Act 3: And the Gods Would Not Harm Them
Caligula, Cassius, and Augustus stood abreast of each other, well in front of the defensive line. Subconsciously they had stood with Augustus in the center, Caligula to his left and Cassius on his right. The wind slapped at their clothes, waving them out behind them. None spoke as the growl of the plane engines grew slowly into roars. From behind crates and sandbags, soldiers and volunteers gripped their rifles. A few weren’t afraid, more still were tense, and the majority of them were incredibly nervous. But the three figures did not show any emotion. They stood still, their backs straight to the men behind them. With the way the sunlight was reflecting off of the three men, Valencia thought a brilliant photograph, or at least a painting, could be made.
“Clear the deck!” The announcement crackled out from the speakers, announcing the arrival of the Roman Emperor’s vessel. It was the only aircraft that flew low, the only one landing on the Blooded Bull. As it rapidly grew in size, now over the edge of the bow, one could make out the designs. Near the nose on each side were the three R’s arranged in a triangle that made up the Emperor’s personal crest, Roma, Roma, Roma: The City of Rome, in the Province of Rome, in the Empire of Rome. Behind that, painted on the wings, was the Imperial Crest, the same crossed olive branch and gladius that made the Mark of Caesar. The craft was a dark brown, with the bottom being a darker shade that the upper half. Several machine guns could be seen poking out of each side as the plane reached the halfway mark between the bow and the defensive line. It gave a thump, followed by a creak, as it touched down on the deck. The wind from the props blew in the faces of the defenders, causing several to throw a hand up in order to shield their eyes. But the three men in front still did not move. Caligula might have squinted a little, but other than that no one flinched. As the plane ground to a halt, silence was all around. The door, situated just behind the cockpit, opened and a stairway was pushed up against it by some of the deck crew.
“Steady, boys.” Augustus muttered back to the men behind him and Cassius held up a fist, signaling to hold fire until his command. A clattering of steps accompanied the several men disembarking from the vessel, each clad in Praetorian black and bearing a different sort of firearm. Augustus, Caligula, and Cassius counted twenty men to come off. Then, an announcement was made from inside the vessel. “Announcing his Divine Eminence, the Caesar of Rome, Heir of the World, His Majesty the Emperor Sevarius Octavian the Second!” With that, the Emperor walked out of the craft.
He stood shorter than the men guarding him, but that was only because they were chosen in part for their height. He was a well fed man, but not portly. Muscle could be hinted at beneath the folds of his heavy coat. The coat was black, made in the same fashion as the Praetorians, but was lined with fur dyed purple. As he stepped down, he gripped just below the collar with both his hands, clad in black gloves. His dark brown, almost black, hair was cropped short and in military fashion. Atop this sat the crown of Rome, worn since the first Emperor Julius Augustus. It was a simple piece, but evoked immense power. It was a simple laurel wreath, fashioned in intricate cherry laurel branches. This crown had been worn by every single Emperor of Rome, throughout the entirety of the Empire’s history. It had seen glorious victories, conquests, and expansions. It bore witness to terrible defeats, invasions, and losses of land. But none of this glory could be seen in the dull, bored eyes of Sevarius.
As he walked down the steps, several of Sevarius’s guards emptied out after him. The three men counted twenty more, as they expected. The Praetorians formed five ranks of men, walking in complete unison and silence as machine would. Sevarius took a position in the front row, in the middle of his men.
The guard to his left began to speak, “Announcing his Imper-”, before Sevarius lazily waved a hand to cut him off. “Enough, Disraeli. They know who I am. And I know them. Or at least, the ones who matter for this particular circumstance.”
Cassius was the first to speak. “And what circumstance is that? Surrender?”
Sevarius rose an eyebrow at this, in mock shock. “Oh dear, not one for protocol are we? Tsk tsk, such a…barbarian.”
Cassius was unlike his namesake in that he was unskilled in social tact and workings. His anger was allowed to show, and Sevarius smirked at this. “Calm yourself, yon Cassius. And yes, we are negotiating surrender. But not mine, mind you. Oh no. Never mine.”
“I thought as much, your Majesty.” Cassius sneered. He extended his raised arm out to his right, giving the signal to ready arms. Clicks and clacks could be heard as rounds were chambered. Sevarius merely rolled his eyes and waved back with his hand. His men spread apart and moved about, so that two rows were formed now with the front on their knees. Rifles were slung down from shoulders and each man pulled a bolt located on the left of the gun backward.
