On his return to the rookery that evening, Scarafaggio’s step was enlivened with almost a childlike vigor. He bounded through the woods, at times so incapable of containing his excitement that he burst forth into fits of leaping. There was so much he had to share with his Mammina this evening! He imagined it’s face when he revealed that humans at one time had served a male queen, that they had created false hives in which they held bees captive for the purpose of collecting their honey. What marvelous discoveries he held inside his head!
As he approached the rookery, he was surprised to find that Mammina was not waiting for him. Perhaps she’d been given some urgent task to attend to, as drones often were? He sent out his thoughts, scouring the tribù for Mammina.
It was a common thing among the Fatine, to cast out a net of thought until finally you had descried the one being among many whom was sought. Tonight however, he imagined this web as a swarm of stubborn little bees, spilling forth from his head and seeking out the flower of his Mammina. He imagined them swarming through the tribù, gathering in a rapturous and swirling tower about one or another of the Fatine, until they had at last dismissed them and flew off to continue they furious hunt.
He found that the intricate pattern of Mammina’s thoughts were nowhere to be found. He sent his bees out in broader circles, sweeping the surrounding woods and cities, yet Mammina was not there, the bloom of it’s much cherished mind somehow plucked from existence.
“Perhaps there will be time for me to explain those words to you too.” He recalled the drone saying.
“Why wouldn’t there be?” He’d launched back. “Where are you going?”
He felt the beckoning of fear worm its way under his skin, where it bred and multiplied till it’s wriggling progeny devoured every pleasure he’d held waiting in his skull to share. Near rabid under this consumptive dread, he hurried about the rookery, peering into the cells in which the drones lay. Each one frozen in their unblinking torpor of sleep, which for all the world, in that moment better resembled death.
His face having crossed into their line of sight, each drone snapped its head in turn to meet his eye.
They spoke in his mind, filling his thoughts with images of himself fleeing through the woods, and back to the vinegto. There was an urgency in these visions, his chest burning from the gluttonous take of air his lungs demanded to keep this pace. His hurried feet had grown raw and ankles threatening collapse with the fall of each new step, yet his body was unrelenting, desperate to escape that which pursued him.
“Why, what is it?” His question was met with terrified silence.
At long last he found the cell in which his Mammina slept. It lay there, black eyes staring sightlessly into the dark, but it was alive. He was so overcome that he scooped the drone’s fragile body up into a hearty embrace, plastering it’s cheeks with kisses.
“Let go of me!” The drone demanded in a tone far harsher than he would have recognized from his Mammina.
He complied, loosening his entwined arms. Mammina shoved him away from itself, terror and disgust bled from it’s touch.
“Mammina! It’s me! Scarafaggio!” He insisted, trying to conjure a grin from the grimace he felt take hold of his lip.
“I am not Mammina.” The drone said, cowering as far away from this intruder as the cell wall would allow. “And I do not know you, no matter what word you call yourself.”
Scarafaggio could hear the shuffling feet of the other drones as they approached behind him. He sat perched on the lip of his Mammina’s cell, wounded by her indifference and terrified by the strangeness of this reality he found himself plunged into.
“You’re too old to be one of my charges. Leave me be!” The drone said, punctuating it’s words with a kick to Scarafaggio’s gut.
He reeled back, ambling away from the fear stricken creature that had been his Mammina. The pain in his belly was nothing compared to what he suffered from the confusion that yoked him. He looked to the other drones. It seemed their entire collective had gathered around him, yet there was no threat in their eyes, only sadness. They mourned along with him.
“What happened to Mammina?” He begged for an answer but was granted only sorrowful silence.
“Leave us Scarafaggio.” The choir of drones sang in visions. “There’ll be time enough to weep another night. Go now, right now, and never ask why. You must be gone come morning.”
He stumbled a few steps, turning to leave, but couldn’t resist the temptation to look back.
“Run, run away!’
“Run, run, run!”
The chorus chanted with urging eyes and craning necks. Their heads, as Mammina’s often had, quavered under the grip of mounting tension. The motion transformed the creatures into an ivory sea churned by the gale of an impending storm.
