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The Personal History of Mr. Lucius Marcell - Part I

The Personal History of Mr. Lucius Marcell Part I: In which he acquires a New TA There is one sentence that nearly every child grows to loath. The utter hate and disgust behind the specific way these words are phrased becomes so ingrained into the very soul that even years later, the mere mention can send shivers running full tilt down the spine. The phrase I am referring to is of course: “So, how was school today?” See, it worked. Isn’t it funny how four tiny little words can leave such an impact? It may not even be what the sentence implies that causes the body to convulse with revolt: those memories of drab halls, graffiti-crusted bathrooms, and the feeling that absolutely no one wants to be there. Rather, I would argue that it is the prospect of actually answering the question at all that is the concern. How is one supposed to respond? “Absolutely terrible. I’m bored, no one likes me, and I feel very much alone”? Clearly, the truth will not suffice. This merely invites further probing. No, there is only one way to field such a question. Observe. “So, how was school?” Ms. Miller asked her children from across the rotisserie chicken that she had purchased from the supermarket earlier that evening. When no one responded—Mike taking a massive bite out of a leg to keep his mouth busy while Cindy looked down at her plate—she let out a small huff of indignation and glared at each of them in turn. “Cynthia?” She dug. Said teenage daughter shrugged in response. “Fine,” she said. “Just ‘fine’?” her mother asked. “Honey, it’s your first day of senior year, the best year of your life.” “Sure. Whatever.” Cindy turned back to her food. The last time she’d given half a damn about school had been a full two years ago. Sophomore Cynthia had been a straight A, 4.0 student, a two-time runner up at state for track, and president of the student council. After some unpleasantness—read, a nervous breakdown in the middle of lunch—and a lot of soul searching, here she was: a B average student with not a lot else to do. What had triggered such a breakdown of her essential personality? Stress mostly, but she didn’t particularly like to get into it. The point was that she was over her delusions of grandeur and overall a much better person. At least she thought so. Ms. Miller pouted once she realized that she was getting nothing else out of the older child, but quickly turned to her son instead. “Mike?” she asked. “How about you?” Sure he would reply much the same way as she had, so that the interrogation could end and they could get on with their lives, Cindy turned her thoughts elsewhere. It took her a second to get over her brain fart when Mike said something completely unexpected. “It was...” he began. “Kinda weird.” Mike! no! The inside of her head screamed. You were the chosen one! You’ve doomed us all! Looking pleased, Ms. Miller proceeded with her questioning. “Weird?” she tilted her head. “What do you mean?” “Well,” he began, “it was all pretty normal, but then after lunch I had—” Mike paused for a split second, narrowing his eyes slightly as if he didn’t quite believe what he had seen. “I had history with that Marcell guy.” If there had been one word to bring her out of her blue screen of death and into a whole other level of panic, it was that one. Cindy stared a hole into her brother, trying to telepathically yell at him to stop talking. But it was much too late. “Cynthia,” her mother turned back to her, “didn’t you have Mr. Marcell when you were a sophomore?” “Yes,” she sighed. “He’s a little... eccentric.” Mike opened his mouth to say something, but closed it again just as quickly. It appeared he had come to the same conclusion as Cindy had two years ago. The thought had just taken a little longer to pierce his thick skull. It was simple really: if he told his mother about Marcell, she would never believe him. Not about the darkened room due to his “rare skin condition”, not about the unit on Atlantis, and least of all about his habit of yelling at the textbook whenever it disagreed with him. Marcell had rarely been mean, and never creepy, but he was kind of a weirdo. Except you never came upon this revelation until after the fact. When you were in his classroom, you were the weirdo. At least, that’s what it had always felt like to Cindy, though that could have just been sophomore Cynthia’s appalling lack of self-esteem. The rest of dinner passed quickly enough; the courtroom adjourned once Ms. Miller realized that neither of her children really wanted to talk about Marcell and his odd demeanor, and Cindy nearly forgot about the whole thing. She had essays to write, and more importantly, time to waste on the internet. So, it was almost unexpected when she got the text from Mike the next day in the middle of sixth period: Might have left my lunchbox in Marcells. But hes really creepy. Will u plz get it for me? Ill do ur chores for a month!!! And this was the captain of the sophomore soccer team. What a little wuss. But the offer was tempting. She hated cleaning the toilet. 2 and uve got urself a deal, she typed back under the desk. There was a long pause, and then the answer came. Fine. Thx! Cindy groaned. She never imagined ever having to set foot in that classroom again. The space still seemed to inhabit an entirely different plane of existence for her, one filled with AP tests and sore feet from hours of running, stress about grades and boys you didn’t really like. Yet far too soon, the final bell rang and she found herself making her way down that old, familiar hallway, procrastinating in any way she could.

And then, suddenly and without warning, she was at the door. It was ajar, and beyond it lay the soft blue of not-quite darkness. Peering inside, the classroom seemed empty, and Cindy’s eyes darted back and forth before landing on the red lunchbox that sat on the dirty tile floor, just beside the hard seat of a desk. She darted in, intending to snatch the lunchbox and make a quick escape, but the instant her fingers brushed the handle of the lunchbox, she froze. “That’s not yours, is it,” said a voice. It was not a question. Firmly gripping the box, Cindy turned to find a figure sitting with his feet propped on the teacher’s desk, smirking. Ah yes, she’d nearly forgotten about his habit of appearing out of nowhere when you weren’t looking. This time, she was sure he hadn’t been there a second before. “It’s my brother’s,” she attempted an innocent smile. He didn’t seem to recognize her. It had been two years, after all, and she had changed a lot since then. “So he chickens out and makes you get it, huh? I didn’t think I was quite that terrifying.” He laughed, sitting up now. “Which one is he?” “Mike Miller,” she sighed. “And I think he thought since I survived a whole year with you...” Marcell frowned, eyebrows knitted closely as he held up a finger. “You took my class?” He asked. “Miller... Miller... wait!” He finally remembered, then shook his head. “Nooo. Cynthia?” His brown, almost red eyes widened incredulously. She nodded, embarrassed. “Though most people call me Cindy these days, if they bother to talk to me at all.” “I thought you must have transferred schools, since someone else took over the school council the next year. You’ve certainly changed.” He stood from the swivel chair and leaned against the front of the desk. “You cut your hair.” “And that’s the first thing you notice?” she laughed, shaking her head. “Of course,” he said. “You had the very distinct habit of flipping it to the side when you were about to start arguing with me.” Cindy felt herself blush a little. She had been such a little bitch. “I probably wasn’t the most pleasant student.” “On the contrary,” he countered, “it was certainly better than the silence I get from most kids. At least you kept me on my toes.” “I just couldn’t believe you were teaching a whole unit on a city that doesn’t exist.” “Ah,” he grinned, revealing sharp, white teeth. “Atlantis.” “Which I will never forget was actually a city on the lost continent of Lemuria, thank you very much.” Marcell crossed his arms over his chest. “Was it that strange?” He seemed bemused. “It wasn’t strange, it was just...” she shook her head, “different. You were different. I hate to admit that I spent a little too much time interrogating the other teachers to try to find out why.” A moment of silence ensued, in which Marcell seemed to be considering something. “Well,” Cindy shook herself. “I should get going.” She waved, turning to leave. “It was nice talking to—“ “Would you like to know why?” He asked suddenly, the final syllable seeming to float around the room. “Why I’m so... different, as you put it.” He added when she paused. A second passed, then two. Then five. Cindy wasn’t really thinking about what she would say, it was just that she never expected the offer to just suddenly give up all the secrets that made him eccentric Mr. Marcell. She’d tried the whole year to figure out his deal, and now he was just going to tell her? She’d almost forgotten he’d existed after everything that happened, but now that terrible, burning wonder all came tumbling back. “Yes,” she said finally, definitely, turning back towards him. “What if I told you I was two-thousand years old?” he asked, face completely straight. “Would you say I was crazy?” She raised an eyebrow. “I’d say you were pulling my leg.” “Then I don’t suppose it’d be any more plausible if I were a two-thousand year-old vampire.” “Absolutely not.” Marcell sighed, looking positively done. “I’m a two-thousand year-old vampire.” “Uh huh.” “I know most people think we’re only legends, and more recently, fictional teen heart-throbs.” He ran through the line as if he had rehearsed it many times. “But—“ “Don’t get me wrong.” Cindy interrupted, to which he looked surprised. “It’s not that I don’t believe vampires exist, I just find it hard to believe that my mild-mannered history teacher is a ‘creature of the night’.” He blinked. “That was... not the response I was expecting.” “Welcome to Ede Valley,” she chuckled, approaching the far window that somehow managed to be even more broken than when she’d last seen it. “Where we’re all just a little bit... strange.” On the last word she yanked the chain, which miraculously pulled up the shade just enough that the fading light from outside landed on Marcell’s face. He seemed merely miffed as smoke began to rise from his nose and the tips of his ears. Nodding, satisfied, Cindy shut the shade and strode back across the room, grabbing a loose chair and plopping it in front of Marcell’s desk. “Alright,” she said. “I believe you.” “You know that could’ve killed me, right?” He attempted to frown, though the corners of his mouth twitched upwards. She waved the question off. “You would have stopped me first.” Glancing back at him, Cindy put her chin in her hands and waited. They sat like that for a solid minute as the clock ticked quietly in the corner. “So, are you gonna tell me or what?” she asked finally. “What?” He replied. “How it happened, how you became a ‘Creature of the Night’” she gestured sarcastically. “Well you can’t just tell me you’re a vampire and then leave me hanging like that.” Marcell looked a little surprised. “You really want me to tell you? It’s... a long story. Don’t you have student council or track or something?” “Nah, I quit both of those