said not to leave his side.” 

“No!” They gave Aida a pitiful look and reached out for her. Little Aida did the same, desperate to keep hold of her first and only friend. 

“Aida!” 

The anger of her mother’s voice choked up both Aidas. While Young Carmine sounded no more than a young adult trying hard to command authority, her mother, who was bounding into the auditorium with two officers, knew how to wring out and ruin a young child’s heart. 

Young Carmine gave Aida’s mother a short bow before hauling Lorian back up the stairs to their family. 

“No!” They screamed, causing a scene that would’ve surely gotten them in trouble, but Aida, as well as Little Aida, stared in horror as their mother came for them. 

“You come here!” 

“She must’ve snuck in,” one of the officers said. 

“She does that, always getting into places she doesn’t belong. Come here.” 

The whispered threat sent both Aidas up. She could almost defend herself now, but as a child, without the knowledge that such punishments weren’t meant to happen… 

She followed her mother and little self out of the Colosseum. She was a different type of Visatorre. Perhaps, if she willed herself, she could finally change the timeline. 

She grabbed hold of her mother’s tense shoulder, trying to get her to stop. “Stop!” 

The Constable followed closely behind her. “Is this your mother?” 

“Stop!” Aida repeated. 

Her mother brought Little Aida outside and around the corner near the fences, away from curious Roman eyes. 

“Ow!” Little Aida tried prying herself away. “Mo’mma, that hurts!” 

Aida tried for her. Her fingers slipped in and out of theirs, her ghostly presence just that. She wasn’t strong enough or smart enough to figure out how to be visible during the only times it mattered. 

“You could’ve gotten me fined for that. Why don’t you ever listen to me?” 

Little Aida wailed at being tied to such a mother. 

“When I tell you to stay by the carriage, you stay by the—Listen to me!” 

“Stop it!” Aida wailed, but her mother raised her hand. 

This woman knew how to give her beatings quietly so as not to cause any alarm. She hit Aida’s cheeks and temple, her back and arm. Slaps gave away the abuse, so she resorted to punching. It was her signature. 

Little Aida knew not to cry out. Crying during the pain gained her another punishment even worse than the first, behind closed doors so neither of them had to worry about being loud. 

Aida turned away and covered her ears. 

“What is…” The Constable looked to the real Aida. “Why is she doing that?” 

She didn’t know. She never, ever knew what justified a mother to hit her own child, even if they were the loudest, brattiest child. It wasn’t right. It didn’t make sense. 

The Constable turned back to Aida’s mother. “Stop it.” 

Her mother continued her beatings. 

“I command you!” He ran at her and forced his hands upon her, trying to break them apart. “Stop it! She’s but a child!” 

It was like a ghost trying to intervene with their own killer. Aida couldn’t find the voice to tell him it was in vain. At one point, he even cast a glance at the rapier sheathed at his side. If only he could’ve stabbed her mother through the heart, then she could’ve felt a fraction of the pain she’d caused Aida for so many years. 

When her mother was done, Little Aida was on the ground, quietly sobbing as she covered her head. Her cheeks were swollen and her nose was bleeding. Her legs wouldn’t stop shaking. 

Her mother huffed and wiped her hands on her smock. “Come with me,” she ordered, “and stop acting so stupid.” 

Little Aida hid her entire face in her arms as she was led back to the family that didn’t want her. 

For the first time in her life, Aida thanked Circa for tampering with her lack of memory. It helped to mask the pain she wished to forget, but now, reliving it secondhand, she would’ve preferred bleeding in the brain. Anything more than these resurfacing feelings. Anything more than the truth about her past. 

Someone touched her shoulders. She flinched again, hands up to defend herself. 

The Constable stepped back. His look of questioning concern about being in the past had turned to abject horror at the situation. 

“Please,” she said, feeling pathetic that she had to resort to begging. “Don’t bring me back to her. I’ll do anything. I’ll take jail time, I’ll take time in the Colosseum, old-fashioned style.” 

“Aida—” 

“I’d rather die.” A hundred hurtful thoughts hit her at once. She sobbed. “I’d rather die than be a part of this timeline. Without Lorian, I can’t do anything by myself. I’m nothing. Without them…” 

The Constable touched her again. An older person’s hands didn’t feel right on her body. 

“I want Lorian back,” she cried. “I want them back by my side. Please, I don’t want to be alone again.” 

The declaration hurt as painfully as her memories, but it was true. She was a lonely girl and had been lonely for so many years. She had to cram her young life with pages of someone else’s story to feel a part of life, but Lorian had come in, and together, the two had cowritten written series. Adventures and romance and horror and mystery, bringing her into the most real version of herself. 

She couldn’t let all those words disappear. It was their story to give to the world. 

The Constable looked down in thought, his hands still on Aida’s shoulders. 

“You want to see the good in Roma,” Aida said. “Do you seriously think bringing Lorian back to the palace is going to fix anything? Do you honestly think we’d stay separated? Our future selves are married, Carmine, fighting to keep history the way it’s supposed to be in their own chaotic ways. It’s true that I don’t know the ins and outs of it, and maybe I don’t understand everything that my future self is planning, but I know where I need to be and what I need to do. Help me help Roma, Carmine. Help the people you love, and above all else, if not me, help Lorian, because I know you care for them like their own father.” 

The last word broke through the layer of uncertainty they shared as rivals. It sparked his true intention to see Lorian safe, and happy, and he knew that it wasn’t at the palace. 

He got up, fixed the cuffs of the undershirt that was still dirty from their scuffle in the woods. 

He gave her his hand to take. “You and that future self of yours are going to be the death of me, aren’t you?” 

She smirked. “You know it.” 

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