Blame It On My Youth
rating: +14+x

Polybus Maximus' first feeling fired from his fingers to his face. A throbbing, bubbling pain yawned behind his head, before roaring across the rest of his body. Scrunching his face into rough veined terrain, Polybus considered staying here forever. Refusing to open his eyes, he attempted to sit up and discovered an obstacle around two inches from his face. Cursing the new focus point of pain on his forehead, he groped forward to push his way free from his prison.

Fingers meeting cold smoothness began pushing upwards, until his still-closed eyelids detected cracks of light sifting to his sight. Risking it all, Polybus opened his eyes.

The scene before him was one of perfectly preserved chaos. The floor's surface was hidden beneath a jagged sea of debris. Guests who had not been able to make their exit the night before lay intermittently between the remains of their festivities. Some still had goblets clutched between their fingers while others lay nude and snoring in the vicinity of a sofa.

Harsh light from the rising sun had begun peeking through windows and doorframes, much to Polybus' chagrin. Attempting to stand fully upright only managed the feat of buckling his knees. Already unsteady, the clay barrel toppled to the floor, scuffing it and the occupant alike.

Face-first in a half-eaten pineapple, Polybus began to form a recollection of how he had managed to enter this state. That there had been a grand feast and celebration was obvious. As the waking haziness lifted from his eyes, it became apparent that the men he bore witness to were in fact his friends and comrades. There lay Brutus, clutching at a couch with one hand and grasping the neck of a broken wine jar in the other. Behind him lay Publius, loudly snoring next to graffiti scratched into the wall reading 'PUBLIUS FUCKED HERE'.

A half-burned banner lay strewn atop the mess. Smudged and illegible script which had once read "WE SHALL MISS THEE POLYBUS" now looked to have been used as every manner of towel, dishrag and cleansing wipe. Groaning, but also smiling, Polybus worked his way out of the barrel and collapsed onto the ground.

"Polybus" croaked a familiar voice, as the rustling toga roused itself from the floor. "Are you still there, young scion?"

"Of course. I could not abandon thee." Polybus felt his head swirl as he attempted to stand again, so settled for staring upwards at his speaking partner. It was Publius, toga stained by bodily fluids and other assorted liquids, righting himself on shaking legs.

"I told you before that we shouldn't ever forget you. Now I know it to be true. I've not partied in such a way since—" pausing, Publius threw the last solid remnants of the feast from his stomach to the floor. Wiping his mouth, he began sliding some of the refuse atop his puddle. "Not since the dawning of the Ogden Imperium has there been such… such merriment. But also sadness."

"My comrade, come closer." Polybus flipped himself upright, gazing upside-down and seeing a smile on his friend's lips. "We may never see one another again, at least not for time unknown, I wish to remember how you are."

"No, my friend. Don't remember me in this state. Know our friendship is stronger than one night, however joyful it was. I shall always know thee from our small wars over the knothill behind our tutors yard, taking the heat for you, my true brother, as I took your smoking leaves and bid thee away so that I might be one to fall for our mischief."

Tears began welling in Polybus, not bothering to hide it causing his friend to fill the goblets of his eyes. "You were always a true and noble comrade, Publius. I have never know a better or wiser man."

Laughing, Publius finally allowed gravity to take hold and collapse onto a sofa. "The feeling is mutual, my friend. But I hope you shall meet some even greater than me at University. It's going to be glorious for you."

"I hope so." For a moment, both of them sat in silence, letting wanderlust lead them down memory lane. Then, a new and rough voice called out as a broken wine jar finished its journey to destruction, shattering on the floor. It was Brutus.

"That was one hell of a Saturnalia, huh?"

With that they laughed. In a few hours, they would never see each other again.

The waters of the Bosphorous slapped against the uneven stone shoreline. The wood creaked underneath Polybus' feet as he and his adults walked towards an overcrowded rowboat. It had been quite some time since Polybus had heard the sound of hard wood. To afford sending him to school his parents had stopped buying any kind of kindling. Instead, they had first chopped down their fencing to burn in the pit. Then, the benches and tables. All the wooden barrels of course had to go. Their only method of storage became clay barrels which let the raindrops in.

When the weeds and overgrowth tangled the Maximus property and destroyed the beautiful quaint gardens they had spent so much time tending to, the rest of their neighbors had thought them to be mad. But their thoughts were the last thing on Polybus' mind. All he could see now were his two parents, standing before him on the dock. Behind him the boathands made the final preparations for their departure.

For a few moments before they spoke, Polybus's father uncorked a wine bottle and poured its contents into the Bosphorous. As the red liquid plunged into the pure, cold water, Polybus could see a reflection of his own face. It started as he appeared in childhood, before advancing through time to the present. Every bruise from young roughhousing, scars gained and healed through sport, and unfortunate choices of haircut, all flashed before his eyes in a moment before being swept away by the current.

Tears swelling in both of their eyes, they embraced tightly. Any speeches or final parting remarks which had been prepared fled from their minds. Lost for words, they enjoyed each others company on these rickety wooden docks.