a long time ago,” she shook her head. “I’ve got nowhere to be. So spill. Just who are you, Marcell?” “Where to begin...?” Marcell sighed, looking up at the ceiling. Cindy sat back. “How about at the beginning. That’s where stories usually start, right?” “The beginning...” He nodded slowly. “Now that was a very long time ago.” He took another deep breath, and Cindy waiting patiently for him to begin, “I was born in sometime in the sixties, BCE, that is. I don’t know the actual year as we kept track of time entirely differently back then than we do now. It was on the southern coast of Britain. Of course, it was usually referred to as Albion back then.” “Wait, wait,” Cindy interrupted. “BCE? You’re telling me you’re older than Jesus.” “Yes,” he said, a little impatiently. “Now do you want to hear or not?” Cindy stuck her hands up in surrender, and Marcell continued. “I lived in a small village, up on the top of a rise overlooking the coast. My uncle was a Smith, at that time a highly secretive and valued trade, so my life was more comfortable than most. We had three rooms in our hovel.” He had to pause as Cindy chuckled. “Like I said, a hovel. One that my father, uncle, brother, and I all shared. Thatch roof, walls that could blow over with a slight breeze, the works.” “What about your mother?” Cindy asked. Marcell smiled, though the expression didn’t quite reach his eyes. “She died shortly after my brother was born, which was a sadly common occurrence in those days.” “I’m sorry.” “Don’t be.” He shook his head. “I don’t remember her. And there wasn’t really time to think about things like that. My brother was learning to be a Smith under my uncle, so it was up to my father and me to put food on the table. I remember the old woods, so filled with spirits and gods, the only sound the birds overhead. Those were... carefree times.” “And something tells me they didn’t last,” Cindy said. Marcell nodded. “One morning, while my father and I were hunting near the beach, we heard something strange: voices. But they weren’t speaking in any tongue that we knew. Cautiously, we peered out from the trees to see a whole battalion of men with tan skin and golden, shining armor. ‘Who were they?’ We wondered. ‘Where had they come from?’ Then we saw their boats, though we weren’t sure if we could even call them that. They were enormous, towering over the men on the beach, more like dragons than vessels with which to tame the water. That was when we realized that they must have come from over the ocean.” “Who were they?” Cindy asked, leaning forward. “The Romans, of course. Didn’t you pay any attention in my class? The Romans invaded the southern tip of Britain in 55 BCE.” Blinking, Cindy shook her head. “Oh, right. I remember. Sorry, it’s just hard to connect you and... 55 BCE. Anyway, keep going.” “And then...” Marcell winced, as if he was watching a character in a book or a movie about to make a horrible mistake. “Just when we were about to turn around and get out of there, I stepped on a branch, the loudest branch in the world, it seemed. And the Romans heard. They turned towards the woods, looking for us. I remember my father gripping my shoulder so tightly, his eyes wide. These men were clearly warriors, with thick armor and sharp spears. We didn’t know what they would do if they found us. “One of them called something to the trees in their strange language. At the time I thought he was probably asking if anyone was there. I thought we were safe. But a second later, another Roman called in response from directly behind me, and I felt a spear tip poking at my back. The Romans were in the woods as well. “My father leaned over to me and whispered: ‘Run. Get back to the village, get your uncle.’ I paused, frozen in fear as the Roman began to prod us towards the beach. But my father had given me an order, you didn’t disobey your elders in those days. I nodded, just enough for him to see, and without warning the Roman, turned and streaked back through the trees. “From behind me came shouting, and then the crash of an army running through the woods. I panicked a little then. They were following me. There was no way I could outrun full grown warriors. But I knew the forest far better than they did, and within a few minutes, I had reached the village.” “Hold on,” Cindy interrupted. “I don’t mean to question your father, but isn’t it a terrible idea to lead your enemy back to your village?” Marcell nodded, thinking for a second. “By modern, or even Roman standards, maybe, but you have to understand that back then, the people of Britain weren’t so much kingdoms or even cities as tribes. We hadn’t experienced the art of organized warfare before. Everyone over the age of ten knew how to wield a sword, so leading a raid of disorganized warriors back to your village meant you’d probably outnumber them and probably win. But we were not prepared for the Romans. “As soon as the first huts appeared through the trees, I began to shout. ‘Help! Help! Uncle, anyone! There’s a raid!’ “Of course, as soon as they heard this, the people of the village, men, women, anyone who could fight began grabbing weapons. My uncle ran out of his workshop and grabbed me by the shoulders. ‘Who is it?’ He demanded, shaking me so much I could barely talk. “‘I don’t know,’ I shouted over the growing confusion. ‘Strangers, from over the sea!’ “But I didn’t have time to say more, because by then the first of the Romans were emerging from the trees.” “And you fought back, right?” Cindy asked. Marcell nodded. “Of course we did. Killed a few, too. I remember hitting one of them, a boy who couldn’t have been much older than I was, square between the eyes with an arrow. The blood just poured down his face before his eyes crossed and he collapsed, almost on top of me. But...” He sighed, looking off to the far wall. “We were slaughtered. “See, whenever we had warred with our neighbors, the battles had been relatively small, but uncontrolled. The easiest thing was to let the warriors go wild and rely on numbers to win. But the Romans had strategy, formations and the like. They didn’t act as a jumbled mess of warriors but as a single unit. “Though we fought valiantly, once my uncle, our leader, was killed with a spear to the chest, it was all over. The Romans cut through almost all of us, I watched my brother die right in front of me, and I almost followed him. My bow had been broken in the confusion, and as my eyes were glued upon the still body of my brother, his killer raised a sword to kill me too. But then, another soldier, an older man with watery, blue eyes, put a hand on his shoulder and said something to him. “I didn’t know the words, but they stuck with me until I eventually learned what they meant.” Cindy raised an eyebrow in question. “‘Nonne huic,’ he said. ‘Not this one.’” “Not this one...” Cindy repeated under her breath, thinking. “Wait. Didn’t you tell us that the Romans enslaved the people they conquered? The one’s they didn’t kill, at least?” Nodding, Marcell smiled. But he was not happy. “That is correct.” “So this Roman man spared you because he thought you would make a good slave?” Cindy’s heart dropped a little as Marcell nodded again, and then a little more as he held up his arm, and Cindy could see a faint, red discolored line running around his wrist that she’d never noticed before. “Why you?” She asked, her voice suddenly very small. “What made you special?” “I have an idea,” Marcell admitted. “But he never told me himself. “More importantly,” he continued, “that was the first time I saw her.” “Her?” Cindy frowned, confused. “In the old Celtic tradition, there are many legends of the Morrigan, the goddess of death. She is said to appear on the greatest battlefields, driving men to madness with her laughter. And there, right as the Roman raised his sword to end my life, there she was, skin pale as death and cloak of crow feathers blowing in the breeze as she guided his hand. At least until the blue-eyed Roman stopped him. I blinked, and the Morrigan was gone. For years afterward, I thought I had been seeing things.” “But you weren’t, were you?” Leaning forward, Cindy’s eyes narrowed. Part of her remained skeptical, but she of all people knew that there were strange things in this world. Marcell tilted his head, surprised. “What makes you say that?” “Because you wouldn’t have mentioned it otherwise.” “Very astute.” He nodded. “I’ll come to that later. “After the battle, almost everyone I knew and loved was dead. There were maybe four or five of us left, mostly young, the leftovers who for whatever reason hadn’t been killed outright. I think one of us fought, but I was so numb and confused that I don’t remember that much after that. “The Romans dragged us back through the forest, all of us tied together by one long rope. But reaching the beach only numbed my head more when I saw my father lying in a bloody pile at the edge of the woods. I should have felt sad or angry but I just felt... nothing. None of it seemed real to me. I let the blue-eyed Roman guide me onto one of their huge boats and into the dark below with all the rowers. "It wasn't until they actually started rowing that I realized what was happening. They were sailing away, back across the ocean, and were taking me with them. That was when I finally broke out of my trance and started screaming: ‘Stop! Turn the boat around! I want to go home!’ But of course no one could understand me. This was the first time the Romans had ever been to Britain, mind you. “I started tugging at the pole that I was tied to once a few of the Romans came down to see what was happening. The blood dripped down my arms, but I was too focused on the Roman who carried a whip. He had a particularly cruel look in his eyes, and didn’t look afraid to use the rope in his hands. But once again, the blue-eyed Roman stopped him simply by putting up a hand. “He approached me, saying a lot of words that didn’t make sense. ‘I want to go home,’ I cried, but he didn’t understand. ‘Please, let me go home.’ He just shook his head. Then his voice rumbled again, steady and low. I couldn’t tell what the words were but the tone quieted me. “As I continued to cry he wrapped his arms around me. Of course, in any other circumstance this would have frightened me more. He was a complete stranger, after all. But I had just lost everything, and whether he be the cause or not, the tears kept coming and I didn’t back away.” Cindy shook her head. “Man,” she said. “What was this guy’s deal?” “You’ll see soon enough,” Marcell adjusted in his chair, and continued. “The journey was many weeks, but it could have been forever for all I knew. The blue-eyed Roman often came down to see me, and eventually convinced the slaver, the one with the whip, to untie me from the pole so my wounds would heal. Gradually, as he talked, I began to pick up some of his words. Tempestas for storm, navis for boat. Tu for you and ego for I. Eventually, I learned that his name was Gaius Marcellus.” “Wait,” Cindy interrupted. “Marcellus? But isn’t your name—?” “I’ll get to that,” he intoned. “Don’t you have any sense of dramatic timing? Anyway, now I knew his name, but as soon as I told him mine, he just shook his head. From what I could grasp of what he was saying, my name was... well, bad. It wasn’t Roman. Non Romani est. I needed a new name. A Roman name.” “So this guy took everything from you, and now he was taking your name too?” Cindy