Bewildering Stories

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Dark Dealings

by Eric S. Brown

It was a day like any other in Rome. The marketplace of the streets bustled with activity. Senator Aulieaus made his way through the crowds. His body tingled with nervous energy. He was anxious to have his dealing with Palian concluded. The man knew nothing of being subtle and stuck out like a shooting star in the heavens wherever he went, refusing to trade his strange garb for more suitable clothing. It was as if Palian possessed no fear of the emperor or imperial law, flaunting his confidence at every opportunity.

The senator made his way to the Eagle’s Talon, a popular inn, in the poor district of Rome where Palian was staying. As he entered the tavern’s main room it was quiet and almost deserted. It was far too early in the day for the drinking and carousing which packed the inn with drunken centurions from wall to wall at night and kept the torches burning until the early dawn. Palian sat alone at table near the back of the tavern. He looked up as Aulieaus entered and motioned the older man towards him.

As Aulieaus took a seat at the table, Palian gazed at him expectantly. “All you have asked shall be yours,” Aulieaus whispered, “Our support in the senate is strong despite your price.”

Palian leaned forward, the rays of the early sun glittering upon the strange glass rings he wore over his eyes, held in place by thin metal rims which extended behind his ears and disappeared under his jet black hair. “You’d better be right, senator. Remember I can dispose of you just as easily.”

Aulieaus eyed Palian looking him over once more. The young man’s tunic and pants were composed of material which before their first meeting Aulieaus had never dreamed could exist but Palian was in no way an imposing figure. He was thin and pale, his hands soft as if he had never seen a day’s work. Aulieaus doubted the lad could even lift a sword much less use one, yet to judge Palian by his appearance was to far underestimate him. Aulieaus had seen the young man’s magic, his miracles and nightmare weapons. Aulieaus felt almost as if Palian was Pluto himself in mortal guise.

The senator leaned back in his chair. “All is arranged but we must act quickly before the emperor gets word of our plans. When will you strike?”

“Tomorrow at this time I shall destroy the main garrisons of the palace but your troops must secure the city. I cannot help you with that.”

“Yes, yes. Your men are ready then?”

Palian burst into laughter. “Do you think I am carrying an army in my pocket senator?”

“But you saidS”

“I said the garrisons would fall tomorrow morning and they shall but by my hand alone. It will be a battle fast and furious, the stuff of which legends are made for the bards to sing of. You will have your throne before the sun reaches its zenith in the sky tomorrow and soon after I shall come for my prize.”

Aulieaus beamed, extending his hand which Palian took. “You are mad, Palian, truly mad but may the gods be with you. Tomorrow then?”

“Tomorrow,” Palian nodded as the senator vanished back out onto the crowded streets.

* * *

As the sun crept over the distant mountains surrounding the city of Rome, a group of eight ill-tempered centurions stood watch outside the gates of the imperial palace. Their relief was late. In the street before them merchants were busy setting up their wares for the coming day. They did not notice the bizarre man dressed in black until he upon them. The man walked straight for the gates of the palace paying them no heed. One of the guards stepped into his path, towering over the young man. “Out rather early aren’t you boy?”

“I’ve have come for the emperor,” he said through smiling lips, meeting the eyes of the guard. The hulking guard stepped back as if struck by the open declaration of treason. The others laughed. “Have you now?” one taunted. “God save Rome.”

Palian flipped open his coat to reveal twin ingram sub-machine guns. The centurions stared at the alien objects, some of them still laughing loudly. Palian drew his guns almost too fast for their eyes to follow and dispersed of them with two clean easy bursts, leaving their crumpled bodies in growing pools of blood as he stepped over them towards the gate. “Not today,” Palian muttered under his breath. Merchants fled as Rome awoke to the sound of automatic thunder and explosions which sounded like the gods themselves tearing open the earth.

As Aulieaus’s forces deployed gaining control of the city, flames could be seen inside the palace, lapping at the blue sky above, darkening the day with thick clouds of smoke and the smell of burning flesh.

No resistance met Aulieaus’s men as led them into the center of the city. Minutes before the noon day sun reached its peak in the sky, the senator flanked by three dozen of his own well armed soldiers of Rome, rode through the palace gates. Guards and soldiers lay dead by the hundreds all around them littering the cobble stones of the courtyard. Everything inside seemed to be covered in blood. Palian sat upon the steps of the palace waiting eagerly. Aulieaus rushed towards him, his arms open in an embrace. “You did it!” he cried, “By the gods, you did it!” Palian dodged the senator’s embrace and nodded towards the gathering crowd of citizens and soldiers behind the older man. Aulieaus turned, standing on the top step, as his voice was carried by the wind. “All hail, Palian, the savior of New Rome!” The senator’s men and the citizens alike cheered and applauded.

After the bodies were shoved into mass graves and the blood washed from the palace walls as the sun crept from the sky, Palian followed Aulieaus into the throneroom. Aulieaus took the seat that was now his own, stroking the thrones bejeweled arms lovingly. Aulieaus looked down at Palian, “Tell me, how did you do such a thing?”

“No. I want what is mine. I grow tired of this waiting. The job is done.”

Aulieaus waved his hand through the air in a dismissive manner. “Surely you shall have your land. Never shall you be troubled by imperial law. All the women, both noble and slave, are yours for the choosing, just as you asked.”

“Good, then I shall take my leave of this place, emperor. May your reign be a long one.” Palian smiled and turned to leave as Aulieaus rose from his throne. The older man threw himself at Palian with a dagger clutched in his hands. Palian, caught off guard, was not able to draw any of his many weapons in time. The two crashed to the floor and mess of struggling limbs. Aulieaus plunged the dagger into Palian’s heart and watched the blood leap after it in spurts as he yanked it free. Palian’s eyes grew wide as he gasped for breath and his body spasmed. Aulieaus struck again and again until Palian moved no more. At last, the former senator spat into the corpse’s face and got to his feet. “Did you really think I would let Rome become your play thing? For all your power and magic you were but a young fool.”

Aulieaus cast away the soiled blade and took the throne once more as a new dark age descended upon the city.

Copyright © 2002 by Eric S. Brown