Maelstrom: Rome 44 BCE, Part III

As my last bit of essence became one with the sea around me, I felt power reaching out from the golden net, almost like it knew someone was escaping. It rippled, and in that ripple, a pulse of magic was sent out, disrupting my transition. I lost my sense of self, and the tenuous binding that held the parts of my being together shattered.

The sun was bright in mid-June of the year 44 BCE. Julius Caesar was dead, and I was strolling the streets of Rome. I could feel the tension in the city due to the succession, but I didn’t care. What did the transition between mortal leaders mean at this point? The Romans had replaced us all with different names. Salacia was what they were calling me. But I took a different name while I walked among them. I chose Livia; it was common enough, as was my appearance. I did not want to be recognized as a goddess while I was among the mortals. 

My reason for being in the Republic of Rome was simple: to find my husband, consort, or whatever you wanted to call him. Poseidon had been missing for a thousand years. It was time that errant god came home. During the last few hundred years, I had been bursting at the seams as I did the job we were supposed to be doing together. Steam evaporated off me as I looked around, worried someone had seen me. No one had. At least, that’s what I thought at the time. I could see some of the lares in the houses, bouncing around, giving invisible aid to their families. I smiled, trying not to let them know I was near.

I walked down the streets, marveling at how far they had come since my last trip to the mortal realm, 400 years or so previously. Rome would be big, that much was certain. As I made my way to the Campus Martius within the Circus Flaminius, I felt a shadow, as though someone was following me. I didn’t see anyone around me, so I shrugged it off. Poseidon’s temple wasn’t far away, but once I entered the Circus, people started looking at me. A lone female wasn’t meant to be wandering around on her own, let alone into the Circus

I paid them no mind. Even though I was there incognito, I could be a force if needed. However, no one approached me. When I arrived at the Temple of Poseidon, sorry Neptune, the priests stared at me. “I’m here looking for my husband,” I almost choked on the word. We weren’t technically married, I guess, but for all intents and purposes, Poseidon was my husband.

“Is he a priest here?” one of them asked. I shook my head, and they laughed at me. “If he’s not a priest, is he here to beg a favour of Neptune?” I shrugged my shoulders. I didn’t care for their tone, but I would be fine if it got me answers. “And what is his name, so that we can warn him his meddling wife was hanging around looking for him?”

This was it, the only time I had planned to let my divinity show through. “Neptune,” I answered simply. The priests stared at me like I was crazy, and I smiled darkly. I’d had enough of being alone, of sleeping in my room without my love, of ruling his kingdom, our kingdom, without him. I would drag him back to Atlantis kicking and screaming if need be. So I played my old card, one that always worked in the past with the mortals. I shifted my teeth a little to resemble shark teeth, then I smiled. The priests screamed, and one of them ran into the temple. I rolled my eyes and walked in, pushing past the other one. 

Inside the temple itself, I allowed some of my divine glory to seep through. When the head priest came running up to me, he knew exactly what and who I was. “Salacia!” he shouted in fear. The gods didn’t walk among the mortals too much here, and he was terrified. I hissed slightly, the name not ringing right in my ears, and the priests jumped back.

“I am looking for Neptune. Where is he?” I demanded angrily. 

“We don’t know, goddess. He hasn’t been answering any of our prayers or sacrifices.” That caught me off guard.

“At all?” I asked, stopping in my tracks. “No, he’s always taken the sacrifices, even when I was in Korinth hundreds of years ago.” The priest’s eyes bugged out at me. As if the shark teeth weren’t enough, I was talking about being in Korinth several mortal lifetimes ago. “Just please point me in the right direction. Where was the last place anyone heard from him?”

“Paestum. The last I saw of Neptune was in Paestum,” a new voice sounded behind me. I wheeled around. This man gave me the creeps, to put it mildly. But if he had a lead, I was going to follow it.

“Paestum? Do you mean Poseidonia?” I asked, using the old name for the town. The man nodded and held his arm out towards the entrance to the temple, inviting me to follow him. I reined in my divine shine, until I appeared normal again, then followed him out. 

“Yes, that was the name. Are you really Salacia?” he asked. His voice grated on me, but I still followed him. We walked back through Rome, heading south until we reached Via Appia. It would be a long walk before we reached Paestum, and we weren’t exactly close to the Tyrrhenian Sea. As we travelled down the via, I pulled an almost inconspicuous vial out of my satchel. The gentleman, who was still nameless to me, looked curious. I took a grain of salt from the vial and placed it under my tongue. As I did, I felt refreshed, strong. I had spent too long away from the seas looking for Poseidon. I tucked the vial back into my bag and kept walking, a little more pep in my step. 