asked. “Weren’t you angry?” Marcell thought for a second. “A little, I suppose. But keep in mind that I was unarmed, trapped in a small space with strangers who didn’t speak my language. I was far too scared to argue. This man could kill me if he wanted. So when he patted me on the head and said: ‘Your name is now Lucius,’ there wasn’t much I could do about it. It sounded a little like my name, I suppose. He got the ‘Lugh’ right at the very least. He and everyone else on the ship began to call me that, and eventually I started to respond to it. “I can’t remember how long we were at sea, I think at one point or another I lost track of the days. But one day, I felt the ship stop. I had almost forgotten what it was like to not be jostled around by the waves at every moment. Though I felt fear rising in my throat as I wondered just what would great me outside of the ship, I almost didn’t have to time to be properly scared, for just then, the slave master came and began to parade us onto the deck. “The air outside felt more thick and heavy than it should have been, and the light seemed almost... brighter, more stark than back home. I immediately hated it. The slave master began to force us done the gangplank and onto the dock below, but held out his stick when he got to me. ‘Not you,’ was what I think he said. ‘You with Marcellus.’” “The blue-eyed Roman?” Cindy shifted uncomfortably in her seat. “He bought you?” “Yes,” Marcell nodded. “Is something the matter?” She shook her head. “It’s just... hard for me to imagine. Buying another human being, I mean, renaming him at your whim like some kind of pet. And you... you talk about it so casually, like it’s nothing.” “In principle, I can see how appalling it would seem to you,” Marcell nodded slowly. “But in practice, being a slave in Rome was... very different from what you’re familiar with.” “How so?” “Some were treated cruelly, I suppose, those with harsh or uncaring masters, but for most a slave was almost... part of the family. It sounds strange, I know,” he laughed. “But we were provided room and board in exchange for work, allowed to have families, and routinely freed when we were too old to do the work we had been bought for.” Cindy’s face still remained scrunched in confusion. “I’m not trying to defend slavery. A slave is still a slave, after all. But in Rome, it often wasn’t the worst position to be in.” “Okay,” she nodded slowly. “I think I understand. What happened then?” "I waited a few minutes before Gaius came over. He placed a small bag of coins in the slaver’s hands and led me away. We plodded down the gangplank, landing on the bustling dock below. I stayed close to him. I’d never seen so many people in one place before. He kept a hand on my shoulder as he guided me into the strange city. “We went in the opposite direction than the rest of the slaves, and I looked over my shoulder, wondering where they were going. Though if I was honest, I didn’t think I wanted to know.” “So was this Rome?” Cindy asked. “No, no,” Marcell waved her off. “Rome was about two hours inland, along the Tiber River. This was Ostia, a small port on the coast. It was a rather small town at the time, but for me it was massive. There were people everywhere, flooding the paved streets, and the buildings seemed to tower over me, like they were trying to close me in.” “You’d never been to a town before,” Cindy realized, her eyes widening slightly. Marcell nodded. “I almost froze up, but Gaius was... very understanding. He led me through the town quickly and to a wagon that was waiting for us. I did know what this was.” He smiled wryly. “Gaius pointed at me and then at the wagon and I obeyed, climbing into the back. “The journey through the countryside was... hard, to say the least. It was the first vaguely familiar sight I had seen in weeks, the rolling hills and green trees were a little comforting, but I couldn’t help thinking that with every turn of the wheels I was getting further and further away from home. I didn’t cry, though I wanted to, and there was this twisting, knotted feeling in my gut that would not go away. “Eventually the wagon came to a stop, and looking up, I saw an enormous house with farmland and several other buildings surrounding it. We had arrived at Gaius’ villa.” “So you didn’t go to Rome at all, then?” “No, not just then.” Marcell shook his head. “And that was probably for the best. Remember how I had reacted seeing a town as small as Ostia. There were at least half a million people in the city of Rome at that time. But anyway, Gaius was not a rich man by any means, but he did have a villa about a day’s distance from Rome that provided an income from the farm, and a townhouse in Rome itself for festivals and events. “At first I was confused. The very concept of such a big house for only one person was something that I’d never really heard of. Gaius didn’t have to go hunt for his food, there was just masses of it stored in the kitchen, and there was no need to fear wolves or other predators, for there were none there anymore. “However, I adjusted fairly quickly. I think it is... easier for children to accept new things for what they are than adults. Gaius taught me enough Latin to get by, and I picked up quite a bit more from the other slaves. Within a year I was almost fluent in Latin, in another I had completely mastered it.” Cindy blinked. “Wow. That was fast.” “It was by necessity.” Marcell shrugged. “That was the one common language everyone spoke at the villa, and I had always been good at remembering things. Later, I would learn that I have a particular skill for languages. Gaius must have been impressed, for I quickly became his... I guess ‘Personal Assistant’ is the best way to put