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The Guest Star (2), Departure

Lucia took the scroll excerpt from the floor, one of many surrounding Hero and read it aloud: "Times of crisis are always predicted by divine omens. Sometimes the star remains visible during the entire day and night, encapsulated in rainbow colors, or another one cоmes extended to an enormous length, seemed to be hanging in the middle of the sky." She gave him a puzzled look and took another one. "Before the war of the deserters the heavens were ablaze." She deftly jumped over a pile of papyri excerpts, several opened scrolls and something that looked like old and reddish clay tablets and kneeled to face Hero. He seemed oblivious to her presence as he stared deeply at the piece of papyrus in his hands. She took it from him and revealed a text that looked very old. Text was in Greek, Latin and big portion of it written in pictographs.

"You become more and more obsessed with that portent. You have to let it go, Hero." She sat next to him and gave him a friendly push on the shoulders. "It disappeared four weeks ago. Whatever omen it was, it's gone now. Perhaps it was just one of those Gods' joke. Maybe it wasn't meant for us.."

"It was not a portent."

"What else could it be?"

Hero snapped out of his thoughts and looked around, then again aware of the scattered books and documents, began to pile them up. "It was there for eight months, fading in and out, like a fire." He looked at her directly. "It was too detailed and long lasting, for a simple explanation, such as portent. They are usually.. I don't know. They appear and then.. Well.. They are gone soon after. Like shooting stars. Or bloody moon."

"Come on.." She tried to sound optimistic. "You found it in scrolls yourself. The heavens above is always interpreted as a warning. We were always taught that way." She stopped in the middle of the thought. "I mean.." Lucia turned her face away to hide a coming tear. "When my father went to that war.. That morning, at the door, when I saw him for the last time, I knew I would never see him again." She turned to him again. "I just... knew. I don't know why. Or how."

"That was different." He gently wiped a tear from her face. "I know how much you loved your father. You just.. You just didn't want him to go away. That's all."

She stood up and wiped her dress, more from the habit than to clean the dust from the marble stairwell, the place she knew she'll find Hero. He was always there when he was researching and reading books from the library. The public reading room was always full of students and served more for debate and discussion than for quiet reading.

"You are probably right. We have to listen to the reason more. Emotions can blind us." Lucia helped him pick up the books and documents from the floor and with scrolls gave him back the papyrus with pictographs. "Where did you find it, anyway?"

"It was in the Ptolemy's 'Geographia'. In his Greek manuscript. This is his handwriting. Not part of the book, it was inserted inside."

"Did you manage to find out what it means?"

He took the note and looked at it for a few seconds.

"It means I have to go to Naissus."

"What?" Lucia stood confused, watching as Hero had already gone around the corner." Wait! Hero!" She ran after him. "But we are going to Rome the day after tomorrow! We have a deal with Cassius' grandfather. You know that! He arranged everything."

"There's a road to Rome from Naissus too." Hero's voice echoed the hallway. "I just need to find somebody. I need some answers."

She knew him better not to follow him further. She stopped at the gate and saw him disappear into the scrolls room. Her confused face dominated her appearance.

"Where the hell is Naissus?"

* * *

Cassius was not happy to leave Alexandria. He loved it here. The last three years was the best period of his life. He enjoyed listening of all the history classes and philosophical debate among the students and with teachers. True, he often got himself in conflict with old fashioned scholars who thought the history is nothing more than a collection of factual stories and not something the future generations must study and learn from their ancestors' mistakes and triumphs. He knew that he could sometimes be stubborn in defending his point, but understanding historical events is not always easy. Especially if they happened centuries ago.

Sometimes, he spent long nights with his closest friends debating a particular battle or trial from a distant province or in Rome itself, like those in Dacia or Judaea from last century, or all the events from the murky period after the death of Marcus Aurelius. He knew exactly what he would have done if he had been born in those times. But the most of other students didn't give more second thoughts when the recent or distant history of the Roman empire was the main subject. Even Lucia told him he was too biased to historical accounts. Maybe she was right, perhaps he was too emotional on occasion. Nevertheless, this Alexandrian period in their lives are almost over and the new chapter is going to start in Rome as soon as next week and he was impatiently looking forward to it.