“Really? We’re really going to do this? You might have more people, but my guns shoot faster. A lot faster. And in greater volume as well. It’s a new age, my boy, one of automatic weapons for every soldier.”
“You’ll not have time to revel in this, since my first round is going in your head.”
Cassius drew his revolver and pulled back the hammer. “Fire on my command!”
Sevarius smiled. “Ditto.”
In the commotion, no one noticed the figure dart down the stairs and scurry towards Sevarius. No one, save Augustus. His eyes grew wide at seeing it, and he turned to shout back as Cassius’s troops. “Hold! Hold fire! Don’t shoot dammit!”
The men, shocked into inaction by the outburst, followed orders. But Cassius didn’t. So the Emperor smiled wider as Cassius pulled the trigger back on his gun. The gun kicked, and Augustus was afraid that more shots would follow. But none did. And the round Cassius fired collided with a solid steel shield just inches from Sevarius’s grinning face. Behind the large shield, a light, lilted voice spoke in a calm demeanor. “You forget your shield, your majesty.”
Augustus glared over at Cassius, who only shrugged and said, “Well, the shield worked.”
The shield lowered, and in front of the Emperor stood a short woman, almost a girl really. Her dark brown hair wasn’t short like the men around her, but wasn’t as long as Valencia kept hers and kept up in a tail. She wore a black dress uniform, signifying her as the commanding officer of the Praetorian Guard. Her facial features were sharp, and invited not lust but respect. In fact, she bore a striking resemblance to someone very familiar to the crew of the Blooded Bull, but in a strange way. The face they knew was never serious, until today. Augustus scratched at his beard, speaking kindly. “Hello, Portia dear.”
The girl looked up at the man and smiled warmly. “Hello, father.”
Sevarius rolled his eyes. “Yes, yes. It’s a wonderful family reunion and whatnot.”
Augustus stepped forward. “Not much involving you is wonderful. What, did you bring my wife too?”
“Yes, the Empress is in the plane.” Sevarius spoke through an exasperated, tired sigh.
Cassius looked at both Augustus and Sevarius with disgust. “That’s horrible.”
“Oh calm down, lad. She isn’t a blood relation to any except Portia.”
“Yes, barbarian. Listen to the doddering fool. Really wasn’t my idea anyhow. A political maneuver decided on by my Adviser in order to cement support.”
Cassius shook his head and plucked his revolver back into its holster. “Is she going to make an appearance.”
Sevarius looked to Augustus. “I see why you left her. Such a wretch. Begged me to let her come, wanted to scream at you and tear your eyes out or something. But as we come in for a landing,” he through his arms up, “Bam! She gets cold feet and starts crying.”
Valencia spoke out from the defensive line a few yards back. “You’d speak of your wife and this girl’s own mother in front of her?”
“Oh, it’s nothing I haven’t said about her myself, Miss Cinna.”
Augustus smirked. “That’s my girl. I think Phoenix might be insane anyhow. If there were ever a personification of absolute pride and greed…” He left it off at that, and Cassius finished for him. “It’d be married to a wretch like her.”
The men manning the line chuckled and some snickers came forth. Sevarius, ever the statesman, batted not an eye. Cassius walked forth and threw his arms skyward, turning around to face everyone at some point. “Come now! Might we end this gossip and get this filth off of Admiral Cinna’s ship? What say you men?”
The men cheered, called out war cries, and raised their weapons above their heads. Cassius grinned and faced the Emperor and his entourage. “What say you, King of the Romans? What are your terms?”
“I’d rather negotiate with actual Romans. You know, citizens and the like. Uncle?”
Augustus raised his hands in mock surprise. “Whoa now. I’m just a medico. He’s the one with scores of guns trained at you.”
“What of you, Caligula Claudius?”
“I’d rather not. This is too entertaining.”
“Valencia Cinna? It is your ship, after all.”
“Cassius outranks me.”
Cassius bore a wolfish grin, one of victory. “Looks like I’m your man. Give them forth.”
Sevarius wiped his brow with a gloved hand. “Well fine. But you won’t like them.”
“I don’t like you, and you’re still here.” Another round of laughter followed. Cassius, in an uncharacteristic manner, was treating this negotiation just like a stage play. While he was viewing it a comedy, Sevarius felt that it would soon turn to a tragedy.
“A sharp tongue is all fine and good. Just look at my uncle, he could cut a diamond to dust. But you’re really missing the point of things, boy.”
“I’ve got a sharp sword too.” With a quick wink and slash across his throat, Cassius had the men laughing again.