it. If he needed a letter written, I transcribed his words. If he needed to remember something, I remembered it for him.” “That must have been horrible,” Cindy said, shuddering a bit. Marcell tilted his head, looking genuinely confused. “How so?” “Well, you were taking direct orders from... uh, the man w-who destroyed your life,” Cindy frowned. “Didn’t that make you, like, angry?” “Perhaps a little at first.” Marcell nodded slowly. “There were several times I thought about killing him; it’s probably what my family would have wanted. Revenge for their deaths. But, well... I wouldn’t say I loved the man, but I respected him. “And I learned a lot about him. Gaius was a career soldier, finally just nearing the age of retirement. He’d had a family, a wife and son, but they had both died of plague when he had been on a campaign. Though he never really talked about it, I could tell that he missed them dearly. In that way I also learned possibly why he’d chosen me to save. One day, I found a drawing of his son, and—“ “Let me guess,” Cindy interrupted. “He looked just like you.” Marcell laughed. “Not exactly, but yes, the resemblance was there. So you see why I couldn’t bring myself to just kill him. And, as much as I hate to admit it, I was quickly ‘Romanized’, as we call it today. I enjoyed the easy, new life I was living. Yes, there was a long period of time where I missed the peaceful forests and old hut with my family inside desperately, but I buried that quickly. I think the books helped a lot.” “Books?” “Yes, Gaius had a large library in his villa. Sure, we had had stories and legends back in Britannia, but we had never written anything down. So whenever I wasn’t assisting Gaius I was down in the library, reading whatever scrolls I could get my hands on. It was a wonderful distraction, but I think the act of learning also excited me to no end. “And that was how it was for... oh, eight years. I read books, assisted Gaius, and even accompanied him to Rome several times. Eventually I began to feel more like some sort of weird nephew than a slave. The man was... kind to me.” “But...” Cindy leaned forward. The darkness of the room almost seemed to grow a little deeper as the smile shrunk from Marcell’s face. “But of course, nothing good lasts forever.” He nodded. “I was about twenty when I met her for the second time.” “The second—? Are you talking about—?” Cindy began. “The Morrigan?” He asked as she shifted in her seat. “Gaius was sick. He was getting old—it was a small miracle for anyone to live much past sixty at that time—and the last year hadn’t been kind to him. He’d been ill on and off for that time, but had just recently taken a turn for the worst. I was outside, getting some air, when I caught sight of the crow-feathered cloak walking down the road towards me.” Cindy smirked a little. “What, she wasn’t flying or cackling or anything?” “No,” Marcell laughed. “Just walking. I remember being frozen in place, unable to even breathe. Don’t get me wrong,” he said. “I was not really scared of death, just simply in awe. She seemed so powerful, so alien, like she was something not of this earth. She was death, she held humanity’s life in her hands, and could snuff it out at any moment. “She stopped a short distance away from me. I squinted, trying to get a view under the wide, dark hood. She said nothing, just stared back at me. “‘You’ve come for Gaius, haven’t you?’ I asked, and the hood nodded slowly. ‘What happens if I stand in your way?’ “From under the hood came laughter. It was hard, and so cold I physically shivered. ‘I remember you, boy’ she whispered. Her voice was surprisingly smooth, steady. ‘You’ve evaded me once before. Do you think you could do it again?’ “‘I don’t know,’ was all I managed to get out, my throat constricted by the cold the Morrigan emanated. “‘Come closer, boy,’ she held out a hand, and I began to walk towards her without meaning to. She finally let me stop about a foot away from her. Then she lowered the hood to look at me, and I flinched. She was beautiful, her skin a pale porcelain, her hair black as night and wild. But her eyes... they were clouded, dead. Like a blind woman, or a corpse. “She chuckled as she saw my reaction. ‘Surprising,’ she said, her blue lips parting, ‘you haven’t even screamed yet. Think you’re brave?’ “I shook my head. From all of the stories I’d heard, it was never a good idea to brag to a goddess, especially the goddess of death. “‘But you won’t step aside? You Britons are always so stubborn. Oh, but you’re not a Briton anymore, are you?’ “I looked away, down towards the dirt. What she said was true: I was not a Briton. I bore a Roman name and had a Roman master. But I myself didn’t feel like a Roman. I had never cared about the dictators and the wars and the politics. So what did I care about? This villa, and all of the books inside. Gaius, and all the slaves who worked for him. What would happen to them if he died? What would happen to me? “‘No,’ I replied firmly. ‘I will not step aside.’ “Her expression was icy, the smile falling off her face. Keep in mind,” he added as he saw Cindy’s confused face, “that gods are not like you and I. They are ageless, all-powerful, and used to getting their way. You do not stand in their way. I probably wasn’t the first human to do so, but those that did were few and far between. “I blinked, and suddenly her milky eyes were an inch away from mine. ‘Tell me, boy: do you fear death?’ “‘I don’t know,’ I stuttered, though I didn’t really consider the question. I tried not to think about those kinds of things. “‘Good,’ she grinned. ‘Because now you’ll never truly know.’ “I began to back away slowly, away from the corpse goddess. ‘What do you mean?’ “‘You do know what happens when you cross the gods, yes? I could just kill you now, but that would be too anticlimactic for my tastes. So if you won’t let me take the life of your master, then I’ll make you do it for me.’” “What?” Cindy blinked. “That’s exactly what I said,” Marcell nodded grimly. “But I didn’t have time to do much of anything else besides, for it was at that moment that she stuck out a long, spindly finger, and touched my chest. “Suddenly, I felt very cold, emanating from the place where she had touched me and spreading over my limbs like ice. I couldn’t think, couldn’t breathe, my world was filled with the laughter of Death. This was what dying felt like, I was sure of it. “And then... my heart stopped. Literally. At some point I had fallen to the ground, and everything was still. I had to be dead. There was no other explanation. But then how was I still thinking? I felt nothing but cold. Then I opened my eyes, The Morrigan was gone, and I was alone outside the villa, laying on the hard, dirt ground. For a minute, I thought that maybe I had imagined the whole thing. But as I felt my chest, I knew that that was just wishful thinking. You see, my heart was as still as... well, death. And the world looked different somehow, like there was a whole new spectrum of shadow that I hadn’t been able to see before. I felt frozen solid, and I grasped at the dirt desperately, trying to find something alive. “But I stopped. There was something alive, something close. Something... warm. I couldn’t tell what it was, only that it was hot, and red like the sun and I needed it. Blindly, I crawled my way towards the thing, up the stairs and into the villa and...” He broke off and closed his eyes, almost as if he were in physical pain just thinking about it. But there was something else, too, something in the shape of his lips and the shortness of his breath. Cindy came rather abruptly to the realization that she was alone in a room with a predator. And she didn’t like that look that was creeping into his features. “Mr. Marcell?” She asked finally, unpeeling her heart from the inside of her throat. “Did you... kill Gaius?” He stared at her for a solid minute before answering, his pupils appearing more red than brown in the low light of the classroom. “I don’t know,” he said. “To this day I don’t know if it was the illness that got to him or...” his breath almost caught in his throat. “Or me.” He took a deep breath, shaking his head. “These new ‘Teen angst novels,’” he rolled his eyes, “often picture my kind as slaves to our bloodlust. They make us lose control so that we aren’t wholly responsible for our actions. This is... not the reality. We are always in perfect control of ourselves and we know exactly what we’re doing. It’s simply that the hungrier you are, the less you care about artificial constructs like morals, the more you become like an intelligent animal. “And the Morrigan had sapped all of that from my body. I raced through the villa, half man and half mist, and into Gaius’ sickroom. And there was the source of what had attracted me so. Gaius’ fever, his blood pumping so fiercely in an effort to keep him alive. Without thought, or hesitation, I tore the skin of his inner arm with my teeth and drank furiously. “He hardly made a sound, just a soft whimper, and I barely noticed anyway. I could feel the coldness of my dead body being driven away by the blood, the life I was taking from him. That,” he sighed. “That was the point of no return.” “What do you mean?” Cindy barely managed to squeak out. “My... transformation, I guess you could say, didn’t really begin until I first tasted blood.” “So if you could have, I guess, resisted, would you have—?” Cindy began, before Marcell cut her off. “Have gone back to normal?” He asked. “I doubt it. My heart had ceased to beat. If I hadn’t taken the life of another, I probably would have just died. The gods are not kind, after all.” He began to stare into the distance again, but Cindy couldn’t wait any longer. “And then what happened?” “Then,” Marcell shook himself. “Then I stumbled backwards as the gravity of what I was doing returned to me. My vision began to swim as my whole body started to pound. I stumbled from the room and out of the villa. “I don’t remember much after that, just pain, like I was being stabbed with a dull knife, but over my whole body. At one point I may have fallen asleep, but I’m not sure. “It was the next morning when I finally came to my senses, laying in a pile of hay in the stables. I felt relatively normal again, but even before the thought formed, by the lingering taste of iron on my tongue I could tell that the events of the previous night had been entirely real, though I couldn’t remember all of the details. “I was dizzy, and my mouth felt oddly sore and sensitive. I spit, and two of my teeth plopped into my hand. But as I ran my tongue over my teeth I found that I wasn’t missing any. I had grown new teeth in the middle of the night.” He opened his mouth, showing Cindy his oddly pointy canines. “I licked the blood off of my chin and fingers, and hated myself. Nothing had ever tasted so divine before, and yet I was starting to remember the fact that this was a living person’s blood I was so enjoying. More than that, it was Gaius’ blood. This thought brought me back to my senses, and I stood abruptly before almost being brought down again by dizziness. But I had to see, had to know if I’d killed him. “Except that the second I stepped into the sunlight outside of the stable my skin burned. I shrank away, back into the shadows, and watched in horror as blisters began to form on my forearms. Keep in mind,” he added, “that vampires were not as culturally engrained in Rome