The father, Stephen, spoke first. "We've done everything we can to prepare you for this. Do you know that you are ready?"

"Of course" Polybus could feel the hot air of his parents breath racing across his skin. In this close proximity, embraced tightly, he tried to remember every feature of their faces. The cadence of their voices. Anything to keep them in his heart over a journey across untold distance physical and mental. Nothing would be the same.

Mother speaking next, Julia, kissed him on the forehead before running her hand through his hair. "I'm not ready to see you leave. But I cannot and will not stop you. Do not ever forget where you came from, Polybus, promise me that."

Memories came flooding into his head. Learning to read the classics at his father's knee. The smell of bread and cherries from his mother's fire, sitting with her and tending it long into the night. Stories of their ancestors, heroes and some scoundrels alike. All of whom had lived and died to bring their little dynasty to this moment.

"I will not forget, Mother."

A moment later, the embrace was broken. Polybyus stepped onto the boat. A flash of steel cut the rope tethering them to the docks. Plunging into the dense fog laying atop the Bosphorous, the last visage Polybus saw of his lineage were two silhouette standing side by side, embraced still and waving with finality.

Then, they were gone.

The pair of boatmen driving the soon-to-be-students were a motley crew, shaggy unkept beards dangling down below their ankles. As they steered pointedly through impenetrable darkness their voices began to grow louder, until they both were shaking each other with merriment and laughter.

"Gort, you're doing everything wrong. I've never seen a worse navigator in my life. I don't know why I put up with a man who can't tell a buoy from a barnacle," said the shorter of the two, leaning into his companion and ribbing him with an elbow. "I will say, though, while I've never met a worse one I've definitely seen better looking."

"Where, exactly, are you referring to, Grud? The forum you've never been to, or the racetracks that you spend morning, evening and night at?" The taller man, Gort, cracked his knuckles, and continued steering the seacraft. "It's a wonder they ever let you into Alexylva."

"Who said anything about letting me in? They practically begged me to study there. Give their student body a little bit of character." Grud picked up a piece of thin twine, wrapped a chicken bone around the end, and dropped it into the water, allowing it to trail behind in their wake. "Otherwise that place gets so stiff and formal."

"Pfft. You're constitutionally incapable of any character. I've seen a virus do more for a body's character than you ever did." Gort watched the twine drag behind them, as Grud peered forward seemingly into nothingness. "I'll letcha know if you actually manage to catch something."

"Piss off. What do you know about constitutions? You've slept through every law class you ever took. Plus all the others. Maybe if you'd spent less time dreaming and more time in the Library you'd actually have something to show for it."

"Nothing to show for it? Every graduating class we ferry back on these boats is part of the legacy I leave behind." The bone that had been bobbing in the water dipped down, a development Gort watched with keen interest. "Keep watching, it looks like you might have something."

"Did either of you attend Alexylva?" asked the boy behind Polybus. The inquirer was an older boy, his dark skin silhouetted against the omnipresent fog. His arms were folded, with his toga folding in on itself to prematurely reveal pockmarked shins.

"Oh, sure. We both did" Grud said, keeping his eyes locked into the misty mystery which was unfolding in front of them. "What are you studying, boy?"

"Literature." said the boy, nervously glancing between their two patrons. "One day I wish to be a tutor."

Grinning, Gort worked his jaw in a circular rhythem. "Literature? I studied literature." With a great honking and grunting, he spat a loogie of considerable size into the water, which trailed behind the boat before entangling itself at surface level on the twine trailing behind them. "Top of my class, too."

Winking at nobody in particular, Grud hooked his elbow across his companion's neck. "I was never one for the classics, unlike this boor, so I took to the academic study of speaking. Haven't given a speech anywhere outside the school, mind you, but it was a nice way to get to yell at people."

"Oh, you all better watch yourselves. This man has lungs on him like the which the Gods have never seen."

With that, both of them laughed uproariously.

Polybus, shifting in his seat, looked out into the unseen horizon. "Is there a latrine on this boat?"

Grud pointed to the edge. "Test your luck. But if your stream attracts something, yer gong overboard."

Another boy, larger than Polybus or his rear companion, grunted out a question of his own. "Exactly how long did you attend the school?"

Looking at the inquirer, Gort opened his mouth, closed it, before working his eyebrows in a rapid fashion. Finally speaking, he spat out a sum. "A few years, almost our entire term. Both of us were ready to graduate in our year."

Grud began to cackle. "Didn't do us any good, mind you. Gort's foolishness got us both kicked out from both sides of the Bosphorous."

"Me? Oh, Grud you villain. Don't pin your shame onto my soul" Gort grunted, yanking on the thread and meeting with strong resistance. "You're the one who turned the Dean's reflection into an aged Bull Moose."

"Hmph. It was your idea."

Yanking again, Gort revealed a metallic collection of cobbled gears and rusted metal. "You have to admit, it was a pretty funny idea. But ideas are a dime a dozen. Actions speak louder than words."