At their beckoning, he ran. His mind swam with questions. Those same bees, he only a few moments before had held dominion over had now swarmed upon their master, stinging him in an enfilade, flooding him with the venom of their chaos. One though remained starkly clear in his mind however, whatever had become of Mammina was his doing.
The fiddler had not spoken false. The queens could in fact rob one of their memories, hulling out all that they once were. Why hadn’t they just killed Mammina? Why leave behind a body, stripped bare of a life’s history. How cruel to condemn someone to be suddenly thrust into existence, blanched of any knowledge of how they arrived there in the first place. Why hadn’t they killed Mammina? In essence, he supposed, they already had. The drone now survived as a tool of the tribù. This fate was nothing more and nothing less than what was intended for all Fatine. Perhaps Mammina was lucky. Now, unburdened by it’s past and the stain Scarafaggio had left upon it, the drone could become a limpid conduit for it’s queens’ will.
The last vestige of a bond he held among his people had been destroyed. In a way, he admitted to himself, he was glad of it. Had Mammina remained, he wondered if he ever could have truly cast off his ties to the tribù and devoted himself to life as a pariah. No, he would have lost his nerve the moment Mammina took his hand, or looked in his eyes to say goodbye. The queens had forced his hand now.
He stopped for a moment, every breath searing at his chest. He wondered if perhaps that had been the queens’ very intent. Weary of his rebellious antics, ever building till they had become tantamount to treachery against his own people, was it so far fetched to imagine that they might had thought it simpler to have him willingly impose exile upon himself?
Before he could arrive at an answer, he felt a burly arm hitch him around the waist, and a leather clad hand clamp firmly over his mouth.
“What are you running from boy?” A gruff voice asked in his ear. He could feel the singe of his captor’s tepid breath and the coarse thorns a mustache needling at his skin. In his excitement, he’d let his glamour fall and here was his punishment for such indiscretion.
“Maybe you’re just afraid of the dark?” The voice laughed, gripping him by the arms with two, black gloved hands and forcing his step. “Well don’t worry, old Spauracchio will keep you safe from any beasties that might be waiting for you. “
Spauracchio? It was a word he knew. It was the name given to the puppet men, made from straw and sticks that lined fruiting fields, keeping birds at bay. It was also the name of a monster in children’s stories, who came to collect the disobedient. He thought back on his poor broken Mammina. Perhaps he had earned a visit from the entity this night.
“You’re an idiot.” Scarafaggio sneered. “You’re the one who should be afraid. I’m the worst kind of beastie of them all! A demoni!”
“Is that right?” The man laughed boisterously.
“You have no idea what I could do to you human!” He spat back, trying to wriggle himself free but to no avail.
“Maybe I do.” The gruff voice replied. “Maybe that’s exactly why I have these gloves on.”
Scarafaggio scoffed at the notion. Fabric was hardly enough of a barrier to protect this man from being swallowed away till only his memories remained. He attempted to draw in this man’s aether, but found that his efforts were indeed hindered by the gloves. What sort of leather was this that could resist Fatine persuasion? Scarafaggio had never encountered such a thing before.
The man, seemingly reading his mind, just offered an assault of laughter at the boy’s expense. In it’s wake, Scarafaggio suddenly felt very helpless. He allowed his captor to push him on, feet brushing the earth in short, shuffled steps. What point was there in resisting? The tribù had little need for another male lounging hedonistically about, like a lizard on a hot stone. His Mammina, hallowed of it’s memory, feared him. Then there was Guendalina, with her crooked grin and sloe black eyes. What doubt was there that she was better off without his scarring influence?
No. He had made a promise to the old fiddler. He had sworn himself to the child, as her protector. He had no right to simply fade into the peaceful black of death so long as she lived.
With all the strength he could muster Scarafaggio threw his body forward, breaking free of his captors black, gloved hands. He turned for an instant to look at the being who had held him. He felt a sudden plunge of disappointment at the discovery that “Spauracchio” was nothing more than a patrolling soldier, no doubt emboldened by drink.
He waved a curt farewell, before he hurdled himself through the sloth of seconds and quagmire of minutes that he knew bound human motion, and raced through the temporal, as he had with Mammina, towards the vingeto. He flew over fields of grass, made black unruly snarls by nightfall. He drifted through the matter that made up trees, now passing around him like things no more tangible than the failing shadows of the dying day. He realized that it was the first time he had ever travelled this way alone, and the thought of it was simultaneously exulting and injurious to him.
In the periphery of his vision, he thought he saw something approach, something which moved through the same dimension as he did. He was certain he moved at too fast a speed for any mortal thing to give chase. Still, he turned, curious as to what it was that drifted in and out of sight beside him. He looked just in time to see the soldier reach out and grab him by the arm, wrenching him to a throttling halt.
“I have to say I’m impressed with you. Good stock, not like the others.” The soldier said, with a congratulatory clap upon the shoulder.
“You’re not human?” Scarafaggio said, his jaw falling agape, weighted by awe.
“The soldier lifted his bushy eyebrows and gave a wry turn on his lip that set his mustache off kilter, wordlessly expressing that he’d presumed this to be obvious.
Scarafaggio tried to look through the man’s glamour, but what he saw appeared to be Spauracchio’s true form. A tall, well muscled man, with a black thicket of moustache upon his lip, and another below his heavy-set brow. His skin bore a soldierly bronze tarnish and his hair, though covered for the most part by his cap, appeared to be a glossy tumble of pomaded curls.
The soldier took off his overcoat, wrapping it around Scarafaggio’s shoulders. “You must be new to the Legerete Walk. It seems you’ve lost your trousers.”
Scarafaggio looked down to see that he had indeed been stripped by the alacrity of flight. He pulled the coat snug around his body, fastening the buttons as best his clumsy fingers could.
“It doesn’t offend me mind, it’s just that being seen cavorting in the woods with a naked boy, that’s the sort of thing that breeds trouble for a man’s reputation.” He laughed warmly, again clapping a hand down on Scarafaggio’s shoulders.
“You’re Scarafaggio?” The man asked. The boy nodded in reply.
“Well you can call me Luciano, Lieutenant Colonel Luciano Spauracchio. Sorry to be rough with you, your safety takes priority for me.”
“Safety?” Scarafaggio stammered. “Is someone…coming for me?”
“They will be, you can be sure of that.” Luciano said with a nod of certainty. “See, we have a friend in common, one who’d be very disappointed if I let something happen to you before you made good on your promise to him.”
“The fiddler?” Scarafaggio wondered aloud.
“Si, Francesco, Franco, the fiddler.” The soldier’s words came like a stone skipping merrily along the water’s surface. “Come on, let’s walk, we’ve a long way to go yet.” Luciano urged.
Scarafaggio thought back on what the fiddler said, about knowing Pariah who had survived banishment from the tribù. Was it possible that this was one of them, standing before him now? The soldier seemingly answered the question for him.
“My condolences about your Mammina,” The man said with earnest lamentation in his voice.
“You knew Mammina?” Scarafaggio asked brightly.
“She was my Mammina too, ‘course I never thought to call her by the name,” He replied. “She was one of the good ones, you can be sure of that.”
“She?” Scarafaggio said with vexation. Mammina had not been female.
“Sorry, I’ve been around humans so long, sometimes I forget.” Luciano grinned sheepishly. “You know the Chinese use the pronoun ta for both he, she and it. Your Mammina told me that.”
Sacarafaggio couldn’t help but smile. The queens may have eroded away
Mammina’s memories, but they could never dig out all the seeds it had planted in the minds of it’s charges. In that way, Mammina would remain a whisp eternal.
The soldier stopped for a moment to sniff the air. Whatever trace he thought he had detected seemed to have cleared, and they resumed their walk.
“What is it?” Scarafaggio asked, biting his lip.