as they are today, so I had no idea what was happening to me. I paced back and forth though the stable, trying to figure out how to get back to the villa while avoiding the sunlight. I couldn’t make it across the field. If I tried, I would die. “Then, a miracle happened: a cloud blotted out the sun. I didn’t think; I just ran. The residual light still made my bare skin tingle, but I made it under the roof of the villa without harm.” “Hold on.” Cindy held up a hand, and Marcell blinked a few times, coming back to reality. “I have a question: just how much does sunlight affect you? I mean, I opened the shade earlier and you look fine now.” “As far as I know, the sun is one of the only things that can kill me. But only direct sunlight can really do it. It still hurts if it’s through a window, but to a much lesser degree.” “Or from behind clouds.” Cindy nodded. “Which you didn’t know at the time.” “I made a very lucky guess,” he admitted. “But I wasn’t really thinking at the time. I ran to Gaius’ room, and almost bumped into one of the maids. My heart sank as I saw her expression. ‘Is he...?’ I began. “‘Soon,’ she replied. ‘His time is coming, you should go to him.’ “‘Thank you,’ I nodded, entering the near silent room. I stood in the doorway for the longest time. Gaius almost looked small, like a child, in the bed, and so very pale. His arm had been bandaged, so I couldn’t tell just how much blood he’d really lost. Still, I couldn’t help but think that this was all my fault.” “But it wasn’t. I mean, not really.” Cindy said, though the more she thought about it, the less sure she was. Marcell simply laughed. “I’ve been wrestling with that question for two-thousand years.” He looked off towards the wall. “And I still haven’t come to a solid conclusion. I think I’ve made my peace with that. But at the time... well, I’m sure you can imagine. “Gaius looked up at me after a minute, smiling weakly. ‘Lucius,’ he whispered. ‘Come here, my boy.’ “I obeyed, kneeling beside the bed and gripping his hand, and cried. “‘No, no, child,’ he said. ‘Do not cry. All things have their time.’” “Then he didn’t know what had happened?” Cindy asked. “I’m not sure.” Marcell shook his head. “I didn’t really have time, or the courage, to ask. In fact, before I could say anything he beckoned me closer and placed a piece of parchment in my hand. ‘What’s this?’ I asked. “‘Everything,’ he said. ‘My land, my library, it’s all yours now.’ “Of course I tried to protest, but he wouldn’t hear of it. And in the end, ‘thank you,’ was all I could say. I sat there with him until he finally stopped breathing, just as the sun was going down. In the course of one day my life had changed completely. Again. I was no longer Lucius the slave. Now, I was Lucius Marcellus the Roman.” “He gave you everything?” Cindy asked. “But you were a slave!” “And he was without an heir.” Marcell shrugged. “And anyway, I think I was the closest thing to family he’d had in a long time. Needless to say, I felt worse than death. I thought I had killed him, only for him to leave me all of his worldly possessions. I retreated to the library and didn’t come out for weeks, poured over the numerous scrolls for some way to cure my curse so that this never had to happen again. “No one came near me, of which I was glad. I was so afraid of giving into my hunger and hurting someone. Eventually I became so desperate for sustenance that I tracked one of the rats in the walls and drained it dry. And thus was born Lucius Marcellus, the bane of rodents forever after.” Cindy tilted her head, the corners of her mouth twitching upwards despite herself. “So, you don’t need human blood in particular.” “No, any animal will do as a substitute, but that’s all it is, really. Nothing satisfies even remotely as much as human blood. “Anyway,” he continued, shaking his head, “Gaius had collected writings from all corners of the empire and beyond, and it wasn’t long before I came across various legends of ‘the vampire,’ and found that there was no known cure beyond death. After that, I didn’t stay at the villa for long. It was hard to be in that place with its constant reminders of Gaius, and the slaves and neighbors were beginning to suspect that all was not right with me. I freed most of Gaius’ slaves, only leaving enough to keep the farm going, and left immediately. “I decided to travel, learn all I could. I now had all of the time and money in the world, after all. So I did, for many years, which is a story all by itself, until I finally decided to settle down for a while in the city of Pompeii.” Cindy’s eyes widened. “Pompeii? But isn’t that—?” “—A story for another time.” Marcell finished for her. “What?” She stood. “But you’ve barely scratched the surface. You’ve still got one-thousand, nine-hundred years to account for!” “And it is already almost 6 o’clock,” Marcell motioned towards the window, its shade glowing around the edges from the setting sun. “I’m sure the janitors would like to get in here and go home.” Cindy sighed, grabbing the long forgotten lunch bag. “You, my good sir, are a tease.” “Tell you what,” he smiled crookedly, “I seem to suddenly find myself in need of a Teacher’s Assistant for seventh hour, to help me with paperwork and listen to me ramble. Could you swing it?” “I have study hall then,” she grinned. “I’m completely free.” “Then we’ll talk tomorrow and get the paperwork all filled out.” “I’m holding you to that.” Cindy pointed a finger before making her way through the sea of desks towards the door. “Good night, Mr. Marcell.” She waved. “And... thank you.” “For what?” He asked. “I’ll tell you some other time.” She shook her head. “It’s a long story.”

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