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A good day for a prologue

For centuries locals and visitors alike had known about the Roman ships sunk in the mud at the bottom of Lake Nemi just south of Rome. Enterprising divers from the Renaissance on had brought back intriguing artifacts, bronzes, and occasionally magnificent statuary. Around the turn of the century the Italian government put an end to the amateur looting of the site, making the lake officially off limits to salvage operations, but it was not until 1928 that a full, authorized archaeological excavation was begun. Late in the fall massive pumps were installed to begin draining the lake. The best and brightest lights in Classical archaeology were hired to work on a dig with all the bells and whistles, searching for what everyone was certain would be amazing finds. Indeed they were. Two Roman ships from the first century began to emerge from the water largely intact, ready to yield up their treasures.

But the world is full of lost things. Sometimes they're best not found.

And that's where our story begins.

The bowl of the lake reflected nothing. On bright nights the full moon seemed magnified by the water, as though it had come to rest in the dark pool. That was why the Romans had called Lake Nemi Diana's Mirror.

The sounds of the massive pumps covered any noise it might make, working night and day to drain the lake. It was the most significant archaeological site in a generation – two Roman ships from the reign of Caligula, resting beneath the waters of Lake Nemi in almost pristine condition. But then It knew all about the ships. It had known them for a very long time.
They were ruins in the mud, a few beams exposed as the lake drained. They were gone like the Sanctuary of Diana that had once graced the shore. But She was still here. Far away in the woods the man heard it and stiffened – the faint baying of hounds.

It inhabited this man. It wore him, frail thing though he was, already weakening in Its grasp. They were running, he and the man, his sedentary feet made fleet by fear. They were running through the woods while briars grabbed at them, while moonlight mistook their path before them. The hounds were louder. They were coming. The hunters were behind. They could see the flashes of their strange torches, incandescent in the darkness, silver against the trees. A white hound led the pack, sharp nosed and keen, the others following her. It was She who led.

The man's breathing was harsh. They were being driven. Out of the trees, out of the wild wood. Now there were shouts behind, calls from one hunter to another in strange, bastard Latin. The hunters had seen them. The ground was muddy and they slipped. This man was no hunter, no soldier, and he had been run hard. He slipped and slid down the bank, one leg catching beneath him, knee twisting. He was down. The white hound crested the bank, beautiful and implacable.

And then She was not there. It was two brown ones, bloodhounds, the man thought, and they stopped and set up a cry. It was only a moment before the hunters came up. Silver lights played over their face, and they cringed, It and this man, hiding from the brightness.

"Poor soul," one of the hunters said, sliding down the bank. "It's Signore Gadda all right."
They wore blue uniforms, all the hunters. A second one climbed down, lifted this man's hands from his face. "Signore Gadda? Can you understand me, sir? Do you know what has happened?"

This man would reply, but It would not let him. It could see the white hound behind the hunter, and It screamed.

The first hunter spoke again. "I thought we'd never find him. His wife is frantic. God help him." He moved his hand across his chest, as though making some sign of warding.

Another man climbed down, a tall man in middle age, wearing black rather than the blue uniforms, and the second hunter spoke to him. "Signore Davenport, it is definitely your man. But I do not think he understands a word."

"It is a terrible tragedy," Davenport said, and he leaned over them. This man knew him. This was his leader, his patron. He was afraid he would lose his job. But he could not speak. "Vittorio? Can you hear me?"

It screamed. There was the smell of incense on this one. He reeked of Her.

"We should take him to the hospital in Rome," one of the hunters said. "I will send a man to tell his wife that we have found him but that he is very ill."

"Yes, definitely the hospital," Davenport said. "Vittorio…."

The hunters hauled them to their feet, dragging them from the wood, from the ships, from the wild, but It did not resist. To Rome. That had potential.

One of the hunters shook his head to the other. "What makes a man do this? Suddenly go mad and dash into the woods to live like an animal?"

"Perhaps they can help him at the hospital," Davenport said. "Some kind of seizure or stroke, I do not know." He looked at this man again, his face a study in concern. "Perhaps he will know his wife when she comes."

"To Rome," they whispered. "To Rome."

Any thoughts, my friends?


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 20th, 2012 08:46 am (UTC)
This is delightfully creepy, and such a great opening!
Apr. 21st, 2012 08:06 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I aimed for creepy!
Apr. 20th, 2012 04:22 pm (UTC)
Wow! If I had been undecided before this prologue, you've certainly swayed me over to the "buy for sure" box! What a creepy, mysterious beginning.
Apr. 21st, 2012 08:06 pm (UTC)
Thank you! Very creepy and mysterious. Something is loose that ought to have stayed bound....
Apr. 21st, 2012 06:56 pm (UTC)
"It" has great potential for horrifying things. *shudder* I'm glad Diana is still in the picture, though - if other members of the Pantheon are with Her, things should work out. I think. :)
Apr. 21st, 2012 08:10 pm (UTC)
It definitely has the potential for horrifying things! But as you say, Diana is still in the picture, even if she no longer has the power she once had. But she can still reach across the miles in dreams to those who are hers....
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )