His granduncle’s chamber had changed drastically, and it was hard not to notice. All his ancient, dusty scrolls that had been lying around for decades now had their own place on the tidied shelves. The vast desk of the Old Vulture had also been cleaned, with only a few papers remaining on it. Marcus was standing close to it, listening to an explanation being given by Kora. While strange, this wasn’t the most drastic change. For as long as Appius could remember, his granduncle was an inseparable part of this room. He would always be sitting there, at his desk, reading one scroll or another. This time, however, his usual place was now occupied by a woman.

Appius felt cold sweat going down his back.

“Where’s my unc-.” Appius began to say but didn’t finish his words. He soon saw the Old Vulture sitting in the armchair for the visitors and immediately felt angry at himself for this moment of fear. He won’t let that happen again. “So,” Appius said, somewhat sarcastically, “I see we have a change in command, huh.” Marcus scowled at him. They hadn’t spoken much since their previous argument here. “Is this now our new ruler?” Appius continued. “What should I call you, lady? Forgive me, but Kora sounds like a peasant name. I’d suggest you change it if you want to rule these lands.”

“A new record!” Marcus responded. “Your time for insulting someone continues to improve.” Appius winced at this remark. He should be a bit more friendly, indeed, if he wanted them to keep trusting him. “You won’t believe what Kora invented, Appius!” Marcus said in a far less sarcastic tone this time. “Kora, show him!”

Kora, who was far more interested in drawing on her scrolls than listening to childhood sarcasm between two friends, finally raised her eyes from the scroll, and smiled. “I’m glad you came,” she said cheerfully. “I would appreciate another architect’s opinion on my latest draft.”

Appius sighed. What a bore! He thought. At least try to hide your plans, little mouse. Make me fight for this knowledge. It was too easy. They both voluntarily jumped into a trap and closed the door behind themselves. He questioned whether Kora was indeed that straightforward, or was she another, and far better, infiltrator of Rome than himself? Well, he was about to find out. With a cold air about him, Appius finally looked at the scrolls on the desk. Marcus and Kora stared at him. What? He quickly grabbed the scrolls, looking more attentively this time.

Appius was shocked.

First of all, he didn’t expect this amount of precision from a peasant woman, especially one he considered to be self-educated. Second, the plan was accurate, neat, and clean, using the correct dimensions. Lastly, the solution! His father could afford the best teachers, all recognizing his talent in mastering the famous Roman style. They proclaimed he would have a great future if he established contacts with the patrician society. But this! He felt jealous. This was on a whole different level. Appius was looking at the total opposite of everything he had ever been taught, and it was simply done better. Curved forms instead of straight lines, a visual simplicity that hid complex calculations. The idea of what this girl offered was crazy, impossible, and… functional. He couldn’t find a single fault in her draft. Her level of thinking and manipulating forms and figures was something remarkable. After a long while, staring in disbelief, Appius finally cleared his throat. Kora was looking at him, patiently waiting for his judgment.

All gods of Rome! Why now? Why here? What should he tell them?