"What's the catch?" Peeling his eyes away from their travels, Grud snatched the corroded nightmare from his companion's hand. "I can fix this up. It will fetch a fine price in Hankopolis.

Before anybody could react, Gort yanked on the string which still attached itself to Grud's newly-acquired treasure. Yelping with surprise, he splashed into the water and showered the occupants with a freezing drizzle. Before anyone could say anything, Gort made an announcement.

"We've arrived." Back towards where Grud's eyes had been pinpointed, the fog begin to part.

Before them was an imperial red building, parting the clouds which passed its topmost spire. A massive fence of white imperial columns flanked its perimeter while yawning archways spanned across the walls of the main building. The tiles on the roof were a majestic ruby color, glistening in the newly-found light. Eagles flew in great wide arcs, cawing and occasionally diving behind the building to parts unknown.

Stained glass windows glittered like great academic jewels, depicting scenes of learned scholars throughout history. Galbus discovering the spinning wheel, the ill-fated Derixias Matthews discovering the miniature self-propelled elevation foot mechanism, so many other scenes that it defied comprehension.

Polybus saw this, and he wept.

Although within their sight, the journey was not over yet. Pulling their baggage from the bottom of the boat and hefting it onto their backs, the students and guides began trudging their way towards this majestic palace of learning.

It was a hardy journey. Titanic trees begat legions of gnarled vines, permeating every possible foothold with a rough fibrous mesh. Clad only in sandals, Polybus and his fellows struggled to keep up with their more experienced guide. As they crested on another in a seemingly endless series of molehills, it happened. The boy who had sat behind Polybus on this long journey cried out in surprise.

His foot did slip, and he did fall. "Help!" he cried. That was all.

Briefly turning back, the group formed a perimeter as Gort gazed down on their injured ward with intellectual curiosity. The boy's leg was running red with blood, as a jagged branch of petrified wood pierced his leg. Whimpering, he looked up towards them with pleading, desperate eyes.

"What do you all make of him? Probably won't die today, but he'll definitely slow us down." Kneeling, Gort yanked on the stabbing implement, which came out with a yelp and a squelch.

The larger of the boys nodded in assent. "Aye. Should leave him behind. Unless someone's gonna shoulder his burden, he'll slow us down far too much. If we don't get there by nightfall…"

"Don't have to tell me twice." Dropping the stick, Gort turned his back and continued to push forwards into darkness. One by one, the students said their apologies and followed. Polybus, lingering, looked into the boy's teary eyes.

"Don't just stand there, boy" Gort grunted, motioning for Polybus to follow with the group. "We've still got a lot of ground to cover."

"Just a moment, sir" Polybus kneeled down, eye level with the boy. "Can you walk, if I help you?"

Pausing for a moment, the boy quickly nodded. Gort rolled his eyes, and crossed his arms, tapping his foot with a fast-paced pattern. "Fine, alright, grab him around by the arm and help him walk. But if you're both too slow, I'm not sticking around to be buzzard bait with you."

Nodding, Polybus wrapped the wounded boy's arm around his own neck and stood up, shouldering his weight. Leaving the bloodied satchel behind, they slowly progressed behind the group with Gort heckling them each time there was a momentary pause.

Gasping each time he took a step, the wounded one stuffed leaves into his wound and wrapped it in a ripped section of his toga.

Polybus said nothing to him, but stepped with him every foot of the journey which remained to them.

Arriving at the gates of Alexylva University just as the sun began to set, Polybus was slicked with sweat and blood which was not his own. The boy, long ago ceasing to whimper, looked forward with glazed eyes and an automatic expression. Color had long since drained from his flesh, dripping out and leaving a trail behind them. Nonetheless, he would live.

Stepping forward, Polybus felt the difference between dirt and marble. Past this threshold the air was fresher, and the grass was greener. The darkness which had haunted their journey replaced by a calm, bookish environment. Feeling none of the weight pressing painfully on his other shoulder, Polybus hefted his satchel and took his first steps into the future.

Walking towards them, in white linen robes not betraying a hint of soaking wetness, was Grud. Although his dress was far more majestic than what they had seen at sea, there was still a mischief twinkling in his eyes.

"You've all made it. I'm impressed, Gort. Usually you lose at least a few of them. Or perhaps you made it too easy on them. After all, there's only a tiny bit of blood here."

"Piss off." Gort grunted, before shuffling past them all and towards the school. "If you need me, headmaster, I'll be getting a drink in the hall."


Smiling, Grud turned his attention back to the gaggle of young academics. "Alright, then, I may now welcome all of thee to Alexylva University. We have our welcoming session in the euphorarium. Of course, we shall provide and ingest the finest luminous chemicals."

For a moment, everybody in the group blinked. It was the boy who's burden Polybus shouldered who spoke first. "… Pardon me, sir?"

Sighing, Grud rolled his eyes. "Perhaps I should be speaking in the common vernacular of our times. You kids want to get high?"

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