“They’ll be using you to keep tabs on us, hunt us out, that is until we get you untangled. You may have left the tribù, but your mind’s still hitch up to theirs.”
“Who?” Scarafaggio demanded. “Whose hunting us down?” The question drew a long, exasperated sigh from his companion.
“The queens, not just those of your tribù, but others as well. They don’t like leaving loose ends, such as myself, and now you. It’s a threat to their influence. They’d like to see the surviving Pariah wiped out, and some of them should be. You’ve jumped headlong into a battle that’s been going on for eons now. From here on in, it’s all a matter of choosing where you’ll stand.”
Scarafaggio had never imagined that a climate of such unrest existed beyond the hold of his tribù. He’d only recently been made privy to the fact that there were Pariahs surviving in exile. These Fatine, loosed upon humanity, had no loyalties but to themselves. They were sovereign of their own minds, yet at the same time, they were gifted the freedom to cripple the very backbone of human society. They had liberty to bend mortal wills in order to sate their own appetites. There was no thought of the collective, nor the greater good, they could essentially do as they pleased. It was a thought that chilled him and he wondered at what kind of maelstrom he’d so brazenly barged into.
“We’re a self-policing system.” Luciano explained, gleaning the boy’s thoughts. “For instance, the other Pariah and I, we’ve been watching you for a while now. To be honest, I didn’t much care for you at first, thought you were just another a parsimonious stronzetto, out for glory.”
Scarafaggio wished he could take more offense to the words. He hated hearing himself referred to as such. Yet if he could meet with the imp he had been only a few months previous, out to reclaim his status among the tribù, and bring his brothers back no matter the cost, he doubted very much that he could keep from drawing his fists in rage.
“Don’t trouble your mind with such thoughts. I’d say that you’ve more than proven yourself to be worth reexamination.” Luciano assured him with a broad, plump-lipped smile.
“So you say the queens can track us through my thoughts?” Scarafaggio posed.
Luciano nodded curtly. “Your thoughts, your eyes, your whole body is their instrument.”
“Is that why they let me keep my memories,” The boy teased out. “To use me as a their spy? To hunt out Pariah?
“That and the Rile girl.” Luciano appended.
“Rile girl?” He’d not heard the term Rile, but understood that Luciano made reference to Guendalina.
“You didn’t think she was a normal child did you?” The soldier said with a cocked brow. Scarafaggio could only shrug.
“Nooo. They’re seldom that bright I assure you, and those big black eyes of hers…”
“A lot of little girls have black eyes.” The boy protested.
“Not like hers.” The soldier said with a piercing glare that denoted his was the definitive word on the subject. “Why do you think they were so infuriated when you let her go? They can’t touch her so long as the fiddler’s around, and killing him outright would be reneging on the agreement you made with him.” The soldier paused for a moment to mull over the situation, and a grin overtook him. “You’ve really thrown a wrench into their works son, congratulation!” He laughed softly to himself.
“I can’t really remember much of it.” Scarafaggio confessed. “I don’t even know why we decided to take the baby in the first place.”
“That’s how they do it, your queens.” Luciano explained. “They send blind soldiers out to do their bidding. You were sent out to collect the child and never told exactly why. But you did it didn’t you? Of course you did. Oh they like playing that game don’t they?”
There was a slight, almost imperceptible crackling in the distance. It was the sound of feet treading upon underbrush, and the crunch of twigs as they relent and snapped beneath. Faint as it was, this proved enough to call Luciano’s pistol from the holster on his hip to the ready. He spun around, searching for the source of the intrusion.
They watched as the silhouette of some bustling denizen of the brush darted away in the distance. This night-wakened creature clearly had no designs on them. Luciano laughed at himself, sliding his weapon back into it’s leather bed.
“If you’re so worried about being followed” Scarafaggio rationalized “why don’t we just Lege…legret.”
“Legerete Walk? That’s another term you can thank your Mammina for by the way. No, it wouldn’t be of much use. The Fatine already know of us, counted us among their ranks at one time. They can seek us out anywhere on the globe. Using your eyes just makes it easier to keep abreast of our plans.”