Cassius glanced at the luggage he was packing and wondered if he had packed everything when Lucia burst through the simple wooden door of his room.

"Hero is not coming." She failed to hide, a sort of 'I told you so' expression on her face. "I've just talked to him. He is going after the clues from the scrolls."


"I'm not sure, he was vague when I asked him." Lucia barely found the place to sit on the bed next to all the bundles and traveling bags. "Cass, you know that we will definitely need two extra horses just for your luggage! Did you rob entire scroll shelf of the peripatos room?"

Cassius rolled his eyes as he always did when she made such a remark. And lately it was more often than he was willing to admit. He still wasn't sure what that could mean. Lucia meant more to him than any other girl he dated before Alexandria. He thought he knew her well, but she always found new surprises to throw at him. He wanted to answer better, but in the end he just shrugged and went for the exit.

"I'll talk to him. Please don't touch my stuff."

* * *

He found him in the dining room, after searching all the rooms in the Caesareum and the Serapeum buildings. Hero was sitting alone on the long table with just a couple of military looking scrolls, opened in front of him. When Cassius sat down next to him, he was taking notes from one of them.

"Roman archery cohorts from the first century in the area of Upper Moesia" Cassius read from the scroll title. A name and the military rank was written on Hero's note along with a date stating almost a century ago. Cass took the note from Hero.

"Tiberius Claudius Valerius, pilus prior, Cohors I Cretum, stationed at Timacum Maius, prior to the Dacian wars, a.d. IX Kal. Mai. DCCCLIV A.U.C." Cassius read aloud. He flipped the note revealing a second inscription. "Tiberius Claudius Valerius, n. Hierapytna, Crete, u.c. REG⁠·XI-INS·⁠V, Naissus, Moesia Superior."

"Since when you are interested in military history, Hero? Who's Tiberius Claudius Valerius?"

Rummaging through the books open on the table, Hero found an open scroll and in a few moves unrolled it to the section titled "Κλαυδιου Πτολεμαιου Γεωγραφικης Υφηγησεως - βιβλιον πρωτον", then he rolled it couple of chapters further to the section "Δαρδανίας - δ΄ πόλεις Ναϊσσός, Ἀρριβάντιον, Οὐλπιανόν καὶ Σκοῦποι", which was the last entry in the chapter and before the next one began there was a small papyrus inserted to it with almost illegible handwriting and strange vertical icons.

"I found this note in this Ptolemy's book. It was written in some ancient civilization letters, some sort of pictographs with short Greek translation. It could be from the time before the ancient Greeks, perhaps even older. It was signed by the cohort's pilus prior centurion with initials "TCV". It was not hard to find him in the library. It s not much, but it is a good start. The question is where did he get it, and is there any other information about it. Explanation maybe."

Cassius looked at him in disbelief.

"It was 85 years ago. He is dead, Hero." He stood up. "There's nothing to find after so many years. Come on, let it go. Let's go to Rome. You belong there. With us." Cassius tried to be sympathetic and failed. "What we saw, obsessed you. It was a message from Gods, some sort of a portent for the future of Rome. Nothing else."

"If it was meant for Rome, why it couldn't be seen from Rome?"


"I asked many who came from Rome to Alexandria in the past months. Nobody saw it. Not even the sailors from the north. It was only visible from here and further south."

Cassius stared at Hero for a long moment, thinking about it.

"It was the omen for Alexandria, then.. You heard the rumors about new religion from Judaea. They say, sooner or later, they will find their way here in large numbers. I heard they could be aggressive. They see Rome as their foremost enemy."

Hero stood as well and started to pack the scrolls and his inscriptions. He knew Cassius might be right. Not long ago he stumbled to a group of religious followers of Valentinus, the Alexandrian philosopher who, couple of decades ago started to actively preaching the new dogma about a divine being that incorporated a human body who, after being killed by Romans, resurrected to heavens. On the promenade by the lighthouse that night, they were quite intrusive towards him, to say the least.

"There's some truth in that, I know... But you know me Cass. We witnessed something profound. If there's a way to learn more about it, I need to try."