Night fell, and we saw an old building on the side of the road. The gentleman suggested we stay there for the night. I was immediately put off by the idea. I could keep going. Then I remembered mortals needed to sleep. While I could push this body longer than a mortal could, it too was frail in comparison to my natural state. “Alright, we’ll stay here,” I agreed as we entered the shack. It was tiny and broken down, but the roof was still on. If it rained, that was a bonus. 

I didn’t think I would sleep, yet I was the first to fall. When I awoke the next morning, I was bound, gagged, and being dragged by two large men. My travelling companion from the day before was walking in front, leading them. I tried to break free, but my mortal body wasn’t strong enough. I needed the salt. It was from the first ocean. The purest salt, dried from that long past sea, and it revitalized me for a short time. It sustained me until I could get back into saltwater. I looked around, and my captor had my satchel slung over his back. I worried that he would dump out the vial of salt. I would never be able to replace it. 

“What are you doing? Let me go!” I shouted as I fought the bonds. I could easily end this if I changed back to my goddess form. As weak as I was without the salt, I couldn’t make the transition quickly. I began slowly gathering my power , to make the transition as drawn out as I could. As the air bristled around me, one of the men dragging me turned and hit me over the head with the hilt of his gladius. Darkness came, and I lost track of time.

The next thing I remembered was waking up, looking at a statue of Neptune and the men in front of me. The bindings were gone and had been replaced by a net. It was a golden net, flexible and strong. It reminded me of one used many, many years before, to capture a particular goddess and her paramour. But it couldn’t be that net. That net was locked up in the forge where its creator could use it when he needed it. “Where did you get this?” I asked, my voice full of fear. I could see my satchel sitting on the temple floor. I knew I needed to get it, at least the vial of salt.

“We had it forged for us. For collecting gods and the gifts they possess,” the leader, my travelling companion, replied gruffly. “We’re tired of being on the shit end of the stick. So we’re taking a little back.” I stared at him. I wasn’t important, but I’d slipped up. I’d let them know who I was. How was I supposed to know there was a rogue movement running around Rome trying to capture gods? It wasn’t like any of us had disappeared recently. Well, none of us except for Poseidon, but that hadn’t been recent. They couldn’t have!

“Where is Poseidon?” I demanded, pushing against the net. Some sea goddess I was. I couldn’t even break a net. Satisfied with the bonds, the men walked out of the temple. I couldn’t hear or see them. I had to try to get my salt. I moved as much as I could. Scraping across the floor, I inched my way to my bag. Thankful, I opened it and breathed a sigh of relief when I found my salt. I knew it by the feel of the vial. The power radiated in my hand as I moved back to where I was, moments before they walked back in. 

“Neptune isn’t here, hasn’t been around, and you’re not ever going to see him again,” the leader commented. “Go ahead, change your form. Nothing in your bag of tricks will get you free of this net.” I looked over and down at the golden net surrounding me. It was true, the creator had needed to take it off his wife, and her lover and I had no one. “We’re going to toss you into the ocean. You can either change your shape and drown, or you can give up and relinquish your power to us.” The larger of the two men who had been dragging me picked me and carried me outside. I could smell the sea. We weren’t far away. I could feel the salt in the air, and I had my vial in my hand, so no matter what, I would be ok. There was a line tied to a rock nearby, and one of the men looked ready to fasten it to the net. This was how they tortured their victims. 

I wouldn’t let that be me. So, as soon as we neared the edge, I shifted into a dolphin. The man was so surprised he practically threw me into the Tyrrhenian Sea. I laughed, the high-pitched squeal echoing through my new nose. I heard the leader shouting at them to dive in and get me—well, the net. That’s what they really cared about. I hit the water, and my strength returned. But I still couldn’t break free. As I sank, the thought of not being able to breathe crossed my mind. I shifted to my normal mermaid form. That way, I had hands, and I could breathe. My vial of salt returned to my hand, and I smiled happily. 

The conundrum of the net confounded me. I didn’t know how to break it. I tried to call Poseidon through the pendant around my neck. It was an emergency, after all. As usual, I received no response. To best the net, the only form I could take would be to shift into the sea itself and meld with my surroundings. It couldn’t hold on to me then. It amazed me it took so long to figure it out. Once I did, the decision was made, and I began the slow process of becoming the sea. This shift wasn’t one I could make from one breath to the next. It took time and patience because water, by definition, is fluid. It always wanted to move. But to become the sea meant infusing my essence into the surrounding water, creating consciousness, and binding certain areas together. It wasn’t something I did often.

As my last bit of essence became one with the sea around me, I felt power reaching out from the golden net, almost like it knew someone was escaping. It rippled, and in that ripple, a pulse of magic was sent out, disrupting my transition. I lost my sense of self, and the tenuous binding that held the parts of my being together shattered. The last thing I remembered was rising to the surface, bubbles of foam drifting across my awareness. 

Amphitrite (Natalie Bartley)
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