But Sevarius was finished with these games. He was Emperor and had much more important matters to deal with instead of rogue nations sailing in his seas. He signaled to Portia, and she fired a shot into the air from her pistol. The sharp crack hooked everyone’s attention, and Sevarius spoke in a fierce tone. “Tongues dry out! Swords lose their edge! But none of you can see time as it unravels. None of you!”
The deck was quiet, and not even the birds could be heard again. Cassius frowned at Sevarius. “And you are so enlightened that you can preach to us?”
“I am the Emperor of the Roman Empire. I am all that embodies, entails, and represents. I am the Senate and People of Rome. I run the most powerful force in the world. That has ever been in the world! And you filth, you cretins of low repute, you think to play games? You think that, no matter how frustrated I get here, no matter how witty your replies are, it will matter? Congratulations: you’ve made me angry. Me, the man who can sink this entire ship and butcher every single man, and woman, here with a single word? My pride is strong, but I am still prone to rash decisions. Shall this be one?”
Cassius spat down on the deck, in Sevarius’s direction. “Speak then.”
“Very well.” Sevarius nodded. He reached into his jacket and pulled out a folded sheet of paper. He unfolded it and cleared his throat. “My terms, the terms of the Roman Empire to the remnants of the New Roman Republic, are as such:
The nation of the New Roman Republic will finally cease to exist officially, and its territories returned to their nation of origin, the Roman Empire.
The Blooded Bull will be returned to the Imperial Fleet, unless otherwise scuttled.
Valencia Cinna, upon common agreement of the Senate and Provincial Governors, will be granted amnesty and allowed to return to the Empire as a full citizen, but will not be given a position in the Legion or sister branches.
Caligula Claudius, upon request by his father, will be granted the same privileges as Valencia Cinna and be given a rank in the Caesar’s Cataphracts equivalent to his rank before leaving the Empire.
Augustus Sevarius will has his exile extended to a full one, and cease all relations to the Empire. Upon request, the Persians have opted to disallow him from entering their territory as well.
Gaius Cassius the XII, will be tried as a traitor to the Empire under suspicion of his close ties with his homeland, Eire of the Celtic Nations. His crimes are attempted subversion of Roman sovereignty. If found guilty, he will be executed.
Are there any questions?”
Cassius spoke up. “Just one. How deluded are you to think that I’ll accept these terms?”
“I never expected this. These are a formality. I’d discuss the issue in full length, but you’ve wasted a lot of time already. I’m needed elsewhere.”
“So you expect to just walk away and leave? We’re at war.” He drew his revolver out and cocked it, pointing it at Sevarius’s chest in an instant. “I could blow you away right now.”
Sevarius yawned. “Yes yes. I’m sure you could. But, you won’t. And I really must go. Portia shall remain behind with these men to enforce terms.” He turned to face Portia. “See to it the terms are negotiated within to acceptable level we discussed earlier. I’ll meet you in Merida, with the wretch in chains.”
“Which wretch, your majesty?”
“The foreign one.”
“Your will shall be done, your majesty.”
Without another word or glance, the Emperor made his way back up the aircraft. Two Praetorians moved the staircase backwards and away from the craft. Without waiting for clearance from the flight deck, the D-7 backed up and turned about. It took off without much fanfare, and everybody merely watched it for the twenty or so minutes it took. The Emperor had been correct: Cassius wouldn’t kill him there. He would wait until he had him face-to-face, man-to-man, swords drawn and only their lives on the line. It would be then, and only ever then, that Cassius would kill the Emperor of Rome.
Cassius was about to speak to Portia when he felt a hand press on his shoulder. “I’ll take it from here, lad.” Cassius looked up to see Augustus walking towards his daughter and the forty Praetorians.
“You have my sword, dear?” Augustus asked Portia. Without breaking stride he caught the object thrown to him from Portia, which she unbuckled from her belt. “Excellent.” He grinned as he drew the blade, a long, straightened, heavy cavalry saber, and slashed the throat of the first Praetorian he came to. Grinning, he danced into the next man, this time running the blade through the surprised man’s chest. Following suit, Portia fired a round into Disraeli’s head, sending him and what was left of his skull to the ground. She pulled the man next to her down to the ground and shot the next three men in front of her. Just as the Praetorians in front started to react, they were stopped by the sight of sunlight glistening off metal. Eyes grew wide as Cassius drew his bastard sword from the scabbard on his back. He looked on with serious determination, and then began his rough harvest.