Scarafaggio recalled Mammina having told him something about this the night they’d gone to see his mother. The language of blood Mammina had called it. Whatever was encrypted within allowed Fatine to eternally hold a being within their sites.
“Besides, they know the same tricks we do, well, for the most part anyway.” Luciano said with a wink. “They can Legerete with the best of them. The most we can do is stay alert, and make ready to defend ourselves if needs be.”
“You were talking about Rile.” Scarafaggio prodded, wanting to return to the subject of Guendalina. “What is a Rile exactly?” If it was a moniker his newly claimed ward was to bear, then he wanted to understand what it meant.
“Ahhh, now there’s a productive question!” Luciano lauded him. “Let’s see…how to explain.” The soldier mulled it over for a moment or two. “Ah ha, yes.” He finally arrived at a rationalization he could vocalize. “We, Fatine I mean, can draw life from a human and kill them, you know this…” He pandered, Scarafaggio nodded.
“Or” Luciano continued. “We can give it back, and heal them, we control the ebb and flow.”
Scarafaggio furthered the conversation with another nod of his head.
“ BUT what the memories of the collective wouldn’t have taught you is that we can also remold them.” Luciano clearly delighted in the reveal of this information to the-would-be-Pariah.
“How do you mean?” Scarafaggio said flummoxed.
“Why just heal a broken leg, why not make the bone so strong it never breaks again?” Luciano tendered. “Why just close a wound on an old woman’s face, when we could make her young and beautiful again?” The soldier again propounded.
“We can do that?” Scarafaggio asked with dizzy enthrall. He had not even dared to fathom that the potentials of his own body had been concealed from him.
“There’s a lot we can do.” Luciano assuaged. “But when we remold them, improve them, make them into something they were never intended to be, we change what they are. We combine our own selves with them, and small as it may be, their blood carries that tinge for life.”
“Well, that doesn’t seem such an awful thing.” Scarafaggio smiled, the gesture was not returned by his companion.
“The problem comes, should they have children, and most of them seem to feel the need to do so.” He added with unveiled perturb. “Their children carry that same blood, but with outside contributions from the other parent, things start to become unwieldy. The babies born are a fusion of three parental lineages, one of us and two of them. Your queens call them Chimera.”
Scarafaggio felt his temper darken. The word denoted a type of vile mythic beast he’d heard stories of from Mammina. The monster breathed fire, and had been saddled with three heads, that of a lion, a snake and a goat. It was an ugly name for such a beautiful child like Guendalina.
“Your girl is likely too young to have yet tapped into it yet, but they’re dangerous to the Fatine system. They have unique aptitudes shall we say.” Luciano baited the boy with just enough information to tantalize.
“Such as?” He begged for a conversational trifle.
“Sometimes they can compel other humans, I’ve heard of ones who can feed as we do, never met one of those though, and I hope to keep it that way. Point being, having humans around with those kind of…” He thought for a moment, pursing his lips and bristling his moustache before arriving upon the word “abilities, well, Rile threaten the dominance the Fatine have worked so hard to hold over men.”
The thought saddened Scarafaggio. What would become of Guendalina once she came of age? Would she be just as ruthless and awful as any of the Fatine. Would he be forced to sit idly by as she transformed into a monster granted the grace of human form?
“We Pariah, for the most part anyway, think Rile level the playing field, provided they’re given the appropriate training. That’d be where you come in. Personally, I’m fond of anything that can neutralize the Fatine tyranny.” He stopped, throwing a fist up in the air defiantly. “For Italy, unity, independence and liberty!”
Scarafaggio clearly had not afforded him the reaction as he anticipated, and a bashful smile played upon the soldiers lips. “Ahh, that’s the dream anyway for both the Italian peninsula as well as Fatine and man.”
“So, she’s a Rile, that’s what she is.” Scarafaggio shuffled through his thoughts aloud, as was becoming more and more his habit since meeting Guendalina.
“Didn’t you ever wonder why you were so entranced by her? Why you would still bother with her after all these years?” Luciano marveled.
Scarafaggio just shook his head in reply.
“Not terribly introspective are you? Well, that’s to be expected at this point I suppose.”
The wood slowly thinned to reveal a city beyond. It was a quaint village, really just a handful of age wearied buildings, nestled cozily against one another. Here, all was still. The moon, having strewn her silver light, had seemingly transformed this hamlet into a word cast in steel.
The soldier lead him along cobblestone paths, through alleys laced in shadow and up an assemblage of narrow staircases to the small alloggio Luciano called home. He rapped upon a heavy wooden door, and a panel, tucked behind an ornately carved iron grate slid open, revealing a pair of amber eyes behind. The owner of these eyes cast her gaze upon Scarafaggio, inspecting this strange skinny boy, swallowed up by an overcoat that was far too big for him. Whatever those eyes saw met with the keeper’s approval. He heard the pop of the latch being undone, and the door swung cautiously agape.
Luciano ushered he boy inside. There, the owner of these amber eyes was revealed. She was a rather comely woman, tawny skinned with a graceful aquiline nose. Her long ebony hair had been swept up into a careless bundle atop her head, rebellious strands cascaded down her cheeks and the nape of her slender neck. Scarafaggio found himself instantly taken with this beauty.
“Scarafaggio, this is Arabella.” Luciano said blithely, aware of the boys wanton eye. “She’s been waiting to meet you.”
“Scarafaggio!” The woman said through bright tumbles of laughter. “Oh, the unwitting revolutionary, it’s an honor.” She said, pulling aside the hems of her apron to offer him a curtsy.”
Luciano barely allowed Arabella to right herself before he’d swung his arms impetuously around her, and drew her in for a kiss. She laughed, throwing a hand up to shield his mouth from hers.
“No you don’t!” She protested. “Not with that awful face on!”
The soldier feigned a frown, which quickly melted into laughter. He shook his head from side to side, and as he did, the man Scarafaggio had met in the woods dwindled away. He pulled off his cap, allowing his oiled black curls to slither into a feathery crop of moonlight pale hair. His moustache and heavy eyebrows were kneaded away by unseen fingers into a far more delicate and chiseled visage. Beneath his jacket, the flesh of Luciano’s body undulated and rolled into it’s new shape. The cloth billowed forth as the swelling of what appeared to be breasts rose into place, and draped languidly over the cresent of Luciano’s now narrow waist.
Her lover’s shape restored, Arabella bestowed a kiss upon Luciano’s pale lips.
“Luciana?” Scarafaggio muttered, more to himself than to his hosts.
“No, Luciano, always Luciano.” She corrected him, her voice too having been altered.
The Luciano who had emerged from this metamorphosis, scavenged another kiss from Arabella’s mouth. Their world was in no way upheaved, however Scarafaggio could do naught but look on in awe. Luciano could actually change the form of her body, not just hide herself with a flimsy glamour. It was a skill he’d never even considered in the range of possibilities, and yet here was the proof it could be done.
Luciano smiled at the boy, clearly entertained by his confusion. Arabella whispered something to the lady soldier who had materialized. Luciano nodded, sending her on off with a playful pat on the behind.
“You can actually manipulate your form.” Scarafaggio repeated, trying to make his mind accept the concept.
“We call it The Ritratto, the portrait, well the other Pariah’s and myself do.” Luciano explained. “You’ll learn to do the same in time. It’s a handy trick.“ She assured him, swinging an arm about the boy’s shoulders. “And far more effective than just throwing up a façade like you’ve been doing. Especially with the sorts we’ll be dealing with.”
Scarafaggio nodded in concordance. His voice he found had abandoned him for the now, too bewildered by the endless stream of impossibilities that had flooded his eyes.
He watched silently as Arabella busied herself with pouring a line of salt along the walls of the room, a perfect ring of salt, to bar the entrance of any Fatine who might pursue him. He couldn’t help but notice however, that this same barrier held him captive within these walls as well.