Cassius gave him a kind-hearted look, as best as he could. After all, Hero was his best friend here, despite the age difference. But, he was right, Cassius knew him well. When something was on Hero's mind, he knew there was nothing he could do.

"The note. Can I see it again?"

Hero produced a copy of the papyrus from his pocket and handed it to him. Cassius took a good long look.

"Νεόφοιτος αστήρ ἀνατέλλω." He read it heavily accented. "My mother is Greek, and I thought I have learned all the variations from the classic period, but this particular writing..." Cassius paused. "What does it mean?"

"The new rising star."

* * *

Early September in Alexandria is rarely much different from the hot weather of late summer, but this morning, it was unusually cold. The wind was blowing from the sea and the growing waves were wildly tossing the small boats anchored in the port of Alexandria. Even larger merchant ships, which were also tied up in the second row of the dock, were not immune to the morning storm. However, the weather did not prevent countless sailors and port workers from carrying out their morning routine of unloading ships by passing each other sacks of spices, amphorae of all sizes, mostly filled with wine and olive oil, as well as crates of grain and meat.

"Hero!" Lucia's voice echoed among the busy port as she made her way through the crowds and stacked goods on the quayside and the wooden platforms at the beginning of the docks. She was headed for the commercial part of the port, one of the largest in this part of the Mare Nostrum.

This morning, the most of anchored commercial ships were sturdy corbitas, a bulky vessels with a stout hull, up to 20 gradus' long, inherited from the classic Greek period, more than capable to carry half a million libras of weight. If it was possible to squeeze inside, they could carry a whole family of elephants. Built as they were, the corbitas managed to sail even in rough weather.

Lucia climbed onto the stacked crates at the beginning of the first pier and tried to find Hero among dozens of dock workers. She repeated the same in front of the next three piers and finally located him in the distance. He was engrossed in conversation with the ship's captain, obviously trying to convince him to board the ship for the return trip, wherever the ship's destination might be.

"Hero!" She shouted as she ran towards the end of the pier and the corbita that Hero was in front of. The wind was blowing hard and he kept keeping his dark hair from covering his face. The bald captain of the ship finally shook his hand and Hero turned to go back ashore in almost the same moment when Lucia bumped into a sailor who was organizing the workers and almost fell into the sea.

"Lucia!" Hero ran up and gave her his hand. She comically stood up and he couldn't hide a smile. "What are you doing here? I mean, Alexandrian docks are not really the same as the promenade. It could be dangerous, and I don't mean the slippery pier."

"I know.." Lucia supported herself with her other hand to the small wooden dock's pillar. "I was looking for you in the dorm and the breakfast hall. Cassius' grandfather is here. They want to plan the trip to Rome and details for tomorrow."

"I am not coming with you two, Lucia." Hero tried to hide a bit of sadness on his face. "I've just booked a ship across the sea."

"I know. I saw you did."

"Why are you rеally here?"

"I..." Lucia hesitated for a few moments, then looked into his eyes. "I thought you would leave without saying goodbye."

"Of course I wouldn't. The ship sails tomorrow morning." He offered her a second hand and she took it. Her long black hair was a mess in the wind, her blue eyes looked unusually confused but her entire appearance was like Hero always thought of her - a rare combination of intelligence and beauty. He knew well that Alexandria and the library would not be what he would miss the most when he left tomorrow. But that's probably for the best.

"Come on, let's go to breakfast."

* * *

A breakfast nook was part of the dining room in all library buildings where all the food was placed at one large table, and the students were usually gathered and standing in lively conversation. It was more a place where previous day was summarized and some of yesterday's debates concluded or continued.

But, what Lucia and Hero found in the room, after they returned from the harbor was more than just an usual morning argument. Gaius Augustus Dio, the old merchant from Rome and Cassius' grandfather was in the center of attention, sitting on the breakfast table, surrounded with Cassius and his classmates and others from history and philosophy grade of the library.

"I am telling you, he is more interested in games than in all the political affairs of the empire." Gaius was in the middle of discourse. "The last time, before I left Rome, he entered the arena like a Murmillo, only with a gladius and the smallest scotum shield. He fought five retiarius slaves and killed three of them. The man is crazy."

