--- au: seconda guerra mondiale
“In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.”
Born in Verona, in a dirty little house on a dirty little street in one of those parts of town where sunlight can’t quite penetrate the pervasive squalor. His parents were petty thieves, petty and unremarkable. Once their son was old enough to walk, they taught him how to steal. Despite the things they had stolen, they were poor people, poor and ordinary. From a young age, Orpheus found them disappointing.
Armed with the tricks his parents had taught him, a little ladro flourished in the less savoury districts of Verona. But the efforts of his parents were not enough. They stole like it was an obligation rather than a calling, always with that same put-upon look that belied a yearning for better things, for a life lived outside the shadows. Orpheus saw their fervent attempts to purify their souls and turned his nose up. Already he knew that they were too pedestrian for him, that he had outgrown them in so many ways. When he was six he stole a diamond necklace from a jewellery shop, a bigger score than his parents had pulled off in years. He sat in an alleyway with it for a few hours, just looking at the way light danced within the crystalline stone, then gave it to the homeless woman who lived at the end of his street, because she would always feed him a pastry when she had one to spare, and he thought that if he presented her with a gift she might give him more.
His brother was one of the few lights in his life. From the moment Orpheus saw little Hermes, he knew that this would be his one tether to the trappings of ordinary people’s lives, his one weakness, a single chink in the already impervious coat of armour that he’d forged for himself. The nine years between them didn’t seem to matter, not when Orpheus had donned the mantle of protector and had acquired the purest, most kind-hearted acolyte.
As he grew, so did the reach of his shadow, so did the black desires that pulsed in the space where a heart should have been. He stole more, fought more, made a name for himself as the dark king beneath the streets, making use of people’s poverty and their faith to galvanise an army of devotees. His parents could do little but watch as their son surpassed them, and Orpheus made sure to remind them at every turn that he had done what they never could. His empire grew vast and dark, drawing in the most macabre cast of players. And Orpheus sat at the top of his heap of bones and knew that this was what he was born to do.
When war broke, Hermes was first in line to enlist, naturally siding with the Allies over the darkness that was pouring from Germany like water. Orpheus laughed and laughed at this blind altruism, but pulled some strings and got his brother a place within the ranks of the resistance. When war came knocking on his door, however, he turned his head away, lip curled into a sneer, refusing outright to throw himself in the path of bullets for the benefit of so-called leaders who didn’t give a damn about the droves of bodies they were sending to the slaughter. He stayed in Verona, kept his hold on the city’s underbelly as tight as it had been, and allowed the chaos of war to drop opportunity into his lap. The darkness of war turned into business, and Orpheus thought that he could wait out the rest of the conflict sat comfortably in Verona, watching men massacre each other from afar and feeling nothing for either side.
But fate has a funny way of messing up even the best-laid plans, and Orpheus’ conscientious objecting would cost him dearly. His parents died early in the war, killed by a mortar bomb as they were attempting to flee the country (or something to that effect - Orpheus hadn’t been interested in the specifics). He didn’t think of them again after that, but he thought of his brother a lot. And that was to be his punishment.
The telegram arrived early and unceremoniously one morning, the death notice printed in clipped and unemotional Italian. Two measly little sentences to summarise the greatest life that Orpheus had ever known. It didn’t seem enough. It would never be enough. He cried that day, cried and cried until it felt like he’d cried all the tears out of him, and when he was done crying, he decided to act. Joining the Resistance seemed like the logical thing to do, the best way to honour his brother’s memory, and so he finally chose a side, drifting over to the rebels like a spectre, ready to do his part if need be. The outcome of the war was still of little personal consequence to him, but for his brother’s sake Orpheus thought he might as well try and tip the scales towards the side of the light, for once.
- Has done many different kinds of business during the war, very few of them legal. No one but him quite knows the reach of his influence.
- His prime source of income is smuggling - can get you anything you need, anything you could ever dream of, but for a price. Always.
- Also moonlights as a gun/knife-for-hire, someone who can take care of problems that people are too afraid or too ashamed to deal with themselves.
- Enjoys killing, and makes no secret of this. His preferred weapons are knives (they feel so much more personal, he says), but he’s happy to use a gun if need be, or simply to swing his fists.
- Precisely what he does for the resistance, no one really knows. But safe to say that he’s always there, present somewhere on the fringes, ready to materialise out of the shadows like a demon of some kind.
- Runs a series of underground bars throughout the city, which are generally the haunt of Verona’s criminal elements but which he’s offered up to the resistance as points of refuge.
- Never, ever talks about his past. Is quite content to let people think that he grew out of the ground like a poisonous plant, or simply came into being like some sort of infernal creature. If anyone asks why someone so obviously not virtuous joined the side of the Allies, he just shrugs and says that he thought it’d be fun to try killing some Germans.
- War hasn’t changed him, not in the way that it’s changed others. He had a dark soul and no heart before, and he’s just as heartless now. But the loss of the only person he ever truly loved has twisted that heartlessness, sharpened it into unfettered cruelty. Mentioning anything to do with Hermes, in any way (no matter how roundabout) is akin to stepping on a minefield. Beware.