In Rome, Italy, a lovely but bizarre female flew over the city and laughed in a shrill and screeching manner. She wore a solid black costume marked by red stripes in a slashing or jagged patterns. She also possessed large and dark-feathered wings, although it was unclear whether the wings were artificial or natural.
She held a bracelet up in one hand and admired it with keen eyes that were not bothered by the darkness. “The jewelers will not hold their convention here again, but where could they go that would be safe from the Arpia?” she said.
“Arpia, harpy, bird-woman! Whatever name you use, you will achieve only notoriety for your abrupt defeat!” said a man who emerged from a shadowy alcove and stood defiantly below her.
The man wore an ancient helmet of bronze with a bright red plume that came across the sloping top of the helmet. The helmet left his features uncovered except for the shadows the metal cast across his lower face. His outfit consisted of a tunic of white bound by a highly decorative cingulum or belt of honor. The apron-like straps went over his muscular shoulders, and the straps of beaded metal made a clanging noise as he shifted his weight from one foot to another. His feet were covered with sturdy sandals or caligae with iron hobnails across the soles. He carried a gleaming short sword or gladius, and numerous daggers or pugiones swung from his hips.
“The Legionary!” hissed the flying felon as she tried to gain altitude.
“Your boastful taunts have ceased! Perhaps your bravado has been choked by the bile of fear,” he yelled in a stentorian voice.
Arpia made no reply as she flew higher, but her efforts were futile. She screamed once as her path took her over an ancient villa and into an unseen obstacle. She fell to the tiled roof and groaned as a bloody trail marked her descent.
“The wires I placed across the avenue are nearly invisible, are they not? However, they cut very deeply!” said the Legionary with a grim smile. He had climbed to the roof with the same speed and strength that made him the deadly champion he was known to be.
The Legionary lifted the injured woman’s head with surprisingly gentle hands and whispered, “It hurts. I know that. Such is the price one pays for breaking the law. Such is the fruit one reaps by defying the natural order — my order!” He lifted her to her feet and casually shoved her off the roof.
She screamed once more and hit the pavement below. Her injuries had prevented her from flying to safety.
The Legionary nodded in approval and casually began to remove the wires he had strung up earlier. They had served their purpose all too well. He retrieved the stolen jewels and calmly pocketed one diamond before replacing the small sack in its place.
As the police arrived, the Legionary said, “She will not trouble us again. She met her end trying to escape from justice!”
One policeman whispered, “He killed her. He’s has allegedly murdered more people than the Rosa Dei Venti ever did. But then again, what terror group ever operated with such remarkable skill and ruthlessness? He is as clever as he is relentless! The mayor turns a blind eye to him out of fear or greed!”
Another officer replied in equally hushed tones, “He helps us. I will not quibble about his methods. Would you have the city return to the lawless days of the early 1970s? Surely some proof could have been produced by now, had the authorities truly wished to stop him.”
The Legionary vanished into the night and leaped aboard a strange vehicle that looked like an ancient chariot without a horse. He adjusted certain hidden controls, and the mechanical platform raced away while he stood calmly in its midst.
The chariot is drifting a bit to one side, he thought. I will need Mario to fine-tune its mechanical insides when I reach my home.
He pulled into an alley that seemed incongruous in the luxurious neighborhood around its narrow confines. The chariot raced straight at a concrete wall, which miraculously parted to allow the vehicle and its driver entrance to a hidden chamber beneath the streets.
The Legionary smiled slightly as the passage sealed in his wake. My alarms would alert me if I was being watched, but I’d like to see any hapless observer try to find out how my chariot’s electronic signal activates the secret passage. I would almost pity them for their staring and unknowing incomprehension.
He parked the chariot and climbed down as automatic lights illuminated the subterranean passage. He walked up a slight incline and casually tossed his helmet and gear aside as he moved upward. “Rossana, I have returned!” he yelled. “See to my gear!”
A demure and fragile girl with blonde hair almost the color of pale wheat approached timidly and began to gather his discarded weapons and costume. He swatted her bottom as she passed within reach, and she gasped for a moment before resuming her placid demeanor.
By removing the helmet, he revealed himself to be a ruggedly handsome man with thick black hair and penetrating gray eyes. The Legionary entered a luxurious bedroom and discarded his clothing as he entered a large bathtub.
Later, he stepped out into his home and tied a burgundy robe in place. He sniffed briefly, and as the scent of perfume reached him, he smiled and said, “Estella, what brings you here?”
A beautiful woman with long black hair and gray eyes, who wore black boots with matching pants and a purple sweater, stepped forward and hesitantly took his hand in her own. “Anthony di Rossi, why do I need a reason to visit my big brother?” she said.
Anthony pulled her into a rough hug and then released her. “You do not need an excuse. Rather, it is I who wish an explanation. You do not come here very often, and your fashion work keeps you away frequently as well. So tell me, sister, what troubles you? Do you need your big brother to deal with some unwanted suitor? I know the type of man who frequents your design shows.”
Estella laughed a musical laugh, and her gray eyes sparkled playfully. “The type of man who frequents my fashion shows is not remotely interested in my models!” she said. “Besides, Anthony, you know our father taught me every self-defense tactic he taught you.”
“Yes, and it was that error of judgment that gave you an almost unbearable air of equality when we were children,” said Anthony. “Girls should not aspire to do more than look pretty and be decorative parts of society. Stick to your dressmaking, little star. I feel better when I have no need to worry about your actions!”
Estella pouted briefly in a mocking manner and then said, “You are truly an Italian man of the previous century in terms of your attitudes! Women can do anything men can do!”
Anthony scoffed at his sister’s words and said, “Enough of your female equality rubbish. I heard enough of that when we were growing up. Still, I promised father at his bedside that I would take care of you always, and that vow is sacred to me, no matter how you try my patience.”
Estella frowned and said, “Father asked us to take care of one another. You always twist those words to fit your own ideology.”
“Do not push me,” warned Anthony. “I am in no mood to argue. I have been very busy this evening doing father’s work as he would have wished.”
Estella’s eyes flared as she raised her voice. “Father’s work was the work of justice, not of brutality!” she said. “He would not approve of how you have assumed his role of Legionary, nor would he feel your associates honor his legacy!”
Anthony knocked a flower and a vase off a table as he shouted, “Father was the greatest man Italy has ever produced! He died a hero’s death at the hands of cowardly jackals from the northern branch of Rosa Dei Venti. That terror group threatened to destroy all of Italy. Would you have had me allow that? Would your principles have been safeguarded by my acquiescence to such terror? I took up the role of the Legionary, and I accepted the funding and the support of the Cosa Nostra. With their help, I have driven the terror from Rome. I have made the city safe from criminals of every type!”
“You have made the city safe from some criminals,” said Estella. “You turn a blind eye to your Mafia friends. You ignore them, and by doing so you are implicated in every bloody act they commit!”
Anthony moved forward and grabbed her arm, twisting it roughly until she kicked him below the belt and shoved him aside.
“I warned you never to touch me again!” she cried. “I love you, but I am not Rossana! I came here to invite you to my fashion show tomorrow at the Pagliaccio Ridente, but I see you have not changed. You are as stubborn as ever. Come if you like, or stay away. I do not want your underworld associates there, so perhaps you should not come, either!”
Estella di Rossi stalked across the room and slammed the door behind her as Anthony cursed her and himself.