Everyone had heard of the new emperor's unusual habit, but it wasn't often that one could hear it firsthand. Many expected that the successor of Marcus Aurelius would be someone else. In the past, it rarely happened that the heir was the emperor's own son. It irritated Cassius, to say the least, and he couldn't quite come to terms with it.

"The rumor is that Commodus is not actually the son of Marcus Aurelius, but of a gladiator his mother slept with." Cassius took the stage with an unusual passion. "We all know what was said about Faustina. She was one of Aurelius rare mistakes. She was more equipped for a lupanar than to be an empress of Rome! She was nothing but a..."

At that moment, Lucia left Hero's company and took a few steps down to the dining room floor.


She shouted from the entrance of the dining room and rushed to the nook. She made her way through about twenty students and gently squeezed his forearm. She looked into his eyes and they glance at each other for a few moments before she found the words.

"You know it's not logical to argue about anything without any proof or at least reasonable doubt. This is not in the spirit of this place. We are supposed to be scholars and to be above gossip and rumor. This is not the library way. And it's not the real observation and scientia."

"Lucia..." Cassius started but stopped.

"Look." She sensed his hesitation. "I admire your research about Marcus Aurelius and your historical point about why empirical governments is currently better for Rome, than the republic or pure Greek democracy. I agree completely with you. I really do." Lucia raised her arms. "But, this... This is not you." She stopped realizing that she maybe went too far in front of Cassius' friends and grandfather. She bowed her head. "Cassius, I am sorry. Please. Can we go?"

"No... You are right." Cassius composure changed. "I am sorry. You are right." He laughed out loud and turned to face his grandfather. "Gaius!" He hugged the old man and gave him a friendly punch in the chest. "Why am I always acting like this with you around?" He gave him a friendly wink and pointed toward him. "You've always been a bad influence to me."

He took Lucia's hand. "Come on. Let's go finish the packing and then let's spend the last day here properly. How about going to the desert for a camel ride and a little picnic?"

"That sounds wonderful."

"We sails out tomorrow after breakfast." Gaius said. "Don't be late. It's a long trip. We should take advantage of this wind while it lasts."

"Don't worry, we will be there on time." With that Casius and Lucia headed toward the exit and the dorm. He put an arm around her shoulder and soon they were back to being a couple in lively conversation as they were known in librarian circles. Cassius' laughter were sincere and he was again in his usual mood.

Reaching the narrow door, Cassius stepped through it first and disappeared into the corridor. Lucia took a step after him, but then stopped for a moment. She looked back towards the nook and behind the tables, but Hero had already left.

* * *

Hero finished the packing and took the time until lunch to take his stuff to the corbita. It was a cargo ship and he made a nest in the ship's belly out of bags and crates. Then, he returned for the lunch and after it's finished, he went to the dorm. He decided to spent the afternoon alone in his room and to leave tomorrow morning early. The ship is scheduled to sail out the harbor with first light.

In the evening he went out to say goodbye to all his friends and teachers. The wind storm stopped and the sky cleared by the night and he decided to go to the promenade by the lighthouse for a walk, hoping to find Cassius and Lucia. But they were nowhere to be seen. He thought that maybe, it was probably for the best.

In the morning the wind returned and at dawn he left the empty library and headed for the harbor. He couldn't describe what he felt about it. About the last five years in the library and all that happened in the school. It was definitely the best period of his life but still he also felt that he was emotionally depleted for some reason. He refused to think about it further because he was afraid of the answers.

He stepped to the fourth pier and headed toward the distant corbita. He tried to turn his mind to the upcoming journey and what lay ahead, but he couldn't. There was a lot of bitterness in his stomach and Hero again refused to understand why. Maybe it will always be like that when a period in life ends and a new one begins. Maybe...

He suddenly stopped and his gaze froze when he saw the ship. The wind stopped for a brief moment and a little sunshine broke through the clouds. It was a little surreal, but only for a second until he realized that all the bitterness he felt walking from the dorm to here was suddenly gone.

Lucia was standing on the deck with a small suitcase in her hands and a travel bag by her side.

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